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Here to speak the truth, change the world, and translate the world's chaos into common sense.
(Cultural anthropologist, musician/singer, writer of academic articles, short stories, informational blogs, social commentary, and currently working on a book. Yoga teacher and health coach. Social Activist.)

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Death Gives Life Meaning

4 min read

In a society obsessed with artificial immortality, otherwise known as the external apearance of 'youthfulness', we speak very little of death.

dying

We haven't the courage or social circumstances to really discuss what the 'appropriate' response to the death of a loved one, or even the death of a friend's loved one, should be. We feel that we must console, apologize, sympathize (although how might we sympathize when we haven't a clue how they feel?)

This lack of realization, this out-of-touchness, keeps us from realizing the greatest gift that death gives us: a real and valuable perspective on the frailty and impermanence of life. We twenty-somethings and up have all uttered the phrase "teenagers think they'll live forever" or that "they think they're immortal", and we begin to mimic the behavior of our elders by becoming either consciously reckless or carefully conservative as we age. But what are we protecting and preserving? What right do we have to judge the vivaciousness of the youth we judge? And have we really become more wise in preserving ourselves from danger, or have we simply become hidden within a cage of our fears and doubts?

We die. 

Let those words ring out in your heart and mind.

We die. All of whom we know one day will die. We may not be remembered, and if we are our stories most definitely won't be accurately retold. We preserve our reputation for it to be rewritten after death. We preserve our body through skin-care and muscle toning and even surgery only for it to deteriorate within. 

We are food for the worms, and we are all, one day, destined for either the sea or the soil.

Death and Life - Gustav Klimt

So yes, we die. The question is... do we live?

 

What would you do if you knew you might die tomorrow? Next week? How about if you might die on your way home? Would you kiss those you love goodbye every time you leave? Would you say I love you with less fear? Would you be building your life, stacking up hours at a job that pays you little to nothing, all in the hopes that one day your dream of a better life will be within reach?

There are no warranties, no gaurantees on life. Life is ripped from you and from those you love in an instant without kindness, without warning, and without malice. It isn't fair, it isn't even wrong; it simply IS, a fact of this world.

Perhaps at this point you might imagine the mind who would write these things must be morose, depressed, downright dark. I can't say I haven't been these things once or twice, but I will tell you a secret. 

As much as a deadline will push someone to get their work finished sooner, the promise (yes, it is a promise that death will come without warning) of death is the push that reminds me to LIVE. We might idolize immortality or eternal youth, but to live life without the fear of death? That is a privilege only given to those who truly live. 

So, before you get distracted for the hundredth time -I know this is something I struggle with, also- think about what your last moments would be. What would you regret not doing? What part of life will be pulling at you asking, "Why did you not explore me?" And if you believe in reincarnation, what role in life have you put-off that will inevitably bring you back again in order to experience? 

It's a New Year, and the rules are changing rapidly about how this world works, but this one truth is still self-evident: You will die. This question remains; Will you live?

 

Danger in the lakes...

How To: Solar Panel System Quotes

4 min read

The following is a very basic rundown of what any reputable company will need in order to give you a personal estimate for a solar panel system.

  1. Last 12 Months of Energy Bills
  2. Green Button Data
  3. Phone Number and Email

 

Last 12 Months of Energy Bills: Why?

  • The way you spend energy varies throughout the year. An Energy Consultant will need to see how much you're spending on energy in warm and cold seasons in order to understand your lows and highs (how many hours maximum/minimum do you use energy in a given day/month). 
  • There is an itemized list of discounts and 'taxes' that you pay, usually found on page 3. If you are already getting a huge discount for Medical Baseline or the CARE act for low-income households, perhaps getting solar panels won't actually be cheaper. On the other hand, if you're consistently getting into the higher tiers of energy usage, a good consultant will realize that very soon you're going to be charged even more for what energy companies call super user (excessive) rates. The consultant can show you that in X amount of months you'll be charged X amount more money for the same service. 
  • Your address and meter number is on the bill. The CAD designer will use Google Earth to get a fairly good look at the top of your roof and then use a software that shows the amount of sun exposure the panels will get. Companies should place the panels on the Southernmost sides of the house, with exception for taller buildings or trees casting shadows. The meter number will simply confirm the Green Button Data information.

 

Green Button Data: How Do I Get It? Why Do They Need It?

  • Green Button Data is data taken from your meter approximately every fifteen minutes, stored in an excel sort of file. It can be read by programs and made into a graph showing the actual, detailed energy usage of the household. Companies need this in order to give you the correct amount of panels. Panels differ in power (for example, some can produce 280 hours of energy while others can produce 300 hours of energy) and efficiency. If a company isn't using this information, they might easily round up and sell you more panels than you need because the companies numbers are wrong. You, the consumer, will hardly -if ever- check this and won't know that you've been oversold. Additionally, if a company sells more than one type of panel, they may try to fit different types of panels onto the roof for the best efficiency and use of roof-space.
  • In order to get your Green Button Data... you must sign into your account for your energy provider (ex: PG&E, Edison, LADWP...) and look for this symbol. It will ask you what timeframe you want, just click "All". It will also ask what format you want, try to click "excel" if possible or "csv". 


Download Green Button Data

 

Phone Number and Email: Why?

  • It's understandable that we may not want people having our email and phone number. However, in order to receive information we have to give at least one of them out. You can ask for the consultant's information and I'm certain she'll give it to you. But are you really going to follow up with her, or just forget? The one good thing about sharing your information is that this person will follow up with you when you've forgotten. They won't lose your info and they'll do all the hard work of finding out what kind of solar panel options are available to you. Let's face it; if you were going to do this work of researching solar options, you would have done it already. So, if you don't like the consultant, go out and find one that you do like, because that's the person you'll be speaking with the most. Additionally, make sure to ask lots of questions about what gaurantees they have about work, what timeframe you'll be looking at to get the solar installed (it's always longer than you think it would be) and what's the return on investment. Let them do the work for you. After all, that's their job. But it is going to require you giving them a way to contact you with updates and information.

 

I hope this was helpful. Happy new year and happy Solar shopping!

 

RuBisCO explained: Science Stuff Made Easy

6 min read

 
RuBisCO in the Calvin Cycle
 

Let’s BIDS (Break it Down Simple):

RuBisCO
This article was at the request of a reader. Thanks Emma for the idea!
 

RuBisCO is a term that slips into the conversation when trying to explain how plants get their food. Let’s assume that you never took a science class -and still don’t want to- and remind you, the reader, that plants get their food by ‘photosynthesis’.

 

Photosynthesis means that plants take light (that’s the ‘photo’ of ‘photosynthesis’) and CO2 to create sugars for them to store or eat, and to fuel the processes that go on in their plant-body. (Most) plants also need soil and water.

 

Organisms have a lot going on in them, and they need energy to function just like a car factory that makes cars needs electricity and gas to keep producing and creating things. Well, each organism has a little factory in it; plants, which are autotrophs (they create their own food inside their bodies), have a factory that uses a few outside elements to both power the 'factory' and 'feed' the 'workers' (with sugar). In that respect, I guess it's kindof like Wonka's Factory and the chemical compounds are the Oompa-Loompas, while RuBisCO is sortof like if Willy Wonka had an assistant bossing them around and micromanaging.

This explanation might be missing some very delicate terms and steps, but it’s important to get the general overview before diving deeper into the devilish details.

 

RuBisCO is actually named after two different things. The “RuBis” comes from RuBP and the “CO” comes from the carbon and oxygen that is taken from CO2. RuBP is a 5-chain sugar and CO2 is carbon dioxide, or as you the reader know it, the exhaled air from our breath.

RuBisCO producing 3PGA

In order for the Calvin Cycle to keep on cycling, the "power" plant needs energy. RuBisCO takes the lifeless carbon from CO2, pairs it with the 5-chain sugar RuBP, and makes a chain of 6. This chain is unstable and breaks into two identical sets of 3. This 3-chain (3PGA) is what goes on to fuel the Calvin Cycle, a repeating cycle that creates energy for the cycle to keep going and food for the plant to keep growing. Later on, it gets converted into "G3P" (basically it gets rearranged just like these letters just got rearranged).

 

So, in summary, you need RuBisCO to make stuff happen. It’s called a catalyst, meaning it starts it all. Just like that friend that suddenly arrives and the party starts, or the idea-guy that gets that startup company off the ground and into the business. It does an important job of taking apart the used up old car-parts of the exhaled CO2, and grabs that engine, puts it with the 5-cylinder sugar string of RuBP and gets that engine revving on a 6-cylinder chain (albeit it a very rusty chain that will soon snap in half).

 

When the 5-chain RuBP combines with carbon from CO2, it turns out the combination basically creates a set of twins, at which point they fall apart into two sets of 3-part chains. Those babies go on to get sorted and used by ATP and NAHDP (that’s another lesson, let’s not get into it) who split them up down the middle and mix 'em up to do two different jobs (feed the plant or fuel the Calvin Cycle), a little like how my father got assigned to his branch of the military during Vietnam; the group to the right served as Marines, the group to the left served in the Army. There’s nothing particularly special about which group ATP and NAHDP sends to do one of two jobs, but it does require a few groupings to occur before they ship ‘em out to their assigned post in the plant . (12 groups that make up 36 chains, to be precise... but that's again another lesson).

 

 

Some fun facts about RuBisCO, it's one of the most common enzymes on the planet, it isn't effected by temperature (you are, by the way, in case you were wondering. You'll die if it's too hot or too cold, and tiny, little viruses and bacteria are even more sensitive, usually), and it will survive even after the plant is dead and will help with decomposition.

What? It will help the factory function by assigning where assets go and then pick apart at it's assets after it's shut down? Reminds me of a few corrupt investment bankers I know... From helpful parasite to scavenger overnight. (Just kidding).

 

GLOSSARY:

Photosynthesis: conversion of light into food by plants; it also allows for the green color of leaves and results in the production of oxygen (O2). That’s right, we exhale CO2, plants steal back that carbon from CO2, and give us back the O2 so we can breathe. Thanks plants!

Enzyme: a type of protein, a tool that catalyzes (starts/turns on) and accelerates (speeds up) a chemical process.

Carbon Fixing: think of carbon, from carbon dioxide (CO2), as being ‘affixed’ to something else. In this case, carbon from CO2 is taken and attached to Ribulose BiPhosphate (RuBP), a 5 chain sugar.

Glucose: another word for sugar.

Autotroph: an organism capable of making it’s own food.

RuBP: ribulose-1, 5-biphosphate: the “RuBis” of “RuBisCO”:

RuBisCO: Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase: the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction required to make the Calvin Cycle possible; combines RuBP (the “RuBis” of RuBisCO) with carbon dioxide (the “CO” of RuBisCO).

3PGA: 3-phosphoglycerate: this is what happens after RuBisCO combines RuBP with a carbon from CO2; it becomes “glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate” (G3P).

 

Sources:

http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/59/7/1569.full

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Organic/rubisco.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuBisCO

https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/photosynthesis-in-plants/the-calvin-cycle-reactions/a/calvin-cycle

 

 

 

Saying Hello to Rejection: A Doorknocking Guide

6 min read

 

 Take a breath, smile, and be genuine. Then the doors won't be so scary.

 

 

First, I will admit I am not an introvert. I don't have social anxiety and I have long practiced how to make people feel at ease. However, that doesn't make picking random neighborhoods,  knocking on countless people's doors, speaking to dangerous-or-harmless (who knows?) strangers and trying to win their confidence easy.

Surprisingly, the scariest thing for me is waking up in the morning.

I might have done well the last week, or the previous day, "...but will I succeed today? -or was it all a fluke?"

Confidence seems to be part of the key, but I also think a healthy sprinkling of delusion might contribute positively. This is the first case in which I think, to a point, almost religious-like faith in your success to the point where it contradicts reality might actually help you -although, please keep your logic as well. 

Despite the odds, despite three days in a row of 1) no one being home when you knock, 2) no one who answered being interested or even 3) people being downright negative and aggressive to you.... If you want to stick with the business you are selling, you have to 1) keep smiling, 2) keep positive and 3) don't take any of it personally. After all, on the fourth day you might really do well and it will make up for the previous days. 

Of course, learn to read your audience; certain neighborhoods have certain vibes, and people definitely are more trusting if you mirror their tone and demeanor. But really, you have to be genuine or they'll distrust you for seeming fake. 

If you have never taken an improv class and you want to really up your game, consider dropping into a local community theater. The moment it seems like you're clueless is the moment the client loses a little bit of faith in you and your product. Don't be afraid to say "I'm not sure about that answer, but I certainly can find out for you". Showing that you aren't a 'know-it-all' can also be humbling and disarming. Do it with a smile, genuinely seem interested in helping the client find what they need and want. Remember, you aren't selling anything; you are helping match a product to the client's needs. That means... investigate, ask questions, and see if it's a right fit!

Buyers who make a purchase under pressure aren't going to be good referrals for your product. They will have Buyer's Remorse a few days later, and with many things there is a cancellation clause of a few days.... Which means you have wasted all your 'aggressive sales tactics' just for them to back out anyway.

As another blog said, "Get to the 'No Thank You's' quicker". Undoubtedly, you're going to hear "no" more often than "yes". Don't let that dissuade you. I want to rush to the 'no' so I can move on and get to the next door and get closer to the 'yes' that will pay off. If they are really on the fence about something, leave a card or informational pamphlet. However, I really don't think it pays off as much as it's worth considering the cost of paper and printing and the environmental impact of wasted paper. More often than not, you're just littering by leaving pamphlets with them (-some places go to the extreme of fining you for 'littering', and of course be careful of soliciting without a permit in areas that require one). Plus, people think it's your job to leave information and advertisements, so they just ask for a card or pamphlet to give you false hope and get you off their porch. Don't waste the paper or time. Move on.

My best leads when door knocking are: 1) They give me the information I need to run a quote for them, or 2) They give me their number so I can call them back. Only in those two cases do I even leave my card or a pamphlet. (They still end up losing it, by the way.)

When I call someone, I don't push the sale. It makes people run the other direction when you put pressure on them,  so please just take a few deep breaths and contain your anxiety or excitement. You are simply a neutral -but supportive- assistant in finding the solution to their problem, the product for their needs. You don't make false promises and you don't over-exxaggerate the possibilities. Don't even say, "This is going to be so awesome and amazing for you!" because that makes their nervous system rev up. Nervous people don't like to make decisions unless it's impulse decisions... and as I said before, they might get Buyer's Remorse and cancel a day or two later or -worse- leave a really bad review of you and business. Calm buyer's are conscientious buyer's are happy buyer's.

If you're not in it to help them, get out of that business. It isn't sustainable in the long run and will only bring you trouble down the road. It's about time that we make decisions based on ethics and think about the communities and the societies we are building. Create trust and sell things that have warranties and good workmanship. Sell things you would recommend to your own family and friends, that would improve the lives of people you care about. If you don't believe in the product, your charm and/or manipulation will only take you so far before people start to wise up and shut you out forever.

Most importantly for me is what I've learned from this experience of putting myself out there. I have learned to be diligent, to be consistent and to keep my chin up. I've discovered a new level of confidence in my own abilities and the possibilities open to me. I have learned not to take things personally, that everyone is going through their own thing and you see a small part of that when you knock on the door to their home -a most intimate place where people go to let their guard down and the external facade fades. I have always wanted to put myself out there as a musician and artist, and now I know how to take rejection without crumpling, how to be consistent and keep trying, and how to pitch an idea within the space of a few sentences. 

It isn't a job I think everyone can or should do, but it is a truly valuable experience if you are ever going to try to sell your personality (comedians, performers, small business startups) or a product (all sales, in general).

 

Good luck, all you out there hoofin' it! Buy some good shoes and keep your head up. And, comment below or give me a 'Star' if you liked this blog!

Doorknocking and Solar Sales: Observations of an Anthropologist

6 min read

 

 

Solar Energy

Recently I've made a huge career change. My previous job was working for a non-profit that provided steady pay and hours and some meager heath benefits. Unfortunately, the energy output needed to do a good job didn't match the pay -at all- and I was exhausted by what it required. (Sure, I guess you could say  I could've just done a mediocre job, but that's not my style). So, I took a great leap of faith and ended up in the solar industry as a sales rep/energy consultant. The catch? I generate my own leads... by knocking on doors. 

Yep. Pick a spot, pick a time, start knocking and hope for the best.

They keep saying, "It's a numbers game". I suppose I believe that, but it's a bit oversimplified. What people mean when they say that is: "Keep knocking until a door opens for you; inevitably, if you knock enough doors, one will open."

I'd like to add a little perspective to that, with direct reference to the solar energy market in California.

Time of Day: It seems to me that the best hours to knock are between 4pm and 6:30pm. I can usually knock on about 40-60 doors during that time, talk to at least 15-20 people and get at least 2 people to be interested in me running an estimate for them (I give quotes for home owners interested in switching to solar energy, and lowering their utilities overall). I also knock from 10am until 1pm, and sometimes get people who aren't normally home at night, but my overall numbers are greater during the evening (on average).

However, I will say that Daylight Savings Time has screwed that up for me. Before a few weeks ago, I could knock until 7pm easily. The sun set right before that and it wasn't too dark or cold. Now, I have to quit around 6pm (although I push it to 6:30pm if I'm feeling safe and/or lucky in that neighborhood).

The obstacles: walking in pitch black (some neighborhoods don't have street lamps and I can't see where I'm going, don't feel safe, neighbors are less likely to trust someone walking in the dark, and I can't see street-signs to find my way back to my care easily).

The interesting thing, I've noticed, is that people who felt comfortable talking to someone knocking on their door at 6pm when the sun was only just setting suddenly are very suspicious -just because it's now totally dark. If they aren't worried about themselves, they urgently command me to leave for my own safety. "You need to get to your car. It isn't safe out here!" It doesn't seem to matter how nice or dilapidated the neighborhood is, the warning is always the same.

Google Earth

Location: Google Earth and Knocking Apps are your friend, although they don't tell you everything.

Checking out the aerial specs is going to give you  basic idea of the neighborhood. For example, if you see there's solar panels installed in the area, there's probably a viable need for it. Alternatively, there are some places that weren't approved for solar financing until recently (like newly developed housing projects). What matters most is knowing what kind of client you are looking for. I'm looking for houses that have pools (the cost of heating them is a considerable chunk of your bill). I look for roofs that have South-facing roofs with sun-exposure (not too many trees blocking the sunlight).

Knocking Apps are going to give you the names from Public Record lists of home-owners, and sometimes they even include soft credit checks; Unfortunately, it doesn't always update and I've knocked on a door where I end up asking for someone who has 1) died within the last year (or more), or 2) the divorced member of the party living there, causing an immediate sour taste in the home owners mouth because I brough up their ex.

 

Tract housing: Good sun exposure, but is it a good choice for solar if they have good insulation and up to date appliances and HVAC system?

Strategy: Size of homes, 

Big houses = big bills .... unless they are really new and have awesome insulation/up-to-date LED bulbs/efficient HVAC system

Smaller, slightly-run down houses: don't overlook them or the poorer neighborhoods. More than likely, the home owners want to upgrade their home but they haven't been able to manage their bills. Help them get one of their bills under control by getting them financed for solar. Bonus = HERO and PACE programs offer financing specifically for energy efficient home investments, including solar, astro-turf, insulation, LED lightbulbs, and....(this is a big one, especially if clients are considering solar) a new roof!

Pools = $$$     If a house has a pool, there's  good chance a lot of the bill is going towards heating it. There are actually ways to use heating pads on your roof to heat the pool, but an even better option is the 2-in-1 pool heating pads AND solar panels. The pads lay on the back of the solar panels, and take up less space on roof while offsetting the electrical usage for your pool and your home utilities.

Some companies, like Mozilla, have the concept of ethics wired into their company culture. Unfortunately, many others do not -especially greedy individuals in it for a quick buck.

 

Ethics and Job Outlook: As a sales veteran advised me once, "Have fun with it! Sell something you believe in, and get excited about helping others!" 

I cannot sell something to people I don't know if I wouldn't sell it to my own friends and family. I've sold to my parents and to my friends, and I don't regret it. They got a good deal and it helps them out, plus it helps the environment. I think that everyone should consider this approach. 

Why? Because you need to think about the long-term. Sure, if you sell someone this sub-par deal where you make a huge profit but they end up hoodwinked, you'll be excited about the money you just made for now. But how many referrals are you going to get? How will you grow your clientele? Will you be able to continue in sales when people start to figure out you can't be trusted? That, my friend, is called "losing face" and is considered to be one of the worst things possible not only in business, but in several cultures (Japan, Korea and China, for example, value saving-face and they are heavy-hitters in international trade). That mentality of "making a quick buck" can be detrimental to not only your career, but to your life if it comprimises your future. In anthropology, we call it the Poverty Mentality, where a person can't think beyond a day or a week. They live for now, and scrounge to make a living because in their minds, the future is uncertain and not worth investing in. 

Finally, I must  say something about door knocking in general, but I think this post has gotten too long. I'll leave that for my next post. 

I hope if you have any questions about what to look for in solar, you'll feel free to comment below. I'll try to get back to you and advise you on what to look for and how to know if you're getting cheated!

Goodnight for now.

Internet Resilience: Discussions, Brainstorms and Plans for Web Communication and Web Security

2 min read

 

Social WebAs many know, evolution and change comes from external pressures.

There are two distinct external pressures for the plan we are working on: The DDoS attack on Oct 21st and potential dangers of free speech and communication in the US. 

The problem we address: What happens if the internet goes down/isn't secure? How do we function w/out it? How do we ensure freedom of speech survives... that a history of records and data remains available... and that international communication is available without aggressive force or retaliation from gov't?

The answer is not simple, and there will not be only one solution but many. To have only one defense still allows for weakness, and weak points in our internet platforms is exactly what we are looking at now. To have one offense, is also, inefficient.

We aim to support each other, through vetted international networks, during this uncertain time, and we have focused especially on ways we can still use the internet as a communication tool for fact-checked truths, news, information, calls for help and action, and social mobilization.

Looking back on history, we seek to deter the mistakes our ancestors have made and also to predict the next steps those in power will take based on what we've already seen happen in other parts of the world: after all, humans are more or less predictable.

The product of these talks that are happening now in cities around the country, in private web channels around the world, are still yet to be determined. We do, however, have some solutions and I'll be bringing those to the web (in some form) and privately at in-person events in December and January. 

If you want to be part of this discussion and contribute, please comment and/or message me.

Good luck and be diligent in your growth.

Portable Planetarium: Science Hackathon Project (Reblog from old website)

8 min read

Portable Planetarium: Science Hackathon Project

Posted on November 8, 2015 by BrynLove

 

Star gazing can be done from any room with the Portable Planetarium...

… Star gazing can be done from any room with the Portable Planetarium…

 

There is a certain awe cultivated when gazing at a star filled sky. I always imagine it as a biological impulse, something deep in our DNA, that makes our heartbeat change, that deepens our breath as a gasp catches in our throat; our eyes widen, pupils dilate and we begin to take stock of our size and place in this cosmic spacescape. Perhaps it was the sky that inspired our ancestors to consider their origins in this world, perhaps during late nights by campfire the stars above became guiding beacons of hope, reasons to dream, reasons to search for what lies beyond. Countless art and poetry, songs and stories of the stars have enriched each culture in human history. We had amazing astronomers, navigators, philosophers, seers, and even wise elders that understood the passing of time and seasons… all because of their nightly exposure to a clear sky of slightly changing stars.

Today the densest populations of people rely on well-lit electric and gas powered cities. Cities with lots of carbon emissions leading to light pollution block out the beauty of the sky. When we get awed by lights, it’s likely from the Vegas Strip, or some electrical carnival at BurningMan. Rarely do we get to see the stars, and unfortunately where they are most easily viewed is at isolated, wild campground sites and many people nowadays don’t grow up with that kind of past-time. Sadly, even those that do have to deal with one fact: it takes time and travel to get to those spots. Cut off from the spiraling, spinning galaxies around us, it’s also easy to disconnect from our place in the universe. We easily are absorbed into the world we see; a world limited to this earth, this pale blue dot. Neil DeGrasse Tyson once commented on some people’s sad self-projection of smallness, a response of overwhelming insignificance when faced with how vast the universe really is when viewing the stars, that seeing all that “out there” makes them feel small. He responded with how the universe made him feel.

“I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

What if simply seeing the stars made us feel like adventurers? What if exploring this galaxy made us united as humans, not under one God or even under one sky, but within this solar system, this galaxy? What if wonder itself was part of the key to innovation, passion, and the future?

Yes, the stars are hidden from us citydwellers when we walk outside. But what if we could create that magical and awe-inspiring phenomena of stargazing to somewhere as intimate as the home or as common as the classroom? These very ideas are what inspired the construction of one of the easiest Do It Yourself projects at last week’s Science Day Hackathon hosted by GitHub and supported by many awesome volunteers.  (Photos here, credit Matt Biddulph: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiddulph/albums/72157660328653405 )

 

Tantek Çelik andEddie Codel brainstorming the Portable Planetarium idea. Photo by Matt Biddulph

Tantek Çelik andEddie Codel brainstorming the Portable Planetarium idea

So you want to create your own Portable Planetarium? I approve! Let’s do it!

Stuff you need:

  • Pico Projector

  • Fish Eye lens

  • Stellarium

  • Smart phone or computer (cost ranges)

  • Scrap cardboard (just any good box laying about will do)

  • Duct tape (you know, the type you use to tape bad guys mouths shut with)

  • A sharp cutting object (I used a ‘Cutter’ tool. You should probably stick with whatever is sharp and safe for you to use. If you are accident prone, ask for someone else’s help/supervision)

  • A cutting board (Just like a wooden one for dicing your veggies)

  • Measuring tape

  • Sharpie/pen

STEP ONE!

  1. Projector

  2. Measuring tape

  3. Fish eye lens

  4. *A friend (suggested)

Let’s not assume you have the same setup as I did. What you’ll need to do is find a dark room with minimal/no outside light and shut all doors and windows. Then you want to take the projector, turn it on. Make sure you can see the display lit up on the ceiling. Now, with the lights off you should hold the lens above the projector until it is clear and the picture looks good. Use the measuring tape (this is where a friend is quite helpful) to measure the distance between the lens and the top of the projector, where the light is coming from. This distance isn’t likely to change and you’ll use it later in your dimensions.

STEP TWO!

  1. Cardboard

  2. Cutting tool

Take the cardboard and cut out a very long rectangular piece of it. I used about 3 x 2 ft strip initially and trimmed it down later. Then begin to bend it vertically into 1″ slats.

Bending cardboard into slats

Bending cardboard into slats

STEP THREE!

  1. Cardboard spare piece

  2. Fish Eye lens

  3. pen/sharpie

  4. Measuring tape

  5. Cutting board

Measure the diameter of the lens. Make sure to measure only the inner rim of the lens. Then use spare cardboard and cut out a square or octagon (your choice) that is at least 2″ wider in diameter to that. (Cutting on the cutting board minimizes mistakes and injury).The lens I used was about 3″, so my mounting piece was about 5″ in diameter. Then draw a line around the edge of the lens and cut out a hole for it to be mounted on.

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STEP FOUR!

  1. Duct tape

  2. Slatted cardboard

  3. Fish Eye lens

Begin to wrap the slatted cardboard in on itself (kind of like a spiral). You’re going to make one small ring on the inside that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the lens. Use duct tape to secure this in place. Secondly, take the rest of the cardboard and use it as an outer ring for more balance.

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STEP FIVE!

  1. Cutting tool

  2. Measurements taken previously (length of lens to projector)

  3. Pen/Sharpie

  4. Pico Projector

Use the measurements taken previously and mark how far down away from the top of the cardboard tower that the pico projector is going to have to be. Keep in mind that the lens is going at the top, and the projector is going to be embedded within. *It’s important to level out the top and the bottom at this point so your measurements are accurate. Then, when you have found where the projector should go, place it at the location against the outside of the cardboard and draw an outline of the frame. Cut out the frame and make adjustments until the projector fits inside firmly (not loosely). *Hint: it’s okay to cut it too small at first, and then adjust to a larger size later. You want the projector to fit snugly inside the window you’re creating to minimize light leakage.

 

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STEP SIX!

  1. Pico projector

  2. Cardboard tower

  3. Fish Eye lens

  4. Cardboard mounting bracket for lens

Put all the pieces together and test out the light in a dark room. Make adjustments as necessary by refitting and cutting the cardboard so it works. I used duct tape to level out the top and make it more secure. Get creative with this part as it is fairly individual.

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A DIY Portable Planetairum

A DIY Portable Planetairum

STEP SEVEN! MAGIC HAPPENS!

  1. Stellarium

  2. Your new portable projector (cardboard tower + Fish Eye lens + pico projector)

  3. Phone or computer to run the Stellarium program on

Download Stellarium to your phone or computer, hook up the video feed to the pico projector, turn off the lights, and enjoy exploring the universe!!

 

Let me know how this project helped you and any improvements you made. Hope you get to experience how awesome this is too!

ThruTheLookingGlass

Photo by Matt Biddulph

Helpful link on how to use the Stellarium program:

http://sas-sky.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Stellarium_Handbook.pdf

My favorite quote with awesome visuals by Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D05ej8u-gU

 

 

 

 

Science Hackathon 2015 at GitHub (Reblog from old website)

4 min read

Science Hackathon 2015 at GitHub

Posted on November 2, 2015 by BrynLove

SciHack Day Portabl

Tantek, Eddie and I are pointing to the cosmos

It isn’t every day that I get to put myself in a new situation. I’ve learned that sometimes being an adult means monotony. It means holding a steady job and maintaining a routine. Those aren’t the moments that give life meaning, though. I think most people can agree that moments that test you, that change you, expand or rearrange your thinking… those come from trying something new, and that usually includes a new experience or place.

So, when a new friend from GitHub who’d seen that I’d driven all the way from SF to Pasadena just to attend JPL’s open house (it was crammed, I tell you!), he tipped me off to this event: The Science Hackathon 2015.

I was immediately excited. It sounded so fun that both I and my fiancé signed up. Then I got there, and it didn’t take long to get a little…overwhelmed.

There were so many different projects going on, and surely my talents and my personality could contribute to one, right? However, as I went around the room I felt less and less certain of my usefulness. I suppose someone like me, raised an artist and musician without any real science background, would feel like I did. I regarded the countless engineers, programmers, and scientists collaborating. How could I possibly keep up? I began to feel down. I knew that this was my self-consciousness getting the best of me, but it’s hard when you’ve thrown yourself into a new situation. It felt a bit like when a parent throws a child into the water who can’t swim…you sort of thrash about for a bit, then decide whether to sink or swim.

Luckily, I got rescued by two awesome chaps who already had an idea for a Portable Planetarium (instructuble to come later). After getting the general idea, i set to making a cheap, easy-to-make design out of scrap cardboard and duct tape. I saw what the planetarium could do; it could transform a normal cieling into a wondrous sky full of stars, planets, satellites, moons… it could help anyone within range of it access a space ship of their very own to explore the great, beautiful cosmos! I wanted this to be so easy anyone could do it. I spent most of the evening and night making it work, and then finished up in the morning. Then, after all the projects were entered and presented, there was a vote on which ones got awards. (A bit of positive reinforcement, I guess you could say!) Then the strangest thing happened; our team got the “Best in Hardware” award. Cardboard, a fish-eye lens, a pico projector, and the Stellarium software.

What? I got an award? For science? Well… I’ve never gotten anything for science. I’ve never got an award or recognition for anything outside of music and anthropology.

Then it hit me. The great beauty of all of this is that you never know what you have to offer until you give yourself a chance to try. The Science Hackathon was so inspiring; people coming together to create something funny, useful, or amazing. Collaborators without the incentive of money, without the restriction of titles or class, they created together purely for the passion of creating. Their incentive was pure social capital, an ability to try things new with new people, to feel that they spent their time meaningfully and at their own volition. Imagine! People working hard all night to accomplish something…for free!

It wasn’t too long ago that I was listening to a TED talk on NPR that talked about how sales goals are never good incentive, how a paycheck isn’t inspiration to do well or work hard (it’s only inspiration to work hard enough to not lose your job). The real incentive, the push that gets people making amazing things? Meaning. If work is meaningful to that person, they will give their best; they will overcome obstacles, they will tirelessly meet their goals, and -most importantly- they will do it and feel happier afterwards.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to feel useful, to do something meaningful, to connect with smart people, and -yes- to feel just a wee bit smart in a room full of geniuses.

 

 

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