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Minerva Week 23: Therapy, Earthquakes and Geckos

March 16, 2015

This week, I had dog therapy, experienced two (fake) earthquakes and saw all sorts of critters. I also FINALLY GOT OVER MY LINGERING FLU AND COLD. The cute dog in the picture below is Zola, a bonafide therapy dog. Usually, she visits people who are in the hospital, but she made a special trip to the residence hall to meet with us. My own golden retriever is thousands of miles away (he also had a cold recently, so I think we’re more connected than I thought), so I really appreciated the chance to have a warm, furry and cuddly friend around for a while.
This week I learned about ocean microbes (though there is still so much to learn!), the economics of tradeoffs (on average, weekly hours worked have decreased and real wages have increased since the 1870s… in the UK at least!), retold Cinderella, and tried to use algorithms to optimize pairings of people. Fantastic stuff.
On Friday, I attended a session on Charisma with an interesting character called Ali Binazir, a doctor turned dating coach. I was unsure of what I was in for, but I really enjoyed it! My favourite part was an exercise where we had to imagine that we were 50 feet tall (the size of Godzilla), stomping around the city, and then imagine ourselves, still this gigantic size, relaxing on the beach. According to Ali, this was what appearing strong really meant – having the power of a giant but keeping it confidently and comfortably coiled inside you. It made me laugh to picture myself stomping around SF.

Art credit: georgegamewatch

Today, I went to the California Academy of Sciences. I’ve been meaning to go there for a while, and it just happened that it was free admission day for residents of Nob Hill! The stars had aligned, so how could I resist? The entire museum is stunning, but what captured my attention first was an earthquake simulator. Luckily, I haven’t experienced a bad earthquake (or any earthquake at all) here in SF. Perhaps it’s bad to wish for one, but I am curious about what it would feel like! This simulator gave me a vague idea. The two most recent serious earthquakes (1901 and 1989) were simulated in a little fake living room. I was shocked by how serious the 1901 earthquake was! Here’s a picture of the simulation room before the 1901 quake ran. It was dark in the room because the quake struck at 5 am or so.

Next, I went to the rainforest biodome. A spiralling walkway took me up through the different levels of the forest. There were butterflies and small birds flying around at the top. I saw snakes, frogs, lizards, bugs and fish. I loved trying to spot the creature in the glass exhibit case. It was like playing I Spy. It took a different kind of focus and patience. Some of the frogs looked so stoic that they cracked me up.

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I hope you aren’t too put off by that spider. It would probably fit comfortably in the palm of my hand. The exhibit information told me that these spiders are born knowing how to spin their webs. Isn’t that incredible?

Next week is a short one, as we have a makeshift spring break coming up. I’ll be heading to Yosemite with a great group of students. I’ll take lots of pictures and tell you all about it when we are back.

Until then, take care!


Minerva Week 22: 3D Printers and Firecrackers

March 9, 2015

I finally know how to use a 3D printer! And yet it’s a toss up for my favourite moment of the week between watching the 3D printer build my ‘print job’ and seeing the largest Chinese New Year’s Parade outside of China.IMG_3266

I’ll tell you about the 3D printing first. Instead of printing words on paper, it makes 3D objects. It does this by piping melted plastic (just like you would pipe icing to decorate cookies), letting the plastic harden, and then piping another layer on top of it. Slowly, it builds up an object by building these layers one on top of another.

I learned how to use the 3D printer at Tech Shop, a makerspace (they have lots of neat equipment there, and all members pay a flat monthly fee to access it). Minerva swung a decent deal for a few of us students, so I will be a member until the end of April. The class I took was a motley crew! Well, maybe not motley but we were pretty diverse. Two kinds of architects, one origami enthusiast, one digital artist and another person who wanted to make a physical prototype for his startup. And me! My interest in 3D printing comes from my background in structural biology. Many times, I’ve looked at the 3D structures of proteins on computer screens and wished that I could hold them in my hands. My goal is to learn how to print a 3D structure of the protein I studied a few summers ago.

A figure from the paper we published about this protein.

What I printed at the end of the class was the kind little word below. YES. As in “YES you can do this! YES this is such a neat mixture of conceptual/computer manipulation and manual work/physical result!” I downloaded the 3D model of this object from a website called Thingiverse. People from all over the world post models of all sorts of things. This YES is mean to be worn as a necklace (it has a hole in the Y), and was created in support of the (failed) Scottish referendum. Someone I will probably never know allowed me to hold this word in my hands.


After doing some more research on how to acquire materials (I’ll have to bring my own plastic to use with the printer) and making a reservation for my next ‘print job’ (you actually do press the print button to start things moving, which I thought was so cute!), I tried to head home. It was harder than I thought! Most of my routes home were blocked by throngs of people cheering for other people in elaborate costumes. It was the Chinese New Year’s Parade.


My little photo doesn’t do it justice. There were lion dancers, dragons, brass bands and FIRECRACKERS! So much noise and smoke in the streets. Even later at night, when I was back in my room, I could hear the firecrackers being set off. Then, louder explosions drew me to my window. I saw fireworks coming from Chinatown. A beautiful way to end a weekend of discovery.

Minerva Week 21: Illness and Drawing the Future

March 2, 2015

Hi everyone!

It’s been a pretty quiet week for me. Not by choice, but because I was under the weather. From headaches to fatigue to sinus pain to nausea to sore throat, you name it, I had it (though thankfully not all at once!). Accordingly, this week was my first interaction with the U.S. healthcare system. Navigating the requirements of my insurance provider was a little more confusing than I was expecting. Apparently I need to call them before I want to go to the doctor, so they can approve me and create a file for billing. I was overwhelmed at the doctor’s office trying to sort all of this out, but one of the receptionists there was so helpful. She called the insurance company for me and was on hold all throughout my checkup. I was so grateful for her kindness.

The one neat thing I did this week was go visit the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a non-profit that has been exploring and predicting possible futures of healthcare, work and learning for 40 years. I made the hour and a half public transit trek out to Palo Alto to meet with a few members of their team. It was a big day for me, because I have been following IFTF’s work for years. I love their beautiful full-colour maps of the different possibilities for each domain of human life. Here’s an example:

IFTF’s Map of the Future of Science

On my way to their offices, I walked by a store that I could have sworn was from the future. It was a 3D scanning and printing shop. You could walk in, have yourself scanned, and walk out with a tiny doll replica of you. Wild!


I took most of my classes from my bed this week (a definite perk of Minerva), and slept the day away on Saturday. Yesterday, I finally started chipping away at a project I’ve been meaning to finish for a few months now. The Academic Dean of Minerva has often talked to us about ‘learning principles’ – strategies for learning more deeply and efficiently that are supported by scientific research. It’s been my goal to make a hand-drawn visual explanation of a few of these principles.

Here’s my video draft. Ignore the awkward transitions between different stages – it’s a work in progress and needs a lot more editing. It also needs narration! That’s my goal for the next few weeks. When I am done, I will let you know.

I wish you nothing but good health and sunny days. Until next time!

Minerva Week 20: From the Mississippi to Moon to the Pacific Ocean

February 23, 2015

After an incredible few days in New Orleans (taking classes in the morning and walking the streets all day and night), I flew back to San Francisco and plunged into a few more days of adventure. Plunged is the operative word, because I ended up diving into the Pacific ocean!

Thursday night was Lunar New Years, a celebration for the South Asian students in our group. They graciously included the whole Minerva family and we sat down to an exceptional meal of dumplings, rice, fried noodles, spring rolls, and bean desserts. Almost all of us pitched in, whether it was rolling some dumplings or doing dishes. Delicious!
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The next day, we were monkeying around with electronics. Liat Segal, an incredible installation artist (and the sister of a Minerva student) came to teach us how to use Arduinos. Think of an Arduino as a little brain that you can link to something else. You give it instructions, and it can do things for you, like turning on and off a light, or causing a motor to run. I have to admit that I was exhausted and not internalizing a lot of what was going on around me, but I appreciated the chance to monkey around with circuit boards. I realized how extremely ignorant I am about what *really* makes electronics work. It’s an area I am excited to learn more about.
You might think that this would be the end of a full week (and it could have been) but it wasn’t! Right after we finished the electronics workshop, a few of us headed up to Point Reyes for a trip with MORE (Minerva Outdoor Recreation and Exploration, a student club). One of the Minerva staff was kind enough to invite us to his family’s house up there. We prepared a lovely meal together – oysters, pesto pasta, chicken-apple sausages, roasted brussel sprouts and burgers – and talked about the quirks and joys of being a student at Minerva (his family was pretty curious). After dinner, we learned that we were right along the San Andreas fault. We were on a tectonic plate that was moving 2 cm towards Alaska each year. Neat, right?

I couldn’t get over how clean and fragrant the air was outside. All the pine trees and flowers! We slept soundly and ate breakfast overlooking a river valley.
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The next day, after a quick stop for a packed lunch, we headed to a trail that would take us to a beautiful beach.
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I promised my friend Gabi that I would swim with her once we got to the beach, but I think she could tell that I wasn’t too sure. Would it it actually be warm enough? I could hardly believe that it would! It was February, after all! But once we got to the beach (not after passing three dead moles on the path, which was pretty mysterious!), it was sunny and beautiful and before I knew it I was diving into the cold and salty water. I bodysurfed on the waves and got sand everywhere. It was such a perfect moment.

We snoozed on the beach in the sun, and I managed to get a nasty sunburn. It was worth it.
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Things should get back to normal next week, but what that means here keeps changing! We’ll see what happens next.
Be well!

New Orleans: Mardi Gras

February 18, 2015

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New Orleans, Continued: Lundi Gras

February 17, 2015

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Minerva Week 19: Oops, I’m in New Orleans!

February 16, 2015

Laissez les bon temps roulez!
Musicians on every corner, and the streets are slick with beads. What a place! What energy! What joie de vivre! More later!
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