Cars

As I’m getting ready to get my first car that I have purchased for myself, I decided to take the old girl out for one last spin. My current car is a 2004 silver Toyota Rav4. My parents bought it brand new and I had the privilege of driving it for the last half of its life with us.

I’ve always been a car enthusiast, no matter the car, how expensive or how fast, I have always tried to appreciate cars in their whole. So while it is exciting for me to obtain truly my first car, this Rav4 has so much meaning and history for me, it would have been impossible to give it up without honouring it properly.

I am currently sitting in my car on the UofT campus, having driven it around to various places all over the GTA that are significant to me. It is here that I reflect because, like the car, this university has a lot of meaning for me being the place where I, and most people, spend their most formative years.

What does a car represent? Is it significant? Does it have meaning or is it just an object, a tool? The answer is different for everyone but I think that for many people, a car represents freedom. The physical freedom of being able to go almost anywhere you choose. That feeling you get when you truly take control of a car confidently for the first time, with no one directing you where to go or how to drive, you realize… you’re free.

For me, that was so very true, but my first solo driving experiences also represented so much more than just physical freedom. It also meant emotional freedom, mental separation, just… an escape from the place that I called home.

To me, a car also represents isolation, but in the very best way. Despite loving to hang out with friends and be around people, I am an introvert at the end of the day and I cherish my solitude and silence. Having the time and space to be alone, to introspect and just observe the world around me while also observing within myself has been so precious to me these past many years, it is where I feel most comfortable and most authentic. The car enables me to have this experience even though I may be on a road surrounded by cars. When I’m in the car, alone, isolated, I feel like I am separate from everything else and that I feel most free to be real and express myself and just be myself. This is all the more amplified when I’ve driven on long trips and long stretches of road with no one else for hundreds of kilometres.  Few things can top driving a long stretch of road with no one in sight, windows down and music up.

To me… driving is the ultimate meditation. And the car is my conduit. With all of its freedom and isolation, it is; honestly, where I feel most at home.

Lastly, I feel that cars also represent the ultimate expression of me. It embodies so many things that I share, whether it be personal interests or outlooks on life. Cars are at the intersection of brilliant engineering and beautiful design. The culmination of many technologies developed over centuries and often a showroom for new technologies in our hi-tech world. They also represent expressions of art, lines and identity. They are perfect machines, highly precise and highly controlled. Everything follows rules and things, when they work, will do exactly what they’re supposed to. They are an expression of efficiency, science and technology, and natural design. It is beautiful to me how, cars are perfectly controlled machines, with no unknown variables; but when pared with the road and the environment, the whole system is as unpredictable as anything else. At that moment, it is then up to you, as the driver, as the source of control, to mesh the car with the environment and ultimately, dictate the experience.

That feels relevant to me because I believe that we, as human beings, are perfect but when we are then thrown into the world and society at large, the environment, we fall apart. It is up to us to navigate our lives with control to make our experience the best possible.

I will miss this car, it has taken me through many life experiences and moments, and enabled me to experience the world in whole new ways. There is a lot of history and meaning here.

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First time geohashing

Today was the first time I tried geohashing.

Geohashing is an activity where a new target location is generated daily with the goal of travelling to this location and meeting up with other geohashers or just exploring the area. A geohash location is generated as longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates using a formula which takes into account the date and the Dow Jones opening index for the day. In order to make geohashing accessible for everyone around the globe, the Earth is divided into grids with each grid spanning a full degree on either axis. Within this grid, your geohashing location will be determined using the method mentioned above. This way, a geohash location remains identical relative to other grids but different in absolute coordinates. Further explanation here.

Today’s location within the Toronto grid took me here.

I started around Bathurst and Centre Street and made my way to the location, the drive took about 40-50 minutes and was fairly normal with some nice, dark, regional roads as I got closer to the destination.

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Rural regional road with no street lamps

I arrived at my destination knowing that the coordinates were about 50 metres off of the main road and was nested in an area with trees; however… I did not expect to run into as much difficulty as I did.

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Parked on the side of the road with a curve just ahead

I walked about 10 metres off the road and into the forest quickly sinking in about two feet of snow and heavy branches. Looking ahead, I could see that it was only going to get worse, but I was close.

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My flashlight offered better illumination than this photo would suggest

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A look ahead

Standing in the snow with snow sinking into my boots, contemplating my next steps, I realized that I wasn’t equipped to venture another 40 metres into the forest to try to find this location, there was no one else around and who knows what animals could have been hiding in the snow or the dark forest just beyond. I figured this was a pretty decent effort for a first try and will only strive to improve from here on out. I took a screenshot of my GPS coordinates and quickly hoofed it out of the snow.

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My final coordinates, falling short of 46.6848 N, 79.9745 W

I got in my car and headed home, content with my first outing. It was a fun evening drive and certainly neat to jump unexpectedly into knee high snow, looking forward to what’s next!!


Time for reflection

In this 21st century, there is possibly no stronger reminder of the fragility of the lives we lead and the freedoms and safety we enjoy than the events of September 11, 2001. The devastation that event directly caused and indirectly though more than a decade of war/occupation is one of the worst in recent memory. Many lives were lost, innocent and otherwise, but as we remember those we lost as victims and innocents, we must also remember those who protect us at home and abroad.

Whether it be emergency services such as Police, Fire and EMS, or Military and Paramilitary Forces, the men and women in these services sacrifice so much and put their lives on the line every day so that the rest of us can live in relative safety and comfort, without fear for our lives and freedoms. We remember the people of various emergency services that gave their lives trying to save others on 9/11 and the soldiers that have fought and died overseas to ensure our future safety.

Every time there is a military conflict, the citizens of the governments involved wonder about the purpose of such conflict and the motives behind each component: the government, the military, the individual soldiers, etc… Such discussions and inquiries are necessary to ensuring just causes and actions for the good of the people.

However, it is important to remember in these times that no matter what our attitudes on war are as civilians, our soldiers are fighting for what they believe in; to protect their friends and loved ones and fellow brothers in arms, as well as the freedoms and security of everyone in their country. No matter what, we cannot deny nor disrespect the fact that these ordinary people, like you and me, are out there knowingly risking everything to turn their beliefs into a reality.

So whether or not you support the government, the military, the wars, the motives… take time to respect and thank anyone who sacrifices their well-being and takes on the duty to keep you safe and secure; These men and women deserve every bit of support we can possibly provide.


Facebook and social networking as an ongoing, radical shift in our social paradigm

Given how ubiquitous Facebook is in most of our lives, it is hard to believe that such online social networking platforms have only been around for 10 years, and achieved widespread adoption in even less time. However, this fact bring up an interesting quirk that maybe some of you have already thought of or are already experiencing.

Facebook and other social networking platforms like LinkedIn, twitter, etc… are a form of passive contact and communication between people. It allows each other to keep tabs on the lives of others without ever directly engaging them in active conversation. Before social media, and certainly before the internet, this was all but impossible save resorting to physical stalking.

This passive contact combined with the short active duration of social networking raises something I perceive to be a dilemma as the years go on. While it is certainly true that people regularly prune their friends list as they remove friends that they haven’t spoken to in “long” periods of time, this issue will only get more difficult as teens or young adults who use Facebook move on in their lives and grow into adulthood. There are many rapid and critical changes in the social lives of people between the ages of 10-30 and arguably your social life tends to stabilize after such time, where you eventually settle into a small group of close-knit, long term friends. But given that many active users on Facebook in their teens or 20’s seem to have friend lists in the hundreds if not thousands, how will that shift as they get older? How comfortable will we feel giving people access to our lives on Facebook, especially people that we haven’t seen or spoken to in 1 year? 5? 10 years? When do you draw the line and say, “I am no longer comfortable sharing details of my life with this person.”

Certainly for people who are not as active on Facebook or do not share as many details, this may not be as big of an issue and they may simply view Facebook as a communication tool for when they actually do want to communicate with others. But for an increasing number of people, Facebook has become a scrapbook or a journal of their lives as they grow and mature from teens to adults and beyond.

So I propose a thought exercise to you: look at your current friends list, how many people on that list do you want to be aware of when you get married? When you have kids? When you buy your first car or house. If you’re someone who uses Facebook very actively, are you comfortable with having all of those people see every single picture you upload?

These questions may not have answers for some, and it is certainly unexplored territory for most as most of us have probably been using Facebook for less than 5 or 6 years. As we (myself and my friends) move into the next phase of our lives and Facebook as a networking platform gets older, I think it will be interesting to see how our notions of acceptable social contact and private vs. public information will change.


Some reports

Have you ever wanted to know more about the Columbia shuttle disaster but can’t be bothered to read the 248 page report published by the investigation board? I’ve summarized it in my forensics engineering report of the incident

I’ve also uploaded my undergraduate thesis on metal oxide nanomaterials as a photocatalyst for solar fuel technology, give it a read if you’re interested.

 

Forensic Columbia Paper

Thesis Paper


Math ambiguity or human laziness?

Every once in a while on facebook, a particular image/question gets passed around and everyone seems to have their own opinion on it. You may be familiar with this one.

The question is:

6÷2(2+1)=?

Naturally, we see about half the answers from people split between 1 and 9 with a few random people trying to explain the ambiguity of the problem gives no correct answer.

I would argue here that ambiguity is the right approach and no particular answer is correct.

To arrive at each unique answer, the expressions are quite simple.

[6÷2](2+1)=9

6÷[2(2+1)]=1

It is only with extra brackets inserted that the expression becomes clear. People often seem to quote order of operations as their argument for the answer being 9, implying that division takes precedence over multiplication in this case or simply implying that the expression must be evaluated from left to right per operator. There is some validity to this but it is still often recommended to include brackets where possible to eliminate any possible ambiguity.

A quick look into order of operations on the internet reveals some interesting notions. When encountering the “÷” sign, it is often recommended to interpret it as multiplication by the reciprocal, in this case we would have:

6 x 0.5 x (2+1) = 9

or simply:

6/2 x (2+1) = 9

But from what I can tell, there are no rules outlining that an expression must be evaluated from left to right if you’ve already followed the order of operations denoting precedence of operators. That is to say, I would argue that:

6/2 x (2+1) = 9

is just as valid as:

6/[2 x (2+1)] = 1

Now, using scientific calculators (TI-83 and TI-30X2S), I arrived at the answer 9 in both cases when entering the entire expression in one line. However, it’s known that calculators can interpret ambiguous expressions differently, simply dependent on their coding.

But touching back on reading from left to right, I make the argument that it should not matter since the purpose of the order of operations is to eliminate the need to read from left to right to ensure that consistent results are achieved no matter which direction the expression is evaluated so long as you’ve followed the order of operations correctly. The only limiting factor here would be the interpretation of the “÷” symbol which, if it is to be taken as above, would mean the multiplication of the reciprocal of the operand immediately following the operator. In which case 9 would be the correct answer when reading from left to right, and then 1 would be the correct answer from right to left.

At the end of the day, the lesson that should be taken from this is to always make your expressions clear and unambiguous, it would do well to keep crap like this off my news feed.


Windshield Wipers

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If you’re reading this article, you should already be sighing. Anyone who’s ever driven a car should know about just how horrible windshield wipers can be, no matter how expensive your car is. It would seem that while some wipers work for the better part of a year or two when brand new, most will degrade quite quickly and fail to function as intended and begin leaving streaks on your windshield every time you use them. Whether the amount of suckage in windshield wiper design is intentional or accidental, it does not reduce the amount of frustration that drivers experience every single day, somewhere in the world. It would seem that no one knows how to design windshield wipers that can last and function for the lifetime for a car, or they just don’t want to.

But what’s the solution? We already know that they suck but how can this be fixed. Would it involve a complete re-design and a reconfiguration of how we think about wipers and windshield design? Should we focus on the wiper or the windshield, or both?

Problem:

Streak seems to occur when the rubber blade that makes contact with the windshield fails to make proper contact throughout the entire wiping motion. Whether due to failure of the rubber or insufficient/excess force to keep the blade pressed against the windshield, it would seem that it is usually caused by incompatible geometries between the blade and the glass at some point during the wiping motion. Wipers these days are already segmented to ensure proper contact throughout the wiping motion since the curve swept over the windshield is variable as the blade moves, but it is clearly not a sufficient design to account for long term performance.

Wiper solution:

The obvious choice here would be to make sure the blade is always pressed with enough force to be kept against the window. But this can cause premature wear on the rubber blade especially if the wiper is used when there is too much friction against the windshield (ie. not raining or no fluid), we often see the rubber portion separated from the rest of the blade when this happens.

The design goal would then be to produce a wiper that maintains constant contact against the windshield with a constant force across the entire blade throughout the entire wiping motion, while designing the rubber portion to be sturdy enough to withstand general abuse. This would necessarily require a constant force spring, applied at all segments of the blade, such spring are available but are bulky due to their design and impractical for wipers. Design gap identified!

Windshield solution:

What about windshields themselves? If we can reduce the amount of times that the wipers need to be used by redesigning the windshield, it would also help to prolong the effectiveness of wipers. By coating windshields in hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings, it would easily reduce the need for wiper usage during most weather conditions. Cleaning dirt and heavy rain conditions will still necessitate the use of wipers but for your every day drizzle or storm, no wipers should be needed. Such technology is available but expensive and not always permanent (if going for cheaper applications). Rather than coatings, it would be more effective to make a windshield inherently hydrophobic through surface design via micro/nano features. However… this is much too impractical and the technology for producing such a large piece of glass with such features is probably not currently available. Such features may also compromise the integrity of the windshield so further testing would be needed to make sure such materials meet safety specs.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, windshield wipers are currently treated as consumable products for automobiles just like gasoline and certain oils and fluids, but people do not treat them with the respect that they deserve, preserving them when they can and replacing them when broken. Most people opt to just live with broken wipers that no longer do their job sufficiently and this can make for dangerous driving on the road that affects the safety of everyone on the road.

Lesson:

If your wipers stop working, replace them. It’s not ideal, but it’s the smart thing to do. Someone needs to design better wipers or windshields but by increasing the longevity of wipers, it effectively erases or drastically reduces the market for replacing windshield wipers.

 


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