Wednesday, August 18, 2010

IDC RoBoCoN, Shanghai

Hiya Putz,

I've been in Shanghai for the past two weeks, building robots with students from countries whose flags are in the picture to the right. The format was much like 2.007, with a contest field and kit of materials, except that here we were in teams. The objective for this year's contest was to collect balls from the “river” and deposit them in bowls. My team created a tilting bulldozer and a kind of funicular to do the job. Unfortunately, a bad solder connection knocked us out of the running in the 2nd round. The tools available were primitive compared to the equipment at MIT, so the finished products were significantly more crude. Nevertheless, it was great fun designing and building these machines.

I stayed at a visitor hotel on the Minhang campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The weather there was more hot and humid than anything I have ever experienced. Just walking around outside, I could get soaked in sweat.

The five other MIT students and I played soccer with the Brazilians and Thai several evenings. I was pleased that we could all relate so strongly with the sport. I did not have too much trouble with the language as everyone spoke at least a little English. The Singaporeans were especially helpful as most of their population speaks both English and Chinese.

My first day off, I explored downtown Shanghai on foot. I managed to get some spectacular views of the city by making my way to the top of some of the skyscraper hotels. These two shots are from the top (66th floor) of the Royal Meridien looking east across the Huangpu. The bright strip is Nanjing Road, a big shopping and tourist trap. If you look closely, you can see that some of the buildings on the Pudong side of the river have been transformed into huge video advertisement displays. I also went up the beautiful Shanghai World Financial Center (the slender and well-cut one with the hole in the top). The haze of smog prevented me from seeing beyond about 10 miles. The city development is astounding. Cranes and construction sites are everywhere, and the high rises stretch out as far as you can see. I was very impressed with all of the civil engineering. The subway system is excellent: frequent, cheap, clean, fast, extensive, and well marked.

I visited the Expo on two occasions, but only went inside of a couple pavilions. The lines were exorbitantly long and the exterior architecture beat anything that there was to see inside. I could not understand how the thousands of people were willing to wait the often more than 2 hours to see a bunch of propaganda. My favorite was the Polish pavilion. Outside, they were piping some excellent Chopin adapted for orchestral rock. I also enjoyed the mini Tibet pavilion. It had a linear set of LCDs displaying scenes of Tibetan landscapes rushing by to emulate the views from a train.

Lovely, gigantic tensegrity structures hold up the vast fabric awnings over the central Expo axis. Thunderstorms struck both afternoons while I was there.

The Chinese pavilion was certainly impressive, but it reminded me of a bunch of Lincoln Logs. I attempted to get to the top (there is a great garden up there), but apparently only VIPs are allowed.

I made a point to take the maglev train on my way back to the airport. Fast and smooth, but judging by the sparse ridership, it seems to be operating at a heavy loss. As my train passed the other, the coach was jolted twice in quick succession as it hit and exited the other's shock wave. Here is a video of me hurtling along at 300 kph.

To end, a not so great picture of me on the Bund (waterfront), which some Chinese tourists were all too willing to take, and an interesting mural on the Malaysian pavilion.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oh why not

Some of the delectable food available in China ;P
(I purposefully asked for dishes I wouldn't be able to get in America). I think my relatives called them 木虫, although that must be one of several common names. They actually taste quite nice. If you close your eyes, all you can tell is that you're eating something friend, crunchy, and small. :D

The kids I was with were squeamish about eating this dish, actually. But they do really like pig tails (dish visible to the left back).

EDIT: 8.7.10:  Actually, they are 竹虫, bamboo bore / worm [larvae]. Not wood insects. Sorry, I don't know my insects.

(yes, this is a cross-post from my blog)

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Watch them hunt us all week.

Happy Shark Week

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adventures in India

Hello friendos!

I'm having quite an adventure. I've just finished my second week in India. Here are some tales, mostly clipped from my weekly reports I send the MIT PSC. For those that I haven't told, I'm in India working on a pilot for the open-source non-profit telemedicine project that I helped found called Sana (previously called Moca). It's now a CSAIL project, as we're in the process of being merged into Pete Szolovits' group.

I arrived late on July 3rd, and spent the 4th getting accustomed to life in Delhi. It's a different world here and I've never been exposed to such poverty. None of the cars have seat belts! I'm convinced that Delhi has no official traffic laws, because driving here is madness. It's just a surge of cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, 3-wheelers, rickshaws, and elephants going every which way they please. No lanes, just a rough definition of what side of the road cars are supposed to drive on. I'm not joking about the elephant thing either, I was on the highway and a man was riding one. All the traffic was just swerving around it. Did I mention it's hot here?! Oh my god.

I kicked off the week starting on Monday with the opening talks for the mobile health workshop I am putting on at IIT. The poster that was advertised in the weeks leading up the talks is here:
It was very well attended -- Almost 45 students and faculty showed up. My first 1.5 hour talk was about Sana as an organization and our goals and next steps. The second 1.5 hour session was a technical overview of the platform for new developers.

The next 3 days were workshop sessions and about 20 students showed up for each.
Sana is composed of 3 main parts, and each workshop focused on one part. I started each day at 10am with a 1 hour talk about the part we were focusing on that day and the various exercised and hands-on tasks I would have them do to get accustomed to the platform. We then split the group into about 4 or 5 groups and moved to a computer lab. The groups worked together to complete the tasks and myself, Sangeeta (a PhD student at IIIT-D that I've been working with over the Internet on Sana), and Amarjeet Singh (my host, professor at IIIT-D) all went between the groups and gave assistance. The workshops in general went 2 hours until 1pm, broke for 1 hour lunch, and then continued another 2 hours until 4 or 5pm, depending on when the students finished. The results of each workshop were very positive. We made each student group a mix of younger (1st/2nd year) and senior students, and students who had previous Sana experience so the younger students could learn from the older ones.

During the workshops, a group of about 10 summer interns from IIIT-D who had already been working on extensions to the Sana platform were able to get hands-on tech support from me. This was a major win for their productivity because previously I had only interacted with these students over the Internet, and the going was very slow. Each one of them made major progress while I was available to help them for the 4 days. They are all working on some very cool extensions to Sana.

In my spare time I worked with Sangeeta to develop and complete a new feature where when the phones submit cases to our servers, the server can run an algorithm on the data to produce an automatic diagnosis. This is meant to supplement real diagnosis by a doctor, and can provide instant feedback to the health worker.

Ankur Puri, a Sana team member working on a project with E-HealthPoints will use this in Punjab to do risk assessment for cardiovascular disease. A community health worker will go door to door in a village with a phone and fill out a survey. When they submit it to the server, the server instantly calculates their risk based on an algorithm on the supplied data, and returns their percentage risk for cardiovascular disease. If they are at high risk, the health worker can schedule them for an appointment at a clinic. Cardiovascular disease is special in that its a chronic disease that untreated, becomes acute. In many villages in Punjab, nobody even knows that they are at risk for CVD, let alone what CVD is. Raising awareness is first priority for improving health outcomes here, and this is a good first step to making that process affordable. This project in Punjab is extremely similar to our project in Bangalore, so this will help there as well.

It was incredibly exciting to work with these students hands-on because I could see the true power of open-source beginning to manifest itself in our project. These students are working on features that have been too low-priority for our team due to manpower issues, but despite cultural, geographical, and linguistic boundaries we can collaborate to improve the platform. As a result everyone using our software benefits. Furthermore, I formed personal relationships with these students, which will only help us have better communication remotely in the future.

The workshops were essentially very successful all around. There are now 30 some students in India who have a good overall knowledge of how Sana works. A core of those students are already skilled at writing code for the platform. There were a number of 1st and 2nd year students in the group who got very valuable experience from the workshops. For example, they had no background with mobile application development coming in, but now they have the background necessary to start writing their own Android applications. They could sell these themselves in the Android market. Furthermore, it de-mystified the technology for many of them, which is important for their development as software engineers.

New student orientation was going on Friday, so on Friday and Saturday I entered full tourist mode. Friday I did a day-tour of Delhi and Saturday I did a day tour of Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I can't believe all the huge and breathtaking structures that exist around here. It seems that when these were being built, India had only an agrarian society and basically the only way for the emperors to keep their people employed and busy was to have them building new palaces year round.

On Monday of my second week, I flew to Bangalore.

The weather here is a little more like Palo Alto, CA compared to the hades that Delhi was. Jeans and a t-shirt are very comfortable here. I arrived mid-day on Monday and Sidhant Jena, a fellow Sana team member, picked me up at the airport. We went straight to Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital to meet with the doctors with whom we will be running our oral cancer pilot.

The doctors at Narayana are working on a system they call Onconet, which is an agreement between Narayana and surrounding dental hospitals in which patients at the dental hospitals who are diagnosed with oral cancer via tissue cultures are referred to Narayana for treatment.

At the hospital, I met Dr. Moni Kuriakose, oncologist and the lead doctor on our project. Together, we planned the various pilots we will do. We will do one in urban Bangalore with KLE Dental Hospital, and one in Raichur, a very rural town 12 hours north of Bangalore by train.

It seems the biggest problem we will face in this pilot is language. Some of the health workers in Raichur may not be literate at all in either Kannada, the local script, or English. This is a big problem if we are trying to get them to fill out forms on our phones.

To make matters worse, Android does not currently support every language script in the world -- it only supports major langauges. This means it is not currently possible to display Kannada script on the phone. I immediately began work on extending Sana to support workarounds. After a quick hacking session, we are now able to record voice prompts for every question. I replaced some of the text with pictorial labels (e.g. forward/back arrows instead of "Next" and "Previous") and made the first voice prompt on screen play when you turn the page. These changes will hopefully make the application much more usable for the less-literate health workers.

Sidhant left to return to Delhi for a family function, and returned on Wednesday. That day, we met again with Dr. Moni because he had just spoken with a Gates-grant NGO who was very interested in learning more about our software. The most recent Gates grant request for proposals was exactly what we do, applications for healthcare on mobile phones, so we hope that working with this NGO will help increase the chances for the grant proposal we submitted. We scheduled a meeting and demo with them for July 26.

On Thursday, Sid and I had a big day. We started the morning at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which is a lot like MIT except only the science part whereas IIT is more the engineering part of MIT. They only offer post-graduate education, and tend to stay in the theoretical rather than applied.

Founded in 1909, IISc has a beautiful campus, secluded from the busy streets of Bangalore by tall walls and thick vegetation. In the first days, they took seeds from plants around the world and planted them everywhere in their campus. 100 years later, it's a melting pot of tree races. The African trees were like none I'd seen before.

At IISc, Sid and I met with Professor Gopi and his group in the Computer Automation Laboratory. We gave them a quick technical introduction to Sana and tried to find contact points at which it would make sense to work together. After our visit at IISc, we went to GE's India campus to meet Oswin Varghese, the pioneer of the portable ECG.

We showed him Sana and told him about what we are trying to do. He was very excited about working together and wanted to form a GE Partnership. At the veryleast, he was incredibly positive about getting his ECG systems working with Sana. We scheduled a meeting next week with more of their engineering team, and will demo it again then.

I am excited to imagine what a GE partnership could be if the very least is to support their devices. He said that they have had problems getting their ECG's out there. We think this is in part because it is not clear who needs the product. If a modern hospital uses it, they will already have an ECG machine that is non-portable. If a general practitioner uses it, they won't trust its output because they don't have the skills necessary to understand it, so instead of risking it they will send the patient to a specialist. The best use case is telemedicine, except they don't have a good way to get the data from rural areas to hospitals.

They have been experimenting with installing GSM modules in the unit to have it upload directly to the Internet, but haven't been able to deliver that as a product. The main issue, he said, was that they have had to integrate with GE's ECG management system, which is far too expensive for emerging markets. Beyond this, in a rural setting, the power goes out, and you need a PC to interoperate with the ECG, so every PC needs a battery (a UPS) for at least 24 hours of power outage. Basically, it seems Sana is the perfect option for getting the ECG taken by the device to a medical records system over the cellular networks.

Finally, to finish the day, we met with Sana's Google Summer of Code (GSoC) student, Pratik Mandrekar for dinner, since he lives nearby. For his GSoC project, Pratik is building ECG and time-series data support into the Sana Media Viewer that is built into OpenMRS. We had a casual dinner and then Sid and I went back to our room to sleep.

Friday, I spent most of the day in a coffee shop that has good coffee and fast (by my new definition) Internet. The coffee is very good here -- it's all locally grown.

Yesterday (Saturday) Sid and I did trials of the phone with healthworkers. First, we visited KLE Dental Hospital and showed the phones to about 12 doctors. These doctors will be doing assessment camps in Bangalore, and they will use Sana to enroll patients in the system and screen them for oral cancer. After showing them the app, we passed around 3 phones and let them all try to use them. Overall the results were positive.

The touchscreen was the hardest part for most of them, as they hadn't learned yet where to touch and how (using pads of fingers vs. fingernails, etc). After some practice, they were doing fine. We got a tour of KLE and then met with the principal of the hospital. He was present during our presentation and said that he was very excited to start the pilot.

Afterwards, we went back to Narayana Hrudayalaya to do a trial with nurse and nursing students. After visiting an oncology ward, we were able to round up about 15 young nurses into a room and we showed them Sana. These nurses wont be piloting our software, but we wanted to get feedback from them about the interface. We showed them our Surgery Followup protocol, because that was most relevant to their normal work (e.g. doing rounds, checking on patients, etc). They were naturals! Most of them had not used a touchscreen or smartphone before, but after watching Sid walk through it were able to do it instantly. This was very encouraging, because they all said it was very easy to use and were excited that this could potentially replace the paper sheets they do their rounds with.

It turns out that when they do rounds, they check on each patient using a form. They then call the doctor and tell her over the phone how each patient is doing. The paper forms are filed, but are often misplaced. This is a perfect
application for Sana with a touch-screen tablet or similar form factor. The doctors can monitor their patients from their office and the forms are automatically digitally filed in the patient's medical record. We need to invest some R+D money into buying some Android tablets to experiment with, because this is a use case we have not explored.

In summary, it was a very busy week. We got loads of good feedback about the application, and gave demos to a lot of people. Next week, we will buy20 phones and travel to Raichur to work on the pilot.

Sorry I know this was way TL;DR but I've got a lot going on right now and wanted to share. Hope you enjoyed the pictures! Until next time, Putzy people!


PS: For those of us homesick for MIT, here are some pictures that bring me back home.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Taming of the SEGFAULT

Unstable DIY segways are great dance instructors.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Eye Still Sucks

Here's the story so far on my own blog:

It's kind of a long story so I didn't feel like typing it again. Or just copy-pasting. Warning: may contain stuff you consider gross. Rated Z for Zak Fallows.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cold Stone is a Far-Away Dream.

Today, Cynthia, Jenelle, Tevis, James and I went on an ADVENTURE. First I had five tickets to a free screening to Despicable Me, but by the time we got there, it was too late and like a bajillion people were at the theater and this lady on a megaphone was like "YO BITCHES. IF YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THE FIRST THIRTY PEOPLE IN LINE, YOU ARE DEFINITELY NOT GETTING IN!" so we left. Then we were like... oh there's a COLD STONE around here. LET'S GO.

So we went to where the Cold Stone USED TO BE. BUT ALAS IT WAS GONE. (Note, this is not the first time this has happened. We tried to go to a Cold Stone in Charlestown a couple weeks ago and it had also been replaced! BY THE SAME ICE CREAM PLACE.)
FUCK YOU EMACK AND BOLIOS. YOU GUYS ARE DICKS. Anyways, me and Cynthia fake cried for a photo opp. Then, we were like... OKAY, let's go to the other Cold Stone! So we followed Tevis' I-Douche towards the Pru. BUT THEN WE GOT SIDE-TRACKED. We found a Lindt Chocolate store (OMG they have those???).
OMG SO MUCH CHOCOLATE. So they were having a buy 4 get 1 free sale on chocolate bars AND a spend $20, get a pound of truffle chocolates for free. So of course we bought 5 chocolate bars, plus we peer-pressured Tevis into buying a bag of chocolates for Judy (cue the group AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW)... I MEAN, TEVIS THOUGHT OF THE IDEA COMPLETELY ON HIS OWN, AND WE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT AT ALL. WE DIDN'T SUPPLY THE RIBBON OR TIN OR ANYTHING. Anyways, after our slight detour, we trekked over to the Pru... and failed to find a Cold Stone. After asking like, everyone in the mall, we managed to track it down... outside of the mall???

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Am Not a Crook

Here are a few pictures from DC:

In front of the Watergate.

How we all feel by May.

Giant phallic symbol in honor of Tevis.
OMGRoofing, the car that I drove behind for 30 min on the way to Philly

Hope no one is melting. Keep it cool bitches

Monday, June 28, 2010


Various little things

On top of Bunker Hill at the end of a long walk around Boston with Maja and James

Harbor Islands

Featherweight at the highest point in Boston Harbor, a lofty 155 feet above sea level

Techs racing after a thunderstorm

Saturday, June 26, 2010

my impending untimely demise

deathblades, now known as RazErblades after my RazEr scooter.


Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Why 1: Trying to help with milk transportation/trying to see if MIT can help somehow.
Why 2: Milk is good. Cows are holy.

Temperature: 42C (feels like 48C) (118F, I wanted to add a comment here about stupid American untis, but am too tired)

Went on a 4 hr ride to a village. The car's air conditioner was failing because of the awesome heat outside. It was good.

On my way saw the following:

Will post pretty things later, its breakfast time in here. Our flight to Chennai, just got delayed, so will have another beautiful day to spend in Jaipur.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


In the spirit of the Wereldkampioenschap Voetbal (Go Orange!), Putz decided it would be a good idea to obtain some vuvuzelas! James took the initiative and bought a quantity in bulk from China. This supply was purchased rapidly by summer residents of Putz. The blaring B flat is now heard often on hall as Putzen celebrate in the pleasure of making noise!

I painted my own dull blue instrument in South African colors with some of Maja's pretty acrylics and added an orange stripe for the Dutch.

This evening, the usual call for hall feed was accompanied by a chorus of vuvuzelas! In case you haven't heard enough in the past couple weeks, here is a video (because embedding does not work).

Tune to vigilance on Saturday at 3:00 to watch us cheering for the USA-Ghana match.

The capabilities of the vuvuzelas have been pushed to their limits. It has been discovered that they can play multiple tones, function well as rendezvous locating devices, and generate interesting sound interference patterns when directed against each other.

leggingz r hurrrrr


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

From the Desk of the \m/it \m/echanical \m/ischief \m/aster

Look! A flying shopping cart!

I installed a utility winch on the ceiling of MITERS today. LOLrioKart is a fun vehicle and all, but it takes up way too much floor space. It's also really damn heavy. So the winch serves the dual purpose of being a work hoist for the times I need to change parts or work on the battery pack, as well as an aerial storage location.

I bolted the 1,500lb line pull ATV winch (a craigslist find) to a 1/2" aluminum plate, which was in turn anchored into the solid concrete (welcome to early 1900s industrial buildings) ceiling. If I installed everything correctly, each 1/4" x 2" Tapcon screw should hold a maximum of 1,100 pounds. There are five screws holding the plate on, so the failure point of the fasteners ought to be well above the winch's dead lift stall load rating.

I learned that the best way to use a hammerdrill isn't to push as hard as you physically can, but to let it float itself into the workpiece. By pushing on the drill hard, the chisel motion is dampened and not as effective.

I also learned that I am not nearly manly enough to wield a hammerdrill, nor to drive concrete bolts with a power tool.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Worst Nightmare

After days of dreaming about having really slow crappy internet in my apartment, a different version of my worst nightmare has come true. The internet in the apartment is fine, but I don't have internet access at work. Plus it takes like an hour to get there in the morning and about 1.5-2 hours to get home in the afternoon.
No internet and no something make Marie something something

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Past 3 Weeks.

As I am now back at MIT with internet faster than 28.8 kbps, I feel my adventures of the past few weeks should be shared with the putzen far and wide.

So first, as most of you know, I went to Oregon. This was my first time to the west coast, so I was pretty excited.

I hung out in Eugene for a few days, where I saw my cousin (who is in the sculpting grad program at the University of Oregon), rode in Leighton's electric hippie van, and met a few of Leighton's friends (which explains so much).

This is an awesome picture of a bunch of at the top of Spencer's Butte. I'm standing by my cuz and the rest are Leighton's crazy friends.
Leighton's mother also took us on a day trip to the coast and the aquarium. We saw otters and seals and puffins. They were so cute :)

Then me and Leighton went adventuring. We spent a night camping near the coast before heading towards Ashland to see Pride and Prejudice (which was suggested by Leighton's mother and was surprising good).

This is a photo from the coast which I think is gorgeous.

Then we headed to meet up with Tevie and Cathy Wu. On the way we were looking for food, we went through a little town known as Prospect. We were intrigued by the only three places in town; a "Cafe and Trophy Room", a pawn shop which was also the main residence of its owner, and the Liquor store which also had groceries. On the way out of town, a young mother holding a child stared us down, we are still not sure why...

The next day we headed toward Crater Lake with Tevie and Cathy Wu. We also went shovel riding and as mentioned by Tevie, I have some amazing videos.

This is Cathy Wu as she was confused how ride down on the shovel.

And one of Tevie!

And then my personal favorite of Leighton. I think his reasoning was that maybe more momentum was needed for this piece of plastic to work as a sled.

After saying goodbye to Tevie and Cathy Wu, we headed back up to Eugene for a quick stop before I left the next morning. The drive was beautiful.

So then I headed home for a week, which was, well, home. I had quite an exciting time with some of my friends as we went on a trip to Pittsburgh though. We ended up driving into a storm which had been causing hail and tornadoes, getting locked down at one of my friends dorms, and then driving back trying to stay between two of the storm fronts. It was somewhat epic.

So this would normally not be exciting, considering I had a 9 hour drive by myself. However, 2 hours into my drive, in the middle of central PA, I spotted something which looked familiar. It was painted with a yellow stripe, had a 'T' with a circle on it, and had a 1 on the back. I looked at it confused, thinking it was just another random public transportation vehicle which resembled the ones constantly running up and down Mass Ave. But as I passed it (for it couldn't even reach speeds of 50 mph on the highway), I realized it said "Mass Ave-Dudley" across the front. I stopped at the next rest station, ate lunch, waited for it to pass, and then caught back up to get Putz the following video. Don't mind my excitement, but seriously, its like a super lost 1 bus.

So it probably was getting delivered, considering it looks new, but seriously, you would think they could turn of the sign for the drive up.

and finally...
So Tevie has been wanting to go, and we wanted to go for a walk.

And then another picture of Putzen looking, well, like normal.

Sorry for being so long winded. If you want more pictures look at my facebook :D