Visual Rhetoric

The modern world hinges on the ability to create better user experience through carefully crafted design.

When Clear Writing Really Matters

I know that this is certainly quite late — I had saved this article a few months back and am only now getting to writing about it. Nonetheless, I think it is valuable enough to warrant another look.

When the report, and Rozenweig’s ensuing article, first came out, it reminded me of the importance of brevity and directness. In science writing, conciseness and clarity are prized. However, in the pursuit of objectivity, we often use the third-person passive voice, and this style has deeply impacted my own writing. I now resolve to use more active verbs to provide narrative and agency to the words on the page and to show responsibility of actions.

On a whim, I took a class about teaching writing, and it taught me quite a bit about the pedagogical philosophy of college-level writing instructors around the world. In particular, I developed my own ideas about what writing is supposed to be, what purposes it is supposed to serve, and how my own particular style of writing fits in amidst a great variety of different forms of communication.

This class was invaluable, and I encourage anyone who has the chance to take such an opportunity because, “some day they may have something to say that really matters to them and possibly to the world — and they will want to convey it when the moment arrives in writing that’s clear and concise” (Rosenzweig 2019).

Dossier

“The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write,” by Jane Rosenzweig, September 27, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/opinion/whistleblower-complaint.html

The Pioneering Spirit of General Aviation in the US

The rich legacy of aviation in the United States, from the first flight of the Wright brothers’ plane through to modern commercial jet airliners, has allowed the United States to develop the most widely dispersed general aviation infrastructure in the world. With that, comes the freedom of flight.

Let’s keep this pioneering spirit alive.

Dossier

MIT Ground School, by Philip Greenspun, January 6, 2020. http://philip.greenspun.com/teaching/ground-school/

Discourse on Modern Medical Education

An interesting discourse has popped up recently surrounding medical education and its role in training physicians about social issues. Dr. Goldfarb argues that, “at ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness.” But his statements have met with pushback from other medical educators.

I think this discourse is fascinating to read, especially on the heels of a pedagogical course in which we examined how to teach writing, and recently implementing an aviation ground course on campus. There is so much more involved in teaching than I had ever expected, so this glimpse of the philosophy behind what medical students get taught is certainly eye-opening, but not surprising. What does surprise me, however, is the dynamic between modern educational thought and the hierarchical medical structure.

Todays world of medicine is filled with these dichotomies between old-age ideals and modern technological innovation. Specialties have become the norm for treatment, and no singular physician can adequately expect to treat the “whole person” as we might have imagined only 50 years ago. With increasing specialization, care has become fragmented. Increased fragmentation has led to patients bearing the burden of coordination.

The “professionalism” movement initiated in the 1990s had hoped to humanize the medical educational process and help develop physicians who were more than mere technicians.

Michael H. Malloy, M.D., M.S.

I do agree that tangentially related topics need not be given much time or dedication in an already packed curriculum. However, the underlying assumption that climate change, gun policy, and other social issues constitute as tangential betrays the point. Old school medical education gave rise to the current epidemic of overspecialization, so to continue the same pedagogical philosophy makes no sense. Todays physicians are encouraged to be well-rounded, socially aware, and empathetic. While scientific proficiency is vital for physicians, it should not come at the expense of forgetting that todays physicians treat people, not their symptoms.

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“Social Justice and Educating Our Physicians,” by Robert McLean, Michael Malloy, et. al., September 18, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/social-justice-and-educating-our-physicians-11568830783

“Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns,” by Stanley Goldfarb, September 12, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/take-two-aspirin-and-call-me-by-my-pronouns-11568325291?mod=article_inline

“Medical Schools Are Pushed to Train Doctors for Climate Change,” by Brianna Abbott, August 7, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/medical-schools-are-pushed-to-train-doctors-for-climate-change-11565170205

Two Types of Fun

Recently, I saw a video by Ali Abdaal going over the lessons he learned throughout the year. The one that stood out to me most was the idea of there being two distinct types of fun. This put into words something that we all feel, especially when we reflect over the experiences of the past year.

Firstly, there is the standard enjoyable fun that everyone is well aware of. But the second type of fun is a bit less obvious. It’s the fun that requires work, and effort, before us calling it fun. Therefore it isn’t necessarily “enjoyable” in the moment, that is, while we’re doing it, but is later classified as fun when looking back.

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“15 Life Lessons I Learned in 2019,” by Ali Abdaal, January 7, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3hOrfLuxU0

The Dilemma of Electric Aviation

The internal combustion engine has been around for about two hundred years, and to great effect. It has changed the world and made it a better place for many people. Yet, in its wake are the climate consequences of mobilizing an enormous swath of the population.

Today we’re seeing an explosion in electric vehicle technologies, and I am extremely excited for an electrified future. The advantages of electric propulsion systems for wheeled vehicles, including instantaneous torque delivery and greater longevity, easily outweighs the negatives. The improvements in fast charging have been drastic and the increase in range has negated the range anxiety that plagued early electric vehicles.

However, despite these advantages and improvements, I think aviation may well remain one of the last holdouts of the internal combustion engine. Aviation primarily uses one of two different types of internal combustion engine — the reciprocating engine, commonly found in general aviation, and the turbine engine, commonly found in commercial aircraft.

For short range trips, I admit that electric propulsion systems seem quite attractive. However, when looking at long distance cruising, which is paramount to commercial operators, the internal combustion engine still holds its own.

The reciprocating engine is particularly well suited to the demands of long distance cruising, especially when combined with a constant speed propeller. Running at peak efficiency essentially all the time means that the traditional issues that detractors bemoan, large and quick changes of RPM, are no longer relevant.

Because these engines need to be spinning at all times, ground vehicles need to utilize some sort of transmission and power coupling system to allow for slippage. Aviation, on the other hand, requires the propeller to be spinning at all times anyway (at least during flight and most ground operations after the initial set up procedures). Therefore, planes do not need to have a heavy transmission and are often simply directly connected to the propeller.

The near-instantaneous response times of electric motors is certainly helpful for pilots, especially during non-normal procedures such as stalls, go-arounds, etc., for most applications it isn’t absolutely necessary. Passenger aircraft would likely implement some sort of smoothing system anyway for comfort, negating the benefits almost completely.

The energy density of chemical fuels is unparalleled, with the exception of nuclear technologies. The energy extraction mechanisms used for nuclear energy are themselves quite bulky, completely negating any density benefits. On the other hand electric propulsion systems suffer from the exact opposite problem. Electric motors are lightweight, but the batteries are still heavy, despite the massive improvements that have been made in recent years.

The advancements in battery technology that are driven by innovation in the aviation sector will likely have an enormous impact on society as a whole. For that reason alone, I think pursuing electric aviation technologies is absolutely worth the effort and the increased funding that it deserves. This is an area where these developments may completely overturn the cost-benefit ratio and make electric aviation readily cost-effective despite some of the inefficiencies of the energy storage mechanism.

The electrification potential in ground based vehicles is more obvious. The benefits of electric motors are their extremely high torque, instantaneous response times, and independent wheel control (assuming 4 motors, one for each wheel).

I think off-road vehicles are even more suited, as having wheel-based motors allows for higher ground clearance. Likewise, buses and city vehicles as well, where weight is not really a huge concern, and electric charge stations are plentiful and can even by added to the bus stops themselves to keep the vehicles charged.

Because of these issues, I think that electric innovation will be primarily driven by ground-based transport, rather than by aviation. However, I would love to be proved wrong, especially as aviation becomes one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. Reducing these emissions will be invaluable to increase the reach of general aviation reach in society, and I am eager for such a future.

This area, namely emissions, is where I see the largest potential for upheaval of the industry. As pilots and aviators, we probably contribute significantly more to climate change than others. Flying in small general aviation aircraft is inherently less efficient than flying in larger airliners. Allowing the public to pursue general aviation without contributing to the negative impact of climate change will be immensely beneficial. As a community, pilots are excited for a future where aviation can be carbon neutral.

Dossier

MIT Ground School, by Philip Greenspun, January 6, 2020. http://philip.greenspun.com/teaching/ground-school/

“Is it Wrong to Fly?” by Vox, January 8, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88Cd5H3kmXQ

Complete Ownership of Tasks as a Better Management Strategy

When I first read “Fairness in Housework Doesn’t Mean 50/50” in The Wall Street Journal, Eve Rodsky’s ideas seemed to perfectly take the abstract echoes from our subconscious thoughts and concretely place them into the context of the household – a backdrop that the vast majority of Americans can easily relate to. The tagline summarizes her argument concisely, “Happiness at home comes from each spouse owning tasks completely—not dividing everything exactly down the middle.”

I think that this is even more relevant in modern households. Todays elite, at least according to Daniel Markovits in “The Meritocracy Trap,” seems to run households in the image of a production facility, generating the necessary human capital to sustain the emerging meritocratic dynasties. In that sense, I now realize that Rodsky’s argument resonates with all aspects of management, from the household to large organizations, from small group projects for a class to whole teams of professionals volunteering their evenings to serve the community.

Dossier

“Fairness in Housework Doesn’t Mean 50/50,” by Eve Rodsky, September 20, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/fairness-in-housework-doesnt-mean-50-50-11568989512

“The Meritocracy Trap,” by Daniel Markovits, September 10, 2019.

Point Yourself into the Wind

Last week, I wrote about the Goldsmith and the analogy to human struggle. That truly resonated with me. But reflecting on it, I remembered an early lesson from my flight instructor that had a similar message.

While taxiing to the runway, one one of my first flights, he told me, “Make sure you always face into the wind when taking off.” I look at life in the same way: the challenges and difficulties that we face in life are what lift us up high into the sky.

Why the Goldsmith Stokes the Flames

There is a historical element that, in combination with metallurgy and materials sciences, gives rise to the age-old practices of goldsmiths. Why is it that goldsmiths take precious metals and place them into the hot, dirty coals?

The goldsmith might retort, “I use the heat of the flames to purify the gold – to turn an imperfect piece into the most precious metal.”

Perhaps the glowing blaze of the forge, the rising embers from the ashes, the swirling heat that distorts our vision, represents far more. Perhaps the goldsmith’s retort is the answer to the primordial question, “Why do we struggle?” It is the flames of the coals that purifies the gold. Likewise, it is struggle and hardship that purifies the human soul.

Two Types of Love

There are two types of love.

One that makes you enjoy the fact that you’re in love. It’s the one everyone knows about, the one that you look forward to.

The other is much heavier. It makes you feel sad that you love. It’s one of responsibility. A love that makes you go out of your way to care for someone. One that makes your life difficult but only because you want theirs to be easier.

In English we don’t have too many ways of expressing this dichotomy, though we find ways around it. Does this affect the way we think, as proposed by Sapir and Whorf?

Perhaps.

The Tree of 40 Fruit

This is a project I heard about years ago and fascinated me. It was not only a piece of artwork, but also a living example of the beauty of biodiversity.

I remember my elementary school having a tree drive where families could pick up fruit tree saplings and plant at home. We went there and brought home three apple saplings and planted them in our backyard. Over the years I would watch them grow from my window on the second floor, watching them slowly grow taller and taller.

While I was a bit sad that they blocked the prime sledding tracks on our little hill, I later learned to love these trees as a part of our home. When they finally started blooming and growing fruit, we quickly realized that these trees were in desperate need of pollination.

Those were the years where the sudden collapse of beehives was propagating like wildfire through the news. It was then that I recognized the central duality of nature — that of its frailty and its resilience.

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