#30Till30 - Why

It's the favorite joke of the sitcom - group of 20 year olds, living in some city, they get depressed upon turning 30. In modern life, 30 is a big deal. 21 is the age when you're no longer a teenager and have entered your adult years - by 30, you should have figured this out.

Because apparently turning 30 is the end of life as you know it.

Because apparently turning 30 is the end of life as you know it.

My aunt called me on the first of the month to wish me a happy first day of my birthday month. She's a literature person, so it's fitting that she suggested I mark the month with a post each day. At first that seemed overwhelming...like May wasn't busy enough. But I like the idea of doing some extra reflection on milestone birthdays. For my 21st, I asked myself what my goal was for my ultimate contribution to the world. That was when I came up with the idea of opening a research center in Jamaica some day that would also have many opportunities for the K-12 group to be exposed to different parts of STEM. (Shameless plug, I talk about this in the Developer Chapter of the recently released Women in Tech book. Also, how crazy is it that I can shameless plug an actual book that I contributed to? How is this real life?)

So what are my goals for this? To reflect on my 20s, the good, the bad, the ugly. Quite frankly, I’m feeling pretty lucky these days, but as someone who identifies with Hermione, I’m always thinking about how I can improve. To look forward to the next decade of my life. To think about what I want to accomplish in this decade, and maybe update those life goals, see what I still like about them, what I can improve about them. And at the very least, to end the month not feeling like this dude...

Let's at least promise to never get how whiny Ted gets about pretty much everything.

Let's at least promise to never get how whiny Ted gets about pretty much everything.

...and more like Beyoncé.

Life can't be that bad if you're channeling Beyoncé.

Life can't be that bad if you're channeling Beyoncé.

The Case of the Disappearing Shoreline: What Happened to Jamaica’s Hellshire Beach?

Top, Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor. Bottom, Hellshire Beach, January 2016, taken by Gabrielle Taylor. Both photos taken at Prendy’s.

“Hellshire is changed, all the beach is gone.”

 

So said one of my friends in passing, also back home for the holidays. I didn’t quite understand what they meant. So I gathered some of my family and friends and we set off for a Saturday outing.

As we drove, it started to occur to us that the ocean did seem a little closer. The real shock occurred when we stepped into one of the fish vendor shops.

Shock at the ocean actually being at our feet. January 2016, taken by Kamilah Taylor.

If you needed another reminder of what it looked like.

Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor.

Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor.

I like to keep on top of Jamaican news, and especially Jamaican environmental news. We have a lot of issues in this department. Just last year, Riverton Dump, burned for more than 8 days. No visible progress seems to be happening with the hotels agreeing with NEPA on how to save the Negril coastline. We’ve allowed foreign companies to come in and repeatedly build hotels not just on the beach but on other environmentally vulnerable locations.

But back to the Hellshire Beach shoreline.

Like any good scientist/engineer, when I got back I started to do a little bit of research. I wish I could say I was shocked when I found this article from 2011, “Hellshire Beach threatened, LIME funds study to identify solutions”, but alas, I was not. Back then, a study was commissioned to be carried out by a local coastal engineering firm Smith Warner, and “the first phase of the study will include extensive data gathering on the biological environment and the use of computer models to undertake preliminary engineering analyses.” Jamel Banton, director at Smith Warner, warned that “if the existing attrition is not reduced, the shoreline is expected to retreat further inland, thereby lessening the viability of the popular beach area for recreational and commercial activities.”

Top, Hellshire Beach, January 2009, taken by Kamilah Taylor. Bottom, Hellshire Beach, January 2016, taken by Kamilah Taylor. Both photos taken at Prendy’s.

I’d say he was correct. So what happened to this study?

After some digging, I found an article in the Gleaner in July 2015 that talks about the continued erosion and the study that was commissioned. Even then, you can see that there’s a little more beach left. The study “found that there is a way to curtail the tempestuous waters, but they would need more than US$1.5 million (J$176 million) to stop the erosion.” The Half Moon Bay’s Fishermen Cooperative represents many of the vendors at Hellshire. They are now “working with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation to write grant proposals and solicit financiers.”

But what happened between 2011 and 2016? Why were they just getting around to writing grant proposals in the summer of 2015? Why has the rate of erosion increased between May and October of 2015? If there is opposition to solving this with a similar breakwaters project to the one proposed in Negril, where is the media’s unbiased and detailed coverage of the pros/cons and alternate solutions? Isn’t it too late to implement such a solution in Hellshire, given how much the shoreline has already eroded? How much of this is also due to rising sea levels and the construction of buildings on the beach? I’ve noticed that there is much more coverage of Negril’s erosion than there is of Hellshire’s — I sincerely hope this is not because Hellshire is mostly a local’s beach and Negril is a tourist beach — or that a different class of people will be affected by the impending loss of income.

And above all, where is the public outcry? Why are we okay with our country’s natural resources being destroyed one by one? Today it is Hellshire. Tomorrow it will be Negril.


Flash Back Friday: HAL, my grad school robot #fbf

I am a HAL 9000 Computer Production No. 3. I became operational at the H—A—L plant in Urbana, Illinois, on the 12th of January, 1992.
— http://archive.wired.com/thisdayintech/2011/01/0112hal-born-space-odyssey/

Last Sunday, I stumbled upon this gem of an old pic.

HAL, My Intensity Bug Robot. Yes, her name comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, not because she was evil, but because she's from UIUC! 

HAL, My Intensity Bug Robot. Yes, her name comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, not because she was evil, but because she's from UIUC! 

Background: In 2008, my advisor (Steve LaValle) assigned  Bug algorithms (a category of planning algorithms) as my weekly reading. I identified what I thought was an oversight. These were supposed to be super simple, just a point robot magically navigating to some end location, only equipped with a touch sensor so that it could circumnavigate obstacles. Turned out, it needed much more than that - gps, compass, enough processing power to calculate slopes on the fly. So I decided to start with a robot that actually only had a touch sensor, and see how I could add a minimal set of sensors and have it reach its goal.

I can't remember how I came up with the idea of having the end location be a tower emitting a signal, but I do remember that this insight, combined with the subsequent insights of the exact pieces of information the robot would need, was the highlight of my grad school career.

I still had doubts that this would work in the real world, and it took me a while to find a signal that exhibited the properties I'd written about. The first time HAL successfully made it to the "tower", i.e. the infrared beacon source, was perhaps the second highlight. I probably should have kept around a video of me cheering!

KT

Further reading: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10514-013-9356-x 

Rough copy: http://msl.cs.uiuc.edu/~lavalle/papers/TayLav14.pdf

HAL in action:

New year, new look

2015 is all about a new outlook on life. I even got a new haircut!


It's been long overdue, but I'm resurrecting both my website and blog posts. This one is new and shiny and I'm so excited to fill it with tech tips, ramblings, life updates, projects, and more!