Saturday, December 7, 2013

Freshman Year

I think I wrote this at the end of freshmen year at MIT in 2004.  It's kind of a love letter to East Campus, the dorm I used to live in.

'sscrazy Even though so many things have changed already, it doesn't feel different.  Instead, it feels natural.  Of course, this whole spiel is only about my own experience.  It is specific to my past, my present, and most importantly, it is specific to myself.  This is just a story.
 During the my last few days in St. Louis, I wrote:
I feel like I'm entering a door that I can't see the other side of.  What do I not know.  I don't know who I'm going to be hanging out w/ and how I'm going to feel about people.  I don't know what my daily/weekly/monthly schedule is going to be like.  I don't know what it's going to look like when I look out the window, or if I'll even have a window.  I don't know how classes will be.  I don't know my competition.  I don't know the system.  Most importantly, I don't know what is going to be most important to me.  I suppose it's kind of the same every year.  I get a new routine.  I get a new strategy for how I'm going to approach my life; how I do work, how/when I play.  So, here's to the rest of my life. 
As time passed, I got to know some things... When I first came to Boston, the first thing was to find a place to live - a home, not just a physical location but also a community.  Over the summer, I chose a dorm notorious for its eccentric inhabitants.  I thought I might relate to the people there.  Now, all I can say is, man, I was so right.  I love the environment that I'm in.  The people on my hall encourage exploration and activity.  They value intellectual integrity and creativity.  There are tools for building things like lofts, tables, and other addendums to your room if you want.  Art is everywhere as people customize their rooms, doors, and hallways.  The kitchen is another great resource.  Along with these material commodities, the most valuable resource is the knowledge and support of the people you live around.  Thus, college is a sanctuary for learning things in a safe and effective way whether it's learning how to bake a pie or how to play hockey with burning tennis balls.  Yeah, I live with a special bunch.  When I tell people from the other side of campus where I live, they nod understandingly with a hint of pity and fear.
Not that the individuals are really all that different from the rest of the MIT community.  In general, we are all bonded by what is best described as "nerd pride."  It's the idea of learning for the sake of being proud of what you know, whether it's mechanical engineering, math, ocean engineering, or electrical engineering.  It's not about the money or making a living; it's not about having power; it's just about being smart and knowing how to do something and being useful.  This point of view does, however, look down on business and certain other less course intensive majors.  This is one of many ways I'm very lucky to be the way I am.  Because I am a nerd, and I came here to do engineering, and I possess that same "nerd pride," I don't have any problems fitting in or being challenged for not being "core" enough.
As I sink into the depths of Tetazoo (hall), East Campus (dorm), MIT, Boston, Massachusetts, My Life, I have become acquainted with not only the people around me, but also the sense of overall community, my values, and the school system.  I am beginning to develop a routine.  It took some time to tweak my daily schedule: work, sleep, class, work, eat, class, eat, work, work, play, sleep.  We even have our own vocabulary for our daily meanderings.  Work is otherwise known as “tooling,” while playing is “punting.”  Between tooling and punting, we do what we can in order to keep doing.

In college, you find out about a lot of inner conflicts.  Many people lose their motivation for doing work.  The new environment disrupts their pretty ideas of how life should be, and they scramble to reestablish their reason to live.  I haven't had too many problems with this, since for whatever reason, these questions are not new to me.  Maybe my world has been shaken before, or maybe I was just more sensitive to the smaller jolts growing up.  I have not even really had to struggle much with loneliness or homesickness.  Even insecurities about academic validation, the assurance that I am smart enough to be here, have mostly evaded me.  For me, the main struggle has been to keep myself sane and functional.  In college, you have to take care of yourself, and people here are often much more demanding of themselves than they should be.  In the doctrine of living life to its fullest, it's easy to lose perspective about your own limitations of how much social interaction you can take.  It can be extremely hard to find alone time or just a place where you can feel completely relaxed.  Having fun is fun, but you're still not relaxed.  It also seems like a lot of people here compulsively do work out of a need to feel productive, myself included.  We don't even know what we’re working for.  We’re all trying to figure out what we want.  

Maybe if we live enough, we will find out. In short:college is great

Interstate Cooperation for Clean Energy

I wrote up a policy  memo for a class last week.  It made me realize how much of a problem coal still is, largely because it is not easy for coal-miners to transition to other jobs.  

California, Arizona, New Jersey are leading the nation in manufacturing and installing solar power.  Arizona alone has over 316 solar companies, supplying a variety of parts for solar installations[i]
The number of solar installations has been growing across the nation, increasing 15% in Q2 of 2013[ii].  States with solar manufacturing are well-positioned to benefit as more states install more solar power.  Those states will have more well-paying jobs and tax revenues as the solar industry grows. 
On the other hand, there are many opponents of solar power.  About 40% of the electricity generated in the United States is from coal.  Coal mining in the US is concentrated in some states, particularly Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.  These and other states such as Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois have strong pro-coal lobbies and constituents[iii].
Coal miners and their communities are justifiably concerned about losing their jobs and economic security.  Right now, they support ways to keep coal cheap, which works directly against the interests of the solar industry and Arizona generally.
In order to undercut the support for cheap coal, I recommend that states without coal industries share some of the benefits of their growing solar industries with coal miners.  Continued access to healthcare and education are particularly valuable.  Solar producing states should offer scholarships to family members of coal miners to their state universities.  They could also contribute to a fund to pay for healthcare for families of coal-miners.
Those directly affected by the decline of the coal-producing industry are relatively few, about 20,000 coal-miners in Kentucky, for example[iv].  Providing a safety net for those people would go a long way towards reducing the urgency of keeping coal production going.  This would give coal producing states less opposed to clean tech.  They would also have more resources to develop jobs in other industries rather than coal mining.
Solar producing states should partner with coal producing states to find mutually beneficial solutions to their economic, environmental, and health problems.        

[i] ‘Arizona Solar’, Solar Energy Industries Association [accessed 5 December 2013].
[ii] ‘Solar Industry Data’ [accessed 5 December 2013].
[iii] Kris Maher and Tom McGinty, ‘Coal’s Decline Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky’ [accessed 5 December 2013].
[iv] ‘Mining Employment and Production Trends’, The Impact of Coal on the Kentucky State Budget .