Clearing the Graveyard

I haven’t published on this blog in a record 2.5 months — my last blog post, conveniently titled “August 2021”, more or less explains why, although it wasn’t intended to be any kind of break announcement. Rather, the heaviness of the world today required some sifting through, and still I am sifting. That key question asked as part of depression diagnoses — “do you cease desiring to do even the things you normally enjoyed?” — has applied frequently to many parts of my life.

I sold an electric piano keyboard (a weighted one for classical training) that I had bought during the pandemic, because it competed with my monitor on my desk, and I found I couldn’t bring myself to buy the costly separate stand in the mere hope of practicing again. It’s okay, it’s not goodbye forever — just goodbye for now.

Drawing in my little doodle sketchbook similarly felt like too much effort. I couldn’t bring myself to even think of exercise, but I tried to walk often. This general passivity combined with several stints of work travel killed my desire to maintain a fridge full of groceries with which to cook, another hobby I sometimes enjoyed.

I fell to the core pastime of the passive — television. I have found myself, previously an avowed scaredy cat, surprisingly into horror movies during this pandemic. I still don’t like to be startled, but I see the appeal now, of horror, it’s a bit cathartic. I’ve gotten used to it slowly over time, first with Get Out, then an ex forced exposure therapy by taking me to Us in a theater, then I watched the Alien franchise and some zombie movies in early 2020, and recently, Midsommar, which is, interestingly, mostly during daylight. Train to Busan, a Korean zombie movie, is also mostly daylight, and it was fun to observe the differences between two cultures on a very overdone trope.

I recently have expanded to reading — I am working my way through Debt: The First 5000 Years by the late David Graeber. I wish he had been around to comment on Squid Game.

Anyway, I don’t intend to dwell, or wallow. In a way, selling my keyboard, though I felt very conflicted and kind of sad about it, was a way of laying to rest this episode, despite the fact that we’re entering another pandemic winter that I am not looking forward to. I hope it symbolizes a kind of reversion to minimalism, a time when I can clean out the things I regret not doing kindly, gently, safely.

Similarly, I’ve felt guilty for not writing. Well, in truth, I never stop writing — not even in times like these. But I find that writing when I’m not feeling great doesn’t produce very publishable content. Often I write quite a lot, but without much substance — if it’s truly bad, I sometimes just ruminate in circles of despair, pages and pages of pages of it.

I’ve decided to lay to rest the posts in my graveyard, and any errant thoughts in my head that always wanted to be blog posts but didn’t have time or effort to be published. The thought on horror movies was one of these, just a thought. The rest are titles sitting in my Medium drafts.

The Term “Global South” vs. “Developing Countries”

We’ve talked a lot about how to talk about countries affected by colonialism and geopolitical marginalization. First, there had to be an entire publication dedicated to cheekily reminding people that Africa is a continent, not a country. I personally prefer the term “Global South” to ones like “third world” and “developing countries”. “Developing” implies there is some ideal standard everyone is developing toward, when in reality, not every community desires the same system of living. And what does “third world” even mean — unfortunately, there is just one world, although I do actually understand the feeling of living in another. Often, I feel like people who have only known the industrialized United States have no idea what life really requires and consists of, because so many processes are abstracted away (after doing a water project in Ethiopia, I received questions about why people did not simply collect rainwater in bins, with no recognition of all the health issues posed by reservoirs of standing water).

“Global South” is a term I prefer because it contains a simple and straightforward recognition of colonial history, and also indicates location. Another trend I have seen recently is the term “global majority”, or “people of the global majority” to refer to what people in the United States call “minorities”. A connection could also be drawn to the newer emphasis on how rectangular map projections often make Africa look much smaller than it actually is, or the Grey’s Anatomy joke about the white man being the exotic one and the Asian woman being “statistically average”. It is important to recognize how the domination of the world has actually been performed by a small, specific group.

R&D on the High Seas

I wanted to write about the hardware R&D process, having gone through one from prototype to production recently — maybe I will write about this still, but today I’m leaving it here to rest.

Is Crafting not Hardware?

Is skincare not biochemistry?

In this blog post idea I wanted to write both about a recent project and the interesting differentiation between artisinal crafting and “technology”.The project involved painting a leather purse black, which I was inspired to do after watching videos like this on YouTube(my bag was much less fancy though), and it made me think about how tasks and jobs are coded by gender and category. I started this after my post about “Gender and Professionalism in STEM.” While people have done a lot chin-stroking about “men and spatial thinking” or “testosterone and math performance” to inform why there are more men in STEM than women, engineering evolved from the early, crucially important human behavior of making tools and altering the environment. The inventions of fire, the wheel, and terrace farming were early “technology”. Much of this evolved into artisanal craft — pottery, textile work — that was often primarily done by women. Somehow, in our modern world, the artisanal work and its more relaxed cousin, “crafting”, became more typically or acceptably coded as feminine, while engineering, its offspring, is coded as heavily masculine. Women were among the first programmers. The relation of STEM to masculine coding is not really about the task itself, but rather, changed as science and engineering became more proximal to power, which is what binary gender dynamics are really about.

PROCESS: MLA Style Blogging

I wanted to write another process post about how I try to reference sources and substantiate claims throughout all my blog posts. Sometimes I find that people think logic is enough to substantiate their claims, but actually, logic doesn’t hold when the facts are wrong. I am similarly surprised when others seem to be convinced easily by speakers who they believe are compelling, but provide little to no evidence (often the case in certain podcasts or youtube videos). So when I make claims (especially as in posts like “Race and Taxes”) I do my best to support them throughout, typically by linking to a source over the text of the sentence (rather than as a footnote or endnote) and providing more general sources of information on the topic at the end of the post, inclusive of the links posted throughout.

Stop Using 6-DOF Arms for Everything

An example of what not to do…..Often, the goal of good automation is not to replace a person, but to have a highly reliable process. On the other hand, precisely because robotics has so many customizations to fit the process, the cost is high — it is difficult to take advantage of economies of scale. But, if the process is the basis of an entire business idea it’s usually worth it to go through that automation design process.

I gave up social media and it didn’t really do anything

For a period of time I deleted my Instagram and Twitter and, as a result, just spent a lot of time reading the New York Times and other news publications. This was not net beneficial for my mental health — if anything, in such virtual times, I felt even more isolated people with one less way to keep in touch (not because of the news feeds but because of the direct messages). Finding a book that I liked (such as Debt) or other things I liked doing got me away from social media and helped more than the simple act of giving it up did — so anyone looking to free themselves of the notion that Deprivation Solves All is welcome to take this and run with it.

That’s it for now….in fact, I discovered one draft that was actually nearly complete. Maybe you will be hearing from me sooner than 2.5 months later…

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MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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Selam G.

Selam G.

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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