Grasping a vast subject requires a creative approach

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Environmental sustainability is a vast subject that touches every aspect of our lives — food, fashion, and our commutes to work — as well as many elements that we don’t see behind the curtain, like the supply chains that build the trucks that ship the products we buy. It also covers multiple areas of study, like science, engineering, policy, and law. All of that makes it an intimidating field of learning.

I’d like to have a better grasp on the subject for many reasons. One, because it’s fascinating. It includes every issue I’m interested in. And because I want to…


Statistics is an instrument of truth.
You can make truer statements with statistics than without. Statements that apply to some fraction of people for some fraction of the time can be stated as such, instead of as absolutes.

No one ‘always’ does anything. If you said to someone “You always do this!” the statement can only be false.

‘All’ people of a certain demographic don’t do any one thing. “All women (or all men) behave a certain way”, is less true than a statement that specifies what fraction of men or women you mean, and how you estimated this fraction.


Sustainable options often lead to living better

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Ergonomics has been on my mind as I set up my home office after moving into a new apartment. To get a desk of the right height, I had to build my own out of a plank from a hardware store and a couple of filing cabinets. I want my books and notebooks within arm’s length, and to be able to wheel my chair from the computer desk to the writing station to the sketching station with ease, without wires getting in the way.

I’ve also been thinking about cognitive ergonomics and how a slower pace of life suits our…


Extrapolating trends too far into the future can lead to absurd conclusions

Sketch by the author

Remember when we thought we were going to become ever-more connected until we merged into a collective hive mind?

We saw ourselves become more connected than we had been, as email, texting, and social media came on the scene. Why wouldn’t this trend continue? Extrapolating, we thought we’d end up at the extreme end-state of becoming a super-organism.

I use ‘we’ loosely. I know not all of us thought that.

Consider now the extreme distaste many of us have for social media and email, the fashionable practice of ‘unplugging’ and going of the grid, technology detoxes, and digital minimalism.

Technology…


We’re just really tired of ads.

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Where did this ‘goldfish’ factoid come from? The origin was a study done by Microsoft’s advertising department, which was then popularized by Time magazine. All the links I found to the pdf of the original study were broken. Microsoft has taken it off of their website, based on my search on their site for the word ‘goldfish’.

Does the finding sound plausible to anyone? We don’t read entire books in 8-second increments. A standard ‘Pomodoro’ is 20 minutes. “How are Netflix binges a thing?” …


Even if it seems like nothing is happening for now

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A message for people who care about sustainability and the environment: you might be discouraged by the slow progress of countries and people toward sustainable development. Over recent decades, the problems have been clear and yet the solutions have stalled.

We recycle and buy package-free. We carry our own reusable bags and mugs to the store. We scour the internet for the most sustainably produced couch or dental floss, knowing that we are only one customer and the ‘other’ couches and dental flosses are doing a roaring trade without us. We sign petitions and advocate for new processes in the…


The kind that leads somewhere and the kind that doesn’t

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I’ve been struggling to organize my home office for years. I’ve made a variety of resolutions to ‘finally’ buy the right chair or invent an organization scheme for my notes, tidy a little bit each evening — none of it stuck.

I did tidy in small increments as planned. But I ended up cleaning the same layer or clutter over and over as it built back up, never getting any closer to the comfortable, organized office I needed.

Taking a tiny step in a process that seems overwhelming is one of the best ways to start. …


You need ergonomics and flow

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When you take a walk, you make a loop, starting and ending at your home. The most efficient way (in time and energy) to get home would have been just to stay home, but walks aren’t about efficiency of locomotion; they are about walking.

If your walk has a specific destination, say if you’re walking to your favorite breakfast restaurant, you may want to take the fastest route. Or you may not, depending on whether you need a walk and have time to spend. …


Other than counting to ten and hoping it goes away

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At a women’s empowerment/career workshop a few years ago, I sat at a table covered by a gold-hued tablecloth with two other attendees: an early-career engineer like me and a senior executive.

After we’d listened to the innocuous presentation about teamwork, innovation, and the usual feel-good topics, we got into the dark and awkward subject matter of workplace sexism. In a role-play exercise, we took turns responding to sexist remarks that another attendee read off of a printed card.

The other two attendees’ approach to the exercise surprised me. To the senior executive, I read the line “Well actually, your…


Let us make sure we take the right lessons from it

Photo by Lucy Chian on Unsplash

I spent Election Day braced for violence.

I had dropped off my ballot weeks earlier, so my girlfriend and I sat at our home offices, trying to work while scanning the news for signs of unrest near a polling station.

I was a mere spectator, with no power or qualifications to do more than wait. For maybe the hundredth time these past four years, I questioned my choice of career, having chosen a job so lacking in influence in the real world, an engineer instead of a lawyer or activist.

I let my tense torso muscles relax when the polls…

Deepti Kannapan

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