My visit to the company

There is this one particular company that I visited a few months ago. They generously support my department, and that’s awesome. They seem to have hired a good number of women engineers and scientists. Good for them! (Seriously.) They match employee volunteer hours with the highest monetary donations of any company. Refreshing. This company is all about employee moral and some of their speakers encouraged me to reflect intensely on what I wanted out of a potential career path. Thank you, company.

And yet, one sentiment of joy about only having to work a few weekend days per month – when approaching deadlines – oddly stuck with me. I don’t want to spend all of my weekends forever working, but more than that, I don’t want to spend my work weeks waiting for the weekend. I want to find some balance by falling in love with my vocational path so deeply that I can’t help but wanting to spend some precious weekends working in service of my small hopes and dreams for the world. I tasted this feeling in my time with OpenMRS / Partners In Health and especially FACE AIDS. I was on the edge of something like this when I wrote about evil wind farms and even in high school when I tutored a second grader and his mom told my mom (his teacher) something I had done made Drew really excited about math.

It’s hard to imagine myself finding long-term fulfillment in any big corporate setting even though I’m attracted to their potential for positive impact, like this particular company I visited.

The Problem With Trash Cans

How I Reinvented the Trash Can to Reflect Philosophical Principles of Deep Ecology

PHL 107 Final Project, Spring 2013


Deep Ecology

American society tends to value the environment only in so far as it has utility for human standards of living. Naess and Devall call this shallow ecology. For example, “We need to save the rainforest because it supplies oxygen for human life.” A more thoughtful way of approaching environmental issues is deep ecology, which assumes that human and nonhuman living things have value apart from their usefulness. For example, “We need to stop exploiting the rainforest because it is an ecosystem that has inherent value and in which living things depend on other living things.” Other principles of deep ecology especially relevant to my project include: humans do not have the right to reduce diversity and richness of the environment except to satisfy vital needs, and present human interference in the environment is excessive.

The Problem with Conventional Trash Cans

A magician came to my school when I was in third grade. He made a Pepsi bottle disappear. He said we probably thought that is what happens when we throw things away and went on to preach the importance of reduce, reuse, recycle. No one actually thinks trash just disappears. We know everything we throw away is going to a landfill or an ocean-fill, but we are out of touch with our environmental impact because we prefer the illusion of making things just go away. We hide things we want to get rid of in opaque containers hidden in our pantries or under counters, and then once a week we send it away on a big truck and go on with business. Trash cans serve as a means to an end of making things we don’t want anymore disappear. We – myself included – don’t understand our environmental impact because we separate ourselves from it. Quite literally, we don’t see it because we don’t want to. Trash cans have made it so easy to throw things away that almost everyone is guilty of discarding recyclables and compostables more or less often for the sake of convenience. The problem with trash cans is that they enable our disregard for the value of plant and wildlife affected by excessive amounts of trash. Fortunately, I have solved these problems without pretending that trash cans are a false need.

Features of the New and Improved Trash Can Design

The first redesign element is to make the trash can transparent. This enables me to see, and be reminded of everything I am throwing away. Sitting with my prototype, I am inspired to reflect on possibly better ways to dispose of a cheese puff and experience shame in the reminder that I was too lazy to recycle a few pieces of paper.

My new trash can has two equally accessible compartments – one for trash and one for compost. Even if I had a compost pile now, 2 out of my 3 roommates would object to keeping it in the kitchen. When I asked if they would participate in the composting if we had a trash can like my prototype, they both said yes. For the sake of simplicity, I did not include a compartment for recycling in the new trash can design. I believe that transparency is enough to discourage throwing away recyclable items. Currently, I only do not wash out cream cheese containers to recycle them when no one is around to watch me throw them away. It may even be enough incentive to go recycle things my city otherwise wouldn’t – like glass in Omaha.

Many of the best-selling trashcans are upwards of $60 on Amazon. They include fancy wheels, motion sensors, and deodorizers, which make the process of taking out the trash even easier and further separate people from their environmental impact. The upscale version of my redesigned trash can would have a reinforcement hologram of some ecosystem projected on the lid. The health and pleasantness of the ecosystem would be determined by the ratio of trash to compost. Ecological details (which baby animals and when) are beyond the scope of this project, but could be based on scientific processes and educational for kids and adults. Incentives for a low trash to compost ratio could be in the form of points or surprises, not unlike Farmville, or even fun facts like the number of puffins I saved that week by reducing the amount of my trash. More importantly, the hologram creates a visualization of placing my trash into some environment and has representative impact. Because of the way so many responded to Farmville, I think people would be more thoughtful about what they were throwing away if it affected the well being of even a digital ecosystem that they had assumed responsibility for. There is little incentive for cheating, and the intended market for this trash can has a genuine interest in improving their behavior.

Last but not least, conventional trash cans are kept in designated hiding places that many kitchens include intentionally. Typical trash can locations defeat the purpose of an otherwise conscious-shifting design if they still enable us to separate ourselves from the trash and impact we create. These new trash cans belong in central or at least open spaces, not unlike a conversation sparking piece of art.

Talking about AIDS on YouTube

A few weeks ago, we talked about making videos – some for promoting innovations in public health and others for sharing personal experiences. We even watched a snippet from Justin’s video journal about his brother finding out he was HIV+.


AIDS is hard to talk about. It has this stigma that makes people feel embarrassed or ashamed, just for bringing it up. The brave people on YouTube, sharing their stories about life with HIV/AIDS, are basically telling the world, “I am more than my status and it’s okay to talk about it.”

AIDS has had a major impact on my family life, and I’ve been told not to talk about it. I got involved with FACE AIDS, partially and originally to cope with feelings of being sushed. I started having conversations about AIDS and health as a human right, leaving out the part that someone close to me had gotten sick, not known why, not gotten better, and died from AIDS. People in my family told me he’d be humiliated if he could know what I was doing. Well, he shouldn’t have had to feel like that. No one should have to feel like that. Over the past few years and many conversations, AIDS has come to represent for me the whole larger movement for health as a human right because it disproportionately affects people living in marginalized situations, and their right to care should not be tainted by preconceived ideas about how they got sick in the first place. But, to have these conversations, for this to become the norm, we have to get over the idea that it’s not okay to talk about sexual health issues. These journal videos are helping people do that.

I thought I might share my own experience with the stigma of AIDS in a 3 minute video, but it’s harder than it looks. How can I explain? Is this story mine alone to share? Will it make people feel awkward? Will my family be mad? Will my professional network see it? What if I say the wrong thing or offend someone? Overcoming all these insecurities must be therapeutic for video journalers and viewers alike.

Book Sprinting

Today there exists three books that did not exist a few days ago. That’s the result of a good book sprint. The Google Summer of Code Doc Camp provided an opportunity for open source projects to each write a book better documenting their software with the help of a few “free-agent” documentation specialists. This year, OpenMRS joined BRL-CAD, an open source solid modeling system, and Mallard, a markup language for generating extra helpful, task-oriented software documentation.

Monday we got to know each others’ projects, nailed down our target audience and desired outcomes, and brainstormed ways in which we might share this new resource after the week was over. By Tuesday mid-morning, we had a table of contents. We chose the sections we were each most excited about to write first. By the end of Tuesday we had our core chapters mostly written and spent Wednesday writing our introductory and supporting material. Thursday we edited. The week was a lot of work and a lot of fun. We were inspired and well fed.

And that is how the book titled Contributing to OpenMRS: Getting Started as a Developer came to be. Usually the hardest part of making meaningful contributions to any open source project is getting started. On behalf of the authors and broader OpenMRS community, we hope this book helps significantly lower the hurdles new OpenMRS developers encounter, whether they are new to open source projects, Health IT, OpenMRS, or all three. The book introduces OpenMRS development processes and architecture, walks the reader through setting up a development environment and building a basic module, overviews OpenMRS collaboration tools and where to go for support, and suggests a potential progression of becoming a seasoned developer community member. Whew.🙂

After only one short week of book sprinting, we could certainly improve and add things to make the book better. As our world and OpenMRS change, we can and hope to maintain this resource. It will soon have its own issue-tracking JIRA space. Experienced OpenMRS developers and community members can read the book for accuracy. New OpenMRS developers might be able to provide the best feedback on whether or not this book accomplishes its goals by trying it out.

{survey & blurb here!!}

Huge special thanks to Adam Hyde, Allen Gunn, and our Google | Open Source friends!

I took a free HIV test on campus today

This is a huge deal. I’m a junior now and when I was a freshman, my favorite student organization – FACE AIDS – almost lost its association with the university for trying to participate in a national campaign “Be Positive You’re Negative” by offering to provide students who wanted to get tested with non-Creighton-affiliated transportation to the nearest testing center off campus.

One of my best friends and a fellow FACE AIDS-er gave a presentation on HIV/AIDS with three other nursing students for their community clinical rotation. Despite being completely censored from using the c-word, condom that is, their presentation was informative and effective in dispelling the most common myths about the virus.

After the presentation, they invited everyone upstairs where the free HIV and STD tests were being given. The environment was super nonjudgmental and welcoming, but one sentiment I kept hearing was, “I don’t need to take this. I only want to see what it’s like.” Even if you are confident that you’re HIV-negative it is good to be familiar with the process and lessen the stigma of getting tested for anyone who isn’t sure. Still, these comments seemed to serve the purpose of distancing the student taking the test from any invisible mark of shame that might be associated with actually needing an HIV test.

Since our FACE AIDS debacle two years ago, I have been meaning to go get tested on my own but never got around to it. I wasn’t worried, but I couldn’t say that I was 100% certain about it either. It feels good to know for sure. Now I know I have a healthy body to take care of, and I want to keep it that way. If everyone at Creighton had taken a free HIV test today, I think students would be more thoughtful about sexual health in general. More importantly, students who might not know that they have the virus could get treatment right away.

In good company

In case I didn’t mention this before, learning about OpenMRS is the best thing that could have happened to me in college. I love computer science. Finding myself in this community where doing what I love meets a pressing need in the world AND gives me the privilege of meeting all these incredible people here at the OpenMRS Implementers Meeting (#OMRS12) is the most humbling, inspiring, exciting thing that’s happened in my life to date.

I always figured it would be nice to eventually finish up my GSoC project to handle the things I didn’t get to, things that would make it more usable. I thought that my project was going to be helpful for cleaning up concept dictionaries, but there wasn’t anything urgent or extra special about this module that moves data from one concept id to the next… Then on Friday as the conference was wrapping up, I met Dr. Alvin Marcelo and Patrick, also known as the “Ellen Ball of the Philippines.” Long story short, they are in particular need of a tool for cleaning up concept dictionaries. If my module could be improved to do its thing for their HTML forms, Alvin said that it would be a real life saver because their care providers would have more time to see patients.

This not only gives me a new and interesting problem to work on, but invaluable guidance from the project users who I can now call friends.

Mountains of Compassion

On a mission to stop coal companies from destroying our mountains, Larry Gibson never took a day off in over thirty years because he wasn’t willing to risk missing that one young person who could make a difference for his people in Appalachia. He was undeniably passionate about this cause, but there was something else about him that was special. In a recent article, Rory McIlmoil, a West Virginia-based coal and clean energy analyst testified, “No matter who you were, or which side you were on, Larry’s smile, his laugh, and his compassion would remind you that we’re all human and that we should care and fight for each other.”

This time last year, I was preoccupied with my personal mission to find something to be passionate about as if I would only then be able to start doing something. Maybe that is not how it works.

At the Millenium Campus Conference last weekend, Akhtar Badshah suggested that “having a passion” is overrated; societal benefits come from our hard work, our ethos, our drive, and most importantly compassion. We learn about social justice issues right and left, but realistically can’t take up every cause as our own, right? Some of these issues pull at my heart strings more than others, but I still care about the human dignity in everything from mountain top removal to immigration to health care and education. This can be overwhelming, even heartbreaking. What can we do? I think the compassion part comes in when we show up to learn about and recognize the interconnectedness of social problems, and then find ways to support each other in our variety of causes.

In loving memory of the Keeper of the Mountain.