DO-IT News September 1993

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Volume 1, Number 3

Director's Digressions

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.
Picture of Nadira experimenting with virtual reality
Nadira experiments with virtual reality in the UW Human Interface Technology laboratory

By 5 p.m. Friday, August 20th most of the DO-IT participants had packed up their new knowledge and their fond memories and had headed home. The participants, 16 high school kids with disabilities, spent two weeks at the University of Washington studying math, engineering and science. They seemed to enjoy their stay and we enjoyed working with them.

Although we knew that all of the students were disabled, bright and interested in science, staff who survived a night or two as dorm keepers in McCarty Hall learned the truly interesting tidbits about the DO-IT kids.

Who would have known that Katie has quite a pitching arm or that Randy has a joke for every occasion? We discovered that Hollis is a card shark, that Shane is a ladies' man and that Rachel is a matchmaker. Anna is a latte fiend and Rodney craves chocolate, but Nhi, who is very sweet, doesn't crave sweets at all. Ryan made some prime slime and Nadira discovered the Internet as an art source. Mitch's view is skewed and Mark's is focused on the stars. Lloyd will only ride a Harley and Eric can imitate that sound as well as almost any other motorized vehicle.

The participants had a taste of college life as they slept in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria and socialized in the student union building. Campus tours and interaction with university students with disabilities helped them learn the ropes of attending college as a disabled student. But for the most part, they attended classes.

Look inside this issue to find articles about the labs and lectures written by the participants. Not only are the DO-IT kids proficient at math, science and engineering, but they are keen observers, too. Evidence of this is shown in their writing as they documented important details and complex concepts.

The participants learned about earthquakes and estuaries, but they also learned how to work in teams, how to build on their strengths and how to compensate for their weaknesses. A wide range of disabilities were represented--visual, hearing, mobility and speech impairments, as well as learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders. The students helped each other. For example, participants in wheelchairs helped guide the blind students across campus and the blind students helped manipulate objects and dials for those who could not use their hands. This teamwork was an important element of the program.

The summer session is over, but DO-IT is just warming up. This year's participants continue to communicate on the Internet and work on individual research projects.

Next year, a new group of students will attend the summer study sessions and will be assisted by the 1993 participants. We look forward to the upcoming activities and thank participants, staff, faculty and volunteers for making this, the first DO-IT summer study program, a success.

Technology Tips

Dan Comden

More Unix Command Primer

Listing Files
How do you look at files that are in your account area? Use the ls command to list files in your current directory. There are some files in your directory that are hidden, or not viewed, unless you want to see them. Hidden files have a filename that begins with a period and they are used to tell programs, such as Pine, about your preferences. Usually, you want to leave these files alone without changing, moving or deleting them. Most Unix commands have the ability to have what are called switches after them. This is just the dash (-) sign followed by some letter.

Unfortunately, many of them make little or no sense and are difficult to remember. As explained in the July DO-IT News, you can always use the man command. To display hidden files, use the -a switch: ls -a

This will display all the files in the current directory, including any hidden files. The -l switch will also display the size of the files as well: ls -l

Another useful switch is -F. When used in conjunction with the ls command, you will see more details, such as whether a file is actually a directory or a program. Files that are directories will appear with a slash (/) sign after them, and program files, or "executables" appear with an asterisk (*) next to them in the display.

Finally, all of these switches can be used in combination to get the most detail possible from the ls command: ls -aFl

This command would display all normal and hidden files in the current directory, as well as listing their size and whether or not they are directories or programs. This is probably the most useful incarnation of the ls command.

In future chapters of "Technology Tips," learn about the commands for making a directory (mkdir), moving around from one directory to another (cd), removing a file from a directory (rm) and checking who's logged in (finger).

Computers and the Internet Facilitate Newswriting

The DO-IT kids use their computers for many projects, but they stepped into the future of newswriting as they depended on their machines to gather data and write news articles for the DO-IT newsletter.

Upon arrival at the DO-IT Summer Program, each student was assigned a beat, or an area of focus, on which to write a story. Participants were given some background on the different newswriting styles and they practiced a short interview. With the basics under their belts, they were free to write an editorial column, a news article or a feature story.

Some of the students relied on lab notes, impromptu interviews, their memories or their own scribbles to provide the meat of the articles, but others chose to interview their subjects through the Internet. Electronic mail replaced the telephone for many of these reporters as they sent out written questions and waited for the responses. The students demonstrated that using electronic mail as an interviewing tool is cost and time efficient.

If electronic mail was useful for information gathering it really facilitated communications. DO-IT participants continue to correspond with fellow participants they met during the summer program and they also type up questions for mentors or staff members. The Internet is a popular DO-IT communications tool.

Straight from the Astronaut's Mouth


Toward the end of our stay at the University, the DO-IT participants attended a presentation made by former astronaut and current UW professor "Pinky" Nelson on astronomy and what it was like to be an astronaut. The presentation was tremendous; he did an excellent job of making you feel like you were sitting on the seat next to him in the space shuttle as it soared into the heavens pulling five g's.

Professor Nelson discussed dark matter, the invisible matter that is supposed to make up some ninety percent of the universe. He also mentioned the fact that a comet is supposed to be barreling into Jupiter next summer. He gave inspiration to DO-IT participant, Anna, who wants to be the first blind person in space, and answered my questions about nuclear rockets and space shuttle toilet facilities. He made what is already a fascinating subject to me even more so. I give the lecture a thumbs up.

Other than the search for religious truth, in my opinion, there is nothing more worthwhile than the pursuit of knowledge pertaining to how the universe works and how it began and how it will end. When man looks up to the stars, he not only sees beautiful far away suns, he sees the very forces that originated life itself. The iron in our very blood cells was born from fiery super novae.

As we record the history of the universe, we are ultimately recording the origin of humanity. To me, peering toward the stars is a mystical experience; it invokes the same sense of awe as one gets when pondering the mysteries of the spiritual. The countryside becomes a grandiose temple from which stargazers make offerings to the heavens.

The wonderful thing about astronomy today is the fact that people born with different abilities are necessary for its success. As professor Nelson stated, not only are brilliant thinkers such as Stephen Hawking needed, but technicians and engineers are needed as well. Theories are great, but it's nice to have evidence to back them up or to figure out where they went wrong.

There are positions which require many different skills in the field of astronomy. For someone who has a severe mobility impairment like me, the theoretical side of science is appealing; whereas, others may prefer the hands on approach.

Astronomy is good stuff; I wish everyone could feel about it the way I do. I, and I believe most everyone else, was very appreciative for the time Dr. Nelson took out of his schedule to be with us. It was a very worthwhile learning experience.

Earthquake Update


Are you living in an earthquake zone? Recent studies show a shadow fault line that runs through the most populated areas of Seattle and Bellevue. The fault line is called the Seattle Fault.

If an earthquake strikes the Seattle area, how much damage will it cause? If history is repeated, scientists predict that the next quake could be as high as 7.5 on a Richter Scale. Geographers also predict that 2,000 people will be killed on a working day, 23,000 people will be homeless, and 100,000 people will be without electric power or telephone lines. Fires will burn out of control in the industrial areas and along the waterfront.

The greatest damage will be to Harbor Island, Pioneer Square and West Seattle, to name a few. All the bridges and freeways will collapse like the one in the San Francisco quake in 1991.

The Seattle Center, SeaTac, the Kingdome, the Tacoma Dome, Boeing and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are a few areas that will experience the quake's maximum intensity.

So are you ready for the "Big One" in Seattle?

Cut to the Heart of the Matter


Need heart surgery? Just ask any of the DO-IT kids. We can do it for you and at a low cost! That's right, all the DO-IT kids did heart surgery on sheep hearts. Laurie Clark, the speaker of the session, taught us how to do two types of surgeries, a bypass surgery and a valve replacement surgery.

The bypass surgery is the most common heart surgery done. If the arteries that supply the heart with blood become blocked with "plaque" (which is mostly cholesterol), then a heart attack can occur. So in order to keep that from happening, a bypass surgery can be done.

First, the blockage is found and a hole is cut underneath the blocked portion of the artery. Then a rubber piece of tubing, called the bypass vessel, is inserted in the hole. Next, another hole is cut on the side of the aorta, which is the largest artery on the heart. Last, the other end of the bypass vessel in put into the hole. Voila! You're done!

Replacing a heart valve is just a little different than fixing a valve under the sink. When a heart valve is not closing correctly, it doesn't prevent the backflow of blood. This does not let the heart do a good job pumping and it is called a heart murmur. So in order to "fix" this valve it needs to be replaced. The first thing you do is find the right ventricle on the heart. Make an incision about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long on the right ventricle and then push a piece of tubing into the cut. It will pop out on the top where an artery is located. The tube has just passed through the tricuspid valve. Next put the artificial valve in the bottom part of the tubing. Pull it through until you see it almost ready to come out and then take the tube off the valve. Ta da! You're done!

You're happy with your well-done job, and the sheep would be too......if you could only have the supply company send the rest of him! Join us again in our next newsletter when we discuss "The future heart surgeons of America!"

Bridge Building, Bridge Breaking

Photo of DO-IT Scholars designing a bridge
DO-IT Scholars designing a bridge

At the DO-IT camp there was a civil engineering class taught by Mr. Frank Lee. Mr. Lee has a degree in mechanical engineering and teaches at Bellevue Community College.

Mr. Lee's class was about civil engineering, one of my favorite subjects. The class was about bridge building and different kinds of stress.

Mr. Lee showed us a few examples of different types of stress. Stress affects pieces called members that are part of structures like bridges, skyscrapers etc... He then gave us the same assignment that he had given his other students a few weeks before. The assignment was to build a bridge that had to span or cross six feet or about two meters. The materials were 10 yards of 10 pound test fishing line, two 3/8" dowels four feet long and one 30"X40" sheet of 3/16" foam core board.

We only had one week to build our bridges. Mr. Lee broke us up into three teams.

The day before the contest a custodian threw away all the materials for our bridge building contest, so Sheryl Burgstahler told us to draw a picture of each bridge to show to Mr. Lee.

We got to watch his students break their bridges. We all enjoyed watching or hearing how different bridges did as they were tested.

Chocolate Bar Saves the Day


The problem we were assigned in the mechanical engineering class seemed quite simple. Using two yardsticks and five weights, we were supposed to determine the weight of each of the weights, and then we needed to attach one of the yard sticks to the table like a diving board and measure how far the end was from the floor each time we hung one of the weights from it. However, there were two catches. We had to change the inches in the distance measurement to centimeters and we had to calculate the weight of each of the weights because these figures were not provided.

The first problem was not too difficult to solve. As long as someone in the group knew either the number of feet in a mile or the number of centimeters per inch, we could use division or multiplication to get our answers.

The second problem proved to be more challenging. But we were given another tool to assist us in finding its solution -- a pure chocolate Hershey's candy bar? Amazingly, this proved to be enough.

First, the students, who had been placed in groups, noted that the candy bar weighed 2.6 ounces. Next, various forms of scales were tried using the candy bar, the weights, and one of the yardsticks. One of the ways that groups finally reached the solution was by using a yard stick as a lever. It was balanced on a large weight, kind of like a seesaw. The candy bar was placed on one end and a weight was placed on the other. Then either the candy bar or the weight was moved toward the center. Next, the distance between the object that was furthest from the center was put over the distance of the object that was closest. The closest object was the heavier. Next, we figured out what fraction of the candy bar's weight or how many times its weight the ratio was. After that, it was all basic multiplication.

To get the distance of the end of the yardstick from the floor when a weight was put on it, we simply used the other yardstick to measure the distance and converted the distance to centimeters.

The problem was interesting and challenging, and although not everyone figured out how to solve it or did the mathematics correctly, everyone was on the right track.

Shaping a Solution


During the summer camp the students attended a class on problem solving given by Swapna Mukhopadhyay and Bob Sassanoff. The students learned mainly about the basics of problem solving and basic geometry.

The geometry section was particularly informative. It taught the students the basics of geometry. The students learned about some of the basic geometric shapes, and how to measure their area.

To show the students how to get the area of these shapes, the teacher used a board with nails set at regular intervals. The nails formed a grid on which the students created shapes using rubber bands. This system was beneficial to all the students because they could see how the area was found. Instead of looking at numbers they could look at the spaces between the nails.

The students of the DO-IT program learned quite a lot from the problem solving session. Most of the students came away knowing a little more about basic problem solving and geometry.

Young Scientists Solve Crime


On August 17th, the DO-IT kids were privileged to attend a chemistry lab on forensic analysis. The lab was conducted by Debbie Tahmassedi. She explained everything very explicitly. She was great.

It was a very interesting study about finding the difference between two kinds of inks, which is sometimes very useful for the investigation of crime. In this lab, the DO-IT kids were told a story about two pen companies, one of which alleged that the other company had stolen its method of manufacturing ink. This case was solved with the practical use of chemistry. Students put a spot of two kinds of inks on two sheets of paper.

The sheets were dipped in beakers of water. After approximately one hour it was noticed that both inks fanned into different shades of colors. It was also noticed that one of the inks spread on the paper further than the other when measured. This demonstrated that both the inks were different types. So it was proven that the allegation was false.

The lab showed that chemistry is a useful subject, not only for this kind of investigation, but in many other fields where scientific methods are used to determine things.

Adaptive Technology Serves Everyone


There is a saying that with the world of computers you can do anything you can imagine. But they forgot one thing...what if you are blind or even a quadriplegic? Well maybe they didn't forget about you. There is technology out there that will allow you to work a computer as if you could see or use your hands.

For those who are blind, since you cannot see, it is quite clear what needs to be done. There is adaptive technology that produces a voice output that will allow the person operating the computer to hear what is on his/her screen. To install this type of technology, you simply have a card to install into the back of your computer. There is also a reader board that will read the line that you touch.

For those of you who cannot use your hands, there are several examples of adaptive technology to allow you to use a computer. If you have just a little use of your hands, there are joysticks that will move the arrow around, and in order to type, you have a mini keyboard onscreen. There is also a Morse Code type of input. By using a series of huffs and puffs, you can send a command into a computer.

And last but not least, there is a technology that may seem too simple to believe. It involves using a pen in your mouth and a computer keyboard. It may seem slow at first, but it gets the job done and after awhile it gets faster.

In conclusion, the world of computers has not really left behind the disabled, it only improved the ways they can keep up with the rest of the world.

The Presentation That Wasn't


Professor Leroy Hood's presentation entitled "Jurassic Park, Fact or Fiction?" began with the professor asking whether or not we had seen the recent motion picture Jurassic Park. As expected most, if not all of us, said that we had. His next question was whether or not the students had any questions for him about the science in Jurassic Park before he got started on his presentation. Little did he know his presentation was over before it began.

Over many partially eaten and some barely picked at taco salads at the catered Mentors' luncheon, the DO-IT kids began asking questions. The first questions were about what parts of the genetic work done in Jurassic Park were scientific fact and what parts were simply the inventions of the author. The answer to the "big question" of Jurassic Park is that no organism, dinosaur or not, can be resurrected once extinct.

With the "big question" answered two other major topics were discussed. The first was about current and future developments in the field of genetics. At present, Professor Hood and his department are working on the Human Genome Project. Its purpose is to identify all 150,000 or so genes in human DNA. So far they have identified approximately 70 or 80 genes involved in genetic defects. According to Professor Hood, 20 to 30 years in the future scientists should be able to diagnose the likelihood of up to fifty genetic diseases at birth so that preventative therapy could be used. Also 50 to 75 years in the future scientists should be able to synthesize human tissue to form organs.

The second topic was about the ethical, moral and economic issues. We learned that the diagnosis of genetic diseases would probably precede the ability to treat those diseases by 20 to 30 years. That is of great concern to many people living with disabilities. Had scientists been able to diagnose genetic disease before we were born and hadn't been able to cure them some of us might never have been born. Other things such as the possibility of using this new information for destructive purposes was also discussed. Also, there were concerns about possibly being refused jobs, medical insurance, and other things if you were known to have a predisposition toward a certain genetic disease.

Many other questions were also asked.

About 45 minutes of questions and answers later, time was up and many of our questions didn't get a chance to be answered. Dr. Hood had prepared a 30 minute presentation, but he never got the chance to use it. The questions covered all the information he had planned to go over. Though his presentation didn't go as planned, it was a great success.

Technical Communication is--Believe It or Not--the Art of Communicating Technically


Really, it gets better.

So it's Friday, and we were getting ready to go home, sitting through our last presentation which was on technical communications. Thankfully, I wasn't sleeping through it as I was the presentation before--instead I was copying disks. But I did pick up a lot. For instance, I learned that technical communications is a relatively new field of science. A field that I would imagine some don't even call a science. You see, technical communications, and more importantly the people working in that field, attempt to act as a more effective liaison between the consumer and the manufacturer than questionnaires and customer support lines.

Technical communicators do interesting little human interest-type tests on a product before it even hits the shelf. They get to try out all kinds of stuff--everything from toothpaste to Ford Tauruses to new kinds of drugs for sedating manic depressives...actually, maybe not that last one.

But the important thing is that they beta-test these types of things on themselves or other people and then return to the company that made it either telling them they've got a great, functional product or, what happens more commonly, that this worthless piece of crap I wouldn't give as a gift to my worst enemy needs work if you want people to pay $599.95 for it.

To illustrate this point, Chris Rowley, the second speaker in this presentation, talked about how he used a cellular phone once on which the redial button was poorly placed on the receiver. He had the problem of right in the middle of a conversation accidentally hitting the redial button which would conveniently perform the multiple functions of hanging up on the person to whom, if he was really lucky, he was saying something like, "I've been wanting to tell you this for ages, and now nothing can stop me! I think you're (click)." The marvelous invention of the twentieth century would then dial the last person he called, like the old lady at that wrong number he accidentally called twice and who, the second time, yelled through the phone at him to please stop calling. It's this kind of technical flaw that technical communicators point out... technically speaking, of course.

As a first-hand example, I recently received a friendly, informal e-mail message from DO-IT's own technical writer, Serena Shubert, which contained many quotable quotes, and which, if I were to take up technical writing myself I could give some constructive criticism to. She begins very effectively with, "As you may recall, you were assigned a newsletter article upon your arrival [at camp,] and then she continues with some pleasant sarcastic humor, "Hence the press pass with your name and beat listed." All very good, but the part I have trouble with is where she writes, "Everyone else managed to hammer out a few paragraphs and the rest of us are waiting for you." Now, as a debater at my high school I can point out that this is a blatant Bandwagon (everyone else is doing it) Fallacy and should be avoided if possible. I was going to write her back and alert her to this and have her rewrite the note to us; however, I didn't think she'd be amused. (Editor's note -- Bandwagon Fallacy or not, it worked.)

Getting back to the professional technical communication worker, though, sometimes the manufacturer in question is not receptive to his/her criticism. Mr. Rowley talked about an occasion where a piece of software was being tested and the maker decided that there was nothing wrong with the product, but that the people trying it were stupid. They also do other kinds of jobs, too. Technical communicators write manuals teaching people how to do everything from using Aldus PageMaker to taking a Tylenol.

Just another day at the office for the technical communication worker, though.

Chemistry Lab Reports No Fatalities


The chem labs we did dealt with real life experiences. We didn't get to melt anything down, but maybe next year. The lab was well organized and there were no fatalities, which is always good. Overall the lab was fun and interesting. I've put in another experiment you too can do at home.

WARNING - The following lab has not been tested in the DO-IT kitchens. Experiment at your own risk.

Get a bottle of Elmer's glue, either the plain white kind or the Elmer's School Glue. You will also need about 1 tsp 20-Mule Team Borax. It is unfortunate that it's only sold in enormous boxes, but it's cheap.

Put about 1/4 cup of glue into a small bowl and add 1/4 cup water. Stir until smooth. In another bowl, dissolve 1 tsp borax in 1/4 cup water--stir it around until there are no crystals left. You can use your fingers to feel. Start stirring the glue solution around with your hand or a spoon, and add a spoonful of the borax solution. Keep stirring and adding borax solution until the interesting change in physical properties seems to be over.

Glue is a suspension of milk proteins, mostly casein, in water. If you're interested, I have a recipe for making glue from milk. The borax is sodium tetraborate decahydrate; it's the same chemical that the DO-IT students used to make the polyvinyl alcohol congeal into slime. Borax can make 3 bonds to different molecules of casein, and this holds them in a network with bizarre physical behavior.

If you change the proportions of glue, water, and borax, you alter the properties of the resulting glubleck.

I'm told that adding talc (talcum powder) produces a new touch sensation, but I haven't tried it myself.

Creative Climates


My article is on climatology. While I was at the summer camp for DO-IT members, I had to write about one of the labs we went to. The topic I had to write on was climatology.

What we did is we got into a computer system called Cray. Once in, we were able to destroy or change the climate of the planet on the computer screen. I worked with a partner on this and we covered the world with water and destroyed the ozone layer.

Once we did this we then set how long we wanted to wait before we found out what would happen. We decided to set a year, but we never got the results because the computer system canceled us. So this is what climatology is all about.