Cold vs. Not Cold

This morning it was -8F in Boston.  I realized, walking to yoga class, in the sun, in the wind, that it was cold; but figuring out exactly how cold was not something my body or brain was equipped to do.

Each square of my skin can sense cold, and it can sense pain, so in terms of raw input, I get only not-cold, cold, or painfully cold.  Can I really tell the difference between 8F and -8F? For better resolution I have to use other available data.  How much am I wearing?  How long have I been outside?  Outside in -8F, probably the coldest temperatures I’ve walked around in, I put this notion to the test.

The only exposed bit of my skin, below my hat and above the scarf I had pulled over my face, went from not-cold to cold to painfully cold in about 3 minutes.  My eyes watered and the corners of my eyes started to sting.  Other than that, I felt fine.  I felt probably the same amount of cold over my body as I did on a 30F day wearing jeans, a coat, and no scarf.  Except this morning I was wearing my full mountain gear for snowboarding: snow pants, thermal layer underneath, windproof insulation under my jacket, ear-warmers, mittens…  And despite walking quickly, I didn’t warm up.  All the gear felt light and airy, as if the top layers were simply not there.

A few nights ago, sitting in Fenway Park watching the Big Air competition, I wore the same outfit, down to the boots and mittens and ear-warmers.  It was 10F and not as breezy.  It took me about 30 minutes of not moving to start feeling uncomfortably cold, about 40 minutes to lose feeling in my toes through my winter boots.  My eyes did not start to sting or water, and I did not notice my exposed skin becoming painfully cold (probably because I went inside to take care of my toes).  But simply from being outside from 6-10pm that night, I was cold, and hungry, and exhausted.

The data seems to indicate that today is colder.  But Thursday’s experience was much more grueling.



To pull the heart in

On Christmas day we drove to Maryland.  Yesterday we came back.  We left an eerie warm Boston day in the high 60s, packing a jacket only in luggage, and a week later we returned to a more familiar January.

Of course, among other things, we missed the first snow of the season.   Patches first appearing on the sides of the road on Rt 209 in the Delaware River Gap.  Of course, it did not snow in Maryland.  The day after Christmas we played tennis in the sun.

Over the rolling hills and expansive farm country beneath clouds that borders Maryland with Virginia, in rain and fog and at dusk I drove.  From one brand new community development to another.  Their ordered streets a barrier against all that wildness.


In Chinese, the expression for what one must do to go back to work after an extended vacation is to “pull the heart in” (收心).  I think this is an accurate description of what self-discipline feels like.  To pull the heart in.  To find smaller joys.

Go Set a Watchman

Well, I don’t know what I expected. I knew that this novel came first. I knew it was the earliest attempt at this story, and that it was rejected then rewritten and it would become To Kill a Mockingbird.  I knew all that. That it’s not a sequel, but a draft. I just didn’t expect the difference in quality would be this dramatic.

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Anyways, I hated the book, but it’s beautiful (and very educational) to see the process.


There’s this undergrad class at Harvard called Science and Cooking.  I’m one of 10 graduate students that serve as Teaching Fellows in this class.  We sit in a bundle, in the right-front of the lecture hall.  We lead cooking labs, once a week.

A few weeks ago, we listened to a guest lecture from Adoni Aduriz, head chef at Mugaritz restaurant in Spain.  Speaking Spanish, using a translator, he described how to create the scent of jasmine.  There are hundreds of aromatic compounds that make up the scent of a jasmine flower, he said, but to mimic it, we need only six.

Five that are sweet, resembling rose, or vanilla, or something equally pleasant.

The sixth is the smell of fecal matter.  He called it Indo.

“Sometimes, to build beauty,” he said. “We need a discordant note.”

The fossil free movement at Harvard

“Symbols matter, because they signal our intent, and they invite other people to join in our intent.” – Naomi Oreskes, Professor, Harvard University.


Almost 20 years go by since that confident moment in Kyoto when leaders of nearly all the planet’s nations signed on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the rain, that day, on the grounds of JFK airport, a proud President Clinton had declared, “[The agreement] reflects a commitment by our generation to act in the interest of future generations.”

Babies born that year are adults now. They look back on two decades of political gridlock and inaction. In a way, they are the first generation our leadership has failed, on that promise, to protect.

This new generation of young adults, though yet individually politically unpowerful, is the force behind the fossil fuel divestment movement now overtaking college campuses across the country. Their message to the leadership is clear: inaction is action. You’re responsible.

And it’s catching on. In May 2014, Stanford became the largest university to pledge disinvestment from a fossil fuel sector: specifically, coal. It joins a list of 26 colleges and universities that have thusfar made similar commitments.

Harvard faculty answer questions at a Divest Harvard event.

Harvard faculty answer questions at a Divest Harvard event.

Divestment as a political tool has a proven record: the tobacco industry in the 1980’s; South Africa beginning in the 1970’s. Though divestment’s direct financial effects are next to zero, a report published by Oxford University, found “almost every divestment campaign… successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation.”

Reflective perhaps of the digital age and the magnitude of the cause, the fossil fuel divestment movement is now the fastest growing campaign of its kind in history.

Just last week, MIT, responding to campus pressure, held the first public debate on the merits of fossil fuel divestment. The school administration invited three panelists each to argue for and against MIT’s participation. The discussion centered on not whether, but how, MIT, a thought and technology leader, should advocate for change. Does it do this through divestment, send a powerful sociopolitical message, and jeopardize “big oil”-funded research on campus? Or can they work from within the system, persuading the fossil fuel industry to work for the planet’s (and their own) long-term interests?

Meanwhile, it’s Heat Week at Harvard University, a weeklong awareness and activism event organized by the Divest Harvard student organization to get the message out. They are holding rallies with famous alumni speakers; they are carrying signs; they are painting sidewalks.  They’re watching closely what happens at MIT as their own administration has stiffly resisted continuing pressures.

Last year, Ben Franta, PhD student at Harvard and one of the board members of Divest Harvard, publicly collided with Harvard President Drew Faust, in a series of open letters.  Hers, to the Harvard community, shared her “strong presumption against divesting investment assets,” due, largely, to her fear of Harvard becoming a “political actor.”  And his, addressed to Faust, published in The Nation, accused her of being “in denial… of important political realities”, and dismissive of the group’s effort at a serious on campus discussion.

He wrote, “you have shown an eagerness to engage with the fossil fuel industry. I ask that you show the same eagerness to engage with members of your own Harvard community.”

I asked Ben what he wants to accomplish, as a leader of the movement at Harvard, why he believes in it so strongly, and for his thoughts on their current progress and challenges. His responses, long but instructive, are given in full below.

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