[Map] Where NOT to go if you don’t want tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that lives in the lungs. It is a bacterium that can be spread through droplets from the mouth. There aren’t very many obvious symptoms other than coughing, but can remain latent (like it’s in hiding). One common way to check for an infection is by x-ray of the chest to see the state of the lungs.

I’ve been sifting through the World Bank data (World Development Indicators), and I’m considering using the data for new cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. This is the map of the data for 2007:

Map of tuberculosis cases per 100,000 people in 2007.

Tuberculosis cases per 100,000 people in 2007. Source: World Bank.

In any case, why might this be interesting? If there are many new cases of TB in a country, that might be a sign that the healthcare system is not very strong. Another thing to think about is why might some countries have more difficulty controlling TB just because of geographic reasons. There is also a link between TB and HIV and AIDS cases. People living with HIV and AIDS have a weakened immune system, and usually fall ill to other diseases as a result. This might be important in Africa, where rates of HIV are highest in the world and TB seems to be a big problem in some places.

That this is a measure of new cases is also important to consider because it can show us if there are areas with an ongoing epidemic that may take effort to get under control. The map shows that most of the countries with lots of new cases relative to population size are in sub-Saharan Africa. The stats are for per 100,000 people, which might mean that a low total number of cases may still be important if the population is also small.

If you are worried about contracting TB, this might be a good way to decide where not to go next. Mind you, this is the number of NEW cases in 2007, and does not include counts of already existing cases. Low numbers could mean the beginning or the end of an epidemic. There might be some bias to consider that some countries may be less unable to conduct tests for TB affordably and widely. TB can be treated by antibiotics, although there are some strains that are resistant. Check the World Health Organization website (WHO) or other health agencies for info when planning your next trip!

Ultimate is my passion

Ultimate (frisbee) is my passion. It’s the ultimate sport in my mind, and many will agree. It is the one thing that I know I will be passionate about for the rest of my life. It is how I’ve met many of my closest friends, and how I’ve met every guy that I’ve ever dated. Why am I so passionate? Let me explain!

[This is part of the Indie Art Travel Project, Day 5 Prompt: What else (besides travel) are you passionate about?]

So I just came back from my favorite ultimate tournament, Fools Fest in Fredericksburg, VA, USA. This was a weekend full of ultimate, sunshine, grass, dogs, babies, families, food, beer, wine, dancing, silly games, costumes, and music. It might seem strange that one event could encompass so much, but that is just what the ultimate community is about.

On the field

When I’m on the field, nothing else matters. I’m more present in my body than any other time, and making a good play makes me happy. Being a part of a team also brings out a special feeling. These are people that I might have trained with for years, or people that I just met, but either way, the bond and love for our sport links us together.

As a sport, I love the purity of it. The movements, the strategies, everything can get complicated if you get into it enough. But the basic part of ultimate is that if you are faster, or smarter, or more athletic than your opponent, then you have a chance to beat them.

It’s not about how we can bend the rules or stretch the clock to try to win. It annoys the heck out of me to watch sports where the players are “acting” to try to get the referee to make a call, or where the game gets stopped every 10 seconds because of a violation. The rules are there as a guideline, and the Spirit of the Game tells us to play by the rules to have the best experience.

I love this sport for the moments of purity. Beating an opponent to the disc, or throwing the perfect throw for that exact person at that exact moment, the feeling of the disc in your hand when you didn’t think you could catch it. I live for these moments of pure skill and athleticism that say I just reached a high point in my physical ability.

Off the field

It’s not just the sport that I love…it’s the people too. These are the chillest, coolest, most swag wearing people that I know, and I’d like to think I’m a little chiller and cooler by association. I love that people who are casual about playing ultimate can find a way to play just about anywhere in the world. I love that people who are really serious about playing will travel to just about anywhere for Worlds. I love that my list of Facebook friends is dominated by people in several continents who share this same sport and lifestyle with me, and can relate to my post-tournament Monday blues. (Although, I should maybe start weaning down the numbers of FB friends I have because it is a little overwhelming at this point.)

One last thing…

If I were to believe in heaven, it would be an everlasting ultimate tournament. There would be plush, grassy fields, friends from all over the world, live music, and lots of ultimate. Oh yeah, and no one would ever get injured!

More ultimate:

Grad school pro tip: Present a poster at a graduate student conference!

Although oral presentations may be viewed as the more prestigious way to present your work at a conference, do not underestimate the value of doing a poster!

Me and my poster at the 18th Biological Sciences Graduate Congress

Me and my poster at the 18th Biological Sciences Graduate Congress

In January, I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a graduate student conference in biological sciences organized by University of Malaya, Chulalongkorn University, and National University of Singapore. It was interesting, even though many of the presentations were in areas of biology that I am completely unfamiliar with. The biodiversity, ecology, and systematics theme was one of 4 themes, but dominated by people doing taxonomy work that is pretty different from what I do.

It was good practice for me to put together a poster and talk about what I’m working on. I knew that my results were just preliminary and not so impressive, so I didn’t have high expectations when it came to judges and awards. The two judges that talked to me were both pretty serious taxonomists! I don’t know how much they know about ecological modeling, but hopefully they thought well of my poster.

As a poster presenter, you may be required to be at your poster for a total longer period of time than what would be required to present orally. This means you could have double or triple the amount of interaction with conference goers. At this graduate student conference, I had to be at my poster for a total of 180 minutes! If you compare that with 15 minutes that an oral presentation is allotted, that is only 8% of poster time (not even considering that only 3 minutes is for questions, the only time when the speaker interacts with the audience). Ok, I wasn’t talking to people for the entire 180 minutes, but I had in depth conversations with at least a handful of people, which is at least about the same amount of time as an oral presentation.

The main differences would be I was directly interacting with people at a 1 on 1 level for most of the time, and not as many people may have been exposed to my research. As a graduate student though, and at my current stage, it was more helpful to talk through my research and think about problems with other people rather than talk at people for 12 minutes and hope that someone is interested enough to ask a question.

One of the disadvantages to this being only a graduate student conference was that it was broadly in biology and not focused on a specific field. This meant that the audience varied greatly, and may not know much about your area of research. Many people didn’t seem to have enough exposure to mathematical modeling to be able to make sense of what some of us were presenting. It was fun though, and we even got to see a bit of Putrajaya, the new capital city of Malaysia. They have already moved the government into the new parliament buildings there. We saw the largest man-made freshwater wetland and Putra Mosque.

Here is a tip: get or make your own name cards and display them with your poster. I had a plastic box that I stuck to the board using the Velcro provided by the organizers. To get the cards to not lay completely flat in the box (and therefore be difficult to get out), I folded an index card into a prism and put it under the cards so they laid onto the index card at an angle. It makes it easy for someone to just grab one whether you are there or not.

For tips on writing and designing for a poster, Colin Purrington has an excellent detailed explanation. I ended up using OmniGraffle to design my poster, and since I had used Adobe Illustrator in the past, it was pretty easy to pick up. I encourage you to not use PowerPoint, and read up a little bit about basic layout and design concepts. And please, for the love of earth, don’t fill your poster with too much text!

“The Walking Dead” perspective on life

I was down with a sickness last week, so I stayed home a few days and watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead. It’s a TV show adapted from a graphic novel about a group of people during a zombie apocalypse. Although I know it is gory and not real, it has been an interesting experience to watch it while my own head is feeling a little foggy. But coming out of the fog, I thought about how the show really gets down to the point and distills some interesting philosophical ideas and perspectives on life.

Things to live by in the world of The Walking Dead

Don’t lose sight of why you want to live

It might be soul crushing to have lost something so precious to you, but if you want to survive, you have to keep on keeping on. Whatever it is that you believe is the worst thing that has ever happened to you in this reality, it probably pales in comparison to what happens to the cast of the show. Didn’t get that promotion or got dumped by your beau? Well, you have the luxury to have these problems. You could call it #WalkingAliveProblems if #WalkingDeadProblems include having walkers all over the planet and not being able to be safe anywhere.

Fight to keep your humanity

There were several points where the group nearly made a decision to sacrifice a living person for the safety of the group. The writers do a good job of not taking this issue lightly, because it is too easy to let yourself fall into the convenience of taking a life or shooting a gun. It somewhat begs the question of, if we have to kill living people and sacrifice our humanity to continue to survive, is it really worth it to continue living on in that way?

Cherish your loved ones while you can

Along the same lines, it’s really not a great strategy to hold petty grudges. You will probably regret it when the person you love has turned into a walker.

Life after The Walking Dead

Now, I haven’t seen any of season 4 yet (the season finale of which just aired!), so please, no spoilers! I will have to see for myself all the gut wrenching details (and read articles like this one). Despite some loopholes and questionable etiology, I think it is a good series. I’m hoping that this new, walker ridden, perspective on life can bring me out of this mental place I’m stuck in. Everything should be easy since I don’t have to worry about fighting off zombies and struggle to find safety, right?

On a side note, if I were able to choose where to be holed up indefinitely, I would choose the American Museum of Natural History in New York!

Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA

Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA

How traveling has changed my view of the world

I’m participating in the Indie Travel Art Project for the month of April 2014!

Day 1 prompt: How has your view of the world changed because of travel?

For me, there are maybe 2 things that have changed about my view, one positive and one negative.

The Bad

The downside to traveling in parts of the world like South, East and Southeast Asia are the various ways that women are oppressed and/or treated poorly. These are not the only places in the world where it happens, but these are the regions I have seen most outside of my home country. It’s not the same in every country, but it’s hard to accept and get used to it as a female traveler. The truth is, travel is not always the mind-blowing greatest thing that ever happened to you. I feel closer the some of the worst parts of humanity sometimes when I’m traveling and sometimes when at home in the USA. That is just the uglier side of travel and opening up yourself to seeing more things. You can’t just ignore the bad stuff.

The Good

The more positive thing that has changed is that I want to keep learning and experiencing from other cultures. I want to move past glorification of other cultures, and really appreciate everything about a place (the good and the bad). I want to understand the history of the place, and what factors are influencing changes and evolution of the place. I want to be able to embrace change abroad and at home for what it is, lots of interesting things interacting.

Ready to greet the sun and springtime!

Seasonal affective disorder is loosening its grip on New York City, and it shows! The skirts and dresses are already out of the closets for many women, and the last chill of winter has just about breathed its last breath.

It’s this time of year that I’m really grateful for. The transition from biting cold, to warmth, is a wonderful time. I feel so happy just to be able to go outside and not freeze, and I’m thankful that winter is over. There should be an acronym for this feeling!

It’s smiling when you step outside of your door in the morning, into the sunshine (thanks, daylight savings!). It’s peeling off a layer because you got so hot walking three avenues to work. It’s taking a stroll on the High Line Park after work instead of getting crammed on the train.

This is what I love about having 4 distinct seasons. Sure it can be depressing in the winter, but that is what makes spring so great. A hot, humid summer in New York is what makes autumn so awesome and magical. The leaves coming in during the spring and going out in the fall are amazing feats of biology. Isn’t it wonderful?

So, here’s to spring! We needed it!

Sun setting at the Highline Park

Sun setting at the High Line Park

[Map] Where there are more mobile phone subscriptions than people

You probably have a mobile phone. You might even be reading this on your mobile phone right now. Even though they are everywhere in cities and highly developed and urbanized places, there are still places where the mobile phone remains rare.

World Bank publishes data on mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people for most countries in the world. These numbers include prepaid and postpaid cell subscriptions. Maybe I’m being naive, but I was a little bit shocked when I graphed the data:

Mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people in 2007. Source: International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report and database, and World Bank estimates.

Mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people in 2007. Source: International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report and database, and World Bank estimates.

There are many more countries over the 100 mark than I would have guessed. Does that surprise you? Some of them make sense, but Greenland has 115.8 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people. Really? Weird! USA has about 120 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people! There must be a lot of gang action or external affairs going on, because most average folks only need one mobile phone, if any! I had a friend who postponed getting a phone all the way through college around the same time of this data. I’m not even sure when, if at all, he got one!

China is a bit low in this map. In 2007, there was 41.41 mobile subscriptions per 100 people, but as of 2012 their stat reached 81.26 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people. It nearly doubled in about 5 years! That is a very quick timeframe for going from 40% of the population to over 80%. It might be interesting also to see what is going one with population and demography in China during this time period.

I’m guessing if you count the number of travelers that might be coming through and getting prepaid SIM cards, then that would make sense that highly visited countries would get a boost in number of subscriptions. I know that I have 2 active mobile subscriptions right now, one in the USA, and one in Singapore. So I would get counted for both, but maybe I would not be counted in the population of Singapore estimates, which could mess with the numbers.

Mobile subscriptions per 100 people in the United States, Singapore, and Uganda, from 1988 to 2012. Source: International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report and database, and World Bank estimates.

Mobile subscriptions per 100 people in the United States, Singapore, and Uganda, from 1988 to 2012. Source: International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report and database, and World Bank estimates.

It looks like Singapore beat out USA in the late 1990s, and is nearing 160 mobile subscriptions per 100 people. That could mean half of the people have more than 1 mobile phone subscription.

Why could this be interesting? Well, it could be a sign of how well adopted this technology is around the world. I don’t know the details about how the data were collected, though, so there might be some nuances that are not coming through. I think it is still an interesting indication of how accessible mobile phones are, and that could be related to how developed or the rate of development in a country. For example, many parts of Africa and Asia have low numbers, or no data. Africa would be interesting because there are many places where the mobile phone technology has “leapfrogged” over landline phone technology, and is becoming more common before landlines even become standard.

It would be interesting to delve deeper and figure out why each country might have more mobile phone subscriptions that others, but the data don’t really tell much other than this story. What I could do if I have some time soon is look at how this has changed over time and see if there are any trends in any of the countries. Next time I’ll be taking a look at cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people.

Travel as a grad student