Blog

Exploring the Oregon Coast

Barring the Outer Banks, I’ve explored the eastern seaboard from Acadia National Park to Key West so now we’ve turned our attention westward. We’ve done the drive from San Francisco to Big Sur, hiked Yosemite Valley and Death Valley so, over the summer, we ventured north and visited the Oregon Coast. Here are some recommendations (I borrowed Sameer Vasta’s travelogue format).

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Switching to Solar Energy

Should you install solar panels if you’re living in Texas? The short answer​ is – it depends. For us, after doing our due diligence, we decided to go for it and​ at the end of the hottest month of the year (June-July 2018), we generated the following output:

Solar Production in June-July 2018

Continue reading if you too are interested in going solar and saving not only on your electric bill but also earning karma points from the environment.

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Measuring College-Going Outcomes

The grant that I work on currently, GEAR UP, uses college enrollment as its primary outcome. Or rather it used to. In recent grant cycles, the shift in absolute priorities has​ indicated that primary outcomes have been moving toward persistence i.e. staying in college for eventual graduation. In measuring college-going outcomes, it can vary with increasing expectations:

  1. Enrolling in any postsecondary institution
  2. Enrolling in a 2-year college
  3. Enrolling in a 4-year college
  4. Enrolling in college without need for remediation
  5. Persisting in college for the second year on track to graduation
  6. Graduating from college in six years

GEAR UP, due to its nature of the grant cycle, can only measure the first five outcomes and predict with varying accuracy the sixth one. But it is increasingly obvious that the first two outcomes are met easily or even the third outcome but the other two are exponentially difficult.

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Visiting Death Valley National Park

We’re on a personal mission of visiting as many national parks as possible and thankfully, we are spoiled for choice in terms of what this country has to offer. We’ve now covered Acadia, Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Since I had a work conference in Las Vegas in February, we decided to drive down to Death Valley National Park post-conference. It was the best time we could’ve visited it considering that the summer temperatures, true to its name, climb to nearly 120ºF.

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When they say, Death Valley is unlike any other place you’ve seen, you better believe them. It’s almost indescribable in words although that’s what I’m attempting to do. The drive to Death Valley is pleasant and if you start early from Vegas, you leave civilization behind quickly before entering the arid and desolate yet captivating countryside that is referred to as the American West. You stop for gas and sandwiches at the onomatopoeically-named Pahrump, a small junction town before you begin your final drive to Death Valley. It, where I realized later, also has a GEAR UP program. Ten miles from Pahrump, you take a left at the Amarposa Opera House. I bet you didn’t expect Siri to say that while driving in a desert. Unlike the Smokies or Yosemite where you drive through heavy traffic (and wildfire), it’s almost serene here. The size of the park is inversely proportional to the visitors it attracts. In spite of the lore, not many venture here and even fewer are aware of its proximity to one of America’s oft-visited cities.

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The Intangible Aspects of Our Job

I work in the field of college readiness. Currently, I’m the Project Director of a large GEAR UP grant under the auspices of The University of Texas at Austin. Last week, we conducted our first training for the school-based site Coordinators. The training was mostly intended to familiarize everyone with the goals and objectives of the project and equip them with tools and resources they would need to do a better job. In developing these tools and resources, we borrowed heavily from other grants since GEAR UP has been around for nearly 20 years and people have gotten better at implementing the grant.

However, I also wanted to include certain intangible aspects in doing our job that I often feel are neglected in the GEAR UP community. I included the following five concepts that I consider paramount and underline the very essence of GEAR UP.

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Annotated Line Graph – Power Consumption

Power Consumption Data Visualization

Cole Knaflic, the ​author of Storytelling with Data, one of my favorite data visualization books in recent times, runs a challenge every month on presenting any form of data in a specific chart type. This past month, the challenge was for an annotated line graph. I submitted the above entry [click here for enlarged version] using the daily power consumption data I download from Austin Energy.

The data are a bit erratic and specific data points are not that reliable but I think the overall trend lines are somewhat symptomatic of our usage especially after we did an extensive overhaul of our roof attic insulation and fixed the AC duct pipes.

Leaving Facebook

I deactivated my account on Facebook on New Years’ Eve. There was no specific reason or motive for doing so. I’ve been living without the Facebook app on my phone for more than 6 months now (admittedly, after hearing about Facebook’s attempts at tracking our location even when we’re not using the app) and have not missed it much. I used to access Facebook via the browser on the phone and laptop using the web view interface. It works just as well if not better in case you’re wondering.

So why did I quit a social networking site that I’ve been using for the last 12 years? Oh yes, I opened my account back in 2005 when Facebook was open to only college students in select universities. I used to enter the classes I was enrolled in to find my classmates to add as friends. I still had some of them as friends.

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