Can Twitter help build programs not prisons?

Kalle Lasn, one of the creators of the Occupy Wall Street meme (and founder of the Canadian magazine, Adbusters) has described the police raid to clear Zuccotti Park as “the latest in a series of crisis-driven opportunities.” In his interview with Mattathias Schwartz, Lasn asserts, “World wars, revolutions—from time to time, big things actually happen . . . When the moment is right, all it takes is a spark.” Lasn is calling the evictions the end of Phase I and is now calling for Phase II… What if the focus group dimension of Twitter described by Adam Green could be extended as a platform for aggregating collective intelligence? #KeepSpreadingTheMeme

Intriguing things are happening with Twitter these days.

  • #HAILSTATE appears in the endzone of an annual football rivalry yesterday (Saturday, Nov 26)
  • “Using a hashtag is [among other things] a way for someone to convey that they’re part of a certain scene.”
  • In electoral politics, hashtags are becoming “an ideal way to snark.”
  • Earlier in November: “‘#HashtagsArentAJobsBill.’ Oh, snap.
  • The GOP got 20% more positive reactions [on Twitter] than Obama” on jobs (see chart)
  • The #OWS presence on Twitter is more diffuse and widespread than the closed #teaparty network (see visualization)
  • Campaign monitoring of Tweets for the 2012 election generates a tagcloud of top words in Tweets about the candidates and a column ranking of quantity of Tweets/candidate in real time (watch the data change)
  • The overall rate of tweeting with the tags #ows, #occupy, and #occupywallstreet has been declining over the last 30 days (as of Nov 24) while the overall reach of tweeting with #ows has spread, globally


“Twitter is the world’s largest focus group,” asserts Adam Green of 140elect.  Twitter is now being picked up and used by the political class (see “History” below). “The thing is,” explains Nancy Scola, “it’s not just the political class, traditionally defined. For every #FlipFlopMitt, a hashtag pushed by Perry’s presidential campaign, there’s an organic one started by some random person on the Internet.”  She continues, “Anyone with a free minute and a Twitter account can join in and, for better or for worse, find themselves part of a national media messaging battle.”

Since the police broke up Occupy Wall Street’s peaceful protests, maintaining momentum for #ows via social media may take on increasing importance. Meanwhile, Yochai Benkler at Harvard cautions that

“a complete retreat to an online-only form would be a mistake.

“The ability to focus on a national agenda will depend on actual, on-the-ground, face-to-face actions, laying your body down for your principles – with the ability to capture the images and project them to the world,” Mr. Benkler said, pointing to the outrage over the use of pepper spray at the University of California, Davis, last weekend [Nov 17-18] as an example of an encounter that ratcheted up the online conversation.


Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a clear forerunner of Twitter in requiring users to compose short and clear messages, as well as providing precedent for the Twitter symbols of @ (for author identification) and # (for organizing content): IRC channel names require the first character to be either ‘&’, ‘#’, ‘+’ or ‘!‘ (“hereafter called “channel prefix“). In addition to inspiring the hashtag and address tag, just as Twitter contributes to the circulation of protest and repression that corporate-owned media chooses not to give much airtime, the IRC provided a communication route for news and information when mainstream media were being censored.

Writing for The Atlantic, Nancy Scola reports:

“Observers cite the 2009 Iranian elections (#IranElection) as the moment the tool really took hold in the political realm. Closer to home, the taxonomic application found high-profile usage when the White House encouraged people to use #immigration to discuss a major Obama immigration speech and #AskObama to group together questions for the president for an online forum hosted by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.”

Then, a mere year ago, came the Arab Spring, fueled by social media – namely Facebook and Twitter.  These movements continue: #Jan25, #Egypt, #Tahrir, and #Syria. Protest spread from the Middle East to Spain in May: Take The Square.

And now, right here in the United States, #OWS.

This is how Occupy Wall Street began: as one of many half-formed plans circulating through conversations between [Kalle] Lasn and [Micah] White, who lives in Berkeley and has not seen Lasn in person for more than four years. Neither can recall who first had the idea of trying to take over lower Manhattan. In early June, Adbusters sent an e-mail to subscribers stating that “America needs its own Tahrir.” The next day, White wrote to Lasn that he was “very excited about the Occupy Wall Street meme. . . . I think we should make this happen.” He proposed three possible Web sites:,, and

“No. 1 is best,” Lasn replied, on June 9th. That evening, he registered

Orienting toward the Future

No one person creates a meme. Memes are articulations of a common consciousness, the expression of a deep and widely-shared intuition about lived experience at the frontiers of knowledge. Memes propagate because they resonate and are echoed by individual persons who recognize and act on an affinity with the images or sentiments the language evokes. Viewed historically, memes reflect the zeitgeist of an era; viewed contemporaneously – memes are best explained by the communication concept of interpellation. In plain language, interpellation is about being hailed, being called by persons, things, ideas, etc., into being “this way” or “that way,” into our individual/cultural/social identities: you and I are drawn to the things (objects, ideas) and people that each of us likes; why we like some things more than others has to do with exposure (familiarity) and difference (unfamiliarity). The important point is that being hailed is an interactive process, a dynamic exchange between those “things” (objects, ideas, other persons) and our selves (consciously and unconsciously).

For a meme to take off and become a meme, it has to get traction – the traction comes from the hailing process. The meme hollers “Yo! I’m here! Whatcha think?” If it catches your attention, this provides some ground. If you engage it – in any kind of way, through agreement or disagreement or mocking or celebration or whatever – this starts the foundation. If few others engage, too bad – no co-construction, no interaction = no meme. But if others also engage – whether in a similar or distinctive way than you – a potential starts to build. The process can happen quick or begin slowly; usually there is a spurt when the sucker simply takes off. Spurting remains unpredictable. The best science cannot guarantee when a meme will burst into public consciousness; art may fare slightly better but most memes become obvious in retrospect rather than prediction.

"No one gets rich on their own."
"No one gets rich on their own."

One of the early contributions to the momentum of Occupy Wall Street is the clarity with which Elizabeth Warren explains the economic situation. The 2 minute youtube video pictured above was made prior to OWS.  an interview with Elizabeth Warren on CNBC’s Squawk Box about “the moment” being offered by an upcoming Economic Stress Test. On youtube, that video slides into “Elizabeth Warren Makes Timmy Geithner Squirm Over AIG and Goldman Sachs Bailouts,” and then into “WHY OCCUPY WALL ST?,WHY,WHY,WHY? (MUST SEE!),” which splices an incredible range of news footage together, including Alan Greenspan’s confession to Henry Waxman that the idea he believed in for forty years about free markets’ ability to self-regulate turned out to be completely wrong.

A Revolutionary Moment?

Kalle Lasn, one of the creators of the Occupy Wall Street meme (founder of the Canadian magazine, Adbusters) has described the police raid to clear Zuccotti Park as “the latest in a series of crisis-driven opportunities.” In his interview with Mattathias Schwartz, Lasn asserts, “World wars, revolutions—from time to time, big things actually happen . . . When the moment is right, all it takes is a spark.”  Lasn is calling the evictions the end of Phase I and calling for Phase II… Originally,  “Adbusters invited readers to “zero in on what our one demand will be.” The suggested ideas included a Presidential commission charged with ending the influence of money in politics, and a one-per-cent “Robin Hood tax” on all financial transactions.” Instead, the movement chose the anarchist path, and has refused to coalesce around any one demand.


The question is both literal and figurative. Occupy Wall Street is resistance to the “prison” of the financial game created by financiers and other high stakes gamblers. Likewise, profiting from the penal system encourages profiling and other forms of social injustice. As a result, too many prisoners are Americans that we need contributing actively to the economy, supporting their families and improving their communities.

What if the focus group dimension of Twitter described by Adam Green could be extended as a platform for aggregating collective intelligence? Could crowd-sourcing the issues and ideas allow “the solutions” of Occupy Wall Street to take organic form as dictated by all of its advocates – perhaps even in a kind of competition-based collaboration with its detractors?

Has Twitter become a sufficiently strong medium for asserting political will? Can codes, programs, and applications be written to assess the dynamics of issues vis-a-vis events? Or must we continue to leave the direction of the country up to the closed decision-making of extreme pundits and politicians, as vetted by the corporately-owned mainstream media?

Benkler and Lasn are pointing the way – more physical gatherings, people massing in public spaces. There will continue to be violence from the establishment against the resistance. I confess that I am not sure if I have the guts to put my body on the line in the way so many already have. What I can do, at least for now, is try to design and advocate for non-violent means to #keepspreadingthememe.

Day 72, Occupy Wall Street
27 November 02011

Why Millennials Need DayGlow

In “DayGlow Makes Us Normal,” students blend a sharp knowledge of context with an unapologetic stance in support of ‘the blue pill’ – meaning an uncritical embrace of technology, particularly in terms of how it can be used to serve the needs of the self. These young people show us that they are doing their best to deal with everything; however surviving means sometimes choosing not to know in order to have the ‘escape’ that recharges them to be able to carry on….The other video is less ambiguous, showing more of the Red Pill approach through some critical juxtapositions that seem to ask “Do We Have to Be This Way?”

a Communication course on Media and Culture
UMass Amherst

Facebook commentary after viewing the video
Facebook commentary after viewing the video

The unreality of DayGlow’s Escape Reality tour provides reprieve to the 24/7 demands of the socially-wired digital world. Some of my students think I would enjoy the concert. It seems possible, although the behavior required to secure tickets does not appeal. Descriptions of the emotions raised by the keyboard-and-mouse competition carefully calibrated to the timing of a ticket release has all the characteristics of addiction. A fan, however, might just call it passion. To be sprayed with paint while mass dancing to great music at eardrum-blasting decibels: you’ve always dreamed of it, right? Most of the young adults taking this class could hardly imagine anything better. The encompassing sensory experience fundamentally connects them with their bodies and each other in a shared physical space and time: it is as far from online social interaction as you can get. I suppose DayGlowers may text or Tweet or update their Facebook statuses just to tweak their friends – haha, I’m here and you’re not! – but the point of DayGlow is to experience an entirely different way of being together.

It’s about Identity, Stupid!

In the final small group discussion with the teacher, one of the students in class made an identity claim about technology that encompassed everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and (to a lesser but still relevant extent) socioeconomic class. “Technology,” Jamar said, “is what makes us normal.” Orienting to society via the specific types of technology known as social media defines the digital native and simultaneously signals a potent site of contest over the future. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person are you now? Although these questions were not asked overtly, they underscored the Red Pill/Blue Pill debate over the prominence of technology in student’s lives. While embracing what they like and accommodating to what they must, many members of this first generation of digital natives are also deeply concerned about what it all means.

Doing Collective Intelligence

In an example of what I call social metonymy, the students’ final team video projects expose individual ambiguity about their personal responsibility for choosing the reality that will define their lives. At the same time the two videos serve to represent this choice as an either/or dichotomy between the Blue Pill and the Red Pill.  In “DayGlow Makes Us Normal,” students blend a sharp knowledge of context with an unapologetic stance in support of ‘the blue pill’ – meaning an uncritical embrace of technology, particularly in terms of how it can be used to serve the needs of the self. These young people show us that they are doing their best to deal with everything; however surviving means sometimes choosing not to know in order to have the ‘escape’ that recharges them to be able to carry on. Dfoley explains:

…when Steph approached us and asked us to research deeper into DAYGLOW, ask questions and look into the three social relations, we as a class became defensive and responded first with a stern “NO!” and then eased out of the conversation with “What if we learn bad things?” We didn’t want to know how they targeted their audiences, what producers or distributors they went through, if they were in fact illegally using music or did they work with certain music industries and is the paint made in an un-ethical environment? At this moment, we didn’t want to know any of these answers; we didn’t want to know if the three social relations that applied to DAYGLOW were good or bad. Because the truth is, DAYGLOW was and is are [sic] escape, we leave all of our troubles at the door and it facilitates an environment that is blind to color or cultural difference but sees the common ground of the human race as a whole and understands that when we enter we all are in an agreement that we simply want to be. And enjoy the overpowering feeling of the love for life you feel as you live the music.

The other video is less ambiguous, showing more of the Red Pill approach through some critical juxtapositions that seem to ask  “Do We Have to Be This Way?” If you enlarge the Facebook commentary photograph, you’ll see a student’s explanation about the DayGlow footage being replaced by activism by teenagers in Arizona regarding changes to the curriculum there. Taken as a package, the two videos provide a fairly transparent perspective on a particular demographic subset of the Millennial Generation. What isn’t necessarily evident in the videos is learning some students described about ethnic components of their identities:

Steph talked about the fact that many of us saw things in a “white way”. We never thought about seeing things this way but it was seemingly apparent that we did. Seeing in a “white way” is similar to the idea of heteronormativity. Heterosexuality is unconsciously perceived as the correct way to live and therefore heterosexual individuals are unfairly privileged in the same way that white individuals are solely because of their race. As Sgershlak said, many white college students do not think about the opportunities they are presented with because they have always been there. Many of them have not faced much adversity if any at all and this has influenced their perspective on the world. (Kim Delehanty)

Until I was 10 years old, I lived in Boston, where the lifestyle was much laid back. Many of my friends parents would often stay home, either unemployed, laid-off, or fired. There was never a real need to have a intellectual conversation with anyone, mainly because people around you did not complete much schooling. However upon moving to the suburbs, my identity changed in order to fit in with my surrounding environment. Conversations now stemmed to “what do you want to be when you grow up”, “what colleges do you plan on applying to”. Coming from a schooling system which did not produce many graduates, to one which produced more college graduates than Boston did high-school graduates, I would say my identity changed dramatically and maybe for the best. Being the most Americanized Hispanic, also meant when it came time to identify with relatives and family, my identity would also have to change, to incorporate an Hispanic culture which has not been present for several years. (Steve Baez)

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

I assigned the students in this 100-level course a nearly impossible task – to complete team video projects representing their understanding of how media and culture combine in their personally lived experience of college today. I wanted them to demonstrate to me that they understood the concept of articulation as it is used in communication theory.

With inadequate tools, little-to-no experience, and minimal guidance, they exceeded my expectations. We all wish the production values were higher but the meaning of these videos is the thoughtfulness with which these young people have illustrated the incredible tensions of being among the first human beings to live immersed in the digital age.

The intellectual prompt provided as an anchor for the course was obscure at first: “Digital Realities and Analog Living.” We also viewed the 1999 movie, The Matrix, for use as a guiding metaphor as well as an example of transmedia storytelling. The students composed individual videos for their midterm projects, absorbed my critique, and went to work to show me how it really is.

Catalyzing Movement

The fourth piece, Lateralization by Cassandra Jackman…signaled a dramatic shift in the storyline of the show. Prior to this piece I had not yet noticed individual details of any of the dancers; it was as if I’d seen with soft eyes, taking in only the gestalt. Suddenly, a focal point emerged, casting the previous pieces into the realm of context. I began to marvel at how these young people had orchestrated their discrete works of art into a collective statement about empowerment, including even race relations and suggesting optimism for social change.

Dance Performance
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Cassandra Jackman is hot. If you are into dance and you haven’t yet heard of her, you will – of this I am sure.

Watching with Untrained Eyes

I had to be coached not to clap at the wrong time, to be appropriately attentive. I was exposed to dance (mainly ballet) as a kid and didn’t get it. Enjoyed an Alvin Ailey show at some point and knew there was something going on but didn’t pursue it.  Wire Monkey got me excited a few years ago. Going in, all I knew about UMass’ annual “Alive with Dance” show is that each number was an original work by graduating dance majors. These seniors selected their topics a year in advance, did research, created the choreography, auditioned and selected dancers from among their peers, designed the set and chose the accompanying music.  I was unprepared for the quality of every performer and absolutely blown away by what I experienced as the collective intelligence of the troupe.

A Visceral Experience

The first three dances washed through me like emotion. Color, motion and sound swirled and merged seamlessly, one piece into another. This was not a fluke: return viewings on the 2nd and 3rd night elicited similar responses.  With each show I realized there was so much I had not taken in, either not noticed at all or not been able to retain in the glut of stimulation. On the first night, during the fourth number in the first half of the show, all of a sudden I discovered myself wondering, “Why is that (big black beautiful) man naked?” (He wasn’t actually!) It was not that I hadn’t been paying attention – I was taking in all that I could! It was the surprise of his appearance that rippled my perception at a level of imagery below words.  Everybody needs to see this, I thought to myself. Something is happening here.

The Strategic Use of Body

The fourth piece in the first half of the show, Lateralization by Cassandra Jackman, highlighted an African/African-American couple. For me, it signaled a dramatic shift in the storyline of the show.  Prior to this piece I had not yet noticed individual details of any of the dancers; it was as if I’d seen with soft eyes, taking in only the gestalt. Suddenly, a focal point emerged, casting the previous pieces into the realm of context. I began to marvel at how these young people had orchestrated their discrete works of art into a collective statement about empowerment, including even race relations and suggesting optimism for social change. Parallels and a narrative became apparent in the second half. I almost came out of my seat during the final, closing number when Cassandra, cast in one of her classmate’s pieces, kick-starts a wild profusion of creative resistance to the masks so many people seem resigned to wear. It is as if she throws the switch that changes the game.

Starting with a Silent Bang

The audience’s pre-show hubbub quieted immediately to the Orwellian announcement about emergency exits and prohibitions on the use of technology.  A soloist is illuminated as soon as the curtain opens and begins to move. I found myself waiting, as if expecting something else to happen, and then realize this is it: the show has begun. One dancer becomes three, music swells, a welter of emotions, red leotards, steady rhythm, perpetual motion, different threads of story, expressions of life’s cacophony of light and dark, the soloist isolated behind a scrim, a graceful sense of mourning followed by the emergence of joy. Layer upon layer unfolds but all I really see is pattern and distinction, no details no brown or white only coordinated bodies.

Then the rain begins. Gentle. Persistent. The second dance resonates with the season of spring, moistening and warming the hardened remains of winter, offering salve for wounds not yet healed.  “We walk through the shadows our hearts cast on our minds.” Unless, that is, you are one of the perky pink girls who follows in the third dance – seemingly untouched by pain. Light and carnival-like, an assembly line of frivolous, interchangeable white girls provides an airy release from the poignant plunge of reality.  Give us the Scott Joplin illusion of that happy era between the World Wars!

Lateralization enters a consciousness already stretched to the edges of emotional exertion.  The fourth dance evokes the show’s beginning but with a twist. Like the show’s first scene, the soloist begins in silence. However, in contrast with the brightly illuminated first dancer, Tara Brown is shrouded in shadow, the outline of her body tracing lines of quiet force into empty space. Complication emerges swiftly: two small non-symmetric groups appear in vibrant turn. Their bold blue and striped black-and-white costumes and compelling motions fade into peripheral vision once the couple appears. Soon, Cassandra’s bold embodiment fixes my gaze.

A Catalyst for Movement

I needed to watch the show three times to grasp its structure.  No doubt there are well-established logics for sequencing a dance program of individual works. I’ve since learned some details about the motivations for a few of the pieces: taken individually my read is hopefully recognizable as a viable interpretation of each choreographer’s intent, even if I failed to grasp the exact details of their visualizations. I wonder how they imagined the accumulated narrative, with each discrete piece aggregated into a whole story . . .

The five pieces in the second half of the show parallel the first half’s four parts in a few interesting ways. After intermission Sabra and Faded and Alive present a mix of a varied emotions much as Trouver la Lumiere did to open the first half of the show. Then, the third number in the second half, It’s All About Me, I Mean You, I Mean Me, provides a contemporary commentary on the ‘50’s rendition of the Roarin’ Twenties. These sassy dancers move nearly always in unison, perfect clockwork functionaries keeping up playful appearances despite the harsh and cynical backdrops from Barbara Kruger depicting the ironies of what it’s like to live now.

Gimme Five by Angela Bennett was the most complicated piece. It moved the mechanical behaviors of technological living to the foreground, almost as a counterpart to the sociocultural perspective offered in Jackman’s Lateralization. The psychological fluidity of Cassandra’s piece is counterpoised by Angela’s representation of rote, routine, automatic surrender and recovery.  We watch humans copy copy copy each other, if not in mimicry than still in lock-step: one behavior triggering a reciprocal response in unvarying repetition as if this is the most to which humans can aspire.  Yet something does change in the end, the push-pull of exclusion/inclusion and competing desires for belonging/autonomy moves the singularity of our human being through time, enabling re-orientation should one choose.

I am fascinated by how the first eight dances of the show can be understood as a repeating cycle. The first four pieces in the second half of the show reprise the first four pieces from the first half. Do humans need to witness repetition in order to recognize the social pattern? Once the pattern is realized, the stage is set for the dramatic action of the ninth and final dance.

Un-Masking One Reality to Create Another

A huge benefit of watching the show three times was increasing respect for the quality of all the dancers. Although my attention was riveted by a few at first, each viewing brought more of everyone’s talent into view. My appreciation for these young performers has continued to grow as I’ve sought to find the right words to express their accomplishment. These UMass Dance Majors have embraced art’s highest calling: to use illusion in service of illumination. They have achieved this by disciplining their bodies to perform at the very edge of courage.

The closing dance, Lasciere Me Eliminato, is dense with detail. Most of the dancers begin with masks, only three without. But I don’t notice this until the third time I watch, my eyes rapt in amazement of the sophisticated synchrony of syncopated motion on display from every dancer. There is a struggle. Something prevents forward motion. They reach in yearning and are hauled back as if shackled. “Going nowhere” – this phrase from the soundtrack. One dancer’s mask is removed, re-tied around an arm. Randomly (it seems) the dancers align in precise configuration, there is a slight pause, then WHAM! Cassandra’s triggering move sends an instantaneous ripple coursing with precision through the line, masks come off and all that shit gets wiped away. Free! Free at last! I can almost hear the refrain as the mood turns to peace: quiet, solemn, and graceful.

That a brown person was cast to dance-kick this new gear into motion is likely not pure coincidence. There are white dancers throwing off their masks too, choosing to refuse the current state of affairs. Meanwhile, the three originally unmasked dancers were all white. Were they pulling the strings before? A small percentage controlling the rest? I would have to see the show again to assess that hypothesis.

In the end, one of those unmasked dancers finds herself masked. Alone on stage, there is barely time to adjust before she sees from her new vantage point – and gasps.

Alive with Dance 2011: A Catalyst for Movement

1st Half:

Trouver la Lumiere by Shirah Burgey
Inner Shadows by Sierra Boyea
Ready . . . Again by Sarah Goddard
Lateralization by Cassandra Jackman

2nd Half:

Sabra by Hannah Katz
Faded and Alive by Jonalyn Bradshaw
It’s All About Me, I Mean You, I Mean Me by Emily Jacobson
“Gimme Five” by Angela Bennett
Lasciere Me Eliminato by Kayla Skerry

modeling homogenous relaxation

The art is to manage the rate and speed (measured by a non-dimensional number – one of those deeply held math secrets engineers bandy about like social scientists bartering philosophical theories). The particular number in this case (that describes nothing in the physical world) is quite effected by the slightest change in temperature. Changes in temperature affect the rate and there’s a whole bunch of modeling that needs to be done to get this whole puppy optimized. Or something like that.

Theoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
College of Engineering
University of Massachusetts Amherst
13 December 2010

diagram of flash boilingDr Kshitij Neroorkar’s defense was so smoothly delivered you’d have thought he’d done this a thousand times already. Who knows? Simulation of Flash-Boiling in GDI Injections with Gasoline-Ethanol Fuel Blends might be the kind of hard science topic where 1000 experiments are needed before you get to defend the phd! Being the lone, non-family-member representative of the social sciences present, “How much did you understand?” was the question-du-jour, post-defense. Here comes the test, huh? At least enough to recognize that Dr Neroorkar’s subject matter seemed very similar to Dr Shivasubramanian Golapakrishnan’s dissertation topic, which I distorted metaphorically in a previous blogentry: Language is a Fluid.  A big thanks, btw, to Dr Blair Perot, who read and questioned the two-way utility of my analogy:

“Since I understand the fluids, this analogy certainly helps me understand what is important to linguists. I am less sure about if it will help the other way around. Does it really help linguists understand/describe linguistics better to think in terms of fluids?” (I like how he cuts right to the chase!)


8 nozzle plumes merge

The site of Dr Neroorkar’s study is in the nozzle part of a fuel-injection system, so its a pretty small physical space.  Inside that wee tunnel all kinds of things are going on, one of them being flash-boiling: the violent explosion of liquid into steam (a gas). The better this explosion is controlled, the more usable energy one gets, but it is tricky to maximize the energy potential because, well, all kinds of things are going on! There’s a pressure drop where the fluid enters, certain processes that generate the growth of nucleation bubbles which start out teeny-tiny and expand until  they touch each other, and then these bubbles bursting into spray in a process called atomization. The art is to manage the rate and speed (measured by a non-dimensional number – one of those deeply held math secrets engineers bandy about like social scientists bartering philosophical theories). The particular number in this case (that describes nothing in the physical world) is quite effected by the slightest change in temperature. Changes in temperature affect the rate and there’s a whole bunch of modeling that needs to be done to get this whole puppy optimized.  Or something like that.

“Then we do some mathematical tricks”

HRM modelTurns out that with 8-hole injectors, the plumes of vapor generated from each hole merge in a way that needs to be taken into account, and this hasn’t actually been done before, or not so well/thoroughly or otherwise unequivocally established through parametric study. What is the difference, someone asked, from what Dr Gopalakrishnan did before? “Shiva didn’t couple them.”  Couple what? The nuances were definitely over my head here, but the two of them did use the same HRM model, which (as Dr Neroorker explained to me later) “assumes the liquid-vapor mixture is one substance, not separate.” Treating the fluid-gas mix as homogeneous rather than heterogeneous (as explained here right at my level) enables an epistemological framework in which the system will relax to equilibrium if given enough time. There are (apparently) problems with the assumptions of cavitation, and the degree of superheat figures in some crucial way, not to mention the influence of specific geometry (90% symmetric) and the composition of the periodic boundary conditions (sounds an awful lot like “context” to me).

I like the idea of "swirl injection" (the colors aren't bad, either).
I like the idea of "swirl injection" (the colors aren't bad, either).

Somehow, Dr Neroorkar put all that together in the first validated 3D simulation showing the geometry region, the residence time dominated region, and the vaporization time dominated region, and got a volatility distribution curve showing stuff that matters. With important limitations of course: laminar flows, empirical time scales relevant to one fluid not others, so on and so forth.


The best part (of course) was the celebration, where I got to pretend to blend in with the relaxing homogenous crowd of Indians (“convenience store not casino” as distinguished by Russell Peters) at Sneha & Kshitij’s cozy apartment. Except for Nidhi (who delivered all her laugh lines in Hindi so I couldn’t understand them), everyone stepped up to being blogged. Partha gave in pretty easy: “We aren’t cited that often.” I had a great conversation with Vikram, who informed me that “helium is helium,” and Upen, “Math is not context-dependent.” Bhooshan mildly admitted that there “are not so many more fundamental reactions to discover [in chemistry]”, which Upen amended, “until they are discovered!” I would have followed up on these topics except Ruchita chimed in, ” This is not the conversation I want to be having!” Oh alrighty then!

cutting the cakeSandeep, meanwhile, was focused: “Where is the biryani?” Pritish arrived a little late and took awhile to catch up, “She’s gonna use my name somewhere?” You know I was amused when Sneha told us “people used to think I was a boy.” And did I ever learn some gossip about somebody’s Victoria’s Secret!

The meal was awesome, the company grand, and the event momentous. Kshitij himself did the honors on the decadent chocolate mousse cake, announcing: “My job is done.”

Language is a fluid (Part 1)

Theoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
College of Engineering
UMass Amherst

A few days before his defense, the very-soon-to-be-Dr. Shiva promised to make his phd defense as incomprehensible to a non-engineer as possible. He was teasing me, but it opens space for me to play with representing his work not only on its own terms, as I have tried to do with other friend's dissertations. In this "Part 1" post, I've selected items from Dr. Shivasubramanian Gopalakrishnan's defense that enable me to play with fluid dynamics as an analogy for language-based communication dynamics. My not-so-hidden-agenda is to attempt a translation between disciplines that might serve as an impetus to potential collaborations for addressing cross-disciplinary problems (the global type, interwoven across institutional fields, such as climate-change, grinding poverty, and widespread starvation, to name a few).

“Modeling of Thermal Non-Equilibrium in Superheated Injector Flows”

Dr Gopalakrishnan’s area of specialization is non-equilibrium phase change operations. The basic phase change he studied for his dissertation involves the change of liquid fuel into gas vapor in automobile and aircraft fuel. There are a whole ton of things that need to happen in order for a fuel to provide adequate power to an engine so that a car or plane can travel, and a fair number of things that can go wrong in the attempt, such as flash boiling and vapor lock. The engineers know all about these problems, but I had to do a bit of research. A liquid boils, for instance, not only as a function of temperature, but also as a function of pressure. Suppose one thought of a linguistic flash boil as the interaction of

    a) a word’s definition (its ‘temperature’) and

    b) the context in which the word is uttered (the environmental ‘pressure’).

Right word, right context: everybody happy.
Right word, wrong context: problem!
Wrong word, right context: just a goof.
Wrong word, wrong context:
potential domestic disturbance or international incident!

Suppose we were able to slow down social interaction to 2000 frames per second (like this water droplet) in order to perceive how a single word enters language (and thus communication) as a whole?  Most people tend not to think much about the language we use unless/until something goes wrong, and then our energies focus upon repair. If we could cultivate more consciousness about how (for instance) individual word choices merge with larger pools of language use, then we might be able to diagnose discourse patterns and even design ways of communicating that work more efficiently in developing and implementing ideas that solve real-world problems.

In terms of the analogy I’m proposing here, Snapshot 2009-11-17 18-22-14how or when do words conserve mass and momentum without changing the substance or direction of established discourse or social patterns?  When and how might particular words conform to the dictates of conservation while also accomplishing an alteration in substantive conditions that generates new forms of dialogue?

Vapor lock is not such a problem for cars anymore, but it remains a challenge for aircraft. Both issues involve the liquid becoming gas too soon. With flash boiling, part of the liquid fuel – but not all of it – superheats, leading to a two-phase (and thus inefficient) distribution of energy. With vapor lock, the bulk of the liquid vaporizes before practical use – also due to combinations of pressure and temperature. Vapor lock can cause a severe drop or even a complete stall in power. Not what you want to happen at high altitude! Nor in a conversation that you wish to proceed smoothly, for whatever reasons.

Suppose you need to talk with someone who uses a different language than you. A phase change is necessary for communication to occur. Suppose an interpreter (professionally trained, fluent in both languages) is available to transform the ‘fuel’ provided by your language into ‘power’ in the other language? This would be a phase change, yes? Keep in mind that in scientific categorization, liquids and gasses are both fluids – they belong to the same medium. Similarly, English and Turkish, Spanish and Hindi, Malaysian Sign Language and Langue des Signes Française are all examples of the medium of language. The question of efficiency in fluid phase change is comparable to the question of comprehension in interpretation: the challenge is to identify the relevant factors and manipulate the conditions so that the interaction occurs with the least loss. In fluid heat exchange, one considers the

  1. rate of downstream atomization, the
  2. starting point of the phase change – its location within the nozzle, the
  3. extent to which dispersion continues outside of the nozzle, the
  4. endpoint of phase change, and (finally) the
  5. overall emission characteristics: a comprehensive image, if you will, of what is happening when, where, and how that involves all interacting elements and environmental conditions.


One can surmise that in addition to the environmental conditions of temperature and pressure, timing is crucial for effective fluid dynamic engineering! Time comes first in the list above (rate), requiring us to imagine the complicated system in four dimensions. Temporality is also one of the more obvious constituents of interpretation, as people using interpreters to communicate across language differences often express concern with the amount of time required for the interpreter to process the ‘injection’ before manifesting ’emissions’. In aircraft, the particular mechanism that Dr Gopalakrishnan studied involved using the fuel system itself “as a heat sink to increase engine performance.”

Paralleling the practical application of a heat sink with interpretation, the question of efficiency involves the extent to which an interpreter dissipates the hot air, absorbing or otherwise deflecting excess energy that distorts the equilibrium of the relational exchange. This cooling effect of the interpreter is not intended to minimize an interlocutor’s intended meaning (a common concern), but rather, to enable the potential energy (one could say, the understanding) to be most efficiently utilized in whatever power application (voice – Blommaert: ‘the capacity for semiotic mobility’ (p. 69)) is called for: a sudden increase in speed (e.g., for emphasis), or a gradual drop in tone (perhaps to shift a debate from argumentation to persuasion).

Dr Gopalakrishnan’s work zeroed in (among other things) on the relationship between pressure and enthalpy. In terms of vaporization, enthalpy is “the energy required to transform a given quantity of a substance into a gas.” For some reason (unknown), the energy required by interpreters to transform language through a similar phase change operation seems expected not to change the substance. Liquid should not become gas! (Despite that they are still both fluids.) Put another way, the diction (discrete word choice) seems expected not to change despite the phase shift from one language to another!  This is akin to expecting, with fuel, that the molecules of the resulting gas would remain exactly the same as the molecules of the original liquid: in which case, no energy would be produced at all, as there would have been no reaction.

Based on everyday experience, language “is incompressible” (as Dr Schmidt teased when I posed my analogy to him), yet – ironically? – there seems to be widespread social conditioning about languages that presumes an interpreter is magically able to perform phase changes (interpreting from one type of language/medium to another type of language/medium) without effects from environmental conditions. Occupational health and safety evaluations, not to mention professional lore and training, reveal that communicators in a cross-language interaction do need to consider

a) the capacity of the interpreter to store extra heat/energy (technically, thermal inertia) generated by interlocutors and

b) the potential for long-term damage to interpreters (and thus, the communication system) by constraints imposed by conditions of ‘social temperature’ and ‘social pressure’ (which can show up, in fluid dynamic terms, as cavitation).

Often, when the complex realities of language-to-language interpretation are surfaced, the fallback position is to eliminate the need for interpretation. “Get everyone using the same language.” Instead, I want to suggest that there are tremendous benefits to embracing the need for interpretation as an opportunity for highlighting precisely those areas and moments of greatest difference and thus of challenge. When communication appears to fail or feels inadequate, this can be taken as an indicator to those involved that the interaction potential has shifted from a single/shared perspective to a fuller range of views – which, if utilized, may suggest greater/deeper capacities and efficiencies.

One of Dr Gopalakrishnan’s innovations was to apply two different sets of equations to the problem of fuel injection efficiency. Shiva'sLISA2By coupling mechanisms that perform distinct tasks in different domains, Dr Gopalakrishnan was able to generate new knowledge about the overall process which will likely lead to improvements in efficiency. In a similar spirit, I seek to draw on (admittedly limited) paradigmatic knowledge from engineering about fluids with paradigmatic knowledge from the humanities about language. This task necessarily involves translation between the two disciplinary languages. To be successful, co-learners will have to want to make the effort to move beyond disciplinary monolingualism. I hope the compelling problems of our time provide sufficient motivation for trying to bridge the segregation.

In a way, interpreters are always trying to apply “two different sets of equations” to the problem of efficient communication. These are the ‘equations’ of culture and language particular to each communicator. The unique aspect of interpreting (as a complex system involving the rapid combination of distinct tasks across domains with an ever-changing mix of elements), is that the people involved also have power to interpret – and re-interpret – the conditions. Unlike fluid dynamics, where the ‘temperature’ and ‘pressure’ are given factors of the environment (fixed, stable, presumedly controlled/controllable), individuals in a communication process can always choose to maintain or change the context: to alleviate or increase the pressure, to drop or raise the temperature, to decide that any word – ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ even if it generates vapor lock or superheating – can be worked with and turned to productive use. This takes effort, of course, and requires collaboration – therein lies the rub!

Coming up in Part 2: the challenge to traditional models of superheating fluids that only consider instability-based modes of breakup, the question of size vs quantity, and void fractions.