Welcome to iHouse!
iHouse is a group of 21 MIT students committed to international development. This is our blog site where you can find blogs about ID projects and about life in generally. We also have our main site, so please check out our prefrosh page by clicking the “Join” button on the header. On the prefrosh page you will find the basics of how to join iHouse and some of the cool stuff we do. We’d love to get to know you!
(Directly to potential Cambridge-MIT Exchange students, but a good lesson for all.)
I’m on the Cambridge-MIT Exchange, and if you are anything like I was, you might have some questions about alcohol and drinking. I had wanted to know if drinking in England is really the center of social life and what might happen if I don’t drink. I’m going to give a biased but honest perspective on those questions by sharing some of my experiences. The story might be different for you, but I think you’ll find this perspective informative and helpful.
Unlike American cities, Cambridge has windy streets with lots of roundabouts. The crosswalks are often not at the intersections, and the paths often have gates to restrain the cows. Plus, the square courts feature perfect grass although you can’t walk on it. As you can imagine, it’s different here. The differences can be strange and annoying at first, but sometimes they’re worth a good walk’s thought.
As many of you know, my highlight of every week at MIT is going grocery shopping – and finding ways to somehow take advantage of every sale possible (i.e. reduced price produce, milk at the gas station, showing up to the store at 7 AM on a Friday because I read their new weekly ads posted at 6AM, bargaining with MacGregor Convenience to get a gallon of milk for 25 cents, etc.) Yeah, you know what I mean. This is serious shopping.
So now that I’m in the other Cambridge (where things tend to cost more $$$), I’ve found it an extra challenge to really enjoy my hobby, but I’m working hard to take advantage of every opportunity I get. So I’ll start with some general advice and then expand the last bits in more detail.
The transition to Cambridge has been a rather interesting one and most definitely a work in progress. Before I comment on Cambridge though, I should mention that I much miss you all, and I hope you are enjoying IAP to its fullest back at MIT. I am trying to avoid reading too many of the forum emails, so I have the filter to only let me see emails with the word “kitchen” in them. But in any case, I’ll try to recap some of the interesting aspects of transitioning to Cambridge.
I may not be a lawyer, but I have spent a lot of time gathering evidence and helping prepare cases in my internship. Okay, so there probably won’t be an Engineering Claims Unit spinoff of Law and Order, but engineering projects can often end in court or in mediation. You’re probably wondering, how does someone get sued for engineering? Laws are rarely broken, but contracts can be or they can be debated. In most civil engineering projects like bridges, roads, buildings, one party plans the work and then hires a contractor to build it. If either party is unsatisfied, they make claims for more money and if they can’t resolve it, they go to court. Before my internship I was vaguely aware of this process, I was actually sued in my project class, but in general it’s something we don’t really cover. My job for the World Food Program (WFP) was to dig through tons of emails, contracts, and other documents to find evidence to refute the contractor’s claims. In one case, I was successful and found evidence that meant the WFP didn’t have to pay. In another case, the evidence was not there and WFP ended up having to pay the claim, as well as travel expenses and legal fees.
One question I had was who would sue a humanitarian organization? However, they have the right to be paid for their work and their profits also help feed people. Still, the general practice of suing for claims is a way to increase profits in the construction industry. My second question was why does this happen so often? It’s common not just in the WFP but in many engineering projects. The key lies in contracts which are based on communication. In any project, it’s important to communicate with your partners and clearly state your expectations. If WFP had done this, they could have saved valuable time and money. I know from our experience in Engineers Without Borders that things go more smoothly when we talk to our community partners in advance and try to discuss every possible issue. A final important lesson I learned from this project is organization. Getting sued is a pain, but having to dig through messy files is worse. Having a good organizational system makes things much clearer. The Field Engineering Team has introduced an organizational system that works pretty well, but most of the old files are complete messes.
This blog is dedicated to Davide, the most awesome WFP lawyer, and my mom, with whom I watched a lot of Boston Legal. (Random aside, Boston Legal was not filmed in Boston but actually in my home town at our School District Office).
Advanced Excel Grade Tracker for Teachers
It’s hard to say I did much of an ID project this summer. However, I did help out a little with Engineer’s Without Borders, saw a lot of needs in Mexico, and worked a ton on promoting an Excel grade book tracker. (That’s not including drafting about 12 pgs of the iHouse implementation plan and doing an ID informational interview yesterday)
But, I would love for you guys to check out my grade tracker at http://web.mit.edu/jabbott/www/excelgradetracker.html. After hours of searching online, it is definitely the most powerful grade tracker workbook out there, but I’d love to hear your feedback.
I’m also planning on making a webpage listing the top grade trackers online. There are way too many trackers that frankly were made by non-MIT people that obviously knew nearly nothing about Excel. Google unfortunately doesn’t yet know the difference, but I seek to change that. Looking forward to your comments. See you all soon!