HHT Awareness Month

Every day, week and month has a charitable or other cause associated with it. June is apparently Stroke Awareness Month in Canada, which is a good thing to be aware of because so many people are affected by stroke at some point, directly or otherwise. June is also HHT Awareness Month, although not many people have heard of it. That’s mainly because HHT is one of those less common conditions listed as a “rare disease” in the NIH GARD database and elsewhere. It is actually not technically that “rare” as it is believed to affect about 1 in 5,000 people, although possibly less than half of them know it.

HHT is Hereditary (i.e. genetic) Hemorrhagic (i.e. bleeding) Telangiectasia (i.e. small blood vessel malformations in the skin and mucosal linings), also known as Osler-Weber-Rendu Syndrome after the Canadian-German-French physicians who described it in more detail in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The most common and noticeable symptom is frequent and spontaneous nosebleeds. Other complications include gastro-intestinal bleeding, chronic iron-deficiency anemia, stroke, heart and/or liver failure, and oxygen deficiency. The underlying reason is that a genetic mutation creates a problem with one of the proteins involved in blood vessel formation, leading to malformations in the skin, nose, liver, lungs, brain, intestines and elsewhere. This mutation is autosomal dominant, meaning that there is a 50% chance of passing it on to a child.

Although it is incurable, the symptoms and complications can be managed in a variety of ways, depending on the extent and degree of severity. There are HHT treatment centres scattered across North America and Europe, as listed on a website. The trick is recognizing that someone might have HHT, as many family physicians have never seen it and may not recognize the symptoms if they do see it. This is one reason why fewer than half know that they have it. Therefore the need for awareness, so that people can be diagnosed and treated before serious complications occur. In Ontario, there is an HHT Treatment Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto (you need a referral from your family physician).

So if you or someone you know has frequent nosebleeds for no obvious reason, or unexplained iron-deficiency, check out the curehht website and consider following up with your physician, especially if it seems to run in the family.

Spending the Carbon Budget

Everyone is familiar with the idea of a “budget”.  It’s the amount you can afford to spend or allocate on certain things.  Once it’s all spent, that’s about it unless you overspend and are prepared to face the consequences like debt or bankruptcy.

The Paris Climate Accord seeks to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C, or even better 1.5°C (it’s already risen about 1°C).  One way of looking at it is to estimate (from the physics of climate) how much more carbon dioxide we can afford to emit into the atmosphere.  That’s our “carbon budget”, and if we overspend this budget the laws of physics will make it impossible to keep the temperature rise below our desired target.

One research institute in Germany has created a nice carbon budget clock.  It shows, based on the remaining budget and the rate of “spending” (i.e. emissions), how much time we have left until the temperature target becomes an impossibility. Here is a recent screen-shot of the countdown clock (click on the link for a live version).

Carbon budget remaining for 1.5C target, as of May 14, 2019.

Unfortunately, there is less than 9 years until we blow the 1.5°C budget.  This doesn’t mean the global average temperature rise will suddenly jump to 1.5°C, but it means that it will eventually rise that high and there is essentially nothing that will stop it.  Like with gravity, the laws of climate physics can’t be broken.   However, if we can slow down the spending (emissions), we can stretch our budget out over a longer time.  So far that hasn’t been happening, as seen below in the emissions graph from the past 20 years.

Engineers and others have the knowledge and ideas to reduce the carbon emissions rate.  We just need the collective societal will and government leadership to do so.  Hopefully well before the carbon budget is already spent, because it will take time.  Here is a rough estimate of where the temperature is heading over the next couple of decades based on current rates.

Very rough estimate of future global average temperature rise, from Berkeley Earth project.

It looks like we will reach 1.5°C around 2040, and 2°C around 2060, unless emission rates drop significantly and soon. That won’t stop the rise, only delay it somewhat. Achieving net-zero emissions is the only way to stop the rise. Unfortunately with the current leaders (and prospective leaders) in Canada and around the world the hope for emissions reductions seems dim. So, prepare for the continuing consequences.

Waterloo Engineering is Now 529 Eligible

I’m told by our Registrar that the University Waterloo is has recently been approved by the US Department of Education.  For US residents interested in our engineering programs, this means that they will be able to use their 529 plans for tuition and some other eligible expenses at Waterloo. (For Canadians readers, this is like our RESP investments, although I’m sure there are various differences.)

We were aware that this lack of ability to use 529 plans was a bit of a barrier to some prospective US students.  I’m glad we were eventually able to remove this barrier for the future. (Thanks to our administration, as I understand this takes significant effort and time to meet all the US government documentation requirements!)

The one continuing issue is that US students in engineering will still not be eligible for US federal financial aid, because their rules don’t permit online learning as part of a program.  Our co-op engineering programs employ a work-integrated experiential learning model, where students do some small online courses during their work terms in industry.  So for now, US federal financial aid is out for engineering, but 529 plans are OK.  With the income from our paid co-op work placements,  students might not qualify for much (if any) financial aid after first year anyway.

(P.S.  all of Waterloo’s other regular programs probably qualify for US federal financial aid purposes.  It’s just our co-op programs, like engineering, that don’t at this time.)

What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Life, Learning, and Creativity – John Spencer

A resting Greyhound.

The lessons listed in this blog link are good for students, and anyone for that matter.  Plus it features a greyhound, one of my two favourite dogs.

I wasn’t always a dog lover. I used to be a dog-liker and most of the time a dog-tolerator. I never understood why people would get bumper stickers with their favorite dog breed and I …

Source: What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Life, Learning, and Creativity – John Spencer

Ontario’s Tuition Discount

The Ontario government recently announced a 10% reduction in tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year, followed by a tuition freeze the next year, and there are some other changes to student aid programs.  (Note:  the 10% reduction applies to Canadians, not international/visa students.)  A blog by Alex Usher has a nice summary and analysis of the announced changes, and he concludes that for students the bottom line is that wealthier families will save some money, and less wealthy students will end up with more student loans.

Everyone likes a discount when they’re shopping.  For the retailer, they give up a bit of a markup or profit margin but still generate some profit.  However universities are non-profit institutions and have no big markup to give up.  So, although I have no particular insider information about the effects on the universities, it’s not difficult to predict.

For engineering, if I recall correctly tuition makes up over 50% of the revenue stream for teaching so a 10% tuition cut is at least a 5% revenue cut.  There might be some economies to be found here and there, but most of a university’s budget goes towards salaries.  Over time there will likely have to be some shrinkage of staff and faculty numbers, and we’re already postponing some filling of vacant faculty positions.  Students are unlikely to see or notice big changes, but there may eventually be fewer elective courses available, for example.

As Alex Usher’s blog points out, one way universities could respond is to admit more international students who pay a lot more tuition.  Hopefully this would not be at the expense of admitting Canadian students, but when governments start applying shocks to the system there can be unintended consequences.

Watching the earth move | University of Waterloo


An interesting story from one of our Geological Engineering students…

Seismically monitoring an active volcano in Spain? That’s last thing I thought I was going to do when I first started at the University of Waterloo five years ago! Whenever the choice for a new opportunity crops up, I always ask which option scares me most. And that’s the one I choose. This has been the fundamental question I ask myself every term when choosing a co-op job, and it led me to my recent position as a seismology intern in Europe.

Source: Watching the earth move | Alumni | University of Waterloo