Saturday, September 20, 2014

Underwater basket weavers, take heart!

I was given a review copy of this book because I had also successfully navigated the path out of academia over a decade ago and recently completed a job search. I was not paid for this review.


Wow.  I wish someone had given me this book when I was writing up my dissertation and job-seeking.

When I broke the news to my PhD advisor that I did not want to pursue academia further, he replied that I was on my own.  He clarified that he would have worked the phones to help me land me a post-doc position, but he was completely ignorant about industry and had no contacts.

There are more general job search books, but--until now--none of them address the unique situation of scientists leaving academia for industry.  If you have time, I think it is worthwhile to also read the classic, What Color is Your Parachute?  (Do the exercises, no matter how cheesy they sound!  They will clarify what you want in a job after academia.)

If you want to follow this path, you should spend $2.99 and an evening to read this concise, yet thorough, guide for how to navigate a job search in industry.  Take notes with action items (industry term).  Then follow up on your action items and chart your progress.  You are going to multi-task and learn project management skills during your job search.  ;-)

She is completely right about networking.  Start practicing it NOW.  I followed up a BA in pure math with a PhD in theoretical physics.  Those are not practical skills valued in industry*.  Whenever I met a fellow math major, I would ask them what they are doing now and how they got there.  Were they happy?  Challenged?  Making financial ends meet?

Not one math major has ever refused to answer my questions and several offered to help me when I was in job search mode.  One of them even convinced his manager to offer me a short-term contract job after a fruitless search for an engineer for one of their openings.

I would add that, it is never too early to peruse online job boards to learn what skills are in demand.  Do you have them?  What skills would you be interested in developing?  Can you learn them while performing your PhD research work?

However, I wouldn't advise learning a bunch of different programming languages or APIs du jour.  Just learn one or two commonly-used languages really well.  Coding tests are administered in multiple languages and you just need to demonstrate deep knowledge in one.  Your cover letter should demonstrate and your references can vouch for how quickly you learn.

You don't need to write cover letters while learning the lay of the land.  But, I recommend writing outlines of how your skills and experiences would map into job postings that you see.  This will help you figure out what kind of jobs fit you, or what kind of skills you need to develop in order to land the kind of job you want.  Writing practice will also make the real job search easier.   The book does not exaggerate the importance of good spelling, grammar and writing.   In industry, effective technical communication is highly valued.

The book mentions joining affinity groups for networking, particularly if you belong to a group underrepresented in STEM. The book lists several, but not Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in particular. You don't have to be an engineer to join SWE. As long as you are in STEM, you will be welcome. Moreover, they are a large and active organization that is always looking for volunteers to help run their outreach efforts to middle and high school girls. Helping out at their events is a great networking opportunity.

The book makes very effective use of how to spin skills picked up in grad school, such as underwater basket weaving. Enjoy this fun video.



* Performing a 10-dimensional symplectic coordinate transformation on stiff equations to make them more "integrable" (amenable to machine integration without diverging from the solution due to machine noise/round-off error), is an obsolete skill in this era of cheap and ubiquitous computers. I've never met anyone in industry who cares about that.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Grandma never knit like this?

The NYT put out another tired canard. Let's just celebrate that books like My Grandmother's Knitting get published. Because Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara G. Walker could be your grandmother.  (Lucky you!)

My favorite quote from the book:
"Our generation does stunt knitting," Wendy (Bernard) declares. Her grandma never was a stunt knitter, but everyone went crazy for her simple slippers. At every holiday, they were the expected, coveted gift.

Friday, September 12, 2014

First Snow!


I was wrong, the snow line fell below 5400 feet.
The mesa road climbs from an elevation of 5423 feet at the intersection of Table Mesa Drive and Boulder, to 5670 feet at the start of the NCAR entry drive, up to a final elevation of 6109 feet at NCAR’s Mesa Lab.
Why did I leave the ice scraper/snow brush thingy in the garage in LA?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Divergent forecasts

The view from my office window today.
The weather station on top of my office building attests to the cold and drizzly conditions.
Overnight, it might even get cold enough to snow in some parts of northeast Colorado. The NWS forecaster wrote:
Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Denver/Boulder Colorado
754 PM MDT Thursday Sep 11 2014

Update...
issued at 754 PM MDT Thursday Sep 11 2014

Cold moist airmass will remain over northeast Colorado tonight and into Friday afternoon. Northeast winds will continue to usher in colder air. Temperatures look to stay in the 33 to 37 degree range late tonight along the Front Range...as the latest hrrr and rap indicate. However...areas above 6000 feet will likely reach and drop freezing.
I wouldn't be surprised if the snow line falls between my apartment and my office.  (First snow in early September!)  That's the main reason I moved into an apartment complex across the street from the NCAR shuttle stop.  I wasn't keen to drive to an office at 6400 feet elevation in the winter.

Meanwhile, Bad Dad says it is quite warm in the familial home.  The LA Times graphic for the NWS Sunday forecast shows that it will only get toastier. 96F at the beach?
That's not really what the NWS said for coastal Los Angeles. This part is true:
Southwest California area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard California
805 PM PDT Thursday Sep 11 2014

Synopsis...
High pressure will bring a warming trend to southwestern California through this weekend and into early next week. Triple digit heat can be expected for the valleys...foothills and Antelope Valley through Tuesday...with Sunday and Monday being the warmest days. A slight cooling trend should then take place by the middle of next week.
But, a subsequent paragraph shows a chance of a cooling marine layer near the coast.  Whether it reaches inland in the South Bay is still not clear.
Latest acars sounding near lax indicated a very strong and relatively shallow marine layer inversion around 700 feet deep. At 700 feet the temperature was 70 degrees...at the top of the inversion around 1800 feet...the temperature was 84 degrees. A very strong inversion indeed. Fog product satellite imagery was showing widespread low clouds pushing down the outer waters pushing in to the central coast. The inversion is shallow as well to the north...so expect patchy dense fog to develop along the immediate coast. If fog does spread inland a bit farther...a dense fog advisory might be needed later tonight. Will let the next shift look at this closer. For areas S of Point Conception...confidence is pretty high that low clouds will stay away from the coast...but would not be surprised if some patchy dense fog developed near the la/vtu County coast just before sunrise.
acars refers to Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System
(ACARS), which became briefly famous in the aftermath of the MH370 crash. Until then, I wasn't even aware that ACARS existed for any other reason than collecting weather data.

Every time a plane equipped with ACARS lands or takes off from LAX, we collect a vertical sampling of ambient weather conditions.  From those reports, the NWS forecaster saw a very strong temperature inversion, which functions as a hard thermodynamic lid on the marine layer.

If you want to see ACARS data for yourself, you are in luck. We happen to give it out for free!  Learn more here.

I should make and post a video demonstrating how to request this data. Until then, follow these instructions:

  1. Register for a RDA account (registration is free).
  2. Search for dataset 351.0, and click on the Data Access tab. 
  3. Click on "Get a Subset" under the "Customizable Data Requests" column.  
  4. Enter your desired time range.
  5. Use the pull-down menu under "Select Spatial Subset Preference" to "Select region via Google map". Click "Submit Data Request"
  6. You will receive robo-email from my work email address when your data is ready for pickup.  The data will be in human-readable ASCII.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back to school sewing

Does anyone else hate deadline sewing as much as I do?  When I lived with my family, I could just finish one thing at a time and sneak it into Iris' closet for her to discover.  Now that I visit them once every 2-3 weeks, I am always in a rush to finish things before the next trip.

Sigh.  First world problems.  I have it pretty cushy and see my family way more often than the women described in Global Woman.

As I mentioned earlier, some of Iris' clothes (made by me in 2009 and 2010 and worn until 2014) were falling apart.  They were not fit to give to her cousin or Goodwill.  We cut them apart and threw them in the rag bag.

I made her another pair of knit shorts.  This fantastic cotton/lycra jersey might have come from Fabrix and is a lovely shade of steel blue/gray in real life.  She originally wanted to replace her olive and black swirly skirts with similar skirts.  But, I didn't have a suitable black knit.  She got a black ponte pencil skirt instead.

On the last day of the ESIP meeting, they gave away all the leftover t-shirts--all in sizes XL to 5XL. This 3XL was resewn (Kwik Sew 2555) into a nightgown for Iris. I refashioned the 5XL into a nightgown for me.  I still have one 3XL left if any data geeks want one.  Readers who cook dinner for me frequently may even get the t-shirt refashioned into their size and tie-dyed in their choice of colors.
Originally, Iris said that she didn't need any more tops; I had purchased three knit tops for her and she had purchased one for herself*.  However, I couldn't resist sewing Kwik Sew 4014 for her because the top looked so cute on the model.  Doesn't the model in the leopard shirt resemble my daughter?
I had a little bit of black cotton/lycra jersey left for the contrast.
I went to the Colorado Fabrics sale yesterday and came home with 5/8 yard of "steampunk" scuba knit.  Well, I came home with other stuff, too.  ;-)
The nylon/lycra knit is digitally printed with black and the three printers' primaries.
Iris and I are still discussing which pattern to use. It may not get done before my next trip to CA. That will not be a tragedy as this knit doesn't breathe. It will become a cool-weather top for sure.

Addendum:
In case you are interested, I got the black ponte at Trash for Teaching, the olive and black stretch jerseys from SAS Fabrics, and the elastic and interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply.

* The t-shirt she bought at a mall store ripped after just a few wearings.  I think she learned an important lesson about disposable clothing at stores where I refuse to shop.  I'm so glad that our LA neighborhood has an abundance of thrift/vintage stores and that she has friends that think it is cool to shop thrift/vintage.  Between those stores, and letting her shop my closet, I don't have to make that many clothes from scratch.  Whew!

Before you congratulate me on thriftiness, I should admit that 6 weeks of camp this summer for Iris cost more than 3 semesters at Berkeley (when I was an undergrad).  We take a market basket approach to raising children.  You win some, you lose some.  We look at the big picture.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Subliminal Messages

When Bad Dad visited, we speed-toured the Denver Art Museum's show of 20th Century Japanese prints. I raved about it and went back to see it again with a Boulder friend.

I was especially drawn to the work of Kiyoshi Saito; his repeated use of a tight color palette and wood-grain texture held particular appeal.
Clay Image by Kiyoshi Saito, 1952
I even purchased this book as a souvenir.
Perhaps there was a lingering subliminal effect because, two days later, I picked up this burgundy-red textured silk linen blend at Elfriede's Fine Fabrics' summer clearance sale.
I then dug through my stash until I found two remnants of black silk linen, purchased at Stone Mountain and Daughter and Thai Silks. I have 2 yards (44" wide) of the red and 1/2 yard each of the blacks. What should I make?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Data Archeology

I asked a colleague what he thought about this article and he thought that data archeology would be a better name for the painstaking work that we do.  For instance, the National Archives just sent over 11 boxes of magnetic tape, originally from the National Hurricane Center.
Remember 8-track tapes?
These are 9-track.
He keeps a tape cleaner in his office for just this purpose.
The tape readers sit across the hall in another office.  The data will be read by a computer, and then pored over by several people with MS and PhD after their names.  We figure out what the tapes contain and rate their value, uniqueness and cleanliness/preparedness.  We can then estimate how much effort it will take to make them reusable and decide if it is worthwhile to do so.

Data that gets the highest rating may even be staged on a fast disk for instant global web access.  Otherwise, it will go into a tape robot like this one at the San Diego Supercomputing Center.  Researchers who request data from tape will have to wait a few minutes to a few hours to access the data.  (If there is a great deal of interest in a particular dataset, we will find space disk space for it.)

As a data archive, we preserve everything for future generations by converting the data to modern storage media.  If the data is unique or might have current or future value, we will spend many, many hours preparing it for research by standardizing the data and metadata to modern standards.

This part is labor intensive and also requires people with expert-level knowledge.  That's why everyone in our department has graduate degrees in atmospheric science, oceanography, statistics and/or information science.  It would be hard to imagine private industry putting this much effort into data without a sure commercial payoff*.  Some things need to be done by the government, or else they won't be done at all.

The sky when I left work tonight.

* Private industry does use this archive, and we don't charge them for it. This type of data work is infrastructure and paid for by taxes levied on a broad population.

I am speaking only for myself, and not for my department or our larger organization.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Janitor or sexy librarian?

I was hopping mad after I read For Big-Data Scientists, ‘Janitor Work’ Is Key Hurdle to Insights.

Equating my work with a janitorial service?  The nerve!

But, admiring the view from my window and investigating two reports of possible data corruption in one day took precedence over hyperventilating about one ill-informed article.
After rereading the article, I don't think it's as bad as the headline would suggest. Steve Lohr is only guilty of selecting unfortunate quotes and choosing to interview data gold rush miners while ignoring data veterans in the government.

How many times does he have to quote men saying that data science is "sexy" and data wranging/munging/cleaning is not?  Notice that only the men say that.  The women speak more holistically about data work.

If the majority of our time--whether it is the 50-80% quoted in the article or the 80-90% I hear in meetings with other data veterans--is spent on data preparation, then doesn't that make it our "real" work?

I'm going to risk stating the painfully obvious:

SCIENCE IS BUILT UPON A FOUNDATION OF DATA.  IF WE DO NOT ENSURE THE INTEGRITY OF THE DATA, THEN THE ENTIRE SCIENTIFIC ENTERPRISE COLLAPSES.

It's all about the data.  And data support work is a necessary and critical step in order to get correct answers.  Otherwise, it is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

It's late, and I need to write a tutorial to teach others how to use open-source data language, R, to read and manipulate GRIded Binary (GRIB) weather data from NOAA/NCEP in order to answer their real-world questions.

After that, I'll be writing tutorials to teach techniques for data fusion--combining different datasets--for new insights.

I'll do that in tandem with curation of an old dataset made for a defense purpose, but with value to many fields.  This requires writing new documentation to introduce the dataset to a new audience of researchers in disciplines as disparate as computer vision/pattern recognition and wind energy.  (Introducing non-expert users to new-to-them data has to be done carefully because terminology varies between fields.  That deserves a post of its own.)

OK, this won't all get done in one night.   More later.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Leaving Work

It takes me a while to get started sometimes. But, when I am in the middle of something, I lose track of time until I finish. I left work late one evening, and the sky was so pretty; I chased down a couple of hikers in the parking lot to ask them to take a photo of the sky with me and my recent makes.
The sky was pretty in the other direction, too.
I wore the Papyrus Lace Cardigan Version 2, Vogue 8392 Version 2, Vogue 1247 Version 2.

I gave away the first Vogue 1247 skirt because I wasn't happy with the waistband and my middle-aged waist.  I gave it to a thinner friend and made a new one for myself with a faced waistband.  I also added a bit extra on the side, but found that I need to take out all the width that I put in.  I'll post the pattern mods and the inside pictures soon.  The cardigan and skirt were made with 100% preconsumer waste and the top was made with 100% postconsumer waste (except for thread and interfacing).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Storm Clouds

I know that I've already shown you the view from my window, but I can't get enough of the ever-changing view.
I think I took this picture in June, when Boulder was at the peak of greenness. The scenery turned brown from the heat, and then regreened after the monsoonal rains arrived.