Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

After a whirlwind week at AGU's Fall Meeting, I am spending a week with family in San Francisco.

San Francisco's civic center was lit up for Christmas.

Rather than do the same old tourist stuff, our family opted to visit San Francisco's water supply.

It's a great way to catch up and get some exercise, too.

I highly recommend this trail!

Yes, this sits on the famous San Andreas Fault.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Meetup in San Francisco?

I'm going to American Geophysical Unions Fall Meeting in San Francisco.  I fly in mid-day on Saturday, December 13.  The meeting starts on Monday, December 15.  That means I have 1.5 days to play in San Francisco.

Any one want to meet up for retail therapy?  Museum going?  Dining?  I'm up for almost anything reachable by public transit (or if you can drive).  I'm a returning SFBA native.  So, if you are also visiting for AGU, I can guide you to some of my favorite SF haunts.

I'm saving the weekend after the meeting for visiting with my family.  I'm bringing an extra-large suitcase to hold a poster tube and for treasures that have to come home with me.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Slow Sewing

There is so much going on in my life that interferes with my ability to sew. It will end someday and I will have a fantastic sewing space.  It's just going to be painful for the next 6 months.

 Since I took this photo, I've sewn the patterned duvet top together. There was just barely enough fabric so I had an excuse not to try to match the pattern.  The red African fabric has the irregular pattern characteristic of hand-printed fabric.  It would have driven me crazy to try to match the stripes.  (Remember my past experience with matching an African hand-printed fabric?)

 This weekend, I hope to find some time to make the button closure band and sew it to the cozy flannel backing.

I also hope to finish laying out my AGU poster and complete all sections except for formatting the references.

Update:  See the completed duvet in Not Square.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Are you going to AGU?

I should be working on my poster presentation.  But, I got hung up on some technical hurdles and further sidetracked by user questions.

Instead, I wrote up some user guidance documents that explains some things data users should understand so that they can use data appropriately and responsibly.  (This is the iceberg in big data.)
Go ahead, geek out!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

That's not what the scientists (and the data) said!

When I heard this press release and the subsequent news coverage, I knew something went terribly awry.  I didn't have time or energy to blog about it, but I am glad that Boulder Weekly decided to run Fact to Fiction, an in depth look at how this happened.
So how did a study designed to analyze traceable components of fracking fluid so potential contamination in groundwater could be identified get transformed into a headline that declared fracking fluid safe?

The answer is poor communication and bad journalism.

It started with an unclear press release from the University of Colorado with a title that declared “Major class of fracking chemicals no more toxic than common household substances.”
For starters, I believe that Laura Snider, University of Colorado media relations staff member and author of the original press release, should be fired.

How she could have been so clueless that her wording would be paraphrased into sound bites declaring fracking safe is beyond belief.  It's right up there with #shirtgate for cluelessness and irresponsibility.

I would flip the question around and ask, why are household cleaners so full of substances that are not safe and not listed on labels?  (Thank Reagan-era deregulation that allows manufacturers to declare their product ingredients proprietary and secret.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

3 Pillows

Actually, that was a slight exaggeration because I haven't sewn the square pillow yet.  But, the two bolsters are done. Finito.
I started with swatches of simple motifs like the braided and honeycomb cables from Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting, Fishermen's Wool and 6"x12" polyester neckrolls from Wawak.  I washed and blocked the swatch and then calculated how many stitches to cast on from the swatch gauge.
For the second pillow, I repeated the braided cable motif as a frame to fill out the central motif from Jess' Birthday Sweater.
Now the couch doesn't look so smooth and shiny.
I wet-blocked and pinned the cable rectangles to open up the fabric.  Then I stitched the ends together for about 1" on both ends.

The ends were surprisingly easy.  I picked up 100 stitches, divided into 10 sections of 10 stitches, and then performed a k2tog decrease every other row.  When I had 10 stitches remaining, I threaded the yarn tail through the 10 loops twice and gave a gentle tug until the hole closed up.  The ends were steam-blocked with a steam iron (above the surface) and then patted into shape.

Each end took about an hour to knit and finish.  Each rectangle took about 20-25 hours.  Sewing the zippered muslin cases and hand-stitching them to the knitted cover took another 1-2 hours.

To the friend who asked why I don't sell these: A physicist ought to earn as much as a plumber, right?  Would you pay a plumber 50 hours for these two bolsters?
I made pillow cases out of unbleached muslin and used zips left over from the days when I sewed dresses for a little girl that wore only pink and purple.  (She wears mainly black, gray and olive drab now.)

Then I hand back-stitched the rib opening to the zipper.  If you have ever hand prick-stitched a dress zipper, you can do this.  Well, your effort might be neater than this.
You can tell the cast on edge from the bound off edge on the honeycomb pillow.  I forgot that cables shrink the width of the knit fabric so much, you need to cast on fewer stitches for the ribbed edge and increase stitches on your set-up row for the cables.  By the time I figured that out, I wasn't going to rip back and redo it.  There's also one place where the stitches were moved the wrong direction.  Oh, well.
The purple zipper tape peeking out of the wavy edge reminds me of the wavy lips of a southern giant clam (Tridacna derasa).
Raveled here.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the flooring samples for my new place.  Yes, I will be moving yet again--hopefully to a longer-term place.  Which sample do you like better?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

On the needles

I am OBE and unable to muster the mojo to say more than this is one of two bolster covers.  I just need to sew the liners, insert zippers, and knit three more ends.  Well, a final block for the round ends would be good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Petulant Mode Reset

[I meant to post this last week, but never got around to finishing the post. As they say in the satellite world, OBE, Overcome By Events. Anyhoo, this makes a good Technology Tuesday post.]

I'm dealing with some intermittent data dropouts in this satellite dataset.  Data drops are common, but the amount and frequency of data drops lately has been alarming (to me).  I've seen little credible information in the media (except this) about the issue and the NOAA/NCEP bulletins have been (as usual) terse and sticks only to facts that have already happened.

Anyway, there are myriad problems.  First, there is a network problem on the ground, which they are working hard to troubleshoot and fix.  Then there are issues with the individual satellites themselves that can stem from myriad causes, both scheduled and "anomalies".

A short data drop looks like this:
NPP_VMAE_L1 global browse
RGB (Bands:M5, M4, M3)
Data Day 2014.269
The explanation:
Case #:PM_NPP_L1B_14269 Opening date: 09/29/14 Last update: 09/29/14
Status: Note
VIIRS went to 'Petulant' Mode on 09/29/2014 (2014.269) at 16:20:00 GMT. As a result, VIIRS science data output was impacted from 16:20:00 GMT to 18:35:00 GMT. The data regions impacted by this event are nighttime orbits over Asia including India, China and Southeast Asia and Australia. Additionally, Daytime orbits over North and South America are impacted. The images below show the impact of the event on the daytime surface reflectant and night time cloud mask data streams. Both the IDPS and LPEATE data archives will be impacted by this event.
I try not to anthropomorphize satellites, but they really do have unique indiosynchrasies.
VIIRS sensor being prepared for launch.

Satellite sensors can have a "petulant mode"?  Does that mean that they talk only when they want to talk, and sometimes don't reply when spoken to?   This results in loss of data products as explained here.  (Not a permalink and may point to a different alert msg if another one is added.)
NOUS71 KNES 051248








As a data curator, I can do nothing but put a note on the data access page specifying the extent of the missing data.

The proposed solution had me in stitches:
NOUS71 KNES 062148








Would it be possible to recycle/perform a system reset when my teenager goes into "petulant mode"?  As they say in the space business, "Space is hard."  And teenagers are even harder.  ;-)

Friday, November 07, 2014

Super Science Saturday November 8, 2014

Boulder once had more PhDs per capita than any other city larger than Los Alamos.  I don't know if that is currently true.  Both towns have become so expensive, younger scientists are priced out of their housing markets.

Anyhoo, Boulder is the place to be for science enthusiasts of all ages tomorrow, November 8, 2014.
NCAR is hosting Super Science Saturday between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM at the Mesa Lab.  People have been practicing demos all week.  Come at 2:00 PM to see a ping pong ball get dropped into liquid nitrogen or to help launch a weather balloon.

The University of Colorado hosts a Mr/Ms Wizard demonstration one Saturday a month (timed to avoid home football games).  Go to Duane Physics Rm. G1B30 at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2014 to watch Eric Cornell demonstrate "SPEED!"

I have past experience as a science demo performer and launching weather balloons, but I will be sitting in the audience tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Technology Tuesday, Flabrats

This is really about statistics, but this is such a fundamental idea, I wanted to write about it and link to these fantastic videos.  It can be used to test the effectiveness of a technology, so I'm posting it to Technology Tuesday (TT).

My daughter's high school honors Chemistry class also started with this lesson, but using pennies.  My Berkeley honors Chemistry class's laboratory portion also started with this lesson and pennies.  Remember when I took PH207x and wrote about the experience?  You can now take the archived course and watch these videos in context.

Iris said that she wasn't good at Chemistry because she had difficulty with this lab.  Her teacher says that this is a very difficult concept and Iris understood it better than any other kid in the class.  Still, it takes a few times for this lesson to sink in and it helps to revisit it periodically and to see different applications of the concept.

I'm also hoping that my daughter reads these posts and watches them.  The flabrats are sooo cute--internet meme cute.  Perhaps we can start an internet meme using flabrats?

The first video introduces flabrats, lab rats fed a diet that makes them much heavier than your average labrat.

What happens when a lab rat gets loose in the building?  Is it a flabrat or a labrat from another lab?  How do you classify when you don't know the true answer?  With statistics!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Solar Eclipse

Did you see it today?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Technology Tuesday

I'm older than my boss. and I think I gave away my age.  While he was teaching me, he would say bsub and my fingers would automatically type qsub.

qsub is the command to submit a batch job to Cray supercomputers.  bsub is the command for IBM and Linux supercomputers.    If you look carefully at Wandering Scientists photograph above, you can read that these Cray-1As were decommissioned in 1989.  I moved to Boulder for the first time (for a PhD program) in 1988.

Hmm, I think I also used later generations of Crays.  Yeah, I could be younger...  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  ;-)

Whether its source is a thunderstorm, an alpine waterfall or the water-cooled chillers in the Cray-1A,  the sound of Colorado is the roar of falling water.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Another bike ride

I took a 360 degree movie of the view from the westernmost bridge of the Boulder creek bike path. It was easier this time. I hope this reflects better physical conditioning.

The leaves are dropping and the fall colors are past their peak here. The water is low. But I do love to watch the light shimmer off the top of the water and listen to the water and the wind from this spot. I can do without the roar of traffic. ;-)

Oh, and this is drying on my bedroom floor.  I am way behind in knit blogging, so stay tuned.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Color Lab Workspace

Have you seen the workspace series in the NYT? Previously, I'd seen the series about fashion designers. I'm really interested in behind the scene work so today's story about Beverly Bell, manager of color and quality standards for textiles at Pantone fascinated me.  Go read Where the Spectrum is Sliced and Diced.

How cool is this table-top spectrophotometer? In my dream home, I'd have room for one. Hmm, I'd also like to have both a table-top DNA sequencer and a replicator while I am dreaming.
Bad Dad is a spectroscopist. We initially met across a laser table*. We would feel right at home if our kitchen looked like a lab where the most colorful things are the food.

* Although we used a low-power laser to study the ions, we used a 10,000 volt power supply to generate the plasma containing the ions of interest. There was literally electricity in the air when we met.

In other news, the condo search is not going well.  If you are selling a condo in S, W or E Boulder near public transit lines and/or the bike path, can you contact me?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Simple 3 (Vogue 8392)

I am way behind on my sewing and knitting blogging. Remember the fabric I bought at Elfriede's on my Errand Adventure?  Well, 3/4 of a yard of this luscious pima cotton twill (bolt says made in Italy) became another Vogue 8392.
I picked this fabric because it had more body and was less sheer than most cotton shirtings.  However, I still lined the front with cotton/rayon voile.  Can you tell the slight difference in sheerness between the lined front and the unlined back?
I purchased the fabric on the errand adventure of July 26.  I took the finished photos of the top on August 23.  That's less than a one month turnaround for new fabric!  In contrast, the gray cotton/linen of the first iteration of Vogue 8392 marinated in stash for over 20 years.

Notice the absence of drag lines in the upper chest area when compared to Vogue 8392 Version 2.  For that one, I found the top too tight under the arm so I trimmed a little bit away from the bottom of the armhole.  Even then, I was not happy with pulling in the upper chest and the drag lines.

Hmmm.  I compared the shoulder slope to Simplicity and Burda top patterns, which fit me better.  What do you know, the shoulder slope is more pronounced in this Vogue top.  I flattened out the shoulder slope (making the shoulders more square) and that solved all three fitting problems!

I know that a white top is not terribly exciting.  I wish you could reach through your monitor and feel the luscious fabric.  (The mystery voile I picked up at SAS is also incredibly soft and might contain silk and/or rayon.)
My normcore look with a RTW cardigan.

BTW, Elfriede still has about a blouse/shirt length of this shirt-weight cotton twill left and she can order another bolt.  $14 a yard, 58" wide.  It's not among the fabrics featured on Elfriede's online store, but just describe the fabric to her or her staff and they will ship it out to you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014


Living in two states, I'm not sure if playing tourist in LA counts as a staycation.  Bad Dad and I toured LACMA on Saturday and Watts Towers on Sunday while Iris tackled her mountain of past due homework.
It does resemble a ship.
LACMA installed a sonic anenometer to monitor wind conditions.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Back in the saddle again

I finally got my act together last Saturday and took my bike over to my local bike shop to use their pump. I also lubed the chain and took it out for a little test spin. Somehow, the test spin took me to the intersection of Table Mesa Drive and Vassar, about where the federal land starts. Hmm, if my ankles and legs are up for it, perhaps I should try something more ambitious on Sunday?
In-town fall colors.
Once again, I combined recreational riding with errand-running.  I took a spur out to the western end of the Boulder creek path for the extra climbing challenge.  I do miss our old neighborhood.
The Sunday route.
I emailed the route to Bad Dad and he replied that I'll be riding to Gold Hill next. Hmm, anyone want to join me?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Saturday, October 04, 2014

I beg to differ

I've been thinking meta lately and coming up with more questions than answers. But, one of the things I am sure about is that there is something wrong with our socially constructed way of valuing art and artists and also science and scientists.

I'm halfway through Van Gogh on Demand, by Winnie Won Yin Wong, a book that explores the plight of many varieties of Chinese artists on different social and economic levels.  I highly recommend the book, based on what I have read so far.  If you can't find it, you can read the PhD thesis on which the book is based for free.

I'm doing major housekeeping on two major data sets.  This weekend, I'm babysitting supercomputer batch jobs that should (hopefully) run for several weeks.  While keeping an eye on things from home, I came across this Is Computer Coding an Art? via How Creative is Coding? This paragraph quoting, Vikram Chandra, stopped me cold:
But the virtues of what might be called “beautiful code” are different than those of beautiful art. “Beautiful code,” he writes, quoting Yukihirio “Maz” Matsumodo (the creator of the Ruby programming language), “is really meant to help the programmer be happy and productive.” It serves a purpose. Art, by its very nature, serves no purpose. Code is practical and logical. Art is about affect, associations, and emotional responses—part of what Chandra calls dhvani. The term, developed by Anandavardhana, a ninth-century Indian literary theorist, derives from a word meaning “to reverberate.” Dhvani is resonance or “that which is not spoken,” as Chandra says. Code is explicit. Art can be irrational and leave some of the most important things unsaid.
I'm especially repelled by "Art, by its very nature, serves no purpose."

Regular readers of this blog know me as a connoisseur of practical art and craft who enjoys amateur dabbling in same.  One friend calls my experimentation and documentation of remaking castoffs into new clothing a piece of performance art.  I take that as high praise.

Back to the point...

I am biased.  I think we should expand the definition of art to those fields and materials practiced primarily by women that produce beautiful as well as useful artifacts.

But, even if art objects serve no materially practical purpose, they .can. serve a purpose.  Does it illuminate some aspect of the world that was there, but not appreciated?  Do the viewers come away with more understanding of the world or a better grasp of what they don't know?  To repeat a cliche, art applies a mirror to society or a window into the human condition or insert your favorite phrase.

(Ok, I am not sure if making a balloon rabbit in polished metal is really art but I'll let other people go there.)

On the flip side, software aka code is not purely an abstraction.  It can control physical objects, such as how a satellite operates or, as I encountered this week, the behavior of tape robots.  One of these days, I want to attend Solid, a conference that explores this theme between software and tangible things.

Coding can create aesthetically-pleasing artifacts such as this 500 mb wind visualization made with help from NCEP and

This computational artifact of 500 millibar wind fields* helps explain weather (especially rainfall) patterns. Like (some) art, it is both pretty to look at, and provides insight.

Coders and artists both belong to the super set of makers.  That's all I know for certain.

Mommy Art (and Science)

* Sea level is roughly 1000 millibars.  500 mb is the half-height of the atmosphere, if you were to look at just one level, 500 mb is a good place to start.  The geopotential height of the 500 mb isobaric surface is an especially useful diagnostic tool to locate dry and wet areas; globally, proportional differences in the geopotential height are largest here.

Do you like the way I snuck in "computational artifact" several times?  That's a term I picked up after reading the new College Board and National Science Foundation Draft Curriculum Framework for the new AP Computer Science Principles class.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Slice of sky

One of the things I like about my apartment is the amount of sky I can see, considering the local population density.  If I get home before sunset, I can often watch the storms roll through.
After the rain, I saw broken clouds and blue sky.
The admin assistant for the group says that it takes about a year for new employees to learn the job. My boss joked that he threw 8000 things at me in my first two weeks. Not all of the things I need to learn are purely technical.

Last week, I asked him who I should contact to do a task that requires superuser permission on the network computer for me.  He replied that I should do it myself; I have superuser privileges.  Gulp.  I had been entrusted with superuser privileges on #29 of the world's fastest supercomputers and no one thought it was worth mentioning to me?  Fortunately, I didn't break it.  ;-)

I take that back.  I may or may not have been responsible for the tape drive crash slowdown last week.  I was trying to fix the metadata on some data that had been sprayed across thousands of different tapes over the last 15 years.  I envisioned making the IBM 3495-style yellow tape robots play Twister.
But I learned that the new-fangled tape robots I am using don't have the long articulated arms of earlier generations.

Am I the only curmudgeon, or do you also miss the quirkiness of old technologies? The IBM Selectric let us type faster, but did you miss watching the key arms along their trajectory?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

High-country fall colors

Bad Dad and Iris flew out to Colorado to visit me for a long weekend during Rosh Hashanah.  Bad Dad went hiking on Thursday while I worked and Iris did her homework in a conference room near my office.  Friday, we drove up Boulder canyon and along Peak to Peak highway to Estes Park, stopping for a short hike at Wild Basin.
Near Estes Park, Colorado

Near Allenspark

Trailside between the Wild Basin Trailhead in RMNP towards Calypso Cascades.
Happy New Year.

I have to do a little bit of mommy blogging/bragging.  I heard that Iris' math teacher needed to miss a day of class.  He left detailed notes for the substitute teacher, but the sub didn't know math well enough to understand them.  Iris read the notes and taught the class how to graph piecewise functions and determine left and right limits.

I congratulated her on understanding continuity well enough to teach it, but she informed me that continuity had nothing to do with it.  Fellow math majors will know why that is funny.

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.