Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to take data out for a test drive, part 1

I wear many hats including data curator and data educator.   I'd like to share a couple of videos I made to help people access weather data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Research Data Archive (NCAR RDA).

As I mentioned in Flying Solo, I answer help desk questions about the most popular dataset at the archive, NCEP FNL (Final) Operational Global Analysis. NOAA NCEP creates a representation of the full atmospheric state every six hours using all the calibrated satellite, weather balloon, aircraft, ship, and surface data available at analysis time.  Anyone in the world (except in a few embargoed countries) can ftp to their real-time servers and obtain the data for free.  Most commercial weather services rely on this data and repackage it up as their own branded content.

If you have read my statistics and bullshit threads, you know that I am passionate about empowering people to perform their own data analysis.  I hope that spreading data knowledge helps the public become  savvier consumers of branded content and recognize analysis that doesn't pass the sniff test.

I'm creating a data course to teach people how to find, access and utilize free weather and climate data.  I'm posting a couple of proof of concept videos and I'd love to hear your feedback.

If you want to follow along and try this at home (and I hope you do!), then you need to sign up for a free account first. You can choose the appropriate type or organization or even select no affiliation.  (In that case, write "self" under "Organization Name".)

I demonstrated using a Mac with a browser window and a terminal running tcsh. The first method works on any OS, with any browser, not just Chrome.  Watch them full-screen so you can read the type.

After you take a file or two out for a test spin, and are ready to sift through a lot of of data, I recommend you use an automated batch script. You don't need to be able to write your own csh or perl script. Our software generates one for you based on your custom data request. You do need to know enough UNIX/Linux to work at the command line.  If you are using Windows, try the perl script instead.

Enjoy! And please give me your suggestions on how I can improve them.

I do need to explain that global grids of atmospheric data can become very large; they are packed in a gridded binary format (GRIB1 or GRIB2) agreed upon by all the nations belonging to the World Meteorological Organization.  You need specialized software to unpack and use them.  For these exercises, select the newer GRIB2

Next up, "GRIB1 or GRIB2? What's the difference and how do I choose?" and "What the heck do I do with this binary data?"

In case you can't wait for the next episode, download NASA's Panopoly viewer and you will be slicing and dicing data in your kitchen in no time.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Errand Adventure

My weekends in Boulder are never long enough because I need to squeeze in housework, errands, seeing friends and outdoor activities (major reasons to move back here besides a great job).  Luckily, I am an experienced multi-tasker and Boulder boasts an extensive bicycle network.
I mapped out my errand run route below:
The Bear Creek bike path starts right at the entrance to my apartment complex. Because the path crosses under major roads, I can travel faster to many places by bike than by car.
  1. 14 minutes from my house and I was at Peet's coffee (Berkeley coffee in Boulder!) to buy my pre-ground coffee for the following week.  I enjoyed my complimentary cup of coffee while sharing the table outside with a huge flatirons view with another cyclist.
  2. Then a quick hop across the parking lot to Trader Joe's for a few items that ran out since my last big shopping trip by car.  I brought an ice pack and lunch cooler for refrigerated items.
  3. Cross 28th street, aka highway 36, at Walnut to purchase a new LED front bike light at REI.
  4. Go out the back way to 26th to Elfriede's Fine Fabrics at 26th and Canyon.  Purchase white blouse fabric and then wait out brief rainstorm while perusing her collection of Threads magazine.  Gorgeous rainbow after the rain.
  5. North on 26th and then west on Walnut to downtown and the Boulder Army Store for cord locks.
  6. East on Pearl and south on 17th to the Boulder Creek path.  Then east on the Boulder Creek path until the 28th street frontage road that links to the Bear Creek path. Encountered stiff southerly headwinds at this point and needed to convince myself that this gives me a better workout.
I rode all but a few blocks of this loop on class 1 bike paths or on-street bike lanes and routes. (These distinctions mean something to transportation planners and cyclists in the know.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Upcycling FO and UFO

Rotating the dining table 90 degrees did wonders for the usability and ambience of my apartment. Now I look out the patio window at the flatirons when I eat instead of at a wall.

Moreover, I can easily reach my cutting supplies and place them on the table.  I can walk around three sides of the table when laying out and cutting fabric.  I can even take advantage of the more comfortable height of the kitchen peninsula for smaller projects.

My iron puts out a lot of heat and steam.  That's great for pressing, but not so great for the temperature of my living room.  But, I sew next to a patio door leading to a balcony.  How about putting the ironing board on the balcony so the excess heat goes outside?  I'm very proud of my thermodynamic thinking.

Rearrangement has done wonders for my sewing mojo.

First, a little backstory.  Our family shares just one laundry bag on our travels.  When Iris went away to camp, she and I fought over the laundry bag.  Clearly, I needed to make a second one for Colorado.

Before leaving Boulder for my last California visit, I refashioned one of Bad Dad's old oxford shirts into a laundry bag.  I supplemented the shirt body with blue cotton that I found at SAS Fabrics.  The blue fabric had suffered sun damage (fading) along some folded edges.  That's why it ended up being sold by the pound at an odd-jobber.

I thought it would be fine as a quilt back, especially for less than $1/yard.  However, it went perfectly with the old shirt so it became a laundry bag and two pillowcases (not pictured) instead.  There is still enough leftover to back a baby quilt or wall hanging.

I couldn't find any cord locks in my sewing notions cabinet (blue drawer thingy in the photo). I couldn't find any in my sewing room in LA either, but at least I found nylon cord for the drawstring. I recall seeing a jar of cord locks at the Boulder Army Store so I purchased two on my epic cycling errand run (separate post) yesterday.

Did I mention that one of the finest yarn stores in the US is across the street from my apartment complex? Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins ( > 8,000 sf of store and classroom space!) used to be one of my must stops on each Boulder visit, and now it's a cool and friendly neighborhood place to drop in to knit and chat when my apartment is too hot.  (Bonus, it's upstairs from the Boulder Map Gallery--a fantastic place to get books, maps and advice for your outdoor adventures.)

In addition to a huge selection of yarns from most major manufacturers and several small local hand-dyers, SSS sells mill overstock yarns, suitable for weaving and knitting, for ~$8-10 per one pound cone.  After you finish your project, you can sell back the leftover unused yarn on the cone for store credit.  I purchased two cones of this Aran gauge cotton, but it looks like one cone will be sufficient.  That means this cardigan will cost me all of $8.

You may recognize the sweater pattern that I knit previously here and here.  1.5 sleeves are done and I hope to debut a cardigan and matching top (made from another recycled shirt) soon.

Why the obsession with upcycling/recycling/reuse?

It occurred to me that I haven't explained recently why I go through the bother of sourcing and using so much recycled textiles even though I can afford to buy new stuff.  If you started reading this blog after the Wardrobe Refashion project ended, you may not have read my Wardrobe Refashion series in which I talk about the environmental impact and ethics of clothing and textiles.

When I had very little money, I used to buy remnants of fine fabrics or used clothing as sewing material rather than buy the poorer quality things normally available to someone on my budget.  When I had more money, I found myself confronting the consequences of consuming too much.  Most people are blissfully unaware, but I am a scientist and I really ought to know better.

Anyway, just as I am not a total vegetarian, I do not completely eschew buying new things.  However, I do try to source used or preconsumer waste materials first before shopping new.

Carolyn expressed surprise that the fabric on my planetary t-shirt survived for a third life.  Alas, it has developed so many holes, I stopped counting or wearing it outside of the house.  Reusing textiles is not the most efficient use of my time, but I think of it as experimental research!

How to harvest materials from a men's dress shirt

  • There are many approaches but this is mine
  • Cut off the buttons and save for other projects.  I hardly ever purchase new buttons now because I have such a large stash.
  • Cut off the collar, which is usually frayed.  I'm saving collars to make a cute bag that I saw in a Japanese pattern book.  I have nearly enough.
  • Cut off the sleeves.
  • Cut the cuffs off the sleeves (if they are not too worn).  They make cute embellishments.
  • For this bag, I cut the shirt body straight across at the armholes and bottom.  For other shirt refashions, I used most of the shirt body.
  • Sleeves can yield bias strips for binding edges.
  • All non-usable fabric scraps are placed in a basket for use instead of paper towels for messy cleanup jobs around the house.
  • T-shirts can be doubled and turned into thick reusable rags.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Motion Picture

In case you can't get enough of the mesmerizing waves.

Taken from my office window last week.

NCAR fields a huge number of weather instruments, some experimental, some operational.  If you want to know how (quantitively) windy it was, just check the real-time weather feed for either the Foothills lab

or the Mesa lab.
Bad Dad and I are trying to find a permanent home in Boulder after my apartment lease is up. He wonders why I have such a prejudice against the condos on upper Table Mesa, near the Mesa Lab and open space?  I refuse to even look at them even though they fit our size, price and commute criteria.

Take a careful look at the vertical scale.  At first glance, it looks like northeast Boulder (Foothills lab) experiences windy weather more often than southwest Boulder (Mesa lab).   Maximum winds at Mesa lab are twice as fast.  Notice the nocturnal jets around midnight.  I have enough trouble falling asleep without that kind of wind.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A tale of two weekends

A quiet weekend sewing in the Boulder apartment.  After shifting some things around, I found a workable and productive layout.

Enjoying the views at the Getty Center while walking between exhibitions with Bad Dad.

Dining choices in Gardena's Tozai Plaza.  We ate at Lee's Tofu.  Many types of kim chi, yum!

Iris was home for two nights between sessions of CTY camp.  How can you tell a 13 yo is happy to see you?  Can you clue me in to the subtle signs?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Now that's telecommuting!

I thought I had a good telecommuting gig, answering data user email from Europe or Asia from my laptop while lying in bed, but I saw some fantastic telecommuting yesterday.  (Leave your telecommuting stories in the comments.)

After the close of the meeting, I offered the data manager for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution a ride to Boulder.  The weather was going to be challenging (lightning, thunder, torrential rain, localized flooding) and I didn't relish attempting the drive alone.

She asked if I would mind if she made phone calls during the drive.  I said that I didn't mind.  But, I was surprised by what I observed.  It may have been a normal work day for her, but I found it very interesting.  She gave me permission to blog about it.

She prefaced her calls by telling the other end that she was in an automobile on Interstate 70 in Colorado and may lose reception when we head into Eisenhower tunnel, which carries automobile traffic under the continental divide.

Eisenhower tunnel in clearer weather.  Photo from Wikipedia.
Who was she talking to?  Well, it wasn't these particular guys from a photo I snagged from WHOI, but guys suited up much like this so that they could dive down below to check how the scientific instruments fared from Hurricane Arthur.

The divers checked instrument health.  If everything looked fine, they came back up and then climbed to the top of the towers on the mooring so they could call her.  (I'm guessing they were on different moorings with taller towers than in this picture.)

From a moving car on the western (Pacific) side of the continental divide, she used her cell phone as a wi-fi hotspot and her laptop to remotely turn on the power to the instruments in the Atlantic ocean.  They repeated this sequence the entire trip to Boulder.

I know there are astronomers who remotely control telescopes.  What other remote science experiments can you think of?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


I'm up in Summit County, Colorado, for a meeting. Yesterday, I arrived later than I had hoped and only had time for a short 30 minute ride. This evening, I was free to bike from Copper Mountain to Vail Pass. It's only 6 miles, but quite steep in places.

I'm a sucker for wild irises, hence my daughter's name.
A colleague told me to be on the lookout for a beaver dam. I wonder if that is how Beaver Creek got its name?
I wasn't sure if this was the summit.
But it turns out there was a higher spot.
A commemorative plaque explaining how Vail pass got its name.
I went beyond the pass because I heard there was a pretty lake on the other side.
A Colorado native told me that she left and returned because Colorado is for sky people. Los Angeles has its charms, but big skies is not one of them.