Thursday, June 25, 2009

Same Place as Last Week

I am sitting in the same hotel, one floor up and one room away from the hotel that I was in last week at this exact same moment. Tomorrow I am going to take the same flight home and eat the same breakfast on the airplane. What is this, day 9? I am not looking forward to Sunday, in which I will, once again, leave the kids.

I had about and hour long phone conversation today with Crab Boy, while I was driving through the mountains and into Denver. For the first five minutes or so, all he did was talk baby talk to me. Most of the time, that just bugs me, but today it was cute. Maybe because all I had to do was listen to his baby talk and drive. There were no meetings or people or other crap to deal with. It was nice. He has never talked on the phone for more than about 5 minutes with me before. Today, he talked and talked. Then had to hang up to eat dinner. Then he called back, and he talked more. Then the phone went dead, and I called him back when I got out of the mountains. He is growing up.

I gave a 45 minute talk today at the workshop I was at. It went ok. I was pretty worried about it, since it was, in essence, a non-science talk. My ex-grad student called it a 45 minute advertisement. Which it was - it discussed the history of this code that some people use to do data assimilation and how it has changed and enabled a huge amount of science that could not have been done before. But, I think that people enjoyed it. I joked around a lot. I don't think that anyone fell asleep.

The sad thing is, though, that I have no time off. I have to prepare for my travel next week - I have a talk first thing on Monday. So, I have to do a bunch of crap (crap = model runs) this weekend to prepare.

An update on my Post Doc - he went to Europe a few days ago. He finished the paper that he was supposed to get done before he left. We are unsure of the results of the modeling study, since he got different results than I got (hmmmm....), but the paper is going to be in a non-reviewed conference proceedings, so it doesn't matter too much. We will clear up the model issues when he gets home in a month.

One of my grad students is off to China next week. She is really the work-horse of the group. It is totally unbelievable the things that she can accomplish. We have outlined two papers that she is going to work on (one is almost finished, one has the runs and such done). These will be her 4th and 5th papers that she has written. And she is just finishing her 3rd year. I am pretty ok with her taking a vacation!

Today I did something that I haven't done in a long time - I took some time out of the conference and went for a hike with some of the student (well - some are now ex-students). It is sad that I don't do this more often.

Well, time to relax a bit and work on some more talks!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today is Crab Boy's 8th birthday. He currently has 5 friends in the basement screaming and yelling and generally having a good time. We are going to eat cake in a couple of minutes.

We bought Crab Boy a Lego robot for his birthday. It's mainly for me. Let's be honest.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 2 of 20 Days of Travel

Ok, I won't actually be traveling for he full 20 days. I flew to Colorado yesterday, fly home tomorrow. Fly back to CO on Monday morning. Back home on Friday. Santa Fe on Sunday. Back on Thursday. Chicago (with the family!) on July 4th/5th. Back on the 8th - don't even know what day that is. Then, my boss wants me to go to Washington DC for a week starting something like the 20th. Yeah, right.

Life is very interesting. I just read my friends blog. I would have to say that his job is 100% the same as mine, but yet he reports that he loves his job, while I, I am sad to say, don't. It makes me think about what it is about myself or about my job that is.... different.

Many of the things about our job that he lists that he likes, I like too. For example, teaching students, doing research, etc. I like doing all of those things. I seem to concentrate my thoughts on all of the things that (most likely) just fall off his shoulders. For example, meetings all of the time, mundane paperwork, letters of support, travel, and ... I have to imagine that he gets so much more joy out of the more fun bits of his job, that these don't bother him, while I, on the other hand, tend to concentrate on these aspects of my job, and make it so I want to scream.

I could imagine a therapist saying something like "When you truly love someone, and they fill you with happiness, then their flaws just don't matter at all. But, when you are not filled with happiness, then it is easy to get sucked down into thinking about the flaws of the other person all of the time." Not that I have ever heard anyone say this type of thing... just imagining is all I am doing.

I think that this is true of my job also. I need to figure out how I can fill my black heart up with love for my job, so I won't get caught up in all of the crap that I have to do. I do admit that there are aspects of my job that I absolutely love.

One of my (many) problems that I have, if you have not figured this out, is that I tend to spread myself too thin. I am like the guy in a game of Risk who thinks he can take Asia and hold it. You just can't hold Asia. And it is ok to not hold Asia. Why not settle for Australia or South America. These are nice little continents that give you some armies, but don't tax your resources. I need to accept that life would be better to just hold Australia and not Asia.

For travel, I imagine that one of the reasons that I hate travel is that I have this PERCEPTION that my family is basically miserable without me, and that it is my fault. I also am a homebody. These two things make traveling sort of miserable for me. I have to work on saying "yes, I am leaving my family, but they will be fine without me, so I might as well enjoy myself." If I don't enjoy myself, is it making their lives any better? By making myself unhappy, does it make my wife more happy? While this is true at home, where she can witness me being miserable, it doesn't work while I am out of her sight.

Ah well. That is enough for on night in a hotel in Denver.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Singing the Post Doc Blues

Today I rode my bike again. You will think that I actually ride my bike often, if I keep this up!

But, I can't, since tomorrow I am off to somewhere in Colorado for a 5 hour meeting. Then back for the weekend, then off to Colorado again for 5 days, then back for the weekend, then off to New Mexico for 4 days. Ahhh, travel - how I have missed you in the last 3 weeks!

Yesterday I had an interesting day re my Post Doc. A couple of months ago, we decided on a project for him, which was basically to take someone else's model results as the lower boundary of our code. We started by downloading a very large data file and extracting what we needed from it (I wrote a bunch of code to extract some of the data, then he finished it off by extracting all of the data). He then modified the code to read in the data files that we created and use them for a bottom BC.

Now, take this next part with a grain of salt, since he has never used the model, and I wrote the model from scratch.

He came to me stating that he had finished it, and wanted to do some runs to show how the result changed and do some physics. I wanted to see results right away. He said I should wait, since he had a bunch of runs to do and wanted to look at the results. I agreed. Well, it turns out that all of the results were bad. I am not blaming him at all, since we all make mistakes. You just have to recognize the possibility of mistakes and show your work to someone who has actually used the model...

So, yesterday, while he search for the bug, I took his code and rewrote it from scratch (using his as a guideline for what to do). It took me about 2 hours to code it and test it, verifying that it worked perfectly. It took him over a month to do this.

Once again, I wrote the damn code, and I used his code as a template. But over a month versus two hours. This frustrates me a little bit. It would be great if he could have done it a little faster, since this was his only project during the time and we have a pretty hard deadline (presenting model results on Thursday...)

BUT - we got it done. The model now has a more dynamic lower boundary. We can probably publish at least three papers showing simple results from this, which is just fantastic.

Interestingly, he is going back to Europe for a conference, where he will present this research also. Then he is off to go back to his school, visit his family, and do other things. So, I won't actually see him for the next 4-5 weeks. Well, we had discussed that he HAD to finish this before he left. And he has. With some help. And just in the nick of time.

My second Post Doc arrives in July. Man, this year is going to be fun!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Sunday

Today I slept in until 9:15, woke up, ate breakfast, took a shower, and went to see Star Trek by myself. This is the first time I have gone to a movie by myself in a very long time. When I got home, I cleaned all four bathrooms (yes four!), folded a bunch of clothes, and started more laundry. We then went and trained the dogs on the new buried fence. Lilly sure can jump when she is electrocuted!

For the last two weeks, Lilly has discovered that she can run much faster than we can. When she escapes from us, all she has to do is head into the woods and she is home free. She is forced to take a shower when she returns an hour later, but that seems to be worth it for her.

Well, no more. She is wearing the new shock collar right now (so is Heidi). We took them around the perimeter today with the collar on for the first time just a little while ago. Lilly got zapped a few times. Hopefully, she learned that she had to run towards the yard when the zap happens.

On to Star Trek. I enjoyed the movie very much, but kept getting hung up on the fact that all of the crew ended up being in place by about 3/4 of the way through the movie. This makes sense for continuity with the TV series and such, but it makes no real sense in a military outfit. Everyone on board the Enterprise was so great in getting to their current position, but then failed miserably at every getting a promotion again (until some movie, in which they decided to promote people - I can't remember which one - after something like 20 years in the same position). If you set aside this fact, and many other coincidences within the movie, it was a very good action flick. It made me want to go out and rent The Wrath of Khan (or Khan Strikes Back in Star Wars lingo).

Ok, the wife informs me that I should call our friends who are going to come and pick up their daughter and invite them to dinner. I guess that means that I need to shut up.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Good Day

Today I rode my bike to work. 14 miles there and 14 miles back. It rained all the way home. That sort of sucked, but it wasn't that bad. I think that riding my bike gets me all energized and pumped, giving me energy to do my wonderful job!

I also have been huddling in a room with another person every Thursday morning and writing. We have committed to writing during this time every week. So, last week I wrote proposal stuff. This week I actually worked on a paper! Holy crap! Paper? Yes! I made a few figures and started working on the paper, which I started about a year ago.

I did have a conversation with one of my students about what she wants to do with the rest of her life and more specifically about what she wants to do in the next year before she finishes. This was an interesting conversation. My student is extremely talented in just about everything that she does, but she doesn't really seem to like to do science. Science is extremely hard. It involves realizing that the solution is not straight forward. That may be a trivial thing to say, but it is hard to take. In everything that everyone does throughout school, there is a solution. It may be extremely hard to get to that solution, but there is a solution. With science, there may not be enough data or the simulations may be extremely difficult to figure out. If you hit your head against this wall over and over and over again, when you have never had to hit your head before, it is hard to take. This is a lesson that she will have to learn. It is not an easy lesson. It sucks.

I actually have no real idea how to teach her this. She is obviously smarter than I am and pretty much an equal when it comes to coding and such. How do I then teach her how to think independently and come up with unique solutions? All I basically do is tell her what I would do next. Lead by example. I am not really sure if this is the best way to teach something like this, but I'll give it a go for a while.

My Post Doc is doing pretty well. He has made a bunch of code modifications to a model that I developed and is starting to get some results. One of the problems that we are running into is that the model is slow - most other models that are of this type are simplified so they can run fast. My model is not simplified, so it runs slow. We have optimized the crap out out it, so it runs about 2-3 times faster than it did about 6 months ago, but if you are used to using a model that runs a day in about 4 hours on your desktop and you need 64 processors of a supercomputer to do the same thing, it is a drag. But, he is working on it. We have a pretty hard deadline to get some of the research done. I am going to a meeting next week and he is going to Europe the following week. Both of us have to give presentations on what he is doing. Needless to say, it is put up or shut up time. He is confident in the put up, so tomorrow he has to show me results. Should be another good day, eh?

Then one of the undergrads that is working for me finished one of the steps in a 100,000 step process. He didn't really know how to program before he started work 5 weeks ago. He learned Fortran90 and a bit of IDL, then played with C to reproduce what he did in Fortran. Next he has to learn how to program in CUDA, which is NVIDIA's parallel programming language. Did you know that your video card in your computer is like a little super computer? Why do you think that you can play Quake so well (ok, I don't know what the latest 3D games are... 3D Pac-Man? Actually, Halo 3 would be my best bet...) So, you can program your video card to do a bunch of really, really simple math very, very quickly. The key is to figure out how to do it. My undergrad is going to figure it out. Hopefully. Well, enough that I or someone else can take what he did and figure it out.

When I got home, the wife had dinner ready. It was soup and bread, which is good, since we tend to over eat a LOT, so having a light meal is great a couple days a week. I got to read to the kids for about 30 minutes (over half way through Eragon now - he's in jail! What's going to happen???? Tune in tomorrow, unless Crab Boy has a sleep over, in which case, tune in Saturday.)

And now I am blogging. A couple days in a row. Wow!

Ahhh... I was also going to start putting in lyrics to songs that have some meaning to me. Like the other day's Gun's and Roses lyrics. But different.

Let's play name this song....

When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

Ok, that is probably pretty obvious. But, there it is. Maybe I will make it harder and harder and harder, so only Rico can answer!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I get up around 7
get out of bed around 9
i don't worry about nothin', no
cuz worrying's a waste of my time

Monday, June 8, 2009


I feel like my brain has turned to mush - at work and at home.

At work I have made a gigantic todo list, and have been slowly plowing through the list. Very slowly. I am in so many meetings and have so many students working for me, that I can't actually get any work done at all. I guess this is what a manager does, eh? People get work done for me. I tell them to do something, and they do it. Move on to the next person.

I am a person who likes to actually do stuff, though. I hate the fact that I can't take the time to actually build a payload for the balloons. Or that I make my student rewrite her code because it runs out of memory for me when I run it on a problem that she didn't test it on. I can do this stuff - I just don't have time to do it.

So, when I am sitting at my desk, thinking that I would like to program or do something "useful", I have to look down at my todo list and force myself to do something on the list. I really don't like working like that, but this is what it has come down to. Maybe when my 3 weeks of travel starting next week is over, I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and do some stuff.

One very nice thing that I have started to to actually set aside Thursday mornings to write. For the last two weeks I have been working on my big proposal. This Thursday, I will probably work on a paper. I have not written a paper in a long time. I have been forcing my students to do it, while I have not. I really hate writing papers. But, I should probably lead by example.

On a completely different note, I have to say that Nina Totenberg kicks ass. She did a story last week on Sotomayor which was a one-two punch to the right-wing pundits out there who are calling Sotomayor biased. It was great. It basically said that she is pretty impartial in racial cases, having fallen on both sides of the issue, while also saying that she doesn't believe that the courts make policy. Here is her last sentence - "The treaty's language is clear and it is not for the courts to make policy, she said, adding that if policy is to be changed, Congress or federal agencies must do it." I just laughed at this, because it was such a subtle jab to republicans that have been saying she has said that the courts make policy. Nina Kicks It!