Sunday, February 28, 2010

15 Years

Today is CrabMama and my (unofficial) 15 year anniversary.  It is unofficial because we got married twice - the first time for financial reasons, the second time for love.  Well, the first time was for love too, but her financial aid forms were due, so it was motivated by money.  In celebration of our big day, we went to McDonald's and ate some french fries, got Chinese food, and watched a movie at home.  "Why McDonald's?" you ask.  Well, about 18 years ago, CrabMama worked at MD's.  I drover up to where she was working and asked her if she wanted to move in with me.  Oh, so romantic!  Last night, we went to the same MD's, sat in the same booth (actually, it has been renovated, so the booth doesn't exist anymore, but, we sat close), and ate french fries, just like we did 18 years ago.  The girl who served us wasn't born yet when we had this conversation that we were celebrating.  That was depressing.  Another sad thing is that both places that we worked when we first met don't exist anymore.

After snarfing our large fry, I happened to look down as the nutritional information.  That is some scary sh*t.  500 calories for a large fry! 25 grams of fat! Wow, it is good that we split it.

We next went to the Chinese restaurant close to our house and got some food.  CrabMama got steamed vegetables (what's the point?) and I got Kung Pao Chicken.  Hopefully this is a tiny bit more healthy that MD's, since there was nothing fried.  I only ate about 1/3 of it, too, since the portions were huge.  The restaurant was clearly designed for take out only.  Subway has more tables in it.  They decorated it with while wall paper.  No pictures.  No words.  No nothing.  Just white wallpaper.  Extremely uninviting.  (Just think about all of the valuable information that you are learning from this blog post!)

We watched "Amelia", which I thought was a pretty good movie, even though you knew the ending.  I didn't know much about her at all, except for the obvious things, so it was an educational experience.

Our official anniversary is in August, so we will probably do something more adventurous then.  We are actually planning on traveling out west for the month of August.  Since we are "discouraged" from paying ourselves for all three months of the summer, I have pretty much (notice the subtle qualifier) decided to take a month-long vacation.  One of the problems with this idea is that there are probably going to be all sorts of meetings and crap during August.  But, I will just miss them.  I can do that, right?

This week is spring break for the students (not for me!)  I am hoping that I can hole up and write some reports.  I have a bunch of them that all due right about now (just got an official overdue notice this morning!)  I think that there are three grant reports that all due right now.  Then I have a third revision of a review that I have to do (I told them that I didn't want to see it again, but they sent it anyways).  And I got two proposals to review from NSF this week (you get an e-mail from the program manager, not asking if you want to review it, but with instructions on how to download it and the review criteria.  Nice.)  So, more crap to do.

One of the problems that I am struggling with right now is how to keep track of all of the projects/stuff that I am working on right now.  I have been taking notes on some paper, but it doesn't feel very modern to do that.  I was going to get a lab folder, which I think would be good too, but I have so many things going on, that I should get one for each project.  A guy that I work with does it with a three-ring binder, paper, and tabs for the different projects.  This is probably the best idea that I have heard.  I was trying to think of something a bit more high tech, though.  I have EverNote, which seems to be pretty cool, but I have to play with it a bit more.  The main issue I have with computer note taking is that it seems sort of offensive to do this, since people automatically assume that you are checking e-mail or working on other things instead of taking notes.  It also feels more natural to take notes on paper.  So, I am considering taking notes on paper, then scanning them in with my fancy scanner and putting them into EverNote.  One cool thing about this idea is that I can scan images that my students/PostDocs bring me to look at.  Well, this is definitely a continuing adventure.

Short updates:

1. Children taking ice skating lessons at Veterans Park.  Highly recommend.  Very professional.  Very.

2. Still learning guitar.  Don't have much time for practice.  But learning.

3. Didn't work out at all last week.  Fail.  Fat.  Blob.  Sad.

4. Cold.  Snow.

5. Sleeping badly.

6. Twitchy eye due to stress.  I have been wearing glasses for the last few days because I can't see right.  I guess that is bad.

7. CrabGirl made us a cake for breakfast.  Marble cake with pudding frosting with brownies sprinkled on top.  Wow!

8. Pictures are mostly of trees and snow and things lacking in color.  We have about another month of this weather.  And then another month after that until it is actually "nice" outside.

9. I am going to give up Mt. Dew.  This is it.  Once the supply that I have right now runs out, I am done.  Bring on the Excedrin!

10. I think that I am going to make a doctor's appointment too.  It has been about seven years.

Enough for today.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I must apologize for not posting in 2 weeks.  Things are getting a little crazy again.

It seems like we have shifted our schedule a bit.  I am getting to work later and staying later.  This means that when I get home, we eat pretty much right away, I read to the kids, and then we either practice guitar or we get ready for bed, depending on the time.  Most of the time, the kids are not ready for bed until 8:30 or 9:00, which sounds early, but it is rather late.  It seems like we have very little time at all to "relax" at night.

One of the issue that I am having is that I got a new camera, which is great, but it taking a while to learn all of the subtleties of downloading pictures and uploading them to the web.  I pretty much have given up on iPhoto, due to the fact that you can't "see" the pictures outside of iPhoto anymore (if you open up a finder window, the iPhoto Library no longer appears as a folder - it appears as a file, which means you can't walk through the pictures outside of iPhoto).  I started using the software that came with the camera, which allows you to download them into custom directories (I store mine in subdirectories of years then months, then year_month_day), which makes it very easy to find the pictures.  I then use Picasa to look at the pictures and upload them.  I don't like the way Picasa doesn't allow you to view all of the pictures as one library (which I never thought I would want to do... except when you take 5-6 pictures every day for a couple of weeks and you want to browse through them all.)  The camera software crashes all of the time, which means some nights it takes 30 minutes to upload pictures, which is problematic.  A lot of my relaxation time lately has been taken up by fighting with camera software.

If you want to see my photoblog, which is where I have been spending most of my time, it is at  While I would rather spend some time writing and such, the photoblog is somewhat easier to maintain, because there is little thought in the posting process, and I can do this when sitting on my *ss watching TV.

Another thing that I have been doing lately which has been taking a chunk of my time is working out.  We have a rowing machine, which I have been using pretty much every day for the last two weeks.  The sad thing is that I don't really think that it is helping at all.  I am pretty sure that I have gained five pounds in the last two weeks, and my stomach feels a little strange.  I could convince myself that this might mean that I am getting muscles in places that I have never had muscles before, but this would be a glass-half-full viewpoint, which is outside of my abilities.  I interpret as my body telling me that I shouldn't be working out and eating pizza is really the answer.  Mmmm, more pizza.

Anyways - that takes like 30 or so minutes in the morning.  So, I am down about 60 minutes total each day, due to the working out and the camera crap.  This makes it feel like I have less free time, which isn't really true, since I am just using my free time to do things.  It is funny how that works.

At work, things are absolutely freaking crazy.  Here are the proposals that I am currently working on:

1. A Major Research Instrumentation proposal for NSF.  Only three proposal from each university are allowed to be submitted, so I have written a proposal to the university to try to allow me to write a full proposal to NSF.  I just submitted this yesterday, and my associate dean just e-mailed saying that he thinks that I am asking for way too much money from NSF.  I am not sure that I understand this, since the maximum amount awarded will be $5M, while I am asking for $3.5M.  This seems quite reasonable to me, but he seems to thing $0.5M is the level we should be seeking.  I have to call NSF and ask some opinions about this.  Something I crossed off my todo list gets back on.  Crap.

2. A CyberPhysical proposal for NSF.  I am not the PI of this one, but am a Co-PI.  This is an interesting program - it is aimed at making computers work more autonomously.  Sort of.  Basically working on feedback algorithms that allow for the dynamic readjustment of things given the sensor readings.  It incorporates all sorts of things, such as brain surgery and brakes on cars.  Basically anything in which a computer and a system are involved.  We are proposing to develop an orbital prediction system that will work with many, many cubesats to better specify the upper atmospheric density allowing for more accurate collision avoidance.  It will be a big proposal involving a bunch of Co-PIs.

3. A CubeSat proposal for NSF.  This is due in May.  We are going to use RAX as a base-line mission, but measure the thermospheric density, like we are proposing in #2.  The NSF budget will be enough to build and launch a single CubeSat, which we will use to investigate the density structure in the thermosphere.  Which is a perfect lead in for...

4. An Explorer mission for NASA launching ~100 CubeSats, all of which will measure the thermospheric density.  We will then have global coverage of the thermosphere, which has never been done before.  It is taking NASA to a new level.  This proposal will be about $200M, and is due around a year from now.  It is super-scary.  I have never done anything like this before, and I am a bit intimidated by it.

5. I should mention that I am involved in at least one other NASA Explorer mission.

I am working with a student team who is helping me with mission concepts for #4.  They are also interested in helping write the proposal for the NSF CubeSat program.  At this point it is difficult to tell whether their assistance will be a help or a hindrance.  They have interesting ideas and are willing to do a lot of leg-work, but they don't have much experience doing this type of thing (i.e., blind leading the blind).  The meeting we had yesterday was the most interesting we have had, and I think that they are starting to go above the cost-benefit line.  I am hoping that this is a very positive sign.

I should also mention that this is the season for letters of support/recommendation.  I hate this aspect of my job.  Absolutely hate it.  There are some people that I can write extremely positive letters for in minutes, but the vast majority of letters take a good hour or two to write.  And most of the time, I am not really happy with them.  Considering how important the letters are, they really need to be perfect.  These letters really shape the person's life.  The vast majority of the students that we accept into graduate school are accepted because their letters are glowing.  Without those letters, they are simply a GPA - line them up in order and start taking people off the top.  This is not the best strategy for getting the best students.

Last week I got handed four papers to read.  Two from Post Doc #1, one from Post Doc #3 and one from Grad Student #1.  These require time also.  Some of them are fantastic and don't require any major changes, but at least one required doing some more simulations and changing things around a lot.  Which is the second time that we have majorly changed the paper.  It was quite disappointing for everyone involved.

Then Post Doc #2 has been making significant progress on the solver that she is working on.  But she has been having issues which she doesn't understand.  Last week I spent a couple of days working with her on the code, which is good because the code progress is accelerated significantly, but bad because I am so freaking busy.  But the results are so beautiful!  She is working on the only big issue left with my main code that I work with.  Once this aspect works, it will be on par or better than all of the models like it in the world.   I hired her specifically for this purpose, and it is paying off.

Then I have a lot of year end reports to write.  I have realized that I haven't gotten much of the science done, so I am scrambling to get SOMETHING to show.  So, over the last couple of days, I started some simulations to compare with data from systems like I am proposing to use in #1.  After two days of solid work on this, I have some pretty sweet results.  It is not much at this point, but they are really cool.  What they point to is that the atmosphere is significantly out of hydrostatic equilibrium almost all of the time.  Our model is the only one that doesn't assume hydrostatic equilibrium.  When we compare results, we have to multiply our vertical winds by a factor of 50 in order to match the measured winds.  This doesn't sound like good news at all - but it is!  It says that the atmosphere is MUCH further away from equilibrium than we have EVER thought.  It is amazing how badly we do, even using the most sophisticated techniques available.  We just don't understand this stuff at all!

Ok.  I should go.  This post is way too long already.

I guess this is the long answer to the question "where have you been?"