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?"


FrauTech said...

Those photos are fantastic. What camera is it if you don't mind my asking? Anyways you really have a knack for that, I know you're showing us the best of the bunch but those look very professional. I'm always disappointed when I look through my own personal collection. Any reason the need for special software? I thought most cameras you could plug into the USB and your computer will assume its an external hard drive, then just pop the pictures into folders you create yourself. Unless you're going for a more complicated organization system.

madscientist said...

FrauTech - Thank you very much! My camera that I used for most of the project was a Canon Powershot sd1200. My new camera is a Canon Rebel XSi. The Powershot is a great little camera. Definitely worth the $175ish that it costs.

When I look at other people's pictures, I always feel like their pictures are much better than mine.

So for some reason the camera doesn't show up as a USB drive. I am not sure why. I can take the card out of the camera and plug it into the USB drive with an adapter and it shows up and I can do exactly what you suggest. For some reason, the camera software started working flawlessly about 2-3 days ago. It must have heard me complain!