Sunday, November 30, 2008

Key Obama manager has fluvial geomorph degree.

I've just found out that Jon Carson, Obama's National Field Manager, a Wisconsin native, has an MS in fluvial geomrphology from UCLA. Here's a TPM interview from right before the election.

From this article:
Carson eventually finished his master’s degree in fluvial geomorphology -- he studied sedimentation in a section of the Mississippi River off Goose Island -- and he and his wife, Rebecca, whom he met on the Gore campaign, left for Honduras, where Carson built water systems and taught surveying as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Carson also worked for Tammy Duckworth in Illinois. He's never studied political science and says that his science background really helped with important number crunching. Sounds like a cool guy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Carbondale post-burn holiday fun.

Kate and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving day. She talked me into riding our bikes to seeing the results from last week's historic first prescribed burn inside Carbondale's city limits. She's on the board of Green Earth, a land trust that manages the property and organized the burn. Kate's posted pictures here.

Here's my photo of a singed rattlesnake-master seed head.

The weather was beautiful and we extended our ride and got hungry. We ended up at the Huck's south of campus. An ungly place from the outside, but not a bad stop at all on a day when everything else's closed and you haven't had a donut in six months.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Intuition and fluid mechanics.

Our Emriver models originated with the problem of teaching laypeople (mostly landowners along streams in Missouri) about river processes that are horribly counter intuitive. For example, that removing gravel from an Ozark stream can have upstream effects.

Here's a great example of fluid behavior you'd never predict without some serious technical training. I'll try to get this right: in laminar flow, particles and layers slip past one another without mixing. So the process these unknown voices and hands are demonstrating is reversible because the layers of colored fluid slipped past one another but did not move laterally or become turbulent.

Very cool demonstration videotaped at the University of New Mexico Physics Department, where it takes three people to count to five (six?) and back, with some committee-like behavior (I'm guessing the professor is turning the crank with grad students, reluctant to correct his counting, holding the device down).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Upgraded to a status of cancelled.

I needed to use the LRRD dry erase board for something important yesterday, and so wiped off my collection of funny things I didn't want to forget.

Now they'll reside forever on the internets.

Eelvation. What 17 of our river cross section charts in a recent report said before Jesse caught it, right before publication. This eel is at 869.2 ft NGVD.

Inconsistently frequent. A descriptor Cara applied to wetland features in the same report. I stay up at night wondering if this phrase makes sense or not. Really. She thinks I'm making fun, but I'm not. Does chaos theory address things that happen frequently, but not consistently?

Ungraded to a status of canceled. The board is slightly wrong. What a machine written email said to me after a part became unavailable. "Your order has been upgraded to a status of canceled." I love this one, so many possible uses.

Erroneous propellers. Well, here's the perfect name for your garage band. Phrase used in an email to me after we were sent the wrong size propellers for a pumping system we're prototyping. "I apologize for the erroneous propellers." We eventually got the correct propellers. Not as catchy, is it?

100% Stunt'n. Written with strips of peeling black electrical tape on the back of a 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo I saw last week. My hat is off the salt-of-the-automotive-earth owner of this car.

And here's a notice I got with the Bemis XCITE!(tm) replacement toilet seat I installed yesterday. It's a pretty good seat. With a website.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

We host, build, ship, and design.

We have a lot going on now, and it's all good. How about some pictures?

Greg Wilkerson from SIUC brought a couple of his grad students by this week for a visit.

Shipping an Emriver to Minnesota with our friends from Rodeway.

A couple of very young researchers stopped by. They found our heating system inadequate but soldiered on at their cartoons calculations anyway.

We moved an Em4 box into the lab (still waiting on the articulated base) where Jesse and Cara posed with a pair of little pink cowboy boots.

Jesse made big standpipe design/production progress; he's done a phenomenal job on this hardest of problems; moving a cylinder through a seal in a very wet, abrasive (modeling media) environment. And making the thing reasonably priced, easily buildable, foolproof, indestructible, pretty, safe, etc.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The LRRD boat on stormy seas.

I subscribe to an email list/blog by illustrator Leif Peng. He came by a large file of illustrations (most pre-1960 I think) and publishes these, along with stories of the artists, on his blog. He just finished an incredible series by an artist who was a WWII prisoner of war.

This one is by David Shaw (click on the image for a high-res version).

We're riding the financial market waves at LRRD now (the Dow crashed again today), and struggling with hiring and marketing expansion decisions. When I saw this illustration on Leif's blog, my first thought was "I feel like that guy at the tiller." I hope we get some flat water soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Emriver laser surprise.


Today was a big day for business things. We solved a huge Emriver Em2 marketing puzzle thanks to a kind visit from Greg Wilkerson--he revealed to us the nature of civil engineering instruction and thus why our sales to engineering schools are not what we'd hoped. Thanks Greg.

Inspired by a paper Greg showed us and needing a break, I tried bouncing a sheet laser off our resident Em2. Here are results. I was hoping to fool around with topographic representation but got much more. Turbulence in the flow and resulting water surface shape produces some amazing reflected images--some of the most beautiful waveforms I've seen. I'm sure we'll do more of this, but for the record here are the first.

The little movie was shot with my Canon Pro1 still camera.

NY Times article on US state budget woes.

Today's Times article includes a multimedia graphic showing the condition of individual states. This is important to us because we hope to sell to public entities in all those states.

A quote:

“Frankly, I thought 2001 was really awful,” said Scott D. Pattison, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, referring to the last big economic downturn. “It is even worse now.”
He added, “This fiscal year will be really bad, and what is unfortunate is that I can’t see how 2010 won’t be bad too.”
In keeping with recent economic trends, the states with the worst problems are those where housing booms morphed into a large-scale mortgage crisis over the last two years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Money, it's a crime.

Yesterday had the great pleasure of visiting my old boss Bill Turner in his new office as Chief of Fisheries Division for the Missouri Department of Conservation. I was in Jefferson City interviewing with MDC for river design contracts. Bill was one of three great mentors I had, and I owe the start of my river conservation career to him.

His conference table was covered with spreadsheet printouts. He was busy cutting budgets.

We're finding that grants people have used to buy our Emriver models are going dry. Some of this is Bush administration de-funding of EPA and other environmental programs and education, but now we have tax revenues and charitable giving going down. Not good.

We're still in growth mode, and, needing to do some analysis and planning, I got my courage together and looked at our investments. Good grief, it's bad. Like the Dow, our mutual funds are at about half what they were a year ago. My brilliant wife reminds me that the money we took out for LRRD last year is much more likely to gain value that what we left in!

This entrepreneur stuff is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A storm hydrograph captured on video.

Two years ago, after a couple of attempts, I managed to catch an entire rainstorm and the resulting hydrograph in a small urban channel in Carbondale. I'm guessing nobody else has ever done this. What better way to introduce students to this concept? Here's the YouTube link, I posted a higher resolution version here (you'll need QuickTime).

I compressed the resulting two hours of tape down to two minutes. A tree chipper and a stoplight in the corners of the frame are interesting to watch and give clues to the passing of time. During the flood a checkdam in the center of the frame is overwhelmed. At its peak, the storm is very impressive. Without sound (which you can't use in time lapse) this is harder to appreciate, but the intensity of the rain is apparent.

I added a hydrograph and other graphics. It was a hell of a lot of work, not counting actually getting the event on tape. Even though I have a very heavy tripod, the wind nearly ruined the video--you can see the frame slowly tilt to one side as the tripod settles into the mud. A million things could've gone wrong, especially with a $5,000 camera enduring an hour of driving rain under a thin nylon cape. Had the wind been blowing any other direction except straight from the back of the camera, it wouldn't have worked.

I wasn't paid anything for this, but sure would like to find funding more of the same.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Universities face the financial meltdown.

From today's NY Times (full article):

With endowment values shrinking, variable-rate debt costs rising and states cutting their financing, colleges face challenges on multiple fronts, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
So at LRRD we're facing not only an overall economic slowdown, but budget cuts at the institutions that buy our products. This is on top of years of declining funding in science education.

We're lucky that our consulting is going well, and is relatively unaffected by the economy--we stay away from working for developers (who are really suffering now), and rivers are going to keep flooding and tearing up infrastrucure no matter what Wall Street does.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome, President Obama.

I'm proud of Kate--she's barely had a day off for two weeks, but drove over to Cape Girardeau to get out the Missouri vote for Obama today. Here's a photo (she's in the middle). It was a beautiful day. And here's a photo she took of a mailbox there.

I was born in Hope, Arkansas in 1958, and as a young boy remember the awful things I heard white grownups say about black people during the civil rights struggles in the 1960's. In a freshly desegregated first grade, I made friends with a African American kid named Levinski Smith. I took him to a Boy Scout meeting and caused a major scandal. Last I heard of Vince, he had a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

I clearly remember "Colored" and "White" water fountains--our hospital still had these faded signs in the early 70's in southern Arkansas.

Kate and my friends have wondered why I'm so reluctant to accept Obama's apparent win today. It's because, like probably a lot of people who've grown up in the south, I can hardly believe it's true.

So it's with much emotion I welcome Barack Obama as our next President.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Call for change on climate change.

I guess I missed the point where the right wing radio bloviators and such started accepting climate change as reality--it seems not long ago this was still debated, at least by politicians and the ill (Fox News) informed. We still have the debate as to cause, of course, and a hell of lot of people are still confused, because confusion means no change in Washington.

Now we have consortia of scientific groups calling for action from our soon to be new (thank heavens) President.

I spotted this in EOS, but this is from the horse's mouth.

Weather and Climate Leaders Call on Washington to Better Protect the Nation from Climate Change and Severe Weather

August 20, 2008

BOULDER—Eight leading professional organizations in the field of weather and climate today called on the next administration and Congress to better protect the United States from severe weather and climate change. They issued five recommendations to reverse declining budgets and provide needed tools, information, and leadership to decision makers. The recommendations and supporting information have been provided to the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama.

The United States sustains billions of dollars in losses every year from disasters related to weather and climate, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, floods, droughts, and snow storms, the transition document states. This year alone, the country has experienced a record-setting pace of tornadoes, as well as many severe floods and wildfires.

"With more than a quarter of the U.S. gross national product (over $2 trillion) sensitive to weather and climate, these events substantially impact our national health, safety, economy, environment, transportation systems, and military readiness," the document states. "All 50 states are impacted by these events, and many of these events will be exacerbated by climate change."
Full release here.

Photo credit: This tornado was one of several that struck near Hebron, Nebraska, on May 22, 2004. Tornadoes are forming at a record-setting pace this year, with nearly 1,000 twisters confirmed by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center for the period January through May 2008.
[ENLARGE] (Photo by Bob Henson, ©UCAR.) News media terms of use*

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If a turtlechuck could chuck wood.

I have to tell this story. Kate and I spent most of Saturday using a hydraulic splitter to take apart a huge red oak tree. As we worked on an especially knotty log I asked her to give it some more gas. She looked at what you see here a second, moved the throttle lever towards the turtle, and the struggling engine died.

"But didn't the tortoise beat the hare in the end?" She said.

I've looked at those symbols (in use since when, the 1970's?) hundreds of times and never seen that angle. A nod to Aesop? Why not a snail and a racehorse?

We were dog tired and pretty beat up by that time, and amongst a big pile of split wood, we made like the hare and took a break.

The water pig squeals; my work published, sort of.

Taking a break from my incessant administrative and computer - based tasks, I worked on an old design for a small flume this week. I originally built a prototype last year that was, with some cruelty towards me, nicknamed the "water pig." With a little change (a ducted propeller, no lipstick jokes please) in the design, it worked just fine this time.

My copy of a brand-new book co-written by my friend Mary Hocks arrived from the publisher. Mary and her colleague Laura Gurak have put together a very nice technical writing handbook (on Amazon here). They used parts of a geomorphological report I wrote as examples, along with some things from our Emriver manuals. I am hoping that we can
use it to improve our writing. (Mary's also a great singer-songwriter.)

We all worked on Emriver media color issues and finally worked out a system with our supplier. We have spent countless hours on this, but have gained a lot of expertise.

Jesse's done a great job of redesigning the Emriver Em2 standpipe--this little part has always been a challenge, but it looks like we may have a design that is robust, easy to use and manufacture, but not too expensive.