Sunday, April 27, 2008

Kate and Steve in St. Louis.

After Friday night's big party at the City Museum (here a photo of the incredible architechtural exhibits), Kate and I enjoyed downtown St. Louis. Kate got her doctorate in pharmacy at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, and she and I lived there together for a couple of years when I was doing a lot of urban stream work there.

We haven't been back much. We're not city people, but this was a great homecoming.

We left our car way out in Illinois and rode the Metrolink in to our hotel on Friday. Saturday morning we walked around downtown and then took the train to the Galleria to see how the other half lives.

We bought some stuff, and marveled at the changes in St. Louis, and what upscale malls are like now. We were shocked to see the sexuality on display, and how it's marketed to kids.

We loved riding the train. Its route has been greatly enlarged since we moved away in 2001. We were lucky to catch a talk by a Metrolink engineer, given for some cub scouts, on this great mass transit system, and loved moving around our old haunts without all the hassle and hostility of driving a car.

Here are some photos of a cool river motif cast into the walls of a tunnel entrance. And of Kate with a toothpick at one of the Illinois stops.

GSA in Indiana and City Museum in St. Louis.

Lord I'm beat. What a week we had. A short summary of Thursday and Friday: Jesse went with Andrew Podoll (who's also done some other interesting things), Harvey Henson and some SIUC Geology grad students to a regional GSA meeting in Evansville, Indiana. They invited us to join them with an Emriver model because we're collaborating on some grants using the models.

The Emriver was very popular. A lot of what we suspected was confirmed. University labs try to build their own small movable bed models with universally bad outcomes. And more confirmation that the Emriver is well designed and superbly optimized for what it does; big enough to do serious work, small enough to be storable and portable, extremely durable, maintenance free, and reasonably priced.

And this was our first brush with Armfield, a UK-based company that makes educational models and large research flumes. We don't consider them competition because our markets and products are so different, but they were very interested in our Emriver, and we got a look at them.

Very interesting stories, and a funny one about how Jesse went to check out Armfield's booth, supposing he was incognito but forgetting his was wearing his LRRD hat.

On to Friday, Cara, Jesse, and I, with significant others, went to fund raising party for the New City School at the City Museum in St. Louis on Friday night.

The City Museum is wonderful beyond description. If you have kids, you must take them there.

Cara and Jesse did a great job of supervising the Emriver as hundreds of candy-stoked middle schoolers attacked it. Their wasn't much premise of education, this was a wild party to raise money for Riverkids, a river conservation program.

We learned and confirmed a few things. Yes, snot, chewing gum, and many other things go into the model when kids this age use it. They go berserk with a big waist level mud pie. It's maybe even better than mud, because even dirt-averse kids love it. Cara pulled a shoe out of the reservoir at some point.

But the wild New City School kids could not break the Emriver or clog its media filter, even with their candy, boogers, and shoes.

The good things are coming faster than I can blog them. Thanks to Cara and Jesse (and their SO's) for a wonderful time Friday night.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Making undergraduate geoscience quantitative.

The title of last week's feature Eos article by Manduca et. al. (You have to be a member to access it.)

I offer part of a figure from our recent NSF grant proposal to use Emriver models to teach science, technology, and mathematics. It's chock full of quantification, and there's a lot more where that came from. Students can even quantify fluvial features as they watch them evolve. For example, meander migration that might take decades in a real world channel can be measured and quantified in a half hour using an Emriver model.

These models, and our nearly-done Em4, are wonderful tools for connecting science to life experience and then to deeper science and math.

(The figure shows a time sequence from one of our video clips at top, and also from a sequence showing remeandering of the Grand River in northern Missouri over about 50 years, and possible measurements students can make using aerials, maps, and the Emriver.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Spring, bikes, and (big news) a standpipe.

Kate rode to work today with her Wike trailer. Here she is with JaJa in nice early morning light in front of our house.

I came home today just in time to see our resident Cooper's hawk kill a snake and take it to the nest just off to the right in this photo. How lucky I am to see such a cool wife, dog, and nature at my place, at all hours.

The Wike people in Canada make some great bicycle trailers, and obviously do it to make things better for us all. They're wonderful people. An inspiration for LRRD. (We bought this trailer around 10 years ago, not sure if they make it anymore.)

Big news: We finalized our media colors and content and ordered nearly a ton of it today, and committed to order another ton or so. This has taken many hours of work over a few years. We'll have plastic modeling media sized by color in our Em4 model. This has never been done, and the only similar experiment I know of used painted rocks in a large flume, a pretty crude thing compared to what we're designing.

And just as big, our carefully designed standpipe mechanism for the Em4 arrived in a not-quite-done but testable condition, and it looks wonderful and seems to work as designed.

Jesse commenced to drilling a few holes in it, and finishing it. We spent many hours on this design and worked closely with a southern Illinois machine shop to make it. Jesse did a great job with the design and working with the machinist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How much science is too much?

We're working on a long list for the Em4 model that now includes problems of color and chroma (relative brightness). Another branch of science to explore.

Here's a possible media combination, and the technology involves color and human perception. We want the different particle sizes to be recognizable. Color works, but our colors are limited, and video introduces more complexity.

And they look different when they're wet, and we put dye in the water. That's another variable, good grief.

Here's a combination we're looking at, with a greyscale stripe across the middle. Can you distinguish the red from orange? The blue from the brown? Notice how the white isn't really white. We need to be concerned about how the human eye sees these, and also how video chips do.

We've worked for years to get a supplier to custom grind this stuff for us. We need around 500 pounds of media for an Em4, and this stuff isn't cheap.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Beautiful spring Sunday, with two kinds of worms.

I went into work early and finished testing our valve and metering array for the Em4. It's working, and at least conceptually finished. We may have figured out our media color scheme as well, we'll see. Here's the ugliest combination for fun.

Spring was perfect today. Beautiful weather. Kate worked this morning, too, but in the afternoon we took our first bike ride of the year.

We visited the SIUC greenhouses and, besides the flowers we were looking looking for, noticed a handwheel, worm gear, and rack mechanism used to open the greenhouse vents. It's eerily like what we have in mind for part of the Em4 articulation, but a thing you might see once or twice in a lifetime. I'll take it as a nice omen, and design inspiration.

Carbondale is such a great place for cycling.

Later on Kate dug in the garden and insisted I look at the worm gear's namesake, so here's a picture of that.

Kate's imitating Richard Virenque, a showboating professional cyclist we like to make fun of. A few years ago he denied he was blood doping after being caught during le Tour with bags of his blood with his name written on them.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Earthquake video fun, Em4 testing.

Don't miss this video of a weather broadcast from Evansville, Indiana at around 4:30am last Friday, as an earthquake occurred.

Weather cameras mounted on towers and tall buildings turn out to be good seismometers.

Evansville's about 40 miles from the epicenter. See USGS info here.

I tested a new Em4 valve and metering design Jesse built on Friday, and it worked.

Friday, April 18, 2008

It all started with the arugula.

Kate wanted to go out for dinner last night but I insisted on making a specialty of mine, wood smoked pizza on the grill. Somewhere in there I froze three beers, and what I thought was spinach was arugula (photo). This evil weed did not make it onto the pizza, but I was crabby and mean to Kate and spoiled the evening. The pizza was incredible, though.

Later on, at about 4:30am local, the frozen beers were rattled by a 5.2 magnitude earthquake. Kate and I slept through it, but the rest of LRRD had a nice awakening.

At work, machining things for the Em4, I managed to burn four fingers, two on each hand, the ones you'd burn if you stupidly picked up a hot piece of metal like it was a tasty little sandwich, and my desktop computer melted, though I was not the cause of it. My iPod died.

Then a fun thing happened--Cara and I were meeting with Andrew Podoll, a graduate student in geology at SIUC under Dr. Pinter, when, very appropriately, a 4.6 magnitude aftershock occurred. Andrew and I'd just complained about not ever feeling an earthquake, but we felt this one. Our rafters made quite a bit of noise. We were grinning and not at all thinking of personal safety, being brave scientists.

Some much anticipated plastic media samples arrived. We we able to assemble our designs using yellow and orange media in the flesh. We have to use white to keep the overall brightness of the media high, and there are other restrictions.

What we hoped would be appealing looked kind of like candy corn.

Not pretty, but it fit in with earthquakes and the spinach being arugula instead.

We wired and built things for the Em4, mostly a new metering system and manifold for the water input, and also met with a machine control engineer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Emriver out, Em4 design/build, more spring.

Jessie and I cranked on Em4 pump testing, electronics, flow measurement, and the dye injection system. We are getting some hard lessons in hydraulics. The piped and centrifugal pump version has important differences from the open-channel kind I know well.

Today it was spring without a doubt, and Cara moved her electronic domain to the garage so she could get some sun. She's used to a field season starting about now, and being outside.

We sent a baby out into the world today, an Emriver off to New York State. Shipping these has been a pain in the past, but that's been fixed. All the work that everybody but Steve has done on this came to fruition today, and a truck came, was loaded in a few minutes, and left. Everything made sense (to them, I have no idea how it works).

We connected with some interesting people in Kansas today, and also in Minnesota. The Emriver sells itself when people see it. I hope we can soon rely only on that means of advertising, because marketing is boring for all of us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pumping water in the parking lot (Em4 test).

We tested a new pump and flowmeter for the Em4 today. Taking advantage of a beautiful spring day, we set up outside.

True to first tries, the flowmeter didn't work and the valve manifold cut our pump output to 1/3 of what we needed. But we got most of it right.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Emriver endorsement from Vermont.

We had a great call from Vermont today. We sold an Emriver model to a high school there last year.

Seems this model is permanently set up and has been running nearly every day, all day. The students love it. The teacher who called was worried that the pump might wear out and wanted a spare just in case. And some extra media to replace what ended up on the floor each day.

So after nearly a school year of constant use by young students there are no broken or worn out parts, no complaints. We designed the Emriver to be maintenance free and durable, and clearly achieved that.

And it makes us very happy to know an Emriver is a fixture in this high school.

The photo is of an SIUC class who visited us last January, having a good time with the model, like I'm sure the Vermont high schoolers are.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Emriver to NY State, the Em4 takes shape.

Jesse and I worked on the Em4's control cart today. It'll hold the main pump, flowmeters, valves, UV sterilizer, and a few other things. Still a big pile of expensive hardware, but soon it'll be a very nice instrument.

Jesse has done a great job on the cart's main frame. Here he subtly adjusts part of it with bolt cutters.

We got a shipment of redesigned horses for the Emriver model today. We like them.

Cara finalized an Emriver sale to a NY State client today. She's done a great job with the frustrating details of shipping; she also worked on getting a model to (and into, figuring out the Customs things) Canada.

Kate and I walked along the little creek running north through eastern Carbondale. It's closed roads more than once during our ongoing wet weather. Here's a view north across Grand Avenue. Clearly the flow topped Grand and tore out a lot of soil on both sides of this (undersized) culvert. Some of the densely rooted soil in the foreground washed away, but not much. A nice contrast between hard and soft bank protection.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The R&D things happen intensely.

Design-build of our first Em4 continues. Jesse worked with our Marion, Illinois machine shop today to finish details on the standpipe mechanism; he and the shop are doing a great job. The design is adventurous, so we'll either have a beautiful little machine or a ~$1,500 stainless steel flower vase.

Using her soils and geotechnical skills, Cara finished up some research on plastic media our models use. We must know more about this stuff than anybody. Here she examines how it takes dye, one method we're trying to key particle size to color. Big surprise, this, too, turned out to be hideously complicated.

Flow metering gear for the Em4 arrived today. It looks good. All we have to do is read the 50-page manual, wire it, calibrate it, connect it, test it, and avoid breaking and/or burning it up.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Em4 design and build. And blogging.

I finished a lot of admin things today and sent out some invoices for consulting. Just cranked. I'd like to say it was satisfying. It is very interesting, always. My typical day now is like a very busy day at the old home office I had for 16 years, and a very busy day goes by in 15 minutes.

This is a good part of why I write this blog, so I can look back later and not see just a blur.

Jesse did a superb job building a scale testbed for the Em4. I wanted to be out in the shop today (I rarely am) but I'm glad he did all the work because it's better than what I'd have produced.

We had our first Farmer's Market in Carbondale over the weekend. I just now found my first tick. I talked at Nicholas Pinter's geomorphology class at SIUC yesterday, and enjoyed it very much.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Em4 building, Rosgen, flooding.

Our UPS guy emptied half his truck at 514 today. We're building our first Em4, a 4m x 1.5m version of our Emriver. Tubing, bearings, big pumps, little pumps, pipes, clamps, handles, rods.

It's exciting because thousands of hours of experience and design are becoming cool tangible things.

A machine shop in Marion is finishing up a key part, and our fabricator in St. Louis is working on the big ones.

The business part, which I never liked, is a challenge. We had to decline going to a river festival near St. Louis because the organizer wanted an insurance waiver, which we found would cost us nearly $300 on top of our volunteer time. We're figuring out taxes and computer security. Fun.

The Midwest flooding continues. We had 1.8" at my gage over the last day, and the Big Muddy here is back up out of its banks.

Elizabeth Suddith
has some good observations on Dave Rosgen's reply to a paper critical of his classification and management system. It is telling that he believes attendance of his classes is a prerequisite for criticizing his methods. This isn't how science works.

I've been to one Rosgen class, and would pay for another if I could see all the data on which his system is based, but I'm not worried about having to cough up that tuition. It wouldn't be cheap. Rosgen's five-day introductory course, Applied Fluvial Geomorphology, has a tuition of $1,500. For thirty students that's $45,000 for five days.

I'll offer a web page I recently found, hosted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The writer seems to know about two geomorphologists: Rosgen and Luna Leopold. (Leopold passed away two years ago, this site's not aware of that.) The page, hosted by my government, is an uncritical endorsement of Rosgen's approach as a way to understand and manage rivers. The site links liberally to Wildland Hydrology, Rosgen's for-profit enterprise, where I see there's another self-published book on sale.

There is no mention of alternate methods, other scientists, or those who disagree with Rosgen's way of doing things.

A clear demonstration of the problem we face, considering that a hell of a lot of money is being spent by the government, much of it mitigation money, to pay private consultants who're vetted because they use Rosgen's methods.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pumpautopsy, melamine, a 1969 Beetle hacked.

Our Em4 work is moving--I've spent many hours on design and getting parts. Samples of melamine plastic arrived. Very exciting. After years of trying we have a supplier who will correlate color of the ground plastic to its size. This material is really only available as post-industrial cast off, and asking for certain colors by size is like asking a paper recycler to send you only the A section from the New York Times. But we've done it (thanks, supplier.)

We keep on messing with pumps, and destroying them, and taking them apart. I finally got a couple of pump design books and dug into theory. It's hard.

It rained like hell here last night, another 1.8 inches. More on the way tomorrow. We've been asked to help the NPS on the Current River with some of this in our spare time.

And we're looking at putting an Emriver into a 1969 Beetle these kids found in the Mississippi River near St. Louis. It's destined for the City Museum in some form. I used to own a 1969 Beetle, and this was fun. I had to research dimensions. Here's a very rough Photoshop idea.

I write this blog partly to remind myself why I'm a bit run down now and then.