Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stereo camera mount for the Emriver Em2.

Stephanie Rhodes, our new business manager since Jan 1, has been working feverishly on our new healthcare and payroll systems, among many other things. She's doing a great job.

Thanks to her I was able to get away from those things and my desk for a little while today to build this little mock up of a stereo camera mount for one of our Emriver users. The little mannequin here is about 10 inches tall. They're using sophisticated image processing software to take measurements of channel morphology, and we're were happy to help after they requested our help with a mount for the cameras. (I'm respecting their privacy here.)

In the next year we hope to develop several accessories like this for Emriver Em2 and Em4 users who're using the models for advanced teaching and research.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome President Obama, welcome back science.

First, my favorite photo of the day.

And a paragraph from Obama's speech that spoke to me:

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Welcome President Obama.

Photo from the Huffington Post.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thermoplastic sedimentology.

I'm pretty sure our work with plastic media will never end. I'll be 90 years old and still messing with the vagaries of color, cost, shape, density, and size. Though we've talked to a lot of sedimentologists, it just now occurred to me that we've opened an odd branch of that field all our own.

Others have looked at modeling fluvial process at small scales using non-lithic materials. The Army Corps has used coal. But we have to find a steady supply, thousands of pounds, at a reasonable price, and in colors that are aesthetically pleasing.

The only reasonably priced material, post industrially-recycled melamine, arrives at an abrasives supplier, usually, in small (<50mm) chunks, and hand sorting it for color isn't economically feasible. We're the only buyer who cares about color. So we work with our supplier(s) to get a color mix that has a fairly high chroma (brightness) that is pleasing to the eye. Our latest batch (photo shows one size fraction) took about a month to find. For some reason the surplus melamine market is flooded with red, and we've learned that too much red is hard on the eyes.

Today we worked on methods for washing the media; removing the dust left on it from grinding and shipping. Here Cara and Stephanie watch Jessie trying a new method we're working on. And then Jesse threatens Cara with a propeller mixer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A monster grant proposal done.

We completed and filed our NSF proposal today. Between this and last year's submission (funny post here), I've spent at least 300 hours on it, and Cara has probably spent nearly that many. Ten for me just yesterday. This is a big investment for LRRD.

The proposal is very much like last year's, but greatly strengthened. We have a lot of Emriver models out there now, and a survey of academic users returned amazing results--the models are very powerful teaching tools, they're fun, and people like and use them on many levels.

That's why I'm on this crazy mission to build them.

Now we hope and pray. This proposal is risky and stress-inducing, but it's a wonderful effort for a worthy cause. We had six principal investigators at SIUC, in fisheries, zoology (stream ecology), engineering, education, and geology. Another three collaborators at NGRREC, the UI-Champaign-Urbana, and UC Berkeley.

The photo shows SIUC's Lizette Chevalier (engineering) and Jim Garvey (fisheries science, and class clown) working with Cara.

The complexity and intellectual density of these things is staggering. A hell of a lot to cover and 15 pages to do it. The level we're shooting for requires an interdisciplinary team, and only part of the team will understand and be able to edit some sections (let alone write them). I'm sure there were single sentences in this thing I changed 15 times. Dozens and dozens of person-hours proofing and writing. Hundreds of emails. Probably 40 I answered/wrote in the last 24 hours.

Cara was super competent as usual, and other people were great to work with. I am especially grateful to local schoolteacher, friend, and world-glass English language expert Jamie Walczak-Wilson who managed to find a bunch of problems in what we thought was a clean manuscript, some pretty embarrassing.

The beer I am having now tastes very good.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Flooding, mass failures in Washington State.

Looks very serious, with the AP reporting evacuation of 30,000 as of this morning.

AP photo by Gene Johnson.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A light at the end of the proposal tunnel.

Blog posts are sparse because I've been chained to the computer, working on our NSF proposal for resubmittal, for days now.

Just a few more to go. One more lost weekend.

Here's a Wordle cloud. I don't suppose there's an evil genius out there who could reconstruct the whole thing with this. That's the kind of crazy thought you have after nine straight hours of writing.

Do you suppose it's about teaching river science to undergraduate students? Good!

Actually I wouldn't wish reconstructing this proposal on the evilest of geniuses because that's what we've done, and it's torture. I told a friend that it's like building a house, then being forced to tear it all down and rebuild it with minor changes. Not the best analogy, because this one is much better, but it still feels like that.

And since we are, theoretically, a for-profit entity, all this writing time is being paid for by LRRD, so there's a hell of a lot at stake. If we fail, it won't just be a disappointing stumbling block on the road to tenure. It'll be a huge investment of real money gone.

All good though, it's a super worthy effort by very capable and sincere people, and I'm very lucky to be part of it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More bad science.

While we're on the topic, I'm a regular reader of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog. He has an especially good year in review post up now.

Britain's Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor who has written the weekly Bad Science column in the Guardian since 2003.

He examines the claims of scaremongering journalists, quack health products, pseudoscientifc cosmetics adverts, and evil multinational pharmaceutical corporations.

I especially like that he fairly takes on both sides of that issue--you researchers out there will be very interested in his take on how pharmaceutical studies that show results unfavorable to their funders tend not to get published (search for the SSRI v. placebo bit in the post).

The blog is very funny, though it's disturbing to see what passes for evidence in Britain's tabloid press. Things aren't much better over here, particularly when it comes to issues like climate change. And of course "natural channel design!"