Colorful Colorado

 Geology… It happens. Part of the entertainment on this 17 hour drive has been watching the changing landscape. The change happens slow and subtle. From flat Illinois, to rolling Iowa to uber flat Nebraska. And then it changes, quick. Due to the smoke haze from fires we did not notice it until we passed Denver. More on that soon. Today was a quick jump from North Platte to Boulder. Roads in Nebraska were just amazing at 7:30am in the morning.

Big sky Nebraska.

Most truck drivers were still asleep on off ramps etc in their rigs. We could see them! This meant a super easy roll with the cruise control and the amazing eye-sight system on the Subie keeping us flying along at speeds Australians can only dream of (speed limits in the USA are odd. I plead the 5th and refuse to explain it to you).

Collis’ in the USA west.

We crossed into colorful Colorado at 8:30 Central (now 7:30 Mountain) and the landscape changed into rolling hills replete with yellow wildflowers. You could tell we were in the rain shadow of the Rockies. Corn fields from Nebraska onwards were irrigated so we were entertained by talking about the different technologies we saw for bringing the water to the corn.

Flatirons.

While it does not rain much in the near-Rockies plains (cut off from moist flow from the Gulf of Mexico) it does rain and snow over the mountains giving rise to dependable (in most years) rivers allowing irrigation. As we got closer to the mountains cropland gave way to pasture and beef and, as aforementioned, just after Denver the ethereal outline of the front range could be made out.

A+ Art. B Taste.

Also, for me, the roads suddenly became more familiar from many work trips to Boulder. The view of the Flatirons did not disappoint, and I was thrilled to introduce River to their first view of Colorado mountains. We made insanely good time, so our hotel room was far from being ready. This was a good thing as we had good coffee at Boxcar and had a short fun walk in the Boulder canyon.

A just amazing lunch and a few tasty beers at Avery and we checked in to a pretty thinly staffed Marriott. We left River to be a teenager for a few hours and walked to Twisted Pine for what ended up being a fun time playing with puppies and dogs. Now I am writing this from Backcountry Pizza in the middle of a pop up hailstorm! Yep, colorful Colorado!

In the right place

Great coffee and cringe worthy T-Shirt

Greetings from North Platte Nebraska! Today was the big day for us (keep in mind we don’t do big road trips). 7.5 hours across Iowa and Nebraska. We broke it down into four blocks with three rests. Iowa city to Des Moines. Des Moines to a rest stop. Rest stop to Kearney. And Kearney to North Platte. Kind of felt like we took a good luck potion as, well, we kept having good luck. First, the breakfast place we found in Des Moines; St Kilda café was awesome. Yes, it was Aussie themed, but it was not kitschy, it was good. Fantastic coffee and great food. I had salmon, poached eggs (amazing) and lentils. Rest stop was clean and has some lovely grounds for a quick walk to refresh the mind and legs. The arch at Kearney was 100% random, and very nice. Designed as a museum to Nebraska, Buffalo etc it had great amenities and River loved the gemstones they picked up there (highlight for them which was amazing given how random it was. For me, I had two highlights.

Run around the car to wake up

Our dinner spot, Pals brewing in North Platte and the 7+ crop dusters that entertained us along the plains. Oh and the changing landscape from hilly in Iowa to sandy and flat across Nebraska. Gives me a newfound awe for our chose home we will soon be citizens of. A very timely road trip! Ok, the crop dusters first. These planes were just amazing. I am an aviation geek. I used to forecast for Australia’s aviation center which sparked this interest. These planes were slow, low and agile. I swear they flew lower than the trucks driving along I80 and weaved between them. Like a Star Wars trench run! Pals brewing, good food, beer (REALLY GOOD BEER. And I know good beer) and super friendly service. Geographically speaking, if this was Australia there would be literally nothing. And in the middle of Nebraska there is not much. So it was amazing to find such quality in the corn fields outside of North Platte.

Great day traveling across the plains, really hits home the impact of national infrastructure and national security. It’s no longer about rifles and cannons, it is food security and highways. Seeing the wind farms in Iowa really tickled me! Energy from the wind, amazing engineering and farmers getting $$$$ for a small footprint on their land.

The Arch!

On a final note, I had an epiphany on the road. I did not realize how poor my mental health was.  About 2 hours out of Iowa City I had a deep exhale as my eyes fixed on the distance, I realized I felt trapped in Chicago without knowing it. The vacation that seemed like a good idea was, in fact, a necessity. Our family likes distant horizons, it is what inspired us to uproot to a whole new country. Is the USA better than Australia? Not necessarily…

If rocks could talk!

Is Australia better than the USA? Also, not necessarily… Are they different and better and worse in different ways. Absolutely. Right now, seeing the industrious plains of the Midwest it is driven home to me like better before that, for us, the USA is a land of massive opportunity and is the right place to be. Bring on the Mountains tomorrow!!!

Go West

Loaded!

Greetings readers. I have been slack. and not like salesforce slack.. Slack at updating this blog. News is we are undertaking our longest roadtrip ever in the USA. Actually, I thought it was the second longest as I drove with a friend from Gladstone QLD to Canberra way back in in the early 2000’s … But some googling tells me I was wrong and this will be my LONGEST roadtrip ever (yes I will tell you what it is soon). Difference is, as a stupid 20 year old I (with my friend… Can’t remember his name to save my life, straight shot it, 18 hours, 3 hour shifts, sleeping, running around the car… Good/bad times 🙂 )…

So, we are heading out on a long earned two week vacation to Colorado. Unlike the 20 year old me I now have responsibility for two other humans, Louise and River. So we are taking three days to trek across the great U.S.A. Staying in Iowa City, Iowa the first night, North Platte, Nebraska the second and, a place I have frequented often, Boulder Colorado (sorry friends there, no time to catch up on the way there, hopefully on the way home) on the third.

Lunch on the Mississippi.

This post is being written from the lobby bar (YES Lobby bar! It’s been a long time thanks to COVID-19) from the Courtyard Marriott in Iowa City. Drive from Chicago could not have been smoother. Great stop Leclair, IA on the Mississippi river at a very nice German pub (AC was out and they were suffering bad from the “Big Quit”).

I’ll get to more details of our trip and plans later. In a nutshell: Mountains, stars, mountain biking and the kindness of strangers (Thank you thank you Bob Graham).. 90% vacation, 10% work on the road.

Fun note, call from WTTW Chicago to appear on Chicago Tonight as we went through Dekalb.. First time in over 10 appearances I turned them down.. Sorry folks.

We rolled into Iowa City, a college town, at around 4pm. Checked in and headed out on foot for grub and beer. Wow, so much development in the middle of the corn and soy of Iowa! Lovely town. Headed to a local, Sanctuary, on a very sweaty, Friday for a Pint.. Quaint… They headed by Vue, a rooftop bar at the new Hilton in the middle of town.. Vue had a view! Chatted with the staff and some very nice locals. Iowa city, thanks to the University is in the middle of a development boom, that’s why we are saving like mad for River’s college… We loved this place. Tomorrow is the big day. 7 hours, 24 minutes, to North Platte Nebraska. Lots more corn to come!

More updates… Coming soon.

Whenever I have the best things to share I am at my busiest.. And I don’t post.. Life has been good and busy. Some very exciting things are happening like NSF giving us 9M for Sage. And a chance I can get into active storm tracking (it’s so cool when you hear folks are as excited about a subject as you..). More updates coming soon.. Open source, radar, science, cycling and.. A SKI TRIP TO WHISTLER! Bring it. IMG_4503

The Human Body is a Strange Machine

Let’s start with two key messages, one, I am not a medical doctor and everything in this post is for entertainment value only, two, and with that said, if you ever experience chest pains err on the side of seeking higher medical care. My diagnosis (talked about later) was only possible using equipment available at a well equipped facility like a hospital. With 20/20 hindsight I would have gone to the ER sooner.

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Not Happy, getting oxygenated in the ER

Rewind around three weeks and you find me preparing for the AMS Radar conference in Japan as well as giving an interview at WTTW on Hurricane Dorian (I am now somewhat of a regular on the show, we have a great relationship where I am using my skills as “chief weather explainer”). The day after my appearance I developed what can only be described as “body soreness”. I had felt this before and, after some difficulty breathing had developed, back in February, I was diagnosed with Pleurisy likely stemming from a lung infection (a diagnosis, it would turn out, that was false). My first mistake was not going to the ER when the chest discomfort first started, opting instead to seek my insurers permission to go to an out of network urgent care. This would end up being a mistake on so many levels, but it was my Australian side which made me want to seek a less extreme solution first as not to burden the system. With a diagnosis (false) of GERD and possible gallstones (very false)  I headed home to heal up in time for my travel to Japan with antacids and antibiotics.

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Designing a course in open radar science from a hospital bed….

Now, let me continue by laying out some truths: We all do things for a reason. What is sometimes perceived by others to be irrational can be completely rational and justifiable to the individual carrying out the action. In my case the upcoming trip to Japan had a very high cost of cancellation. The trip had high professional and personal value. Professional as  I was establishing our open science agenda on a whole new continent, personal as Louise, who has deep connections to Japan, was accompanying me, my first time mixing a work trip with personal time in my 10 years at Argonne.

So it was with great distress, with 8 days to go before our travel begun, I headed to the Emergency Room at Hinsdale Hospital due to unbearable pain (referred to my left shoulder, a symptom that screamed heart issues). Now is a good time to re-read the statements at the start of this post!

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Remaining active. Very careful walks (monitoring heart rate using my Apple Watch) around the amazing Nara shrines kept me sane, and along with Alcohol avoidance, even led to some good weight loss on travel. Huge thanks to Louise for putting up with my snail like pace.

On admission to the ER the ruling out of conditions began. EGC normal, CAT scan shows no sign of lung related blood clots (scary! Symptoms include sudden death). No fluid build up around the ankles (sign of congestive heart failure). Chest X-ray did show some signs of fluid on the lungs and, a key symptom, my Blood O2 was hovering around 84% saturation leading them to put me on Oxygen. I was admitted to the Hospital with suspected pneumonia. Here is where the hospital care system kicked in and was very good. You got assigned a primary care physician who can then call on experts. My primary care physician assigned a Pulmonologist and a Cardiologist. This is where my try journey to a diagnosis began as I started an set of comprehensive tests. BNP test came up negative, lowering the chance of congestive heart failure, ultrasound showed normal flow but showed some minor build up of fluid around the heart leading to a diagnosis (that Louise had theorized doing some Google-MD-ing) of Pericarditis.  Pericarditis is a nasty little affliction caused by inflammation of the surrounding tissue and fluid of the heart. It is actually correlated with increased exercise! A final test, a brutal two hour heart MRI, saw me discharged after a two night hospital stay with some very powerful anti-inflammatories. And four days later I deemed my health good enough to travel (see early statement on rationality). What followed was a successful but very carefully executed trip to Japan where I took very keen care of my health. Over time the good days have become more frequent than the bad days but the condition has lingered and I am heading to the Cardiologists office this afternoon.. When you read the literature about Pericarditis you can read a lot about “What” but precious little about “Why?” or “What the hell do I do to stop this debilitating thing happening?”…

Scooting through Scipy2019

Quick blog post! I am just finishing off Scipy2019. I will post in more detail later on this but IT WAS AWESOME.50jgvhEbRsmUxsmJNJsm%A I was a bit slack with my hotel booking so I ended up at the Sheraton ~1 mile from the conference center.. I had planned to do a mix of Uber and walking. But something happened since I was last in Austin… There are these scooters EVERYWHERE. So after dropping my bag off at the hotel on the first day and heading to the reception dinner I decided I needed to give it a go. It was all integrated into my Uber app and super easy.. Took me a while to realize the motor does not kick in until you get it up to ~3-4 MPH by scooting.. Here are a few take aways, first the negative:

  • They most definitely are a form of visual pollution.
  • Finding safe routes were tricky.. If I was on the bike and doing 12-20mph I would be happy to integrate with traffic anywhere. On the Scooter I was doing 6-15mph and there were certain streets my velocity difference was too great to the traffic.
  • Took a while to get the hang of braking.

Now the positives:

  • They are fun.. honest to goodness fun. Great for mental health.
  • Being able to walk out, grab a scooter, ride it, park it anywhere was crazy liberating. This is the way of the future. I could see something interesting and finish my scooter ride.. Check it out, walk a while and pop on another scooter. This, in my opinion, will mean folks will range further and be good for business.
  • I replaced all commuting with scooting.. My carbon footprint from this trip will be reduced (albeit small compared to flying from Chicago).
  • A big advantage of scooting over share bikes: No sitting on a seat.. No dirty greasy marks on pants etc..
  • I got just the right amount of exercise. Scooting off, powering along, occasionally scooting up hills to help the power assist meant heart rate hovered between 90 and 120.. I did sweat, it was 95+ degrees, but it was not a full on work out..

In a nutshell: I am a fan.