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?”…

I Would Bike 100 Miles…

August starts a health kick. I managed to loose over 40 pounds in April/May in a lead up to the Barry Roubaix 2019. Unfortunately I put 15 of those pounds back on as I transitioned to a new management role and also got very busy with proposal development. Louise and I made a blank chart for tracking weight and I started using the two techniques I know work for me for weight loss: T

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Leaning in front of the future home of Aurora 21 the Exascale computer. 

racking calories (religiously) and cycling. Luckily the start of August saw a change in the weather in Chicago, gone were the rains here were low humidity sunny days.. When I

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Rolling into the weekend.

first moved to the are I bike commuted every day of every week. I have fallen out of this habit which is good for me and good for the planet. So the week of the 5th I committed myself to doing the commute (8 miles each way) every day even if I started to get tired and sore.

I think the main difference between then and now (besides being older) is I ride a lot harder.. I started riding on a Kona Dew commuter set up with panniers and a simple garmin now I ride a Trek Madone, carry the bare essentials for work and have a top of the line power meter (well it was.. the Vectors are showing their age)… A sunny week of great weather made riding the 143km

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Pristine conditions at Palos. Demoing the bike I ended up buying

very pleasant.. And to top it off I finally decided on my new mountain bike purchase (more on that

later) leading to 25km of fun times at Palos on the weekend.. So 168km or 104 miles.. Nice consistent miles. How do I feel, well I have already lost (back) 5lb despite enjoying a few craft beers on the weekend. Fatigue is really kicking in but I am finding by moderating my commuting efforts (telling myself it is ok to ride at 150W) I can start to actually recover on my commutes.

Most noticable is the drop in my resting heart rate.. Ever since I had my blood pressure medication reduced my resting heart rate has been around 60.. Now I am back down to around 56 overnight. And waking up feeling great… Now to keep it up as I get busy again. The most notable number is, according to Strava, I burnt 5126 Calories the bike.. Now you can go nuts reading websites on how calorie deficit you need to lose a pound but commonly the answer is around 3000-3500 calories.. So, an extra 5126 calories burnt getting me to work has me feeling fine!

 

 

It’s Wet. And The Lakes Are Full of Water.

WTTW Chicago tonight gave me a yell asking about the record lake levels. I have been watching the evolving large scale forcing behind the recent rains.

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Irene and Vidya (SAVEUR Scientists) pouring over a map of Chicago identifying key areas to study in Chicago

It is nice as my work on the NSF funded SAVEUR project (Collaboration between Argonne, Northwestern and the University of IL) gives me a little freedom to do this given our focus on Chicago and the region.  In a nutshell: It’s complicated. This time of year we are not particularly strongly impacted by ENSO (Weak but persistent El-Nino) or NAO. But it has rained. A LOT. Chicago beat its all time may record with 8.25 inches (sorry about the old money) of rain.. This is over double its mean rainfall of 3.68 inches. Furthermore the rain has come from a series of torrential persistent (organized) downpours. This has allowed the soil column to becomes so wet it looses the ability to soak, store and evaporate the rain leading to increased run off.

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Map of Great Lakes watersheds from Environment Canada

“But wait!” I hear the hydrologists amongst you exclaim, “Only a fraction of the Chicagoland region is in the Great Lakes watershed”. Well you are correct random hydrologist! The figure to the left (from Environment Canada) shows the watersheds of the great lakes. However, take a look at this site from NOAA which shows almost every area around the lakes has received much greater than average rainfall. Furthermore, it has been cold and damp and the lakes themselves have been cold thus inhibiting evaporation. The lake levels (or more so the rate of rise of the lake levels) is the solution to a simple budget equation: The rate of rise (or fall) is water in (Rainfall and diversions from some watersheds in) minus water out (flow into Atlantic via the St Lawrence River plus water lost from diversions away from the lakes plus evaporation). Each of the terms on both sides of this equation involve very complex physics and geopolitics. For example did you know that far less water is diverted away from the lake in Chicago (to the Mississippi) than is added to the lake on the Canadian side? But there is a hard limit to how much extra flow can be added at each point (to the great relief of those living in Montreal). So with well above average rainfall, very wet soils (see this calculation from NOAA with runoff around the lakes at the 95+ percentile) limited evaporation an already modestly full lake system is now breaking records.

Climate Differences

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-11F in Utqiagvik

What a difference a few months makes. Back in January I was visiting Utqiagvik as a guest of Argonne’s Education and Outreach team. When we arrived it was -20F and lets just assume the dewpoint was -20F. img_3192Today I went for a run in Nanjing, China with a (5am) temperature of 70F and a dewpoint of 65F. In China each kg (roughly a cubic meter has 13.37 grams of water in the form of vapor. In Utqiagvik it was a mere 0.35g. From the dry to the dripping wet!

Barry Roubaix 2019

The Barry Roubaix is the worlds largest gravel bike race. It sells out at 3,500 riders. 2019 was my third time racing the Barry. I first rode it back in 2016 when my fitness was good and my weight was “ok-ish”. 2016 was when I was training for Ride Across Wisconsin, a 175 mile road ride. My time for the 36 mile Barry route was 2:35 on a dry, warm and dusty course. I had a blast! I signed up again in 2017 but bailed as it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. In 2018 my health went downhill in a big way.

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Weight loss chart. First period was tracking calories and resulted in a weight loss of 0.17 lb/day. During Mapril we did not consume alcohol and, with a rigorous workout regime I ended up loosing at an astonishing rate of 0.55 lb/day.

Stress, over eating, drinking too much (self medicating) all leading to frankly disgusting weight gain. In 2018 I had a blast riding Barry but clocked in at 3:01 26 minutes slower than 2016. When entries opened for the 2019 edition I decided to target the ride. Having two times meant I had a great metric and a goal to aim for. Starting in November last year I started tracking my weight and I used the only weight loss technique that works for me: Religiously tracking calories. In addition Louise and I decided to do a month without consuming alcohol in the lead up to the April 13th event, something we dubbed “Mapril”. In addition I rode, a lot. Starting indoors on the trainer (Wahoo Kikr) on Zwift and, as the weather allowed, increasingly outside.

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Performance Management Chart. Black dots are “stress” of a day of training (some times multiple rides) as measured using a power meter. Red dashed line is acute stress showing how fatigue I am from recent training. Green bars are long term training impact showing form. The final ride is Barry itself. The aim is to get good form on race day with minimized fatigue. You do this with a taper to race day.

As the event drew closer I did multiple three lap rides of Waterfall Glen (9.3 mile crushed limestone loop) a similar distance to BRX. This allowed me to mentally prepare for a solid 2-3 hours in the saddle riding at race pace. And using a power meter allowed me to both manage my effort and ensure I kept the power up. As training progressed it got easier and easier to hold a power around 210W for extended periods. Periodically my Garmin head unit would prompt me to update my FTP (power sustainable for an hour, basically power at over which you start consuming energy reserves, your lactate threshold). I estimate I started training at 225W FTP and finished at 256W. I also lost an astonishing 39lb. This meant my power to weight ratio went from 1.8 to 2.3 W/kg.

The day of the event was cool, a little windy (15mph out of the west) providing a bit of a wardrobe challenge. The event is, as always, run spectacularly well. Its no easy feat organizing 3,500 gravel grinders keen to ride! The course conditions were great, a few areas of mud but the ground was generally very firm and fast. And I felt great! I went out to hard as usual smashing the three sisters. Eventually I dialed it back keeping it around 200W on the flat, rising to ~300W climbing with the occasional coast and recover on the downhills.

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Riding up the First Sister.. Looks like I am breaking away! Truth was the folks behind me were hauling and hauled me in pretty quick 🙂 Thanks to Rob Meendering Photography

Pacing was great.. I passed 1/2 way at just over 65 minutes. Two great thing about Barry is the landscape and the people. The landscape is rolling and wooded, the people on the bikes are all characters and good natured and those off the bikes were cheering and creative! I rode the most technical part of the course, Sager Road, probably the best I have, only putting a foot down twice (and one of those was because some one fell in front of me). Sager is full of sand traps, rutted stony climbs… Awesome! The MAD WALL is the last (and hardest) climb but also signals that the 36 mile route is coming to the end.. I felt good so I upped my power to ~220W.. About 5 miles out the legs were really signing, at risk of cramp but I got tied up in a killer paceline (22+mph).

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Sprint for the finish.. This mountain biker was a great wheel on the ride into the finish!

In the end I finished at 2:20:16, a remarkable improvement on my 2:35 in 2016 and another world compared to my 2018 result. Even more remarkable is I ended up 42/74 for my age group (40-42) compared to being 68/73 in 2018. Next year, sub 200lb, and 270W FTP and I will see amazing results.. What a blast.

YouTube highlight reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSUntacj0PA

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/2287126842

Great Lakes Meteorology Conference

Recently I was invited to speak at the Great Lakes Meteorology Conference.

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Paying the great lake of Michigan a visit.. This is the southernmost tip of the lake.. So much fresh water!

This is a conference run by the Northwest Indiana chapter of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. The theme was Breaking Boundaries and Building Leaders. I have always wanted to visit Valparaiso University. It is home to the well known Python teacher and Evangelist Kevin Goebbert.  It also has a great reputation for producing graduates who end up going far in their chosen profession. One challenge for this trip: It is in the middle of a dry (alcohol free) month for me in the lead up to Barry Roubaix. Now, maintaining alcohol abstinence at home is one thing, doing so while on the road is another thing altogether. In the evenings at a hotel I love to unwind with some TV and a beer.

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Valparaiso University Teaching Radar

Also, I came down with a killer cold the week before. But with the power of antihistamines and lots of vapor drops I drove on down to Indiana. I grabbed some cheap Thai on the Friday night, and relaxed with a diet Pepsi and a bag of crisps.

I am also in the middle of training for Barry Roubaix which means early mornings, which also meant I was up at 5am on Saturday morning. Great chance to explore the university town and take some photos of the Valpo teaching C-Band Dual Pol Radar! It is very notable for a University to have its own weather radar. Let alone one that does not have a graduate program. This is one thing the fascinates me. Another benefit of the University is a University town brings good businesses, notably: Coffee! A Latte later and I headed to the conference. Attending the first few talks it quickly became apparent the tone of my talk, to be delivered later in the day, was off. I planned to talk mainly on open radar science and then pivot to leadership.

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Forecast exercise using historic data. These students were simulating the NWS Chicago office.

Most presentations (from very distinguished presenters) made leadership the prime focus. I had equations in my talk! My favorite part of the conference was the forecast exercise organized by the local student organization the Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team (VUSIT). This took me back to my days at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology when I was undergoing forecaster training and we would run Real Time Displace Scenarios (RTDS) which used a program to parcel data out as it would be received by the forecast office. I even got to teach the students a little about the perils of radar doppler velocity alaising!

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Your’s Truly delivering my presentation to the students.

Eventually it was time for my talk. I ended up skipping some of the science and instead focusing on how open source communities build the best leaders. I reiterated to the students that “Leader” is not a job title but a state of mind and if folks wait until they have “Leader” in their position description to display leadership qualities they probably should not be the ones “in charge”. Open source community projects are a great poster child for this point of view. The best packages (think: MetPy) are not run by high executives some where. They are managed, led and promoted by high character front line coders and developers. These developers manage to lead and orchestrate very large groups of people. Leaders to aspire to and leaders I implored these young students to use as role models.

Just a Walk To And From School

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Your’s Truly walking to School

After hearing that the teacher we are working with, walks to and from school I decided to give it a shot this morning! And it was a nice mild one for it at only -25ºc (-13F). The route is 0.8 miles, but I took a wrong turn and ended up walking to the east of the School. That was a little intimidating as it became a little more rural and polar bears were foremost in my mind (my heart rate was nice and high for the walk). In the end I did just over a mile on Strava. A nice way to start the day. The only real failure was not equipment, it was, as my eyes watered a bit in the cold, my eyelashes developed quite the ice accumulation making it hard to blink.

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What I assume is the northernmost US Post office on Earth.

We observed one class in the morning and had some discussions on how the students were learning pattern recognition. Since I had so much fun walking to School (beats the hotel treadmill) I decided to do a repeat performance and walk home! The whole thing seems so novel to a lower 48 ‘er like me but folks here were going on like normal, kids getting off the school bus. We had freezing fog today so even at 1:30pm the light was dull. But, good news, THE SUN COMES BACK TOMORROW! I hope the fog clears enough for us to see it!