cold brewed coffee

Cold-brewed coffee is supposed to be very good. It can also be served hot.

Know any place in Norman that serves it? Although I suppose I could try making it at home ...

Losing the manufacturing edge

When you buy a $30 shirt in a department store, the majority of the cost (I've always believed) benefits the American economy because the actual cost of the shirt (raw materials and labor) is only about $5 to manufacture. The rest of the value is captured here.

This story about the breakdown of the costs of an iPod made me rethink my sang-froid.

$163 of the iPod's $299 retail value in the United States was captured by American companies and workers, breaking it down to $75 for distribution and retail costs, $80 to Apple, and $8 to various domestic component makers. Japan contributed about $26 to the value added [...] The unaccounted-for parts and labor costs involved in making the iPod came to about $110.

I would imagine that much of the "unaccounted-for parts and labor costs" is Chinese. So which countries' economies benefit from an iPod sold in the US? The technical knowhow and design are American (54%) and Japanese (9%). Yet, Chinese manufacturers receive about 37% of the benefit.

Don't tell me that American competitiveness is not reduced when a product designed in the US has to be produced at a 37% cost.

Second worst job in science

Popular science magazine has an article on the ten worst jobs in science. While you can read most of the article for laughs, the second worst job, that of an oceanographer "Nothing but bad news", is quite sobering:

Scientists estimate that overfishing will end wild- seafood harvests by 2048 and that Earth's coral reefs will be rubble within decades. About 200 deoxygenated "dead zones" dot the world's coasts, up from 149 in 2004. Meanwhile, a vortex of plastic the size of Texas clogs the North Pacific, choking fish and birds; construction is destroying coastal habitats; and countless key marine species are nearly extinct. To top it all off, if global warming goes the way scientists predict, the uptick of carbon dioxide levels in the seas will acidify the water until little more than jellyfish can live there. With so much going on, there's plenty of work for oceangoing scientists—if they can stomach bad news.

Find the odd one out

We spent the weekend driving up north and east to Chicago.  Just past the Oklahoma-Missouri border,  we saw a sign for the George Washington Carver National Monument and took the exit -- with two kids in tow, this was a welcome diversion.  The monument is at the site of his childhood home: secluded, wooded but stil a farm. Very much a scene of the Ozarks.  It's easy to recognize how such a childhood would prepare him for a lifetime of botanical research. With our luck, we happened to visit on the very weekend that a temporary trailer was being closed down and the exhibits moved to their permanent home. But the mile-long trail through the woods was great.

The five-year old was very impressed, but mostly with the name. "Now I know four Georges," he informed us as we were driving back from the monument.  George Washington who is our first president. George Bush who is our president now. And George Washington Carver . And George the Monkey.

Dancing guests

Usually, guests at a wedding have to be coaxed onto a dance floor. But not at the wedding we attended on Saturday.

The groom teaches ballroom dancing a couple evenings a week, and many of his dancing buddies were there. The newly weds started their first dance and halfway through that first dance, a dozen guests were already on the dance floor.

The rest of us were intimidated enough to keep our seats.

What's worse?

Lost in the hullabaloo about whether the president's watch was stolen or not is that, from an Albanian's point of view, both explanations are quite embarrassing.

(1) Someone in the adoring Albanian crowd steals the President's watch
(2) The President finds the adoring Albanian crowd so suspicious-looking that he pockets his watch before wading in

Eris could not clear out its neighborhood

Now that the Kuiper belt object that caused Pluto to get booted out has been named ("Eris", after a goddess who caused a ruckus amongst the Olympians), you may find it poignant to go back and read the requiem written by Michael Brown, its discoverer soon after the astronomers' decision about Pluto. He does support the decision even though that meant he didn't get his name in the history books as the discoverer of the 10th planet.

Incidentally, his explanation about "a planet clearing out the neighborhood" helped me conceptualize one way to identify local maxima in radar images. This technique is now used to identify storms so as to optimize scan strategy [long PDF] within the CASA radar network. It's amazing how totally random an idea's origins can be, with a phrase triggering all sorts of associations.

Four tornadoes

I have an undergraduate student working with me this summer as part of a "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" program sponsored by the NSF. The proejct is to determine the predictability of tornadoes by storm type. This involves quite bit of front-end work to be able to classify storms from radar images and so, like much scientific research these days it involves a lot of staring at computer screens.

It was good, therefore, that he got to go out tornado chasing yesterday. Better still that he came in all excited this morning -- most tornado chases are futile. They saw four tornadoes yesterday afternoon in Major county, he told me breathlessly.

He was sure that no one in his small college in Vermont had ever seen a tornado.

Book report

I saw "Marrying off Mother" by Gerald Durrell in the library and somehow confused him with James Herriot, an author I'd read and loved when I was in high school. Well, it wasn't him, but the book is quite funny all the same. It is from the early 90s (not, like Herriot, from the early 70s) but somehow, the age it evokes is still the same. Maybe it's just a British animal-loving-guy thing. The story that gives the book its title is about the author's childhood on the Greek island of Corfu and those few pages made me want to go and read his full-length book ( My Family and Other Animals) about his childhood.

The other author I read last week was New York Senator Chuck Schumer. The last political book I read was O'Reilly 's, so I figured I needed to read a Democrat's book for balance. I found O'Reilly annoying -- I hadn't heard of him when I read the book (2004?), so I was surprised at how partisan he was while claiming not to be. Schumer is quite annoying too, but in a different way. He doesn't just stop with saying that he runs campaigns and frames issues with the middle class in mind. He creates a phantom family, gives them names and then proceeds to name-drop "Joe and Eileen Bailey" all over the book. It gets old after a few pages. Other than that, the book even makes sense. But after reading the book where he says he doesn't get behind issues that normal Americans may not, I woke up today to his name on NPR -- he is leading a no-confidence motion against Gonzales.

Dancing Girl

We went to a wedding over memorial day weekend and the two year old had tremendous fun. She would not come off the dance floor. Her dancing was a lot like Elaine's, but coming from a 2-yr old, it's charming, not funny.

Funding not possible

A few months ago, two of my colleagues and I submitted a NSF proposal to create principled estimates of tornado probability. It was rejected. The reviewers wrote that the idea had intellectual merit, was high-risk and high payoff (the kinds of things the NSF normally should fund) and had substantial "broader" impacts (NSF-speak for societal benefits of research as opposed to simply academic projects). They loved the fact that we'd done a pilot study and shown that the idea was feasible. (The NSF no longer funds off-the-wall ideas: it has to be incremental but not too much so). They also appreciated our reputation and previous accomplishments in the field despite being a young team overall. The one problem? We had too few graduate students budgeted -- the NSF likes to fund graduate students.

The upshot was that two reviewers rated the proposal excellent and one rated it very good. In spite of the positive individual reviews, the one caveat about graduate students was enough to make the final review panel rate the proposal "Fund if possible" and in today's funding climate, that is as good as a "reject".  Science budgets are so depleted these days that a "if possible" category doesn't exist.

One of my co-investigators on the proposal -- she is a faculty member and absolutely needs NSF-type funding -- has not been beaten down yet.  She wants to resubmit.  I'll go along, but I've come to see the proposal-writing process as a futile exercise.  The really good ideas that we've proven over the years have been done with very little external funding, or with after-the-fact funding where we write a proposal, then start doing the work. By the time the proposal gets approved and we get the money, we've already done it, so we end up using the money for the next neat idea. This works for agencies with less appetite for risk who tend to fund incremental projects, but when we have a truly innovative idea that requires several years of work, there is no way to find the money to do it.