Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Today has been an education. I hadn't bought an outfit for Halloween and my housemate nobly drove me to Halloween USA to look at things. I am now going to be a fairy of some description. On the drive there we saw the children of Ann Arbor trick or treating downtown dragging their parents along for the ride. I saw Buzz Lightyear, Spiderman, Darth Vader, princesses, a duck, a transformer, a ladybug, a Tigger. They all carried their prerequisite pumpkin basket to collect candy. I almost wish to be little like that and go trick or treating. Its seems so much fun. The students, who were brave, wore their outfits to class and campus including 1 nurse in hot pink which I saw. Tonight the students are throwing parties of various levels of debauchery, an update to follow.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Journal Club MTG5: Urban Parameterization for CCSM Part II

The paper this week is "An Urban Parameterization for the Global Climate Model. Part II: Sensitivity to Input Parameters and the Simulated Urban Heat Island in Offline Simulations" by Oleson et al. The paper builds on the previous paper and looks at the sensitivity to changing parameters within the model. The split the parameter types in 3 categories, morphological, radiance and thermal. Each category was combined using every possible combination within its own category. The results of this highlight that previous surfaces, or the lack thereof, greatly influence the latent heat available and the sensible heat is very sensitive to both the morphological and radiance parameters. The paper moves on to simulating heat islands and compared this is Oke(1981) who derived a logarithmic equation based on measurements of heat islands in US and European cities. The model simulates the increased diurnal cycle and temperature difference between urban and rural environments. The sensitivity studies also real that parameter uncertainty mainly effects the amplitude of the diurnal cycle and not the phase. Overall the paper has a few confusing parts and many graphs that could be simplified or removed, but I felt this study did a much better job than some sensitivity studies of other areas in the past.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visits Michigan

Desmond Tutu is being honoured today in Michigan. Tutu will be awarded the Wallenberg Medal and deliver the 18th Wallenberg Lecture in honour of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (U-M graduate) who saved thousands of Jews in WWII. It turns out that Tutu is the second South African to receive the medal, Helen Suzman being the first.

The press conference in the afternoon was jammed full of reporters but I managed to talk to the organisers and was allowed to sit in on part of it and be introduced to him. Apparently someone forgot to mention that Michigan is cold in October as Tutu arrived with summer suits. The organisers had to scramble to find him a coat and scarf to keep warm.

The Wallenberg Lecture itself was packed, all 3500 seats filled and an overflow hall set up. Archbishop Tutu spoke about the award going to all the people who made the end of apartheid possible. He has an incredible sense of humour that shines through on lighter moments. He encouraged the youth to dream and keep dreaming of peace and freedom globally. He critised Darfur and how rape has become a weapon of war. He finished his address with a metaphor. That an eagle should be taken and nutured and then set free from the mountain tops to soar.

Pumpkin Carving

Cristina organised a postgrad pumpkin carving evening in the SRB lounge last night. I cut off my lid at an angle so it doesn't fall in when it is returned to the pumpkin and scraped out the insides with a spoon (I know its cheating but I promise i did get mucky hands later). I was instructed in the art of tracing patterns onto pumpkins (i made up my own way after a while cause i couldn't see the tracings from their way) and learnt that you can buy actual pumpkin carving kits! Most of the grads were surprised I had never carved a pumpkin, I had to explain that Halloween is not a big thing in SA. After tracing my pattern (a cat and pumpkin), I proceeded to drill holes in the spaces to be carved out so that its easier to cut. You can tell who is pro at this, they were halfway done before some of us even started. After carving my pumpkin we collected them and put the candles in and warded off the evil spirits.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween Open Dance

Finally a themed ballroom social! With Halloween fast approaching, many a place is decked in various Halloween decor. Open dance happens every Sunday and we all came kitted out in costume. Some notable costumes included Cat in the Hat, Poison Ivy, Tinkerbell and the assortment of nurses etc. It was nice to see nearly everyone dress up, though it made me miss UCT Ballroom socials. I dressed up with my limited resources as a Hawaiian girl, though I think I ended up more tribal given that my sarong is covered in elephants. Oh well. Some of the team did the Thriller dance, very funny to watch and I managed to convince people to start a Congo line. That was fun, lots of people joined in.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Phoenix Mars Mission Talk

The seminar in AOSS this afternoon included preliminary work and results from the Phoenix Mars Mission. The speaker, Professor Nilton Renno, reviewed the mission goals of the Phoenix Mars Mission and the procedures involved in selecting a landing sight. Never trust interpolation of images was the take home message, an apparently flat surface from satellite imagery contained 10m diameter boulders. He went on to show some of his students, notably Manish Mehta whose doctoral thesis investigated the effects of the lowering rockets on the surface dust of Mars. Pretty cool work. Renno proceded to show some of the images from the Lander (inset picture) and explained some of the experiments run. It appears if you look at the images closely that there is sublimation happening on the legs of the lander with saline water settling on the mud kicked up from the landing on Mars. Apparently not everyone in the program which is shared between JPL, University of Arizona and Locklead Martin Space Systems. It is going to be interesting to see what research is published and what happens when NASA releases the data to the public in February next year.

Journal Club MTG4: Atmospheric Feedbacks

The article today was "Atmospheric / vegetation feedbacks: A mechanism for abrupt climate change over northern Africa" by CM Patricola and KH Cook. The paper discusses the sensitivity to the latitude of the desert border in the Sahara and the atmospheric feedbacks in the African easterly jet (AEJ). The idea is that if the desert border is located below 17.9N the climate becomes sensitive and the summer precipitation and a weakening in the AEJ. There are a few concerns with the paper as they use prescribed soil moisture and do not discuss the land cover model used.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Google Earth Scientific Applications

Day one of the Scientific Applications with Google Earth Conference was interesting in that I have never looked at the features of Google Earth in any depth. The first speaker Tim Killeen from NSF explained that less than 10% of all data they had was ever viewed and a system is needed for people to view this data in a simple environment. The two highlights to take away is that "data to knowledge" is key and "big uncertainties remain" wrt climate and understanding. So nothing new. He did however touch on new projects such as the NSF Ocean Observatories Inititiave , the final design of which is due in December.

The next speaker Dan Atkins from the University of Michigan and NSF spoke on the "Role of Data in the National Science Foundation Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century Discovery". He touched on data stewardship, curation, federation, openness(over the long-haul). He stated that providing information a geographical-based entry to data is natural and compelling as we all have an inherent geographical frame of reference. I learnt a new word: nomenclature. Not sure I will ever use it though. Three project he reviewed were interesting:
TeraGrid: an integrating infrastructure
Blue Waters - look into tech specs

The third speaker and possibly the most compelling was Michael Weiss-Malik from Google. He is a KML Product Manager and explained the design of Google Earth and the need for it. To use the analogy "to most users, the interface is the computer" he pointed out that with any paper we read the figure is the thing one remembers most and so the philosophy "to most viewers the presentation is the data". Something definitely worth remembering. KML is a standardised format derived from XML that encodes the Google Earth files.

The last two speakers, Sean Askay and Trey Smith, are both users of Google Earth to represent scientific data and presented a series of KMLs already developed that emphasized this point. The topics ranged from Appalachian Mountaintop mining to Geothermal resources, the global climate temperatures to Google Moon. The coolest thing I learnt about was actually GigaPan. Definitely worth viewing.

After lunch we split into Working Groups, mine was Climate Change and we heard from Lisa Ballagh (NSIDC) and John Bailey (University of Alaska) about climate KMLs and Virtual Globes. The group talked about various research endeavours that would be favourable for Google Earth apps and I realised I could present my seasonal forecast stuff in GE eventually. After reviewing current KMLs we found various things we wished were possible in Google Earth such as being able to switch off labels on load or preferential loading of data and user notices to know what to do. The last thing we discussed was who owned data and what happens when you pubish papers with GE images and supply online KMLs. Google have written a guideline specifically for this and is available at:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Historic Walk

I walked through the Historical District of Philadelphia. I think I learnt more in the walk than I did in school about American history. I saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I walked past the US Mint and the National Constitution Center. I visited the Freedom Center and walked through the Franklin Park.

Walking back to City Hall I went through Chinatown and the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. The market is a huge room filled with a collection of various countries authentic food. It was packed and loud. City Hall is huge and the meeting point of the city roads in the gridded road system. The fountain at City Hall is pink for the Breast Cancer Awareness month. I wonder what they put in the water to make it pink like that? I walked away from City Hall and towards the Science Museum and came across a South African flag. Of course I had a picture!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Manhattan rush

Michelle, Tom and myself tried to go to MoMA but the queue in the cold weather just put us off, instead we ventured down 5th Ave and saw enough designer stores to make your credit card cringe just window shopping. We queued to go to Abercrombie and Fitch club. Its a store designed like a nightclub and has music pounding through the store and glass cube lit stairs. The Apple store is very cool, its this giant cube made of glass that you descend into the floor to the store below.

After a major rush and running through Penn Station to get to the bus I boarded a Megabus to Philadelphia. Very pleasant ride with minimum of fuss. Arriving in Philadelphia at sunset was beautiful.

I started my Philadelphia experience with authentic Philly cheesesteaks. Heavy on the cheese from Geno's. I think I could get to love them. My second day dawned cold and clear with a trip to the Pumpkinland at Linvilla. Rachel and I matched by fluke and had photos with the pumpkins. Our haul included a baby pumpkin for Rachel and a large pumpkin for Kim and Steve.

The afternoon was spent in the Franklin Institute Science Museum and the Real Pirate exhibition from National Geographic. The exhibition included real pirate treasure from the Whydah ship. I thorougly enjoyed it and did the rest of the museum which included an electricity exhibit and an air exhibit. I missed the planetarium but I'm not sure if I missed much.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The city that never sleeps

Getting to NYC took some doing but I am glad I did it. I successfully navigated the subway and arrived in Brooklyn Heights only slightly weary. My first outing was a walk along the promenade to view the Manhattan skyline. Its very pretty but I hate to think what the electricity bill per building is when they are lit like that all night. I'll post a picture once I'm back on my own computer.

My next day started at 8.30am. For those who know me well, this is very early but I survived. I walked across Brooklyn Bridge which has an amazing view of the river and Manhattan. The bridge is a steel wire suspension bridge, the first of its kind. Walking along and looking up feels like you are in a giant spiderweb. The bridge ends at the bottom of Manhattan right next to the courts. I think walked past the supreme court and criminal court. The architecture of the buildings in spectacular.

Walking along you start to realise the scale and height of the buildings. You cannot feel the sunlight at ground level, there are just too many buildings blocking the rays from ever reaching it. I started my exploration of the area in earnest in Chinatown and its confusing, I'm not going to lie. I think I circled the same block about 3 times to find what I was looking for. Everyone is very welcoming and the array of foods and goods is quite unreal.

Finally navigating my way out of Chinatown I managed to miss Little Italy on the way to Soho. Not quite sure how but I think I was expecting an Italian version of Chinatown and it turns out its not. Soho is weird and wonderful and has a number of nice shops. I was stopped and asked if I support Developing Nations, some charity for uplifting poverty in Africa. What a laugh, after their whole spiel about poverty etc I finally had to point out that I'm South African and hence live in the place.

Next on my list was Greenwich Village which seems less spectacular than I imagined. I made an effort and deviated from my target of Central Park for the Empire State building. The queue to get up to the observation deck was 1.5 hours. Not a chance! I decided I didn't really need to wait that long to pay $30+ to see the city from above.

I browsed Macy's but I didn't find anything that fitted within my price range :( The One Day Sale is on today and I think that will be true chaos. I ended up in Old Navy and I have to say I could quite happily spend a fortune in there.

My walking tour back on target I wandered around Broadway til Central Park. Central Park is gorgeous and still very green. Coming from a riot of Autumn colours in Ann Arbor it seems weird. The park as a beautiful tranquil feeling going for it, despite the activity in it. The Besthesda Fountain doesn't quite measure up to the hype but the lake itself is well worth the trek. There was a couple having their wedding pictures taken with the lake as their backdrop. I sat and absorbed the quietness after the noise of the city and then headed out to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At $10 for students I appreciate the London ethos of free entry in museums. The museum is huge and you really do need the map they provide. The Chinese scrolls on display are worth the visit alone. I also enjoyed the Temple of Dendur in the Egyptian section which was rescued from the threat of submergence when the Egyptians built a new dam. I'm sad I didn't have time to do the Design and Photography section, I think that would also be worth a perusal.

Once back on the street, I ventured into the subway and down to Times Square. My god, its noisy and busy and an overload of screens. Started in ToysRUs which has a ferris wheel in the store and then went to TGIF for dinner. Next stop chocolate! The M&M store is huge and filled with every flavour M&M available. The Hersheys store added yet more chocolate to the list.

The last stop of the day was the Rockefeller Building which provides a view from above without the long queues to get in. The Empire State Building was lit up in purple and orange for the night as part of the Cat Fanciers Association Conference.

The end result of my whirlwind tour is bruised feet, lots of photos and a lot more information than I can possibly remember. My feet will hopefully recover enough to do Philadelphia :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bad music

The dance workshop over the weekend was informative, but one thing that stuck was the saying "There is no bad music". As a dancer you should walk onto the floor and dance to the song played even if it is the corniest rumba in the world or you are talking to the animals :P I know I've done this in the past, criticised a song played or tempo. I know have to make an effort to like all dance music.

I'm off to New York City in the morning and then onto Philadelphia over the weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing all the sights.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Real Men Need More Ballroom

I love this t-shirt that one of the Michigan Ballroom team dancers designed. Its definitely worth smiling at when you see it. Any takers?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Collegiate Ballroom Workshop

I attended a Collegiate Ballroom Workshop with the Michigan coaches and students from Michigan and Penn State. The workshop ran over three days and included lessons on a number of dances and performance techniques.

The welcome night was an opportunity to meet the students from Penn State and learn some fun dances, the Hustle and the Paso Doble. We also learnt a Polka mixer. Girls start on the right of the guy holding his hand. Both take 3 walks forward starting with guys left, girls right. Tap foot. 3 walks back, tap foot. Separate with 3 sidewalks, tap and clap. 4 sidewalks back in. Do 2 full polka rotations and start again. The tricky part is doing this in a circle, when you come back together for the polka, the girl has to move to the guy in front to do the polka steps.

The actual workshop was from 12.30-8pm on saturday. This was tiring, we covered waltz, tango, quickstep, chacha, rumba and samba. In the ballroom we learnt ways to start in the middle of the floor, along the long side or from a short corner. All techniques needed when you have many couples fighting for space on the floor. We also learnt floorcraft, a technique often left out in classes. These included check steps, change of directions and promenade positions.

Latin however took on a rather unusual form. As a bronze/silver workshop, we have a set syllabus we can follow in competitions, however rumba started with an open routine to lose whatever modesty we might have had. Grinding into a guys crotch while clinging to him will do that :) The routine starts with a beckoning from the girl and a game of playing hard to get. The goal we found out is to translate a fancy routine story into a simple routine with the same story in syllabus steps. Same thing for chacha. I hope to get the routines on camera to bring home.

For those of you who often laugh at the ratio between girls and guys at ballroom. We had 4 more guys at the workshop than girls, quite a change from the usual surplus of girls. Now imagine the guys doubling up to learn the open rumba routine. Funny times.

Today is the competition preparation lesson which will probably take a lecture form. I'm hoping so at least as we still have social dancing this evening and my feet are killing me. They are battered and bruised.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Intervarsity 09 countdown begins

The ballroom committee was voted in yesterday in UCT. The new committee is

Chair - Chris Warner
Vice Chair (VC): Lara Milne
VC Intervarsity: Hayley Mc Intosh
Treasurer: Zandile Makgatho
Socials: Chris Louw
Orientation Week: James Hu
Medal Tests: Adrienne Daniels
Intervarsity: Andrew Martens
Formal: Richard Parry
IT: Jonathon Page

This means I get to organise Intervarsity 09 hosted by UCT. I will be roping friends in to help over the year, so be warned! 303 days and counting...

Journal Club MTG3: Ozone Interannual Variability

Today is yet again journal club day. We are reviewing a paper by S Koumoutsaris et al. "Influence of El-Nino-Southern Oscillation on the Interannual Variability of tropospheric ozone in the northern midlatitudes". It is a rather long and figure intensive article that documents CO and O3. The author used the Goddard Earth Observing System Chem (GEOS-Chem) model to explore the correlation between El-Nino and O3. The model accurately captures the sensitivities to biomass burning and the meteorology for CO but not completely for O3. The study is conducted at 4 x 5 degrees that disregards the regional features. It is important to note that the article explains the shortfalls in capturing all the O3 from stratospheric dynamics and intrusions.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Down and Out

I have been sick since Friday, not an enjoyable experience but I suppose being sick never is. I attended the Ballroom Team BBQ against my better judgement, it was literally across the road, but stayed maybe 15 minutes. Long enough to have my picture taken and get hit by a volleyball, meh.

I felt marginally better on Saturday and went to the football match between Michigan and Illinois. Michigan lost, badly. I left in the third quarter when the noise from the crowd made my headache worse. I dragged Oswald (the other UCT exchange student) along to the game.

In other news, I was shown what has got to be the nerdiest landscaping in history: A wave field, the ground is a 3D sinusoidal wave. We took our research group photos there


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Journal Club MTG2: Urban Parameterization for CCSM

As part of the journal meetings we are reviewing "An Urban Parameterization for a Global Climate Model. Part 1: Formulation and Evaluation for Two Cities" by KW Oleson et al. The paper reviews efforts to capture land use change in urban areas and the effects this has on the atmosphere. The global models currently divides the world into a grid and each grid cell is further divided into various plant function types and wetland, urban etc. Each is dealt with separately however there is no scheme for urban areas. This paper presents an "urban canyon" solution that supposedly captures the urban climatology. There are separate energy balances and surface temperatures for each canyon facet. I really appreciate the added heat sources from waste (air conditioners) and traffic. A 1D heat conduction is solved numerically for fluxes in and out of surfaces. The paper then describes an experiment looking at two different cities areas, Mexico City and Vancouver. The results suggest an increased understanding of fluxes but says that the timing is off in the model, but note that no one has perfected the urban diurnal cycle. I want to note that the observations are rather sparse though. The paper also states that implementing this system globally might be problematic as no urban map yet exists categorising urban types. Something to look forward to in the future. Lastly a relevant question is, at what resolution does this actually matter? Perhaps a global view is not the answer but maybe regional is.