Monday, June 29, 2009

Conyers and Future Posts

For some reason, I've only had precious few opportunities to complain about the walking fail that is Monica Conyers. Despite the councilwoman's incompetence and moodiness (putting it rather mildly), she hadn't done anything truly illegal yet, had she?

Well, where there's smoke, there's fire. Conyers has pleaded guilty to bribery. While she hasn't decided to step down yet (and I fully expect her to refuse to do so), Detroit's other councilmen are putting the city first (for a change) and taking the choice out of her hands. Such a move indicates real leadership in Detroit's city hall; let's hope that it is not an isolated incident.

Besides this shitmess, I am now back in town and have a bunch of material that is overdue for this blog:
  1. The GEM meeting wrapup.
  2. Part two of my response to Telepathichtroy.
  3. A looonnnggg overdue description of the best Spring AGU presenter ever.
  4. The sun is boring again.
Should be a good blogging time all around!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

So You Want to Model: Part 1

This post is part 1 of a two part response to a comment on a post concerning numerical modeling of the space environment. TelepathicTroy called for Open Source space codes in order to develop transparency as far as code capability and performance.

This post presents a non-open source solution to this issue: The Community Coordinated Modeling Center. The CCMC is a NASA-run organization that acts as a third party who runs and compares many different space weather models. Furthermore, they provide a resource to the community for running these models and visualizing their results. Although this is not opening up source code to everyone, it does give non-code developers the chance to run each model through a gauntlet of tests and evaluations.

This resource is open to everyone. Check out their runs on request section, or browse their library of simulation results and play with their plotting tools. There are results available from recent model comparisons, the conclusions of which were presented at the current GEM Workshop.

There are issues, however. A limited set of parameters and controls for each model are available to the end user, and this leads to model developers contesting CCMC results that may show their model in a bad light. It is constantly asserted by developers that the results of a certain run would be much more favorable if CCMC had used a certain set of paramters instead of their defaults (typically picked for robustness.) I must admit guilt to this very charge, but in some cases the developer is indeed correct. So while the CCMC is a powerful comparison and evaulation tool, it is still cannot do what an open source approach can: provide 100% transparency to what a code is doing and how well it does it.

It is interesting that such a tool could give rise to a hobby-based or grass roots space weather modeling crowd. Unlikely, but an intriguing prospect.

Stay tuned for Part 2: the SWMF.

Hell yeah!

Anyone who follows this blog (anyone? Bueller?) knows how I feel about IP bandwidth caps. They're awful.

In a nutshell, imagine hitting a ceiling in the amount of bandwidth you could use in a month (see: running out of cell phone minutes) and then getting charged out the ear for each megabit you use after that. Now imagine how it would change your use of the web when browsing high-bandwidth sites (especially YouTube.)

Factor in how important the web has become as a way to spread information when information is under attack (anyone? Iran?). Conclusion: bandwidth caps are a terrible idea.

Apparently, New York Congressman Eric Massa agrees.

GEM Update

The GEM workshop rolls on; here's an update from the world of space environment modeling.

GEM is very busy; there are several sessions, or "break-out sessions", occurring at one time. Because of the concentration of the material, you're always missing something that is both interesting and relevant to your research. The meeting is supposed to be in "workshop mode", which means talks are short and discussion is long. There is typically a 50% compliance rate with this.

Probably the most interesting information coming out of the workshop so far is how separate space weather models handle the same events. While there are some large-scale similarities, there are many important differences. These differences come up in the three major MHD models in the community - or, in plain-speak, three numerical models, relying on the same underlying physics, all give different results for the same solar driving conditions.

This is a somewhat scary revelation, though not at all surprising. In essence, it means that what we think we know, what the model is actually doing, and what we think the model is doing can all be conflated together and not consistently with each other. Much of this comes with the differences in the way the physics are implemented in the different codes and the different parameters you can change within a single code.

The solution is a lot of work: model parameter space mapping, data-model comparisons, and comparisons to other models. Within a single modeling group, this is a fine solution, but sharing and comparing such results is not always a welcome proposition. As funding can depend on model performance, teams are often reluctant to share these verification and validation results to the world even though it is a necessary step towards better science.

Such was the case this week: modelers could not settle on a set of community-wide verification/validation methods and metrics. This is, of course, a case of history repeating. Some groups do understand the importance of these comparisons and are making concessions and contributing, but others are clamming up as hard as they can.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Truly Outrageous.

On the final stop of my "Tour de Conference" for summer 2009, I will be going to the Geospace Environment Modeling (GEM) summer workshop. This is THE meeting for researchers such as myself; I'll be sure to keep the updates flowing throughout the week. I will be giving four seperate presentations (two talks, two posters), so my plate will be pretty full. We'll see if I can get in any arguments with other numeric modelers...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TheTorrents and ISPs Dilema

An extremely interesting story has popped up over at Tom's Hardware. In Norway, one of the hotbeds for internet and intellectual property law, may see a landmark trial soon. Norway's largest ISP is being sued because they refuse to block the controversial file sharing website, The Pirate Bay. The suit is being brought by, among other agencies, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). No, I didn't know there was such a thing either.

Let's pretend that the IFPI wins. This would essentially lay the groundwork for any company forcing an internet service provider to block anything that is against their interests. Sound familiar (I'm looking at you, China)? I could rant about this for some time, but I think this quote from the ISP being sued wraps it up nicely:
“This would be the same as demanding that the postal service should open all letters, and decide which ones should be delivered.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran and the Internet

Yes, I'm a bad blogger. I've now finished 2/3 of the travel/conference season, and it's taken a toll on my blog frequency. I returned to Los Alamos last night at midnight from my second trip to find that my lawn had grown twice as fast as it should have. Oh, the sounds of a choking push mower...

I did want to take a quick opportunity to comment on the uprising in Iran- particularly the role that the web has played so far. Apparently, demonstrators have used Twitter to help organize their movement, and despite the Iranian government's work to block certain sites, key video and pictures of what is unfolding have made it to the outside world. After apparent DDoS attacks on Mir Hossein Moussavi's websites, counter DDoS attacks have been organized-- and not just by Iranians, either.

The results thus far have been stirring (from here):

Sure, the internet gives a mouthpiece to some of the greatest whackos ever, but the limitless speech and information it provides has become a key tool for the free world.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Spring AGU Wrap-up

Spring/summer is always rough because of the number of conferences that take place. This year I have three week-long trips within five weeks, each requiring a good amount of preparation on my behalf. Before I take off for my second trip, here's the highlights from the AGU Joint Meeting (aka spring AGU) as far as space science:
  1. There was a good portion of presentations dedicated to the TWINS satellites, which are now pumping out data. These satellites carry instruments that detect high energy neutral atoms flying away from the magnetosphere, yielding interesting data products -- including temperature maps of the magnetosphere. While this is a data source I'm not familiar with, it could be a very powerful method for exploring magnetospheric dynamics.
  2. The space weather sections were mildly interesting. They served more as a show-and-tell session rather than a true science expo. Right now, there are three agencies working to convert science computer models to operational computer models: NASA's Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC), NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). How these entities will coexist has yet to be determined.
  3. There was a crazy guy there. See upcoming post.
Yeeeaaaah, that's about it, honestly. Typically, Spring AGU is under atteneded by the space group, and this year was particularly sparse. Add in the fact that the conference started on Sunday of Memorial weekend (U.S. citizens, anyway) and you get a whole lot of nuttin'. My presentations (one oral, one poster) were basically for naught (three people in the audience? C'MON!) Hopefully next year (Brazil!) will be better, but I may skip out.

I did enjoy Canada, however. Where else can you leave your wallet in an airport (yes, I did) and have it returned with every penny and every piece of plastic in place and unmolested (yes, that too)?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Updates coming...

I've been quite busy since returning from spring AGU, but I have a lot of posts coming up:
  • News from the conference
  • Whackaloons from the conference
  • Solar cycle news
  • Oprah makes my skeptic side barf.
Sorry about the delays; I'm scrambling to prepare for my 2nd of 3 trips in 5 weeks. Good stuff on the way!