Seasonal Thoughts

Matt and I spent the weekend in New York, where Mother Nature has already made the changeover to fall. We went for a morning walk/run (I walked, he ran) on Saturday at a brisk 60 degrees, and the highs during the day were in the low 70s. After watching the meteor shower Saturday night, we awoke after sunrise to temperatures in the low 50s.

This made me happy.

I’ve always disliked summer. As a child I generally associated it with lack of friends (whom I mostly only saw at school), moving (we were military), and lack of structure and routine. We had great fun during the summers, of course, visiting family, going on exciting road trips, and just having fun playing outside or swimming at the Officer’s Club pool in the oppressive Texas heat.

Fall always represented new beginnings: a new school year–or maybe even a new school. A slight reprieve from the heat. The return of routine and school days, where, as an aspiring academic, I flourished. Most of the public schools I went to were underfunded or generally staffed with questionable characters (middle school science teachers that told dirty jokes while watching the 12-year old girls for their reactions), but my math and English teachers were all dedicated enough to get me to where I am today (I didn’t have decent science teachers until high school).

Perhaps the lack of a full four seasons living in the Deep South also led me to idealize fall and winter. Growing up in stifling heat and humidity in Alabama, Texas, and Florida made me crave the snow we experienced the one year we lived in Maryland (during the Storm of the Century) and at various times visiting my grandmother in upstate New York.

In college I took an introductory psychology course. In covering an array of issues, we touched on Seasonal Af fective Disorder (SAD). I could identify with the general symptoms, but realized I felt them during the summer, not the winter. A short sentence in the textbook stated that some scientists were beginning to investigate reverse SAD, which affects people during the summer months.

It was a small amount of validation, but I couldn’t quite rationalize how the abundance of sunshine in the summer could possibly lead to the same symptoms as a lack of sunshine in the winter. Now the internet has all kinds of information, including the difference between the two SADs:

Fall and winter seasonal affective disorder (winter depression)
Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

Spring and summer seasonal affective disorder (summer depression)
Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased sex drive

Frankly, the symptoms on both lists also align with symptoms of my OCD/depression/anxiety issues, so I’m not really sure how to parse through the issues. All I know is I become increasingly depressed as winter ends and summer peaks. My favorite day of summer is the first day of summer, at which point the days start becoming shorter again.

Anyone else experience SAD?

[polldaddy poll=7316012]

Launch Week!

Hey and sorry again for neglecting everyone over here, but things are revving up for the launch of my new site and my new online business.

The Irrational Mind launches this Thursday, August 1st! Stop by for mental health/personal development discussions, as well as a round-up of mental health issues that some of the top minds in personal development told me they struggle with!

Elsewhere, I’m launching an online pet store as an experiment in dropshipping. I’ll release the name to all of you later, but I promise to not spam you about it the way I’ve been touting The Irrational Mind, which I consider more of a pet project (pun intended).

New Website Update

ImageHi all! I’ve been busy getting ready for the launch of my new website, The Irrational Mind. The site is not fully live yet, but you can get a feel for what to expect on my launch date: August 1st!

If you sign up for the newsletter you’ll get a copy of my free ebook (pictured above)! The catch is that the ebook will not be live until August 1st, at which point I will remind everyone to go back and download it again.

I’m really hoping this will be a great community to discuss mental health issues with a focus on personal development. Spread the word and follow me on my @IrrationalMinds Twitter!

Feather Ruffling: Scientists Advocating Science

Many of the people I follow on Twitter were at the 41st Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Nashville, TN last week, and I enjoyed following their live-tweets of the presentations. As you may be able to tell from this blog, science communication is important to me. My various followers/followees represent different segments of the meteorological community and have different opinions on how important topics should be approached.

I waited a week to decide whether I should tackle this topic, but since it is still hanging in my mind I figured I should put it out there.

Mike Smith from Accuweather gave a presentation about “Questions for Climate Science,” which I’m certain made for a lively discussion.

Here’s the post disclaimer: I’ve not heard or seen this presentation, so I’m basing these comments off a single slide I saw posted on Twitter. That slide suggested that scientists cannot also be science (specifically climate science) advocates.

I respectfully disagree.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal, Science, provides the following as its mission statement (emphasis mine):

AAAS seeks to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” To fulfill this mission, the AAAS Board has set these broad goals:

  • Enhance communication among scientists, engineers, and the public;
  • Promote and defend the integrity of science and its use;
  • Strengthen support for the science and technology enterprise;
  • Provide a voice for science on societal issues;
  • Promote the responsible use of science in public policy;
  • Strengthen and diversify the science and technology workforce;
  • Foster education in science and technology for everyone;
  • Increase public engagement with science and technology; and
  • Advance international cooperation in science.

Phew, that was more highlighting than I expected to do. You can argue that I’m reading into it and projecting my own science communication goals onto the AAAS mission, but everything I highlighted is crucial to advocacy.

If we’re going to argue semantics, I may as well ask Wikipedia how it defines “advocacy:”

Advocacy is a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or polls or the filing of an amicus brief.

Anyone paying attention right now knows that anthropogenic global warming has been a hot-button topic for awhile now. Hell I just watched a West Wing episode from 2002 focused largely on climate-based policy decisions.

Who better to help shape policy than the experts in the field, using science to influence the course of history?

Oh, Mallie, now you’re just being silly. Scientists should just keep to the science and let the policymakers interpret the results.

I’m sure that misinterpretation has never led to issues over the course of science. Certainly not to the point that Harvard would offer a course called “History of Science 145v. Advocacy, Activism, and Social Movements in Medicine.” Let’s see what that course covers:

Modern medicine is often viewed as a system in which the few dominate the many in socially acceptable ways. By virtue of their expertise, doctors are given the right make life-changing decisions about people with relatively little say from those affected. Yet power relations between doctors and patients have historically been far more complicated, as non-experts have long strove to find a place in decision-making about medical research and treatment. With topics ranging from medical consumerism to targeted disease advocacy, this course examines the historical processes through which non-experts have sought to shape the course of medicine around their own beliefs, values, and goals.

I don’t think I have to stretch too much to make the connection between the last sentence and the current state of climate science and policy. Actually, since I think this is an important point, let me rephrase: the science is doing its own thing, as it should, so its ever-present state of “science” should not be changing significantly. Policy, however, has a much less stable demeanor.

Something that is perhaps impacting many of us more directly is the debate over teaching evolution in schools. You know, the “theory” of evolution pitted against creationism. Certainly there has been no precedent set by professional organizations in that field getting involved in a debate, right?

 In an unprecedented move, the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association assembled and presented a joint statement regarding their displeasure with the decision and the impact of decisions of this type on U.S. students (Joint Statement from the National Research Council, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association Regarding the Kansas Science Education Standards – September 23, 1999National Science Teachers Association Issues Joint Statement with National Research Council and American Association for the Advancement of Science to Deny Kansas State Board of Education Copyright Permission: Absence of Evolution in State Science Standards Key Reason for Rejection . The main concerns of the organizations are summarized below:

  1. By selectively removing specific standards and indicators that correspond to the origins of life and the Earth, many Kansas students will not have formal opportunities to explore and think critically about the evidence for or against one of the most important set of ideas to be developed in the history of science. The elimination of selected aspects of evolutionary theory is thus anathema to both the vision and content of the sceintific organizations’ publications.
  2. Teachers will not be expected to address questions that are likely to arise from discussions of aspects of evolution that are part of the current Kansas science standards.
  3. Some statements in the Kansas Science Education Standards appear to directly contradict each other, epitomizing some of the serious shortcomings of the document.
  4. The teaching and learning of science are unnecessarily politicized.

Hey look, the AAAS was involved in that too.

I think I’ve hammered home the fact that “real” scientists and scientific organizations do get involved in science advocacy, but perhaps I’ve missed the real question–should we be doing this?

Hell. Yes.

Who better to explain the science than those directly involved in the science? I know that any time a severe weather outbreak occurred, the press would hurry to talk to my advisor, Jeff Trapp, about tornado safety and warning policies. Harold Brooks is often doing the same on national media, as is Josh Wurman. Not once have I heard anyone complain that they should “stick to the science” and not act as “advocates for tornado safety.” That would be absurd.

So why is climate science different?

It shouldn’t be.

Just because a scientific topic like climate change or evolution becomes highly politicized does not mean that scientists should step out of the picture. Quite the opposite, I would argue. I think it is our responsibility as scientists to reach out to the public, to the policymakers, to the media, and talk about the science.

I think “talk about the controversy” is some sort of buzz phrase right now. No. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Talk about the science.

In doing so, like it or not, you are being a science advocate, based on the definitions we’ve already covered.

Science without reaching out isn’t even science at all. That’s why we publish papers, to say to the community, “Hey, look what I found!” Then the community gets to yell at you about it. Isn’t that the fun part? Isn’t that why we’re all here, to get our work and words out there?

It’s why I’m here.

New Jobs

I gave three weeks’ notice to my company last Friday. The people here are nice but I’ve known from the start that this was not the job for me, and I didn’t want to let myself get sucked in by complacency and routine.

I’ve been receiving some passive income from various ventures I’ve been playing with on the side, and I’d like to give myself some time to help those opportunities grow.

Additionally, I want to spend more time on my writing, which includes the new personal development website I announced last week. I’ve been working on getting that going, and I hope to go live in late July now.

Thankfully I am not leaving all guaranteed income behind: I have begun training as a tutor for PrepMatters in Bethesda, MD, which I will also be working for part-time.

That’s right, I’m trading one full-time job for three(ish?) part-time jobs of varying income potential. And I’m excited about it.

Conspiracy Theory: Job Hatred Minimizes Social Unrest

Matt likes to complain about the D.C. Metro. Most publicly on Twitter, but also via text message, GChat, and Facebook.

As of today, I mostly complain about my job. I’d like to complain about social/community issues like public transit, but for eight hours of my day, I’m in my cubicle.

Matt loves his job.

This got me thinking: are most jobs intentionally mundane and annoying to keep the bulk of the population’s anger turned towards their companies rather than serious social issues?

Stay-At-Home Moms (and Dads!)

I’m not trying to open a can of worms here. Just providing an observation developed from my past year of employment.

Last fall, I walked dogs and nannied two teenage girls from an affluent D.C. neighborhood while I finished my M.S.

It was frustrating as hell on a regular basis, because I was dealing with multiple living creatures with various needs and emotions of their own. I came home from one job or the other crying from time to time, frustrated that “they” (dogs or girls) wouldn’t listen to me/had a bad day/etc. I was emotionally invested in all of their lives, whether I liked it or not.

Once I finished my M.S. I started my cubicle job. I’m not emotionally invested in it at all, and the living creatures I interact with are generally people that won’t send me materials I need on time. At the beginning of my time here, I would occasionally go home and cry. Not because I was upset that someone had a bad day or was being difficult, but because I did not feel like I was directly contributing to society.

You think I’m off-topic already, but I’m definitely not.

Without any children of my own, I already understand why stay-at-home parents (SAHPs) say their job is difficult but fulfilling. The difference between my current job and my odd jobs from last fall are night and day. I was constantly problem-solving while with the dogs and girls, looking for dangers and coming up with fun places for us to go or things to do. I had to help with homework or clean up after sick dogs. I took one of the girls to the doctor (with her parents’ permission) when I became concerned about a sports injury healing too slowly. I left notes about the dogs’ demeanors and bowel movements if something seemed off, and told their “parents” about fun times we had chasing leaves and squirrels.

I regularly came home exhausted, mind reeling…but feeling like I had directly impacted people’s lives that day.

For some people, my current job would be difficult. Honestly, I expected it to be difficult, especially coming off “no-skill” jobs like dog walking and nannying. But most of what I do is repetition, and it is neither challenging nor fulfilling. I’m at the end of a long corporate chain of work, essentially copyediting products and looking for nitpicky details no one actually cares about (except me, I love being nitpicky on grammar and punctuation).

The consequences of doing my job poorly in the corporate world are misplaced commas or improperly indented headers. The consequences of doing my job poorly as a dog walker and nanny were lost dogs and upset children. The consequences of doing my job poorly as a grad student were serious research setbacks that, if somehow not caught by peer review, would proliferate out into the community.

I think my job as a dog walker and nanny was both more difficult and more fulfilling than my corporate job. I know that being a SAHP is probably not the most difficult job in the world (I’d imagine being a Navy Seal is pretty rough), but I do think it deserves more respect than most people in the “working world” give the position.

Announcement: New Website

Hi all,

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of a website I’ve been brainstorming for awhile. This August, I’ll be introducing a blog on Personal Development with Mental Health Obstacles*. I love reading various personal development blogs, whether they focus on escaping cubicle nation, traveling the world, or on day-to-day improvements to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed as I browse these blogs is a necessary level of optimism and go-get-em attitude, which is terrific. It’s difficult for anyone to work on self-improvement, since we all have our own mental blocks and obstacles. For those of us struggling with various mental illnesses, however, there is an extra step to get through.

I’ll be using this website to offer personal and expert-level advice on self-improvement with mental health issues. Our life is not all about our diseases, be they physical or mental. Everyone wants to improve themselves. I want to focus on the crossroad between the medical/counseling approach to managing your mind and living the life you want.

The new website will *not* be replacing this blog! I doubt there is much crossover between those interested in things I have to say here and those wanting to review their life goals (but maybe I’m wrong!).

Get excited. I am. 🙂


*Website/domain name is still to be determined

Tornado Size and Intensity Estimates

The 05/31/2013 El Reno, OK tornado was given an Enhanced Fujita (EF)-5 rating and declared the widest tornado ever recorded at 2.6 miles wide.

How do we get this information?

I spent a lot of time in my M.S. program at Purdue being quizzed by my committee and other scientists about tornado size. It’s a tricky subject. Thankfully my research, at least as I last left it, was not dependent on any distance parameters, so my defense didn’t involve much beating around the tornado bush on size questions. But I was working with DOW data, and Josh, Karen, and company have to deal with this question a lot.

First of all, the EF scale was developed to expand on the original Fujita scale, which connected the Beaufort and Mach scales.

Fujita Scale

The Fujita scale lacked the detailed damage indicators that surveyors use to estimate Enhanced Fujita scale ratings today. If you compare the numbers, significant differences don’t appear until the higher (E)F numbers, for the “significant tornadoes.” The Fujita scale relates wind speeds to damage, while the Enhanced Fujita scale relates damage to wind speeds.

There are problems with the (E)F scale, but it is often the best information that we have to use when estimating tornado intensity. This method really falls apart when there are not enough damage indicators to use to rate the tornado–not because the storm was incapable of producing damage, but because it occurred in one of the oh-so-common wide open areas in middle America.

For years now we have been attempting to relate Doppler radar intensity estimates to the damage estimates we obtain after-the-fact. Since the development of mobile radars, there has been an increasing number of events whose EF-Scale ratings have been increased due to mobile radar data. These include:

The Calumet-El Reno-Piedmont-Guthrie Tornado of May 24, 2011

EVENT DATE: MAY 24, 2011

June 5 – Goshen County Tornado Given Official Rating of EF2

The Goshen County, Wyoming tornado of June 5th, 2009 has been given an official rating of EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale, according to Meteorologist-in-Charge, John Eise of the National Weather Service Office in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Preliminary wind measurements provided by the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2 (VORTEX2) were added to the damage reports from the storm assessments on June 6th, 2009.  These two factors were considered in the new rating.


And of course, I am biased towards using all data available to make a tornado estimate. I think it is silly to limit ourselves to the same methods used in the 1970s and ignore new technology when trying to advance the science. I do agree with others that suggest that mobile radar-based intensity estimates should begin to form their own database separate from the current damage database.

Now what about size?


Shouldn’t size be pretty straightforward? I mean, you can see the tornado.

Wakimoto et al.
Contoured Doppler velocity values overlaid on visual of the tornado at that time.

Whoa. Ok stay with me.

You can see the tornado here, right? It’s the tornado-looking thing in the middle, covered in squiggly lines. The squiggly lines are the mobile Doppler radar velocity estimates. That’s right, the same ones used to make the tornado intensity estimates. Anywhere you see those lines there is wind.

So what counts as the tornado winds? Well, so far it seems that the NWS has not been very consistent with its criteria for measuring size through mobile radar data. The El Reno statement from 2013 states that the “width is the width of the tornado itself,” which, I’ve heard from other sources, they used the EF-1 tornado minimum wind speed as the cut-off. Put in another way, how far out do the winds that are at least strong enough to count as an EF-1 go?

Should the NWS use only the EF-5 wind field for the El Reno tornado to estimate size? Probably not. People who lose property at a greater radius from the tornado center don’t care that they were “only” in the EF-4 or EF-3 winds. Should the cutoff be EF-3 winds? Does a tornado smaller than an EF-3 even get counted then? Even though we have better radar data than ever, there are still smoothing and averaging issues–how much variation are we missing at various levels of the tornado?

The El Reno size and intensity ratings sparked a lot of debate in the community, which has predictably died down over the past week. I know my colleagues still active in the research on this event will be presenting interesting data over the next few years on this storm, and I expect that this may cause the CSWR crew to pull out some size comparisons from their previous events.

And once someone figures out the “correct” answer to the tornado size question, let me know. I’ve been grasping at straws for a few years now.