Thursday, January 29, 2009

work work work

My old boss Phil emailed me a collage of pictures of his family in the snow in Portland. Apparently there's dense ice fog there and it's been below freezing for a while. Meanwhile, today I was talking to the Australian head of the climate forecasting division and he was saying that there's probably even odds of Melbourne breaking high temperature records for all-season, all-year if not this week then next. 

The rival is something ominously called Black Friday in 1939. It was a day that had unimaginable bush fires (wildfires). Get a load of this description: 

"Giant trees were blown out of the ground by fierce winds and large pieces of burning bark (embers) were carried for kilometres ahead of the main fire front, starting new fires in places that had not yet been affected by flames."

In the last hour or so, the temperature has really come down as the wind has changed direction. The wind is howling now and I can hear out the window stuff tipping over from the gusts. Not quite trees being blown out of the ground but still. The sunset is going to be amazing tonight, there's a high cloud base of fluffy little clouds. Already the sun is blocked by the clouds and producing those religious-style rays of light that I'm sure were the subject of innumerable Family Circus and Ziggy cartoons. 

It's been dawning on me that I haven't written much about work since starting about three weeks ago. The first week was mostly an administrative week, getting passwords for computers, ID badges and so on. I've been reading a lot of papers, trying to catch up on the Australian flood forecasting systems. 

I spent this week over at the Bureau of Meteorology talking with many people, operational forecasters, managers, researchers. I'm learning quite a bit but its been like making scientific foie gras. I'm not complaining but long meetings with strangers/new friends loaded with new information/acronyms, etc. My brain has been sore at the end of the day and the most I've been able to do is flop into bed. 

In a nutshell, the national Bureau office loosely manages a group of regional flood forecasting offices, one in each state of the country. Those offices use a fairly simple but reasonably effective flood forecasting method. It's limited and it's not as good as it could be. They brought me in to work as part of a team to improve short range river flow forecasts of less than 14 days ahead.  

Maybe I'm getting a hand-picked selection of people to talk to, but one thing that's surprised me is the lack of organizational dead wood, everyone seems top notch, enthusiastic, engaged. But one challenge I anticipate is that I see a field littered with great projects that just never saw results transitioned into practice. What makes me think I'm going to succeed whereas so many others have failed? What's different now from back then? 

In my last job, I think being an outsider helped. I always liked the image of the Wiley Coyote cartoon where he chases the Roadrunner over the cliff and doesn't start falling until he looks down; succeeding at the impossible because you didn't know it was impossible when you tried it. 

Obviously you don't want to be dumb about it. We've been going to the Casino and it seems natural to think that you're special and you're going to be a winner. I don't know which is worse though, believing that you're lucky or skilled at gambling. Strangely enough, I sometimes wonder if I'm both when it comes to finding the love of my life- isn't Christine just the cutest little spitfire? 


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