Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DISC 30 Istanbul (18 December)

The 2012 DISC campaign came to an end in Istanbul.  It was the second DISC in 3 days with a long day of travel in between to get from Saudi Arabia to Turkey.  My handler was the very capable Serhan Goren (quiet independent geophysicist with his patented seismic source in the trunk of his car, always ready for action).  The venue was the University of Istanbul engineering lecture hall, very good setup.  It was interesting that a couple of the guys had already seen my post about the Dammam airport passport delay and were chuckling about it.  Guess someone does read this blog.

The plan was for 8am start, but we drifted a bit. The room was not open and we had to track down a key, folks drifted in due to heavy traffic, tea break was leisurely, lunch a bit protracted (and very good), then more tea.  We had 18 in attendance, many of them students. In the end, we finished on time with little loss of material and enthusiastic book signing afterward.  Thank you Serhan and all the rest for a pleasant last DISC.

With the final DISC I want to thank again Tad Smith,  Ken Larner,  Rowena Mills,  Jenny Cole,  Jill Abbott, and Yogaani Bhatia.  A great team of people to whom I am deeply indebted.  And finally I offer humble gratitude to my long-suffering wife Dolores.  Above and beyond the call of duty.

DISC venue was the University of Istanbul

Serhan Goren helping offload my DISC equipment

Zoom view reveals Serhan's seismic source carefully wrapped in brown tape

Mascot Niffy suffered through this long trip, a real trooper

Action photo.  For symmetry, the outfit is that worn at DISC 1 in Brisbane.

Niffy fan club, Istanbul branch.

2012 DISC class of Istanbul

Have I really done this 30 times?

Last Supper (18 Dec)

Damn this key.  But it is not really a key, that is most of the problem.  A key is a chunk of metal that goes into a little hole in the door, you turn it, the door unlocks.  This key is a smart card with a chip that could fly a fighter jet, but not open my hotel room door.  I was still in full battle gear -- black jacket, New Zealand black tie, striped shirt, and Prince of Wales slacks -- and the ubiquitous rolling travel bag in tow full of computer equipment, cables, and an alarming collection of international power plugs.  It weighed about 60 pounds.  I tried the door card several times, no luck.  After a glass of wine in the lobby and catching up on email, I was too damn tired to think about sitting someplace to eat.  The 'Roll and Rock' place in the lobby is loud, empty, and soulless.  Better to gnaw on free fruit in the room.

That would have to wait while I trudged back down 15 floors to get a new key.  A guy got on the elevator as I headed back up.  A local, but decked out in a classy tuxedo.  He was headed for the 26th floor.  I asked about the rooftop restaurant and he said (in pretty good English) something about going to 26, switching elevators, then on up to the top.  My face must have been telling a story when I hesitated at the 15th floor.  He gently took the trolly handle from my hand and we whisked up to the top.  He stowed the trolley, showed me a menu and suggested I look around.

It was plush and loungey, in a Perry Como or Dean Martin sort of way.  Suddenly I did not feel overdressed.  Easy Christmas songs played at the right volume, an oak bar glittered of brass and clean cocktail glasses.  The light was subtle, nothing overhead, nothing in your eyes.  The staff are pros, moving around the room with assured purpose, not the frantic, bustling pace of a blaring neon sports bar. 

A table by the window would do nicely.  I sat down, ordered a glass of wine, and started to look over the menu.  The guy from the elevator took care of me.  The seat was 300 ft above Istanbul looking over a main highway, high rise apartments farther out, then to the wine dark sea.  A bus terminal was directly below.  It was one end of dedicated line that ran 50 kilometers between 5 lanes of traffic on each side.  Each stop had an overpass that took riders either way into the neighborhoods.  A good system, I heard it was copied from something in the Netherlands.  The US could do that with interstate medians in lots of major cities, put the property to good use.  The busses pulled up en echelon waiting their turn, precise, patient.  This was a damned efficient system.

The onion soup was very good, but could have used more soup and less onion.  As the busses rolled my thoughts went back to a golf match with Tad Smith in Houston nearly three years earlier (but it felt like a lifetime ago).  That was when he suggested the DISC, on the tee box of a hard par 4 as I recall.  Then came a year of thinking, procrastinating, false starts, and lingering doubt.  Then a plunge at full force.  That's the way I work.  As the book took shape other issues began to pop up.  An unlikely job opportunity was applied for at U Arkansas.  Then I stepped in as associate department chairman at U Houston, in line to be chairman after a brawl flared up between the Dean and previous chairman.  

The main course was a beautiful seafood linguine, delicate and lightly sauced.  European style, not the goopy American way. The wine was a local red and not bad at all, it went well with the linguine.  The buses carried on their ballet and I was remembering a March trip to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Japan.  Dolores made the trip and it seemed like the honeymoon we never quite got to take.  We discovered Narita together, immaculate, majestic, mystical.  Then came a day last spring when U Ark made an offer and I had to step in to the Dean's office to report I would be moving down the road.

When the food was ordered I said something about check with me about desert.  The main food was enough and I asked for the check, but translations out here don't always convey the message.  The creme brûlée showed up and I was out of wine.  This is an important day.  Bring on a small Cointreau. Far below the lights of Istanbul twinkled like galaxy close enough to touch.

With the dessert came a flood of memories crashing toward the present; a house listed for sale, cats relocated to Tulsa for house showing, Dolores managing three dogs and keeping the house hotel-ready with me jaunting all over the world.  Thank god we had Narita before the chaos set in. Then a grand and amazing house find in Arkansas, managing the deal, the Houston house gets an offer that drags on for months, both deals close, workmen swarm the new house as I jet off for India the Middle East and Istanbul.  Final worldwide head count for the DISC is 1452, 30 presentations, 240 hours of talking.

The bottom of the Cointreau glass is the end of my strength.  Time to crawl back, peel off some clothes, and find some sleep.  It is done.

About Town (19 December)

Well I thought it was done. I'm pretty sure the Turkmen tried to kill me. It started innocent enough. Serhan showed up at 10am for a day of rest and relaxation touring Istanbul. The plan was modest, hook up with Mehmet (geophysicist and professional tour guide) to see Hagia Sophia and the central bazaar then back to the hotel early. I needed pack for early departure the next morning. Apparently I was the only one briefed on the plan.

The day was gray with ragged clouds moving low over the hills, a wind blew cold off the Bosphorus. Five minutes in the car and we are headed down back streets to pick up Mehmet, or so I thought. Instead we pick up Professor Ali Oncel of Istanbul University. A lively thoughtful man in his forties with a quick infectious smile. Clearly an old friend of Serhan, Ali is department chairman and president of the Istanbul geophysical society. He says we are going to tour the university. He knows the Rector (top man, like chancellor at a US school). Oh, an by the way, could I give a talk tonight for the local geophysical society? They have a regular speaker and could work me in at 7.

The plan is warping out of control and I make some funny noises that sound like English but mean nothing. After recovering, I tell him the talk is ok. Gret, what is your title? Another shock. I come up with something and Ali sends an email. Five minutes later he shows me his phone with the announcement going out all over the city. When I mentioned I'll need some time back at the hotel to prepare slides, there is a long discussion between them in Turkish. It seems my hotel is on one side of town, the university/tour/talk is on the other side. This is the 7th largest city in the world. So a timeline is formulated (by them) that leaves no room for error, a tighter schedule than the German rail system.

We arrive at the university, pass like VIPs through guarded gates to park in a courtyard. Mehmet is there. We take a look in the building surrounding the courtyard, a massive three-story place teeming with students in vast cavernous hallways. Ali says this is where he took a physics lecture class as an undergraduate. Would I like to see the the room? Sure. He had to negotiate us past guards and workers since there is to be a Rector election tomorrow (happens every 4 years in this university of 70000 students founded in 1523). We step into a lecture hall that dwarfs any I have seen. A physics class here? Really? Einstein's Nobel Prize speech had a smaller room.

The physics lecture hall (note balcony seats)

A ten minute walk takes us through the famous university gate and into the main quad, a large forested garden. Our aim now is the famous (is everything famous?) Beyazıt stone tower built in 1828. Not open to the public, Ali has used some clout to get us in. About 260 feet high and narrow as a little lighthouse, the 500 or so irregular wooden steps spiral up around a central mast that could have come from a old frigate ship. Ali is the first to start puffing as we wind up into darkness, automatic lights switching on way too slow. The definition of claustrophobia, this place can never be open to the public. A rescue operation halfway up would be impossible, better to just give the poor victim a light shove and stand back while he tumbles to the bottom.

The tower

Me, Professor Ali, and Serhan up in the rafters of the tower

But the main landing was worth every step. A 360 view of old Istanbul, the vast Blue Mosque in full splendor nearby with Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus in the distance. Working wooden windows opened in all directions. Strangely, the landing was full of wires and electronic equipment cabinets, I suppose to handle exterior lights, interior sensor lights, and whatever else was plumbed into this thing. Upper levels meant ever narrower, steeper steps, more electronics crammed in smaller spaces. Maybe this is what it felt like to be in the capsule of Apollo 13. Down the endless spiraling steps we emerged dizzy and headed for the Rector's building.

View from the tower across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia

The Rector himself was too busy for an audience, even Ali's wasta has limits. The building was originally for the war office and dates from the late 1930s. Blocky and monolithic, it did not have much curb appeal. Inside was a Greco-Roman feels with marble columns, 20 foot ceiling, and a covered central courtyard stretching up three floor to a vast stained glass roof. More marble formed massive curved staircases with heavy oak banisters.

Ali could get us past layers of guards to the second floor, somehow Mehmet knew the way to a room off-limits to mere mortals. A long animated Turkish discussion with officials resulted in a guard ushering our group into an amazing room. Hardwood floors grown dark and rich with the decades presided beneath a crystal chandelier that would shame the Titanic along with walls and lofty ceiling, every inch hand painted. A tad worn (and undergoing restoration) the effect still inspired awe. At regular intervals on the ceiling were large, detailed paintings of country houses, ragged sea costs, and many-masted ships. We roamed three such rooms and one got the feeling there were many more. The Rector still could not see us (tomorrow's election took priority), but Ali got us into the outer office housing two secretaries at large oak desks in a room even more ornate and maybe 60 feet across. One secretary lead us to the Rector's audience room of similar size and style, a place where one should meet a Rector. It was a blur from there, some rooms under renovation, meeting the restoration manager, his outer office (2 more secretaries at big desks), and a 'PhD examination' hall complete with raised stage and podium. I imagine a student could get a real grilling in such a formal room. I was getting worried about the time, still a lot to do. Maybe we can skip lunch to get in extra touring.

Mehmet in the Rector's audience room

One of the fine ceiling paintings

The PhD examination room

Ali walked us across the quad to the faculty club for lunch, so much for that idea. But was an elegant and lovely meal. Desert was spiced pumpkin, quite tasty. A bit after 1pm our grand university tour was complete. Ali and Serhan had places to be, so Mehmet and I headed for the bus. The bus system is very well done, more like metro trains on dedicated tracks. In fact the main line is called Metro Bus. We took two busses then had a short walk in deepening cold to Hagia Sophia ('holy wisdom' in Greek). This is a church first built in 360AD, but destroyed by fire and earthquake. The current structure is from 560AD and it is remarkable. The largest church in the world for nearly a 1000 years, the main feature is a truly vast dome enclosing a broad indoor courtyard. Unlike the later cathedrals of Europe held up by a dense forest of columns, Sophia's court is open and free of columns. An engineering marvel. Ottoman rule came in 1523 and Sophia was retooled as a Mosque. Column capitals were curved to Islamic patterns, mosaics removed (except one area on the balcony level), small free-standing mosque areas were added to the interior, and today large wooden roundels of arabic writing hang around the ancient nave of Constantine. I suppose every culture tears down or reuses what came before. To their credit, the Ottomans did not tear it down.

The grand space of Hagia Sophia

This story is getting long, but so was the day. From Sophia Mehmet walked me through the grounds of a fairyland castle, the inside will have to wait for another trip. A short bus ride and walk away, we headed into the grand bazaar. He introduced me to some old school friends with a little restaurant. We had Turkish tea and more spiced pumpkin. It was beginning to feel like I swallowed Halloween.

The bazaar is a rabbit warren of short random lanes, maybe 20 ft wide, and topped by a warmly painted arched stucco roof. The place was clean and in good repair, the hawkers were busy, and not annoyingly persistent. But then I was with Mehmet, a local, and that is essential. After an hour or so it was time to head out. The weather was getting nasty and colder as we made a long walk, took two busses, then another walk to the hotel. I asked Mehmet what is the plan. Five minutes then we go, he replied. It would take longer to explain why that is impossible than it is worth, so I dashed upstairs while he waited.

Spiced pumpkin #2

The fabulous grand bazaar

In the room, I worked pulling slides together from a DISC chapter. Seemed like swimming in molasses, my fingers stiff from the cold, knees stiff from too many stairs, and a sense of resignation that we had to go back across town. It took too long, but I needed to change clothes and wash up a bit, while the presentation file was copying to a thumb drive. This was overbooking even for me (a chronic overbooker). I arrived back in the lobby just as Mehmet had the front desk calling up.

Now bitter cold, I could feel it through everything I owned. Behind schedule, our frantic trek in cold and wind was a walk, two busses, a walk, a metro train, and a walk. Only 10 minutes late, we dove into an innocuous building, through a iron grate security door, up an elevator with no door (not too close, please), and finally into the society office. It was a small place with a few rooms, including one about the size of a small living room. Padded chairs sat in orderly rows facing a big screen TV hooked up to a laptop. On a night like this it seemed the kind of place to find a secret junta of communists or fascists. But here were 25 geophysicists patiently waiting for my learned talk. First was tea with Ali and retired professor Omer Apitekin, a charming man full who, at 72, looked a hell of a lot better than I did. After the talk (which went well), I spoke with the learned Professor for a long while. He said faculty retirement is mandatory at 67, we chatted about the famous Turhan Taner, and he explained that at the technical university (not U Istanbul) classes were taught in English.  That explained a big variation in English I had noticed in Turkish students over the years.

The side lecture attendees (25, more than the DISC!)

Serhan and the three professors

My strength was flagging, but Ali was not through with me yet. Another walk to Serhan's car, then short drive to another faculty club. This one was on the edge of the Bosphorus waterway, with a clear stunning view of 'the second bridge' (there are two and a third being built). These bridges link Asia and Europe. As if to celebrate that fact, our bridge was lit up like a Christmas tree, lights slowly rotating color in the night. My seat was not 10 ft from the water edge through a large window. Serhan told how there is a 1 m elevation difference on the ends of the Bosphorus (east is higher) and how fresh Black Sea water in the east runs at 15 knots over heavier salt water from the west. This makes for wicked currents that have baffled mariners since Jason and the Argonauts went through 3000 years ago. On this cold windy night I could see strange patterns of standing waves, whirlpools, and glass-smooth areas rise and fall in choppy water.

Bridge lights over the Bosphorus

The Turkmen are nearly done with me. Turkish tea and a warm ride to the hotel in Serhan's car. Midnight, and then some. Alarm will sound at 5am. No strength to pack or check in by email. Collapse. Rest. Sleep.

Epilogue (20 December)

Five am came quick. Packed and in the lobby by 5:30. A problem with my Visa card, many tries, not a card problem, phone lines. Gotta go, they write down needed info and Serhan's cell number. We load the car with swirling snow on the ground, it's below freezing, there is a biting wind, and a light rain falls. The roads are treacherous halfway to the airport the streetlights go out. A bit later is a clap of thunder too close to be thunder. A transformer has blown with a raging bright flash. When did the old Maya calendar say the world would end?

But it did not. All is well. Headed home. Thank you, my Turkish friends

Epilogue #2 (21 December)

Again, I thought it was over.  But like Odysseus of old, the fickle gods were not done with me.  Arrival in Chicago, flip on the phone, and find an email from the airline that I have been rescheduled to a 3:40pm flight to NW Arkansas.  Time I get through customs and to the airline desk we are way past that time.  Turns out a blizzard is headed for Chicago, even though it is well above freezing now and raining.  But the airport is shutting down hundreds of flights as a pre-emptive measure.  My new flight, I am told, was for the next day... a 24 hour wait in Chicago!  But that flight is not guaranteed, it could be another day, or two.

I was sick of airports and hotels, so I decide to make a run for it.  I get on my phone, book a rent car one way, and am in it driving out of the airport 30 min later.  Chicago to NW Ark is a 10 hour drive in good weather, 650 miles.  But this is not good weather.  The iPhone navigates me through suburban Chicago on toll roads.  At one point, I make a wrong turn (my fault) and go through an exit booth that requires 90 cents toll.  Luckily I had it from two earlier tolls that generated some change.  A quick u-turn has me headed back onto the toll road, again through a booth, with no attendant, several hundred yards down a one-way ramp, that requires 90 cents, and I don't have it.  I pull over to contemplate my options in a worsening gale.  With no viable option, I run it, disappearing from the gate's bubble of light into the snowy night.  The prison guards should find that amusing.

I get an hour south of Chicago and heavy snow kicks up, winds howl at 50 mph, ice is forming, it is dark and getting darker.  I pull in to Odell, Illinois to a small gasoline station.  As I get out of the car, a four-wheel-drive truck pulls up with two mountain men.  They are kitted like characters in a science fiction set in Antarctica; mukluk boots, gloves, thick sock hats, and arctic parkas with yak fur trim.  They go in to the shop ahead of me, after looking me over.  I was in penny loafer shoes, khaki pants, a tee shirt, and light cardigan sweater.  My outfit was better suited to dinner on the beach in Grand Cayman.  The shop keeping said there were no hotels in Odell, I needed to go 10 miles down the road.

I slipped and slided back to the interstate highway, made it a couple of miles, and traffic ground to a halt.   Surrounded by big rig trucks, it was an hour before the jack-knifed truck ahead could be cleared. Weather worsened, a real white-out blizzard that whistled icy knives of wind though every crack in my subcompact.  I have been in bigger go carts.  By 9:30pm the temperature was well below freezing and dropping fast.  When the road finally clears I know it could take 8 hours to go the next 8 miles.  I crawl to the nearest hotel and (thankfully) get a room.  Let the highway department snow plows and salt trucks work it all night.

Up at 5am (again) and hit the road.  Snow and ice in Illinois then cold and clearing pavement in Missouri. This time of year the sun never seems to get 10 feet above the horizon, it streamed in the window like the eye of an angry, mocking cyclopes.  Somehow the engineering team that designed my subcompact did not see fit to allow the sun visor to block it.  To avoid the bitter irony of driving through a blizzard and showing up with a sunburn, I had to cock my baseball hat over the left side of my face.  Like a deranged middle-age rapper, I drove on through the hill country of Missouri.  Across the Arkansas border, they were playing golf (no kidding).  An easy drive from there to the airport, drop the car, and a taxi home.

No comment

My thoughts in the taxi go back and replay the last six days.  It looks like this: 8 hour lecture, 10 hour air travel, 8 hour lecture, 14 hour foot tour of Istanbul, 24 hour plane travel to Chicago, 11 hour drive to Arkansas.  That's it, I am finally home, the DISC year is really over.  I swear.

Friday, December 14, 2012

DISC 29 Saudi Arabia (16 December)

Despite a rough beginning at the airport (described below), we had a wonderful DISC in Al Khobar.  There were many friends the room and several former students.  The venue was excellent, the La Meridien is now a fine place all around. The rooms are well-appointed and there is a fine sushi bar.

Much of the material for the DISC originated with ideas developed from working in Saudi.  It is a place with severe near surface scattering, strong-contrast near surface layering, vast tracts of shallow water over a hard seafloor, and I published two Geophysics papers on layer-induced anisotropy with Aramco co-author Tong Fei.  All these are topics covered in-depth during the DISC.  The head count was 56 which, I am told, was a record for a course offered by the Dhahran Geoscience Society.  To all my Arab friends, let me say shukran (thank you).

DISC class of 2012 for Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia

Good Aramco friends Ferhan Ahmad (L) and Ahmed Marzoug (R)

Real time notes (Dammam airport)

8:15pm...Dec 14........At passport control

Dammam airport arrival on time, easy flight from Muscat. All us westerners (about 6) get in the line 'Foreign Citizens - First timer'. After a half hour we are told the lines (2) are closed. I move to the back of a new line and get to front in another half hour. Turns out they won't process me in the 'Saudi and GCC Citizens' line. But the new visa line is closed. Not his problem, two other lines handle that. Back of a new line. Wait time now 3 hours and I'm not sure my line has processed even one new visa holder. I have 20 ahead of me.

I'm just on a lecture tour with a rest day tomorrow, and I know the Saudi system. I can wait till dawn (and may have to). But how would this look to a new employee? Can't imagine a family with young kids doing a 3+ hour wait in passport line. Where is the dedicated Expat New Hire line? What if someone has a bladder problem?

All the Indians and Pakistanis in line around me (I am a pale anomaly) are squatting, sitting, even lying down. Guess they are used to this kind of treatment. Your DISC lecturer is not. After 28 stops all over the world (and decades of previous travel) I have never seen anything like this. And hope to never see it again

BTW if you don't qualify for the 'Saudi and GCC Citizens' line but are re-entering on a multiple entry visa, you hop in the fast lane are are through in a few minutes. This would be the case for existing employees.

I stand corrected. Just saw a gaggle of western nubies escorted through. Apparently just gardeners, houseboys and visiting professors have to wait.

11:32........17 ahead of me
11:38........18 ahead (what the...?)
11:43........15 ahead

Ten passport stations, but only 2 are manned. Just timed the last guy through, 6 min 40 sec.

12:10am........still 15 ahead -- estimated wait time 1 hr 40 min
(should not have done that calculation, downright depressing)

There is no sense of hurry or anything out of the ordinary by staff or travelers. I reckon it's just standard operating procedure for this group of KSA arrivals. I just got caught in the net set for other fish. A gill-netted tuna.

Been a long time since lunch. Luckily I brought a bag of trail mix and did not use it all avoiding the ruinous food of India.

12:27........11 ahead (hotel taxi driver has called twice. What should he do? Wait, just like me)

12:42........8 ahead (about 35 behind me. Line should clear around 4:30am. Really? Surely something will have to give.)

1:05........6 ahead (progress has stopped as our agent works the room. I have never been coughed on so many times in my life. These guys stand way too close.)

1:12........Pulled out of line along with all other westerners.

1:13........My turn!

1:21am...Dec 15........Done.

Total wait time just over 5 hrs! Ridiculous. You will have a hard time getting this cowboy back to Dammam.

DISC 28 Muscat (12 December)

Muscat is a favorite place of mine.  When people stateside, who have never been to the middle east, are thinking about taking a vacation in the region, there is only one place I recommend: Muscaat, Oman.  it is a lively place, kind and tolerant people, fabulous beaches, and incredible outcrop geology.  I came to Muscat in the 1990s as a technical advisor to PDO and made a foray into the high country with Rian de Jong among others.

My contact for this DISC was the kind and capable Said Al Mahrooqi of PDO, with whom I had a lovely dinner the evening before.  At the course I was introduced by my former U Tulsa student Ali Al-Lazki, who went on to a PhD at Cornell and several years as professor of geophysics at Sultan Qaboos University and recently joined PDO.  The class was quite large (69) and the facility was excellent.

The 2012 Muscat DISC class

About town (and beyond)

Ali Al-Lazki was kind enough to take a weekend day and drive me around for over 10 hours.  We toured Nizwa fort, a wonderfully preserved and restored place. The displays were well done and fascinating. Here I saw, for the first time, an actual pitfall (a covered floor hole in a narrow corridor meant to drop an attacking culprit several feet down into serious trouble).  We also did a drive-by of the vast Bahla fort, which has an associated midieval wall snaking forever it seems along the craggy landscape.  There were lots of westerners in these towns driving around in rented 4WD vehicles and enjoying beautiful winter weather (75F). Did I mention that Oman is a great vacation destination?

High atop Nizwa fort

In this area, the most amazing geological feature (among many) is the  ophiolite complex.  I have heard of these but never seen one, they are known at less than 30 places in the world.  Put simply, an ophiolite is a slab of oceanic crust that has been thrust up and stranded onto land.  Ophiolite is composed of dark, exotic, heavy minerals that form in places we can never visit at great depth, temperature, and pressure.  Once subjected to surface conditions, the ophiolite weathers into a craggy moonscape of crumbly sharp ridges.  At the ophiolite base is a glimpse of the mantle/crust contact frozen and delivered on a plate for viewing.

The ophiolite up close and personal

Ali and I pressed on to the 'grand canyon of Oman' cut into carbonate and shale units that produce oil and gas farther west.

Thank you Ali for a truly wonderful tour.

Grand canyon of Oman

Ali Al-Lazki, oracle of the outcrop

An interested observer on the mountain

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Merry Christmas poem

Maybe some readers with young children will like this poem.  I wrote it for daughter Samantha.

Christmouse Eve
December 18, 2001

I want to tell a little tale
Of not so long ago
And give to you a tiny piece
Of the things I know

It all began one Christmas eve
Inside a snowy house
Within a room, within a wall
Snored a little mouse

Never still, he flipped and twisted
Wiggled all around
His fuzzy ears would dart toward
Any little sound

But something big was banging here
So loud against his wall
He could not sleep, he could not rest
This would do at all

He pulled the blanket on his head
And tried to sleep some more
But darted up when momma's picture
Crashed onto the floor

His Christmas tree began to sway
Driven by a thump
He caught it barely, just in time
With a frantic jump

It was so late on Christmas eve
Yet he was wide awake
He vowed right then to stop those thumps
Whatever it would take

The tree set gently back in place
He spun to face the door
Then marched right over as a thump
Came louder than before

His eyes were closed, his ears were back
He gave a mighty shout
"Will you stop that thumping please
My patience has run out!"

"This is my house, this is my wall
And where I choose to be
You have no right to thump about
And cause me misery!"

He stuck his head into the room
To yell a little more
When he saw a chubby man
Sitting on the floor

The bushy beard was very white
His clothes were darkest red
(Except for boots as black as night)
A cap was on his head

He felt into a lumpy sack
Then felt around some more
A heavy box came tumbling out
And thumped onto the floor

He turned a smile toward the mouse
Who could not say a thing
A tiny box came from the sack
Tied with tiny string

A snowy night, a snowy house
A lovely place to be
A magic scene, a little mouse
A lovely Christmas eve

But all too soon the man was gone
Not a word was said
Behind he left one happy mouse
Snoring in his bed

Dolores' clever play on Feliz Navidad (Spanish for Merry Christmas)

DISC 27 Abu Dhabi (10 December)

Abu Dhabi (my first visit) is a remarkable island-city gleaming, clean and efficient in the desert sun. Even so far from my home base in Arkansas, there were old friends in the crowd, including a former TU student Khalid who is now professor and chairman of the geoscience department at a local university that supplied 23 students to the DISC (all women).

About town

A clean, well-managed city with interesting architecture.

Oooh, a tall one going up.

Room with a sea view.  Nice.

Friday, December 7, 2012

DISC 26 Mumbai (7 Dec)

My handler in Mumbai was Subhash Sharma, pleasant young geophysicist with ONGC.  He met me at the airport and gave up a saturday to tour town (bringing along his wonderful wife, twin boys, and a niece).  Special thanks to ONGC for sponsoring the DISC and organizing.

2012 Mumbai DISC class (40 by my count)

Book signing scrum

About town

Subhash and family taking ice cream at the Taj (my treat)

Early notes

It all started with a taxi ride. From my house to the airport is about 45 minutes, unless your driver is a survivalist granny telling her life story. Then the trip seems to take a couple of hours. By the time we pulled up at the airport I knew everything about her, I'm pretty sure she knew nothing about me. Best quote? "I told the kids if you're going to have a baby you better have a spouse and a house. Granny ain't raisin no grandkids."

The flights were uneventful. But in Newark I did find a good oyster bar. Sublime.

In Mumbai it's a long hike from the plane to your luggage. They have a curious custom here of scanning luggage on the way out of the airport. No idea what that's about, unless maybe they're worried you might smuggle out a pilot.  Stepping off in India the first thing you notice is the smell. A bit hard to describe, it's some combination of sweet and moist and thick. Not unpleasant, just India.

Arrival was around 10pm, by the time luggage is collected, your man is located and you're in the car it's 11. Taxi ride to the hotel is another hour. A night ride through Mumbai (which they pronounce Mumbay; so little different from Bombay you wonder 'What's the point?'.)  The street-level shops and side streets are ruinous tenements. No slum anywhere in the world looks more in danger of falling down or as innately decrepit and unsanitary as a side street in Mumbai. But even here is industry, little crime, and a good heart. These people are somehow happy.  The apartment blocks where upscale folks live are half looming skeletal monoliths, perhaps unfinished or never to be finished or in some state of renovation. The other half are just shabby.

The traffic is outrageous even at 11pm. Three wheeled Tata scooters jockey for position with taxis and monolithic transport trucks. These are not the shiny, well-maintained trucks that Americans are used to, but something like the Sand People would have in the first Star Wars movie. Vast juggernauts held together with baling wire and twisted bolts, dented on every square inch and painted garish colors, all of which are covered by beige dust. My hotel is actually in Navi Bombay, a twin city across the bay. To get there you cross the only bridge and pay a toll of 30 rupees (50 cents), which has no effect on the quality of the pavement on the bridge and every effect on forming a massive traffic jam. And then there is the eternal din of honking as everyone jostles for position inches away from scraping the neighbor. Honking from light taps to Long strident blasts. To a westerner all of this seems very aggressive, the kind of honking that would get you in a fistfight or shot. But I think of it like a flock of birds. Just as birds squawk at each other to hold formation, drivers honk in Mumbai traffic to maintain constant communication among the players. No road rage or anger, just honking as communication between the birds. Of course the real danger is that a bird not of the flock will wander in and screw it all up. Not understanding the communication system, the new driver gets confused and aggressive. This would be the case if I, for example, were to rent a car and try driving around Mumbai. There would be a wreck in 10 minutes.

In my experience, India always seems overstaffed. Walking in my hotel lobby at midnight there were four people behind a small desk in a marble alcove. I was the only customer in sight. But the place does have a certain kind of efficiency. Judging by the jackhammer at the swimming pool, work starts promptly at noon. Or maybe just whenever I show up. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

DISC 25 Las Vegas (2 November)

Las Vegas is always interesting.  It was the site of the 2012 SEG Annual Meeting and Exposition and the DISC was given on the Friday preceding.  Attendance was 39, with several familiar faces in the audience including Scott Morton (Hess), Paul Fowler (WesternGeco) and Rodney Johnston (BP).  As you would expect from such a group, there were many thoughtful questions.

The Las Vegas DISC class

About town

Let me first say that, amazing as it sounds, I did not make one stop at the casino.  Vegas arranges things so you must go through the casino to get anywhere.  But I resisted and not a penny was bet or lost.  Not that I am a reformed gambler or moral crusader, it just held no interest for me.

For the first time, I played in the SEG golf tournament on the saturday before the meeting.  It was a lovely day on a wonderful course.  Excellent.

A few photos below convey the spirit of a lively SEG.

Dawn in Las Vegas at the golf links.

Prof. Helmut Jakubowvicz of Imperial College

For the first time at SEG, digital poster presentations!

The lovely Marilee Sanzalone of SEG who organizes the Editor's Dinner.

Election watch party with Kyle Spikes, Jeff Shragge and other former Stanford folks.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Posters at 2012 SEG Meetimg

Posters at this year's SEG meeting will be on the perimeter of the exhibition hall. Excellent plan.....


From: Chris Liner
Date: November 7, 2011, 6:55:53 AM PST
Cc: Steve Hill
Subject: SEG annual meeting posters

Steve Emery, SEG annual meeting director
Prof. John Louie, General Chairman of 2012 Annual Meeting

Dear John and Steve,

I have an idea related to posters at the SEG meeting and bounced it
off Steve Hill. He seemed to like it and suggested I pitch it to you.

As you know, we have a problem with posters at SEG. Over the years
they have become an ever larger fraction of accepted technical talks.
At they same time, they have become physically marginalized, moving
from hallways, the exhibit floor, to the 2011 situation where they
were in a vast hall well-removed from exhibit floor and technical
presentation rooms. For presenters and audience alike, it is a bleak
experience. Compare this to AGU, for example, where posters are
central to the meeting both philosophically and geographically.

Enough background info. The attached photo was taken at the San
Antonio meeting this year (2011). It shows the perimeter of the exhibit
hall. My idea is simple: We could stage posters along the perimeter
walls of the exhibit floor. I understand there will be gaps for
toilets, food vendors, exits, etc., but that would still leave ample
space for all the posters. Fire marshall concerns can be addressed by
having the poster stands tight against the walls, making little impact
on egress.

This plan would have the following benefits:
1) It uses space that will be rented anyway for the exhibits (saving
the cost of a poster room)
2) Posters could be left up Monday - Wednesday (lots of room)
3) Foot traffic past posters would increase
a) The technical message would get more dissemination
b) The poster-option would be more competitive with oral
presentation for speakers
4) Great buzz when posters are actually presented (and daily happy hour)

Well, that's it. Hopefully I have made the case clear enough to
interest you. Let's make this happen.

Best regards,

Chris Liner

Prof. Christopher L. Liner, Associate Chairman
Department of Earth & Atmopheric Sciences
University of Houston

Monday, October 29, 2012

DISC Questions

How many have you given and how many will be left after Las Vegas? 

 Las Vegas will be DISC number 25 of 30. A full list and annotated calendar can be found here:

 Do you have any idea how far you’ve traveled…to how many continents, etc, and how does the “wear and tear” of travel impact the presentation? 

 By the time I finish in December, the DISC will have been presented in 5 of the 7 continents (no Africa or Antarctica) and 22 countries. A careful record has been kept of DISC attendance. Going into Las Vegas the number of people who have attended the 2012 DISC stands at 1058.

Mileage is a bit more fuzzy. My preferred carrier has been United Air Lines (no endorsement intended), but several of the more remote locations involved travel on carriers not associated with UA. At any rate, we can get an idea about the magnitude of DISC travel from the fact that I have booked 113000 miles on UA in 2012. How far is this? It is 4.5 times the equatorial circumference of the Earth or, if you prefer, a bit more than the diameter of Jupiter.

Earth and Jupiter size comparison.

And India, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are still ahead. Yikes, no wonder my lovely wife Dolores is tired of seeing me head out the door.

Do you see people you know at all, or most, tour stops? 

It has been amazing to see so many friends and colleagues around the world. I would guess that only 5 or 6 of the DISCS have found me without someone in the room I have met before. But many more seem to know me. Perhaps because of my serving as Editor of Geophysics (1999-2001) or, more likely, through the Seismos column in The Leading Edge (now perpetuated in the Seismos Blog it seems my reputation precedes me into the remotest parts of the world. Add to that generations of students from the Universities of Tulsa and Houston, and it seems that I always walk into a room of friends.

Has your tour caused you to “re-think” the subject and changed your opinions about things? 

The thorniest subject in my DISC is seismic attenuation, a topic intensely studied for nearly a century and the subject of many hundreds of scientific papers, dozens of books, and endless discussion. Making enough sense of this to present a coherent meaningful overview was the greatest challenge of writing the DISC book. My approach was to focus on fundamentals and find the foundation publications that best make the case for each attenuation theory.

It slowly became clear that the vast amount of scientific data supported a dual attenuation model. At the small scale intrinsic viscous attenuation is in accord with laboratory experiments and the best poro-elastic theory we have (Biot). But field data clearly supports the existence of an apparent attenuation mechanism that is Constant-Q in nature, this is due to layer scattering effects.

Elsewhere in the DISC, there is much discussion of interference effects due to time-domain spikes (e.g., reflection coefficients). In particular, the amplitude spectrum of a spike series was shown to contain notches representing hidden frequencies locally phased out by interference.

Back to the question asked, I had developed some evidence in the early DISC work to support the argument of Constant-Q behavior due to layering. But the evidence was complicated, rather ambiguous, and hardly convincing. As I presented this evidence around the world, I became increasingly dissatisfied with it. Then it occurred to me that a simple argument was possible: the mathematics of Constant-Q implies that an initially flat amplitude spectrum with change as the wave passes through a Constant-Q earth. Specifically, it will change in such a way as to be linear in a plot of log-amplitude versus linear frequency. But we cannot really expect a straight line on the amplitude spectrum of real data because of three factors: (1) low frequencies are absent due to instrumentation limits, (2) high frequencies are absent because we have a finite-bandwidth source, and (3) in the observed frequency band there are interference notches complicating the picture. Anyway, all this leads to the figure below.

Raw spectrum plotted in linear-linear space (upper). 
The same spectrum in log-linear space with annotations (lower).

Anything else you want to say? 

It has been an exhausting, exhilarating, rewarding honor to serve as the 2012 DISC. I plan to spend a lot of time in my new home at the University of Arkansas during 2013, someone else can book those miles back and forth through Jupiter next year.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

DISC 24 Caracas (21 September)

After the confused rush of Villahermosa, it was a welcome bread to have a day free in Caracas.  The airport is near the beach and the city is only about 9 miles in a direct line to the city.  But a big mountain or two lie along that path, so it is a 20 mile drive to Caracas and there is only one road.  It is all very scenic and the city center where the DISC was held is a pretty grand place at the foot of the big mountain.

With my voice, and the rest of me, still recovering, it seemed a good idea to stay in the hotel on my free day.  This choice was made easier by the 18th floor pool that gave amazing views of the city 200 ft below.  Maybe I got a bit too much sun, but it was a lovely, lazy day high in the sky above Caracas.

The DISC was expertly organized by Alejandro Castro of Lumina (about 60 in attendance).  No translation needed here, english proficiency in Venezuela is the best of any Spanish-speaking country in the world that I know of (including Spain).  And I know from long experience at U Tulsa and U Houston, that Venezuelan students are some of the best trained and brightest in the world.  In fact, I told the group that I hope a good Venezuelan student applies for the new geosciences PhD program at the University of Arkansas, my new school.

I joined Alejandro and a few of the DISC attendees in the rooftop lounge overlooking nightfall on Caracas.  In keeping with the frantic pace of this DISC trip, I was up at 4am to catch an early flight back to Houston then on to Arkansas.  I could have stayed another day, except it would mean missing my father's 80th birthday party.  No way.

Caracas DISC class of 2012.  Alejandro Castro middle row, far left.

About town

Rooftop pool high above Caracas.

From the hotel rooftop looking toward the airport, where no road goes.

Some much needed rest and relaxation for the DISC instructor.