Summer of Databases

Last semester I was having difficulty finding an internship, I just didn’t have the right balance of prior experience and competitive advantage. I knew a little bit of a lot of disciplines but nothing that made me stand out. Or who knows, maybe I just got unlucky. One day though, I was browsing the CU job board and came across a position: Arctic Researcher. As an aerospace student, I wasn’t super thrilled about environmental science, but I said why not and applied. While I ended up with a position at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, under Detlev Helmig in the Atmospheric Research Lab. More than the idea of having a summer internship though, I found a passion for data science and visualization and have been given an incredible glimpse into the world of environmental research. 

Harmonic Series, linear regressions.. what else?

My work started on the Global Atmospheric VOC Monitoring Program, specifically working with the data from Summit, Greenland. My primary responsibility was ensuring that the Summit GC returns quality data with an hourly time resolution. I checked atmospheric data using PeakSimple and got a little hands on experience with gas chromatography, which was surprisingly interesting. The first major task I had was creating a public outreach website for the data. I made all the structure and design, and my manager Brendan Blanchard made an automated processor to update the graphs every 30 minutes or so. Beyond this, I got the chance to do some lab work with setting up and extracting measurements on NOAA gas flasks from the larger VOC program. 



http://instaar.colorado.edu/arl/summit/summit.html

In parallel to the day to day data science work, I completed a UROP grant over the summer. I analyzed ethane/methane and acetylene/methane ratios, and created time series of these two ratios over past years. Then I identified the overlap of back trajectories with fire counts from NASA satellite products, observing where they cross the pollution plume events. This project opened my eyes to how intriguing this research really was, even at the basic level that I was doing it at. I was tracking atmospheric measurements of gas backwards in time using meteorological data, something I didn’t even know was possible. Using it to match fires was just as amazing, trying to come up with matching algorithms, and performing sensitivity analyses to find the best combination of parameters. I also gained experience in cleaning and trimming datasets, arguably the hardest part of the job. It takes a significant amount of time to get the dataset to the point where it’s nice and easy to form conclusions or make plots. There’s also harder data removal, like analyzing wind patterns to identify sources of local machinery pollution at the collection site.

Heatmap of wind speed & wind direction

Beyond all the research, dataframes, trimming and cleaning, and just hard python coding, my favorite thing was making visualizations. I can’t tell you the number of times I went home to my roommates and said: “Hey, you gotta see this plot I made today man.” They probably got sick of it, but I had so much fun making gorgeous visualizations to present my data easily to anyone. Even my artist parents could easily understand the data when I put it in graphs, and I probably got some of my interest in this from that same art skill! Below is the final graph I made for my research. It took me forever to figure out how to make the globe, reading about all sorts of map projections, cartographic line patterns, public assess background maps, and coordinate systems. But the end product… well, it speaks for itself: 


https://github.com/JashanChopra/ewb-pr

Overall, I had an incredible summer at INSTAAR, and I plan to have an even better next two semesters working in the lab. Luckily, only a five minute bike from my house! I’ve moved on from the Summit project, and I’m starting to work on data analysis for the Boulder Reservoir. This local project has much greater implications and responsibilities. Hundreds of people visit the website to see our live data everyday, and many researchers depend on our analyses for their own considerations. The oil and gas industry in the Front Range has plenty of environmental challenges and quotas that they’ve failed to meet, and people are directly affected. Hopefully by putting pressure on them through scientific analyses we can save lives, even from our little atmospheric lab. Having the chance to do this meaningful work so early in my career has been a blessing that I won’t forget!

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Cogs

This is a short story inspired by a series of dystopian-esque photos I took throughout 2018. 



Growing up in this small fishing town wasn’t easy. Life was hard here, but simple. Every month the steel behemoths arrived from somewhere else to take the efforts of our labor. Tons, and tons of preserved fish. When I was young, the cycle fascinated me. The efficiency, the process. It was always mysterious. Rows of guards stood around the train, silent sentinels. After every product was on, they steamed away. Where did they go? It didn’t matter to me, we farmed fish, and got to live. As time went on, I realized that the world is cruel, and this system didn’t benefit us. It was for whoever controlled the process, sitting in towers beyond our imaginations. We were slaves, with an illusion of freedom. This was no proper life, but we didn’t know better. Frequently I thought about going with the trains, leaving it all behind. An impossible task. I knew nothing else besides this place. Where would I go?

Growing up in this small fishing town wasn’t easy. Life was hard here, but simple. Every month the steel behemoths arrived from somewhere else to take the efforts of our labor. Tons, and tons of preserved fish. When I was young, the cycle fascinated me. The efficiency, the process. It was always mysterious. Rows of guards stood around the train, silent sentinels. After every product was on, they steamed away. Where did they go? It didn’t matter to me, we farmed fish, and got to live. As time went on, I realized that the world is cruel, and this system didn’t benefit us. It was for whoever controlled the process, sitting in towers beyond our imaginations. We were slaves, with an illusion of freedom. This was no proper life, but we didn’t know better. Frequently I thought about going with the trains, leaving it all behind. An impossible task. I knew nothing else besides this place. Where would I go?

The winter months were long. Our town was cold, both in personality and in temperature. Only those who were truly defeated arrived here by will. Those of us who were born here, well it was all we knew. Nobody wanted to be here. But something about the layers of ashy snow brought people closer. Small fires, warm stew, mundane small talk. I think we all knew that it was a struggle, and that brought us together. Louis, a frail old man, would occasionally share stories of his ‘prime’. Sailing out far into the Atlantic in the hopes to get a big catch. Their huge ships would dredge the sea, capturing thousands of small creatures. Ships the size of the dreadnought train, preposterous. His stories always had the same ending, one he recounted time and time again. One day they went out and caught nothing. The next day, again nothing. Failure after failure led to the collapse of their market, and the downfall of this once lively town. All the fish were just gone. Most of us didn’t believe Louis, he was probably insane, being almost 45 years old would do that to you. Something felt truthful about his high tales, but we ignored them. Fish have always been farmed, it’s just the way it is. The process makes sense; each individual had a small plot close to shore, and everyday we took our little boats out to gather the carefully grown salmon. Each plot was controlled by biological algorithms, developed before my time. All we knew is that every once and a while a new breed of fish would spawn, and we would farm it.

Occasionally one of the lab coats would come through town, and take a strange water speeder to various plots. We didn’t question it. As long as the fish survived, and were healthy, we weren’t in trouble. Visits from them became less and less frequent, and we didn’t know wether to be concerned or happy. It became apparent sometime late in the winter of ‘36 why they stopped coming. I did my fishing late at night, to avoid the normal commotion. Moonlight typically guided my way, and tonight was no exception. As I got farther from shore, a horrendous smell overcame me, increasing as I got closer to my plot. Then I saw it, a tragedy. Thousands of discolored, floating fish. In what seemed to be a prophecy, all the fish were dead. I started to believe Louis a little more in that moment, it was eerily familiar of his high tales.

It must have been some type of glitch, the way they were all strange colors, some error in the algorithm’s next sequence of fish eggs. I never did figure out the source of this extinction, but in that moment I knew that it was time. Time to finally leave this place for good, in search of true freedom. Hurriedly I threw my few scraps and belongings into a large rucksack. Tossing it all on the back of my worn out scooter. It was a restless night. I woke up to the sound of rolling thunder. It wasn’t the proper time of month, they must have known about the fish. Normally the armed train guards sit like stones, watching. Something was different this time around, they were hurried, rushed, maybe even scared. One by one they jumped off, before the train even came to a stop. They must have thought it was an attempt at rebellion, killing all the fish, their scientists couldn’t possibly have made a mistake. There was no patience, no hesitation, as they started firing into houses. Without fish to farm, we were recycled. Effortless efficiency, it had always seemed to be their style. If I hadn’t packed the night before, I would have been dead. Instead, I made it out in the chaos. I’d never left that town before, and I haven’t been back since. If anyone else made it out, who knows where they could be now.

I travelled for what I believed to be miles, until darkness shrouded the gravel road. There was nothing along the way but the waves crashing against the side of the cliff. My town, former town, had a small gas pump. It only allowed for refills to a certain amount, perhaps in some attempt to prevent escape. I was close to empty, on gas and on hope. Until I came across a derelict gas station. It looked like one I’d seen from my history books, I never realized what was in them could be accurate. Somehow the lights were still on. For once in my life, I was lucky.

Inside I met Gerald. He came from a nearby town, similar to mine as he described it. Instead of fish, they harvested metals, mining, he called it. A gargantuan hole in the ground, a thousand times more massive than the train. He said it took days to get to the bottom, and they would stay there for weeks. His tales were as wild as those told by Louis, but I could tell he wasn’t lying. He shared the pain, and hatred towards those who kept our lives meaningless. Gerald told me that there was a group, of hopefuls, people in my shoes. They wanted a new beginning. If I could get to Shauna, back in his mining town, I might have a hope for a change. For months they had been planning to overtake the mines, a crucial source of supplies for whoever might be in charge. After hearing the story about my home, Gerald knew it was time. Perhaps he saw something in me, and he supplied me with the fuel I needed. Liquid gold he called it. Didn’t look like what I thought gold was.

It took me seven hours, driving through the shadows, to get to the factory town. Gerald was not a lying man. Steel towers shot into the sky, divided into quadrants by rows and rows of wires. The morning sun seemingly drove the town to frenzy, machines whirring all over. This place was different, advanced, chaotic. I roamed around all day, just getting in the way. Everything was beyond belief. I was hoping things might settle down at night, but I was wrong. I was back to where I had been before. Alone, scared, and wondering what was next. I knew I wouldn’t find Shauna tonight. I climbed up onto the roof of a small refinery room. I pulled out my small white notebook, and a dull pencil. If I didn’t make it, someone had to know my story. The steam kept me somewhat warm, so did sheer exhaustion.

Smoke woke me up. It was already close to evening. How long had I slept for? As I stood up, there was fire everywhere. Something happened, they must have started early. I saw fighting across the street, a group of haggard miners struggling to overcome a single guard. He fired a shotgun shell, right through a large man ready to swing a hammer. The thick body armor the guard wore was no match for a swinging pickaxe. Cheers rang as he fell to the ground.

I’m watching a small flag rise in the distance, above what looks like an armory. A black background, with a sparkling blue diamond in the middle. Surrounded by a large splotch, blood red. A fitting flag. Before I go to join them, I find myself looking at the sky. Fires reflect the deep orange clouds. There’s a single hawk up there, circling overhead. I wish I could fly, away from here, away from all of this. This is my chance to be free, like that gorgeous bird. A sharp alarm breaks my thought. The roar of a metal beast, a large plume of smoke coming from the woods. Time to go, a revolution is calling.

Epilogue

I was once a fisherman, and now I am a miner. It takes three days to reach the bottom of the mine. Just like Gerald said. I wonder where he is now, probably laying in one of the mass graves established shortly after our failure.

Four years have passed since our attempt at revolution. I was so hopeful, a start of a new life, maybe even better living conditions. How foolish we were, to think that we stood any chance. The behemoth train rolled ominously into the town, we had set up some of the mining explosives at key track locations. But they were too smart for us. As the train came to a stop, nothing happened. No troops exited, no sirens blared, no guns rang out. It was a classic standoff. Days passed, our control of the town remained, but the scenario was growing more dire as each hour ticked on. We must have underestimated their resources, and soon we grew hungry. In a moment of fury, we detonated all 25 tons of explosives. The rail did not survive. The train did. Then the soldiers came. Different than ones I had seen before. Instead of dirty suits and old machine guns, they were clad in stark white uniforms. Each trooper had a pair of red goggles that pierced through the settling dust. Our hidden soldiers stood no chance against whatever advanced detection software they had. They picked us off one by one, and executed Shauna in the center of town, in front of whoever they graciously spared. What did we expect?

There is nothing left but rocks, and the chance to survive another day. I will never fly like that hawk, there is no freedom for cogs in the machine.

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Dissolving a Dystopia: A short discussion on Zamyatin’s “We,” and Rand’s “Anthem”

What defines the human condition as we know it. Is it happiness? The ability to form rational thoughts? Is it scientific progress, development of knowledge? Within the context of “We” and “Anthem,” it is none of these traits. For both D-503 and Equality 7-2521, it is individualism, something the reader takes for granted.

Throughout both of these stories, each protagonist struggles to find who they really are, to break from the shackles of the dystopian ‘we.’ On page 71 of “Anthem,” Equality 7-2521 assets, “ I am. I think. I will.” These three sentences form the core theme of the short story, that dystopia is broken by the concept of the individual. This parallels Zamyatin’s dystopia, where only when D-503 discovers divergence from the table of hours and the equality between men that he realizes this core human characteristic. However, in “We,” this discovery comes not directly from D-503 but from I-330, who has crafted her own path amid the fog of equality. She shows D-503 that the rules of the collective society do not apply to her own self. In both stories, this identification of self leads to a break down of the dystopian atmosphere set in stone by the two cities, and eventually forms a basis of revolution that aims to restore the human condition for the inhabitants of each city.

On page 75 of “Anthem”, Liberty 5-3000 tells our protagonist, “I love you.” Love is another fundamental human trait, as a derivation of individualism, and it acts as a driving factor throughout both stories. In both stories, the protagonists find a piece of themselves through identification of a sole love interest. This further dissolves the dystopian backdrop of each narrative, once mutual love exists between characters the role of ‘we’ shifts. Instead of relating the whole of society, it relates just two people, and their individualistic tendencies to place one above the whole. When only a totalitarian ‘we’ exists, there is no room for the love of another individual, because individuals do not exist.

A final central theme for each of these dystopias, revolution, is present in each. In “Anthem,” we note that when Equality 7-2521 finds this indepence from communal ideals, he is charged with a new passion to defeat the collectivity of the city he was raised in. More important than his campaign though, is the cyclical nature of revolution. Both dystopias follow a period of war that reduces society to the strict collective unit, devoid of freedom, because it is this very freedom that leads to conflict. Without freedom of soul and mind, I versus we, there can be no conflict. By the end of each story, a new war is started, created on the basis of individualism. Even in “We,” where we see the final failure of D-503, the revolution will still occur, carried forward by those who showed him what it was to be human. The following conflicts may not resolve the dystopian control, but further the seeds of doubt in the minds of future protagonists. Just as I-330 states, “There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.” The destruction of imagination and uniqueness cannot prevail, because these traits are a fundamentally human concept. Without them, we cease to know what makes us humans, and without us, there is no utopia. Individualism, as developed by D-503 and Equality 7-2521 through both narratives, acts as the diffusing agent of totalitarian dystopia. Once the reader sees this rise of individualism, they understand the fluidity of human nature, and the inherent unstableness in dystopias that aim to destroy what it means to be ‘we’ and not ‘I’.

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Finding A Style

Creativity has no bounds. A popular saying, but in my case, it wasn’t true. I was able to find my passion for photography shooting from an iPhone. Yet, there were many shots that I couldn’t quite nail without a proper setup. The angles weren’t right, the exposure was off. The shots were blurry, and they didn’t deliver the message that I aimed to share.

 

My mind was filled with ideas, shots I wanted to take. As my ambitions raised, so did my frustration with the limitations of the phone’s camera. These limitations inadvertently created a fiery passion to go take more photos. Classes went by slowly, taking in physics knowledge I had already learned before. I shifted through work, watching the clock tick as I made pizza after pizza. Grab a dough, press it, sauce, cheese, toppings, into the oven. All I wanted to do was get out and capture the environment I found myself alone in. I was out and about many nights. The moment I got home, I’d throw on my jacket and set out. Soon I would find myself off campus, trawling through suburbs searching for whatever I could lay my greedy eyes on.

 

Light. There was always a search for light, wherever I could find it. Without a tripod or a long exposure, it was difficult. Most sources were too intense. Or the opposite, I would find an interesting subject with no way to capture it. Slowly I developed a style, or maybe a trend would better describe it. Outside door lamps and bright windows became the easiest way to find light, and architecture became a mainstay in my camera roll. Yet, it wasn’t the goal I had in mind, it was boring. A simple piece of cement and brick wasn’t the mood I strived to create. Experimentation came naturally, especially taking hundreds of garbage photos a night. Strange angles, awkward variety, I took weird photos just so I would have some, any, intrigue. Rule of thirds? No thanks, I put simple subjects directly in the frame, hoping the dramatic lighting could spark some desolation.

 

Buses to and from campus were free, luckily. A reward for selling my soul to tuition debt. One particular night I went to catch the bus to WillVille, a subsection of the campus housing. Slightly too late, my gaze found its way to a leaving bus. So I walked past the stop, determined to get to bed at a reasonable time. A particular building caught my eye, one I hadn’t noticed before right on campus. On a rainy night, the light pollution in Boulder can create ominous red and purplish clouds. Two bright orange sections of the structure glowed against the background. In my mind the picture was perfect, it was that feeling of optimism for the future, despite a disappointing event just occurring. In reality, it came out pretty lame. Some post-processing later, and I had a good photo. Still, the dream in mind was never achieved. I knew at that point that the next step was a real camera, the passion was there, I just needed that final push.

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Nighttime Beginnings

After Italy, I continued exploring photography as a hobby, trying to take at least a photo a day with my iPhone. I didn’t really view it as art yet, in some ways I was just trying to prove I could commit to something. On and off could describe my passions during this time, no interest could stay in my line of sight. Even though I was snapping away, the photos carried no intrigue or emotion. I was still happy with the technical aspects behind many of them, but they didn’t have any impact.

Early campus photo

As the semester picked up pace, I found less time to take random photos around campus. Time was short between classes, and my pauses started to fill with calculus. Anytime I wanted to take photos I ended up at work. Calzones instead of creations. Tests ran late, and one night after a tough physics exam I was fed up. In a creative mood, I went out late to take photos regardless. I wasn’t sure how my phone would fare in the dark environment, but it turned out pretty okay.

None of the photos I took that night stood out to me, except this one. There’s something about the single deep blue light source. The single door, and asymmetrical windows. It’s ominous, depressed, disturbed. A summary of the mood I felt on that particular night. Night photography serves as an outlet for these negative emotions. Although I’m often optimistic, exploring melancholy is important to stay generally positive. Inspired by this photo, I’ve continued to strive for a similar vibe in much of my work since.

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Canal Visions

My journey with photography started off pretty aimless. I was always interested with the medium, but only decided to pursue the hobby during a trip to Italy at the start of 2018. I had been enjoying snapping shots, feeling like a tourist, but it didn’t feel special. After spending every waking moment with my parents, grandparents, and an aunt for the week, I needed to get out on my own for a little. On the last day I walked around Venice for something like 6 hours, shooting here and there. I walked through the University, past students smoking and enjoying the break. I strolled past tabaccheria here and restaurant there, watching locals relax against the setting sun. At one point, a football appeared at my feet. Looking up I saw a posse of school children, and joined their game. Expectedly, they were far better at the sport. It would be unfair to say I was a local, but I certainly didn’t feel like a tourist by the end of the night. Almost back home, I passed this canal. The light and mood summarized the day, I finally felt like I belonged, just one night before leaving. I’ll be back one day.

In retrospect, I think upping the saturation of this piece took away some of the mood. It’s too blue, and the fakeness detracts. The central curve on the canal adds a nice piece of intrigue to the photo, but I think I could have framed it better. Had I owned my camera then, I would have taken a long exposure to get a glassy look on the water. All in all, this was one of my early photos I was quite proud of.

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Interpretations #01

One of the centerpieces of campus architecture here at CU is the University Memorial Center. Affectionately known as the UMC, the building offers a dining hall, the bookstore, and a variety of office space. Oh, and don’t forget the only bowling alley on campus.

This is one of the first photos where I was truly happy with the framing of the building. The low angle of the shot gives the building a larger than life feel. As does the sharp diagonal angle of the shot, letting the building extend past the frame on both sides. I’m a huge fan of the brick architecture most campus buildings share, so I matched it the rocks on the bottom of the frame. The curve of the fence leads you up to the building, and I’m happy with the rest of the leaning lines.

What would I change next time? I would have liked a higher picture quality on this, since this was back when I was shooting with my iPhone still, it’s not the greatest. Although I think the clouds are nice in this picture, it would have been better with a more interesting color on the sky. A better time of day could have produced more interesting shadows as well. I’m usually a fan of more details in my architectural shots, but the branches on the right side of this photo are distracting and reduce focus on the building. I do enjoy the angle, but I think it could have aligned better with the corner of the middle building.

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Windows – A Photo Essay

One of my favorite aspects of night photography is finding curiosity and interesting subject matter in the mundane. Nighttime can accentuate architecture, bring different colors to the surface, and most importantly give a greater sense of how light affects an entire scene. Windows arise frequently throughout my photography, sometimes as the centerpiece, and sometimes as a vehicle of another cause.

During very dark nights, sometimes a window is all the light you can find. Colored LED lights are popular amongst the college population here in Boulder, and these pops of color provide a unique subject matter amongst the monotone darkness. Various colors can also lead to different interpretations of what the window represents. Some view this photo and imagine a horror vibe, a spooky aspect. Something scary lies beyond what we can see and the red color is the manifestation of this appeal. A blue-green light is more relaxed, we may think of a group of friends hanging in the room of this window. Not always though, blue can be sad, as we see in the second photo. Enhanced by the sky, this blue window gives us a view into a depressing cycle of office life, abandoned after the sun falls.  

White is less interesting, it doesn’t convey a standout meaning, instead, it is just light against dark. The high contrast of this photo and the noticeable silhouettes still create a sense of doom. Inconsistent placement and size of the windows create an unstable feeling, as most asymmetry can.

Often windows help exaggerate the primary goals of a photo. Although the window is a core subject in the following photo, the standout feature is the shift of color from left to right. A unique shape in the window adds to the curious vibe and helps to contrast the duller purple, blue, and green on the right side of the photo.

Photos give us a view into a different world, and also provide excellent framing. The green glow of this pool facility is ominous, but only because of the lack of people. We know it’s nighttime because of the background, giving this photo more context as opposed to just the pool itself. The bars across the window make us feel like an outsider, are we invited to the subject matter?

Windows can provide reflections, framing the subject matter in a complex system. Seeing the normal neon sign is boring, but through this reflection, we are forced to focus on it’s more distinct details. The white border, some of the interior of the sandwich shop, the lack of crossbars on the letter I. Curves on the window and the side panel of this car lend distortion to the complexity of the photo.

In general, windows can provide a new perspective to your night photography. They provide interesting sources of light, and viewpoints into other worlds. Natural framing, and distortion in the form of reflections. What comes to your mind when you think about the concept of a window? What is a window to a prisoner in a jail cell, or to an executive on top of a skyscraper?

Perhaps, they just let the light in and keep the bugs out. 

 

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