Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy holidays, 2016

Well, that sucked.  Initially, that's all we were going to write about 2016, but then we thought we'd better elaborate.

Alex's Ankle

Alex twisted his ankle in late May.  Despite there being no break in the skin, his joint somehow became infected.  Not sure how that happens. It took a while to correctly diagnose since "infected joint" is one of the last things you look at for a twisted ankle.  In the few days before he was diagnosed, his health rapidly declined.  He was eventually transferred to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston where they operated on his ankle at 10 pm on a Friday night to clean out the infected tissue.

Not caused by any bad parental decisions!
After the operation, he quickly got better.  Luckily, the strain of staph that had infected his joint was a common one that responded well to antibiotics, but he nevertheless stayed in the hospital for a week.  He was then on antibiotics for a month and was not allowed to play any sports for 6 months.  

Alex and Michael relax in the hospital
It was, overall, a legitimately frightening experience.  He's now back to his old self and everyone is very glad that we have health insurance.  In case you're wondering, this all started when he slipped on a floor that had just been mopped.  So the price tag of that clean floor was just shy of $70,000; there's a lesson there somewhere, but we can't quite figure out what it is.

Alex being transported to Houston
Otherwise, the kids are doing well.  They're in 6th grade now and the main challenge for Susan and Andy is keeping them from spending all of their time playing video games.

Here they are playing Empire at War:  

Here they are playing Minecraft:

Watch these videos on repeat and you get an idea of what their 2016 looked like.  They're getting really good with computers (esp. compared to this)

Kasper 2005-2016

Better times: June 2005
Another sad event in 2016 was that Kasper, our beloved Weimaraner, passed away.  He was old and his health was rapidly declining, but it was still a shock.  He was a loyal and valued member of the family and we miss him every day.

Tagger and Bullet

So we were down to one dog and planned to keep it that way.  But when Alex was in the hospital, Susan agreed to let him get another dog when he got out (yes, we're blaming Susan for this).  So when Alex got out, we found some puppies through friends and got one.  Meet our new boy, Bullet:
Bullet immediately found the best place in the house to sleep.
Bullet's parents were both AKC-registered pure bred dogs, but of different breeds: his mom was a border collie and his dad was a blue lacy — their romance was a West Side Story kinda thing.  Here's some video of Tagger and Bullet playing in July:

Bullet is now considerably larger, but Tagger is still the queen bee.  

Andy and Susan

Andy and Susan are still in the tactical laser tag business with their business AggielandWarGames.  Check out one of our latest promo videos here.  Turns out starting a business is really hard, but the business continues to grow and we're looking forward to a great 2017.  Susan spends her time keeping the business up and running.

Andy is still working at Texas A&M in the Atmospheric Sciences Dept.  He's also now the Earl F. Cook Professor of Geosciences there.  We're not sure what that means, other than Earl F. Cook was a rich dude with money to burn.

Surprisingly, climate change has not gone away. In fact, it just keeps getting warmer. If only some people had been saying for 100 years that this would happen ...
GISTEMP temperature anomalies (relative to 1951-1980); annual average (black) and 5-year running mean (read).
It appears the incoming U.S. administration is full of people doubtful (to put it mildly) of climate science. This will give us an excellent opportunity to see which is more powerful: strongly held political beliefs or the laws of physics.  If you're a betting person, always bet on physics.

Andy was on faculty development leave in the Fall and spent a month at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany.  In addition to having lots of Gl├╝hwein mit Schuss, he actually got a lot of work done.  He was helped by the lack of sunlight and constant rain/snow of Northern Germany in November.  Pro tip: don't go to Hamburg in November.

Well, that's it for 2016.  Here's hoping y'all have a great 2017!

Michael, Alex, Susan, Andy, Tagger, and Bullet

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy Holidays 2015

Time for your update on the Dessler family.  Alex and Michael will be eleven in a few weeks and continue to grow rapidly.  If you want to know what they're like, this will tell you:

This reveals two important things about them:  1) They love their internet and will complain if they're not connected for even a few minutes and 2) they do dumb things, like sit in the dryer.

The kids are getting more technically savvy every day.  For example, Andy decided they were watching too much YouTube, so he blocked YouTube at our home router.  After a few days, Andy caught the kids watching videos — they figured out how to install a virtual private network (VPN) to get around the router block.  Technical fix defeated, Andy was forced to engage in traditional parenting (yelling) to encourage them to stop watching so many dumb videos.  When not circumventing parental rules, they spend their time on the computer hacking Minecraft.

In other Dessler news, we have a new dog, Tagger.   

She is a mutt, so her exact parentage is unclear.  But she's clearly some kind of terrier — if you're a mouse/rat, you best avoid her.  We got her last Jan. when she was about 2 months old.  Her previous owner couldn't keep her and she was headed to the pound, but we rescued her from that fate.

 If you want to know why rugs in our house are always out of place, here's your answer: 

Our senior dog, Kasper, considers her to be an annoyance just one step removed from a flea.  Watch and understand — it's kind of like a scene from jaws. As Kasper says, "She goes for the ears!".

[You can also tell by his egregious use of slo-mo that Andy got an iPhone 6s during 2015]

In other Dessler news, we're now business owners!  We have opened AggielandWarGames, Bryan/College Station's premier (and only) tactical laser tag place.  Tactical laser tag combines traditional laser tag and paintball — you use guns that shoot infrared light at each other, but you play missions like those you might find on a paintball field or in a video game like Call of Duty.  Our arena is in an air-conditioned 6000 s.f. warehouse, which is key in Texas in August.

Alex and Michael take aim

Business started out slow, but is growing steadily and we have big hopes for 2016.  Running the business is a true family effort — Susan does most of the front end stuff, while Andy works on the technical aspects of the game/website/Facebook.  Alex and Michael help out around the arena; one of their most common assignments is to go and play if there are not enough players or if the teams are unbalanced.  Because they play so much, they are really, really good.  In fact, it's fair to say that they're always the best players in the arena — even when they're playing college students and adults.  Luckily, the don't pound the customers — they spend most of their time shooting each other.

One of their main advantages is that they move faster than other players. Here, for example, is Michael swooping in to grab the hostage.  Everyone else looks like they're basically standing still.

In addition, they're pretty good shots and they know the arena like the back of their hand.  If you want to see more video, here's Michael vs. Alex in a game of search and destroy and in a game of team death match.

Other Dessler news

In sad news, Andy's sister, Val Greider, passed away in October after battling cancer for several years.  It was a tough way to end 2015, and she'll be missed in 2016.  Andy's parents, Alex and Lorraine, still live in College Station and are going strong — they leave today on a cruise from New York to England.  Susan's mother, Maureen, is still living in Missouri near Susan's brother and sister-in-law.

When not playing laser tag, Andy is still working on climate change.  At the end of last year's message, he said that 2014 would be hottest year in the record.  Now he can say that 2015 will be even hotter.  Speaking of hot, 2015 also saw the publication of the second edition of his book, Introduction to Modern Climate Change.

"blah blah carbon dioxide blah blah global warming blah blah drought/famine/end of the world blah blah"
One of the more unusual things Andy did in 2015 was participate in a lawsuit between Peabody Coal and the State of Minnesota over something known as the social cost of carbon.  He took the opportunity to make a few jokes while on the stand:
That was, he thinks it's fair to say, the only highlight in 4 hours of testimony.

Andy is more hopeful than ever that the Paris climate agreement, concluded a few weeks ago, may be a turning point in the policy battle to stabilize the climate.  But given that U.S. climate policies are all executive orders, much will depend on who the next U.S. president will be.

Well, that's it.  Here's hoping y'all have a great 2016!

Michael, Alex, Susan, Andy, Kasper, and Tagger

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy Holidays 2014

What? It’s the end of December already? You mean I have to write another crappy end-of-year letter? Ye gads. It's 2015! Can’t my robot butler write this while I take the flying car for a spin?

Alas, the robot butler and GPS receiver went to see a movie, leaving me the holiday letter. So here goes ...

Alex and Michael are about to turn 10. Andy and Susan just realized that the kids are closer to college than they are to birth. But that’s less depressing than Andy turning 50 in 2014 — meaning he’s (statistically) closer to death than birth.

Here are some really great photos of the boys (Susan suspects an angel flew over just as the photos were taken; Andy agrees — there is no other logical explanation):


Normally, the photos don't turn out quite as well.  Here, for example, are their passport photos:

Hard to believe, but these were the best of the set that we took.

The kids spend most of their time on the computers or iPads.  They play a lot of Minecraft (see last year's letter), as well as a tank game, Tanki.  Here's a family portrait in that game:
back row, L to R: Michael, Alex, front row: Andy
They are natural born killers in the game; if you see them coming in game, get out of their way.  When they're not playing games, they can often be found on their Chromebooks:
L to R: Kasper, Alex, Michael
where they're watching Maroon 5 or Fall Out Boy videos.  Andy has tried to channel their interest in computers into programming.  They started on doing simple drag-and-drop programming, but they are now working to learn Python, which is a real programming language (it's what Andy programs in for his day job).  The kids are learning slowly but surely, but it's frustrating for Andy when the kids don't know the simplest things, like the differences between object-oriented, imperative, functional, and procedural programming styles.

And when they're not on computers, they engage in general hijinx.

The family's big trip this year was to Washington, DC.  Susan and the kid were there for two weeks, and Andy spent all of July (he was working at NASA GSFC).  Everyone had a great time, and we were among the very few who thought summer in DC was cool and pleasant.

Susan quit her job working in a local psychiatrist's office and is embarking on a new career.  More about that in next year's letter ...

Andy continues his work at Texas A&M on climate. In case you haven't heard, it's changing — and 2014 will (very likely) be the hottest year in the instrumental record.   Maybe, you think "change is good!".  Yes, it will be good if you like heat waves, droughts, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and precipitation changes.  If you don't like those things, it will suck.  Andy continues to try to inform the public about the science of climate change, and people seem to be waking up to the risk — although some places don't ever seem to change.  Maybe 2015 will be different.

Speaking of 2015: Have a great new year!

Andy, Susan, Michael, and Alex

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy Holidays 2013

Howdy and welcome to our 2013 message.  It's time for your Dessler family update!

Alex and Michael

Alex (L), Kasper (C), and Michael (R)
Alex and Michael are 8, in third grade, and attending Allen Academy in Bryan, TX. They love reading on their Kindles and asking their dad and granddad questions about science.  Their big adventure this year was spending a month in Boulder, Colorado.  The kids finally got to see a mountain ... and even climb one:

Gig 'em!  Michael (L) and Alex (R) on top of Mt. Sanitas, in the Boulder Front Range
They also did some rock climbing:

Spider-boy! Michael at the rock climbing gym
The rock climbing gym was quite interesting.  The body composition of the average Boulder-ite at a rock climbing gym is 4% fat, 6% tattoo ink, and 3% THC.

The kids have also become obsessed with minecraft, a game in which you wander around a virtual world, building stuff.  You can actually build some pretty cool stuff in game, like the Starship Enterprise.  Alex and Michael spent many hours in 2013 working together to build elaborate structures in the minecraft universe.

Alex (L) and Michael (R), in their Minecraft persona, DesslerKids and MikeKdog.  If you see them in-game, run.
Unfortunately, they can also fight in Minecraft.  Here's what happens when Andy gets into a fight with Michael.  This video is from dad's point of view.

And, finally, in "I guess it was bound to happen" news, they are now at the age where Andy and Susan are beginning to irritate them.  Check this out:

Susan and Andy

Andy spent the summer at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, which is why the rest of the family spent the summer there.  Everyone agrees that Boulder is nicer in summer than College Station.  We rented out a basement on Grape St. in North Boulder, a great location near Iris and Broadway.  But, in the end, it was still a basement.  Susan says never again.  Nevertheless, our new hope is to never spend the summer in Texas again.  In 2014, we are planning to spend the summer in the Washington, D.C. area.

Andy is still a professor in the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M and he continues to work on climate change.  No matter how much he studies the problem, though, it doesn't seem to get any better. Andy's also twittering and you can follow him at @AndrewDessler if you want pithy 140-character statements about climate, like this one about this article:

In our annual gadget update, Andy's 2013 gadget was a Chevy Volt.  The Volt is an electric car, but it also carries a gas-powered onboard generator in case the batteries run low.  The car is absurdly complicated — just the section on locking and unlocking the car covers 11 pages.  As an example, here's the section on "passive locking":

Did you get that?  Now imagine this going on for 300 pages and you know what owning a Volt is like.  Andy actually enjoys a car that's as complicated as Adobe Photoshop, so he's very happy with it.

Susan has now moved to the top of everyone's suckers list because she's willing to volunteer to do the thankless jobs that no one else wants to do: Cub Scout den leader, room mom at Allen Academy (insert joke about marrying Andy and/or raising Alex & Michael here).  And she still works in Dr. Lorene Henry's office taking care of the many crazy people in College Station.

As den leader, Susan recently had to camp out with the boys.  Normally, Andy gets the fun of sleeping on the ground (it's on his Murtaugh list, see last year's letter), but he found out just before that he was about 2,000 miles short of the next United elite level.  So he scheduled a mileage run from IAH to EWR to BDL to CLE and back to IAH in one day.  It does not sound like a fun trip, and indeed, it was even less fun than it sounds.  Maintenance issues arose in BDL and, after a 7-hour delay there, he got routed back to IAH via IAD.  This delay made him miss the campout.  Darn!  But he did get his mileage.

Our dogs, Kasper and Winston are doing well. Kasper is getting old and was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur.  So now he's spending his days working on his bucket list.  He also had a cracked tooth that had to be removed.  Still, he thinks that 2013 sucked less than 2012 (cf. last year's letter), but he's hoping 2014 is even better.  Winston is in fine health, although that could change at any minute if he keeps up his aggressive begging at the table.  It's making Susan very angry.

Have a great 2014!

Here's hoping you and your family have a great 2014 and beyond!

Andy, Susan, Michael, Alex (and Kasper and Winston)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy Holidays 2012

Much like Congress and low-GPA undergraduates, Andy believes we should always wait until last minute to do anything. That's why he waited until the very, very, very end of the holiday season to actually write this.

He had hopes and dreams of doing this earlier, but then his kids got out of school for two weeks and any hope of getting anything done quickly evaporated. Little-known fact: Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness after he spent two weeks with his kids at home during holiday break. Which explains "The Horror! The Horror!"

(L to R): Alex, Susan, Michael, and Winston, all on their iPads

Alex and Michael

Alex and Michael are almost 8 and in second grade.  As far as sports go, they are too short to play basketball, they're afraid of a 40-mph baseball, and there's no way that Andy and Susan would let them play football. So by elimitation, soccer has become their sport.

Alex (L) and Michael (R) in their Texans jerseys
They are also doing Cub Scouts. This means that Andy is spending a lot of nights sleeping on the ground, which he says is now on his Murtaugh list (Murtaugh is Danny Glover's character from Lethal Weapon, who constantly says "I'm too old for this sh*t"). Andy looks forward to the kids graduating to Boy Scouts and not needing a parent to go along.

They also enjoy watching shows about blowing things up on Netflix.  While it's probably too soon to say they discovered their dream job, it may be that in 20 years they're blowing things up professionally. They also watch a lot of sci-fi and World War II history shows. This leads to interesting debates, such as, "Who would win a fight between Darth Vader and the Battleship Missouri?"  No clear winner yet on that question.

Max: 2003-2012

In sad news, our loyal Weimaraner Max passed away in February after a brief but courageous fight with cancer.  He was a good dog and a valued member of the family.  We miss him every day.

RIP, Max

Meet the new dog, same as the old dog

During a brief bout of insanity, Andy and Susan decided to get another dog to fill the Max-sized hole in their hearts.  They went to the North Texas Weim Rescue and got a 6-year old Weim named Winston, whose owner had to give the dog up when she went bankrupt.

Winston has his own views about how a house should be run and where dogs are in the pecking order.  We'll just leave it at that.

Winston: the new dog
Kasper is now the senior dog in the Dessler house, and enjoys all of the privileges that august position receives (none).  Kasper is glad 2012 is over: during the year, Max died, our turtle Tex died, the neighbor dog died, Andy's parent's dog died ... it was, as Kasper describes it, a bad year for pets.  He looks forward to a much better 2013.  Claws crossed.

Kasper: the senior dog


Susan continues to work in the office of a local psychiatrist. This means she knows who in town is mentally ill – and that definitely comes in handy.  Her new hobby is making jewelry, which she sells at craft shows.  Andy visited one show and was amazed at how thin he was compared to everyone else there.  She also spends a lot of time driving the kids around and doing things like being an assistant den mother of the Cub Scout pack.  All in all, she is busy.


Andy continues to work on and teach climate change.   His research focuses on the effect of clouds on the climate and he is also working to better understand how stratospheric water vapor is regulated.  He'd like to be able to just teach and do research, but this being climate change, that's not going to happen. During the year, he had a FOIA request for his email (note to reader: be careful what you email him).  This in turn led him to be interviewed for an episode of Frontline entitled Climate of Doubt (watch the video here; read an extended interview with Andy here).  It's quite a good show.

Andy being interviewed by PBS film crew 
The only good news is that the truly weird weather we've had over the last year (droughts, floods, tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy, etc.) is beginning to shift public opinion on climate.  This may allow Congressional leaders to do something.  Andy hesitates to be hopeful given the inability of Congress to do much of anything.  But hope springs eternal ...

Have a great 2013!

Here's hoping you and your family have a great 2013 and beyond!

Andy, Susan, Michael, Alex
(and Kasper and Winston)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Holidays 2011

Andy's January 1, 2012

9:15 AM: Woke up

9:18 AM: Suddenly remembered that I forgot to do the family year-end holiday message

9:20 AM: Sit down at computer

9:21 AM: Get distracted by TMZ article about Snookie

8:32 PM: Remember again year-end holiday message

8:34 PM: Sit down at computer again; promise not to get distracted this time

8:35 PM: Try to think of something interesting to say about 2011

8:37 PM: Now that the kids are in 1st grade, suddenly realize there's not a lot interesting that you can say about being in 1st grade—they go to school in the morning, come back in the afternoon much dirtier than they left, and seem to have learned stuff (about 20% of which is stuff we wish they had not learned). One consequence of the kids getting smarter: it is becoming progressively harder for me and Susan to communicate in secret by spelling words out.

8:40 PM: Mention that they played T-ball and soccer

Don't pitch inside to these guys

8:42 PM: They also learned to swim

Michael takes off

8:45 PM: Mention our two dogs, Max and Kasper, are both doing great. Max remains the Dessler-family Alpha dog, while Kasper refers to himself as the “assistant Alpha dog.” Max, however, insists that Kasper is actually the “assistant to the Alpha dog.”

Max (L) and Kasper (R) doing what they do best

8:57 PM: Susan claims nothing interesting happened to her. I tell her that life begins at 40, so great things are in store for her.

9:04 PM: Mention my pick for the coolest new technology of the year: the Mint robot sweeper. It certainly looks like one of those things that wouldn't work, but amazingly it does. And the best part is that, while you are taking a nap with the dogs, you can think to yourself, “I'm also cleaning the floors.”

9:12 PM: Finally, mention that 2011 was a particularly interesting year for those of us studying climate change. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called climate change “a contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight” while campaigning for President. At the same time, the state was setting a record for heat and drought—and there were so many forest fires that on many days I could literally walk outside your house and smell smoke. Because of the weather and the fact that Perry is an A&M alum, reporters were very interested in getting my Department's opinion of the reality of climate change. This gave me some opportunities for op-ed's and other things.

9:15 PM: I also got a fellowship from Google for science communication (little-known perk of that award: Google set it up so that a web search for the term “stud muffin” now returns my homepage as the top hit). Also, my new textbook on climate change is now out.

9:20 PM: Try to remember password for blogspot account. Spend 45 minutes trying to "recover" password.

10:05 PM: Add photo of family at Disney World for the sign-off

10:15 PM: Remember to write: "I hope that all of you had a great 2011 and have an even better 2012."

Andy, Susan, Michael, Alex
(and Max and Kasper)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy holidays 2010

Welcome to the Dessler family year-end holiday message for 2010. Our big news: Alex and Michael started kindergarten this fall. Michael informs us he likes school, while Alex says he doesn’t particularly like learning, but he likes going to school.

In their spare time, Andy and the kids enjoy doing science experiments. Their favorite so far is the dry-ice volcano. Unfortunately, not all the experiments go as planned. One experiment, the details of which will not be divulged here, destroyed one of the trees in the backyard. It did not just kill the tree — the experiment actually knocked it over. We won’t be doing that one again.

Michael (left) and Alex enjoy a contemplative moment of quiet and serenity

The kids have started playing sports, doing t-ball in the spring (see Michael’s first homerun), judo this summer, and soccer this fall. Unfortunately, the teams are co-ed and girls at this age are bigger, faster, stronger, and meaner — which means we spend most of the games screaming, “Alex, GET OUT OF HER WAY!” right before 40-lb Alex gets flattened by a battleship with pigtails. Michael is a little bigger and faster, with a well-developed self-preservation instinct, so he’s generally able to avoid harm.

Alex (left) plays a game on an iPod while Michael watches

The kids have also discovered video games. Alex in particular is obsessed with Mario Galaxy (and it’s sequel Mario Galaxy 2) on our Wii. They also play games on Andy’s iPad and on the Nintendo DS. Andy tries to explain how, when he was a kid, the only toy he had was a bag of dirt --- and how his walk to school was uphill both ways.

We realize that many people only read this only to find out what’s up with Max and Kasper, our valiant Weimaraners. So here is their update: Max is now 7 and Kasper is 5 and they had an exciting year. Max continues to slay lizards and frogs at an astounding pace, and enjoys spending time on facebook every evening. Kasper, on the other hand, had an unhappy year: he has food allergies and primarily eats a dog food containing kangaroo as the main protein. Unfortunately, it got recalled in August because of possible salmonella contamination and he’s been eating a vegetarian dog food since then. Yuck! We’re pretty sure it tastes like cardboard, so we’re hoping that the kangaroo food gets back into production soon.

Max (left) and Kasper relax in the backyard

Andy is still working on climate change, and he’s now focusing on understanding how clouds regulate our climate and whether and how they will amplify future warming. In our 2008 holiday letter, we wrote, “Andy expects much better things [on climate change] from the Obama administration,” compared to the Bush Administration. Well, that didn’t work out as expected.

Andy is sorry that we’re not doing anything to head off climate change, but, as a purely scientific question, he’s very interested to see exactly how quickly the Earth melts from all of the carbon we’re dumping into the atmosphere. After all, when rational people solve an environmental problem, then you miss out on seeing how bad it would have been had you done nothing. So, for example, we'll never know (except in computers), how bad ozone depletion would have become because we took action to head it off. But in this case, it's looking more and more likely that we'll run this grand geophysical experiment to completion. It should be fascinating!

Ultimately, it took 50 years for everyone to accept that smoking caused health problems, and it may take that long for everyone to realize that climate change is real. If so, then we have a good two decades of "debate" left. In the meantime, Andy’s doing more outreach to get the word out: here's an an oped he did with some colleagues, or a BBC radio interview (starts at 14 min.). Andy was excited when he found out that the interviewer was Jon Stewart, but then he found out it was the BBC’s version of Jon Stewart, who is not funny.

Susan still runs the office of Dr. Lorene Henry, a psychiatrist here in College Station. She also spends a lot of her time keeping the kids out of trouble, driving them around, and helping the teachers of Alex and Michael's kindergarten classes.

We'll leave you with some fun Dessler trivia: Andy figured out this year that "Andrew Dessler" is an anagram for "endless reward." Susan is not convinced.

We hope you and your family had a great 2010 and an even better 2011.

Andy, Susan, Alex, and Michael (and Max and Kasper)
5110 Congressional Dr.
College Station, TX 77845
Andy: (new e-mail address)