When pirates need funding

I was traveling Keck Observatory with my collaborator and friend, Josh Winn, this past April. We were standing at the rental counter and he was trying to downsize his car to a cheaper model. We had the following exchange when the agent stepped aside:

Me: "Why worry about a couple bucks a day? You're charging it to your grant, right?"
Josh: "Because there's only a finite amount of money in my grant and it has to last 5 years. This is something you'll learn when you move out from under your advisor's wing."

As is usually the case, Josh was spot on. I was used to working for a famous astronomer with deep, deep pockets. Chevy Cavalier? Why not get the midsize? Hell, go for the convertible.

I thought I had been fairly careful with my advisor's money while I was a grad student. But now, a mere 7 months later, I'm on my own and I can recognize that I could have been more thrifty in the past. I now rush to get rental cars back by the appointed check-in time. I book plane tickets well in advance to get good fares. When on the road I shop at the grocery store for lunch, rather than eating out every day. Josh was right, grant money is finite in the real world.

So that brings me to my latest adventures in applying for research funding. At the moment, I'm writing a grant proposal for the National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grant to cover some publication charges and so I can go to more than one conference per year. The research funds provided by my postdoc fellowship are nice, but flying to conferences from the middle of the Pacific Ocean is pretty expensive and it costs about $1500-$2000 to publish a paper.

So check it out: the NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grant. AARG. Yes, the pirate grant! Batten down the hatches, the deadline is Nov 15!

Unfortunately, it turns out that the NSF calls it the AAG. Talk about a missed opportunity. Or perhaps they did it intentionally to avoid the association with plundering and eye patches. Ah well. Wish me luck in going after that research booty.

AARG!

I wish my keyboard had an "avast" button for when the computer tells me that it has encountered a fatal error.

On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I started by downloading a stock photo of J.J. from NBA.com, which I then loaded into OpenOffice Draw:

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…

The GRE: A test that fails

Every Fall seniors in the US take the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), and their scores are submitted along with their applications to grad school. Many professors, particularly those in physics departments, believe that the GRE is an important predictor of future success in grad school, and as a result many admissions committees employ score cutoffs in the early stages of their selection process. However, past and recent studies have shown that there is little correlation between GRE scores and future graduate school success.
The most recent study of this type was recently published in Nature Jobs. The authors, Casey Miller and Keivan Stassun show there are strong correlations between GRE scores and race/gender, with minorities and (US) white women scoring lower than their white male (US) counterparts. They conclude, "In simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin colour than of ability and ultimate success."
Here's the key figure from their article: