## Posts

Showing posts from 2010

### The future is now! Meh.

As miraculous as this thing is, after I downloaded the free (FREE!) app to my phone, I saw that it actually costs $4.99 for the Spanish-to-English module. I was all, "$4.99 for a damn iPhone app?! No way!" Yes, 2 minutes prior it was a miracle. Then, suddenly I was outraged at the price.

### Toward a More Visual Isle

My friend Jon stopped through Pasadena yesterday and I introduced him to the Isle of Tune. (You might remember Jon from around this time last year.) After browsing through some example islands among the top-ranked list Jon noticed a tendency for authors to place function over form, thereby neglecting the visual aspect of the island. I had this same tendency in my first Isles: three distinct musical elements for three separate cars, all arranged in a line or circle.

So Jon and I set out to design a town visually first, and see what musical elements fell out of the construction. We then took some of those elements, replicated them and formed our Tune: Novambient Drive.

If you enjoy it, be sure to vote

Many thanks to the Isle of Tune's creator Jim, for fixing our island after a weird bug caused our elements to become scrambled when we first tried to save/share it.

### Estrellita

As a professional astronomer, I strongly approve of las maestras choice of song for the San Rafael Elementary Christmas program. Bravo DLP kindergarteners!

### The Reason for the Season: Economic Inefficiency?

I just read an excellent article on Slate that confirmed the intuitive sense I've long had about gift-giving. The article describes two of the primary reasons why giving gifts is economically ill-advised. The first is dead-weight loss, which is nicely summed up in the classic tale of the Gift of the Magi. The basic idea is that if a person really wants/needs an item, they will buy it.
Even if Della hadn't cut off her hair, economic theory would demand to know why, if Della really wanted the combs, she wouldn't already have bought them. Or why, if Jim really wanted to replace his worn leather watch strap, he wouldn't already have done so. Based on this concept the ideal gift-giving situation is one in which the gift giver is able to anticipate a gift that the recipient wasn't aware they wanted. In order to do this, you must know the person well---often better than they know themselves. This is difficult to do for anyone outside of your own household.

You might ar…

### Fall Comes Slowly to Pasadena

Mar and I were playing in the front yard last week and I was inspired to snap some pics and a quick movie. Sorry for the jitter, the form factor of an iPhone does not facilitate smooth panning.

Hey, what's that small creature in the bushes?

### First tooth out!

Last week Owen and I were playing football in the master bedroom. Owen was pretending to run back a kickoff and I reached out to tackle him while Mar blocked me. Owen ducked and my wrist hit him square in his mouth, right on his loose tooth. He stood up, blinked hard twice, and spit out his tooth, literally with a patooey sound. I sprinted and grabbed a wash cloth, but it was too late. He saw the blood and started crying. Fortunately the mouth heals quicker than any part of the body.

Owen eventually calmed down and we put his tooth under his pillow in a "special tooth holder" (an old coin purse of Erin's). The next morning the tooth fairy delivered: a crisp dollar bill (you know, due to inflation).

### Hurray for correct terminology

One of my (many) football pet peeves is the so-called "turnover ratio," which is defined as the difference between the number of times a team takes away possession of the ball to the times they turn the ball over. Catch that? It's calculated as the difference: R = Ntake - Ngive. The Jaguars have given away the ball 10 more times than they have taken it away this season, so their "turnover ratio" is -10. Gah!

Fortunately, in today's CBS broadcast of the Jags vs the Colts someone finally got it right. The announcer called it the turnover differential! Yay!

### Beavers Win! Beavers Win!

It was the longest minute-18 ever. Caltech had led most of the game only to have the UCSC Banana Slugs roar back to snatch the edge back (despite not having appendages). As nicely summarized on the Caltech sports page:
Cramer scored the last points for Caltech with 1:18 left which gave the home squad a 63-59 edge. Samuel Allen hit one of two at the foul line seven seconds later to bring UC Santa Cruz within three points. During that same sequence, Allen rebounded his second miss at the foul line and his lay-up brought the visitors deficit to one point."I'm about to have a heart attack," breathed Erin as we sunk into our seats. It looked like victory was slowly slipping away, aided by UCSC's full-court press, a few lucky bounces, and what seemed like hostile officiating. On the inbound:
A Caltech turnover gave the ball back to UC Santa Cruz with under a minute left. Ryan Matsuoka missed a jumper with 33 seconds left but the Banana Slugs grabbed an offensive rebound. All…

### The reason for the season

Togetherness (fostered by alcohol!)

via Andrew Sullivan, like most things.

### sweet as can be

by e

i dunno how i ended up in a house of such sweet boys. marcus and i are both home sick today; he's watching Cars for the millionth time, i'm working my way through a backlog of designblogs. a minute ago he climbed onto my lap and said:

"mommy, i want to snuggle you. i really love you"
me, wiping away a tear of joy "i really love you too"
mar, "i love you as high as i can hop" (can you guess which book is a favorite?)
me "me too marcus"

he then held monkey up to my face and said "here ya go mommy, give monkey kiss". naturally, i obliged, and he proceeded to snuggle me so fiercly, we accidentally butted heads and i ended up with a fat lip.

### AmyPhone

Mar called up Auntie Amy today on his Lightening McQueen phone.

### Saturday Morning Mathematics

Saturday morning Owen and I were having some fun with math (Marcus helped by turning an otherwise orderly counting process into more of a Monte Carlo process). We started by counting the change in his piggy bank: 1363 pennies in various denominations. While putting the change back in the bank, Owen paused and said, "Daddy, do you know what 37 plus 16 is? It's 53!" I figured he got pretty lucky since we normally do double-digit addition on paper, not in his head. Assuming it was just a fluke, I asked him what 55 plus 13 was. He paused, and I thought he was stumped. Then, after about 10 seconds he exclaimed, "Oh, I know! It's 68!" Well, I'll be!

So I grabbed the camera as we proceeded down the stairs:

I'm pretty amazed at his ability to compute in his head. I think he has a real talent for visualizing numbers and manipulating them spatially (if that's the right term). My mom often recounts the story of me, when I was 5, telling her how many quarters…

### The Andrew Lange Memorial Trampoline

In my Caltech offer letter, the late PMA Chair Andrew Lange wrote:

"Finally, the Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy will, with considerable delight, have delivered to your new address in Pasadena a trampoline identical to (or, if such cannot be located, as similar as possible to) the trampoline that your son Owen so much enjoyed in the Chair's backyard during your visit."
At long last, this morning:

### Urban Assault Meets Scottish Countryside

Danny MacAskill - "Way Back Home" - street trials riding short film

### Have Not A Spirit of Fear

I was sitting in the living room working on my laptop when Owen wandered in and laid his head on my lap. "Daddy, I keep having bad dreams and I can't go to sleep." I walked him back into his room, tucked him in and told him to look at his stuffed animals if he got scared again. After all, how can you feel scared when Piglet is grinning in your face? Owen agreed with that logic and soon fell asleep.

The whole incident brought to mind one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. I used to have a hard time falling asleep because I had an active imagination and I was extremely susceptible to imagery from TV. For instance, there was an episode of McGyver with a Sasquatch in it. Even though the Sasquatch turned out to be a bad guy dressed up, and even though he was eventually caught by the bemulletted hero, I still feared the 7-foot-tall monster would emerge from my closet the moment I closed my eyes.

To help me and my sisters with our bed-time fears, my father use…

### Owen and Erin Playing Catch

Owen practices his diving catches just after the 2:00 mark.

### Allan Sandage

Sadly, my academic great-grand-uncle Allan Sandage passed away last week. I never had an opportunity to meet him, which is a shame because he worked just up the road at the Carnegie Institute right here in Pasadena. I would have liked to talk with him about evolved stars as his 2003 paper on subgiants was part of the inspiration of my thesis project.

From his obituary in the NY Times:
[His advisor Edwin] Hubble had planned an observing campaign using a new 200-inch telescope on Palomar Mountain in California to explore the haunting questions raised by that mysterious expansion. If the universe was born in a Big Bang, for example, could it one day die in a Big Crunch? But Hubble died of a heart attack in 1953, just as the telescope was going into operation. So Dr. Sandage, a fresh Ph.D. at 27, inherited the job of limning the fate of the universe. “It would be as if you were appointed to be copy editor to Dante,” Dr. Sandage said. “If you were the assistant to Dante, and t…

### FDR's Second Bill of Rights

More here.

Note: I previously said that these rights "never came to pass." This was incorrect as many of these concepts have been realized through legislation since FDRs time. But it is pretty sad that we had to wait more than 60 years after FDR to get some semblance of universal health care. And even now, people are losing their insurance as they're unable to find work. It's also sad that these concepts are considered radical "socialism" by many in our country when they were proposed by a US president and things like universal health care have long been enacted in almost every other democratic country on Earth.

Check out my friend Leah's post about here 75 dollar emergency doctor visit in Australia. Then consider how we had to pay nearly $1000/month for insurance while I was a postdoc in Hawaii because Kaiser's Gold Family Health Plan doesn't cover maternity care in low-population states. ### Trick Play From Wikipedia: The ball begins on the ground with its long axis parallel to the sidelines of the field, its ends marking each team's line of scrimmage in American football; in Canadian football line of scrimmage of the team without the ball is 1 yard their side of the ball. The snap must be a quick and continuous movement of the ball by one or both hands of the snapper, and the ball must leave the snapper's hands. The various rules codes have additional requirements, all of which have the effect of requiring the ball to go backwards to a player behind the line of scrimmage (i.e. in the "backfield"). The ball may be handed, thrown, or even rolled, and its trajectory and the ball during that passage are called "the snap". The snapper is almost always the center. The ball is almost always sent between the snapper's legs, but only in Canadian football is that required. hat tip: Tim Morton ### "Tricky puzzles" with Owen Owen and I like to play "Tricky Numbers" and "Hang Pig." Tricky numbers is long addition, but we don't call it that. Hang Pig is like Hangman, without the misanthropic imagery. Nonna the Montessori kindergarten teacher is thrilled. We are too :) Tricky Numbers at the top with a maze at the bottom. More Tricky Numbers, and "Dad" spelled Espanol-style. Hang Pig! ### Owen's view of the Solar System This morning Owen drew his conception of the Solar System. Depicted are: The Earth, with Hawaii, California, North America, the North Pole, and the oceanMarsThe SunPlanet Owen (newly discovered)Jupiter and its red spotSaturn and its ringPluto ### OK Go! rocks our house ### Post Prop 19 arguments There simply aren't any good arguments in favor of prohibition. But people keep trying. Fortunately, there are smart people like Andrew Sullivan publicly destroying these bad arguments. A snippet: This is a core freedom for human beings and requires an insane apparatus of state control and police power to prevent it from occurring. All you have to do is burn a plant and inhale the smoke. If humans are not free to do this in the natural world in which they were born, what on earth are they free to do? My premise is freedom; Josh's is not. Should we ban roses because they give us pleasure with their beauty and their scent? Should we ban herbs, like rosemary or thyme, because they give us pleasure and encourage us to eat more? Should we ban lawn-grass because maintaining it consumes too many people's weekend afternoons? Should we cut down trees because the beauty of them can sometimes distract someone from the road? I could go on.The point is the government has no bus… ### Student of the Month Today, Owen was awarded The Student of the Month for outstanding achievement! He walked back to the classroom holding the award just like he is in this photo. "Mommy I'm so happy I got this!" That's our boy! ### Division along class lines In the last week, I've had two conversations with new acquaintances about our choice to send the boys to public school. It's so strange and foreign for me that this topic comes up in meeting anyone new around here. It's almost like asking someone who they vote for. We're always rooting for the underdog. In both cases, I found myself defending our choice for public education and proud to stand my ground. Pasadena Public Schools have a unique history among California schools. In the late 1950s, when public schools across the country were being integrated, Pasadena public schools were among the most reluctant to do so, outside of the deep south. Through the 1970s, the schools were still under de-facto segregation, because of demographic boundaries. When the black and brown kids entered the public schools here, nearly all the white kids pulled out--- taking their resources with them and creating a division in education primarily on class, and hence race, lines. To s… ### Existential Crisis Averted I'm fairly convinced that every astronomer experiences at least one period of existential crisis at some point in her/his career. After all, astronomy is a luxurious pursuit of knowledge only afforded to the wealthiest of societies. It doesn't build bridges or clean up oil spills. So isn't there a more worthwhile use of my intelligence and schooling? a burgeoning astronomer might rightly ask. Shouldn't I be teaching kids in Haiti? Well, maybe we should. But if we did, who would come up with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS)? And for that matter, who would come up with our snappy acronyms? Who? John Tonry, that's who. John popped up on astro-ph to remind us that astronomers are, in fact, capable of useful endeavors: Earth is bombarded by meteors, occasionally by one large enough to cause a significant explosion and possible loss of life. Although the odds of a deadly asteroid strike in the next century are low, the most likely impact is by a rel… ### So awesome A wonderful story from a mom who let her son dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo, and the trouble she encountered. A great quote from among many: If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off. ### Let's play Numberwang! ### Post election notes Sadly, Prop 19 didn't pass in Tuesday's election. Score one for the old drug warriors and failed drug policy. But I'm encouraged because A) we're having this conversation B) the process led to a lighter punishment for possession (misdemeanor down from possible prison term) and C) it didn't lose by much. Losing by a 4-point swing isn't bad for an initiative that every major CA newspaper was against (see my LA Times review). Plus, the prohibitionists got their chance to roll out their best arguments and, well, they looked pretty silly in the process. In better news, Prop 23 failed. I didn't post about this evil little initiative, but I'm glad it's gone. Basically, two Texas oil companies pushed to have clean air laws rolled back. "We're all about clean air," they said. "But let's roll back the laws just until unemployment drops below 5.4% for four straight quarters. Jobs and stuff!" In other words, let's just suspend sen… ### Words Visual poetry ("Words"): Youtube montage version (equally beautiful, IMO): This was all inspired by the absolutely amazing Radiolab episode. that I listed to as a podcast on my way back from Ohio Friday night. Fortunately it was a night-time flight with no lights on because I was crying a bit after the story of the 27 year old man who learned words for the first time. ### Wobble Boffins! My friend and collaborator Andrew Howard just published an amazing paper in Science (abstract only, full article costs$\$). The paper, on which I am proud to be a coauthor, came out Thursday and has attracted a lot of attention from both the astronomy community and the public. This is primarily because in it we provide the first estimate of the frequency of Earth-sized planets around other stars, often referred to as "eta Earth," after the Greek letter in the Drake Equation. We estimate that about 1 in 4 stars has an Earth-sized planet!

The results are from the NASA-UC Eta-Earth survey that we have been conducting over the past 5 years at Keck Observatory.

The results have quickly made their way out into the realm of popular science. Here's my favorite:
Alien Earthlike worlds 'like grains of sand', say 'wobble' boffinsI'm going to start listing "Wobble Boffin" as my job description on my CV! Andrew has an excellent quote describing our methodol…

### heehee!

yesterday while doing homework, owen exclaims, "aye chihuahua"
marcus replies, "i chi my wah-wah (water)!"

### Tha Swagger Wagon

From the wonderfully subversive (reverse-subversive?) Toyota ad series:

Where my kids at?!

For our part, we prefer the Mazda 5.

### Crazy eyes

From an older article in Cosmos magazine:

A new study has shown that a bizarre deep-fish can rotate its eyes to look up through the totally transparent roof of its head in search of prey. Though the barreleye fish, Macropinna microstoma, was discovered almost 70 years ago, most specimens were damaged when brought to the surface in nets.The research from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), in California, is the first to show that the animal has a transparent fluid-filled sac in place of the roof its skull, and that it can rotate its tubular eyes to either look up or forwards through its head to focus on prey.
I was reminded of this article when talking with my collaborator Andrew while we were observing on Keck tonight. Andrew keeps an amazing little "memory book" in his wallet that he created to keep track of the crazy and sometimes useful facts that he has come across over the years. For example, there are 105 billion humans that have ever lived on Ea…

### Portugal's drug decriminalization story

Did you know that Portugal decriminalized drugs 10 years ago? Not just marijuana, but all drugs. Nowadays, Portugal has lower usage rates and lower incidence of drug-related crime than any other EU nation or the US.

This week at Politico of all places there's an excellent excellent op-ed by Glenn Greenwald about Portugal's radical new policies toward drug usage. Here are a few snippets:
By any metric, Portugal’s drug-decriminalization scheme has been a resounding success. Drug usage in many categories has decreased in absolute terms, including for key demographic groups, like 15-to-19-year-olds. Where usage rates have increased, the increases have been modest — far less than in most other European Union nations, which continue to use a criminalization approach. Portugal, whose drug problems were among the worst in Europe, now has the lowest usage rate for marijuana and one of the lowest for cocaine. Drug-related pathologies, including HIV transmission, hepatitis transm…

### Some Photos

Now that my phone is once again talking to iPhoto, I was able to upload about 3 weeks worth of photos. Here's a quick sampling:

Owen doing some board work in my office: "Hoy es viernes."

Picking Owen up from school.

When Erin was out of town running a marathon in Iowa, I stayed with the boys for the extended weekend. Here's our Sunday morning trip to Will Rogers State Beach.

Bath time!

I recently gave a colloquium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), just north of Pasadena. Here I am having some fun with the IR camera demonstration in the space flight museum.