Thursday, March 31, 2011

Don't vote for me!

I know the specific subject of this video is out of date, but the idea is timeless. This rant very nicely summarizes the feeling I've had for a while listening to populist politicians. No, you are not me. I'm me!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Owen and the art of the jump shot

Owen loves playing catch with the football. He likes swimming. He enjoys the occasional game of soccer. But lately he's been all about basketball. This morning we went to the gym to practice our shots. While shooting around Owen said, "I think I know what sport I want to play when I grow up. I want to play basketball."

One problem he has been having lately is letting a few misses get into his head, which affects his next shot, and if missed affects his next shot, etc. It's a common problem for athletes, and the best players have the worst memory on the court. The old adage for good shooters is if you're hot, shoot. If you're not hot, shoot until you get hot. This was a bit too subtle for Owen, so the advice I gave him is, "Do you know what Kobe Bryant (Owen's favorite player) says when he misses a shot? He says to himself, 'I'll make the next one.'" Owen thought a bit and said, "Oh. Okay." Next I said, "Do you know what he says when he makes his shot? He says, 'I'm gonna make the next one.'" Owen then smiled and went back to shooting. It was very satisfying to here him whispering to himself, "I'm gonna make the next one" after each one.

The funny thing is that he shoots better than 60-70% on a 10-foot hoop. I'm usually happy with making half of my shots! Here are a couple videos of Owen in action.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Music Break

Japanese-precision-infused Mid-western emo mathy post-rock with jazz Japanese! Mercury Program, eat your hearts out!

(It starts slow, but builds quickly after the second minute.)

Toe - Goodbye

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Yesterday was the first in a series of swim lessons for Owen. On the advice of a friend, I signed him up now, so that by the time summer rolls around, we'll not be battling the crowds for lessons. Turns out she was right-on because a lesson that could take 10-12 kids in his group had only 2, making it a semi private lesson for the price of a group lesson! WOOT. Anyhow, my hope is that once Owen has a bit more independence in the pool, I can take both kids to the pool on my own. He was one of the first kids in the water, borrowed some awesome goggles, and may have a little crush on his teacher. He's diving down for toys on the bottom of the pool (4ft) and pushing off the side, then gliding about 5 feet. Multiple times I heard him ask "Can I try that again?" Super fun!

Monday, March 21, 2011

One more

Tonight at bedtime I read a family favorite to Marmar titled Bunny My Honey. We've recently quit sippy cups milk at bedtime (I know, we should've stopped a year ago), so Marcus was whining about wanting "more milky" at the turn of each page, and even pauses between some sentences.

In this story, Bunny my honey gets lost in the woods while playing hide-n-seek. He cries out "Mommy, mommy, I want my Mommy....Mommy, mommy, I want my Mommy". I read these lines aloud and Mar leaned over and almost grinning said "Bunny my honey is sad because he wants more milky".

This kid knows how to work it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

marcus' one-liners

the oh-so-quiet-one of a year ago has not stopped talking for two weeks. he's providing an ongoing commentary for everything from dialogue about going to the bathroom to spotting a race-car on the road. Needless to say, he's cracking us all up in the process. a few examples:

* last week, i'd made salmon with balsamic glaze, mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus, cauliflower & Brussels sprouts. once his hands were washed, Marcus raced to the table, climbed into his chair and smelled out the prospects. he quickly declared: "I thought you were making something delicious for me". wow, if the boy only knew how good he has it!

* in the last two days, he's gone from sleeping in the crib with a sippy-cup of milk at bedtime, to sleeping in a big-boy bed, and having water or nothing to drink. he's shed a few tears, but declared today, "I'm not a baby anymore, I'm a big-boy with my big bed and my monkey"

* "I don't want you to say that to me" shoulders slouched and bottom lip out, ANY time he's corrected.

*Upon my departure at pre-school dropoff he advised, "Don't cry Mommy, I'll be right here with my friends when you come back"

* Perhaps one needs to witness it in person to understand... but just imagine, little curly-haired rascal, chiming in when his older brother is corrected by parental unit. When Owen returned to the dinner table after his consequence for a not-so-fine moment of bashing the butternut squash risotto, Marcus blurts out, "You need to go back to your room Owie!"

* This morning, to my utter delight, Mar commented "You look just like a princess, Mommy". What a way to start a week, eh?

Student Athletes

I'm sitting here on the couch partaking in the Madness of March by watching the North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Washington Huskies. It's a thoroughly entertaining match-up of two top-notch basketball programs.

I was half paying attention during one of the many 3-minute media time-outs (or was it one of the many team time-outs?) when a commercial came on showing a bunch of college athletes doing their things in slow motion with dramatic music playing. It was an ad for some bank or another with a tag line about human highlight-reels. The commercial was followed by another selling beer, featuring, BTW, the guy who plays the mentally-unstable "Captain America" on Generation Kill, a miniseries well worth watching. But I digress.

The thought that came to mind is that all of the student athletes in the first commercial, combined, were paid less than Captain America in the second commercial. How do I know this? Because NCAA athletes are forbidden from accepting any type of payment beyond their scholarships, or their school can be severely punished. So if those were actual NCAA athletes in the commercial (they may not have been), then they were paid a grand total of $0 for lending their likenesses to an ad for some corporate entity. Captain America, meanwhile, is presumably making a decent living by shilling for light beer.

The idea is that NCAA athletes are amateurs, and as such represent the embodiment of athletics in its purest form. They're just reg'lar ol' students, just like all the other criminology and hotel administration majors. Of course, if you've ever attended a Pac-10 or Big-10 college, or most any university with a major athletics program, you know this all pretty much bunk. At Berkeley I had several Cal football players in my Astro 10 recitation section. Well, more accurately, I had several enrolled in my recitation sections. I never saw them during the Fall semester because they were busy practicing and packing Pac-10 stadiums.

I think the notion that NCAA athletes as students first, athletes second is a charade, and a deeply unfair one at that. I'm not saying it's unfair for all the non-athlete students who have to attend class while the athletes don't. Most people enroll in college to take classes (at least I hope they do!), and most students have no problem attending class. I think it's unfair for the athletes who work hard to bring in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to their universities, and their only reward is a scholarship and the burden of a bunch of classes they have no time to learn from (college students: yes, I know I shouldn't use a preposition to end a sentence with. But it just sounds better that way).

My humble proposition: pay the athletes in accordance with their skill level. If they happen to be interested in a college education let them take special classes with separate instructors, special class times and reduced course loads during the season. This may sound radical, but A) most colleges pretty much do the latter by providing special tutors and excusing athletes from class when they play on the road and B) why not do the former when colleges already pay college coaches far more than anyone else at the school?

The salaries of state employees is public information, and the San Francisco Chronicle has a handy app that lets you look up the income of various UC profs, administrators and coaches. For example, a UC professor who also happens a member of the National Academy of Sciences makes a salary of $219,998 per year, while the UCLA men's basketball coach makes $150,000 per year. Not bad, eh? But if you glance over at the second column "Total Pay," the prof makes $219,998 while the coach makes $999,999. As another comparison, in 2008 the Cal football coach Jeff Tedford made $2.8 million annually, while the Berkeley Chancellor made a measly $430 thousand.

This might not seem very fair, but even though the prof likely brings in several hundred-thousand a year in grant money, and the UCLA men's basketball program makes tens of millions each year, many times more than the coach's annual salary. In 2004 the Pac-10 made $12.3 million from the NCAA basketball tournament alone. Granted, a lot of this money goes to paying for other money-losing sports, but a school like UCLA is going to make a hefty profit each year. So, to my thinking, it's only fair that the coach of the men's basketball team get payed many times more than a top professor. Everyone get's paid according to what she/he can bring in for the university, at least to a good approximation.

Everyone, that is, except the athletes. An athletic scholarship can range from $500 to $30K a year, and most of it goes back to the university to pay tuition. An athlete like U. Washington's Isaiah Thomas (no, not that Isiah Thomas, the younger version), who leads his team with 15.7 points and 6.3 assists per game while wowing the crowd with his ball-handling skills takes home about a 100th as much as his coach each year. As electrifying as Thomas is, at 5 foot 9 he's not likely to have a prolific NBA career, if one at all, which means he stands to make < $30k/year playing in Europe or lesser professional basketball leagues rather than signing million-dollar contracts. That, or he'll have to hit the job market with his American ethic studies degree. I'm not sure what that particular job market looks like these days, but I'm doubtful his 2.6 GPA (another team high, by the way) will fling wide doors of opportunity.

Isaiah Thomas (photo. University of Washington)

Thus, I think it's only fair to pay people like Thomas now for all of the revenue they are bringing to their athletic programs, conferences and universities. A few hundred thousand a year, bennies and a retirement account seems about right for a guy who nearly led his 7th ranked team past #2 UNC to the Sweet 16 (man, what a nail-biter!). Either that, or require the coaches to serve "professor coaches" and make them to teach a criminology course or two each year with a salary capped below that of other professors: $100K/year should be adequate for such a "pure" athletic post.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Feature Article

Wow, it has been a while since I last posted. Sorry for the hiatus, but I've been on the road giving talks and observing, all the while writing papers and proposals.

Speaking of writing, last year I was invited to write a cover story for Sky & Telescope about the relationships between planets and their central stars. Different types of stars provide us with different opportunities to learn about planets. For example, stars more massive than the Sun are much more likely than dinky little red dwarfs to harbor a Jupiter-sized planet. This correlation between planet occurrence and stellar mass gives us clues about how planets form. However, if you want to find low-mass planets, the signposts of a planet's presence are much easier to read around M dwarfs (an eclipsing planet dims a small star more than a big star; small planets induce larger accelerations in smaller stars).

All this and more can be found in the April issue of Sky & Telescope. Grab a copy soon!

UPDATE: For some reason I cannot find the article in the online edition of S&T. But the print version should be on newsstands through the end of March (even though it's the April issue).