Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A few of his favorite things


 Wearing hoods when "it's getting too windy"

Lying in the sun "like lizards" to warm up

Workin' for you, doin' mighty things...

Library books about helicopters, submarines, and the like

Racecars, especially real ones like our "racecar minivan"
Kung Fu Panda sauce on his stir fry
Sporting Mommy's old sunglasses while napping
Being a BIG BOY! Camping & rock climbing!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Blake Superior

Blake Griffin with the redefinition of "posterizing":



His moves are straight thuggish, but then you see something like this and you realize there's depth there. Layers, like an onion...an onion that regularly dunks on 7-foot-tall Lakers.



Is there anything funnier than a man doing lunges?

Monday, April 23, 2012

From the Wow Files


I never thought I'd see it, but here's a reference to A Tribe Called Quest (the best hip-hop group of all time)...in a scientific meeting session title!

The Low End Theory: current status and future challenges in low-mass stellar evolution 
AARON DOTTER, STScI

Type: Invited
Topic: Formation and Evolution of Cool Stars and Brown Dwarfs
---------------------

I will be at this conference. I will attend this session, for the title if nothing else.

Of course, now that I said that, I'm beginning to wonder if there are other Low End Theories. To the Google-mobile!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Overheard from the kids

Owen and Marcus (and Monkey)
Marcus: "He was throwing sand at me, and I told him that is TOTALLY LAME!" (pronounced: totawy wame.)
----

Owen (in the car): "Is that a hiker?! Yes. It is!"
----

John (drying dishes): "Erin, where should I put this new bowl?"
Erin: "Put it anywhere."
Marcus (running into the room): "You mean in your butt?!"
-----

Owen (in the car after a long silence): "You know, lava can easily melt snow."
-----

Owen: "Mom, do you know what it means when you stick your middle finger up?"
Erin: "What does it mean?"
Owen: "It means you hate God."
-----

Owen (struggling): "Dad, that building is so tall I want to say the c-word."
John: "Oh yeah? What word is that?"
Owen (whispering): "I mean the word 'holy crap'."
John (whispering back): "It's okay. I agree, that building is so tall that it deserves the c-word. You can say it out loud this one time."
-----

Erin: "You need to clean this up. Right. Now."
Marcus: "Uggghhhh! Do you want to be the mom?!....oh, wait..."

(We often have to say this to Owen when he tries to boss Marcus around. The reasoning being that if he wants to act like a mom or dad, he has to also pay the bills, clean the kitchen, etc...)
-----

Marcus: "Is this meat or hotdog?"
-----

John: "It's time to eat."
Marcus: "Awkward!" (pronounced auk-WAAADT)
Owen: "Stop saying that!"
Marcus: "Awkward!"
Erin: "Knock it off, both of you."
Marcus: "Awkward!"

(What is it with every kids show and movie trailer these days features someone saying "Awkward!" as the punchline to a joke?"
-----
And finally, as I was writing this post:

Owen: "Dad, you know you can use this red light at night to look at worms because worms come out at night and they do not see red light."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Slow-mo stupidity

Don't try this at home:

 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Performance-enhancing drugs

Rx reminder
About two years ago I was suffering from a debilitating and possibly deadly illness. Sadly, I was suffering because I was refusing to get treatment. I had seen others get this illness treated with medication and some of them had suffered from bad side effects, which scared me. I convinced myself that I could beat my illness without medical attention. But my condition worsened and it was affecting everyone around me.

If I told you that condition were cancer or Parkinson's or some other obviously physical ailment, I'm sure you would be scratching your head as to why I refused treatment for so long. However, my ailment wasn't obviously physical. Instead, it was mental. When I finally sought a diagnosis, I learned that I was suffering from an extreme anxiety disorder and moderate depression. 

When I tell this to people who know me well, they're almost always surprised. This is because I was generally pretty good at hiding my symptoms. It was only when I was alone that I would obsess for hours about some interpersonal interaction from earlier in my day. It was at night when I couldn't sleep. It was in the mornings, in the shower when I battled the voices that told me I wasn't good enough, and I shouted back in irrational but real anger. It was in my office that I continually looked over my shoulder for my colleagues to find out that I didn't belong at Caltech (impostor syndrom is a real thing!). 

Near the end of my refusal to seek treatment, I wrote a blog post for Astrobites entitled Zen and the Art of Astronomy Research, which pretty much went viral within the astro community. In it, I said:
Most people find the topic of mental health a bit unsettling, so I made sure to qualify what I meant by the term. I wasn’t insinuating that anyone in the room was crazy or mentally unstable. And I wasn’t trying to get all squishy with my audience by talking about warm fuzzies, or fuzzies of any [temperature] for that matter. But in the same way that it’s important for you to take care of your lower back by lifting with your legs, it’s important to take care of your mental state while you tackle the rigors of science. After all, you can in principle reduce your data with a bad back. However, if you’re not thinking clearly, or if you are perpetually unhappy with your lot in life, your astronomy research will certainly suffer.
I think it took writing this down on the page in order for me to recognize and come to terms with my own problem. Soon after writing this article, and obsessing endlessly about others' perception of it, that I decided to seek help. 

My first stop was to Caltech's excellent Staff and Faculty Consultation Center. After a few sessions there focusing on my fear of being discovered as a fraud by my colleagues, I came to realize that what I was going through wasn't as rational and as firmly rooted in empiricism as I had convinced myself it was. I also realized that my tendency to endlessly replay interpersonal interactions wasn't just a part of my personality, but related to a chemical imbalance. I had the equivalent of a herniated disk, but in my brain. And just as if I had injured my back, there exists a variety of treatments for my ailment. Further, I didn't have to be "crazy" to need treatment for my mental state. There's no shame in seeing a physical therapist. There's no shame in seeing a mental therapist.

The first couple counselors I met with didn't really work out. One even tried to engage me in an academic pissing match, touting his credentials and bragging about the various institutions in which he held appointments. Next! I was tempted to give up and attribute the shortcomings of those first few therapists to a failure of counseling in general. But with the encouragement of my wife I pressed on and settled on Dr. Delker. She really understood me, was patient, yet knew when to be direct with me and call me on my B.S. On that latter point, she kept pushing me on my fear-based refusal to try medication.

Counseling was going well for a few months. But then one day I found myself at a stop light with someone tapping their horn behind me. I looked up and realized that not only had I been stopped at a green light, but it was now turning yellow. Further, the reason I was stopped there was because I was yelling at myself. Why? Because I had said something to a colleague that belied my ignorance about an aspect of a astronomy. Now, I can look back and see how ridiculous that was. I was just over three years out of grad school (at the time), of course I haven't mastered GR by now! But my sprained mental state was forcing me to beat myself up about it, much like an allergy suffer's immune system overreacts to pollen and attacks its own body. Just as I take a daily dose of Zyrtec, I needed to start thinking seriously about meds for the chemical imbalance my brain.

Hence the screen cap of my morning inbox, pictured above. Every day I take an allergy pill and a dose of Lexapro (similar to Prozac). Ever hear the tearm "miracle drug"? Man, Lexapro is the bomb! After a month of minor side effects, including a mild upset stomach (I now take the pill with food), I found myself in a whole new world. Suddenly I was able to make mistakes and...not think about it for days. I was able to hear criticism. But more importantly and amazingly, I was suddenly able to hear compliments and not assume I had fooled the person complementing me. I was finally able to hear praise. I could give a colloquium and not obsess about the slide transition I missed and I was actually able to hear it when people said, "That was a great talk!" I can't tell you how good it feels to hear someone say that and not have to brush it off. It wasn't humility that caused me to do that before. I was that I truly couldn't hear it.

Now, to be sure, the solution I found is not a magic bullet. I also put in a year of weekly therapy sessions that helped me uncover and deal with uncomfortable events in my past that trigger certain reactions in me. Also, I'm fortunate in the extreme that the first medication I tried worked so well. This is not the case for everyone. Finally, I'm currently working with my psychiatrist to ween myself off of the drug now that my brain has been retrained (I can feel habitual reflexes to react the way I used to, but I can coldly refuse to follow those reflexes). Drugs are not the ultimate and final solution (like Patton Oswalt, I can't help but worry about being dependent on medication after the pending apocalypse :)


Back when I was suffering from my ailments, one of the recurring ideas that I used to dwell on was what I would do if I had one wish. What I'd always come up with was not riches, nor super powers or anything like that. My single wish used to be that I could truly be as exceptional as people in my department and science field thought I was. My wish was that I could be like that guy in the movie Limitless, and I could take a pill that would make me as smart as my colleagues at Caltech.

In many ways I found that pill...and much, much more! (plus it didn't involve a fight to the death with the Russian mob at the end of the story :) But instead of adding something, all the pill did was remove the barriers that prevented me from seeing the truth that, you know, I'm actually pretty good at what I do.

It is now my goal to be an outspoken advocate of mental health in my community. Now that I'm "on the other side" I can clearly see how many other scientists suffer in varying degrees from what I suffered. This widespread problem is resulting in a large impact on scientific productivity and a lot of unhappiness in the halls of our highest places of learning. It needn't be that way. We need to start recognizing that mental health is not a matter of crazy vs. sane. It's a matter of happy vs. unhappy, productive vs. destructive, and no different than physical wellbeing. Just as I wrote in in that Astrobites post, 
This might sound like strange advice coming from a professor. Shouldn’t I be telling you about publishing or perishing? Shouldn’t I tell you to suck it up and pull an all-nighter again? Well, science is fundamentally a human pursuit and we do ourselves and the field a disservice by forgetting this simple fact. Unhappy graduate students tend to be sloppy, less productive researchers. Happy students, on the other hand, vigorously pursue interesting science questions, give outstanding talks and churn out well-written papers. Thus, as a professor, it’s in my best interest to work in a science field full of mentally-healthy [individuals].



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

That's Cray-cray!

I'm sure this has been done before somewhere on the internets, but I was just listening to Kanye and Jay-Z and got inspired. "This is my meme. There are many like it, but this one is mine."


Thanks a lot, science...



Personally, I'm still holding out for the unicorns.

But seriously, this is a pretty entertaining way of thinking about science. Humans are good at coming up with stories to explain things. These stories often revolve around us, as human beings. So in this way we often fool ourselves. I trip on the sidewalk, and I look back at the crack as if it was personal. It rains on a day that I forgot my umbrella, and I sigh as if nature has it out for me. I get lucky and find a front-row parking space and I'm tempted to make up a story about how it was "meant to be" or that I have good parking mojo (I kinda think I do). The athlete's team wins the game and it was because a higher power intervened (I always wonder about the other team...).

Science is a handy tool (or set of tools, really) that prevents us from fooling ourselves---in the event that we are really curious about how the universe works. If not, then the stories work just fine: our fates lie in the chance alignment of stars in the sky along the ecliptic. The magnets in our bracelet really have healing powers. God helped you win your basketball game. Fine, I won't try to take that away from you.

But if one is really interested in understanding how the Universe works---are there planets around other stars? What happens if I fall into a black hole? Are there more stars in the visible universe or more grains of sand on all of the beaches of the world?---then I have just the tool set for you. Check out my Intro Astro class. There are answers to all of these sorts of questions (Hint: there are more stars, by a long shot). The miracle isn't the existence of black holes or planets or galaxies. The miracle is that we as tiny human beings can possibly comprehend these astronomical objects . The miracle isn't the Big Bang. The miracle is that we can know so much about that singular event in the universe's history and make predictions about what we'll find when we observe the cosmic sky (this is based on an Einstein or Feynman quote that I can't find).

I mean, seriously, look at the plot below. The cosmological prediction is the red, solid line. The data, measured by a satellite called COBE, are the black squares that lie on that line like beads on a string. Those data don't exist unless the Universe sprang forth into existence 13.75 +/- 0.11 billion years ago and expanded rapidly thereafter.


Figure 1 - Science: It works.
At its base, this is the same science that allows our smart phone screens to shine: invisible, point particles called electrons undergo quantum transitions and release quantized bundles of energy called photons that react with nerves in our eye, sending an electrical impulse to our brain, allowing us to read a text message from our friend telling us "lol, ur funny!" But what I just described is way less intuitive and far more complicated than the physics that gave rise to the Cosmic Microwave Background.

Here's where I often find myself frustrated. I see on the news politicians who deny parts of science has revealed, while claiming to support technological advances in the U.S. And there are entire groups of people who follow these politicians, and indeed will only vote for them if they deny certain aspects of scientific inquiry---all while enjoying the benefits of science. They'll deny the understanding of our origins afforded by scientific pursuits in cosmology and biology, but they'll be all for science when it comes to healing a tumor. They'll claim that climate science is a giant hoax, perpetrated by millions of scientists world wide. But electrons making their TVs glow. Heck yeah!

I used to think, "Fine, these people aren't curious about the world around them, so it's okay if they close off their minds. Whatever." The real problem comes in when these belief systems permeate society at large, thereby affecting science funding and dictating what is taught to the next generation of potential scientists. Both of these effects can be disastrous for science going forward. A political party that rests their platform on scientific ignorance? I once figured it didn't matter, I've seen crazier things in politics. But this political movement is giving rise to a generation of students who fundamentally distrust science. Being skeptical is one thing. But dismissing giants swaths of biological science in favor of a 5000 year old origins story told by nomadic shepherds? Hmmm. This is problematic from a teaching standpoint, to say the least.

Then it gets worse. This sentiment, that science is a buffet in which one can select some things and discard others, starts to pervade society with drastic effects on the pursuit of all areas of science. If global warming is a hoax, then why not any other aspect of science? And if its all really that arbitrary, if truth is linked to political affiliation or religious belief, why not discard any of it when it reveals inconvenient realities? It's all very discretionary. As we've learned in the past five years, discretionary pursuits can be cut with impunity. Trillions for defense spending? Don't touch that! A billion dollars for science (1000 times less than a trillion)? Throw it on the chopping block!

Take for example the funding of astronomy through NASA. Here's the decision letter for my most recent federal grant proposal:

Dear Dr. J. Johnson,

I regret to inform you that your pending proposal entitled "Both Near and
Far: Doppler-Based Detection and Characterization of Giant Exoplanets,"
submitted to the Origins of Solar Systems (OSS),  has been declined for
funding, solely due to funding constraints.

Your proposal was outstanding, but due to FY12 limited available funding it was not selected at this time.  I encourage you to consider the evaluation
comments and please resubmit your proposal to OSS before the deadline on May
25, 2012.

If you have questions concerning the evaluation of your proposal, please
contact me.

Sincerely,

Mario R. Perez
Cosmic Origins Lead Program Scientist, Astrophysics Division
Science Mission Directorate
(My emphasis added)

Is this me complaining that my research wasn't funded by NASA? Yup, sure is. But this is also a frightening harbinger of things to come. It's my impression that there was a time when science was held in high esteem, along with scientists. They were the ones who sent us to the Moon, cured diseases and showed us the wonders of the heavens. But now I think science is widely regarded with suspicion by large parts of society (one political party in particular). And if one doesn't trust evolutionary biologists, cosmologists, climate scientists or... immunologists(!), why does any of this science stuff hold value? Why not doubt it all and start searching for unicorns?

So what to do? Scientists need to understand that we have a responsibility to clearly describe what it is that we do and why it matters to the public. Professor friends: have you recently received an invitation to give a public lecture at some small university or school, and turned it down in order to "get more work done"? I know I have. We need to start seeing these opportunities as a major part of our job. Communication with the public is the work. Further, we need to be careful about insulating ourselves from the greater society. Again, I'm guilty of this. We need to engage the rest of society, share our science and listen to their concerns. Don't condescend, dismiss or marginalize people's beliefs. Empathize and educate. That creationist kid in the audience might be the next professor of astrophysics at Caltech (ehem...).

On the other hand, what if you don't believe in some aspect of science? Well, you need to realize that it's not a buffet. There's a real universe out there that daily and nightly reveals itself to us. Recognize the miracle---the gift---that we can actually understand how this world around us works. It didn't have to be this way. For example, the sky could be opaque (and it might turn out this way in a few decades if we keep it up!).

Also recognize that you can't have one part without the other. The climate models that tell us the Earth is warming are very much related to the models that predict hurricanes. They're also related to the models astronomers use to understand weather on exoplanets (yeah, we can do that!). The basics of evolutionary biology (genetics, phylogenetics, molecular biology), are used daily by enthusiastic yet underpaid graduate students to study cures for diseases.

The Big Bang? Again, there are postdocs and grad students running telescopes at the South Pole that observe the effects of the universe's expansion. The NSF funding that supports those observatories also supports the work of climate scientists studying ice cores in Antarctica, and the paleontologists studying ancient fossils of tropical creatures embedded in rocks down there, who rely on measurements of the age of the moon to know how long the Earth has been around, which can be cross-checked against the age of the Sun, which agrees with the age of the universe measured by telescopes at the South Pole and is based on the stellar astrophysics that I rely on in order to characterize exoplanets. Check out the planets below that my group recently found, aided by a basic understanding of stellar astrophysics:


Basically, if you deny part of science shows us, you deny all of it, from exoplanets to smart phones to cancer cures. You can't ask for your house to be built, but only if its without hammers or concrete. Science is a toolkit and all the tools have a function and depend on one another.

----------
This all started with just a simple posting of the picture at the top of the page. But all that I just wrote has been rattling around in my head for some time now. Thanks for hearing me out. And thanks for supporting your local scientist!

For those of you reading this on Facebook, please treat each other with kindness and respect in the comments section. Those are real people on the other end, with real beliefs, hopes, curiosity and fears.  Keep it collegial and we'll all learn something, I'm sure. Turn it into a flame war and everyone loses.

Monday, April 16, 2012

When traffic law meets physics


Physicist Writes Mathematical Study to Avoid Traffic Ticket | Wired Science | Wired.com:

'via Blog this'

Go Clippers

Owen and Daddy at the Clippers vs. Warriors Game Saturday
From 2000-2007 I lived in the Bay Area, the East Bay to be specific, where I fell profoundly in love with the local NBA team, the Golden State Warriors. This was partly because I was a big fan of Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin growing up. But I have to admit that back then I didn't realize that the Warriors were an NBA team at the same level as the Lakers. This is understandable, because back then they were not an NBA team at the same level as the Lakers. But, man, Hardaway sure was fast. And as a short guy I really related to him.

In the mid-2000's the Warriors signed Jason Richardson and Baron Davis and quickly became a modern day incarnation of Showtime. Baron Davis is one of my favorite Pac-10 point guards of all time---a long distinguished list that includes Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and most recently, Isaiah Thomas (no, not that Isaiah Thomas. This Isaiah Thomas). And Jason Richardson didn't just play above the rim. He built a house up there where he lived year-round. Check 'em out:




This high-wire backcourt act, combined with my love of underdogs sealed the deal. I was a Warriors fan. The first NBA basketball game that I ever attended was the Warriors vs. Clippers. Talk about underdogs!

More recently, the Warriors were host to a new backcourt duo: Steph Curry and Monta Ellis (pronounced mon-TAY). This is the backcourt that Owen and Marcus started with in their love of NBA basketball. Owen liked to think of himself as Monta and Marcus, with his tall, lanky form and exceptionally fair skin, was Steph Curry. At least once a week they like to watch the following video, with Owen saying "Marcus, that's you! I passed it to you. Assist!" and Marcus replying with, "That was me?!"




But, like all good things involving the Warriors, this backcourt duo had to come to an end. Admittedly, the Warriors simply didn't have the front court to make a serious playoff run, so they traded Monta to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut. And as with all underdogs, disaster quickly struck. Andrew broke his ankle promptly after arriving in Oakland, and Steph Curry has been battling ankle injuries all season. This is how it goes with NBA basketball in the East Bay...

Since arriving in SoCal, I have started a new love affair with a new underdog team: The LA Clippers. The Clips have long been the southern arm of the California NBA development league, racing with the Warriors for the first pick of the following year's draft. However, they've recently started to figure things out. First, they made their best draft move in...ever, by picking up Mr. Beast-mode, aka Blake Griffin. Griffin is a monster of a man who's primary risk of injury is hitting his head on various parts of the backboard as he violently dunks the basketball as if playing on a Nerf hoop. Blake doesn't so much dunk the ball as he throws it downward into the hoop below...while perched on the head-and-shoulder area of his defender. Watch this:




Oh, me, oh my, indeed! Holy posterization, Batman! How can you not enjoy that?! Oh, unless you're an OKC fan...

Then, they picked up DeAndre Jordan, another man-child destroyer of rims:




Yeah, dunking on one 7-footer would be too easy. Let's dunk on two, instead. Take that Pau and Andrew. Take that Lakers, there's a new team in town.

And if all that back-court talent weren't unfair enough, the Clippers picked up Chris Paul, one of the best point guards of all time, who is currently at the peak of his game:



The second coming of Tim Hardaway! (Sorry, that's actually a bit of an insult to Paul, IMO...)

All of this leads up to my and Owen's adventure yesterday. A postdoc in my group has a neighbor with season passes to the Clippers games, and he mentioned he could procure tickets from time to time. So I requested tickets for one of the final 10 games of the season. What did we end up with? Clippers vs. Warriors!

So Owen and I drove to downtown LA, waited in line at the entrance among throngs of Blake Griffin jerseys and located our seats in the third level, front row, corner of the court. Great seats, great game! But before finding our seats, I bought Owen a jersey, which were miraculously on sale, 33% off! I was extremely proud when Owen eschewed the Griffin #32 jerseys in favor of a #3 Chris Paul, size S.


Sadly, Marcus Jo...er...Stephen Curry was injured. As was David Lee. But micro-guard and former Pac-10 all star Nate Robinson had a huge night, putting up 28 points in a losing effort. The effort was losing because Chris Paul also put up 28 points and dropped 12 dimes in a masterful performance. Owen really enjoyed the detailed stats screen, where he was able to easily track who was on pace for a double-double, who was in foul trouble, etc. Owen is a real stats man. I, on the other hand, jumped out of my seat and pumped my fist with each Clipper 3-pointer and monstrous, fast-break dunk. The highlight of the afternoon for me was Blake Griffin's fast-break alley-oop assist to DeAndre Jordan. Owen's highlights included Chris Paul's double-double and a box of popcorn. I also got a lump in my throat when Owen, midway through the third quarter sheepishly asked, "Um...Daddy? Do I get to keep this jersey?" Yes, son. It's yours!


The Clippers are currently in fourth place in the West, just a game behind the Lakers. Owen and I are crossing our fingers for a 3-seed going into the playoffs, which would pit them against Dallas, rather than their current projected matchup against the Grizzlies. We both agree that they are a better match against the aging Mavs than against the young, run-and-gun Griz. But either way, I'm looking forward to the inevitable matchup against OKC if/when the Clips advance.

Go Clippers!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543



On speling and punching


I can't spell certain words. I want to punch certain words in the face. Here are my first attempts to spell some of these nemesis words of mine:

nemisis (from my first attempt in the previous sentence)
beauracrat (if only there existed an organization to help me spell this word...)
maintainence
explaination (I actually spelled this correctly the first time. I have no explanation for how that happened)
restaraunt
soley (This word exists soley to become red-underlined)
acedemia

Screw those words. What are your nemisis words?





Friday, April 13, 2012

Why?

I travel a lot these days. I've gotten to be quite a pro at navigating TSA security checkpoints, remaining calm throughout the entire boarding process, being productive on flights, etc. But one annoying thing that seems to happen more often than not is that my gate seems to always be as far as possible from the security checkpoint. This happened again yesterday on the way out of Toronto International. Here's a pictorial guide to my thought process:

"Okay, I cleared security with no problems. Thank you Canada for not subjecting me to a full-body scan. Let's see, my flight is out of F32. Sweet! First gate!" 

"Weeee! I'm walking at an incredible rate on this conveyor belt! Free Canadian airport wireless, here I come." 

"Wait. What? Srsly?!"

Of course, it could be that this happens only half of the time and that the above sequence only gets recorded by my brain. That combined with confirmation bias. But it seriously feels like no matter where I come out of the security line that my gate is the furthest possible distance away. I should start recording data. We need some data!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Anglo-US English Translation Guide

For those of us who interact with Brits on a regular basis...


Friday, April 6, 2012

Drive this way for music

Oh man, how great is this? It's like a cross between Isle of Tune and rally racing. For reference, here's the original song.

 

OK Go is at it again

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Also on my to-read list

Lately I've been in the habit of starting books, stalling out and then starting new books. This is mainly a result of work keeping me so busy. I'm also watching too much Netflix late at night...

Anyway, for my records and your entertainment, here's my eclectic in-progress reading list:

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Collapse by Jared Diamond
Magical Thinking by Augusten Bouroughs 

Oh yeah! And...

How to Find a Habitable Earth by James Kasting

Beautiful Feathered Tyrant

Ain't science grand? Paleontologists recently discovered a bus-sized T-rex-like dinosaur that is covered in feathers, making it the largest feathered animal, evar:
Fossils discovered in northeastern China of a giant, previously unrecognized dinosaur show that it is the largest known feathered animal, living or extinct, scientists report. 
In an article in the journal Nature, published online Wednesday, Chinese and Canadian paleontologists said the discovery provided the first “direct evidence for the presence of extensively feathered gigantic dinosaurs” and offered “new insights into early feather evolution.”
When I grow up (read: get tenure), I think I'm going to start hanging out with paleontologists. I seriously think that had I read more Carl Zimmer books than Stephen Hawking when I was in college, I would have ended up with a B.S. in evolutionary biology. It is amazing that we can learn about the first few microseconds of the universe, the birth of the first stars, and the existence of planets all from the observation of light. So too is it awesome that we can piece together the story of life on earth using fossils and DNA. I seriously geek out on this stuff!


On my current reading list: Your Inner Fish