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Showing posts from September, 2012

Trials Riding in the Moab

Look ma, no seat!

I <3 this video. The visuals are amazing, but unlike many Youtube videos, the sounds are almost equally amazing. I love how the bike sounds intermingle with the music.

Two mind-blowing things

First thing: I knew Africa is big. But I didn't realize it is this big!
(from BuzzFeed)

The second thing is that people in Rhode Island actually talk like Lois Griffin from Family Guy! No, seriously. You should try it out. Go to Rhode Island, leave Providence, and listen. They seriously talk that way. Crazy, I know. But true! :)

Impostor Syndrome

I remember waking up in a cold sweat one night in early 2010, about six months after I joined the faculty at Caltech. I woke up to the terrifying realization that I didn't have a contingency plan for my family for when I would inevitably be either let go or denied tenure. Erin woke up wondering what was wrong with me and I told her that I was sorry, but it was only a matter of time before my colleagues discovered how little I know about astronomy. They were going to discover that they made a mistake in hiring me as a professor. 
I remember this event vividly, and I can even recall the feeling that I was thinking critically and purely objectively. It's really amazing that I made this self-evaluation despite my achievements, my publication record, the job offers I had the year before, and the praise that I've received from my community. None of this mattered to me because I had managed to either fool everyone, or I simply worked much harder than my intrinsically talented pe…

Asking questions in class as a high-stakes proposition

We all know the situation well, which is why "Anyone, anyone?" resonates so well as comedy. The professor asks the class for questions, no hands go up, the lecture proceeds. The young professor has ambitions to teach a highly interactive course, yet no one speaks up, and frustration ensues. What went wrong? Why won't anyone raise a hand?

To my mind the answer is quite simple, but it has taken me more than 15 years to figure it out. The problem is that asking a question in a lecture hall or even a class of 10 students, represents a high-stakes proposition for the student. Worse yet, the proposition is low-reward. Thus, a student not asking questions in class is a student acting rationally to the odds presented them.

I'll flip this coin. If you get it right, I pay you a buck. If you get it wrong, you owe me $100. Wait, why are you walking away?!

Smart money walks away.

So what is the high-risk proposition? As a professor I'm requesting that a student to ask a quest…

Cling not, dear wrap

Owen to Joy

The Sun, the Earth, the Space Station and an Astronaut


Owen's Second Goal of the Season

Owen's second game was earlier today: The Yellow Hornets vs. Salsa Verde (best name ever). I managed to catch Owen's second goal of the season on video, below. I love how he stutter-stepped the way we practiced, and then kicked it through the defender's legs. Muy bueno!

The game ended in a 3-3 tie, which was the best possible outcome given that Salsa Verde is coached by a close family friend, and one of Owen's best friends plays on the team. Owen's coach is doing an amazing job with this team. They pass the ball way better than a group of 7-year-olds has any business doing. On three separate shots-on-goal, the shot was preceded by at least 3 passes. It's beautiful to see Owen learning good fundies!

PhDetours, Episode 2: Astronomy Atop Mauna Kea

Featuring my altitude-sick postdoc, Phil :)

Science: Increasing Awesome

...instead of decreasing suck. Hat-tip to Julia!

Goal! Owen Johnson, GOOOOAAAALLLL!

Owen's team, The Yellow Jackets, played the Yellow Falcons today in the season opener of the AYSO under-8 division. The Jackets won 5-1 through a combination of outstanding goal tending and an unrelenting offensive attack that kept the ball on one side of the field for most of the game.

Owen was part of the Big-3 that assisted or scored on 4 out of the 5 points. Owen had two assists and a goal. He was, dare I say, en fuego! Also outstanding where his team mates Luke and Boden, as well his coach, Hector, who was did a great job of balancing encouragement and instruction.

Wow, what a difference a year makes. The kids were passing, dribbling with their heads up, and hustled hard despite the heat. You could tell the whole team was simply more invested in the game than they typically were last season.

Amazingly, I managed to get Owen's goal on film with my phone. The yellow-on-yellow matchup looks more confusing on my phone than it did live. Owen's team has white lettering, bla…

My project in the news

I've been meaning to write a post about Project Minerva, a joint venture between Caltech, Penn State (Prof. Jason Wright) and the University of Montana (Prof. Nate McCrady). Fortunately, the JPL press office took care of the writeup for me:

A snippet:

Compared to many other telescopes, especially ones powerful enough to spot the exceedingly faint signatures of Earth-size exoplanets, Minerva is designed to be deployed quickly and relatively inexpensively. The system will eventually consist of four 0.7-meter, off-the shelf telescopes set up in an array on Palomar Mountain in southern California. Each telescope will be able to observe targets either on its own or in sync with the others, giving the system a large amount of flexibility. Using the small telescopes together will give Minerva the power of a much larger telescope and make it one of the only ground-based instruments capable of finding rocky exoplanets like Earth. The first telescope w…

A sneak-peak at our robot overlords

After reading Robopocalypse, velociraptors have been replaced at the top of my list of worst irrational fears with things like this gaining sentience and roaming the streets along with bands of robocars:

Once that thing figures out how to mate with the Cat excavator in my previous post, we're well and truly hosed.

Also, did you hear the one about the robot that can run 28 miles per hour? Time to start thinking about urban guerrilla anti-robot warfare tactics...

The video above is from The Dish

Mighty Machine!

One of Marcus' favorite videos, showing an excavator climbing onto a train coal car. It's crazy how the machine seems to be so alive. I couldn't help but A) wonder if this is a standard operation mode for an excavator and B) hope that they didn't turn the other way and get tangled in those power lines.
Sorry it isn't a John Deere tractor, Amy...

Mars Vista

Mars or Utah?
From the NASA/JPL Mars Science Lab website:
Focusing the 100-millimeter MastcamThis image is from a test series used to characterize the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover. It was taken on Aug. 23, 2012, and looks south-southwest from the rover's landing site.

The 100-millimeter Mastcam has three times better resolution than Curiosity's 34-millimeter Mastcam, though it has a narrower field of view. For comparison, see

The gravelly area around Curiosity's landing site is visible in the foreground. Farther away, about a third of the way up from the bottom of the image, the terrain falls off into a depression (a swale). Beyond the swale, in the middle of the image, is the boulder-strewn, red-brown rim of a moderately-sized impact crater. Farther off in the distance, there are dark dunes and then the layered rock at the base of Mount Sharp. Some haze obscures the view, but the top ridge, depict…