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Showing posts from October, 2012

Gender Parity: Ask a Scientist...

...but know that your answer will depend on the gender of said scientist:
Women are underrepresented in science in general, but the gender gap is bigger in some fields than others: physics, for instance, has a much lower percentage of women than biology. Researchers decided to ask scientists themselves why they thought this was — and male and female scientists turned out to have pretty different ideas.

The Boys Prep for Halloween

Marcus is wearing his favorite shirt, featuring the Mars Science Laboratory. It's a size small, but we had to cut about a foot off the bottom. Also, he insists on wearing it backwards so he can see the cool rover.  This is now day 4 wearing the shirt. Fortunately, I got two, so he's now wearing the backup shirt while we wash the primary.

Mitt Zomney

Via Julia, this strong and compelling endorsement of Mitt Romney by Sci-Fi director Joss Whedon. This is very timely for the obvious reason that I'm way into The Walking Dead TV series right now.


Football head injuries are receiving a lot of attention lately. So are Headbrick injuries. The criticism stings since I enjoy watching football so much. It's quite a moral quandr---whoa, did you see that one-handed catch by Jason Witten?!

Marcus the Deer Hunter

We went on a Saturday afternoon family adventure up to Palomar Observatory yesterday. On our way up, we passed a couple of pickup trucks with several hunters in camouflage and guns milling about on the side of the road. Marcus and Owen had a lot of questions about the hunters and hunting. Erin was able to fill them in on the details since her father (Papi, as Owen and Marcus know him) and uncles are avid deer hunters. This morning, Marcus very authoritatively told me what he knows about deer hunting:

When life hands you an imfamous email...

...make good-advice lemonade. Or something.

Anyway, here's an excellent blog response by Lucianne Walkowicz, who is one of my favorite astronomers (picture at left). An excerpt:

"There’s been a lot of conversation about an email sent to students in a certain astronomy department, which originally appeared here:"While I certainly think the original email was problematic, with an eau d’ 'we walked uphill both ways in the snow' about it, I also think there were seeds of good advice buried in it– both for students and those further along.  "In the following, I’ve tried to cultivate those seeds into some advice for being an astronomer, largely based on my own philosophy of course. I’m sure not everyone will agree with these points, and it should be noted that as I don’t have a permanent job yet, I don’t know whether these are “successful” strategies in the long term. Perhaps one day we …


And Jesus said unto Peter: Shut up

More awesomeness from Dan Savage (toned down slightly for my blog). Don't read if your sensibilities are brittle. Here's the original. BTW, I believe that this is actually how Jesus rolled. Give up your wealth, help the poor, and if you act like a hypocritical whiner, tables are gonna get upturned and heads are gonna roll. ------------------------------ Peter LaBarbera is a conservative Christian, an anti-gay activist, and someone I follow on Twitter.

Unconscious Bias Talk at JPL Oct 29

Science Division Seminar

Unconscious Bias in Hiring, Promotions, and Tenure
Presented by
Joan T. SchmelzUniversity of Memphis
Date:  Monday, October 29, 2012Time:  12:00 p.m.Location: von Karman Auditorium
We all have biases, and we are (for the most part) unaware of them. In general, men and women BOTH unconsciously devalue the contributions of women. This can have a detrimental effect on grant proposals, job applications, and performance reviews. Sociology is way ahead of astronomy in these studies. When evaluating identical application packages, for example, male and female University psychology professors preferred 2:1 to hire “Brian” over “Karen” as an assistant professor. When evaluating a more experienced record, at the point of promotion to tenure, reservations were expressed four times more often about Karen than about Brian. This unconscious bias has a repeated negative effect on Karen’s career (Steinpreis, Anders & Ritzke 1999, Sex Roles, 41, 509). In this talk, Joa…

Happy Mole Day

From the makers of Pi Day, a day for Avogadro's number: 6.02 x 10^23 (6:02 on 10/23).

Prof. Jones denied tenure

From McSweeny's via Bri, this letter to Dr. Indiana Jones denying him tenure. An excerpt:

The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from “possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency” to “practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics” to “unabashed grave-robbing.” Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.  Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist’s tool kit should consist solely of a bullw…

Preacher speaks against gay marriage, gets caught reading from wrong script

Wait for it...wait. For. It...


While watching Sunday Night Football:

Owen: Knock knock
Me: Who's there
Owen: Burrito
Me: Burrito who?
Owen: Burrrrr, this burrito is cold! I made that up.

Marcus: Knock knock
Erin: Who's there?
Marcus: Mr. Banana Head
Erin: Mr. Banana Head who?
Marcus: Wait. I mean...nachos!

Owen: Why is the letter B always so cold?
Me: I don't know. Why?
Owen: Because it's always next to the A/C! I made that up.

Owen: Knock knock
Me: Who's there?
Owen: Nachos
Me: Nachos who?
Owen: Yummmm, because they're delicious!

Owen: Why do footballs look so weird?
Me: Why?
Owen: Because they have feet on them! (cracks up)

Owen: Why is the team called the Bengals?
Me: Why?
Owen: Because everyone likes to eat bagels! Get it? Because bagel and bengal sounds the same. HA!

Erin: Who do you like more, Michael Knight or MacGyver?
Marcus: (chanting) Mi-chael Knight, M-ichael Knight!
Erin: Who do you like more, Michael Knight or B.A. Baracus?
Marcus: (chanting) B.A. Ba-ra-cus, B.A. Ba-ra-cus!

The art of passing

I used to get frustrated with my teammates for not passing when I play pick-up ball. I'm not saying I'm a particularly good player, it's just that the number of missed passes in a typical game is pretty astounding. Before I worked on the mechanics of my jump shot, passing used to be my go-to skill. It was a big revelation when it occurred to me one day that passing isn't easy. In fact, it's a skill to work on just like a jump shot or post move.

I think this sort of revelation has dawned on me in other areas of life. I used to think of myself as very average when it came to doing math in my head (I used to estimate our time to arrival every time my family traveled anywhere in the car), calculating odds at a poker table (cluster-counting poker chips!), estimating various quantities to an order of magnitude (let's see, could we make that observation?). Then I'd find out that, hey, not everyone can do that. These things are skills that I've acquired through…

The academic 47 precent

Why are there so few women (and minority) professors?

From Dr. (and soon to be Prof) Cullen Blake:
I really liked your blog post about the Moss-Racusin PNAS discrimination paper. It's been really great to see how much attention this paper has generated for this super-important issue in our field. A few of these types of studies have been done before, including one by my wife Katy Milkman. The Moss-Racusin study had a very small sample, as well as non-representative participants who were informed that they were participating in a study, and the study considered discrimination by academics toward people applying for a non-academic position. Katy's study involves many thousands of representative faculty participants interacting naturally with prospective doctoral students, and it is able to look at relative rates of discrimination not only against women but also minorities across different departments and types of schools. I'm very interested! This is an amazing study b…

Inverting the Lecture, continued...

In response to my post on inverting the lecture, a reader alerted me to this NPR story on how physicists at Arizona State are ditching the lecture format:

The test has now been given to tens of thousands of students around the world and the results are virtually the same everywhere. The traditional lecture-based physics course produces little or no change in most students' fundamental understanding of how the physical world works. "The classes only seem to be really working for about 10 percent of the students," Arizona State's Hestenes says. "And I maintain, I think all the evidence indicates, that these 10 percent are the students that would learn it even without the instructor. They essentially learn it on their own." He says that listening to someone talk is not an effective way to learn any subject. Lectures are so 1400's! Follow the link to hear the audio, or read the transcript.

Inverting the Lecture

I'm teaching Ay20: Introduction to Astronomy of the Galaxy again this year. Last year I prototyped a bunch of non-standard teaching techniques, and this year I've put the lessons learned to practice for my second time around. 

Lectures are a medieval form of teaching in which the knowledgeable individual (presumably, the instructor) conveys their knowledge through a one-way verbal communication to the students. This worked well back when only a handful of people in a village or church could read and rapidly acquire new knowledge. With the invention of the printing press, it's time to empty out the lecture hall.

Along with my excellent TAs Melodie and Trevor, we get the students out of their seats and into a more active, collaborative learning environment. I take the examples I would cover in a traditional lecture and lay them out in order of increasing complexity/difficulty on a worksheet. Students then form groups of 3-4 and work on the problems at the board. This is the…

Marcus @ The Gold Line

From a sequence of images I took last night:


Two Faculty Members Named Packard Fellows Two Caltech faculty members have been awarded Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Biologist Alexei Aravin and astronomer John Johnson each were awarded $875,000, to be distributed over five years.
"I'm very excited about this fellowship," says Aravin, an assistant professor of biology. "It will allow my lab to pursue new, ambitious goals that are difficult to fund using traditional sources."
Aravin studies RNA molecules, which encode the information contained in genes to help create proteins. His lab is probing the mechanisms that determine the stability and fate of RNA. He's also trying to figure out how noncoding RNA—which doesn't encode information but nevertheless plays crucial roles in the cell—functions and is produced.
Johnson's research focuses on discovering and characterizing planets around other stars. "My broad goals," he says, "are to gain a better understanding of pl…