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Showing posts from November, 2012

Turning a magical experience to a scene from a horror movie

Whale-flesh-eating sea gulls.
The attacks are causing the whales to change their natural behavior, making them increasingly hesitant to surface. They used to leap out of the water in dramatic displays; now, they simply skim the surface just quickly enough to catch a breath and retreat back to deeper waters. "It really worries us because the damage they're doing to the whales is multiplying, especially to infant whales that are born in these waters," says Marcelo Bertellotti of the National Patagonia Center, a government-sponsored conservation group. Experts also fear that the birds could affect the local tourism industry, changing whale-watching from "a magical experience to something from a horror movie," says Australia's Sky News.

Career advice for new faculty members

Here's an amazingly comprehensive guide for new professors. It's geared toward bio types, but much of the advice is applicable to astro/physics:

Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientifıc Management for Postdocs and New Faculty (pdf)

And here's the book that I recommend to every new prof:

Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice
This book is based on a study of thousands of young (pre-tenure) faculty members. They identified the top 5% as the "fast starters" and found the common practices of these exemplars. The advice is very practical, but very difficult to implement because it requires you to change a lot of ingrained habits. But I've found a lot of success in implementing things like working in brief regular sessions (BRSs), being mindful of investing too much time into teaching, how to wait actively, and perhaps most importantly, how to build a group that I trust and delegate aggressively to them. 
Read these books and succeed in your firs…

Marcus, arm sleeves and basketball

Marcus found an old sock of mine and then found a way to be more like his basketball heros. 

An Introduction to Astronomical Data Reduction

A word from our sponsors

The Johnson family is going to the Clippers game tonight. Lob City in tha house!

The Impostor Syndrome: Not Just in Academia

Here's a good read for those of you interested in the impostor syndrome. Apparently it's not just those in academia. The industry route is rife with the fear of being found out, or only being successful because of dumb luck rather than skill and practice:
In other ways, though, entrepreneurship is a perfect breeding ground for the syndrome. "People who have had bad experiences in organizations may see entrepreneurship as the only way out because it allows them to control their lives," says Manfred Kets de Vries, a psychoanalyst and professor of leadership development at Insead, in France. With no boss, company founders can avoid critical scrutiny. Buffered by their relative control of the environment, entrepreneurs may feel ill-equipped to survive in the outside world. "I've always felt if I stopped doing Cornucopia, who would hire me?" says Stockwell. "If I think about it rationally, I know there's good reason I'm successful. But it wouldn&…

Standing in the Milky Way

Fun with Leaves

Don't try this at home...unless you have every leaf in Utah:

A baby walks into a bar...

Via Julia:

The snake portion of the thesis defense

From McSweeny's, via Heather:

- - - - Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to “defeat” the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.

Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.

Q: Are the snakes big?
A: We have lots of different snakes. The quality of your work determines which snake you will fight. The better your thesis is, the smaller the snake will be.

Q: Does my thesis adviser pick the snake?
A: No. Your adviser just tells the guy who picks the snakes how good your thesis was.

Q: What does it mean if I get a small snake that is also very stron…

Further warnings regarding the impending robot apocalypse

This public service announcement brought to you by Bri: 

They're already evolving...learning...planning...

Owen mod fractions = 0

Reading Is Fundamental paid a visit to Owen's school and the kids got to choose a free book. Owen chose Apple Fractions, which teaches fractions using slices of various fruit and other foods like pie and cake. When I learned that he had read the book, I tested him on fractions, math operations with fractions, and then percentages. He nailed all of my questions.

So I challenged him to figure out the modulo (mod) function. I gave him about ten examples---"3 mod 1 = 0, 3 mod 2 = 1, 3 mod 3 = 0, 4 mod 3 = 1, 5 mod 3 = 2..."---and he told me that he got it: "It's like divide then subtract!" He was ready for the test.

(for some reason the embedding code refers to the wrong video. Just click the link above)

Thesis Committee

Friday evening music break

A bit of awesomeness via Andrew Sullivan:


(By Erin)

About two months ago, John marked off last night for "special date night" and I was advised to ask no further questions. As I'm typically the activity/babysitter/household planner for our family... I had some serious questions! But I rolled with it - fought every urge to pry for hints, sleuth out possibilities and just enjoy not being in "charge". All I knew was that I should wear comfortable shoes and pack light.

With tremendous gratitude, we left the boys with Nana and made our way to the airport. I learned when we arrived that we were bound for OAK... Our old stomping grounds! But we hopped aboard BART and before I knew it we were in Union square in San Francisco. We'd fallen in love in this very place almost 13 years ago. Being in the Bay Area brings such strong and happy memories, it didn't matter to me what else John had planned for the night.

But there was more. I suspected we may be heading off to hear some live music, as was our p…

Ohhhhh! That's what that's for

I was watching Apollo 13 with the boys the other day, when during the launch scene Owen asked, "Dad, what's that part that fell off the front?" He was referring to the tall mast on the front of the rocket that was jettisoned after the final burn stage, when they first arrive in Earth orbit. I've often wondered about that tower, but I always figured it was some sort of communications mast, and this is what I told Owen: "It's a radio antena."

Boy, was I wrong! That thing is actually the Launch Escape System (LES). Here's a picture from Wikipedia:

In case something goes wrong on the launch pad, or during ascent, the LES can be fired to redirect the Command Module (where the crew sits) away from the rest of the rocket or back down to Earth. Here's a photo of the LEM accidentally firing on a Mercury rocket (also from Wikipedia):

Who knew?!

Random walking our way to radiative diffusion

I just figured out how to insert LaTeX commands directly into Blogger! Check out these instructions for how to use MathJax.

In what follows is a piece of supplemental info for my Ay20 class. Since LaTeX stopped working on my office computer after my recent move across the street, this is the easiest way to get this info to my students...

Random Walks

A photon undergoing a random walk will travel a distance $l$ before suffering a "collision," which sends it off in a random direction. It seems counter intuitive, but this random walk process results in a net displacement. Read Astrophysics in a Nutshell, Chapter 3 pages 38-39 (starting with ``Thus, photons...'' and ending with equation 3.45. What you'll see is the expectation value for the mean displacement $\left<D\right>$ is
\left<D\right> = N^{\frac{1}{2}}l
If we think of the distance $\Delta r$ as the net distance traveled, $\Delta r = \left<D\right>$, then each s…

Bayesian vs. Frequentist

BTW, it's important that the machine be as simple as this. Calculations requiring more than a/c = 8.317 minutes aren't very useful. 

The conservative candidate won

I was actually gearing up to write an open letter to downcast conservatives. But then William Saletan went out and did a much better job than I could have done (at He argues that conservatives---not modern-day Republicans, but true conservatives--should take heart: Obama is the best moderate conservative candidate we've had in decades.
Obama’s no right-winger. You might have serious issues with his Supreme Court justices or his moves on immigration or the Bush tax cuts. But you probably would have had similar issues with Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, or Gerald Ford. Obama’s in the same mold as those guys. So don’t despair. Your country didn’t vote for a socialist tonight. It voted for the candidate of traditional Republican moderation. What should gall you, haunt you, and goad you to think about the future of your party is that that candidate wasn’t yours. This is the thing that had me scratching my head for so long. Obama is pretty damn far from a liberal or progre…

For the sports fans out there, Tim Tebow's inbox (via Bri):

Obama Wins

Erin and I switched from NBC to Fox News at 8pm. The pundits and newscasters were in the middle of a discussion about what would happen when Obama becomes president. The conversation was so dour, so sad, so muted. Then 18 minutes later, they called it for Obama.

What ever happened to the "squeaker?" What ever happened to neck-and-neck?

Report from the voting lines

This morning after meeting with some of my students, I grabbed my voter guide and headed down to my local voting place, the Marlinda Convalescent home. In the era of Obamacare, you can imagine how crowded that place was, what with all the death panelists hovering around. After wading my way through the mobs of black and brown people committing in-person voter fraud (CA has no voter ID initiative! You can imagine the chaos.), I grabbed a stack of ballots and went to my booth.

First up: CA has two propositions for funding state public education. Being a conservative, and a fairly well paid one at that, this was an easy call. No more welfare-addicted, single moms mooching on my tax dollars. NO and NO.

Next: Repeal of the state death penalty. Um, no thanks. My policy is to execute 'em all and let Peter sort  'em out at the pearly gates.

I didn't really understand the other ones. Nothing about gun rights, abortion or stopping teh gays, so I didn't have any horses left in t…

A Guide to Introverts

Good advising means adapting your style to different advisees. I realize that I just wrote that that as if I'm an expert. But I'm learning about this all the time, especially since I'm a junior prof with a huge group. Fortunately, with the communication I encourage within my group, I get lots of advise from my advisees. Here's a beautiful illustrated guide to introverts (click to enlarge):

Flock of Robots

Seriously, people. When the robot apocalypse finally happens, you won't be able to say that this blog didn't try to warn you.

Barack Obama: Your best choice for a white president