### Astro Memories

 On the road on the way up to the Mauna Kea summit
Sometimes I try to remember specific events from my recent past, say in grad school, and I can't remember the dates, ordering of events, and other details. It's amazing how 10 years can smear out important details in your memory. However, there's one event that I can clearly remember and even assign a specific date to. On the eve of the start of the Iraq war back on March 19, 2003, I was driving from Hale Pahaku to the summit of Mauna Kea, from 9000 feet to 14,800 feet. Prof. Mike Liu was driving and Mike Fitzgerald and I were passengers of the CFHT-issued Chevy Suburban. BBC radio was on and I was listening to reports of bombs falling on Bagdad, with a sinking feeling in my gut. Both because of the realization there was nothing I could do to stop my country from getting into the war, and because of the ride up the mountain.

What I remember very vividly was Prof. Liu had that Suburban was going very quickly along that Mars-terrain-like road. I remember the date, the people involved, the color of the SUV (blue with tan interior), the clearness of the sky, and the distinct feeling that we were moving up the mountain along that dirt road not unlike this:

That's what I remember. I don't remember the details of the vast majority of the science talks I attended, much of the content of the courses I took, even the conversations at the Triple Rock Brewery after work. But I definitely remember getting the back end of that SUV loose around those mountain roads with no guard rails between us and sharp, volcanic boulders. I also remember the exquisitely clear nights we had once at the summit. Astro memories!

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…