### A view from your shut down

The Daily Dish has been posting reader emails reporting on their "view from the shutdown." If you think this doesn't affect you, or if you know all too well how bad this is, take a look at the growing collection of poignant stories. No one is in this alone except for the nutjobs in the House.
I decided to email Andrew with my own view. I plan to send a similar letter to my congressperson.

Dear Andrew,

I am a professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). The CfA houses one of the largest, if not the largest collection of PhD astronomers in the United States, with over 300 professional astronomers and roughly 100 doctoral and predoctoral students on a small campus a few blocks west of Harvard Yard. Under the umbrella of the CfA are about 20 Harvard astronomy professors, and 50 tenure-track Smithsonian researchers. A large fraction of the latter are civil servants currently on furlough and unable to come to work. In total, 147 FTEs are furloughed.

 The view outside my office where I stood for 10 minutes during lunch break waiting for someone to walk by.
As a result, things are unsettlingly quiet around here. I joined the faculty two months ago and I came here in large part because of the vibrant intellectual atmosphere. That atmosphere is greatly diminished this week because of a few people in congress who have denied my friends and colleagues the fundamental ability to come in and put in a hard day of work. Not only is the intellectual atmosphere of the CfA compromised, but the CfA is home to far too many students to be advised, taught and mentored by the faculty alone. We rely on our SAO colleagues to provide daily guidance to our students, teach our courses, serve on departmental committees, hold group meetings, organize conferences, administer our telescope resources and many, many other tasks here at the CfA.

To be clear, these people absolutely love their jobs and want to be at work, as much for their passion for science as the need for a paycheck.

All of these local problems are compounded by the interruption in the activities of the National Science Foundation and NASA, which administer the lion’s share of our student, postdoctoral and basic research funding grants. Deadlines for proposal submission are being pushed back, giving some people some needed, temporary breathing room. However, for many others this will produce a shock to the system that will take months if not years to fully iron out. Throw in the sequester, which prevents many scientists from receiving the funding from grant awards that they won through extremely tough peer-review processes, and I’m seriously having a difficult time finding any sort of silver lining to the current situation, and much less hope for the long-term future of my scientific field.

I feel a bit guilty complaining about the hit to astronomy. After all, we astronomers serve at the pleasure of a wealthy society that has given us the privilege to ponder the Cosmos, while being paid to do so! We don’t provide vital services, we don’t save lives. But just last year we found out that there are 1-3 planets per star throughout the Galaxy. There are more planets than stars in the Milky Way! The chances that one of them harbors life is much higher than we ever dared to dream just two years ago. All of this comes from the NASA Kepler Mission (link broken due to the shutdown), which was paid for by tax dollars and built by a “big government” institution." An institution that is largely shut down at the moment, thereby closing our eyes to the Universe.

I hope we’re not at the edge of a golden age of science only to be turned back by a faction of a losing political party who wish to “save face” before undoing their terrible mistake. But then again, those politicians were not exactly fans of science and objective reality anyway.

To my Smithsonian co-workers stuck at home right now, please know that you are on our minds and our hearts are heavy as we walk by your closed office doors. I sincerely hope that you can come back to work soon.

Hoping for the best while staring at the worst,

John Johnson

### 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…