### Intelligence in Astronomy: Preview 1

 A big stage
As my mentor Sara Seager recently told me, my appointment at Harvard is a huge honor, a huge opportunity and also a huge responsibility. I have been given tremendous resources and a highly supportive department with strong leadership. I also have a big, highly visible stage on which to perform. On the research front, I have ambitious plans to discover and characterize the nearest Earth-like planets using existing and new instrumentation (Project Minerva), with an eye toward the NASA TESS mission and JWST. My goal is to make the discoveries and do the careful statistical analyses necessary to advance our knowledge of the formation and evolution of planets like our own.

My opportunities and responsibilities do not end there, nor do my ambitions. Here's an exerpt from my recently updated teaching statement:
I recognize that just because institutions produce good outcomes does not mean that those institutions are optimized. Astronomy is an excellent, yet non-optimized institution. I will work optimize the scientific productivity of Astronomy through a better understanding of the psychological and sociological factors that lead astronomers to not only succeed, but thrive in their careers.
I will work on this optimization process in my department (with the full support of my new department chair, Avi Loeb, and my fellow faculty members), on the various committees on which I serve including the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, and right here on this blog.

Starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I will publish a series of posts that I've been working on over the past month. My focus will be on the optimization of the field of astronomy with an eye toward untapped research potential, creativity and overall success in academia. Stay tuned!

### 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…

### Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…

### 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…