Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from March, 2013

Ho Hey, cluck cluck

Slate had a short piece about the "Chickeneers," who recently performed an all-clucking parody of the song Ho Hey by the Lumineers on the Jimmy Fallon Show. I somehow managed to miss this hit song until today (I was the 57,365,304th viewer on Youtube, yet it was my first time seeing it). So for those of you also behind the times, here's the catchy video for a catchy song:



And here are the Chickeneers, featuring Jimmy Fallon:

Pondering Basketball Scores

Right now I'm watching the Michigan vs. Florida game in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament. The winner of this game will advance to one of the coveted Final Four positions, and have a chance of winning the National championship.

By most measures Michigan totally dominated Florida in the first half. Florida has never led. Michigan scored the first 13 points of the game. At one point, Michigan led by 24 points.

However, I noticed something that I see over and over again in basketball games: total blowouts are extremely rare. Once Florida scored its first points, the maximum fractional lead was 13 points divided by 2 points, or a factor of 6.5 times as many points as Florida. What I find puzzling is that this fractional lead steadily decreased steadily as the game advanced toward halftime.

This is puzzling because let's suppose that Michigan is 1.5 times better than Florida (on this specific day). This factor is likely smaller given that the teams are ranked 4 and 3, respectivel…

Order of Magnitude Parenting: Lines at Legoland

Yesterday we took the boys to Legoland, down near San Diego. We've been in Southern California four years, but we've never visited the Mecca of my childhood religion! Oh, plastic, interlocking blocks. Thank you for keeping me out of the heat of St. Louis summers while enriching my mind.

While waiting in line with Owen to ride one of the roller coasters, a kid in front of us asked his father, "How much longer do we have to wait in line?" The father responded saying it would take about 30 minutes. After hearing this exchange, Owen looked up at me as if to ask, "Seriously? 30 minutes?" So I decided to turn it into a teaching moment. "Let's figure it out!"


The first thing we did was look up above the line area, where the coaster was dragged to the top of the "hill" before plunging nearly straight down, right by the waiting patrons. We timed how long it took for consecutive cars to drop: 41 seconds. Let's call it a car 40 seconds. Th…

Overheard in class this term

One of my students, Mike, took very detailed notes during this term's Ay117 Astrostats course. Here are the highlights from my and my TA's, lectures:

Aaron:


“I don’t have great things to say about Mathematica.”
“Who’s feeling lucky?”
“Are there any questions? Great! Actually, it’s better when there are questions. I should stop saying [great!] and say, ‘Are there any questions? No? Aw, that’s too bad.’”
“Oh god, I do NOT understand Mathematica.”
“Never anything positive out of Mathematica—EVER.”
“Let’s say you wanted to raise your hand at a colloquium. You wouldn’t say—unless you’re Dave Stevenson—‘THAT’S WRONG!’”
“Blackboard myopia—when you’re at the blackboard and it’s harder to do math.”
“Chris, why don’t you come up here? I just ran a random number generator to choose one of you guys randomly!”
“Hopefully everybody’s nodding or getting close to being able to nod.”
“This pen, of course, as always, sucks.”
“It’s both profound and profoundly dumb at the same time.”
“I don’t know what the r…

I win! New high score!

Not to brag or anything, but check it:

Okay, yeah, I'm bragging. Thank you Boomerang!

(checks inbox again)

Oh noez! New messages!

Professing with Depression

I just read an excellent article by an MIT professor, Prof. John Belcher. He describes his decent into full-on clinical depression, and his inspiring recovery with the assistance of modern medicine (yay science!). I found it enlightening and reassuring to read his harrowing tale
It was the perfect storm. My physical coordination went. My thought processes became disordered. I had a hard time, for example, simply reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I became lethargic, and had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. Sleeping all the time seemed like a good option. I retained a certain detachment as I was sinking into depression. “So this is what it feels like to become clinically depressed” I would say to myself.

I also learned that there is a big difference from the acute anxiety that I suffer from, and the crushing depression that can cause a person to hole up in their house, unable to face the challenges of day-to-day life. I've seen it happen in my family, my friends and th…

Hit the 1K mark!

w00t!!11! I just hit the 1000 citation mark! If I were in the NBA, they'd be talking about how I hit the 10,000 point mark. In astronomy, one of our metrics is citations to first-author papers. Other metrics include: number of first-author refereed papers (23), total number of refereed publications (124), total citations to all refereed papers (6101; thank you collaborators!), and h-index (44). Am I forgetting any?

But before my head gets too big, I gotta remember I'm joining a dept with this guy, who has 1.7 more first-author citations than I do...on one of his papers.


Food targeted at substance abusers?

Or abused substances marketed as food? Or does it even matter? A review of the Doritos Taco at Deadspin, via Karin: The reality, though, is that I think we all understand that Taco Bell is to food what the propeller beanie hat is to transportation: wildly insufficient, but not altogether un-enjoyable if approached with the right attitude—where “approached with the right attitude” is just a long-winded euphemism for “inebriated to the point of incoherence.” Even the cybernetic corporate attack drones at PepsiCo understand this, which is why Taco Bell markets itself explicitly at the late-night drunkard demographic, cashing in on the sublime openness to the absurd which characterizes insomniac substance-abusers. If the notion of a taco made out of Doritos seems offensively stupid to you by the cold light of day, just know that, somewhere out there in the world, there’s a coworker or drinking buddy or leathery bean-eating hobo who has heard you, deep into the wee hours of morning and bak…

Between the legs assist for windmill jam

10, 10, 10 and 9.5 from the Russian judge.

Steph Curry, making it rain in New York

For some random reason I was a big fan of the Charlotte Hornets back when they were a new expansion team. Larry "Gram mama" Johnson, Zo Mourning, the tiny point guard Mugsy Bougues, and the sharpshooter Del Curry. Well, Del grew up and had himself a couple of sons, the eldest named Stephen Curry. Steph went to Davidson, led his team deep into the tourney, and is now the star point guard for the Golden State Warriors, one of my favorite teams.

And what a point guard he is! While the elder Curry was a spot-up shooter and a decent defender, Curry the Younger can shoot on the move, drive, dish, bob and weave. He's the full package.

Last month Curry posted 54 points against the Knicks. Check out his shot chart:


Steph Curry is the master of the pull-up three-pointer off of the fast break. But whether set or moving, his shooting form is a thing of beauty. The same can be said of the crop of young NBA players who are the sons of former NBA players, including Klay Thompson (Step…

Heading East, Harvard here we come!

My long journey started around this time last year, and it ended this morning, at least officially. After many department visits, phone conversations and family meetings, the Johnsons will be heading East to Cambridge, MA this summer. I'm joining the Harvard faculty as a full professor!

There were myriad reasons for this change in my career path. At Caltech, over the 3.5 years that I've been there I've come to recognize a fundamental mismatch between what I value (i.e. what I blog about most frequently) and what the institute values. This is not a statement about which side is right, per se. It's just a statement of fact about the nature of different people's values.

There a scene from the TV miniseries The Wire that has been playing on loop for about the past year, which nicely sums up what I've been experiencing:



I've wanted it to be one way in the department I'm a part of. But it had been made abundantly clear to me that it isn't one way. It'…

Deandre Jordan Mosgovs Brandon Knight

Oh me, oh my!

Marcus' tour of the USS Iowa

Saturday morning I decided to skip my usual pickup game at the Braun courts to spend some quality time with Marcus. I asked Erin if she had any good ideas for something Marcus would like and she suggested a tour of the USS Iowa which is docked down in Long Beach, about 30 minutes south of Pasadena. So I bought an adult ticket online (kids under 6 are fee), and the boy and I got dressed, hopped in the race car, and took the 110 south.

Marcus took a power nap in the car, and when I pulled up to the docks I woke him up to a view of the massive USS Iowa battle ship.


We handed the attendant our ticket at the entrance and walked up the gangplank to begin our tour. The path is marked out clearly and it meanders back and forth, yet steadily up one deck after another. I had a lot of childhood memories from reading military books, and I was proud to recognize about half of what the various tour guides and plaques said. It's a lot of fun to have Marcus becoming intensely interested in all of…

My new ride

For all but about 1 month of our 12.41-year marriage, Erin and I have maintained a one-car family. In Berkeley I rode the bus and Erin commuted to work. In Hawaii, I walked 0.8 miles to work in the beautiful Manoa Valley, while Erin drove Owen to day care, swim practice and to the beach. In Pasadena, I'm fortunate to live only about 2 miles from work, and for the first 2 years I rode my bike or walked to/from work.
However, Marcus now attends preschool near Caltech 3-4 times a week, and will soon go full-time. It's difficult for Erin to drive one direction to pick up Owen from school and then double back during dinner-prep time to pick up Marcus and me from Caltech. Sure, if I were a better person I'd ride my bike with Marcus in a Burley trailer. But that would add about 1 to 1.5 hours of commute time to my day, taking away time from work and/or basketball. Not to mention arriving to work all sweaty.

Okay, okay. This is all just a litany of excuses for me to get a new car.…

Project Minerva Update

Project Minerva construction continued last week and we now have our telescope enclosure on campus and ready for commissioning of the first telescope. Telescope #1 should arrive April 1.







Feynman Teaching Award (w00t!)

My division chair stopped by my office a couple weeks ago and urged me to be present at the next faculty meeting, during which there would be a discussion on online learning. Given that i served on the ad hoc committee addressing this issue, I guessed the request made sense. However, since I wasn't the chair of the committee, and given that there was no real reason for my chair to know I was on this nonstandard committee, the in-persion request was a little odd.

The campus-wide faculty meeting went well, with Prof. Djorgovski (Astro) among those who talked about the success and challenges of online learning. Then came the next action item: announcing the Feynman Teaching Award. To my surprise:


Planetary Astronomer Wins Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching

PASADENA, Calif.—John A. Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been awarded the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Johnson was recognized…