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Showing posts from October, 2013

When N_hours is badly overestimated

From The Atlantic (via Sarah), this interesting graphic showing how badly people tend to overestimate the number of hours worked each week. You can find more details in the short writeup. This makes me think about the infamous letter to the astro grad students about the need to put in 80-100 hour work weeks, and my own overestimate of N_hours, and my readers calling me out on it.

2013 NBA Countdown: #6 Chris Paul

Let's face it. This household likes point guards. I've spent a lot of time in this space talking about the hybrid "1.5 guards." Well, the 6 food 3 inch Paul, from Wake Forest, is a pure one. He looks first to set up his teammates with his exceptional ball handling and passing. He keeps his scoring in reserve, often waiting until key moments to remind everyone how well he can finish at the rim, or pull up for a three-point jump shot.

What I find most impressive about Paul is his ability to rebound from the guard spot. He's not tall, but he's built like a fire hydrant and he has a real nose for the ball. When playing for New Orleans he has several seasons during which he averaged 5+ rebounds a game, including his rookie season. With the Clippers he has a full house of big-men to handle most of the rebounds, but Paul still hauls in 4.4 a game as of last season. Over his career, he has averaged 18.6 points and an astounding 9.8 assists per game. He's had thr…

2013 NBA Countdown: #7 Kyrie Irving

When I first started watching basketball, I learned that there were two kinds of guards. One was the 2-guard, or shooting guard, whose job it is to work his/herself open for jumpshots or driving layups. The other guard is the point guard (the 1), whose job it is to handle the ball and look to set up the scorers, including the 2-guard. However, my and Owen's top-10 list is dominated by a new type of guard. Think of them as the 1.5-guards, who can do all of the above.

Kyrie Irving, from Duke, fits the bill of the 1.5-guard. He has some of the best ball-handling abilities in the league, amazing court sense, and he can be unselfish. However, he can also hang onto the ball and score 40 in a night. He's smaller than Russell Westbrook but more willing to get his team mates in the game. And he's quicker and generally more electrifying than Steph Curry, hence his #7 spot on our list, ahead of both Westbrook and Curry.

Owen says:

Makes lots of swishesDoesn't do much dunksIs good…

The Mystery of The Giant Misalignment

My collaborators and I, led by NASA postdoctoral fellow Daniel Huber, just published an exciting new paper in Science magazine. Here's the press release!NASA Ames - An international group of scientists has announced the discovery of the first multiplanet system in which the equator of the host star is misaligned with the orbital planes of its planets. Published in today's edition of Science, the finding puts a new twist on one of the longest standing puzzles in exoplanet theory: the formation of "hot Jupiters", giant planets in close-in orbits around their host stars. To explain their short orbital periods, it was suggested that hot Jupiters form in distant orbits and then quiescently migrate through the protoplanetary disc to their present position. This theory was challenged when the orbits of hot-Jupiters were discovered to be frequently misaligned with the equator of their host stars, which was interpreted as evidence that hot Jupiters form through dynamical per…

2013 NBA Countdown: #8 Stephen Curry

The Golden State Warrior's Stephen Curry comes in at number 8 on our list. Like Russell Westbrook, Curry is a mutant point guard in that he can give you 10 assists just as easily as he can score 30+ on any given night. But while Westbrook will overpower defenders, Curry outwits them. He's clever, deceptively quick and he has outstanding court sense.
In addition to his preternaturally quick shot release, Curry is an unselfish ball handler. However, in contrast to most point guards who use the dribble primarily to set up an assist, Curry uses the dribble to set up his long-range shooting. He's a lethal combination of Steve Nash's ball-handling and passing (mid-2000's Nash, anyway), good ol' Reggie Miller's silky shooting, and Chris Paul's court-intellect. How many point guards do you know of who can score 50+ in a game? Steph. Curry. Gets. Buckets.
Owen's take is that Curry:
is good at 3'sis good at assistsmakes nice swishesis good at free throwsd…

2013 NBA Countdown: #9 Dwyane Wade

Coming in at #9 in my and Owen's list of most exciting/valuable players is Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. Wade is a 6' 4" shooting guard who played college ball at Marquette. He is virtually unstoppable, even more so as part of the Heat Big-3 which includes Lebron James and Chris Bosh. Wade is the type of player who gives opposing coaches nightmares before the game. How do you guard him? Do you sic your two-guard on him, and risk wearing out your backcourt? Or do you muscle up with your small forward and risk getting torched by Wades explosive, lightening quick moves? Tough call, especially when you have two other mega-scorers on the Heat to worry about.

What I admire most about Wade is his willingness to play strong defense, and let his D turn into prolific offense. He's all hustle all the time, on both sides of the court.

Here's Owen's rundown:
Shoots inside the three-point line, then moves insideHe's good at rebound put-backsCan shoot everywhereHe's…

Extra-solar water-bearing asteroids!

A number of friends have contacted me about this press release about evidence of water-rich asteroids outside of the Solar System. The first thing to realize about professional astronomers is that they rarely know what's going on with other people's press releases. The second thing to realize is that those press releases are usually pretty different than the papers from which they originate.

The reason is that a press release is meant for the public, and often emphasizes aspects of the specific research project that are most interesting to the average person. However, astronomers are typically more interested in the "boring" or mundane details of the research. Thus, there exists an incompatibility. That, coupled with the fact that we don't usually have time in our days to check the Science section of our local papers means that astronomers typically miss one another's press releases and the pop-sci stories that flow from them.

However, sometimes the science …

I stand with DNLee

For background, check out Sean Carroll's excellent overview over at Cosmic Variance. The gist is that a minority woman postdoc (DNLee) was asked to contribute to a biology blog. When she turned down the invitation, things got all nonlinear:
[A]n editor named “Ofek” at asked DNLee to provide some free content for him. She responded with: Thank you very much for your reply.
But I will have to decline your offer.
Have a great day. Here’s what happens less often: the person asking for free content, rather than moving on, responds by saying Because we don’t pay for blog entries?
Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore? Read those two sentences from Ofek again. There's a lot rolled up in there. It's almost like fine wine. A full-bodied set of isms: sexism, classism, racism. You don't get that explicit taste in modern isms, with all their subtleties and subdued, implicit textures. Modern isms are like flavored water. This here, this is the real deal. Ofe…

OJ's Dearthman

Owen decided to create his own Magic the Gathering creature card. Behold! OJ's Dearthman. "Deep in the middle of the island lives a creature. 'Do not come here!'" I also really like how OJ's Dearthman travels with a little buddy, a Mar-killer. 

Good bye, George Herbig

Jason Wright has an excellent tribute to one of the True Greats in astronomy, George Herbig. As with Jason, George was my grand advisor since he was Geoff Marcy's academic advisor way back when (Geoff did his thesis work with Steve Vogt).

He will certainly be missed. I had a wonderful two years getting to know him while I was at the IfA, chatting with him every couple weeks or so. He was always in his office when I stopped by, even at the age of 88 (!), and his computer screen always had an IRAF window open with some spectrum or another. He gave me excellent job advice that I still pass on to this day. 

Whenever I tried to compliment him, he would tell me how much more I knew than him, and how much he had to learn from me. He was genuinely humble and eager to learn, despite being one of the true greats in our field. I want to be like George when I grow up.
It was an honor and privilege to get to know him. George, we'll miss you!

2013 NBA Countdown: #10 Russell Westbrook

Owen and I will be counting down to the 2013-2014 NBA season by giving our list of top-10 most valuable/exciting players. We put together a Google Docs spreadsheet and listed our combined favorite 20 players, and ranked them in order of how much we're looking forward to watching them play this season, together with how valuable we feel they are to their team.

Number 10 in our Top-10 is Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 6-foot-3 guard hails from UCLA and represents the new mutant breed of scoring point guards that are common in the league today. Often criticized for taking too many shots, he averaged 7.4 assists per game last season, while scoring 23.2 points per. I say if your point guard is dishing out 7 assists a game and scoring like that, let him shoot too much!

Here's Owen's take on Westbrook:

He's good at midrange jump shotsHe's good at assistsHe's good at tuff layupsHe doesn't shoot many threes As a list within a list after a list, h…

Where jurisprudence wonkdom meets hyper-nerdery

Owen and I are playing Magic the Gathering frequently these days. You see, I think it's a very educational game from a mathematical/game-theory perspective, and I want to teach Owen, um---you know what? Screw that. I don't need to explain myself. Owen and I think MtG rules! 
Whew! There. I'm out of the closet :) Yes, I'm raising a nerd. An attractive, athletic, socially intelligent nerd and this is how we bond. 
I won't bore you with the details of the gameplay other than to say players take turns playing cards that do things such as creating new types of creatures than can inflict damage on their opponent. I thought it would be fun to review a recent rules-dispute between Owen, as viewed through the through the lens of statutory law, inspired by my many discussions with my lawyer brother-in-law. I also like to talk about law with Law Dawg, who is a frequent contributor to this blog.
(read on below)

Projecting the sky onto the Earth

From xkcd:

Into the Astro Industry: Jessica Kirkpatrick

Over at Women In Astronomy, Jessica Kirkpatrick writes:
A year ago, I made the transition from astrophysicist to data scientist. One of the harder parts of making the transition was convincing a tech company (during the interview process) that I could do the job. Having now been on both sides of the interview table, I’d like to share some advice to those wishing to break into the tech/data science industry. While this advice is applicable to candidates in general, I’m going to be gearing it towards applicants coming from academia / PhD programs. The full post is here and I highly recommend it, especially for people thinking about heading out into the Astro Industry (more industry interviewing here). 

d00d. Please don't be that guy!

A friend and colleague of mine sent me this blog post entitled, "Don't be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic." The email I received obliquely indicated that I was guilty for either doing some of these things or tolerating these behaviors in my group. So naturally, I was a bit offended when I first read the email. I felt that distinctive stinging feeling. That was pride messing with me.

Once I gathered myself, I recognized an opportunity to learn and better myself, as well as to strengthen my group and improve my science by fostering a healthier, more equitable work environment. Dudes, I encourage you to do the same: deal with that little sting, be receptive, read this list. Read, learn, adjust. In the process, you will do better science and enable better science in your departments by making some extremely minor adjustments. Nothing major. No 12-step program. Just be aware and stop doing some minor things that have nothing to do with science.

Here's a subse…

Why I'm happy and why it matters, by Renée Hlozek

While I was still working at Caltech earlier this year Renée Hlozek (pronounced "logic")---Princeton astrophysicist, cosmology theorist and statistics badass---stopped through Pasadena to give a science talk. During her visit she gave me advice for mentoring women astronomy students and we also shared our thoughts on the underrepresentation of women in astrophysics, particularly at the faculty level. One important aspect that we identified was the environment provided by various departments, and how some work environments are caustic for women (and minorities) while others are extremely welcoming. Renée identified Princeton Astronomy (good ol' Peyton Hall) as an exemplar among astronomy departments in offering a healthy atmosphere for women astronomers. I asked her to elaborate and she was kind enough to put together this guest post.

I'm about to start the third year of a postdoc in the department of Astrophysics at Princeton University, and I love my job. And I love…

Into the Astro Industry with Louis Desroches (part 2)

5) What do you miss most about academia?

The people and the collegiality. The fact that it brings together people from around the world. Academia is a great way to cut through cultural barriers, and astronomers are wonderfully down to Earth people. There is also the profound feeling of knowing some truth about the universe before anyone else does, and sharing that search for the truth with smart, passionate, and energetic colleagues. It's fun to solve these big problems.

Surprisingly, I also miss the travel.  
6) What do you miss the least about academia?

Into the Astro Industry with Louis Desroches (part 1)

This is part 1 of 2 of my interview with Ph.D. Astronomer Louis Desroches. Louis is another classmate of mine from the UC Berkeley Astronomy Dept. After graduating, Louis worked as a postdoc at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab before being promoted to program manager position at LBNL. In this interview Louis breaks down his decision to forego the astronomy academic track, talks about his current job and his life since making that decision.   

1) Tell me about your job
I am a program manager and assistant group leader at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, working in the Energy Efficiency Standards group. We primarily support the Department of Energy's efficiency standards program (which covers appliances, lighting, and other commercial and industrial equipment), by developing the technical, economic, and environmental cost-benefit analyses (and documentation) that are needed to justify any potential new mandatory federal efficiency standards. Efficiency standards reduce the nation…

Dear Independents: The Shutdown Belongs to House Republicans

As you might have picked up from my recent post "A view from your shutdown," I'm angry about what is happening in the House and the resulting shutdown of the federal government, now entering its second week. This action is so hurtful and dangerous and undemocratic, that on an hourly basis I just want to scream. I want to find the Machine and rage against it.
I'm also tempted to direct my energy at the Tea Party House members and their followers who are specifically to blame here. But what's the point, really? I have solid arguments rooted in fact and reason. But Tea Partiers don't play by those rules. They play by soundbites and ideology. They operate in an echo chamber where all they hear are Fox News-generated talking points, and all they see is a sea of white people who think just like them, from coast to coast. Whether that coast-to-coast state of affairs exists in any manner is beside the point. They see it in their narrow minds. So I can't do anyth…

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 …

More job profiles!

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committeehave compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.
Here is an interview with an astronomer turned tenure track faculty and project scientist at an observatory.

More on my series of interviews with non-academic, "astro industry" folks soon!