Tuesday, October 29, 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.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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 three seasons averaging a solid double-double.

Chris Paul. Whooooooo!

Owen says:

  1. Is friends with Blake Griffin
  2. Nickname is CP3
  3. Mostly does assists
  4. Makes a buzzer beater if he has to
  5. Always gets an unfair match-up
  6. Always is open o has his teammates open

Here are Paul's Top-10 highlights from last season:




Chris is stylish:


Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 NBA Countdown: #7 Kyrie Irving

Image credit: solecollector.com
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:

  1. Makes lots of swishes
  2. Doesn't do much dunks
  3. Is good at long two's
  4. Makes the crowd scream!

We'll get to Irvin's top-10, but first this ankle-breaking highlight from the All Star Game:



Now for the top-10 highlights:


Don't forget Kyrie's uncle, Unca Drew:


Friday, October 18, 2013

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 perturbations by other bodies. A decisive test between the two theories are multiplanet systems: if misalignments are indeed caused by the process that creates hot Jupiters, multiplanet systems without hot Jupiters should be preferentially aligned.


Now, scientists have used data from the Kepler space telescope to uncover the first misaligned multiplanet system. Kepler-56, a red-giant star four times larger than the Sun, is located at a distance of about 3000 light years from Earth. "This star is remarkable in many ways" says Daniel Huber, lead-author and NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at Ames Research Center. By analyzing the oscillation frequencies of Kepler-56, Huber and collaborators discovered that the spin-axis of the star is tilted by about 45 degrees to our line of sight. "This was surprising because we already knew about the existence of two planets transiting in front of Kepler-56; therefore, the host star must be misaligned with the orbits of both planets.", explains Huber. "What we found is quite literally a giant misalignment in an exoplanet system."

The culprit for the misalignment was revealed through radial-velocity observations taken with the Keck telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. "Combining transit-timing variations caused by the interaction of the planets with the Keck data and dynamical simulations showed that the planet orbits are well aligned with each other." explains Josh Carter, co-author and Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "However, the Keck data also revealed an additional third, massive companion in a wide orbit." Calculations confirmed that the torque exerted by this third companion causes the orbital planes of the transiting planets to precess in concert, periodically misaligning them with the equator of the host star. Such a dynamical tilting scenario had been recently suggested theoretically, and has now been observed for the first time.

By combining Kepler and Keck data, the team was also able to precisely measure the radii, masses and densities of the host star and both transiting planets. "The study is a great demonstration of the wide expertise of scientists working together in the Kepler community." says John Johnson, co-author and Professor of Astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Each expertise was absolutely essential for explaining the architecture and formation history of this intriguing system."

Nearly 20 years after the discovery of the first hot Jupiter, the "giant misalignment" in the Kepler-56 system marks an important step towards a unified explanation for the formation of hot Jupiters. As more multiplanet systems are discovered, observations are expected to reveal whether the tilting mechanism in Kepler-56 could also be responsible for misalignments observed in hot-Jupiter systems.

Graphical sketch of the Kepler-56 system. The line of sight from Earth is illustrated by the dashed line, and dotted lines show the orbits of three detected companions in the system. The solid arrow marks the rotation axis of the host star, and the thin solid line marks the host star equator. Note that the sizes of the orbits and bodies are not to scale. Original images used to depict the host star and its companions are courtesy of NASA/GSFC.

Credit: Daniel Huber, NASA/Ames



Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 NBA Countdown: #8 Stephen Curry

Image from dimemag
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:
  1. is good at 3's
  2. is good at assists
  3. makes nice swishes
  4. is good at free throws
  5. doesn't dunk a lot
  6. fakes a lot
  7. is the king of the Warriors!
And Curry's Top-10 of last season:



Here he is with his family:

Image via http://jocksandstilettojill.com/

Inviting Arguments Over Affirmative Action

I'm stirring it up again over at Women in Astronomy. Please jump in!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

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:
  1. Shoots inside the three-point line, then moves inside
  2. He's good at rebound put-backs
  3. Can shoot everywhere
  4. He's good on defense
  5. He's quick
  6. He's usually on fire!
Here's Wade's top-10 career highlights:



Dwyane is also a good Daddy:


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 is so basic and so universally cool that your neighborhood astronomer has, in fact, heard about it. And so was the case with the water-bearing exo-asteroid discovered by Jay Farihi and collaborators (Farihi et al. 2013, Nature). This group of astronomers have made a living looking at white dwarf stars with strange chemical abundances. White dwarfs are the end-states of stars like the Sun. Think of them as white-hot skeletons of stars. Once our Sun dies, it'll slough off it's outer layers and lay bare it's hot, ultra-dense core. That core is basically hydrogen and helium supported by an exotic type of pressure known as electron degeneracy pressure (see the wiki page for more details).

Jay Farihi: Hard. Core. Astronomer.
White dwarfs are interesting to astronomers like Jay Farihi because they are extremely simple. Being composed almost exclusively of light elements, any time heavier elements such as carbon or silicon or iron are somehow deposited on their surface, those heavy atoms immediately sink deep into the middle of the white dwarf. Thus, if astronomers such as Jay Farihi see heavy elements on the surfaces of white dwarfs, those heavy elements are being "poured" onto the surface of the white dwarf at a steady rate.

A tidally-disrupted asteroid around a white dwarf.
The mechanism pouring heavy stuff onto white dwarfs is usually a swarm of rocky asteroids that are pulled apart by the intense gravitational field of the white dwarf. These tidally-disrupted asteroids form a disk of heavy-element-rich material that then falls onto (accretes) onto the white dwarf where it is visible through spectroscopy.

Farihi et al. noticed that there was an excess of oxygen on one particular white dwarf, and through some detective work they figured out that that oxygen came primarily in the form of water (two hydrogens and an oxygen atom). In fact, the asteroid responsible for these spectroscopic signatures was composed of 26% water by mass! Even more exciting is the exotic environment in which this water was detected. How cool is the thought of the material necessary for life being found around a stellar skeleton? Astronomy! Science! Fun!

Check out the paper on the arXiv.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I stand with DNLee

Come correct or step to. Presumptuous blog editors, you don't want none of DNLee.
Image credit: 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 Biology-Online.org 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. Ofek's statement has a rich aroma of insecure frustration that assaults your palate before the first sip. Once on your lips you realize: oh my! This is a big one. Complex, seductive in its simplistic reductionism (she only wants that cash money!). The juxtaposition of "urban scientist" and "urban whore" all in one line. How does it fit?! It's almost overwhelming if it weren't for how short the statement was. And the finish! What flourish as you think on it a bit more. Do I taste citrus? Lemons? No, that's the presumptuousness you only get with the angry hurrumph of an entitled old man. So complex, this one. Savor it while you can, because it's going underground again, only to reemerge over colloquium dinner as a jumble of microaggression and bad assumptions.

You know, I almost admire Ofek for just tossing it out there in the open where it can be addressed head on. Whether it was a slip of the tongue (keyboard) on a bad day, or a cry for help, at least he was honest, unlike most of the remaining sexist/racist thoughts in people's heads. Note to self: I'm not exempted.

DNLee writes:
My initial reaction was not civil, I can assure you. I’m far from rah-rah, but the inner South Memphis in me was spoiling for a fight after this unprovoked insult. I felt like Hollywood Cole, pulling my A-line T-shirt off over my head, walking wide leg from corner to corner yelling, “Aww hell nawl!” In my gut I felt so passionately:”Ofek, don’t let me catch you on these streets, homie!”
Fortunately, she pulled it together and wrote a beautiful retort. Sean Carroll reproduces her full blog entry. I highly recommend that you mosey on over there and check it out. As for my part, I'll repost her video response below.

I sincerely hope that I could respond with such maturity and eloquence if this happened to me. I stand with you, gurl, and I'm learning from your example. I also subscribe to her blog now. Check out this entry on camel crickets.

I <3 DNLee!

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. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

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:

  1. He's good at midrange jump shots
  2. He's good at assists
  3. He's good at tuff layups
  4. He doesn't shoot many threes
As a list within a list after a list, here are his top-10 plays of the 2012-2013:




He also wears silly glasses:


Friday, October 11, 2013

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



Thursday, October 10, 2013

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 subset of the full 20-tip list:
1. Use the appropriate salutations when writing to a woman academic. Don’t call your female professor “Miss” or “Mrs.” Don’t write to a colleague as “Ms.” when you would otherwise say “Dr.” or “Prof.” There is a long history of baggage around names, and I guarantee that most women are sensitive to this. Show that you’re not One of Those Dudes by respecting a woman academic’s titles, at least in the initial greeting. 
2. Don’t comment on a woman’s appearance in a professional context. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are; it’s irrelevant. Similarly, don’t tell someone they don’t look like a scientist/professor/academic, that they look too young, or they should smile. 
3. Don’t talk over your female colleagues. There is a lot of social conditioning that goes into how men and women communicate differently. You may not realize that you’re doing it, but if you find yourself interrupting women, or speaking over them, stop.
That last one resonates with me. I catch myself doing that all the time. A short pause in a woman's train of thought is not an invitation to speak up and "score points." Let the pause hang, more is coming. How do I know? Because I pause sometimes, too, and hate it when people leap in to wrest the conversation away from me.

Do Unto Otters, and all that...

Thursday afternoon music break

Via Erin, Grey Reverend's "Everlasting"

 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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 coming to work. And I am a woman. It may not seem like loving my job my gender would be related, but for a while now I've been thinking that my love for my job is at least partly linked to my department's policies about young researchers and towards women in science.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

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?

Monday, October 7, 2013

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's energy consumption by many quads (quadrillion BTUs) and provide utility bill savings for consumers. By 2030, the cumulative operating cost savings from all standards is estimated to reach $1.7 trillion, with a reduction of 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions (equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 1.4 billion cars).

My day-to-day generally consists of a mix of the following:
  • managing a small (2-5) team of research staff (per rulemaking project) that researches and develops the economic models. These models are rather involved and address a variety of issues. It takes many months to develop them. 
  • reviewing those models, and all the necessary documentation (I do a bit of writing as well)
  • regular conference calls with DOE project managers.
  • occasional public meetings with affected stakeholder groups (industry representatives, consumer advocates, utilities, etc.).
  • other miscellaneous group management tasks.
On the side I also write technical reports, conference papers, and journal articles based on all of our work.

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 anything by talking to them. My efforts would be as useless as their platform is bereft of facts.

No, it's far better to talk to the independents. The problem is, here's an indication of how they see the problem:


These YouGov poll results, via Daily Dish, show that there is a narrow margin among two groups of independents. They see it as a battle between the Republicans in Congress on one side, and President Obama on the other side. But this dichotomy is purely specious, and it exits because our press and popular media do such a shitty job at doing their jobs. Sure, sometimes there are two equal sides to a debate. But other times, many times, there is only one side with facts and reason behind them. And in this case, it's not even a subtle distinction. It's not a close call. The House Republicans have shut down our government because of a law that they don't like.

Here's what happened, as simply as I can state it. We have a president who won two elections based on the promise of some sort of universal health care. Having won office not once, but twice, he enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. ObamaCare. This act provides health insurance for those who previously did not have it, like the unemployed, underemployed, uncovered (like my family was back in 2008) and a good fraction of our nation who are poor. The constitutionality of this law was challenged in the Supreme Court, and that challenge was effectively blocked by a right-leaning court. Congress has made dozens of attempts to strike the law down, and all of these attempts have failed. The ACA, a.k.a. ObamaCare went into law Monday last week. It's the law of the land.

So what does that have to do with the shutdown? Well, Tea Partiers don't like the ACA. They hate it. They hate it with the intensity of a thousand Suns. They hate that the president won two elections and passed the law through congress. They hate that the Supreme Court upheld the law. And they explicitly vowed to do anything they could to block the law. They failed through the normal channels, and then they found a loophole: the Shutdown. And here we are today.

The analogy is that the Tea Party was playing a board game, and one player, Obama, made an excellent play that was well within the rules of the game. Tea Party was then greatly disadvantaged. On top of that, Tea Party really, really, really doesn't like Obama. They don't like how he looks, how he acts, what he stands for---no matter the setting, but especially in this game. So they challenged the move. Obama and the other players looked at the rule book and it was clearly spelled out: the move was legal, and as a result Obama is winning the game at that moment. Tea Party is losing.

So Tea Party gets really angry, throws a temper tantrum, pours a cup of water on the game board, flips the table upside down, sets fire to the room, and storms out while holding their breath until they get their way. Keep it classy, Tea Party!

The ACA is the law of the land. House Tea Partiers hate this law, so they shut down the government to prevent the law from acting in our nation. The end.

The President must not negotiate with little babies who can't handle not getting their way. Wait, scratch that. Calling Tea Partiers "little babies" gives them too much credit, because, at least ostensibly, Tea Partiers are adults with years of experience compared to babies. So they really have no excuse for destroying our way of life for not getting what they want. A baby doing this, I can understand. I'd be upset at the parents for giving the baby that kind of control, but I'd understand.

No, what the Tea Party is doing to our country is inexcusable. Indeed, if this were playing out somewhere in South America, with a minority contingent shutting down an otherwise functioning democratic government to get their way, we'd call them insurgents at best, terrorists at worst.

The President must not negotiate with terrorists. And the Tea Partiers should not go unpunished for what they're doing to the American people.

Friday, October 4, 2013

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

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!