### Being Black at Harvard

It turns out that I am the first Black professor to attain tenure at Harvard in the physical sciences. When I go to events for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), I occasionally see other Black people, but they are few and they are not generally in the sciences (I was at a dinner table next to Jamaica Kincaid's recently!). To be Black at Harvard is to be on an island. To be Black at Harvard is to stand out. Being Black at Harvard means always being aware of your skin color. This awareness isn't always bad, necessarily. But my race is ever present in my mind, and that takes a cognitive toll, which has been documented extensively.

Since arriving in Cambridge, MA, I have been reading a great deal about the history of my people, and about the institutions in which we live and operate (inspired in large part by the book recommendations of Ta-Nehisi Coates). Not surprisingly, these institutions fail us more than they help. But at the same time, I've developed a deep and abiding pride in who I am, my personal history and my ancestry. I'm proud of the accomplishments of those who endured unthinkable treatment, ranging from slavery, to state-sanctioned terrorism, to institutionalized racism, to today's undercover biases and slights. To be Black is to be a survivor, and I'm proud of the path that was blazed for me to be what I am today: A Black Harvard Professor.

I'm proud that today's Harvard values the diversity that I bring. Yes, I was hired in part because I'm Black, and Harvard needs what my unique racial makeup brings with it: namely, excellence. I bring viewpoints that are out of the norm, yet well aligned with the educational needs of an ever more diverse student body. I bring a formidable publication record, unique teaching methods and innovative approaches to all that I do. And I'm determined to see diversification accelerated here. Soon. There's much work to do, but I feel I'm in the right place to do it.

 I, too, am Harvard
While I've found comfort and encouragement in my new position here at Harvard, it's important to keep in mind that my younger brothers and sisters don't necessarily get to enjoy the same benefits, and yes privileges, that my station in life has bestowed on me. This was hammered home for me by the video below. These are the voices of Harvard's Black students, but really these are the voices of Black people in 2014 America. Please, listen closely.

Isaac Harper said…
We'll said John! And congrats on your tenure.

### 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 started by downloading a stock photo of J.J. from NBA.com, which I then loaded into OpenOffice Draw:

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…