### An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!

This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:

It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."

This is the time of year for me to reiterate the following point: These comments are as stupid as they are cruel. I mean, what sort of person would even think such thoughts, much less say them out loud to a person of color? Oh! Right. An American. Because American's don't care much for history.

For those who care to make even a cursory glance at recent history, for more than 150 years,scientific funding was strictly tied to demographics. If you wanted funding and subsequent success in science, the singular best thing you could do is start out as a white man. That long-standing and highly effective affirmative action program actively forced everyone else to the curb, artificially reduced competition, and established huge advantages that continue to pay off today (the word of mouth of a white man is gold). Of course, the reduced talent pool means that the low-performing tail of the distribution of white male talent has been mined pretty deeply over the decades, to the detriment of STEM as a whole.

In an attempt to correct for this major inefficiency in utilizing our national talent pool, the NSF fellowship was established. Is there a desire to award these fellowships to women and men of color, white women, and other underrepresented (minoritized) groups? Yup, it's right there in the NSF Diversity and Inclusion Plan. It is documents like these that are the only thing standing between people of color and (even higher levels of) active discrimination. Does this mean that women and men of color, and white women get the fellowship only because of who they are? Well, anyone who as ever served on an NSF panel can attest that, nope, that's just silly. As if the NSF convenes large selection committees for them to sort piles of paper based on reported skin color or X-chromosome count. F'real? GTFOH.

In the real world, there still exists an extremely high bar to cross. Applicants much supply a thoughtful and compelling research statement, broader impacts statement, and strong letters of recommendation. Weak packages simply do not win. So how is it that it seems that such a large fraction of women and men of color, and white women win these awards? Well, it's because they aren't being actively excluded (as much), and as such their talent is being drawn from previously untapped pools (they're really damn good). And here's the amazing thing: white guys still win. Frequently!

The soccer flop is not about white dudes being actively excluded (actual hard contact). It's that they aren't being privileged as much as they have in the past and no longer enjoy as much of an over-representation relative to other talent pools (opposing player ran by them and brushed their shirt). Which makes their flops all the more silly and infuriating.

So you know what those haters can do? They can go ahead and flop on. We see the truth in the instant replay (history) and they look ridiculous. Let's brush that dirt off our shoulders and move on to the next round: the NSF AAPF, CAREER, and AAS awards announcements!

[Update] Also, for those students who didn't get The NSF this time around, keep applying! There's enough variance to make it worth your while. Also, ask for examples of successful applications from peers. Most people are willing to share their previous applications and offer advice.

### 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…