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Showing posts from October, 2010

Wobble Boffins!

My friend and collaborator Andrew Howard just published an amazing paper in Science (abstract only, full article costs $$). The paper, on which I am proud to be a coauthor, came out Thursday and has attracted a lot of attention from both the astronomy community and the public. This is primarily because in it we provide the first estimate of the frequency of Earth-sized planets around other stars, often referred to as "eta Earth," after the Greek letter in the Drake Equation . We estimate that about 1 in 4 stars has an Earth-sized planet! The results are from the NASA-UC Eta-Earth survey that we have been conducting over the past 5 years at Keck Observatory. The results have quickly made their way out into the realm of popular science. Here's my favorite: Alien Earthlike worlds 'like grains of sand', say 'wobble' boffins I'm going to start listing "Wobble Boffin" as my job description on my CV! Andrew has an excellent quote describing our

Crazy eyes

From an older article in Cosmos magazine: A new study has shown that a bizarre deep-fish can rotate its eyes to look up through the totally transparent roof of its head in search of prey. Though the barreleye fish, Macropinna microstoma , was discovered almost 70 years ago, most specimens were damaged when brought to the surface in nets. The research from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), in California, is the first to show that the animal has a transparent fluid-filled sac in place of the roof its skull, and that it can rotate its tubular eyes to either look up or forwards through its head to focus on prey. I was reminded of this article when talking with my collaborator Andrew while we were observing on Keck tonight. Andrew keeps an amazing little " memory book " in his wallet that he created to keep track of the crazy and sometimes useful facts that he has come across over the years. For example, there are 105 billion humans that have ever l

Portugal's drug decriminalization story

Did you know that Portugal decriminalized drugs 10 years ago? Not just marijuana, but all drugs. Nowadays, Portugal has lower usage rates and lower incidence of drug-related crime than any other EU nation or the US. This week at Politico of all places there's an excellent excellent op-ed by Glenn Greenwald about Portugal's radical new policies toward drug usage. Here are a few snippets: By any metric, Portugal’s drug-decriminalization scheme has been a resounding success. Drug usage in many categories has decreased in absolute terms, including for key demographic groups, like 15-to-19-year-olds. Where usage rates have increased, the increases have been modest — far less than in most other European Union nations, which continue to use a criminalization approach. Portugal, whose drug problems were among the worst in Europe, now has the lowest usage rate for marijuana and one of the lowest for cocaine. Drug-related pathologies, including HIV transmission, hepatitis tr

Some Photos

Now that my phone is once again talking to iPhoto, I was able to upload about 3 weeks worth of photos. Here's a quick sampling: Owen doing some board work in my office: "Hoy es viernes." Picking Owen up from school. When Erin was out of town running a marathon in Iowa, I stayed with the boys for the extended weekend. Here's our Sunday morning trip to Will Rogers State Beach. Bath time! I recently gave a colloquium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), just north of Pasadena. Here I am having some fun with the IR camera demonstration in the space flight museum.

Saturday Morning Reading

Erin captured this video by holding the camera below her book as she pretended to read. Meanwhile Owen was actually reading a book about construction equipment to Marcus. The video is kinda long, but fans of Owen and Marcus will find some touching moments in there (for example, starting at 2:35 and especially at 4:00 ).

Lazy, lazy Prop 19 reporting

Imagine a forest fire near your house was raging out of control. The forest department would like to set up a series of controlled burns in an attempt to control the blaze. However, a number of citizens oppose the controlled burns because there are potential health risks to the firefighters, and improperly executed controlled burns could, potentially, lead to an even larger fire. Other citizens worry about planes dropping water on the flames because the planes could miss and hit a house, thereby endangering everyone inside! Well, this sort of debate is highlighted in yesterday's LA Times front-page article on marijuana legalization. The headline reads " Health Gets Lost in Pot Debate " and the story before the fold is all about a woman named Carol McDonald who became addicted to marijuana. Later in the article we find out that her 19-year addiction to pot costs her $5000 a year, a case of bronchitis, and has led to tension in her marriage and trouble at work. You see? W

iPhone issues

This is just a post where I can store pictures of the problem I'm having with syncing my iPhone with iPhoto. I have an appointment with the Genius Bar later today. Update: I'm embarrassed to report that the problem was that I didn't reboot my computer after the last couple of software updates. I assumed that if the computer needed rebooting, it would do so after the software update. Well, at least I could upload the photos from my phone again!

A day at the cabin!

All week we had been planning to (finally) hike back to the cabin that some friends generously offered to us back in June. Ever since our first trek down into the valley we have been excited by the concept of spending a weekend at the cabin, but the whole prospect seemed a bit daunting in practice. What if Mar couldn't sleep in such close proximity to the rest of us? What if there was a bed-wetting incident with no washing machine. What if, what if, etc... So I had the idea of just doing a couple of day trips to scope things out. There still exist huge benefits associated with getting away from it all, even if it is just for part of a day. Thus, we made our plans to head down to the cabin Saturday morning. However, when Saturday morning arrived, there was no guarantee that we'd follow through with our plans. While there are great benefits that come with a good hike and a day spent in the woods, the trappings of modern life have their appeals as well. There we found ourselves


as quickly as we said hello to wally, we had to say goodbye. there have been a lot of tears (more from the grown-ups than the kids!) about the decision, but it was the right one for everyone. although he is a sweet & fun dog, wally was not ready to be in a house with small children. hopefully with our feedback, the humane society will find a loving home for him where he has plenty of room to run, play "mess-around", and grow into his giant paws....

New Addition to the Family

Erin and I were sitting on the sofa the other night, all being the modern family, each with a laptop on our respective laps. Erin paused, looked up and said, "You know, I really love Amy's dog, Miner. That is a great dog." This is in reference to her recent trip to Iowa to visit her (our) sister Amy, and Miner is Amy's black lab. In what was likely a calculated move as part of a long-term strategy to convince me to get a dog, Erin then added, "I'd really like a dog someday." Well, it turns out that a long-term propaganda strategy wasn't necessary. For some reason, Erin forgot that A) I love dogs and B) one of the reasons I've wanted to own our own house is because it would allow us to get a dog. The way I see it, we've had our own house for nearly a year, so we've been waiting a long damn time for a dog! So I looked up from my computer and said, "Yeah, me too. Let's go get a dog." Erin took a long look at me, presumably t

Interesting times in CA

Our CA voter booklet arrived this week and I decided to give it a perusal over breakfast this morning while the kids watch Cars for the Nth time (where N >> 1). Front and center is Prop 19: LEGALIZES MARIJUANA UNDER CALIFORNIA BUT NOT FEDERAL LAW. PERMITS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO REGULATE AND TAX COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION, AND SALE OF MARIJUANA. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Allows people 21 years old or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use. Permits local governments to regulate and tax commercial production, distribution, and sale of marijuana to people 21 years old or older. Prohibits people from possessing marijuana on school grounds, using in public, or smoking it while minors are present. Maintains prohibitions against driving while impaired. Limits employers’ ability to address marijuana use to situations where job performance is actually impaired. Um, whoa! This proposition would basically treat marijuana like alcohol under