Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brush with Greatness

My Richard Feynman doppleganger waved at me from his bicycle today. Does he know I'm a physicst? Can he see that I'm woefully underprepared from my graduate schooling? Will he, one day on my run, call me out and banish me from the physics world?

Oh, an by the way, if you didn't know it, Dr. Feynman is a real mensch. He was helping a few kids pick up some tennis balls that they had hit into the creek.

The Educated Masses

On my team is a staffer for a Representative. He's struck me as a bit dense in the past, but I've tried to keep an open mind. He did go to college and find a fairly prestegious job.

So, we're warming up yesterday, and I'm listening to him talk to another teammate who had recently come back from serving in Iraq for a year. They were talking about getting along with the natives. The staffer asked the soldier if he had picked up any of the language while he was over there. He said, "They speak Persian there, right?"

Persian?

Sweet Jesus.

Ok, we've been fighting in Iraq for over 2 freaking years now, and we've had hostilities with Iraq in one form or another for almost 15. I could buy the question if he lived in flyover country, worked at Walmart, and just wanted to kill guys with towels on their heads. But this person potentially (well, not really, he's junior staff) has the ear of a rather important elected official. You think this might have been one of the factoids that you picked up along your educational path. You know, I don't think I'm being overly picky or snobbish here. I'm not asking him to be able to derive the Schrodinger equation. It just might be nice if he knew what language the people of the country we're at war with speak.

Is it really any wonder that things are going so poorly in Iraq right now?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Great Post

Wow. I totally feel this post. I think this is what I've been going through for the past year or so, especially the last sentence or two. (And no, not the part about being married with a kid, and having a boyfriend.)

I've always felt the need for alot of space, and I totally agree with her in that I often think back fondly to my 3rd year in grad school. As weird of a year as that was, I really miss it, and I miss the freedom that I felt then.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Surely You're Joking, Hoagieboy?

So, everyday I go on a run during my lunch break. About one mile into my run I always pass a man on a bike who bears a striking resemblance to Richard Feynman.

I wonder if it is more scary that I see Richard Feynman everyday (since he is dead and all), or that I'm so much of a physics geek that I can see some strange old man on the bike path and know enough about Feynman to say this guy looks like him?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My Words are done for the Day

Off to play frisbee now.

Mile Wide and Inch Deep

Lately, I've been working on a computer simulation of a vehicle. Because I haven't had a whole lot of direct guidance on the project, I've been sort of making up stuff as I go. I read a bit, and then I try to translate that into my program.

It occured to me yesterday, that there's nothing in my program that is beyond intro physics. I have forces. I find the sum of the forces. I have torques (moments in engineering speak). I find the sum of the torques. I have a time step, and I convert any non-zero sums into accelerations, velocities, and distances. But the cool thing is that I get to think about lifts, drags, and control surfaces.

Now, I've been in this game for a bit, so I chalk up a few experience points for me allowing myself to more easily see the big picture of what I'm trying to build than a first year undergrad would. However, I don't think that I absolutely needed to go through more than a decade of other stuff to get here. Which is why I have such a problem with the typical physics curriculum.

For what reason in god's green Earth do we cover as much as we do in intro physics? Let's just take all the minutae, all the tedious problem sets and labs and throw them out the window. Let's start on the first day, and say, "Ok, if you're traveling at constant velocity, the sum of all forces is zero. Oh, and by the way, the sum of all the energy you use has to be a constant. Now, let's get to work on some interesting projects." And then go to it. Let's teach creativity, let's teach resourcefullness, and let's teach project management. That's what life's about, not whether you can answer a dumb GRE question about a block on a plane (I think I'll have to write about my thoughts on that tomorrow). Of course, that would take several orders of magnitude better teaching, but it would be worth it to have a populace that actually understood physics.

What are the Costs of Equality

I posted this comment over at mydd yesterday, got the reply that you can read below. The comment was in relation to a thread here about some of the abuses that Maryland's governor is inflicting on his population. But the poster had a good point that Maryland has been controlled by Democrats for the last 30 years, and that Democrats allowed Maryland's situation to be in a place where this governor can completely wreck people. He asks the question, how much at fault are we?

The intention of my post was to say that I think people of all stripes do a pretty poor job of building community and looking out for each other, whether we call ourselves Democrats, Greens, or something else. We often expect forces beyond our control to fix problems that we've identified. Now, I certainly blame myself for not doing enough to alieviate the problems of the world. I could be starting my training to be a teacher in DC right now, but I chose a job that would pay me a lot more, and give me a lot less stress. Who am I to talk?

But anyway, I was trying to bring up the fact that we do know how to solve many of the problems, and that fact makes it so much worse. Since we know how to fix the problems, what would it take to solve them. Certainly, I think it would take a fair amount of money, and it would take a committment to service by the society at large. We would have to say that, "Yeah, I want to make some money and be secure in this life, but what's really important in this life is making sure that everyone has the same opportunities that I do." But I don't believe that helping poor people, has anything to do with giving up my freedoms as the person who replied to my comment suggested.

"The ills of the nation cannot be fixed from the top down without limiting freedoms of the individual."

How exactly would my freedoms be limited in a nation that truly cared about the least among us? Wouldn't that be a display of freedom if we decided to 'leave no child behind'? Yeah, I might have to pay more taxes, and maybe my kid might have to learn more at school, but I don't see where the freedom loss occurs. And how exactly would there be less freedom in that set up as opposed to now? As noted in the original diary, a poor money is forced to give her child support to the state as opposed to using it for her own purposes. Poor people are not able to effectively chose to go to a good K-12 school or college because of limited means (and vouchers don't do much to help this). Predatory lending practices and red-lining limit severly where people might chose to live. For many people the application of freedom is limited to chosing to work at Walmart or living on the street.

I simply don't believe that Freedom + Equality = Constant. We're not dealing with the 1st law of thermodynamics here. These are human constructed terms that have no basis in the underlying physics of the universe. Thus it would seem that we continue to grow both of them as we see fit.

Any thoughts from the philosophy section?

A Brief Afternoon of Blogging

I've been reading about multi-spectral analysis all day, so I thought I would take the last few minutes of the day to get some posts off my chest. If I write fast, there'll be alot.

Here they come. . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Katie Needs our Help!

Here's a site I whole-heartedly support. So what I'm getting married. I'm devoting all of my time, from now on, to rescuing the girl I love best.

What about these people?

There's been alot in the news (well Faux Snooze, and the WWWA channels) lately about the runaway bride . I wouldn't know, though, because I don't watch TV anymore.

In any event, alot of the 'commentators' have been upset at her for 'making' the police look for her, and spending all that money. Also, she just signed a big book deal to make alot of money off the whole thing, which makes the 'commentators' even more upset. However, if you read the above, it seems that she is giving money back to her town out of the book deal. Personally, I think that's dumb. No one had to call out the police to search for her. And she should be able to make as damn much money off the whole ordeal as she can.

But, my larger point is that if all the 'commentators' on Faux want to get upset at her for having the police called out, why are they complaining about these bigots, who were planning on protesting a high school graduation, becasue GASP! there was a gay kid graduating. Good heavens! It turns out that police and firefighters from 10 towns had to be called out to ensure everyone's saftey. I have a feeling that in relative terms to the town's budgets, this was probably a bigger hit than the runaway bride caused in suburban Atlanta.

Why isn't this a national story with program after program calling the protesters the bigoted, anti-freedom, un-American, homophobes that they are?

Actually, I do know way. Faux is just the same.

And to make matters even worse, the fricken cowards didn't even show up.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Farm Workers 1, Taco Bell 0

The Taco Bell boycot finally worked! NPR has some nice stories.

More and More updates

I altered the colors a bit from Maki-girl's update, because I've been in to blue lately. Also I added several more links to the education and candidate blog sections.

I haven't been able to pick a horse yet in the '06 MD governor's race, so I put both of the candidates up. And, although Kwesi Mfume has apparently declared his candidacy for Senate next year, he hasn't made a site yet. When he does, I'll link to it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Virginia Primary

Although I still don't live there yet, Virginia is the state in which I practice my political volunteerism. Yesterday, they had their primary for Lt. Governor (and some other races).

I hadn't participated much in the primary run up because I've been busy and didn't feel like I knew that much about the candidates. But, the candidate I was mostly leaning towards, Leslie Byrne won the Democratic nomination. As much as I would have been happy to work for any of the Democratic candidates, I'm very excited to start volunteering for her.

Site Updates

Wow, makigirl! You really outdid yourself. I barely recognize the place. Hopefully, I don't bump into too much of the new furniture. I think I can get used to this, though.

And I see that you did some work on the other site, too. You've been a busy cucumber roll this morning.

Military Gay Wedding

Here's a story from the CBC this morning about the first military gay wedding in Canada.

It still boggles me how different things can be across the border.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Democracy

Langston Hughes has lots of good stuff to say. Here's my favourite:

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Freedom
Is a strong seed
Planted
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

Developing Young Liberals

I posted a comment on mydd regarding the funding of intern programs for liberal organizations. I think this is a very important topic, and something that the right does extremely well. I might develop this into something more in the future.

American Greatness

A good post at mydd about American greatness.

And here is the text of Senator Obama's commencement speech. The passage I like the best isn't one of the sexy quotes. It is this:


All of that is possible but none of it will come easy. Every one of us is going to have to work more, read more, train more, think more. We will have to slough off some bad habits—like driving gas guzzlers that weaken our economy and feed our enemies abroad. Our children will have to turn off the TV set once in a while and put away the video games and start hitting the books. We’ll have to reform institutions, like our public schools, that were designed for an earlier time.


I want an America I can work for. I don't want to be done. I don't want to live in a country that's finished it's course. I want my country to continue to grow.

I feel like too much of the direction of this country lately, has been based on the idea that we are done. That we are as great as we will ever be. That we know the one true path. That we don't have to ask for service, because everything is already taken care of.

Yeah, we've done a lot of great things over the past 200 years, but there are so many more problems to solve (alot of them created by ourselves). Why would we ever think to call it quits now? Maybe that's why I'm a scientist. I think there always has to be a better question and a better explanation.

I'll link you to my favorite poem (again). I want to live in the America that yearns to be America.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Teaching Astronomy (or not)

I was just reading over the June 2005 issue of the American Astronomical Society newsletter. It's not yet on-line, but the President's Column was very interesting. It's by Robert Kirshner who teaches at Harvard. He says, when talking about teaching astronomy:
Of course our real goal is not so much to teach a particular body of knowledge (how many AU in a parsec?), but somehow to nourish a desire to learn more. Students are in an astronomy course for a semester, but they live long and interesting lives. If we can ignite an interest in something bigger than themselves, use numbers to express ideas, and get them to think about how the world works, I think we'll have done quite a lot.


So far, not so bad, right?

Then:
Looking over last year's final exam, I'm not sure if I tested these ideas. It's a lot easier to ask how many AU in a parsec. Maybe that's a test that comes only with time.


Jeez. If he gave up that easily when researching supernovae he wouldn't get anywhere. How do we move past having the idea that it's not the little details that matter ... to getting people to understand you can design a course that emphasizes what we are all starting to agree is really important?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Formation of a Thickheaded Professor

This post was made by a post-doc our age about the problem of listless post-docs. And here is her follow-up.

I'm kinda busy today, so I don't really have enough time to go into too much of a rant, but I will take enough time to say, "get over yourself." If you read the rest of her posts, she seems to be a very sensible, intelligent nice person, but it seems that she's bought into the idea that because she (thinks) she knows what's going on, everyone else should too.

Yeah, there are many postdoc's who don't have a freaking clue about what they're doing and why they've chosen the job that they have. At times they annoy me. But at the bottom of it, I'm annoyed (well, really pissed off) at a system that focuses so much on the stupid esoteric details of scientific progress that it completely ignores the people doing science. Why do you think these people got into science in the first place? I'm sure many of them enjoyed it early on. What caused them to lose that joy? Or perhaps who caused them to lose that joy? You know, not everyone is a great self-career counselor and can tell themselves at a moments notice to get out of a field that's not good for them. Did you ever think that might be a bit scary? Inertia is common in all people be the post-docs or drug addicts (or both). An academic system that focused on developing people as opposed to laboratory instruments would help students find ways to leave a field that they didn't fit into, or better yet would ensure that any student selected to enter into an academic discipline would find a way to fit into the field. Shocking, I know. Because do you really think that those other listless post-docs/gradstudents are really dumber than you? Are you really a better scientist? Or are there other things that go on in life?

What stops that type of academic system from developing? Students who embrace the culture of their elders and start thinking that the reason for other students' failures is something internal to those other people. It's right along the same lines as complaining about the Astro 101 students being dumb. Well fucking teach them something, then.

It's obvious to me that someone who says "I chose to go to gradschool, because I didn't know what else to do," has something hurting in side. But we as an academic culture chose to ignore that and just worry about how many paper that person churns out. That's exactly why I couldn't choose to be part of that academic culture anymore.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Status

Over lunch today I was perusing the latest issue of STATUS, which is the publication of the American Astronomical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. If you don't receive the paper copy, you can read it here: June 2005 STATUS.

I, of course, appreciate all the hard work that all the CSWA people do. But I always feel like there is an implicit assumption they are making, which is that it is "bad" to go into teaching and "good" to go into research. Or, that you go into teaching when you can't get a "good" research job. For example, in the article by Virginia Valian, who works on gender equity, she says:

"[...] people at institutions with heavy teaching responsibilities, few resources and insufficient staff have neither the time nor the money to perform the scholarly research they were trained for and that might win them jobs at more prestigious institutions. Women are overrepresented at such underfunded institutions, where they cannot reach their full potential."

I agree that at a "teaching institution" there is little time and money for research, and therefore scientists are not necessarily spending time on what they were trained to do (research). I think what irks me is the judgement that somehow those of us who teach are not reaching our "full potential." What if people choose to teach because that's what they're very good at, or that's the need they see in society that they would like to fill, or because of hundreds of other reasons that influence people's career choices? Instead, it always sounds like the people who "had no choice" end up at these "teaching" places.

But anyhow ...

Speaking of implicit assumptions, the work going on at Harvard on implicit associations is very interesting. Researchers are investigating implicit prejudices that we have (whether we mean to act on them or not.) Want to test yourself? Visit Project Implicit.