Thursday, November 17, 2005

Am I Losing Touch with the Girls?

Well, one could say I've never really had a touch with the girls, as I've never been much of a cassanova. However, here, I'm more specifically talking about Lorelai and Rory.

I've been a long time devotee of the show. It's hard to remember because it's been so long now, but I think I started watchin Episode 3 of season 1. I introduced the lovely Mrs. H. to the show. I've convinced many of my other female friends to watch the show. I've tried with my guy friends, but with not so much luck. Makigirl came to the show independantly, but I'm certain that my fervor has kept her much more entertained with the show than she would have been on her own.

The writing has always been entertaining and cute. I feel that it's the one show where the writers/actors are trying to rely on my intelligence to enjoy the show. Things are meant to fly by without me getting them, and I appreciate that. I also have to say that Gilmore has been a rite of passage for me. It was really the first show where I was more attracted to the older female character than the one nearly my age.

Unfortunately, my problem lately, is that I don't feel so connected with the show. There was a time when the lovely Mrs. H, Makigirl, and I would discuss for hours on end the relative merits of Rory's boyfriends. It really meant something (bad) to me that she would choose Jess over Dean. That was dumb and done purely for ratings, but it really mattered to me. I felt very older brotherish to Rory, and I didn't want to see her get hurt by that fool. Makigirl on the otherhand actually liked Jess. She has no taste. In all honesty, I didn't really like Dean either, but at least he was a reasonable guy. You see how much I could get into this, don't you.

Well, the other night, Rory and Lorelai were finally reunited after several months apart. It should have been touching. I should have cried. But I didn't. Maybe it was just because the lovely Mrs. H. was away, and I just wasn't as into it. But I think I just didn't care as much. And as cute as the writing was about Luke's new daughter, I just didn't feel it the way I used to.

The thrill is gone. I mean how long can you watch a tv show? Gilmore has already passed the Dawson line. Both shows started with sophomores in high school. Rory is now a year older than Dawson was when he dissappeared. Maybe I'm suffering from separation anxiety. Maybe I'm focusing on my own family now that I'm married. Maybe you just can write that well, that long.

I don't know, but I'm lamenting.

Here's to you, Stars Hollow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Astronomy Paper

Today's paper is:

"Three-Dimensional Bar Structure and Disc/Bulge Secular Evolution"
Bureau, M., Aronica, G., and Athanassoula, E.

This paper (by some of the top people in the galaxy dynamics world) deals with boxy/peanut shaped galaxy bulges. Yes, peanut is an astronomical term. Compare the previous picture to the central regions of these images.

Alright, I guess you have to have an astronomer's imagination to see it, but trust me, the central regions of the galaxies do look like a peanut.

In the paper, the authors discuss near-infrared observations of 30 galaxies with this type of peanut morphology. They are trying to determine how bars and bulges form in relation to the disk galaxies that they are in.

--Oh, in order to see the peanut, the galaxy has to be viewed edge on, since the peanut is caused by matter moving up and down away from the disk. This galaxy could have a peanut structure (althought it probably doesn't), but we can't tell, since we're looking down at the disk.--

Back in the old days, people divided disk galaxies into three parts. First there was the disk. Well, duh, there has to be a disk in a disk galaxy. Second there was the bar (unfortunately not labled in this diagram, but you can consider the nucleus to be the bar). And third there was the bulge/halo. As Bureau et al. discuss in their introduction, bulges were thought to be a mini-elliptical (inside the larger disk galaxy) that were created through accretion of smaller galaxy. Everything was thought to be a separate entity that really didn't interact much with each other.

Well, times have changed. Now, we're more worried about secular evolution (try this definition to ensure you that I'm not bringning religion into this discussion).

It seems that numerical/computer models show that anytime you set up a disk of stars, and a bar forms at the center (another story entirely), the bar evolves into a bulge - it sort of spreads out and up/down out of the plane of the galaxy. In the astronomical vocabulary, the bar heats up and becomes a bulge.

The observations made by the authors point to this same scenario. Obviously, no one can observe a galaxy evolving. To see any real change in a galaxy, you'd have to sit around for at least 10,000,000 years, and even then, you wouldn't see much. What we can do is look for circumstantial evidence of change. With very sensitive images, the authors found that galaxies with peanut-shaped bulges had evidence of stellar orbits related to bars.

What are orbits related to bars? (Now this part would get really technical if I wanted to write it, but here's a link to a technical page on disk galaxies written by one of the authors). Think about it for a second. A bar/bulge is composed of stars that are rotating around the center of a galaxy. If the stars were moving about randomly in the disk, they wouldn't be able to hold any collective shape -- the stars would melt back into the disk. But bars are special. Bars are formed because stars get trapped on certain orbits that look much more ovalish. These are called x1 family orbits. As long as most of the stars in the bar region are on one of these orbits, you see a bar.

The observations of bulges in this paper observe bar orbits in the bulge. Thus, the conclude that the bulge is actually a result of the evolution of a bar.

Here's the sequence: disk -> disk with bar -> disk with bar and bulge -> disk with bulge

Now, this never really struck me as odd, but apparently, it has been a tough leap for the astronomical conclusion, namely because it's very esoteric and no one studies it, but also because the observations are so hard to make. You'll notice that the authors used near-infrared (K-band) observations of the galaxies. This is because near infrared cameras can see through the dust at the center of the galaxies, and they also see the older stars that have settled onto the well formed orbits. Really, near infrared observations have only been good for 15 years or so, so galaxy dynamics is an evolving science.

Things to take away:
1. Everything inside a galaxy is connected. Even though we might label a galaxy as having a disk and a bulge, they're really part of one big hole.
2. Bars and bulges are formed by stars on particular/well defined orbits around the center of the galaxy. Bars/bulges would never appear if stars moved randomly about a galaxy.
3. If you want to see the inner parts of a galaxy, try to observe in the infrared.

Next time, I'll try to write about something a little more exciting.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Notes from the Education Trust Conference

Yeah, so I've been a bit slow in posting these. Mostly because I had such a good time last Friday, but also, because I've been doing some extremely tedious document revisions for the past couple days. Sometimes, I just want to get the hell out of my job. Well, maybe that should read all the time.

Anyway, the first presentation I saw was:

"Redesigning College Math - Pre calc/College Algebra"
by Math instructors at Georgia State University

The topic presented in the session was one very near and dear to my heart - remedial/introductory college classes where loads of people fail, and those that don't probably don't learn anything anyway. They started out the presentation by putting up data of the grade distribution in the class. The pre-calc and college algebra classes at this school average 15-25% D's and F's, and another 18% of students in the classes withdraw. Stunning. They don't have data from other schools, but one of the presenters was a dean who had discussed the problem with administrators at other schools and had heard similar stories.

Let me take a moment here to say that I'm resisting the urge for people to drag the instructors out into the street and subject them to hours of the most horrid boredom I can imagine. Because that would be an easy conclusion. How does one legitimately have a class where a full third of the class doesn't pass? WTF? How can you at all claim to be an educator when a fucking third of your class doesn't learn shit? But then I remember the subtle messages and pressures that I felt as a new grad student (which is what the instructors of this class are), and I realize that the department chair is the dirty SOB who should be hauled out into the street and put into the stocks. Teaching attitude comes from the top of the department. I'm sure that the grad students are told to worry more about their research than their teaching. I'm sure that they're told that it's the pre-calc's students' fault for being so stupid in the first place. I mean, (and this is from the astronomy world) can you believe that students don't know that Jupiter's diameter is measured in kilometers and not centimeters? How could they be so stupid?

But I digress. At least this group is trying. Their process comes down to a mostly technological response to the program (the response was funded by NSF). In their old style classes, students spent their 3 hours per week in lectures. The professor droned, the students took notes, and then failed tests. The new version of the class had the students only meeting in lecture for 1 1/2 hours in lecture (and hopefully doing more active learning stuff), and then the other 1 1/2 hours in a nifty 88 seat computer lab. The students did a basically on-line class using MyMathLab. They did their quizzes and homework on line in the lab, or at home.

The certainly very interesting thing about their class redesign was that they forced the instructors to perform action research on their classes. Wow. Pushing scientists to research on their teaching. Now that is cool. The instructors met weekly to discuss what was going on in their class and to discuss research projects. The presenters displayed a number of these projects, and they were pretty good (It's amazing what a scientist can produce when asked to.) The research also provided a platform for the rest of the department to buy into the class redesign. Several studies did show that student learning increased through the new methods. Cool.

This was overall pretty good work. It's encouraging to see higher ed people participating in professional development (even if it's only grad students) and researching their own teaching work. The real test will be wether the upper level courses adopt this type of work, or if there will be enough push back on the grad student teachers in this class to not worry so much about student achievement. I asked the researchers to try to do an attitudinal survey of the gradstudents who participate in this class, and then measure them years down the road.

Unfortuanately, the course re-design doesn't solve the larger problems. Why do we have to teach remedial algebra at the college level? Why are these types of remedial college classes (obviously for students who have had trouble learning) some of the biggest classes on campus. Good high schools wouldn't do that. Why do colleges? And really, the $32 question for me, is how do we get real, significant (in the popular sense of the word, not the statistical) improvements to student learning and retention. The studies I mentioned above in the classes showed the the class average had risen on some standard questions. However, the average rose from 1.8/4 to 1.9/4. How do you get everyone to 4/4? Shouldn't that be our goal?

Possibly more to come this afternoon after my run.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Somewhat Liveblogging Ed Trust

Well, I'm at the conference. I can't say that the financial lady is happy about me being here, seeing as how I didn't pay and all, but you know, I do work from time to time for them, and I'll probably be the only person going to the math session this morning, so they can really use me.

There's some kind of of morning session going on right now, so I'm just biding my time until that lets out. The first session I'm going to is on improving algebra and pre-calc classes for better student achievement in college. I'm not sure who's giving it yet, as they didn't give me a program. But, I imagine it will be interesting.

I think a plenary happens after that.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. . .

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Will This Day Ever End?

I can't believe it's not 10:00am yet!

I'm taking tomorrow off to go to the Ed Trust conference. Hopefully, I'll have lots to write about over the weekend. If there's one thing I love it's the Ed Trust conference. The people there are so intelligent and fascinating, and I always feel extra motivated afterwards.

Oh well. Back to Linear Transformations for a bit more.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More on Relationships

I've been thinking some more about the post I did yesterday regarding how hard it is for a smart woman to find a good man. (Those words just strike me as so stupid together.)

I think the one thing I've noticed after more reflection is the lack of discussion regarding emotion. There's alot of self-pitty from MoDo. There's alot of whining from the guys mentioned in the story. And there's alot of anger and indignation from the various commenters. But really, there's not a whole lot addressing the underlying emotions (really anxieties) of the people involved.

I believe (really, I've come to believe somewhat recently) that most action in the world of humans is driven by emotion. Yeah, reason is nice and comes around every once in a while, when someone is in touch with what they are feeling, but I think that's pretty rare. I think that we don't at all appreciate the underlying importance of the underlying emotional structures that we are born into (I'm learning about Family System Theory lately). And our lack of appreciation is what's gone horribly wrong in the original article. MoDo probably feels anxious at some level, and so do the women that she interviews (and so do the men), but in some attempt to bring reason to the world, she attributes what she sees to rock solid biology. "Of course it makes so much sense that men have 'hunter' genes, and women have 'damsel in distress genese' and our modern society is going against the ways of nature!" Well, not so much. To me, genes that cause men to become "hunters" have little to do with the situations that MoDo writes about. The desire of most people to distance themselves form emotional conflict/closeness do.

Why would a man want to attribute borish behaviour to genetics? Well, besides being an easy excuse, it seems to me that when someone is hunting a less successful, but highly attractive female, a guy doesn't ever have to feel whatever is going on inside his own head. Men are taught from very early on to distance from emotions, and meet problems with quiet and determined resilliance. It's kind of hard to question yourself with that type of model to live up to. If I hunt women who are less successful than me, I never have to question my own vulnerabilities. It becomes all about them.

But what happens, when that women is just as successful and intelligent as me. My anxiety about whatever is wrong with myself, must go shooting through the roof. I'm forced to deal with things because the person confronting me is on the same level as me. It's got to be tough. And welcome to the world of divorce in the professional, educated class.

For women it's the opposite side of the coin. No matter how feminist your parents were, there are so many social cues that I couldn't imagine not feeling anxious about finding and keeping a man. (or you jump completely to the other side, and don't please anyone. I think that there isn't much naturally occuring middle ground for women on this issue.) That anxiety has to run through a relationship, and leads probably often to the things that MoDo points out in the article (stupid chivalry and the like) that we would never want for our daughters.

Women, unfortunately don't have a recourse like men. A man can avoid the uncomfortable feelings and run away to hunt without being looked unfavorably. Women have to stew in the kitchen.

I think I've probably rambled a bit in this post, and not really ended up where I originally intended to, but the main point I wanted to raise was that anxiety is everywhere. And although MoDo's article was a pile of steaming crap, it really does point out how people work through emotion rather than reason, and that we often try to cover up that emotion with reason. I think it's good to yell at the NYT for publishing such garbage, but change isn't really ever going to happen until we make it the societal norm that we question and look into our own emotions. I'll try to come back to this point in the future.

200th post

Woo Hoo! I didn't think I'd actually be able to stick with this thing that long. Thanks for all your help, Makigirl. And thanks to the couple of random commenters we've had over the past year.

Unfortunately, though, I think our post number is going to rapidly catch up and pass the site counter.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

MoDo's Junk Science

I was chatting on the phone with Makigirl yesterday evening, and she told me about Maureen Dowd's Stepford take on the whole dating scene.

Not wanting to waste my morning writing too much about this (blame the victim, much?), I'll link to a couple other responses. Hopefully, they cheer Makigirl up a bit, and remind her that she's much better than any of the jackasses mentioned in the original article.

Personally, I think that the lovely Mrs. H. is a strong, intelligent woman who works very, very hard. I wouldn't want her any other way.