Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Neither my white shoes nor my white shirt are white now

It was cold and windy today on my run, but I still had a good time. I went about 3ish miles at a slightly slower pace than yesterday and did 5 x 150 sprints on the nearby soccer field. I was going to do sit-ups, but it was too damn wet (hence my now brown shirt and shoes).

No songs were going through my head. Mostly I was just reliving past glorious races that I've been in. But, near the end when I did stop to think that no songs were running through my head, "Since U Been Gone" appeared out of nowhere. Go figure.

Back to the tedium . . .

Monday, January 30, 2006

What I've been listening to lately

Here's the playlist that's been stuck on my computer lately:

1. Sometimes.............Holly Williams
2. Fallen..................Sarah Mclachlan
3. Times Like These....Jack Johnson
4. Hung Up................Madonna
5. Wish I.................Jem
6. Babylon................David Gray
7. Jet Lag................Joss Stone
8. Boyfriend..............Ashlee Simpson
9. I Don't Want to Be....Gavin DeGraw
10. Since U Been Gone...Kelly Clarkson
11. J'en Connais..........Carla Bruni
12. Sometime..............SiSe
13. Saint Lucy............Catie Curtis

I know it's probably wrong on so many levels, but I just have that girl meme going again. I can't help it. I like Madonna's new album, and Ashlee really speaks to me in a real teenager type way.

And just so you know, both "Fallen" and "Wish I" are live tracks off of Rolling Stone EP's, and are particularly good.

Running man

What a wonderful day. It was like 60 at lunch today, so I knew that I had to break out of my winter slumber and run a bit. And spending over $100 on new shoes (pictured) made me feel guilty for not running last week.

Let me interject that the "Beast" from Brooks has been my running shoe for the past 6 years or so. Shoes never fit me much, because I have very flat feet, but these ones are amazing. It seems that they changed the sizes a bit, because now I'm between a 12 and 12 1/2, where before I was a 12, but they still feel better than anything else I've ever had.

So, taking a hint from Sam, I thought I'd start posting my running up here, so that potentially it makes me recognize (and feel horribly shameful) when I don't work out.

Today: 2.5 - 3 miles (part of the trail isn't marked, so I can't tell how far it really is) somewhat quick (I had a guy behind me for the first half, and I just hate, hate, hate getting passed). In the middle there was 5 x 75m hills.

I don't like to listen to music when I run. In the old days of walkmans, I found them too heavy, (Maybe with a nano, I would change my mind) and I get real uncomfortable when I sweat on earphones. Ick. So for the most part, I get songs stuck in my head, and hope to god that they're somewhat decent. Today was "Saint Lucy" by Catie Curtis. Not too bad.

I haven't seen much of Richard Feynman lately. I hope he's ok.

A Weekend

Collecting some thoughts from the weekend...

Mrs. H.'s brother came to visit this weekend. That makes him my brother-in-law. As an only, I have to say that being married and having new family is weird enough, but having a new sibling is just very odd. I like him and enjoy hanging out with him, but there's all this family stuff too. I think it's been good for me being much closer (physically) to Mrs. H.'s family, since I'm forced to interact with them. If we didn't live here, I'd probably just consider them all a figment of my imagination.

He's considering a job in Baltimore, so he was looking for apartments with his girlfriend. We actually didn't spend alot of time with them, but we had two really good meals. On at Straits of Malaya and the other at Baci Vini. We had been to the first one before with Makigirl, so I was glad to go back. The second one had a great atmosphere, and the food was good and cheap. I had gnocci for 12 bucks (with a good Chianti for somewhat more). There's a more barish version upstairs called anzu, which I'd like to go to. I'm a sucker for "chic minimalist decor" and deep house night, even though most people don't expect that from me.

Speaking of which, Mrs. H. and I were out looking for sofa's on Sunday but couldn't find anything we liked. Furnature is very tough, I've decided. First of all, we don't neccisarily agree on style (she's more a traditionalist, see the last paragraph for me), and it seems like anything out there for less than several thousand is better than what I had in my dorm. Add to the fact that we wouldn't mind having a pull-out, and just forget about it. Of course, there's always IKEA, but is there only IKEA?

This weekend also marked the "one week left until the Steelers win the Superbowl" point. Check out this article for links to the best of Steeler songs. N.B. Stay the hell away from the "Here we go" song. It sucks to high heaven. Personally, I believe that it is the reason why the Steelers lost the championship game in '94 to the Chargers. How could anyone play well after listening to that song?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Who's going to hell in a handbasket?

I was happy to read hoagie boy's news this morning that the Steelers are going to the Superbowl! I know he's very excited about this.

But I was very saddened to read that it looks like Stephen Harper will be Canada's new Prime Minister. Yes, the Conservative Stephen Harper. The Stephen Harper who would like Canada to cozy up to the U.S. Thank goodness it's only a minority government.


Who's going to the Superbowl?

No more feelings,

Pittsburgh is going to the Superbowl.

(photo credit to the P-G)

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Limits of College-level Science Education?

Ok, four images for this post, and this time there are no correct answers. The top two images are the pre and post test for a question about how confident the students were on this particular assessment. The second two are the pre and post test for a question about the students ability to do science.

Interestingly, we see a large change in the students' confidence to answer the questions on this particular test. I think that says something good about the teaching. This particular question is after all of the content material, so if they didn't feel good about answering the questions, they would have not said so. Also, they students did only see this assessment 3 months early, so one would hope they'd feel better the second time around.

The other question about thier ability to do science shows no change. So, even though the students do feel confident answering a few questions about astronomy, they don't see themselves as scientists yet. This effect has been seen before here and here, although in these studies they did use a separate assessment from the ADT to gauge student feelings towards science.

Why does this happen? In the Zeilik article he discusses that while we may have the best of intentions to improve attitudes towards science during a class, one semester may just not be enough time to do it. This probably is the main key. Students only meet with a professor some 40ish times during the course of a semester, during which they're trying to cram a bunch of facts in their heads as well as deal with all the other junk that goes on during college life. We could expect them to learn a few things, but could we really expect them to change their fundemental views about themselves (such as - "I can do science")?

I'd also like to think that in the typical astronomy class (and really even the vast majority of redesigned active ones), learning is rather passive. Student's don't act like scientists, and aren't reinforced that they are acting like scientists even if they are. The other paper that I linked to shows no real difference between the active and traditional classes in this respect, but I wonder if we've gone active enough, and whether we can go active enough by the time students get to college.

I think largely data like this points to the need to be doing real science education as early as possible. Not sitting and absorbing factoids, but real inquiry based science learning, with teachers telling students (and showing them) that they're doing similar methods of learning to real scientists. Because of several recent posts by others, don't think that in anyway I'm saying that current elem/secondary teachers are doing a bad job, because they're probably just as much a victim of this as are their students. They weren't taught that they'd could be scientists as well. It's really up to the scientists to get into these classes and exhibit what it is that they actually do. Habits of mind, I think, are best learned by example.

I'd like to see some real research done on students in science classes that are very active learning environments, and see what would come of questions like this.

Next Question

You know, I was thinking that I should probably post these over at the other class site, but since I'm logged in here already, I'll just stick to what I'm doing. Perhaps Makigirl will complain to me at somepoint.

Nonetheless, here is a slightly less "things up in the sky" and more of a "how do we do astronomy" question.

(SPOILER) The correct answer is the grey one (SPOILER)

As if I would be posting this data if the entire class got the answer wrong on the post test.

A solid minority of the class doesn't get the question right the first time around, but on the post-instruction assessment, they all get it. 100% right is a very good thing in my book (although again there's a few students missing from the pre-test). And it's good that they all went out of this class with this answer right. Putting telescopes on the tops of mountains and in space is one of the most important concepts to understanding why astronomers need to occasionally spend money. If all telescopes were at sea level, we wouldn't know 1/10th of what we do today. This question is about making good citizens.

And I was thinking further about the previous post. . . the instruction on the structure of the Universe occured early on in the semester, so it's really nice to see that the concepts stuck in the kids head's all the way through to the last week when they took this post-test.

One more set that I want to think about out loud.

An Exhibition of Makigirl's Teaching Prowess

Ok, so I've been working on the paper that Makigirl and I are creating from the poster we made last week at the AAS. In the astronomy ed world, there is something called the Astronomy Diagnostic Test that most people use to judge conceptual gains in an introductory class. I have my issues with it. Which probably would take to long to write about here. Anyway, the pictures represent the responses to one of the questions pre- and post-semester.

(SPOILER)The correct answer is the "red" response.(SPOILER)

As you can see, the students did improve, and improve well, which is a good thing as the structure of the Universe was a topic that she spent a good deal of time on. The sample size is small here (about 25 pre and a bit less post), but still a definite good result.

I'll put a few more up in the next few minutes.

Shrinky Dinks

Last night, the lovely Mrs. H and I went to the Corcoran Gallery of Art for an Andy Warhol activity. Apparently, it was some sort of coloring party that Andy (a Pittsburgher by the way -- Go Steelers!) used to do with his friends. Last night they were making shinky dinks, and you got to have some wine and chocolate and hang out. Unfortunately, the museum expected 400 people to show up and got something like 700. Thus, they ran out of shrinky dinks before Mrs. H and I could get there.

Not to be detered, though, we walked around the gallery, and were really impressed. I had never been in it before, but it turned out to be a really amazing space. They had one exhibit on the banjo in American art (Mrs. H really liked the Wegeman at the bottom of the page. Cute, floppy, melancholy dogs are her thing.) It was very informative and well laid out. And then, there was the Sam Gilliam retrospective on the main part of the second floor. Wow. I was really taken with his art. I honestly had never heard of him before (am I admitting too much of my unrefined-ness?). The images on the webpage don't really do justice to their feeling within the gallery. They're so big and alive. There was a large rotunda in the main hall with 5 or 6 draped colorful sheets hanging down from the center of the room. It was visually so interesting. The lines and folds in his pieces were so vibrant. I wanted to sit and learn to draw just so that I could try to capture them. My favorite piece was one that in shape looks like the one on the front page of the website, but was multi colored, and then I guess he used some type of acrylic paint and a spackling type knife to create these huge parallel ridges all over the piece in a variety of colors. I really would like to try to create something that imitated that someday when I get a workshop.

Anyway, we had a great time, and it was a smart move on behalf of the Corcoran to get people like us in there in on a weekday evening when the museums are typically closed. Personally, I just love museums, and I don't think that I've been going enough lately (especially since I live here with all these great ones). The empty space and the quiet is so wonderful. It also really takes me back to my childhood when I would go constantly to classes at the Carnegie in Pittsburgh. I think I'm going to try to make an effort to go to more stuff like this, and then when I retire again, I can spend all day in them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Night at the Funnies

Last night Mrs. H and I went to the DC Improv and saw Jake Johannson. I actually haven't been to a comedy show in quite some time. (I think I was in London about 10 years ago. It was a small backroom of a bar, and the comedian was about to lay into the Yanks. But first he asked if there were any in the room. My friends and I managed to hide somehow. And that was before the GWOT.) It was alot of fun. His humor was very paranoid, which is something that I really enjoy. It was also interesting to see how much more polished he was than the opening acts. I thought that they were all funny, but the delivery was just so much better with the more experienced comics. I guess only having watched stand-up on TV glosses over the real human interaction that goes on there.

All in all, it was a good time.

Since I'm on an entertainment kick again, Sam has his album picks up for 2005. They're good, but there's no Ashlee. What's up with that?

And speaking of girls that I'm stuck on, I've been listening to Holly Williams a ton lately. I found her album last year sometime, but as I wasn't listening to much music then, I didn't really appreciate it. Now, I have it on repeat alot. Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to be on tour much lately, so I can only hope that she's in the studio recording new stuff especially for me.

And lastly, my cousin's band Four Barrel Ghost won their opening round match up in the Emergenza Competition in Pittsburgh. In fact, they got the highest vote total of any band in the whole first round. Pretty good for a cow-punk band. The next round of the competition is in May, but on a Thursday night, so I won't be able to go. But, if you're in Pittsburgh, check them out and show them some love.

Pittsburgh's goin' to the Super Bowl. I got a feelin'.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Let's Begin at the Beginning

I don't blog much over the weekend. Well, I don't blog much at all, but since today was a holiday, and I'm trying to occupy myself this afternoon, I thought I'd add a post.

I'm feeling better from Friday, if you're wondering. I relaxed a bit, but it was still hard. I'm very hard on myself, and I don't let myself say what I want. It will be something that I have to work on in the upcoming future. I still want to move away to the distant wilderness, but I am a bit better.

Maybe I could find a nice country high school to teach physics at.

Continuing on with the conference recap, I found it interesting that during our poster day, the one topic that came up more than any was, "Do you really begin your astronomy class with the big bang?" Everytime, Makigirl had to answer "Yes, I really do." Note that this had nothing to do with what our poster was about.

For the unwashed, the vast majority of astronomy classes begin with some sort of discussion of our place in the universe and some basic Earth-centric facts. Here are the first chapters of a couple popular astronomy books:

Chaisson - "Charting the Heavens"
Comins - "Discovering the Night Sky"
Bennett - "The Universe Discovers Itself"

Makigirl's first week is spent talking about the nature of science (i.e. what is a theory), and then the second week begins with the beginning of the universe.

One can look at the typical astronomy book as largely defined by distance from the Earth (or some scaling parameter), as the three books mentioned above start with the Earth and then move to the planets and then to the more distant universe. However, mixed in there is their distinct chapters on physics -- Light, matter, gravity, telescopes and the like. In my opinion they don't fit. They're typically taught at the beginning before the student knows any astronomy, so there's no connection to the cool stuff out there in the universe (I think we can all agree that the blackbody function is boring). And, more importantly, they're decontextualized. Gravity, in my opinion, means alot more when you're discussing why a galaxy cluster looks the way that it does.

In order to solve this problem, Makigirl and I talked about having the class organized around a different guiding principle -- time. Here the course is explicitly designed around a fundemental parameter of astronomy. The universe began at a certain time, and then we follow it's course. Now, there are some places where that's difficult. The universe has been pretty boring for the last 10 billion years or so, but with some finagleing, everything can be made to fit logically, and the physics concepts can be more easily taught in line with the astronomical entities out there in the universe.

The other problem I see with the typical astronomy course is that it's also designed around a historical approach. Two of the three books mentioned above talk about pre-Keplarian astronomy (astronomy where the Earth is at the center of the universe). From my point of view, who cares? Well, if I was teaching a history class, then that would be great, but in a class where I only have 14 weeks to teach about astronomy and science to people who aren't going to be astronomers or scientists, why would I waste my time on stuff that we've known is wrong for at least 400 years?

The intersting thing about the conference was the number of enlightened teaching astronomers who were suprised that Makigirl arranged her class the way that she has. I would expect "Average Joe Astronomer" who's more concerned about research than teaching to teach straight out of the text. But, it was even the people who are supposed to be the leaders of astronomy ed, who had never thought of doing it this way. They teach out of the book, and that is sad. Astronomers are supposed to be scientists who question stuff. "Why do we teach this way or that?" Why is it that we're the first people to really be teaching this way and trying to compare it to other classes?

Then there were also the un-scientific rejections of this teaching methods as well. One textbook author told us that by admitting (on the first day!) that we didn't know what happened in the first .0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 second after the big bang, we were admitting weakness to our students, and that they would not listen to us for the rest of the semester. Got any data for that, son? Well, no, of course you don't. But let's think about that. We're supposed to be teaching the students that scientists aren't textbooks, that we are constantly reviewing and updating our theories, that we don't know everything, that you don't have to be some memorizing god to be a good scientist. I say that this class does a good job of that by coming straight out and saying it. Whether you lose your students or not has more to do with your abilities as a teacher during the rest of the sememster. Further, I find it interesting that a older, white male teacher (who really pulls of the professorial look with a big white beard) is interested in maintaining authority of knowledge with his students right off the bat. I say let the kids fight it out. If they were going to, they were going to anyway. At least it will be more interesting this way.

I fear that my text is becoming long and unruly. I will continue tomorrow.

Oh, and Makigirl is now in another country for a few weeks. Hopefully, she'll be able to stop by and read.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Real Bad Drive Home

So, I guess I was feeling particularly anxious when I left work today. I don't know, maybe another day of not doing anything in particular. I spent along time reading and programming on my own, but it gets kind of frustrating when I have to sit there and act busy even though I'm not. I should be enjoying the time that I don't have anything to do. I mean how many people actually have that chance. I can sit all day and just read and write and think, but it's very hard. I guess I don't feel that comfortable when everyone thinks I'm busy. Hello, you need to actually give me something to be busy with. But whatever, and when I do try to mention that I'm not busy, they act like I'm stupid for not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing. ?

So I tend to leave work in an anxious state. I feel bad about myself for not complaining more that I don't have more to do, and I feel bad that I haven't done more in the day and how am I ever going to get another job if I'm not doing anything in this one? I looked at a couple job postings today, and I guess they just set me off. I really want to do them, but I feel that I don't measure up. Why? I don't know. I know inside how good I am at stuff, but I have a hard time of allowing myself to do a good job. I always want to be so perfect, that I don't often try.

Life's tough.

So on my way home today, I yelled at my wife. I got a call from an old friend, whom I accidentally hung up on, and then couldn't get back in touch with. That made me even more mad, so I yelled at my wife again. I was just totally a major dick.

After I got home, I was able to release a bit, and we went to see some friends for Shabbas dinner, so I began to feel better. I still feel on edge, though.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to the "world's largest walking pile of anxiety". More normal stuff later today.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cooling Flows

Continuing on with my day late and dollar short coverage of the AAS, I went to a session on "Cooling Flows in Galaxy Clusters" on Monday afternoon. It was very interesting. I had always been unsure of what goes on in clusters. I know there's alot of xrays there and radio emission, but it hasn't been something I've paid attention to. Also, with the cooling flows added to the mix, this session promised to be heavy on the hydrodynamics - never fun. But, I wanted to prove to myself that I was still a real astronomer, so I went.

A galaxy cluster is a big collection of galaxies (as you'd expect), and here is a picture of one. Kind of cool. Galaxy clusters are enormous, covering millions of light years, and can appear to be bigger on the sky than the moon. (We don't see them with our eyes because they're so far away and dim.) Because of all the mass present from all those galaxies, there is alot of energy. The central galaxy of a cluster is often a very large eliptical (here, I'm showing M87), that is usually an active galaxy (something like a quasar).

Even though we think of space as a vacuum, it really isn't. In between the galaxies of a cluster is a warm very low density gas called the "Inter-Cluster Medium" (ICM). This gas is heated up by the energy released by the central galaxy, and then tries to cool off by emitting radiation and moving away from the center of the cluster (much like the water in a kettle rises when it's boiling). We can see these cooling flows of gas when we observe the cluster in X-Rays. But, as you can see in the picture, the gas doesn't cool by moving spherically away from the center, it actually forms long filaments. The structure of these filaments is what the talks I saw was about, and it's actually pretty interesting.

Apparently, in the x-ray observations of the cluster, you can see bubbles being formed, where the density of gas is much lower. This is somewhat apparent in the above image, but might be a bit easier to see here. The structures in the gas are not well understood, and nor are the processes of the filaments. But, if you model the way that air bubbles rise through water, and what the water does underneath those bubbles, you find that it actually looks alot like these X-ray bubbles.

That's all I can say, since I don't know enough hydro to start giving you equations, but I find it pretty cool when processes on Earth resemble processes half-way across the universe. There is but one physics.

Here's a link to the session page. The abstracts are through the links in the paper titles. The last paper didn't actually happen in the session that I saw.

More later.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

If I teach you poorly, how well are you going to teach?

The first session Makigirl and I went to was the yearly session on how to improve introductory astronomy.

Well, first we had to register. I didn't much enjoy that. Standing in line with a bunch of astronomers makes me very nervous. My tolerance for eccentricity is low, particularly when I'm with astronomers. I guess that I've always been worried that I'm one of them. I am, unfortunately, even if I don't wear t-shirts with astronomical cartoons on it. I also wasn't looking forward to running into people I used to know, and I was very glad that I didn't.

Never the less, I survived and went to the session. It's supposed to be a yearly continuing dialog where all of those people who are interested in improving the way that non-scientists learn about science (through the astronomy intro class) are able to get together and share ideas. That's why the session is on Sunday afternoon before the majority of the attendee's get there. That's why about 50 people show up to a session of about 3100 registered participants. That's why astronomy education never changes. But still, I've been to several good sessions in the past. Typically they focus on one topic out of the myrriad in astronomy education. One year focused on pre-service teachers in intro astronomy. One year was on technology. One year was on active learning techniques.

This year was on, well, it was on what one guy who got suckered into running the session was able to come up with in the 30 minutes after he found out he was running the session. Ostensibly, it was on how the teaching of "science" is done in an astronomy class (as opposed to astronomy concepts), and how we should respond to the intelligent design and creationist types.

We did alot of free form talking without much direction, but there were some interesting things I learned from the session.

-Even among people who are interested enough in the teaching of astronomy to come to this session, there is very little knowledge of the pseudo-science that exists out there. Most of the professors had a very limited understanding of creationist and ID claims, and even fewer felt comfortable responding to those claims. Largely this is a function of subject matter. Most ID/creationist claims happen in the biological world, and revolve around genetics and bio-chemistry. We aren't taught a whole lot of that in grad school. Still, most ID claims aren't that well thought out, and a only a fairly basic understanding of biology is necessary (as well as a good grasp of google). It seems that a basic evo-bio session would be a good thing to do in future AAS meetings.

-Astro professors are very mushy when it comes to dealing with ID/creationist students. There weren't many PZ Myers or Dawkins in this session, at least. Is that based on belief of teaching method, or lack of exposure to a more strident style? Which is truely better in an educational setting?

-Creationist claims about astronomy are limited. No one really seems to no of any arguments. Is this because astronomy is too hard for the IDers? I think I might spend some time catologing these in the near future.

-Many new astronomy professors need good professional development and mentoring as they begin teaching, and they aren't getting it.

-Makigirl teaches a hell of a class, compared to what goes on in other places. Every time someone got up to say what cool thing they were doing in their class, Makigirl was already doing it. She's the bomb.

Time to go back to the meeting now.

When Makigirl comes to visit

I haven't been writing for awhile. I just haven't been feeling it. I've been bored at work during the day, and that just sort of slows me down entirely. I'm looking for new stuff now, but I do find it hard. I'm not entirely certain it is that I want to do with myself, so I don't quite know where to look. I think I also have an overwhelming anxiety of what I am able to do. I'm afraid of letting myself go and just do what I am probably good at. It feels very restrictive.

But, this week, Makigirl has been visiting us. She's here for the American Astronomical Society conference. I decided to go too. It's not every day that I get to be an astronomer again. We submitted a paper on material we both enjoy, but I'm not going to tell you which one it is.

It's been great to see her. I'm very tired though. We went to a cool Malaysian restaraunt in Dupont Circle on Friday, went to Glen Echo on Saturday, got way too drunk on Saturday night in Cleveland park, was way too hung over on Sunday, and then the meeting started. --And the Steelers won!--

We were at the meeting all day yesterday, and it goes on until tomorrow, but I had to come in to work a bit this morning. I'll talk about the sessions I've been to in the next couple posts.