Friday, September 30, 2005

iPod iChing - Life on Mars?

it is friday, and it is time: we ask the mighty iPod - Is there Life on Mars?
Whoosh, the randomizer whooshes.

For completists, #11 and 12 are: God Part II - U2 and Car Jamming - Clash.

Well, the first one is a raw rock'n'roll number from Iceland's best rock band, title is roughly "go crazy".

It was indeed too soon to tell, though do I infer the Beagle would have been decisive had it survived?
The Future looks worrying, and The Questioner is most flattered. Mighty is the iPod.
My dear colleagues in The House are spot on.

So... it is life, and it has sex? Too weird.

PS this is all Sean's fault, you know...

The Root:

Nothing lives
in this dirty little river
No one here
Will shed a tear

It dried up
but it couldn't run forever
Ruby dear
That's what we hear

I still like the ocean
Down by the sea
They left that door wide open
It tempted me
Hounding me
from the bedroom to the kitchen

Ruby dear
I'm still right here
Now they throwed
the fox amongst the chickens
It's too deep
I'll drown in my sleep!

Mars: RealClimate

There is an interesting web site/group blog called Real Climate

See also William Connolley's personal blog Stoat, and links there.

Anyway, let us return to the Martian climate:

Mars has a relatively well studied climate, going back to measurements made by Viking, and continued with the current series of orbiters, such as the Mars Global Surveyor.
Complementing the measurements, NASA has a Mars General Circulation Model (a global climate model), run out of NASA Ames.
There is a good "general reader" review of modeling the Martian atmosphere by Stephen R Lewis (Oxford) in Astronomy and Geophysics, volume 44 issue 4. pages 6-14.

In 2001, Malin et al published a short article in Science (subscription required) discussing MGS data showing a rapid shrinkage of the South Polar Cap. Recently, the MGS team had a press release discussing more recent data showing the trend had continued.
MGS 2001 press release
MGS 2005 press release
The shrinkage of the Martian South Polar Cap is almost certainly a regional climate change, and is not any indication of global warming trends in the Martian atmosphere.
Colaprete et al in Nature 2005(subscription required) showed, using the Mars GCM that the south polar climate is unstable due to the peculiar topography near the pole, and the current configuration is on the instability border; we therefore expect to see rapid changes in ice cover as the regional climate transits between the unstable states.

Globally, the mean temperature of the Martian atmosphere is sensitive to the strength and duration of hemispheric dust storms, (see for example here and here). Large scale dust storms change the atmospheric opacity and convection; as always when comparing mean temperatures, the altitude at which the measurement is made matters, but to the extent it is sensible to speak of a mean temperature for Mars, the evidence is for significant cooling from the 1970's, when Viking made measurements, compared to current temperatures. However, this is essentially due to large scale dust storms that were common back then, compared to a lower level of storming now. The mean temperature on Mars, averaged over the Martian year can change by many degrees from year to year, depending on how active large scale dust storms are.
This however should not be taken as evidence for a secular global cooling trend, or change in solar irradiance!

Flu Wiki

Get your adrenal rush at Flu Wiki the one stop shop for all you ever wanted to know, hear, speculate or worry about the avian 'flu.

This entry in honour of Ted Koppel getting Sens Frist and Reid to be civil and serious in public for a whole half hour.

NASA - contingency planning?

So, an unattributable, anonymous source communicates interesting hearsay:

some NASA panels have been meeting recently: for those who don't know or care, NASA reviews unsolicited research proposals in panel grouped by topic and meta-field (eg "galaxy panel" in the Astrophysical Data program). Figure 20 +/- proposals per sub-panel, and "many" sub-panels per meta-field.
You can figure that if there are 20 proposals in a sub-panel, maybe 3 +/- will be funded, depending on panel size, how the panels were divied, balancing of science priorities and total funding. Ranking is done sort of knowing that that is the deal; the 4th best proposal may be funded but is far from certain to be funded.

Well... rumour is, that this year panels are being told to provide rankings with a contingency of there being one or no funded proposals per sub-panel!

What does this mean? Well, that HQ is hoping to fund individual science PI proposals, but the funding is either not actually there, or they have been warned that funding in research pots is likely to be raided for other programs.

Since two of the bigger panels have already been canceled completely for the year (ADP and LTSA), that means there might be no general PI funding for astrophysical research from NASA this year.


Or, maybe a miracle will happen.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

adopt a blog - more random snippets

adopt-a-blog, because connectivity is good, and because I feel like it

  • Often in Error brazilian cosmologist at SISSA in Italy. Shamelessly cribbed from Cosmic Variance physics blogroll, because I'm fishing through all of them. Sparse, mixed personal and professional.

  • Just Tenured fished from Bérubé's blogroll, 'cause he tends to link to good writers. This is one I'd vaguely heard of but not, as I recall read. Female assoc prof deals with life, love and academia, post-tenure. Ah. New York, cats, rings some bells.

  • Sykurpúði - aka Bridge to Insanity Faeroe Island born bridge player in high school in Iceland. He bumped out the literature blog I ping'd last time. Not a teen gossip blog and he is serious about bridge...

  • UnAllied the blog ranked immediately above mine in the TTLB blog-ecosystem; hm, moderate libertarian writing lengthy op-eds on PPE stuff. Worth flicking through. Not really a blog, more a compendium of short essays.

Imminence of the Eschaton: VI to infinity and beyond

I am prodded by an anonymous source (though I had actually seen it on NASAwatch already, really I had) that the Great Google has made its next move and bought a piece of NASA Ames - I just hope they got the hangar, not just some ugly old 2 story modular buildings...

Wise is the Great Google and mysterious in its moves.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

is this how biologists feel...

so, three (mostly) positive referee's reports in one morning!

as we all know, idiot careful, hardworking and selfless referees are the actual rate determining step in research productivity.

at this rate, suitably averaged, I could publish 1,100700 (damn, I'm not on one of my student's thesis papers...) papers per year!

is this how biologists feel?

(yes, there are scientists who average one published paper per week, over two decades... must be interesting labs to work in, either in a really good, or really bad way)

it is not who you know...

Now, we all know that when dealing with the Federal Government it is not who you know but what you know that matters.

Of all the agencies, the NSF really takes any conflict of interest, or appearance of conflict of interest, the most seriously. In particular, all proposers must list the PhD advisor and postdoc employers, and all recent (last 5 year) collaborators and co-authors. Obviously all blood relatives, relations by marriage and institutional colleagues are also barred from refereeing proposals (though I have my doubts about the last one, institutional colleagues are not all that often familiar with each others research and I don't think they are particularly likely to be kindly disposed... just kidding! The conflict there is financial, institutions benefit collectively from grant awards, I get a grant, my department and college benefit directly...)

So, this works fine for Ye Olde Pundit mode of doing research, where Professors are Professors and All Others are Mere minions. Except possibly for one, or two at most, equally disinguished colleagues and Dear Old Collaborators. After all, some fine research has been published with two senior authors on the paper.

But, a lot of modern research involves Big Collaborations. DoE PIs have hundreds of collaborators and co-Is, but then do we really want them to apply for NSF funding? I don't think so.
But, cosmologists are kinda cool, and they too have MegaCollaborations with O(100) co-authors on some papers. What to do?

And, this collaboration stuff is insidious: eg, consider a medium sized project with a Result to be published. Let us say it involves actual observations, at more than one wavelenght or observatory (with, of course, a decent amount of theorising mixed in). I, and my co-author Prof A, may want to invite our colleague Prof B to participate, since Prof B has a particular expertise or unique observatory access. Prof B, in writing his bit, gives some data to Student C, who is well along and is set up to correctly and quickly reduce just such data (but is not directly working in this sub-field). C then contributes a figure, a methods paragraph and eliminates the stoopid conjecture Prof Z once came up with to explain these things.
So now student C is my co-author, I have never met her, and only know that Prof B who is a friend of Prof A vouched for her competence and she did a minor but important sub-section of the whole work. Several years ago.

Now, 5 years later, student C is hot-shot prize postdoc C about to become tenure-track Prof C, and is certain to be on the NSF panel. But may not review my proposal...

Do a few of these; and the only people who can referee your proposal are either those who do not work in your sub-field, or those who are in direct head-to-head competition with you.
Fortunately, these people are both competent and have no identifiable conflicts of interest.

For extra refinement: the NSF wants the current institutional affiliation of your dear collaborators.

Now, you tell me J. Smith (London in 2000); H. Lee (UC in 2000) and H. Muller (Euro StadtUniversitat in 2000) - where are they now? might they be on an NSF panel if you miss them? and could they ever tell?
Now repeat 100 times. And the proposal is due in 97 minutes...

The Good News is that NASA's new on-line proposal system seems to have been rough enough to have depressed the actual number of valid proposals to make it through the system.
NSF's Fastlane does not have this problem, it works, people know it, and it is good to use. Fear not, the NSF will have to transit with the other agencies to Microsoft oriented where every PDF file will be corrupted and no actual direct PI access may be granted, so someone else will be entering you grant info into the system. Piecewise. In doc format.

Maybe the Federal Budget deficit can be cut after all.

On a different line, a small individual PI NSF proposal is 30-40 pages. of which typically 15 are the actual proposal, the rest are auxillary and supporting documentation. Having all electronic submission is very important.
NASA proposals are longer, even though individual unsolicited proposals are restricted to 15 pages - last I checked the new NASA cover "page" by itself was 18 pages.
With paper submission (through this year), NASA wants 15+1 copies. At 50+ pages per copy. Far as I can tell as few as 3 and no more than 7 or 8 of those copies are ever read by a human being. Include institutional archive copies and you can get to 1000 printed pages per proposal. Or 50-100,000 pages of paper per sub-panel for unsolicited proposals...

Observing proposals, thankfully, tend to be shorter. Solicited proposals may be shorter, as little as 1 page, or longer, as much as 100+ pages per copy.

And who says the Federal government is not combatting global warming? They have one of the largest carbon repositories in the world buried in shallow concrete storage in DC (ready for quick retrieval to stop the ice age, or something).

Hm, a proposal to convert archival federal paperwork into high octane fuel for internal combustion engines... Hmmmm.

I wonder if Tony Blair is a "Princess Bride" fan?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

who are these people?

It is mini proposal season; which is not the season of small proposals, but the small season of normal and big proposals.

Ok, NSF proposals are due round about nowish, whereas NASA likes spring and early summer.

So, NSF has this thing where you have to list all your co-authors and collaborators, so any appearance of conflict can be avoided...

Was just updating my list, and realised that, mostly as a consequence of being a co-author on a small number of papers with lots of authors, I now do not know a large fraction of my co-authors! In fact there are not a few I have never even met.

At least they are, I gather, friends-of-friends; or possibly whoever happened to be on the telescope that night; or possibly boyfriends of students of former collaborators of some co-author, or something.

The scary thing is: couple of more papers like these, and the only people eligible to referee my proposals will either know absolutely nothing about the sub-fields I work on, or they are people I do not collaborate with at all, ever, even second hand.

As opposed to...

Hm, I wonder if blogging counts for NSF "collaborator" purposes! And should I be listing the geo/bio crowd?! One dreads to ask. There is, after all, a page limit.

This is strange

FEMA orders 80 million smallpox vaccine doses

US stock of vaccine is ~ 180 million doses already, up from ~ 20 million in 2001.
That's $2.5 billion spending - why? The threat is large, but live virus is almost impossible to get.

New Zealand, Canada and various European countries are also all moving to acquire very large vaccine stockpiles, basically for 100% population coverage; far more than needed to firewall any plausible point breakout.

adopt-a-blog: random selection

adopt-a-blog, because connectivity is good and because I feel like it

  • The Little Professor - shamelessly cribbed from Bérubé's list of well written blogs posted yesterday. Victorian literature, snark and good reading tips. Fun to dip into.

  • Space Tramp - physics blog, snagged from the Cosmic Variance blogroll as pure "fishing" for new stuff. Looks interesting, quick glance shows links and factoids I was unaware of. Worth revisits methinks

  • Fjallabaksleiðin - second most popular blog on today (transl: "Way back of the mountain"); snarky surrealist author, excellent blogroll and links if you want to keep track of Icelandic literati, or a particular subset thereof. Writing is provoking, in parts, but you better be at least trilingual if you want to keep up.

  • Twinkie Experiment Blogger has a new "feature" - "blogs-of-note", ok, I'll try anything once, almost. Picked first one with interesting sounding name on scrolling through. Twins in law school stream consciousness onto the Web via e-mail. Huh.

I am so glad that not every blog in Iceland is a teenage group gossip and boasting "kjafta"-blog.

The fraction of astro bloggers who are female seems disproportionately high. Compared to the base population. Or maybe they are just more interesting writers.

Nammi Stappa: þorskur og kartöflur

It is apparently inevitable that, no matter where, all Icelandic children will come to eat left over cod for lunch, and they will like it.
Especially with potatoes.

Ok, the garlic was an unexpected variation, but he likes it.

PS Auðvitað Íslenskur þorskur, maður!

Monday, September 26, 2005

But... it is just a theory!

Pharyngula has it right, this Washington Post on evolutionary biology is how science journalism should be done!

Of course they never explain how it is really Her Noodly Appendages which reached into the chimp DNA, and, Just In Time, tweaked the mutation count. You don't know, it could have happened.

The Noodly Appendages are everywhere. Not an E. Coli fissions without The Pasta touching its meat.

Benefits of the Big City: desperate Real Estate Agents

There's this ad for why you should hire a Real Estate Agent (a job which the Web is in the process of endangering somewhat), and the impossible demands on the professional: the couple want an agent who speaks Icelandic (and what could be more outrageous than that).

Anyway, Thorsett discovers how far they'll sink, Guth's Office!. (No, it is not for rent, Boston market isn't that tight...).

Our agents never do such things, best they could come up with was a couple of football tickets... Ah, those were the days, when PSU was 4-0 and some other team a couple of states or three west of here kinda sucked.


Friday, September 23, 2005

iPod iChing - H5N1 pandemic this season?

Well, it is friday, and given last week's prediction, I thought, "sod it", lets try it on...

So, oh mighty iPod, before whom we are but as humble listeners, tell us: will there be a human-to-human full blown H5N1 pandemic this 'flu season?

Whoosh, the iPod whooshes, as we tremble before its oracular wisdom:

  • The Covering Avalon - Roxy Music

  • The Crossing Ástartöfrar - Björk

  • The Crown The Main Thing - Roxy Music

  • The Root Run Like Hell - Pink Floyd

  • The Past Throwing it All Away - Genesis

  • The Future Let's Build a Snowman - Twin Sisters

  • The Questioner Bar Italia - Pulp

  • The House Silver and Gold - U2

  • The Inside She Smiled Sweetly - Billy Bragg

  • The Outcome Jólahjól - Stebbi

For those who like 12 entries; the next two are Andante - Mozart, and Welcome to Paradise - Green Day.

Oh, we are so totally fucked.
A slow moving pandemic around christmas, during the snows, and, strangely, we will not be prepared for it.

Good thing iPod iChing is all just a big laugh, eh?

The Future:

Sometimes the world is black
And tears run from your eyes.
And maybe we'll all get really sick
And maybe we'll all die.

Someone remind me why this is on a kids christmas collection CD... At least "Ring around the Rosy" didn't come up.
Well, I listened to it, same title, different lyrics, all sweetness and light and carrots. Phew, eh.

The Outcome is curious, it is an Icelandic modern christmas song about a kid who wants a bicycle for christmas. It is kinda creepy actually, the kid gets very wound-up by a large silver package under the tree, while his parents smirk. Listened to this one too, creepy.

Ástartöfrar - is a "magic of love" from a funky jazz album (Gling-Gló her best album by far,. BTW). But, it is jazz. Cynicism abounds.

Bar Italia

Now if you can stand I would like to take you by the hand, yeah
And go for a walk past people as they go to work
Let's get out of this place before they tell us that we've just died
Move, move quick, you've gotta move. Come on it's through, come on it's time
Oh look at you, you, you're looking so confused just what did you lose?

If you can make an order could you get me one
Two sugars would be great 'cos I'm fading fast and it's nearly dawn
If they knocked down this place, this place, it'd still look much better than you
Move, move quick, you've gotta move. Come on it's through, come on it's time
Oh look at you, you, you're looking so confused, what did you lose?
It's ok it's just your mind

If we get through this alive I'll meet you next week, same place, same time
Oh move, move quick you've gotta move. Come on it's through, come on it's time
look at you, you, you're looking so confused, what did you lose?
That's what you get from clubbing it
You can't go home and go to bed because it hasn't worn off yet and now it's
Morning there's only one place we can go
It's around the corner in Soho where other broken people go
Let's go.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Where to Cut: RSC has some innovative suggestions

The Republican Study Committee is very responsibly suggesting some spending cuts to accommodate the likely costs of Katrina and now Rita reconstruction.

But, is cutting $2 billion per year from the CDC really the best place to start?
Their total budget is only about $8 billion

Of course if the eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (hm, do I see a pattern here...), as suggested, then maybe plague fighting could be cut too, not as if there's any imminent threat on the horizon... Nothing like eliminating eminent institutions serving the whole nation to cope with a one-off crisis.

They also propose $2 billion cut per year for NASA ($4 billion in out years), notionally to eliminate the Exploration initiative (that is, like, so totally Last Years Big Idea, you know). Yeah, sure they will. Given the chain of reasoning involved, the funds will be cut, Exploration will remain, and remaining Earth Observation programmes will be cut. Because, you know, if we don't see the hurricanes coming, they won't hurt us.

But I do like charging Federal Employees for Parking. It is about time that the parking nazis expanded their domain of power.
I nominate Karl Rove for Federal Parking Czar.

But, they do boldly propose to reduce Farm Acreage subsidies by 1%, for a savings of $31 MILLION! Per Year.
Hey, if they cut it by 33% it'd save, er, a billion, and that is almost real money.

However, out of $100 or so billion first year savings, 1/3 would come from postponing medicare prescription changes by one year. That'd be part of the "reform" passed so recently with no sources of revenue identified at the time to cover the cost of the programme.

No defence or "off-budget" spending costs. No new taxes. Figures. They do, bravely, target some of the pork they themselves adorned the budget with.

So, lessons learned: well, most of the itemised cuts add up to a negligible amount and are pure political opportunism.

Big savings come from postponing or undoing Medicare "reform", eliminating Transport Bill pork, and "verifying income of Earned Income Tax Credit recipients" (shouldn't they be doing that anyway).

Might I politely suggest, that the Transport Bill reversal could humbly be applied to other arenas, like if you want to cut NASA trim the Congressionally imposed line item porkies, and just leave some policy in place for a whole calendar year while we recover our sanity.

I'm glad to know that there is no slack in the Pentagon's $500 billion or so. And all Iraq funds are fully accounted for?

Following Rita

Made my exit on the turnpike
saw the stateside toll and shuffled for some change
I paid a man that talked as if he knew me
And I could see it in his eyes
he could tell that I was runnin' away.

What are you waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
Travel light you might just
find yourself there for the day.
What are you waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
Following Rita,
Following Rita.

Stopped to make a call and picked up Elvis.
Elvis James McCabe, a future millionaire.
He wrestled with his thoughts out loud
about two girls that he left behind
and said for forty-five dollars
he could help me on my way and get rich too.

What are you waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
Travel light you might just
find yourself there for the day.
What are you waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
Following Rita,
Following Rita.

There was talk about after high school
I would get a job,
gig at night and she would go to some
community school.
But her Father changed jobs
and we cried together
as her plane was flyin' away.

Well, the phone never was enough
for us to hold on to.
Now every mile that I drive away
gets me closer to you, yeah.
What am I waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
I'm travelin' light you might not
want me to stay for the day.
What am I waitin' for
you're just a mile away.
Following Rita.

What are you waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
Travel light you might just
find yourself there for the day.
What are you waitin' for
it's just a minute away.
Following Rita,
Following Rita.


Educating Rita

I think tomorrow's iPod consultation will be very cautious, given last week's doom

Accuweather tends to get all whizzed up about storms, though not as bad as the Weather Channel, but Joe Bastardi's column today is sobering

"ultimate Texas catastrophic weather event between worst possible landfall site of strongest storm ever to hit the state and then the rainout of the slow mover. "

The Wunderblogs are on it.

Looks like Galveston followed by Houston, or Port Arthur. Worst possible combo would be a square hit on Galveston, with the eastern storm surge and winds swiping the Port Arthor petro industry, followed by strong winds and sustained rain over Houston. Mississippi is probably too low in the upper parts for flood control to be an issue, that's more of a concern for spring if snow is heavy in the central plains and eastern rockies and thaw is rapid and wet.

Slaves to Science

Oldie but goodie from Salon

link to archive spotted in comment on "lurker" thread on Cosmic Variance

NASA - Shuttle RIP?

Well, not quite, but I infer that withdrawal of the feeding tube is imminent.

NASAwatch has pieced together some innocuous statements and concludes the White House is proactively looking at prompt Shuttle termination.
I think they are reading the tea leaves correctly, though they'd then have to weather the Congressional storm to follow.

I'm sure JSC and KSC will weather the storms and be rebuilt though.

Interesting thought: how is voting done for internal refugees? Do they absentee ballot back to empty districts, or reregister in HoustonSan Antonio?

I'd have fresh gossip on this Real Soon Now, but my next DC trip is cancelled so no news from me anytime soon.
I'd say what and why, but a) then I'd have to kill you, and b) the NASA HQ Ninjas would come after me, they're real serious about these confidentiality agreement thingies, even the verbal ones.

You didn't know NASA HQ has their own Ninjas, did you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Climate Science, Mars and Politics

In 2001, Malin et al reported in Science, 294, 2946-8, that the South Polar Cap is shrinking quite rapidly, releasing CO2 in significant quantities;

In 2005, Colaprete et al reported in Nature, 435, 184-188, that the South Polar Cap is shown by models to be bistable in climate, due to the unusual topography near the pole. Basically the polar climate flips on a short time scale. The basic qualitative argument was backed by extensive modeling using the NASA Mars Global Models. Current polar parameters are near the edge of instability indicated by the models.

Sep 20th, Mars Global Surveyor had a followup press release that basically said previous trends were confirmed.

Sep 21st, Instapundit and Powerline got their knickers in a twist, apparently thinking they discovered the secret proof that terrestrial climate change is due to changes in the Sun (look, Mars is warming!).


PS: the rocket scientists at NASA thought of the "put a thermometer on Mars" thing. In fact they thought to do a global vertically resolved measurement of temperatures as a function of time from orbiting satellites. Globally, dust storms dominate, and Mars is now cooler than it was in the 70s; Martian climate is by no means fully understood, but there are jest a few articles on such issues in obscure publications like JGR, Science and Icarus. Not that hard to find.

PPS: Astronomy and Geophysics (2003) 44.06 has a good long generally accessible article on Martian General Circulation Models and comparison to data.


Don't Panic: bird 'flu blogging

Actually: Panic. WTF.

And keep an eye on Effect Measure

adopt-a-blog - a random assortment

why? because connectivity is good and I feel like it...

  • Hogg's Universe - exogal/cosmo faculty at NYU. He came from the very best theoretical astrophysics group around ;-)
    Sparse content. Random topics. High ratio of interesting stuff (I liked the pre/post-tenure survey of MIT faculty on the tenure process. Can you say "selection bias"?)

  • The Oil Drum Petroleum product gossip blog
    Fascinating in a scary hysterical sort of way. "Peak oil" fans. Truly scary if they are right.

  • Weather Underground - what it says; angry meteorologist gives us the lowdown. Well, he's angry now. Nailed Katrina, and interesting for Rita. Jeff Master's Wunderblog is the "must read" bit.

  • Young feminists of Iceland - blog for the feminist association - the latter is interesting background; Iceland has had strong feminist movements since the early '70s, current wave is a fightback against the backlash of the late 90s/early oughties. Good going. The blog is a mess; using some non-standard font coding and very ugly layout.

Academic Sprogs


Long version (Nature report): child care is an issue at universities; it is a good thing that academics are not reproductively isolated communities (as opposed to, for example, politics and journalims, to all appearances); the issue is worse for women.

Know thyself: Bitch, Golden Boy or Good Soldier

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

MUST have one of these!!!

iPod my Baby


Blogfight: Pharyngula takes on Lisa Randall

Lisa speaks loosely on evolution and Pharyngula pounces.

I give this one to Pharyngula - Lisa didn't think this one through. String theorists tend to be particularly obtuse on actual experimental sciences; they tend to prefer mathematical certainties, independent of reality if needed.

New Kids in the Hall - academic sprogs

For various reasons it is timely to consider children and academia...

I have some close or passing acquiantance with a fair fraction of US astro departments, and some notion of not a few physics or physics/astro departments.

The collective attitude of those departments of faculty having children ranges the full spectrum from "ah, the Good Old Days of monk scholars", through "have you thought about the impact on your career", to "we don't want to know", all the way to "you're on your own with this".

For female scientists it is generally worse (though overcompensation may provide a few helpful spots).

I don't think I could say I know of a single department where children are actively welcomed or accommodated, much less encouraged (this is a time dependent statement, sensitive to changes in small numbers of personnel).
Further, anecdotally, I don't think I can think of any science department which proactively welcomes children of faculty. Biology, strangely, seems to be even worse.

I have heard, that this is not universally true in academia, and that there are departments who are actively welcoming and helpful. Not surprisingly, many of those seem to be "human development" or "nursing" departments, where there is actual professional interest in the process.

So, anyone, anonymous or public persona: care to offer up an example of a department that is proactively welcoming or helpful to faculty who are having children or have young children?

It is a somewhat strange attitude for a profession whose long term prospects are critically dependent on the abundance of teenagers...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Pharyngula channels Dawkins

New Scientist, Sep 17 edition, looks worth picking up.

Feature is on "10 big ideas" with articles by assorted experts (not always the ones I'd have chosen, but that's half the fun).

Pharyngula nicely passes along Dawkins summary of evolution

reproductive selfishness

adopt a blog - what's up in Iceland

adopt-a-blog - because connectivity is an intrinsice good

    So, a random walk through Icelandic blogs - because someone has to.
    Frighteningly enough, now ~ 25% of Icelanders blog, and by far the most popular blogs seem to be teen gossip blogs.
    Way to keep in touch with the scene...

  • LuFzUr - second most popular blog on, this week. Group blog of almost dozen women. Social calendar and gossip. I miss Reykjavík.
    Lufzurnar .. .nah, none of them seem to be my cousins, at least not closer than third cousins.

  • VIPs- seventh most popular blog on this week. Group blog of a dozen boys. Boasting and gossip. Ah, the good old days.

  • Álfheiður - in New York - Icelandic Yalie Investment Banker.
    Stream of Consciousness and family connect stuff.

  • Iceland Eyes photo blog. Interesting perspective from Reykjavík

  • Lessons learned. Digicams and weblogs are going to change the social calendar of teens in small societies more than I realised. Unintended consequences: well, now your parents know what you did last weekend, as opposed to the old days when they just suspected, knew by inference or chose to not believe their kids would actually do such things.
    I'm glad to see things haven't changed much though.

    Icelanders abroad tend to use blogs to keep family and friends connected to their lives. Big surprise.
    Women seem more prolific bloggers than men, but that may be a bias in the search patterns I used.

Yeah, I think I'll continue this - do a horizontal cut on some sub-field of blogs 1-2 times per week; look for random links and links by fields, try to jump to places I'd usually not ever find by vertial links.

NASA - quickie pointer to JPL rumours

NASAwatch reports rumour that JPL director is anticipating up to $100 million cut in budget. JPL in hiring freeze (Pasadena Star News link)

Friday, September 16, 2005

iPod iChing - down to Earth

It is friday again, and given the hints to come to Earth, we ask the Great and Good iPod: will there be another major tropical storm impacting the US gulf coast within the next two weeks?

Whoosh. The randomiser whooshes ominously.

  • The Covering: Someone's Calling - Modern English
  • The Crossing: Eton Rifles - The Jam
  • The Crown: Little Man, What Now - Morrissey
  • The Root: Real Man - Bonnie Raitt
  • The Past: Steal Your Heart Away - Bonnie Raitt
  • The Future: Tiento - Music of Spain
  • The Questioner: In diesen heil'gen Hallen - Mozart Magic Flute
  • The House: Sexuality (London Remix) - Billy Bragg
  • The Inside: Invisible Sun - The Police
  • The Outcome: The Muffin Man - Twin Sisters

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

I keep looking at these and thinking there ought to be 12 entries. The next two on the iPod ate "Hickory Dickory Dock" followed by "To The Kill" by Violent Femmes
Tiento is either "Tact/Care" or "Touch" - the latter I fear in this case.

It seems the Gulf Coast will be touched again.

In fact a slightly irritating google reveals 12 card "astrological" tarot reads are common...
Not sure I want to go there!
But if the iPod commands, then we go to 12 reads, I will investigate.

An not very bold prediction

Looking at the tea leaves, I predict that by summer of 2006 the "discretionary spending" federal agencies will be ordered to reciss substantially across the board on all non-essential spending, in particular outside awards and contracts.
In particular, I'm betting we'll see something of the order of 15% recission of already issued grants, and sharper cuts in future awards. Temporary only, of course. New grant will also be issued late.
This will hurt, a lot. If it continues for more than one year it will hurt enormously.

I also predict that a lot of people sense this coming are going to pull-in spending, they will delay hires, cut back on travel and purchases to build up a reserve for when the cuts come. So there will be pain starting this year, peaking in ~ 18 months.

I really hope I am wrong on this one, but I don't think so.

Muon RIP - end of an era in Astronomy

The news so many of us have dreaded just came flashing across the world by e-mail...

Muon died today - put to sleep with an incurable tumor and internal bleeding, she was 18

Muon lived a long and good life, patrolling the grounds of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge.
She chased off the squirrels, mooched off the IoA members, and sternly supervised countless PhD theses, maintaining vigil through the night as the students deliriously pounded away.

She will be missed.

See for the memories

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Food for Fighting - in praise of Skyr.

Fascinating article in the NYT food section on tuesday on the Imminent Icelandic Food Invasion

Whole Foods is to start carrying serious Icelandic lamb, fish and dairy products, including the legendary skyr.
(ok, here is actual useful info in english, here is the official skyr propagande site).
The article, by the way, completely mischaracterises skyr, it is true it can be a base for a berry parfait - indeed one of the best deserts I have ever had was skyr with blueberries and cream. But, it is so much more.

Skyr is not cheese. Nor is it yoghurt, though it is somewhat reminiscent of greek yoghurt.

Talking of which, locals note, Wegman's is now carrying the full line of Total Greek Yoghurt (it is in the "expensive organic" cooler next to the Soy drinks and Free Range Tofu sausages). Despite many years in the UK I never got around to the greek yoghurt (more fool me, but it was during the Involuntary Yoghurt Avoidance Phase, following the Unpleasant Incident of the Rotten Sainsbury's Own Brand Yoghurt and Too-Long Car Trip...). However, a few years ago I was at a meeting in Crete and on a friend's advice tried the yoghurt with local honey for breakfast - and the stuck with it every day, and then religiously half-filled the coolers with Total each time I passed a TJs (the other half was tamales, if you must know).
So, the bad news is that there is now one less excuse to make the ~ 120 mile drive to nearest TJs, the good news is that central PA has incrementally improved food selection.

So, What is Skyr:

it is a non-fat, high protein, high calcium cultured dairy product.
It is more textured than yoghurt or cottage cheese, it is less firm than any reasonable cheese.

It can be eaten straight, with milk or cream, kids like it sprinkled with sugar (I'm partial to a touch of brown sugar) and it is wonderful with berries and fruit. It comes "raw" or "blended" (whipped with a bit of milk, sugar and sometimes fruit flavouring). Purists insist on it raw, though most sales are blended. I personally approve of the blueberry and orange flavoured varieties, but consider the other newfangled flavours highly suspect. But kids like them...

It lasts forever.
It is good for breakfast (near ideal in fact), it makes a great lunch, especially if complemented with some fruit and maybe a sandwich. It makes a fine dairy base for desert. It is good for quickie outdoor lunches and great to take camping.

How good is it? It is the base "nesti" (travel food) for anyone wanting to row across the Atlantic and arrive off the mainland in fit and fighting form. A wooden tub (birch or pine) with a large dollop of skyr will last the whole voyage and keep you going through all but the worst of storms ready to kick some english french ass.
It will keep your family alive for weeks of winter, it will help you ride out the total desolation of a volcanic eruption (especially if you can get a bit of fresh whale blubber to supplement it).

It is close to being the perfect food.

So, if you're lucky enough to live within commuting distance of a Whole Foods, then go buy some, but leave some for the rest of us.

Damn, this is an actual reason to seriously contemplate moving. I don't think State College can absorb a Whole Foods with Wegman's here. Need to start correlating WF locations with interesting Universities...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Liberal Crap I never want to hear again

Kurt Vonnegut on the Daily Show - he only had time to read one item - as promised it is now on the Web

"Blessed are the Meek"

Katrina: NOAA images of NOLA and surroundings

Seen on dKos.

NOAA overheads (7500 ft) images of southern LA - click to see

Astonishing images - look south and east of the city - not just at NOLA
the images zoom to extraordinary detail

eg Name that port

Crimson Ties

So, here's a curious thing - John Roberts was at Harvard 1973-1979 (BA and JD) - so he must be a liberal, right? All these Ivy Leaguers are liberals. It is the indoctrination they get from all the liberal faculty.

Roberts at Harvard

""John took ‘Physics for Poets’ and grumbled the whole time,” Bush said."

George W Bush was at Harvard during that time (MBA 1975). (Different Bush was Roberts roommate quoted above).

PS: small world. Well known Ivy League liberal Grover Norquist was at Harvard BA (Econ) in '78, then MBA. Wonder if he knew either Bush or Roberts.

So, did they know each other? A junior history major would not necessarily interact with an MBA, but they would be likely to move in similar social circles, and possibly be involved in same campus groups.

In any case, Roberts' answers are so elegantly non-responsive as to be almost Clintonian. Clearly he has strong preconceived notions on most, if not all, of the social hot-button issues the Senators are pressing him on. It is possible but unlikely that he will do a U-turn once in the chair, but chances are he is in fact reliably conservative in the ways the White House considers important.

So, what will he do:

1) he will not stand up for judicial independence, but lean to a narrow "interpret policy" stance, unless the democrats recapture the House and pass progressive laws. He may not fight for judges that Congress tries to impeach on political grounds (like the "foreign precedent" argument being impeachable bad conduct). If he lets crap like that slide, he may become the worst Chief Justice yet.

2) he will interpret the "commerce clause" very narrowly, limiting federal power

3) he will weaken the "implicit privacy" precedents, possibly severly

4) he will not overturn Roe vs Wade - but 10+ years from now if there is a majority to do so, he will vote with the new majority to overturn Roe vs Wade and return the issue to the States

5) I think he will yield on the exceptions clause, though that is such a blow to the court's power that he may balk

6) I think he will gradually shrink the cases the Supreme Court reviews, as the federal courts become more conservative, but he might take on cases where there is opportunity to weaken or reverse precedent (which would normally be rejected as settled law)

7) he will support an "imperial presidency" with significantly weakened restraints, unless the Democrats win the White House

I can hope to be wrong on this.

“When he was considering law schools, John removed Stanford from his list because the Stanford interviewer was wearing sandals and didn’t have a tie,” Bush said.

But, I don't think so. He was 20 years old at the time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Samantha Bee for President - the '08 Campaign Begins

So, Samantha "Make a fucking choice" Bee is the clear leading candidate for US President in '08

She is proactive, informed, empathatic. She is also telegenic and can reach out to the undecided voter.

We must now start the grassroots campaign work to draft her and get through these trite hurdles US electoral system places in the way of the Great and the Good.

Clearly, Jon Stewart is the choice for VP.

I'd put Ed Helms for Secretary of State, Rob Corddry as Campaign Manager later to be Deputy Chief of Staff,
Stephen Colbert as National Security Advisor.
Lewis Black as Attorney General Press Secretary, yeah! Bye bye Scottie.
and Keith Olbermann as Defence Secretary.

Addendum: The Poor Man for DHS

The hard thing is that Sam must go to Iowa, sooner or later.

Oh, and "Evolution Schmevolution" special is a keeper. Though Chris Mooney seemed a little flustered.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Samantha Bee for President

Faber nails it...

Samantha Bee for first female President of the USA!

"Don't Fuck with Sam"

"Sam Wants You"

"Make a fucking choice!"

Imminence of the Eschaton: V Chief Evangelist

Google hires Vint Cerf

Say no more.

Wise is the almighty Google.

What I want in a President

1) Proactive

2) Informed

3) Empathetic

Virility Symbols

Some time ago (~ 1 year) there was an advert on television, showing a balding middle aged man polishing the hood of his little sports car, and text-over saying "virility symbol?" - they then cut to a picture of an "all-american" type loading kids into a minivan, and the fade-away showed "real virility symbol" - the ad of course was for the minivan (and, no, I don't drive a minivan, though I admit to having come close to the breaking point a couple of times).

Never saw that ad again, either am not hitting the right demographic TV shows (I can hope, the the number of TIAA-CREF ads I see suggest otherwise), or it cut just a bit too close to the bone.

There are of course a bunch of little sports cars, mostly dysfunctional, which are marketed directly at the older men in severe mid-life crisis (with a side market in young trustafarians with low sense of self-preservation). Fair enough. But the car makers usually have the sense not to show their hand.

Current (Sep issue) Wired has an ad for the "Dodge Viper SRT-10" (which I, strangely, remember being a panel member for a pre-production preview version at an LA Auto Show, and disliking intensely). The ad, in some misplaced sense of post-modern humour, cuts the crap, and shows the self-image of the intended customer (gnarly old man decorated with money symbols, groping a young blonde in a wedding dress, with the car in the background). Ok, kinda cute that they acknowledge the irony.

But, why would anyone ever buy one of those ever again?

Ah, the good old days

A study in contrasts

Here's What Gets Me
Miss Alli on This is Not Over writes from the heart

Anatomy of Failure
Steve Gilliard finds the answer in Newsweek

These need to be read back-to-back

Sunday, September 11, 2005

lessons learned

"My daughter feels about sleep the way Republicans feel about tax increases"
G. Keillor.

What he said.

Also, denim, even old worn denim, provides surprisingly high armour class against axe blows; either that or I inherited my great-great-grandfathers bones...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

White City

White City

Here a tower shinning bright
Once stood gleaming in the night
Where now there’s just the rubble
In the hole here the paddies and the frogs
Came to gamble on the dogs
Came to gamble on the dogs not long ago

Oh the torn up ticket stubs
From a hundred thousand mugs
Now washed away with dead dreams in the rain
And the car-parks going up
And they’re pulling down the pubs
And it’s just another bloody rainy day

Oh sweet city of my dreams
Of speed and skill and schemes
Like Atlantis you just disappeared from view
And the hare upon the wire
Has been burnt upon your pyre
Like the black dog that once raced
Out from trap two


Friday, September 09, 2005

iPod iChing - Space: will the Falcon Fly?

Ok, friday again and I'm late. So a quickie for the mighty iPod: will the Falcon series of space launch vehicles fly, in that they will have multiple successful launches to LEO or beyond with payloads and prices close to current specs?


  • The Covering: Smells like teen spirit - Nirvana
  • The Crossing: Upfield - Billy Bragg
  • The Crown: Það á að gefa börnum brauð - Ragga Gísla
  • The Root: Blindfullur - Stuðmenn
  • The Past: Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • The Future: Pads, Paws and Claws - Elvis Costello
  • The Questioner: White City - Pogues
  • The House: Heartland - U2
  • The Inside: Hanging on the Telephone - Blondie
  • The Outcome: Sexuality - Billy Bragg

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

"Upfield" lyrics "I got socialism up the ass" - that should give the Libertarians for Space faction a nice chuckle on the Past.

Well. "Það á að gefa börnum brauð" is a christmas song (children should be given bread) and "Blindfullur" is a ode to being so drunk you can't get home.
Isn't Bigelow a gulf coast company?

So, I read this as progress, but then significant delay, until there is a breakthrough through a non-mainstream alternative.
According to the iPod the Falcon launchers will be late, but will deliver.

How is that for a bold iPod iChing prediction.

The High Priest has spoken.

PS just peaked at the lyrics for White City - for some reason there is a definite motif there of curious topicalness. Mighty is the iPod.

Science, NYT and Pharyngula

Yesterday I came across a short piece in NYT on brain evolution, discussing some new results published in Science - short version is that there is evidence for evolution in allele frequency in the recent past (10-100 kyrs) of genes ASPM and Microcephalin which control brain development, including some size control. The genes may also control other things in the body, it is not certain any adaptive pressure is from their brain development function, nor is allele functionality unique, but the timing and pattern of spread is intriguing.

I quickly peeked at Pharyngula, and sure enough discussion and a pointer.

A good reminder why I need to keep my Science subscription (I'll get to the other one soon as I have time to read it, early Deep Impact results are out).

So, what's the point. Well, the naive implications will get a lot of people's knickers in a twist and lead to some stupid inferences drawn. But, what is the real point? Well, first evolution is ongoing. (And, remember, it is not progressive - there is a priori not necessary that "smarter" brains are selected for, what is selected for is enhanced probability of inheriting that allele). This is spun as being controversial - it is not - the mere fact that humans are "civilised" does not remove the very existence of selection, it may change what is selected for.

Secondly the story contained the following quote: "...reluctance to acknowledge that selection could occur in a trait as controversial as brain function". Huh? In so far as brain function is adaptive, and changes in brain function affect survival and ability to produce offspring, brain function is selective. This is a tautology. Not a matter of controversy.


PS: right on schedule - the Pharyngula comments say that Andrew Sullivan made the stupid inference already.
How predictable.

Good news is that The Daily Show will do a whole week "Evolution Schmevolution" special feature next week, including special guest stars! Get your video tapes (or digital electronic recorders for those more with it) set up now. Should be good.

Space: To Infinity and Beyond...

Seen on, via

SpaceX is announcing the Falcon launcher is ready and that they are proceeding to a medium and heavy version rapidly.
According to their website, the Falcon-1 light launcher has payloads, and they show bookings for the medium Falcon-5 and Falcon-9.

Why is this interesting?
Well, they claim the F-5 and F-9 are reusable - although they are careful to not say how or how much - maybe refurbishable rather than reusable? At least at this stage.
Secondly, they are cheap! Goal is drive down launch cost by an order of magnitude. And, incidentally put Atlas and Delta Boeing-L-Mart out of business for good.
Payload and fairing look good, very good in fact.

Secondly, they have paying customers, so someone has looked at the specs (under non-disclosure I presume) and likes it.

Thirdly, they have serious $$$ backing them. ie PayPal founder E Musk.
Some potentially deep pockets there.
They also have a launch contract with Bigelow for an F-9 in 2008, which looks intriguing. Maybe time to listen to the chatter on this.

Of course they haven't flow yet, and they're planning some big steps. But unlike some recent proposed launchers, this one is looking promising...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

now (re)reading

"Control of Nature" by McPhee the Atchafalaya chapter - though I will move on to the next chapter, of course, and hopefully not cringe too much

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

NASA - delta this!

NASAwatch had an interesting pointer to a Exploration budget document posted to

Exploration Systems budget projection through 2025

The y-axis is in millions of $

So, around 2015, the Explorations division budget exceeds that of NASA. And I don't know where they think the growth projected through 2008/9 is supposed to come from, with current projection they're $2.5 billion over budget in 2008, and $8 billion cumulative deficit through 2011!

On the face of it, if Exploration goes as planned, either everyone else takes 20-30% cuts, or they eliminate an entire division.

By 2015, basically all space science, earth science and aeronautics has to be eliminated.

Or they could receive more funding. Ha.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"Us and Them"

Saturday, September 03, 2005

in case of emergency

Jim McDonald explains over on Making Light how Incident Command is supposed to work.
One M. Brown, JD should probably read and take notes.

Pop quiz: who was in charge of rescue and recovery in southern Louisiana from monday to thursday?

And on Jim's own web site, what you should have ready for emergencies.
Though I wonder what fraction of USians realisticially can keep that much cash lying around idle.

Friday, September 02, 2005

iPod iChing - field LMXBs

Friday, and we consult the iPod half-heartedly.

A MODEST question: oh iPod - is the bulk of the field LMXBs in Milky Way like galaxies formed in situ from primordial field binaries evolving in isolation?

Woosh, it wooshes.

  • The Covering: Sexuality - Billy Bragg
  • The Crossing: Secrets of the Sea - Billy Bragg and Wilco
  • The Crown: Walk of Life - Dire Straits
  • The Root: Tangled and Dark - Bonnie Raitt
  • The Past: I will not be denied - Bonnie Raitt
  • The Future: We'll be Together - Sting
  • The Questioner: Late Night Blues - Don Carlos
  • The House: Silver and Gold - U2
  • The Inside: I'm so worried - Monty Python
  • The Outcome: On Christmas Night - King's College Choir

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

Well the past seems accurate. I am flattered by the Questioner ("everything will be all right, out of sight, oh yeah"), but what of the Inside and Outcome?

"I'm so worried" is kinda appropriate, but since when does the iPod duck the question? Or is the iPod telling me that I am ducking the question...?


From Jerome of dKos - picture tells a thousand words

58 platforms damaged or displaced

petroleum shortages likely, especially in south-east; natural gas shortages possible if they can't get the rigs back on-line quickly.

Top 10 reasons why New Orleans will be rebuilt

  1. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  2. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  3. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  4. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  5. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  6. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  7. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  8. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  9. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

  10. It is the largest port in the United States and the terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system

60% of all grain exported from US goes out of Port NOLA or Port of South Louisiana (Bloomington says 2/3 of that is out of Port NOLA - no idea what state of the other port is).

River traffic on the Mississippi is halted at Arkansas They think they'll know by monday for how long.

Apparently 1.6 million pounds of coffee (which comes mostly through Port NOLA) is in warehouses in NOLA - probably lost. Incoming traffic can be redirected to other ports.

Near as I can tell, grain futures pricing can't make their mind up if glut of grain that can't be shipped in the midwest will outweight the demand at market destinations that can't be fulfilled. Futures seem up a little, but no strong reaction compared to recent fluctuations

Thursday, September 01, 2005

best chocolate

Pierre Marcolini - no contest (info from 70 %

Siríus mjólkursúkkulaði - pure nostalgia, but I really like it.

Cote d'Or - Noir