Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Michael Reloaded

Penn State still #1

Bérubé explains

Hah. Michigan is a distant second...

Vote seems to have closed, shame, the totals were getting to be impressive and PSU was staying ahead despite a late come back from MIT - Chomsky was racing into second before they flushed the votes and did it over.

In a related development here is an interesting local story:

Student files suit against Penn State

"...The lawsuit alleges that Penn State has "an Orwellian speech code policy that is vague, overbroad and suppresses the discussion of controversial viewpoints."

...Penn State spokesman Tysen Kendig said that the university does not have a speech code."

Inconvenient that.

"There has never been an instance in which Penn State has even tried to circumvent basic first amendment rights," he said.

and then the Collegian picks up on our Worsest Perfessers... worth a read to get to the last line

We do have a Code of Conduct

Of course if we enforced section 14 half of the students would have been expelled after the Ohio State game...

Here is the long version
Pages 13-14 1.a-1.e are pretty clear.

There is of course the legendary AD29 - policy on intolerance, let us see...

The expression of diverse views and opinions is encouraged in the University community. Further, the First Amendment of the United States' Constitution assures the right of free expression. In a community which recognizes the rights of its members to hold divergent views and to express those views, sometimes ideas are expressed which are contrary to University values and objectives. Nevertheless, the University cannot impose disciplinary sanctions upon such expression when it is otherwise in compliance with University regulations.

So, please don't be mean. If you're mean and break the rules then Judicial Affairs will infer intent and adjust the sanction accordingly. But if you're just a meanie, well, there's nothing we can actually do, but would you please not be a meanie.

Hm, there's an EE project to do some speech recognition code, maybe that is what they mean...

AbSciCon '06

The 2006 Astrobiology Science Conference is being held in DC this year, Ronald Reagan building and the ITC, end of march.
This is the annual gathering of US astrobiology, and it will be a somber one. The hints of bad news came several weeks ago when NAI there would be no travel support for graduate students to attend the meeting.

It is a large meeting, the "odd year" meetings are NAI specific and not generally open, the even year meetings are open and have a large attendance. The meeting is split into major symposia with a mixture of plenary sessions and parallel sessions with short contributed talks. And of course large poster sessions.

It will be a good meeting, I am expecting a lot of interesting results, some wild speculation and strong synergy.

Monday, February 27, 2006

NASA - $olution$

Ok, enough whinging: what should be done about NASA funding?

My immediate worry about the medium term at NASA is not the cuts for next year in the proposed budget, bad as they may be.
I'm worried that Exploration Development is going to eat all of Science's lunch, and dinner, and breakfast.

So, what to do?

Congress should set up a new separate line of funding, so the major categories will be:

Exploration - STS and ISS operation. To ramp down on some schedule and CEV and Constellation development ramp up.

Exploration Development - R&D for Crewed Exploration Vehicle and future Constellation class space craft and exploration hardware

Science and Aeronautics - Space Science and Aeronautics.

Firewall these three categories. Stick in education/outreach, admin and little niche things wherever. But no transfer of funding between the three major categories without Congressional approval.
NASA can ask for how much they think they actually need and want in these categories.

There is NO sensible rationale for Exploration Development to share line funding with Science.
A case could be made to put Aeronautics in with Exploration Development.

THEN: given the funding appropriate for Science, less any Congressionally mandate line items (and, please, pretty please, fund those when you stick them in...) - do a "sense of Congress" that allocations to missions and projects within Science should reflect the priorities and recommendations of the staturory NASA advisory committees. Some disgression for the AA and directors, but some responsibility not to just wing it - they can play with priorities and timelines but not just dump things wholesale 'cause they feel like it.

Keep this funding structure and priority scheme somewhat stable for at least long enough for some students to graduate, or something, without radically changing priorities, again, cutting whatever was the priority last year, or the year before.

they lied! about money!

It has been a month since the State ifof the Union address, and 3 weeks since the President's proposed budget came out.

The space science and astronomy community reaction has been curiously subdued. Partly this is because of mixed news, the bits of extra funding to the National Science Foundation sound promising (though the details look a bit worrying). And the particle physics people are happy with both the DoE Office of Science and NSF.

The "leadership" has been notably quiet. Not a peep from the American Astronomical Society or the relevant divisions of the American Physical Society. Word is that some of the people who should be speaking out are basically withdrawn in shock. The reality of the budget and the attitude they are getting from NASA ("if scientists want to complain about the funding, then I'm sure we can find someone who would appreciate the funding" is one paraphrased comment I got forwarded) has been a blow, the direct contradiction to what we've been told, repeatedly, over several years, as recently as january this year, and the cynicism of the cuts are just too much - people don't want to play any more.

There has been some flurry of activity among individual groups threatened, a lot of writing to Congress critters. Which is well and good. Congress does have the budgetary power to change this.
I'm concerned on a couple of fronts there. One is the anecdotal information I hear that Congress committee members were "prepped" by NASA to expect "whining" from "special interest groups" (and, again, I paraphrase). So a lot of the commenting to Congress will be ignored.
Secondly, Congress can raise the Science line funding at NASA, and even recommend priorities, but unless they specify very low level line item funding (which they can do and have done), the NASA AA and science directors can re-allocate within the line. I am wary of letting Congress take line-by-line control of the NASA science budget, 'cause that way lies a lot of smelly pork and even worse prioritization of funding. Also, the CEV/Constellation development WILL run over budget, and the cost overruns will just eat up more science/aeronautics funding.
I still get the sense that a lot of scientists expect a Congressional miracle. I am not so confident, but we can hope.
Actually the best bet may be for Congress to chicken out of passing a potentially electorally controversial budget and for the 2007 budget to be a "continuing" 2006 budget...

And, there have been outbreaks of cannibalism.
The science community is very vulnerable to this when time get hard, which is why we so often get shafted.
The best bet for long term funding is solidarity.
Do not speak ill of others research, always praise it in general terms, and then address specifically why your research is so important, will cure cancer etc.
But, I have heard several reports where missions, centers and sub-fields have claimed that what others do is not so important and that all the remaining funding must go to them, with the others cut. Once such a game starts, it escalates, and everyone loses. It would be so nice if our dear colleagues could learn a little bit of classical game theory.
Starting with meta-rule #1: Do Not Participate in Negative Sum Games!

Overall there is a curious theme here: NASA science has always made some sincere effort to consult with the community, establish priorities and maintain balances portfolios across sub-disciplines. Partly this is engineering sense, you break up the labs and mission teams and they take 10-20 years to reassemble. Partly it is scientific sense, you don't know where blue sky breakthroughs come from, so you cover all the bases, to the extent you can.

This seems to have changed. There is no apparent recognition of priorities; there is no attempt to balance across sub-fields; and there is no consultation with the community - in the past there have been at least some efforts to call in the existing advisory committees, tell them the bad news and ask for recommendations and prioritizations. The standing committees will assemble at very short notice and can give very rapid response. Not so much this year.
NASA is now run top-down, and the admins have their preset preconceptions and priorities. There doesn't even seem to be much of an attempt to rationalise the funding decisions; they know what they like, they know what they want to do, they know what they have to do in a few cases whether they like it or not, and they have the power. So the rest they just cut in chunks until it is small enough.
Butchering. Clumsy butchering. With a little bit of payback on the side.

And I don't think we're done yet...

Friday, February 24, 2006

iPod iChing - the week ahead

It is friday, it is iPod time, and just this once, for obscure technical reasons, I ask the iPod an open question: what is in store for us, in general, for the next week or so?

Whoosh goes the randomizer. Whoosh.

  • The Covering: Havanaise op. 83 for violin - Perlman

  • The Crossing: One Love/People Get Ready - Bob Marley

  • The Crown: A Tisket, A Tasket - Twin Sisters

  • The Root: Jaded - Green Day

  • The Past: Warning Sign - Talking Heads

  • The Future: A Home - Dixie Chicks

  • The Questioner: Firebird, II Dance of the Firebird - Stravinsky

  • The House: Live Bed Show - Pulp

  • The Inside: Baby I Can Hold You - Tracy Chapman

  • The Outcome: Steal Your Heart Away - Bonnie Raitt

#11 is Firebird again, and #12 is an Icelandic christmas classic (I get a present...)

So a mellow jaded week ahead. Cosy, there have been warning signs, but really that's pretty mellow for now. I'll take that.

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dubai: little things

So much to learn...

I had not appreciated that the ruler of Dubai died suddenly of a heart attack this year, and was succeeded by his brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who is also vice President of UAE. Man, january 2006 was a bad month to be a sheikh in the gulf - Kuwait and Bahrain as well?

Interesting and accomplished man. A poet.

"For Al Aqsa..." is interesting. So is "Stand With Justice.".

I now wish I could read arabic, so I could tackle the Riddles.

Mohammed is behind the JAFZA free zone, and the Dubai docks, and set up the first Dubai airline.

As is traditional, as I understand, many prisoners were released in Dubai on Jan 8th, nothing I can find in english language news on that. Wonder which prisoners were released. That would be quite informative.

Icelanders Abroad

As an experiment I set up a meta-blog whose purpose is to list the blogs of Icelanders abroad.
Primary intent is to provide a blogroll and fixed point for people to connect.
My initial focus is USA, but I'll spread it further as and if I can.
This may be redundant, I'll also point to Icelandic blogspots and individual blogs back home as and when I have time.

We'll see how this goes.

Princesses and Pirates

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Trading Places: If I were Dr Evil...

One of the curious things about 9-11, that has vanished into media amnesia, are the reports of anomalous option trading of airline company shares, and companies with a WTC presence.
Someone made a lot of money, and we have not been told who, nor what investigations revealed, to my knowledge, although chasing movements of that large an amount should have been relatively straightforward, at least initially, and, one would think, something the full persuasive powers of the USA would be used to follow through on. Of course a number of young billionaires did die suddenly not long afterwards, but that is clearly coincidence, since if they had been involved they'd have been charged and brought to justice, not silently killed by 3rd parties.

Anyway, if I were Dr Evil, and clearly I am not, this would seem like a good ploy - you plan an operation that if successful would lead to a major impact on some large financial sector. Like, say ports this time.
You then engineer a two pronged move - the public move would be to get a plausible cash rich operator to make a perfectly legitimate takeover bid of a major player, pushing up the share price sharply.
At the same time, an anonymous operator with moderate funds would bid against the takeover, effectively gambling on it failing and the share price falling heavily on some short fixed time scale, say 6 months.

Then, BOOM, deal is up, operations and profits are wrecked, and you get a twofer, a strike on economic faciltiies, and shitloads of money.

But clearly this is wildly implausible and would never happen in real life, if nothing else the anomalous pattern of option trading would be easily seen by all the people in the US government assigned to tracking anomalous financial activity as predictors of terrorist activities, you know, since that is what they did last time...

Phew, I feel safer now.

Dubai Ports

There are some topics that blogs must comment on, and since I really don't have much of a problem with student e-mail, not even when I taught Stars for Poets, I supposed I'd better ramble about ports.

So, DPW bought port operation rights from P&O wholesale, including operational management of all or some (in some cases) of 6 US container ports, for about $6 billion.
This was somehow approved without any review anyone can recall and Dubya has his knickers in a twist 'cause congress critters are getting uppity and saying mean things about Dubai.

We're talking 6 large east coast ports. This, by the way, goes back to november 2005, and Dubai was competing with a Singapore company for the rights. We're not just talking US ports, BTW, but also Canadian (Vancouver) and European ports.

Now DPW is backed by oil cash and Dubai is sitting on a lot of money with no place to invest.
Maybe they're anticipating lucrative US Army contracts with synergy with Asian ports they also own...
But, here is P&O 2004 financial report shows that while the port profits are strong, at 150 million pounds and growing, compared with 170 million pounds for PO as a whole, only 10% of the profit came from the US ports. Quite frankly the US operations suck, and are underproductive, the profit is mostly from Asian ports!

So, solution: it would actually pay for DPW to cut out the US ports and just take over the rest of P&O ports worldwide. It is good business and gets them and their buddies out of a political jam. Win-win? Who could say no?

PS - DPW is paying over the odds for P&O, and the port operations are the most profitable division from the looks of it.
Now, cash earning investments are hard to find right now, but DPW must anticipate significant increases in profit to make the deal worthwhile - or they think the can signficantly cut operation costs on current faciltiies.
After all, the market rationally valued P&O at half that price 6 months ago...
Curious - DP World intends to pay for P&O using bonds raised on the financial markets, but are also mentioned as being very cash rich.
Company was only created in Sep 2005, and immediately moved to take over P&O. Curious

Again, maybe they are anticipating synergy with increased traffic between the ports they already own, like in the Middle East, and the East Coast ports - lots of preloaded containers to rush over, money no object.

Here is the DP World web site - they have no US presence and negligible European presence currently - from a business perspective they may in fact get synergy with their current Asian and African operations. Except having East Coast ports is bizarre, their synergy would be with West Coast US ports. Latin American presence is small, Venezuela and Dominican Rep. Hm, they bought into Hong Kong and Qingdao last year, just after buying CSX Terminals in the US, ah, that is how they became a global operator.. That is very aggressive acquisition. Also bought a greenfield site in Turkey for port development in Nov 2005. CSX was done on credit as well, where does their reputation for being cash rich come from?

They are partners with Jafza - some sort of free-trade zone consultants

And some company called "Crane Services" - makes sense but can't find them. Ah, it is a deal with Konecranes (Finnish?!) and Kanoo group of UAE - so DPW vertically integrates, they set up the dockside cranes as well as manage operations.

This company became an international operator in little more than a year by buying up existing companies and consolidating them, as an entity they have very little port operation experience.

The Kanoo group looks interesting - they do a bit of everything, shipping, travel, security, oil, machinery...

When Aliens Attack

The Unitary Executive needs to consult further with his toptallest Science Advisor, after all if you're going spend $7 billion to prepare for a bioterror attack, which is exactly 50% more than the total amount spent on all research and related activities at the National Science Foundation, then you really have to prepare for Really Advanced threats.
I admit they are low probability scenarios, but the prospects for Alien Biological Warfare are terrifying - Lubbock, Texas could be under attack right now and we'd never notice!

Clearly the solution is an immediate and massive increase in research into Alien Lifeforms and Extremophiles.
Restore the cuts to Astrobiology and Exobiology now! The nation waits.

all is well...

NSF science and engineering 2004 enrollment in higher education report is out...

And, Robert Samuelson at the WaPo tells us all is well, because, well - per capita the US graduates as many engineers as China - which is 1/4 as many as China, which has a smaller and weaker economy and a population with much more restricted access to higher education.
All is well, because US total engineering graduates as at about the 1990 level, which unfortunately is right when the sharp decline (about 20% from peak) in engineers leveled off,

All is well, because computer science degrees have doubled from their 1990 low - how many of these are glorifed graphic artists rather than actual computer engineers or scientists is a separate issue.

All is well, because if you're really smart and don't care about intellectual satisfaction you will be a lawyer or a stockbroker, and those are much more important that scientists and engineers anyway. If we need those we'll just get some more foreigners.

But, what Samuelson doesn't address is what the figures hide.
Science and engineering enrollment is up - with comps sci and engineering rebounding.
But, the bulk of the students are biologists.
Physical sciences (which includes chemistry, materials science and geophysics) is still very low, the number of physics BScs produced is ridicilously small, as is the number of mathematicians.
And physicists and mathematicians are not interchangable with biologists and engineers.

end of the world

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
But from what I read in Wired
It would be nice
For it to be live blogged and podcast

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

when faculty revolt

American Fitness Initiative

It has come to the attention of the Unitary Executive that American Fitness has slipped, our children is obese, and performance of the US squad at the Turin Olympics has been particularly disappointing with the US no longer totally kicking ass, like it is supposed to.

Therefore, as part of the 2007 budget request, billions and billions of dollars are requested to fix this.

We propose 100,000 new "fitness instructors" as role models for our kids, to be hired by schools, paid for by States and local school districts.

We expect 30,000 of these to be professional athletes, preferably NFL or NBA players, including retirees. We will allocate $25 Million to provide incentive bonuses for recruiting these Top Fitness people to our schools. That is almost One Thousand Dollars per instructor.

The other 70,000 "fitness instructors" will be recruited from the vast pool of fit young people coming out of the nation's colleges, such as College NCAA-I football players, and cheerleaders. We will provide $122 Million to provide training and certification for these new teachers, and also provide incentives for existing teachers to convert to "fitness instructors" by taking 6 week summer immersion fitness programs at universities, to get them up to pro-athlete fitness levels and prepare them for teaching advanced high school fitness.

Another $125 Million will be provided for a separate scheme to promote promising and research-based fitness practises for Middle School students and Elementary School students, to prepare them for the rigor of higher level fitness classes and eventual pro-football or competitive cheerleading careers.

We will also double, by 2013, funding provided to subsidise pro-stadia to provide full HDTV coverage of all professional sporting events. On cable OR dish.

85% of the funding in the American Fitness Initiative, through 2013, will go to provide "fitness in the workplace", with tax breaks for companies providing on-site exercise facilities, spas or massage facilities; and external company hunting trips or club memberships, for senior executives. The budget projections through 2017 are too uncertain to be calculated, CBO estimates that the cost will triple and 99% of it will be due to executive club subsidies are merely projections and assume the tax break will be extended indefinitely.

Update: an Anonymous Spokesman for the Unitary Executive has dismissed as "partisan liberal squabbling" complaints about the scope and funding of the AFI. The President gets his own gym as part of his Executive benefits, and it has done him a world of good; as have the Olympic class athletes who are invited to join him in exercises and provide Fitness Role Models. He also notes the Veep gets club benefit and has a real blast on his many productive on-the-job hunting trips.
Questions about where 30,000 professional athletes are to come from are typical of the so-called "reality based" community and those issues were addressed in our previous response last week, we want to move on to address issues that The American People, who I speak for, really care about. Any questions about the American Abstinence Initiative, Les?"

Postdate: Last week the Anonymous Spokesman, off the record, noted that The President wants 100,000 Top Fitness Instructors, and The President will get 100,000 Top Fitness Instructors. I don't know who Athena is (WNBA? pro-cheerleader?), or why her paternity matters (wasn't Seuss a subversive children's book writer?), but if she wants the One Thousand Dollar sign-on bonus, she can step up with the rest of our patriotic role model professional athletes.
Of course we have a back-up plan, as the OMB document clearly indicates, we will incent 50 year old English Majors to sign up for summer sport camps, they will have 6 weeks to reach pro-level fitness, we expect NHL or higher levels of fitness.
Of course they will do it; there is a One Thousand Dollar Bonus, they're English Majors. And the States will pay the camp fees, can't be more than a few thou' per session. Sheesh people. We spent hours on planning this.

Maybe Bush could be persuaded to do a tour of NASA centers...

Monday, February 20, 2006

NASA - it is not what you know...

NASAwatch has more on the ongoing affairs at NASA PAO

Short version: NASA AA for public affairs and most (all?) of the top PAO officers are political appointees with no experience in science or space science, but "reliable".

Deutsch's replacement is straight from the Coalition Provisional Authority public affair's office in Iraq.

Good news is al Jazeera carries decent science news coverage.

On a side note: sounds like Dilbert is working at JPL now, at least they'll be safe...

Friday, February 17, 2006

iPod iChing - $cience Progno$i$

Oy vey, it is friday.
We approach the mighty and wise iPod with all due humility, and ask the iPod: Oh mighty iPod, the ways of Men are Fickle and Impenetrable to even the Mightiest Oracle. But, in Our Desperation for Guidance, we ask you - what's with all that shit going down at NASA? Is there hope for science.

Whoosh goes the randomizer.

The wound itself would give him power
The power to remake himself at the time of his darkest hour

#11 is Four Studies, Firebird - Stravinsky, #12 is OIiver's Army - Elvis Costello!

But I've become inflamed
With thoughts of lust and thoughts of power
Thoughts of love and thoughts of Chairman Mao

Well, that is about on target as you can get.
We were happy Geeks, we were crawling and now we have an ideological muddle...

But, I see hope at the end, flowers from grievous wounds, Brass in Pocket, the Firebird is reborn from the ashes and Oliver's Army (which is not beholden to the King as a matter of principle) is here to stay.

I am ever so cheered. Except for the subtle hint that I may have to go to "town" on this.

The House (How other people around the questioner affect and view matters in hand...): "Whoopie ti yi yo, git along little dogies
You know that Wyoming will be your new home"
Heh, don't know what the iPod means by that one, not at all.

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

Greetings to the New Brunette

it's quite exciting to be sleeping here in this new room
you're my reason to get out of bed before noon
you know when we sat out on the fire escape talking
what did you say about running before we were walking

Sometimes when we're as close as this
It's like we're in a dream
How can you lie there and think of England
When you don't even know who's in the team

your sexual politics have left me all of a muddle
we are joined in the ideological cuddle

I'm celebrating my love for you
With a pint of beer and a new tattoo
And if you haven't noticed yet
I'm more impressionable when my cement is wet

Politics and pregnancy
Are debated as we empty our glasses
And how I love those evening classes

you really know how to make a young man angry
can we get through the night without mentioning family

The people from your church agree
It's not much of a career
Trying the handles of parked cars
Whoops, there goes another year
Whoops, there goes another pint of beer

Here we are in our summer years
Living on icecream and chocolate kisses
Would the leaves fall from the trees
If I was your old man and you were my missus

give my greetings to the new brunette

Enjoy Life

NASA - you have got to be f'ing kidding

NASA PAO is hiring says NASAwatch

Another f'ing political kommissar to keep track of our National Affairs.

Well, now at least we know where certain people at HQ stand.
Talks is cheap, actions speak for themselves.

PZ spanks RC

Richard Cohen wrote a silly little column

Why is it silly - well, first consider the column with the words "arithmetic" and "algebra" interchanged with "english" and "history", and imagine Mr Cohen's response to the reversed scenario.
He is correct that everyone should learn history, including, especially, the "math whizzes". He is incorrect in asserting that algebra has no value.

Lest he doubt that, maybe he can ask the WaPo copy editor how Mr Cohen's column inch allocation is done and the columns fit onto the page. Oh, I forgot, there's a ``computer'' that does that, so that's ok then. No algebra here.

PZ proceeds to spank Cohen

Thursday, February 16, 2006

NASA - Nature's Fury

RRATs - where normal pulsars go to die?

Maura McLaughlin et al have an interesting paper in Nature today

They have found RRATs - or Rotating RAdio Transients - current sample is 11 sources found in the Parkes multibeam survey over several years of observing.
They are rotating neutron stars, with rotation periods ranging from 0.4 to 7 seconds, and those with measured rotation period derivatives have large period derivatives, indicative of rapid spin-down and therefore large (over 5 × 1013 Gauss) magnetic fields. They seem to be single (certainly not in a close binary)

These are clearly an extension of the "normal" young pulsar population, probable ages of hundreds of thousands to millions of years, and they are characterised by relatively sharp (few millisecond duration) emission, which then "nulls" for minutes or hours.
So total time spent emitting is about 1 second per day, or about one part in hundred thousand.

They are easy to miss in a survey, and if observed, likely to be dismissed as noise or anthropic transients.

The emission is bright when it is on, but very irregular. The sources are consistent with being in, or near, the galactic plane.

50% of them have periods over 4 seconds, compared with 0.5% of the "normal" pulsar population.

Since the duty cycle is low, and they are easy to miss in radio surveys (where each patch of the sky is typically observed for minutes or tens of minutes - less than the characteristic interval between bursts), the observation of these few imply a much larger underlying population.
How big is hard to estimate with confidence, but it is likely to be much larger than the population of "normal" pulsars, where we know of about 2000 pulsars and estimate a total population of about 100,000.

So, there are considerably more youngish neutron stars out there than we knew about, and this population seems to be somewhat distinct from the normal pulsars - possibly these are dead, or retired, magnetars, or possibly they are some sort of intermediate population between the magnetars and the normally pulsing pulsars.

Hopefully observations of this population will both further constrain models for the origin of the neutron stars, in particular what range of masses of main sequence stars really becomes a neutron star, and the role of anomalous velocity impulses on neutron star formation, and possible the mechanism for the actual radio emission.

Anyway, nice new result.

RRAT press release with graphics from Jodrell Bank
Jodrell Bank Pulsar Group

NASA - and so it goes...

More in NYT on NASA and political manipulation of presentation of scientific results

Short version - this is an endemic and systematic issue, not an aberration with Deutsch - he was just stupid enough to be so blatant about it as to leave no doubt.

I wondered why Overbye directed his snark at Hupp...

et tu NSF

Applebaum has an interesting OpEd in the WaPo on the OSTP possibly messing with more inconvenient science, with rumours of retribution for the individual scientists.
The latter are puzzling, given what I know of the review process, the only way for that to happen is if highly rated grants are politically vetted by very senior agency people after the mid-level review, and most of the senior agency people would refuse to do such things, I would think.
On the other hand some senior agency people did leave very suddenly in the last couple of years.

Of course everyone is now getting paranoid and distrustful of agency PAO types, which is unfair and chilling to release of information even if there is no concerted high level effort to censor... the Deutsch affair may be a one-off abnormality, too early to tell, but it is time for some people to take a serious and systematic look at the possibility.

Oh, and as a matter of pure pragmatism, the Union of Concerned Scientists should stand well back at this point and not start jumping up and down, it'd be counterproductive if they did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Weather Wear

This has been a disappointing winter; we had decent snow for a couple of weeks before christmas, but what ought to have been a good 20-30 cm of fresh snow on christmas day, was instead cold rain, as we hit a multi-week period of unseasonal warmth (about 5C above normal) and no snow.
The "big storm" that hit the north-east sideswiped us, but it was just nuisance snow, and it looks like the next system will pass to the west of us, giving us rain instead. Pah.
March tends to bring significant snow here, but it doesn't usually linger as nice fun powder, may give a day or two for snowmen and such, but not serious fun.
And, of course, this is the year where we didn't make it to Aspen, where apparently they have shitloads of snow (like 3m+ or so I hear). Aargh.

So, I stick with my trusty Marmot, backed up by Icelandic woolens, which I have not had a single occasion to wear this year. Nor has my trusty 66North balaclava been worn even once. (I still want my old wooly balaclava back; woe onto the bastard mover who stole it - it was hand made, and I'd recognise it...)

The Wife usually goes for serious down jackets, but the milder weather has allowed good use to be made of the "mid-layer" fleece from 66North as a stand-alone layer. Very nice.

The Big Kid swears by her Spyder jacket from Obermeyer, especially now that one of the Even Bigger Kids at school has one also. I have to say the Spyder's are totally awesome; like I want one, and I like my Marmot. The Spyder's are just really well thought out, and by all accounts extremely comfortable. And they look cool.
However for milder conditions the old 66North fleece jacket is first choice, and in any case a carefully chosen ensemble of hat and gloves from the 66North assortment is a must.

(If you're getting the impression that I am impressed by the 66North stuff, you are correct, and I am not saying this out of any misplaced sense of duty, the stuff really functions as cold weather clothing, and it is well designed).

The Munchkin is all 66North all the way, not ready for ski wear yet, but the 66North one pieces are amazing. Hat and booties work too.

Any day now, we should be getting the new rain gear selection, from of course 66North, just in time for MudSpring.

Oh, boots: we go with Timberland mostly for the adults and REI for the kids. REI has good kid stuff.
Expect we'll be acquiring some serious woolens for the kids, Icelandic wool of course; definitely socks and gloves, probably sweaters too, though they grow out of those awful fast at this age.

Fake News

So, I caught the Daily Show last night (yeah dood, I got it on tape, and mondays - all Cheney all the time...).
Very cosy, or would have been if the Munchkin hadn't then decided to do one of his midnight-to-3-AM walkabouts, but I digress.

The "guest segment" on the Daily Show was another book promo, for "Thousand Barrels a Day" by Tertzakian.
It was funny, and interesting, and sobering - not because of the doom'n'gloom oil stuff, but because beneath the humour an expert was getting many minutes of direct face time on a news show to discuss in laymens' terms a serious issue.

And this is on the "fake news" show.
Never, ever, would you see something like this 4 nights per week on an actual real news show.
Maybe once upon a time Nightline would have done occasional specials on this. Local or national news, on a regular basis, never.

No wonder the Daily Show advertising demographics are so screwed.
Although I persist in believing that the back-to-back scheduling of the operatic TIAA-CREF ads with the "Girls Gone Wild" videos is deliberate and part of the show's humour.

NASA - word3

Wes Huntress and Louis Friedman op-ed on

Bottom line - the administration is not providing the funding to carry out the goals they proclaimed. So stuff gets hacked away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

An Algorithmic Solution to Valentine's Day

I have come to deeply resent Valentine's Day.

I don't need Hallmark to tell my wife I love her. (BTW: I Love You!)

And when I were a lad (uh-oh, here we go again), Valentine's Day was for adult romantic love, either affirmation of established relationships, or, more frequently, "anonymous secret admirer" approaches.
At least one couple of my acquaintance hooked up when she guessed who he was; and at least one hooked up when he incorrectly guessed who she was, but ended up with the "wrong" girl anyway. And lived happily ever after.

Fortunately, there are official decoder sites on the web to explain the commercial code o'love. you know:

red: for love
pink: for appreciation
yellow: friendship
chocolate for passion etc

It gets very complicated.

But, for the young gentleman in line next to me: for "I kinda like you as a friend, and do want to sleep with you, but don't actually love you, its kinda complicated, not ready for a commitment" - you want peach rose, with yellow tipped pink inner petals and a black center, and throw in a box of assorted chocolates, heavy on fruit cremes and caramels.

You're welcome.

NYT snark

Damn, Sean must have got up and read his NYT section D3 real early this morning

NASA Official: we're all dead in the long run

I would like to point out that blaming this on Clinton is misleading, although I have heard the "Standard Solar Model" was actually finally confirmed during the Clinton era,
but those of us who pay attention to history know that the root cause actually goes back to FDR and was primarily established by Old Europe types

NASA - word2

well a little e-mail from somewhere south east of here confirms it.

With the current NASA budget, the number of new PI grants for University and lab researchers will be about half what it is normally in the next cycle. Effectively 15% fewer NASA funded postdocs (and to lesser extend graduate students - more independent GSRPs, fewer senior grads on mission specific data analysis grants etc).
With the projected out-year budgets this will cumulate, until NASA is supporting about half the researchers it does now.
Note that under Full Cost Accounting, researchers at the NASA centers need to raise their own salary through grants, we're not just talking university PIs and private lab orgs like SWRI.
Even with the promised expansion of NSF funding (which I think works out to ~ 50-100 new grants in astro this year if all the new money goes into individual PI lines), the total number of postdoc and grad slots funded in astronomy and astrophysics will decline about 5% next year, and more steeply in the out-years, for a total loss of 1/4 - 1/3 of soft money positions.

IF the budget stays this way. Congress could put money back in, or it could take more out for pet projects.
Further, SOFIA, for example, is technically under review - the Germans are not going to be pleased with its termination just as the instruments have seen first light and the airplane actually rolled out. Several hundred million dollars to complete the facility and then termination with no data?
If SOFIA is put back in after review, then we're looking at ~ $40 million if I recall, which has to come from some other line (modulo Congress not putting new money in).

And, if CEV has a 10% cost overrun, we lose another couple of hundred million dollars. From the Science line, since CEV development is now on the Science side of the fence.

Hey, I know, maybe they could put it off budget and use monopoly money.

A postdoc costs about $100,000 per year.
Iraq burns about one postdoc per minute. Off budget.

To employ every physics and astronomy postdoc in the USA would cost about 3 days.

Maybe they could, y'know, declare a truce or something... just for 3 days...

Monday, February 13, 2006

read this

The current ruling faction of the republican party are not conservatives, they are radicals.
A curious mixture of theocrats and mercantile capitalists, with a few revanchists and nationalists.
About as far from conservatives as you're likely to get in actual deed.

Greenwald's post on the Bush ideology issue needs to be linked to, and should be read

Yup, revanchist - told you so

No way to live...

There was an article about the Cheney shooting of Whittington in our local paper this morning.
It included the following quote:

...It was almost like he was spending time with me in my living room," said hospital administrator Peter Banko,...Banko said Whittington was in the intensive care unit because his condition warranted it, but he didn't elaborate."

I've been in an ICU. It costs about $2000 per day. ICU beds are a scarce resource. They are not comfortable, if you're in one you're hooked up to more wires, tubes and electronic monitors than an average postdoc work station.

Mr Banko needs to remodel his living room.

Social Affairs l'Deutsch

The following points need to be addressed by the scientific community, through their professional societies, such as the American Astronomical Society, Americal Physical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science:

1) What was Mr Deutsch's civil service rank? How many political appointees are there typically, and currently, at that level?

2) Was Mr Deutsch hired in accordance with Civil Service and NASA procedures? Was he properly cleared for his position, and if so, how come the discrepancy in his resume was not noted?

3) Who instigated the hiring of Mr Deutsch? Was the hiring done by NASA HQ, or due to direct orders from the White House? If so, who ordered it?

4) Are there other political appointees within the science agencies, (my concerns are specifically NASA or NSF) who are editing, censoring or otherwise distorting the public dissemination of publicly funded scientific research?
If so, who? And who put them there and when?

Push back.

For what it is worth - you can't get a coffee at the NASA HQ cafeteria without being cleared, there are permanent staff in the building whose full time job it is to clear people. And a very big (and very nice, as long as you behave) ex-Air Force sergeant on the gate who makes sure no one goes in that building without clearance.
If you ever get stopped, say because your clearance expired between your invitation and your arrival, I suggest you reminisce about winters in south west Iceland. Always a good conversation piece.

NASA - watch

Two shorts on NASA watch people should read:

post hoc, ergo propter hoc

shoot the messenger

I predict quite confidently now that NASA will abandon the flight facility at Moffet Field, sell off most of Ames and reduces Ames Research Center to 2 buildings+ with some UC contractor staff.

I predict NASA HQ upper levels will be quite surprised when 95% of the critical staff at Ames will quit rather then move to Goddard or JSC when asked to relocate.

Friday, February 10, 2006

et tu NOAA

DarkSyde over on Kos has a pointer to public affairs manipulation issues at NOAA mirroring those at NASA

Here is the TNR article it is based on

...thought so

Update: Link to DarkSyde fixed... so guess what I was working on friday night eh.
I like Macs, but OS X still does not have the cut'n'paste power of a late 80s X11 system.

SOFIA, SOFIA - no bucks, no bangs spin for SOFIA here
hadn't realised it was a German collaboration, makes the cancellation even stranger.
I wonder if the true cause is that SOFIA will not have a base to fly out of - if Ames is shrunk to two buildings and a logo, and Moffett Field sold for development, then the aircraft and support would have to relocate.

I'd also think the USAF would be interested in SOFIA's capabilities, but maybe not if the germans have full access.

40% cut for NAI. Ouch.

New Scientist has a summary

For a subset of our readers... there is no cosmology mission in the NASA pipeline (I don't count JDEM, it is a "structure" mission).
Beyond Einstein queue is LISA then Con-X (hah!). LISA has ESA collaboration to pull it along, maybe. Con-X is in deep shit trouble.
But after the sliver of Planck collaboration, NASA got nuthin' - no polarization probes, no big bang probes, nothing.
Also no Explorer or Discovery class missions that cosmology could compete for...

Under this budget, the earliest a new microwave background/early universe mission could be proposed for is 2012, so nothing flying until well after 2015.

That's a very big gap for people who like to play with data analysis or build instruments.

iPod iChing - Huge Hot Hunks of CDM

Thank the iPod, it is Friday... and it is time for our weekly divination of what will be up in science...

So, recently refreshed and eternally sage iPod: the news out of the UK, that Cold Dark Matter has significant dispersion and characteristic large scale - is this for real, and reflecting CDM physics, or is it just boring clumping or baryonic physical processes that are fooling us?

Whoosh goes the randomizer. Whoosh...

  • The Covering: Maria - Green Day

  • The Crossing: Behind The Wall - Tracy Chapman

  • The Crown: Ship in My Harbour - Billy Bragg

  • The Root: Relaxation Spa Treatment - Dan the Automator

  • The Past: Rip Her to Shreds - Blondie

  • The Future: Jólasveinninn minn - Hljómar

  • The Questioner: It's Time to Clean Up - Twin Sisters

  • The House: Romeo and Juliet Overture - Tchaikovsky

  • The Inside: Clash City Rockers - Clash

  • The Outcome: Lilli Stríðir Refnum - Thorbjorn Egner

#11 is Headphones - Björk and #12 is "If you're happy and you know it..." - Twin Sisters

Hm, I am confused.
Early days I guess, but The Root and Past are as good a summary of violent relaxation of hierarchical collapse of mini-halos as I have ever seen... although Rip Her to Shreds is truly bitchy.
The Future is "My Santa Claus" - a saccharine wishfulfillment song " will be so fun when he comes, he brings the presents..."
The Questioner is very nice agiain. I like the iPod.

The House is the all time romantic tragedic comedy, all die. Bloody long as well.
The Inside suggest we're in for some in your face peer pressure...

The Outcome is weird - it is a song from a children's play in which a small mouse taunts a fox which is trying to eat him. The fox fails, by the way - it is a smart mouse. (Klatremus from HakkeBakke Skogen - can't find the lyrics...)

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

It's Time to Clean Up

It’s time to clean up clean up
Everybody do your share
Clean up clean up
Soon the mess will not be there

Clean up clean up
Look at this we’re almost done
Toys away -- hey hey hey
Clean-up can be fun


Bérubé does a smack down

Damn, that man writes like an angel.
Ok, sometime we're talking Wrath of God Gabriel, but still...

Double Deutsch

exNASA PAO wunderkind George Deustch speaks out

Courtesy of WTEW 1620, here is the interview

Poor baby. Some people were mean to him.
Listening to the interview, he is an idiot and he deserved what was coming to him.
He is also severly self-deluding listening to the littany of whinging.

BAblog does a dissection


Thursday, February 09, 2006

NASA - word

So, some NASA things I heard were not to be repeated, but I now have a second and open source, so...

I hear from a NASA facility in SoCal that a NASA AA is there right now, and that "SOFIA, NuSTAR, TPF and Keck Outriggers are canceled".

I'm still totally bemused by SOFIA, and I think its loss is a much bigger blow than is appreciated right now.
Cutting NuSTAR is silly, Explorers are cost effective and there should be some hard x-ray capability, not to mention use of development resources built up over the decades.
Previously TPF was "indefinitely deferred", but now "canceled" is a word in use.
I don't know if that means the entire Navigator program or what.

I also hear NASA HQ may see serious turn over of senior staff.
Think we hit the "Mad as Hell and Not going to Take It Any More" phase.

PS: the ROSES omnibus Request for Proposals only came out a couple of weeks ago.
The first "postponement" of opportunity announcement came last night. First of many I expect.

FWIW: item B.6 "Living with a Star/Collaborative Studies with C/NOFS" is indefinitely postponed

I also just noticed that 10 program elements were not solicited this year, mostly in Earth Sciences. Curious. More than I remember seeing in previous years, but the ROSES format does change year-to-year

The More You Write, The More You Write...

It is well known, that there is a standing secret committee of academics that keeps track of all the stupid things you ever said.
The Permanent Record follows you your whole life and determines all things: smart ass comment in 7th grade English Lit - no tenure for you my girl? Questioned energy conservation based on a youthful fling with "alternative science"? No postdoc offer from The Institute for FuddyDuddies for you my lad. Forgot about Zeeman splitting in intro grad radiative transfer homework problem? That NASA review panel laughed all the way to the "Good/Fair" grade for your proposal.

So, why do academics blog?
Our senior colleagues despise it, for the best of reasons, they didn't blog when they were lads.
Anecdotally it will hurt your tenure, prospects for hiring and probably make your viva more painful...
Yet more and more academics blog.
Some even do it properly, tying it into their research, leveraging it into class assignments, or working it as major professional outreach efforts.
Most, of course, fizzle into dormancy.
Many are just erratic random snippets of diary trivia, occasional flurry of insight or exposition, but really nothing special.
But more do it all the time. Well, until the next hot net.thing comes along.

Well, there are many reasons... other than Ego. Or Outrage.

Most of us (me) are not Good Writers (I don't usually want to take the time to carefully proofread lite blog stuff, and I alternate between being unnecessarily crypically allusive, so that only about 3 people "get it", and only one is reading, or I use the germanic infinite nesting of conditional sub-clauses - creatively punctuated - so that you need to be a mathematician specialising in transfinite set theory to actually parse the meaning of the final sentence). I'm not actually trying to create Turing non-Halting sentences. Fortunately both of you are reading this and each of you gets a part of it.

I should do more science topic blogs - I have a memo-to-self listing about 100 to-do topics, including those sugested in e-mails, but it is hard work to do proper, and proper level, science writing - I might as well write some papers, so that is self-limiting.
Other bloggers know more politics/music/movies/electronics/etc and are better connected.
I'm not really a fan boy of much of anything, so I don't want to do monomanic blogging.
And robo-blogging (like adopt-a-blog or iPod iChing every day) could be done by script, no point except as diversion and filler.
So, why bother doing heterogenous snippets of science, poli-rants and random snippets of life?

Really? The reason to do it, in my experience, is something I noted long before came to be, that The More You Write, The More You Write.

Blogging is warmup. It is lubrication. It is light impact aerobics.

Academia relies on writing.
I am not particularly prolific publishing stuff.
I don't need the public exposure of a blog - my research has received significant media exposure (too much, many would claim); I don't want to spend more time on press releases, at least two journalists seem to have me on speed dial and I think at least one reads the blog in the hope I'll inadvertently leak something...

Typical physical science writing output is ~ 4 medium length papers per year. That's ~ 32 pages, say 20,000-30,000 words given an ApJ page (I just did a "wc" on a tex file for one of my median length papers).
In addition there are conference papers, they are shorter and a perturbation on the main output for most people.
Then there are talks (20-40 keynote slides, text light, graphics heavy, per talk, with some recycling).
Proposals - call it 4-10 proposals, ranging from less than 2000 words for phase I Hubble proposals, to ~ 50 dense pages for multi-year solicited NASA proposals - some of which is boilerplate, so maybe 20 pages of actual new text, 10,000-20,000 words per long proposal.

And then there are lectures... a semester class reduces to ~ 100 pages of single spaced TeX'd text, excluding figures.
There's a reason a lot of lecture classes become books.
You can re-use a set of lecture notes 3-4 times, after which you better redo them from scratch or you'll be in danger of becoming One Of Those Lecturers...
So call it on average 100 pages of notes every 1-2 years depending on your class load.

The problem is, that with rare exceptions of Lucky Natural Writers or People of Uncommon WillPower, everyone gets the dreaded Writers Block.
It is a very real and very dangerous problem. Get it for many months at the wrong time (like just before your thesis completion, or late second year of your first postdoc) and it is career ending.
There are ways around it, like the infamous "do the bibliography now", but in the end there is something inherently distasteful and boring about revising and re-reading old material.
This of course is why we hate referees. Other referees that is.

Blogs are a writing lubricant. Like every lubricant they can be overdone, but what they do is provide light relief.
Blog writing exercises the mind, gets you in the mood to write. It forces you to think about a specific topic, possibly even science... It forces you to go read up on stuff. Comments sometimes force you to review critically what you wrote, or fact check.
Blogging is something to do to break the transition from proposal preparation, through code writing, to doing the dreaded referee mandated revisions... it can occasionally be fun (well, can't have that).

The Catch?
It takes time. No denying that.
So, if The More You Write, The More You Write, In Moderation of Course, where is the time coming from.

Well, there is the stereotype, pushed by Street Tough Real Reporters (mostly Texas A&M journalism majors...), of the cheeto munching pajama clad geek blogger with no life...
But I, and many people I know with blogs, actually have lives. Honest we do.

For me, unfortunately, the time is coming out of reading. I am reading less, given my real life constraints, and blogging is one of the factors that reduce reading time.
Which contradicts what I said before, but in a sensible way. Blogs focus reading on particular topics. I have less time now to do free association reading.
This is self-limiting. Much as giving too many talks eliminates time to write papers, leading to fewer invitations to give talks. So lack of random reading limits the input for random blogging.
Not a problem for single topic blogs, but refreshingly self-regulating for the average random ramble blog.

And here endeth the sermon.

PS if you blog, and your output is non-zero, you will say something stupid, maybe lots of stupid things.
And it is public and archived, for the whole world to see, forever.
But it really is ok, mostly. You might even still get to be President one day - 30 years from now it will be like having smoked dope in the early 70s. Embarrassing, slightly passe, but not to be seriously held against you. Just be brazen about it.

Professor Ron Crossland

I just heard Professor Ronald Crossland (Classics, University of Sheffield) died in Cambridge late last month.

After his retirement from Sheffield he was a member of King's College, where he became a good friend of ours, we frequently dined together, both at College and privately.

He was a fascinating man, one these classically educated englishmen with broad interests and razor sharp tongue, one night at High Table, he delivered one of the two all-time verbal take downs I have ever heard.

Before becoming an academic he was an officer in the British Army, he served behind enemy lines in the former Yugoslavia and was badly injured (in Africa I believe), and bore visible scars from his service.

On one of his round-the-world trips in later years he stopped for several days to stay with us in central Pennsylvania. Among other things he finally spurred us to take a day to tour Gettysburg, which was fascinating. We still have the rest of the gin bottle obtained for the occasion, and probably the spare tonic bottle too.

Funeral is on monday - drinks at the Isaac Newton on Castle Hill after the service - anyone who happens to be there, have either a G&T or stout.

He was brave enough to eat shark when offered, gracious enough to be nice about it (and the brennivín to go with it), and sensible enough to decline a second round...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Adventures in Parenting

So with little ones, there are always surprises.
And I don't mean the normal dings, like tonights over-enthusiastic book reading sending a sharp corner into my left eyeball.
And the time I was wedged fully clothed sideways across a full bathtub, holding a dripping crying munchkin above my head is quite understandable, it wold just take too much time to explain properly. I still haven't figured how I split my lip in the process though.

But, and let this be a warning to, er, both of you... this one is harder to explain.

See, the Big Kid has this beaded string, medium sized plastic beads.
For obscure and irrelevant reasons, they were double looped across my forehead (think Hippie headband).
So, the Munchkin decided to acquisition these, and grabs them, but only gets one loop of the strand.
The beads naturally slide to the nearest potential minimum, namely the bridge of my nose, and then he pulls, hard (did I mention he is fiendishly strong...), tightening the string and the beads pinch my eyelids shut.
Then, some sudden noise, or something, not sure what, makes him let got, but with a complicated twist knotting the string.

So there I am, in some discomfort, can't see, he is on the bed, somewhere, and the Big Kid is debating whether to laugh or go get mummy.
Fortunately, my Boy Scout reflexes kick in and I got the knot untied without resorting either to the Knife (dangerous given the situation) or the Wife (humiliating, given the situation).

So, moral of the story: always know where the blunt scissors are and don't wear things as headbands unless they were certified for such use by the manufacturer...

Tip o' the Hat

Nick Anthis at Scientific Activist

Blew the story that Mr Deutsch, National Public Affairs spokesman at NASA PAO had a forged resume.
Mr Deutsch has resigned.
That is almost a shame, since it spares Griffin from having to decide to fire him.

The Elephant in the Room

Ok, one more riff on the NASA budget - just opinion.

Hubble refurbishment is hurting space science.
Not because it is a bad thing to do, but because the money is being taken out each year and spent, for several years in a row. That's $150-200 million each year, cumulatively enough to build a new major mission.
NASA needs to piss or get off the pot on this.

Earmarks hurt: for some reason Space Science within NASA gets disproportionately stung by earmarks.
If you want to spend more, the Congress needs to authorize more money. You can't take money out of the lines and still think actual science gets done.

Big project cost overruns, JWST in particular, are devastating (duh...).
NASA has very good cost models by now, they know about cost overruns, budgets include large reserves, which are proportionately larger for the larger projects.
I do not know what is going on: either the project management is completely failing, in which case the Project Scientists need to go take some lessons from our neighbouring communities; or, the aerospace contractors are bullshitting on the proposals.
NASA does need to put in real penalty clauses on large aerospace contracts and stop swallowing some of the crap they're hit with.

Solar and Sun-Earth connection programs did really well... almost like someone high up really likes those programs and protected them. Hm.
To be fair, they do important bread'n'butter science, with real life applications, and they seem to be good about doing small and medium sized missions that launch on time and budget (I'm sure there are counterexamples, maybe they're just better about keeping quiet about screwups).

BUT: Exploration is the Elephant.
For decades NASA was screwed, because the Shuttle cost too much (and ISS also), but they couldn't replace it.
Any effort to develop new launchers would be eaten by year-to-year crisis and shuttle overruns.
Letting Exploration raid the Science budget did not help, it just gave Shuttle more food.
BUT, putting Crewed Exploration Vehicle and Constellation development into the Science line is not an improvement.
There is not enough new money to actually pay for those developments, so they are cutting into the science budgets.
And if there are any(hah!) CEV cost overruns, it will now come out of existing science budgets. More science cuts in effect, probably in mid-year.



Every year now NASA has been given grandiose new goals: Beyond Einstein, Moon/Mars, Replace Shuttle.
Good. But you have to actually provide actual funding that is enough to carry out these goals.
Beyond Einstein is now effectively dead as a program. It was a Presidential State of the Union (2003) initiative.
Mars is delayed on every front, and human flight to Mars is effectively indefinitely deferred. Astrobiology and Extrasolar Planets are crippled by the 2007 budget request. The Moon return is a joke.
And you can't replace the Shuttle unless you either bite the bullet and shut it down (yes, the loss of capacity is potentially disastrous for US national policy - as opposed to space science - as it could become permanent), OR you provide enough funding to ramp up a new proper launcher while keeping the old stuff going.
That is it. Those are the only actual choices.
I don't care if NASA builds new launchers, relies on Libertarians in Space, or buys the Brave New Launchers from Falcon or Kistler or Paul Allen, but either do it properly, or just stop the whole thing. Now.

Of course Congress has not yet had a say, but at this point I wouldn't even care to predict the sign of any appropriation changes they make, much less the magnitude...

Consistency is so underrated.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Departments of E

DoE budget summary here I'm not going to read the whole thing.

$20 billion cut from the total! Wow.

Lets see - $2billion cut from high school programs zeroed out but about $1.4 billion back in

$5 billion cut from Pell grants.

$18 billion cut from Federal Student Loans. Hrmph.

Anyone know what that is about - are they zeroing out loan guarantees, or are they expecting a program to be self-sustaining through repayment of old loans?

This looks like a budget language game on loan guarantees. Someone else out there must understand this and can explain it with less work.

Energy has Science Office up $600 million.
Most of the budget is still nukes
Environmental Management is cut further - don't know if this is a real cut or ramp down of superfund clean up of old nuke sites. Maybe not EPA has superfund clean up increasing despite overall cuts, mostly in Clean Water iniatives.

USGS is cut a bit bio and water takes the brunt

NOAA is interesting - the 2007 request is larger than the 2006 request but less than the 2006 actual. More games. 10% cut or increase depending on how you look at it.

Smithsonian is up. NEA takes a small cut.

Cool Dark Matter

Paul Cook has more on the Mystery of Not-So-Cold Dark Matter over on Tangent Space

I have to confess that I was expecting this, and am looking forward to the paper.
Gerry is a former collaborator and I've talked to him about the mystery of the dwarf spheroidals.

We also have a proposed SIM Key Project to nail this down, although if SIM is descoped he project might not be doable, or more likely will be bumped by the local astrometry and planet hunts which will take more time on a smaller telescope.

Short version: dwarf spheroidals show evidence of a disproportionately high fraction of dark matter; this is expected since their gravitational potential is shallow, so baryons(normal matter) are easily expelled, by say type II supernovae, and thus star formation is interrupted or halted.

But, if you look at them in detail, two things jump out - there are too few dwarf galaxies, by ~ 2 orders of magnitude, and their properties cut off abruptly.
Simplest explanation is the Cold Dark Matter is not cold. Rather it has a residual irreducable velocity dispersion of ~ 10 km/sec, corresponding to O(104) K, and a scale of ~ 300 pc and mass of ~> 3d7 solar masses.
Or equivalently a characteristic density cut off.

Which is peculiar.

Might be we're missing something about baryon cooling and there are a lot of lower mass baryon free dwarfs out there ("lumpy halos"), or we're getting data on the physics of Cold Dark Matter.

Some ideas about that, but not in a blog.

Mountain High

Data mining is frighteningly effective some times...
In addition to the "isn't it time you booked your trip to California" and the "Islands getaway special" solicited commercial e-mail that hits my mailbox right around this time of year, I just got this...

6 meters of snow!?! this year

and wouldn't you know, not only do this year's Aspen Winter Workshops suck in topic (ok, your tasted my vary, I got mine), but we haven't had ANY snow here since Christmas day.


Science Budget - retrospective

Well, mixed bag on reflection, with some worrying trends.

First of all: NSF did quite well.

Physics is getting more money, though with the new money earmarked for particles (and a little bird whispered to me that what is not LHC related will be astroparticle... ICECUBE?) and more committment to interdisciplinary programs like ITR, there may be less money for PI grants and ongoing projects.

Facilities did well, and instrumentation will be going.
NVO looks good.
LIGO is rolling.

On the face of it, there will be new money for astronomy PI grants, which would be a major relief.
We're talking maybe 100 new grants each year, at most, on top of what 500-1000 current grants?

The money for LSST and GSMT on top of ALMA is welcome, though to ramp up these new starts and accommodate other major facility projects in the pipeline (aLIGO anyone?) will need continued increase in funding.

NASA: well, good news is that there is lots more GSRFs - so 2nd and 3rd year grad students - apply for NASA graduate student research fellowships now. Also new undergrad fellowships.

Bad news: no new missions for 5+ years.
Current missions stretched and/or descoped unless they're already through the gate and near the finish line.
Scheduled shutdown of several major observatories after nominal life - this may change pending senior review and Congress appeals.

The reduction in MODA (mission operation and data analysis) funds and GO (guest observation) funds will sharply cut the number of new postdoc positions.
The cut in the "Universe Research" and "Solar System Research" funds will sharply cut postdoc funds even further.
These are the lines that fund the ROSES call for proposal items, all the lines are there now, but there is not enough money to keep them going, so either whole lines will be cut, or there will be very few selections per line.
Remember these budgets have to cover ongoing multiyear committments (typically 3 years) and so a 20% cut in funding really means a 50% cut in new grants.

So Astrophysics Data, Astrophysics Theory, Long Term Space Astrophysics and other lines that fund general postdocs at universities will have less money and fewer proposals.

Good thing is that there are a lot more fellowship postdocs now than a few years ago, and some of the new stuff will fund junior researchers, but life is going to be very rough for people working on NASA mission data analysis in a few years.
We're going to have a paradox of a lot of well funded grad students working on analysis of x-ray, infra-red and optical data, and then all of those resources will disappear just as they graduate and look for jobs. People will be scrambling picking through archival data or looking to switch fields.

Good fields to consider: computational simulations, that is hot area for now with lots of new hardware, at some point they'll have to pay for people to use it as well; and, database mining - lots of NVO and survey science coming up.

Don't bother switching to bio - NIH and CDC just got cut for real.

As for 100,000 new science teachers - this sounds about right

'Course Congress is an independent government agency who control the actual budget and they still have to have their say in the election year...

Monday, February 06, 2006

If al Qaeda had a sense of humour

It is indeed unfortunate that this NSA domestic surveillance program was revealed (is that where the Alpha EV7 production line is being shipped to, 'cause those chips are sweet and I want one... actually I want about 512), because, as was noted today, otherwise al Qaeda might forget that the US can electronically intercept communications
but the real danger is that al Qaeda might mischievously spoof the program...

There are already rumours of people receiving unsolicited al Qaeda spam (and I don't just mean the secret codes apparently included in Viagra spam (those NSA guys are good, I thought that spam had no information content at all...). This of course is bad, because it might make innocent people, like say liberal politicians or academics, suspects that the NSA feels should be monitored. And that would just be wrong and unAmerican.

But, al Qaeda could really wreak havok if they started doing mean pranks, like phoning former Coalition Provisional Authority employees, using cell phones known to be compromised, and leaving cryptic messages on answering machines - like "the game is afoot" or "confirming: pizza with ham AND pineapple?". If answered in person they could utter fake identification codes, like "shame Seattle lost" or "should have been the Colts", interspersed with "you don't think they're monitoring your phone, do you?"

I mean, clearly one of the groups most likely to be infiltrated by 5th columnists are CPA employees who went "native", or were bribed, and it would be very confounding if al Qaeda were to divert suspicion to many innocent hard working patriotic citizens in order to obscure their true activities.

Fortunately, it is very clear that al Qaeda does not have a sense of humour.

NSF budget request

Here is the agency report on the Request

MPS division

"...Emphasisis o nstrengthening investments across theMPSportfolio. Themes to be
emphasized include: Physics of the Universe, Fundamental Mathematical and
Statistical Science, Physical Sciences at the Nanoscale, Cyberinfrastructure and the
Cyberscience it Enables, and theMolecular Basisof Life Processes. Includes a $15
million investment to reinforce NSF support for university-based research in
elementary particle physics."

Particle physics has done well this year. Bastards ;-)

Astronomical Sciences gets an extra $15 million - that is 7.7%
Physics gets an extra $15 million - that is 6.6% - that mean ALL the new physics money is for particles?

Anyway, NSF not looking too bad, depending on how the "PoU" statements will be interpreted at the program level

Multidisciplinary gets 10%, but not much actual money. Nano and quantum stuff I expect.

Winners: NVO, Gemini instruments, GSMT (30m telescope)

Physics to interact with Astro...

Physics of the Universe activities look promising...

LIGO and Gemini get more money

Centers are up $8 million

LSST is in

Extra $10 million for PI grants??? That would be very nice.

ALMA is in

NASA - Astrobiology


SMD 2-6: "The Solar System Research Program includes a reduction in Astrobiology research and some grant funding."

Lets dig into the main budget...

Fewer new grants and research astrobiology and other SSE science discipline awards are funded
in this budget than were reflected in the FY 2006 request.
Changes From FY 2006

Solar System Research is cut $60 million that is almost a 20% cut.
This is the university and lab line for research, mission data analysis and blue sky stuff.
Down $80 million from 2005.

That is big cuts in ROSES request for proposals within planetary and astrobiology lines.


NASA - end of the University

More NASA budget...

Page SMD 3-42:

Changes from FY 2006 (Universe Research)

Fewer new grants and research awards will be selected

Oh, and HETE-2 and RXTE are to be shut down.
They also show Swift to be shut down early 2007 and Chandra in 2010, I hope those are nominal mission life plans, not actual dates.

Biologial and Physical Research have become Human Systems Research
It is cut by more than 50% in the process.
Basically all applied "astronaut life support" stuff now.

SpaceGrant and EPSCoR are cut

GSRP increases and there is a new USRP program.

There are some games being played, doing comparisons with requests in previous budgets as opposed to actual funding in previous budgets.

MUREP is cut significantly

"Informal Education" (ie Museums/Planetariums/Science Centers) will do well. - Makes sense, they can be spread around to Congressional districts, and they are anecdotally effective

NASA - end of the Universe

Here is full NASA budget in detail

Universe begins in the main section, page 40 (SMD 2-40)

They're looking at near constant dollar funding for '07 and '08 (ie effective cuts) and 10% cuts in the out years!

OK: Navigator (ie the TPF and planet finder line) is cut about 12% with promised ramp up in 2009.
Basically that would be when HST development ends and HST had MODA funding only (assuming HST survives till 2009)

Discovery and Explorer lines are cut - there is a competition for a new Discovery mission now - looks like one will be Solar System and one NOT Universe, and then NOTHING until 2012. So good luck to whoever gets it, Kepler will be the last mission for the next five years under this plan. See page 3-32

Universe Research (ie actual science research done at universities and labs) is level funded for two years and then projected to slide in the out years for a net 10-15% cut in constant dollars over the next 5 years.

Beyond Einstein is ramped up from $14 million to $21 million - less than 2005 funding.
So that keeps the labs and science definition teams alive, but makes no progress towards actual missions until a 2009 ramp up.

Funny a LOT of things are going to ramp up in 2009.

The commentary is explicit: TPF is not indefinitely postponed.
Keck Outriggers are abandoned.
SIM is delayed by 3 years and "replanned" (ie descoped)

JWST is 2013 at the earliest
SOFIA is zeroed out?! WTF is going on there, can someone clue me in to what "on-going project concerns" are?
Only last month I was told in downtown DC that SOFIA was go and people should prepare for data.

LISA and Con-X are indefinitely postponed.
SNAPJDEM pre-development studies are it for Beyond Einstein line.

For those who don't remember, Beyond Einstein was a State of the Union 2003 initiative backed by the White House, in the last 3 years essentially all the components have been indefinitely postponed. JDEM is a DoE mission with serious backing from them and NASA forced on board (it is a good mission concept).

ESA will be absolutely furious beyond reason about LISA postponement, they just got a memorandum of understanding on that and they are proceeding towards a 2013 launch, unless something happened in the last couple of weeks.

The ramp down in Universe Research is very, very scary, Lot of people are going to be totally screwed.

NASA details

NASA summary budget

Aeronautics cut 18%
Education cut 5.6%
Advanced Business Systems cut 31%
Innovative Partnerships cut 8%
Columbia high end computing gets $32 million - not bad

The Workforce summary is not cheering, it seems to be saying they need to fire 5% or more of the workforce

The bit at the end about management of real estate assets is also interesting.

Ok - Explorations Systems - UP 76% - this is CEV and Constellations development (not Con-X, sorry)
Earth-Sun - UP 2%
Solar System - UP 2%
Universe - UP 0.1% - the decimal is in the right place there

Hm. $336 for HST MODA, and "prep for STS servicing in early '08". I will be very, very surprised if HST is serviced by the Shuttle in 2008. That's $1-200 million down the drain.

$443 million for JWST development.

GLAST and Kepler are in good shape.
SIM gets just under $100 million.

Big question is what happens to university programs (I'll talk about recently announced ROSES-06 Real Soon Now) and future missions like SNAP, LISA, Con-X and TPF
There would be no room for a ramp up for these if I read the budget right.

De facto cut for Universe, and that is before the Congressional earmarks which will knock out another $100 million++

NSF 2007 budget request

NSF 2007 budget request is up at OMB

Nano up 8.6% - 50 new university and lab teams. Hm, they got about $30 million extra, so we're talking ~ $600k per year teams, that is small university lab stuff.

ITR gets 11% more - they were heavily oversubscribed last year. Lots of people fishing for hardware and software tools development from all the divisions. About $80 million extra. Nothing to sneeze at.

Arctic/Antarctic research looks to do well. Go Dome C.

NSF gets 3.6% more for K-12 science education. That's really level funding.

Hey, FastLane gets a plug - sounds like they won't have to switch to the piece o'crap abomination that is
I also parse it to read that the other science agencies will be allowed to use FastLane.
I heard NASA is not too keen on FastLane, they have additional requirements and FastLane "grew" in pieces, but it'd be a lot better than if they are made to give up SYSEYFUS/NSPIRES

Ok: 8% overall request increase for research.
$50 million extra for major facilities, so that will keep flowing at some finite pace

Here is the detailed budget request

Extra $65 million for Math and Physical Sciences, that's just over 6% increase...
So, big questions is: does that mean after MPS share of ITR programs and nano is factored in, is there a net increase for MPS or is all the new money to support those initiatives. Can't tell from those budget docs, they don't say how interdisciplinary programs are pro rated between divisions. If it is in proportion to total funding than MPS is getting a bare inflation matching increase after the new initiatives are fulfilled. If they are disproportionately in MPS, then MPS general programs are actually taking a cut.

Ah, I see, there is a new "informal education" program with $200 million, but they cancel two existing education programs with almost the same budget. So education funding is shuffeled around, but suffers a net cut.

Not A Science Agency

Well, well. NASAwatch has a pointer to the OMB budget - they put it up before the NASA announcements.

NASA 2007 budget request

Not good.

Science is CUT about 10%

Exploration Systems (ie Moon/Mars tech development) is moved out of Exploration into Science, and its budget is doubled.
So even if there is a "firewall" again between Exploration Operations and Science, the Exploration Systems development is under the same line as Science and Aeronautics.

Given the likely level of earmarks, Science and Aeronautics is probably looking at a 20-25% effective cut, after inflation.

Detailed budget is here

Biological and Physical Research is zeroed out.
Aeronautics looks like it wil take a 30% cut.

'course the Senate will still have a say, they might add some bits and pieces back.

There is explicit language for SIM and JWST, so what will give?
Looks like the Solar people will be in good shape, but if I parse the language correctly, Earth Science people will get nothing, since they already have lots of satellites, with, like instruments and stuff.

Short version: Griffin is getting the ramp up for CEV and Lunar probes, everything else is cut, savagely in places.
If Congressional earmarks are at the level they've been in last couple of years, then the budget does not add up and something big will have to go.

Secrets of Dark Matter

Grauniad has an interesting article on dark matter constraints by me ol' mucker Prof Gerry Gilmore

Short versions: kinematic constraints show CDM has dispersion ~ 10 km/sec, irreducable, and characteristic scales of ~ 300 pc.

So it is not very cold.


National Public Affairs

Mr George Deutsch, NASA public affairs hot shot is one of three contacts for "National Public Affairs" at the NASA HQ PAO.

Top billing on the web site

Be interesting to know how his background compares with Erica Hupp and Dwayne Brown and whether the latter two are also Presidential appointees.

It would also be interesting to know if the PAO offices at, say, USGS, EPA, NOAO NOAA or NIH have new direct appointees at high levels in their offices with White House liasion roles...

[argh - NOAA, not NOAO - don't think Kitt Peak is really on the White House PR radar, yet...]

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"This is more than a science issue..."

Seen on Atrios, original on NYTimes...

There's been a slowly brewing storm over NASA PAO people wanting to vet all NASA communiques on climate science, starting with Dr Hansen.
The issue apparently has gone beyond that:

``... The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most." ''

It is also midnight, don't think I'd better comment right now.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Keck change

Taft Armandroff is new Keck director

iPod iChing - monday, bloody monday

It is friday, and time for some divination...

Oh, mighty iPod, whose wisdom exceeds that of our humblest elected representatives...
I know you do not want to meddle in the affairs of humans, for they are quarrelsome, quick to anger, and fundamentally unpredictable.
But... (and there is always a but...), we gots to know.

Monday, are we getting good news from NASA and NSF on the funding front, and will the associated critters-in-charge actually come through for real, this time?

Whoosh goes the randomizer.

  • The Covering: Allur Matur - María Björk

  • The Crossing: Under African Skies - Paul Simon

  • The Crown: Young Ned of the Hill - Pogues

  • The Root: Bread and Circuses - Billy Bragg

  • The Past: Taktu til við að Tvista - Stuðmenn

  • The Future: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life - Monty Pythoh

  • The Questioner: Keep it Precious - Melissa Ehteridge

  • The House: Hann Tumi fer á fætur - Bjö:rgvin Halldórsson

  • The Inside: Eensy Weensy Spider - Twin Sisters

  • The Outcome: Fantaisie de Concert - Carmen - New York Philharmomic

#11 is Autumn - Vivaldi; #12 is I Will not be Denied - Bonnie Raitt.

Wow. I am in awe.
"Allur Matur" is a ditty for kids, that you should put ALL your food in your tummy (ie waste not)
"Taktu til..." is a pure dance song, basically "do the twist"
"Hann Tumi..." is the song of the small shepherd boy with dreams of being king, but the final verse reminds us there is a missing element to fulfill this dream

The Root is just so sweet and I liek the Questioner, again.
But the Inside clinches it, the classic sysiphean song of persistence, setbacks and futility.

But take The Future to heart...

Wise is the iPod.

As always, the Key as explained by Sean

Always Look on the Bright Side - Eric Idle

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing.

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.

So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

And always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the right side of life...
(Come on guys, cheer up!)
Always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the bright side of life...
(Worse things happen at sea, you know.)
Always look on the bright side of life...
(I mean - what have you got to lose?)
(You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!)
Always look on the right side of life...