Sunday, December 27, 2009


I spent my day hanging out with Greg and David, who is visiting from Switzerland. (Thanks for the chocolate!) It was a lovely Sunday, and a big chunk of it entailed sipping warm beverages while enjoying this view. Hope y'all had a good day, too!

From Winter 2009-2010

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy holidays!

Hope you're having a lovely and peaceful day!

From Winter 2009-2010

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Today is my 39th birthday. Thanks to Greg and friends and family for making it a lovely day. There are a lot of new books for me to read and a cake to indulge in. Yay!

I must admit to feeling a little weird about turning 39. Last year of my 30s. A milestone year coming up. It seems intimidating. Maybe I should view it as a challenge to branch out a little, break up some of my routines and explore new activities. Here's to hoping the year ahead is a great one! Thanks to all of you for your continued friendship!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Exciting news - Cassini catches the reflection off a lake (of hydrocarbons) on Saturn's largest moon, Titan:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not many words...

... but about a million stars. Looking towards the center of our Milky Way, one of many lovely images from ESO's new VISTA telescope:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why would they laugh?

Last night, a student waited until all the other students left to ask me a question. He wanted to know what one had to do to become an astronaut. He said he waited til his classmates left because he was afraid they'd laugh at him. Is it just me, or does that make you sad, too?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Little ups

I am a content person. I don't experience many lows, but neither do I experience many highs. My emotional state is mellow, almost all of the time. So I was caught off guard on Wednesday when I had an unusually giddy day. Why? Because I treated myself to a hot chocolate after getting out of bed early to run an errand, and my drink was served in this:

Yes, I was rendered completely happily silly by a Starbucks holiday cup. Plus it was foggy! And I was wearing a stripey sweater! I guess it's good that I'm so easily amused. Methinks I'll have to enjoy many red cups of happiness this season.

Another thing that makes me happy - getting the Sports Guy's autograph tonight. I'm looking forward to reading The Book of Basketball!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Taste of Youth

I spent the past weekend visiting with family in Sacramento. I had a good time hanging out with the folks, but they TIRED me out! My voice is still rough from all the yelling to be heard over the familial cacophony. Still, even though I need a weekend to recover from my weekend, it was good to go home. I don't go home enough, as my mother is sure to tell you. ;)

One of the highlights of my trip home was indulging in my first Lou's jumbo cheeseburger in over two decades. The place has been there for about 50 years, and it was a favorite family treat. I grew up only a few blocks away. A few months ago, I was overcome by a huge craving for this burger of my youth, the one my mother would bring me to tempt me to eat while I was sick.

The place looked the same:

It smelled the same. It tasted the same.

It's been too long. I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mars Art

I've been remiss in my posting of pretty pictures of space. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the beauty created by dust devils swirling over the surface of Mars. I've been enchanted by this photo since I first saw it last week. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A few links

This article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker demonstrates why I feel guilty about loving football so much:

I saw this video mentioned on several sites this week and finally succumbed to the temptation to watch it. It's worth the first few goofy seconds, I promise.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Desert Behavior

Greg and I ventured up to Indian Wells to watch a preseason NBA game between the Suns and Warriors. The Suns were the host team, and the crowd was definitely a Phoenix crowd. I've missed going to Suns' games since we moved away from Phoenix, so seeing our team again was definitely a treat. It was a festive atmosphere and a lovely way to spend an evening outdoors in the cool desert air. I was reminded of how frenetic people can get while diving for free t-shirts. Gee, 50ish man, enjoy your victory over the nine-year old much? But still, it was a great evening.

From Fall 2009

We also enjoyed the trip up to Indian Wells, going through parts of Southern California we hadn't seen before:

View Larger Map

Rocky, shrubby, a little piney, and mostly empty of people. Intriguing little roadside stands for us to investigate in the future. Several places advertising "Beer to Go". Fun hairpin turns! On the way back today, we stuck to the main roads and saw freakier things like conspiracy theory billboards. The whole Palm Springs area makes me want to floor the accelerator every time. Sixteen hours there to see the Suns was worth it, though!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Ugly Truth

Paul Krugman discusses the danger to education during these rough economic times, with a paragraph devoted to California's community college system:

For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on the plight of California’s community college students. For generations, talented students from less affluent families have used those colleges as a stepping stone to the state’s public universities. But in the face of the state’s budget crisis those universities have been forced to slam the door on this year’s potential transfer students. One result, almost surely, will be lifetime damage to many students’ prospects — and a large, gratuitous waste of human potential.

I'm grateful that someone is willing to state the ugly truth... that the cuts to education now will have lifelong ramifications to our students. Those of us in the classrooms are trying our best, but I had to turn away a few dozen students from my classes because I just couldn't add anymore. Those who claim the recession is coming to an end are ignoring how much of state budget allocations were backfilled by federal stimulus money. No furloughs or layoffs in my district yet, but we're expecting the worse for next year, which means worse will come for students who are already struggling to obtain the level of education they need to compete for a still-dwindling supply of jobs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Brief catch-up

Busy with work, exhilarated by NIN concert, disconsolate over last NIN concert, sick with allergies, visited with Carl, missing Greg, winging well-wishes northwesterly, giddy with Greg, awed by Saturn:

from Cassini

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Strange, but true

I have had photographs published in magazines.

That is a true statement, although I bet most of you find it surprising. Me, too, quite frankly. On a few occasions, Greg needed to submit an author photo and chose ones that I took. So strange as it might sound, my photographic work has been published.

I guess all of us have strange, but true, aspects. That's one of mine. Yours?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Too close

The Station Fire has come very close to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Wish luck to the observatory, its people, and the firefighters defending it, please. It's going to be a rough night there.

View from the solar telescope, looking west at 8:00 pm PDT:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to school

The first week of classes is over for me. The classrooms are bursting, and I hate turning away folks. The sad truth is that our budget doesn't allow us to take more students. They ask me, "Don't you want our money?" A perfectly valid question. Here's the answer: the student fees don't pay all of our bills. Despite the fact that the cost of the community colleges in California went up by 30% this semester, it means they're still only paying $26 per credit. It's the best deal in higher education. However, it doesn't generate enough revenue to pay for salaries and utilities and facilities and equipment and so on. That's where the State comes in, but they haven't been so good about paying recently. In addition, the State puts a cap on how many students they will fund. If we go over that cap, we actually LOSE money.

At the start of the week, in our three-college district, there were 11,000 people on waitlists.

In other years, I would allow more people into my classes, but we're in danger of not being able to afford to offer summer classes at this point, because the State LOWERED the cap this year while enrollments are growing. We have already cut about 10% of our course offerings. The good news is that enrollment is also UP about 10%... the courses we are offering are full. It's a good feeling to know that we are serving more students, but it's an awful feeling to know that we aren't serving ALL who want an education.

Most students have been handling the stress well, but there have been some incidents of frustration that required police involvement. Nothing in my department, though... hopefully that trend will hold through next week, as next Friday is the last day that students can add classes. But think about that, will you? People desperate for an education being turned away. Go celebrate that you got Cash for your Clunker... the rest of us are dealing with a very sad reality that will have repercussions extending far into the future.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer recap

My summer unpaid-voluntary-leave-of-absence is coming to an end. (Saying "vacation" would make it sound like I got paid, doesn't it?) I can't believe classes start tomorrow. I spent this weekend in coffee houses prepping my courses, but I'm still not emotionally prepared for summer to be over. What did I do with my summer?:

  • Visited a handful of museums in Balboa Park.
  • Went on one trip, a very nice visit to old haunts in Arizona.
  • Read 15 books.
  • Spent a lot of time in meetings with architects designing a new science building for the college.
  • Steadily worked on curriculum for the upcoming academic year.
  • Wrote many letters to state legislators about the budget situation.
  • Visited a Congressional office to discuss NASA and NSF funding and relationship to education.
  • Became a tourist attraction for the evening that I performed the planetarium shows at the R.H. Fleet Center in Balboa Park.
  • Fan-girled all over Comic-Con.
  • Saw a musical.
  • Discovered new beaches.
  • Ate at many new restaurants.
  • Finally found chocolate cream pie.
  • Hosted Greg's folks for a weekend.
  • Participated in Laurie Halse Andersen's "Write For Fifteen Minutes A Day"-challenge.

I make this list because I always feel like I don't accomplish enough over the summer. Looking at this list, there are glaring absences, goals that just didn't get done. Hopefully, I won't wait til next summer!

Monday, August 17, 2009


After a nice summer, it's back to work for me. Classes start one week from today, and I am not prepared. The first of many meetings occurred today, none related to getting ready for next Monday. I was stressed and bemoaning the end of summer, but tonight we went to eat seafood and walk along the bay. We walked on the jetty and saw where the bay meets the sea, which makes me want to jump on a ship and sail the world. Living in my neighborhood isn't so bad, eh?

From Summer 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yet more pretty

Our space program just keeps providing the pretty this week. Victoria Crater on Mars, from MRO/HiRISE:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Looking up

A few astro notes:

The Perseid meteor shower is peaking tonight and tomorrow:

Also, Saturn is at its equinox, and the Cassini spacecraft is sending back some lovely images. Here's a raw image I just pulled:

And here's an image from a few days ago, seemingly showing an object plowing through the rings:


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Big Toy

Today I did yet another thing I've never done before: I presented the planetarium show at the R. H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. I was honored to have the opportunity to geek out over the night sky with such appreciative audiences. I've done public talks before, but these were certainly the largest - the planetarium seats three hundred! The planetarium staff was wonderful to work with, and did I mention I got to play with a planetarium?!?! Toy!

I was impressed tonight, as always, with the quantity and quality of questions I received. Young and old alike, nary a bad question in the bunch. I'm reminded that I need to do more public outreach, because the public really does want to be reached.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A new thing

I did something today that I'd never done before. Earlier this year, the American Astronomical Society called upon its members to volunteer to visit their local Congressional offices to advocate for space research. So today I met with a staffer, doing just that. I focused on the contributions that NASA makes to education, research, and inspiring people to pursue STEM careers. I don't know if I did any good, but I don't think I did any harm, and at least I did something!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I had a lot of fun at Comic-Con. I'm already looking forward to next year. Two Battlestar Galactica highlights:

  • Attending a Music of Battlestar Galactica concert. Absolutely amazing. I'm a huge fan of the music, and I'm so impressed at how well Bear McCreary has translated his scores for the smaller, very talented, ensemble. It was also fun to see members of the BSG cast, and Katee Sackhoff was adorable playing the piano for, well, you know.
  • Just as K and I were looking at James Callis, he gave us a "oh yeah, the chicks dig Gaius" look. He instantly switched into the character and sent us into giggles. So much so that we bolted, not believing we'd been reduced to such behavior. I still giggle when thinking about it.

Other highlights involved hanging out with friends, seeing Robots in Orbit shirts on everyone, sighting random celebrities, and meeting Eoin Colfer. My feet are happy it's over, but I wish the next one wasn't a year off.

One of my goals for 2009 was "to do something I've never done before". The upcoming several days will present two opportunities towards achieving that goal. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Looking back at Apollo 11

They aren't superheroes. They are intelligent, determined, disciplined, and immensely competent men who went to the Moon with a legion of brilliant and dedicated people behind them. That's worthy of being remembered today, 40 years later, and every day.

Apollo 11 crew with Chris Kraft:

Apollo 11 crew with President Obama:

(All images from

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I wasn't even alive for the Apollo 11 Moon landing. In fact, I was not yet 2 years old when we last left the Moon. That's a long time ago. I've often thought that the people of Apollo (and Mercury and Gemini) deserved better from us. Where is our Moonbase? When is our Mars Expedition? Why are we still here? The legacy of Apollo is a great one, but what will our legacy be? As our new NASA administrator Charles Bolden pointed out, he used to go to schools and the students wanted to be astronauts. Now, he says, they want to go into business. Really? Instead of spaceships and exploration, our children dream of MBAs? Not if I have anything to do with it.

There are many commemorations of this 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing.

  • For the uber-geeky amongst you, I recommend the January 30, 1970 issue of Science, containing the first science articles from the mission.
  • NASA has released some newly restored videos from the Apollo 11 mission.
  • And then, there is, which is broadcasting the Apollo 11 mission "live" as it happened 40 years ago. Take a few moments to listen to it, will you? The back-and-forth between CapCom and the astronauts sounds like an epic poem. Even the static whispers promises of adventures and knowledge and grandeur just within our reach, if we try.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fourth of July

I had quite a lovely Fourth of July. It started off with a picnic by the bay with Greg - chicken, potato salad, chips, watermelon, pretty view, lovely weather. With all the people who have invaded our beach town, I'm glad that we can just walk to the beach. I think half of Arizona is here. Spent a quiet afternoon reading The Patriot Witch, which is appropriate material on this day. Tonight's dessert was red, white, and blue - strawberries and blueberries soaked in sugar and amaretto, poured over vanilla ice cream and cake, topped with whipped cream. After that, we decided to venture out into the neighborhood to watch fireworks. We passed by a house flying the Union Jack and remarked "Tories!" Fireworks started on the west side of the bay. Overheard comment: "I don't know how they can afford all the fireworks. They're just a small yacht club." That firework display ended as we reached the tip of the little peninsula that we live on. Next overheard comment, spoken as a challenge: "Alright, SeaWorld." Yup, we settled in to watch the fireworks from SeaWorld. A good show, I must admit. Watching the armada of boats going from the west bay to the east side of the bay to catch SeaWorld's show was almost as entertaining. All-in-all, a very nice Fourth of July in our neighborhood.

We live in an expensive area. In all seriousness, we pretty much live in a city park. Our rent is high, higher than we'd like. A day like today puts the rent in perspective, though. By the time we had our picnic, parking was scarce. A local gas station was offering spaces for $30 - yikes! We didn't have to drive to get to our destinations. We didn't have to spend $65 each to enjoy SeaWorld's fireworks. So the next time I pay rent, I'll try to grumble a little less.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

New view of the Moon

New images of the Moon from LROC were released today. If you go to this link and scroll all the way down, you can zoom in and see what 73 cm/pixel of the Moon looks like. Lovely. And some people think the Moon is boring.

Here's one of the press release images:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Back from the desert

I greatly enjoyed my week in Arizona, hanging out with friends and eating at old favorites and hiking amongst the beautiful outdoors. Here's one of my favorite photos from a hike in Sedona:

From Southwest Trip - June 2009

See whole album here:

Southwest Trip - June 2009

It's like looking at a different world, the beauty is so grand and exotic. One of these days I'll have to get back there when it isn't summer, because I had to keep my hikes short! It's good to be home, but part of me already wants to be on the road (and in my hiking shoes) again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Things I Miss

  • Exceptional colleagues.
  • Good friends.
  • Red rock country.
  • Best Starbucks ever.
  • Amazing desert sunsets.

From Southwest Trip - June 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dry heat

Back in Arizona. Hitting some of the old haunts. Carlsbad Tavern is as good and tasty as ever. Our old Starbucks has remodeled with many more outlets. And the temp isn't even 100 degrees! With low humidity! Strange the things the desert makes one grateful for.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I've been bizarrely productive this week. Cleaning, organizing, work stuff, car maintenance, car wash, ... even baked cookies! Makes me feel good, actually. I know I'm on vacation and I need to relax, but if I'm not productive, I feel all icky about myself.

Tomorrow, we're heading in an easterly direction. I'm looking forward to the trip, but would the desert please arrange to cool off a bit? Please?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cell phone manifesto

There used to be a big problem with cell phones ringing during class. That doesn't happen very often any more. Two reasons: 1) experience evolving into etiquette, and 2) the students are ALWAYS using their phones, so there is NO CHANCE for them to go off.

What am I blathering about? Students are now constantly texting or web-surfing on their phones. Up til this point, I hadn't cared. You want to ignore part of the class? Fine, I know it'll show up in your grade. However, for the first time, the correlation between attendance and performance has waned in my astronomy courses. Even the students who know it's rude to use the cell phone during class feel no remorse about jumping in and out of the classroom to use it. So now it has turned into a distraction for more than just the user. Which is funny, as you'd think the cell phone ringing would be more annoying, but it isn't. I have a couple of specific examples from this last semester that have motivated me to come up with a long, clear cell phone policy for my syllabi. Here's a first draft:


All electronic devices must be turned to “silent” before class starts. Cell phones should not be in use during the class period at any time. Usage includes answering the phone, making calls, sending and receiving text messages, browsing the internet, listening to music, taking or looking at photographs or using the phone as a calculator. If such usage is noted by the instructor, the student will be asked to leave class for the day.

Any usage of a cell phone during an exam will mean that the student is finished with the exam, and the exam must be turned in to the instructor at that time.

If there is an extenuating circumstance (ex: on-call at work, family emergency) that means that the student must be in contact via voice/text messaging, the student must inform the instructor at the beginning of the class period. Any voice/text messaging in that case must be conducted outside of the classroom. The student will be as silent as possible in this situation out of respect to fellow classmates and the instructor.

Comments? Suggestions? HELP!?!?! Sadly, this is now the longest part of the syllabus!!!!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday ramblings

It was a lovely day in Southern California, the type that makes you want to go outside and enjoy the public spaces before the Governator closes them all. Greg and I journeyed up to San Clemente, a beach town behind the Orange Curtain about 45 min north of San Diego. We had yummy Mexican food, ventured onto the fishing pier, and walked along a beachside trail.

From Summer 2009

From Summer 2009
It's good to know that there are still fun places to explore, that we've barely scratched the surface of what living in San Diego has to offer.

On the drive, we saw a truck marked Observatorio AstronĂ³mico Nacional, Baja California. I bet it was headed to the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena. It feels weird not to be there! I had contemplated going for a day this week, but the one-day registration fee was too rich for me! I probably won't be at the meeting in D.C. in January, but perhaps next summer in Miami I'll meet up with my astro peeps again.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

That makes me how old?

Tetris has turned 25 years old, all the media outlets tell me. That, um, dates me a bit. I recall spending many an hour in UCLA's Ackerman Union playing Tetris side-by-side with my beloved Kirsten. (If only I had spent as much time in the Physics Library!) Tetris reminds me of Monday nights, World Class Chocolate, and friendship. I look at it and am immediately transported back to my undergrad days. I still see undergrads playing Tetris and its imposters today, except now they play the game on their tricorders, or whatever the heck they call their electronic appendages nowadays. Guess I'm dated in more ways than one! ;)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Action vs. Inaction

Ah,summer break. I've been trying to develop an adequate balance of productivity and relaxation. So far, that's involved:

  • Reading Terry Pratchett's Nation, which is a wonderful, inspiring book.
  • Doing laundry.
  • Paying bills.
  • Whipping up a decadent macaroni and cheese.
  • Wandering around La Jolla.
  • Doing a survey of physics requirements at local four-year institutions.
  • Finishing up a story as part of my plan to write three stories this year.
  • Attempting to calculate the maximum vibrations for an astronomy observing platform on the new building. (Hints, anybody? Please?)
  • Sending pleas to my legislators about the proposed cuts to California state parks (closing 80%!) and blows to higher education. One proposal cuts the Cal Grant program completely. Another proposes raising community college fees 300%!
  • Finding ways to calm down about the previous bullet point.

My goal for tomorrow: to not sleep as late as I did today. It's all about balance, right?

Friday, May 29, 2009


I keep having dreams where I'm at the side of the stage during a Nine Inch Nails concert. The thought of this being the last tour and having seen them for the last time must have traumatized me worse than I thought!

I need a piece of chocolate cream pie. It's a very specific craving that has continued unabated for days. Hmm... must find chocolate cream pie.

And despite this being the first week of my summer vacation, I spent the entire day working. Am I nothing if not consistent?

Happy Weekend!

Saturday, May 23, 2009


This was quite a week! I attended two Nine Inch Nails concerts - one with Greg and the other up in Irvine with Aaron. There is reason to believe that this is the last tour, and thus these were my last NIN concerts. That thought makes me as sad as I was when Calvin and Hobbes ended.

From Spring2009

Last night was graduation, which made me weepy as always. Youngest graduate = 18. Oldest graduate = 68. Several countries were represented, and so were many without homes. I know at least one student who graduated never went to high school, and yet he now has a college degree. Community colleges really serve as a great opportunity for people who might otherwise fall through the cracks, and I'm proud to be a part of such an institution.

And then, of course, it was the Week of the Book. We caught glimpses of the book in the wild:

From NorseCode

And today there was a book-signing at Mysterious Galaxy:

From NorseCode

Then we finished off the day with celebratory ice cream! Whew! Hope you've all had as good a week!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Book Day!

Greg's first novel, Norse Code, hits the stores today. So exciting!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I really can't complain about yesterday. First of all, Greg cooked breakfast for us. Then we packed up and headed south (or just north of the border) to feast on mariscos and wander around a huge outlet mall in search of shoes. Seriously, San Ysidro is just north of the border. We were looking straight into Tijuana, seeing the Mexican flag and the border fence. I found the following juxtaposition disturbing:

From Spring2009

After shopping, we headed to Chula Vista to see Nine Inch Nails, on what is stated to be their last tour (for awhile, at least). Here's our view of the stage from our seats before the concert started:

From Spring2009

I take my NIN seriously. They played "Metal" and "I'm Afraid of Americans" - awesome. I was really sad when the concert ended, though. (Warning to Aaron: I might be an emotional mess at the concert in Irvine on Wednesday!)

An eventful, enjoyable Saturday, for sure. I hope y'all are having a great weekend!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fun Stuff

Wow, this past week went by so fast. I've been busy, with just one week left to go in the semester. Yay! I've also been managing to have a lot of fun. We went to see Star Trek again, IMAX this time, and still enjoyed it greatly. Then last night, we met up with Colleenky and others to see Jonathan Coulton with Paul and Storm. I'd only heard one JoCo song before and knew absolutely nothing about Paul and Storm, but really enjoyed the whole show. Quite different from the next concert I'll be attending. (Tomorrow.... eee!!!)

Greg's first novel, Norse Code, comes out on Tuesday. I am so excited! You should go read the first three chapters for free:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

And he also has a lovely short story recently posted for free, too: Last Son of Tomorrow


Sunday, May 10, 2009


Busy weekend:

  • lunch at The Bowery in Hollywood with friends
  • Star Trek at the Arclight , which is simply the best movie theater I've ever been to.
  • Loved loved loved Star Trek. Thanks to JJ Abrams and his team for not disrespecting The Original Series. We'll be seeing the movie again this week, and I can't remember the last time we wanted to see a movie for a second time in the theater.
  • Caught up with a group to help Aaron celebrate his birthday.
  • Woke up with a sore throat from talking to Riz across the table in such a loud environment. Enjoyed it, though!
  • Greatly approved of Greg's post about Mothers in Fantasy and how Amidala should have been so much better than she was.
  • Did the Mother's Day thing today.

And now to start the last two weeks of the semester! Woo! Hope y'all had a good weekend!

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's a book!!!!!!

I interrupt my usual academic blathering to squeak over the fact that I have held in my hands a copy of Greg's first novel, Norse Code (publication date 5/19/09). Pictures available here. Eee!!!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Not too good by half

Greg and I were in a used bookstore last week and overheard the following conversation:

Customer: How much is this book?

Proprietor: All books are half priced.

Customer: So how much is this book?

Proprietor: All books are half of the original price.

Customer (looking at the book): The original price on this book is $9.99. How much would this book be?

Proprietor: Well, the price of the book would be half of $10.

Customer: So how much would that be?

Proprietor (more than a little curtly): You take $10 and divide by two, so $5.

Customer: Oh.

I wonder how often the proprietor has that conversation. I do appreciate he tried to make it a teaching moment, with the whole "divide by two" instruction. That reminds me of a conversation a colleague had with a student this week, which went something like:

Student: How big is Mars?

Professor: It's about half the diameter of the Earth.

Student: What do you mean?

Professor: Mars is about half of the diameter of the Earth.

Student: I don't understand you.

Professor: You take the Earth's diameter and you multiply it by 0.5.

Student: Why didn't you just say so?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Glad that the students talk to me, too

Dear Counselor,

I know things are rough financially on our students right now. I appreciate that you take their finances into account when helping them schedule their classes. However, would you please refrain from telling students to not consider entire MAJORS because it would cost extra time and money? Telling a student that he/she should not be a science major because they'd have to spend an extra year catching up on math and it would cost them some extra money (and at a California community college, we're talking an extra $60 in fees for the math classes in question) is fiscally irresponsible for that student in the long run. It's like punishing the student for going to a crappy high school or having bad counselors in their past. I do sympathize with your intent and acknowledgment of the poor economy, but dampening the goals of the students with deficient backgrounds who want to go into high-tech/high-wage-potential majors does a disservice for all of us in the future.

Thank you for your time,

Science Professor (who is seeing dwindling numbers of science majors)

Friday, April 10, 2009


Greg gets all ranty every time he sees a commercial for the new Wolverine movie. I'm thinking that sitting on the couch watching the commercials with him is likely way more entertaining than the movie will be. ;)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

View from here

It was a pretty day:

From Spring2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Went to the beach...

... and so did everyone else:

At first, I was irritated by the sheer number of people. However, since I can walk to the beach from my apartment in a mere twenty minutes, I decided to allow them to share my beach for today.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Counting down...

... one week to Spring Break! And I need it. My computer at work is not functioning, the pile of grading is growing ever larger, and the students have that look of "please, let me go to the beach." Mmm... beach...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Extra extra!

Even if the word "extra" is part of the title, it does not mean the assignment is "extra credit."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009


I saw part of an interview with Pat Summitt where she mentioned that the current generation of student athletes seem to be less motivated than her previous players. And her players should be among the most motivated of any college student athlete anywhere. This ties in with a recent discussion amongst the faculty that most of the students who are performing below average are doing so because they simply aren't doing the work. Lab reports? Apparently optional. Regularly turning in homework, if at all? Just busywork. Turning in a paper worth ten percent of the grade? Nah.

Speaking of student athletes, my school's basketball team made it to the State Quarterfinals, their best season ever. Nine out of the thirteen players on the roster have taken astronomy with me.

I do not assign any work that isn't useful. Do I assign a lot of physics homework? Yeah, and if the students do it, they tend to do very well on exams. Do I make my astronomy and physics students write short papers? Yes, I do, because synthesizing and articulating scientific ideas are crucial instructional objectives. I even tell them why I give them the different assignments. I make each assignment worth a decent chunk of their grade in the course, so it is worth their time to do the assignments. Motivation has always come from within for me. I'm most competitive with myself. So I find myself wondering how to motivate students to do work they just don't want to do?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Teaching moments

A few weeks ago, I had to deal with something that had yet to confront me as a teacher - one of my students committed suicide. I was informed by the college administration, and the campus mental health director offered to come speak to my class. It is a lecture class, but I have my students do group work, so several of the students who had worked with this student were quite upset. It was a rough time, but I'm glad the counselor came and talked to the class. At least one student from that class has gone to seek mental health counseling since, so some good came from it.

I'd also like to say that I would never have suspected this student to have been in trouble from his demeanor in class. You know how after every Virginia Tech-type tragedy there is the outcry to somehow identify troubled students? If I had been asked to provide a watch list, he would never have been on it. He was outgoing, participated everyday, had made friends... the class was stunned to find out what had happened. His family and friends have my sympathies.

On a lighter note, I used Saturn's annoying tendency to gain more moons as a way to talk about how technology enables more discoveries, how the moon is small because otherwise we'd have seen it before, and how silly it is to memorize facts (how many moons Saturn has) as opposed to understanding processes (most moons are small, captured objects, etc...). Having such an example of a fact that changed since the last class seemed to have an impact.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Saturn 61, Dr. Lisa 0

Before class, Saturn only had 60 moons. Get back to my computer, and now Saturn has 61 moons. Yes, this was directly relevant to the material covered today. No, I don't make my students memorize these sorts of numbers as the universe would simply mock them anyways!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A simple request

Please, let this week be better than last week.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


This article about student expectations in the NYT combined with my observations of students taking tests today spur me to mention the following:

  • Students now expect tests to be open-book/open-note. They seem to think that's the default mode, so that on the day of the test they are surprised that they can't use their notes. When did the default mode change? Should I start calling my tests "closed notes" to prevent this?
  • I always tell my students how many questions and what type of questions (multiple choice, problems, essay, etc...) will be on each test. I announce it the week before the test, immediately before handing out the test, and keep the format the same throughout the semester. That withstanding, students still fail to complete the last questions if they are printed on the back side of the last page. I find this odd. Not only have they not completed the stated number of questions, but why NOT flip the page when all of the other pages have been double-sided? Shouldn't they look on the back just to make sure? I now try to remember to announce that questions are printed on the back (when they are), but I forgot in one of my sections today and had to send about 30% of the students back to their desks to finish the test.
  • Because of the aforementioned difficulties on the last pages of tests, I have the students turn in the tests face-down. In a couple of cases, when I pointed out that the page was blank, the students told me that they didn't answer the questions because they missed the appropriate days of class. In fact one student, in an almost accusatory tone, responded, "You know I wasn't in class that day." And that excuses the students from learning the material how? I even post my course notes on the website!

Sometimes I feel like I work harder on these tests than they do!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just thinkin'

Two days a week, as I leave the room in which I teach astronomy, a group of students start trickling in for the next class. It's a math course, but when I asked the students what course it was, the various responses included "Math for Dummies", "Special Ed Math", and "At least it's better than being in Iraq." The students range in age from fresh out of high school to a woman who must at least be in her sixties. From the level of activity before their class starts, it is like taking a step back into high school, into one of the rowdy classrooms full of students who can't settle down after a sugar- and gossip-filled lunch break. Turns out the class has the following description:

Fundamentals of Mathematics serves as an introduction to fundamental concepts of arithmetic. This course covers the arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and exponentiation on whole numbers, fractions, decimals and percents; ratios and proportions, an introduction to the different systems of measurement, and applications of these topics. This course is intended for preparation for Prealgebra.

No college credit is given for this course. Nor for the course that is next in the sequence. These students are enrolled in the most remedial math course that is offered at the school. I can't stop thinking about how I would approach teaching this course. I can tell that they don't want to be there... either they hate math or can't do math or hate that they can't do math. I can see embarrassment on some faces. But all of them have some goal that brings them there, some certificate or degree program. Wouldn't it be more embarrassing to allow oneself to be impeded? Isn't it empowering to address one's deficiencies? Shouldn't the students be proud of themselves? How can a more positive attitude be instilled in the students ? It's giving me plenty to think about.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nineteen years

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of my first date with Greg. That means I've been with him for half of my life. Whoa! I'm grateful for the years of fun, friendship, and cuddling and am looking forward to more.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


There is such wondrous beauty in the universe, is there not? Galaxy NGC 4921 and seemingly countless members of the Coma Cluster of galaxies, from Hubble:

Sunday, February 01, 2009

That's just how it is

I noted that the Super Bowl pre-game show started FIVE hours before the game itself. I decided to wait to turn on the TV til about an hour before the game, and what did I see? A live interview with President Obama as part of the pre-game show. This demonstrates the kind of audience that the game typically gets - huge! The commissioners of the other professional leagues must wonder how they can make their playoffs this exciting. Simple answer - fewer games! Nothing is better than a one and done playoff.

Who to pick for this game? My first Super Bowl memory is the Steelers vs the Cowboys in 1970s. I was for the Steelers then because, really, who likes the Cowboys? The Steelers' ownership spawned the Rooney Rule, an action that cannot be downplayed. Also, the Steelers' uniforms have always appealed to me. Normally they'd be my pick, but they're playing the Cardinals. The Cardinals used to play about a five minute walk from my grad student office. They've been terrible for years, but somehow they've ended up in the Super Bowl this year. I'm not a Kurt Warner fan, but Larry Fitzgerald's play has won me over. (Cute, too, gotta say.) Alright, I'm cheering for the Cardinals.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aiming high?

Overheard while walking across campus: I took 17 units last semester, and I only failed one class!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The view from here

Now that the weather around the country has more or less gotten back to normal, I feel less guilty about posting this image of my neighborhood that I took last weekend:

From Jan 2009

Those islands are in Mexico, by the way.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pigs are flyin'

Hell has frozen over. The end is nigh... The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl.

(photo from CNNSI)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Review of Books - 2008

Due to sudoku and Battlestar Galactica obsessions, I only read thirty books in 2008. The quality of the books was good, I'm happy to report.

In terms of non-fiction, two books stand out:

  • Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan - This book makes me want to grow all my food. Fascinating insight into the food industry and how much corn we eat with every bite.

  • The Varieties of Scientific Experience - Carl Sagan - This is a collection of lectures that Sagan gave on natural theology, to understand god without invoking the miraculous. A wonderful book, reminding me of all the reasons why astronomers were snapping up these Sagan posters at AAS last week.

    The generation of astronomers who belittled Sagan as a "popularizer" is being replaced by those of us astronomers who exist because of him. He is still so missed.

Two of my favorite books of the year are debut novels by good folks I'm happy to know:

  • The Magic Thief - Sarah Prineas - Aimed at middle-grade readers, this story is engaging and fun. A warning, though - do not read while hungry, or you'll end up making the biscuit recipe in the back of the book, just like I did. Yum!

  • Superpowers - David Schwartz - College kids develop superpowers and deal with the consequences. This book manages to be both fun and poignant.

I have a few more books to recommend:

  • Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer - This book is aimed at a YA audience, and it's all about the end of the world. I appreciated that the author managed to pull off a satisfying ending, well within the scope of the protagonist.
  • The Necessary Beggar and Shelter - Susan Palwick - These two unrelated books are engaging and possess deep emotional power. The first is more magical, the second is more science fictional... they've both helped Palwick become a must-read author for me. More books, please!

  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves - M.T. Anderson - The language of this book is so luxurious I just wanna roll around naked in it. Not an appropriate response to what is supposedly a YA book, I know, but the word-for-word prose is just stunning. Anderson has crafted an amazing look at the plight of slaves during the Revolutionary War, and there is as much, if not more, there for adults to read, just like all of Anderson's books.

Happy reading in 2009! (Doh, new BSG is on in two hours!)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Space Stuff

I very much enjoyed my time at the AAS meeting last week. I used up my social quota for the year, having conversations with: Judit, Benjamin, David, Victor, Carl, Greg, Ravi, Russell, Seth, Mike, Robert, Ryan, Eli, Steve, Sumner, Rogier, Hwi, Amber, Beatrice, Hu, Paul, Rolf, Matt, Melissa, Joe, Violet, Fred, Eric, Anthony, Jason, other Lisa, other Steve, Scott, Tyler, Kristin, Kaz, Nimish, other folks at the education workshop, among others. Besides hanging out with folks, other highlights included:

All in all, not a bad way to start the year!

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I spent the past two days in an intensive workshop about training teachers. It was a fascinating way to look at our own methods of instruction in our classes. I got a lot out of the experience and enjoyed collaborating with new folks. Now, though, the real conference begins. The Winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society kicked off tonight, and there is a lot on the schedule this week. Given that the meeting is in Long Beach, I'm not so much tempted to play hooky. ;)

Friday, January 02, 2009

RIP Senator Pell

Retired Senator Claiborne Pell died yesterday. I just wanted to pay my respects to this man, who helped me and so many others go to college. My students are usually surprised to hear that I worked my way through college, with help from scholarships, loans, and grants, such as Pell grants. I think students expect their professors to have had it easier than they do. Senator Pell made it easier for a lot of us.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

International Year of Astronomy

The International Astronomical Union and UNESCO have designated 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy. You can find out information about projects celebrating astronomy at the official IYA website: For those of you who enjoy podcasts, check out the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, which you can subscribe to via iTunes or RSS feed. If you're feeling social, here are the Facebook group and Twitter feed.

Although every year is a Year of Astronomy for me, I'm trying to think of an event or two that I might get approved for my campus. But most importantly for all of you, take some time in 2009 to look up at the sky and appreciate the universe.