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.