Thursday, December 23, 2010


Turning 40 years old isn't so bad. My wonderful Greg took me to see TRON: Legacy in IMAX 3D. Then he took me to Mysterious Galaxy, where I pointed at books and he purchased them for me. I also received some Star Wars bakeware from family members and the Jedi bathrobe! Basically, I spent my 40th birthday enjoying geeky things and feeling loved by friends and family, and it was great! I know that 40 is a milestone year, and I'm looking forward to the decade ahead. Thanks for your well-wishes and your friendship!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Semester in Review

  • Read that a former student died in freak accident.
  • Coped with student reactions to fellow college student being murdered by her estranged husband in the room next to my office.
  • Offered new astronomy lab course.
  • Sweltered while college A/C was out during the hottest week of the year.
  • Shivered while college heating system was out during coldest week of the year.
  • Facilitated design process for new science building.
  • Learned from students that Al Gore invented global warming to make money off of green technology.
  • Fielded waaaaaay too many questions about 2012.
  • Exploded many brains while teaching cosmology.
  • Informed that I will be recommended for tenure effective in the Fall.
  • Described as "absolutely adorable" on Rate My Professor

Monday, December 06, 2010

Colors and shadows

Views from tonight's beach walk:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Earth and Space

Lovely ISS view of the Southwestern United States:

And I can never get enough of the light and shadows of Saturn as seen by Cassini:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Still here, just tired

It's been a busy September, but largely work-related stuff. Most of my students are bright and interested, so that's a plus. There have been many trips for katsudon and ramen, comics and hot chocolates in between all the grading and writing new lab exercises. Thunder and lightning freaked out my coastal dwellers in class today. Um, yeah. That's about it!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


The first week of classes is over, and I survived despite the following:

  • Between 25-50% more students showing up to each class than were enrolled in the hopes of getting in. I'm allowing people in my classes up to the fire code limit on the capacity of each classroom.
  • A construction accident knocked out the air conditioning to the entire campus during San Diego's warmest week of the year so far. Combine that with the overflowing classrooms and it was quite uncomfortable. Many thanks to the students, who all remained in good humor.
  • A minor lab disaster in which the internet capability (or lack thereof) of the available laptops made me send the students away to complete the lab on their own. Sigh.
  • The State Legislature has yet to pass a budget. Look at these statewide numbers: The 58 day delay in the California budget has resulted in a blockage of all state payments to the community colleges including $116 million that was due in July and $277 million due in August. Deep budget cuts and more than $1 billion in funding deferrals have left the colleges vulnerable. The state’s September payment, scheduled to go out on September 28, is one of the largest payments of the year at nearly $450 million. If this payment is missed, it will bring the cumulative funding delay to $840 million, or roughly 15 percent of districts’ total annual funding. And yet the State keeps taking taxes out of my paycheck. At least I'm still getting a paycheck.
  • Spent the week hobbling around on a bum left foot, due to a mole removal that I had done two weeks ago. Pathology came back okay (remember to get your moles checked, people!). Greg drove me to and from school, to get me as close to my office as possible. He was really the key to my survival last week.

I did manage to stick to my goal of taking Saturdays off, except for answering student emails. I really can't handle working seven days per week any more. The new crop of students seems like a good one so far. One week down.... sixteen to go!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

End of Summer

Tomorrow is the first day of the fall semester. I'm materially, but not emotionally, prepared. Summer is never long enough. Where did the time go?

  • Did enough classroom prep that this past week hasn't been too bad.
  • Went through the first half of a general chemistry text, to brush up.
  • Visited a few museums in Balboa Park.
  • Finally visited Julian and Oceanside.
  • Performed the July planetarium shows at the RH Fleet center in Balboa Park.
  • Quick trip to see the family in Sacramento.
  • Visits from Paolo, Carl, Bob and Laura and kidlings, and Kirsten and Aaron.
  • Saw four (FOUR!) movies - Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (awesome), Inception (solid), Predators (silly entertainment), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (enjoyable, sorry it isn't more successful).
  • Glorious, glorious Comic-Con
  • Concerts - Rush and w00tstock.
  • Great staycation, with pics below.

Took the train to Carlsbad.

From Staycation August 2010

Visited the USS Midway with its spectacular view:

From Staycation August 2010

Took the ferry to have lunch on Coronado:

From Staycation August 2010

Got in some quality beach time:

From Staycation August 2010

Looks like the time mostly went to having fun! Hope y'all had a good summer, too!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Comic-Con in pictures

I might do a full Comic-Con report, but until that mythical time allow me to share with you a brief summary of the glorious experience:

From Comic Con 2010

From Comic Con 2010

From Comic Con 2010

From Comic Con 2010

From Comic Con 2010

From Comic Con 2010

From Comic Con 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Once again, I have been remiss in updating this page with pretty space images. Time to rectify that situation.

Last week's total solar eclipse, as viewed from Patagonia and presented on Astronomy Picture of the Day:

City lights and moonlight glinting off the Mediterranean as seen from the International Space Station:

Saturn in the quarter phase from the Cassini spacecraft:

A beautiful star-forming region from ESO's La Silla Observatory:

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Stream of consciousness

For the second summer in a row, I had the opportunity to present the planetarium show at the RH Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. As always, the questions from the kiddies hearten me. I just wish we could find a surefire way to keep them asking such insightful and free questions as they get older.

The open letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to LeBron James is one of the most amazing pieces of writing I've ever seen. Is it the height of professionalism? No. But then again, neither is letting your team and fans know that you're dumping them on national television. It'll sure be easy to cheer against the Heat next year.

Speaking of heat, May Gray and June Gloom have turned into Misty July. Haven't seen the sun in awhile, not that I'm complaining!

The Comic-Con schedule is slowing coming out. Getting excited!

Now I'm at the point in the summer when I am officially freaking out that I haven't done enough work to prep for the fall semester. Vacation... bah!

I have been going through an introductory chemistry book as review, and I've found some interesting uses of terms that I want to discuss with the chemistry faculty. The term "nature" is used instead of "Earth, one atmospheric pressure, room temperature", so sometimes the authors say that something does NOT occur in nature but I know that we witness it in space. Also, "air" = "O2", but air is mostly N2 so I find this disturbing. And we wonder why our students have so many misconceptions!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I have been enjoying a very mellow summer so far. Sure, I've done some work - planned out most of my fall semester courses, worked through about one-third of a general chemistry text as review - but mostly I've been reading and resting and enjoying the outdoors.

Went to Julian with Greg and lunched at an old soda fountain:

From Summer 2010

One of the few things I miss about Arizona is the dry blue desert sky, so Julian scratched that itch (and also the itch for apple cider donuts):

From Summer 2010

Carl visited this past week, which was fun. There was much geekiness - gaming, watching BSG, discussing physics education - and lots of beach walks and good food. Here's the scene from an after dinner beach walk in my neighborhood:

From Summer 2010

Nice view from La Jolla Cove:

From Summer 2010

Lunch at Super Cocina:

From Summer 2010

June gloom at Torrey Pines State Beach:

From Summer 2010

Picnicking with a view of San Diego Harbor:

From Summer 2010

Yup, a mellow and enjoyable summer so far!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Daring to discuss being female AND being good at math

Many folks more eloquent than me have discussed John Tierney's recent article in the New York Times: "Daring to Discuss Women's Potential in Science". Boing Boing has the views of four female scientists here. Female Science Professor shares her thoughts here. Female Science Professor sums up Tierney's perspective this way:

There are flawed studies that show that females and males have similar quantitative skills and better studies that show that more males than females are extremely talented at math.

Or, as Dr. Isis says in the Boing Boing article:

Personally, I would find it much more interesting if he would start posting recipes for pies we could make with all the cherries he's picking..

Here's my take: you cannot apply the results of subject tests taken by people under the influence of a cultural bias to say that there IS no cultural bias and any difference noted in the results therefore must be INNATE. Period. The girls taking the tests have been influenced all their lives by the cultural portrayals of math as being a male-dominated pursuit and not as necessary or easy for girls. Has Tierney ever heard of the concept of "stereotype threat" or does he dismiss that out of hand? Or perhaps the recent widely publicized study that one indicator of math success rates is tied to the anxiety exhibited by female teachers? (Who, as education majors, come into my classroom already telling me that they are not "math people".)

As an educator, I see so many students coming into my classroom full of doubt about their abilities, and it is true that females seem to lack confidence more than males. However, what the females don't lack is innate ability.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Another week

Hanging out with Greg

From Summer 2010

View from the beach where I attempted jogging

From Summer 2010

Geisel Library on the UCSD campus

From Summer 2010

Beautiful sight of Saturn's rings and two moons (Rhea and Janus)

And an impact on Jupiter! (via the Bad Astronomer and Anthony Wesley):

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Various bits

Go Suns!

We had a lovely time picnicking in Griffith Park in celebration of Aaron's birthday. I must remember to hike around there more.

The article "Among Dorms and Dining Halls, Hidden Hunger" in The Atlantic featured my college prominently. At the community college level, I think it is misunderstood how many hungry and even homeless students we serve.

According to the study cited in this article Depressed? You must like chocolate, I am the most depressed person in the history of humankind and should be committed soon.

Speaking of community colleges, a lot of people seem to enjoy the TV show "Community". Would I be able to watch it without wanting to harm the writers?

Greg's next book comes out on Tuesday - Kid vs. Squid! Very excited!

I'm also very excited that there are only two weeks left in the semester. I'm ready for summer! I get to put together curriculum for a new astronomy lab I'll be teaching in the fall. I'm also planning on doing a review of chemistry, because I feel rusty. And yes, I'm excited about this!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy 20th Anniversary, Hubble!

The Hubble Space Telescope is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Here are the celebratory images:

More here.

I couldn't imagine the last twenty years without Hubble's views. We truly live in a different universe than we did before it launched in 1990.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Checking in

Some of the goings-on in April around here so far:

  • A visit from Kirsten and Aaron, including a lovely Easter picnic by the bay - yay!
  • A big Easter earthquake that seemed to go on forever - boo!
  • A new book deal for Greg - yay!
  • A chipped tooth followed by a root canal (to be followed by a crown) - boo!
  • A stash of Cadbury Mini-Eggs that will last longer because of the aforementioned dental work - yay!
  • Several astro students still driving me nuts - boo!
  • Physics students so awesome I wish I could keep them for next year, too - yay! (boo?)
  • And many opportunities to take pretty pictures - yay!

From Spring 2010

From Spring 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mourning inspiration

Howard G. Voss passed away last night. He was a former president of the American Association of Physics Teachers and a recipient of the Melba Newell Phillips Award. He was my first mentor and left an indelible imprint on my teaching. He gave me a lot of advice that I hear in my head almost everyday. I will miss him terribly and the world is worse off without him here.

The first time I ever taught, I was petrified. Let's just say that those who know me best are probably stunned to think that I get up and talk in front of people everyday. At first, I had been assigned as a grader to a course, but was switched to being a teaching assistant at the last minute. I cried at the thought of having to go into a classroom and have all those eyes on me. Professor Voss was very supportive, though, and had a natural vibe to his teaching which rubbed off on me. A few of the things I learned from him teaching that course (physics for pre-meds, my second-favorite course after astronomy to teach til this day):

  • If I walk into your lab room fifteen minutes after class starts and you're still lecturing to the students, I will tell you to be quiet in front of your class. - Lab is about the students doing hands-on work, not for the instructor to guide students through the experiment.
  • Just ask yourself, would you want this kid to open up your guts? - It is difficult to dispense failing grades, but sometimes the failing grades are earned.

Other things I learned from Professor Voss as I was his TA for several semesters:

  • Night students deserve a chance. He taught physics in the evening for a few semesters, with me as his TA. We had good students and good enrollments, despite many thinking that there would not be a need to teach physics at night. My love for night-time classes remains to this day.
  • Conceptual questions are important parts of a physics exam. Some students are good at figuring out how the numbers all fit together, but that doesn't mean that they understand the basic physics concepts. Professor Voss would put conceptual questions on his exams that would make me nervous, because he had me make up the exam key before he'd confirm my answers. Those questions showed me a weakness in my own background and a weakness that a lot of students manage to graduate with today. But not if I can help it!

Professor Voss also wrote a letter of recommendation for me on my first job search and just was altogether so important to my career and maturation as a teacher. Thanks for letting me remember him here. My condolences to his family and his colleagues.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Break

As of 2 pm today, I am on Spring Break. And I really need the break, too. I decided to start it off right by heading a few miles north to La Jolla:

From Spring 2010

From Spring 2010

From Spring 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Snapshot of my childhood

Soichi Noguchi has been tweeting images from the International Space Station. Today, he captured my childhood:

West coast, California. on Twitpic

Click to see Northern California in all its glory.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Teachable Moment

One of my astronomy students was in my office hours, taking a makeup exam today. I reserve the right to not give makeup exams, and this student admitted that he did not have a good excuse to miss the exam. However I decided to let him redeem himself. As he was taking the exam, one of my physics students came in to ask questions. The physics student explained that he'd arrived at the library at 7am to read the new chapter in advance of class today. He'd also started on the homework and had a few specific questions about them. We also cleared up a question that we had corresponded about via email over the weekend. The physics student thanked me, and then he left. About 15 minutes later, the astronomy student finished his exam and then told me he was sorry. He said that hearing what the physics student was doing made him realize that he could work harder. He was going to tell his friends (!) what he had heard, that there are people who actually work that hard. He just kept shaking his head, as if he'd been truly jolted.

I'm thinking this might be the best bit of peer instruction I've ever seen, and it was completely unintentional. I hope this astro student really will work harder, in all of his classes. Sometimes it is best to sit back and let the students teach each other, eh?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Twenty Years

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of my first date with Greg. Since Tuesday is my 8:30am - 10:00pm workday, we instead spent the whole weekend mellowly celebrating, watching Justice League and sharing a wonderful meal at Urban Solace. Neither of us feel old enough to have been together for twenty years, having our first date when we were undergrads. That bodes well for many more fun years together!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I had a dream last night featuring the Cassini spacecraft. (I know, I know...) In my dream, Cassini was making a very close flyby of the moon Enceladus. In particular, the spacecraft was sending back closeup video footage of the stripes featured in this image:

The spacecraft was so close that we could see through those stripes as if they were clear panes of ice. And behind those icy windows, we could see glorious swimming creatures, similar to large glowing golden jellies. Everyone was so excited - life outside of Earth! So beautiful! So graceful! I got on the phone to tell my mother. I was trying to explain to her what it was that I had seen. I was tearfully saying, "We're not alone! We're not alone!", when reality started filtering into the dream. Cassini has not done any such flyby. Its next flyby is of Rhea. It doesn't send back streaming video footage... this was all a dream. The sadness of that realization has been with me all day.