On ID and having my hands full

It has been a strange week at Penn State (more on this later). I had two different, but interesting encounters with folks on campus this week. First off, Thursday was "Take Your Daughters & Sons to Work Day", or, as I like to call it TYDaSTWD. That's a very handy acronym, isn't it?

Anyway... I normally run our site for TYDaSTWD, but I had to teach on Thursday, so two students volunteered to give our visitors a planetarium show and a fly-through of the universe with Partiview on our AstroWall system. I managed to catch the end of the last show of the day. At the very end, I overheard the student say to one of the parents who attended the show, "I'm not sure how to answer that question". I figured I'd try to help, so I said, "Can you repeat the question? Maybe I can come up with an answer?" Well, he repeated it, and I didn't have an answer. He said something like, "What does Intelligent Design have to say about how the universe began?" After realizing I was gaping with my mouth open, I stammered something along the lines of observations and theory tell us the universe is 14 billion years old, but that science doesn't tell us whether or not there is a creator. Then, the parent says something about Earth being 4,000 years old (I thought that the belief was 6,000, anyway?) and before I can say anything, another parent steps in and says that the Earth is much older than 4,000 years, and basically tells the other guy that he is wrong. I wish I had been thinking on my feet enough to say something about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, his noodly appendage, and the correlation between global average temperature and the number of pirates.

Today, as usual, was full of meetings. I left one of my meetings carrying in my left hand a big 3" ring binder, my notebook, and a stack of papers. I had a messenger bag over my shoulder, and two cans of soda (extras from the catering table for my office fridge) in my right hand. To sum up, basically, my hands were full. So, I was walking back to my office with a colleague, and we were chatting. As we walked past the HUB, some random guy was holding up what I assume was a Bible, and he was yelling about something at the top of his lungs. As I tend to do, I just kept up my conversation and kept walking, ignoring whatever he was saying. As we walked past, though, his two goons, err... I mean his two associates who were handing out some treatise or another about why all of us are going to hell held one out for me to take. Apparently, I was supposed to grab it with my mouth.

Hopefully I won't run into any more ID'ers or not very observant goofballs next week.


More on the Live show at BJC

First off I think this review from the CDT sums up the audience reaction (that is, this guy seems like he shared the attitude of everyone else there -- they seem to have wandered into a show by a band they kind of sort of remember and want them to play that one song they remember and that's it). I don't understand -- the band's energy was electric and they played a great set -- how can this not move you if you are any sort of fan of music? If you honestly don't care and you just want to hear Dolphin's Cry or Lightning Crashes and that's it, then why even come, or why not just leave?

This review in the Daily Collegian gives a better perspective of a Live fan's point of view. I thought the new songs were great, I thought the old classics were played with energy and the band sounded great.

This letter to the editor in the Daily Collegian really surprises me. I know that music is a very personal thing, and there is no way to make someone like something they don't like, but I don't know how anyone who was at that concert could say something like, "The band only played its hits and poorly at that." I also don't get his criticism of Overcome -- why is it wrong for Ed to sing this song to a pre-recorded piano? He came out and he sang the song and did an amazing job. How is that even remotely comparable to Milli Vanilli lip synching?

I found out that one of the other players on my vball team is also a Live fan, and he loved the show, so at least I'm not alone. It makes me sad that a talented band like Live can make good, critically acclaimed albums and play great live sets, but the average PSU student thinks they are no better than Milli Vanilli.


On Seeing Live Live

Shan and I just got home a little while ago from seeing the band Live perform at the Bryce Jordan Center.

The first thought that occurred to me when starting this was -- Live must be the hardest band to google -- their name is so generic. It isn't too hard, though. I tried "Live band" and "Live York PA", and both had links to the band's website as the first result.

Anyway... just a few quick notes (I'm wiped out -- I need a weekend from my weekend) before I get in bed.

1. Live was amazing. They played a high energy set, and they really delivered. The intro they played for I Alone was eerie and magnificent all at the same time. The new songs from their upcoming album (River, Mystery, Sophia, and Show) were all very good, so that bodes well for another strong Live album.

2. The crowd was horrible. Shan and I are usually both on our feet almost every concert, but the crowd sat in their seats rock still while Live was pouring everything they had into their set. Some annoying guy in the balcony above us was screaming that he wanted to hear Dolphin's Cry to get his money's worth (all $9.75 he paid), and then when they played it no one seemed to really care. Even the folks standing in front of the stage in the general admission area were all just standing there. I have no idea how you can go to a rock concert and sit there motionless for almost two hours.

3. They played my favorite song. Here's the setup -- I love "Beauty of Grey" off of their first album, Mental Jewelry. Shan and I saw Live in concert once before, after one of the Rock n' Roll half marathons that she ran a few years ago. They were amazing that night, too, but they didn't play Beauty of Grey, and Shan got tired of hearing me complain about this. Of course, about ten minutes into the show, when people were shouting requests, I called out Beauty of Grey at the top of my lungs. The main set ends -- they haven't played it. As the encore begins, Ed sings a beautiful version of "Overcome", a track which has become associated with 9/11, and which is a very powerful song that evokes pretty strong feelings. Shan leans over and asks me, "What can they possibly play to follow that?", I say, "Actually, Beauty of Grey would be great". Cue Beauty of Grey, cue Shannon start laughing pretty hard because I was ecstatic -- they listened to me and played my song! Of course, she was sure to point out that only me and about 5 other people in the whole arena seemed to know the song, but that's ok with me. They played it, and it was great.

I'll probably post more thoughts on the show later, but suffice it to say, great show, I have high hopes for the new album, and thanks to the BJC for *finally* bringing these local boys (York is only about 100 miles away) to State College.

On Patenting Flat Fields

Just saw this story about identifying digital cameras by their noise patterns linked off of boing boing.

Just wanted to point out that it appears these researchers are patenting an algorithm for identifying a camera's flat field response. Shouldn't astronomers get some royalties out of this since we've been doing this for what 20 years? Maybe we can point to this as another spin-off of astronomical research?

So, next time someone asks you why we should invest in basic science like astronomy, tell them that a standard astronomical data analysis technique is now used for catching child pornographers.


On the End of Winter '06 CRPR Vball

The season has been over for a week now, so I guess it is time for a retrospective. It was an interesting season for Six Pack. It is the first season since I've been on the team (has it really been like 4 years? -- to answer my rhetorical question -- yes, Chris, it has! I found my first email from our captain all the way back in July 2002) that I played setter full time, even though in that old email I sold myself as a setter. We started out in a 5-1 with me setting full time, but settled into a groove late in the season when we switched to a 4-2 with Kyle and me both setting.

We finished 30-15 having played really competitively against the teams that finished ahead of us in the standings, but also having honked a game against a non-playoff team. I know that Christine laughs at me for sounding arrogant, and maybe I am a walking sports cliche spewing machine, but really, the team that knocked us out of the playoffs played the best game I've ever seen them play. They were crisp and I think our defense suffered mostly because they were hitting more accurately and more powerfully than typical for them. Ok -- it sounds like a cop out, but ask TGTBT or Zen Shou -- they watched the game and at least one person told me they agreed with me.

This is always a rough time for me, because I know pretty soon I won't be able to feed my addiction (for vball, for those of you who are picturing me sitting at a table with a fifth of something in front of me and a stack of shot glasses turned upside down). With the season ending, that leaves Tue/Thu at the YMCA and Sun mornings at IM for pickup games until September. Unfortunately, when all of my summer commitments kick in, I usually wind up missing most Tue/Thu nights, and this means all I have left is Sundays. Since most people (me *NOT* included) prefer to play outdoor vball in the summer, bad weather or lack of a good court means even Sundays can't be counted on. So you should all feel *really* sorry for me, because my vball addiction is going to go from 5 days (Mon League, Tue YMCA, Wed League, Thu YMCA, Sun IM) to a few days, to sporadic, to maybe not at all. If I'm irritable, you'll know why (but at least my knees will thank me).


On Graduate School

Steinn points to this excellent post at "She Falters to Rise" about surviving graduate school.

In graduate school, according to Brin I should have been a happy student (see Steinn's post) -- I was in a stable relationship, and my research went well, so other than the occasional hiccup (say, like moving buildings and pissing off the project manager) I was pretty happy. Even though I didn't experience some of the lows SFtR alludes to, I need to echo her point of view -- Shan was undoubtedly an important part of making grad school tolerable, but what made my work progress at a good pace was that the people I worked with provided a great support network. My advisor was actually quite a good mentor, so again I guess I was lucky. However, he was simply overwhelmed with time commitments throughout much of my graduate career, so it meant that all of his students had to pretty much do what we could on our own and try to keep our visits to our advisor to those absolutely essential questions. The way things evolved is that his first three students (me, Mike, and Jamie) supported each other, and we wound up spending *many* hours arguing about the minutiae of photometry, which improved all of our work. We all (yes, even Jamie) spent a lot of time later on mentoring the students who followed us and passing on whatever code and knowledge might be useful.

Of course, it wasn't all work, but those 3am trips to Jeffrey's to watch Lebowski again or to watch the Godfather over shrimp and tater tots (seriously) were just as important. Sure, we could have been working, or getting some sleep in order to be refreshed for the next day, but the occasional night of "which one of those was Logjammin?" keeps a proto-PhD sane. We joke all the time about needing to "get a life", but I honestly think one of the greatest assets of being a student at UVa in the mid-90s to early-00s was the camaraderie (I'm biting my tongue a bit here, but I will cryptically say that I'm happy to see this appears to still be the case and that I'm a bit surprised at some people who underestimate its importance). Anyway... we were all going through the same thing together, and we were all willing to help each other succeed.

We're all over the place now (UT, OCIW, Northrop Grumman...), so these days an email replaces a trip down the hall to Jeff's office to waste his time (which I'm sure he appreciates), but I think if you add up the time we wasted together and the time we saved each other it has to at least come out a wash. Hope the feeling is mutual...


On Apple Fanboi-hood

I am a Mac guy. I got my first Mac Plus when I was in high school, and I've used it, a IIsi, a Power Computing PowerBase, a 12" iBook, a 17" Powerbook G4, and now an iMac G5. That doesn't count the 16 15" "iLamp" iMacs I inherited from the PSU labs when they upgraded. Really, I try to be neutral when the topic of Apple vs. Windoze comes up (I'm no Miraculous Mike), but I do tell people to go with whatever computer gets the job done best for them, and in my case that is absolutely a Mac. I do not pretend that I think that any Windoze machine could ever be considered the best tool for the job, but if someone claims that is true for them, I don't protest too much. Humorously enough, some of the guys that gave me absolutely the most grief about being an Apple fanboi (*cough* Siegel *cough* Ostheimer) went on to get Powerbooks. I claim about 5 switchers to my credit, but I have been feeling somewhat guilty about this lately.

Unfortunately, I have had a spate of hardware problems. My iBook had the infamous "squeaky hinge". Mine was extra stiff, and I always thought that one day the thing was going to crack (it never did). I don't remember why I never got Apple to deal with it, but I was pointed to (by a member of my super awesome User's Group email list) a link to a website telling you how to fix this yourself. The fix made my problem better, but it didn't go away completely. Still, whenever I think about the (now retired) iBook, I always remember that stupid hinge. Next -- the Powerbook G4. It was purchased right when they came out. I *know* I should never buy first gen hardware, but it was for work, I had the funds, needed a computer, and that was what I could get for the money I had to use. Within a short time, the computer died. I got it fixed under AppleCare and returned. Then, it died again. Once again, send it to Apple, it gets fixed, returned. My G4 was purchased alongside a second one for a colleague of mine, and she has also had two catastrophic failures. During this same time period, my sister's hard drive died in her iBook, and Siegel's Powerbook had a power supply failure.

I've been feeling very wary of Apple hardware lately, and I'm sorry to say that another problem has hit me -- my home iMac G5 has been crashing (with a kernel panic) *every* time it tries to wake from sleep. I found an old email in the user's group archive about a known iMac hardware problem that includes my symptoms and is known to affect machines with a range of serial numbers that includes mine, and it looks like my iMac will be covered by this extended AppleCare program. Still, though, of the last 3 Macs I've owned, I'm 3 for 3 with hardware problems. Friends who have bought Macs based on my suggestions have had hardware failures, too.

I'm trying not to be negative, because the flip side of this coin is that in every single case of mine, Apple has gone above and beyond to get things fixed (this includes sending me a box for the powerbook on Dec 29 and fixing it and returning it to me on Dec 31). I'll see what happens with the iMac tomorrow, but early indications are that this can be fixed easily. However, I think I have to start passing along the caveat to all friends, family, and random potential switchers -- be prepared for your hardware to have a problem at some point during the machine's lifetime, and don't be afraid to be a little pushy with Apple to try to get it fixed, even if you are out of warranty.

On getting old

Ok. I know that I am not really old, as early retired and fellow volleyball nut Frank reminds all of us youngsters whenever we complain about our aches and pains (by the way, the glucosamine & chondroitin is working again -- my knees feel good!).

Still, given this caveat, events are conspiring to make me *feel* old today. It turns out that today is the five year anniversary of my thesis defense. I'll never forget my advisor's famous words of wisdom:

Me: So, how does it feel now that your first student has defended successfully?

Him: I feel like I just gave birth to a 200 pound baby.

Anyway... I have essentially been (to astronomical accuracy) a PhD for 5 years now. It seems like just yesterday I felt that grad school would never end.

Then, today I was given a stack of applications from high school students for a program I help run, and glaring at me on the front page was this fact -- a high school student applying for the program was born in 1991. Yes -- high school students have now been born *after* I started college.

I guess this explains the grey hairs in my beard.


Spitz Model A

Interesting developments in the history of PSU Astronomy -- I found Doc Yeagley's Spitz Model A projector! It wasn't difficult to track down at all. It is a very interesting machine -- it appears we have one of the first 50 of these ever built by Spitz, and according to biographical info written about Armand Spitz, he designed this projector with advice from Albert Einstein and made some of them in his kitchen by hand.

Unfortunately, even though the projector survived, it did not survive intact. As you can see, at least a few of the panels are cracked and some are torn. It appears that it can't even be repaired, unfortunately. I'm hoping that there may be some chance we can maybe make a replacement dodecahedron ourselves.


already an update

Now that I have a huge archive of old posts, I need to update some of the topics.

On planetaria: I'm on the mailing list for the Spitz Planetarium Company, and just received a newsletter email from them. It occurred to me that they probably have records of all the starballs they've sold, so I asked! It turns out, the projector I was beginning to think was much older than we expected, is actually much younger than we expected. It was installed in 1986. So it is clearly not Yeagley's planetarium projector. Spitz didn't have good records on Yeagley's planetarium projector, but they did tell me it was a model A, presumably like this one: Pielock's Model A. I really want to try and track it down. I even think I might have an idea of where it might be.

On cats: Well, the news about Roux could be better. The opthalmologist told us that he was convinced that it had to be cancer. We actually decided against finding out, because his plan was to remove all of the swollen tissue while doing the biopsy, and we think that it is probably better to make whatever time Roux has left comfortable for her, than to subject her to painful surgery. The good news is that she is apparently not in much pain -- she is happy, purring, playing with her favorite toys and in general being Roux. She doesn't like her eye drops, but they are keeping her eye lubricated.

I also should mention that I think Composure (remember -- stress relieving vitamin supplement for cats) is working for Mosby. She still messes with Chloe and Roux, but I don't think I have heard her yowl since she's been taking it, and she used to do it daily. The clincher for me in deciding it works was that she let me clip her claws without freaking out. I'm a believer.

On American Idol: Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed.

On Volleyball: I really want to write about volleyball, but I don't think there is any way for me to do so without just turning this into my personal game diary. I want this blog to be something other people might read, and I don't think anyone cares if I had 3 kills and a good block in our playoff win tonight. One thing I can say that may be interesting to other indoor players out there, is that I have been wearing the new Nike Zoom Speed VB IIs and can write a quick review. The link shows you one of the reasons I think this is useful to post. It is impossible to find men's indoor vball gear -- we are a niche market, so if you can find vball gear at all, it is all women's. Anyway, I bought these because my knees have been really sore again, and I figured it was time to replace my older Nike shox. I noticed a difference right away -- I could make sharp cuts without putting a lot of pressure on my knees, and although my knees are still sore, they are not as bad as they have been lately. These are the first low shoes I have worn (I usually wear mids or highs) for vball, but the ankle support has been fine. I would recommend them.

It is definitely time to hit the glucosamine & chondroitin again. I heard on NPR a story that research shows that g&c supplements do not help those with knee pain. However, the caveat they gave is that for those experiencing severe knee pain (which they defined as enough pain that you alter your routine -- is there any other kind of knee pain? anyway, since mine is bad enough that I can't go upstairs without wincing after having played that day or the day before, I think I qualify) g&c shows a measurable improvement. I definitely can say their results seem to be verified in my case, if I take a g&c supplement for a few weeks, my knee pain decreases substantially. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't care if it is just the placebo effect, if it makes my knees feel better, I'll take it.