An argument for mandatory astronomy education

Ok. I'm going to obfuscate this enough so that it is not obvious who I'm describing in this particular entry, but if you think about it you can probably figure it out.

Anyway... this morning, several of us got together for a few hours. The location where we met had a sign on the door saying something like: open Sunday 8:30am - 12:00pm. I didn't notice the sign, but a few others mentioned at ~11:30 that we were going to have to leave shortly. This was a bit disappointing because we usually stick around until ~1:00pm. Around 11:45, we didn't see anyone coming in to ask us to leave, the lights weren't being dimmed -- there were no signs that they really were intending to close in 15 minutes. So, just to check what was going one, one of our group went and asked an employee.

The person who works at this particular place is not very friendly. If you ask her a question, in general she tends to snap at you, and this time was apparently no different. The conversation went something like this:

"Excuse me, but are you closing at noon?"

"No -- didn't you see my sign?"

"Yes, and it says that the building closes at 12pm, so do we need to leave in 15 minutes?"

"No! That's why I put up the sign, we close at 12pm!"

"Ummm, 12pm is noon"

"No it's not -- we close at 12pm midnight."

We all had a good chuckle, then stayed until 1:00 PM


On the 1994 Penn State football team (again)

I realize this is becoming more of a football blog, but with football season nearing its end, that should change.

In the meantime, more football.

TMQ did not print my email in this week's reader feedback column, so I'm putting it here just so I am on record pointing out that he made a pretty ridiculous point in this week's column.

Here is his relevant quote from this article:

Last night on "Monday Night Football," the Jaguars played no fewer than four first-round draft choice receivers: Kyle Brady, Matt Jones, Mercedes Lewis and Reggie Williams. The Jags also played two fourth-round draft choice receivers, George Wrighster and TMQ favorite Ernest Wilford, plus undrafted free agent receiver Cortez Hankton. Bottom line? The four first-round big-bonus glamour boys combined for three receptions for 63 yards; the three little-known nonglamour receivers combined for 11 catches for 154 yards. And this wasn't because the Giants defense was choking up on the first-round guys, that's for sure. Last night's "Monday Night Football" game was a great object lesson in the reality that high-drafted players often expend much of their energy sulking, complaining and demanding the ball, while low-drafted and undrafted players expend their energy working to earn the ball.

Here is my response:

You lumped Kyle Brady in with your description of highly drafted receivers for Jax who spend their time "sulking, complaining and demanding the ball". I'd like to point out that he should by no means be included with that group. If you look at his career statistics, he had a peak of 729 yards on 64 catches in 2000, but since then, he has seen a steady decline in both his receptions and yards as Jax has turned him into a blocking TE, essentially an extra tackle. I have not heard one sportscaster ever imply that he has ever protested about this role, but instead have heard that he is a team player willing to sacrifice any glory statistics like receptions, yards, and TDs by blocking for the good of the team. I would think that you would laud him for his selflessness, not accuse him of being a diva.

I guess at some point I will give up on my personal crusade of defending the honor of PSU players in the NFL, but since they seem to wind up getting more than their fair share of criticism, I don't know if it will happen anytime soon.

As long as I'm on yet another NFL kick, I should point out for those of you who don't follow the NFL transaction wire, Scott Paxson got picked up and released by the Packers, but Matt Rice got picked up and seems to be hanging on with the Giants.


On the post-Kerry Collins Era in NY

My NFL loyalties lie with whatever team has ex-Penn Staters in key roles. For a short time, that was the NY Giants. I grew up watching the Giants, and so I had some interest in them even before they made Kerry Collins their starting QB. Everyone knows Kerry's story -- came back from issues with alcohol, accused of racism by teammates, basically quit for a while, but then he got himself together and put together some good years. Even in his best years, though, he was always good for more turnovers than you want to see out of your QB. So, NY unceremoniously dumped him in favor of Manning the Younger, and we were all told how Eli was going to be the next Hall of Fame QB from this famous NFL family.

I'm just wondering... how's that working out?

I bet the Chargers are feeling that they got a pretty good deal when Eli pouted his way into a trade to NY for Philip Rivers.


On the Gilmore Girls imitating life

Shan is a big fan of the "Gilmore Girls". I will admit to being interested enough to watch it occasionally with her. The other night, we watched an episode that she had recorded from a previous week -- I *think* it was the episode from 11/7. Anyway, the plot involved Lorelai & Christopher going to Yale for parents' weekend. During the visit, Christopher really wanted to take in some faculty lectures, and they wound up in an Astronomy lecture.

I have to say, I was incredibly impressed with what was a ~1 minute throwaway part of this show. They actually had the character talking about real, modern astronomy, including mentioning how the new supernovae results led astronomers to the conclusion that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This part of the episode ended with Christopher asking something along the lines of, "are dark energy and the cosmological constant the same thing?".

During the episode, the "professor" had real Hubble images on the screen behind him, including this one. I suppose it shows exactly how much of a Hubble geek I am that I recognized that image instantaneously, remembered its caption title, and could find it in the Hubblesite gallery in about 5 seconds. I don't know if the show's writer / director / producer had any ulterior motives in presenting Hubble images and modern cosmology, but any show that gets good astronomy on a network besides PBS is good in my book.

What makes this whole experience even more surreal, though, was the colloquium we had at Penn State the day after I watched this episode -- it was presented by a new faculty member with a joint physics / astronomy appointment, and he presented his theory for the origin of the accelerating expansion.


On another sad day in Happy Land

To quote myself from this entry, "The biggest downside to living here, though, is that it is a college town, and people don't stay here forever." Yet another vball player from the YMCA and the Parks & Rec League is leaving town. I suppose that since her husband has actually been living in another state while she has lived here that it is understandable that she might want to leave.

We'll miss her and her "big girl defense".



On self-fulfilling prophecies

I try to be a good fan. I clap politely for the other team, I don't boo our players, I try to be respectful.

It's hard. What makes it really hard is the ridiculous attitudes of some of our "fans". There is a guy with season tickets that sits behind me who keeps a running commentary during the game -- "stop meddling Joe, throw to the tight end Joe, why do you let Jay call plays Joe?". I'm just going to venture to guess that this guy has probably coached 56 years less than Joe.

Everyone remembers the website saying Joe must go -- too bad that he's coached here for 56 years. Who cares that he graduates more than 88% of his players all the while winning more bowl games than any other coach in history. The guy has a couple of bad years, and he's not good enough anymore. His son gets no end of criticism. He has the audacity to work for his dad, and that must mean he's the most incompetent coach in the land. The rent-a-fans love to say that Jay can't develop quarterbacks and that not only don't they develop, they regress under his tutelage.

So, let's review why Chad Henne chose Michigan over Penn State, shall we? Chad said that PSU doesn't develop QBs and that he was going to go to UM because they do a better job developing their QBs into NFL QBs. Now granted, you could just survey NFL rosters and see more UM QBs than PSU QBs, but if I recall, Tom Brady sat the bench in Ann Arbor for most of his time, didn't he? Personally, my feeling is that PSU "fans" drove Henne from State College to Ann Arbor.

Why don't we read the opinion letters in our student newspaper? Our own students are saying that our coaches can't coach offensive linemen. So -- let's say that you are a blue chip offensive line recruit. If Penn State fans think our coaches can't coach and especially can't coach offensive linemen, where are you going to go?

I'm tired of the negativity and the demands to fire our coaches. I'm tired of people coming to Beaver Stadium so that they can rant and rave at Joe, Jay, Galen, Tom, and the 20 year olds who make up the team. I'm tired of reading the comments on Sunday by the "fans" who found some new reason in Saturday's game to blame our coaches and our players for ruining their lives by losing a game.

Lastly, someone needs to call the letter writer linked above and let him know that Ki-Jana Carter was an amazing running back. I'm going to venture to say that blowing out his knee in his first carry of his first preseason game may have had something to do with his NFL career not going as well as he would have liked. If it were up to me, saying that Carter wasn't any good should revoke a person's Beaver Stadium privileges for life.


On Pride in PA

Although I still consider myself a Jerseyite, I've lived in PA for 10 years total now and so I suppose I really am a Pennsylvanian these days.

And as a Pennsylvanian, that means that my new Senator is Bob Casey Jr.

I guess now that he is no longer a Senator, Santorum will hopefully be able to find a job where he can afford to pay for his own morning coffee, since he couldn't seem to afford it on his $165,200 annual salary. I hear that our local Wal-Mart is hiring. If they hire him, I'd skip his line, because I wouldn't trust him to be able to make change reliably.


On my Keyshawn Johnson moment

I'm the author, so you're all going to have to indulge me. If you don't want to hear about volleyball you might want to just come back next week for the next installment of goats in space.

I'm playing for the same Parks & Rec League team I've been on since I moved to State College. We've been perpetually a third place team except for our one shining moment when we actually finished second. Our two big issues are that (1) we've been one of the shorter teams in the league until this season, and (2) we have some chemistry issues. We have good chemistry in the sense that we all know each other's tendencies and have played together for many years, but we have bad chemistry in that we get frustrated with each other.

So far this season, we've been sorting things out and we started out the season on a tear. We were in first place up until two matches ago. Then, we ran into the team that has finished in first place every season for the past few years. We fought hard, but they took all three games from us. Then, tonight we played a new team in the league that is also playing pretty well. We fought them very hard, too, but again, we lost all three games 15-12, 15-12, 15-12 (see a pattern?).

Now it's time for my Keyshawn moment. I have nights when I'm not playing well, but tonight was not one of them. I probably played my best game in many weeks. I hit two balls right down the right line and caught the back line, and then hit another one from the middle that caught the back corner. I hit one hard through a double block and got the point. I also got blocked a few times, but everyone got blocked several times -- that was how we lost. So you'd think that out of six sets four points + two blocks is a pretty good percentage. Maybe I would get a few more opportunities? Nope. I spent much of the last game watching my teammates getting set over and over again and getting blocked over and over again.

So, to quote the formerly controversial wide receiver, "Just Give Me the Damn Ball".


On Goats and Standardized Tests

This past Saturday, we held a half day symposium for 100 ~12 year olds and their parents. I agreed last Feb to organize this event, and for the past ~month and a half or so, it has been causing me much stress. When Friday night rolled around, I was just thinking that all I needed to do was get it over with and the stress would be gone.

I was worrying about things like feeding 200 people breakfast and lunch, having all the people who agreed to help (14 student guides, 7 workshop presenters, 7 speakers, 2 staff...) show up, and all the A/V equipment working. I assumed that everything was going to go perfectly, but still, until the day was over I knew I was going to be stressing about some of these things.

So, at ~7:30am on Saturday, I show up with a car full of "Java Boxes", bottled water, and trays of bagels and donuts. I grab two arms full of stuff and head quickly to the area where we planned to set up the breakfast. This particular area is a common area, and as far as I knew there is no way to reserve it. I made the mistake of assuming that at 7:30am on a Saturday, it would be free. Well, I got there with my arms full, and saw coffee pots set up and brewing and people hanging signs for a meeting. It turns out that the folks from the "All About Goats" meeting got there before me. Seriously. All. About. Goats.

Fine -- I took my stuff elsewhere, some fast thinking folks grabbed some tables out of the back of some classrooms, and we got the refreshments set up. It wasn't as convenient as the other location, but it worked.

While I'm setting the food up, one of the other speakers came up to me and said, "A student just told me that there is a GRE exam taking place in one of the classrooms we reserved." At first we assumed that it was a mistake, but she had her registration sheet that listed the room. I reserved this room in *MARCH*, but here we are in November, and the GRE folks took my room out from under me. It would have been nice if someone had bothered to TELL US. Thankfully, there just happens to be a classroom around the corner that holds 100 people that we used instead, but I'm really glad that I didn't get stuck.

After the goats & GRE problems were solved, the rest of the day went well. It's over. All over.