On flying through the universe

Every once in a while, I scratch my head and wonder why people trust me with *really* expensive equipment.

Two weeks ago, I went to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh for a PSU Alumni Association event showcasing Penn State astronomy. As part of the program, I was asked to set the stage by giving a tour of universe. At PSU, we do this (in 3D!) with our "AstroWall" system and the Digital Universe Atlas from the Hayden. It turns out that at the Buhl Planetarium, they also use the Digital Universe on their dome. It is a bit more sophisticated an interface, but is otherwise the same software that we use (and you can use on your computer). In the end, I had to do a show where I was running the show by manipulating the interface on two LCDs, speaking into a microphone, and using the mouse to control the flying motion. It didn't go as smoothly as it could have, but I got kudos from everyone, so I guess it was not a flaming disaster.

By the end, though, we all felt that we want one, that is, a 50' dome and a $1M projection system. So, if you've got $2M sitting around collecting dust, let me know and I can put it to good use.


On football optimism and pessimism

(Image snipped from the Centre Daily Times website)

I participated last Saturday in what was one of the most positive experiences I've ever had at Penn State. At this year's "blue white game" (PSU football's intrasquad scrimmage), students got the word out that everyone should wear maroon and orange to show support for the Hokies. Stores that sell PSU gear got in the act selling maroon shirts with orange "Penn State" letters, with the proceeds going to a VT memorial fund. A local and Penn State alum was one of the victims at Virginia Tech, and those of us older than most of the current crop of undergrads remember when there was a shooting on our campus, and only a heroic action kept it from being worse. The tribute was amazing. We had the biggest crowd in the history of the Spring game -- about 71k, and a big crowd was wearing maroon and orange, the band played "Amazing Grace" following an extended moment of silence, and it really felt special to be a part of such a sincere tribute to the victims.

The game had its moments, and I feel optimistic about an improved season over last year's top 20 finish.

Today, though, the other shoe dropped. Weeks ago, a story broke that supposedly a number of football players had gotten into an argument, broke into an apartment party, and a melee broke out leaving a couple of guys in the party hurt and needing medical care. The details are sketchy, it is early, they are innocent until proven guilty, etc. etc. etc. However, I'm tired of this. If it is not obvious, I love Penn State football. I just spent $761 on my football tickets and parking pass. That is on top of the $150 I spent (which will be upped to $200 next year) just for the *privilege* of paying for football tickets. I go to games and do everything I can to support my team, be a good fan, and show respect for the opponents (even the Buckeyes). I take pride in our well earned reputation for fielding good teams filled with student-athletes who are also respectful of their opponents. Guys like Poz have been the rule rather than the exception. That's why this kind of thing gets to me so much. I hope that all six players are suspended, and if they are found guilty even of lesser charges, they should not play a down. I don't care if we don't win a game all season without them (which I don't think will happen), they deserve to suffer the consequences for their actions.


On another season

I know more important things are going on in the world right now, but I don't think I have much to add to the dialogue.

So, on to my latest distraction. Volleyball season ended for us last night. We finished tied for first in the regular season. Guess what happened in the playoffs? The *same* thing that happens every season. We beat the first team we played, then lost to the next two. I think it's time to blow up the team. We're never going to progress any further, and I'm pretty tired of being third or fourth *every* season.

My CVille volleyball tournament t-shirts are getting ratty -- I need a new champion t-shirt!


On Local Politics

At some point I wrote about the local high school controversy -- the board has voted to begin a ~$100M construction project, and a local organization is fighting it pretty fiercely. The level of the debate from an observer's point of view is low -- it seems like every article in the local paper details some shouting match, and the on-line comments are what you would expect to be written by UM or OSU fans about the UM / OSU football game.

I will say right here that I am *firmly* on the side of the board -- I think they should go ahead with the construction, even though it means my already high property taxes will increase. The opposition group is a who's who of State College bigwigs, and so my stance on this issue puts me at odds with the Paterno family. That doesn't concern me too much -- even if they are proxies for Joe (and I don't get the impression that they are), they aren't speaking on behalf of Joe's employer, Penn State. However, a number of the other folks identified in this article as funding the opposition group are business people, and their businesses are named. That bothers me a bit, because it implies that not only does the person endorse this particular side of a political argument, but their business does.

I've been a *big* advocate for the bank I use here in town, because I think they are great. I love the personal service. Now I find out that the chairman of the bank is part of "Citizens for Better Solutions". I have to say, this changes my opinion -- I get the sense that Nittany Bank holds political opinions, and isn't just a bank. For now, I think I'll stick with them, but if the name of the bank keeps getting linked with this particular issue, I think I'll consider switching to the credit union.

On some more sadness

My posts lately all tend to be things that make me sad. Add this to the heap.

The other day, Angry Prof pointed out that a woman whose baby died garnered less support from her faculty colleagues than a man who had a problem with faulty lab equipment. I read that after reading Female Science Professor point out that the men on a committee in her department were meeting in secret without her.

Why do women go into academia? Why does anyone?

There was a male scientist I knew who, whether he knew it or not or did it deliberately or not, was responsible for driving several women out of the graduate program in which he was the graduate advisor. He was also well known for looking down on anyone who left academia to go into industry.

It's sad that folks like him still seem to be the exception rather than the rule.


On Planet Earth

The new Planet Earth series on Discovery HD is amazing.

You must watch it. It can be gruesome (during "Shallow Seas", the fur seals tearing the necks of penguins was unexpected), but it is glorious to watch.