Sunday, March 25, 2007

Geek Gifts

Let A be the set of people who read this blog and B be the set of people who read Gizmodo, assuming that I am the only member of the intersection of these sets, let me refer the remainder to this relativity watch mentioned there. Act now, and you too can own an Einstein action figure.


There's a blog I read authored by a prof at MIT if I recall correctly. Somewhat eclectic, I got turned on to it by the guy's photography reviews. Well, he's got a very opinionated review of his new Infiniti, but what I particularly liked was his Bose bashing (my bolding):

Lexus went to Mark Levinson, makers of $100,000 home stereos that sound fantastic, for their premium sound system. Infiniti went to Bose, makers of a $300 table radio with a one-note bass. How does the fancy Bose stereo sound? Not too bad, but it still has that one-note bass. Instead of a big expensive subwoofer, the Bose system in the Infiniti M has a cheap mid-bass bump. Almost any kind of bass content will excite this mid-bass resonance. The theory behind this design, which has worked great for selling table radios, is that people who don't know anything about sound will be fooled into thinking that they are hearing deep bass.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sneaky students

I had a student sneak out during an in-class, group exercise to which she attached her name. I'm sure she thinks she's so smart that I didn't notice. The truth, however, is that I don't enjoy her presence in class and was happy to see her go. As to her grade, what do I care? Good riddance.

That's not to say I'll let any cheating pass without action. If the cheating hurts someone else's grade or hurts the morale of the class, I step in. If it's discrete and serves only to cheat the culprit (a bit cliche, but nevertheless true), I remain lazy.

Is that bad? I don't see how, but I still find myself wondering each time. I suppose if a student who would otherwise fail ends up passing because of cheating, that wouldn't be good. But that's never been the case in my experience. My experience is that people cheat to avoid work, not to boost their grade (perhaps at higher-stress schools, things are quite different?). I gave a take home physics test once, and many people clearly cheated off each other. I say "clearly" because a large group would have the same very wrong answer. If they cared much about their grade, they would have cheated using someone who actually knew the answer. No, they didn't search out such a person, but instead took the lazy path of copying from a classmate.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do you know what a preposition is?

If so, then you might wonder what would happen if you tried to publish a paper with a glaring grammatical mistake in its title! Sure, we all make mistakes, but what are the chances a title would make it past all the authors, any referees, and, of course, the editors!

Just to be clear, "off" is a preposition as in "off a brane." It takes an object. The word "of" is also a preposition. The combination "off of a tense brane" is....not English? abomination?

Two preemptive arguments. (1) Yes, I make grammatical mistakes. I would guess that I have made none in any of my published titles (and probably all my unpublished ones as well). (2) There will be those who say "Oh, it's common usage just like 'for free' is technically wrong but is now accepted." To this I say that 'for free' is, at the least, a single instance of a mistake. To accept double prepositions as a rule, however, is a different matter entirely. Are we going to accept things like "I got on in the bus"?

And to be clear, I'm not just faulting the authors here. But, do you notice that one of the authors is from Oxford!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Good Reading

  • Via Slashdot, an article on Google's involvement with huge data sets from the academic world (e.g. Hubble data).

  • Clifford links to a very interesting read about a maladjusted physics ex-grad student who got mixed up with vandalizing one night and is suffering. I can see the justice system messing up cases such as these, but I would have hoped such would be corrected quickly.

  • Speaking of the justice system, I'm still in a good mood from the Libby verdict and was happy to have a good read from one of the jury members at The Huffington Post...probably not a must read for most out there, but certainly one filled with some interesting tidbits both about the case and the behind scenes of an important trial.

Physics in Slashdot

  • Where do high energy gamma rays crashing into the Earth come from? These guys say they come from the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

  • A somewhat silly article about how Hollywood handles the laws of physics.

  • What to do about a shortage of science and math teachers? The answer to all problems apparently is money. Speaking of which, there are places in this country where I would make more as a high school science teacher than I do now (well, base salary that is).

    On a completely unrelated note, I'm in a good mood because of the Libby verdict yesterday. Nice to see the system work occasionally. I really hope history gets it right and that this period is rightly remembered as pure adulteration of what our country stands for.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

To Tenure or Not, that is the question

One of the authors of "Freakonomics" suggests getting rid of tenure, at least for economics profs. These discussions pop up every so often, but I don't recall some of the more interesting points mentioned here. Basically, that schools could rid themselves of tenure, increase faculty salaries, and thereby kill two birds with one stone by attracting the best and dispensing with the worst.

I've seen some of the worst abusers of tenure, but I also see that it actually protects some appropriately. Part of the problem is that Universities are somewhat dysfunctional with power spread in a strange way among the faculty, administrators, the boards, and perhaps the state legislature, if public. The spread doesn't serve to check any one faction, but instead to politicize the whole process. [Insert Uncle Al's damnation of the whole higher ed system here]

And as to the issue of tenure in grades K-12, I really have no clue why it's there or how it got there. Boggles the mind, it does.

Anyway, I've worked hard for my tenure and I don't think I'll be given the option anytime soon of either keeping my tenure or getting more money per year. But as Dr. Seuss asks at the end of "What would you do?"