Archive for: May, 2007

Astronomer for Hire

May 17 2007 Published by under Self

Hey, Bora got a job interview by suggesting that he was the right person for the job on his blog. I don't have the specific job in hand, but it's a public forum. Perhaps there's somebody out there looking for me, only they don't know it, and I don't know it. And, let me quote Bora again, because I've demonstrated that this quote also applies to me: "Some people like to keep secrets, but I like to air my thoughts in public (why have a blog otherwise?)...."

What can I do for you? I've got skills, aptitudes, attitudes, and goals that may be perfectly matched by something out there I haven't thought of.

Below I list an honest assessment of my strengths and my shortcomings.

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13 responses so far

Guillermo Gonzalez

I'm in an interesting position. Having so recently posted my own bitch and whine about how my tenure case is in trouble, suddenly we learn that Intelligent Design advocate Guillermo Gonzalez-- somebody who, frankly, has been viewed as a thorn in the side of astronomy by a large fraction of astronomers-- has been denied tenure.

I'm in no position to comment, but will do so anyway, because that's my way.

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14 responses so far

Blog break

May 09 2007 Published by under About the Blog

I'm going to take a week and a half or so off. More posts after I'm back.

7 responses so far

Irritation: opaque press releases

May 08 2007 Published by under Rant, The Business of Astronomy

I'd love to write something about the biggest-ass supernova ever observed, confirmed to be "something new" based on Chandra observations. There is a press release about it here.

Alas, my web-fu has not been good enough yet to turn up an actual preprint or scientific article. The press release says that the paper will appear in the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ, pronounced "ap jay", to those of us in the biz). That generally means the paper is accepted. Alas, I could not find the preprint on the preprint server. I hope that it's just a timing issue, and that the preprint will show up in a day or two. Or, if anybody knows where I can get my hands on a preprint, please point me (and the world) to it.

The press release sounds pretty cool, but one of my pet peeves is when there are press releases (which, I know from personal experience, get filtered through PR people and as such are at least as much marketing as they are the presentation of scientific results) without the corresponding meaty journal article.

13 responses so far

The Astronomy Community to Rob Knop : "Get out. You aren't good enough"

May 08 2007 Published by under Rant, The Business of Astronomy

Whether or not that's the message that is intended to be sent, that is the message that is sent.

Here's my deal. Vanderbilt has made it 100% clear that without funding at the level of an NSF grant, I will not get tenure, regardless of anything else. Indeed, my chair has told me that funding is the only issue he sees as being a serious question with my tenure case. (And, by the way, to the two new astronomers who are coming: I know that some dean told you it's a "myth" that tenure is dependent on funding. Unless I have been lied to, you were lied to during your interview.)

For what I do, there aren't a lot of funding sources. The NSF is pretty much it. Yes, I also put in proposals to the HST and Chandra space telescopes. The HST proposal got turned down, and I'm still waiting to hear on Chandra. Money would come with that telescope time, but not at the level that Vanderbilt wants to see to be convinced that I'm a worthy member of the faculty.

I've got one more year, one more shot at the NSF, before the tenure decision comes up. If I get funded, then tenure is maybe. I have to get more papers out-- I've got a bunch in the pipeline, although frankly the continual hits I get on funding kill my motivation and ability to get anything done. If I don't get funding, the message has been delivered to me very clearly: I will not get tenure.

I have been submitting proposals for years. I've changed my research area when it was clear that somebody in my position couldn't get funding to be part of the Supernova Cosmology Project. I've adapted my proposals based on comments. All if it is just like beating my head against the wall. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied.

The hit against the ego is bad enough. The fact that I can't pay may grad student an RA is worse. The fact that this means that Vanderbilt is going to fire me just takes the cake.

I have to take some time to calm down, but right now I really want to throw my hands up, scream out loud, and quit my job. Fuck it, I feel. Vanderbilt has made it clear that I'm not good enough if I can't get funding, and the NSF has made it clear that I'm not making it into the 16-20% of proposals that get funding. (Realistically, talking to the program officer, it's worse than that. Proposals from institution like mine are at an a priori disadvantage when compared to Caltech, Hawaii, Harvard, etc., where astronomers have guaranteed institution-supported access to 4m and 8m class telescopes.)

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47 responses so far

I love

May 04 2007 Published by under Culture

Every so often, I'll get a forward from some friend or family member (usually not one who started using the Internet in college or grad school, as I did), warning us of some scam, some crime, some upcoming law, or some such. 99+% of the time, this is some sort of hoax. A quick search of the web will reveal that it's a reasonably well-known hoax; I'll respond to the whole list letting everybody know about this.

One of the best places for this sort of thing is Indeed, I received an E-mail this evening that was, on the face of it, fairly alarming. Fortunately, a quick visit to confirmed what I suspected: it's just more spam, if perhaps slightly more noxious than regular spam. (I miss the guy from Nigeria trying to launder money. At least he wasn't going to kill me.)

Before I show you the text of the letter, I want to link to the relevant article, just so nobody gets alarmed.

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10 responses so far

The Big Rip : an end to the Universe without recollapse

May 04 2007 Published by under Big Bang & Cosmology

There's been a revolution in cosmology in the last 10 years. Alas, many of the popularizations and textbooks are taking time to catch up... mostly because they were published more than 10 years ago, I suppose.

As such, there's this idea out there that cosmologists are trying to work out if the Universe will recollapse or not.

It won't.

OK, I sound more confident than I really am. However, for it to recollapse, Dark Energy would have to be way more perverse than we think it is anyway. Way. We're pretty sure at this point that a recollapse is far off of the table.

And, yet, I still sometimes get questions about tihs. People read about the two possibilities for the universe: the open or flat "expand forever" and the closed "recollapse." Nowadays, with Dark Energy, geometry is not tied to fate. Our geometry appears to be flat (or very close to flat), but our expansion is going much faster than it would in the old fashioned "open" picture.

But: there still is a way we can allow for the most aesthetically appealing feature of the recollapsing Universe.

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42 responses so far

Copyright is Censorship

May 01 2007 Published by under Intellectual Property

Provocative title, eh? I expect many people to instinctively react as angrily to this as I do to the empty clause "intellectual property is property". However, the clause "copyright is censorship" is actually true.

What is copyright? It is a law passed by and enforced by governments that places restrictions on what you can say in public or what you can publish. It is a limitation on the freedom of expression.

In what way is that not censorship?

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33 responses so far

Copyright and scientific papers

Scientific papers, like all other sorts of writing or creative expression, are covered by copyright. And, this is potentially a very bad thing.

Copyright grants a lot of sweeping rights to the writers of a paper, or the producers of any creative work. Often, those rights get signed away to a publisher or a distributor, but they are still there and enforceable by law. Among those rights is the right the term "copyright" is named after: the right to make copies of the work, but more significantly, the right to prevent anybody else from making a copy. There's another right that goes even further, and that some are not aware of: the right to make "derivative works." You cannot legally create and distribute a movie or novel about Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca, because 20th Century Fox (or Lucasfilms, or somebody) owns the copyright to the works in which those characters were created, and you need a license from them to distribute derivative works.

Scientists do not need, and indeed should not have, exclusive (or any) control over who can copy their papers, and who can make derivative works of their papers.

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11 responses so far

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