End of the Semester; Obama’s picks, etc.

Workout notes: yoga class then 6 miles on the track (6.38) in 58:11; 8 lap splits (7.5 laps per mile in lane 3): 9:58, 9:43, 9:30, 9:35, 9:48, 9:35. This was similar to my December 2 workout though 43 seconds slower though this run was much, much easier.

What I am noticing is that I feel like death during the first mile (out of breath, etc. and don’t really start feeling good until 20 minutes into it).

Academia Yep, the final grades are in. I decided to post them on blackboard; but this program is set up so that you load one column of data at a time. One of my snowflakes panicked when he saw his numerical course score and final exam score (both not-so-hot) but I hadn’t loaded the final grade column yet. He got a big “benefit of the doubt” for the final grade, though given his “when can I come in and see you” e-mail…well I am very tempted to change the grade that I assigned him thereby removing the “benefit of the doubt”. (yeah, I am going to come in over break to listen to whining…NOT!!!!)

(see this article by a Georgia Tech physics professor; I’ve linked to it previously.)

Mathematics and Science

Interestingly enough, integrals came up in a blog that I read:

Having recently slogged through grading an enormous pile of graduate-level problem sets, I am compelled to share one of the most useful tricks I learned in graduate school.

Make your integrals dimensionless.

This probably seems silly to the theoretical physicists in the audience, who have a habit of changing variables and units to the point where everything is dimensionless and equals one. However, in astrophysics, you frequently are integrating over real physical quantities (numbers of photons, masses of stars, luminosities of galaxies, etc) that still have units attached. While students typically do an admirable job of setting up the necessary integrals, they frequently go off the rails when actually evaluating the integrals, as they valiantly try to propagate all those extra factors.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Suppose you want to calculate some sort of rate constant for photoionization, that when multiplied by the density of atoms, will give you the rate of photo-ionizations per volume. These sorts of rates are always density times velocity times cross section:

Go ahead and read the column; it has some interesting mathematics in it. Finally, they boil down one integral to:

\frac{8\pi}{c^2} \, \frac{(x_0\,kT)^3}{h^3} \, \sigma_0 \int_{x_0}^\infty \, \frac{1}{e^x-1} \, \frac{{\rm d}x}{x}

Have fun! Ok, I haven’t tried this yet, but I strongly suspect that this is a residue integral or perhaps could be changed into a probability function by a clever change of variable.

I also finished my abstract algebra grades. Here is an interesting little problem: roughly speaking, a field is a system of “numbers” in which every non zero element has a multiplicative inverse. For example, the integers don’t form a field (only 1 and -1 have a multiplicative inverse in the integers) but the rational numbers do form a field.

It is a known fact that the integers mod p (p a prime) do form a field.

So what about this question: consider the set S consisting of a + bi where a and b are mod p integers (p a prime) and i is the square root of -1 and multiplication is defined as it is with complex numbers. What conditions must be met for S to be a field? Hint: p = 3 and p = 7 yields fields whereas p = 5 does not!

Note: this problem is not at all difficult but you do have to play around a bit.

Science and Politics

I’ve been critical of some of Obama’s choices. But I’ve been ecstatic over others; from Science Debate 2008:

We want to congratulate President-elect Obama on continuing to assemble an outstanding science team.

A few days ago we told you about the appointment of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary.

Today we have two more outstanding appointments to announce:

1. We have learned that John Holdren will be President Obama’s Science Advisor. John has an excellent knowledge of science policy, and a deep understanding of how the public needs the government to engage on science policy issues. He is a recent past president of the AAAS and an early and ardent Science Debate 2008 supporter. You can watch a 1-minute video he did for us last February, promoting a primary science debate at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

2. Jane Lubchenco, we’re told, will head up President Obama’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admninistration (NOAA). She is an outstanding choice with a deep background in marine biology. Jane is also a past AAAS president, and also an early supporter of Science Debate 2008. When we issued candidate invitations to an Oregon debate, Jane was a close advisor. Here’s a 1-minute video of her.

Why are these choices so important? Here is a 1-minute video President-elect Obama’s transition chief, John Podesta, did for us earlier this year that answers that. Clearly, this is a man who gets it, working, it seems, for a president who gets it.

There is widespread hope that these excellent picks (in science) will continue.

In all, I haven’t educated myself on all of his picks, though I’ll do so over the weekend. Here are my initial impressions:

* Department of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack: I am leaning favorable here.

* Department of Commerce
Bill Richardson: I am very happy; smart and multi-talented

* Department of Defense

Robert Gates: Yes, a Bush holdover but he appears to be smart and competent.

* Department of Education
Arne Duncan: Chicago area superintendent; I don’t know much.

* Department of Energy
Steven Chu: Nobel Laureate in Physics; head of the Livermore lab, passionate and out of this world brilliant.

* Department of Health and Human Services
Tom Daschle: lean favorable but I’ll have to learn more; I didn’t follow his Senate career all that closely though he was minority leader at one time.

* Department of Homeland Security

* Department of Housing and Urban Development
Shaun Donovan: really don’t know other than he is from New York.

* Department of the Interior
Ken Salazar: mixed; he has political skill and is the Colorado Senator; from reading the stuff he wrote I don’t get the impression that he is all that intellectual. Here is an example.

* Department of Justice
Eric Holder: I don’t know all that much about him.

* Department of Labor

* Department of State
Hillary Clinton: Love the pick. She is sharp, knowledgeable and well respected around the world.

* Department of Transportation
Ray LaHood: Barf; this guy is a mediocrity where I think excellence is needed. But one commenter at Prairie State Blue said:

Politically speaking. LaHood will help deflect some of the inevitable Republican criticism of these massive spending projects. And it’s not the job of a Cabinet Secretary to come up with fresh, imaginative solutions to complex problems. In fact, someone too in love with his own ideas could easily become a liability.

That is probably the best defense of this pick that I’ve seen.

* Department of the Treasury
Tim Geithner: seems sharp, creative and full of energy. I like the pick, but we’ll wait and see.

* Department of Veterans Affairs
Eric Shinseki: love this pick; he is best noted for falling from the grace of the Bush administration by telling the truth about how hard the Iraq occupation would be.

Ok, the Rick Warren thing

No, I don’t like the fact that is @sshole was chosen at all; I think that this wooish bigot sets a terrible example for the country. But remember this: politically speaking, this is one way to throw a bone to the yahoos (e. g., right wing evangelicals) without giving them one tiny bit of policy.

Some takes: Friendly Atheist (aka Hemant Mehta ) says to “chill out” (though he doesn’t like the pick either). He asks: “who gave Bush’s invocations? ” Of course, few really remember that.

Markos Moulitsas (founder of the Daily Kos) is disgusted but sees a silver lining:

I’m with Aravosis on this one.

I’m reading a lot about how Obama “reaches out” to his adversaries, and that’s why he’s building a track record of inviting avowed homophobes to stand front and center at his campaign events and now his inauguration.

Okay, I’m game. So we know being a gay-basher doesn’t disqualify you from a seat at the Obama table – in fact, it seems to be an outright qualification for proving Obama’s post-partisanship. If Obama prides himself on reaching out to all sides of every debate, then why is it that Obama has never sat down with, or promoted at his events, an avowed racist or anti-Semite?

Yeah. Where is David Duke’s invitation? Or as Blue Texan notes, when do Phelps and Hagee get their invitations? Heck, throw up Tom Tancredo up there for good measure, so us Latinos can feel some of the hate!

On the other hand, John Cole also has a point:

You would think that folks would be ecstatic that they have a President-elect who, for the first time I can remember, is publicly, openly, and repeatedly stating that he supports equal rights for gays and lesbians and that the Christian right is wrong about these issues […]

I think the Warren choice is bullshit, but if we want a silver lining, it’s that the President of the United States has just said:

I am fierce advocate for equality for gay and—well, let me start by talking about my own views. I think it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something I have been consistent on and something I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.

That’s not a bad silver lining. But let me add this to John — Obama wouldn’t be out there making perhaps the strongest statement in support of gays and lesbians by a president (though he’s still not technically one, I know) if it wasn’t for the sturm and drang this choice generated. It is precisely this backlash that has forced Obama to clearly affirm his commitment to equality. And it will be continued pressure that will force him to do the right thing on the issue.

If we shut up, he’ll take the path of least resistance. And that path of least resistance is kowtowing to the conservative media, the clueless punditocracy, and bigots like Warren.

And let’s face it: it is Barack Obama’s style to blow off his strongest supporters and reach out to the other side.

You can read what Obama has to say here:

Let me start by talking about my own views. I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency. What I’ve also said is that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues, and I would note that a couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign’s been all about, that we’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.


December 19, 2008 - Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, bill richardson, education, hillary clinton, mathematics, obama, politics, politics/social, ranting, religion, running, training

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