Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I would've won every game

It's not a new idea, but perhaps this is a new take on it:

Maybe you can guess what my last few weeks have been like.

I invite you to add your own entries in the comments.

---From Ogre Proctor Hep.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mount Saint Mary's Update

Back in February, we discussed the resignation of Mount Saint Mary's President Simon Newman (a businessman who compared marginal students to bunnies and recommended shooting or drowning them -- metaphorically, of course -- lest they mess up the all-important retention metrics).  It appears that the the university now has a new (interim) president: An Army general, as news outlets that took notice were quick to emphasize

Fortunately, it turns out that Gen. Timothy Trainor might also be described as an experienced academic; he's spent the last 15 years as a professor, department chair, and dean at West Point. It even looks like he's spent some relatively recent time in the classroom (albeit with a very disciplined student body).  And he talks about listening and learning before acting:

"Early on I'm going to focus on engaging and learning," Trainor said. "I have a lot to learn about the institution but I want to engage with the different constituencies there early on to learn their hopes and aspirations."

At the very least, I don't think he'll talk about putting Glocks to student's heads, even metaphorically, because, even if they have MBAs, people with actual training and experience in the appropriate use of firearms seem considerably less likely to say that sort of thing than businessman who are just throwing around metaphors.  


I can't call it "Empty Nest Syndrome" because they are not my kids. But, I still feel melancholy as they move on to adulthood. From EMH.

One of my favorite students started basic cadet training at West Point today. I came to know him as a very dedicated student over the years, so I grew to enjoy working with him. His parents hired me when he was 15, the same year he joined the Sea Cadets. It was an honor to have been part of helping this young man make it this far, yet I found myself staring off into space today wondering where the time had gone. Worrying. Did I do enough for him? Maybe I just hope he doesn't get himself killed.

I wanted to get him a gift. I never got one because I just couldn't figure out what would be appropriate. That kind of thing has always been extremely difficult for me.

I have two other students who are getting ready to begin their college experience at UC Santa Cruz. One is going to study Robotics and the other will be studying Environmental Science. Their mom hired me when they were 15 too and I have grown to enjoy working with them as well.

They are fraternal twins (ie. not identical) but with almost opposite personalities. One likes to clown and have fun. The other also clowns a bit but is more serious about life. You know, it's funny because they just turned 18 and the clowny one was poking his brother yesterday while meowing. Yet, they are very bright kids. Maybe a bit easily distracted but very bright and with good hearts too!

We've been working on some STEM work this summer. Dear God, it's Santa Cruz! You aren't under mom's wing anymore. Things will be there that will present themselves as huge temptations. Don't get yourself high! Don't let the girls break your heart. And above all stay away from the sharks!

How quickly they grow up.

Make it count guys!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Double-Double Development Deanlet Distress, by Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

The Tacoma-Narrows Bridge, also called "Gallopin' Gertie," shortly before its collapse. We use this in physics classes to show engineers-to-be why resonances are good for musical instruments, but not for bridges. I was tempted to use instead an image of Epsilon Lyrare, the famous "double-double" star system (with two sets of two stars, orbiting each other.)

My college has for many years employed a series of fundraising people. Usually, the job title is "Development Officer." These people are hired exclusively the Dean, report only to the Dean (and indirectly to higher-ups such as the Provost), and don't necessarily have any academic background: the very definition of "deanlet." There have been a series of them because they have a high turnover rate. One reason for this is that they so rarely raise any funding.

One such Development Officer was fired shortly after the rejection of a $40k grant that I applied for from a private foundation. Hey, rejection happens in the hypercompetitive field of astronomy: fewer than 1 in 3 astronomy Ph.D.s ever get tenure or other reasonably secure jobs doing astronomy, so a 25% acceptance rate when applying for grants is doing great. What struck me was that this Development Officer's job had become totally dependent on the success of this one grant (from an astronomer) for $40k, the overhead from which wouldn't even come close to paying this person's annual salary. This says to me that these people don't know much about the game they're playing.

Another Development Officer hit up as a potential source of funding the local, marginally solvent, minor-league baseball team. You can guess how that worked out: no, the ball wasn't hit out of the park. It occurs to me that if you want to raise money from private sources, shouldn't you try places where it isn't public knowledge that they are struggling for money—such as at the local Rotary club, or a country club, or a profitable corporation, or any of the local casinos, or a bank?

Another Development Officer COST us thousands of dollars, in lost work hours. The plan was a science extravaganza, the highlight of which was to be a talk by a very famous astronaut. This Development Officer assuredly proclaimed that an acquaintance could get the very famous astronaut to give a talk. Only after burning up much of a semester's worth of a faculty committee's time did anyone think to phone the very famous astronaut's office. It turned out that the very famous astronaut charges a hefty speaker's fee, obviating the talk, and the rest of the extravaganza made like the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge collapse. Good thing the advertising hadn't gone out.

A year later, this Development Officer cheerfully recommended that I apply for a grant from a crank organization. Even more disturbing was that, shortly after starting on the job, ANOTHER Development Officer ALSO suggested PRECISELY THIS. Kids, in the unlikely event that I do get such a grant, since what this organization funds is nonsense that my science doesn't strongly resemble, taking such a grant may prevent me from getting subsequent grants from reputable sources, such as NASA or NSF, who don't like to be seen funding cranks, one reason being Congress doesn't like it. What are these Development Officers going to think up next for me? Casting horoscopes?

My duplicate double-dose of distress was delivered by a different Development Officer, who had previously been Development Officer at another university in our system. He knew that I was building an astronomical observatory. He also knew that the other university had one. He also knew they were building a new dome for a new telescope that they were also having built. He then assumed they wouldn't use the old telescope anymore, so he suggested to me that they might give it to me. I explained to him that would be unlikely, since the old one is still useful, especially for their students. It sits in its own dome that they don't need for the new telescope, since it'll have its own—but more to the point, this telescope weighs over a ton and is worth $1 million. I've always gotten along with my colleagues at this other university fine, but they are NOT going to just hand over to me a capital asset of that size, just like that.

What gasts my flabber is that recently, ANOTHER Development Officer ALSO suggested to me PRECISELY THIS: that this astronomical observatory hand over to me a million-dollar telescope, just like that. Apparently, when Development Officers hear "telescope," they think of something that costs $200 that amateur astronomers (heaven bless 'em) pick up, take outside into their backyard, and look through, for fun. Something that weighs tons and costs millions of 2016 dollars, such as what professional astronomers have been doing research with for the past 150 years, doesn't even occur to them, even though they might have heard of Hubbble Space Telescope (since I bring in grants from my project on it, without their help), which they might have heard cost billions, being in Outer Space and all.

Do Development Officers think that bio labs give away electron microscopes, and that chem labs give away mass spectrometers? Even if these things are obsolete, wouldn't one think that a lab needing money might try to SELL them? Even if they don't work at all, wouldn't one wonder what one can get for PARTS? SURELY, these deanlets CAN'T be THIS out of touch with reality? Or have I picked a bad week to quit taking amphetamines again?

- Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Saturday, June 25, 2016