Sunday, April 29, 2007

P.S. about Einstein

I saw part of the X Files movie today but I'd forgotten that some was filmed at the Athenaeum also. But I can't remember which part. I also remembered that I saw some filming of a movie about Richard Feynman on the Caltech campus. Matthew Broderick played Feynman. Didn't see Matt on campus though. Or Feynman :) Although Jim Kiper and I attended a talk that Oliver Sacks gave in Cal Tech's crazy looking auditorium.

My Einstein inadequacy

On CSPAN's BookTV this weekend I saw a brief talk by the author of a new book on Einstein. This reminded me of back in my JPL days I got to stay in Einstein's apartment at the CalTech Athenaeum. There was a Joshua Reynolds painting over the fireplace, and the patio overlooking the campus was great (you can see pictures of both here). That night I felt pretty dumb and had trouble falling asleep.

But, it could be that was because it was also the night of the explosion and crash of TWA 800. I sat on Einstein's couch (OK, I think it wasn't the original :) and fiddled with the rabbit ears on the ancient TV (also non-Einstein) to watch news coverage of the accident.

I always thought it was funny that while I was semi-regularly staying at the Athenaeum there were only rabbit-ear TVs, and no air conditioning, which made some summer Pasadena nights pretty unbearable (one night at 2am it was 92 degrees F in the room). I think both of those have been remedied (and a guest elevator installed).

The Athenaeum is known for it's food (I mostly ate downstairs in the Ratheskeller pool hall), and there is even a reference to Einstein in this foodie review.

BTW, I also stayed in the Millikan Suite, but wasn't as intimidated since I don't think he actually lived there :)

One more bit of trivia: the dining room scene of Beverly Hills Cop was filmed at the Athenaeum:
"If you saw Beverly Hills Cop, you've seen the Athenaeum," says Arden Albee, a retired professor of geology and planetary science who is chairman of the club's house committee. The banquet room was used in a food-fight scene in the 1984 movie, which starred Eddie Murphy. The club's porch was used more recently in The Wedding Planner, starring Jennifer Lopez, and features real weddings as well.

The quote is from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education available only to subscribers, or to anyone who Googles athenaeum albee and clicks "cached" :)

One more bit of trivia: during one of my JPL summers I stayed in Dr. Albee's guest house in the backyard. I think they pretty much forgot that I was staying there since they seemed surprised when I would come up to the main house to pay the rent :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not exactly UFOs, but strange flying things

Sporty's Pilot Shop has the weirdest stuff sometimes. Like a cannula that you attach to your headphones with double-stick tape. I never thought of jamming tubes in my nostrils and then taping them to an ear.

Another thing is an ordinary looking ice chest, with a hole cut in the lid and a fan attached. The idea is you fill the chest with ice and water, and run the fan to cool your cockpit. Seems like something that I would have done in 1976 driving an un-airconditioned car to the midwest.

But, really, for weird, this is right up there. Could be useful in this summer though :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

disposable or reusable revisited

Back in October I posted something about how many times you'd need to reuse a ceramic (or glass) mug to use less energy per use than drinking from a disposable cup.

There was something today on digg about the topic. Since digg can be annoying, here is the link to the cited report. This is probably where the "you'd need to use a ceramic mug a thousand times to break even" comes from -- according to professor Martin Hocking's calculations, the ceramic-foam "break even" point is 1006. A quote:

The results are extremely sensitive to the amount of energy the dishwasher requires for cleaning each cup. Hocking's choice for the dishwasher, requiring 0.18 MJ/cup-wash, is barely less than the manufacturing energy of the foam cup, 0.19 MJ/cup. If Hocking had chosen even a slightly less energy-efficient dishwasher as his standard, then the reusable cups would never have broken even with the foam cup.

The lesson of this life-cycle energy analysis is that the choice between reusable and disposable cups doesn't matter much in its overall environmental impact. One should use one's best judgement.

Bonus tidbit: earlier in the week I was in a meeting where someone who knows a lot about local health statistics opined that contrary to popular local belief, the number of emergency room visits for "asthma" don't peak during "bad air" (high ozone) days. The visits peak during high allergy days :)


Here is a page of statistics that looks ... misleading. For example, the central valley has a higher percentage of kids with asthma. OK, how much higher. The rate for the valley is 11%, the bay area 10%, the state (9%), and LA (8%). Three percent difference? Is that statistically significant? Could there be something else going on here, like, oh, family income? Access to health care? Living where there is a ton of pollen in the air? :)

Also, when you look at "all ages" and see that Fresno County is 13%, yet Kern, Tulare, and San Joaquin counties (two out of three with at least as bad air quality :) are 9%, well that makes you wonder about the data :)

I've always thought it interesting that living around cockroaches is bad for asthma.

Back to ages 0-17. As above, the central valley rate is 11%. Assignment: What's the national average for ages 0-17?

How about this (emphasis added):

In 2003, most U.S. children under 18 years of age had excellent or very good health (83%). However, 10% of children had no health insurance coverage, and 5% of children had no usual place of health care. Thirteen percent of children had ever been diagnosed with asthma. An estimated 8% of children 3-17 years of age had a learning disability, and an estimated 6% of children had ADHD.

Isn't data interesting :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More Malc

A few more Malcolm Gladwell videos:
  • Malcolm on spaghetti sauce (you'll have to scroll down to find him). Pretty amusing.
  • Malc's agent hosts two videos on their web site, one about Blink and the other a talk given at Lucent Technologies. This is very similar to the talk he gave at the BbWorld conference.

Bonus update: The New Yorker Festival video from last year was moved. This is the talk about using neural networks to predict hit movies. You can watch it

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Things higher-ed related

A few things related to universitying:
  • "Research points the finger at PowerPoint". Some of the research is summarized as:

    They [the researchers] have also challenged popular teaching methods, suggesting that teachers should focus more on giving students the answers, instead of asking them to solve problems on their own.

    Other parts of the research sounds a little like Tufte and other things I've previously mentioned about presentations. Professor Sweller is quoted:
    It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.

    Bonus link: a comparison of Gates' and Jobs' presentation styles. You might also want to click here and scroll down to the video by Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.

  • Two posts from the Tomorrow's Professor mailing list: "Teaching Naked: Why Removing Technology from Your Classroom Will Improve Student Learning" and how not to be a bore.

  • The infamous U.S. News rankings got the top ten electrical engineering schools wrong. Whoops. "Another Rankings Fiasco at ‘U.S. News’".