Friday, October 30, 2009

My new favorite physics book

I am reading Absorption and Scattering of light by small particles by Craig Bohren and Donald Huffman and in Chapter 2, when they are talking about Maxwell equations and the relevant assumptions they say:

"Now it is well known (to those who know it well) that the response of a mechanical system to a periodic driving force is a sensitive function of the frequency". (Emphasis added)

Haha, now, THAT is freaking awesome. I can't remember how many times I've read books or journal articles that argue that something is well known, just to find out that I am one of those for whom it isn't "well" known.

I am only in chapter 2 so far, but what I've read so far is really well written. I had a feeling at the beginning that this would be a good book, but now after finding the above-mentioned quote it just became one of my favorites.

Do you have any other funny physics book quotes?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


That would be me, but apparently not him.

Of all the things (whatever many or few they are) a former president could do, I never thought he would become a motivational speaker.

Oh well...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Welcome to the jungle!!!

I hadn't thought of it until today, but I think the intro song for Monk could almost apply to academia.

Don't be fooled, the limited number of grants plus the pressure of continuously publish make academia a really tough place as far as competition goes.

Massimo wrote a very nice post on one of the ways (dirty) competition happens in academia. I bet many non-academics were not aware of this type of shit going on. Ha, welcome to the jungle!!!!

NOTE: I realize I could also give some credit to Guns n' Roses. I can't really remember all the lyrics and thus I am not sure they apply at this time. I will come back and update the post when I have the time to check that song out again.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is that my job?... are you sure?

I read PiT's post on the education debate and the comments are, of course, on different sides of the aisle.

The topic is a complicated one because it has many sides and there is also (at least in the US) money involved, and while I am sure it will take a long time to settle the matter, PiT's post comes not so long after I experience a situation related to education in the classroom. I find this time appropriate to tell you about it.

As a grad student I've had to TA for many different courses with many different professors. Some professors were bad, some were good, some were really bad but no one had been really good. I had never taken classes with them, I only had the professor-TA interaction until in my last TA job when I was assigned to a professor with whom I had taken a graduate class. The class I took with him was a special topic class in his area of expertise, and he made it very closely related to his research. I found the class to be very enjoyable, but most importantly useful since I thought I actually learned a lot from him. So, when I got my TA job I was very excited, this could be finally the time where I get to TA for a guy who the students might like (It is awkward to TA for a prof that the students hate and keep making bad comments about).

When the semester started I was a little thrown back because his choice of teaching style was different than the one he used in the class I took with him. I don't particularly like that style but supposedly it has been shown to work better and I wasn't going to tell him to teach it differently. At least not yet.

Everything was going "fine" until the first test came. It was a relatively difficult test and the grades were low. Lower than expected. Something was odd. We talked about it and that's when I said that maybe he should try other teaching styles. It might not be that the style is bad, just that it may not be for him. I knew he was not a bad teacher, I'd had him as one and he was very good. I was "sure" it was the use of a different style. It had to be, right?

Well, the reply was where I got a little disappointed. He wasn't going to change, because 1) when he was a TA that's the way he always did it and 2) changing to the traditional, or any other style, involves work that he didn't want or had no time to put it.

The two points have issues with them in my opinion. Having always done it that way doesn't mean it has always worked. Doesn't even mean that it has worked at all. And changing the style meaning more work, well sure it is a lot of work, but if you want the students to actually learn from you you need to find your style.

When you, as a student, are faced with situations like this, don't you deserve more? I understand that professors have a lot of other things to do that undergrads are usually not aware of, but if you took the job as a professor, with teaching load involved, why not try to be better at it?

You can certainly ask, when do you stop being better? when everyone passes? when you've tried 2 or 3 methods? Those are valid questions, and some for which I don't have an answer. I do think it is unrealistic for 100% of the students to pass a class with perfect grades. It is also unrealistic to try every single teaching method. I just think it is also the professor's responsibility to do his/her best before deciding that some students don't deserve to pass because they didn't work as hard as they should.

I want to make it clear that what I just told you is by no means proof that every professor out there is in that position. But, at least in my case, it did make me wonder how many profs think like that and now don't make an effort.

Monday, October 5, 2009

How science moves forward...

This is awesome advice!!! He should be awarded a Nobel prize!!!!

It really doesn't get any easier, right?

Sorry about the quality of the video. I couldn't find a better one online.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The flu vs. non-experts!

I just found out this article online. The story comes down to this: We have a vaccine for H1N1, but many people don't want to get it because it's unsafe, or so they say. Here are a few quotes from the article:

"Experts stressed that the vaccine was made the same way it is every year and there is no reason to think it will pose any greater risk. Serious side effects involving the seasonal vaccines are extremely rare."

Then, a few paragraphs below:

"We are concerned that the H1N1 vaccine is too new and too untested to be given to such a young child," said Jenn Lewis, an attorney who lives in the District and has a 9-month-old daughter. "We would prefer that our child not be a 'guinea pig' for the vaccine."

All that comes to my mind after reading the article is a quote from PiT:


Since when do people know so much about virology and medicine? The article doesn't mention whether or not the people that are against H1N1 vaccine also refuse to get the seasonal flu vaccine every year. If they do get it every year, then they really have some (wrong) preconceptions about the flu vaccine. Every year, a group of knowledgeable people (in the field of course) make a guess as to what strain of the flu will go around and that's what they put in the vaccine. Some years they guess right (or close enough) that the seasonal flu vaccine is a success, and some other years they miss miserably and it maybe would've made little difference not to get it.

Do you know the difference this year? The H1N1 vaccine is 100% dead on the virus strain. That means that, as long as the virus doesn't mutate (at least significantly), if you get the vaccine you will NOT get the "swine flu".

"From what I've read and what I've heard, all it causes is just a mild case of the flu," said Laura Reavis of Buford, Ga., who has no plans to go for shots herself and no inclination to inoculate her 2-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and 6-month-old son, Woodrow. Her husband, Daniel, plans to pass, too. "You get sick for a few days or maybe a week, get over it, and life goes on." (Emphasis added by me)

This response wouldn't be so bad if most people who thought like this and got sick would just stay home and contain the spreading. The problem is they will go to work (who, other than grad students and professors :D, can afford to not work these days, right?) and cough everywhere and really make no effort to stop passing it on to others. That is why vaccines are so important. That's exactly why vaccines are ranked high up in medical advancements.

For those who are against vaccines, really go learn (from unbiased) sources about how vaccines are made and about immunity (in particular herd immunity).