I am thankful for the public funding of science

Today I am thankful for my friends and family and being born into a middle class family in a first world country and all of that normal Thanksgiving stuff. But there is something else that I am thankful for that I want to call attention to. I am thankful for the public funding of science.
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Driving to LA

I grew up in LA. My family still lives there, with my immediate family in the San Fernando Valley and the extended part of my mom’s side of the family mostly lives nearby-ish. So, I drive to LA (and back) a few times a year to see them. I’ve gotten really good at the drive and have seemingly mastered the 5-6 hour snooze fest that is typical of driving through California’s central valley (and before that, the big desert between Arizona and California).

Driving on the 5 is pretty easy. It’s pretty straight, simple two lanes each direction, with occasional rest stops, gas stations, and even an In-n-Out halfway between LA and the Bay Area. It’s boring. There’s not a lot to see except for agriculture and cows1. So, doing the drive for 5-6 hours, especially by yourself like I normally do, requires a certain amount of preparation, Zen-like patience (for when there is traffic), and an ability to amuse yourself when needed.
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Vector Graph Racer

I love vectors. I mean, they’re pretty awesome. They have a magnitude and a direction. Two for the price of one. They are also quite helpful when doing physics. [Full disclosure: my dissertation had a big focus on vectors, so I’m a little biased.] I also really like graph paper. So you can imagine how excited I was when I stumbled upon a paper-and-pencil game that used vectors as the main mechanic.

The game goes by many names and has been around for a long time. I first saw it as Graph Racer, but I like Vector Racer too. There’s a whole article on the rules and variants on Wikipedia. The game is always different because you draw the board each time you play. So how does it work?
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Trying to process Ferguson

Ferguson is happening again. And by that I mean: once again our country (or at least the people in it that are paying attention) are seeing how much we do not live in a post-racial society and how much injustice still exists in everyday institutions. I almost didn’t want to write anything about this today, but in the end I felt like pretending it wasn’t happening wasn’t a good idea either.
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Becoming a PI

There are three important letters that you add to your name when you finish your Ph.D. But there are two other letters that are also important to researchers as they begin their careers: P.I. The Principal Investigator is the person in charge of a research project and it signifies the next step in your career, where a funding agency has selected your research proposal, using a panel of your peers in most cases, as worthy of gaining a substantial amount of external support. It is basically a sign that other people (you know, people who aren’t trying to help you graduate) think that your work is important and interesting. It’s a really good thing and the first time you become a P.I. is an important career milestone.
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An Ode to Pizza

O! great circular form;
a marriage of dough and cheese
of sauce and herbs and many things
depending on what we please.

You do not care the circumstances
or request a type of dress.
Thou are appropriate at all times
and only occasionally make a mess.

From fires in a gourmet brick oven or
a simple toaster muffin made,
you always will delight my tongue
and your flavors seldom fade.

I do not wish to argue
about the merits of pineapple;
perhaps it’s best to stick to cheese
and avoid a minor grapple.

A simple margherita
will usually do the trick,
but once in a while a fancy meat
becomes a better pick.

Some prefer a deeper crust
or a giant folding slice.
But me, I’m happy with all kinds
to satisfy my vice.

O pizza! O pizza!
You are the perfect food:
Adaptable and changeable;
the best, I must conclude.

Red Rocks

Last summer, when I was in Boulder for the ICLS conference, I stayed a couple extra days to hang out with some friends. On a seriously perfect and beautiful day, Carrie, her dog Scout, and I went hiking in Red Rocks. Red Rocks is an outdoor amphitheater and recreation area near Denver with lots of hiking and cool things to do (in addition to listening to awesome music).
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What is evidence? Thinking about Serial and science

What is evidence? In science, usually we think of evidence as a collection of the observations, measurements, and results of data analysis from an investigation of a phenomenon. But I think evidence isn’t just a set of these measurements. In order for it to be evidence and not just data, there also needs to be information about its relevance and appropriateness to answering a question or a claim. You can think of good evidence (data that was collected in a careful and thoughtful way and that supports your claim) or bad evidence (sloppily collected data, incomplete data, and/or data that doesn’t support your claim).

The podcast Serial came up during one of my research meetings today. We were talking through a transcript of a middle school science classroom and debating whether or not to apply one of codes to a particular utterance the teacher made. The topic of evidence was brought up and it made me think of Serial and how evidence is discussed on the show and how it is similar in a lot of ways to how we want students to talk about evidence in their science classes.
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Zelda Speed Runs

Over the summer I got really interested in video game speed runs. Specifically speed runs of Legend of Zelda games. I had known that this was a thing, but it had never caught my fascination before. Speed running, for those of you not familiar, is when you try to play a game as fast as possible. In many ways this is analogous to high score records in other video games (this is especially true with older arcade games – think of the documentary King of Kong about Donkey Kong players), but since Zelda games don’t have a score, players instead compete to see who can complete the game the fastest. Before I started watching speed runs, I had an impression that the players might be similar to those depicted in the King of Kong movie: obsessed, secretive, and ultra-competitive. But I found something very different.

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