Whale Watching in SF

This past weekend my dad and I went whale watching off of San Francisco. We went with San Francisco Whale Tours on a six hour long boat ride that went all the way to the Farallon Islands and beyond.

Saturday morning was extremely foggy. And when I say extremely foggy, I mean it. When we were directly beneath the Golden Gate Bridge we could barely see it:

Foggy Golden Gate BridgeBuoy 2

We saw a harbor porpoise and lots of birds and some sea lions on our way out of the Bay. It was still very foggy by the time we got to the Farallon Islands.

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NARST and AERA 2013

My “spring conference series” just ended. NARST (the conference formerly known as the National Association of Research on Science Teaching) was in early April (in Puerto Rico!) and AERA (American Educational Research Association) was about a week ago (here in San Francisco). Here are my notes and thoughts from the two conferences.


The big topic of the conference was, of course, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which officially were released at the tail end of the conference. Most people were referring to it during their presentations, even though we didn’t know exactly what it was yet. (Some people were conflating the new Framework with the new NGSS, but that’s a different story.)

There were a few presentations about one of the large studies that I am working on, an efficacy study of a middle school science curriculum. These presentations on some of our preliminary findings went well and I am really looking forward to next year’s conference when we will have even more results to report on and some awesome graphs to show.

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The Bay Lights

On Friday I went up to San Francisco with a few friends (Shane, Matt, and Drew) to go see the new LED light installation that is on the west span of the Bay Bridge. It was kind of a windy and chilly night, but it was worth it to see the bridge. We got a good view from the pier next to the Ferry Building. Here are some of the pictures I took (and a video below).

And here’s a video of the bridge so you can see the lights in action!

Tilden Park

Yesterday, before (and during the beginning of) the Super Bowl, I went over to Tilden Regional Park with some friends and their children. It is a large park, and we spent most of our time at the Little Farm (which the kids loved – they could chase chickens and pet cows) and the short trail to Jewel Lake. Here are my favorite pictures from the trip.

six months in

Today marks six months at my new job. If someone had told me a year ago, when I was deep in the academic job hunt madness, that I would have found a job as intellectually fulfilling, interesting, challenging, and enjoyable as the one I currently have I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have believed it. Part of that is probably because I didn’t know this kind of job existed. As it turned out for me, everything worked out: the job hunt didn’t actually destroy me, I learned a lot about myself and the type of work I really want to do and the manner in which I want to do it, and I found this awesome job at an awesome place in California (and not half way around the world).

I have had the great pleasure to work on a number of really interesting and diverse* projects just in these first six months, many of which would never had been available to me in a more traditional academic setting. Moreover, the people that I have been working with are great in so many ways. There is a true sense of collegiality and cooperation, which I had experienced before, but never thought possible at the scale at which we have it here at SRI. The teamwork and support structure makes our large and complicated projects possible.


*Diverse meaning that I am working on one project that reaches across the whole U.S. at multiple grades, another where I am helping evaluate a middle school science curriculum, another where I am part of a small team that is looking into the different use cases of a specific technology in science classrooms, and a big one where I’m leading a team doing a meta-analysis. Every day is a new adventure. :)

I got a new camera!

It was a combination partial early Christmas present and very long awaited personal purchase. It’s a shiny new DSLR. A Canon T4i to be exact. And so far, I love it. I took some pictures with it over the weekend to test it out a bit, using my favorite (and mostly willing) subject, Laika. For some reason, if I try to take a picture of her with my iPhone she basically hides, but with “regular” cameras, she is curious and/or indifferent. So that’s great. Once it stops raining, I’ll take some pictures with it outside.

Dogs in space

Today, November 3rd, is the anniversary of the flight of the first animal to orbit the Earth. It was a Russian dog named Laika aboard Sputnik II in 1957.

Laika in her space harness

(image source: http://www.zarya.info/Diaries/Sputnik/Sputnik2.php)

I always have mixed feelings about this anniversary because the story of Laika is ultimately a sad one, as she survived only about 4-5 hours once in orbit (which was not the original story told). Laika was a friendly stray mixed-breed dog that was trained to withstand the ordeal of flying into space. She was progressively moved into smaller and smaller cages to acclimate her to the small size of the space capsule. She was trained in a centrifuge to withstand the multiple g-force of launch and also experienced weightlessness in her training. She was a very brave dog.

The idea was that the data gained from her “sacrifice” would help scientists better understand how to put humans into orbit and beyond. In the end, they didn’t learn all that much from her short trip into space. It was really more of a propaganda stunt than anything else. The launch was sped up in order to align with a Russian anniversary. If given more time (the appropriate amount of time for that kind of endeavor), more care could have been taken in designing the living compartment for Laika, ensuring that it wouldn’t overheat, and allowing for a return back to Earth.

I named my dog after her partly because I have always been fascinated with space and space flight, but also because the two dogs had a lot in common. They both were mixed-breed dogs, on the small side, that were unwanted (I got my Laika from a shelter). They also both had unusual curly tails (Laiks’s original name was Kudryavka – meaning “little curly”) and expressive ears.

hiking with Laika
me and my Laika

Adopting Laika over four and a half years ago was one of the best things I’ve ever done. She is such a wonderful dog and makes me happy every single day.

The original Laika’s story is sad, but I think that it also helps remind us that sometimes there are trade-offs when we try to do new things. And perhaps it is best to take our time with science, in order to show more care to animals. This doesn’t necessarily mean to not use animals in science, just that we should always weigh the benefits and losses and try to find ways to minimize undue suffering, like Laika’s.