Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Amazing Meeting 7 as reported in SF Weekly

There's a rather robust treatment of The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) and James Randi in this week's SF Weekly.

The Demystifying Adventures of the Amazing Randi

For some reason, this snippet resonated with me:
The Amazing Meeting attendees are mostly white males with glasses, facial hair, and a healthy appreciation of physics and Monty Python.
Hey, I attend American Association of Physics Teachers meetings. TAM's got no where near the ratio of said males compared to the AAPT.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Meet the new kilogram. Same as the old kilogram?

If you think academic standards are troublesome, take a look at this story about our favorite standard for mass:

The kilogram has a weight-loss problem

And settle down: I know there's physics foul in the headline, itself. It's good that you noticed, but go ahead and take in the substance of the story.

Units of measure continue to evolve. Once the province of royal body parts, then Earth and water, we seek now to establish units relative to universal constants.

And it is good.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

STAR results are up!

They didn't make the usual August 15 posting date. That was a Saturday, so you have to give them that. Then again Monday, August 17 came and went with nothing new.

But the 2009 results are up at the CDE's STAR website. So start your poring.

And remember that I keep a permanent link to generic STAR results over to the right. And remember that you have a bit of navigating to get from where you land to where your page is filled with data. So surf responsibly.

I'll get the ball rolling with this:

67,760 students received scores for their California Standards Test in Physics
22% of them were scored as Advanced
24% were scored as Proficient
32% Basic
12% Below Basic
10% Far Below Basic

That is, 46% of physics test-takers scored Advanced or Proficient. From 2003 to 2006, the statewide average was hovering around 30%. In 2007, it rose to 35%. In 2008, it jumped to 43%. California's physics students are moving up in the world, as far as CST performance goes.

While all science tests have shown improvement from 2003 to 2009, the 17-point jump for Physics is more than double the gains in any other science subject. As they say down on The Avenues, "Can I get a wut wut?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Night Before STAR Scores

'Twas the night before STAR scores, when all through the school
The IT guy was stirring, he’s nobody’s fool

The envelopes were placed in mail cubbies with care
In hopes Jack O’Connell soon would be there

The teachers were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of new students danced in their heads

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a web page replaced since the one from last year

The layout was simple, a bit of a bore
I knew right away it had all the new scores

As rapid as PDFs, the courses they came
The Vice Principals knew every last one by name

“Now English! now Sum. Math! now Physics! and History!
On Bio!, on Geom! on EarthSci! and Chemistry!”

The reports were, as always, to be put on a shelf
I laughed when I saw them, in spite of myself

Some scores were up while others were down
Not worth the effort to work up a frown

IT guy said nothing but went right to work
Filled all the envelopes then turned with a jerk

And I heard a VP as he came into sight
Say “Check all your data; next year get it right!”

UPDATE: My "old school" ways have once again lead me astray. Back in the old days (2008), STAR results from the Spring administration were posted on the CDE's website by August 15. I know that seems like a long time, but that's a story for another post. It appears that that "ides of August" deadline was beginning to fit too tight. So the CDE has loosened its belt by two weeks. Don't look for results on the CDE's site until September 2. That's the word on the 'net, anyway.

Anyway, that's why I changed the title of the post.

UPDATE 2: OK, I changed it back. The results were only a day late, not a fortnight late.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

WoPHY 09

The University of Nebraska - Lincoln is bringing together outstanding undergraduate women researchers in Physics for a three-day conference, from Friday, October 30th through Sunday, November 1st.

Seems like a good idea to me. A gender imbalance persists in physics. You can argue about the reasons for it. You can argue whether it's anyone's fault. But I don't think you can argue that it's a good thing that ought to be fortified in future years.

I've argued for a long time that we need all the sharp minds we can get working on the unsolved problems of physics. WoPHY 09 appears to be directed toward greater inclusion and support. I hope it's a good conference, is well attended, and generates energy for WoPHY 10.

Thanks to Phil at

UPDATE: It appears that USC has a similar conference, going into it's fifth year. Huzzah!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ørsted Google Doodle physics question

See the Google Doodle in the post below. Assume that current is flowing through the copper wire and that the painted (red) end of the compass needle seeks north.

What is the direction of conventional current in the wire?
A. from the G to the e
B. from the e to the G

Defend your answer.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Google: Ørsted

I got a charge out of today's Google logo mod.I have a colleague who takes some level of offense at what Google does or doesn't do with their logo modifications (Google Doodles). Such is his right. And I suppose it's my right to consider such ranting to be silly. He and I disagree on more things than we agree on, so it all works out.

Anyway, good for Google for throwing some props to good ol' Hans Christian on the occasion of his 232nd birthday. More details from The Guardian's Technology Blog.

If I might, I'd like to make a pitch to my physics-teaching colleagues: Can we go with "Ørsted" rather than "Oersted" when writing the man's name? Once upon a time, typesetting was limited and work-arounds had to be made. But the 1950s are over. Computers have replaced typewriters. Proportional fonts have replaced monospaced ones. Type one space (not two) after a period. And make use of that international character set when appropriate!


UPDATE: Apparently some searchers thought today's Google Doodle was a bomb. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Arizona 2009 Google Map

My first time tinkering with a customized Google Map. My advice? Zoom out (-) until you see the markers.
View Arizona 2009 Roadtrip in a larger map

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Arizona pics trickling in

So far: Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada), Zion (Utah, 1 pic), and Grand Canyon's North Rim. Click the pic to get there quick.

More to come...