Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stuffing or Dressing?


So which is it at your house? Vote in the comments.

I make Stuffing ... using (as a jumping off point) a recipe labeled "Dressing".

That means, of course, that I am a Damn Yankee.

My recipe starts from a (stale) bread based stuffing with lots of sage. Among the undocumented features are using rosemary (added to the butter / onion / celery mix as it cooks) and adding apples, raisins, and other things that might be handy (such as dried cherries, pecans, or walnuts) for extra flavors.

Cooking hint:
Make plenty of stuffing and cook the rest in a casserole dish using turkey bouillon (from Better than Bouillon) for added moisture. Then add turkey drippings and mix with the actual stuffing to have plenty of leftovers.

Read Entire Article......

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saving the Past

Triggered by a BBC article about plans to demolish a landmark Kabuki theater, a rare piece of pre-war architecture that survived the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

The most stunning thing in the article was a lack of any "historic" designation for buildings other than temples. That is sad, because architecture can be part of the soul of a society. Creative people can find a way to integrate the new in with the old, like buying that piece of crap building in the background and using it's site for the desired complex, connected to the old building to provide the needed amenities for a modern audience. (More toilets.) Right. They need to tear it down so they can have more toilets.

There is another threatened area, called "Omoide Yokocho" or "Memory Lane", that they want to tear down - but plan to keep in a sanitized version in a museum. Probably will be a cross between Henry Ford's "Greenfield Village" and Walt Disney's "Epcot Center". That's like replacing hot dog vendors on the streets of NYC with a single robotic one in a museum. Not. The. Same. Thing. The name of that place, along with the observation that "Japanese culture does treasure nostalgia: a yearning for things lost - childhood, school friends, a way of life - is a frequently voiced emotion. But the quest for modernity arguably runs deeper." triggered a quick search for a movie with that word in its Japanese title.

"Omohide poro poro" (titled "Only Yesterday" in English) is a feature-length anime by Isao Takahata. I saw it once, late at night on TCM, in Japanese with subtitles. If you look at the TCM info about this movie, you will see it is #12 on their list of "movies not yet on DVD". It is at the top of my list. It is an amazingly well-told story of a young woman looking back at memories of her childhood, and all of the events that put her where she is today - which is on a train heading from the city into the countryside for a vacation.

I was hooked as much by the background as by the story. The fragments of home and school life provide an interesting insight into Japanese life and culture. It also conveys a nostalgia for a simpler life, away from the hectic life of a modern city.

Read Entire Article......

Rate Your Student's Parent

Oh, this is classic stuff.

Rate Your Students posted a letter from a parent complaining about how some mean professor made her kid go to class on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, followed up by a collection of a dozen rants from various professors responding to this parent. Go read them yourself. They are worth every minute.

UPDATE: There are even more replies in a final ? collection.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Milo takes on the student as customer argument. About the only thing he left out was a concern for the OTHER customers in the classroom. I can never figure out why they don't get mentioned.

They really make my day because it reminds me of how well off I am. I had 80% attendance* in my WEDNESDAY afternoon class ... the class day after I gave an exam! I actually have students in my classes who want to learn! No attendance policy, no attendance grade, no extra credit, just physics. Even my "C" students make me proud to have them in my class. Gotta remember to tell them that on Monday. Anyway, back to our little College Drama.

The Parent is "mighty pissed" that Offspring's professor will penalize students for skipping class, and can't imagine why Out of State University wouldn't want to keep the Parental $$$$ Source happy ... by not educating the Student?

Actually, my guess is that the professor either (a) has an attendance penalty every day and Student can't afford to incur any more of them at this point in the semester or (b) is actually offering extra credit for showing up, extra credit that Student desperately needs to have a tiny chance of passing the class, but Student is not about to tell Checkbook Parent the real reason even if there are hints that Parent suspects Offspring is not like my students.

But go read it for yourself, then come back for my answers to the Parent's Meme:

  • Do you ever think about the folks who essentially pay your salaries?
I think all the time about the citizens of my state, doing my best to avoid graduating any 'students' who would make incompetent engineers whose bridges would fall down. (One way of looking at the economics of a state-funded CC is to say that the state appropriation pays the full-time tenured faculty whose salaries are a recurring cost, while tuition pays for the part-time faculty and other staff that would be eliminated if our enrollment were to fall suddenly. However, our state appropriation also depends on enrollment, so it is not that simple.) As for the students who pay their way, or their parents, I certainly want them to get their money's worth from my class. To me, that happens to mean teaching a great class the day before Thanksgiving rather than shortchanging them by cutting class myself. (And it was a great class. I think I set just the right tone for the key material we get to in the last week of class. We'll see on Monday, but I expect to see them ready to rock when they get back.)
  • Do you have any feelings for your "employers" and their offspring (besides contempt ?)
You Betcha! I've gladly posed for graduation pictures with former students, and enjoy hearing from them after they transfer to Engineering school. I rarely complain about the ones who come to class. I even feel sorry for those Parents whose slacker Snowflakes sign up for my class and never bother to attend.
  • I mean, do you like being a College Professor ? (I admit it, I read just some of the blog...)
I can see why you might get the wrong impression from "Rate Your Students" or other stories you see on some of my favorite blogs. Those faculty are venting their displeasure with the small (and, sometimes, not so small) group of students that enroll in classes but are not Students. Fooled by an 89 average in HS, because they don't know that an 89 is actually below average among their fellow HS grads planning to go to college, they think showing up will guarantee a B, or at least a C. They never hear my orientation warning to new students. We genuinely like most of our students, although we can do without their Helicopter Parents. You can also see what I really think of my students at many places in my blog, but particularly in this old article. I will agree that some faculty, particularly untenured professors at a research university, think undergrad students just get in the way of doing their main job, which is winning research grants and publishing papers. But you can hardly blame them, since they get paid to do that, not teach.
  • Can you honestly tell me that we are getting our money's worth, or do you teach to support your_______________ habit ?
I work for my Health Insurance habit. But seriously, I can honestly tell you that some Parents are not getting their money's worth. I see their Offspring show up in a basket on my classroom doorstep after they drink and party their way out of Wannabe Flagship, only to cut my class and fail to learn either physics or the lesson they should have learned the first time they flunked out. But it's not my fault their Offspring don't want to learn. It's their kid's fault. I can't make them attend class, nor can you, which means you are not getting your money's worth out of your kid.

Parent closed with "Here's hoping you get that well deserved rest you need over the Thanksgiving break...", to which I reply that I will still be grading exams and lab reports, just like I do on most weekends. My work really starts when my student's work ends.

* Percentage measured relative to the number of students who took the exam during the previous class meeting, not the number originally enrolled. My retention is pretty good this year, not that good!

Read Entire Article......

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prof. Snowflake, and Friends

Hat tip to RYS for this gem, although I think I saw an allusion to the Chronicle article somewhere in reference to the "imposter syndrome" comment by one of the professors of Teaching and Learning (I kid you not) complaining about their jobs as 2nd year professors. This trio was so excited about becoming new t-t faculty members that they took a year off to bask in the glow? Didn't anyone tell them that ditching one of the six years they have to make a case for tenure is a bad idea? Particularly in a field like "teaching and learning" where you need IRB approval to work with human subjects?

But nothing I can write can match what the bloggers at RYS wrote about those poor sweet bunnies, particular with the additional perspective of being an adjunct in this followup comment.

OK, maybe I can try, but I would emphasize the material summarized in my blog about jobs, where I put the focus on keeping that tenure-track job after you get it.

Now standards in physics at an R1 (the context of my article) are probably a lot higher than in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education at a Directional State University (probably second tier, although all I know about them is that they play football well enough to be fodder for Div 1 predators), but they are not non-existent. I wonder if they even know about the third year review? No mention of it in that column. Bless their hearts. Gotta watch for more news from them over the next year or four.

Read Entire Article......

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The mind is funny. Does it still know what time it was?

I just remembered what day it is, without any prompting from news stories or blogs, and it is almost exactly the time when I learned of the Kennedy assassination a mere 45 years ago. And I can still see our old kitchen in they yellow light of a fall afternoon (not unlike the light across my yard right this instant) at the moment when I came in the back yard and heard the news from my mother.

No, I will never forget that.

I will never forget how moved she was, since my parents did not vote for JFK or support some of his policies. But he was our President, and we mourned with the rest of the country that day ... and that entire weekend.

The TV was hardly ever off that entire weekend, a detail my students can't really appreciate. I still remember seeing Oswald killed, live on TV, a detail my students find almost unbelievable. What was just an interlude during the funeral coverage became a part of the story and endless conspiracy theories.

And I remember the sound - the distinctive pattern of the drum beat used during the entire funeral procession. That was all we heard for what seemed like hours. There was no commentary (another detail my students find unbelievable). What is it about our aural memory that retains that rhythm, right down to the dramatic pause before it repeats?

We all identified with Jackie and her children, who were just a bit younger than we were. It has been 45 years since there were young children in the White House. (Caroline was just 3 or 4 when JFK was elected.) I don't have to imagine what kids will be thinking about the Obama family and their new dog, since we lived it for 3 years. I just hope the Obama presidency ends on a better note.

Read Entire Article......

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Copernicus' grave identified

The news reports that the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus have been identified. The AP story contains additional details, but the BBC has the best picture of the computer reconstruction made as part of the study of the remains found a few years ago. Compare it to the portraits included in the Wiki article about him.

It looks like we could almost trust the artists back then as much as we trust the DNA evidence today.

I'm particularly entertained by the detail that it was the DNA in some hairs found in an old book of his that was used to confirm the identity of the body. So something good can come from losing your hair!

By the way, this will be quite timely if Copernicus happens to be near the top of Matt's list of the top ten greatest physicists, but I'm not optimistic because Matt didn't even recognize Galileo's work as "physics" just because it was called "natural philosophy" back then. (Will he also ditch Newton because his greatest work was about the mathematical principles of natural philosophy? Time will tell.) Besides, he still has not used Einstein or Newton, and there are only two places left.

Sad, really, because Copernicus' work was easily the most revolutionary advancement in physics in history. Significant enough that it was the title of his book, "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium", that gave new meaning to a word that had just meant "going around in a circle" up until that time. His work set the standard for the sort of radical paradigm shift that will put Newton and Einstein at the top of Matt's list along with Maxwell. (Odd, however, that Weinberg and Salaam don't get an honorable mention up there with Maxwell's unification work.)

Read Entire Article......

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prediction and Data

The results of the Presidential election appear to have been finalized,with Obama picking up one final electoral vote from the Omaha, Nebraska, congressional district along with North Carolina, while McCain took Missouri. That makes the final (but still provisional) tally at 365 for Obama and 173 for McCain. I've added those points, along with the last few days of polls, to the graph I posted earlier.

I also included a dashed line to help compare that value to the statistical fluctuations in the polls over the last several weeks of the campaign. Obama somewhat overperformed, but not by much compared to the 'noise' you can see in the data. After all, only a fraction of a percent in the popular vote in two states (Indiana with 11 electoral votes and North Carolina with 15) -- well within the margin of error for the predictions -- was responsible for all of the 16 point gain over the prediction at By the way, visit his site and compare the prediction map with the actual map. Pretty stunning.

In addition, in case you need to decompress, I bring you a somewhat bogus TV News Report from "The Onion":

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

I found it hysterical. With a hint of truth. Making it even more hysterical.

Read Entire Article......

Monday, November 10, 2008

RIP - Phoenix Lander and Miriam Makeba

Two obituaries today: Miriam Makeba, who brought "world music" to the west along with her arguments against apartheid, before either was particularly fashionable (indeed, while it was still illegal for blacks and whites to marry in many states in the US), and the Phoenix Lander that has brought us an amazing vision of Mars.

I'll put the inanimate Phoenix below the fold and start with Miriam Makeba singing "When I've Passed On" (circa 1966), which seems eerily suitable for today:

You should click through and look at some of the related videos ("The Click Song" and "Pata Pata" are her famous ones) if you are not familiar with her African music. Along with Hugh Masekela, she brought South African music to the US (and the world) in the mid 60s. It amazed me when I read that she still performing at 76. This video is one of a set recorded in Stockholm. She is backed by musicians from St. Thomas, the US, and Brazil. (Obligatory Wiki link is here. Bonus question at the bottom for any young folks who know who her husband, Stokely Carmichael, was.)

The Phoenix Lander on Mars

I written about Phoenix before, and have been meaning to come back to it to point out some of the amazing things it has seen since it slipped off of the national media spotlight. (Between the election and the attention span of the US media, even seeing weather on Mars never had a chance.)

There is a wonderful collection of images and related stories (along with lots of other information) on the Phoenix Lander web site. I'll select a few ? of my favorites here:

It was supposed to be a 90-day mission, ending on August 25th. Apparently they got regular reports until the end of October when low power caused the lander to go into a hibernation mode and have had only minimal communications through November 2.

You can read today's wrap-up news release here.

Not bad for a government project ...

Special bonus question:
Compare and contrast the apparent re-election of Sen. Ted Stevens to the election of Adam Clayton Powell to fill the seat vacated when he was thrown out of the House of Representatives for corruption. There is a pair for you!

Read Entire Article......

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Generation Then and Now

First, a must-read from the the "on-line only" New Yorker:

on election day. Just for reference, Ayers is 63 and is not a "baby boomer". He was born in 1944, and is part of a generation often confused with Boomers because they were so active in the 1960s. He offers a pretty amusing insight into the vortex that was one part this year's Presidential campaign.

Second, the "Generation WE" video that Mrs. Pion pointed out to me:

Comments below the fold.

Where to begin.

Probably with the hypocrisy of complaining about federal deficits and closing with a call for a multi-billion dollar government handout to fund innovative solutions to our over-depenence on fossil fuels. Most entertaining. Why not Just Do It, like some entrepreneurs have done when it was time to create cell phones or hybrid cars? (Yes, I know why not, and I support that goal and that mechanism. What I reject is the sales pitch that does not expose the hard choices to be made.)

Along that same line, maybe I should start with the throw-away line in the video about health care for all. If you are ignorant of what it costs now, and ignorant of how it is funded now, you will never survive the battle to replace hidden taxes with public ones, or hidden socialism (via surcharges on insurance-paid care) for open socialism, and might even buy into the fantasy that a $5000 deduction will allow every American to get full health insurance coverage.

Or with the line about 1/3 getting diabetes, as if it is an unavoidable health risk rather than a result of a diet full of sugar -- from soft drinks to "energy drinks". Kid, if you are too fat to fit comfortably in a regular school desk (an increasing problem at my college), you are putting your own health at risk. Don't pretend that a reduced life expectancy is your parent's fault for taking you to the fast-food restaurant you begged to visit as a child.

Or maybe with those silly remarks about polluted water and an environmental disaster. Kids, wake up and smell the Cuyahoga. You can't? That is because it got cleaned up by those self-absorbed Boomers and their parents (after we nagged them into paying for it). You kids have no idea what polluted water looks like. Rivers rarely catch fire any more. And Pittsburgh? The buildings are white again, now that coal-burning plants only emit CO2 rather than soot and CO2.

Or maybe with links to a pair of articles in the Chronicle, on stupidity: part 1 and, in particular, part 2 that addresses teaching the "digital natives". The assumption that this particular generation is better informed and more tech savvy is brought into question by someone else who shares my criticism of a consumer culture on campus that has not considered it important to prepare this allegedly prepared generation for the digital world. Guess what, kids? We can find Wikipedia too, but we know enough that we can tell when what is there is crap. Our faculty know better than to interrupt class to send a text message, but apparently the kids paying to learn something have yet to learn to profit from what they are paying for.

I do agree with them about education. That generation did get screwed out of an education as good as the one I had, but it's not really the Boomer's fault that people weren't willing to pay a professional's wages for a teacher. A fair fraction of young Boomer women still saw teaching as a worthwhile profession, but many more found a wide range of professions open up to women as a result of the Women's Lib movement. The people who tolerated a massive decline in teacher quality were from the Greatest Generation. (At my alma mater, by the late 70s, teachers were drawn from the bottom of the entering freshman class. I have the data to prove it. I really need to blog about them, but put it off while trying to get a newer set of similar data.) It was the Greatest Generation that came up with the New Math and Look Say, producing poorly educated students who would end up being your teachers and parents. (No one seems to notice that the noted "terrorist pal" is a Professor of Education at a quality university.) Parents who put up with it when their kids went to school only made it worse, but how were they to know? And what could they do about it? Well, they could teach their kids the way mine did. I learned more at home than in school until some time about the middle of high school.

Yet nowhere in that video did I see a call for the top half of the graduating class to go into K-12 education. Or a call for discipline and structure in schools rather than acceptance of any and all behaviors. Nope, just the usual enabler nonsense that shifts the responsibility for learning away from the learner. Look kids, Obama didn't get where he is today by waiting for something to happen, by waiting for someone to teach him how to become President. Stop blaming older people the way my generation did for decades, and do something about improving yourselves. It is possible to learn things on your own. They are called books. You can even get them elecronically, via Kindle. (Mrs Pion loves her new Kindle.)

Or maybe with claims about political involvement. Yes, reports are that young voters turned out in record numbers (from a student newspaper), but only by increasing turnout from awful (48% in 2004) to merely bad (between 49 and 54%). The national average was about 61 to 64%, right up there with 1960 and 1964, but probably above 1968. Sorry, kids, but the older folks still beat you to the polls. We'll have to wait a few months for real demographic details, but not exactly the "unprecedented numbers" they push at the end of the video.

Or how about starting with the assertions about how bad the economy is. Worst ever? Try my parent's generation, from the trailing edge of the so-called Greatest Generation, born just a bit too late to fight in all but the last days of WW II, they were born just in time for the Great Depression. Just in time that they became teenagers at a time when you couldn't even buy tires for your car (seriously) and grease was recycled to be made into explosives. (There was a time when throwing away grease was practically an act of treason.)

Environmentalists? Drive by a college apartment complex after the Thursday to Monday weekend and tell me how much recycling you see. The dumpsters are overflowing. The families in my neighborhood recycle. The college kids usually don't, unless the garbage can gets too full.

Worried about war? Sorry kids, but none of you was ever at risk of getting drafted, and you were never asked to sacrifice anything (not even taxes) for either the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. Worried about debt? The federal deficit during WW II was something like half of the GDP. They printed money, gave it to war workers and soldiers, then borrowed it back from them (because they had nothing to buy) and printed even more money. Ever hear about War Bonds?

Really worried about the Federal Deficit or tax increases for the wealthy? Use this here internet thingy to read some of the blog articles on CNBC. One guy argues, quite convincingly, that deficits are really good for people under 30 (because growth opens up new jobs in new industries, while recessions are bad for recent graduates, as I can also tell you from experience), and that higher taxes on top income brackets are good for young workers too (since those taxes might encourage highly paid Boomer employees to retire early, opening up lines of promotion for younger staff). Lest you doubt the author's (Wall) street cred, he writes for Jim Cramer. I suppose he could even add that his generation can always pass the debt on to their kids, just as the Greatest Generation (Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Bush I) passed it on to us, where a Boomer tried to pay it off (Clinton) only to have another one (Bush II) build it back up to pass on to an inter-generational President (Obama was born in 1961, at the end of the Boom, which ran from 1946 to 1964). Passing on the national debt is part of our traditional American Family Values.

Or maybe with the hubris of "control our nation". No, let's end there. Let's end with the fantasy of taking control just the way Boomers did between 1968 (when this video could have been made if anything cheaper than an AMPEX deck with 2" tape had existed) and 1992. Or the common cause shown by the politics of Bill Clinton and George W, or the world view shared by W and Gore. The reality is that there are just about as many right wing young voters as there are progressives. The big difference is that this generation is tolerant of some things that their parents rejected, such as racial integration, but that does not narrow the wide range of opinions about guns or gays or drilling within view of Spring Break at Panama City Beach. (I wonder if there will be a battle in 25 years between a candidate who enlisted in 2001 and served in Iraq and one who had "other priorities". Probably, unless the attack politics of 2000 and 2004 really did get killed off in 2008. Time will tell.) In the meantime, real change will only take place if the progressives of "Generation WE" join forces with the progressives of every other generation, as many of them did with the Boomer named Obama, and make that change happen.

Why not work together? If you are in Generation WE, that means you are, after all, a child of the Baby Boom generation. All you need to do is get your parents to work with you the same way we got our parents to do something about pollution and, eventually, Vietnam. Effective politics is about coalitions, not confrontations. Remember, Vietnam went on longer than it needed to because confrontations within the Democratic Party (in which Bill Ayers played an important role) put Nixon in power. Or didn't they (we) teach you that in school?

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday was a gray day.

Not rainy, just overcast and gray.

Today the sky was clear and blue.

A good omen?

And I don't think it was my imagination that quite a few students had a spring in their step that one doesn't normally see at this point in the semester, a time when slogging through the last weeks of school seems to be the norm.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The President is ...

Based on this story among others ... What they will be saying tomorrow morning in West Virginia and some southern red states:

I first thought of this scene because of two stories posted on 538 about what people were telling campaign workers canvassing for Obama. I'll have to dig up the links later. (Here they are: canvassing in western PA and calling in VA.)

If I had anything to do with Saturday Night Live, I would SO be figuring out a way to do a skit recreating this scene in Grant Park tonight or Inauguration Day in January. Whatever.

But it is not just this scene that connects to the irony of present day. The central story in this movie is that the highly prejudiced townfolk come around to accepting a Black Sheriff because he is a competent and calm leader in a time of panic. Given a choice between losing their town and discarding their prejudices, they chose to save their town. To save their country. To ignore appeals to their baser instincts, appeals that used to get them to vote against their best interests. To look to the future of One America, working for a Better America.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Future Career in Physics?

A correspondent asks the following lightly editted question:

I am located in [the midwest], and have just started attending [mid-tier Midwestern University]. My current major is Computer Science and Engineering (most likely computer programing), and I have also been extremely intrigued by Physics. I listen to Audio books about physics, Einstein, QM, etc.

My question is, how is the job outlook for Physics? I've been reading that the salary is very good, $50k - $100k, although it's a damper if you can't find those jobs! I am interested in possibly changing my major to Physics, although am unsure as to how hard it will be to find a job -- especially doing something I like rather then the only thing I can get.

What would your opinion be? I just have no real information that I can find about the long-term accessibility to Physics compared to Computer Programming. Thanks for your time in reading this message.

Thanks for the question, and thanks for the confidence in my side role as an Academic Advisor. I get questions like this quite often. I already gave a fairly specific answer by e-mail, but figured part of it also belonged here in the blog.

First, I wish everyone luck in finding their way to a job that they enjoy. I'm not sure I should recommend my approach, because it has had some elements of a random walk to it, not to mention what could only appear to be spectacular good luck at various key points along the way. But what can I say? We are all the product of a sequence of decisions. One decision I considered might have put me in on the ground floor of what became the computer animation industry, but I found it just as rewarding to have a (physics) student who ended up working there, not to mention others who have made real contributions to this nation. I love my job, even when it is tiring, hard work, and frustrating.

My (hopefully good) Advice:

If you are a fresh new freshman, as it sounds, it is too early to decide. Now is the time to take the core science classes for a computer engineering major and find out what you are good at. Those core classes are generally the same classes that a physics major would take. You don't really have to make a decision right now. The entire difference between one major and the other might be made up by as little as taking one extra class next fall.

[I looked at the major requirements for Midwestern University and they are quite similar to Wannabe Flagship, the school my students transfer to. Their computer engineering students take the same three calculus courses and the same two physics courses that physics majors take. Ditto for freshman chemistry. The only real difference is that physics has a freshman "what is cool about physics" class, while computer engineering has a "what is cool about EE" class and a programming class. This is true for many universities, not just his school and Wannabe Flagship. There are, however, significant exceptions where physics majors take a different physics sequence than engineers. There it might cost you a semester or even two if you didn't switch majors before starting physics.]

Take those calculus and physics classes, and the programming classes, and learn it for life. Are you good at problem solving? Do you like the lab? Are you good at programming? Is programming so much fun that you write your own games and sims, wasting enough time on that stuff that you forget about everything else? (Like my brother, who needed to retake physics because of the uber-cool sim code he wrote that semester?) Or do you really get into 3-D calculus and all of the sophisticate mathematics of partial differential equations that has to be second nature if you want to get into the physics of quantum mechanics? Or do you want to work on gadgets, making some tricky experiment work?

If you were my advisee, I'd suggest you rip into those classes and get back to me in May (or, more likely, next November) after you have three semesters of calculus, two of physics, and some programming behind you. Then we can really talk. Or we won't need to talk, since by then you might know exactly what you really want to do.

Getting Information:

First, you should have lots of information available to you. Most universities have some kind of career center for academic advising and/or job placement. They would have current statistics for placement of grads from your specific university in the specific majors you are considering. You can also find national statistics for physics from the AIP (American Institute of Physics) and for CS from the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery for the programming side) or IEEE (for the computer engineering side).

Side thought:
The updated national rankings of graduate programs from the National Academy should be out soon, along with the annual job info updates from the AIP. The former only comes out every decade, so it is a big deal. Need to go look for it.

The salaries you quote seem very high for a BS in physics, since they are high for median new-hire salaries for engineering degrees. That might be a reasonable range for a PhD in physics, but that is after some years of experience in graduate research. No one gets hired for $100,000 right out of college.

In any case, no one should pick a career based on the salary alone.

Stu: "I want to be a chemical engineer! They make lots more money than other engineers!"
Prof: "Did you know that they have to take a year of inorganic chemistry followed by another year of organic chemistry, in addition to the one year of physics and two years of calculus every other engineer takes?"
Stu: "Oh. No"
Prof: "And that all has to be done before the start of their junior year classes in chemical engineering."
Stu: "Never mind."

Stu: "I want to be a pediatrician. I love kids."
Prof: "Do you like kids when they are crying because they are sick or even dying?"
Stu: "Doctors have to treat sick children?"
Prof: "That is where the money is."
Stu: "Oh."

Engineering and physics and programming are all hard work. Hard work can be fun, or it can be a drag. Money can make up for it being a drag, but many students who are just in it for the money will struggle with motivation when faced with the years of hard work that must be put in before you get that first internship, let alone a job.

Job Outlook:

I would never trust anyone's guess on the job outlook for any major, certainly not mine. Even the professional placement officers have been wildly wrong at times. Like most of the time. The market was good when I started college. Four years later, when I got my BS, we were headed into a recession and jobs were tough to get in the areas that hired my undergrad major. I went to grad school, which paid a living wage, but there I learned the market for PhD faculty was nonexistent and would remain bad for a decade. And, I might add, many of the jobs in physics today concern application areas that literally did not exist when I got my degree. Cell phones? An iPod with more permanent storage than an entire weapon's lab computing center? You don't guess about the future, you create it. And, lately, many PhD physicists were working in the financial industry; many of them are soon going to be out of work, either living off of their profits or looking for a job somewhere else.

In the past, only exceedingly practical majors like civil engineering have been fairly recession proof. We build roads and bridges even during the Great Depression, so there was usually a way to get by if you could work in that area. Now, what will the market be like four years from now? Who knows. But if it is any good at all, it will be driven by the kinds of things we don't see much of right now. I can't say with alternative energy program will take off, but one of them will. There will be work in those areas as an engineer, applied physicist, or programmer if you are the best prepared person for the job and ready to work harder than the other girl or guy.

So my advice is to learn everything you can from your classes, find what you like, find what you are good at, and pursue a career that requires skills that you have and enjoy doing for 10 or so hours a day. All technical careers are hard work for the money, so you better like what you are doing.

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Palin prank call

This is just too funny.

I simply can't believe it isn't faked. Could it be that easy for professional con men (i.e. radio hosts) to get past the people screening calls for a future VP?

Among the positives would be that there is a CKOY (CKOI?) station near Montreal, but among the negatives would be the utter absence of any mention of this in a google search of the station's web site. A US station would promote the heck out of a coup like this if it was real. I think it more likely that the comedy group linked from the video did both sides of the call.

Only the mainstream media will know for sure ... so I will hold off publishing for now.

OK, they do. Saw this report from the BBC, so I'll publish this now. Note that there is an audio interview with the prankster at the bottom of the BBC article.

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