Saturday, March 7, 2009

What I am Reading this Weekend

Lots of blog reading and commenting is in store this weekend, now that Spring Break has arrived to let me catch up on my reading rather than doing the grading that needs to be completed a week from Monday.

First, in the academic life territory, we have "Angry Professor" dealing with e-mail from a snowflake that appears unlikely to earn a Gentleman's C. There are a few more where this comes from. A student I deal with as an academic adviser took this approach: "I'm going to stop attending class X to punish the prof for not giving me enough help outside of class to make up for other classes I missed." Punishing whom? Right. Somehow these students appear to be attending a large number of different institutions. Check out this example "Becky Hirta" posted this past week.

I'll put that above the fold. More academic discussion will follow some obligatory physics reading. The very last one is a definite read, by the way.

I found several interesting items from the link lists at Uncertain Principles. I guess I will build them into my own list and comment on them as I have time.

  • Exposition on significant figures. "Good Math Bad Math" really comes through on this one. I really like that he "rounds to evens". This is essential to avoid biasing the results of a calculation, but many people have given up in the face of the ubiquitous flawed code in Excel and some calculators. There are also some good comments, but one fails to get the point of sig figs. Erring by having too few digits in the resultant is not nearly as bad as erring by having too many. Unjustified precision is where danger lurks. Thinking you have fewer significant digits leads to conservative (safe) design.
  • Michael Faraday. Only the latest in a series of articles by "Skulls in the Stars" (the others are all back linked), this article takes up Faraday's attempt to unify gravity with electricity and magnetism.
  • Photons in the Room from "Built on Facts". This is a really nice little example that uses the energy density of an electromagnetic "wave" to estimate the number of photons in a room coming from a particular light source rather than just calculating the number per second leaving the source.
  • Going Deeper is another nice blog from Matt, although I am pointing to it here as a substitute for elaborating on my comments posted in that thread. I really like his pedagogy, and added my own suggestion for how to jump from the Balmer formula (not to mention Kirchhoff's rules for optical spectroscopy) past the Bohr model to real quantum mechanics. "Going Deeper" really is the theme of how lots of physics came to be. And not just statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics either. That is what Newton did when he connected gravity on earth to gravity acting on the moon.
  • Astroprof's continuing saga about planets ... now featuring part IX!

On the more generic academic side, we have
  • Advice to new t-t faculty at a Regional Comprehensive from "Dr. Crazy". This article fills a huge hole in my own jobs series, since I know little about the situation at the typical 4-year university that offers Masters degrees. Teaching intensive, requiring research for promotion without being research intensive, these make up the bulk of the openings in academia. It falls between parts four (tenure standards at an R1) and five (getting a job at a teaching intensive place like a CC). An earlier article giving advice for a new R1 professor by "Gay Prof" gives perspective on the R1 world from the Evergreen side of the fence. Looks like I need to update my "jobs" articles.
  • How faculty are mentored at FSP's R1 gets some constructive support. That also needs linking from the "jobs" series as a reminder that how new faculty get brought into the system will change with time.
  • The evils of salary compression also got discussed by FSP.
  • Rebecca talks about Tennessee and fixing computers in a Q&A. I was glad to see that I am not the only computational expert who knows little about fixing computers because (1) hardware is someone else's problem and (2) Unix is an operating system. But I was particularly taken by the comparison between Illinois and Tennessee. The comments about TN reminded me of the small town of Lake City, just north of Knoxville, where we used to stop when driving I-75. (We discovered the Cracker Barrel there. It is store number 6, IIRC.) The fog in the rolling hills north of there make for a magnificent vista at every turn in the highway that always reminds us of landscape print by an artist with a name something like Shur.
  • "The Little Professor" completely nails the entire topic of technology in the classroom. This article is the must read alluded to above. She gives a great take on how different AI forms would function in the classroom of the future.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Thanks for the link, Dr. Pion! BTW, I have been to that Cracker Barrel. :)