Video of the day

This is truly awesome.  A supercell storm forming.  Here’s the story:

On June 3rd of this year after four years of trying, Arizona photographer and storm chaserMike Olbinski finally got the shot he’d been searching for: the formation of a gigantic rotating supercell. After four trips to the central plains since 2010, Oblinski and friend Andy Hoeland were tracking storms in northern Texas last week when they spotted this unbelievable cloud formation. The duo were actually forced to drive right through the storm system (which didn’t spawn a tornado) to obtain this unworldly footage that might as well have been shot on Jupiter, but in the end it was all worth it. Make sure to view it in HD, full-screen, and you can read more about the once-in-a-lifetime encounter over on hisblog. (via vimeo)

Cheetahs’ super agility

This NYT video on how the key to the cheetah’s success is not it’s straight-line speed, but rather it’s agility, is super-cool.  Alas, I cannot embed it (come on wordpress, is the NYT really a threat to be running unsafe videos?), but you should click through and check it out.

Anyone who has watched a cheetah run down an antelope knows that these cats are impressively fast. But it turns out that speed is not the secret to their prodigious hunting skills: a novel study of how cheetahs chase prey in the wild shows that it is their agility — their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly and slowing down quickly — that gives those antelope such bad odds.

“Cheetahs don’t actually go very fast when they’re hunting,” said Alan M. Wilson, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London who studied cheetahs in Botswana and published a paper about them on Wednesday in the journal Nature. “The hunt is much more about maneuvering, about acceleration, about ducking and diving to capture the prey.”


Big business waste

When the IRS pays more than it should on a conference, its a national scandal, when big business wastes money, it’s just an interesting sidelight in a story.  For example, in this story about Wal-Mart:

Despite appearances by celebrities Hugh Jackman, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and Tom Cruise [emphasis mine], Wal-Mart’s 2013 meeting brought serious concerns along with the company’s celebration.

“This year’s shareholders’ meeting comes at a time of turmoil for the world’s largest retailer, which finds itself dealing with empty shelves, labor unrest, bribery scandals and tumbling sales,” as Daily Finance reports.

To quote an esteemed Political Scientist who linked this on FB:

Yes, the IRS held conferences where they spent $10K or $15K for a “happiness expert” or someone doing leadership through art. It might not have been the best use of funds, especially for a public agency. But how much did Wal-Mart pay to have Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, and John Legend at their 2013 shareholder meeting? Those expenses are passed on the form of higher prices and lower wages.  [emphasis mine]

Of course, IRS is spending public dollars, but it is amazing the waste– with very real consequences– that we all seem to think is just fine to ignore when it’s a private company.

Photo of the day

Nice New Yorker gallery of a Montana cattle drive:


Photographs by Ami Vitale

NC Top Ten list (and cicadas)

Over at NC Policy Watch, Chris Fitzsimon has a nice post on ten things we’ve learned from the legislature in the past ten days.  My favorites:

1) The House majority, like their Senate counterparts, believes that we currently spend too much money on education at all levels, including public schools—even after the devastating cuts of the last four years. The state currently ranks 48th in both per pupil spending and teacher pay but the House and Senate budgets make more cuts to education funding.

Apparently 48th is not low enough for the folks currently in charge on Jones Street…

4) Governor McCrory and some legislators can’t seem to decide what they think of outsiders. McCrory and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown alleged that the demonstrators filling the legislative halls during the Moral Monday protests were “outside agitators.”

But WRAL-TV reported that 98 percent of the people arrested during the protests were from North Carolina.

Outsiders did have a major impact on important state policy this week, one outsider anyway. The key “expert” supporting the latest tax cut plan from the Senate leadership was Scott Drenkard, a recent college graduate and Koch Brothers fellow now working as an economist at the right-wing Tax Foundation in Washington.

Drenkard, who was escorted around the Legislative Building by folks from the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, testified before the Senate Finance Committee in favor of the plan that would cost the state more than $4 billion over the next few years.

Committee members also heard from four long-time North Carolina PhD economists, who were much more cautious about the plan. But the radical and misinformed views of the outsider carried the day…

9) The Republican majority is determined to thwart the will of the voters in Wake County in school board elections. The Senate voted this week to give final approval to legislation that would changes the district boundaries of the board members, just two years after they were redrawn by a prominent Republican law firm after the 2010 census.

But Democrats recaptured a majority in the board in the 2011 elections and Republicans simply can’t stand for that.

The whole list is pretty depressing.  Honestly, most every item probably deserves a full post for me, but really, it’s like the cicadas– predator satiation.  When the cicadas all come out at once every 17 years it’s an effective evolutionary strategy because, even though they are easy prey, there’s just way more of them than all the predators could ever eat.  Alas, the Republicans are passing so much short-sighted and foolhardy legislation in one session it’s hard to keep up.

Kudos to Fitzsimon and a number of intrepid journalists at WRAL and the N&O who are gobbling all the cicadas they can.

Advice for all college students

Came across this list of 7 things graduating high school seniors should know as they head off for college.  It’s a great list.  And I would not limit it at all to new college students.  Sadly, I know plenty of juniors and seniors who could use this advice.  Anyway, two in particular I really liked:

Every Class Counts

There is a lot of redundancy built into high school courses. Many classes go over what was done before, some classes are devoted to preparing for tests, and, once in a while, you don’t really do much at all.

In college, it’s different. Professors have only 30 or 40 lectures in which to cover the subject, so they try to make each class count. If you miss more than two or three lectures, you are likely to miss out on some content that will be difficult to fill in on your own.

Yep.  Actually, I had forgotten that fact about high school in comparison to college.  Presumably helps explain why some students don’t take attendance as seriously as they should.

But this final point I think is really important:

The Professor Would Like to Help You Succeed

Professors need not be distant figures whose only job is to give lectures in large auditoriums and spend the rest of their time doing research. In addition to those tasks, professors are also teachers, whose self-conception is often invested in whether students are doing well. They are often delighted to help students construct a paper or prepare for an exam. They also have office hours throughout the week so they may devote time to helping students.

Yes!  We want to help our students and we want them to do well.  I hate giving C’s and lower, especially to students I’ve come to know and like.  When students get poor grades, I sometimes feel that I have, at least in part, failed them.  I really want all my students (who actually care and try) to succeed.  It’s a shame that many students do not realize that my colleagues and I are actually on their side, not antagonists.  Of course, I think part of that lies on faculty, who really need to make sure that students appreciate this fact.

Anyway, the whole list of 7 is actually quite good (and short) so check it out.

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