Saturday, September 29, 2012
Recently Prof. McIntosh demonstrated that a 1-D cellular automaton is a universal computer. Very likely the simplest universal computer ever discovered. Now I write on a discovery Glashow made in 1959!
Glashow's Resonance was postulated before the Standard Model was even invented, let alone the mass of the intermediate W boson known. Obviously he couldn't predict the exact number. It is 6.3 PeV.
Aya Ishihara recently announced in Kyoto, that Glashow's Resonance might have been found by IceCube in the South Pole!
Professor Glashow deserves another Nobel Prize, if this turns out to be true.
"The hypothesis of an unstable charged boson to mediate muon decay radically affects the cross section for the process ν̅ +e→ν̅ +μ- near the energy at which the intermediary may be produced. If the boson is assumed to have K-meson mass, the resonance occurs at an incident antineutrino energy of ∼2x ev. The flux of energetic antineutrinos produced in association with cosmic-ray muons will then produce two muon counts per day per square meter of detector, independently of the depth and the orientation at which the experiment is performed."
'via Blog this'
"The IceCube Neutrino Observatory (or simply IceCube) is a neutrino telescope constructed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. Similar to its predecessor, the Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA), IceCube contains thousands of spherical optical sensors called Digital Optical Modules (DOMs), each with a photomultiplier tube (PMT) and a single board data acquisition computer which sends digital data to the counting house on the surface above the array. IceCube was completed on 18 December, 2010, New Zealand time."
'via Blog this'
Off-Peek: Radio Telescopes Edge In on Plasma Jet Spewing from Massive Black Hole: Scientific American
"Zooming in on Galaxy M87 reveals answers about the turbulent environment surrounding the invisible black hole at its center"
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Thursday, September 27, 2012
"Recent high-sensitivity observation of the nearby radio galaxy M87 have provided important insights into the central engine that drives the large-scale outflows seen in radio, optical and X-rays. This review summarizes the observational status achieved in the high energy (HE;<100 GeV) and very high energy (VHE; >100 GeV) gamma-ray domains, and discusses the theoretical progress in understanding the physical origin of this emission and its relation to the activity of the central black hole."
'via Blog this'
"It’s one thing to spot stuff from orbit above an alien world, quite another to get in close."
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"C/1680 V1, also called the Great Comet of 1680, Kirch's Comet, and Newton's Comet, has the distinction of being the first comet discovered by telescope. Discovered by Gottfried Kirch on 14 November 1680, New Style, it became one of the brightest comets of the 17th century – reputedly visible even in daytime – and was noted for its spectacularly long tail. Passing only 0.42 AUs from Earth on 30 November, it sped around an incredibly close perihelion of 0.0062 AU (930,000 km; 580,000 mi) on 18 December 1680, reaching its peak brightness on 29 December as it rushed outward again. It was last observed on 19 March 1681. As of September 2012 the comet was about 253 AU from the Sun."
"While the Kirch Comet of 1680-1681 was discovered and subsequently named for Gottfried Kirch, credit must also be given to Eusebio Kino, the Jesuit who charted the comet’s course. During his delayed departure for Mexico, Kino began his observations of the comet in Cadíz in late 1680. Upon his arrival in Mexico City, he published his Exposisión astronómica de el [sic] cometa (Mexico City, 1681) in which he presented his findings. Kino’s Exposisión astronómica is among one of the earliest scientific treatises published by a European in the New World."
'via Blog this'
"C/2012 S1 (ISON) is a comet discovered on 21 September 2012 by Vitali Nevski (Vitebsk, Belarus) and Artyom Novichonok (Kondopoga, Russia). The discovery was made using the 0.4-m reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network near Kislovodsk, Russia. Precovery images by the Mount Lemmon Survey from 28 December 2011 and by Pan-STARRS from 28 January 2012 were quickly found, and follow-up observations were made on 22 September by a team from Remanzacco Observatory in Italy using the iTelescope network. The discovery was announced by the Minor Planet Center on 24 September, three days after its discovery."
"At the time of its discovery, the comet's magnitude was 18.8, far too dim to be seen with the naked eye but bright enough to be photographed by amateurs with large telescopes. It will gradually increase in brightness as it approaches. By late summer 2013 it should be visible through small telescopes or binoculars, becoming visible to the naked eye by late October or early November and remaining so until mid-January 2014. When the comet reaches its perihelion on 28 November it will be 4.4° from the Sun, making it difficult to see against the glare of the star. The comet may become extremely bright if it remains intact, possibly reaching a negative magnitude.According to Astronomy Now, it may become brighter than the full Moon. Comets that pass so close to the Sun can be unpredictable. Comet Kohoutek and C/1999 S4 did not meet expectations, but if ISON survives it could look similar to the Great Comet of 2007 or Lovejoy."
'via Blog this'
"Next year comet 2012 S1 might outshine the moon."
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"Astronomers combine telescopes to measure features at the centre of a galaxy outside the Milky Way."
'via Blog this'
"eXtreme Deep Field picture reveals most distant galaxies ever seen."
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"Known as the "iron man," a 24-centimeter high sculpture was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago"
'via Blog this'
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
"No other number attracts such a fevered following as the golden ratio. Approximately equal to 1.618 and denoted by the Greek letter phi, it’s been canonized as the “Divine Proportion.” Its devotees will tell you it’s ubiquitous in nature, art and architecture. And there are plastic surgeons and financial mavens who will tell you it’s the secret to pretty faces and handsome returns."
'via Blog this'
"A consortium has brokered an agreement with 12 journals to ensure that nearly all particle physics articles are made immediately free on journal Web sites"
'via Blog this'
"New information from NASA's MESSENGER probe suggests that the mysterious innermost planet is much more similar to certain meteorites than to other planets in the solar system"
'via Blog this'
"The $2.5-billion robot has performed its first contact-science operations"
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Saturday, September 22, 2012
"Astronomers in Chile have released images of light from deep space which demonstrate the power of their new Dark Energy Camera, the most sophisticated digital camera ever deployed. "
'via Blog this'
Friday, September 21, 2012
"The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is producing the most detailed inventory of the gamma-ray sky to date. Despite tremendous achievements approximately 25% of all Fermi extragalactic sources in the Second Fermi LAT Catalogue (2FGL) are listed as active galactic nuclei (AGN) of uncertain type. Typically, these are suspected blazar candidates without a conclusive optical spectrum or lacking spectroscopic observations. Here, we explore the use of machine-learning algorithms - Random Forests and Support Vector Machines - to predict specific AGN subclass based on observed gamma-ray spectral properties. After training and testing on identified/associated AGN from the 2FGL we find that 235 out of 269 AGN of uncertain type have properties compatible with gamma-ray BL Lacs and flat-spectrum radio quasars with accuracy rates of 85%. Additionally, direct comparison of our results with class predictions made following the infrared colour-colour space of Massaro et al. (2012) show that the agreement rate is over four-fifths for 54 overlapping sources, providing independent cross validation. These results can help tailor follow-up spectroscopic programs and inform future pointed surveys with ground-based Cherenkov telescopes."
'via Blog this'
Sunday, September 16, 2012
"A new AU redefinition involves changing it to a single number rather than basing it on a somewhat baffling equation"
'via Blog this'
Saturday, September 15, 2012
"We present the discovery of two giant planets orbiting stars in Praesepe (also known as the Beehive Cluster), the first known hot Jupiters in an open cluster. Pr0201b orbits a V=10.52 late F dwarf with a period of 4.4264 +/- 0.0070 days and has a minimum mass of 0.540 +/- 0.039 Mjup, and Pr0211b orbits a V=12.06 late G dwarf with a period of 2.1451 +/- 0.0012 days and has a minimum mass of 1.844 +/- 0.064 Mjup. Because they reside in a cluster, the ages of these planets are amongst the best-determined of any planet outside our own solar system. As we endeavor to learn more about the frequency and characteristics of planets, the environment in which most stars form -- open clusters like Praesepe -- may provide essential clues to this end. This discovery will allow, for the first time, a direct estimate of the short-period giant planet frequency in open clusters."
'via Blog this'
"WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2012 -- WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA-funded astronomers have, for the first time, spotted planets orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded cluster of stars. The findings offer the best evidence yet planets can sprout up in dense stellar environments. Although the newfound planets are not habitable, their skies would be starrier than what we see from Earth."
'via Blog this'
"NASA's stalwart Opportunity rover has captured an image of the Martian surface that is puzzling scientists."
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Thursday, September 13, 2012
"FARMERS went to Washington yesterday. Members of a coalition representing more than 80 agricultural organizations rallied on Capitol Hill to demand passage of a new farm bill that has been stalled in Congress."
'via Blog this'
When I see crowds with rage in faces because they HATE this or that country, I feel sad.
What are the actions a group of people can follow to produce, to make, THE NEW MAN?
My simple answer is: a Scientific Education.
You can go see the work I am doing with a group of young, and not so young, people in Plano, Illinois here.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
"A pair of detectors that measure minute distortions in images of distant galaxies will probe the riddle of cosmic acceleration"
'via Blog this'
I announced several days ago that the focus of the blog is Astronomy now. Nevertheless the UVA issue is close to what I believe Astronomy can be relevant to. Why study Astronomy?
Thomas Jefferson, started a tradition of what a university should be in the US. Besides the day to day concerns of business and farms, a country has to develop culture, otherwise why should there be a university, anyway? In those days, I believe the religious education of people was also a concern, not just money.
The current US experience has the 1% facing the 99%. There is a small group of financiers, without education nor culture, that appropriated a big chunk of the National Treasure. If the likes of Teresa Sullivan and Elizabeth Warren, do not stop these thieves, there won't be any Astronomy in the United States of America.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia.
By ANDREW RICE
On a languorous Sunday in June, low season on the campus of the University of Virginia, Prof. Larry Sabato opened a perplexing e-mail. “My instant reaction,” he said, “was that I thought we’d been hacked.” The message, sent to the entire university, announced the resignation of the university’s president, Teresa Sullivan, obliquely citing a “philosophical difference of opinion” with the institution’s governing board. Sullivan had held the job for just two years, without any scandal, and Sabato couldn’t believe she had been pushed aside with so little evident justification. “I said that if this was true,” he recalled, “this was going to be a P.R. disaster of national proportions.”
Sabato is accustomed to offering predictions — a prodigiously quotable political scientist, he maintains a Web site called Sabato’s Crystal Ball. And his opinions carry serious weight around UVA, an institution he has been immersed in since his undergraduate days in the 1970s, when he served as president of the Student Council. Sabato called around and discovered that the school’s deans had learned of the resignation just that morning at a meeting in which Helen Dragas, the real estate developer who led UVA’s board, warned that the university faced an “existential threat.”
The professional educators who ran UVA were well aware that public universities everywhere were enduring a crisis. State governments have been slashing funding, driving per-student spending to historic lows, forcing schools to raise tuition, while controlling costs through salary freezes and other austerity measures. Founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson and renowned as one of the country’s finest state institutions, the University of Virginia is better off than most of its counterparts: it fears mediocrity, not insolvency. But along with other elite public universities, it is struggling to figure out how to continue providing a premium education with less government support.
If anyone appeared equipped to manage the situation, it was Sullivan: she had come to Virginia after excelling in administrative positions at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan. “Everybody had the same reaction,” Sabato told me. “First, shock, and then a sneaking suspicion that there had to be something else.” That afternoon, in the 90-degree heat, Sabato looked on as Dragas gave an outdoor news conference. She promised to replace Sullivan with “a bold, strategic, visionary leader” but refused to answer when asked for the reasons behind Sullivan’s departure.
Hours later, Sabato reached Dragas by phone. She justified the board’s drastic action by arguing that Virginia was falling behind competitors, like Harvard and Stanford, especially in the development of online courses, a potentially transformative innovation. The conversation was agreeable, but privately, Sabato still wasn’t convinced that the move was warranted. That evening, he crossed Jefferson’s magnificent central lawn to join a dispirited group on the balcony of a university official’s home. Sullivan was there, along with her husband, a law professor. Everyone was dumbfounded. Sullivan said she had no warning her job was in jeopardy.
Over the course of many drinks, the mood shifted from bafflement to outrage and finally to talk of rebellion. Someone raised the question: Could the board’s decision be overturned? “We went around the group,” Sabato says, “and every single one of us said, ‘Nah, it’s a done deal.’ ”
On this occasion, though, Sabato’s crystal ball was wrong. Over the course of the next two weeks, the slumbering college town of Charlottesville awoke in protests, as students and faculty condemned what they saw as a coup. “This moment of terror came across everyone at UVA,” said one professor, who underscored the point by requesting anonymity. “If they can do it to the president, they can do it to anybody.”
Conspiracy theories abounded: that Sullivan was deposed by a Republican governor, or good ol’ boy alumni, or a cabal of Wall Street donors. Vandals spray-painted the six columns of the school’s neoclassical Rotunda with the letters “G-R-E-E-E-D.” The national news media seized onto the story, which seemed to dramatize a broader conflict between big money and public education. The conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal accused the protesting faculty of trying to create “an academic Green Zone separated from economic reality,” while liberal publications held up Sullivan as a symbol of a beleaguered egalitarian ideal.
Hunter Rawlings, the chief executive of the Association of American Universities, calls Sullivan’s forced resignation the “most egregious” case of boardroom intrigue he has ever witnessed. But the situation was not unique. “There was once a consensus in America that higher education was a public good,” Rawlings says. “What is new now, and radically different, is that after five, six, seven years in reductions in state funding for higher education, the whole system is under stress.” He notes that the leaders of a dozen or so other state institutions, including those in Oregon, Wisconsin and Illinois, have recently departed under similar pressure. “It’s just one after another, after another,” he says.
The drama at Virginia, however, was set apart by a stunning reversal. At an emotional meeting in late June, the Board of Visitors, the politically appointed body that oversees the university, bowed to criticism and reinstated Sullivan. Even then, though, Dragas refused to shed much further light on her actions. In ambiguous triumph, Sullivan was restored to her office, which is where I met her in early August, at a large table surrounded by university memorabilia and a shelf of books related to her discipline, sociology. The president wore the school’s colors — blue suit, orange blouse — and spoke cautiously when I asked her the question that had everyone speculating all summer: Why was she pushed out?
“I don’t know,” Sullivan said, filling an awkward pause with nervous laughter, casting a glance at the university spokeswoman, Carol Wood.
“We’ve had that conversation around this table many times,” Wood added. “We don’t get it.”
Virginia is a place of many stately traditions; as one faculty member joked, people there refer to “Mr. Jefferson” as if he had just left the room. Students are governed by a 19th-century honor code, and campus buildings are tagged with esoteric graffiti left by the school’s many secret societies. These old-fashioned ideals — honor and discretion — contribute to the reticence surrounding Sullivan’s ouster, along with more mundane issues of contractual legalities, politics and embarrassment.
For months, news organizations — from The Washington Post to the student-run Cavalier Daily — have been poring over records obtained through the state’s Freedom of Information Act, including thousands of pages of internal e-mail correspondence. The documents reveal something of the university’s state of mind in the months leading up to the crisis, as administrators feuded over budgets and discontent spread among board members. But they are, by nature, a fragmentary record: the actors were loath to put their true feelings in writing then, nor were they eager to discuss them with reporters now. Few of those directly involved were eager to talk to me, but many did speak, allowing me to piece together a fuller account of the puzzling affair. As it turns out, a “philosophical difference” wasn’t just a euphemism: it was an apt description of a clash between two fundamentally different theories of leadership.
The first salient fact about Teresa Sullivan is that she does not look like any of the school’s previous presidents, who were all men and mostly native Virginians. To a remarkable degree, they preserved the school’s provincial character: it currently has around 14,000 undergraduates, 70 percent from within Virginia, and in-state tuition has remained affordable, around $12,000 a year, less than a third than that of an Ivy League school.
Yet it has been clear for years that the university faced challenges in maintaining its elite identity. When John Casteen, Sullivan’s predecessor, took office in 1990, the state government provided about a quarter of the university’s budget. By the time he left, 20 years later, the proportion had dwindled to less than 7 percent. Casteen addressed the gap by fund-raising, tapping a devoted alumni network to expand the school’s endowment almost tenfold, to $4.6 billion, during his tenure.
Even so, it was clear that the school couldn’t rely on charity to fill the budgetary gap. The recession made wealthy alumni less generous and drove down middle-class incomes, putting stress on financial-aid programs. In a farewell letter in 2010, Casteen suggested that the university might need to increase its revenues not only by raising tuition but also by expanding enrollment — a heretical proposal at a school defined by its relatively cozy atmosphere.
Casteen was a Virginian who held three UVA degrees. Sullivan, though, was an outsider: raised in Arkansas and Mississippi and educated in the Midwest. This counted against her with some alumni, but all that mattered to faculty members was her sterling academic reputation. She was previously Michigan’s provost, a prestigious No. 2 position, and before going into administration, she did pioneering sociological research at the University of Texas, co-writing books on middle-class debt with her colleagues Jay L. Westbrook and Elizabeth Warren, who has since become a liberal icon.
Sullivan was a demographer by training, a numbers cruncher. In Michigan, a state with severe fiscal woes, she dealt with constricted budgets. That experience was prominent among the factors that appealed to the search committee led by John Wynne, a retired media executive who was then rector — UVA-speak for “chairman” — of the Board of Visitors. Westbrook, still a close friend of Sullivan’s, says she told him the board chose her because it wanted “someone who could be hardheaded and put on a green eyeshade.”
Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California system, was a mentor to Sullivan when he was chancellor at Texas, and he recognized the challenges she faced. “Presidents are under a lot of pressure,” he says, “to figure out how to get more for the buck without compromising quality or riling the faculty.” His system, which includes Berkeley and U.C.L.A., has been forced to raise tuition, increase class sizes and furlough professors. But just as vexing, he says, is a deeper uncertainty about whether the nature of the problem is situational, and thus likely to improve with the economy, or systemic.
“Some people think we’ve still got it right, and we just need to persevere,” Yudof said. “Other people say we really need a radical change in the game plan.”
Sullivan is firmly in the perseverance camp. “I think that if you look at the higher-education landscape,” Sullivan told me, “generally there is a pervasive sense of crisis.” But the way Sullivan sees it, Virginia still ranks as one of the best public universities in the country. It suffers only by comparison to the elite private schools, which can — and do — continually raise their tuition. That avenue is currently closed to Virginia, because state politicians have resisted tuition hikes as well as admitting a greater proportion of out-of-state students, who pay higher, nonsubsidized fees. (Outsiders, for instance, make up around 35 percent of the more than 40,000 students at the University of Michigan, and the school’s president is aiming to increase the proportion.) Sullivan herself rejected the option of increasing revenue by greatly expanding the student body. “The alumni and student body believe there is huge value in the relatively small size,” Sullivan said. So instead, she economized and retrenched. She hired a consultant to study the university hospital’s finances, nearly half of its $2.5 billion budget. As a demographer, Sullivan looked at her personnel and saw a population of baby boomers, as many as half of whom will reach retirement age by 2020. “Technically,” Sullivan said, “it’s a cohort succession problem.”
If she took a cautious and technocratic approach, it was because Sullivan knew the overarching issue — deciding how to divide the shrinking pot of money — was potentially explosive. Should the university, for instance, invest in science programs, which are capital-intensive but also draw grant money, or should it bolster its areas of strength, liberal-arts departments like English and religious studies? Virginia, like most universities, operated less like a modern corporation than a feudal state, and Sullivan could not afford to antagonize its many fiefs. “She had the view that there were going to be winners and losers,” said George M. Cohen, a law professor and chairman of the faculty senate. “So she wanted to get people to understand what’s going on, and at least accept the process.”
Recognizing that she had much to learn about Virginia’s idiosyncratic culture, Sullivan attended countless faculty meetings, forums and sporting events. She taught a sociology seminar. But like most modern university presidents, Sullivan spent much of her time begging for money. A tiny sliver of rich alumni contributed most of the school’s endowment, and UVA’s fund-raising staff maintained a list of 50 “targets” capable of giving at least $10 million. Sullivan met 45 of them in person. The cultivation of such megadonors is a long — sometimes lifelong — process, and it requires more than flattery: for their money, the university’s benefactors wanted a say in its future.
One of Sullivan’s most promising targets was Paul Tudor Jones, a Virginia alumnus, billionaire hedge-fund manager and philanthropist. Though he had given away countless millions, Jones considered his brain to be his primary asset: he was fond of saying that “intellectual capital will always trump financial capital.” He had already given large sums to his alma mater, and he told Sullivan that he and his wife had an exciting new idea: endowing a center for yoga.
“I thought, Oh, man, people are going to be very cynical about this,” recalls Bob Sweeney, UVA’s fund-raising chief. So Sullivan convened a dinner at her home with professors of religion, medicine and other disciplines. “I said, ‘O.K., let us think about it a little bit,’ ” she said. “We began talking about, wait a minute, it’s not just yoga.” The group swiftly produced a proposal for a multidisciplinary Contemplative Sciences Center, which was vetted by Jones’s paid yoga consultant. In April, Sullivan announced the $15 million gift, one of the largest of her tenure.
Despite this and other successes, though, Sullivan was not considered an inspirational figure. “This is not a president,” says one professor, “who was hired for the vision thing.” Unlike her predecessors, Sullivan had no talent for Jeffersonian oration; she spoke the dry language of nonprofit administration. The budgetary reform dragged, in part because Sullivan hired a provost and a chief operating officer who couldn’t get along. Despite meeting after meeting, it was unclear whether Sullivan’s process was leading to a resolution. Sullivan has called herself an “incrementalist,” but even some supporters wondered whether her talk of consensus masked a deeper dysfunction.
“You get the buy-in from stakeholders before you move forward,” Sullivan says in her defense. “When I came here, I was warned that this was an institution steeped in tradition. People love the tradition, and they would not react well to sudden change.”
A higher authority, though, was beginning to lose patience.
The Board of Visitors is an archaic body, a vestige of Jefferson’s original conception of his university as an “academical village,” governing itself without executive authority. It was not until the early 20th century that the university bowed to practicality and hired a president. Though the board’s influence over the school has waned since then, a seat on it remains one of the most prestigious gifts a governor can bestow on a Virginian. Democrats and Republicans alike tend to allot the seats to major campaign contributors.
The board that was judging Sullivan’s performance included lawyers, developers, a coal-mining executive and a beer distributor, but no voting member had an education background. Because of rapid turnover in the wake of the election of Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, it included only four members of the search committee that picked Sullivan two years before. One of them was Helen Dragas, but she seemed less than enthusiastic about the choice. “Helen’s comments indicated that she somehow had it in her mind that Terry was more of an administrator than a leader,” says Austin Ligon, a businessman who was on the search committee.
“I gave her my vote of confidence at her election, and worked diligently to support both her presidency and the mission of the institution,” Dragas told me by phone in late August. “There just came a time when the two objectives seemed contradictory, and I acted in the best interests of the students.” Sharp-featured and intense, Dragas holds a bachelor’s degree and an M.B.A. from UVA. Her own business experience is in the Virginia Beach real estate firm founded by her father, George, a hard-driving child of Greek immigrants. By all accounts, Dragas inherited much from her father, who himself headed the board of a university, Old Dominion, some two decades earlier. “If a president can’t do it,” he once said, “we either have to work with him — or replace him.”
Helen Dragas saw her father put that blunt philosophy to work, when he hired James Koch as Old Dominion’s president. “I followed an individual who was fired using very much the same model that occurred at UVA,” Koch, who is now retired, told me. Koch went on to a successful tenure, becoming a national authority on presidential leadership, and he says he discussed the dispute over Sullivan’s resignation with several UVA board members, including Dragas. “They looked around and they said, ‘There’s a revolution going on in higher education,’ ” Koch says. “They thought that the people in Charlottesville were not responding.”
What had the board so worried? In late May, as she prepared to remove Sullivan, Dragas e-mailed a board colleague a link to a Wall Street Journal column, beneath the subject line: “Why we can’t afford to wait.” The article described a joint venture that offers free, open online courses. In the last year, Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T. and other elite schools have moved aggressively into this arena, drawing significant global audiences, if no actual revenue. While many veteran professors roll their eyes at predictions that online learning will transform the structure of universities, to certain segments of the donor community — the Wall Street and Aspen Institute types — higher education looks like another hidebound industry awaiting creative destruction. “If you’re not talking about it,” says Jeffrey Walker, a UVA fund-raiser and a former JPMorgan financier, “what’s wrong with you?”
This discussion has been influenced by the ideas of Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and guru of “disruptive innovation,” the concept that established companies are often overtaken by upstart competitors because they are incapable of embracing new technologies. In his book “The Innovative University,” Christensen argues that higher education could go the way of America’s steel industry. Dragas told me she found Christensen’s ideas extremely compelling.
“Higher education is one of the last sectors of the economy to undergo this kind of systemic restructuring,” Dragas says. She and other board members emphasized, however, that online education was merely a proxy for a deeper concern about the pace of change in higher education. Dragas was equally worried about the hospital, which was competing for market share and facing changes in financing, and a decline in federal research funding. Some board members wanted Sullivan to reallocate resources from marginal to core needs, and while they weren’t sure how to achieve that shift, they wanted to hear exciting ideas from the president. Sullivan didn’t seem to be willing — or perhaps able — to provide them. Sullivan contends she was given contradictory instructions by Wynne, the rector who hired her, and later by Dragas. Was she supposed to be implementing the many plans the university had devised over the years, or coming up with new ones? Sullivan worked to strengthen her strategic thinking with a pair of business professors, but her dutiful efforts left some board members unimpressed. “She seemed, in a word, plodding,” R. J. Kirk, a pharmaceutical billionaire and board member, told me.
Some of Sullivan’s allies suggest, discreetly, that she didn’t fit the board’s image of a chief executive. She is in her 60s and has the fashion sense of an academic. In a personnel review process last year, Dragas, who is immaculately tailored, told Sullivan that she received comments from several board colleagues, questioning whether her wardrobe was occasionally too informal.
“I don’t know what the unprofessional dress was,” Sullivan said. “I do live here at the university, so when I’m working out or doing something else here, people will see me.” It’s hard to imagine anyone leveling such criticism at, say, the famously rumpled former Harvard president Larry Summers. “People are very much aware that I’m the first woman president of Virginia,” she said. “It would be naïve to think it’s not there as an issue.” Dragas calls the suggestion that she judged Sullivan by her appearance “ridiculous,” adding, “If the president had been a man, I would have conveyed the same sentiments from the board, no question about it.”
Sullivan declined to discuss her relationship with Dragas, other than to say that she felt it was “cordial, respectful,” until the moment it fell apart. The president was at times visibly frustrated in her interactions with the board. To a degree that administrators find remarkable, Dragas and other board members intervened in UVA’s day-to-day management, questioning everything from the cost of historic building renovations to the offering of a course entitled “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity.”
Sometime last fall, Dragas asked Sullivan to prepare a written strategy for the university. “I’m growing increasingly nervous that others are thinking about big trends and long- term prospects for higher education delivery and funding,” Dragas wrote in April to the vice rector, Mark Kington, a hedge-fund manager. Sullivan’s response was disappointing. Brief and written in a transparently grudging tone, Sullivan’s memo warned that “we are not as excellent as our rankings imply” but offered little in the way of a coherent approach to the university’s problems.
In mid-May, Dragas received a warning from yet another quarter — a letter signed by about 450 faculty members. It complained that, after years without raises, Virginia’s faculty salaries — around $141,000 for full professors — were lagging far behind competitors’. “What was once worry about getting through economic hard times is now crystallizing into hopelessness, cynicism, resentment and anger,” the letter stated, demanding “urgent and immediate action.” Dragas says the letter read “like a desperate reach around the administration, and a cry to the board for help, and also a concrete plan.”
It was around this time that she began gathering support for Sullivan’s ouster. Virginia law requires any meeting of more than two board members to be publicly announced. Dragas lobbied board members in one-on-one phone calls, a tactic that critics suggest she used to avoid scrutiny. She also briefed Governor McDonnell. (The governor’s office declined to make him available for an interview.) While many, including McDonnell, have since denied participation in the decision, at the time they said nothing that dissuaded Dragas from acting. The rector says she won the backing from 15 of the board’s 16 members.
In her back-channel conversations, Dragas also approached some key donors and alumni, including Paul Tudor Jones. Dragas told Jones that UVA needed strategic thinking, and she discussed a position for him advising the board. She disclosed that Sullivan might be on her way out, and Jones — who had some leverage as the donor of Sullivan’s largest gift — raised no objection. After thinking about the board position for a week, though, Jones decided he had too many other philanthropic commitments and recommended his neighbor in Greenwich, Conn., Peter Kiernan.
“I knew, but I wasn’t involved,” Kiernan told me recently. A silver haired ex-Goldman Sachs banker and a fund-raiser for UVA’s business school, he suggested to Dragas that he could help the university in devising big-picture priorities, its “20-, 30-, 40-year bets.” They discussed raising hundreds of millions of dollars for faculty salaries. “Mission first,” Kiernan told me. “That’s the way strategic planning ought to be.”
Kiernan said it was “absurd” to suggest, as some protesters later did, that Sullivan’s removal was a Wall Street conspiracy. “This notion that one or two or three donors could get together and topple a president,” he said, “forget whether it’s possible; it’s not even smart.” But some Sullivan supporters see a more subtle chain of causality. Ligon, a former board member and a successful entrepreneur himself — he was a founder of CarMax, a used-car chain — said he thought the board members had fallen under the influence of high-finance mentality. “Private-equity and hedge-fund guys typically come into a situation of mediocrity, where rapid change may result in a profit,” he told me. “When you’re talking about a well-established university with a strong reputation that is trying to enhance that reputation, that’s not how the game is played.”
Sullivan’s opponents on the board, by contrast, saw themselves in a courageous light. “The easiest thing for us to do as a board would have been to punt,” Kington told me. “It’s a larger issue that we’re dealing with as a society: Do you advance into the field and meet challenges, or wait for them to find you?” They looked at Sullivan, with her talk of “buy-in” and “stakeholders,” and saw a bureaucrat captive to an entrenched faculty.
On June 5, Dragas e-mailed her colleagues a “timely article,” the text of a graduation address on “failure and rescue” by the physician and writer Atul Gawande. Several replied with praise for Dragas’s leadership. Kirk wrote, “The time in which we could be deferential toward an administration that is mostly bent on the preservation of the status quo is at an end.”
“Thanks for your encouragement,” Dragas wrote back. “I expect to be bullet-ridden by Sunday.”
Dragas appears to have presumed that opposition would be fleeting. On June 8, she and Kington arrived on campus for a meeting with Sullivan and asked for her resignation, offering a generous settlement package. Sullivan agonized for a day, signed the papers, and the announcement was issued. Dragas began the process of looking for a new president. “We want this to be a liberating process,” she wrote John Simon, the university provost, the day after the resignation was announced, “so that you can act decisively on academic matters.”
The university, however, declined to greet Sullivan’s enemies as liberators. In response to an initial fusillade of criticism, Dragas brought up the letter on faculty pay, raising the prospect of increased salaries once the university recruited “a stellar new president.” Paul Tudor Jones jumped into the fray, writing a column for a Charlottesville newspaper in which he called Sullivan’s departure “a clarion call from the Board of Visitors that business as usual is not acceptable anymore. Why be good when there is outstanding to be had?”
Dragas, though, had badly misjudged the faculty. While they love to complain about their salaries, academics typically place a higher value on less quantifiable benefits, like academic freedom and the job security of the tenure system. Though they harbored no great love for Sullivan, she was still one of their own. When a financier like Jones urged them to be “elated” about the change, it only fed paranoia about the creeping influence of wealthy donors. Shortly after Sullivan’s removal, Peter Kiernan sent a mass e-mail disclosing that he had been consulted ahead of time and assuring the university that Dragas and Kington — both business-school alums — would be proceeding “with a focus on strategic dynamism.”
“I think that was the catalyst for real outrage,” Robert Fatton, a comparative government professor, says of Kiernan’s e-mail. On June 18, Sullivan gave what was intended as a farewell speech to the board, criticizing “corporate-style, top-down leadership” as a crowd of thousands gathered on the lawn to protest.
“This board comes predominantly from the corporate sector, and they were not used to dealing with people who have academic tenure and can say whatever they want,” James Koch told me. “They are used to being able to fire people who do that.”
Sullivan’s supporters established a “war room” on campus, where they organized a counterattack, focusing on influential alumni and wavering board members. The key mobilizer was Wynne, the rector who hired Sullivan. Though he no longer held any office, he still had deep connections within the university and in Virginia politics and media. “I was unaware that when he gave me the key to the Rotunda, he kept a figurative duplicate for himself,” says Dragas, who says she saw herself as the target of a group led by Wynne that was resistant to her attempts to address the university’s long-term challenges. “It mutated into a real struggle over who controlled the university.” (Wynne declined to comment.)
Dragas’s actions suggest that she originally saw the resistance as a public-relations problem. After the resignation, the board retained a high-priced communications firm to handle damage control, but Dragas issued only vague statements. The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the board thought Sullivan “lacked the mettle” to make difficult cuts, like the elimination of the classics and German departments. Sullivan told me no such actions were ever discussed, but the story further fired up her supporters.
Governor McDonnell was on a trade mission to Europe at the time of Sullivan’s ouster, which allowed him to distance himself, but as the turmoil went on, he called on the board to resolve the issue or resign en masse. By this time, many of Dragas’s allies had deserted her. Sullivan was reinstated by a unanimous vote on June 26 and appeared on the steps of the Rotunda to address cheering supporters with an obligatory quote from Jefferson: “It is pleasant for those who have just escaped threatened shipwreck to hail one another when landed in unexpected safety.”
In the weeks since, Dragas and Sullivan issued a joint statement declaring themselves “unequivocally united in the belief that the institution’s future is brighter than ever,” but their reconciliation has been chilly at best. Sullivan’s partisans have advanced plenty of theories about hidden motivations behind her ouster, like Republican suspicion of the university’s climate-science program. But in recent weeks, many of them have begun to consider the possibility that there was actually no vast conspiracy, just a small circle of meddlers with a naïve faith in the capacities of heroic leadership. “No one wants to believe,” the media-studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan says, “that Dragas was both sincere and incompetent.”
At the height of the outcry, Dragas was flooded with angry e-mail — “Resign witch!” read one message — and she contemplated stepping down. But she held on, and Governor McDonnell recently shocked many by reappointing her to another four years on the board, though she will serve less than one more year as rector. “I am a very tenacious person,” Dragas told me. “Mr. Jefferson said it best: ‘In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.’ ”
Though Dragas has given perfunctory apologies to Sullivan, she has told others that she feels her warnings of an existential crisis will be vindicated. The president is just as unwavering in her convictions. “Being an incrementalist,” Sullivan declared in June, “does not mean that I lack vision.” Though she is proceeding with online courses — soon after her reinstatement, the university announced a partnership with Coursera, a for-profit online initiative — she is doing it her way: deliberately. “I think it is important to emphasize,” she told me, “that they are experiments.” When I asked Sullivan how she intended to handle her relationship with Dragas and the board, she responded with just one word: “Carefully.”
In mid-August, Sullivan met her chastened opponents for the first time since her reinstatement, at an annual board retreat in Richmond. Terry MacTaggart, a retired university chancellor, was brought in to act as a sort of marriage counselor, conducting seminars on communication. “Let me just acknowledge one thing,” MacTaggart said. “This is an awkward environment.” MacTaggart’s efforts were hampered by the presence of reporters and news cameras. Dragas spoke rarely, her face fixed in a thoughtful rictus, as MacTaggart scribbled bullet points on an easel.
After Sullivan’s reinstatement, Dragas complimented her on the speeches she gave during the crisis — Sullivan was a leader, after all — and many board members expressed the hope that the president had emerged in a strong-enough position to tackle contentious issues like tying faculty compensation to performance. Unintentionally, the board transformed Sullivan into the thing it coveted all along: a national star. Larry Sabato, who has pictures of the protests in his living room, says, “She has the potential to be a transformational figure if she chooses — and the board lets her.”
For now, at least publicly, no one is standing in her way. On the second day of the retreat, Sullivan gave a confident speech outlining her agenda for the university. “We are not in any financial crisis,” she said, in implicit rebuke, making note of the school’s pristine bond rating. She discussed the budget, tuition increases, costs at the hospital, the shaky future of federal aid and Coursera. “We have the opportunity,” Sullivan told the board, “to combine the best of a liberal-arts college with the resources of a research university.” When the president was finished, Dragas called for questions. None of the board members ventured to open their mouths.
Andrew Rice is a contributing writer and the author of “The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget.” Editor: Vera Titunik
A version of this article appeared in print on September 16, 2012, on page MM56 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: How Not to Fire a President.
Andrew Rice is a contributing writer and the author of “The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget.”
Editor: Vera Titunik
"Recently, an ionized cloud of gas was discovered plunging toward the supermassive black hole, SgrA*, at the centre of the Milky Way. The cloud is being tidally disrupted along its path to closest approach at ~3100 Schwarzschild radii from the black hole. Here, we show that the observed properties of this cloud of gas can naturally be produced by a proto-planetary disk surrounding a low-mass star, which was scattered from the observed ring of young stars orbiting SgrA*. As the young star approaches the black hole, its disk experiences both photo-evaporation and tidal disruption, producing a cloud. Our model implies that planets form in the Galactic centre, and that tidal debris from proto-planetary disks can flag low mass stars which are otherwise too faint to be detected."
'via Blog this'
"In 2015, Dawn will rise over the dwarf planet Ceres. Not sunrise—this Dawn is a NASA spacecraft.
Since 2011, the craft has investigated the asteroid Vesta. In so doing, Dawn became the first probe to orbit an object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. And a big object at that—Vesta is one of the largest asteroids out there.
On September 5th Dawn shoved off in pursuit of another first, and an even bigger target. In early 2015 it will arrive at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt and one of the solar system’s so-called dwarf planets.
No spacecraft has ever gotten an up-close look at a dwarf planet. But Dawn will spend several months in orbit around Ceres, and should test the theory that the mysterious world harbors a substantial amount of water ice beneath its crust.
Dawn uses a superefficient ion-propulsion engine. Ion engines deliver a tiny amount of thrust but sustain it to gradually accelerate a craft to high speeds. So the cruise to Ceres will take a while, but it requires very little fuel. Thus enabling one craft to accomplish two interplanetary firsts.
'via Blog this'
"A gas cloud that is careering towards the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way may be the visible trail of a planet-forming disk surrounding a young, low-mass star, astrophysicists propose."
'via Blog this'
Monday, September 10, 2012
"Not content with messing up Earth, apparently we’ve taken to messing up other planets."
'via Blog this'
"With a 520-mile-long coast lined largely by teeming roads and fragile infrastructure, New York City is gingerly facing up to the intertwined threats posed by rising seas and ever-more-severe storm flooding."
'via Blog this'
Sunday, September 09, 2012
The blue dots are the points in the radio part of the spectrum that the super massive black hole in the center of the Milky Way (SgrA*) sends us normally. The red areas are what is expected by Narayan et al., in the middle of 2013, because of a gas cloud falling to the black hole.
Will we get microwaved?
I don't think so; but the authors are expecting that somebody will be able to measure this increase by factors of ten or more, over normal radiation, next year.
Saturday, September 08, 2012
He answered, no.
Since I didn't know any better, I let it go.
Now I know better, but he is dead. Truthfully, to this day, we do not know if they exist, but to me, the circumstantial evidence seems as tight, as in the O.J. Simpson trial!
Simpson lived a few blocks away from my father in law's house, in the Los Angeles area. I never met him, so I do not know if he had anything to do with his wife, and/or her friend's death.
The only thing that will convince extreme skeptics of the existence of black holes, is a measurement of the event horizon of SgrA*.
People are working on that.
General Relativity has precise predictions for those future measurements. If Einstein was right, we will know, when Astrometry gets to the high level of precision envisioned nowadays.
This is how science advances, either through new discoveries, or by measuring with high precision, what we think we know.
"5:16 p.m. | Updated With the forecast calling for storms, the United States Tennis Association postponed until Sunday the Open women’s singles final between Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, which had been scheduled to be played Saturday night."
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"A tornado ripped through a beach club in Queens on Saturday, one of several outbursts of severe weather across the New York region that flooded roads, felled power lines and forced the delay of the United States Open."
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There is a very active star heating process going on at the center of the Milky Way. Li et al. calculate that in a million or so encounters, between stars going almost at the speed of light, and the super massive black hole that rules our galaxy, these stars accumulate enough heat to be destroyed. The accumulated heating may explain the lack of massive (& 10M⊙) S-stars closer than several tens of AU from SgrA*.
The title of the article is:
"Accumulated Tidal Heating of Stars Over Multiple Pericenter Passages Near SgrA*"
Some of these stars take only one year to go around SgrA*. As comparison, our Sun takes 250 million years for the same round trip.
Life as we know it, cannot happen there.
From the left figure, Li and Loeb conclude, that a 20 solar mass star, cannot survive millions of approaches to the super massive black hole, if it is closer than seven times the tidal radius. That will be the zone which is green, yellow or red, to the right of that figure.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
"Great idea. Waiting for the historical threads. Astronomy has long been known as the birth-mother of mathematics ... around the world ... any any time."
Something relevant to astronomy and mathematics happened recently.
Dawn, the NASA spacecraft left Vesta in the direction of Ceres on September 5.
The great Carl Friedrich Gauss at age 24 calculated the orbit of Ceres, with enough precision to allow its observation.
"By this time, the apparent position of Ceres had changed (mostly due to the Earth's orbital motion), and was too close to the Sun's glare for other astronomers to confirm Piazzi's observations. Toward the end of the year, Ceres should have been visible again, but after such a long time it was difficult to predict its exact position. To recover Ceres, Carl Friedrich Gauss, then 24 years old, developed an efficient method of orbit determination. In only a few weeks, he predicted the path of Ceres and sent his results to von Zach. On 31 December 1801, von Zach andHeinrich W. M. Olbers found Ceres near the predicted position and thus recovered it."
Astronomy has always depended on clear and methodical thinking, the characteristics of Mathematics.
The prince of Mathematics recovered Ceres!
By 2015, Dawn will be in Ceres.
"Next and final stop: The biggest object in the asteroid belt.
After spending a year gazing at a giant asteroid, NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Wednesday began the cruise toward an even bigger target -- a voyage that will take nearly three years.
Ground controllers received a signal from Dawn that it successfully spiraled away from the asteroid Vesta and was headed toward the dwarf planet Ceres."
'via Blog this'
"Upcoming telescope projects on Earth and in space will map out billions of stars and galaxies all around us"
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"KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The worst drought in decades is expected, over the next few months, to continue choking a large area of the Plains and Rockies that missed the soggy remnants of Hurricane Isaac, according to the National Weather Service’s Seasonal Drought Outlook released on Thursday morning."
'via Blog this'
"A curtain of green auroras ripples over hoodoo rock formations near Drumheller, Canada, early Monday, Labor Day in the U.S. The same night, similar shows enlivened skies over many high-latitude countries across the Northern Hemisphere."
'via Blog this'
Theories, models and the future of science | The Curious Wavefunction, Scientific American Blog Network
"Last year’s Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess for their discovery of an accelerating universe, a finding leading to the startling postulate that 75% of our universe contains a hitherto unknown entity called dark energy. This is an important discovery which is predated by brilliant minds and an exciting history. It continues a grand narrative that starts from Henrietta Swan Leavitt (who established a standard reference for calculating astronomical distances) through Albert Einstein (whose despised cosmological constant was resurrected by these findings) and Edwin Hubble, continuing through George Lemaitre and George Gamow (with their ideas about the Big Bang) and finally culminating in our current sophisticated understanding of the expanding universe."
'via Blog this'
"NASA's infrared WISE spacecraft found about 130 glowing black holes in a small region of space, meaning that at least two million active black holes dot the sky. John Matson reports"
'via Blog this'
When it comes to microwaves from the sky, the primordial cosmic background radiation gets most of the publicity, while everything that originates nearby is lumped into the category of “foregrounds.” But those foregrounds are interesting in their own right; they tell us about important objects in the universe, like our own galaxy. For nearly a decade, astronomers have puzzled over a mysterious hazy glow of microwaves emanating from the central region of the Milky Way. More recently, gamma-ray observations have revealed a related set of structures known as “Fermi Bubbles.” We’re very happy to host this guest post by Douglas Finkbeiner from Harvard, who has played a crucial role in unraveling the mystery.