Author Archives: Jennifer Altmann

Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe, by Alan Hirshfeld ’73

Alan Hirshfeld '73

Alan Hirshfeld ’73

The book: A cadre of 19th-century amateur astronomers and inventors played a significant role in the birth of modern astronomy. In Starlight Detectives, Hirshfeld reveals the stories of those ambitious dreamers, among them William Bond, who turned his home into a functional observatory, and a father and son who were trailblazers in astrophotography. The tales Hirshfeld recounts reveal the persistence and imagination required for scientific progress.

The author: Hirshfeld, who has written several books about scientific discoveries, is a professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and an associate of the Harvard College Observatory. Continue reading

A Fictional Romp Through Reality TV and the Absurdities of Our Celebrity Culture

Christopher Beha '02

Christopher Beha ’02

Christopher Beha ’02’s new novel, Arts and Entertainments, is a hilarious send-up of our celebrity culture, but his inspiration came not from watching marathons of The Real Housewives, but from reading Edith Wharton.

A Wharton short story — about an impoverished poet who cannot make money from his poems but is offered the chance to sell a piece of gossip to a newspaper — sparked the idea for the novel, which follows a failed actor who, desperate to afford fertility treatments for his wife, sells a sex tape made with a former girlfriend who now is famous. When his identity is revealed, he is unwittingly drawn into the world of reality TV, which quickly takes over his life. The novel expertly skewers our obsession with the world of celebrities — a newspaper headline reads “Nation Mourns” when a reality TV star dies — and the way in which social media has transformed how we think about our lives.

ArtsEntertainment pb cThere has been “a real debasing of interior life,” Beha says, with the pervasiveness of the idea “that everybody’s life is meant to be broadcast, and that your life has meaning to the extent that it is known about by as many people as possible.” The book’s reality TV maestro, a shadowy figure named Brian Moody, spends a year in the seminary before realizing his true calling, enabling Beha to explore the way celebrity culture “substitutes in some way for what religion used to provide.”

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‘Dean of Deans': Fred Hargadon, Admissions Dean From 1988 to 2003, Dies at 80

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Fred Hargadon (Photo: Frank Wojciechowski)

Fred Hargadon, Princeton’s dean of admission for 15 years and such a dominant figure in college admissions that he was known as the “dean of admission deans,” died Jan. 15. He was 80 and lived in Princeton.

Renowned for the personal attention he gave each application, “Dean Fred” welcomed successful students with an acceptance letter beginning: “Yes!” In his honor, the word was carved into a stone at the entrance of Hargadon Hall in Whitman College. The strong relationships he built with students, especially with athletes, continued during their time on campus; he was an honorary member of several classes and gave the Baccalaureate address just before he retired in 2003.

“It was extraordinary how many students he kept in touch with,” said former president Harold Shapiro *64, who hired the tall and often rumpled Hargadon in 1988. “For many students, he is the person they remember the most from Princeton.”

Hargadon’s tenure at Princeton spanned a period of change and increasing competition in college admissions. When he began, after five years heading admissions at Swarthmore and 15 years at Stanford, about 16 percent of applicants were accepted to Princeton each year. When he left, the admission rate was about 10 percent. He also was a strong supporter of early-decision admission over early action.

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Q&A with Chris Lu ’88, on working for President Barack Obama

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(Photo: White House Photo Office)
 
In 2005, a young U.S. senator from Illinois asked Chris Lu ’88 to serve as his legislative director. Three years later, Barack Obama was elected president, and Lu was appointed as the White House Cabinet secretary. Lu stepped down from that position in February so that he could, as he told The Daily Princetonian, “enjoy some things I haven’t had a chance to enjoy over the last eight years.”
 
Was it difficult to make the decision to leave the White House?
 
I’ve been with the president since almost the day he came into Senate. It’s hard to leave, but for me it was the right time personally and professionally for a transition. For the president, being in the White House is a marathon, but for the White House staff it’s a sprint, and before you drop, you pass the baton to somebody else. It’s a nonstop schedule.
 
Before you go into a job like this, you need to find some balance in your life. If you let yourself, you could work every waking hour. My days usually started at 5 a.m., running in the dark. Having that time by myself to think and clear my head was important.
 
You were one of the most senior Asian-Americans in the Obama administration.
 
My parents were both immigrants to this country — they were born in China and came here from Taiwan to go to college in the late ’50s. At the time, it would have been unthinkable to them that their son someday would be working in the White House. I never got jaded about what it meant, and what a unique experience that was. Throughout history, there have not been a lot of people who looked like me who worked at the White House.

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Nobel laureates Krugman and Stiglitz address economic affairs

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Princeton professor Paul Krugman, top, and former faculty member Joseph Stiglitz discussed the economy at an event in New York City. (Photos: Jon Roemer/Courtesy the Woodrow Wilson School [Krugman]; Wikipedia/Lawrence Khoo [Stiglitz])
In a freewheeling discussion that focused on the United States’ economic slowdown and what to do about it, Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman talked about the need for more government spending with Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz during “A Conversation with Nobel Laureates” Oct. 23 in New York City.
 
The discussion, before about 700 people at an auditorium at the Fashion Institute of Technology, reached back to the Great Depression for historical comparisons and across the ocean for current-day examples of countries with economies that are doing better than ours.
 
Describing how government spending helped the United States recover from the Great Depression in the 1930s and 1940s, Krugman said an injection of funds during an economic downturn “is not a sugar high. It’s more like a diet of essential nutrients.”
 
Added Stiglitz, who taught at Princeton from 1979 to 1988, “There is a vicious cycle going on, where a weak economy leads to more inequality, which leads to a weaker economy.”
 
The Nobel Prize-winning economists (Stiglitz won in 2001, Krugman in 2008) agreed that cutting social safety nets was not a means to a stronger economy. Scandinavian countries, which have strong social programs, have done well in this economy, Krugman said.
 
On the issue of health care, the pair talked about the ways in which President Barack Obama’s health care legislation has figured in this year’s presidential campaign. 

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Tiger of the Week: Lloyd Shapley *53

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Lloyd Shapley *53 (Photo: AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
In the fall of 1949, two young mathematicians interested in game theory lived on the same floor of the Graduate College and became friendly rivals — John Nash *50, who won the Nobel Prize in 1994 and became famous as the subject of the book and film A Beautiful Mind, and Lloyd Shapley *53, who was awarded the Nobel prize on Oct. 15.
 
Shapley, who is 89, won the Nobel in economics sciences with Alvin Roth, a professor at Harvard, for their work on the design of markets and matching theory. Working independently of one another, the two addressed the problem of how to match different agents in a market as efficiently as possible — pairing new doctors with hospitals, prospective students with schools, or patients needing organ transplants with donors. Shapley’s work, which applies to markets where price is not a factor, seeks to ensure that both sides feel they have gotten the most attractive match. Shapley established the theoretical underpinnings of the theories in the 1950s and 1960s, while Roth devised real-world applications.
 
“Shapley is on a short list of the most important figures in game theory, many of whom were at Princeton at more or less the same time,” including Nash, David Gale *49, and Harold Kuhn *50, said Princeton economics professor Dilip Abreu. “They were huge talents, all present at the birth of the field, and that combination was quite explosive.”
 
Shapley earned a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1953 and taught at Princeton for three years before becoming a research mathematician at the RAND Corporation. He currently is a professor emeritus of economics and mathematics at UCLA, where he joined the faculty in 1981.
 
Sixty-three years ago, when Shapley and Nash were hotshots in Princeton’s math department, they frequently sat together in Fine Hall thrashing out ideas about game theory. Kuhn, who now is a professor emeritus in the Princeton mathematics department, said Nash and Shapley were “very much friendly rivals” who enjoyed tossing ideas back and forth or playing Go, a strategy-intensive board game played in China for thousands of years.
 
“The common room at Fine Hall was the place where everyone met every afternoon, and the ideas sort of bubbled over there,” Kuhn said. “Lloyd Shapley was the best in terms of his overall accomplishments of a very bright group of people. His Nobel is long overdue.”
 

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