Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hickory Nut Falls

Looking up from the base of Hickory Nut Falls in Chimney Rock State Park

What's Happening

Erin and I returned from out Asheville, NC/Atlanta, GA trip at 3:20 AM on Monday, May 22. On Saturday, May 27, we will begin the Cottonwood 200, a 3-day bike ride through the Flint Hills of Kansas.  The following weekend, on Saturday, June 3rd, both of us will run the Dam-to-Dam half marathon in the Des Moines area. I'm going to follow that with a few days of Dad-time. 

Number of the Day: 98

Age of Dr. Brenda Milner, who still works at Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. Many believe her to be emerita at her age, but she is still working some 7 decades after she began. She is currently weaving together the biology of memory and a hemisphere specialization: how the halves divide up labor. 

I saw this article appear in the Science Times on Tuesday, May 16th although it appeared first on Monday, May 15th. It was of interest to me as I was reading The Power of Habit at that time. In chapter 1 of this book, it describes a patient "Eugene" who loses the ability to create new memories. The scientist studying Eugene was professor Larry Squire.  When Larry was a PhD student a MIT, he worked alongside "the group" studying Henry Molaison. 

Whether he worked with Dr. Brenda Milner, I could not assess, but Dr. Brenda Milner was one of several scientists to have studied Henry Molaison extensively.  


Flights to Atlanta are much cheaper than flights to Asheville, NC. Since our friends Rachel and Dennis live in Roswell (northeast of Atlanta), we thought we could carpool with them to Asheville to meet the organizers of this trip, Gerrit and Kristi. They graciously let us crash their trip when we caught wind of it a month ago.

Rachel picked us up from the airport Friday evening and we stayed a night with her and Dennis in their new place. We had a late dinner of leftover Indian food, and stayed up late catching up.

The following morning we had a brunch at Another Broken Egg before taking off for Asheville.


True to our nature, our first stop in Asheville was at a brewery: Catawba Brewing Co.
We made plans on the fly. I chose a brewery to go somewhat at random, and decided on Burial Brewing Company. In our attempts at parking in the area of Burial, we were unsuccessful at first, and finally found a lot that happened to be right across from Catawba. Since there was no rhyme or reason that I chose Burial in the first place, we walked into Catawba. It suited our needs and desires for that particular moment.

When Gerrit and Kristi arrived, we were able to see their 4 year old twins Gatlin and Gillian for the first time in several years! However, they had just ridden several hours in a car, and so they were wound for sound.  A beer later, we decided on ordering Indian food and joining them at a local park where we ate and let the kids play before heading to the cabin. 

The Cabin

Our cabin was in between Black Mountain and Bat Cave, NC, about 40 minutes outside of Asheville on some of the steepest and windiest roads I've been. It was a mansion of a cabin that could have very comfortably held at least one more couple. We each had our own rooms with our own bathrooms. 

Dennis captured this wonderful panoramic picture of the dinner table

The view from the deck. 
Left: Cuddle time with Gatlin and Gillian. Right: Erin cooking us an amazing breakfast.

Chimney Rock State Park

Saturday plans were made on Saturday morning. We decided to go south from the cabin first and enjoy some time at Chimney Rock State Park, so we packed for a picnic. It cost a little more than we were expecting to get into the park, but it was worth it. We chose the hike to Hickory Nut Falls as that seemed to be the easiest one for the kids and the one with the most reward.

Shots at Hickory Nut Falls
It wasn't until later that I found out this was the sight for many of the shots taken in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.  

Taken during our picnic at the base of Vista and Chimney Rock
 The scenery and company were great. Once we were finished with our picnic and playing around, we went north to Black Mountain to enjoy Black Mountain Ciderworks + Meadery as well as Pisgah Brewing Company. They were right beside each other.

A selection of ciders and mead makes Pleepleus happy.

A quick beer at Pisgah since there were no shaded tables or comfort available
That evening, we interrogated Dennis to make sure he was holiday meal ready. He flawlessly passed, navigating around our intense and rigorous questions effortlessly.

The Trip Home

We were in no hurry on Sunday morning, so we had breakfast at the cabin and some much needed R&R. After a late lunch at the Straightaway Cafe, we parted ways with Gerrit, Kristi, Gatlin, and Gillian, and headed back to Atlanta where Erin and I had a late flight out.

Left: Pre-dinner beers at Taco Mac. Right: Erin told me to order anything I wanted. I ate the entire boat.
It felt like it was my birthday at the Japanese Sushi and Steakhouse. Erin told me I could get anything I wanted! I ordered a sushi boat for two just for myself. It was delicious. I ate it all, and even had a few bites of her dish.

We couldn't thank Dennis and Rachel enough for their willingness to drive us all the way to the airport for our late flight out, which meant they also had a late night getting back to Roswell. It was a fantastic time catching up with all of them. Postcards are coming soon! 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Erin enjoying a margarita flight

What's Happening?

This is my second day of summer break. With more time on my hands, I will probably be writing more often. I'm going to try a format similar to how I began each of my statistics classes during the Spring 2017 semester.

On Friday the 19th we fly to Atlanta, GA where we will be picked up by the newlyweds Dennis and Rachel Ho. They will drive us to Asheville, NC where we will meet our friends Gerrit and Kristi Scholten. Once together, we plan to paint the town and do all things fun. We may send you a postcard if you're good. 

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Erin and I will be riding the Cottonwood 200. This is a 200 mile, 3-day bike ride that starts as Washburn University in Topeka on Saturday, May 27th and ends that evening about 75 miles away in Council Grove, KS.  On Sunday, the ride is an out-and-back that goes to Cottonwood Falls and returns to Council Grove, which is approximately 50 miles. On Monday, we ride back to Topeka.

Did You Know?

One of my 2017 resolutions is to bike 2017 miles. At the time of this writing, I have 1641 miles to go. This means I am 18.6% finished with my goal. Tuesday, May 16th is the 136th day of the year, which means that I am 37.3% finished with the year. Although behind, the summer rides are coming and will most likely get me ahead.

Number of the Day - 44

On Saturday, April 22nd, Erin and I met friends Jonathan and Sarah in Columbia, MO to participate in the March for Science. According to Pew Research, the 
percentage of U.S. adults who say the protests, marches and demonstrations about science held this April will Help/Make No Difference/Hurt public support for science
is divided evenly at 44% for both "Help" and "Make No Difference." In fact, 7% believe it will hurt public support for science. This was one of FiveThirtyEight's Significant Digits on Friday, May 12.

March for Science

Neophilia versus Neophobia

I'm currently reading what will probably be a contender for the most influential book I've read in 2017. On shelves in 2012, I'm five years behind. It is called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. 

This has been such an influential book, that I expect to weave much of what was written in that book into several more blog posts. I will build a foundation with this post. 

Haidt first brings up neophilia while giving several moral foundations of politics in chapter 7. The six moral foundations are 
  • Care/Harm
  • Liberty/Opression (introduced in Ch. 8)
  • Fairness/Cheating
  • Loyalty/Betrayal
  • Authority/Subversion
  • Sanctity/Degradation 
If you think of a spectrum of very liberal on the left to very conservative on the right, imagine a graph of six lines that measure the importance of these moral foundations to individuals (use the picture below to get an idea, which is not to scale and slightly inaccurate). Starting on the left, the lines from top to bottom represent each of the moral foundations given above, respectively. 

Hence, the more liberal minded individual puts a lot more weight in the top three (and especially the top two) than the bottom three. While the more conservative minded puts about an equal weight to all six foundations with a near opposite ordering of priority. 

In the section on Sanctity and Degradation, he introduced the terms neophilia and neophobia. 
  • Neophilia is a desire to experience and try new things, along with a general distaste for routine and tradition.
  • Neophopia is a fear of new experiences, with a general comfort in what is "tried and true."
In my search of a more positive word that describes a general desire for routine and tradition, I was unsuccessful.

Neophilia describes me very well. Haidt claims that liberals score higher on neophilia, being more open to experience "new foods, people, music, and ideas."  Conservatives, on the flip side, scored higher on neophobia.

Why was this in the sanctity and degradation section? If one thinks in the specific terms of sex and the sanctity of marriage, consider the following bumper sticker.

This would be on the car of a neophile, and most probably, one that leans to the left.

The primary reason why I believe The Righteous Mind to be so influential is that it has helped me "trade in anger for understanding." I encourage you to do the same, whether you read this particular book or not. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


This is the name of the exam that I failed
This morning I woke up a little before 5:30 and remembered that yesterday was the first Tuesday of the month. I failed at getting my post in on time. This wasn't on purpose, but it completely fits into what I was going to write about.

A week ago (well, a week and a day ago now), I sat down for a four hour actuary test. Through the Society of Actuaries, it is the third exam and it is called Exam MLC, which stands for Models for Life Contingencies. I did my best. That, however, was not good enough. I failed.

There were three steps I went through that were not too different than the steps my friend Jonathan suggests in his blog post: Failure is Good. So are You Failing Enough?  These three steps were as follows:

  1. Feel the pain. Failing the exam gave me a depressing feeling. I felt very psychologically drained. I knew it would pass eventually, but I did not force it to go away. I let myself feel what I was feeling. After all, we're human.
  2. Begin focusing on whatever positives that come from this. I couldn't see these right away, but they surfaced soon enough.  I was able to share the experience with my students, show some vulnerability, and let them know that I knew what it was like to be in their shoes. I noticed Sharing Your Failures came in quite handy. 
  3. Think about what I have to do for next time. There was a simple fact: I wasn't ready.  I didn't realize that until about a week before. I now know what to expect, and the strategies I need to use in order to pass it. 
The next MLC Exam will be in October. Since this is too much time, I will need to do some fortnightly drills to stay with the material over the summer before I begin to go into full study mode when the Fall semester begins at the end of August.  My Fall semester will be light this year with old and familiar preps, so those two months will be sufficient enough time to master the material. 

Yesterday was full of failures. It was quite the unusual day. 

I failed to get to a candidate breakfast on time. 

At dinner with my wife, Erin, we found out that our calendars were a week apart with regard to a two and a half week period of time that involves the Bike Across Kansas and our trip to the Pacific Northeast. I failed at communicating with her for the past several weeks - specifically, noticing that the dates she was mentioning were not the dates I had in my calendar.  We have some work to do to rectify this failure in communication. 

Although I'm getting better at using a calendar for my day to day activities, yesterday was a clear indication that I have some work to do. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Card Trick

If you can memorize this chart, you can do a really cool card trick.
My basic statistics class gets to learn a new thing about me each class period.  Today, they learned that I like card tricks, especially mathematical ones.  Want to try?  Grab a deck of cards.

Count out 27 cards, because that is all that is required for this trick.  The next two instructions can be done in any order.

Pick any number from 1-27. Let's suppose you picked 23 like my student did this morning.

Go through the deck and choose a card as your card. Shuffle it anywhere in the deck.  Put it in a specific spot if you want.  It doesn't matter.

Here is the math part.  You need to take the number 23 and come up with three instructions.  In my picture, I want you to notice that 23 is in the middle of its most inside block.  It's block, is in the middle of the outside block.  Finally, the outside block is the bottom block.  OK, so it isn't the bottom, it is the far right, but I couldn't put a huge vertical photo in the blog.  You will need to remember middle, middle, bottom.

Now, deal the cards face up into three piles, one at a time, alternating piles.  To be specific, the first card defines the first pile, the second card the second pile, the third card the third pile, and then deal the rest accordingly.

While you are doing this, keep an eye out for your card.  You will need your participant to do the same thing later when you are performing.  Note which pile your card is in.  Once the piles are all turned over so that the cards are face down, you place the pile in the position of your first instruction: middle.  (Yes, I know that it didn't matter if we turned the cards over for that instruction, but for top and bottom it does.)

You do this again two more times, making sure you place the pile in the intended place.

Now, count out the cards from the top until you reach the 23rd card.  That is your card.  If you find yourself going "wow, cool!" then you just enjoyed some math.

Try it again for a different number.  Say, 6.  Can you tell that the instructions for 6 are bottom, middle, top?  Each number has a unique set of instructions that forces any card in the deck to the position you want it to be in.

Cool, huh?

For a slightly different explanation and a video tutorial, you can watch that here.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Is what you do on a daily basis meaningful to you?  

Yesterday, Erin asked me to mow the lawn. It was the first time that we mowed this year so you can imagine how overgrown it was (we live in Kansas).  As I was mowing, I remember thinking these several thoughts: 
  • Wow, our lawn looks really shitty!
  • As shitty as our lawn looks, I really don't give a shit. 
  • I don't find meaningfulness in giving a shit about my lawn. 
  • I wish I had rocks for a lawn so I wouldn't have to mow and I could get back to doing things that are more meaningful to me. 
  • How does the guy with the immaculate lawn across the street find any kind of meaningfulness in giving a shit about his lawn?
I admit, the last takes am unnecessary jab at people who care for their lawns, which is completely fine. People find meaningfulness in different places. 

Others would ask the same question about some of the things I find meaningful:
  • Brewing my own beer.
  • Roasting my own coffee. Every. Single. Week. 
  • Studying for the MLC Exam (If I pass this exam, it will not qualify me for a promotion in my current position. It gets me closer to a certification that will also not qualify me for a promotion in my current position.) 
  • Reading incessantly. 
  • Getting rid of shit.
  • Going for a hike.
  • Riding my bike.
  • Running. 
  • Journaling (who's going to read these in the future and give any kind of shit about them if they survive entropy or the Trump administration?)
  • Writing in this blog. 
These things are meaningful to me. Meaningful. This word has been floating around in my mind a lot. I let it dominate. Trying to figure out why things are meaningful will bring on the unnecessary ponderings of whether I'm having fun or am happy. To that, I will defer to Matt Inman's "How to be perfectly unhappy."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Break 2017

View of Taos and Taos Pueblo from the Devisadero Loop Trail
On the Saturday morning following Saint Patrick's Day in 2017, Erin and I started our Spring Break. We had lunch with Erin's brother Nathan in Colby, KS, and spent a little time with him before leaving for Fort Collins.

Jody and Erica greeted us in Fort Collins at their new digs. We stayed in that night, had a fire in a fire pit they designed and built out of a washer drum, and played darts until late.  Sunday funday, we celebrated the 22nd birthday of Damon (Erica's son) by painting the town in this order:

  1. Bloody Marys and Brunch at Blind Pig Pub
  2. German Beer Tasting at Prost Tasting Room.
  3. Whisky Tasting at Feisty Spirits Distillery.
  4. A beer, a short nap, and several push-ups at New Belgium
  5. Scrumpy's Hard Cider Bar & Pub for some cider and a snack.
  6. Social for cocktails and small plates. 
  7. Drinks and dinner at The Mayor of Old Town

Social is a speakeasy in Fort Collins with a very cool ambiance, amazing cocktails, and delicious small plates.
On Monday morning, we ate breakfast at Jody's and drove to Lee Martinez Park where we both ran on the beautiful Poudre Trail.  That worked up an appetite for lunch, so we ate at the Colorado Room

Before skipping town we had to make a final stop at The Welsh Rabbit to get some cheeses and meats for the road and to share. The only problem with stopping there was that the bean to bar place, Nuance Chocolate, was right next door.  There was some chocolate tasting and purchasing, as well as a Theo brew and coffee blend that I took for the road. Yummy. 

We drove to WeeCasa in Lyons, CO. I didn't realize that Lyons is where the original Oscar Blues Brewery was founded. We had food and drinks there, and a last drink at the Lyons Fork which is where we probably should have had dinner.  Mike, who had an adorable Burmese Mountain dog named Brohdi, gave us a hiking recommendation and $2. He wanted us to bring him an iced coffee in the morning. That didn't happen. 

On the Button Rock Trail. Frank Price Resovoir in background. 
The hike did, however, and it was gorgeous. It was almost a 5 mile hike, and we had to pick up the pace at the end. That evening, we arrived in Taos, NM and enjoyed some corned beef and cabbage for a late St. Patrick's Day meal, and a fire in the chiminea. 

Joseph took me hiking on the Devisadero Trail Wednesday morning, which was an out and back hike of about 5 miles.  
Devisadero Trail Hike
All of us took a pretty drive to Vivac winery later for a tasting. 

On Thursday morning, Erin joined us for a hike down into the Rio Grande Gorge along the La Vista Verde.  There were several bighorn sheep spotted. 

The view at the end of La Vista Verde
How many Bighorn Sheep can you count?
That evening, it began to snow! This was good news, as I planned a ski day to the Taos Ski Valley on Friday. We went to the Love Apple for dinner and snapped a selfie before our consumption of wine and delicious food. 
The snow is really coming down! 
On Friday, I drove to Arroyo Seco, almost half way to the ski valley, to find out that there were road closures and power outages, and that the ski valley was closed. This was a big bummer. I really had looked forward to this! Instead, we enjoyed the Taos Plaza.  

Since I didn't get to ski Friday and the Taos Ski Valley had regained power and opened back up by that evening, we rearranged our plans so that instead of leaving Saturday morning, I would get a half day of skiing in and leave in the afternoon. This would mean a stop overnight before getting to Topeka, but it was worth it. 

Saturday morning, I hit the slopes. 

I took both of these routes at some point during the day. 

Skiing gives you the best views. 
Thanks to Jody & Erica, and Joseph & Trish, we enjoyed almost the entire trip without having to pay for lodging. 

We got into Hays, KS that night around 10:30 pm.  There was a lot of wildlife in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. We saw many wild horses, elk, antelope and deer, and our driver's side rear view mirror was smashed by a pheasant.
On our way home Sunday morning, we decided to stop in Lindsborg, KS, which has a big Swedish influence. I like all things Scandinavian, so it has been on the to-do list for a while.  After a coffee at the White Peacock, we had lunch at Farley's Bar and Grill. We stopped by Hemslojd for some postcards and then took a drive up to Coronado Heights before heading home.  
Erin and I at the Hemslojd, Inc in Lindsborg, KS

Erin & Pleepleus hanging out at Coronado Heights
It has been a fantastic Spring Break, but it is great to finally be home with the kitties! 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our First Tiny Home Experience

Erin and I have just stayed the night at the WeeCasa in Lyons, CO. Their claim is that they are Colorado's first Tiny Home Hotel.

Ever since we minimized and simplified our lives, Erin has been very fascinated by the Tiny Home movement. As much as I admire the idea, I have to be honest with myself in that it would be very difficult to get to this level of tiny. I had to crawl over Erin - and squash her a little in the process - to get out of bed this morning.

There was no room I could escape to in order to write. The kettle was put on 10 feet below her head.  The table I'm writing on was folded down from the wall. It behaves as extra counter space as well. You cannot be overweight and navigate around this table to different parts of the room, as the passage is very narrow.  I have already bumped into it a few times.

In order for us to live here, we would have to get rid of everything we own, and by everything, I mean about 95% of our stuff, which would essentially be everything. None of our furniture would fit in this place. We would have to be very selective in the number of dishes we could keep. There are four drawers for clothes, so most of our clothes would have to go.

You know that hobby I have of home brewing? Nope. That wouldn't happen here. The bike would have to be locked up and stored outside somewhere.

All of that being said, this place is really cool, and fits our lives in many ways. Even though I woke up with a purpose of writing, there weren't many other options. It is great for focused work. After some focused work, I will want to get outside. That will require a plan. Will I want to go for a run, or maybe just a quick walk to Lyons for some coffee?  I could go for a hike, or run up to the library in town.

We are only one night here, so as soon as Erin gets up and around, we will take a small drive to some scenic views and get in a hike starting at the Button Rock Trail head. During the hike, we can talk more about tiny home living and what it would take. I know there are designs that we could make work.

This evening, we should be taking in a sunset in Taos, NM if things go to plan.