Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Day Shift

As I neared completion of Hugh Howey's Wool, I ordered the other two books in the series, which are Shift and Dust.  I had no regrets.  Although Wool was fantastic and left me satisfied as a story by itself, I was thirsty to find out what these other books in this world were all about.  So, I started my day shift reading Shift.  This review assumes you have already read Wool.
Sorry, the book was shifting during exposure
The Shift omnibus is composed of three parts.  Each of the three parts have two stories.  The first and second parts are prequels to the story of Wool, providing some insight into how and why the silos came about.  The third part is a parallel story of Wool in a sense.  One story begins around the same time as the other story ends, which is when Juliette makes it over the hill and meets Jimmy (Solo) in Silo 17.

Once again, I find multiple meanings for the simple title of his book. Very soon into chapter 2, the reader is introduced to the world of Silo #1 and the cryogenic thawing and freezing of individuals who are just coming on or getting off their shift.  The theme of the entire book is the shift between order and chaos, and the different events that occur that determine the direction of that shift. We also have the shifting the reader must go through, from one story and time to another. 

The odd chapters in 'First Shift: Legacy' introduce the reader to congressman Donald Greene in the years 2049-2052.  His story, one could argue, is one of a shift from order to chaos.  He is recruited by Senator Thurman to begin work on a private project.  Over the course of the three years, he slowly puts pieces together that the reader may even have difficulty doing.  You can see Donald's internal struggle of having to choose between two great evils.  But it isn't just that. There is a path that he is already on, which may or may not be a greater evil. The idea put forth, however, is one in which you would have to selectively get off of that path in pursuit of another evil.  Humans are faced with these choices from time to time.  In cases like these, it is easy to do nothing when the outcome is not going to be pleasant in either case.   

The even chapters follow Troy, who is serving a shift as some sort of 2nd or 3rd level officer of Silo #1.  We meet him in chapter 2 as he is waking up in 2110 out of a cryogenic sleep, the world long since destroyed.  Troy's story is one of a shift from having forgotten to one of remembering.  His story is an example of why I prefer a good read over a movie or a TV show any day. Howey ties together the two stories of Donald and Troy in a clever way only a novel can do.

In Second Shift: Order, Howey provides the reader with a slightly less jarring shift of going back and forth from chapter to chapter; this time spending 3-5 chapters with one story and time line before switching to another.  In this book, we meet Mission from Silo #18, back before the great uprising.  Although a great story, I will admit that I couldn't find the connection between this and anything in the Wool series.  Perhaps I will find out when reading Dust.  I have some guesses as to who The Crow may be, but am not sure.  I invite fans to give their own thoughts below (as long as it isn't a spoiler; I haven't read Dust yet).

The Second Shift also continues to follow Donald, a freezing and thawing time gap from the First Shift.  The reader begins to get a huge wave of answers about the shit that went down.  I can't say much about this part of the story without giving much away, but Donald plays a large part in investigating a suicide.  Throughout Donald's story in the Second Shift, I saw him shift from one side of sanity to the other.  A great quote from this story:

"Humans have this disease, Donny, this compulsion to move until we bump into something.  And then we tunnel through that something, or we sail over the edge of the oceans, or we stagger across mountains--
Fear.  Even the fear of death is barely enough to counter this compulsion of ours."  

After thinking about this quote a while, I don't find it accurate; it is too general.  Many humans do not have this disease.  Many humans are content in waking up and going through the same routine as the day before.  These humans are not only resistant to the idea of 'tunneling' through this routine to something else, they are fearful and anxious of other humans, like myself, tunneling through.  In fact, they may take measures to stop us from doing so.

Missing from these two stories in the Second Shift, was their convergence.  Here again, I could be just missing something.

In Third Shift: The Pact, Howey again moves in groups of 3-5 chapters from one story to the next.  It would be too much to offer what character plays in one of the stories.  I want you to experience the similar surprise that I did, so no spoilers here.  The time and setting is very shortly after Juliette disappears over the hill in Wool, and takes place inside Silo #1.

The other, as I've mentioned before, is the story of Jimmy (Solo) from Silo #17.  It begins when he is 16 years old and an uprising begins.  We find out that Jimmy is the son of the most important IT guy; the guy with the secret room.  Told completely from his perspective, we gain no insight into what makes this uprising occur.  The only thing that we know is that a cleaning is to occur the following day (which doesn't happen).  We jump quickly through his story of being alone (or is he?) by way of these series of chapters: Hour 1, Day 1, Week 1, and then Years 2, 7, 12, 16, 20, and finally, 34.

At the end of the sequence of chapters for Year 16, Solo has been with a cat for several years now.  He would go down to the flooded part of the silo to catch fish for Shadow.  But he didn't want to catch the last one. He wanted to leave the last one be, projecting himself on this last fish.

Just the one he thought, as he watched Shadow eat.  It would be scared enough down there.  No need to go yanking it out into the frightful air.  Just let the poor thing be. 

My day shift is over.  Time to shift to another book.  On to Dust, where everything must return at some point. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving. And a review of Inception (the movie).

I have a shitload of grading to do.  There were two stacks of homework and two stacks of exams on my plate to trudge through during my break.  Last weekend, I planned on grading one stack for each weekday through the break giving myself one extra day just in case.  It is now Friday and I'm only through two stacks.  Funny how things like that work out.

Besides reading Wool (which I review here), Erin and I had some much needed time together.  She is working in Perry, KS now as the director of the Highland Community College Perry Center campus.  That is a good distance away.  Enough so, that a commute home every night is not reasonable. 

What a blow-off looks like
So far, we've managed very well.  We keep quite busy during the week so that we can enjoy the weekends together.  There is no long term plan in place yet.  The short term plan is to continue doing what we're doing.  If two years go by and we're still doing what we're doing, we may start considering other options.  For now, we're doing fine. 

Erin brewed her a Mosaic IPA on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  This was her first home brewed beer in a LONG time.  With some coaching and help from her seasoned brewing husband, she created an amazing batch of wort that has great potential.  In fact, in a 6.5 gallon fermenter, it started blowing off on Thanksgiving morning.  That means the yeast were so active they ride the carbon dioxide they create all the way through the airlock making a mess if you aren't set up for it.  

Erin enjoys cooking like I enjoy brewing.  So, she busied herself with cooking on Thanksgiving, while I graded, did laundry, enjoyed her cooking, and drank many different concoctions.  

For breakfast, she cooked us some open faced sandwiches.  She first spread pesto and Parmesan on bread and broiled it, before topping it with a tomato, and some fried mushrooms and eggs.  She then made some POMimosas, using Prosecco and POM (pomegranate juice) rather than orange juice.   
For lunch, we ate some kale pesto rotini pasta topped with Paremesan with a side salad.  The pesto was actually leftovers from the previous day. 
And then for our non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner we had some turkey breast tenderloins braised with rosemary, sage, and thyme, basted in white wine and roasted in the oven to perfection.  There were some steamed veggies on the side along with some roasted fingerling potatoes and garlic.  
To give you an idea of how much Erin has been cooking all week, here is a picture of the fermentation fridge.  We can use the fermentation fridge as a regular fridge during the winter months, since I need the heat pad to maintain my fermentation temperatures between 64-68 F.  The fridge is needed in summer months and for lagering year round.  I'm just not doing any lagering right now. This is a good thing since we need the space for all our bottles and food right now. 

Decided on the spur of the moment, we chose to re-watch Christopher Nolan's Inception on Thanksgiving evening.  This is one of my favorite films, and definitely my favorite by him.  I love the open ended ending.  The viewer has to make up their own mind on what is the dream and what is reality.  And after several viewings, I'm fairly certain that he made the movie so that one could have arguments for either and that there isn't a true answer.  Very much like Frank Stockton's The lady, or the tiger? 

The scene where I believe he lets it be open ended is when Yusuf (the chemical expert) takes them downstairs to see several people together dreaming as one.  Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) asks to get plugged in.  We see some quick dreams of his late wife, and then he wakes all frazzled, unplugs and runs into the bathroom to splash water on his face.  He pulls out his totem to make sure he's not dreaming. This is a top:  
Cobb knows that if the top stops spinning, then he is back in reality.  If it continues indefinitely, he knows he is dreaming.  If it were me, I would just have to do some long jumps.  If I jumped and somehow floated along the air for a ridiculously long distance, I would know I was dreaming.  If I plummeted back to the earth well under 8 feet, then I would know I was in reality.  

Anyhow, Cobb is interrupted in this scene before he can let the top settle.  He knocks it off the sink and picks it up off the floor.  For the rest of the movie, we can now make an argument that he is one level down in a dream world. But we can also make a fine case that he is in reality.  Which did you choose?  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Wool Over My Eyes

The Wool Over My Eyes
I just finished reading Hugh Howey's Wool.  This is the first book of three in the Silo Saga.  It was a fantastic read that I recommend.

The world of the silo that Howey creates pulls you in immediately.  The setting is a distant future, in which the outside air is extremely toxic and deadly forcing people to live in an underground silo.  The story is set far enough in the future that all the people in the silo are several generations in.

As you meet characters and get used to the Order (the rules you must follow in the silo), you begin to realize that these people only know the silo and the barren wasteland of toxic air outside as the only thing existing in the world. It is challenging to try and get in that mindset.

Howey's writing is very clever.  At the end of Chapter 1, for example, he ends with a character's exclamation, "Tell her I want to go outside."  I remember thinking at the time how that didn't seem to be much of a cliffhanger.  In the following chapters, we find out how these people have to follow strict rules, never ask questions, and never express ideas or any interest whatsoever in exploring outside.  These can all lead to one's exile and certain death.

By pages 33 and 34, you begin to see the theme and understand the meaning behind the title, which has to do with pulling the wool over one's eyes.  On these pages, one of the characters is doing something referred to as 'cleaning'.

"The cleaning!
Holston reached down and pulled a wool pad from his chest. The cleaning! He knew, in a dizzying rush, a torrent of awareness, why, why. Why!"
"His wife had been right: the view from inside was a lie."

What is really fun about the book, is at this point, you have no clear idea of whose eyes the wool has been pulled over.  Is it those inside the silo?  Holston's eyes?  The reader's eyes?  A combination or subset of these?  This was my hook.  I couldn't stop.  

Unlike other apocalyptic type stories in which you no longer have things that you know once existed, it explores a world in which you live with several limitations, and are unaware of the multitude of possibilities, and in fact hindered from stumbling upon such possibilities.

Even though I, as the reader, sided with those seeking truth and exposing falsehoods, I noticed the conflict in choosing this side.  For things to run smoothly, does everyone need to know the entire truth?

Here we have a character's thoughts late in the novel: "So much about her previous life made sense." "It turned out that some crooked things looked even worse when straightened. Some tangled knots only made sense once unraveled."

What "she" is suggesting here, is that she somewhat understood why certain rules and why certain veils were in place, even though "she" was completely and totally on the side of squashing such rules and unveiling the secrets.

 Isn't it best if the wool is pulled over several eyes in some cases?  But then, who decides those cases?  This is what the book will probe you into thinking about, which is what I love. Trust me when I say, the book was very engrossing.  It kept me up a little at night and definitely affected a dream or two.


I'll finish with a few lines I really loved as an academic, but are nowhere near central to the story.  These words are thoughts of Walker, who is tinkering with a walkee talkee that only has one channel.

"Walker was the one who had taught Scottie that it's always okay to admit when you don't know something. If you couldn't do this, you would never truly know anything."

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Ultimate Hypothesis Test Evolution is Fighting Against

What is a hypothesis test? You don't need statistical knowledge to understand the idea of hypothesis testing. In hypothesis testing, there are two hypotheses. To illustrate, we will look at a courtroom. There is a plaintiff and a defendant. The defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty. The plaintiff is known as the claimant or complaintant, who makes a claim against this innocence.

The two hypotheses in hypothesis testing are the null and alternative hypothesis. How do you tell which is which? The null is the one that is assumed true throughout the entire test. In this example, it is that the defendant is innocent. The alternative hypothesis is the one for which the claimant would like to pursue evidence. Here, it is that the defendant is guilty.  

Each individual juror has their own alpha level. What is an alpha level? As long as you are completely unbiased, and believe the defendant to be innocent before the trial begins, your alpha level would be the point at which enough evidence has stacked up for you to reject this belief.  

Here is the counter-intuitive part. When evidence for the alternative keeps stacking up, the probability that your original assumption (the null hypothesis) still holds becomes smaller and smaller. Once that probability falls below your alpha level, you reject the assumption in favor of the alternative. This probability is what statisticians refer to as a p-value. So, a very small p-value is synonymous with a large amount of evidence against the original assumption. This is the most difficult concept for an undergraduate statistics student to comprehend.  

This is how science works. We observe things happening in nature. Then we try and explain them and make a hypothesis against some status quo. Then we make more observations. The evidence then continues to build or it doesn't.  

This is what has happened with evolution. The evidence has stacked up in such a tremendous fashion, that one would have to have an extremely low alpha level to not accept it. And that is just it. We have a culture that has set the Ultimate Hypothesis Test into the minds of most Americans at a young age. This Ultimate Hypothesis test is as follows. 

Null Hypothesis: God created man
Alternative Hypothesis: Man has come about naturally through evolution
Alpha level: 


That is, 1 x 10^(-99). I just typed it out for emphasis.  

So, even though these Americans have been confronted by VAST amounts of evidence (so much in fact, that even the theory of gravity doesn't have near as much), it still isn't enough to make the probability that God created man smaller than the alpha I gave you. Maybe it is just 1 x 10^(-69). Not enough. Null hypothesis maintained.  

This is what we are competing against. It is a combination of stubbornness to the 99th degree and an incomprehensible amount of ignorance.  

This is the world we live in. 

Well, at least there are mind altering drugs to which we can turn. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Contraposition, Syllogism, and The Holy Bible

The law of contraposition is that a conditional statement is equivalent to the contrapositive of that statement.  Whoa!  Those are a lot of big words.  Let's give you an example to help out with that.

Let's say you accept the statement "If you are a boy, then you are made of snips and snails" as true. The law of contraposition states that you must also accept the statement "If you are not made of snips and snails, then you are not a boy" as true.  

More formally, one says that if A implies B, then 'not B' implies 'not A'.  You can visualize this using the following diagram.  If you are inside A, then you are definitely inside B.  If you are outside B, then you are definitely in the shaded region representing 'outside A'.  

The transitive property of statements is known as syllogism in the logic world.  If you have two or more implications that are true, you can come to conclusions using deductive reasoning.  Let's add to our example above to get an idea.  

Now, let's suppose that we accept the statement "If you are made of snips and snails, then you are absolutely disgusting" as true.  Then, using deductive reasoning, we must also accept the statement "If you are a boy, then you are absolutely disgusting" as true.  

Again, more formally, if you accept that A implies B and you accept that B implies C, then you must also accept that A implies C.  This can be visualized by the graph below.  If you are in A, then you are definitely in B.  If you are in B then you are definitely in C.  Thus, if you are in A, then you are definitely in C. 

Now, let's have some fun with a few of my favorite versus in the Bible and use the law of contraposition and some syllogism.  First, let's have a look at Luke 14:26.  This is the spoken word of Jesus.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--
yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple."

I'm going to choose brother here to make things simple.  From Luke 14:26 we get the statement "If you do not hate your brother, you cannot be a disciple of Jesus." Using the law of contraposition, we find that "If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you hate your brother."  Hang on, the fun is just beginning. 

To illustrate some syllogism, we're going to now look at one of my other favorite verses in the New Testament: 1 John 3:15.  

"Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him." 

Now let's get all of our statements in a row and use some syllogism. 
  1. "If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you hate your brother."
  2. "If you hate your brother, you are a muderer."
  3. "If you are a murderer, you have no eternal life residing in you.
This deductive reasoning could get tough since we have to use one more level of syllogism than previously illustrated.  Think of a larger set D that encompasses all of C.  So, if A implies B, B implies C, and C implies D, then A implies D.  

Aha! I think we have something here.  Given the statements above, we have "If you are a disciple of Jesus, you have no eternal life residing in you."  

THE WORD OF GOD! Can I hear an "AMEN"?  Maybe a "RAMEN"?  

The fact that some of you want to immediately go to the Bible and try and put this into some sort of context so that you can refute this is ironic to me.  I don't even believe this statement, so you don't have to convince me.  In order to believe the statement at all, one would have to put some kind of weight to the Bible.  Because one can take two verses from the Bible and come up with such a statement, I don't place any weight in the Bible.  I'm still trying to figure out why most of you do.    

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ode to Toppling Goliath

Some people get jazzed on Sunday for the big football game.  Some people watch birds.  Some people go to church and get jazzed about Jesus.  I like beer.  No, I love beer.  So does my wife, Erin.  It is one of many reasons why we go so well together.  It is this love of beer that drives us to endure things that you wouldn't normally endure if it wasn't for a deep passion for something.  We confirmed this passion this weekend.

Sometime after Ragbrai, we committed to a two-day ride in Decorah, IA raising money for Adaptive Sports Iowa and supported by Cycle Iowa.  As the date approached, I could tell neither of us were that excited about it.  We wanted to visit Decorah, but I sensed we wanted to visit under different circumstances, and not a two-day bike ride.  

My road bike, a titanium Litespeed, is the only type of bike I would normally use for such an event.  It has been having some problems, and I never took the initiative I needed to fix these problems before the weekend came around.  So, I decided to ride my heavy mountain bike with knobby 26" tires and regular pedals that I couldn't clip into.   

Friday night, it rained hard along with very loud rolling thunder.  Saturday, it rained during the ride, and became sunny once we arrived back to camp.  Saturday night, 70 mile per hour winds blew our tent over forcing us to take shelter in a barn.  We didn't end up riding Sunday.  

That being said, Erin and I had an absolute blast in Decorah.  In fact, it has made the list of cities we could easily live in.  How was it that we could endure the rough conditions and still have a great time? The answer is beer.

Although this year isn't over yet, we will remember it for being the year of biking in the rain.  I biked through a torrential downpour during the Hilliest FLATS Ride Ever in Kirksville.  On a training weekend in Des Moines we biked from Indianola to Carlisle with my dad, part of which was through a hard rain.  The 6th day of Ragbrai was rainy almost the entire morning.  Although I didn't bike in it, Erin took off in the rain because it didn't bother her.  And now, this.

Saturday morning, I woke up a little before 7:30 to begin getting ready for the bike ride that day.  We forgot Ziploc bags for our phones, which was a small bummer.  We registered, received our T-shirts, took advantage of all of the food and beverage available, and then took off.

We didn't bike very far before having to climb a monstrous hill and get our legs warmed up for the day's ride.  Just on the outskirts of Decorah, a sag wagon pulled over to warn us of the front moving in.  We told him we didn't mind, although we were slightly concerned about our phones and we wished we had Ziploc bags.  He said he would go back to town to get some and catch us.  He eventually did, and with pretty good timing.  The rain got a little heavier after that.

We climbed another monster of a hill that I thought was easy with my mountain bike's granny gear.  It would have been much more difficult with the road bike.  We dredged on for what seemed like much longer than we needed to get to the rest stop with food and beverage.  It was the community center in Ridgeway.  There was a bar next door named the Fireman Inn that people suggested for a Bloody Mary.  There was no need to twist either of our arms.

The bar man served us up a great bloody, but I felt something was missing.  I've slowly become accustomed to the beer back with my bloody.  So much, in fact, I don't think one should be charged extra for it.  The bar's cheapest beer should be the default beer back at the very least.  They can charge extra for an upgrade if they want.  This wasn't the case, however, and so I ordered a Sam Adams Rebel IPA for our back. It was both our first time trying this beer.

Bloody's with a Rebel IPA beer back

At the end of the ride, back in beautiful Decorah
We finished the ride strong with a small tail wind and cleaned up for a late lunch.  We heard good things about T-Bock's.  Erin and I split an order of 6 wings from locally raised chickens and the Southwest Burger, which involved a chipotle sauce, jalepenos, and bacon.  Yes, please.  At first I was disappointed with the wings until I remembered that these chickens weren't hopped up on whatever they give chickens now-a-days that makes them so big they can't even stand and walk around.  I embraced their smallness after that.  They had Bell's Two Hearted Ale on tap along with some choices from the local Toppling Goliath.

Once we were finished with lunch, we headed to Toppling Goliath for our second round.  Erin experimented with blending a few different brews.  The brewery encouraged it, in fact, which I thought was unique for a brewery.  Since many of the beers on tap were pale ales and India pale ales, I guess it wasn't that surprising.

As we rode back to camp for the BBQ dinner that came with registering for the bike ride, I remember contemplating the seemingly indirect relationship with happiness and knowledge.  The reason I was thinking about it was because I was happy, and wanted to understand the balance.  I thought that maybe because I was half drunk, that I was foregoing knowledge, and therefore happy.  And then I thought that maybe that is exactly what beer and marijuana are good for: to suppress knowledge for a spell so that one can be happy.  Whether this is bullshit or has some grain of truth to it, I felt it to be a revelation in my state, which made me more happy.  But that means that it must not have been very knowledgeable according to the argument.  Hmmm.  Oh well.

During the BBQ dinner, one of the race directors got on a microphone and announced that the Decorah Police Department had been in contact with him to warn riders of the potential 70 mph winds coming in.  He also welcomed riders to set their tents up in the building we were all dining in at the moment.  During the next few hours, Erin and I went back and forth in a debate on whether we should bring our stuff in or not.  We settled on putting our sleeping bags and pillows in the car just in case and leaving the tent where it was while we sheltered in the barn.
We were in this barn at the time of the picture.
In hindsight, we should have stayed with the tent, so that we could have manually held it up inside during the worst part of the storm or brought the tent in the barn.  The tent was destroyed.  Tent poles were busted, and the rain flap and tent were torn.  

Our demolished tent
The support staff were absolutely amazing, and did what they could for all of the participants.  They set us up in an extra tent inside the barn above.  In the morning, I let Erin sleep in and I went to assess and clean up the damage.  I took the tent apart and found that all of our tent poles were either broken or bent beyond repair, and we had tears in the rain flap and tent itself.  

There was a very chilly and brisk wind that morning blowing from the direction we would have to travel first if we wanted to ride that day.  Erin was suffering from the previous day's ride (after not having ridden since Ragbrai) and I was on the fence anyway so it was easy to convince me not to ride.  We went to brunch at an amazing place called the Rubaiyat instead.  

Parked outside the Rubaiyat in downtown Decorah
The Rubaiyat had a build your own Bloody Mary bar.  We ordered coffees, waters, and a Bloody.  I built mine using their house made bacon and garlic infused vodkas.  I went for spicy, while Erin went for burn your mouth and set a fire in your colon spicy.  Again, I wondered where our beer backs were.  The bartender told us we were being too progressive for Decorah thinking that a beer back would be the standard.  Since pseudoSue was on tap, we had that as our beer back.  It felt sacrilegious to have such an amazing beer as a beer back to a Bloody, but we quickly got over it.

Toppling Goliath didn't open until 11, so we killed a little time by walking around and enjoying the downtown.  Our purpose at Toppling Goliath was to purchase a lot of their stuff to take home and to have one last beer.  We bought 6 pseudoSue's and 6 Golden Nuggets to take with us.  At the bar, we enjoyed a pint of Intergalactic Warrior.  On the verge of closing the tab, we decided on one more.  I had a pseudoSue while Erin experimented with a beer that was 2/3 pseudoSue and 1/3 Intergalactic Warrior.  

I'm glad we stayed for another, because a beer rep from Mispillion River Brewery walked in who was on a beer trip, as well as this other guy with a Pleepleus hoodie.  Erin freaked out and shouted that we had to "Sheet it Forward."  After purchasing the guy in a Pleepleus hoodie a beer, he told us to hold on a sec as he raced out to his car to give us a can of Surly Over Rated IPA.  The Mispillion River dude finally pipes up (he was kind of reserved) and tells us to hold on another sec while he gives us two cans of Reach Around IPA (that's right) and two cans of Beach Bum Joe.  It is so blissful being a beer geek in this world.  We left with smiles on our faces.  The further we got from Decorah, the faster the smiles disappeared.   

We "Sheeted it Forward" to this guy.  He gave us Surly Over Rated.  I'd say he's one awesome dude.
This is my ode to Toppling Goliath.  We traveled a long way to get to what felt like the middle of nowhere.  We endured the horrible storms.  We biked through rain and wind.  And we did it for you, Toppling Goliath.  We would probably do it again, too.  Especially if some friends wanted to join us.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Birthday Bash In Burlington

There will probably be at least two more trips to Vermont in our future.  I feel that we conquered it in a culinary sense, but there are adventures that need to take place and Autumn sights that were unable to be seen in early August.  Our anniversary is on October 16, so I think that an anniversary trip someday is pretty much a certainty.  

We arrived in Burlington via Delta Airlines, from Kansas City to LaGuardia in New York City first.  Erin's folks were waiting for us at the airport.  They took us straight to the Bel Air Motel, a quaint little family owned motel about a mile walk from the downtown area, and the Church Street Marketplace

With our stuff dropped into the hotel room (we could unpack later) we were ready for lunch, and so we dined at the Church Street Tavern.  We may have cut off the waitress when she began to ask if we wanted anything to drink, as Heady Topper had still yet to be tried by your favorite beer connoisseurs (assuming Erin and I are your favorites).  It is definitely an amazing beer and deserves to be highly ranked.  We would have to have side by side tastings with Pliny the Elder and some others to give our own assessment, but for now, I will not argue that it is the number one beer on Beer Advocates Top 250 Beers list (which, by the way, now has 6 beers from Toppling Goliath in Decorah, IA, ranked at 16, 17, 26, 35, 82, and 94 at the time of this writing; GO IOWA!)  
Erin following Trish and Joseph past the Church Street Tavern
Erin enjoying her first Heady Topper (just in from rain)
We walked Church Street a while after lunch tasting wine from East Shore Vineyards, buying some flannel shorts from the Vermont Flannel Company, and browsing books at the Crow Bookshop.  I couldn't leave Crow without buying something, so I got a sticker.

Switchback Brewery was a short drive away.  A simple brewery, they currently only have five different beers, four of which were available for tasting.  We went ahead and got the sampler to give them all a go, and I found both the Slow-Fermented Brown Ale and the Roasted Red Ale were my favorites.  Pleepleus (our monkey) has been forgotten on many of our most recent trips, so he was happy to come along to Burlington with us and try the different beer.  He is such a lush.  Pleepleus talked us into getting some stickers and a tap handle from Switchback. 
Roasted Red, Extra Pale Ale, Switchback Ale, Pleepleus, and the Brown Ale

We put our name in at The Farmhouse Tap & Grill for dinner and our table was ready before the bartender could pour our five flight sampler.  The beer list changes almost daily.  In fact, looking at it today (only four days after this experience), I can only identify two of the five still on the list.  Erin and I split the Beer Battered Fish and Chips and the Farmhouse Veggie for dinner.  This place was amazing and we would recommend it to any future visitors.  Especially since they had both Heady Topper and Sculpin IPA available in the can.
The Farmhouse Tap & Grill
Trish and Joseph left us to our own devices after dinner, retiring to the hotel room.  As we walked around, The Whiskey Room caught our eye, which apparently is an extension of Ri Ra the Irish Pub.  Enjoying another small sample of four beers they had on tap (no whiskey for us that night, please), we had a conversation with a couple named Mark and Botcheva.  They were both from Asheville, NC.  In talking with them, we decided that we would travel there for our fifth anniversary in 2015 (since Boston is planned and booked for this year).  They wrote a note that they would meet us downstairs at The Thirsty Monk on October 15, 2015 at 8pm.  We exchanged no contact information.  Will it be another Before Sunrise/Before Sunset occurrence.  Stay tuned, and we'll let you know.

Feeling very well for the evening, we should have probably called it a night.  But then we walked by Das Bierhaus.  Erin asked, "Shall we stop for one last beer?"  Although "no" is in my vocabulary and I've used it many times in my life, in a circumstance such as this one, there is no possible way the synapses in my brain could have created the path that was needed to utter such a negation.  One more it was, and it was served up by one of these German bar maids.  
Enjoying a half pint at Das Bierhaus
A combination of factors including, but not limited to, the following, played a part in the headache I had in the morning that kept me in bed until 11:30: (1) the mild concussion I received during Ragbrai 6 days prior, (2) the diet Erin and I have been on since early June which has lowered my tolerance level, (3) the few waters that I also should have drank (like Erin) during the evening, (4) the two Heady Toppers I put down that day.  Erin was completely fine, which didn't seem fair, since she kept up with me all evening it seemed.  She was able to have a morning exploration of Magic Hat Brewery among other places that I missed.

I needed air, so I walked the mile to Church Street and met Erin, Trish, and Joseph at Leunig's Bistro & Cafe, which provided us a Parisian experience at a Vermont price.  The Mozzarella & Pesto Melt sounded good and seemed to be all that I could stomach at that time.  We even enjoyed the meal outside on Church Street.  It was a very pleasant lunch. 

That afternoon, Erin and I enjoyed a zen-like experience at Dobra Tea where we shut off our cell phones and wallowed in the calming ambiance.  I enjoyed some green tea called Long Jing Tiger Spring.  The green teas we ordered put us in just the right mood for the pedicures that would soon follow.  First, I had to purchase The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson at Phoenix Books right next door.  Then, a blissful first (and not last) pedicure.  It was like walking barefoot on soft carpet when we strolled back to the hotel afterwards for naps and postcard writing. 

Many of us experienced the highlight of the trip that evening, wetting our beak and filling our bellies at the Burlington Hearth American Flatbread, which housed Zero Gravity Brewery.  They sat us next to their earthen oven where we were entertained by the amazing efficiency of their pizza making assembly line.  Erin and I ordered a large half and half Pepperoni and Peppers/Roasted Tomato Salsa, and a small buffalo chicken style pizza.  I added a side of dry-hopped habanero-cider hot sauce to our order because it sounded like something I would like to dip my crust into.  I tried two Zero Gravity beers, the Blue Gribben session IPA and the R. Prime American IPA.  The R. Prime I had to try as it is named after the famous Indian mathematician Ramanujan and employed the use of Simcoe and Citra hops.  The entire meal was a frickin' fantastic experience.  
Pleepleus let us know when our table was ready with this cool buzzer
The earthen oven used to cook the pizza
Joseph and Trish posing with Pleepleus before dinner
Erin and I topped the evening off at the main part of the Ri Ra Irish Pub, which at the time we thought was a completely different establishment from The Whiskey Room.  I ordered a half pint of the Magic Hat Big Hundo that I didn't get to try earlier that day while Erin had a Heady Topper.

I woke up early Saturday morning to journal and read.  Joseph got us Green Mountain coffees from the Gulf gas station next door.  Once everyone else was up and dressed, we went to Handy's Lunch for breakfast.  This was an old fashioned diner that was a must while you are visiting Burlington.  Earl gave us many recommendations when we told him we were off to Stowe and Waterbury for the day.  You should take time and meet Earl by watching this short video.

On our drive to Stowe, we made a brief stop at Green Mountain Coffee in Waterbury to learn about Green Mountain and a little more about coffee.  I found it fascinating to learn that one coffee tree produces about 1-1.5 pounds of coffee beans.  That means Erin and I need the production of 46-52 coffee trees each year for just us.

On up the road we pulled over at the Stowe Mountain Resort to walk around and take some pictures.  I could only imagine what the Fall colors would look like or how alluring those ski paths would look with some snow on them.
Stowe Mountain Resort Free Gondola Ride from parking lot
On our drive back to Waterbury, we stopped at the Amazing House of Jerky which wasn't that amazing.  We couldn't pass up the opportunity to get some Kangaroo and Wild Boar Jerky though.  It was pricey, but at least we can check that off our list now.

At the Cabot Annex Store, we tried several different types of cheeses and I coveted their beer cooler.  Trish told me I should try some habanero infused maple syrup.  A bottle of that sits in the cupboard now waiting for my next pancake, waffle, or bowl of oatmeal.  

Ben & Jerry's Factory was next, but we didn't stick around for a tour.  We browsed the gift shop, at which we picked up a Chubby Hubby magnet (my favorite) and postcards I sent to some of you.  We ordered some small cups of ice cream, too.  I ordered Candy Bar Pie and Erin ordered Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream.  In doing some research after the fact, I was very glad that I tried Candy Bar Pie.  You can only get this at the scoop shops and not in grocery stores.  It is peanut butter ice cream with fudge flakes, chocolate nougat and sweet & salty pretzel swirls.  It honestly felt like it was hand crafted just for me. It was 'sofa king' good.
The Alchemist was right next door to Ben & Jerry's. This is the brewery that makes Heady Topper. It is currently not open to the public, but has a photo op on the front lawn so we took advantage.  

We had quite an excursion that morning and it was time for lunch at the Prohibition Pig. I ordered a beer called 'What is Enlightenment?' from the Hill Farmstead Brewery, a session IPA with Simcoe and Amarillo hops.  With my stomach just a little full with jerky, cheeses, ice cream, and what-have-you, I ordered the Staff Meal salad, which had arugula, roasted brussels sprouts, grapes, and toasted hazelnuts.  The Pro Pig was another winner.  It was difficult to find a place at which we could not be pleased.  I had a draft of Heady Topper and got a trucker's hat before we left. 

All of us needed a nap after our little adventure that morning.  I napped about a half hour before getting up to write some more postcards (that's my thing).  Once it was 5:30, I went in and woke up Erin and told her, "Um... it's 5:30, and we're in Burlington for our last night."  She agreed it was time to stop napping. 

We walked down to Citizen Cider to shake things up a bit, and give something else a try besides beer.  We ordered a sample of five ciders and found that Full Nelson was our favorite.  The description of the Full Nelson told us to "imagine an IPA, a bubbly champagne, and a hard cider sharing a totally awesome three-way high five," so you can guess why that may have taken 1st in our book.  I'm not sure why they felt it necessary to include 'high five' in the description.  They seemed like extra words that weren't really needed. 
Pleepleus agreed that Full Nelson was the best.
Following these wonderful aperitifs, we walked to have a small plate dinner at Sotto Enoteca, which is a wine bar that is attached to and owned by the Trattoria Delia Restuarant.  We each ordered a glass of wine and then shared several plates of different dishes.  It was a really fun way of having our last meal with Trish and Joseph in Burlington.  We really enjoyed the great conversation, the great wine (did I mention the bottle we ordered after dinner), and a great time.  It was a wonderful birthday celebration for Trish, who will not actually have her birthday until the 8th, and we were so thankful for them wanting to spend it with us and helping us get out there.

As they headed back for the hotel, we headed straight for the Vermont Pub & Brewery.  Yet right next door to Sotto, for the first time since we were there, the door was open for this place called What Ales You.  We had to stop for a beer.  
Pleepleus is such a trooper.
All weekend, Erin and I were excited to try the sours and a Vermont cheese plate at the Vermont Pub & Brewery.  The best looking sour on their menu, the Tulach Leis, a Flemish Style Vermont Sour Red ale, was gone.   And they were out of the Vermont Cheese Sampler.  Talk about a buzz kill.  Instead of sending us away from Burlington with a bang, The Vermont Pub & Brewery sent us away with a fizzle.  They deserve a second chance someday, earlier in the evening and one of the first things we do.  

Then we flew home the next day.  That brings me to right now... which is how these stories always end.  With now.  Now is all we really have, I guess, so we better enjoy the shit out of it.   

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ragbrai 2014

This Ragbrai was my sixth in a row.  Sometime after my fifth, I was seeking for a way to experience it differently than my previous five times.  It was early on that we decided to find a driver and experience Ragbrai without a charter service, but with a smaller group.  I didn't regret this decision at all, and had my best Ragbrai yet.  

Our team was composed of Erin and I, our friend Jonathan Vieker, his sister Becca Vieker, Becca's friend Rachel Gehringer-Wiar, and her father Dennis, who offered to drive.  Since three of us had never met Dennis before, he thought that meeting him through his Driver's Delight blog would be a good idea.  He was correct.  I knew instantly that we would be having a good time. 

Jason, Jonathan, Becca, Rachel, and Erin at the back tire dip site.
Ragbrai is a fantastic event.  Every year, they find a new route from the west side of Iowa to the east side, with a new set of overnight towns and a new set of pass-through towns.  This change is what keeps Ragbrai strong.  It is, however, a very long event.  At 7 days, many people have difficulty finding a way getting this much time off.  And on top of that, why would they want to spend 7 days of their vacation biking across Iowa during the hottest part of the season?  If you shorten it to a more workable 4 or 5 day event, then you would limit the event to the elite, who can handle 85-110 mile days every day.  Well, why not just have a "tour" of Iowa instead of crossing it?  Then you somehow miss a stronger element of accomplishment.  

Even though the ride began on Sunday morning, July 20th, the adventure began for Jonathan, Erin and me on Friday evening.  We loaded up the car and headed to Ankeny, IA, where we would be departing on Saturday morning.  Our trip to Ankeny found detours to the Albia Brewing Company and Peace Tree Brewing Company.  My cousins Davey and Glenda took us in Friday night in Ankeny and shared beers with us.  They sent us on our way after filling us up with coffee and an awesome breakfast.  

The bus ride to Rock Valley was long and we had to detour around the town because of Ragbrai traffic.  We ended up camping in a hay field that was extremely buggy.  Bug spray was a necessity.  That evening, at the 9 o'clock hour, Jonathan started what may be a new Ragbrai tradition by playing Taps to an appreciative campground.  

Off we went from Rock Valley, making our way across Iowa.  Dennis, new to driving for Ragbrai, was very in tune with each of his teammate riders, and learned very quickly what was important in a good campsite.  He could usually find us the best shade, and in close proximity to bathrooms, showers, and an outlet for recharging all of our technical gadgets.  One of our favorite nights, he bent the rules and found us a little private cove with many trees between the middle and high schools in Mason City.  It was our own little oasis.  

Leaving Rock Valley at the beginning of Ragbrai

Dennis and Jonathan talking at our Oasis in Mason City

My dad and his best buddy Lonnie were also on Ragbrai, using Lake Country Cyclists as their charter.  They are a great charter service, and dad was using them for the sixth time in a row.  After Erin and I went and visited with them after our fourth ride in Mason City, Dad came over to visit our camp for a while.  He was able to meet the team and observe our operation.  I was sad to hear that Dad and Lonnie had decided that this was going to be their last Ragbrai.  After seeing our operation and hearing our stories for the week, I bet dad could be convinced of another if he knew his driver would be a guy like Dennis. 

There were several pros of having a smaller group.  One of which is that it is easier to find shade for few than for many.  For a huge charter, it is difficult to find a campground where every tent can share some shade.  This isn't the case when your group has four tents.  Another is the control over snacks and beverages.  We could have Dennis pick us up specific food and drink from grocery stores between camps.  On the century loop day, he met us in the meeting town of Bancroft.  Jonathan and I found some really good beer at a liquor store in Bancroft that we were able to purchase because we had a driver at a meeting town!  These things can't happen with a charter.  

There were a few cons of a smaller group as well.  Showers were the pay-for kind only.  We didn't have a camp shower available although that could be remedied in future years.  This cost me approximately $22 extra for the week then it normally would have by using camp showers.  Really, that isn't that big a deal.  Another might be the larger social aspect that is missing.  I enjoyed the smaller group, as the bonds could grow tighter over the week.  I did miss, however, the larger social group.  With a larger group, you are more likely to run into someone within your group to ride with for a while if you happen to lose the one that you were with.  There is a less chance of that happening with a smaller group.  

In the wee early morning hours of the sixth day of Ragbrai (still dark) the thunderstorms hit Waverly.  Taking down a camp in rain is absolutely awful and is the worst part of Ragbrai if it has to happen.  Erin and I sat in our tent and got completely packed and ready to ride.  We found that the rain wasn't going to stop for another few hours, but that didn't stop Erin.  She took off for her ride in the rain.  I remained in the tent and researched some places that the rest of us could go.  Without breaking down our camp yet, we hopped into the truck and went to Duos Coffee and Ice Cream.  We drank coffee and played Battle of the Sexes with a few other riders until 10am.  The rain had finally let up.  We went back to dismantle camp and get riding.  Our official start time: 11am.  That was the latest I had ever started a Ragbrai ride.  

Being at the back of the ride meant larger portions and sometimes some deep discounts.  As service ending times neared, overstocked Gatorade started selling for $1 rather than $2.  Jonathan's and my breakfast burritos were overstuffed with all of the fixings.  It was a new experience.  Somewhere along the route, I broke ahead of Jonathan and I rode in a few pace lines to make up some time lost.  About 10-12 miles from our last overnight town of Independence, I had a horrible wreck. 

I put the tag they left on Bicycle after wreck inside the crack of my helmet

After release photo with cracked helmet
 The center of the road had about a 1 inch crack that is a danger for cyclists.  I was aware of it, but must not have taken it at the angle I needed.  It swallowed my bike tires.  Instinctively, I pulled my bicycle up out of the cracks, but I was already at a tilt that I could not correct.  The next thing I remember was waking up on the pavement.  I never did get to talk with a rider that could describe in detail my fall on the pavement or the aftermath that ensued.  All that I got was someone telling me I had been unconscious for 2 minutes.  They asked me a few basic questions that I couldn't answer right away, which let both them and me know that I had suffered a mild concussion.  Once the answers started coming to me, I wanted to sit up and get off the road since I was still lying in the middle of it.  They wouldn't let me.  I wasn't being stubborn.  I knew I was fine.  The ambulance took me away against my wishes to the hospital in Independence where I had an unnecessary MRI to tell me what I already knew: I suffered a minor concussion but was fine otherwise.

I learned something very valuable over the course of that evening and the next few days.  Some of the most difficult obstacles and challenges in life to overcome are those that nobody around you expects to overcome.  I think everyone pretty much assumed and even advised that I not ride the last day.  Erin had already made up her mind years before riding Ragbrai again that she wasn't riding the last day.  I could just ride with her.  My own mind was even trying to talk myself out of the ride.  

At camp that evening, I found a person to fix a broken spoke on the back wheel and found a new helmet.  I wanted to take all the steps so that in the event I wanted to ride, I could.  On the morning of Day 7, I got up and got my bike clothes on.  It seemed automatic.  I knew if I didn't ride I would regret it not only all day, but all year.  Day 7 was close to my best day of Ragbrai.  

Rachel, Erin, Jason, Jonathan, and Becca in Clear Lake

Jason, Jonathan, Becca, and Rachel dipping front tires in Mississippi.
Ragbrai is more of an adventure than a vacation.  Although it is both fun and a challenge, it is the struggle one goes through to finish that gives riders a sense of joy and accomplishment that lasts.  I learned that during Ragbrai 2012.  That year, I witnessed several of our team members stop riding during the miserable heat or after their stuff got soaked during a heavy wind and rainstorm.  I felt an overwhelming sense of pride having finished that ride.  That memory helped me put the bike gear on for the last day and finish Ragbrai XLII.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Controversial Questions

When I was a child, many questions would enter my mind that people of faith would tell me I shouldn't worry about or should not ask.  Today's atheist seems to portray the standard Christian as one who would be offended by the questions I ask, but that doesn't seem to be my experience.  It seems to me that many Christians with which I am familiar would be OK with my asking them.

Before I ask them, be warned that some of you may take offense or believe this blasphemous.  These questions I do not ask about the 'real God' in which you believe in your mind.  I ask these questions of a hypothetical God that doesn't exist in my mind.  If you choose to compare and contrast the two, and accidentally confuse them, you may get offended.  

1. Why would God lay out so much evidence that goes against his existence as the Bible portrays him, that a logical person receptive to this evidence like myself would than not believe in him, and thus banish this person to hell if he truly 'loves' them?

2. Why would God, whom my mother believes in and worships, and to whom is very devoted, reward her with a 'heaven' where her son is absent, and is burning forever in a lake of hellfire?  What kind of heaven is that?  Does this not contradict the idea of heaven?

3.  Why does the Christian God answer prayers with 'Yes', 'No', and 'Wait' with the same statistical frequency as the Muslim God, the Jewish God, and all the other gods, as well as with the same frequency as what would happen with random chance, or if you had just asked your lucky rabbit's foot?  What is the point of prayer?

4.  Along the same lines as question 3, why do bad things happen to Christians with the same frequency as bad things happen to Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc?  Why do good things happen with the same frequency?  Shouldn't a higher frequency of good things happen to Christians than do other people?  Shouldn't a higher frequency of bad things happen to non-Christians?  (Are the happenings of September 11, 2001 a sign that the Muslim God wins?)

5. What is God made of?  What composes that which makes up God?  Is there an infinitude of Gods, each one level above the other?  (These questions are just as ridiculous as those that ask what are we made of, and so on and so forth, miraculously ending with 'therefore God').   For those of you satisfied with the idea that God has always just existed, why couldn't you accept, with how you understand the time continuum, that matter has always existed?  After all, the sentence 'before there was time' is nonsensical.  Think about it.

6. Why, when God makes decisions to take someone you love away from you too early (in a freak accident, say), do you still feel the need to worship and praise him?

7.  Why does God allow his followers to get cancer, aids, or suffer horrible deaths?  Why does God allow his follower's children to be raped by pedophiles?  How wise is this God that you so admire?  If I were God, I wouldn't have created pedophiles in the first place.  But here I am, being a Monday morning quarterback.

8. What kind of God requires you to worship and praise him?  Doesn't this seem strikingly familiar to a tyrant king?  I'm sure you don't believe me to be as wise or loving as your God, but if I were God, I wouldn't require you to worship and praise me.  I wouldn't require you to give any money to an organization that would than use it to build a temple or sanctuary in my honor.  Nor would I require your money so that you could pay for somebody's living expenses so that they could get up in front of you week to week to preach to you what they couldn't possibly know: my wishes (which would be to not waste this money in the first place).  On top of that, all tax free, and thus not helping the economy in the least bit.  If I were God (with my infinitesimally less wisdom than the actual God that you believe in), I would have you instead use your money and time each week for your own devices, hoping that you would naturally find it in your heart to give your time or money to charitable works and deeds.  Think of how much your city would gain in revenue just in the property taxes alone if there were something else in place of all of these churches.  This doesn't even scratch the surface of how much money is wasted.

9. Why do many of you think there would be no morality without God?  Why do you need someone looking over your shoulder with a reward for good deeds and punishment for bad deeds in order for you to do what is moral?  Isn't it more admirable for me to be good with no promise for reward and no fear of punishment for not doing good, than for the believer to do good?  

10.  Why, in your belief of an afterlife, are you constricted to believe that some entity can control whatever ethereal being you will become without your body?  What constricts you to the thought that you couldn't go where you please or do what you want?  If your name was not in some 'book' and you were told to go to 'hell', what could possibly stop you from just saying, "YOU go to hell!" and then doing whatever you wanted?

11.  The Bible is a single, solitary book.  Why do you need to spend so much time studying it?  Did you not get it on the third time?  When reading it the first time as a child, I remember filling in the large gaping holes and contradictions with some fanciful story that seemed to satisfy those around me (as long as I believed, that was all that mattered).  When reading again with a mind for critical thinking, I found that although much of the book had some great versus (and wisdom), much of it was repulsive.  How can you take a book that is pro-slavery and misogynistic so seriously?

12. Why are there so many versions of the Bible?  Did humans over the years feel the need to clean it up a little... fill in some gaps?  Why wasn't one enough?

13. Why is there little evidence and information of Jesus outside the Bible?  Why, with this little evidence and information, is there even less evidence that this possible Jesus character said or did anything remotely close to what is suggested in the Bible?

14.  Why do you put so much belief and faith in a book written so long ago by ancient people, and so little faith in the people right in front of you?

15.  Why does the answer that you provide for the question 'Where is God?' sound like it could also serve as an answer to 'Where is the magical and sacred Flying Spaghetti Monster?' or 'Where does the tooth fairy reside?'

16.  If God has a 'plan', then what is the point of prayer?  You will either pray for something that is or is not part of God's plan.  Since you are unaware of God's plan, are you just happy in your delusion that your prayer may change the course of his plan?

I encourage my Christian friends to comment with their answers, experiences, and/or questions.  I promise to be tolerant and respectful of your beliefs as long as you are tolerant and respectful of mine.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Plus/Minus Grading

As far back as I can remember, I have always been graded with a plus/minus grading system.  This has nothing to do with why I favor a plus/minus grading system today.  As a student, I never would have cared or would have spent any time or energy on debating how I would be graded.  My philosophy never revolved around the grade I received, but rather what I was learning.  Not every student is like this, however.  Many focus primarily on the grade they get rather than what they learn.  Which grading system will do a better job at fostering learning, and take away from how one is graded?

A student came to visit me in my office hours recently to see where she was at in the class.  I updated my grade book to calculate her weighted average thus far, and we found that she was sitting around an 83%.  She wanted to know whether an A was still possible at this point with the third exam and the final still yet to come.  I had to tell her that, although possible, it was extremely unlikely, as she would have to essentially have perfect scores on all of her remaining work.  She became obviously distraught, fighting hard to keep her devastation contained.

Where did any motivation to learn statistics for the rest of the semester go at that point?  This student has to simply maintain their B.  As long as she stays above 80, she'll maintain her B.  Some might argue that it would be nice to provide that student with some motivation at the end of the semester.  Here is something that I would have loved to tell my student: "You're currently sitting on a border line between a B- and B.  With some improved work you can easily get a B, and if you really work hard, you can even get a B+ by the end of the semester."  This is opposite of the current system, in which I was forced to say: "Yeah, you're pretty much fucked."  Well, not those exact words.

As assessment goes, there is no argument that the current system is a better form of assessing students.  Any Netflix users out there?  Wouldn't it be nice to be able to rate movies using 1/2 stars?  Or maybe out of 10 stars instead of 5?  Face it, the more stars you have, the better you can rate the movie.  It is analogous for the plus/minus grading system.

I've heard individuals say there will be more bickering from students over borderline grades.  More so than now?  Currently, the borderline grade is the difference between 3 and 4 grade points multiplied by the number of credit hours.  This is the difference between 9 and 12 grade points with a 3 credit course.  With a plus/minus, the same exact border in a 3 credit class is the difference between 10 and 11 grade points.  And you say there is going to be more bickering?  I've also heard a plus/minus grading system will cause MORE stress.  How is it more stressful on more smooth borders than on our current system with HUGE jumps in GPA?  Please explain.

Suppose Cindy is sitting in C world on the verge of getting a B and Bill is sitting in B world on the verge of getting an A.  Cindy and Bill are two very different students.  At the end of the semester, Cindy barely gets what she needs to move up to a B, while Bill barely falls short of obtaining his A.  They both get B's.  This is not only boring it is NOT right.  Bill deserves to be distinguished from this other student.  Bill deserves a B+, while Cindy deserves a B-.

Students will argue this will deflate the grades of the top students.  No it won't.  Your top students will get a 4.0.  Your students that would have normally received a 4.0 in a straight grading system that are in the 90-93rd percentile, will now be recognized as such.  They will be getting the 3.8-3.99's at the university, as they should.  After all, if you can't get a 4.0 at half of the universities in the country that have a plus/minus system, why should you be getting a 4.0 at Truman?  Come to Truman!!!  We give away our 4.0s like participation ribbons at races.

I don't like the GPA or grading system in general.  I wish we could just give numerical scores at the end of the semester.  Here is why.  Suppose I'm looking over an applicant's transcript and find they have a 4.0.  I'm going to ask whether that student ever dropped a class.  I'm going to look over their transcript for difficult classes within and outside their major.  Did this person avoid difficult classes for the purposes of this 4.0?  How about this other applicant with a 3.0 that never dropped a course, and took extremely difficult courses during their undergraduate time.  This lover of learning, who could apparently care less at what they were getting grade point wise, is the person I'm going to hire.  Forget your 4.0 bullshit, and your dance with dropping courses and avoiding difficult classes for the purpose of maintaining that 4.0.  Quit focusing on the 4.0 and how you are graded and learn something.  Leave the assessment up to the professors, which is who it is up to anyway.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My LASIK experience

My first appointment at the IEC in Kirksville was to see if I would qualify for LASIK.  Some people will not.  It turned out that I was a good candidate for LASIK.  When asking about the price, they weren't able to tell me anything specific.  They said it would be between $1200-2500 per eye.  That is a very large ball park when you are trying to set money aside in a Flexible Spending Account.  What value do we pick between $2400 and $5000?  My recommendation is to budget for the maximum amount and expect to pay that, because you very well may.  My cost was $2099 per eye, from which an insurance discount of 15% was applied.  We underestimated, and as a result, our FSA is already cashed out for the year with several more prescriptions to fill.

Then there is the scheduling.  This was when I envied those that live in larger cities, that can have it done a little more conveniently.  I was given one day for each month of 2014 from which to select.  All of the days available I had something going on.  I selected one and found subs and moved things around to make it work.  And so it was that I would have LASIK done on March 19, 2014. 

One week prior to your LASIK surgery, you are to have a pre-LASIK visit.  One week prior to that, you are to stop wearing contacts so that your eyes get a break from them.  For two weeks, I wore glasses, which was something I had gotten used to not doing.  It made me appreciate the surgery more in the end.  At the pre-Lasik visit, they map out your eye and get the information they will need to tell the laser.  Something that they forgot to remind me to do was begin antibiotic eye drops a few days prior to the surgery.  I received a reminder call of the surgery (as if I would forget) telling me I should already be on the eye drops I knew nothing about.  I started them right away and got a day's worth in.  That was good enough.

On the day of the surgery, they instructed me to arrive a little before my appointment time of 10:30am.  As in any doctor's office, there is a long, long wait.  They are always frustrating, these seemingly avoidable long waits.  Even when they finally called me after almost 2 hours, they took me back to a room where they prepped me and had me wait another 20 minutes or so.  It felt like forever until the doctor's assistant came and asked if I was ready.  Um.  Yeah.  I had been ready for 2 frickin' hours.

Before I go into any more detail, you should be warned that this isn't for the easily queasy.  Although there was no pain, these details could potentially make one a little faint, and perhaps even decide against having such a rewarding procedure.  OK.  You've been warned.

They walked me into a cold room, and before lying me flat, gave me a little stuffed lion named Harry to hold onto with both hands and not let go.  Upon lying down, they told me not to cross my legs for the whole procedure.  I think these were simple distracting things that would take my concentration somewhere other than creating a flap on my eyeball.  It worked in a small way.

Once I was positioned correctly, holding and petting my new friend Harry, staring up at some red and green lights, the doctor put several drops in my right eye after covering my left with a patch.  My guess is that these drops were both for moisture and a local anesthetic.  After a few moments, he taped my eyelids open.

With eyelids taped open, the doctor placed some sort of device around my eyeball.  My guess is that this was the 'structure' or 'base' that was needed for what came next.  A small dome was placed onto my eye (or the 'base' that was around my eye) and the doctor requested suction.  I could feel the suction, but I could only imagine my eyeball lifting a little out of the socket because I couldn't feel it.  At this point the doctor told me that things would be going dark, which they were.  He asked when there was total darkness.  That was when it was time for the worst part.

Again, let me repeat, there is no pain.  It was only the worst part because you know what is happening, you feel what is happening, you hear what is happening, and you smell what is happening.  The sensation is a vibration of the eyeball.  Since the device cutting a flap in your eye is right there by all of your sensory organs, the sound is like a jigsaw.  Then the smell of burning flesh hits your nose.  They say it is only the smell of the laser, but I question that.  I'm not going to lie, this made me shiver slightly and get a little queasy.  If you are prepared for a jigsaw sound, the smell, and the sensation you will be fine.  I was prepared for everything but the sound, so that took me by surprise.

Once the flap was created, the rest is easy peasy.  The suction went away, and my vision returned.  A tiny instrument came in to view and opened up the flap, as if opening up a window into another universe.  I was then instructed to look at the blinking red light, as this is where the laser would come from.  The doctor centered the machine and I could hear his assistant say something like "first three sessions at 15 seconds."  Then the laser began doing its work.  There is nothing awkward about the laser except the sound, which isn't anywhere near as bad as the noise that cuts the flap.  I saw the light flicker as the laser did its work.  She may have then said something like "two sessions at 11 seconds" before another round of laser hit me.  After each of these "sessions," things were clearer.  There may have been five of these such sessions, I can't remember.

When the laser was over, the tool came back to close the flap.  A tiny brush came in to apply what I imagine to be some sort of adhesive.  The 'structure' thingy was taken out, I received eye drops, and then the tape was removed so my right eye could finally close.  The patch was then removed from my left and placed on my right.  The process was repeated for the left eye.

The whole process felt like it took 10 minutes, which probably means it took less.  They had me sit up and open my eyes.  It looked as if I were underwater, which I guess the adhesive was causing.  The assistant asked me if I was OK because I looked pretty pale.  I wasn't going to get any paler, so I was fine.

I was walked back over to the room I waited in and given a pill.  This pill helped me sleep on the entire drive home and for a few hours after arriving at home.  I took a short walk that evening and wanted to sleep again.  The eye drops are non-stop right now.  

The next morning I was measured at 20/15, and told that my vision would only improve over the next month.  I'm a happy camper.  Except for having to give up Harry.  That was tough.