Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Calendar Math

One of my favorite questions to ask my statistics students is "What is a leap year?"  Many of them get a general idea, but don't actually know. 

A leap year is any non-century year divisible by 4, and any century year that is divisible by 400.  

What is nice about determining whether a year is divisible by 4 or not, is that you only have to pay attention to the last two numbers.  For example, 2016 will be a leap year since 16 is divisible by 4.  However, 2100 will not be a leap year. Even though it is divisible by 4 it is a century year, and needs to be divisible by 400, which it is not.  

This is the second time I've run across a problem involving calendar math this month. I first encountered one when solving Problem 19 on Project Euler.  It had me determine the number of times during the twentieth century that January 1st was a Sunday.  I won't spoil that one. 

FiveThirtyEight posted their 4th riddle which asks a series of questions about calendars.  They are reprinted below for convenience. 
  1. How many different calendars would you need to represent all possible years — accounting for all day and date combinations? (Don’t forget about leap years!)
  2. Now that we have all the calendars we could possibly need, it’d be nice to know how often we’re using them. When is the next time we’ll use the 2015 calendar?
  3. What is the smallest total number of years that will pass between using the same non-leap-year calendar twice?
  4. What is the largest?
  5. What is the smallest total number of years that will pass between using a leap year calendar twice?
  6. What is the largest?
Every calendar can be completely defined by the day of the week on which the first day (Jan 1) and the last day (Dec 31) falls.  Using Su, M, T, W, R, F, and Sa for the days of the week, we can represent our 2015 calendar as (R,R) since the first and last day of the 2015 calendar were both Thursdays.

The 2016 calendar will be (F,Sa) because the extra day during this leap year will shift the last day forward one.  The 2017 calendar will then be (Su,Su).  There are 7 calendars in which both days are the same, and you can quickly see that there are also 7 calendars in which the the first day is one day of the week, while the last day is the next day of the week.  This gives us a total of 14 possible calendars.  It doesn't take much analysis to notice that we do indeed use every one of those 14 possible calendars.

If we follow the pattern from 2017 for a while, we find that 2023 will be another (Su,Su) calendar, suggesting the potential answer to #3 being 2023-2017=6.

With 2023=(Su,Su), 2024=(M,T), and 2025=(W,W), we find that 2026=(R,R) will be the next time we use our 2015 calendar, a difference of 11 years, which gives our answer to #2 and suggests a potential answer to #4.

When we explore leap years for a while, we see 2016=(F,Sa), 2020=(W,R), 2024=(M,T), 2028=(Sa,Su), 2032=(R,F), 2036=(T,W), 2040=(Su,M), which brings us back to the 2016 calendar in 2044, a difference in 28 years.

If one were not careful, and forgot about skipping a leap year 3 out of every 4 centuries, we may think that the answer to #5 and #6 were the same number 28, being both the smallest and largest number of years that will pass between using a leap year calendar twice.  

So, let's move up closer to 2100.  We'll take the leap year 2032=(R,F) that I analyzed above and add 28 years to it twice to get us to 2088=(R,F).  Let's observe the next several years beyond 2088.

2088 (R,F)
2092 (T,W)
2096 (Su,M)
2100 (F,F)
2104 (T,W)
2089 (Sa,Sa)
2093 (R,R)
2097 (T,T)
2101 (Sa,Sa)
2105 (R,R)
2090 (Su,Su)
2094 (F,F)
2098 (W,W)
2102 (Su,Su)
2106 (F,F)
2091 (M,M)
2095 (Sa,Sa)
2099 (R,R)
2103 (M,M)
2107 (Sa,Sa)

2108 (Su,M)

The interesting thing that happens here is that we go 8 years between leap years from 2096 to 2104.  What does this do to the calendar?  It allows us to see a (T,W) leap year calendar in 12 years rather than the usual 28, and the (Su,M) calendar of 2096 again in 2108.  

When will the next leap year calendar of (R,F) from 2088 be seen?  Usually, it would be 28 years later, or 24 years from the next (T,W) leap year calendar.  Because of the century year in between, we see that the (T,W) leap year calendar repeats on the other side of the century year, and will need another 24 years until a (R,F) calendar. So, a total of 40 years will pass before we see the leap year calendar of (R,F) again.  

Also worth observing is the 2090 calendar (Su,Su). Why?  Because we don't see it again until 2102 which is 12 years later.  This increases the maximum number between non-leap year calendars I had previously guessed by 1.  So, it would appear that the answers to #4 and #5 are the same.  

So, my answers for this riddle are as follows. 
  1. 14
  2. 2026
  3. 6
  4. 12
  5. 12
  6. 40
As always, it is very possible that I've missed something. Please chime in if I have. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Those Distracting Smartphones

The most recent Riddle from FiveThirtyEight has me stumped and feeling what it is like to be a frustrated graduate student again.  No matter how much I worked through different probabilities using different approaches, I couldn't find a pattern that would simplify the problem.  And what's worse, there is no professor I can go visit in office hours. I've even tried Tweeting the writers of the problem for a hint, but to no avail.

The Riddle is quoted below for convenience.
You’ve just finished unwrapping your holiday presents. You and your sister got brand-new smartphones, opening them at the same moment. You immediately both start doing important tasks on the Internet, and each task you do takes one to five minutes. (All tasks take exactly one, two, three, four or five minutes, with an equal probability of each). After each task, you have a brief moment of clarity. During these, you remember that you and your sister are supposed to join the rest of the family for dinner and that you promised each other you’d arrive together. You ask if your sister is ready to eat, but if she is still in the middle of a task, she asks for time to finish it. In that case, you now have time to kill, so you start a new task (again, it will take one, two, three, four or five minutes, exactly, with an equal probability of each). If she asks you if it’s time for dinner while you’re still busy, you ask for time to finish up and she starts a new task and so on. From the moment you first open your gifts, how long on average does it take for both of you to be between tasks at the same time so you can finally eat? (You can assume the “moments of clarity” are so brief as to take no measurable time at all.)
 By using a random uniform number generator in R, I created two sequences of random integers from 1 to 5, call them X and Y.  To illustrate, suppose the first set of random sequences were given as X = {4,3,4,1,5,...} and Y={3,5,1,2,5,...}.

I would then ask R to compare the first two values of 4 and 3.  If they happened to match, I would ask for that matching number. If one was smaller than the other (as is the case with this example), I would ask R to take the smaller value and add to it the next number in the sequence.  In this case, we get 3+5=8.

Now, I ask R to compare 4 and 8.  No match?  Then 4+3=7 in the X sequence. Compare 7 and 8.  No match?  Then 7+4 = 11 still in the X sequence.  Compare 8 and 11.  Still no match, so now jump back over to the Y sequence and get 8+1=9.  Compare 9 and 11, and find no match, so 9+2 =11 in the Y sequence.  Finally! Since 11 and 11 match, I have R report that number.

Then, I asked R to do that 1,000 times and give me a mean of all the lengths it produced.  Again.  Again.  Again.

The pattern that results makes me want to guess that 9 is either the correct answer or very close to the correct answer.

Please, please, please, somebody chime in with the trick to solving this problem without simulation.  I'm going insane.

For the coding geeks out there, this is what I did:

Friday, December 18, 2015

Gushing Geysers

It's Friday!! Time for "Riddle" 2, which isn't much of a riddle, but that's OK.  It is titled, "Which Geyser Gushes First?"  The riddle is quoted below.
You arrive at the beautiful Three Geysers National Park. You read a placard explaining that the three eponymous geysers — creatively named A, B and C — erupt at intervals of precisely two hours, four hours and six hours, respectively. However, you just got there, so you have no idea how the three eruptions are staggered. Assuming they each started erupting at some independently random point in history, what are the probabilities that A, B and C, respectively, will be the first to erupt after your arrival?
Here is a quick explanation of how independence works.  If there is a 50% chance of rain today, and a 50% chance of rain tomorrow, and the events of rain today and/or tomorrow are independent, then the chance that it rains both today and tomorrow is (0.5)(0.5)=0.25, or a 25% chance.  In other words, independence allows us to multiply probabilities together.

So, to our problem.  We know for a fact that we will definitely see one of the three geysers erupt within 2 hours of our arrival.  So, let's focus on that 2 hour interval.

Case 1: All three geysers erupt within this 2 hour interval.  There is a 100% chance that geyser A will erupt in this interval, a 50% chance geyser B will, and a 33.3% chance that geyser C will (or 1/3 probability).  Thus, the probability that all three will erupt within 2 hours of arrival is 1(1/2)(1/3)=1/6.
Now, if all three are within that interval, they can erupt in the following six orders: ABC, ACB, BAC, BCA, CAB, CBA.  Each of these are equally probable (given the condition), so the probability that A is the first geyser you see is 1/3, and likewise for B and C.  So, the probability that all three geysers erupt in the first two hours AND any one of them go first is (1/6)(1/3)=1/18.

Case 2: Geysers A and B erupt in the first two hours, and C erupts after 2 hours.  There is a 100% chance A will erupt within the first two hours, a 50% chance B will, and a 66.7% chance (or 2/3 probability) that C will not.  Thus, the probability of of this case is 1(1/2)(2/3)=1/3.

Now, if geysers A and B erupt in the first two hours, they can erupt in order AB or BA with the equal conditional probability of 1/2.  So, the probability of Case 2 occurring AND A or B going first is (1/3)(1/2)=1/6.

Case 3: Geysers A and C erupt in the first two hours, and B erupts after 2 hours. There is a 100% chance A will erupt within the first two hours, a 33.3% chance (or 1/3 probability) that geyser C will, and a 50% chance that geyser B will erupt after 2 hours.  Thus, the probability of this case is 1(1/3)(1/2)=1/6.

Analogous to Case 2, we have a 1/2 conditional probability that either A or C goes first. So, the probability of Case 3 occurring AND A or C going first is (1/6)(1/2)=1/12.

Case 4: Geyser A is the only geyser to erupt in the first two hours.  There is a 100% chance that A will erupt within the first two hours, a 50% chance that B will erupt after 2 hours, and a 66.7% (or 2/3 probability) that geyser C will erupt after 2 hours.  Thus, the probability of this is 1(1/2)(2/3)=1/3.

Now, summing the cases that A goes first, we get (1/18)+(1/6)+(1/12)+(1/3)=23/36.  Summing the cases that B goes first, we get (1/18)+(1/6)=8/36.  Summing the cases that C goes first, we get (1/18)+(1/12)=5/36.

And you thought you understood probability.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Smartphone Droppings

On December 11, 2015, FiveThirtyEight began The Riddler!  This is going to be fun.

This week's riddle is quoted below:
You work for a tech firm developing the newest smartphone that supposedly can survive falls from great heights. Your firm wants to advertise the maximum height from which the phone can be dropped without breaking.
You are given two of the smartphones and access to a 100-story tower from which you can drop either phone from whatever story you want. If it doesn’t break when it falls, you can retrieve it and use it for future drops. But if it breaks, you don’t get a replacement phone.
Using the two phones, what is the minimum number of drops you need to ensure that you can determine exactly the highest story from which a dropped phone does not break? (Assume you know that it breaks when dropped from the very top.) What if, instead, the tower were 1,000 stories high?
Think on it a little bit if you want to solve it yourself, but the rest of this post is devoted to explaining the evolution of a solution.

The wording of the problem is a little confusing, but I think I get the jist.  There are two adjacent floors of this tower the lower of which, when the smartphone is dropped it will not break, the higher of which, the smartphone will break.  Our job is to find these floors so that we can report the highest story from which a dropped phone does not break.

Obviously, we could get lucky and guess the correct floor right away, drop a phone that doesn't break, walk up a flight and drop a phone that does.  The minimum number of drops would then be 2. But that isn't what the riddle is really asking.

What it is really asking is that if we were the most unlucky as unlucky can be, and we had an optimal way of dropping smartphones out of building, what is the maximum number of drops that will take place before we get the answer?  That answer I believe is 18.  Here's my train of thought.

A 100 story building has a nice number of stories, since it is a perfect square (10 * 10 = 100).

Drop the first smartphone from the 10th story.  If it breaks, you have a potential nine droppings to go from stories 1-9 (technically, we could skip story 1 since the assumption is that there exists a floor from which the phone doesn't break) with your only remaining smartphone for 10 total droppings before finding your answer.

If it doesn't break, make your 2nd drop from the 20th story.  If it breaks, you have a potential nine more droppings to go with your only remaining smartphone for 11 total droppings before finding the answer.

This process continues.  If you are unlucky, and the answer is the 88th or 89th floor, then you will need 18 droppings.  This is because your 9th drop will be from the 90th story, on which the first smartphone breaks.  Your 10th through 17th drop will be from stories 81-88, none of which will result in a break.  On your 18th drop, if the second phone breaks, the answer is the 88th story.  If it doesn't break, the answer is the 89th story.

You may wonder what if the story is the 98th or 99th floor.  It turns out, because of the assumption that a smartphone will break on the 100th floor, it will take more droppings if it is the 97th or 98th floor.

Remember that your first phone hasn't broken yet after the 9th dropping from the 90th floor.  So, we can enter another optimal subroutine of dropping from the 93rd, 96th, and 99th until a break, and then going though two more droppings with the last remaining smartphone until we find our answer.  Thus, if it is the 97th or 98th floor, the first phone breaks on the 99th floor, which would be your 12th dropping, then you will need 2 more droppings for only 14.

There may be a more optimal solution, so please chime in if I'm wrong.

Using the same idea for 1000 stories, I get a potential 62 total droppings (if we are unlucky and it happens to be on floor 990 or 991).

And.... I was wrong.  Instead of rewriting the entry above, let's learn from my mistake and correct it.  Using the idea of doing a subroutine if you get to 90 without having it break, if we instead enter a subroutine each time, we can end with fewer droppings.

To illustrate, here are the first 15 potential droppings: Story 10, 20, 29, 38, 46, 54, 61, 68, 74, 80, 85, 89, 93, 96, 98.  Using this routine, you will only need 16 droppings if the solution is one of floors 92, or 94-99.

I built a program in R to accomplish the task for any number of floors.

This third portion has been added after the first comment below which reveals the correct answer. However, I was lucky enough to think of this solution before reading his comment.  As I was drinking coffee on the morning after giving the solution above, I began thinking that now that I know that 16 drops is all that it takes, why not start at the 16th floor, or better yet, the 15th or 14th to try and get a smaller solution.  

By beginning on the 14th floor, you will have at most 14 drops if the phone breaks on the 14th.  With a second drop 13 floors higher on floor 27, you will again have at most 14 drops if the phone breaks on the 27th.  Continue this process and you will find that you need only 14 drops for even a 105 story building.  

Since summing 1 through 44 gives 990 and summing 1 through 45 gives 1035, it appears that you need 45 drops for a 1000 story building.  

Now, for the generalization.  What if you were given x smartphones, where x ranges from 1 to the number of floors?  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Who is Hugh?

The Revenant, a novel by Michael Punke, is soon to be a motion picture. It will have a wide release on January 8, 2016 with a limited release (Oscar politics) on December 25, 2015. It tells a story about Hugh Glass.

The director and cinematographer of Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki, respectively) are collaborating for another probable Oscar contender for 2015. Emmanuel Lubezki is an extremely talented cinematographer, especially in collaboration with Alejandro, Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity and Children of Men), and Terrence Malick (Tree of Life, The New World).

They shot the upcoming film using only natural light over 9 months. I'm excited to see the results.

"The revenant, he knew, searched for him." This sentence was on page 201 (there are only 257 pages if you include the Historical Note). It wasn't until reading that sentence that I decided to look up this word that is the title of which I did not know the definition. It refers to an individual who returns after a very long time, or in fictional cases, the dead, which makes a good title for a book about Hugh Glass.

Hugh Glass was a frontiersman of the early 19th century. In a company of men, he was attacked by a bear, and nearly killed. Two men were left behind to bury him upon his death.  They left him before he died without any provisions. Somehow, he survived.

Not too unlike The Martian, it is a story of survival. Michael Punke's story, which is a work of fiction, tells the story as one of vengence. The thought of revenge is what motivates Hugh Glass to crawl/trek back to civilization.

Upon watching the trailer a second time after reading the book, I noticed that the movie will definitely deviate. There is no mention of a son in either the book or historically.

In doing a little research on this amazing story of survival, I found the 1971 movie "The Man in the Wilderness" starring Richard Harris which is loosely based on Glass's story. There is also the 1976 book "Saga of Hugh Glass, Pirate, Pawnee and Mountain Man" as well as the 1994 book "Wilderness" by Zelazny and Hausman.

I'm exploring no further, however. I'm content with having read the book and embellishing in the anticipation of the upcoming movie.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Two Times I'm Reneging

A while ago I insinuated the following two promises.

  • If Bernie doesn't win in the primaries, I will support Hillary.
  • If the Cardinals don't get past the Cubs, I'll support the Cubs. 
As the title of the post suggests, I'm not going to follow through on either of those. I will explain why I'm not going to support Hillary in the general election below. Since I decided to renege on this promise, I thought "why not renege on two?" There is no other reason for the second bullet point than the simple fact that I can't stand the Cubs. 

Erin and I hosted a debate watching party for the first Democratic debate on Tuesday, October 13.  Since we don't have cable, we were not going to host a party until we found out we could stream it on through our Playstation. 

First, just let me say how happy I am that we got rid of the nonsense of cable television long ago. When we started to stream it in, I thought "WTF are we watching... a game show?!?" 

That frustration aside, I then watched the debate.  There were a few times I slapped my forehead. It wasn't because of the answers given, it was because of the questions asked.  Instead of watching something substantial, that the American people should be interested in watching, I'm watching what drives ratings, and sadly, what the American people are actually interested in watching.  

In the end, I felt my candidate did a great job. I also thought everyone else did a decent job considering where they are at respectively in the race. 

Then the media happened. 

Every morning I get a newsletter delivered to my inbox from NYT, Washington Post, The Guardian, and the WSJ (just for a little dip into the other side's voice).  I'm not sure why I was so shocked at the power of what big money can do. In all that I read, Hillary was the clear winner, and no other candidate was even remotely 'presidential'.  

A friend posted this meme in which I found more truth than what I found in all of the media I read that morning: 
I'm not a debate analyzer. I agree with both Bernie and Hillary on nearly the same percentage of issues, with a slight favor to Bernie, so the theatrics of a debate and who 'won' or 'lost' will not change who I stand beside. 

Bernie didn't prepare for the debate. He winged it. Not out of disrespect for a presidential debate, but because he is honest.  

My favorite line of the night was when Bernie admitted that although it wasn't good politics, "the American people are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails." I've been thinking this for a long time, and I wondered that if it came up in the debate, whether Bernie would take the high road and maintain his extremely high standards of focusing on issues rather than the political bullshit generated by media, or succumb to the pressures of the political game. He took the high road. 

And the media gave the point to Hillary. 

Bernie doesn't have a Super PAC. He's raised almost as much money as Hillary from individual donations.  Any decision he ever makes as president will be his own, and not influenced by big money.  I respect that. 

The media doesn't. 

Since the media has infuriated me (and since I live in Kansas, and it won't matter who I vote for in the general election), I will never side with Hillary.  I will write in Bernie's name if I have to.  Sorry for reneging on this, but the media has pissed me off. 

Go Mets. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

A 5-Year Anniversary Poem for my Lovely Wife

A Surly Furious Can is Red,
A Surly OverRated Can is Blue,
Five Years ago on this Day,
I happily got married to you.

(The Honeymoon)
Russian River's Logo has a Pine Tree,
The one for Lagunitas has a Dog,
We drank beer at both places,
A Redwood would make a big log.

(1-Year Anniversary)
Double Mountain had great beer, 
Everybody's had good food, 
We hiked Multnomah Falls,
Because we were in the mood. 

(2-Year Anniversary)
We got a free tour at New Belgium,
At Avery we met up with Joe P,
We hiked to the top of the Flat Irons,
From there it was easy to see

(3-Year Anniversary)
We got our 4 beers from Allagash,
Maine Beer Co was our Holy Grail,
I took a cool pic of the sunset,
And we hiked the Appalachian Trail.

(4-Year Anniversary)
Harpoon was a big brewery,
Trillium was a great find,
The Freedom Trail took forever,
since beer kept getting us behind.

(5-Year Anniversary)
The move messed with Fall Break,
My 20-year got in the way,
So we'll celebrate our 5-year,
with beer and hiking on a different day.

Love you, sweetheart!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Automobile: America's Top Killing Machine

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm a pretty good driver, and I enjoy the privilege that I have to drive. Every so often, I have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my license renewed. I have to admit, I absolutely loathe it. We can probably all agree that it is not a fun experience. 

So why do we have to go through such an ordeal to renew our license, or even get one in the first place? It might have something to do with the fact that the automobile is the top killing machine in America. 

When I give that a quick thought, my perspective begins to change. Now, I wonder why isn't the ordeal I go through at the DMV more complicated? Why can't we pull together as a country, state, or city, and create the best mass transit in the world? After all, we live in the best country in the world, right?  

Even though I'm a good driver, I realize there are so many out there that are not good. There are plenty of good drivers out there as well, that are not so good after they spend 6 hours at the bar and drive home. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, that if I had to give up my privilege to drive even though I enjoy it and am good at it, to keep the rest of these ridiculous people off the road and to save countless lives and to keep us all safe, I would do it, as long as we had an amazingly efficient mass transit system. 

According to The Atlantic, 33,561 people died in car crashes in 2012. The same article suggests that in 2015, something other than the automobile may take over the top killing machine in America.

Unsuccessful so far, I've been trying to come up with a parallel with both car accidents and gun deaths. Our privilege to drive gives us means of transportation, but as I've brought up above, there could be ways of providing safe and efficient means of transportation without needing the privilege to drive. The right we have to bear arms gives us a means to shoot with the purpose of hunting, sport, and defense. Is there a way we can fulfill this purpose without actually needing to bear arms? That's a tall glass of nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. 

I'm obviously bypassing the hobby part of both. Some people love cars/trucks. Some people love guns. They wouldn't give them up for anything. Even though it may prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of people a year, people want to keep their cars and their guns. This is the world in which we live, so we might as well get used to it. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Purposeful Misdirection is Not Patriotic

A while ago, after reading The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, I went on an information free diet and it made me very happy. I would tune out the political nonsense in the world, get news as it is supposed to be given (reported, not assessed on a 24 hour cycle), and live in absolute bliss.

But I've broken my diet recently, and it has done nothing but make me angry.

I come from a pretty conservative family (you can count the number of liberals on one hand, and most likely, you can almost do the same with the number of both moderates and liberals), and they often post things on Facebook in which the authors are purposefully misleading them. It is exhausting trying to continuously inform and correct such tripe. Before getting back on that info free diet again, I'll walk you through an example.

Five Military Members Killed In Chattanooga 

On Thursday, July 16, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire D. "Skip" Wells, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith were gunned down by Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez at two military centers in Chattanooga, TN. You can view President Obama's condolences to families of those killed below.

This is very bad news. Like the massacre in Charleston, SC, nobody likes to read about these kind of events because they are so disheartening. We all wonder what could be done to prevent future events like this from happening, and we begin an endless and seemingly futile debate of less/same/more gun restrictions. This debate will not get resolved anytime soon.

Turning a Tragedy Into a Travesty

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The first part prohibits the establishment of an official church or sect in the United States. That means, much to many of your chagrin, that America is not a Christian Nation, nor was it ever intended to be by our forefathers. To strive for such would be unconstitutional, and, quite frankly, unpatriotic. As Americans, we must welcome all forms of religion, even if they go against our own beliefs.

Religions have extremists. As much as Christians want to disassociate themselves with Westboro Baptist or the KKK, they both stem from the Christian faith, and should be labeled as extreme. Likewise, there are Islamic extremists, which many ignorant Americans associate with the entirety of Islam. It is as ignorant as it would be to assume all Christianity is just like the KKK.

The conclusion of Ramadan happened on Friday, July 17th, and the president released a statement of the occasion on the day prior. Here was part of that statement:
As Muslim Americans celebrate Eid across America, the holiday is a reminder to every American of the importance of respecting those of all faiths and beliefs. 
 That is a powerful message. Imagine if there were no extremists within the different religions and we could all have this mutual respect. This is not a message that breeds hate or fuels fear among the American people. It is very constitutional and patriotic.

The Inappropriate Message

What kind of message will you read about at Newsmax, from Allen B. West, or from the Conservative Tribune among many others? Their message, if you don't care to read (which I had trouble doing), was to link the message Obama had to Muslim Americans directly to the shootings, leave out his actual message about the shootings entirely, and in some cases claim that he had no message for the families of the victims. This is a travesty. 

These people prey on those that don't read or research any further. They prey on people who want reasons to hate Obama. These messages fuel that hate. And they do it through purposeful misdirection. These people are the furthest thing from patriotic. Indeed, they are a stain on this country. Many of you fuel the hate even further by posting this stuff on Facebook.

Please stop. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Political Pipe Dream

According to my Facebook feed, it looks like there is going to be a big election in 16 months. Here is what I would like to happen.

First, I would love for you to inform yourself of Represent.Us and the Anti-Corruption Act. This short video may help.

If you're mildly interested (albeit still doubtful) and want to be a part of this, let me recruit you.

Next, suppose for a moment that everyone visited and took some time out of their day to take the quiz that is available there. Further, suppose that for the questions that many people couldn't answer because they were not knowledgeable enough or didn't have an opinion, they took a little time to research those issues so that they could provide answers to the quiz.  Let's explore some possibilities.

Upon finishing the quiz, the website would compare your answers with those of the candidate's and inform you on how much you agree and how much you line up with each candidate. Who you will vote for and support becomes a no-brainer. Upon knowing how much and where you line-up with each candidate, what else do you need to know? Will seeing an advertisement on TV in support of a candidate with whom you agree on only 11% of the issues persuade you to change your mind even if it is a great ad? Will a negative attack ad on the candidate with whom you agree on 95% of the issues persuade you to change your mind and not vote for them?

What are we doing, America? If you watched the video above, around the 0:43 mark you would have been informed that US elections are costing us 6.5 billion dollars. Think of the infrastructure that could be built. Think of the increased salaries that public educators could have. Think of the tiny chunk we could take away from our national debt. As much as so many of you hate paying taxes, at least they're going to something. Where is that 6.5 billion dollars going? And why aren't you getting a little more upset about that?

Alas, money is too powerful, and I'm very skeptical any of this will work. Yet, I will try.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Thirst for Coffee and Knowledge

One of my many passions is Coffee. I've thought about it a lot since 1996. Only recently did I pick up a book by Kenneth Davids called Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying. It was shocking to find out this book is in its 5th edition (2001), with its first edition coming out in 1976. This knowledge of coffee has been at any person's disposal for the last 39 years.

Even if I wind up in a career outside academics, I will always remain a lifelong learner because of my thirst for knowledge. Reading, writing, and thinking isn't just a passion in my life, it is a necessity. Without books and journals, I would be lost in a desert without water.

To me, seeking knowledge is like water. I need it. This need sometimes narrows my view of the world, because I delude myself into thinking that everyone else has that same need, or that if they do, that they satisfy it in a way that is even remotely similar to my way.
"Grinding coffee fresh is the single best thing you can do to improve the quality of your coffee... grinding it immediately before brewing is a first and essential step to experiencing it at its peak."  - Kenneth Davids
Once coffee is ground, it only takes a few hours for it to go stale. Grinding coffee exposes the pleasant oils that are in the coffee bean which begin evaporating immediately.

I didn't want to give you chance to look away or stop reading, and hence, you may have the feeling that some information about coffee just came at you from right field. Well, there you have it. That infomation won't affect you at all if you aren't a coffee drinker. More interesting thoughts and questions come to mind for those of you that are coffee drinkers, and have just obtained that information.

What will coffee drinkers who purchase and drink pre-ground coffee do with this information?  Some will reject it as false, because this information does not fit into their world of coffee drinking. The Folgers or Maxwell House ads they watch and the smell that comes out of their freshly opened container they just purchased leads them to believe something differently. They seek for truth no further. Regardless of how false they believe the swiftness that staleness embraces ground coffee to be, that speed remains true.

Then there are those that don't care. They continue to purchase and consume pre-ground coffee, admitting that they have been privy to this information and concede its point. But why? Why don't these coffee drinkers do anything about it?
"Freshly roasted coffee is at its best about a day out of the roaster. If it is kept in an airtight container as whole, unground beans, it can remain splendid if ground & brewed in a week to ten days. But by three weeks out of the roaster, it is well on its way to listless mediocrity." - Kenneth Davids
Now that just makes some of you downright angry, doesn't it?!?  Why did I have to go and give you information like that? Your ignorance was so blissful. You never used to care when the coffee you purchased was roasted, but now you're going to have to check, aren't you?

It was like the first time somebody pointed out the fact the countless people exit the bathroom without washing their hands, and that they actually have to touch the door handle on their way out. I remember first having that brought to my attention, and having a similar reaction. Dammit! That's all I'll ever think about when coming out of a public restroom. Truth. It is all I ever think about, now.

It is truly fascinating what people do with new information.

It was a weird journey for me connecting my love of learning about and enjoying coffee with learning in general. There is a certain bliss in both ignorance and information, as well as both apathy and enthusiasm, and we all must coexist somewhere on this multi-dimensional spectrum. The challenges of this coexistence is just life. I'm getting pretty good at it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Locked Out

When Erin and I lived in Kirksville, it was impossible to lock yourself out of the house (assuming you never lost the key). In other words, you had to have a key to lock the door when you were leaving.

You don't have to have a key to lock the door when you leave our home in Topeka.

The Setting

Erin had left that morning for an overnight trip to a conference. I wouldn't see her until the following day in the early afternoon. After a day of working on the house and unpacking, I was relaxing for a spell. The weather was turning ugly. I stepped out onto our screened in porch to have a look at the inclement weather, and decided it would be a good idea to pull the car into the garage. I turned around to go back inside. The door was locked.

The Situation

"Ooooooohhhh F***!"

The front door was dead bolted. The door I just walked out had the knob locked. The keys were inside. My phone was inside. My wallet was inside. There were no secret ways through a window to get in the house. 


The Synopsis

I sat down on a chair that was in our screened in porch and watched the torrential down pour followed by near golf ball sized hail. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and thought to myself, "I got this, I've read The Martian." (This has become a common saying of mine ever since this happened).

The time was around 10pm. It would be about 16 hours until Erin showed up. I considered what it would be like to sleep on the porch, wait out the storm, go without food and water for that long, etc.

Maybe 10 minutes passed when I thought, "Yeah, there is no f***ing way."  I needed help.

Within this new philosophy of Minimalism, nurturing relationships is pretty important. As someone who is extremely independent, it is difficult to ask for help. Especially when it is from someone who I have barely met.

I ran two doors down, where I had met two of the three couples that were renting that house. One of the couples was sitting on the couch watching TV. They waved me in and I explained my predicament. Justin asked me if both doors were dead bolted, and I explained that one was not. He then left the room and his girlfriend Anne leant me her phone so I could call Erin.

Erin let me know that there was a key at her folks house in Lawrence. I had forgotten about that. So, I needed to brainstorm how to get this key from Lawrence back to Topeka.

Actually, brainstorming any further was unnecessary. Justin, a mechanic by trade, came back into the room and told me to take him to the door that wasn't dead bolted. After a little credit card work and a little bump from his shoulder, I was in my house. 

He saved me such a huge headache. All I gave him was a beer and much gratitude.

It felt good to ask for help and have that small bonding moment with the neighbors.

Erin and I have one of these outside our door now, and we pretend there are no longer any locks on the knobs. As much as I enjoyed bonding with my neighbors over this incident, we'll have to bond over something else next time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Leaving Kirksville

A week from today, I will attend a service recognition banquet at which Truman State University will recognize my 10th year of service. Then, they'll say goodbye. This was my last semester at Truman. May will be my last month in Kirksville. I'm about to move to my fifth state.

How Did I Get Here?

Ten years ago, I was finishing up my Ph.D. at Indiana University in Bloomington. I secured a temporary assistant professor position at Truman in April, bought a house on 7 acres of land in Brashear in July, defended my dissertation and started the new job in August, and got married in September. It was a busy time in my life.

I divorced a year later and moved into town. I wanted to be in town in the first place, so I'm not sure why I crawled through a year's worth of dung and manure to get there.

In 2008, I applied for a tenure-track job to teach Statistics at Truman. I'm happy I was offered the position. This is what kept me in Kirksville, which is where I needed to be to meet Erin.

Erin and I married on Truman's Fall Break, October 16, 2010. We bought the house we live in right now in February 2011. Pliny and Seymour were introduced into our lives in August of that year.

We made beer, competed in triathlons and races, rode bikes through crazy distances, traveled the world and the country, became more involved with our jobs and the community, and developed some amazing relationships.

Erin finished her Ph.D a year ago in May. She found a job as Director of Highland Community College's Perry Campus (in Perry, KS) and started October 1 of last year. We've been living long distance since then, but not for much longer.

Where Will We Go?

In mid-to-late February, a position at Washburn University in Topeka, KS was brought to my attention. It was for an Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Actuarial Science. During Truman's Spring Break, I was traveling to Lawrence, KS to visit Erin. While I was there, I interviewed at Washburn on Monday. They called Friday of that week to offer me the position.

We originally looked for places to live in Lawrence because we love that city. We made a data-based decision, however, and ended up finding a house in Topeka. The home we will be moving into is a half mile from campus, and about 20 miles from Perry.

A week after signing a contract for the place in Topeka, we signed a contract to sell our house in Kirksville. The closing dates for both places happen to be the same: May 26.

Our last weekend in Kirksville will be May 15-17.  We go on vacation to Oregon May 20-25. On the evening of Memorial Day we will be driving into town and loading up a U-Haul.

What Will I Miss? 

I will miss the beer selection. Put Missouri and Kansas in this compared distribution page and you'll see my point.

In leaving, I will miss my friends the most. (Relationships)

The small community of Kirksville, while leaving a lot to be desired in the social and physical activity category, provides one the opportunity to fill up missing niches. In a unique way, Kirksville has given me wonderful leadership opportunities and priceless leadership experience. (Growth)

I'm going to miss the KGB (Kirksville Guild of Brewers). The community of brewers in Kirksville will forever be in my heart. Together, we built an amazing club that I had the great fortune of leading.  (Passion)

I'm going to miss the United Way. The United Way provided me an avenue on which my talents could be used to contribute back to the community. (Contribution)

I'm going to miss the community of runners and bikers in Kirksville that once made up (and still do) Kirksville Multisport. This group helped me carve out the time required to devote to a healthy lifestyle. (Health)

I'm going to miss Truman. When I reflect on life, there are key moments and times that have greatly influenced me and have molded me into the person I am today.  A few of these include being the Faculty Advisor for Student Government, creating Bringin' Back the Stat, chairing the Department of Statistics, and creating a resolution to adopt a plus/minus grading system and having it defeated (a humbling, but very important experience).

What Do We Look Forward To?

Topeka is a city that is almost at 130,000. It is definitely large enough to disappear in for a while, take a break, and learn where I can fit in.

Blind Tiger Brewery is in town. Free State is a short drive away. I look forward to taking advantage of these two places a lot. Although the overall beer selection in Kansas is lacking, Free State is amazing. Blind Tiger is pretty good, too. Living close to breweries is a plus.

There are trails to bike on. There is a huge biking community with which I can become involved.

There is an amazing coffee place within walking distance of my house and office. It is called PTs. It has amazing coffee, makes coffee in wonderful ways, has a delightful lunch menu, and has 6 rotating craft beers on tap. If you know me very well, you should understand that this is a dangerous combination for my pocketbook.

Topeka already has an established beer club that has been active since 1989 at least. I'll probably be a member.

I will be working directly with Washburn's Actuarial Science Program, teaching Actuarial Science and upper level, math-heavy Statistics classes at Washburn. This is a new and desired opportunity.

I Guess This Is Really Goodbye, Then? 

Yeah. I wasn't kidding about all that stuff. I'm really leaving. I'll miss you, though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Getting KO'd at Iowa State

In my first year at Iowa State as an undergraduate, I didn't join a boxing club. Nor did Iowa State have intramural boxing. Regardless, I did manage to get myself knocked the ____ out.

On a very pleasant Wednesday evening, a group of guys from our dorm floor had an itch to go out into the commons of Friley Hall (an outdoor space completely closed in by the dorm building) and play some hackey sack.  There we were, minding our own business playing hackey sack.  We were talking and yelling at each other at a volume that you would expect from a decent sized group playing hackey sack. 

The problem, however, was that it was Wednesday.  And, it was past 10pm.  

Friley Hall is 5 stories tall, and my house (Noble House) was on the third.  As you all know, when you inform a bunch of gentleman like ourselves that we were being a little loud for a school night, and you politely request that we keep it down, we would have granted this request in a heartbeat.  (I don't actually know this, but I like to believe that we would). 

Instead, colorful metaphors were used in a very loud and commanding way (STFU). This didn't go over to well. 

Do you suppose that shut us up?  Do you suppose that it even kept all of us at the same volume that we currently held?  I can definitely tell you the answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second is debatable. 

Soon after this command (with colorful metaphors) was directed at us very loudly with absolutely no sign that the command would be followed, an egg came down upon us and crashed into the middle of our circle. 

Isn't it obvious what the appropriate response should be?  

Of course!! We decided that we should ALL go up to the fifth floor and confront whoever threw this egg. I mean, seriously. Think of all the good that can come from this. 

Yeah, yeah. Hindsight is wonderful.

So, we all managed to get up to the fifth floor somehow. I think it was by borrowing a person of responsibility's key (they probably shouldn't have had this responsibility) to the elevator so that we could get onto their floor. After all, it was after hours.  

We went to the door of the room from which the egg came. Somehow, I was at the front of the 6-8 person group. I remember knocking, and inquiring who threw the egg.  The dude that eventually came to the door to confront us was a head taller than I was. I'm serious. The top of my head was where his neck began. He looked very much like this guy

This dude put his hand on my chest to push me away. I didn't want to look like a wuss, so I shoved his hand off my chest and told him not to touch me. That was the last thing I remember until coming to a few moments later as I was being dragged down the hallway by my dorm floor mates. 

When I got back to my dorm room, I remember not being able to tell you where I was. I couldn't tell you what day it was, what town I was in, or pretty much anything. It was a very distressful feeling having been knocked out. 

Eventually, things began to return. As they returned, I felt a pain in my back. When I asked my roommate Shawn about it, he was shocked to find out that I didn't recall the kicking that I had received after I had been knocked out.  Hmmm.  Nope.  Didn't remember that.  

There is an easy lesson I learned from this. I'm pretty confident that this won't happen again. 

It was humorous to find out that when campus security knocked on his door later, they found him kneeling and praying with a Bible open in front of him. He did get in trouble, but we also got in trouble, too, since we never could directly answer how we managed to get on their floor.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Second Time I Went to Jail

Did you miss the first time? If so, you can read about that here.

Unlike the first time, I had grown up a little. I was 23, and was finishing my second year in graduate school at Indiana University. I was visiting my good buddy Cory in Ames, IA because his lady friend at the time was graduating from Iowa State. I missed her graduation. You can probably guess why.

On the eve of graduation at Iowa State, a group of us found our way to The Zone in downtown Ames. At the particular time that we arrived at The Zone, they were having a pretty amazing deal called "Penny Pitchers". That's right. If you had a copper, you got yourself a pitcher of beer.  

Of course, some rules applied. You couldn't order five pitchers for a nickel. You couldn't order more than one pitcher at a time, period. Whatever coin you had, you didn't get change. If you didn't have a coin, then it cost $1, because these bartenders weren't about to give you any change for a penny pitcher.  

This deal lasted only 1 hour. Our group covered our table with pitchers. We began to drink them. This is where the fuzziness started.  

One block over there was a karaoke bar called Tradewinds where I used to sing a lot while I was an undergraduate at Iowa State. Since I knew there was always a long line for singing at this bar, I told everyone I was going to go over and put my name in if it wasn't too long. "I'd be right back," I told them. Little did they know they wouldn't see me until late the next day. 

I walked over to Tradewinds and asked the lady in charge of karaoke how long the wait would be. It must have been really, really, long, because I didn't put my name in. It wouldn't have mattered, because I wouldn't have made it back to sing.

On my way back to The Zone, I crossed the street and noticed a cop car slowly making his way toward me. Officer Schultz pulled over and got out of his car to stop me. He had noticed me lean against a car as I walked across the street.  

After walking a straight line, touching my nose, and failing to give a specific answer to where I was going, I was handcuffed and put into the squad car. All I could tell the officer was that I was going back to "that bar around the corner with penny pitchers." I couldn't recall the name "The Zone." For the longest time, I believed that if I could have come up with this name, he would have let me go. But officer Schultz was on a power trip that night. 

To this day, I despise this human being. I'm not even sure that Office Schultz even qualifies as a human being. I've had day dreams of rising to a position of enough power where I could make a call and have this guy fired. But I wouldn't do it until he had a few days left until he was guaranteed some sort of pension. Only then would I fire him, and let him know it was me.  I could go on how little I think of this human being, but I won't. 

So, I spent another night in jail wearing an orange jump suit. After an eternity of a morning, we were ushered to the judges chambers. I remember the judge looking at my charge and saying "so, it says here you leaned against a car." I remember thinking about saying something like "yeah, pretty heinous shit, right?" but I didn't. I plead guilty and got the hell out of there.  

I wish I could tell you I learned a lesson from this. I'm not sure that I did. In writing this, however, I did come up with something that I can take from it now. No matter where you are at in life, you are inevitably going to have to deal with incompetent assholes. Such is life. There are incompetent assholes everywhere, waiting for just the right moment to make your life miserable.

Pick up the pieces and move on. After it has blown over, you'll at least have a story to tell. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Martian Weekend

The Martian

Through both the recommendation of Mary Chapman, a family friend from Lawrence, KS, and of my good buddy Jonathan Vieker, who read it before me, I checked out The Martian by Andy Weir from the library.  I was 80 pages into it before Erin and I left for our weekend in Fort Collins, CO.  

I read it during the entire flight over to Denver. It had me hooked. It is so well researched, and is one of the best real science sci-fi books I've read.  The Martian is a survival story that takes problem solving to the extreme.  Little did I know, Erin and I would have our own problem solving to do that weekend.

Fort Collins

We flew in pretty late to Denver on Friday night, rented a car from Dollar rental, and drove to my cousin Jody's place in Fort Collins. We got there late enough that the liquor stores were closed and had to resort to buying some beer from a grocery store with not as good of a selection. The beer for the night was a Singletrack Copper Ale from Boulder Brewing company. 

On Saturday morning, we made Bloody Marys from a Bloody Mary bar at the Silver Grille Cafe, and after a long 45 minute wait, had a delicious breakfast.
Pleepleus likes Bloody Marys
Odell Brewing was our next stop. I was finally able to try the Tree Shaker, which is a double imperial Peach IPA.  Right down the road from Odell was our second brewery for the day: Funkwerks.
Bike Rack at Odell
 Once we had our fill at Funkwerks, we went to the Horse & Dragon for a sample of several of their beers. We switched things up a little and then went to Scrumpy's, a hard cider and mead bar. Right across the street from Scrumpy's was Compass Cider, where we went immediately following.
Jody and Jason in front of Horse & Dragon
 Once we landed at Pateros Creek Brewing Company, we got some darts and played an intense game. It was neck and neck until Jody hit the bulls eye for the win.  Jody & Erica took down Jason & Erin.  It was at Pateros that we finally made the two J&E's connection.

It got really fuzzy from there. We made our way to Hodi's Half Note for a little taste of some live music and a few beers. I specifically remember watching Wisconsin defeat Kentucky at this place and getting excited about that. We probably should have made our way home afterwards, but instead we stopped for some Moscow Mules at Old Town Distilling Co. Barrel Room.  I had a headache the next morning.

So, we went hiking. We hiked along the North Fork Cache La Poudre River. It was invigorating and very much needed.
Erin with a view of Milton Seaman Reservoir
Black Bottle Brewing company was our after hike stop, which we followed with Easter dinner at Jody's dad's place.  That evening, we rented Intersteller and John Wick for a movie night. Intersteller wasn't bad, it just had the ending that panders to the general movie watching public, which I didn't like.  John Wick was a movie about a guy who shoots over 75 people (mostly in the head) and wins. Sorry I spoiled it for you if you were wanting to watch it. The message I think the movie was trying to convey was that one should not f*** with John Wick.

The Adventure After the Adventure

We packed up Monday morning and had breakfast at Snooze Cafe before heading for the Denver International Airport. We turned in our rental car and hopped on a shuttle to the airport.  As we got closer to the airport, Erin turned to the luggage rack and saw a loose coat that looked exactly like mine.  She asked me if it was my coat.  No, it wasn't my coat.  But, that was a very good question, because my coat was also not in my bag. It was back at Jody's in Fort Collins. So what, right? She can mail it to me, right?  Well, the only key to the car parked at the Kansas City Airport, to which we were flying, was in that coat. Shit.

This wasn't a life or death situation, like about every problem solving situation was for Mark Watney in The Martian, but it definitely was a problem that needed solving. I felt like saying, "Don't Worry! I've read The Martian! I've got this!"  

Although we gave ourselves plenty of time before our flight, there was definitely not enough time to get to Fort Collins and back before our flight. We needed to find out where the two spare keys were as quickly as we could. There was a fairly easy solution if one was in Lawrence, but it would take the help of friends there. 

Both spares were in Kirksville.


Everyone in Fort Collins was having a crazy busy day, and there was no way they could get away. At best, they could overnight the keys someplace. We sought other solutions. 

I called Suburu in Kansas City to see if they could have a replacement made if we gave them the VIN number (printed nicely on the insurance card in my wallet). It took way too long for the guy on the other end of the phone to finally get to the answer we feared. It couldn't be done without a spare key. 


The flight was quickly approaching. While Erin thought of other solutions I approached the lady at the counter and told her of our situation. I just wanted to check whether there was a later flight to KC and how much it would cost. She sympathized and told me she would just switch us both to the later flight for free if that would help our situation. YES!

Now we had plenty of time to figure out how to get a key in Fort Collins. In hindsight, the best solution would probably have been to ask Jody to swing by the shuttle bus place, hand the driver the key and $5 and tell them there would be someone on the other end waiting for the key with another $5. It would have been a gamble, but I bet the driver would have done it.  

So, what did we do? After exploring several options, it was the least costly just to rent a car, drive it back up to Fort Collins to retrieve the key, and then get ourselves back to the airport. 

We were only delayed about 6 hours. 

Erin has committed to "bothering" me on trips again and asking whether I've got everything. I did the smart thing and didn't argue.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Pen is Blue. Or, Why I Try Not to Pay Attention to Politics Anymore

The Pen is Blue

There are certain facts and happenings in the world that should be the center and launching point of all politics in my opinion. These facts present us with issues that need dealt with, for which we all have differing opinions. 

The issues and problems that need to be solved are what is represented by the Blue Pen. The pen is blue. Let's debate what to write with the blue pen.  

This, in my view, is how politics should work. But, alas, it doesn't work this way.  

Examples of Blue Pens

1. Global warming, climate change, or global wierding, whichever you would like to call it, is happening. It is happening because of what we're doing. 

2. Vaccinating children is necessary to prevent life threatening diseases. Vaccination does not cause autism.

3. Humans have evolved from lower life forms over millions of years.

4. Making abortion illegal causes more harm to women and does not decrease the incidence of abortion. Creating legislation that makes abortions harder to obtain has a similar effect. This is a historical fact.

5. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and transexuals are people, too. Their orientation is just that. It wasn't a choice. They deserve equal rights and freedoms as everyone else.

Why I Try Not to Pay Attention to Politics Anymore

Given all those blue pens above, we aren't discussing what to write with the blue pens. Instead, we're trying to convince all of you that the pen is actually blue. This has become a huge waste of my time. 

In several cases, 40-50% of Americans don't think the pen is blue. That just means 40-50% of Americans have been misled, have been lied to, have eaten a big piece of bullshit pie, or are just plain stupid. The pen is blue. The GOD DAMN PEN IS BLUE!

So, I try my best to smile, get on with my day, and ignore the fact that a large portion of you think a blue pen is some other color than what it actually is.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


The Instigator: Getting the Job at Washburn

In early February, I made an announcement that I would be stepping down as Chair of the Department of Statistics at Truman State. I had made this decision earlier in the semester, but was waiting for an opportune time to make the official announcement. The reason for this decision was because my wife and I are living in a long distance relationship at the moment. She is the Highland Community College Perry Center Director in Perry, KS.

I wanted to make sure that the Department of Statistics had more stability than my life. I wanted the flexibility needed in traveling back and forth on any given weekend. As a small side note, I really didn't enjoy being chair. It was a great experience, and I will be a better faculty member as a result, but I'll just say it really wasn't a passion of mine. 

About a week or two later, Erin brought the position at Washburn to my attention. A tenure-track position was listed as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Actuarial Science. The title of the position is a little deceiving, however, as it requires teaching mostly statistics and actuarial mathematics. 

My plan was to search the following academic year, but a position like this seemed to fit me well. The only problem was that the applications had started to be reviewed in December 2014. I assumed I was WAY too late. 

After contacting the Chair of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics at Washburn, I found out that they had identified top candidates and had invited them to campus, but that I should still apply. 

Well, okay then.  

I applied. Two days later they called to invite me to campus for an interview on Monday, March 9th, the first day of my Spring break. On Friday, March 13th, after the last candidate interviewed, they called me to inform me I had been selected for the position. I called the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences on the following Monday (March 16) and accepted the position after negotiations. 


That week, Erin listened to the audio book "Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life." She wanted me to read it so badly, that as soon as she got back to her place in Lawrence, she ordered the paperback on Amazon to be sent to me. Interestingly enough, after reading it, I found that this action in itself goes against the minimalism philosophy. I could have checked it out through Mobius. But... whatever. 

This truly excited me. I immediately wondered if Erin could actually minimalize as much as I could (figures that I had to turn this into a competition). I don't have the collections that she has. I don't have the sentimentality that she has toward inanimate objects. I knew it would be tough for her. 

It is tough for both of us. The rewards, however, are worth it. 

The book, and the essential essays you can find here, highlight five main things on which you should focus for a meaningful life. 

1. Health
2. Relationships
3. Your Passions
4. Personal Growth
5. Contribution

What you will find in thinking about your day to day activities, is that most of the shit that you own, and most of the shit that you do, does not contribute to any of those five areas. What may shock you at first, is that you don't even know the passions you have in your life. You should let that be a HUGE SLAP IN THE FACE.  

If you don't know what your passions are in life, then you've been letting your daily routine, and all of your stuff get in the way of discovering these passions. Imagine coming home to a place without cable, without internet, without a TV; a place where all you had were the essentials to living. What would you want to do? If your answer would be to go to somebody else's place to watch TV, that is borderline pathetic, but at least you'd be working on your relationships. 

One of the main points that I thought screamed loudest in the book was to try and associate more pain with NOT CHANGING.  Understand that the long term pain of regret from eating that piece of cake, from not working out, from not doing anything, is greater than that short-term pleasure that you are receiving from eating that piece of cake, and from plopping your ass down in front of the luminescent television. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mad Dog 20/20, Hitchhiking, and a Date Rape Parade

A significant portion of my senior year in high school was spent in the basement at my friend Mikey's. Cory, Dave, Mikey, and I made quite a team in high school. We called ourselves the T. & A. B. D Committee.

On one particular late afternoon, there was a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 that was available for us to drink. Upon consuming it, I got a spark for adventure. "Anyone want to come with me?" I asked. Cory joined me and off we went.

At the time of this adventure, there were corn fields and woods between the neighborhood and I-34 that we had to traverse. If we made this adventure today, we would run into a huge Wal-Mart Supercenter or Menards.

Once we came upon I-34, we were tired from walking. With the much needed wisdom and guidance a previously consumed bottle of Mad Dog could provide, a decision was made to begin hitchhiking for a ride downtown. Oddly enough, someone who had just been fishing pulled over to give us a ride. We hopped in and he started driving us downtown.

As we were riding over the Wapello St. bridge, we told the driver that we wanted out on the bridge where a set of stairs led to the downtown area. Seeing that we never walked down these stairs, it was prudent that we give this a try.

We thanked the fine gentleman of a fisherman for our ride and got out on the bridge to walk down that staircase to downtown Ottumwa.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs we found something interesting. There was a police car moving slowly down the street followed by several people holding signs and chanting something. It was a Date Rape Awareness Parade. Well, up to that point in time, Cory and I had never participated in a Date Rape Parade, and so, it was very sagacious of us to join this parade. It just so happened that this parade was going in the general direction that we wanted to go. Lucky us.

One of the coordinators of the parade gave us some signs to hold so we held them high and marched along, chanting "Two, Four, Six, Eight, No More Date Rape!" slowly creeping our way further downtown. It felt like much longer than two blocks, but that was how far we were willing to go. We gave back the signs and thanked them for the opportunity to give them some support before heading to the parking lot where hoodlums like us hung out.

Whatever happened the rest of the night wasn't as interesting as how we got there, and I can't remember the rest. Most likely, it involved meeting back up with the other two and causing some further mischief.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Faking My Own Death In San Diego

Somewhere between the ages of 13-15, mom, dad, and I flew down to Phoenix to spend Christmas time with cousins on my mom's side, and my Uncle Stan and Aunt Pat on my dad's side. This was our second or third year doing this.

When we arrived, I found out that Jody and Julie (the second cousins that were my age) were about to go to San Diego for a small vacation. My folks gave Jennifer, their mom and my first cousin, money, and let me go with them.

I swam in the ocean for the first time using a wet suit. I can't remember much else from that trip. Oh yeah, except the time when I faked my death.

We were all at the hotel getting ready to go out to eat at a Japanese steakhouse where they prepare the meal right at the table. Being the young boy that I was, it took me vast amounts of LESS time to get ready to go than it took for all of my female cousins.  So I began to wander the halls of the hotel.

I made my way to the elevator room, and was standing there lost in my own mind when I decided it would be a good idea to lie down and stare at the ceiling.

There I laid, staring at the ceiling thinking about life, the universe, and everything.

Then I heard some people making their way down the hallway. I adjusted my position into a much more awkward one, making it look like I had fallen. I picked a spot out on the ceiling and stared, unblinking, at that one spot.  As they neared the elevator shaft, I took a deep breath and held it.

The couple came around the corner and saw me lying there. They asked if I was okay. They came over and looked down at me. I didn't flinch. I didn't blink. I wasn't breathing. In a panic, the guy kicked me.  He then nudged me a little harder with his foot, yelling "HEY BUDDY, WAKE UP!" Again, I didn't flinch or blink, and continued to hold my breath.

The couple turned around and sprinted down the hotel hallway back to their room to call someone (this was WAY before cell phones were a standard). I let out a breath, got up and ran down the hallway in an opposite direction to the vending machine room where I hid behind a soda machine.

I stayed there to listen to the people return with someone else. The guy was explaining to some unknown face how "he was RIGHT here! Just a second ago.. HE WAS RIGHT HERE!"

At this point he probably wished he had kicked me MUCH harder.

There I was, hiding behind some soda machine, basking in my own little Andy Kaufman moment. Unlike Andy, however, I didn't have a Bob Zmuda to share the moment with. Just me, myself, and I, giggling at my own little prank.

Such are the exploits of an only child while vacationing in San Diego.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Attack on 149

In the summer of 1996, several of us decided to go cliff jumping at a private rock quarry just north of Fremont, IA. We piled into Hillary's car. Dave always called shotgun, so for any expedition on which he was not driving he was always in the passenger seat. He was so ridiculous, that at the mere mention of an idea for a trip in the future, he would shout out "shotgun."

That put me, Cory, and Sara in the back seat. I sat behind Hillary, Cory sat behind Dave, and Sara was in between us. This is how we rode to and fro the rock quarry. I used the earth setting on Google Maps and was able to capture this picture of the quarry. 
Rock Quarry north and a little west of Fremont, IA
We had to hop a barb wire fence and walk through woods to get to the "beach" part of this quarry on the north east side. If you look closely at this picture, you'll notice a slab on the left side of this quarry. That was where we would swim over, climb up, and jump off. Fun times. I still have a scar on my leg from one of our outings. The barb wire fence that we had to jump got a hold of me once.

On our way back to Ottumwa that summer, we had to go through Fremont. As we passed through town, there were two rough looking dudes at the gas station that appeared as if they were about to get into a fight. Cory yelled out "Kick his Ass!" as we passed by. A few of us chuckled and thought nothing of it. 

Somewhere on 149 south, a van passed us in a very dangerous maneuver. There was oncoming traffic on a two lane road. Cars had to swerve to miss this van. The van then began to try and slow us down. Whenever we made a move to pass, it would pull out in front of us, and in front of oncoming traffic. They would not let us pass. Soon, a car came up behind us and pinned us from the back. There were various levels of panic among us all.  

What happened after we were sandwiched in has played through my mind countless times throughout my life. It has plagued my mind and psyche.

I remember a long haired, fatter dude getting out of the driver's side of the van, and a skinnier, short haired dude getting out of the passenger side of the van. They both were coming right at us. I completely froze. Dave got out of the car. 

All of a sudden, with the dudes from the van still in front of us coming our direction, I was punched in the nose by the guy that had gotten out of the car behind us and approached from the back. While i was stunned and bleeding from the nose, he opened the back door and piled in on top of the three of us. As blood gushed from my nose, he was throwing punches at Cory while yelling "Who SAID IT?!?" using very slurred speech, reeking of booze. 

The rest seems like a blur. At some point, I believe the guy got bored of us, sitting there in the car, not giving him an answer. Dave was occupying the driver of the van in the field to our right. He was defending himself. They eventually felt that time was no longer on their side and that cops could show up at any moment, so they got out of there. 

We gave the cops are statements. They would eventually find them. I'm not sure what kind of fine was imposed on our attackers.

Even today, I want to relive that day so badly. I want to go back to the moment when we were pinned in, get out of the car, and defend myself, whether it was dodging punches or throwing them myself. But I can't. I have to live with myself. Me. The guy who froze. 

I would like to think that having had that experience, if anything like that were to happen again, I will be ready. Will I be? Today I have a cooler and calmer head, but can I get it into action mode if the situation calls for it? Or will it be too late, again, if that time comes? 

Every time I think about this attack, I end up swallowing a piece of humble pie. I was never trained for situations like that. If an attack ever happens again, I'll have to let you know how I handled it afterwards. Because there is no way I could tell you what I would do ahead of time.

The reason this event came back to mind recently, was because Erin and I watched the movie Force Majeure. It follows a Swedish family on a ski trip. An avalanche occurs that creates a state of panic. When it is evident that the avalanche doesn't seem controlled, the father picks up his cell phone and runs leaving his family behind. No harm comes to anyone. The movie then explores the consequences of his actions, both through the relationship with his family and living with himself and his own psyche.