Saturday, November 11, 2017

Counting Can Be Really Tough

Factorial, Permutation, and Combination

How do I count?

On most calculators, you can find a factorial button (displayed in the picture here as x!, however it may just be ! on other calculators), a permutation button (nPr), and a combination button (nCr).  

I'm going to attempt at explaining why you would ever need such buttons.  If you don't have a calculator handy with these buttons, open up the computational knowledge engine WolframAlpha and standby. 

Factorial First

Suppose you have 3 songs that you would like to listen to. Let's call those songs A, B, and C, and let's assume they are in a playlist on your smart device.  You push the random playback button.  How many ways can your smart device play back those songs for you?  

This question can be answered using factorials. Before I show you how this works, let's simply list all the possible ways and count them up:


There seem to be only six ways the smart device can play the songs back to me.  What if there were 20 songs?  Listing them out is not an option anymore, so we need a clever way of counting when we have more than 3 songs. 

Here is how we could have obtained the 6 ways systematically.  Your smart device must choose from 3 songs randomly to play the first song.  Once that is chosen, the device must choose randomly from two remaining songs for the second choice.  There is only one song remaining to choose from for the final song.  Thus, the number of ways to play 3 songs randomly is 3*2*1 = 6.  To visualize why we multiply, here is a tree diagram. 

Descending products like these are factorials. Try it now.  Plug in 3! into your calculator by pushing 3 first and then the factorial button.  Or, simply type in 3! into WolframAlpha. 

Now, try 20! in WolframAlpha. You should get 2 quintillion, 432 quadrillion, 902 trillion, 8 billion, 176 million, 640 thousand.  Or 2,432,902,008,176,640,000. 

That would have taken a while to list out. 


Suppose your playlist has 5 songs instead of 3.  Let's call the songs A, B, C, D, and E.  From the previous section, we learned that the number of ways our smart device can play them all back to us is 5! = 120.  

However, we have time to listen to only two of them.  How many ways can our smart device do this? We will first count them up the old fashioned way, by listing all the possibilities.  Here goes.

{AB, AC, AD, AE, BA, BC, BD, BE, CA, CB, CD, CE, DA, DB, DC, DE, EA, EB, EC, ED}

It looks like there are 20.  What if the playlist has 20 songs and you have time to listen to 6?  Do you want to list them out? Nope. So, let's find an easier way of getting that 20 and apply it to the more difficult problem.  

The smart device had 5 choices of songs for the first song.  Once it chose that song, it had 4 choices for the second.  So, the final count is 5*4=20.  Unlike the factorial, this product does not descend all the way down to 1.  It only considers permuting 2 of 5 values.  

On the calculator function, n=5 and r=2.  So, plug in 5 nPr 2 into WolframAlpha to see what you get.  

Likewise, 20 nPr 6 can be obtained by plugging this in OR by plugging 20*19*18*17*16*15 into the calculator.  One method is a little more quick and efficient.  You should confirm that this value is 27,907,200.  


Suppose someone displays in front of you five gifts. Let's call them gift A, B, C, D, and E for simplicity.  You are given the opportunity to select two of these gifts for yourself.  How many ways can you do this?  How is this different from the previous problem with listening to 2 of 5 songs? 

If we have gifts AB or BA we have the same two gifts, and we don't really care about the order in which we select them.  We need a way of not counting BOTH of those.  So, refining the list above, we will get

{AB, AC, AD, AE, BC, BD, BE, CD, CE, DE}

This can be quickly obtained by using nCr.  Here again, n=5 and r=2 because you want to select 2 of 5 things.  Plug in 5 nCr 2 to confirm the value 10. 

How many ways can you be dealt two hole cards in Texas Hold 'Em?  How many ways can you be dealt five cards in Five Card Draw?  For these two examples, n=52.  For the first example r=2, and for the second, r=5.  

Use WolframAlpha again to find 52 nCr 2 and 52 nCr 5.  

These numbers are 1326 and 2,598,960, respectively.  

Congratulations! You've learned a few basics in counting!

Want to have more fun with WolframAlpha? Plug in your birthday to find out how old you are in days.  Plug in the city you live in for your city's demographics and income statistics among other things.  Type in "maximum value of y=x-x^2" to find out that the maximum value of y=1/4 is obtained when x=1/2. Cool, huh?  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Price is Wrong. Or, Ego is Never On Your Side

The Price is Wrong

Last week, I published an analysis of spinning the wheel on The Price is Right.  Even if my original assumption was correct, there are still mistakes in my analysis.  However, the logic in my original assumption was not sound.  Here was my assumption last week:
If the probability that you will not bust on the next spin exceeds the probability that you will win by staying where you are at, then you should spin again. 
 This was incorrect. Instead, the assumption and logic should have been as follows:
If the probability that you will not bust on another spin AND you end up winning exceeds the probability that you will win by staying where you are at, then you should spin again.  
Under this assumption, the calculations are more difficult, but doable.

Ego is the Enemy

I'm currently reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. This fits perfectly with what I was trying to accomplish with the last few posts.

When I posted about how to escape from prison, I had thought about that problem all week, bouncing ideas with a colleague who checked my work and kept me in line.  When I finally stumbled upon the solution, he confirmed it worked before I wrote it out.  In other words, I was able to keep my ego in check.

Now, guess what happened with the post about the Price is Right?  I didn't confirm with my colleague, and get a second opinion.  I was confident in my answer and let my ego take control.  My ego is not on my side, and it would be very good for me to remember that. 

Posting an incorrect solution for the world to see was a great reminder.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Price is Right Wheel: How to Spin it Optimally

Price Is Right Wheel has 20 sectors

The Problem

This is the 97th Riddle proposed by The Riddler from FiveThirtyEight.

The three contestants that win all go head to head at this wheel at a chance to advance to the Showcase Showdown.  The one with the least amount of money goes first (the worst position in this game), while the one that won the most goes last.  

The first player must get to as close to 100 as they can without going over. They are allowed a maximum of two spins.  The wheel has 20 slots, with the lowest being 5, and the last being 100, all the rest increase in increments of 5 and are distributed all around the wheel.  

If they go over, they are automatically out of the game. 

The second player must beat the first player's number, and have a number that the last player cannot beat. 

The last player, if the first two bust, automatically advances.  Otherwise, they have to beat whoever is in front of them.  

What strategy should the first player adopt to give them the best chance at advancing to the Showcase Showdown?  Specifically, at what value (or above) should the first player definitely not spin again, and therefore below what value should the first player definitely spin again?  

An Attempt at a Solution

To answer this question, we are interested in two conditional probabilities: 
  1. Under the condition that we stay with this number, what is the probability that we win?
  2. Under the condition that we spin again with this number, what is the probability that we will not bust? 
If the probability calculated in 1 is larger than the probability calculated in 2, than we should stay with that number.  Otherwise, we should spin again.  Our goal is to find the largest such number for which the probability of 1 is greater than the probability of 2.  

Before going any further, let's make calculations a little easier by assuming that the values 1-20 are on the wheel instead of 5-100 in increments of 5.  So now, we must try and add to 20 and not go over.  

Player 2's Perspective

Suppose for the moment that player 1 has busted, and that player 2 only has to worry about player 3.  Also, let's assume their first spin is a 10.  Then the conditional probability for #2 above is 50%, since they will not bust only if a 1-10 is spun again.  

The probability that player 3 will win is more than 50% since that is the probability that they win on the first spin. 

Thus, in this situation, they should spin again.  So, we will only consider values above 10.  Let the value of player 2's first spin be X. For probability 2, we will need to also consider S, the sum of their two spins.  

Let the value of player 3's first spin be Y and the sum of their two spins be S (if they end up spinning twice).  

The notation for the probabilities in #1 and #2 above are given as: 
  1. P(Y < X) * P(S < X or S > 20 | Y < X) + 0.5*(P(Y = X)+P(Y < X)*P(S = X | Y < X))
  2. P(S < 21 | X) = (X-20)/20
The first probability can be explained in this way. If I stay with X, then in order to win, player 3 must spin a value less than X, and then given that... when they spin a 2nd time, their sum must be lower than X or above 20, OR, their first spin must match X or their sum must match X given their first spin was lower and they win the spin-off.  

The second probability is easier.  If X is 15 for example, the probability of not busting, is the probability of spinning a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, which is 5/20.  This is the same as (20-X)/20 for when X=15. This works for all other values of X.

For those mathematically inclined, I hope you can confirm that

  • P(Y < X) = (X-1)/20, and that 
  • P(S < X or S > 20 | Y < X) = (X-1)^2/400, so that the product is 
  • (X-1)^3/8000
This is then summed with 0.5 multiplied by
  • P(Y=X) = 1/20, plus
  • (X-1)/400
It is OK to skip that part. Let's compare these probabilities for some different values. 

When X=13, the probability in #1 is 0.276 while the probability in #2 is 0.35.  Therefore, player 2 should spin again. 

When X=14, the probability in #1 is 0.316 while the probability in #2 is 0.3. Therefore, player 2 should stay. 

Now, player 2 can only do this if player 1 has spun something less than or equal to 14, or has busted.  They must beat our value otherwise.  Assuming player 2 will play in this optimal way, let's continue with the calculations for player 1. 

Player 1's Perspective

From watching several YouTube videos involving spin-offs, it seems that spin-offs occur among two contestants at a time.  So, if the first two tie, they spin-off to go against the third contestant, on which another spin-off can occur.  

So, the probabilities for player 1 to win must be the probability for player 2 to win squared.  Player 1 must defeat both player 2 and player 3.  

So, for X=14, the probability of player 1 winning is now .0998 while the probability of not busting on a second spin is 0.3. Player 1 should spin again.  

For X=15, the win probability is .149 while the probability of not busting is .25.  Player 1 should spin again. 

For X=16, the win probability is .217 while the probability of not busting is .20. Player 1 should stay.  

This is equivalent to getting 80 or more on the wheel in the Price is Right.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Escaping Prison

The Problem

Last Friday, The Riddler posed quite the challenging problem.  Here it is in my own words.  

You are in prison with 99 other inmates (there are 100 of you).  The warden presents you with a game. Prisoners are to be randomly selected with replacement and taken into Cell Zero.  Inside Cell Zero, there are two levers that could be in any of the following configurations: 

Each prisoner that is let into Cell Zero can either declare "All prisoners have now been in Cell Zero" or move exactly one lever (and they must move exactly one lever).  

If the prisoner declares and is wrong, all prisoners are executed. 

If the prisoner declares and is correct, all prisoners go free. 

Once the game has begun, there can be no communication between prisoners.  What strategy at the outset will ensure that all prisoners go free?  

Common Questions

Do the prisoners know the original configuration of the levers?  NO.

Do we know which prisoner will be selected first?  NO.

Can prisoners be selected multiple times before another prisoner has ever visited Cell Zero?  YES.

A Solution

I think I have a solution to this.  It may not be the best, but here goes.

Since I have strong leadership skills among all the prisoners, I declare myself "the counter." My job is to only move the left lever UP, and count each time I do it.  If it is already in the up position, I just move the right lever down or up, regardless of its orientation. 

All other prisoners' job is to move the left lever DOWN exactly twice.  Once they have moved the left lever from the UP position to the DOWN position twice, they forever will move only the right lever.  If the left lever is already in the down position, they leave it be and move only the right lever. 

Once I have counted to 198, I declare everyone has been in Cell Zero. 

So Why Twice? And why does this work?  

When I first visit Cell Zero and the left lever is down, I have no way of knowing whether it started that way or if another prisoner moved it down from the up position.  So, when I move it up, I don't know whether I'm starting at 0 or counting an actual prisoner.  

Therefore, once I count to 99, I'm in a state of uncertainty. Have I counted all prisoners, or am I perhaps missing one?  This uncertainty is just that, uncertainty. Since I cannot be certain, we should devise a different strategy.  

By having all the prisoners pull the left lever down exactly twice, then I will eventually lift the left lever up 198 times. There is still now an uncertain state, and that is whether all prisoners have pulled the left lever down twice (a prisoner visited Cell Zero the first time before me with the left lever up and pulled it down), or there is still one out there that hasn't pulled it down a second time yet (the left lever started in the down position).  But that gives us the level of certainty that we need: that all the prisoners have been in Cell Zero at least once.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Day Without an X

Not Breaking the Chain

Previously, in my blog post Homebrew Daily, I referred to the habit building technique that requires you to keep track of each day that you devote to building the habit.  This can be done by marking an X on the calendar, thereby building a chain of days which you psychologically do not want to break.  It is a great method.

Not stated in that blog post, but something I started on that same day, was learning Norwegian on Duolingo.  According to Duolingo, I'm on a 66 day streak today.  

However, I started this 67 days ago. I missed a day.  

I also missed a day of my Homebrew Daily ritual.  

The Day Without the X

On my last blog post, I wrote about choosing your suffering.  I wrote about how I chose to suffer through a 100 mile bike ride one Saturday.  What I didn't write about, was that on that same day, I couldn't mark an X on the calendar. I missed studying Norwegian. I missed learning anything about homebrewing. 

Somewhere between 20 and 30 miles into the bike ride, my phone died. Even using it in airplane mode, my phone went to the dark side.  Little did I know, it would be for good.  

Upon finishing the bike ride over an hour later than I thought I would (I took a wrong turn at one point that took me 5 miles out of my way), I was not going to make the 6 pm dinner that Erin and I had planned with friends Ed and Mary in Lawrence.  

I was able to shower at the facility where we started the ride, and get on my way.  However, my phone would not charge. Not only could I not contact Erin to let her know I was OK, but I couldn't ask for directions to Ed and Mary's place. Although I had been there twice, and could have probably got myself in the general vicinity, I didn't know exactly where it was. 

Using someone's phone at the first gas station I pulled into in Lawrence, I let them know everything was fine and got directions. 

There was much fun and wine drinking at the dinner party.  Eventually, it was determined that we should stay the night instead of driving back to Topeka.  

Up until that point, I had a plan of working from my iPad or desktop computer as soon as I had arrived back home to complete my daily habit ritual. I began thinking of alternatives. Maybe I could ask to borrow their computer for a little while?  

Or maybe I shouldn't worry about it.  Maybe I've built a great habit, and am going to stick with it, and don't need another X in a calendar day to do that. Maybe I should enjoy the moment that has been dealt to me.  

Perhaps we should allow ourselves a "Weekend Amulet" that can be used to put a temporary freeze on your streak of days.  You remember those days when you did a little extra work building your habit?  Maybe you were earning yourself "lingots" that can be used to purchase "Streak Freeze Amulets" for when they are needed.  

It is important to completely own a great new habit that you have built.  But it is probably just as important for that habit not to own you.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Choose Your Suffering

A pretty view during a recent bike ride around Shawnee Lake

A Subtle Art

In Mark Manson's book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, he presents a counter intuitive approach of looking at life.  For some it may work.  It worked for me last weekend. Here is how it works.

We all suffer on some level. In fact, life can be alternatively viewed as just a long time of unavoidable suffering.  With each decision you make, you choose some level of suffering. 

Earlier last week, I was informed of the Buffalo Bill Century Ride in Leavenworth, KS.  The ride had 25, 60, and 100 mile road options, along with a 50 mile gravel ride. The 60 and 100 mile rides grabbed my interest.  

When the weekend came, I was under no obligation to choose to get up at 5:45am to get ready and travel to Leavenworth to begin riding 60 or 100 miles at 8:00am.  I could have chosen a lesser form of suffering.  Sitting on the couch, reading, studying, or maybe watching some TV could have been my choices.  I only would have suffered my own feeling of guilt for not having taken advantage of such an adventure. 

I chose a higher level of suffering, because that was easier in my mind. I would suffer the open roads of eastern Kansas.  

Along the route, there was a fork in the road. To choose right would mean only 60 miles, and to be done with the ride in a more reasonable time frame. To choose left would mean a commitment to 100 miles, and more suffering.  I chose left.  

The pains that one goes through in a 100 mile ride are really not all that bad when compared to other forms of discomfort. I'll take the swollen underside over a guilty conscience. I will take the sore quads and aching back over the simple discomfort of more decisions that would need to be made in a normal day (like, what beer I should have next? Or, should I leisure read longer or take a break and do some push-ups? Perhaps I should go to the library and rent some movies.) 

For me, framing it in terms of suffering helped me get out there and on my bicycle.  I like to have a full calendar, and to schedule each moment of my day.  This requires a lot of decisions, and as such, a small amount of suffering. I didn't want that suffering.  I wanted the decision free kind of suffering of an increasingly stiffening neck and shoulders as the day wore on.

The next time you need to make a decision on doing something difficult, you might give this method of framing your decision in terms of suffering a try. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pushing a 2 Ton Baby Giant on a Swing

You can't push all at once. Use the momentum of the swing, silly!

Imagine a 2 ton baby giant on a swing, and it is crying at you to push her.  You feel obliged since it could possibly crush you with a swat of her arm.

Although difficult, when your hard pushes are timed just right, the giant will begin to swing higher and higher. However, it takes quite a mighty push, and it takes a mighty push at a specific time during the swing. Specifically, on the apex of its back swing. 

Learning Something New and Very Difficult

When you are first learning something that is really hard to grasp, it will take a lot of your time. In fact, it better take some of your time every day. Otherwise, you will lose what you've gained. 

Say you want to pass a class with an A. That is equivalent to getting the baby giant up to some high level on her swing. Trying to cram everything in the night before the test is like pushing the baby giant to that level with one push.  It isn't going to happen.  

If we think as each swing forward and back as a day, then we can reach that A level with a timely push every day. Skipping a push, and the giant will quickly lose its momentum and it will take an extra day to get back on track.  

A quick review of notes is the equivalent of giving a simple maintenance push, that will keep the giant at her same level. Anything extra, and you can gain a little more toward your goal. 

This idea came to me while listening to a similar analogy in Mind Hacking by Sir John Hargrave on my way back and forth to work. I hope it provides an avenue for you to hack your own mind, and perhaps conquer that difficult challenge that looms in front of you. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


As an avid reader, I often ask myself what is the purpose of reading so much if I'm not going to apply what I read.  For example, the book Give and Take by Adam Grant outlines the benefits of giving to others. Here are a few ways in which you can give:

  • Nominate someone for an award.
  • Download all the birthdays of friends into your phone and set reminders to send physical birthday cards.  
  • When traveling, send postcards to friends and family.
  • Volunteer for duties that need done.  
  • Follow through with friendly inquiries.  
When books are read that are not in a personal improvement category, look for parts that you can write about and share with others. This is how one can "apply" that knowledge. 

Books of fiction are for entertainment. You can "apply" these books by smiling, laughing, or simply being amazed.  Then one can tell of their experience to others. If this application isn't possible, then the book should probably not be finished.  

Application may not be that important to you. There are a few camps of mathematicians: those that enjoy the pureness of mathematics, and those that don't see the point unless it can be applied.  Even the purest of mathematics will have an application someday in the distant future.  It is good to keep that in mind when you're reading, even if you're enjoying it for enjoyment's sake. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Drama is Resistance

Erin and I about to enjoy solar eclipse totality in Highland. We are shooting this picture blind, as many of you know.

The Email

One of the forms of The Resistance, as defined by Steven Pressfield in his amazing book, The War of Art, is drama. Our species is so addicted to it that we can become a prisoner of our own self inflicted version of it.

Let me give you an example. 

A student emails me about what I'm going to do about class for the solar eclipse, which is on the first day of class, a Monday. 

The class to which he is referring is a Tuesday, Thursday class.  I slap my forehead.  Literally. 

Now, prior Jason would have been so beyond disturbed about the stupidity of this. Prior Jason would have written an email that would be littered with hidden sarcasm. He would have spent perhaps 30 minutes to an hour trying to wrap his mind around how someone could bring themselves to make such an error. 

Eventually, any email that was created would be edited down to this: 

Dear Student,
Our class meets on Tuesday and Thursday, so you don't have to worry. 
-Dr. Shaw

That's it.  That's the email.

Yet I would spend more than a half hour of my time stewing about it. I would be angry about the fact that I couldn't, as a professional, send the more snarky email.  Even getting back to work, I may have to take a break and visit a colleague's office just to tell them the story about it (now wasting TWO people's time). 

However, I am not prior Jason. This time around, I literally did slap my forehead. However, I followed that up by closing my eyes, taking a few deep breaths while thinking to myself how much time I could waste with this individual if I let The Resistance take its course.  I pulled the solar glasses over my eyes, so to speak, and shut all of that other stuff out.

After a few deep breaths, the above email is produced and I move on, because I've got stuff to do (don't we all).  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Google ABC's

"Everybody lies." - Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

New Way of Getting Data

Polling people doesn't reveal what's true anymore. We all found that out when Trump became our president. The reason behind this is explained very well in the new book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.  

There are many points made in the book (so far, I'm not yet half way) that are not surprising, but a few that are.  For example, one of the depressing but not surprising realities that surface from Google searches are that

  • "Parents are two and a half times as likely to ask "Is my son gifted?" than "Is my daughter gifted?"" (Reality: Girls are 9 percent more likely to be in gifted programs than boys in school). 
  • "Parents Google "Is my daughter overweight?" roughly twice as frequently as they Google "Is my son overweight?"" (Reality: 28% of girls and 35% of boys are overweight).
  • "Areas that supported Trump in the largest numbers were those that made the most Google searches for "nigger.""

There were a few surprising findings in this enlightening book.  Here is one example.  Select two people at random from any given news site, whether that be Fox News or ThinkProgress.  What would you think the probability would be that the two have different political views?  

My idea of the internet led me to think that it is segregated in the sense that conservatives tend to mainly view conservative sites while liberals view more liberal sites. This led to a guess that would be closer to 0% (a perfectly desegregated site would give close to 50%).  

The result: 45.2%.  


My ABCs of Google Searches

This idea of Google searching providing an avenue of who we really are gave me the idea of finding out who I really was by looking at my Google search history. Simply by typing each letter individually into Google, Google will fill in "suggestions" for you based on what you have searched for in the past.  

Here is a glimpse of my Google ABCs: 

a. amazon music
b. beersmith podcasts
c. cyanide and happiness
d. duolingo norwegian
e. eagle statue washburn campus
f. fractional reserve system
g. great taste of the midwest
h. homebrewing podcasts
i. international monetary fund
j. jse data sets and stories
k. kansas v. board of education
l. loop de loop decorah
m. mirepoix pronounce 
n. nonparametric statistical methods
o. ordering prints online
p. public service announcement vertical videos
q. quantasia sharpton
r. rgb for washburn university
s. sagbraw
t. top paying statistics jobs
u. us news and world report statistician
v. videos not coming up on gopro mtp client disk volume
w. wings of freedom washburn
x. xkcd
y. yo
z. zillow

This speaks very highly about how big of a dork I am.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Homebrew Daily

The beginning of Not Breaking the Chain

As I read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, I eventually found myself wondering where I was giving into the Resistance. It takes his entire Book One (pages 5-57) to define the Resistance. Generally speaking, it is anything and everything that keeps you from harnessing your creative side.

My Creative Side

Along with the occasional blog post (writing), I think my creative expression is most prominent in my home brewing.  I like to make really good beer, and I've always wanted to gain the knowledge it takes to create my own recipes.  It does not take much to create a recipe.  Make sure some malts, hops, yeast, and water are included and you have a recipe. 

That is not what I'm talking about, though. I want to create recipes that make outstanding beer. I want to become a better brewer. 

However, I've been fighting the Resistance without even realizing it. It was telling me things like
  • "There's plenty of craft beers out there to choose from. There really is no need to brew your own beer."
  • "It takes several hours to brew a batch, and you don't have that kind of time."
  • "You're probably never going to make a pilsner-lager, so there is no need to read that email from Brad Smith."
So I made a game plan on how to fight this Resistance. A while ago, I commented on Jonathan Vieker's wonderful blog post, The Secret to Doing Hard Things Daily.  In that comment, I vowed to "use this method of not breaking the chain to achieve the next big goal, whatever that may be."  

The chain to which I was referring is the streak of days in which you have devoted to building the habit or skill you want to build. Once a solid streak is in place, you don't want to break that chain. 

The reason it works is as Jonathan says,
It substitutes a highly specific, immediate goal (avoid the psychological pain of seeing the chain broken) for a vague, long-term goal (develop a new skill or habit). 

How I'm Going to Do It

Obviously, I cannot brew every day.  I do not have the time, money, or the desire to do such a thing. The good thing is, that you don't have to brew every day to get better at brewing.  There is plenty of literature out there about brewing, and there is always something that needs cleaned, measured, or manipulated in the brewing process.  

My plan is to devote some block of time to the following every day.
  • Brewing better beer
  • Pre- and post-brewing related activities (yeast starters, dry hopping, racking, cleaning, etc.)
  • Learning about brewing (reading literature or newsletters, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, etc.)
  • Writing about brewing
Last night, I began reading the book For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus. Today, I have a keg and tap to clean since I just cashed my Mosaic IPA.  There are home brewing podcasts that I can download for when I'm traveling or walking back and forth to work. I have 54 emails in a folder labeled "Home Brewing" from Brad Smith (his Beer Smith Home Brewing Newsletter).  

In other words, there are things I can choose to do that will take 5 minutes, and some that will take 5 hours.  Whatever I choose, I'm not going to break the chain. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Self Motivating Speech

The Finish of Ragbrai XLV

Somewhere on Day 5 or 6, I remember thinking of my self motivational speech and letting Juan in on a little of it. It goes a little something like this.

The Setup

You are in the middle of doing something very grueling, challenging, and taxing on your body. If that isn't bad enough, there are other elements that can get in the way such as Mother Nature to name one. 

The truth of the matter is that it wouldn't be that big a deal to quit.  Why go through with the rest of this?  Maybe you've accomplished something like this before.  Maybe you've had your fun, and now it is just too much work.  

Those voices in your head are the Resistance.  For more on the Resistance, read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, or Seth Godin's Linchpin.

The Decision

You've all but succumbed to the Resistance, and have decided to quit.  Really... it is no big deal. 

The Ultimate Decision

Now that you've made a decision, you can now make the ultimate one: to continue.

But why? 

Because having made the decision to quit, accomplishing the goal will mean so much more.  When you finish, you will break out in goose flesh and tears will come to your eyes. The Final Countdown may be playing in your head. 

Training yourself to overcome the Resistance is difficult, but defeating the Resistance after it already won is quite a feat.  

It is the best feeling ever.

Ragbrai XLV

Juan and I would never had let each other decide to quit, but the Resistance was there. It was in our individual heads.  We were tired.  Our legs were sore.  

Together, we conquered, and it was a proud and beautiful moment. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ragbrai Over the Years

The Big Question, and the Great Answer!

Next week, I will begin what will hope to be my seventh full Ragbrai experience. Before I hit the road, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the fun times we've had over the years.


Our first Ragbrai in 2009 went from Council Bluffs to Burlington, IA with overnight stops in Indianola and Ottumwa. At a distance of 442 miles and a total of 22,806 feet of climb, it was the hilliest Ragbrai that we've ever experienced.  Our second and third day ever of having ridden Ragbrai had us climb 5096 feet and then 4470 feet. The hilliest and third hilliest days of Ragbrai we have ever done.

It was the year Erin and I became engaged, as I put together a big engagement party at my mother's place it Ottumwa. See the opening picture.

It is hard to describe now the awe that I felt on the first morning as we took off from Council Bluffs. We had just taken down a soaking wet camp (from dew) and there was a pretty thick fog.  I was mesmerized by the number of bicycles all around me.

The fog hasn't quite lifted

Mike and Cara Corey, and Cara's dad Ron on our way to Ottumwa (to surprise Erin)

Newly engaged, we celebrate with Cory and Jake in Ottumwa

It was just Erin, myself and Dad that rode the whole distance in 2009.


Our second Ragbrai ride was the the second longest clocking in at 451 miles total (the patch says 442, which is inaccurate).  This was the year I kept a journal. On Friday evening before we got on our charter with Lake Country Cyclists, a tornado went right by dad's place in Indianola. He witnessed it coming directly at his house, but it turned and they missed the damage. Having missed his house, he was able to still go on Ragbrai.

Missouri Dip in Sioux City, IA

Lonnie joined our small crew for the 2nd year. Erin and I thought it would be fun to wear the same shirts the entire week. Here you see us wearing the Novinger Coal Miner Days 5K shirt. We were big into races back then.

In Storm Lake at the end of Day 1

In Algona at the end of Day 2

In Clear Lake at the end of Day 3

On the campus of Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, end of Day 5

One of the highlights of the week for me was swinging from this amazing rope swing. Not too long after I had left, someone went off nude and they had to shut the whole thing down. They had it roped off, were charging $5 to get in, and then you had to sign a waiver. 

The 2010 Ragbrai was also the one that contained Potter Hill. It was brutal, as only a small percentage of riders could make it to the top without walking their bikes. From what I understand, walking your bike up the hill was tough enough.

I was very proud of having climbed that hill. 

We finished in Dubuque for another fantastic year. It was the year of my favorite jersey, which I still have and will wear this year.  

Lonnie almost matches.


At 450 miles, 2011 was the third longest ride I have done (although it may as well be tied for 2nd since 2010 was 451) and the second hilliest at 20197 feet of climb. The first two days were brutal, climbing 4298 from Glenwood to Atlantic, and then 4719 from Atlantic to Carroll.  These two days were the 2nd and 4th hilliest days of Ragbrai that I have ever done.

Erin took a break from Ragbrai in 2011, and would continue the streak until her return in 2014, as she was putting a lot of focus on her dissertation.

Jason, Ralph, Lonnie, Chuck, Don, Larry, Bitz

Prior to Ragbrai 2011, I created several ideas for a video that I would create. This script was more detailed than my entire journal of Ragbrai itself. The videos I took were only during the first two days. Apparently, I gave up on the idea.

So, instead of any decent photos, I have a bunch of crummy videos that could not be used for anything.

One of only four photos taken during 2011. 


Setting off on the 2012 Ragbrai together: Jason, Mike, Lonnie, Ralph, Chuck, Don, Bitz, Larry (not pictured: John)

There were nine of us that started the longest (at 471 miles) and hottest of all of my Ragbrai rides, and only four of us that finished. The heat took out three, and a storm in Marshalltown the last two. It was myself, Don, Larry, and John that made it the whole way. Turns out Don and Larry are the oldest of this crew, too. They are rock stars. 

Opposite of 2011, I captured both videos and pictures and had a much better plan in place of creating a big video.  I also journaled a lot more and wrote down some very good advice for my future self: 
  • Do not bring reading material. You will not read it.
  • Do not bring MP3 player & headphones. You will not listen to music during the week unless it is on stage. 
  • Get pedals and shoes that are more Ragbrai friendly (which I have sense done). 
  • Pack a laundry bag. 
  • Pack things in watertight bags.
  • Sweats and hoodie for air conditioned places and cooler evenings. 
  • A small bit of laundry detergent for hand washing clothes. 
  • You do not need a tripod or selfie stick. There are several thousand people all around you willing to take your picture.
  • Do not use a front bike bag. You do not use it. Get a mount for your phone. (Front bag is gone now, and a mount for my phone is in place!)
  • Do not pay for tent service. Putting your tent up is not that big a deal. This saves money and gives you more freedom to pick a spot. 
  • Bring clothes pins, hammer, Swiss Army knife, and zip ties. (I forgot clothes pins on B.A.K. but not on Ragbrai this year!)
  • Look into creating a team or joining a team. I like The Motivators. This team should consist of individuals who can coach & encourage others having difficulty while conquering hills/weather/fatigue etc. 

I had forgotten about the last piece of advice. The idea came from encouraging people up hills and coming up with a speech in hindsight that I could have delivered to my dad and Lonnie on the fifth day after a storm took down their tent and soaked all their stuff. It would have motivated them to keep going. Someday, I will bring this idea to fruition. 

Here was the highly unedited and way too long video I put together of 2012.  I've learned my lesson on keeping videos like these under 5 minutes, and preferably, under 3. 

My 20th blog post ever happened to be about Ragbrai 2012! I'm not sure why I didn't post any pictures.


"Rabrai is over and it was the best ever. I suppose I only have four others for reference, but it was pretty awesome. I'm sitting here relaxing and listening to Radiohead when I should be blogging about this instead."  - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 Journal Entry

Dad, a fellow Lake Country Cyclist, Lonnie

Ragbrai 2013 was unique to the previous years, as my core group shrunk down to just Dad, Lonnie, and me riding with Lake Country Cyclists. Don and Larry were still on the ride, but they were with a different outfit. My friend Jonathan and his sister Becca were biking it, too, with my friend Sarah (Jonathan's wife) as their driver.

My Karras Loop patch with John Karras himself. 

Here I am with some goats. Because why not? It's Ragbrail

When I look through the pictures of Ragbrai 2013, I took a LOT of selfies. Many of them included a picture of me in front of each pass-through-town's sign. I'm not sure why I thought that would be a good idea. We all live and learn.

Outlaw, Chops, Scrappy, and Stilts

Don and Larry!

Ragbrai went through Des Moines in 2013. I hung out at the craft beer tent in downtown Des Moines for hours with friends Cory and Simpson. Although they had ridden that day, I couldn't wait long enough in any of the towns for them. They simply could not catch up.

I had an extremely brief paragraph and four other pictures of Ragbrai 2013 in my blog post, My Busy Summer.   One of those pictures includes Cory.

Simpson and I riding together from Des Moines to Knoxville

Here we are in Fairfield after some Indian Food.

I recall walking up to the square in Fairfield, IA and almost passing out from low blood sugar. I began sweating profusely, and went into a gas station really quick to down some sugar in the form of soda and cookies (I think). It gave Jonathan, Sarah, and Becca a little scare, but it soon passed. 

By the time we got done with the Indian Food Buffet downtown, we had forgotten about it. Not really. 

A fifth Ragbrai conquered. 


Chops and I with chops

I was able to blog about Ragbrai 2012 much more extensively!  However, there are definitely elements missing from that blog. Take these videos of Jonathan for example, where he plays Taps at three different campgrounds. Try and follow me here... Chops with chops showing off his chops.

Jason and Erin on Ragbrai again!

My fifth century ride on Ragbrai (I skipped it in 2009). 

Wonder what I was doing in there? 

Chops being a good guy and riding with me on the day after my concussion.

We're close enough to done for a finish photo. What's the matter, Chops? Bike a bit heavy?
Dennis, our driver, made Ragbrai 2016 the actual best Ragbrai I have experienced. It will be hard to top this. 


Left to Right: Jason, Ted, Erin, Alyce, Dale, Cory, Sharon, Mike, Dave, Jonathan, Juan

Our move to Topeka hindered us from doing Ragbrai 2015.  Even for Ragbrai 2016, we did not fully commit, but only went for the Thursday and Friday rides of the week.  

Cory, Simpson, and Juan rode Wednesday from Leon to Centerville and camped there for the evening. Mom took Ted, Jonathan, Erin, and me over to Centerville to join them Thursday morning. While Jonathan, Ted, and Erin beat us all to Ottumwa, I rode with Cory, Simpson, and Juan almost the entire day. 

Here we are on the ride from Centerville to Ottumwa. Bloodys!!!!

Before Erin took off for Ottumwa ahead of us, we all had some Turkey Toms to pass around.

As Mike pays attention to whatever is being said, Cory is distracted from the inflammation in his taint. 

Two miles from home, we're all taking a necessary break at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent

Around the corner from the Iowa Craft Beer Tent, I threw my shoulder out of socket on a slip in side. This had just happened during my first softball game in two years just two weeks prior. I tried to coach people to get it back into place, but to no avail. Instead, I instructed someone to go up to the roadside and ask for a doctor. 

Within 10 seconds a doctor pulled down the driveway exclaiming, "I'm a doctor. BUT. I'm a drunk doctor."  

Once we explained that it was just a shoulder out of place, he said that wouldn't be a problem. A few instructions later, it was back into place. The crowd that had accumulated cheered. Someone else has the picture of the doctor and me. 

I was very skeptical of my ability to ride with Erin, Ted, and Jonathan the next day (Friday) from Ottumwa to Washington.  Ultimately, I decided to ride the first few miles and turn around if my shoulder hurt too much. Turns out, the shoulder felt better by leaning on handlebars. And to think, I was really close to calling it quits. 

It was tough, but Chops and Outlaw were Day 6 Champions. The sign was just for us. 

Always stop for the Iowa Craft Beer Tent!

Ted is well rested here. He had a long nap waiting for our arrival. 

I convinced these guys to go much slower and enjoy the ride on Friday. That we did. When we arrived in Washington behind Erin at the Hy-Vee, we purchased a 4-pack of Tallgrass Top Rope IPA and drank them in the parking lot while we waited for Mom to come get us from Ottumwa. She was such a big help. 


So... Ragbrai is next week. This year, Juan and I will be the only ones riding the whole week. Erin, Cory, and Mindy will be joining us Thursday and Friday so they can experience Decorah. Mom is planning on taking their camper up to Decorah on Sunday and staying the entire week. 

I'll report back on how it goes. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

PAC it Northwest: Part III

Looking down at our campsite while hiking along the Red Beds Trail. The Tower is behind us.

Days 9 and 10: On the road to Devils Tower

We said goodbye to Joe and Sara Jo on the morning of Day 9 after breakfast at Heydey, which was a walk to the top of the hill from their house in Seattle.  Our destination that evening was the KOA campground in Missoula, the same one we camped at on our trip out. 

First stop was in Ellensburg, WA to visit Jason White and to eat lunch at Iron Horse Brewery

Break from the road at Wild Horse Monument looking down at the Columbia River/Wanapum Lake

Completing our Idaho experience at the Crafted Tap House + Kitchen in Coeur d'Alene

I convinced Erin that I can't really say I have visited a state until I have had both a coffee and a beer there.  We had already had coffee in Idaho Falls, ID on the drive out, but we had yet to have a beer. So, we stopped for an early dinner and some beer at the Crafted Tap House + Kitchen in beautiful Coeur d'Alene where the Ironman was about to take place the next day.

By doing so, we had to forfeit any more fun time in Missoula. 

We had a quick breakfast at the KOA campground before our long drive to Devils Tower the next day. There were two major stops. The first was for lunch at Bridger Brewery in Bozeman, MT.

Oooooh! Rooftop seating? Count us in!

You may have to click on this picture to get the full size so you can best enjoy the mountains in the background.

The second major stop was in Sheridan, WY at the Wyoming Rib and Chop House. I ordered and ate the best pork chop I've ever had.

The best pork chop I have ever eaten.

With the long stops, we knew we would be arriving at Devils Tower in the dark to set up camp. Indeed, the KOA office was already closed, but an envelope with my name on it was hanging outside with all the information we needed.

Dusk photo of the moon and Devils Tower

As we set up camp, other campers were watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the outdoor theater. They play the movie there every night since it is the campground where it was filmed. 

Day 11: The Tower

I awoke before sunrise and enjoyed some pretty views and a cup of coffee before Erin got up. After experiencing Devils Tower, I believe we did everything right and couldn't have asked for a better time. Here are some of the things we both did and recommend: 
  • Stay at the KOA campground where Close Encounters was filmed.
  • Get up at the crack of dawn to begin hiking, and hike from the campground along the road. You will walk past the entry station where people in vehicles will pay a fee to enter the park.
  • Just a little ways beyond the bridge, turn right onto the first trail you come upon. This will take you up to the Red Beds Trail loop. 
  • Hike the Red Beds Trail in a clockwise fashion until you reach the Visitor Center up at the top. You will see a LOT of deer. 
  • Now switch to the Tower Loop and hike that in any direction you would like. You will see plenty more deer and several breathtaking views of the tower and the land beyond. 
  • Get back on the Red Beds Trail and continue in a clockwise fashion. The deer will start to disappear since it is getting to those peak hours of foot and vehicle traffic. 
  • Return to the campground and be sure and wave at all the cars that are lining up and waiting at the gate, which you so intelligently bypassed. 
  • Get into your car that was parked at the campground (because you camped there or because you parked their strategically) and travel home.
Devils Tower gave us plenty of opportunity for pictures. Please enjoy the several pictures and captions that follow. 

Sunrise at the KOA campground. Our new Base Camp 6 and the rental car we drove over 4000 miles.

The sun is so high for it being so early!!

There are so many different perspectives of this behemoth. 

The steep decline from the trail away from the tower.

Just off the Red Beds Trail, and now on the Tower Loop

Coming down the back side along the Red Beds Trail. 
In the shade of the Tower not to much after Sunrise.

We had breakfast after our hike, and I sent out several postcards from this place. It was magical.

Then began our 11-12 hour ride home. Although it was sometime past 1:00 AM when we finally got home, we were very much ready to be there. The beds and air conditioning were appreciated on a much higher level.