Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The 41st Cottonwood 200

Cottonwood 200 Riders conquering one of the Flint Hills on Day 1

What's Happening 

Erin and I just finished the Cottonwood 200. It was tough and rewarding. Fighting through the aches and pains, we were able to observe the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas. We'll be heading up to the Des Moines area on Friday to run in the 38th Dam to Dam: Iowa's Distance Classic.  Since I'm going to stay a little longer and hang out with Dad, we'll be driving separately.

On Friday of the following week, I'll be getting on a charter bus that will take me to Tribune, KS.  That is where I will begin the Bike Across Kansas.

Number of the Day: 17

This is how old Stephanie Mui is as she graduates with a master's degree in mathematics from George Mason University. She isn't even done with high school yet!

Just Do Without

This has become a mantra of mine in the last several weeks. During the packing for Cottonwood 200, Erin would sometimes ask me why I wasn't bringing something or another. "I'll just do without," was how I responded.  

Granted, there are several pleasantries that I indulge myself into bringing along. For simplicity's sake, I also rough it a little and "do without" several things on these kind of trips. When you are well traveled, you can easily simplify packing by asking yourself a few questions that measure the reward of different items. 
  • How large is the benefit from bringing such an item or items?
  • How big a hassle is it to bring such an item or items?
When the first heavily outweighs the second (basic toiletries such as toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) we obviously bring those items.  When space is limited, the second can heavily outweigh the first on several items (an extra pair of shoes, that other book you are also reading that is 5 inches thick, the extra shirt, etc.).  

As a seasoned traveler, I place a high level of enjoyment from traveling as light as a I can. More stuff means more hassle. If we can't walk a mile carrying everything we're traveling with comfortably, then it is time to go back to the original two questions. 

Cottonwood 200

There was thunder, lightning, and heavy rain when we woke on Day 1. I rode over and loaded the truck in the rain wondering if/when we would begin this ride. Since the ride started at the Washburn campus, we lounged around at our house and waited for the storm to pass before biking over.

The Topeka Police escorted the 160 riders out of Topeka stopping traffic at several of the intersections and leap frogging their way to the south side.

Erin fought through some horrible pains in her knee (the ibuprofen at the SAG 1 really helped), and made it through the entire first day. We biked through some rain and winds, and a few threatening clouds. 

Looking out at the Flint Hills at SAG 3

Between SAG 3 and SAG 4 on Day 1.
We set up camp under the shade of a Sycamore tree on the grounds of Council Grove High School. Our tent was a huge dome in a sea of tinier tents. They of course made fun of our vast accommodations. They sounded very envious, so we just ignored them.

Our new Base Camp 6 tent (which replaced our old Base Camp 4 tent)
 On Day 2, we biked about 20 miles south to Cottonwood Falls along one of the Flint Hills Scenic Byways. Here were some photos of the Flint Hills, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and of Cottonwood Falls. 

With a magnifying glass, you may be able to pick out the bike riders disappearing in the horizon.

The Ranch House on the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch

Lower Fox Creek School ran from 1884 to 1930

Hiking along Southwind Nature Trail at the Second Overlook

In Cottonwood Falls, KS
The Keller Feed & Wine Co. opened from 11-1 for Cottonwood 200 riders only. We flooded the place, ate lunch, drank some beers and bloody Mary's and then rode the same route back to Council Grove. The route back was into the wind however, so it was much slower. The good news was that our campsite was already up in Council Grove.  

We packed up camp on Day 3 to head back to Topeka. After some breakfast with some new Wichita friends, Lauren and Neal, we started toward Topeka. It was again a long day with four SAG stops. Since Erin and I were simply biking home, we offered up our house for some showers and a quick rest before they had the long drive back home to Wichita.  Sadly, we didn't get any good pictures all together. 

Left: Erin at SAG 4, Lauren in Pink Helmet. Right Bottom: Figures on hilltops are common in the Flint Hills. Right Top: A unsuccessful selfie which was supposed to capture Neal and Lauren riding behind. 

It was a great way to spend Memorial Day weekend. This will probably not be our last Cottonwood 200. I'm sure we will return again. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hickory Nut Falls

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

What's Happening

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

Number of the Day: 98

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

The Cabin

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

Dennis captured this wonderful panoramic picture of the dinner table

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

Chimney Rock State Park

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

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

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

A selection of ciders and mead makes Pleepleus happy.

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

The Trip Home

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Erin enjoying a margarita flight

What's Happening?

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Number of the Day - 44

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

March for Science

Neophilia versus Neophobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

I failed to get to a candidate breakfast on time. 

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

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