Monday, June 16, 2014

Get All the Things Done

I'm leaving for vacation on Wednesday early in the morning, so I'm trying to get stuff done.  I'm excited about seeing some friends (for a day, and maybe a lunch), but otherwise, not really excited about this trip.  My Mom and I are going on a tour run by a company that targets retired folks, and it looks like a full day of lecture is on the plan, one day of doing what my Mom really wanted to do, and then a mix of lecture and stuff that would be better done independently.  But I stupidly said yes.

I weeded the front yard this morning and did some dead-heading of the irises.  And while I was at it, I breathed in a gnat or something, and started coughing something awful.  Ugh.

I've done some of the housecleaning, but need to finish that.

And then there's this school project.  When I signed on, the folks running it said basically you can work at your own pace in June, and it will take about 40 hours.  But then when we did the prep, it turned out we could work at our own pace for half, and then turn in that half by the 13th, and then within a few days, we'd get the second half and needed to be done with that by the 27th.  So, I'm guessing they're going to send out the second half, and I'll work like a madwoman on that tomorrow, and then finish when I get back.  (I asked during the prep period, when I first learned about the two work periods, but the person sort of blew me off.  Oh well.  She's agreed that I can finish when I get back, even though that will be after everyone else.  And I turned in my first section in less than a week, but it was really time consuming and hard.)

So today, the list goes on.  I need to pay bills, arrange this and that.  Do wash.  Pack.

Yesterday, I rerigged the bungee cord stuff on my kayak and put on new handles and a new set of paddle keepers, so it's looking inviting.  I may go for a paddle this afternoon just because.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ten Thousand Miles

That's my bike's odometer on the bike computer.  Way back in June of 2007, I wrote about getting the bike.  So in just over 7 years, I've ridden 10,000 miles.

Yes, real riders ride that in a season.  Still, those have been ten thousand mostly really good miles.

Today, for example. 

There's a biggish bike race in the area, with both men's and women's pro races, so I left my house early and drove a while.  I wasn't sure how timing would go, but I wanted to be at the first sprint point before the men's race went through.   The sprint point is about 20 miles from the start, and the men started at noon, and the women at 1:30, so figuring 30 miles an hour, I wanted to be at the sprint point by 12:40.  Of course, as I was planning this, I was thinking of the Dauphine, Tour, Giro, Vuelta, etc.  Big crowds, lots of screaming.

I'd scoped out some maps, and figured out that about 15 miles from the sprint point town is a town that's an endpoint of a bike trail, one of those rails to trails things.  So my plan was, if I got to the area early, I'd stop there and go for a ride, figuring the time ahead, and then go to the town with the sprint point.  And then between the men's and women's races going through the sprint point, I could also take a short ride if I wanted.  And that's how it worked out.

I stopped at the trailhead, and figured if I rode for 40 minutes (thinking 20 out, 20 back), then I could hop in the car, drive to the town with the sprint point in time to park, find my way, and so on.  I only rode just over 9 miles there, but it was beautiful, not windy, and quiet, and relaxing, with flowers, birds, and me riding along.  The day was slightly overcast, and just a perfect temperature for riding.

Along the way, I passed by a guy sitting on the ground next to a TT bike, a beautiful Felt.  Naturally, I slowed to check to make sure he was okay, and he said he was, just had two flats and was waiting for his friend to pick him up with a car.  He said the path got really bad ahead, and he'd had two flats.

I turned around maybe five minutes later (at the end of my 20 minutes out), and saw him again and checked to make sure he was okay.  I told him my plans to go see the race, and commiserated on the flats, and asked him what tires he was using (because I carry a 25mm tube, and would have shared, but I don't know if it would work on 23 or 27 mm tires).  But he said he didn't know, just whatever the bike came with; he'd just been set up on it.

What a bummer is that?  Brand new bike and two flats on what has to be a pretty early ride?  BUMMER!

But also, isn't it weird that someone who does triathlons (he said so, when I told him I thought his bike was beautiful, which it is) doesn't know what sort of tires they're rolling?  (I'm not nearly as geeky as to own a TT bike, and I know I'm riding 25mm Gatorskins.)

But anyway, he was hanging out waiting, and not hurt or anything, so I went on my way.

I got to the small town where the sprint point was. 

Luckily, there was someone in a yellow vest, looking vaguely official, so I asked and he just waved at the street and said to park wherever, just out of the traffic lanes.  So I did, just a bit past where he was (near a bar and grill, and near an open tent with stuffs happening).  As I drove past, I saw a sign marked "Sprint 200 m," so I drove 200 meters, and there was a little sign saying "sprint" and a little line across the road. 

I parked and walked back to the bar, bought a diet coke, used the restroom, and went back out to talk to the yellow vest guy, who said that he expected the men's race to come through in 15 minutes or so.  (I was earlier than I'd expected, since it didn't take long to get from the trailhead to the town.)

So I went and waited on some steps leading to a wedding chapel right in front of the sprint point and relaxed with my coke.  After a while, a car drove up, parked off the road, and two judges (with official looking judges' shirts on) and another yellow vest guy got out, and the yellow vest guy put out two traffic cones on either side of the road at the sprint point.  And then we all waited.

And after a few minutes, the official cars came through, and then ZOOM, the race went buy, all nearly in a bunch, with a little stringing out in front so that one guy won the sprint fairly obviously.  And then the rest of the cars went by, with a couple of straggling bikers.

I cheered for all of them, from the first to the last, though I felt silly because it was only me, and the two judges, and the yellow vest guy, and they weren't cheering.

The excitement ended at 12:50 or so, which meant the men had taken 50 minutes to ride the 20 miles, and they were all bunched.  The women's race was due to start at 1:30, and then I figured it would take them a bit longer, but at least 50 minutes to get to the sprint point, so I had an hour and a half to do what I wanted.  And what I wanted was to bike some more.

So I got on my bike and headed out riding the race route backwards.  I had 7 miles to make the 10K on my odometer, so I knew I wanted to ride at least 3 and a half miles out.  And I figured I was starting at 1, and needed to be back by about 2:20 (but if for some reason I weren't, I'd just cheer from the side of the road where I was, but so long as I was back, I'd be able to put my bike away and such).  And off I went.

And it was a slog.  There was a little hill, but then mostly flat, but my legs just felt awful.  I was riding at about 50-60 rpm (the rotation of my pedals), which is slow, even for me, and I just felt like I was riding through thick mud.  There was a headwind, and I was feeling it, but even more, it felt like just a slog.

So I rode to 1:30, and I'd gone about 4 miles, and I decided if my legs were just that bad, I'd turn around and go back, and that would be fine.  So I turned around.

And suddenly, I was seriously flying.  The headwind was now a tailwind.  So when I hit the 10K on my odometer, I was going down a very slight hill at 24 miles an hour, feeling more like a real biker, spinning at 90 rpm and grinning.  It took me maybe 10 minutes to make it back to town, maybe a little more, but the whole time, that tailwind was helping a lot.  So I went a bit beyond the sprint point, and up a little hill, past a different yellow vest guy, who cheered for me, which totally made me laugh. 

I rode back in, changed clothes in my car in the parking lot of a little park (out of the way, and not highly visible to anyone), went to the tent thing, which was a benefit to raise money for a scholarship thing for folks studying to be EMTs and such, made a donation and got a pulled pork sandwich, some baked beans, and some potato salad, and enjoyed my lunch.  I think most of the town was there, all in t-shirts to honor the young woman in whose name the benefit was being held, since she'd died several years earlier in a car accident.  (You can learn a lot in a small town if you ask politely and donate for a sandwich.)

Then I wandered back to the sprint point, and hung out until a new judge and yellow vest guy drove up, and then I cheered as a lone breakaway rider (#61) passed.  She was more than three minutes ahead (but with 50 more miles to go, that didn't seem likely to hold, or maybe?) and then the rest of the peloton came through, and I cheered for all of them. 

And then I walked back to my car, and drove home quite happy with my day.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Delights of Summer

I've named my boat, and even got a decal with the name:

We even christened it, some friends and I, by pouring water from a waterbottle over the bow.  (This is a waterbottle boat, not a champagne boat.)  (The hardest part of the naming decal was deciding on the font.)

I sent away for new bungee cord stuff, new handles (the rear handle is missing), pieces for the paddle keeper (one is broken now), and a cover for the cockpit, so if it's raining and I have to take it on top of the car, it won't fill with water.

And there are flowers!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I went to my first ever City Council meeting last night.

I wonder how many people have been to one?  I got the sense that there are a few people who go fairly regularly, especially if an issue they care about is up for discussion.  But the rest of us, I'm guessing most adults have never been.

(I live in a small city, and know through a colleague a council member.  I also, it turned out, know another council member because we used to live next to each other when I first lived in town.  How sad is it that I didn't know I knew that second council member?  And barely recognized him when I saw him sitting up, though he recognized me and came and said hello before the meeting started.)

The council is making a decision on how best to repair a fairly important road in town, and last night was the final discussion before the vote tomorrow.  I went to listen, mostly, and to be supportive of the folks who are trying to influence the decision in favor of more bike and pedestrian friendly alternatives.  The road is in horrible shape, even for our generally horrible roads (thanks, tax cutters!).

The meeting started with the city engineer explaining what their plan was, complete with overhead pictures (shown on a big screen) with detailed stuff about lines, paving plans, and so forth.  Then city council folks asked questions.  And then they opened the meeting up to anyone who wanted to speak.  The council president said at the beginning of the meeting that anyone who wanted to speak should get up when the podium is open, wait if someone else is there first, and that everyone gets 5 minutes, and then the council can ask the person questions.

And that's how it went.  Everyone was polite (it's the upper Midwest), and everyone who wanted to speak got to, so far as I could tell (the meeting lasted 2 and a half hours).

While there was some water management and such, the controversial part of the city engineer's drawings showed mostly two car lanes in each direction, with one to be marked as a shared lane with bikes, and then different solutions for a center turn lane or left turn lanes at different areas along the almost a mile stretch (it's largely businesses along that street).

The bike/pedestrian advocates were arguing for a bike lane and wider pedestrian walk instead of the second car lane on each side.  (You have to remember that when we plan for these sorts of streets, we also have to think about snow on the sidewalks from the plows.)

So it was interesting, because the road reworking is supposed to last 40 years, say (that is, it will be resurfaced more often, but not reworked in terms of the major structures), and that means everyone is trying to think about what the community will look like in 40 years, how much we'll drive, how much we'll need other alternatives, and so forth.  It's so complicated!

The bike and alternative transportation advocacy group in town (I didn't even know there was one) had written a letter before asking that the city engineer draw up an alternative showing the bike lane and increased pedestrian area, but they hadn't done that.  (There had been many meetings with neighborhood groups and such to give lots of people a chance to talk about plans and what folks in the area want to happen.)

The lack of an alternative drawing meant that most of the bike lane advocates got asked by city council members if changing the plans would mean that the city would have to put off this major repair for another year.  And, of course, they pretty much had to say that it would be hard to put off the repair, but they wanted the city to do it right, so yes, it would have to be put off.

Anyway, I'd be willing to bet that the council is going to go with the city engineer's plan, and while it won't be as bike and pedestrian friendly as it might be, it will be a significant improvement over what's there now in all sorts of ways.

I'm glad I went, and will probably try to be a little more aware of stuff happening in town, but I wouldn't want to have to go to this sort of meeting every week!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Those Work at Your Own Pace Courses?

Every so often, you see someone administrative talk or blog their ideal of on-line classes where students can work at their own speed, starting when it's convenient for them, finishing when they do, and so on.

In the administrative ideals, of course, most of the "teaching" is "done" through pre-prepared videos, readings, problem sets (where appropriate), and so forth.

Those of us who've taught or tried to teach ourselves something independently know how difficult this model is.  Most of us can teach ourselves something if we really want to, and indeed, some students do it.  Most of us also know that it's difficult to do the task at hand every day, even for half an hour or an hour, much less for the several hours that learning college level material takes most people.

What's missing in the model are teachers.  And what the model basically sets up is a lot of independent work by students and then unmentioned, usually, are teachers answering questions, helping with problems, responding to work, grading, keeping track, motivating, all the usual things. 

Except in this model, unlike in courses where students work in common, teachers will need to be responding to students working at very different paces, providing assignments and exams for each student, all individually. 

Basically, even with all the materials pre-prepared, teachers will be doing individual study with every student in the class.

I don't see that as a money saving venture, not without abusing the heck out of teachers.

And what about the student who lags seriously, who starts in January, say, and trudges through the material through the next January.  Is the same teacher being paid for the year (or longer)?  At the same rate? 

My guess is that teachers are going to be paid a rate for each student or for certain documented interactions, and either docked for students who move slowly or don't finish, or given a bonus for students who finish or finish quickly.  Maybe they'll be expected to pick up new students along the way?  Or will there be a handoff system, where everything will be so regulated that the first teacher will pass off all the students to another teacher while they take a break for two weeks, and then pick up a new group?

How will they keep track of students who drop in drop out?  You know, the student who starts the course, disappears for two months, then reappears and starts working again, asking for lots and lots of help, disappears again, reappears.

The way the model stands to make money is if students pay up front, and then drop out and don't really reappear, and teachers are paid by the documented interaction, so they don't get paid for students once they're not requiring teacher interaction.  Of course, not for profit schools aren't supposed to aim for making money, but no school I know of has money to pay for lots of individual study, so these sorts of courses will need to be "cost effective" in whatever terms the school uses.  (Mine currently cares about how many students drop from courses, how many graduate on time, and so forth.)

I've successfully done truly independent learning once in my life, though I've started any number of attempts.  The things that made the one time successful were:  a strict time limit (I had a summer to learn to read a third language to pass an exam for my PhD program); a relatively easy goal for which I was well prepared (I learned to read Italian after being reasonably fluent in Spanish; I don't think I could have learned to speak Italian that way); time (I was a graduate student during summer, not taking classes and working for money only a few hours a week); resources (I had cheap Italian children's and short story books readily and cheaply available).  If any one of those things hadn't been in place, I doubt I would have succeeded.

But the students with those qualities (especially time, preparation, and resources) aren't usually the students these courses are aimed at.  Instead, they're aimed at working students who aren't close to the university and aren't necessarily well-prepared.

And, of course, the strict time limit is exactly what these courses do away with, and one of the most important things for my own success.  (I realize that anecdote =/= data.)

What are your experiences with learning at your own pace or with these sorts of courses?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Bleacher Seats

It's that time of year, and in my auntly role (and why isn't there a parallel for "avuncular," or is there?), I went to high school graduation this year.

It wasn't too long, which was good, but it's been a long time since I went to graduation and wasn't part of the parade.

This fall, some of these young folks will be students in college.  They looked happy, scared, excited, bored, and so forth, just as you'd expect.

Listening to the three speeches, I once again came to believe that there's little new to be said at graduation speeches.  One of them was amusing, because the student speaker seemed to have a good sense of humor and was willing to be playful.  One of them was a painful analogy that didn't work.  The third was trite and cliché.

While we were waiting for it to start, I read the stuff on the walls and such.  They had banners for other schools in the area, giving their names and mascots.  One of the schools' mascot is the "Ghost."  That seems like an odd mascot to me, and my schools have often tended to have odd mascots.

Then, of course, I got started wondering why the seats are called "bleachers," and why the guy in front of me was sitting so far back, but then I realized that it was just that the seats and legging area aren't long front to back, so anyone who's 5'5" (me) was pretty much trying not to knee the person in front of be kneed by the person in back.

So, ideas about the source of "bleachers"?  (The OED gives a date of first use, but no sense of where it came from.  It seems to be a mostly USian thing.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Take a Powder?

I recently read this, and while I may have heard it before, it's not deeply familiar to me, if you know what I mean.

I get from context that it means to leave abruptly.

What I'd like to understand is what the metaphor derives from.  I find the origins of idioms absolutely fascinating, and I'm wondering about this one.  Thoughts?

(I love "shot my wad," for example, the origins of which I learned in a most embarrassing way during a grad seminar.)

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Reading for Assessment

Relying on the idea that in order to understand what's happening, I need to be part of what's happening, I signed on to do a (paid) assessment gig for NWU.

We're working on assessing one aspect of an assignment for a course that has four assignments in common between all the sections.  So, for example, if this were in intro to underwater basketweaving course, we'd look at a basket the student has produced, and assign a score for each feature, basic basket shape, regularity of weave, and size of weave.  We'd assign a score of blue for any feature that is better than our expectations (based on criteria for each feature), green for any feature that meets our expectations, yellow for any feature that shows progress towards expectations, but doesn't meet them, and red for any feature that shows no progress (they turned in a rock, for example).

In this hypothetical world, the underwater basketweaving faculty have agreed that all sections of intro to underwater basketweaving will include several common assignments, including a basket starting assignment, a patterning assignment, a basic cup-shaped basket, and a non-cup-shaped basket.  We're doing the cup-shaped basket.

The thing is, it looks like while all the sections do assign a cup shaped basket, some of them seem to require that students use at least two different weaving techniques, which makes it really hard to judge the "regularity of weave" section.  Other sections seem to all think cup shapes are tall and skinny, or more shallow bowl, so the basket shape is hard.  And still others let students use different materials, meaning that the ideal size of the weave changes a lot.

We got together in a small group and did a half day of "norming" using four basket examples.  ("Norming," for those unfamiliar with the term, means working together, in our case with rubrics, to come to a basic level of agreement about the scoring of an assignment.)  We used a rubric developed by the faculty earlier, and found some pretty basic difficulties in scoring baskets where, for example, a student had made a cup-shaped basket, and seemingly tried to incorporate several different weaving techniques.  It was an ambitious basket, but it scored way down on regularity of weave because the person wasn't using anything like a regular patterning, and the sizes were pretty all over the place.  So it got a low score.  If I'd been grading it, I would have given it a pretty good grade because it took risks and showed real learning.

One of the problems with assessment done this way is that there's no room for a "no, but" answer.  There's no room for a "no, the weaving isn't regular, but wow, there's something cool happening here."

That's not to say the rubrics are bad, because the UB faculty clearly values basic shape, regularity of weaving, and weave size (the tightness matters, I suppose).  So those are important things to make sure they're teaching.  And so that's what they're trying to measure in their assessment.

What they aren't measuring is how a given student is taking a risk, trying something different, reaching out, finding their own path.  I don't know that those things can be measured, or how, but I know they're important aspects of student learning, probably more important than the regularity of weaving or the size of the weave.