Monday, July 20, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015: Fort Dodge

Chautauqua Park in Storm Lake
I made it to Fort Dodge and the mobile networks seem to be coping with traffic so far, so I'll add more to this post. Last night in Storm Lake I awoke to rain at about 2 am. I knew it was raining because I had purposely left my rain fly half-on and it didn't take much to secure it to keep me dry. I woke up around 5:30 to the sound of other people breaking down their tents, and I (slowly) followed suit, eventually rolling out of town at 7:15. Bathrooms, bottle filling, bag loading, etc. can all take a while with so many people doing it at once.

Storm Lake
I've quickly learned that while I might not be fast to get up, I'm decently fast on my bike. With about 3000 training miles in Colorado, I can keep a pretty fast pace without getting winded. I rode the first two hours today in the rain, which finally let up around the time I got to Manson.

Brunch in Manson
Some people come to RAGBRAI for the ride, some come for the party. Most balance the two, but I'm one of those who's here for the ride. I stop now and then to fill up with water or get something to eat, but I try to get back on the road quickly. Today I got water in Fonda (my 6th/7th grade math teacher's hometown), a sandwich from the Scouts in Manson, and my first slice of rhubarb pie at this great stand in Clare, the last big stop before Ft. Dodge.

Clare was a great last stop before Ft. Dodge
I got to Ft. Dodge just before noon, just in time to snag one of the camping spots with afternoon shade. If there's any reason to ride early, ride fast, or both, it's camping in the shade. I'm just south of Fort Dodge Senior High, the school where I did my 2-month high school student teaching placement. The middle school I worked at for 2 more months is just down the street.

A beautiful day in a shady spot in Fort Dodge.
A guy I talked to after arriving said that by the looks of downtown, Fort Dodge felt like a town with it's best years behind it. Maybe hes right. To me this is a mining town, where gypsum mining operations have fed the local economy for years. Like a lot of mining towns, there's something about this place that just feels a little tougher, a little harder, even if it's not prettier.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015: Storm Lake

What a beautiful day to ride a bike! The air was cool and (relatively) dry for July in Iowa and I couldn't help but push the pace today. Some riders surely got out before 6 am, but I didn't dip my rear tire in the Missouri River in Sioux City until 6:45. I left town slowly in a crowd, but as I passed people and skipped most of the many stops along the road, the number of riders around me shrunk considerably. I saw very few riders in the last 10 miles into Storm Lake, and I felt a little like a guest who showed up to an event well before it was scheduled to start. I couldn't find a place to fill with water, the food vendors hadn't finished setting up, and the volunteers at the bag pick-up were still getting the hang of things. Getting here early did have some advantages, though: I had my pick of tent sites, plenty of time to shower and rest, and for an hour or two, Verizon's network was still mostly functional. That last bit is certainly not the case now, so I'm leaving this post as a one-paragraph, no-picture update (which hopefully uploads), and I'll try again tomorrow from Ft. Dodge.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015: Sioux City

Sunset on the Missouri River

As a kid in Iowa whose childhood freedom was viewed over bicycle handlebars, I always wanted to ride RAGBRAI, the [Des Moines] Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It might have taken me a while to get here, but I'm writing this from my tent just feet away from the banks of the Missouri River in Sioux City. Tomorrow I pedal.

I bought a new bicycle in January of 2013. I don't remember why I thought I needed a new one, exactly. My 1990 Bianchi Osprey mountain bike was (and still is) serving me pretty well as a commuter bike back and forth from campus. But Boulder is a bike-crazy town, and a trip to one of Boulder's many bike shops (which outnumber coffee shops, to give you an idea of their number) turned into a shiny new Fuji cyclocross bike. I'd never ridden cyclocross, but I liked the bike's versatility and robustness over a regular road bike.

Since then, I've put many a mile on my new bike, much of it on the roads north of Boulder. It's a spectacular place to ride. I also put in a lot of miles on a cheap Schwinn indoor stationary bike, which gets put to good use on bad-weather days or when I work late and want to squeeze in an hour of pedaling before bedtime. All that biking has added up, so when I looked at this year's RAGBRAI route and the couple thousand miles I had on my legs this year by April, I figured now's the time to head to Iowa and bike across the state.

Sioux City is a great starting town for me. I visited here often in the mid-1990s after my sister moved here. My nephew was born here now almost 21 years ago, and I still remember my sister's house in South Sioux City, Nebraska where we once celebrated our family Christmas. (My sister gave me a Sony Discman!) Later my sister moved to Moville, a small town to the east, but still worked in Sioux City, and I remember passing through in June of 2000 as my sister, nephew, and I headed to Oregon to visit family (and for me to climb Mt. Hood).

Tomorrow's ride is the toughest day of RAGBRAI this year, probably by a good margin barring strong headwinds later this week. It's a little over 70 miles with over 4000 feet of elevation gain. I've done comparable vertical, most recently on a ride from Boulder to Ward up Lefthand Canyon. But that kind of climb in Colorado is mostly one big effort up, followed by one long descent back home. Tomorrow will be up, down, up, down, and with considerably warmer and more humid weather than my long cycling days in Colorado.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Last Chance to Blog for 2014

To say I don't blog much here would be an understatement, but I'd feel bad if 2014 came and went without a single new post. After all, not many people can say they've been maintaining the same blog for 14 years.

When I think back at the past year my mind goes to academic conferences. In April I made a 10-day trip, first to the AERA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and then straight to New Orleans for the NCTM Annual Meeting. I listed all the sessions I attended over at


New Orleans

In June I traveled to Madison for a Cyberlearning Summit. The main research project I've worked on is funded by NSF's Cyberlearning program and this conference gave me a chance to see the work of similar projects from around the country. That trip also gave me a chance to spend some time in and around my home state, something I've only done 3 or 4 times since I moved to Colorado more than 10 years ago.

It's always fun to travel across the country to see a presenter who works in your building

I also attended the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, but (despite being an international conference) my travel amounted to walking a few blocks, as CU-Boulder was the host. It was a really cool conference and brought me into contact with a lot of people both in and outside the mathematics education community.

Bill Penuel (conference organizer, my boss, and all-around good guy) welcomes us to ICLS

When I wasn't doing school stuff, there was a good chance I was either on my bike or watching pros ride their bikes. I became one of those faithful Tour de France watchers who woke up at 5 am to watch live coverage, and I watched the USA Pro Challenge leave its final stage here in Boulder.

It was great to be there for Jens Voigt's last day in the peleton as a pro rider.

As the year concluded I spent some time with family and sharpened my photography skills on their pets.

Lily poses in the way a dog does only when they're begging for food.

What's next for 2015? If things go to plan, it should be my last year as a student. I'll always enjoy being a student, but it's probably good news that now -- in my 12th year as a full-time college student -- that it might be time to clear some hurdles and move on to some new challenges.

Friday, January 04, 2013

2012 Year in Review

My 2012 looked similar to my 2011 - a lot of reading, writing, studying, and teaching. Throw in a bunch of running and a pretty miserable Cubs season and the year came and went pretty quickly. I traveled back to Iowa for the first time in four years, giving me a chance to visit old friends and help my parents a bit. However, if my 2012 is highlighted by anything, I think it comes down to three things: experiencing some great speakers here at CU-Boulder, passing my comprehensive exams, and not only setting, but reaching, a running goal.

Great Speakers

You know what else is great about all these tickets? I think I spent a total of $2 on them.
I'll remember 2012 for the outstanding speakers I got to see in person. First was Neil deGrasse Tyson, speaking at Macky Auditorium in February. In a talk called "The Delusions of Space Enthusiasts," Tyson, in a most entertaining way, talked about how we doubt our power to innovate, how we look too much at the past of the space program, and how our culture reflects our focus on science. Thankfully someone recorded it and posted it, so listen for yourself.

In April, Cornel West came to CU-Boulder. He is, most likely, the most powerful speaker I've ever heard. Tying together messages from Plato to Martin Luther King to Curtis Mayfield, he sharply delivered messages about race, culture, power, democracy, and life in a way that I'd never heard before. I wish there was a recording of that speech, but thankfully Dr. West's oratory is easy to find on the web, such as this great recent presentation or his weekly podcast with Tavis Smiley.

To kick off our school year, the School of Education hosted Gloria Ladson-Billings. I must say that I felt a little vindicated when she stressed that we, as educators, should use social media -- not just to connect to people, but to understand the culture of connectedness in which our students are growing up. I think this hit a point about culturally relevant pedagogy that gets overlooked: it's not just being aware of what culture our students are part of, but how they expose themselves and participate in that culture.

By far, the speaker here at CU that got the most attention was President Barack Obama. He came here not once, not twice, but three times -- enough that I joked that he was trying to get Sasha and Malia eligible for in-state tuition at CU. President Obama is a great speaker, but because we hear him almost daily I can't say that much of what he said was very surprising. Even so, you're welcome back any time, Mr. President.

There are a couple white pixels down on the stage. That's President Obama, trust me.

Comprehensive Exams

Part of the process of being a PhD student usually entails passing some sort of comprehensive or qualifying exams, signifying to the university that you're a candidate for the degree and capable of engaging in your own research. I wrote about this process extensively using the #OpenComps tag at, so I won't go into much detail here. As I look back at it, having passed my exam just over a month ago, I focus less on the exam itself (a week of writing followed by a 90-minute oral exam) and more on my maturity as a graduate student. Simply put, things are making more sense, and I'm able to connect more ideas from more perspectives. That's a good feeling, even if I still have frequent and healthy moments of, "Wow, there's still so much I don't know!"


I painfully remember in December 2009, after a semester of almost no exercise and some pretty unhealthy eating habits during finals week, the rotten feeling I had walking to campus to turn in my last paper. The 25-minute walk felt like it took effort and I was breathing harder than I should have been. During my previous several winters, I'd been coaching wrestling, walking to and from school daily, and skiing. Now I was nowhere near that active -- and it showed. In the months that followed, I tried going out for short runs. On a 1.5-mile loop near my apartment, I remember having to stop and walk several times due to fatigue.

I kept running and my fitness improved, if only slightly. I was a very casual runner in 2010. Starting in the spring of 2011, however, I started tracking my runs with RunKeeper and I transitioned from simply running to becoming a runner. Gradually, 1.5 miles became 2.8, and in June 2011 I ran 6.5 miles at a 12 min/mi pace. That August, I ran 10 miles at a 12:30 pace, and by the end of the year I had racked up 200 miles.

I ran infrequently over the winter months coming into 2012, nursing some knee pain that didn't want to go away. By the end of March, I'd only tallied 37 miles. By May 1st and the end of the semester I was at 55 miles, and I'd started to figure out that my knee hurt no more if I ran 4 times a week or 4 times a month, so I picked up the pace and set a goal for the year: 366 miles, or an average of one mile per day. (2012 was a leap year, remember. Also, new, highly-cushioned running shoes alleviated most of the knee problems.) I had some catching up to do, but no work or classes during the summer in the way of progress. I ran 48 miles in May, 26 miles in June (not bad considering I traveled for almost two weeks), and 34 miles in July. Perhaps inspired by the Olympics, August was my best month yet at 58 miles -- which put me in excellent shape for a beautiful climb of Mt. Meeker in September.

Mileage dropped off during the fall months, but I ran enough to keep my fitness up. Still, I needed a big December to reach my goal. Thanks to a light schedule post-comprehensive exams, I ran 64 miles in December, almost all of it 5 miles at a time along the Boulder Creek Trail.

My big December gave me just enough to finish the year at 366.9 miles. The progress on the graph below looks steadier than it sometimes felt. For some people this kind of mileage isn't a big deal, but for me -- the overweight, short-legged kid who hated to run -- I think it's a nice accomplishment. Trust me, my sore-kneed, sometimes 220+ pound body fits all too comfortably on the couch to see it any other way.

Best of 2012

Favorite book: I read a lot in 2012, but rarely did I get a chance to sit down and read a book end-to-end. But one book I read last summer keeps influencing how I think about scaling technological and educational innovations: Michael Nielsen's Reinventing Discovery, which I reviewed in August at

Favorite article: Last year I chose Anna Sfard's 1991 article On the Dual Nature of Mathematical Conceptions, and this year I'm tempted to choose her 1998 article On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One. However, I think I've been more influenced by Marty Simon's 1995 article Reconstructing Mathematics Pedagogy from a Constructivist Perspective, which I reviewed at

Favorite show: In 2012 I never missed an episode of Breaking Bad, I routinely watched some of the top shows on Discovery, and caught The Daily Show and Colbert when I could. Still, I pay attention to traditional television less and less. (I still get an unusual amount of enjoyment from the shows of my youth, like Night Court and Cheers, which I'll watch in marathon fashion.) Instead of regular TV, I watch and listen to a ton of programming on the web. My favorites this year included pretty much anything with +Gina Trapani -- I've long enjoyed This Week in Google, and this year she started another show called In Beta with +Kevin Purdy. Now that she's joining All About Android, I'll be glued to that show stronger in 2013 than I was before.

Favorite album: According to my stats, I listened to 548 Tori Amos tracks and the single track I listened to most was R√∂yksopp's Vision One. But for music that was actually released in 2012, I think I've been most impressed with Garbage's Not Your Kind of People, with Norah Jones's Little Broken Hearts close behind.

Favorite hardware: I bought a Galaxy Nexus from Verizon in December 2011, a pretty significant hardware upgrade from my Droid X. It's difficult to separate hardware and software in mobile devices, but the amount of things I can accomplish with this pocket-sized device is incredible. From now on, I think I'm sticking with Nexus hardware, which probably means leaving Verizon when my contract expires for whatever phone Google releases after the Nexus 4.

Favorite software: I still heavily rely on Mendeley and became a regular Evernote user in 2012, and both make me realize that the distinction between software and service is getting pretty fuzzy. Niether of those products would be nearly as useful without their web and syncing capabilities. It's difficult to pick a favorite, but this year I'm going with Google Currents, Google's news reader for Android. Maybe the app by itself isn't super impressive, but to me it represents how I was able to ween myself away from subscribing to the RSS feeds of major news sites, where my time was wasted in Google Reader getting past entertainment news and superficial political coverage. With the help of reading Clay Johnson's Information Diet, I realized that by checking just a few headlines from something like The Daily Beast's Cheat Sheets, I could get most of the news coverage I needed.

Favorite service: As I did in 2011, I have to give the nod here to Google+. I still check Facebook occasionally and Twitter pretty regularly, but neither have the features or rich conversations and ideas that I regularly experience on Google+.

Make it a good 2013, everyone!