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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

162

I'm sitting myself down tonight after a long baseball season to watch the Cubs for the final time this year. After Ron Santo died last winter, this season I decided to upgrade myself from MLB.com's Gameday Audio to the full MLB.tv package so I'd have access to every Cubs TV broadcast this year. I watched every one. I might not have watched them live, and for quite a number the game became background noise as I worked on something else, but in one way or another I've watched every single game this season. It's not quite like getting season tickets and attending every home game, or like visiting all 30 major league ballparks, but it's something.

I certainly didn't pick a memorable Cubs season to watch. Early in the season, an injury-riddled Cubs lineup proved that they were a pretty poor team. Later, when they got healthy, the best they could do was still pretty average. There were way too many blown saves and about a billion men left on base. I know the Cubs are looking for a GM, and I'm in no way qualified for that position, but here are my thoughts about where the team is finishing and what I hope to see in the future:
  • Starlin Castro has been fun to watch, although he has a lot of work to do in almost every aspect of his game. He can hit, sure, but rarely does he get on base any other way. I think his defense has gotten a little better as the season progressed; for a while there it seemed like he was throwing balls into the dugout or stands every couple of days. If there's a bright spot in a dull season, Castro's 200+ hits stand out.
  • Darwin Barney is a likable player, but I worry that the numbers that made him look like a good rookie won't improve and in a couple years they'll just look average. Remember all the talk after the Santo era about the constant turnover at 3rd base? I'm not sure the Cubs aren't experiencing the same thing at 2nd post-Sandberg.
  • I like Carlos Pena. He seems like such a good clubhouse guy and a real professional on and off the field. However, the equation seems simple: he's not under contract for next year and the Cubs have a AAA first baseman who won the Pacific Coast MVP. I know they're trying out LaHair in the outfield, but I won't be upset if he's slated to be the Cubs first baseman next year.
  • Aramis Ramirez has been as much a part of any Cubs success the past 8 years as anyone. I'd like to see him back, but it probably wouldn't be a good business decision. Unless you know you've got a real contender, shelling out big contracts to aging players isn't a good idea.
  • Alfonso Soriano has made a more positive impression on me this year. Not enough to justify his huge contract, but if he has three more years like this one I'll be okay with seeing him in left field most every day.
  • I continued to be impressed by Marlon Byrd's hustle. Same goes for Reed Johnson. If you're going to win, you have to have guys like these on your team.
  • Who doesn't love Tony Campana? (Besides opposing teams.) I don't care if he can't hit for power or if he can't produce as an everyday starter. I just want him on the team, ready to contribute at a moment's notice.
  • Starting pitching: Garza's a keeper and probably should have had 15 wins had he gotten good support. I hope Dempster's back, but I doubt that will happen. I think Randy Wells can still be a really good #2 or #3 starter. Carlos Zambrano....sorry, but we've been better off without you. Any bets that he'll be pitching for the Marlins next year?
  • Bullpen: Thanks, Kerry, for coming back to the Cubs. You gave up bigger money and Cubs fans won't forget it. Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Russell were unexpectedly good at times and Sean Marshall might have been consistently the best pitcher on the whole staff. Marmol? Shaky. Ortiz and Grabow? Yawn.
I won't go through the entire roster, but I think the theme for next year should be "let the kids play." Sure, Soriano and Byrd will get plenty of playing time, but I won't mind if every other position is filled by someone with less than five years of major league experience. If the Cubs spend money, I'd go after starting pitching. We saw how few options the Cubs had when Wells and Cashner went down, and having one or two more solid, reliable starters will give the kids a reason to think they can win every day.

It's the third inning and Dempster just gave up a 3-run-homrun with two outs in the 3rd inning. The inning would have been over had Reed Johnson and Starlin Castro connected on a relay to the plate, but instead the Cubs give away runs after a fundamental mistake. Par for the season, unfortunately, but I'll keep watching anyway. Until next year...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why Eleanor Roosevelt Would Have Liked Google+

And why Google+ won't be replacing Twitter or Facebook for most of us anytime soon

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

I know too much already has been written about Google+ and its place in the world of social networking, but I've recently developed a new perspective which might help some of you who are trying to decide how and when to use Google+ versus Twitter or Facebook.

Eleanor might have said "small minds discuss people," but there's more than one way to discuss people and none of us are consistently small-minded. People are important, and the people who are most important to us are those with which we have mutual friendships or family relationships. This is why Facebook is best at people: it enforces (if we ignore fan pages) a symmetric follower model, ensuring that we are connected to people who want to also be connected to us. Those connections, often with people who we don't see regularly but want to keep in touch with, are more important than the comments and conversation people post on their Wall. If your Facebook News Feed is anything like mine, you know what I'm talking about. But that's okay -- I use Facebook because my friends and family mean more to me than their latest post, and it's why we shouldn't worry about a mass exodus from Facebook anytime soon.

Beyond friendships and family, we are connected to others through common events. When fire broke out over the foothills of Boulder about a year ago, it didn't matter that I didn't personally know many other people in the area. What mattered was our shared experience and our desire to understand the event beyond our own perspective. This is why Twitter is best at events: those of us affected were able to congregate around the #boulderfire and other hashtags. Twitter didn't allow us to say much at once, but that was okay. No one person should dominate such a conversation. When someone did emerge as particularly insightful or resourceful, Twitter's asymmetric follower model allowed us to follow them without them following us back. Today, on the ten-year anniversary of 9-11, I know I'm not alone in wondering what that day would have been like had we had Twitter, fail whales and all. No tool allows us to so spontaneously engage in an event quite like Twitter -- it really is the internet's nervous system.

Sometimes our interactions with people and events spark deeper thought. Eventually we not only want to say more, we want to ask more. We want a space where we can engage with other people around our reflections and questions. This is why Google+ is best at ideas: it allows us a flexible space and a flexible audience with which we can have a cohesive conversation around an idea or belief. Great conversation emerges from great ideas, and great ideas are evidence of great minds. And when our minds aren't so great (which, let's face it, is most of the time), Google+'s threaded conversations allow participants (who may or may not follow each other) to push and shape the idea into something better. As Google+ gains capabilities (search, tagging, public circles, etc.) the way we find these conversations may change, but I think Google+'s focus on ideas will remain. And I think Eleanor would have liked it.

So while Facebook is best for people, Twitter is best for events, and Google+ is best for ideas, that in no way means that you can't discuss an event on Facebook or maintain close relationships on Google+. The reason that these are currently our most prominent and successful social networks is because we can use them in more than one way. But as with any set of tools, knowing which is the right one for the job makes each tool more useful. When I see a "I'm headed out to eat" post on Google+, it feels empty because I'm not sure how I can engage in a conversation around that idea. Maybe the person who posted that needs to pick a different tool or create a circle with a more relevant audience. I'm happy to follow a lot of smart educators on Twitter, but when their posts turn into a conversation, I feel handcuffed. Not only is it hard to reply to multiple people and restrain an important thought to 140 characters, I realize I can't easily see the other replies from people I'm not following. And while I might try to discuss an idea or event on Facebook, I usually don't get much response. Other than being my friends, people who see what I post on Facebook really don't have all that much in common.

If you use all three social networks, as I do, think before you post. Think about which tool is the best for the job. But also realize that because there's more than one job to do, there's room for more than one network. Now pardon me as my desire to educate combines with my ego to shamelessly share this post on all three.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fall Semester, 2011

Tomorrow I begin my second year in the doctoral program in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Being a doctoral student isn't quite like being a student at any other level. Doctoral work is more of an apprenticeship, although there are plenty of classes to attend and papers to write. I imagine there are a number of qualities our faculty look for in us doctoral students. During our first year, they see if we can grasp the fundamental methods of quantitative and qualitative research, and they test our understanding of the major political and philosophical issues in our field. During our third year, we'll take a comprehensive exam to measure if we have the focused expertise and vision necessary to go on to pursue work towards a dissertation that will contribute new knowledge to the field. So what do they look for in our second year? If my schedule is any indication, they must be seeing if we can maintain our sanity despite heavy workloads. I hope I'm up to the task.

The typical full course load for doctoral students is three classes (nine credit hours). To an undergraduate that sounds like an unimaginably light load, but the work is different at the doctoral level. This semester I'm taking the last of my core courses, Multicultural Education, as well as two other courses: Advanced Topics in Mathematics Education and Measurement in Survey Research. All will keep me busy.

In addition to our courses, most doctoral students beyond their first year have a 50% assistantship, meaning the work is expected to take 20 hours per week. When I came to CU, I expressed a desire to teach. Last year my appointment was a research asssistantship. I was a bit jealous of my colleagues who got to work with students, but I immensely enjoyed working with my advisor on some of his research projects. This year, however, I don't just get to teach a class, I get to teach four classes. I never thought I'd be teaching more classes than I'd be taking, and for all I know a four-class teaching load is some kind of grad student record.

The courses I'll be teaching break down like this: Three are for math and science majors who have expressed a interest in teaching, and those classes meet once per week for an hour and fifteen minutes each. In addition, those courses are co-taught and we have all the materials (lesson plans, activities, handouts, etc.) from past semesters at our disposal. My fourth class, however, is a totally different ballgame. I'll also be teaching basic statistics to undergraduates. That class meets once weekly for two and a half hours per meeting and I'm pretty much on my own when it comes to lesson planning and activities. Normally they'd give that class to a more senior grad student with experience as a teaching assistant, but this year they're taking a chance on me to do the job. Fortunately, I've got some great people around me who can offer advice and support, and if I'm smart I'll take all of it I can get.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time-lapse video of clouds over Boulder

We tend to get a lot of sunny days here along Colorado's Front Range, but right now we're enjoying some much-needed rain. After a couple rainy days earlier this week, the clouds broke Friday morning and we got one clear day before the clouds and rain returned today. Anticipating a nice scene when the clouds broke, I set my Kodak Zi8 on a tripod in my window and let it run. I cut out a 15-minute piece of video using Avidemux and then used modified code found here and here to prepare the video. First, I extracted two frames from each second of video:

ffmpeg -i 2011-05-13-original.mkv -r 2 -f image2 png/%05d.png

I then made a text file with the names of all the images and used mencoder to make a 30fps video:

ls -1tr > files.txt

mencoder -nosound -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg4:vbitrate=5000 -mf w=1280:h=720:fps=24:type=png mf://@files.txt -o time.avi

I then went to Jamendo to get some Creative Commons-licensed music to use the in the background. I chose "Shooting Star" by David Palmero, one of the first albums I found, and used Audacity to cut out a selection to match the length of the video. Lastly, I used PiTiVi to merge the video and audio together, with fade-in and fade-out transitions, and then rendered the video in a format YouTube would accept. The result:

Monday, May 09, 2011

Doctoral program year one...done!

I really don't get excited about the coming and going of school years. In fact, the end of a spring semester always makes me a bit sad. Teachers and students are working at their peak (or their limit), showing off all that they've learned and accomplished and then it just stops and suddenly it's summer. My transition into summer will be smooth, as I'm still working for my advisor and I'll be taking at least one class in July. But I suppose getting this far is an accomplishment in itself. I don't know how much longer it will take for me to finish my doctoral program, but I know I'm now one year closer.

Now that we first-year students have some breathing room, my friend Jackie and I headed out yesterday for a photography excursion. Our destination was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, located west of Denver near Morrison at the edge of the Rocky Mountain foothills. Red Rocks is, by almost all accounts, the best natural amphitheater in the country, if not one of the best in the world.
Being a Sunday morning, there were plenty of tourists around and a lot of people running the stairs for exercise. We spent some time taking pictures, doing some people watching, and checking out the welcome center/museum before finding a trail for a short hike. We opted for a short, 1.4 mile loop that starts and ends at the Trading Post below the theater. The weather was warm and the sun was nearing summer intensity, so we kept it pretty casual as we circled the loop.
There were a lot of families with small children out enjoying the trail. Typically when I consider getting out in Colorado, I usually feel like I have to decide between (a) the natural outdoors or (b) the built environment. Red Rocks is a nice balance of both, and even with the crowds it never felt crowded. It was just a nice day with a lot of nice people out to enjoy Mother's Day.

We left Red Rocks and headed uphill to Evergreen. Even though I've driven up I-70 countless times and up Highway 285 many times more, I'd never been to Evergreen. We stopped for lunch at the Lakeside Cafe and made a fortunate wrong turn out of the parking lot that led us to some nice creekside scenery and some pretty spectacular homes. One would best be described as a castle, and I'm pretty sure it's the first thing Jackie is going to buy when she digs the loose change out from between her couch cushions.

We backtracked and got back on the "Lariat Loop," headed towards I-70 and east towards Denver. We decided to checkout Lookout Mountain, final resting spot of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. If you're there to see the grave, by all means, go see it first and then take in the other attractions like the museum and gift shop. Jackie and I went to the gift shop first. Jackie described it as "ghetto" and it did seem to be filled with about every piece of plastic crap that could be hawked as a souvenir.
In the wake of the gift shop experience, it's rather hard to decide what to think when you find yourself actually standing next to Buffalo Bill's grave. I'm not sure it's what Bill had in mind when he asked to be buried up there, but it is what it is. Next to the gift shop is a museum. Jackie and I decided to check it out. To celebrate Mother's Day they were letting mothers in for free. I paid my $5, but Jackie LIED and told them she was a mother so she wouldn't have to pay. I feel pretty guilty even now for being a witness to such a lack of moral character, but told her I would pay her back by writing about it on my blog. After a year of classes with Jackie I know she's a good person, but as they say, everybody has their price. And if you're talking about Jackie and a small museum, apparently that price is 5 dollars. (And no, Jackie, claiming you're the mother of your cat still isn't good enough!)

I have no doubts William Cody was a charismatic and loved figure in American history, but both Jackie and I were uncomfortable with the museum's portrayal of Buffalo Bill as a lover and protector of both Native Americans and American Bison. Cody might have spoken out against needless buffalo slaughter in the days after he was a hired buffalo hunter, and he might have included Native Americans in his Wild West show and seen them as friends, but Jackie and I just couldn't reconcile that with the fact that it was the killing of both buffalo and Indians that earned Buffalo Bill his fame.

We ended the day driving into the foothills west of Boulder, up into a burn area and to Gross Reservoir, part of the Denver water system. On the way back we took a few last pictures of Boulder at sundown before going home and calling it a day.
See the entire photo set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/downclimb/sets/72157626561989153/

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to lose backed-up data (Or: How to have a disappointing day)

I'm pretty thorough about backing up my data. Here's my typical routine:

  1. Any school-related files are in Dropbox, so they're available everywhere and backed up.
  2. A rsync script cron job makes a new "snapshot" of all my data to an internal 2TB drive inside my computer. The script runs every 8 hours and keeps the 3 most recent snapshots.
  3. The same rsync script run manually copies to an external, encrypted 2TB drive that I take to my office.
So that's three copies of data in two different physical locations. Good strategy, right? But here's where things go wrong:
  1. Remove original boot drive and replace with SSD and fresh Ubuntu installation.
  2. Copy old files into /home on new drive. (Now I have 4 copies of data!) Instead of copying everything, directories are moved one-by-one to avoid importing cruft and unnecessary hidden files.
  3. Set up rsync script cron job again. (In 24 hours, all the old snapshots are gone. Now I'm down to 3 copies of data again.)
  4. After making sure everything works properly, format old boot drive and use for something else. (Now down to 2 copies of data.)
  5. Realize that a (rather insignificant, thankfully) subdirectory of my home directory wasn't copied. (So there's now only 1 copy of that data, on the 2TB drive at my office.)
  6. Arrive to office to find out it's been broken into and the drive was stolen. (DATA LOST!)
That's certainly not the way to have a good day, but thankfully (a) the files weren't important, and (b) the data was encrypted, so I don't have to worry about identity theft. (Well, except for all the other ways identities get stolen.) So far it doesn't appear the thief took much, and I'm glad I didn't leave my laptop in my office over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March "Matness" 2011

The NCAA Division I wrestling tournament starts tomorrow and I thought I'd throw out a few hastily-chosen predictions for the finals and team race:


125: Robles (AZST) over McDonough (IOWA)
133: Graff (WISC) over Long (PSU)
141: Thorn (MINN) over Russell (MICH)
149: Caldwell (NCSU) over LeValley (BUCK)
157: Taylor (PSU) over Jenkins (AZST)
165: Burroughs (NEB) over Howe (WISC)
174: Reader (ISU) over Lewnes (CORN)
184: Bozak (CORN) over Rutt (WISC)
197: Simaz (CORN) over Foster (OKST)
HWT: Trice (CMICH) over Bradley (MIZZ)

If any of those finals matches even happen, I'll be shocked. I really didn't spend much time on them, but a Taylor-Jenkins match at 157 could be the story of the tournament (unless Robles wins a title, which I would love to see). Here are my predictions for the team race:

1. Cornell
2. Penn State
3. Oklahoma St
4. Iowa

So while the rest of you figure out your brackets of 68, I'll be focused on the 330 wrestlers hitting the mats this weekend in Philadelphia. There are only 3 UNI wrestlers in the tournament, but we've got a good shot at at least one All-American, which would match last year's efforts. Go Bonin, Loder, and Brantley!

Monday, March 07, 2011

West Regional 2011

My friend Jordan and I went down to the Air Force Academy today to watch some Division I wrestling action at the West Regional. I went to support my UNI Panthers and, judging by the results, my support wasn't enough. UNI came in second behind Wyoming and UNI only had two champions, Ryan Loder and Christian Brantley. Loder's final over Wyoming's Joe LeBlanc was quite good, with Loder avenging a loss two weeks ago by controlling LeBlanc from the top position in the third period. It was a good match between two very evenly-matched wrestlers.

My biggest disappointment came in Brett Robbins' true second match against UNC's Justin Gaethje at 149. Robbins upset Gaethje in the dual last month, and ever since I've been a proud member of the Brett Robbins fan club. Today's rematch was close and the score was tied 4-4 with about 10 seconds left when Robbins was penalized for stalling, giving a 5-4 victory to Gaethje. I don't often dispute an official's call, but this one was horrible, particularly given the circumstances. Coach Schwab was absolutely livid.

It looks like UNI will only have 3 NCAA qualifiers this year: Loder, Brantley, and David Bonin. Jordan and I wrapped up a long day of wrestling the best way we know how, with a buffet-full of sometimes sketchy food at the GC.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

2010 Year in Review

I think this is the kind of thing most people put in their Christmas letters, but I don't write those. It's also something more organized people manage to write and publish in the last few days of the old year, not nearly a week into the new one. But a lot happened for me in 2010 and I'd like to get it in print before a new semester starts and time slips away.

I started 2010 having just applied for the Ph.D program in the School of Education at CU-Boulder. I had already finished a semester of work towards a master's degree, but I knew the opportunity and circumstances were right for me to finally pursue a doctoral degree. I think I was notified of my acceptance in February and in March I participated in the CU's recruiting weekend activities. There I met my new advisor, Finbarr Sloane, a very smart, very hardworking, very enjoyable person who is really helping me develop an interest and expertise in statistics education.

The spring semester finished strong with papers due in all three of my classes (Assessment in Math and Science, Culture and Ethnography in Education, and Policy Issues Seminar) while managing to attend a few days of the AERA conference held in Denver. It was a busy and difficult time, but good preparation for the workload I'd face as a doctoral student.

I relaxed a bit in May before taking 6 credit hours in June. Going to class everyday from 8-3 for four straight weeks was incredibly enjoyable because of the efforts of the instructors to keep things relevant and interesting, as well as the company of many great classmates who seemed to not tire of each other despite the many hours. The two classes, Teaching of Number Sense and Teaching of Algebra, probably won't count towards my doctorate, but they were well worth the time and I hope to find myself on the teaching side of those classes sometime soon.

I got very little climbing and hiking in over the summer, preferring to spend my time in Boulder and getting my exercise running (we'll call it running, lacking a better description for my pace and grace) the nearby Boulder Creek Trail. It's an amazing trail system and I'm sure I put in more miles last year than in any other year of my life. The key to improving my running in the new year won't be about speed or miles, but about scheduling. Even though my runs only last 30-40 minutes, I have a habit of making them take up at least 2-3 hours of my day, including all the prep, recovery, and cleanup. That kind of schedule is fine on a summer day with nothing else on the calendar, but I'll need to get better at squeezing in runs between classes and study sessions when it's easy to make excuses to stay inside. My other major summer accomplishments were reading six books (almost all education-related) and watching all 98 episodes of the A-Team (which is not education-related, trust me).

School started in August. At CU, first-year doctoral students take all their classes (Quantitative Research Methods I and II; Qualitative Research Methods I and II; Perspectives on Classrooms, Teaching, and Learning; and Introduction to Education Research and Policy) as a single cohort. I'd heard students from previous cohorts grumble about being in all the same classes with all the same people, but after a semester I can't say enough nice things about the students in my cohort. They are truly a great group of people, each with their own perspectives and experiences, but always willing to listen and learn from each other. The most telling evidence of how well we get along came on our last class of the semester, where I overheard one say, "I really don't want to have to wait until next semester to see you all again." Our professors were great, too, and they deserve thanks for helping us get the most out of the experience. To Elizabeth Dutro, Gregory Camilli, and Margaret Eisenhart, I'm grateful!

I've taken it pretty easy over my winter break. I think I have 7 days of skiing in so far, matching my total for all of last winter. So that's an accomplishment, right? There were two books I wanted to read, but I may only finish one. That's still better than none, and I'll be reading plenty again within just days.

Lastly, I think I've finally found a web home that ties everything together in a pretty neat bundle. Thanks to flavors.me, I'm now using rcjohnson.me as my "main" site. It was time to have a name-based identity that joined my more academic/professional MathEd.net activities with my more leisure/personal downclimb.com activities. Feel free to follow or friend!

Best to you all in 2011!