Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

I leave tomorrow for a Thanksgiving weekend backpacking trip. The original plan had been to start today, but today's weather is an unpleasant mix of rain and snow. Tomorrow will be cold but dry.

Have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy family and friends and stay out of the Black Friday madness.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Greetings from ASHE 2014

Hello from Washington, D.C., where it's the last day of the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education conference.

As always, it's nice to see colleagues that I only see once a year and catch up. This year, the conference was held in conjunction with UCEA, so I got to see some of my K-12 colleagues from Vanderbilt as well. I especially like seeing my younger colleagues who have found good jobs and are "all grown up."

Of course, ASHE isn't primarily a social hour. I went to more sessions that I have in recent years, and found the average quality to be higher than in years past. (Perhaps I just picked better, but the number of proposals does go up every year.) Some of the sessions were related to my own research; others were related to the issues I deal with as an instructor; others were simply things that sounded interesting. Frankly, I tend to learn as much - or more - from the latter, and sometimes it drifts over into my own work.

While the papers are important, the conference is perhaps most important as a networking tool. This happens both in meetings and in serendipitous encounters. For example, someone encouraged me to come work for [x], I learned about a grant opportunity in my research area, and I agreed to edit a book with a colleague. None of these would have happened if I hadn't been here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Doing things I don't do

I recently took a month off from capoeira, and during that time I tried a lot of different physical activities. My favorite was the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but it was obvious that I wouldn't have time to do it and capoeira both.

Much to my surprise, I ended up joining a gym. I had pretty much sworn off gyms, as I did plenty of hiking, capoeira, and yoga.

But the gym I joined made me re-evaluate that. One, it's a ridiculously hardcore gym where no one is there to hit on people. (I am not ridiculously hardcore. I am kind of soft- and squishy-core. Basically I'm a poser, trying to look badass in my roller derby shirt.) Picture  a bunch of extremely fit people in all-black and tattoos and no shoes either punching each other* or lifting kettlebells, and you've got the idea. And I do like shoelessness. And wearing black.

It just hit me that there is no background music, at least downstairs in the exercise class space. You have no idea how wonderful that is, especially after my last foray into spin classes.

Also the gym has ridiculously trained trainers that teach their classes (full disclosure: I do capoeira with one of them, but really they're all ridiculously well-trained), and they don't do useless exercises or shout annoying platitudes at you. No one has yet told me to give 110%. I am a properly trained statistician, y'all, and I know we don't have 110% to give.

But the most important thing for me was that good-form weight training finally did the last bit of healing on my shoulder. My left arm is probably 99% of where it was before everything, and it very rarely gets sore in the way that suggests I'm overusing the wrong muscles. I'm also much more likely to go to class at the gym than to lie on my living room floor and do 30 reps with my 3-pound weight. I am not a home exercise person.

So, hey, I'm going to the gym. It actually means fewer days of capoeira, but my capoeira hasn't suffered for it. The increased strength has helped with my control, in fact.

* OK, yeah, they're doing Muay Thai. It's not a fight club.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Double circuit of Bear Mountain

Bridges Although Bear Mountain is one of the classics New York City-area hikes, I've never done it. And on this Ramblers hike at Bear Mountain State Park, I still didn't do it. Instead, we hiked around Bear Mountain twice, first in a large circle and then in a smaller one. The total hike was 13.3 miles with 2,228 feet of elevation gain - not bad for not actually climbing a mountain.

(Mind you, we did hike about halfway up Bear Mountain, and those are some killer stairs!)

Hiking The leaves are mostly fallen but there still was a lot of colors. That, combined with it being a sunny, warm day, made for a beautiful hike. It was no surprise that the Hudson River, with Bear Mountain on one side and Anthony's Nose on the other, was lovely, but I didn't expect the Popolopen Gorge near the end of our hike to be so nice. It was hard to photograph: In the summer, leaves would be very thick, but even at this time of year  trees obscure the bottom of the gorge in photographs, although the eye has no trouble picking those details out when actually present. The picture of Popolopen Torne below is one of the few good ones I captured.

Golden hill

Friday, November 7, 2014

Small data

I started keeping track of my hikes in mid-2002. This quick chart shows how many hikes I did per year every year since 2003, the first full year of tracking. A couple of things stand out.

First, in 2005 and 2012, I was dealing with injuries (undiagnosed IT band problems and a bone spur, respectively), that limited my time on the trail.

Second, 2014 will be the hikiest year yet for me since moving to New York, even if I do nothing in the next two months.

Third, the mean is about 28 hikes a year, or a little more than twice a month. (And 26 is the median and 30 is the mode!)

Fourth, I am the kind of person who should probably own a Fitbit or something, but I would probably get annoyed because it wouldn't track data exactly the way I want.

Fifth (and now we're way beyond "a couple of things"), hard data is interesting. If you had asked me how many times in a year I typically hiked, I'm not sure I could have given you an accurate answer. In general, humans are pretty bad at estimating how often we do things, or how many calories we eat, or how much time we spend doing any particular activity. My department has been trying to estimate how work we assign in our classes, and I considered polling my students. But - aside from the likely problem of deliberately misleading reporting - I'm not sure how accurate students would be able to be.