Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rejected dissertation topics

You can be forgiven if you thought I had dropped out of school based on the content of recent posts. Nope; I'm still here and looking for a dissertation topic. So far I haven't chosen one, but here a few I've rejected:
Action research on boundary spanning roles: Take a fundraiser, a donor, and a professor on a hike around the Sewanee perimeter.
Auto-ethnography on the process of choosing a dissertation topic: Pros: No problems getting access to the data.
Content analysis of my dissertation: It's like a mirror reflected in a mirror reflected in a mirror reflected in a ... whoa.
Factors predicting alumni giving at a private university in the South: Turns out it has been done. Who knew?
The topic doesn't matter, but the title doesn't have a colon: I realized I would never get a job that way.
Cosmopolitans vs. locals in the tenure process: Findings suggest that drinking too much isn't good for tenure bids, no matter whether you consume fruity Sex In the City cocktails or regional microbrews.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another disappointment

A little damp
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Not a good weekend for hiking. Today's hike should have been good - I've done it before, and it's six pleasant miles. And the forecast only was for a 40% chance of rain - odds I can play.

It was pretty ominous out as I prepared to leave the house, but we decided to chance it. As I drove west to pick up my friend, the sky lightened. It got sunnier as we cruised down the highway until it was positively nice out. Hot and humid, sure, but not raining. The sky clouded up again as we hiked, however. Then the rain started. By itself, it wasn't too bad, since it was warm enough that chills weren't an issue. But the thunder was more worrisome. At around two miles we decided to turn around.

The rain waxed and waned. We decided to stop at the Wildcat Shelter for a respite, but as we approached we saw the coupled camped there was now involved in a very private activity. We passed on interrupting them and trudged back to the car.

The day has been mostly raining, with thunderstorms, ever since.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A trail to skip

So my friend suggested doing a hike, nothing too killer, and I offered her three choices - two I had done previously and one new one. She picked the new one. Oops.

The Twin Forks trail is primarily a horse trail. Now I've hiked on pedestrian-friendly horse trails before. You expect a little mud, a wide path, and some horse poop. This trail, however, was very narrow and extremely muddy. It was brushy, too, which meant watching out for ticks. Most of it really looked like the picture here. We spent a good deal of our time looking at the ground instead of at the views of the river, although there weren't as many views as the guidebook had led me to believe.

The hike is supposed to be a 1.5-mile loop - the trail continues on, but it loops back to the road. We finally reached a really muddy, nasty stretch and decided to turn around. Later I figured we were at the 1.2-mile point, so we were almost done, but I was also afraid we'd missed the path back to the parking lot.

The highlight of the trip was when a wild turkey burst out of the underbrush - it seemed as startled as us. It started making a wide circle around the trail, honking the entire time. Otherwise, the trip didn't offer anything to make up for the icky trail. Next time, leave this one to the horses.

Boy Scouts seize Murfreesboro

Yesterday I wanted to go for a moderate hike, something different. There's an easy 3.5-mile loop at Stones River National Battlefield that's not too far away, just in Murfreesboro, so I decided to drive down there. I get close and find a traffic jam to get in the parking lot. There are Boy Scouts everywhere (plus a few girl Scouts) and police directing cars. I actually drove around the lot twice and didn't find parking. Apparently they were placing flags at the cemetery. It hadn't occurred to me to think of it being Memorial Day weekend, especially not on the day itself. And while I was all in favor of the endeavor, I was surprised to see people actually recognizing the holiday for its significance rather than as just a three-day weekend.

So I went to another nearby hike, the 2.5-mile Barfield Wilderness Loop. Having done it once, that was sufficient. The trail starts off as a greenway, which is pleasant enough but hardly worth going to Murfreesboro for. Then the "wild" trail takes off. It's not much used and very overgrown; I was glad to be wearing pants. It was also incredibly muggy, perhaps from the previous day's rain. People tell me it wasn't humid in general yesterday morning, but there it was. The trail follows a sluggish river for a little while before weaving in and out of some cedar glades. The description in the book I was using didn't seem to match experience my (or even its own map) very well.

Near the end of the trail, I came upon a group of Boy Scouts. For an Eagle project, they were rerouting the trail in one spot where it was steep and eroding. It looked like nice work.

Afterwards, I went to a barbecue and then saw the new Indiana Jones flick. Reviewers have been very divided on it, and a friend whose opinion I would have trusted thought it made "Stargate" look like "Citizen Kane." But everyone in my group enjoyed it very much.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hiking goals

Last summer I worked hard to get in shape for Mt. St. Helens. This year I haven't had any such goal, and I like goals. So instead of one big one, I have a couple of smaller goals. They are:
  1. Go backpacking at least once, even if it's only a two-day trip
  2. Hike the Walls of Jericho
  3. Hike the Sewanee Perimeter Trail in one day, in the fall when the leaves are pretty and the heat won't kill me.

Don't worry, I have school goals, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What's up

I haven't posted in a few days because there hasn't been much to post. On Sunday a few of us went canoeing on the Narrows of the Harpeth. It was a nice, easy trip, which was what I needed after the long hike of the day before.

It looks like my summer is getting worked out; I'm working on three different projects, plus trying to work on other research, not to mention the dissertation (let's not). I'll be busy but the upside is pretty good pay.

And we won't talk about the dissertation!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bearwaller Gap

We have arrived
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Today I went on a hike to Bearwaller Gap. There seems to be some dissent about how long the trail is. The hike is a there-and-back, although if you park cars at both ends you can do a one-way. The local guidebook says it's 5.6 miles one-way; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says 6 miles. (It also says 10K, which would really be 6.2 miles.) Well, we started off by mistake on one of the mountain biking trails, which are not shown on any of the maps. This added an extra mile or two to the total.

The hike goes up and down, up and down. The endpoint is 400 feet higher than the beginning, at a scenic overlook (shown); we gained 1580 feet to get there. We stopped at the overlook for lunch. We also thought about whether we wanted to drive or hike back. No one wanted to be the one to wimp out, so we all headed back. The return trip was something of a slog, as we were all tired already. However, it took an hour less than the first leg - our detour had really added extra miles (and elevation gain).

The hike was rather pretty, especially compared to many other trails near dammed lakes. (It follows the north shore of Cordell Hull Lake.) It had several nice scenic overlooks. The weather was also cooperative, sunny but not hot. However, I am still really tired.

Cave clean-up

On Wednesday night the Nashville Grotto did a cave cleanup, where we removed graffiti. This is the "before" picture from one particularly nasty area. Click here to see the "after."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You've got kale!

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I picked up my first CSA box today. It came with strawberries, lettuce, beets, and two kinds of kale. Strawberries are easy. Lettuce is also easy - you make salads. Of course, then I had to buy more vegetables, because lettuce alone isn't much, and I don't think kale mixes it up a lot. Beets I have only met pickled; these are baby beets, and apparently the whole beet plus green can be tastily and easily cooked, at least at this age. It's the two kinds of kale (Russian and Siberian) that worry me. I have one recipe that Lisa suggested, and the gentleman from the CSA recommended a soup with tomato and chicken broth. I'll report back if I have any successful kale experiments.


It looks as if I have to rethink my dissertation. This isn't a big surprise - I knew my original idea might prove impervious to research, but my committee and I decided to attempt it anyway. Now I either have to scale way down or pick a new topic. It's probably going to be the former.

There are two opposing ideas about dissertations. In one model, "the best dissertation is a done dissertation." In the other, your dissertation is your journeyman work piece, showing what you are capable of. Most dissertations lie somewhere in between; after all, a dissertation won't pass and therefore be done unless it reaches some level of quality. If only one person responds to your survey, you can't say, "Oh well, I'm gonna write it up and be done!"

A good metaphor for the dissertation is to think of a jeweler making a ring. (What do I know about gemology? Nothing.) Part of the process involves choosing a stone - first the type, and then the specific one. Shale isn't hard enough, for example. You could use granite; it's tough, but you can't see by looking at it how strong it is. There could be a flaw in the heart of that particular stone. So diamond is good, or emerald, something both strong and easily evaluated. But a good stone is only the start. It has to be cut and set - no super gluing a hunk of rock to a ring! This is where "the best is done" part comes in. It's OK if the stone could use a little extra polish or maybe the setting is plain. But what you clearly have is a ring, and it's well-made.

What I seem to have done is planned to use a terrific type of stone that is now unavailable. I could use a cheap imitation, or choose another stone altogether. This may be taking the metaphor too far. In any case, I now need to pick a new dissertation topic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gas money

Yesterday I saw an article that asked, what if gas goes to $7 a gallon? The article didn't actually explore the ramifications as promised, but it did say that $7 gas was likely in the next four years. And I remember being horrified when gas went up to $1.50!

Whatever the magic number, I can imagine a scenario in which within a decade gas has reached a point where consumption patterns for most Americans will have to change because we won't be able to afford the old ones. That's why I disagree with a piece such as this one, which says environmental change may be possible without deprivation. Anything that gets us out of our cars (or off airplanes) will be felt as deprivation. Anything that raises the costs of goods will be felt as deprivation.

So imagine you can't afford to use your car for your daily commute, and you don't live in a city like New York. How do you get to work? In most smaller cities, suburbs, and towns, the public transit isn't sufficient - there aren't enough routes at the right times and places. Nashville, for example, routes everyone through a downtown hub, and therefore no one uses it if they can afford anything else. Some people might move closer to their jobs, but our housing stock isn't in the right place for this to happen en masse. (And then think of the dual-income households where the partners have jobs on opposite ends of town.)

And what about longer trips? Green advocates say things like, "Take the train." To do that, I'd have to drive eight hours to catch one! And it's the medium-haul trips that are the problem. I suspect that barring complete economic meltdown, Nashvillians who want to visit, say, Alaska are still going to fly. But what about trips to Memphis?

In the short term, I guess we throw buses at the problem. We have the roads, after all. I've harbored sentiments for a while that it was a mistake to dismantle so much of our railway structure. I can see the day when "rails to trails" goes in reverse as we convert greenways back to railways.

And while you think about that, I'm going to get into my conventional vehicle and drive to campus five miles away, a distance which is certainly bikeable and for which there is public transport, although it takes three times as long as driving. You see, I'd like to make changes in my life, but I can't afford them. You add people like me to people who like the current way to doing things just fine, and you end up with no change until the economy forces it.

P.S. This just in: Mass transit ridership is already increasing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Buggytop Cave trip

Originally uploaded by kelstew
Yesterday I went on a hiking/caving trip to Buggytop Cave, in the South Cumberland near Sewanee. It's a two-mile hike to a bluff; if you look over the edge, you can see Crow Creek running 150 feet below. From there you descend to the creek and into Buggytop Cave, which is a fairly easy cave - not much crawling, but a fair amount of breakdown. You can do what we did, which is come out via another entrance and take a different route to the top of the bluff. It was a nice day for a hike, not too hot, and the wildflowers were hitting their peak. This photo of your friend and mine, the brown bat, was taken by the guy who organized the trip.


This weekend was graduation weekend, meaning that all kinds of events were held ranging from The Party to graduation. I ended up not going to graduation (I couldn't decide which of two ceremonies to go to, and split the difference with neither.) But it is a sad time of the year; some of my best friends are graduating. Naturally, I'm happy for them, and happy for the ones who have found great jobs and will thus be leaving town, but I'm going to miss them. Even my officemate, who isn't graduating, is likely to spend most of his summer with the in-laws.

Among other losses, I must say goodbye to - my umbrella. Almost exactly ten years ago, the CWRU alumni association gave them out to graduating seniors. It wasn't very attractive, but it was the one umbrella I couldn't manage to lose while nice umbrellas always disappeared. The cap had recently fallen off the end, and it had to be whacked to make it open. This week I realized I couldn't find it. It wasn't in its usual spot in the car, nor in my office, nor in my living room. I suspect it had an expiration date; if Case was actually having a ten-year reunion, I bet a new umbrella would magically come into my possession. As it is, I'll have to buy one.

However, umbrellas are much easier to replace than friends. So good luck to all of you graduators!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good news

I am excited (and honored) to report that I have been selected to be a Vanderbilt Center for Ethics Fellow next fall, along with two of my fellow department members. The program offers a small stipend in exchange for meeting with each other and examining the ethical implications of our dissertations. While money is always nice, I'm also looking forward to have the opportunity to talk through my work with people.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Saving gas

With the high price of gas, I feel guilty and broke every time I drive. This is especially true if it's a longish drive by myself. So I'm trying to cut back on my driving.

Since classes are out, I have to spend less time on campus, although I still need to put in some face time. I'm trying to go in only three days a week instead of four this month. And I'm trying to make one of those days a no-drive day. The trick is to not just put off all my errands until the next day, thereby saving no gas at all. So Tuesdays and Fridays I don't go in, and Tuesday I don't drive. Tomorrow I'm going to go to the library to return a video, and then I'm going to the grocery store. Those are the sorts of errands I shouldn't be driving for anyway, since they're so close. Well, the library, definitely, because books and videos don't melt, I don't check out enough to be hard to carry, and I can always put it off until a sunny day. If I need groceries and it's 102 degrees or pouring rain, forget the walking.

Of course, with this Friday being graduation, I'm going to go to campus anyway. I'm just not going to work.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bad pictures

One thing I try to do when I take photos is make them look like what I see in my head with my eyes, which is easier said than done. The camera doesn't receive light like the eyeball does, and what your brain does to images is even more complicated. Then you also have to account for your eyes seeing a wider angle view than your camera, and that motion makes things stand out in your vision. The latter is why forest pictures are hard to do; the lack of perspective from moving means that the trees have no depth.

So these are a few photos that didn't really work, not because of technical problems like blurriness, but because the camera isn't an eyeball attached to a brain, or specifically, my brain.

This one I took because it is the first spot on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway from which you can see the new bridge. The bridge is easy to see in person; not so much in the photo. (Look just below the horizon, in the center.) Here's another distance problem. The idea was to get a photo of the boat, but actually make it the center of the photo, I had to zoom way in.

Here's the opposite problem; the photo shows more detail than the eye sees. I took this one because the light and shadows were very dramatic. I was wearing a hat and sunglasses and still couldn't see what was in the shadows. But that's not the case in the photo.

Last, here's a photo that turned out pretty well. It has the slug and its slime trail, which I wanted, and it's in focus. But photographs of pavement up-close always look too light. I think of pavement as black, although when worn it really is gray. The color may be accurate here but it doesn't "feel" right.


My first movie
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
My digital camera can do video, but I've never used that feature. I tried it for the first time today on a hike at Warner Parks. It works just fine, except that I can't hold the camera still enough without a tripod. It's not jerky enough to make you queasy, but it definitely has a "homemade" feel.

Also: snakes.