Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back to School

The semester, here at UVA, started this week. In fact, I kicked it off with an 8am calculus class on the first day. It's been a busy week, largely due to my failure this summer to use my time wisely, but it's been fun.

Last semester I didn't teach. To compensate, I worked as a tutor for athletes in their tutoring center. It was ok, and certainly had it's moments, but it's nothing like having your own class that you meet with several times a week. I was nervous before the semester that I wouldn't have my old enthusiasm for teaching. It's always been what's gotten me through grad school (both the teaching now, and the hope to teach when I'm done). This summer, though, I was frustrated and couldn't motivate myself to think about the semester. It didn't seem like a good sign, but it's just a few days in, and I'm feeling better already.

I've been reminded of the fun of starting the fall semester, with mostly first year (we don't call them freshmen here, I don't know why) students in my class. This is my 5th year in grad school, and the first class of my own that I taught was 4 years ago. That means most of that class will be graduating this year (I hope). I believe that today, walking around on campus, I passed one of the students from that first semester, but they made no indication that they recognized me. That'll happen, I guess. They probably forgot most of the math even quicker.

I always want my class to go well (who doesn't?). I want to show them interesting things, and the things they'll need to know. Of course, in calc classes (any math classes), there is no shortage of interesting things. It's harder to figure out what it is they need to know. Since my class is one of several coordinated calculus classes, I at least have a pretty good idea what will be on exams. Certainly that's something they'll want to know. Whether it's the "right" content for the exam or not is harder to tell. Do we teach something because it's content a later class depends on? Or do we teach it just out of tradition? Is there a national standard base-level curriculum at the college level that we're trying to follow? Harder still is determining if there is a better way to structure a class than having it be largely exam (and homework set) based. Perhaps there's a nice way to do the class that's project based? And just how much technology should we be using? The old "calculators question".

The start of the semester has it's frustrations. We use the online homework system webwork in my class, and I really like it. Of course, every time I use it, I think about other ways to have it set up. Since it's open source, I should probably try to contribute some of these ideas in code. Not right now though. For now, I've got the usual issue of making sure everybody can log in. Some changes were made to our setup here, but there still seem to be some login issues. My class is also set up to use an online waitlist for enrollment. Which means I'm getting lots of emails from students asking to get in, and if they have a chance to get in off the waitlist. And since they've now missed two class periods... it's a hastle.

It'll be good when the administrivia settles down, and we can concentrate on the math. We're doing improper integrals tomorrow (and probably a little into Monday), and then spending several class periods covering the rest of the chapter on integration techniques. I've got an idea I'm excited about for teaching it, but I think I'll leave that for a later post, when I can tell you how it went. For now, the Mythbusters are busting some lunar landing myths.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

TN Roadtrip, Day 2 (13 Aug, 2008)

I had thought about getting a pretty early start to the morning to go for a run at an area of the park known as Cades Cove. There is a scenic 11 mile road there, with lots of places to stop and look at things, like historic log cabins. All of the roads in the park (that I was on) had lots of places to stop and look at the scenery, and probably all of the stops are worthwhile, if you've got lots of time. Anyway, the reason I had thought about doing this run was that the road is closed Wednesday (which it was) and Saturday mornings until 10am, to allow cyclists and pedestrians to have the road to themselves. However, when I talked to somebody at the information desk the day before, he mentioned that I was very likely to see bear if I did this. Seeing bear driving is one thing, but running is a whole new matter. Especially because one of the first things they tell you, for if you encounter a bear, is not to run. Besides his warning, at dinner the night before I had seen on the news that there had been a bear attack on a human that same day. It was the first attack since 2000, and billed as quite rare, but I was still a bit un-nerved. I also saw in the news that there was a local school that wasn't starting on time because they couldn't get their budget worked out. I was pretty surprised by this, but when I mentioned it to a friend, he said this was happening in several places. He said some of the schools are going to 4-day weeks to save some costs.

So I decided not to go on the run, planning instead on hiking a trail loop starting at Cades Cove. Cades Cove is less than 30 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor's Center, at the entrance to the park, and it takes about an hour to drive. I figured I could head out and do the hike, then drive the popular road loop. One of the first things I did when I started the hike was to pick up a walking stick. The main reason was that I didn't want to have to be finding sticks to defend myself with from a bear as it attacked me. I wanted to have one ready to go, just in case. Probably silly, but there you have it.

Perhaps a mile or so in on the trail, I came to a clearing with this log cabin:
While still basically in sight of the cabin, along the trail, I saw 2 dear in the woods. I was glad I was doing the hike, instead of one of the many people on the road who didn't get to see the deer. Sure, a cabin or two is probably interesting to see, but deer are more fun. They didn't seem too upset with me, and let me pass without running away. The trail continued slightly uphill for a short while, at which point I encountered my first bear of the day. It was right there on the trail, and actually I kinda came around a corner and saw it, so got closer than I was happy with. After backing off, and getting my picture,
I waited around and listened to the bear wander off slowly into the woods. When it sounded far enough away, I continued on along the trail.

From that point on, I was pretty nervous hiking. Every sound in the woods gave me pause. Not long (15 minutes, maybe) after my first bear encounter, I was heading up a larger hill, and heard something off to my left. I couldn't see anything, but it wasn't far off the trail. So I backed up, and tried making a little bit of noise (coughing, tossing a stone at a larger rock on the trail). I wasn't trying to scare whatever it was, I just wanted it to know I was there, so I didn't surprise it. Bear Grylls [wiki] taught me to make my presence known. Seems to me a frightened animal is more dangerous, and I didn't want to encounter any of that. So anyway, I stood there for a while, not seeing anything, and not hearing it wander off. So I tried heading up the trail again, keeping a keen eye out. Before I got too close, I saw that it was, indeed, another bear. They tell you, in addition to not running, that if a bear attacks you are supposed to make yourself look bigger, by holding up your arms and standing on a rock or tree stump. Being downhill, this knowledge made me fairly uncomfortable. I backed off again from the bear (couldn't get a good picture this time), and decided that perhaps I'd try my luck along another trail (one that I was actually more interested in, since it was in higher mountains).

On my way back down the trail, right where I had seen the first bear, I heard something that sounded large on the side of the trail again. This time the sound was coming up, toward the trail, from a little valley, so I couldn't see anything. I started moving faster, keeping myself pointed toward the noise, holding my arms up, and talking at the noise. I never did see anything, happily. Shortly thereafter, I passed a few hikers heading back in that direction, and told them to keep an eye out. They seemed eager to see a bear, so I hope they got the opportunity. I, on the other hand, was fed up with seeing bears, and was glad not to have any more encounters. However, the rest of the day I was nervous, and on high alert.

The next main portion of my trip was a long hike along the Bull Head and Rainbow Falls trails (in that order), and was probably the highlight of my Smoky Mountains touring. This is a 12+ mile loop, and there's an additional half-mile spur you can do near the top to bring you to some lodges near the peak of Mt. Le Conte, bringing the total to 13+ miles. This made me feel a little better about not running in the morning, since I'd still be getting a workout. The hike took me just more than 5 hours, but I was kinda pushing myself. The first 2 hours were nearly all uphill, which I simply loved (modulo the being nervous about bears bit). I saw only 4 other hikers this entire time, in 2 groups of 2. It's wonderful how much elevation you can get walking uphill for 2 hours. I was also amazed by how much the vegetation changed along my walk. The trip back down Rainbow Falls trail bring you past, get this - Rainbow Falls. Amazing huh? The falls themselves weren't entirely impressive, though I expect that at wetter times of the year this might not be the case. Even so, it's a beautiful area.
The falls are about 2.5 miles from the nearby parking area, so this section of trail is a little bit busier. One group I caught up to mentioned a mama bear with cubs that I'd apparently just missed on my way down the trail. The bears were apparently just on the other side of the creek from the trail. Probably the cubs were cute, but mama bears are especially dangerous, so I'm not sure how disappointed I am that I missed these guys.

After the hike, I followed the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which is a single-lane, one-way road. I think if you buy the \$1 visitor's guide, it has some information that accompanies the various numbered signs you'll see along the way. It was a quite nice loop, and fun to drive, with lots of nice scenery.
This picture was taken from a stop about a mile from the start of the loop. I almost wished I'd just stayed there the remaining time until sunset. I bet it was amazing. I'd recommend this loop to anybody who was in the area. It doesn't take too long to drive (I think it's only about 6 miles), and is quite pretty.

So there you have it. The Smoky Mountains Park is wonderful, and I highly recommend it. Stop in the visitor's center on your way in and buy some maps to both support the park and help you decide what to do with your time. If you plan on hiking alone, some pepper spray might also help you feel more comfortable about bear encounters. I found the webpage also to be helpful, with lots of good information about planning your trip. The trails I was on were all well marked, and very well maintained. There were signs at all the trail junctions indicating which trail was which, and also indicating distances to the next trail. If you are driving the park, pick any (better: several) of the little stop-offs to get out of your car and wander around. I've posted a few more of my (favorite) pictures over on flickr, if you are interested.

Friday, August 15, 2008

TN Roadtrip, Day 1 (12 Aug, 2008)

I came into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the North, coming in off route 40 headed towards Knoxville, TN. After getting off 40, I drove through Sevierville (where my hotel was) and Pidgeon Forge, and just bypassed Gatlinburg which is on the edge of the park. I was shocked by how much Sevierville/Pidgeon Forge (there isn't much of a gap between them) put me off. Along the main stretch of road, there are an incredible number of hotels, chain restaurants, flashing lights and neon signs. There were many 'Dinner and a Show' places, raceways and go carting, a little bungee jump place, indoor skydiving (wind tunnel), arcades, a 'Movie Rider', skate park, 'Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride', and probably many more strange things. I have no idea what the area is built up like this. Dollywood is nearby, I don't know if that's what started it or not. I expected to be vaguely in the middle of nowhere when I got near the park, but instead felt like I was at a circus or something. Only two of the attraction sorts of things were things I wasn't sad to see. The first was cheap helicopter rides. I don't know what it gets you, but all the places had signs that said \$10. The second was pancake houses. There are a half dozen 'Flapjacks' alone (it's 20 miles or so from route 40 to the park - the traffic lights have mile marker indications, which I liked), and many others going by other names. I did eat at a Flapjacks, but wasn't entirely impressed, least of all by their pancakes. I also ate at a 'Buddy's BBQ', which I was pleased to find.

Anyway, I got to the park, and stopped at the Sugarlands Visitors Center, which is basically the first thing you run into when you get to the park. The park doesn't charge admission, so there were lots of donation boxes around. Some of them were associated with buying maps, and I ended up getting a 'Starter Pack' with many maps and guides for only \$5. Seemed like the best deal. Also at the visitor's center (and various other parking areas) there was a First Amendment Expression Area, which I was humored by.

From the visitor's center I headed down Newfound Gap Road on my way to Clingman's Dome. This is at the highest peak in the park, and therefore 'On Top of Old Smoky'. The road to Clingman's Dome ends at a parking lot, and then it's a paved walkway the remaining half mile to the top of the mountain. It's a somewhat steep walkway, and pretty busy.
But that's to be expected, being the highest peak. At the top is an observation deck, with a looping ramp up.
I wasn't expecting that, but it puts you above the trees so you can see all the way out.

Once I was back in my car, driving back down from the dome, I saw my first bear of the trip. It was right along the side of the road, happily just poking it's nose around in the grass, presumably eating something. It seemed not to care at all about the cars and spectators it was attracting. After a few minutes, I wanted to keep moving, so I drove by it, and snapped a picture out my window:

Now mid-afternoon, I headed to my hotel for check-in. The main thing that kicked off this road trip was a Nine Inch Nails concert in Knoxville, which was this evening. On my way in, I'd seen signs that there was some construction on the roads in Knoxville right where I wanted to be, so I wanted to get in early, in case I needed to find my way around. It turned out to not be any problem at all, so I had plenty of time to try to find somewhere to eat. I didn't find much near the convention center, where the concert was, besides 'Market Square' which had a few places, only one of which (that I noticed) was a national chain place (a Subway). I ate at Trio's, which I'd happily go back to.

The concert was, of course, awesome. NIN always put on quite a show. If they release a dvd for this tour (as they have for 2 previous tours), I'll be delighted to get it. They do lots of fun video things, and had an awesome setup. Best of all, they played for nearly 2 hours. With a music library stretching back 20 years, they had no problem filling the time, and drew from all of their albums. The opening act was a band called 'Deerhunter', who, apparently, were from Pidgeon Forge. When the tour was announced, a little 'sampler' was released (still available, at that link), with a song from each of the various opening bands that would be joining NIN along the way. Sadly, Deerhunter was perhaps my least favorite of the three. At the concert, their music was decent enough, but they didn't put on much of a show. The lead singer (a guy) came out dressed as a cheerleader, skirt and all, and couldn't have weighed more than... his guitar probably. It was incredible, and kinda disturbing. They didn't seem to get much respect or adoration from the crowd. All the same, I had a great time. I've not been to many concerts, and the experience in the mosh pit was something few for me. I've now been crowd-surfed over, which is an indication that I was pretty close to the front, I reckon.

The Rivanna Trail

Update 2013-01-27: I wrote an updated, and fuller, set of directions.

I recently sat down to make a few notes about following the Rivanna Trail, and thought that if I posted them here, people might find them useful. In my experience, the map the Foundation provides, and the accompanying notes, still leave you exploring various sections along the trail, trying to find the right way. All the same, I love the trail, and consider it one of the best things about living in Charlottesville. The main trail is marked with green diamonds that say RTF. There are a few trail stubs running off the main trail (or alternate routes for some sections), and these are marked with brown diamonds. The notes below attempt to guide you counter-clockwise along the trail, following the green trail, starting from the trailhead near Fontaine Research Park, and bringing you all the way back around to the trails around the O-Hill area. At that point there are many options for which trails to take, and I won't try to guide you through it - besides one little remark about the one turn that doesn't seem to be properly marked, if you are trying to follow the trail.

These notes should not be taken as authoritative or anything, though I believe them to be correct at the time of writing.

Fontaine - Sunset: The trailhead is on the east side (the side the research park is on) of 29, just north of the bypass. There is a nice large sign. Taking that trail, it isn't too far before you get out to a road again (you cross over a fence on a ladder sort of contraption at one point). You'll follow that down-hill for a short bit. The trail continues on your left (there's a sign), just after you cross the bridge. Along the trail, it isn't long before you cross a creek, and then you'll come out to a gravel road. You turn right on that road, go under a bridge, and then the road forks, and I've always gone to the left. That'll take you up a short, steepish hill, and it'll soon become a paved road - Stribling. From there, you turn right on Sunset (still paved) and you'll go down a hill. That road comes to a T, and you turn right to stay on Sunset. That road ends shortly thereafter at a little parking lot and a small creek (probably pretty dry this time of year, I'd guess). You cross the bridge, and the trail goes off to the left. If you keep going straight, instead of taking the trail, you get to the Eagle's Landing apartments.

Sunset - Azalea Park: After a while, it'll pop you out at a road, McElroy (you'll be at the end of this road). Follow the road, which loops around to the left, then take another right to get on Middleton, which quickly hits Old Lynchburg Rd. I generally turn right at that stop sign, and follow the road down to Azalea park, which'll be on your left. I think the trail literature suggests you cross Old Lynchburg, and turn right on the next road, since it's less busy (Old Lynchburg makes me nervous, it's twisty and there's not really any shoulder, and the cars go zipping by). I'm not sure where that'll take you, but it certainly heads down toward Azalea Park.

Azalea - 5th: The last time I was down at Azalea Park (early July), the grass was pretty tall and overgrown. Perhaps they've done some maintenance since then. Anyway, the trail goes kinda through Azalea park (I think there's a few ways to do this), following and eventually crossing the creek. You'll end up at a wide open space, with the creek on your left and 5th street in front of you. The trail crosses under 5th at the creek.

5th: Last I was there (early July), the section around 5th street was in bad shape (fairly essential bridge was out). I suggest, when you get to 5th street (right after going under it, if I recall, you can turn right and go up the embankment to the road), just turning right on 5th (to go north, back towards C'ville) and following the road for a while. You'll cross Harris at a light, and head down a hill. Shortly after the road starts going up again you should see a sign for the RTF on your right. It'll be just a little before a new development, which I seem to recall is called Italian Villas, or something similar.

5th - Avon: Following that trail for a little while (the creek will be on your right most of the time, but I seem to recall a crossing right before the end), you'll eventually come out at a little park - Jordan Park. Head out to the road (6th) and follow it left (the park is at the end of the road, there's only one way to go). Go just a short bit and you'll get to Palatine Ave, which you'll turn right on. That'll take you to Avon St (a somewhat busier road, you'll be at a stop sign). Turn right on Avon. Shortly after crossing the bridge, the trailhead is on your left, and it doubles back on the road (so you basically make a u-turn), and then you turn right to continue along the trail, following the creek again.

Avon - Woolen Mills: Following that trail, and the green signs for a while, you'll eventually cross under a road (Woolen Mills), and the trail continues. The creek will be on your left, and 64 off to your right. There is a fairly rocky section in here, so if the weeds are covering the trail at that point, you'll probably have to slow down a bit to do all the rock-hopping safely. Eventually, if you just stay on this trail, you'll get to a short, steep (up) gravel section, that ends at railroad tracks. You've got two options at this point, both of which involve crossing the creek. One way is to just walk through the water, the other is to cross on the railroad tracks bridge. I've always taken the bridge option, but it always makes me nervous. Some of the boards aren't in great condition and you're up kinda high. Also, I don't know if it's still in use, but I would not want to be up there when a train went by.

Bridge - Riverview: If you take the bridge option, after you cross the water you'll need to venture down the hill off to your right. The railroad tracks cross Marchant Rd, which you can take to get down the hill. It'll get you to E. Market St, where you turn right. Shortly thereafter you turn left on Riverside (at the Woolen Mills Chapel) and go down a short, steep hill, at the bottom of which is Riverview park, on your right. All these roads are paved.

Riverview - River Rd: At Riverview, you'll be following the parking lot, and there will be 2 trails. One would be if you continue straight, the other goes off to the right, heading toward the creek. You can take either, they both meet up after a short while (I generally go off to the right, I think it's just slightly longer). The trail will be a paved walkway for a few miles, and basically follows the creek (which'll be on your right), passing under route 250 at one point. Eventually you'll pop out at a field with some soccer goals set up. You can continue following the trail, or you'll see a parking lot off to your left - you can head up there and turn right on the road that's there (River Rd). If you stay on the trail, it'll go just a short bit, and then there will be signs pointing you to the left. That trail heads up a hill, then runs along a fence at a VFW building until you get to the road (River, same road), on which you'll turn right.

River and Locust: You head up the hill on River, and at the stop sign at the end of River (at the top of the hill), you turn right on Locust. That'll head down a little bit, and get to a T. You head left at the T, and then take your first little road to your right. At the end of that short little road is a sign for the RTF (kinda on the right side of the road).

Locust - Morton: From there, the trail is fairly easy to follow for a while. You'll pretty much follow the creek, and the trail is mostly well-marked. You'll cross Holmes Rd, and also go under Rio Rd (where it changes to Park St, at the traffic light with Melbourne, if you were actually on the roads). The trail continues for a while, following (and occasionally crossing) the creek. Eventually, you'll end up crossing over the creek on a concrete bridge along a hill, and you'll see a big fat pipe running along the creek on the far side. At the top of that hill is railroad tracks, but the trail doesn't go up that way. You cross the creek, and then get on the pipe, going right (it ends just off to the left). This goes through a bit of a tunnel, under those railroad tracks. After this, it's again fairly easy to follow the trail. Just keep your eye out for signs and the trail markings. You'll have a few more tunnels to go through, and a road crossing or two. At one point you go through a tunnel (under Hydraulic Rd), then a short way until some stairs, which bring you to the intersection of Hydraulic Rd. and 250. Turn right, and then after going over a bridge over the creek, the trail goes off to the left (there's a sign), down a short hill and through another tunnel (under 250)

Morton - Barracks: The trail spits you out behind some hotels on Morton Dr. You turn right on Morton, and are quickly greeted with 29/Emmet St at a light (the intersection where Bodo's Bagels is). Cross 29, and continue straight on Morton (or, what would be Morton. It might just be a driveway). Near the end of that little road you'll see a sign on your left for the RTF. That'll put you on a gravel pathway. Before too long that bit of trail ends after crossing a little bridge, and you'll see a little road basically in front of you (trees on your left, building/parking lot on your right). Go out to the road (Cedars Ct), turn left on it, and it ends at Barracks Road. The trailhead is basically straight across Barracks from there (there's a sign).

Barracks - Ivy: One you get on the trail, after crossing Barracks, the trail is again pretty easy to follow for a while. Just keep following the little green signs. You'll cross a road (N. Grounds Connector, the 250/29 bypass is off to the right) after going up a steepish hill, but the trail pretty much just keeps going there. At the next road you get to (Old Ivy), there's no indication where to go. You turn left on Old Ivy, but then a quick right into a parking lot (I can't remember what for right now, I think it says something about books, or library, or special collections). Going along that parking lot, there'll be a building on your left, and at the end of the parking lot you'll see a road (Ivy) and railroad tracks, and the way to get to them (it's easy, just going through the grass, and crossing the railroad tracks). Cross Ivy (you'll be at a light, basically), and there's a little fire station there, and a sign for the trail.

O-Hill: You're now back at the O-Hill area, and there are many, many trails in that area. Some of them dump you out at roads besides Fontaine. If you are trying to follow the marked green trail, the last time I ran it there was only one junction (that I recall) at which I couldn't tell, by the signs, which way to go. It's at a little bridge, and you can either go straight then right, or left which will take you up a (big) hill. If you take the straight/right option, you'll start seeing green signs again before too long. If you go left, and up the big hill... you'll have some fun finding lots of trails and seeing what roads they come out at :)

So there you have it. I hope these helped, or at the very least, didn't lead you astray anywhere. Perhaps someday I'll wander around the trail with a camera, to make it easier to follow the descriptions above. Until then, I suggest taking a sense of adventure with you, at least your first time out. It took me some exploring to find my way around the trail. My favorite section is from Riverview park back to Fontaine, which I've done many times. The other bit I don't enjoy as much, don't do as frequently, and therefore have slightly lesser memory for. If you've got suggestions, or better descriptions, for any parts of the trail, feel free to leave a comment.

Happy Trails.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fast Friday

I have decided to make Friday, August 15, 2008, a day of fasting for myself. I'll only drink water, and eat no food, from 12:00am to 11:59pm. I thought posting this here would help my commitment. Perhaps it'll encourage somebody else to do the same, and knowing other people are at it will help us all.

I've never done an all day fast. I've probably never even done a daylight fast, or anything like that. As Stephen Colbert said once on the Daily Show, 'I like to eat.' So why am I doing this? Lots of reasons, and no reason.

With running, I've been pushing myself physically. Presumably some part of the reason is to see what I'm capable of. Not eating for a day will be pushing myself.

In a similar spirit, I expect that not eating for a day has health benefits (at least, 'can have', with proper consideration). Again, with the running I've been doing, I don't feel unhealthy. I'm fortunate to never have had a problem with my weight. All the same, I expect there can be benefit here.

Also with things like marathons, it's something I can say I've done. Sure, lots of people have run marathons. Heck, Oprah ran a marathon. Still. Like bungee jumping, and hopefully someday sky diving, I, too, have been there. I can have some sense of what it's like. After Friday, I'll (hopefully) be able to add 'a day of fasting' to the list.

Finally, I know that I am fortunate to have the problem of deciding what to eat several times a day, instead of wondering if I'm going to be able to eat. I am a lucky member of a wealthy nation. I don't know how exactly a day of fasting fits in here. Perhaps by putting myself, even just a little, in somebody else's shoes, something beneficial will happen. Or perhaps I'm just another 'rich' asshole trying to make himself feel better without actually doing anything worthwhile.

Whatever the cause, whatever the effect, I'm going for it. I'll let you know how it goes. But before that, I'm heading to Knoxville to see Nine Inch Nails in concert, and then spend a day in the Great Smoky Mountains, so I'll presumably tell you about that, or at least point you at pictures.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bedtime FAIL

It being summer and my not having much of a schedule have ganged up on my sleep routine. They've pushed both the going to bed and the getting up hours later than normal. The other day I went for a run starting at 2 in the morning. Currently it's 5am, and I'm still reasonably awake. I had thought this would work out, but I just realized that I've got an organized group run Saturday starting bright and early in the morning, so I'd like to be back to regular sleep schedule by then. I figure the way to get back on track is to just stay up really long one 'day'. Of course, this will likely require above-average levels of caffeine. And since my run this weekend is fairly long, I'm going to need to spend at least the day before hydrating - focusing on water and perhaps some gatorade, instead of coffee and mt. dew. More than one day would be better, but I guess I'll take what I can get. Try to get lots of water in between coffee breaks.

This'll actually be my second 'all-nighter' this summer. And I don't even do that much, or have tests to cram for or anything.

Getting back on track now is also convenient because Tuesday I'm planning on waking up early-ish to drive out to Knoxville. The main point of the excursion being to see Nine Inch Nails in concert there. Since Knoxville is pretty close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I'm also going to spend a day hanging out there. Totally sweet.

So anyway, there wasn't much point to any of this for you lot. But it helped me stay awake another couple minutes. On to the next adventure, after making some coffee...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Experimental Get Together

I recently decided it would be nice to have an organized get together of grad students in the math department here at UVA. Being summer, I figured plenty of people wouldn't be around, and I also figured not everybody would be interested. Even moreso, I knew that I didn't want to be in charge of organizing such a thing. But if I didn't, I wasn't sure anybody else would.

To overcome this gap, I decided to try to make it self-organizing. I set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs and set it so that anybody could edit it. This was intended to be a repository of information about the outing: who was going, how they were getting there, what (if any) food they planned on bringing, and what sorts of activities they hoped to do while out and about. After entering my info, and having a friend in the department make sure he could edit it as well, I sent out an email to the math graduate students. In the email I emphasized that I didn't want to be in charge, and pointed everybody to the spreadsheet. I figured we're all supposedly smart (enough) people, we could certainly organize ourselves.

It didn't quite work out as I had envisioned. With little more than a week to go before the outing, only 1 more person had added to the spreadsheet. I had also gotten a couple of emails from people saying they would be out of town. But no word from plenty of people who I thought would be interested and around. One day I ran across one of the visiting instructors, who was teaching some of the summer classes UVA offers for incoming and rising second year grad students (it's an awesome feature of the department). Apparently he'd been thinking about having a group picnic or so for his class, and asked if he could just merge with my little experiment. I figured this was fine, and that many of the attendees would be from that class anyway (even if they weren't on the spreadsheet). I sent him a link to the spreadsheet, but apparently there were some technical troubles using it - he indicated that Google had required a login, which I hadn't expected.

So anyway, the day came, and plenty of people turned out. The majority of them were from the summer class, or probably had spoken directly with them. We had a good time sitting around talking and eating munchies, then playing some frisbee golf. It's quite fun to watch 10ish people all coming your way throwing frisbees, by the way.

But I'm still a little confused about the apparent failure of the online organizational aspect of the outing. I thought having one specific place where anybody could go to see about the day, and add their 2 cents, would be helpful. It could organize rides, and appropriate amounts of food. I wonder if perhaps a Facebook group would have had more traction with the other students, as most of them were not much more than a year out of undergrad. Perhaps such outings really do better with an overseeing individual, a role which may, this time, have been played by the other instructor. I still think a wiki-style organized outing would work. Maybe I'll try again sometime. I expect I'll be around for another summer...