Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jogger's Progress


As predicted, I didn't get to run either yesterday or today. I could have run yesterday, because the rain didn't roll in until mid-morning, but I didn't set my alarm. So I came up one day short of my goal for April. For May, I'm setting a goal of 21 days. There are three more weekdays in May than in April, plus it ought to get easier for me to run on the weekend. So I can do it.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


What a week!

It started with the Stats Exam. After last week's tornado drill, I decided to have the exam in the afternoon, outside of class. We set it for Monday afternoon. When I do this, I usually have an open exam period, so people can come when they are able. So the first students started at 4:00, and the last ones didn't leave until close to 8:00. Since I'd come at close to 8:00 that morning, that made for a twelve hour day.

Of course, not everyone could find time on Monday afternoon, so there were make up exams to give. Two people took it last Thursday, one Monday morning, one Tuesday morning, and two Wednesday at noon. As I type, the exams are sitting on the coffee table, waiting for me to finish grading them.

I had to visit three classes this week. On Tuesday, I went to review a junior colleague for his file. He did just fine, considering what an awful task he had. It was a Tuesday/Thursday class, which means that no one had thought about the material for five days, until late Monday night. It was at 8:00 in the morning, so they were all half-asleep. And it was Trigonometry, which is a class that they all had in high school, so they think that they know it. Of course, if they knew it, they wouldn't have to take it, but that doesn't mean that they have to, you know, study or anything. So Junior Colleague was starting with three strikes against him. It's no wonder he didn't hit a home run.

The other two classes that I had to visit were candidates for a teaching award. I sit on the committee that makes the recommendation. One of the two candidates is the German teacher, so I got to sit through a whole class in a language that I do not speak. When we found out he was a candidate, I tried to dump the responsibility on someone who has had some German, but no one would take it. I really am more impressed with the other guy, but I'm second guessing myself, wondering to what extent it's because I understand Biology -- not just the lecture, but the whole idea of what a good biologist does -- better than I understand foreign languages.

This week was the big one for our Senior Seminar. As a capstone, the students have to prepare and present some material that is outside the regular curriculum. There are something like 10 students this semester, but I "only" made it to two or three of the talks. And we had a guest speaker in our Math Colloquium, an old friend of mine from out of town. So we went out for pizza with him and his wife and our whole family.

And yesterday was the Medium Little Jogger's birthday, and Grandma Jogger and her partner are here from out of town. So I feel like I've been pulled a thousand directions all week.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Happy Birthday, Little Jogger!

Eight years ago today, the Medium Little Jogger came into the world, wriggling and wailing, and he's been wriggling and wailing pretty much ever since.

He's a high-octane bundle of creative energy. He's most likely, of the four, to be racing around the house, making car noises, or gun noises, or just noise noises. He can be very sensitive, and when his feelings are hurt -- which is frequent -- he'll lash out and call someone a "meanie" or an "idiot." But such tempests rarely last long. In a few minutes, with a little distraction, he'll be back to being your best buddy.

He is not blessed with great patience. He'll moan hungrily when he's ready to eat, even if his last snack was not that long before. Anticipation of something fun feels like "hours" or "days" or even "a hundred years." When he does find something to do, he will get so absorbed in it that he can't tear himself away.

He loves to build and create. He can turn a pile of scratch paper and a roll of tape into a spaceship, and use it to take over the house. He amuses and amazes his Sunday School teacher by working dragons and monsters into every creative endevor. Who knew the New Testament had so many space aliens?

Above all, he's a young man who lives life intensely and fully, sucking the juice from every moment. I hate to see him grow up, if it will mean losing that joy.

Day 73 -- Banana Peels

I went for a nice long run this morning. I woke up before the alarm, so I got out early, and I'm guessing I'm not going to get to run tomorrow or the next day. It's threatening to rain all weekend.

The weirdest thing that happened today happened in the real world (as opposed to Pennsylvania.) I'm running along, and there's a banana peel by the side of the road. I kind of notice it, but it's not like trash is exactly unusual. Then a couple hundred yards later, there's another banana peel. And a couple of hundred yards later, there's another one. Three was all I found, but still it was strange. And if it was one person, and he was driving and throwing the peels out the window, he must have been pounding the things down. They weren't that far apart.

This image is from a photoshop tutorial by "Maestro Calhoun." Thanks, Maestro.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Day 72 -- Rebuilt Section

And it looks very nice, too.

Six miles today. I still need to run one day this weekend, to make my 20 days in April, but it's threatening to rain. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Day 71 -- Quecreek Mine Disaster Rescue Shaft

West of Somerset is the site of the Quecreek Mine Disaster Rescue. Remember that? It wasn't that long ago. In July, 2002, nine miners were trapped in a mine shaft when they accidentally broke through to a flooded mine, cutting themselves off. For four days, the world watched the attempted rescue, and collectively breathed a sigh of relief when all nine emerged alive. This is the covered shaft of the rescue tunnel.

My day wasn't nearly so exciting. I ran six miles, indoors. I'm going to shoot for outside again in the morning.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Talk

There comes a time in every teacher's life when she or he has to have The Talk with a student. "Kid, you just aren't going to get the grade that you hoped for."

Usually, this is with a student who thinks they can pass, but they can't. It's amazing how hope springs eternal. But today's Talk was with a student who wants an A, but will be lucky to get a B. It was not an easy Talk. It started with specific questions on the exam. "Why did I only get 4 points on this question when my answer was correct?" "How about this one? What more was I supposed to show?" I tried to be sympathetic, but the truth is that he made really common mistakes. If I were to regrade his paper, I'd have to call them all back and regrade a bunch of them. So I didn't give him much satisfaction.

From there, it progressed to how he was doing in the course. I am grading very tough on the assignments, with the intention of making it up on the final curve. I've been very up front about that. But it means that right now his percentage is really low. I've been very clear about what I consider a decent pace, and he's right there at a B. But somehow, he has the impression that I've decided he can't get an A, and what do I have against him, anyway?

The funny thing is, I really like this student. He's a hard worker, and he's getting the most out of his ability. But this is a hard course, and he just isn't in the class of the people who are getting A's. So, how do you gently say that?

technorati tag:

Day 70 -- Better Late Than Never

It took long enough to make it to day 70. I had meant for day 70 to be Saturday, and then I'd be ahead of my schedule for April. But I got rained out. I didn't really try for Sunday, but I thought at least I could run on Monday, and stay on schedule for April. But I was up in the middle of the night on Monday with a terrible migraine. I had to take my drugs and wait for them to kick in, so when I finally got back to bed, I turned off my alarm clock. So day 70 was today, finally. Now I'll have to run on the weekend to make my goal of 20 days in April. I hope that the weather is good.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Day 69 -- Covered Bridge

I guess Somerset County is famous for its covered bridges. This is the Shaffer Bridge over Ben's Creek. Don't know why I picked that one. There are lots of good ones on that page.

Day 69 was actually yesterday, Friday, but I headed out of town to a conference. It was a great conference, not the least because for the first time in a while, I wasn't in charge of anything. I just went to talks -- mostly good ones -- and sat back and relaxed when things didn't go smoothly.

One of my favorites was right away. The first talk was at 1:00, in a room where there was a class until 12:55. So that class filed out, and we filed in, with a bunch of students, who seemed to expect their class, apparently at 1:10. So the local organizer got on the phone and confirmed with the powers that be that the room definitely was committed for the conference, and there was no damn class scheduled to be in there. Apparently the prof had moved the class at the beginning of the semester without going through official channels. So the students surpressed their disappointment and disappeared into the sunny afternoon, and we started our talk. I never did find out what the prof said when she or he showed up and found the class gone and another speaker in the room. But it wasn't my problem, so I just sat back and enjoyed the talk.

I meant to go running this morning, and blog days 69 and 70 together. I like running around strange towns, and its still a safe thing to do in most of Wisconsin. But, alas, the weather didn't cooperate. It was raining when I got up. It cleared off pretty quickly, but not quickly enough for me to get breakfast and get to the meetings starting at 8:00.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Day 68 -- Where the hell am I?

Here I am with a tree that was "Planted for Peace" in Fairview, Pennsylvania, as part of International School Library Day. I thought that was a cool symbol.

Couple little problems. The tree was planted in 2001. It's a lot bigger now. But I think that my audience will forgive me a little temporal displacement. Worse than that, it's in the wrong Fairview. Did you know that there are ten Fairviews in Pennsylvania? What's up with that? Aren't there supposed to be one per state? I mean, nowadays, the town name doesn't really matter, as long as everyone has a unique ZIP code. But unless nine of those towns were founded within the last 43 years, there was a time when you would write to someone in Fairview, Pennsylvania, and the post office wouldn't know which of ten towns to take it to. How did that work?

Anyway, this tree is over by Lake Erie, not anywhere near the Fairview that I'm close to, which is just east of Somerset.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Day 67 -- Remembering 9/11

I'm passing south of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. If that sounds familiar, it's because that's near where flight 93 crashed on 9/11/01. I couldn't quite bring myself to insert my picture into one of the crash site. There are some things that are just too sensitive.

We were just talking today about the new movie about flight 93. The consensus in our group was that it was a bad idea. The memories are too raw, and the facts are just too sparse. But hey, they wouldn't have made have made it if they didn't think they were going to make money. I mentioned that a movie producer would probably go broke trying to tailor movies to my taste.

So, anyway, I ran about 4.6 miles today. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tornado Drill

I have an exam scheduled for Thursday afternoon, in my 12:30 - 2:00 class, and in my 2:00 - 3:30 class. So I got back to my office today, after reviewing for the exam in both classes, to find an e-mail notifying us that there would be a tornado drill on Thursday. There is going to be a "watch" announced at 1:00, and a "warning" issued at 1:30. Unless the weather is bad. If the weather is bad, they will postpone it, because they don't want to confuse anyone.

So, what am I going to do?

a) Proceed as planned, and hope the weather is bad. (That's what they are predicting.) Then if they do have a drill, we'd have to work through it. It would probably only be a portion of the students who were left at that time, but it would make it hard for them to work while sirens are going off.

b) Switch the test to next week. But I don't have any spare time in the schedule, so I would have to cover new material on Thursday, which then would not be on the exam. Not easy to get their attention.

c) Switch to an evening exam. That way, I can review in class on Thursday, and not lose any additional time. The problem there is that there isn't a lot of time to arrange it, and I would end up giving a dozen make-up exams for people who can't make the evening time.

Whatever I decide, I need to decide it now, and get plans underway. What a pain. Couldn't they at least give more advanced notice of this kind of thing?

Day 66 -- Roxbury Holiness Camp

I'm nearing Roxbury, Pennsylvania, home of the Roxbury Holiness Camp. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. I figure that I need all the holiness I can get. These people are from the Brethren Volunteer Service. I hope that they don't mind me joining their photo.

I ran 49 minutes this morning, outdoors, which I'm counting as 5.4 miles. Now I need to work on not blowing off tomorrow.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Day 65 -- I have nothing to report, and I'm reporting it

Another 5.3 miles or so today. I'm in a hurry, so I didn't find any new picture to post. I'll try to get something tomorrow.

It was relatively cold here this morning, but I'm stubborn, so I still ran outside. It doesn't seem to have killed me. There's supposed to be one more cool night, so we'll see what I do tomorrow morning. "Sleep in" has a nice ring to it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Teaching Carnival

The new Teaching Carnival is up at A Delicate Boy. I am not represented, which doesn't surprise me. I haven't tagged anything for the Teaching Carnival in the last month, because I didn't think I'd written anything worth preserving. There are, however, a bunch of really good posts, as usual. Check it out.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Day 64 -- 5K

After two long days, I ran a short 5K today. My goal was to make it in under 25 minutes, and I did.

I'm nearing Manns Choice, Pennsylvania, home of Dillners Antique Tractors.

Friday, April 14, 2006

I've been quoted

Just for the fun of it, I Googled "jogamericablog." The top hit was my page, which was to be expected. There were a few hits from blogs that link to me, notably Dr. Crazy and Dena Marie. There was a hit from one of the Teaching Carnivals, and a trackback from an obit for Octavia Butler that I had linked to. And there was this. (Note this is a pdf.)

This is apparently an actual newsletter. With advertisements and everything. I guess they really print copies and send them to people in exchange for money. And in their article on "Academic Bloggers on...Grade Inflation", they quoted this post of mine, in full.

I don't know why this makes me so happy. It's nice to be recognized, if only in a small way. (If I've had a sudden rush of hits from the millions of subscribers to this thing, I've missed it.) It's nice to read what I wrote and feel that it has held up pretty well. (My only regret is that they didn't include the link to the original story, so someone just reading what I said wouldn't necessarily understand the background.)

I should also say that some of the other people whom they quoted also had very good points to make. It's a very provocative piece, and I'm proud to be part of it.

Day 63 -- Living History

Still near Bedford. I decided to stop in to the History through the Centuries event at Fort Bedford. Here you can see me discussing strategy for the cannons with members of the Hampton Battery. Those guys really needed my advice, let me tell you.

I had another nice long run this morning. I slept in a little, and still got up and ran, because, hey, it's an off day. I keep feeling like it's Saturday, but it's not. I still have three more full days of weekend.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Spring has Sprung

Like Dean Dad, we are experiencing our first long stretch of truly marvelous weather. And like Dean Dad, I hate it. Oh, don't get me wrong -- I love the weather. But it sure does make my job hard.

I had class at 12:30 and 2:00 today. On the last day before the four day break. When it was sunny and 70 degrees out. These are not ideal teaching conditions. The first class was antsy, and the second was comatose. It would have been just about as effective, and a lot less work, to say, "Look, I'm not going to lecture on this, because you all are just going to have to end up figuring it out by yourself whenever you get around to it. See ya!"

And it's only going to get worse! Why can't we have a nice stretch of crappy weather, just until mid-May?

Day 62 -- Coffee Pot

I don't know how far I actually ran today. I never do, when I run outside, but today was worse than usual, because I lost track of time, too. I ran for a while and then looked at my stopwatch, and it said 23 minutes. I thought, "Wow, I'm only halfway through." So I ran for a while more and looked at my stopwatch, and it said 23 minutes. Slowly it dawned on me that something might be amiss. So, anyway, I had to estimate my time based on my best guess of when I left the house, and then use that and an estimated pace to estimate my mileage. That's a lot of estimates, but I'm putting myself down for 5.5 miles. If you don't like it, you can just run across the country yourself, and set your own rules!

I'm nearing Bedford, PA, home of the World's Largest Coffeepot, an acheivement for which they don't seem to be particularly proud. I found it at the site, which is my kind of wacky web site. Everybody has to have a hobby. Mine is running across America. Erika Nelson's is "The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum." Cool with a capital K. I will definitely see if I can't cross her path again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Students who are Doomed

One of my courses, Linear Algebra, is a "transition" course. It is a level of abstraction above what most of the students have seen before, and it gives some students a lot of trouble. Now, I'm no stranger to courses that give students a lot of trouble. The big difference is that in this case, I've got a number of people who are math majors, who are getting their first taste of how hard math can be. A lot of people -- myself included -- are math majors because it always came easily. Except now, for some of my students, that's not true.

So, I look at some of these students and think, "They're never going to make it." Not that they aren't going to make it through Linear Algebra, but that they aren't going to make it through the program. If they can't handle this, they are going to get buried in some of the upper level courses. And there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it.

I don't have the guts to say to a student that they are never going to make it. I fear being the guy they look back as they accept their Field's Medal and say, "And that jerk Collins told me I'd never be a math major." So I just try to help them out and hope that I'm wrong.

Wednesday is lazy day

Another Wednesday when I slept in. I don't know what it is. I don't stay up late Tuesday night. It doesn't seem to make any difference if I've run hard that week or not. I just seem to skip Wednesday's workout. So now I have to make it up on the weekend, if I'm going to keep on pace for April. The good news is, the weather is turning glorious, and it will be fun to run outside on the weekend. If it doesn't rain.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Review Sessions

I have always struggled with review sessions. I like to have them, if possible outside of class. It's one time when I know that I have the students' attention, and, if it is outside of class, I can take the time I need to work through the examples, and not have to move on to get more done before the end of the hour.

The problem is scheduling them. I basically gave up doing outside-of-class reviews in Elementary Stats, because I'd go to a lot of trouble to find out when people were available, and I'd take time out of my day -- sometimes out of my personal time -- and I'd get two out of 60 students showing up.

This semester, I've been doing review sessions for Modern Algebra in the evening, after the little Joggers are in bed. That works out well in one way, because I don't have to feel like I'm taking time away from my family. And I've had good attendance, although it was less last night than the first two. This may be a sign that some students didn't feel the first two were helpful. Nonetheless, we got half the class, and I am pretty sure that I helped some of them, and they will be better prepared for the exam than if I hadn't done it.

The big problem is that I am totally wiped out today. I didn't get home until about 10:45, way past my normal bedtime. And I didn't get to sleep right away, either, because I was still wound up. So I probably lost an hour and a half or two hours of sleep last night. It really affected my concentration. I did the things I absolutely had to do, but they took longer than usual, and I didn't have any patience for the stuff that I need to do eventually.

Oh, well, early bed tonight, and I'll be back on tomorrow.

Day 61 -- Everett Free Library

I'm running near Everett, Pennsylvania, today, and I found a cute little library there. There web page is well-organized and informative. I would have stopped in, but I run first thing in the morning, and they don't open until 1 pm on Tuesdays.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Another Saturday night....

I did something Saturday evening that I've rarely done in my life: I watched a hockey game.

I've never been much of a hockey fan. I blame lack of exposure in my formative years. My father wasn't a hockey fan, so I never watched it with him. And I never really lived in a place where hockey was important, at least not until I was older. When I was in graduate school in Ann Arbor, the Red Wings were just starting a resurgence after years of mediocrity, so the whole area was abuzz with hockey talk. I flirted with becoming a fan. I watched some games, and kept up with the fortunes of the team. But when I moved on, that just sort of faded away.

However, the Wisconsin Badgers, another of my alma maters, was playing Saturday night in the National Championship Game. And it happened that I found out about it. And it happened that I didn't have anything better to do. So I watched. Mrs. Jogger gave me a weird look.

It was a good game, and the Badgers won, 2 - 1. The Wisconsin women's team had already won the National Championship, giving them the first sweep in NCAA hockey history. There was even a brother and sister who both played, one on each team.

So, I don't think I'm going to magically transform into a hockey fan. Perhaps I'll watch another game in another 15 years or so.

Day 60 -- A beautiful day for a run

The weather in Central Pennsylvania is mild and clear. More importantly, the weather in Southwest Wisconsin is mild and clear. It was nice enough to run outside this morning, so I did. I don't have a measured course outside, but I ran 45 minutes, so I'm counting it as 5 miles. That's less than the pace I make indoors, but there are no hills indoors. In any case, I'm sure I went at least 5 miles.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


The Jogger family has a new piano. Our friends are getting a new new piano, so their old piano is becoming our new piano. Neither Mrs. Jogger nor I is particularly musical, but a couple of the little Joggers are showing some promise, so what the heck. Today, everyone is fighting over who gets to make noise with it. Of course, once we start actual lessons, we'll have to jump up and down on them to get them to practice.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Day 59 -- Breezewood

Well here I am in Breezewood, and I was pleased to run into my fellow runner, David Horton. This picture is from his book, A Quest for Adventure, written with Rebekah Trittipoe. Of course, he's an extreme ultramarathoner, and I'm lucky to squeeze out six miles at once. But other than that, we're brothers under the skin.

Today, I squeezed out four miles, as promised.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Day 58 -- Plugging Along

I ran 5.3 miles today, not as slowly as yesterday, but not as quickly as the day before. I started out at a good pace -- I ran the first two miles in 16 minutes -- but I dropped off. I've already decided to run at most 4 miles tomorrow. Make it a short day, take Saturday off (and Sunday too, unless the weather is good) and start over next week.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Orson Scott Card on Organized Religion

"When you have faith in something a lot of other people believe, then you a member of the church," said Ceese. "When you have faith in something nobody believes, then you a complete wacko."

From his new book, Magic Street. I'm enjoying the book so far, but I am suspending justice until I see how it ends. In my experience, Card can be really spotty. A couple of his books -- Ender's Game and Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus jump to mind -- are among the best that speculative fiction has to offer. One or two -- notably Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Ender's Game -- are really bad. And the rest just leave me flat. I read Seventh Son, and when I was done, I was so unimpressed that I didn't bother to read any of the other Alvin Maker books. I got all the way through four of the five Homecoming books, but I dropped it before I finished the last. I read half of Wyrms and got distracted and never went back to it. So I'll try to finish this one, but I don't really have high hopes that it will be a classic.

I have a "Principle of Selection"

Who knew?

Thanks for the plug, Dena Marie.

Day 57 -- Grand Champion

After pushing my pace the last two days, I ran an easy 5.3 miles today. On top of that, it was such a beautiful day that I walked to school. It's only about a mile, but I've gotten out of the habit of walking it. I'm not adding the distance to my JogAmerica records. I've committed to running across America, not walking. But it was that much extra exercise, which can't hurt.

Today, I'm passing close to Hustontown, PA, home of the Keystone International Livestock Exhibition Grand Champion Black Angus Bull.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Quagmire

I'm involved in a Quagmire Project. It seemed so innocent when I started it. It seemed like a good idea, and I had a lot of energy, and I liked the people that I was working with. But as we have gone along, the going has gotten rougher, and I have come to believe less and less in the project, and -- well, I have observed some flaws in the group process.

One big flaw is me. The project doesn't really match my style, very well. Now, I try not to let my students get away with, "Oh, I'm not good at that." So I have a certain internal pressure to overcome my own limitations and do what I have committed to do. But it's hard, because I'm not motivated.

Another flaw is me. I'm not assertive enough. I haven't had the gumption to say, "Hey, this is a bad idea." "I don't think that this project is well-focussed." "I think that we should head this direction." So the project has gone the way the project has gone, and I'm sort of stuck with the results.

A third flaw is me. I have enough of a perfectionist streak that, if I'm going to do this project, I want to do it right. I want it to be something that I can be proud of. Something I can put on my C.V., not disavow any connection with. And it's not heading that direction. Which also saps my motivation.

The rest of the flaws all have to do with my team, but I won't bore you by listing them.

So, what am I to do? The project is specific enough, and we are far enough along, that it will not be easy to just say, "Hey, forget it. Find another rube." Plus, completion of the project is an obligation of a professional commitment that I made, for which I've already received benefits. Which is to say, I've been "paid" already, albeit not in cash. So to just walk away seems unethical.

I know I haven't provided a lot of details, here. I want to maintain plausible deniability, in case this blog should ever fall into the hands of my team.

Suggestions, anyone?

Day 56 -- McConnellsburg

I ran a quick 5 miles today. After yesterday, I wanted to see if I could run 5 miles in 40 minutes, and I made it. Felt good, too.

I thought that I would stop in at McConnellsberg. (Images from

Monday, April 03, 2006

Day 55 -- Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel

Good thing that I have lost weight...

I ran six miles today, in just under 49 minutes, which is a great pace. I can't believe that I was that fast! I probably should not have run six miles, if I want to run five days this week, but it was too darn early in the morning to make a sensible decision.