Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top 10 list

I've been pondering a question lately: if you could keep only 10 possessions, which would they be? The reasons I'm thinking about this are twofold: I live in a 327 square foot house AND I'm still considering a cross-country bicycle trip.  If you live in a small house, it's silly to be a pack-rat.  And if you plan to live for a couple of months on the road, carrying the weight of everything with you, it's time to think about which items are really meaningful and which items are just heavy junk.

Obviously, I would keep my bicycle.  This is the first grown-up bike I have owned and we've been through so much together.  I took this beauty with me when I left for college, riding out what is now called The Links trail for some much-needed escape from the busy campus life at University of Nebraska at Kearney.  I rode to and from Arizona State University in Tempe as a graduate student and to University of California, Riverside along bike lanes and trolley routes.  I've taken this bike down to Newport Beach along the San Gabriel River Trail.  It's one of my core possessions that is almost as important to me as my heart.

I would keep a journal.  I've been writing in a journal since I was about 12 or 13.  I kept one all through high school.  I wrote periodically through college and started writing regularly again in graduate school.  Of course, I would try to keep something lightweight, but this is a deal-breaker, I would not undertake a journey of a lifetime without a hardcopy journal.  There's no need for electricity, but I would also need to being a pen or two to write, sketch, and think.

There are several water bottles that I've had over the years that I love.  On a long trip, I would have to bring at least one water bottle.  I like one that has writing on it that shows where you biked from.  I used to have one from Arizona but it got so old and weathered that it started leaking from the side.  The one I carry now is from California and I think that if I went on a long trip, I would like to keep that one or something like it.  Obviously the helmet is a necessity.  The things you have to bring are not as fun as the things you choose to bring, but can we just go ahead and include tools, pump, patch kit, spare tubes, and panniers as one thing?

I would need a tent.  And a sleeping bag.  Can we use our bicycle lights as a flashlight?  I don't think I would bring an entire camping stove.  I don't think I would bring lots of food either.  I saw the video below a while back and it really stuck with me.

I would definitely have to take some toiletries.  Does this mean I would need a small towel?  I gotta wash my face, hair, body and brush my teeth.  Also have to include sunscreen.  I guess I would also have to include some clothing so I'm not biking naked.  This means socks, bike shorts, jersey, jacket, sports bra, and shoes.  Possibly also a hat and sunglasses.

I'm sure I'm up to my 10 items.  What's on your list?

Friday, January 9, 2015


Some blogs pop into my mind fully formed, this one is like a landscape after a tornado.  I have so many thoughts in my head, some left over from last semester.  I want to write something about education.  Life is like a dark maze sometimes.  I imagine it is like some big, black plastic tube with many potential paths one could take.  Some tunnels lead to dead ends.  Maybe when it's all over, I'll finally emerge into the light (above ground).

Another topic I wanted to write about is nutrition, fitness, and wellness.  Or lack thereof.  Something about New Year's resolutions, cleaning house, getting organized, and setting forth goals.  These are all the things in my mind.  You know those items on your "to do" list that you never quite get to?  I was cleaning house this morning and found some "to do" lists from this time last year and I had never crossed off the item "take used lightbulbs to Home Depot for recycling."

During final exams, I usually dump all my thoughts on the reverse side of the seating chart.  It's kind of boring sitting there for 2 hours and gives me plenty of time to think, prioritize, and speculate.  One idea I had for a blog involved the question:

Is learning supposed to be fun?

From what I've read since then, many elementary (and preschool) teachers write about making learning fun.  It's not so popular in higher education.  One argument is that "fun" experiences are not as memorable as "painful" experiences.  I wonder how much psychology and neuroscience evidence is out there to support this hypothesis.  For a long time, I thought learning could and should be fun even at the college/university level.  For some reason, I'm getting over this thought.

I feel like I might be ready to be hated.  I feel like I might be ready to completely abandon the idea of being the pretty, young, nice professor.  I might try being the evil dragon-lady.  I always ask other teachers and coaches what they do to motivate their students.  If "fun" isn't a strong enough motivator for coming to class, and there's only so many ways to deduct points, how can we get students to stay engaged?  I tried a dialogue-with-extra-credit model and the attendance still dropped off in the last few weeks of the semester.

Maybe I'm feeling out-of-sorts because I never finished writing my end-of-course memos.  These are a summary for myself of what I tried, what worked, and what didn't work, in terms of student engagement and learning.  I haven't got my teaching evaluations back yet, which sometimes inform the content of these memos.  Last semester ran by quickly, and I got some thoughts down as the semester was ending, but I could definitely go back and revisit those.

I've had a couple teaching-related dreams lately.  There's the one where I show up to give an exam over material that we haven't covered yet.  There's another where I am trying to give an exam but I don't have enough copies.  So far, I have my syllabi nearly finished and the online content is almost ready to go, so I hope these teaching nightmares end soon.

Will I find balance this semester?

I have to admit that I put on weight over the past couple semesters.  In fact, I'm back at the weight that qualifies as "obese."  Last time I weighed this much, I put myself on an exercise regimen that led to a more healthy weight for me.  It took about a year of intense cycling.  My plan so far involves joining a gym near my house so that I can take yoga and zumba classes.  I also plan to bike to work every day (CAR FREE).  In addition, I want to bring and prepare food at school instead of eating food from the on-campus dining options.

In 2014, I applied for a full-time tenure-track teaching position in February and for a full-time tenure-track chemistry education teaching & research position in October.  Job applications on top of a teaching load got me pretty stressed out.  I wonder if another position will be open this year and whether or not the search for a full-time job will pan out for me.  I know I can be impatient when it comes to major life events and sometimes when I force things to go when I want them, it might not be the best thing for me or for my family.  All good things come to those who wait, right?

I waited for our finances to be in better shape before making some major technology purchases. First, we got new computers!
Second, we got a Go Pro camera!
I plan to use these in the classroom. I had to buy a HDMI Female to Micro HDMI Male in order to connect the new PC to the projector. We bought a "Handlebar / Seatpost / Pole Mount" for the camera in order to take it with us on bike rides.  I've played with the camera a bit so far, so I am somewhat confident that I can use it to collect video and photos of classroom activities.

Above is our commute including bike and train.  It's one of the first videos we have posted, with more to come I'm sure.  I know that 2015 will bring all kinds of adventures, some of which I can plan and many of which I'm not aware of yet.  If you haven't seen it, please check out our page at bikecar101.com and enter your information to show that you support having a dedicated bicycle car on every Metrolink train.  Besides being a better teacher, I see 2015 as a year full of opportunities to make commuting in Southern California more enjoyable for more people.

Friday, January 2, 2015

DV Packing List Revised 2015

Items to be added to this list include:

Fire tongs
Outdoor shower
Bar soap
Aluminum foil
Paper plates, paper bowls
Water reservoir(s)
Plastic containers (for night storage of food)
Camping chairs
Small ziploc bags
Laundry bag
Garbage bags & collapsable trash can
Cutlery (paring knife, spoon, fork)
Dish towel

Food to consider bringing next camping trip:

Nuts / trailmix
Mac & cheese
Instant mashed potatoes
Bean & cheese burritos

Revisions to the packing list:

Sweatpants w/ pockets
LESS underwear

The best food item:


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas in Death Valley

This year's winter vacations were EPIC to say the least.  We spent time with family in the great outdoors, which gave me perspective and filled me with gratitude.

I took the train to see my sister at Cal State Fullerton.  Her team (NDSU Bison Women's Basketball) played against the Tritons of CSUF.  I got a bit lost coming off the platform at Fullerton and ended up on a big horseshoe to get to the hotel.  A 3 mile bike ride quickly turned into an 8 mile tour with 400 ft of climbing, but it was a great way to become familiar with the area.  Bastanchury Rd was not the best choice but it was pretty to pass by Vista Park and fly down State College Blvd.

My sister and I also went for a run, which was fantastic!  We ran along the south edge of campus, through some really cute neighborhood and straight up into the foothills.  It felt really good to strap on my running belt again and climb a steep hill to get a great view.  It's always awesome to run with a buddy, to have a conversation, and to go somewhere together.  On the way back to the hotel, we snagged an orange straight from the tree.  We did a bit of a walk through campus and some yoga on the hotel lawn, which was a great way to get grounded and lengthen our muscles after our little jaunt.

After seeing my sister, I got picked up in Fullerton by my husband and we drove down to the beach to see his family.  We parked the car (and bike) and walked around Balboa Island.  I found a great hat for hiking that has 360 degree coverage, a wide brim, and it is 100% cotton (washable) in a soft yellow color.  Hey, there's nothing wrong with looking fabulous while preventing skin cancer.

We headed back to our house in Glendale and loaded up the car for our camping trip.  We used the same packing list as the previous trip.  We have a long list of items that we would add to the list for next time, but we had a phenomenal experience.  We left the house in good condition since our friends were coming there to stay while we were gone.  Sadly, we took our dog Melle in to the vet and found out she was suffering from kidney failure and possibly a cancerous growth on her eye.  Bless her heart, she spent 12.5 good years protecting me and although it was difficult, we had her put to sleep.

Heading out to the desert, with our bikes and our dog Edna in our old car was the only way to distract ourselves from the pain of being separated from old Mel.  We arrived too late to check in to our campsite, the guard shack closes at 4:30pm.  But our names were listed on the board of late arrivals, so we set up our tent and went to buy firewood.  Our first night in DV was horrible because our air mattress had a slow leak.  At some point in the middle of the night, I felt like I was sleeping in a giant egg crate.  I had Edna stashed in my sleeping bag and it was very uncomfortable to move around.  Lesson learned!

Day 1 of DV was a sweet bike ride.  We climbed for about 5 miles to Zabriski Point, which had just closed for repairs on December 1st.  It was a bummer not to be able to climb out on the overlook, but we decided it was enough adventure for our first day and turned back to camp.  We went for a short walk along Airport Road and near the visitor's center before returning to the store for more firewood. My aunt and cousin arrived and set up their tent, which doubled the fun!  Our second night was better because we slept on top of the deflated air mattress, a thick Mexican woven blanket, and used an extra-thick yoga mat to pad below our shoulders & hips.  Basically we slept on the ground.

Day 2 of DV was a SUPER SWEET bike ride.  We rode across the valley toward the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  The majority of the ride was below sea level with one long gradual climb to just above sea level around the base of Tucki Mountain.  It was absolutely peaceful riding single-file (because the ranger told us we had to) on the shoulder of a recently resurface highway.  There were so many miles to cover and so little daylight.  We did a little yoga at the turnaround and ate some POWER NUGGETS!  This batch was made using a roasted, mashed Carnival Squash and a cup of Chia Seeds.

Day 3 of DV (Christmas Day) we opened gifts around the morning fire.  We packed up and hiked from Golden Canyon, around Manly Beacon, and through the Badlands towards Zabriski Point.  We didn't hike up to the point this year and we avoided hiking along Gower Gulch, going back to Golden Canyon the way we came.  It was stunning and there was no need to go a different way back because the changing angle of the light changed the way the canyon looked anyway.  I believe we turned back at the far end of the Badlands Loop.  It was so fun hiking with family, and although it was windy, the canyons provided both shade and a wind-block.  We also learned (I think) that no dogs are allowed on this trail.

Day 4 of DV the winds were so bad and the blowing sand and dust reduced the visibility to the point where we decided to leave one day early.  It wasn't so difficult to make that decision since everything was covered with dust, we couldn't keep Edna's food and water clean, we couldn't sit down to a nice meal, and our tent was shaking all night long (and not because of us).  We pulled out of Furnace Creek around 10am and drove through Trona. I've always wanted to go through Trona, named after the mineral Na5(CO3)2(HCO3)×2H2O, which is a source of sodium carbonate. Lucky thing we were able to get there, we almost ran out of gas! Note for next trip: When you are sitting at a gas station (Panamint Springs) for 20 minutes doing nothing, just pump some gas into your car even if you still have half a tank. Cities in the desert are very spread out!

Instead of going home to Glendale, we took the 118 to the 23 (Moorpark Fwy), cut across the 101 in Thousand Oaks for just one exit, and cut through the mountains on the 23 (Decker Rd) to get to the 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). We were using our Rand McNally Road Atlas (very anachronistic I know) to navigate, which I found to outsmart the digital Garmin GPS when it came to locating campsites. We arrived at the first campground on the right side, Leo Carrillo State Beach. Campsites were $45 per night. Firewood was $8 per bundle. Each campsite had a wooden picnic table and a tall fire-pit.

We realized quickly that our equipment was lacking. We had propane and a camp stove, but no pots and pans. We had food and instant coffee, but no silverware or dishes. We had a tent and sleeping bags, but no camping chairs to set around the fire. I want to use the word pathetic, but I don't want to be too hard on myself. We were so happy to be out of the wind in DV, we staked our tent and headed to the nearest grocery store (Vintage Grocers) to see if we could buy any cookware. Unfortunately they didn't carry any so we decided weakly that we would return in the morning to the nearby Starbucks for our morning meal. That sounded better than using the dog's water dish to boil some water.

Not to be forgotten, the winds picked up overnight in Malibu. Looking back at the weather reports, we survived 34 mph gusts. In the morning, we woke up and went for a walk after breakfast. The campground has beach access through an underpass and one of the beaches is completely dog-friendly. This was great news and Edna Jo was in good company. We scouted out campsites that we might like to visit again. We even proposed the idea of taking the train to Ventura on a Friday night and biking in to Leo Carrillo for a night. We could ride home all day Saturday or Sunday. Definitely keeping this in mind for 2015.

Another great thing about Leo Carrillo, even though they are not cheap, is that they have showers (for a small cost) and you can have 3 cars (8 people) per site. Due to the winds, we decided to take one night in a hotel. We returned to a Residence Inn we had been before in Camarillo, so we knew it would allow dogs. They have bathtubs, a pool and jacuzzi, it is near a large park (Pleasant Valley Fields) for recreation. We took a family shower to rinse off all the desert dust that wasn't blown away by the winds in Malibu. We slept well and ate the continental breakfast at the Inn. Again, this stay wasn't cheap. The room rate is $150 and there is a one-time pet fee of $100. That would make sense if you were staying for a week but for one night it was kind of a bummer.

Now it's back to business as usual. I will try to make a separate post with our revised packing list. For now, it's time to focus on the new year ahead. We'll ring in 2015 by riding our bikes to the rose bowl parade. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

CicLAvia ~ South LA 2014: Ride Report

The most recent CicLAvia through South LA on December 7, 2014 was superb.  We rode in fluorescent yellow through Exposition Park to Leimert Park then back to the Central Ave Hub.

We had a great time at the Leimert Park hub listening to some Reggae music.  We saw lots of artwork and food for sale but we forgot to bring cash with us.  We got interviewed by some students on their tablet and are still looking forward to seeing our interview on the web.

Our full route is shown below.  We took Vermont south to USC.  On the way home we passed Skid Row and Dodger Stadium.  We did some off-roading in Elysian Park.  Even though it looks flat on the map, our ride home was quite hilly.

Video for counting participants here.  I counted 57 people in 1 minute which extrapolates to over 20,000 people!

In other bike-related news, we have launched an advocacy landing page to ask for support of our efforts to get a dedicated bicycle car on every metrolink train.  You can follow our progress on Facebook at 'Bikecar101' and on Twitter @bikecar101.  If you agree that cyclists and non-cyclists would benefit from having a guarantee of a bike car on each train, add your zip code and email address to our google form on the landing page, like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter.

CicLAvia ~ Heart of LA 2014: Ride Report

The CicLAvia that went through East LA on October 5th, 2014 was so neat, but came in the middle of the semester so I didn't have time to write about it right then.  The official route is shown below.  Ten miles of closed streets with hubs at Echo Park, Mariachi Plaza, and the East LA Civic Center.

There were many iconic points along the route.  This one reminds me of the film To Live & Ride in LA (2010) about 15 minutes in where there's a nighttime race through LA that seems like it starts on this bridge with a view of downtown.

I didn't take a lot of photos, but I love the one above. We rode to the ride from our house, meeting at the library to ride with a group called Walk Bike Glendale which is a local chapter of Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.  Our entire route is shown below.

Tallbike video here

Video for counting participants here: I counted 67 people in a 30 second window.  This extrapolates to over 50,000 people!

Awesome tunnel video here

Saturday, November 22, 2014

She++ #includewomen

Last night I had the good fortune to attend an event at Pasadena City College aimed at empowering women to pursue STEM careers, specifically computer science. There were a suite of panelists from industry that presented themselves as role models:

Jillian, Lan, Waverly, Dr. Wilkinson, Brandii, and Natalia
  • Brandii Grace, game developer
  • Jillian Greczek, Ph.D. candidate USC robotics
  • Orjeta Taka, IRobot
  • Lan Dang, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), PCC Alum
  • Natalia Alonso, CS B.S. (in progress) CSUN, PCC Alum
First, Dr. Paul J. Wilkinson gave a stirring introduction to the program with a quiz covering common misconceptions and little-known facts about women in computer science.  Women are 5 times less likely to pursue STEM.  U of Akron and U of Winnepeg studies show that females hold negative attitudes towards computers.  Some women do not pursue CS because they are afraid to be seen by their peers as outcasts, plain, unfeminine, or nerdy.

Second, Brandii spoke about the reasons why women are not found in CS.  Self-labeling theory is the idea that we (women) allow ourselves to be seen as "less than" by using diminuitive terms for ourselves, such as girls or gals, that keeps us out of the ranks of the "boys club."  No role model theory is that since there are so few female CEOs of tech companies that women don't see opportunity for advancement in that field.  Pretty girl theory is the idea that parents positively reinforce girls, valuing their appearance, while parents positively reinforce boys for their actions.  Differentiated criticism is the idea that boys are allowed to try things and make mistakes that they can learn from whereas girls are taught that when they do something wrong, they should have known better, which prevents them from trying new things.  She has seen this in her experience as a game developer, when girls test a first-person shooter game and they are killed, they put down the game controller and never want to play the game again, whereas boys will try repeatedly to "beat" the situation.

Brandii cited the TV program "Silicon Valley" as a poor example of Hollywood reinforcing the stereotypes of men in programmer roles and women in adversarial or "window dressing" roles.  I have a similar problem with the show "Big Bang Theory."  How about some equality?!  Differentiated learning theory is the idea that men tend to store information in a linear (procedural) fashion where women tend to store information in a story, therefore giving men an advantage in a linear profession such as CS.  She counteracts this theory by arguing that 


but some people have an easier road due to some innate ability (biology).  Altogether Brandii highlighted many reasons for the lack of women in CS, including also: Hiring Bias Theory, Investor Bias Theory, and Bros-Hire-Bros Theory.  She told us a personal anecdote about her own journey to startup where an investor said to her face "obviously you have no tech experience" because she is an attractive blonde woman who in fact had many years of experience working for Microsoft and other companies.

Third, Jillian gave us an overview of Robotics and described her work with socially assistive robots.  She highlighted the subdisciplines in her field: Machine Learning, Manipulation, Localization & Mapping, Computer Vision, Multirobot Systems, Remote Presence, and Human-Robot Interaction.  She told a personal story about herself as a Type I Diabetic and described how that motivated her to work on robots that could be issued to children as a "buddy" to help them through the first month of their diagnosis.  Her goals are to create robots that would withstand long-term relationships through adaptive programming and socially appropriate (not annoying) charateristics.  She encouraged the students in the audience to get into research through a DREU or REU program, which supports women and minorities specifically.

Fourth, Orjeta gave us a perspective starting in communist Albania and ending in a fulfilling career in Pasadena at iRobot.  She had a love of mathematics, and her mantra or "battle cry" was


which means that if you love math, don't hesitate to study it just because you don't see other mathematicians that look like you.  She told students that it's good to pursue your passion and experience it first without letting social roadblocks prevent you from getting into it.  Then once you're in the field, FIGURE IT OUT.  She told us that she loves her job because it's never boring.  Although working in robotics is frustrating sometimes, it feels like she's still in school because she's always learning, except she gets paid a lot.

Orjeta expressed her frustration with the way robots are portrayed in movies because the robots we have today are nowhere near as sophistocated.  With that being said, she told us that there are 100 RP-Vita robots in hospitals today that monitor stroke victims so that doctors can login remotely and monitor patients to decide if a medicine to save their life is needed.  She also told a story about the Warrior robot which was deployed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster and is also used for explosive-disposal work in Iraq and Afghanistan.  She said that sometimes robots come back to the company completely blown up and they throw a party since it means that no human soldiers were killed.  She worked on a Robotic Rodeo and a Self-Driving Car.  When she looked at photos of the event she was the only female in a team of 30, but she said "Just ignore it."

After the presentations had concluded, a panel was available to take questions, which included the three speakers and added two PCC alumna.  Brandii encouraged all CS students to stay up to date with new languages including Ruby on Rails and Objective C.  Natalia told us about her current project CSUNSAT-1 CubeSat: A Collaboration Between NASA, JPL, and CSUN to conduct experiments in space.  Lan told us that FORTRAN language is still preferred by scientists at JPL but they package the code in C afterwards.  The #1 hirer of CS grads is the US government, so jobs being outsourced is not an issue.  Natalia shared her experience of teamwork: if the problem is challenging enough, the team will rely on the strengths of every team member regardless of gender.  To break down stereotypes, make yourself available to the team and they will see your skills.


Brandii concluded the panel discussion by reiterating the importance of networking.  There are many avenues, Women In Tech and ACM-W, and it is important to inform your network when you are looking for a job.  Rely on networks, they will be with you forever!

The event was well put-together and I found my way there by following the balloons.  Grace and the CS club did a great job and I even got a T-Shirt that I wore proudly riding up and over Colorado Blvd to my study jam today.  I got to catch up with my friend Paul at CalTech, which was great.  I hope events like this can inspire more events like this and we can form a web of women to catch more of the talent that is currently being underutilized.