Gramps is back, hold the mayo!

August 31, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I’ve been having some issues with Gramps, my 1981 Yamaha Virago 750. The bracket that holds the right rear blinker to the frame (it’s called a “flasher stay”) had bent a few months ago when the bike kissed the pavement. Don’t worry, it was only in a parking lot, no one was hurt. It was still operational, so I rode it while trying to figure out, in my spare time, how to get a replacement part. Finally, it snapped off, and the blinker was hanging by the wires. Ok, gotta do something about it now!

Jenny called our new favorite shop, John Harvey’s Gasoline Alley in Malone, NY. They’re a Yamaha dealer, and they’ve impressed us on more than one occasion, from their customer service to their attentiveness and care with the bikes. She described in perfect detail over the phone the part I needed. A week later, it came in, but it was the wrong part. They admitted it was a miscommunication on their end, and they were willing to re-order it and pay to mail it to us so we wouldn’t have to drive the 50 minutes to Malone to make aNOTHer trip out. It turns out I got it on ebay (and thus had it sent directly to me) instead. No hard feelings, though. Those guys take care of us, and everyone makes mistakes.

So I went outside on Saturday, the first day of a long Labor day weekend, surrounded myself with my tools, and set to work on the freshly washed Gramps. (Thanks, Jenny!) It was a little challenging for me since I’m not the most experienced with matters mechanical. Also, sometime after the old flasher stay broke the blinker had stopped working, so I was pretty worried I’d have to take it to John Harvey’s on a trailer since I’m not much for electrical work.

I got lucky. The wire insulation had worn away in a relatively accessible place, so I was able to fix it myself. I went slowly and methodically, and hit a few snags along the way, but two or three hours later Gramps has all his parts in working order. And I did it all by myself! Ok, it wasn’t REAL engine work, but it was the first time in a long time it was just me, a busted bike, and some tools in the driveway. I felt quite satisfied with myself.

So today, on this beautiful second day of a long Labor day weekend, Jenny and I took a nice half-day ride, her on her 2000 Suzuki GZ250, and me on Gramps. It was just an awesome ride. We took 11B to Malone, and took 11 back. Route 11B is just a great road to ride. Between Potsdam and Malone it has no stoplights, it never goes below 40mph through the 5 or 6 towns it cuts through, it’s fairly lightly traveled, the pastoral scenery is beautiful, and it has about a dozen or more roadside farmer stands.

On the way back on 11 we stopped for a late breakfast at Scotty’s diner. They had an interesting idea, a BLT with egg! An egg and bacon sandwich is common enough, but a BLT with egg? Could be brilliant. If they didn’t put mayonnaise on it! (*blech!*) Ok, mayo on a BLT, that’s fine. But mayo on the same sandwich with a hot fried egg? No way! They fixed it, and it was actually good, but it you ever order such a thing, take my advice and HOLD THE MAYO!

Paper, textbook, and motorcycle updates

August 18, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Posted in life, math, motorcycles | 9 Comments

Just a couple of updates on stuff from my last entry. My paper is done, and it will likely be submitted to a journal this week! I’m very excited.

About the textbook problems: after I complained to the publisher (the email was positively scathing), our rep fixed everything to our (the textbook manager’s and mine) satisfaction. I have the new edition in the bookstore, and they took back the old ones at their expense, and all within 3 business days of my complaint. I’m upset about the price increase, but that happens with new editions all the time. Overall, I am very happy with the way the situation was handled. No hard feelings.

I got my motorcycle back with the new exhaust pipes on it. The pipes were from an ’82 Yamaha Virago 920, and I have an ’81 Yamaha Virago 750, but folks on online forums said that exhaust systems from those early year Viragos are interchangable, so I took a chance, and it paid off. They fit just fine, and it sounds great. Not too quiet, not too loud. And I picked up a windshield they couldn’t get rid of for less than half the price, and it looks great! The only problem now is I need new saddlebags, since the current ones now hit the stock pipes (which are higher than the aftermarket ones I took off). That, and I need to fix a pesky turn signal, but hopefully that’s just replacing a bracket; a quick fix. That should be done soon, but the saddlebags will have to wait … I’ve put enough money into this bike this year!

Math is Delicious!

August 13, 2008 at 11:47 am | Posted in books, comics, life, math, motorcycles, technology | 6 Comments

Check out Questionable Content, one of my favorite webcomics. It’s about a bunch of 20somethings centered around a coffee shop. I’m currently wearing this t-shirt. There are others here. Good geeky stuff.

In the meantime, I’m doing math a lot these days. The REU inspired me to get this paper that I’ve been procrasti- … er, working on, out. And for a week and a half now I’ve been incredibly productive! Talk about taking the bull by the horns and running with your nose to the wheel! It’s been great, and it looks like I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline of getting this paper presentable, at least to a couple of colleagues to look over, and without qualifiers like, “Ignore the formatting errors in chapter three,” or, “I know the proof in the Hermitian case needs work.” This is going to be a no-qualifiers, one edit away from submission to a journal, state of done-ness.

This makes me very happy. It almost makes me not mind so much that my motorcycle’s been in the shop for a week and a half. I think I’ll call them. They said a part was on order last week, and that it’d take several days to get, so it’s not totally unexpected that it has taken this long, but I’m getting antsy.

What else is going on? Jenny’s tummy is unhappy, so neither of us got much sleep last night. My poor sweetie. 😦 She’s been doing lots of riding on her bike, though. Good for her! She’s taking it slow, practicing on the college campus after hours and on local residential roads. She’s concentrating on having excellent control, and building experience, and therefore confidence, little by little. We can’t wait til we can ride together, each on our own bike!

One and a half weeks until classes start. There was a recent issue with one of my textbooks. One company bought the textbook I was using from another company and raised the price by over 60% from the last edition. Then they had the nerve to ship us hardcover copies of the old edition, and were charging the inflated price! I sent one of the nastiest emails I’ve every sent, and it looks like it’s being taken care of at no cost to us. We’re getting the new editions, and my textbook manager won’t have to have our bookstore pay to send the old copies back. If it all works out, I’ll have no ill feelings about the publisher. I may not use this book again at this price (it’s a bit late to change at this point), but we’ll have to see.

Now I’m off to a clicker demo. “Clickers” are used for ConcepTests, classroom voting and such, and the college is evaluating several systems from various vendors. I use them regularly. I don’t recall if I’ve posted any entries about them. There’s lots of info online if you want to google “clickers,” or “conceptests.” Ta-ta!

Math research is cool.

August 1, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Posted in conference, life, math | 7 Comments

This summer of 2008, I took part in an REU, Research Experience for Undergraduates.  It’s the acronym that has stuck for a summer program where talented undergraduates work with a Mathematics professor on a research problem.  The Potsdam/Clarkson REU has been running for about 11 years now. This is my first time doing it. The professors here who are involved with it find it a good way to stay active in research in a school with such a high teaching load. (The current 24 credit per year teaching load is being reduced to 21 credits per year, with plans to further reduce it to 18. But recent changes in the state government make me wary of being too optimistic.)

I was very apprehensive going into this. Actually, I was downright nervous. Finding a tractable research problem for myself is enough of a challenge, but finding one appropriate for someone with an undergraduate background, where they could learn enough of the area to understand and make progress on the problem, seemed an incredibly daunting task. Nevertheless, people do it. There are REU programs all over the country, so surely it can be done.

I prepared for this in a few different ways. I talked with professors in the department who have done it in the past. We talked about selecting a problem, getting the students up to speed, managing the group dynamics, etc. Also, I attended an excellent workshop at the spring 2008 meeting of the MAA Seaway Section by Francis Su of Harvey Mudd college. He has been doing research with undergrads for years, and he really broke it down and made seem manageable.

My biggest obstacle seemed to be how to get the students up to speed and actually working on the problem quickly. Do it too quickly and they won’t have a good sense of the context or a deep enough understanding of the problem. This could lead to initial attempts that are overly naive, or a lack of motivation. Do it too gradually, and too much of the eight weeks is taken up by learning background before they even start the problem. This could lead to a drain on the initial excitement and enthusiasm of starting the REU, enthusiasm that should be harnessed, not squandered. After all, research is hard. There will be frustration enough.

I decided on the essentials they needed to have, and to avoid too much of me lecturing, I assigned them mini-presentations in the first week. We met for the first time on Monday, and at the end of the afternoon session, I gave each student (there were 3) the equivalent of a short chapter to read, learn, and present a 10 minute talk to the other 2 students and me. It was not a formal presentation, they would not be judged on their speaking style or anything, and if they got stuck we would help them through it. It was understood that this was new material to them and they weren’t yet expected to speak as an expert, but they should attempt to do as thorough a job as they could in the time given. This was assigned at the end of our first day, Monday, and they were to present on Wednesday morning. I would be available for questions before the presentations if they wanted or needed it.

I thought the talks went very well. No one ran screaming, and they all took their assignment seriously. So I followed it up with a more in-depth talk, about 30 minutes long, to be delivered on Friday morning. They were doing pretty well by this time, so I assigned topics that, if they understood them, would enable them to understand the main question our research was to be centered on. It worked! The talks went well; they knew from the friendly atmosphere I took the effort to create for the first talk that this wasn’t something they would be judged harshly on, and they seemed much less stressed. They did a nice job, and in the afternoon session of the first Friday, we were able to state the problem in an appropriate amount of detail. I was so happy to be able to get to that point before the first week ended.

A large part of this was due to my having high expectations of them, and communicating those expectations. Also, the talks early on got them involved in learning the background more than if they were just listening to me and reading books and papers. (All these happened too, and were essential.) I think those early talks gave them a sense of teaching each other, collaborating with each other. Whatever it was, I rested much easier after that first week was over.

The rest of it was very good. They made good progress, they got stuck, they got unstuck, they went down dead ends, … in short, they got a good idea of what math research is like. They were also successful in making conjectures, proving some of them, giving a great presentation to the other groups in the REU, and writing a nice paper about it. At this point I suspect the paper is at least worthy of being published in an undergraduate journal, perhaps more. I’ll be reading it next week with fresh eyes after having put it down for a week. One of the students is giving a talk about our results at a national conference in a session on student research this week.

I am incredibly proud of and impressed by these guys. They did a fantastic job, they worked hard and long, they were tenacious and creative, and they produced a nice paper at the end. I’m also very happy with myself that I was able to provide an environment that let them achieve what they did. What a great feeling! This is one of my most fulfilling professional moments ever. I hear that not every experience doing research with undergrads is this fulfilling, but I’m so looking forward to doing it again!


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