Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blizzard

On Monday, December 22, Claire and I headed out from Chicago toward Detroit. It was below zero as we scraped the car in Chicago, but the roads were fine as we headed out of Illinois. As soon as we hit the Michigan border, we were greeted with gusting winds that made visibility very poor as depicted in the first photo. At first it wasn't evening snowing, but was blowing the champagne poweder from the median onto the road. We planned to pull off for lunch, but just before our exit got stuck in stand-still traffic for close to an hour. Shortly thereafter, everyone was shuttled off the interstate. It turned out it was a nearly 100 car accident that caused the highway to be shut down for several miles. We took side roads for several miles before we were able to get back onto the highway, but the snow blew so badly that we were stuck in total white-outs, with Claire watching the rumble strip out the passenger window to make sure I was creeping along in the lane. We knew it was only going to get worse, and dark was about to set in, so we pulled off at the first exit we could and holed up for the night in a very strange place.

The tiny town of Watervliet (sic) had a new Ramada, which had a waterpark inside. The place was called Safari Joe's and there seemed to be no reason to have a hotel like this in such a small place. We came to realize that the place was basically a trophy room for the owner Joe, who liked to go on safari in Africa and kill exotic animals with a variety of weapons. The most unfortunate part of the event was that the hotel cost more than the room we'd shared with my brother the night before in Chicago on the Magnificent Mile. The place was completely filled, though, because it was nearly impossible to travel. The roads weren't great starting out the next day, as shown in the last photo, but once we made it past Kalamazoo, it was smooth sailing to Detroit.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oath

A friend of ours was just elected to the city council of my dear small hometown in Kentucky. It was through this that the amazingness of the oath of office for city councilmen in Kentucky was brought to my attention.

Oath of Office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of City Councilman according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.

Reference: Section 228 of the Constitution of Kentucky, as Ratified & Revised in 1891

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Evolution of basketball tickets

This is my third year buying student tickets for Illinois basketball with some of my friends. Student ticket seats are based on a point system, a big chunk of which comes from years of ticket purchases. Based on that, your seats will improve every year. Assembly Hall has 3 rings. Our first year, we sat in the third row from the top of section C. Last year, we were in the 8th row of section C and now we're in the first two rows of section B. Our seats this year are excellent. The photos here are pictures I took without any zoom each of the 3 years from our seats.

Aside from having good seats this year, the good news is that the Illini appear to be much better than I had expected them to be. Hopefully, that continues to be true as we start to play in the Big 10.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prelim

The blog has gotten neglected over the past couple of months because I was preparing for my preliminary exam, which I took on Monday. For those of you unfamiliar with the PhD process, the prelim is the oral exam that qualifies you as a candidate for a PhD. Where this happens in the process varies from discipline to discipline, but in chemistry at Illinois, we generally take the prelim in the first semester of the 3rd year. If you pass, you continue your research for the next 2ish years to complete your PhD and if you fail, you're typically asked to leave with a masters. We submit a preliminary report, then give a presentation to our committee of four who are free to ask us anything they want.

The short story is that I passed my prelim on Monday, which is quite nice to have out of the way. I still have plenty that I want to get done in the lab, but hopefully I'll get back up to speed here as well.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Stop Wining

My labmate sent me this great article on wines from all 50 states. It's a pretty hilarious read. I was glad to see that the Kentucky wine they tasted ranked as Excellent. I've enjoyed the wines I've had from our friend's vineyard in KY as well, CCC Trail Vineyard.

50 American Wines

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Illinois Readers: Alert!

This is seriously bad news.

I use several of these parks on a fairly regular basis. I plan to call my legislators tomorrow. You should too. Or write a letter. Or both.

If you live in Urbana, here's the contact info.

Senator Michael W. Frerichs
Springfield Office:
Senator 52nd District
118 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 782-2507

District Office:
45 E. University Ave.
Suite 206
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 355-5252

Representative Naomi D. Jakobsson
Springfield Office:
257-S Stratton Office Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 558-1009
(217) 557-7680 FAX

District Office:
206 N. Randolph
Suite 120
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 373-5000
(217) 373-8679 FAX


If you live somewhere else:
http://www.ilga.gov/

EDIT:
Here's the Governor's Office. They suck in comparison. They try to get you off the phone as quickly as possible.

Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Phone: 217-782-0244 or 312-814-2121

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Teaching Award

I just got contacted yesterday and it turns out that I won a teaching award for the 2006-2007 academic year at the University of Illinois. I was kind of surprised to hear about it so late, but late is definitely better than never!

The award is currently listed here.

I can't help but reflect on how much my Teach For America experience has benefited me. I didn't join TFA because I thought it would help me. In fact, I was worried that taking time off before graduate school would hurt me. I joined TFA because of the injustice that exists in America's public school system. Now--definitely not just because of this award--I'd argue that time spent has helped me immensely in graduate school. The impact on my year as a Teaching Assistant is obvious given my top 10% of instructors on campus rating for both Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 (the two semesters I was a TA) and culminating in this teaching award. I think I have my thorough TFA training as well as two years in the classroom to thank for that.

In addition to equipping me with a skillset for effective instruction--on which I can still improve drastically--TFA helped give me clarity on what I want to do. Long term, I know that I want to teach. I'm not regularly in the classroom right now because I'm currently working on my research, but I love opportunities that I get to spend in the classroom. Also, when I heard about the local school-based mentoring program, CU1to1, it was a no-brainer that I should apply to join the program because I know how valuable this kind of thing can be for students. My mentee is going to be in the 7th grade this coming year and the hour that I spend with him each week during the school year is one of the best hours of my week. Getting other graduate students to even think about taking an hour a week to be involved in our local public schools is like pulling teeth.

So I'm honored to receive this teaching award. The fact that I'm getting it when I'm not actively in the classroom reminds me that I'm not in the classroom and that I'm not doing a lot for education right now. I guess a reminder of why we're doing what we're doing is always in order.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Freedom

On the 4th of July, my friends Mark and Amber went with me to the small town of Paxton to race the 5k held in conjuction with their Old Fashioned 4th of July Festival. Last year, we all raced in Champaign's Freedom 5k, but it's not actually 5k. The course has been notoriously short for years after someone moved the turnaround cone because the parade had lined up a block early; the problem has apparently never been fixed. I emailed back and forth with the race directors a bit and got no satisfactory information that the race would be a properly measured distance. It turns out it was again short, so I'm glad we bailed on it. Instead, we went to Paxton and had a fabulous time.

It was bound to be a good day when we found out that instead of t-shirts we would get visors, which Mark and I call our Freedom Visors. For some crazy reason, Amber declined this piece of American heritage. Mark and I took a ton of pictures in our Freedom Visors, the whole set of which can be found here.

The race course was an out-and-back with a bit of a rise on the way back. Some high school kids went out with us from the start and I went through the mile at 5:14. The guy next to me looked like he was hurting, so I decided I'd wait until the turn-around and then drop the hammer. I came out of the turn strong (my second mile was still significantly slower) and dropped him off my shoulder, but he never really dropped off hard like I expected him to. I picked the 3rd mile up and still never shook him more than about 20 seconds. I came through in 16:49, a result which I was happy enough with considering I hadn't taken the race too seriously leading up to it and considering that I definitely could have run harder. The kid who'd run stronger than I expected hung second while Mark took 3rd. Amber was the first female finishers.

The race gave $75 gift certificates to our local running store, Body N' Sole, to the top three male and female finishers, so we all finished in the money. The second picture here shows Mark relishing his entry into the ranks of professional runners (as you'll remember, loyal reader, I became a professional last year). We goofed around kissing our wares and the final picture shows the two race champions.

If you're interested in my email exchange with the race directors of the Freedom 5k, it's detailed below; the last email was so unintelligible, that I just gave up trying to understand it and scheduled the trip to Paxton instead. (I think maybe he was trying to say he walked it with a wheel...except everybody who ran it this year said it was short; and nobody likes to admit their time was too fast.)

Hi,

Will the 5K course be accurately measured to five kilometers this year? The course last year was most definitely not 5 kilometers and I have been told that the race distance has not been accurate for many years. Will the course be properly measured this year? I plan to run the 5k, but only if the distance will be accurate.

Thank you,
Greg Scott

---------------

Hi Greg,
The Freedom Celebration Committee is unaware of any error in the distance of the 5K run. The distance was originally measured by a licensed land surveyor and has not changed. What is the source of your information?
[Race Director 1]

---------------

Greg, The Freedom 5 K course is a true 5k, done by a couple of offical surveyor's. One year on course setup, the turnaround was incorrectly
moved 1 block forward, which made the course a little short. I'm not exactly sure which year. or if this happened more than once. Thanks, [Race Director 2]
Second Wind Race Director.

---------------

Hi [Race Director 1 and Race Director 2],

Thanks for your responses. The story that I have heard from lots of local runners is that of the turnaround being moved a block forward, but that it has never been returned to normal, being setup every year as "that's where the cone goes." All of the guys in my running group are in agreement that the race has been short for several years and everyone who magically got a 5k PR during a hot 11am race over the past few years has recorded the race as ~3 miles in their running logs. I would be simply amazed if I ran a 15:57 last year as the results indicate (and Scott Krapf...name mispelled in the results) was quoted in the News Gazette talking about how surprised he was that he ran that fast so early in the training cycle. I went through the mile in 5:06 last year and hit the 2-mile mark at 4:38 after making a conscious decision to let the lead pack go because I realized I wouldn't be able to hold the pace without falling apart. Perhaps the 2 mile marker was just in the wrong place, but it would be consistent with an early turnaround and the miraculously fast times that seasoned, consistent runners post at the race.

When was the last time the course was measured? It sounds like it was when the surveyors did the original measurement (it's interesting to note that the original method used is not acceptable for USATF course certification). I know you make no claim that the course is USATF certifcation, but I think the axiom used in the introduction to that manual still holds true that 'If an entry fee is charged for a road race, runners have a right to a properly measured course." I obviously don't expect you to go out and buy the special bike setup for measuring this course, but considering the inconsistency between "the course has never changed" and "it may have happened more the once," I think it would be nice to know that somebody went out and walked the tangents with a measuring wheel.

Thanks,
Greg

---------------

Greg, That's good because the last couple of weeks I used a wheel (ChampaignCentennial's) to make sure the turnaround as at proper stop. There were pins instreet, but those where covered up when Lincoln Ave. was changed to 3 lanes.I should have remarked at that time. Pins are still at Start and Finish, [Race Director 2]


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Flowers!

These are some pictures that I recently took of flowers in my landscaping. The first and third are daylillies that I planted and the second picture is of Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) that were planted before I bought the house. I love all of these flowers because they're super-cool and require pretty much zero maintenance. I'm hoping to get a few more daylillies this year to add to my collection out front (I still have one more daylilly that hasn't bloomed at all yet, but it has sent up stalks and started to bud).

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ride Across the Country

No, I didn't ride my bike across the country. But I did tag along with a self-supported ride across the country a few weeks ago. My dad's boss, Phil, contacted me about his brother-in-law, Royce, who was riding across the country and that his route would take him near me through Illinois. Royce, pictured on the left, is riding east to west across the country and Phil, pictured on the right was riding five days with him. I rode part of one day.

The leg I joined was from Danville to Decatur, so I rode down to meet them at the Casey's (ubiqitous gas stations in all the small towns in Illinois) in Sidney and then rode across part way to Monticello with them (basically riding along the same roads I always ride). It was a lot of fun to join them for a short jaunt on a beautiful day. Royce insisted on taking a picture of me for which he had already planned the caption. His ride journal, which he updates every few days whenever he has access, is a lot of fun to read. It's available here.
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Some Recent Deliciousness

Here are some pictures of some food that I've made recently that I felt like photographing and that are delicious.

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Mustard BBQ Sauce This one was simply amazing. I got the recipe from Cooking Light and made the suggested tangy mustard coleslaw to go with it. My roommate, who also likes to take pictures of the food he cooks, helped man the grilling operation and we did grilled corn as well. We did it Mexican style with a chile on the grilled corn (no mayo on the corn as you might find it on "elote" in Mexico).


Here's another Cooking Light recipe, Tuna Steaks with Wasabi Ginger Glaze. The glaze was amazing and could be put on just about anything (and was super-simple).

I love to make Chiles Rellenos. I don't have a recipe to point to for these because I just kind of do them. First you have to roast the poblano pepper. Hold it in the flame of a gas burner or just throw it in the toaster oven and repeatedly hit toast rotating the pepper until the whole thing is blistered are the easiest ways that I've found. Then I throw it in a plastic bag and let it sweat before slipping off the skin. Then I cut a seam in the side to de-seed and de-vein the pepper. Stuff with whatever you want (I like to use a white cheese like mozarella and sauteed onions), dredge in egg and flour, then fry in a pan of hot oil.


Black Bean Quesadilla. Here's another one without a recipe for me to point to, but if you don't know how to make a quesadilla, I can't help you. I just thought it was colorful and fun. I sautee the peppers and onions first.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iris

The iris that I planted last year bloomed at the beginning of this month and I managed to get a really nice picture of one of the blooms on a sunny morning. I got the iris as well as several daylilies from Newbury Daylilies. If you're in central Illinois, you should definitely check out their property. They have SO many daylilies. One of my daylilies has already sent up lots of stalks with buds on it.

http://www.newburydaylilies.com/
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Race Updates

I've participated in a few races the last couple of months. The first was the Mattoon Beach Multisport sprint triathlon. I had only been in the water once and on my bike once this year after coming off of marathon training, but I went ahead and raced anyway. I finished the race in 9th place overall (results here), and as is fairly common, I had the fastest run split in the race. It was the first time that I had worn my new Fighting Illini Triathlon gear, which you can see in the picture at left with two other FIT members, Kevin and Jimmy. My PhD advisor, Martin Gruebele, beat me in the race after completely destroying me on the race and the swim. Notice his larger trophy in the second picture.

The second race was the Buffalo Trace trail race in Mahomet. I took second overall in a somewhat disappointing 29:12 for the 5-mile race (results here). It was a fun race, though, and it was pretty sloppy on the trails after a decent amount of rain. I wore my cross country spikes and my calves paid the price for the next week.

Recently, I raced the Wolf Creek sprint triathlon dualthon. The weather was really nasty as Martin and I drove down for the race and with the rain storms, the Army Corps of Engineers wouldn't let us swim in the lake. As a consequence, they changed the 400 m swim into a 1-mile run, which played heavily in my favor. Instead of falling way behind on the swim as I usually do since I'm a slow fish, I got to get in the bike with a decent lead. As expected, Martin blew by me on the bike (as did two other guys), but the 10-mile ride wasn't enough for anybody to put me out of striking distance. I was able to ease up after I retook the lead about halfway through the 3-mile run to take my second victory at Wolf Creek (results here).
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jen and Ben's Wedding

Over Memorial Day weekend, my sister, Jen, got married at Mill Creek Inn in Salt Lake City. It was a beautiful day and the whole affair, wedding and reception, took place on the outdoor pavilion pictured here. I officiated the ceremony, which was a great honor and was a lot of fun. The second picture here shows my brother's girlfriend standing in for my sister during the dry run a couple of hours before the ceremony, since we were unable to rehearse at the site before. The third picture of Jen and Ben with me in the background was taken during the ceremony, which I stole from Darcie's website where there are lots of nice photos. My album, which has lots from the weekend, but little from the actual wedding events, is here. The last photo is of my brother and I with the bride after the ceremony.

There was a ton of family there and everything was so much fun and the reception was a blast as well.


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Backpacking in the San Rafael Swell

When I went out to Utah for my sister's wedding (more on that in another post), I got in a little backpacking trip. My brother, his girlfriend, my cousin, and my aunt went for a two-night expedition in the San Rafael Swell in Central Utah. We had a really great time hiking in the area near Mexican Mountain. It ended up raining on us off and on every day (in the desert!), but the advantage was that the entire desert was in bloom! There are a few pictures of some of the flowers in the post here, and a whole lot more here.

The last picture in this post shows a snake eating a lizard (click on it to see more clearly). Brian saw something fall out of a tree near our campsite and it turned out it was a snake that had just caught a lizard. We got to watch the whole eating process up close, which was incredible. There's a series in the photo album that documents most of the eating and I've got a video of part of it if you really want to see it.


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Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to Sew Your Own Bowties

UPDATES (11/19/08): Note that I realized I wrote down the wrong seam allowance (although it doesn't matter much what you use) and it's now corrected in the text. Also, see the comments section for a printable pattern you can download!

I've been wearing bowties for years now and the majority of my collection are homemade ties. I started making my own bowties for multiple reasons:

  • Bowties are hard to find in stores
  • Bowties in stores are expensive
  • I don't have enough hobbies (yeah, right...)
Here is my brief tutorial on how to sew your own.

Pattern
Sure, you can probably buy a pattern somewhere probably. But if you've got one bow-tie handy, you can just make a pattern. You'll just have to do this for your first project anyway. Set your presumably adjustable bowtie to the length designed for your neck size and trace one half of the length of the bowtie onto a piece of paper. At the middle of the tie, cut the paper at a 45 degree angle (not perpendicular to the bowtie) since you're going to want to cut your material on the bias. Then add whatever seam allowance you want as a border; I use a 1/8" 1/4" seam allowance.


Material Bowties should ideally be made of silk, but you can make them out of whatever material strikes your fancy. I've made some ties that I like quite nicely out of cotton as well. Truly anything works. The key to a tie that will tie up well is good stiff interfacing. The worst bowtie I have is a storebought one that has terribly thin interfacing (or maybe none at all?) and it won't hold a good shape at all. I usually buy half a yard of material, which gives me plenty of room to cut on the bias and I have lots of leftover if I want to make more ties or a pocket square to go along with the tie.

If you have no idea about sewing (like I did when I started this a few years ago), when you cut out the material, the material should be folded in half (so you'll get two things for every one you cut out). When you cut on the bias, that means to lay your pattern on the material at a 45 degree angle from the grain of the material.

Cut out 2 (you get four pieces) of your material from the pattern and 1 (you get two pieces) of your pattern from the interfacing.

Cut your material:
Cut your interfacing:

Ready your sewing machine You'll need a sweet sewing machine like mine. This was my grandmother's machine and it is fabulous. It doesn't really matter what color thread you use because your seams will be hidden if you follow my directions below. I like to be in the ballpark in case some of the thread peaks out.


Connect the Pieces
You'll now have 6 pieces, each of which are half of the bowtie. You'll want to sew them into 3 pieces, each of which is the shape of a bowtie. Two will be your material and one will be your interfacing. To do this, pin your pieces together as shown below and sew a seam 1/8" 1/4" in.

When you unfold the pieces, they should look like this, with the "right" sides facing the same direction and the seam on the "wrong sides".
Next, flatten out the seam by ironing it down. You can trim off the corners that stick out of the edges at this point as well.

Sew in the Interfacing Pin the "wrong" side of one of your pieces of material together with the interfacing. Sew the material and the interfacing together. I like to stay further to the outside than my seam allowance because it prevents this seam from showing when I do the final seam that will be the actual border when the tie gets inverted.


Sew on the Final Piece of Material Pin the "right sides" of the tie material together and sew the whole thing together. You'll have the "wrong" side out on one side and the interfacing on the other side, with your other piece of material sandwiched in between. Halfway through the neck portion, leave a gap of a few inches because you'll need to invert your tie through that space. Here, you'll want to make sure your entire seam is inside the previous seam that you sewed or you'll end up with that seam showing on your finished tie.


Trim Trim away excess material, particularly around the corners. This will prevent you from having lumps in your tie when you invert it.

Invert Pull your tie inside-out through the gap where you didn't sew on the neck so that the interfacing goes inside and the right sides of your tie are now out. This part can be tediously difficult because you have to pull the "bow" parts out through that narrow little neck opening and it can be hard to do. Have patience, though, because you're almost done! I use a chopstick to help me push the tie through.

Hand-stitch the opening Now you need to sew up the opening that you just pulled everything through. It's okay if you're terrible at this part (I am!) because this is going to hide inside the collar of your shirt anyway. This is the last step. You'll just need to iron it to flatten the whole thing out.

Tie! The last step is to tie your tie. Hopefully if you're up to sewing a bowtie, you already know how to tie one. I'm sure you can find a video tutorial somewhere (perhaps I can make my own?). I found that it's easier to practice on your leg than on your neck while you're first learning. I also like to throw in a pocket square. You don't actually have to sew this; just fold up a scrap of your material!