Credit card camping

This Memorial Day Weekend, Sue and I went for a ride out to Delafield and back, a bit of a “credit card camping” excursion. We rode the 40 miles out on a series of bike paths (the Oak Leaf Trail, which connects to the Hank Aaron Trail, which connects to the New Berlin Trail, which connects to the Glacial Drumlin Trail) to get to Delafield, then spent the night at the Delafield Hotel (and had an amazing dinner at their new restaurant–“small plate dining”), and then biked back today.

The highlight of the trip was spending time with my amazing wife, Sue. And, it was fun in that we didn’t have to leave on a plane or drive a car to get to our vacation destination. Also fun that the journey there and back was a big part of the adventure.

Heading out through the Minominee Valley.
A morning ride past Lapham Peak.
Breakfast at Mama D’s in Wales, Wisconsin.
Back in Milwaukee.


Rush is a dog’s dog. He likes to play hard, and not all the dogs he meets go for the “rough and tumble.” Thank goodness for Levi, the sheep-a-doodle that moved in down the block this week. Levi is only 8 weeks old, but he has no idea that he’s a puppy. He thinks, and plays, like a big dog. Rush loves it.

When my kids were young, it was always fun for them when a new kid moved to the block. Now Rush is the kid, and we get to watch him start a new friendship. Funny how the things you care so much about, like your kids (or in this case, dog) having functional friends, perpetuate.

Here’s a video of Rush playing with Levi. Pretty cute.

rush hug
Levi gives Rush a hug.

Used shoes

I’m the type of a consumer who likes to purchase high-quality products that last a long, long time. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I’ve warn the same shorts, shoes, jackets, jeans, and t-shirts for over the last decade. In my defense, these time-honored articles are well made. I mean, how else could that last so long?

This is especially true of my cycling attire. Take, for example, my  mountain bike shoes. My friend Denny gifted them to me a while back. They are made by a company called Lake and they lasted a good long time. I used them on the daily commute to work and back, on all of the recent mountain bike excursions, and they even protected my feet on last summer’s cross-country bike tour.

But it’s time to let them go–into the trash. The liners are busting open, the soles are warn to the cleat, and the Boa closure system is shot. I’ll miss these shoes, and I’ll enjoy the process of shopping for their replacement.

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Hard to let go of these mountain bike shoes.

The toaster pastry

I teach a course in Freshmen Studies that focuses on the relationship between technology and interpersonal communication. Sitting in the front row is Michael Dougherty, student extraordinaire. The class begins at 10:00 in the morning, and Michael is a bit of a late riser, which is why he brings his Kellogg’s Pop Tarts to class. I’ve tried teaching him, over the course of the quarter, that Pop Tarts are not necessarily “food”. Yes, they go into your body, but they don’t necessarily have any nutritional value–and I define “food” as something that offers nutrition, something that perishes. A Pop Tart has a shelf-life of 6 to 12 months; I’m not sure that makes it food. When I asked why he brings Pop Tarts to class every day, he told me: “It’s so easy, and I’m so lazy–when it comes to food.”

I have to admit that I have a long history with Pop Tarts. I ate them every morning when I worked for a high-tech company in Seattle back in the day. I loved them; I’m sure that my prior love-affair with the Kellogg’s Pop Tart is a big reason why I’m sensitive to Michael enjoying them in the front row of class.

As a way of helping Michael taper off of his Pop Tart habit, I introduced him to the Colectivo Blueberry Toaster Pastry. Yes, it’s still a pastry, but at least it’s perishable.

Here’s a video of Michael comparing/contrasting the competing pastries.

Michael enjoying his Colectivo Toaster Pastry.

Another wonderful beer garden

I love commuting to work on a bike. It’s about 6 miles between the house and work, and the possible routes are numerous:

  • Humboldt Avenue: the most direct route that takes you past Colectivo Coffee’s main roasting facility, which means the aroma of coffee roasting; then you ride past Lakefront Brewery, which means the aroma of beer brewing.
  • Milwaukee River Trail: takes you on some tame trails that run along the edge of the Milwaukee River, right through the heart of Milwaukee.
  • Oak Leaf Trail: a dedicated bike path that begins a few blocks from the house and is only a few blocks from work.

The Oak Leaf Trail route goes by the Hubbard Park Beer Garden. It’s a temptation to stop in for a mug of brew (on the way home from work); it’s also an opportunity to look out over the river and assess the day’s events–to pause and reflect on the work life, on the domestic life, and on the necessary separation between the two.

Rent the mug and buy the beer.
Smart to have the beer garden alongside a bike path.

Bavarian Brews

Earlier this week, I had coffee with a colleague–Dr. Todd Davis. A couple of days later, I shared some adult beverages with Todd, his wife Shana, and Dr. Doug Stahl at the Estabrook Beer Garden. The preliminary purpose of our gathering was to discuss a research project we’re about to enact–but that wasn’t the real intent of our after-work soirée. Just as the intent of doing this specific research isn’t for the sole purpose of better understanding the long-term affects of sending students into the developing world to engage in engineering-related service projects.

What was the intent? From my perspective, the purpose was (or is) found in community. I’ve worked with these people for several years and am proud to call them colleagues. This research project that we’re starting is a structured opportunity to spend meaningful time with these meaningful people. Doing research is a great learning opportunity, but the quality of the research experience is in large part dependent on the quality of the people you share it with. I choose to share it with Todd, Shana, and Doug.

music and beers
Accordion music helped set the tone for the conversation.

Coffee with a colleague

Academics drink coffee, and I am an academic. Why coffee? Well, there’s all that research that tells us how coffee acts “… as high-performance brain fuel [making it] liquid gold, and it’s not surprising that coffee’s primary active ingredient, caffeine, is the globe’s most commonly used psychoactive drug.” I use my brain for a living, I enjoy psycho-activity, so, I drink coffee.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a cup of brew with a colleague of mine, Dr. Todd Davis. We were discussing pedagogical techniques; specifically, we were talking about the type of problems you introduce to students. Do you give them small problems to solve, and let those small problems prepare them to solve larger problems, or do you introduce large problems and then point out the small problems that are associated? I’m not sure we reached an answer to this academic conundrum, but what we did create was some great discussion about how to enhance our academic performance. In part because we were consuming the globes most commonly used psychoactive drug.

If you’re visiting downtown Milwaukee, check out Grace Place Coffee. They close at noon, so get there early.

grace place
Grace Place.

Listening to it live

Evan goes to college in August, and we’ll miss him. His humor, the conversations about what he’s learning in school–but for me, I’ll miss most of all his music. He’s a gifted cellist, and I love listening to him play. I don’t listen to much music anymore, given my preference for silence. But it’s always a pleasure when Evan practices his cello.

The other day, he had a quartet rehearsing in our living room. They were getting ready to play at a local wedding. Good music brings out the good in people.

Warm Showers

Warm Showers is a “…a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink.” I benefited from the Warm Showers network last summer when I did the ride from Seattle to Milwaukee, staying at people’s homes along the way. It was great to meet other cyclists and share the stories of my trip in real-time.

When the ride ended last summer, I decided to be a host for Warm Showers, and started to look forward to the opportunity of having bicycle tourists stay at our house. Fortunately (and somewhat unfortunately for me), there are a plethora of hosts in the greater Milwaukee area, making it statistically unlikely that I’d have the opportunity to host someone.

That changed yesterday, when Alan Thompson contacted me, asking if he could spend the night at our house. Which he did, and it was wonderfully mutually beneficial. Alan, a seasoned cyclists and author of One Time Around: A Solo World Bicycle Journey, enjoyed dinner at our place, had a chance to do some laundry, and engaged in ample conversation over a couple of beers. I benefited by listening to Alan’s stories, asking him all kinds of questions about his world travels as well as his current bike ride which has taken place over the last 9 months: he’s traveled over 9,000 miles around the perimeter of the country. Alan is an inspiration, and thanks to the Warm Showers network, I am once again inspired to do another bike tour.

Alan is riding for 2 causes: to raise funds and support for Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children. To find out more, or make a donation, click here.

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Breakfast with Alan.

Teaching Engineers

One of the classes I currently teach is GS 1003: Freshmen Studies 3. It’s the third course in a sequence of courses that teach first-year students how to think and communicate like college students. It’s a challenge to teach the course to engineering students, simply because they’re wicked smart.

Yesterday, I had my students give presentations on the class’ theme: the relationship between technology and interpersonal communication. They are required to use Skype to video into the classroom, just so they can experience the distance created by virtually communicating with an audience. More importantly, they have to figure out how to engage the audience in such a way that the virtual aspect of the presentation is mitigated by pushing the “engagement level” of a presentation.

Gunther, one of my prize students, did this by taking our class on a tour  of campus–by using his drone. Imagine our class, sitting in a classroom, watching Gunther present via Skype as his drone camera is projected on a screen through an LCD projector. You have to admit–that’s pretty cool. And it’s a great way of illustrating why I love teaching students who are learning how to be engineers. They make learning like this happen.

drone presentation 1
Take-off from the roof-top garden of the Grohmann Museum.
drone presentation 4