Just got to say- had a great workout!

I’ve been hitting the gym for total body workouts 3 times a week, starting this week. As I’d mentioned before, the goal is to be close to or at 200 lbs. by the end of the semester. I’ve been keeping a fairly detailed log of what I do, and so far that’s been incredibly helpful in keeping me on track. I’ve even got the stuff filed- hush, that’s what works for me.

As the title implies, I had a fantastic workout today. I guess it was just far enough along in getting back into a rhythm that I felt strong, vs. worn-out and weak. What’s better is that though I’m sore, the total body approach leaves me feeling ok, even energetic.

Here’s the first workout of the week (8/20):
5 min warm-up (elliptical), 3×10 each on Leg-press (150 lbs), Leg-curl (110), Chest-press (70), Pull-down (90). 2×12 sit-ups, then a 5 min cool-down.

Today’s workout:
10 min warm-up (stationary bike), 3×10 each on Leg-press (180 lbs), Leg-curl (120), Chest-press (85), Pull-down (110). 3×10 sit-ups, 20 mins moderate intensity cardio (stationary bike), then a 5 min cool-down (again on the bike).

Yeah, I know, the big gains are going to happen b/c I haven’t been working out all summer- but it’s still very nice to have such a change, so quick, and not feel as if I got hit by a truck. In the past, I’ve done focused workouts (eg, pects, arms, etc.) rather than emphasizing compound motion total body exercises. Those workout left me in pain for the week, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I dreaded each time I headed to the gym. Now, I’m stoked- I actually wish it was Friday already, so I could go workout some more!

Ok, I guess enough of that. Tonight is Edgar’s last night with us- he came up on Saturday. More on that soon.


And a new semester awaits

My last Friday of the summer today. I’ve got a great weekend planned, as my best friend Edgar comes up to visit Chicago for the first time. Jordan and I are going to drive up and meet him for dinner and maybe a little sight-seeing. He’ll be staying with us most of the week, and we are both really excited!

Classes start Monday here at UIUC. Though I am still TAing, plans have changed. Instead of teaching Geography of Developing Countries, I’ll be leading Intro. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) labs. This is essentially the same labs I taught when I was a Masters student at TxState. It should be pretty easy, and I guess realy the workload will be slightly lighter than I would have originally had with the other class.

I’m really looking forward to the structured schedule. It’s been awhile. I’m also heading back to the gym starting today- I should clarify, that though I ‘left’ the gym, it was a fee based absence. They charge an inordinate fee in the summer to continue using the campus rec centers. I expect to barely be able to walk the next week ;).

I’ll be doing total body workouts that are admittedly a little more intense than my usual routines. Over the last couple of years, I’ve maintained a weight, and a base fitness, but I think ‘m ready to actually improve my shape (literally). I’ll be working on a better diet, and focusing gym work to actually build a little muscle rather than just fitness. My end goal for the semester is to be close to the 200 lb mark, which would for my frame be pretty svelt. That would be about 2lbs loss a week, something I think is perfectly attainable.

Good luck everybody with the new semester!

Summer Happenings – Chicago Museum Tour

In June, Jordan’s parents came up for a week to visit. It was really lovely having them both here, and we so look forward to these visits. We took it easy around town for the most part, but we took the weekend to make a trip up to Chicago for “Museum Tour 2010” </booming stadium announcer voice>. We did our typical setup of finding a 4 star hotel for cheap near the airport, and taking the CTA into downtown. Really all in all we think it makes for the most fun and enjoyable Chicago style outing. In our two and a half day stay, we hit up the Field Museum and the Art Institute. These places are so huge, they really kind of defy explanation, so I’m not going to even try! Instead enjoy a couple of slide shows:

Vodpod videos no longer available. Vodpod videos no longer available.

Summer Happenings- Academic Happenings

In a sort of homage to the Ballad, and Nyet’s impressive ability to write several posts at once, and then lay them on the world at once, I’m going to do something similar. It only makes sense, as I look at my blog output for the summer. The last posting was about really good steaks- that seems like a lifetime ago given all the happenings of the last three months. I think rather than give a step by step account in chronological order, I’ll lay things out categorical according to happenings. Should be fun for me- and hopefully you’ll deal.

Academic Happenings

I happened to do lots of fieldwork. I am very fortunate to be fully funded in my studies for the entire year. Typically this has entailed being a Research Assistant (RA) for Bruce during the long semesters. For summer, Bruce continues the RA funding at 2.5 month pay. This means I get paid a little less during summer, but I still get all the benefits, insurance and the like. During the long semesters the RA usually translates to processing data for Bruce, as well as the occasional field outing to one of the research groups field sites (not always my dissertation site). During the summer the emphasis, mainly due to field crew availability and weather conditions, shifts to fieldwork. We do some regular survey type stuff at a couple of sites that Bruce has maintained for 10+ years, and then we work on each others’ projects as called for. Well, generally this summer has been light on the number of sites we work at, but nevertheless the work is hard. Our biggest project as of late has been the meander cutoff on the Wabash River immediately upstream of the confluence with the Ohio River. I’ve written about this before. The dynamics at this site are amazing and fascinating, but it has its drawbacks also. It’s in the middle of nowhere, 3 hours south of Champaign-Urbana, so getting there and back to do fieldwork typically takes about as long as the fieldwork itself. Also the site can be dangerous- flying carp, swift currents, and other excitement lead to interesting stories.

For instance, catching your boat motor on fire and getting stranded for several hours on an island with no access other than by boat. That’s right; I’ve officially done the real version of Lost now. We went down three weeks ago to do some resurveying/mapping, as there was a big flood which significantly changed the landscape from the last time we were there. We took a little jon boat with a 9.9 hp motor down there, and launched from the bank (a feat within itself!). Bruce and I had planned go do a little recon on the other side of the channel, then pick up the other field help and proceed to do the mapping. We loaded up and crossed the channel, which was swift flowing due to the shallow bathymetry. We got all the way across (about 200 yards), and we hear this ‘clunk’ and the motor dies. Next thing we know there is smoke. It didn’t take long to figure what happened- the battery cable was hanging over the transom of the boat as Bruce drove, and it got wrapped around the prop. This cut the wire sheathing, causing a short. We beached and got out of the boat, but first we tried to disconnect the battery, unfortunately we couldn’t because the leads had fused to the battery. I tried to break them free, and in the process created a better connection which made the battery fizzle, for a better lack of words. I got out of the way fearing it would explode, ruining my picture perfect face. Luckily it didn’t, but it did catch the wire on fire, and I had to scramble to put it out- luckily we were in a river, and water was nearby ;). Once it was out, we couldn’t get the motor started again, so we were stuck. We had the mapping equipment so we trudged on, figuring we could at least do our work and wait for help.

Eventually help did come, and the funny part was that we were able to pull start the motor sans battery and cross unassisted to the other side (the help escorted us just in case). All in all we were over on the island for about 4-5 hours- enough time to do our work for that side, get badly sun burnt (we had left the sunblock on the other side), and run out of water (luckily I had brought my gallon jug with us). Once we got back to the other side, we still had work to do there which took another couple of hours. I can honestly say that it was one of the worst fieldwork days I’ve ever had. Perhaps the only thing close was during my masters when we encountered a 300 foot long logjam in the middle of the San Antonio River and had to portage 800 lbs of equipment around it- but time fades pain and suffering, so for now the Wabash Fiasco takes the cake.

Work at my own site unfortunately wasn’t very productive. The weather just didn’t go my way. I did manage to get one good set of flow measurements, but I was hoping for 2-3, maybe even 4 sets this summer. I guess that’s life. That is perhaps the most trying part of being a field scientist. I must go through life hanging on a thread waiting for the perfect conditions to gather my data. In small rivers, which flood often, but are flashy, this can be very difficult to do. I take a crew of 5-6 people out to do my work, and the river responds very quickly. Organizing that kind of labor pool on short notice can be difficult to put it mildly. I’m seriously considering lab work for my future projects- don’t worry Bruce, I’ll do field work with the best of them still, I just want to expand my horizons once I’m in a career.

We’ve still got a couple of weeks until the semester gets underway, and we have one more summer fieldwork outing to do- mapping of the West Branch of the North Fork of the Chicago river in Northbrook, IL (Northern Chicago Suburb). That’s an okay day, the work isn’t hard, but it’s a long day’s work once you’ve included the rush hour drive to Chicago. Hopefully we can get that knocked out ASAP and I can forget about this summer, because Lord knows I’m ready to.

I happened to submit my first research article. News on the academic front isn’t all dour. I submitted my first research article to Geomorphology- which is basically the top, most cited journal in my field. Better yet, I submitted to a special issue coming out on Meandering Rivers, which will include papers by most of the world’s leader meandering rivers research. This is especially cool for me to have my paper in this issue alongside these other ‘heavy hitters’. I’m proud of the article, and the science context and story we provide. It truly is new insight, and I am pretty sure we are telling a story that has never been effectively told with field research. I’m excited and anxious to get the reviewer comments back- I’m honestly expecting the worst, as it’s my first article, so we shall see. Also, yesterday I was asked to review an article in the issue- another new experience for me. I’m looking forward to it immensely, as it’s sort of a rite of passage. Overall I’m really excited to have my work put out there for the scientific community, and hopeful that because it’s good work, and it’s nestled in a heavy hitting special issue, that my article will become moderately well cited. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll still be really stoked to have done it.

I happened to sieve a lot of sediment. Other than fieldwork, and data processing, I’ve also been sieving sediment up to my eyeballs. It’s too bad most of you guys don’t know the true joy of this experience. In March I collected almost 2 metric tons of rock from the creek where I’m doing my dissertation work. Sieving is an analysis method where I spend inordinate amounts of time studying this rock 1 kilogram at a time, by shaking and banging said rock in brass buckets with holes in it. Imagine if you can the cacophony that would ensue, and you have an idea of what I wake up in the middle of the night hearing. Really, it’s not that bad, but it is tedious, mostly mind numbing stuff all just to get a couple of cool looking graphs (and for you in the know, don’t give me hell about the histogram- excel doesn’t know what a real histogram is, and this is the best I can do. Publication figures will be done in MATLAB):

I happen to be excited about teaching. Thus far in my tenure at UIUC, I’ve been supported by a RA or Fellowship. This has been really wonderful, especially when I was blowing my brains out in graduate level engineering coursework. It let me focus directly on my work, classes, and research. This upcoming year however, I’m supported as a Teaching Assistant (TA). You might think I’m disappointed, but you’d be wrong. I love to teach, and I’m really looking forward to it. This first semester I’m TAing “Geography of Developing Countries” which is a huge class because it is fulfills a gen. ed. requirement. I think I’ll end up with 3 discussion sections- I’ve already been warned to not get saddled with the Friday sections (sage advice from a fellow grad student- I owe you a beer Matt). This is a course I’ve never taken, and I’m also looking forward to learning something myself. Should be fun. It’s a 100 level course, so I’m not sure I’ll get lovely essay tidbits for entertaining the masses, but I’m sure I’ll have more than one good story to tell.

The Spring semester holds even more fun. I’ll be the instructor for “Intro to Physical Geography.” This is good, as I can guarantee that this will be a course I’ll be teaching in my first job- it’s a given to teach this, and typically a GIS course. I’m also stoked about this course, but admittedly a little nervous about it. I’ll be in the heat of trying to pound out dissertation chapters, whilst also trying to do course prep and the like. I guess I shouldn’t complain, I’m going to enjoy it I already know, and I’m certainly not the first to be in this boat. Overall I’m looking forward to this year more than usual.

Stay tuned for other Summer Happenings very soon.

Perfect Pepper-crusted Steaks

I’m not a food blog writer, but I like to cook and love to eat, so I’m gonna go out on a limb here and post my recipe for very, very nice steaks with a balsamic and port reduction. This turned out awesome, and I’d say it’s one of the best steaks I’ve ever had (that NY Strip at Morton’s has got some competition!)


  • Center-cut beef tenderloin, sliced into 2 inch steaks (or some fillet mignon, though it works out cheaper to buy the tenderloin)
  • Decent olive oil
  • Whole pepper corns (about 1/3 cup, or enough to make a good crust on the steaks)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 c. Port wine
  • 1/2 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • Thyme
  • Butter

Rub the steaks generously with Kosher salt, and set aside. The trick is to let the steaks come up to room temprature with the salt on them. Preheat the oven to 475*. In a mortar and pestle, coarsely grind the pepper, and then sauté in a skillet with a about a tablespoon of olive oil until fragrant. The pepper smells like chocolate and coffee to me, it’s very nice! Put the pepper mixture aside to cool down. When the steak and pepper are both near room temperature, coat each steak in the peppercorn and oil mixture.

Sear the steaks in a heavy, oven-safe pan over medium-high heat for about 1-2 mins per side. Put the steaks, pan and all into the oven to finish cooking. I like medium-rare, and that took about 6 minutes (I use the poke method to check doneness- med-rare should be soft, but not ‘mushy’). Put the cooked steaks on a rack in a cookie sheet and tent with foil. Don’t touch those guys for at least 10 minutes, or you’ll regret it. They need to rest in order to be tender and juicy, if you can’t wait, they’ll be tough.

While the steak is resting, make the sauce, which is super easy. Put the port and balsamic in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce until it is a light syrupy consistence (about half the volume- it will lightly coat the back of a spoon). Toss in the fresh thyme, and add a generous pad or two (or three) of butter to thicken (and richen) the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, thinly slice the steaks against the grain and pour some of the port reduction over it. Yum.

Academic Spam? Redux – Lambert Academic Publishers Responds

You may remember a post I made awhile back were I talked about an email I received from Lambert Academic Publishers (LAP). In the post (Academic Spam?), I talked about how, while a legitimate company and offer, the LAP email struck me as odd. While I never referred to the LAP offer as spam in the post, I nevertheless caught the attention of the company itself. Michael Davis, a representative from LAP requested that I change my post title, and in the process an interesting conversation ensued. As this is my blog, and it represents my own opinions, not those of my readers I was not inclined to change anything. But because I think it’s interesting, I offered to write this post containing the position of LAP, as well as my thoughts on the matter.

Here is the official canned response from LAP, sent by Michael Davis:

Attention: All readers and authors.

I am writing on behalf of Lambert Academic Publishing. Publishing houses have long been considered as closed to everyone, without any interaction with authors, book buyers and readers. However, we, at LAP are different from conventional publishers. Instead we pursue an innovative ‘open book policy’ where we continuously identify scientific and academic projects from different universities and colleges. We do contact authors by email and propose publishing contract to them. Our aim is to provide knowledge to a wide market and connect the book buyers and readers to the right author and the books they are looking for.

Our books are distributed through more than 80,000 bookstores and more than 3,000 online shops worldwide.

We are committed in providing the best publishing experience available to our authors, we are thus open to the concerns of all our authors and customers. While our request for bank details have been often assumed to be some type of identity fraud we wish reassure our authors that we use the VeriSign security system and that such request is for the sole purpose of royalties payment. Upon suggestions of many authors we will be soon implementing new royalties payment methods such as Paypal.

Often confused with Vanity Press our publishing model is very different from it. We wish to provide the following details on the difference between a Vanity Press and our publishing model:

  • We distribute your book worldwide through mainstream and well known shops such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble or AbeBooks.
  • You are not charged any cost for the production of your book. We bear all production,distribution and marketing cost for you and we pay you royalties for specific periods.
  • You are able to publish 80% your book through journals and reviews. Your book is not tied up when you get a contract from LAP.

Whereas Vanity Press charges for all the services mentioned above instead LAP look after all these at no cost to the author and with the advantage of a dedicated Acquisition Editor who is engaged to attend all the author’s requests.

In a time where most actors of the publishing industry are turning irrelevant and out of date, LAP Group partners with its authors to enter the new publishing era. Authors can join us now and be part of this revolution of the publishing industry.

Michael Davis
Customer Service Executive

In our email conversation, Michael states:

[W]e wish to make it clear that this is not a publishing spam rather an invitation to publish, whereas if the recipient refuses to do so we do not contact them again. However the title of your blog might be misleading to new authors.

Michael is right, the offer from LAP is not spam- if you do not respond, you’ll never hear from them again (unless of course you blog about the experience). However, I argue the title of my original post, “Academic Spam?” is not confusing to my readers- it’s a question, inviting the reader to make his or her own stance on the issue.

There are other, more significant reasons why I would not use LAP, nor recommend it to any of my friends or colleagues. The first, and main reason is philosophical really. According to their website, one of LAP’s main targets for publication are Bachelors and Masters theses. There is no peer-review, and “[p]roofreading is not performed as it would not be financeable.” As an author, you do get some royalties, though try as I might I could find a reliable source for how much (the best I found was 3% of profits- perhaps Michael will clarify). Prices of these paperback, printed on demand books are very inflated (take a look for yourself), and most people will not buy a book that is that expensive if they can just interlibrary loan the thesis. Meanwhile, you lose your exclusive copyright to the totality of your work.

By far the better choice (especially in the sciences) is to make articles from your thesis to publish in respected, peer-reviewed journals. I took a look at several of the authors of some of the LAP pubs listed on Amazon. Most of the authors’ CVs were easy to find with a web search- not one of 10 or so authors’ CVs I looked at included the LAP book. Why is that you might ask? Well, since there is no peer-review, proof-reading, or other quality measures in place, these publications are not viewed as meritorious work. The reference for your thesis itself, not the LAP book, has more weight as sound research.

So, yes, while LAP is technically not a “Vanity Press,” as you do not pay for your own book, I agree fully with Victoria Strauss that LAP (which is a subsidiary of VDM) is ultimately an author mill. Publication through LAP, while technically being a legitimate outlet, is a buyer beware situation.

Washington D.C. Photo Essay

The conference hotel was surrounded by tulips. What an amazing flower. See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

There is something special about seeing this for the first time.

It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you. ~Author unknown

In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.

The spot and view from where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the monumental “I have a dream” speech. It was surreal, because no one seemed to notice or take care it was there. I had to literally wait until people would stop crossing my path to take this picture. It felt like they were stepping on his message. How true are these words of his: “[W]e are challenged to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ~Martin Luther King Jr. “Facing the Challenge of a New Age” (Speech in Dec. 1956)

Our Nation’s Capitol

Navy Memorial. The bottom plaque is for my dad; it says, “Destroyer Escorts: Trim but Deadly”

The Presidential family was indeed there- Michelle had apparently just returned from China. It felt eerie being stared at by Secret Service scouts and snipers.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Above is the first successful Turboprop engine which powered the Vickers Viscount. Bottom is the Hughes H1 Flyer, which broke the world speed record (352 mph) in 1935.

Top, something missing??, Middle, gigantic outflow channels on Mars. Bottom, engineering test model of the Voyager series satellite, which according to Heavens Above, is 113 AU away from the sun (V1).

The original Wright Flyer- so awesome to see this!! Also, Wilbur was a great student-kid’s, pay attention in school!

Copernicus knew the solar system didn’t revolve around him, the top picture show proof from his book Commentariolus. The Space Shuttle is currently on one of its last missions. Maybe we’ll go to Mars next!

We are capable of so much destruction. The Tomahawk missile became famous in Desert Storm as a SCUD buster. The Minuteman ICBN Missile disgusts me, and I felt physically ill looking at it.

Top is Auguste Rodin’s, Monument to Balzac. Bottom is Giacomo Manzu’s, Young Girl on a Chair.

Still haven’t had enough? Feel free to check out more of the photos I took here.