How I spent my summer

So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.
“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and aching and
I don’t know why.”Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

 -Simon and Garfunkel, “America.”  
 My wife and I spent three weeks on the road.   We drove a grand total of 5,024 miles to explore the Upper Midwest and the Northeast with what is billed as the “Coolest Camper Ever.” Now the thing is, this camper is really just superbly-designed tent-on-a-trailer. It is a very utilitarian camper, one that when compared to RVs and bigass trailers, is as Spartan as a Walmart tent. While the Sylvan Sport GO is great camper, it does not have all the creature comforts one is used to, especially after a number of years of recovering from multiple surgeries and learning to live with limited mobility. This was going to be a challenge for Melinda. While she was all in on it, I was of two minds knowing that a trip like this could build and strengthen a relationship or tear it apart.
Or just leave it as it is with deep new scars.
We survived. We emerged with a stronger relationship and a continuation of the rediscovery that began on the trip from Philadelphia to Joplin back in May. Recovery from multiple surgeries is challenging enough. When these surgeries leave one still disabled and in chronic pain, it is easy to shut down and to just quit. Melinda has been working hard for months to break out of that mode. What she accomplished on this trip by hanging in and dealing with pain and discomfort and camping is pretty damn impressive. When it hurts to walk all the damn time, the last thing one wants is have a fifty or hundred and fifty-yard walk to the washroom. She did it though
And we had a great time.
This trip started out with choosing between two conferences: One in Charleston, SC and the other in Minneapolis, MN. Summertime and the fact that Melinda needed Wisconsin, Michigan, and Rhode Island to complete her list of the lower 48 states she has visited, and I needed Michigan, Minneapolis as part of an epic road trip was the obvious choice. We did a trip like this in 2000 when our son was nine. That trip started in Oregon and created a funky loop passing through Crater Lake, Dinosaur National Monument, Santa Fe, Joplin, MO, the Field of Dreams, Rushmore. Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and Grand Coulee. That was a camping trip. With a monster tent that I hated setting up.
We did this summer’s trip in style. Just about as minimalist as a tent, but in style.

Our Sylvan Sport GO set up at Brevort Lake, MI.

The SylvanSport GO is the coolest camper ever. (It says so on it’s side.) At 840 lbs it is towable by just about any car. Further, it hardly impacts the fuel economy of our Cherokee. I can set it up completely by myself, without rushing, in 26 minutes, including the awning (which takes about 6 minutes of the 26). This thing is incredibly well-engineered and flexible. For someone like me who really values utilitarianism, this just about a dream come true.
We ended our first day of driving in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. That was fun and I could have spent a lot more time there. Especially since the museum pays homage to all the forms of music that influenced the development of rock and roll, like my hero, Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum consisting of his banjo head with the stenciling “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

We made it Minneapolis and parked the trailer at an Extra Space Storage center north of the city. First month’s rent free, $25 dollar setup fee, canceled at the end of the week. Total cost for storage, $25 – far cheaper than parking the car in the city. Next time we might leave both vehicles in storage.
2017 Vacation

A Google Map image showing the route of our travels.

We left Minneapolis on a Friday for Eagle River, WI and a private campground. Along the way I saw a family of Sandhill Cranes in a field. I wish I had been able to get a picture because they were pretty special – I hadn’t anticipated them. Our next stop was Marquette, MI on the shores of Lake Superior and a very nice National Forest Service campground on Brevort Lake across the highway from Lake Michigan. The picture above of the camper is from that campground.

Sunset at Brevort Lake.

Because of a dropped cellphone and a kind soul, we spent a day returning the 150 miles to Marquette and back. This allowed us to experience pasties (pass-tees) and Michigan cheese curds and to explore a little more of shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, both of which were pretty great.

On the shores of Lake Superior with a bronze sasquatch staring at me and my cheese curds.

We left Brevort Lake and crossed the bridge between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan into Mackinaw City Where we found laundromat and pizza delivery. It was kind of like the island (peninsula, really) of Lost Socks.

Lost socks hanging from clothes line of the ceiling of laundromat in Mackinaw City.

At this point in the trip, we started experiencing some anxiety. The lost cellphone, the changing of plans resulting in missing planned visits to a museum and Mackinac Island, and just the general anticipation of a rugged campsite without running water became too much. So we did a motel night to rest and regroup. I had anticipated this might be a necessity at least once, so it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, I really wasn’t sure how many consecutive nights camping we would make. Melinda hadn’t camped in years and life has changed quite a lot since the last time.
We finished the trek across Michigan and crossed the border into Ontario. I’m thinking about spending a summer in that part of the province. I want to make that same drive, about 15-20 minutes a day. Why? It seems that is how far apart the exits are that lead to at least one golf course. I figure this would give me a month of playing time, twice a day, without much stress. At least until I got close to Toronto and Niagara and all the crazy traffic.
The RV park in Niagara was multicultural. Definitely moreso than than the others we used.  There were also plenty of short-term campers in the section we were in as campers left daily and new ones arrived.
I saw Niagara Falls in 2001 when in Toronto for a conference. (That was the trip I took off driving without any documents about where I was going other than “Toronto.” Fortunately, I realized after just a  few hours on the road and was able to contact a colleague for the hotel name.) They haven’t changed much. Still an awful lot of water being pushed off of high cliffs and splashing against rocks and more water. Impressive and lovely but not really enough so to just hang around all day with thousands of goofy strangers. Melinda ended up feeling the same way, so we explored, had lunch and went to the casino. The casino was a bust – we had much better luck at Christmas Casino in Christmas, MI.
After Niagara we headed for Massachusetts to see our son and fiancee. This campground (private) presented a new set of challenges. In Wisconsin the walk to the washroom was short, level, and on soft ground. In Michigan the walk was quite a bit longer (150 yards all told) but still basically soft and flat. In Massachusetts it was a shorter walk, but up and down some steep little hills with a surface of broken asphalt and rock. This was a challenge for Melinda, day and night, but most especially at night. She handled it though. And so did I. I walked with her as much as four times a night, hand-in-hand. There is something special about being awakened from a sound sleep to take a walk in the middle of the night with your love. I don’t think I ever got irritated being awakened as I knew she wanted and needed me to help steady her and prevent her from going astray in the dark. (The latter can happen. It did. Just once.) I think this helped spur  the greater closeness we found together.

Us. Me, Melinda, Zach, and Kristen.


Skill development. Learning to whistle or screech with a blade of grass.

Anyhow, we spent a delightful weekend with the young couple.
Time at a winery for a tasting, lunch, and then some very silly card games. Because of crowds and how the state shuts the park down at capacity, we were not able to get in and walk around Walden’s Pond, thus sparing friends and family a gratuitous post of Zach and me thorowing a Frisbee around. That was my biggest regret of the trip. We did at least see the pond from the road …not more than a stone’s thorow away.
We drove next to Acacia National Park in Maine. We noted the eclipse while stopping at a backroads grocery store, but we didn’t really pay it much mind. We were more concerned about lobster rolls, blueberries, and getting to the Schoodic Campground, which is on the mainland section of the park. It is a very sweet campground. Not as heavily trafficked as the island and thus much quieter and more sedate. It just takes longer to get to it as it about 40 miles from the park’s headquarters. It truly is lovely and the skies are dark. The first couple of nights there I just marveled at the stars and the Milky Way, the way I had on the Upper Peninsula. The third night, well, it was raining. There are some marvelous little hikes in the park.

A rock wall along one trails at Acadia NP.

Our last night camping was spent at the Winhall Brook Forest Service campground about 30 miles north Brattleboro, VT. It was lovely and pleasant in the mountains along a trout stream, with great campsites and facilities.
But it was a long, slow slug getting home, mainly just trying to get across, and then out of, New Jersey and avoiding I-95 until the very end. We made it  home close to midnight in better shape than when we left. We were tired, but friends. We were also much closer than we have been in years as a couple. Yes, we have been close as a caregiver and patient, but that is a different and difficult relationship, one that we have been moving away from. For three weeks there was an enforced proximity of travel and with it a commitment to see the journey through that caused us both to be more willing to stop, take a breath, think, and then act or speak. It was helped by the fact that both of us have been working on mindfulness and meditative practice as part of our self-care.
All the work I have done on self-care was a big part of what made this trip a success. Taking time to find peace and inner calmness is one thing. Putting your body and mind in a state where those things can be achieved and appreciated is a whole other thing. Self-care is really a part of relationship care that we don’t talk about enough. It is much easier to be there for someone else when you have taken care of yourself.

life in road trips

Melinda and I just finished a three-week road trip  covering 5,024 miles. There will probably be a post about that trip, but I have been thinking about previous road trips. I have now visited all 49 continental United States and have done some extraordinary trips.

2017 Vacation

Summer 2017. First real vacation since 2017.



st pete round trip

AIR Forum 2003. Not an epic trip, but memorable.

San Antonio Trip

SREB Data Exchange , 2016.  The second of longer road trips with Melinda after her multiple surgeries. The first was a somewhat similar route to Austin, TX for Vertex.

Leg 1 Keizer to Joplin

Leg 1 of a family road trip in the summer of 2000 that included a visitS to Crater Lake and Dinosaur National Monument.

Leg2 Joplin to Keizer

Leg 2 of the trip in 2000. Stops included the Field of Dreams, Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Coulee Dam, and Multnomah Falls. Both halves of the trip were predominantly tent camping.

Ft Campbell to SeaTac

In 1983, my unit (B Company, 2nd Battalion, 502d Infantry) at Ft Campbell, KY rotated as a unit to assignment in at Ft Richardson, AK. We were all to meet at SeaTac to fly in together. We turned this into a rather crazy trip to see family and sights.

Anchorage to Joplin

In 1985, when I left active duty, we drove from Anchorage, AK to Joplin, MO.  Sections of the highways in Canada were still gravel. It was late March. The personal dynamics between my first and wife and myself were, shall we say, difficult. Very difficult. Much of the trip is a blur, enough so that I might wish to revisit the route.

There are other cross-country trips that could be included. The move from St. Louis to Oregon, with two small children, a U-Haul towing a truck and a separate car. Or the move from Oregon to Virginia in January 2001. Winter trips are often a much different sort of experience. Plus dozens of trips to Joplin, MO and/or Chickasha, OK to see family, from various points. Basically, just a lot more miles than I sometimes appreciate.

Bottom line is this. I love road trips.



A philosophy of counting and analytics

“It’sa dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings
It is likewise a dangerous, or perilous might be a better word, business to begin to count things. Once you start counting, you never know where it will take you. What you do know, or at least what you should know, is that where it takes you is highly influenced by your assumptions in place when you began to count.

Counting is fundamentally an act of control. We seek to understand and thereby control our environment or our relationship to our environment. We seek to control things by counting in order to manage their exchange or monetizing the things being counted. We control people through counting in a number of ways, not the least of which is to define groups in and out of existence.

The notion of “information justice” captures this latter idea. Jeffrey Alan Johnson defines it thusly in an upcoming text:

“Information justice refers to the fundamental ethical judgment of social arrangements for the distribution of information and it’s effects on self-determination and human development. It is a broader subset of the notion of political justice, applied to questions of information and information technology.”
And so my challenge of how I think about and how i perform counting and analytics is this.

How do we count without doing harm, without taking away voice and recognition from minority groups, and how do we use analysis to improve outcomes without stealing it denying agency of those we claim to serve?

So, I have a few principles that I follow.

1) Counting must give safe voice to the voiceless. We can’t allow counting to become a tool of targeting subpopulations. We must think about the act and processes of counting to protect confidentiality as appropriate.

2) Counting and reporting should illuminate and guide decision-making in non-harmful ways. By this I mean that data and information displays should follow good practices of clarity and appropriateness of context and completeness. There should be clear statements of the limits of any measure. Average wages of graduates by itself has so much potential used by itself to be completely unrepresentative of 80% of people reported under such a measure. Distributions matter.

3) Analytic models that result in risk factors that include race/ethnicity or gender are indicators that you are measuring against the students or clients you wish you had, not those you have. We should delve more deeply into understanding the relationship between what we do and who we think we are serving.

4) Slick displays and data visualizations are too often like air brush paintings where the artist can’t draw. Slickness is often used to hide the lack of substance. Simplicity and basic displays are better for highlighting difference or the lack of distance.

5) There is often no other more powerful act than the act of definition. In the absence of definition, creating and publishing one is powerful, even without fanfare. A definition may seemingly lay dormant on a web page for years and then appear in law. It’s powerful and a tremendous responsibility.

I guess to sum up I would say this.

I count to give voice and support to those we serve, striving to do no harm, and to never restrict nor deny agency to those being counted. The analytics I perform are to improve systems’ and institutions’ understanding of self and to support individuals in finding the excellence in the lives they desire, within the domain of my work.

thoughts from a conference

I’ve been doing higher ed data and data policy for a long time now, almost three decades. I now have staff that are younger than the length of time I’ve been doing this stuff. It’s enough time to see that we continue to try and solve the same problems, just with different language and different metrics.

I think also not many of my fellow practitioners are thinking deeply about why we count. It’s easier to talk about what to count, how to count, but not why. There is a lack of fluency with the history of higher education and how it connects with American history. Also, it the nature of counting itself seems to be of non-interest. I draw blank stares when I talk about counting to one or counting as an act of control (although sometimes a light goes on here).

So now I am bringing the concept of “information justice” to the discussions. That seems to stir interest. It’s still the same conversation, just at a different level that seems more actionable since it provides a script, or at least the appearance of a script. But justice of any type is not something that should have to originate out of the idea of “doing justice.” Instead, it should originate from your thoughts about why and how you are doing something to ensure fairness and equity. Too often justice comes into play after the fact in order to clean up the messes that occur from sloppy thinking and acting.

Another thing that is clear to me is that I need to write up the philosophy that drives what I do (and what I don’t do). See, my thinking about analytics and data use has evolved tremendously over the years. I used to be a true believer about using neural networks and other precursors of predictive analytics, but now I have serious doubts. More and more I have become concerned about information justice, long before I knew there was such a term. I’ve generally thought about things in much simpler terms like “counting to one.”

Stay tuned. I will be writing a philosophy of counting while on vacation.


Talking with strangers

I. Am. Not. Good. With. Small. Talk.

I’ve said this before, I’m sure. I do the make the effort though. I will  talk with anyone, especially if there is a possibility of learning something useful.

There is also something about how I present to the world that attracts a more than generous share of persons with alternative experiences of the world I live in.

Tonight, west of Chicago in a service plaza, I encountered such people. They (an older, elderly couple) had pulled up nearby while Melinda and I were eating sandwiches constructed out of the back the car. They seemed very interested in us. Actually, it was our trailer. The old guy said he used to sell RVs and has never seen a camper like ours. Seemed to think it was something the Germans would build. (For the record, our SylvanSport Go is built in North Carolina.)  So, anyhow he wanted to know about the trailer.
After I gave him the rundown, he asked if I was salesman. Nope, just a traveler. Asked where we were going. I gave him few places. He had opinions. Not as strong as his opinions about Illinois and Chicago and why they were moving too much saner Florida on the Redneck Riviera but opinions. (Yes, I laughed openly at this.) Apparently every place he has lived has treated him badly.

In five or six minutes I learned more of his life history than he was ever going to learn of mine. I also learned I probably wasn’t going to learn anything really useful in this conversation. This caused me to immediately get bored with it all land just listen politely hoping that some of clown twenty years from now listens politely while I ramble on about the injustices of my life.

I’m sure I could do this better. But it seems like I would have to ask more questions. That would seem to indicate interest where I have none.

I guess I have to learn to be more interested in strangers.

Giving up stress as habit

I’m working with a healthy lifestyle coach through work to reduce my stress. Today I realized that stress, for me at least, is a habit in the same way  anger is (was) a lifestyle.

Stress initiates the same “fight or flight” response that anger does. Both release cortisol and adrenaline/epinephrine into the body. Both disrupt. They disrupt sleep, well-being, physiology, and perhaps worse of all, they disrupt communication.

Adrenaline is a rush. You can get the same rush from stress and anger as you do from downhill skiing. There are just different emotions and responses attached. The adrenaline rush can be addictive.

In other words, you can get hooked on being stressed. You may not enjoy it the way you might other addictions, but you are hooked the same way. If this happens, you start creating situations where stress develops naturally. Say, by taking on more responsibilities, creating a greater vision than you can possibly realize given real-world limitations, procrastinating, or simply by creating conflict – even if it is only through responding conflictually. You create stress to get the adrenaline, and it cycles and spirals in such a way you keep creating more stress.

This has negative effects on the body.

This also has negative effects on relationships.

For the past few months I have been working at breathing and meditation. Slowly and imperfectly. I have at least learned to count breaths as a way to manage stress in the moment. This has helped. But. I wrote a post a few weeks that makes the point that counting is an act of control. We only count things we wish to control in some manner. While there is a certain amount of value in controlling your breathing, if your goal in focusing on your breathing is “to be in the moment,” then counting seems to be the wrong way to go about it. Counting is about controlling more than it is about being. Counting is about moving on because it is always a step further away from zero on the number line or whatever axis you are using.

Counting takes you away.

So, instead of counting breaths, I count each breath. I count to one and stop. And I do it again. And again. After all, the value in focusing on your breathing in meditation is breathing is always the thing you do now. Past breaths don’t matter. Future breaths don’t matter. All that matters is this breath now. By counting each breath and starting over, I am embracing each breath as its own moment. I am not moving farther down the axis., I am staying rooted in the Now.

This is hard work though. It would be much easier to simply get rid of everything that causes stress. But I am pretty sure that would leave me very lonely and very bored. For that reason, I will stick with the things that cause stress, but continue to learn to be more aware of each moment, and less focused on what makes me feel stressed. All of this is part of developing much greater mindfulness than I am capable of currently.


  • Continue to develop and practice attitudes that lead toward greater mindfulness.
  • Learn to pause or stop before responding. (I have a bad habit of responding immediately. Sometimes I think this is about creating more stress than anything else.)
  • Continue to give up ideas and practices of control. (Let more things be done by others. Share the wealth of opportunities that exist with all the stuff that needs doing.)
  • Identify things/behaviors that cause stress and develop workarounds.

This last thing is kind of big. I’m not a big planner. I’ve traveled across country multiple times with the only known stops to be the beginning and the end. I like the looseness of no plans and potentialities of discovery. I admit though, I dislike driving farther and farther into the night looking for a motel. So as we prepare to leave on a 4,500 mile roadtrip, I have made reservations for every night. We know what motels and hotels the first two weeks, what campsites the second two weeks. Further, I have put this is all into an itinerary and shared it with people. Most importantly, I have shared it with my wife, in hard copy. She now knows the plan. I am not always very good about sharing my plans, especially those that are all in my head, because I like the flexibility of changing my mind and not having to admit to changing my mind. Or worse, being wrong. I have bad habits of responding in irritation to questions about the plan in my head. In part, because I was typically irritated that I hadn’t told anybody so now I have to explain it – while in midst of executing it. Blecch.

It’s liberating. And it might even work. We are about to find out.




You can waste your summer

A few weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend following the debut weekend of “Wonder Woman.” The conversation naturally lead into further consideration of heroes, and then television and the anti-heroes of HBO dramas like “The Sopranos.”

When I brought up the series “Oz” about life within the fictional maximum security Oswald State Penitentiary,  we were stuck for a moment. You see, we could talk about the evolutionary arc of Tony Soprano and his paisanos and moments of redemption, but also with no expectation that many of the characters would redeem themselves. Least ways, not beyond their ethical structures and into ours. There was a clarity to their actions that usually took place within their basic ethical frame – “Once you’re into this family, there’s no getting out.”

In Oz, week after week, we waited for a hero. We looked to see if rare moments of redemption turned into something else. They did not.

Week after week, we waited for a hero that never arose.

Each episode simply contributed to the downward spiral of meanness, evil, and despair, that was the “normal” character development arc in Oz. The violence, the desire for control over others as the closest thing to freedom possible, the abuses of all types, and the treatment of humans as deranged animals, leave most viewers desperately wishing for a hero. We wanted someone to rise up and save at least one person, if only themselves. It never really happened though.

As the Boss said in Thunder Road:

“You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers,throw roses in the rain,
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets.”

You can do these things, but you are missing the fact that there are heroes all around us. I see them every day. People who fight for what they believe (@saragoldrickrab). People who try to elevate the conversation (@tressiemcphd). People who share what is seemingly unshareable (@rgayHunger is amazingly beautiful and painful).

These are some of my heroes. They are brave, amazing, super-intelligent, and honorable people. You know, what we all want to be.