Charlottesville 10-miler

23 March 2015

I ran the Charlottesville 10-miler on Saturday!

Charlottesville 10-miler

I signed up for the race at the suggestion of a friend, Laura, who also ran it Saturday (and who snapped the picture above as I approached the finish line). In the weeks leading up to the race, I was incredibly nervous. My training started out strong, but it felt like every few weeks I had some kind of new injury. In February, it was my hip, and in March, my left knee started to hurt so badly that even walking became painful. On Saturday, literally my only two goals were to run the race entirely and to finish before they reopened the roads (friends assured me I could definitely pull this off, but I wasn’t sure, given my knee). I ended up doing much better than that, and my pace overall was about a minute faster than I averaged while training. (That said, a 78-year-old beat me, by a lot.)

The race starts on UVA’s campus, wrapping around the football stadium first before heading through the main campus and along the now infamous Rugby Road. Then the course heads through downtown C-ville and along the Downtown Mall. Next it loops through a neighborhood before going back through the Mall (where I saw my favorite sign: “You know there are easier ways to get a banana, right?”) and campus.

It’s a really nice course, and even the hills — some of which were described as “seemingly unending” in our race packets — were bearable. After, Laura and I celebrated with an amazing brunch at the Bluegrass Grill & Bakery. I would totally run this race again, but for the next few weeks at least my plan is to rest easy and take a break from running.

Pitching at D.C.’s open data day, or, how I learned to stop worrying and Lean In

23 February 2015

Friday and Saturday, I took part in D.C.’s Open Data Day hackathon, one of many that took place worldwide. The way it works, people come with civic-minded projects they want to work on and make a pitch. Then, participants break off and join projects they’re interested in helping to create. At the end of the day, each group presents back on what they accomplished.

In the days leading up to Saturday, I started thinking about a project I’d like to see — something based off the reporting on college campus crime I did with The Dispatch last fall. I envisioned a website or app where students could search for their college and find crime statistics and the results of any audits to those numbers. Right now, students have to go to two somewhat obscure websites maintained by the Department of Education to get that information, so having it in one (more visible) location would make that information more useable for students, parents, faculty and others interested in the stats. And, ideally, this site would put those numbers in context, because as our reporting showed, the statistics often include (or exclude) information you could logically expect to be excluded (or included).

I had this idea, but I was really, really nervous about pitching. It was my first hackathon. I wasn’t sure how well my project would fit in with the others. And the idea of standing up in front of a huge crowd of strangers was intimidating and outside of my comfort zone. But… I really believe this would be a useful tool for folks to use. The day before the hackathon, the organizers at the dBootcamp asked if any of us planned to make a pitch, and with my heart racing, I raised my hand and shared my idea. People were receptive! I was encouraged, but still nervous. In my head, I kept thinking, “this isn’t something I do.” Eventually, I stopped myself: This is totally something I do. I have ideas, and I share them. When I reframed the excuse in my head, it didn’t have merit anymore.

So, Saturday, I pitched! It was still nerve-wracking (don’t I look excited in the photo below?), and I’m sure I fumbled over my words and could have been more articulate. But, I did it!

About a dozen people volunteered to work with me on this project, which was beyond my wildest expectations. You can see our working notes here. Together, we mapped out what a website with this information would look like and also what kind of story it would tell. We cleaned some data. We started visualizing the statistics. We registered a domain. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s a really good start. I’m so appreciative of the help and support I got from not just my group but the whole hackathon community. This is exactly how to get (and keep) people involved who might otherwise pass on the opportunity, and I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of pitching or participating.

Goals for 2015, inspired by my self-tracking

5 January 2015

Last year was the fifth year that I’ve consciously tracked things about my life but the first where I felt I found a routine that worked well enough for me to consistently track. In the past, many of my efforts have lasted only a few months — they were mostly designed to measure efforts toward a goal, and then abandoned after the goal was met or my priorities changed. But mostly, my efforts ended because tracking became too onerous. I’d miss a day, then two or three, and then, frustrated by the broken streak of data, would abandon the whole thing. But advancements in technology have really helped make it easier for me to track, and accordingly much more likely to do so. About half of the self-tracking I do now is automatic, while the rest I log manually.

For the first time in 2014, I did a year-end summary out of the things I tracked. Putting this together made me realize a few things about how I spend my time and what I prioritize, and also helped me set a few goals for the upcoming year. Among them:

  • I want to spend more time learning Python. At the Hear Me Code classes I’ve taken and in the work I’ve done on my own, I’ve found coding to be enjoyable and and it feels very intuitive. I think it’s something I could be good at if I worked harder at it.
  • I want to do more personal writing. I wrote semi-regularly in a journal for the first time since high school this year, and it made me feel calmer and less stressed. I’d like to write here more often as well.
  • I want to be more active.I spend way more of my day sedentary than I would like. In September, I started doing yoga and I plan to continue that. But I’d also like to run more (it would be hard to run less…).
  • I want to cook more and eat better. I find it challenging to cook for one in a tiny kitchen. I set off my smoke detector a lot. But I always enjoy the end result and I should do it more often. I should also stop eating doughnuts and Coke for breakfast.
  • I want to read more non-fiction books by women. Last year, women made up 70 percent of the authors I read, but all wrote either fiction or memoirs.

Modest goals, right? Here’s to 2015!

Here’s to public records and transparency

25 November 2014

Campus judicial systems, operating in secret, often impose light sanctions for serious infractions: sexual assaults, physical assaults resulting in serious injuries, robberies and other violent crimes. Some of the punishment amounts to little more than writing a paper.

That’s the key finding of a months-long investigation by reporters at The Columbus Dispatch and myself. The system operates in secret, largely because of the federal student-privacy law that is frequently and improperly used to restrict access to the disciplinary records of students who are found responsible for amounts to a crime of violence. The fourth story in this series was published today.

Below is my desk drawer. This is only a small fraction of the public records that The Dispatch and I relied on for these stories (thankfully, the vast majority were provided digitally).



We fought like hell for these records. Most were provided only after multiple requests. More than one set of documents arrived with their envelopes ripped nearly to shreds. And no surprise, we heard all manner of excuses for why records couldn’t be provided (among my favorites, explaining a six-month delay: “The university is currently closed due to ice.”). In the end, only 25 of the 110 colleges turned over the records we requested.

If you’ve read the stories, it’s clear why most colleges were reluctant to make the records public. They show a system that, operating in secret, has failed students and their families. Hopefully though, our stories also show why these records should be public, and why everyone — not just public record-savvy journalists with access to in-house legal help — should have easy access to these records.

A few days in Paris

5 January 2014

Just returned from a week in Paris. I went by myself, which I highly recommend. There’s something special anyway about being alone, a feeling that’s magnified when you’re alone in a foreign country and your grasp of the local language is terrible despite three years of study.

A few of the highlights:

  • The Musée de la Grande Guerre, devoted to World War I. This museum is technically outside of Paris, in Meaux, France (which is near the Battle of the Marne). It was incredible to be here 100 years after the War to End All Wars started. The museum is full of personal artifacts belonging to people who fought and lived in and around the war — people who experienced a local, not a world, war. Before I left I spent a few quiet moments on the roof overlooking the battlefields that surround the museum and just felt generally overwhelmed by it all.
  • Musée de Louvre. I waded through the crowds to see the Mona Lisa because that is what you do, but I got the most joy out of the museum’s wing of Egyptian antiquities. It’s all so old! Last year I read all of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books and I loved seeing the artifacts she described in the stories. Bonus: zero crowds here.
  • Les Puces de Saint-Ouen Market. Treasures around every corner.
  • The Eiffel Tower. Cliché, but I had prepared my self to be underwhelmed and it ended up being so much more impressive than I ever could have imagined. I spent literally hours over several nights standing beneath it and watching it twinkle.
  • Aimless wandering. I walked more than 81 miles throughout the week (!), pausing at basically every café I came across.

Words not spoken here

17 August 2013

Capitol Hill Books

Sign seen today at Capitol Hill Books, a list of words and phrases “Not Spoken Here”:

  • “Oh, my God (or Gosh)” or “OMG”
  • “Neat”
  • “Sweet”
  • “Like”
  • “Totally”
  • “Whatever”
  • “Perfect”
  • “That’s a good question!”
  • “You know, you know, you know…”
  • Kindle
  • Amazon
  • Nook

Eight things I highlighted…

7 August 2013

… in Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman:

  1. His specialty was the placement of oaths inside otherwise respectable words—“The problem with that man,” he would bellow to an underling, “is that he’s too indegoddampendent.”
  2. She amused herself by noting the idiosyncrasies of the other passengers. One man, she saw, took his pulse after each meal; another, for some reason, counted the number of steps he took each day.
  3. In the West as in the East, it seemed, there was money to be made in displaying oneself for the curiosity of strangers.
  4. Journalism advice from Joseph Pulitzer: “Condense! Condense!” he regularly barked at his editors, urging them to cut extraneous words, to keep sentences short and descriptions vivid, to make the language as accessible as possible. … “I hate all rare, unusual, non-understandable words. Avoid the vanity of foreign words or phrases or unfamiliar terms. Editorials must be written for the people, not for the people, not for the few.”
  5. A World reader might find, for instance, a poignant report about flowers growing in tenement windows. “The woman who bought the flower made shirts,” the story noted about one of them. “She finished them at thirty-five cents a dozen. The flower cost fifteen cents and the pot ten. The woman made nine shirts to buy the flower.”
  6. “a pretty piece of feminine revenge.”
  7. How to tell a story: “Keep on getting him, or her, into more just such holes, one in each chapter, until they get married or take out accident insurance, when, of course, the story must end.”
  8. She described herself, in those days, as a clock with a broken mainspring. “If you shake me hard I tick for a few moments, but soon relapse into silence and uselessness.”

Using Chartbuilder

4 August 2013

I’m obsessed with Chartbuilder, the new open-source tool to make beautiful graphs just like Quartz. So far, I’ve mostly used it to display some of the data collected by my Fitbit Flex (which I import to Google spreadsheets using this Quantified Self tutorial).

Like the distance I walked in July:


And the hours I slept:


Before Chartbuilder I just relied on the graphs in Google spreadsheets, but this is so easy and so beautiful that I’ll likely continue breaking my stats out by month. I like displaying my data in terms of months because it acts like as a journal. The lower distances measured at the beginning of the month? That was when I was home in Charlotte, where I have a car (and don’t have to set an alarm). The night I only slept three hours? I was up late finishing this book.

The more things change…

1 August 2013

The more they stay the same.

A few days ago, I found a digital copy of The Carolina Parlance, a student magazine that was first published at UNC in the winter of 1961. Only one issue was published, best I can tell, but the magazine was digitized by UNC Libraries last year and is available on the Internet Archives. It’s definitely worth a look. Given current events, a couple of pieces about the Honor System and the impact of big-time college athletics stood out.

In the two pieces about the Honor System, the magazine raised concerns about whether the court was approaching cases with “thoroughness and scrutiny” in light of how an assault case. The student charged with assault received only an “official reprimand,” even though other students found guilty of similar crimes had been expelled. The student who was assaulted was also tried by the Honor Court; his offense was “using suggestive language to a young lady over the phone” and the trial was ultimately suspended because the court didn’t follow proper procedures.

The complaints raised by the magazine are essentially the same being raised today by many at UNC and at other schools across the country: Accused students were not being informed of their rights and were not guaranteed due process.

Court members defended how the cases were handled (here, the magazine reprinted a statement given to The Daily Tar Heel), noting that “the real issues and pertinent facts of the cases are more readily brought forward in our simple direct system than would ever be possible if our courts had to be clouded in an aura of petty legalism.” This too is essentially the same argument many make today, that student courts are a better venue for cases that might otherwise go before real courts.

There was also this bonus surprise toward the end of the magazine — an essay by then-DTH Editor Jonathan Yardley about the impact of big-time athletics:

“What has happened is that we, and almost every other college and university in the nation, have become caught in such a vicious circle of athletic competition that we cannot escape without endangering our comparative standing. …We must learn to keep our sense of perspective and proportion; we must never forget that the University of North Carolina is an academic institution, not a professional athletic camp with a built-in cheering section.”

What struck me was the timelessness of these pieces (and others in the magazine, like an essay by a professor looking at whether students at the time were more apathetic than they used to be — millenials, anyone?). It’s no surprise these concerns were being raised. These were issues of the day — then and now. It’s sometimes easy to worry today that these are issues that will sink the school, but probably, things will remain more or less the same, for better or worse.

‘He loves her for all those qualities’

23 July 2013

I just finished the 19th and final Amelia Peabody mystery, The Tomb of the Golden Bird (by Elizabeth Peters). I can’t remember the last time I stayed up so late to read a book, or the last time I cried after reaching the final pages.

For the past six months, Amelia (I feel as though we’re on a first-name basis) and her family have been a daily part of my life. Their adventures — every year, another dead body! — are sometimes (often) eye-rollingly melodramatic, but the characters are some of the most vivid of any I have read.

I loved the plucky lady archeologist from the start, and she has easily become one of my favorite female characters (even despite her repeated digs at journalists, who rank only slightly higher than murderers in her book). It’s hard to do justice describing her, but I think Amelia’s son, Ramses, probably does it best:

“She is a handsome lady, and she has many admirable qualities. But to my father she is quite simply the most beautiful, desirable, intelligent, amusing, exasperating, infuriating, wonderful woman on the face of the earth. He loves her for all those qualities, including the ones that drive him wild.”