Chicago, finally. Sort of.

Sunday (Jul 11th) night I flew to Chicago for a software/user conference for work. I’ve only been through O’hare and never to Chicago proper. I was ecstatic about being able to visit, even if my visit was restricted to 6pm-late on Monday and Tuesday nights. Anyway, I picked window seats all the way, and the view from PDX to somewhere over Idaho was great until we hit clouds, then darkness shortly after the connection in Denver. The flight out of DEN was very turbulent and there were a number of people who let out surprised gasps at the big dips. As we approached Chicago, there were massive thunderheads letting out orange flashes.

I didn’t arrive until 10:45, so the L ride in to the city was dark and uneventful. All but three people on the train were staring at their iPhones. One of them was on a different smart phone, one was reading a book of poetry (for real), and the third was a drunk man who threw garbage out the door on to the tracks at every stop. If you’re ever under the L and get showered with broken glass, it’s probably this guy.

It wasn’t until right downtown that I finally got a sense that I was in Chicago. The elevation of the city is pretty amazing, especially at night with the absence of bustle. I got off the L a little early so I could walk the remaining 3/4 of a mile to the hotel, though after 11pm on a Sunday, the place was pretty dead. I crossed the river and weaved my way to the hotel and checked in. A quick ride to the 34th floor and discovered that I had a pretty sweet view. I was hungry though, so I grabbed a quick bite in the lounge in the lobby then tried to fall asleep. The faint whir of the elevators going past was reminiscent of the MAX, so I drifted off.


Monday was largely spent in conference, which was great, but I won’t bore you with the details. There was learning, networking and such. I had big plans for the evening, so I somewhat carefully dodged doing anything with the folks from PSU and even with my friend and coworker. But it was my first time to Chicago and I wanted to be self-indulgant. So after the conference, I changed in to some walking clothes and headed north through downtown. I have to admit I got disoriented a few times and had to pull out my phone to recalibrate.

Downtown is cool, though about half the storefronts are the same as you’d find here. The streets and sidewalks are very different, and they’re made out of the same aggregate as those in Nebraska. After walking through town and blatantly staring up at the buildings (I love skyscrapers, and there are a century’s worth in Chicago), I drifted through Washington Park then on to Old Town, zig-zagging through neighborhoods. There were still a few giant elm trees throughout the city, and throw in some cicadas and brick, and again, it felt a lot like being in Hastings. Then I drifted northeast (hitting Goethe, of course) until I reached the Goose Island Brewery on Clybourn. I’ll write more details about the beer and beer establishements on Rooftop Brew, but suffice to say it was very homey what with the dark woods, good beer, and cycling club meetings.

After a lager, a pulled pork sandwich, and a cask pale, I wanted to catch the bus across the river to the fabled Map Room. When I got up to North Ave, I realized it wasn’t too much further (only a mile and a half) and the area was slightly industrial, so I decided to walk. The next thing I knew, I was looking at scrap yards and a huge steel smelter/fabricator. It was interesting and industrial, and someone had left all the doors open while they were on break. I’m sure it was because of the heat, but with the doors rolled up, I was able to peek in, step in, and even snap a few pics of this rather turn of the century looking foundry. The outside was meticulously decorated with flower boxes that all seemed in much better shape than anything in my yard.

After leaving the foundry, I crossed a river, wandered under some elevated train and freeways, and made my way in to the Bucktown neighborhood. It was charming – huge trees, cicadas, lightning bugs, bricks, and well taken care of neighborhoods. It was like being in my parents home town in Nebraska, but much denser and, well, Chicago. I finally ended up at the Map Room and grabbed a place by the bar after washing some of the sweat off. The place was really cool. Maps on the walls, excellent beer, and great music. I spoke with some locals about the neighborhood and area and they told me to just keep walking, as it’s the only way to really get Chicago. From there I wandered down to Wicker Park, which was much more alive than downtown had been. Probably a nightime effect thing where everyone goes back to their own stomping grounds for fun. In many ways, it reminded me of NE Portland, except with a flatiron building and humidity. From here, I caught a ride back downtown for the night. Did you know that the L also goes underground? I didn’t, so I was surprised when I had to take several flights of stairs up to the street.

Tuesday’s conference was great blah, blah no one cares. After work I grabbed a beer with a tech ninja from D2L and we talked some shop and life. It was good to get to talk some bigger picture things, but I realized that folks from that part of Canada say “resources” with a Z. When I first heard this, I thought it was just a fluke. But after several different people using the word, I decided it must be a localism. To say it properly, you pronouce the word “ReZources.”

Afterwards, I met up with Avery, a friend from Yakima who is living in Chicago. We grabbed dinner at a vegan cycle spot named Handlebar that made me feel at home. It was great to get her outside perspective and some great stories about Chicago, which really makes our city hall shenanigans sound amateurish. Afterwards, I walked on North Ave east towards the lake front, but eventually realized I wasn’t going to get to the Pier (the conference party was on the pier) in time, so I caught a bus. From the end of the line, I walked with the boathouse guard (who also got off the same bus) to the waterfront and got a local history of the Greek Orthodox church in Chicago, and how it was better than the Catholic church (we walked by the Archbishop’s residence on North Ave) and so on. We got heckled by some youth, which seemed to roll off his back. I then walked south along the waterfront, which I didn’t realize was a giant concrete sea wall, the rest of the way to the pier. It was warm and clear, and the city looked great from the water, but apparently you’re not allowed in the water after dark. Regardless, I got to the pier too late but ran in to my coworker as he was leaving. We wandered back to the hotel, chatted, and ducked out of going to a piano bar after midnight.

The last day of the conference was excellent and finished with a closing keynote from Joel H. Cohen, writer for Suddenly Susan the Simpsons. It was entertaining, to say the least, but then I had to scurry south to catch the L back to Midway for my flight home. This time it was daytime and I could see more of the city as I escaped south and west through was seemed to be working class neighborhoods. There’s a lot of brick, and some of the homes and blocks looked great, and some looked like dumps. I was glad to see both, because it showed how a city like Chicago can actually support such an immense population. Midway was pretty lame with the exception of the hubble telescope pictures and the cardinal art (someone else’s vid) in the ticketing area.

I’m rather bummed that the extent of my visit was about 5 hours over two evenings, and I somewhat intentionally avoided a number of touristy things (Damn you cubs for your out of town game!) because I can’t wait to get back and visit with more time.

Here are some of the photos shot while perambulating.

Fieldwork, day 3

On Monday, I hit the road again back to McMinville for another data collection trip to another 5th grade class. Despite how attractive Yamhill County is, I am glad that I won’t be spending another 2 hours in the car for 20 minutes of fieldwork. I’m very appreciative of the teacher and her students though, and of the lab manager at both schools in McMinville for helping me overcome some of the IE-based problems with the testing apparatus (read; Blackboard)

Upon arriving at Columbus Elementary, I was momentarily mortified when the woman in the head office said the teacher wasn’t in today. I assumed she meant that the teacher was at one of the other 2 schools where she teaches. Luckily, she simply meant that the teacher had a sub who was informed of what we were doing.

The class piled in to the lab after I’d logged all the machines in, we did the intro, and they took off. There was a noticeable difference between the early and late finishers, time wise. The last two sessions didn’t have such a long span between the first and last student. I’ll be interested to see both the biographical and the times in the results.

Again, after thanking all the students, I rewarded them with giant pretzels (many of the students had never seen such a thing) and peppermint candies. Then I excused myself to drive back to work. In the car I enjoyed a few pretzels myself, but then realized I didn’t have any water to help wash them down. This is when I started getting calls from work. I frantically tried to swallow the crumbs and not sound like a buffoon.

Note to self – check out one of the alternate questions on question set 7. The map didn’t come up for everyone.

Day 2 of fieldwork

Wednesday I drove south to McMinville’s Newby Elementary School to have a class of 5th graders run through my maps. Overall, the experience went well, though there were a few hiccups when some students tried to save a few questions, and many of the screens were 15″ rather than the desired 17″, but 23 students were able to complete the test with only a few bumps. It was a lot of time in the car for about 30 minutes of testing, but such fieldwork (I suspect.)

First official field work

This morning I visited Tualatin Valley Academy where a class of 7th graders took my thesis maps for a spin. After the revisions I made following the pilot, I was curious to see how long the tests took, and if any other problems arose. I got to the school rather early, logged in to all the workstations, and set up an example on the projector. The students filed in after a period change and automatically separated themselves by gender (it was rather comical to see girls in one corner, boys in the other). The introduction was quick, organized, and done in about 3 minutes. Then, the students started, quickly and quietly moved through each of the questions, finishing in less than 13 minutes.

When I thanked them and said that I was astonished how quick it went, several said they’d be happy to hang out in the lab longer so they didn’t have to go back to class (classic teen). I pointed out that they’d probably be more eager to go back to their classroom since they couldn’t (pulling a box from underneath my coat) eat these donuts in the computer lab.

I have to admit, I was a little shocked at how quickly it went (and how positive and complete the results are). Whether the difference has to do with changes I made to the quiz, to the introduction, or if it was simply the age and understanding of the students will have to shake out over the next couple tests. The next is tomorrow in Newberg.

Gearing up. Again

I’m well sick of my thesis by now, but seeing as it’s year 3 of the slog, I’ve got to wrap things up. Well, it’s year 5 of all of it, but the first 3 were awesome, so they don’t really count. I took the summer off from my thesis because I wasn’t able to accomplish anything useful while school was out and one of my committee members was on sabbatical. Summer is over, so I’m back to looking for a replacement committee member (sabbatical was extended) and trying to present my topic, get human subject approval from the graduate office, and get in to the field to try some layer maps on 5th graders.

Luckily, I still enjoy the topic.


One of the problems with Elections is that their news coverage completely obscures all the other stuff happening in the world. Take for example our active military campaign in Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan – the country who just elected a new president and whose government seems to have tenuous support. We’re currently bombing suspected Taleban and terrorist targets in the sovereign nation. Pakistan, our partner in the war on terror.

Well, these cavalier attacks are ruining our image in Pakistan and can only help to destabilize the troubled government.

heh.. while I was writing this I found news that Zardari is handing off presidential power.

Student Atlas of Oregon is alive

I just got word from one of my instructors and the head of the Student Atlas of Oregon project that our work is now online. As always, it is satisfying to see your work, even if someone did make some changes to it. The final product is pretty nifty, and I suspect it will be much more useful to middle school students than any other current collections of maps of Oregon.

I posted a work in progress view of the cross section map, but here’s the final product. I’d originally made it as a two-page spread, but the format of the atlas changed, and someone else merged the content for the final version.

Strange Map situation

When Hilly, Michelle, Ella and I got home from dinner, there was a car parked akwardly in front of our house. Hilly, who inherited my mom’s insuppressible urge to help people checked to see if they were lost. They were, in fact, lost. Four Korean 20-somethings were headed from Federal Way to Manzanita. They were operating with a google map print out that was too focused (and indirect) to get them there. They had already missed the route to the coast, so we redirected them with a hand drawn map.

While I was helping the proficient english speaker, the others were letting Ella play with the steering wheel, and were so smitten they gave her a bag of sweet rice treats that were the Asian equivalent of kettle corn. I ended up giving them a crappy tear out map from the Thompson guide which I annotated for their trip, and we sent them on their way. They quickly returned to the front door for a picture with us for the memory. It was cute.

Of leaves and stalling

Plum Leaf on Andrienko

Ella and I found this leaf (among the bajillions blowing around) and I enjoyed the red scalloping on the yellow so much I brought it home and took a picture or two. It’s resting on a copy of Testing the Usability of Interactive Maps in CommonGIS which I’m reading as part of my literature review. It is a useful article, but as you can see, I got distracted.

Color Scheme inspiration

This past winter and spring, I worked with the Center for Spatial Analysis and Research and Oregon Geographic Alliance on creating an Atlas of Oregon for students. You may think “hey, there’s already a gorgeous Atlas of Oregon, why create another?” Well, the answer should be clear. Because it would be fun. Actually, the reality is that the maps in the student atlas are much more simple, and largely much less aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of adults like ourselves. The maps are designed to fit existing middle school curriculum and communicate clearly the ideas that teachers in working with the Oregon Geographic Alliance have picked as most important. It was a lot of fun though.

One of the challenges that many of us faced was selecting color schemes that were bright enough to be engaging without being obnoxious. I had a difficult time coming up with a simple palette on my own. I’m much better at identifying good colors when I see them than coming up with my own matches, so I often turn to color-picker type web tools for help. But even with these tools I just wasn’t finding the magic. I had no way of knowing if my sensibilities were trumping colors best suited for kids. But then I got an idea.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from work is that there is probably someone somewhere who has faced the same situation at some point. The internet has been incredibly helpful in this regard, but for this project, something else came to mind. Who is really good at creating engaging, colorful products that catch the attention of children? Cereal companies. Think for a second about all the colors of not only the cereals themselves, but the packaging as well.

So, while grocery shopping with Michelle and Ella, I took some semi-clandestine pictures of the cereal isle and the candy isle. The candy packaging turned out to be too gauche, and often the palettes were too limited. Cereal boxes were a jackpot. Out of several options I ended up picking Froot Loops and Reeces for their engaging colors.

Reeces box Froot Loops

From these boxes I picked out a swatch of colors to use in these atlas maps. I used them fairly consistently throughout the project, and they worked very well for a few maps, and not at all for others. Some reference maps without much data on it (Cities, for example) didn’t have enough variety to require a whole palette, and none of the vibrant colors worked well as a background. The swatches are far from perfect, but they look good enough on a number of maps that they seem like they may be engaging enough for students without insulting adult sensibilities. We’ll see if that ends up being true or not.

Cereal box Swatches