Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monster Cross 2017


Conditions were fast, and the weather was astounding. I actually started the race in short sleeves, with only a base layer under my kit.  I staged poorly. I wish the promoter would stage by class and not just one giant wave after the elites go.

I rode conservatively for the whole race, since I didn't know how I would respond after not racing for nearly seven months. I didn't feel like my usual reckless self, and really dialed down the risk level--I didn't want to start 2017 lying on the ground with a broken collarbone. For the first big lap, I worked my way through the field, and really made up time on the paved uphill section. Although I faded a little after after the halfway point, I didn't notice it, and I felt really indestructible for nearly the entire race.

Unfortunately, at the end of the second big lap, and only nine miles from the finish, we were neutralized as a group so a woman who had crashed could be helicopter evacuated. I had caught (for the second time) 65+ national cyclocross champion Fred Wittwer, and was thinking "podium!"  I could spin the neutralization two ways. Negatively, all the guys I had dispensed with on the road all caught back on. Positively, I caught all the guys who had dispensed with me on the twisty hiking-path sections. So it was probably a wash. After the restart, the fight went out of me for a while, unfortunately, and it wasn't until we hit fire-road sections again that I could dial the intensity back up.

I completely fell apart on the final single-track downhill section less than a mile from the finish. At least ten guys passed me in the final two minutes of a three hour race.

The finish order was a replay of my racing career. When I was a second-season Category 4, I had more than ten top-ten finishes, but they were nearly all sixth through tenth. If a race paid three places, I was fourth. If it paid seven places, I was eighth. This time I ended up 4th in the 50+: one place off the podium. And like Hilly Billy Roubaix 2015, where the winner passed me with less than five minutes left, I'm sure the third place guy this year passed me on that single-track section where I came unglued.

The race in graphs

I faded less toward the end than in past years. The horizontal section is the six minutes I spent during the neutralization. 
All five years compared. I have never been faster. than this year.  2015 was the year of the epic mud bogs, and in 2014 I DNF'd after flatting twice and then getting lost in the woods. I am astounded at how close 2016 and 2017 are for the first 80 minutes.
I averaged 175bpm for the three hours, even including six minutes standing motionless. I have no idea what was wrong with me in 2016. 

The race in pictures

Hey! I'm with a teammate! A lot of the course is fire roads like this one.
The road section. Time to drop the mountain-bike guys. It's always a good sign when you're riding with a national champion. 
Stream crossing. I rode this like a grandmother--I refused to flat. I'm off to the side to try to stay out of everyone's way.

The only steep section on the entire course just after the stream crossing.


Same as 2016. Crux with hydraulic disk brakes and Challenge Gravel Grinder 38mm tires @ 45 psi (5psi lower than 2016). I'm done with file treads; I'll ride regular cyclocross tires in 2018. Definitely needed more hookup on the twisting sections.


  • 2017: 49.4 miles in 3:11:42 57/309 overall and  5/46 in the 50+
  • 2016: 49.4 miles in 3:15:47 82/342 overall and 10/55 in 50+
  • 2015: 45.4 miles in 3:28:47 58/252 overall and 5/38 in the 50+ 
  • 2014: DNF--two flats before the 1/2-way point
  • 2013: 47.7 miles in 3:05:23  71/382 overall and  9/46 in 50+
  • 2012: 3:17:33  58/336 overall and 12/50 in 40-49

    Links to results

    Strava link

    Links to previous race summaries

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017

    On academic integrity

    The questions

    • Should you get to declare a mulligan when you're caught plagiarizing part of your thesis, by just removing the parts you didn't write and then be allowed to keep your degree?  Or does this situation constitute a "one and done?"
    • Bonus question. If you're caught and you get to keep your degree, should you have to acknowledge that your thesis was withdrawn and reissued for ethical revisions?

    The back story

    In 2015 I reviewed a manuscript for an additive manufacturing journal. It was the first "double blind" review I had ever done--where the author and institution information had been removed from the manuscript. Many problems existed in the manuscript, ranging from the grammatical to the scientific. Chief among the science problems was that the materials science in the explanation of the findings didn't make any sense to me. It just seemed random and unconnected to the experimental results. It was also clear that multiple authors had contributed different sections. That's jarring, but ordinary, in scientific publication where multiple authors contribute.

    I  resorted to the cited references to try to understand the confusing discussion of the results. One of them was Iain LeMay's Principles of Mechanical Metallurgy, which I had on my bookshelf, since I had stolen it from Sandra's box in the attic.  Imagine my surprise, when I found an illustration in LeMay that strongly resembled one of the figures from the manuscript. But in LeMay's book it illustrated a very different deformation mechanism, in a completely different material system. And the text surrounding LeMay's illustration appeared nearly verbatim in the manuscript I was reviewing, with just some of the nouns changed.
    At this point, I began drafting my rejection of the manuscript on the grounds that the author had plagiarized part of the manuscript. Nearly simultaneously, inter-library loan finally delivered one of the other cited references from the manuscript under review. The rest of the confusing discussion of the manuscript was a nearly word-for-word copy directly from the second reference. The author had not even corrected the direct-from-French-to-English sentence structure that he had plagiarized from the cited work.

    The double-blind  nature of the review fascinated me, and I immediately challenged myself to find the identify of the authors. A few Google-scholar searches of unusual phrases from the manuscript made short work of that, and I rapidly identified the US university and research group. As is often the case, the manuscript under review was actually an already published and awarded Masters thesis, which I downloaded from the university archives.

    I repurposed my review of the manuscript, and addressed it to the academic integrity board of the university in question. I included high-lighted versions of both references and the masters thesis that demonstrated the plagiarized sections. After a few weeks, an associate dean at the university informed me that they were investigating the case, and thanked me for my input.

    The interim

    I didn't expect that the university would keep me informed of the progress of their case or even, for that matter, their decision. Nevertheless, every few months I checked the university's archives to see if the thesis was still available. Within a few months it was gone from the on-line archive without a trace or notice that it been withdrawn.

    In late 2016 my search found the thesis again. It had a new number (like what passes for a DOI at this university), and the plagiarized pages and figures had been excised. But nothing else was different, and no new explanation replaced the missing section. Even the acceptance dates and signatures in the front matter were identical to the original version. There was no statement that the thesis had been revised and resubmitted.

    The changes were literally at most a couple hours of work of cutting and reprinting

    What did I expect would happen?

    I guess I thought that this would be the end of the student's career. It never occurred to me that the university would just re-issue the thesis with no comment.

    Were there sanctions for the thesis advisor and committee? I have no idea, and probably could never find out. But the advisor had to know that his student did not write the entire thesis--if I could discern multiple authors in one reading of the manuscript.


    • Is this outcome fair? Or right? 
    • Should plagiarism be an academic death sentence? After all, if I stick up a liquor store, get caught, but return the money, I still committed the crime, and will be charged and probably serve time. (Though I won't get the electric chair)
    • If a student plagiarizes (or invents data), should the advisor also be sanctioned? 

    Monday, February 20, 2017

    Caverngasm 2016

    The 2016 Hyland-Luecke road trip them was "Caverngasm 2016. It takes its name from a chapter on the "Civil Wargasm" road trip  in Tony Horwitz book Confederates in the Attic (link) My original idea was that we would visit every commercial cavern in Virginia. Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess. I'm glad we didn't. By the end, we were caverned out, and even though there was time for one more, neither of us wanted to. 

    After a few caverns, I was convinced that every owner must subscribe to a trade magazine probably titled "Cavern Owner's Monthly." The tours were all very similar. Most interesting were the origin stories, most of which involved some boys and an animal:

    Endless Caverns: "According to the tour operators, the cave was discovered by two boys in October 1879, while hunting rabbits " (Wikipedia)
    Grand Caverns: "The cavern system was discovered in 1804 by 18-year-old Bernard Weyer, a young trapper, looking for his missing trap."
    Dixie Caverns: "The caverns were found by a couple farm boys back in 1920 after their dog fell through a hole that led to the caves." 
    So, if you want to find a cave, employ some boys and a dog.

    Also, every cavern has to be somehow unique. Endless Caverns: "The longest commercial cave tour in the state of VA!" Grand Caverns: "America's oldest show cavern." Shenandoah Caverns: Virginia's only cavern with elevator service!" and "best cave bacon!" 

    Since I was still in the agonies of my National Championship crash-induced sciatica, I was able to check out the area around every hotel every night as well. 


    • Best formations: tie: Grand Caverns or Shenandoah caverns
    • Best Tourguide: Natural Bridge Caverns
    • Best tour experience: Endless Caverns, because we were the only two on the tour. 
    • Don't bother: Natural Bridge Caverns--this is like going in a mine rather than in a cave.

    Day 1 Two caverns

    After a mostly on-time departure, we hit Endless Caverns, just outside New Market, VA for the 10AM tour. Score--we were the only people, so we got a personalized tour from Maria, our very charming tour guide. Endless Caverns is more of an RV park with an attached cavern. The formations are nice but not spectacular, but they haven't been endlessly beaten up like the ones in Grand Caverns. The private tour made up for the formations. 

    Sandra and I in the "Cathedral Room" just before the cavern exit. 

    After a quick lunch at a Mexican restaurant in New Market, we headed for Grand Caverns in Grottoes.
    Grand Caverns bills itself as "America's Oldest Show Cave," since it opened for business in 1806. Unlike Endless Caverns, Grand Caverns was mobbed with people shuffling along in both directions (the caverns are mostly linear in and back out. The formations were certainly more spectacular than Endless Caverns, but also showed a lot more abuse. Almost all of the individual stalactites near the paths were broken off, presumably from the 19th century. 

    We detoured onto the Blue Ridge Parkway on our way to overnight in Lexington, and stopped at the Humpback Rocks visitor center to check out the chickens. The visitor center tries to recreate a late 19th century homestead as it would have been in the hills. 

    Sandra lectures the heirloom chickens (They are Dominiques--America's First Chicken Breed!--this was clearly a trip of superlatives.

    Night walk observations: 

    • Dude with a headlamp weeding a traffic island at 4:30AM. 
    • Face to face with a skunk rooting through trash bags (the skunk, not me) Interestingly, I had smelled him (her?) 20 minutes before, while I was several blocks away.
    Face to face with a friendly skunk out looking for a late-night snack. (He's right by the doorway in the center of the frame. I didn't want to get too much closer!) 

    • Special-needs guy doing a booming business selling newspapers at the corner at 5AM (I bought one too). Everyone who drove by seemed to stop and chat and buy a paper. 


    Day 2 More caverns and some trains

    Natural Bridge may be the oldest tourist trap in the country. The owners have been charging visitors for more than 200 years. As usual, I would have liked more history of the place, which also has a reenacted native american village and A CAVERN! We took in the cavern, whose tour guide was the most engaging of the four we visited. The cavern, which opened in the 70s, unfortunately was the least engaging of the ones we visited. It's more like going down in a hand-dug mine than a cavern.

    Fun facts about Natural Bridge:
    • Thomas Jefferson bought it from the King of England in the 18th century. 
    • TJ mined a cave on the property for guano to make gunpowder in the war of 1812.
    Sandra pointing at Natural Bridge. The highway actually goes over the arch. 

    Sandra Hyland pointing to the entrance to Thomas Jefferson's bat-poop cave. 
    How did I miss the Roanoke Museum of Transportation? Oh,right, I planned this entire trip in just a few days. We only found it because I googled what was in the area during our lunch stop there. We didn't leave anywhere near enough time. An actual working steam train had pulled in the day before and was still leaking water when we checked it out. 

    Blacksburg night walk observations: 

    • Not too much to see in an industrial park at 4AM. Two cute cats sleeping in the middle of the road. 


    Day 3 Asheville

    Wow, the streets were mobbed for a Thursday lunchtime: aging hippies, street kids, millenials with man-buns and batik-print skirts. All these people can't have come just for the Biltmore. I could see myself living here, especially for the riding. Literally two blocks from our downtown hotel we were on the base of a 350 m climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
    We walked to the downtown theater after dinner to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople: charming without being saccharine.
    Two thumbs up for the historic Princess Anne Hotel. Expensive, but not as expensive as the new hotels on the downtown side of the interstate. We slept through (oops) the complimentary wine and cheese-plate happy hour. 


    Night wandering

    I slept until 5AM, which was great, so I was able to walk for coffee when I woke up. 

    Day 4 Blue Ridge Parkway and Valle Crucis

    It was going to be long drive back to Blacksburg, and we made it longer by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway right out of Asheville. Great driving Sandra's Mini instead of my tank-like Subaru. Mid-drive we stopped at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, where Sandra's mom had gone to high school for several years. Unfortunately, the building next to the store had caught fire and burned, and the road was closed. 
    We tried to make it to Dixie Caverns (discovered by a boy and his dog, of course) but the day was late, my leg hurt, and we were both tired. 


    • Dinner: The Cellar, Blacksburg
    • Overnight: Microtel Blacksburg

    Night wandering

    Young woman, all dressed up, sitting on the curb of the Microtel at 2AM crying into her phone. Later she was wandering around the industrial park like me, but was gone by the time I completed my second lap.

    Day 5 One more cavern before going home

    Shenendoah Caverns caverned us out.

    Shenandoah Caverns also has a giant exhibit of Rose-Parade floats,, department store animated window displays from the 1950s and 1960s, and the stage of some political party national convention. Roadside museums are the best.

    Finally, the caverngasm was over--we didn't have the energy to stop at either Luray or Skyline caverns.