Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mountain Biking

My research includes reading and thinking about statistical models for social networks. But it's good to hear about some of the ideas from the authors themselves; straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. It's nice to hear their line of thinking, which often doesn't come across properly in conference articles. Blame it on last minute nature of these submsissions. Regardless, it's interesting to see where lines of thinking overlap and diverge, with the goal of finding questions that are both important and unanswered.

The highlight was meeting other grad students who have similar interests. Some of them are like me - just getting done with classes - and others already have a handful of papers under their belt. Nerdy conversations can't be helped since that's the common denominator. When discussing people's university experience, I was reminded to be thankful for an advisor that is supportive and attentive and knowledgeable in my area of interest; some others are not so fortunate. Second, it is rare to have such a great research group with a ton of expertise on models and algorithms that are closely related to the stuff applied to social networks; other students are often on their own.

I joined three others to rent mountain bikes. The trails were world class. (I didn't take any pics, but I found some helmet-cam footage.) A few main gravel roads criss-cross the no-cars-allowed park. From these, one can access "green" trails: a mix of dirt crushed gravel that were wide enough for a wheelchair. You could really get moving on these because the turns were easy and predictable. From these one can access dozens of "blue"-rated single track. Obstacles included huge granite slabs and boulders and rocks (no problem for the double suspension bikes we rented). We sometimes crossed one-foot-wide wooden bridges that passed over swampy areas and banked around trees, both sounding and feeling like an old rollercoaster. I never sought out the "black" trails, but I know they were above my abilities.

The other guys with me were equally cautious at first since none of us had spent a ton of time on mountain bikes. By the end we were rocking and rolling enough to wake up the next morning at 7am and do it again for a couple hours. Now I see why this is one of the Meccas of Mountain Biking.