Loops
22 December 2012

Perhaps the most impressive moment of my college education was this: I was sitting in my sophomore Thermodynamics course, and the professor–a tall athletic man who coached grade school basketball in his off hours–was telling us about engine cycles and “input vs output”. Some systems had an open loop–the energy leaving the system was lost to the outside world and the energy entering the system came from some unknown source–and some have a closed loop–at least some of the energy leaving the system goes right back in at the beginning. At the end of the lecture he brought the point into a real-life context, with this advice: “take all of your old, graded homeworks and quizzes and put them in a binder. That way, when you study for the next homework or quiz, you have your old mistakes to learn from. This is the difference between ‘open loop’ and ‘closed loop'”. Open-loop students will take an exam, get a grade, and put it in a pile they never again look at. Closed-loop students will study their mistakes and correct them. Lately I’ve been evaluating my recent and future journeys through this lens.

I took a bike tour this past summer. I intended to go all the way across America, but I didn’t make it even halfway. Next summer it’s my intention to finish the journey, this time with a friend. I daydream a lot about the upcoming tour, and I get a bit nostalgic about the past one. Sometimes this is stressful, and adds an element of longing to my life that I don’t need. Other times I realize that I’m holding onto these memories for a reason: I want this to be a closed-loop experience. Next year’s tour will benefit greatly from this year’s experiences, and in that way I can push the boundaries of those experiences. It’s sort of like a series expansion in math: with each iteration of the function you get a little bit closer to the truth.

The motives for the next part of the tour are different from those of the last part. The last part was about visiting people, about getting to the next city so I could relax with friends. In Act 2 we explore the Lewis and Clark trail, and the Great Plains. Having a riding partner along will certainly change the dynamic and hopefully make it easier to continue through the psychological barriers I faced this year.

I’ll close on something of a happier note. From time to time I go back through photos, the checkin videos or journal entries and I try and take away pointers for the next time. I’d really like to get some better shots of actual riding, and somehow segue those in with the checkins. I’d also like to make the checkins more about the larger stuff at work, not just the “oh here’s what I saw today”. Along the same lines I’m redoing the tour website, so that it’ll provide a better experience for everyone involved (the mobile tourist, the worried mother, the stern trainer). The plan is to get it working as an application any long-distance traveler can use to track his or her location and communication.

PS: as far as plans for the tour, we’re thinking about leaving St Louis in late May. We hope it’ll take about 8 or so weeks (it’s about 2500 miles), and will be mainly along Adventure Cycling’s Lewis & Clark Trail.

Posted in xcbt2013