Favorite photos of 2022

Inspired by the latest episode of Hemispheric Views, I decided to choose some of my favorite photos of the year. It is really hard.

From our hike in the Zion Narrows

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From Antelope Canyon, I chose this because it was cool, and because our guide taught me some new tricks of iPhone photography! Do you see the Bison?

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From our early morning start in Grand Teton National Park. I love the light in this one.

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From our fall trip to the North shore. I just like the color of the moss looking out over Lake Superior.

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From our driving trip going back to California at Cedar Breaks National Monument. An early snow against the red rocks was really cool.

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And finally one of the many winter wonderland pictures I took after the great snowfall we had a couple weeks ago. I would not want to be standing on this spot when the wind gusts and blows all that snow down!

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Shoutout to @canion, @burk, and @martinfeld, for a great podcast.

All the Things I am Thankful for

I thought it would be fun to share a text and picture blog post of all of the things I am thankful for! So here goes, the list is pretty long.

My Grandkids!

Although I am still relatively new to the grandpa game, I love Hannes and Maren a ton! If this isn’t the coolest picture of a brand new big brother I really don’t know what is.

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My family!

This was taken before number 2 grandkid was conceived, at our lake house in wisconsin. I think the comma after conceived is important…

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My Wife

My adventure partner, my companion, my everything! I don’t know who else would put up with me after all of these years. COVID times may have curtailed our ability to see the rest of the world, but it definitely increased our desire to see the amazing country we live in. Get yourself a camper and see the USA! This particular picture was taken at Zion National Park. I could post hundreds of other selfies of us from the USA to Morocco to Istanbul to Vietnam, to every other continent (except Antarctica)!

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I am thankful that wherever we are we are happy to be there. We have the amazing fortune to have three homes. I know, it’s kind of embarassing, and soon enough we will not want to maintain three residences.

Indio, California

IMG 6624 We have made so many good friends here in Indio! From the golf course to the pickleball court to the stage! We are so happy here, and look forward to many more years of “retirement” here at HP. Even though we were not with our kids this year we were lucky enough to invite another couple from pickleball to join us for dinner. We often joke that Heritage Palms is “summer camp” for adults over 55, but it is pretty true, there are so many activities and small groups to get to know.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

IMG 2022 When we downsized from our house in Decorah to an 1800 square foot condo in Minneapolis we wer over the moon. Theaters, restaurants, sports venues, mass transit, were all within blocks of us. And when we want to be somewhere else we lock the door, leave the car in the secure, heated garage, and are on our way! COVID made us question the ownership of this particular property, but we love every night we are there.

Luck, Wisconsin

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we built our cabin in Luck in 1999 as a place for our family to gather, and I’m happy it has worked out as a place where we gather with our kids and grandkids when we are around. I’m also really happy that this is a place where our kids and their spouses and children gather without us when we are avoiding the cold and enjoying California.

My Career

I’m thankful that I love what I do, and that I control my own schedule. How many people get to do what they love, and get paid for it? How many can do it on their own time schedule? I am the main person behind Runestone Academy, and every day I am helping more than 60,000 students learn math and computer science. But I can still play golf in the mornings with my friends, or ride bike, or play pickleball, or just have a cup of coffee and read the news or watch soccer or do the crossword puzzle.

Our Friends

I am thankful for our friends! Oh! I am so thankful for our friends! I do not even want to start this! But this guy and his wife are our oldest and dearest friends. College roommates, God parents to our kids, travel companions, you name it. This picture was taken on our 30th anniversary trip together. We take a trip every 5 years (sometimes every 4 AND 5 years) to celebrate our anniversaries. I feel like this is such a wonderful and unique tradition.

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I am sorry that I have not named everyone that is important to me. That list and post would be much longer. I just started this post on a lark, and have only now realized the gravity of (not) naming everyone. I hope you know who you are and how important you are to me.

The danger of a post like this is that ten minutes from now I will think of something or someone that I missed. I am so sorry!

Chapel Talk - May 7 2018

The following is the transcript of my chapel talk. You may be able to view it here.

Luke 24: Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

The reading for today tells of a journey, and two friends talking about everything that had happened. So, thats my plan for today. Although I started my journey at Luther in Fall of 1982 as a skinny freshman, I thought I would skip over 20 years and begin in the Fall of 2002. After a successful career in industry, I felt called to come to Luther and share my experience. I had come to campus and gone through the interview process, I’d given my interview talk to a packed house in Olin 112. All I really remember from that talk was that the room was hot and as I looked over my audience I saw my revered former professor Steve Hubbard nodding off in the back row.

Despite putting Steve to sleep I thought things went well, and now back in Plymouth MN Jane and I are waiting on pins and needles to hear something from Dean Craft. Coming to Luther to teach had been my dream since I was a junior here at Luther back in 1985. So you can imagine the anxiety level was pretty high. After a few extra days of waiting we threw modern theology to the wind and prayed for the lord to send us a sign! A burning bush, a cloud shaped like a Norse head, anything! The next day I received an email from a colleague at the University of Minnesota. Brad, just wanted to let you know that Gustavus is going to be starting a search for a tenure track position in computer science. Wrong sign! I shouted. A day later the phone rang and it was Bill Craft calling with the offer.

In my ideas and creations post a week ago I wrote about 3 teachers on my journey who inspired me, challenged me, and changed me. My high school teacher Mr. Weinman who knew nothing about computers but went way out of his way to encourage a couple of nerdy teens to teach themselves to program inspires me to bring teaching resources to other high school teachers. My Luther Professor, Walt Will, who inspired me to become a professor in the first place. My master’s advisor, John Carlis who challenged me to write a textbook when I told him I was going home to Luther College.

Of course, the journey to Emmaus is not just about a couple guys on a hike, the next line of the reading tells of a stranger that joined them on their road and started chatting with them. When I look back on my years here at Luther it will be the journeys and encounters with strangers that became new colleagues and friends that I remember most.

I have come to really love teaching students off campus. My first study away trip — a trip to Silicon Valley that I have done five times now — came about because an alumni wanted to teach a course on entrepreneurship. We hurriedly put the course together over November and December, and recruited 8 students… but over the Christmas break I added a last minute addition to the itinerary. Jane and I were sitting at the Chefs table on a cruise ship and I was chatting with the stranger next to me. I was telling him about the upcoming course which he thought sounded fantastic. Then he dropped a bombshell, he said he worked at Pixar! And, although visiting groups are not usually allowed he thought he could arrange something for us! He was true to his word, and that visit turned out to be one of the real highlights of the course that year.

Probably my favorite semester of all time at Luther will be the semester Jane and I spent with a dozen students in Malta. We had 10 young women in the group who we very quickly began to refer to as our daughters. We were very fortunate to get to travel with these students to Istanbul, Rome and Morocco. It was in Marrakech , as we were walking down the street with one of our daughters that we were approached by a stranger. I’ll give you two camels for your beautiful daughter he said with a smile and a wink. Wait here! I said, I have 9 more daughters back at the Riad. Some days I like to imagine the life I could have had as a camel rancher had I taken that stranger up on his offer. A small postscript to this story: After writing the rough draft of this talk I walked out to get the mail. Only to find a thank you note from this very daughter. It said “My husband and I are moving to Texas. and I wouldn’t be ready for this next adventure if it hadn’t been for the journey’s with you two.”

It was on that same trip to Morocco that we had an amazing day-long journey, from Fez through the middle Atlas Mountains - where we had a snowball fight and fed the monkeys - to the edge of the Sahara, where we boarded camels and road into the desert. Watching the sun set over the desert is one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring sights any of us had ever seen. That night — with no WiFi or Cell service — our Berber hosts cooked us a Tagine of beef and we sat outside with them where they played drums and sang traditional Berber songs for us. We treated them to a rendition of “To Luther” and We will Rock You! That night changed us all.

Sometimes when you are on a journey, it is the unplanned things that can surprise you the most. During our stop at Ait Ben Haddou we made a dinner time decision to extend our stay so that we could visit the Ksar - The fortified city. At breakfast, Mohammed, the owner of the Hotel Bagdhad Cafe was happy to line up a guide, also named Mohammed, for us at the last minute, giving him an unconditional recommendation as the best guide in town.

At about the midway point of our climb through the Ksar our guide stopped outside his own house. “You are welcome here” he said. This is a phrase we had heard everywhere in Morocco from many different people. It had a much different feel than “welcome to my place.” it is at once more personal, more authentic, and unconditional. In a place where we wondered whether we really would be welcome we found it very comforting. Maybe thats a phrase we could think about adopting here at Luther.

Towards the end of the tour we came upon a mosque which is still in daily use. Right next to the mosque was a synagogue, no longer in use. The history of the Berber people is very old, and interesting. At one time the majority of the Berber’s were Jewish, then for a time they were Christian, but they have been Muslim for a long time. The result for the Berbers is that they are peaceful, and very tolerant. We want to get along with all people Mohammed told us. He went on, the problems in the world today are caused by three things: money, politics, and crazy people – Crazy Jews, Crazy Muslims, and Crazy Christians. Most people are good and peaceful people, its a shame the crazy people have to ruin it.

So, as I reach the end of my journey as a Luther faculty member I have much to be thankful for and I look forward to the future with excitement. A little over a week ago I was sitting on a plane, flying back from San Francisco. The stranger seated next to me on this journey struck up a conversation which surprisingly lasted the entire three hour flight back to Minneapolis. He had worked at Cargill for 17 years in their Malt division and had just recently made a long hoped for career change to become a financial planner. I told him about my career path and that I too was making a change and was on my way back after two days of meetings with my new team at Google. An offer had come to join this group for six months through a connection with a colleague I have only worked with online. We have written a paper together, we have written software together and done a joint podcast. I wrote him a letter of recommendation for his current job at UCSD. With this group I’ll get to do exactly what I was planning to do all along which is to work on Runestone Interactive — democratizing textbooks for the 21st century. Only now I’ll get a bit of help which may in turn help more “Mr. Weinman’s” out there.

Somewhere over southwest Minnesota this stranger said to me “Wow, You’ve had an amazing journey!” I guess you just have to keep your eyes open and be open to new opportunities when they come along.

So my advice to you students is to look for those strangers, take the time to chat with them and welcome them along on your journey. You never know where it might lead.

Lifelong Luther

As this will be my final Ideas and Creations contribution I hope you will indulge me in a little look back over my relationship with Luther College and the teachers and professors that have made me who I am today.

The first person I want to mention is the man in the picture – Charlie Weinman, with the hairstyle and the vest you might guess this picture comes from the early 80’s. Mr. Weinman taught typing and shorthand at Luverne High School. The picture shows him in a typical pose, and I can hear his exasperated sigh at my inability to keep my eyes off the keyboard as I worked on my “perfect paragraphs.” Mr Weinman was the advisor to the annual staff as well, and his favorite saying, which I heard often, was “If you want something done right, ask a busy person” Somewhere along the way Mr. Weinman noticed that one of the reasons I was always so busy was because my friend and I spent an inordinate amount of time messing around on the Apple II computers our high school had just purchased. We were teaching ourselves to program and trading games on cassette tapes. He made it his mission to help and encourage us — with the programming part. On weekends he would drive us to programming contests all around Southwest Minnesota. He eventually created the first programming class at the high school. The deal was that my friends and I could take the class so we could get credit and have it on our transcript, but we were to sit in the back and keep quiet – unless he asked for our help.

As I look back on it Mr Weinman was modeling a key aspect of a Luther education — life long learning. He also demonstrated to us with great humor and humility that teachers don’t always have all the answers. This was a good lesson, as even today in my final semester I’m faced every day with the fact that I don’t have all the answers when teaching machine learning or internet programming. The world of computer science moves far to quickly for any of us to know it all, and we must be prepared to be lifelong learners if we are going to succeed in this field.

Walt Will

When I arrived at Luther in the fall of 1982 I became a Norseman. It was only year two for the Norsemen, but the foundations that were laid for this group in 1981 are still strong today. Norsemen may be the only connection I have to some classmates, but I would still consider them my brothers. It was probably my classmate, Tim Peter, who came walking down the hall of first floor Ylvi encouraging those of us who were clueless to come to tryouts for this relatively unknown group!

As a computer science major I was fortunate to take the majority of my classes from Dr. Walt Will. Walt was my professor, my advisor and a great role model. He had a wonderful dry humor and an endless supply of patience to answer my endless stream of questions in class or to just sit in his office and talk about computer science and life in general. In the spirit of life long learning we always knew that Walt was just ahead of us (if only by a few days) in our journey through this new field of computer science together.

Walt was such a huge influence that when people would ask me about my career goals I would say “I want to come back to Luther and take Walt Will’s job.” That sounds a little harsh to my older self, but I meant it as the highest possible compliment to Walt. I really felt that success in life would be to have the kind of impact on other students that Walt had on us. After 18 years in the computer science industry, it was ultimately Walt who paved the way for my return to Luther as a faculty member. I remember a phone call with Walt when he told me he would be only too happy to move back to the Math department to create a position in computer science in 2003. As I started my new career as a professor I was very lucky to have Walt down the hall to talk with and get advice. As I’ve grown professor I’ve learned that I have to be myself, I’ll never be Walt, I definitely don’t have his patience.

John Carlis

If you would have asked the 1990 version of Brad Miller what it was like to be a grad student at the University of Minnesota, it would not have been a positive conversation. Going from small-town Minnesota and Luther College to the U was a huge culture shock! Big classes, registration lines that stretched down the stairs and around the block, professors that closed the doors to their office, it was all very foreign. However, I would have told you about one professor that would be right at home at Luther and that was Dr. John Carlis. I was fortunate enough to take a class from John which changed everything and led to him becoming my masters advisor and friend. After a time or two of stopping by his office to ask questions about assignments he started making me coffee and we started talking about teaching and research and writing a one-draft thesis and singing and parenting.

John had a great sense of humor and was famous for his bad puns. He would take two dimes out of his pocket and put them in the palm of his hand and slowly move his hand back and forth. “Do you know what this is?” He would ask, “a pair-a-dime shift!” Although I switched advisors for my PhD project I never stopped having coffee and conversation with John. When I told him about coming to Luther to teach he encouraged me to write a textbook, embrace the liberal arts, and get to know people outside of CS. At his funeral a few weeks ago I heard my story over and over from lots of former students. John had this same kind of relationship with countless students over the years, always having the right story or the right word of encouragement at the right time. His office must have had some kind of magical time vortex because I’ll never know how he could spend this much time with so many different people. As I look back, I do not know whether I would have become a U of M graduate if had not been fortunate enough to know John Carlis.

John’s advice also shaped my experience as a faculty member at Luther. Some of my favorite experiences as a faculty member come out of embracing the liberal arts: teaching Paideia 450s with my friend Jim Martin-Schramm, leading the Malta program, leading JTerm courses in Silicon Valley, helping to create the Data Science major are all experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. The process of writing two paper textbooks led to the vision that has become Runestone Interactive. My JTerm students will be happy to know that Runestone now has a mantra: “Democratizing textbooks for the 21st century.” As I leave Luther I am super excited that I can devote my full focus and energy to Runestone., which today serves 20,000 students a day at both high schools and colleges! I hope to make that 2 million students in the next few years.

In the face of declining enrollments, ratio imbalances, committee meetings and program reductions its easy to forget why we do what we do. I came to Luther 15 years ago because I felt called to share my experience and make a difference in the lives of students; just as Charlie Weinman, Walt Will, and John Carlis have made a difference in mine. I hope I have. My relationship with Luther is long and varied, I’m an alumni, a donor, a faculty member and a parent of an alum. If Luther calls sometime in the future to ask me to serve in some other capacity, I hope that I can. Soli Deo Gloria.

Remembering John Carlis

Everyone wants to belong, and for a young man from a small town in southwest Minnesota who went to a small liberal arts college as an undergrad, the U of M can be a pretty intimidating place – a real “pair a dime” shift if you will. I remember waiting in line OUTSIDE of Amundsen hall, and slowing working my way up several flights of stairs to try to get into courses that were still open once I got to the registration counter. I may not have the name of the building right, but as John would say “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I remember going to classes and rather than seeing a small number of students, most of whom were my friends, all I saw was a sea of unfamiliar faces.

Fortunately one of the courses that I did register for was Introduction to Database Systems, taught by John Carlis. Shortly after classes started and we were well into discussing herds of cows and various creatures and their skills and creating LDSs I found myself searching out his office to ask him some question about homework. Once in his office we started talking, and then he made me a cup of coffee. The conversation went well beyond drawing LDSs – we discovered that we both liked to sing – and he invited me to stop back again. Soon I was stopping in his office just to chat and get a cup of coffee. Research meetings and a TA position followed. John became my advisor and my friend and he gave me the gift of a sense of belonging. As I look back, I wonder if I would have stayed without the cups of coffee and conversation in John’s office.

When our first Child was born, he gave us a present. He had cut out and painted the letters to spell our daughters name in his shop. We talked about his own daughters and the challenges and joys of being a father.

Even years later, after I had shifted my focus to Grouplens, and started a company, he always welcomed me back. He was still on my PhD committee, a thing he liked to remind me of frequently, especially when he wanted me to review something. “Can you do this? I’m still on your committee right?” He would say with a grin.

I learned about building a fence around your thesis, and writing a one-draft draft thesis. When I decided that teaching at a small college was in my future he gave me a copy of Mager’s book and we talked about instructional objectives and how to become a good teacher.

Before I left for Luther College he gave me another piece of advice that I will never forget. “Write a text book,” he told me. At a small college that is a good way to publish and it will tie directly to your teaching. Two years into my time at Luther I asked my department head, “would you like to write a book with me?” He agreed and we found ourselves publishing the first data structures textbook using the Python programming language. After that we wrote an introductory book on programming with Python.

As I prepare to leave Luther and move into a new project of building a sustainable small business around the Runestone Interactive textbook project I can trace the evolution of this research and writing right back to John. The project now serves over 20,000 students a day around the world, and I frequently hear the echo of his advice in my head as I work on designing new chapters and writing new examples, and building new lessons.

Thank you John, for all the advice, the coffee, and the friendship! More students that you will ever know have benefitted from your wisdom and hospitality.