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Even though our family is now well beyond the transition from only two dogs to two kids and two demoted dogs, the title of this blog remains the same. When I started this little thing, that transition was on my mind.

The adage that says one picture equals a thousand words doesn’t need validation, but it if did, I think this photo by Jessica Lobdell would do the trick. This image is a visual equivalent of this blog’s title.

The holiday buzz has us busy lately, but I will post Burns Thanksgiving and Jones Christmas content soon. Oh, and I’m already plotting my impressions of the best music of 2010.


As you might guess, the Burns Family Reunion in Vogel State Park (in north Georgia) is about spending time with family. Katie and Jackie are blue bloods; they are genetically obligated to hang out with the other Burns blue bloods all day. Robah, me, and any other spouse, pet, or guest are outlaws. We outlaws are made to feel accepted and loved; we truly feel honored to be a part of this week-long family gathering.

But once in awhile, outlaws like to spend a little time away from the throngs of blue bloods. Maybe the outlaw retreats back to an empty cabin and reads a book. Maybe a couple of outlaws drive over to Helen for a few hours. Robah and I chose to walk through the woods every morning. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my other dog, who didn’t make the trip. Baxter doesn’t travel very well, so he was left behind at Camp Canine (which he seems to really like).

There are several trailheads in the middle of the park. On our first morning at Vogel, we hiked the four-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail. Every subsequent day, we hiked a little farther. Our goal was to work our way up to a long hike on Friday — the Coosa Backcountry Trail, a 16-mile trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest that begins at Vogel, crosses the summit of Duncan Ridge, intersects the Appalachian Trail, and takes the hikers near Blood and Slaughter Mountains (not as violent as they might sound).

Coosa Backcountry Trail from Google Maps

It’s not the distance that makes it daunting. Rather, it was the 7,735 feet of aggregate elevation gain that really wore us down. As you can see from the graph below, the elevation gain during the first half is a tease for the climbs and descents in the second half.

Elevation, by mile

Here are the final stats of our hike. By the way, I captured this data using the GPS receiver and My Tracks on my EVO phone. My Tracks is an incredible tool that is especially helpful for a directionally-challenged guy in the woods with nothing, and no one, in sight or earshot. Here are the hike statistics that My Tracks captured:

Now that you’ve seen the objective data about the hike, let me tell you about a few things that my smartphone couldn’t assist me with. Except for a few guys camping near the trailhead, Robah and I saw no one else anywhere near the trail all day. Thinking that the unfamiliar part of the long trail would have about the same amount of creek water access as the familiar part, I decided to travel light and carry only enough water for me. I had about 70 ounces for me, and Robah could drink from the many creeks along the way. This was a potentially dangerous mistake on my part.

Finally, it seemed to me before we set off that 85 degrees in the north Georgia mountains would feel cooler than 85 degrees in Raleigh, because we would be shaded for almost all of the hike. We were shaded, but we got hotter and hotter the more we walked. I didn’t bring enough water, but I did bring changes of shirts, shorts, and socks. Despite the dry changes of clothes, my pack was dripping wet when we finished.

Here’s a list of highlights from the hike, in order and marked on the map:

  1. Robah and I embark around 9:30 a.m., fully hydrated.
  2. I drink my first bottle of water (24-oz.) at Burnett Gap. Robah drinks from a creek, as planned.
  3. We come upon a recently-vacated campsite. A red Toyota pickup is parked next to a boombox that is playing an unfamiliar Red Hot Chili Peppers song. No one is there.
  4. GPS notwithstanding, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn after the Coosa trail intersects a couple of different Appalachian Trail spurs. After some backtracking and worrying, we figure out the right direction and keep moving.
  5. We meet a deer and Robah goes into berserk mode. I finally convince him to forget about it.
  6. After hiking the last few miles soaked in sweat, I change shirts, get out a fresh sweat towel, and eat half a sandwich and some carrots I brought. Robah scarfs a few Pupperonis (his favorite).
  7. There is no creek anywhere in sight, but Robah is thirsty. I give Robah some water and finish off my last water bottle. We’re officially out of water with approximately eight miles to go…not even half-way. The dry socks I put on are heavenly.
  8. We reach the second crossing of Highway 180, and I realize that the next ascent is just as high as the previous one. In about 20 minutes, we’ll both be hiking (or struggling) on all fours as we climb the mountain. We take breaks every fifty feet during the climb. It’s getting a little hard to swallow.
  9. At the top of the incline, we are greeted by a sea of ferns. Relief and natural peace help us carry on.
  10. A tall man in a white lab coat appears to be gathering rocks from the ground. After a few confused seconds pass, I realize it’s a minor hallucination. It’s actually a half-dead tree. Robah looks at me like I’m weird.
  11. The trail (if you can call it that) is barely recognizable. Bees are swarming in a couple of places. I hurry Robah along, pretty sure that the bees are not just in my head.
  12. I’m feeling better about things now that we’re heading downhill. We scare several quails from their ground nests as we go.
  13. More bees.
  14. Gorgeous, delicate red wildflowers align the trail. I decide against picking some illegally for my girls.
  15. FINALLY, a creek. Robah and I find our respective spots in the water and lie down. We each drink a couple of liters from the creek.
  16. Rain falls on us as we reach familiar territory. I’ve been soaking wet all day, so the rain is no inconvenience. After 16 miles of up and down, we get back to our cabin around 2:30 p.m.

Here are a couple of pictures of my hiking partner. If you’re going to be out in the woods for awhile, there’s no better dog in the world (nothing against Baxter — he has other virtues).

Baxter, Robah, and I had an epic frisbee session today. No records were broken, but that’s primarily because I didn’t push them too hard. Their individual and combined records are detailed below:

Consecutive catches by Baxter: 11
September 25, 2007
Avon Drive, Raleigh, NC

Consecutive catches by Robah: 6
December 6, 2008
White Oak Road, Raleigh, NC

Consecutive alternating catches by Robah and Baxter: 10
October 10, 2008
White Oak Road, Raleigh, NC

If you’re not impressed with these numbers, keep in mind that a single frisbee route is in the range between 70 and 90 feet. In a single session, Baxter will run around 50 routes, and Robah around 30 routes. That’s the equivalent of Baxter sprinting a mile-and-a-half. Robah runs close to a mile during a session. Our poor grass.

Here’s a diagram that illustrates our playing field:


I did, however, have to pull Robah aside today and talk to him about never taking a play (or throw) off. It’s not that he has a bad attitude or the kind of prima donna approach to the game that seems so common among today’s elite receivers. But, there are times when he doesn’t finish a route and he’s been known to take his disc to his favorite patch of grass and rest for awhile in the middle of a session. His brother Baxter, aka Psycho B, is a frisbee-chasing machine; his motor never stops. I wonder how Roy Williams handles it when Hansbrough is running circles around a teammate in practice.

I haven’t set up the camera to record Bax and Robah snagging frisbees, but Katie did capture Baxter’s weird sleeping position a couple of weeks ago:

Baby girl Jones is doing fine, with no real updates to speak of, so I’m making this post in lieu of baby news. I know, I know. You’re probably already disappointed.

I remember the first time I flipped through The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. My initial skim of the book was a kind of coffee-table experience — I was captivated by the aesthetics of the graphics without taking the time to appreciate their informational value. After a more thorough reading during my graduate coursework, chartjunk, small multiples, and other theoretical and practical concepts began to sink in. I remember disagreeing with more than a few of Tufte’s claims (and I still do), but I was enamored with his academic dedication to technical communication. It inspires me still today. I’ve been wondering lately…could I learn something about my musical preferences by visualizing my music’s metadata?

Even though I sometimes worry about Apple’s stranglehold on digital music, iTunes is the best digital media application available. I’ve been a loyal iTunes user for the past three years. Katie and I share our Mac, but I am responsible for 98% of the music uploaded. At a minimum, she deserves an understated tip of the hat: my wife is a good sport when it comes to my music-listening/buying/downloading habits. Since 2006, I’ve been able to collect and organize my music in ways that stacks of Case Logic albums could never accommodate. On the one hand, I miss liner notes and inserts. On the other hand, I’d prefer to filter and sort data fields click-by-click anyday over flipping through plastic sleeves in a book.

Last month, I decided to delve deeper into my (and Katie’s) music library. I began with a loosely-defined purpose and one particular variable. I wanted to analyze my song aquisition habits since the beginning of 2007 by genre. In other words, how have my musical tastes changed over the past year and a half? Of course, genre is an extremely subjective way to categorize. For example, I draw a clear line of distinction with my mind and ears between R & B, Soul, and Funk. For example, if the average person were asked to sort Donny Hathaway, Jill Scott, Poets of Rhythm, Bo Boral, and Mary J. Blige into these two genres, their results would likely be different than mine. Some artists (e.g. Rufus Wainwright, The Avett Brothers, Beirut, Air France) are pretty darn difficult to force into one bucket, but they can’t be duplicated and put into two buckets or divided among multiple buckets. I keep reminding myself that it’s okay if the genres are subjective — I’m the only one interested in dissecting my library anyway.

In most of the cases where genre blurs the boundaries of visualization, I used the category Alternative & Punk as a bit of a catch-all. As any ontologist will attest, homogeneity is crucial to characteristics of division. If genre is a characteristic of song division, then a couple of my labels don’t fit the bill. As a category label, Soundtrack is problematic because it is not homogenous with the others. Finally, the category called Blanks (also not homogenous) consists of music that has not yet been assigned a genre label.

Here’s a snapshot of my music library in July of 2008. The full data set, or all the music I own, is about 10,100 songs. The pie chart below depicts songs by genre.

Music Library, by Genre

Music Library, by Genre

So, World music jumped 2,450%, from two songs in December 2006 to 51 songs in July 2008. The statistically-significant increases from January 2007 to July 2008 were:

Genre Percentage Increase Number of Songs 1/07 Number of Songs 7/08
Bluegrass* 128% 47 107
Electronic 81% 214 389
Folk 46% 133 194

* attributed mostly to Chatham County Line

Lounge and Metal were completely flat (no songs acquired) over the year-and-a-half period, while I only added one single Blues song (1%) and six Soundtrack tracks (3%). Increases in all the other categories ranged from 9% to 45%.

Here’s the breakdown of song acquisition by genre:

Music Acquisition Trend, by Genre

Music Acquisition Trend, by Genre

This exercise has me thinking about other variables that, when displayed visually, might reveal interesting trends or patterns. Play Count and Skip Count would really describe my listening habits, but there’s no data because I rarely play music in iTunes. I suppose I could start appending each song record in my library with My Rating, but tastes change overtime and it would be a full-time job assigning stars to every song I hear. Perhaps the next time I sort through my music, I’ll look at the gradual trend of acquiring songs and not entire albums during the last several years.

I’d certainly like to hear any ideas you may have about visualizing music collections and listening habits.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.