Category Archives: Friends

All The Feels

Sleeping Elliot cake, complete with Ardbeg, Starbucks, greek letters, and the Blerch.
Sleeping Elliot cake, complete with Ardbeg, Starbucks, greek letters, and the Blerch.

Last Tuesday I celebrated the fourth anniversary of my PhD defence. It’s hard to believe that four years have passed already. As with most of the anniversaries I celebrate, I marked this particular event with a dram or two of scotch.

As is custom, I also marked the event by taking some time to think about the changes in my life since the big day just over four years ago. To be perfectly honest, when I began reflecting on the events of just the last year, I found myself thinking did all of that really just happen in one year? 

While I won’t get into all of the details, the highlights have included the Farm To Fork crowd-funding campaign and launch, numerous talks – both invited and contributed – on things ranging from community engaged scholarship, to pedagogy, to statistics, to public health, and to social media. I’ve been interviewed several times, and I’ve written for other blogs. I’ve watched as the Farm To Fork project has grown from a simple idea to an amazing tool to fight food insecurity. And I also received a teaching award – which sits proudly in my office.

Amazing detail. An Ardbeg
Amazing detail. An Ardbeg “garnish” for my cake.

But the thing that I find myself dwelling on – the thing that makes me the most happy - is something that really has, in my opinion, little to do with me. The thing that makes me smile the most has been watching the success of the students that I’ve been so fortunate to work with over the past 20 months. These men and women are amazing, and every day that I get to spend with them I find myself loving my job even more, smiling a little bigger, and feeling blessed that I can watch as they become even more incredible people. Their dedication and creativity are inspiring. Their desire to give back, to improve the world, and to help improve the lives of people in our community and abroad, are my armour against the daily onslaught of negativity that the media often presents. I honestly can’t begin to describe the profoundly positive effect they’ve had on my life in such a very short period of time.

This weekend I invited the students - my minions – over for an end of semester celebration. This was to be a thank you from me to them for all of the hard work they’ve put in over the past months; a small gesture to express my gratitude for the opportunity to work with them. Instead, they arrived with one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – one that I won’t soon forget. If you know me, you’ll know that their gift – a sleeping Elliot cake – was perfection, right down to the smallest details. It’s not often that I’m speechless or overwhelmed with emotion, but last night’s thoughtful gift left me in exactly that state.

Starbucks, the Blerch, and greek letters.
Starbucks, the Blerch, and greek letters.

After the minions left and I tidied up, I sat down on the couch, and waited as Elliot went through his routine of pawing at my belly before nuzzling in for his evening snuggles. As I sat there I thought about the night, and the past year, and I once again came to the conclusion that I am one lucky bastard. I smiled to myself, content, happy, and completely overwhelmed with everything.

So a huge thank you to my minions for making last night an amazing night, for constantly putting a smile on my face, for making me laugh, for inspiring me, for challenging me, and for making my job the best job in the world.

To my minions who are graduating this semester – your graduation will be bittersweet. I know that I will be beaming as you walk across the stage to receive your degree, but there will be a small part of me that selfishly won’t want you to be leaving. You are all amazing individuals, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

So Many Things

The Farm To Fork team - all smiles after the big funding announcement at the Big Show.
The Farm To Fork team – all smiles after the big funding announcement at the Big Show.

I can’t believe the coming week marks the end of classes for the winter 2014 semester. I won’t lie, I’m actually pretty excited to see it come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a blast this semester, however, it has been far busier than I was initially expecting and I know that I’m definitely ready for a break.

The last two weeks have been particularly busy, but they’ve also been absolutely fantastic for a number of reasons.

On the 17th I was invited to speak to students in the Masters of Public Health program at the University of Guelph. My talk was on social media, and how – in my opinion – it could and probably should be used as a tool for public health. It was great to speak to a new class of students, and especially fun to talk about Twitter, Facebook, and other social media in an academic setting.

Later in the week (Saturday, March 22nd) I got to play judge at CollabNow, an event put on by the Entrepreneurship Society of the University of Guelph. The event brought together business, computer science, and engineering students from both the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo. Student teams were tasked with developing solutions to deal with the expected population growth in the City of Guelph over the next 17 years. Although they were given only about an hour or so to develop a solution, the students came up with some great ideas that were supported with real data.

Corey and Lee-Jay. Still smiling. Still laughing.
Corey and Lee-Jay. Still smiling. Still laughing.

The very next day (Sunday, March 23rd) I joined the Farm To Fork team as we ventured to Kitchener to celebrate the launch of the Farmer’s Kitchen Table website. I was invited to speak at the event – specifically on Farm To Fork and the importance of sufficient sustainable healthy food on every table, especially in the case of tables where food is often absent. While Farm To Fork has garnered attention outside the borders of Guelph (thank you social media and word of mouth), it’s always great to bring the message personally. Thanks again to Anne Marie, founder of the Farmer’s Kitchen Table, for letting us speak at the event.

Tuesday the 25th was one of my busier days. The day began with me helping to host one of Google’s engineers who was invited to the school to talk to the students. Immediately following that I got to watch as several student groups presented the mobile apps they’ve been developing – and holy hell some of them were super cool. After their presentations I had to jet to the River Run Centre to join the rest of the Farm To Fork team for the Big Show. For those not in the know, the Big Show was a showcase for the 52 ideas submitted to the Elevator Project to make Guelph an even better place to live. At the event Farm To Fork was announced as one of the top 15 ideas, and we were also awarded over $10000 in funding. While we knew before the event that we were in the top 15, we were floored when the funding announcement was made. Talk about an amazing way to end a Tuesday!

Speaking at the Farmer's Kitchen Table launch party.
Speaking at the Farmer’s Kitchen Table launch party.

And the Farm To Fork team got together again this weekend (because apparently we can’t get enough of each other). Yesterday we were in Centre Wellington for the Food For Thought event. There, Danny gave a phenomenal talk about what inspires him, and he also introduced the audience to the Farm To Fork project. To say they were excited would be an understatement. And you can only imagine how awesome that left us feeling - especially considering the high we were still on from Tuesday night’s big announcements.

Today the team gathered with some of my other students to spend the day coding our butts off. It was a long day, but a lot of fun, and I think in the end we managed to accomplish a lot. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Corey and Danny and the Farm To Fork table - part of the Farmer's Kitchen Table launch event.
Corey and Danny and the Farm To Fork table – part of the Farmer’s Kitchen Table launch event.

Despite the crazy schedule, the last two weeks have been fantastic. And as tired as I am, the feedback and support that Farm To Fork has been shown has reinvigorated me; it’s reminded me of how far we’ve come, where we are, and what still needs to be done. And I know we can do it.

Fortunately, I’ve got an amazing group of people working with me, and an equally amazing group of friends supporting me. Thanks to everyone for keeping me (relatively) sane. I promise I will get some sleep – soon.

Untitled II

I’ve spent the last few days feeling rather low, confused, angry, and so many other things because of the act of one or more ignorant cowards. Whatever his/her/their intention, I’ve found myself feeling apprehensive; carefully monitoring myself lest I say or do something I presumably shouldn’t, or worrying that in some unknown way I’m going to bring about the interest of someone I clearly don’t want around me.

I woke up today thinking that I wouldn’t let this person or group get to me. I would move past it like I have so many times before. But this is easier said than done.

When I got to the office I found my stomach in knots as I approached the mailroom. This scenario repeated itself today when I checked the mail at home, my mind immediately dreading what I might find. And I realized while running tonight that I was far more tense than I should have been; jumping at any noise that in previous weeks and months wouldn’t have garnered so much as a second glance.

This might seem like an extreme response to a letter I received in the mail. I won’t lie – I think it is too. But it’s a response that has been sadly etched into my psyche one word, one abusive taunt, one threat, one physical attack at a time. I’m not writing this for pity or sympathy; while all of these are things that I’d not wish on even my worst enemy, they have in ways – for better or worse – shaped me into the man I am today. They are my reality.

But I know this behaviour isn’t me. At least, it’s not the me that I want to be. It’s the me that someone else wants. And unfortunately for them I can’t – I won’t – subscribe to their vision of my life.

For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I don’t get this upset easily. I’m a rather easy-going person; I try to laugh at my fears and face them head on; I try to enjoy life to the fullest because this world truly is an amazing place. And it can be even better if we really want it to be. We – I – have to remember that those that would try to bring us down are few, those who would work to make the world better are many.

Fortunately, I know that this checking over my shoulder behaviour isn’t going to last. I won’t allow it. Because I won’t allow some person or group to have that kind of control over my life. Yes, they may surprise me from time to time, they may sneak up on me when I’m least expecting it, but I know that I am far stronger than anything they can throw at me.

I also have something that they likely don’t; an amazing group of friends who have sent me support, and love, and so many kind words over the last few days. Countless emails, and texts, and Facebook messages, and tweets, and phone calls from people – some whom I haven’t talked to in far too long – sending me their support, and words of encouragement, and everything that makes me know that I’m not alone in this fight.

So to all of you amazing people – thank you for checking in on me; thank you for the extra tight hugs; thank you for letting me vent; thank you for taking me out for pie; thank you for playing the I’m not your mom, but I’m still a mom and I want to make sure you’re okay card; thank you, thank you, thank you.

The last few days have been long and, for someone who is normally up, quite low. But I know they won’t be this way for long. How could they be with this many people cheering me on?

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This post will likely end up darker than most of what I’ve written previously. For those who came here expecting my usual fare, I apologize. I should also apologize in advance because I’m likely going to drop the f-bomb. Trust me, each and every one is in my opinion warranted. Mom, you may not want to read any further.


I’ve been struggling over the last 24 hours about how I wanted to address something that happened yesterday. In fact, I have been torn about whether or not I should write about it at all. But, given that this blog is often an outlet that helps me sort through the comings and goings of life, I’ve realized that if I don’t write something I’m going to pretty much drive myself insane.

When I arrived on campus yesterday I opted to check my on-campus mail – an entirely unremarkable and typically uneventful habit that usually has me finding the odd memo, but more often empty space. Yesterday I smiled as I saw what I assumed was a much delayed Christmas card – a small envelope decorated with a peace dove; a small berry laden branch in its beak.

The envelope was addressed to me – appropriate title, full name, and including my middle initial. However, it was also addressed to an office that I haven’t had since 2010, so the original office information was scratched out and updated accordingly by the fine folks from Math & Stats who would have handled the mail.  There was no return address, and after reading the contents I would scan the envelope again to identify that the Canadian stamp hadn’t been post-marked by Canada Post. That is, the letter was hand delivered to campus.

I returned to my office, settled in, and happily opened the envelope. Inside I found a tattered and stained pamphlet. There was no note; zero indication of who sent it to me. It was just a pamphlet.

Without getting into the details, I scanned the pamphlet and immediately felt my stomach knot, and my heart rate jump. I was instantly overwhelmed with a feeling of dread, of unease, and of maliciousness. My mind raced to plausible alternatives, and the best I could come up with was that someone I knew found this pamphlet, thought I might find it hilarious, and decided to send it to me. There’s a huge part of me that hopes that is the case.

But, I reasoned, why no return address? Why no note reading Dan, read this bullshit. Can you believe people are like this? If this were a joke, wouldn’t the punchline be obvious. Wouldn’t my reaction be this is hilarious?

Instead I kept returning to the pamphlet and the words within; words like blasphemy and heresy and anti-Christ. I’d like to say this is the first time I’ve received something like this. I’d like to say that it doesn’t bother me. And I’d like to think that I won’t ever receive something like it again. But I can’t honestly say any of those things, because history – my personal history – has taught me that I would be foolish to think such things.

To be honest, it has been a very long time since something like this has disrupted my life. It’s been many years since I felt like my feet have been swept from beneath me; like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me; like the world in which I live is a dark and scary place – full of threats and fear. And I loathe this. I loathe these feelings so much because I would rather choose to live in the light, to believe that we all have something amazing to offer this world.

So to whomever sent me that note – fuck you. Fuck you for spreading darkness and fear. Fuck you for trying to intimidate me. Fuck you for being a coward. Fuck you for thinking that your vitriol would change me. You may have hit me when I wasn’t expecting it but I’m not so easily defeated. I know who I am and I know I will come out of this the better man – because I have been through much worse than your pathetic attempt to bring me down.

To the family and friends whom I’ve chatted with about this, thank you for your support, thank you for your concern, and thank you for just being amazing. While I’m likely going to be out of sorts for a day or two, know that you are the beacon that will keep me on course.

To anyone out there who has to deal with bullying, or harassment, or homophobia, or sexism, or any of the many other horrible things we do to each other, stay strong, focus on the helpers, and know that you are stronger than those who would choose to make you feel small.

Happy Goofiversary

63.3 km later, enjoying our shiny new bling.
63.3 km later, enjoying our shiny new bling.

It’s amazing to think that this weekend, last year, I would have found myself in the Sunshine State of Florida running 63.3 km over a roughly 29 hour period.

Honestly, it seems like a lifetime ago that I laced up with Mark to run the first of two epic runs through the parks of Disney World. The first being the Donald Duck Half Marathon, the second being the Mickey Mouse Full Marathon. It was an amazing adventure, and one that I don’t think I could have done without Mark by my side. He kept me focused and motivated, and encouraged me when I needed it the most.

Now a year later, I find myself looking back and thinking to myself How the hell did I manage to do that? I’m not asking this because I don’t think I could do it again – I know I could, and I will. I mainly ask because I’m back at the starting gate: learning to run long distances, conditioning my body in the way that it needs to be to accomplish such feats of craziness, and building my strength to take on new challenges (in this case, the Toronto GoodLife Marathon, and the Niagara 50km Ultra Marathon).

Some days, looking back and seeing where I was compared to where I am now is a bit daunting. After my ankle injury and the running break that it required, my current challenges seem so out of my realm of reality. They represent long arduous kilometres into the future. They’re the peak of a mountain that I’ve only just begun to climb.

But I will climb that mountain. It’s not going to be easy, and I know there will be days where I will curse myself for deciding to take on crazy new adventures, but those will pale in comparison to the feeling of reaching the summit, breathing in the accomplishments, and reflecting on those moments that brought me to my goal.

If the Goofy Challenge taught me anything, it’s that I can do whatever it is I set my mind to. I know this because through all of my training, all of my moments of doubt, and even during the race, I had so many amazing people cheering me on, pushing me forward, and leading me to the finish line. And more than that, I had an amazing friend to experience the thrill, exhilaration, and feelings of holy eff we just ran 63.3 km with.

So thank you to everyone who has supported me on my silly little adventures. But most importantly, thank you to Mark – for running by my side for 63.3km, for encouraging me, and for being the amazing man you are. The world needs more crazy people like you.

 

 

90-Day Fitness & Accountability Challenge

It's on. 90-Day Fitness & Accountability Challenge. January 6-April 5.
It’s on. 90-Day Fitness & Accountability Challenge. January 6-April 5.

Because I love challenges, and because my list of things to do is apparently not long enough, I decided to begin a 90 day fitness challenge on January 6th. I blame this entirely on my friend Rick, because he’s the one who first introduced the idea to me (click here to view his post describing the challenge in detail).

The concept is simple: set a fitness challenge that works for you, and stick to it for 90 days. The challenge can be anything, so long as it is exactly that – a challenge. For example, if you are someone who already has a history of working out 3 times per week, a challenge might be to up that to 4 times per week. If on the other hand you don’t work out at all, setting a goal of two 30 minute sessions of activity per week might be challenge enough. Point is – you have to pick something that makes sense for you, and pushes you beyond your current routine.

For those of you who don’t know, Rick goes by the handle of @InspirationRick on the Twitter. Having seen the number of people he’s just inspired to take part in this 90 day challenge, I can tell you he’s earning that moniker. Well done sir. My hat is off to you1.

So what have I decided to do for my challenge? I have committed to 6 days of activity per week3. If I follow my training program for the upcoming Toronto GoodLife Marathon and the 50k Niagara Ultra Marathon, 6 days shouldn’t be a problem – although it’ll definitely be a challenge.

For the sake of my 90 day challenge, all of the training runs, yoga/stretching sessions, and visits to the gym will qualify as acceptable forms of activity. My walks to and from the office will not qualify as they are part of my regular routine.

From a nutritional/healthy eating point of view, I’m going to also strive to drink more water (1 big glass before bed and as soon as I wake up), and eat out less. To accomplish the latter goal, I’m going to focus on short-term objectives first; making lunches instead of buying them on campus every day during the month of January. If that works well, then I’ll see what other changes I can make.

Here’s to a kick ass 90 days.


1 Mainly because you’ve done an awesome job, and deserve the nod. But also because I want to hand you a hat so that you can cover up your face. Cuz it’s ugly2. ZING!

2 For those who are new to this blog, Rick is not actually ugly. I guess.

3 Which I will be tracking weekly with the rest of my Quest to 1000 km statistics.

Praise Be To Google

Shiny happy charts.
Shiny happy charts.

When I was young I was rather fortunate in that I was exposed to computers early. I remember my brother and I creating short programs on the Commodore 64 that Canadian Tire had on display when it was first introduced, and thinking we were some sort of computer geniuses.

10 Print “Hello world”
20 Goto 10

Oh those were some wild and crazy times.

These days I spend my time coding far more interesting things. And when I get tired of coding, I spend my time figuring out how to make certain things on my computer work with other things on my computer. It’s what nerds do, I guess.

As an example, let me direct your attention to those shiny charts to the right that summarize my progress towards my Quest To 1000 km. While beautiful and information rich I can’t take credit for them. Sure, I’m the guy who’s updating a spreadsheet of data with each and every run, and I’m also the guy who spent some time filling that spreadsheet with formulas to aggregate and summarize those data, and I’m also the guy who selected a particular chart over another to visualize those aggregated and summarized results. But those shiny charts are really the result of the all-powerful and all-knowing Google.

The reason I tell you this is because several people have asked me how I created them. So for them, here’s the secret. First, I’m going to assume you’ve already created a spreadsheet of data using Google Docs. Select the data you wish to magically chartify. Google Docs will provide you with a selection of chart-tastic options. Pick one you find to be the swankiest, and for ease – create the chart in its own sheet.

To embed the chart in your blog, begin by clicking the Publish Chart button. You may receive a warning that states “Publishing this chart will require all sheets to be published.” Select OK, unless your data are so precious that you want to keep them hidden from the world.

You’ll next see a pop up that contains a bunch of computer-geek-speak. Depending on your blog type, you may be able to copy paste the Interactive Chart computer-geek-speak, or, as is the case for my blog, you may have to select the Image computer-geek-speak (using the available drop down list).

In either case, copy the appropriate computer-geek-speak. Mine looked something like this:

<img src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/oimg?key=a bunch of letters and numbers” />

To finish embedding this in my blog, I simply created a Text Widget and placed it in the appropriate column. I then pasted the above computer-geek-speak into that widget1, hit save, and presto voila, a fancy pants shiny chart2.

Oh Google, is there anything you can’t do?


1 This is what my widget looks like:

Proportion of Goal Achieved

<img src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/oimg?key=a bunch of letters and numbers” />

Training Status

<img src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/oimg?key=a bunch of letters and numbers” />

Up To Date Stats

[ googleapps domain="docs" dir="spreadsheet/pub" query="key=a bunch of letters and numbers" width="280" height="200" / ]

2 I realize this may not be the most elegant solution, but it seems to work and that’s good enough for me. For now.

Final Thoughts

Happy New Year all y'all
Happy New Year all y’all

So 2014 is nigh. I’ve just finished cleaning up the house, organizing some platters of food, chilling some champagne1, and am about to go shuck some oysters as I await the arrival of some friends who will be ringing in the new year with me. All told, not a bad way to spend the last day of 2013.

Looking back, 2013 has been a crazy amazing year. Despite setbacks with my exercise goals, I’ve had an adventure filled 12 months. Crushing the Goofy Challenge with Mark, wandering New York City twice, learning the true meaning of What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas2, exploring the beauty of Newfoundland and Labrador with Danny, Lee-Jay, and Corey, celebrating the 2nd Annual Big Mountain Challenge with Rick and my brother3, and various other adventures with friends in Ottawa, Toronto, and London; all have reminded me that I am one lucky bastard.

And even though work was as crazy as it was, I have to say that I love my job and had so much fun this year. I was beyond fortunate to work with several amazing students – people who have reminded me again and again that if you give students something real to work on, they can do amazingly awesome things. Their hard work led to Farm-To-Fork.ca, and all of the subsequent and well-deserved attention that it brought. I’ve been spoiled because of their talent, drive, and passion. Because of them, I was invited to speak at several conferences and seminar series. Because of them the Farm To Fork project raised and continues to raise money because so many people understand its importance. Because of them I feel that I have something significant to contribute to the world beyond academic papers. And that dear readers is an amazing feeling.

Beyond all of this, I’ve just been lucky to spend the year with some amazing people. Family and friends who look out for me, take care of me, feed me, and spoil me on a seemingly continuous basis. To all of you, thank you for making this another fantastic year. Thank you for telling me I need to sleep more or eat more or get out more, or that I need to learn to say no. I can’t promise I’ll do any of that in the new year, but it makes me smile to know that you’ll still be worried enough to tell me so.

So raise your glass and toast the year that was. To the ups and downs, the good and the bad. Here’s wishing that 2014 brings with it all the things that make you smile.

Happy New Year everyone.


1 Okay, not Champagne so much as sparkling wine.

2 Curious, aren’t you?

3 I’ve decided this must be an annual event. However, I’ve also decided that we don’t necessarily have to climb a mountain at this point in time, so long as we are doing something adventurous.

Things I Should Have Posted But Didn’t

Adventures with the Doctors in New York City
Adventures with the Doctors in New York City

Since I started writing this blog back in the old-time-y days of 2011, I’ve used it as a sort of map of my life. It provides me with the necessary bread crumbs to guide be from wherever it is I might be, back to wherever it is I might have come. It has seen me through many adventures, lots of shenanigans, ups, downs, crazy accomplishments, rants, peeves, opinions, and the like.

However, as I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I’ve done a spectacularly poor job this year of writing down the comings and goings of my life. Where last year I posted daily, this year I’ve managed to post just over 80 times at ConsumedByWanderlust1. This means that at a time when I’m trying to look back and reflect on the last 365 days, I’m coming up with some rather large gaps.

Fortunately I have other sources of data. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have helped me piece together the things that I’ve gotten myself into this year. And amazingly, there were some things that I really should have written about but I didn’t.

So as not to bore you to tears, I now present for your entertainment my list of Things I Should Have Posted, But Didn’t.

We found pie at the Christmas Market in Columbus Circle
We found pie at the Christmas Market in Columbus Circle
  1. Interest in the Farm To Fork project continues to grow. In the past year I have chatted with numerous groups within Guelph, throughout Ontario, and beyond, as well as the Ontario Association of Food Banks, and a major grocery chain. I’ve also been interviewed for Inside Guelph, and several magazines (the Portico, col.lab.o.rate, the Renegade Collective – which is based out of Australia). The support we’ve received continues to blow my mind. This includes financial contributions from TasteReal, the Better Planet Project, and the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences.
  2. Earlier this month I returned to New York City with Steph and Gerarda. The 5 days were amazing. We ate, and drank, and ate some more. The trip was filled with laughter, great conversations, and so much good food. We also saw Pippin, Waiting for Godot (with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen), and a performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (which was unreal).
  3. In November I gave an invited talk at Western University in London Ontario. It was the first non-Farm To Fork presentation I had given in what seemed to be a very long time. I spoke about the use of Scenario Analysis for public health assessments. It was a lot of fun, and reminded me why I love statistics (even if my presentation offered zero equations, and very few real numbers).
  4. I was surprised and excited to learn that I was in the top 20 for the Guelphonography photo contest this year. The entries were so good, I really wasn’t expecting to place.
  5. Enjoying a brew from The Filling Station
    Enjoying a brew from The Filling Station

    During the fall semester I got to work with a bunch of great students. Some were research assistants, some were doing senior undergraduate projects with me, and others made my class that much more enjoyable. One group of students spent their semester working on The Guelph Coding Community – a student driven series of talks focused on computer science topics not typically covered in the classroom. The talks were all fantastic, and a lot of fun. Better than that, I learned a thing or two as well.

  6. On October 16th I was fortunate enough to be invited to the World Food Day Event with George Stroumboulopoulos. It was held in Toronto, and featured a panel of experts on Food Insecurity. It was also pretty cool to be that close to George.
  7. Because I don’t have enough on my plate, I decided this past semester that I’d start offering a statistics seminar. I was hoping to host one a month, but things got started late and I managed to hold two. Regardless, they were both well attended, and were a lot of fun. Since I normally only teach Computer Science courses at the moment, being able to talk statistics felt great. I’m going to continue the series this coming winter semester.
  8. I went to my first TiCats game in October. It was cold. I made it to halftime and then decided warmth trumped watching a bunch of dudes chasing around the pigskin. Can you tell I’m not really a football fan?
  9. I joined a bunch of friends at the end of October to tour downtown Guelph on a Ghost Walk. While I was hoping to see a ghost, I had to settle for being entertained by the stories. Also, it was cold.
  10. A view from our room.
    A view from our room.

    Earlier this year I was asked to speak at an event on campus where RBC donated $1 million to the University of Guelph. The money was provided to the University for undergraduate field experience related to Aboriginal water needs. The idea – get undergraduate students into the field to work on water related challenges identified by our First Nations partners. It was also pretty cool getting to hold a novelty cheque for $1 million.

  11. I finally received my Leap Motion device near the end of the summer. It is so freaking cool. Sadly I can’t tell you much more than that since one of my research assistants has been playing with it since then.

As I mentioned before, I need to do a better job of writing things down.


1 Full disclosure: I have other blogs for which I write. In total I’ve written over 150 blog posts this year: more than 80 here, almost 20 at danielgillis.wordpress.com, more than 30 at FarmToForkGuelph.wordpress.com, and more than 20 for the School of Computer Science.

 

Prepping For Awesome

As we passed The Face Shop yesterday, Rick suggested to me “we should stop there so you can fix your face, cuz you ugly”. He’s full of great questions, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also a jerk. Seriously though, everyone should have a Rick in their life. He’s pretty good I guess.

A few days ago I was describing my need to write more blog posts to help keep myself on track. Setting goals and creating lists is a bit of a thing for me, but I find that if I don’t take the time to sit down and reflect on those I’ve met or those that still elude me, I lose sight of what is important to me. It’s not that I’m not achieving goals or pushing myself when I’m not writing, it’s just that I fail to take the time to really appreciate what I have accomplished, the people around me who have helped me get to wherever it is I happen to be, and how lucky I am to have the opportunities that have been afforded me.

Clearly this is something that I’ve decided must change (and hence the reason I’ve started posting more frequently).

Of course having spent the better part of yesterday with my friend Rick, I was forced to challenge some of my own misconceptions about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. That is, being a bit of an adventuring overachiever and goal-minded individual, Rick asked just the right questions.

While driving to Toronto I was reminded that I am my own worst enemy. I have no idea why, but every now and then I shift my focus to those things I haven’t accomplished. Most of the time this acts as a great motivator – pushing me beyond my comfort zone and into new territory. But, as has been the case over the past several months, this focus has become more of an unhealthy obsession. It’s an energy sink, it’s unproductive, and it’s very self-defeating.

Since the second week of June I’ve not been able to run the longer runs that I love to do. Instead of recognizing that this was a necessary break from running to allow my ankle to properly heal, I’ve focused on the fact that I’ve felt gross and sluggish and not myselfI’ve ignored the fact that I’ve run almost 700 km this year, focusing instead on the failure to reach my 1000 km goal. But when I actually sit down and think about it, 700 km is a huge accomplishment, especially since the bulk of those kilometres were completed by June. If not for my injury I would have surely passed 1000 km. So I need to focus on what I did accomplish and realize that the new year means a new beginning. I will crush my 1000 km goal, and I’m going to smile through as many of those kilometres as I possibly can.

Point is, I have to remember that I’m human and sometimes I’m not going to make the goals that I set for myself. Instead of getting down about that, I have to focus on what I have accomplished, figure out what – if anything – went wrong, and reset my targets.

So take this as a warning 2014 – I’m reviewing 2013 and prepping myself for what’s to come. Be prepared. Things are about to get crazy.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Alphabet

Cookie Monster – cookie afficionado

Dearest readers, I was originally going to write a post describing the awesome time I just had with Rick and Dr. Beth in Toronto (and it was awesome), but I decided to pour myself a scotch instead.

After pouring said scotch (and against my better judgement), I decided that I needed to sample some of the various Christmas wares1 I have around the house. I did this knowing full well that I had no need for the extra Calories, nor did I have a need for the extra sugar and fat right before bed. But I did it anyway because indulging in this manner is somehow acceptable during the Christmas holidays.

As I enjoyed my scotch and cookies, I couldn’t help but form a mental image of Cookie Monster singing C is for Cookie. Shortly after forming said image, I found myself humming and singing along to the song I remember so fondly from childhood.

Munch, munch, munch, C is for cookie, munch, munch, munch, that’s good enough for me, munch, munch, munch, Oh cookie, cookie, cookie, munch, munch, munch, cookie starts with c.

Being the inquisitive type, my mind soon formulated the following question: If C is for cookie, what is D for?

Diabetes! my mind immediately responded. I may have chuckled to myself as I popped another cookie in my gob. Ha! Gillis – you are hilarious. 

What about E? I asked myself half expecting a similarly witty if not slightly inappropriate response.

Expanding waistline! Engorged belly! Extra pounds!

I was almost afraid to ask And F? 

Fatty Fat Fat Fat!

Some of you may know that Fatty Fat Fat Fat was one of my nicknames as a kid. Clearly my brain was not-so-subtly hinting at something. It was at this point that I stopped thinking about my Christmas alphabet, because my brain was being a cruel jerk. It was also at this point that I decided to have one more cookie, because screw you brain, I’m in charge here.

And with that I called it a night.

Okay – full disclosure – I may have had another cookie for good measure. And by another I may mean two.

Fine. Three.

I regret nothing!


1 Read cookies, cakes, candies, etc.

Buyer’s Remorse? Not Yet

The wee fuzzball, enjoying a quiet Christmas night

Today is a comfy-pants kind of day.

Like many of you, I spent yesterday celebrating the Christmas holiday the way it was intended to be celebrated: with lots and lots of food. And booze. And more food. And coffee. Also scotch. And pie.

And because I’m a spoiled bastard, I did all of this while barely contributing much more than my presence to the Christmas celebrations. Personally, I think the Christmas day hosts got the short end of the stick. They prepped and cooked and cleaned and served and served some more; I was chauffeured around, delivered to and fro, stuffed full of treats and coffee, and I was fed and then fed some more.

Today my waistline feels as if it has expanded into territory it hasn’t seen since a hasty retreat several years ago. While the food was definitely worth it, I’m sure a case of buyer’s remorse is going to kick in soon enough. But that’s something to worry about another day. For now, I’m going to enjoy the quiet comfort of my home, and the wee fuzzball snoozing next to me.

I’m also going to spend the day with the very comforting knowledge that I have an amazing group of friends; people who invited me into their homes, treated me as family, and shared their holiday traditions with me. So thanks again Bang, Lindsay, and Henry for an awesome Christmas brunch. And thanks Mark and Julie for a fantastic Christmas feast. I’m so very fortunate that I have you nerds in my life.

Merry Christmas all.

 

Over-overwhelmed

Farm To Fork launched October 3, 2013
Farm To Fork launched October 3, 2013

Early on in 2012, my friend Danny and I were sitting around drinking scotch or beer or something of that nature, discussing doing something. I don’t mean doing something in the sense that we were bored and wanted to entertain ourselves with an activity. I mean in the sense of doing something to demonstrate that regular everyday folks could make a meaningful difference in their own community if they simply got off their butts and did something.

Little did we know where that conversation would take us. Little did we know that our conversation-soon-to-be-project would garner the attention of people around the globe. Little did I know how much of an impact this thing would have on my life.

Fast forward to last Thursday. There we were at Innovation Guelph, surrounded by over 100 people – students, staff, and faculty of the University of Guelph, community partners, and local citizens – all interested in learning about, signing up, supporting, and celebrating the launch of the Farm To Fork project. To say that the experience was overwhelming would be an understatement. Over-overwhelming might begin to scratch the surface of what we felt.

I mentioned earlier that this thing - this Farm To Fork thing - has had a huge impact on my life. That is by no means an understatement. For those of you not aware, my training is in Mathematics & Statistics. If anyone were to tell me that one of the things that I would do in my life of which I would be the proudest would dwell in a world outside of Mathematics & Statistics, I might have thought you insane. And yet, here we are – several days post launch – and I am blown away by how things have changed in my life over the last year and a bit. This class project has become more than anything I could have ever imagined.

  • Farm To Fork is a computer science based solution to the very real problem of food insecurity in our community. Just over a year ago I barely knew anything about food insecurity. Now I find myself spending most of my day researching this very real problem, and talking about it with anyone willing to listen.
  • Farm To Fork has been supported by the community in ways I never imagined, including a very successful fund raising campaign earlier this year. Just over a year ago, I would have never even considered crowd-funding for science. Now I’m contacted on a regular basis because I’m apparently one of the first Canadian academics who have used it to support their research.
  • Farm To Fork is the result of community engaged scholarship – students, faculty, and community experts working together to make a difference. Just over a year ago I’d never even heard of community engaged scholarship. Now, I find myself giving talks and extolling the benefits of engaging students in real outside the textbook problems. It is a better way to educate.

My life is vastly different than that I had imagined. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s completely wonderful. It’s amazing and unexpected. It’s full of highs and lows, but mostly highs. It’s beyond the words that I am capable of writing. It is, simply put, more than I could have ever asked for. I am the luckiest bastard I know.

Farm-To-Fork.ca
Farm-To-Fork.ca

Of course it didn’t just happen. I have to acknowledge the incredible contributions and hard work of so many amazing people. Throughout all of this, Danny and I have been very fortunate to work with the best of the best – people who knew everything about all of the things we didn’t; people who had the power to act, and did; people who inspire me every time I think of what they’ve accomplished. I am incredibly spoiled to be surrounded by so many big brains and bigger hearts. The success of Farm To Fork is due to this collective of awesomeness; this group of dedicated and highly motivated people who know that things change only when we come together and think beyond the rules. I am so fortunate to find myself in the company of these people, and I am forever grateful. There is no way I can thank them enough.

While there are many people to thank, I want to thank the students the most. They were the thinkers, the planners, the doers in this story. They worked tirelessly. They worked beyond the grades. They worked because they knew what they were doing was right. I am incredibly proud of them. So proud that I have no idea how to express the impact they have had on my life. They have reminded me that people can be amazing. They have taught me so much. They have reassured me that, despite what one might read in the news, our future will be bright. Bright because there are people out there who care; because there are people out there who are willing to go above and beyond; because the future will be led by them.

Farm To Fork started out as an idea over scotch, but it has become so much more than that. I couldn’t be prouder.


 

For those who missed it, this is the slide show that was presented during the launch party.

I Miss The Mountains

We came. We saw. We conquered.
Me, Rick, and Aidan at the top of Sparrowhawk

On Tuesday afternoon I made my way back home to Guelph, having spent the prior week visiting Rick in Calgary. The adventure was amazing – but that really wasn’t a difficult bar to pass given that the trip involved mountains, hiking, meeting up with friends, good food, a drink known as Better Than Folgers, more mountains, Banff, hanging with both Rick and my brother, and basically celebrating the anniversary of the grandest of adventures known as the Big Mountain Challenge.

Since I returned I’ve been running around a little crazy – doing last-minute and final prep for the course that I’m teaching this semester, organizing my undergrad and grad students1, organizing several projects, organizing the Farm To Fork launch party, trying to come up with a prioritized list of things to do, and basically doing whatever I can to make sure the next several weeks/months aren’t too stressful2.

Easier said than done, obviously.

Despite all of this (and the occasional build up of anxiety3) I’m feeling good. I think my trip has a lot to do with that. There’s something special about mountain air that does my body good – providing me with better focus, more energy, and the drive to crush whatever obstacle might be in my way. And I’m going to need that this semester, because my list of projects and papers and grants and talks and posters and events could be overwhelming. I just have to remember to take the time – especially when the anxiety and stress start building – to stop and reflect on my mountain-top adventures. Because nothing destroys my stress quite like the mountains.

And I think that’s why I miss them so much.


I’ve uploaded a bunch of pictures and a video below – some of these are new, some you’ve likely seen before, and some are courtesy of Rick. Enjoy.

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk
Nerds
Nerds
Adventurers (at Mount Indefatigable)
Adventurers (at Mount Indefatigable)
Climbing Sparrowhawk
Climbing Sparrowhawk
Not the summit of Sparrowhawk, but still pretty impressive.
Not the summit of Sparrowhawk, but still pretty impressive.
Pika!
Pika!
Sunset following our Sparrowhawk climb
Sunset following our Sparrowhawk climb
Climbing Mount Indefatigable
Climbing Mount Indefatigable
At the top of Indefatigable. Epic scramble. Epic ridge walk.
At the top of Indefatigable. Epic scramble. Epic ridge walk.
More of Indefatigable
More of Indefatigable

1 Which really means organizing myself.

2 Such as snuggling with Elliot.

3 Apologies to Julie who had to hear a mild rant today.

 

Sparrowhawk Down

My note to the mountains - left at the top of Sparrowhawk
My note to the mountains – left at the top of Sparrowhawk

Yesterday we conquered Mount Sparrowhawk and it was – in a word – amazing.

Sparrowhawk stands 3121m (10239ft) above sea level, and requires 1350m (4429ft) of elevation gain from the trailhead to reach the summit.

The hike began at 10:40am and ended about 8.5 hours later (including several stops for snacks, and about an hour relaxing on the summit). The first part of the trek was steep; winding through beautiful forest, and offering views of Spray Lake below, and a seemingly endless line of mountains all around. Despite losing the trail (thanks to my wonderful vision) we eventually found ourselves above the tree line. It was around this time that we were passed by a woman – probably in her 40s, possibly 50s – who ran by us.

Laughing at the top of Sparrowhawk
Laughing at the top of Sparrowhawk

“Just training for a marathon” she called to us as she ran by.

Just training for a marathon I thought. Amazing.

We carried on, tackling scree and talus, and making our way to the summit which slowly crept closer. Trail marker after trail marker were eventually passed. The lake below shrunk, the sky seemed to grow larger, and more and more mountains became visible in the distance. The terrain was rough, but in spite of its harshness, moss and lichen were abundant. We also heard the unique chirp of pikas which called the mountain home.

We came. We saw. We conquered.
We came. We saw. We conquered.

After about 4.5 hours of hiking, we made the summit. And holy hell, it was absolutely breathtaking. The weather afforded us views that were seemingly endless. I have no idea how many photos we ended up snapping, but everywhere we looked was deemed worthy of a picture. I wish I could describe just how amazing it felt.

We stayed atop the mountain for about an hour before making our descent. The trek down was faster as parts of the mountain side were covered in scree; permitting us to ski down.

Enjoying the views at the top of Mount Sparrowhawk
Enjoying the views at the top of Mount Sparrowhawk

The hike ended at Spray Lake – and even though the water was icy cold, it was the perfect spot to cool our feet after such an epic hike. We didn’t rest long, however, as hunger called. Fortunately, the town of Canmore was nearby so we stopped at the Grizzly Paw for beer and burgers.

Today this leg of the adventure comes to an end as I have to board my flight home in a few short hours. I’m going to miss the mountains, and I’m going to miss Rick. Fortunately I know that this will not be our final adventure together, nor will it be my last day in the mountains.

So be prepared mountains – I’ll be back.