Category Archives: Mathematics

Twenty Years

It took a while, but eventually I kicked my marshmallow addiction.
It took a while, but eventually I kicked my marshmallow addiction.

Twenty years ago I arrived on the University of Guelph campus with several boxes full of most of my earthly possessions. Those that stayed behind at my parents’ house were, I thought, either unimportant, or not befitting the hallowed halls of my new home away from home.

As my parents dropped me off at Mills hall, I remember feeling nervous and excited. University was a giant unknown. Will I be able to handle the courses? What if I don’t fit in at UofG? My roommates were, save for a short phone conversation earlier in the summer, strangers. Will we get along? What if they think I’m some sort of weirdo? The City of Guelph was completely new to me. What if I don’t like it here? What the hell is a Guelph anyway?

I learned answers to most of those questions rather quickly. Orientation week was enough to make me realize that the University of Guelph was the right choice for me. And while I wasn’t as successful in some of my courses as I should have been, I still managed to do well. Beyond that, I found a group of people who not only accepted me for me, they helped me strive for the best version of me.

Wow. Just wow.
Wow. Just wow.

My roommates through the years ran the spectrum of weird and wonderful to just plain weird. There were those who locked themselves in closets whenever company came by, and those whom I woke to find standing awkwardly staring at me in the dark1. More importantly, however, there were those roommates who were (and remain) the most amazing and closest friends I could ever ask to have.

And as for the City of Guelph, how could I not fall in love with it? It was easy to see even twenty years ago that Guelph was and is unique. The people, the culture, the Guelph-iness of it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.

If you had asked the 20-year-ago-me where I’d be 20 years later, I’m not sure I would have answered Guelph. Nor would I have expected to be working as an Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science. I wouldn’t have imagined the changes that have happened on campus (does anyone remember the Chemistry & Microbiology building, the Barn, or when the Bullring was a club?), nor those that have happened around the city. So many physical changes to an amazing University and an amazing City.

There is nothing in this world that justifies that hair or shirt. NOTHING.
There is nothing in this world that justifies that hair or shirt. NOTHING.

And yet, despite all the changes on and off campus, the University and the City haven’t lost the Guelph-iness that makes them what they are. In fact, it seems that they’ve both become even better versions of themselves. This isn’t just happenstance. It’s the result of so many people who care about what happens here. The City is a haven for volunteers. The University students are constantly striving to improve the world in new and amazing ways. With each passing year I see more and more people getting involved, making a difference, being awesome.

Being awesome – it seems to be the life-blood of our city.

I’m damn lucky to call Guelph my home. After 20 years, I can’t say I regret a thing. Well, except for maybe my hair and style choices.

1 I wish that were a joke.

A Pi-Day Weekend

Mmmm, pie on Pi-Day
Mmmm, pie on Pi-Day

Happy belated Pi-Day all y’all.

For those unaware, Pi-Day (March 14th) is the mathiest of math days; unless you also observe Tau-Day (June 28th) – which I do. Since tau is equal to 2 pi, Tau-Day must be equal to 2 Pi-Days, and 2 Pi-Days is better than 1 Pi-Day, so by definition Tau-Day would have to be the mathier of the two. Math!

I digress.

To celebrate Pi-Day I opted to spend my day enjoying as much pie as I possibly could. This meant that I attempted to have pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m all about healthy choices.

Sadly my breakfast pie was not to be as The Joint Cafe was out of their oh-so-delicious banana coconut cream pie. I settled for a bagel and apple juice – which is about as far from banana coconut cream pie as one can get.

To make up for my breakfast pie failure, I sauntered over to the Woolwich Arrow for lunch-pie. I had learned the night before that they were serving pie from The Williamsford Pie Company. And it was oh so delicious.

To round out my Pi-Day, I enjoyed a delicious peach-raspberry-blueberry pie with friends. I made a point of having just enough pie to be able to say that I ate half a pie on Pi-Day. Why would I eat that much pie? Because half a pie is equivalent to pi radians worth of pie, that’s why.

Pi radians worth of pie on Pi-Day. Yup – I’m just that nerdy.

I’m Wearing A Stupid Grin

My new shiny
My new shiny

About two months ago – maybe longer – I learned that I had won a teaching award when one of my colleagues congratulated me out of the blue. At the time I had no idea what they were talking about, so I replied with a puzzled look. It’s then that they realized my confusion. They replied with an awkward laugh, mumbled something about I thought you would have known by now, and then carried on their way without providing any further details. I stood there wondering what had happened.

Up until my last few days on campus in December I still had no idea exactly what my colleague was talking about. I had my suspicions, but since nothing had been formalized and no one else had said anything, I figured it best not to start poking around or asking questions. So I sort of forgot about it.

And then I received my yearly evaluation letter1 which also congratulated me on being awarded a teaching award. The details in my evaluation were light. Specifically, the letter outlined the name of the award and that was it.

Well folks, today was the day that I actually received the award – the inaugural School of Computer Science Faculty Teaching Award to be exact – and I’m still smiling like a giant idiot. I don’t embarrass easily, but today I couldn’t help but feel awkward and humbled when the award was announced. I’m sure I was beet red.

The best part about this award is that it is based on nominations cast by students. In this case I was nominated by students in both of the classes I taught – User Interface Design, and Systems Analysis and Design in Application. Being recognized for my contributions by my peers is one thing, but having students respond in this way means so much to me that I’m not quite sure how to put it into words.

You see, there’s a part of me that always worries that I’m not doing a good enough job teaching2. For the most part, this worry is what drives me to do the best job I can, but there are days when I’m also convinced that I’m causing more harm than good. When I started in the School of Computer Science – having just finished my PhD in Statistics – I was very concerned that my position would be short-lived. How could I possibly teach Computer Science when my training was in Statistics? I sort of assumed that I’d start teaching, screw up in a very dramatic way, and be quietly asked to leave before I could inflict any more damage. Somehow that didn’t happen.

Anyway, I’m still having a hard time believing that all of this has just happened. It’s surreal and wonderful and humbling, and so many amazing things that I can’t even quite describe. All I know is that I’m going to keep trying to do my best, and hope that somehow I don’t screw things up.

I’m also going to enjoy this moment, try to fully internalize the accomplishment, and maybe celebrate with a wee scotch. But I won’t be wiping this stupid grin off my face. I really don’t think I could if I tried.

1 Each year I go through a review process by my peers. There are three major components to the review: research, teaching, and service.

2 I’m convinced it’s part of the Impostor Syndrome that I’ve had since I started my PhD.

Three Year Prof-iversary

All the classy bitches drink mountain top scotch.
Mountain top scotch – it’s what profs do.

Over the weekend I spent some time organizing files, prepping notes for class, and doing whatever it is that profs do in their free time1. Of course, sitting around organizing meant that I spent much of my time exploring the past year of work. It’s weird; most days I feel as if I get nothing accomplished because I spend far too much of my time in meetings. But, as with most aspects of my life, it’s not until I sit down and actually reflect on the past that I realize how much has happened in one little year.

From a strictly academic viewpoint I managed to submit several papers, write a bunch of reports, and work on several cool (at least to me) simulation studies. The year was also filled with so many grant writing sessions that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing grants. I found myself in Newfoundland and Labrador for a presentation, spoke as part of a panel of experts for a teaching innovations conference, and was invited to speak at Western University. All told, not a bad year.

I think, however, the best part of the past year had to be the Farm To Fork project. It has become a central part of my life. It is on my mind all of the time, and it’s something that continues to amaze me. I am constantly blown away by the support that it has been shown at the local level, and the interest it has garnered beyond the borders of Guelph-Wellington.

Farm To Fork has also reminded me how amazing students can be if you just give them something worthwhile to do. The amount of work they’ve put into the project continues to make me smile a crazy stupid proud smile. Getting to work with the Farm To Fork students has been a fantastic experience, and I’m not quite sure how I lucked out as I have. It’s going to be very strange around my office when they all graduate.

Anyway, it wasn’t long after thinking about all of this stuff that I realized I just passed my third year as an Assistant Professor. Crazy how time flies. So many things have changed since the day I first stepped into the halls of the School of Computer Science. My job is better than I ever could have imagined it would be. And while my days are often rammed with meetings, I do love what I do. I think the students have a lot to do with that.

Officially my contract has two years left on it. I’m pretty excited to see what those two years will bring. If they’re anything like the first three, it’s going to be a crazy ride.

For now, I’m going to celebrate my three-year anniversary with a wee dram. It’s what profs do.

1 Some academiologists2 suggest that professors spend their spare time enjoying scotch. I can neither confirm nor deny this. I can only tell you that this professor enjoys spending his spare time sampling wee drams.

2 Academiologist: a person who studies academics.

Take That Cold Weather

Baby it's cold outside. And yes, that is ice on my hat.
Baby it’s cold outside. And yes, that is ice on my hat.

I woke up yesterday morning to the news that it was -23C outside but that it felt like -29C with the windchill. Seriously, who decides that these temperatures are okay?

As I huddled under my covers shivering from the thought of -29C, I began to wonder whether or not heading outside for a run was a good idea or a demonstration of insanity. I’m pretty sure it’s more the latter than the former. As I blinked my vision into focus, I grabbed my trusty iPad and opened up my training schedule.


Not really a terribly long run, but my mind was immediately imagining every single one of the 5000 metres required to complete that distance. Back and forth my mind went with messages of it’s too cold and suck it up buttercup. I may have pulled the wee fuzzball a little closer in an attempt to siphon some heat.

Eventually I made it out of the warmth and security of my blankets. Eventually I made it downstairs for a piping hot coffee and some oatmeal. Eventually I started convincing myself that running had to happen. Surely I couldn’t mess up my training this early in my schedule.

I’m not exactly sure when but at some point I opened up my blog. I immediately noticed that my training gauge was indicating 41.13%1. What the hell? It took me half a second to understand why the reading was so low. It also was the proverbial kick in the pants I needed to get off my butt and get out running.

And so early yesterday afternoon, after the temperature had warmed up to a balmy -24C with windchill, I laced up, bundled up, and headed out. Despite the cold it was another beautiful day for running, and I found that I was quite distracted by the crunching of the snow with every footfall. It wasn’t an easy run, but it also wasn’t a terribly difficult run either. The temperature forced me to slow my pace and remember to control my breathing. And before long I was finished. Interestingly, I ran 5.71km bringing my cumulative total so far this year to a nice round 9.00km. I wish I could say I planned that, but I didn’t.

It’s amazing how easy it is for numbers to motivate me. I guess this really shouldn’t be much of a surprise given my love of mathematics and statistics.

Anyway, I’m proud to say that my training gauge has settled at 112.50%. Here’s hoping I can keep it at or above 100% for the next 24 weeks2.

1 The training gauge indicates the up to date percentage of kilometres I’ve completed compared to cumulative total I should have completed according to my training schedule. In total I had planned 8km between January 1 and January 3. As of the morning of the 3rd I hadn’t put in my run, so only had 3.29km from January 1 to add to my total. And since 3.29/8.00*100% = 41.125%, we see where the 41.13% came from.

2 Actually, I’ll be quite content to keep it above 90% for the next 24 weeks. While I ultimately want to run the entire schedule I’ve set for myself, I also have to realize that life will probably get in the way at some point.

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, more than 30 at, and more than 20 for the School of Computer Science.


So This Is 38

Apparently I’ve survived another year on this, our wee blue-green spaceship


Three Eight.



I’m trying to decide if thirty-eight has a nice ring to it or not. There’s nothing particularly wrong with thirty-eight. It’s a perfectly cromulent number, composed of two rather curvy digits (and who doesn’t like curvy digits?). But it’s also not entirely notable. It doesn’t represent any of the standard milestones – sweet 16, legal drinking age in Canada, legal drinking age in the States, 25, or dirty 30 – and it’s just shy of the four decade flag. It’s not prime. It’s not a perfect square. It’s just plain ole thirty-eight.

And yet, as I sit here thinking about how plain thirty-eight appears to be, I just can’t seem to accept it. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that 38 could be awesome.

I mean, the years that came before 38 have been pretty great. I’ve been fortunate enough to land myself a job that I love, and that permits me the opportunity to explore (both theoretically and in application) the world around us. I’m surrounded by a rather weird yet incredibly wonderful assortment of family and friends who, despite the crazy ideas that pop into my head, never cease to offer their support and love (and sometimes pie, or date squares1, or chocolate). And I’ve been able to travel – not nearly as much as I’d like, because let’s be honest, I’d be travelling and exploring and adventuring every day if I were independently wealthy.

My life is pretty awesome. I don’t write that to brag. I write it because it’s good to take stock and remind myself just how lucky I am; to remember that even on those days where I’m not feeling like things are going my way, that the overall trend has been positive and getting better every day.

And this is why I get the sense that 38 is going to be anything but plain.

So here’s to another year of adventure, another year filled with shenanigans, and family, and friends; a year full of highs and lows – but mostly highs; a year full of laughter, and more laughter, and laughing so hard I cry just a little; here’s to 38.

1 I’m not saying that date squares would be a pretty stellar birthday gift, but, actually, wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

You Hang Up

We should be best friends
We should be best friends.

This weekend was the 30th anniversary of the Hillside Festival. It was also the 2nd time I attended. My first venture to Hillside was 2 years ago. At that time, I attended because I had promised Dr. Steph that I would.

And I’m a man who keeps his promises.


What is Hillside? For those not in the know, Hillside is a giant music festival that is held at Guelph Lake. It has several stages, hosts numerous workshops, and has crazy awesome food considering it’s a music festival.

Seriously, I’d go just for the food.

Anyway, this year’s visit was slightly different from the last. This year I went to Hillside because I was running one of the workshops. The major goal was to teach people about food insecurity, and introduce them to the Farm To Fork project.

I started the workshop out by having everyone introduce themselves; name and a brief description of what they do for a living. A bit of an ice-breaker if you will.

During the second workshop, Dr. Steph joined. Naturally, she introduced herself as Stephanie and stated “I’m a Statistician”. Of course, I already knew that, what with the fact that the two of us basically held hands and hugged our way through the joy that is the PhD together. At mention of her being a Statistician, I may have cheered a little (It’s not too often that Statisticians are cheered, so we try to cheer each other on whenever we can).

Shortly after Steph’s announcement, one of the other audience members – a student of mine who knows that I too am a Statistician – decided “You two should be best friends”. I mean, we’re both Statisticians, so clearly we have to be best friends.

Despite my love of all things math-y and stat-y, it got me thinking: what would our relationship be like if all Steph and I had in common was our shared love of numbers and greek letters? Sure, we’d be able to calculate the estimates of various model parameters, we’d be able to derive an estimate of the variance using Taylor series expansion and the delta method, we’d be able to simulate millions and millions of individuals given certain statistical properties and correlation structures, and we’d be able to develop new and novel methodologies for data that aren’t quite normal – but would that be enough to sustain us?

I believe we just divided by zero.

I’m confident to say yes, I believe we could have a relationship based solely on the beauty that is math and stats. We would get together, derive and extend models, talk about statistics, write code, run simulations, and be perfectly content.

But it wouldn’t hold a candle to the relationship we have. It would be devoid of the crazy long nights spent hunkered over a computer, stressed beyond belief, tired beyond words, desperately trying to solve whatever problem-du-jour popped up on our paths to PhD’dom. It would be devoid of the adventures in New York City, and Vancouver, and Toronto, and everywhere else we’ve found ourselves. It would be devoid of moments of absolute insanity, laughing until we couldn’t breathe, and our sides hurt, and our faces hurt, and tears of joy poured out of our eyes. And it would be devoid of all of the lows that come with the process of getting a PhD, and the challenges that life sometimes throws at you. It would be devoid of the hugs – the hearty celebratory kind, the comforting and holding me together kind, the I’ve missed you so much kind. It would be devoid of such an amazingly beautiful and wonderful and kind person. It would be devoid of love and friendship and so much awesome. It would be devoid of everything that I love about Steph that is so much better than math and stats.

So while I could be best friends with Steph because we share the common interest of Statistics, it wouldn’t be enough. Because Dr. Steph is so much more than just statistics.

- no, you hang up.


Happy Pi Approximation Day

Dinosaur Comics – go there. Read them. Laugh. You shan’t be sorry.


In honour of Pi Approximation Day, I thought I’d offer you this most awesomely awesome comic from Dinosaur Comics that approximately honours the approximately awesome awesomeness that is Pi Approximation Day.

Of course, I realize that I’ve offered this comic before but I enjoy the last panel far too much not to share it again.

“Failure is just success rounded down, my friend!”

Now if you don’t mind, I have some pie to rub on my face.



That’s #2394 To You

30km of pure wholesome running goodness.

So apparently the Around the Bay 30km race is less than 3 weeks away. I realized this at some point this morning when I received notice that I had been assigned a bib number.


A bib number means business – serious business. And today I learned that serious business went by the bib number 2394.

Being the very serious person that I am, my first task was to consider any and all mathematical properties of my number. You see dear readers, if my bib number is bestowed with any special mathemagical properties, the going theory is that those properties will rub off on me. In short, mathemagical properties translate to faster, stronger, more awesome-tastic runs. True story.

Honestly, I can’t even imagine what would happen if the stars aligned and I were to get any of the first n digits of Pi. Can you imagine how fast I would run if I were to get bib 314? Or 3141? Or 31415? Mathemagically speaking, I’d be pretty much guaranteed to win. Math doesn’t lie folks.

Sadly, two, three, nine, and four are not the first four digits of Pi. In fact, the appearance of the string of numbers 2394 doesn’t even show up in the digits of Pi until the 8832nd position after the decimal. Truth be told, I haven’t found anything terribly mathematically special about 2394. I do know that 2393 is prime. And 2394 factors as 2*3*3*7*19, but that’s pretty much it. From a mathematical point of view, that’s equivalent to beige.

What does all of this mean? I think it’s obvious. I shouldn’t expect any sort of mathematical wizardry to get me through this run, meaning that I actually need to put in the work to make sure I’m trained sufficiently. And that of course means that I need to get my ass off the couch and on to the treadmill if I expect to complete the race in any sort of reasonable time.

Clearly I have a lot of work to do. Oh math, why have you forsaken me?


Crushed Duck

Get ready Donald – I’m coming for you.

The first part of the Goofy challenge is complete, and as such I am now the proud owner of this shiny new golden Donald Duck medal.

Ooooooh. Ahhhhhhh.

But dear readers, this is only the first part of my challenge. In about 8 hours, Mark and I will be lining up again for the next 42.2 kilometers of running. If the first 21.1 are representative of the entire race, tomorrow is going to be awesome.

Anyway, I’ll write more about the experience later. For now I need my rest.

I’m going to dream about kicking a certain dog’s butt. That’s right Goofy, I’m still coming for you.

Oh – and if you want to follow along as Mark and I run the marathon, click here. The race starts at 5:30am. W00t!

Tip Of The Day: Wednesday Is Not Friday

Or in my case, Wednesday. Sigh.

For whatever reason I woke up today thinking it was Friday. You’ll understand when I say that I was rather sad when I learned that it was, in fact, only Wednesday.

My sadness grew when I glanced at my calendar. One look and I knew that I had to head to campus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like heading to campus, because I do; my office is awesome, I love my job, and there’s always someone around who might want to grab a coffee should I need one. The problem is that I went to bed with very little in the way of a voice. On waking I learned that my voice was back, albeit raspy in a sexy I drank a bottle of bourbon and smoked eleventy billion cigars kind of way. I really would have preferred staying home, wrapping myself in a warm blanket, and reading several articles related to some of my research.

Boo. Just boo.

Fortunately, despite my raspy sexy voice, I felt fine1. Also fortunate, once I got up and going I lost the it’s only Wednesday attitude. While my schedule for the day was full, it was full of presentations by students.

First up – a PhD qualifying exam in the Department of Biomedical Sciences of the Ontario Veterinary College. The presentation portion – the only portion I attended – was fantastic, even though the student was very sick. Normally I don’t make a habit of going to a QE unless I’m on the student’s committee, but in this case I made an exception as I’m helping her with her study design and subsequent statistical analysis. Her goal, if I have a general understanding of the biology, is to better identify the viability of eggs by measuring certain chemicals associated with egg production and release in humans and cows2.

My second meeting involved a presentation by several of the grad students in the School of Computer Science. I just so happen to be on the committee of one of the students presenting. In this case, I was rather stoked because I had not yet had a chance to see her research. Turns out she’s working with a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process to improve how a computer system might respond to a particular user’s state. In a nutshell, she’s working on building a system that will learn how good you are at something in order to help you improve. Cool, and perhaps a little Skynet-like, except without the machines becoming both sentient and kill-bots at the same moment.

Last, but definitely not least, I had a meeting with a PhD candidate in the Department of Integrative Biology. He is studying the dynamics of an Individual Based Model from the point of view of variables which most alter the system. To put this another way, imagine creating a population of fish where each individual has a unique set of characteristics governing how quickly it grows, when it is mature enough to reproduce, how successful it is at reproducing, how fast and big it grows, and how successful it is at avoiding predators. Some of these characteristics may be fixed for an individual, but others – such as how fast and big it grows – will depend on resources or environmental conditions. One of his goals is to figure out which environmental conditions might drastically alter the population. It’s very cool work. The best part is that I was asked to join his committee because I apparently know some stuff about things. The decision was a very easy hells ya. 

So there you have it folks – three great meetings, three different departments. This is probably one of the reasons I love my job so much: while my training is in mathematics and statistics, I get to play with so many other types of scientists – each with their own unique studies and data sources.

Hmmm, I almost sound like some sort of academic escort.

1 Maybe a little tired as I apparently only slept for 4.5 hours last night.

2 It’s actually way more technical and advanced and wickedly cool than that. Several billion acronyms for hormones and proteins were used quite frequently.

Death To Goofy

You should be frightened Goofy.
You should be frightened Goofy.

Okay, maybe Death to Goofy is a little extreme. I don’t want Goofy dead. I just want to crush his race a little bit.

Tonight I continued on my quest to do just that.

How did it go? The last few miles were tough. Really tough. My neighbours were probably wondering why I was yelling Suck it up Princess and You’ve got this Gillis so much. But it was necessary. My legs were exhausted and I could feel some of my muscles beginning to tighten up a little bit during the last 15 minutes. Fortunately, nothing that I couldn’t deal with, and nothing a good stretch and massage won’t cure. Of course, getting a massage at this time of night is not likely, so I’ll have to settle with a hot manly bath1,2.

Despite the challenge and the end-of-race exhaustion, I crushed 2 hours on the treadmill tonight (23.21 kilometres – or 14.42 miles). This after putting in 1 hour on the treadmill yesterday (12.09 kilometres – or 7.51 miles). W00t!

Of course, you’re probably wondering – What does one do while running on the treadmill for that long? Isn’t it boring?

Short answer – yes, yes it is. But I pass the time by listening to music, attempting to send out tweets without falling off the treadmill4, and doing a lot of math in my head. Seriously. Most of the time I’m estimating distances by a certain time based on current pace and location in my run. Other times I’m thinking about some sort of statistical issue that I’m exploring at work. Yup, I’m just that cool.

Anyway, tomorrow is rest day. And by rest, I mean that I’m not running. I’ll walk a little and stretch a lot. And if the stars align, perhaps I’ll find myself on a certain someone’s table getting the best massage in the history of massages.

1 A manly bath includes scotch. That’s a rule. You should write it down.

2 Don’t worry. I’m also drinking copious amounts of water. So much water, that I might yarf it up. Which might not be a bad thing because I’m hungry as well and having a hard time forcing down my usual tuna on an english muffin dinner3.

3 Although tonight’s dinner has been fancied up with some pineapple pieces. YUM.

4 Easier said than done.

I Love Randomness

Happy face is happy.

Do you know what’s awesome? Spending over 12 hours on campus, running around from meeting to meeting, sitting for hours reading papers about multinomial regression and other statistical bric-a-brac, drafting potential mathematical formulae, scrapping reams and reams of paper with discarded mathematical attempts, sketching ideas over top of other ideas on a tiny whiteboard, consuming far too much coffee, and forgetting to eat both lunch and dinner, only to follow that up with more meetings, and ending the day with yet another meeting that ran long.

Okay – maybe all of that isn’t awesome, but getting home just now and still having a smile on my face – that’s amazing.

Of course, the smile on my face may also be influenced by the fact that I randomly  got to spend the eve with several very excellent people. You see, as I was walking home from the office with multinomial models swimming through my head, I ran into my friends Danny and Erin – who just so happened to be shopping for shoes at the mall. Because we are the type of people to seize random opportunities, we decided to head to Moxies for a quick drink. Before long, and thanks to the power of the Twitter, we were joined by Dr. Julie and Dr. Mark. Hilarity and such ensued.

What makes tonight extra awesome is the fact that while I was walking home from the office I realized I was completely drained. It was a long day and I was tired and all I wanted to do was get home, put on my comfy pants, and do pretty much nothing. Instead, I found myself in the company of friends, sharing laughs and ridiculous stories.

It’s currently 11:55 and I find myself completely energized and ready to take on the world.

Thanks friends.

So Many Butts

Ew. Gross.

The other day while1

…walking to the mall or walking to campus or walking on campus or walking downtown Guelph or walking pretty much anywhere…

I couldn’t help but notice something. That something – cigarette butts. Everywhere I looked. Cigarette butts thrown, flicked, and smashed into the ground and discarded as if doing so were as natural as breathing. Why is this form of littering socially acceptable?

Of course, the density of discarded butts varies from place to place2, but it doesn’t take an eagle eye to spot them. Their ubiquity – as disgusting as it is – can’t be understated.

After observing this, I got to wondering how many butts there might be. I don’t just mean on campus, or in Guelph. I mean in the world – discarded with a flick of the wrist as if the cigarette butts might miraculously vanish from existence. And then, knowing how bad cigarettes are, I wondered How bad are cigarette butts?

So pretty. Unless you imagine this filled with butts. Ew. Just ew.

So I did what any curious person would do; I turned to Google. What I learned shocked me.

First and foremost, the estimates indicate that 5.6 trillion cigarettes are smoked world-wide every year. Of these, 4.5 trillion butts are haphazardly tossed away3,4.

Those are some pretty massive numbers so let’s put them into context. If we assume that a cigarette butt can be squashed to the size of a dime (probably a stretch), and given that a standard (US) dime has a volume of approximately 340 mm, and knowing that 1 cubic metre is made up of 1000000000 (1 billion) cubic millimetres, then 4.5 trillion butts-squished-to-the-size-of-a-dime would occupy 1530000 cubic metres.

So tall and awesome. Unless it’s replaced with butts. Ew. Just ew.

That’s still a big number so consider this: Water pours over Niagara Falls at a rate of 1834 cubic metres per second. At that rate, it would take approximately 834 seconds (almost 14 minutes) of water falling over Niagara Falls before you’d have collected the same volume of water as butts-squished-to-the-size-of-a-dime discarded per year.

That is insane!

But it gets worse. Assuming the average cigarette butt is approximately 0.170097 grams5, 4.5 trillion of them would weigh about 765436500 kilograms (1687496617 lbs) or 765436.5 metric tonnes. The CN Tower weighs 117910 metric tonnes. So basically, all of the cigarette butts thrown away in a year would weigh about the same as 6.5 CN Towers.

Sweet. Baby. Jesus.

Beyond all of this, these other quotes alarmed me:

95% of cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic slow to degrade.

Even with a small amount of unburnt tobacco clinging to it, a single cigarette butt soaked for a day is enough to turn a liter of water a sickly yellow brown and kill 50 percent of fish swimming in it. Without tobacco, it takes about 4 smoked filters to do the same job.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY!

Not only are cigarette butts abundant, they degrade slowly and are harmful to our environment. And should they make their way into the water supply (a rather likely situation), they have the ability to seriously harm aquatic life.


So to those of you out there who choose to smoke, I’m not going to ask you to quit, I’m simply going to ask you to please consider this: while those butts may seem trivial to you, inconsequential even, they are far more damaging than we might think. Please dispose of them properly. Or just stop smoking.

Okay – so I guess I did ask you to quit.

1 Select one, because the sentence is valid in all cases.

2 I find it particularly amusing – at least on campus – that there seems to be a disproportionately large concentration of cigarette butts immediately beneath the sign at the library that reads Don’t Smoke Here.

3 Slaughter, E., et al. (2011). Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish. Tob Control, 20:i24-i29.

4 Underwater Naturalist Article.

5 Based on the numbers found in the Underwater Naturalist Article above.