Category Archives: Nerdery

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.

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.

Igniting Guelph

Meeting Natasha
Meeting Natasha

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at Ignite Guelph 3. This would be the second talk I’ve given (the first being at Ignite Guelph 1) as part of the Ignite speaker series, but the first that I’ve done solo1.

The night was a blast. There were so many amazing talks spanning topics from ukuleles, to animation, to metadata, and even hip hop. Some of the talks brought a smile to my face, others presented ideas on topics that I don’t think I would have thought about were not for the speaker, and some of the talks hit me right in the feelings zone2. I’m looking at you Bang Ly.

For those unaware of the Ignite Guelph speaker series format, it’s quite simple: each speaker gets 5 minutes and 20 slides – timed to automatically transition every 15 seconds – to inspire the audience with something they happen to be passionate about. It can be nerve-racking and scary, but it’s a lot of fun.

Given that I do a lot of public speaking – what with having to lecture students on a regular basis, and spreading the word about Farm To Fork to anyone who will listen – I’m very comfortable speaking in front of an audience. However, Ignite talks are different. They demand that you get to your point quickly, and without the benefit of notes (save for whatever you may have put onto the slides). For someone who usually has 20-80 minutes of speaking time per presentation, the shorter duration poses a challenge. But it’s the kind of challenge I like because it forces me to distill my thoughts to the most essential components.

Of course it’s not an easy task. In fact the talk I gave last night wasn’t the original talk I had intended to present. During the week preceding Ignite Guelph I finalized what I thought would be my talk. I spent my spare time memorizing the story of my talk – which I find better than memorizing the exact text – and working on my timing. By Monday night I was fully prepped, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The confidence wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, and I found this frustrating. Something was missing from my presentation.

And then at 6pm on Monday night it hit me. My presentation was too academic. It lacked a human connection. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t spouting statistics or theories, but it just wasn’t as relatable or personable as I’d wanted it to be. It was almost clinical.

And so I made the decision to rewrite the entire thing.

I’m glad I did because I was able to better connect with my own story – which I hope translated to a better connection with the audience. Having a story that I could embrace fully made telling that story so much simpler. It’s amazing what a little humanity will do for a talk. And given the feedback I received last night at the after-party, I know that the rewrite was the correct thing to do.

For those curious, I spoke about my experiences with fear and how, at the age of 37, I decided to embrace my arachnophobia.

Thanks to the Ignite Guelph team for organizing another amazing event, and thanks to all of the speakers for sharing what inspires you. I can’t wait for Ignite Guelph 4.


1 Last year I spoke at the inaugural Ignite Guelph with my friend (and co-founder of Farm To Fork) Danny Williamson.

2 Ew – feelings.

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.

The Business Of Do Goodery

The Bigger Picture Series: Bridging The Gap
The Bigger Picture Series: Bridging The Gap

On Wednesday I spoke at the Bigger Picture Series: Bridging the Gap event. The speaker series is sponsored by the Centre for Business and Social Entrepreneurship, the CMESA, Innovation Guelph, and the College of Management and Economics.

You’re probably wondering why the hell a stats-nerd who works in the School of Computer Science was invited to speak before a group of management, economic, and marketing types. 

Don’t feel bad, I wondered the same thing. As it turns out, I was asked to talk about the Farm To Fork story.

This would be the first time that I would be presenting anything to a group of people who weren’t stats-y, or computer science-y, or community-engaged-scholarship-y. As such I was a little nervous. I mean, what the hell could I say that might be useful to a bunch of entrepreneurial business types?

So before I presented I sat down and pondered what pearls of wisdom I might have that could prove useful to someone starting a business; specifically a do-good business.

After a lot of working and reworking, pulling from previous presentations, adding some statistics, and polishing up my presentation, something hit me: of all the stuff I was presenting, the biggest idea was that of doing something. 

Was it rocket science? Hells no. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that this was what I wanted to pass along. Do-Goodery, in any of its forms (e.g. scientific, social, business) requires more than just talking about Do-Goodery. It demands doing. It’s right there in the title.

Sadly, most of us spend our days simply identifying problems. Many of us seem to have this innate ability to pinpoint all of those things that aren’t working, or those things that need to be improved, or those things that are just stupid, or those things that we’d have done differently if we were in charge. But how many of us actually take the time to do something about all of these problems we see?

Do we take action? Do we try to change things? Do we put forth our best fight, even in situations where we’re convinced we might fail? Or do we simply bitch about the problem, and leave it for someone else to solve?

If the Farm To Fork project has taught me anything, it’s that we all can make a huge difference if we just get off our asses and do something. It’s not always easy. It’s sometimes scary. But sometimes the stars and planets align and all of the right people come together, and something magical happens – if we act. Otherwise, the magic fizzles and we’re left with nothing more than what we began with – an identified problem without a viable solution.

Do-Goodery demands doing - so ask yourself this – what am I going to do today?

Better Late Than Never

A penny saved is a penny more for vacation.
A penny saved is a penny more for vacation.

So I just spent a few hours organizing my finances. While some of you might be thinking - boring - I actually enjoy doing this sort of thing. I am a numbers guy after all.

Normally this is something I do right at the beginning of the year, but have been putting off because I knew I didn’t successfully complete some of last years challenges. Most of those were related to paying off debt and growing my net worth, but there were other things like keeping my budget up to date that were complete write-offs.

Of course I should have looked sooner, because looking sooner would have had me realize that I did way better than I thought I did last year. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suddenly independently wealthy or anything, but I’m fortunate in that I do have enough to put food on the table, a roof overhead, and save a little for rainy days or wanderlusting, adventures, and shenanigans.

Did I reach the targets I had set last year? No, not exactly. But I did move in the right direction and that’s what’s important. In fact, I moved farther in the right direction than I had thought. This is mainly because I’ve opted to pay down my mortgage at an accelerated rate. I apparently had forgotten how that might impact my net worth and debt. Silly me.

Regardless, the area in which I failed miserably was keeping my budget up to date. In any sort of financial setting – good or bad – I’d suggest that this is something that I should always do. As with most of my goals, if I continually review their status I’m more apt to attain them. So this year I’m going to be a bit more diligent in this area. I’ve also already started efforts to spend less by purchasing fewer coffees, packing lunches, and reducing the amount of money I spend at restaurants. Every penny counts, right?

Will 2014 see me a gazillionaire? Not unless I win the lottery or suddenly invent that thing that everyone on earth is willing to throw their hard-earned dollars at. But if all goes well I should again see my net worth go up as my debt goes down.

Unless of course I decide to cash it all in and move to a beach :)

 

14 Down 76 To Go

Stretching with the wee fuzzball
Stretching with the wee fuzzball

And just like that the 90 Day Fitness Challenge is 2 weeks old. They grow up so fast.

I won’t lie – this week was tough. Work and life kept trying to get in the way of my goals. Stupid work and life – why you gotta be like that?

My first hurdle came on Tuesday. I arrived home exhausted and debating internally about whether or not I should run. Fortunately I embraced the suck and hammered out slightly more than 5km of running goodness.

Wednesday, however, was a different story. I spent the day with Tim Bray - he was on campus to give a talk on security and privacy. Since I was part of the group that organized his visit, it meant that I didn’t get home until quite late and I was completely knackered. I toyed with the idea of running but decided that it wasn’t in my best interest.

The decision not to run on Wednesday meant that I had to rejig my training schedule. Basically that meant moving my Wednesday run to Friday; setting up 4 consecutive days of running. While this wasn’t the first time I’d run 4 consecutive days, it was the first time I’d done so in a long while.

And after today’s run – my body is definitely feeling it. Nothing hurts beyond the typical pain one might feel after exercise, but I am completely spent. Tonight I’m sure to sleep like a king.

Regardless, week two is complete and I’m happy to say that I’ve met my goal and then some. I had planned to run 27km, but actually ran 31.28km. This means my cumulative distance for the year now sits at a very respectable 71.61km – which is slightly more than 7% of the required kilometres on my Quest to 1000. I also managed some quality gym time with Dr. Mark, and some much-needed yoga time. All told, not a bad week.

Take that work and life trying to get in the way.

But truth be told, I’m going to enjoy my rest day tomorrow.

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.

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.

Let The Semester Begin!

My walk to work starts here. Granted, it doesn't usually have ice covered tree branches in the way.
My walk to work starts here. Granted, it doesn’t usually have ice-covered tree branches in the way.

Today is the first day of the winter 2014 semester, or as I like to think of it – Reading Week bookended by class. Twelve weeks of class to be exact; six on either end.

I’m actually pretty excited to get back to work. Don’t get me wrong, working in the comfort of my pajamas is always better than trudging myself to the office, especially when that trudging involves ice and snow and howling wind. However, until I figure out a way to effectively lecture 70+ students in User Interface Design whilst sipping a coffee and enjoying my fireplace, my need to be on campus will remain. And if I’m being completely honest, I love teaching so trudging through the winter weather is very much worth the trouble.

Despite the fact that today is day one of a semester that still has that new-semester smell, I’ve been mulling over potential destination ideas for Reading Week. Apparently wanderlust never dies. Since it’s only a week-long, the destination can’t be too distant. As much as I’m crazy enough to fly somewhere (Japan for example) for a week, I’m going to save that type of travel for later in the year. I’m thinking I may keep myself confined to North or Central America.

Deciding on a location, however, is the second decision that needs to be made. The first decision is to figure out what type of vacation I want/need. That is, should I go with an adventure vacation (think hiking, mountain climbing, zorbing, skydiving, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, etc.) or a relaxation vacation (think well tanned hotties serving me drinks while I read/nap on the beach)? Or perhaps a blend?

So what do you think, dear readers? If you were vacationing over reading week, what type of vacation would you be taking?

New Year New Goals

2014 is going to be crazy
2014 is going to be crazy.

If you’ve been reading along over the past week or so, you’re probably not going to find the topic of today’s post all that shocking. It’s time to set some goals for the new year; specifically some fitness goals1.

First and foremost I have to get back to my regular running self. I miss running. You might find that crazy, but I really do. I remember when I was younger, seeing runners out in the cold of winter, logging countless miles, and thinking they are out of their minds. But then I became one of them. I understood them. And I learned just how much running could do not just for my body, but for my mind. This isn’t a resolution, and this is so much more than a goal; it’s a way of life. My life. It has to happen. It will happen.

To ensure that it does happen, I’m about to start training for several races (assuming the ankle holds up). While I may not compete in all of these, I’m setting my sights on the following goals:

To help prevent further injuries, I’m going to also be working on my strength training and my controlled flexibility. The specifics of this are yet to be determined, but I have a fitness expert in my corner who just happens to also be my Chiropractor. I have no doubt that he’ll help keep me in tip-top condition.

I’m also aiming to return to my regular practice of yoga in the morning (30 minutes per day, at least every other day). It’s amazing how much of my lethargy, and overwhelming sense of feeling gross comes from how achy I sometimes feel when I wake up. There are days when I feel so stiff and old that I want to kick myself in the ass for not keeping up with my practice. But I didn’t, which means I can’t, so my ass is saved from said kicking for now.

Finally, I’m going to make a point to reevaluate these goals on a more regular basis. I don’t want to set too many lofty goals at the moment for fear that my ankle will continue to keep me on the sidelines3. Whatever happens, anything that involves more movement than the past 6 months will be considered a success.

Oh 2014, you are going to be interesting.


1 I have other goals that I want to tackle in the shiny new year that will be known as 2014, however, I’ll focus on those in a separate post.

2 The training schedule for this race makes me throw-uppy. I based it on the schedule outlined here, but modified it for other races and my schedule. Here’s a rough sketch of the cumulative distance I’ll have to run to prep myself for the race in the 24 weeks leading up to race day.

3 A 50km race isn’t too lofty, right?

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.

 

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.