Category Archives: Nerdery

Curse You Temple

On the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald (~2600 metres above sea level) with Rick and Paul.
On the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald (~2600 metres above sea level) with Rick and Paul.

Mother Nature has foiled us again. After much discussion, plotting, and organization, she decided to throw a huge wrench into our Mount Temple conquering plans. With winter conditions and blowing snow, Rick, Paul, and I decided for safety reasons that we should postpone our Temple adventure until next year.

Nuts.

For those of you who don’t know, this marks the third attempt in three years to climb Temple. It has officially become our nemesis. We shake our fists at you Temple. We shake them long time.

Fortunately, being the easy-going lot that we are, a back-up mountain was found. May I introduce you to the splendor and beauty that is Mount Lady MacDonald – a steep 7 hour hike with an elevation gain of 1.2km right next door to the town of Canmore. The peak offers an excellent view of the town and surrounding area, and it also offers an epic knife-edge ridge walk. On one side of the mountain is a near vertical drop to the valley below. On the other side, a very steep drop to rocks and scree below. To put it another way – a straight plummet followed by death if one were to fall away from Canmore, or a long painful fall across mostly flat rock and death should one fall towards Canmore. Exactly what we were looking for!

Me and Paul at the start of the ridge.
Me and Paul at the start of the ridge.

We started the hike at 10am and quickly fell into a good rhythm. Every so often we’d stop for water or snacks, or to catch our breath given our angle of ascent, or to snap photos of the area. The weather varied from sunny and hot, to cold, cloudy, and windy. Extra layers, rain gear, gloves, and toques were added as necessary. Fortunately the snow and wind that had accompanied us part way up the mountain dissipated, leaving blue sky and sunshine as we reached the summit (about 3.5 hours after we started).

The views were breathtaking. We sat for a time at the top of the mountain taking everything in, comfortably resting in the safety of a small plateau. Of course, we didn’t sit too long before we debated the safety of the ridge walk. The photos we snapped only provide a small sense of what we were facing – vertical to near vertical drops on either side, and only a narrow path to follow. Part of the path looked wide enough to walk on, but other parts were quite literally the apex of a triangle. Walking on these areas would demand that we keep our bodies low to the mountain, finding footholds on either side of the peak to secure ourselves. Whatever lay before us, we knew that one misstep would be more than enough to send us over the edge to a rather splendid end.

After a short rest and after snapping several photos, it was agreed – we were doing this.

Leaning over the edge of the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald.
Leaning over the edge of the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald.

I took the first steps onto the ridge and realized pretty quickly that this part of the adventure was going to be amazing. I walked upright for most of the first part of the ridge, getting low where necessary. Rick and Paul followed behind. In some spots I was quite literally straddling the mountain – a required move to figure out where next to put my hands or feet. Looking down to the valleys on either side of the ridge was incredible. With every step away from the security of the plateau I found myself feeling more and more blessed at having the opportunity to experience the world in this manner.

We continued on, pushing further and further along the ridge, inching closer and closer to the end of the path. Of course we snapped numerous photos. When we could we walked upright, moving cautiously but confidently from rock to rock, ignoring the potential disorienting effect caused by our peripheral view of the valleys below.

Sadly our adventure was cut short. In the distance I could see another storm coming towards us. We debated the safety of continuing to the end of the path, but ultimately decided we should turn back. This was probably the smartest thing we did all day. As soon as we reached the safety of the plateau we were hit – ice pellets, strong winds, and cold temperatures. Turning back was very much the correct decision. I can’t imagine what the ridge would have been like if we were caught on it during the storm.

Traversing the ridge.
Traversing the ridge.

We quickly made our descent to escape exposure during the storm. Despite the ice pellets and wind, screeing down the mountain was still a blast. By the time we reached the safety of the trees the sun had returned and the temperatures climbed. We rested for a few minutes, lost a few layers of clothing, and began our long descent back to the car.

To be honest, while we’re a bit disappointed in not being able to conquer Temple for the third year in a row, our adventures really have very little to do with any specific mountain. The time I get to spend in the mountains laughing with Rick and Paul is far more important. So thanks nerds for yet another excellent adventure. We’ll get Temple next year.

The Remains Of A Decade

What to do in my 40th year?
What to do in my 40th year?

I celebrated my 39th birthday yesterday. That’s 14,246 days (including leap years and today) or roughly 1 billion 230 million 854 thousand 400 seconds on this big blue planet (for those of you who were counting).

So what does this mean? Really not much. Thirty-nine is just another number. I don’t feel any different from what I did at 38. Perhaps I look slightly older, but given that I was ID’d when I ordered a beer when I was in Owen Sound yesterday I think I’m doing alright.

But, 39 also means that I’m in the final year of my thirties – the end of my 4th decade . With less than 365 days remaining, I’ve been wondering how best to celebrate. Parties? Amazing adventures? Crazy stunts? Shenanigans? Scotch? Pie?

Yes. All of that. Definitely all of that.

Anyway, to keep myself organized and on track I’ve decided a list was in order. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you in no particular order my list of 40 things I want to do during this my 40th year on earth.

  1. Go on an epic Christmas adventure.
  2. Go on an epic 40th birthday travel adventure.
  3. Climb Mount Temple.
  4. Climb 4 new mountains with Rick.
  5. Swim in (at least one of) the Indian or Pacific oceans.
  6. Run 5km in less than 20 minutes.
  7. Run the equivalent of 40 5km runs in 40 days.
  8. Run at least 40 10km runs.
  9. Run at least 4 half marathons.
  10. Run at least 1 marathon.
  11. Host another scotch tasting night.
  12. Expand Farm To Fork beyond Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo.
  13. Launch the Farm To Fork mobile application.
  14. Skydive again (or solo for the first time).
  15. Bungee jump.
  16. Host an epic 40th birthday bash at Baker Street Station.
  17. Buy a fancy new suit/outfit for hosting my epic 40th birthday bash.
  18. Raise money ($10000) for a charity or not-for-profit as part of my epic 40th birthday bash.
  19. Raise $40000 for charities or not-for-profits.
  20. Go to a shooting range.
  21. Go Zorbing.
  22. Try 40 scotches I’ve never tried before.
  23. Try 40 beers I’ve never tried before.
  24. Try 40 wines I’ve never tried before.
  25. Try 40 foods I’ve never tried before.
  26. Eat 40 pies. Mmmm, pie.
  27. Publish at least 100 posts on ConsumedByWanderlust.
  28. Publish at least 40 posts on my Ass. Prof. blog.
  29. Publish at least 40 posts on the Farm To Fork blog.
  30. Instagram 40 things that make me smile.
  31. Self-host this blog and my professional blog.
  32. Visit at least one of Boston, San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle.
  33. Visit four new cities.
  34. Visit four new countries.
  35. Have dinner with 4 friends I haven’t seen in ages.
  36. Read 40 novels.
  37. Go on a hot air balloon ride.
  38. Go rappelling again.
  39. Finish repairs/upgrades to the main floor of the condo.
  40. Finish repairs/upgrades to the top floor of the condo.

 

Good-Bye Shanghai

On my way to Beijing!
On my way to Beijing!

Today I said goodbye to Shanghai and the various people I’d met there over the past 8 days. I’m very much going to miss the city, especially the part where I ate street food almost every night after enjoying a tipple or three with the folks I was fortunate to call friends during my stay. Originally I had planned to leave Shanghai Tuesday, but those plans were thrown out the window on Monday eve. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On Monday afternoon I said farewell to three of the people I had spent the last few days hanging out with. There was Ben, the other professor in our merry band of misfits, and Andrew and Sass, two 20 year-old students from Australia who have been dating for the past two years or so. After I said goodbye, I relaxed in the lobby of the hostel looking forward to a quiet night. I had a beer, got somewhat caught up on email and world events, and was fully expecting to head to bed early.

And then in walked Andrew and Sass, both looking a little rough around the edges.

So deliciously delicious.
So deliciously delicious.

I clearly had a very confused look on my face because they immediately started laughing and then began recounting a rather harrowing adventure that began with a police ticket for the cab driver, and ended with their flight being canceled. In between they were involved in a car accident on the highway that wrote-off the car they were in (fortunately all were okay save for some stiff necks). If that weren’t bad enough, the substitute cab had a faulty door which was only discovered while careening down the highway at speeds in excess of 120 kph. Apparently it’s not normal for the door of a vehicle to just swing open. Who knew? Fortunately Ben – who was travelling to the airport with Andrew and Sass – got things under control (and I think managed to make his flight home). From this point, however, things went from bad to worse for Andrew and Sass.

At the airport, Andrew and Sass were initially faced with flight delay, after flight delay. Eventually they were told the Military were conducting operations, the airport was essentially closed, and they should return to the hostel. They were given a slip of paper saying they’d be able to get a flight on Wednesday around noon.

The gift for the friend who has everything?
The gift for the friend who has everything?

Despite the day they had, they walked into the hostel with very few gripes and a lot of smiles. After listening to them recount their adventure, I started thinking that my time in Shanghai wasn’t quite finished. We chatted about plans for the next morning (technically check-out was at noon, and I had the entire day to get to Beijing) and decided to head out for food and some drinks. We had a great night chatting and exploring several dishes at a nearby restaurant, laughing at some of the Chinese to English translations. Dinner led to drinks at a local bar which was fortunately stocked with some deliciously delicious scotches. I already knew Andrew was a fellow scotch drinker so it didn’t take much for us to sample a few drams. After several drinks we returned to the hostel, but not before a feast of street food. Scallions wrapped in some sort of gluten/soy blanket, bacon wrapped something-or-others, fish-on-a-stick, mushrooms, and a bowl of spicy crawdads – or whatever the Chinese equivalent might be. All of this was washed down with a half litre of beer for the outrageously low price of 5 yuan (less than a dollar Canadian).

On Tuesday morning I awoke early to extend my stay an extra day in Shanghai, and modify my booking in Beijing. It took all of 5 minutes.

Golden Buddha.
Golden Buddha.

After some coffee, the three of us jumped in a cab and made our way to the art district known as M50. I was expecting a market with local artisans showing off trinkets and such. It was nothing like that. The area reminded me of the Distillery District in Toronto, but larger, and filled with various different artists. The works ranged from absolutely amazing – we all seriously considered buying some prints by the artist Sanzi – to downright creepy (hello naked baby painting). Some were quite practical, such as the handcrafted tea sets, to completely outrageous. Why would someone want a 7 foot purple corn-on-the-cob? Or for that matter, a giant angry silver baby riding a tank? Perhaps I just don’t get art.

We had lunch in the area then walked to a nearby temple to see a beautiful jade Buddha. The temple – appropriately called the Jade Buddha Temple – was stunning. We wandered the temple for about an hour, snapping photos and taking in as much of it as we could, before we grabbed a cab and returned to the hostel for a nap.

Deliciousness and tasty beverages can be found here.
Deliciousness and tasty beverages can be found here.

The day led us to the French Colonial section of town. From the street I’d never have known this place existed, but down a particular alleyway pointed out by our cabbie, we were presented with pedestrian walkway after pedestrian walkway, each filled with pubs and eateries. Given our success of the previous day, we opted to repeat history. Several drams of scotch were ordered for Andrew and me, while Sass opted for some rather beautiful and delicious cocktails. We chatted about travel and school, life in general, and even statistics. At one point I found myself explaining degrees of freedom and multicollinearity. It was weird and wonderful and completely unexpected. Feeling a bit wobbly from all of the scotch, we returned to the hostel and the same street vendors. We couldn’t have our last night in Shanghai not include more spicy crawdads and fish-on-a-stick.

It tastes way better than it looks.
It tastes way better than it looks.

I’m glad I decided to stay an extra day. Andrew and Sass are exactly the type of people I like meeting when I travel. Adventurous, open to new things, and willing to laugh at the weird things that happen instead of getting upset. What could have been the death-blow to their vacation, they turned into a grand adventure. Instead of pouting and whining, they decided to give Shanghai one last hurrah. How could I not have stayed?

As we hugged farewell today I knew that I wanted to keep in touch with them. I’m really excited to know where their adventure-filled life will take them.

Adventure Time Approaches

Operation China Adventure begins!
Operation China Adventure begins!

I ventured to Toronto on Monday to get my visa. I won’t lie, I was giddy with excitement as I handed over all of the necessary items – completed application, one passport sized photo, and an official letter of invite from Dalian Nationalities University – to the very friendly woman who was working behind the counter.

On Friday I’ll be returning to Toronto to pick up said visa – bringing Phase I of Operation China Adventure to a close. In case you were wondering, Operation China Adventure is what I’m officially calling my trip.

Before I leave, however, I have a few tasks to complete (what I’m calling Phase II of Operation China Adventure):

  • Organize all of my projects, and leave explicit instructions and a set of deliverables for all of my students, to ensure that my return is stress-free.
  • Organize dates for Elliot. He gets lonely when I’m not around.
  • Organize the house-sitters. Identify the comfiest spots in my condo for a nap.
  • Figure out how to post to the Twitters and the Facebook while I’m away. I’ve learned that both of these sites are blocked in China. Fortunately, the Instagrams are not. At least, not yet.
  • Finish designing course materials that I will be presenting while in China.
  • Set up meetings with students and colleagues while I’m gone.
  • Finish up all of the reports, grants, papers, and other deliverables that need to be completed.

No big deal. I’ve still got three working days to get it all done.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I’m stoked. I haven’t had an adventure like this in ages, and it’s making concentration rather difficult. For example, while I should be working on any of the things listed above, I find myself watching this over and over.

Adventure time! W00t!

So Many Thanks

With 14 months to spare, I got in just under the wire.
With 14 months to spare, I got in just under the wire.

The last few weeks have been weird and wonderful, and today was no exception.

Actually, let me take that back. Today was an exception in the sense that it was even weirder and even more wonderful than the last few weeks have been.

For those who haven’t already seen the news, read the twitters, liked the facebooks, or thing-a-ma-jigged the social medias, today was the day that the Guelph Mercury presented the 2014 Forty Under Forty honourees. And as you can see by the photo, I was very fortunate to be named with so many other very deserving and remarkable people1.

While I am incredibly honoured by this award, I really am standing on the shoulders of some very inspirational and game-changing difference-making giants. From the faculty and staff who I work with at the University of Guelph, to the friends and family who are the very definition of amazing, I am fortunate to surround myself with truly incredible people.

Of course, the group that really deserves all of the credit are my students. I have had (and continue to have) the very great privilege of teaching some of the most inspiring and brilliant minds. Sure, sometimes they frustrate the hell out of me, sometimes I can’t tell if I’m making a difference at all, and sometimes I feel like I’m doing more harm than good. But most of the time, they really do give me hope for the future. They remind me that there are people out there who care beyond the walls of their own little worlds. They remind me that things can and will get better. And they remind me why I wanted to become a prof in the first place.

Thank you to everyone who made today possible. I am so very honoured and humbled.


 

1 Congrats to everyone who was honoured today. It was amazing to share the stage with so many fantastic people. It was extra amazing to share the stage with so many people who I am lucky enough to call my friends.

Destination: Adventure

Next stop - China!
Next stop – China!

It’s been about eleventy billion years since I last wrote something here – but trust me, it’s not for lack of having stuff to write about. I have oodles to write about. Oodles I says. I’ve just been – what’s the word? Oh ya – slacking.

I know, I’m a terrible, terrible human being. Hopefully you can find it within your hearts to look past my shortcomings.

You might now be wondering, after such a long hiatus, what brings me back to this wee blog?

The answer to that is simple. I’m wanderlusting. I’m also procrastinating. It’s interesting how often those two things go together. It’s also interesting how often I procrastinate when a bunch of as-yet-to-be-written reports stare back at me with their accusing blank pages.

Fortunately the cure for both wanderlust and procrastination is adventure – or at least adventure planning. And as it so happens I am in the beginning stages of planning my next epic adventure.

And this adventure is truly going to be epic. In a few short weeks I’m going to say farewell to Elliot, leave instructions for my house/Elliot-sitters, jump on a plane and head to Dalian, China.

Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

The trip is part work/part vacation. The work part includes teaching a short course on data visualization and analysis for computer science students, and hopefully establishing some research collaborations. The vacation part includes a tour of Golden Pebble Beach Sea Shore Park, and of Dalian Daheishan Mountain. Both of these tours have been organized by Dalian Nationalities University – the host university for my trip. I’m not sure if they knew I had a thing for beaches and mountains, or if all guests get this treatment – but seriously – these are the perfect start-my-vacation adventures.

Of course, I have a few other things in mind. Yes, I’m going to try to get to the Great Wall. Yes, I’m going to try as many local culinary dishes as possible. Yes, I’m going to wander about aimlessly some days. And yes, I’m probably going to leave a lot of the planning until I arrive. But the one thing I absolutely have to do is the Tea House Hike. What is the Tea House Hike? Click here and see it in all its glory.

Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

 

 

 

 

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.