Category Archives: Ph.D.

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.

An Apple A Day

Paging Dr. Zoidberg
Paging Dr. Zoidberg

I have a confession to make. A confession that is well overdue, and going on 4 years in the making.

At the strapping young age of 38, I am without a family doctor.

I’ll give you a moment to pick yourselves up off of the floor.

For years this was never a problem. I moved to Guelph back in the old time-y days of 1994. At the time whenever I needed a health care professional, I simply sauntered over to the Student Health Centre on campus. There I was fortunate enough to see some really great physicians; experts who saw me through coughs and colds, a crazy bout with pneumonia, stress related eczema, and crazy weight loss that would eventually be attributed to a hiatal hernia.

But the day that I graduated with my PhD was the day that I was no longer entitled to visit Student Health Services. After 16 years building a relationship with the awesome staff and doctors there, I was on my own.

So while I’m not sick, and before I absolutely am desperate for one because I start sprouting a horn or other unsightly blemish, I have decided that this must be the year that I find the doctor that’s right for me. Or, as is likely the case, whichever doctor happens to be accepting new patients.

This is where – hopefully – you can help. If any of you know of and can recommend a family doctor who might be willing to take me on as a patient, I’m all ears. Since I don’t drive, someone in the downtown area or near Stone Road Mall or campus would be super swell.

While I don’t doubt an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it’s probably prudent for me to get at least one checkup every now and then. I’m apparently not getting any younger.

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.


A Weekend With The Good Doctor

The good doctors – a picture of scientific brilliance?

This past weekend I did several things that I haven’t done in a long time. First and foremost I took some time off. In fact, I took Thursday and Friday off too. Oh, and also Monday1.

A five day weekend you say? Don’t mind if I do.

Even better, this particular five day weekend included a cottage getaway with the one and only Dr. Stephanie. Since we find ourselves living in different cities with hectic lives and careers and social activities and – well, life – it’s awesome when we are able to coordinate our schedules, get together, and be the goofs that we are.

I already miss you Steph. NO YOU HANG UP.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh right, I was getting to the other thing that I did this weekend that I haven’t done in a long time. Are you ready for this? I did some reading for fun.

Holy crapshark. Reading for fun? It’s a Festivus miracle.

Now before I tell you what I read, I need to ask you to promise me that you won’t freak out or judge me or whatever, because it really was reading for the sake of fun. Promise? Okay, good. I spent part of the weekend reading statistical papers, and it was AWESOME.

I can almost hear you screaming That’s not taking time off.

In most cases I would agree with you. However, and bear with me here, I haven’t actually had the time to sit down and read some really good, really juicy, really thought-provoking statistical papers in a while. This isn’t a complaint. It has just been the reality of my life for the past 8 months or so. Course work, reports, various projects, presentations, conferences, meetings, Farm To Fork – all have kept me away from statistics on some level. So, you’ll understand when I write that I was super excited to actually sink my teeth into a few articles from the world that is my bread and butter. 

The weekend was also a bit of a time machine in the sense that Steph and I were able to read papers, bounce ideas off of one another, talk the statistical talk, and goof off all at the same time. We haven’t been able to do that in a very long while, and this was our daily life while we were working on our PhDs. It was amazing to relive a little of that, minus all of the pressure and stress associated with the degree.

The end result? I came back from the cottage feeling refreshed, and filled with so many statistical ideas that I think I might be busy for years trying to work through them all. In some ways, knowing that there are so many things that we don’t know is a bit scary and humbling, but it’s also exciting and energizing.

This past weekend was exactly what I needed – a mini vacation to recharge, to step away from the everyday routine, breathe in nature, and just be.

Thanks Steph. I can’t wait for our next adventure.

1 Okay, technically we worked on a paper on Monday, but since we did so at the cottage I almost feel like we took the day off.


Conquer Your Fears Or Die Trying

Yes, but silly bird – jumping off a ledge is easy to do…

Dear readers, this post is to inform you that I am about to do something really stupid. Again.

I know, I know. I get myself into stupid situations all of the time. How is this any different?

Well in this case I might die. Literally. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of melodrama, but in theory it could happen. Whatever does come of my next challenge, I’m not going to be the same man I am today so in some sense the current version of myself is going to be dead. The hope is that the current version of me will be replaced with a new and improved, stronger and more kick-ass version.

That or I’ll turn into a blubbering pathetic half man.

Regardless – I will be changed.

You see, thanks to the Twitter I’m about to tackle my last irrational fear. I had two. I used to be afraid of heights. That is, I was afraid of heights until I jumped off a 30 foot cliff. Now only one irrational fear remains, and if you’ve been reading along you’ll already know what that is. That’s correct, folks – I’m about to go one on one with my fear of all things eight legged. This will be an epic battle of good and evil. I’ll leave you to decide who fights for which side. Hint – spiders are evil incarnate, and I’m made with pure wholesome wholesomeness and the most innocent of innocence1.

With this impending battle in mind it should be obvious that the probability of me turning into a quivering mass of half man is non-trivial. As evidence, you should be aware that my heart skipped several beats while looking for an image for this post. Not because I purposely googled spiders, but because by googling fear I inevitably ended up with random photos of eight legged creepers mixed in with other fear related images. Excuse me while I GAH.

So when will this epic battle happen? The plan is to conquer my fear sometime during the eve of March 1, 2013. And for those curious, I will have all of this filmed for your entertainment. You’ll either observe the birth of a man without fear, or watch as my psyche is broken into a million little pieces. Either way – the entertainment factor should be through the roof.

Of course, given the potential entertainment value of this endeavour, I’ve decided to turn this into some sort of charity event. Details about this will follow as soon as I figure them out.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to forget all the images of spiders I just saw on Google. GAH.

Special thanks – I think – to Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus), Nichelle Lomas, and Andrew Young for helping to arrange this. Morgan is a PhD student, Nichelle is doing grad work in the same lab, and Andrew has already completed his degree. For whatever reason the three of them enjoy spiders. I assume this means that the spiders have already taken control of their brain stems. That’s what spiders do, right?

To Dr. Beth – know that I’m not joining their side. I’m only doing this so that I might infiltrate their ranks and take them down from within. If I die, remember me as a sexy sexy patriot and avenge my death.

1 I can hear your laughter as I write this.

My Downward Spiral Into Cookie Madness

Is it weird that when I see the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man I think of s’mores?

I’ve spent the better part of my day number crunching, drafting a report, thinking about a grant, and eating. Eating a lot it seems (well, a lot for me).

Okay, maybe it’s not so much that I’ve eaten a lot, maybe it’s just that I seem to have eaten nothing better than the empty Calories known as cookies and coffee. True, I also had some eggs and smoked salmon, and perhaps some chicken and shiitake mushroom soup – all very good and healthy food choices – but it feels as if I’ve eaten mainly sugar-laden balls-o-unhealthiness washed down with artificially whitened-sweetened-and-fully-caffeinated java juice. Perhaps it’s the gut rot speaking, but I’m guessing I shouldn’t have had that last cookie/coffee combo.

Sadly, I’m sitting here plugging away at the number crunching/report/grant related stuff I need to do, and all I can think about is another cookie and coffee. On the plus side, all of the cookies are gone as I know better than to buy an entire bag of them for fear that I will eat them all in one sitting. And I would. Because I’m gluttonous like that. On the negative side, I have oodles of coffee in my condo. I also have oodles of coffee cups. And a Keurig machine. This could be a lost cause.

To add insult to injury, I didn’t run this weekend either. That’s correct – mine was a weekend full of gluttony and sloth.

This marks the first weekend I haven’t stepped on the treadmill in I don’t know how long. And I feel terrible. Stuffing my face full of cookies, drinking copious amounts of coffee, sitting in front of my computer for far too long this weekend, AND not running? What the hell Gillis? What the hell? indeed. I feel a bit like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, except without the jaunty hat, sailor’s collar, and neckerchief.

Clearly tomorrow I have to get back on track. For now, I’m going to avoid another cup of coffee, and I’m also going to try to use my current post-gluttony feelings to keep me motivated this week. Because I can’t turn into Stay Puft – I just can’t pull off that outfit like he can.

A Gathering Of Nerds

Celebrating a very nerdy holiday at Baker Street Station. Photo by Jasper Tey.

Tonight’s post will be quick because I just finished a half marathon as part of Goofy training. To say that my body is a wee bit tired is an understatement. I probably should have eaten more prior to running. Live and learn. I’m just hoping that the Running Elves repair my body overnight so that I can get in my last long run (I think) of 2012 tomorrow. Running Elves are a thing, right?

I digress.

Today the nerds1 descended on Baker Street Station to enjoy some delicious food, some nerdly discussions2, and a lot of laughs3. While we aren’t always able to get together as often as we’d like due to some rather major life changes in the group – children, marriages, new jobs, new homes – I’m always appreciative of days like today when calendars align and nerd-caucus can be called to order.

After several hours of chatting and eating, we eventually had to call the meeting to a close. Being the holidays, everyone had places to be and other people to see. Hugs and high-fives were handed out, as well as talk of future meetings. It was a little bittersweet to be honest, but I know we’ll get together again soon. Nerds are nothing if not organized.

Following the meeting I chatted with Rick as we headed over to our friend Manon’s place for a quick visit. We agreed that one of the best things about nerd-caucus is that no matter how far apart we are, how much our lives have changed, we always pick up where we left off. We take the time to catch up on the life that has happened between visits, but then we spend most of our time laughing and carrying on as we always did when we were in school together.

I really am fortunate to have such an amazing group of people in my life. Being surrounded by people that are not only intelligent, but caring, thoughtful and well-rounded is inspiring. Thanks nerds for making today amazing. I can’t wait to see you all again.

1 Listing clockwise from where I sat: Rob, Rick, Jenn, Warren, Kian (Jenn and Warren’s baby boy – who is surely going to be a nerd given the nerdly nature of his parents), Steph, Jasper, Lorna, and me.

2 About math pedagogy no less.

3 Which are very nicely documented by Jasper in the video embedded below.


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.

Smile Worthy

This was not my students.

And just like that the semester is over. Okay, maybe not completely over but pretty much over. The students still have to write their exam, and I have to grade said exam, but otherwise everything that the students needed to do, they have done.

Today was their final lab demo. That is, today they put everything on the line to show off and sell what they have been working on the entire semester. I’m sure they were nervous and worried about their presentations, but they were awesome.

Truth be told, when I woke up this morning I was rather nervous. I had no idea how the students would respond to the task at hand, nor did I really know what to expect in terms of their overall final project. Don’t get me wrong – I knew what they had to do, and I knew that they had been working hard – but I didn’t know how their final project would function nor how it would look.

Given that I was slightly in the dark in terms of what exactly they had produced, you’ll understand when I write that I was terribly excited to see the final versions of the projects they had completed, and even more excited to watch as they explained what they had done to the client. It took all my energy not to peek at their projects until the presentations formally began.

After the presentations began I walked around the class observing the students, listening to them explain to the client representatives how they translated the goals of the project into a tangible, usable, web-based solution. They were pretty impressive. Of course, being my students you might think that I’m biased in my estimation of their skills. Trust me when I say that their ability to impress was noted not just by me, but by the six client representatives that came to judge what they had completed. So yes, I was rather happy and proud with how things played out.

Through all of this I tried unsuccessfully not to smile. I really couldn’t help myself. It’s hard not to smile when what I saw was so totally smile worthy.


One more class to go!

Holy hell the semester is almost over.

On one side of the coin I’m stoked because it has been a long semester filled with late nights, early mornings, sleep deprivation, and probably far too much coffee and beer.

On the other side of the coin I’m a bit sad because, while the semester has been long it has been a lot of fun. Yes there were moments where I may have wanted to stab myself repeatedly in the eye instead of deal with whatever mountain of work was in front of me, but on the whole it was a fun-filled semester. My class has been awesome, the students fantastic, and I’m super excited about the project they have been working on1.

Indeed, as busy as this semester has been, I think I’m going to miss teaching my class more than I would have initially thought. I realized this today when I learned that next Thursday will actually be a Monday – at least scheduling wise. The idea is that classes that were cancelled during the Thanksgiving Monday holiday will be made up this coming Thursday. This means that the last class for my course will be held Tuesday, and not Thursday like I had originally thought.

I really don’t know how to feel about this.

1 Which will be revealed – at least in a prototype form – at the end of the semester. I can’t wait!


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.

My Other Office

All the Maths shall be mine. All of them.

Last night before I turned off the lights, before I pulled up the covers to protect me from whatever monsters might lurk under my bed or in my closets, and before the wee fuzzball snuggled up next to me, I checked my calendar so that I might set my alarm at an appropriate get-out-of-bed time. What I found was shocking, and at the same time filled me with just the tiniest amount of glee. You see, dear readers, I realized last night that my schedule was devoid of all meetings today save for a haircut at Acqua Salon downtown at 5pm.

With this news in mind I did what any reasonable person would do – I opted to work in my other office. You know, my downtown office. For those not in the know, my downtown office is rather large. It has square footage in the Red Brick Café, the Joint Café, Planet Bean, Ox, the Woolwich Arrow, and the Baker Street Station (to name a few).

The best part about working in my downtown office is that I’m almost always productive. So much so, that I’m pretty sure that I should just work downtown all of the time. I think the atmosphere of the various cafés – I mean my office – provides just enough background noise to keep me somehow focused on whatever task is at hand.

For example, my latte at Red Brick today was just what I needed to finish grading the lab demos and reports for the class I’m teaching. A trip to the Joint for lunch – quinoa salad, thank you very much – was the perfect venue to allow me to finally master some of the math that had been vexing me last week1. And once I had figured it out I realized how simple the solution was – so simple, that I should have been able to figure it out last week.

The fault clearly lay with my on-campus office working environment. It so obviously lacks lattes and the white noise and sometimes cacophony of a café, that finding a solution there was pretty much impossible. I should have known better; I should have been working downtown – because clearly mathematics are best discovered in a café. I’m pretty sure that’s a rule.

What’s the moral of today’s story? Perhaps that I need to work in a café, with a cup of delicious coffee goodness, and time to zone out2 without being interrupted in order to get anything done. Or perhaps I’m just making up excuses to work downtown. One of those must be correct.

“A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.” — Paul Erdos

1 Specifically, I was able to show

\mathbb{E}\left[\phi_{i1}|\phi_{k1, k\sim i}, \phi_{i2}, \phi_{k2, k\sim i}\right]= -\frac{\Lambda_{12}}{\Lambda_{11}}\phi_{i2}+\frac{1}{m_{i}}\displaystyle{\sum_{k\sim i}}\left\{\gamma_{1}\phi_{k1}-\gamma_{12}\left(-\frac{\Lambda_{12}}{\Lambda_{11}}\right)\phi_{k2}\right\}.

2 Also known as getting my math on.


I Don’t Know All The Maths – Yet

All the maths – I want them.

Apart from a few meetings, I spent the bulk of my day working through what I assumed should be a simple mathematical problem. For whatever reason, and despite my best efforts, my brain just didn’t want to process or comprehend it. I spent hours staring at it, trying to approach it from different angles – but to no avail. Perhaps my brain knew it was Friday.

Normally this would annoy me. I mean, I’m supposed to be a mathy/staty kind of guy. In my mind, it should be second-nature for me to review an equation and automatically know it, understanding every possible nuance. I shouldn’t look at a formula and think What the hell is that? unless of course the formula is flawed. And none of this should require any in-depth thinking. I should just get it. 

While I realize this is an unreal expectation, there have been times where I have found myself beyond frustrated because something wouldn’t click. In most cases, a nap, a meal, a drink – all have served to put me back on track. In the cases where this didn’t help, perseverance won out – eventually.

After struggling with the problem for several hours today, I wandered to Starbucks to chat with Gerarda. The intent was not to chat statistics over coffee, but I did query her for advice. This, apparently, was the seed that I needed. While she didn’t have the answer, she suggested the same strategy that I had considered prior to meeting her. After our coffee I spent a few more hours poking away at the equations. While the solution still eludes me, I know that I am close. I can feel it.

Why do I mention all of this? Well, first, I need to remember that I’m not expected to know all the maths. I am, however, expected to be able to devise methods to find the answers – to push the boundaries of our collective knowledge. This may seem obvious to most, but for whatever reason it’s usually the first thing I forget. Further, I need to remember that I have amazing colleagues and friends for a reason. The old adage is correct: two heads are better than one. Sometimes the solution can be found in a simple conversation with someone who speaks the same language. And of course, it’s always great to have an alternate point of view, or in my case, a similar point of view to encourage a potential path to a solution.

For now I’m going to keep plugging away. The solution is close. I can feel it.

A Nerd Paradise

Sometimes beer wins.

Depending on the day of the week and the time of day my office typically takes the form of, well, an office. It contains a pretty sweet computer with dual monitors, a ridiculous number of textbooks, several servers, battery backups, a white board, and other academic and compu-geek related bric-a-brac. In short, it is a nerd’s paradise. Or at least, my version of a nerd’s paradise.

However, as much as I love my own personal nerd-paradise, I find it absolutely essential to venture beyond the confines of my office from time to time. During those magical days when I escape my academic walls, my office is transformed into something altogether more wonderful: an office that includes delicious food and drink. And by that, I mean that my office is transformed into one of the many places in downtown Guelph that I like to frequent.

Today was one of those days where the Woolwich Arrow, the Red Brick Cafe, and the Baker Street Station all served as temporary office. Best set of offices ever? I think so.

The weird thing – I think – is that I find that I’m more productive in a public setting. That is, I am easily distracted in my office by everything and nothing. Bird chirping outside? I need to investigate. Random noise in the hall? Obviously I need to check that out. Twitter feed updates? You know I have to read all of that. But put me in a public setting and I have a ridiculous ability to tune everything out. Random couple arguing? Who cares? Terrible cheesy 80s music? Say what now? None of it is important because I tend to tune out almost all of the things that happen around me while I’m in one of my non-office offices.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I typically work downtown and find myself more productive than what one might expect – except of course for tonight. While I managed to get in several quality hours of work, I ended the eve on a bit of a mathematical cliffhanger. Normally this would frustrate me because, clearly, there’s an answer and I’m just not getting it. But tonight I was okay with packing things up and letting it go until the morning.


Simple really. Tonight the beer won out.

Hulk Smash!

Pfffft. My arms are way bigger than that.

Apparently this week has turned into one of those weeks. You know, the kind of week that was busy to start, but then out of nowhere is crammed full of eleventy-billion extra tasks that can’t be ignored. I feel a mighty rage building. And the worst kind of rage. Worse than road rage, or academic rage. We’re talking Meeting Rage!


But I digress.

I’m fully expecting tonight to be a long night. Same goes for the rest of the week. Weeeeeeeeeee! Wait, not Weeeeeeeeeee! The opposite of that. Boooooooooo!

Regardless of how insane this week has become, and specifically how many more hours I need to put in today to complete the things I need to complete so that I won’t feel like I’m drowning when I get to the office tomorrow, I’ve made the executive choice to head to yoga.

First and foremost, I really need to go to yoga. My body is feeling rather un-bendy and that just won’t do. I didn’t like how old-and-creeky I felt when I woke up this morning and yoga should surely correct that situation. The non-old-and-not-so-creeky version of Dan is far happier than the old-and-creeky version. Old-and-cranky Dan is an angry Dan.

Second and just as important, I need to make sure that I take time to relax, quiet my mind, and breathe; failure to do so will leave me far more on-edge than caused by delaying my work to take this much-needed break. Relaxed Dan is far less likely to be a danger to himself or those around him. He’s far less likely to suffer from the most common varieties of aforementioned rage.

Third, I’m supposed to be training for the Goofy race in January. That includes getting bendy as often as I can so that I can keep up my running schedule. Running makes me happy. It also prevents me from gaining so much weight that my shirts and pants rip apart when I flex my very manly muscles1.

For all of these reasons and more, it really is in the best interest of society that I go to yoga despite my overcrowded to-do list. Clearly if I don’t, we risk the ever-present possibility of awaking the raging man-beast inside. I can’t have that on my conscience.

1 Ha!