Category Archives: Random

Beijing – A Litte Bit Different

Street dinner with Till.
Street dinner with Till.

Beijing has been a little bit different from the previous cities in China I’ve visited, but that doesn’t mean it has been any less amazing.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I opted to stay at a hotel while in Beijing, mainly because the hostel I wanted wasn’t available, but also because the hotel deal was too good to pass up. The problem, however, with staying in a hotel versus a hostel is the type of people who share accommodations with me.

Hostels are mostly filled with travellers and backpackers; people who don’t mind getting dirty, sharing bathrooms, sleeping in bunk beds in 6 or 8 person dorms with complete strangers, and randomly striking up conversations that begin with Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? These conversations always seem to develop into some sort of instant friendship, and before long, you and your fellow traveller are out experiencing the city together, writing crazy new adventure stories to tell at the next hostel.

No admittance? Pfft. Whatever.
No admittance? Pfft. Whatever.

Hotels are mostly filled with business folks and tourists; people who expect a certain level of pampering and sophistication, room service, and guided tours. Any conversations are limited and short, and have rarely led to adventures (at least in my experience).

Why is this problematic for me? Well, tourists and business folks aren’t likely to strike up a conversation with a random dude travelling on his own. And as has been my experience, they don’t necessarily open themselves up to a random dude striking up a conversation with them. Don’t get me wrong – they talk back – but it’s usually limited to casual chatting and small talk. Backpackers and travellers ignore the small talk and get to the stories. That’s how I met so many great people in Xi’an and Shanghai.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’ve not met some amazing people while in Beijing. I randomly met Brian – the second person from Nashville I’ve met while in China – while touring the parks next to the Forbidden City. He was almost caught in a selfie that I was taking, and that of course led to hello, some laughter, and before long lunch, beer, dinner, and wandering the city at night. We also managed to explore Tiananmen Square, spending part of our time getting photos with locals, and the rest of our time trying to figure out where Tank Man was last photographed as he stood defiantly in front of a line of tanks in 1989.

Photos with Brian and a troupe of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square.
Photos with Brian and a troupe of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square.

And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I spent a few days on a gastronomic adventure with Till. From Peking Duck to silk worm, scorpions, and spiders, we tried pretty much anything we could. We enjoyed beers while chatting about travel, education, and other random things. We compared cities, and the people of China to our expectations and experiences at home. And we talked about Munich – where he’s from.

When I explored the Great Wall I met Arneau and Rihanna – travellers who had the exact same idea as me when we saw a sign that informed us that the public were not allowed beyond said signage. Clearly this was meant to be ignored. And so the three of us trekked on and found ourselves probably 1km or more beyond the no-admittance declaration, along a section of the wall that hasn’t been repaired as of yet. It also afforded us some amazing views of the wall as it ascended and descended the various mountains we could see. Breaking the rules – always the best decision (that’s a rule – you should write it down – ha, see what I did there).

The Great Wall is really great.
The Great Wall is really great.

Last night I had dinner with a Brazilian that I met who’s in Beijing for only 2 days on business. Having been to the city numerous times, he knew of some great restaurants. We ended up eating at La Pizza, where I had western food for the first time on my trip – seafood pizza if you’re curious. While eating, the sky decided to open up and pour for the first time since I’ve been travelling. The rain brought with it thunder and lightning, and apparently sent all of the cabbies into hiding. After eating we did our best to stay dry, but I ended up soaked and having to walk about 3 km before I was finally able to hail a cabbie to get me back to my hotel. Fortunately it was a warm rain and ultimately refreshing given how hot and smoggy it had been that day.

Anyway, while the people I’ve met here have been no less amazing than those I’ve met elsewhere, the ways in which we met have been vastly different. Regardless of how we met, Beijing has been an amazing experience and I’m definitely going to miss it.

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Deep Fried

Starfishy fish. Deep fried please.
Starfishy fish. Deep fried please.

The end is nigh! I fly home tomorrow. I honestly can’t believe that a month has flown by so quickly. I guess that’s what happens when you explore a country where you don’t speak the language, but somehow manage to find yourself in crazy adventures. From climbing mountains and dangling on the side of a vertical rock face, to exploring temples, side streets, and mysterious – possibly questionable looking clubs, China has been an incredible adventure.

Of course, the food has been an adventure all onto itself. I tried the recommended staples – Peking Duck (enjoyed several nights ago with a german student named Till), dumplings, noodles, and hot-pot. I’ve enjoyed various soups and rice dishes, both spicy and non. And I’ve also tried some of the local desserts, because dessert, naturally. But nothing in the world could really prepare me for the smorgasbord of gastronomic treats that were available in some of the various markets in the various cities I travelled.

So several nights ago, Till and I continued our gastronomic exploration of Beijing. Specifically, we found ourselves at the Donghuamen Street Market which was very conveniently located within walking distance of our respective hotels.

Scorpions on a stick. Because China!
Scorpions on a stick. Because China!

As we walked the length of the market we were greeted with various aromas, not necessarily matching the images we were seeing. There were standard things such as chicken and beef skewers, but mixed within these there were also skewers of crickets and beetles, snake, frog, fish, scorpions, sea urchin, starfish, unidentifiable animals, unidentifiable insects, and of course, spiders. Creepy, crawly, and heebie-jeebie inducing even in their skewered death-form.

We started our culinary exploration with a skewer of grilled silkworm pupae. To be honest, they look like cockroaches. As for the flavour – they were actually pretty good. They were seasoned with some sort of magic seasoning that pretty much makes everything taste amazing. The inside of the pupae had the consistency of cheese. It actually reminded me of cheese that one would have in a lasagna after it has been baked. The shell – is that the proper term – was crunchy, but not to the point of being offensive or intrusive. It wasn’t so thick that it made for difficult chewing, nor was it so thin that it had no textural impact.

Till sampling some snake.
Till sampling some snake.

Next we tried grilled snake. The outer flesh was a bit tough to bite through, but the inside had the consistency of egg white. It was actually, in my opinion, quite delicious. We also sampled deep-fried snake – but it was pretty much like eating anything that was super deep-fried. Crunchy, salty, and really devoid of most flavour.

Scorpions were added to our menu. They also were deep-fried, but I think since we had them before the deep-fried snake I enjoyed them more. Also, scorpions seem to be a bit more out there than snake, so there might have been a thrill factor involved with my liking them more.

I also managed to sample some deep-fried starfish – although it was huge so I couldn’t eat it all. It had the toughest/crunchiest of exteriors. The interior was like nothing I have ever tried. It had a weird crumbly wet texture, with a bit of a seafood (but not fishy) flavour.

Creepy crawly deep fried treats.
Creepy crawly deep-fried treats.

There was also some sort of bat/lizard thing that I tried. The vendor claimed it to be a bat, but the tail on it suggested to me it was something else. The head and tail combined made me think it was a lizard prior to its untimely skewering. That is, unless bats have long tails and I’m just not as informed on bat knowledge as I should be. Regardless, it was super deep-fried so I’m sure whatever it was lost its original flavour in place of salty deep-fried crunchy deliciousness.

But the showstopper for me was the spider. For those of you who have been reading my blog for some time, you’ll know that I suffered from arachnophobia since I was a little kid. I grew up with a recurring nightmare about tarantulas killing my family. I’d wake up sweating and unable to breathe, fearful that the nightmare were real and if I moved they’d know and get me too. I won’t lie, walking by the platter of skewered spiders invoked both the heebie-jeebies and a sense of joy that they were actually dead. That didn’t stop my brain from jumping into old patterns of what if they aren’t really dead? Don’t get too close, they’ll get you.

REVENGE IS MINE!
REVENGE IS MINE!

When I came to China I knew that the possibility existed of eating a spider. The thought creeped me out. I remember telling someone who I’d be able to eat pretty much anything, but I didn’t think I’d be able to eat a spider.

Well, now here I was, staring at a small tarantula on a stick. Was I truly over my fear of spiders? My mind repeated – I don’t think I can do this. Internally the monologue went on for an eternity, but I know it was short-lived. I looked at the spider, reminding myself that I try to live with a goal of not letting my fears stop me from experiencing everything I possible can. And I thought to myself – what’s the worst that could happen? 

The vendor passed me my spider and I contemplated it for a moment. Then I ate a leg. It was crunchy. Almost like an over cooked and super crunchy french fry. I ate another. Till joined in. Before long it was just me, Till, and the spider’s body on a stick. Go big or go home, right? One big gulp and it was gone.

And just like that, revenge was mine. Take that spiders everywhere.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

 

19 Again

Christmas mimosas – it’s what’s for breakfast.

For those who follow my Twitter account1, you’re likely already aware of the fact that I had a bit of an incident at the liquor store yesterday. Nothing crazy of course – I made no scene, there was no need for security to be called. Regardless, something happened; something that was a mix of amazing and surreal and ridiculous and hilarious.

I had sauntered over to the liquor store early yesterday to pick up certain key ingredients for the traditional Christmas morning mimosas. Surprisingly the store wasn’t very busy when I arrived, so I only had to wait in line behind one other person. I placed several2 bottles of Christmas cheer on the counter and pulled out my bank card.

Could I see some ID?

I was only slightly surprised to hear this. I’ve heard this request before and I’m sure I’ll hear it again because I realize that I look younger than my 38 years. Further, the staff of the liquor store are required by law to ID anyone that looks 25 or younger. The legal drinking age is actually 19, but the law is in place to honestly, I have no idea what the intended purpose is. 

You might be asking, do I look younger than 19? Unless you are visually impaired, drunk, or high, I’m going to guess no. I’m not even convinced I look 25. However, the liquor store employee decided that she needed my ID.

I happily passed her the ID I’ve been using for the past 10 years.

I’m sorry, but this has expired.

I stared blankly back at her, not realizing what she was saying.

I can’t accept this. Do you have another piece of ID?

I didn’t. I told her so.

It was at this point that I realized what she was getting at.

It was at this point that I realized she wasn’t going to sell me the booze.

It was at this point that I realized that Christmas might be ruined.

I tried explaining that it was the same ID I’d always used. I never thought to reiterate the fact that I’m almost 40. I just kept staring at her assuming that my impressive powers of persuasion and my out-of-date ID would convince her that I was worthy of the bottles placed before her.

I clearly was not. Instead I had to pack it in, sad-faced, empty-handed, and convinced that Christmas was ruined. Denied at the liquor store at the tender young age of 38, because I apparently didn’t look old enough to pass as someone of the legal drinking age in this province.

But don’t worry folks – all was not lost. My little brother dropped by later to buy the necessary mimosa ingredients. That’s correct – my little brother bought me Christmas cheer because apparently I’m not old enough to buy my own.

It was a weird but wonderful Christmas miracle.

Merry Christmas everyone.


1 @thedangillis

2 Read 3.

White Whine Anyone?

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaah

Several weeks ago I was chatting with someone about my lack of travel this year. To put this into proper perspective you’ll have to understand that this observation had followed multiple months of 100+ hours of work per week. That is, I made the observation at a point in time where my body, mind, and soul were beyond exhausted. In other words, I was in a heightened state of stupidity, suffering from extreme lack of awareness, and dealing with a giant case of woe-is-me-itis.

After I made the bold proclamation that I haven’t really travelled that much this year, my friend looked at me as if I were on some sort of Rob Ford bender. How could I make such a claim knowing full well that the facts of the case would clearly destroy it?

It was at this point that I felt obliged to justify my statement.

It’s true. I haven’t really travelled that much this year. Ugh. 

The ugh was delivered with probably more drama than warranted. It was at this point that I started listing where my travels had taken me, fully confident that my statement would easily be verified. Inside I felt a pre-victory party brewing, because by the end of my list I knew that I would stand point-proven and triumphant.

True story. In January I was in Florida for the Goofy Race.

February I was in New York, because, well, New York.

In March I headed to Vegas for my friends’ wedding.

It was at this point that I realized how much of an ass I sounded. Three major trips in three months. And somehow I had forgotten them. They seemed a lifetime ago.

Early in the summer I was in Newfoundland for a conference.

I trailed off. How, I thought, could I have travelled this much and still not feel like I’ve travelled at all this year. Seriously – could I be any more spoiled? I stood there smirking awkwardly because inside I realized how much of a whiney little shit I sounded.

Truth be told I’ve travelled a lot this year. My trips to Florida, New York, Nevada, and Newfoundland & Labrador were followed by trips to Ottawa, Calgary, and New York City. I’ve also been fortunate to travel for work – giving talks at Western University, and in Toronto. In essence, the year has been filled with adventures wrapped in shenanigans and deep fried in awesomeness.

And yet somehow I had forgotten.

Talk about feeling like a giant ungrateful ass.

Fortunately this is the time of year when I often look back at the things I’ve accomplished to make sure I don’t take where I’ve been and where I am for granted. I’m a lucky SOB because I am able to travel like I do, and even though I always want to travel more, I’m very grateful for this crazy life I have. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and it’s irresponsible for me to take that for granted.

Here’s hoping that I don’t soon forget this.

68 Days Later

Wow. Have I ever been slacking. It has been 68 days since I last wrote anything on this blog.

Sixty-eight days.

That dear friends is what I like to call pathetic.

Fortunately I’ve been keeping myself busy. According to some1 probably too busy. All I know is that I’ve been busy enough that writing here has fallen by the wayside. Whether that’s too busy or not remains to be seen. What I do know is that I need to get back to writing for several reasons.

First, I forget everything. Writing it down here is my way of keeping track of all of the crazy-stupid things I do. And I do a lot of crazy-stupid things.

Second, writing keeps me focused on my goals; it keeps me in check and on track. While I’m always working on my Not-So-Bucket-List list, I’ve done a really poor job of actually checking in.

Third, did I mention I forget stuff?

Fourth, it helps keep me balanced. It forces me to take some time out of my otherwise busy day so that I can stop, reflect, unwind, and just breathe. Given how busy the last four to six months have been, I really should have been writing more.

As such I’m going to do my best to start writing on a regular basis again. The good thing is that I have a slew of things to write about – especially given all of the amazing things that have happened in the last 68 days. But I don’t want to give away all of the secrets yet, so you’ll just have to check in again to find out more.


1 Where some equals my mom, and several friends.

Shenanigans Are Nigh

Rick and me near Sentinel Pass
Rick and me near Sentinel Pass, during the Big Mountain Challenge (Sept. 2nd, 2012)

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly the time for shenanigans, but shenanigans are nigh – so very, very nigh.

For those not in the know, I’m about to take a real vacation. What do I mean by real vacation? Only that I’m about to board a plane (requisite number 1), travel afar (requisite number 2), and do something crazy (requisite number 3) with someone almost as crazy as me (requisite number 4).

In this particular case, I’ll be boarding my flight to Calgary on Wednesday eve. You can rest assured knowing that my flight will more than likely include a scotch or two – because, well, VACATION!

On the other end of my flight will be fellow partner in adventuring shenaniganery, Mr. Rick. You may remember Rick from last year’s Big Mountain Challenge. You may also remember that last year’s Big Mountain Challenge happened at approximately this time last year – which makes this trip our Big Mountain Challenge-versary. While having a “versary” isn’t a requisite for any of my travels, it does up the awesomeness that is this trip.

What crazy things are we going to be doing? Well, in true “versary” style, we shall be celebrating the Big Mountain Challenge-versary by climbing several mountains. This may or may not include (but most likely will include) jump shots, yoga, high-fives, and seemingly death-defying photos that aren’t really in any way death-defying. Okay, maybe the death-defying photos involve things that most people would find crazy and such, but never fear – Rick is the voice of reason and has the power of veto should any of my ideas push the envelope of good taste or safety. Actually, he’s only ever vetoed things that push the safety envelope, because let’s face it, good taste is not really in our vocabulary. Ha!

So far I’m only aware of two adventures that we’ll be doing. The first – retake Mount Yamnuska. Apparently the first time Rick and I did this, we actually didn’t hit the peak. Clearly this is a mark on my otherwise spotless (Ha!) record, and it must be rectified. The second – conquer Mount Bourgeau.

I can’t freaking wait.

Of course, I still have a bunch of work to do before all of this happens. Which means I need to focus. Easier said than done. My brain is full of outdoors-y thoughts, mountains, fresh air, adventures, shenanigans, laughing, chatting and spending time with someone I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with.

Sigh. Only 52 more hours until my flight leaves. But who’s counting?

The Year That Was

I assume you’re humming the theme of Jaws right now.

I stumbled on this website last night (whathappenedinmybirthyear.com) and I thought it was rather cool (assuming you, of course, are interested in random trivia). The gist – provide the website with the year you were born and it will provide you a string of information related to things that happened that year – news, movies, books, music, etc.

For example, assuming you were born in 1975 – which, in my completely unbiased opinion is a rather spectacular year, and I’m not just saying that because I may or may not have been born in said year – you’d learn the following (which is only a partial and slightly modified extract from the full website text):

In 1975, the world was a different place. There was no Google yet. Or Yahoo. 

The top selling movie was Jaws. 

The academy award for the best movie went to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The top actor was Jack Nicholson. The top actress was Louise Fletcher. 

The number one US bestseller of the time was Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow. 

Altair 8800 is released, sparking the era of the microcomputer.

The United Nations proclaims International Women’s Day.

Bobby Fischer refuses to play in a chess match against Anatoly Karpov, giving Karpov the title.

The Suez Canal opens for the first time since the Six-Day War.

NBC airs the first episode of Saturday Night Live, with George Carlin as the first host.

The wreck of the HMHS Britannic is found in the Kea Channel by Jacques Cousteau.

Victoria, Australia, abolishes capital punishment.

The video game of the day was Pong.

Anyway, check it out. It’s kind of cool in a completely nerdy kind of way.

So This Is 38

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

Thirty-eight.

Three Eight.

Three.

Eight.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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