Cleaning House – Nerd Style

Being the a place for everything and everything in its place kind of man who I am, I have taken on the task of revamping my Not-So-Bucket-List list. I did this mainly because I was getting tired of searching for things in the ever-growing list. I also didn’t like the aesthetics of such a massive list where some items were crossed off, and some were not.

I like clean lists.

I like organization.

My Not-So-Bucket-List had neither of those characteristics.

To deal with these issues I decided to take action. I poured myself a large cup of coffee, grabbed a snack, put on some writing tunes, and set myself to task – clean up, clear out, organize, overhaul, and improve my existing Not-So-Bucket-List list. And that dear readers is why I present to you my New And Improved Not So Bucket List list. You can find it up there in the menu bar labelled NAI-NSBL. The NAI stands for New And Improved.

But what’s so new and improved about it? you’re probably wondering.

Well, first off the list is now categorized. You’ll be able to find items classified under one of the following categories: Academic, Adventure, Culinary, Culture, Exercise, Finances, House, Other, Reading, and Travel. Second, the categories are also alphabetized1. Crazy, right?

To avoid the New Coke vs. Old Coke type of mass hysteria the old list will live on here, but it will no longer be updated. Further, in order to keep things spic-and-span, I’ll be moving all of the things I manage to do to another list known as my Not So Bucket List Been There Done That (NSBL-BTDT). In this way, I’ll be able to easily figure out month-over-month and year-over-year statistics. Yes, I am that nerdy.

For those with a keen eye, you’ll also noticed that some of the incomplete items on the original list have not made it onto the new list. Some have been removed because I was advised by my good friend and chiropractor Dr. Mark that they were really bad for my back2, while others were removed because the danger factor was deemed to be far too high3. I’m sure my mom will be relieved to read that.

As always, if you have any crazy ideas of items I should add to my list please pass them along. I’m always open to new and crazy adventures.

1 Because 4 out of 5 Scienticians suggest that alphabetized categories are about 315% better than non-alphabetized lists.

2 I’m specifically referring to all of the sit-up challenges I had on my list.

3 Base-jumping, how I wish you weren’t so deadly. And honestly, the only reason this is really off my list is that the time commitment required to get to the point where I could base-jump is far outside of the time I’d actually have available to do it. I think. I may re-evaluate this at a later date.

Tip Of The Day: Wednesday Is Not Friday

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.

A Picture Of Grace And Charm

This week is going to be one of those weeks. You know, the kind of week where you have about eleventy-billion major projects to complete, but only about enough time to finish 3 of them; a week where sleep will be a rare event, coffee will be consumed – if only it were possible – intravenously and continuously, gut-rot will become a close and personal friend, and nerves will most definitely be frayed.

Clearly I’m going to be the picture of grace and charm by the end of the week. Wait. That’s not right. I’m more likely going to be a large steaming pile of frustration coated in the delightful stink of exhaustion.

While a part of me wants to throw in the proverbial towel, call in sick, build a protective fort made of pillows and blankets, and never leave my bed again, I know that isn’t a possibility. It’s also what I would call a giant bag of sucking. And that, dear readers, is not who I want to be this week.

Instead, I’ve got to Suck it up Gillis! and just push through. As a very wise fish once taught me, I’ve got to Just Keep Swimming! Just Keep Swimming! It sounds simple and perhaps cheesy, but it’s true. I have to tackle one little thing at a time; knocking one task after the other off my list. Eventually, somehow, the things that must be finished will be finished. Everything else will be reassigned to a should do, could do, or won’t do pile. And I’ll just have to be okay with that.

Of course, if that fails I can always fall back on my fort of pillows and blankets plan. I probably should have mentioned previously that the fort of pillows and blankets plan also requires a bottle of scotch. ;)

Better Than Grass Stained Knees

Wow, today was packed!

My morning started bright and early so that I could prep for a meeting with several colleagues to discuss and plan for the upcoming fall semester1. This was followed by a meeting with my undergraduate research assistant Stephen to review a needs assessment report that he has drafted2. And because I love meetings3, I followed my meeting with Stephen with – you guessed it – another meeting. This time with a Masters student who was looking for some statistical advice.

Before I knew it lunch had arrived. Normally lunch means I get to stuff my gullet with foodstuffs, but today it meant another meeting of sorts. This time the meeting-slash-man-date was with my friend Danny Williamson (also known as @dcwllms on The Twitter). We had two goals; eat lunch, and discuss our game plan for yet another meeting that was occurring immediately following lunch. The meeting to follow lunch was related to a project that Danny and I been trying to get off the ground for several months. And I have to say that it was my favourite meeting of the day. We both left it absolutely pumped and ready to take on the world4.

By the time I finally returned to my office to get some work done, I realized just how tired I was from all of the meetings. I opted to do a little reading until my next big adventure for the day.

That particular adventure was the College of Physical and Engineering Science‘s summer convocation. Today marked the first day that I attended a convocation where I was not getting a degree, although I was dressed up as if I were5. The difference this time – I was standing as faculty watching as hundreds of students were given their degrees in the various disciplines of science and engineering.

To say that this was the icing on the cake-that-was-today would be an understatement. It felt surreal, and amazing, and awesome, and inspiring, and so much more. It reminded me of the day I was hooded after the successful defence of my PhD dissertation – how proud I was of my accomplishment, but also how grateful I felt to all those who supported me throughout it. I can only assume that the students that were granted their degrees today were feeling the same sense of overwhelming awesome – as if their hearts might burst from all the happiness. It really was an amazing reminder of the journey that took me from where I was to where I am now. And that was pretty spectacular.

Of course, every iced caked needs cherries or sprinkles or some other most excellent garnish. For me, that was getting to see one of my former students – Vivek – graduate. He was (and still is) an excellent student, and I’m so proud of him. After the ceremony, I was honoured to be able to meet his family and spend some time chatting with them. To see how obviously proud they were of him was fantastic. His mom and his sister were absolutely beaming.

Afterwards I returned to my office to pack up and head home for the day. As I walked back, I realized there was a bounce in my step that wasn’t there earlier. While I could blame the bounce on the weather (which was absolutely perfect), I know that wouldn’t be accurate. Truthfully, the bounce in my step was due to the realization that I really do have an effect on the lives of the students I teach. At once this was overwhelming, and rewarding, and scary, and amazing, and everything.

As I opened my office door I smiled. I have the best job ever.

1 Among other things.

I’m very happy with what he’s done so far, so am very much looking forward to the final product.

Pfffffffft.

I’m not going to get into the details of that particular project at the moment because we’re both still processing everything that happened today, but I will give you a hint: it’s going to be awesome! W00t!

Which means I was in the bright blue University of Guelph doctoral robes, and I had my hood on as well. For those not in the know, the hood is not actually a hood – it’s the sash-thingy that is hung around your neck. Truth be told, I’m not even sure if the sash-thingy is called a hood or not – but the act of putting it around a graduate’s neck is called hooding so I figured calling it a hood makes some sort of sense.

Furniture For My Face

Almost a week ago I put forth a question to you, my dear readers, to garner your opinions on new peeper improvers (read glasses). The verdict – 33% of you decided that I should go with peeper improver number 4.

Flash forward to a few days ago. At that point in time you would have found me back in the store-o-eyeglasses so that I could pick up my recently re-lensed sunglasses. While I was waiting for the last-minute touch ups to said sunglasses, I perused the store and located at least 4 of the original 5 pairs that I presented in my poll for new peeper improvers.

I tried each of them on again. And then again. And then again, again. I ruled out pair number 1 as they were clearly too large for my face. Don’t misread – I really did like them – but they were big and thus uber nerdy, and let’s be honest here, I’m already nerdy enough. That is, I don’t need the added help1.

I then toyed with the remaining three pairs. It wasn’t an easy decision. Ultimately though, 2 had to be thrown aside. And that I did. The lesser glasses were discarded, left behind in the wake of the clear winner.

Personally, I feel that the winning pair are nerdy, wrapped in sophisticated professionalism, deep-fried in professorly, and coated in sexy-beast. Basically everything that anyone would ever want in a pair of glasses.

But how do they compare to my old glasses? Good question. While the shape is similar, they differ in colour (my old pair were brown, while the new pair are black – the pictures don’t really capture this), and the arms are different.

Subtle? Yes.

Different? Absolutely.

Nerdastic? Without a doubt.

Whatever the description, all I know is that I love my new glasses.

1 It’s similar to when I order a coffee and I’m asked if I want sugar. Of course not, I reply, I’m already sweet enough2. Ha!

2 Okay, maybe sweet isn’t the term I’d use to describe myself.

Fridays With Elliot

Well it’s Friday. Again. It seems that the weeks are just flying by. I put the blame squarely on the two courses that I’m teaching. But this isn’t a bad thing. Not even slightly. In fact, I think time is flying because I’m having so much fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also exhausted. But it’s the good kind of exhaustion. The kind where you know you’ve just finished something really rewarding and now deserve the sleep of kings. Or perhaps some chocolate (thanks – don’t mind if I do).

Sadly, my reward is going to be short-lived. I have a lot of big projects coming up in the next few weeks. Several papers to edit. Several papers to finalize and submit for review and hopefully publication. Several papers to begin writing. A couple of grants to write. Assignments to mark. Assignments to create. Midterms to grade. Scholarship applications to review. An Undergraduate Research Assistant to hire (which means undergraduates to interview). A presentation to prepare. Meetings to attend. Too many meetings to attend. And then develop and teach three 8 hour days of statistical training for the Public Health Agency.

Beyond this, I’m stoked to write that I’ll be an examining member on my very first and second official Ph.D. qualifying exams. This means I have two separate proposals to review and evaluate, not to mention two separate students to question and hopefully form some opinion as to whether or not they are adequately prepared for the rigours of Ph.D. candidacy. I’m nervous and excited about this process. Probably not as nervous as the students, but I’m still pretty nervous.

Clearly these are going to be a challenging few weeks, but I know I’ll get through them. Of course I’ll get through them. To manage the stress that I’m sure might pop up from juggling all of this, I’m going to be trying to stick to my marathon training schedule as much as I can (translation – I’m going to be upping my mileage whoring). And I also have yoga to remind me to breathe. And as always there is Elliot, who is at this very moment pawing at my belly and reminding me that I should probably get off the computer and go to bed.

Such a smart kitty.

I’ll Take Quotable Quotes For 1000 Please Alex

The other day whilst perusing the interwebs, I stumbled on several quotes and inspirational bric-a-brac that I quite liked. Some of it cheesy, some of it funny, some of it not-so-much. There were also quotes which once read I felt the need to conquer a small country, or take on a task of almost insurmountable challenge.

Point is, these quotes moved me in some way.

With this in mind, I decided that I really needed a place to house the quotes so that I could refer back to them whenever I needed a large dose of Awesome with a side of Kick-Ass. I figured my blog was as good a place as any to store them. In fact, it’s probably the best place as I tend to lose things if I write them down; worse still if I try to set them to memory and later attempt to recall them. My grey matter doesn’t appear to retain things like that anymore. I’d like to believe this is due to the fact that my grey matter is filled with equations and statistics and mathematical tchotchke. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m getting older.

Anyway, I’ve added a new menu to the blog. You’ll see it up there called Words. It will contain quotes of all sorts; some that make me laugh, some that make me think, some that inspire me to live each day as if it were my last, and some to remind me that I need to stop and smell the roses. Others are those that motivate me to train for a marathon on days where I’d much rather curl up in a ball with a blanket, a book, and a large bowl of scotch. Yes, I wrote bowl. Stop judging me.

I hope you’ll enjoy some of the quotes that I’ve listed. And if you have any that you find particularly awesome, please feel free to share.

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Expanding My Stats-dom

Almost a year ago – March 10, 2011 to be exact – I wrote about my new office in the Alexander building at the University of Guelph (see here). Since then, I have spent many hours in said office working on papers, thinking mathematical and statistical thoughts, writing code, drafting reports, building presentations, writing manuscripts, conversing with students, created course related materials, marking papers, and various other academically related pursuits.

Note: those other pursuits may or may not have included such high-brow activities as eating, drinking coffee, snacking, drinking tea, enjoying chocolate, stretching, reading, trying not to fall asleep while reading, and falling asleep while reading, to name a few.

The office was and continues to be great (despite a few issues with the heat). It’s cozy. It gives me a place to step away from the buzz of the university to focus. It’s large enough to adequately and comfortably meet and tutor students. And, it is the cornerstone of the new Population Level Risk Assessment Research Centre that I’m trying to create/head. Sounds fancy, no? Additionally, the office includes a pod of 4 other offices and a lab that I am beginning to populate with smarty-pants students (from the departments of Integrative Biology, and Mathematics & Statistics, and from the School of Computer Science) who will do research related to population level risk assessment. I can’t wait to see what trouble we get ourselves into – academically speaking of course.

But, despite how good the office is, it is in a different building from the School of Computer Science. The same School that I am a part of. What this means is that I rarely ever see my colleagues except at meetings or in a more structured environment. I don’t have the ability to just stroll down the hall to say hi to any of my colleagues or the administrative assistants (who are all fantastic), nor can I pop in to see the Director if I have a brilliant idea (ok – stop laughing – I do have them from time to time). Collecting mail is also a chore as my mailbox is housed within the School of Computer Science. As such, when an office in the Reynolds building opened up – the Reynolds building being the place where the School of Computer Science can be found – I jumped at the opportunity to move.

Hmm, perhaps I should clarify. You see, it’s not so much a move as it is an expansion. I’m not giving up my office in the Alexander building; that is going to be my office for taking care of administration associated with the Population Level Risk Assessment Research Centre, and it will be where I spend most of my time with students; in-course, research assistants, and graduate. But I’m also going to have my office in Reynolds. That is where I will do a lot of my research, course prep, programming, and reading. It will also allow me to better integrate myself into the School of Computer Science, and get to know my colleagues that much better. And, it will probably be where I do my office yoga as there is a lot more room to get my bend on.

Seriously – how spoiled am I that I get not just one, but two shiny offices? I’m going to pretend that the second office is a gift for my 1 year job-iversary. And to top it all off, my gift comes with an awesomely awesome arched window. So to recap: two offices, one with a pod of four other offices and a lab, the other with an arched window.

As I wrote yesterday, I am one lucky S.O.B.

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The Year That Was

A few weeks ago I wrote an update about my Not-So-Bucket-List list. Specifically, I decided to summarize the activities that I have managed to cross off since the list began, especially given that the original list of 101 things in 1001 days is set to expire in May of 2012.

Being the nerd that I am, my list never started with 101 items, and it continues to grow as I continue to think up or discover new and crazy adventures. As of right now, it is 243 items long.

Anyway, given that it’s essentially the end of 2011 I thought I’d take a quick moment to figure out which activities on my list I’ve actually managed to cross off this year. It’s a bit of a year-in-review, but focussing on specific goals rather than all of the things that I’ve done this year.

I present the list in order in which the items were completed, because, well, why not?

Of all the items on my Not-So-Bucket-List list, I’ve managed to cross off 42 of them in 2011. That’s roughly 17% of all the items that are currently on the list, or an average of 3.5 items a month. Sweet. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. Being that I’m always up for a challenge, maybe I should add Cross off more than 42 items from my Not-So-Bucket-List list in 2012.

The year clearly started off with a bang – what with 9 Not-So-Bucket-List items being crossed off. I should note that August and September were clearly a write-off what with the hernia surgery. Too bad. Thankfully I managed to at least get a couple of articles submitted for publication in that time. Plus my NSERC grant application. Other than that, I was clearly very lazy.

Anyway, here’s to an adventure filled 2012.

January

1. Find a full-time faculty position - 01/01/11. [Just Call Me Ass Prof For Short]
2. Watch Battlestar Galactica Season 1, 04/01/11.
3. Travel with Rick, 14/01/11. [Somewhere, Out There, A Fat Lady Is Singing.  Damn.]
4. Hike a lava field again, 16/01/11. [Somewhere, Out There, A Fat Lady Is Singing.  Damn.]
5. Climb an active volcano, 16/01/11. [Somewhere, Out There, A Fat Lady Is Singing.  Damn.]
6. Start a blog, 20/01/11. [Consumed By Wanderlust]
7. Helicopter ride, 21/01/11. [Somewhere, Out There, A Fat Lady Is Singing.  Damn.]
8. Scuba or snorkel, 24/01/11. [Mmmm, Hot Koko]
9. Skydive, 28/01/11. [Adrenaline Smells Like Awesome]
February
1. Pay off ~$15000 of my debt excluding mortgage, 22/02/11. [Adventures In Financial Planning] March 1. See a ballet with Steph, 05/03/11. [Getting My Culture On] 2. Complete 4 consecutive sets of 8 chin ups, 12/03/11. 3. See Sarah McLachlan in concert again, 17/03/11. [The Answer Is: Who Are Viggo Mortensen, Cate Blanchett, And Jodie Foster?] April 1. CN Tower Climb again, 14/04/11. [And The Verdict Is] 2. Travel to Calgary to Visit Rick again, 20/04/11. 3. Travel with Rick again, 22/04/11. [Calgary Adventure: Day 1-234, and 5] 4. Travel to British Columbia, 22/04/11. [Calgary Adventure: Day 3Dan Has Left The Building] 5. Go snowshoeing, 23/04/11. 6. Have a brandy tasting night, 29/04/11. May 1. Buy a new road bike., 21/05/11. 2. Run a marathon, 29/05/11. [This Makes It Official] June 1. Travel to Nova Scotia, 12/06/11. [Let The Nerdfest Begin: An Update From Acadia] July 1. Bike 60K, 1/07/11. [RunKeep Activity Log 123 & Tweet] 2. Bike 10km in under 20 minutes, 9/07/11. [Runkeeper Activity Log - km 7 to 16] 3. Bike 20km in under 40 minutes, 9/07/11. [Runkeeper Activity Log - km 7 to 26] 4. Run 5K in under 22 minutes, 11/07/11. [Doing A Happy DanceRunKeeper Activity Log] 5. Publish 3 articles in 1 year, 20/07/11. [Down Goes Number 3] 6. Run 5km in under 21 minutes, 19/07/11. [Runkeeper Activity Log] 7. Travel to Chicago to visit Ben again, 29/07/11. [Chicago - My Kind Of TownAttack of the 26 Foot Woman] 8. Buy a new camera, 30/07/11. [How To Break Even With 39 And 60] August & September • As I was recovering from hernia surgery, I guess I didn’t really do anything these months. I’ll have to make up for that in 2012. October 1. Travel to Vancouver to visit Beth again, 19/10/11. [Dear Victoria, The Doctors Are In You] 2. Travel with Rick again, again, 24/10/11. [It's A Dark Wet Hole. It Must Be Fun.] 3. Go Caving, 24/10/11. [It's A Dark Wet Hole. It Must Be Fun.] November 1. Try 30 new wines, 08/11/11. [Wines] 2. Save$500 in change, 09/11/11. [How To Break Even With 39 And 60]
3. Learn to make dairy free banana bread, 9/11/11. [Awesome Smells Like Banana Bread]

KenKen is FunFun

Following my surgery a few weeks ago, my friends Gerarda and Alan dropped by with a most excellent ‘get well soon’ gift. The gift included a hilarious card, a trashy tabloid, and the book that I’m holding in the picture to the left. That book is a book of KenKen puzzles.

What the hell is KenKen?

Think Sudoku, but better.

Like Sudoku, KenKen starts with a grid of numbers. Within this book, there are grids that are 4×4, 5×5, and 6×6, but other sizes exist.

The rules are simple; fill in the digits 1 through $n$ where $n$ is the length of one dimension of the grid (i.e., the grid is $n\times n$) in each row AND each column. The catch, you must do so while satisfying the hints that are provided in the squares, and each row and column can contain each digit only once. As you can see below, the grid is divided into several sections. One of the squares within each region will have a clue. The clue will give you the result of a mathematical formula, and the operation that is to be used ($+, -, \times, \div$)

For example, in the 6×6 grid to the right, we have 3 squares in the upper left corner that must multiply to 80 (80x). Since this is a 6×6 grid, we can only use the digits 1 through 6. I begin by trying to figure out what can’t work. Since 80 is not divided evenly by 3 or 6, I can ignore these numbers. That means I could use 1, 2, 4, and 5. If I opt to use 1, that means the other 2 digits must multiply to 80. But, we don’t have digits large enough to get to 80 with only 2 of them. Note that the largest digit available (that being a 5) when multiplied by itself, only brings us to 25. So 1 can’t be used here either. We are left with 2, 4, and 5. Clearly, I can’t use 2 either or the remaining two digits would have to multiply to 40, and as we just determined, we can’t get to that value with the digits we have available. Hence, we need to double up one of the numbers. In this case, we can use 4, 4, and 5.

Since we have the rule that each row and column must contain the digits 1 through 6 only once, we would necessarily have to separate the 4s, as illustrated in the picture. And from this, we continue to fill in each of the rows and columns using the information provided.

Cool stuff!

Anyway, these are very addictive and I’ve been playing them almost daily since Gerarda and Alan dropped off the book. So, a huge thank you to Gerarda and Alan for this. It has made the recovery process so much more tolerable.

For those that want to give it a try, check out the KenKen website. It goes up to the challenging 9×9 grid.

I’m So Happy I Could Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth

I woke up this morning with only one thing on my mind (okay, maybe a few things on my mind, but those thoughts were a combination of mathematics, statistics, and other things that probably aren’t safe for public consumption).  And what was this thought that was bouncing through my head at 6:30 on a Saturday morning?  Only that I needed, required, had-to-buy, the new book by The Oatmeal called 5 Very Good Reasons To Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth (And Other Useful Guides). Since I have just returned from the Stone Road Mall, you can rest assured that the book is sitting next to me as I write this blog post1.  I can smell the newness of the book from here; all inky and fresh.  I’m stoked to start reading it, so am going to try to make this post short and sweet.

For those of you that have been going about your life blissfully unaware of The Oatmeal, let me introduce you.  The Oatmeal; meet my blissfully unaware readers.  Blissfully unaware readers; meet The Oatmeal.  If you’ve already been introduced, then you know what I’m talking about when I tell you that he is one of the funniest people to have ever graced this earth.  His work is hilarious, probably offensive to some, and just the type of punch-a-dolphin-in-the-mouth type of humour that I love.

To give you a better example, I reproduce for your reading pleasure the last 2 paragraphs of the introduction to the book:

“This book contains gorillas, prostitution, poop jokes, small quantities of chainsaws, large quantities of man nipples, and one drug-addicted dinosaur.  Its purpose is to entertain, inform, and offend.

I hope you like it.  If not, I hope a large meteor finds its way across the universe and smashes directly into your crotch while you sleep.”

Several of my all time favourite comics have been included in the book, and these I fully plan to purchase as posters to put up in my office at the University.  For example, the following comics are pure gold and educational.  I must have them.

Truth be told, I feel compelled to provide these very useful guides to my students as most could use the lesson in grammar, spelling, and the like.  Note: I haven’t shared them as of yet; I need to determine which of presumably many politically correct policies I might be violating by doing so.  Regardless, it is appalling on a level that I can’t even begin to describe that the current crop of students present work with abysmal spelling, no punctuation, made-up words, and grammar that would make any literati spiral into a rage so intense, it might best be described as a red-hot-banshee-screaming-dolphin-punching-anger-burst.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not by any means the best writer, I create words for my blog posts, and my grammar is often less than stellar.  However, the difference is that I actually care about these things.  I try my best to present work that is grammatically correct, and I definitely try to present as few spelling errors as possible.  As for made-up words, I use them only in my blog.  I would never enter them into my professional lexicon.  Of course, the odd typo slips by2, even for my students.  Typos I can look past.  But there are so many other problems that I can’t.  I provide a few examples below, with commentary of course:

• so im… [Clearly they meant to write I'm. Sadly, this was not a typo as they continued to write im throughout the 4 paragraph email.  Perhaps they thought that this was endearing or cute?]
• i no i… [In this case, they wrote the word no instead of the word know.  Again, multiple copies of this mistake make me sad in my Spelling-zone]
• anyway were talking about…, were looking for… [Dear students, please learn the differences between and appropriate uses of the words where, were, and we're. While you are doing that, perhaps also review the words ware, and wear]
• the process to see if there real or not… [Dear students, please also learn the differences between and appropriate uses of the words there, they're, and their]

Note that all of these excerpts can be found in various emails that I have received from 2nd year and higher university students.  I present only a small portion of the emails to protect privacy.

Anyway, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy reading 5 Very Good Reasons To Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth (And Other Useful Guides).  I fully expect to laugh until I cry, or at least until the Dolphins seek retaliation for all the mouth-punching.

1 I also purchased Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen written by Christopher McDougall. I’m pretty stoked to read this one as well, but clearly for different reasons.

Other purchases included:

• brand spanking new size 29 jeans (as my old size 32 were rather large and very much falling apart)
• brand spanking new extra-small dress shirts (as I’ve recently purged the large and mediums from my wardrobe, leaving me with about 6 small or extra small shirts)
• a brand spanking new belt (but it came free with the jeans)
• a brand spanking new pair of socks (purchased to get my order over $100 in order to get a 20% discount). Socks =$5, 20% discount = $22, net savings =$17 plus a new pair of socks.
• brand spanking new neon coloured underwear.  Because who doesn’t want to gird their loins with neon coloured underwear?

2 For example, when I first published this page it was published under the name I’m So Happy I Could Punch A Dolpin In The Mouth.  Do you see the typo? I didn’t, at least not immediately.  But thankfully I reviewed my work and noticed that Dolpin is not the correct spelling of the word Dolphin. Spelling fail, edit win.

A Wintry Junk Punch Triggers A List

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Ottawa for a presentation with several Public Health Agency of Canada big-Whigs.  And as I mentioned, the presentation was a grand success1.

On our flight back to the Toronto area, Victoria and I were shocked by the sudden return of winter.  Ottawa, while chilly, did not get the snow that Toronto and area received.  The weather forced us to circle the airport for about 45 minutes prior to landing.  There was zero visibility.  Well, I could see something, but all that I could see was white.  To be perfectly honest, I just assumed we were still in the clouds.  And then as if out of nowhere, the ground appeared.  It honestly scared the shit out of me.  My first thought was “Holy shit, that’s the ground!  Is the pilot aware of this?”  My mind raced with visions of a fiery wreckage as we slammed into the ground.  Thankfully, and obviously, that was not to be my fate.  We landed ever so gently and safely and made our way to Terminal 1.

Anyway, as everyone in the Greater Toronto Area is aware winter decided to junk-punch us once again.  It might be spring, but Old-man Winter is still in charge, and not going out without a fight.  The drive home was long and brutal.  I really have to give credit to Victoria for not losing it, as I would have wanted to punch a baby seal given the lunacy of other drivers, and the terrible conditions of the roads.

We kept ourselves entertained on the 2.5-3.0hr drive home by listening to the radio, chatting, and commenting on drivers, vanity license plates, and plates that looked like they could be of the vanity variety, but were likely not.  For example, one such plate read

BDAN 392,

which I remember because $3^{2}=9$, and because who doesn’t want to B Dan? HA!  Clearly this could be a vanity license plate for myself, given my love of math and such.

During our very slow crawl home, some radio personality on the CBC (I forget who) queried the listeners regarding their favourite book.  This got me thinking; what is my favourite book?  Victoria and I discussed this and I realized that I don’t think I can pick one particular book above all others.  I have favourite math-y books, stat-y books, brain candy books, kids books, etc.  There are just so many epic books out there that have influenced me in some way that I can’t hold one above all others as the book to rule all books.

However, I can offer the following list of my favourite books.

1. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb.  This book is incredibly beautiful.  I was absolutely devastated when the book ended.  Not because it has a devastating ending, but because it had to end.
2. She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb.  Heartbreaking.  Uplifting.  Everything.
3. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.  I’ve read this book several times and every time I get something new out of it.  Dark, beautiful, challenging.
4. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Some people find this book rather dry, but I absolutely loved it, and still love it on every read.
5. Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  A short story, but once read was immediately added to my list of favourites.
6. A Widow For One Year, by John Irving.
7. A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey.  I didn’t care about the controversy surrounding this book.  It was breathless and frantic, difficult to read at times, and completely in my face.  I loved it.
8. The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes.  An epic poem, beautifully interpreted by Loreena McKennitt.
9. Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss.  This book just makes me happy, and optimistic.  I love to read this whenever I feel not-so-awesome.
10. Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney.  This book is sweet, and beautiful, and a great gift for anyone with kids.  Little Nutbrown Hare is so freaking cute.
11. Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch.  Another great gift for anyone with children.
12. The Lord Of the Rings Trilogy (and The Hobbit), J.R.R. Tolkien.  Dragons, ogres, elves; what’s not to love?
13. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling.  Magic, wizards, witches, adventure.  Awesome does not begin to describe this series.
14. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.  My first love.  Seriously.

The last book on the list, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, I’ve previously discussed in detail on Dr. Beth’s blog (as a guest-blogger).  Check it out and you’ll know why I think this book is so incredible, and what it really means to me.  As a follow-up to reading that, let me add that I was not disappointed by the movie.  I loved, loved, loved the movie, and I was instantly 7 years old again.

The other books listed above, for one reason or another, spoke to me at the time I read them.  They offered something that I clearly needed to know, or questioned my world view.  In some cases, they provided me an outlet, a voice, or an escape.  Regardless, they are and always will be special to me.  And while I’m sure there are other books that I should probably add to this list, these are the ones that immediately come to mind.  You may not agree with my list, but that’s okay, because this is my list.

Anyway, I leave you with this question: what are your favourite books, and why?

1 Clearly, that’s my opinion.  I have no idea what the big-Whigs really thought, but I’m sure they thought we were awesome; it is the natural reaction.

Who Thinks Poo Is Funny?

Given that I’ve been writing a lot of nerdy type posts recently, I decided early today to write about something a little less nerdy.  Of course, what that would be eluded me.  Scanning through the list of 30 post ideas that I’ve jotted down over the past several weeks provided zero inspiration.  Not that the 30 ideas aren’t stellar.  It’s just that most of the 30 ideas have a mathematical or statistical slant (shocking I know), or represent ideas that I’m still tossing around in the back of my mind.  And of course, some of the 30 ideas actually will probably never see the light of blogging-day, as they really aren’t stellar in any way shape or form.  To be honest, they suck.

Anyway, I was beginning to think I’d have nothing to write about, when I received a text from my sister-in-law Becky.  The text requested that I only purchase nice books from now on, because my nieces only wanted to read the Christmas poop book I had bought them.  My favourite part – that they refer to their gift as the Christmas poop book.  Brilliant!  My nieces rock.

Now, for those not in-the-know, the Christmas poop book of which my sister-in-law writes is The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business (pictured above).  The book is awesome, and became an instant favourite of mine when a friend introduced me to it.

The back cover of the book says it all:

Packed full of poos that plop, drop, splish, splosh and pop off the page!

How could a kid not get a kick out of that?  How could anyone not laugh at this book?  Even better than this back cover description is the synopsis of the story:

A terrible catastrophe befalls the little mole one bright, sunny morning.  It looks like a sausage, and the worst thing is that it lands right on his head.

Our plucky little hero sets out to find who has left their business on his head.  His highly entertaining and informative search reveals an important but often neglected side of life.

Seriously brilliant!  The book comes packed to the brim with illustrations of different types of poo.  Take for example the picture of rabbit poo:

What makes the book that I got my nieces even more awesome and epic, is that their version is the Plop-up edition! What exactly is a plop-up book?  None other than a pop-up book-o-poo.  For your viewing pleasure, I offer you this quick video that demonstrates what I mean:

Now, I won’t give away the ending – finding out who dropped a deuce on the Mole is half the fun.  The other half is pulling the various tabs, turning the various wheels, and flipping the various flaps that are part of the plop-up edition to reveal the different types of poo that are typical of the different types of animals described in the book.

While one might consider this book educational on some level, I had to buy it when I was introduced to it because it was just too damn funny.  And I’m absolutely loving the fact that my nieces think the same way.  Clearly we share a common sense of humour.  Clearly we think poo is funny.

Sorry Becky, Uncle Dr. Dan loves that you have to keep reading this :)

In other news, I found this site a few weeks back and was going to give it its own post. However, it seemed fitting to add it here. For some reason or another, someone decided to create an interactive map to illustrate where your dirty business goes after you flush. Think of it as Poo-gle Earth. Of course, it’s only applicable to a few countries (Canada is not one of those countries), but the idea is still hilarious and somewhat interesting on some weird scientific I-need-to-know-everything sort of way.