For those unaware, Pi-Day (March 14th) is the mathiest of math days; unless you also observe Tau-Day (June 28th) – which I do. Since tau is equal to 2 pi, Tau-Day must be equal to 2 Pi-Days, and 2 Pi-Days is better than 1 Pi-Day, so by definition Tau-Day would have to be the mathier of the two. Math!
To celebrate Pi-Day I opted to spend my day enjoying as much pie as I possibly could. This meant that I attempted to have pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m all about healthy choices.
Sadly my breakfast pie was not to be as The Joint Cafe was out of their oh-so-delicious banana coconut cream pie. I settled for a bagel and apple juice – which is about as far from banana coconut cream pie as one can get.
To make up for my breakfast pie failure, I sauntered over to the Woolwich Arrow for lunch-pie. I had learned the night before that they were serving pie from The Williamsford Pie Company. And it was oh so delicious.
To round out my Pi-Day, I enjoyed a delicious peach-raspberry-blueberry pie with friends. I made a point of having just enough pie to be able to say that I ate half a pie on Pi-Day. Why would I eat that much pie? Because half a pie is equivalent to pi radians worth of pie, that’s why.
Pi radians worth of pie on Pi-Day. Yup – I’m just that nerdy.
About two months ago – maybe longer – I learned that I had won a teaching award when one of my colleagues congratulated me out of the blue. At the time I had no idea what they were talking about, so I replied with a puzzled look. It’s then that they realized my confusion. They replied with an awkward laugh, mumbled something about I thought you would have known by now, and then carried on their way without providing any further details. I stood there wondering what had happened.
Up until my last few days on campus in December I still had no idea exactly what my colleague was talking about. I had my suspicions, but since nothing had been formalized and no one else had said anything, I figured it best not to start poking around or asking questions. So I sort of forgot about it.
And then I received my yearly evaluation letter1 which also congratulated me on being awarded a teaching award. The details in my evaluation were light. Specifically, the letter outlined the name of the award and that was it.
Well folks, today was the day that I actually received the award – the inaugural School of Computer Science Faculty Teaching Award to be exact - and I’m still smiling like a giant idiot. I don’t embarrass easily, but today I couldn’t help but feel awkward and humbled when the award was announced. I’m sure I was beet red.
The best part about this award is that it is based on nominations cast by students. In this case I was nominated by students in both of the classes I taught – User Interface Design, and Systems Analysis and Design in Application. Being recognized for my contributions by my peers is one thing, but having students respond in this way means so much to me that I’m not quite sure how to put it into words.
You see, there’s a part of me that always worries that I’m not doing a good enough job teaching2. For the most part, this worry is what drives me to do the best job I can, but there are days when I’m also convinced that I’m causing more harm than good. When I started in the School of Computer Science – having just finished my PhD in Statistics – I was very concerned that my position would be short-lived. How could I possibly teach Computer Science when my training was in Statistics? I sort of assumed that I’d start teaching, screw up in a very dramatic way, and be quietly asked to leave before I could inflict any more damage. Somehow that didn’t happen.
Anyway, I’m still having a hard time believing that all of this has just happened. It’s surreal and wonderful and humbling, and so many amazing things that I can’t even quite describe. All I know is that I’m going to keep trying to do my best, and hope that somehow I don’t screw things up.
I’m also going to enjoy this moment, try to fully internalize the accomplishment, and maybe celebrate with a wee scotch. But I won’t be wiping this stupid grin off my face. I really don’t think I could if I tried.
1 Each year I go through a review process by my peers. There are three major components to the review: research, teaching, and service.
2 I’m convinced it’s part of the Impostor Syndrome that I’ve had since I started my PhD.
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.
So 2014 is nigh. I’ve just finished cleaning up the house, organizing some platters of food, chilling some champagne1, and am about to go shuck some oysters as I await the arrival of some friends who will be ringing in the new year with me. All told, not a bad way to spend the last day of 2013.
Looking back, 2013 has been a crazy amazing year. Despite setbacks with my exercise goals, I’ve had an adventure filled 12 months. Crushing the Goofy Challenge with Mark, wandering New York City twice, learning the true meaning of What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas2, exploring the beauty of Newfoundland and Labrador with Danny, Lee-Jay, and Corey, celebrating the 2nd Annual Big Mountain Challenge with Rick and my brother3, and various other adventures with friends in Ottawa, Toronto, and London; all have reminded me that I am one lucky bastard.
And even though work was as crazy as it was, I have to say that I love my job and had so much fun this year. I was beyond fortunate to work with several amazing students – people who have reminded me again and again that if you give students something real to work on, they can do amazingly awesome things. Their hard work led to Farm-To-Fork.ca, and all of the subsequent and well-deserved attention that it brought. I’ve been spoiled because of their talent, drive, and passion. Because of them, I was invited to speak at several conferences and seminar series. Because of them the Farm To Fork project raised and continues to raise money because so many people understand its importance. Because of them I feel that I have something significant to contribute to the world beyond academic papers. And that dear readers is an amazing feeling.
Beyond all of this, I’ve just been lucky to spend the year with some amazing people. Family and friends who look out for me, take care of me, feed me, and spoil me on a seemingly continuous basis. To all of you, thank you for making this another fantastic year. Thank you for telling me I need to sleep more or eat more or get out more, or that I need to learn to say no. I can’t promise I’ll do any of that in the new year, but it makes me smile to know that you’ll still be worried enough to tell me so.
So raise your glass and toast the year that was. To the ups and downs, the good and the bad. Here’s wishing that 2014 brings with it all the things that make you smile.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Early on in 2012, my friend Danny and I were sitting around drinking scotch or beer or something of that nature, discussing doingsomething. I don’t mean doing something in the sense that we were bored and wanted to entertain ourselves with an activity. I mean in the sense of doing something to demonstrate that regular everyday folks could make a meaningful difference in their own community if they simply got off their butts and did something.
Little did we know where that conversation would take us. Little did we know that our conversation-soon-to-be-project would garner the attention of people around the globe. Little did I know how much of an impact this thing would have on my life.
Fast forward to last Thursday. There we were at Innovation Guelph, surrounded by over 100 people – students, staff, and faculty of the University of Guelph, community partners, and local citizens – all interested in learning about, signing up, supporting, and celebrating the launch of the Farm To Fork project. To say that the experience was overwhelming would be an understatement. Over-overwhelming might begin to scratch the surface of what we felt.
I mentioned earlier that this thing - this Farm To Fork thing -has had a huge impact on my life. That is by no means an understatement. For those of you not aware, my training is in Mathematics & Statistics. If anyone were to tell me that one of the things that I would do in my life of which I would be the proudest would dwell in a world outside of Mathematics & Statistics, I might have thought you insane. And yet, here we are – several days post launch – and I am blown away by how things have changed in my life over the last year and a bit. This class project has become more than anything I could have ever imagined.
Farm To Fork is a computer science based solution to the very real problem of food insecurity in our community. Just over a year ago I barely knew anything about food insecurity. Now I find myself spending most of my day researching this very real problem, and talking about it with anyone willing to listen.
Farm To Fork has been supported by the community in ways I never imagined, including a very successful fund raising campaign earlier this year. Just over a year ago, I would have never even considered crowd-funding for science. Now I’m contacted on a regular basis because I’m apparently one of the first Canadian academics who have used it to support their research.
Farm To Fork is the result of community engaged scholarship – students, faculty, and community experts working together to make a difference. Just over a year ago I’d never even heard of community engaged scholarship. Now, I find myself giving talks and extolling the benefits of engaging students in real outside the textbook problems. It is a better way to educate.
My life is vastly different than that I had imagined. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s completely wonderful. It’s amazing and unexpected. It’s full of highs and lows, but mostly highs. It’s beyond the words that I am capable of writing. It is, simply put, more than I could have ever asked for. I am the luckiest bastard I know.
Of course it didn’t just happen. I have to acknowledge the incredible contributions and hard work of so many amazing people. Throughout all of this, Danny and I have been very fortunate to work with the best of the best – people who knew everything about all of the things we didn’t; people who had the power to act, and did; people who inspire me every time I think of what they’ve accomplished. I am incredibly spoiled to be surrounded by so many big brains and bigger hearts. The success of Farm To Fork is due to this collective of awesomeness; this group of dedicated and highly motivated people who know that things change only when we come together and think beyond the rules. I am so fortunate to find myself in the company of these people, and I am forever grateful. There is no way I can thank them enough.
While there are many people to thank, I want to thank the students the most. They were the thinkers, the planners, the doers in this story. They worked tirelessly. They worked beyond the grades. They worked because they knew what they were doing was right. I am incredibly proud of them. So proud that I have no idea how to express the impact they have had on my life. They have reminded me that people can be amazing. They have taught me so much. They have reassured me that, despite what one might read in the news, our future will be bright. Bright because there are people out there who care; because there are people out there who are willing to go above and beyond; because the future will be led by them.
Farm To Fork started out as an idea over scotch, but it has become so much more than that. I couldn’t be prouder.
For those who missed it, this is the slide show that was presented during the launch party.
On Tuesday afternoon I made my way back home to Guelph, having spent the prior week visiting Rick in Calgary. The adventure was amazing – but that really wasn’t a difficult bar to pass given that the trip involved mountains, hiking, meeting up with friends, good food, a drink known as Better Than Folgers, more mountains, Banff, hanging with both Rick and my brother, and basically celebrating the anniversary of the grandest of adventures known as the Big Mountain Challenge.
Since I returned I’ve been running around a little crazy – doing last-minute and final prep for the course that I’m teaching this semester, organizing my undergrad and grad students1, organizing several projects, organizing the Farm To Fork launch party, trying to come up with a prioritized list of things to do, and basically doing whatever I can to make sure the next several weeks/months aren’t too stressful2.
Easier said than done, obviously.
Despite all of this (and the occasional build up of anxiety3) I’m feeling good. I think my trip has a lot to do with that. There’s something special about mountain air that does my body good – providing me with better focus, more energy, and the drive to crush whatever obstacle might be in my way. And I’m going to need that this semester, because my list of projects and papers and grants and talks and posters and events could be overwhelming. I just have to remember to take the time – especially when the anxiety and stress start building – to stop and reflect on my mountain-top adventures. Because nothing destroys my stress quite like the mountains.
And I think that’s why I miss them so much.
I’ve uploaded a bunch of pictures and a video below – some of these are new, some you’ve likely seen before, and some are courtesy of Rick. Enjoy.
Laughing at the top of Sparrowhawk
Enjoying the views at the top of Mount Sparrowhawk
1 Which really means organizing myself.
2 Such as snuggling with Elliot.
3 Apologies to Julie who had to hear a mild rant today.
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’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.
In honour of Pi Approximation Day, I thought I’d offer you this most awesomely awesome comic from Dinosaur Comics that approximately honours the approximately awesome awesomeness that is Pi Approximation Day.
Of course, I realize that I’ve offered this comic before but I enjoy the last panel far too much not to share it again.
“Failure is just success rounded down, my friend!”
Now if you don’t mind, I have some pie to rub on my face.
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.
I think something might be wrong with me. Ever since Friday I’ve had a ridiculous smile on my face and it doesn’t want to go away. Trust me, even when I’m having a serious moment or pondering all things academic or think-y like, there, just beneath the surface is a giant smile.
And every time my thoughts move to the Farm To Fork project, that just beneath the surface smile bursts through. In fact, as I write this post sitting in a Starbucks in Toronto, I’m sure that my neighbouring coffee drinkers are watching me as I grin from ear to ear. They’re likely wondering what I’m up to. I’d probably be wondering what I was up to as well.
The source of my smile is probably obvious. Over the last week the Farm To Fork fundraising campaign not only passed 50% of our $15000 goal, we smashed through it. At last check, citizens and businesses have really stepped up – donating over $10000 to the cause. They’ve recognized the potential of Farm To Fork to be a game changer – making sure that the people in our community who are struggling to feed themselves and their families get what they need. They’ve recognized that meaningful change can occur if we all just start moving things in the right direction. They’ve recognized that the power comes not from talking a good game, but jumping in and getting involved.
And holy hell, that is inspiring. What started as a simple class project has grown into something so much more than I could have ever imagined.
And the support is not just local. I’ve received emails, Facebook messages, and tweets from as far away as Berlin, Kentucky, and across Ontario and Canada. People are hearing about this program and they want to know how they can help.
I repeat – I never expected this thing to be what it has become.
But what is Farm To Fork? At its base level, Farm To Fork connects those of us with the ability to donate to the front line emergency food providers. These are the fine folks who support the members of our community – our brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and children – who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. It does so by sending donors a grocery list of items that the food pantry around the corner that you never knew existed might need, on the day they go grocery shopping. We’re also working on mobile apps that will use location based notifications to remind us the minute we step into a grocery store what is needed. And if the stars and planets align, it’s going to be even more than that.
But beyond the lines of code, the hours of testing already completed and as yet to occur, the meetings and presentations and blog posts and tweets, Farm To Fork has become something so much more to me. Farm To Fork has become a reminder to me of how awesome our world can be. It’s a reminder to me that, despite all of the terrible things that might happen every day, there are people out there who want to help. Despite the odds against them, despite the challenges and hours, days, weeks, and months of work, there are people out there who just won’t give up, just won’t say no.
And that, dear readers, is pretty effing amazing.
For those of you who may wish to help out our campaign, check out the link here.
A few months ago I stumbled on a new device for interacting with the computer. I don’t remember how I stumbled on it – perhaps via the Twitter, perhaps via Facebook, or perhaps while reading one of the nerdtastically awesome tech-related blogs I oft find myself perusing in the wee hours of the eve. More likely, however, I stumbled on it while I was doing research for the course I’m currently teaching – User Interface Design.
Whatever led me to the device doesn’t really matter. Point is, I had discovered something new and shiny and oh so freaking cool. I knew the moment I saw it, I had to have one. Not because it’s new and shiny and oh so freaking cool – at least not entirely – but because I had this gut feeling that it was going to be a game-changer in the way we work with computers, and because I immediately had a slew of ideas of what it could potentially do. So I did what any sane man would do – I pulled out my credit card and ordered it. And after that, I asked for funding for an undergraduate research assistant for the summer so that the two of us could play with this new and shiny and oh so freaking cool device, and hopefully develop some awesome tools.
Sadly, however, the device isn’t being shipped until some point later this quarter. And so I wait. Not so patiently. Because it’s oh so freaking cool and shiny and new. Have I mentioned that yet?
Of course, I still haven’t told you anything about this thing which I’m waiting not so patiently to receive. For those curious, it’s called the Leap Motion Controller. Instead of telling you what it does, it’s probably best if you just watch the video below.
When I arrived home this eve I found the new Portico magazine in my mailbox. For those not in the know, the Portico magazine is the University of Guelph’s alumni magazine. It details the current research and goings-on on campus, while also highlighting the successes of former students. It’s actually a really cool read if you’re into nerdy things, cutting edge science, and holy hell I can’t believe someone did something so awesome stories.
The first thing I did – once I poured my Friday night scotch and settled in with the wee fuzzball – was to peruse the pages of the magazine. While I normally recognize a face or two within the pages, I was happy to see several faculty and students – who are working on some very cool science-y type things – highlighted for the awesome work they are doing. In fact, with every turn of the page I found myself recognizing someone who was being recognized for the work they were doing. I couldn’t help but smile, because each are doing great work to improve the lives of students, help build better communication pathways, and improve our understanding of the world around us. Cool stuff indeed.
And then I flipped the page again.
I won’t lie – I was a bit surprised to see a picture of Rick and me at the top of a mountain. Clearly, an image of the two of us at the top of a mountain wasn’t surprising. Flipping the page to find myself staring at my own face – that was. In some ways, our Big Mountain Challenge feels like a lifetime ago. In some ways it feels like yesterday. Regardless, the story took me by surprise – in a good way.
I was reminded of our trip, of the things we got to see and experience. I was reminded of how tired we were (at times) and how awesome it was to summit so many mountains in spite of fatigue. I remembered the cold and the snow and the wind. I remembered the awesome hotels and spa days. I remembered the laughter and conversations as we hiked for hours. I remembered the fun. I remembered somehow raising a bunch of money for a really great charity. I remember feeling inspired and lucky and awed that I was able to take part in such an awesome adventure. Most of all, I remembered spending a week with an amazing friend.
So with that, I once again want to offer a huge thanks to Rick. I guess you’re alright.
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.