Tag Archives: Public Health Agency of Canada

How Quickly They Grow Up

If not for the fact that I put almost everything into my calendar, I’d forget even the simplest of things. Like eating, wearing pants, and breathing.

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch – I wouldn’t forget to wear pants, I’d just opt not to. Regardless, I’m betting that if breathing weren’t an autonomic response, I’d need a reminder to inhale.

I digress.

My point – and I do have one – is that I almost forgot that today is my Ph.D.-versary. My 2nd such -versary to be precise. 

Wow. My wee baby is 2 years old. It is absolutely amazing to me to think that 2 years ago today I was standing in front of a room of learned individuals defending the work that I’d spent so many years deriving, programming, evaluating, analyzing, and writing. And I can’t forget the sweating. There was a lot of sweat.

It’s also amazing to me to think about all of the things that have happened since that fateful day. For one, I’m now on the other side of the table. I’m the guy that grills the students who have spent so much of their time and effort developing something new and exciting. I’m the guy that causes the sweat on the other side of the table. I’m the guy that I dreaded when I was in that situation.

As I did last year on this particular date, I’ve decided to look back and see what I’ve accomplished in the year. Why? Because today is a day that I have set aside to celebrate awesomeness. It’s a day where I have opted to evaluate my successes and failures so that I don’t stagnate, bore myself to tears, or become an old curmudgeonly cranky-pants mcgee who does nothing but chase children off his front lawn while waxing poetic about what things were like in my day. And it’s also a day to figure out what I want to do next, because there should always be something next.

Without further ado – my list-o-things:


  • My brother was hit by a car driven by a distracted driver. He almost died, but didn’t. Because he’s awesome.
  • I had surgery to fix my stupid stomach.
  • I turned 36.
  • My dad turned 70.
  • Elliot and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary.
  • Several friends finished their Ph.D.s (Congrats Dr. Levere and Dr. Gregorio!).
  • Several friends went back to school (Dr. Beth, Kevin, and Rebecca) – because they are huge nerds.


  • 13 trips in one year – including Hawaii, Calgary, Ottawa, New York, Montreal, Chicago, Wolfville, Halifax, and Victoria.
  • Ice climbing and bobsledding in Calgary (February, 2012).
  • Visiting Rick (again) in Calgary (April, 2012).


  • Taught Advanced Methods for Population Modelling, Calculus II, Experimental Design, User Interface Design, and Discrete Optimization.
  • Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada in Wolfville (June, 2011), the GeoMed 2011 Conference in Victoria (October, 2011), and the Joint BioMS Series Colloquium in Guelph (February, 2011).
  • Continued Ecological Risk Analyst for the Saugeen Ojibway First Nations (Fall, 2011).
  • Taught a 3 day course for the Public Health Agency of Canada on SAS (February, 2012).
  • Finished 7 papers, submitted 3, published 1, with the rest awaiting final edits from co-authors.
  • Submitted 1 first author talk, 1 co-authored talk, and 3 co-authored posters to the Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada.
  • Submitted 1 co-authored poster to the First Symposium on Telomeres and Genome Integrity.
  • Chaired/chairing three committees (one within the School of Computer Science, one for the Province of Ontario, one for the Saugeen Ojibway First Nations). Member of 4 other committees.
  • Took on several graduate students (as a committee member).
  • Hired 3 undergraduate students.
  • Judged an awesome science fair.
  • Finished a lot of grant applications (and working on more).
  • Examined 2 M.Sc. students, and was an examiner for 2 Ph.D. qualifying exams.
  • Finished my first year as an Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science at the University of Guelph.

Not-So-Bucket-List List Accomplishments

  • Published 3 articles in 1 year (item #3).
  • Saw a ballet with Steph (item #30).
  • Saw Tori Amos in concert (item #35).
  • Saved $500 in change (item #39).
  • Learned to make dairy free banana bread (item #54)/
  • Tried 30 new wines (item #58).
  • Bought a $100 bottle of port (item #59).
  • Bought a new camera (item #60).
  • Bought a new road bike (item #62).
  • Ran 30k Around The Bay (item #75).
  • Biked 60k (item #80).
  • Climbed the CN Tower (item #82).
  • Ran 5k in under 22 minutes (item #103).
  • Ran a marathon (item #105).
  • Traveled to BC (item #127).
  • Traveled to Chicago (item #129).
  • Traveled to visit Arlene (item #130).
  • Traveled to Montreal (item #133).
  • Traveled to Nova Scotia (item #136).
  • Traveled to Vancouver (item #144).
  • Traveled with Rick again (item #170).
  • Went snowshoeing (item #186).
  • Traveled with Rick again, again (item #187).
  • Traveled once per month for 12 months (item #195).
  • Had a brandy tasting night (item #196).
  • Ran 5k in under 21 minutes (item #221).
  • Biked 10k in under 20 minutes (item #223).
  • Biked 20k in under 40 minutes (item #224).
  • Published with Rick (item #232).
  • Went caving (item #236).
  • Went ice-climbing (item #237).
  • Signed up for RunKeeper Elite and broadcast a race (item #250).
  • Went bobsledding (item #255).

A Cruel Master

Photographic evidence of my forced confinement. Such a cruel kitty.

Today was a lot of fun – day 1 of a 3 day long training session with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Much of the morning was spent talking about data exploration – that is, getting to know the data before you actually begin any sort of analyses – and data visualization (which is also known as making graphs - but that doesn’t sound nearly so scientific or fancy as visualization).

The afternoon was all about modelling – simple linear regression to be precise. That’s when I got to be a lot more nerdy, especially given that it was an opportunity for me to drop words like multicollinearity and homoscedasticity on the audience. Of course, those words weren’t necessarily new to the people in attendance, but the concepts might not have been fresh. As such, I took the opportunity to refresh everyone’s memory, and probably enjoyed myself more than I should have.

After forced confinement, I may have gone a touch insane. Or perhaps we found the effects button on my Mac.

Anyway, after talking for so many hours I can honestly say that I was spent. The second I got home, I dropped my bag at the door and then plopped myself down on the couch.

Unfortunately1 for me, Elliot immediately curled up on my chest and forced me to remain where I had plopped. I was being held hostage by the wee Fuzzball! Having nowhere to go, and seeing no recourse, I was forced to have a wee short nap while he purred maliciously on my chest.

He’s such a cruel master.

And on Family Day of all days.

1 I really wish there was a sarcasm font.

Three Day Nerdfest

SAS: The Power To Know.

Three more days.

I just need to survive three more days.

And then it’s off to Calgary for adventuring and shenaniganning with Rick.

Have I mentioned that I’m stoked?

Anyway, the next three days are going to be extremely busy but also a lot of fun. I’m heading to the Public Health Agency of Canada for 3 full days of training. It’s going to be all SAS, all the time.

For those of you not in the know, SAS is a program that is used for statistical analyses. It is, I would say, the gold standard of stats programs. Yes, the use of the term gold standard does imply that there is more than one program used for statistical analyses. Many in fact.

Personally, while I use SAS and understand its power, I usually rely on R (a freeware statistical program). They both perform the same types of analyses, but I prefer that R allows me to code in the same way I would were I writing a program in C++ or most other standard programming languages.

Anyway, I’ve spent the eve prepping my notes for tomorrow, emailing Rick, reviewing presentations, and updating slides. I still have a few touches to add, but I’m pretty confident that I’m going to be ready to tackle whatever might be thrown at me between tomorrow and Wednesday.

While all of the prepping and programming has been time-consuming, it has come with a set of advantages. For example:

  1. I’ve been forced to formalize some of my notes (which were a bit of a mess to be honest).
  2. I’ve allowed myself some time to review statistical theory that I’ve not been able to review for a while.
  3. I’ve relearned things I forgot.
  4. I’ve strengthened my understanding of some concepts.
  5. I’ve reminded myself once again that I love mathematics and statistics.
  6. I’ve used this task as an excuse to get my nerd on both in terms of coding in SAS and in R (not that I really needed an excuse to get my nerd on).
  7. I’ve updated my $\LaTeX$ coding skills, specifically in the realm of presentations using something called Beamer.

But most of all, this work has given me the opportunity to work with Rick. And I have to say, I’m very fortunate to work with someone like him. He’s a hard-working nerd in all the best kind of ways. That’s right folks, he’s not just a pretty face – he’s also smart.

Just don’t tell him I said that.

The Countdown Is On


One more week until mini-vacation number 1 for 2012. I. Am. Stoked. Also,




While I know that vacation is only a week away, the next 6 days are going to be intense. But all in a very good way, of course.

Tomorrow is pretty much the same-old, same old. Marking assignments, writing papers, meetings, meetings, meetings, and then, oh yeah, more meetings.

But Saturday – that’s when things start to get crazy. I need to begin my day by running a half marathon – all part of my ongoing marathon training. I also need to prep for three full days of course material that I will be presenting to a group of nerdly government officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada between Monday and Wednesday. I also need to finish edits on two papers so that I can get them submitted before the end of the semester for peer review (thus hopefully convincing the powers-that-be that I am worthy of further paycheques). And I also need to take some time to mark assignments, prep lectures, and build a midterm. Yes – this weekend is going to be anything but restful.

And yet, all I can think about is next Thursday and hanging with Rick; vegging, eating, grabbing coffees, hiking, eating again, dinner, drinks, ice climbing, bobsledding, eating some more, and anything else that we determine warrants our time and attention.

The next few days are going to be insane, but the payoff is going to be more than worth it.

No Friend To Suck-Baggery

I'm all supernova-y today

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I was a giant bag of smashed hammers. Today, not so much. Let me be clear – it’s not that today I was a huge ball of energy, but in comparison to yesterday I was a freaking supernova.

My day started at 5am because that’s when all the cool kids start working. And if that isn’t when all the cool kids start working, please don’t tell me. It’s probably best if I live in this fictional world that I’ve created. Regardless, I was up at 5 to prep my notes for today’s class. And by prep I mean throw together the Prezi presentation. I already knew what I was going to talk about – I just had to put it into some form of aesthetically pleasing presentation.

Then it was off to school to teach. After that, the rest of the day was all mine. And while it wasn’t my most productive day by far, it was still a great day. I managed to finally cross off an analysis from my list that I’ve been trying to cross off for some time. Beyond that, I read and commented on a Ph.D. proposal which will be defended on Monday. And in case I hadn’t mentioned it before, this proposal defence will represent the first ever Ph.D. qualifying exam where I’m not the one being grilled, but instead am playing the role of examiner. Of course, after the analysis and a thorough review of the proposal I was suffering from a mad case of the stupids. My brain had decided it had enough, so I opted to putter in the office until about 6pm. This worked in my favour because I took the time to organize files, clean up a few things, update my CV, and then make sure everything was set up and ready for my day tomorrow – which looks to be full and hopefully even more productive.

Once home it was time to jump on the treadmill. I wasn’t sure how the run was going to go given that I had opted to take yesterday as a rest day. While I knew I felt much better than yesterday, I knew that I was still tired. But, since my runs won’t run themselves, and since training is no friend to suck-baggery, and since I commented yesterday that I was going to return to embracing my exhaustion today, I jumped on the treadmill and just started running. The machine was set at 7 miles (11.27 km) per hour to start – as a warm up. I wasn’t sure how fast I was going to go today, but after several minutes something clicked. Within no time I had pumped up the pace to 8.1 miles (13.04 km) per hour. And there it stayed until my last mile – which clearly demanded more speed. So it was up to 9 miles (14.48 km) per hour. If only I could maintain that pace for the marathon!

The end result – and I have to check my data to verify this – I think I managed a new personal best 10 km. Specifically, I ran 10.06km in 48 minutes and 55 seconds. Not too shabby.

I guess resting yesterday was a good idea after all.

Inversion Excursion

Full on inversion.

Holy crapshite – how is Sunday almost over?

My goal today was to check off a bunch of things on my to do list, but sadly I don’t think I’ve completed nearly as much as I would have liked to. Ultimately I wanted to start Monday with fewer things on my list so that the week would be a bit easier. Additionally, I had a brainstorm the other day and I’m very antsy to get started on a new simulation study. Seriously, every time I think of this particular idea I have a bit of a nerd-gasm.

Sadly, my list is still going to be mammoth come Monday morning. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think my list really had a chance of being reduced this weekend. Not when you consider that I had to run 9+ km yesterday in order to stay on track with marathon training (a total of 54.07 km for the week – w00t). And of course, one also needs to have some sort of social life such as going to dinner with Jamie, having breakfast with Manon, heading to Solutions with Jasper and Liz, and scratching one lazy cat’s belly.

It’s a rough job, but someone has to do it.

Hanging at about 45 degrees, although it felt like I was vertical.

A quick note: the shopping excursion to Solutions in Cambridge – a paradise for those that want to organize anything and everything in their life – with Jasper and Liz was very much impromptu (although Jasper did catch it on film – of course – embedded below for your viewing pleasure). It came about after learning that Jasper had just purchased an inversion table. Clearly, once I learned of this table I had to try it. Jasper being Jasper (read awesome) invited me over for a spin. For those not in the know, an inversion table allows the user to strap themselves in by the ankles and hang upside down. The theory being that it helps to decompress the spine and relax the muscles around the spine. I won’t lie, it was a lot of fun.

Anyway, since I returned home from my shopping excursion and inversion, I’ve managed to read a Ph.D. proposal (including drafting what I hope are several solid questions that will at once put the student at ease but also challenge their understanding of the subject), organize my files, set up a draft template slide presentation for a 3-day course that I’m giving at the Public Health Agency of Canada in February (with the help of Mr. Rick), posted on my other blog, and am now trying to determine if I should

  1. work on notes for my 2nd year class,
  2. finish an analysis for a colleague,
  3. work on an analysis for a paper,
  4. edit one of two papers that I had hoped to edit this weekend,
  5. read a 2nd Ph.D. proposal,
  6. set up an assignment for my 2nd year class,
  7. mark an assignment for my 2nd year class,
  8. scour the interwebs for a rich data set for use with the Public Health Agency training, or
  9. scratch Elliot’s belly.
Decisions, decisions.
Why do I know that Elliot is going to win out?

Bite My Ass Flesh-Eating Disease (But Not Really)

Haley today.

May 1 marked a pretty amazing day for my family.  It was just over a year ago – May 1, 2010 to be precise – that my niece Haley, after coming down with the chicken pox, developed a case of necrotizing fasciitis1.  For those unfamiliar with this illness, it is more commonly referred to as the flesh eating disease2 (FED).

Talk about a bizarre day.  I remember my mom calling me to tell me that Haley was in the hospital with FED, and I remember being completely dumbfounded.  I mean, how does a child develop the disease?  I figured it was a mistake, or very clearly a minor problem.  I don’t recall feeling worried, at least, not right away.  Curious, yes.  Worried?  No.  I mean, modern science being all modern and science-like, and figuring that since the medical professionals had diagnosed the problem so early, things would surely be fine.  Right?

Now, when faced with a situation like this, my response is generally to research the topic.  Information is power and such.  This response is clearly a function of the nerd in me.  But it is also that I find comfort with numbers (which I realize is equivalent to calling myself a nerd).  Of course, knowing the numbers is a blessing and a curse.

Blessing: Researching the statistics on FED (such as mortality statistics) distracted me for a while, and let me put some scientific logic behind what was happening in the very real world.  It also allowed me to absorb as much as I could about the disease so that I could temper my responses accordingly, and deal with any of those tricky emotions3 that might come to the surface.  For example, I was able to learn that while Haley’s FED was due to her chicken pox, it’s very rare for chicken pox to lead to FED4.

Curse: Knowing the statistics gave me a sense of dread.  What I learned wasn’t all that good.  Untreated, mortality can be upwards of 73%5.  The Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that death can occur in as little as 12 to 24 hours, and of the 90-200 cases per year in this country, 20 to 30% are fatal4,6.  Treatment often involves surgery, debridement of the necrotized tissue, and in some cases, amputation4.  Due to the infection, patients can also develop sepsis, and organ failure6.

Clearly things were not as simple as I thought.  To be honest, after learning this I was amazed and thankful that the emergency doctors at the Simcoe Hospital had the wherewithal to correctly diagnose Haley, contact McMaster Hospital in Hamilton, and have Becky (my sister-in-law) and Haley whisked there for immediate admittance.

And there in the Pediatric Critical Care Unit (PCCU) of McMaster Haley stayed.  As did her mom and dad, who kept constant vigil over her.  Not for a day, or two.  Not even for a week.  But for the entire freaking month of May.  To say that the family was overwhelmed was an understatement.  I really have no idea how my brother and sister-in-law handled the ups and downs of the month.  And let me tell you, they were aplenty.  The PCCU was especially hard to handle, as all of the patients housed there were severe; children with cancer; children on their death beds.  It was enough to make even the strongest break down.  And yet my brother and sister-in-law stayed there, stir-crazy at times, insane with concern the rest, keeping a constant vigil.  Hoping beyond hope that Haley would recover.

The month itself was tremendously long.  The worst of it came in the middle of the month (the 19th to be exact).  I had travelled to Winnipeg for work and left with the understanding that Haley was on the mend.  It’s amazing what 2 days will do.  While in the middle of a meeting, I received a message that Haley had gone into cardiac arrest.  I may or may not have dropped the f-bomb and bolted from the room, frantically trying to call home to figure out what was going on.  Very little information was available, except that Haley was back in surgery.  Of course I thought the worst.  After collecting my thoughts and reigning in my emotions, I returned to the meeting.  At this point, everyone in the room was aware of what was going on, so no one really expected anything of me.  I honestly do not remember anything that happened during the meeting.  I may have offered my opinion, or mumbled that I’d take on a particular task, but to be honest, it’s a complete blur.  I have never felt so helpless in my life.  I can’t even begin to imagine what Bernie and Becky were going through.

I grabbed a flight back to Toronto the same day, and then ventured to McMaster Hospital with my brother Aidan.  I honestly can’t even describe to you what my niece looked like when I first saw her.  The number of tubes that she had going into her tiny swollen body was unreal.  It still seems like some weird memory of something that never really happened.  But it did.  She was being pumped full of medicine, pain killers and narcotics in order to keep her sedate, as comfortable as possible, and hopefully healing.  The only way that I could look at her was to try to disconnect from the fact that I was staring at my niece.

Over the month, Haley suffered with chicken pox, pneumonia, FED, collapsed lungs, bladder infections, surgeries, sepsis, and cardiac arrest.  It was a very difficult time to say the least.  Ultimately, and thankfully, Haley came out of all of it.  And amazingly, she’s still the active, crazy little girl she was before this event happened.  The only thing that remains now is a tiny scar on her cheek, which is a reminder to me of the events that unfolded last year.  More importantly, it is also a reminder to me of how resilient the human body can be, and how bull-headed the Gillis clan can be.  Mainly though, it reminds me of how strong my brother and sister-in-law are.  For them to have gone through this month of hell and come out the other end still smiling is nothing short of a miracle.

1 If you want to know more about necrotizing fasciitis (and by know more I clearly mean see more), then click here.  If you have a sensitive constitution, for the love of all things holy and sacred, DO NOT CLICK THERE.  Consider yourself duly warned.

2 Note that flesh-eating disease and flesh-eating bacteria are really misnomers; the bacteria responsible for the necrosis of the flesh are not actually eating it.  Instead, they release toxins that cause cell death (or necrosis).  And they do this indiscriminately; fat, muscle, fascia – any cell that happens to be exposed to the toxins will necrotize4.

3 Ew, emotions.

4 The Public Health Agency of Canada Information Sheet on Necrotizing Fasciitis.

5 Trent, J.T., and Kirsner, R.S. (2002). Necrotizing Fasciitis. Wounds 14(8)

6 MedicineNet.com Necrotizing Fasciitis Fact Sheet

Trust Me, I’m A Doctor

So today I celebrate the 1st Ph.D.-versary of my dissertation.  That’s right folks, today marks the day when I brought my Ph.D. home from the university, after a very lengthy gestation period.  I can’t believe my little Ph.D. is officially 1-year-old.  For those of you that might not be aware or perhaps have forgotten, my Ph.D. dissertation goes by the name

Multivariate Spatial Poisson Mixtures With Applications In Disease Source Classification,1

but I just call her Ms. P. Mix for short.   One year old already – how time flies.

The most expensive piece of paper I own. Amazingly, it looks the same today as it did the first day I brought it home.

In all seriousness, my Ph.D. never would have been a reality if not for the help and support of so many people.  I do have to mention one person in particular; a certain Dr. Stephanie Dixon, to whom I dedicated my work.

For Steph; my sounding board, my confidant, my support, and the best friend I could ever have asked for.  I have no idea what I did to deserve someone like you next to me during this process, but I’m eternally grateful to the Fates for bringing us together.  You are my academic soul mate, my awkward cousin.  You have made me a better person, and I can never ever thank you enough for all that you have done for me.2

I wrote the dedication ages ago, well before my Ph.D. was even finished.  Amazingly, the words mean more to me now than they did to me then.

But, you might be thinking, what have I done since then?  And that is a very valid question.  I wondered that myself.  And being the list-making kind of guy that I am, I sat down and started to make a list.  I’ve categorized the list (as I’m a categorized-list-making kind of guy too), mainly for my own entertainment and reflection.  I present it to you now (in chronological order), for your reading pleasure.


  • My niece was hospitalized with flesh-eating disease (she’s fine now :) )
  • Steph and I had a Ph.D. Prom
  • I turned 35
  • I got some more tattoos (12 greek letters remain)
  • My first nephew (Ethan) was born
  • Celebrated Lobster-fest
  • I adopted Elliot


  • Winnipeg (May, 2010)
  • New York (May, 2010)
  • Europe [Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria] (June/July, 2010)
  • Calgary (September, 2010)
  • Ottawa (November, 2010)
  • Ottawa (January, 2011)
  • Hawaii [Big Island, Oahu] (January, 2011)
  • New York (February, 2011)
  • Ottawa (March, 2011)


Not-So-Bucket-List List Accomplishments

  • Finished my Ph.D. (item #2)
  • Taught my first Statistics course (item #7)
  • Taught Differential Equations (item #6)
  • Travelled to Manitoba (item #132)
  • Travelled to New York with Steph, and Gerarda, again (item #135, and #147)
  • Bought a new fitted suit (item #63)
  • Determined my net worth (item #36)
  • Went to Hillside (item #65)
  • Had a Ph.D. Prom (item #67)
  • Travelled with Matt (item #146)
  • Saw a live sex show (item #72)
  • Biked 30K, 40K and 50K (items #77, #78, and #79)
  • Travelled to Prague and Vienna (item #126)
  • Celebrated my 35th birthday in another country (item #119)
  • Travelled to Alberta to visit Rick, Karen, and Adam (item #122, and #128)
  • Walked the Athabasca Glacier (item #13)
  • Climbed Mount Yamnuska (item #11)
  • Ran 10k in 50 minutes (item #101)
  • Ran 12k in 60 minutes (item #102)
  • Ran another 10K (item #107)
  • Ran another 1/2 marathon (item #106)
  • Did a 30 day hot yoga challenge (item #98)
  • Went on 3 dates in as many months (item #120)
  • Went to visit Matt, Mark, and Jhona (item #137)
  • Had a scotch tasting night (item #44)
  • Had a wine tasting night (item #46)
  • Saw Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert (item #31)
  • Started a full time faculty position (item #1)
  • Set up a budget (item #40)
  • (Re-)Started a blog (item #121)
  • Travelled with Rick (item #148)
  • Hiked a lava field again (item #22)
  • Went on a helicopter ride (item #21)
  • Climbed an active volcano (item #23)
  • Went snorkelling (item #18)
  • Went skydiving (item #19)
  • Invited to speak at a conference (item #9)
  • Paid off over $15000 in debt (item #22)
  • Saw my first Ballet (item #23)
  • Managed to do 4 sets of 8 chin ups (item #38)
  • Saw Sarah McLachlan in concert again (item #39)

So how am I going to celebrate my 1-year-old Ph.D., and all that I have accomplished since then?  I’m going to go home, have a beer, think about all the amazing things that have happened in my life over the past year, and contemplate where I want to go next.  Oh, and I’m also going to go for dinner with 2 very awesome friends.  And not just any friends.  I’m going to dinner with the 2 people who understand the trials and tribulations of my Ph.D. in Statistics best – my fellow Doctors of Statistics; Dr. Stephanie Dixon, and Dr. Gerarda Darlington.  I’m so freaking lucky, it’s ridiculous.

Happy Ph.D.-versary to me!

1 Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? I can say without a hint of a lie, that each of the 272 pages are better than the last. If ever there was a page-turner, this was it. Okay, in all seriousness, I’m probably the only one that reads it3 without falling asleep after the first sentence.

2 P.S. No, it didn’t.

3 I probably could have just ended the sentence here, and it would have been just as true :)

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.