My sabbatical is nearly over. Thank you, taxpayers. In slow preparation for my return to full-time professordom, I attended two back-to-back convocation ceremonies this past week in Ottawa. Here’s a pic of me mugging with our Vice Dean of Research, Jeff Jutai. At this point, I’m seriously wondering why I didn’t take advantage of Canada’s new marijuana liberalization laws. It might have made the experience a tad more bearable:
Here are a couple of interesting observations from the dais, from those of you have probably never thought to ask these questions. First, is that we professors are bored out of minds, thus we spend a lot of time looking around. That’s when I saw this instruction written on masking tape by my feet:
I enjoyed the mystery of what it might mean. Then someone on Twitter informed me that it was probably put there for the brass band that had previously occupied the stage, indicating the placement of the trombones. Boooo.
The second observation is that, with multiple ceremonies, the speeches are repeated verbatim! The President’s address, including the supposed off the cuff jokes, is repeated word-for-word. And the recipient of the honourary doctorate had to repeat her speech, as well. She doesn’t even get two degrees!
Wats In Jail
While I was in Ottawa, I couldn’t stay in my actual home, because that is properly rented out to someone else. So instead I decided to try something a bit different. I spent the night in the Ottawa Jail Hostel, which is exactly what it sounds like:
The jail is over 200 years old and considered to be one of Canada’s most haunted structures. And the rooms are the actual jail cells. You get a cot and a towel, and you’re on your own. Not for the claustrophobic:
Well, I was not visited by any ghoulish beings. But I was certainly kept awake by the loudness of the other inmates. So I don’t think I’ll be staying there again. However, I recommend it as an affordable and interesting way to spend a night in the nation’s capital.
The End of an Era
As I’ve posted before, I think, when I taught my first university class 11 years ago, one of my students, Emily Paterson, melted a plastic bracelet onto my left wrist, as part of some weird public health project. The way she tells the story, I was supposed to make a promise to do something to promote the management of HIV/AIDS, and when my promise was fulfilled, I could remove the bracelet.
Well, (in her words) I was a smart-ass who promised “to keep all my promises”, which pretty much meant that I could never remove the bracelet.
More than a decade later, the damn thing fell off on its own:
I’ve replaced it with a USB bracelet, because I’m that guy.
Here’s a pic of the TV crew who recorded my segments. (You can see more of the production pics that I surreptitiously snapped here.)
The actual episode featured maybe a minute of me expounding something resembling wisdom. I look old and broken and sound like an idiot, but I’m okay with that.
The other experts on the show were eloquent and sparkling. I’m particularly proud to have shared a screen with Anoushka Shankar and Robert Sawyer. I’m a great fan of both, and even had a long chat with Sawyer at a cocktail party some years ago.
I’m also proud to have shared a screen with Michael Scott, who, of course, managed the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin.
Not My Anecdote
My tenant is a good friend who is also a Canadian diplomat about to be placed abroad in a country with something of a fragile relationship with Canada. She told me today of an Uber driver experience she just had had. I have her permission to share her pithy words with you, which I have edited slightly to maintain something resembling anonymity for her:
“My Uber driver was giving me advice about my job — not the well-meaning but useless advice that people outside your field will often provide unsolicited, but actually a couple of useful tips about what books might be useful to read before I go [abroad]. Turns out he was a Libyan UN diplomat and was previously posted to [the same country I will be going to] — under the old regime, of course — but now that the regime has been overthrown, he drives an Uber in the capital of one of the countries that helped overthrow his government militarily. All day I’ve been thinking about how one’s life can truly change in an instant.
“As a UN official, his role was to coordinate assistance to refugees (actually, the whole reason we ended up having this conversation was because we were talking about India where he had worked for two years with Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala), but in a sad twist of fate he’s now a refugee himself.
“The other thing that struck me about the conversation was that when he heard about my posting he said, ‘you have a nice life!’ And then he added, ‘actually, I used to have a nice life too!’ But then after the tiniest pause, he said, ‘but I still have a nice life. I just experience it differently now.’”
Pithy and wise, no?
Some Leftover Pics
Got a visit this past week from an old friend, and current business partner, the co-owner of Vak International, Sneh Aurora. Here are some pics of her visit with me and the Blonde Girl:
And remember when I went to see Graham Hancock recently? Well my former student Mai was on hand to capture this image of me, so excited to be paying top dollar to listen to pseudoscience:
And even a fake Lord can’t get respect, and not even from his own dog….
Got to get my beauty sleep now. I’m being interviewed for BBC Science Focus in the morning!