I’m a student, graduate student (found poem)

Coming to you from the twenty-first wonder that is automated voicemail audio-to-text transcription. I have used editorial license to slightly alter some words, and lightly apply punctuation and line breaks. I have not changed any names to protect the innocent – it seemed unnecessary.


 

I’m a student, graduate student
ID numbers just try mail
my name is Danny scan, and last week
I spoke to someone I believe

in your office for his name
but we were talking about

determining the facts of newborn pot
and we were actually talking about –

tester tester thinking that
I think you’re typing but then he
mentioned she “PCR” with me
she not specific to the light chrome
time home

I just wanted to ask you
a few questions because I looked up
literature in the protocol
quite unclear and I guess not –
determine test out again
and so I wanted to ask if you
could share with us the total call
and timer sequences I totally
understand if you can but
just wanted to discuss that with you –
please call me back if you can dial.
 
 

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Marooned on the Island

Not a desert island, mind you. Oh no – this “island” is a thin strip of land between pit lane and the front straight, the province of a select few photographers who absolutely need to take photographs of cars in front of key Toronto landmarks – the Princes’ Gate and the CN Tower – and of pit stops with grandstands full of fans in the background. That would be me, then, in my fifth year as a staff photographer for the Honda Indy Toronto, the annual visit of the Verizon IndyCar racing series to downtown Toronto.

Now, under normal circumstances, the island is somewhere you go at the beginning of the race, and don’t get to leave until one or two specific times much later on, since getting to and from it requires walking across the active part of pit lane. And also under normal circumstances, it’s hot and noisy, with shade provided only by a few spindly trees that have had many of their leaves plucked to improve visibility of the track. Saturday the 19th of July, 2014, however, did not count as “normal circumstances”. It was raining. A lot.

Marco Andretti - pit lane Toronto 2014

Now, any old sports photog will tell you that shooting race cars in the rain provides lots of dramatic opportunities. The spray from the wheels can add a wonderful element. But the CN Tower? What CN Tower?

Wet pace laps - Honda Indy Toronto 2014

Taku in the rain - Toronto 2014

The rain didn’t start off heavy. Early on, it was a mere drizzle, affording a crew member a certain air of gallantry in keeping his driver’s sign holder (the politically incorrect term is “grid girl”, I’m sorry to say) dry.

National Guard to the rescue!

And then the race began, under yellow flag conditions, the cars circulating behind a pace car driven by former Indy 500 double-winner Arie Luyendyk. Conditions became so bad that even an experienced shoe like Luyendyk managed to spin the pace car, which it turns out was rather ill-equipped with racing slicks rather than road tires. Driver Will Power also managed to loop his car, kissing the concrete wall near the pit lane entrance, resulting in his team performing a balletic, foot-powered recovery to the pits.

Pit lane recovery - Toronto 2014

And so began a parade of proceedings – a red flag, returning the cars to pit lane, and several iterations of back-on-track, back to the pit boxes, back into a starting grid, and so on. And a lot of waiting in between, while rain dribbled off my trademark Super-Excellent Photo Hat and onto my high-fashion $1.99 disposable drug-store rain poncho. If there is such a look as Goofy Photographer With Cobbled-Together Rain Protection, then I was certainly rocking it. No, there are no photographs. Be happy.

To add a certain hellish surreality to the proceedings, the PA system began playing, you guessed it, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, followed closely by one of my least favourite songs, Blind Melon’s “No Rain”. Fortunately, those in charge didn’t continue their trip through the catalogue of songs containing the word “rain”, electing instead for a stony silence punctuated with tidbits of discussion, none of which I can recall now.

Dripping wet, I kept shooting – a few photos of drivers and team owners discussing things, and one or two of better-heeled members of the media, like NBC Sports pit lane reporter Kelli Stavast, neatly tucked away under an awning and having a laugh.

Kelli Stavast shares a laugh - Toronto 2014

Eventually, after three hours or so of this, it became obvious that there just wasn’t going to be enough time left to hold a race. Even if the rain were to let up – which it didn’t.

Still, a small dose of cussedness on my part did result in a few memorable photos that I would have missed had I snuck off the island earlier: seven-time Toronto race winner, and now team owner, Michael Andretti talking things over, former series champion and Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya lurking under an umbrella, and one of the vehicles belonging to the crack Holmatro Safety Team reflected in the wet pavement of the front straight.

Mr. Andretti talks it over

Juan Pablo Montoya - Toronto 2014

Holmatro reflections - wet track in Toronto

And then, my best camera began to act up, its LCD screen staunchly refusing to display anything, and its autofocus system hunting around on its own, as if possessed. I suspect that even though it was well mummified in plastic bags, water from my hands had gotten into one or other of the shutter release buttons, tricking it into thinking it to be half-pressed. The probable culprit is my aftermarket battery grip – a plastic fantastic creation that’s about as far from weather sealed as my hat is.

I finally sent a testy text to my team leader, to which the almost immediate reply was: “Officially scrubbed. They just announced it in the media room.” I don’t know how much longer it took for this information to make its way over the PA system for the remaining soggy fans, but I was out of there like a shot, heading for the comfort of the media centre and its rapidly dwindling supply of coffee. Where, predictably, I found all of my colleagues, who’d bailed out hours earlier (fair enough – the ones who were supposed to be shooting grandstands full of enthusiastic fans, or cars racing around the track, really hadn’t had a whole lot to do. But really, now.)

And that was Saturday – a postponed race, leading the “2inTO” weekend to become Sunday’s even catchier “2inTO Today”. Friday, by the way, was fair, as was most of Sunday. But Saturday, as they say, was a wash. More or less literally.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography, Racing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Perfect Purple – or, how a prompt word (or two) can help

Occam’s Typewriter is a humbling place, sometimes.

Surrounded by novelists, published authors of fiction, and those who write redoubtable, well-researched and thought-provoking editorial and opinion pieces, it’s a bit easy to be overwhelmed by that imposter syndrome that keeps rearing its ugly head. Why am I writing here, and how do I stack up against my OT peers? Sure, I can knock out documents all day long at work, with sensible grammar, good structure, and careful wordsmithing. But this imposter syndrome has nothing to do with my science career. It has everything to do with creative writing. Specifically, the “what on earth am I going to write about today?” problem.

One way around this, familiar to me through its use by my wife and many of her online fiction-writing colleagues, is the use of the “prompt”. A word or phrase, to kick-start some ideas. As in, “write a 500-word vignette about…”. It could be a thing, an emotion, a concept – anything that is broad enough to allow for some latitude in interpretation. She applies this approach successfully all the time.

Perhaps I need to start using prompts for what I write here. I can’t, unfortunately, think of a way this might help me at work. The obvious prompt word, “genomics”, is already something I think about all the time. It’s also likely to send me spinning off reams of pages about experiments and capacities and outputs and all of the other things that, while they form the meat of much of my science writing, are about as far from “art” and “creativity” as science can get.

One area where I have started using this, though, is in my other creative output of photography. In a way, I’ve forced myself to respond to prompts recently. The first examples are the monthly assignments being served up as part of the DEDPXL website and community, which I’ve mentioned before. March featured “Lines“, and April was “Repetitive shape and form, pattern, rhythm“. Making photographs to fit these themes has certainly helped me to be a bit more creative, which is of course the point of the assignments.

Tables, seating, shadows
A photograph of some repetitive shapes and forms, recently.

The second source of prompts is through perhaps a less likely-seeming source, the Getty Images Moment App.

I’ve been a casual contributor to Getty’s creative collection for a few years now, through their now-terminated partnership with Flickr. Fortunately for the thousands of contributors like myself, we’ve all been migrated to the new “Moment” collection on Getty, and as part of this, Getty’s released a smartphone app. It was created, as far as I can tell, as a way for editorial (news-y) smartphone photos to make their way rapidly into Getty’s collections. But it’s also an easy method for the company to ask its contributors for photographs fitting specific themes… using any camera at all, not just the phone itself, and, you guessed it, words or phrases to describe them. Prompts. And that’s just what I’ve needed to shake up my creativity, which has suffered rather during the very long, atypically cold, and just plain miserable winter and spring here in southern Ontario.

Rail fence and snow
Greenwood, Ontario, during the winter

The themes are sometimes quite obviously looking for newsworthy shots (“May Day Protests”, “Washington State Mudslide”, “Tornadoes”), but are frequently more conceptual – possibly aimed at filling gaps in the Getty collections, or perhaps in response to a brief from a client or ad agency. My favourites so far have been “Capitols”, which was a good reason to go and photograph some City Halls and legislature buildings, and the highly conceptual “Perfect Purple”. Which is where my wife comes back in, because when she is not writing, she is quite adept at arranging things artistically for studio shoots. Not for nothing did she spend ten years in retail management, including a large piece of visual merchandising. And she also, quite by coincidence, owns a not-insignificant number of pretty, purple things.

Initially, she worked out a concept with a dress, shoes, handbag, amethyst jewelry, make-up and a mirror (also happily with a purple frame), which resulted in these shots:

Purple dress, shoes, handbag

Study - purple preparation

And then it was just down to modifying the concept – simplifying by using only a couple of elements, like the handbag and dress, or coming in close for a detail shot of the make-up brush:

Purple #2

Purple #1

A couple of hours flew by, and at the end of it I felt like I was back in the game. Most of the images I submitted were accepted (although Getty passed on the handbag photo, because it was too similar to others in the series). I felt like some kind of studio photography superstar (although there are certainly ways in which these could all be improved). And all by virtue of that tiny prompt phrase, “Perfect Purple”.

Now, I just need a few more to apply to my Occam’s Typewriter writing, and I’m all set.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography, Writing | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Lines. Lines. Lines.

I have lines on my mind.

Just recently, commercial photographer and photography instructor Zack Arias has (finally!) launched his DEDPXL website, complete with Q&A videos, the obligatory blog, links to merchandise including the upcoming renewal of his popular Onelight instructional video, and a section for non-photography, but inspirational, things called The Society of Good Stuff, authored by Zack’s wife Meghan. Meghan identifies herself as an un-photographer, but is an excellent singer and songwriter. Zack himself has some serious chops, ranging from personal projects and street photography, through instructing at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, all the way to photographing the CEO of Coca-Cola. Plus, he sports a stylish goatee and flat cap, occasionally plays the ukelele, and seems like the nicest guy in the world.

One exciting aspect of DEDPXL, for those who’ve been waiting for the relaunch, is that Zack has embarked on a series of assignments for his readers. These are designed to push us to think more, create new work that is different from our usual photographs, and “see the photograph” in the scenes around us (or in our mind’s eye, visualizing before shooting). The theme of the first uses a single prompt word: Lines. The accompanying video is almost hypnotic, and now I can hear him saying the word over, and over, and over again. Lines. Lines lines lines. Lines.

What’s interesting about this exercise is how open to interpretation it is. That single word, “lines”, makes me think of all kinds of different things:

  • visual lines of buildings, roads, railings
  • railway lines
  • power lines
  • lines of text
  • lines of music
  • curved lines
  • parallel lines
  • intersecting lines
  • lines of people queuing for things
  • grade school students writing lines as punishment (do they still do that?)
  • the clean or attractive “lines” of a ship, or a car, or a piece of clothing
  • age lines on a face

And so on.

The first photographs I specifically went out to shoot with this theme in mind were, well, fairly predictable. Railings. Windows. A view I’ve sat near for a long time, and photographed before.

Phone lines

High lines - Eaton Centre, Toronto

Skylines and Blinds

Then I started seeing lines in placed I hadn’t noticed, hiding in plain sight.

Crossing Lines - Eaton Centre, Toronto

Looking back through some of the first crop of boring escalator-and-staircase type photographs, I began to find unintentionally interesting bits. A reflection and the underside of an escalator, for example.

Marble, escalator, lines - FCP, Toronto

Then I started thinking about studio photographs. What do I have with lines? A bamboo box? A vinyl LP? Some books? Pencils? Straws? Matches? This could go on forever.

Box of lines

Grooves are lines, too

As the month unfolds, I’ll be looking for, and with luck finding, lines in new locations, and learning to see those photographs a bit more than I do now. Which is, of course, the point of the exercise. As long as I can avoid that little shoulder-sitting demon Zack muttering in my ear, or walking along mumbling under my breath: “Lines. Lines. Lines…”

More DEDPXL assignment photographs here. Everybody’s attempts are in the DEDPXL Assignments Flickr group.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

UK Photography, OR how my ten-year-old daughter kicked my butt, three times

A few months ago, I posted this photograph of my daughter piloting my best camera and biggest telephoto lens, while I was reduced to snapping a picture of her with an early-1970’s vintage rangefinder loaded with honest-to-goodness black and white film. In that post, I alluded to a few occasions on our recent UK trip where she not only snaffled the camera, but outdid her old dad – quite convincingly.

The first such occasion I’m willing to admit to was in the challengingly dim light inside the White Tower, the most-recognizable bit of the Tower of London. It’s chock-full of interesting displays, very heavy on armaments and armour. Exhibit A:

Kicked1

On the left is her take on this display, and on the right, my attempt to be artistic. Hers, you will note, has foreground interest provided by the armour suit, and masses the shields behind in a pleasing way by viewing them at an angle. Mine, on the other hand, is flat, and full of distracting gaps showing the background, passersby, a window, and an unpleasant green thing at the left.

On to another day, this time for a run up the London Eye.

Kicked2

There are lots of nice views from up here, but the most iconic one must be this – the Palace of Westminster and its famous clock tower, nestled by the River Thames and Westminster bridge. Again, I’m on the right, and She Who Snaffles Nikons is on the left.

Her photo is from a steeper angle, which provides a more interesting perspective, and accentuates the angle of the junction between the bridge and the building. It also lays out the city rather nicely. Being terribly clever, she also waited until the iconic red double-decker buses were nicely spread out on the bridge. Mine tries to do all of these things, just not as well. I’ll claim a minor victory in that the sky is a bit more interesting in mine, but that’s about it.

Now, off to Scotland.

Kicked3

Here, we have a pair of photographs from our last evening in Lanarkshire, out with family for dinner at The Mill Inn. The meal was delicious, and the evening was bright and clear. Just the right conditions for some photographs of this picturesque spot. Cue the by-now predictable result.

In my attempt (again on the right), the building looks rather long, and there is a car visible, rather spoiling the vibe. The roof line also completely fails to intersect the top left corner, which is where it ought to go. By contrast, her tighter composition and steeper angle accentuates the shape of the building, places the door nicely at the left of the frame, stuffs the roofline into the corner, omits the car, and emphasizes the wagon wheel to add interest. Even the flower beds look more attractive, taking up a greater proportion of the frame, and there’s a pretty gleam of late-evening sunlight picking up the door.

So there you have it. Three out of three to the progeny. I’ll claim another minor victory in that I think my Stonehenge photographs were a bit better, although she was the only one of us to successfully capture one of the omnipresent crows in flight. And I win the Battle Of The Portraits, but only because she’s several orders of magnitude more photogenic than I am.

Now we’re into February, and I’m keeping that camera under wraps. I’m not sure I’m up to eating more photographic humble pie just yet – although perhaps I should just bite the bullet, hand it over, and claim that I taught her everything she knows. In the meantime, I think I’ll give a few of my favourite photography books another read, to see if I can sneakily bone up on a few secrets before next summer, while she’s still distracted with schoolwork.

Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Another New Beginning

I sense a theme.

Henry’s just posted about the arrival of his new book, and Richard about that of his and Jenny’s new son. Athene’s Moving on to Pastures New and its companion, Moving On (Part II) are similarly about change. Going back a few more weeks, we find Jenny picking up her lab and moving it. Everywhere you look at Occam’s Typewriter, it’s all about the new.

Never one to avoid easy blogging by riffing on what everyone else is doing, I’ll jump on this bandwagon with our very own lab move from our home of the past eight years at the MaRS Discovery District, to the brand-new, shiny Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning. Adventures in Wonderland readers with long memories may remember my post from early 2012, about Mr. Gilgan’s announcement of a $40 million donation to what most people were still calling the Research and Learning Tower. A year and a half later, the ribbon was cut, in a touching ceremony featuring the young patient profiled in this video. Last week, I moved in to my office, and today marks the end of the move for the laboratory and the rest of our 70-odd person staff.

13

The move results in the mind-bending problem of having to remember to press “13”, rather than “14” in the elevator, although this really isn’t such a big problem as the three floors from 13 to 15 are joined by stairwells leading to an open atrium. Getting off at thirteen also provides a reminder of the tremendous efforts of Tim Hockey, who not only spearheaded the fundraising campaign, but also chose to make a personal donation to support our floor. Tim’s connection with our hospital, and in particular medical genetics research, goes a long way towards explaining his involvement.

Although the labs were still vacant until the equipment and people moved this week, the offices have been occupied since last Wednesday, and along with myself, our administrative staff, the students and postdocs, and the informaticians all moved in. Blanketed with warm, fuzzy wireless and surrounded by network infrastructure ten times faster than in the old building, we were set to go.

Lab, awaiting
The lab, last week – awaiting its occupants.

Bioinformaticians
Bioinformaticians, hard at work outside my office.

And now, things are piling up in the lab, with service technicians scurrying around our fleet of sequencers, microarray scanners, robotics, and other instruments. Students, postdocs, and technicians are carving out their bench space, and the happy babble of discussions about genes and mutations and experiments and analysis is filling the building’s airy, light and inviting interactive spaces. The grand opening events of September the 17th are a pleasant memory, and the work of making this new space work for us is just beginning. Arrivals and beginnings, indeed.

DNA Sequencing I

Tips

Molecular Translation

Watchword - Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning


Black and white photographs: Voigtländer VF-101 with Ilford XP2 Super film. Colour image: Nikon D5000 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. More photographs in this Flickr set.

Posted in Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Snapped and Snatched

Recently, I lost my camera.

Bye-bye, Nikon
A photographer and somebody else’s Nikon.

Fortunately, I got it back, but not after the young photographer pictured above was done with it. It’s not the first time this has happened. On our recent jaunt to the UK, and following an enjoyable, if jet-lagged, lunchtime meet-up with Richard, Jenny, their not-quite-born-yet child, and Richard’s two daughters, she absconded with the Nikon rig on a few occasions: the South Bank of the Thames, the British Museum, Stonehenge, the Tower of London… more than just a few, now that I stop to count. And well and truly kicked my photographic butt with a few of her pictures. That might be another blog post, if I can let paternal pride over-ride the embarrassment and niggling jealousy.

While she was artistically shooting dappled light and foliage at the cottage a couple of weeks later, I snatched the photo above using good old analogue film. The camera I used was the circa 1970 Minolta Hi-Matic 11 pictured below. The film was Arista Premium 400, widely believed to be re-branded Kodak Tri-X. Fortunately, there are still photo labs nearby that develop black and white film, saving me from having to dig into that silver chemistry by embarking on home developing.

Minolta Hi-Matic 11
What a beauty. Features a Rokkor-PF 45mm f/1.7 lens, in case anyone’s interested.

The photo at the top, posted to Flickr two days ago, has rapidly become one of my most-viewed, and gathered up far more “favourites” than any other in my photostream. Most of this is due to it appearing in Flickr’s Explore, a daily greatest-hits chosen in a somewhat mysterious way that I’ve mentioned before. Whatever the reason, people seem to like it. And so do I.

Now it’s Thursday, the Third Day of School, and the pictured photographer’s eleventh birthday. Happy Birthday, you Nikon-snatching hoodlum.

Posted in Family, Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A little preparation – the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto

It’s the end of August, and high time I wrote something about my gig as a credentialed media photographer for the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend, back in July.

Carlos Munoz, Sunday practice at the Honda Indy Toronto
The bridge, a subtle reminder that this is the Honda Indy Toronto.

Each of the past four years that I’ve done this, I’ve made time during race week to get to pre-race publicity events – question and answer sessions with drivers, fan festivals, driver appearances at the children’s hospital, and the like. Although not always directly associated with the race itself, these lend some colour to the run-up to race weekend. Occasionally, these photographs have been used in press releases, and once in a while, picked up by the wider motorsports press. So there can be some value to covering these, although the vast majority of my photos are never used for anything.

However, sometimes things fall nicely into place – as they did this year, when former series champion and popular New Zealander Scott Dixon came into town having just won the previous weekend’s race at the curiously triangular Pocono speedway. Dixon was slated to open Toronto’s Stock Exchange – a perfect Toronto-themed photo op.

Scott Dixon opens the Toronto Stock Exchange
Dixon (centre) at the Stock Exchange. He’s obviously not required to wear a suit.

With a little extra time, I was able to pose Dixon next to the Honda Indy Toronto show car, complete with its “2inTO” tail logo announcing the two-race doubleheader. As it turned out, this was a fortunate choice – Dixon would go on to win both races. What was an obvious publicity shot became a perfect counterpart to the two victories, just because of a little bit of advance work.

But all of that was still in the future. On race weekend, it’s a given that photos of all of the drivers are needed, both on and off track. Shoot everyone, and by definition you’ve got the winner in there somewhere. Among the others, I photographed Dixon riding his scooter, signing autographs, and participating in a Q&A session with his fans – all good background in case of a victory, or two. And of course, the obligatory on-track shots as well.

DSC_0257ed
Get every car on track, and you’ve got the winner in among them. Dixon rounds turn 11 onto the front straight, early in Saturday’s race.

After Dixon’s win on Saturday, more coverage on Sunday was an obvious need, so I stationed myself right in front of his spot on the false grid. He had brought his family, including his mother, wife and two daughters, making for a picture-perfect photo op.

Scott and Emma applaud the anthems - Honda Indy Toronto
Scott and Emma applaud the anthems. A nice, calm moment before the race.

And then he ran away with the second race as well, although not without some concern from his strategist and team.

Dixon's crew - nail biting time
Nail biting time – Dixon’s pit wall team keep an eye on their driver during Sunday’s race.

The race again offered up some nice photo opportunities – pit stops, isolation shots of the crew, and more on-track action. But the real highlight came when, with a dozen laps or so left, I escaped the “island” in between pit lane and the front straight and made my way to Winner’s Circle. Where I was unexpectedly stationed on top of the trailer used as a backdrop for the trophy presentations – a location I’ve never shot from before, and a ton of fun. Fortunately, I didn’t drop anything on the winners, and managed to snag both wide scenes showing the media scrum and crowd, and a nice tight one of the podium party itself.

Richard Wintle shooting the Honda Indy Toronto
Yes, that’s me, on top of the trailer. Photo © 2013 Rick Andoga for Honda Indy Toronto, used with permission.

Victory Circle - race #2, Honda Indy Toronto
The podium finishers celebrate as the confetti cannon fires… again!

Podium ceremony, race #2, Honda Indy Toronto
The podium – Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and some sponsor representatives.

But the shot of the event still has to be this one, from Thursday morning – Dixon, prophetically posed with the doubleheader logo, as yet unaware that he’d be taking home both trophies. Just a little preparation and effort ahead of time, and we end up with the storytelling photo of the weekend – taken long before a single wheel even turned on track.

Scott Dixon - Mister 2inTO himself
2inTO, indeed.


More photos in four sets in my Autosport Collection.

Posted in Photography, Racing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I smell a meme.

Some days ago, Henry posted a set of what he describes as “more or less impertinent questions” asked of “various working scientists”, and challenged his readers to answer them. Now, I’m not much of a twenty-first-century technophile, but even I know that such a thing is sometimes called a meme, and as such, absolutely demands a response, much like chain letters of yore.

Why two weeks late, you ask? Well, when Henry first posted, I was either en route to Stonehenge or back, or up the London Eye, or somewhere else equally devoid of internet connection. But more on that trip later.

Questions, questions… and answers.


1. Summarise yourself in the form of a title of a paper in Nature.
Work habits of a Canadian molecular biologist – a 45-year retrospective”.

2. What was your first experiment as a child?
Probably something involving vinegar, baking soda, and a corked test tube. Just imagine.

3. What makes a good scientific mentor?
The willingness to really “go to bat” for your trainees. Sometimes having the boss stand up for you can be a real confidence booster. Other times, I suppose it could have the opposite effect.

4. Who has been the most important mentor in your career?
Diane Wilson Cox, who took me on as an undergraduate, and subsequently graduate, student, despite my less-than-stellar undergraduate academic record.

5. Other than your mentor, whose graduate student would you most like to have been (historical impossibility notwithstanding)?
Lap-Chee Tsui, whose lab was next door. Many friends and acquaintances worked for him, and he was a member of my graduate thesis committee. His lab was also extraordinarily productive.

6. You are the only scientist at a party. How do you describe what you do for a living?
I tell them I try to understand how autism runs in families, like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. That’s usually technical enough.

7. What single paper, talk, experiment or other event has been most influential in your career?
A tiny little exonuclease assay that proved I had mapped to the end of chromosome 14. While rather insignificant in the great scheme of things, it was the final nail in the coffin that was my PhD work, and allowed me to write up and finish.

8. What literary character would you employ as a postdoc, and why?
I rather liked Andy, from Jennifer Rohn’s “Experimental Heart“. Seemingly a bit directionless, when the going gets tough, he gets the job done. Saying any more would spoil the plot, so I’ll leave it there.

9. What was the worst/most memorable comment you ever received from a referee?
I don’t remember. It can’t have been that bad, I guess. A collaborator did once congratulate a former supervisor on having gotten so much work out of her summer student (i.e., me), which was a bit gratifying, if not exactly what the question asked for.

10. What gives you the most job satisfaction now?
Gathering data about our research and operations outputs – publications, billing information for the core facility, activity, outreach. I’m consistently amazed by how much we manage to get done.

11. Why is physics so hard?
I never found it particularly hard, and even considered adding a minor in Physics to my Molecular Genetics and Molecular Biology undergraduate degree. But I suspect the right answer is “integral calculus”.

12. What are your major frustrations?
Human Resources. Anyone surprised by that?

13. What book is currently on your bedside table?
It’s actually on the floor – Galen Rowell’s “Inner Game of Outdoor Photography“.

14. Do you have a burning ambition to do something of no practical or immediate value? If so, what?
I would really like to take a photograph that becomes an icon, like Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss“, or Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square“.

15. Which field of science (apart from your own) deserves more funding?
Conservation research. Everywhere in the world.

16. What music heads the playlist in your car or lab?
Rock of various kinds, mostly not current.

17. What do you most dislike about having research published?
That nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, I forgot some important control.

18. Where and when would you most like to have lived and worked?
I’ve always loved things related to Medieval Britain – castles, knights in armour, all that stuff. But I suspect the reality would be rather unpleasant by modern standards.

19. The job of Captain of the U. S. S. Enterprise in Star Trek has become vacant. Nominate any real person, living or dead, for the post.
Although a privateer and slaver, I think Sir Francis Drake has the right kind of swashbuckling and adventurous credentials.

20. The internet is the bane of a scientist’s life because …
It’s like looking up a word in a dictionary. There are endless interesting distractions.

21. You have the audience in your hands, but some smart-alec asks you a killer question you’ve no idea how to answer. What do you say?
I’d follow an excellent piece of advice from a previous supervisor – if you don’t know the answer, say that you don’t know.

22. Assuming the dead can be raised and/or time travel exists, who from the world outside science would you most like to have dinner with?
I imagine photographer Robert Capa would have some good tales, as would John Steinbeck. Jesus Christ would be interesting too, naturally, although perhaps that would be theologically dangerous.

23. You are on a plane behind two students obviously going to the same conference, who start to talk about your work. What do you do?
I’ll go with Henry’s answer here: eavesdrop. Then lean over the seat and introduce myself, at a time carefully calculated to cause maximum embarrassment to all.

24. What one thing would you rescue from your burning laboratory?
My laptop. Except it’s in an office across the hall from the laboratory. Not sure there’s anything specific over there I really care about that much, unless people count as “things”.

25. What overlooked or underrated discovery really changed the science in which you work?
The micropipettor. How could you do molecular biology without one?

26. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
From the same former supervisor as provided the “if you don’t know the answer…” advice: “Positive control. Negative control. Every experiment.”

27. What do you do to relax?
Go to car races and take hundreds of photographs. Then spend hours and hours editing them.

28. What would you have become, if not a scientist?
Seems to me that junk bond trader might have been a good choice, although professional musician might have been an option. I used to play piano competently and clarinet quite well, once upon a time. No idea if I could have made a living at it, though.

29. What’s your motto?
I’ve had several over the years, but Bob Dylan’s line “Twenty years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift” has always been a favourite. I do like a line from a Pier Giorgio Di Cicco poem too: “There is another way of putting this. But I forgot it.” Not really mottos, I suppose, but they seem relevant.

30. Is there a ‘tyranny of reductionism’ in how scientists are trained today?
I have no idea what that means. So maybe.

31. If you were reborn as a comic-book superhero, what would be your superpower?
Am I allowed to choose? Teleportation would be good, since I enjoy visiting new places, but I really hate the mechanics of traveling. If it had to be something from an established comic-book superhero, flying like Superman.

32. What previously under-recognised sport should be included in the Olympic Games?
I’d like to see a return to the Classical days, where poetry and drama were included. Failing that, how about freestyle luge jumping for the winter games, and Jai alai for the summer?

33. What’s the one thing about science you wish the public understood better?
That sometimes it’s really, really hard to find an answer.

34. Under what conditions do you have your greatest or most inspired ideas?
Usually while walking from place to place, without anything available to record them.

35. Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings?
Do I have to choose? Potter. But how about Narnia?

36. You’ve just been told (in confidence) that the world will end tomorrow. What do you do?
Find my family and do whatever they want to.

37. What’s the most interesting thing in your fridge?
Delicious chutney made by my father-in-law. Mmm chutney.

38. What’s your favourite conference destination, and why?
That I’ve been to? Bangkok. A completely mental city that nevertheless seems to have an underlying calm. And incredible architecture, tremendous modern shopping, wonderful night markets, and delicious food everywhere. I could go on for hours.

39. What one thing would you change about Nature (the magazine, not the concept)?
Much as I love that people study astronomy, cosmology, and high-energy particle physics, I really can’t get much out of articles on those topics. So I’d replace them with beautiful photographs illlustrating the findings.

40. Which actor would best portray you in a film of your life story?
According to this experiment, it seems the Internet prefers Patrick Swayze. I, however, would choose Kevin Bacon, because he’s cool.

41. Name one extravagance you can now get away with because of your eminence.
Eminence? That may be over-stating things. But I can close my office door, because I now have an office. Even seven years after first getting my own, it still seems like a luxury.

42. What music would you have played at your funeral?
Although Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” jumps to mind, I think for the sake of anyone attending I would instead request the Air from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – the famous “Air on a G String”.

43. What would be the title of your autobiography?
Read Something Else, This Is Boring.”

44. What’s just around the corner?
Goodness knows. I’m only forty-five, with kids that aren’t even teenagers yet, and a wonderful wife. All kinds of things could happen.

Posted in Blogging, Science | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A few weeks in May (condensed version)

Gosh, it’s been a while. Things have been happening, but blogging has not been one of them. In recent memory, I’ve said I intend to post about more of my recent film camera acquisitions, and additional delving into local history. I’m not sure this post is going to satisfy either of those promises. Not much, anyway.

Ryan gets it wrong
Racing season beginneth – getting it slightly wrong on the first lap.

In among some automotive shenanigans, the local sportscar racing season having kicked off on Victoria Day weekend, I’ve also managed to punch a few more rolls through the old cameras, mainly by haunting more old cemeteries – plus a few more modern ones.

Little Angel
King City Cemetery – Kodak Gold 200 film, Minolta Hi-Matic 11 camera.

Even more fun is the beginning of this year’s reprise of my role as an event photographer for the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend, coming up in July. This year’s first event was a photo call with popular Canadian drivers James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani, as part of the publicity run-up to the Indy 500, which was last Sunday. Neither driver won, sentimental favourite and perennial runner-up Tony Kanaan finally taking his first title, but on this day, both Canadians were in fine form, answering fan questions on Toronto’s sunny waterfront.

Hinch and Tags in Toronto
James “The Mayor of Hinchtown” Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani, Harbourfront, Toronto.

Lest you think that all I’ve spent the last few weeks doing was chasing around with a camera, yesterday I spent the morning interviewing potential undergraduate co-op students from the nearby University of Waterloo. That requires an always-enjoyable drive to Wellington County – of course with a stop-off here or there if time permits. This time, “there” was the ruins of the old mill in Doon, Ontario, a lovely location I was tipped off to by excellent nature photographer and mill enthusiast Harold Stiver, whose work you can see on Flickr.

Old Mill, Doon, Ontario
Ferrie’s mill in Doon, dated 1839.

So there you have it – not much of great import happening, and a pretty lackadaisical approach to reporting it. Things will only get busier as the summer approaches… including, if all goes to plan, increasing by several hundred percent the number of Occam’s Typewriter authors I’ve met in person – a figure that won’t be hard to beat, since it currently stands at just one.

Posted in Blogging, Hobbies, Photography, Racing, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments