Tofino reprise

Last week, I was away on vacation, capping off my month of not being around much.  And what a month it has been!  The final week of June was spent about as far west as you can get in Canada with a car.  It is, in fact, the western end of the trans-Canada highway.  Which, if I may say so, just kind of ends on a little unobtrusive dock.  Highly unimpressive.

Anyhow, my wife and I convinced my parents to join us out there to enjoy some great food, beaches, scenery and (of course) company.  We all had a great time, and my wife and I even took a surfing lesson on the one least rainy day. (She still has the bruises, but I guarantee I drank more salt-water.)  In any case, I thought I’d post one of my wife’s pictures – One of the few times I’ll let anyone take my picture, really – I’m far from photogenic.

Although you can’t tell from the picture, all of the rain gave me the perfect opportunity to show off my Complete Genomics hat.  I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest I may have been the only person in Tofino (pop. 1,650) who had the faintest idea what Complete Genomics is, but that isn’t quite the point.

Anyhow, with the weather being so un-cooperative, I don’t have much in the picture department to show.  I’ll just include my favorite of the trip – part of the broken islands.

I’m glad I had the chance to visit Tofino in the summer – it’s really a stunning place. Hopefully, one day I’ll visit and witness a day when it doesn’t rain.

Just to close out, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Surfing in a wet suit isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds – the water is warmer than it looks.
  2. Don’t give your kids a DVD player to watch on the road to Tofino, there are a lot of mountain switchbacks, and carsick kids can be messy. (Passed along by a colleague of my wifes, but the advice sounds pretty good!)



Looking for advice on moving to Europe

My wife and I have seriously been contemplating the future.  With the figurative grad school light at the end of the tunnel being visible, if not quite in focus yet, we’ve been seriously considering an opportunity to move to northern Europe.  (Yes, I’m being as generic as possible.)  However, neither one of us have lived outside of North America –  and have only visited Europe a couple of times on vacation.  That makes it pretty hard for us to critically evaluate the opportunity.

Thus, crowd-sourcing!   I was wondering if anyone had any advice they might be able to share with us on what we can do to make that move successfully – both things we should or shouldn’t do.  Or, if people think it’s a great idea, or a bad idea.  Really, we’re trying to cast the net as wide as possible on whatever advice people can give us because it’s really hard to make a decision like that without talking with people who have done it.

Some of the outstanding questions we have:

  • How did you find the language learning curve when moving to a non-English country?
  • How much of your stuff did you take with you?  What did you do with the stuff you left behind?
  • How did you find solutions to the “2-body” problem?
  • How long does the culture shock last?
  • Was it a hassle bringing pets?
  • What are the big “gottchas” that you didn’t see coming?
  • How long did it take to organize your move?  How hard was it?
  • Would you suggest that other people do it?
  • How long did you stay? (yes, not leaving ever is also an acceptable answer.)

And, of course, are we even asking the right questions?

Any advice you can give would be helpful for us, and of course, for other people who are faced with this decision in the future.


Phoenix, Arizona

I’ve only been in Phoenix for a few hours, but I’ve had a chance to form a few impressions that I thought I’d share.  Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera as I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to take any pictures, so unlike my visit to Copenhagen, my description will have to be entirely verbal.   In any case, I’ve had a couple of unexpected hours to wander the streets and learn a few things.  None of them are complaints – but they’re all things that really stood out for me this evening.

First, you don’t sweat in Phoenix.  Sure, your body might try, but the dry desert air sucks the moisture off of you so fast that it doesn’t have the opportunity to accumulate.  In fact, it sucks the moisture out of your pores, sinuses and throat too.   Oddly enough, you don’t really notice until you walk past a restaurant that is sprinkling cold water onto it’s patio as if it’s guests were ferns.  At that point, you notice how dry everything else is – and realize you should have packed an extra bottle of water when you went out walking.

Next, the vegetation in Phoenix’s downtown core is out of this world.  Nothing here grows in soil – anything that isn’t paved is covered in crushed red rock, out of which spiky cactus, succulents and whip-like grasses form tufts of green (or yellow) that look positively Martian.  I did find a strip of what was probably grass, once upon a time, but even that was growing (or had been trying to grow) out of a patch of crushed red rock.

The city is scattered with art, perhaps to made up for the sparseness of the landscape.  My favorite looked to be a 5 story tall net and metal “thing”, suspended above a parking lot, which was sort of reminiscent of what it would look like if you crossed a jelly fish’s dome with a mobius strip, flipped it inside out – and then made it out of enough mesh to shield a small african nation from mosquitos.

The building are tall, straight… and brown.  Actually everything is tall, straight and brown – or some shade between beige and red.  Coming from Vancouver’s green glass landscape, the red somewhat sears the eyeballs.  Everything from the soil to the bike racks to the entire face of a 30 story building are all painted or designed in a desert landscape palette.   You really can’t forget you’re in a desert when you’re in Phoenix.  (Even if the constant barrage of cacti weren’t enough.   For the record, I’ve always been a big fan of cacti, ever since I was a child, so this really isn’t a complaint!)  Even the architecture reminds me of cacti – either tall and narrow, or squat and boxy.  I propose that desert architects are probably inspired by the limited vegetation.

The days are short in the summer.  This is not a bad thing, really – the sun is seriously bright and hot in Phoenix, and I probably got more sun in 3 minutes here than I did all of last year.  However, I was surprised to see darkness descend at 7:30pm.  Summer days in Vancouver, for comparison, stay bright at least another 3 hours.

Finally, downtown Phoenix is pretty empty on a Sunday night.  That probably doesn’t surprise anyone, however.  I’m used to seeing tons of people out and about on in the summer time, enjoying patios and the good weather.  I suppose when your good weather never ends, there’s just that much less pressure to make the best of it.

All in all, it’s really a pretty place – and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to wander around a bit.  And, for the record, they do really good calzones here. (=

Copenhagenomics, here I come

In 24 hours, my wife and I will be boarding a plane for Toronto, to start our trip to Copenhagen.  I’m incredibly excited and have been looking forward to this since the invitation to go out that way arrived.

Unlike other trips out of Canada that I’ve done, this one is mostly about business.  I’m surprisingly excited about being an official conference blogger – that’s an experience that I doubt many people have had an opportunity to try – and I’m all ready to give it a shot. (I’ve even downgraded the kernel on my laptop to 2.6.37 to try to extend the battery life, just to get an edge on computer time between charges – how’s that for nerdiness?)  Copenhagenomics is looking to be an awesome conference, and the organizers are doing a great job with the web page, building some of the suspense for me.  I’m anticipating a great time – and a lot of “instantaneous blogging”.  (It’s one thing to write posts and sit on them for a few hours, and another to post blogs as an event is in progress.)

I’m also not going to pretend I don’t have other reasons to be excited.  I’m really looking forward to doing some photography in Denmark.  I’ve got my camera all packed up and ready to go, although I’m only bringing my stripped down gear: one body and two lenses.  I don’t expect to do a lot of photography during the conference, but we’ll see how it goes.  I’m not bringing the outboard flash, tho, so no conference party pictures, in case anyone was worried.

I’m also going to visit CLCbio, which I’ve been looking for an excuse to do for a long time.  If you’re not familiar with them, they’re one of the best independent bioinformatics/nextgen companies around, and only a train ride away from copenhagen.  I had seriously considered moving FindPeaks to their platform at one point, but in the end, decided it was a project that wouldn’t work towards my thesis – but I’m still excited about the platform and learning more about the company.   As you can imagine, I won’t be blogging this part of the trip, but it’s one of the standout highlights we have planned.

Finally, there’s also Copenhagen itself.  I’ve never been to Northern Europe, so it should be great fun.  Obviously, I don’t speak danish, but it’ll be fun to learn a little while we’re there.  I always try to pick up a few native words wherever I travel to somewhere non-English speaking. (My favorite word from our Tahiti trip, by the way, is Moh’oh’poh’pah’ah, which means frog.  I don’t get to use that in conversation often enough, so I thought I’d slip that in here.)

Oddly enough, I’m also looking forward to the plane ride itself.  Given 5 hours and 8 hours of travel time on the two legs, in which I’m stuck in about 1 m^3 of space, I figure I should be able to work on my paper/thesis without any interruptions.  With some luck, I’ll be able to finish off the paper, and maybe toss in a few pages of Chip-Seq discussion into my thesis.  Good times.

In any case, this should be a fun and productive trip.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go stuff a few socks into my bag.  See you in Copenhagen!