stick it to the man(ual)

I failed the first statistics test I ever wrote. It was open book (insert sad trombone sound).

This is the only test I’ve ever failed. I had no excuse other than that I firmly believed the material refused to get inside my head. (IT was stubborn… not me. Of course this is not an excuse that any self-respecting professor will accept, so I do not recommend it.) In the end, I just barely passed the course, but I don’t remember the exact details of how I managed that as I’ve buried the experience pretty deep. Or at least I had. This program, and in particular this thesis, have caused many of my previous apprehensions about statistics to resurface.

Things that keep me up at night: am I actually seeing patterns in the data? Is the dataset big enough?

Read More

under pressure

In theory I have lots of time on my hands. I only work 8 hours a day (unlike my previous jobs, it’s a bit tough to bring winery work home). This should mean I have loads of time to write my thesis, enjoy my summer, relax. So of course, I promptly joined a barbershop chorus. This is a style of music I’ve never worked with before…isn’t barbershop just for men? (you ask) Actually, no – it’s a style of a capella harmonization with four voices, which can be sung by male, female or mixed groups.

Easy mistake to make.

Though I’ve sung in choirs for years, this is really different, and very challenging. I’m singing the part of the baritone (though an octave higher than the male baritone voice), and its function is to fill out the chord (the famous barbershop seventh) that the other three voices – tenor, lead and bass; regardless of whether males or females – are singing.

There is NO vibrato. This element will be tough to eliminate after years of classical training, which I’m starting again with a great teacher in Niagara. The vibrato comes so naturally, even my Iron Maiden covers 5 years ago featured it. (We were probably the only Maiden tribute band with much of that… Metal opera: Viking helmets meet headbanging! …..Also, very dangerous…perhaps protective eyewear would also be in order.) And there are far more sequins in barbershop performance than I’m used to – though my short time in Niagara means I’m unlikely to besparkle myself just yet.

Read More

falling down the rabbit hole

It is beautiful in Bordeaux right now: the temperatures are comfortably in the teens – Celsius, that is! Lest you think my cold-blooded Canadian genes allow me to survive in frigid conditions (they do… but that’s a secret superpower we don’t talk about…sorry!) – and even the 20s. While I, I am taking the road less travelled by – not travelling at all. By that I mean locking myself in my apartment to work on the big year-end audit, spinning the threads of our analysis into gold for the final report.

I’m following the “down the rabbithole” scientific method.

The benefit of my corporate experience, particularly my Procurement role where I had to sort through mountains of sometimes incomplete data to create solutions, is that I have become very comfortable with scaling said mountains of data quickly, and sketching out assumptions and insights . The downside is that it has not prepared me well for scientific research, which requires a more methodical approach, building insights and conclusions step-by-step from complete and verifiable data. Leaps of insight need to be documented, vectors calculated, rough sketches need to be fully coloured in and referenced. Each attempt to fill in the details leads me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Hmmm… this gets curiouser and curiouser…

Hours, or maybe days later… Read More

stop and smell the rosés

My mother used to make the best icing. Like many of her tried and true recipes, it came from the Joy of Cooking (to this day my first and only cooking bible), and called for confectioner’s sugar, butter, vanilla and cream (and of course food colouring). There were two things that made it so special; the first was that it was only ever made to top birthday cakes (there are 8 in my family, so many opportunities in a year). The second was it was hard icing, unlike the soft butter cream icings that everyone else seemed to prefer. It was the hours-long (!) wait in the fridge between the time the cake got iced and the time it got served, which made it harden. And then when you ate it, the first bite or two of cake was framed with a stiff sugary crust, but then the third bite (assuming you could slow down and make the slice last more than 30 seconds) was when the icing would start to soften and even melt in your mouth if you let it linger on your tongue. That’s what made it sublime.

Vanilla beans, vanilla extract, vanilla flavoured icing. I come by this memory honestly!

Read More

things that go bump in the vines

The end is nigh! Sort of… it’s rapidly dawning on me that I’m in what feels like the final stretch of this program. At the time of writing, I have only two months left of school, followed by a month of travel and wrapping up in Bordeaux, then a summer-long internship in Canada (more on that later) and then a thesis defence back in France to finish the final year. Even though there’s technically 10 months to go, being able to go home in three months makes the program feel much shorter, even though it’s getting very busy. Read More