Danger, explosive material: the dynamite plunger plot

(This was originally written with University of Toronto immunologists in mind, but this material certainly applies to anyone else thinking about committing this sort of atrocity. Hopefully I’ll get around to posting some R code later as well.)

You tremble with excitement and fear at the front of the conference room, your fingers reaching for the trackpad on your laptop, about to display the first glorious bit of results from your project. Sitting in front of you are three other people – it’s your first committee meeting.


Your nervous grin slowly gives way to confused look as your eyes wander to the committee member to the right. She firmly sets her coffee cup on the table, her fingers trembling.

“Martha, what’s wrong with this figure?” asks your supervisor, seated to the left.

Martha splays several fingertips on her forehead, ventilating heavily in an attempt to avoid an outburst of anger.

“Is it the data?” asks your supervisor.

“No. The problem,” mumbles Martha, “is how it’s displayed. No one should ever use these types of plots.”

“Martha, I demand that all my students use these plots. Every single time. No exceptions. Why complicate things? They’re easy—”

“What?! That is complete garbage and you know it!” growls Martha, staring into the soul behind your supervisor’s eyes.



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The urbanite

Upon my arrival at Pearson airport, a friend asked, “Sad or glad to be back?”

That question gave me pause, if only for a few minutes.

Certain large cities offer a vibrant, ever-changing dynamic that you can’t find in a smaller town. Think of all the wonderful things that could happen in a large city — the sights and sounds you surround yourself with walking down the street or the incredible tastes to whet your appetite. The abundance of festivals that seemingly celebrate the most inconsequential of things. You know, things that are hard to find in a tiny bedroom community or a city whose downtown exists purely, in the most literal sense, as a commuter destination.

My origins date back to a now non-existent hospital in Calgary, a quaint little pocket called Northlake in the northwest corner of Waterloo, Ontario, and Richmond, British Columbia, a suburb where Chinese people form the majority. Central Richmond certainly doesn’t feel small anymore — walk 10 minutes from my parents’ townhouse and you enter the very beginnings of an urban jungle, dotted with new condominiums and galvanized by a SkyTrain line (i.e., subway for you Torontonians!). Walk down King Street in Kitchener-Waterloo and it’s obvious that the governments there have grand schemes in mind to bring that area past its sleepy-backwater reputation.

Living across the Fraser River from Vancouver and living in Toronto have always brought some sense of wonder into what makes large cities tick. It’s genuinely astounding how quickly these cities have managed to forge their own new identities over the past several years. I still remember when there wasn’t much around False Creek in Vancouver, or when Toronto, in the early 1990s, was nothing special and only a place for my family to get our fix of Asian groceries every month at Spadina & Dundas. (Case in point: Toronto is in the New York Times’ list of places to visit in 2016.)

And whenever I visit places like San Francisco, Boston, or New York City, I can’t help but dive right in — eyes wide open — blend in with the locals with camera in tow, and experience these cities first-hand by foot and train — no guides, no tour buses. Just a rough plan and a sense of adventure.

I have essentially become a proud urbanite.

So, my final answer to that question? Of course I’m glad to be back in Toronto.