A Girl Least Likely, Part III

AN UNEXPECTED LIFE (cont’d from Part II): But guess what? I had two kids to raise. And to say that they saved my life is an understatement. They breathed life back into me. They alone are what drove me to seek out a brighter path. Our little family eventually healed. Therapy helped. By 1994, I took personal inventory and basically broke up with my former self.  I took a bookkeeping course sponsored by the provincial government’s social assistance program. I also took night classes in graphic arts.

A kind uncle hired me to help out with his market garden. This was probably my first formal foray into agriculture. We would spend hours in his huge garden, preparing produce for the market in Saskatoon. That uncle also decided to diversify.  He wanted to establish a u-pick orchard on some uncultivated spaces on his farm. 

A small plant biotechnology company in Saskatoon was using tissue culture technology to clone fruit trees. This represented something new to Saskatchewan and the prairies. I guarantee you that most, if not all, Saskatoon berry orchards in western Canada were established with this kind of technology. 

I eventually got a job with this company – where I wore many hats: bookkeeping, payroll, developing marketing materials. I even got to gather and record data from our experimental growth chambers 1000 ft below the surface of the earth at a mine in Flin Flon. We also worked on cloning indigenous plant material in northern SK to reclaim areas disturbed by mining.

This job opened the door to another opportunity. I was hired by a large multinational ag company to work in the greenhouse and labs.  My job was to make coffee, autoclave agar, order lab supplies, and develop informational materials for the lab and greenhouse for tours. Innovation place was a booming canola research centre. Scientists across the public and private sectors worked collaboratively in collective spaces. It truly was a remarkable time in Canada’s agricultural history.

I loved the job. Mostly, I loved the people I worked with. The opportunities and the intellectual stimulation made me want more for me and my family.

So, every year – from 1993 to 1996 – I had applied for and was accepted to the University of Saskatchewan.

And every damn time I chickened out.

While I had grown so much; gained so much confidence. I was still paralyzed by self-doubt.

Self-doubt is a powerful thing.

And when you are scared to do something, you can find every reason in the world not to do it.”

Family and friends did not really encourage me to “go rogue and be a single-parent-student” thing either. They probably held some of the same beliefs that I did. And, for a long time, I allowed their doubts to reinforce my own fears.

But it turns out all I needed was a nudge. And that nudge was a rather unpleasant one.

EDUCATING CAMI: One day, I was standing with a group of colleagues in the greenhouse, watering plants, and talking about opportunities. A world-renowned plant geneticist was there and he said…

“Cami, you will never amount to anything because you are a single parent.”

His words still haunt me. Those words also lit lit a fire under me.

Enter the College of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan. I was a 32-year keen-to-learn single mom amidst a bunch of business-driven 18-year olds. Yet I found brains that I never knew I had. I got scholarships and bursaries. I graduated with distinction and as one of the first graduates from the College’s Biotechnology Management major.

One of my favorite classes during my undergrad was Organizational Behavior taught by my favorite prof, Maureen Sommers. In my fourth year, Dr. Somers approached me:

Maureen: Have you thought about doing a master’s degree, Cami?

Me: Masters? Me?! [imposter syndrome] What? No way. If I do advanced studies, I won’t be finished until I’m 40 years old!

Maureen: Well, Cami, I hate to tell you this but you’re going to turn 40 anyway. Wouldn’t it be great to turn 40 with a master’s degree?

It was hard to argue with that logic. The long story short is that the master’s degree turned into a PhD. 

Between 2001 and 2007, I worked with some of the most amazing political scientists and ag economists from all over the globe. I traveled all over the world presenting at conferences. I published chapters, academic articles on intellectual property rights and plant breeding, and how networks of scientists work together to create new innovations in ag and food production.

By the time I defended my PhD in 2007, I nailed down a joint post doc fellowship with the Universities of Calgary and Saskatchewan and I was working on another book with my colleagues. The good works continued.

And my grey matter expanded…

A Girl Least Likely, Part I, Part II, Part IV

A Girl Least Likely: my unexpected journey through agriculture

How does a girl from small town Saskatchewan, Canada, find her way through life and end up working at the headquarters of a multinational crop science company in St Louis, Missouri?

I’d like to tell you that it was a straight path; you know – ‘as the crow flies’. I’d like to tell you that it was intentional, planned, strategic.

But it wasn’t.

This is not your typical agriculture related story. This is my story; the story of my very unlikely journey that got me to where I am today.  This story is one part navel gazing (so, yeah, I might brag a little) but it’s probably two parts heartache. I am going share some personal and surprising artefacts about my life. I will also share some learnings at the end.

I will begin with one key learning I’ve had: Life is a path. And there are only two rules: you begin, and you continue. You may not have the choice of how you begin but I’ve learned that you always have the choice about how you can continue – the paths you choose.

THE EARLY YEARS: I grew up the daughter of the Canadian prairies. A small-town girl from a farming community.

A dreamer, an idealist, a romantic.

My childhood was unstable in many ways. We were a nomadic family. My dad moved from job to job and town to town. Because of this, my grandmother became an enormously stable influence for me. Mostly because her place – near the family homestead – became a pitstop along the path of many moves.

This less-than-stable early upbringing probably led me to choose several wrong paths throughout my life (more on that later). To be sure, instability undermined my confidence. In fact, for most of the first three decades of my life I felt paralyzed by self-doubt and shame.

You see…I was that kid. The wrong one … or at least I felt that way. I was an accident – born an only child who eventually evolved into being the middle child of a blended family. I was a cliché. I was the author of “firsts” in the family: first to drop out of university, first to get pregnant out of wedlock, first to divorce, first to be a single parent…the list goes on and on.

Ironically, however, there was a wild and naïve ambition that drove me as a young adult. These ambitions were unrealistic, shaped by aesthetics, and a bit of insecure vanity. And for some reason, these things seemed wholly achievable in my mind.

This dreamer and idealist wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be famous.

And I suppose the genesis of what drove those ambitions was when I won a regional pageant in Saskatchewan and went on to compete in the Miss Teen Canada pageant in 1983.

When my mom remarried, we had settled in Nipawin, Saskatchewan when I was in grade six. It was there I’d finally found the “home”town I’d been craving all my life. I developed friendships. Lifelong ones.

I began to test the waters on who I was or at least who I thought I was. And while my hometown (Nipawin) still warms my heart, I suppose I was not much different than other 18-year-old pageant queens. I could hardly wait to get out of my hometown and move to the big city of Saskatoon.

SMALL TOWN GIRL, BIG CITY: Life was good. I started dating a nice young farm boy from Delisle, Saskatchewan soon after I arrived in Saskatoon. My experience in pageants lead me to modeling and acting. I joined a theater group and found a good agent in Saskatoon.

The next couple of years whizzed by at a rapid pace. By the time I was 19, I’d dropped out of university, strutted the runway in New York City, had won awards in a North American acting competitions, and auditioned in front of the casting agents for a well-known soap opera. My identity was wholly wrapped up in how I looked and, most certainly, not in my intellect. What I could do to contribute to society in a meaningful way was the least of my worries.

In late 1985, I auditioned for and was given the opportunity to take a lead role in a musical show for Expo 86 (Vancouver, BC). That was exciting. It seemed that all my dreams were coming true.But we all know that life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Because that same week that I got that role, I also found out I was pregnant.

I wasn’t devastated. I was willing to give up my ambitions for family stability and that elusive white picket fence. We were optimistic, that farm boy and me. We planned our shot-gun wedding and happily embraced what lay ahead.

We were incredibly broke but rich with optimism!

But our optimism was short-lived. Only a few months after the wedding, we were involved in a serious car accident…

A Girl Least Likely, Part II, Part III, Part IV

“More Sheeps than Peeps!” Stories from the Highlands #Scotland

I am not a fan of formal tours. Traveling as often as I do, I like to steer my own ship, drive my own course, row my own boat – so to speak. Particularly from a scheduling perspective. But Scotland is an expansive country and there is so much to see. And, quite frankly, I had no interest in dealing with the stresses of navigating and driving (on the ‘wrong’ side of the road) in a foreign country. Fortunately my colleague, Kari D, agreed. Hopping on the ‘touristy’ band-wagon, we signed up for a 3 day tour of the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye. A great way to finish off a week of meetings in Edinburgh (see Notes on Edinburgh blog post).

Our tour group was small; fourteen of us in total. We were a ‘mixed bag’ consisting of folks from the US, India, Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, China and New Zealand. Our tour guide was a lively character by the name of Bobby T*. Bobby was born and raised in the slums of Glasgow, is a former truck driver and – hands down – one of the best storytellers I have ever met. Bobby’s clipped Glaswegian accent (a bit rougher than what he referred to as the “posh” Edinburgh-ian one) only enriched his storytelling capabilities. His rhythmic voice, and the constant stream of bagpipe music that played over the bus’ speakers, pulled us all into some sort of Scottish-Celt, tour-entrapped hypnotic state of complacency.

“Och! It’s no’ a van, it’s a BUS!… it’s me BABY!” – Bobby (after we referred to the bus as a van. We didn’t make that mistake again!)

Bobby, Highland Experience Tours

The morning of our first day found us at Trossachs National Park where we stumbled along the rugged paths on the shores of Loch Lomond. Next we traveled through Glen Coe and, beyond that, took in the barren beauty of Ronnach Moor.

Me and Ronnach Moor

We rode a gondola up Aonach Mor to enjoy a spectacular view of the Scottish landscape and a sub-standard lunch (*sigh*). Trust me, go for the views and not for the food (the coffee is also not so “grrrrreat!”). Eilean Donan Castle was a real highlight of the day. The rain had stopped by the time we got there and the loch(s) (three lochs meet at this point) glistened under the light of the setting sun. A rainbow appeared, arching over and framing the scene. It was truly magical.

View of the loch(s) from Eilean Donan Castle

Soon after, we stopped for the night at the wee town of Kyleakin on the east coast of the Isle of Skye. At Saucy Mary’s Pub we enjoyed a couple of pints of “Best” beer (if you prefer pale, cold beer to dark, tepid ale like I do – this your brand of beer!) and fresh battered halibut and chips (fantastic!). And what Scotland night would be complete without a dram or two of whiskey? Talisker is distilled on the Isle of Skye and Kari D and I both felt that this was an appropriate choice. Our room at the Glennoch B&B was slightly ‘sketchy’ (but cheap). Kari D peered out our window and said, “We may not have a view of the strait of Kyle Akin, but we got chickens!” (It’s quite common to find small livestock running amok in backyards in the UK).

This is a view of Kyle Akin Strait ;o) – you can see the bridge that spans the Strait connecting Scotland-main to the Isle of Skye (in the far background (left))

Our sleepy, Sabbath Sunday on the Isle of Skye was amazing and the weather cooperated beautifully! The ‘Isle’ is nestled between the Outer Hebrides and Scotland-main. Heather and peat moss dot its massive cleaves of mountains and colorfully blanket its hills. In Skye, according to Bobby, “The sheep ha’ the right of way!”. There are few (if any) fences. As Kari D noted, “Geez, there are more sheep than people on this island!” Yes, indeed. The hills were peppered with hundreds of fleecy bits.

“Leave things as ya’ fin’ ‘em. Respect t’ land and ya’ will be respected.” – Bobby (on the Scots’ relationship with nature)

Kari D and the Highland vista

From our vantage point at the port of Uig, we could see the islands of Lewis, Harris and North Uist (my ancestral clan’s (MacDonald) homeland) in the misty distance. Inland just a wee bit from the port of Uig is a magical little place called Fairy Glen. Everything there seemed to be in miniature – from the tiny loch nestled in the centre of this storybook place to the unusually small, crooked trees that sprouted from the sides of miniature hills. Lovely!

Port of Uig, Isle of Skye

The Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

We drove past the Quiraing mountains to Kilt Rock and then into the soporific little town of Portree. Only one open store on Sunday in the whole town is a testament to the dominance of orthodox Catholicism in the region. It was a shame, really. The town was full of quaint little shops and we had to settle for window shopping. Despite this and then missing out on a distillery tour (note: several distilleries shut down on weekends during winter season), our day on the Isle of Skye was a real highlight. Well worth seeing.

Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye

After spending the night at Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness (sorry, no sightings of Nessie to report), we headed onto Inverness, then through Cairngorms National Park (the largest in Scotland) and on to Pitlochry. The Victorian charm of Pitlochry afforded us the opportunity to shop for gifts for our peeps back home and for me to stock up on “MacDonald” related paraphernalia. The site of Culloden brought with it rain and more of Bobby’s stories of the historic battle that ended with the final defeat of the Jacobite cause (more than 1000 lives were lost). Our tour ended with a drive past the William Wallace Memorial and a stop at Stirling Castle. All the while, Bobby provided the narrative – painstakingly re-telling stories and correcting the Hollywood versions of historical characters like Wallace and Rob Roy MacGregor.

Stirling Castle, Scotland

Scotland was a treat. I’m sure that my fascination with the country has much to do with my ancestry and my need to connect to previous generations (my genealogical files on the MacDonald side are expanding). Going to Scotland was like going home, in a way. But I have to say, the Highlands and the Isle of Skye are better experienced through the stories of a native Scot. And what better way to do it that than with a tour! Thanks Bobby!

“Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.” notes from Edinburgh

Since stepping off the plane and planting our feet firmly on Scottish soil, the weather has been outstanding. The Norse Goddess, Sol, has seen fit to ride her horse-drawn chariot across clear blue skies for the past few days. Unusual for Scotland, I should think.

Edinburgh is the seat of the Scottish parliament and the largest city by area in the country. Considered one of the major historical centres of the Enlightenment era with the University of Edinburgh at its core, the city earned the nickname “Athens of the North”. It has been home to Robbie Burns, Sir Walter Scott, David Hume and Adam Smith and more.

Adam Smith
Edinburgh (near St. Giles on the Royal Mile)

Edinburgh is also home to Innogen, an organization that houses a great number of enlightened contemporary folks. I travel with fellow VALGEN colleague Kari D and we started the week off there by attending a packed-to-the-18th-century-rafters seminar presented by Alan Raybould of Syngenta. This was the start to our week of meetings set in this most picturesque part of the UK.

View of Edinburgh (New Town) with the Firth of Forth and, beyond that, Fife. Fabulous! 😮

Since then (in addition to work), Kari and I have toured Edinburgh Castle (Bucket List Item #39) and Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s digs when she’s in town), have sipped on a dram or two of the good stuff at a local whiskey society (in New Town) and enjoyed a few Facebook sparring matches as Kari and I match cyber-wits. (By the way, we are officially at an impasse. But there are still a few more days. ;0) ) We are enjoying the independence and hominess of our Edinburgh apartment which affords us the freedom to make our own meals, wash a load of clothes or two and abuse the dishwasher (note to self: need to take a course in how to operate UK appliances).

Me at Edinburgh Castle (just after ‘we’ dropped the camera)

Holyrood Abbey, Holyrood Palace

So far, so good. I am off for a meeting with P* this morning as we try to carve out a writing strategy for the next year. Then there is dinner tonight with Innogen peeps plus I need to squeeze in a final edit of a case study I’m working on for an AAFC contract. Kari and I are off on a three day tour of the Scottish Highlands on the weekend which we are both looking forward to. We won’t quite make the homeland of my ancestors – the Outer Hebrides – but we will be close! (Bucket List Item #40: Find sample of MacDonald tartan, buy it, frame it, put on wall).

Kari D: “This week in Edinburgh is sponsored by Peroni and brought to you by Tesco.” Yep.

“Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.” – What will be, will be


Edinburgh (Castle in the background)

“Isola de Capri – Bellisima!”

When our ferry docked at Capri’s port, Marina Grande, it was clear that I had arrived somewhere special. Rising out of the Mediterranean Sea like an uncut diamond, Capri (meaning “Goat”) is unlike any place I have ever been in the world.


It is rumored that the island attracts as many as 50,000 tourists a day during the summer months. People-watching can be a full-time venture here on the island. Capri’s luxurious and linen-laden patrons captivated me. I am most impressed with the ability of the women to not only balance elegantly on 5 inch stilettos, but they do so as they traverse the steep inclines and rough cobblestones that snake through Capri central.

It is difficult to not get a bit wrapped up in the opulence.  In Capri, you are surrounded by the ‘bling’ and flash of jewels, stunning gem-encrusted sandals and glamourous togs that taunt you from behind gleaming windows.  We inadvertently immersed ourselves in this ‘lavish’ game by grabbing a table at the Grand Quisisana, a five-star hotel situated at the heart of Capri. Wanting to step outside the norm a bit, we asked the waiter what he suggested we try for a drink.  “The drink of a Princesse of course!” He flashed a charming smile and proffered a suggestive wink. Ah, you gotta love Italian charm!

The drink was delicious.  Champagne with baby strawberries.  Fantastico! And only 40 Euros a glass. ?!?!?! Oy. I wasn’t feeling particularly regal after we got that bill.

The daytime crowd in Capri is completely different from the nighttime crowd. As evening falls on Capri, this fair town dips its toe in the silky-sweet chocolate of romance. Couples stroll and canoodle in the softening light of the evening; couples of all sizes, shapes and leanings.  I was fascinated by one couple in particular.  She – 5’10’, brunette, stunning, chic and maybe maybe 21 years of age. He – 5’2”, old.  I didn’t know whether I should high-five him or scold her for being out past her bedtime.

Capri’s history is interesting. It was a favourite retreat of the once Roman Emperor, Tiberius. He retired to the island from Rome and spent his final years in debauchery on the island, hosting orgies and throwing people from cliffs. But Capri’s less than tasteful past (at the hands of Tiberius) in no way taints the extraordinary beauty of the island.

The Grotta Azurra (Blue Grotto) is magnificent.  I recommend it for anyone who plans to visit this island.  It is a sea cave on the coast where sunlight can pass through underwater creating a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern.  Getting into the Grotto is half the fun.  Once in, you are in for a treat as the guides serenade you with Italian opera as you glide through the azure waters. Then there are the Faraglioni, three spurs of rock which ascend out of the sea just off the the island’s Southern coast. Magnificent and majestic. More photos here.

Today, we head to Ravello on the Amalfi coast.  I will miss Capri. But I am hoping that my pocketbook will get a bit of a break on the next leg of my journey.

Addio Capri il mio appassionato, stravagante amante!

Quote of the day: “What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.” Erica Jong

Burning at the Basilica

Rome. June 21st. It is a reported 34 degrees Celsius in this great city. Oy. And I swear that the temperature rose another 5 degrees as I stepped onto the Piazza San Pietro.

With less than 24 hours in Rome, it was difficult for me to decide how exactly I should spend my time in this historic city. The first thing that I do in a new-to-me place when I travel is I find a map. But after taking a look, I am boggled by the sheer number of Cathedrals, hills, piazzas, ruins, and other sites that dot the map; the many sites that evolved out of Rome’s 3000 year history of debauchery, political upheaval and – let’s face it – the city’s amazing capacity for technological development and social change.

I settled on St. Peter’s Basillica, hopped a city bus and made my way to the west part of Rome. As we rambled over the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele that spans the Tiber, I could see the dome of St. Peter’s rising up out of the crops of buildings that populate Vatican city. To my right, Castel St. Angelo.

At our stop at the end of the bridge, I lost sight of St. Peter’s. I approached a nun and asked in halting spang-talian, “Scusi. Dove si trova está la Basílica?”

The nun smiled at me and, in almost perfect English, said…

“Yes, my dear. Just go up this street and turn left at the corner. It is larger than life. You will see it.”

She sensed that responding in Italian just wouldn’t help me out at all. Good call.

Via della Conciliazione is the street that runs directly to St. Peter’s. I decided to break for lunch before heading to the Basilica. While I picked away at my insalata nicoise and sipped white wine, a total of 12 priests and 18 nuns walked by (but who’s counting?). One of the nuns (an older one, by the way) was texting furiously on a mobile device. I found this odd and amusing all at the same time.

View of St. Peter’s Basilica from Via della Conciliazione

But nothing prepared me for St. Peter’s Basilica. Standing in the Piazza, taking in the sheer scale and its historical significance was absolutely unbelievable. It was almost surreal. I roamed about taking photos and marveling at its design and details. Remarkable. Of course, my next mission was to get inside the Basilica. Unfortunately, this was ‘impossibile’. I had on a tank top and shorts. I really should have done my homework ahead of time. So my fellow travelers, take note! If you are ever in Rome and want to enter into St. Peter’s Basilica, don’t forget that there is a dress code.

Piazza San Pietro

I spent a good hour and a half in St. Peter’s Square and the heat was almost suffocating (I didn’t have any sunscreen on either). I opted for a ‘hop on, hop off’ tour bus to make my way back in the direction of Roma Termini. This was a great way to see the city in a short period of time (it included audio tour). We weaved through Rome’s narrow streets passing by the Foro Romano (new to me), the Colloseum (wow), and the Campidoglio (impressive) (photos here). I really liked seeing the Circo Massimo, the place where they held chariot races so many centuries ago. At the time, the facility could accommodate almost 300,000 spectators!

Update: I just found out that there is a public transportation train strike on today in Rome. I am not sure what this means in terms of getting to Naples as was planned. I await my colleagues’ arrival today at noon and we will carve out a strategy. Worst case scenario: we stay another night in Rome. I’m ok with that.

No burning need to leave this great city.

Quote of the day: “Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.” – Lisa St. Aubin de Teran

Eat, drink, braaaaap!

Elizabeth Gilbert has nothing on me.  As I make my way through the EU on this conference pilgrimage, I may not only return with some good ideas, but it appears that I may be packing on a few extra pounds.

So ends my first ISPIM: Action for Innovation – Innovating from Experience.  Almost 600 delegates representing industry, government and academia from all over the world (30+ from North America) and well over 100 presentations on all that is ‘innovation’.

On day one, I participated in two roundtable discussions.  The first one on frameworks in public innovation was really interesting.  We had a diverse group – Norway, Finland, Tunzunia, Germany and Australia.  The main takeaway? Frameworks are context-dependent and must be reflexive. (I still say that “public innovation” is a bit of an oxymoron but I think that it always worthwhile to discuss new ideas). The second roundtable I participated in was on intellectual property where we debated the usefulness of patents.  For the most part, the group was quite skeptical about the patent process.  It seems to me that patent counts are merely ‘notches in belts’ for some firms or organizations – and the value (often) stops there.  Henry Chesbrough (of ‘open innovation’ fame) provided some insights at the open plenary session earlier in the day.  He presented the “patent utilization ratio”:

This is not a bad way to look at things although I think that I would need to have further clarification on what “under practical use” means.  Chesbrough also suggests that as little as 10 – 30% of patents are utilized in practice.  If that is true, I think that skepticism around patents is well-founded. It would seem that being ‘patent-centric’ may not be what it is cracked up to be.  Rather, IP portfolios require a balance of different protection mechanisms (i.e. trademarks, wordmarks, etc) plus some solid ingenuity around business practice and models.

The rest of the conference was a whirlwind of presentations, social events and networking. We had dinner on the rooftop of the Museu d’Història de Catalunya overlooking the Barcelona Harbour which was lovely.  Then on Tuesday evening, we went to the Carpe Diem Lounge Club on the beach. My presentation was in the last session of the last day.  There is a small group of us that are social network analysis enthusiasts and applying the tool in a variety of ways.  It will be interesting to see how this subset of ISPIM-ers evolves in terms of this type of work.

I closed that final day by skipping out of the plenary session and heading to Sagrada Familia.  This was definitely a highlight of my trip! More photos here.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Gracias, Barcelona! Tuve un gran tiempo! Look out Italy, here I come!

Quote of the day: “There are no ‘last words’ in innovation…”  (Henry Chesbrough)

“Vicky ‘Camilla’ Barcelona” – Javier, where are you?

Barcelona is colourful, in a terra-cotta kind of way.

I arrived early this morning and, like other times when I travel afar, I found myself a bit dazed and confused.  Even though my ticket said that I would be arriving early in the day, I found it difficult to discern whether it was – in fact – morning or if it was early evening.  The sun cast odd (to me) hues across the concrete-scape of Barcelona metro as the buildings whipped by my taxi window at a dizzying rate. They are deceiving colours, ones that can play time-tricks on the mind.

The Hotel Alexandra is lovely and I really wanted to get to my room and crash. But I had to kill a few hours before I could check in.  That meant staving off this impending jet-lag which, no doubt, accounted for my disorientation.  Jet-lag always makes me feel as if someone has stuffed cotton into my nose and ears, clear up to the grey matter.

I headed out on foot with a goal of making it to the Picasso Museum.  I made my way down Av. Diagonal towards the older part of Barcelona.  High-end stores line this main drag but lucky for me (and my pocketbook) none were open. It was too early. I passed by Casa Batlló, a building restored by the infamous architect Antoni Gaudi, and noticed that the structure was already drawing a crowd outside even at such an early hour. Wow.  Gaudi’s gift of architectural art is well-known all over the world and his works are certainly sights to behold in Barcelona (Gaudi Park comes highly recommended – I will try to get there this week as well).

Casa Batlló, restored by Gaudi (Barcelona)

I spent a bit of time people-watching (and resting my tired hoofies) at the Plaça de Catalunya which is a large square in central Barcelona and near Las Rablas. Then I made my way to Le Seu Cathedral which is in the center of the Barri Gòtic (Gothic district).  What a stunning structure! I love Cathedrals.  Especially Gothic Cathedrals.  When you enter Le Seu, the silence is deafening. It almost feels like you have been cloaked in heavy velvet as you pass through its portal. And I don’t know where I have been for the past several years but it appears that technology has a firm foothold in the Cathedrals.  The faithful can now insert coins – as signs of prayer or reflection – and one or more electric candles will temporarily light up. Call me old fashioned, but I still favour a more traditional approach: sulfur, glass powder and oxidizer put to wick and wax.

I can’t say enough about the Picasso Museum.  It was the highlight of my day.  I am not as familiar with the Degas-esque part of Picasso’s career but it was interesting to view the evolution of this artist’s life through his work.  From muted tones in the late 19th century, to wild shots of colour coming into his works at the turn of the century (influenced by his time in Paris) and then there was the blue period…all this evolving into the oddly childlike, yet powerful works that most of us probably are most familiar with when one conjures up visions of “Picasso”.

Hopefully, time will permit me to blog again this week.  The conference programme is pretty full and I still have some preparations to do before I present on Wednesday (not to mention, a report to write by week’s end).  In the meantime, check out more photos at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151840792305383.870419.729100382&type=3

By the way, no sign of Javier Bardem.  Damn it.

SIGN OF THE DAY: “Professional baggage stealers operate in this place” (Starbucks, Barcelona)


I have been neglecting my blog. And my followers.  I have been… Blognostic.

Besides being ‘busier than a one armed wallpaper hanger’ (borrowed from cowboy-extraordinaire JW Campbell’s collection of colourful yet oft politically incorrect phrases), I have not been compelled to blog-share of late.  And I’m not sure what this lackadaisical attitude stems from.  Some sort of ‘social media’ transformation perhaps? Virtual soul searching? I know that there has been much (professionally and personally) that has distracted me from my usual online activities.

1) I have been preparing for a number of forthcoming conferences.  Two in the EU (Spain and Italy) in June. One in Asia that will be presented by an extraordinary PhD Student with the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy. Four presentations.  Four papers.  One on social media policy in universities, one on regulating new plant breeding techniques, one on scholarly networks attached to synchrotron science and one on public private partnerships in research.  Diverse, huh? Work on that last one has been done almost exclusively by our co-author.  Did I mention that I work with a brilliant group of folks?

2) The 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede is coming up in July and I am on the Ag Media Committee.  I work with two amazing agricultural committees: Light Horse and Western Performance Horse. ‘Nuff said.

3) Dewdney Players Group Theatre’s production of “Rodeo & Julie-Ed” is in full swing. I am in charge of tickets. I. AM. THE. BOX. OFFICE. The job has earned me an honorary role as an extra in this hilarious musical improv. My name? “Runs with Tickets” of course!  I’ve got a costume and everything! (It’s a great production, by the way! Want tickets? Call me!)

4) Tanya, our daughter, is pushing her music career to the max these days.  We are helping her out.  This past month has been crazy.  Competition, press kits, meetings, bookings, website development, demos, videos, production and recording.  Crazy.  But productive. (follow her on Twitter: @tanyaryanmusic)

5) Then there is work.  Plain and simple.  Work.  The day-to-day tasks that come with being ‘all that is academic’ (drum roll, please). Like finalizing articles for publication (forthcoming one with S. Smyth in AgBioForum documenting the rise and fall of Triffid flax) and not to mention finishing off a book on innovation in oilseeds research (with P. Phillips, G. Webb and J. Karwandy).  That book is due out in October of this year (publisher: CABI). And let’s not forget the reporting requirements for the TUFGEN project. Plus working with colleagues to develop RFPs and grant applications for new research projects.  All in a day’s work. Phew.

I apologize to those dedicated followers that follow and read my Twitter/blog musings… I have been neglecting the social media part of my life of late. In addition to all the activities outlined above, there have been other things that have distracted me.  Personal stuff.  I have lost a number of loved ones over the past few years.  Too many.  All close.  And even though much of the grieving has been done (or so I thought), it seems like I am reliving past losses all over again with every new loss that comes along.  I’m not sure what it is but it makes it awfully tough to virtually-socially-mediate when I feel like this. I am an emotional desert.  I guess that much of my thought processes turn inward and I just focus on tangible tasks at hand.

Thanks for listening/reading about my blognostically-busy-blue-ness.  It’s time to get back in the social media saddle again, folks. I’m working on it.

Ah, Stanford… I remember it well!

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”
– Dale Carnegie

I am sitting in San Jose airport, awaiting the first leg of my journey home. So ends 5 days in Palo Alto, California. California seems to move at a slower pace; in this part of the State anyway. A colorful collection of cafes, tea shops, pubs and eateries line University Avenue in the downtown core of Palo Alto. This collection of quaint eateries infuses the sun-speckled air with a myriad of aromas. Mmmmm….

At the heart of this agreeable little city is Stanford University, one of the most prestigious learning institutions in the world. Nestled in Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, the campus is beautiful – pristine. And I – yep “ME” – had the distinct opportunity to participate in and present at the Triple Helix IX Conference at Stanford University. My presentation was on Public Private Partnerships: a comparative of national innovations of agricultural research in Australia and Canada. It was a happy coincidence that this Canadian happened to be dressed like the ‘Crocodile Hunter’, replete with khakis and a cream, button-down MEC shirt for the event.

But I digress… this is how the presentation went…

Things kicked off in room “Berg C” of the The Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge at 4:30 on Wednesday. Five speakers, 90 minutes. If you do the math, that is approximately 18 minutes for each presenter including set up and Q&A. I was lucky #5; in that enviable spot where one is book ended by brilliant speakers on one side and the sweet promise of conference freedom and ‘happy hour’ at the other. I knew that I had to be both dazzling and quick.

Eighty one (81) minutes in, speaker #4 was still on paragraph 3, line 2 of slide 6 (!?!?!). Not looking good for me. The puzzling part is that the moderator seemed completely happy with the job she was doing and was content to allow all speakers to drone on and on. I was growing impatient.

I managed to load my presentation and get started at 5:59. All was going well. In the interest of time, I skimmed over some of the literature and quickly moved through methodology to the analysis/results. In the middle of my brilliant oration on sensitivity analysis (this had to be about 6:05), a bell suddenly echoed across room (it was much like the ‘ding’ that precedes airport announcements). With that, the massive screen in “Berg C” lifted and the lights promptly dimmed.

I looked at the moderator quizzically. Her response was to lift a small, elegant shoulder and say: “I guess you are done” in a syrupy southern accent.

Are you kidding me?

Long story short, I finished my presentation orally. This is somewhat ineffective when one relies on graphs and networks to explain complex things.

So, yes, that sucked. But the rest of my time in Palo Alto was wonderful. My good friend and colleague Cooper was in attendance (this is his 7th TH Conference out of 9) and I had the privilege of meeting his new wife. My cousin Jill lives close (ish) to Palo Alto, so we spent some time eating, driving around, and drinking beer and catching up. I also had the opportunity to connect with my friend Chris (who I first met at Carnegie Mellon University in 2005). We seem to meet up at conferences or through travel every two or three years and it was really great to spend some time exchanging thoughts, theories, and laughs over good ginger tea.

Other highlights included attending the Triple Helix IX gala dinner at the Faculty Club at Stanford where we were entertained by the Silicon Gulch Jazz Band and guest speaker and networking technology pioneer, Judy Estrin, gave us her views on entrepreneurship and innovation. The Faculty Club also had what one might refer to as an alumni ‘wall of fame’ with photos of the likes of Arrow, Williamson, Friedman (the list goes on and on). Amazing…

Despite the ‘presentation fiasco’, the Conference was well worthwhile. This aca-preneur has developed a bit of skepticism with respect to the oft-used, nebulous terms like “triple helix”, “innovation” and “clusters”. But, as always, I enjoyed mingling with folks and sharing ideas and, of course, delighted in experiencing a new space in the world!