Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese

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My Brain Is Too Tired To Come Up With a Title For This Blog Posting

I usually don’t write about work stuff on here, but my work stuff is so big right now, I’m breaking my own rules.

1,344 days ago, I took a new job. That job entails evaluating a very big and very important health system project that is putting an electronic health record into a bunch of hospitals, ambulatory clinics, and residential care facilities in the province1  I’ve been working over these past 3.66 years on such things as developing an approach to the evaluation of a project that will be implemented over several years at 40 different sites, developing a more detailed plan of how to do that evaluation (a plan that has to balance having enough structure to answer the evaluation questions and be flexible enough to respond to the rapidly changing environment within and around the project), and developing a very detailed monitoring process to provide near-real time data for leaders to use to inform their decisions as this massive change is implemented (just to name a few), all the while engaging with literally hundreds of people from all levels of three large health organizations, as well as people within the project, people from the major vendor with whom the project is working, and people from other partner organizations.

On Saturday, that project “went live” at the first two of the hospitals that will ultimately be using this new system. It was quite a surreal feeling to walk into the hospital at 5:30 that morning and no sooner had I got settled into my office space and was walking down the stairs did I hear the announcement telling everyone that the new electronic health record system had been turned on and everyone should login.

Since then, the pace and volume of work of work has been crazy. My team is responsible for providing data to monitor how things are going and it’s surprising how much work it is to get the data that is needed daily: to extract the data, clean the data, analyze the data, and get the data to the people that need the data when they need the data. And then come the requests for more and different data, and different ways to slice and dice the data. And then all the work of keeping up with all the things going on with the implementation and liaising with all the people who need to work together to accurately interpret the data and then take action on what the data is telling us. Needless to say that the hours at the hospital have been long. All of last week last week my team and I worked frantically to get the last minute preparations done, then I worked Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and yesterday for many more hours that I was scheduled to. Not that I should really complain – other people on the project have been working 12 hr – or longer! – shifts every day. At any rate, I don’t think I’ve felt this thoroughly exhausted since that time that I played hockey for 10 days straight. Like the fell-asleep-on-the-Skytrain-on-my-way-home, broke-two-dishes-in-the-space-of-five-minutes-because-holding-stuff-is-beyond-my-available-power, can’t-find-the-words-to-make-sentences-I’m-trying-to-speak2 sort of exhausted.

Today is my first day off since the project went live and I’ve actually had a chance to sort of catch my breath and do a wee bit of reflecting. Part of my reflections are “omg, there’s so much more that I wish we had theme and people to do” and part of it is “omg, we are doing some pretty amazing stuff and my team is rocking this!” I’m also realizing how many things I’ve learned during the time I’ve worked on this project, including, but not limited to (and in no particular order):

  • complexity and systems thinking and how I can apply concepts from these to my work of evaluating the most complex thing I’ve ever been a part of
  • how computer software gets built
  • project management
  • extracting data from a number of different places and then managing all those data across a team of people
  • managing a team of people
  • presenting data to make it as useful as possible
  • human-computer interactions
  • organizational development and organizational culture
  • the way we use language (particularly how we use the same words to mean different things or different words to mean the same things).

I feel like all of these things (and more) could be a blog posting of their own3, but for now this list will have to suffice.

Tomorrow I get another day off – like a weekend, but in the middle of the week! – and then I’m back to the hospital for more data-tastic times. Hooray for data!

  1. The facilities are mostly in Vancouver, but also in a few surrounding municipalities that are served by the same health organization (like Whistler, Pemberton, North Vancouver, Richmond, and the Sunshine Coast), plus some facilities in other parts of the province, such as those of BC Cancer. []
  2. So pardon any typos or other nonsense that may be in this blog posting that my tired brain cannot seem to prevent right now. []
  3. In fact, documenting my reflections – and important part of an evaluation – is one of things where I’m like “omg, there’s so much more that I wish we had the time and people to do all the things!” []

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I guess this is what it must feel like to be a whale, if a whale lived in a vast ocean of work instead of water

Illustrator whaleI feel like I’m coming up for a short breath after being submerged for a really long time, knowing that I’m shortly going to dive back down. I guess this is what it must feel like to be a whale, if a whale lived in a vast ocean of work instead of water.

The things under which I’ve been submerged recently include, in no particular order:

  • finishing up the course I was teaching this semester, including grading all the final assignments, calculating participation grades for the semester, and submitting final grades to the school
  • completing revisions for the new edition of my textbook1, including proofing all the revisions we did
  • submitting a grant application2
  • working on another grant application that is due May 1
  • my presidential duties
  • my actual day job, which is getting crazy busy as a Really Big Thing is about to happen and we have to be ready for it

But the textbook revisions and the marking are all done now, and those were two really time-consuming things that I was having to fit into my weekends and evenings, and the time available for working in the evenings and on the weekends were abbreviated due to the fact that I’m dedicated to doing my three days a week at the gym (which really is a big part of what helps me decompress when I’m so busy!) and I’ve been working longer than normal hours at my actual day job, due to all the work of preparing for the aforementioned Really Big Thing. So now I feel like I have a few days where I can actually breathe. By which I mean “write a blog post about how busy I’ve been”.

Of course, this is just a short reprieve, as I’m about to dive back down into the deep ocean that is work craziness. As, I mentioned above there is a Really Big Thing happening at work soon. This Really Big Thing will involve my team (a) providing data to monitor the progress and/or outcomes (good or bad) of said Really Big Thing (translation: lots of people will be wanting to see the data we produce daily) and (b) having to provide support 12 hours a day, 7 days a week until such time as the Really Big Thing settles down into just a Big Thing and we can go back to our regular work days and hours. Which means that I’ll be working some early mornings and some weekends and also, since I’m the lead of the team, should any crises happen, I could potentially be called even when I’m not on site. All that stuff happens starting April 28th.

Also, I’m going to have some house guests around this same time! Dr. Dan and one of his students will be staying with me from May 2-8, as they will be in town for important work things, and then from May 8-13, my mom and my Aunt Wendy will be staying with me as my Aunt has an important conference to attend and my mom is coming along to visit. I’m very excited to see all of them, as I think it will be good for me to get some quality time with family & friends to keep me grounded when I’m not at the hospital doing my Really Big Things.

Sperm whale starting a dive #2

Image Credit: Whale illustration posted by Steve on Flickr with a Creative Commons license and whale tail photo posted by Vilmos Vincze on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

  1. I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that we are putting out a new edition. The original came out in 2012, which is like a million years ago in textbook years, so it was due. Nutrition is still a pretty young field, so there were a fair amount of things to update! It should be ready by the end of the month and everyone should buy a copy or 12. []
  2. Which I was just a co-investigator on, so I’m not saying I did the most work on it; was it was a team effort of a bunch of people and lead by someone else, but it still took up some time. []

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Nerd Stats 2017

Another year goes by, another row gets added to my table of nerd stats. .

Blog postings Tweets1 Visits to my blog Average number of blog visits per day Busiest day on my blog
2008 423 2,227 32,410 93 Sept 26, 2008 (460 views)
2009 357 1,815 45,153 126 July 25, 2009 (1,181 views)
2010 344 2,302 44,689 122 Feb 9, 2010 (233 views)
2011 380 3,625 60,560 166 Oct 10, 2011 (374 views)
2012 201 875 63,844 175 Feb 13, 2012 (350 views)
2013 213 945 46,665 128 Sept 4, 2013 (721 views)
2014 91 910 33,948 93 Mar 7, 2014 (208 views)
2015 118 800 34,930 96 Nov 23, 2015 (512 views)
2016 116  812  51,549  141 Jan 29, 2016 (13,968 views)
2017 92 449 20,691 57 not sure2.
% change from 2016 -21% -45% -60% -60% N/A

So I was down across the board on my social media involvement in 2017, which is probably reflective of the fact that I feel like I didn’t really do anything in 2017. I was thinking of writing my usual “year in review” blog postings yesterday, but then I realized that I didn’t really do anything! I mean, I went to Washington, DC for the first time, which was cool, but other than that it pretty much just usual every day stuff: going to work, going to the gym (though I really, really do love the gym), playing hockey, and repeat. No epic trips, no epic accomplishments. I definitely have to step things up for 2018!

  1. Note to self: You started Tweeting in 2008, so you get these totals by simple subtraction, not by some fancy pants program or anything. I hope this helps you when you write your “Nerd Stats 2018″ posting when you think “how the hell did I figure out how many times I tweeted in a given year??” []
  2. I used to get this from a “Your 2015 year in blogging” email that Jetpack (the thing I used to track my blog stats) used to send. They stopped sending that in 2015 and the only reason I knew the most popular day in 2016 was because it was my most popular day ever, which Jetpack does provide on its dashboard. Since I didn’t surpass that day this year, it still stands as the most popular day ever and there’s no easy way to find my most popular day for 2017 []

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Mindfulness and the Gym

Dumbells at Strong Side Conditioning

So remember like eleventy billion years ago when I did that mindfulness course? I haven’t really done any mindfulness practice since then, but it’s always been in the back of my mind that I probably should1.

Well, it sort of hit me one day when I was at the gym that doing strength training is a mindful practice. Being mindful is all about being present in the moment and being aware of your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. When you are doing strength training – if you are doing it right, that is – you are paying very careful attention to your body in the moment. You are setting your stance just so – maybe it’s shoulders packed down, abs and gluts engaged, knees slightly bent, and then you are doing a very deliberate action – lifting in a certain way, focusing on feeling it in a particular muscle(s), focusing on breathing out as you do a particular movement. Sometimes as you go through your sets, you start to get a little lazy with your form – in my case, it’s often that my shoulders start to creep up and/or that I forget to breath. But then you’ll notice that you’ve slipped away and bring yourself back into the right form (or start breathing again!) and it’s much like when you are doing a meditation and notice your mind start to wander, so you come back to your focus on the present.

Dumbells at Strong Side ConditioningI’d been going to the gym for a few months when I realized how mindful this practice was. My focus was very squarely in the present moment – very aware of my body and not really thinking of anything else. I wasn’t worried about the future or dwelling on this past. I was just there, just being, just breathing, just lifting. And I wasn’t even trying to be mindful – it just happened. I remembered the times that I’ve done meditation and how extremely difficult it is some days to quite the mind and just pay attention. I still think it would be useful for me to do some other forms of meditation as well, as there is benefit to the act of being still and observing your thoughts as they arrive, but I think that becoming aware of the mindful nature of my strength training has not only been beneficial in and of itself, but also because it’s reminded me about being mindful. It’s made me more mindful of mindfulness.

There is a link between physical activity and mental health. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to be beneficial to mental health. While there are likely many mechanisms for how physical activity improves mental health, I wonder if any of the benefits of physical activity on mental health are linked to it being an easy way to become more mindful?

  1. Which is quite possibly the least mindful thing a person has ever said! It’s in the back of my mind that I should do that at some point in the future! []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Short Cut Edition

Speaking of stuff I learned from Cath, at the same time that I got her to sign my copy of her book, I also learned that you can create a calendar event from an email in Microsoft Outlook by dragging the email into your calendar, like this:

Possibly everyone else already knows this, but it was new to me!

When I told a colleague about this, she was like “yeah, I knew that” and I said, “I knew about creating a Google Calendar event from an email in Gmail, but I didn’t know that shortcut in Outlook. To which she replied “you can?” (In Gmail, if you have an email with a date and/or time in it, you can click  on it to create a Google Calendar event. Or if there isn’t a date, you can just select “More” and then “Create Event”.) It’s funny how we all learn various shortcuts with software, but then don’t learn others. From that same colleague, I learned that in Excel, if you cell is set to date format, you can just type the numerical month-numerical day and it will fill it out as the current year (e.g., you can type 01-11 and it will fill it in as Jan 11, 2017.1. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you are doing 300 chart audits that require you to record as many as 100 dates per chart, that’s a huge time saver! You know, as a completely hypothetical example. But then I taught her that you can type CTRL+; in an Excel cell and it enters the current date (and do the same thing but with CTRL+SHIFT+; and it enters the current time).

This reminds of the time that I learned my favourite ever computer shortcut: Format Painter. It was many years ago and I was working on a document with a group and we were writing it as a group, which is quite possibly my least favourite thing to do2. Anyway, we were sitting watching someone type and she wasn’t using any of the normal short cuts – like, instead of hitting “CTRL-C” to copy something and then “CTRL-V” to paste it, she would go up to the menu bar at the top of the screen, click “Edit”, then “Copy”, and then put her cursor where we wanted to paste and go back up to the menu bar, click “Edit”, then “Paste”. I would have even taken her using the “copy” and “paste” buttons on the toolbar which, while not as efficient as the keyboard short cuts, is at least better than using the menu bar! Anyhoo, we are sitting there trying to co-write this thing while watching the excruciatingly slow typing and then all of a sudden, when the person typing wanted to change the formatting of something, she did something I’d never seen before. She clicked the button with the picture of the paint brush on it (which I’d honestly never paid attention to before) and it magically changed the formatting of the text she highlighted. I (and another colleague) were both “wtf was that???” And that was how I learned about Format Painter, which is now  my most favourite things in Word:

If you already knew about Format Painter, my apologies for boring you to tears. If you didn’t, you’re welcome!

  1. And then I was playing around with it some more and found that you can type 11Jan and it will do the same thing! []
  2. I would much rather draft something up and have people respond – or have someone else draft something up for me to respond to – than sit in a group and watch someone type while we try to co-write something. Excruciating! []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Canning Edition

And speaking of stuff I learned through books I read: this year I learned about home canning!

Last year, I made some jams. But this year, thanks to a book that my friend Linda gave to me, Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More, I actually learned more about the science behind making jams, jellies, and pickled things. This also allowed me to add seven new food items to my list of new food items that I made in 2017 (this year’s goal was to make at least 17 new food and drink items that I’ve never made before):

  • raspberry jam
  • figs pickled in balsamic vinegar1
  • fig-infused balsamic vinegar2
  • pickled spicy beans
  • pickled beets
  • pickles3
  •  jalapeño jelly

Making spicy pickled beansScott and I just opened a jar of the pickled beans yesterday and they are super tasty, if somewhat sour. I gave Kalev a jar of the jalapeño jelly, but haven’t tasted it yet myself. The raspberry jam, of which I made a tonne thanks to buying an entire flat of raspberries at one of the local farms, has been enjoyed by many as I’ve given it out to a number of people. The pickles and beets and figs have yet to be tested.

There’s still a number of things that I want to try canning – blackberry jam comes to mind as, for the second year running, I failed to go out blackberry picking again this year. But that book has a number of other cool recipes that I’d like to try, such as peach-bourbon jam, mulled cider jelly, red pepper jelly, pickled carrots, pickled asparagus, roasted tomato-lime salsa, spiced figs in syrup, Dijon mustard, and applesauce. Not in the book, but which I want to try: plum sauce. Looks like I have a good list of potential new food items to make for my 2018 goal of making 18 new foods that I’ve never made before!

My first ever batches of spicy pickled beans, pickled beets, and pickles!

Beans, beets, and pickles.

  1. Yes, the figs did come from Tig & Pat’s annual fig party. []
  2. Yes, the fig-infused balsamic vinegar is the vinegar that was left over from when I made the pickled figs. []
  3. Why don’t we call pickles “pickled cucumbers”? Everything else we pickle, we use “pickled” as the adjective followed by the name of the thing we pickled. []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Epigenetics Edition

So I’ve been totally slack on blogging about the stuff I’ve learned this year as part of my goal to learn 12 new things in 2017. I’ve been learning stuff, but just not getting around to blogging about it. But I’m on vacay now, so I’ll have time to catch up on all the stuff I meant be blog about! And since I’m on vacation now, I’m also able to read books and finally finished reading the book that my friend Cath wrote: Introducing Epigenetics: A Graphic Guide.

Epigenetics is the field of study that is concerned with how things interact with our genes to control their expression. We all inherit DNA, which contains a bunch of genes, from our parents, but there is a whole bunch of complicated things that go on to control how/when/where those genes get expressed (or not). Back when I last took a genetics course – i.e., eleventy billion years ago in my undergrad – I only remember learning about gene transcription (where a cell reads the code in DNA and makes a copy of it in a similar molecule called RNA) and gene translation (where the cell translates the code from the RNA into a protein, which can then go on and perform some function in the body). I also only remember three kinds of RNA: messenger (mRNA), transfer (tRNA) and ribosomal (rRNA). Now there are a tonne of other RNAs – micro (miRNA), long noncoding (lncRNA), and piwi-interacting (piRNAs), just to name a few1. All this to say – a lot has happened in our understanding of genetics since I last learned about it, so this book was great way to get up to speed on a whole lot of learning in a fun way! Also, my copy just so happens to be signed:

Book signing by Cath

Dr. Cath, doing a book signing just for me!

I’m not going to even try to summarize all the stuff that I learned about epigenetics – the book has a *lot* of information and if you want a solid introduction to the world of epigenetics, you should probably buy the book!

  1. Sidebar: I feel the same way about dinosaurs. When I was a kid, we learned about 6 dinosaurs – T. Rex, stegosaurus, triceratops, brontosaurus, pterodactyl – and then Jurassic Park came out and we all learned about velociraptors,  but now there are dozens of different kinds of dinosaurs and it turns out that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs and that brontosaurus is actually an apatosaurus, except then more research came out that suggested that apatosaurus and brontosaurus were actually two different kinds of dinosaurs after all. But I digress. []

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Thanks, Past Me!

The great thing about having a terrible memory is that when you support a Kickstarter fundraiser, by the time the thing you are funding gets released, you’ve forgotten that you funded it and then you get a surprise package in the mail. It’s like a gift from Past Me to Future (Now Present) Me!

Case-in-point: I got a delivery card notice from Canada Post1 saying that they had tried to deliver a package but I wasn’t home and I could come to the post-office in the Pharmasave after 1 pm the next day to pick it up. But I hadn’t ordered anything, so what could this mysterious package be? After a long and drawn out saga involving some combination of Canada Post being misinformed/incompetent/way  understaffed for the holiday rush of packages, I finally got my hands on my package. As soon as I saw this stamp on the box, I knew what it was:

Zombies, Run! Board Game

That logo is from Zombies, Run! – my favourite app, where you listen to a zombie story while you are out for a run and you are taken on missions where you have to run for supplies, or outrun zombies, or outrun bad people2. It’s superbly written and not listening to these zombie stories is something that I really, really miss thanks to not running in more than a year, thanks to all my stupid injuries. Anyhow, quite awhile ago I got an email about the Kickstarter project by the makers of the app – a board game based on the running app. Given their talent for audio stories, the board game also has an interactive audio component, which you get via downloading an app. The app isn’t quite ready yet, but they wanted to send out all the packages before the holiday mail rush3 and then we’ll get an email notifying us when the app is ready for download4

So now I have in my hot little hands, this board game:

Zombies, Run! Board Game

Zombies, Run! Board Game

… that I can’t play! Who wants to bet that the app will come out when I’m in Toronto for the holidays??

In a related story, I pre-ordered a copy of the book Soonish by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith. It wasn’t a Kickstarter, but it was a pre-order that was far enough in advance of the release date that I totally forgot I ordered it until it showed up:

Soonish

I heard about this book on Zach Weinersmith’s webcomic page, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which I read religiously because it’s hilarious. When he talked about the book on there, he said that it’s really important to have a lot of pre-orders because it shows the publisher and booksellers there is interest in the book, so they will print more copies, arrange for book signings, and do various other things that will increase the sales of the book. Since I get so much joy out of reading SMBC every day for free, I figured that buying the book would be a good way to support an artist that I like (and assuage my guilt for being such a freeloader.))

I haven’t started reading it yet, because the semester was so busy, but now that that’s over with, I might actually have some time to check it out.

  1. Aside: I feel like being a Canada Post delivery person who has apartment buildings on your route must be the most futile job in the history of jobs. You carry packages to a building where you have to buzz to find out if someone is home but (a) you don’t have a buzzer number on the package and most people don’t list their name on the buzzer directory and (b) it’s the middle of the work day, so of course no one is home anyway. So you carry all these packages to apartment buildings, look at a long list of “Occupied” on the building directory, then write out a delivery card and stick it on the building. And repeat. []
  2. As most zombie stories go, it turns out that the humans are worse than the monsters. []
  3. It came from England, so perhaps it missed the holiday mail rush there, but it definitely got caught up in it here! []
  4. I know all this because they actually do send emails about such things, but they sent it long enough ago that I’d forgotten about it by the time the mail delivery notice card arrived. []

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NaBloPoMo – Day 28 – It’s All Over But The Marking

Tonight was my last class of the course I’m teaching this semester. On my drive home from campus I was a little sad, because I know that I’ll not see any of my students again1! Despite having a class of 90 students, I actually got to know a fair number of them through in class discussion and chats on the break and after class.

The class is an intro to business concepts for students in food, nutrition, & health majors. The major assignment is writing a business plan together and we spent the last two classes having student presentations – which are Dragons’ Den style pitches where the students pretend they are pitching their business plans to room full of investors. Like last year, I was blown away by the creativity of both their business ideas and by their presentations, by the tough questions the students asked each other, and how much work and thought had gone into these projects, as evidenced by how well they dealt with those tough questions.

While I will definitely miss the students, I won’t be sad about getting my Tuesday nights back. And my Monday nights (when I did class prep). And my weekends (when I also did class prep). Teaching a class is a freaking lot of work. Well, once the marking gets wrapped up, that is.

  1. The trials and tribulations of being a sessional instructor who only teaches this one, fourth year course in that Faculty. []

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Halloween 2017

This year’s Halloween costume, being immortalized here on ye old blog:

Cersei Halloween costume

To put this photo in context, my gym had a costume contest: show up at the gym in your costume, take a photo, and post it on Instagram. Best photo wins a prize! Hence why I am holding a dumbbell in the photo – but in true Cersei fashion, I did not put down my wine goblet, even to workout! Props to my fellow gym goer for suggesting that I put up a weight bench to use as my throne!

Just like the year I dressed up as Daenerys, I am surprised by how many people I came across today who do not watch Game of Thrones. I mean, isn’t it the most watched show in the history of television? I thought for sure that in the intervening two years since I dressed up as Daenerys, including carrying around three dragons all day, and repeatedly got “Are you Elsa from Frozen?”, surely enough additional people would have started watching GOT that everyone would know I was Cersei. But alas, I got a fair number of blanks stares and upon asking “Do you watch Game of Thrones?” and hearing “No,” I’d reply “Well, I’m Cersei from Game of Thrones”, and they’d said, “Oh, is she good?” Ha! She’s only like the most evil character to ever have eviled!

The fact that there are so surprisingly many non-GOT fans out there did allow me to have this fantastic conversation:

Me: I’ll have a grande no room Americano.

Starbuck Barista: OK. What’s your name?

Me [with a straight face]: Cersei.

Starbuck Barista [with a confused look]: Sorry? What?

Me [continuing to have a straight face]: Cersei. C-E-R-S-E-I

She still managed to spell my name incorrectly on the cup:

Cersei Halloween costume

Cersei Halloween costume

Sadly, my gym photo is the only full length photo I managed to get of myself! I was teaching tonight and I wore my costume to class, because I’ll be damned if I’ll let a little academic responsibility get in the way of my wearing a costume on Halloween. A couple of students asked me for a photo, but I didn’t get a copy of those and totally forgot to snap one on my own phone. (I also wore my costume to work during the day, but also neglected to get a proper photo1.) Here are some photos of my failed attempt to take a decent photo when I got “home” tonight (where “home” = the hotel I’m staying in as I’m working offsite to collect some data):

Cersei Halloween costume

Cersei Halloween costume

Cersei Halloween costume

And also an OK photo of my hairstyle:

Cersei Halloween costume

When I bought my costume, I was looking at the wigs in the Halloween store to see if they had a Cersei one (which they didn’t). I didn’t clue into the fact that I already have long blonde hair until I got home. D’oh!

  1. A colleague did take a photo of me working intently on my computer in my costume, but (a) it wasn’t full length and (b) I look terrible in it. []