Friendly, not just polite

New Zealand is quite a place. Much like Canada in a lot of ways, but also not quite. It’s a relaxed pace, somewhere between Mexico time and Canada time. Things still get done, on time, but there is less frantic urgency and pushing to get it done. Housing is pretty much Kelowna level expensive in any city over about 30,000 people.

The people are actually friendly, which is quite the change from Canada, where nearly everyone is unfailingly polite, but true friendliness is another matter. We had numerous people offer unsolicited helpful advice or information when we were being ignorant tourists with no idea where to go of what to do or how to get there. One randomly assisted us with loading our bags onto a bus we needed to get on. Another explained to us how to get to a distant airport gate (and I’m not entirely convinced we would have found our own way there in time to get our flight otherwise.)

The food seemed expensive to us at first. But when you break it down, it was actually much less so. All prices include taxes, and tipping is essentially not a thing in NZ. That means that that $20 NZD burger you buy is actually equivalent to a $14 CAD one, when you consider the out the door cost. When you multiply the meals we had by the ~70% conversion factor to what they would be on a Canadian menu, there were very few that I would have been disappointed by come the time to pay the bill.

The roads are, for the most part, fantastic. Very few were in anything approaching ill repair – the worst was probably in about the same condition as the main highway running through Kelowna. They are mostly all double lane and very twisty and entertaining. Almost all roads outside of the city are set at 100 km/h as a limit, and very rarely did I find myself willing and able to exceed that for any length of time. For the most part, you’d have to try reasonably hard to get speeding tickets in NZ. We put about 3,000 km on our rental car, and the driving was rarely a chore. At least a thousand of those km could rightly be described as twisty mountain roads. Acclimatizing to driving on the other side of the road was a bit interesting but only took a day or two.

The weather was fantastic for the most part. One day of heavy rain while driving, a couple of days of light misting rain while we were wandering in various parts.

Auckland is a big city, much as any other big city. Vancouver-like in climate, though not at all humid on the days that we were there, which is apparently a nice change. There was also little to no traffic due to being there on a long weekend, which we were told can otherwise be quite a nightmare.

Wellington is the capital as well as seemingly the culinary and cultural center of NZ. Extremely windy however. Of the larger cities, this is the one we would choose to settle in if we were to pick a city I think.

Christchurch is interesting. It feels like a big small town. The downtown certainly did not feel like the downtown of a city with over 400,000 people. Lots of empty lots and condemned buildings left over from the earthquakes of 2011/2012.

Maori culture is a big part of NZ cultural life, which is quite interesting when compared to North America – it’s celebrated rather than grudgingly tolerated.

We visited a beach where you can dig down in the sand and within a foot or two reach water that is too hot to stand in.

We walked along pathways strung up in giant redwood trees that were planted over a hundred years ago.

We took a kayak tour out to some Maori carvings on boulders.

We toured the Hobbiton movie set, as well as Weta Workshop where much of the props and magic were made for the LOTR and Hobbit movies.

We toured the oldest prison in NZ.

We drank some absolutely fantastic wine.

We visited a Kiwi sanctuary, and hiked into the hills to see glow worms shining from under the trees and in among the moss.

We raced electric go-karts, and took an hour long jet boat ride up a river with at times only a few inches of water on it.

We visited a fantastic motorsports museum, with tons of exremely interesting cars.

We had an amazing dinner on a streetcar that was originally put into service in the 1920’s, a bit like having a meal in a rolling museum.

I see NZ as Canada+. All of the advantages of Canada, with a number of things that are better. They have a proportional representation type election system, which in my mind is far prefereable to the archaic first past the post system we have here. They have a free medical system that seems to be better regarded and with far lower wait times than ours, and free prescriptions. Employees are generally given reasonably living wages, and it seems like the social safety net is stronger overall. They also get all the cool RHD cars that we can’t/don’t get here. Everyone starts with 4 weeks vacation.

I’m not going to pretend that they don’t have problems, some lesser, and some greater. Income inequality is actually a little worse in NZ than in Canada, probably because there is no capital gains tax. NZ ranks slightly lower on the global corruption index. I’m sure there are plenty of negative things that we did not see on this trip.

With all of that said, we’ll definitely be back. Probably scouting places to move. The climate, the people, and the country all speak to us.

On Entrepreneurship

“Entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.”

Trueish. First you dream of flying. Then you look for the right airplane and find that there’s nothing quite right in the market. So you borrow and beg for every penny to build a sub $100,000 supersonic personal jet. You create a chart showing that the market for this is only slightly smaller than the market for hamburgers.

When you have enough money for the prototype sans engine, you push it all off the edge of the cliff and build as fast as you can. Friends see you falling and think, “man that looks so much cooler than my job.” They happily jump and start building.

Shortly, realizing you had no concept of the enormity of the task, you start screaming “help”. Strange men wearing impossibly crisp blue button downs and khakis, with perfect hair, who have no actual experience creating a successful company, will start complimenting you on how smart you were to use the radically new “Agile Cliff methodology. They follow you down in very nice business jets and start shouting strange chants with obscure opaque language that will supposedly summon great fountains of money. All you have to do is put a drop of blood on the contract, give up 51% of your company, 3 of 5 board seats and agree to use half the money to buy products you don’t understand and aren’t ready for from their “portfolio companies. With the blood and signature they move you into a building with 10 other companies falling at slower rate. You now have 12 months til death. And they tell you to stave off death for another year you need to stop working on the plane in six months and go out hat in hand begging for 10x as much money at a 10x valuation.

Nine of the ten companies hit the ground hard. The living fall into one of three categories: 1. H1B visa violators, thrown immediately out of the U.S., 2. Deeply depressed normal folk who sleep for two years and wonder why the fuck did I leave my solid job in accounting to work with these dipshits? 3. The executive staff who are proudly complimented on how elegantly they hit the ground. The blue shirts assure these folks that, “we invest in teams, in people. One little failure just put you much closer to success. Call us with your next idea.”

The one company that doesn’t hit the ground has piles of software they will never need and one prototype plane that technically does fly, but the features necessary to bring it to market are cheaper to get by buying the leading competitor in the space. You still have a million bucks in the bank and enough gas to stay aloft for nine months. You’re fucked, until your sleazy partner says, “we did not fail. Once we understood the space better we decided that there is a greater need for an airplane crash video app. As of this moment I decree us the leading predictor of cliff jumping deaths and airplane crash videos for new media. He holds up the contract he just signed with his Aunt’s knitting blog for being sole supplier of death and dismemberment content for the entire knitting world. After an excruciating pause everyone around the table agrees that a “pivot” sounds much better than saying, “we were naive and stupid and failed completely. But we are immensely smarter than we were.”

Bizarrely the Pivot press release gets picked up by ten times as many tech rags as even heard of your first attempt. They use the word pivot awkwardly and endlessly in such an ungainly fashion that you realize that they are too young to have seen the Friends episode where Ross moves a couch. If they had seen it they would never have said the word again.

And the true entreupeneur begins to climb that cliff again. Because he knows he is Syssiphus with better ideas and the laptop he stole as he left the plane. “For I will jump again, I have no choice, it is who I am.”

Tl;dr Most Entreupeneurs are naive and foolish and fail painfully. Occasionally one sort of succeeds and gets great press coverage. One out of every 100,000 succeeds so fabulously that it makes the whole category of work look incredibly cool. But you are a nerd and should never listen when told you are cool.

-CramItClown via Reddit


Big things are afoot.

Ha ha, you’re old!

At least that’s what I usually tell people on their birthdays. But I guess the joke is on me this time? Another year older, another year… older.

For a long time I joked that I didn’t bother to plan too far ahead because it would be a miracle if I made it to 25… and now I’m 30. And it looks like I might actually make it to some kind of retirement type age, barring horrible accident or random medical whatsit.

The last decade has been… interesting to say the least. I went from fat, drunk, and pretty much failing at life to fit-ish and sober and failing very slightly less. Some of the time. With lots of variation between each of those points on the way. I’m currently in pretty much the best shape of my life, and still getting better. I’m being productive with my free time, and also volunteering a bit on the weekends as something to keep myself busy, out of trouble, and hopefully also minimize my baseline levels of narcissism [good luck with the last one, amirite?]. It’s also good for warming the sub-cockular region of the heart. Even when it’s black and cold like mine.

I actually have a bit of a plan for the next ten years or so. Not a one-path plan, but one that has a few built-in options. Frankly, it’s always mind = blown when plan A works without a hitch. And I am fully aware that when looking back in ten years, the path I actually took will almost certainly look not a lot like what I think it might look like today. And that’s OK – I’m working on not beating myself up so much for slips and mistakes and whatnot. Hell, if the last ten years is any indication, I wouldn’t be too surprised if I am either president of the universe or homeless in a decade. Hopefully something closer to the former. Maybe I’ll start a cult or something. Hmm. Watch this space if you value your eternal soul.

Every year on my birthday I look back on the previous year, and realize that where I am on that day is almost always not where I expected or planned to be on the previous one. On some years I’m so far away from where I thought I’d be I have to just shake my head and laugh, sometimes it’s only one or two things that are different than what I expected. This one is somewhere in the middle, I think.

Strikes and gutters, ups and downs.

But if you do your best to take care of the days, the weeks and months and years take care of themselves. With a little help from your friends.

I obviously wouldn’t have made it without all of the support and friendship and ‘tolerating my stupid shit while still taking me down a peg or two’ that a surprising number of people have done for me. All y’all know who you are. Sometimes I’m kinda amazed that most of you are still around. So thanks. I hope you are all around in another 30 so we can all sit on a porch and yell at those damn long haired hippies to keep off the lawn.

Much ado about protein

I doubt the Phoenix will man up and publish my rebuttal, so I’m gonna post this here. Because it pissed me off enough that I actually wrote a rebuttal.

Morgan Hunter’s article “How much protein powder should you actually consume?” in the September 22 print edition of the Phoenix is the kind of un-verified pseudo-science I would expect to see on the Misc forum of, not in a student newspaper that theoretically has someone fact-checking their articles. [If there is no fact-checker, especially for science-type articles, maybe we need to vote them a bigger budget or something.]

First up, the things that are correct in the aforementioned article. The basic science mentioned in the second paragraph is correct, and the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) has indeed been set by the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences at 0.8 g/kg of bodyweight. Also, protein is indeed used by the body to help repair the muscles after a workout, and is also responsible for all sorts of magical other things that are not really relevant to this discussion.

Now, the DRI is a reasonable approximation of a basic place to start. However, the recommended values are based almost entirely on opinion, rather than actual scientific randomized controlled clinical trials [1]. So, they are at best an anecdotally derived suggestion, based on a statistical average. The main problem with that being that the average includes a large proportion of sedentary people who never lift anything heavier than a cheeseburger or a beer. Research has shown that the optimal range of daily protein intake for endurance athletes is in the 1.2-1.7 g/kg range , and for strength athletes is in the 1.2-2.2 g/kg range, with some research indicating benefits of intakes of up to 2.0 or 3.0 g/kg/day for endurance or strength athletes respectively [2].

Second, the 0.1 g/kg maximum of usable post-workout protein is a complete and utter fabrication. Sources, please? Real science done by real scientists in controlled conditions has shown that the maximum post-exercise protein absorption is 0.15 g/kg/hr [3]. That’s per HOUR kiddies, not the whole time ever after you work out. Based on a review of the relevant research, one author recommends a post-exercise protein intake dose of 0.55 g/kg (0.25g/lb) immediately following exercise (within 1-2 hours) [4]. This dose is supported by the research to stimulate the maximal net protein synthesis, and can be reduced by 50% for those not interested in maximal anabolic response, to economize total calorie intake or defer protein intake for another point. As a side note, for those requiring muscle glycogen refilling, research supports 1.2 g/kg/h for up to 5 hours post-exercise [5].

The body as pool analogy is just wrong and not in any way supported by research. Also, to quote Lyle McDonald (one of the leaders in the sports nutrition field, who happens to base all of his information on science) “the odds of protein being converted to fat in any quantitatively meaningful fashion is simply not going to happen” [6].

In summary; for optimal recovery after a hard workout, the current research suggests that one should consume 1.1 g/kg (0.5 g/lb) and 0.55 g/kg (0.25 g/lb) of bodyweight [4]. This is of course only if you are pushing hard in the gym and are actually causing stress to your muscles which requires recovering from. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t broken a sweat during your workout, you probably don’t need very much in the way of post-workout nutrition.

Remember kiddies, nutrition is a science, and for the most part the mainstream media and other sources get it dead wrong at best, and wrong enough to hurt you at worst. Check their sources, don’t believe everything you read, including when you have read here. If you want solid, research- and evidence-based information, check out Alan Aragon’s Research Review [], or Lyle McDonald’s books and website [].

[1] Sheffer, M, Taylor, CL. The Development of DRIs 1994–2004: Lessons Learned and New Challenges. Workshop Summary, November 30, 2007

[2] Tipton, KD, Wolfe RR. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):65-79

[3] Rowlands DS, et al. Effect of dietary protein content during recovery from high-intensity cycling on subsequent performance and markers of stress, inflammation, and muscle damage in well-trained men. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Feb;33(1):39-51

[4] Aragon, A. Alan Aragon’s Research Review. March 2008.

[5] Stephens BR, et al. Effect of timing of energy and carbohydrate replacement on post-exercise insulin action. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Dec;32(6):1139-47


Things I wish I knew BEFORE my first UBCO Engineering Co-op work term

Before I get too into this rant, I am going to say a few things. First of all, everything said here is 100% my opinion, albeit informed by the things I have seen and experiences I have had. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Make your own decisions and gather your own evidence. Last, I am not very politically correct. I will probably swear and use offensive terms in this. But it’s MY rant. On MY time. On MY blog. So if you don’t like it, here’s the (really cute) door.

So, to get us started, here are some quotes regarding engineers and engineering.

“Right now…there is a sufficiency of engineers, but one of our greatest industrial organizations, after careful study, predicts the entire absorption of this group [within two years]… with a probable shortage of available engineers at that time.”
—Collins P. Bliss, dean of NYU’s College of Engineering
“With mounting demands for scientists both for teaching and for research, we will enter the postwar period with a serious deficit in our trained scientific personnel.”
—Vannevar Bush, director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development
“Our national welfare, our defense, our standard of living could all be jeopardized by the mismanagement of this supply and demand problem in the field of trained creative intelligence.”
—James Killian, president of MIT
“[In the next 5 years], the expected demand for engineers will exceed not only the supply coming from American engineering schools, but also the combined supply from the United States and foreign countries, according to the [Engineering Manpower Commission] estimates.”
—John W. Graham Jr., president of Clarkson College of Technology
“The electronics and information technology industries will be short more than 100 000 electrical and computer science engineers over the next five years.”
—American Electronics Association
“Already spot shortages exist in some science fields in the United States, and unless dramatic changes are made in the way we educate all of our students, including our most talented, the shortages will increase.”
—U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement
“U.S. companies face a severe shortfall of scientists and engineers with expertise to develop the next generation of breakthroughs.”
—Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft
“There is a skills gap in this country—for every unemployed person in the United States, there are two STEM job postings. The gap will only widen if we don’t engage now to address STEM education at the elementary and high school levels.”
—Richard K. Templeton, chairman, president, and CEO of Texas Instruments

That all sounds pretty good, right? We’ve all made good life decisions by choosing engineering! We can just sail through life and get a good job and money and women (or men) will fawn over us and want to do wonderfully fun things with our genitals! Right. Well, hold on to that thought.

So, in no particular order, here are the things I wish I knew BEFORE I did my first co-op work term.

Costs. $700 per semester, right? Well, sortof. But that’s just part of the story (ooh, is this going to be a common theme? I can’t wait to find out)! My last co-op work term had fees totalling $1212. For one semester (4 months). Sure, only $688.50 of that was the co-op fee. But there were also all of the other UBC mandatory fees, because you are “still a full-time student.” Athletics & Recreation fee. CFS fee (fuck CFS BTW too, don’t get me started. NOT CFES, they are awesome!).  Dental fee. Medical fee. Media fund. Professional activities fund fee. Student union fee. I think I got my upass fee refunded, but can’t remember for sure. Anyways. Basically double what they said it would be. My total cost for 2 terms was right around $2000 or so. The expected response to this of “well, a co-op student is considered a full time student, so it should come as no surprise that you are assessed standard university fees, that’s not the co-op department’s fault” is a cop out and everyone involved knows it.

Time commitments. As a second (or third) year, you are probably well aware of just how busy you will be this year, especially around midterms (hint: it doesn’t get any easier. Ever. Until you graduate). Well, co-op makes you jump through all sorts of hoops (and pay money!) to just “qualify” to join the program or some such thing. Guess what? Most of the work shows up right around when you will be in the middle of midterms. So that’s fun. If I remember correctly, it’s a good ~8ish hours of stuff you have to slog through, some of it videos that you can’t skip through because they test you about the most random, mostly irrelevant shit that is contained in them. That’s a lot of time that you can’t otherwise spend procrastinating or playing video games or whatever you will be doing instead of the studying you should be doing. Less procrastinating time is never good.

Supposedly you get assistance from the co-op director before you start your job search. Others might have different experience, but I got basically none. They supposedly review your resume and give you suggestions, but I never got any feedback at all. We did one mock interview and my feedback was basically “sounds good.” SO HELP! MUCH APPRECIATE!

You have to write reports… That’s how they justify charging you through the nose for the program, and having you registered as a full-time student. So that means at least someone reads the reports, right? Lol, wut? Silly engineering student.

You will get a “site visit” from the director. Well, for a very broad definition of “site visit,” yes. Mine was a phone call. About a 10 minute one. In which I was asked a number of questions that showed that the director had not read my report, and actually had basically no idea what I was doing in my job.

You get the Co-op designation on your diploma! True. But, they forget to mention that exactly no one ever will care or most likely even notice.

Your co-op hours count towards your P.Eng! This is also true, and the main reason I put up with all the rest of the crap. HOWEVER – hours you work in the field under a professional engineer count towards your P.Eng EVEN IF you are not in a registered co-op program.

I’m going to throw in a little note here about Experience vs GPA. Employers for the most part don’t give a damn about your GPA, especially after your first job. You will be much more employable if you have some job experience under your belt when you grad. Most employers will take someone with acceptable grades (don’t fail too much shit, that’s just dumb) and good work experience than a wetbag with no experience and a 4.0. If you can show you have some kind of social skills that don’t involve a keyboard, you’re way ahead of the game.

Time for a break. Here’s a video for people who think machining is really cool. And here’s one for people who like to laugh and aren’t easily offended.

Now that you’re back, who do I think co-op is good for?

People who:

  • Have never built a resume
  • Have never had/looked for a job
  • Have no interview experience
  • Aren’t paying for it (Go go bank of mom!)
  • Don’t know what kind of jobs there are / don’t know what industry you want to go into / don’t want to put in the effort to do your own research
  • Are lazy (this isn’t a value judgement, it just is what it is. Co-op spoon-feeds you most stuff they “teach” you) and you don’t want to figure it out on your own
  • People who are on student loans, want/need the extra work experience, and absolutely do not want to have to think about paying them until after they grad.

Now, who isn’t co-op good for?

People who:

  • Already have a good resume
  • Are experienced in job hunting
  • Know how to interview well
  • Are concerned with cost
  • Know what industry you want to go into / have a line on a job/industry
  • Are self-motivated (you can use this as a selling point in interviews – decided not to do official co-op because you wanted challenge of doing it on your own)

Sometimes, there are jobs on the co-op database that aren’t posted elsewhere (some of them are crap – $12/hr), but many jobs are concurrently posted online as well – many employers don’t want to limit themselves to people only in co-op programs, as they know that many students won’t be in co-op, and a number of schools don’t even offer official co-op as an option.

How do you describe engineering in one word? Close enough.

Now, engineers like numbers – so let’s play with some numbers.


  • $1000 avg co-op fees per semester, plus inflation = $5000 (we like round numbers)
  • $3k average monthly salary (more in some industries, less in others – O&G first term was $4500)
  • No failing courses – adds an extra year no matter what and messes up all the numbers
  • You can find an engineering job (no promises with co-op, or non-co-op)
  • All numbers are at the end of 5 years from your commencement date

Option 1: Do co-op. Graduate in 5 years instead of 4. ~$5000 cost (say avg $900 x 5 terms, plus other fees etc, we like round numbers.), $60k in salary (assume $3k/month) during work terms. $55k take home, 20 months job experience, 12 months towards P.Eng after 5 years.
Option 2: No co-op, do co-op schedule. Graduate in 5 years instead of 4. $60k in salary (assume $3k/month) during work terms. $60k take home, 20 months job experience, 12 months towards P.Eng after 5 years.
Option 3: No co-op. Graduate in 4 years. $24k in salary (assume $3k/month) during summers. $24k + $60k average starting salary = $84k take home, 20 months towards P.Eng.

Option 1 costs $29k vs Option 3, but includes an extra full year job experience and four extra months towards P.Eng. Option 2 saves an extra $5k on top of Option 1. Option 3 has the highest potential cash return over 5 years, but least job experience at grad.

Employers like job experience. I wouldn’t consider option 3 unless you have family or other connections for getting a job, but that’s just my opinion.

Those quotes I posted at the beginning of the article? We’ve all seen quotes like these ones fairly frequently. Take a good guess at what year(s) they were all from. In order, they were from: 1934, 1945, 1954, 1970, 1983, 1993, 2008 and 2013.

Tell me, what do every one of the people or orgs quoted on this list have in common? They all profit from an oversupply of engineers. The people who profit from an oversupply of engineers have been complaining about engineering shortages since the 1930s. If engineers were really in such short supply, salaries would go up much more than they have (have been pretty close to inflation +/- for past 20 years – still better than the average joe by a long shot). Don’t get me wrong, this is a great career path. But the world is not your oyster, and little is going to be handed to you on a silver platter.

My advice (which is worth exactly what you paid for it):

  • If you have a family connection or other assured job when you grad (why are you even considering co-op?), take option 3. Extra job experience isn’t as important (still do extra cirriculars), get the degree done and get making the money.
  • If you have job hunting experience, or are comfortable learning on your own (there’s lots of good information out there, online and otherwise) go option 2.
  • If you don’t have job hunting experience, don’t want to try to figure it out on your own, want basic info spoon-fed to you, don’t care about the extra cost, do co-op.

In Canada in 2006, only 29% of engineering grads worked as engineers. Total of 42% if you include management. ~20% were employed in jobs they were overqualified for (technicians, trades, etc) – network the shit out of your life. Join clubs, organizations, get out there.

General job tips:

  • Excel, Excel, Excel – it will probably be the second thing you boot up after walking into the office
  • Get outside the classroom, work where you actually build things (GNCTR/Mechatronics club)
  • Leadership – EUS looks good on your resume
    • If you take a position like this, do your damnedest to do a good job. Don’t just coast because it looks good on your resume and you don’t care. Don’t be a dickbag like this. People will talk and it will hurt you later.
  • Moar Excel!
  • GPA vs Experience holds true for extra-curriculars as well.
  • HR looks for purple squirrels – the “perfect ideal fit” for a position. They might be willing to settle for YOU instead.
  • Did I mention Excel?

Resume tips:

  • Grammar/spelling are very important. If you can’t handle those little details when trying to get a job, you probably won’t bother in your job (or that’s how they think)
  • Highlight numbers whenever possible (eg: I handled 500 calls per minute as a phone sex operator!) – not applicable to all jobs/industries but do what you can

Interview tips:

  • Dress for the job you want
  • Be prepared, research the company/industry

In closing:

Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin: “In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80 000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers. But the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.”

So-called “soft” skills – interacting with people, communicating your ideas to the proles, generally being a human being instead of a robot – are all more important than your GPA. Try to keep that in mind when you are making decisions about your future.

[2015 update]

This is just as true as when I originally drafted these points in 2013. And maybe even more so now. With oil currently hovering around $40, there aren’t a lot of eng jobs to be had, in any industry. A quick survey of my friends group suggests that about half of the people who graduated this last year (including a couple people with almost perfect GPA but little real-world experience) still have not found jobs. Some of the ones that have, got them far outside their desired industries and/or in locations or countries they would not normally have considered. Some have decided to travel until this all blows over so they have a good explanation for taking the time off other than “sitting on the couch.”

I’m terrified of what the job market is going to look like when I graduate, and doing everything I can to put myself in the best position possible for when I get out. That means starting my own company and trying to grab my own slice of the pie. Do whatever works for you.

Extra-curriculars and work experience are far more important than GPA.

East-coast musings

So this is my first time in Montreal. In fact, this is the first time I’ve been father east than Regina, and I can’t wait to come back. Here is a roughly chronological account of my time here and some of the things I saw and noticed.

It turns out Quebec is pretty awesome. Or at least Montreal is, and Quebec city seems pretty interesting as well. I arrived in Montreal (which is apparently an island. The more you know etc) at about 7am on a Sunday, collected my bags, and was able to take a bus downtown (~35 minute trip, $10 cost) that dropped me about 10 minutes walk from my hotel. I could have transferred to another line to take me directly there, but chose to walk. After dropping off my bags and getting some advice on where to get some food, I set out on a walkabout. I saw most of Old Montreal and the Old Port, checked out the architecture, old churches, and other such things. It’s really interesting seeing just how much old architecture there still is, and still in use – many of the buildings are older than the cities on the west coast.

I guess this is a good time to talk about some of the fantastic food I had.

Le Cartet is the first restaurant I visited when I arrived in town, and went there on the recommendation of the clerk at the front desk of the Hotel. The food was a bit expensive – breakfast came to about $25 after tip, though this included eggs, home-made sausage, bacon, ham, hashbrowns, gluten-free toast, coffee, and orange juice. Excellent quality, and the gluten-free bread was absolutely amazing. I found out that the bread was made at a local bakery called Mi & Stu, and immediately made plans to go there and beg borrow or steal their bread recipe. By the time I sat down about 15 minutes after they opened, the restaurant was approximately 90% full, and I would guess that they seated around 70-80 people.

On one of the first days that I could not eat the lunch they provided us (a common occurrence – go go celiac power!), I discovered a place called Brit & Chips near McGill, a few blocks from where we were taking our course. They served a gluten-free fish and chips – hake in a gluten-free orange crush batter which I suspect was rice-flour based, and some surprisingly decent fries.

La Banquise is probably the most famous poutine restaurant in Montreal, and possibly Quebec as a whole. Frequently mentioned in foodie circles, and well deserving of the reputation – Bourdain has said that if you go to no other restaurant in Montreal, you HAVE to go to La Banquise. I had the Asterix, which is a standard poutine with smoked meat on it. The gluten free gravy was also vegan, and thus also fairly lacking in body and in good flavour, which was fairly disappointing, but I understand the business case behind not having two different gravies for vegans and celiacs. I would definitely make mine from beef/chicken stock rather than veg stock. The fries were pretty much the perfect size, about a happy medium between shoestring and thick cut style. The curds were a nice mix of tiny to small and medium to large chunks, which allowed for some to melt into delicious cheezy goo, and for some to give that distinctive poutine squeak. As was a common theme for most of the good restaurants I went to, there was a fair lineup when we arrived, and by the time we left it had actually grown to stretch past the next two businesses on the street. La Banquise is also open 24 hours, and still has a line up at pretty much any time day or night.

Arepas are a Venezuelan/Latin American food that I discovered while here in Montreal at a restaurant called Bocadillo. It is essentially a palm-sized corn flatbread that is about an inch thick, which is then sliced open, forming a pocket. One then fills it with meat, cheese, sauce, vegetables, and other goodness. One other thing that goes really well with arepas is fried Yuca (aka Cassava or Manioc), which when deep-fried is like a creamer and slightly more flavourful version of a potato. The flavour is somewhat like a cross between a potato and a yam, mild but really interesting. I wish the gravy they had was gluten-free, as I think it would have made a really tasty poutine.

Romados is a small Portuguese chicken shack the same general area as La Banquise and Schwartz’s. The only have a couple of things on the menu, but they also generally have a lineup out the door, and everything they do is excellent. Their main staple is smoked/roasted chicken. You can order a 1/4, 1/2 or whole chicken, at a really reasonable price. The fries are also excellent, and you can also get a salad to go with it. Simple food, done really well seems to be the theme of all of the best restaurants I found on my trip. Apparently Romados burned down a few years ago, and there was a huge outpour of support from the community, and the restaurant was quickly re-built. Apparently there have been many offers to franchise the restaurant, but the owners don’t want to allow control to pass to anyone outside the family, and possibly allow quality to slip. Definitely worth checking out if you can.

Le Milsa is a Churrasco restaurant, which basically means you pay for a plate, and they bring you a big selection of sauces and sides, then have servers walk by with large amounts of meat on what appear to be swords. They carve the meat onto your plate, and you feast. It’s all you can eat, and they tend to keep offering you more even after you are done, which is awesome as it shows they’re not cheap with it. The meats are: grilled chicken thighs, turkey wrapped in bacon, pork sausages, roast pork, grilled lamb, filet Mignon, picanha, roast beef and ribsteak. All of which were excellent. The $29.99 cost also includes a bowl of ice cream and coffee or tea for dessert. The whole thing was excellent, even though some of the meats were a little on the dry side. I won’t fault them for that, as most were pretty much perfect, and I showed up on a reasonably slow day.

Schwartz’s Delicatessen is pretty much THE iconic place for smoked meat in Montreal, and generally has a significant line up during most of their open hours (this was a common theme with most of the really good places I went). Their prices are not incredibly outrageous, and the quality is pretty high for what you pay. The smoked meat has a really well-balanced spice mix, and comes in lean, medium, or fatty cuts. I had the medium, and was expecting it to be much fattier. They also do in-house pickles, which are surprisingly dense when compared to store-bought ones. The fries are excellent, and they sell a black-cherry soda that is ridiculously sweet but has a very nice flavour.

On St. Laurent near Schwartz’s there is an old, fairly run-down theater called Cinema L’Amour. When you walk by it in the street, you will see posters of semi-nude ladies taped to the sidewalk and outside of the building, and signs in the windows listing showtimes and weekly specials (VIP booths for a more private experience, Couples enter free on Monday/Tuesday, Trans people are free on Wednesday, etc). Yup, that’s right, it’s a theater that exclusively shows porn. I wonder how much the popcorn is. And if the buttery, salty hand is something that is desirable or not. One thing is for sure, I’ll never find out, as I made the mistake of thinking about how often the seating/etc area is cleaned, sanitized, and/or burned. Ew. Also in the same block is a headstone/monument business, with unfinished headstones littered around the front of the building. On either side are an ice cream shop (with excellent home-made ice cream) and a place selling souvenirs.

Finally rode on a subway – the Metro in Montreal is fairly clean, cheap, quick & efficient, and the bus system is the same. It’s really interesting zipping around underground between stations, being an hour or two’s walk away from your starting point in less than 15 minutes. In traffic the same distance would probably take two or three times as long. I never got around to riding a Bixi bike, as everything I needed was pretty much always more quickly and cheaply accessible by walking or the Metro. Bixi rentals are $7/24 hours with a maximum ride time of 1/2hr at a time before you have to replace the bike or pay extra. A single metro ticket is $3, or you can get 2 for $5.50.

Traffic and intersections in Montreal are just straight up weird. On the island of Montreal, it is illegal to turn right on a red light. Many lights do not have pedestrian walk signals, and you walk when the light is green. This means one can frequently be stuck halfway or less across the intersection when the light switches. The Montrealer way of dealing with this is to simply stare right at the people waiting at the intersection, not expecting that they won’t decide to go and turn you into another greasespot on the road, but just so you can look them in the eyes while they do it. However, at some intersections along major foot traffic areas, when lights have pedestrian signals, the traffic lights will all switch red for about 10 seconds between cycles, allowing the pedestrian lights to cycle and allow people to start walking before the traffic gets a turn. All in all, Montreal is very well-laid out for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and obviously a fair amount of thought was put into planning for non-vehicular traffic. Also, the Montreal police are in some sort of dispute with the city regarding their contract and pensions, so every cop I saw was wearing camo pants and red baseball caps – one notable female officer was in pink camo pants at a traffic stop.

Shisha in Montreal is incredibly cheap – under a quarter of the cost of shisha in BC, even after taxes. I got enough to last me more than a full year, and saved approximately $700 over buying it in BC. BC… Bring Cash.

One of the events we took advantage of was being able to go to Sanair track about an hour east of Montreal and drive some Supercars. I got to drive a Ferrari F430 and an R35 Nissan GTR for three laps each, and both were excellent cars. The F430 felt only a hair faster than my MR2 was, and didn’t inspire the same level of confidence that the GTR did. The GTR pulled like a freight train, and constantly felt like it wanted to go faster, even though I kept getting told by the co-pilot to slow down in the corners. Not that I listened. For $180 after tax it was definitely worth the money and time. Even without considering the price difference, I would definitely rather have the GTR.

After my time bombing around the track in the supercars, I rented a car ($61 including the optional “bring it back in a box if you want, we won’t care” insurance and unlimited mileage – this rental would have been $250++ in BC) and drove out to Quebec city to check out the Quebec Bridge. The car they gave me was a Ford Fusion with the AWD Ecoboost 2.0L engine. Not a bad car, very comfortable, enough power when needed, though it was pretty hard on gas ($70 fill for going ~550km round trip). When I got to the bridge, I found a place to park and walked the bridge from one end to the other, which was just under 1km each way. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale of the bridge unless you have actually walked over it, pictures or driving over it just don’t really let it sink in how huge it is. And it’s hard to think that it was under construction 100 years ago, before computers or any of the fancy new technologies we have now. It’s quite the achievement, and is rightly considered one the great Canadian engineering feats. While I was in Quebec city I wandered around the Old Quebec area, which is much like old Montreal except all of the roads are still cobblestone and there are few if any modern buildings within the historical area. It was flooded with tourists when I was there, and felt a bit more commercial because of it – there also seemed to be a higher concentration of souvenir shops than in Old Montreal.

Tam Tams is a large outdoor “spontaneous” festival thing that happens at the base of Mont Royal park every Sunday, starting the first day that the snow melts off the grass, and ending when the snow starts falling again; I estimated that there were three to four thousand people there when I went. The crowd was extremely diverse, including a couple of drum circles, a large number of people slacklining, juggling, or hooping, potheads, rastas, goth/metalheads, LARPers, college kids, hippies, and everyone in between – there were even a group of Hare Krishnas near where I had settled down to people-watch, and they were chanting and singing without a break for about an hour. Open alcohol and marijuana use are not technically “legal” at Tam Tams, but there is basically no enforcement, and I saw many people sharing beers, bottles of wine, joints, or bongs. It’s quite the event. If one walks up to the top of Mont Royal from the event, you can see over most of the town of Montreal, and it’s a great way to get a good view of the city and how everything is laid out. Apparently at one time there was a Bixi station at the top of the hill, but it was removed when they realized that no one ever took a bike up to the top, but everyone would take the bikes at the top, ride down the hill, and drop them off at the base.

The Lean 6 Sigma course is a set of business optimization methods that are focused on removing wasted resources and minimizing defects in various processes. The resources (Lean) side is about making things more efficient, and the defects/variation (6 Sigma) side is more about making things as good as they can be. It was a fairly interesting course, though there wasn’t a huge amount of new information in it, just new ways of looking at things or using various tools etc.

As a part of the course, we got to do two Canada Post Tours at the Montreal Mail Processing Plant, which is the second largest MPP in Canada (after Toronto) and the only one in the province of Quebec. Which means that anything that is mailed anywhere in the entire province goes through Montreal, even if it is sent from somewhere rural and is only going across town. Economies of scale etc. The plant is really interesting, it’s huge and pretty amazing when you consider that at some stations they can process over 20,000 pieces of mail per person, per hour. Lots of conveyors and tracks and machines, some of which is up to 40 years old, and some of which was just installed in the past couple of years.

The thing that I found the most amazing about walking through the CP plant was the level of naked hatred I saw in the eyes of a some of the staff. We were being led around by a member of management, and while we had been told that the union and management had a very adversarial relationship, I didn’t realize just how bad it was. While the majority of people were either neutral or friendly in their attitudes towards us, some were extremely blatant about glaring daggers at us, simply because we weren’t regular worker drones. I somewhat understand how this level of animosity has been created, but all I can think about as an outside is just how counter-productive this is – the management needs the workers for the company to be in business, and the workers need the management/company to have jobs. Can’t we all just get along? /s

Something I found odd at the hotel we stayed at was the level of tidying that the housekeepers did. I am used to housekeepers replacing towels, making beds, replacing coffee supplies, and that’s about it. In Montreal however, they did all of that, and tidied and organized our shoes or anything else that was strewn about. Every time we came back from class the room was very neat and squared away. Odd.

Mi & Stu is a Gluten Free bakery here in Montreal that does amazing bread. I also bought some of their cookies and brownies, I’m sure they will be excellent as well. Unfortunately, they would not let me beg, borrow, steal, or buy their bread recipe. It’s pretty much the best gluten-free white bread I’ve ever had. I wish they would open a store on the west coast.

All in all, it was an excellent experience, and I can’t wait to do it again, and I am not looking forward to my credit card bills next month. Oh well, c’est la vie.

Horizon Oil Sands Day 2

One thing I noticed when I first started checking out the various buildings on site is that there are vending machines in every building. Didn’t think too much about it, everyone likes sugary snacks, right? Well it turns out that our access cards  (Multipass!) are also coded to give us tasty beverages and snacks from said vending machines if we so chose. The company gives us a credit on our passes roughly equivalent to SIX drinks ($1.75 each) per day. Each employee’s card is reloaded at the end of the month. Pretty awesome.

Got all settled in to my desk yesterday, IT brought me a computer. Brand new, dual monitors, can’t complain. I also have a company email address, and a phone which apparently isn’t connected to anything. All my supervisors/team members/cow-workers seem to be pretty decent people, and all are definitely at least competent. My boss and two of the other guys on the team are from Venezuela, but communication isn’t an issue. Got all the details of my project for the rest of my term, I am basically going to be helping out with a project to replace or re-certify every pressure release valve in the entire project. 459 of them. It should keep me going until December or so.

This morning when I got on the bus I asked the driver if it goes by my business unit (Upgrading and Utilities or U2 for short), and he told me that no, it doesn’t, and that I would have to get off at the first stop and make my own way to my office. Long story -> short, he lied, I got to my desk about 45 minutes late, but everyone was cool with it, so it could have been a lot worse.

Then my computer wouldn’t boot up correctly (except in safe mode) for some reason. IT was supremely unhelpful, but I managed to get it going myself about an hour later, without ever figuring out what the issue was.

The rest of my day was spent working with a spreadsheet, figuring out inlet and outlet sizes and flange widths for the aforementioned valves. Except I didn’t have access to the common drive with all of the info on it. So I was forced to be a google ninja, which worked out much better than I expected. I got the required data for about 270 of the valves. Should be able to bang off the rest tomorrow. Short day tomorrow, I get to leave at noon to go to a co-op student meet & greet thing with some of the bigwigs etc. Free food? Fun. Also, four day work weeks? Pretty awesome.

Horizon Oil Sands Day 0

We made it. I am currently on a greyhound-style bus, only much nicer. The seats are imitation leather, there is free wifi and a pair of power outlets for each pair of seats, and it is nice and quiet even on shitty northern roads.

We are currently leaving the Horizon oil sands site, which is absolutely massive in a way that is impossible to convey if you haven’t seen it or anything like it. There are miles and miles of large clustered runs of pipe, some of which appear to be around five feet in diameter, down to ones that look to be about three inches. Where they are going and what they are carrying is completely unknown to me, although I expect that I will know all too well their function and purpose soon enough. Everything is absolutely huge out here – it is going to take a little getting used to. I’d include pictures of the facilities but any photography or taking video is strictly forbidden, and is an offence punishable by termination.

The flight to Calgary on a packed Dash 8 was uneventful. Once in Calgary we had to take a “short” taxi ride (about $40) to the Canadian North terminal, where we got ourselves settled in for a three hour layover until our flight to the Horizon site. Upon attempting to check in, we were advised that we were allowed a total of two checked bags, no more than 45lb each, with a total combined weight not to exceed 75lb. This was a source of some concern for me as my two bags totaled 70lb and 53lb respectively. After some discussion with the desk agent and advising him that I was heading out on an eight month work term rather than the usual one to four week term, I was able to convince him to allow me (and my travel-mate from UBCO) to redistribute the items in my bags into an extra garbage bag and allow me to check all three as long as I could keep them under 45lb each. Unfortunately, upon opening one of my bags, it appeared that the bag containing my rock climbing chalk had popped open in transit from Kelowna->Calgary, coating a large number of the items in said bag with a fine white powder. C’est la vie. This was dealt with and the bags were duly submitted.

The flight from Calgary to the Horizon site on a ~40% full 737-300 was also uneventful, and a much more pleasant experience overall than the earlier Air Canada flight. The flight attendants were chipper, there was a complimentary in-flight meal of a choice of roast beef or vegetarian wraps (unheard-of on other one hour flights), and if you asked for a beverage they gave you the whole can.

Once we made it to site, we all boarded a yellow school bus and were transported to the main security checkpoint at the West Gate. After much hurry up and wait and confusion on the part of the people manning the office, we were given our site access forms and started the process of registering and paper-working and whatnot. About ten minutes into this a nice lady from HR showed up and told us that there had been an error of some sort and that we were not supposed to be processing these forms just yet – they would be dealt with first thing in the morning. Such is the corporate environment, and I am not really all that surprised.

We then headed to the main camp area to collect our luggage and wait for our transport to town. There is a Tim Horton’s in the main lobby, but they don’t carry my favorite breakfast of champions (iced capp), which is probably for the best, all things considered. My improvised garbage bag suitcase blew up a little, but I don’t believe I lost anything in transport.

We are about 45 minutes from town at this point, and tomorrow will be my first real day of work after getting my site access figured out first thing in the morning. This should be an interesting experience.