Saturday, March 24, 2012

Misaddressed Emails: Volume II

Lots of people send emails to my Gmail account by accident. Presumably this is because I registered a premium Grade-A-For-Awesome account name back in 2004. Here are some more messages I have received over the past few years.

Full names have been blacked out to protect the privacy of those who don't double-check their email addresses before hitting "send".

TMI about someone's kidney stones:

A post-first date email from an infatuated ESL couple:

Nice photos of old people (I have received more than one from this sender):

A peek into the exciting world of Lutron Shading Solutions:

I like this one a lot - an invitation to a gathering of people who work for the United States Federal Election Commission:

 A depressing peek into someone's marriage separation:

YES!! Updates from the Masons. I like that when I pointed out he was using the wrong email address, he didn't believe me and said he'd have to double check.

Another person just refuses to believe that I am not the person they want to contact. When seeking a "therapist for riggers", Norm assumes us Neufelds must all know each other.

Review: LaCité Apartments in Montreal

I'm at the end of a 14-month lease at LaCité Apartments in Montreal, and wanted to jot down some notes my on my experience here - hopefully this can help a random Googler decide if they want to sign a lease here. 

Here's my pros and cons, anonymous internet friends! 

Pros
  • Awesome location. Close to McGill and the downtown core. It's a 20 minute walk to the Centre Bell, 10 minutes to St Laurent Blvd, and 10 minutes to Place Des Arts Metro station. 
  • Clean, well-kept, high quality units. I posted some pictures of my apartment here and here. As tenants move, I think they're replacing old ugly carpets with faux-hardwood like my unit - looks better, in my opinion. 
  • Amazing in-building services. The four LaCite buildings share an underground shopping complex with a grocery store, pharmacy, post office, barber, bank, liquor store, gym, cinema, and restaurants. 
  • Concrete walls & floors ensure decent sound insulation. You can't hear voices or footsteps, but you can hear your neighbours if they're pounding their bass, or dropping bags of glass marbles on their tile floors. 
  • The process to sign a lease is pretty straightforward, and the woman who helped me was very nice. 
  • Overall the building's administration was really great and helpful. Because the LaCite complex is so big (1,200+ units) they have to play by the rules - they're less sketchy than some smaller landlords might be. 
  • Underground parking is available (but I don't have a car, so I can't vouch for if it's good or not). 
Cons
  • Rent is more expensive than other buildings in the area, but you're paying for the convenience of the location, the underground services and the administrative overhead. 
  • The building administration slips a "Happy Birthday" note into your door frame on your birthday. Presumably they have this information from copying some form of photo ID during the lease-signing process. While this is a well intentioned gesture, I found it creepy because I didn't authorize them to use my personal information in that way. 
  • LaCite staff tell you they will never enter your apartment without your explicit permission. This is not true. Due to the size of the complex, they equate "slipping a notice under your door" with "receiving your explicit permission". Yearly smoke detector inspection notices are slipped into door frames that say (paraphrased) "someone will enter your unit some time next week, just FYI". The most stunning to me was when a LaCite agent let an interested future renter into my apartment without my permission while I was in Saskatoon for Christmas. Their justification was the two notices that they slipped under my door.... while I was out of town, unable to read them. When they saw the unopened notices, they didn't phone me to get my permission to enter - they showed my apartment to the stranger anyway. This is unacceptable to me - I don't think anyone would be comfortable with the idea of a stranger checking out their home without their knowledge. 
Would I rent here again? Yes, overall it's been a wonderful place to live. But I would have a second lock installed on my door (an option available to tenants) and not provide the administration office with a copy of the key. I'd be happy to leave it unlocked for smoke detector inspections, but I would absolutely leave it locked during long absences. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Quebec


A few months ago - well into my stay in Montreal - I had an epiphany about Quebec: it exists, and a lot of people live here. In fact, 7.5 million people live here, which is 23% of the population of Canada, according to Wolfram|Alpha.

If you are/were like me (from Saskatchewan, and you've never lived out of province) your view of Canada is probably West-centric: you know a lot about BC and Alberta, a lot about the Centre of the Universe (Toronto), you hear rumblings about Ottawa, you know when the Red River in Manitoba floods, and you've heard of the Atlantic provinces. Of course I'm exaggerating, but in your daily thoughts about Canada-wide issues you probably forget Quebecers represent nearly 1 in 4 Canadians.

I don't pretend to understand all of the social, political, language and cultural issues that make Quebec unique. In fact, even by living in mostly-bilingual Montreal I am blind to a lot of issues that face Francophone Quebec. However, living here for the past year has made me recognize and appreciate what Quebec adds to Canada.

It's hard to explain this feeling. I suppose people who move to other countries experience the same thing, absorbing customs, language and culture. I think it's neat that we can have this experience within Canada, and I think there should be more opportunities for Canada to learn from Quebec and vice-versa, in areas like arts, culture, politics and social issues.

After this year I am not sure whether I'll ever live in Quebec again. But aside from the long-distance relationships, living here has been a great experience that's helped expand my definition of "Canadians".

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Butterflies

I met up with some family in Montreal today and visited the greenhouses at Montreal's Botanical Gardens! I took a bunch of pictures, here are some of my favourite ones. Click on them to see bigger versions.







Close-up of the above plant:

75 year old bonsai tree! 




The one on the right had silver leaves! 

Monster pinecone? 


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Real-Life, Feel-Good, Internet Karma


As a problem-solving tool, we often take our internet for granted. When we find a solution to our most obscure problems we breathe a sigh of relief - and close the browser window.

I want everyone to participate in real-life, feel-good internet karma (not the phony reddit kind!). The next time you discover something useful or incredible or solve a complex problem, publish your idea on the web. The next time you solve a problem thanks to some random web post, or enjoy some content that a small-time author has provided free of charge, send that person a thank-you! They won't be expecting feedback but they'll love receiving it.

Here's two obscure fixes I published, and some nice feedback that made the effort to publish worthwhile!

- - -

In January 2011 I encountered a problem with my smart car where the shifter gets stuck in park, preventing me from driving. The root cause of the problem is that temperature or dust/grime can prevent a tiny switch from moving inside the plastic box that encapsulates the shifter. Pry open the plastic, flick the switch, and problem solved! You can shift again.

I found the solution thanks to a helpful dude who posted a text-only explanation on an obscure automotive web forum {link}. I thought it would be easy enough to film the hack and put it online for other smartcar owners. Here's the 1-minute-42-second video.


Since it was uploaded about 14 months ago, about 9,000 people have viewed the video. Wow! Not quite a sensation, but 150 views/week makes me feel optimistic that a few people saved themselves a trip to the mechanic.

Here's a comment I received this week that made me smile:
This was a lifesaver dude! We had our sons smcar [sic] stored at our house outside for 2 years and this is exactly the situation we had. I could actually feel the little plastic switch with my finger. Flicked it and bingo! Thanks so much. My wife would give you a big kiss if she could! :)
- - -

In July 2008, in the middle of SCI-FI's summer camp programs, our old Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0 software stopped working thanks to a mandatory Windows update. The RIS 2.0 software was already ancient, but it seemed like Windows had finally killed it.

The SCI-FI team managed to figure out a solution to get the Lego software working again. I posted the solution to an obscure web mailing list where at least one other person was having the same issue, but didn't get a response.

Two and a half years later, in January 2011, I received this message:
Dear Brahm, we know we are not supposed to [send personal messages] on this forum, but we shall do it anyways because our gratitude towards you is more intense than just a 5 star rating. We have been trying to make our RIS 2.0 software and hardware work for many and many hours. Your tips , combined with other patches and apps, have finally led us to achieving our goal. We will now be able to power our insane robot project and be able to program it.
Many thanks from Montreal, Canada, and we wish you the best for 2011!
Felix and Laurent
I can just picture two exasperated students attempting to resurrect 12-year-old software when they shout, "FINALLY!!!"

Feels good, man!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Guitar Squeals

This weekend I learned a new technique on the guitar - some people call it a "squealie" and others call it a "Dimebag squeal" after the late Dimebag Darrell from the metal band Pantera.

I'm not close to mastering it but I wanted to post a video because I know my parents read my blog and will think this (and by proxy, me) is cool! Here is all 12 seconds:


To play squealies, you press on the whammy bar to loosen the strings (which lowers the pitch), flick the G string with your left/fretting hand (or any string, but G sounds the best), and immediately add a harmonic (again with the left/fretting hand) while pulling back on the whammy bar to tighten the strings (and raise the pitch).

In the video I play three squeals on the G string with harmonics on the fifth, fourth and third frets. I'm just using my crappy practice amp on low volume and my laptop mic with no effects, so it's not as deadly as I'd like... but the potential for deadliness is there!

Metal! \m/

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thoughts on the Job Hunt and the Internet

When I started my final year of engineering, I started thinking about post-University employment: The Job Hunt™. Having hired a few summers' worth of staff at SCI-FI, I had a pretty good idea of how to make a good resume but I hadn't actually applied for a job in years.

We now generally accept that there is a fair chance prospective employers will Google search or Facebook search their applicants. Conscious of this, I made a digital strategy for my job hunt:
  1. Use my homepage to supplement my resume;
  2. Keep my web presence as professional as possible, and
  3. Not post anything about the job hunt itself.
Regarding Point #1, my homepage is still more or less the same as it was when I was looking for employment (but is now updated to show that I am employed). Long resumes can be a drag for employers sifting through a big pile, but reasoning was that if an employer wants to know a few more things about me, they can follow links from my resume to find more details about my projects and experience. I also printed business cards (clean and simple) with my name, phone number, email, and website. Since few students have business cards, it was a differentiator. 

Something I'm happy about: brahm.ca and blog.brahm.ca are the third and fourth Google.ca result for "brahm" - a nice perk of having a unique name (thanks Mom and Dad!). 

For Point #2, my Facebook account (when I still had it) was always very private, and my Twitter account was mostly updates about SCI-FI and school. During the job hunt I always, always kept the tone moderate - I didn't post anything too crazy in the public eye. Not that I'm a wild child offline, but everything you do and how you do it communicates something about you. It's easy for anyone to interpret (or misinterpret) your attitude and professionalism based on the tone of your online comments.

For Point #3, I've always been baffled by people who post public updates about their job hunts on Twitter or Facebook. Here's my reasoning:
  • Your job interview is your first private interaction with your (potential) employer. They would never post their list of interviewees on Twitter, so why broadcast where you're interviewing? 
  • If companies are Googling candidates as the media suggests, and your public history is full of interviews and applications, is that company going to think you're really interested in working for them, or just looking for any place that will hire you?
  • If ABC and XYZ are competitors, what will XYZ think when you update your Facebook status to "rejected by ABC"? Will XYZ hire someone the competition passes over? 
I would LOVE to hear from you if you think I'm totally wrong about Point #3. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email. For the record, I'm not calling anyone out specifically... this seems to be very common behaviour, and who knows, maybe I'm overestimating the potential impact. 

Online presence is a small part of the job application process but because we live in The Future™ it's getting more important. Other factors can be much more significant in the application process, like your experience, education, resume layout and presentation, personality, interview performance, etc. But if you're applying for your dream job, why not ensure all of your bases are covered?