My Tunnel Exploration

By | October 29, 2013

Guatemala SinkholeI have a strange fascination with sink holes. It is the only topic I seem to post about on Google Plus. I admire the symmetry of a sink hole and its cylindrical hallway to doom. I love that a sink hole appearing in the middle of a street looks like a Photoshop. However, I understand that they are very serious and deadly phenomenons. In Florida a sink hole appeared under the bed of a man sleeping and was never heard from again. This is a terrifying thought and perhaps my curiosity with sink holes is what makes me interested in tunnels for transit systems.

Chunnel Side View

The entire construction of an underground tunnel intrigues me. The tunnel boring machines used to dig tunnels are mind-boggling. The ability to dig under a body of water, be it False Creek in Vancouver, the East Side Access bringing Long Island and New York together (YouTube video, Huffingtonpost) or the English Channel between England and France, is all amazing. The fact that the London Underground is older than the University of Alberta and that more complex transit systems have lines layered on top of each other excites me like a kid on Christmas.

During my weekend courses at NAIT a team member in our group mentioned they were an installation coordinator on the North LRT line in Edmonton. His previous work experience includes the Canada Line in Vancouver as well as lines in Montreal. After the North LRT line is finished he will return to Vancouver to work on a 13 KM extension. I confessed my tunnel obsession with him and he offered to take me in to North LRT construction area. Once I removed the shock from my face I immediately agreed to his offer.

The tunnel boring machines have been removed from the site but the tunnels are in various levels of completion and I was able to see completed tunnels that could see a train tomorrow, and others that required a lot more infrastructure in place before they could carry cars.

Did this experience live up to what I imagined it could be? Yes! I am a fan of symmetry and pairing that with underground construction the photographic opportunities alone were worth it, and being able to walk in an area that few will legally be allowed to explore was icing on the cake.

Almost as if this was an organized birthday present to myself I put on the safety boots purchased just for this occasion, strapped all the camera gear to me and went in to the tunnels. My tour started at the MacEwan station, walked under CN Tower and took the new LRT line until it met with the Churchill Station. Below are some of the photos from the trip, and others can be found in the Gallery here.

What impressed me most was how much work is required to put a tunnel together. It’s more than digging a hole and laying in a track, the infrastructure for communication, lighting, water all has to be considered before concrete is poured and the number of teams involved in such a project is staggering. The amount of material that is beneath the scenes is not something I could fully comprehend but seeing conduits, fire-proof access boxes and other important areas in the tunnel lead you to understanding there is a very complex system surrounding another complicated system.

My guide admitted to me that the North LRT line lacked the glamour of other lines and may come across as simple, but that doesn’t mean this line is without challenges. Case in point are the track switches at Churchill Station. This is where the Metro line will be coming in to Churchill Station, crossing over existing track and arriving at the platform. The original track had to be replaced to allow for the track switches, and the software to control the direction of the tracks is currently being tested.
Track Switch
Two lines, each with a north bound and south bound car, arriving at a single station may be small apples to larger city lines, but standing in front of the track and seeing how much has to happen in a small space to ensure a car gets to where it’s going is overwhelming. If you think of the logic required to control a traffic light and get frustrated when you are sitting still for longer than necessary. Now extrapolate that to managing the tracks that will control the meeting point of two LRT lines in to one.

Crumpled BlueprintsTo take a step back and apply a project manager view on this, I was most surprised that there is still room for error on tasks or that specifications can be interpreted differently. This isn’t to say they are wrong or faulty, just that this is far from the first underground transit line created and the best practices done by other teams elsewhere should set a standard for other projects to follow, but they seem to be more of a guideline and not a rule. What the North LRT line is doing is not unique but a simple line may have been made more complicated through the teams involved in the execution. The mentality that ‘my way is the best way’ goes beyond software development and debugging a faulty line of code or re-wiring electrical could likely have been avoided if more time was spent in the beginning of the project.

I am not about to switch my careers and begin working on tunnel construction but the variety of jobs and tasks required to complete a line are more than team of blunt instruments digging a hole. There is a lot of finish work that ties it all together and it was a great opportunity to see behind the curtain. First and foremost I was a curious bystander and secondly I was taking a work perspective on this, picturing network diagrams of how work can be organized and trying to plan the project in my head.

This was a fantastic opportunity and I will be looking out the window of the LRT a little more fondly now knowing a bit about what is beyond the rail car.

My Local Southern Comfort

By | October 14, 2013

After yearly trips to foreign locales and enjoying what other countries have to offer we did something different with our vacation this year. We left our passports behind and became tourists in our own backyard. Our vacation consisted of borrowing Dad’s truck and camper and hit the road in late June to spend 11 days going through the Okanagan.

Over the years we have marvelled at sights locals take for granted and decided to see what Canada has to offer. There are many areas we’d like to see in Canada but for now we’re starting small and going through the BC Southern Interior. Perhaps in the future we’ll visit the Maritimes or go north but this time we’re chasing sunshine, desert conditions and vineyards.

BC Route

Our trip took us through the BC interior going in a clockwise drive with stops in Golden, Kelowna, Penticton, Osoyoos, Christina Lake, Kimberley back to Golden and then home. Where possible we reserved a spot on a lake or within walking distance of sights and activities. If there was a bike or walking path nearby all the better.

Planning a trip within your own country is easier than international trips, but contacting camp grounds during their winter season made the reservation process slow and we had to modify plans as we went (one day here and take away a day there). We started our planning as far back as January (photo link) knowing that some places wouldn’t accept reservations until March and we wanted to be ready to book the moment they were open. Some items that caused us troubles were required length of stays in the high season summer months and restrictions around long weekends. We had to modify our Osoyoos/Christina Lake itinerary to fit in to a spot in Osoyoos over Canada Day weekend but more time in Osoyoos was not a bad thing by any means.

It was a great vacation that went by too fast. Some highlights were…

Osoyoos PanoramaExperiencing +40 weather in Osoyoos. We went to the tip of the Sonoran Desert and weren’t disappointed with arid conditions and hot weather (photo link). Locals were talking about it being too warm for them so we knew we were experiencing something special.

The weather was great on the whole trip and we only experienced one morning with rain, which didn’t last long before warm weather broke through. The camper is equipped with air conditioning so on hot evenings we were able to bring the unit to a reasonable temperature.

Wine PurchasesWine, wine, wine. We left Edmonton thinking we were fans of red wine and were exposed to some great tasting whites. I still enjoy a full red but now a Gewürztraminer or a dry Riesling may suit me fine. I also understand what I like about red’s and am looking at all types of red’s with a new appreciation. On the day we went to six wineries (a wine tour so we weren’t driving) things became hazy before high noon and we had to be poured out of the van (photo link) at the end of the day.

Over the course of the trip we visited 18 wineries and bought wine at almost all of them. Some were better than others, and we came back with 60 bottles. The true test has been seeing if the wine is still good back at home and so far our favorites in the Okanagan are still our favorites back home.

Walking along the beach in Penticton. Of all the places we stopped at Penticton stood out for us. There was something about the town, some vibe, which made it unique from other places we visited. Situated between two bodies of water and rolling foot hills it is a pretty scenic location. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the tourist center in Penticton has a liquor store that stocks a lot of BC wineries so you don’t need to drive up to Kelowna or Naramata to get your favorite bottle.

Bluth Stair CarThe drive between camp sites wasn’t horrendous, however it couldn’t be avoided that some days were longer than others. At most we travelled 7.5 hours and other days it was a quiet 90 minute drive down the road. The worst part of any day was managing the truck on the roads, busy or not. I felt like I was in a stair car, stepping on the gas to speed up and then immediately going on the brakes because there was a red light four blocks away.

Travelling through a major area on the Canada Day long weekend was a bit of an oversight, and we had some hairy moments amongst the traffic, but we survived and it made for an adventure. Once we reached Vernon and started towards Kelowna it felt like we were in one big traffic jam. The ingredients were there for a tedious drive: long weekend in July, start of holidays, great weather; all reasons why others were probably on the road too. Thankfully this was the exception and not the norm when we travelled, but I was always happy to park for the day and know that I wouldn’t need to head out again.

We limited some of the sights we went to because we knew driving there would have been a challenge (ie: the trestles in Osoyoos, or any of the switch backs that lead to a hiking trail). This is not to say the unit wouldn’t have made it there, it just would have been extremely stressful and slow going.

For as big as the truck/camper is on the road the amenities it offered when we parked was worth it. We could put the air conditioning on to cool the camper down, take a shower, cook all of our meals and had enough on board water and battery power to sustain us when we had to dry camp in a provincial park. I have a new respect for large units on the road and more that venture on the mountain roads from Golden and Revelstoke; those corners were taken extremely slow in the truck and I am amazed that the shuttle we take there for skiing in the winter time manages that, and in worse conditions.

The trip was a nice break and a calm before the storm of house renovations (photo link), cat emergencies (photo link) and unplanned expenses (photo link) and it left us wanting to return to the Okanagan region sooner than later. Plus, we now have a fully stocked wine cellar and the weekly debate of ‘drinking the good stuff or a bottle we bought locally’.

Images from the trip can be found in the Gallery here.

My Return to the Orchard

By | October 10, 2013

A few months ago I shared my thoughts on the BlackBerry Z10 and now look like a fool since I am eating my words a few months later.

BlackBerry may never be able to compete with behemoths like Samsung as they push for larger displays and bells and whistles, but for a functional device that keeps me connected to home and work the BlackBerry fits the bill and I hope others see that too.

BlackBerry LogoBlackBerry proved me wrong with a larger screen device in the Z10. However, my affair with BlackBerry has come to an end. My Z10 has been sold and I back in the familiar embrace of Apple using a new 5S. I left Apple a few years ago in my transition from Rogers to Wind, it was under good terms and would have used the iPhone on Wind had it been compatible. It wasn’t, so thus began my handset journey from Android to BlackBerry.

I was never disappointed with the Z10. The construction of the handset was still impressive months later. The phone never let me down but I started wanting more from it. The lack of apps did start to become tiresome, especially when I read about new and exciting apps released for other devices. The promise of OS 10.2, which would have brought some necessary improvements, always felt like it was just around the corner and I grew weary.

I read an analogy that described BlackBerry was a well built house with amazing security but set in an empty neighbourhood with no streets or amenities. Apple and Android are nice houses but they are in a thriving community where everything is in walking distance. I thought I could survive in an empty community but it is a larger draw than I suspected. I may never buy a piece of hardware to function with my phone, but not being allowed to make that choice because BlackBerry wasn’t supported was restricting. On top of that, the downward spiral of the company financially all compounded in me to consider changing devices.

iPhone 5S Line UpMy options were the new Nexus Google handset or the just announced iPhone. I decided to go with the iPhone because I like the walled garden Apple has with iTunes. I have other iPod’s at home, our computers are all Apple’s, the iPhone fits and I comfortable with giving up the ability to customize and tweak the iPhone the way I could with an Android. Another factor was battery performance, and sacrificing screen size for this is fine with me.

As for staying connected to work, there is a strong push for a ‘bring your own device’ at the office and new software (transitioning from Good For Enterprise to MaaS360) is being rolled out that will improve upon what the company had previously, so this should satisfy my urge to check work email away from the office. The frequency at which I have been changing phones is alarming but I am hoping I can stay with the 5S for more than a year, and being in the honeymoon phase right now I feel that anything is possible.

My Berry Experience

By | April 12, 2013

BlackBerry LogoOver the last few years I have jumped around on my smart phones. My smartphone history has gone iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and then I went to Android with LG Optimus 2X, Samsung Galaxy SIIX and now the biggest shift of all: BlackBerry Z10.

On the “Legal in Thailand” ski trip in February Tyler was showing off his Z10 and something about it looked appealing. I kept thinking about the phone for a few weeks after the trip and realized that even if I was getting it for better integration with my work email I was not doing anything on Android that I could live without, and at the end of the day I would still have a highly functional smartphone.

Two months have passed and here are some thoughts on the Z10.

The BlackBerry World app store is limited, but it’s growing as the Z10 is released in new countries and it’s important to remember that even the Apple and Android stores had humble beginnings too. The Z10 is new so developers may not see much benefit in building an app for the platform but as the Q10 and other BBOS10 capable devices are released this year the market penetration may increase, and so would the number of apps that are available.

The apps that do exist, and ones I use often (Twitter, Facebook) are basic but they suffice. If there are any applications missing from the store I can visit the mobile version of that website and accomplish what I wanted. I find that I don’t use many apps on my phone but if something can’t be found in the store I can sideload the Android application on to my phone. This is probably the biggest benefit so far, I have my favorite Android apps but improved battery life and a solid user experience.

With Android I got so obsessed with the latest ROM build that I was constantly flashing versions, reading about Nightlies and waiting for Jelly Bean integration in to the build of Cyanogenmod I was using. I couldn’t sit still, I was always breaking and fixing the phone.

I would go back to the stock version of the ROM, find something I hated and switch, and then switch again. I wasn’t happy in a world of customized ROMs and I think a part of my desire to switch to the Z10 was to prevent myself from worrying about this. I could have gotten a phone Google supported and pushed latest system builds too but the temptation would have been there to try something different.

The Z10 is unique because it has no physical buttons and operates entirely on gestures. These gestures took a few days to get used to, and some of the gestures are hidden away you may end up discovering a new shortcut or feature months after use. I no longer think about which way to swipe when going from Hub to applications or opening and closing applications. It is a very solid experience and I am amazed how quickly I have gotten used to no physical navigation buttons on the phone.

The camera on the phone still leaves something to be desired but with a few software updates the potential of the camera may be unleashed. There are minor issues like screenshots appearing in the Pictures application of my Work profile (instead of in my Personal profile). During charging at night the screen will turn on momentarily after it has reached a full charge and will repeat this process while it charges and discharges. My annoyances are minor but I have faith they will be improved over time.

BlackBerry Z10 Text Ad

I enjoy being able to ‘lock’ my work email and calendar so I don’t see this work information when I view the Hub and any new messages I have. I would like to have more customization over notifications, perhaps able to control what color the LED is for which email account. There is an app that does this but for $3 and needing to have the application open and running in order to work seems a bit much. I can wait until the application is able to run in the background or until a BBOS10 update that does these features natively, for now I can survive.

For a new OS and hardware this is a very solid experience. The first Android and iPhone had room for improvement and I think BlackBerry has done a really good job with this release. I like the feeling of being on the ground floor, plus supporting a Canadian company, and I hope that the company can gain some credibility that it lost over the years. BlackBerry may never be able to compete with behemoths like Samsung as they push for larger displays and bells and whistles, but for a functional device that keeps me connected to home and work the BlackBerry fits the bill and I hope others see that too.

My Twenty Twelve in Numbers

By | January 1, 2013

Following in the footsteps of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 year in reviews I wanted to continue the year end ritual. I am surprised by how much has stayed consistent (top artists, quietest online search month) but there were a few new trends I didn’t expect.

Top 10 Google Queries
1. northlands park, edmonton
2. alberta downs race track, lacombe, ab
3. evergreen park, grande prairie
4. Rocky Mountain Turf Club, Lethbridge, Alberta
5. peggy’s footwerks
6. google analytics
7. peggysfootwerks
8. made in frame
9. peggys footwerks
10. peggy’sfootwerks

The top four results are work related for the Horse Racing Alberta website I managed. I have no idea why they were ranked so high amongst everything else. I also can’t explain why I needed to search for “northlands park, edmonton” as frequently as I did.

The rest of the search results were all related to a side business and seeing how high Peggy’s Footwerks was ranking on Google. In the end I was able to add the site to Google and have it hit on keywords so I no longer receive phone calls asking “why they can’t find the site in Google”.

I used my personal Gmail account to look at my Web History so the results are from searching while logged in with that account. My busiest month for searching was in August with 1,667 queries recorded, and my least active month was in June with 864. These numbers are up from last year but June returned as my least active search month, which is a bizarre trend.

Top 10 sites
1. en.wikipedia.org
2. www.google.com
3. www.imdb.com
4. answers.yahoo.com
5. www.amazon.com
6. www.ehow.com
7. androidforums.com
8. forum.xda-developers.com
9. market.android.com
10. twitter.com

Wikipedia dominates my top sites again. I honestly don’t think I go there that often but I guess every article about someone or something leads me to Wikipedia so I imagine that adds up over time. I like that Android sites appeared in this list, even though before September the notion of leaving iOS seemed crazy to me.

Top 10 Artists
1. Hans Zimmer (670 plays)
2. Ramin Djawadi (381 plays)
3. Howard Shore (285 plays)
4. Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard (259 plays)
5. Amanda Palmer (250 plays)
6. Daft Punk (240 plays)
7. The Throne (214 plays)
8. Bad Religion (204 plays)
9. Michael Giacchino (177 plays)
10. The White Stripes (166 plays)

With my move to TELUS I expected my play count to decrease and that definitely happened. Instead of listening to music four to six hours a day I averaged about an hour, and rather than having access to my entire music library I had to rely on what I brought with me that day (iPod Nano or iPod Classic). I wasn’t able to pick an artist at random or go on a musical adventure based on my mood. Last year my top ten artists all had over 300 plays and now there is a significant drop off.

Not unusual is that I have a lot of soundtrack influence in what I listen to but this year half half of artists doing a score for something I love (Batman, Lord of the Rings, Lost). I went back to Daft Punk this year but I think most of those plays were from the Tron Soundtrack but a healthy mix from Homework and Discovery too.

The biggest surprise is that White Stripes didn’t top the list. My love of the band hasn’t waned but I think the anticipation of Dark Knight Rises influenced what I listened to and I would opt for something from Hans Zimmer instead of a quick rock out session to White Blood Cells.

I listened to “Watch the Throne” a lot this year, but I’m surprised that Bad Religion got a same number of plays. I like them but didn’t think I sought out their music that much. Amanda Palmer’s “Theater is Evil” album is fantastic and for only being released in September is quickly made its way up my charts.

Top 10 Tracks
1. Hans Zimmer – A Storm Is Coming (42 plays)
2. Hans Zimmer – On Thin Ice (38 plays)
3. Hans Zimmer – Rise (35 plays)
3. Hans Zimmer – Imagine The Fire (35 plays)
3. Hans Zimmer – Born In Darkness (35 plays)
6. Hans Zimmer – Necessary Evil (34 plays)
6. Hans Zimmer – Why Do We Fall? (34 plays)
8. Hans Zimmer – Gotham’s Reckoning (33 plays)
8. Hans Zimmer – Nothing Out There (33 plays)
10. Hans Zimmer – Fear Will Find You (32 plays)
10. Hans Zimmer – Underground Army (32 plays)

There are 11 songs listed here because there were multiple songs tied for a spot. Last year “The Dark Knight” ruled my top plays, specifically the second disc of the soundtrack, and this year “The Dark Knight Rises” ruled supreme. I predicted this last year by saying:

Odds are good that next year Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard will lead the way with “The Dark Knight Rises”.

With regards to air travel 2011 was the lowest in recent years with a pretty painless extended weekend trip to San Diego amassing 3200 miles covered. I drove my VW Jetta TDI over 13,000 kilometers and filled up the vehicle 17 times (the same number last year). I have gone two calendar years in a row without completing a police report, and I received no speeding tickets or anything incriminating like that against me.

My decline in blogging continued this year, and I produced my lowest post count with 13. The Iceland posts were long but being wordy doesn’t make a different when I push the “Publish” button a bakers dozen times. I enjoy blogging when I have something to say but I find that I either have nothing to write or I just don’t have the time to sit and pour my thoughts into a post. I suspect 2013 will have a similar number of posts, but without a trip to Iceland to claim nearly half of my posts finding something to write about this year may be challenging.

My Twitter use has declined as well, going from 188 tweets in 2011 to 113 in 2012. I went from 41 posts on Tumblr down to one. There was a Facebook status update prior to our trip to Iceland, but that was the only one. I frequent these sites multiple times a day, enjoy browsing and catching up on what is new but I may forever be a lurker on them.

I like social networking but I also don’t want to bother people with hourly updates or useless tweets containing song lyrics or writing about how much food I ate. I think my decrease in Tweets was related to not posting every time I updated my Project 365. If people want to see the photos they know how to find them, and spamming them doesn’t do anything more than get a few more image views.

I sent roughly 407 emails from my @gmail.com and @seangursky.com email accounts and 52 from my @hotmail.com address. My @gmail.com and @seangursky.com usage increased a bit compared to last year but @hotmail.com dropped a bit. What I did write from @hotmail.com was mostly Kijiji related, so maybe the shift is related to using Gmail for more communication.

I made one order with amazon.ca, two with amazon.com, one with monoprice.com and none with Deal Extreme or amazon.co.uk.

Rough calculations are that I took nearly 5,200 photos with my Canon 5D this year. There was a few week period where the camera was in for repair but any photos I took with the iPhone or backup Pentax Optio were inconsequential. 5,200 is fewer photos than I took last year (7,850) but there was no two week long vacation to soak up a thousand odd photos.

All in all 2011 seems pretty quiet. Even when we tell people what we were up to the usual answer is “house stuff”. You add in a few months of Ice Dragons summer hockey, a couple trips to the cabin at Lac la Biche and you have the year in review.

2011 is in the books, I have a few things I’m looking forward to in 2012 and I’m sure the numbers will reflect that (I predict exceeding 9,000 photos taken) but we’ll see how it all shakes down in 366 days.