I like to think of myself as rather proficient in using Microsoft Excel.1. I use it for everything from keeping simple lists to advanced data analysis. I love pivot tables and conditional formatting and even have a favourite Excel function2 The other day at work I taught a bunch of colleagues, who are all very well versed in the use of Excel3 that you can copy something from one cell down a whole column by double clicking on the bottom right corner of the cell you want to copy. Most of them knew that you can grab that bottom right corner and drag it down as far as you’d like to copy, but they were all suitable stunned with the double clicking trick – which comes in especially handy if you have hundreds or thousands of rows of data – that’s a lot of scrolling if you are using the drag method instead.
Which brings me to the new thing I learned about Excel. It has a limitation that I’ve never run into before, but which is now an issue for me. Specifically, that limit is the number of rows you can have in a single worksheet. That number: 1,048,5764,5. And I learned this as a particular set of data that I’m working with had more than a million rows of data! Our makeshift solution is to have multiple worksheets in a workbook, though now that we have almost filled our our *second* worksheet, it really slows down the old laptop!
Clearly, the next thing I have on my “things to learn this year” list is database management!
One of the things that I do in the statistics course that I teach over at the Justice League is make sure that everyone who takes my class can use Excel properly – it’s probably one of the most useful thing they use in the course, to be honest [↩]
CONCATENATE. Mostly because the word is always. I probably use “Text to columns” more often, but I love to say “concatenate”! [↩]
Including one who I’d say is the best Excel user I know. [↩]
Remember many moons ago when I bought a shiny new bike? I haven’t enjoyed said shiny new bike as much as I would like of late, and I blame it squarely on the fact that I had to keep my bike in my storage locker, as my building has no bike room and we aren’t allowed to bring bikes into our suites in my building. But my storage locker is an oddly shaped little concrete room in the parkade with a door that opens into the locker (thus rendering a big swath of the floor space unusable for storing things). Which meant that it was difficult to get my bike in and out of said storage locker, which meant that I haven’t been riding my bike that much.
At one point I got the brilliant idea that I should install a bike hook on the wall in my storage locker, so that my bike could be stored off the ground so (a) it wouldn’t take up floor space and (b) it would be easier to access since I could just lift it off the bike hook over all the other stuff in there to take it out (it’s very light, so it would be totally doable). I even went so far as to ask my strata if I was allowed to do it and they said it was fine. And then… I just didn’t get around to it. And then a couple of years went by and I still didn’t do it and I barely rode my bike.
When Scott moved in recently, we had to figure out how to combine all of his stuff with all of my stuff into a 700 square foot condo. And one of his stuffs was also a bike! So we reconsidered my installing bike hooks in my storage locker, but then came up with an even better idea. Several parking spots in my parkade have bike hooks in the wall of the parking spot. So we decided that it made more sense to store our bikes on hooks in my parking spot, which would free up more room in the storage locker for all our other various stuff and things. So I asked my strata if that was allowed and they said it was – and so off we went to Home Depot to rent a hammer drill!
“A hammer drill (or hammering drill) is a rotary drill with a hammering action. The hammering action provides a short, rapid hammer thrust to pulverize relatively brittle material and provide quicker drilling with less effort.” (Source: Wikipedia)
I don’t think that the woman at the rental desk at Home Depot had much faith in us when we asked to rent a hammer drill. “Have you used one before?” she asked. “No,” we replied. She gave us a skeptical look, then showed us how to use it, then gave us another skeptical look. She asked what we were using it for and when we told her, she said, skeptically, “Does your strata allow that?” I said that I had asked them and it was allowed, and she said, “Mmm hmm,” in a tone that suggested she remained skeptical.
At any rate, using a hammer drill is pretty much like using a regular drill. We drill holes into the concrete and then put in these little metal tube looking things (seen at the bottom of this photo of all the things we used for this project):
You stick the tube-looking things into the hole that you drilled and then you screw in the big hook – as you screw the hook in, it gradually opens up the tube-looking thing so that the tube-looking thing takes up all the space in the hole you made and it anchors the hook to the wall. Easy-peasy.
We also installed the gray loop thingy on the left side of the photo into the wall (we used the hammer drill to make smaller holes into which we could screw that gray thing) so that we can look our bikes to that thing. Even though my parking spot is behind two gates in a parkade with various security features, you can never be too safe!
Anyway, here’s what my parking spot looked like before we started:
Here’s a picture of me working the hammer drill:
And here’s the finished product:
So much more convenient!
Then, since we had the hammer drill, Scott was all “where else can we drill holes into concrete while we have this thing?” and the answer, of course, was my storage locker. I already had the strata’s OK to drill hooks in there, so we decided to put up some hooks in the walls of the storage locker so that we can hang stuff, thus making use of all the wasted space in my very tall storage locker. So Scott drilled some holes to screw in some pieces of wood – that way we can add as many hooks as we want at our leisure. And voila:
Those hooks, combined with the fact that we also put a shelving unit in there, means my storage locker now holds twice as much stuff, but it is also so much more accessible than when it was just boxes and buckets piled up on top of each other. This makes me a happy camper!
I have mentioned this previously, in my very long posting about my trip to Hawaii, but I wanted to officially count it in my list of things that I learned this year! The most important things that I learned about surfing were that it’s really important to paddle like hell once you see the wave you want to go for to get up enough speed that when you jump up, your board is going fast enough, that you jump up at just the right time (too late or too soon and you are going to go for a swim!), and that jumping up to standing actually isn’t that hard.
Same goes for snorkeling, Prior to my trip to Hawaii, I’d never snorkeled before. Turns out, snorkeling is pretty easy (made even easier by the fact that we bought snorkels that have a value that prevents you from breathing in water when you dive down so that your snorkel is below the surface), but it’s still something that I learned.
Last year I took a couple of sewing classes, making a tote bag and some fabric buckets. This year, my friends and I decided to kick it up a notch and sew zipper pouches – which meant we had to learn how to sew a zipper!
I made them with the leftover fabric from my tote bag, which is cool because (a) they match my tote bags, and (b) I managed to not lose the leftover fabric from my tote bag, which I made nearly a year before!
Mostly because my blog is my outsourced memory – if it’s not on the blog, I’ll never remember that it happened! [↩]
Hey remember that time more than four months ago when my kitchen cabinet door fell off? I *finally* got around to fixing it. I was really gung-ho to fix it when it broke, going so far as to buy replacement hinges at Home Depot right away. But then I got busy and somehow four months went by before I got around to trying to actually attach the new hinges to the cabinet and, as it turns out, the hinges I got were not the right ones. I’d bought ones that looked like the old ones, but when Scott and I attached them, the door wouldn’t close – it was off by like half an inch. My friend Heather’s husband Dwayne came over to help out and discovered what the problem was – the hinges I had gotten from Home Depot were made by Blum, but the hinges in all my cabinets are Ferrari. And apparently there is no standardization among different manufacturers, so you can’t just use a Blum hinge to replace a Ferrari one. After running around town, I managed to find someone who could sell me the right hinges, which Scott and I used to fix the cabinet yesterday and now I am the proud owner of a kitchen in which all the cabinets have doors on them!
And while we were in a fix it kind of mood, we also tightened the toilet seat, which was starting to become a bit loose. For this, we went to YouTube and found a video that showed us how very easy peasy this is to do:
So now not only can I successfully hide the contents of my kitchen cabinet with a fully functioning door, but I also will not slide off my toilet due to a loose seat. Hooray!
I went to a couple of conferences this year and learned a tonne of stuff at them, but in the interest of not boring you to tears with things that are very interesting to evaluators and probably no one else, I’m just going to tell you about one of the things that I learned from one of the keynote speakers: John Medina, developmental molecular biologist who focuses on genes that are expressed in the human brain. He wrote a book called “Brain Rules” that is totally on my list of books to read in the new year. He was giving a keynote about how to give effective lectures – i.e., lectures that will actually be interesting to, and hold the attention of, the audience and will make it more likely that they will remember the stuff you are teaching them.
He talked about how our brains are constantly on the look out for things that it should pay attention to and things that it need not pay attention to. Remembering that our brains “evolved to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting in varying meteorological environments while in constant motion”1, it makes sense that it is wired to pay attention to things that would promote survival in that context. The human brain processes meaning before it processes details , as you don’t really want your brain to be paying attention to how many teeth that sabre tooth tiger has before it thinks about the meaning of that mouth full of sabre tooth tiger teeth2. So, what does “meaning” mean in this context? Basically, when you observe something, the brain asks the following 6 questions, in the following order, to determine if something is worth paying attention to:
Will it eat me? [i.e., is it a threat?)
Can I eat it? [i.e., is it a resource I can use?]
Can I have sex with it? [i.e., a potential reproductive opportunity?]
Will it have sex with me? [i.e., a potential reproductive opportunity?]
Have I seen it before? [i.e., pattern recognition]
Have I never seen it before? [i.e., surprise]
Since these are the things that catch the attention of brains, he suggested starting lectures with anecdotes that use one of these six ways of catching the audience’s attention3 and showing them why what you are talking about is meaningful. As well, since we have relatively short attention spans, you should also use these to re-engage the audience about every 10 minutes of so.
There was a tonne more that I learned from his lecture and I’m definitely going to read his book. And then I’ll probably have to re-write every lecture that for the courses that I teach before the next time I teach them!
I took pretty good notes in this keynote, so caught that quotation verbatim. [↩]
I didn’t catch that quote verbatim, but that was another of his points! [↩]
Though I think numbers 3-4 probably wouldn’t be appropriate for most lectures! [↩]
Speaking of stuff I learned from Cath, at the same time that I got her to sign my copy of her book, I also learned that you can create a calendar event from an email in Microsoft Outlook by dragging the email into your calendar, like this:
Possibly everyone else already knows this, but it was new to me!
When I told a colleague about this, she was like “yeah, I knew that” and I said, “I knew about creating a Google Calendar event from an email in Gmail, but I didn’t know that shortcut in Outlook. To which she replied “you can?” (In Gmail, if you have an email with a date and/or time in it, you can click on it to create a Google Calendar event. Or if there isn’t a date, you can just select “More” and then “Create Event”.) It’s funny how we all learn various shortcuts with software, but then don’t learn others. From that same colleague, I learned that in Excel, if you cell is set to date format, you can just type the numerical month-numerical day and it will fill it out as the current year (e.g., you can type 01-11 and it will fill it in as Jan 11, 2017.1. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you are doing 300 chart audits that require you to record as many as 100 dates per chart, that’s a huge time saver! You know, as a completely hypothetical example. But then I taught her that you can type CTRL+; in an Excel cell and it enters the current date (and do the same thing but with CTRL+SHIFT+; and it enters the current time).
This reminds of the time that I learned my favourite ever computer shortcut: Format Painter. It was many years ago and I was working on a document with a group and we were writing it as a group, which is quite possibly my least favourite thing to do2. Anyway, we were sitting watching someone type and she wasn’t using any of the normal short cuts – like, instead of hitting “CTRL-C” to copy something and then “CTRL-V” to paste it, she would go up to the menu bar at the top of the screen, click “Edit”, then “Copy”, and then put her cursor where we wanted to paste and go back up to the menu bar, click “Edit”, then “Paste”. I would have even taken her using the “copy” and “paste” buttons on the toolbar which, while not as efficient as the keyboard short cuts, is at least better than using the menu bar! Anyhoo, we are sitting there trying to co-write this thing while watching the excruciatingly slow typing and then all of a sudden, when the person typing wanted to change the formatting of something, she did something I’d never seen before. She clicked the button with the picture of the paint brush on it (which I’d honestly never paid attention to before) and it magically changed the formatting of the text she highlighted. I (and another colleague) were both “wtf was that???” And that was how I learned about Format Painter, which is now my most favourite things in Word:
If you already knew about Format Painter, my apologies for boring you to tears. If you didn’t, you’re welcome!
And then I was playing around with it some more and found that you can type 11Jan and it will do the same thing! [↩]
I would much rather draft something up and have people respond – or have someone else draft something up for me to respond to – than sit in a group and watch someone type while we try to co-write something. Excruciating! [↩]
Scott and I just opened a jar of the pickled beans yesterday and they are super tasty, if somewhat sour. I gave Kalev a jar of the jalapeño jelly, but haven’t tasted it yet myself. The raspberry jam, of which I made a tonne thanks to buying an entire flat of raspberries at one of the local farms, has been enjoyed by many as I’ve given it out to a number of people. The pickles and beets and figs have yet to be tested.
There’s still a number of things that I want to try canning – blackberry jam comes to mind as, for the second year running, I failed to go out blackberry picking again this year. But that book has a number of other cool recipes that I’d like to try, such as peach-bourbon jam, mulled cider jelly, red pepper jelly, pickled carrots, pickled asparagus, roasted tomato-lime salsa, spiced figs in syrup, Dijon mustard, and applesauce. Not in the book, but which I want to try: plum sauce. Looks like I have a good list of potential new food items to make for my 2018 goal of making 18 new foods that I’ve never made before!
So I’ve been totally slack on blogging about the stuff I’ve learned this year as part of my goal to learn 12 new things in 2017. I’ve been learning stuff, but just not getting around to blogging about it. But I’m on vacay now, so I’ll have time to catch up on all the stuff I meant be blog about! And since I’m on vacation now, I’m also able to read books and finally finished reading the book that my friend Cath wrote: Introducing Epigenetics: A Graphic Guide.
Epigenetics is the field of study that is concerned with how things interact with our genes to control their expression. We all inherit DNA, which contains a bunch of genes, from our parents, but there is a whole bunch of complicated things that go on to control how/when/where those genes get expressed (or not). Back when I last took a genetics course – i.e., eleventy billion years ago in my undergrad – I only remember learning about gene transcription (where a cell reads the code in DNA and makes a copy of it in a similar molecule called RNA) and gene translation (where the cell translates the code from the RNA into a protein, which can then go on and perform some function in the body). I also only remember three kinds of RNA: messenger (mRNA), transfer (tRNA) and ribosomal (rRNA). Now there are a tonne of other RNAs – micro (miRNA), long noncoding (lncRNA), and piwi-interacting (piRNAs), just to name a few1. All this to say – a lot has happened in our understanding of genetics since I last learned about it, so this book was great way to get up to speed on a whole lot of learning in a fun way! Also, my copy just so happens to be signed:
Dr. Cath, doing a book signing just for me!
I’m not going to even try to summarize all the stuff that I learned about epigenetics – the book has a *lot* of information and if you want a solid introduction to the world of epigenetics, you should probably buy the book!
Sidebar: I feel the same way about dinosaurs. When I was a kid, we learned about 6 dinosaurs – T. Rex, stegosaurus, triceratops, brontosaurus, pterodactyl – and then Jurassic Park came out and we all learned about velociraptors, but now there are dozens of different kinds of dinosaurs and it turns out that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs and that brontosaurus is actually an apatosaurus, except then more research came out that suggested that apatosaurus and brontosaurus were actually two different kinds of dinosaurs after all. But I digress. [↩]
Much like the Plumbing Edition of Stuff I Learned This Year, this is a lesson I’d have been happy not having learned. It all started on my drive home from work on Friday – I was slowing down for a red light on Stewardson Way and my car jerked (sort of like it would if you were driving a manual transmission car and accidentally put it in the wrong gear) twice, and then as I stopped at the red light, it died. Like, it would not start. And I was on a busy road during rush hour! I put on my four-way flashers and called BCAA to get some emergency roadside assistance. Pretty soon, a couple of women came up to my car and asked if I need some help: “We can push your car around the corner and into this parking lot”. A guy from the business whose parking lot they were referring to, Kirmac Collision1, also came out to help push. Since I drive a Smart car, they were very amused at how light it was to push! I was so thankful that they took the time to stop and help me – no one wants to be the car that they talk about on the traffic report: “A stall on Stewardson Way is blocking the right lane, so there’s only one lane getting through eastbound and everyone just wants to be home already!”
The BCAA tow truck driver showed up in about 20 minutes, which is exactly the time the BCAA dispatcher had estimated (and was more than enough time for me to take over the Pokemon Gym that was there), and he was super nice. Here was where I learned the first thing of this adventure: the location of the battery in my car! Now, lots of things in Smart cars are not where they are in other cars – the engine is in the back and the ignition is in between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat, near the gear shifter, for example. Well, it turns out that the battery is located under the foot well on the passenger side! Also there was the tow hook for the car! I’ve never needed to check my battery before – it’s never been a problem. And the only other time I had it towed was when I had a flat tire and that time it was still under warranty, so I had Smart Car roadside assistance still, and they just took care of it. I knew the battery was working, as I could still roll up my windows and the radio was still working, but the tow truck guy tested it, and decided that I would indeed have to get it towed somewhere, because whatever was making the car not start wasn’t something he could diagnosis on the spot.
Now, I’ve never had any trouble with my car before and I’d only ever taken it to the dealership for its regular maintenance (while it was under warranty I had to take it there or else the warranty would be void and once the warranty was up, I just kept going there out of habit/being too lazy to find an alternative). Smart cars are sold at Mercedes dealerships, so you know that there is going to be a bit of a premium on their prices. But I really wasn’t prepared for how bad it would be!
First, when I called the dealership to say I was going to have my car towed there, they said it was no problem even though they would be closed for the night, the driver could just drop off the car and put the keys in an envelope with my name and number on it through the drop spot they have for just such occasions. However, the next day when the service guy contacted me, he was all “We have 68 cars with appointments ahead of you, so we can’t even look at it until Monday and I won’t do anything until you approve the $200 minimum fee to diagnosis it. Plus it is due for a major service appointment (replace spark plugs, belts, oil, etc.) and that costs $970. So with have halted everything until you approve the fees”. My first thought is “why is he making a big deal that other cars have appointments. My car died with no warning. Sorry I didn’t make an appointment for that!” And my second thought was “why would I approve $1000 of maintenance if I don’t know what is wrong the car? What if it isn’t even fixable and they just do all that maintenance on a car I’m going to throw away?” So I said I’d pay the $200 diagnostic fee, but not approve the maintenance before I knew what was wrong with the car.
On Monday, they contacted me with a diagnosis – the clutch actuator motor had died – and an estimate – $900 for the part, $800 for labour (including the $200 diagnosis fee). So in total they wanted $2700 + tax to fix my car, which is 8 years old and only worth about $4000 (if it weren’t broken!). So this made me an unhappy camper because I have a lot of more exciting things that I would want to spend $2700 + tax on, such as anything else. I would rather spend that much on pretty much anything else. Also, they would have to order the part of Toronto and it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and that’s only if they placed the order that day (i.e., trying to pressure me to make a quick decision!).
So this is the major car part thing that I learned: what the heck is a clutch actuator motor? I knew what a clutch was from my years of driving manual transmission. When you drive manual, you step on a clutch pedal, which allows you to shift gears (or to start the car moving from a stationary position) – basically, stepping on the clutch pedal disconnects the running engine from the turning of the wheels so that you can shift gears; then you release the clutch pedal, which allows the engine to continue turning the wheels with the car in the new gear you’ve just selected2. However, Smart cars don’t have manual transmissions – they have something called a Tiptronic – with this type of transmission, you can shift the gears yourself, but you don’t need to step on a clutch pedal and if you fail to shift correctly, the car will just shift it for you so that the car doesn’t stall. In the photo above, you see that there is Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive, which in an automatic car and you can just drive your Smart as an automatic using those. If you want to do the shifting yourself, when in Drive, you push the stick over to the left (where the + and – are) and then you push up (towards +) and release to shift up or down (towards -) and release to shift down. I did this when I first got my car, but it just wasn’t as satisfying as driving a real manual, so I’ve driven it as an automatic after about the first month of owning. Anyway, the clutch actuator is a part that basically takes the place of the clutch pedal that you would step on to change gears in a manual transmission car. So, the fact that the clutch actuator died and was making my car not work was like insult to injury – it’s a part that my car has because of a feature I don’t even use!
Anyway, I called a friend of mine who is into cars for advice and he said, “They are likely charging you a Mercedes tax. I know this other shop run by a good guy – they know their stuff and they are straightforward and charge fair prices.” So we contacted them and they gave me an estimate for all the same work (replace the clutch actuator and do the full maintenance service): $1200 + tax! So basically Mercedes was trying to fleece me out of $1500! So I called them back and said I would not be having them do anything more with my car – I would pay their $200 diagnosis fee and then have a tow truck come to take it away. He said it would take some time to put my car back together and he’d call me when it was ready. And then he called me back shortly after, said he’d talked to his manager, and since I’ve been such a good customer, they wanted to know what I was planning to do with the car3. I said that I was taking it somewhere else to get it fixed, where they are charging me a reasonable price and where they can get the part tomorrow, not Friday. He asked what the other place was going to charge me and when I told him, the guy says that because I’ve such a good customer4, they can match the price for replacing the clutch actuator ($1000 for parts & labour, instead of $1700), but he didn’t believe that the quote of $200 for maintenance (vs. Mercedes charging $970) could be right. “Are you sure it’s a full maintenance, with spark plugs and belts and everything? Are you sure it’s not just an oil change?” And I was sure, because I’d sent the shop the list of what was included in the list of things for maintenance. But he was all “nope, we can’t drop the price on that”5. And then he also dropped in that “We’ve found the part locally, so we can have it by today instead of 5 days from now”. At this point, I was just pissed off, and I said, “Well, if you can drop the price of replacing the clutch actuator almost in half, just like that, now I just feel like you were trying to fleece me! And that’s a very interesting coincidence that all of a sudden you found the part locally, once I told you that I taking it to another shop! I’m taking my car – please tell me when you have it reassembled so I can tell my tow truck driver it’s ready.”6
So that was Monday. They didn’t have my car reassembled until the next morning, but I got a tow truck to take it to Deckers Auto in Burnaby, who had the car fixed and all the maintenance done in about 24 hours, and the cost was right on what they’d estimated! And to put a cherry on top, when I got there, the guy was super friendly and helpful, he showed me the parts that had been replaced and explained what was wrong with them, and basically treated me like I was a person capable of understanding information about cars (which many mechanics do not do when they speak to women.). He also told me that my car is in great shape, so I shouldn’t have to worry about it for quite some time! I was just so pleased with their service and I will be definitely going back to them for all my maintenance from now on. If you are ever looking for a great auto shop, I highly recommend them!
Reflecting back, I have a lot of people to thank for helping me out in this situation:
the two lovely women who stopped to help me out when I was stalled in traffic, along with the lovely gentleman from Kirmac who helped them push my car. Also, the other nice guy from Kirmac who came out while I was waiting for my tow truck to make sure I was OK
the friendly and professional BCAA driver who came for emergency roadside assistance
my friend Tig who gave me a ride to our hockey game that night!
my friend Randy who recommended Deckers Auto and who talked with me through my options
the amazing mechanics at Deckers Auto who treated me fairly and professionally and who charged me a fair price for the work they did
my Dad, for teaching me about how cars work
my sister, for pointing out that my Dad’s legacy lives on through our tendency to call people out on their bullshit
Here’s a video of how a manual transmission works, in case you are interested:
Cross section of Smart car showing engine location is from Wikimedia Commons shared with a Creative Commons license.
Gear shifter in my Smart car photo was taken by me!
Those of you from New West may be noting that Kirmac just so happens to be right next to New West’s craft brewery, Steel & Oak. And if I didn’t have a hockey game to play later that evening, I definitely would have meandered into S&O’s tasting room for a pint after the tow truck took my car away! [↩]
Here’s a simple explanation, if you are interested: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/clutch.htm [↩]
At this point, I was assuming he was going to try to sell me a Merc. [↩]
Interesting that they didn’t seem to care that I’d been such a good customer until I was threatening to leave! [↩]
Of course, he couldn’t drop the price on that because then if I came back for my next service appointment, they wouldn’t be able to charge me the hundreds of extra dollars anymore! [↩]
I was telling my sister this story and said that I wished Dad was here to help me deal with this car stuff – he is the one who taught me all the things I know about cars – and she said “It seems like he is. What you said to them was such a Dad thing to say!” I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! [↩]