Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Scotch Edition

I remember the first time I tried scotch like I were yesterday. I was with some of my nerdy science friends, one of whom worked in a lab where the lounge has an amazing view of the False Creek. So a group of us went there to enjoy the view and drink some scotch. And I thought the scotch was terrible! I did not enjoy the smokey peatiness at all. 

And so, for many years, I thought I just didn’t like scotch. It was only fairly recently that I learned that not all scotch is peated and tried some non-peated scotches, which I quite liked.

So on our recent trip to Scotland, we made sure to go to a few scotch distilleries to learn more about it! We went to two distilleries, both of which are very new:

Clydeside Distillery
Clydeside Distillery
Gift when staying Isle of Raasay Distillery guest house

We actually stayed at the Isle of Raasay distillery, which also has guest accommodations attached to the distillery. And when you stay they, they give you this little sample of their Raasay While We Wait single malt scotch whiskey and two scotch glasses (shown in the photo above).

I’ll write more about both of these distilleries whenever I finally get around to properly blogging about that trip. For this posting, I’m going to focus on things that I learned about scotch!

In no particular order:

  • Like Canadian whisky, Scotch whisky has to be aged for at least 3 years in a barrel1. In addition, it must be:
    • distilled in Scotland
    • aged in Scotland
  • “Single malt” scotch whisky, as the name suggests, must be made from only malted barley (and no other cereals). It must also be made at a single distillery (though it can be made in different batches) and in a pot still.
  • “Single grain” scotch whisky must also be made at a single distillery.
  • “Blended malt” scotch whisky is a whiskey made by blending two or more single malt scotch whiskies and “blended scotch whiskey” is a whiskey made by blending one or more single malt whiskies with one (or more) single grain scotch whiskies.
  • Peated whisky is made by blowing smoke from a peat fire to dry the malt you use to make the whisky.
  • At one point in history, the further you were from England, the less tax you paid, os there are more distilleries in the northern part of Scotland than in the southern part.
  • Whiskies that are made or aged on the islands tend to have a bit of salty taste to them from the salt air.
  • After prohibition ended in the US, they made a law that all bourbon had to be aged in virgin oak barrels (the law was meant to create more jobs for coopers (i.e., barrel makers)). A lot of scotch distilleries will use bourbon barrels to age their scotch, because those barrels were cheap to by (since the bourbon makers couldn’t use them a second time).

These are the different regions of Scotland and the types of scotch you get from each:

Clydeside Distillery

I tend to like the Highland scotches.

In addition to the two aforementioned, distilleries, we tried to go to Torabhaig Distillery, which we happened to drive by well, but they were closed on Sundays. Here’s a photo of my sneaking past the “no entry” sign.

Torabhaig Distillery

When we were in Glasgow, we went to a pub called The Pot Still, where they had over 700 whiskies. The bartender there told Scott that you don’t call a scotch whisky “smooth”, you call it “soft”. But then we heard lots of other Scots referring to whisky as “smooth”, and I’ve seen scotches described as “smooth” on packaging for scotch, so I am doubtful that this is true. Regardless, it was a pretty good pub!

The Pot Still

We also checked out a place called the Scotch Whisky Experience when we were in Edinburgh. We didn’t do any of their tours, but we did check out their large whisky shop!

The Scotch Whisky Experience

While there, Scott bought a bottle of Royal Lochnagar 12 year old single malt:

Royal Lochnagar

And I bought my bottle – Glen Deveron 16 year single malt – at the Duty Free at the airport. Did you know that you can do scotch tastings at the Duty Free at the airport? I told them I wanted a smooth Highland whisky and they brought out several for us to try!

Glen Deveron scotch

We were sad that we were only allowed to bring back one bottle of scotch each!

  1. You can read the whole Scotch Whisky Regulations as http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/2890/contents/made if you are so inclined. []

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Stuff I Learned This year: Tableau edition

One of the things on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days is “Learn a new software program” and this year, I did just that. The program in question is Tableau, which is a fantastic software for data visualization. 

This was something that I did for work, as my team and I had to create a dashboard to present data that needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. We were able to get Tableau licences and a place to store our dashboard on a Tableau server that the organization has, so we had to teach ourselves how to use it quite quickly. It wasn’t very intuitive at first, but once we got the hang of it, we were able to create some very cool dashboards.

As these dashboards are part of my work, I can’t actually share them here – they are limited to within the organization. But they are awfully beautiful and they are interactive too, so you can hover over things on the graphs to get more information or filter them (e.g., to see the data for different hospitals, or different units within the hospitals).

I won’t say that I’m a Tableau expert by any stretch of the imagination – several of the people on my team who work on our dashboard regularly are much more skilled at it than I am. But I learned the basics and I think that counts as a new thing I learned this year!

Image credits: Tableau logo was posted in the Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons license

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Stuff I Learned This Year Aeropress Coffee Making Edition

While I was getting my place painted, Scott and I stayed at his place. But Scott didn’t have a coffee maker – he only had an Aeropress. And thus I had to learn how to use it!

It was actually pretty simple, but hey, it’s a new thing I learned this year, so it totally counts!

Here’s all the stuff you use:

Aeropress

First, you need to put the little filter in this circle thingy (which you’ve put on top of a cup) and wet the filter with hot water:

Aeropress

Then you put the coffee grounds into the tube thingy, which you’ve put on top of the circle thingy:

 AeropressAeropress

Then you fill it with boiling water and stir.

Let it sit for a few minutes, and then press the plunger down to make the coffee come out:

Aeropress

If it’s too strong, you can put some more water in it (sort of like an Americano).

And viola, you have coffee!

Personally, I prefer to just use my drop coffeemaker, but this thing is useful when you don’t have a coffeemaker with you!

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Drywall Edition

I’ve had my condo for more than four years now and decided it was high time to give the place a little makeover. When I bought my place, I only had a few days to move in due to multiple trips that were happening around the same time. I figured that the paint in the place at the time was OK – I didn’t love the dark brown wall in my bedroom and the beige walls throughout the place were not the colour I would have picked, but it didn’t look terrible and I’d also spent all the money I had buying the place, so didn’t really have the money floating around for unnecessary things like painting. But I grew bored of it, and there were some imperfections in the previous paint job (like brush strokes in a corner of the bathroom from where the painter didn’t do a good job of paint coverage). So I consulted with my good friend Lianna, who is a graphic designer, and she recommended a friend of hers who is a painter, and now my place looks so bright and clean! So while I can’t add “learned to paint a condo” to my list of things I learned this year, I did learn some interesting things through the process.

When I had my condo painted, my painters told me that the paper on some of my drywall had come loose in some places. I have never really given much thought to drywall before, but she said that it happens when you hang things on the wall and then remove them – it pulls at the paper on the drywall and over the years if you do this enough times, eventually you’ll need to replace the drywall. I had no idea!

According to Wikipedia:

Drywall (also known as plasterboard, wallboard, gypsum panel, sheet rock, or gypsum board) is a panel made of calcium sulfate dihydrate (gypsum), with or without additives, typically extruded between thick sheets of facer and backer paper, utilized in the construction of interior walls and ceilings.[1] The plaster is mixed with fiber (typically paper and/or fibreglass or asbestos), plasticizer, foaming agent, and various additives that can decrease mildew, increase fire resistance, and lower water absorption.

Anyway, no posting about home improvements would be complete without photos, so here’s the before colour: Hallway - before painting And here’s a couple of examples of the poor paint job done by whoever painted this place before I bought it: Bathroom corners Bathroom corners See how you can see the brush strokes where they didn’t fully cover the wall in the corner? Ugh!

And here’s the new colour – it’s called “Silver Satin”1: Freshly painted walk through closet

I decided to go with a fairly neutral colour as I get bored of things easily, so I didn’t want to pick a colour and then not like it anymore in a year. This way, I can add colour to the place by hanging paintings on my wall or have pillows on my couch and when I get bored of the colour, I can swap them out with different accessories. 

In addition to the paint, I also replaced the closest door in my spare room because it was ridiculously broken. It was one of those sliding mirror doors that you often see in condos and the tracks were so bent that you couldn’t slide the doors – and some of the wheels had fallen off the doors (probably from trying to slide the door through the bent tracks), and then a piece of the frame fell off too. 

Here’s the old mirrored door, with missing frame and opened because I couldn’t get it to slide closed anymore – plus, mess instead the closet: Closet in the spare room

Instead of replacing it with a mirrored door though, I decided to get something a little nicer. I was a tad bit worried that not having the mirror there might make the room feel smaller, but I actually think that it makes the room feel better (probably because the room is rather messy, so a mirror just made it look like a bigger mess!):New cupboard doors

And in addition to the new door, we also got a closet organizer installed, so that all the stuff in that closet2 is neatly organized. 

I have to say, I love this door a lot. Every time I open it and it slides so smoothly3, it makes me smile!

I still have a bit of work to do – for example, when we removed the track from the old closest door from the floor, we learned that when the place was built, they had installed the flooring around that track, so there’s now a gap in the flooring where that track was (the new door is only attached at the top, so it doesn’t have a floor track). So I need to get some stain to at least colour that spot to match the rest of the floor.

I also want to build a closet organizer in the front hall closet, which is currently a jumbly mess of coats, shoes, bags, and various other crap.

And I also kind of want to paint inside the closets because I didn’t bother to get them painted when I painted the condo, thinking “who even sees inside the closets?” but I have leftover paint and am now like “OMG, I hate the inside of these closets!). 

But those can be projects for 2019.

  1. And was just one of the 150+ shades of white that was in the big book of paint swatches that Lianna brought over to my place. []
  2. Which is mostly cat things (like the cat carriers and the timer cat feeding dish) and kitchen overflow (like the juicer, slow cooker, and various baking and canning items). []
  3. Unlike that godforsaken previous door, which was the bane of my existence. []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Excel Edition

I <3 spreadsheetsI 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: 1,048,576 4,5. 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!

Image Credit: Posted by Crishna Simmons on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

  1. 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 []
  2. CONCATENATE. Mostly because the word is awesome. I probably use “Text to columns” more often, but I love to say “concatenate”! []
  3. Including one who I’d say is the best Excel user I know. []
  4. Source: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/excel-specifications-and-limits-1672b34d-7043-467e-8e27-269d656771c3 []
  5. It also has a limit of 16,384 columns, but I haven’t run up against that particular limitation yet. []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Hammer Drill Edition

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):

Equipment

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:

Parking spot

Here’s a picture of me working the hammer drill:

Beth with a hammer drill

And here’s the finished product:

Bikes on bike hooksSo 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:

Hooks in the storage closet

Hooks in the storage closet

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!

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Surfing, Snorkeling, and Sewing Zippers Edition

Since I have quite a backlog of things I want to blog about1, I decided to combine a bunch of things into one blog posting. You may recall that one of my 2018 goals is to learn 12 new things, but thus far I’ve only written about one of them. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been learning new things – I’ve been learning lots and lots of things! Here is a quick summary of 3 of them.

Surfing

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.

Snorkeling

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.

Sewing Zippers

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!

Zipper pouches - sewing class

Zipper pouches - sewing class

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!

  1. Mostly because my blog is my outsourced memory – if it’s not on the blog, I’ll never remember that it happened! []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Home Repair Edition

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!

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Brain Edition

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:

  1. Will it eat me? [i.e., is it a threat?)
  2. Can I eat it? [i.e., is it a resource I can use?]
  3. Can I have sex with it? [i.e., a potential reproductive opportunity?]
  4. Will it have sex with me? [i.e., a potential reproductive opportunity?]
  5. Have I seen it before? [i.e., pattern recognition]
  6. 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!

  1. I took pretty good notes in this keynote, so caught that quotation verbatim. []
  2. I didn’t catch that quote verbatim, but that was another of his points! []
  3. Though I think numbers 3-4 probably wouldn’t be appropriate for most lectures! []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Make-Up Expiry Edition

So after more than a quarter of a century of wearing makeup, I recently learned that this symbol exists:

Makeup expiry symbol

It’s not on all makeup, but when it’s there, it’s a symbol of how long the make-up is good for once you open it.

This mascara is good for 6 months after I opened it.

Mascara
And this moisturizer is good for 12 months after I opened it.

Moisturizer

Now I just need to actually know when I opened all my make-up and I’m good to go!