Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese

By

My Brain Is Too Tired To Come Up With a Title For This Blog Posting

I usually don’t write about work stuff on here, but my work stuff is so big right now, I’m breaking my own rules.

1,344 days ago, I took a new job. That job entails evaluating a very big and very important health system project that is putting an electronic health record into a bunch of hospitals, ambulatory clinics, and residential care facilities in the province1  I’ve been working over these past 3.66 years on such things as developing an approach to the evaluation of a project that will be implemented over several years at 40 different sites, developing a more detailed plan of how to do that evaluation (a plan that has to balance having enough structure to answer the evaluation questions and be flexible enough to respond to the rapidly changing environment within and around the project), and developing a very detailed monitoring process to provide near-real time data for leaders to use to inform their decisions as this massive change is implemented (just to name a few), all the while engaging with literally hundreds of people from all levels of three large health organizations, as well as people within the project, people from the major vendor with whom the project is working, and people from other partner organizations.

On Saturday, that project “went live” at the first two of the hospitals that will ultimately be using this new system. It was quite a surreal feeling to walk into the hospital at 5:30 that morning and no sooner had I got settled into my office space and was walking down the stairs did I hear the announcement telling everyone that the new electronic health record system had been turned on and everyone should login.

Since then, the pace and volume of work of work has been crazy. My team is responsible for providing data to monitor how things are going and it’s surprising how much work it is to get the data that is needed daily: to extract the data, clean the data, analyze the data, and get the data to the people that need the data when they need the data. And then come the requests for more and different data, and different ways to slice and dice the data. And then all the work of keeping up with all the things going on with the implementation and liaising with all the people who need to work together to accurately interpret the data and then take action on what the data is telling us. Needless to say that the hours at the hospital have been long. All of last week last week my team and I worked frantically to get the last minute preparations done, then I worked Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and yesterday for many more hours that I was scheduled to. Not that I should really complain – other people on the project have been working 12 hr – or longer! – shifts every day. At any rate, I don’t think I’ve felt this thoroughly exhausted since that time that I played hockey for 10 days straight. Like the fell-asleep-on-the-Skytrain-on-my-way-home, broke-two-dishes-in-the-space-of-five-minutes-because-holding-stuff-is-beyond-my-available-power, can’t-find-the-words-to-make-sentences-I’m-trying-to-speak2 sort of exhausted.

Today is my first day off since the project went live and I’ve actually had a chance to sort of catch my breath and do a wee bit of reflecting. Part of my reflections are “omg, there’s so much more that I wish we had theme and people to do” and part of it is “omg, we are doing some pretty amazing stuff and my team is rocking this!” I’m also realizing how many things I’ve learned during the time I’ve worked on this project, including, but not limited to (and in no particular order):

  • complexity and systems thinking and how I can apply concepts from these to my work of evaluating the most complex thing I’ve ever been a part of
  • how computer software gets built
  • project management
  • extracting data from a number of different places and then managing all those data across a team of people
  • managing a team of people
  • presenting data to make it as useful as possible
  • human-computer interactions
  • organizational development and organizational culture
  • the way we use language (particularly how we use the same words to mean different things or different words to mean the same things).

I feel like all of these things (and more) could be a blog posting of their own3, but for now this list will have to suffice.

Tomorrow I get another day off – like a weekend, but in the middle of the week! – and then I’m back to the hospital for more data-tastic times. Hooray for data!

  1. The facilities are mostly in Vancouver, but also in a few surrounding municipalities that are served by the same health organization (like Whistler, Pemberton, North Vancouver, Richmond, and the Sunshine Coast), plus some facilities in other parts of the province, such as those of BC Cancer. []
  2. So pardon any typos or other nonsense that may be in this blog posting that my tired brain cannot seem to prevent right now. []
  3. In fact, documenting my reflections – and important part of an evaluation – is one of things where I’m like “omg, there’s so much more that I wish we had the time and people to do all the things!” []

By

Nerd Stats 2017

Another year goes by, another row gets added to my table of nerd stats. .

Blog postings Tweets1 Visits to my blog Average number of blog visits per day Busiest day on my blog
2008 423 2,227 32,410 93 Sept 26, 2008 (460 views)
2009 357 1,815 45,153 126 July 25, 2009 (1,181 views)
2010 344 2,302 44,689 122 Feb 9, 2010 (233 views)
2011 380 3,625 60,560 166 Oct 10, 2011 (374 views)
2012 201 875 63,844 175 Feb 13, 2012 (350 views)
2013 213 945 46,665 128 Sept 4, 2013 (721 views)
2014 91 910 33,948 93 Mar 7, 2014 (208 views)
2015 118 800 34,930 96 Nov 23, 2015 (512 views)
2016 116  812  51,549  141 Jan 29, 2016 (13,968 views)
2017 92 449 20,691 57 not sure2.
% change from 2016 -21% -45% -60% -60% N/A

So I was down across the board on my social media involvement in 2017, which is probably reflective of the fact that I feel like I didn’t really do anything in 2017. I was thinking of writing my usual “year in review” blog postings yesterday, but then I realized that I didn’t really do anything! I mean, I went to Washington, DC for the first time, which was cool, but other than that it pretty much just usual every day stuff: going to work, going to the gym (though I really, really do love the gym), playing hockey, and repeat. No epic trips, no epic accomplishments. I definitely have to step things up for 2018!

  1. Note to self: You started Tweeting in 2008, so you get these totals by simple subtraction, not by some fancy pants program or anything. I hope this helps you when you write your “Nerd Stats 2018″ posting when you think “how the hell did I figure out how many times I tweeted in a given year??” []
  2. I used to get this from a “Your 2015 year in blogging” email that Jetpack (the thing I used to track my blog stats) used to send. They stopped sending that in 2015 and the only reason I knew the most popular day in 2016 was because it was my most popular day ever, which Jetpack does provide on its dashboard. Since I didn’t surpass that day this year, it still stands as the most popular day ever and there’s no easy way to find my most popular day for 2017 []

By

Mindfulness and the Gym

Dumbells at Strong Side Conditioning

So remember like eleventy billion years ago when I did that mindfulness course? I haven’t really done any mindfulness practice since then, but it’s always been in the back of my mind that I probably should1.

Well, it sort of hit me one day when I was at the gym that doing strength training is a mindful practice. Being mindful is all about being present in the moment and being aware of your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. When you are doing strength training – if you are doing it right, that is – you are paying very careful attention to your body in the moment. You are setting your stance just so – maybe it’s shoulders packed down, abs and gluts engaged, knees slightly bent, and then you are doing a very deliberate action – lifting in a certain way, focusing on feeling it in a particular muscle(s), focusing on breathing out as you do a particular movement. Sometimes as you go through your sets, you start to get a little lazy with your form – in my case, it’s often that my shoulders start to creep up and/or that I forget to breath. But then you’ll notice that you’ve slipped away and bring yourself back into the right form (or start breathing again!) and it’s much like when you are doing a meditation and notice your mind start to wander, so you come back to your focus on the present.

Dumbells at Strong Side ConditioningI’d been going to the gym for a few months when I realized how mindful this practice was. My focus was very squarely in the present moment – very aware of my body and not really thinking of anything else. I wasn’t worried about the future or dwelling on this past. I was just there, just being, just breathing, just lifting. And I wasn’t even trying to be mindful – it just happened. I remembered the times that I’ve done meditation and how extremely difficult it is some days to quite the mind and just pay attention. I still think it would be useful for me to do some other forms of meditation as well, as there is benefit to the act of being still and observing your thoughts as they arrive, but I think that becoming aware of the mindful nature of my strength training has not only been beneficial in and of itself, but also because it’s reminded me about being mindful. It’s made me more mindful of mindfulness.

There is a link between physical activity and mental health. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to be beneficial to mental health. While there are likely many mechanisms for how physical activity improves mental health, I wonder if any of the benefits of physical activity on mental health are linked to it being an easy way to become more mindful?

  1. Which is quite possibly the least mindful thing a person has ever said! It’s in the back of my mind that I should do that at some point in the future! []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Short Cut Edition

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!

  1. And then I was playing around with it some more and found that you can type 11Jan and it will do the same thing! []
  2. 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! []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Canning Edition

And speaking of stuff I learned through books I read: this year I learned about home canning!

Last year, I made some jams. But this year, thanks to a book that my friend Linda gave to me, Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More, I actually learned more about the science behind making jams, jellies, and pickled things. This also allowed me to add seven new food items to my list of new food items that I made in 2017 (this year’s goal was to make at least 17 new food and drink items that I’ve never made before):

  • raspberry jam
  • figs pickled in balsamic vinegar1
  • fig-infused balsamic vinegar2
  • pickled spicy beans
  • pickled beets
  • pickles3
  •  jalapeño jelly

Making spicy pickled beansScott 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!

My first ever batches of spicy pickled beans, pickled beets, and pickles!

Beans, beets, and pickles.

  1. Yes, the figs did come from Tig & Pat’s annual fig party. []
  2. Yes, the fig-infused balsamic vinegar is the vinegar that was left over from when I made the pickled figs. []
  3. Why don’t we call pickles “pickled cucumbers”? Everything else we pickle, we use “pickled” as the adjective followed by the name of the thing we pickled. []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Epigenetics Edition

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:

Book signing by Cath

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!

  1. 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. []

By

Thanks, Past Me!

The great thing about having a terrible memory is that when you support a Kickstarter fundraiser, by the time the thing you are funding gets released, you’ve forgotten that you funded it and then you get a surprise package in the mail. It’s like a gift from Past Me to Future (Now Present) Me!

Case-in-point: I got a delivery card notice from Canada Post1 saying that they had tried to deliver a package but I wasn’t home and I could come to the post-office in the Pharmasave after 1 pm the next day to pick it up. But I hadn’t ordered anything, so what could this mysterious package be? After a long and drawn out saga involving some combination of Canada Post being misinformed/incompetent/way  understaffed for the holiday rush of packages, I finally got my hands on my package. As soon as I saw this stamp on the box, I knew what it was:

Zombies, Run! Board Game

That logo is from Zombies, Run! – my favourite app, where you listen to a zombie story while you are out for a run and you are taken on missions where you have to run for supplies, or outrun zombies, or outrun bad people2. It’s superbly written and not listening to these zombie stories is something that I really, really miss thanks to not running in more than a year, thanks to all my stupid injuries. Anyhow, quite awhile ago I got an email about the Kickstarter project by the makers of the app – a board game based on the running app. Given their talent for audio stories, the board game also has an interactive audio component, which you get via downloading an app. The app isn’t quite ready yet, but they wanted to send out all the packages before the holiday mail rush3 and then we’ll get an email notifying us when the app is ready for download4

So now I have in my hot little hands, this board game:

Zombies, Run! Board Game

Zombies, Run! Board Game

… that I can’t play! Who wants to bet that the app will come out when I’m in Toronto for the holidays??

In a related story, I pre-ordered a copy of the book Soonish by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith. It wasn’t a Kickstarter, but it was a pre-order that was far enough in advance of the release date that I totally forgot I ordered it until it showed up:

Soonish

I heard about this book on Zach Weinersmith’s webcomic page, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which I read religiously because it’s hilarious. When he talked about the book on there, he said that it’s really important to have a lot of pre-orders because it shows the publisher and booksellers there is interest in the book, so they will print more copies, arrange for book signings, and do various other things that will increase the sales of the book. Since I get so much joy out of reading SMBC every day for free, I figured that buying the book would be a good way to support an artist that I like (and assuage my guilt for being such a freeloader.))

I haven’t started reading it yet, because the semester was so busy, but now that that’s over with, I might actually have some time to check it out.

  1. Aside: I feel like being a Canada Post delivery person who has apartment buildings on your route must be the most futile job in the history of jobs. You carry packages to a building where you have to buzz to find out if someone is home but (a) you don’t have a buzzer number on the package and most people don’t list their name on the buzzer directory and (b) it’s the middle of the work day, so of course no one is home anyway. So you carry all these packages to apartment buildings, look at a long list of “Occupied” on the building directory, then write out a delivery card and stick it on the building. And repeat. []
  2. As most zombie stories go, it turns out that the humans are worse than the monsters. []
  3. It came from England, so perhaps it missed the holiday mail rush there, but it definitely got caught up in it here! []
  4. I know all this because they actually do send emails about such things, but they sent it long enough ago that I’d forgotten about it by the time the mail delivery notice card arrived. []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Car Part Edition

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.

IMG_4775On 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:

Image Credits:

  • 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!

Footnotes:

  1. 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! []
  2. Here’s a simple explanation, if you are interested: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/clutch.htm []
  3. At this point, I was assuming he was going to try to sell me a Merc. []
  4. Interesting that they didn’t seem to care that I’d been such a good customer until I was threatening to leave! []
  5. 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! []
  6. 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! []

By

Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Strength Training Edition

As you know, one of my goals for 2017 was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. First, I learned some basic toilet repair. Then I learned how to fold a fitted sheet. In that second posting, I alluded to the fact that I’m learning something else that required a bigger blog posting – well, this is that blog posting!

This goes back to the old time-y days of 2016, when I was injured so bad with bursitis that I had to walk with a cane for 2 weeks and I had to spend all of the dollars on physiotherapy for months so that I could walk again and I haven’t been running since then. When I was walking with a cane, one of my work colleagues told me that the best thing she ever did was after she got injured, when her physiotherapy was completed, she got a personal trainer. A personal trainer was able to help determine which of her muscles were weak and which were compensating for the weak ones and was able to give her an interesting exercise routine (as opposed to the super boring stretches you have to do when rehabbing an injury) that helped her get stronger so she wouldn’t get re-injured. And while I had made doing regular strength training one of my 2017 goals *and* I have a weight room in building in which to do said strength training, I spent the first two months of 2017 never lifting a single weight. And then I remembered that I suck at weight training because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing when I walk into a gym – I need someone to tell me what to do1. And then I remembered that I don’t really do any exercise unless I have some external motivator2. And I also remembered that I dislike doing exercise if it takes much more than walking out of my front door to do it because I begrudge the time it takes to drive to a place to exercise and then drive back afterwards3 – it’s one of the reasons I like running! So I joined a gym with personal trainers that is about a block from my place. It meets my needs of being super-conveniently located, it has someone telling me what to do, and I’m externally motivated because I’m paying money for it (and I have to show up 3 days a week to follow my plan!). The place is called Strong Side Conditioning4

Strong Side ConditioningBut it wasn’t just the super-convenient location that convinced me to go to this place. I did a free assessment there where I got to learn about the gym and their business model, to go through an assessment and hear what a plan for me would be like, and to meet some of the staff5. The business model of the gym is that it’s sort of halfway between a gym membership and a personal trainer. With a regular gym membership, you would pay less but not have assistance in creating a plan or assistance with your training (like making sure your form is correct or helping you decide when to go up in weight or number of reps). With a regular personal trainer, you get all 1-on-1 training sessions and pay by the hour (and then maybe do some other training sessions totally on your own, following the plan they’ve created for you) – and the hourly rate is not cheap. At Strong Side, they come up with a training plan for you each month and at the start of the month, you get a week’s worth of 1-on-1 sessions to learn your exercises (in my case, I chose 3 days a week, so I got 3 training session to learn my 3 workouts) and after that you have 3 weeks where you drop into the gym at your convenience to do your workouts, but there are a bunch of trainers circulating to help you if needed. You record your workouts and the trainers can see how you are progressing and then they make up a new training plan for the next month and repeat.

I started on March 3, and so far I’ve had my three training sessions, and done four solo sessions. My assessment had shown that I basically use my diaphragm and my quads for everything and all my other muscles don’t do anything. So I’m working on releasing the tension in my ribs and quads and strengthening my everything else so that my everything else will stop being such a bunch of freeloaders. I do exercises with a variety of resistance bands, free weights, kettle bells, machines, risers, sliding thingys, and more, so I’m learning the proper form for all kinds of exercises and what muscles should be doing stuff during those exercises. There are always plenty of trainers around watching during my solos sessions to tell me if my form is right or needs adjusting and I’m already seeing some improvements (in that I can do more reps of some things and squat lower than I could two weeks ago). And the trainers I’ve met, which I think is most of them by now, are all really friendly and helpful and down-to-earth.

The only thing that I can say that I don’t like is that I wish they had longer hours – they open at 6:30 am on weekdays, so if I want to do a morning workout, by the time I get through my workout, go home and shower and get ready, and then head into Vancouver, I’m not getting to my office until about 9:30 am, which is a bit later than I’d like (and on many days, too late as I have meetings at 8 or 9 am). Similarly, they close at 9 pm on weekdays, which means that if I don’t want to have to rush through my workout, I have to get there by 7:30 pm, which can sometimes be difficult for me on a busy day. I get that the hours of operation are constrained by the need to have enough trainers around and it doesn’t make any business sense to have the gym open at 5:30 am and close at 11 pm on the off chance that I might want to be there extra early or extra late once in a while. All in all, having to get to the gym within their set hours is a small price to pay for what I’m getting out of my membership!

Anyhoo, so far so good. I’m sure I’ll blog more about my exciting strength training adventures as the year goes on!

Strong Side Conditioning

  1. Similarly, when I’m running, I always have to be training for a race, because I need a plan to follow as without one, I can’t seem to make a simple decision, like how often I should run or how far should I run on a given day. []
  2. Unless it’s hockey, but that doesn’t count because it’s so fun in and of itself that I don’t even think of it as exercise. []
  3. Again, hockey excepted. []
  4. As always, I haven’t been paid to blog about them, nor have I even talked to them about the fact that I’m writing a blog posting – I am blogging about them because I like them! I’m actually paying lots of money to go there! lol! []
  5. I also did a free assessment with a personal trainer whose gym is literally across the street from my office (Did I mention I need something conveniently located?). He seemed nice and all, but he charges by the hour for training sessions, so it would work out to a lot more than Strong Side (though in the end I’d get less service) – I liked the business model of Strong Side better and I clicked more with the staff. Also, the trainer near my work said he was a Philadelphia Flyers fan and said “I have to have a Canadian team too, so I’m a Leafs fan.” I’m not saying that I decided I couldn’t work with a Flyers/Leafs fan – but I’m not saying that I could. []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Folding Edition

One of my goals for 2017 was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. In January I learned some basic toilet repair. In February I learned nothing. Ok, I probably did learn some stuff, but just stuff that I would have learned anyway even without this goal (I learn new stuff at work all the time – it’s sort of the nature of my job). So to make up for it, I’m going to learn two new things in March. I’ve already started on the second thing – it will be a longer blog posting on another day (and it’s way more interesting than the thing I’m about to talk about). But tonight I decided to tackle learning how to fold a fitted bedsheet! Usually I just sort of roll it up and stuff it in a pillowcase with the much more nicely folded flat bedsheet (and then leave it on the bed for the cleaning lady to change the sheets). And I usually do this on the morning of the day the cleaning lady is coming (and up until that day, the sheets have been sitting, unfolded, in the “clean” laundry bucket mixed in with all the other laundry I haven’t bothered to fold. Because I have more interesting things to do in life that be a responsible launderer. But then it’s always kind of bugged me that I was being shown up by fitted bedsheets. Surely I could master folding those things right? And on those rare occasions when I actually did fold my laundry, I’d end up with a big lumpy pillowcase in my linen closet. Boo-urns. So tonight I decided to actually just learn how to do it.

I followed these instructions from the Internets and lo and behold, I have folded a fitted sheet! It might not be perfect, but this is the best folding job I’ve ever done (and probably will ever do!) when it comes to fitted sheets:

I folded a fitted bedsheet

I’m pretty much Martha freaking Stewart.