Air Canada Is Not That Bad, Your Attitude Is

It’s been over 10 years since I started travelling on a regular basis for work. It’s been about the last 4-5 that I have been doing it a lot. It’s to the point now where air travel is a no brainer for me and I have my own little system of getting to and from my destination with very little worry.

I do however read the odd Facebook post where someone decides to go on a tirade about how BAD Air Canada is and that they will never fly with them, blah blah blah. It always goes like this:

Some person going somewhere had to be bumped from a flight, or missed a flight and couldn’t get connected til the next day, or had their bags go missing, or couldn’t get on a standby fly they were hoping for, or were treated badly by someone at the airline. All of these things have happened to me in the last 10 years and here I am, still flying with Air Canada and will continue to do so.

Why? Well, there’s a couple of reasons for that but let’s get one of them out of the way right now.

Unlike other parts of the world, Canada only has a handful of airlines that we can use to fly anywhere, and Air Canada is the biggest and flies to the most locations. So somewhat by default, I fly with Air Canada because the other Canadian carriers either don’t go where I need to go for work, charge WAY more than AC does for the flights I need, or cause me such connection and ticket pain that it’s not worth it.

That last one is the real kicker. For those who don’t know, when you connect from one airline to another (AC to Westjet for example), in some cases, depending on the airline, you are actually issued two completely different tickets: one for airline #1 and another for #2. That means that when I get off my first flight, I have to go to baggage claim, get my bag, re-check it at the second carrier’s desk, go through security again, and get on my plane. If you have a limited amount of time, good luck with that.

Thankfully in most cases, the airlines are able to issue you a single ticket for both airlines, but a LOT of times information from one carrier to another gets lost. This is yet another reason why I have seen bags get lost is because of the connection between carriers.

I HATE having to travel on multiple airlines to get to a single destination when the carriers are not part of the “same network”. It can cause huge headaches, delays, and a massive pain in the ass when you are trying to make changes.

Which brings me to why I won’t fly Westjet or Porter. They are simply not big enough to get me to the places I would typically need to go easily enough.

But that’s not the biggest reason I fly AC. I fly AC because I like the airline, get great service, and have had very few issues. The odd one I have had with the airline I made sure it was taken care of and all was well with the world.

“But Matt, we flew to X and had a flight cancelled and the agent wouldn’t help us. She was rude and told us blah blah blah.”

Ok, so let’s examine what happens when a flight is cancelled. I have been there and done that 100 times and know what you should and shouldn’t do.

First off, there are SO many factors that go into how handling passengers for a cancelled flight that it’s impossible for me to list them all here. But I can tell you that people are treated differently based on a couple of things.

If you have status with the airline, even a lower status, those people tend to have better luck getting service from an agent than someone who doesn’t have status. It’s nothing against those people, but the reality is the frequent flyers keep the airlines in business. If the airlines treat them like crap, they will go out of business in no time flat. That means for AC, if you don’t have Prestige status or higher, they care about you, just not as much as their frequent flyers.

That sounds mean, but it’s business. If you own a successful business, you know all about taking care of your frequent customers so they keep coming back. Simple business 101.

Then it comes down to the class of ticket you have. If you have a Tango class ticket, you might as well spin the roulette wheel and see what happens. This is the lowest class of fare on ANY airline and is why you get “good deals”. They cut the price down so low that people buy the ticket, but those folks are the last to get anything from the airline. Don’t ever expect to get much of anything with a Tango ticket, unless you have status with the airline. That’s just the way it is.

Further to that, change fees, luggage fees, and “extra” fees will always pop up on Tango fares. Sometimes even getting on standby isn’t an option with those fares. That’s why if you want to avoid some of that, a Flex or higher fare is better. Yes, it costs more but it really depends on what you want so REALLY think about it when you buy a ticket.

Now all of that being said, the agents are supposed to treat everyone equally and politely. But let’s face some reality here. A notice comes on that says a flight is cancelled. That means that 100+ people are now irritated and mad about their flight being cancelled and the agent is the first person they are going to talk to. You might get to the agent after he/she has spoken to 25 other people who are just as pissed off as you. Do you think that agent is going to be in a good mood after talking to them? Probably not. They are trying to do their best but everyone of us is human and can only take so much.

If you want my advise, find another gate agent or another customer service desk that is away from the gate/agent that is dealing with everyone else. You will probably have better luck.

Oh, and despite what some agents might tell you, EVERY agent at a gate can make changes. It doesn’t matter if they are working another flight. If you see an agent for your airline at a gate just hanging out, they can help you.

Secondly, for cancelled flights, it is what it is. There’s nothing you can do about it. So screaming and yelling at the agent about having to get home to feed your dog is not going to make it happen any faster. There are literally many instances where the agent simply cannot do anything for you because of all of the other people who are in the same situation you are.

I cannot stress how important it is for people to realize that the agent is not the one responsible for a cancelled flight or a missing bag. It’s not their fault so screaming at them and making them feel like a bag of assholes is not going to help the situation. In fact, I would bet those are the times the agent specifically sticks you with the worst possible flight because you were the one harassing them.

I have stood at gate 26 at Pearson Airport and listen to a woman scream at an agent insisting she had a right to be on the next flight and the agent stayed quite calm and told her there was no room and there was nothing she could do. The woman stomped away calling the agent names and was furious. Uhm, hello, if the plane holds 50 people, do you think we should kick one of those passengers off so your highness can get on the flight instead? Seriously, wtf is wrong with people like this?

And also, flights get cancelled for a lot of reasons and many of them annoy the hell out of us but we can’t control it. Flights get cancelled because of weather, mechanical failure, crew unavailability and many other reasons. I’ve had a flight cancelled over a frozen toilet. A colleague had his flight cancelled because the flight attendant didn’t have the demo seat belt to do the safety demonstration. I’ve had a flight cancelled because it was delayed too long and the crew couldn’t fly any more that day. Shit happens so instead of bitching about it, try and find a way to deal with it.

So now let me tell you what I do when I know a flight has been cancelled. Even though I have status with the airline, and I have a special # I can call for help, I don’t even deal with the airline. Instead, I call my travel agent.

Travel agent? Why wouldn’t you just book the trip yourself. Well, I have done this in the past. And sometimes it’s ok. But if you want the security of knowing you can get help when you need it, the travel agent is your saviour. Let me tell you a story.

I was once waiting for a flight to London. Standing at the gate it got delayed, and then delayed again. Now I have a couple of apps on my phone which tells me when a flight gets cancelled. My phone beeped and told me my flight had been cancelled, but it didn’t come up on the board yet and the announcement hadn’t been made. So when I saw the message about it being cancelled, I got out of the line, walked over to a quiet area, and called the emergency number for my travel agent. I got a person right away and asked for help. Told them my flight was cancelled and I needed options. The person on the phone did a quick search and got me a seat on the next flight and sent me the confirmation. As I was on the phone, they announced my older flight had been cancelled and people rushed to the agent.

A couple of minutes later, my phone beeped with my new confirmation and I walked over to the new gate. I never dealt with a line, or anyone who was pissed about the cancellation. All of the people in the line for the agent had to wait and get rebooked. I called my agent and had it done in minutes. HUGE difference.

The travel agent has helped and saved me more times than I can count. Yes, you will pay a service charge for them to book your travel, but that also buys you some comfort when things go sour. Totally worth it.

I’ve also seen people get mad because they were bumped from a flight and someone else took their seat. I can’t say that I’ve ever had that happen, but yet again, there are some legit reasons for this. There are instances where the flight crew for another flight needs to get from one place to another and so they get on a flight as passengers and the airline bumps several people to the next flight to accommodate them. In those situations, if those crew members don’t get where they are going, it creates a cascading set of delays and cancellations which affect hundreds maybe even thousands of passengers depending on where it is.

Yes it sucks, but imagine being on the other end when they cancel your flight because there’s no crew, and you can’t get out of wherever you are for a couple of days. I’d rather take the flight bump at the start then be stuck somewhere.

Now, I’ll also tell you about something I have read about but never had the opportunity to try. EVERY airline has what’s known as the “Conditions of Carriage” which basically dictate the terms you and the airline are agreeing to when you buy a ticket. I have heard that as a passenger, you are within your right to request a copy of the conditions from any agent at any gate and they have to give them to you. It’s the law. If you can obtain a copy of the conditions and read them, in many cases there is a line in the conditions that basically says the airline MUST book you on the next available flight, regardless of airline.

So if for example you are flying Westjet and they cancel and rebook you for the next day, but there’s an AC flight leaving in 3 hours and it has seats, they can book you on it. The catch has something to do with the wording around “extreme inconvenience” or something like that. The airlines default to booking you on the next flight THEY have available and give you hotel/meal vouchers to offset the trouble. But if you push hard enough, and can find the paperwork and show it to them, you may be able to get on another airline at no charge. I have heard of some people snagging the PDFs of these conditions and having them with them when they travel.

I have no idea if that is true or not, but I did read the terms on AC before and did find a line similar to what I mention above.


That brings me to those of you who insist that AC is a shithole of an airline and to avoid at all costs. Well, sorry you feel that way but if they really were that bad, they wouldn’t stay in business. Plenty of people fly with them all the time, myself included, so you may have had an unfortunate set of circumstances that gave you that opinion of them. But in the end, they have been fantastic for me to deal with and would fly with them anywhere in the world.

I will also mention that there are plenty of people who SWEAR by Rogers yet I can’t stand them as a company. But plenty of people still use their services. Others say Bell is a horrible company and you should stay away from them. I’ve been a Bell customer for years and never had any real issues.

Everyone’s story is unique so just because you’ve had a crappy (or good) experience with a company does not mean everything about them is bad (or good).

 

 

Categories: MOTD, Rants, Travel | Leave a comment

Dear Wil & Felicia

In just over a week, I’ll be in LA delivering a class. As luck would have it, while I am there, Felicia Day (FD) is doing a book signing and speaking engagement with her good friend Wil Wheaton. As soon as I realized it was happening the week I was in LA, I bought tickets to go. I read her book and have been inspired by both the book and her work in web video. The Guild was a series I watched and immediately understood. After that, I found The Flog which I thought was just awesome.

While in Vegas last week, I found out that Wil Wheaton is actually going to be with her. This just added to my excitement as both Wil and Felicia have struck a chord with me for very different reasons. I don’t know if either of them will read this, but regardless, I wanted to say a few things.

For Wil,

I was on your website the other day and you had posted a link to this:

Stand by Me- Bridge

Let me tell you a story about 4 boys, growing up in a small city, who hung out and did stupid crap together. One of them is a kid who was smart and went on to be pretty successful in his life with a family. But he always has had a passion for writing that he’s been doing since he was young. His closest friend, kind of a tough guy, from a tough family, but has a heart of gold for those who are close to him and stands up for his friends. Another good friend who suffered a bit of abuse from his dad, but despite that, loved him dearly. And the last friend, kind of a goofball and always up for something, he made the four of them the best of friends.

Reading that paragraph could easily describe the four main characters from the movie Stand By Me: Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern. But what it also describes is myself and three of my closest childhood friends: Jason, J.C., and Ben. Known as The Four Horsemen, we were 4 inseparable friends through junior high and high school. Jason was as close to me as a real brother and J.C. and Ben were both great friends as well.

Despite my passion for science fiction, Stand By Me has stayed at the top of my favorite movie list for years. I have a VHS tape copy of the movie in a box downstairs, signed by Jerry O’Connell when he was part of the TV show “My Secret Identity”. Any of my friends remember the weekend he did the Christmas Daddies Telethon at McNaughton High? Me and J.C. were in the audience and when they mentioned Stand By Me, we waved my movie in the air and he pointed to us.

The reason SBM has stayed my all time favorite movie is because of how much it seems to parallel my own life, and every time I watch it now as an adult, it’s like watching my own life backward in time. I see myself, Jason, Ben, and J.C. hanging out in my basement (our version of their treehouse) talking about girls, playing games, and just doing stupid kid things. I remember J.C. coming to the house scared of his dad after he’d been drinking too much. I remember countless things about that time in my life and I realize in watching Gordie, in some ways it feels like I was watching myself.

I was Gordie. Jason was Chris. J.C. was Teddy, and Ben was Vern. Not all of the characteristics of the movie characters line up to my friends and life, but a lot do in many ways which is why this movie is such a big deal to me. Even J.C.’s death in 2007 has a minor connection as the character of Chris also died in a bar. J.C. may not have actually died in a bar, but his death started there when he collapsed.

And just as the end of the movie talks about how friends move apart over time, my friendships with these guys have changed as well. Like Gordie and Chris, me and Jason were very close for a very long time, and although he lives in BC, and I live in Moncton, when I visited him last year, it was like no time had passed at all. That’s what having friends who are like brothers is supposed to be like. I still see Ben from time to time as well.

The last time I watched this movie, I sat in bed, and cried when Gordie is telling the story of how Chris died in a bar trying to stop a fight. The tears rolled down my face and Tamara came in and just knew in an instant what I was upset about. I was remembering J.C. and the countless hours of Nintendo we played in my living room, and a hundred other memories of a great friend of mine who was taken way too early.

I connect to that movie more than anything else in pop culture. Sure, I see myself in characters from things like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and especially The Big Bang Theory. But when it comes to a movie that really means more than just entertainment, Stand By Me is always going to be far above the rest as I see myself in so many ways as the character of Gordie. I may not be a professional writer, but I have been writing now for almost 30 years.

Robotech fanfiction in the 80’s; countless music and movie reviews, plus all kinds of weird content for VAJ Magazine in the 90’s, I started blogging in 2000/2001 and have been going strong with that; plus half of the content of Cache Up NB; plus my writing for my day job have kept me writing for all this time.

Gordie is a character that was written by Stephen King, but you (Wil) brought that character to life, and much of that movie as a well, with your own take on what Gordie was experiencing. As an adult, I can appreciate what you did to accomplish that. I know it’s just a role for an actor, but when a role truly connects with a person on a “real” level, I can’t imagine how that must feel to an actor to know how they connected to their audience through their character.

I’ve watched you portray a range of different characters over the years and enjoy your work in all mediums, but Gordie and Stand By Me will always stay at the top of my list for it’s personal connection to me. I really hope I get the opportunity to thank you in person next week. Either way, thank you for bringing such a meaningful story to life through your acting career.

For Felicia,

My discovery of your work came much later in life. In fact, my first exposure to your acting was through the show Eureka (which was AWESOME and I wish it was still on the air). A friend of mine told me about a web series that you were on and sure enough, after a Youtube search I found The Guild and from that point I was hooked. I binge watched the entire course of the show, as well as many an episode of The Flog.

Watching The Guild, there was a lot of stuff in there that I found myself connected to. Years ago, it was never online gaming for me, but IRC. I spent countless hours interacting with people on an IRC channel like they were my real friends. In watching your show, a lot of the characteristics of Codex really reminded me of myself. I’m not a woman, but I can definitely understand the feeling of wanting to hide behind a computer monitor where things can feel safer.

I grew up in a time period much like you and Wil where the whole geek/nerd thing wasn’t cool. But I did manage, in my own way, to find a group of like-minded individuals who just “got me”. Watching The Guild, it’s clear that others out there “get it’ as well. I tried to get my wife to watch it with me but she didn’t really get it like I did. Much in the same way I don’t get her cross-stitching or scrapbooking. It’s foreign to me.

Then I read your book.

Now,  I should make it clear that I am not really a reader. In fact, in the last 30 years, I could probably count on both hands how many actual books I have bought to read. There’s a Star Trek novel in there, a couple of X-Files books, Ender’s Game, a weird and excessively boring book on forbidden archaeology (it was like reading the ingredients on a prescription bottle), and You’re Never Weird On The Internet.

I bought the book because after watching countless hours of The Guild, Flog, and other videos of yours, and reading your tweets, it really seemed like you were the type of person who understood those of us who have a hard time coming out of our shell. For someone who’s spent a bunch of time on TV, you also didn’t seem like you had your head up your ass either. This is something I find incredibly awesome about you and Wil. Despite the notoriety you guys have, you seem quite grounded which I’m guessing isn’t as common as we’d like it to be in Hollywood.

The book was awesome and it really made me feel like if you do have some kind of passion, that you just have to go for it and not let others push you down. I have things I want to do in my life but I am scared to try them. Reading your novel has helped push me a bit further towards something I really want to do. I love writing and am hoping I can make use of it for something other than 16 years worth of blog entries. I have so many ideas that I want to get out, but I always feel like I should hold back and just do my day job because it’s safe. I’m slowly working my way out of that and part of what’s getting me there has been inspiration from your book.

Plus, when I saw that you were a fan of Anne of Green Gables, I smiled as I live in Moncton, New Brunswick which is literally only about 2 hours by car away from Prince Edward Island. Hearing someone famous actually know what PEI is sounded pretty damn cool.

So for you, I want to thank you for continuing to be true to yourself and sharing that experience with the rest of us. It’s extremely vulnerable to put yourself out there and let the world know about what you have experienced. But in sharing that, it makes it easier for the rest of us who are trying to do the same thing.

So a week from now, I’ll get to see these two great folks talk to an audience and see more of what they’re really like. I’m pretty excited.

 

 

Categories: MOTD | Leave a comment

My Big Bang Theory Taping Experience

On March 1st, 2016, I had the opportunity to sit and watch a taping of the CBS television program The Big Bang Theory. It’s my favourite show on TV right now and so getting the chance to see it taped live was a real dream come true. Here I recount the tale of how it all came to be, and all the little nuances that went along with it.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! This post does contain spoilers about both episode 9×18 and 9×19. If you do not want to be spoiled about these episodes, you should wait until after they have aired before reading this. You have been warned.

Prior to Taping Day

As many of you know, I travel a lot for my work. When a recent class got put on my schedule, the location had not been determined yet. It was a class for employees so I knew there was a good chance it was going to be in LA. They booked it for Philly. Blah. But then as luck would have it, they switched it to LA and I got pretty excited. It was my intention to try and get a ticket to see The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) being taped. Once it was confirmed the class was in LA, I started doing research on how to get tickets.

I quickly learned that tickets can be acquired (free) through TVTickets.com. However it seemed that TBBT was not on the list of tickets to get, or were shown as SOLD OUT all the time. Further research led me to this website which basically said you had to get the tickets on the day they were released which was 30 days before the taping. I checked the schedule and sure enough, the week after my class, a taping was happening. My class was the week of February 22nd and the taping was going to be on March 1st. I booked my travel and extended my stay to March 2nd. Now I just needed tickets.

On the day the tickets were released, I tried, and tried, and tried to get “guaranteed” seats. These tickets are the hardest to get and go the fastest. These tickets are the ones that guarantee you a seat in the audience (even though they can bump you anyway if there are too many VIPs). The website kept crashing as I tried to get guaranteed tickets. Within an hour, it said SOLD OUT.

A few hours later I tried again and was surprised to find the SOLD OUT was gone. I tried and tried again with no luck. Eventually the SOLD OUT showed up again and Standby became available. I quickly secured a standby ticket. Although I didn’t have a guaranteed shot, I did at least have a standby ticket.

Standby tickets are just like they are with the airlines. If seats are available, they let standby folks in. If there are no seats available, no standby people get in. All the reading I did online said that most of the time, at least some of the standbys get in. It’s not guaranteed but usually some get in. That meant the only way I could insure that I would get in would to be first in line for standby. I then began planning how I would accomplish this.

I had made the decision that I would be at the studio for 6am. All of the reports I had read online indicated the earliest someone had been there was around 8:30am. So, 6am seemed like a sure thing. Again, no way to know for sure but I was willing to do whatever I had to do to secure that first spot in line.

While in LA, I opted to take the Warner Brothers Studio Tour to see behind the scenes of the TV and movie studios and I knew that TBBT was shot there. In taking the tour, they actually brought us into the TBBT studio and we saw the stages from the bleachers. Had I not gotten into a taping, I would have at least have been able to say that I saw the set.

On Sunday and Monday, I did some touring of LA but I also did research for Tuesday’s taping. Turns out that parking lot at the studio doesn’t open for TBBT guests until later in the day so I needed to find a place to park my car for all of that time. Parking in LA is a pain but after a few jaunts out and looking for a spot, I found a perfect spot to park, for free, for the entire day.

The night before the taping, I was so anxious that I had a hard time sleeping. I ended up awake around 5am so I got up, had a shower, and left.

Taping Day – Before The Taping

So to get a bit of a feel for how it all works, let me walk you through some timings and how the lineup process works. I borrowed the image below from a page I used to help me figure out what to do and where to go.

Both TBBT and Ellen share the same waiting area. Inside that parking garage (walk-in entrance), there are benches and lines. This is where the Ellen attendees stand and wait. Because Ellen tapes at 5:00pm and TBBT at 6:30pm, the TBBT folks can’t use the line inside until after Ellen’s audience has been seated. So that means that a temporary, self-policing line, forms in the parking lot shown on the left (walk-in entrance for BBT line). This is where my long wait began.

File_000

The line outside before the real lines are made inside

I parked the car on my found spot, walked over to the empty lot to find not a soul there. I was indeed person #1. The time was 5:48am. I then went inside to the visitors center and asked them inside where to wait and they confirmed it was outside.

I had packed my iPad, a Gatorade, some granola bars and a notepad. I started making entries in my notepad as a sort of journal. You can see in the picture above my blue sling and orange Gatorade sitting on the end of the bench. That was the beginning of the line.

Person #2 came in around 8:30 and about every 20-30 minutes, a few more people would stumble in. However, it was person #2, a woman named Peggy, who would help me learn more about the tapings, and help secure me a good seat.

She had been coming to the tapings since season 4. She’d met the cast, crew, been on the actual set, and knew a lot about how the whole thing worked. She assured me that it was pretty good odds we would be getting in.

The day didn’t seem to drag on at all until we got moved inside. Once we were brought into the parking garage, where the real lines were, then the waiting became really nerve-wracking.

I didn’t take any pictures while in line inside because I had put my phone in my car. I found this photo online which you can kind of see. If you look off to the right, you can see the brown benches. The three closest to the right wall were for guaranteed, the other three were for standby. The benches on the left are for VIPs only.

We got moved into here around 4:00pm and we wouldn’t find out if we were getting in until close to 5:30. That 90 minutes was the longest time I waited. I had been there 10+ hours but that 90 minutes was the worst.

We saw a LOT of VIPs come in and were getting worried about not being able to get inside. Eventually, they came around checked all of our tickets and compared the names to the list they had. My name was not on their list and I had a minor panic attack. I had a real ticket!!! I had to be on the list. But apparently it was normal and they just added me to the bottom of the list and all was good. They wrote the number 1 on my ticket and circled in. I was #1 in the standby list. Fingers crossed.

Security eventually checked my ID and stamped my hand and I waited some more. VIPs started going in, and then guaranteed folks next. The guaranteed line emptied and more VIPs went in. I was getting pretty freaked out.

Then eventually, they called “standby numbered 1-10, follow me”, and that was our cue. The first 10 in the line were going to be admitted. My heart was pounding with excitement and I couldn’t believe it was actually going to happen.

In the map you see here, this is where we were led. You cross the street and enter the studio lot. I kid you not in saying that I was almost in tears as I crossed the street as I could not believe this was actually happening. I mean seriously, how often does this kind of stuff get to happen?

We went through several security points, had our bags checked twice, told to use the bathroom, and then eventually led us down to Stage 25 which is the stage the show is taped on. This was the same stage I had gone into during my tour of Warner Brothers.

Just outside the stage door, a bunch of parking spots marked with The Big Bang Theory were clearly visible. Peggy, the woman who was #2 in the line, pointed out who’s car belonged to who. Kunal drives a pretty fancy looking sports car.

Once inside, they searched our bags again and anyone who had kept their phone had to surrender their phone and ID before being seated. I followed around a corner and up a set of stairs where I was about to be seated. Peggy, knowing the people there, quietly asked for a seat on the right side of the stage. Apparently it’s a big no no to do that and she was even told that she’s not really supposed to do that but it was fine.

Big-Bang-Soundstage

I dug this photo off the web to give some context. The small red square is about where I sat. It was in the second row and would have been in direct line of sight to the kitchen island in the apartment. PERFECT viewing spot. The second red square shows the other main set area used for that days taping. Wolowitz’s lab was set up there and most of the taping took place between that set and the apartment. The photo above shows the hallway set with chairs but there were no chairs that night. You can also see the edge of Penny’s apartment on the left of the photo. There was no Penny set for my taping as they never went to her apartment.

Taping Day – The Actual Taping

The actual taping itself started around 6:30pm but not before we all got a little treat. They ran the episode “The Application Deterioration” (9×18) on the monitors for everyone to watch. This had been taped the week before and had not aired. As of today (March 7th), it has not aired yet and I believe it will air on Thursday. It was awesome seeing an episode before it actually aired. It hadn’t even really been completed yet as there are scenes with Raj in his car where the blue screen was still showing instead of an inserted backdrop. It was very cool to watch.

Then the real magic began. The actual taping.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Again, plot spoilers are coming so you have been warned.

Episode 9×19 – The Solder Diversion Excursion

Before anything was shot or shown to us, they introduced the cast to the audience one at a time and they all came out to wave to us. Once that was done, the episode began.

The episode was primarily a Shamy episode with plot B being around Wolowitz and Leonard in Howard’s lab. The episode started actually with a portion that had been pre-taped. Specifically, it was Sheldon talking to Amy on his laptop and the video and audio kept cutting out. When that finally ended, they started on the first real scene in the taping.

Now, I’m not going to go through every scene but I will highlight a few interesting bits here and there.

The scene they shot first was of Amy & Sheldon in the apartment and Sheldon is very upset that his laptop has died. In fact, he covers it up with a black cloth and does some kind of death horn song. They did the take twice as Jim Parsons messed up a line in the middle of it. When they cut, HE WAS MAD! You could see him acting very upset on the stage and getting quite angry. Even the woman beside me commented on how he gets mad at himself for making mistakes. I honestly thought that if this is who he really is, he must be a real ass. Turns out he’s not. As the night wore on, you could see his sense of humour come out and he was joking with the crew and Mayim between takes.

Oh, quick sidebar. Jim puts his script notes on little recipe cards and studies them between takes. Just before they shoot, he put them in a drawer in the kitchen of the apartment. Now you know what’s actually in there 🙂

When the take was done, they cut to Wolowitz’s lab which is where Leonard and Howard are working on the prototype for their new invention. Penny and Bernadette show up and the guys get them to help them. It was really interesting to see all of them working when the cameras were not rolling. They would do a take, then cut, and if one of the jokes didn’t land just right, they re-wrote it on the spot. This happened several times and each time they re-wrote it, it was funnier.

Between takes, you would see the cast goofing off with each other, or pacing around and waiting. Johnny Galecki studied his lines a bit and I spotted Kaley playing on her phone quite a bit. Both Johnny and Melissa Rauch took their glasses off when they were not on camera. When they called to start, everyone got into their positions and away they went.

Eventually we did get a few little “bloopers” from both Kaley and Melissa. Nothing too crazy but they forgot a line or messed up one here and there but for the most part, these people were nailing it. You can tell they do this for a living.

The taping was done in the order you will see it on TV which I thought was very interesting. It went back and forth between the lab and the apartment several times. Each time they would change sets, the cameras, crew, and actors would all switch stages, and the other stage would be blocked by long black sheets. Not sure why this was done but it happened everytime they changed sets.

To get a feel for what it actually is like, imagine you are in front of Sheldon’s desk so you are looking straight at his desk. Then take about 20-25 steps backwards and raise yourself in the air about 15-20 feet or so. That was where I was. The lab set, which was to the right of the apartment, was literally on the other side of the wall. The window in the kitchen literally goes nowhere and the lab is right on the other side. To the right of the lab, where the guys/girls walk into/out of the lab, is literally just a hallway outside of the set.

Between takes, Mark Sweet kept everyone entertained. He was essentially the “host” of the show. He would let us know what was coming up, when to be quiet, and keep us entertained between takes. He’d crack jokes, get people to dance, and even tell stories. I went up to the microphone myself and told my own story as to why I loved the show so much. It was quite cool. The only thing about between takes that I didn’t like was that they played a lot of music and you couldn’t hear the actors on set talking. It would have been interesting to hear what they were saying, but that was only a minor complaint.

The taping went back and forth for awhile as Amy bought Sheldon a new laptop and wanted him to recycle the old one and Sheldon didn’t want to. Leonard and Howard ended up leaving the two girls to do some work while they went off the get some solder, but got sidetracked by a surprise movie screening. For one of the scenes where Howard and Leonard are in a theatre, they literally put both of them on a couple of chairs and just had them do their lines. They had already pre-filmed that shot before but did it again for the audience. The same was also true for Sheldon and Amy when they leave the apartment and are in Amy’s car.

Before Sheldon and Amy left, they did a couple of takes regarding a non-disclosure agreement Sheldon was going to make Amy sign. The first joke didn’t land well so they re-wrote it and made Amy say a line about her having to sign one about losing her virginity.

Eventually Raj shows up at the lab and gets a text from the boys taunting him about the movie they are at, while Penny gets a text saying the car broke down (I think). This sets the stage for what was the most memorable “blooper” of the evening. They want to catch the boys in the act of lying so they put Raj in the closet (and yes there are jokes about him coming out of it) and he’s supposed to jump out and say something like “Gotcha” when the boys come back. The first time Kunal did it, he laughed when he jumped out. They must have done his jumping out scene about 5 times before they got it right.

Between takes, some of the cast would take a few pictures of each other while on set, or even dance to the music being played. Our host would ask us to give props to some of the actors and when their name came up, the actor would wave to the audience. At some point, I spotted Kaley with a Polaroid camera and realized something she had said on Jimmy Fallon was actually true.

I had seen this interview where she was saying that she no longer took selfies but used her Polaroid to take photos because of being hacked. Sounded like a bit to me but sure enough, there she was on set, taking pictures of herself with fellow castmates and really enjoying herself.

I should emphasize this. It was clear from the get go that this is a cast who loves each other. These guys were playing and having fun and enjoying their work but getting it all done like pros.

And speaking of fun, while they were re-writing one of the lines from the lab scenes, Johnny grabbed a tube of what looked like dryer tubing and pointed it to Kaley’s ear. She had her back turned to him so she didn’t know he was there. He must have said “boo” or something because she yelped quite loudly and the audience heard her and started laughing. The two of the laughed and kept on trucking. Like I said, it’s clear they have a lot of fun on set.

Eventually the lab stuff finished with the boys coming back with flowers for the girls, confessing they went to the movies, and leaving Raj in the closet.

On the Amy & Sheldon side, well, this was kind of cool. Turns out Sheldon is a hoarder. He has literally kept everything he has ever been given in a storage locker. He brings Amy there to show her and it was a really nice scene. All of the locker scenes were watched on the monitors because the set was off to the left and not visible by anyone in the audience. The takes were pretty good with no real issues save for one.

There’s a gag at the end where Sheldon is supposed to be throwing away an item from the locker: a golf ball. It’s a golf ball his brother hit him with. Well, when he went to close the locker door, you’re supposed to just see him closing the locker and then it cutting to the inside and the ball being rolled just under the door. The problem was that Jim Parsons had the golf ball in his hand and you could clearly see it as he closed the door, thus giving away the joke. They reshot that part and then it was time for the tag (last scene).

Somewhere before the locker stuff the audience was given a cold piece of pizza and a bottle of water. I hadn’t eaten anything other than granola bars the whole day so I was ready to chow down.

The audience got another surprise towards the end of the evening when our host introduced Johnny & Kaley to the audience. Both came up and stood on the rail and said some thank you’s to the crowd. They were very gracious and excited to be there and told us that as long as we kept watching, they would keep making new episodes. It was really awesome to see them a bit closer (and yes Kaley is gorgeous IRL as she is on TV) but even better that they took some time to acknowledge the fans.

The last scene was Amy and Sheldon in the apartment. They shot the scene twice with part of it being shown on the monitor only. Sheldon tells Amy they still have a couple of hours left in their date night and hints at what they can do. This of course got a great reaction from the crowd, but as it turns out, he just wanted her to go home so he could Skype her on his new laptop screen in high def. During the second take, they didn’t show the laptop stuff but just as the scene was ending, Jim Parsons got a huge grin on his face as he was trying to make Mayim laugh. It was really cool.

They called cut and that was it. Everyone piled out of there, and out of the studio some damn quickly. I got back to the car within about 10 minutes, and snapped this photo and posted it to Facebook:

IMG_5479

This was the “program” they gave us for the taping. I now have it pinned at my cubicle (and a photocopy in my laptop bag) as a memento of an amazing night.

No, I didn’t get to meet any of the cast, but I didn’t care. They show was awesome. The experience was awesome.

I have since watched other episodes of the show and now view it very different than I did before. It’s a completely different kind of experience to see it behind the scenes. If you ever have the chance to see this show, or any show that you love watching, being taped, GO FOR IT! I promise you it is worth it.

In total, the taping itself took about 3 hours, maybe a little more but not much. Total time in line waiting before I knew I was going in was just shy of 12 hours.

And finally, I don’t know when the episode will air. Last I heard it might be April before it’s on but keep your eyes peeled.

Categories: MOTD, Television/Movies, Travel | 1 Comment

My Bilingualism Comment From Facebook

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook about how she wasn’t going to enroll her kids in French immersion as she felt it was a bad idea for her kids. It led to a long thread of comments debating the value of French here in NB. For me, I agreed completely with her take and have felt that way for as long as I have had my two kids.

I ended up writing quite a comment for her FB post and thought I would post it here. It truly sums up my opinion of the whole French bilingualism thing here in NB.

If not learning French truly was detrimental to people’s lives here in NB, you would think the percentage of bilingual residents would climb higher and higher and faster every year to “help” us be better. Do I see that happening? I don’t think so. Sure we are a bilingual province, supposedly, but there’s a LOT of people who live here who don’t speak French. Are they all truly worse off because of it? I don’t think so. Maybe some, but I would bet not the majority. Sure, they might miss out on some opportunities here but that’s because they made the choice to stay here. It doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity here. There’s plenty of English-only speaking people living in the province and doing well at it. I know because I’m one of them.

I have two kids one of which is in grade 1 and the other is in grade 3. Both are in core English and it will remain that way.

The reality is, I would rather my kids be strong in their native tongue, then have mediocre skills in multiple languages.

I can’t speak French, and Tamara can get by a little bit but neither of us would ever be able to help the kids with French material. That means they would be completely unsupported in their French if they were in immersion. They’d get it at school and nowhere else. I would not want to see their English skills, and skills in other subjects, take a hit in favor of learning a second language.

You cannot deny that for kids who have French parents, or French speaking parents, those kids going into immersion have a far better shot at being successful in these other languages because they are exposed to it far more. If you’re not exposed to the language in your daily life, it will not stick with you. But even with that, I do not buy into this idea that not learning French is somehow limiting or hurting our kids.

This business about not being able to get a job in NB without French is bullshit. I’ve lived here for 30+ years and I have done just fine. I have many friends who have been here just as long and they have done fine as well. Sure, there are jobs that I don’t qualify for because I can’t speak French but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a job. I can’t apply to be a doctor, a mechanic, an architect, or an underwater basket weaver either. Those are skills I don’t have. Does that mean I should enroll my kids in classes for all of those “just in case”? In many ways, I view French the same as those skills. Sure, good to have, but not the end of the world if they don’t have it and when they get older, if they really want to learn those things, they can. Plus, let’s talk about the fact that this is 2016, and we don’t have to work for a company based in NB while we live here. We live in a telecommuting world now which means you can work from Moncton for a company in Dubai and do just fine without French. I really don’t buy into this whole idea that you are “limiting” your child’s opportunities by not giving them a second language. The fact that French is heavy here in NB is irrelevant. Why?

Why is it such an awful thing for your kids to go somewhere else to work or live? Why is that such a bad thing? I know for my kids, I want them to see the world and all it has to offer. If that means they snag a job in Thailand, then go for it. Move there and see what life is like there. Ya I would love my kids to be close to home so I can see them, but I’d rather them be doing what they are passionate about wherever that happens to be. Let them live and enjoy the world and not be so stuck on this idea that they need to stay here.

We get so wrapped up in what life here in NB is that it’s easy to forget that what you might deem as important here, is not really all that important somewhere else. Sure, learning a second language is not a bad skill to have, but it’s not one that’s going to make or break a person’s life. 100 years ago, knowing how to fish was probably a really valuable skill if you wanted to stay here in NB but not as valuable in other places. I see French the same way.

I’d rather put my emphasis on teaching my kids how to be polite, caring, open minded, and seek out opportunity anywhere that excites them. To me, that is far more important than trying to force a language on them just for the sake of them being bilingual.

Categories: MOTD, Rants | Leave a comment

Ten Years At One Employer

10 years ago today I started a new job at Whitehill Technologies as a Product Consultant. That job would start me on a path that would lead me to where I am today. I survived 3 company acquisitions, 5 managers, 7 products, 5 desk moves, and countless office pranks. After working in the same place for 10 years, I thought I’d take a few moments to recollect how I got here and what has transpired in that time period.

In January of 2006, I was let go from CompuCollege. There’s a whole other story behind that fiasco but ultimately it lead me to applying for a position at Whitehill. I had an interview on a Friday on the same day that I was scheduled to take my last MCSA exam. I went into the interview confident, and came out feeling even better. I had never had a better job interview, at least from my perspective, that at that point, I didn’t even care if I didn’t pass my MCSA test. I was that happy. A few days later, I got an offer and my life changed.

The job started and I learned very quickly that it wasn’t like working at other places. This was a place filled with a lot of fun people and lot of camaraderie. It took me awhile before I found my place but before I knew it, I was already jumping onto new products and new opportunities.

The job also gave me a chance to do some travel for work. That was something I had seen very little of in the course of my work career. Things seemed to be taking off quite well and before I knew it, we were being sold to a company in Texas.

Not long after, HR went through the office and fired half the staff. People that had been there a long time were let go and it became quite clear quite quickly that this new company didn’t have the same sense of humour we had. It was a very somber time to be there. But somehow I had drawn the lucky cards and managed to get through the whole thing.

That year sucked. We worked for a company who basically couldn’t have cared less about us. They were after the software we had bought from someone else and had no idea what to do with our little business unit. But a year after we were sold to them, we got bought again. This time by a large corporation with hands all over the world. I was really excited to be able to say I was working for Oracle. That didn’t last.

Turns out during the first year, a lot of the same was happening. People were fired and things were changing. I worked there for 3 years and although I am glad to have the name on my resume, it was also not a good time to be working there. Somehow I had managed to avoid being cut but it really didn’t matter as I was working for a company that just didn’t understand (or cared) what we were doing. Then one Monday morning, we all got called into the conference room and wondered what was happening.

Turns out, in a surprise move, Oracle sold our business unit to Thomson Reuters. But that same day, a clear message was sent to everyone who was there. This is going to be different. It was. We were all treated really well and in the weeks that followed, it was a huge breath of fresh air.

Since then, it’s been all forward. I left the department that I started in less than a year after joining Thomson and I found what I truly wanted to work in: training. As more time has passed I’ve come to realize that training is what I do the best and what I enjoy the most. It just happens to work out well that I work for a company that will pay me well to do something I love.

I’ve had some bumps career wise in the last 10 years. I wanted out of Oracle more than anyone will know but when you get paid a good salary and the work is not horribly bad, it’s hard to walk away from that. The latter half of last year was rough with some of the class stuff I was dealing with. Thankfully it’s all been addressed and I’m charging on to this new year.

I am more grateful and thankful for what I have been able to accomplish and where I’ve been able to go in these 10 years. Assuming the company remains as they are, I see no reason to leave unless someone wants to pay me to retire. Here’s looking at what the next 10 years will be.

As a side note, people ask me all the time about my travels for work. Here is a list of all of the places I have traveled to specifically for work. Some of them I have been back to several times (London, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, LA) and others were one offs that I never expected. Total mileage accumulated over the 10 years of travel is around 600,000 kilometers.

Edmonton
Dublin (Ireland)
Toronto
Minneapolis
San Antonio
Plymouth (England)
Albany
Atlanta
Jersey (British Isles)
Livingston (NJ)
Johannesburg (South Africa)
Baltimore
Cardiff (Wales)
Philadelphia
Little Rock
Las Vegas
Montreal
Miami
Morgantown (WV)
Indianapolis
Columbia (SC)
Phoenix
Buffalo
Cincinnati
St. Louis
Liverpool (England)
Austin
Sydney (Australia)
Brisbane (Australia)
Boston
Birmingham (AL)
Providence (RI)
Cleveland
Albuquerque
Allentown (PA)
Los Angeles
London (England)
Blue Bell (PA)
Hartford
Omaha (NE)
Portland (OR)
Columbus
New York
Chicago
Vancouver
San Francisco
Houston
Scranton
Pittsburgh
Dallas
Tampa
Seattle

And if you’re even more bored, here are some maps that shows the travel for the bulk of that 600,000 kilometers.

travelmap_world

World Map

travelmap_na

North America Map

travelmap_europe

European Map

travelmap_africa

Africa Map

travelmap_oz

Australia Map

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Suicide Is Not About Everyone Else

There’s an article floating around Facebook right now about suicide. “10 Things You Should Know Before You Kill Yourself”. Read it here. In fact, I read it twice and both times, it made me angry. I see lots of people floating the article around and talking about how it’s such a good article because it talks about what happens to those who are left behind. And although some of the points in the article are totally true, the article itself makes me angry because of how it made me feel as someone who attempted suicide years ago.

Yes, I just said that. December 15th, 2002, I sat at my desk in my bedroom and did what many others have done before me. It was a desperate and somewhat pathetic attempt to end my life. In my 42 years of existence, that was the lowest I have ever been. Having gone through it myself, reading that article infuriates me because of what it would likely do to someone who is actually suicidal.

Now, I can’t talk about what others have felt. I only know how I felt and why I chose to do what I did. So this story is all from my point of view, but I suspect there are many others out there who have been in a similar situation.

For me, the article made me angry because it was a long list of things made to make me feel guilty about doing what I felt was the only option I had. Every one of those items in that list would make a depressed person feel even more guilty and sad about what they are about to do. Is that really what you want to do to someone who’s ready to off themselves? Hey, I’m so depressed about my life that I want to die, why don’t I read a list about things that are going to make me even more depressed. That should put me over the edge.

When I read the article, it made me feel guilty, and my issue was 14 years ago. It made me feel angry because every one of those points tells the potential victim all about what they are doing to everyone else and that the person should be thinking of how their actions will affect everyone else in their lives. So again, a person who feels like their life is so bad that they have to end it shouldn’t focus on what’s bothering them, but should focus on how it will affect everyone else? Are you kidding me? The article makes it seem like when a person is at their absolute worst, they should be thinking about what everyone else will think, and not about how to help themselves. Great job guys! Let’s continue to reinforce the idea that everyone else around you is more important than you. Make sure you don’t ever do anything that others might be upset by despite how suicidal you’re feeling right now. WTF?!?!?!?!

Again, I can’t speak for others, but here’s a bit of insight into what was my reasoning, and why maybe it’s not what you think.

For me, and I suspect for many others as well, it’s not that you want to die. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t really want to die. What I wanted was to stop feeling so awful. I wanted my pain and despair to be over with. I was in a real dark place and in that moment, I felt alone. I felt like I had no one around who could truly understand how I felt or what I was going through. I just wanted all of that pain to go away and if I was dead, I couldn’t feel it anymore.

Why didn’t I try to talk to someone? Because I’ve seen the after-school specials and I knew exactly what people would say. “It will get better.” “Time heals your wounds so you just need to push through it.” “A year from now things will be better”.

All of those things are great to hear, except they don’t solve the immediate problem. A person sitting in a room ready to kill themselves doesn’t want to hear that a year from now, things will be peachy. To them, that means they have to be miserable for another year before they can feel better. They want to feel better NOW. I wanted to feel better in the moment. I didn’t want to continue to feel that despair any longer and I knew people would all tell me the same thing: it gets better. Telling me that things will be better eventually does not actually help a person in the moment from feeling better. They want that hate and anger and despair, and hurt all gone. We all know it doesn’t just magically go away, but if you’re at the point where you want to die, you are desperate for anything that will just make it go away.

That’s the way it was for me. I couldn’t stand being where I was and just wanted it to go all away. So I did what I did and then I had to face the consequences. For me, as it turns out it was a few nights in a hospital and the realization that I truly had hit the bottom.

Now, all cards on the table, I figured swallowing a bottle of pills wasn’t going to kill me but I didn’t know for sure. I laid in bed for awhile and thought about what was happening in my body. But then for whatever reason, I got up, grabbed my keys, and drove myself to the hospital. In retrospect, I think subconsciously I knew that if I went to the hospital, I would have to explain what happened, and I would have to deal with the consequences of my actions, which would in turn force me to really deal with my life and not take a quick exit. I did have friends and family come to the hospital and I did have to deal with the aftermath of that.

That’s the only part of the article I am in agreement with. There were people who couldn’t believe I would do such a thing and why I didn’t just turn to them for help. It’s a lot harder to do than anyone will ever know unless you have actually gone through it. After my stay there, I packed up my clothes, went back home, and started to rebuild my life.

Within a month, I had literally excised the poison from my life that was the biggest source of my depression. A few months later, long time friends of mine started up their old band and wanted my help. Then a few months later, I reconnected with Tamara. The rest is history.

This isn’t a story I tell often. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by it. It is part of who I am and is something that I had to experience to get where I am today. But it does provide me a very clear and unique view into what it is like to be at the bottom of that well, looking up and not thinking you’re ever going to get out. Don’t just outright assume that someone who is at the bottom is interested in thinking about what everyone else will think or feel. What they need is your support, your help, and for you to be there.

For anyone that might be descending into that well of despair and you don’t know how to get out, here’s my advice:

Take one deep breath and think of one thing you know that you enjoy. Whether it’s walking, reading, biking, watching a funny TV show, visiting a friend or family member, whatever. Go do one of those things. Do at least one thing that does bring you joy or a smile to your face. Do that any time you start to feel like you are going down that well. Once you’ve done this a few times, you’re going to feel a bit better about talking to someone. Talking is not easy, especially at the bottom of the well. But if you can experience a bit of joy first, it can help you to want to talk.

And you do need to talk. You do need to find ways to express how you feel. If you can’t talk, then write about it, blog about it, make a video and post it online for your friends to see and you’ll be surprised how many people will flock to you to help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out when you are at your low. I did it. We all do it.

But for those who think that suicide is a “selfish” act because of how it affects everyone else. You need to stop thinking about yourself and everyone else, and think about that person. Think about how horrible that person must feel that they have sunk to that level. How much pain and anguish that person is experiencing and they can’t figure out how to get out of it except killing themselves. They are at the bottom of the bottom in their life and all you can do is call them selfish?

It’s not selfish. It’s their last resort.

Categories: Flashbacks, MOTD, Rants | Leave a comment

2016: A Year of Change?

I put a question mark at the end of that title because it really is a question for me.

I don’t believe in New Years resolutions. I also have a tendency to think the whole “new year” thing is a bit overrated. People always make ridiculous claims about how they are going to change their lives because of the new year. But for most people,  they get up the next morning, and continue on like nothing really has changed because, let’s face it. Nothing has changed. All that changed is the last digit of the year you’re living in. It’s not like a government fell, a war broke out, aliens landed, or TV has ended. It’s just another day.

So despite the fact that I usually don’t think much of the new year, today was the first day of me trying to make a change in the new year.

A few days ago, I had a bit of a bummer day. When I finally found the right way to explain how I felt to Tamara, I believe it came out something like “The collective weight of my responsibilities is crushing me”. There are times when the weight of being a dad, a husband, a provider, a teacher, a colleague, and many other things is just too much. We all need to step away and do “our own thing” to try and keep our heads sane but a lot of times it just is too hard. How do you find the time, or even the energy to just do your own thing when you put in a full day of work, come home, then need to make supper, spend time with your kids, clean up the house or do laundry or whatever. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m ready for bed myself. Just beat.

But for me, it doesn’t end there. I just spent the last two weeks on Christmas vacation. I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish while I was on vacation and barely any of them got done. I did finally get my office cleaned but beyond that, not much else. Why? Because there seems to be a part of me that is riddled with what I can only call parental guilt.

I consider myself an introvert with a few extrovert tendencies. One of the things some introverts (maybe all of them, I’m not an expert on the term) need is time alone. Not because they don’t like people but just because sometimes they just need their own time to do their own thing because that’s what and how they are. I love having people around and love having people in my life. But there are times when I just need to be off doing my own thing to keep my own head sane.

As I am sure many others can attest to, this is hard to do with all of the responsibilities of daily life as a father and a husband. In my world, a lot of this solo time is covered by the travel I have with my work. But even when I am home, there are times I need to just do my own thing in my home space. This is where the parental guilt starts to settle in a bit.

There are many times where Tamara and the kids are going out, and the last thing I want to do is go anywhere. I just want time to myself to do my own thing and not think about anyone else. But the moment they leave, I go into a deep feeling of regret and end up miserable while they are gone. I constantly think that I am being a bad father by choosing to be home by myself than spending it with my wife and kids when I have the opportunity to. This is further intensified during times when I have been traveling a lot and have already missed time with them. I get deep feelings of guilt about “being a bad father” by not taking every moment I have at home with my kids in some way.

But yet, I can go out for a day on my own with some friends and be guilt free. I can take a vacation or go on a work trip and not feel guilty. But if I am at home and choose to be at home alone versus with my family, I feel immense guilt. It is this guilt I am trying to challenge myself against today.

Tamara took the kids out for day and I’m home writing this. I am taking my steps in 2016 towards not feeling guilty about giving myself time when I need it. We all need it from time to time.

I also feel like 2016 needs to be a year for me to really think hard about where I want to go in terms of my life. I spent a lot of 2015 bitching about my work, and other aspects of my life and I need to find a way to reign that in and enjoy what I have.

So as much as I hate it when people talk about making changes for the new year, I guess this time around I’m going to do the same as them. Let’s see what 2016 brings.

Categories: Friends & Family, MOTD | Leave a comment

Scared Of My Own Blog Posts

Just a few minutes ago, I finished writing a post about my recent difficulties with some of my training classes. I posted it on Facebook and then a minute later, I deleted it. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately which is why I wrote about it, but putting it on Facebook made me very uncomfortable. Why?

Well, there was a time in my life where I posted a LOT of things on this blog. Some of it was probably inappropriate to be on a public blog, but most of it was just my own ramblings about things going on in my own life.

However, all cards on the table, a single blog post once cost me a job. Since then, I made the conscious decision to keep pretty much anything about my work off of my blog. I didn’t want to have history repeat itself.

Since then, I have been pretty quiet about much of the specifics of what goes on where I work. Anytime I would write a post that would have anything related to work on it, I’d re-write it so that work wasn’t included. But once in awhile I’d make a reference to something but always in good taste and never breaking any rules.

So I wrote that article about my training issues because it’s something that was really bothering me. It’s something I wanted to write about and get out of my system. I read that post over and over again until I was sure that it was ok. It doesn’t talk about any of my specific clients, or even places that I was at. It doesn’t name specific individuals or companies that I was at. It doesn’t contain anything proprietary or confidential that would break any company policies. It does talk about the technologies that I teach about but none of those are proprietary and can be found easily through a quick Google search.

Everything about that post is purely my own thoughts and feelings and expresses them in a pretty clear way, without violating any confidentiality agreements.

So why is it that I am so paranoid about posting a story like that on Facebook?

I know I haven’t done anything wrong and I know I haven’t broken any rules. But I guess even things from so far back in your past still stick with you. There must still be a part of me that’s paranoid about what the wrong person would see in a post like that.

I want to be able to share some of the stuff I post on here on Facebook since many of my FB friends don’t visit my blog (and rightly so since I don’t post here a lot). But it is a place I can write about things on my mind and I know I haven’t written anything here that crosses any lines as far as my work is concerned.

Gotta find a way to get over it…

Categories: Flashbacks | Leave a comment

Training Those Who Shouldn’t Be Trained

 

So, I know some people ask me what it is I do and I always reply that I’m a “Technical Training Consultant”. I usually then add that I train IT or programmers technical aspects of software for law firms. I usually don’t get into much more detail than that because honestly, most people don’t care.

But, in order to set a bit of context around this post, this is what I typically teach to folks in my classes:

wordML

The code you see above is known as WordML. Those 11 lines of code actually produce this:

Hello, world!

And in all fairness, the code typically would look closer to this:

wordML2

This blurb combines WordML with XSLT. The Hello line here pulls in information from a data file formatted in something called XML. That XML file typically contains information regarding an invoice from a law firm. The XSLT line also uses XPath to point to a specific field or set of fields in the XML data which needs to be rendered in WordML so that Microsoft Word can understand it.

Sufficiently confused?

Now, before I go any further, I teach other things as well. But generally speaking, when you see that I’m on the road or traveling somewhere, I’m generally teaching what I’ve put above just in a LOT more detail, and doing it over 4-5 days. The code I wrote above is very basic. We do a LOT more complicated things in those 4-5 days.

Without sounding like I’m being a bit arrogant, I’m good at what I do. In fact, I’m really good at what I do. Add to that the fact that I actually love what I do, my boss is awesome, my department is awesome, and the company I work for is amazing, I count myself extremely lucky to be where I’m at.

So all of that being said, the last few months have been kind of brutal. This week has been such a huge reward for me as it’s been an awesome group in my class but they have been the exception and not the rule lately. To give you more of an idea of what I’ve been experiencing over the last few months, let me use an English teacher analogy.

Imagine you are an English teacher. You have been teaching English all your life and know the language, and literature back and forth. You’ve read the great poets, and many other great authors and have studied them at great length.

Now, for most of your career, you’ve done part time teaching work in high schools and some university work. Generally speaking, you’ve typically been hired by educational institutions to teach Shakespeare’s poetry to students as you consider that to be your specialty. You can teach anything about English, but Shakespeare is really your specialty.

In high schools, colleges, and universities, your classes do very well and really enjoy being taught by you. You receive many accolades and truly enjoy your job.

You receive a new offer to teach a 5 day Shakespeare class to a private school in your local community. All is settled and arranged and you show up on the first day ready and eager. You meet Mary who you were hired by and she says they are very excited about class. The students roll into class with big smiles and seem quite happy and eager to learn. You then introduce yourself, give a little bit of history of what you’ve done, and then ask the students to introduce themselves.

The students turn and look at you in confusion. They mumble some words to each other but you can’t hear what they are saying. Eventually, Mary stands up. Mary tells you she’s the only one in the class that speaks or understands English. Her language skills are not bad but not great either. Everyone else in the class can only understand a handful of words in English, and can’t speak it either. No one has ever heard of Shakespeare and they thought they were taking a completely different type of class.

The students are not allowed to leave and neither are you. You must deliver the class as best as you can and try to make them understand. Frustrated, you begin the class.

During the afternoon, you get Mary to ask the class what some of their most memorable poems are. She looks confused, but asks the question in her native language to the other students and they all look as confused as her. She turns back to you and says “What’s a poem? I’ve never heard of that before.”

You realize that you’re teaching an English class about Shakespeare and his poetry to people who don’t understand English and they don’t even know what a poem is.

By the time lunchtime comes on day 2, it’s very clear that no one in the class is getting much of anything. Mary is getting some of it but not enough to really say she’s learning anything. You speak to Mary about how the class is not moving along and that you were told that it was English people in the class so why are non-English people there. She explains that after she spoke to you, she decided it would be ok to put the non-English people in the class because they really should learn Shakespeare. You explain that you will not be able to cover all of the material, and what you do cover will be done very slowly. She happily agrees and you move on.

The end of the week comes and the class thanks you for your work. Mary is very happy with what you have done and thanks you herself. You pack up, and head home and hope next week you’re teaching to people who understand English, and know what a poem is.

This has been my life for the last few months. And you can imagine that if you were the teacher in that story, how incredibly frustrating it is, and how quickly your patience would wear thin trying to deal with that. Add to that the fact that I am not teaching English. I’m teaching programming like what I showed you earlier.

I have found myself more exhausted after classes than I have ever been in my life. It is extremely draining to try and be patient and understanding while still trying to get the material across.

There’s a multitude of reasons why it seems to be happening more so lately than before. I’ve expressed my concerns with my manager and she’s been very good at doing her best to try and prevent this kind of thing from happening again. I am hoping the future is going to be better, but when you go through batches of classes where it’s so much more draining, it can get to be a bit much after awhile.

Another thing I should add is that it’s not the students themselves either. To continue with the analogy, imagine that those students in the English class are engineers. They can design the most sophisticated pieces of technology in the world, but when it comes to English, and poetry for that matter, it’s just “not their thing”. It’s not that they are not intelligent or capable, it’s just not something they are going to “get”.

It’s like me and cars. I have no clue how cars work, how to put them together, or fix them, or do anything other than drive the car, and put gas in it. I can jump start a car and put washer fluid in it, and in a pinch I might be able to change a tire. But do an oil change, or any kind of actual repair: forget it. It’s just not something I “get”. I’m not stupid or unintelligent. It’s just not me.

Also, as a teacher, it’s your job to get the students to understand a concept so they can take that concept and use it. It’s a lot harder on the head to constantly be thinking about a 100 different ways to explain something so that someone who doesn’t get it, gets it. I have my stock methods of explaining things and to the right people, they work every time. But for the wrong people, you really have to think extra hard about how to explain a complex subject in a much simpler fashion. I enjoy being challenged, but at the same time, you don’t want to be challenged on every single thing you’re trying to get across.

Thankfully, this week is my last week of full on training for awhile and I have 3 fantastic students who are blowing through the material at a regular pace. I even told them I was so happy to have them after having had some of my previous classes the last few months.

After feeling so frustrated, there was a part of me that was seriously considering leaving the training world completely. I love teaching and it’s something I am good at, but after awhile a person’s patience dries away and it gets harder and harder to keep being polite. Thankfully, my most recent client has rejuvenated me and I’m feeling much better about the future.

Let’s see what comes next.

Categories: Rants, Tech Stuff, Travel | 1 Comment

A Trip Back To 1985

I’m going to tell you a story. I won’t lie. This is not going to be a short one. This is the story of how my life took a huge change and put me where I needed to be. It happened 30 years ago in 1985 and just a a couple of weeks ago, I really had some serious flashbacks.

I was born in Edmonton, Alberta. My earliest memories are of playing in my front yard in a subdivision of Edmonton called Beverly. I have vivid memories of walking to and from school, playing in the park, playing with my cat, going to birthday parties, and even being kissed by the girl next door.

When I was 7, my parents moved us to another part of the city called Hermitage. I changed schools, friends, home, and everything but it was still in the same city I knew as home. I have even more vivid memories of that time in my life. Playing street hockey in the parking lot, eating ice cream with friends, playing tabletop hockey with my mom, Atari video games, the Edmonton Oilers, the best teacher I ever had, and so many more things that I just don’t have the space to write them all out.

These are all part of the first 11.5 years of my life. It’s a part of my life I don’t tend to think about very often mainly because in some ways, it feels like it was another life. I’m sure we all have parts of our lives that seem so far removed from where we are now that it’s like they were a dream or something. My life in Edmonton is very much like that. Seems very much like a dream that’s slowly fading over time.

In the summer of 1985, my parents had been split up for awhile and I had been living with mom. She decided to move us to Moncton, NB; her home town. I had just gone through a major trauma of my own dealing with my newly discovered Thyroid condition and all of the things that went along with that. But mom picked us up, and moved us across the country. I left my home town, my friends, my hockey team, and everything I had ever known in my life. It was all gone when we got on the plane and left. The only thing that I really had left in Edmonton other than my memories of the place, was my dad. He was still there.

I didn’t get back to Edmonton until 1994, 9 years later. By that time, my dad was unrecognizable, and Edmonton seemed like such a different place. I visited again in 1997, and then again in 2003, 2006, and 2008. My dad died in 2010.

I knew that I would be returning to Edmonton this September for work. I knew it was going to be weird, but I had no idea how weird and emotional it was going to actually be. This was the first time I would visit this place without my dad being there. Everytime I had come back there I always had my dad to go back to. It was somehow tied to my past and part of my life there, but with him gone, it seemed that connection was gone. Yes, I do have a few relatives there (uncles, aunts, even a half-sister) but my biggest connection to that place was my dad.

I landed in Edmonton, got my rental car, and the first thing I did was go visit the places I used to live and hang out in. I even went by my dad’s old place. It was kind of neat to see these places again but nothing really jumped out at me. That was until my last day there.

rcums

I decided to go to a park near where I used to live. I spent a little time in there but then decided I really wanted to go back to the neighbourhood I lived in and sort of re-trace my steps as a kid. I have no idea why I felt compelled to do this, but over the few days I was in Edmonton, it kept feeling more and more like this was likely to be my last time there and if I ever wanted to do anything, I needed to do it now.

The animation you see above starts at 389 Hooper Cres, Edmonton, Alberta. Most of my childhood memories come from this place. This was the home I lived in from grades 3-6. I parked the car in front of the houses, and went for a walk. I stood in the parking lot and stared around and just soaked it in. My mind was flooded with images of kids playing hockey, the ice cream bike going in and out of the area, and a thousand other images that would be meaningless to anyone else. I then stood about 5 feet or so from the door of the place I used to live. The black mailbox with 389 on it just stared at me. Again, more images of the past flooding to the forefront. From ghosts in my kitchen, to watching the hockey game in the dark, to memories of me hoping to see the pretty girl across the road from my kitchen window.

I then walked in between the two sets of homes, and down the path I used to take to school every day. I walked up the hill and into the middle of a big field just beside the old school I used to go to. The entire time I walked, I just had so many childhood memories coming back to me. I stood in the middle of this big field of green grass and remembered watching kids play ice hockey in a homemade rink in the middle of the field. I remembered my mom and I setting off model rockets and wondering where they were going to land. As I took a few more steps towards my old school, the tears started to come.

I stood there, with no one around to see how ridiculous I looked, and I balled uncontrollably. Not misty eyed like you get from a sappy movie or a feel good song. I’m talking uncontrollable, pure crying. I cried and cried for a few minutes and had no idea where it was all coming from. I shook my head and turned around and looked at the school. I walked over to the yellow doors and stared at the brick wall and remembered so many days of losing so many hockey cards to some stupid game where we threw them against the wall.

I walked around front, took a few pictures, smiled a bit as I peeked inside, then went back to rear of the building and just stared for a minute. In that moment, I realized that it had actually been 30 years since I left Edmonton. And in that moment, I also remembered the face of the last person I ever saw at the school; Mr. Schlotter.

To keep it short, this was a great guy. My all time favourite teacher and someone I will never, ever forget. I had a memory of him and I talking about some computer thing I wanted and then saying goodbye. Standing there behind the school, I got misty eyed this time, and with no around, I smiled at the school and said “Goodbye Mr. Schlotter”.

I walked back to my car, started it up, and drove away. I do not expect to return there.

I repeated this same kind of experience when I went to my other neighbourhood. I walked the old way to my other old school, wandered around, and had plenty of memory flashes but this time it wasn’t as emotional. I think whatever I was feeling came out in that field near Overlander’s School and I was truly ready to go.

I visited a couple of other places I knew as a kid, then headed to the airport and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Unless something major changes in my life, or work sends me back there, I do not expect to ever return to Edmonton. I think that’s why standing in that field was so emotional.

I knew it was going to be weird not seeing my dad. But what I didn’t expect was to have so much emotion from my past bubble to the surface when seeing these places. Sitting here writing this, I’m trying in my mind to think of the best explanation as to why it was really so emotional for me. The only thing that comes to mind is the fact that there is a part of me that’s always going to be in the place because I was there for 11 years. That’s part of my history and part of what I was as a child. When you don’t think about something, it’s not that it’s forgotten. It’s just buried among all of the other things.

I’ve had so much happen to me in that 30 year time period that most of what I experienced in Edmonton never comes up any more. When I talk about the past now, it’s usually high school, college, my VAJ/Rounded Edges years, IRC days, Greco Days, IBM, Norampac, and countless other things I’ve experienced since moving away from that place.

Even though I had returned multiple times since I left, this one was very different because it really did have a sense of finality to it. In a strange way, it’s almost like saying goodbye to my dad again, but also saying goodbye to that entire part of my life. I’ll never forget that place, but it very much felt like I was really saying goodbye to everything that was there regardless of how long ago it was.

Then… I heard this song on the airplane coming back from London a few days ago. I downloaded it and have listened to it a bunch of times and it just seems to be sticking to me. I Lived by OneRepublic. It’s a really nice song and has a really great message about making life what it can be. I think it’s striking a chord with me right now as I’ve got a lot of things floating around in my head as a result of my recent travels.

Really thinking about standing in the field and how I felt, I think part of it was the fact that my dad is really gone. I think another part of it is the realization that my mom took me away from anything and everything I had known in my life and I don’t know if I ever really processed that. My first few years in NB were not easy. In fact, junior high at Queen E was pure hell. I’ve written about that before but the context is a bit different now. After leaving everything in Edmonton, Queen E was just an awful place for me to be for those three years. The only thing that made grade 8 & 9 bearable was my good friend J.C. and a beautiful, strawberry blonde girl I couldn’t stop talking about.

Sidetracked…. the point I was trying to get at was that maybe there was a part of me that was still mad at mom for taking me away from all of that. Don’t get me wrong. My life turned out exactly as it should. I am where I am supposed to be. But like all people, sometimes you just don’t let things go and then they stick in your head somewhere and you don’t even realize it. Before you know it, there’s a lot up there that you don’t even know about or understand until you’re put in a situation where it all comes out.

So now, if my kids ask about where I grew up, I can tell them all the stories they want, but I don’t really have a need to go back again.

Thanks Edmonton. It was nice knowing you.

Categories: Flashbacks, Friends & Family, Travel | 1 Comment