Post-summer update

I can’t believe it’s September already.  The weather is starting to become cool and wet, days are becoming shorter, marking the end of what has been an incredible summer (and year to date).  It’s been a while since I’ve written here, so with the changing season I thought I’d share a bit of an update of 2016 so far.

Some of these warrant their own blog posts, but until I have time to write the full thing here is a summary.

Working at A Thinking Ape

At the start of the year I transferred teams at work from maintaining the live games at A Thinking Ape to working on a new game in development.  This change has given me the opportunity to try out Unity, one of the most popular game development platforms, and to learn a new programming language: C#.

In addition, over the summer, we moved offices to a much larger office near Burrard Station and the central business district (CBD).  I sort of miss the old cozy office, Gastown touristy atmosphere and the steam clock, but I have found the CBD offers its own liveliness and feel.  The office itself is pretty much better in every single way.

Transit fans’ delights

2016 has also been exciting from a transit fan’s viewpoint.  A fleet of 21 articulated diesel-electric hybrid New Flyer Xcelsior buses hit the streets in Surrey and Richmond earlier this year.  In addition, a fleet of 40 standard-length diesel Xcelsiors are also making their way onto Richmond routes since the summer.

Hamilton Transit Centre started operations just this weekend, which brought a shuffling of buses around the Burnaby/New Westminster/Richmond.  Richmond is losing some of its oldest New Flyer low floor buses to Hamilton.  Novabuses are invading Richmond (noo!).  But on the bright side, compressed natural gas buses are now serving Burnaby and Richmond.

On the rail side, we saw the new Mark 3 SkyTrains being put into service just a few weeks ago.  These are fully articulated vehicles (i.e., you can walk through all four cars of the train), have larger spaces for wheelchairs and bikes, and seem to be quieter.

Some side projects

Over one weekend in May, I created two small web tools for Catholics.

It’s unfortunate that there’s no free app or intuitive way of looking up paragraph numbers or searching the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).  I believe this is mostly in part due to the copyright of the text and the difficulty in getting a license in order to display this.

In order to get around this, my site presents a simple search box to look up either the paragraph number or text, then redirects you to the appropriate page of the CCC on the St. Charles Borromeo site.

The Archdiocese of Vancouver has its own Mass finder, but it doesn’t make it easy to search for a Mass by your current location on a map.  So I have made a map-oriented Mass finder, with easy filtering options which also shows a list of the closest Mass times and their distance from you.

The highlight: World Youth Day

The highlight of my summer was spending two weeks in Poland for World Youth Day (WYD), an international gathering for Catholic young adults.  Although this was my second WYD (my first was in Madrid, 2011), it was my first time participating in the Days in the Diocese program, as well as the overnight vigil before the final Mass.

WYD2016 Vigil Site
Sleeping on a field with about a million other Catholics…

The first week was spent in Warsaw, where we stayed with host families and encountered the Polish culture.  The second week was in Krakow, where the main World Youth Day events were held.  I had an awesome time and at some point in time I will definitely write a longer blog post about this.

So that’s it for now, a summary of the summer and the year so far.  I hope to have some time in the near future to write in detail a few of the things above.

Amateur Radio and the Vancouver Sun Run

Earlier this year, in search of a new hobby, I took an Amateur radio course (also known as ham radio) and received my license about a month ago. Amateur radio is all about non-commercial communication over radio waves.  Most consumer walkie-talkies (like ones using the FRS) work only over several kilometers in the best of conditions.  Believe it or not, Amateurs are able to use equipment to communicate all over the world, and even into space contacting the International Space Station using radio frequencies.  This kind of communication was probably more popular decades ago when there was no Internet, or cheap long distance phone calls.  However, Amateurs still involve themselves in activities such as contests contacting the most people, and on a more practical level (at least to me) emergency and volunteer event communications.

So putting my new license into use, last Sunday I helped out with the Vancouver Sun Run as an Amateur Radio operator.  With about 80 other Amateurs, we were positioned in pairs along the entire 10km route.

Sun Run 2016 Burrard Street Bridge
I’m in the background along the bike lane in the yellow vest. Photo credit: JAWS123, used with permission.

For operators in the field, depending on the position, there are different roles to do.  We provided the eyes and ears for “net control” (the communications base) along the entire route, and helped any runners who needed assistance.  Selected stations were in charge of reporting the first participants so that the announcer at the finish line could keep the crowd updated with the race progress.  If there were any issues along the route, we could call in to alert the logistics team.  If any children were lost, we could call in to arrange transportation for them to the “Lost Kids” area to be reunited with their parents.  Most commonly though, would be calling in to report an injured runner that required medical attention or transport.

Other Amateurs were also stationed in the medical tent to receive these requests for medical attention and helped coordinate dispatching the medical teams or ambulances along the route.

I was lucky enough to be positioned mid-span on the Burrard Street Bridge.  With the awesome weather, it was a very nice station to be at.

At around 8:00am I made my way onto the bridge, and checked in with the “net control” operator of our presence at the station.

Burrard Street Bridge empty prior to the Vancouver Sun Run
Walking up the Burrard Street Bridge to my assigned position
Burrard Street Bridge midspan
Burrard Street Bridge completely empty mid-span prior to the event

Just after 9:00am, we saw the competitive wheelchairs pass by, then the elite women, then the elite men.  Slowly more and more people started trickling onto the bridge, and soon after the bridge became packed with runners!

The peak time of runners along the Burrard Street Bridge. If you look down the left bike lane, you can also see me near the bridge. Photo credit: Michael Whyte
The peak time of runners along the Burrard Street Bridge. I happen to also be (barely) visible in this photo, near the end of the bike lane on the left. Photo credit: Michael Whyte

And then a while later, the crowds of joggers started to transition into a crowd of walkers.  Then finally the crowds of walkers died down as well to a trickling of walkers.  We then waited for the sweep vehicle, which drove behind the last walker.  Once the sweep vehicle went by, we called in to “net control” to request to stand down from our positions.

It was really interesting to see the cross section of the Sun Run standing from one location from start to finish.  We were lucky that the Burrard Bridge was a pretty injury-free area; we didn’t have to call in any medicals from our location.  It was a nice first experience to interact with some of the other Amateurs in the city.  There are a lot of different cool things that can be done as are part of the Amateur radio hobby, and providing event communications is only the tip of the iceberg.  I’ll probably blog more about it as I dig further into the hobby.


Dennis VA7DTT

A visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery

Yesterday, for some odd reason, I woke up wanting to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery.  I haven’t been in that art gallery for probably more than 10-15 years.  When I was very young my mom used to have a membership and brought me on Sundays after church to participate in some kids art activities, but I haven’t been since then.

As it was Tuesday, I took advantage of the Art Gallery’s admission-by-donation time in the evening.  It’s the only day of the week that the Gallery is open late in the evening so I could visit after work.  Also, I wasn’t going to pay $24 to look around.  I was originally going to pay $5 to get in (really just wanting a quick look around not expecting to be interested too much), but the sign at the door suggested a $10 donation, so I went with that.

I guess I went in with the expectation that the majority of the displays in the gallery would be paintings and sculptures.  Maybe I had sort of mixed art galleries up with museums; they felt like sort of the same thing for me.  However, when I walked through the gallery I was surprised at the number of digital artwork including videos and music/sound-generating installations.  One of the ones that captivated me was Plywood City by the Japanese artist Ujino Muneteru.

What was actually interesting to me was the circuit diagram that was displayed on one of the walls that detailed the connections among all the appliances in the Plywood City. But I guess making the combinations and patterns of sounds from household appliances was also quite intriguing.  We use some of these appliances every day and usually don’t pay attention to the different sounds they make.

It was quite busy in the gallery even though I was there the hour before closing.  I got to walk through all the floors, but I think I could have probably spent one or two more hours looking around in more detail.  It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me, as I rarely involve myself in artsy things.  All in all, for $10 the visit was worth it.

The 4 Liters Water Challenge

At one of our recent EDGE youth ministry sessions talking about the Corporal Work of Mercy “giving drink to the thirsty”, we challenged our youth and ourselves as leaders to complete the 4 Liters challenge.  On a normal day most of us use over 350 liters of water, however, for many other people around the world, water is not as abundant and people may be lucky to get four liters of water each day.  So the challenge is to live in “water poverty” for one day, using only four liters of water over a 24-hour period.

I ended up picking last Thursday to do this.  I was working from home that day since our team would be going Go-Karting close to where I live.  Since I would be home for the majority of the day anyway, I figured it would be slightly easier to measure my water consumption.  On the other hand, you could call it slightly cheating – it definitely was not a regular day for me.

So to plan out my 4L day, I roughly allocated 1L for my morning routine and breakfast, 2L to drink during my “work” time, and the remaining 1L for the evening and dinner.  Here’s how my day went:

The morning

I got up around 10am.  I used the toilet (but didn’t flush it), and didn’t shower.  I kept on forgetting not to turn on the tap to wash my hands, but instead to use the water from my 4L jug.  Later on I wetted some towels to wipe my hands instead of using the water directly.  These choices probably weren’t really great for hygiene, but some compromises had to be made if I were to succeed in this challenge.  I didn’t know how much water I’d need for the rest of the day.

For breakfast, I made myself some eggs and finished some leftovers.  Luckily those didn’t require much water for preparation so that was good.  Afterwards, I wanted to try to clean up as much as I could, so I designated another towel for wiping down the pan, dishes and cutlery.  Most of the water consumed during this time was for drinking.

4L jug of water after breakfast
So far so good! Still have seemingly a lot of water left for the rest of the day.

The work day

Again, most of the water consumed during the work time was through drinking.  Since we were doing a separate “hydration challenge” at work where we were measuring (and competing among colleagues) how much water we drank at work each day, I knew I usually averaged 1.5L per day at work.

I did mention this was an unusual day, and that is because we had a team outing to a Go-Karting track close to my home.  I filled up my water bottle for the outing and pretty much drank it all after the races.  Our team went out for a late lunch at the food court.  There must have been water used to wash and cook the ingredients of my lunch so I am cheating a little bit by not including it.  I did have a cup of Horlicks though, so I removed a cup of water from my 4L jug when I got home just to compensate.

After getting home after our team event and looking at my jug, I was a little worried that I might have used too much.  I still had almost seven hours to go.

4L jug of water at dinner
Just over half my day complete, but I was worried I was running low on water.

The evening

Since the team outing was a bit longer than I expected, I continued to do some work at home after getting back.  Fortunately the water usage for that is pretty predictable.

My dinner/late night snack was a sandwich I made earlier in the week.  Again, I’m slightly cheating here by not including the water needed to wash the veggies for the sandwich.

I decided to retire for the night around 2am.  At that point I still had a cup or two of water left in my jug so I drank it all before going to bed.  And in case you were wondering, by the end of the day the toilet did start to smell as well, although it was definitely not as bad as I thought it would be.

"Success"! Using only 4L of water in 24 hours.
“Success”! Using only 4L of water in 24 hours.

Final thoughts

Although I was “successful” in not exceeding my 4L jug, I think I cheated in some ways:

  • This was not a normal day for me.  I was working from home, and we had a team outing for work.
  • Much of the food I ate that day was pre-prepped or cooked by someone else.  The water used for prepping and cooking wasn’t accounted for.
  • I deferred the cleaning of some of the dirtier dishes.  And other cleaning activities such as washing clothes aren’t included.

Nonetheless, this challenge really got me to think about whether I need to use the water or not.  Normally, I take water for granted as we have clean drinkable water that just comes out of the tap.  It took me a little bit to get used to stopping and thinking “do I have enough water to do this?” The challenge definitely opened my eyes to understanding how little water some people have access to in the world.


A new batch of New Flyer XDE60 articulated buses

This past Wednesday, TransLink started to put the newest batch of buses out onto the streets, in particular, Surrey streets. The transit enthusiast in me could not resist seeking out that new bus smell.

S15003 front left
S15003 taking recovery at Newton Exchange
The previous batch had a light grey front

These buses are the same model as the previous set of articulated buses back in 2013. However, this new batch has the “charcoal top” livery instead of the light grey which I think looks much better and fitting with the rest of the fleet.  Like the last batch, these buses are fully air-conditioned.  (Recently, TransLink announced that all future bus orders will have air conditioning standard.)  These will be great to ride in the summer!

Surrey hasn’t seen a new bus delivery in ages (better transit enthusiasts can quote the exact date); they’ve always been getting “hand-me-down” buses from other depots in the area.  I guess it is a show of good faith for further development of transit in the South of Fraser area and the #96 B-Line corridor.  Twelve of these new buses will serve the #96 B-Line while the remaining eleven in the order will be distributed to other articulated bus routes in the region.

Have you had a chance to ride the new buses?  Leave your impressions in the comments!