12 February 2010

Work is seriously kicking me in the nuts

With the wide away for a week visiting family, I thought it'd be a great time to catch up on tv, sleep, blogging, and video games. But noooooo...

There's a very very big highway bridge project that my company is doing down in the States1. I wasn't assigned to this project originally, as I'm already swamped with other work. Then last week one of the engineers on the job enexpectantly headed back to China for a family emergency; he's probably not coming back. So I'm suddenly thrust into the fray.

The problem: a very rapidly approaching deadline (today, in fact). As in, I have had less than a week and a half to get up to speed and start delivering calculations for two bridges I'm completely unfamiliar with, ruled by design codes that I don't know, and using five new software packages that I've never seen in my life. Oh, and the lead engineer on the project, the guy who's supposed to be helping me catch up to all this, left yesterday on a three week vacation. And another one of the engineers on the project left for a three week vacation last week, so any hope for assistance was gone.

So I'm in the office working Saturday and Sunday, Wednesday night, and all of Thursday night through to Friday, taking a quick 20 minute nap under my desk. I drank a lot of Coke and ate way way too many chewy peach candies. It's pretty damn tricky learning completely new things under incredible time constraints and sleep deprived.

Fortunately, through perseverance, I can say that I got my work done on time (for this submission anyway), though I can't guarantee anything about the correctness of the calcs.

I honestly have no idea what's going on around me right now. I drove past my house today after work.

And it's only going to get worse in the coming weeks as the rest of the submissions come due and other jobs start up again. Maybe I'll have time for sleep in the summer.


07 February 2010

Early Valentine's Hatred

I was at the mall today getting an early jump on my Valentine's Day shopping - not because I'm keen but because I have an assload of work to do this week and will likely not have time to shop again before the big day.

So I'm in the mall and I take a detour into Chapters and buy myself a discount copy of Victor J. Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis for $7. Sweet. Then I go across the hall to the Carlton Cards and start looking for the obligatory Valentine's Card and I remember my card requirements (expressed to me through forcefully implied statements by my dutiful wife) - no cheap cards, no funny cards (because our relationship is important and serious and if I joke about it I devalue our relationship ... or something like that), and it must be something with good, flowery words in it expressing a loving message, but not too thorough a message because I need to write at least a paragraph expressing something loving and flowery but personal as well. So I look for a bit and find a good one and look at the price: $7.

I think to myself, WTF? On one hand, I just bought a book, a culmination of years-worth of thought and effort put into it by author and editors, almost 300 pages of quality paper and a hard binding, with dust-cover art and everything. On the other hand, a reasonably-sized sheet of cardboard, some tissue paper, and 16 lines of lame-ass poetry. Same price.

At that moment I experienced an epiphany: "Why not just substitute the Valentine's card with God: The Failed Hypothesis?" What a great idea! I could just scribble a paragraph of lubby-dubby stuff on the first page and draw a big heart and presto! Instant card. They've both got paper and writing and cost $7. Why not?

Then I realized that I don't like having my head torn off and my gonads stomped on by an angry asian woman, so I bought the damn card.

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16 January 2010

I'm No Longer 1/10th Goth

My old fingernail - most of the dried blood has been washed away by this point, so it's not as black as it once was

My awesome black fingernail has finally come off. Hurt from a slash to the finger during a rec league floor hockey game, this blackened fingernail has been a constant companion for about three months. In a way, it's become a part of my identity.

I'm going to miss it.

What I'm not going to miss is these last couple of weeks. The damn thing has been half off for a while, still attached at the tip of my finger but detached near the base of the fingernail and I've been too lazy to cut the detached part down. So it got caught on things a lot, basically whenever I try to take my keys out of my pocket. And it hurt like a bitch.

Over the past three months, plenty of people have wondered if I was wearing nail polish, only to be grossed-out as they got a closer look. Or, as my brother put it, I looked 1/10th goth. I did have fun with it though. I was checking out at the grocery store and the cashier, a small highschool girl, yelled at one of her work colleagues to check out her fancy new fingernail polish (dark with white decorations). I said to her, "You think your fingernails are nice, check out this," and showed her my finger.

"Oh my god, that's disgusting! Why are you showing me that?!"

Now all that is over and I'm left with a malformed partial fingernail for a few more months. So farewell old fingernail. I'll remember you fondly.


Explosive Duck Penises

Explosive duck penises.

You know you want to click, don't you?

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20 December 2009

This damned year is almost over. Merry Christmas!

Well folks, this year was a weird and troublesome one.

It started with my wife unemployed and me recovering from the brain-melting travesty that was the Alpha Course.

Work was busy and made needlessly complicated by numerous architects, government agencies, and architects working for government agencies, but I did manage to design several structures that are starting to be constructed in the local area. I haven't crushed anyone to death in a pile of steel and concrete. Yet.

My father-in-law suddenly passed away, leading to much hardship for my wife's family. This resulted in a horribly busy summer for me, filled with constant commuting back to my hometown to visit my wife, zero help around the house and less time to do it in, and a guargantuan overgrown garden out back.

In the fall, my wife was back so things resumed a bit of normality. Highlights of this time include a trip to Las Vegas, a trip to Pittsburgh, accidentally breaking a girl's nose in a rec league floorhockey game, and getting my fingernail crushed at another floorhockey game.

So things are starting to settle a bit as the year wraps up. Not only that, some good things are starting to happen: I just got a sweet raise, so I now make significantly more money than my brother again; he just defended his masters thesis, mostly successfully, so the end is in sight for a 3+ year nightmare of absentee profs and lack of money; I just won a nice door prize at the company Christmas potluck; and we just took the plunge and bought a Christmas tree.

Fake Tree. Pretty sweet - it's almost like we're real people now.

One thing I have noticed is that I'm getting older. It wasn't that long ago that what I wanted for Christmas were big fun things, like TVs, computers, video games, etc. My big list item this year: new bathroom faucets. And I'm damn excited about getting them, too.

Man, I am getting freakin' old.

So things are looking up, other than the "getting old" thing. However, the year ends with the prospect of further dread. My mother-in-law will be moving in with us for the next few months (that means no more walking around in my underwear). My wife's still unemployed. And that fingernail I mentioned earlier in this post is going to come off soon.


So have a Merry Christmas and we'll talk in the new year, m'kay?


13 December 2009

The Purpose Driven Life for my Wife

Given all the talk on Pharyngula and elsewhere right now, I had to reflect on Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. Unfortunately, my life, purposeful or not, is not immune to his dreck. My wife has recently started working through the book with her sister. Both of them are currently unemployed and feeling listless right now so I guess they figured it's a good time to do it.

I've tried to stay out of it as much as possible - a year later and I'm still burned out from attending the Alpha Course with my wife. Any more immersion into the loony Christoworld and I fear my brain will collapse (and with it, any bridges I'm currently designing). So any analysis I have on TPDL will be superficial by necessity.

Based on simply the book cover, the damn thing is almost certainly preying on the boring housewife demographic. Purple background, gold accents, elegant flowing scripts, definitely for the "feeling" crowd. Then again, I'm very surprised it doesn't have the typical "photo of the author smiling in a suit" cover that most self-help books have. So kudos to Warren for that.

Overhearing my wife and her sister talking about it, it is certainly very God focused. You can't go a paragraph in it without encountering a bible verse or a statement about how God wants humans to behave and think.

Last year, another one of my wife's sisters read TPDL and for some damn reason she was telling me about it. So I asked her, having just finished the book, what the purpose of her life was. She said "It's a great book, it explains how God has a purpose for everybody." So I asked again, what God's purpose for her was, and she said "God has different plans for everybody and has gifted us with different skills and abilities to serve that purpose." Great, I said, and asked again what skills and purposes she has. She said "all these skills are what God wants us to do." This went on for a minute or two until I gave up. So my conclusion is a) my sister-in-law has terrible reading comprehension, b) Rick Warrens book is mainly religious fluff that doesn't actually address its topic beyond "do what God wants you to do", or c) a little of column (a) and a little of column (b).

If I hear anything else from my wife, I'll let you know, but just a warning, I'm not going to torture myself over this.

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30 November 2009

On Doubt

In the Alpha Course and weekend retreat, there was quite a bit of discussion on the role of doubt in Christianity (namely, there should be NONE, and any doubt is Satan trying to mess you up). I've tried many times to get Christians (including my wife) to understand the positive power of doubt. I've mainly failed, but it's worth a try.

Along those line, here is an excellent post by Akusai of Action Skeptics explaining exactly how important doubt is to a healthy human mind.

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21 November 2009

Lost in Pittsburgh with no place to stay

I just got back from a family trip to Pittsburgh with my wife, dad, and brother. We go on these trips fairly regularly to indulge in nerdly things (while my wife comes along to humour me). Points of interest this time we were specifically targeting were a Penguins game (because unfortunately it's just not possible to watch NHL hockey in Ontario anymore), the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, and a place that sells rare replacement parts for Jaguars (the cars, not the animal, though that would be interesting if they sold prosthetic limbs and hip joint replacements for jaguars - really, my dad has three old Jags that are always breaking down so he needs the parts).

Because I'm lazy, I'll summarize interesting tidbits about the trip in no particular order:

- The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is much better than the ROM in most ways. Exhibits are more educational and interactive. For the most part, the dinosaur fossils are better (except for ceratopsians - the ROM has an excellent collection of triceratopses and the like). However, the Carnegie does not appear to have any aardvarks in its exhibit, while the ROM does. For shame.
- There is something inspirational about looking at a towering statue of rock and understanding that 66 million years ago this thing was a mighty living beast munching on some unfortunate and tasty critter.
- Photography is allowed in the museum but posting of photos in a public place is not, so while there was a mastodon butt, I sadly cannot post a picture of it here.
- The Warhol Museum did not just have Andy Warhol stuff. There was also a large number of works from some guy with an unhealthy obsession with Andre the Giant. We unanimously agreed that this was awesome.
- Tried hard to get tickets for Saturday's Pens game vs. Boston, but failed. Ended up with tickets for the game vs. Anaheim on Monday. The Anaheim game was ok. It was a sellout and the Penguins won so the place had a great atmosphere, but it wasn't a terribly exciting game since they put the game away early. Unlike the Saturday game which the Pens tied 5-5 with 0.4 seconds left on the clock to send the game to overtime, then won on a breathtaking goalie giveaway early in OT. Watching it on the tv in our hotel room, the play-by-play guy called it the most entertaining game he'd seen all year. Dammit.
- Speaking of the hotel, we didn't bother booking a hotel in advance because who the hell would go to Pittsburgh in November? Answer: when the Steelers play, the local university team plays, and the Pens play twice, all on the same weekend, just about half the state shows up. We had to stay in a hotel in Steubenville, Ohio.
- The road system in Pittsbrugh is even worse than in Quebec. In Quebec, the ramps from the highway appear without warning on either side of the road. In Pennsylvania they do the same, except there's very little highway and lots and lots of ramps. Arguably, once you're inside any town in the general Pittsburgh area, it's basically ALL RAMPS. And you cannot get yourself to where you want to go by pointing yourself in that direction and just driving there. Inevitably you will take a ramp that will spin you around in the opposite direction. Our GPS was frequently confounded by all the multi-level ramps and roads. It was a complete nightmare of driving frustration. We're really spoiled in Ontario.


- I have to give kudos to the gift shop at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Fully half of the books in the store were entirely about evolution and not a Behe in sight. Unfortunately, that was about it for science books in the city. There were an awful lot of books about guns though.
- My brother lamented that we were far enough south that, other than hockey, the only Canadian culture we'd be likely to see would be Nickelback. To his surprise and delight, a guy in the Jaguar place was spotted with a Tim Hortons coffee. Apparently, there was one right down the street in Steubenville. Unfortunately, that was the last Canadian thing for the trip except for the inevitable Nickelback. Bleh.

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16 November 2009

Alpha Retreat Sermon 4: How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life?

This was the last sermon of the Alpha Retreat and it's also the last sermon recap I'll post for my Alpha Course series. Short and sweet.

So, Mr. Gumbel, what should we do with the rest of our lives? Gumbel starts by saying that we should break with the past and make a new start. We do this by no longer conforming to the pattern of the world.

Specifically he says the first thing is to be nice to people and be positive. Strangely, though, the second most important thing he mentions (and the one he spends the greater amount of time on) is to follow biblical sexual morality. Gumbel said that he's never heard of anyone saying "I wish I hadn't waited for my wedding night."

Obviously, he's been talking to the wrong people.

So how do we make the change to being anti real world? According to Gumbel, it's an act of will that requires sacrifice. We need to turn our whole bodies (our eyes, ears, mouths, hands - not to mention our noses, throats, and pancreases) over to God. We have to give him our sexuality ('natch), our time, our ambitions, and our money ('natch).

We do this because God has planned for our future and he loves us and has done a tremendous amount of sacrificing for us and is merciful. Gumbel reiterates that God loves us even more than any parent loves their children. Which is of course why he wants our money. Damn freeloading uberparents.

And that's it. All purpose and meaning in life boils down to believing in God; following a combination of vague, anal, and nitpicky rules given to you by your clergy because you think that means loving God; and letting the Holy Spirit guide your actions and thoughts.

Of course, by this point you know my opinion of all this, as it's getting more and more obvious the more immersed I'm getting into the culture. This is the mental equivalent of putting on a blindfold and running at top speed into a forest full of trees.

The session ended with the church elder (yes, the one I had the fight with) leading a very emotionally draining and heartfelt prayer along the lines of what Gumbel mentioned about giving over control of everything in your life to God. He talked about how he lost much in his life (career, money, etc.) and his trust in God pulled him through. He lead the group in pledging that they would turn over everything to God, going into excruciating detail into the body parts being listing (I can't remember if he turned over his fingernails to God, but it wouldn't have surprised me - it was a detailed list). He also pledged his family, his work, his house, his hopes, etc. There were a lot of tightly closed eyes and lots and lots of tears from the congregation. I just sat and observed.

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09 November 2009

Alpha Course Day 11: What About the Church?

You know, one of the problems with being crazy busy at work is that you don't get a chance to finish up what you've been writing about on your blog. This leads to over half a year passing since the last post in the Alpha series. This leads to the unfortunate fact that I can't recall all the details anymore, and by this point when I was taking the classes my enthusiasm had dropped-off tremendously so I was taking less detailed notes. Apologies. I'll do my best.

This sermon was the last official session that we held. The last sermon in the course manual is "How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life," which we did at the end of the Alpha Retreat. The final day of this fall's Alpha Course was the Christmas dinner, which had the same generic Christmas sermon that I've mentioned before.

Dinner: You know, I can't remember. Usually, I wrote down what dinner was. This day I neglected to do so.

Part 1: Sermon

I think this sermon wasn't so much a discussion or an argument for a particular point of view. Alpha is in large part a tune-up for Christians and a bootcamp for new Christians, so in that way, this sermon can be viewed as a briefing for leaving the course and joining the active Christian community, which, as Gumbel emphasizes at the beginning of this sermon, is what 'church' in the broader context means. Of course, he just can't come out and say that, he has to drone on for about 20 minutes to do so. (Actually, I might be being harsh on him for this. I went to a Catholic highschool and the point that 'church' was the whole community of people - not the building or the services or the clergy - was drilled into me incessantly, so this is old hat for me but might be new for some people.)

At least Gumbel started off with a good joke. A quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "If all the people who well asleep in church were laid-out end to end, they'd be a lot more comfortable."

Gumbel talked a bit about baptism, how it was "a visible mark of being a member of the church," though how a temporary activity can be a 'visible mark' is beyond me. He also said that baptism signifies "cleansing from sin," "incorporation into Christ's death," and "sealing of the Spirit," among other collections of words that don't really make any sense when strung together in sentence form.

He said that there were about 1.9 billion Christians in the world today (I don't know if he includes Mormons, Catholics, etc., and it's hard to tell what to do with people who pay lip-service to being Christian, but as far as I know the number is in the generally accepted ballpark). He mentioned how the church is growing in the developing world while in the civilized west it's shrinking. Told of 3 Ugandan missionaries who came to Gumbel's university (Cambridge) to convert the English heathens. Disappointingly, he did not address why large numbers of people in the civilized world were letting go of God. He just wanted us to be more like the Ugandans.

The middle of sermon just talked of trivial things like how the church provides local communities with small tight groups that provide support of people, or is the center of celebration services, or that the church is a mechanism for bonding the community into a 'family.'

Gumbel does mention in passing that there are a lot of denominations and sects. He calls this disunity 'absurd' as there is only "one spirit." "The church has split for every conceivable reason, and every inconceivable reason, too." Again, when a problem is encountered, he brings it up but just says something to the effect of "we really should be better," says something humourous and proceeds on his way, never caring about it again. Understandable given his goals, but disappointing from my perspective.

By this point, Gumbel was talking about how the church was "a Holy Temple, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone and indwelt by God's Spirit." Which is another way for me to say that at this point I nodded-off for a while.

Then he said something creepy about the church being "the Bride of Christ" and I woke up. Seriously, what's with all these churchmen wanting to marry Jesus?

Part 2: Small Groups

Discussion time was cut short by a short talk from a "special guest," who had been much hyped before dinner. He turned out to be the church's small groups pastor. Which surprised absolutely no one. Especially since we had noticed him lurking outside in the hallway. He mainly talked about opportunities in the church, what services they provide, etc.

The real discussion just focused on the feelings of each person in our small group regarding what they learned/realized/found important in the course re: Christianity/the church/themselves. Surprisingly shallow actually, again all regarding feelings, or blanket statements about how important it was to love God and let him control your life. When pressed, I said I learned that Christians cry a lot. Seriously, that was the best thing I could say; everything else I learned was more negative than that.

I'm very glad the course is almost done.

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