Spring Cleaning

It’s been an unusually long winter, but spring has finally arrived (I think), so I took the opportunity to clean up this blog! A lot of videos had lost their way and some photos are still missing in cyberspace, but we’re in much better shape now.

After blowing the dust off some archives, I found a couple interesting gems. Check out this long-lost video I found of my second year engineering design project:

Is 99.9% good enough?

I’ve been working in the construction industry for a grand total of two weeks, and while this may not seem like much, it has already taught me a valuable lesson that can be applied to almost any situation: the concept of doing everything 100%.

As children growing up, we are bombarded with reminders to finish what we started and to see our chores all the way through before starting something else, and yet it is always so hard to finish things in their entirety! It seems to be so difficult to keep a room perfectly clean because there will always be a stray sock somewhere and so we conclude that having our room mostly clean, maybe even 99.9% clean, is the best we can humanly achieve because perfection is simply an unattainable goal.

In school, we strive for 100%, but are ecstatic with anything over 90% (in university, I was frequently ecstatic just to get a passing grade)! Besides, unless it’s math, marking is subjective and it is humanly impossible to achieve a 100% score! Even if it is math, it’s so easy to have a careless mistake somewhere in the midst of your calculations, that we are willing to settle for a 95%. We often joke about some students’ parents who, in response to their child receiving a 95% would demand to know why they couldn’t achieve 100%! And yet, despite the seeming impossibility of achieving 100%, is there something we’re missing and is it possible that anything less than 100% is simply not acceptable?

For many years in the construction industry, injuries and fatalities were considered an inevitable risk and therefore, such tragedies were most unfortunately accepted by society. While there are strict rules and regulations in place (enforced by organizations like OSHA in the United States and the WSIB in Canada), to hold a company accountable for injuries and deaths is accepted by law so long as they are compliant with all applicable rules. So, if a company has a 99.9% safety record, is it acceptable? While many would argue that 99.9% is extremely good, in my company of just over 2000 people, it would mean that at least 2 people would be killed or seriously injured every year. The same record applied to the automobile industry would imply that it would be acceptable if over 5,000 cars sold in the United States every year could have life-threatening problems. Applied to the aviation industry, it would imply that it would be acceptable if at least one plane crashed every day when landing or taking off at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. In medicine, it would mean that over 300 million prescriptions in the United States (roughly equal to the American population) would be incorrectly fulfilled every single year.

Clearly, in many different industries, 99.9%, no matter how impressive it is, is simply not good enough. So, as a field supervisor with Mortenson Construction, I take my responsibility to perform quality control and assurance very seriously. When I test to make sure that each and every one of the bolts holding a rotor in place is correctly tensioned, 100% is the only acceptable standard, and the same should apply to everything else that we do when the safety of other people is at stake. Furthermore, to ensure our 100% commitment to quality, most work is often checked and re-checked by at least two different people to ensure proper scrutiny.

Working in construction, for me, has caused a paradigm shift in my thinking, whereby I now stand by my commitment to do a good job because failure is simply not an option. If we can apply this same principle to everything we do in life, than we cannot fail. Every catastrophe can be avoided if we are diligent, if we take the time before we act to consider possible consequences of our actions, and if we take the proper steps to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Here’s a great clip that really exemplifies what it means to be the best you can be and to give it your 100%:

Life in the field

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and as they also say, the end is just a new beginning (could my opening line be any more clichĂ©?). My life as a student is over, and so is my 4-month post-graduation vacation! Is it weird not being back in school? A little.. but overall, I’m glad to be moving on with my life and starting something anew.

This past week, I’ve started my new job as a Field Supervisor with Mortenson Construction. It’s a field position, which means that I travel a lot, work in rugged environments, and live a nomadic lifestyle. It’s also a supervisory role, which means that I don’t actually do the work, but observe, question, and inspect it. Mortenson Construction is a well-known general contractor with an incredible reputation in the construction industry. Their growth is impressive, and they have recently ranked #19 on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors List. While they are based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, they have initiated their expansion into the Canadian market by opening an office in Toronto and taking on a number of renewable energy projects.

First day on the job site. My smurf boots help prevent mud from getting inside the parts I'm inspecting 😉

My first assignment is the Comber Wind Project, located in Comber, Ontario. While the project is nearing completion, there’s still a lot of work to be done as we complete the erection of the towers, and mount a nacelle (a fancy word for ‘enclosure’) and rotor on each one. So far, I’m enjoying field work immensely. Not only is it a break from being inside all the time, but it is my first opportunity to do some real-world engineering and see some incredible structures being built before my very eyes. I get a good balance in my work between office and field so that I don’t have to brave the elements all the time, and can go outdoors for a bit when I start to get stir-crazy in the office. I also have the benefit of not being too remote on this job so that I can still enjoy the comforts of civilization (like grocery stores, tim hortons, etc.). I found a nice house by Lake St. Clair to stay while I’m there and my home in Oakville is just under a 3 hour drive away.

People at work are generally quite social since they are all away from home, and this has made my time off from work quite fun! Every night there’s usually something happening, typically dinner and drinks. I’ve also found my co-workers to be really great people: a testament to Mortenson’s ability to attract great people to work with them!

Stay tuned for more updates and you can check out more pictures on my Picasa album below:


Some pictures of my new job and the house that I’m renting.

Malta launches a new public transit system

Arriva Malta
A new bus, operated by Arriva Malta boards passengers at the new terminal in Valletta (Originally published by the Times of Malta).

While Malta was famous for its old fleet of yellow-and-orange buses servicing the public transport needs of the entire island by operating out of a central node in Malta’s capital city, I wholeheartedly welcomed the announcement of a new system with a modern fleet of buses. Nostalgia aside, Malta’s old buses were in need of replacement; they had no air conditioning, were heavy polluters, and were independently owned and operated by their drivers. Many Maltese would cringe at the thought of riding one of the old buses during the hot summer months when the buses were stuffed with sweaty passengers, let alone driving behind one of the dilapitated buses as they would expel a rather deadly concoction of fumes and smoke as they lumbered up a hill.

Malta’s new transit system was delivered in collaboration with Transport Malta, the local infrastructure planning and maintenance body, along with Arriva, a British public transit operator that runs public transit systems across Europe, which has recently been acquired by DeutschBahn (DB).

Malta was very well informed leading up to the launch of Arriva Malta’s service on July 3, 2011, and the general public was hopeful of new changes, better service, and air conditioned buses, however the actual turn of events no doubt sent a chill up the spines of upper management and became the largest front-page news item for the subsequent three weeks.

A classic Maltese bus (xarabank).

At 5:15am on July 3, 2011, Arriva Malta’s first buses were scheduled to roll out of Arriva’s bus yard, however that was made difficult by the fact that approximately 180 bus drivers, most of whom were drivers from the previous system, did not show up for work. It was touted as an act of sabotage by Malta’s former bus drivers who were unhappy with their new working conditions, and on Arriva’s first day of service, it instigated a complete disaster. Hundreds of unhappy passengers were seen stranded at bus stops and under the strong Maltese sun, tempers flew as passengers fought their way onto the reduced fleet of operational buses. The second day of service was no different from the first as around 60 bus  drivers still refused to show up for work, however Arriva was able to leverage their size by importing over 100 bus drivers from the UK to take over and get their buses on the road. For the drivers that did show up to work, they still managed to help sabotage the system by making unauthorized breaks mid-route, and even going out of service and parking their buses at home when they were supposed to be on duty.

When I arrived on the island on July 9, the buses were out, but not without problems:

  • Operating frequencies were not consistent, and buses operating on the same route were bunching up, to the point where I once saw seven buses servicing the same route running one after the other.
  • Bus capacity was not sufficient on most bus routes. It was quite often that buses would begin skipping stops as they were full of passengers, often stranding passengers for over an hour.
  • Some mainline bus routes are too long and make loops around every village that they pass which make certain routes unnecessarily long.
  • Some routes utilize roads that are simply not feasible for buses, either because of their poor condition or because they’re too narrow to accomodate the turning radius of a bus: this is especially true for some of the smaller villages like Gharghur.

By the time I was leaving, however, the operations had improved significantly. Buses were arriving more regularly, electronic display signs were in use with audio alerts for stops along the route, and revisions had already been made to several of the routes based on passenger feedback and analysis. Another major revision is scheduled for the beginning of September, which will hopefully resolve any major issues before the start of school. While most Maltese still grumble about the change, I am optimistic that the system will serve the island well and will continue to improve as time goes on.

For more updates on Arriva Malta’s service, visit their website.

Sorry to everyone! New posts are on their way!

Well.. there’s not much I can do to apologize to all of you for such a huge delay in updating my blog (it’s been about 4 months). Here’s what I’ve been busy with:

  • Getting my “Club Coach” certification from the Canadian Freestyle Association. I coached entry-level (Jumps and Bumps) freestyle this season, and it was probably the most fun I’ve had as a ski coach so far!
  • Deciding what to do with my life (i.e. applying to jobs and grad school, interviews, rejecting offers, etc.)
  • Being EngSci Club Chair (leading the Graditude Campaign, organizing Iron Ring, running a ski trip, etc.)
  • Receiving awards (Cressy Student Leadership Award, Spirit of EngSci Award)
  • Designing an airport.
  • Designing a highway bridge.
  • Designing Finite Element Analysis Software and modelling the Skydome.
  • Writing a public policy paper on the Ethanol Fuel in the United States.

My point is… I’ve been pretty busy, and that’s why I’ve been absent for a while. Look for some future posts related to my recent experiences, future plans, and other random tidbits that will appear once in awhile when I am so inspired!

What’s Next?

I, along with many other graduating students, am in a difficult phase of life, full of uncertainty, hope, and disappointment. Entering engineering right after high school was an easy choice that was quite natural for me. After 3 years of education and a year-long internship in Spain, I am a very different person than I once was and now I am dealing with the question of “What’s next?”. I can envision what I want my life to be in the future, but don’t know which path I should take to get myself there. Ultimately, I want to live a happy life. I want to love and be loved. I want kids, and I want to be with them at every moment as they grow up. I want to be someone important; not for the fame or for my ego, but simply because I want to put my incredible skills and talents to their best possible use; settling for anything less would be a waste of my potential. I want to die smiling, without fear and without regrets.

Enjoying a dinner with Joe Meyer and his wife, Julie, some years ago.

I was recently inspired by the story of the passing of my dear adopted grandfather, Joe Meyer. In the last years of his life, he battled cancer and defied the expectations of his doctors by making it to birthday after birthday, all the while loved and cared for by his family, friends, and dear wife. When the day finally came for him to pass on last Spring, he knew and so did his wife. She told him that he could go and that he didn’t have to fight anymore. She nodded to the attending nurse who removed his breathing mask and began to sing him love songs reminiscent of the joyful time they spent together in their early years. Joe Meyer hung on for another hour without life support, although I was told it seemed like an eternity. All the while, he smiled peacefully, without ceasing to gaze upon his wife, the love of his life and his companion for over 50 years. I see so many people living lives complicated with unnecessary anger, bitterness, and regrets, and wish that more people could live happy and die peacefully like Joe Meyer did.

So what about my future? I seem to have a pretty unique combination of skills and talents and am looking for a way in which I can fully apply myself and continue to grow (“like a tree through the ages”). I am currently open to any path that will take me where I want to go, whether it be through grad school, an early career opportunity, or perhaps something else entirely. I have enjoyed my research experiences so far, and certainly believe that I possess the attributes to become a Master’s student in Engineering, so assuming a professor will sponsor me, it is certainly one path I could see myself excelling in. The big question, of course, is where and what do I study? Should I continue in Civil Engineering or consider other alternatives as well? I have also been contemplating employment as a way to get a head start on life, but have been overwhelmed with the possibilities! Most of the “1-to-2-year-rotational-leadership-development” programs are quite intriguing, but seem to be more directed at computer engineering, commerce, and business graduates (and therefore it is a little hard for me to compete for those spots). Furthermore, a lot of structural engineering jobs require more than just an undergraduate degree. More than just “what”, another big question is “where?”. Do I want to stay in Toronto long-term? (Probably not) If not, where? The States, out West? Europe?

One intriguing possibility, quite different from any other option, is to train for the 2014 winter olympic games, likely in a skiing event. Why? Simply because I’m a great skier, and I doubt many other Maltese citizens can say the same. One option I’m considering is putting two and two together and finding a job out west so I can work, gain engineering experience, and train all at the same time.

While the questions and the uncertainty are a slight burden on my shoulders, it also provides me with a fantastic opportunity to create a life for myself, however I so choose. I really want to do something unique, something that will set me apart from the rest of the thousands of graduates in Canada this year, and I challenge each and every one of you who are also in the same position and reading this post to do the same! We are all in a position where we have great potential and now is the time to do something special, something crazy! If we don’t follow our dreams today, tomorrow we will wake up and discover it’s already too late.