24 December 2008

Trials and tribulations part II

After about 30 hours on the move, we finally arrived in Sweden. And true to the latest trend, the trip was far from simple.

We cleaned out the apartment in Montreal and left for the airport. We each had two large suitcases to check in, and one small carry-on bag each. Arriving at the airport, we used the Air Canada self-service check-in machine. It printed luggage tags and boarding passes for us, but no luggage tags. Only a receipt with the luggage numbers. Odd, but OK. Then we went through the check-in counters, dropped off the bags and proceeded to the gates. Because of traffic jams at the Newark airport, the flight left Montreal about two and a half hours late, leaving us two hours instead of four and a half between flights. OK, so we had to wait a bit, but no problem. Still plenty of time in Newark to catch the next flight. The flight went well and we landed in Newark. There we had to check in again for the second flight with Malaysia Airlines, since we only got boarding passes for the first flight in Montreal. The lady asked for luggage tags. We didn't have any, so we gave her the luggage numbers since it was all we had. She had no clue what that was, but wrote down the luggage numbers on a paper and gave us our boarding passes. We proceeded to the gate and the flight left on time. It was a pretty nice flight. The economy class seating area was quite crowded, being very obviously designed for efficiency rather than comfort. But the seats all had small video screens on the back so you could watch movies while flying. I was bored and couldn't sleep for some reason, so I watched Hellboy 2, Journey to the center of the earth, Wall-E and half of the latest Batman movie. Hellboy was entertaining. In no danger whatsoever of winning Oscars for anything at all, but a fun way to spend two hours anyway. Journey to the center of the earth was probably the most ridiculous movie I have seen in the last decade, with plot holes large enough to drive a boeing 747 through and suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking. Look! Already-cut-and-polished diamonds the size of eggs sticking out of a cave wall! *pluck!* Yeah... In shattering contrast, Wall-E was probably one of the best Disney movies out there. Great story, well made, a bit sentimental and sobby towards the end, as always with Disney movies, but overall a really good movie. Batman I had already seen, it's by far the best of the batman movies made so far.

After flying for 7 hours and 40 minutes we approached Stockholm. We descended for landing, but instead of touching down suddenly took off up again. Apparently the plane had a problem with the landing gear not working and couldn't land. So we circled around for another 30 minutes while the crew apparently managed to fix the problem. The plane made a second approach and landed successfully. We got off the plane and to the customs. It always amuses me to fly to Europe compared to the States. At the US customs you have to fill out all kinds of forms, visa waivers, give fingerprints every time, they take a picture of you, they check your passport and ask questions. "Have you participated in any acts of terrorism recently?" and "Have you operated any weapons of mass destructions lately?" Seriously... Even if someone had, does anyone actually expect them to answer these questions truthfully? If someone is going to nuke something, I very much doubt that they'd have any second thoughs about lying about it at the airport... Landing in Sweden, they look at your passport and go "Yup, you have one. Welcome to Sweden." and that's it.

After the 4 second customs inspection, we proceeded to the baggage conveyor belts. Bags came and went, but our 4 bags did not. I can't say that I was very surprised after the way the transfer was handled at the check-in in Newark... We filed a report about it at the service desk and the guy said they would track down the bags, retrieve them and then deliver them to my address. OK, seems cool. I hope they find them.

It seems the tale of the longboard is not over. The deck is in a package due to arrive in Europe in a month or two, while the trucks and wheels are in a suitcase, probably in the neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur. Jesus christ...

22 December 2008

Trials and tribulations

This here is my Christmas present to myself, a Landyachtz DH race longboard. If you are not familiar with longboards, they are similar to skateboards, only much larger. The wheels on this one are 83 mm in diameter and the board itself is 105 cm long. Longboards come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with different shapes being more suitable for different uses. This shape is well suited for high speeds and going downhill. Downhill racing on longboards is becoming quite a popular sport, and top speeds can reach 75-100 km/h. Though I doubt that I will be going anywhere near that fast for quite some time yet. I'm going to start by learning how to stand on the board and how not to kill myself with it first. Needless to say, helmets and protective gear are a good idea. I'm going to keep track of my progress with the board here on this blog and see how things go, though I predict there won't be much progress yet for a few months. Half a meter of snow on the ground doesn't lend itself too well for wheels even of this size. But as soon as I can find some dry asphalt streets... Whee! So, to start: I'm 28 years old, I've snowboarded a bunch, but never stood on a skateboard before. After not having done any sports whatsoever in about a year and a half now, I'm quite out of shape and probably about 10 kg overweight. Let's see how things stand come June.

Getting this board in the first place was a ridiculous ordeal, to say the least. I ordered the board over two weeks ago after checking with the guys at the shop how long it would take for it to arrive. They assured me that I would get it with plenty of time to spare. I had been wanting one for a long time, but longboards are quite a bit more expensive in Sweden. I decided to order it here to save a couple of hundred dollars. So I ordered it, and got a confirmation email with a tracking number for the parcel. A few days before it was due to be delivered, I checked the tracking number and found that the destination was listed as Sainte-Adele instead of Montreal. I had ordered the board to be shipped to Gin's place in Montreal, since I wasn't going to be in Ste-Adele any more. I wrote the guy at the shop that I ordered the board from to see what was up. Turns out he accidentally gave FedEx the billing address instead of the shipping address, so the board was headed for the wrong place. In an apologetic email he told me that he had contacted FedEx and corrected the mix-up, and that the board should now be on its way to Montreal. It was supposed to arrive on Monday the 16th. It didn't. I checked the tracking number again, and now it said Tuesday. Again it didn't arrive, and the tracking info said that it had arrived at the terminal in Montreal.

On Thursday I called customer support at FedEx. The lady had no clue where the box was and asked me to call back later. I called back again and talked to a different person. He said that the package was due to be delivered the next day, on Friday. But on Friday I had a bunch of things to do, closing bank accounts, getting rid of a modem and internet connection, finish cleaning out my apartment, etc. so to avoid the risk of missing the delivery, I asked if I could go pick up the package at the terminal instead. He put me on hold for a few minutes, and then returned to tell me that I could go pick it up at the terminal in Dorval. I just needed the tracking number, and the package would be there waiting for me.

So Gin and I left for the terminal. I had an address, but no precise idea about where the place was. We took a bus to Dorval, and found a FedEx office. It was the wrong one, but they gave us a map to the correct place. The one bus was gone and the next one not arriving for quite some time, so we took off on foot. About two hours later, with wet shoes and freezing our heads off, we found the terminal. There was a security guard at the entrance, so I talked to him. He took the tracking number and called a guy in the main building. After a moment, he handed the phone to me. The guy at the other end of the line apologized many times and explained that he couldn't understand why the customer service would tell me to come to the terminal to pick it up, since the package was not there at all, but on board a truck somewhere and impossible to reach. With time running out, I told him that I absolutely had to get the package by the next day at the latest, since I'm leaving the country on Monday morning. He said he would try to find the package and call me later the same day. There was nothing more to do, so we went home again.

At about 8.30 pm the same evening, the guy called me back and said that he had the package, and that I could pick it up at the terminal the next morning. So the next morning we went back there and finally got the package. It took two and a half weeks for it to get from Vancouver to me instead of the one week as the guy at the shop promised. We took the package home and jumped around with glee for a while, riding the board back and forth in the kitchen. Then I started thinking... The board is actually quite big. At 105 x 30 x 15 cm in size and weighing around 7 kg, I started wondering if they would actually allow me to bring it on board the plane. I looked up the airline website, and found that of course it would be impossible. It is way too big and heavy. The only option would be to check it in as a third piece of luggage. Since you're only allowed two pieces of check-in luggage, the third piece would cost me $225. Oh, for fuck's sake... So the cheapest (and only) alternative is to mail it to myself in Sweden. To reduce the size and weight, and thereby the cost of sending it, I decided to take the trucks and wheels off and ship only the actual deck. Naturally, I didn't have any tools to do that with. So I went to Rona, bought a wrench and a screwdriver for about 20 dollars, and took the stuff off. I will need the tools for board maintenance later on anyway, so I figured why not. I packed the deck in a well-padded package, so now it's all ready to ship. It will cost me around 85 dollars to send it. Gah... It better ride like a freakin' dream when spring comes...

I've decided to name the board "Alecto", after one of the furies of ancient Greek mythology. The name means "unceasing" or "implacable". The mythological furies, or Erinyes, were three demonic deities of vengeance, or supernatural personifications of the anger of the dead. They persecuted those who had committed atrocious crimes and punished them by driving them insane. Seemed kinda suitable somehow. This board certainly doesn't give anything away for free.

10 December 2008


So, finally after 2,5 years of working in Ste-Adèle, I have only 3 days left. My last day of work is December 12th, and on the 22nd I'm flying back to Europe with Gin. It's been an interesting 2,5 years, and completely different from anything I imagined when I took the job. Having just graduated with my masters, my plan was to get away from a stale and academic world for a year and do something completely different, and then return and get serious about finding a job in music. I applied for this job in video game QA without really having much of a clue what it was about, and unexpectedly, I got the job. I didn't have anything else to do at that time and I had never been to Canada, so I took the job. On a three week notice I got rid of my apartment, got all my stuff packed, got a flight ticket and moved across the Atlantic.

It was a quite surreal experience to arrive at the Trudeau airport in Montreal, especially since everything happened so fast. I got the job, and three weeks later I started working on a different continent. I landed around 7 pm and it was way warmer than I had expected. Not really knowing much about Canada, I had pictured it as a place pretty far north where there are lots of maple forests, the climate is similar to Sweden and where everybody says "eh" all the time. A closer look at a map later revealed that Montreal is actually over 1000 km further south than the place where I left from... I was picked up by one of the ladies working in HR at that time and taken to my first Canadian home. (Or rather, my first Quebecois home. I learned rather quickly that many Quebecois don't consider themselves Canadian at all. The French heritage is a rather touchy subject it seems.) The place was a nice-looking house in Prévost, and I was to share it with three Germans. I ended up living there for only 3 weeks, after which I moved into another house in Ste-Adèle, much closer to work.

The work was pretty fun. Not really something I saw myself doing for the rest of my life, but definitely different from what I had been doing before. With 8 hour days and almost a complete lack of responsibility, it was a welcome break from an incessant flow of being up to your ears in things you had to do and things you had to remember. Here I could go to work, do my thing, then go home and forget about everything until the next morning. It was an incredible vacation for my brain. But one can only handle so much non-responsibility before one gets bored. At least I did. There was an opening for becoming a Lead Tester, so I applied and got the job. 8 months later I became a training agent, responsible for training all new linguistic testers. The added responsibilities and heavier workload were a welcome change. It was a highly independent position with many varied tasks, and it allowed me to do things pretty much from the bottom up on my own in many ways, which was quite enjoyable. I've always been more comfortable working on my own than in collaboration with someone. Even in 3rd grade I hated the assignments where we had to write essays together with someone else, sharing the task and the work. I much preferred writing the whole thing by myself, even if it took longer. It's not that I don't like working with people - on the contrary, I like it a lot. But (and this is going to sound really snotty) I found very few people whose work I was happy with. Most of them were unstructured, inefficient and slow. Whenever I had to share a task with someone, I found that the quality of the result would have been much better if I had done it alone. The teachers seemed to agree, as I always had higher grades on the assignments that I wrote alone than on the ones where I collaborated with someone. But I digress.

Working here has taught me many things about myself, about others and about people in general. I've learned that I am often too nice to people, allowing myself to be used or taken advantage of. I've learned that given a task that I enjoy and that I have an interest in, I have no problem working 16 hour days for as long as is needed to get the job done well. The challenge is to find something to do that I have an interest in, as I tend to procrastinate a lot if I don't like what I'm doing or if it doesn't interest me.

I've learned that people are much the same no matter where in the world you are. Europe, North America, Asia... Some people are really nice, some people are not. Some people will care about you and treat you well, while others will be selfish bitches who will do anything to exploit you. Some people take their thing seriously and do it well, while others are only looking for an easy way out. Some people have courage, some don't. It doesn't matter if a person is black, white, red, yellow, green or purple with pink dots. A good person is a good person regardless of color. An asshole is an asshole no matter where he's from. That's just life. The really tricky thing is that the assholes usually don't walk around with a sign that says "I'm an asshole".
Being a good judge of character is way harder than it may seem, and I've learned that I'm nowhere near as good at it as I thought. A person isn't necessarily a nice person just because he acts nice, and even after a year, what do you really know about someone? People who have something to hide are often very good at hiding it.

I think I've gotten back the spark to invest myself in something, to look at a task and really dig into it and get it done. That was largely missing before I came here. Most of the time I just wanted to lie down and hibernate for a couple of months and do nothing at all because I was so overloaded with stuff I had to get done all the time and with people pulling me in a million directions all at once. After having seen how shitty things really can get in a couple of different countries now, I think I have a more optimistic outlook on things. I know I can't change the world very much, so I'm not going to let the world get me down too much when things suck.

I've learned not to jump head first into unknown situations. Informed decisions may be less spontaneous and exciting, but when it comes to bigger decisions the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The consequences of throwing yourself into something without looking could in a very literal sense kill you. There are plenty of opportunities to be spontaneous and daring with things that don't have as much potential for disaster.