Tag Archives: University of Waterloo

Enough with the Chit-Chat

I recently read an article about cutting out the small talk at networking events. The author even mentions well-publicised events in which small talk was banned and eventually lead to the foundation of a No Small Talk dinners business in Hong Kong.

The concept is simple: whatever group has gathered for whatever reason can’t speak about the usual mundane topics that tend to float around at such things. Sometimes hosts will provide a list of prompts for people to discuss, sometimes the format is more formalized (such as a Jefferson Dinner) but in every case, the basic rule is the same. Cut the chit-chat. Let’s have an actual conversation.

This article I read ended with thirteen questions that could be asked in place of the usual, “So, where are you from?” and, “What do you do for a living?” These are more geared to networking events where there might be a lot of people comingling who don’t necessarily know each other, but I quite liked them and thought that they might be a good icebreaker for the blog.

With that in mind, since I don’t know who you are (beyond what my Google Analytics tells me) and you only get to see of me what I put out into the world to view, here are the thirteen questions along with the most straightforward answers I can provide. For what it’s worth, I’m resisting the very powerful urge to be a smart-ass.

These are supposed to be conversation starters, so please don’t hesitate to comment if you want to know more. Also, I’d love to read YOUR answers to the above questions. If comments aren’t your thing, shoot me an email: potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com

  1. What’s your story?
    • It’s a pretty good one. I was born in Toronto and moved just a city block north of Toronto proper to the suburb of Thornhill. I played hockey growing up and had a bevy of jobs growing up: paperboy, busboy, video store clerk, summer camp counselor, and food guy in between the 9th and 10th holes at a country club. I graduated high school and made it into the University of Waterloo’s Applied Physics cooperative education program where I would meet my future wife. I was not a model student, academically speaking, but I did manage to eek out a General Science degree. Jobs during that portion of my life included a short stint as a plant maintenance guy for a place that painted spoilers for the Chevy Cavalier, night crew at Canadian Tire, statistician at a steering wheel production company (Chrysler, I think), math learning assistant at Mohawk College, Physics Club Treasurer (unpaid), campus safety van driver, and waiter. I graduated and got a gig as a computer programmer and spent a few years doing that before switching companies and getting into software testing. I married my university girlfriend four years after we started dating and six years after we met. We bought a house had a kid and then moved across the province where we had another kid, moved across town, and then eventually back to where we live now (literally 500 meters away from where we were when we left). I started playing around with writing by blogging back in 2005 and even read some screenwriting books and took a screenwriting class. I wrote some content for this home trivia video game system that was a pretty neat gig. After moving back I met a few writers on Twitter and I started taking it more seriously. In 2011 I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – write a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days) and failed miserably. I succeeded in four of the following five years and released my first novel, a non-fiction account of my family’s journey with my daughter’s scoliosis diagnosis, surgery and recovery, was released in January of this year. I have been with the same day-job company for almost nine years and in a variation of the job I’m currently doing (program manager) for almost six. My first fiction novel releases later this year and the first in a series of five fiction novels should hit stores late in 2019 or early 2020. I like golf, baseball, and NHL playoffs. I am a firm supporter of science, equality, and the Oxford comma.
  2. What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever stolen?
    • Heh. I’m not sure I’d be asking this question to anyone ever. Thankfully for me, I don’t have much of a track record of stealing stuff. That said, I am an imperfect human but I’m also not a fan of self-incrimination so I’m taking a pass on this one.  
  3. What is your present state of mind?
    • Tired. That’s pretty much my constant state of mind. I’m also in between novels at the moment. Well, I should be writing the next one but am avoiding it right now, because I can’t seem to find my mojo. It’s probably close to 90% done, 80% at the worst, and I just can’t seem to find the stuff required to finish the damn thing. So that has me frustrated as well as a little depressed. The more I write (or try to) the more I am beginning to understand why Hemingway enjoyed the drink as much as he did. 
  4. What absolutely excites you right now? 
    • Writing. I know I just mentioned how I’m short on mojo and it has me depressed and frustrated, but there are those moments when the muse graces me with her presence and magic happens. Those moments excite me. When the words flow effortlessly everything is better.

  5. What book has influenced you the most?
    • This is a really tough question to answer because it’s different depending on the stage of my life I was in when I read it. As a kid, This Can’t Be Happening at McDonald Hall by Gordon Korman or Boy at the Leafs Camp by Scott Young were two that influenced me heavily. As a teenager, I read Anthem by Ayn Rand and it really made an impression on me. In University I started reading complex calculus and applied physics textbooks and didn’t have the urge to pick up a book for pleasure for quite a while. As a parent, the Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth was a life saver. Not sure how it influenced me but it was the only book that mattered for quite a number of years. Then I finally read Animal Farm by George Orwell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Having not read those books growing up I had no idea what I was missing and both of them have shaped my approach to writing – and life in general in the years since. 
  6. If you could do anything you wanted tonight (anywhere, for any amount of money), what would you do and why?
    • Sleep. LOL. Okay, assuming the question means I actually have to leave the house I would want to go to New York City with my wife. I’ve never been to NYC and I’d love to go see a show with her and then stop in at the Upright Citizens Brigade for some improv and then wander around Times Square taking pictures and holding hands before retiring for the night at a swanky hotel and waking up to fantastic room service. 
  7. If you had the opportunity to meet one person you haven’t met who would it be, why and what would you talk about?
    • My answer to this question has been the same since my first year of physics at the University of Waterloo: Dr. Richard Feynman. If you’ve never heard of him, you should definitely look him up. He was a brilliant physicist and one of the most interesting people who has ever lived. He wrote a book about all the amazing stories that made up his life. Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman is the title and it’s an amazing read. He didn’t just have a brilliant mind, he also had an amazing passion for life and an incredible sense of humour.  
  8. What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
    • I am an emotional person, both in terms of what I put into everything as well as what I pick up from others. That doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells around me or suppress your emotions, quite the opposite actually. I’m at my best when the emotions are flowing freely in all directions. It should be noted that even though I’m a very outgoing person, I have my limits when larger groups are involved. It can become a lot to process but I’ll let you know well in advance so you know what’s going on.  
  9. What do you value more, intelligence or common sense?
    • Common sense. I have little patience for ignorant people, but that’s not an accurate representation of intelligence. Neither is education. Though university educated myself, I’ve never put a lot of stock in it. At the end of the day, all the intelligence in the world isn’t worth much if there’s no common sense guiding it.
  10. What movie is your favorite guilty pleasure, and why?
    • I don’t like the way this is phrased. It assumes I should feel guilty about something I enjoy. With the exception of some reprehensible or criminal behavior, I don’t think anyone should have a “guilty” pleasure. That’s bullshit thinking. Love what you love and apologize for none of it. That said, I am supposed to limit my chocolate intake but have a hard time doing that. I also sing along to most old-school Madonna songs when they come on my iPod.
  11. You are stuck on a deserted island, and you can only take three things. What would they be?
    • Let’s get something straight right off the bat. I’m going to die, and probably rather quickly. I’m allergic to shellfish and I can’t start a fire without matches. So, with that in mind, it’s a matter of keeping me as comfortable as possible before death come while maximizing my chances for rescue. So, first up are a box of waterproof matches. Life improves with fire and so do rescue chances. This way I won’t have to expend precious energy rubbing twigs together to make fire. Next up is something I can use to build stuff with (Shelter, spears, etc,) so that means a knife. I’m thinking something very Rambo like.

      After the knife, I’m going to need something to fish with. Since I can’t eat crabs or scallops or any other crustacean on I’m going to need to get protein from eating fish. I could catch fish with a spear, but that seems like a high energy activity. Again, we know I’m going to die, so why make things worth by expending energy where it’s not needed? With that in mind, I’m going to need fish hooks. I can use a number of things as a pole, and I can use thread or fashion something worthy of being fishing line, but I can’t DIY a decent fish hook. I’m sure it can be done, it’s just not a skill I happen to have. So there you have it. Waterproof matches, Rambo knife, fish hooks. If I get to bring a fourth item it would have to be my memory foam mattress topper because I’m certain I’ll be taking a lot of naps. 

  12. Where and when were you happiest in your life?
    • Every period has had its ups and downs. That’s how life works, isn’t it? I am curious how other people would answer this question because I think the tendency would be for people to choose a time from their childhood where the responsibilities were non-existent but the memories still persist. Those were pretty good times for me, for sure, but was I truly happiest then? It seems every milestone in my life was the happiest time, at least if I look at the experiences that surround the milestone as part of the whole. How small of a unit of time are we using to define “when”? I’m interpreting this as an average measurement over several years where more aspects of my life were trending upwards than not. I’m also including the caveat that I had to have majority control over my life. My parents did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting for me until well into my teenage years so I’m not including the younger periods when formulating my response. So, what did I come up with? It was easier than I thought: here and now. My wife and I are nicely settled into our 40’s and the finances are good. My day job challenges me and more than pays the bills and is really flexible in terms of the ever-important work/life balance. My kids are healthy and happy and already starting to make their place in the world. I drive a stick shift. I joined a golf league. My parents are both still alive and well. Same for the inlaws. My writing career is taking off in the right direction and I have contracts to keep me busy for several years. I have a small but fantastic group of “in person” friends and a larger and just as fantastic group of “online” friends. Is life perfect? Not a chance. Life doesn’t give out perfect scores. Is it as close to perfect as it’s ever been? It probably is. 

  13. What do you think is the driving force in your life?
    • The desire to contribute something positive. Whether it’s imparting wisdom to my children and preparing them to be positive additions, or sitting down at my laptop and creating something to put out into the world for people to enjoy, I approach every day with the goal of putting more in than I take out. For me, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being better. Ending the day with more good karma in the bank than I started with keeps me going. 

So there you have it. No small talk. Hope you enjoyed my responses.

~ Andrew

The Sound of Music – Part 3

My wife has got a wide range of musical tastes and only occasionally will I hear something playing in her car that I don’t enjoy. Certainly, without her extensive pallet of auditory awesomeness  I would not have been exposed to this song by the Magnetic Fields:

Or this cover of a Magnetic Fields song – and one of my favourite covers of all time – by The Airborne Toxic Event (whom we also saw play live in Toronto a few years ago):

Or even this:

So, whenever she and I enter into a discussion about which album from a band is better than one of their others, it’s common for me to disagree and then after some listening, acquiesce to my wife’s better judgement. Case and point, The Tragically Hip’s Up To Here versus Road Apples. I was always on the side of Up To Here and her on the side of Road Apples, but after a couple listens in the car on the way to work I have flipped sides.

Such is not the case for The Watchmen and their first two albums. McLaren Furnace Room is their first album and is Jodi’s favourite from the band and for a long time I was in agreement with her on it. It’s a killer album and to this day I’m left to wonder why it didn’t vault the band into more rarified air. However, after many, many, many listens of McLaren and their second album, In The Trees, I’ve changed my tune.

Welcome to the third installment of the Sound of Music – My Top Five Albums Of All Time:

In The Trees by The Watchmen

Released 1994

Track Listing:
  1. “34 Dead St.” (9/10)
  2. “Boneyard Tree” (8/10)
  3. “Lusitana” (9/10)
  4. “Wiser” (9/10)
  5. “Calm” (9/10)
  6. “All Uncovered” (10/10)
  7. “In My Mind” (9/10)
  8. “Laugher” (8/10)
  9. “The South” (8/10)
  10. “Born Afire” (8/10)
  11. “Vovo Diva” (7/10)
  12. “Middle East” (9/10)
As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)

Looking at my album evaluation criteria seeing this album in my top five shouldn’t come as a surprise. I might occasionally skip over Boneyard Tree and Vovo Diva but even as my least favourite songs on the album I’ll find myself singing along. When listened to end-to-end I find the arrangement of the album to be just about perfect, from the first chords of the hard and heavy 34 Dead St. to the perfect solo bass note played by Ken Tizzard that echoes in your head to end the album, In The Trees, takes me on a journey I never want to end. 

The memories invoked when I hear any song off this album vary, but all begin in first-year university, where in 1993 my friend Riaz introduced me to the band. Naturally, I have oodles and oodles of memories ranging from listening in Riaz’s room to seeing the band play at various clubs and bars around town. Probably the best one, though, is the time Riaz drove me into Toronto to go see them play at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

 

Legen… wait for it… dary.

If you’ve never been to The Horseshoe, you’re truly missing out on a piece of Toronto history. Renowned for being a bit of a dive, it has been home to some of the most amazing musical talents ever known and their walls are adorned with posters, news articles and ticket stubs from all the acts.

The stage at The Horseshoe all decked out for their 60th-anniversary celebrations

This one particular night Ri and I were there early, he liked to make sure he had a spot right up front by the guitarist, Joey Serlin, but after enjoying a few beverages waiting for the show to start we found ourself in need of relieving ourselves. Downstairs to the basement washroom we went. Now if you’ve never been to The Horseshoe you’re missing out, but if you’ve never been to the men’s room at The Horseshoe you’re not missing a thing.

Washroom wall wisdom Probably the nicest part of the washroom
 

We walked into the john and who would we find zipping up just as we were heading in? Danny. Thinking the pisser wasn’t the best place to drum up a conversation we did our business and then wandered out into the hallway, peering into a stairwell on the off chance we could sneak up backstage. Danny was sitting in the stairwell having a smoke. A smoke! (Sorry if I’m exposing a dark secret, Danny). Riaz asked if it was cool if we joined him for a cig, and he said he didn’t mind, so we spent the next cigarette’s worth of time shooting the shit and just enjoying a subdued moment. Three guys having a smoke in a stairwell.

The stairwell. No Danny this time. 

Butting out and stomping on what remained of his Du Maurier, Danny said, “Sorry guys but I gotta get into the moment here before I head out.” Riaz and I nodded and thanked him for the chat and wished him a good show. “Thanks guys. Nice meeting you,” he said as Ri and I headed back upstairs to a now packed floor with a couple hundred folks unaware that we had just had the coolest and most surreal experience of our brief music-loving lives.

The emotional impact of this album is probably stronger than any other. I met my wife sitting in Riaz’s room back in 1993 and even took voice lessons and put a band together to play a Watchmen tune for her for our anniversary a few years ago. I feel so much joy when I hear one of their songs on my iPod (which is often because I have a TON of WM music). On the other end of the spectum, Riaz introduced me to both my wife and The Watchmen’s music and he’s gone now, so hearing many of their songs, even the happy ones, makes me sad. If you listen carefully you can hear In My Mind playing in the background at the beginning of my memorial speech and reading.

So there you have it, the third (in no particular order, yet) of my Top Five Albums of All Time along with some of the reasons why. A dozen great tracks invoking myriad emotions and half a lifetime of memories.

You can find The Watchmen music for sale on iTunes here along with some live show downloads here and some FREE tracks / shows for download here.

~ Andrew

Miss You, Miss You

As you may have seen in my last post (re-post, actually) I recently lost a friend. He was probably the second or third guy I met when I arrived at the University of Waterloo and it was in his dorm room on North A in Village 2 that my wife and I were first properly introduced. That was pretty darn close to 22 years ago to the day that a heart attack took him from this world for whatever is beyond.

Riaz, our daughter, and me. Breakfast at a diner in Toronto – 2005(?)

Obviously, this came as a total shock to my wife and I and everyone who knew him. I’m still kind of dumbfounded and in a daze over it. Someone I’ve known since first or second grade sent me a message of condolence and asked me to tell her a story about him. One, she said, that would make me smile. So, I did, and it made me feel a little less depressed about his passing and a little more focused on the good times we had together – and there were quite a few. I shared the story with his brother and a few coworkers, and in one of my writers’ groups, and every time I did I managed a smile instead of a tear.

So now I’m sharing it with you.

***

Riaz and I spent a lot of time together in our first year of university. We were both a couple of physics geeks with impeccable musical taste (the principal difference being he could actually play and I even suck at air guitar). Now, just a few minutes from our dorm was the upper year dorm, Village 1, and within it a glorious variety store / food place called “The Village Grill”. Staffed by upper year kids it was the go-to place for starving students and guys like Riaz and I looking for a snack. There was this one girl that worked there that Riaz was in love with. All I remember is that she was ridiculously cute and Ri was infatuated with her. I swear he burned through more of his meal plan at The Grill over everywhere else combined just because she worked there.

Riaz (center) jamming with Scott (right) and some other dude, 1993.
A rare shot without his “P-Man” sweatshirt on. His Canucks jersey was a close second 

One snowy night Riaz and I finished our homework (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and a bunch of us were going cafeteria tray sledding at the hill across the road. It was then (after we finished our homework), that I got this brilliant idea to saw a cafeteria tray in half and crazy glue the pieces to the bottom of my boots. After tray-boggoning, or tray-skiing in my case, the plan was to have Riaz pull me around the parking lot as I held on to the back bumper of his car (genius, I know).

Right about when we were all ready to go we got a hankering for some chips and we decided to head to The Grill to take care of the craving. The only problem was I had these damn pieces of fibreglass stuck to my feet. Screw it, we wanted chips, nay, we needed chips. So, off we went. We had no coats, no hats, and no gloves. We were just two guys in blue jeans and flannel shirts (this was 1993 after all) walking to the store to get some food – one of them with two halves of a lunch tray glued to his boots.

Everything was fine until I slipped off the path.

It wasn’t a big slope, but when all you’ve got is the smooth underside of a tray to walk on, any slope at all sends you in a downward direction. I slid off the path and down a small hill. No word of a lie it was only 12 feet down and had a maximum grade of about 5 degrees. Still, down I went. I tried to walk “herringbone” style up the hill but could not.

I was trapped.

Meanwhile, Riaz was giggling uncontrollably at the top of this “hill”. After letting me flounder for a few minutes while he regained his composure, he came down to give me a hand. The only problem was he couldn’t get me up the hill either. Being the physics geniuses that we were we tried quite a few things with the successful approach being I would lie on my side and he would roll me uphill like a log. To this day, I have no explanation as to why I didn’t just get on my hands and knees and crawl up the stupid hill. For certain, at the time the idea never crossed either of our minds. What should have been a 4 or 5-minute stroll ended up taking around half an hour.

We get to The Grill and we’re laughing so hard tears are running down our cheeks and freezing in the cold air. My hair (I used to have long floppy bangs) was frozen up in this crazy spike, we were soaked head to toe from all the rolling around in the snow, our eyes were red and swollen from all the laugh-crying, and I still had two halves of a cafeteria tray crazy glued to my boots.

Party in Riaz’s Room – 1993 (that’s me on top)

We opened the door and the only person in the place is the cute girl behind the counter. We just stood there scratching our heads and staring at our feet while she took a good long look at us. After a few seconds, we look up and she’s shaking her head. “Chips are over there,” she said pointing to a rack in the corner. Then, she turned around to pretend to clean something. I could see her shoulders bobbing up and down as she laughed into her dish towel. We stepped up to the counter to pay and she’s still stifling laughter. “Have a nice night, boys,” she said as we exited the store. I can still hear her laughter as the door shut.

Riaz in one of his pensive moments, 1993

After a minute, Riaz looks to me and, with his face full of Cool Ranch Doritos says, “Well, shit. What do you think my chances are now?” Without hesitation I replied, “Pretty bad, man, but I have a feeling they are way better than mine.” Riaz just nodded and we both started to laugh uncontrollably for the second time in half an hour. We walked back to our dorm without speaking, but the laughter didn’t stop for several hours.

Epilogue:
Tray-skiing was a complete failure. I spent an hour falling down a hill for real and never managed so much as one decent run. Cafeteria tray parking lot bumper hitching, on the other hand, was an incredible success (except for having to saw off a layer of my boot soles to get the cafeteria trays off).

Rest in peace, brother.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIhw267pU4Y]
http://riaz.ca/musicvideo.html

Me, Sven, and Riaz at a Kegger he threw back in 1994

Riaz completely done-in at EdgeFest, 1996