Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Individual Project Plan: Space Radiation and Shielding Research

Shields up! Red alert!

If you're a Star Trek fan, you'll recognize these words as popular commands given in the franchise. Used to heighten the tension in the drama, these orders also raised the spaceship's defenses. But, besides alien attack, and possible space debris, what other purposes can spaceship shields have?

Well, this is actually the focus of my Individual Project here at the ISU! As mentioned in a previous post here, I submitted a proposal to investigate space radiation, and my proposal was approved! I just finished my project plan and this post will outline some of my work and process so far.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Weekend in Frankfurt, Germany

Oh, hey there! Guten tag! Welcome back! Would you like to take a quick tour of Frankfurt, Germany? Well, I did, and thanks to the ISU bringing people together, I had the chance to do just so. This trip was short, sweet, and taught me one thing: I'm not the best photographer ever, so with that in mind, read on!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Team Projects and Individual Projects

The last two weeks at the ISU have been really interesting, and decisions made during this fortnight will shape the rest of the year. The first decision revolved around the choice of team project, of which there were two. One team project involved investigating how to use space for migration, as in how to use the space industry to help better understand, monitor, and control human migration on planet Earth. The other project involved the benefits, challenges, and reasons for/against a one way trip to Mars, wherein the travelers would settle and establish a colony.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Canadian Werewolf in England

With the first module at the ISU at an end, I made a trip up to northern England (York, to be specific) to visit some friends. It was the first time I would see them in person in some time, my first time in England, and it was a trip I had planned since I came to Europe! Follow me on my merry adventure!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Module 1 at the ISU: What I've learned, where I'm going...

Hello, bonjour tout le monde! How is everyone? How have things been? I've been incredibly busy here in my academic pursuits. ISU, France, and other people have taught me so much about the space industry and about myself and I'm taking this opportunity to look back, to reflect, so that I can keep going, growing, and learning!

First off, let's start with what I've been learning at the ISU. For those of you who forget or are just joining us, the ISU is the International Space University, where I am pursuing my Masters degree in Space Studies. The school is incredibly diverse, promoting the "3I" approach: Interdisciplinary, Intercultural, and International. The work is divided into modules, some running concurrently, including lectures/team assignments, a large team project, an individual project, and an internship. So far, this module has been devoted solely to lectures and team assignments.

In some earlier posts, you may have seen some those assignments featured. On top of the Rocket Design Workshop, and the Poster Conference, we have also had to write a report and present material relating to burgeoning space industries in other nations, and our latest report was on the uses and theory of remote sensing. I will provide a quick summary here.

For the developing space industries, my team was assigned to research Egypt's efforts. It was an interesting exercise, as there is often much more going on than first appears. Long story short, Egypt initiated an institution under their Ministry of Science called the National Authority of Remote Sensing and Space Studies (NARSS) back in 1994 and had been working toward becoming more independent in their space activities. For years, Egypt has been enjoying the benefits of remote sensing (more on what that is in a moment), to investigate their national resources and to make plans for the future, but Egypt also wanted to be able to do this on their own, without relying on the satellites of other nations. They've launched some telecommunication satellites, which they use for national cellular service, and they launched a scientific satellite, but sadly, they lost communication with it and this along with their political instability has caused their space industry to flounder. They have a lot of potential, but while the space sector could help them, working in space requires a lot of coordination and cooperation, which seem to be in short supply in many areas of the world lately.

A moment ago I mentioned remote sensing. You may have asked yourself, "What is that?" Well, that was the purpose of our latest assignment. Simply put, remote sensing is learning information about an object, at a distance, without direct contact. The most applicable example of this is the use of satellites for Earth observation. Every day, satellites fly overhead, collecting information about the Earth through the use of imagers, active/passive sensors, spectrometers, etc., and transmits that information down to ground stations. There, the information is sorted, collected, analysed, and we are able to learn a lot about our planet.

For the assignment, we learned the basic theory of Remote Sensing and conducted a field trip. We were going to go to Mont Sainte-Odile, in the Vosges mountains, which offers a great view of the valley between those mountains and the Black Forest, lining the border of Germany. We were then going to compare what we saw with what several satellites saw flying overhead years before. 

Unfortunately, the exercise didn't work out so well as the weather was not cooperating. Even though the field trip was postponed due to weather, the second weekend didn't turn out much better, as you can see from the picture below, we had limited visibility due to fog.
Each person is roughly 5 metres apart, can you see me?
But the experience was enjoyable. We learned about the convent at Mont Sainte-Odile, enjoyed the local country-side, and had a chance to taste some local wine later in the afternoon. 
My team and I enjoying some local flora (Lime trees, I believe, at least that's what the plaque said)
After that, the last 2 weeks have been moving very quickly. The module ends with an exam which covers everything we've learned so far, and thanks to the interdisciplinary aspect of the ISU, we have to be prepared to answer questions regarding science, engineering, satellite applications, politics, economics, law, and even humanities. 

I have a bit of an advantage in this regard, having come from an engineering background, with a heavy interest in science and the humanities. Much of the material is review for me, but I have learned quite a lot about the breadth of this industry. The law classes were interesting as we discussed the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which most countries have signed, ratified, and thus accept to be binding international law, and also the 1979 Moon Agreement, which most countries have not signed or ratified but has some interesting consequences if accepted, such as the Moon belonging to everyone. 

The economics classes have been interesting, and will likely help me better understand what moves this industry and how decisions might be better made to drive this industry forward in the future. Politics and the Humanities classes were interesting as they too have helped me to understand the motivations for going into space and for making the decisions the various space agencies have made over the years.

I have my exam tomorrow and I'm not too worried about it. I've been studying every night for 1.5 weeks and I'm feeling very relaxed. I have some more work to do, and we'll see how the exam goes tomorrow, but I am feeling good.

I have learned a lot about this industry, but I have also learned quite a bit about myself, as usual. Here's a look for those interested. By the way, I plan on posting more about the science and engineering aspects but those take a little longer to write up, I appreciate your patience.

I relearned how much of an introvert I could be. Years ago, I had switched to requiring the company of others to recharge and unwind after a busy, stressful day of class. It actually became a bit of an issue because I felt I needed to be around people in order to relax. But in the last year I have lived alone, and true to form, did not understand how much I had come to take it for granted. 

Here, in Strasbourg, I have a flatmate. Her name is Vatsala, she comes from India, and she is very driven. We met through the ISU students Facebook group and I'm glad we did as it has helped secure an excellent apartment as well as allowing us to become friends. So far, things have been great, but I have had trouble settling in, and I think most of that is due to the fact that I'm used to living alone.

I enjoy my down time, my alone time, and there have been times when I may have been more withdrawn than necessary just because the rules of social interaction at home alluded me. Thinking back, it makes sense. The only people I've lived with, aside from my family, were usually well-established friends, many of whom are introverted and require a lot of time alone. Living with someone new can be interesting, and I have had to work to better understand the benefits and possible challenges.

Another challenge I have faced is my own potential. When I came here, I was impressed and surprised to hear that many of the students already have Masters degrees, internship experience, and that a few are still working in the industry at NASA and other major companies. I felt outclassed. I've earned my Bachelor degree, and I've worked on some interesting things, but what have I accomplished?

Well, the truth is not much, in my opinion. And here is where one has to be careful and really know themselves in order to move forward positively. 

I have not worked in the industry, not yet. The closest I came was either when I worked for Shaw cable (learning more about telecommunications), or when I completed some industry-level projects at York University, but it wasn't official experience. I have worked on several projects, but I have not published any work.

However, I have more experience than I thought. First of all, I graduated with a Space Engineering degree and I find many of the lectures covered at the ISU have been review for me. While this first module is mostly introductory, it has felt good to be on par with things covered so far. 

I also have a lot of what I call "Secondary Experience", time spent working on projects which have helped broaden and deepen my understanding of many topics. Sometimes, it is easy to sweep these experiences aside, ignoring anything other than those shiny aspects you put at the top of your C.V., but this extra experience is often what makes you a more viable candidate and a better contributor to your work.

I have my Canadian Amateur Radio license, which I can use to get my licence here in France. I have taken courses in astronomy and astrobiology (just for fun) which have proven useful, and I have read so many books and journal articles on spacecraft design and spacecraft shielding. While reading isn't the same as doing, and while I sometimes forget about that experience, I keep finding that my understanding is much greater than my C.V. might indicate and I have all those hours I spent reading to thank for that. 

Once this exam is over with, I'm leaving the country. I'm taking a train to Paris, and another up to London. There, I will take a bus to York where I will spend a few days visiting some dear friends of mine. I am very excited for this trip, and will likely report back here about my adventures as soon as I'm done having them. I was too busy to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving but my friends have assured me we will do so together later this week. I have much to be thankful for, and look forward to the adventures to come.

I want to leave you with some words of advice. I have taken some small steps, and one giant leap coming here, but I have so much more to do. So, please, read this comic, inspired by the words of ISS Commander, Canadian Astronaut, and musician, Chris Hadfield. I can think of no better way to live your life than in the pursuit of your dreams, provided those dreams contribute positively to you, others, and the universe.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Poster Conference at the ISU

Communication is vital in the space industry. With so many countries, with such a variety of cultural and disciplinary background, working separately and together, it is very important to learn how to properly communicate across all necessary channels. Additionally, working in space is expensive and often the sciences have to reach out to the public, reminding them why their interest and funding are important. In keeping with this, the students at the ISU this week were asked to make conference-ready posters which effectively communicated one of several themes to entice and attract attention. Let's see how that went, shall we?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

One month at the ISU: Catching Up

Things have been moving quickly here at the International Space University! There have been a few assignments, teams have been working together, and I have been working hard to make sense of it all. I have been learning much, and have much yet to learn, but let's see what I've been up to lately.

This time last weekend, I was finishing up my work for an assignment, and enjoying the fact that I would have all of Sunday off to enjoy and relax. I was feeling good and happy to be productive. Over the course of the week, I continued working on the assignment with my team, and spent every evening thinking about it. A closer look at the work of countries developing space programs, my team focused on Egypt. It was an interesting experience, and I learned quite a lot about international policy, and the state of industry, policy, and politics in Egypt. The presentations were on Friday and I was very happy to get it over with. They all went well, and afterwards, most of us settled in to watching 12 Monkeys a movie I had never seen before, but now highly recommend. It's a little odd, but if you like Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, sci-fi, and time travel, you'll like this one.

I also had a chance to take a closer look at the microgravity chamber at the ISU. At first glance, it doesn't look impressive. A microwave-sized box framed with aluminum and walled with Plexiglas, it doesn't look like anything worthy of the name "microgravity test chamber". However, the setup is incredibly deceiving.

Inside the chamber, there is a wireless camera, and a wireless accelerometer. The latter is what it sounds like, a device which measures acceleration. You likely have one on your right now. Most smartphones these days include at least one accelerometer which can feel when you turn your phone on its side. These devices transmit their information to a computer which can record and display the information. The chamber has an area inside which you may place an experiment, and the chamber is affixed to the ceiling using a strong electromagnet. When the test is ready to begin, you simply push a button and the box falls from the ceiling, into a protective bin, and that's it.

Wait...that's it? How is a falling box testing microgravity? Good question.

While the box only falls for 0.45 seconds, the box and its contents experience a sense of microgravity during that time which is comparable to that experienced on the International Space Station. That's right, a box, in a lab, feels the same microgravity as a multi-billion dollar project.

How? Well, it comes down to understanding gravity. While the exact details of how gravity works are not known as of yet, we do know its effects. Gravity seems to exist anywhere this is mass, anywhere there is stuff, and the more mass there is, the larger the gravitational effect. Microgravity means what you'd think, a lack of gravity. It is not zero gravity, just very small amounts.

Scientists would measure the force of gravity in Newtons, and on Earth, it's about 9.8 Newtons, or 9.8 kg*m/s^2, causing an acceleration downward of 9.8 metres/second. A "gee" is a unit which means the amount of Earth surface-like gravity. 1 gee = 9.8 Newtons. Got it?

Well, the astronauts on the International Space Station, and the microgravity test chamber, experience about 0.01 gees of gravity. This is not due to them being farther away from the Earth, but rather due to freefall.

Remember when I talked about orbits? Well, take a look back on my blog if you don't, but the recap is that when you are successfully in orbit around an object, you are basically falling at just the right speed to constantly miss the object. I feel like I'm Woody from Toy Story saying something like, "They're not in zero gravity! They're falling, with style!"

But that's the basic idea. The astronauts and anything in orbit, are in freefall, constantly falling and missing the planet and this fall gives them the feeling that they are weightless. The same thing applies for the test chamber at the ISU. While it is falling, the accelerometer measures the feeling of gravity and records that it is very nearly zero.

The test chamber has been used for some interesting experiments and every year, the students try to think up new things to try. This was what my team was doing this week. We were tasked with trying to design two experiments which could be used to demonstrate an interesting effect under microgravity.

The experiment had to be easy, small, clean, and it had to be visual and pedagogic, as in educational. I'll have more details on that later as we're still in the working phase.

Other than that, the week's lectures were quite good. This first module is mostly review so it feels a little odd to be attending these lectures. On the one hand, it's good that I know a lot of this already. It is good to review it and it is only temporary as the next module becomes very busy. However, on the other hand, it does sometimes feel like I could be doing more with my time, but that's okay. From everything I've seen, it is simply the calm before the storm.

I've had a chance to review my skills in STK (formerly known as Satellite Tool Kit, not Systems Tool Kit), re-learned orbital mechanics and project management, learned a little about space policy, economics, and law, and had a chance to be lectured by Dr. Gilles Clement, whose work on Microgravity helped interest me in the ISU. His lectures are very entertaining as he uses movie and song clips to help emphasize his points.

For example, in one lecture about Space Psychology, Prof. Clement was describing some problems faced by astronauts and cosmonauts during some NASA-MIR missions. For these missions, NASA astronauts were living and working alongside some cosmonauts on MIR and due to their differences in culture, as well as several mechanics and bureaucratic problems, there were many problems getting along.

In order to emphasize his point, he used the movie trailer for Gladiator to point out the related examples. See if you can match them up!

  • Minimal control over schedule
  • work overload
  • social withdrawal
  • death of a family member
  • dangerous atmosphere
  • fire
  • loss of power
  • crew fiction
  • anger with ground control

In another lecture, he used Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale  to outline the effects of Space Motion Sickness. Follow along and spot the similarities:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness, disorientation
  • apathy
  • impaired concentration
  • headache
  • sweating
  • dry mouth, loss of appetite
  • salivation
  • pallor
  • nausea
Now I will never think of the trailer or that song the same way again. While all the professors here at the ISU are engaging, Clement's lectures are the most entertaining and I appreciate the effort he makes to make the material amusing.

This past weekend has been semi-productive. I went out Friday night with many of my ISU colleagues and had a really great time. However, I stayed out so late that I was not nearly as productive on Saturday as I had wished. I missed the post office hours which means I have to try again through the week. The most difficult part of time management here is that everything closes early on Saturday, if it's open at all, and nothing is really open on Sunday. Most of my work has been after school through the week so it is difficult to get other things done.

It's all a work in progress though, and I'm learning. Today, I have a team meeting to discuss as poster we are tasked with designing. Given the theme of "10 Inspiring Astronauts", we have to design a poster on A0-sized paper which will be conference-ready. It is a good exercise for us as most of us are scientists and engineers and not used to being artistic. However, one valuable thing I have learned from several artists and designers out there is the power of communication. You may have a great idea but if you are unable to share it effectively, your idea might be forgotten.

To all those at home expecting mail of some sort, I know I have been here for a month and I'm sorry that I have not sent anything yet. I am very busy and have run into a few difficulties. I have a growing stack of postcards ready to go out, and I must purchase/fill out a few more. I am waiting until I get every single one ready and then sending them all at once. Should be within the next couple of weeks.

Finally, for those usually interested in the pure science of my blog, I hope my foray into personal matters was not disagreeable. My later posts will be more academically engaging I'm sure.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Ile Boat Tour, Cathedral Treasure Hunt, Mayoral Reception at Strasbourg's Town Hall

This last week was quite an exciting one at the ISU and Strasbourg. While it was the second week of classes, it was the first with non-introductory material and I was excited to get to work! Lectures included a variety of topics like a brief history of the space industry, the electromagnetic spectrum, orbital mechanics, and international space policy. While some of it was review, it was nice to be learning more about the space industry.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Time to Build a Rocket!

Yesterday, I helped design, build, and launch my first rocket! It was a great experience and I learned a lot about the design process and I would like to share what I have learned with you!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

First Week at the ISU

The first week at the International Space University is over! So far, things have progressed really smoothly and I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do this year.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Place de la République, Place Kléber, L'Homme de Fer, et La Petite France!

I went on a scavenger hunt on my third day here in Strasbourg, France, but I was not in the best of moods. I was still getting used to France, and I was really struggling with not having a working phone. After the wine and cheese testing you saw, or can see, in my last post, I re-walked the tour around the city and took these photos!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Wine and Cheese Tasting!

It has been a while since I have had a "care-free" day. The other day was exactly that as I enjoyed the sights, smells, culture, and history of Strasbourg. So come, take a walk with me...

Typical French Dinner and a Quiet Evening

While I usually choose to write posts which revolve around big events, I thought the other day was a nice enough day to write about.

I awoke a little late but started the day out well. Cleaning the apartment, my roommate and I settled a few things, dividing up the kitchen and the like. I found a toaster and a blender in a previously-unseen closet in the kitchen and both worked so that had me excited!

The landlord came by and talked a little more about the apartment. A nice man, who has spent a lot of time in many other countries (although we didn't get much of a chance to talk about that), he told us all about any of the issues he has had in the past, and helped us with any questions we had. 

Later in the day, his sister arrived as she had invited my roommate, myself, and two other students out to her house for dinner. A short car ride was all that was needed, and I couldn't help but think of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's house from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Alsatian Museum

Welcome back! In today's blog post, we explore the Alsatian Museum and learn a little about the history of this beautiful region of France.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Phone Troubles and the In-Between

Hello everyone! Ou bonjour, tout le monde, si vous préférer! Or, comme les Simpsons, if you prefer. I have been in Strasbourg, France, for a few days, and it has taken me a little longer than I expected to settle in. Things have been really fantastic so far, but before I get to that, I would like to rant a little, about my troubles, so that if you travel, they might not happen to you.

My main trouble has been getting a cell phone which works. When I moved, I took out the SIM card and thus I had a workable piece of technology but no connection to any network. Roaming around, (pun intended), for a few days, I considered my options. I was going to simply get a new phone with a SIM card, and a one year contract if that was possible, but I was not prepared for the price of cell phones. I have an LG-P970, which has been working well, with its 4 inch screen, but I was hoping for an upgrade. Looking at phones at Orange, a provider here in France, I quickly saw that any phone I liked, or was comparable to the phone I had, was about 300 euros, or $410 Cdn. My phone cost $175 Cdn., or 128 euros, and any phone cheaper than this was a simple flip-phone.

After that, it was a stressful couple of days, full of misfortunes like my cell phone pouch breaking on the way to school making me think I lost my phone along the way, my phone needing to be unlocked costing me $50, and stores being closed, or not in the same place as advertised. There were so many problems with my phone, I thought I was cursed for some reason. I grew extremely downhearted, frustrated, and quiet.

I learned a few things from this experience. The first, was that I seemed to be more addicted to my phone than I had thought. Without a phone, I seemed to be miserable, and inconsolable. However, I will defend myself a little and say that being out of touch with anyone and being away from home for the first time, these can add to the experience and I'm hoping were mostly responsible for my semi-depression.

The second thing I learned was how much a house of cards emotions can be. I am usually a pretty stable guy, but I am also a guy who loves stability. I love it so much that if something is out of place, it bothers me. I become obsessed with it and must fix it. When I cannot fix it, well, I become depressed. I kind of knew this about myself but at least this gave me an opportunity to reflect upon it. This is an opportunity to grow and while it can be great to be so devoted to solving a problem, I have to work hard at not becoming so frustrated when the solution fails to present itself.

However, after a few conversations with some concerned individuals, one of which included my roommate accusing me of having a small appetite (only true when I'm stressed), I decided to take a stand. I still had the internet when I was at home, and I grew up in the middle of nowhere, Canada, and I could survive a few days without a phone. I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and set to work to getting my life back in order.

It is interesting to note that the phone issue was the only one I have faced so far. I was comfortable with leaving the country, my flight was relaxing, I had no jet lag as I slept the whole way, I have not been having trouble with the language (French being Canada's second language and all), the tram system is easy and convenient, and while it has been a bit of a challenge finding the stores which carry the items I need, I have not felt upset, stuck, or lost by anything other than the phone. Perhaps the phone issue distracted me, perhaps I just intensified forward firepower, I mean concentrated my stress, into this issue. (by the way, go to 10 seconds into that video it didn't send you there directly) It is only the beginning so I am sure I will feel so many things, but it hasn't been a bad start, so far.

Okay, enough emotions, I'm sure you're all itching to see some photos! Well, they're coming! Every day this week, some of the students from the ISU (International Space University) have been participating in French lessons taught by some faculty members of the University of Strasbourg. We were separated into two groups, beginners and advanced, and have been spending the mornings learning or re-learning the French language. In the afternoons, we have had planned activities which revolve around learning more about Strasbourg, it history, and its people. It has been a wonderful experience so far!

On our second day, we took part in a scavenger hunt wherein we searched out buildings and other landmarks and learned a little more about the history of Strasbourg and France. Unfortunately, the phone issue was bothering me so much that I didn't feel like taking pictures. I plan on returning later, but it has been a busy few days.

Stay tuned to my next post, wherein we take a tour of a beautiful French museum!

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Canadian Werewolf in France

Bienvenue a France! It has been a long time in preparing, but I finally made it! After all my planning, packing, organizing, and lack of sleep-ing, I was able to look around my apartment in Strasbourg, France, take a breath and say, "I'm here!"

But, let's back up a bit. This was a busy week. My clothes were cleaned and mostly packed, but my mom and I had been working almost non-stop on making me some new clothes, as you will be able to read about in a future post. When we weren't doing that, we were helping my sister get herself ready for school.

A week ago, my sister went to Brock University early, there to start "Base Camp", which was a pre-frosh week wherein students go on a camping trip in Algonquin Park. Not knowing exactly what to expect, we packed her bags and off she went.

Most of her stuff was already packed, so we just had to load it into the truck and make sure we didn't forget anything. We were moving her in on Sunday, September 1st, at 9am, which unfortunately meant we had to leave from my home at 3am. My mom and I, sadly, were still awake at this time as she was finishing a vest, and I was packing my luggage.

The drive down was uneventful, or at least seemed that way to me as I slept the entire way. We showed up early on campus and had trouble finding Danielle, my sister. After a couple of laps, we found her and found her place of residence.

It was really nice to see how excited she was! She had been so busy and preoccupied with financial concerns that I had not seen any excitement in her since she was accepted. But, the Base Camp week got her in the right spirits. She met a lot of other students, and together they canoed, camped, and portaged all day every day, making memories.

Full of energy, she was the first to move into her suite. Shared with 4 other girls, her suite is one of many in her courtyard in one of many courtyards at Brock. It's a nice setup, if a little too conventional, and by that I mean small. When I moved into residence at York, I was living in a one-year old building, where everything was new, clean, and spacious. Danielle's suite isn't tiny, but it took a lot of ingenuity to get everything to fit and work in the space provided. After picking up some groceries and a mini-fridge, we dropped her off, leaving her to new adventures.

I am extremely proud of her and excited for the days to come! She had a hard time in high school but she stuck to what she wanted to do and managed to be accepted into her #1 choice of programs. She is doing a Bachelor of Geography, and I'm sure it will be only a matter of time before she'll be paid to play with rocks, haha, geology being her love.

After this, my parents and I drove to Toronto, for there was where I was catching the flight out. Again, I fell asleep. Waking up in Toronto, my parents and I went out to dinner. It was a Montana's, and along with the good food, service, and atmosphere, the table was supplied with paper and crayons so I had a chance to show off some of my space engineering skills.

Checking in at the airport wasn't too difficult, but it took awhile to deal with my bike. I kept hearing about how "everyone bikes in Europe" so I had decided to bring my bike. But, I had to pay a lot extra to check it and they required a bike box, and then they couldn't feed it through the conveyor belt so someone had to specially take it to the plane.

Bureaucracy finished, I hugged my parents, and made my way to the gate. My parents have been extremely supportive and enthusiastic about this adventure and I would not be nearly as prepared, settled, happy, or organized without them.

First flight was straight across the water to Amsterdam. The plane was a Boeing 747 which is typical of what you see in movies, with the 3 sets of 3 seats. The flight was pleasant, and I only slept for half of the trip. I have this ability to sleep anywhere, at any time, so I was able to avoid the jet lag.

Unexpectedly, the flight had a full meal, with dessert, and the in-flight movies were free and recent. I wasn't expecting a meal as nothing stated one would be provided, and the only other times I've had access to in-flight movies, you had to pay for them. I watched The Internship, which I found to be quite funny, and interesting.

I arrived in Amsterdam and had to wait 4 hours for the short flight to Strasbourg. I was not allowed to leave the airport but that was okay as there was plenty to see. There was a casino (I didn't go in, no interest), a museum (which I found quite fascinating), plenty of shops, and lots of interesting looking people. I was thinking about good I felt, how not nervous I felt, and how confident I was when I looked up and saw a 20-foot tall poster of Ryan Reynolds posing for Hugo Boss. I smiled, thinking it was nice to see a fellow Canadian.

Checking my carry-on luggage in Amsterdam was a little silly as they want people to remove all electronic devices and their corresponding power cables. My carry-on luggage included 2 external hard-drives, a laptop, and a camera, so I had a lot to unpack. Still, the process was over quickly.

The flight to Strasbourg took place in the 2nd smallest plane I had ever been in. Not sure what type of plane it was, but there weren't more than 40 passengers and the plane itself was too short for me; I had to duck as I boarded/disembarked.

Customs in France was easy and I was let through quickly. I found my bike, grabbed my tire pump and set to work. I had to deflate the tires for the flight(s), and I couldn't move the bike and my luggage with flat tires. Finishing this, I walked outside and hailed a cab.

Turns out my apartment is just outside of Strasbourg, to the south of the city and the east of the airport. Arriving, I looked around and realized I was stuck.

My phone was not set up for international purposes so I couldn't call my roommate. I have Skype but couldn't use it because I couldn't gain access to the airport's wifi. The airport's policy is to text the login information to your phone, but since my phone wasn't working, I couldn't access Skype. There was a gate in front of my apartment so I couldn't simply knock on the door.

Deciding hopping the fence was a great way to start trouble, I locked my luggage to the fence and went warwalking, trying to find free wifi on which to check in. After wandering around for an hour, I found a McDonald's. Turns out, my roommate had been in the apartment the entire time! Laughing at my situation, I walked back.

My roommate, Vatsala, had been worried about me and was relieved to see me. She had come back from hanging out with friends, calling, and trying to find me. I apologized, and we both laughed at the oddity of the situation. She said the choice to avoid hopping the fence was a good one as a police officer lives next door.

Touring the apartment, I realized how lucky I was. The apartment is in great condition, it's worst problem is the heat isn't working at the moment, and the floorboards creak. The one is being fixed next week, the other is part of its charm. Our rooms were large, furnished with a 3 door wardrobe, bed, desk, with many amenities. Vatsala had arrived a day or two earlier and had been busy buying supplies and groceries.

She graciously offered we "go dutch", splitting the cost/function of what she had, and presenting me with a list of recommended things to get and places to go tomorrow. I admired her friendly manner and organization quickly enough, and we got to know each other as we made soup. I say we, but she did most of the work and they were her groceries. I met a couple of other students, who came by to pick up some bikes they had left, and they shared their eagerness to hang out some more tomorrow.

And that brings you up to date. It has been an interesting experience. I am happy that I seem to be so easy-going, it has made normally anxiety-inducing experiences so much easier. I am happy to be here, to get started on my future, and I am excited for what's to come. I know there is a severe lack of pictures here, but I will do my best to keep my camera on me at all times from here on out.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Microgravity: A First Look

Microgravity is one of the most dangerous, unconquered risks involved with working in space or other planets. In this post, we will explore a few of the concepts and problems involved with working in space.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Atlatl or Spear Thrower

As an engineer, I often look to the future, but sometimes, it's important to look at the past. A week ago, a friend of mine showed up with some wood, foam, and enthusiasm, and proudly proclaimed we were making an atlatl. Here is the tale of that engineering adventure.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Talking to Canadians?

A friend of mine posed an interesting question to me today: Why are Canadians so offended when mistaken as Americans?

While the topic has been covered many times, I thought it made good practice so here are some of my thoughts:

The Dissociative Principle
I don't know about you, but I dislike being thought of or referred to as anything that isn't me. I had a hard time with nicknames growing up, not because they were embarrassing but because they were not my name. I'm still this way, although less so. Even being referred to in a positive, inaccurate manner bothers me as it feels like I'm living a lie.

Sibling Rivalry
Canada and the United States are the children of the British empire and sometimes brothers don't get along. The US, being the older brother, went his own way and forged his own destiny. Mother England wasn't too happy but that's okay. Canada, the quieter child, fought in a different way and managed to strike out on its own, but maybe that which keeps us a loving colony of England also keeps us separated from the US.

Commonly mistaken enough to annoy
Maybe it's just circumstance. We share a lot in common, especially media and cultural connections, and we do live right next door. We speak the same language and both countries arguably have similar foundations and whether it be a mixed salad or melting pot, we add a lot of global culture to our own. So, being mistaken must be quite common. And, just as common, people are annoyed for being thought of as someone or something else. Even if you love your brother it'd be annoying to be mistaken for him or referred to as simply his brother.

The United States of America has a rich history full of colourful characters and has been a powerfully active global presence since its inception. For good or ill, the perceptions that people have of "Americans" will be clear and possibly extreme. Perhaps Canadians are not prepared to face thse opinions.

Canada has had an equally impressive history but we seem to be quieter about it. We didn't fight a war for independence, we signed some paperwork and had, in comparison, minor squirmishes. We have been active members in events of world history but we don't seem to make our presence as known, even to our own people.

I have heard Canada's identity labelled as a case of "not being". We're not British, we're not "American", but what does it mean to be Canadian? While an interested question, it is not one I wish to pursue right now. Suffice it to say, Canadians seem to have a harder time identifying what is our own unique culture and so, it seems, does the rest of the world. Perhaps, the sprawling geography and mixed salad approach contribute to that but the long story short is: we don't know what we are, but we know what we are not.

Finally, you may have noticed that I wrote "American" with quotation marks and that I painfully attempted to not even use the term. Why? Well, technically, Canadians live in North America, and anyone in North or South America could claim to be an American. I've often had trouble with only the one country using the term but it's my own foible.

I suppose with my move to France, I will experience this mistaken identity quite often. As always, I will smile, shake my head, and politely proclaim that I'm from Canada, in true Canadian fashion.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Why Would I Want to be a Space Engineer? Part 2

Sometimes, the question is asked negatively, as in, why would I waste my time in this field? Space missions are expensive, the avenues for employment, let alone advancement are small, and the pay is not out of this world. *insert Fozzie Bear laugh* There are problems here on the ground, why look elsewhere?

Well, for the first few concerns, just because something is difficult does not mean I should avoid it. I enjoy a challenge. While space missions can be difficult and expensive, so are most things until some brilliant people, luck, and hard work come along to make it easier. We have space missions and rocket launches running every day, all around the world and you are reading this post thanks to a few of them.

Financial reward has rarely been a concern for me. I chose this career because it's what I want to do, not because I had a set salary in mind. I come from a modest background and enjoy productivity and proper compensation. If I'm making what I feel entitled to be making, I'll be happy, and well off, I know it.

There are many problems here on Earth, problems I'm interested in working on, but I still think space engineering holds some answers.

The two areas I'm currently most interested in are: spacecraft design, and protection from the space environment. The first will force me to consider designs which are better performing, cheaper, more resilient, and more energy/material efficient. Once I learn and apply those practices, I'll be better equipped to apply them here in Earth. A better waste reduction system is needed both in space and here on Earth. A more efficient air recyling and purifying system will be needed everywhere soon if we're not lucky. So, while I could focus my sights here to the problems of Earth, space is my muse so I'll continue to let it inspire me.

I chose this career, and cannot see myself deviating from this course, because I enjoy the challenges, risks, and rewards, and because it inspires me.

Finally, I think John F. Kennedy sums it up very well right here.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

What is a Space Engineer?

I've had some interesting reactions from people when I tell them about my career plans.

Some raise an eyebrow, unsure they had heard me correctly. I don't blame them, it's not often you hear people who say they want to be a space engineer and on top of that, what is a space engineer?

I don't make it any easier, really, as I refuse to don the more commonly known title of "rocket scientist". Such a title is limiting and confusing to me as it is and I have a weird reluctance to apply a label unless it is incredibly accurate.

So, what is a "space engineer"?

Short answer: here.

Longer answer, onward.

It is not someone who makes space, although I have made that joke before, and it's not someone who designs space, although I do that in my spare time.

A space engineer is a person who designs, tests, and builds products to be used in outer space. While a civil engineer focuses on buildings, transportation, and all that is needed here on the ground, space engineers concerns themselves with objects which need to work in space.

While we share the same physical, scientific, and engineering design background, we apply it differently. A space engineer works on satellites, rovers, comminications systems and sometimes, rockets.

We learn about the physical environment of space, the dangers to equipment and people, the successes and failures of the past, and the limits of the present.

Our field is growing, expensive, innovative, and sometimes a little removed from the daily concerns here on Earth.

In later posts, I'll reflect upon the positives and negatives of my field but while my job title might say "Systems Specialist" or "Project Coordinator", space engineer will always remain the most accurate for me.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Why Would I Want to be a Space Engineer?

Another question I get asked often is, "Why do you want to be a space engineer?" It's an excellent question, if asked correctly.

It is important to know why you do what you do and I have given my career a lot of thought. The short answer is that, oddly enough, space is where I think I can benefit the people of Earth the most. By learning about other worlds, we are forced to re-evaluate our own. By designing for such strange environments, we come to appreciate our own. And by exploring the final frontier, we push the boundaries of what is possible which leads to exciting innovations both here and in space.

I grew up on science fiction from the likes of H. G. Wells, Clarke, Asimov, and Roddenberry. I explored the depths of time and space, and imagined a brighter future for humanity. I've always been a dreamer but I enjoy making dreams a reality.

I chose to be a space engineer because I thought that I could combine a love of exploration and discovery with the pursuit of bettering humanity as a whole. Big, idealistic dreams, but ones worth having.

I know that I'll never stop learning but I'm excited to finish my Masters program at the International Space University in France. The connections I will make, the things I will learn, and the experiences I will have will make me better equipped to understand the real limits of this industry and to be better positioned to incorporate the spirit of my dreams within and beyond those limits.

Currently, my two areas of focus are protecting human crews from the space environment and learning how international policy is helping/hurting the space industry. Stay tuned in the months to come for more thoughts of theory made practice.

Woohoo Trivia and Taking Time

Last night, I went out with a friend to partake in a Simpsons trivia event at the Cadillac Lounge. (Search for Woohoo Trivia Toronto, I'll post a link soon)

We were a team of two looking for a group to join since others had bailed.

We arrived early, grabbed a table, and I grabbed food while she coordinated and got our team together.

Finally, we were assembled, a team of 6-7 which changed over the course of the night but were all united in two specific ways: our love of the Simpsons and the fact that we were all strangers. We were all friends of this someone or that who knew a guy who wasn't there but somehow brought us all together.

It was an enjoyable experience in many ways. The event consisted of three rounds of trivia with episodes of the Simpsons in between. A host asked questions and we marked the score sheets of other teams when she gave the answers. There was beer, laughter, and quoting all over the place as the pub's passions ignited in a way not seen since the Stonecutters.

I work quite a lot, and I usually work weird hours. So it was nice to be surrounded by such an enthusiastic atmosphere. And while I normally withdraw in big groups, I found myself comfortable; talking and listening.

I've been taking a "Yes" approach this summer and trying to go out as often as I can. I have been re-discovering Toronto and, as usual, myself.

I spend so much time devoted to academic and intellectual growth that I often neglect other areas. Health, be it physical, or emotional, is often tucked aside. I've been working hard to merge the important aspects of my life in order to become a more balanced, well-rounded person but excellence is a habit, not an act.

If you can, take some time for yourself today, even if that time is spent thinking about what is important to you, I promise, you'll have a better day.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A Man and His Dream

Hello, and thank you for coming. I have asked you here today as I am working on some big dreams, and I could use your help. As many of you know, I have always been interested in space, the final frontier, and I know my career is among the stars. Sounds poetical, but only because I have worked hard to make my dreams a reality. I will be entering into a post-graduate program, the Masters of Space Studies program at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, in September and I am very excited for this opportunity!

A year long program which combines in-depth space engineering design with the intricacies of international space agency development, this program is the next step in my mission to becoming a contributing member of the space agency.

But I have not gotten this far on my own, and I need your help now to get me to the next step. I have attached a link below to a letter I've written which explains my situation, but the short version is that being an international student is expensive and I could use any and all help any of you would be kind enough to offer.

If you are interested in helping in any way, my contact information is included. I thank you all for taking the time to read this, and thank those who take the time to read my letter. I am very close to living my dream, a dream I've had for 21 years, and I would hate to stumble now. I have always believed that anything is possible if enough work and cooperation are put in, so don't prove me wrong!

Thanks again and I leave you with this:
"Shoot for the Moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars!"
My letter.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

York University Convocation and Getting Ready for France

Hello there! It's been a while so I thought I would catch you up on how things were going.

As you've noticed, I'm not exactly a "micro-blogger"; I don't blog about everything as they happen, and I usually like to wait until I have the time and interesting material to justify a blog post. But, I've been very busy and I don't like leaving such a large gap.

So, what have I been up to? Well, getting ready to move to France, mostly. It has been a long month and a half full of traveling, meetings, paperwork, online research, phone calls, and more paperwork. I am getting my visa application moving, trying to secure residence, looking for more funding, and trying to account for all the little details involved in such a trip. I've never been overseas before, so moving there and living there for an entire year is quite a lot for which to prepare.

I recently attended convocation at York University. Convocation was a word I had not heard before coming to York and it essentially means graduation, I graduated from York University. It was a nice ceremony, not as long or boring as I feared, and it was nice seeing everyone having a good time. My family came down to attend (I'm including a close friend as family here, should she be reading), and it was really nice having them with me. To be honest, I was feeling kind of blasé about the entire experience but seeing them excited, as well as power-rocking to Freddie Mercury on the subway, really helped me get into the spirit of things. After the ceremony, we took some pictures and I got my hands on my diploma! It was very cool to hold the end product of so much work in my hands, at last. I don't have any photos of me in the silly graduates' cap and robe yet but will be sure to upload them here once I do.

My family got me a very cool graduation present, see?

I've recently been wanting to add a little more class to my dress and my mom and I were checking out pocket watches at Ottawa's ComicCon. My family had this one engraved, with "Dallas Kasaboski B.A.Sc. 2013", where B.A.Sc. stands for Bachelor of Applied Sciences. It which was a nice touch, and I really, really like it. On a related note, my mom and I have been working on some wardrobe ideas and I think we might actually get things moving. My mom and I have been in talks to add some Victorian-styled clothing to my attire and she is convinced that with our combined skills, we could do so effectively, and far less expensively than buying it from a store.

Oddly enough, I think about clothes more often than you might think. I like things to be functional as well as formal so I like clothing that is nice to look at but durable. I like not worrying about the clothes I wear and I like when I can look handsome, but then roll up my sleeves and get some work done. May sound pretentious, or the usual fare of a graduate student, but I'm looking forward to the day when my closet is full of nothing but vests, shirts, nice trousers, ties, and other such fancy oddities. I take myself very seriously, I might as well reflect that in my clothing.

Also, we've been working on cape 2.0! Looking back, I haven't talked about my cape that much here, suffice it to say I wear a cape and it is equal parts functional and formal, and I will show you pictures of the new one once it has been designed and actually made.

Lastly, you might have noticed that donation button on the right side of the page. As you may or may not know, being an international student can be expensive, and so the cost of my tuition and living expenses in France is considerably higher than if I were to stay in Canada. I expected this, and have been working toward it, but we can all use help some times.

To be honest, there is absolutely no obligation for financial support. I would like your support, in any ways you can provide whether it be interest, enthusiasm, constructive criticism, or of course financial. I just wanted to give anyone interested an option, so that they could if they wanted to. If you're interested in learning more, about my goals, my hard work, and what you'd be investing in, please check out this blog post in a few days when I upload a letter I wrote for that purpose. I hope you get the chance to read the letter in general because it does a good job of bringing you up to speed on where I am in my life and where I'm going.

Anyway, this was a rather non-technical blog post. I promise that as soon as this paperwork moves out of the way, I'll be filling this post up with engineering concepts and cool ideas. Should you have any suggestions for future posts, comments on anything I've written here, or even just want to say hello, my email address is at the top of this page.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Hypothetical Space Mission: Venusian Observatory

Hello again space fans! Welcome back to another exciting adventure into the concepts of space mission design. I would apologize for the hiatus this blog has taken but I've had a busy time of things finishing off my undergraduate degree.

As you may recall here, I have finished my undergraduate degree, my Bachelor of Applied Sciences, Specialized Honours in Space Engineering, from York University, Toronto, and have been accepted into the Masters of Space Studies program at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France!

Obviously, I am very, very excited for this opportunity and am working toward getting everything ready. I would also like to continue my hobby of exploring various space mission concepts with you and while I hinted that my next post might be about artificial gravity, that subject will have to wait until I can focus the material enough to be suitable for a blog post.

Today, we're going to be looking at a hypothetical mission to Venus, and some of the design choices needed. This was part of an assignment for my Dynamics of Space Vehicles class so I will credit Professor John Moores, of York University.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Quantum Leap

"Theorizing that time travel was possible within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator, and vanished!

He awoke to find himself trapped in the past. Facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better.

His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear.

And so Dr. Beckett finds himself, leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home."

These are the opening words to the NBC science fiction show, Quantum Leap, which ran from 1989-1993. Starring Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett, and Dean Stockwell as Al, the show followed a simple format and is summed up quite nicely by the opening words, listed above.

I remember watching this show as a kid, and I wonder what I liked about it back then. I most likely missed 90% of the subtext, context, and humour, but maybe I just enjoyed the oddity of a man walking through things (Al) or of another seeing the face of someone else in the mirror (Sam).

Recently, Netflix has been adding a lot of content. I mean A LOT! Scrolling through the selection, I saw Quantum Leap and decided I would check it out again. Parking myself on the couch, I then proceeded to watch the entire first season. I found that I still enjoyed the show and, as is common with many things, I found that I enjoyed it more now that I am older.

First thing, the show is quite formulaic; Sam leaps into the body of someone else, and they leap into his body in the future. He is faced with a humorous and difficult objective, defined by Al and his computer's historical memory banks and with luck and effort, Sam accomplishes his task and "leaps" to his next adventure at the end of every episode. What is beautiful about the show is that they follow this simple format while building on it an episode at a time. Through a few key design choices, they make a show which could have just been a series of unconnected events into something which grows with the characters and the audience over time.
Dr. Sam Beckett played by the immortal Scott Bakula
The first brilliant design choice is that they gave Sam partial amnesia. Affectionately referred to as his "Swiss-Cheese memory", it seems that the leaping process has interfered with Sam's memory. In the first episode, he has no idea who he really is and he thinks he is insane when he sees Al while no one else can. This choice is brilliant as a method of exposition, as Al's explanation of things allows the audience to catch up, and share in the suspense of Sam's lack of knowledge. Over time, Sam remembers more and more, often being reminded by his present (or past) surroundings.

This choice allows Sam to grow as a character, and allows just the right amount of abstraction. If Sam knew everything he did before leaping, the show would be a lot less interesting. But instead, we learn about Sam, his hobbies, skills, and history, and we connect more with him.

The "man out of time" trope has been used often. The first one which comes to mind, other than this show, is Back to the Future. A popular setting in science fiction, it allows the writer to mix the familiar with the unfamiliar. As I reread this, I thought of changing the above to say "person out of time", but I can only think of a few female time travelers; Hermoine Granger from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of  Azkaban, Kate Erickson from Timeline, and Claire Fraser from the Outlander series. While my knowledge of science fiction isn't exhaustive, it is extensive and I find it interesting that there haven't been more women lost in time. If you can think of more, let me know. I am interested in women who make a distinctive addition to the time-traveling genre. By distinctive, I mean they are more than just companions, or Companions (for you Dr. Who fans out there). (In order to avoid the ire of Who fans, let it be known that I mean to find out more about women who are the primary character involved.) Anyway, I digress.

Sam's situation ranges from the downright humorous (leaping into the life of a woman and working to get 3rd prize in a beauty pageant) to the serious (saving lives, preventing accidents and bad choices) and often this range is covered in the same episode. Sometimes, Sam is in a familiar part of American history, and sometimes, he is just in some remote part of the past. No matter the case, his situation is never historically important enough to make any big changes, however the show does feature "brushes with greatness". For instance, Sam inadvertently gives the lyrics to Peggy Sue to Buddy Holly, tipped a young Donald Trump to the importance of real estate, and showed Michael Jackson how to moonwalk.
Admiral Al Calavicci played by the hilarious Dean Stockwell
Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell are excellent together and they help make the show heart-warming and engaging. Stockwell's Al is a hilarious, caring, cigar-smoking ladies-man whose personality is as colourful as his wardrobe, wildly differing from episode to episode. Bakula's Sam is seriously responsible, intelligent, but almost innocently naive. One thing which confuses me a little is that Sam is supposed to be an incredible scientist, holding 6 doctoral degrees, yet he is so emotionally driven. I am not saying the two are mutually exclusive, but Sam is guilty of acting rather illogically, which I find odd, but it also is probably the reason the general audience keeps coming back. Sam is thrown into situations which require that bridge of intuition between logic and feelings, and so I guess it makes sense that Sam's heedlessness is warranted.  

Delivering more than laughs and drama, Quantum Leap works like any good piece of fiction, sometimes as a mirror, sometimes as a lens. Being reminded of the past gives us the chance to reflect on our cultural perspectives then and now, and to more closely examine the transition which took place. The show features episodes which examine segregation, women's rights, religion, and several other important issues. As the episodes progress, themes of sacrifice and morality play a larger role.

At times, both Sam and Al comment on their inability to control the leaping process. While Sam stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator prematurely, a fact left out in the opening sequence of the later seasons, it seems odd that they have no control or idea over the control of the experiment. In the end, they attribute the control to time, fate, God, or some other force.

I find this point interesting because its implication is one I have seen in many works of science fiction. The implication is that there is some kind of plan, and whether it be a sentient force at work, or just the way of things, it seems that the writers of this fiction, and many others, believe that there is a set way things should be and the universe will work toward making that happen.

What does seem clear, both inside and outside the context of this being a piece of fiction, is that Sam's leaping revolves around his own life. The idea that one could time-travel within one's own lifetime has an extra meaning in the sense that the leaping process seems to be contrived to reflect upon the person doing the leaping. Sam finds himself in situations very similar to ones he faced in his own past, or remind him of it in some way. Sam gets indirect and direct "second chances", indirect being the times he faces a situation similar to his own past which allows him to reconsider his choices and perspective, and direct being the times he literally relives moments from his own past.

These moments give Sam the opportunity to grow, and allows us to become better acquainted and connected with Sam. He has made mistakes, and he has desires which make some choices difficult. Some of these situations offer Sam the chance to fix mistakes, while others seem to be there to remind him of the inevitability of them. I don't want to reveal too much about the plot, but some of the most heart-wrenching episodes involve Sam having to make a choice between doing what he knows to be right and what he wants to be true.

In the end, the show entertains me, and makes me think, which are two key elements I desire in my life. Should you find any of the above attractive, I advise you to check it out. Whether it be the simple format, the heart-warming acting and direction, or the morality-questioning and heart-wrenching story, Quantum Leap is an experience which brings me back time and time again.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Finishing with York University: Looking Backward and Forward

I am done!

After all the exams, after all the assignments, classes, late nights, and stress, I am done with York University and I have finished with their undergraduate engineering program.

That image of Freddie Mercury embodies everything I've been feeling lately, and I'd like to take the time to share some of it with you. As the song goes, "Lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it's been."

First off, I finished my undergraduate degree at York University. I have graduated with my Bachelor of Applied Sciences, specialized Honours in Space Engineering degree and I post the full title here not only for my pride, but because people always ask what I'm studying, so now they have a reference. 

It has taken me several years to finish this degree, and I have learned so much during my time here. While I look forward to updating this blog with many of the technical content, today's post is about sharing some of the non-engineering lessons I have learned. I have grown quite considerably during the last few years and I am proud of the man I am today.

When I started at York University, I was very excited. I came from a small town and I was looking forward to living life in a big city, full of people, and opportunities. Several people have asked me if I was nervous or found it unsettling in making the transition from rural Ontario to urban Toronto, but honestly, I was never bothered by it. I have known since I was very young that I wanted to work in the space industry and so it was likely I would be in Ottawa, or Toronto, or some other big city.

My parents raised me to be a competent, hard-working, responsible person. They instilled more lessons than that, but those were probably the most important for me in making the transition. I had been taking care of myself since I was young. My parents were always there for me but they raised me to stand on my own two feet and know how to take care of myself. So, moving out to live on my own was not scary at all.

Being surrounded by so many people was not scary either, it was incredible exciting! I did not really have a lot of close friends at home (due to a lack of self-understanding which I'll talk about in a minute), and so I was excited to meet new people! When I started at York, there were over 50 000 students enrolled. That was over 6 times the population of my town! Thus, I knew the odds were ever in my favour and that if I found people I didn't like, or if I made a fool of myself, I could just turn around and meet a whole new group of people!
And did I ever. I went from being the guy who liked to stay at home alone most of the time to the guy who was constantly surrounded by friends. Like most first-year student, I had parties every week, and was always surrounded by friends and good times. 

I mentioned before that my reason for not being too popular in high school was due to a lack of self-understanding. What I mean is that I did not know myself very well in high school. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I knew certain things about myself, but I was still very unsure, and that uncertainty caused me to never really try to make connections.

University has been an excellent experience for me and the lessons I have learned about myself probably equal the material I've learned within my program.

While I believe true strength comes from within, sometimes it can be fostered from without. Surrounding myself with friends was not only fun, but it was very ego-boosting. Because I grew to like and respect them, I had to grow to respect their choice of friends. This caused a feedback loop (yeah, I've been watching a lot of Star Trek) which meant that I came to like myself more because I was friends with someone with whom I respected. Through my friends, I learned a great deal about myself and was able to push past the boundaries I had established long ago, and was able to really grow as a person. 

I became daring, outgoing, confident, I laughed more, and felt happier and far more comfortable than I had in years.
I became so bold that I started wearing a cape around campus! Red on one side, black on the other, reversible but still super awesome no matter which side it's on, I came to appreciate my own oddity and learned just how special and unique I was.

While I could go on and on about my friends, how they helped me, how I helped them, and the many adventures we had, it was not all fun and games, or rather it was, until second year.

As expected, that much socialization had an impact on my grades. My GPA dropped, and dropped hard, but oddly, that was not so much because of my time with friends.

No, it was my lack of computer science knowledge which caused me to blunder my way through and fall behind in my studies. If I could go back in time and give myself advice (which I would never do as it would violate the time stream, and I have a MAJOR problem with this), so, err, the first thing I would tell any new university student, is to know what is expected of you, right from the start.

While I knew York University was the place for me, I will admit that there was a lack of information on what was expected of its first year engineering students. This problem is probably quite common. I can see how even a standard curriculum can have variation and so I can imagine how almost everyone's educational experience can differ. Thus, it might be tough to ensure that everyone who meets the general requirements actually meets the expected requirements involved in a program.

For me, my knowledge was pretty good, except for computer programming. My high school did not have a class covering this topic at the time and I didn't realize how behind I was given that I had zero experience with it. While the first computer science class at York was entitled, "Introduction to Computer Science", the coursework seemed to assume a background in the topic which I, and many other students, did not have.

The professor assumed we already had a solid, but limited footing, and thus flew through the first few chapters and assignments. I quickly became lost, frustrated, and jaded by the entire department. I found that I needed help, and that there wasn't any for me to find.

So, find out as much as you can about your program and try to become familiar with the top-level ideas, at least.

My lack of understanding in this area caused me to essentially fall a year behind. I had classes on top of classes, and course prerequisites were becoming a problem.

This lack of success, and a lack of academic support, plus a York-wide strike, caused me to become jaded. Like many students, I had lost my way, and didn't know what I wanted. I felt lost and disoriented and stopped planning ahead, instead I lived in the moment.

Now, you may not know me very well, so you may not realize how incredibly irregular this is for a guy like me. I have had it in mind to work for the space industry since I was 5 years old. Had I a mentor or a better high school counselor, I would have had my life planned out exactly from that time forward. However, I was blazing a trail, covering new ground, and so I had to learn a lot as I went along.

So, to be floundering, to not plan ahead or think about what I wanted to do with my life, this was a terrible and uncharacteristic place in which to be. And it all happened so gradually that I didn't realize it for too long of a time.

Once I saw what was happening, I knew I had to do something. My plans were ambitious. I was not simply getting a degree to then get a job. No! I wanted to start something, I wanted to innovate and accomplish great things!

Some time ago, my mom learned of an adopted a very simple strategy for keeping herself focused. When she has a goal, she creates a visual reminder of that goal and puts it on display. By seeing it everyday, she is constantly reminded of it and it helps her focus her attention.

I decided to try this. Finding a picture of Scotty, I printed it out and hung it on my bulletin board.
Anytime I looked up, there he was, hard at work, reminding me that I should be doing the same, and reminding me of what I wanted out of life.

Suddenly, everything seemed to have a purpose, I had a purpose! Assignments weren't merely homework, they were field guides for learning important material necessary for a space engineer. Material which seemed uninteresting at first suddenly became crucial as I imagined that everything learned brought me one step closer.

This reinforcement technique was so powerful that I ended up redecorating my apartment entirely. I placed more emphasis on the things which inspired me. My bulletin board became full of photos of the Space Shuttle, blueprints for the Enterprise-D hand-drawn on mylar, and I even went so far as to place all my action figures in such a way that they all looked at me with inspiring motivation.

It sounds very silly, I realize this, but all of this gave me the energy I needed and I soon thrived upon it. While others would fall short, give up, move on, become lazy, I found I was not only a better student, but a happier one.

I continue this habit to this day. As I write this, I look over to the mantle above my fireplace and I see: 2 models of the starship Enterprise (NCC-1701 and NCC 1701-D), 2 models of the Space Shuttle (one made out of lego), and several Star Trek toys. These things remind me of the fantastic aspects of my chosen career, and help keep me excited about working within it.

Around 3rd-4th year I found that while I was motivated, I was also becoming distracted by my relationships. I don't know why exactly but I started taking on the anxiety and concerns of my friends and family. I also seemed to have completely changed from an introvert to an extrovert. This was very alarming once I realized.

I found that I didn't like being alone and that I grew anxious thinking about everyone's problems and in an effort to be the part person who knew about and planned around everyone's concerns, I ended up becoming extremely anxious myself. It was a strange scenario but again I think it comes from a lack of focus. While I had helped motivate myself to do well in school, I wasn't looking past that. Also, I grew so accustomed to having friends around that I didn't seem to function properly without them. There was also the fact that I had gone through a few romantic relationships and was learning how to deal with the emotions involved. In summary, I felt as if I was tearing myself apart, trying to accommodate too many angles at once.

I needed a break. I needed to get away. 

I was drifting, and I had lost touch with who I was.

I know, I make it sound so serious, but it was to me. I like to experience life like a stone surrounded by water. I have a firm core which houses my values, goals, and ambition, and I try to surround it with an adaptable, flexible perspective. Without that stone, without that inner core of confidence and direction, I drift and become lost.

I needed to find myself, but I was surrounded by school and all of my friends.

So, I went to Edmonton. The need to get away was the first reason for going. The second was finding some work to occupy my time between courses.

My time there was incredibly well-spent and I am thankful for every minute of it. The summer was a great way to unwind after a long school year, and by only having to think of myself and one other person, I was able to look inward.

Halfway through my stay, a friend and I had a falling out. Any drama was entirely my doing, and I've learned quite a lot from the experience. My only regret is that we don't talk much today, but people grow apart. Still, whenever I have had need to call upon a friend for legal advice, mostly in crazy science-fictional situations, she has been there.

This falling out was just as important as the trip was. I realized that I was still protecting myself through this friendship. I was not taking the proper time to re-evaluate my life, and thus was not making the most of my time there. The next few months were tough. I spent all of my time either alone in my apartment or at work. I met some interesting people at work, connected with some of them, but I was mostly alone.

Like any good montage in any good movie, I put this time to good use. I jump-started my blog, putting up articles on space engineering. I began researching grad schools, and the hazardous effects of the space environment. I learned what true friendship was, what harm I had been doing to mine, and I found the strength, the confidence, and the motivation I had been fostering all along.

I came back feeling like Bruce Wayne after his training with the League of Shadows. I felt like a new man, trained and ready to face any challenge.

I struck a balance between work and play, and stopped leaning so hard on my friends. When facing a situation in which I was perturbed with something or someone, I took it as an opportunity for growth and inspiration. I became proactive, positive, and I felt an emotional healthiness that I had not felt for some time.

I became dedicated. Other than the occasional TV show, or the weekly D&D session, I spent all of my time working. I got more done in 3 months than I think I did in an entire year, and I grew better and better at being productive.

I began to look ahead, and really focus on what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I took up the research for graduate studies and found many opportunities overseas. With some guidance and support, I finished my applications and sent them off, full of hope.

In the end, I learned a lot. I graduated from York University with my Bachelor in Applied Sciences, Specialized Honours in Space Engineering degree. I obtained my Advanced and Basics with Honours Amateur Radio Certification and this year I earned a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction in an introduction to Astrobiology course from Coursera.

I attended the Calling of the Engineer and wear my Iron Ring proudly. It reminds me of the struggles and accomplishments in my short career, and the responsibilities therein.

But mostly, I learned about myself. I learned more about who I am, what I want, and how to accept things about myself, and challenge my own limits. I have learned the meaning and true worth of friendships and have amazing people in my life, despite geographical distance.

This post was written about 2 weeks ago. At that time, I was getting ready to start exams and I was apprehensive about my future. I had sent off applications but there was always the chance that I wouldn't be successful. I had nothing but support from everyone else, but life is tough and one always has to plan for the worst.

However, as many of my friends and family has seen, my worry was for nothing and my path is clear:

I have been accepted into the Masters of Space Studies program at the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France! A one year program, focusing on the design of spacecraft systems and missions, the ISU works to help create the future leaders in the space industry. I also received notification that the European Space Agency has committed to helping me with some of my tuition costs. I am so completely happy and, contrary to what is normal, am taking the time and opportunity to feel proud of myself.

I have worked very hard to be where I am today. I have sacrificed some things, but I have gained so much more. While part of me would like to put my accomplishments on display to irritate anyone who has ever doubted me, I am mostly concerned with sharing my success as an example of what hard work, dedication, and support can achieve.

This post probably suggests a certain level of narcissism about myself. (the amount of I's would definitely lend credence to this idea) While I have become a lot more self-focused in the last few years, I work hard to be considerate of others. Still, I thought I had been slacking in the big brother department, but I am happy to say that is not the case. My sister has recently been accepted into almost every program for which she applied, including her #1 choice at Brock University! She hasn't decided yet, but I think she's going to choose to go there. It's an exciting time for her and I am incredibly proud of her efforts. Two years ago, I was worried she wasn't going to be too successful past high school, especially in any field which required math. However, she impressed us all with her focus and dedication and has not only brought her marks up, but has out-achieved even her expectations.

It is a time of change for my family. I'll be heading to France in a few short months, and my sister will be off to start her undergraduate degree. My parents are, of course, incredibly proud, and while we are worried about some of the financial logistics of all of this, we are happy for the opportunities and look forward to the future.

My summer looks to be full of activity. I plan on spending more time with friends, working and earning money, campaigning and working to raise the funds I'll need for overseas, finalizing any logistics involved with studying/living in France for a year, and going on more adventures, whether they be social, academic, or both!

Thank you all for your support, and thank you for reading. I know I can be verbose but I hope the effort to read is worth it. Stay tuned here over the summer as I hope to share some more of the engineering concepts about which I am interested, and remember that everything is impossible, until it no longer is.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Things which bother me: Hating Valentine's Day

February 14th, commonly known as Valentine's Day, is almost here and as it approaches, the two classic extremes of sentiment accompany it: love and bitterness. On a day commonly held to be a celebration of love, or possibly the love of buying Hallmark cards, Valentine's Day, like a snow day, brings a chill to the hearts of many.

I have problems with the extreme bitterness surrounding this day and I would like to share my thoughts. Now, before we get too far, rest assured that I know the true meaning of Valentine's Day, its origins, traditions, and reasons for being. I also am more than aware of the vast consumerism which takes place year after year in the name of love, and the pressure which comes with it.

However, I still have problems with people's bitterness over it. For many, the problem they have with February 14th is either that they hate the capitalistic associations (as in the apparent need to go out and buy things for people) and/or the pressure put on people do take part in said tradition.

The attitude of consumerism which comes with Valentine's Day is unfortunate and is one which really causes people to forget and hate holidays like Christmas, Easter, and probably many other days of celebration or worship from other backgrounds/cultures. The idea that we have to go out and do anything is an incredibly frustrating one. So, on a day which traditionally only has meaning to one specific group, those who are celebrating the sainthood of a few men named Valentine, it is difficult to be excited or even neutral about it when we are constantly bombarded with songs, store-front displays, pressure and paraphernalia.

The second half of this pressure is that people are either bitter about being single on this day, or that people are bitter that they are "forced" to take part in it if they are, in fact, in a relationship. I think all of these complaints are silly, but I am one of the special few.

First, let's deal with consumerism and societal pressure. I don't know what it is about me, but I really have a hard time being told what to do. Perhaps it was caused by my upbringing; being raised by strong, independent parents who told me to question things and only do that which made sense and was good.

Perhaps, it was due to my many years of watching Star Trek, wherein I've been trained by Captain Kirk to not bow to authority, and by Spock to consider the logic of all situations. Maybe, it's because I like being difficult. Whatever it is, I have a hard time being told to do something, but instead of venting frustration toward those "telling" me to act, I just ignore it.

Societal pressure barely affects me. I don't have body issues, I don't feel I need to do, think, or be a certain way in order to be a point. I also understand societal expectations and try not to clash too much. Like, you wear business attire to a business function. But, since it makes sense, I don't have as much of a problem with it.

So, if/when I am in a relationship during Valentine's Day, I don't feel compelled to do anything unless I actually want to. I wouldn't be one of those rushing out to buy flowers or a card just because society said I should. Now, let's look at the possible pressure from a partner.

Anyone who knows me knows that I try to be honest, and upfront. I have made my views on things very clear from the earliest possible points of my relationships. That being said, I would hope and look for the same thing in a partner. So, my partner would know that I am not going to buy her flowers, cards, or chocolates simply because it's the 14th of February. I might do it because I want to, but not because I felt obligated. And if my partner tried to pressure me into doing so, she might find that our relationship is not made to last, because of my problem with being told what to do.

Now, any married people out there might thing, oh Dallas, you're in for a world of trouble. But, the thing is, while you have to work at relationships, you shouldn't have to work for love. Any pressure from a partner to do so would indicate one of two things: either a lack of confidence/esteem in the strength of the relationship and/or a lack of proper indication on either side as to said strength of feeling. No girlfriend of mine, past or future, would ever have cause for concern as to a lack of attention. I don't smother those I care about, or at least I try not to, but I am upfront so if I like you, you'll know it. I have learned over the years how to explore my feelings a bit more and might be a little less reckless with my heart than before, but still, if I'm with you, you'll know how I feel. So, unless you really had doubts, because of your own problems, you would not feel the need to pressure me into showing my love in an obligatory manner. Of course, if you had those doubts, it might be the cause of a larger issue, in which case I would do everything I could to help, but I would have a hard time being asked to do anything I really didn't feel it was genuine.

So, no societal pressure, and no pressure within the relationship. Let's look at the "being single" aspect. I guess that some people find it hard to be okay about being single while the whole world seems to be going crazy for love. Okay, that's a fair point. It is hard to be different, especially when you feel you're alone. For those who feel this, I'm sorry. Just know that you're not alone. You may physically not have another person there with you, but there are always those who care about you.

For those who grow jealous of those with dates/relationships, try not to be. I am currently one of the few of my close friends who is single. Do I feel jealousy toward them? Absolutely not! I love that they are happy, and I am very glad that they have someone in their lives everyday of the year, not just the near ides of February. Being single can be very rewarding as well, but if you're too bitter to think about that, at least don't be mad at those who aren't bitter, if you can help it.

One quick piece of advice for people in relationships: whether you submit to the pressures you may or may not be faced with, keep an eye out for deals. I may object to doing something purely because of the calendar date, but I'd be foolish to not take advantage of movie or dinner deals. If it was something my partner and I wanted to do anyway, why not save some money?

Finally, I want to stress the important point that many bitter people may have: love is not subject to being celebrated only one day of the year. If you're with someone, you should figure out how you feel and make sure that they know. Not only is communication healthy, it saves a lot of trouble later. And most of us like receiving things so if you get the chance, make sure you shower that special someone with attention every once in a while. Not because you have to, but because maybe you want to but are just lazy sometimes.

It's easy for me to be cheery. I'm a romantic. I like to think of myself as an extremely pragmatic person with a colourful streak of passion. In my first year of undergrad, I bought Valentine's Day cards to give to my friends. My favourite one was a Transformers Optimus Prime inspired one which almost seems like it was advocating being single.
Still, I like doing nice things for people. I mail letters to my friends, and not just in February. For all those out there, in a relationship or not, have a fantastic day and make sure you let people know how you feel about them. (If you happen to not like them, make sure that you do and present the case gently, if possible.)

I will probably spend the day either with friends, or alone curled up in front of the fire. Either way, it'll be a day to remember, like each and everyday should be.