Power Upgrade

Who wants to drive a slow car?  Lets soop it up.

To do before buying anything:

  • Maximum voltage and current for the Ardumoto shield
    • Based on this schematic, max voltage is 18V
    • Recommended voltage is 7-12V, otherwise the voltage regulator could overheat
  • Power requirements for the motors:
    • 4.5V and 2A max

Now buying the batteries:

  • I wanted to go with 18650 Lithium Phosphate cells because they can deliver a lot of power (20A continuous), are relatively high capacity (2600mAh), come with built-in protection (safer!) and many off the shelf cylindrical battery chargers will accept them.
    • Looking around, amazon was selling LG cells (yay LG).  Since I spend my days watching videos of LG cells go through a battery of tests (…ha!), I know these are some of the safest cells on the market.  Since I’m not using any sort of battery management system (yet), safety could be a concern.
    • I noticed there are some battery manufacturers which are getting ripped off by Chinese counterfeiters.  This guy actually tested the capacity of the cells against their claims and rated them in terms of warranty.  LG cells were the only ones who passed.
  • Picked up a battery charger as well.  It accepts almost all cylindrical format consumer battery cell.
  • Of course I needed a battery holder to connect these cells in series.  I’ll have 1 extra cell just in case.
  • And finally I’ll need a power jack so I can plug into the Arduino.  Surprisingly this took me the longest to choose.  I was originally was going to go with something similar to what I have, but figured modularity is always best so I went with cheaper screw terminals instead.
  • In total this cost me $50.  This is becoming an expensive hobby…

Power Upgrade Time!

The batteries came individually packed in the mail.  They look about the size of shotgun shells.

IMG_20160327_172911

I loaded 3 of these in series into a battery holder, and attached the screw terminals.  After plugging it into the Arduino power sound, I added some new code (see bottom) which I modified to be a more WASD friendly.  Here is the work in process.

 

#include
SoftwareSerial BT(4, 5);
// creates a “virtual” serial port/UART
// connect BT module TX to D4
// connect BT module RX to D5
// connect BT Vcc to 5V, GND to GND

// Clockwise and counter-clockwise definitions.
// Depending on how you wired your motors, you may need to swap.
#define CW 0
#define CCW 1

// Motor definitions to make life easier:
#define MOTOR_A 0
#define MOTOR_B 1

// Pin Assignments //
// Don’t change these! These pins are statically defined by shield layout
const byte PWMA = 3; // PWM control (speed) for motor A
const byte PWMB = 11; // PWM control (speed) for motor B
const byte DIRA = 12; // Direction control for motor A
const byte DIRB = 13; // Direction control for motor B

void setup()
{
setupArdumoto(); // Set all pins as outputs

// set digital pin to control as an output
pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
// set the data rate for the SoftwareSerial port
BT.begin(9600);
// Send test message to other device
BT.println(“Serial is working correctly”);
}

char a; // stores incoming character from other device
int setspeed; //1-255 charecter defining the motor speed

void loop()
{

if (BT.available())
// if text arrived in from BT serial…
{
a=(BT.read());
BT.println(a);
if (a==’1′)
{
digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
BT.println(“LED on”);
}
if (a==’2′)
{
digitalWrite(13, LOW);
BT.println(“LED off”);
}
if (a==’?’)
{
BT.println(“Send ‘1’ to turn LED on”);
BT.println(“Send ‘2’ to turn LED on”);
}
// you can add more “if” statements with other characters to add more commands

if (a==’w’) // FORWARD
{
BT.println(“FORWARD”);
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CCW, 255); // Motor A at max speed.
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CCW, 255); // Motor B at max speed.
delay(200); // Drive forward for a second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_A); // STOP motor A
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_B); // STOP motor B
}

if (a==’s’) // BACKWARD
{
BT.println(“BACKWARD”);
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CW, 255); // Motor A at max speed.
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CW, 255); // Motor B at max speed.
delay(200); // Drive forward for a second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_A); // STOP motor A
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_B); // STOP motor B
}

if (a==’a’) // RIGHT
{
BT.println(“RIGHT”);
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CCW, 255); // Set motor B to CCW at max
delay(200); // Motor B will spin as set for 1 second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_B); // STOP motor B
}

if (a==’d’) // LEFT
{
BT.println(“LEFT”);
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CCW, 255); // Set motor A to CCW at max
delay(200); // Motor A will spin as set for 1 second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_A); // STOP motor A
}

}
}

// driveArdumoto drives ‘motor’ in ‘dir’ direction at ‘spd’ speed
void driveArdumoto(byte motor, byte dir, byte spd)
{
if (motor == MOTOR_A)
{
digitalWrite(DIRA, dir);
analogWrite(PWMA, spd);
}
else if (motor == MOTOR_B)
{
digitalWrite(DIRB, dir);
analogWrite(PWMB, spd);
}
}

// stopArdumoto makes a motor stop
void stopArdumoto(byte motor)
{
driveArdumoto(motor, 0, 0);
}

// setupArdumoto initialize all pins
void setupArdumoto()
{
// All pins should be setup as outputs:
pinMode(PWMA, OUTPUT);
pinMode(PWMB, OUTPUT);
pinMode(DIRA, OUTPUT);
pinMode(DIRB, OUTPUT);

// Initialize all pins as low:
digitalWrite(PWMA, LOW);
digitalWrite(PWMB, LOW);
digitalWrite(DIRA, LOW);
digitalWrite(DIRB, LOW);
}

Motor Hookup

 

Once I have Bluetooth communication, it’s time to make this thing move.  I’ve set it up with an Ardumoto motor shield which can allow for a maximum of 2A of power.

Using this code that I slapped together with a few tutorials, I can control the wheels via Bluetooth commands.  Now I noticed that the wheels wouldn’t turn when I had set the speed to 255/2.  This was due to the USB plug, having a maximum output of 500mA x 5V = 2.5W.  That is not enough power, so to increase the amount of available power, the barrel jack should be used to supplement with 4x AA alkaline batteries.

  • Next steps:  order new parts for more power!

#include <SoftwareSerial.h>
SoftwareSerial BT(4, 5);
// creates a “virtual” serial port/UART
// connect BT module TX to D4
// connect BT module RX to D5
// connect BT Vcc to 5V, GND to GND

// Clockwise and counter-clockwise definitions.
// Depending on how you wired your motors, you may need to swap.
#define CW 0
#define CCW 1

// Motor definitions to make life easier:
#define MOTOR_A 0
#define MOTOR_B 1

// Pin Assignments //
// Don’t change these! These pins are statically defined by shield layout
const byte PWMA = 3; // PWM control (speed) for motor A
const byte PWMB = 11; // PWM control (speed) for motor B
const byte DIRA = 12; // Direction control for motor A
const byte DIRB = 13; // Direction control for motor B

void setup()
{
setupArdumoto(); // Set all pins as outputs

// set digital pin to control as an output
pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
// set the data rate for the SoftwareSerial port
BT.begin(9600);
// Send test message to other device
BT.println(“Hello from Arduino”);
}

char a; // stores incoming character from other device

void loop()
{

if (BT.available())
// if text arrived in from BT serial…
{
a=(BT.read());
if (a==’1′)
{
digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
BT.println(“LED on”);
}
if (a==’2′)
{
digitalWrite(13, LOW);
BT.println(“LED off”);
}
if (a==’?’)
{
BT.println(“Send ‘1’ to turn LED on”);
BT.println(“Send ‘2’ to turn LED on”);
}
// you can add more “if” statements with other characters to add more commands

if (a==’q’)
{
// Drive motor A (and only motor A) at various speeds, then stop.
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CCW, 255); // Set motor A to CCW at max
delay(3000); // Motor A will spin as set for 1 second
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CW, 255); // Set motor A to CW at half
delay(3000); // Motor A will keep trucking for 1 second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_A); // STOP motor A
}
if (a==’w’)
{
// Drive motor B (and only motor B) at various speeds, then stop.
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CCW, 255); // Set motor B to CCW at max
delay(3000); // Motor B will spin as set for 1 second
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CW, 255); // Set motor B to CW at half
delay(3000); // Motor B will keep trucking for 1 second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_B); // STOP motor B
}
if (a==’e’)
{
// Now spin both!
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CW, 255); // Motor A at max speed.
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CW, 255); // Motor B at max speed.
delay(3000); // Drive forward for a second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_A); // STOP motor A
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_B); // STOP motor B
}
if (a==’r’)
{
// Now go backwards at half that speed:
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_A, CCW, 255); // Motor A at max speed.
driveArdumoto(MOTOR_B, CCW, 255); // Motor B at max speed.
delay(3000); // Drive forward for a second
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_A); // STOP motor A
stopArdumoto(MOTOR_B); // STOP motor B
}

}
}

// driveArdumoto drives ‘motor’ in ‘dir’ direction at ‘spd’ speed
void driveArdumoto(byte motor, byte dir, byte spd)
{
if (motor == MOTOR_A)
{
digitalWrite(DIRA, dir);
analogWrite(PWMA, spd);
}
else if (motor == MOTOR_B)
{
digitalWrite(DIRB, dir);
analogWrite(PWMB, spd);
}
}

// stopArdumoto makes a motor stop
void stopArdumoto(byte motor)
{
driveArdumoto(motor, 0, 0);
}

// setupArdumoto initialize all pins
void setupArdumoto()
{
// All pins should be setup as outputs:
pinMode(PWMA, OUTPUT);
pinMode(PWMB, OUTPUT);
pinMode(DIRA, OUTPUT);
pinMode(DIRB, OUTPUT);

// Initialize all pins as low:
digitalWrite(PWMA, LOW);
digitalWrite(PWMB, LOW);
digitalWrite(DIRA, LOW);
digitalWrite(DIRB, LOW);
}

Arduino Projects: JY-MCU / HC-06

IMG_20160320_222055

I installed the Bluetooth module on a chassis with a Arduino and a motor shield in anticipation of having a Bluetooth controlled robot.

 

Lately I’ve found myself with some extra time and wanting to do some Ardunio projects.  I’m working on controlling a small robot with some DC motors and perhaps putting a buzzer on it, a range sensor for collision avoidance and maybe a mechanical arm to pick things up.  I purchased the module from Amazon for $10.

I’ve been working trying to get the bluetooth module JY-MCU/HC-06 to work, but unfortunately it took a bit of a learning curve.  Here is what I found from reading:

  • Although the RX line claims it needs 3.3V, 5V is fine.
  • The JY-MCU doesn’t need RX/TX to be discovered; all it needs is power and the blinking red light to be discovered
  • My Nexus 5 Android version 6 doesn’t detect
  • I tried a Samsung Galaxy S2.  The HC-06 was discoverable but would drop the connection after about 20s.
  • Commands can be issued through the serial command window in the Ardiuno IDE.  Here is a link to the list of the commands
  • Here is the HC06 datasheet
  • Baud Rate is 9600 by default
  • I used Sena Blueterm, free on the Android Play store, to send commands from my Nexus 7 to the device.  Here is a tutorial.
  • I’m using Bluetooth Terminal from the Android play store.

Code used to confirm that the Arduino Uno has received information from Computer –> Ardiuno –> Computer

int incomingByte = 0; // for incoming serial data

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600); // opens serial port, sets data rate to 9600 bps
}

void loop() {

// send data only when you receive data:
if (Serial.available() > 0) {
// read the incoming byte:
incomingByte = Serial.read();

// say what you got:
Serial.print(“I received: “);
Serial.println(incomingByte, DEC);
}
}

  • Nexus 7 tablet can discover the HC-06, but gives a “failed to connect device” error.  Went to sleep, then tried it again next morning with passcode ‘1234’ and it paired.  Weird.
  • Turning the BT receiver/transmitter in Android (pulldown dashboard box) seems to help.

Lighting an LED by sending commands over  Serial via the Arduino IDE

char blueToothVal; //value sent over via bluetooth
char lastValue; //stores last state of device (on/off)

void setup()
{
Serial.begin(9600);
pinMode(13,OUTPUT);
}

void loop()
{
if(Serial.available())
{//if there is data being recieved
blueToothVal=Serial.read(); //read it
}
if (blueToothVal==’n’)
{//if value from bluetooth serial is n
digitalWrite(13,HIGH); //switch on LED
if (lastValue!=’n’)
Serial.println(F(“LED is on”)); //print LED is on
lastValue=blueToothVal;
}
else if (blueToothVal==’f’)
{//if value from bluetooth serial is n
digitalWrite(13,LOW); //turn off LED
if (lastValue!=’f’)
Serial.println(F(“LED is off”)); //print LED is on
lastValue=blueToothVal;
}
delay(1000);
}

Lighting the LED via Bluetooth

#include
SoftwareSerial BT(10, 11);
// creates a “virtual” serial port/UART
// connect BT module TX to D10
// connect BT module RX to D11
// connect BT Vcc to 5V, GND to GND
void setup()
{
// set digital pin to control as an output
pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
// set the data rate for the SoftwareSerial port
BT.begin(9600);
// Send test message to other device
BT.println(“Hello from Arduino”);
}
char a; // stores incoming character from other device
void loop()
{
if (BT.available())
// if text arrived in from BT serial…
{
a=(BT.read());
if (a==’1′)
{
digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
BT.println(“LED on”);
}
if (a==’2′)
{
digitalWrite(13, LOW);
BT.println(“LED off”);
}
if (a==’?’)
{
BT.println(“Send ‘1’ to turn LED on”);
BT.println(“Send ‘2’ to turn LED on”);
}
// you can add more “if” statements with other characters to add more commands
}
}

  • Arduino is not responding to command sent over bluetooth
    • Checked each jumper cable by lighting up and LED.  Cables are fine.
    • Unplugged the module and plugged it back in.  It works!

Next step, writing the code to control the motors.

Recovery Blog

This year was my first time I had a real job with real health insurance.  LG has “spa care” or “Cadillac” health insurance which can put some government institutions to shame.  I decided to take advantage of it and get my shoulder and eyes fixed.  To save downtime, against the recommendation of basically everybody, I decided to get both procedures at the same time!

Shoulder History

My shoulder has been damaged for quite some time.  When I was 20, I was really into martial arts and was taking a kickboxing class.  During a sparing match I dislocated my shoulder from throwing a punch that was blocked wide.  As it was my first dislocation, I was unsure what happened.   During my confusion my opponent continued to pummel me.  I spent the next 3 hours with my femur out of it’s socket and going through the on-campus infirmary.  You know your Chinese is a good when you are writhing in agony and can describe the situation to the doctor.

I walked with an American classmate to the infirmary where a -ray was performed.  As the injury occurred during lunch hour, the doctor was out and I was required wait for him for his return.  He gave me 3 muscle relaxant injections (one wasn’t enough; he said I was too muscular =D), then proceeded to stick his foot into my armpit and pull as hard as he could.  This popped my shoulder back in.  I was instructed to keep my arm in a sling for a month, then start muscle strengthening exercises.

Although my shoulder regained some of it’s strength, it has continually lost stability after repeated dislocations.  To name a few times it has dislocated (in no particular order):

  1. Doing the “Superman” in a Yoga class
  2. Being thrown during a hip-hop dance practice
  3. Landing poorly on a snowboarding jump
  4. Falling while snowboarding
  5. Doing a high jump
  6. Doing a wide arm pull-up at the gym
  7. Learning how to wakeboard
  8. Coming out of surgery (I woke up with it dislocated.  It must have come out when they moved me)
  9. There is more; I just can’t remember.

Through these I injuries, I learned how to pop it back in by myself.  #8 on the list was particularly interesting because I was in the hospital.  My family was standing around when I woke up from a Morphine induced slumber.  Despite being super drugged, I noticed that I couldn’t move my left arm and concluded that I had a dislocation.  I was in significant discomfort, and the nurses refusing to touch me, called the doctor.  I didn’t want to wait, so I got Eric to Youtube a video on how to perform a shoulder reduction using the Cunningham technique.  The nurses were amazed, and I was relieved.  The Cunningham technique requires another person for aid, so for subsequent injuries I used the Kocher method, because it is much easier to perform by yourself.

My last dislocation was the wide-arm pullup.  A coworker had a shoulder instability surgery performed a couple of months ago and I was inspired by his progress, so I decided to see a surgeon.  This is the story of my recovery.

Pre-Operative Shoulder Surgery

I was recommended by my primary care physician to a local orthopedic surgeon who had very good success with his other patients.  I had an X-ray, which showed there was a tear on my rotator cuff and a loss of material on the femur head due to impact from repeated dislocations.  He recommended a remplissage procedure to prevent further dislocations.  This technique basically puts a screw in my femur head and anchors it to the rotator cuff to improve contact and stability.

The X-ray also showed that there were some arthritic changes between the Clavicle and the Acromion because I was compensating the shoulder stability with muscles around that area; the remedy  was a Mumford procedure and Subacromial Decompression

The Shoulder Surgery

December 15, 2015.  Day -1; Day before operation
Got a call at 4pm telling me to not eat breakfast.  Eric drove all the way from Toronto just to drive me to the hospital.  I am so thankful to have family that will support me.  Nobody but family will treat you that way.  We had a vegetarian Ethiopian dinner with Ayaka at Blue Nile.

December 16, 2015.  Day 0, operating day
Aleve taken: 2
Norco taken: 4

Woke up at 6AM to get to the surgical center at 7AM.  I broke the normal breakfast routine by leaving a post-it note telling myself to not ingest anything.

This is the first time I’ve visited a surgical center; it is remarkably different from a hospital.  It had a very nice lobby, which included a small fireplace, fast-food style booths, free WiFi, soda fountain and coffee.  So far I was impressed with the American healthcare system (given I have great health insurance).

Eric set up his workstation and I was directed to a private room where I changed into a hospital gown.  I was given a few Norcos and was taught how to do the pendulum post-operative exercise.  I was told after the surgery I should keep my arm on ice at all times, and was also given a really cool human-cooler.  It was comprised of a small cooler containing a fish-tank sized pump connected to rubber hosing which would run ice cold water through a pad.  Crude design, but effective.

I was shown how to use the arm immobilizer, which was basically a white velcro belt with a loop for my bicep and wrist.  It would prevent me from using my shoulder.

I was given a ultrasonic number(?) so I wouldn’t feel any pain when they inserted a pain pump.  The pain pump was a sack filled with anesteic connected to a long catheter.  It was mostly packaged inside a fanny pack style bag which was fastened to my arm immobilizer.  The catheter was inserted into my bicep and ran up inside my arm to my shoulder where the medicine was administered.

I was wheeled into the surgical room.  I knew the routine of counting backwards from 100.  I think I got to 98 before I don’t remember anything.

Waking up in recovery room I discovered my arm was completely numb.  I couldn’t move it at all.  I tried shaking my own hand and realized I have somewhat strong feeling leathery hands.  I didn’t feel any pain.

I walked of surgery center at 1pm in a relatively good mood.  Went home, and took at 2h nap.  I was told that I should sleep sitting up to reduce pressure on my shoulder so I slept on my recliner.  Eric and I had slept pretty late the previous night and really needed it.

We woke up around 5PM.  I couldn’t wear a shirt at this point, so I half put on the shirt by draping a hoodie over the sling.  I popped a Norco and decided I felt up to sitting 5h in a car.  We packed up the car, then grabbed sushi at noble fish.  I wanted to bring back some snacks so we got supplies at Trader Joes.

At Trader Joes Eric noticed I bled right through my hoodie; it looked like I was a gunshot victim.  We went into the bathroom and decided it would be too much work to change the dressings.  Instead we wadded up a bunch of paper towel and put it between my dressings and the hoodie.  Eric commented he felt like this was a “Walking Dead” style medical procedure.

We set out for Toronto.  I had an icepack on my shoulder which melted halfway.  We stopped at an Enroute and did another Walking Dead procedure; we got a cup of ice from Burger King and changed the dressing in the bathroom.  A wide-eyed passerby asked what happened to me, for which I responded “you should see the other guy”.

Finally got back to Toronto.  My mom changed the dressings and immediately threw the shirt into the wash.  There were 3 incisions in the front of my shoulder and 1 in the back, all done up with sutures.  I took some herbal painkillers and hung out with the family.  Pain was completely bareable.  I went to sleep around 2 sitting up on the couch.

December 17, 2015.  Day 1.  First day after surgery
Aleve taken: 2
Norco taken: 2
Entertainment:  James Bond, Dr. No (1962), Contact (1998)

Although I slept in an upright position it was difficult to get comfortable.  I woke up at 4AM in pain.  I had regained all the feeling in my left arm and could now move my fingers.  The pain was a was throbbing, not shooting pain.  I took another Norco before falling asleep.

I woke up again at 8AM with a throbbing pain.  I took an Aleve instead this time to mix it up.  Went back to sleep in the sun filled living room.

Woke up around 12PM and decided I didn’t want to sleep anymore. Taking advantage of the “take it easy” doctors orders, I watched movies whole day.  I had downloaded the James Bond collection and decided to start with the first one, Dr No.  Dr. No’s character was a mad Chinese scientist, but was played by a white man (yellowface anybody?).  I was watching this movie to be educated about the 1950s rather than be entertained.  I’d give it a 6/10.

I wasn’t very hungry that day.  Actually I was feeling kind of bloated.  I just ate small snacks.

Changed my gause changed.  There wasn’t much blood, but there was lots of yellow fluid leaking out of the wounds.  Ayaka told me this was nothing to be alarmed about.  My mom put band aids over the wounds because it didn’t look like much fluid.

As per the doctors instructions, I was to start shoulder pendulm exercises immedately.  I tried taking immobilizer off and doing shoulder rotations.  I did 30s, then was overcome by a huge waves of sleepiness.  I am unsure why I got so sleepy at that point; it could have been pain waves, but I didn’t feel any pain.  I went to sleep.

December 18, 2015.  Day 2. First small outing after surgery.
Aleve taken: 2
Norco taken: 2
Entertainment: Chapie (2015), Ghost in a Shell 2: innocence (2008)

I was woken at 6AM in mild discomfort.  I ate a banana, took an Aleve and went back to sleep.  When I woke up and had my dressings changed, we discovered that I bled through yesterday’s shirt.  We switched back to gause.

My mom pulled out the pain pump today.  It was as simple as removing some tape and pulling out a tube from my arm.  Didn’t hurt at all.

As per doctors orders, I wasn’t allowed to shower until today.  I sniffed my armpit and was revolted by the smell.  Did my best in washing myself, then put on a short sleeved shirt.

Today was a Sci-fi movie day.  Chappie was an interesting movie about a child-like robot learning to live in Johannesburg.  Ghost in the Shell 2 was OK; it didn’t introduce many new ideas as the first one.

I decided I felt good enough to do a short outing.  I walked to Fernando’s house, which is 5 minutes away.  I slung my jacket over my sling and walked outside in the freezing cold.  Hung out, and caught up.  Good to see friends.

December 19, 2015.  Day 3.  Ugly Sweater Christmas Party.
Aleve taken: 2
Norco taken: 1
Entertainment: The last of us (PS3)

Discovered that sleeping with my right shoulder against the couch was a lot less painful .  Didn’t wake up during the night.

Stayed in most of today and played video games.  Anth let me borrow his PS3 and recommended I play The Last of Us.

Bill and Duyen threw a Christmas party at their new condo.  Ricky picked me and Noah up and drove us there.  Everyone was wearing an ugly sweater, but I decided I would just wear a ridiculous hat instead.  I felt like I looked like crap, mostly because I had a lot of difficulty in dressing myself.  Met some new people, had festive fun.

December 20, 2015.  Day 4.  X-Wing Commander.  Eye punctal plugs.
Aleve taken: 2
Norco taken: 1
Entertainment: X wing board game

Woke up at 8AM with a sore arm and took an Aleve.  Now I’m unsure if sleeping on left or right side is better.  Despite waking up multiple times through the night, I was getting really good rest because I was spending roughly 12h a day in bed.

Dressings got changed today.  We downgraded to only using band aids on the front 3 sutures because they were dry.  The back sutures was still leaking yellow fluid.  Ayaka said this was normal.

Today I lifted my armpit high enough to thoroughly wash underneath.  The household rejoices!

Went to optometrist today to get punctal plugs.  Punctal plugs are placed in your tear ducts to combat dry eyes, and will dissolve in a couple of months.  The plugs did not hurt upon insertion, and I could barely feel them.

I followed my mother to Costco, which is a zoo during the holiday.  Compared to the USA, TVs are 20-30% more expensive.  All the walking around caused my arm to start hurting, so I took a Norco with a free sample of a vitamin water.

Dean had been dying to play the X-Wing commander board game, which is similar in some aspects to Warhammer.  Since I couldn’t drive, he picked me and Ryan up and we had Chinese food at Kaka Lucky.  We played a 3-player free for all game of X-Wing at his place on a large kitchen bench.  It was a very closely matched game, that came down to 2 or 3 dice rolls.  My arm hurt then, so I downed an Aleve and continued playing.

Stayed up late and played Last of Us.  I got to the part where you had to escape the hotel filled with armed gang members.

December 21, 2015.  Day 5.  LASIK consultation
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 1 before bed
Entertainment: The last of us

Woke up early for LASIK consultation.  The LASIK MD location was on King and bay at One Canadian place.  This surgery center was located on the first floor of an office building next to a Starbucks and other retail stores.

The LASIK screening process consisted of a topological exam and a basic vision test.  After determining I was a candidate for PRK (I have thin Corneas, so PRK is the only option), we talked price.  I had a $200 per eye discount because I was insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield.  I thought this was particularly interesting because BCBS is an American only health insurance.  Perhaps they have this deal because LASIK MD has some New York branches.

I found out that there used to be a Windsor LASIK MD branch, but it was shut down and no longer operational.

The reason I decided to get LASIK in Canada was twofold:  (1) my family could take care of me, and (2) it was significantly cheaper with the current exchange rate.  Let compare the prices:

Price Comparison of LASIK in USA vs Canada

  • I was quoted $3800 USD in Michigan.
  • Compare that to $1928 USD at LASIK MD in Canada
    • Base price $4000 CAD
    • -$400 for BCBS discount
    • -$1040 (divide by 1.4) for the USD to CAD exchange rate
    • -$642 (25% discount) by using my Health Spending Account provided by LG.  This lets me use pre-tax dollars for medical expenses, including LASIK in foreign countries.  All this requires is the bills to be in English.

A few coworkers suggested I get it done in Korea or China, where it could be done for $1000 USD.  Unfortunately the post-op would require me to go back there.

After coming home we rearranged furniture to make living room more appealing.  Since the basement has been morphed into Noah’s room, the living room should be the main entertainment center.  We moved the side tables around so the couch more presentable.

Noah had an exam on Technology and the Envionment, and decided to do an oral discussion session to study.  We went over to Fernando’s to study.  It was a good review session for Noah, and a interesting and educational glimpse into his minor.

I finished off the day by playing The Last of Us.  Got to part where Elle gets a handgun.  She grows up so fast!

December 22, 2015.  Day 6.  Star Wars and Poker
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 0 before bed
Entertainment: Star wars 7, The last of us, poker night

Today marked a milestone in my shoulder recovery.  Up to this point I had required help to get dressed.  Today I showered and put a shirt on by myself.  My front shoulder stitches were completely dry, but the back was still leaking yellow fluid.  I figured out a way to put on the arm immobilizer by myself, but I had problems putting the strap around my bicep on because I can’t reach around my body.

For my father’s birthday we went to see Star Wars (7): The Force Awakens.  As it was still opening week, it was still difficult to get seats together in the theater.  The remedy was to see the movie at 12PM noon.  My family doesn’t get up early unless we have to, so we rolled out of bed and got to the theater 15 minutes before showtime.  Luckily we got good seats.

I am a huge Star Wars fan and have watched all the movies multiple times, watched the animated series (Clone Wars, Rebels), and played multiple video games (Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, Unleashed).  The movie was everything I could ask for.  Would see again.

Got home and played Last of Us.  I think the director did a very good job of using NPCs to drive the storyline.  Although you are basically playing a single player game, you meet companions along the way so you never feel alone.  I got to the part where you meet the protagonists brother at the hydro electric plant.

Ryan was holding a rather large 13 person poker tournament in the family house, so I decided to join in.  We split the players into two tables of 6 or 7, then when players were eliminated, made a top 10 table.

I was eliminated quite early, so the other losers and I started a low stakes “pirate game”.  We felt like pirates because while the more skilled poker players played on a nice wooden table with matching chairs and a real poker mat.  Instead, we were playing onn a bare plastic folding table in front of the couch.  Later into the night we moved to the garage.  I won that game, so the night was a net-zero loss for me.

Went to sleep early that night without painkillers.  It was hard to get comfortable, so I think I should have taken a Norco.  I don’t like taking painkillers on empty stomachs, so I just lay there until I fell asleep.

December 23, 2015.  Day 7.  PRK eye surgery
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 0
Alcaine (mild numbing drops) taken: 2
Tetracaine (Strong numbing drops) taken: 1
Zymar (antibacterial eyedrops) taken: 4
Dialuid (Hydromorphone HCL, mild painkiller and sedative) taken: 1
Entertainment:  20h of crying in the dark

You may notice this drug list is rather long.  I got way more drugs for my eyes than I got for my shoulder.

Today I woke up a little sore.  Took an Aleve and got my dressings changed.  My sutures on the back weeped slightly more yellow fluid than yesterday.

Today is the day of LASIK surgery.  My prescription was taken again and confirmed stable.  I have thin corneas so they want to do PRK instead of LASIK.  Here is a basic comparison of PRK vs LASIK:

LASIK vs PRK

LASIK

  • Epithelial removal:  cut temporary flap
  • Recovery time:  2-3 days
  • Pain:  less
  • Complications:  risk of flap complications, usually due to eye trauma

PRK

  • Epithelial removal:  alcohol solution to soften eye, then mechanical abrasion
  • Recovery time:  7 days
  • Pain:  significantly more
  • Complications:  no flap complications.  Epithelial layer will regrow; better for people who play contact sports or have thin corneas.

I decided to go with a 3 year touch up plan for $0 extra, compared to the lifetime touchups which cost $150 an eye.  I was informed that most complications take place in the first year.  I also expect there will be novel vision correction technologies in the near future.

A detail that was not brought up before was I have a slightly deformed cornea on the back side.  Most people only look at the front side of the cornea because that is where the correction can be applied.  An abnormally shaped back cornea could be a sign of corneal thinning, however there are other signs usually present that were not present.  What caused this abnormal cornea?  Two possibilities exist:  strange genetics, and Orthokeratology contact lens usage for 18 years.  These were not any huge red flags for the surgeon, so I decided to continue with the procedure.  They also gave me a Xanax, which I am currently waiting to kick in.

I fell asleep in the waiting room for about an hour.  Waking up to the surgeon calling my name, I followed them into the operating room. I  lay down on the operating table under the laser machine and was given a ball to squeeze.  Directly above me I could see a green and red light in a starlike configuration shining down at me.

My right eye was taped open using 3 pieces of tape and my left eye was taped shut.  A device was placed over my eyelid to keep my eye open.  A a few drops of a numbing solution was put in my eye and everything became an underwater blur.  The surgeon used a soft brush to spread the numbing solution over my eye then rinsed it with water.  The alcohol solution was placed in my eye, and the nurse started counting the time out loud.  Around 45 seconds they used a rotary mechanical brush (think electric toothbrush) on my eye.  It didn’t hurt, but I could feel the pressure.  My eye was rinsed with water once again.  The laser was turned on and made a sci-fi chime-like sound.  I only saw white for about 20 seconds, during which I smelled something like water vapor.  My eye was flushed with water again.  A bandage contact was placed over my eye, then taped shut in preparation for the procedure on my left eye.  The whole operation was super fast.  I was in there for a total of 15 minutes.

When I got up from the machine, I looked around the room and everything was much clearer, but still not perfect.  I was told that I should enjoy my vision for the short term while the numbing medicine was still active.  Unlike the people that got LASIK, I only had to wait 15 minutes in the waiting room instead of an hour.

I walked outside with my mom.  It was raining lightly, and I was staring up at the skyscrapers enjoying my new sight.  Ryan picked us up and drove us home.

After about an hour my eyes started to water uncontrollably. Both eyes burned like crazy.  My best way to describe the feeling is if I had soaked a contact lens in Cleancare solution (hydrogen peroxide solution) and directly put it in my eye.  Unfortunately there was no way to remove the contact, so I took one Dilaudid tried to get some sleep.  It was really hard to stay asleep because of the pain.  My eyes were watering so much I couldn’t read the labels on the eye drops so my mom came by and gave me eye drops every couple of hours.

Took Alcaine until night came, after which I switched to Tetracaine, the strong numbing drops.  Tetracaine slows healing so I decided only to use them at night.

December 24, 2015.  Day 8.  Post PRK-Day 1:  Writeoff.
Aleve taken: 0
Norco taken: 0
Alcaine (mild numbing drops) taken: 4
Tetracaine (Strong numbing drops) taken: 3
Zymar (antibacterial eyedrops) taken: 4
Dialuid (Hydromorphone HCL, mild painkiller and sedative) taken: 2
Toradol (ketrorlac, strong painkiller and sedative) taken: 4
Entertainment:  another full day of crying

Today was a complete write off.  The pain was a constant 7/10 irritation.  My eyes were so watery I couldn’t keep them open longer than 30s.  I took a Ketorolac which made me extremely drowsy in a drunkish way, but it allowed me to sleep for basically the entire day.  The Ketorolac was powerful enough to allow me to sleep laying on my back, rather than sitting up, so I camped out in Ryan’s room.  My mom would come by and medicate me every couple of hours.  I couldn’t do it without you Ma!

December 25, 2015.  Day 9.  Christmas in the dark.
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 1
Alcaine (mild numbing drops) taken: 2
Zymar (antibacterial eyedrops) taken: 4
Toradol (ketrorlac strong painkiller and sedative) taken: 1
Entertainment:  Christmas

Today was Christmas.  My grandfather and Mrs. Li brought us takeaway dimsum lunch.  I made a short appearance to get some pain killers and say hi before retreating to the darkness.  My eyes still burned, and I was super light sensitive.

That evening, my very accommodating family turned off all the lights and we opened Christmas presents in the dark.  I got a Slap-Chop.

I noticed the burning feeling was significantly reduced that night.  I didn’t need the strong numbing drops.  Around midnight I decided not to take a heavy painkiller either.  I downgraded from a Toradol to a Norco and Aleve.   I really didn’t like Toradol.  It is probably my least favorite drug.  It just made me feel really really drunk.  I could barely keep my eyes open or talk coherently.  No fun at all.

At this point my my vision was quite blurry; definitely worse than the first day.  I tried using my phone and found the only way to read my screen was to magnify the LARGE text.

December 26, 2015.  Day 11.  My eyes don’t hurt anymore!
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 1
Zymar (antibacterial eyedrops) taken: 4
Entertainment:  The last of us on a new TV

Noah and Ryan went on a boxing day mission to get a 43” LED TV for an awesome price.  They left the house at 4:30AM to line up for a 6AM sale.  This was a doorcrasher only sale, and they managed to get the last one.

I woke up surprisingly without pain.  Could see relatively clearly after getting all the goop out of my eyes.  I was using artificial tears which lubricate your eyes well, but also can leave goop on your eyelashes.  Walking downstairs I saw the TV in the right position but not hooked up.  First thing I did was install the Playstation upstairs on it and test it; the picture was quite good and I was very satisfied.  I checked out basic cable and cringed at the poor broadcast quality.

Played Last of Us.  My vision was still quite blurry so I had to sit pretty close to the TV. Playing the game was fine, but it was difficult to read the numbers, such as amount of remaining ammo.  I got to the part where you meet the protagonist’s brother in the electric dam.

Dec 27, 2015.  Day 12. Giving the eyes a rest before an adventure
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 1
Zymar (antibacterial eyedrops) taken: 4
Entertainment:  The last of us

The eye pain is completely gone.  Vision is probably good enough to drive.  Really wanting to get these dirty contacts out of my eyes.

I finished the Last of Us.  The game had quite a twist ending.  Overall I’d give this game a 8/10, and would recommend it to others.  The story and direction was what really made the game good.

Anth, Ricky and Fernando came by to check out the new TV and watch the new Quentin Tarantino western movie.  The movie was dialogue heavy, and now that the TV was in the living room, it was hard to hear over other people having conversation.  We decided to save that movie for another night.

Dec 28, 2015, Day 13.  First outting after PRK.
Aleve taken: 1
Norco taken: 1
Zymar (antibacterial eyedrops) taken: 4
Entertainment:  Board games at Lin’s, Sushi

Today I had the dirty bandage contacts removed from my eyes.  I tried reading the letters on the wall in the optometrist chair and had problems reading the first line.  The optometrist told me this is normal.

Now that my eyes didn’t hurt anymore I reduced my painkiller intake significantly.  However, I couldn’t sleep in as well as before because my shoulder would become sore and wake me up after about 7h.

I had my sutures removed from the shoulder surgery.  The wounds were scarring up quite nicely.  After today, I no longer needed bandages or dressings for the wounds.  I was told to start moisturizing the scars to make them fade.

After being cooped up in the house for 4 days, I had a serious case of cabin fever and needed to get out.  Friends were playing board games at Lin’s in Markham, but I didn’t bring my car and didn’t want to ask anyone to come and get me.  The solution was to take the GO bus.

Being a downtown resident, I never had to take the GO bus, as it is used mainly as a suburb/out of town commuter bus to downtown.  I took the streetcar and subway to Union station, then had to ask for help on buying a ticket to Unionville station.  I felt a little silly asking for directions in my own city, but now I can use the excuse that I’m an out of towner.  The GO bus is a comfortable coach bus which included personal lights and fans.  However, what would have normally been a 30 minute drive became a 1h15min voyage.

Lin picked me up from Unionville station and we played board games at Lin’s with JC, Jeff, and Justin before meeting up with Wendy at Yang’s kitchen sushi buffet.  As expected, we overate.   Overall it was very good, except for the ‘white tuna’ which is really some other fish.  Stuck to Salmon and Octopus.

Met up with Dean and Helene back at Lin’s game room.  I played ping pong while wearing my arm immobilizer and was surprised at how well I could still get around.
Dec 29, 2015, Day 14.  Lobster Dinners!
Norco taken:     1

So my painkiller intake has fallen pretty low now.  One different problem has arisen now that I’m not wearing the bandage contacts now; dry eyes.  Have you ever had your eyelid stick to your eyeball?  It’s quite painful.  I was instructed to use eyedrops before I open my eyes every morning.  I basically kept eyedrops in my pajama pants and dropped them in as soon as I woke up, and everything is OK for the rest of the day.

I took my mom and Noah out today for a lunch to thank them for a belated birthday and helping me out with LASIK.  Had brunch at a small hipster bar on Queen Street.  It was a very trendy place, and the food was good.  Only problem was the restaurant was so small that we could only get bar seating.

Needed to stimulate brain so I started reading about the Pacfic Trade Treaty (PTT).  Since I work in the US due to NAFTA, I would assume it would create more opportunities for people to work other places.  Talking to other people it seems like a way for the rich to get richer.

Jeff picked me up and drove us to Dean’s place where we played boardgames before going out to eat lobster.  We split a 9lbs lobster between the 6 of us (Lin, Jeff, Dean, Helene and JC).  Not only did they serve the largest lobster I’ve ever seen, they also served 4 Chinese deserts.  Would definitely recommend.

Back at Dean’s I faced him one-on-one in an X-Wing game of epic proportions.  We played a 300 point game which used huge battleships and took up the entire table.  It was a long and destructive game which took about 3h to complete.  Good times.

Dec 31, 2015. Day 16.  New Years Eve

Medicine:  some wine?

Ayaka came for a short vacation in Toronto and to eventually drive me back to Detroit.  I greeted her in my NYE attire: white dress shirt and blazer.  First impressions count, so I wasn’t wearing the immobilizer initially.  I put it on over the blazer afterwards, then set out in Ayaka’s Subaru with Ryan at wheel.  Noah decided to tag along as well.

First stop was Bill and Duyen’s place.  I felt much better dressed up than before at the Ugly Sweater party.  They did a great job of providing food and there was PLENTY of liquor.  Played charades with lots of old friends, but then we had to go.

Second stop was Dean’s place.  We did the whole countdown thing and welcomed the new year.  Ayaka wakes up super early for work, which translates into a super early bedtime, so not long after we headed back home.

Jan 1, 2015.  Day 17.  ROM

Ayaka had some friends visiting Toronto for the new years, so being the good local, I was volunteered as tour guide.  We had a double date with Aiko and Jason which started at Hemmingway’s in Yorkville, and concluded at the ROM.  The ROM had a particularly good special exhibit on the Italian city of Pompeii which was buried in volcanic ash following.  Also at the ROM we checked out the Wildlife photography of the year exhibit.  Usually I don’t have much of an appreciation for photography, but these were particularly well done.  We finished off our tour with a quick run through the bat cave, which I was somewhat disappointed; the bat cave was still well done, but as a child I liked the scary wow factor that it provided.  The scary factor was replaced with a slightly more educational tone.

Jan 10, 2015.  Day 27.  A week after work

Medicine:  ~1 Aleve / day for back pain

Settling back at work was a nice change.  I had a lot of people ask me about my arm in a sling.  My takeaway was the shoulder surgery hurt a lot less than expected, and the eye surgery hurt a lot more than expected.  I’m still limiting my physical activity, and mostly typing with one hand, but I am itching to get this immobilizer off for good.

Yesterday night I went out with Na and one of her classmates to a club in Windsor.  I took off my immobilizer and looped my left thumb into my belt loop and danced the night away without any pain.  It accidently came undone when I was sleeping, and I woke up with a sore shoulder.

My vision has gotten slowly better over the last couple of weeks.  It is really hard to notice the change in vision day to day.  I’m comfortable driving, and can read computer screens so it doesn’t affect me too much.  I am occasionally still light sensitive, so sometimes I’ll wear sunglasses inside.  It’s a strange recovery process.

Jan 24, 2016.  Week 6.  2 weeks out of the sling.

Medicine:  pretty much nothing.  Occasional Aleve.

Eyes

I stopped using eyedrops last week.  No longer do I wake up with eyes so dry that my eyeballs stick to my eyelids.  That was particularly painful.

I’m still relatively light sensitive.  I’m a short dude so when I am talking to tall people in the office I have to put on sunglasses because the office lights shine in my eyes.  Despite the doctor reccomending I wear them outside all the time, I don’t feel like I need to.

I’m enjoying my new vision.  It’s not super sharp like I thought it would be, but I don’t have any problems driving or anything.  In a couple of weeks I’ll go in for my 1-month eye exam to see what the final result will be.

Shoulder

It’s surprising how quickly you can regain arm functionality.  I am doing 4 arm stretches:  front arm climb, door jam rotation, countertop dips, and cross body stretches.  The cross body stretches are the most difficult because it requires to (i) bring your arm up to 90′, and (ii) pull across your body.

The first week I could only raise my arm about 30′.  This week (week 6- post operation) I can raise my arm to about 90′ with it’s own strength.  By week 8, I should be within 15′ of my original motion, else I will need “manipulation”.

I’m excited to start Physiotherapy this week!  I’ll have to do it for 4 months, but I should be back to normal by summer.

Feb 2, 2016.  Week 7.

Eyes

I haven’t even thought about the surgery.  Good vision has just become normal.  I haven’t needed any eyedrops lately.  I never really had a problem with night halos or starbursts; in fact I think the lights look quite pretty at night.

Shoulder

At the beginning of the week, I could barely flick my turn signal with my right arm.  Now I can do it quickly, and also turn the steering wheel all the way around.  I’m looking forward to starting Physio tomorrow.

Things to do in Detroit

Whenever I go home, people always ask me what I do.  If you were a Torontonian coming to visit me, I would likely bring you to the:

  • Eastern Market on a Saturday.  It gives people the impression that Detroit is a thriving city.
  • Record shopping if you’re into that.  Apparently vinyls are about 1/10th of what they cost in Toronto.  Lots of old school funk and soul from the Motown era.
  • Slows BBQ for some tasty, tasty North Carolina BBQ.
  • Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA).  I get in for free because I have a Oakland county address :)
  • A Pistons basketball game because tickets are only $15.  If you’re home team is playing
  • Out for Mexican food.  Toronto doesn’t have good Mexican food
  • The Arab food scene here is equally as amazing
  • Outlet shopping is always better in the US.  Just make sure you stay for a bit otherwise you’ll get hit with taxes crossing the border.
  • Fancy shopping is equally as impressive.
  • Out for some great craft beer.  Michigan has an amazing craft beer scene.
  • Down to the Riverwalk so we can point to Windsor.  Can also walk into the RenCen to check out the new cars.
  • Checking out the city from the People Mover (mugger mover, as they call it here) is Disneyland like experience.
  • There’s a decent salsa scene (with real Latin people!) here.  We could go dancing.
  • If it’s in the fall, we could go to a cider mill and get cider and doughnuts.  It’s kind of a thing here.
  • Drive along 8-mile and count how many strip clubs we see.
  • Drive along Telegraph / Woodward and count how many burned down buildings we see.
  • Downtown Royal Oak, Downtown Ferndale, Downtown Rochester Hills have nice walkable areas which are a departure from the constant driving here.  It’s no Toronto/Detroit, but each has its charm.
  • Ann Arbor is a little far away, but college towns are always great.  Could probably just walk into a random frat party there.
  • Hiking, hunting, mountain biking and camping are on my list of things to do.

And much more to come!

Shifting Roles inside LG

It’s been almost 6 months since I’ve joined LG.  My roles have shifting around quite a bit.  Having such a wide variety of experiences has given me an edge.  I feel “useful” in the company.

I started off in Thermal engineering because I’ve gained some experience designing thermal systems when i was working at Magna ECar and we were temporarily short staffed.  I did mostly testing there, and apparently my work was appreciated so much I had my name put on a patent!  I’m sure I’ll put a link to it once it gets published :D.

From that experience, I transitioned into more of a testing role.   I learned how to operate a lot of the test lab equipment.  Some people don’t enjoy spending time in the lab, but I like it because its a chance to get up and move around.  Also it’s a great chance to get hands on with the product to see how it behaves.

Currently my role has shifted towards customer interface / technical sales roles.  This is a fun role because I get excited about new technology, and its fun to try to get other people excited as well.  It’s somewhat similar to supervising the Science Outreach camp at University of Toronto.  You try to educate people and make them understand why they should be excited about new technology.  The largest difference is at the end of the day we have to make money.

One of my other roles is that I recruit!  Actually right now, I’m writing this post from a Planet Fitness in Manchester, New Hamshire.  Tomorrow will commence the 2015 Formula Hybrid race, and I’ve signed up to be a mechanical inspector and design judge.  I’m really looking forward to it because I never had the chance to attend one of these races.  I’ve been mentoring the Georgia Tech Hytech racing team (all credit goes to them), and have been trying to get them lots of free technology that they can use to put in their car.  I hope they do well this year, although I may be a little biased if it comes to a tie with University of Waterloo…

Unfortunately, being “useful” to a company also means you’re really busy.  I had to give up my Sunday to get to the race on time.  There are very few flights to Manchester, New Hampshire, and I was forced to take a morning flight.  I’ll be flying back on Tuesday night, and will likely spend Wednesday and Thursday evening in the test lab trying to catch up for lost time.  Anyway, if we get a business contract out of it, it will be worth it.

In the future, I’d like to try and get more hands on with the code.  Coding has something I’ve always been able to pick up, and I think it’s a great (and highly in demand) hard skill.  Most coders can code, but they have no idea how the system can operate.  I’m working from the opposite direction.

Achalasia Update: 2 years

Hi everyone who has suffered from esophageal Achalasia or knows somebody who is suffering.  I’ve been getting a few emails about my recovery and wanted to share the experience with you.

I had my heller myotomy surgery two years ago.  It all seems like a bad dream.  I no longer have any problems eating.  I do occasionally get heartburn, so I keep TUMS in my car.  One other strange side effect is I don’t think I’ve been able to vomit after heavy drinking.  I’m too old to be drinking until I puke anyway.

I decided it would be a good idea to post some of the emails I received and the answers that I’ve given.  If you’re reading this and you have Achalasia, you aren’t alone.

 

Hello! I have read your posts on achalasia. last one was your decision to undergo HM. I was wondering if you decided to keep doing acupuncture or ended up having the surgery. I have had 4 acupuncture sessions with little to no improvement (I realize it takes time for it to work). However  I am scheduled for laparoscopic HM in a week from today. My acupuncturist wants to me to postpone it until mid June. I don’t know what to do… I feel like just having the surgery done and continuing normal life.. Or maybe I should give a chance to acupuncture… I would appreciate if you could share your experience.   Thanks!  -A

Dear A,

I did not decide to continue doing acupuncture after the surgery.  There was absolutely no need for it.
Don’t listen to your acupuncturist.  I’ve done quite a bit of internet research (I assume you have too), and I haven’t found a single case where acupuncture has solved the swallowing problem.  If I could go back in time, I would have done the surgery while I was still having minor problems, rather than waiting for it to get really bad.
Hi Adam!
Thank you for your reply! I chose the surgery as well. I was lucky to have one of the best surgeons who dealt with achalasia since 1991. And I had the surgery last Friday, April 17. I am feeling much better. I was at the early stage of the disease so hope for many years of normal life after this surgery.   
Hope you are feeling well after the surgery! 
Thanks!
A

Hi Adam,

I came across your blog, searching Achalasia in Toronto on Google.   I was interested in how you’ve been dealing with Achalasia and am very glad to hear that the surgery has helped you manage this disorder better.

I was also an Engineering student at University of Toronto, (2009 – 2014), so there may have been a time when we walked right past each other in one of the engineering buildings!

Two weeks ago my doctor told me I am being diagnosed with Achalasia, and after reading a lot of the stories and study on Achalasia, I’ve been devastated and some what depressed.  I came across your blog last week and seeing that you’ve been managing it very well has been encouraging and helps me be more positive and thankful.

There is not much people here that knows about Achalasia, so I am happy I came across your blog.  I found it very useful and informative.  I have alot of fears about acalasia (what will happen in 10 years? what if surgery fails? will i be about to maintain a normal life? the acid reflux side-effect lead to early cancer…), but for now i am trying to be strong and thankful for living a supportive world with good people who care for each other and helps us back up on our feet.

Thanks Adam for sharing your experience, I hope Achalasia is something that no longer holds you back and you are able to pursue your dreams and live the life you always wanted.  Thank you for reading my email and I’d appreciate if you write me back.

Thank you very much,

Hi T,

I’m very glad that my blog has helped you.  One problem with the online achalasia community is that the heller myotomy surgery is so effective that people leave the community right after receiving treatment.

Its been 2 years since I had the surgery.  I’m back to my old self!  Dancing, playing sports, going to bars, and generally having a good time.

Don’t be afraid of the surgery.  Its highly unlikely a complication will occur because it is a very simple procedure.  You’ll be back to regular activity within a week.

Please please please be brave and go see a surgeon.  My only regret is that I didn’t see one earlier.  I could have saved myself, family and friends from misery.  Its scary to watch someone you love rapidly lose weight.

One last piece of advice.  Get the laproscopic heller, not the POEM.  Poem has been shown to give more frequent cases of acid reflux.

 Good luck! -Adam

Hi Adam,

Thank you very much for your email.  I am so glad to hear you’re living a normal life again!  Some things we take for granted, and it’s these experiences that reminds us how fortunate we are.
I agree, the online achalasia community has very little on people’s success stories.  I came across an NFL player by the name Malcolm Smith, who also underwent the Laproscopic Heller, it was very encouraging to see how capable he still is.  For now I am going to stay positive, and am looking forward to talking to my Gastroenterologist, Dr. Edward Lin regarding my next steps.
Thank you so much for your time and writing back to me.  Yes, please feel free to post my letter on your blog, I am sure there are many people who’ve been beat down learning of achalasia and hearing all the horror stories around it.  It would be appreciated if you remove my name.
Once again thank you and hope you have a great week ahead of you!
Thanks,
T

I hope this helps somebody out there.  I’ll respond if you email me.  Your letter will also probably wind up here :)

-Adam

 


 

I (re)built a lamp!

 

My rebuilt hippie lamp!
My rebuilt hippie lamp!

So I moved here with a semi broken lamp that I really liked.  The wiring looked like it was from the 80s.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it until I found this kit.

2014-12-14 16.31.51
DIY lamp kit!

Got it for $12 at Home Hardware.

First I dismantled it.
First I dismantled it.
Then I put in the new wires.
Then I put in the new wires.
I screwed in a new ballast.
I screwed in a new ballast.
The wires need to be screwed down.  This is done after a courier knot is tied in them.  I think this not is so the wires don't bend too much.
The wires need to be screwed down. This is done after a courier knot is tied in them. I think this not is so the wires don’t bend too much.
Then I placed the thing that holds the lamp shade back on.
Then I placed the thing that holds the lamp shade back on.
And viola.  It's part of my living room.
And viola. It’s part of my living room.

I’ve gotten better at doing this stuff since I started working with my hands again.  I wish I could show people what I do at work, but that is top secret stuff.  :)

One problem about living in Michigan is that you have to drive everywhere.  Keeping your car maintained is really important  I was having problems with lighting so I went out and bought a headlight buffing kit from 3M.  It took about 3 lunch periods and 6 cordless drill recharges, but here’s the result!

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Before buffing
2014-11-07 16.45.18
After buffing

Moving from TDot to the Dirty D

As a signing bonus, I negotiated a $1000 moving allowance to move from Toronto to Detroit.  I ended up renting a giant 14 foot Budget truck and driving it from Detroit to Toronto.

2014-10-26 14.14.33
My entire life loaded up into blue plastic bins.

I got a business rate, so the rental + 1000km of driving was less than $500.  I thought crossing the border would take a long time, but it only took 10 minutes total because I had an itemized list of things.  In case you are curious, here is the list.

 

Moving list


Loose items:
———————–
Computer desk (glass)
Wooden dining table
Projector
Guitar
Badminton Racquets x4 w/ bag and shoes
Computer monitor
Mirror
Painting
Floor lamps x2

In Boxes
———————–

Unmarked Plastic Bin (clear)
-Swim suit
-Toilet paper
-U lock
-Sunscreen
-Qtips
-Lotions
-Hair products (gel, hair spray)

Household
-Electronic body mass scale
-Small electric fan
-Curtains
-Floor rug x2
-Teddy bear
-Alarm Clock
-Lamp shades

Bags Shoes
-2 side bags
-3xpairs of shoes

Socks Underwear Clothing
~15 pairs socks
~15 pairs underwear
-Pajamas

Kitchen, cups & spices
-10 cups
-Box of spices
-kettle

Office Supplies
-Pens, markers, glue, paperclips,

Shirts Vests with Hangers
-Dress shirts ~10
-Shorts, pants

Computer speakers
-5.1 computer speakers (5 speakers + 1 subwoofer)
-3x headphones
-wireless router
-ethernet cables
-power bar

Humidifier, Ice Skates


Continue reading

Having A Social Security Number Makes Me Feel A Lot More Secure

My social security number came in the mail this weekend.  This is a huge relief to me, because now I can:

  • Get paid (!!!)
  • Apply for a credit card
  • Receive health insurance
  • Receive dental insurance
  • Apply for accidental insurance
  • Apply for disability insurance
  • Apply for loans

I’m not quite celebrating just yet, because LG operates like most Asian companies;  they only pay once a month.  I’m still waiting for my first paycheck to come in.

Health insurance is a big thing in the US.  If I get into an accident, there isn’t any free healthcare.  I was given a pamphlet stating the prices for various services.  I believe breaking your arm could run you $10-15k, when you factor in tests, surgery, and hospital costs.

I could choose from two health insurance options:  EPO or PPO.  Without going into a lot of details, EPO is the cheaper option (many doctors visits are free, and most treatments are also free), but you can only visit doctors within a preferred network, UNLESS IT IS A LIFE/LIMB EMERGENCY.  PPO is more expensive because the deductibles are higher (you pay $5-10 out of pocket every time you visit the doctor), but you can use it at ANY doctor.  Treatments are usually covered 70-90%.  Since I don’t have a preferred doctor, I chose EPO, and will let the company pick where I get healed.

Most companies will usually have an option to take part of your paycheck to pay for health insurance.  Luckily, LG pays for all of it.  I feel much safer in the US now that I won’t put myself into bankruptcy if I get hurt.  LG will also pay for my dental and accidental insurance.  The only thing they won’t pay for is disability insurance.  I got it anyway because I’m here alone.  Gotta cover my own ass.

I’ve never really had to deal with credit scores before, but it is important to have a good credit score.  My co-workers say that anything above 675 is desirable.

I don’t have any credit history, so my manager (who is also Canadian) recommended that I open a prepaid credit card.  To obtain one, you need to put down $500-$1000 for a couple of months.  During that time, you can use the credit card normally.  Assuming you pay it off completely, you get the money back at the end of the holding period.  This would help me build credit history much quicker.

I’m considering buying a new car before it gets too cold because I will be doing a lot of driving this winter.  Many roads in Michigan are not well maintained, so winter driving can be dangerous.  I am considering leasing a car instead.  Leasing a car is slightly more expensive than buying a new one, but I get a new car!

Detroit and Windsor

As most of you may know, Detroit and Windsor are boarder towns.   Detroit has a reputation of crime and blight.  Windsor has the reputation of being a small Canadian city focused on the auto industry.

Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.
Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.
This shot is from Fiona's apartment.  You can see Ceasar's casino in the far distance.  That is Windsor.
This shot is from Fiona’s apartment. You can see Ceasar’s casino in the far distance. That is Windsor.

Literally 5 minutes from the boarder is the Eastern Market.  I went there on a Saturday morning, and it is much livelier.

There is a TON of grafitti in downtown Detroit.  I personally like it when it is done in good taste.
There is a TON of grafitti in downtown Detroit. I personally like it when it is done in good taste.
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Quite a large farmers market. Veggies are only sold when the market is open on Saturdays. The meat market across the street is open everyday.
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Veggies, baked goods, plants.
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The market is comprised of 3 large buildings structures. At one point, I believe they all used to be full. Now it is about 2/3rds full.

Hopping over the border costs $5 each time.  I’ve met quite a few people who live in Windsor, then commute to the US every day.  $10/day can really add up.  They tell me there is a card which reduces the toll to $4.

I hopped the border to visit Stephan, who has just started at UWindsor.  He gave me a tour of the new engineering building.  It is very nice.  UWindsor was traditionally known for being an automotive-focused engineering school.  They have been taking steps to increase their focus to other engineering disciplines, which should do wonders for the whole Windsor/Detroit region.

UWindsors' new engineering building.  Nice.
UWindsors’ new engineering building. Nice.
Look at this concrete head!
Look at this concrete head!  He’s gonna make an awesome engineer.
I brought an air matress and set it up in his dorm room.  We literally had beds wall to wall.
I brought an air mattress and set it up in his dorm room. We literally had beds wall to wall.

Cindy also was nice enough to show me around her hometown.  Growing up on a border town has given her an interesting perspective.  When you live on the border, you have the option to go to a different country to eat lunch.  I bet she knows some areas of Metro Detroit better than I know some areas of Toronto.  She was even nice enough to introduce me to some of her local Windsorites.

2014-10-11 22.33.16
Annie’s birthday cake. You ever see an LV cake?
2014-10-11 21.21.39
Decoration in Ceasars. It’s pretty fancy in there.

I don’t gamble often, because I’m excellent at losing money.  I always set a limit, then quit when I hit that.  Not this time!

2014-10-12 12.58.43
Won $250 (US). AWWW YUS.
2014-10-12 00.23.22
Free entertainment by some band I’ve never heard of.

When you live alone you really appreciate the small gestures.  I tend to eat out a lot right now because I don’t have any of my cooking tools, and I want to explore the city.  Growing up, food magically appears on the table every day without effort.  Now, when someone cooks you dinner its really something special.

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Damn. This girl can cook some legit Chinese food. I could get used to this:)

I didn’t return home for thanksgiving because I needed the time to adjust to the area.  Also, Canadian thanksgiving is on a different day than American thanksgiving.  Instead, I celebrated with Cindy’s relatives.  They immigrated from China, and this was the first time that they were celebrating thanksgiving.  I grew up pretty much Canadian, so this was almost like looking into my grandparents life.  I appreciate being both Canadian and Chinese because it gives me twice as many holidays to celebrate.

2014-10-12 20.31.13
Carving up the thanksgiving turkey. Awesome job, Cindy :)

D etroit and Windsor are interesting places to live.  Assuming you have a passport, you effectively have access to 2 large cities  separated by a river.  If you look at the border guard as a permanent traffic jam, you have one big city with twice as many opportunities.

How to emigrate to the US. PART 2: Things that don’t require an SSN: Banks, renting, and utilities

This is a continuation of HOW TO EMIGRATE TO THE US (FROM CANADA WITH AN ENGINEERING DEGREE).  This post will assume you have already obtained your TN visa.  I’ll talk about the challenges obtained with settling in.  Getting an SSN takes 2-4 weeks; 4 weeks if you have a name so long that it won’t fit in form (THANKS PARENTS.).

  • Things that don’t require an SSN
    • Opening a bank account
    • Renting a place
    • Opening a utilities account
      • Electricity
      • Internet
  • Things that require an SSN
    • Getting paid
    • Health / Vision insurance
    • Drivers licence
    • Car licence plate
    • Credit card

Opening a bank account

Like most accounts that don’t require an SSN, you need 2 pieces of ID.  I brought my passport and drivers licence and opened an account over lunch.  I was late back to work because it took about an hour longer to process due to my ‘resident-alien’ status.  I opened an account at Chase (which many people recommended I avoid) because it was the closest bank.  I’ve already started looking at savings and retirement funds, but I might be jumping the gun because I should probably pay off my debt first.

Renting a place

Renting a place also does not require a SSN, just 2 forms of ID.  They do a background screen, which may potentially take longer because they pull up your records from other countries.  I looked at a total of about 15 different apartments.  Despite everyone thinking Detroit is dirt cheap, rent in desirable neighbourhoods is still considerably high.  Here is a list of different neighbourhoods I had considered living in:

  • Troy: $675-$1100/mo.  The nice apartments were 1BR, 700sqft, newly renovated, carpet floors, new appliances and hella expensive.  The cheaper places were literally walking distance from work.  It was a decent place, but I wanted a place with wooden floors.
  • Madison Heights  (1BR apartments in low, low, and highrise apartments) $700-800.  My co-workers advised against living in Madison heights because they think it isn’t a nice neighbourhood.  I honestly can’t really tell the difference.  There are a few Chinese and Vietnamese stores located on John R Road.
  • Royal Oak is supposedly the happening place in Detroit.  They have a walkable downtown area with nice sidewalks and streetlamps.  Most young professionals are moving into that area, and thus it was really hard to find a vacant apartment.  Most places had 2-3 month waiting lists.  I had found a craiglist ad to roomate with 2 other engineers in a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house for $500.  I probably would have stayed here if the house owner didn’t have a cat.
  • Southfield. $500-600 for 1BR.  This was the pricepoint that I was trying to aim for, but Southfield is considered one of the rougher neighbourhoods in Detroit.  Most of the locals recommend living north of 8 Mile Road.
    • Fun fact:  8 Mile Road has a TON of strip clubs on it. I drove on it at night, and only the streetlights on the South side light up.
  • Ferndale is supposedly the ‘hipster area’ of Detroit.  I walked around the area yesterday, and I like it.
    • Fun fact:  Ferndale was the first city in Michigan to have an openly gay Mayor.
  • Downtown (Eastern Market). $700-$900.  I had considered getting a studio apartment in the same building as Fiona.  The building had recently been purchased by a Canadian real estate company and was undergoing renovation.  I thought the place was really nice, but the commute was a bit long (22 minutes without traffic).  During rush hour, it would be 30-40 minutes.
  • Clawson.  This is the place I decided to live in.  It’s only a 5 minute drive to work, a 10 minute drive to Royal Oak, and is considered one of the nicer neighbourhoods in Metro Detroit.  At $750, I’m renting a ‘houselet’ – a 1 bedroom house.  It’s more akin to a 1 bedroom townhouse.  I don’t believe anything like this in Toronto exists.

In the end, I learned what I really was looking for in an apartment.  It doesn’t have to be large; I was OK with a 480sqft studio apartment.  However, I wanted wood floors because they are easy to clean and won’t flare up my allergies.  A nice bathtub was a MUST.  New kitchen appliances were optional.  I would prefer a 2nd floor apartment (I feel safer there?), but will compromise with a first floor.  I wanted my commute to be less than 20 mins.  I wanted all this for under $800/mo.

Electricity and Internet

So far, I’ve opened 2 utilities accounts: electricity and internet.  Electricity is handled by DTE energy, one of Detroit’s biggest employers.  Internet is handled by COMCAST, apparently one of the USA’s most evil corporations.  I didn’t have an SSN number, so I had to drive to midtown Detroit to the DTE office to open an account.  Along the way, I saw this:

The sign says:  Shay's candy shack.  Not sketch at all!
The sign says: Shay’s candy shack. Not sketch at all!

 

It was surprisingly easy to open an account at Comcast.  However, it seems like they are really big and don’t communicate much between divisions.  I opened an account and scheduled for someone to come install the cable.  I had a second person call me and ask if anyone was still living there, because there was still and account associated with the address.  They also said that I could install the cable myself by picking it up from one of their stores.  Just as I was about to go pick up the modem, a third person called and told me that it was required that I get the cable installed.  I’m thankful I listen to the last person, because the cable guy took about 90 minutes and a lot of swearing to get my internet up and running.

I’m that much closer to being an American.  Just kidding.  I’m going to permanently be a resident alien.

Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.
Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.

Detroit: Downtown; Eastern Market

In my previous post, I mentioned I have 3 friends in the state.  I met Fiona in highschool, and now she is attending dentistry school in Detroit.  We walked from her place just across the street to Eastern Market.

Eastern Market is in downtown Detroit, where people tell me I should not go.  The locals I have talked to say that I could get robbed, or my car will get broken into.  Through living in a big city, travelling through 3rd world countries, and poorly picking my social groups, I have developed a pretty high tolerance for sketchiness.  Downtown is pretty nice!

Eastern Market was only a walk away (walkable area!!!).  It’s basically a huge farmers’ market, surrounded by small independent stores.  It’s the Detroit equivalent of the St. Lawrence market.

2014-10-04 16.54.46
It’s not usually this dead. We just came 30 minutes after closing.

 

2014-10-04 16.49.33
This place is HUGE. Fiona told me that they set up hot tubs here in the Winter and watch sports games.

We randomly walked into a store which sold surplus work supplies:  chef’s uniforms, scrubs, pots/pans, etc….  She said she had lived in Detroit for 30 years and never had any problems.  I am absolutely sure she is street smart, but perhaps people’s perception of downtown is different than reality?  While trying to figure that out, I found this crime map of Detroit.  Apparently, there is crime everywhere, not just downtown.

I felt a connection with this place.  I’m used to the bustling downtown life, with walkable areas and an array of shops at my fingertips.  Maybe I’ll move here?

2014-10-04 17.26.55
View from Fiona’s apartment. You can see Windsor from here!

2014-10-04 17.26.59

Exploring Michigan: Ann Arbour

I have 3 friends in the entire state.  One is Kenneth.  We both did a Materials Science Engineering undergraduate degree together at University of Toronto.  He decided to continue MSE to a PhD at UMichigan, Ann Arbor.  I decided to switch to Systems Engineering.

It’s about a 40-60 minute drive from where I am to Ann Arbor.  60 minutes from Troy, 45 minutes from Royal Oak.  You literally drive EVERYWHERE in Detroit, and the closer you live to a highway, the better.  Most places are not walkable, but there are a few places that are.

So I met up with Kenneth, and went to Ashley’s bar.  It has an excellent beer selection, and was quite lively.  The demographics in this bar is moreso what I am used to in Toronto.  Perhaps I’ll spend a little more time here.

2014-10-03 20.01.46
Ashley’s pub. Great beer selection.

Finding (safe) downtown walkable areas can be difficult in Detroit.  I was pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere and diversity of shops in the area.  There were two bubbletea (they call it Boba here) shops on the same street.  That’s how you can tell they are a lot of asians here.

2014-10-03 19.30.53
Nice area. Clean, brightly lit, lots of shops.
2014-10-03 20.56.03
Apparently there is only 1 club in town. Friday night is gay night. Kids here have to be 21 to drink, so most of the drinking is restricted to underage drinking in dorms.

I got a short tour of UMichigan.  It’s a really nice campus, although a bit more sparse than I’m used to.  Most students take the free on-campus shuttle to get to class.

2014-10-03 21.33.03
I think this was the Chemistry building. I like it when they have outside building facades on the inside. Somewhat reminds me of the Bahen Center at UToronto
2014-10-03 21.22.39
Banner for the Confucius Institute. Lots of people warned me about Michigan being quite ‘white’. Here it’s a little different. Apparently you can actually take the HSK (Chinese proficiency test) here.  Wayne State also has a Confucius Institute
2014-10-03 21.21.02
Wouldn’t be an American university without a big ol’ American flag.

 

2014-10-03 21.57.15
Near the Northern Campus is an Asian supermarket. It was closed when I went there, but it’s nice to know that I have the option.

Some people actually live in Ann Arbor, then commute downtown to work.  I also considered living in Novi , which is about halfway (30 mins) between Ann Arbor and Troy.  Most people advise against having such a long commute.

Sometimes you need to move away to discover who you are.  Moving away gives you the chance to start anew, but typically you are naturally attracted to things that are familiar.  I think I’ve learned more about myself in the last 4 days than I have in the last 6 months, and I haven’t even started work yet!

Goodbye Waterloo, I’ll always remember you.

I’ve moved quite a few times in my life.  At 18, I moved from Toronto to Beijing, without knowing anybody there or the language.  When I moved back to Toronto, it felt like everybody stayed the same; I was the one who changed.

In Beijing I was forced to make friends.  The timezone and the physical distance did not permit keeping up relationships people back in Toronto.  That’s also why I started this blog; a schedule independant way to keep people in the loop.

After undergrad, I moved to Waterloo to do a masters’ degree.  I was coming back to Toronto every other weekend, so it didn’t really feel like I left.  However, I notice small changes to the city when I walk downtown, or drive along the highway.  The changes are gradual, but I’m away long enough that I notice each one.  Only through prolonged absence, can you truly feel change.

The lesson I learned from Waterloo is: if you don’t make time for friends, you won’t have any.  My first year and a half was hectic; I spent 9AM-9PM in the office on the weekdays, so I would have time to  maintain a relationship in Toronto.  In retrospect, it wasn’t that different from the workload in undergrad.  However, grad level courses require a lot more thinking; to really learn the material you must immerse yourself in it.  You need to think about it all the time, and find your own help.  This made ‘turning off’ on the weekends much more difficult.  Working this way I didn’t make many friends.  I also developed a back problem from sitting hunched over the computer all the time.  I ended up neglecting my social and health needs.

The last 8 months I’ve really made an effort to get out more.  I joined the UW/Laurier salsa club, and started going to the gym.  I found an interest in robotics, and joined the UW First (Robotics) Alumni student group.  I’ve made many more friends this way, and have been a much happier person.

Being the office can get boring if you don’t share some laughs every so often.  You also never know when you could need a second eye to debug code, or borrow old tests.

2014-09-25 15.07.22
Always take time to eat with a few friends. Left to Right: Asaad, Me, Andrew

The body is as important as the mind.  Critical thinking stems from healthy body and happy heart.  I love Latin ballroom dancing because it attracts people who just want to celebrate live.  Unlike most club scenes, you can actually go there, dance, and not worry about talking to people or trying to look good.  I’ve only missed one Thursday at the Flying Dog.  It’s consistently been the of the highlight of my week.

2014-09-26 00.49.05
Every Thursday night at Flying Dog. Left to Right: Andrew, Suzie, Me, Yue

I wish I had started robotics earlier in my life.  It combines the competitive spirt and passon for technology into a practical, marketable skill.  Not to mention it’s fun as hell.  I’ve never seen lego been used like this before!

2014-09-13 13.32.26
This is a lego playing field. Challengers have 2.5 minutes to complete as many challenges as they can. They build robots to do their tasks autonomously.
10695098_10201731724214883_1071295373_n
First Lego League kickoff. Left to Right: Steven, Lisa, Jake, Rameesha, (Jake’s sister), Genie, (forgot…), Me, Maud



 


 

Detroit: Day 1/(possibly infinity)

First impressions

There aren’t as many streetlights as there are in Toronto.  Driving around in the dark, is well…dark.

Ever hear of a Michigan left?  Sometimes you cannot make a left hand turn, so they replace it with a legal U-turn followed by a right hand turn.  I guess it makes linear traffic flow better, at the cost of less space efficiency.  The GPS also has no idea what to call these roads, so it just refers to them as ‘road’.

Michigan left. It’s called a Michigan left because this seems to be the only place where it is implemented.

Mundane tasks

I arrived in Troy around 1PM today and immediately went to the doctors office to do a drug screen.  This place looks like it does mostly physiotherapy related activities.  On the form, there was a box specifically for drug screening, so I assume they do it quite often.  There were a lot of blue collar workers at the office, and a few people who I suspected really did do a lot of drugs.  I overheard a young guy say that he was there for the ‘hair test’, and that he worked for GM.

My drug screen only consisted of a urine sample.  I was surprised that they didn’t also do a hair test, because the GM young guy said that he was here for a ‘hair test’.  Is GM stricter on drugs?  Did he get busted?

I then proceeded to the Somerset Collection Mall to try and buy a phone.  It’s very nice, and extremely upscale.  Somewhat comparable to Yorkdale, except Yorkdale is much flashier.  They have conveyor belts to bring to between the different sections of the mall.

2014-10-02 15.43.46
This is a horrible picture of downtown Troy, taken from the Somerset mall bridge

This mall isn’t anywhere near as busy as Yorkdale, likely because: (i) it doesn’t have any low-end stores, (ii) it only sells clothing/accessories/furniture, (iii) it isn’t connected to a subway station which attracts hordes of bubbletea-craving preteen girls.

I had problems finding a cellphone here.  They had an Apple Store and Windows Store, but I just wanted a T-mobile/Verison/Sprint  They just had designer clothes, and fancy furniture.

I saw a few Asian couples there.  Heard some Korean, and some Mandarin . I’m not alone.

2014-10-02 15.46.50
This mall is as nice, as it is dead.

I hopped over to the Oakland mall, which the GPS predicts is 10 minutes away.  It took close to 30 minutes in rush hour traffic to get there.  Horray, city of driving.

I bought a Nexus 5 from a TMobile dealer.  They have a $50 unlimited everything plan with no contract, so I bought the phone and prepaid for 1 month of service.  Having a phone has made my life significantly easier.  Prior to that I was lurking around Starbucks to leach their free wifi.

I’m staying at an air BNB, by a woman who teaches kindergarten in downtown Detroit.  She says it really takes a special kind of person to teach that group.  I like her.  She’s really hospitable.

I misread an ad saying there is a Salsa night in Royal Oak.   Apparently, it’s Wednesday night at Woody’s diner.  There are actually quite a few salsa clubs in that area.  I drove around the area and got a feel for the place.  I like it much better than Troy.  It has sort of a Danforth/Uptown Waterloo feel.  It has a medium density of midrange shops, good number of bars and restaurants, and SIDEWALKS WITH STREET LIGHTING.  I’ve heard that all the yuppies are flocking to the area.  Since I’m going to be a yuppie, I might just jump on the bandwagon and get a place there too.

It was raining, so no pictures :(

How to emigrate to the US (from Canada with an Engineering degree)

I gather from the title, that this post will only be useful for a handful of people.  However, the people immediately surrounding me are mostly engineers, so instructions on how to get a job in the US might be useful.

Since Canada, the US and Mexico are under NAFTA, people with special skills can obtain TN (Trade NAFTA) visa to work in other countries.  Specifically, there is a list of degrees (which includes librarians) which will allow you to do this.  If you have that degree, and and offer of employment, you can walk up to the border and just apply.  Interestingly, if you were a licenced member of PEO (Professional Engineers of Ontario), but did not hold an engineering degree, you could apply for a TN visa.

UWaterloo has a large number of co-ops going to the US to work.  This is their list of items required to obtain a TN visa.  I’ve added some additional notes from the official TN NAFTA website as well.

Items required to apply for the TN-1 visa:

  1. You must have your degree (hard copy in your hand).   Read:  bring your diploma.
  2. Offer letter from your U.S.A employer listing the job title from the Approved Occupation List.  The letter is a letter from your prospective employer detailing items such as the professional capacity in which you will work in the United States, the purpose of your employment, the nature of the company, your length of stay, and your educational qualifications.
  3. Your Résumé.
  4. Completed application form and an I-94 card.
  5.  $50
  6. Proof of citizenship (passport)
  7. Your university transcripts.  My diploma just says “Bachelor of Applied Science”.  The boarder guard doesn’t know what this means, and would prefer “Bachelor of Applied Science in Materials Engineering”.  I emailed them my transcripts from my phone to clear things up.

I’ll be using this list myself, so this is probably going to be a working blog post.

Update:  2014/10/2

To get a offer letter from your USA employer, you may need to complete a drug screen.  Thus, prior to the drug screen you cannot get a TN visa.  I decided to go to a clinic close to work, and they say they take 24-48h to send the results to the employer.

To know yourself, you must put yourself in many different environments.