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.

New Job! I’m moving to Detroit!

The day after I finished my Masters’ thesis, I had a job offer.  I’m going to by a Systems Engineer for LG!

As a systems engineer, I’ll be working with the clients (Ford, Chrysler, GM) to develop battery packs for their new generation of hybrid and electric vehicles.  As I’m rather early in my career, management thinks it best if I started doing FEM (Finite Element Mesh) heat/stress/fluid dynamic simulations and material analysis work.  I’ve been to a few INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) conferences, and like what the other Systems Engineers do.  I’m really excited for this job.

This job is in Troy, Michigan.  I’m moving there Thursday, and going to start hunting for apartments.  For now, I’ll be renting a room daily of an ad I found on air BNB.  I’m very close to work.  I get a single room, but have to share a bathroom.

From news stories and the urbanization class I took in undergrad, I’ve heard Detroit is in serious decline.  In some neighbourhoods, the occupancy rate is only 10%; this means 90% of the houses are abandoned.  However, reading recent accounts, Downtown and Midtown are becoming really hip areas.  Detroit is also trying to rebrand itself as a place to host a startup.  Check out this video.

I’ve been to Detroit before, but I haven’t spent much time in the hip areas.   It’s 1950esque architecture makes it quite a beautiful city. One major problem with Detroit is the walkability of the city. The city has huge roads and very little public transit, effectively making the city unwalkable. Recently, the city has been given a grant to improve public transit by buying 50 new buses. The new buses and the completion of the M1 streetcar should make Detroit feel less like a ghost town and more like a international city.

Does this look like a small town to you?

I’m currently looking for places to live. I’ve been suggested Royal Oak and Ferndale because it is only a 10-15 minute drive away, and all the yuppies live there. At Slightly further away, I could live with the hipsters in Midtown or in Downtown.  Midtown is known for having lots of students and art.  Downtown is known for being a typical land of corporate skyscrapers.

Moving to a new city (especially a cheap one) is exciting because I can choose where I want to live and who I want to associate with. I’m leaning towards Royal Oak, but I’ve heard that Midtown is quite walkable, which is appealing to me.

I’m also considering being nomadic for a few months; living out my suitcase, and getting sublets for a month at a time. The goal would be to sample living in different parts of the city before settling down and moving in. This is exciting and would keep things new, but it may be extremely time consuming, and potentially a bad use of funds.

That being said, I’ve looked at a few rental ads, and rent is much cheaper than Toronto.  There have been auctions which are pricing some ridiculously nice houses for $1000.  The caveat being, it is NOT in move-in condition, it is in a high-crime/deserted neighbourhood, and you MUST get the house up to code within 6 months AND move in.  They don’t want people flipping houses, they want people to move back to the city.

Would you pay $1000 for this?


Perhaps I’ll buy a project house and fix it up myself!

Finished my thesis, and lessons learned.

So I’ve been spending the last 2 years doing research, and have never written about it.  My thesis was “Automated Synthesis and Topology Optimization of Hybrid Electric Vehicle Powertrains”, and is freely available to read here.  I assume most people don’t want to read it all, but I’ve included the abstract at the bottom of this post.

In laymans terms, I created an algorithm to automatically assemble different configurations of hybrid electric powertrains.  Because there more components than a gasoline powertrain, you can connect them in different configurations.  Therefore, the question arises:  what is the most efficient configuration?  I like to think I’m a big picture guy, so I’m more concerned about the system architecture, than the performance of the individual components.  As soon as I heard the project, I immediately agreed to do it.  One (small) regret is that I didn’t choose do to this as a PhD project from the start.

I also liked this project because I wanted to see if I could spend an entire year doing a programming project.  I learned quite a few lessons along the way:

  1. If you keep worrying about the big picture and don’t do any coding, you’ll ever get anything done.  When I first started, I spent a few weeks trying to outline the whole algorithm.  I had no idea what the inputs or outputs to each code block would be.  I didn’t start making any progress until I arbitrarily set a target and started coding towards it.
  2. Sometimes the best way to learn is to fail repeatedly.  I wrote the Dynamic Program from the ground up about 4 times.  I got to know the algorithm really well, and learned about efficient Matlab coding.  In the end, It ran somewhere on the order of 20x faster than the original code.
  3. If you are unfamiliar with a subject, books are definitely the best way to introduce yourself.  Articles give you many vantage points and applications, but they do not contain any of the depth.
  4. Design from the interfaces outward.  Make sure two programs can talk to each other!  I spent a month and a half trying to make MapleSim automatically generate code for Matlab.  It didn’t work.  I worked around it by writing the Graph Theoretic Method by hand.


This thesis presents a framework to automate the process of designing Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) powertrain architectures. An algorithm was developed to assemble and compare all possible configurations of powertrain components. Combinatorics was used to discover all possible combinations of: an internal combustion engine, high-torque low-speed electric motor, low-torque high-speed electric motor, planetary gearset, and five-speed discrete gearbox. The Graph Theoretic Method was used to generate the powertrain models. The powertrain models were comprised of steady-state equations in symbolic form. An optimal control strategy is required to fairly compare the different topologies because a powertrain control strategy is dependant on the configuration. Dynamic Programming was used to determine the control law that minimizes the energy consumption for a given drivecycle. Evaluating every possible topology would take an extremely long time, so topologies were evaluated using a multi-stage screening process. The first stage examined the structure of the powertrain and used heuristics to eliminate infeasible topologies; 512 topologies were feasible. The second stage eliminated topologies that could not meet basic driving performance; 193 topologies were feasible. Basic driving performance was tested using a section of the US06 drivecycle. The sizes of three components were optimized to ensure the topology is feasible independent of the size of the components. The third stage eliminated topologies which could not achieve driving performance design goals; 159 could achieve the performance requirements, but only 119 were reasonably fuel efficient. The driving performance goals were implemented with a drivecycle based on the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) goals. The sizes for five components were optimized at this stage. The 20 most fuel efficient powertrains were selected for further evaluation. Additionally, 4 common powertrains were evaluated for reference. The size of the components were optimized for a combination of the PNGV drivecycle and the HWFET drivecycle. The most fuel efficient topology was found to be a Powersplit hybrid which has a discrete gearbox between the final drive and the powersplit device. The electric motor, planetary carrier gear, and gearbox were connected in parallel. It was found that Parallel-like, Powersplit-like, and Complex-like topologies were were the most efficient powertrain configurations. Powertrains containing two gearboxes were more efficient because the geartrain models ignored mechanical inefficiencies.

Farewell to the MoRG

Last week Wednesday, I completed the final step of my Masters’ degree:  uploading it to UW-space.  The next day, I had a job offer.  Finally uploading the thesis was a relief, but it wasn’t the same “BAM.  GRADUATED.” feeling as it was in undergrad.  The masters’ acceptance process took about a month.  I had more of a graduating feeling when I received the ceremonial mug during the fall MoRG (Motion Research Group) party.

Left: My supervisor (John McPhee); Middle; Xinxin Zhao (Chinese exchange student); Right: Me!

After writing papers for so long, I have the urge reference the picture:  “Shown in Figure 1:  Receiving the ceremonial U.Waterloo Mug upon graduation”.

MoRG Farewell at Grad House. From left to right: Mohit, Amir, Chris (covered), Andrew, Brock, Me, Mahyreh, Naser, Dan, Yiteng, Tony, Borna, John, Peter, Ramin

Another tradition we have in our research group is to meet up at Grad house for a beer.  This time we were celebrating Amir and Nasers’ successful PhD defence, and me leaving the group.

I’m happy I joined this research group.  When you think back about a place, you don’t remember the work you’ve done.  You remember the people.


I’m expecting to graduate in Septemeber 2014, so I should be looking for a job.  To whomever is interested, I  have up to date copy of my current resume here.  (Last updated:  July 20th, 2014)

Also of interest, my linkedin address can be found below:

I’m looking for jobs in advanced technologies.  I have 7 years of programming experience, and have some experience with hardware configuration and integration.  I am very goal oriented, and enjoy working in a team.  I’m a member of a Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) working towards a professional designation, and also a member of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).  If you are interested, don’t hesitate to contact me!



Your environment can shape you

Much has changed in the last few months.  My first long term relationship has ended, and reflecting on it, I’ve learned many lessons.  Choosing a partner may possibly be the most influential life decision.  Two people’s lives come together, and where your personality starts and ends becomes blurred.  I typically take the Myers’ brigg test a few times a year, and this has given me some objective data to look at my own personality.
Myers’ brigg test, taken today.
Extravert(44%)  iNtuitive(62%)  Thinking(12%)  Judging(56%)
  • You have moderate preference of Extraversion over Introversion (44%)
  • You have distinctive preference of Intuition over Sensing (62%)
  • You have slight preference of Thinking over Feeling (12%)
  • You have moderate preference of Judging over Perceiving (56%)


Compared to about a year ago, whist in a relationship with a ENTP.  At this time I was quite sick, and also very stressed out from school:

Introvert(10%)  iNtuitive(80%)  Thinking(20%)  Judging(46%)

Compared to the personality test results taken from a previous blog post on September 22nd, 2009.  At this time I was also single, just starting 2nd year:

Your Type is

Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Judging
Strength of the preferences %
22 62 38 22

ENTJ type description by D.Keirsey
ENTJ Identify Your Career with Jung Career Indicator™ ENTJ Famous Personalities 
ENTJ type description by J. Butt and M.M. Heiss


I believe that sick, and around extroverts all the time pushed me really pushed me towards an introversion.  Health and who you surround yourself can really change who you are.  Pick your friends carefully and make wise life choices.


Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays.  Ever since I was a child, I had always participated in the ritual of dressing up.  This is one of the only holidays where it is encouraged for men to wear make up; I am no stranger to face paint.

I’ve noticed the last few years, the emphasis on Halloween has strewn away from trick or treating, and towards halloween parties.  By convention, it is inappropriate for adults to show up at strangers doors and ask for candy.  Instead, it is expected that one should conceal their identity and get as drunk as possible because nobody will recognize you.

Halloween in Beijing was interesting.  Halloween is only really celebrated in North America; it is just another day in China.  Luckily, there is a strong expat community, so there is always some house party to go to.

2007:  Halloween in Beijing.  Tomas (afro) won the best costume contest.  I’m supposed to be an Italian gangster, but I’ve never seen Tony Soprano do that pose.


During my first few years of engineering, I couldn’t really spend a lot of time on costumes due to usually having a few midterms the week of Halloween.  Even if I didn’t get to go out the night of, I would still dress up to get in the spirit.

2007:  1st year engineering.  Notice the hard hat, and the streetcar in the background.  I wore this to lectures.  It was really REALLY hot.


2007:  This is actually the first time I met Thuy.  I was also supposed to be studying for an exam and threw this costume together with whatever I had in my closet.  I was supposed to be an "engineer", but ended up looking like one of the village people.
2007: This is actually the first time I met Thuy. I was also supposed to be studying for an exam and threw this costume together with whatever I had in my closet. I was supposed to be an “engineer”, but ended up looking like one of the village people.


2009:  Jack-sparrow inspired pirate.  Notice my mom's costume.  She made that by hand!  Ricky on the right is also very crafty with a sewing machine
2008: Jack-sparrow inspired pirate. Notice my mom’s costume. She made that by hand! Ricky on the right is also very crafty with a sewing machine


2009:  I'm pretty sure I didn't go out to a club in this getup.  I mean, this is a costume my mom made for herself.
2009: I’m pretty sure I didn’t go out to a club in this getup. I mean, this is a costume my mom made for herself.

I believe I’ve gotten better at dressing up.  Or perhaps I’ve just learned how to put on makeup.

2010:  I believe this is one of the most (unintentionally) creepy costumes I've ever done.  I learned an important lesson that night:  do not buy the cheapest facepaint on the rack.  I think I ended the night looking like a crack addict.
2010: I believe this is one of the most (unintentionally) creepy costumes I’ve ever done. I learned an important lesson that night: do not buy the cheapest facepaint on the rack. I think I ended the night looking like a crack addict.

This is probably the best costume I’ve ever done.  The chinese shirt cost me about $20, the wig another $20, and I bought the fan in China for less than $1.

2011:  From this point on, I’ve done couples costumes with Thuy.  This year I was the zombie emperor and she was my concubine.  You can buy Chinese clothing surprisingly cheap in Chinatown.



2012:  This year I was a vampire and she was my victim.  If you are ever a vampire, make sure to draw the widows peak into your hairline!
2012: This year I was a vampire and she was my victim. If you are ever a vampire, make sure to draw the widows peak into your hairline!

Doing a group costume is actually a lot of fun.  The theme was ‘army’ and people generally have different ideas of what that means, so there is a lot room for creativity.  I jokingly wanted to do a Chinese military costume or a confederate solider, but I was discouraged to do so.

2013:  This year was the first time I've ever done a group costume.  it's also the first time I've ever been allowed to bring anything gun-like into a nightclub!
2013: This year was the first time I’ve ever done a group costume. it’s also the first time I’ve ever been allowed to bring anything gun-like into a nightclub!

I think its much easier to do costumes as a guy.  There is no real pressure to be ‘sexy’.  As you can see, most of my costumes have been rather silly.  But sometimes you can mix silly and sexy:


Sexy banana.  Really ...?
Sexy banana. Really …?

Achalasia Update: 6 months

It’s been a little over 6 months since I had the Heller Myotomy.  My life has really returned to normal.  I went from 125lbs to 145lbs in about 3 months, and have been hitting the gym regularly to put back on all the muscle I lost.  I don’t often get heartburn, but for the occasional flare up, I keep tums handy in the office and in my car.

Looking back, I was horribly miserable while suffering from Achalasia.  I wish I had done the surgery earlier.  For anybody suffering from Achalasia, DO NOT FEAR SURGERY.  IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR THE BETTER.

I’ve also been getting a few emails asking if I had tried POEM.  Honestly, I am 100% satisfied with the Heller Myotomy.  The POEM technique is still experimental, and there haven’t been any long term (25+) year studies completed.  I would recommend going the conventional route, skipping balloon dilations and going straight for the surgery.

Achalasia update: Post Heller Myotomy

My experience with the Toronto East General hospital and going through my first surgery.

It’s been a little over two weeks after the surgery.  Things aren’t perfect.  I still have to eat slowly, and liquid things are easier, but in general swallowing is much easier now.  The surgery has definitely met my expectations.

I had to do two checks before the actual surgery.  One was a upper GI series barium swallow, and the other was a short chat with the anesthesiologist.

The day of the surgery, I was at the hospital at 6am.  Getting there on time can guarantee you a first spot, because by 6:10 a line up was starting to form at registration.

Going up into the waiting room, I had some blood taken by a nurse and changed into the reversible front/back hospital gown.  I actually think it kind of fits like a yukata.  Finally I had an IV bag put into my hand before being sent back to wait.

When you walk into a surgery room, it’s almost like you are celebrity.  The doctors all know your name and are focused on you.  The surgery table is in the middle of the room with all the instruments angled towards it.  I lay on the table, and was given two warm towels because I was shivering so much.  I asked how long until I was going to be out, then I don’t remember anything.

I woke up in a recovery room immediately in pain.  I had a pain in my shoulder, and my abs hurt.  I was getting morphine put into my IV, so I had problems concentrating.  Things just didn’t seem to matter…  I was wondering what it would feel like, and I wouldn’t exactly describe it as ‘fun’.  But definately an escape.

I zoned in and out of consciousness for the rest of the day.  About 10 hours after surgery my family came to visit.  I needed to take my first pee so I tried to get out of bed, but extreme pain from my shoulder prevented me from getting up.  It was then I finally realized that my shoulder was in fact dislocated.  Now when I’m out of shape my shoulder actually dislocates quite easily, so I assume it must have been done while I was being moved under anesthesia.  The nurses refused to handle it and would much prefer to call a doctor, so I youtubed a video and had my brother do it to me.  Still thinking pretty clearly for a person with a morphine IV drip 😉

I had some interesting “roommates”.  One was an older guy who had knee surgery who liked to talk about his hippie years, and the other guy broke his leg in two places during a company ski-get away.  Having guys that can joke around can really lighten the mood in a hospital.

I didn’t get anything but broth and jello for the first day or two.  After the second day I was getting things like cream of wheat and split pea soup.  I was out of the hospital in 3 days, which is slightly longer than I expected.  The doctors were waiting for me to fart before I could be discharged; opiates are constipating.  I spent the rest of the week playing video games.

Moving in and living by yourself

I finally moved permanently into my Waterloo apartment!  So far things have been… interesting.  The apartment doesn’t have as much thermal mass/insulation as my house in Toronto, so it changes temperatures very quickly.  I’ll usually be sweating during the night, but freezing just when it’s time to wake up.

I managed to move pretty much everything with two van trips.  Here is a comparison of my old living conditions, and my living conditions now:

My room in my parents house
My new room in Waterloo
My crappy bed

As you can see I took a lot of my posters to cover up my walls.  The landlord agreement says that you aren’t allowed to hammer nails in the walls, but after looking around I managed to actually recycle some of the holes.

As for food, I’ve managed to actually do most of my own cooking.  I got a bunch of cucumbers and eggplants from Thuy’s mom, but I’ve never actually cooked with these in combination.  Here is my result:

First attempt at improvised stir frying

Stir fry the eggplant first, then the cucumber, then add sauce.  The sauce was whatever I found in the fridge:  soy sauce, sriracha, canola oil, pepper, kraft sweet and sour sauce.  The taste and texture was pretty good… on most of it.  The eggplant skin was somewhat more fibrious than I expected.  I think this dish was actually more tasty as microwaved leftovers.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Sobey’s, so when scoping it out earlier this week , I bought 8 Michealina’s frozen food packages because they were on sale for $1.  I just realized that each of those packages are only about 300 calories, so it is definitely not enough to call it a meal.

Does this meal planning scream out bachelor?

Two days later I needed groceries again, but Sobey’s is expensive as hell, so I tried the (much farther away) Zehr’s.  Zehr’s is a brand of Presidents Choice, and is about as expensive as a Loblaws.  I’m glad I chose to go Zher’s because I found out about Conestoga Mall, which should satisfy almost my every need.

Groceries attempt #2

I got some tomatoes, bananas, cheese and bread… mostly breakfast stuff. I also managed to buy a much needed new pair of NB running shoes on clearance for $50.

I’m worried about my surgery in January, so I’ve decided to start eating protein supplements to gain some weight so I’ll have something to lose during the time I am healing.  I went to Popeye’s supplements and asked what would let me pack on the pounds as quickly as possible.  He reccomended mutant mass, if I didn’t care if it was “clean” mass.  I bought a fibre supplement as well to throw into the mix.

Living by yourself isn’t bad.  It just requires some practice.

What is it like to be a battery engineer?

Over the summer I returned to Magna ECar to work.  I did my PEY placement here 8 months ago, and was liked enough to come back without an interview.

I was placed on a different project as the battery team was moved down south to Michigan.  I was now part of the cell manufacturing team in R&D.

What did I do there?

My major duty was to develop a process to manufacture smaller cells.  Most of the equipment was ordered already, but I had to use it and create a process manual so somebody else could follow it.

From my Materials Science and Engineering undergraduate degree, I applied skills from the materials science, diffusion, powder processing , and ceramics classes.  Materials science class helped me understand the crystal structure of electrodes, how lithium ions can intercalatite between graphite layers, and how crystal structures in electrdoes can collapse and render a cell nonfunctional. Diffusion was useful when understanding how electrode wets everything in a cell. The powder processing class was helpful understanding about powder when we were using nanopowders to create electrode slurry.  Ceramics was also useful in understanding the electrode powders.  My undergraduate degree was most likely NOT needed to do this job, but it would be pretty hard to understand some of the inner workings of a battery cell without it.

This was the first time I worked in a clean room.  Canadian safety standards are quite high so you have to wear a lot of safety equipment.  I had to wear a dry suit, medical mask/respirator, safety glasses, and steel toe shoes.  The white dry suit seen in the picture below has thin wires, which look like stripes, running through the fabric; this is to ground the suit so we don’t short circuit any of the cells.

ready to make some crystal meth!

On this project, I was the only one actively acting on the project.  My supervisor would come in sometimes to show me how to operate machines, or give me an introduction to a manufacturing technique.  But for the most part I was the only one pushing the project forward.  I asked for a lot of help from the machine operators and technicians to help me complete this project.

What did I learn?

When I first started I was super excited to try and CAD something.  I ended up CADing a punch in solidworks.  Solidworks is a well known program, and it took me about 2 weeks to really get the hang of it.  I spent a lot of time designing that machine, but in retrospect I really didn’t need that detailed of a drawing to have it built.  I found out later that my pencil sketches are actually detailed enough to pass to someone else who would make it.  CADing is a great tool, but you probably only want to do it if your specifications are really specific, or you are going to go into high production of that part.

Another duty I was given was to try and come up with a mathematical model of a cell.  I was eager to try because I had previous experience with mathematically modelling a battery coolant system.  Last time I picked up MATLAB, but this time I tried using MAPLE.

MAPLE is good program if you want a lot of accuracy in your calculations.  Maple is a symbolic langage, which means it keeps all of the numbers in its symbolic form rather than making simplifications.  For example, in MATLAB (a numeric language), 10/3 would calculate to 3.33333333 at the end of the line of code, and all subsequent calculations would use the 3.33333333 value.  If the next line of code was to multiply by 3, then 3.33333333 * 3 = 9.99999999.  In MAPLE, 10/3 would calculate to 10/3 at the end of the line of code.  If the next line of code was to multiply by 3, then 10/3 * 3 = 10.

I read a lot of journals regarding different ways to mathematically model cell chemistry.  I understood the theory and equations, but putting them together to make a working model took a bit too long and I ended running out of time and needing to focus on working on the cell production.  I didn’t get to finish the model, but I gained valuable experience working with MAPLE, which I am supposed to use in my master’s thesis at Waterloo.

Final thoughts

All in all, working at Magna is great.  We are right next to head office, which gives us access to all of the biggest corporate parties, an awesome cafeteria, and great groundskeeping.  It will be hard to beat Magna’s corporate benefits and excellent education plan, although I’ve been told that they don’t pay as much as say… RIM or Hatch.  Working in R&D is fun because there aren’t as many rules, and you can try creative solutions to problems (think duct tape).  Many of my coworkers has been at Magna for over 5 years, with one even reaching 25 this year.  This was my best summer job yet.

How to rent an apartment in Waterloo

How to rent an apartment in Waterloo

I’m moving to Waterloo and plan to stay there for an entire 2 years!  This guide should pretty much be applicable to renting anywhere.

Step 1:  Find a place

I used the Waterloo renters website.  Its quite good as has a map and a format which would be easy for most renters to fill out.

Step 2:  Arrange and visit the place

Call the people.  I am amazed at how judgemental I am just by talking to someone on the phone.  I talked to this one lady with a really strong Chinese accent and immediately decided that this was not going to be the place for me.

So I called a few places and booked viewings all on the same day.  I made 5 viewings with 1 hour gaps in between, but in reality you probably only need 30 minutes between appointments.  You get a pretty good idea if you could live in the place after about 5 minutes of looking around.  I went to one house with a live-in landlord, basement suites and a shared kitchen.  It definitely was the best maintained, cleanest, and had the best furniture, but I really wouldn’t want to have to share a kitchen with another family.

I decided on Sunnydale Place.  It’s a 15 minute walk from UW campus (engineering/optometry side), has 3 person townhouses, and free parking.  Here are some pictures of my new unfurnished place.

One of these keys is to my new room! The other is to my heart <3
A walk in closet so big I could sublet it out to a small immigrant family
I have a living room! But a couch without a TV…?

Step 3:  Negotiate with landlord

You should talk to the landlord to see if you can get deals.  Our contract only has 1 parking spot, but they told us we could have 2 if we wanted.

Always ask if the place is furnished!  Apparently I could have requested a queen size bed if I specifically asked for it.  Unfortunately I missed the boat and ended up with a single.

This is where the magic happens

Step 4:  Arrange deposits

Our landlord wanted the last months rent and key deposit immediately to secure our place.  He accepted email money transfer so this was relatively painless.  With our contract we were to submit a cheque post dated for our first month of rent as a minimum.  I will also need to give him a post dated cheque for every month thereafter until the end of the contract; in total 10 more cheques.  I don’t ever write cheques, so I’ll have to order them and give him the rest of them to him when I actually get to Waterloo.

Step 5:  Arrange utilities

The landlord provided us with a list of phone numbers that we could call.  Included on this list are:  electricity, hot water heater rental, landline phone, cable, and high speed internet.  We pay for hot water rental is $30 a month up front per person, and whatever we don’t use we will be refunded at the end of the year.

The landlord said that budgeting about $60 a month per person should cover all utilities except for water.  We also don’t have air conditioning, so that will probably save a lot on the electricity bill.

In our case we had a nice pamplet with all of the necessary phone numbers prepared for us.  Setting up the utltiles (electricity, hot water, natural gas) was a relatively easy 5 minute phone call.  Make sure you have a lot of cash available for the first bill, because the utilities companies each charged me an extra $150 deposit, and a $30 account set-up fee which will be tacked onto my first bill.

We didn’t bother with a landline or cable.  I hope I’m not regretting the lack of cable in the future…

Step 5.5:  Change Cellphone Number (?)

Many Waterloo students who go on co-op do not change their Toronto cell phone numbers to a Waterloo number.  I am on Rogers, which has Canada-wide roaming. This means I can use my data and voice plan anywhere in Canada without incurring  extra charges.  In comparison, long distance is extremely complicated, so I have prepared an example.

Consider the following example:  assume person T has a Toronto number, and person W has a Waterloo number.

Scenario 1:  Person T is in Toronto and and Person W is in Waterloo.  Person T calls person W.  This is considered long distance.

Scenario 2:  Person T and Person W are both in Waterloo.  Person T calls person W.  This is considered a local call and no long distance charges would be applied.

Scenario 3:  Person T and Person W are both in Waterloo.  Person W calls person T.  This is considered long distance because they are calling Toronto, which would be long distance.

In conclusion, to avoid receiving long distance charges, get a long distance package!  Yes, you may cause your Waterloo friends to incur charges when they call your Toronto number, but that isn’t your problem is it?  Alternatively, you could always text without fear.

Step 6:  The physical move

How the hell am I going to move 25 years of accumulated crap 1.5 hours away into a tiny room?  By minivan of course!

Putting the seats down in the minivan actually allows for a lot of space.  A quick tip for packing the van is:  make sure that you adjust the seat before you start packing the van.  I didn’t, so I was stuck on my mother’s ultra-back support seat settings the entire 90 minute drive.

We also considered a moving truck and making single move, but most companies charge a small base price, then a surcharge per kilometer.  After adding the price of gas, it generally isn’t worth renting to save the extra trips.  Save the rental trucks for big moves, like furniture.

Step 6.5:  The identity move

So now that I don’t live in downtown Toronto, there are certain things that can become a lot cheaper; namely car insurance.

I was originally using Cumis for car insurance, and had a yearly premium of $3600. I switched to TD Insurance Meloche Monnex, and am now paying a little over $1000  annually.  A quote from Cumis just factoring in just moving location and getting older dropped my insurance to $1900, still almost double what I am paying at TDMM.

Now there are a few factors leading up to my cheaper insurance:  I just turned 25 which puts me in a lower risk bracket; I’m moving from gridlocked downtown Toronto to open highway Waterloo, I just graduated from University of Toronto, and I’ve just started my P. Eng designation.  TDMM gave me really low rates JUST because of the P. Eng.  Even if you factor in the annual $220 fee for the P. Eng licence (which is also tax deductible), it’s still cheaper.  Get your EIT if you are a graduate just for these bonuses!

Another major bonus is that when I bundled home and auto insurance, I got a discount which basically made the home insurance free.  This lets me build home insurance history for free.  Horray!

Step 7:  Settling in

This step I haven’t completed yet!  I assume I’m going to have to find a place to buy groceries, or at least a place to get food cheaply.  Not to mention I have to clean the house and move furniture around.  To be continued…

Achalasia Update: Meeting with surgeon

After two years battling dysphagia, regurgitation, and spitting up foamy messes, I’ve  finally gone and met a surgeon.  I was reccomennded to Dr. Carmine Simone by my  GI specialist, Dr. Sam Friedlander.  It took about 3 weeks to get an appointment with Dr. Simone.

Dr. Simone went over the procedure, and basically told me what I already knew.  From my tests I had zero peristalsis and a LES pressure slightly above the mean. He recommend that I get a laparoscopic Heller myotomy, but without a fundoplication due to my complete lack of peristalsis.

I’ve booked the surgery for January, as to not interfere too much with the school term.  Apparently the doctors do not perform surgery during exam/christmas time, which basically makes them unavailable for most of December.

I also asked Dr. Simone what he though about POEM as a surgical technique.  He said that there were POEM trials held by Dr. Marylin at another hospital in Toronto, and that he would not recommend it.  He also said that his opinion was biased, gave me Dr. Marylin’s contact information, and suggested I should contact him myself.

I will be continuing reciving treatment from Dr. Chen at AC99 until the surgery.  I’ve had noticeable improvements since I’ve started acupuncture.  Next week I will be starting a combination of acupuncture and herbal extracts.  Dr. Chen seems to think he can restore peristalsis, so I will continue with his treatments.

I also requested a second manometry test to see if the acupuncture has had any unbiased measurable effect.  However I believe I was put on the low priority waiting list for this test because I had it done once before.

Everything to know about Esophageal Achalasia: Western Approaches

Western Approaches

Most of the effective western treatments are surgeries.   I will list these from least permanent (medicines) to most permanent (surgeries).

Western Treatments

Calcium Channel Blockers (Nitrates) are orally injested drugs such as Nifedipine or Isosorbide Dinitrate.  They are taken 15-30 mins before every meal and work by temporarily relax smooth muscle and reduce LES pressure.  These drugs have been studied intensely and are effective at lowering the LES pressure (average of 45 mmHg to 15mmHg), but is ineffective at reducing chest pain, and has side effects such as lower blood pressure and cause headaches [Gelfond, 1981] .  Nitrates are not seen as a long term solution, and generally only prescribed to patients with early stage Achalasia [Annese, 2006][Pohl, 2007].

Botulinum Toxin A (Botox) Injections involves endoscopically injecting botox directly into your LES.  Botox causes muscles to tighten, and in this case will keep the sphincter open.  Success rates are 44-100% 6-12 months after treatment.   Success rates are generally better in patients over 50 or for people who cannot risk surgery.  Patients tend to develop a resistance to the treatment and eventually it will no longer have any effect.

The procedure sedating the patient, then injecting 100mL of Botox into four quadrants about 1cm above the esophageal spincheter.  Patients can return after sedation wears off.  Symptomatic improvement is gradual and usually peaks in 1-3 days.  [Source]

Botox injections can be effective if the patient is aged, with a high LES pressure [Source].

Pneumatic Balloon Dialation(s) (PBD) involve endoscopically inserting a balloon into your LES, then inflating it to a certain diameter thus stretching and tearing the sphincter muscle.  Scar tissue will grow back in its place, which does not hold tension as well as muscle.  PBD generally has a 65-85% success rate on a follow up after 6.5 years.  This technique brings temporary relief to symptoms of Achalasia, as remission rates are 59% in the first year, and 40% in 5 years, and 36%% remission in 10 years.  Symptoms typically recur in up to 50% of patients, with a of dysphagia-free symptoms of 5 years.

PBD is generally more effective in older patients (ages >40), as there is a difference in muscle tone around the esophageal sphincter when compared to younger patients.

Pre-procedure invovles fasting from 12 hours to 2 days, depending on the severity of symptoms.  The patient will be sedated, and a 15mm long balloon mounted will be inserted orally on an endoscope into your LES.  The balloon is initially inflated to 7-15 psi, and held at pressure for 60 seconds.  During this time, there will be discomfort.  After the initial inflation, a second inflation at a lower pressure is performed. After the procedure, patients are kept for up to 6 hours to check for perforations.  [Source]

If symptoms return after a few weeks, another dilation with a larger balloon is performed.  The treatment typically has 3 sizes of balloons (30, 35, 40mm in diamter), and you will start with the smallest size [Source].  The smallest size balloon may not stretch your LES out sufficiently, and therefore the treatment may need to be repeated multiple times with a larger balloon.   Although less popular, multiple dilations can be performed in a single treatment, until a target manometry value is achieved.  [Source]

There is a 1-2% chance that perforations may occur during this technique.  Perforations are tears in the esophagus and can are dangerous as blood can pile up in esophagus.  This will need to be repaired immediately, usually by endoscopic surgery.

Although effective at reducing dyphagia, dilations are not effective at reducing chest pains. 2% of post-operatives develop GERD.


Laroscopic Heller Myotomy (LHM) is a safe (no recorded deaths) minimally invasive and procedure (surgery) and considered to be the definitive treatment for Achalasia.

An incision is made above the belly button and hollow tube (trocar) is inserted to fill the abdomen with carbon dioxide gas to allow for visualization of the abdominal organs.  A camera (esophagoscope) is placed in this tube to allow the surgeon to see during operation.  Four more incisions are made in the abdomen and tools are laroscopically used to cut the circular muscle that squeezes the LES.  The cut is 1.5cm deep on 6cm of muscle on the esophagus and 2cm on muscle on the stomach are cut.  Bleeding from the muscle incisions is minimal so there is no attempt to cauterize.  [Source]  [Ramacciato, 2005]

Image source:

Cutting this muscle will cause the LES to be stuck permanently open.    Now nothing is preventing reflux, so another technique called partial fundoplication can be used to limit reflux.  Partial fundoplicaiton involves wrapping a portion of the stomach around the esophagus.  Two or three stitches are made to hold the stomach in place.  The stomach will be wrapped 180 to 270 degreees around the esophagus. [Ramacciato, 2005]

Standard Heller Myotomies cut 2cm on the stomach, but it has been shown that Extended Myotomies which cut >3cm are more effective at (17% for standard, 9% for extended) reducing reccuring dysphagia.  [Wright, 2007]

Average operation time is 150 minutes.  Success rates are 75-90%, with failure being defined as requiring another operation.  The best candidates have had no other treatments (dilations or Botox) [Source].  These treatments can lead to strictures at the esophageal junction, which need more work to be cut, and thus have a higher rate of perforations.  People who fail this operation can undergo another operation with a good success rate.  [Source] [Marco et al, 2001]

Most patients are discharged on day 2 or 3, after which a clear liquid diet (ie:  apple juice) can be tolerated.  Days 4-6 a ‘full’ liquid diet can be tolerated (ie:  meal replacement shakes).  A week post-op to a month,  a soft diet can be started.   After a month solid foods can be resumed.  Proton pump inhibitors always given to postoperatives. [Discharge Instructions:  Heller Myotomy]

About 15% of postoperatives develop GERD [Source].  93% of postoperatives say they would do the operation again if necessary[Source].  About 30% of postoperatives will need to redo the operation in 12 years [Source].

Fundoplications involve sewing a portion of the stomach around the esophagus.  This increased tension prevents reflux.  There are three types of fundoplications used:  dor, toupet and nissan.  Dor-fundoplication is a 180-200 degrees anterior wrap .  Toupet-fundoplication 270 posterior wrap.  Nissan-fundoplications are the full 360 wrap.  Toupet-fundoplication seems to be more effective than Dor-fundoplication in preventing recurrent Achalasia symptoms (3.4% Dor, 17.3% Toupet).    Nissan-fundoplications are no longer performed as can cause dysphagia.  [Ramacciato, 2005]

Peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) is the newest surgery treatment made available with the invention of NOTES (Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery).  This procedure has been shown to significantly reduce dysphagia symptoms and reduce LES pressure (52mmHg to 20mmHg).  Development of reflux symptoms appears to be relatively low (1 in 17).  Unfortunately as this surgery method is new, there is no long term data available [Inoue,2010].  There are also very few medical centers equipped to perform this surgery;  Northwestern Memorial in USA, and Northern Yokohama Hospital in Japan.  Clinical trials are being performed, in multiple countries (including Canada!).

This surgery differs from the Heller Myotomy as the tools enter orally, then a 3cm incision is made in your esophageal lining (mucosa).  From there the esophageal muscle can be cut.  In total 12cm of muscle is cut:  10cm of esophagus, and 2cm of LES [Inoue, 2010].  The incision is then closed with standard endoscopic clips [Zou, 2012].

[Image Source]

This procedure takes less than two hours, after which you will stay in the hospital for a day for observation.

Complications with this procedure include:  an 8% chance to develop of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), and 6.9% chance for mucosal perforation during surgery. 25% of patients require additional intervention, with the mean followup time of 5.3 years.  [Source with video]

Efficacy of POEM seems to be similar to Larascopic Heller Myotomy  [Hungness, 2012].  Advantages of POEM over LHM is that the length of the myotomy is not limited, and there is no need for fundoplication [Miller, 2011].

Esophagectomy is a surgery in which the esophagus is removed.   The use of esophagectomy is extremely rare in the treatment of Achalasia.  It is a technique more commonly used in esophageal cancer.  The stomach is transplanted into the neck or a piece of colon is sewn where the esophagus would be.  Mortality rates for this surgery are typically 5-10%.  This technique is only used when people have sigmodial esophagus, or have repeated failed myotomies [Glatz, 2007].

My future direction

Personally I am leaning towards the POEM surgery as it has the fastest recovery time and does not require a fundoplication.  However there isn’t enough long term data to definitively say it is better than a larascopic heller myotomy.  I’m currently looking at enroling in a clinical trial, so that my treatment may take place in a study that may help others in the future.  Plus, isn’t it cool to always have the newest technology?

One thing that I always wonder about is how far away is stem cell technology?  What if I get the surgery but then stem cell technology allow me to regain control of my esophagus?  Could it repair the scars from the surgery as well?  Or would the surgery exempt me from regaining control.  Well I’m guessing we are probably about 30 years away from widespread use, so I might as well take the engineering approach do what you can with the time you are given.

Everything to know about Esophageal Achalasia: Western Diagnostic Techniques

Western Diagnostic Techniques

There are three tests used to determine if the symptoms are Achalasia: barium swallow, manometry, and endoscopy.  These tests are used to determine if the difficulty swallowing (Dyphagia) is due to Achalasia or from another possible disease (ie: esophagal cancer).

Severity of Achalasia can be scored objectively using the Eckardt Score, the Vantrappen Classification, and the Adams’s Stages.  The Edkart score is the most useful for clinical evaluation The Edkart score ranges from 0 to 12, 12 being the worst symptoms [Gockel, 2007].

Barium swallow involves swallowing a chalky-white barium slurry in front of an X-Ray recording.  Since barium is opaque to X-rays, the movement of the esophagus can be seen in real time.  The barium slurry does not taste bad, but may make your poo chalky white.  When I did the test a year and a half ago, the technician recognised there was something wrong immediately as the barium was not easily passing through the LES into my stomach.  Only until I had drank a large amount, my LES would open and let the liquid into my stomach.  I believe at that time I still had some parastalsis in my upper esophagus.

Manometry involves pushing a pressure sensitive tube about 2mm in diameter through your nose into your esophagus.  They will ask you to swallow small sips of water, and the tube will measure the pressure along your esophagus.  When I had my test, they lubed up the tube and put it in my nose.  It is an extremely strange sensation as you continue to push it down.  At certain point my gag reflex kicked in and I started dry heaving, but funny enough as it continues to go down the gagging will stop.  The results were that I had no pressure change in my esophagus while swallowing; no parastalsis.  My LES activated at a pressure of 25mmHg, which is pretty normal, however was incomplete relaxation (it only opened to 36%).

Endoscopy involves sedation and sticking a camera-tube down your throat.  An IV needle was placed in my hand and I was told to count to 10.  I think I go to about 3 before I don’t remember anything until waking up.  This camera is used mainly to check that your esophagus doesn’t have any tumors which would obstruct food while swallowing.  Mine was clear.

Personal experience

I “failed” all three tests and was thus diagnosed with classic Achalasia.  This was over a year ago and I believe my symptoms are being managed with herbal chinese medicine and acupuncture.    Before undergoing surgery, I would like to another manometry to see if my symptoms have further degenerated.

Everything to know about Esophageal Achalasia: Introduction to Achalasia

Yesterday I went to see my GI specialist about my condition; Achalasia.  This would be the second visit.  The first visit was approximately a year ago, although I seem to have had symptoms for a little over two years.

I’ve done about a years worth of internet reading about Achalasia, as well as had firsthand experience.  This post will be a summary of my knowledge and experience, and I hope this will help others who suffer from this affliction.

This will be the first part of a series.

What is Achalasia?

Esophageal Achalasia (aka Achalasia cardia) is a degenerative nerve disease which causes loss of the involuntary esophageal movement when swallowing (this is called parastalsis) and increased pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

My Personal Experience

From my experience, this result primary symptoms such as: difficulty while swallowing, regurgitation, chest pains, waking up choking on saliva in the middle of the night, unintentional weight loss, and spitting up large amounts of saliva.  This is a relatively rare disease, affecting 1 in 100000 people.

One of the secondary symtoms I’ve encountered is an  inflamed esophagus (esophagitis) due to excess stress which made regurgitation much more frequent.  I believe the freqent regurgitation also caused some reflux problems, and this caused stomach acid to irritate my esophagus.  Symptoms of esophagitis included  nausea, vomiting, a burning sensation in the esophagus.  The nausea was so bad that I couldn’t keep any solids or liquids down, and my body weight dropped from 140lbs to 124 in two weeks.

I first noticed symptoms about two years ago while I on my PEY internship.  I woke up one day with a burning in my chest which hurt so much that I thought I was going to die.  I later found out that it was just heartburn and I could have taken an antiacid for that.  Afterwards I would get heartburn whenever I was walking around the shop.

Over the next year I started developing problems when swallowing.  I used to eat extremely quickly, but things started to get stuck while eating.  I’ve developed techniques like eating with a straight back, or drinking warm or carbonated liquids to push the food down.  I’ve managed to eat normally without losing any weight.  The biggest difference is that I’ve gone from eating a meal in 10 minutes to about an hour, and I need to drink somewhere between 4-8 cups of  water with each meal.

Chugging a cup of water at the end of every meal is extremely important because it washes whatever is left down to the stomach.  I’ve had times where I’ve spit up breakfast food during the evening.  Also, I find that if there is solid blockage, salivia will accumulate on top of it, cause discomfort and I will have to spit it out.

Review of Algonquin Park: Canisbay Lake

Review of Algonquin Park:  Canisbay Lake

I got the chance to go to camping for a weekend.  This would be my second time camping at Algonquin park this summer, and I’d like to document the experience so each time I go it gets better.

The drive:  4/10

This time of year traffic is bad, so what was calculated to be a 3.5h drive from downtown Toronto turned into  a 5 hour drive.  After hearing the 400 was packed, we decided to go through some of the country backroads instead. We got stuck on the Northbound rush out of the city at 3PM, but it looked like traffic was heavy since about noon.    I think its safe to assume that everybody is heading is either taking Friday afternoon off, or heading up to cottage country.

View Larger Map

About 10 minutes before you enter Algonquin on highway 60, there is a Walmart and a Dollar Store on the way at highway 60 and 11 (C on the map above).  Between these two places, you should to buy anything you forgot to pack before entering the park.

There’s also an East Side Mario’s that we ate at on the way back.  I got a free desert and felt like a kid when the staff sung me happy birthday :).

Camping and the Camp Site: 7/10

We had two camp sites maxed out with 6 campers each.  We stayed at campsite 42 and 43, which is in the middle of the loop.   The camp sites were clean and large enough, but a little too close to the other sites.  At 11 o’clock at night the park ranger came and told us to shut up because he could hear us from the entrance.  Next time I would suggest picking a more secluded camp sites such as 126-128.  This is next to a water fountain and outhouse, but farther from the beach and showers.  This would give our large group a little more space to be loud, and also its in a RADIO ON zone.

Two people in a 6 person tent gives you a lot room to move around.  We had an air mattress, which made sleeping MUCH more comfortable than last time.  I easily slept through the night, except for the first night when a raccoon decided tried to get into our tent, and when the wolves were howling at each other.

We also forgot a few vital things, such as a can opener.  If you think you can open a can of beans with a hatchet, you should probably bring a raincoat.  We ran out of bowls, so we improvised by using aluminium foil folded into a bowl.

Stargazing: 9/10

The beach was a 10-15 minute walk from our campsite using a shortcut through the woods to the beach.  When we got there it was  clear and great to look at for about 20 minutes, then the clouds came and made everything hard to see.  Some of us lay on the wet sand, and some of us sat on a wet bench.  Next time I’d either bring a towel or the folding chairs.

Portaging: 8/10

[Original Map]

Portaging was the highlight of the trip.  The route we took was long and challenging, but doable for inexperienced relatively-fit portagers.  This 12-hour route took us through 39.1km of lakes, 4.2km of portages (12 portages), short 100m puddle jumps, over beaver dams, and through difficult to maneuver river passages.  We left the Portage Store at 8:30AM, and got back at about 8:00, just before sunset.

All 12 of us went on this trip, so big groups are doable but some of the portage spots got a little bit crowded with 4 canoes.  We portaged our 3 man canoes with 2 people; one at the front, one at the back.  Portages ranged from 110m to 710m.   I carried the front of the canoe by resting the nose of the canoe on my shoulder; whereas the carrier in the back would put the back seat on his shoulders/traps.  The lifejackets can be used as makeshift cushions and allowed me to shoulder the canoe without pain for about 250m.  The canoe isn’t heavy, but it does hurt after awhile.  The 710m portage was painful, but doable without rest.

There is a 20ft high cliff an hour from the rental store.  We tied off the canoes at the shore and went down a cliffside path. The water in front of the cliff is about 2m deep, which makes is safe to jump off.

We didn’t see much wildlife.  We saw some crows, loons, and some ducks.

Everyone tried to bring at least a litre of water, but we still ended up running out .  Getting desperate, some of us tried drinking lake water without getting diarreah, but we’ll have them checked for parasites when we get back.  Apparently its okay sometimes but not all, and in the middle of the lake away from traffic, fishing, swimming etc  is generally the best.  Drinking water near a beaver dam is a no-no.

We packed a little more than 2 sandwiches per person, but the cheese singles melted and became visually unappealing.  We only had 8 peanut butter sandcastles which went first.  Apparently some campers like to pack ‘suicide sandwhiches’, which consist of peanut butter, jelly and cheese wiz.  Yummy.


– Traffic was bad both ways

++ I feel like I proved something during that 12 hour portage trip

– Forgotten items: can opener, dishwashing tools, area light (non-directional lamp)/head mounted light, hand broom, extra underwear, jacket

– Kicked a rock coming back up from cliff diving

– Sunburn on legs and arms

+ Got a free dessert at East Side Marios

=As expected, there are animal disturbances

 Trip Rating: 8/10