January 31, 2020

Farewell to Bardel

Today was my last day in the accounting department at Bardel Entertainment. Between working a summer during my diploma, and then returning after BCIT, I have spent five years there and am ready for a change.The hardest part of leaving after that much time is you know so many people that it's tricky to properly say goodbye to everyone - and it's important to remind some people that you're leaving a company, but not them. It's equally daunting to consume the sheer volume of calories that people offer you on your way out the door...

I have had a fantastic core of co-workers across Finance, Payroll, Operations, HR, and Production, so there were almost a dozen lunches, drinks, and coffees this week trying to fit in goodbyes with everyone. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met so many kind and hard working people over and hope everyone continues to succeed in their careers moving forward.

Anyone that has talked with me about work in the last few years has heard about my work-aunts and I was delighted that Sherna (who retired in December and never had to set foot near Bardel again) came all the way from Ladner for my send off lunch.

(L to R: Michelle, George, Sanja, Sherna, and Ethel)
 
I also made a point of taking the operations team out for beer and nachos since they work as hard as everyone else (if not more so) but are too often overlooked when someone leaves Corporate. I'm not sure if this is because specialized teams get insular or what, but I wanted to thank everyone that helped me succeed and you certainly can't work in finance without getting the mail and calls routed or having lights and locks.

I was very pleased that they were keen to spend time with me off the clock since I'm not sure I would have been thrilled about hanging out with a 40-something accountant when I was their age, but they were sincerely happy to visit and fantastic company with an energy an exuberance which was contagious.

My camera phone is old and a little blurry, but this photo managed to capture the primary character traits of the team in one go. They're a great bunch and I'm confident they'll do great in the future as they go on to bigger and better things.

(L to R: Sam, Kyle, and Andy) 

Purely by fluke, there was also a company town hall/Beer Friday on my last day, so I got a chance to see the whole team gathered one last time and signed up to work the keg filling pitchers for a chunk of time at the end of the day. There was something pleasing about having my last task for the company being bar-tending that I just couldn't turn down.

January 25, 2020

The Langdale Skipper

 As many of you know, Kathryn recently had an interesting opportunity fall into her lap out of nowhere. She is currently spending 2 and 2 half days captaining a foot ferry which connects the Sunshine Coast terminal with Gambier and Keats islands. Since this service starts early and finishes late, she is spending 3 nights a week in the town of Langdale. The downside is a little time apart for both of us, the upside is a new job experience and a little bit of rural living.

I made a short visit one day over the Christmas break and, as you can see, the scenery is pretty darn picturesque out there. The terminal is in the lower left corner of the picture, and she is staying with a nice couple just a few minutes walk away.
 The dock for her commuter service is right alongside the BC Ferries docks. All pedestrian traffic exits at the front of the ship's car deck and it's just a few dozen meters to the side. The majority of customers are locals who live on remote islands with limited services and therefore need frequent access to a larger community for food and various other goods. It sounds like there are more out-of-towners in the summer months, but the winter is predominantly regulars.
The company (Kona Winds) owns several boats, but Stormaway IV is the workhorse for these runs. Kathryn handles the driving and navigation in all sorts of weather, but has a deck hand available to take fares and assist with docking and tying up the vessel. All in all, a good opportunity to put her 60-ton ticket to use and get more experience in the waters of BC!

December 30, 2019

Photogrammetry

The latest photography niche I've been dipping my toes into is photogrammetry. I am particularly interested in combining the resulting models with 3d printing for casting and jewelry production. I have been focusing on skulls so far because they are pretty cool and a surprising number of people I know have small collections of them around.

This involves taking numerous photos of an object and feeding them into a special program, which studies the differences in overlapping areas between key parts of each photograph, and interpolates a 3d model based on those differences. It's almost like a panorama in reverse or, for those of you that recall my VFX career, a camera track where the end result is a model rather than a camera path.

Fortunately, we already own most of the kit for such experiments while a turntable and additional lighting were cheap and readily available. The internet is such a bountiful source of information that it was very easy to learn how other people were achieving this goal and copy what has worked for them. Below is a picture of my basis setup which is now 5 for 5 in terms of success.
After knocking out the greenscreen in each photo, 3d Zephyr does some funky analysis to produce a loose point cloud and then a detailed model. There are numerous options in the photogrammetry software space and I picked this program since it combined a internally generated masking (key for turntable techniques) with a reasonable price for a perpetual license (software is increasingly moving to a subscription model and I don't want to pay a monthly bill).

I have found a sweet spot of 144 pictures (4 sets of 36, 2 with the object right side up and 2 more flipped) to provide overlap without taxing my time or attention unduly. This also yields a suitable model when reproduced at a small or medium level (the detail would not be acceptable for 1:1 reproduction, but will look amazing at 1.5" or so.)

The picture below shows the model in 3d Zephyr with each of the original camera positions denoted in blue.  Note that, once the greenscreen is removed, a static camera taking photos of a turntable is comparable to perfectly moving the camera around the skull at an even distance. Handholding the camera would be a nightmare since I use a combination of low ISO and small aperture which requires long exposures to compensate. The skulls aren't going anywhere so there's no hurry.
 Finally, the model is exported as an STL into zbrush. There I patch any breaks or fix areas that are low on detail or high on noise. Since we plan to cast some of these in the future, I also ensure all areas have a minimum thickness, add loops or pins to attach the piece, and add my maker's mark
I'll share more on the casting process when we get to that stage. 3d renders are neat but physical metal is a whole other ballgame of awesome.

October 27, 2019

Grizzly Bears

 This fall we took an excellent outing from Campbell River with our friends at Discovery Marine Safaris with the intent of seeing some grizzly bears. Given that grizzly bears are not found on Vancouver Island, this may sound counter-intuitive. However, Campbell River is only a few hours by boat from Bute Inlet, home of the Homalco people, who run excellent land-based bear tours. Small buses move groups of people between several viewing spots and towers in the area, offering safety from/for wildlife and a number of chances to see animals.
There was a pink salmon run in progress during our visit, so there were a goodly number of bears working the Orford River in anticipation of their coming winter hibernation. While there have been some scares in the news about emaciated bears in nearby Knight Inlet, the seven or so individuals that we saw all appeared to be healthy and decently fat. While people are undeniably having an impact on salmon stocks, the pinks were in good numbers and I am confident the bears will find their share.
 Evidence of this hypothesis was shown by this sleeping bear who was relaxing in what our guide rightfully called a "salmon-coma." It was perhaps 25 feet away from our stop but frustratingly concealed by some tall plants. However, once he had fully evaluated its state of lethargy, our guide offered Kathryn the chance to climb up on a fallen log nearby to get a handful of less obstructed photos for us and some other people on the tour. Although it briefly woke to survey this change in its surroundings, the bear was nonplussed and quickly went back to sleep.
The whole experience was exceptional but not cheap, so while we certainly plan to return to the Bears of Bute again in the future, its a trip that we'll have to ration out and savor every few years.

September 15, 2019

The CFE

This week, after months of preparation and years of study, I completed the Common Final Exam (CFE) for my accounting designation, and I certainly wasn't a notice leading up to this point. In 4 years at BCIT I wrote close to 100 exams in 48 different courses, and 4 of the 6 prior CPA modules also pretty grueling finals.

However, the CFE is designed to be particularly nightmarish. Three days, 14 hours, 5 cases, zero time to stop and think or make mistakes, and that's just if things are running smoothly.
 
I debated taking a picture of the convention center exam room but decided against it given how strict they are about everything and how boring a photo it would be. Fortunately, Hieronymus Bosch did a pretty good job of catching the details. You can see the candidates being funneled in the lower right corner, before being charged one more time at admissions and eventually prostrated in preparation to write.

Of course I'm kidding, in actual fact the CPA is much stricter regarding items permitted on the premises than a lazy pack of demons, and were much more thorough in searching for prohibited items like mechanical pencils and scarves.
Day 1 and 3 went reasonably smoothly, all things considered, but Day 2 was an absolute disaster.

Somehow, despite having literally years to prepare for this day, the computer servers were completely unable to log-in everyone, so most of Western Canada started hours later. We had a 3 hour delay, and before you think that doesn't sound bad, just know that most of us had 2-6 hours of sleep the night before and were therefore caffeine and sugar crashing from exhaustion just as we were supposed to start a 5 hour test. The case itself was enormous and pretty miserable on top of that. People writing in Edmonton were apparently there for 12 hours...
When I started this whole journey, my friends used to joke about the diploma being the Fellowship of the Ring, with a bunch of friends starting out on a journey together and things going generally alright. By the Two Towers, everyone is fractured and chasing after different objectives, just like part-time night school. Finally, by Return of the King, its down to a few people, well beyond exhaustion, trudging through a fiery hellscape. I was incredibly glad to have my friend Julia with me through the whole thing. We wrote mock exams together, grumbled nearly every week for two years, and both made it through. I forget which of us is Sam or Frodo in the picture above.

Now I just get to kick back until December when the marks are released...

March 18, 2019

Farewell to Kodiak

We were devastated to have to say goodbye to Kodiak. After struggling with an enlarged heart, kidney disease, a pancreatic condition, liver complications, and old age he finally succumbed to a thrown clot which paralyzed his back legs, leaving him unable to walk.

His quality of life has always been of our paramount concern and his regular vet tech only had to listen to his heart for a few beats to tell that he was nearly burned out. He spent his final day in our arms before going to the vet in the sunshine and without complaint. A noble gentleman to the end, he didn't yowl or fuss and seemed to agree that he'd gone as far as he could with us.
Kodiak (like most cats) collected aliases even more prolifically than medical ailments and has also been known to answer to: The Big Black Browl, Mister Cat, Gatamus Maximus, Yowlio, Kodiak T Cat Esquire, Shimanie Shongo the Bongamus Cat, Little Villain, Sweetheart, the Ambassador, Gigantor, Kitty, Hufty Chufty, Browltiger, Softie Soft Cat, Little Man, and many others. He was known as both Root Beer and Darwin at his adoption centre.
 We first adopted him on November 25, 2007 because he melted in Kathryn's arms when she picked him up and because I didn't mention he had bitten me a few minutes earlier for touching his feet. That gave us 4,132 days with him or 11.3 years. He's only been gone a few hours and we'd both do anything for just a little more time with him or to take back any number of afternoons in the past where we were too busy with things that no longer seem to matter in comparison.
We want to thank the kind and dedicated staff at the West End Veterinary Clinic for their years of compassion and for helping us grieve while giving him the grace and dignity he required until his final seconds. Especially Leni for being his favourite and Dr. Helene Childs for exemplary care.

If you also knew and loved him, please consider a donation to Katie's Place Animal Shelter or just take a few moments to reflect on your time with him. If you have a pet yourself, hold it extra close for us and be sure to treasure every moment you have.

March 2, 2019

Water Taxi from Cabo to Land's End

 Cabo San Lucas has a very pleasant touristy marina full of little boats that want to take you out and show you the sights. You can't walk more than 15 feet without someone offering to get you signed up for whale watching, deep sea fishing, or a local cruise. We opted to travel out with this gentleman for a bti of local sight-seeing.
 For about $10 USD per person they take you on a pleasant cruise through the bustling marina, past the local rock formations of Land's End, and out to Lover's Beach (more on them coming up) You can then specify how long you want to explore the area and they'll come back for you at roughly that time.
 An added bonus to this excursion is that most of the boats have a little glass-bottom panel in them and the fish around the reefs of Land's End are are striking as the water is crystal clear. This gives you a great look at some local wildlife feeding on algae and whatnot on the bottom of the boat. I was pleased to get a better look at fish while diving, but for people without that opportunity this is a pretty fantastic option.