I yak about the University of Toronto Mississauga Library, and getting a job offer on LinkedIn!
I yak about senior year laziness, my history midterm, and GO Transit seats.
UUU-Tube Version (A FIRST!)
A year and a half ago, I went through depression, moodiness, and anger. It was tough back then, and a lot has changed since. I could not have done it without the person I love the most, and the person I am most indebted to: Mom. Back then I wrote a small essay, and today I am ready to shareRead More
Today, we kickstart a new series called “The 6ix Councillors” where I try to find out more about the councillors who run the City of Toronto.
Our first councillor represents Ward 19: Trinity-Spadina, and his dad is Toronto legend Jack Layton, I am pleased to have on the show with me Councillor Michael Layton!Read More
What a day. Sunday January 17, 2016. There are few days that one remembers, and today was one of them. Some background: On Friday, my friend, Zakir Faizal, messaged me on Facebook saying his family wanted to meet Syrian refugees today and was wondering if I wanted to serve as an interpreter for his family as as they didn't know Arabic. I accepted and invited my friend Mark, to come along with me, as he also was interested in the refugee crisis.
The Toronto Plaza Hotel, which is off near the 400 and 401, is where the Syrians currently reside. This is the home of more than 500 people who are victims of war. War is often capricious and brutal on civilians, but there was no indignation here, only relief that they had found a place where they can call home. However, they miss Syria, as a child would miss their mother had she passed away. Most do not know English, but have made this arduous journey for a brighter future.
I expected us to spend the day interacting with the families at the Hotel; little did I know that Zakir’s family wanted to bring a family to Markham to provide them with lunch. No matter how large a barrier is, the will to do good crushes that. Zakir’s family have never met these people before, didn't speak their language, yet, were determined to help out . They wanted to get the refugees out of the hotel to change the scenery. It’s amazing how quickly a bond was formed between us and the Syrians. Love has many forms of manifesting, and first-glance contact is one of those forms.
We took 2 families with us to Zakir’s home: 1 family, which consisted of a mom and her 4 kids had their home turned to rubble, their father a casualty. The mom, fearing for herself and kids, walked, barefooted to Jordan, to seek haven from the war. Without warning, the kids went from schools to slums. The other family, a wife, her husband, and 5 kids also suffered the plight albeit they ended up in Lebanon. Lebanon? Jordan? What difference does it make, they were treated as “economy class” citizens. True they had a roof over their heads, but a blanket of warmth was missing. This is what makes as unique as Canadians: Our country is like a salad, different people from different backgrounds, with each person bringing a different taste to make a delicious bowl.
All the people I saw today have been through a lot, they face a different challenge now. Finding a home, a job, learning a new language, meeting new people, getting kids enrolled in school...that’s hard to do. It made me think of how small my problems are compared to these people. I encourage you, the listener, or the reader, to take time out to go to the Toronto Plaza Hotel to interact with the refugees. I knew about their situation by reading the news, but it’s totally different when you actually go and explore. You only need to go through the Hotel’s entrance to see what they are going through.
One highlight today was when we took pictures together at the end, and exchanged contact info. Here we were, Arabs, Caucasian, and Sri Lankans smiling at a camera. These people have seen death, suffered, and have in front of them an enormous challenge, yet, for the couple of hours we met, it was all smiles. As one of them put it, the past is past, we only have the future to change. I wish these people all the best. These people I speak of are no longer refugees, but they are new Canadians. So welcome all to Canada!
Interview with Andy Byford
A couple of months ago, I emailed Andy Byford, CEO of the TTC, for an interview on The Null Space to talk about his past experiences, and more importantly, life running the 3rd largest transportation system in North America.
Today, November 6, is the day I had a chance to do this interview, and wow, was I ever impressed! As soon as I walked in, I can tell I was not meeting some ordinary Joe. I must admit, I was a bit nervous, but Andy's openness, and desire to exhibit the good work he and his team are doing made the interview very easy! (apart from the fact the microphone didn't work for a bit!)
So, if you want to listen to Andy Byford's past, the path he took to be where he is now, the ups and downs of running the TTC, the uniqueness of Torontonians, and the dedication to the basic mantra of hard work, listen to the recording below!
Toronto, we are under good hands!!!
It’s May 22, 1979. It’s Election Day in Canada. Pierre Trudeau of the Liberals vs Joe Clark of the Conservatives. Pierre Trudeau has been in power since 1968, but has seen his popularity slip due to mismanagement of the budget, and high unemployment. Joe Clark, 39, was inexperienced but was running a positive campaign based on change. Ironically, Trudeau’s Liberals back then tried to make Clark's inexperience an issue with the ad, "This is no time for on-the-job training."
With voting over, the numbers started coming in. It was obvious who had won. Pierre Trudeau had secured 4.6 million of the vote compared to Joe Clark's 4.1 million...
Congratulations Joe Clark, the 16th Prime Minister of Canada! How? I was baffled when I saw this. How does someone get to become Prime Minister even though he’d lost the popular vote? Another bizarre stat is that only 5 Prime Ministers have been elected with over 50% of the vote: Mulrooney in ‘84, Diefenbaker in ‘58, King in ‘40, Borden in 1917, and Laurier in 1904 and 1900.
Why is this? How does our voting system actually work? Here is a quick 101:
Canada is split into 338 ridings. Each riding is competed by 2 or more people for a seat in the House of Commons, the place where laws are generated and debated. These people represent a party they are part of: NDP, Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc, Green, etc. The candidate with the most vote wins the seat in their riding. The party with the most seats won gets to form government, with the party’s leader becoming the Prime Minister. Yes, it may come as a shock to you, but the only reason Harper is our Prime Minister is because his Party choose him as their leader, so if one day he steps down, they’ll just choose another person to be their leader.
What are the problems with this winner-takes-all system, or First Past the Post system? Let’s look at an extreme example. Imagine Canada was split into 2 ridings, and there are 2 parties contesting in this race: the Rhinoceros Party of Canada and the Pirate Party of Canada (they exist, I swear!). For both of these seats the Pirates win 51% of the vote compared to the Rhinos 49%, leading them to win 2 out of 2 seats. Is this a fair representation of what Canadians want? On average 51% people wanted Pirates, and 49% voted Rhinos; however, that was not represented in the seats won! In the 2011 election, Stephen Harper’s party received less than 40% of the popular vote, yet won more than 50% of the seats!
Do all countries employ the same system as ours? Let's look at Germany; home of football superstars, non-halal beer, Volkswagens, and the Mixed-Member Proportional Representation voting system. How does it work? On election day, each person gets 2 votes: one vote to the candidate you want to represent your riding in the House of Commons. The person with the most votes wins the seat. Usually half the seats in the House of Commons are filled this way. So in our 2 riding example, one seat is contested similar to the winner takes all method, with the Pirate Party winning it.
Your second vote would go to the party you like, irrespective of the candidate you voted for. The votes are then counted nationally, and the other half of seats are distributed to fix the imbalance that was present in the First Past the Post system. In our example, the Rhinos would get the remaining seat to make the distribution 50/50, which is proportional to what the people wanted.
An advantage of the German system is it negates larger parties gaining a disproportionately large share of seats, while giving smaller parties their fair representation. This will give Canadians a better blend of politicians representing us in Ottawa; it won’t be just old white men, but more minorities. For example, in the 2011 election, Elizabeth May’s Green Party had 4% of votes, but only 1 seat. With proportional representation, it would have been 12!
Some people will say this system will lead to more minority governments, that is where the winning party doesn't have more than 50% of the seats, and Prime Ministers exiting left-right-and-centre like Maple Leaf coaches, but in Germany, it’s been one leader for the past 10 years! Angela Merkel has had to…what’s the word I'm looking for… cooperate with other parties on policy. I mean, I'm sure Trudeau, Harper, and Mulcair where one grouped with that annoying kid in class they had to work with on a project.
With the possibility of working with other parties greater in proportional representation, maybe attack ads and petty politics will be reduced. Countries that have implemented it have seen higher voter turnouts, and yes that includes youth, because people can see their effect on politics. It puts the focus on long term gains for country rather than short-term ones like what a woman can wear for a citizenship ceremony.
Voting is a right in Canada, but fair representation is not. It’s about time that changes!
Let’s start with a fluids lesson, for all the nerds out there. Think water moving in a pipe. The water is all moving at the same speed. It’s Laminar. Uniform. Undramatic. Now, imagine a rock partially blocking that end of the pipe, distorting the water flow. Turbulence. Chaos. Accidents. Remind you of something? It’s Toronto traffic!
Toronto; the 4th most populous city in North America. Toronto, were the condos are booming and the traffic is forever slowing. According to TomTom, the GPS navigator company that is not Garmin, Toronto is the 47th most congested city…in the world. We experience an increase in time of over 50 percent during the morning rush hour, and over 60% during evening rush hour. So an hour’s drive becomes an hour and half. Wow!
And it’s not like TomTom made these numbers up, it’s true! I live in Mississauga and drive to Oshawa every day. Work starts at 6 and I’m on the road at 5. My drive is pleasant, fast, and tuned to the sound of Matt Galloway on CBC Metro Morning (which everyone should listen to; 5:30 to 8:30 on 99.1 FM). I end at 2:30, and even though it isn’t officially the start of rush hour, it still takes me around an hour, 20 minutes to get home, assuming it’s not Friday, which is by far the worst day to commute in the afternoon, and it’s not even winter yet. I don’t get why it’s called rush hour and everyone goes so slow; it just grinds my gears!
You know what pisses me off? When I am on the left most lane, which is technically the fast lane, and during rush hour, it becomes the slowest. This is caused by people crossing into it thinking it will be faster, as well as by the ripple effect caused by that one person constantly pressing his car’s brakes.
I wonder whether the express lanes on the highway can have a no lane change law during rush hours. The lane you go into is determined by how far you want to go. For example, if your trip on the highway is less than 20 km, you are restricted to the right lane, if it’s between 20 and 40 km, you use the middle lane, and greater than 40 km is the left lane. Maybe this will improve the flow of traffic!
There are few times when your speed on GTA highways is actually in double-digits. Heaven forbid you cross 100km/h as that’s illegal. Let’s face it though, if you’ve ever been on the 401 at 5 in the morning, 100 is considered the minimum speed limit. The 401 does regress exponentially after that, but on the 407 toll road, 100+ speed is the norm. This raises a question, if everyone is going above 100, why can’t the government increase the speed limit? If the government does decide to increase the speed limit, say to 120, then it loses on all the revenue it would get from people who “speed” between 100-120, which is everyone on the 407!
I want to talk now about the scariest slow moving objects out there: trucks. Nothing gives me the chills more than overtaking trucks, being stuck between trucks, seeing trucks overtake other trucks, basically, anything truck related! They slow down traffic, cause anxiety, and should really be restricted from driving during rush hour. I wonder what difference that would make on the roads? That or dedicating a lane for trucks only; preferably one in the collectors and not the express, because, you know, express means as fast as possible!
Instead of dedicating a lane for trucks, we instead dedicated a lane for cars that carry 3 or more people during the PanAm Games; the dreaded HOV lane. Instead of using HOV’s, we should drop the V and put a T and go HOT. (High Occupancy Toll). It’s been implemented in the States to over 300 roads, yet, we do not have a single one! It’s basically an HOV-407esque lane, where transit buses, car poolers, taxis, and green cars get to ride for free, while riders that do not fall in that group get to enjoy such a lane at a price.
In my opinion, an HOT lane is better than an HOV lane as it would maximize the use of that lane on the highway, because nothing makes drivers mad more than being stuck in traffic and seeing an empty HOV lane they cannot get on! Before people start arguing that this is a luxury pass for the rich, remember, that’s better than the road you are building for them with your tax money that is the 407 East, which you will never ride on if you cannot afford it
In reality though, increasing the speed limit, having dedicated truck lanes, and HOT lanes only present bandage solutions to congestion. A surgical approach requires less cars on the roads and more people on public transit. Maybe if public transit wasn’t so inadequate, people would be inclined to use it more!
Here are some transit fact: one subway carries 40,000 per hour, that’s equivalent to 20 lanes of highway. Street space occupied in downtown Toronto by a streetcar passenger is 6 square feet, in a car, around 67 square feet. You see, taking more people off the car, and into public transit, reduces congestion, reduces traffic times, and reduces headaches for everyone out there!
But that relies on an accessible public transit system that could get me to work, I would have taken in it and sold the car. I would be saving money on insurance, fuel, 407 tolls, car maintenance, etc. Now, if more people did that, we would be saving the environment, as well as extinguishing a burning hole in our pockets! I used to think the Metropass, at $112, was a lot of money when I commuted to school, but now, since I started working and using the car, I wish I still pay that amount!
The question then becomes, how do we incentivize more people to switch to transit? Tax increases are often seen as a blunt instrument that can be deemed ineffective. Instead of taxing people, we should come up with more creative and incentivizing ideas to promote transit. For example, reward companies that set-up carpooling for its workers, or has a high percentage of the employees coming in using public transit. The same idea can be applied to neighborhoods that do the same thing.
However, for any change to occur, whether it’s a surgical or bandage approach, strong leadership from our politicians is required! We need someone who is willing to act, the question is, do we have that someone in the city, the province, or the country? The problem with politicians these days is they follow what is called Politicians Logic; We need an idea, here is an idea, let’s do it! There is sometimes no thinking behind an idea, it’s just a matter of selling it to us.
So, let them know about your frustration about congestion. Maybe they don’t know how much of a problem congestion is. Let them know of your frustration: email them, call them, or start a hashtag #LetsGetMoving or something of that sort. From the parking lot that is the 401, I’m Omar Ismail, see you soon on another episode of The Null Space!
The Mechboyz, made of Shamail, Terrence, Martin, and Raymond, come on to say goodbye to their undergrad careers at the University of Toronto. They reflect on their time at UofT and ways the undergraduate experience can be improved. A must listen!
Pre-Chicago winning the Stanley Cup, me, Joseph, and Mario, sat on the eve of the start of the Playoffs to argue who will win it all. Only one of us got the winner right, and none of us predicted the perfect bracket. Crazy predictions, lots of fun, and all smiles afterwards!
This blog post is all about mentorship, with Qazah and Josh. Both of them are mentors and share the importance of such programs. Qazah is the Mechanical Engineering Club Mentorship Director at the University of Toronto. Josh, who is a big-time Swiftie (did I spell it right?), is part of the TrackOne mentorship program.
Questions for Qazah and Josh:
- What is mentorship?
- Why should I be a mentor?
- I don’t have enough time for my mentee, why should I bother?
- How does my mentee benefit?
- What inspired you to become a mentor?
- Where you ever a mentee? How was that?
- What is your greatest achievement as mentor?
- Difficulties in mentorship?
- What is something you've learned from being a mentor or a mentee?
If you like what you're listening or reading, like and follow the blog, and do not forget to share it on your social media platforms as well!!
If entrepreneurship is a career path you want to take, this episode is for you! Professor Montazeri, talks about his experience on being an entrepreneur; his failures, how he dealt with them, and his plans for the future.
Questions for Professor Montazeri:
- Why did you choose engineering?
- What is your vision?
- Who was your inspiration?
- What steps do you take to reach your dream?·
- What is entrepreneurship?
- What should I do if I'm scared to do a start up?
- People talk about René Descartes, Isaac Newton, Carl Gauss, etc, who is our modern time nerd? Elon Musk?
- What is a skill a student should learn that wasn't possible 20 years ago?
- Last piece of advice for current undergrads?
Ashmith is a member of the University of Toronto (UofT) Supermileage Team, Dan and Nico are part of the UofT Baja Team, Paul is a drummer at 416 Beats, and Vinoj is an up-and-coming poet from Scarborough. Here are the questions I ask them:
- What's your extracurricular? Why?
- What do you enjoy the most?
- How does it relate to engineering? Does it?
- What have you accomplished with your activity?
- What's more important, grades or this?
- How do you balance between Skule and extracurricular?
- What do you see yourself in the future doing with it?
If you like what you're listening or reading, like and follow the blog, and do not forget to share it on your social media platforms as well!!
Dialling it up!
So you’re sitting in lecture, 9 AM, comfy chairs, stayed up late submitting a project the previous night, the perfect recipe to sleep in lecture. By the time lecture is over, pray it’s only an hour, and you’re in no mood to continue. This happens a couple of times and you decide to skip a lecture. One lecture becomes two, two becomes three, come midterm time, you have no idea what to study as you have no notes. Panic? Yes sir. Stress? Definitely. But does that always have to be the case. Let us visualize a different scenario!
It’s 1:00 PM, and you've overslept your morning lectures. You get up, not worrying at all because you can catch up on what you've missed. How? Well, there is an invention people are talking about that allows you to do such a thing. No it’s not a time turner, but a recorded lecture!
I used to be totally against this idea. Technology?? Education??? They just can’t go together! Being in the lecture room, and more specifically, a blackboard and chalk, are THE only way to learn. But is that the case? Does everyone learn the same way? At the same rate? What changed my perception about education was by reading a book written by the founder of the Khan Academy, Sal Khan, called The One World Schoolhouse: Education Re-imagined. Good read if you’re interested!
Combining what I've read to what I experience, I think recorded lectures are a must for any course. Why? In the case of Johnny Tired, instead of dragging himself to lecture, he can rest, and when he wants, he can see the lecture. Not only that, he can pause when he wants, go back, and take a break! There is no such thing as, ‘Yo Bob, what did the Professor say?
But, let’s develop this idea a bit more. Instead of having recorded lectures for those ‘lazy’ (heavy quotation marks) students, should recorded lectures be the norm? Should professors record the content they want to teach beforehand, upload it, let the students watch it, and then dedicate lecture time for discussion and questions? I don’t know about you, but no matter how brilliant a lecturer is, it become harder to concentrate after 30 minutes of class! Maybe I just have a short attention span!
If universities cared about the undergraduate teaching experience, they should at least experiment with this idea. Online lectures, in-class discussion! Maybe try it for one class and see the student response? I mean, with technology being cheap these days, how much is a video recorder going to cost? For decades, technology has improved multiple areas of our lives, it does seem pretty ironic that it hasn't improved the place it was developed!
Questions for Professor Stickel:
- How does it feel like to go from being a student to being a professor?
- Did you imagine yourself being a teacher one day?
- What made you choose to go into the teaching field? What is your research about? How do you want it to improve the way people are taught in the future?
- Where there any negative experiences you had as a student, and if so, how have you tried to make sure students you teach now don’t have that bad experience
- Let’s look at the bright side! Any positive experiences?
- In 20 years’ time, how do you envision the educational process?
- What have we, at UofT Engineering, done to embrace technology as a tool to educate students? Are we behind? What can we do better?
- As this podcast is heard mostly by people in university, is there a particular piece of advice you’d like to point out?
Dialling it up!
Coming from a mouth or on the ground, when people realize me, they can only frown. What am I? If you guessed trash, that is the answer to the riddle!
I'll share with you a recurring incident that happens when I go to Skule. (S-K-U-L-E). Unfortunately, as a commuter to UofT, I never get the chance to wake up 30 minutes before class and still make it on time. Instead I arrive 30 minutes before. Not wanting to look like a keener, I usually go to the lab to check FB, Twitter, hockey highlights and so on. 4/5 when I enter the lab, I'm greeted with the familiar site of a pop can on the lab tables, and that's when it's a good day. I think the worst was entering and finding a half eaten Popeyes meal pulling an all-nighter. Disgusting!!
Now, as an engineering student, and a potential candidate for the worlds most impatient man, I understand how hectic life gets. Whether its rushing to submit a lab report, or running to catch the last bus, Cleaning up the area you worked in is the last thing on your mind. Apart from these 'extreme' cases, is leaving your garbage behind excusable? We all want an easy time, but Put yourself in the janitors shoes, by leaving your garbage behind, are you making their lives any easier?! Just like how you enter a luxurious restaurant and expect it to be clean we should expect to enter the cathedral of education, a university, and expect the same thing.
But it's just not finding lying soda cans in the lab, it's also seeing newspapers and coffee cups on public transport. Remember, we fund our buses, streetcars, and subways. Would you be pleased if you entered your home and found your medium double double cup on the floor? Is it going to kill you to keep hold of your cup just a bit longer until you find s bin?
I'm sure I'm not the only one that want Toronto to be the best city in the world. But how can we profess such a vision when we cannot take care of it, groom it, and clean it, just like we’d treat it like jewel.
So the next time you want throw your piece of gum, or your soda can remember, there is one place where you can actually do so. A lot of people seem to forget it exists, but it's there, always accepting your litterations. Yes, it's our good friend, the garbage can.
How hard can it be?
A new semester is upon us. For some, this means returning to greet our old nemesis, studying! But I mean, how hard can it be?
So, how does one achieve real work? One of the things that helps is planning before, and during the Skule year.
As soon as my course syllabi, yes that is the plural of syllabus, are out, I always open the document with my agenda beside me. Being a UofT Engineering Student, I'm a bit biased, so I use the Skule Planner. What I do is write down the due dates of assignments and the dates of midterms on both the monthly overview, and on the weekly. I like to do this in red, because red means danger, stay alert….beware.
During the Skule year, specifically, every Sunday night, I sit down with an Excel Spreadsheet open. The first column, has hourly increments starting from 9 AM until I sleep, which is usually 11 PM. The first row has the days from Monday to Sunday.
I then fill out the schedule with the lectures and tutorials I plan to attend for that week. As I'm someone who best understands by being in lecture, I usually go to all of them. I also add time for lunch, and dinner, which are the 2 most important parts of my day. Another thing I usually do is keep one night of the week a no-study-time. For me this is usually Friday night. After all these essentials comes the hard bit, what do I do with the rest of the time left? How much time do I study for each subject?
Something I do is split the courses into high, medium, and low difficulty. If a course is high difficulty, I like to give it a study time of 4 hours during the weekdays and 4 hours during the weekend. A course that is medium takes 3 hours during the weekdays and 3 during the weekend. And as you would have guessed, a low difficulty takes 2 hours during the weekdays and 2 during the weekend. Each day, I like to study 2 subjects, one I enjoy, and one I don’t. I’m a huge believer in practice makes perfect, therefore, I prefer to do practice problems than read.
I also recommend having a few ‘blank’ hours. These usually don’t stay ‘blank’ for long as they get filled up with team meetings, or extra time to do a problem set. One important thing to realize is you can, no let me rephrase that, you HAVE to be flexible with your schedule. If you have a midterm on a specific week, invest more time in studying for that subject. Once you have your weekly schedule, write down the subjects you are studying on each day in your planner. I do this in pencil, because pencil markings are temporary, erasable…adjustable.
To be honest, when I first started making a weekly timetable, the hardest part was acting on what I scheduled. They say the bridge between goals and accomplishment is discipline, the more self-controlled you are, the greater the likelihood your bridge will stand sturdy.
When I started, I only accomplished 20% of what I intended. Slowly, I made progress. Don’t expect yourself to follow your schedule 100%. Life is unexpected, there will always be that assignment that takes longer than it should, but don’t let it beat you down. Also, never have the same routine for 2 weeks. Mix it up. Do something new. Study somewhere different. We all have friends, ask one to randomly check if you are in line with your schedule during the year.
Most importantly, these tips I have suggested are from my past experiences. What works for me might not work for you, after all we’re human, and each one of us has their special way of achieving success. But if there is one thing we all need is confidence. So studying, how hard can it be?