Parallam (PSL) side table

The mother beam

The mother beam

During a remodeling project in the fall of 2016, one of my family member decided to remove a load-bearing wall that divided a living room and kitchen. In order to maintain the structural integrity of the three story building, my brother, a civil engineer, worked his magic and came up with a solution that involved a 17ft x 19in x 7.5in parallel strand lumber (PSL) beam, commercially known as Parallam. Had it been covered in gypsum, the beam could have been slightly smaller in width and depth (to account for the fire retardant properties of gypsum), but PSL being a beautiful engineered wood product, leaving it exposed greatly enhanced the appeal of the room it was in.

Parallam (PSL) side table viewed from under

As delivered, the beam had an extra foot of length that was removed using a chain saw. My cousin wanted to toss away the left over part, but interested in the looks of the material, I picked it up with the intention of turning it into a piece of furniture. This summer, I finally garnered enough free time to get to it. PSL being very porous and brittle, it took severe belt sanding and 13 coats of polyurethane varnish to get a decent finish. Four legs later, I had myself a curious looking side table that since then has never failed to catch people’s curiosity (even more so than those other tables).Parallam (PSL) side table

Who’s responsible for Trump? We all are (along with social media)

This morning, I was listening to a Radio Canada program reading excerpts from comments they had received after interviewing three Canadian Trump supporters to hear their views on the American election’s outcome. In those tweets/e-mails/comments, people were lashing out in mean ways (ways people take when they feel protected by anonymity) on both those three individuals for the views they upheld and the network for organizing this talk. Tonight, I got to hear the actual interview, the one that caused this liberal-progressive audience to explode in insults. What I listened to though were three well articulated persons expressing and justifying with good arguments their support and agreement for Trump’s campaign (with some restrictions) and election. I cannot help but admire their courage for ever accepting to go out on public radio knowing the backlash they would have to endure and facing a radio host that obviously was not being impartial (and incidentally not doing her job correctly). She even went so far as to question each of them on their views about gay marriage, death penalty, and abortion in an ultimate attempt to force fit them into the stereotypical views she held about Trump supporters.

Suffice to say this left me somewhat disappointed with that radio host, who failed at being a journalist that morning. However, this also made me grateful towards Radio Canada for taking the initiative to find people with opinions and values that opposed it’s agenda. That all got me thinking and made me want to add my two cents to the debate.

I for myself do not share the opinions that were voiced by the guests: I think Trump election is a step back and will spell potential catastrophy for the world at large. However, what I can’t deny is that some people hold views that are more conservative than mine and we’ve ignored them so much over that last couple of years for the sake of progressive ideals in so far as to create an immense divide in society. A divide so great that when all the people on the other side of that chasm decided to pull on the little line of communication linking us to them we call elections (and really the only time when our opinions are truly confronted), it won them the Trump election.

Who is at fault? us and them really. We’Re guilty for not discussing and debating among ourselves, for not trying to understand each other’s concerns and most importantly for not taking the time to reach out, listen and take the time to explain our respective views. At the risk of sounding condescending and demagogic, I’ll maintain that progressive ideas have the higher moral ground and are the way forward: that is empirically justifiable by a quick look at history. There really is no debate to be had about the need for civilization to progress, but there is a discussion to be had about how we should proceed towards this inevitable goal and at what pace should this process go. All of us will agree on that. Those that seemingly don’t most often have quarrels with the means rather than the principle. Paying attention to their arguments, understanding them, putting them in context and then making compromises while demonstrating that there’s something in it for then as well will go a long way towards making everyone happy and content that they’ve had a chance to partake in this collective endeavor called democracy.

Did we at one time take a step back to hear those people out? To understand where they came from where they wanted to go? It’s the failure to do that that got us where we are. Failure on both sides of the chasm, as I don’t foresee a Trump administration benefiting them either. I’ll admit those previous arguments were not really not mine. I’ve seen them pop out on a Facebook post and this hopeful Wait But Why article has hinted on them. However, now comes my own opinions about the matter or rather the likely explanation.

Yes, there’s always been divides in societies, counter-opinions and different point of views. That is an extremely good thing insofar as there exists channels of communication for those views to confront each other, otherwise, it’s all for nothing. Nowadays, we can no longer call this a simple division, it’s a canyon. A gap so wide very little information gets across to the other side even though we live in an age where communication has never been so easy. What’s responsible for this paradox? the information bubble (in large parts). Social media’s entire business model is built upon feeding us content we’re likely to look at. Our friends, well they’re our friends because they think just like us and those websites we visit, well we wouldn’t visit them if they didn’t agree with our values.Consequently, the fact we now mostly rely on the Facebook feed and biased news websites to gather our daily regimen of news and opinions isolates us from diverging points of views. And that’s abstracting the immense influence the media we read has on our opinions, which only furthers the issue. Those individuals on the other side of the canyon? they live under the same influences and face the same invisible barrier.

Over the years, partly because we get ever increasing parts of our information through social media and partly because news agencies can now only survive if they cater to specific views and values, we have isolated ourselves in our little information bubbles. It used to be that newspapers – albeit with agendas – were much better at giving us facts on which we could as citizens form opinions and confront them with those of others in the then offline world, because the public space was all that there was for communication. Nowadays, all we get are editorials and opinions and whenever we read something we’re not in agreement with, we’re quick to discard and expel it from our information bubble and move on to things that reassure us in our views. Other’s have called it the echo chamber effect, but it’s entirely equivalent. And since we no longer discuss politics and ideals outsides of our little circle because it’s seen as antagonizing, we’ve completely lost sense of what others  really think, those people poorer or richer than us, the unemployed and the employed, the city dwellers and the countrysiders, the religious and the irreligious.

The only time when we get to face each other now is during election time, and it’s done through a simple ballot that gives us two options.

No wonder the world has become so polarized.


Beuchat / Uwatec Aladin PRO manuel/notice

English version here
Beauchat/Uwater Aladin PRO dive computerEn achetant du matériel usagé sur les petites annonces, j’ai mis la main sur un ordinateur de plongée Beuchat (plus tard acheté par Uwatec [aujourd’hui ScubaPro]) Alading PRO gris à trois boutons. Après un peu de recherches, j’ai appris que cet ordinateur a été commercialisé pour la première fois en 1988 et qu’encore aujoud’hui il était utilisé par certains et louangé comme une pièce d’équipement fiable, simple et sans fioritures. Évidemment, impossible de trouver un manuel, mais après quelques heures de recherches, Philibulle de, m’a graciseusement donné sa transcription personnelle en français.

Télécharger manuel pour ordinateur de plongée Aladin PRO (français)

Beuchat / Uwatec Aladin PRO manual

Version française ici
Beauchat/Uwater Aladin PRO dive computerWhile buying some used kit on the classifieds, I was handed a grey Beuchat (later Uwatec [today Subapro]) Aladin PRO 3 button diving computer from the mid-nineties. Through a bit a research, I learned that it had first came out in 1988 and was still to this day revered by some in the diving community as a sturdy, reliable no-frills device. Obviously, the manual was no longer available for download and it’s only after asking someone (many thanks Geoff Nelson) on an old thread on scubaboard that I finally got it.

Download Aladin Pro Dive Computer Manual (English)


Exploring an abandoned convent

Today, the sun was out and bright in perfectly clear skies, in other words, not studying day. Having wanted to check out the Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica for a while, I figured this was a good enough reason to leave my books for an afternoon and get out of the city.

My tour of the basillica and the other smaller attractions in its vicinity only yielded mild satisfaction. The basilica itself was impressive, but lacked the imposing and solemn feeling you’d expect from such an important place of cult. Though well landscaped, the grounds around it were nothing more than facilities catering to the many pilgrims that come here each year, but on my way up the hill behind the basilica, I noticed another building of religious function hiding behind a curtain of vegetation. It was a monastery, at least that was what the sign on the main entrance indicated.

Convent of the Redemptoristines entrance

Nature was clearly well into the process of reclaiming its lost territory and the whole building looked decidedly empty. On closer inspection, windows were broken and the masonry was starting to fall apart in places. That’s when I noticed an opened door. I walked around the building to see if I could spot any sign of human activity and after noticing many more open entrances, I took it as an invitation to go inside.

Convent of the Redemptoristines refectoryI entered through the refectory, made my way to the chapel and then proceeded to explore each and every floor all the way up to the roof. It was eerie. I’ve been inside abandoned buildings in the past, but the fact that this one had been a place of worship and religious devotion made the whole experience somewhat creepier. I could feel my heart pounding, I was super alert and watching every single step I took. For a good hour, I walked around this empty building that given it’s size, must have been occupied by well over an hundred in its heyday. I took many pictures during my tour but only a handful turned out OK enough; too bad I’m a poor photographer because the place was extremely photogenic. Aside from some furniture, the place had been gutted empty, even the wooden hand rails were gone. Not that I intended to steal anything, even if the site had been abandoned, it still had owner so nothing in there was mine to take, but I was certainly hoping for more religious paraphernalia.

Convent of the Redemptoristines chapel 3

Once out, I went back to the village and asked some locals what they knew  about the monastery. They told me it had been built at the beginning of the last century and was occupied for most of its history by nuns but otherwise, none were exactly sure how such a place became so derelict or what fate was awaiting it. Back home, a quick search on the web turned up heritage listings (1, 2). The monastery, built in 1906, had been a convent for the Redemptoristines nuns. Owing to their declining numbers and means to maintain and occupy their huge home, the nuns relocated near Montreal in the mid 1990s. After a string of occupants and dwindling interest in the property, it became too big of a burden so the owners, the Redemptorists monks, stopped heating the building (and doing any maintenance whatsoever on it). This Flickr page from someone who, just like me, had sneaked inside the convent uninvited, shows what the interior looked like before it was definitively abandoned in 2014. It’s staggering to see what two years of complete neglect does to infrastructure and how fast nature reclaims her rights.

There are plans to convert the property to a funeral home but thanks to it’s peculiar architecture (typically 1900s), the exterior has been declared heritage so at least the outer part of the convent should be preserved in that capacity for a while. However, given the size and age of the building, I entertain many doubts in its long-term survival as I don’t think a small regional business or city can afford the upkeep costs of such a place. Hopefully, that small Wikipedia article I wrote on it will preserve some of the memories.