Alex's Alliterative Adventures

Thoughts on Programming, Life, and Travel

Archive for the 'Musings' Category

The German Toilet

When my high school band traveled through Europe, I noticed that something was fundamentally different between European and North American culture. The shock has stayed with me for years, and it’s only been recently that I’ve reached out to the online community for comfort. I’ve found that I’m not the only one who’s been traumatized by these stark differences in behaviour.

A few European countries, particularly Germany, Austria, and apparently England, seem to be eternally visited by the ghost of sewage past. A wise man wrote a brilliant essay in which he coined the term the German Poo-Shelf Toilet (GPST), although Wikipedia refers to it as the Flachspüler, Washout, or shelf toilet.

Washout Toilet

Whatever you call it, it’s horrible. I had close encounters with 6 of them in just 10 days in Austria. My kingdom for a properly designed toilet.

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An Ode to a Dog

As far as Higginses go, he wasn’t the most famous. He might’ve been the smelliest. But if he goes down in history for anything, it’ll be for his laziness. He was right at home in our lazy family. Read more



Recently, I’ve been thinking about the future. A lot. The prospect of “the rest of my life” is so daunting it’s frightening to even imagine it. One of the only things I know at this point is that I want to spend my life surrounded by amazing people. People who question, dare, and inspire. People who constantly make me reevaluate myself, who better me whenever I’m around them. I’m blindsided every time I meet these people, and I can’t stand the thought of allowing myself to stagnate by not filling my life with these people at every chance I get.


The One With The Chien-Like Title

The right thing seemed too hard, but virtue was its own reward. And now it’s dinner time. I feel like tacos.

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Blogs on a plane

I’ve used every precious second the past week has offered up to me, and it still wasn’t enough time. There’s a good chance that my blogging will be fairly sparse until I start work on the 2nd. Happy holidays, everyone.

In the mean time, here’s what goes on in my head during a plane ride:

17:25 CEST
Never before have I had to say such difficult goodbyes. I can’t stop wishing that the people I left behind will be there when I land. One of the most important people I have ever met gave me a parting gift that almost moved me to tears – a pen and a book. I’m supposed to use the book to write my life’s to-do list and fill the pages with pictures, memories, and whatever else inspires me. I can’t bear to touch ink to paper yet; I need to be so sure of my words that it would be impossible for me to taint the sheets with anything less than the perfection they deserve. Thanks, puzzle piece, I’ll miss you whenever a sunset’s dying colours dance across my face.

17:49 CEST
The clouds below the plane stretch out as far as the eye can see. We rocket over an invisible earth, chasing a sunset that’s always just a bit further away. I feel like I’m coasting above something so fragile that it’s ethereal, yet something so massive and significant that all the hands in the world couldn’t begin to alter its steady gait.

19:11 CEST
new observations:
-the sun has set
-I left something precious to me in a city I’ve never visited
-arrested development is funnier than I remember (the WMDs were actually balls)
-I will now see every dollar I spend as a dollar I could’ve used to save up 550€
-I never did see snakes on a plane

21:22 CEST
Even though the sun set hours ago, we’re still feebly chasing the last orange streaks. It’s pretty poetic for an Airbus A340.

21:30 CEST
This week, on Fresh Philosophy From PhAl – er, me: On Optimism

I think it’s fair to say that I’m a generally happy guy. All it takes to make my day is a good chat with a friend, a plateful of cookies, or a pleasantly resonant nickel. I’ve spent many an hour explaining to people how easy it is to make yourself happy – just focus on the small things, don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things. A healthy appreciation of shiny things never hurts either. I also have a habit of preaching the wonders of optimism, which I consider to be the only useful outlook on life.

That being said, sometimes the only reaction a situation warrants is a bit of melancholy. To smile through is to dismiss, to forget is to insult. It’s not a matter of depression or needing to be cheered up; right now I just have some petting to do.

21:54 CEST
Keanu Reaves + romantic comedy (romcom for you brits) = potential for comedy plutonium

23:44 CEST
Using the city lights outside my window as my only guide, I think I’m now on the senseless leg of the journey – the bit where I’m west of everything important and still going.
I’d forgotten how limited your options are on a plane. When sleep won’t come (which is often) and you’ve watched all the movies you’d never otherwise watch but you’ve found a way to tolerate (which is inevitable), there’s little left to hold your thoughts at bay. I think of the past, of the future, of my dwindling bank account, of my ravenous ambitions, and of how goddammit Nina, you still owe me a cheesecake recipe.

00:00 CEST
The cityscapes at night look like a child’s artwork made of glue, glitter, and stars.

00:15 CEST
I’ve changed my mind; the lights look more like a neon growths on a patchwork quilt. Or I guess kind of like a bunch of buildings with lights on them.

20:14 CST
Oh god, I forgot how fat Americans are.

In other news, it’s currently -1°C in Toronto. Now THAT’S weather.

21:16 CST
It’s amazing how much easier it is to get on a plane when boarding it doesn’t mean tearing yourself from friends you won’t see again for far too long.

23:53 EST
Home. There are two things on my mind: Tim Horton’s, and an asshole.


Make like a tree

This morning marked the departure of two more friends from Sankt Lars. The floor dinner is tonight, Friday I’ll be studying for my exam on Saturday, Saturday night will be spent poisoning my liver, Sunday morning will be full of goodbyes, manly coughs and getting unusually large amounts of dust in my eyes, Norway takes up Sunday – Tuesday, and I return home on Tuesday after a brief stint in Copenhagen. It will be great to see everyone from back home again, but I’m really going to miss everyone here. There’s a common tie that binds everyone here together in a way I haven’t really felt before, we’ve become more than just neighbours; we’re a community. Sunday is going to be a very, very long day.

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So I’m a lazy ass, and I still haven’t uploaded the pictures. I probably won’t get it done any time soon, since there are a lot of other things on my plate which always seem to take priority. For example, booking my tickets to London.

I’m probably not going to cause too much anarchy in the UK while I’m there from the 5th to the 10th. At the moment, I don’t know how the trip will work out. I could be crashing with any combination of family members, friends, family members of friends, hostels, and random internet stalkers. I’ve had a few choice locations and activities recommended to me as things-I-must-do-or-suffer-eternal-regret, but my actual plans consist of a vague, fuzzy picture of people calling each other chap as they spin in the lorry for a quid, tally-ho. If you guys have any travel recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

When I get back, I spend around 2 days studying for each of my exams, then I say my final goodbyes to Sankt Lars. I’ll be floating to Oslo on the 17th, arriving on the 18th, and floating back for the 19th. I’ll spend a brief morning in Copenhagen and do my best to ingrain every last memory I’ve taken from these past four months, then I’m airborne and Canada-bound. Even though I’m definitely going to return to Europe in a few years and rekindle some of the amazing friendships I’ve made here, there’s an air of finality that I just can’t shake. As a coop student, the only constant in my life has been change; when you leave everyone you know for a new city every four months, you get used to wiping the slate clean without batting an eye. I never realized it before, but what I used to think were endings were simply pauses. Just when I think I’ve left people behind for good, I’ll bump into Chris Charlton at 2am on a Sunday night outside of the Burlington go station, or I’ll pass Pratik on the street in two separate cities in the span of two weeks. It’s true what they say, it’s a small world. I guess my small world is just feeling a bit bigger.

A less melancholy thought: There is almost nothing in this world that I like better than swapping philosophies with an eloquent stranger. There’s a sense of reaffirmation that’s undeniable about knowing that other people are just as bewildered as you are, and there are few things more satisfying than helping one another pick up the pieces when you’ve opened each other’s eyes to truths so beautiful they bring your worldview to its knees.

Pip pip, jolly good, ya wanker.

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That burning feeling

Recently, I’ve had this bizarre little voice nagging in the back of my mind. At first it was a whisper, then a gentle nudge, and now I have full-fledged conversations with it during the ritual morning shower. Since it only says one thing, the conversations are usually short, and muffled by a mouthful of Wash & Go, but it’s hard to ignore it when my brain is invaded by this pervasive thought:

Do something great.

What? What should I do? What can I do? Cure cancer? Run for prime minister? Soup up my Delorean? Make the most kick-ass video game ever? Watch a really, really great movie? I really have no clue what it is I want to do, but I think I want to do it. I’m going to give myself a bit of time to stew it over, though. With burning desires like this one, it’s always hard to tell whether it’s just a passing phase or a lasting force, or perhaps a simple case of gonorrhea.


Begrudging enlightenment

I recently had to come to terms with a terrible epiphany. At first, I was disgusted by the idea. I tried to bury my emotional reaction, to silence the self-doubt bubbling out from every porous thought that crossed my mind, but you can only lie to yourself for so long. I had to face the truth:

I love CS at Waterloo.

The classes are excruciatingly, senselessly difficult. The subject matter generally covers a few select topics, most of which are boring, irrelevant, painstaking, or meaningless. A startling number of professors are completely incapable of expressing themselves to English speaking undergrads. The school’s websites are a joke, at best. While the coop program is extremely valuable, the implementation is laughable. It seems that the administration’s only purpose is to make students’ lives more miserable in as many shocking new ways as they can. It seems that every time you overcome one of their seemingly insurmountable obstacles, you’re rewarded with yet more hardship. Most upper-years at Waterloo no longer look at their degree as an opportunity to learn and immerse themselves with knowledge, they’re instead trying to find the best way to scrape up a few more passed credits and counting the days until they can return to a life of sleeping at night. It’s sometimes difficult not to imagine a malicious office worker working late into the night, drafting a plot for your next ill-fated encounter with a Course Permissions Override Form.

I don’t know if my epiphany was a sudden rocket-powered leap into a more maturely cynical viewpoint of the world, a world where life is hard and no one goes out of their way to make life easy for you, or if it was simply Stockholm syndrome caused by my recent traveling to said city, but now I can’t get over how great it is to be studying Waterloo. When I compared my experiences to those of the students I met from other schools and countries, I initially felt jealousy at their tales of easy, well-taught, low-pressure courses. I’ve felt some of that spectacular European educational bliss by coming here, but I only recently appreciated how much Waterloo has shaped and hardened me. At Waterloo, showing up and giving a good effort is synonymous with failure. In order to succeed, or even just to pass, you have to add new ends to the candle from which it can then be burned. Studying CS Coop at Waterloo is a lifestyle; one where free time means a taking a break from the assignment with a Tim Hortons coffee run at 4:30am, a long-term friendship is one that survives more than one academic term, accomplishment is getting 63% on the midterm with a class average of 39%, and a good night’s sleep is when you don’t accidentally pass out on your textbook or in a library, classroom or lab. In comparison to the real world, Waterloo is hell. And when I’m honest with myself, I can’t think of any way I could possibly become better prepared to not just deal with the real world, but to also gain the knowledge, cunning, and perseverance I need to be able to thrive in the the worst life has to offer and walk away with a smile on my face.

“Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” – Winston Churchill


The midday nap

Sleep is a blessing and a curse. It’s a giant waste of time, taking up roughly a third of our life. Imagine the things you could do each day if you just never slept. The places you could go, the people you cold see, the things you could accomplish; your view of the world would be so drastically different from your current mindset that it almost isn’t worth talking about. On the other hand, sleep just feels so good. It’s like a natural drug. You just give in, dim the lights down low, and drift off into a place where you forget about the real world for a few hours. When you’re exhausted, it’s hard to think about anything other than faceplanting in the nearest giving surface and passing out until rudely awakened by an alarm, housemate, or ferral dog.

I’m gonna go nap before the Halloween party in Sankt Lars tonight. You Canadian folks had better be saving some candy for me back home.


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