Category Archives: Saskatchewan

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber

This is the company that some on Saskatoon City Council is so excited to attract to Saskatoon.

As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go. 

I joined Uber as a site reliability engineer (SRE) back in November 2015, and it was a great time to join as an engineer. They were still wrangling microservices out of their monolithic API, and things were just chaotic enough that there was exciting reliability work to be done. The SRE team was still pretty new when I joined, and I had the rare opportunity to choose whichever team was working on something that I wanted to be part of. 

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

It gets worse from here.

100 Ideas: Showcasing Saskatoon

If I was Tourism Saskatoon, I would put up some money with a sizable first prize and ask filmmakers to create a three minute video highlighting the best of Saskatoon.  Run the contest for a year.  Let people capture all of this video footage of all of our best restaurants, festivals, and moments.   If your first prize was enough, you would probably have 20 videos submitted online that could be shared for years showing Saskatoon off to the world.

20 videos.  Let’s say that average 5,000 views a piece.  Shared on Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, blogs, and emails while dominating the search results in Google Video’s search listing.  Is that worth $10,000 in total prize money?  I think it is.  Especially if it gets the people of Saskatoon thinking more highly about their city.

Can you imagine a series of videos like this one by Andy Clancy about Saskatoon?

Support OurSask.ca

So many of you ask me if Tammy Robert and I are friends are mortal enemies.  The answer is yes to the first part and “it depends on the day” to the second part of the question.

Someone one said, “Your public disagreements on Twitter are so brutal.”  First of all, I don’t even some of what people call “public disagreements” are actually seen by Tammy and I disagreeing.  I am just letting her know she is completely and utterly wrong.  For the more intense arguments, you should see the texts.

Keep OurSask.ca Strong! and DonateTammy does some amazing journalistic work at OurSask.ca in keeping the Government of Saskatchewan accountable.   I wish Saskatchewan had a large enough market to support this kind of work but in reality you need to be in a market like New York or Los Angeles to bring in the kind of ad-revenue that is needed.  Even then it is a tough go.

The work that Tammy is doing both builds on what others are doing and is a stepping stone for other journalistic outlets themselves.

Lots of writers have solicited donations to keep going and grow their coverage.  Talking Point Memo, The Public Record, Kottke.org, daringfireball.net are three off the top of my head.  Don’s think of it so much as a donation but rather as a tip jar or even better as a subscription. 

As a personal note, I have an idea of how much work this kind of muckracking takes.  Even doing something as simple as tracking down an architect and builder of well known buildings in Saskatoon for my site Bridge City can take hours and that is nothing compared to what Tammy is doing.

So donate today.  Even better, make a recurring donation and support local journalism.  Also, you should probably subscribe to The StarPhoenix as well.

Photography Workshop in Saskatoon and Regina

Noted Saskatchewan photographer Ryan Wunsch is holding photography workshops in Saskatoon and Regina this April.

Upcoming Event: DSLR Photography Workshop with Ryan Wunsch in Saskatoon & Regina

This workshop will explain the technical aspects of your camera in an easy to understand method. ISO, Aperture, Shutterspeed, RAW files, Dynamic Range and similar topics will be explained and make sense.

Other topics such as composition, lighting techniques, creativity, equipment worth having, gadgets that are a waste of money as well as digital photo editing will also be covered.

Your landscapes, vacation photos, wildlife, still life, portraits, pictures of your family and even selfies will be much improved after taking this 2 day workshop. The workshop is a mix of classroom and practical hands on learning with 1 on 1 time available throughout the 2 days.

This course is beneficial to all skill levels. If you have just bought a camera and don’t know how to turn it on, this class is for you. If you have been shooting for a few years but want to learn how to achieve that extra wow factor, this class is for you. If you are an accomplished photographer and just want to get excited about photography again, this class is for you.

To register for the Saskatoon workshop, click here.

To register for the Regina workshop, click here.

Ryan is one of my favourite photographers anywhere.  His ability to capture an amazing photo out of a subject I probably wouldn’t care about if I drove by it on the highway is remarkable.  Not only does he have skill but I realize from watching his work over the years how hard he works to get these perfect shots.  There are so many times I see him post something to social media and I look at the weather around Leader and realize how miserable it there.  Meanwhile I am sitting at home because I don’t want to go out.  He may be one of the hardest working photographers in Canada.  No wonder his work is getting so much attention.

If you want to get serious about photography, I can’t think of a better photographer to learn from.

The best wildlife photography locations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba

I sat down and wrote this a few days ago.  If you are looking for some places to do some wildlife photography in Saskatchewan (or Manitoba) check out these ideas.

The best wildlife photography locations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba

It was this post is why I bought The Photographers Guide to Saskatchewan.  I will be using it a lot in projects (and some vacation planning) over the next couple of months.

Photographer’s Guide to Saskatchewan

Photographer’s Guide to Saskatchewan

I needed this book for work which is convenient because we sell it at work.  I could have just borrowed it and gotten the information that I needed from it but that doesn’t see any money go to the authors.  I guess I could have written it off but I wanted to bring the book home and use it here.  So I did what I needed to do.  I bought it over the holidays and I am really happy I did.

After reading it, I have really enjoyed it.  It is only 208 pages long and has about 200 photos in it.  It gives one some great ideas on where to travel to and where to photograph Saskatchewan and have it looking it’s best.  It also helped me figure some things out about some trips next summer.  I want to visit Grasslands National Park but I had no idea what I want to see is not in the part of the park where I would have visited (sorry Val Marie, I’ll visit another time).

The book does talk about photography but it’s title could very well have been “Where to Find Everything Cool Looking in Saskatchewan”.  As a photographer in Saskatchewan, you need this but if you just like to travel and see our great province, you will want it as well.

You can get the book at Indigo/Chapters, McNally Robinson and as I mentioned, Don’s Photo.  I can’t recommend it enough.

The mess that is Huskie Athletics

CBC points out the obvious that recruiting someone to replace Brian Towriss is going to be really hard.

Sumarah expects a nationwide search to replace Towriss, but isn’t sure how candidates will respond. He said any serious contender will want to speak first with Towriss before accepting the job.

“I think you’d kind of like to know what occurred, for sure,” he said about the resignation, which Towriss called a “mutually acceptable agreement” in the statement.

“You don’t want to walk into a hornet’s nest as a coach. I mean, the biggest thing a coach can have and get is support. You want to know you’re getting backing from the university.”

That backing is in question.  Cam Hutchison said it best in this column at the Saskatoon Express.

When it was announced the University of Saskatchewan had formed a Huskie Athletics advisory board of trustees, my first thought was Brian Towriss would no longer be the football coach.

I am confident in saying at least one person on the 11-person board wanted Towriss out.

With a six-to-five split between members of the public and employees of the university on the board, I fear Huskie Athletics is now being run by a citizen or a small group of them. It is the first board of its type in Canada. I find that interesting in itself.

Members of the board are David Dube, Diane Jones Konihowski, Tom Anselmi, David Sutherland, Shelley Brown and Ken Juba. U of S representatives are Patti McDougall, Greg Fowler, Debra Pozega Osburn, Chad London and Peta Bonham-Smith.

U of S president Peter Stoicheff appointed Dube as the first chair of the advisory board. Dube is a businessperson, philanthropist, member of the U of S board of governors and long-time supporter of Huskie Athletics.

Dube has sunk a lot of money into the football program. He is responsible for some of the special uniforms the team wears and funds game-day promotions. They have become spectacular events. I am sure Towriss loved being part of them.

Dube made it clear when the board of trustees was announced that change was long overdue at the U of S.

“Do you have the same cellphone as you had 20 years ago? I doubt it,” Dube said. “I’m sure you don’t fly in a 100-year-old airplane, or a 100-year-old car. This was a 100-year-old governance model.”

And you don’t play football for a 60-year-old coach who has been in the job for 33 years, apparently.

The advisory board, which reports to Stoicheff, was scheduled to begin its work last month.

Not long after it grabbed the reins, Huskies athletic director Basil Hughton announced his retirement. Last week, an emotional Towriss stepped in front of the media to announce he was stepping down after those 33 years as head coach. There is a pattern here.

I don’t get out of the office nearly enough for news conferences. I didn’t want to miss this one because I had a feeling the announcement was going to pertain to Towriss’ future with a program. Was he going to be fired?

I had one question prepared: “What was the role of the advisory board in making this decision?”

Right off the hop, an emotional Towriss announced he was stepping down. A month earlier, Towriss told The StarPhoenix he would be back in 2017 unless someone thought otherwise.

Clearly, someone or a group of someones thought otherwise.

I changed my question.

“Was the decision yours, Brian?”

He stumbled, but toed the company line.

I had a phone call when I returned to the office, confirming what I suspected. A tweet from an insider, since deleted, said people are being naïve if they believed Towriss was leaving of his own volition.

The boosters have been given the U of S Huskies.  It’s as simple as that.  The Huskies are not an athletic department of the University, they are a play thing of wealthy donors.  Have fun recruiting someone to fill that position.

$350 million spent and nothing to show for it

From the National Post

More than $350 million of taxpayer dollars in the past two decades — over a quarter billion dollars in the past decade alone — has been spent to clean up the abandoned Faro mine site, a moonscape of waste rock and mustard yellow ponds in the mountains of south-central Yukon.

But, according to the Treasury Board of Canada’s annual reports posted online, nothing has been remediated: Zero. Zip. Nadda.

“Actual cubic metres remediated: zero; actual hectares remediated: zero; actual tonnes remediated: zero.”

Alex MacPherson wrote about something similar in Saskatchewan

“The federal government has a huge obligation in my opinion to ensure that these mines are cleaned up, because it came under their jurisdiction, came under their watch, they operated (the Crown corporation) Eldorado Nuclear (and) they were supplying the U.S. with this valuable uranium,” said Buckley Belanger, NDP MLA for Athabasca.

Located near Uranium City on the northern shore of Lake Athabasca, about 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon, the Gunnar mine was abandoned in 1963 with virtually no cleanup work. In 2006, the federal and provincial governments signed a memorandum of agreement to evenly split the cost of the cleanup, which involves “remediating” 4.4 million tonnes of radioactive mine tailings, the flooded mine pit and other debris left on the site.

The project was originally expected to cost $24.6 million and take 17 years to complete, according to Natural Resources Canada documents. However, the cost has since ballooned to more than $250 million, about $60 million of which has been spent on site preparation — including tearing down asbestos-laced buildings — and studies. Remediation of the tailings deposits began this year but it remains unclear how the bill will be split.

Mark’s latest project

Last fall I saw that Mark was taking Yearbook as a class.  I kept telling him that there is no way he gets a credit for taking yearbook.  We had that conversation at home, on the walk to Bedford Road (to fix his computer generated schedule) and right into the guidance councilors office where I found out that yes, he gets a credit for it.

As part of doing this, he has been assigned to photograph the guys basketball team all season long.  You can find his shots from the game on his website.

Senior boys basketball action at Bedford Road Collegiate.  Photo by Mark Cooper

He took a lot of photos, only a few turned out and he realized he photographed the ball too much and not the players but he had fun and now has a season of both junior boys and senior boys basketball to photograph.  I guess that means I have a season of photos to help him critique. 

Some quick post-election thoughts

  1. Some Charlie Clark supporters need to chill out more.  I made the joke on Tuesday about another election happening so soon after the civic election and that it felt like Charlie Clark had accomplished nothing since being elected.   It was a joke.  Learn to laugh.  Either that or you need to stop following me.
  2. In the run up to the Ford election in Toronto, every time a scandal would hit Ford (and they were serious), people would say that Ford was finished.  He actually became more popular.  I tend to think the same thing happened to Trump.  People saw themselves in him.  That isn’t a good thing as we found out with Ford and America will find out with Trump.  The good news is that Toronto went the opposite way the next election with John Tory.  So if they can survive four years, there is hope.
  3. Trump did not win, Clinton lost.  Trump’s vote total didn’t increase and in fact many Republicans did not vote for him.  The reality with Clinton is that more Democrats chose not to vote for her.  We sometimes look back at the Clinton years with rose tinted glasses but a lot Americans hated Bill Clinton when he was in office and that hatred and distrust never left.  Would I vote for Trump?  Never but there is a lot of animosity towards Clinton as evidenced by the fact she lost Arkansas.
  4. Winning the presidency didn’t make Donald Trump less dangerous and unacceptable. It made him more so
  5. Trump’s victory will impact Saskatoon.  Murray Mandryk hits on the economics in his excellent column today but I am talking in other ways.  Wendy works with the public.  Many of you see her there and are wonderful to her.  Wendy is also an immigrant and came to Canada in 1975.  Being from Guyana, she is of mixed ancestry because of their history of indentured slavery.   Nothing bothers her at work until this last month when she would deal with a flood of racist comments almost all day long about immigrants, her co-workers who are also immigrants, and people of color in general.  It was vile and disgusting.  Luckily her company has good policies on dealing with this stuff but the line out there about Trump’s victory normalizing racism and hatred against minorities having an impact on more than just
  6. For all of the positive talk about Keystone XL, I don’t know if it is the slam dunk that everyone is saying it is.  Here is why?  Canadian crude flowing down to the U.S. hurts their fracking industry which needs a boost in prices to be feasible.  That and Trump is protectionist and  I could see that the pipeline being stalled.  Again.
  7. There is the alt right.  I also think there is something called the alt stupid.  I have been told of how Hillary Clinton had a son that was an abuser and she covered it up (not the son but the abuse).  Umm, she has a daughter named Chelsea.   There was also the story about how her and Bill raised millions for Haiti but used it to build luxury hotels. 
  8. Kellie Leitch has no soul.  She knows that Donald Trump stands for.  She knows what Donald Trump did.  Yet all she cares about is cheap electoral gain at the expense of Canadians.  I have never had as little respect for a MP as I do Leitch and I live in the same city as Brad Trost.
  9. I tend to think that Trump will spend most of his first term in office enriching himself.  This will bring Democratic scorn which will mean retribution from him and the thugs he surrounds himself with like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani. 
  10. I’ll just toss this in there but it is in-excusable that Saskatchewan Party MLAs blocked an investigation into what went wrong with the Global Transportation Hub.  As Murray Mandryk pointed out, In legislative public accounts committee on Tuesday morning, Sask. Party backbenchers Glen Hart, Larry Doke, Warren Michelson, Jennifer Campeau, Herb Cox and Randy Weekes did their utmost to ensure anyone who had anything to do with the GTH decisions (including Boyd himself) will now never be held to account by a formal legislative body.  By doing this, they have failed at the primary responsibilities as MLAs which is to hold the government (the cabinet) to account.  Those MLAs are representing you, they are representing the office of the Premier.
  11. This chart shows you the divide in America.  It’s an urban/rural divide as much as it is a Republican/Democratic one.The GOP/Democratic Divide county by county
  12. Despite Trumps win and the dark times ahead, I remain committed more than ever to trying to build a great city and community.  It’s not a time to give up, it’s a time to dig in, help out, and serve others.  If we don’t, all of the progress that has been made will be lost.

Saskatoon Corporate Chaplaincy

My friend Darren Friesen has worked as a prison chaplain in prisons and as a corporate chaplain.  He is launching a Saskatoon Corporate Chaplaincy which works with small, medium, and large companies to basically help employees work through issues at work and home when needed.

Here is what he does.

  • 24 / 7 / 365 Crisis Care
  • Workplace-Based Assistance
  • Addictions Support
  • Bereavement Care & Funerals
  • Marriage Preparation & Weddings
  • Stress Reduction Strategies
  • Suicide Intervention
  • Hospital and Prison Visitations
  • Specialized Referrals
  • Customized Workshops
  • Permission-based Spiritual Care
  • Life Coaching
  • Strict Confidentiality
  • Strengthening workplace culture
  • Lay-offs
  • Job dismissal

Darren is too modest to brag about what he does but I can name a couple of situations where he actually intervened in what would have been dangerous situations where not only the offender would have been hurt but so would innocent victims and defused them and got the person help.  He’s excellent at it and if you are looking for something better than a phone based Employee Assistance Program, this could be what you need.