Raptors Championship 2019

So growing up I used to watch sports every once and a while but I was never one of those people that would religiously follow teams or leagues. I was pretty much just one of those guys that would watch the big events like the Olympics or World Cup or something.

Toronto has teams in three of the major North American sports leagues, the Maple Leafs (NHL), the Raptors (NBA), and the Blue Jays (MLB). I never cared for baseball so I never followed the Jays, but when the Leafs or Raptors do well, I kinda follow along.

This year was one of those years where I definitely followed along.

Maple Leaf Square
People watching the Leafs at Maple Leaf Square.

Both the Raptors and the Leafs made it to the playoffs and when the Leafs got eliminated I was pretty much all-in on following the Raptors. The last time that Toronto won a major sports league was back in 93 and so with every match win, the hype grew and grew and grew.

When they won the Eastern Conference finals, the hype was already out of control. It was the first time the Raptors did that and as the only Canadian team in the NBA, they would be the first Canadian team in history to win the NBA.

So as you can imagine, the hype train was going full-steam ahead. I’ve honestly never seen the city so united in anything. Everywhere you went people were wearing Raptors gear and talking about the games. The hype was so real.

It was so real that even I ended up watching the games.

Gretzky Beer
Praying to the hockey gods while watching a basketball game.

For game 4, I went to a coworker’s house to watch the game and it was genuinely really fun. We won that game and as a result we were up 3-1 in the series, with game 5 being played at home in Toronto.

I had no desire to watch the game from Jurassic Park but my coworker’s place was close enough that if they did win we could easily just go downstairs and join in on the celebration so we made plans to go back for game 5 and hope we won.

That game was super tense. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up winning and the trip back home from downtown that night just felt pretty depressing. Everyone kinda just had their heads down and were just saying how close the game was. It was like the entire city was doing a walk of shame.

Union after a Loss
Hype down, heads down.

But it definitely wasn’t over yet. Game 6 was an away game but it definitely didn’t dampen the hype. We were still one game up in the series and anything could happen. So once again me and my coworkers made plans to watch the game together.

And we did, and it was once again an incredibly stressful game. The game was neck and neck the entire time but when it came down to the final moments, we were up by a couple points.

The clock ticked down to 0.9.

A foul was called.

A free throw was made.

The buzzer rang.

We won.

A Sea of Fans
Flares and people climbing stuff.

People were going crazy. We went downstairs to street level and made our way to Union station. There were so many people on the streets cheering and celebrating. Cars were driving by spamming their horns and as we made it closer and closer to Union we just saw more and more people.

That was by far the biggest street party I have ever seen in my life. There was just a sea of people celebrating the win. People were lighting fireworks and flares; climbing up street signs, buildings, and vehicles; and everyone was just cheering and highfiving random people on the street.

From Union we made our way up to Nathan Philips Square and people there were literally in the water running around and just in general having a great time.

Celebrating at Nathan Philips Square
Probably one of the few times where it’s socially acceptable to be in the water.

We tried to make our way to Yonge street from there but that was a giant mess because they parked a bus in the middle of the street to block off traffic. People were climbing the bus and it didn’t really feel like there was a way past it. We took a different route and eventually made it to Dundas Square, which was essentially the heart of the celebration.

Like everywhere else, people were just having a great time. There were more fireworks (some a bit close) and flares. Some people brought champagne to spray into the crowd, others brought instruments to play some songs. Others were climbing bus stops (slightly dangerous imo), buildings, and of course, the other buses and vehicles that were parked there.

I half considered climbing one of the buses there too but it looked super sketchy so I decided not to. RIP that bus so hard though, it was pretty destroyed.

People on a Bus
People on a bus.

We ended up leaving just around 2am and I luckily managed to find an Uber that brought me home. I went to sleep at like 3:30 and woke up a couple hours later to go to work.

I was so damn tired but it was totally worth it.

The next phase of the celebration was on the following Monday, with the championship parade. It turned out that the parade was starting at the CNE, and since our office is really close by, our CEO let just out in the morning to go check out the parade.

Champions.
Champions.

So that was also really awesome. The planning for the event was terrible and so there were delays everywhere but once the parade actually started it was cool since I was close enough to actually see the players.

It was nice being at the start too since the planning was so bad the event lasted twice as long as they initially thought it would. So while people were waiting at Nathan Philips Square in the sun for hours, we just went back to the office and watched the speeches from there.

And again, it felt like the entire city was celebrating the win. They said that 1.5 million people came out to watch the parade, which is a significant portion of the city’s population. It certainly felt like that too. The streets were just a sea of colour.

Drake and Kawhi
Drake Instagrams some stuff while Kawhi stands there.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend like I’m a die hard Raptors fan because I’m not. There’s definitely many more people that were waiting for this win than I was. But I love Toronto and this is an historic win for the city.

One of my favourite things ever is when something brings people together. I know that sounds really generic and campy but it’s true. I love playing games that build a solid community where when you meet someone that plays that game, you can just nerd out and just talk about it.

This was like that, but on a localized level that I have never seen before. It honestly felt like the entire city was abuzz with excitement and everyone was just united by the fact that the Raptors won. To me, it really embodied the Canadian spirit where it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you do.

What matters is that you’re united by Canada, and in this case that took the form of the Toronto Raptors.

Mixed Reality Dev Days 2019

When I travel for work I’m normally representing one of our company’s clients and I’m at some sort of medical conference. This typically means that I’m on my feet all day and just helping people put on headsets and onboarding them with some AR or VR experience.

However, two weeks ago I finally had a chance to represent my own company for a developer event.

We’ve been a Microsoft Mixed Reality Partner for over a year now and with the announcement of the HoloLens 2 back in February, they decided to host a developer event focused on their new product and service offerings. So, my company decided to send me.

MRDevDays Badge
My temporary Microsoft badge.

Now, I love mixed reality. I think that AR and VR are the future and they have so much potential. I love playing with the latest technologies and I’m really excited for the HoloLens 2 so I was really looking forward to the event.

The event took place over two days at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond. It was pretty much two days filled with talks from Microsoft employees and industry specialists about a variety of topics including the HoloLens 2, Mixed Reality Toolkit, Azure services, and more.

Mixed Reality in the Classroom
A good slide about MR in the classroom.

Now, between AR and VR, I think AR has the most potential and the very first time I put on the HoloLens I was blown away with the technology.

Sure, there are some technical limitations, but technology is only getting better and better. We see that with the HoloLens 2, which in my opinion is just a straight upgrade over the original.

I mean, you’re talking about a headset that not only provides a larger field of view and better spatial tracking but also adds new interaction methods. Plus, its even more comfortable.

HoloLens 2 Demo
A HoloLens 2 demo showcasing gesture-based interactions and spectator view.

Honestly, the most exciting new feature for me was the eye tracking. The new headset knows where you’re looking and so it can put things into better context. This means that it can do a lot more in terms of understanding what you are looking at, and it can even do stuff like auto-scroll a window when you’re reading.

Now, as someone that has to deal with a lot of mandatory text in the applications I work on, that is truly an amazing feature.

There’s no release date for the HoloLens 2 yet but they were allowing attendees of the event to try it out for themselves. So, naturally I had to give it a try. They mentioned that things aren’t final yet and it kinda showed, since the holograms weren’t very stable.

HoloLens 2 Selfie
Trying a new AR headset? Time to take a selfie.

The new gesture-based interaction system is really sweet though. Felt very intuitive to just reach out and grab objects and interact with them like I would any real object. I’m really excited to actually get a headset and start making applications that can utilize that.

Unfortunately the demo didn’t include anything related to eye tracking, but something to look forward to when the headset actually gets released I guess.

All the talks were really nice to attend as well. They were really interesting and it was so cool to just listen to the excitement and passion that the presenters had about mixed reality and technology in general. There were a lot of really thoughtful takeaways.

I really liked the talk by Mark Bolas where he said that we’re not just developing applications, but rather we’re at the forefront of this technology and we’re developing the culture of what this technology will be. That really resonated with me.

Microsoft Campus
The Microsoft campus.

It was a fairly packed event so there wasn’t a lot of time to check out the campus, but what I saw was pretty awesome. The campus is beautiful and reminded me of a nice university campus. It just seemed like a really cool place to work. It even had a pretty awesome cafeteria filled with a lot of really good food.

Overall, the event was fantastic. It was great to attend so many cool talks, try out the new HoloLens, and to talk to some like-minded people. It was also just refreshing to travel to an event that’s related to the stuff I actually do. Hopefully I’ll be able to attend more in the future!

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games

I’m not really a big sports person, but the one sporting event I do follow is the Olympics. When I was a growing up I remember checking the newspaper for the results and medal standings in the morning and watching the events on TV after school. I always thought it would be super cool to one day be able to go and check out the Olympics.

There’s just something magical about the passion and pride that goes into competing (and cheering) for your country.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I was applying to study in Korea, I remembered that they would be holding the Winter Olympics in 2018. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that I would graduate in the summer of 2017 so I’d miss the Olympics unless if I stayed longer or went back to Korea or something. That kinda sucked, but hey, that’s life I guess.

The Gangneung Olympic Cluster under construction in 2015.

I didn’t really want to go back to Korea so soon after leaving, but I knew that I wanted to visit my friends that still live there. That was the main point of the trip but the chance to go check out the Olympics was a huge bonus. So, I planned my trip to Korea and coordinated with some of my friends to go check out an Olympic hockey game as well. Finally, I had the opportunity to actually go to the Olympics for the very first time.

Every Olympics has their own set of problems and issues, and Korea is no exception to that rule. Leading up to the Olympics there was a lot of things that directly influenced the event. For example, there weren’t going to be any NHL players playing in the hockey tournament, Russia had the whole doping scandal going on so they couldn’t play as Russia, like everything about North Korea, and so on.

There was essentially a whole slew of drama and politics that really overshadowed much of the event itself so I didn’t really know what to expect from it. Regardless, me and four of my friends took an early train to PyeongChang on a Sunday morning to start our own Olympic adventure.

The Olympic Mascots by Jinbu Station.

I honestly already felt kinda excited from the moment we got off the train. The train station we got off at was called Jinbu station but they added in parenthesis “Olympic Station” and seeing that simple addition already made me feel kinda giddy.

I was actually going to be able to check out the Olympics!

We started the day by heading over to the Olympic Stadium. After going through security you walk out into this plaza where you are greeted by the flags of all the participating countries. That was a pretty cool moment. Of course, I had to look for the Canadian flag and it was also pretty neat to see the North Korean flag there too considering we were in South Korea.

The flags of the participating nations of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Aside from having the actual Olympic Stadium and Cauldron, the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza had a few stages for performances and a few other art exhibitions. There was of course, a merchandise store as well. That’s pretty much where we went to first and there was a ton of people inside. There was a lot of popup stores in Seoul selling Olympic merchandise but the store there was gigantic and was selling much more stuff.

Next, we checked out the Olympic Cauldron which was next to the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to go into the stadium but you could kinda just admire it from the outside and take pictures with the flame. It was a bit hard to see the fire so I feel like it was a bit of a wasted opportunity there, but regardless, it was cool to see.

The Olympic Cauldron with a tiny flame.

Oddly enough, the highlight of the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza was the art and technology exhibition they had. They had a bunch of cool looking installations you could check out and it was pretty awesome. I have no idea how any of that stuff was related to the Olympics, but hey, it was there and was interesting.

Afterwards we grabbed a quick lunch out in the city before taking a bus to the Gangneung Olympic Cluster. It’s weird because you’d imagine the PyeongChang cluster to be the main one but the Gangneung cluster actually had more things to check out and was the overall more atmospheric area. Our timing was pretty good too because as we were walking through the plaza we saw this random parade go by which was pretty neat.

Most of the major indoor sporting venues were there and so you had a lot more people there. A lot of the major sponsors had some representation there as well. For example, Coke had a giant “vending machine” you could go into and get some cool souvenirs (I went to the one in Hongdae), McDonald’s had some cool burger and fries shaped buildings, and so on.

A traditional Korean parade in front of a giant hockey stadium.

They even had a building talking about the next Olympics which is going to be held in Japan in 2020. That was really weird though since they had some weird scanner thing where you could scan yourself and see a projected cartoon version of yourself walking weirdly down a street. You could also even use some 1990s era camera technology to badly photoshop yourself onto a skateboard. That was weird.

After checking out as much as we could, we tried to get into Canada House since it was supposed to be open to public. Unfortunately I didn’t realize you had to buy tickets ahead of time so we couldn’t get in, but it ended up being alright cause we found this awesome restaurant somewhere else and got dinner there before the hockey game.

The Canada House I unfortunately could not get into.

Originally we wanted to watch a hockey game between Canada and South Korea but by the time we actually got train tickets that event was sold out so we ended up getting tickets for Finland vs Sweden instead. Before entering the hockey stadium we were given the choice of some free cheering tools. Some of my friends went for the Finnish flag but I thought that was weird so I got some Olympic branded face masks instead.

In hindsight that was also kinda weird.

Anyways, it was exciting because not only was this an Olympic hockey game, it was also my first real hockey game. I know, I’m a terrible Canadian who never actually went to a hockey game up until very recently.

Seconds before the puck drops in my first ever hockey game.

It was actually a really fun game. Sweden was obviously the better team but Finland put up a solid fight. Plus for some reason like 80% of the fans in the stadium were cheering for Finland and so there was some real hype in watching the underdogs play. Every time the Finns did something the stadium would go crazy. It was really awesome.

After the game we went back to the train station and took a late train back to Seoul. By the time I actually went to bed it was like 4 am and I was tired as hell but it was totally worth it.

After literal decades of just watching the festivities from afar, it was really surreal to actually be there. Once you’re actually there and standing in the Olympic venues, it’s really easy to just get lost in the moment and bask in the excitement and atmosphere that is the Olympics.

The Olympic Rings by Gangneung Station.

Korea doesn’t typically have a festive mood because they don’t┬áreally do decorations or festivities. Even with big holidays like Seollal and Christmas, Korea just kinda stays as grey and unexciting as it always does.┬áThe Olympics were different though.

They actually had a lot of decorations going around. Be it banners and posters featuring the athletes or mascots, or just flags of the world displayed along the road, it really did feel like the country was celebrating something. Plus, you saw a lot more foreigners on the streets and a lot of them were wearing symbols of their countries, which just added to the overall environment. I really appreciated that since that kind of festive atmosphere was something I thought the country sorely lacked throughout the three years I lived there for.

People keep saying the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Well, I’m hoping it’s not because I had a great time and it would be awesome to be able to go check out another one in the future.