Habitat 67 in Montreal

Montreal: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Montreal is one of the most complex cities I have ever visited. It is culturally rich, steeped in history, and ground zero for French-English bi-culturalism and its attendant debates. It is also an industrial port, forged by its strategic location on the St. Lawrence river. It’s modern and international yet traditional and insular. The beautiful and ugly co-exist in single perspective views of Montreal as in few other places.

I have been to Montreal 5-6 times in my life and three times within the past two years with Heather. Our recent sojourns were driven by initial curiosity about the poker scene after seeing the Playground Poker Club on a televised tournament. It turns out that the Casino Montreal also has a decent poker room. Enjoying both, and the fact that Montreal is only a 5 hour drive from our house, we have returned twice in the summer and most recently over the New Year’s weekend.

However, I must admit I am still divided on Montreal as a vacation destination. Let’s start with the positives.

The Good

Food

Much like New Orleans, Montreal’s food scene is a key component of its desirability. I develop an instant chocolate croissant addiction as soon as I enter the city limits. The Boulangerie Premier Moisson in the Gare Central underground is my go-to supplier. Premier Moisson is a chain with 13 locations throughout Montreal, so you should be able to find one nearby wherever you find yourself downtown.

The city is replete with good quick lunch options as well, including a couple of places in the Gare Central and several in Old Montreal. Things really get exciting as dinner approaches. Nothing feels more decadent than fondue. Heather and I had a great fondue meal at Creperie Chez Suzette in Old Town last summer for a pretty reasonable cost. As a bonus, we sat on the patio and watched the crowd wander by as we ate.

This winter we had a great Mexican tapas style dinner at Escondite. Escondite has a bar and about 15 tables, and the small space makes it a bit cramped.  But that is a small price to pay for the fabulous food.  We started with guacamole, jalapeno cornbread, and their “amaizing corn esquite” from their tapas/appetizer menu. Then we had two different types of chicken tacos: the mole and the big winner the Pollos Hermanos, a deep fried chicken with chipotle crema. Five tapas courses with tax and tip ran us about $40 US dollars. One of the greatest value meals I have ever had.

The Plateau Mont-Royal district is also filled with great shopping and dining options.  We ate at La Raclette at the end of December. We had a good solid three course meal that warmed us up on a cold winter night.

Montreal: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Hotel Bonaventure

I’m a stick to a hotel you love kind of guy. So I can write about exactly one Montreal hotel: the Hotel Bonaventure. It’s website describes it as “an urban oasis.” I can think of no better descriptor. Sitting atop the Place de Bonaventure, this hotel rises above Montreal occupying its own unique space. The rooftop is replete with rooftop gardens and waterways speckled by various species of ducks. Sitting and reading amid the gardens in good weather is the best of escapism. The year-round outdoor heated pool is a challenge worth taking even in the depths of the chilly Montreal winter. The ice forming around your head as your body moves through the warm pool is a unique and exhilarating experience.

Despite having nearly 400 rooms, we have never felt an overwhelming crush of people even when it is clear the Bonaventure is fully booked. Easy access to the Montreal underground and Metro is a lifesaver in the winter, and the hotel’s central location makes getting around pretty easy. Rooms have plenty of space to spread out, and comfortable beds. The showers are a bit finicky, making it hard to find that sweet spot between scalding and lukewarm, but that’s a small price to pay for such a fabulous hotel.

The Underground

Heather and I had explored the underground a bit in previous visits, but the sub zero cold drove us to maximize our use of the underground this past visit. We’re glad we did. We walked in both primary directions from the Place Bonaventure. The walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art was particularly fun, taking us through several interesting buildings replete with artistic installations. Finishing our journey with a stunning exhibit/tribute to Montreal native Leonard Cohen at the museum was the cherry on the sundae!

Montreal Underground

 

The Bad

The Infrastructure

Driving in Montreal made me long to drive in Boston. For anyone who has driven in Boston, I need say no more. The roads offer unexpected twists and turns with ambiguous signage and pot holes that form in front of you as you go. Driving in Montreal feels like you are Katniss Everdeen making her way through the war ravaged Capitol in The Hunger Games. The bridges in particular are ravaged and decaying and frankly a bit terrifying to cross. The weather is tough up there, not really Montreal’s fault, but it is a challenge to navigate.

Cold, You Don’t Know Cold

Prior to the the New Year’s trip, we of course looked at the weather reports. A cold snap was descending on the Northeast, so we expected low temperatures. However, when I looked up the Montreal predictions, my first thought was “this must be in Celsius.” No, it turns out, that -5 degrees as a high, yes a high, for our five days there, was good old sub-zero Fahrenheit .

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Driving in Montreal made me long to drive in BostonClick To Tweet

 

The Ugly

The view of Montreal is much better at street level. When you drive around the main thoroughfares of the city, the industrial aspects and infrastructure deterioration mar the overall aesthetic. The architecture of the downtown area also lacks the sleek modernism of Toronto or  the old European feel of Quebec City. Several of the taller buildings (limited in height by code to be below the height of Mont Royal) were built in the utilitarian era of the early 1960s, an era that has saddled many North American cities with regrettable structures. The Brutalist movement added several other buildings, most famously Habitat 67 built for the 1967 World’s Fair. The sharp divide on Brutalism will likely never die (see debates about Boston’s City Hall), but certainly even adherents would not describe it as “pretty.” Montreal is just not a pretty city.

Habitat 67 in Montreal

Overall

As I write this, I must admit that my affection for Montreal continues to grow. And looking back, I think my affection has increased with each visit. After all, there must be a reason I returned for my third visit in two years.

Montreal: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Set SMART Goals

Setting SMART Blog Goals in 2018

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January is the time for New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and recriminations. I gave up resolutions years ago, once I learned that around 80% of them fail by February 1st. However, I am a strong believer in goal setting, and particularly in setting SMART goals. The concept of SMART goals has been around since the early 1980s (what I call high school), and originally came from the world of business management. SMART is, of course, an acronym, generally translated as:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time-bound

Across the years, a number of studies have found that SMART goals are more successful than goals which do not meet the above criteria. We have created a set of SMART goals for Poker Pilgrims in 2018. As the website launched only in the beginning of November, our goals are pretty basic. Hopefully we will knock them out of the park and move on to a new set of goals before 2019!

Set SMART Goals

Our SMART Goals

Publish a Post with at least 100 Views by the end of March – Like I said, basic. This goal succeeds at being specific, measurable (via Google Analytics), and Time-bound. We hope that it is attainable, and it will certainly be relevant to our traffic building dreams.

Rather than bore you with how SMART our remaining goals are, we will simply describe each below with a bit of explanation as to why they are important. If you catch us in a goal that is not SMART, be sure to let us know in the comments!

Grow our email list to 100 people by the end of the year – We use MailerLite to collect email addresses and send out our weekly newsletter with post updates. As a new blog that can’t afford to even think about ConvertKit, we have been very happy with MailerLite’s capabilities. Of course, right now we have a whopping 3 names on our list (and one is my daughter!). So building that list is a big goal for the year. We have several ideas about how to do so, which leads us to our third goal.

SMART goals are more successful Click To Tweet

Creating a bonus printable by the end of March – We are already working on ideas for a great budget-related printable that we plan to offer as an incentive for joining our mailing list. More on that soon.

Create a Facebook Group specializing in poker related travel – We’re having a heck of a time finding any existing social media presence for folks who Will Travel for Poker, so we figure we need to create our own.

And finally

Make $500 in blog income by the end of the year – We will talk more about this aspect of our blog goals in future posts, but we definitely would like to monetize Poker Pilgrims in order to help us save for our pilgrimage. We would also love to be able to reduce our reliance on our Main Hustle as we move into our travel years.

So these are our goals for our first full year of blogging. We will check in at the end of March and let you know how it’s going and what we’ve learned from the first quarter of 2018. What SMART goals have you set?

Setting SMART Blog Goals in 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Casino de Montreal poker room review

Casino de Montreal Poker Room Review

Heather and I spent our New Year’s vacation dodging frostbite in Montreal and retreating for warmth to the poker room of Casino de Montreal. We played three tournaments over four days (the fourth was spent at the Playground Poker Club outside the city). This was our third poker jaunt to Montreal. The last was so profitable that we were itching to return. Let’s just say that the results this time were not as positive. I’ll try my best to divorce that fact from this review of the Casino de Montreal’s poker offerings.

Casino de Montreal poker room review
Casino de Montreal by Philip Lai

Casino de Montreal Setting

The Casino de Montreal lies on the Ile Notre Dame in the St. Lawrence river 5 minutes from downtown. The Casino has a very futuristic look as its two main buildings were built as exhibition space for Expo ’67.  The casino opened in 1993. The entire casino, including the poker room, is non-smoking.

The poker room lies on an upper floor of the annex, and you walk through the rest of the casino proper to get there. A modern bar bisects the poker room. The primary space has fifteen tables lined with one massive television and several smaller ones.

One of the nice features of the Casino de Montreal is a self-service beverage bar that dispenses soda, coffee, juice, and water. The self-service bar obviates the need to wait for table service for non-alcoholic beverages.

The Casino de Montreal poker room is dark. The low black ceiling and dim lighting create a cave-like feel.  The tables themselves, however, are well lit, so you can see cards without issue. The chairs are comfortable yet not so large (unlike at the Playground) that you are bumping into other players. The tables are also reasonably spaced, so you can move around without difficulty.

Poker in French

I took four years of high school French, yet am limited to little beyond “Oui” and “Merci.” During this visit to the Casino de Montreal, I was typically the only English speaker at my table. Thus, picking up verbal tells was not a factor. The other players might as well have been speaking Swahili. Players stated bet amounts in French and were repeated by the dealers in French most of the time.  Sometimes dealers also translated to English. Interestingly, the main poker actions such as fold, call, and all in are spoken, and repeated by the dealer, in English.

One of the larger adjustments is that the letters on the face cards are in French. Kings are R for Roi, Queens are D for Dame, and Jacks are V for Valet. Whenever I was trying to figure out if I had a Broadway draw I had to practically mutter the translations under my breath. It’s amazing how tricky this simple change in the cards is to process.

Staff

The dealers were skilled and knowledgeable and kept things moving efficiently with minimal mistakes. They were informal and at times playful with players. The floors were rarely called, but were pleasant in greeting the players at the beginning of the tournament. The tournaments were very well run overall.

At the Casino de Montreal, the waitresses circulate with drink and food orders. Each table also has a button to call a waitress, which I found more civilized than the shout-for-the-waitress-as-she-zips-by style of many card rooms.

Casino de Montreal Players

The players at the Casino de Montreal are generally pleasant and social with the widest range in skill I have ever seen. There were a few tricky players in every tournament, and some truly talented ones. But there were just as many young men seemingly new to the game. Finally, there were a lot of recreational regulars who were out to enjoy themselves as much as win.

Interestingly, there was very little alcohol consumption at the tables. No one was intoxicated and few people even ordered a single drink. This was true even for the tournament that we played on New Year’s Eve. This added to the pleasant environment and meant that testy exchanges were rare.

Playing Poker in French is both Fun and ChallengingClick To Tweet

Tournament Structure

The Casino de Montreal hosts 1 to 2 tournaments per day (at 1pm and/or 7:30pm). All are described as Deep Stack, with chip stacks starting in the 15,000 to 25,000 range and opening blind levels at 25-50. The Regular tournament has 20 minute blinds, while the turbo blinds go up every 15 minutes. All tournaments are re-entries. Like any small buy-in tournament, the structures are aggressive and you have to play accordingly.

The tournaments typically get between 60 and 100 runners. One aspect of the tournament I did not like was that buy in occurs at the table. Every time a new player joins, the dealer has to stop to process the buy-in and present their stack. When lot of players are rebuying, this process slows things down to an extent that is not ideal with such aggressive structures.

 

Overall Assessment

Playing poker in French is both fun and challenging. The Casino de Montreal provides a rich French atmosphere, yet is comfortable for the  non-native speaker. If you are a recreational player looking for a fun environment with reasonable play, the Casino de Montreal will fit your needs.

 

Side Hustle Central

Our First Side Hustles

We’re pretty new to this side hustle thing. We started our first side hustles only 18 months ago. Around then I also started listening to Nick Loper’s amazing Side Hustle Show podcast. The idea of a side hustle caught my imagination. Along with saving money, I saw side hustles as a way to make money that we could send directly to our Poker Pilgrimage budget.

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Side Hustle Central
Side Hustle Central

For context, our Main Hustle is not exactly a traditional office job. We are both freelancers in the area of research consulting and data science. We are lucky enough to have the freedom to work where we want, when we want, for a decent rate of pay. However, a couple years ago we were looking for ways to start building savings for our Poker Pilgrimage.

Given that we are almost always within 10 feet of our laptops, online hustles were an easy place to start. They didn’t require us to leave the house, acquire any goods or materials, or *gasp* talk to anyone.

Our very first side hustles were:

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk is a site where one completes “micro-tasks” for small sums of money. We fill out surveys for the majority of our Turk time. However, we have also done some simple transcription and image recognition tasks as well. Each task is usually quick and pays a small sum of money (most well under $1.00). No one is getting rich on Mechanical Turk.  Having said that, we have earned a combined $1,917 from our Turk work over the past 18 months. We only do Mechanical Turk when we need a work break or have nothing else pressing in the evening. So it is not cannibalizing from our more lucrative earning opportunities.

A positive of Mechanical Turk is that it is run through Amazon. The site is trusted, run solidly, and you can feel comfortable that you will get paid. You can either deposit earnings directly into your bank account (our preference) or apply them to Amazon purchases (how convenient!).

If you are interested in Mechanical Turk, I strongly recommend Michael Naab’s excellent book Side Hustle from Home, which lays out the ins and outs of Mechanical Turk. I found this book invaluable as I started turking . Key among Naab’s excellent advice is how to find the best tasks and what chrome plug ins will aid your side hustle efficiency.  Other Mechanical Turk books have been written more recently, but this was the one that really got us on our way.

The second Mechanical Turk resource that I would recommend would be the Reddit thread Hits Worth Turking For. This thread encourages people to put up the best hits of the day as they come across them. These are the hits with the highest “hourly rate” if you consider the pay and the time spent working. Frankly, these are the majority of hits that Paul and I spend our time on these days. Spending five minutes filling out an interesting survey for $.80 is surprisingly rewarding.

In summary, Mechanical Turk was a great side hustle to start us out. The initial investment was small: a couple of hours reading Naab’s book and figuring out how to get started. However, we would like to find side hustles that offer us significantly better hourly rates.

Mechanical Turk was a great side hustle to start us outClick To Tweet

Fiverr

Next up was Fiverr. Fiverr is basically a freelancing marketplace. Those looking for work in graphic design, research, voice work, transcription, and a variety of other areas post “gigs.” Those looking for such services at low cost with speedy service then purchase these gigs. In theory, Fiverr sounded great to us. We could bid out the research services that we are already expert at, and people would come to us.

Here’s the catch. Fiverr is named “Fiverr” because their ideal base cost is $5. While five bucks makes sense for some services, it is well below a reasonable rate for survey design or analytics. We had some great initial success with Fiverr, making about $500 over the past summer on a number of projects. We followed some online advice to start with a low price in order to build our recommendations and star ratings. This advice resulted in resounding success….for our ratings.

As soon as we increased our fees to a reasonable living rate (say $50 for a basic survey design) – crickets.  A few more tweaks to change our rates and offerings have garnered no further interest. We ultimately made the decision not to undermine our bread and butter work by essentially giving it away for free. In the future we may explore other freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork, or Freelancer. But for now, we’ve put side hustle freelance research on the back burner.

 

Mechanical Turk and Fiverr got us on the road to side hustling. They were certainly not the end. A future side hustle post will discuss our many side hustles and how we determine which to spend time on.

Our First Side Hustles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons poker has taught me about life

5 Lessons Poker Has Taught Me About Life

Poker is not an inherently noble pursuit. It does not necessarily offer poignant moments of introspection or life lessons. On the surface, poker is a simple game played with 52 cards. To play it well against good competition requires an array of skills, but you don’t have to be a Field medal mathematician to succeed. When played in a casino or card room, the strong take money from the weak. No one gets Gandhi points for sitting down to a poker game. So what, if any, lessons, can be taken from this odd and seemingly selfish pursuit?

Lesson 1. Patience Pays

Patience is frankly not my strength. I like immediate results and hate waiting in lines. But if you play poker without a good dose of patience you’ll make some very bad decisions. Let’s just say I am a work in progress on this dimension, even at the poker table. However, at least I try to remember when I am in traffic, eighth in line at the one open register at KMart, or waiting to hear back about whether my new health insurance check has cleared that I should not respectively: lay on the horn, say loudly “what’s wrong  with this place,” or threaten a lawsuit. Impatience leads to hasty and generally bad decisions. If things are not going your way, bide your time. Don’t self-destruct, and likely the tide will turn.

Lessons poker has taught me about life

Lesson 2. Don’t Worry About Others’ Behavior

In poker, there are opponents commonly referred to as “calling stations.”  No matter how large a bet you make, they’ll call you down with even the remotest chance of winning the hand. This sounds like a good thing until they get that miracle on the last card dealt and you lose big. Then you feel like flipping over your chair and cursing them, along with anything else in your rage path. Play poker long enough and you realize that other people have the right to make any decisions they want.

The only thing you can do is assess whether you played correctly, no matter the result. This is true in life as well. The only person you have control over (hopefully) is yourself. Let others make their own calls, and adjust as you can without being enraged at them when their decisions impact you. Obviously in some situations of safety and stability there are limits.  But in most things, Doris Day it and que sera, sera.

Don't Play with Money You Don't Have' usernameClick To Tweet

Lesson 3. Not Everything is Controllable

Related to the previous point, in poker you can not control the next card that appears. You make the best decision possible with the information at hand. If your decision generally leads to a good result, great, you made the right decision. When it does not, learn to love the variance, bad luck, whatever you want to call it.  Away from the poker table, life’s bad breaks are often more challenging to accept. However, giving up the illusion of complete control is key to staying sane.

Lesson 4. Don’t Play with Money You Don’t Have

To play poker well and for a long time, you need a stake that you can afford to lose. Things can go sideways for an extended period even when you play well. You have to have the funds to absorb those swings. Managing your finances should follow a similar logic. Buying a house out of your price range with poor assumptions about how you can swing it is a recipe for disaster. Building credit card debt to help finance furniture, a car, or vacations will have you swimming upstream forever. Budget, embrace frugality, and plan for emergencies at all times.

Lesson 5: Ethical Grey Areas Abound

Life entails trudging through a moral quagmire. It’s New Year’s eve and a drunk guy is blowing off hundreds of dollars rapidly through epic poor play. Do you thank the heavens for your good fortune, or leave not wanting to take advantage of this out-of-control soul? Profitability in poker requires taking advantage of weaker players. Again, not a noble enterprise. But if you love playing and want to do well, a necessary evil.

Many of us work jobs to support our families that do not necessarily offer great social value. Maybe we’re not helping big tobacco sell cigarettes to kids, but the welfare of the consumer is not a priority for most corporations. However, your job clothes and feeds your kids, allows them to go to college, and keeps your family safe. Living the ideal life of our young fantasies seldom happens. As with poker, sometimes we have to allow for the grey.

 

For the uninitiated, poker may seem an odd and perhaps sketchy pursuit. But the lifestyle allows one to meet a great range of people, and creates some interesting and challenging moments. Lessons can be learned anywhere, and the poker table is no exception.

5 lessons poker has taught me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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