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April 18, 2022 15:17 +0100  |  COVID-19 Climate Change Europe Family Politics War 1

I always post an annual "recap" on my blog. It's useful for me to keep track of the past, but also as a nice way to look back on my life with a sense of nostalgia. I rarely write this sort of thing until the year is completely over, as you never know what might happen even in the last few days of the year. I don't think I've ever waited this long though, so as my memory of 2021 has begun to rot, I find myself stretching looking for stuff to include here.

Family

By far the biggest news of the year for me was Violet's diagnosis with Stage IV neuroblastoma. It shook the whole family, and the waves travelled outward to everyone: friends, colleagues, even the entire town of Peachland where she lives. Her family uprooted themselves from the Okanagan and moved down to Vancouver for treatment into the wonderful Ronald McDonald House for the remainder of the year.

Shawna gave up her job and stayed with Violet in the hospital, while my brother had to split his life between seeing his wife & kids, and working to keep his job. Shawna's parents moved into RMH too to offer support and help take care of Violet's sister Lucy was dealing with the emotional toll of her sister's condition along with moving her whole 5 year-old life to a new city under strange new conditions.

By the end of the year though, things were looking good, and despite the odds, Violet appears to be doing better. Just a few weeks ago (April 2022), my brother informed me that Violet has had a bunch of scans all showing literally no Cancer left in her system. We're all cautiously optimistic.

Friends

As you get older (and coupled), it's difficult to find & keep friends. It's even harder when you sabotage things by moving to a new city every few years or decide to have a kid. Add to that a pandemic, and you've got a recipe for suck.

Rahel & Stepan

Our friends Rahel & Stepan came to us early in the year to announce that they were moving to the Philippines. This was rather disappointing, since we'd become quite fond of them, and Anna and Stepan had bonded (he's really good with kids). He's given up his job and the two of them are moving in with her parents to figure out what comes next for them. Honestly, I don't get it, but I with them luck.

Annie

Also in out-of-the-blue friend news, Annie sent me an email one night just to say hello. "If anyone still has the same email after all these years" she said "it's Dan", and she was right. We caught up a big on what's been going on in her life and it turns out she has other friends & family here in the UK, so I hope to see her in-person some day soon.

Work

I finished 2020 finally escaping from Workfinder with a job offer to work at Limejump starting in January. There was a 2-month gap between my the former and the latter, so I returned to MoneyMover temporarily to help get them sorted and eventually connect them with my replacement. From what I hear, they're all doing quite well over there, having now gone full-remote. They still meet up for social drinks & dinner though, and sometimes I'm invited, which is really nice.

My work at Limejump has been pretty great. I was worried about stepping into the tech lead role though: I knew I had the technical experience to guide a project, but wasn't sure I could be trusted with actual people to do the work. "What if", I thought, "I start working there and everyone are resentful assholes who fight me on everything out of spite?"

The thing is, I've been that resentful asshole at previous jobs. I've been saddled with tech leads & CTOs who demonstrably don't have the technical chops to do the work, yet insist on telling me how to do my job. So I decided to use this as my superpower: I leveraged my experience of what it was like to be on the receiving end of that sort of thing to remind myself not to be the kind of person that solicits that sort of thing from other developers.

The result of all of this is that our team developed a sort of "architecture by way of consensus". One of us proposes a solution, we all poke at it until we're happy with it, and then we apply it together. The only "hard lines" I've imposed have been along coding standards (black, isort, pep8) and offering some anecdotes & best-practise-by-way-of-experience stories here and there.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm taking credit though. My team are fucking awesome people to work with. Rob has a welcoming and friendly attitude that really makes you feel like you belong there, Rémy is attentive, organised, and excellent, at the big picture, Emmanuel has been friendly, receptive, and hard-working, and Leo is the most knowledgeable, organised, and collaborative product guy I've ever worked with.

It's not just the team though. Nearly everyone at the company is stand-out amazing at what they do. There are problems at the company for sure, but there are problems everywhere. What I love about working at Limejump is that I get to solve problems with awesome people.

COVID-19

Contrary to what everyone was secretly hoping, December 2020 wasn't the end of the pandemic. For the entirety of 2021, governments around the world applied pandemic restrictions in the least effective way possible in an effort to be seen as "doing something" rather than to actually keep people safe.

From selective re-openings to ridiculous rules around when a mask was required and when it wasn't, to outright hypocrisy from government -- as far as I can tell, no country followed the science. It's a harrowing sneak-preview of our climate future.

The UK was especially egregious, pushing to re-open earlier than most countries with the campaigns like Eat Out to Help Out that paid people to go to restaurants. There were no mask mandates in restaurants and no limit was applied to locations with outdoor eating.

A Vaccine

The big moment came in 2021 though: we had a vaccine. We had, in fact, multiple vaccines of varying effectiveness and variable shelf-life. There were lots of discussions around how the timing of testing for effectiveness can vary the results, which was interesting, and there were also warnings of blood clots from the Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson versions.

There was also lots of geopolitical fighting over vaccine availability. Astra-Zeneca over-promised its stockpiles to both the EU and the UK, and when it actually came to distribution time, the two were suddenly at odds as if AZ hadn't been the one at fault. The global north unsurprisingly screwed-over the global south, with most of us getting as many as three shots before those in India (who were being ravaged by oxygen shortages) received even one.

By the end of the year, I'd been vaccinated 3 times: first and second with Astra-Zeneca, and a third time with Pfizer.

And after all that, the world had to go back to school and learn how exactly vaccines even work. After presidents and prime ministers declared that the vaccine would "stop" the virus, they had to backtrack. COVID-19 is so aggressive that it still manages to spread fairly well among the vaccinated, and symptoms can even persist (albeit with much less lethality). This was a nuance lost (or more likely ignored) by the grifters and charlatans though. Suddenly the vaccine was a lie to keep you afraid and "controlled" (whatever that means). Public health has become political because people are gullible idiots.

Restricting travel

When you're an expat, your life is all over the world. My kid has family in Greece, Vancouver, Kelowna, and Ottawa, and we've got friends in a smattering of other countries.

This does not play well with anything that restricts international travel. My parents last saw Anna when she was 6 months old. She's now 3 years old and they still won't have a chance to see her 'til she's almost 4.

In the words of my mother-in-law: "I've lost two years".

Clearly, things could have been worse, but it still sucks.

The News House

In September, we moved from our cold, damp rental housing into a lovely new-build home just on the other side of the River Cam. It's big, beautiful, warm, and dry, with Ethernet in nearly every room and a heat pump in the back yard.

It's also in the wrong country of course. We keep looking back to what we left behind in the Netherlands (with all its faults, I'd still rather be living there than here). The truth is though that we'd managed to save up a decent-sized chunk of cash and the combination of the pandemic, plus the inevitable rise of inflation we knew was coming afterward dictated that we needed to move that cash into something that wouldn't lose so much value in such a short period of time.

We did the math:

5 years renting at roughly £1500/mo = £90,000

This means that if we bought a house and paid the mortgage for 5 years, we'd have to lose £90k on the resale value to make this a bad decision. Given that the housing market is the way it is, that loss is very unlikely, so this just made sense.

Also, have I mentioned that it's warm & dry? Why the fuck is this such an uncommon perk in the UK?

I Quit Twitter

In April, Lindsay Ellis posted a video on her channel about the current drama she was enduring over Twitter. The way the platform is designed to sow discontent and just fill people with rage was laid bare and it set me thinking about it for a long time.

Later that month I signed off Twitter for the purposes of interaction, and by November I'd dropped it altogether switching entirely to Mastodon, a federated Twitter-like network with no central control. If you're interested in following me, you can do so there.

Majel: Raspberry Pi

Majel has been developing very slowly. Maybe I've lost interest in the project and I just haven't accepted it yet, or maybe it's just gotten to that point where distribution is the problem. I'm not sure yet.

I spent a good chunk of 2021 working out how to package Majel for distribution to others. Ideally, I'd like it to be something like a Raspberry Pi image, but there are a few problems with the CPU architecture that make this difficult, not the least of which is the absence of the proprietary Widevine DRM for aarch64 systems.

The other problem of course is that my day job is technically challenging, so I often end the day without the energy to take on something else.

Still, the project is (slowly) progressing. For the moment, you can follow development here.

The World

On the world stage has been dominated by two things: the pandemic and climate change. The former has been driving the stupid into the arms of proto-fascists, and the latter has been creeping up on us like a roaring lion looking to eat a dumb kid playing candy crush with headphones on.

The Idiot's Coup and the Rise of Stupid Pride

2021 opened with the horde of objectively stupid people demanding that Trump be awarded a presidency he didn't win, culminating in an assault on the capitol. The degree to which there was inside help is still being investigated and Trump's complicity remains insufficient to put him in gaol. He may well run for president again.

The US is also embroiled in a moral panic around critical race theory, a phrase that has a very specific meaning but to which the right-wing has attributed every bogeyman they could invent to scare parents.

The anti-vaxxers have been having a field day with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. Before the pandemic they were just dangerous idiots, now they're dangerous idiots with substantially growing numbers. There's even a guy out there who claims to be the inventor of the COVID-19 vaccine telling people it's unsafe, and people are listening to him as if he's an authority.

He's not. He's a dangerous lunatic.

And finally, fuelled by Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and the seemingly bottomless potential for human stupidity, QAnnon is still a thing.

Eurovision!

On a happy note, Eurovision returned this year! Not only that, but the top performances were all from groups that sang in their native languages, hopefully marking the weakening of a trend toward English-only events.

Here are some of my favourites if you're curious:

Fire & Water

There were two major climate events in 2021: the massive flooding across Europe and the unrelenting wildfires in Greece. The floods claimed 196 lives and cost roughly €10 billion, while the fires in Greece ravaged the entire country. The outpouring of resources and personnel was inspiring, with firefighers, trucks, planes, and helicopters arriving from across the EU and beyond

The Withdrawal from Afghanistan

NATO finally pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, making this Canada's longest-running war ever: 20 years. I remember when it started, just after September 11th the US, and to a lesser extent, the whole world was looking for a target to direct our wrath. There were a few measured voices, calling for reason and reflection, but the overwhelming response was a call for blood. "Those people over there" had to pay for the 2,996 lives lost and we made it happen to the tune of a kill list so long it has a whole Wikipedia page devoted to trying to measure it.

In the end, the war served to spawn another war in Iraq, the creation of an entirely new movement for an Islamic state, and likely thousands of disparate terrorist networks. Our exit was so abrupt and disorganised that any semblance of liberalism was crushed by the Taliban within days and now the new enemies we've made have new crops of desperate people to recruit to the cause.

I'm not an expert on any of this, but any fool can see how broken this whole process was from the start. There was never an achievable goal to the whole thing, just perpetual war, which I suppose is an end unto itself. Regardless, if you'd like to hear the opinions of actual experts, I strongly recommend Canadaland Common's excellent new series, "War" that covers the withdrawal and the chaotic disaster that it was for the people left behind.


And I guess that's where I'll leave it, if for no other reason than I'm tired and I've been writing this for a few hours now.

I just want to say though, that I'm conscious of how lucky I've been this last year. Despite a global pandemic, my family is all still alive, my kid is happy and healthy and we have a home to raise her in. I have a skill that's in demand so employment is reasonably secure and despite the ineptitude of the local government, the UK remains largely unscathed from the horrors others have had to endure.

I'm not sure that "thankful" is the right word, since it suggests some external force to thank for our good Fortune, so instead I'm going with a recognition that our fortune is localised, that it could change any time, and so I need to remember that when spending time with the people I love.

February 01, 2020 20:37 +0000  |  Europe United Kingdom 0

The EU flag

"This is the first time in my life that I've lived outside of Europe"

That was Christina reflecting on the significance of "Brexit Day" this morning, how our European family has been pulled out of Europe against our will. For my part, I'm not sure what to say to it all. I'm so angry at the ignorant, xenophobic assholes that did this to us.

With a referendum rooted in lies, an exit campaign captained by disaster capitalists stole Anna's chance at an Erasmus exchange. They kicked in the teeth an organisation founded, above all things, to establish and maintain peace on a warring continent.

They've drummed up nationalism and sown fear & violence across the country. They've shown the world just how deluded this country is, convinced it's somehow still a superpower.

It's laughable, and pathetic, but there is an upside.

The Brexit party, and the rest of the obstructionist Brits have been removed from the European parliament. Now the EU can move forward on the issues that it needs to: a Green New Deal, a unified military, and a fiscal union.

I'm not worried about the EU, they'll be just fine. I'm not worried about the UK either, but that's mostly because I don't care about the future of a country that would embrace nationalism and xenophobia as this one has. I am however worried about my family as we're still stuck here.

All of the protections afforded by the EU are likely to expire in the coming years, and if the UK chooses to cuddle up to the US, then we'll likely see adoption of their terrible food & safety standards. The NHS is also likely in trouble, if not due to dealings with the US, then definitely because so much of its staff are EU nationals.

It's a shit show, and all you see in the media are drooling idiots cheering this all on, unable to articulate a single legitimate reason for their enthusiasm.

So yes, I'm angry, and a little worried, but mostly angry.

June 24, 2016 18:52 +0100  |  Europe United Kingdom 3

I'm in Canada right now, so we had to watch the carnage unfold in real time on a BBC live stream. As soon as Newcastle reported in with its weak Remain results, the pit of my stomach began to sink and things never recovered.

The United Kingdom has made what historians will refer to as the greatest and last mistake in its long history. Scotland and Northern Ireland are already talking about leaving the UK to join the EU. The pound has dropped to the lowest point in 31 years and France has now surpassed them as the world's 5th largest economy. They've lost more money in a few hours than they contributed to the EU in 43 years.

I woke this morning to a sense of surreal dread. One thing is certain: the UK is undone. The only question that concerns me is how much of their self-destructive behaviour will rub off on the rest of us.

The UK economy has already started to contract. Major banking institutions are likely to follow through with their promise to relocate to Dublin and Frankfurt. That will undoubtedly increase unemployment, driving the country further into recession. For Christina and I, there are dangerous times ahead.

Three Paths

The real danger though is how far this madness will spread. Given the likelihood of a Scottish (and potentially Northern Irish) exit from the UK, England must be considered lost, but what of the rest of Europe? I can only see this going one of three ways:

Special Status

The worst possible scenario for all involved would be if the EU is so fearful of instability that it caves to the UK's demands to (a) remain part of the European Economic Area (single market) while (b) not being beholden to the four freedoms. For the non Europeans, this would mean that the UK would have free trade with EU nations but not have to allow free movement of people, goods, etc. They might even try to get away with not paying into the EU at all.

This would be catastrophic as it would signal to the other EU nations that they too could have all of the benefits of the EU without the responsibility. It would embolden the weak separatist voices in France, Norway, Greece, and the Netherlands and spur similar moves to exit as well. It would effectively end the European Union.

Remain Part of the EEA

This is the most likely (however ironic) outcome. The UK would negotiate a Norway-like deal wherein they remain part of the EEA while still being responsible for the four freedoms. Effectively, this would mean that the UK would keep all of the responsibilities the Leave campaign said they wanted no part of, (free movement, financial contributions) but give up its right to have any say in how those responsibilities are determined. As a bonus, Nigel Farage's party would no longer have any seats in the European Parliament.

This isn't as dangerous as the "special status" option above, but it runs the risk of separatist parties declaring this a victory (this is post-factual democracy after all). If other nations follow suit, this could have crippling effects on the EU.

Out in the Cold

In this scenario, the EU recognises this for the opportunity that it is and cuts the UK loose. Over the following years, as the rest of Europe watches the UK economy wither, and the country fracture from Great Britain into Little England, the UK becomes a cautionary tale for would-be separatists: "Leave the EU, are you nuts? Don't you remember what it was like for the English?"

"Better together" would no longer be a campaign slogan but a statement of fact and it would embolden Europe as a Union.

The obstructionist English voice in the European project would disappear completely, allowing for the agenda of an ever closer union to progress. Dreams like a fiscal union and a unified military would become more feasible.

My Preference

I tweeted about this last night and it was not appreciated by a couple of my followers, but I stand by it. The "out in the cold" option is the best case for Europe, the worst for the UK -- but they've made their bed. The European Union is the single most ambitious project humanity has ever undertaken and if it's going to survive, it has to cut the UK loose. They've voted to leave, let them serve as an example of just what leaving means.

I say this of course as someone who lives in the UK. Christina has her job at Cambridge, so we're stuck there for at least a year, but when that's finished, we'll be looking to return to Europe -- this in itself is a risk, as it means waiting an entire year while anyone with a degree of mobility works to get out of the UK.

I don't know what we're going to do when Christina's contract is up. We want to move back to the Netherlands, but by then the EU will likely be awash in unilingual anglophones with marketable skills. This could be Very Bad for us.

But if it's good for the EU, we're ok with it.