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April 18, 2022 14:17 +0000  |  Climate Change COVID-19 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.

May 15, 2013 21:24 +0000  |  Genocide History Violence War

It's been a few days, but I really should write something about it. I visited Auschwitz on Tuesday.

I don't think that any reasonable human being can be fully prepared for a trip like that. We've all grown up with the stories of the gas chambers and crematoriums, the Hollywood films referencing the "death camps", and the 1940s Soviet footage of the camp liberation. We all know what went on there, but being there, standing on the very spot where children were executed... it's something else.

Every person's experience with that place is personal, and for me, what struck me the most was the astounding industrial nature of the whole operation. In the beginning, Auschwitz was simply an industrialist's wet dream: unlimited free labour. People were shipped in by cattle car, worked until they couldn't, and then replaced like chipped cogs in a machine. But as time passed, new ideas were rolled into the process and the nature of the facility changed from simply slave labour to extermination.

What was hardest for me is that I've come to accept that bad things happen and people die... all the time. Sometimes those bad things are just unlucky street crossings or unfortunate genetics, and sometimes we're talking about random shootings and nuclear bombs. I understand these because the human factor, the nature of those killed, is never questioned. Jews may hate Arabs and Arabs may hate Jews, but one never questions that the other isn't truly human. Our media fed us all sorts of lies about the Japanese during WW2, but I don't think that Truman ever stopped thinking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as being populated by anything other than people. What I saw in Auschwitz... was something completely different.

The Nazis had decided that the population of Poland had to be eradicated. Additionally, they wanted to exterminate every Jew on the planet. We know that these were not empty words, as they did manage to murder six million Jews and six million Poles during their campaign of only a few years. But for me, the truly astonishing question is: what exactly does it mean to attempt to exterminate a people?

We often glaze over the fact that the world is Very Big, and that there are a lot of people living on it. We like to frame wars as if one nation invades another, like single entities poking at other entities and changing colour. But take a moment to absorb the fact that before the Nazis invaded, there were roughly 24million Poles in Poland. To put that in a scale that's easier to understand, Hitler wanted to eradicate roughly 10 Torontos worth of people. This was a job that needed meticulous planning and industrial "solutions".

When you're dealing with a "problem" this big, you can't simply march an army across the country. Poland is really big, too big for any army to eradicate so many. Instead they invented the SS, and compelled people to relocate to concentration camps, where they were put to work building more camps for more of their own people so they could get all of their kills in one place.

They had another problem: simply shooting them was inefficient and messy. They couldn't be wasting ammunition on Poles and Jews of all "things", and they needed their clothing for use in Germany -- it'd be no good with holes and blood stains. They needed a gas that was relatively fast-acting, that could be pumped into a closed space for a maximum kill ratio, and then vented over the camp without killing any Germans. They enlisted the help of IG Farben to design such a gas, and they used Auschwitz prisoners to test it:

  1. Put ten men in a sealed room, and pump in x amount of gas.
  2. Wait 20 minutes
  3. Check if anyone is still alive.
  4. If yes, increase the amount of gas.
  5. Repeat until everyone is dead.

Once the formula was perfected, they began killing people, but suddenly a new problem: they were killing people twice as fast as they could cremate them.

Imagine what that conversation must have been like:

  • "Sir, we've killed 400 people Jews today, but we're only burning the bodies at a rate of 200 per day. What do we do now?"
  • "Damnit do I have to think of everything? Just have the workers build two crematoriums for every gas chamber, and until they're ready just have the prisoners dump the bodies in a mass grave um.... over there".

Everything in the death camp was logged and counted:

  • Prisoners were forced to walk in rows of 5, and other prisoners had to play music while the work crews moved from their barracks to their "jobs". The music wasn't for morale, but an effort to keep the prisoners walking in time... to make counting them easier.
  • Those destined for the gas chambers (typically women and children, as they were the least "useful"), were stripped of their hair and clothing before execution. The hair would be used for clothing like socks for Germans, their personal possessions: glasses, shoes, even chamber pots, shipped back to Germany for sale and reuse.
  • One group of Roma were spared the chambers for a full 17 months, permitted to remain with their families as a sort of anthropological experiment. When Himmler tired of them however, they were all gassed.

To operate Auschwitz was to industrialise the process of liquefying a people that weren't a threat to anyone. Their lands and fortunes were all taken, there was no rational reason to do what the Nazis did unless we accept that to the Nazis, the Poles, Jews, Roma, and homosexuals weren't people, but simply numbers that needed to be re-allocated on a balance sheet.

After all this, I was actually considering the whole concept of Europe, and what it would mean for Poland to be a part. It's one thing for the British to have close relations with the Germans post-WW2, but Poland? The Germans didn't simply attack Poland, they attempted to erase them from history. They set up hundreds of camps designed to streamline the process of murder throughout Poland and Germany, and over the course of a few years gassed millions of men, women, and children as if they were action items on a project planner. Now I understand the grand purpose of the European experiment, and I support it completely, but I honestly don't understand the Polish restraint, and am not confident that I would be able to do the same in their place.

Auschwitz is not a place you should want to visit, but it's a place that everyone should see. The Nazis weren't special, they were humans doing some of the most evil things in the history of our species, and it's important that we all learn from it what we can, lest it be allowed to happen again.

May 04, 2012 20:32 +0000  |  Netherlands War 2

My grandfather fought in the second world war. I hesitate to call him a "hero" as that word is used all to often, but he was a good man, a young man who answered his nation's call to fight in a war on the other side of the world. This post isn't really about him, but his story helps me frame what I want to talk about.

Gerard Quinn, my father's father, was initially sent to Sicily to run with the infantry for the Allied push into the so-called "soft underbelly of Europe". His tour, like so many others in the region, was far from "soft", and at some point along the way, a canon that hadn't been secured properly, fired and rolled backward and onto my grandfather, crushing his legs.

Fortunately for him (and his future grandchildren I suppose), the Allied position held and he was evacuated to the UK where he, once recovered in hospital, was returned to his company, as they prepared to invade the Netherlands. As a newly injured soldier, this did not favour his chances of returning alive, but Fortune intervened again: he was reassigned... to radio duty. As it turns out, my grandfather's penmanship was so exceptional, the Brass felt his skill would be more useful to the war effort receiving and transcribing messages from inside a helpless tank with a wooden gun barrel.

And so it is that my grandfather survived the War and helped, in his own small way, to liberate this place I now call home. I just learnt today that he was given a medal for his efforts in liberating the Netherlands -- just months before he died.

Today is Dodenherdenking, the Dutch day of remembrance for the war dead. It precedes Bevrijdingsdag, or Liberation Day and consists of an 8pm ceremony much like what you'd find in Canada on November 11th at 11:11. There's the two minutes silence, Taps (though it sounds slightly different), and laying of wreaths... even the Queen is there. I attended the services here in Amsterdam along with thousands of others and let me tell you: those 2minutes of silence: not a sound. Not cell phones, not even undisciplined children or dogs barking. The whole of Dam Square collectively remembered and observed for a full two minutes.

In those moments, as I do every November 11th, I thought of my grandfather, a young, dumb kid, doing what he thought was right at first, and ultimately doing what he could to survive. I'll think of him tomorrow too, while the country celebrates its liberation. I think he would have liked to see that.

November 11, 2011 18:15 +0000  |  War 2

It turns out that the Netherlands declared itself neutral in WWI, and so were able to (mostly) escape the horrors of one of the bloodiest wars in human history. For the Dutch, November 11th is St. Martin's Day, a Christian holiday converted into a sort of Halloween without the costumes. This isn't to say that the horrors of war aren't recognised in Holland though. As they were occupied during the second world war by the Germans, May 5th marks the Dutch Liberation Day which, as I understand it, is both for celebration and reflection.

For Canadians though, it's a big deal. Some provinces mark it as a holiday (why it's not a national holiday is beyond me), and everywhere, regardless of time off, cities close off streets to accommodate the thousands of people who attend. Veterans march and non-veterans clap... but we don't cheer. A poem is read, sometimes even sung by a children's chorus, wreaths are laid, and war planes fly overhead. At 11:11, a moment of silence is had, and the children in the crowd are left to stir and wonder why everyone has stopped talking all of a sudden.

It's been a ritual for me for as long as I can remember. I would go with my veteran grandfather to the old cenotaph in Abbotsford, and when I moved to Ontario, I took part in the massive ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa or Old City Hall in Toronto. When I returned to Vancouver, long after my grandfather had died, I was always at Victory Square for the morning. I've only once missed the ceremony before today, when I was in Korea, where the day was transformed into a corporate holiday to sell chocolate.

There may not have been a ceremony, but for my part at least, there was an observance. I took a few minutes, left my phone at the office and walked into the central square here in Bussum, waiting quietly in silence for the moment to pass. I watched people go about their lives, shopping, playing with their kids, and riding their bikes, while I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live here while the Germans had occupied the country during WWII: I couldn't do it. I really can't understand what it must have been like for the Dutch to have their home occupied by a violent, racist invader. We Canadians attacked and liberated, but we've never known what it was like to be conquered. I guess this is another part of my European learning experience: perspective.

October 17, 2008 18:12 +0000  |  Canada Movies War 0

I've been waiting for this movie for three years.

Paul Gross' new film, "Passchendaele" debuts today and is playing at the Paramount (Scotia) Theatre downtown at 7pm and 10pm. For those interested, Melanie and I will be going down to the 10pm show and you're all welcome to join us.

The National post has a wonderful article explaining the history of the movie and why it's so important that we support it, and for those looking for more detail, the official site has loads of information as well as the trailer.

September 22, 2008 18:49 +0000  |  Chrystal Melanie Personal Life Vancouver War 0

A lot of interesting things have been happening lately that I've yet to document properly here. My apologies to those involved for falling behind, but as you'll see, I've been rather busy.

For starters, Melanie has finally moved to Vancouver. After months of preparation, fear and goodbyes, Mel packed her bags (and her two cats) and hopped on a plane to YVR. In the space of less than a week, she had 4 interviews for two jobs and it's very possible that she'll be offered one of said jobs today or tomorrow. The cats were comfortable in my place almost immediately, and I'm already beginning to notice the effects of Mayday's fur all over the place. (She's such a princess).

It's been a bit of a shock to Melanie so far. I don't think that it's completely sunk in that she's a Vancouverite now. I suggested that she "take the day off" today and wander through Stanley Park while the weather is still pretty. I hope she takes my advice.

Chrystal has also broken some rather big news: she's moving to Kandahar. You know, that place from where we keep shipping people home feet first? Of course she won't be serving in the military, rather she'll be working in the diplomatic office, on a military base, surrounded by big people with guns. This is a really exciting career move for her and she's been wanting something like this for a very long time. I can't say that I'm glad she's going, but I suppose I have to be happy that she's doing what she wants with her life.

Just come back alive ok?

August 24, 2007 22:27 +0000  |  Stupid People War 2

I really want to comment on this highway renaming business. For those who haven't heard, a bunch of people have created a petition to rename a portion of highway 401 to "Highway of Heroes" to commemorate the men & women who've died overseas who's flag-draped coffins make the procession down that very stretch of asphalt when their bodies return home.

Maybe I'm being irrational, but this kind of thing makes me absolutely furious. For starters, the term "hero" is thrown around far too much and (at least in my opinion) should not be assigned to just anyone who dies in the line of duty.

These soldiers are Our Honoured Dead, people who died because they chose to fight for Canada and Canada sent them into a warzone. That's both respectable and honourable, even remarkable... but is this heroism? No. This sort of renaming campaign just supports a propaganda machine that works to convince people that war is glorious, even righteous -- a lie so far from the truth it makes me ill.

And if that doesn't piss you off, how 'bout the thought that of all the things in this country we could attribute to our soldiers, we choose a stretch of grey pavement. What a terrible way to honour these people.

March 22, 2007 20:07 +0000  |  Stupid People War 1

Careful, they're not the same thing.

I sifted about YouTube today and found two interesting clips I thought I'd share. The first clip is called Young Americans, a multi-part series shot and produced by troops on the ground in Iraq. The small part I've seen so far looks like a pretty raw look at what it's like over there.

The second part is considerably more light hearted, but unfortunately related. A news crew from New Zeland (I think, it might be Australia) hit the streets of an American city with some simple questions about the world. Stuff like: "Who's Fidel Castro?", "Which country should America invade next?" and "How many sides are there on a triangle?"

You should be surprised at the results, but sadly, you probably won't be.