Niall’s virtual diary archives – Monday 18th February 2013

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Monday 18th February 2013: 6.00pm. This is the first weekend where after fixing the lack of copy & paste in my BEurtle program which has been a problem since July, my todo list has finally became empty for now. The next big ticket item is going to be buying and insuring a car, currently scheduled for April/May as we won't have the cash until then, and we're going to have to pay in cash because no one will lend to us given our lack of credit history in Canada. In fact, I had to bribe a bank to give me a credit card by handing them $5000 as a security after two prior credit card applications had failed. As much as Canada welcomes immigrants more than most countries, the lack of maturity in its financial services industry is a pain (they could after all pull your history from Europe). If we weren't earning enough to be able to save to buy a car for cash outright, I'm not sure what we'd do. Still, it's nice to be finally through that todo list and to take a break from spending every spare moment outside work crossing off todo items.

As you might have guessed from the lack of any articles here about RIM (now BlackBerry), it isn't allowed to talk about anything to do with work publicly, not even anything which is public knowledge. In fact, I can talk much more freely about what our competitors are up to than I can about us, which kinda sucks, but there you go. So, sorry about the lack of articles - I did write three of them, and they were very interesting I think. But it's a no-go.

So, what's happened these last three months? Surprisingly little. We left our BlackBerry-provided temporary accommodation at the start of December, and we now live about fifteen minutes' walk from the University of Waterloo just beyond which is RIM 1, the original BlackBerry office, where I work. So, come the summer I'll be able to walk to work quite pleasantly, though right now in the typical -15C temperatures I must admit to taking the bus to the university and walking ten minutes from there because it's slow going through all the snow and ice. I have learned that snow, when blown by a strong wind, is quite like sand at these temperatures and one can arrive at work with the tears from your eyes dripping having frozen on your cheeks. I also have to admit that I can now see the point of thermal long johns, especially for under your jeans which are relatively unprotected from the chill of a wind. Luckily, so far I've been fairly fortunate in Waterloo where usually the wind isn't more than a light breeze, and I'm actually plenty warm enough outside if the air remains still even if it's snowing heavily.

I wasn't with my family in Cork for the first time ever in my life this Christmas: instead myself and Megan drove down to her parents in Indiana with a rental, a trip taking about ten hours. I can't say I much enjoyed being away from my family, but we spoke by telephone on Christmas day and Megan's family made things better than they would have been otherwise.


Myself and Megan stopped off in Detroit for two nights on the way back to break up the trip, and as a mini-holiday. We did enjoy ourselves, but I think it was despite Detroit rather than anything else, and for the $1200 or so it cost it really wasn't worth it. The hotel, a Hilton, was really not great. The casino we visited, while upmarket, was seedy and depressing, and the $350 we dropped on the meal in the quite pretty top floor restaurant there (shown above) was too expensive for the very limited choice of menu available. It didn't help that there were several murders and rapes on the local news while we were there, and the city as a whole is very obviously deprived and its centre looks like something from those Hollywood movies you see and you think they're dramatising how run down and full of the drug addled poor US cities are - well, judging from city centre Detroit, they aren't (and my sister said very similar things about Los Angeles which she visited during her honeymoon). About the only highlight of our mini-holiday in Detroit really was Detroit Zoo which was better than expected. So, I'm afraid very much a thumbs down to Detroit for vacationing. Thankfully, next Christmas there are plenty of other US-Canada border places like Sarnia, or even Niagra Falls or Buffalo. If Detroit cut its cost of visiting by about a half, it might just be worth visiting as a once off, but otherwise that city has a long way to go in dealing with its decline. Right now it's just not attractive to be in, not helped by the expense to reward ratio.

So, in January I went back to work after the break ... I had spent December implementing a demonstration prototype of some proposed functionality for future BlackBerry phones, and I spent most of January writing a 20,000 word internal white paper on the technology. I finally upgraded my 2007 era PC which had served so well to something fairly cutting edge, and sure it is somewhat snappier than it was even when typing in this HTML, so I am pleased for the money spent, which wasn't much (about $400) as I recycled old parts from former uses. And of course, I turned thirty-five, and you'll note the lack of my usual annual reflection upon the past year of my life: Why? When I think upon this past year, it's very hard to say anything definitive about it. In Christmas 2011 a year ago I decided we were leaving Ireland for wherever in the world would give us a decent chance, which wasn't Ireland and wasn't Britain (their current anti-immigrant obsession makes it very hard for Megan to get a work visa even if she has Masters degrees out the wazoo). So I made the appropriate calls, did the appropriate interviews, made the appropriate choices and enacted the appropriate arrangements including the appropriate goodbyes. And that's 2012: I can't say much about it past that, and I certainly can't reflect upon it usefully at the present time. Maybe I will be able to in a year's time once things have settled.

At the end of January an admin position opening appeared in the Research Institute I'm attached to, namely the Institute for Complexity and Innovation in the University of Waterloo,, so we got Megan into applying for that and she got the job, so now she works for the University which is a great help in so many ways, not least that the Canadian tax system greatly rewards both people in a couple working so her modest additional income has a disproportionate effect on our after-tax income (I think our net marginal rate will actually drop). I also applied to join the executive board for a small local community grant disbursement fund who try to invest money into (currently) youth innovation and leadership (which would eventually lead to stuff like the Nanolight, a startup out of Toronto who raised $200k via Kickstarter), and to which I was accepted which is great as not only does it let me donate my usual 2.5% of charitable time and money per year, it also plugs me into Canada's tech startup community, so I'll have a line on what's going on just outside RIM (most tech startups in this innovation cluster are started by disaffected former RIM employees). Indeed, many of the fund's board members also sit on the local TTEDx Waterloo organising board, so things are looking good on that.

And I think that is about that to report. Not a lot really. The weeks pass, and everything seems on track so far. Our only real constraint now is the lack of a car, as the public transport here is effectively limited to the area surrounding the university which is fine for work and groceries, but useless if say you want to buy a bookcase because all those stores are accessible by car only. And we've also worked through all the nearby restaurants now, so as much as dining is indeed very good if somewhat pricey here, it gets much better with a car. Even simple things like going to cinema are a pain without a car: buses stop early here, so going to a cinema needs to be done in the afternoon which is tricky when you catch up on sleep at weekends, and you have certain things which need doing like chores before you can relax. Anyway, we'll get that solved soon in the next few months. Maybe I'll even post here before then? Anything could happen ... till next time, be happy!

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