December: back in Canada and not loving it

Posted by Patrick Lam on Monday, January 3, 2022

Table Of Contents

I did write a lot on the blog in December, and also processed a lot of pictures. Better get to work on the day job for Winter term now. Courses to teach, papers and grant proposals to write.

Situation (ugh)

Not a happy camper at all. I do not want to be in Canada right now. I’m really pissed off at people who say “Omicron is mild”: Ontario’s hospitalizations continue to increase, as they always do after case numbers increase. I mean, maybe they are increasing less than they would have for a Delta wave of the same size, but the Ontario Science Table says that the hospital occupancy is 1327, up 808 from last week. The peak in April 2021 was about 2300 per Ontario’s reporting, and the doubling time is 7 days, so we’ll see what happens next week. Ontario’s also reporting that it’s essentially all Omicron here now.

In the best case, the numbers start to drop right about now (they would if we followed the South African path, but not if we followed the UK path). But we won’t quite know yet, because the test positivity of 28% indicates that the test capacity is maxxed out.

Meanwhile, courses at Waterloo are remote until January 27th at least. That decision gave the university some more time to evaluate the situation. For my fourth-year course, online is mostly fine, but for my graduate course, it’s very suboptimal (but better than transmitting COVID!). At least Waterloo wasn’t doing huge in-person exams like reports from some other Canadian universities.

New Zealand, on the other hand, is doing fantastic as long as it keeps Omicron out. (Look at Australia to see what happens if it doesn’t). With low dozens of cases a day (31 today), I think Delta elimination is possible. There are a lot of cases showing up at the border though. That increases the risk. The 48-hour test requirement (down from 72 hours) should decrease the risk. But it is, once again, a race between boosters + kids and the virus. New Zealand has been lucky, and smart, in outracing the virus so far.

Vaccinations and treatment

Trying to optimize immunity with the 8-week gap between dose 1 and dose 2 somewhat backfired, in that it means that I have to wait until January 24 to get the booster. I have an appointment for 11:00 on January 24. I know how to work systems. Unfortunately, while the booster will be quite good at keeping me out of the hospital, long COVID still could be a thing. Better avoid the virus.

Ontario has an 84-day interval for the booster, while New Zealand has a 4-month rule as of tomorrow, and is starting 5-11s on January 17.

In general, the longer one can hold out with not having COVID, the better. I don’t believe that everyone will get it; estimates for Omicron range from 50% to 80% of the population, so there’s still a substantial minority. And we might be 2 months out from an Omicron-specific vaccine and maybe 6 months from a nasal spray, which could work better. Possibly even a pan-coronavirus vaccine, though realistically I wouldn’t expect that until next year. Also, the Pfizer Paxlovid drug sounds like it is helpful, just in case prevention doesn’t work.

December posts

Sure, I can repeat the posts I listed in the November update that were written in December. I’ve also been busy, though.

  • Leaving NZ part 1: From Wellington to getting on the plane in Auckland.
  • Leaving NZ part 2: Flying to LA and then on to Montreal, plus the drive to Kitchener.
  • Egg sizes: I was looking at the prominent “7” on a 6-pack of eggs in NZ and dived deeper.
  • Urban Design I: Kitchener: When there’s not a pandemic on, living in Kitchener is good in some ways, even if it’s still a pretty small city. What I’ve said is that when you want something, there’s one choice. But that choice can be pretty good.
  • Urban Design II: Montreal: Not sure I actually like living in Montreal, and the fact that I have pre-existing ties means that I can’t actually do everything 15 minutes from where I might live. There’s definitely more commuting, and I drove more in Montreal than in Kitchener and Wellington.
  • Urban Design III: Wellington: Feels way bigger than its population would suggest. Tons of natural beauty and easy to access the rest of NZ (other parts of the world not so much). Viable to live without a car. In some ways, 10 years behind KW. (The ways: transit and cycle infrastructure).
Kitchener: LRT at Charles & Borden, and public art; Christmas decor.

Pictures

I finally finished 2020, and got started on some 2021 pictures.

Incomplete trips (more days coming):

Hump Ridge: tarn near Okaka; rata in bloom. Tasman Lake: icebergs from glacier. Te Waewae Bay. Sebastopol Bluffs. Lupins at Lake Tekapo.

Longer treks around Wellington:

MP with cow on Mount Kaukau; Titahi Bay at golden hour; clouds rolling in over Wellington Harbour

Routine life in Wellington:

To do, all from 2021:

  • [January] Hump Ridge Track day 3
  • [February] Jumbo Circuit
  • [February] Tongariro Northern Circuit
  • [April] Avalanche Peak, Mount Somers Track
  • [June] Rotorua (airport walk)
  • [July] Hobbiton
  • [July] Aotea
  • [August] Cook Islands
  • [September] Sea to Sky II
  • [September] Paparoa Track & the Glaciers
  • [September/October] Abel Tasman Coast Track
  • [October] Mt. Cook and Mt. Somers
  • [October] Red Rocks
  • [November] Lunar eclipse
  • [November] Mount Cook / Oamaru
  • [November] Leaving NZ

Now that I’m not appreciably adding to the list, maybe I will be able to continue to clear the backlog.

Professional

This job has a lot of rejection, and December was full of it: two paper rejections (SANER and ICST) and a grant rejection. The papers will go somewhere else; I didn’t really know those venues anyway. I’m thinking ECOOP and ISSTA will be good, and in relatively short order, since I think we have a good core for both of these papers. We’ve been starting work on those. I’ve also re-opened the SE retrospective, though I’m not sure how much time I’ll have with teaching having started.

I talked to my graduate students on 6 days (about once a week) and a prospective student who I failed to recruit. I also met two of my students in person for the first time for walks outdoors, which was great. What a weird time.

I also met with a number of SE undergrads and alumni for walks outside. Look, I don’t want to be in Canada, but at least it’s nice to be able to walk with people. (With the amount of omicron going around I’ve taken to wearing, now, surgical masks for outside walks and N95s for everything indoors).

Part of the thing about being back in Waterloo is that I have my own proper office. Before leaving for New Zealand, I’d offered its use for stuff from the SE office, which was physically moving. So when I got back it was unusable. Took most of a day to fix that. But now I sort of have an office again, and I also sort of have a home again.

Davis Centre; my office, before and after.

Teaching

Wrapped up ECE198. Didn’t start much on ECE459 or ECE750, which is just as well, seeing how the first few weeks are now remote. Start of January involved some scrambling, but you can read about it in next month’s update (which will be really boring).

Collegiality

I reviewed all of my 8 first-round PLDI submissions this month. On average I can get through about a paper a day (it’s not my only task for the day, but it does consume a significant fraction of the useful working hours). I also reviewed an NSERC proposal and turned down a reviewing task for one that I didn’t have expertise in.

Other reviewing: two masters’ theses.

I also did FAUW committee work.

Travels

  • đŸš¶ Walking distance: 131km
  • đŸšČ Biking distance: 60km
  • 🚗 Driving distance: 1315km (QuĂ©bec City, Montreal-Kitchener)
  • 🚗 Taxi distance: 5.4km (from QuĂ©bec climbing gym, DĂ©lire)
  • 🚌 Bus distance: 5.7km
  • 🚆 LRT distance: 44km
  • 🚇 MĂ©tro distance: 54.3km
  • 🚆 Train distance: 234km (QuĂ©bec City to MontrĂ©al)
  • đŸ›© Plane distance: 0

This month, pretty close to average monthly walking distance for 2021, despite being in different places. Lots of driving, mostly on the highway. For the first time in this series, LRT and métro.

It’s been pretty much winter in Canada. Surely warmer on average than when I was growing up, but there have definitely been cold days, like -15C lows, especially in QuĂ©bec City. Winter in Canada isn’t uniformly cold, and the snow melted in Kitchener for Christmas, but it’s not New Zealand weather. Which is OK I guess. It’s warm inside.

So, the only real trip was 3 days to visit a friend who’s faculty at UniversitĂ© Laval in QuĂ©bec. I got a ride with him to QuĂ©bec and then took the train back to MontrĂ©al. We visited the German Christmas market in Vieux-QuĂ©bec. Funny enough, my in-laws also went there separately the week after I was there.

Apart from that, I went to Repentigny near MontrĂ©al on a Saturday and Sunday, and Mississauga and Boucherville to see aunts and uncles. They were pretty keen to see me. But now there’s omicron and all I’m doing is outside walks. Which are OK, but meals are better.

I drove the 401 on my annual trip to bring my car back to Ontario. Sure hate it.

In December I managed to grab my folding bike from my place. It’s definitely slow. It’s not slow enough to not need brakes, though. I remember that I’d tried to fix it before leaving, but hadn’t succeeded. Ziggy’s fixed it same-day for $80.

Swallows seen when looking for penguins; Elephant Rocks; icebergs at Lake Mueller; Church of the Good Shepherd; lupins at Lake Tekapo; me climbing at Elephant Rocks; view from Sebastopol Bluffs

Walks

Zero named walks. Just walking through Montreal and Kitchener/Waterloo on sidewalks. Decent enough distance though.

Other sports

I managed to go bouldering at Grand River Rocks 8 times; it was quite close to the Kaufman Loft where I was staying, and I tried to pick times that weren’t too busy to decrease COVID risk. Of course, there is more than 0 risk, but the mitigations included universal masking (I used an N95), good air filtration (useful for chalk in the Before Times), large spaces, and vaccination of those eligible. Times when there were more under-12s would probably be more risky. Just before they closed I had a particularly good session where I sent a V4 and a V5. I’m still more used to the style at GRR than in NZ. I toproped once and found that I was lacking endurance, but there were no moves that I couldn’t do.

I also went to Délire in Québec once. I think that a V4 there is about a V3 at GRR.

I went to three judo practices: two in Anjou and one in Sainte-Marie. It’s been extraordinarily tough for judo in Canada with COVID and clubs seem small these days. I refereed at a provincial tournament in RĂ©pentigny which was way bigger than NZ tournaments (4 mats, 2 days); Judo QuĂ©bec is bigger than Judo NZ (2 mats, 2 days typical).

And then omicron happened. I was planning to go to the QuĂ©bec provincial training camp in mid-December but I bailed and then they cancelled it. (It’s too bad; I usually really enjoy it.) I took a few hours trying to figure out how much omicron was in QuĂ©bec and then concluded it was probably everywhere based on the shape of the curve, despite the fact that the provincial leadership said “yes, it’s coming, but it’s not here yet”, while the curve was steeper than Ontario’s, and Ontario said they had plenty of omicron.

I was also hoping to referee and compete in the Manitoba Open in late January, but that’s also not on.

At this point, I’ve bought flights for a tournament in the Saguenay in early February, and a month later in Edmonton and Vancouver. We’ll see what happens. Looking doubtful right now.

Club Judo Torii (Anjou); Répentigny tournament; Délire in Québec; Club Judo Kai in Ste-Marie.

Life maintenance

There was a lot of life maintenance to do on getting back to Canada. Maybe it’s good to document it. Moving items (and a car) back from my parents’ place to Waterloo (almost forgot a bunch of items in Montreal); changing insurance; reinstating health insurance; unpacking my stuff; fixing things that broke in the house after two years away. There are a bunch of new things wrong with the car as well: the windshield has a crack, the radio doesn’t work all the time, and the starter needed to be replaced. Cars are annoying.

I also mostly delivered Christmas presents to people. Mailing them from New Zealand? Who knows when they’d get there. Still have a couple to deliver.

I got a haircut in advance of any possible Omicron closures, so I should be good through mid-February now.

Somehow the previous tenant at the Kaufman loft left a lot of crap there as well, so crap management has actually been a big part of December. I also tried to fix the fridge there, but it’s just too noisy for me. Hope the new one being ordered is quieter!

Eh? (1) crap left behind; (2) my crap to bring home.

Food

Delicious banh mi; shakshuka from market vendor; Brussels sprouts; Hasty Market; got eggs? make quiche!

OK I do enjoy Canadian food more than NZ food. I haven’t enjoyed it inside a restaurant for some weeks now though. Some highlights:

  • Banh mi Givral Deli: first-class banh mi in Kitchener. I did say they should raise their prices and they did, but $5.10 tax included for a banh mi is still cheap.
  • Nova era: love the pastel de nata (especially the crust).
  • Kitchener Market: I didn’t go this week because I have too many vegetables in the fridge already, but normally, yes. I saw that the market now requires vendors to say whether they’re resellers or producers.
  • Hasty Market on Ontario St: Middle Eastern stuff on rice, yum.
  • BBQ chicken from Sobey’s: way better than supermarket chicken in NZ, though not as good when reheated. Didn’t get very good potato wedges.
  • Poutine: alas, the one poutine I had was somewhat subpar; didn’t get a chance to go to Bellepro’s, which is my favourite poutine.
  • Bagels: I stayed in Montreal right near St-Viateur Bagel.
  • Ta pies: huh, NZ pies in Montreal. The guy working there thought the pandemic would be over when we thought it was over. I think Omicron has something to say about that.
St-Viateur bagel; pie in Montreal; instant pot stew; cheese curds.

I’ve cooked in the Instant Pot twice now since returning, once for my parents. It does result in having food for quite a while if one is cooking for one. I also tried to cook one other time but didn’t have the actual pot, oops.

Travel planning

As I wrote above: I cancelled my flight to Winnipeg, booked tickets to Quebec City (really Saguenay) in early February and Vancouver/Edmonton in early-to-mid March. I had planned the Winnipeg trip in detail, but I won’t do that for the other trips just yet.

Purchases

Since I didn’t really have a reliable address, I didn’t buy much in December, and certainly nothing on the Internet. I did go to MEC Kitchener (by transit/bike), whose buyout by a hedge fund doesn’t seem to have bad effects at the moment; the goal was to get a bike light and bike bell, but I also got more pants. I can always use more pants, since I also destroy pants.

I ordered an air purifier from Amazon; not so useful while home alone, but potentially useful for office and at friends’ house. I also ordered more earbuds, USB cables/chargers (I have a lot of them, but not the super-powerful new ones), and another electric toothbrush.

Funny, my spending has gone way down.

Chicken-sitting, and Christmas crossword.

Conclusion

Got through December. Hope Omicron wanes soon.