January: a whole month in K-W

Posted by Patrick Lam on Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Table Of Contents

It’s now been a month that I’ve been back in my own townhouse and no longer homeless, and two months since I’ve returned to Canada. It’s also been a month of Omicron, so I haven’t done many things that one would normally do in a city of any size. Mostly I’ve been working and not going anywhere. This must be some sort of record for me of staying in K-W. Of course I’m now finalizing the text on February 6 while in the Montreal airport waiting for my connection back to Pearson (which I hadn’t been to since 2019!)

We’ve had what feels like a cold January with a pretty big storm. Big enough that the University actually had a snow day while being remote. I told my students to take a snow day. I’ve been biking around on my winter bike. I took some time to desalt it twice. That took time. Not sure it’s normally worth it when one can get bikes. But I think it’s still hard to get replacement bikes right now, so maybe it’s worth it to keep this bike running a bit longer.

Snow day; someone had water problems.

Situation

Hey! All you “Omicron is mild” people: ok, the vast majority of people aren’t hospitalized, and sure, that’s true to a much greater extent than during the Delta wave. But there are more kids in hospitals. Also more deaths: even if the infection fatality rate is, say, 5× lower, we should expect more deaths if 10× more people get Omicron. It looks to me like this wave is going to be up there in terms of total lethality. Less than in the United States, but more than we needed.

Nevertheless, I do think the huge wave is on its way out for the moment. Medium term (3 months out) is impossible to predict, but 1 month out looks like it’ll be more reasonable. Test positivity is decreasing to about 14% (still way too high, and PCR tests are still impossible to get for most people); hospitalization numbers are slowing dropping; and wastewater results are drastically dropping.

Omicron is in New Zealand (just a couple of days after NZ almost entirely eliminated Delta; vaccines and mandates worked for that!) It’s showing up everywhere, but only 140 cases a day for now, mostly in Auckland. So contact tracing is still containing the situation. They have a plan for when Omicron explodes, aiming to slow the spread. The NPIs are probably not enough to prevent it from exploding; Ontario had stricter NPIs for January and it still spread a lot. I think Quebec had the strictest NPIs but the enforcement is, I’m told, somewhat lacking.

NZ 3 doses 2 doses 1 dose
12+ total pop 32% 93% 95%
12+ Māori 19% 85% 90%
5-11 37%
Ontario
12+ total pop 49% 89% 92%
5-11 19% 54%

New Zealand is announcing the revised border strategy tomorrow. I guess they acknowledge that managed isolation capacity is best spent protecting those in the community once there is lots of Omicron in the community. Also, in a month, we can apply for residency. Been getting the paperwork together for that. It is much easier than the normal process. (PS: The border is open to me as a still-valid visa holder on April 12 at 23:59. I got a ticket for April 13 to April 30, at which point I return to teach in Spring term).

Still, better than Ontario with booster distribution when Omicron came. The comparable number was 8% of total population in Ontario and 27% in New Zealand. (The UK did deliver boosters very fast, but they also don’t have NPIs; I think that’s not the best strategy). NZ also just shortened booster eligibility to 3 months. I would have been eligible this Friday. Instead, I got it a week ago yesterday.

The N95s I have in active rotation are probably too old now. I should start a new set. I’ll do that on Friday when I’m travelling to Quebec (originally Saguenay for a now-cancelled judo tournament). I think I can keep things safe by being outside as often as possible, e.g. basically not being inside and always masked when inside. I bought a box of 20 N95s and gave 5 to each of my grad students. N95s are better than vaccines in some sense, but they don’t protect you while you’re eating. Of course, the longer one is inside, the more risk there is, even vaccinated and masked; it is proportional to community prevalence. Travel does involve a long time inside.

I think Omicron has infected about 33% of Ontarians at this point. “Everyone” doesn’t actually mean everyone.

Nothing else has really shifted in terms of the mid-term outlook this month. If one has a kid under 5, today’s news about the US emergency use authorization was hopeful. In general, we’ll continue to wait and see. I’m still not going to any restaurants, even if they opened yesterday, and I’m going to give the COVID numbers another week or two to drop before going to the climbing gym. I’ll also be going to the gym when I expect it to be empty.

University

The University of Waterloo is almost being reasonable. They have announced a February 7 in-person start date. Other universities are starting sooner. This still feels a bit early to me. My large class is scheduled to be in person on February 28. The 5-person graduate class (which has actually been going pretty well on Zoom; this size group is doable with this technology) is in principle in person on February 7, but I will accommodate all students who don’t come to class. I asked the students and they weren’t keen. The University’s survey of faculty and staff also showed that most employees aren’t keen. Undergraduate student opinion may differ.

Moving back into the townhouse

I still don’t know where all of my things are. I have a small list of things that are in unknown locations, including binoculars that I thought I’d brought back from NZ. Though to be honest maybe I could use new binoculars. Maybe some of the things are still in Montreal. I thought I had more socks and jeans. Strange.

My tenants moved out on December 1 and left the place in good condition—very clean. There were still some things that were weird (missing light fixture, sofabed mattress used as a mattress topper) and I had to put in quite a bit of effort to rearrange furniture and the kitchen (nice kitchen, was my 2019 summer project) to my liking. Got a chandelier, returned it a week later (too big). Got drywall anchors for the towel bar in the powder room. Second anchor was the charm. Water softener pre-filter change. Pretty liveable now, and I’ve had a good office for 3 weeks. Useful for working at home. I also have my office at the University, but I was barely there at all in January. I also did a last clean of Jon’s place before leaving it to his new tenant.

We got rid of some small quantity of stuff (a few trips to Thrift on Kent and one to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore). I mailed 6kg of clothes to NZ; if you spend $190 then it arrives in just over a week (unlike Canada Post, which takes almost half a year). We still have more stuff than we need. Oh well. Should perhaps go through some of the books I have downstairs. Which are not really sorted. At least there are no books in the basement anymore. There are magazines on the floor upstairs. There are also a few more leftover things from tenants that I should get rid of: possibly-broken strollers? Water bottles? Cardboard box? I got rid of a lot of things at Jon’s place. Fortunately our place had far fewer leftovers (even if it has more places to put them).

Lots of my outdoors gear is on the floor in the basement and waiting for me to have some time to sort through it. That’ll be a task. Though maybe not too long of a task, after quickly evaluating the gear collection while getting skiing gear.

Work setup

I’ll specifically mention what I did with my computer infrastructure. Something weird happened with a router in 2020, so I ordered a new router. I’m not sure what was actually wrong. I gave away the allegedly-broken router at Thrift on Kent. It didn’t seem broken.

A while after I moved the furniture, I got the network setup working and desktop working upstairs. I drew a diagram at some point; I should update the docmentation once again and make sure it conforms to reality. Anyway, the infrastructure is: I have a router and cable modem downstairs. Upstairs I now have a client bridge network which connects to the WiFi and wires together my desktop and network-attached storage (3TB). I’d been sending pictures for archival to the NAS even from NZ. Once I fixed the network, backups from the NAS to the desktop worked again.

Good work setup.

The desktop is sort of quiet but perhaps a bit louder than I’d really like. I can hear it when I start a computation. The NAS and desktop are attached to a UPS, for which I ordered a new battery.

I had a bad IT day early in the term when I needed to record a lecture and nothing was working. I recorded a voiceover on slides, which I think is suboptimal. I eventually redid the Debian install on my old laptop and I can do video from that, as well as from my desktop. I wouldn’t be using my old laptop right now, except that I spilled tea with honey on my good laptop and it needs a new PgDn key, i.e. a new keyboard, which is being shipped from China. Maybe a month from now I’ll have two fully-functional laptops. (Apparently the keyboard has now arrived, in just two weeks).

I had thought that I wouldn’t need my HDMI capture card. False! Oh well. At least I had picked up a webcam from Jon’s place. It is not the best but it works along with the Blue Yeti that I brought from NZ. I also managed to get OBS Studio working to record presentations for class. It’s pretty easy really. I use the cellphone when I’m just speaking, and then OBS Studio for speaking with slides. Though maybe it would be better to be speaking while standing. Which the standing desk totally supports! Strangely, it’s kind of as if the sound quality is better from the cellphone than from the Yeti? You tell me…

January posts

Just one post aside from the December summary.

  • NZ restaurants: nostalgia trip going through the good restaurants that we went to in NZ. I got some recommendations based on omissions from that list. Will have to try them in April!

Day job is causing way too much work for me to post as much as I’d like. I’d opened my travel philosophy post but didn’t get anywhere with it.

Pictures

Also really haven’t had any time to do pictures. Finished the set:

In January I posted day 3; other days were previously posted. Hump Ridge really was scenic. I started another day from the Cook Islands. I’ll get through some more this month, I guess. I also uploaded Red Rocks (Wellington), though I had processed it earlier:

Hump Ridge: like flowerpots; Chiaroscuro on Red Rocks track and in flight from ZQN to WLG; pink ragword (unfortunately invasive) on Red Rocks.

To do, all from 2021:

  • [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] Waikanae, eclipse
  • [November] Timaru Circuit: Mount Cook / Oamaru
  • [November] Leaving NZ

I did take some pictures in January of my walks around KW. Maybe some of them are good.

Professional

You get rejections and you pick yourself up and try again. We resubmitted the ICST submittion to ISSTA. The ICST reviews weren’t actually bad. The committee is good this time. Hope it works. The conference is scheduled to be in Korea in July. That would be really good!

I think the next conferences I’ll try for will be ECOOP (March 1) and OOPSLA (April 15). ECOOP is pretty soon! We’ll turn around the SANER rejection and improve it for ECOOP.

With the ISSTA submission there was a lot of (ex-)student interaction: on 15 days this month, plus one day working on grad student recruiting. I did punt student meetings on one day to work on the P4P assignment. We had a somewhat epic walk with students on the ecological reserve near campus after the snow day.

I went to my first ECE department meeting in two years. I try not to say too much, but I said something about return to classes.

Teaching

ECE 459, Programming for Performance, was really busy with preparing a new assignment. The students actually liked last year’s Sudoku solver assignment, but we thought it didn’t quite do a good enough job forcing the students to do Rust, so I made up a newer (harder) assignment (video) from scratch. That involved about a week of work and some late nights. There were lots of clarification questions on Piazza, which I’ve now incorporated into the assignment as well.

The graduate seminar ended up with 5 students. Zoom > Teams (which I was using last year), and I have a better AV setup this year. Well, there was that one really bad IT day. But now I have a good AV setup. Not only is Zoom better, but I don’t have to use breakout rooms, and can lead the discussion myself, so I feel like I have more of a sense of what’s going on. I do also have more work to do, though, because we have 20 presentations and 5 students, so I have to do about 5 presentations myself. On the other hand, in those weeks, there’s one less presentation I have to watch and grade.

Collegiality

I had 2 PLDI reviews pending all of January and got them done at the last minute (in February). There was some paper discussion as well. Wrote two letters of reference for Lecturer positions. I turned down a TOSEM review; too busy. I have an IQAP visit coming up, but I didn’t really do anything about that in January. And, some FAUW committee work.

I delivered some NZ chocolate from Craig to Waterloo colleagues: snowy bike ride to Laurelwood. Good reason to get out of the house.

As Class Prof for SE2026 I ran their class rep elections and showed up at “What I wish I knew in 1B”, though SESoc planned and ran it, really. As usual, that was well done.

Travels

  • 🚶 Walking: 79km
  • 🚲 Biking: 141km
  • 🚗 Driving: 103km
  • ⛷ Skiing: 23km

Keeping it simple while Omicron is raging. I thought that walking was way down but it wasn’t too bad. There was, however, only one month in 2021 with less walking than this. So still not a huge amount. Zero named walks again. Didn’t go anywhere at all.

January was cold and snowy, with a real snow day. I told the students to take a snow day even if things were virtual.

Winter walks (around Schneider's Bush, and then the Environmental Reserve, with students).

Travel planning

Helped MP plan Greenstone/Caples trip. Also planned a trip to Montreal to see family during Reading Week. I’ll need to replan my March trips, for which I have flights to Edmonton and Vancouver, but no activities (after the tournaments were postponed).

Other sports

Haven’t been to the climbing gym since January 1 (good session! sent a V4 and a V5!). Will give omicron another week to settle down and then return, again with N95. Sports have been pretty minimal. Just some skiing and some walking. Ugh. Despite not eating at restaurants or even barely any restaurant food, the inactivity got my weight up to my usual travel weight. Turns out I actually need to do exercise to keep my weight down.

So, yes, I did drag out the cross-country skis. I don’t think I’ve ever used them in Waterloo. But there has actually been snow. Took them out on the city trails and then at Schneider’s Bush. I think the season is short, but sometimes there is snow. Tried to go for a walk at Schneider’s Bush on January 8 before there was snow, but the sign said not to, so didn’t.

Urban cross-country skiing with stuck bus; ducks hoping for something; Schneider's Bush (2×, cloudy and sunny day).

Life maintenance

Probably about due for another haircut. Went to the dentist after two years. Not too much plaque, I’m told. Got clothes hemmed and mended. Sorted old paperwork and got some of it out of boxes and into the drawers (also into the shredder and recycling as appropriate). Got our birth certificates translated for our NZ residency application: they’re in French, not English.

In the Ontario edition of Hunger Games, I picked up my box of 5 rapid antigen tests from the Kitchener Market. They had showed up at Wilfrid Laurier earlier but I was too lazy to go. Distribution was actually was pretty quick, but you had to go on a Friday at 10am. People work on Fridays.

Fast-moving line for RATs at Kitchener Market.

I talked about moving-related maintenance above.

Food

I really am treating it like late-stage NZ Level 3 and still not eating in any restuarants for a while. I had to-go banh mi a few times, etc.

  • BBQ chicken from Sobey’s (lasted quite a long time); getting extra potato wedges from the other pizza place was probably not worth spending time inside the store.
  • Hungry Ninja: Poké bowl
  • Fratello Pizza: deadline pizza slice

I also made pressure cooker pho, which worked out pretty well. Needs MSG.

BBQ chicken from Sobey's (quite good); Hungry Ninja poké bowl; cooking beef and cabbage; sushi from T&T.

Purchases

Noteworthy negative acquisitions:

  • wobbly chairs
  • desk and chair (the plastic veneer was delaminating but I re-glued it)
  • Fido plan (got it for a month to get extra data, burned through 13GB fast without home Internet)
  • unneeded clothing and kitchenware

It was harder to get rid of the chairs for free than to sell the desk and chair. There was also the clothing that I mailed to NZ and the clothing I put aside to bring to NZ as soon as I can.

What I got:

Upstairs plant collection.

Conclusion

Pretty low fun value from this month. Did lots of work. Hope some of it pays off. Next month will be better, judging by the slope of the curve so far, though I do not want to get ahead of the curve (being at the top means there are as many infections coming on the way down).