The Best Time to Move

Morgan and I have always had it comparatively easy, and this move is no exception. It turns out that Irish summers are lovely – it’s been rainy and cool and cloudy and sunny without going much above a comfortable “room” temperature. All this temperate goodness while the folks at home have been cooking in those bouts of +30-35C we’ve been getting in sunny Alberta these last few years.

The winters here are supposed to be windy and rainy and generally grey and miserable so I’ve heard, which means that the middle of summer is probably the best time to begin/end a year lease (the norm here nowadays) so you can move your stuff in comfort if you so choose. It’s certainly the best time to move stuff in Canada anyway.

Once we took up tenancy in our rented suite, we had to figure out how to turn the thermostat high enough to heat up our boiler and get hot water (we actually thought there had been an oversight at the gas company for a little while before our neighbours told us the secret), and we were without the convenience of readily heated water for a day or two. Nothing that can’t be satisfactorily overcome with an electric kettle of course, but say it were the power instead of the gas, or both. (And don’t even talk to me about the crash course.) I am much better equipped to deal with that sort of thing in the summer, when natural heat and light abound (though here in Ireland they only abound so much) and I’m in a happier state because of it.

Not only in the smaller details has the timing been right but on a bigger scale as well. Both Morgan and I were able to get up and move very easily: we have no children, our parents are in good health, our siblings are doing well. In fact, Morgan’s sister was able to move into Morgan’s apartment and their parents were willing to store stuff for us, making moving even easier. Morgan had finished his contract with the U of A and managed to stay until the Second Man v. Machine match, which was certainly a defining moment in the history of the U of A CPRG (Computer Poker Research Group), and a high note on which to leave… at least officially. For my part I feel I could have contributed long term at the U of A (my team was the Canola Research Group), but I think it was good to leave while I was more replaceable. `Cause really, who can argue with seeing the world while one has the life and health to do it!

The last reason (okay, next-to-last) this transition has been so smooth is that scores of folks have done this before us. Many through the ages have traveled and settled in leaner circumstances than this, and of course there are the friendly, accessible ones who very recently made the exact same trip. There is one couple in our building, newlywed like us, another couple down the road, who’ve been so encouraging, and, in particular, Darse and Alexandra have been there for us every step of the way. We probably wouldn’t be here now if not for them.

And the last reason (I promise) is that we’ve got each other. We may disagree and do a little squabbling and squawking, but in the end it’s nice to have a partner with whom to share and recall the experiences. It’s nice to have Morgan to point things out to and share the stories of the day with and have him show me stuff and help me… and cuddle me when the day is done.


Playing Catchup

Sorry for the lack of updates, folks. Diane and I have been pretty busy the last week as we get settled and acclimatized. It's late here, but I'm wired and still wide awake so I think I'll try and catch you up with what we've been up to this week. I forgot to mention in my last post that not only did we go to the Powerscourt gardens with Darse and Xan, we also climbed up Killiney hill. I hope to get photos of both the gardens and the hill soon, but that probably won't be for a day or two at least. Thankfully, that's all I've got for a backlog of photos now so I'm almost caught up!

So what's happened since then? Well we got a bank account open, and it looks like it was in time to get paid into, which is nice. We're awfully grateful for Darse and Xan's help and advice. It's helped smooth our transition into the country waaay more than we expected. It's almost been too easy on us.

We're now mostly settled in our new place, although there's been some hiccups. We had to go without hot water for a few days until we figured out the system. Apparently if the thermostat is turned off, the boiler doesn't turn on. It took us a week to figure that out. I don't know why it's done that way, but my conclusion is that the Irish don't like hot showers in the summer (when the heat isn't on in the house). Weird.

The other couple of things we're waiting for is our laundry machine doesn't appear to work, and we could really use some curtains. Our place has some pretty nice big windows, but they aren't exactly good for privacy when we want it. Other than that, we've got internet, and pretty soon we'll have a bank account with my first month's pay in it which we'll use as a time to start picking up things that our place is missing.

The week pretty much flew by. At work, I've been tossed in to start working on some features already. The codebase is huge and a little confusing, but I can tell that this job will be pretty rewarding. I feel like I'm learning at a pretty good pace, and hopefully they're satisfied with how I'm doing so far.

On Wednesday evening, there was a party at a bar one station away from our place. I left work late and met Diane there, and we hung out with a bunch of pocket kings employees, had dinner and a few drinks. It was a pretty fun night. It was trivia night, but the guy asking the questions was from the company. So that was a bit neat. As usual, I was pretty useless for any trivia knowledge, but it was fun to be a part of it.

Thursday night there was an office poker game and geeky-games night. I played in the poker tournament, but got knocked out before the money. I felt I played alright, although I think I made a few errors in a couple places. Diane came by too and played a couple of board games with Darse and some of the other pocket kings guys.

So I think that about catches you up with the activities from my point of view. At some point soon, hopefully Diane gets a chance to share her little adventures.

Before I finish off here, I just wanted to jot down some general notes about our experiences here so far:

  • The weather here has been pretty good in general, although there's been a lot of rain. In fact, record amounts of rain. There was a day where we ventured out of our place and on our way to the mall we got absolutely dumped on. The streets were flooding and people were drenched through.
  • The Irish are much more dependent on street markings that Canadians. It's something I never really thought of, but because of the large amount of snow in Edmonton, the street markings can't be the sole markings for major roads. But here, where snow is rare and doesn't stick around, they can afford to put the markings right on the road.
  • Also, the roads here all seem in amazingly good repair. What I realized is that Dublin must not suffer from the same pothole problem that Edmonton has to deal with. Since the temperature here is so temperate, and there are days that the temperature drops below freezing, the freeze-thaw cycle that causes pot holes isn't an issue.
  • The LUAS is an amazing transportation system. It is fast, reliable, and they've built a tremendous amount in a short time. It opened in 2004, and in just 5 years, it'll have networked an amazing number of stations. By this time next year or so, they'll have added another 10 or so stations -- which should take me straight to work.
  • Speaking of work, I love my job. The work is good, and they treat us very well. The daily lunches are fantastic. Gourmet quality food, and tons of choice and variety every day. Lunches cost all of €0.10, and breakfasts are free. For breakfast, the kitchen bakes fresh croissants that are absolutely amazing.
  • My spot in the office is a "cubicle" in the server team area, and I have a very nice view of a small duck pond, and some distant mountain. On the downside, there's a children's daycare right underneath my window, so for most of the day I can hear the screams of some very powerful little voices. It is a bit annoying, although I'm told that you stop noticing them after awhile.
  • When it rains here, not only do worms wriggle out onto the sidewalks like in Edmonton, but they are joined by snails and slugs -- both of which are quite sizable in some cases. It's a bit weird!
  • Everything here is done to a smaller degree it seems. When Diane and I went to the supermarket, it was a bit weird not being able to bulk-buy kleenex, and shampoo, and those sorts of things in the quantity we're used to. It's rather interesting to me. Another example is the pop cans here are 330ml instead of 355ml like in north america. Not too sure why the differenece.

That's enough for now. There'll be lots more to come as we experience new things. We're not too sure what's on for this weekend, but I'm sure we'll be up to a little bit of fun stuff.

Oh a note about pictures. The gallery link at the top of the page and on the right side of the blog are a link to a cached copy of my flickr photos. If you don't see new photos that I mention, it's because I forgot to go click the refresh cache button. You will be able to see photos I mention on my flickr photostream (also linked on the right). There's probably a better solution that that, but I haven't figured it out yet.


Dublin Interview


Diane and I left Edmonton Tuesday night for a quick trip to Dublin, Ireland where I visited Pocket Kings for an interview. If successful, we'll most likely move over there later in the year. Here's how the trip went. Our flight left Edmonton at 7:45 on Tuesday night. Our friend JR was kind enough to take us to the airport, so we arrived with more than the pre-requisite two hours to get through airport security. Having not eaten anything yet, we sat down at the Montana's in the waiting area and had a lazy dinner while keeping an eye on the hockey playoffs. It took almost an hour for the food to be cooked, I'm not too sure why they were so behind, but we had two hours to kill before hopping on the plane, so we didn't mind.

The schedule involved a roughly 8-hour flight to Heathrow airport in London, followed by a 2-hour layover there and a 1-hour flight to Dublin, Ireland. Surprisingly, the flight over wasn't too bad. Diane and I got the middle three seats of the Boeing 767-300. So we raised the armrests and had a chance to have each of us sprawled across two seats to sleep for a little while. I think I got about two hours of sleep on the flight, which wasn't too bad considering I don't tend to sleep well on planes. Diane did a little better than I did I think. As part of the entertainment, we saw the movie Enchanted which was kinda fun. It's not a terribly indepth movie or anything (being Disney), but it was cute.


We landed in Heathrow in around 1:30pm local time, and followed the appropriate paths out to terminal one where we had to catch our next flight. Heathrow differs from other airports I've been at in that they don't announce what gate you will be leaving at until a certain set period of time before your flight departs. So you wait in the large common waiting area for the magic board of numbers to show you what gate you go to, and then you run off to that gate because your flight is probably boarding already.

The flight from London to Dublin was pretty boring. In fact, it was the hardest part of the trip out there for me. We were trying to stay awake so that we could hit the time change running, and that proved awfully difficult on the less than one-hour flight over. But we arrived safe and sound in Dublin, a little dazed from the long travel, but not in too bad shape. We got into the hotel and made a couple phone calls to Darse and Mike who we planned to meet up with to see a little of Dublin and stay awake long enough to make sure we were going to bed at night.


So about an hour after settling into our hotel, Darse and Alexandra arrived at the hotel to show us around the hotel vicinity a bit and then we hopped aboard the Luas green light rail train headed to downtown to meet up with Mike. We took it all the way to the end of the line to St Stephen's Green station which lets you out next to St Stephen's Green (a relatively large public park with well-maintained flower beds and grass), and Grafton Street (a busy all-pedestrian shopping and pub area in central Dublin). Darse took us to a place he and Xan really like called Bewley's. They were heartily recommending the salads there so I ordered a goat cheese spinach salad that was very tasty and very filling. It had large bacon bits on it (bacon in dublin is a bit meatier and less fatty than north american bacon. It resembles back-bacon a lot more). In fact everyone at the table had a salad and they seemed to be enjoyed by all. I also got the opportunity to try out a Guinness competitor called Murphy's. I rather enjoyed.


By the time dinner was over, it was getting late since we sat and chatted for quite awhile. Before heading back to the hotel though, we tried to pull out some euros from a bank machine. Unfortunately, both Diane and I had trouble pulling money out - Diane even made the machine go out of service! Oops.

So failing that we hopped back on the green Luas and headed back to the hotel more than ready for bed. I tried to get a good night's sleep, but probably didn't get any more than 5-6 hours. I was to have a big day the next day, after all and I just couldn't get my mind settled down enough to sleep. Even after I got to sleep I still woke up at something like 3 in the morning - probably due to the jet lag as well as my nervous excitement about the interviewing the next day. Diane fared a lot better than I did and managed to sleep most of the night.


The next morning we ventured down to the hotel lobby to feast on the included continental breakfast. It was a decent spread, although it wouldn't change at all while we were there. There was some very tasty croissants, a decent selection of breads to toast, a large fruit tray, a cheese platter, some cold cut selections, as well as cereal, yoghurt, juice and even some fruit smoothies.

After relaxing a bit at breakfast, we ventured from the hotel to the pocketkings office. Diane was meeting Xan there to spend some time exploring Dublin while I got grilled and roasted in interviews all day. I'll let Diane tell you about her time exploring.


Okay, so it wasn't really a grilling session. Actually it was quite pleasant. Darse gave me a fast paced tour of the office -- which is spread over two floors in a building the Cherrywood science and technology park. The building is actually right across the street from Dell's Dublin office.

After getting a quick tour and a guest pass to give me access to the many, many security doors scattered throughout the office, I was sat down in a room to meet up with members of various teams within the company. The first person I met with was Aaron Davidson -- a former member of the UofA CPRG (although we never worked on the project at the same time). Aaron gave me a pretty good overview of what the structure of the company was. For those interested, there is a *lot* of breadth across the computer field at the company. Everything from low-level server programming, to hardware, to QA, to internal tool building, to website design maintenance and content, to ... well there's a lot there.

After Aaron, I met with a guy named Diarmuid who is one of the server guys. He drew me a very nice diagram of how the server powering full tilt actually works. It was a little overwhelming, but it was also pretty neat. It's a big event-driven architecture which impressively handles over 10,000 simultaneous users. It's pretty neat, but it also sounds like it'll have some pretty intense growing pains over the next few years. Working there seems like quite a challenge!


I had very short meeting with another member of the server team named Deoni (no idea how to spell that, so I apologize to him). The reason wasn't anything to do with us, but rather that it was lunch time. So we went up to the kitchen where pocketkings has a set of full gourmet chefs cooking up a storm for lunches. Through some sort of legal loophole they charge 0.10 euros for each lunch (just to avoid counting the meals as benefits). The lunch consists of your choice of any or all of 3 main courses, a choice of salads and sides and dessert. And it changes every day. Sounds like if I end up there I'm gonna have to watch how much I eat!

After lunch I spent some time with Darse chatting about bot detection techniques, and then I had meetings with Chuck and Brendan who are both leaders of various teams. The meeting with Chuck felt a lot more like an interview since he was asking me some of the typical interview questions. He was quick to explain what he was trying to do though -- he was trying to figure out how I would fit into the company, along with several other things like whether hiring me would be a good investment for the company since each employee requires a fair amount of training. I'm not too sure how well that conversation went, but it ended abruptly since I had to go talk to Brendan. That was a nice conversation -- we talked about several things including what direction the company is going and what challenges they are going to face over the next little while.


I was a bit overwhelmed at this point having met so many people and having had some fairly intense discussions, but Darse had two more people for me to meet: Henry and Shawm who are members of the Biz-Int (business intellgence) team. This team is the one that makes decisions about what games to run, what the policy of the site should be, the marketing, game fairness, and all that sort of thing. So that conversation was pretty interesting since both Henry and Shawm play poker and we got a chance to talk about things like the man-machine poker match and stuff that is near and dear to my heart lately.

After that meeting, I relaxed for a bit before we headed out to dinner with several of the Biz-Int team to a high-falutin (yup, I used your term, Darse) restaurant called Divas. I felt a bit underdressed since I hadn't dressed up for the interviews (if I had it would've been a bad move since the company isn't like that). The staff at the restaurant asked to take our coats when we entered, the food was fancy, expensive and small-portioned, and they didn't even serve beer! Still, it was a pleasant evening with lots of wine and we had more than enough food which admittedly was pretty tasty.


After dinner a bunch of us went down the block to an Irish pub to meet up with some of the server guys who were out having dinner to say goodbye to one of their members. So we sat down and I enjoyed my first pint of real Irish Guinness. It was pretty tasty, although to be honest I didn't really know how to tell the difference from home. I guess I hadn't had enough guinness in Edmonton to compare to it.

After dinner Diane and I caught a cab back to the hotel and fell into bed. It had been long day for both of us, although Diane got considerably more exercise than I did sitting around the office. I did decently for sleep that night although I was up and awake around 7am still wired and excited about the next day. I was considerably calmer than the previous night though since the first day of meetings went so well.

So we got up and grabbed our continental breakfast again and then I cabbed it into the office by myself this time. Diane had plans to meet up with Xan again to explore more of Dublin (I'm so glad that Xan did this for Diane so she didn't have to be all lonely for two of the three full days there!).

The second day at the office was much less demanding than the first one. It seemed that most of the meetings with new people were over, so I sat down with Darse for a good chunk of the morning talking about bot-detection. I think I've even contributed something to his efforts ... but we'll see how that goes.

Before lunch I met up with another member of the team who I can't remember the name of (sorry!). I enjoyed our conversation immensely, but I think part of the reason was just that I wasn't repeatedly exposed to his name ... and people who know me know how bad I am at absorbing names. In fact, I'm quite happy with how I managed with names while I was there! Anyways, we talked a bit about some of the not-directly-server-related topics that he was working on. He's building tools that can abstract important subsets of the gigantic event stream coming in into various views on those events that can be used to do useful things. Stuff like viewing "hands" is difficult on the event stream without a tool to help you do that.


We had another tasty lunch, and then I sat down with Aaron for a little while to take a look at some of the actual code in the server. It's a pretty intimidating system -- but it's nice that it actually has a fairly intuitive underlying design. It's just that the implementation definitely has it's quirks that make it a bit of a headache to deal with. So was pretty cool.

After that I kind of just sat around for the rest of the afternoon catching up a bit on some reading and hanging out around the server guys who were all working. We had dinner out planned with the server team, so I had to wait until after 6 before we left for dinner. It felt a bit weird not having people to meet then, but no one else had scheduled meetings with me and I didn't really know what else to do.

So after waiting for awhile we left for dinner. After the goodbye evening the night before though, only 4 of us ended up at the restaurant. Still, it was a good time with the conversation touching all kinds of different topics from poker to various work things to holidays and even some office gossip!

Dinner went fairly late, but Diarmuid was kind enough to give me a lift back to the hotel where I met back up with Diane and heard about her day. And then we got some sleep so we could enjoy our explore Dublin day!

After sleeping in a decent amount (and missing the continental breakfast), we got in touch with Darse who was kind enough to organize the other people we knew and we left to meet up at St Stephen's Green and wander around Dublin for awhile. After having a quick brunch (at 2:00pm) at the Croissenterie, and finally solving the bank machine giving us euros problem, we walked by several touristy things: Trinity College, Christ Church, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, and another garden that I can't remember the name of that had a statue of Oscar Wilde. We also stopped in at a cafe in Mark's and Spencer (a department store), a couple of pubs (the Bull and Castle, and the Porterhouse), and eventually ended up going to dinner at Fives. (Lots of food and drink, if you hadn't noticed!).


Aaron wanted to go play some poker that night and I was curious to check out a european card room so Diane kindly let me go play for awhile. She hung out with Xan, and Aaron's wife Christine at Cafe En Seine, which is a nightclub close by the casino. Meanwhile Darse, Aaron and I bought casino memberships and headed inside to play some 1/2 pot limit hold'em. We played for a couple of hours, and both Aaron and I had really good sessions. Aaron made over 200 euro and I made over 240 euro! More details from that session on my own blog.

The ladies came and grabbed us and we shared a cab back to the hotel, saying goodbye to Darse, Xan, Aaron and Christine since our flight left the next day. It was a fun day of exploring, eating, drinking, and gambling! So thanks to all of them for making that possible.


The trip home was an ordeal, but not due to anything more than boredom on the flight home. You know it's a long flight when you watch the first movie, have dinner, and try and sleep for awhile ... wake up after what seemed like several hours only to find that there's still four and a half hours left to go! But we made it back to snowy Edmonton in alright shape. JR and Shelly were kind enough to pick us up at the airport and drive us back into town despite some terrible driving conditions. We counted TWELVE cars in the ditch on the way back in ... and there were still idiots speeding by despite the terrible road conditions.

So that was our trip. I think it went really well, but we'll have to see what happens here. It sounds to me like if an offer is coming, it'll be here within the next week. Wish me luck!



Rimbey Trip Feb-23

We’re going to have to visit Morgan’s grandparents more often, even though they have moved to far away Rimbey. Morgan and I took a sunny drive out there on a Saturday several weeks ago and had a very pleasant time. We’ve been back since for Morgan’s grandpa’s 80th birthday (!!!) and to help celebrate 55 long years of wedded bliss for him and Morgan’s grandma, but perhaps we ought to make that a special post all its own. This one’s from sometime in February...

We arrived at lunchtime and Morgan’s grandparents took us to a local restaurant called Monterey Jack’s. The owner/chef (whose name really is Jack) did his time at NAIT and has built a menu that is fairly extensive by small town standards and very reasonably priced. Not only did he serve us himself, but he offered various off-the-menu options, like grapefruit-and-something dressing for my salad (I don’t know what was in it, but it was great). The experience was as refreshing as the salad – with the small number of potential customers in his area, I guess Jack has to impress everybody to get repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. Apparently it’s working. You’ll have to try the crème brulee cheesecake if you are ever in Rimbey!

You’ve got to love grandparents – it seemed that no sooner had we made it back to the house full of chicken cordon sandwiches than Morgan’s grandma sat us down for some of her uber-healthy bran+orange+raisin+cranberry+flax muffins, all pre-cut too. Food was kind of a theme for the day. There were certainly more colours on my plate at dinner than I’ve seen in my days of cooking for one – pot roast, spuds, gravy, corn, spinach salad with all the fixings, fresh grandma-made buns… and ice cream for dessert! Morgan and I are pretty sure we weigh about five pounds more that we did at the beginning of that weekend. We came home with freshly baked cookies and muffins, and if we had stayed the night, a hot batch of cinnamon buns could have found its way into our happily stretched tummies.

We did find time for a few things besides eating. We went over bits of the ceremony and vows with Morgan’s grandpa, who has agreed to marry us and who had to get a special one-day marriage conducting permit just for June seventh. We took the tour of the estate and put some holes in the walls for shelves, and then we played a game of “Murder” which is kind of like “Trouble”, but better. It was pretty tempting to stay and eat cinnamon buns and hide the measuring tapes and see the organ at the church on Sunday morning, but eventually we made our way back along the snowy roads to the familiar anonymity of the big city. We’ll definitely have to go back soon!



This past weekend was the annual computer science department ski trip. Every year, a large portion of the computer science department goes to jasper for a weekend of skiing, hiking, and games. It was a pretty fun trip, but we had quite a "fun" time coming back in near blizzard conditions. Diane and I took the day off and had a relaxing Friday morning. We then got in the car and headed on out to Jasper in the early afternoon. We arrived just in time to relax some more before joining some of our friends who had headed out quite a bit earlier for dinner. The place they picked out was a little Italian restaurant on the upper floor of one of the buildings in Jasper so we wandered down there and ate a pretty decent meal. Four of us split an "Italian Feast" which was two different styles of pasta with some meatballs and sausage. It was pretty tasty and quite filling.

After dinner we returned to the hotel where we played some rock band (Curtis had brought his 360 from Edmonton to play), and then we wandered down to the basement of the hotel where quite a few people were playing games. Deciding to abandon rock band for the night, we sat down with a game called Barbarossa (although we played a variant that Michael Bowling created called Play-Doh's cave (RulesScoresheet). That was pretty fun. I found that I was pretty good at coming up with decently difficult riddles, but not very good at guessing other people's riddles.

After games we retired to bed because we were going to get an early start to go skiing the next day. The ski hill was quite good actually, but the weather wasn't ideal. Fog started to settle in pretty early and then it began to snow more and more heavily as the day progressed. Still, it wasn't too cold to keep us off the slopes so we spent much of the day skiing with Michael B, Nathan, and Joel.

Upon returning to the hotel we found that Curtis, Simone, Mike and Jess who hadn't gone skiing had made us a reservation for dinner at the hotel buffet. That was quite an enjoyable dinner actually -- there was a lot of good food there including some maple cedar planked salmon that was absolutely amazing as well as some roast beef that was incredibly tender. Mmm - tasty food.

After dinner we were ready to play some games. Curtis setup rock band in one of the two games rooms and that was quite a hit. Diane and I would stop in there a couple times during the night to play a bit, but for the most part we let people play who hadn't had a chance to play it yet. I played a game of Zooloreto which is a pretty fun game, and then later on a game of Alhambra. I won both games, although I feel I got pretty lucky in Alhambra.

The games were over so we got back to our hotel room kind of uncertain about what to do the next day. Traditionally, many members of the department go to do the Maligne Canyon hike, but we were worried about the weather reports of cold blizzard conditions. We did, in the end, decide to join the hikers. It was a pretty good choice, I think. We got to go quite a bit further into the canyon than I got to previously, so that was worth it.

It was nearly 1:00 when we finished the hike and climbed into our cars to head home. On the way, a group of us stopped at a pretty nice little food place called L&W in Hinton for lunch. The roads were clear and nice for the early going, and we even saw the sun for some time. Then fog started to descend and the trip got a tad more frightening.

Fortunately, we made our careful way back home safely to put a cap on a pretty good trip to Jasper!