Dublin Fringe Festival

One of the things we unfortunately missed out on in our move to Ireland was the Edmonton Fringe Festival -- an event that we've faithfully attended at least a couple of shows every year for the past couple of years. We've had some good memories of watching shows like the One Man Star Wars Trilogy, The Great Pretenors, and Rainer Hersch's Victor Borge. So we were rather enthused to find that Dublin had its very own fringe festival soon after our arrival. On Saturday, we checked out a show called All in the Timing which was playing in the theatre in Bewleys. This restaurant was the first place we ate on our first night in Dublin. We shared that meal with Darse, Xan, Mike and Marja.

All in the Timing was a fun show. They did about five short-ish sketches of varying amusement. The first of which was probably my favourite where they did a sketch similar in style to the improv game "new choice". The scene started with a woman sitting at a table in a restaurant reading a book and is approached by a man who asks if the seat is taken. He makes several missteps and gets several bad responses before finally getting to sit in the seat across from the woman. After each misstep, a bell rings and they go back in time to redo some part of the scene. It was quite humorous throughout the sketch.

The did a couple other neat sketches including one where a woman comes in to be taught a new universal language. The man she sees talks in a weirdly bastardized version of English, using other english or nonsense words in place of other english words. As the scene progressed the woman becomes fluent in this new language and the two spout several joyous sentences of this new language that sounded remarkably like ridiculous lyrics to some well known musicals. It was quite a fun scene.

In another scene, the actors did a very short skit involving people meeting by random chance at a bakery. They then did a several song musical using just the words used in that skit repeated in a musical way. It made a weird sort of sense, and I think was quite a bit more enjoyable in experience but a bit hard to explain.

So that was our first Dublin fringe show. Tonight we saw our second show which was a circus/burlesque show called La Clique. It was a bit on the racy side, but definitely a thoroughly enjoyable show.

Highlights from the show included:

  • Two British men in suits who did several feats of strength including holding each other up. One man stood on the other's head, one man used the other's legs like they were gymnastic rings, you know, simple stuff like that.
  • A woman gets four hula hoops going around her body at once in various forms.
  • A double-jointed rubber man calling himself "Captain Frodo" contorts himself through 2 tennis racquets: a 12 inch one and a 10 inch one.
  • A man in a bathtub full of water whirls himself in the air using two long straps suspended from the ceiling. This was probably my favourite -- the guy did the whole thing choreographed to music, and included a jaw dropping manoeuver where he spun the straps around his arms and legs to ascend to near the ceiling, but stopping at intervals to flash a pose timed perfectly with the music. The manoeuver was incredible for strength and flashiness to begin with, but timed with the music it was absolutely amazing.
  • Ursula Martinez performed this little magic trick (warning: nudity, NSFW).
  • The rubber man returned after the intermission to stack a series of buckets on top of a piano while balancing on top of them. Each bucket was smaller than the previous one until he was down to a small coffee can which he proceeded to sit on and then tuck his feet behind his head. I don't want to know how many times he's attempted this trick in practice and fallen.

In between these, there were several fun bits in between. A guy calling himself the Queen of the show (because he's a big Queen fan) juggled and rode a unicycle to some Queen songs and provided a bunch of entertaining banter. "Captain Frodo" used a saw as a musical instrument in a song that also involved a piano, an accordian and some little bells.

All in all, an enjoyable show! The fringe continues for the next few days, but we might not make it out again since the upcoming weekend looks a bit busy.

One last thing before I head for bed here. I finally caught up with photos from our recent treks. Have a look if you are so inclined!


    Thinking About the Future

    Lately, Diane and I have been following a series of videos called the Crash Course. Be warned -- the future that Chris paints in these videos is more than a little disturbing. While primarily focused on the United States, many of the things he talks about also apply to most of the world's economic systems. One of the things it has done is challenge my base assumption that the world will continue to get better as we live our lives. Now that's a pretty general statement, but I think a lot of us can say that our standard of living has gotten better over the last several years. But the crash course brings up some facts that disturb this rosy picture, and make me wonder just how bad the future could get. One of the things that's driven home to me about the watching Chris' videos is that the nature of exponential growth is very difficult for the human mind to get its head around in an intuitive fashion. You've got to spend some time figuring out good examples to help show you how difficult it is to deal with problems that are escalating exponentially. There's an excellent series of youtube videos that a professor at the University of Colorado did concerning the problems of exponential growth here. It's long, but worth watching.

    In those videos, the professor presents an extremely interesting example. Suppose you have a test tube full of food and put one bacteria in it at 11:00. The bacteria doubles every minute, and the life cycle of the system is one hour so when the clock strikes 12:00, there is no food left. So at 11:01 there are 2 bacteria, and at 11:02 there are 4 bacteria, and so on. One question to ask is: when is the bottle half full? The answer is 11:59, because in that last step there needs to be enough room for the bacteria to double to make the bottle full. To drive the point home further -- when is the bottle 1/4 or 1/8 full? Well just 11:58 and 11:57 respectively!

    You can add on one additional piece to that. Suppose that the bacteria somehow are able to find 3 more test tubes full of food. This represents a HUGE discovery of resources - fully 3 times the initial supply! If the bacteria move into the new test tubes, how much time has this bought them? Just two minutes. The first to use one new test tube, and the second to use the remaining two test tubes. Wow. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make the connection that the earth is kind of like a test tube -- a finite area with finite resources, and human kind is growing in numbers ... exponentially.

    I remember being taught in elementary school that population growth was one of the humankind's biggest challenges. How did this get lost from the public eye?

    Humankind has made a habit of ignoring problems until they become annoying enough to solve. The problem with this approach is the problems we're going to be facing are of the exponential nature -- and when we notice it enough to be annoying, it'll probably be too late. I might even be too late now ... I don't know if anyone can say for sure. But it sure seems like a good idea to try and do something about it!

    After watching these videos, I've started to get a real urge to go buy some gold and keep it close for the years to come. I wonder how far humankind will fall when we run out of easily exploitable fossil fuels? It's a little scary to think about just how much of our daily lives is dependent on energy. Oh it's not just hot water in taps and power for our lights and all that. It's the energy required to get us the food we need and to build the many things that make our lives easier so we have time to do more than just survive. Every time I see or read about earlier times, my most common recurring thought is "wow, people worked hard then".

    I'm not saying we're headed back in time necessarily. Humans have progressed to be able to do some pretty amazing things -- and some of the things we've learned to do may help us adapt to the difficult time ahead. But one thing is pretty sure: the next couple decades are going to be ... interesting.


    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.


    Deposit on a Place!

    Today was an exciting day! But first, let me talk a bit about yesterday. Our goals for yesterday were to go into the office and pick up some paperwork that I needed to prove that I was indeed an employee, and some information on where to go for some important government paperwork. After chatting with the HR lady for awhile and dropping in to say hi to Darse and Aaron, we took our new papers and went to look at a couple of places in the neighbourhood called Cabinteely. They were actually really nice -- I really liked the layouts of both the places. The problem for us was that while they were really quite close to work for me, they weren't all that well connected to the rest of the city. It would probably mean a 45 minute bus ride into downtown, which means if Diane found a job in downtown or somewhere where she had to transfer through downtown, that wouldn't be too pleasant for her. Plus there was limited shopping options for us carless folk.

    It kind of tore at us a little though knowing how nice the places were. They were totally valid options and maybe in a year we will have to reevaluate if there are still apartments there available. Maybe by then we'll get a car (not sure how likely that is).

    We had another apartment to see in the afternoon, but couldn't find it due to the map on the website being wrong. It was a little unfortunate, but we didn't mind the chance to return to the apartment early and relax for a little while. Having now seen two very valid options for apartments (the first one we saw the previous day at Hazelbrook and the one we saw in Cabinteely) we figured we had a bunch of good information. The other good piece of information we got was we met someone who was living in the hazelbrook building we saw who works for FT too, and got a pretty good review of the building from him. So we debated for awhile about the options and eventually decided that the apartment at Hazelbrook suited our options better by a fair margin.

    So today was a big day for us. We got up early and headed to the An Garda Síochána -- the Irish Police, to get out GNIB (Garda National Immigration Bureau) cards. This lets us stay in the country for a year at a time, since our passports were only stamped for 3 months when we entered the country at the airport. With this, we needed to pay a €100 fee which I had trouble paying with my credit card. Apparently having a smartcard chip in it causes it to not be swipeable, and since I don't have a PIN for it, I couldn't use it. Argh. Fortunately, Diane brought her non-chip-enabled credit card so we used that to pay for my fee. We left the office with our shiny new GNIB cards. Woohoo!

    The next thing on our list was to go get PPS numbers, which are the Irish equivalent of the Canadian SIN numbers. This involved going to a different building to stand in line for and fill out some more paperwork -- which we did. This time no fee was involved. After Diane and I both applied for our numbers, we continued on to the rental agency and met with the agent we met on the first day. We payed our €500 deposit to apply and he faxed off my employer letter to the landlord and that was that! We had applied for a place to stay.

    So now we're hanging out in the apartment. We just got a call from the agent and the landlord has okayed us so we'll be signing the lease on Tuesday, probably in the afternoon. (Monday is a holiday here apparently). So with a little luck, we'll be ready to move into our new place sometime in the middle of next week and will have a bank account setup for sometime near the end of next week! I'm pretty sure this is record time for someone moving as far as we had, and not having setup anything prior to arriving. We couldn't have done this without the help of Darse and Alexandra who have been an amazing amount of help. We'll definitely try to be as helpful to the people that follow us ;-)