March 2020

It feels like life doesn’t really ever slow down, so much as evolves and keeps accelerating — but at least it fends off the boredom.

The big news from my end is that last week I handed my notice in at Boeing and next Friday (13th) will officially be my last day on payroll. Just as it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead, I believe that it is equally bad form to speak poorly of previous employers. 

However, I will say that one of my big reasons for taking the position originally was the technical challenge of the position. The idea of working to try and predict parts failing on aircraft before they fail using only tiny tremors and slight deviations in a few sensors sounded like some really smart work. Just the nature of having a large number of human beings together trying to do anything starts to encompass a large managerial overhead and burden which ultimately slows down good work. Ultimately, I’m just one of those people that relishes the fight, runs towards the burning fires and is constantly seeking learning and betterment. There just isn’t enough challenge left for me.

As I was departing Vancouver, the Boeing office kept me on as a remote worker — which certainly aided in keeping some financial stability during the time it has taken to settle in Montreal, but presents its own problems when phoning into meetings all the time. In return, I gave my word that I would stay on until March, which was the scheduled product launch date to make sure they weren’t left high and dry. Then in March, both sides would re-evaluate whether the arrangement was working.

So onwards and upwards! I’ve found myself something a little more local that has peeked my interest and has all the hallmarks of keeping me interested for a few years. They call themselves an AI consultancy agency, but I feel like AI is just the latest buzzword for applying some maths and logic to data to pull out insights. Historically, people did this in their head’s and we’d call it intuition or expertise. Computers these days just allow us to quantify a lot more of these “feelings” and evaluate how often these things are actually right or not.

Anyway, their speciality is in supply chain management — so the classical, make sure that enough of something, makes it to the right place, at the right time. Right now, the office is about 50 people, but they’re hiring, and growing, fast. Most importantly, they have several national supermarket chains banging down the door wanting to throw money at them — obviously, a good problem to have.

From my perspective, it is sort of everything I love. Interacting with people, trying to understand their problems. Exploring vast data sets, trying to pull out insights. Then writing some proof-of-concepts or prototyping an algorithms or solution for them to run with. It’s people, complex puzzle solving and computers!

In other news, Rotem is doing well. He’s a little late to the game, but he’s just entering the insatiable curiosity stage. Everything we do is accompanied with a litany of questions. “What are you doing?”, “What’s this?”, “Where are we going?”. But it’s good. It’s delightful to see his curious mind starting to put things together. “It’s dark outside… the sun gone to bed?”. He’s always been a chatty kid, but he’s really gone to another level recently, and there’s been a marked step-up in the complexity of his language. I mostly attribute this to a pretty intensive daycare arrangement where he was the same supervisor everyday, sometimes with a volunteer, in a class of less than 5 others.

Montreal, given the winters, has a number of child friendly cafes where approximately half of the shop front appears like a normal cafe, but the other half appears like a soft play centre with toys, slides and ball pits. Through these cafes, Natalie is building quite the Israeli-expat network. In fact, we’re establishing a nice little Saturday play date schedule. He’s developing a sort of brotherly attachment to one little girl called Sophia, which is also a delight to watch. Not only because it means that he’s finally at the point of wanting to play with other kids, but it means that he’s developing all of the inter-personal skills that come from siblings, without necessarily the strenuous effort required to go through another pregnancy and night-feeding schedule.

On the housing front, last week the renovations of one of our bathrooms has been completed. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical. In my opinion, getting a kitchen that actually works for the family, I considered to be more important. But, Natalie was very insistent on bathrooms, and having got one complete now I find myself in total agreement. Due to the shape of the condo, our bathrooms are on the interior of the building, and thus have no windows. Which, when combined with poor lighting, dark smoked-glass walls and no ventilation made for an entirely cave-like experience. I think just getting some spotlights, would have made a huge difference by itself. But we now have a bathroom that’s clean, simple and works for us. We’re not much of bath people, so we went with a walk-in shower and a shower-head so large it makes you feel like you’re in a warm rain storm. The great mark of success is that Rotem doesn’t want to get in the bath any more. Every night it’s “No, new bathroom!”.

The second bathroom renovation begins on Monday, and then it’s a case of saving life crazy. We’ve got some very expensive bills coming up. The tax man will want of all my income tax shortly, the province will want ~1% of the apartment value as a “Welcome to Quebec” tax, and the city wants money to keep rubbish and snow off the streets and maybe some road resurfacing as spring shows its head. Only then can we start thinking about putting some money towards the kitchen. But depending on how disgusting the summer gets, the money might get diverted to replacing the defunct air conditioning unit in the apartment. I suspect, if they were putting air conditioning into each apartment when this place was built in the 80s, then the summers might get a little… sticky.

Finally, I’ll give you a quick summary on Natalie. She seems to have got past her initial shell-shock of becoming a professor and seems to be becoming more comfortable in her new position by the day. It’s sort of a strange transition really, in science at least, you get the professorship on account of being an excellent research scientist. However, being a professor I compare to being like a small business owner. She sudden has to find her own sources of income. She has to buy equipment, pay rent to the university, do all of her own hiring and try to project manage the science rather than just doing the science. It’s a pretty seismic shift in position and responsibility, and obviously one that is done with no training or support. Just a sort of blind assumption of “you’re smart, you’ll work it out”.

At the moment, she’s spending most of her life talking to sales reps as she’s trying to buy all of the big equipment for the lab — centrifuges, shakers, incubators, purification and extraction kits. You know all the stuff it takes to genetically engineer and grow bacteria. Lab equipment is just crazy expensive and controlled by only a handful of companies in monopoly positions. For instance, I can walk into a big-box store down the road and pick up a fridge for maybe $150. To get one that is “lab certified” will cost you 10x. It’s the same fridge, just one is guaranteed to be “spark-free” and is therefore covered by the building’s insurance. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally never seen a fridge spark — maybe I’ve just lived a sheltered life.

She sort of hated all of it when she initially started, but I feel like her Middle Eastern genetics are starting to kick-in and she’s enjoying the haggling, bartering and general horse-trading involved with these reps. She came home on Tuesday ever so proud that she managed to talk $30,000 off of one-quote that she got. Clearly, there’s a lot of value in such strong negotiation, but on the other hand, it shows that their initial offers are clearly wildly inflated for no other reason than profiteering.

So there we have it. I feel like I’m in a weird position in life where seemingly everything and nothing seems to be happening all at once. Perhaps, I’m just at a stage where everything has become some grand project. A new job is just the beginning of a years-long adventure. Home renovations are large undertakings that take weeks longer than you would hope. Heck, even parenting can be viewed as one huge project, one with a lot of significant mile-markers along the way. But, as soon as you reach one, your eye is always toward the next.

For now, I think the plan is just to keep on keeping on. Keep the head down, keep working hard, pay down the mortgage, start thinking about a school for Rotem and just enjoy the ride along the way. Enjoy the occasional dinner out, the bottle of wine, the company of friends and making a point to go and have an adventure every once in a while — even if, if not especially, when that adventure is sometimes a tropical beach on the Caribbean Sea.

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