Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

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Britain as Canada (or how to live as #2 to a much bigger and more powerful neighbour)

This was an interesting read. 

There is a major difficulty though. As the article says:

Canada’s understanding of its role in the world is one of its core strengths. “No Canadian ever kidded himself that we were a great power,” he said. “No such memory clouds our thinking.”

But that is one of the great difficulties Britain has. Too many in Britain (at all levels of society and government) still see Britain as a global power. It was inherent to the whole concept of Brexit. Clinging to it was one of the drivers of a desire to depart from the EU. There is little chance that those people would now take a realistic assessment of their diminished role on the global ladder. That would just negate so much of the justification for Brexit in the first place. 

It is one of the many reasons why Brexit is an illusionary destination. And having achieved it, the UK will remain trouble with itself for a long time to come.

It was nice as well to see further recognition of the blinder that was played by the Irish government and diplomatic service:

In Britain’s negotiations with Ireland over Brexit, some senior politicians in London were dismissive of the effectiveness of Irish diplomacy. One cabinet minister, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, told me that Ireland was a small country, which meant that the quality of its ministers could not match that of those in the U.K.. And yet this attitude proved part of London’s undoing in the negotiations, which saw Ireland win more of its objectives than Britain did.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin deserve a huge amount of kudos for the work that has been done. I know a few people from the embassy here in Stockholm, and I like to praise them for their work on this when I meet them. It’s easy to bash the government and civil service at times. But they need to be recognised for they excellent work as well!

[2020 Target 2/52. Words 850] 


New year. New me?

I have never been a great person for New Year’s Resolutions. If you are going to change your life, even a little bit, why start at this time of year? But sometimes I do manage to do so. Last year I was a bit concerned that I had stopped reading books. So I set myself the target of reading 15 in the year. I am not sure what the final number was, but it was probably closer to 30 than 15. Along the way I jump started my reading habit again. There is a medium height stack of un-read books beside my bed at the moment. Sometimes the personal challenges work! 

This year there are one or two things I want to do differently with my life. Some of them are focused on fitness and health. But I can assure you I will not be joining a gym. On the mental side, if last year was focused on reading, then this year is on writing. And one of the things I want is to do more with this blog.

I like writing, and I like sharing my writing here. I am setting myself the challenge of writing at least a blog post a week. At an average post length of 500 words, then I should produce about 25,000 words. If this then is to be the first post of the year I guess I had better drag  it out to 500 words then so. This and all the future ones will be tracked (look for some numbers down at the bottom on posts out of 52, and total word count). 

At the moment Google says about 4 people a week read this blog. Which is nice. And it would be nice if it were more. But it is not why I am here. I write for myself. I would like if some people are enjoying what I write. Still lets see can I get a few more people dropping by each week.

The other thing then is writing fiction. Someone wise once said that everyone has a book in them. And another wise person said that that’s probably the best place for most of those books. I have a few ideas in my head. But I have not written fiction in a long time. I am tempted to try. Again this is mostly for my benefit – will I enjoy the craft of writing? Can I wrangle the ideas in my head into something coherent on a page? Will what I write look any good? Would anyone want to read it? And that is the tricky bit. Posting it here is a totally different matter to some 500 blog post. If I do manage to make the time to write, assume initially only a select few will see my output.

Okay, that’s enough personal introspection and nonsense. Expect future posts to be more fun, and hopefully a bit more thought provoking. After all I have 3 readers to keep entertained!

[2020 Target: Post 1/52. Words 492/25,000]


Using the weather to torture Brits and Dutch…

My Christmas visit to Ireland will end in the morning. Sweden should be nice and cold when I get there. Which is as well as my New Year plans for cross country skiing will work better in snow than mud. While I was back I enjoyed some nice Atlantic winter weather – heavy downpours, strong winds, and sometimes both at once. It’s why, despite the rain, umbrellas are not popular here,  unless you like running down the street!

Swedish summer houseI do miss the big storms you get in Ireland, and the violent Atlantic they unleash. As a child I fondly remember driving out to the Clare coast to look at huge storm waves crashing into the land. When I moved to Sweden I discovered that in the Stockholm Archipelago people’s summer houses are built right down to the water’s edge. This messed with my head for a long time. In Ireland you build high, and build far back from the water – if you want to still have a house come the spring!

Irish coast houseExperiencing and being able to deal with the worst of Atlantic weather does seem to be something we take perverse national pride in. A few years ago I was in Plano Texas and my phone woke me in the middle of the night with a weather warning. Winds of 70mph were expected, and I was advised to take shelter immediately! Two things went through my mind. The first was WTF Texas? Take shelter for 70mph? We hardly bring the washing in off the line for that in Ireland! And secondly – I need to figure out how to disable bloody push alerts on my phone.

Possibly because people are a little too blase about weather warnings, or just to make their work sound a bit cooler, the Irish and British met services agreed in 2015 to jointly name the big Atlantic storms. Each year they draft a list of 26 names for the coming winter. Storms of sufficient intensity (you know, the sort of ones where they send out Teresa Mannion) get their own name. And if they are sufficiently powerful, then the name is gifted to posterity, and retired from the long term rotation.

The Irish and UK met people have been having so much fun with this, that the Dutch met service asked to join in. So for this winter they contributed characteristically Dutch names like Gerda, Jan, and Piet to the 2019/20 list, alongside Atiyah, Francis, and the very ironic Noah!

Now English and Dutch are Germanic languages, and Irish/Gaelic is a totally different language family. Which means pronunciation can work very differently. So it did occur to me that we could really have a bit of fun here.

Imagine Met Eireann insisted that we had to have quintessentially Irish names in the list. Names like Aoife, Blathnaid, Caoimhe, Daithí, Eoghan, etc. Across the UK and Netherlands, professional weather forecasters and members of the public would be trying to figure out – how they hell are these pronounced? Or are the Irish just fucking with them?


Be careful if you marry a Swede…

A long time ago I heard a story about a married couple trying to get a spouse green card in the US. One of them was from the UK so there was a interview process by the immigration authorities to confirm their marriage was real. They talked about the confusion when they were asked (in separate interviews) what floor their apartment was on. One said the first floor. The other the second floor. Because of course in the US the bottom floor is numbered 1, and in most of Europe that is numbered as 0, and the first floor is the one above.

But not in Sweden. They have their own special way of doing this!

Swedish lift panelIn any given building the lift panel will usually have one button that is marked as the floor where people enter and exit the building. Usually with a green ring around it. But god only knows what number that will be! 

This is the lift panel in the building next to my office (my company uses both). The entrance floor isn’t 0 or 1, but er, number 2.

Swedish lift panelMy office building is even stranger. Apparently the entrance is on floor 4!  Because we are on a hill, and there is a lower down slope entrance we do have a floor 3. But can anyone tell me where floors 1 and 2 have gone to?

With this eccentric approach to floor numbering I would be surprised if many Swedes can pass their US immigration interviews 😉


The snows comes to Sweden

Last night we had the first proper snow of the season, in Stockholm anyway. 

First snow in Stockholm

Being so close to the sea Stockholm doesn’t get as much snow as the rest of the country. And global warming isn’t helping things either. We usually get some before Christmas, but the serious stuff, that will stay on the ground for days, and the cold that freezes the water for the skaters, really only comes in January and February. 

Away from the balmy south it is a different story though!


This was the snow map for the country for yesterday.

Swedish snow 28th November 2019


Starlink – a humble proposal

It looks like the Starlink satellites are already causing problems for the scientific community. There are less than 1% of the planned constellation of sats in orbit but they have begun interfering with astronomical observations. And if the company gets its way the dozens they have today will grow to tens of thousands! 

Leaving aside the whole question of whether this is the best way to provide internet connectivity to the unserved (full disclosure I work for a company that is committed to alternatives like 5G), what could be done to help?

Two things spring to mind. First, to get around the light pollution issue the best location for the astronomer’s telescopes would be in orbit, above the problem satellites. And secondly in most of the world the principle is “polluter pays”.

My humble proposal then is that Starlink’s parent, SpaceX, should be responsible for providing a constellation of space based telescopes in orbit for astronomers. There is a lovely symmetry to this. SpaceX touts their ability to reduce the cost of access to space, and how their work benefits humanity in the long term. They are have the rockets, and are building/commissioning satellites by the bucket load anyway. And the astronomers would then get an improved platform for observations. 

The article does mention that there is no legal protection for the scientific observation community. But in most of the world, the western bit anyway, regulatory approval would have been conditional on an impact assessment. And it would be possible to make permission to proceed conditional on making sure that impacts are mitigated. Wouldn’t it have been great if Starlink could not get their project rolling until they had built dozens or hundreds of space based telescopes first?


Bored at a work meeting? Then leave

I am supposed to be at an all day productivity training session today at work. But I have some other urgent stuff so I left. Funnily enough I talked to a few people at one of the breaks and they had similar feelings. The idea is fine, but there is no way we need to spend an entire day on this stuff. 1-2 hours tops. 

It is a pity when our time is getting tied up (and there were over 30 people in the room this morning) in this way. 

The best advice I have heard on meetings and productivity recently is from Elon Musk. He famously has said:

“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value.”

“It is not rude to leave. It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

It takes a bit of bravery to do it. But you feel better afterwards, and you end up getting more real work done.

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