Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What I want for Christmas

Thanks to Slashdot and the Guardian I now know what I want for Christmas, only problem is finding someone kind enough to pay for it. :-)

Russia's federal space agency took a giant leap in the field of cosmic tourism yesterday with the announcement it will offer a $100m (£57m) trip to the moon.

Roskosmos leaked details of the project as Nasa's space shuttle Discovery prepared for launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. A source at the Russian agency confirmed to the Guardian that the technology was in place for a flight to be launched within 18 months of a down payment.

By the time the Americans get there the Germans will have towels on all the good spots.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

3 launches in Ireland

The mobile phone operator 3 has finally launched as the fourth mobile operator in Ireland. I was beginning to doubt they would, even after their advertising campaign started their website was ominously vague. But they are up there now, with the 083 prefix.

At an initial glance their price plans do seem competitive against Vodafones 3G plans. For example 3s VideoTalk 400 is €49 while Vodafones PerfectFit 400 is €69. 3's cheapest plan seems to be VideoTalk 200 for €25 while Vodafones is PerfectFit 400. Prices for text messages seem to be cheaper as well 9c on 3 against 13c on Vodafone (and 11c on O2 similar priced 2G service) Calls also seem to be cheaper, but there is so much to choose from that I'm sure all networks will argue they are the cheapest in someway or other depending on the users requirements.

Its the first time I've seed LG and NEC phones are available in Ireland (though I may have missed them) They also have 2 Motorolas and the Nokia 6680.

Nationwide 3G coverage seems a little patchy, covering towns but not countryside, for example my home town seems to be covered, but my family home is a little outside of town and in the wrong direction so may not be covered. This urban centered 3G coverage appears to be the same on Vodafone. 2G/2.5G services are available over most of the country so I should still have voice and GPRS on my (shamefully rare) visits home. Infact 3 have a national roaming agreement with Vodafone to share Vodafones 2G network.

I expect Vodafone will have some new offering ready to retaliate with, they have been the only player in the 3G market for a while so one cant really blame them if they have been holding back the sweeter deals until they saw what 3 would open with. According to O2 shops they will launch their 3G service at the end of September/beginning of October though one shop was more precise with 7th of October.

Following Eircoms purchase of Meteor this should prove to be a good day for Irish mobile phone consumers.

Monday, July 25, 2005

War of the Fantastic Four

I went to see two movies over the weekend, one I was looking forward to, one I expected to disappoint. In the end the movies were the opposite of what I expected.

First of all the movie I expected to hate, War of the Worlds. I've grown to dislike Stephen Spielberg science fiction movies. I find them just a little too nice and happy. I didn't take to the TV series Taken, and Minority Report was a bit of a pointless waste of computer graphics power. Tom Cruise has also started to drift into eccentric madness with his public "romancing" of Katie Holmes and his appearance on Oprah. I didn't expect much from War of the Worlds, except a standard piece of American flag waving, CGI filled, Tom Cruise saves the world, dross that has flooded from Hollywood over the last few years.

Instead it seemed to be intelligent, well made, and entertaining. Cruises character is too busy trying to save his family to spend too much time saving the world. Dakota Fanning is good in the role, and her child like confusion and fear at the attack makes a nice addition to the usual sci-fi child hero. Her questioning "Is it the terrorists? Is it from Europe?" highlight a lack of understanding of the subtleties of world politics that is present in American politics as well as its children. There isn't much flag waving. At the start of the movie every house seems to have an American flag flying, but by the end there are none to be seen. America hasn't been able to save the world, as one of the characters points out the greatest power and the greatest military on the planet has been overrun in a couple of days. Is Spielberg trying to send a message? Armies and weapons wont always save mankind. Its well worth going to see, while the last 10 minutes are a little weak the rest of the movie makes it worth the entrance fee.

The other movie, which proved a disappointment, was The Fantastic Four. I had great hopes for it, but in the end the movie makers were following a formula and checking off the boxes. This produces an acceptable movie, but nothing special or memorable. The best thing in it is Michael Chiklis who does play Ben Grimm/The Thing. He looks the part, even before the radiation hits him and he manages to do some acting with all those prosthetics and make-up on. Jessica Alba playing Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl is lovely to look at, but was much better in Sin City. She really doesn't seem to get much to do, stripping in public seeming to be the greatest benefit of her new powers, unfortunately she is invisible at the time. As she says herself "I cant believe I'm doing this again". Chris Evans plays the Johnny Storm/Human Torch and in fact just seems like childish spoilt idiot who you cant believe could have been accepted into NASA to be an astronaut. Ioan Gruffudd just doesn't have the gravity to play the leader of the bunch, Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic, spending most of the movie complaining about his past mistakes. Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom\Dr Doom is just rehashing his role from Nip/Tuck and Charmed, I think he even stole his wardrobe from those shows.

The set piece on the Brooklyn Bridge almost seems like a Basil Fawlty style series of comic accidents that fail to impress. The climactic battle also lacks any grandeur leaving the movie feeling a little anti-climactic. Throughout the whole movie it seems that the Fantastic Four spend more time fighting each other than they do fighting Dr Doom. Its a shame because this movie had great potential. Maybe they are hoping to get a franchise, so spent too much time introducing the characters, but they will have done great damage to the long term future of any franchise with this weak start. I think anyone older than 13 will be disappointed, but anyone 13 and younger will probably love it.

In the end neither movie is likely to make it into my DVD collection.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Flickr and Google Earth

I stumbled across this on Life Hacker. Its a nice tool for linking photos from Flickr and GeoBloggers to Google Earth.

Google Earth allows you to view and zoom in on satellite images of the globe, while this little add-on displays links to real photos taken around the place currently displayed.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Too locked to drive?

The Fianna Fail TD John Ellis has called for alcolocks to be made mandatory on Irish cars. Nice idea and while I applaud the sentiment I just have to say, good luck getting that one through the Dail :-)

Remember this has to be passed by the same TDs who have jumped to the defense of publicans rights to pump alcohol into the general public without nasty things like food and a pleasant environment getting in the way of profit. How is a publican supposed to conduct his business if his car park is full of alcolocked cars?

Also how would some of the TDs and Ministers get home from a long nights work in the Dail bar if their car wouldn't start every time they were drunk? Though at the same time maybe those two lads would be in favour of a device that would have helped them avoid the trouble they got into when drunk. They could earn some political sympathy/brownie points if they came out publicly in support of this proposal for just that reason.

Still I reckon its got no chance of even making it to the Dail Chamber but maybe in the future... or maybe if we tackled the pub culture in Ireland instead of bending over backwards to facilitate it we wouldn't have so many people drink driving in the first place.

London Alert

There is currently a terrorist alert in London. It has been going on for a few hours since three small explosions happened on the tube and one on a bus. I know its a shallow thing to say but following the news is almost like a TV show, no one has been killed and the cops are catching the bad guys.

At the moment it appears that suicide bombers attempted to detonate bombs but they failed to explode. The only reported injury is one of the suspected bombers. Armed police have sealed off a hospital and it is being searched. BBC has just shown footage of armed police arresting a man outside Downing Street.

Scotty going into space

The ashes of James Doohan are being sent into space, at his request, on board a Falcon 1 rocket in September. Cool. Though I think NASA could offer to take him up on the next Shuttle launch. They have done it in the past for Gene Roddenberry. If nothing else the spirit of Scotty might fix that faulty fuel sensor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Scotty goes to the Final Frontier

Sad news today, the BBC news website has announced that James Doohan, best known as Star Treks Scotty, has passed away.

Tourists will buy anything

On The Tubridy Show this morning a business man called Tom O'Connor from Salthill in Galway was interviewed about a new souvenir of Ireland that he is selling.... air. He is selling jars of Arann Island air. His first jar sold for $15.50 on eBay as part of a market test. He has sold 4 in total on eBay and the Treasure Chest in Galway has sold 10 for €3.99 euros. He also sells Cliffs of Moher air and plans to expand to Dingle Peninsula and Giants Causeway. The label tells you when it was bottled and the Arann Island jars tell you the windspeed.

I guess its the same Tom O'Connor who is running the website so now you know where to go for your jars full of air. :-)

More on Berties recent PR disaster

Following on from yesterdays story about the appointment of Celia Larkin to the board of the Consumer Affairs State body, it now emerges that Bertie nominated her himself, a month after the original members of the board has been announced. Miss Larkin claims she is qualified because she is a consumer. Well that makes us all qualified so where should I send my CV? She wont get paid only getting expenses, how civic minded of them.

At the end the article Micheal Martin asks if she should be forever banned from State jobs because of who she is. I think the answer is clearly no. No one should be forever banned, but the point is Bertie should know better than to appoint her himself.

Ice on sufrace of Mars

Todays Astronomy Picture of the Day is a picture of ice on the surface of Mars. The Ice is on the floor of a crater with 300 meter high walls that shelter it from the sun. Alot of people may not find it interesting but I think it will be one of those martian features that will inspire sci-fi writers for decades.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Berties loosing it

Looks like Berite Ahern has started to loose his mind. The Taoiseachs Department (read Bertie) has appointed Celia Larkin, Berties ex-girlfriend to the board of the new State consumer agency.

Appointing ones significant other, even an ex, to any job is bound to have people claiming you cronyism even if they are perfectly qualified for the job. Human nature and a scandal hungry media will hurl accusations and scream for resignations. Unfortunately for Bertie Miss Larkin would not appear, at first glance, to be qualified. She runs two beauty salons, an industry not famous for its support of consumer rights and low price inflation. She seems to have tried several professions in the public image/journalism field, but I don't think any of them make her particularly well qualified for a lead role in Consumer Affairs.

You have to ask why on earth Bertie thought he could get away with this appointment. He is supposed to be a shrewd operator. He must have known what the public response was going to be. Why did he do something so stupid? Maybe she will be good at the job, but for crying out loud shes his ex-very-public-girlfriend its bound to look bad. Perhaps he should have asked Celia in her former role as a personal image consultant how it would look? She wouldn't have had to be good at the job to tell him it looks like an underhanded deal where a person in power looks out for his mates. Bertie must be going senile if he thought no one would notice or complain.

Politicians and Pubs

Those Fianna Fail TDs are at it again. Not content with killing off the Cafe Bar legislation earlier this year they are now taking legal advice about the plans to deregulate licensing in the restaurant trade.

Of course they claim its has nothing to do with ties to the publicans, its all in the best interest of the public and they are only concerned about alcohol abuse. I guess they mean the only way to stop alcohol abuse is to make sure you have a packet of stale peanuts and a tub of pringles every tenth pint, assuming of course the publican has time to find them in between serving pints, running the local Fianna Fail cumman and hosting the local Fianna Fail TDs clinic....

Monday, July 18, 2005

Google Maps As Gaeilge

I just noticed that Google maps have added some more towns and cities to their map and now half the place names in Ireland are appearing in Irish.

Map of Ireland

While I appreciate the effort I imagine there will be some confused tourists. I would have thought someone was playing a practical joke on Google, but Derry is called Londonderry and not Free Derry

Thursday, July 14, 2005


This blog is 2 months old on blogspot today, so I sent out an email telling some friends where it is. God help me :-)

(ok so it actually two months yesterday, I forgot to rip off a page from my desk calendar yesterday so got a day behind)

Apocalypse Fatigue

Are you tired of the end of the world? Have you lived through armageddon one time too many? Is your nuclear fallout bunker full of Eskimo jackets, swimsuits, gas masks, telescopes, and computer manuals? Maybe your suffering from Apocalypse fatigue.

Interesting documentary on BBC 4 last night Apocalypse Now... And Then. It detailed the history of the "West's enduring obsession with the end of the world" and charted the history of media scares about the end of the world, from an imminent ice age (no not the movie) in the 50s to nuclear war, global warming, asteroids and SARS. Contributors explained how news editors like to have a scare story and how people are starting to suffer from apocalypse fatigue which would be a bad thing. If something serious actually did happen, the scientists and media may have cried wolf too many times and no one would take them seriously.

Keep an eye out for it, I'm sure it will be repeated.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Dublin Tourist

No movie review this week for the simple reason that I didn't go to the cinema. Instead I met up with some American friends who were visiting Ireland and went with them around some of the sights of Dublin.

Its strange how one can live in a city and never really visit it. When I was a kid we used to come to Dublin during the summer holidays to visit cousins and see the city, it was then that I did my tourist stuff. However this weekend made me realize how little of the sights of Dublin I really remembered. For example we visited St Patricks Cathedral where Jonathan Swift is buried and The Door of Reconciliation is on display. (Thats where the phrase "to chance your arm" comes from)

Later on we went out to Dun Laoghaire and onto the east pier. By a coincidence we got there just at sunset. I managed to get some lovely photos though I had to use my little digital handheld, supported on walls and lampposts. The light levels really called for a tripod but some of the photos were acceptable. I may head out there later with a tripod and a film camera and see if I can get some more photos. This summer I must take some time and visit the tourist spots of Dublin.

Monday, July 11, 2005

London Bombings

John Simpson has an interesting article on the BBC website about how the people of London and Britain as a whole should react to Thursdays terrible bombings. He compares the current situation with Muslim terrorists to the situation with the IRA in the 1970s. Basically he is saying that the best way to react is to not over-react.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Scrap Saturday

After the Haughey documentary I decided to dig out the Scrap Saturday CDs and listen to them again. Isn't is amazing how in 13 years so little changed, and not just Ireland but in the world. The CD features the war in Iraq, Matron Mary taking over the health service, the American airforce landing in battle scarred Shannon, the GAA opening Croke Park for soccer (or not as the case may be), Charlie calling Bertie a man after his own heart, the scandals that are now in Tribunals, Eamon Dunphy and John Giles having a falling out.

In fact the episode where they do a sketch of Charlies autobiography after his fall from power probably contained more of an insight into Haugheys personality than the Haughey documentary.

Dermot Morgan was a comic genius and the world is a poorer place without him.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Two months and counting

Hmm, if you count the week I spent blogging in MSN Spaces I've now been blogging for two months and I'm still going. I seem to have beaten my own expectations. I had thought I'd just do it for a couple of weeks, loose interest and delete the whole thing.

Looking back I've noticed a couple of things. First my blog entries have gotten longer. I must try to keep them shorter in future. Secondly I'm a politically opinionated gob-shite. :-)

I may tell some people who know me where my blog is now.

Protestors at the G8

The stupidity of people never ceases to amaze me. The anarchists and other anti capitalism protestors have gathered in Scotland to protest at the G8 meeting determined to cause chaos and damage in the name of change. They are doing so in the full knowledge that for the first time in the history of the G8 and the G7 before it, the general public have united to call on the G8 leaders to make significant changes. The Live 8 and Make Poverty History campaigns have proven to be very popular and to-date successful.

They protest and declare that "8 people should not control everything". Well those 8 men are the elected representatives of the 8 most powerful nations and their jobs are to represent their national interests to the best of their ability. They themselves do not control the world, they are powerful but they are elected by the people of their nations. Protesting against those 8 men wont change anything if the voters in their nations don't agree with the aim of the protests.

That is why the Live 8 campaign has been so successful and had such a good chance of succeeding. Bob Geldof and Co went directly to the people and won them over with a parade of celebrities and music. Geldof could have spent the next 40 years campaigning and would never get anywhere if the voters didn't agree with him.

Now these idiots and loosers have put the whole campaign in danger with their antics. If they get in among the Make Poverty History marchers they will start trouble and the whole campaign will be tarnished. Geldofs challenge now will be to keep them out. The march will need to be self policed. Any idiot with a mask should find himself being ejected by the marchers around him. A clear message needs to be sent, they are not part the live 8 protest and they will not be accepted in the march. Otherwise a thousand anarchists will control the world and allow the G8 to turn their backs on Live 8.

Temple 1

Congratulations to NASA for taking one more step on the road from science fiction to science fact. Granted hitting a comet with a washing machine sized chunk of copper is easier than landing a man on one, but still its one more step towards Bruce Willis saving the world.

Unfortunately for NASA it appears not everyone is happy. A Russian astrologer has sued them for "moral suffering" caused by the "deforming of her horoscope". Maybe she would have more success claiming she got whiplash in the crash?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Haughey Part IV

I watched the fourth and last episode of the Haughey documentary last night. The producers had taken a critical mauling in the Irish media over the last couple of weeks for their failure to cover the issues in enough detail and for ignoring several important topics. Apparently they were still editing the episode on Sunday afternoon, so they must have paid attention.

This weeks episode was an improvement on episodes 2 and 3 but still didn't provide enough detail. This time it wasn't because they overlooked topics, it was just that they couldn't fit any more in. It would have been easy to divide this episode into 3 separate episodes. One episode dealing the 1989 election, the Progressive Democrats coalition, the reaction of the party and then his with his political downfall. A second (and maybe even a third episode) could have focused on the payments from business men and a final episode to cover the tribunals.

The producers were on the radio on Sunday talking about a bit secret they were going to reveal. It was about the fact that Dr John O'Connell had passed on a payment to Haughey from a Saudi diplomat for the sale of a horse and then later when the end was near for Haughey O'Connell tried to force him to resign by threatening to reveal the story. It wasn't really an earth shattering secret and it was more interesting as part of a larger campaign against Haughey organized by Albert Reynolds and Padraig Flynn. They claimed they didn't know what O'Connell had done but they must have. In the end Reynolds did the right thing, he succeeded because he put more thought into the heave then the previous contenders but just like with Haugheys rise to power we don't learn enough about his fall from power.

The Brian Lenihan incident was also dealt with. That was Haugheys worst moment in the Fianna Fail party and many members hated him for it. I remember meeting Lenihan during the presidential election and he looked very ill, how he managed to campaign amazed me. For Haughey to fire him to save his own skin was a disgraceful betrayal. But even worse was the way he redirected funds from the Lenihan medical collection into his own account. Once that was revealed I think most members of the party finally washed their hands of Haughey. It amazed me to hear that in the end when Haughey had been ousted the only politician to visit him in his office was Lenihan, loyal to the end.

The payments and any possible favors granted in return should have been given a dedicated episode. While this episode did come out more against Haughey and his corruption it still could have done more to explain the whole golden circle. For example Larry Goodman deserved more than just a passing mention. Ben Dunne and Dermot Desmond were interviewed and said they gave money, received nothing in return and would give more money again. There was no depth to story, it just threw out facts and figures without sufficient background.

At the end Haugheys greatest rival was Garret Fitzgerald as leader of Fine Gael. He had the most insightful opinion when he said that Haugheys talents had been wasted and the nation had lost a potentially great statesman to the corruption and scandals.

The series was something that had to be made, the real shame is that it was too short and only scratched the surface of the story. Hopefully this wont become the definitive series but I guess it was better than nothing.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Batman Begins

(Warning: This review should contain no more spoilers than you would have seen in the trailer for Batman Begins, but if you don't want to know anything about the movie look away now. )

While the rest of the world sat down to watch Live 8, I went to see Batman Begins. I believe in the cause so I just couldn't be arsed sitting down for 14 hours to watch an endless parade of celebrities.

I'm a fan of Batman. I've watched every episode of the cartoon on TV that I could (not the 60's TV show, the Batman animated series). Despite not being into comics I have read a couple of them. I liked the Tim Burtons Batman with Michael Keating. Unfortunately after the first movie the series spiraled downwards. Val Kilmer and George Clooney both failing miserably.

Batman Begins is a good movie. It is probably the best of the Batman movies in that it portrays Gotham as a more realistic city. There are no circus clowns or mad scientists running around like every day features of the town. Instead it is portrayed as a large built up city in the middle of a major economic depression. Its recognizable, but at the same time you know its not a real place. The low level villains are ordinary enough criminals and thugs. Even the supervillains somehow have more of a base in reality, masks, chemicals, training and weapons are used instead of physical deformities.

Batman himself is no Superman. He depends on his gadgets and training to do what he does. He gets injured, he falls but he learns to get up again and he goes looking for new equipment so he wont fall again. I particularly like the way they explain where all his gadgets come from and then explain why they aren't used by anyone else.

The list of actors is impressive, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson are all in supporting roles. Christian Bale has proven himself to be a more versatile actor that any of the previous holders of the mantle of the bat. Katie Holmes, easy and all that she is on the eye, has the most to prove but even she pulls off her role. Infact all the actors are well suited to their roles, nothing too adventurous is being tried. Caine is very good as Alfred. His back talk to Bruce Wayne provides a little comic relief and serves to bring Wayne/Batman back down to earth when he gets too carried away. Oldman as Gordon is perhaps the most unusual choice and he may have needed some more screen time. He never really seems comfortable in his role, but then he is playing a character whose potential is being held back by his surroundings.

The only problem I had was with the character of Batman. Don't get me wrong, I think Christian Bale has proven to be a good choice for Batman. He is believable as the playboy billionaire with beautiful women on his arm, as the shrewd business man underestimated by everyone, as the haunted figure looking for a cause and as Batman the masked ninja type figure. The problem was in the character of Batman. I just didn't find him as dark as I expected. By the time Batman is created it appears that Bruce Wayne has come to terms with his demons and with the death of his parents. Liam Neesons Ducard simply does too good a job of saving and training him. Wayne seems to have found inner peace and is no longer the haunted, brooding figure Batman should be. Now maybe I'm wrong but he just seemed to be less intimating and dangerous as a result. But that's a personal opinion I suppose.

It is a good movie, probably the best of the Batman movies and hopefully the beginning of a long stable franchise. So long as they hold onto the big name actors this version of Batman could well rival Spiderman for the best comic book franchise. If you don't want to see it in the cinema make sure you rent out the DVD when its released, its a good way to pass an afternoon while everyone else tries to save the planet.