Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Here Comes 1979 courtesy of 2FM

2FM have panicked in the face of slipping listener figures and replaced their new Breakfast show presenters. Rick O'Shea and Ruth Scott have been on air for the last 5 months, and while the show was taking time to find its feet it had potential. Perhaps they needed more regular contributors in regular slots to back up the two main presenters or something. Ryan Tubridy, the current favorite within RTE, took at least as long to stabalise the show when he presented it for a couple of years. Moving him off breakfast and onto a mid-morning slot on Radio 1 may have been a mistake as both his new show and the current Breakfast show have so far failed to grab the interest of former listeners. In contrast Today FM and other stations have stood by their presenters for years and allowed them time to build up loyal listeners.

Instead of trying to improve the format of the show they have shunted Ruth and Rick to different time slots and apparently replaced them with Marty Whelan. Whelan had stood in for Gerry Ryan over the last few months and to be honest he really belongs on Radio 1 or Lyric FM. He hasn't got a personality for breakfast radio. In fact during his 5 weeks in Gerrys seat he managed to piss me off no end. For example every morning while reviewing the newspapers he was constantly talking about this great photo or that great picture in the papers. Its bloody RADIO! The listeners cant see the paper. Review the text not the visuals.

Now he's been moved to the Breakfast slot as a reward. He first started on radio in 1979 and that's where he should have been left. An old reliable hand isn't always the best to save a radio station. I suspect this is another example of panic in the ranks of 2FM, their recent rebranding of the station as RTE 2FM would just have served to make the station seem old fashioned in the eyes of young people, RTE is what their parents listen to.

Unfortunately I suspect I'll be listening to another station in the mornings.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rip Off Republic Part 3

After a break for the Lovely Girls Contest (a.k.a The Rose of Tralee) Eddie Hobbs was back for the third episode of Rip Off Republic. This weeks episode was probably the weakest of the three, in my opinion, but then again I'm biased. You see this weeks episode was about Transport in Ireland today and the main focus was on cars and motorways. I don't actually own a car, seeing how I live a 20 minute walk to work, a 3 minute walk to a reliable bus and a 5 minute walk to the Luas, I am generally able to get anywhere I want faster out of a car than in one. I keep thinking I should get a car because I do need one for longer journeys and I'm beginning to cave to peer pressure. However last nights episode would actually put me off buying a car.

1/8th of all the governments tax take comes from motorists, through VAT, VRT, fuel and other stealth taxes. 4.2 Billion a year. Cars are more expensive here than in most if not all of the rest of Europe and after paying all that tax, you still end up having to queue to pay tolls on motorways. Personally I'm in favor of tolls, based on the idea that the user pays, so long as the tolling is fair and there are similar charges place on all new motorways and not a select few. Its the fact that you have to queue to pay that annoys me. The technology exists to handle electronic tolling and people should be forced to use it. No EasyPass? Then go back to the end of the queue for the single cash lane. Instead they turn off easy pass lanes to make everyone queue equally because a stubborn few wont get Easy Pass for the toll bridges.

The biggest controversy from last nights program was the insinuation that there was some dodgy dealings in the awarding of the contract to run the Westlink toll bridge to NTR. The company made political donations to politicians who then signed the contracts to award them the contract, knowing that huge profits would be made. In the interest of balance and fairness perhaps he should have listed all the politicians NTR made donations to, maybe it was all or most of them? Political donations from companies is a grey area, and Eddie should have been a little more careful cause I'm sure some of the parties would not be adverse to taking a libel action if they thought they had a case.

He briefly touched on the cost over runs and delays in the Luas, as well as how expensive train travel is. There seems to be massive cost overruns on all infrastructure projects with the average overrun a 86% in Ireland while the average in Europe is 20%. Projects don't seem to be costed or planned properly before they are announced to the public and the politicians don't feel any need to apologise to the public for massive over spending with tax payers money. I have to agree with him that the whole planning and costing process is a national scandal. In my opinion some companies bid for state contracts and just make up estimates knowing they will be able to take as long as they want and charge as much as they want once the work is started. That is a disgrace.

The show ended on a duller note than previously with Eddie explaining that 4.2 billion 1 euro coins side by side would stretch to the moon. No call for a public campaign which is a shame because he has the publics attention now and if he did ask them to do something as a sign of protest they would. One more episode to go. Hopefully he will go out with a bang.

Optical Illusions

Want a headache? Check these out (via BBC's Click Online program :-) )

Monday, August 29, 2005

Eddie Hobbs Vs The Government

Fair play to Eddie and RTE, they took a successful format for stand up comedy mixed with documentary, did a fairly poor imitation of it but managed to touch a national nerve that is having huge political impact. I bet no one in RTE expected anything like the reaction or the ratings. Now of course the rational thing for the government to do would be to batten down the hatches and let Hurricane Hobbs blow over. Unfortunately most of the senior people in the government are on holidays leaving people like Senator Donnie Cassidy to run the country.

Donnie has decided to tackle the issue of Rip off Republic head on, by blaming the show and not the subject. He is calling RTE and Eddie Hobbs to a Dail Committee to answer questions about the accuracy of their show. I agree with him, some of the figures aren't 100% accurate, but he has completely missed the point. It's not the show that is the cause of the problems for the government, it is longstanding public opinion. For years the Irish have complained that we were being ripped off and Donnie did nothing. Now RTE has repeated the common belief and the public sat up and is now taking notice of where their money is going.

The government needs to do something about Rip Off Ireland NOW, and not stamp on anyone who complains about it.

The third episode is on tonight at 9:30 and its guaranteed to be the main talking point of the week.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


The guys who won the Ansari X Prize with their SpaceShipOne have announced that SpaceShipTwo will be the craft used by Virgin Galactic to send rich people into space but like SpaceShipOne it will be a sub-orbital trip. Then they will develop SpaceShipThree which will be an orbital craft. Thats going to be cool.

Want free Advertising? Attack others.

Sharon Osbourne has said that U2s stage show was boring and like watching CNN. That's a bit ironic considering it was her families show that helped make MTV boring. MTV is now just endless repeats of badly scripted "reality" TV shows like the Osbournes and Pimp My Ride.

But surprise suprise The X Factor started last Saturday so the trash marketting is in full swing. Yesterday Louis Walsh was on the front page of the Irish Daily Star saying The Rose of Tralee was boring (cant argue with him there, but you don't see me on the front page of a national newspaper pointing out the painfully obvious). Now Sharon attacks U2. Simon Cowell is probably going to come out tomorrow with some other publicity seeking attack. The media really should get wise to this rubish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Broken Bones and Rolling Stones

I read a news story about the Rolling Stones concert last night.

a fan was hospitalised after suffering two broken ankles and a broken wrist

When I read that my initial reaction was "Well old age will do that to you" :-)

However it turns out she was 20 years old and had been sitting in the rafters of the venue to get a better view. Idiot :-)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Government failing to protect consumers

Bloody hell, I hate the way the Irish Government is failing to protect consumers and instead are basically telling the consumers who are being ripped off to deal with it themselves.

The environmental management charges that were recently introduced and were supposed to be paid by the manufacturer are now being passed on to the down trodden Irish consumer, even if they are not handing in their old electrical device to be recycled. And how does the government, which introduced this tax, respond to this? They support calls for users to boycott the retailers who do this. Come on, someone has to stand up for consumers and stop retailers ripping us off every chance they get.

Starbucks in Dundrum Update

Yeah I know its sad, but I have another Starbucks related post. I went up to Dundrum on Saturday to get some stuff from Tescos and decided to go to Starbucks for lunch. Of course there was a queue out the door which I thought was caused by first weekend novelty. Instead it was caused by poor service and chaos behind the counter. It was taking about 3 to 4 minutes to serve some people. I know Starbucks take pride in their complicated ordering system, but even ordering a Venti Latte to take away took a couple of minutes.

There were 8 staff behind the counter, 2 were manning the tills, 1 was making coffee, 1 was making paninis and the others were getting in the way. 2 others were clearing tables, and at one stage 5!!! were outside handing out instruction leaflets and taking photos of themselves in their Starbucks uniforms standing in the queue, they thought the queue was very funny. The 2 at the tills were easily distracted spending time talking and watching the others behind the counter, even while serving customers. They also didn't understand the menu and people were resorting to pointing to items on the boards behind them to explain what they wanted. 1 person was making coffees and while busy, she was not swamped as the customers were not making it through the tills.

As proof that it wasn't the number of customers that caused the problem I counted 10 empty tables, which was about half the total. After all their preparation you would think they could have trained their staff? Also, considering a Venti Latte is €3.70 I'd expect decent customer service.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Starbucks in Dundrum

The first Starbucks in the Republic of Ireland opened today in Dundrum. I like Starbucks, I know they are the evil empire or something and the anti-starbucks brigade will confiscate my coffee mug as punishment, but I actually like their coffee (you should taste the chemicals we call coffee in work and you'll know why I like Starbucks). I make a point of visiting a Starbucks when on holidays, much to the amused annoyance of a friend of mine who is usually with me. She thinks Starbucks coffee is warm milk and only goes there to keep me happy. :-)

I am quite happy to see Starbucks opening in Dundrum as that is just 5 minutes up the road from me. I expect any time I'm in the shopping center I'll call in to them for my caffeine fix.

Unfortunately for Starbucks in Dundrum they managed to piss off numerous customers with poor customer service 1 1/2 hours before they actually opened.

There was a sign by the door last night saying they were open at 8:30am Monday-Friday and another sign said they were opening this morning. I went up there this morning and got to the shop at 8:35am to find about 15 people standing outside waiting. The shutter was half down on the door but the staff were inside. Eventually one chap went over and spoke to a suited guy sitting on the couches beside the door. He came back and said he was told they were open at 10am.

Some people went away but most of us waited for confirmation, like a sign on the window or something. Eventually one woman went over and asked the suited guy. She had to ask 3 times before the guy acknowledged her presence. Then he gruffly said 10 am and walked over to seats further from the door. As the woman walked away she muttered "well they have just lost one customer".

Bad Starbucks, bad.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Rip Off Republic Part II

The second episode of Rip Off Republic was on last night. This episode dealt with entertainment in Ireland. Of course the pubs and restaurants made up the bulk of the show leaving little time for other topics which I would have enjoyed being expanded on.

Eddie Hobbs was in his usual form last night. I realized he is trying to do a version of the excellent Mark Thomas Comedy Product which mixes investigative journalism and stand up comedy. Mark Thomas was very good at mixing both, Eddie unfortunately seems to lack the comic ability, but we don’t watch him for laughs, he is a financial advisor. I look forward to the day when I can talk to my financial advisor and come away with a big smile on my face.

As I already mentioned, last nights episode focused on entertainment in Ireland and the cost involved in going out. A couple of interesting alcohol related facts were mentioned

  1. There are 9450 pub licenses in Ireland. The figure was set in 1902
  2. There are only 808 licenses in Dublin so 9% to serve 35% of the population
  3. The mark up on a sample bottle or wine in a restaurant was 340%
  4. Excise on wine is €2.05 a bottle, excise on Champagne is €4.10.

He also spoke about the politicians in both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael who led the fight against Cafe Bars. As an example he showed John Moloney TD who strongly opposed Cafe Bars on health of the nation reasons. Guess what... he owns a pub in Mountmelick. But then again I've made my opinions on the Cafe Bar scandal clear in the past.

Having spent so long talking about the bar/restaurant trade there wasn’t much time left for other rip offs, but one that was mentioned that is close to my heart is the price of camera film. €6.17 in Ireland €1 in South Africa. I would have liked an explanation of this, but Eddie had to rush onto the next topic. He also briefly touched on coffee, hair/makeup and popcorn. It’s a shame he didn’t have more time.

Strangely when talking about entertainment he didn’t mention the nights when people stay at home and watch TV. You know that TV you pay a license fee for, only to be subjected to a list of 1980s TV stars and schedules that RTE insists on using your money to finance. Still Eddie himself is a new face and a few years ago Rip Off Republic would never have been aired, too many vested interests pissed off, so I suppose he was right to keep his mouth shut.

The show ended with a call for people to order a round of glasses of municipal tap water next time they are in a pub. Damn, I'd hoped he'd continue the nappy campaign, I'd grown to like that :-)

I'd recommend watching this next week, and watching any repeats if you missed the first two episodes. Eddie may not be everyones favorite TV presenter, but the facts and figures speak for themselves. We all know we are being ripped off, but to have the figures laid out before you is a bit of a wake up call (e.g. no coffee with lunch today, saving €2.50)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Photography Rip-Off

Something else I'd like to get off my chest after the weekend, the cost of getting photos developed. Wow, its getting expensive to use a 35mm camera in this city. I had 4 rolls of 36 to get processed and I wanted an extra set of prints on 3 of them. I was also constrained by being too lazy to go into town so I went to the "cheap" labs up in Dundrum. They all worked out at between €€11 and €13 for each roll. Thats overnight! 1 Hour development was over €16. Bloody hell! I've got to get a cheaper hobby. Though that digital SLR I have earmarked as my SSIA treat is looking more and more attractive.

(For those looking for single sets Boots was the cheapest at just over €8, but their extra set was over €4 which made them more expensive than the other two. Cant comment on the quality, but I may throw a film in to them just to see what it comes out like.)

Rip Off Republic Reminder

I've noticed a few people seem to have found my blog through searches for Rip Off Republic and Eddie Hobbs, hopefully they liked what they read. Anyway, for anyone else who wanders in looking for Rip off Republic today, don't forget the second episode is on tonight at 9:30 on RTE One. Should be interesting, even if it is telling us what we all know already.

On a related note, looks like the bloody Taxi Drivers are complaining again, they now want a surcharge because fuel prices have gone up. Normally I'd say fair enough, if it was a cheap service to start with, like low-cost airlines. Instead when you take a taxi you are literally being taken for a ride. Not so long ago it cost me €€6 to get a taxi home, now its €€10. The difference in service? All I've noticed is a printed receipt! They say that the rise in fuel costs has increased their costs by €€20 to €25 that's two fares, which is probably two fares they have lost from me cause now I just walk or wait a little longer for the bus. Put the prices up more, loose more custom.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dixons to stop stocking 35mm cameras

Dixons have decided to stop stocking 35mm cameras in their high street stores (they will continue to sell them in airport duty free shops). I guess its inevitable that film cameras will become a specialist item with the proliferation of digital cameras.

I took up photography as a hobby two years ago, buying myself a cheap but so far reliable Sigma SLR SA7 camera with a couple of lenses. I then did a Black & White development course in the Gallery of Photography in Temple Bar.

There was something remarkable about processing your own negatives, setting up an enlarger, exposing the paper, putting it into the developer bath and seeing the photograph appear on the paper. Its much more satisfying than hitting print on your computer and watching the Ink Jet spit out a photo.

I have to admit I take most of my day-to-day spur of the moment photos with my small digital camera. Its a lot easier to carry around than the SLR and takes good photos for a compact camera. I cant justify to myself the idea of spending a thousand quid on a digital SLR. At least with a 35mm camera to get better pictures you can use better film, your not stuck with a 6.2 mega-pixel CCD.

There is a lot of debate in photography magazines about which is better film or digital. Top end professional digital SLRs today can take photos that are just as good as high quality film but to me there is something more magic and sentimental about film. I look on it this way, it's like music, you may own a CD of your favorite band that you can listen to how you like, when you like, where you like, but will that stop you going across the city to see them play live in a stadium where things are not as convenient and the lead singer wont pause while you go for another beer but the atmosphere is a lot better? Digital has the convenience, but film has the atmosphere. Hopefully it will never die out completely.

Shuttle diverted

Don't you hate it when your flight gets diverted to another airport for some reason and you end up being bussed back to your original destination, tired, hungry, pissed off and probably missing your luggage.

Could be worse, you could be on the shuttle with enough food, water and carbon dioxide scrubbers to make it to Wednesday. Your whole family could be sitting in the "arrivals area" for the last 24 hours hoping your DIY patch job on the heat shield worked. And then someone decides you cant land in Florida. :-)

Looks like the shuttle is off for a night landing in California. Should make for an interesting sight I'm sure people are being woken up by phone calls from their mates telling them to get their asses out to some observation site near Edwards to watch the shuttle land.

But seriously, good luck to the crew, hopefully this will be the worst thing that happens to them today. I certainly wouldn't like to be on Discovery right now waiting for re-entry.

Update: The Shuttle landed safely


There is a test going on in the UK of a new e-plate system for cars.

The British government is preparing to test new high-tech license plates containing microchips capable of transmitting unique vehicle identification numbers and other data to readers more than 300 feet away.

This is a good idea though I'm not too gone on the idea of the RFID tag being in the license plate, everyone knows people who had their license plate stolen, or broken in little fender bender accidents. Maybe the tags could be physically attached to the car in the trunk or around the engine block? Either way it could make law enforcement, congestion charging and maybe even locating stolen cars a lot easier. There are privacy issues, but I think people would get used to this and eventually see them as little more than digital license plates.

Rip Off Republic

The recent trend of TV programs filmed live in The Helix continued last night with Rip Off Republic on RTE. Eddie Hobbs spent 40 minutes lecturing the audience and a school room full of children about the cost of living in Ireland.

Last nights episode was about the cost of owning and running a house in Ireland from the way a solicitor can end up conveyancing the same piece of land 201 times (1 when a developer buys a large plot of land which is then broken up into 200 houses each of which goes through the conveyance process again) to the Groceries Order which prevents below cost selling and was designed to protect small local groceries which no longer exist since chains of Spars and Centras have replaced them. The Groceries order was blamed for a basket of goods bought in Ireland being 20% more expensive than the same average basket in Europe.

The show itself is a good idea, but Eddie spent the whole time talking to the audience as if they were the children. It was like a cross between a college lecture, a church evangelist and a bad stand up comedian. The whole thing was very scripted, with the audience laughter perfectly timed and polite.

Eddie ended the show asking the public to send a (clean) nappy to Micheal Martin, minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as part of a campaign to get the Groceries Order scrapped. He was then on 2FM this morning repeating his call. Who knows maybe it will take off as a public campaign, but I doubt it, have you ever tried to get a nappy into a post box?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A 3 Customer Experience

Antoin has a blog entry about his experience as a customer of the new 3 network. Its worth a read for anyone considering signing up. His main complaint is that 3 doesnt allow customers to access the internet properly from their serivce. Instead they offer a set of approved sites.
Three doesn’t allow users to access the Internet from their shiny new broadband phones. I rang up the call centre to check on this, and they confirmed that Internet access isn’t a service they offer. They can only access the things that Three has decided customers should be allowed to access. The main services are games, pop videos, lightweight news services and maybe a bit of soft porn. Funnily enough, these are all things that you have to pay extra for, sooner or later. I can’t see them appealing to anyone except teenagers who like spending their parents’ money and patients in hospitals with no televisions.
My current GPRS service with O2 seems to allow me to connect to any url, it's the phone that cant display the page. If 3 is providing the phones then they should provide the service to go with them or customers will be disapointed.

Celebrity Trials, Celebrity Jurors

Two of the jurors in the Michael Jackson case are to write books where they claim they have changed their minds and that he was guilty. Things like this could seriously undermine the American legal system and make it impossible for a celebrity to get a fair trial by jury. If future jurors believe that by deciding on a controversial verdict they can increase their potential book earnings later on then it will prove impossible to get a 100% safe verdict.

Perhaps laws should be passed making it illegal for a judge or juror to make money from a case they were involved in? As far as I know some countries have similar laws exist preventing convicted criminals from making money from their crimes by writing books about them.

Yoga pisses off Criminals

In another triumph for science researchers in Norway discovered that when you get prisoners in a high security prison to do yoga some became more aggressive and irritable. Strange, maybe the researchers should get the hardened criminals to try flower arranging and ballet as well and see if the results are the same. :-)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Quick DIY job on the Shuttle

Astronaut Stephen Robinson is to attempt to fix the heat shield of the Discovery Space Shuttle today by first trying to pull out two ceramic strips that are sticking out from between the heat shield tiles and if that fails he will try to cut the strips off.

I am reminded of a little tile accident that occurred when I was in my final year in college. The house we had rented was badly built and one of the flaws was the fact that the splash back tiles over the cooker had come loose from the steam and were bulging out one day when we got back to the house. I had decided to fix the problem later that evening after I had some food. I warned all the others in the house at the time not to touch the tiles. However as I was sitting there another housemate came into the kitchen. She walked straight over to the tiles and said, "oh look at this". Before she could be warned she tried to push the bulge back in. Like a set of dominos half the tiles on the wall fell onto the counter. Luckily the tiles didn't break and I was able to put them back on the wall with proper tile cement and grouting.

Hopefully something similar will not happen when the astronaut tugs on the strips. It would be the end of Discovery if half her heat shield tiles broke loose and floated away and the crew would be stranded on the International Space Station until another shuttle could be sent to collect them. However it would be very very funny to watch.

Shuttles and Concordes

I cant help but notice the parallels between the situation the Space Shuttle is currently in and the fate of Concorde. Both were successful and long lived . Both suffered catastrophic crashes due to debris. Both had the flaws repaired. Both went back into service. In the case of Concorde they only managed another couple of flights before it was taken out of service and sent to museums. The Shuttle seems to be heading in the same direction. And finally given their ages it is amazing that there is nothing modern to replace either of them.

BTW someone on the radio this weekend gave an amazing statistic, apparently the survival rate of shuttle astronauts is worse than World War II fighter pilots. Seems crazy but I suppose when you count the number of people who have flown in the shuttle and the number who died in accidents versus the total number of fighter pilots in World War II then it is probably a true but unfair comparison.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

3s Low Key Launch

Following on from last weeks post on 3 launching in Ireland, I went into a few 3G and Carphone Warehouse shops over the weekend to see if they had any promotions running for the first weekend of the 3 network.

I am rather surprised by how low-key the 3 launch is. Firstly they have no shops their own yet. I don't know if they plan on opening any but for the moment they are selling their phones through independent phone shop chains like 3G and Carphone Warehouse. Secondly in most of those shops there was only a single cardboard stand with some leaflets and balloons and two of the phones (Motorolla E1000 and the LG U8138) on display, glued to the stands. Only one 3G store, in Dundrum actually had boxes you could pick up and bring to the counter, again only for the Motorolla and the LG. They also had the phones on display in glass cabinets along with all the other phones they were selling.

All in all its a rather muted and underwhelming launch. A bit of a shame really as the Irish market is primed for some big international player like 3 to come along with a good offer and suck customers away from the duopoly of Vodafone and O2. Meteor failed because they shot themselves in the foot with their patchy coverage for the first couple of years. That problem was solved when they signed a roaming deal with O2 but the damage to their reputation was already done. Hopefully 3 wont fall into a similar trap by keeping too low a profile.