Thursday, December 29, 2005

RTE and Christmas

Congratulations to RTE who proved that charity is at the heart of Christmas. For indeed charity can be the only explanation for their schedule over the holidays. Every poor old celebrity in Ireland who could sing, do a magic trick, tell a story, or just stand there and smile at the audience were brought onto some stage or other to entertain the public. Many of these people no longer have a real income, the target audience for their music having died sometime during the famine of 1846. Now RTE is the only organisation on the face of the planet trying to support these people, feeding both their wallets and their egos. From bad Elvis impersonators to Daniel O'Donnell, RTE are firmly stuck in a timeline all their own.

Unfortunately I'm stuck in 4 channel land so I cant avoid RTE. My parents have so far refused to get a satellite dish using the logic that since there's never anything on TV why would they want more channels? I've tried to explain that the lack of good programming, scripting and acting is something RTE seems to be proud of. Where, for example, have they gotten the actors on Fair City? Were they homeless and scavenging in the dumpsters behind the BBC offices when the RTE recruiter came around and took pity on them? The Christmas week is the only time I am home for any long period of time so I don't push the subject and go find other things to amuse myself, mmm Carlsberg and Christmas Cake :-).

Anyway I'll be back up to Dublin on Saturday to celebrate New Years, after which I hope to get a connection speed faster than 19K and one that lasts longer than 5 minutes (bloody Eircom), so this is a very fast post (excuse any spelling mistakes or typos). My blog will soon return to its old frequency, I promise :-)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

I'm at home with my family, watching It's a Wonderful Life on TV3 and trying to get a decent dial-up speed. Just a quick post to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, I'll be back after the holidays.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ahh, the Christmas Party

Its that wonderful time of year again, our office Christmas party. Experience has taught me that its good to have the following day off, which I do this year. Lots of food and drink, usually followed by a trip to some random nightclub that we all afterwards agree was awful and why did we stay out til 3am. Then everyone staggers out into the night, gets refused from Joys nightclub on the grounds that its closed at 4am. Then on to find an open kebab shop followed by a search for an empty taxi and the next morning people slowly wander in to the office with Lucozade (like Power-Aid) in one hand and a sausage sandwich in the other, to sit at their desks and try to ignore the bright glare their monitor seems to be giving off that morning. As you can tell its usually one of the best work nights of the year. :-)

Anytime now I expect someone to wander from desk to desk around the office and out of earshot of management say, "Fancy a few pints before the meal?".

Who was the first human in space?

Anyone remember who the first man in space was? Some crazy space historians claim that someone called Yuri Gagarin was the first. But of course since he wasn't actually American and didn't bring a TV camera then that doesn't really count, does it? I mean the nation this so called "Cosmonaut" came from doesn't even exist anymore, so logically some Americans can now forget about him.

Boing Boing has a story about the first human in space, a man called Joe Kittenger who went into space in a balloon and parachuted back to Earth. Most web sites about him say he went to the edge of space, but that's close enough these days. Boing Boing, The Discovery Channel and Google Video Search can drop an embarrassing loss in the space race from history and label an American as the first man in space.

NASA may acknowledge the fact that Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, but what would they know about making good TV?

I guess history really is written by the victors.

Monday, December 19, 2005

John Spencer, RIP

I was saddened at the weekend to learn of the death of John Spencer. Spencer played Leo McGarry on the TV series The West Wing. For those unfamiliar with the show Leo McGarrys role was Chief of Staff of the White House and Spencers portrayal of the character lifted the whole show. It was his job to make the viewer believe that the collection of characters in the show could lead America. Watching John Spencer play Leo McGarry on screen made Chief of Staff of the White House my dream job. The president, played by Martin Sheen, would never have succeeded without his Chief of Staff. Leo was the real leader of the pack.

All of McGarrys power and influence on screen came from the way Spencer played him. A tough, clever, powerful, yet human and likeable figure. One minute Leo could be in the war room reviewing the plans for a military strike against a rogue nation, the next he would be in his office loosing another discussion with his assistant, Margaret, all the time it was well delivered by Spencer. His best scenes were where he kept the other characters from bringing down the nation.

Leo McGarry: You saw Sam's friend?
Sam Seaborn: How did you know?
Leo McGarry: I had you tailed.
Josh Lyman: You had us tailed?
Leo McGarry: Yes.
Sam Seaborn: Why?
Leo McGarry: On the off chance that you're as stupid as you look.

Spencer died on Friday after suffering a heart attack. This is a real case of life imitating art as in the TV show his character suffered a heart attack and had to leave his job in the White House for most of the 6th season. Since then he had returned to prominence in the show as the Vice-Presidential candidate. His temporary reduced role in the show seriously diminished the show, his death diminishes the whole of television.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Still offline

Since my laptop is still broken and I havent gotten a replacement my blogging exploits will have to slow down for a while. I will post from time to time using other computers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

ITV to close ITV News

I have NTL Digital at home. That gives us 7 news stations ITV, Sky, CNBC, EuroNews, CNN, BBC and Bloomberg. Of those 7 the only two I watch are ITV and BBC. The rest are either boring, too garish in their sets and graphics, or too quick to display BREAKING NEWS so that the screen is full of stories that don't actually exist.

Now it the Examiner is reporting that ITV news is to close. That's a shame. I guess ITV must still be suffering from the failure of its digital service a few years ago.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bloody Laptop

My laptop finally gave up the ghost over the weekend. I own a 2 year old Dell 5150 and while it was a pretty good laptop with good battery life and good performance, there was an inherent weakness in it, the power socket is connected to the motherboard and tends to break. (The IT manager in work described it more sweepingly as "Its a Dell").

For the last few months the power cable was a little sensitive and would disconnect as I moved the laptop. Over the weekend it got worse and I had to wedge the cable at a weird angle to make a connection. Finally, last night, even that stopped working. After a quick search on the web I found lots of other people have the same or similar problems and Dell charge $400 to fix it, which is probably more than the laptop is now worth.

I now have two batteries which usually give me 3 hours of life each. With that six hours I have to backup my laptop and get it repaired, out of warranty, or get a new one. Bloody Dell.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Christmas Toy Appeal

Here is a good cause that I think is worth a mention.

Barnardos and AIB have teamed up again this year to collect toys that will be distributed to children in poor famlies. Christmas is a very special time, especially for children, but unfortunately many families find it difficult to make ends meet as Christmas becomes more and more commercial. This appeal helps to bring Santa to these children.

You are welcome to bring new (unwrapped if possible) toys to any AIB branch and leave in the special Better Ireland toy appeal bag - your gift will support children and families in Barnardos services throughout Ireland. Your kind donation will go to a child attending a Barnardos service and any surplus toys will help to provide support services for more children throughout the country, making sure your gift keeps on giving long after Christmas is over.

It couldnt be simpler. I know its a little late to blog about this as it ends next Friday, the 16th, but when I mentioned this to some friends at lunch on Friday I was surprised that they had not heard of it before.

Friday, December 09, 2005

National Day of Protest Joke

Bad joke of the day:

Did you hear the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have asked people not to finish decorating their Christmas Trees?

The Irish Faries are on strike.

If you dont understand, follow this link, though it only makes the joke worse :-)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Starbucks Challenge Round 3

Green LA Girl and City Hippy are running the third round of the Starbucks Challenge. Those who have been reading this blog will have seen my postings about the previous rounds of the challenge.

The basic idea behind the challenge is that the Starbucks Corporation has a policy that all its stores should have Fair Trade coffee available, even if it is only as a brew and not in the espresso machine. Fair Trade is important because it helps the coffee growers in the poorest parts of the world, not with charity and hand outs, but by cutting out middlemen and providing a fair price for the coffee beans.

Now the problem is that not all the Starbucks stores do have Fair Trade coffee, so while Starbucks Corp get a lot of good press and marketing from Fair Trade, some stores and the baristas working on the ground don't actually know what Fair Trade is let alone provide it.

It is at this point that the bloggers step in. Green LA Girl and City Hippy have organized a campaign to get people to check how well their local Starbucks does. I've taken the challenge in 3 stores, including the two in Dublin and I'm glad to say they have all passed. Others have not had the same experience.

Now the third round of the challenge has started. This one doesn't even require you to buy a coffee. All they are asking is for people to sign a letter calling on Starbucks to live up to their promises and to make sure their franchises do provide Fair Trade coffee.

Budget time

It's that time of the year again when the Irish Government takes from the rich to give to the poor, Budget 2006. Except seeing how this is Ireland and the government is in awe of the rich we don't actually take any money from the rich, instead we give them tax exemptions.

Fortunately things have moved on from Robin Hoods time. Now you don't need to take from the rich to give to the poor, you can instead take from the middle classes and give to the poor and the rich.

The middle classes who pay 42% Income Tax plus 4% PRSI as well as other taxes to live, like bin tax, car tax, VAT, excise duty, and then have to pay all the little stealth taxes like the WEEE tax. In return for all the tax they pay they get... nothing. They have to pay for private health insurance and private pensions. They spend 3 to 4 hours each day commuting to soul less housing estates. They pay tolls to use the roads their taxes paid for or they pay for public transport that is late, crowded and unreliable. Then they use what money they have left to pay off a mortgage that is averaging 10 times the average industrial wage and hope interest rates don't go up too much.

So we'll see that Brian Cowen does for the middle classes, I doubt it will be anything useful. The rumors are there is a big child care package coming, but I guarantee they will make a mess of it and end up driving up the cost of childcare by the amount matching whatever assistance the government provides.

Come on Brian, surprise me, please.

Update: Ok, I was a little surprised. He was very generous to people with children. €1000 for every kid under 6. I imagine a lot of that money will end up going to creche owners who will put their prices up in response, but it looks like families with kids under 6 should be very happy, families with kids aged 6 and 1 month will be a little pissed but you cant keep everyone happy. Social welfare and the elderly won as well, though not as much.

Hanging over all this is the fact that the government tends to hide the bad news in the Finance Bill so I expect that some bad news will be on the way. Well I'll have to wait until tomorrow for the papers to calculate how I did and the Irish Times usually has a good calculator the next day. At the moment I think I'll be marginally better off but only by a token amount. Maybe next year. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


As expected David Cameron won the Conservative leadership election. For the first time in a over a decade the Conservative party looks like a good election package. Cameron and his team, nicknamed the Cameroons, look very young and energetic, you would never pick them for members of the Conservative party, let alone the leaders of that party. They certainly are not Harry Enfields "Tory Boy".

His team is amazingly young, they all seem to be in the mid to late 30s. They look more like dot-com middle management execs than statesmen. That could well be the greatest challenge they will face over the next few years, convincing the nation that they can represent them on the international stage, though Gordon Brown doesn't exactly look the part either. Imagine this, in four years time, David Cameron could be Prime Minister of Britain and Hillary Clinton could be President of America. Weird!

Personally I don't think I'd vote for either Labour or The Conservative Party at the moment. It's would be like voting between E-Coli steak and Salmonella chicken poisoning. You don't want either but you feel you should eat something. Maybe stick with a salad and vote Liberal Democrat, it might not get rid of your hunger but it probably wont kill you either.

Blogger down?

Hmm, blogger is back but it appeared to be down last night. While I could get into the posting page I couldn't get to any page.

Like a minor heart attack makes some people aware of their own mortality a blogspot outage suddenly made me very aware of my blogs mortality. I realise blogger is free and handy so I shouldn't really complain but if anything permanent happened to blogger (the same applies to any of the other blog sites) then my blog would go with it.

Suddenly I realise two things. Firstly the need for a local back-up, a function blogger doesn't really provide, so I'll have to get one of those web site download applications. Secondly how useful having my own URL would be, even if just for a redirect.

Things to look into over the Christmas holidays.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Craft Show

Ok, I know this a bit of blatant advertising but I think I can be forgiven. I haven't done this before and I wont make a habit of it, promise. Hell, I don't even have Google ad-sense turned on.

The National Crafts Show is on in the RDS this week from the 7th to the 11th. Its a great place to pick up some nice Christmas presents, everything from hand made jewelry and clothing to mirrors and furniture. Last year there was also a pretty good foodstuff section with lots of samples, if you get bored.

If you do go along to the show take a look at NB Designs stand A45. Nicola and Brenda are two friends of mine who make various types of jewelry based on their own designs. They use semi-precious gem stones, sterling silver and art glass beads. They have been making jewelry for several years and I think this is their third show in the RDS. The pictures on their website don't do their stuff justice, and seem to be pretty old compared to some of the pieces they have now. At the very least call into their stand and tell them I sent you, it'll freak them out :-)

Update: I had to go to the RDS last night to help my friends set up their stand. The craft show seems to be at least as big as last year. In fact some of the stands seemed more tightly packed so perhaps they have added in another row of stand in some places. Worth a visit for anyone shopping for Christmas presents.


This is a post for some friends of mine who read this blog and own IPod Shuffles. They argue that the shuffle is cool, fashionable and handy. I argue back that as an MP3 player it sucks, if any other company brought out an MP3 player that size with no screen and no radio they would cut their losses and sell it for €20. It's just a delivery mechanism for the white headphones that have become must have fashion accessories.

Not wanting to gloat of anything, but it turns out I was right ;-) The shuffle has just been voted this years "Must Have Chav Gadget"

The shuffle is perfect for chavs. It's cheap. It’s by a cool brand, and you can let others know you have one as it is designed to be worn round your neck. As it is white it also accessorises well with those classy gold chains Chavs wear. The sad part is that the shuffle is the worst player in the Apple range – more like some dodgy back street knock-off than the excellent other iPods. The fact it has no screen so you can’t program it or choose a track – it chooses the music for you – also saves Chav brain cells for the much more important business of, ahem, ‘pimping their rides.

Lets face it, Shuffles are stocking fillers. For anyone considering buying a Shuffle, there are far better things available, like the Creative Nano the IRiver T30 or if you are willing to pay a little more, a proper IPod like the Nano. Me? I'll stick with my old reliable IRiver H120 running the open source Rockbox firmware giving me all the features I want.

[Via The Register]

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Late Late Disaster

Oh dear God, pass the alcohol, I need to kill some memory cells. That was the worst Late Late Toy Show I have ever seen. It was so cringe worthy, right out of the scripts for The Office or Alan Patridge. From the beginning when Pat Kenny showed up dressed as Darth Vader on a white horse and surrounded by Vikings and Braveheart type soldiers it was clear that this show could only get better.

Unfortunately that was the highlight of the show. No I lie, the highlight of the show was the boxing kangaroo couple who decided to get frisky on the floor of the studio instead of boxing. Poor Jimmy McGee who was supposed to commentate had to shout "This is a childrens toy show" before the director cut to a sudden ad break.

After that we were treated to 2 hours of Pat Kenny being bullied by every kid to wander into the studio. "Pat, we did that in the rehearsals" would have seemed funny in previous years and especially with Gay Byrne, but with Pat it seemed like the 7 year olds were genuinely taking the piss out of him and the look on his face was classic everytime a kid interrupted him.

This may seem cruel but the acts were atrocious, even taking into account the fact they were children. In previous years The Late Late Toy Show has showcased some of the best young talent in the country. This year it must have been the best young talent related to the staff of RTE. The first lad was a 12 year old piano player singing "I believe in Father Christmas" unfortunately it appeared that his voice had broken since rehearsals. At least he could play the piano very well, other acts had less going for them. Obviously parents had shoved them into singing and dancing school and would not let a lack of talent stop them getting their kids on TV.

When Pat brought on a remote control "homeless man" robot the stage crew had obviously given up on him and refused to remove the robot, instead the robot struck up an accordian and rolled around in front of Pat. In desperation Pat pulled off the wig and exposed the innards of the robots head. That was the only way you knew which was the robot and which was the TV presenter.

If you missed it tonight, tape the repeat on Sunday (I think) and use it as a drinking game. Every time Pat cringes at a kid, take a drink, you'll be passed out before the second ad break.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Late Late Toy Show

Tonight is the unofficial start of Christmas in Ireland. The Late Late Toy Show is on! For those who don't know what the Late Late Show is, it's a chat show on the Irish television RTE, which has been running since 1962. Irish folklore says that its the longest running chat show in the world, though in my opinion it actually ceased to be The Late Late Show in 1999 when Gay Byrne retired and Pat Kenny took over.

Once a year, for as long as I can remember, and probably for years before, they have had a special show dedicated to toys and Christmas. As kids we were allowed stay up to watch the show and see all the new toys and Christmas acts. Maybe that was where my love of gadgets started. In between toys, bikes, lego, remote controlled cars, books, board games, and anything else Santa will be able to pack into his sleigh on Christmas Eve, there was The Billy Barry Kids singing pieces from Bugsy Malone (shudder), choirs from local churches singing Christmas carols and Irish classical singers performing seasonal favorites As Gaeilge.

When Gay was in charge it was like a old grandfather with his grandchildren, Pat is more like an uncomfortable uncle who doesn't really like or understand children. Still its a nice piece of tradition and for many people, both young and old, its the only episode of The Late Late Show that they will admit to watching.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Cant live without your mobile phone?

Well it turns out that if you are a woman you may not be able to live with it either. The route to this idea is a little round about but kinda interesting.

An Australian psychiatrist, Michael Berk, has found that there was a "small, but significant increase in the suicide rate among women” on the days after the Earth was hit by a solar flare.

Normally this would be of minimal press interest, except maybe to women who worry about statistically small risks or any women who get to spend time outside the protection of the Earths atmosphere in the International Space Station or on any future Moon/Mars missions. However what has grabbed some web coverage for this is the fact that the researcher has theorized that mobile phones could induce similar effects.

The finding meant it was feasible that electrical and communications equipment could affect mood, Professor Berk said, though not inevitably for the worse."

With people today swamped by mobile phones and electrical fields there is probably no way to accurately measure this effect, but it provides another reason why people should limit the time they and especially their children spend talking on mobile phones. Though it also shows that no matter how much we worry about what modern civilization can do to us and try to protect ourselves, Mother Nature can still pop up and kill you in totally new and interesting ways.

On a lighter note I wonder if one day we will get "psychological phone messages" that can tweak the electrical field of a mobile phone to create a desired emotional response in the listener. Even a slight response could be useful (if possibly carcinogenic). Could be an end for the smiley :-O

[Via Engadget]