Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Civil Servants milking the tax payer

The trade unions representing Irish Civil Servants like to complain, alot. They like to tell us how unfair it is that they are paid so little. They like to beat the private sector workers with the "your paid soooo much more than us" stick and insist on getting "benchmarking" payments to redress the cruel imbalance. They like to get paid for every little change and performance related improvement they are just asked to make, never mind implement them. They like to moan about having to move down the country as part of decentralization but complain about the price of housing in Dublin. All in all they like to portray themselves as the poor down trodden servants of the nation.

Now it turns out they actually get paid up to 20% more than private sector workers. (Sorry, registration on the Irish Independent required and RTE seem to have deleted their copy of the story.)
Public sector workers should get smaller pay rises than those in the private sector in the new national wage agreement, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says in its latest quarterly report.

The call comes amid evidence that government workers may be earning 20pc more than those in private firms - even before the value of their pay-related pensions is added. The report says change is needed to keep down costs and halt the slide in Irish exports.

The Government wont do anything to reduce the pay of Civil Servants, remember your local TD gets benchmarked pay increases as well so they are laughing all the way to the bank.

No wonder SIPTU today voted to enter new talks on a national pay deal, its a bloody gravy train. If there is no deal then companies will just tell the unions to go screw themselves or they will go to countries where it would be cheaper to do business. That's pretty much every nation on earth at this stage, with possibly a few exceptions like Iraq and Afghanistan where you would need to spend a little more to protect your staff and premises.

06 Reg Car

This morning, January 31st, while walking to work I saw my first 06 registered car, a Nissan Micra. What makes this strange is that I work in Dublin 4, one of the most affluent areas of Dublin and normally the place is thick with shiny new cars and SUVs by the second week of the new year. In fact I've normally nearly been knocked down by some asshole in a brand new BMW or Mercedes by this time of year.

Have I been less observant this year or are car sales possibly down?

Update: Hey, what the hell do I know? It turns out that a record number of new cars were sold this year.
SIMI says that a total of 43,106 new car registrations were recorded last month. It says this beat the previous best month of January 2000 when 42,064 new cars were sold. It also represents a 12.5% increase on January 2005 when a total of 38,329 new cars were registered.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Charity conflicts with Business

It was bound to happen. All the talk about the information divide and that the poor in society do not have access to the same amount of information as the rich led to the idea of the One Laptop Per Child also known as the $100 Laptop.

It's a nice idea, but like many nice ideas when it is brought into the real world it threads on the toes of many vested interests. Case in point is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who is one of the most charitable people on the planet, regularly giving vast amounts of money to help the poor of the world and winning Time Person of the Year for his efforts, along with his wife Melinda, and Bono. With his operating system on 90% of the worlds computers he can afford to be very charitable. But the OLPC represents a significant threat to this dominance simply because it will run on a free, open-source, Linux based operating system.

Bill offered to give a free open-source version of Windows CE to the project but this was rejected, as was a similar offer from Apple with OS X. In the end the company that gets its operating system on this PC will have an amazing advantage over the other companies since people tend to stick with the operating system they know best and if kids learn Linux from an early age they will probably use it as adults. This could devastate the Windows and OS X markets.

Bill has now offered an alternative idea, give every kid a data capable cell phone. The phone could be connected to a TV and a keyboard. Of course the phone would run Windows CE. This is where Bill's two sides come into conflict. Deep down inside he has to know that a cell phone cannot replace a laptop, no matter how many bells and whistles you give the phone and how few you give the laptop. Unfortunately he must also know the danger it would pose to his business and I suppose rather ironically his charity work.

Perhaps the best thing Microsoft and Apple could do is jump on board the OLPC bandwagon and work hard to make the project a success, while at the same time working to make the machines configurable. No one says the laptop can run only one OS? Why does one company have to win this particular battle? Should the kids of the world learn one way of using a computer and not be able to change? Why not bring out a Windows kit and an OS X kit that could be installed on the laptop to replace Linux? Make the kits free and let the kids decide. Then its up to the companies involved to improve what the machines can do and there-by win over the kids.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Swords into Plough-shares 2006 style.

I read this story today and thought it was a nice twist on turning swords into plough-shares.

In Mexico City the authorities are offering computers in exchange for guns. There are only 150 computers on offer, but it is still a nice idea.

The computers-for-guns program, which echoes past schemes in other city districts that offered groceries for guns, will target some of the district's most crime-hit areas, although collectors' items are also turning up.

[Via Engadget]

No More Toll Booths

The Good: The much hated toll booths on the M50 Westlink are to be removed and replaced by barrier free tolling.

The Bad: It wont be done until sometime in 2008.

The Ugly: National Toll Roads will be compensated because of it owns the monopoly on tolls on the Westlink. Apparently that compensation in set based on the income from the previous years tolls, so by moving the closure date to 2008 instead of now they get the benefit of 2 years of toll rate increases and increases in traffic thereby increasing the compensation.

Update: 2nd Feb 2005: Watching Oireachtas Report, apparently the amount paid to NTR could be as much as 600 million and they will maintain rights on a 3.2 mile strip of the M50 for 15 years so the government will have to go to them for permission if they want to upgrade or alter the M50. Bloody hell.

I do not work for Starbucks

I received an email from someone who seemed to believe that I was working for Starbucks. I guess this idea came from some postings I did about the Starbucks Challenge a couple of months ago. The Starbucks Challenge is actually a campaign to get Starbucks to improve their policy on Fair Trade coffee and to live up to their promises. I don't even drink much Starbucks coffee, preferring these days to drink in Coffee Society or the like where I can get a comfortable seat and read my paper away from a crowd. I guess my review of the two stores in Dublin was positive so the person thought I must work in their PR department or something. I am a software engineer working for a small computer company, hence my interest in coffee.

Ironically I was going to head off and try the round 3.5 of the Challenge today (yeah I'm very very late on that) but I think I'll refrain from it for a while.

So if you need to contact Starbucks please don't email me, I can do nothing to help you except to point you at their website www.starbucks.com.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Robbie Fowler's back at Liverpool

Fowler has rejoined Liverpool. I'm not joking, he really has, it's on the official website. On a free transfer from Manchester City. Fingers crossed that he can become the player he once was.

Update: 1 Feb 2006 - Robbie played his first game in his new Liverpool career tonight. He scored but it was disallowed for off-side.


Don't forget, tonight the EuroMillions jackpot is a cool 150 million euros. Normally I don't do the lottery, it is after all a tax on stupidity, but this time I think I'll do a quick pick.

It is amazing how people assume they are going to win when they play the lottery. Somewhere deep down inside a little part of us believes that we will win, I think its the part of us that cant do math. Anyway a portion of this morning's coffee break was spent discussing how to keep a big win secret, after all the moment people find out you will be swamped with begging letters and kidnap threats. It is more difficult than you would imagine.

For starters what do you do with the ticket on a Friday night? Where would you put 150 million for safe keeping until Monday? Remember if you call the bank manager he will know and once he knows, his family and staff know so everyone will know by Sunday. Then how do you avoid someone in the Lottery office leaking your ID? Next you have to find a bank that will take the money and not tell people, see above. Then you have to find a discrete way to spend the money.

Oh to have those problems.

Update: As expected, but not hoped, I didnt win the Lottery. A group of 13 of us put in 2 Euros each. We managed to win a staggering 9 euros.

Blogger.com trouble?

I use blogger.com to host and manage this blog. It appears to be having trouble tonight. I wrote a post at 8:30pm and just after I published it Blogger seemed to go down. I was unable to log in or check any blogger hosted site until 12:30am. However it does appear to have come back for a while around 10pm because my earlier post was added to Irish Blogs and Bloglines at that time.

Update: Yup there was an unscheduled outage last night, they say it was only 15 minutes but I'm sure it was longer. It's all back now. You can check the status of blogger at http://status.blogger.com/. (Ironically hosted on blogger so when blogger goes down its status site goes down as well :-) )

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Brian O'Driscoll

I heard Brian O'Driscoll on the radio this evening being interviewed about Leinster in the quater-finals of the Heineken Cup and Ireland in the upcoming Six Nations competition. Maybe I missed something but he didn't sound too concerned about the results or too optimistic for the season, he just explained in both cases that we've nothing to loose since Leinster are playing in Toulouse and Ireland aren't even second favorites for the Six Nations.

I would have liked a little more fire from the captain of the team. You know talk about going out there to prove the critics wrong, show that both teams are seriously underestimated, and win something for the loyal fans. He just sounded down and like he'd already written off the season. If the captain doesn't care will the rest of the team? If Brian really thinks he has nothing to loose then I suppose he should consider that which seems to closest to his heart these days, product endorsement and book deals. After all if he isn't able to maintain his profile in sport then he may find the advertising agencies stop calling.

What is the opposite of Not?

Are you interested in the English language and the origin of words? Every Monday Professor Terry Dolan is on the Monfrief radio show on Newstalk 106.

Our language: Prof of Hiberno English in UCD, Terry Dolan takes every day words in the English language and traces their origins and meanings every Monday at 2.40.

Better still, for those of you who dont live in Dublin, the segment is available as a podcast, just search for Newstalk 106 in ITunes.

In case your wondering about the title of this post, what is the opposite of Not? The answer is "Thing" not "Is" as is commonly believed. Not literally means NO Thing. You can hear the complete explanation on the show "Terry Dolan on the language of the Ghetto" from 14th November.

George Galloway is out of the House

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the fact that the British MP George Galloway had gone into the Celebrity Big Brother house. I haven't actually watched the show but every couple of days there was a news story about something Galloway did either in the house or in real life. Basically with him locked away it was open season in the media.

Well he has been evicted now but the media don't seem to be giving up. Watching the BBC News 24 presenters discuss the early editions of tomorrows papers it looks like the troubles for George are just starting. I'll have to buy some tabloids tomorrow, or search around on the web to see if they provide online versions.

George is out of one house, now he faces a fight to stay in the other.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hyperdrive and Boy Bands

I just watched an episode of the new BBC comedy Hyperdrive. Imagine Red Dwarf crossed with the Office to produce a show with nothing funny and nothing original. I've nothing good to say about it. The sets and effects are worse than 1960's sci-fi and the script is a school kids impersonation of the office.

The funniest thing that happened was when my flatmate came home. She asked what was on, I explained the show and said in this episode they were celebrating Gary Neville Day cause he invented anti-gravity. She looked funny and said "Gary Neville? Isn't he in a boy band?". I explained he is actually the captain of Manchester United, but thinking about it now and the way United has gone these days she was almost right.

Deporting Kunle

Looks like the Olunkunle Eluhanla better known as Kunle is being deported from Ireland, again. Last time he was deported he was portrayed in the media as just a poor school boy trying to do his Leaving Certificate and being bullied by the government. I admit I was pretty annoyed when I heard what the government was doing, the least they could do is let the chap sit his exams which were just a month or two away.

Then I heard that his application for asylum had been rejected, he was in his twenties, and had been caught driving with no tax or insurance. My sympathy waned a little. Still the campaign did managed to get him back into the country on a 6 month extension to sit his exams, last March. So I had assumed things turned out for the best.

Now The Examiner is reporting that Kunle has received a letter telling him he has 15 days to leave the country or be deported again.
It outlined several reasons for the decision, including the fact that his application for asylum had been turned down, and the fact that he had recently pleaded guilty in court to charges of driving without insurance or tax since he returned to Ireland.

Residents against Racism are also saying that there is no justification for deporting someone for road traffic offences. I'd guess normally they might have a point, but I would like some more information and facts:

1) As I see it he must have finished his exams by now. Is he repeating? Going to college? Why is he still called a student in the media?

2) Was he not made aware the first time that he required tax and insurance? Why did he not get tax and insurance this time?

3) Is his 6 month visa expired? March was 10 months ago. Did he get an extension?

4) On what grounds is he seeking asylum? All the focus is on how unfair the Department is being for deporting him, but has he got grounds to stay in the first place?

5) Why should he stay and, for example, a woman who lives in fear of genital mutilation be sent back? The line as to who stays and who goes seems a bit blurry sometimes and far too open to manipulation by media.

6) Did McDowell personally order his deportation? Has he been paying special attention to this case?

I'm sure some people will flame me and accuse me of racism or something equally heinous. I don't really care, I'm not racist, I think there is a balance to be struck, we simply cant let in everyone who wants to come to Ireland for a better life, neither can we sent home people who live in genuine fear. I'm just not convinced that this young man is the innocent figure Residents Against Racism want him to be. If he breaks the law, no matter how minor, does he really send out the right message for the group? Why focus all this attention on him when I am sure there are many other cases that are more urgent. I just want to make sure the law is applied fairly, that he has a genuine reason to stay and that the government is not seeking revenge.

Update: this may partially answer question 2. Turns out the Gardai don't have the power to seize cars of non-nationals.
He [Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy] said a loophole existed in the law if offenders were not Irish residents.
“Because they’re not, we cannot seize their car, even though they may not be taxed or insured. That problem is there,” he said.

The London Whale

Interesting story about why the London whale, that fascinated the media at the weekend, died while being rescued. It was suffering from dehydration as well as other factors
Preliminary results from the examination found the northern bottlenose whale had died from a combination of factors including dehydration, muscle damage and a reduction of kidney function as it headed west looking for squid.

But the interesting fact, that I did not know, is whales get their water from their food. So when the whale could not find food to eat it got dehydrated and eventually died.
Announcing the result Dr Paul Jepson, the ZSL veterinary pathologist, said: "Whales and dolphins obtain water from their food, and northern bottlenose whales normally feed on deep water squid in the Atlantic.

"This animal would not have been able to feed while in the North Sea, and so would have become dehydrated.

For mammals that swim in the sea this seems like a little bit of an evolutionary flaw, surely there would be abetter biological way to filter salt water into drinking water. Though then again I guess it is also a clever way for nature to keep the number of whales in balance with their food supply.

[Via The Guardian]

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Le C.S.I. c'est Merde

Pardon my French, but this story from France amused me and shows that when you start a criminal investigation into a murder it would be useful to run a few tests before hand, like checking how old the skeleton is.

A skeleton was uncovered on a French beach during an unusually low tide. A long gash in the skull showed that the woman had been murdered. There followed a 2 year search for the identity of the victim with police searching through missing persons files and even coming up with a possible match which was discounted after DNA tests. Eventually someone radiocarbon dated the skeleton and discovered it was over 500 years old. You would think someone would have twigged a little earlier, especially the DNA specialist who surely should have noticed a certain degree of degradation in the quality of the DNA and bones? This is clearly a case for C.S.I, even the actors may have asked "how old is this thing anyway?".

However the funniest bit is the statement from the police
We are satisfied because at least we know the date now. We reckon it was pirates," said Francois Gerthosser of the Plourin-les-Morlaix police on Tuesday.

Johnny Depp is probably now on the 10 most wanted list in France.

GMail Bug.Feature?

Are you getting email sent to a gmail account belonging to someone else? Turns out some people say that they are and the reason seems to be a feature in GMail that many people, myself included, did not know about.

The idea is that when you register the address john.doe@gmail.com you will also get emails sent to johndoe@gmail.com and the johndoe address will be reserved.

GmMil doesn't recognize dots (.) as characters within a username. This way, you can add and remove dots to your username for desired address variations. messages sent to your.username@gmail.com and y.o.u.r.u.s.e.r.n.a.m.e@gmail.com are delivered to the same inbox, since the characters in the username are the same.

Nice idea and potentially useful, there are other little tips like using the email address john.doe+astring@gmail.com will have the email sent to john.doe@gmail.com and the +astring can then be used for filtering into folders. (See this site for more info)

Unfortunately it appears that if someone else had already registered johndoe@gmail.com they still keep that email address, but their emails get sent to your account as well, or at least that is what some people on Slashdot are saying is happening.

I've had an address in the form xxx.yyy@gmail.com for a long time. I picked it because I liked the separation. I don't even know if xxxyyy@gmail.com was taken before I registered. But I know that someone else (named Dave) has xxxyyy@gmail.com, because i receive his messages, including ones with private information, like web site admin login/password combos, which would give me access to billing information.

People argue if this is a bug or a feature. Its just something worth keeping an eye on.

Update: I got curious and tested this (I know I should have done so before reporting this :-) ). Anyway for comments on this blog I have decsramble@gmail.com (currently being filled with spam). I just tried to register decs.ramble and was told it wasnt available. So it would appear the problem is fixed for new users, but older users may have gotten accounts before it was fixed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sony will make Digital SLRs

Finally after a month of bad news in the photography market some good news. When Konica Minolta announced their withdrawal from the camera market last week one part of their press release said that Sony had purchased its digital camera division. The speculation at the time was that Sony would bring out its own digital SLR based on Konica Minolta. Now today it has been confirmed and the even better they will be focusing on the cheaper end of the market.

Yutaka Nakagawa, president of Sony's digital imaging business group, told reporters the company would aim for 20-25 percent of the fast-growing digital SLR market by focusing on relatively inexpensive models that could achieve mass-market appeal.

Whatever your personal opinion of Sony I think new blood in the market can only be a good thing. Also by using the Konica Minolta base anyone who has recently invested in Konica Minolta cameras and lenses wont be left totally high and dry as the lenses should work on the Sony, and I would expect that therefore Sony lenses could work on Konica Minolta cameras (but don't blame me if they don't).

I also forgot to mention the announcement last week that Samsung will be releasing two new digital SLRs as well. Again new blood in the market, even if in this case the cameras aren't exactly setting the world alight with features.

[Via Gizmodo]

West Wing Cancelled

As expected The West Wing has been cancelled and this will be the last season. I know the election of a new President is a logical place to end the show but still its disappointing.

I suppose this will leave a gap in the schedule which they can fill with another reality TV show, perhaps one where they get a group of pop idols, stick them on a desert island and make them build a motorbike out of Ozzie Osbornes nose clippings while investigating murders using amazing technology? Or worse still yet another Friends spin off.

Underworld Evolution

I went to see Underworld Evolution tonight. I'm a fan of the original Underworld. It was a movie made on relatively small budget of $22 million, tiny in today's movie industry. Yet was all the better for it. Granted the concept behind the movie was better than the actual movie. The idea of an 800 year old war between vampires and werewolves was great, though I'm sure someone could tell me they have ripped off other franchises like Masquerade. Also I liked the idea that the vampires while still super strong were no match for the werewolves physically and had to resort to special forces type armor and weapons to redress the imbalance. Finally it had Kate Beckinsale in it and I think she is easily one of the most beautiful women in the world.

I was worried about the new movie. Sequels to low budget movies can easily fall into the trap of packing in enough special effects for both movies and forgetting what made the original good. For example take The Chronicles of Riddick. Chronicles was the sequel to Pitch Black a low budget movie made in the Australian desert. Chronicles was a big budget sequel packed with special effects and set piece battles but still proof that extra money does not necessarily make a better movie. Pitch Black was far more interesting and original. Chronicles was just a poor version of Conan the Barbarian in space.

The makers of Underworld evolution did not make the same mistake. In fact they seem to have gone out of their way to make the movie look and feel the same as the original. The budget for this one was $48 million, more than double the original but compare that with King Kong at $207 million and Superman Returns at $300 million. Everything has the same dark look with a tinge of nighttime blue.

This movie picks up exactly where the first left off. All the bodies are still lying where they fell. The survivors are regrouping and getting more weapons or running for their lives. That said this one is different. There are fewer vampires for a start, and probably fewer actors. A third faction, which seems to be human have taken the place of the vampires, who were mostly killed off in the first movie anyway. The action focuses on a smaller number of characters, with the emphasis on Selene, Michael and a new character, Marcus. Other characters come and go but don't spend nearly as much time on screen.

The start of the movie is set in 1202AD with a battle between vampires and werevolves. The vampires look like dark elven knights from Lord of the Rings. I think there is great potential for a prequel story covering this period of time. Another nice idea is that when dealing with vampires and werewolves the human dead don't stay dead for too long so when fighting its best to get things over with quickly. There are some plot holes and unexplained gaps in time, but hey, this is a movie about vampires fighting werewolves so don't go to it expecting a deep and intellectually challenging experience.

Kate Beckinsale is quite good in the role as Selene, the Deathdealer, and she looks stunning in her leather outfit. You can believe her in an action role, better than the likes of Angelina Jolie. In some scenes her character could have come straight from The Matrix.

If you didn't like the original there is nothing new here to turn you to the vampire or lycan side. If you liked the original then you'll like the new one. I cant help but feel there is another sequel in the franchise, though it is not as clearly signposted as this one was.

Over all 3 1/2 out of 5 but still an entertaining way to pass the evening.

Update: Underworld Evolution is top of the box office in the US, taking $27.6 million. Not bad for a movie that cost $48 million, and almost certain to guarantee Underworld 3

By the way here is a web site which discusses the special effects, and has concept drawings for things in the opening battle I mentioned above.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Cats really are evil

I always knew cats were evil. Never liked them. I was always curious as to which species was the pet and which was the master. Cats always seemed to be manipulating people. Now it turns out that they actually are manipulating people using a parasite in their feces. Normally this parasite, Toxoplasma, targets rats by making the them fearless, a bad thing when faced by a predator.

In humans this parasite has other effects, and it even has different effects on women than men

Infected women, on average, tend to be more outgoing and warmhearted than controls, while infected men tend to be more jealous and suspicious.

So further proof that cats are the biggest risk to our status as dominant species on the planet. They have learned that if you can make the woman happy, the mans opinion gets overridden. Evil, truely Evil. :-)

[Via Boing Boing]

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cell Phone Tracking on Google Maps

This is interesting and more than a little scary. A service called World Tracker allows the user to display the location of a mobile phone, with an accuracy of 50 to 500 meters on a Google Map.

The cell phone user has to approve the person who wants to track them. The first time they are searched for the cell user gets a text message and must reply to turn on tracking. But just try telling your girlfriend, spouse or parent (for any younger readers) that you'd rather not allow them track you. :-)

It's only available in the UK at the moment, but they plan to expand to other countries, assuming they don't get banned. Now you'll never be able to claim you had to work late again, unless your local pub is beside your office. And don't you dare go within 500 meters of Parnell Street once Stringfellows opens :-)

[Via Engadget]

120,000 Euros for an Irish Beach Hut

In yet another sign that the Irish property market is hyper-inflated and unsustainable a beach hut in county Wicklow has gone on sale, for 120,000 Euros. For that you get 1/6 of an acre, a timber framed structure with a felt foot and an outdoor chemical toilet. Oh and while it does face a beach it backs onto the Dublin-Rosslare rail line.

It measures 15 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 8 inches (4.7 by 3.9 metres) and is divided into two little rooms, one with a kitchen and a bed while the "living room" sleeps three, on a sofa and a divan bed, O'Grady said.

Check out the estate agents website for photos. You have to see this to believe it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

New Template

Anyone who visits this site regularly will notice that I've just updated the template. I got tired of the old green one which was called "TicTac" so I took a look at the other templates available, found one called "Snapshot: Sable" which I liked. A few small tweaks and a change of photo and I had my new template.

What do you think? Anyone prefer the old one? Anyone not like something about the new one? Anyone found any bugs? Let me know what you think.

Konica Minolta pulls out of photo business

2006 is shaping up to be a really historic year in the field of photography. Already this year we've had Nikon dumping most of its 35mm film business and Kodak changing its 70 year old logo. Now Konica Minolta has announced that it is to pull out of the photo market completely. Not only are their film based products being stopped, but digital as well.

I've never used their cameras, but a friend of mine has and likes them. It seems a shame to see another company pull out of the market. The fewer companies the less innovation there will be. I do think it was a little cynical, if understandable, for them to pull out of the market straight away after Christmas. I'm sure there are people out there with brand new Konica Minolta cameras who are a little worried about the future regarding lenses and tech support. Sony is going to purchase their digital camera business so perhaps they will keep the range, or bring out their own brand of digital SLRs.

Konica Minolta said the market had become too competitive, and added it would sell its digital camera business to Japanese electronics giant Sony.

There are still other small companies in the market, I own a Sigma 35mm SLR. I wonder what they are planning. They have a Digital SLR on the market but their core market is still producing lenses for other brands. It would be a shame to see the market reduced to Canon, Nikon and a bunch of computer focused companies.

Of course we should remember that the real people hurt by this are the staff of Konica Minolta.
Konica Minolta is planning to cut 3,700 jobs, or 11% of its workforce, by 2007 as part of a restructuring drive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Chattering Stage

The big news in the UK today is a "plot" to kidnap Leo Blair, the 5 year old son of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The so called plotters are supposed to be extremist members of an organisation Fathers 4 Justice. Fathers 4 Justice have denied involvement and there is no doubt that the real members were in no way involved in this plot. Their organisation exists to bring children and their fathers together, not to split them up. They know they depend on public support to advance their cause. Kidnapping a child is an evil crime and they would destroy their cause just by attempting it.

F4J say they condemn any such action unreservedly and that the group is increasingly having it's name 'hijacked' by a growing number of militant extremists and that it would seriously consider the long term viability of the campaign.

Fathers 4 Justice fight for the rights of fathers who at the moment can be denied access to their children at the whim of the mother. They have staged some high profile stunts in the past but to my knowledge they have never endangered anyone other than themselves. Their most high profile stunt was getting a member to scale a wall of Buckingham Palace while dressed as Batman. The police naturally went nuts, not at the prospect of Batman flying away with the Queen under his arm like Kim Basinger, but because they had messed up and allowed a protestor dressed as Batman access to Buckingham palace, it could as easily have been a nut case with a gun or a bomb.

Sir John said police made a split-second judgment that Mr Hatch was not a security risk because of the way he was behaving and the clothes he was wearing - and for this reason they did not open fire.

Naturally the police would have put Fathers 4 Justice under surveillance and would probably have infiltrated their organisation. The result of this is the uncovering of the "plot" to kidnap Leo Blair.

But what was the "plot". Had they maps, timetables, hideouts, guns, ransom demands all the things you would think would be needed to kidnap a high profile person? Nope, what sparked this public alert is what's knows as "the chattering stage". Chattering is what is sounds like, chatter, talk, conversation. It can be two extremists discussing in detail and over a long period of time a plot to commit a crime. Or it can be two idiots talking to each other over a cup of coffee speculating wildly what stunts they could pull in the future.

Chatter is the term used by intelligence agencies when they have nothing but a vague idea that something could happen, maybe, in the future. It is used frequently in the United States to raise the terrorist alert.

The problem with chatter is that there is alot of it. There was intelligence chatter before 9/11, and before the Bali bombings. But even the intelligence agencies didn't recognise what was important until after the events. Imagine if you had to listen to every conversation that went on in your local shopping mall. How would you know who was planning a crime? Would it be the guy who says "I'd give my right arm for a Playstation". Or the kid who says he'd "beg borrow or steal a ticket to the concert". How about the mother who tell her son, "I'll kill you when I get you home". Should all those people be picked up by store detectives and interrogated to prevent a crime? Of course not.

What has happened now to Fathers 4 Justice is someone in their organisation said something about kidnapping Leo Blair. Kidnapping is a heinous crime, especially when a child is kidnapped. But obviously the police were not too concerned.

The plan only got as far as what police called the "chattering stage", BBC correspondent Ben Ando said. There has been no kidnap attempt and no arrests.

However it makes great headlines. The Sun has scooped a great story and everyone is quoting their story. Of course just a little hype and the use of dramatic language helps as well.

SPECIAL Branch cops smashed a plot to kidnap little Leo Blair while monitoring a small band of fanatical dads, The Sun can reveal.

They stumbled across the startling plan as they investigated the activities of men on the lunatic fringe of the Fathers 4 Justice group.

Fathers 4 Justice are now being demonised and seen as dangerous and extremist. They can deny it all they like, but the damage to their reputation is done. In a few days the story will have faded from media attention. In a few weeks there will probably be a small two paragraph story on page 19 of the newspapers announcing that the police investigation had uncovered nothing and the rumors of a plot have proven false. There wont be any front page headlines saying "Fathers 4 Justice Screwed By The Sun". There will be no public apology. No one will make a real attempt to inform the public of the mistake. The public will continue view Fathers 4 Justice as dangerous and watch their stunts with a more cautious eye. Perhaps next time a police officer who sees a man dressed as Batman walking towards Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street wont hesitate to shoot. All because of some idle talk and a media desperate for a headline.

Update: Fathers 4 Justice is to disband
Mr O'Connor said: "Three years after starting the organisation, we are going to cease all operations and bring the campaign to a close purely on the basis of what's happened."

He added that in recent months "extremist elements" had "undermined the position and credibility of an organisation that was flying along for the first two years of its existence".

Update 2: A, now former, member of Fathers 4 Justice calling himself "Silver Surfer" was on Newstalk 106 this morning. He was quite emotional and accused Tony Blair, MI5 and The Sun of launching a pincer attack to destroy Fathers 4 Justice to distract from the introduction of new plans to reform Child Support Agency and privatise some of it. He pointed out that the story was known for a month and had been sat un until yesterday. Then the first story on the BBC news at 10am was the CSA story, the second was the Leo Blair story. He may be a bit paranoid to blame Tony Blair and MI5 but it does sound like someone in the Government press office could be doing a bit of spin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Advertise via satellite

Some advertisers have decided to take advantage of the novelty of Google Maps and Google Earth by painting their logo on the roofs of their buildings. This was done previously by companies near airports though I doubt many people on airplanes rushed out to buy something after seeing a company logo on a roof.

At least one company I know of actually had a policy against painting their logo on their roof because of the risk of being targeted by bombers or something. This was a little paranoid, especially when you consider this was prior 9/11.

However the one company that should probably never paint their logo on their roof is Target, and they are the one being sited as an example. :-)

[vis Boing Boing]

IPod Video Glasses

Some commentators say that the world has become more insular as people now walk around with their IPod headphones on, listening to their own music and never interacting with the people around them. I guess I'm one of those insular people (though with an IRiver not an IPod).

Now someone has realised that the IPod screen is just a little too small for watching movies, but with video glasses you can turn it into a 42" virtual screen.

These things been out for years and have never taken off. I used a similar pair a few years ago and wasn't impressed. The screens were not particularly large or clear. Plus I wear glasses and the headset just wasn't designed for use with glasses. I did use a cool IBM concept headset once that allowed the user to view a computer screen on a little clear pane through which you to view the computer screen or the real world depending on how you focused your eyes. I have never seen either of those headsets in the shops since. They were never more than a novelty since there was never an easy enough way to carry the movies and player.

Now with Video IPods there may well be an opportunity. Of course the price would have to come down *alot* and the technology would have to have improved since I used it, but I can easily see teenagers and gadget freaks sitting on busses and trains watching movies on headsets (and missing their stops). You could even produce a IPod Video\3G phone adapter for a headset that could view movies from the IPod and 3G content from the phone.

[via Gizmodo]

Monday, January 16, 2006


What kind of superhero are you? Turns out I'm Spiderman. I found quiz today on Irish Blogs and Hooped. Hmm, apparently I'm most like Spiderman. Not too sure I like that one. However I do like the Captain Jack Sparrow one.

I don't think I'll be running out to buy the MMORPG game City of Heros. A hero rating of 67% means I'd probably be very bad at it :-).

There are loads of other quizzes at the site as well so if your bored its worth a visit.

The Amazing Spider-Man


Captain Jack Sparrow


Lara Croft


William Wallace


El Zorro


The Terminator


Indiana Jones


James Bond, Agent 007


Neo, the "One"


Batman, the Dark Knight




Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com

Stans the Man

The new era in Irish soccer dawned today with the uncomfortable reading of a couple of statements (undoubtedly written by FAI). Steve Staunton and Bobby Robson are now in charge of the Irish soccer team.

I was listening to the press conference on the radio this morning. Staunton did seem uncomfortable reading his statement. It wasn't surprising that he was a little uneasy in front of the cameras. In the run up to this press conference the media had vented its spleen on the poor chap and had already written his tenure as Irish manager off as a failure.

Robson also sounded a bit uncomfortable at the start of his statement, but got into his stride. He said he would call Staunton "Stan" and "The Boss" emphasing their friendship and his position in the organisation. However that means nothing really. He didn't really have alot to say, just cliches "We're not looking back, we're looking forward" and that we need to rebuild and find good young players. I'm also pretty sure he said the "curry" did not qualify for the World Cup. As he spoke he got a bit more assertive, saying Stan will be going to the European Cup draw and listed the tasks they had to do. He did sound more like "The Boss".

Staunton then fielded questions from the press and did seem alot more comfortable doing this than reading the statement. He batted away questions about his lack of experience with a glass is half full attitude basically saying he hasn't proven anything one way or the other but he believes he can do the job. He also said that he was the boss, the gaffer and whatever he says goes and the buck stops with him. He did say that Bobby would deal more with after match things and not the lead up to games. It did almost sound like Bobby would be a media consultant.

Unfortunately the radio coverage was then cut off by Pat Kenny, no idea why he couldn't let a few more questions be covered.

We'll see how Staunton-Robson get on. I'm a bit more concerned about Robson. Will he be happy in the background or will he push Staunton out of the way? A power struggle wont do the team any good.

Only time will tell and we should all give them the time to rebuild the team. Inexperienced managers have been a success elsewhere so Staunton could easily prove a success.

Something for Monday

Here is another one of those things that can help you through the day when your supposed to be working. Previously I posted a link to how to build the perfect paper airplane. This time its how to build structures with coins using no glue. The author of the site based it on a presentation he gave "while a Civil Engineer at Texas Tech University in 1980".

Have a browse to the other pages where people have posted pictures of their structures, some are basic but others defy gravity. You'll be amazed.

[Via Boing Boing]

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hello? No, I'm on a Plane! Yeah it's crap!

We all know a woman who thinks cell phones come with a sound proof force field that means they can't be heard by anyone else. Or a man who thinks that handsfree is wonderful invention and must always be used so they can read the newspaper while conferenced in on the meeting they don't need to be at.

Well the bad news is that according to Reuters they may soon be coming to an American airplane seat beside you.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday it plans to auction airwaves now used by phones embedded in airplane seats. Those phones, operated by a Verizon Communications unit, are not used regularly because of the high cost.

The financially strapped airline industry could generate a new stream of revenue by partnering with companies wanting to offer high-speed Internet, known as broadband, or a cheaper on-board telephone service.

The silly thing is they are considering keeping the ban on cell phones because of a potential backlash by people pissed off at having to sit for 5 hours beside someone nattering on their cell-phone.

The FCC is also weighing whether to allow consumers to use their own cell phones on planes, but that would need agreement from aviation regulators and the FCC has yet to make a decision amid fears of a backlash from many fliers who see airplanes as a cell phone-free zone.

Instead they will now be able to natter on the planes own phones (once the prices drop) or, worse still, on their Skype head set. Ok broadband would be nice on a long flight, but please, please, please, ban phone calls and enforce it as rigidly as the cell phone ban. Let the rest of us sleep, or read, or watch the movie in peace.

No one, and I mean no one, who hasn't been provided with a government jet and a suitcase full of nuclear launch codes needs to be instantly contactable 100% of the day. Everyone else is only fooling themselves.

[via Gizmodo]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nikon bids farewell to 35mm (mostly)

Nikon has announced it is to end production of most of their 35mm cameras.

As the film camera market shrinks and the popularity of compact digital cameras increases, demand for products that offer advanced features and extra value is continuing to grow. High performance digital SLR cameras are performing well as users shift from film-based SLR cameras or upgrade from compact digital cameras to digital SLR cameras.

As a result of the new strategy Nikon will discontinue production of all lenses for large format cameras and enlarging lenses with sales of these products ceasing as soon as they run out of stock. This also applies to most of our film camera bodies, interchangeable manual focus lenses and related accessories. Although Nikon anticipates that the products will still be in retail distribution up to Summer 2006.

Nikon is going to continue their F6 camera used by professionals. But the rest of us will have to use digital. I suppose that's the way things things are going now. I've already posted about the demise of 35mm film cameras and how I see a place for both, but I'm still surprised at this move by Nikon. I suppose I shouldn't be. Digital is the future for normal users and 35mm will just an artists tool. Still I'd like to see a couple of things change with the digital SLR market.

Firstly large price drops. If they dump the 35mm SLRs, which you can pick up for less than 300 euros, then there will be a huge proce gap between point-and-click and SLRs. Fewer people will want to learn SLR photography if it costs 900 euros just to get started. I know several people who used to just take photos on holidays. Then they got their first SLR as a Christmas/birthday present. They went on to do photography courses and take it up as a hobby. Would they have gotten that camera if a 900 euro digital was the only option? How many people buying digital SLRs are buying a replacement for an existing film SLR? How many people really jump from a 200 euro point-and-click straight to a full digital SLR? Perhaps it could be as easy as keeping the current 6.2 Mega-Pixel cameras on sale but drop the prices as better cameras come out. That would quickly fill the gap, but sales-execs rarely think like that.

Secondly, the sensor has to be easier to clean and maintain and maybe even replacable. I know this is unlikely to happen but it seems that the CCD is the biggest weakness. Dust will get into the case when lenses are switched and then onto the sensor. With film that means one ruined negative. With digital it means a smudge on every photo. Some Olympus Digital SLR cameras come with an ultrasonic sensor cleaner but I've never seen it in operation so I don't know how well it works. A friend of mine just lugged one around New Zealand for 6 weeks, I'll have to see how he got on. Also if I could upgrade my camera by upgrading the CCD that would be cool.

If Nikon are dropping film can Canon be far behind?

[via Slashdot]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jury Duty

Bloody ironic. After my post yesterday what do you think is waiting for me at home tonight? A jury duty summons. Karma or what. Oh well, civic duty and all that. Should be interesting though and the odds are I wont even get selected for a case.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Citizens V's Prisoners

There is a story in the Irish Examiner today about a statistic that if true is a shocking indictment of how the Irish government protects its citizens from other citizens.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell has agreed to conduct research into bail practices following the disclosure that a quarter of people who met violent deaths last year were killed by offenders out on bail at the time.

An organization called Advocates of the Victims of Homicide is calling on the Minister to tighten up bail laws while the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is against changing the bail laws

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said that while it sympathized with victims families, new bail laws were not the answer.

I have to say that I am a little annoyed at the ICCL for that. Ok I understand that their role is to prevent the erosion of civil liberties, but when faced by such an abhorrent statistic sometimes a change in the law is required. I'm not saying throw every person suspected of a crime into jail and leave them there until they prove their innocence, but when a person suspected of a serious violent crime is arrested and there is a genuine risk of them committing more crimes if left of the streets then it is the duty of the judiciary to protect the ordinary citizens from this person.

The argument is often made that a nation is judged by how it threats its prisoners and that is true, but it is only one measure. A nation must also be measured by the protection and care it gives its law-abiding citizens. If a government threats its criminals with special care and love while unleashing them on the public with no control or fear of punishment then that’s not a civilized nation, its anarchy. Today we have a situation where people campaign for the rights of prisoners while old people lock and bar themselves into their isolated homes and live in fear of being beaten to death for the few euros they have saved. We have civil rights campaigners who decry the introduction of Anti-Social Behavior Orders while young adults cause millions of pounds of damage to private property with no fear of punishment. We have solicitors finding legal loop holes to prevent prosecution of speeding and drunk driving cases while hundreds die on the roads every year.

I'm not saying we should introduce a police state. But I think the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Society must be careful to maintain a balance, and it must not be afraid to act when the rights of its citizens are being eroded. Remember, ordinary citizens have rights too and they must be considered as well the rights of criminals.

Monday, January 09, 2006

West Wing

On a loosely related note to my last post, the new series of The West Wing started last Thursday on RTE One.

This is the 7th, and probably last, season which sees the election campaign to replace Bartlet starting properly now that the candidates have been selected.

RTE, in their typical manner, failed to advertise it much, but did put the show back in its old Thursday night slot around 11pm which old fans of the show known to check each January when the new shows start.

Political illness

Poor old Dick Cheney. He was "rushed" to hospital last night suffering from a shortness of breath and fluid retention. This was caused as a side effect of medication he is taking for a foot problem.

I'm guessing alot of his "medical" problems could be psychosomatic. Not on his part, but on the part of the Republican party. The reason? A desire to improve the election prospects of Condoleezza Rice in 2008. Poor Dick, they even have him walking with a cane now. He may well see himself benched as Vice-President and replaced by Condi in the near future. I guess he'll have to go back to managing Halliburton full time then.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Kodak new Logo

Photography is one of my hobbies, though I haven't spent much time at it over the last couple of months. Very often film is a personal choice, and that choice seems to come down to Kodak Vs Fuji. A lot of people like Fuji but I personally prefer Kodak, at least for general usage. Unfortunately Kodak haven't done well in the digital era. Shops like Dixons no longer sell film cameras and Kodak itself has stopped producing Black & White paper.

The Kodak logo is 70 years old and shows the word Kodak written within red and yellow boxes. For its age it still looks pretty good, few logos are as distinctive.
Now Kodak is changing its logo to make it look more modern. Personally I think the old logo looked alot better, but some marketing person took thinking outside of the box a little too literally. The new logo looks non-descript and bland.

The best argument I ever heard given by an old photography company for why people should buy their digital cameras was at a Fuji presentation. The presenter simply said, we made color film for years, we know what color photographs should look like. I think Kodak should have taken the same approach, emphaise their experience and not get into an fashion contest with the new boys on the block. If they could match companies like Hewlet Packard in the small point-and-click camera technology they could wipe the floor with them using the experience argument, then they could build up to take on the big boys like Canon and Nikon.

Update: This story on Engadget describes the Kodak booth at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) last week. It would appear that Kodak may be stepping back from making cameras and focusing instead on printing the photos. Makes sense I suppose

[Via Gizmodo]

Friday, January 06, 2006

103" Plasma Screen

Damn, this thing isn't so much a TV as a window. I don't know where most people would put one of these but if you have the money to buy one, you probably have a few spare rooms to hang it in.

Politicians on TV

In my opinion there are two types of politicians. The first are the ones who are in politics to gain power, for good or bad. People who do most of their work in the background away from the press who rely on word of mouth and grassroots support to get themselves elected to more powerful positions. Some of them never become household names but hold great power through their ability to influence their colleagues. Some even become the leader of their nations and have to learn how to look good for the camera (Bertie Ahern and Gordon Brown spring to mind).

The second group are the media addicts. Politicians who believe no publicity is bad publicity. They may start off with the best intentions, but after they get some media coverage they get hooked. They will do almost anything to get some more TV coverage. Eventually their political minds get overwhelmed with the need to get their next TV camera fix. Sometimes I think they would dance naked in public just to get a 2 minute spot on TV and they would genuinely believe that 2 minute spot will get them elected next time out. And guess what... George Galloway has just that opportunity.

Galloway has gone into the Celebrity Big Brother house in the United Kingdom. Dear God, he is easily the most aggressive, opinionated and argumentative politician in the UK at the moment and now he's on TV 24 hours a day for the next three weeks. His style of politics may win some votes when he is on Newsnight arguing with Jeremy Paxman for 5 minutes or telling a US Senate Committee where to go in a couple of minutes before the cameras. Unfortunately now he could be on TV non-stop for 30240 minutes, more than enough time to piss off every viewer and voter. This is the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with an automatic pistol. It could make for a fascinating way to end a political career.

Back in work

God it was difficult to get out of bed this morning. It was still dark when my alarm went off. Today was my first day back in work after the holidays, and most of the rest of the company isn't back until Monday. Still at least its Friday and that was part of my logic, I'll come back to work on Friday so that'll make it easier. Read my few hundred emails, download updates, update my source pool. Nice and easy. At least that was the theory :-)

I still have 5 days holidays carried over so that's a full week I have to take before March. Hmm, must look into that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dublin Bus Rip Off

For anyone who wasn't paying attention to press releases over Christmas (sorry registration required for the Irish Independent, but it's free and they have never hassled me), Dublin Bus has jacked up their prices again. Officially they are increasing their fares by 3.8% but that's an average as their lowest fare 90c to go 3 "stages" went up to 95c.

What is a stage anyway? It seems to me that each stop is a stage these days, so in some places Dublin Bus barely takes you around the corner before the 95c fare is too little.

Why does Dublin Bus need this increase? Are they providing a better service than last year? No. In fact on one of the routes I use (44 and 48A to Dundrum) the service seems to have gotten worse lately and I regularly wait well over half an hour for a bus that used to be every 15 to 20 minutes. Is it because they have provided some new busses to replace the old wrecks on some routes? No. The government provided money in the budget for those. Have the bus drivers started providing a better friendlier service? Nope, definitely not. For example the driver on the 48A bus I took today snarled "95 CENT" at me when I committed the crime of not knowing the fare had gone up. They say money doesn't bring happiness, it obviously hasn't brought him any more happiness.

Another complaint I have about this increase is that there was no poster or sign announcing it on either the bus or the bus stop. In fact there is no sign listing prices on the bus at all. Aren't there laws that say prices should always be displayed clearly in shops? Shouldn't those laws be applied to Dublin Bus as well?

Finally to add insult to injury I heard on the radio that the prices have been increased 3 days early. Dublin Bus said it would be unable to change all the busses on the same day and therefore increased them on some routes days early. That cant be legal? Why put the penalty for their ineptitude on the public? If they cant do all the busses on the same night then they should be forced to change some routes in the days AFTER the authorised date, NOT before.

Anyway that's my rant over for now. I went to the World Debating Championships final in UCD this evening. Maybe that's why I'm feeling argumentative? I may post about it later

BTW Happy New Year everyone :-)

Monday, January 02, 2006

I'm back (mostly)

I'm back in Dublin since New Years and today I headed out to the sales to see what laptops were available. I ended up buying a Sony Vaio, Pentium M 1.73 Ghz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HD, 15.4" screen, DVD RW, 128MB Nvidia GeForce, Docking Station with TV Tuner/Recorder and Speakers. I had seen it in the shop before Christmas and today there was €200 off in the sales so I was happy enough.

It means I will now be posting more frequently again.

Now comes the fun, installing all those applications I use.