Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Big Brother Hopefuls

Big Brother is in town looking so bring out your freaks, nut jobs, misfits and deluded. Highlights from the story on include
  • “I’m hyperactive and have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), so as soon as I drink cola or coffee I go mental.”
  • The 24-year-old truck driver was hoping a striptease would win the judges.
  • “I will miss my little girl if I get in, but it’s a chance for me to get started in a career,”
And my personal favorite:
  • Dubliner Catherine Mahon claimed she got the day off work for the audition by pretending she had a hospital appointment.
If your bunking off work it's usually a good idea to not give interviews to journalists. I'm guessing she works for the public service.

I wonder if its too late to build a fence around the RDS and trap them all there for the good of the nations gene pool.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Poverty UCD style

I love this, it sums up exactly why I think the public sector pay deals that give automatic increases to everyone in the public sector, regardless of merit, are a joke. If you are going to have a protest about pay you should probably tell your fellow protesters to go shopping in Brown Thomas AFTER the protest is over and the journalists leave.

Perhaps the next time the UCD staff decide to hold a protest they will go to the students union to get hints and tips on how to do it properly.

[via Blogarrah]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bed Bugs

There is a story on Boing Boing today about a bed bug plague in New York that reminded me about a not so nice side to backpacking in Australia. They were almost eradicated in the 1950s but have come back with a vengence in the last few years. Experts are theorising that international travel is to blame with bed bugs being carried back in luggage.

I fucking hate bed bugs. The east coast of Australia seemed to be crawling with them. All the way up the coast people were talking about where they had gotten bitten and how bad it was or wasn't. Some people, girls especially, were completely freaked out by the idea of them. Hygiene is an issue but some of the cleanest and most expensive hostels had beds with bed bugs, big hostels and small, cities and small towns, even some boats on the Whitsundays. It's all down to idiots bringing and using their own sleeping bags. The bed bugs get into the sleeping bags and then get carried from hostel to hostel. They also get into people backpacks when they leave them on beds. Most hostels ban sleeping bags and that helps but you still get people that insist on using their own sleeping bags instead of paying a deposit for linen.

Unfortunately for me it turned out I was allergic to the little bastards. I got bitten in Brisbane, ironically not in bed but after falling asleep in an arm chair in a TV room. Nothing I could do, except have anti-histamines handy, which cured any bites quickly and make sure I regularly used a clothes drier on high heat to kill any that made it into my stuff. Another handy tip from an Oz guide was to put backpacks into a black bin liner bag and leave it out in the sun to fry the little bastards.
[via Boing Boing]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Top Gear is BACK

Brilliant! After Richard Hammonds accident it looked like the show could be on indefinite break. They did a big show of welcoming back Hammond and will be showing footage of the near fatal accident later. Have to stop writing my Australia posts now (yes, I was trying to get the last few written in one go and post them together to get them done once and for all).

Update: They just showed the footage, and the crowd reacted with stunned silence. The right tire blew at 288mph and in .4 of a second the car was upside down and digging into the grass. It's a tribute to the engineering that the car didn't fly to pieces but it is still a miracle that just a few months later that Hammond is back on the show.

Update 2: Here is the video from YouTube.

On a side note I wonder why the BBC and other public service broadcasters like RTE don't adopt a similar YouTube style service on their own site? They don't have to put up the whole show, just highlights like this. The BBC do have streaming versions of many shows using Realplayer and Windows Media, but I find YouTube much handier. With YouTube about to pay contributors a share of advertising revenue on popular videos I'm sure they could come up with some revenue deal that would be good for everyone.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Leinster Vs Llanelli

Just back in the office after the Leinster Vs Llanelli Scarlets rugby game in Donnybrook. Bloody freezing. I'm sitting at my desk still shivering.

It was a scrappy game, I got there early-ish and grabbed a spot just behind the goal posts in the terraces. Leinster were brutal for all of the first half and 5 minutes of the second. Llanelli seemed to just run through them for fun. The crowd around me was pretty quiet as well. At one stage I was the only one in my area shouting for Leinster and I was standing there in a bright red Munster jersey. Bit unfortunate as well since the Llanelli jerseys were red so at first glance I looked like the only Llanelli fan in the terrace.

Leinster were 10-20 down 5 minutes into the second half but they suddenly got a try and Llanelli completely collapsed. For about 20 minutes Leinster got a some of easy scores and the Welsh seemed to have lost all interest in the game. Hopefully they do the same when they meet Munster in the Heineken Cup. They steadied themselves then and suddenly put pressure back on Leinster, though at that stage Leinster knew they had the game won and didn't work too hard. In the end the score was Leinster 44-34 Llanelli.

The match officials were having a bad night as well. The referee seemed to have never heard of the offside rule. The crowd scored one conversion despite the ball clearly going wide by applauding so the linesman just put up his flag. Next came a try which was just short of the line but the crowd started cheering and the ref, who was on the other side of the ruck, gave the score. Finally apparently at the other end of the pitch the ref completely missed a high tackle but called the game back based solely on the chants of the crowd.

I must go to the next game on February 16th. The nice thing about the Magners League is that it is still easy to get tickets and the games are held in Donnybrook which is across the road from my office.

Happy Australia Day

Happy Australia Day to all the backpackers and locals I met while there.
26 January 1788 was the date on which the First Fleet, under Captain Arthur Phillip arrived at Sydney Cove and set up the Colony of New South Wales. By 1808 the day that the Rum Corps arrested Governor Bligh, it was being celebrated as 'First Landing' or 'Foundation Day'. In 1818 (the 30th anniversary) Governor Macquarie had a 30-gun salute at Dawes Point and gave government workers a holiday[1] - a tradition that was soon followed by banks and other public offices.

I presume some of you are still sober enough to read this?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

iPod Index

An Australian Bank, CommSec, has done an interesting twist on the old Big Mac index. The idea is to compare the price of a standard item across several countries to get a light hearted view on exchange rates called the CommSec iPod Index. For years it has been the Big Mac, now CommSec has done the same for the 2 GB iPod nano.

Out of 26 countries Brazil is the most expensive, Canada is the cheapest, and Ireland is the 8th most expensive, but not the most expensive in the Euro zone.
Brazil $327.71
India $222.27
Sweden $213.03
Denmark $208.25
Belgium $205.81
France $205.80
Finland $205.80
Ireland $205.79
UK $195.04
Austria $192.86
Netherlands $192.86
Spain $192.86
Italy $192.86
Germany $192.46
China $179.84
Korea $176.17
Switzerland $175.59
NZ $172.53
Australia $172.36
Taiwan $164.88
Singapore $161.25
Mexico $154.46
US $149.00
Japan $147.63
Hong Kong $147.63
Canada $144.20
Source: CommSec, Apple

In the long term the iPod may be a difficult thing to measure against since technology moves on and in a couple of years low spec iPods could well be pitched at a much cheaper price bracket, or alternatively scrapped altogether with the emphasis on more expensive multi-funtion gadgets. You can pick another item, but it removes a certain amount of consistency from the survey that the Big Mac provides.

But I'm just being a bit picky. I like this way of measuring things. It may be light hearted but I think it good to see countries ranked based on things people aspire to own instead of a generic basket of goods the government tells us is cheap. In fact I'd like to see another equation done based buying power and how long it takes to earn the money to buy an iPod, similar to what is also done for the Big Mac. For example, in Ireland it takes 15 minutes on average to earn enough money to buy a Big Mac.

[via SlashDot]

Bill Bryson

I went to see Bill Bryson in UCD tonight. I got there a little late and while he was not on stage yet the lecture theater was full. Fortunately when Bryson arrived they allowed a couple more people in and I got the last seat. Bryson spoke for two or three minutes and then took questions. In total he spoke for about 25 minutes which was a little disappointing, especially since what he did say was entertaining. I got the impression that public speaking was not high on his list of ways to pass an evening.

People kept asking him about parts of his books and interestingly he frequently could not remember those parts, as he said when you write several books you begin to forget things. Afterwards he did stay to sign copies of books that people had brought, unfortunately I didn't have one with me. I must read more of his books, at the moment I'm reading David Stevensons 1914-1918 The History of World War I and while interesting is kind of short on laughs :-)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Photographing Australia Day

Both Google and Microsoft have announced that they will be doing photography flyovers of Sydney on Australia Day. These flights will get new high res photographs of the city which in Googles case will then be used on Google Maps. The resolution will be good enough to see individual people so anyone in Sydney should go out and draw a message to the world on the ground.

The planes will fly over Centennial and Moore parks at 9am, from where they will head out to Bronte Beach before making their way to the inner east, city, harbour, and lower North Shore.

The flight will end at about 2:15pm.

The quality of the images will be good enough to make out individual people on the street, and like Microsoft, Google is encouraging people to get creative and make themselves visible.

So girls, unless you want to end up like this girl in The Hague and achieve international geek fame, keep your bikini tops on that day. You never know who is watching.

[via Gizmodo]

Update: Turns out the Google plane didn't make it over Sydney, but the Microsoft one did.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

English cricket, how bad can it get

Poor England. They just cant play cricket anymore. After getting their arses handed to them in the recent Ashes whitewash now they are loosing in the CB Series to New Zealand. But to rub salt in the wound *Englands* best player today was Ed Joyce who scored 47 runs.

Joyce is Irish, having been born in Ireland, went to school in Wicklow, went to university in Trinity College Dublin and played for the cricket for the Irish team. He declared for England in 2005 having qualified based on residency.

Watching highlights of todays cricket from Adelaide on BBC makes me miss Australia. The weather there looks wonderful, even better than when I was there and certainly a lot better than it is here in Ireland at the moment. Roll on the summer, brrr.

43,500 Euro for your Vote?

43,500 euro each. That is what the Irish government offered the Irish people today in the new 184 billion euro National Development Plan.

The Government says it is focused at addressing economic weaknesses which include significant infrastructural deficits, unbalanced regional development, disadvantaged areas, housing affordability, science and technology and concerns about loss of competitiveness.

That almost sounds like what the opposition should be saying. After all these are the people who have been in power for the last 10 years. 10 years of unprecedented economic prosperity and they are now promising to fix "infrastructural deficits, unbalanced regional development, disadvantaged areas, housing affordability, science and technology and concerns about loss of competitiveness." What were the last 10 years, just one long learning curve?

Small flat in London

I thought Irish property prices were on the insane side of hyper-inflated. Then I read a story on the Guardian website about this flat in London.

An uninhabitable 11ft 3in x 7ft 3in former cleaner's cupboard in Chelsea, west London. The asking price? A mere £170,000 - plus around £30,000 to make it habitable.

You know, if you kept a dog in that space the ISPCA would send you to jail but these days we think it's OK to keep "household staff" or "commuters" there.

Given the morality of many Irish property developers I imagine that at this exact moment there are several in cupboards and wardrobes around Dublin with a copy of today's Guardian, a measuring tape, and an estate agent.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bill Bryson in UCD

Bill Bryson will be in UCD this Thursday at 7:00pm to receive the James Joyce award from the Literary and Historical Society. It should be an interesting night as his books can be hilarious and Down Under seemed to be the standard reading material for most backpackers in my first couple of weeks in Australia. Every hostel dorm from Sydney to Noosa seemed to have at least one copy of it (apart from my own). I gave my copy to another backpacker when I finished it. I wonder if it is still going up and down the coast.

Trevor Brennan

I see Toulouse and former Ireland forward Trevor Brennan is in the papers for doing an Eric Cantona at the weekend and punching a fan. Then I saw the photograph on the BBC website.

Can anyone guess why, on January 21st, this guy got a punch?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Luas lines and Stamp Duty

The auction for public opinion that will be election 2007 has started in earnest this weekend with Fine Gael and the Green Party coming out with big headline grabbing promises.

For the Greens it was more emphasis on public transport including 56 Km of new Luas lines with new lines going into Cork and Galway. I don't agree with all their policies but I have to say I do fully agree with building more Luas lines. Personally I'd scrap plans for Metros and underground city center train stations and just build as many new Luas lines as possible. One simple, easy, efficient, integrated public transport network, preferably with lines that connect to each other as well, but sure we cant have everything.

Now for Fine Gael. Someone thought it would be a good idea to get Enda Kenny to announce that Fine Gael would also abolish stamp duty up to €450,000 on second-hand homes for first-time buyers. Sounds great but messing with stamp duty is dangerous. In fact its basically the same policy that we get from the Progressive Democrats.

The housing bubble needs novel ideas and intelligent solutions, not off the cuff vote grabbing promises. I don't know what the best solution is, but then again I'm not asking the public to put me in charge of the country. Come on Fine Gael, think outside the box every now and then, if your not going to do things differently from the current government why will anyone vote for a new government?

24's back

Of course everyone who has Sky knows that by now because there are at least two adverts for it every 15 minutes on Sky One. I wonder if they have spent more on advertisements for the show then on buying the show itself.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The wait for Harry

It's starting already. The build up to the new, and last, Harry Potter novel called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The publication date hasn't even been announced yet but Waterstones on Dawson Street have a big poster in their window telling people to reserve their copy now.

The poster asks "How will it end?". I'd prefer to know "When will it end".

Freak wind interrupts soccer game

This is one of the strangest things I've ever seen happen during a soccer match. The game was between the Orlando Pirates and Black Leopards in South Africa last Wednesday when a freak accident occurred.

After this incident two players and the linesman were stretchered off but no one was seriously injured. The game was called off and will be played again later this month.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Guinness North Star

I was drinking the new limited edition Guinness tonight. It's called North Star. I usually drink Guinness when I don't want to drink too much because while I think it's nice I find I cant drink a lot of it and I cant drink it quickly.

But North Star, mmmm, it's nice. I could down a pint of that in one go. I thought it was much smoother and easier to drink. Real Guinness drinkers will probably call me a heretic but this is the nicest of the Guinness Brewhouse Series™.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

PS3 Price in Ireland

The Community At Large have the low down on the price of the new Playstation 3 in Ireland.

€630 for the 60GB version. The 20GB version will cost €529.99 but wont be available when the console is launched in March. Obviously Sony know €630 is the upper limit that anyone would pay for a games console, and probably well above the limit for most of us. So they simply remove the cheaper option at launch time and force the gaming nuts, who will want to buy a console on release day regardless of price, to buy the high spec version instead of the low spec one. TCAL also point out that the console is, apparently, more expensive in Ireland than in the rest of Europe. So, no surprises there then.

I saw boxes of PS3s in Changi Airport in Singapore, but none were open and no playable demos were available. I had a few hours to kill and wandered back to that electronics shop a couple of times. Boredom almost drove me to impulse buy one but the sane part of my brain was still awake enough to stop me doing anything silly. Since it is being released in March and that's not too far away, I wonder if any of the shops in town have demo kiosks.

Personally I'll wait to purchase one, until the prices come down, until the first generation bugs are ironed out and until there isn't a waiting list to get one.

[Via TCAL]

Celebrity Big Brother

I think the media world should
  • Stop calling people celebrities when they are famous only because they were once famous!
  • Stop claiming dumb people are interesting just because they are on TV!
  • Stop producing car crash television!
  • Stop trying to give everyone in the world their 15 minutes of fame followed by 15 minutes of shame.
  • Stop putting tired old genres on TV
but most importantly the public should

Klingons in the Whitehouse

Oh, I'm so so glad I stayed up to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Did you know aliens have taken over the Whitehouse? Yup, Vulcans and Klingons are influencing American foreign policy, or so Congressman Wu says.

Then Jon brought on Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and George Takei (Sulu) to comment. Brilliant. The Geeks shall inherit the Earth. :-)

Update: Here is the Faux Klingon piece from The Daily Show, complete with Nimoy and Takei.

Back to the Gym

Ouch, I'm going to be stiff tomorrow.

Australia posts

I'm still updating my Australia posts. I've got a couple more to write, each involve me sitting down for an hour or so and writing a post based on my journal and whatever else comes to mind. I'm just not too enthused about it at the moment, but I'll get them finished soon, I'm up to Adelaide now so almost back to Sydney :-).

Then I'll have to go through them, stick in a couple of photos, put links in the old ones and then probably put on some dates so they can be put in context now that I'm posting them a month after coming back.

It's the photographs on flickr that are going to take the most time to sort out. Now that I don't need them as a backup I'm going through the photographs now deleting the many bad ones, rotating the others, tagging and putting in descriptions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Port Augusta to Adelaide

We spent one night outside Port Augusta where we slept in swags. This was the last time I slept in a swag. I liked sleeping outdoors while going down the center, there were few if any lights around us and the stars were amazingly clear. It never got too cold either so it was usually more comfortable to sleep out doors than in one of the huts. However on the last morning the flies showed up and by 6am had driven all of us out of our swags and indoors. I'd been warned that flies would be a problem in the center but in general they were a nuisance but only a mild one. Here down in South Australia they were a plague so everyone who had a fly net was using them for the first time on the trip. I'd picked one up in Alice Springs so I was one of the lucky ones.

The day was spent in the Flinders Range National Park. Compared to the Red Centre the Flinders Range was a little dull. The Flinders are Australias largest mountain range, but unfortunately I found Australian mountains were not very impressive to look at. What makes them impressive is their age, Australia has the oldest landscape in the world and the Flinders are around 800 million years old. Thats pretty impressive but it also means that the mountains have been worn down by wind and rain over the millions of years and now lack the grandeur one would expect from great mountain ranges like the Alps or the Himalayas. We went into the Wilpena Pound which did some walks. The guide told us that the Pound had once been used to as a huge sheep pen where 140,000 sheep were grazed. Unfortunately in a severe drought 100,000 died so the family running the Pound as a farm had left. Now it's a national park and full of kangaroos and emus.

After the Pound we went for an off road drive in the bus, We were on dirt roads going through the mountains in a full two wheel drive minibus and towing a trailer full of bags. Perhaps we should have paid attention to the signs warning that vehicles towing trailers should not attempt the roads. Things were going well until that is the trailer fell off. I was actually asleep when this happened and woke up to see everyone jumping off the bus and heading back down the road. The pin that held the hitch to the bus had fallen out and after searching for a hour we couldn't find it. The guide improvised a fix using a bolt from else where on the bus and we drove, carefully, to the town of Parachilna. “Town” is a little grand name for the place since it the permanent population of 5, but it has a pub, a camp site and backpacker hostel and a train station so it's pretty much a city by Australian outback and rural Ireland standards. In fact this is the train station that was in the film Rabbit Proof Fence.

The train stations second claim to fame, and probably one of the reasons the Oz Bus stops here is what the locals claim is “the worlds longest front drawn train” passes through it twice a day. I'd take that claim with a grain of salt since I cant find it confirmed anywhere else, in fact one site simply lists is as one of the longest in South Australia, but its still an impressive train. It passes through town in the morning fully loaded with coal from Leigh Creek heading to the power station in Stirling North and then returns empty at about 10pm. We drank in the pub and walked around a photography and painting exhibition in rooms behind the bar until 10pm. When someone spotted the trains light far off in the distance we headed out to watch it go by. At the last minute we had the idea that we should put 5 cent coins down to flatten. After the train passed by we managed to recover a couple of coins but since it was dark we couldn't find most of them. The next morning as everyone was eating breakfast or having showers the train passed by again, without any notice so most of us missed it.

After breakfast we drove to the town of Hawker where we stopped for breakfast and the guide got the pin in for the trailer replaced. Next it was off to the Mount Remarkable National Park and more walks, this time through a series of gorges. They make for some nice photographs if you can get ones with no other walkers in them. After the walks we headed to Clare Valley driving through several nice old towns, at least old by Australian terms. We stopped in Taylors winery for a wine tasting to round off the trip with some free wine and the chance to buy some wine that didn't come in a cardboard box. After that we drove on to Adelaide. That was the end of my trip through the center and while 4 others were continuing on with me in two days to Melbourne it was the end of the trip for most of the people on the bus. That was sad since we had spent 6 days together. The bus from Alice Springs to Adelaide was the best bus I'd been on, the most fun and the best mix of people with everyone getting on really well. 6 days was a daunting amount of time to spend on a bus at the start of the trip but I'm really glad I did the it.

Port Augutst to Adelaide: 26-27 November
More photos on Flickr

Marines strapped to Apache Helicopters

Four British Royal Marines strapped themselves to the wings of Apache helicopters and were flown back into a Taleban fort in Afghanistan in an attempt to rescue a missing colleague. In the end they found that the missing marine was dead.

The marines had taken part in an attack on a fort that had stalled and they had to retreat back across a river. When they regrouped they discovered one of their group was missing. Reconnaissance aircraft spotted him lying outside the fort but couldn't tell if he was alive or dead. The marines had to go back to get him but instead of launching another full assault Apache pilots suggested that they carry the marines across the river.
Dodging Taliban gunfire -- and with four marines lying across the wings in the manner of the heroes of the World War II film Flight of the Phoenix -- the two Apaches sped across the river and landed outside the Taliban fort. The marines unstrapped themselves and searched for Lance Corporal Ford. Having recovered his body, they strapped it to one of the Apaches and safely crossed the river.

That has to be one of the most amazing war stories I have ever heard.

[Update: 21-Jan-2007: footage of the flight can be found on the BBC website]

Increased spending on roads?

The Department of Transport yesterday issued a press release announcing a record spend of €1.53 billion on roads.
€1.53 billion of funding for the National Roads Programme under Transport 21, the largest single annual investment in roads.
Speaking about the €1.53 billion investment for the national roads, Minister Cullen said: "This Government is committed to progressing projects that will enhance quality of life for people, connect communities and underpin our prosperity.

Sounds good, but the constant emphasis on 1.53 billion got me curious. Why 1.53 instead of the simpler 1.5 billion? Turns out by searching down through the press releases from last year, 122 or over 2 a week, I found last years version of this press release. Last year they announced spending of 1.5 Billion on roads. With annual inflation at 2.4% last year that means just to keep pace the Government would have to spend 1.536 billion. So 1.53 billion would be the minimum to spend and not be accused of cutting the budget.

But as far as I know construction inflation is running at an even higher rate than the standard rate. The closest thing I've found to a figure is in this PDF. Does anyone know what what the official number is? I'd be interested to see if 1.53 billion actually represents an increase or a decrease in spending power. I suspect it is a decrease, a small one but a decrease none the less.

[Update: 19-Jan-2007] Oops, silly me, it appears the inflation rate for last year hadn't been finalised yet. Instead of being the wildly optimistic 2.4% it was actually 4.9%. That means that in order to match last years spending power the money invested on roads should have been €1.57 billion.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Keeping New Years resolutions?

Well I've signed up for the gym again. I'd given up going last year, my subscription expired and I decided to just try running outside during the summer as I had done previous years. I also didn't want to sign up for a year when I knew I'd be going to Australia at the end of the summer anyway so would definitely waste 6 or more months of the membership. Now I'm back in the cold and wet so it seems like a good time to join up again and try again. Fortunately I live close to UCD and the Crunch Fitness there is a cheap yet, I think, nice gym. No pool, but that doesn't bother me. Normally it costs €259 for the year but I got in on the last day of a special offer for €199 and there are no monthly subscription fees. I couldn't turn that down. Now I have to get a personal program and then try to go 3 times a week, starting tomorrow night. That's one New Years resolution at least underway.

Next I also have to try and do some evening classes this year. I've signed up for a digital photography class in the Gallery of Photography. Photography was a certainty on my list of things I like to do classes in. Haven't really thought much about the others, maybe creative writing, maybe something to do with basic cookery skills (I need to learn how to not poison people). I'd also like to learn a language but that's a hell of a commitment since I actually hated language classes in school. I'd like to try German again, since I found that easier to learn in college than French. I'll have to look for a class in the spring.

Finally my work life balance. Get to work each morning before 9am and leave each as close to 6pm as possible and certainly before 7pm. If I'm going to do evening classes I need to get out of the office at a reasonable hour. I've managed that so far.

I wonder how long I'll keep these resolutions. Usually by this stage of the New Year I have abandoned most resolutions, if I even bothered to make any. I think this year I'm feeling more inspired after my Australia travels. Fingers crossed that I do better this year.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New trains debut, again.

There is a story on saying that new high speed trains had debuted on the Cork Dublin line today. I think the story must be that the service has increased to hourly because I know I was on one of those trains last year.

They are really nice trains, a big improvement over the old stock. They are modern, clean (or at least they were clean, I hope they still are), reliable and fast trains. They can get you to Cork in less time than it takes to drive and that is an improvement :-). An hourly service with these trains would be very handy, I go down to Cork a few times a year.

I wonder why it has taken 6 months to fully roll out the high speed service? It wouldn't surprise me to hear that the service has been running for months and some civil servant just published another transport related press release. Transport planning in Ireland is all about generating press releases these days. I believe the old stock from the Cork line is being moved onto other lines to improve the services and to replace even older stock. Expect another press release about that in the next few days :-).

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blast from the Past

Havent heard about this for a while but someone is still maintaining the Doomsday Clock and has decided to move the clock 1 minute closer to midnight on Wednesday. Most popular during the Cold War, the clock once reached 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 while the best it has ever been is 17 minutes to midnight in 1991. Currently it is set to seven minutes to midnight, and has been since 2002.

1 minute closer beings us to 5 minutes to midnight, the closest since 1988. I wonder what time it will get set to in 2008 when Geroge W leaves office, 11:30pm or earlier?

[Via Slashdot]

Friday, January 12, 2007

2FM dropping 1970's line-up?

Looks like RTE management are once again trying to drag their music station 2FM into the modern era. Less than a year and a half ago RTE dumped Ruth Scott and Rick O'Shea from the morning slot, replacing them with old reliable Marty Whelan. This was particularly unfair in my opinion since Ruth and Rick had only been given 5 months in the show and had been doing a good job and had great potential. They were young, interesting and tried to bring new things to RTE like blogging. Marty on the other hand was stuck in so far in the past, the Hubble Space Telescope couldn't find his origins. That drove me away from 2FM and over to Eamon Dunphy on Newstalk 106. Dunphy may have been as old as Marty, but he was entertaining, when he wasnt on holidays. Marty was a throw back to an era when 2FM was a success, though it wasnt difficult since there were only two stations in Ireland, Radio One and Radio Two, as 2FM used to be called. 2FM were basically telling everyone born after 1969 that the national broadcaster didnt really need them as listeners.

Now it appears that RTE has woken up, smelt the mothballs and gagged, coughing out Marty and a bunch of other old timers, sending them to Radio 1, weekend slots or back to the retirement home. No disrespect to them. they may have been good, there is no denying that, and some of them were still good but while they were the headline presenters 2FM could have no future and would continue to bleed listeners.

The first of the changes is that Rick is moving to a new slot, 2pm to 5pm. Congratulations to him, I think that's a promotion, an improvement in profile anyway, at least it means I'll be able to listen to him. Up to now his slot clashed with the sports show on Newstalk (sorry Rick :-) ). But the big news is that it looks like 2FM have pulled off a major coup and poached the presenters of FM104s Strawberry Alarm Clock. Thats good because I was looking for something new to listen to in the mornings, I'd even been thinking of switching to FM104 just for that show. I'm sure there will be more changes, this sounds like a big shift in focus for the station.

Could RTE finally be about to spend some of the license fee on something entertaining? Fingers crossed.

[Update: Rick O'Shea has the updated line up for the weekday schedule on his blog, also it's interesting to see that people had been having a go at him for being happy about getting a better time slot. You would think that most people who were true fans of his show would be happy to see him getting ahead in the business.]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Irish Blog Awards

The Irish Blog Awards are on again. Each award is sponsored this year so the event should be even bigger and better than last year.

If your looking for the best Irish Blogs this is the place to look. The categories are
  • Best Blog Post
  • Most Humorous Post
  • Best Photo Blog
  • Best Arts and Culture Blog
  • Best Political Blog
  • Best Group Blog
  • Best Personal Blog
  • Best Use of the Irish Language in a Blog
  • Best Contribution to the Irish Bloggersphere
  • Best Technology Blog/Blogger
  • Best Designed Blog
  • Best Sport & Recreation Blog
  • Best News/Current Affairs Blog
  • Best Specialist Blog
  • Best Newcomer
  • Best Business Blog
  • Best Music Blog
  • Best Podcast
  • Best Podcaster
  • Best Videocast
It would be nice to get a nomination or two but the competition is pretty stiff so I'll probably have to settle for getting a ticket. Personally I'll have to sit down and go through my favourite blogs and find some posts and bloggers to nominate.

1.22 EUR per second

1.22 EUR per second. That's what David Beckham will be earning when he moves to the LA Galaxy football team. Not bad, not bad at all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Uluru to the Ocean

After a night in swags at the camp site near Uluru we hit the road and headed back to a town we had passed a couple of days earlier near Mt Connor. We were not back on the road to Adelaide. I was a bit disappointed to leave Uluru, I could have spent a few more days there looking around and taking photographs. At least we weren't going back to Alice Springs. Many people take 3 day trips to Uluru which start and end in Alice Springs. Instead of that I was booked onto the 6 day trip from Alice to Adelaide.

We stopped for a short while to have breakfast and to pick up a trainee driver who was joining us to learn the route from Uluru to Adelaide. Normally drivers don't join buses mid-journey so this opportunity was too good to let pass without playing a few practical jokes on the new driver. For starters it was decided to try having a blind passenger, a deaf one and to have some of the foreign backpackers pretend to not speak English. In the end the others chickened out but myself and one of the others decided to at least try playing the blind passenger. I put on large sun glasses and had Richard lead me around at the filling station while we got breakfast. The look on the trainee guides face was classic for a few seconds but the main guide, who was in on the joke, couldn't stop himself and doubled over laughing which gave the game away.

Most of this day was spent on the bus so our next stop was the town of Marla for lunch. Here we managed to find a pub that was showing The Ashes. Pubs in Australia are strange places. Some are more like bookmakers offices that serve beer than traditional pubs. This one was like a cross between a bookies, a cafe and a pub, but it had TV screens showing the cricket, which was already going badly for the English, with several English fans on the bus this gave the Australian drivers and us “neutrals” some fun. I don't like cricket but you cant escape the Ashes in Australia so it's either develop an interest or move to New Zealand.

After lunch we drove through a desert called “The Painted Desert”. I didn't think it was anymore colorful or prettier than the Simpson Desert or the area around Uluru, but it was still the outback and the Red Center so it was beautiful. This brought us into opal mining territory and past Anna Creek Station. The station is run by a family of 5 people who look after 14,000 cattle on a plot of land that is bigger than of Belgium. I suppose on a farm like that checking fences and heading up to the top field must be a real pain. You could probably have 28,000 cattle instead of 14,000 and never realise. After that we finally arrived in the town of Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy is a fairly desolate and strange town since most of it is actually underground. The name is aboriginal and means whiteman burrows. It got its name when veterans from World War I arrived to mine opals and dug their houses into the ground where the temperature is a constant and much more comfortable 20 odd Celsius. This was where the movie Pitch Black was filmed and it really does look like it could be a set from a science fiction movie. Hot, rocky, barren and adding to this are props from the movie, so outside out hostel was a crashed space ship. Despite it's desolation Coober Pedy is an interesting place to visit. We stayed in an underground hostel, ate in a nice pizza restaurant, visited an Opal Mine and shop, and partied in an underground club (literally underground not illegal). The locals are a tough breed, as I almost found out when I accidentally sent a pool ball flying off the table hitting one of them in the back, after I apologized his friends saw the funny side and everything worked out fine.

The next morning we headed off for another long day on the bus. We drove to Lake Hart, a salt lake which is used as a firing range by the Australian military. You can walk out onto the lake, but cant go too far as there are signs warning about unexploded ordinance ahead. From there we drove past the edge of the Woomera Rocket Range, a testing area for rockets British and Australian rockets in 1950's and 60's. The reason I found it interesting was the fact that the original site was surveyed by Len Beadell, the last great Australian explorer. A tape recording of one of his speeches had been played on an earlier bus and he sounded like a interesting and funny person, if slightly crazy from too much time alone in the desert.

Finally that evening we arrived at Port Augusta. Though we didn't stay in the town it was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it's where the movie Wolf Creek was filmed and just outside town is the actual farm. It's a bit odd to see that the farm actually exists and that it is out in the open beside a motorway and not secluded and in a valley as I thought. Secondly, and more importantly, Port Augusta is where the desert meets the ocean. It was the end of my journey across the continent, now I was back to being beside the ocean again.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Disenfranchised is reporting that the government is to look into a threat by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council to remove 19,000 people from the register of electors.

I was one of those people, it was only this evening that I found out my case was not unique or a mistake caused by bad timing and my 3 month holiday. While I was away in Australia a letter arrived for me stating the following

"Deal Sir/Madam,
I wish to advise you that normal procedures have failed to establish that you are still resident at the above address for the purposes of Voter Registration or that the details of your registration are correct"

The letter went on to give me until the 25th November 2006 to return the letter to the County Council if I wished to remain on the register. Naturally since I was somewhere in the Outback I could not return this letter and I only received it at the end of December.

Now the interesting thing is the Councils claim that "normal procedures have failed" to establish that I was still resident at my address. As far as I can figure "normal procedures" did not include calling to the address, at least not at a time that may suit the person about to be disenfranchised. Many voters work for a living, government economic success and all that. It would be sensible to visit during the evenings or maybe at weekends when the odds of someone being present are higher. Of course if that didn't work my name and address are in the phone book, a quick phone call leaving a message asking someone to call them back could have sorted out the problem months ago. Unfortunately as far as I can tell no one bothered to try any of those “procedures”. But I suppose if you are about to remove 19,000 people from the register of electors then you cant really deal with everyone personally. It just wouldn't be efficient.

On the 22nd of December the Council once again sent out a letter, this time telling me that I would be removed from the register today, the 9th of January, in the Circuit Court at 11am. If I wished to object I could do so in writing and if necessary attend and give evidence at a hearing into the claim. 11am on a Tuesday is not the most convenient time for someone who works for a living, but it obviously suits the County Council. The Court Registrar may have required me to give evidence on oath. Shame they weren't so diligent about actually checking the addresses in the first place. Seeing how they sent this letter the Friday before Christmas there was little hope of me receiving it until the New Year, in fact it arrived in my post box last Thursday, 3 working days before the hearing (2 if you count the fact that I didnt get the letter until I arrived home from work on Thursday evening). I replied, of course, asking to be kept on the register but figured the chances of getting my objection in on time were pretty slim. I knew I could just apply to get on the Supplementary Register later, if necessary.

Fortunately, with typical Irish local government efficiency, the Council had contacted 19,000 people at the same time and told them all to contact the Council or be at the Court at 11am this morning. I don't know how big the court room is but I'm pretty sure it cant hold 19,000 people. It appears the Council and the Department of the Environment came to a similar conclusion and feared that hundreds of people could turn up this morning. Thinking about it now, in many third world countries when 19,000 people show up at a government building to complain about loosing the right to vote it's called a revolt, in Ireland its a crowd safety issue ;-)

Well the Department of the Environment is now looking into the situation and has requested a full report. The council has withdrawn the threats, sorry, the notices, and now wont disenfranchise people en-mass to meet Department objectives or quotas or whatever inspired them. Still I'll be checking to see that my name is on the register when it's published on Feb 1st, as should everyone who hopes to have a vote in this Summers general election.


Oh, this looks nice. Apple have announced their new iPhone, and after a year of silly white ipod/mobile phone photoshopped images the real iPhone actually looks a PDA.

No keyboard, just a touchpad. You see the new iPhone is also the much speculated about widescreen iPod. It has 8GB of flash memory. It can play music and videos. In case a phone and an mp3 player werent enough it also has WiFi so it can browse the internet and access your email. Naturally iTunes will work with it and synch contacts, calendars, photos, notes, bookmarks etc.

It may be a PDA but it's from Apple so expect it to be popular, bloody popular. The 8GB comes out in June in the US one will cost $599 with a two year mobile contract. It will come to Europe in the 4th quarter.

Go to Engadget for more photographs and information from the announcement than you can shake stylus at (which you wont need with the iPhone)

More Australia Posts?

Yeah, I know, I'm still posting about Australia. I have notes and a personal journal that I kept as I travelled but I really want to finish the blog posts, as much for myself as for anyone else who reads this blog.

Sorry if it's a little confusing to see me talking about Australia after coming back there should only be a handful more posts, it just takes time to write them. :-)

Alice to Uluru

Another early start at 4:30am for a 5am checkout and a 5:15am bus. This was going to be a long day and a long trip 6 days down to Adelaide stopping at Uluru (Ayers Rock) on the way. Initially everyone on the bus was a bit sleepy but soon woke up with a few games of cards and seat swapping. This was easily one of the friendliest buses I was on. On most buses you get groups and cliques that hang around together and while friendly tend not to mix all the time. This one was different, at least so it seemed to to me. Everyone mixed and chatted, chipped in to help with any work and seemed to enjoy themselves.

After a long morning drive our first stop was Kings Canyon. By now the sun was at full strength and temperatures soared. 45C in the shade and 62C in the sun. This was almost off the scale on the warning notice board and meant that most of us opted for the shorter walk to a lookout and then along the canyon floor where there was something resembling shade. After the walk we headed to Kings Canyon Resort where we had a welcome swim in the pool and then drove to Uluru in time to see sunset at the rock.

When the sun set we headed to our camp site. Each tour bus was allocated a place which had a canteen hut, a BBQ, several sleeping huts and a stack of swags. The huts were way too warm to sleep in and the chance to sleep outdoors in a swag was too good to turn down. A swag is a camping mattress with a canvas sleeping bad around it. To sleep you roll it out on the ground put your own sleeping bag inside it and go to sleep under the stars. Which most of us did.

The next morning our tour guide woke us (again at 4:30am) by playing the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack. Hearing Robin Williams screaming into a microphone got us all out of bed quickly. It was still dark and we went to a nearby lookout to watch the sunrise behind Uluru. The view was quite spectacular with the sun rising up behind the left hand side of the monolith. Afterwards we headed over to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which are close to Uluru but don't get nearly as much media attention. We did a 7km walk through the rock formations finishing at 9:30am. Next we were still energetic and headed over to Uluru. By now it was quite hot so the guide drove us to the half way point in the official walk at the far side of the monolith and we walked 4 ½ kms around the base to the normal start of the walk.

The usual start of the walk is also the place where people start a climb up Uluru. I had not yet decided if I would climb Uluru. I figured I would see what the aborigines themselved did around Uluru. If they treated it with respect and like the sacred site they believe it to be then I would respect their wishes and not climb it. If the treated it like an amusement arcade and a money making machine then I would consider climbing the rock. As it turned out the aborigines not only treated Uluru with respect, they kept information and visitor center miles away where it would not interfere with the impact and surroundings of the rock. I decided I would not have climbed, but in the end the option was not available, the temperature had already risen above the safety limit so the climb was closed.

Staring across an empty desert Uluru is quite stunning. Rising out of the desert the huge red rock seems strangely at home. I know some people talk about it being alien, like something that had landed there, but to me it looked right. It was as if the surrounding desert had been designed to be a suitable resting place for the monolith. Up close it was huge, towering over us but strangely slightly less impressive. Up close it felt more part of the real world. I think only when you can see it all in one go can you really appreciate it.

The walk around the first half of the base took 1 ½ hours in blistering heat. I actually felt a little woozy afterwards but the guide picked us up and drove us back to the camp site where we had showers and swam in the pool after which I felt fine. At 3:15pm the temperature had started to drop so we returned to the national park. First of all we went to the Uluru visitor center some distance from the rock and built to blend in. The center is small but well designed and blends in with the surroundings. It also had a good selection of Aborigine art and crafts. Photography is not allowed in accordance with Aborigine belief.

We then returned to the rock to complete our walk, another 5K. As we walked I stopped, a lot, to take photographs which meant I kept falling behind. Unfortunately this meant I was walking quite fast to catch up and since I was wearing a pair of trainers for the first time in a couple of weeks I ended up with blisters which didn't cause much trouble at the time but would cause some problems later in my travels. At one stage we came to a water hole where according to tradition we had to say “Kooka Kooka” as we were breathing in. This is supposed to tell the guardian spirit that we were only visiting to pay our respects, or so our guide told us. After finishing the walk we headed back to the camp site for dinner and another night sleeping in swags under the stars.

Uluru was the number one item on my things to see list for my Australia trip. I have to say it didn't disappoint. It's not just the rock itself it is the whole surroundings and the beauty of the place. If I ever get the chance to return to Australia I will try to go to see it again despite the massive distances involved.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Word of the Year 2006 is "Plutoed" verb: as in to pluto or to be plutoed. To demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet.

Classic :-)


A friend of mine in Australia went to see Eragon and against all the bad reviews told me it was a very good movie. Now she doesn't seem like the typical swords and magic kind of person so I was curious and wanted to see this when I got back to Dublin. Unfortunately the cinemas in Dublin all seem to have it on a day time schedule so I wasn't able to get to see it until today.

I have to say I really enjoyed the movie. It's a direct rip off of Star Wars. A really, really, direct rip off. It starts with a princess fleeing the evil empires troops, trying to get a precious stolen item to the local rebels. The hero is kid raised by his Uncle and cousin on a secluded farm, in a cloak and hood he actually looks like Hayden Christens Anakin. The local recluse is obviously a former knight destined to train the kid to fight the empire. The evil King is a former knight who now has an evil magician to commands his army for him. I don't know how this one got past George Lucas but I'm glad it did. Throw in a few Lord of the Rings influences and you have a movie that is fun and entertaining.

Ok, it's not going to win any Oscars, even the usual fantasy categories for special effects or costumes. They are pretty weak and at times seem more like scenes from BBC show like Robin Hood or Doctor Who. But that said how many Oscar movies winning movies sit on video shelves gathering dust in their never opened boxes. This one will entertain the kids and the adults.

The list of actors is impressive as well, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, and John Malkovich play their type cast characters but they do them well. Edward Speleers as Eragon himself is streets ahead of Hayden Christensens sulky teenager Anakin.

I cant believe this movie is on no later than 4:05pm in my local cinema while Employee of the Month can trap the unwary until 9:25pm.

Employee of the Month

I decided I'll try to see some more movies in the cinema this year. I'd been to the cinema once in Australia (Casino Royale) and before that it was only once every few weeks at best.

The first one I went to, Employee of the Month was a poor start to the year. Bad idea, bad setting, bad script, bad acting. This is a movie that isn't even straight to DVD, it's straight to YouTube. Though if it was only available on low quality internet download it would probably loose the only thing that kept me awake, Jessica Simpson does look nice on the big screen. She cant really act but in this movie none of the cast even try to act. It is as if their agents had signed the contracts for them and they were legally obliged to at least show up on set each morning.

You cant really blame them, the whole premise of the movie is weak and formulaic. Local geek enters into a competition with the local top dog to win the heart of the beautiful new girl in town. Done before and done better. The minor characters do little more than provide someone for the main characters to talk to. Why bring recognisable actors into the movie if you then give them nothing to do?

The few jokes were carefully rationed to the main cast and then flogged to death. The idea of someone sitting high up on the shelves of a supermarket, juggling items from a shopping trolley or slow motion running gets repetitive after a while. The one thing that held my interest, apart from Miss Simpson, was whether or not the actor playing Vince was the same guy who plays JD in Scrubs. He isn't, though its a good impersonation, assuming that was his intention.

It has a couple of funny moments but in a movie with approximately 6480 moments (yes you'll count them too) it could have used more than a couple of smiles.

I've seen worse, Duce Bigalow European Gigolo springs to mind, but I've seen better. If you want a few supermarket based laughs come to my local Spar and check the best before dates on some of the tins of food that people buy.

(By the way, I loved Casino Royale, perhaps the best thing I can say is that when I saw scenes of Pierce Brosnan playing Bond on TV I thought "Thats not Bond").

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Starbuck on Big Brother

What the hell??? Dirk Benedict, a.k.a. Starbuck, a.k.a. Faceman, just went on Celebrity Big Brother. I wanted to see him back on TV but in the updated Battlestar Galactica, not the funeral home of stardom that is Big Brother. Now starts 3 or 4 weeks of pointless stories, tabloid headlines and round the clock coverage of nothing happening on Channel 4.

No politicians this year :-)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

First Day Back

Well my first day back in work after Australia is over. All in all it was better than it could have been. I didn't have to write any code this morning, which was a good thing since I was still getting used to a UK keyboard layout never mind trying anything complex like remembering how to print "Hello World" in Java. On the other hand the office was open, there hadn't been a power cut or a flood or any other act of God that could have bought me another couple of days off.

I spent the day closing old bugs I had raised before I went on holidays and trying to sort through my email. It felt odd being stuck to a desk and as I was sorting through emails I kept thinking the day this was sent I was in Sydney, or I was at Uluru, or I was on the beach...

Thankfully it's only a 4 day week and an easy one at that since the company I work for just shipped a beta version of our new product this morning so no major panics were going on.


12097: The number of emails awaiting me this morning after my 3 month holiday.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Charity is not just for Christmas

Early last month Jean from Oxfam Ireland contacted me and asked if I could link to an video they had put up on YouTube advertising their online Christmas shop. Unfortunately at the time I was somewhere in the Australian outback and internet access was limited and expensive so I didn't get a chance to link to it. Here it is now.

I may have missed the Christmas shopping rush but their online shop sells more than just Christmas presents so you can still pay them a visit. Also I think that in the aftermath of Christmas we all have presents that we don't want. You may be able to donate them to a local Oxfam shop where it can make a difference and not clutter up your wardrobe or attic.

French Humour

Yes, they do have a sense of humour. No to 2007.

Language skills?

The Irish language today becomes an official working language of the European Union. I agree that it should be an official language but I wonder how many European directives we really need translated into Irish. Most of them make no sense in English never mind Irish.

Last month the Irish Government also announced plans to draw up a new 20-year strategy to promote the Irish language. Having just spent 3 months travelling with Europeans and people from all over the world I was ashamed that I could not speak another language. 5 years of French, 1 year of German and 11 years of Irish and at the time I could not speak any of them beyond the standard answers to the standard questions in the Leaving Certificate oral examination. But it wasn't just me, no one in my class was fluent or any where near it. Now I can barely say "My name is Declan" and ask "Can you speak English?" in any language.

The Government really should be focusing on an ambition to make every schoolchild in Ireland bi-lingual, with a focus on a European language not a language spoken only in Ireland and somewhere in the basement of building full of politicians in Brussels. It is recognised that once a person speaks two languages it is easier for them to learn more languages and then they can learn Irish.