Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine Flu

Wow, where did this one come from? Swine flu has arrived in the news like a breath of fresh air from the recession. Nothing like a global pandemic to send George Lee on a long weekend. The good news is that thanks to bird flu the Irish government came up with a plan to deal with a pandemic. Apparently the plans and the antivirals like tamiflu put in place for avian flu will work for swine flu as well. Worth reading, if only for the sentence on page 3 that encourages a spate of panic buying.

If and when a pandemic becomes imminent, you will need to stock up on essential medicines, food and other supplies.

Right so, I'm off to clean the guns and set the man traps around the apartment block. ;-)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

RTE Player

RTE has launched an iPlayer type service showing programs from the last 21 days. It's called RTE Player. Even though it is in beta it looks good and seems to work well. It's mostly domestic programming but Grey's Anatomy and Top Gear are on the list so maybe when it comes out of beta there will be more popular programs like Lost.

Paul O'Connell Lions Captain

So it appears Paul O'Connell is to be captain of the British and Irish Lions for the tour of South Africa. I hoped he would be captain but I waited until someone other than the Irish media reported it. It makes sense to pick O'Connell ahead of O'Driscoll, after all if someone spears tackles O'Connell the planet will end up with a dislocated shoulder.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cape Spear Newfoundland

I got a new laptop recently and it has led me to go through all my old photos again and salvage ones that I didn't pay much attention to previously. Here is one of Cape Spear from my first trip to The Rock. We must visit there again in the summer when we go back to Newfoundland. This is also a nice picture to post for what blogger tells me is my 1000th blog post. I've gotten far too grouchy and grumpy towards the government in my recent blog posts. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cake and Ale

The BBC is trying to ruin our weekends with their story this morning "Many unaware of alcohol calories"

But to coincide with the focus on weight, the Department of Health carried out research showing a regular beer drinker, who downed five pints a week or 250 over the course of a year, packed away the same number of calories as someone eating 221 doughnuts over the space of 12 months.

221 doughnuts! I feel ill.

3700 ESB Jobs

The ESB has announced that it plans to create 3700 jobs. It's a good news story that has quotes from the Taoiseach, the Energy Minister and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I imagine every other government TD and Minister will have a press release of some kind or other welcoming the announcement and taking some credit for new jobs coming to their locality.

My question is this, while all new jobs are welcome do we really want the big job announcements of the "smart economy" coming from existing semi-state companies? Work policies and union vetoes in semi-state companies seem to result in every decision, new technology or green idea being delayed and costing more than it should. Why not take the opportunity to spin off new smart economy companies in which the government holds a majority stake but without the dead weight of employment agreements, benchmarking and programs for prosperity from another era. This would allow the companies to quickly respond to changes in the market place, bring new technologies to customers and depend on innovation and quality to win customers instead of government monopolies. If and when those companies become a success the government could then easily sell their stake in those companies and re-coop the taxpayer investment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Income and Medical Levies to be backdated?

The income and medical levies that were increased in this months emergency budget may be backdated to January 1st 2009. That would see most people paying hundreds of euro in extra tax this year, possibly out of their May pay cheque or spread out over the rest of the year. George Hook on Newstalk is covering the subject and was interviewing Ruairi Quinn from the Labour Party who said the tax increases could be backdated once the legal position was clarified.

It seems clear the Irish government has no idea how to stimulate the economy and will now just suck as much money as possible out of peoples pockets while hoping a global economic recovery will solve all their problems for them.

Update: It looks pretty official now. Many news papers have the story and apparently it was in one paper on Sunday. The Irish Times has a good article that explains what is likely to happen. Ordinary PAYE payments will not be hit instead it's likely the government will use the backdating to claw money out of people who received lump sum payments since January. In some cases these payments were attempts to evade tax later in the year once it became clear the government was going to increase the levies. However in many cases, including people who took voluntary redundancy payments, ordinary people who were not evading tax will now be hit as well. Many will have used those lump sums to reduce their mortgages or invested in long term bank accounts with penalty clauses for early withdrawal. Many others may now be unemployed and living off those lump sums. Now I personally wont be impacted having not taken redundancy or received a bonus but I still think this sets a dangerous precedence. If later in the year the government is forced to introduce another budget what would stop them backdating those taxes?

Friday, April 10, 2009

24 reasons to buy a generator

Spies have penetrated the US power grid and planted software that could shut it down, or at least so says the US government. Didn't I see this on 24 a couple of weeks ago? Actually didn't I see this on Die Hard a few years ago? Or any number of movies and TV shows for decades? It is a bit hard to believe that the US power grid can be hacked into from China or Russia. If a TV script writer can think of it shouldn't some highly paid government advisor?

Though now that I think about it I do remember a guy I worked with in a large company used to dial into his home network provider on his work laptop so he could download stuff blocked by the firewall. This while also connected to the office network. Basically millions invested in corporate firewalls and cyber-security can be bypassed by one guy who wants to watch YouTube in work.

Irish Buses

While looking up the weight of a Dublin bus for a post on another blog I came across this website Irish Buses. A website for Irish Bus enthusiasts. Ok it sounds weird but it is strangely interesting to find out about the busses I take to work every day.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Budget Day

Ah Budget Day. The wonderful time of year when the government takes from the private to give to the public. My wild guesses are
  1. Adjustments to stamp duty to encourage people to buy and kick start the property developers. The government is addicted to the property market and hopes one day in the future to be able to restore it's lost income from stamp duty.
  2. A tax on second property, but nothing too high. Enough that landlords wont absorb the tax but will be able to pass it on to renters spread over 12 months, see 1 about encouraging people to buy property again. The ideal for the government would be to encourage renters to buy but not force landlords to sell yet. Clear out new property stockpiles before ex-rental properties flood the market.
  3. A ban on below cost alcohol selling with no real increases in alcohol of cigarette duty, that will help the publicans.
  4. Some car scrappage scheme to encourage people to buy new cars and dig out the car dealers
  5. A toxic bank to rescue the bankers. Split everything down the middle, they get the profit and we get the loss. Plus this hands the bad debts of the property developers to the State where it will be managed by a government that has worshiped at the altar of those same property developers for years.
  6. An increase in DIRT tax to encourage people to spend instead of save.
  7. Raising or scrapping the PRSI ceiling.
  8. The recent government levies to double or an extra percentage grade added on for even higher earners.
  9. The abolishment of tax reliefs large and small including the rental relief, see 1 about encouraging people to buy property.
  10. A change in the pension levy to remove people from the levy who are not entitled to a public service pension.
  11. Possibly a drop in VAT possibly to 20%. A small enough drop that shops will be able to get away with not passing it on the the public while not impacting too much on the government.
  12. A pay cap on some senior grades of the public sector with some changes in government departments and committees to save token amounts.
  13. Some task force or government body to boost job creation and inward investment.
  14. Token measures to encourage the knowledge economy, improvements in broadband and IT infrastructure. It will sound good but it'll be vague enough to allow the government to continue to class 3G mobile phones as broadband.
  15. A couple of woolly green measures, create some "green jobs" and keep the Green Party happy.

I'd also guess that after this budget there wont be the same number of protests that there was after the last one. Everyone is going to be hit but Fianna Fail will have learned their lesson and wont target any one clear group like the elderly again. Either everyone will be out on the streets or just the die hards who wont have much sympathy from the public since we will all be suffering.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Fact Finding Mission

I was just listening to a lady talking on the radio about the possibility the government may cut foreign aid in the budget tomorrow. She was just back from a fact finding mission to Bolivia and the situation was pretty desperate over there.

Hmm, well here's the thing, I haven't been on a fact finding mission and I know things are pretty desperate in the developing world. How about cutting out the fact finding missions, both by aid agency managers and government ministers, and just use a telephone to ask the people on the ground what they need. Then use the money which had been allocated for the trips to give those people some of what they need.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The New Metro North

The Irish government today announced that it will continue with construction of Metro North, all be it a scaled back lower cost version of the project. Commentators have criticised plans to construct a 4.5 Billion underground railway system in light of the nations dire financial situation. The Department for Transport disagrees saying the Metro is of vital importance to the nation and is a matter close to the hearts of many government ministers. Instead the Department has announced a 3 point plan which it hopes will reduce the cost of constructing the Metro.

  1. It has been estimated by government experts that 97% of passengers on the Metro will simply wish to travel from the city center area out to the airport and in some cases back again. The extension of the Metro to Swords would not be economical for the remaining 3%. Therefore the length of the Metro will be shortened, running from beneath St Stephens Green directly to the Airport where it will terminate. This should also greatly speed journey times from the city center to the airport with trains able to make the trip in far less time than large groups of people travelling on foot or by car at times when large numbers of people may have gathered in and around the city center especially the Kildare St and Upper Merrion Street areas.

  2. The number of stations will be cut drastically. The stations, especially underground ones were proving to be a larger than expected burden on the construction costs.

    The Department explained that the new locations were chosen after consultation with the current occupants of the buildings who agreed that easy, safe and secure access to the Metro would far out weigh any temporary disruption to their offices during construction. There will be one station on the south side of Dublin under St Stephens Green with additional underground access points added from several locations including 80, 94 and 51 St Stephen's Green, Agriculture House, Leinster House and Number 23 on Kildare St and Government Buildings on Upper Merrion Street.

    On the North Side there will be 5 stations, Parnell Square, Store Street, Custom House, Marlborough Street and the airport itself. In the airport costs and disruption to the public will be minimised by moving the new station to beneath a site currently occupied by a private hanger which is already owned by the Government and currently houses the government jet and several helicopters.

  3. A back to work scheme will be introduced where workers recently laid off will be given work on the construction of the tunnels and stations as part of a retraining and reskilling program. The manual construction of the tunnels is seen as a far cheaper option than using complex tunnel boring machinery such as the large automated drills used in the construction of the Port Tunnel. Costs will be further reduced by classing the workers as third level students. The whole retraining program will be designated as a further education institute and will provide these student workers with invaluable skills which will be in high demand in post recession Europe. Fees and new third level charges will of course be applied where appropriate but a government loan scheme will be introduced and the workers will be allowed to pay these loans back to the government over a period of 10 years at favourable rates of interest.

    All people who have applied for unemployment benefit since the start of 2009 will be entered into a draw for the retraining and will have their names randomly selected on a weekly basis as places come available in the institute. The first batch of students will be expected to report to the construction site no later than September of 2009 for orientation and physical assessment. Those living outside the capital will be provided with accommodation in specially constructed government facilities in The Curragh army camp. The retraining programs will run for between 1 and 2 years during which the government expects to go through between 70,000 and 100,000 workers.

Construction of the metro should begin later this year and be complete within 2 years from today April 1st 2009. It is expected that it should be open to the general public shortly after the next election or the resignation of the Government.

Life Mag

The archives of Life Magazine have been put online with a new website There are 7 million images from Life and Getty. This a little treasure trove of old photographs and it's great to see these being digitized and put on line instead of put in boxes and locked away in archives like so many photos.