Monday, December 19, 2005

The Picture of Dorian Gray

No, this has little directly to do with the Oscar Wilde classic book.

It's about my spouse and I. My wife is the same age as me (50). But she is the equivalent of Dorian Gray who doesn't age and I'm the portrait which does! It ain't fair.

Jet black hair, youthful skin, still a good figure, she could pass for 30. She has had a merest hint of greying at the temples recently, but it would be undetectable to a casual eye.

Me though...going grey since mid 30s, now totally grey. And hair now getting thinner on top. My weight fluctuates as I go on and off fitness regimes but the general picture is overweight. In summary, I could pass for 60.

Of course spousey enjoys all this. She told me of an almost disguised Freudian slip one of her lady acquaintances made recently. "Saw you walking the pier yesterday with your fath-...husband."

On another occasion I was walking towards our seat with our food tray from cash desk at a self service cafe place. Spouse was still at desk getting condiments. Another lady noticed a wooden walking stick left at the cash desk and chirped up to my wife...."tell that man (me) he left his walking stick".

I console myself that I can still play tennis quite well. Use the bicycle from time to time. A reasonable swimmer too with diving qualification. And like spousey I never smoked. But I look like a bad mixture of Bertie Ahern and Father Jack (from Fr. Ted) and I can do terrifyingly realistic impressions of the latter.

Ah feck it, you're as young as you feel and it's nice to have a spouse 30 years younger.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Old folk can be cool

Some parts of two RTE TV programmes over last month helped me reflect a bit deeper on the feelings of the elderly.

The first was on Ryan Confidential with Gerry Ryan interviewing Nell McCafferty. I hadn't thought of Nell as being particularly old but she recounted a story of her recently stopping on a busy street to do something with her bag. A very young woman spoke in a friendly way to her and asked her how she was. Nell said to the young person that it was great to be recognised (as a celebrity). The young person looked puzzled, said she didn't know her at all, was simply trying to help an old woman! Nell was facing many changes.

The next was on the Afternoon Show - I casually see some of the breakfast repeats on my way out. As an experiment Anna Nolan got made up as an old lady and went slowly walking down Grafton Street whilst being secretly filmed. Said afterwards she felt totally invisible, completely ignored, as if she didn't exist.

In the studio on same programme Anna also interviewed an elderly lady who was trying (I think) to help in improving social attitudes to the elderly. This lady recounted an experience she had herself on a visit to a hospital. A nurse was asking her questions in a loud condescending voice as if the lady was a mentally challenged child. I paraphrase here but it was along the lines of...

What tablets do you take, love?

"I don't take tablets."

Ah, you must! You know, they'd be in a little plastic bottle...what you take before you go to bed.

"I don't take tablets."

"Look love, I'm going to look through your handbag, won't be a minute. Ah, wait, here's your daughter, I'll ask her about the tablets."

Can you imagine how degrading that would be if you were the recipient.

I've witnessed many old folk going through this general type of treatment - including my own mother on my regular visits to her in nursing homes and hospitals in her final years. Unfortunately many of the elderly do lose their short term memories, they become slow and immobile and looking down at them seems to be a norm. It is wrong. In their brains is a lifetime of knowledge and experiences, they were young and built a world and created our generation.

Listening and talking to old people can be illuminating and rewarding. In some cases it can require the commitment to sift though the outer interference of their broken bodies to the inner mental treasures. I chatted to many interesting people in the nursing homes while visiting my Mum. If you tuned in to them you could learn so much. I heard many tales from retired people such as homemakers, shopkeepers, Gardai, civil servants and teachers about the way they once lived.

One guy called Tom was a very lucid ninety-nine years of age. He spoke in detail to me about the Titanic sinking and it being in the newspapers for so long that everyone was sick of hearing it! He was facinating, he even could explain his grandparent's experiences in the potato famine. An amusing aside about Tom was that he was very sprightly on his feet. He once was standing talking to me as I was leaving the big sitting room. He enquired from me as to why everyone in the room were always sitting around and not doing anything. I explained to him that they were all old people...just realising as I spoke that they were actually up to twenty years his junior!

Of course there are cases of extreme brokenness in the elderly (as indeed in the young) which are exceptional challenges but these I hope are becoming rarer with better medical treatments. For the most part old people can be fun, inside they are often lively...the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

Well guys, the only thing that separates us from all this is time. There is going to be a huge swell of us in the elderly category in the next 20-40 years. I know we'll want to be respected, we should aspire to being oases of wisdom. Let's hope we can still use a laptop and have good broadband. It may need to be a cheap laptop if the pensions don't work out!

PS - hey, I've just noticed that today is my late Mum's birthday. So this one's for you Mum!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Once upon a time in the IT world...

During an office tidy up today we came across my feature published in Irish Computer magazine in 2002. It was to mark 25 years since the magazine was founded by the late Don McDonald and it was a brief mixture of how the ICT landscape had changed for me in that time and references to Don himself. 1977 is not exactly ancient history, but it was in ICT terms. I must write again on similar telecom outrages of the 1970s. Anyway here is my Irish Computer piece as written three years ago, I'm not all that proud of it....

Don McDonald launched Irish Computer Magazine in the same year as my career started. In 1977 I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and joined the Data HQ section of the Dept of Posts and Telegraphs – now Eircom. I worked there for over 4 years on many interesting projects – launching X25 services, designing data test centres and data leased line equipment, latest modem evaluations etc. Cutting edge stuff at the time. However it was long before PCs were invented and I used pen and paper to write tender specifications and posted them over to the Typing Section. Days later the typed work returned with mistakes – everything so slow!

Dial-up modems in those days had to be rented from the Dept of Posts and Telegraphs. Most popular speed was 300bits/sec and if you could afford it there were the dangerously faster 1200 or 2400bits/sec modems! We had hundreds of modems in stock but the process whereby the poor customers got their rental modem took about eight weeks of paperwork and post between many different sections involved. This was civil service bureaucracy at it’s most extreme and the lack of IT infrastructure didn’t help.

I joined Technico in 1982 and later headed their datacoms division. I remember an accountant there using one of the first IBM PCs. It had no hard disk – so the DOS operating system was always loaded by floppy! The first PC I used in 1984 was the then powerful IBM AT with a massive 20MB hard disk. The accountant with the IBM PC was jealous!

I enjoyed working with Don McDonald and I particularly recall him persuading Technico to take a stand at the very first Comms Show in 1993. Before the show Don kindly offered to play tennis with me at his club in Kilternan – at the time I was struggling to improve my tennis and looking to join a club. So one Sunday morning, Don – old enough to be my father – spent the first set battering me around for a 6-2 win! Before the second set – whilst I drank a gallon of water – he asked me how many people I thought would visit the new Comms Show. Following my estimate Don looked at me in genuine horror and told me it would be double that figure! He then polished me off even more in the second set at 6-0! After the Comms show Don came to our stand to tell me the visitor count. The figure was much closer to his estimate than mine – all I could do was congratulate him and admire his vision.

I started up Multinet Systems Ltd. in 2000 and we are involved in advancing areas like VPNs, VOIPs etc. So much has improved in the last 25 years. I recently read Bill Cullen’s excellent book on the changes through his life - “It’s a long way from Penny Apples”. In my case, from the 1977 Dept of Posts and Telegraphs days – “It’s a long way from pens and paper!”

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

David Cameron is new Tory Leader

I've always clutched to the comfort that as I get older and least all the serious World leaders remain older than me. Alas no more....the Tories have elected as their leader a 39 year old man with a 34 year old spouse! And yes, he has the vital full head of hair without even a hint of grey. And the TV showed him cycling a flashy bicycle and generally hopping around like an enthusiastic adolescent chimp. All changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born....perhaps.

I heard someone say that to young people the Conservatives may now Even Tory old fogie Tarzan (Michael Heseltine) was impressed. He reckons it is the nearest that the UK have come to having a Kennedy Camelot type political family pack. Indeed Cameron is a good 4 years younger than the youthful John F. Kennedy when he was elected president. Sadly for the young Camerons they have the challenges of a disabled son...but truthfully that's actually an asset to their public image.

There is prima facia evidence that David Cameron might be good. At Prime Minister question time today he took a fresh approach from the usual silly pantomime antics. We will have to wait and see his progress. Image is crucial but substance is just as crucial.