Sunday, December 24, 2006

Santa sees when you are sleeping!

I was 7 years old. First Christmas in my very own bedroom in our new house. Trying hard to sleep. Santa doesn't come if you're not asleep. But I was too excited to sleep thinking about presents.

It was still only maybe 10 pm when I heard the front door opening downstairs. Then my parents voices..."Ah, it's yourself! Come in, come in!"'s Santa...I'm not asleep!!

Jovial talk continued downstairs and then I heard Santa say "Is the wee fella up in bed?"

Next I could hear Santa's heavy steps on the stairs.

Oh my God! I'm in huge trouble now.....he sees when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake.

The heavy steps crossed the landing and stopped at my room. I covered my head with the blanket and tried to stay still. I'm asleep, I'm asleep.

I heard my door opening and could hear Santa breathing. He was standing at the door looking and listening to see if I was awake. I ventured one eye open and from under the blankets I could detect the light from the landing illuminating my room. Be very still...Santa will leave the presents at end of my bed...but I mustn't move a muscle.

I could still hear the breathing but no movement from Santa. This was not good... he knows when you're awake.

Then my heart sank as I heard Santa close my door and retreat down the landing and down the stairs. I could hear murmurs amongst the adults downstairs. Eventually Santa left by the hall door. I sat up and looked at the end of my bed, Nothing, no presents. I was completely deflated. Should I go downstairs, tell my parents? No, bad idea. Santa might just come back again. But maybe he won't. My mind was filling with worries and negative thoughts and eventually I cried myself to sleep.

I woke up and it was morning and bright. I looked at the end of my bed and my face lit up with joy. Presents!! What a relief.

When I spoke to my parents I told them how relieved I was that Santa came.

"Relieved? Why?" said Mum.

I told them the whole story. A smile emerged on my Mum's face.

"You had no need to worry, Santa came much later than that. The man you heard was your Uncle Tom coming on a visit. He went up to your room to give you money. Bad idea that you pretended to be asleep, I'd say you lost out on getting a 10 shilling note!"

Note: This was another childhood memory of Uncle Tom which my kids liked to hear when they were young - their second favourite after Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car

Monday, December 11, 2006

Angela's Ashes and Penny Apples

I recently finished reading Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt's memoirs of his 1930s and 1940s childhood in the worst slums of Limerick. Like most people I had seen the movie. Four years ago I read Bill Cullen's memoirs of childhood from the slightly later period of 1940s and 1950s Dublin slums in It's a Long Way from Penny Apples. It's tempting to compare and contrast the two books from my own point of view.

Both books were the author's first work which they each wrote when aged in their sixties. Both have a simplicity of style and directness. Frank being a lecturer, had a bit more flair. Bill I'm sure would admit he is no great natural writer and it particularly shows in the school essay-like style in the very early sections. In particular the conversations he attributed to his parents during the Strand bombings lacked credibility - very Famous Five stereotype nonsense - and in fact I was close to giving up on the book in the first 20-30 pages. Bill admits he did get much help in constructing the book but as the early imagination and third party sourced sections dissolve into his own actual childhood memories the power of his experiences becomes captivating and even sharpen his story telling abilities.

Angela's Ashes of course has enjoyed huge success. It helped that Frank lived in USA and was originally born there and success in the USA for a book is something to savour. And there's the movie to boost revenue and further energise the book sales. So Frank made a ton of money no doubt. Bill Cullen on the other hand was already fairly wealthy when he wrote Penny Apples and book proceeds he gave to the Irish Youth Foundation. I'm guessing its sales are nothing near the level of Angela's Ashes and that it is predominantly an Irish market. However, I'm leaving this scaling area aside and I'm judging the two books purely on their own merits to me as a reader.

Frank McCourt writes Angela's Ashes from the perspective of the child he was at the time. In that sense it is honest, simple, and contains the humour associated with a child's view. The poverty, illness and tragedies which his family endured were overwhelming. Even by local standards in Limerick at the time they were near the edge of destruction. As a child Frank was aware that they were very poor.

In contrast Penny Apples is written very much from Bill Cullen's perspective as a modern adult and includes a useful macro view of the contemporary influential people and local history. Included are studies of people and institutes like Alfie Byrne, Hector Grey, Louis Copeland, the Mitchels rosary bead factory, the Magdalene laundries and several interesting early first hand experiences of Charles Haughey and Haughey Boland Accountants. Even Rock Hudson makes an appearance on a visit to Dublin and we get an early insight into his sexual orientation and possible predatory tendency with children. The stories he related from his granny Molly Darcy were priceless treasures. One included her first hand experience of the 1916 leaders being marched down Sackville Street. Another was from when she was a teenager working in a big Dublin house and an old man working there told her about his harrowing childhood experience of he and his parents and siblings being evicted during the Famine. This was very captivating - to think there are still links to firsthand stories of the Famine.

I thought Bill gave a refreshingly honest view of the Catholic clergy as he saw it. The priests, nuns and bothers usually came out better than in many other stories from this era. It's a view I would have in general agreed with from my own slightly later experiences in Dublin. The religious orders came out somewhat worse in Angela's Ashes. In spite of considerable hardship Penny Apples was rich in optimism, survival and business ideas from a very ingenious yet commonsense angle. I found the variety of the book very enriching. I do understand Bill's view that they were poor as children, but that as children they didn't know they were poor. Everyone else around them was similar. Frank's situation in Limerick was much worse and more depressing and there seemed to be no escape except for a distant notion of somehow getting to America.

Many common threads are clear in both books. The huge influence of the Catholic Church, poverty, illness, children dying, the demon drink. In addition, strong women stand out - maternal grandmothers in particular and contrasted with weak or unhelpful fathers. I get an impression that Bill over-glamorised his parents and relations to some degree but he did say negative things as his father went a bit off the rails later. It's possible that - as Bill has lived his full life in Ireland - he is conscious of many living family and friends and decided to steer a cautious approach. Frank McCourt was probably somewhat freer being in USA and you do detect greater openness to his descriptions of people, although it tends to lack depth.

Both books are important works which capture an Ireland which has gone. In all truth I took away much more from Penny Apples. It was so multidimensional in what it touched on, the events and people encountered were fascinating. I was enriched with knowledge. It also is a tidy work in that it progresses logically and reaches a clean ending. It's main downside was dialogues attributed to people - it was usually oversimplistic and often lacked credibility. Penny Apples is no masterclass literature in presentation skills but it's raw content is brilliant.

Angela's Ashes was reasonably well written but I found it too long, too simple and continuous in one-dimensional wall-to-wall poverty as seen by a child. It was certainly poignant, sad, mixed with child humour, but it could have been told with more attention to the variety of characters and extract a bigger picture. For instance - the title of the book leans on images of his mother staring quietly into the ashes in the fireplace. She was a complex character and must have had many thoughts to wrestle with. I would have loved to understand her and others more. There are many clues but just not enough analysis. It's a feature of telling the book from a child's firsthand view - you lose Frank's analytical perspective as an adult looking back. I suppose he was leaving the reader to think things through. The closest he came to serious analysis was in the powerful opening page overview before he drifts into the child vision. Also the book ends as Frank leaves Ireland so in that sense it is an incomplete view of his life (his later book 'Tis covers the rest). Angela's Ashes is a very good book and the poverty was painfully hit home, but I think it just missed out on a genuine opportunity to be a classical masterpiece.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The night the Pope bombed appropriate parts of Derry!

My mother grew up in Derry and was a young adult there during Word War II. She and her family were nationalists (and Catholic) and lived in a predominantly loyalist (and Protestant) part of Derry. A story she had told of one of her experiences still makes me smile....

One night a German bombing raid over Derry resulted in some devastation of houses. There was considerable talk about it the following day around Derry. The big subject for some of the loyalist people was that the houses destroyed were all in Protestant areas of the city. This caused a bitter debate and speculation that the bombing raid was a Popish plot. They always had a thing about the Pope. The theory spread like fire and imaginations flared. It culminated in one woman claiming that she actually saw the Pope himself in the German bomber and that he must have been pointing out to the pilot which areas of the city were Protestant so that they could just bomb those places. When challenged on her exceptional eyesight in the dark the women said she knew it was the Pope because she could just make out his tall distinctive hat at the window of the bomber! Coupled with popular talk of Pope Pious XII being at least Nazi neutral due to his non-condemnation of Nazi actions, there was a firm body of people who believed and spread the rumour of the Pope directing the bomber. The local nationalists where my mother lived kept publicly silent due to being badly outnumbered!

The image of the Pope with all his robes and tall hat in a German bomber pointing out Protestant parts of the city would make an excellent Monty Python or Father Ted type TV sketch! I feel awkward writing this blog in our modern all-inclusive Ireland, but it was funny at the time it was told.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Traveling through Northern Ireland...briskly!

My wife and I traveled up to Moville in Donegal on Thursday. We were bringing an aunt up to a funeral of a cousin's husband. It was a tough days driving up and down - ten and a half hours in the car - not helped by an hour each way on the M50 as we hit it at morning and evening rush hours.

Anyway, we went through Northern Ireland to get to Moville via Derry. I'm used to traveling in NI since I was very young as my Mum's family are from Derry. However in recent years I'm beginning to notice it's often easier to live with Continental Europe than these six counties on our island. Here are some niggles from Thursday's trip....

1. We decided to eat in Donegal before we returned via NI. I couldn't cope with having to deal with Sterling after spending the last four years using Euros at home and in trips to to much further places like Portugal, Spain, France and Italy.

2. The roads in NI are still marked in mph, which is weird having just got adjusted to kph both in the Republic and in the continent. Given that there is no noticeable border point to/from NI you have to start thinking what units the speed signs are in at border areas.

3. The Republic actually in general now has better roads than NI. I remember when it was the opposite.

4. As well as not eating in NI I wasn't tempted to buy petrol either - it seemed to work out at an average of around 1.50 Euro per litre!!

5. Our mobiles phones roamed into Orange and Vodafone respectively in NI - strange as we are both O2 and O2 claim to be one rate for the island. I suppose we could have stopped the car and forced the phones onto O2, but we were in a hurry and we couldn't be bothered.

So it was a case of - let's get through NI briskly - don't eat or spend sterling, don't buy petrol, don't use the phone, be careful on the narrow main roads and interpret where mph signs begin and end.

I'd feel a lot neater in NI if the UK would become more committed Europeans.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Near Death Experiences

I seem to be in a weird blogging mood lately, spooky. Maybe it's November being a dead month.

Stories of near death experiences are often interesting. I'm willing to accept that many of them may be some elaborate dream type experience. However many are difficult to explain due to the hard evidence they provide. An example of one experience I read of which always sticks in my mind is as follows...

An American middle aged woman had a heart attack in a US city which she was visiting and which she was not very familiar with. She was rushed to a local hospital and at one stage on the ground floor theatre her heart stopped and the medics took quite awhile to restart her heart. As she recovered later that day in a 3rd floor ward she related a near death experience to her nurse. She claimed she had floated up out of her body, out of the walls and upwards until she was even a bit above the roof of the hospital. She was able to describe the hospital well for someone who was unfamiliar with this city. In particular she described floating above the top floor of the hospital and remarked that she saw a tennis shoe sitting on a ledge outside a window. The nurse listened to her and consoled her but didn't take her story at all seriously. A dying person's mind plays tricks, she reckoned.

Later that day the nurse had occasion to be on the 7th floor and was doing something at the window. Over at the other wing of the L-shaped hospital she noticed an object sitting on a ledge. She then thought of what the women had said and decided she might chance a closer look. When she got over to the correct room she looked out the window and sure enough there was a tennis shoe on the ledge. At this stage the nurse was more than intrigued. She picked up the shoe and went right back down to the ward on the 3rd floor where the women was in bed. She wanted to test her further and walked up to her with the shoe hidden behind her back.

"When you were dying you said you floated up and you saw a tennis shoe on the top floor ledge?


"you never told me what colour it was."

"It was blue" the woman said without hesitation.

The nurse was stunned and showed the woman the blue tennis shoe she had hidden. The woman had only come into the hospital that day and had never been taken beyond the 3rd floor, nor had she been off her back in bed. The nurse hugged her and later became a serious student of near death experiences.

I've read other stories verified by doctors and surgeons of patients who almost died during an operation describing exact details of instruments and objects in operating theatres when they were clearly unconscious coming in and out of the room.

It's yet another strange area which requires study.

Monday, October 30, 2006

How our toddler offered thoughts of an after-life

Let me initially give a little background to a strange experience. My wife's parents died aged in their 50s and it was many years before any of our three children were born. So my own parents were the only grandparents our kids knew. My Dad died suddenly when the girls were each aged 6 years, 3 years and 7 months old. The older two knew their grandad. It saddened them when he died and they then avoided talking about him to anyone. Our youngest, Shona, was far too young to have any recollections of him. She grew up just knowing her granny, who lived until Shona was almost 12. Hence the word Grandad and the concept of what it meant were unknown to her when she was a toddler.

Shona learned to talk very early, she could make sense and have reasonably good conversations by about the age of two years old. One Saturday afternoon, a month before Shona's 2nd birthday, we were all in the kitchen about to eat a meal. We were talking about what might be on the telly and Shona was sitting at the kitchen table just generally humming to herself.

Quite out of context to anything we had been discussing, Shona said...

"Grandad loves me."

I was sitting opposite Shona and it seemed odd to me for her to use that name. She was never even taught such a word at her age as there was no such person in her life.

"You mean Granny loves you", I corrected.

"No, no, Grandad loves me".

This was becoming a little intriguing. I thought I better test her further.

"Is Grandad a man or a woman?" Maybe she was getting the terms granny/grandad mixed up and really meant her granny.

"A man".

Mmmh. I had to think a bit on this and my wife was also now showing some interest. The older two girls also thought it strange for her to mention a grandad.

I wondered if she really did mean one of her actual deceased grandads and if so, which one.

"Where did you see Grandad?" I asked.

"In Granny's house".

"You sure you don't mean you just saw Granny?"

"No, Grandad".

"Where in Granny's house did you see him?"

"Not Granny room, other room."

There followed a tricky bit of conversation to extract from a toddler as to what room she meant. It turned out she meant the front downstairs room of my Mum's house. It was a sitting room but never used much. My Dad had tended to use this room to sit in sometimes as it was cooler for him - my mother liked extra heat.

On digesting this later something else clicked in my mind. It was a minor incident a few weeks earlier when we were over in my Mum's house visiting. Shona had been walking around and had wandered into the front room. When she returned to us in the back room she came over to my wife and I and said gently...

"There's a man in the other room".

My wife and I looked at each other and at my Mum. We knew it couldn't be true what Shona said and shrugged her off. However she repeated that there was a man, so I reluctantly got up from my seat and brought her into the front room.

"See Shona, no man here", I said.

Shona didn't say anything further and that was the end of that. However this little incident came back in my mind after Shona explained to us that this was the room where grandad talked to her.

Still in our own kitchen I asked Shona another question...

"Is Grandad a big man or a small man?"

"A big man".

By Dad was big and heavy for sure, but then I thought that to a toddler every man is big I suppose.

My wife then asked Shona...

"Is grandad happy?"

"Yes. He said he's on his holidays".

Following a few seconds reflection on this answer the hair almost stood up on my head. It seemed to me exactly how a person might explain a concept of Heaven to a small toddler. I tried to subdue my brain from racing away from remaining balanced and objective. But we had never taught her any religion or any such concepts whatsoever at her age.

It was difficult to get much more detail from Shona due to her limited communications skills. She did however give a vague impression that grandad played with her...

"He's like a doggy" she smiled and did little doggy panting sounds with her tongue out to imitate him. At first this didn't make much sense. On further reflection though I do recall my Dad getting on his hands and knees on the floor playing with children when he was a younger man, usually pretending to be a horse actually. He used to give me horse rides on his back when I was a small child.

Over the following days I managed to learn a bit more from Shona. I decided to try a careful experiment. There was no photo of my Dad on display in our house or indeed my Mums, so I knew there was no way on Earth she should relate a photo of my Dad to being her grandad. I reiterate that my Dad died when Shona was a baby of 7 months old, she was now almost 2 years old. Nobody but myself and my wife had access to photo albums with my Dad's picture. I sat on the floor with Shona and opened a photo album in which I knew that in about the 5th page there was a photo of my Dad. I opened each page slowly and just let her talk about who she recognised. There were mainly pictures of myself, my wife and the kids. She smiled and knew each person in her family and pointed them out by name. When I opened the page which contained a photo of my Dad I deliberately said nothing. Shona didn't hesitate though...

"There's grandad", she pointed with glee.

My heart missed a beat, I was floored. It seemed impossible. I stake my life that none of us had ever discussed or shown photos of my Dad to Shona. I later quizzed the other girls separately and I'm quite certain they never discussed nor had access to a photo of grandad to show her. They didn't even talk about grandad to us and they only did baby talk to Shona to make her laugh.

After Shona had recognised my Dad in the photo I felt reluctantly like asking her another question. I was reluctant for a few reasons - firstly it was a selfish question, coming from me being an only child perhaps, and also because I didn't expect her to be able to answer it. After a reflective pause I found I couldn't let it pass and I asked Shona if grandad had ever mentioned myself to her. What happened next from a child of this age was strange, both in what she said and how she said it.

Shona turned her head up from the photo album to me and looked me in the eyes with a purpose which surprised me.

"Grandad said he will mind you."

This was rather overwhelming as you can imagine.

As the weeks and months passed Shona's memory of these incidents faded and she reverted to not knowing who grandad was. The phase had lasted maybe 2 weeks.

I've little idea how to explain any of this logically. Was she reading our own minds, was she psychic? If you ask Shona today aged 17, she has no memory of grandad, except what we told her she had said.

My views on potential afterlife tend to be rather openminded, coloured by what I know of matter and energy and the physical universe. I could accept that there is no afterlife if it happens to be true, but I also realise that there are many things that we cannot yet grasp. It's unwise to be closed minded in this area. I can't explain how Shona came to communicate to us as she did for a few short weeks as a toddler. But any time I'm feeling that death is final, I think of what Shona had told us fifteen years ago. How strange that a tiny child still in nappies could offer us such depth of thought and even hope.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bertie-Gate and latest opinion polls

I wrote about Bertie-Gate earlier this month before the latest opinion polls which now show major increase in support for Fianna Fail.

The dichotomy contained in the recent public opinion poll results is that people thought Bertie was wrong BUT that he shouldn't resign and also support for Fianna Fail surged and support for opposition declined. Many columnists (including Irish Times editorial) are interpreting this as that the people just don't care about dodgy dealings in politics. I believe this view is close to being an insult to the people.

A logical interpretation on the poll finding that Bertie was wrong but shouldn't resign is that the people feel the Opposition chose too strong an attack on a relatively modest bad practise. Also the leek was not allowed and the Tribunal was the right place to work on this. The people believe Bertie was wrong but I think many believe the level of attack and its method was disproportionate to the deed and it backfired really badly. I think Bertie's relatively modest lifestyle and the circumstances also helped reduce his sins to a venial level. If the same level of intensity of attack was directed at something more serious it might have helped the Opposition. Instead they looked like whingers trying to hurt a man whose private financial divorce settlements were made public in a completely wrong way. The people disliked their intense use of valuable Dáil time on this matter and in my opinion punished the Opposition for it in the opinion polls.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Good Teacher

In my last few years of primary school in Dublin we had a most inspiring young teacher. It's worth naming him because I'm only going to say good things. He was Seán P. Ó Hógain, from Limerick I recall, and I'd guess he might today be aged in his sixties.

Seán P was first introduced to the class by the school Headmaster who also treated Seán P to a lengthy dissertation on how our class had many temporary teachers in the last year and how we were way behind in what needed to be covered etc. When the Headmaster departed there followed our usual nervous silence with a new teacher in the room. Would he be tough, loud, threatening? Our bodies were rigid and our senses were on stalks like small animals studying a larger potential predator.

But something strange started to emerge. Seán P. was talking to us as if we were friends, even threw in some humour. It was not childish though, it was as if he respected us as almost young adults. We didn't quite know how to react, was it a trick, would he suddenly turn nasty? This was 1966, as 11 year old lads we were not used to teacher's being nice. Our reaction to a teacher being soft would be to go a bit out of control, be unruly. But this was different. He was being very direct with us, probing us, challenging us, it demanded thought. Seán P seemed to be able to think a bit like us. But he also turned out to be radically better at teaching than anyone we had before.

Seán P helped the class appreciate complex parts of Shakespeare's plays such as Julius Caesar, Hamlet, big poems like Tennyson's Ulysses, complex literature etc. Lord of the Flies was a book he read to us in class and encouraged us all to read it, which we did. Everyone I spoke to could relate to it and think deeper - it was based on school boys our own age. He also did a brilliant analysis of the "Friends, Romans, Countrymen..." speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and how Mark Anthony gradually aroused the crowd to the opposite view.

It was all light years off the curriculum stuff and I recall once a school inspector admonishing Seán P in the class for covering material which was far too difficult for our age group. But our teacher had a great bond with the class and patiently deciphered complex material to help us both understand and - more importantly - enjoy it.

As his name suggests, Seán P also had a strong interest in the Irish language. He tried to make Irish cool I suppose - in the way TG4 are doing today. It didn't fully work for me, I was always very cosmopolitan and felt Irish was a drag. However I did learn Irish better via Seán P. He also went through a phase of teaching us history through Irish. Very democratically, he actually got the class to vote on this - amazingly we agreed, a sign of his credibility in class. After about 6 months of learning history though Irish he gave up on it as we were not grasping history enough through our limited powers in Irish language. But he was never afraid of trying new ideas.

A notable feature of Seán P was his sense of humour. He was so funny at times. He could help you remember anything by seeing the funny side of it. Even various Irish battles in the middle ages he could give a wickedly funny insight into how the factions might be thinking.

In religion Seán P covered a famous book called "God is for real, man". It was a book published to help modern American inner city dudes understand the message of Christianity. It was hilarious - especially in the way Seán P amplified it - but we remembered every single parable!

I remember a sobering debate Seán P brought up regarding proof for God existing. He claimed to our mild shock at the time that there was no proof at all. This created an interesting tail-wagging-the-dog spectacle of many in the class putting together arguments to prove to the teacher that God did exist. He was playing devils advocate so well that he had everyone's active attention. Seán P was able refute all of our feeble attempts at proof. He ended it all by saying that he believed in God himself but that we should realise it's not provable. In those times if the headmaster or the priests had been fully aware of this debate he would have been in trouble.

Other things Seán P covered were appreciation of modern art, encouraging us at stamp collecting, science experiments in class etc. It was stuff never covered in primary school in the 1960s, he was way before his time.

Seán P helped me in many ways. He taught me to think for myself and question things. He gave me an initial appreciation of the arts and literature which I never lost in spite of moving in a more science and technology career direction (which he also helped with through his good handling of science). Seán P. was also the teacher who got our class going on learning Chess - see my blog of same - and I've described how that had both a direct and indirect groundbreaking affect on me.

If Seán P is still on the planet - a big thanks from me - and I'm sure I speak for the entire class, we all liked him!

Sunday, October 08, 2006


It's a messy spectacle for sure and the affair is being made to look embarrassing for Ireland and for Bertie.

In the past there have been so many genuinely evil wrongdoings and corruptions by the likes of Haughey and others. Hence many are mentally programmed to equating Bertie's situation to the same level. Although perhaps wrong by today's ethics, Bertie's aired mistakes are lightweight in comparison. He lives very humbly compared to Haughey's extravaganza. The donations/loans were from the time of his separation and it seems blatantly clear that friends and others were just trying to help him out in his separation difficulties. Marital separation is awful and also not an easy time financially for people of even respectable income. We agree it was ill advised but everyone tries to be tax efficient and clinically Bertie didn't break any law. On a scale of 1-10 of sharp practice and ethics it registers as a 2. I know we want our leaders to be spotless and to have a crystal clear vision of how future generations will view past practices, but I'm afraid there is no such person.

The main ugliness in my opinion has been the disrespect and sidestepping of the Tribunal as the correct place for analysis of Bertie's payment transactions. Bertie has been accomodating in handling the unallowed leaks in a public fashion - but in respect to his own privacy and the Tribunal he has been trying to stick to the most summary facts. This of course leads on to the media and the Opposition probing further and acting like a kangaroo court in public. This is no way to handle matters and is an innefficient and embarrasing mess as a result. It's highly unfair to the Taoiseach and not a scientific way to get answers. His willingness to make comments in public while attending functions is well intended but ill advised for proper clarity. A case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.

In any event one could argue that Bertie has now had a thorough personal investigation of his past very publicly via the media. His bill of health is probably better that the majority in political life. I wonder how many others would come up this well? Bertie has lost some of his teflon image but I believe he is still up there with the best there is in politics - and latest opinion polls still show him in a good light.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Michael McDowell - the leader to make the PDs grow.

I'm gonna stick my neck out an make a prediction. I've a feeling that the PDs are going to become a bigger and more successful party under McDowell. I'm not saying that McDowell is brilliant in every way, he has flaws, but I do think he is good leadership material. He has plenty of fresh ideas and energy and is not afraid to go for it. There's always risks with an enfant terrible but I think he has enough skills and intelligence to pull off success. Winning ugly at times no doubt!

The PDs should always have been destined to make a big impact. They made a promising start in the mid 1980s. I know they were a reactionary to the Dessie versus Charlie fallout which filled a gap but they then lost their momentum eventually. I think Mary Harney was and is a great worker who gets things done. Excellent in Environment (smog free Dublin!) and Industry, doing her best in Health (tough job). Also a great people person. I'm not convinced she was an expansion type leader for the PDs. But the good thing is that the PDs under Harney did manage to punch way above their weight. Considering their size they are doing very well.

McDowell has the potential to bring the PDs to another level. The neat thing about a small party is flexibility and freshness. McDowell is the leader who can make or break them. I'm betting on the former.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

High Definition TV - Wow!

I'm known by family and friends to get fun from latest technical breakthroughs in gadgets etc.

One of the reasons my blog has been quiet in the last few weeks is because I got our TV and Sky upgraded to include High Definition content. The Wow factor is huge.

For those who haven't heard of it or not seen a demo, High Definition TV (HDTV) shows four times finer detail than standard TV. Resolution, colour and contrast are all excellent on big plasma or LCD screens. I've been watching so many National Geographic and Discovery channel documentaries - landscape filming in Africa, underwater coral reef stuff etc would take you breath away. Movies and sport are all amazing also in HD. It has to be the biggest breakthrough in TV since colour.

Even though Sky is expensive enough, I have to give them credit for launching HDTV broadcasts. It is superb. Also the Sky+ facility of recording programmes onto the satellite box hard disk is fantastic - easy to use, can record two channels at once, is a perfect digital recording like the original broadcast and it has a huge storage capacity - we must have at least 20 movies and documentaries stored on the disk -many in high definition.

One word of advise if any of you are considering HDTV. With normal TV it is advised that you view from no more than 5 times the screen diagonal size - e.g. is you are viewing from 10 feet away then a 24 inch screen is about right. In the case of HDTV in order to see the extra fine detail you need to be a bit less than 3 times the diagonal size from the TV. Hence you tend to need a somewhat larger screen that you might realise. So if you are trying to justify the huge TV to your spouse - ya need to throw plenty of physics like this at them - it's vital! If that doesn't work then you (reluctantly!) sit much nearer to a smaller TV. The latter sucks!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I recommend Sorrento!

What a great holiday spousey and I had together - it befitted our 25th wedding anniversary this month. Marvelous place Sorrento, Italy. Our hotel was high up on a cliffside with a panoramic view of Sorrento, the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius etc. It truly must be one of the best views in the World.

We had wonderful 5-star waiter service evening meals on the great hotel rooftop restaurant watching the sunset over the stunning Bay of Naples, our ears serenaded with a singer gently performing lovely Italian songs inc. Sancta Lucia etc. as our palates and senses were pampered by exquisite food and glasses of the beautiful local wine Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio *. The nearest it gets to Heaven on Earth!

* Aside - this wine name translates as "The Tears of Christ" and amusingly is so named from Christ's emotions during his ascension into heaven at seeing the beauty of the Bay of Naples!

We had a guided tour of nearby Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. What struck me about Pompeii was how large it is and the extent of excavation. It really is a city in scale. Most interesting. They have actually only uncovered 80% of the place - plenty more for future archaeologists.

Also visited the famous Isle of Capri and had boat tour around it. It's a spectacular island visually with high cliffs and peaks.

Best holiday spousey and I have had in years.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Okay leaving for the airport in an hour, 1 week holiday in Sorrento, Italy, just spousy and I, excellent! It has been said that my local area of Killiney Bay and Hill, Vico Road, Sorrento Terrace area, Dalkey Island etc. is a bit like the Italian Bay of Naples/Sorrento area - hence the various copied names. I have my doubts but we'll soon find out.

Anyway, blog free until about 11th Aug.


Monday, July 31, 2006

You speak English?

The regional variations of accents and pronouncing of words can be both interesting and entertaining.

Here in Ireland notice how the Belfast accent is very flat and bassy. Further west in Derry it's higher pitched and when you get to West Donegal it's often like a high pitched scream. It's as if people's voices are increasingly competing with the screech of winds as you approach the Altantic seaboard!

My mother had a strong Derry accent and in Dublin when I was small our neighbouring family's parents had strong Cork accents. They had plenty of challenges in the early years trying to communicate with each other!

Regional accents come out stronger the more excitable or passionate the conversation becomes. Once in Tralee, Kerry I had occasion to be sitting beside two local businessmen. They were having a very intense talk about some serious matter. I'm convinced that they were talking in English, but their passion, speed of delivery and Kerry accents were so strong that I did not have a clue what they were saying. I could make out the odd "yerra" and "jaysus" but it was truly the only sustained time I can recall where I couldn't understand people in my own country! I think a degree of local understanding and body language was also kicking in as I've normally no problem understanding the Kerry accent.

The Dublin accent has it's own variations. In extreme cases the unique pronunciations of words get very ingrained. Recently I was reading a work related e-mail from a woman I had spoken to earlier that day. One sentence included something like "....air services to air customer". It puzzled me for a minute. Then I tried to imagine her speaking the sentence out loud and it suddenly made sense. Her strong Dublin accent pronouncing of "our" as "air" was so ingrained that she was even spelling it that way!

You expect TV news people to be accurate and neutral at pronouncing things, but there are many exceptions - including a Dublin TV reporter who says keeps saying "Are T E" for RTE. Then there are the other variations within Dublin - e.g. the newsreader accent would pronounce Lorry as Laurie and the stronger accent would say Lurry.

There are great English pronunciation and accent variations throughout Ireland, around the UK and all over USA and eleswhere. Once a gym coach was helping me and ran some tests and discussed ranges of exercises and diet etc. He kept mentioning how certain things would help me with my tinis. I was getting increasingly nervous as tinis sounded like some medical condition he thought I had. I then swallowed and bravely consulted him on what tinis was. Turned out it was just tennis with his Australian accent!

Americans often love their Irish roots but its fun watching them trying to cope with Irish words and names. I visited a supplier in Minneapolis some years ago. I brought a present of a traditional Irish doll for the small daughter of my regular contact. The packaging box named the doll as Róisín. I was back with the supplier 5 years later and the guy raved about how much his daughter still loved the Irish doll. For the past 5 years she had been calling the doll Rose-in (e.g. there is a rose in the garden). There was shock and horror on his face when I laughed and told him the correct pronunciation was "Rosheen". Too late for the child, it was Rose-in forever.

Speaking of Americans, I can't resist one last quick story, not too related to accents. Not long ago my sister-in-law brought some American friends to the 14th century Bunratty Castle, which is beside the motorway linking Limerick and Shannon. One of the American ladies said on exiting - "Gee, it's a lovely castle, but why did they build it so close to the freeway?" I suppose to some Americans Billy the Kid is their idea of ancient history!

Glad to hear any tales or views others have on accents and pronunciations.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Mediterranean Dublin

Following on my last blog, this one really seems trivial. But weather is always a topic we Irish banter about.

It has been hot and rain free for so long now. Our lawn is yellow, but at least I don't have to cut it so often.

We've had painters just finished tackling the entire outside of our house including balconies, railings, downpipes, roofboards, porches, chimneys, perimeter walls, the lot. It was tough for them in the sun heat and the glare from the white masonry. The four of them suffered for two weeks working flat out as it's a very large house, and this included them baking in the 30C peaks of last week. We were keeping the plastic recycling bins full with the number of drinks they went through each day.

It's hard to work when it's hot. In the office I feel our productivities are down as even with fans running the rooms are at 30C. I'm using any excuse to get out in the airconned car to visit a customer! Yesterday I lingered for longer than normal in a customer site with welcoming airconned offices. The workers looked comfortable and fresher than folk in our place.

I'm not good in high heat. Worst was when we were on holiday in Turkey in 2001. Temperatures hit a dangerous 46C. Given that this is 9C warmer than our blood it was often medically essential to use outdoor cold showers fully clothed - we were bone dry again in 5 minutes! The apartments were not airconned. We hardly slept at night, the building was a furnace. The unfortunate hot and bothered cleaning lady who came in each day seemed to have only three words of English which formed a mantra she repeated to us daily - "Give me water!". When we came back to Dublin I nearly did a papal kissing of the ground and we didn't go on a sun holiday for another 3 years!

I like the temperate climate of Ireland. You can be safely busy outdoors any time. But 20C is more than enough. This 30C type heat from last week was weird. I'm not built for it. Spousey has a more Latin dark haired makeup and normally likes the heat and sun, but she is even complaining lately - especially on how warm the house gets indoors in evening. The masonry seems to soak the sun's heat and give it out at night into the house.

Well we've a holiday in Sorrento Italy coming up end of next week, so I guess more heat. But I'm looking forward to the break, it seems an interesting area to visit and the hotel will be airconned. And of course we are getting aclimatised in Mediterranean Dublin.

Postscript: Saturday 29 July: Aaagh... I jinxed the weather - it's pouring rain here today.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Please be an organ donor

We've been shattered for the past week as a very close friend of my wife and I died suddenly from a stroke.

Our special friend for the last 33 years was wonderful, generous and kind to everyone in life and was the same even as she faced her own death. She was an organ donor and as she was conscious for awhile after the stroke in hospital she made sure her husband and family would carry out her wishes. When she became brain dead her body was kept alive on a ventilator for a further day so the best outcome for her organ usage would ensue. This also had the indirect benefit of allowing time for family and close friends to sit with her and say a final goodbye. We can now tell you from experience that although a very sad event, it is nice to sit and hold the warm hand of a loved one, whose heart still beats, whose chest still rises and falls as her lungs breathe air, whose normal face just looks like someone taking a nap.

Our friend also has a wonderful family. They allowed the transplant medics to ensure a good outcome and it's quite a quick process - a day or less. But there are now two people who have use of our friend's kidneys and another who carries her liver. So three people have been given life from our friends organs which were no use to her in death. This in turn releases vital hospital machines to help further people. It seems there are only a total of about 300 organ transplants per year in Ireland and our friend is responsible for three of these. She could even have given her lungs and heart also except there were no suitable recipients of the right size (she was a small lady). So you can see how one person simply carrying an organ donor card can make a big difference.

There is a lot of grief going around us all as our special friend was far too young to die (51, and indeed biologically and visibly was much younger). My thoughts are constantly with her husband who is my best pal and their four terrific children. But her generosity to others in death is truly of help in dealing with the pain and is a lasting legacy. To give multiple people life from your own death just by agreeing to be an organ donor has to make sense to everyone. But remember, it's equally important to have your family's co-operation, it's useless being an organ donor if your next of kin will not also give their consent when the vital time comes.

Please be an organ donor and encourage others to do it also. I've seen the benefits, it's truly remarkable. And lastly, make sure you enjoy life and all your loved ones, the unexpected can happen all to easily.

Written with kind permission of my best pal

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The legend of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car

My uncle Tom (Dad's eldest brother) passed away last year. He was a colourful interesting character and I've fond memories of him when I was a kid. He was the only businessman of the family at the time and ran pubs in the UK and later a supermarket in Ireland. In 1963 he and his wife came back from England for the summer with an impressive big Ford Consul car. My tongue was hanging out looking at this fine big car. Very few around us had cars at all and certainly nothing this size. Here's a link showing the model of Consul which Uncle Tom had.

One sunny day Uncle Tom and his wife took my Mum, Dad and I out for a long drive in the lovely big white Consul. It felt like we were royalty. We went to Dublin Airport and stopped in the countryside at the end of the runway. We had a picnic and waited for planes to take off and land.
After all the excitement of witnessing two aircraft take-offs in an hour (how different today), we got back into the presidential car. However our feelings of grandeur soon evaporated. The car would not start! Much under-the-bonnet inspection ensued by my Dad and Tom but nothing could be done.

Uncle Tom was sensibly a member of the Automobile Association. So he could phone them for assistance of course. Eh, that's if he could get to a phone. The only mobile phones in 1963 were in science fiction movies. So Tom attempted to thumb a lift to get to a phonebox. Cars passed by for awhile but then we noticed a bubble car approaching. Ah, the wonderful and enigmatic little bubble car, explanation diversion needed....

The Bubble Car was a tiny 3 wheeled and 3 seater car made by Heinkel - and actually assembled in Dundalk. Here's a site with photos of bubble cars. You entered the car through a single door - the entire front of the car was a door! There were two cramped side-by side seats in the front and a very tight single seat in the back - due to the teardrop shape of the car it was very narrow at the rear. The contraption was powered by a tiny engine of less than 200cc at the very back which drove the single rear wheel. It was like a lawn mower on steroids. The Bubble Car was popular for about 10 years from 1955-1965 and then was stopped for a combination of being dangerous in an accident and also losing market share to sensible and much bigger compact cars like the still famous Austin Mini.

Uncle Tom scanned the bubble car approaching with trepidation. I could hear faint murmurs from him like " Sweet Jaysus, don't let it stop, please don't let it stop!"

The bubble car stopped.

The front of the tiny car unfolded and somewhat appropriately there emerged a small skinny weed of a man. Uncle Tom's large hulking frame was a huge contrast. The little man listened to Uncle Tom and offered him a lift.

Very gingerly big Tom attempted entry to the bubble car. We all sniggered. I recall wondering if Uncle Tom weighed more than the car. The skinny man then sat beside him and was squashed against the side of the car by Uncle Tom's shoulders. This was getting funnier by the second. The last straw was watching the car drive away leaning precariously over to the side where Tom sat. We were in tears laughing by now. My mother got a bad cramp in her stomach from laughter and had to be helped to sit down. Eventually when Tom returned my Dad had to physically pull him from the bubble car. More uncontrolled laughter.

The AA were soon on the scene, fixed the Ford Consul and Uncle Tom was then back at the helm of a car that fitted him well.

There are other stories I could tell about Uncle Tom which were fun. When my own kids were small they used to enjoy me telling some of the tales at bedtime. But the favourite request was always..."Dad, tell us the story again of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car!"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Supreme Court shows that the Law may not be an ass!

I wrote passionately on the Mr. A release in May - see The Law is an ass .

I'm delighted with the very good sense of genuine justice and logical interpretations of law provided by the Supreme Court judges yesterday on ordering the re-arrest of Mr. A following the appeal.

It just goes to show that the law does not need to be an ass when good people take control.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Chess - this game helped me as a kid.

When I was growing up my parents had a few of my older cousins from Donegal and Derry lodging in our house when they started working in Dublin. At one stage the two lads took an interest in the game of chess. I watched them playing chess with each other with curiosity.

Then to my surprise I discovered that my Dad was a good chess player - he had learned to play chess in the Irish army during his time in the Curragh camp in the WWII years. So now I watched the three adults playing chess and they discussed the game regularly. I kept nagging at them all to teach me and they each put varying but small amounts of time into helping me learn. I guess I was maybe eleven years old at the time. My Dad was patient and put the most time into teaching me. This also felt like good bonding to me because Dad was a quiet man and not strong at communicating with his child. Lots of Dads were like that in the 1960s, he was far from unique.

So I found myself playing my cousins and my Dad at chess and getting beaten all the time. But every time I made a mistake or lost I learned something new which I didn't forget. Unlike the flighty cousins my Dad would play any time I asked him if he happened to be in the house. Dad was fond of going to the pub to drink with his friends and my eager youth made me hungry for greater access to his time for playing chess. He gave me tips on chess and it shaped a lot of ideas in clever moves and lateral thinking. It's a great strategy game. The length of the games improved as I learned more and I started to provide a challenge to the adults.

Next another thing happened. Completely unrelated, our primary school teacher decided it was a good idea for the class to learn to play chess. He asked the class if anyone could already play chess. Myself and another boy - Sean - put our hands up. The teacher taught the class how to play and he used myself and Sean to help out in the chess training. I was a very average pupil academically at the time, there were loads better than me in class - mainly because I was too bashful to fight for teacher time in the large class sizes of the 1960s. But chess was something where I had a head start over most of the others, for the first time I felt special and the teacher giving me an important job was brilliant.

The other boys in the class improved a lot at chess over the following months. The teacher then decided to have a class chess competition. It was a straight knockout tournament. The teacher had myself and Sean seeded on opposite parts of the draw so that we could potentially meet in the final.

Sean and myself played through all our rounds beating the other boys. They were not very easy matches as the class had improved a lot, but we won them nevertheless. So Sean and I met in the chess final for the best of 3 games. I won the first game and then Sean won the second. So it was down to the wire on the final game. I managed to win it. It was quite a thrill, first competition of any kind I'd ever won. And the prize was a beautiful orange 10 shilling note. In 1966 it would be the equivalent of a kid being handed a 50 Euro note today I suppose, and it meant more to me because we were a fairly poor family. I couldn't wait to get home to hold the note up to my parents and especially my Dad. Their excitement was equal to mine.

The win was a small thing in reality but it's funny how it inspired me. I tried to learn more about chess, even got out library books. The teacher then offered me a challenge at chess. When I managed to beat the teacher it was an amazing feeling. I often had a low opinion of myself in primary school and these little successes gave me such a badly needed boost.

I continued to play chess regularly with my Dad. He was a very pensive player, took a long time between moves, tough to beat. We were eventually fairly evenly matched, each winning as much as losing, which always kept it interesting.

So chess was a helpful little game for me as a kid - it drew me closer to my Dad and it did wonders for my confidence building in school. In hindsight I think it helped to make me believe in myself and build other goals.

Today as I watch my own kids enjoy little successes at school and other events I think on how important it is to offer kids a challenge, how it stimulates the natural enthusiasm of youth and maybe prepares them for greater goals later in life.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Wimbledon...Space Shuttle...World Cup

Okay. Some good reflections from yesterday...America's 4th July....

1. I took the afternoon off for various reasons - but partly to watch some Wimbledon live tennis. I enjoyed Maria Shapapova (my hero) beating Elena Dementieva in the ladies quarter finals.

2. I watched the US Space Shuttle launch live in the evening. It's always exciting to watch. I know it is mad expensive and risky putting people into space but the technological achievement blows me away. The raw power of that monster going vertically up into the air and reaching 4,000mph within a minute and 18,000 mph orbital speed within about 10 minutes - it's truly awesome. It brings me back to the glory days of Apollo launches and putting men on the Moon.

3. I watched most of the Italy - Germany World Cup semi-final. HOWEVER - I went to the bathroom for 2 minutes and missed BOTH GOALS at the end. That sucks!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The day I quit as an Altar Boy. The Genesis of success!!??

I was an altar boy for a few years in the 1960s when I was about 11 or 12 years old. It was technically an interesting little job. It made you feel important and it was a bit like acting out a play on stage. Most of my altar boy peers were also school pals and we used to have fun. There was always something to have a laugh about, usually without the priests knowing about it.

When I was an altar boy it was just before full English mass so we had to know a lot of Latin responses etc. Priests were major figures of authority to us of course and they would often criticise us after Mass for little mistakes and we took it seriously but then got over it quickly.

However I recall one incident when I was serving at an early Sunday morning Mass. I was helping with Communion distribution. This involved following along beside the priest at the rails as he put Communion onto each person's tongue. My job was to hold a gold plate - called the paten - under each person's chin to collect fragments of Holy Communion particles which might fall as the priest delivered the Communion to the person's tongue.

After Communion I was also supposed to bring the paten up to the altar so that the priest could wipe the Communion dust from the paten back into the chalice. This normally was quite a routine exercise. However, on this occasion as I started to walk up the steps to the altar the priest gestured to me from the altar with his hands that he didn't want me to come up.

Strange, I thought. I was confused. I looked down at the paten in my hand and there were clearly some particles of Communion dust on the paten. Normally my next task was to put the paten into a padded cloth storage glove. However I had the dilemma of the Communion dust. I surely can't put this in with Jesus dust on it!!?? But the priest doesn't want me to bring it to him.

I felt I had to think fast and I made an executive decision. I dusted the Communion particles off the paten myself with the back of my hand! However just as I did it I felt that maybe I had been too hasty. I looked up at the altar to see if the priest had noticed.

Oh yes he had noticed - big time! There was absolute fury on the priest's face as he looked down at me and I froze in fear. I also felt that the entire congregation in the church was witnessing my error through the priest's visible wrath. It was like a judge handing down a sentence and the entire courtroom agreeing with the guilty verdict. I could almost hear ghostly words from the priest's facial expression....

Only an ordained priest handles Holy Communion! And YOU....YOU...YOU touched the sacred Holy communion and much more besides. YOU threw bits of Jesus Christ all over the floor!! YOU ARE CONDEMNED!!!

The mass was almost over and I was freaking in fear as we went through the closing formalities. Finally when Mass ended, myself and the three other altar boys marched with the priest in procession style off the altar and into the sacristy.

What would happen to me now? The priest turned around and calmly blessed us as he always did after Mass. Then he said to us warmly and softly "Thank you boys" as he always did.

I was starting to feel signs of relief. But then he suddenly walked to me and turned from a Dr. Jekyll calm to a Mr. Hyde rage....


What followed was a blur of loud verbal anger and major admonishment. It was severe, long lasting and terrifying. I can't even remember what he was just a torrent of pure rage. We all had a huge respect for priests - they were like Gods, everything they said was absolutely correct. So a litany of abuse like this from a priest to a child was like being made more than worthless in the extreme. I would have much preferred if he had just hit me instead, as teachers did.

As we left the sacristy I do recall one of my pals saying to me - "Jaysus! That was rough, are ye alright?" The other two boys remained silent and it looked like the intensity of the barrage had shaken them up a bit too.

We went our separate ways and I remember running home full of guilt and fear. My mother turned white when she saw me coming in the door visibly very upset. She thought something terrible had happened. She had to hold me by both shoulders, eyeball me and talk assertively to stop me shaking. She tried to get sense out of me and halt my hyperventilating.

When she heard what I had done my mother was the parent of dreams. She was kind, helpful, played it all down, brought me back from hell. My mother was a very serious Catholic but her relationship with God was a soft personal friendship. She knew I was not evil and as I listened to her a calmness slowly descended.

But I never went back to the church as an altar boy. I never wanted to hear rage like that again from a priest.

As I write this and reflect also on other incidents, it helps me to clarify a few things in my head about myself. I think I grew up into early adulthood with some fear and discomfort towards people who had strong authority over me, especially if it seemed badly used and was accompanied by anger. I also had a few part time jobs in my teens with absolutely moronic bosses.

I think it all helped me to develop over time some goals. The initial and most basic goal was that I was determined to work in a carreer in which I was respected as a person. This, coupled with a natural interest in science and technology, helped to drive me forward educationally. When I eventually graduated and worked in various large companies things were good. However I still felt some imprint of unease in a general sense at authority. This would apply in a moderate level to either individual bosses or - in the case of multi-nationals - of faceless forces who could control my own and other's direction and fate. I suppose it was one factor in getting out of it all and forming my own company, although there were other better reasons. I find I can cope with and enjoy challenges, pressures and deadlines from customers and even worries of failure much better than dealing with powerful - and especially unpredictable - figures of authority.

So who knows - often dark clouds have a silver lining.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bebo...I think it's good

My three daughters (aged 16-22) use Bebo almost daily as do every one of their friends.

I put myself up on Bebo for a laugh and to learn more about it. It generated great amusement by my daughters and their pals for awhile that a 50+ dude would be on Bebo. The comments were generous though!

My overall view is that Bebo is quite a good service and particularly suited to Ireland in my opinion. Here is why I think it's good...

1. It is sociable and has helped young people network with both friends and friends of friends and school peer groups etc. It has been said that in Ireland everyone is almost a friend of a friend away from everyone else.

2. It encourages less time watching TV and using computer games so creates some balance.

3. It facilitates a certain amount of creative imagination and freedom of expression in sharing writing, pictures, video etc. It's hardly the stuff of genius but it's a start. Some of the participants are certainly hilarious and have good imaginations.

4. It's well used as a free alternative to mass texting and is great for organising parties and outings. When pals are abroad it's just as easy to stay in touch. It also marries well with Skype for talking free PC to PC.

One possible negative I notice is that a lot of macho talk goes on especially in relation to joking on male-female stuff and relationships generally. I could imagine a degree of bullying might simmer. However it's such an exposed medium that I think it tends to find it's limitations and gets sorted by good peer group pressures. Of course Bebo also has internal mechanisms to report and deal with bad behaviour.

Bebo is hugely popular and it's biggest advantage is that it's a good tool for fun sociable interactions and keeping and extending networks of pals.

Monday, June 19, 2006 pains me to say more.

So much has been written in the last few days following the funeral. It will continue and become more interesting, complex and revealing. To quote Churchill following the defeat of Rommel in North Africa in WWII - "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning".

I wrote a short piece on Haughey on the day of his death and I wanted to leave it there. The man pains me too much and has always done so since I was in my teens. I decided to try and move on by writing on Joyce's Ulysses on his funeral day (the old goat probably smiled from the grave at being buried on Bloomsday like another little man - Paddy Dignam). I've read many interesting things in recent days which were tempting to comment on. However I wasn't going to bother at all until I read John Waters in the Irish Times today.

I've respect for John Waters, a great writer, and I've agreed with him so many times. I can also forgive him for writing in my opinion a total load of rubbish on Haughey today. However, there is something much more sinister about what John wrote today which represents a bigger picture. It's the effect Haughey has had on intelligent people. It must be something approaching witchcraft. What else could make an intelligent man say about Haughey "He showed us a way we might live, by living it himself. That this emerged as another illusion was part of its value". I don't like just pulling out one part of his article, but the entire piece builds a picture of Haughey as showing the way for the masses who had it hard.

What bothers me is that so many good people were beguiled by Haughey. It was at it's most dangerous at the attempted illegal import of arms which could have easily caused a civil war bloodbath in Northern Ireland. As a Government Minister at the time he certainly (along with others) at the very least offered a quasi-morality to the acceleration of the Provisional IRA. He thought he was backing the winning game and of course when it went pear-shaped and he was caught - it was into his favourite pastime of lying and cheating his way out of trouble. I lived through all this as a teenager and I was in my 20s when my jaw dropped (along with Jack Lynch and most of the nation) as he became leader of Fianna Fail. His ability to beguile was laid bare for all. And yet supporters of Fianna Fail voted for him. Business men gave him truck loads of money, he tapped phones, he continued borrowing and swept the country into crippling debt. At it's peak I remember him in a televised pre-election debate with Garret Fitzgerald saying that Ireland had a good credit standing abroad for borrowing...i.e. let's keep doing it. He was proved to owe hugely in personal tax from wrongly channeled donations over his time as leader of the country and only made limited settlements recently when fully cornered. The beguiled authorities couldn't see fit to have him trialed and jailed.

What possessed Ben Dunne to give him so much money - 1.3 million? He spoke after Haughey's death on RTE radio that he felt guilty of the pain he caused Charlie after this (he generously gives Haughey money AND manages to feel guilty!!). Ben then said his own biggest weakness is his own BRAIN . Frightening stuff. More beguiling of a successful businessman - reduced to self criticism and self doubt.

There is so much more, not to mention Haughey's cheating on his poor wife, but I've had enough of him. I'm all spent, I was weakened and let down by a leader whose salary I paid. I feel a bit like Scott of Antarctica as he awaited death in the frozen wastelands...."It seems a pity but I don't think I can write any more".

However I hope many more keep writing on Haughey. It needs to be said.

Friday, June 16, 2006


It's Bloomsday.

I've been a part time student of James Joyce's Ulysses for years. I use the word student carefully as I believe it's not a book anyone can take lightly and just "read" it.

There have been times when I've agreed with Roddy Doyle that Ulysses needed a damn good editor to shorten it. However I can never help dipping back into it in phases and researching or learning more from it. I like it on many levels....

* In a simplistic way, as a Dubliner I enjoy it. It's full of places I know well. Also, some of the little expressions which come out in dialogue remind me of things I heard my paternal grandparents saying. A small example would be a description of Paddy Dignam at his funeral..."As decent a little man as ever wore a hat." My Grandad was always using such an expression. I've heard many say that it's a book that is better read out loud, and there is some truth in this. I think there are some parts of the book where you can just chill out and have a laugh, you don't always have to take it so seriously and it includes many interesting working class characters.

* Some of the descriptive images were very powerful. Stephen's description of his mother and her death are very strong. Even a simple description of the sea by Buck Mulligan will strike a chord with many people used to the Dublin coastline..."The snot-green sea...the scrotum tightening sea."

* Its depths and paralleling are of course hunting grounds for scholars. The Homer parallels and the little linked events in different chapters. Then of course each chapter is often in a different style altogether, it's almost like reading multiple but linked stories from different writers. And we have the Stream of Consciousness revised style at the time.

* In another way I'm interested in Joyce's wonderful blend of Dublin and Irishness and the greater World. He is a very free spirit globally. We see considerable analysis of Shakespeare's work and other English writers and Greek literature of course. I can't yet figure out if he was before his time in his view of Irishness or was somewhat taken in by the strong English influence on the artistic Dublin at the time - which maybe encouraged the wider global study. I suppose both views are compatible. There is mention of the Irish language in the book and Irish heritage but it seems subdued and almost strikes one as being of historical interest. The Irish freedom struggle from England is not given any serious analysis to the best of my recollection. This is interesting even though it would have been highly topical as he wrote Ulysses from 1914-1921(albeit abroad), but maybe in the setting of 1904 it was less topical. Joyce clearly liked Dublin and had strong memories as an exile. He used to say he felt he never left Dublin in his heart.

* Some of the beauty of Ulysses is that it constantly causes debate and analysis of meaning for scholars. This is assisted by Joyce's refusal afterwards to offer any help in answering detailed questions on the book. Nothing like a bit of innuendo to get literary sleuths excited.

I could waffle on longer about Ulysses, but one think is certain. The book is considered essential study for literary scholars Worldwide and by many as one of the most important works of literature in the last century. And it is all set on one summer day in Dublin - 102 years ago today. What a national treasure for us.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Charles J. Haughey died today

Well well, the man has passed away. Much will be said. I wonder how many times in the next week we will hear the Shakespearean quotation...."I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him!"

I think it's all best summed up by Fine Gael's Alan Dukes who was quoted as saying that Haughey was a gifted politician who ultimately wasted his talents - "I have never known anybody with such ability and who squandered it all spectacularly. It was incredible".

Footnote 6.00pm....

Speaking of Shakespeare - I almost forgot that Haughey quoted Othello when he resigned as Taoiseach around 1992 - "I have done the State some service." Things are bad when you need to go for self praise in a resignation speech. I head a cynical re-parsing of above recently for Mr. Haughey...

"I have DONE the State. Some service!"

DANGER - Daughter on route to domestic training....

Our middle daughter has just turned 20 and has finished 2nd year as student nurse. She travelled last week with a pal to Vancouver, Canada, for 3 months summer work. She is staying in dorm in a University. She is a little too used to home comforts as you will notice from below e-mail she sent me today...unedited from her text style and typos....

Hi dad,

Could u do a favour and print this letter off for mum to read or else read it to her. I thought you should both know how your favourite daughter had a reality check yesterday due to a sheltered life of never doing chores!!

So I woke up and decided I would have some breakfast only to discover I only had rashers, no bread, no drink. So a very parched Jill decided it was time to do a shop. Out came my big rucksack and down I treked to the bus stop. Got onto the bus and travelled the 7 minutes to the closest "tesco" as such where I signed up for a discount card because of low funds. I travelled up and down each aisle remembering that this is wat my good mother does so she dusnt forget anything!! I was quite chuffed with myself I bought lots of healthy things and it wasnt so expensive. I bought basmati rice, chicken fillets, tikka masala sauce, yogurts orange juice, spaghetti, soup apple juice oh and of course chicken nuggets n chips!!

So off i went after packing it into my bag. It weighed a tonne!!!! My poor back was broken....and i had to walk UP the hill to the bustop. I then got off a bus stop too late and had to walk 15 mins to our house by which stage my back was as gud as done in!!

So I made it home in one piece. I had bought myself all these nice foods......but i forgot i dont even no how to boil the rice!!! So all the girls had a great time laughing at me try to put my dinner together wondering where id been living all my life. But in the end I was quite proud of myself. With alot of help I barbqued a chicken fillet and cut it up n simmered it in tikka masala sauce and had it with the basmati rice!! It was the best and most proper meal Iv had since I got here!! I had a yop to follow and felt so much better !! Didnt realize I was eating so badly!! Anyways so I had learnt how to boil rice, cook chicken and masala sauce and how to shop for myslef and get the bus alone......wat else did i need to do? oh yes clean up after myself. So I had to go into the kitchen for 40 minutes and scrub all the pots and pans my plates and knives and forks ect. ect.

Then it dawned on me its Sunday....therefore its chore day in the house which means evryone is given a chore to do. Mine is to sweep and scrub down the second floor corridor......which I am realizing at 9pm. So up i go to my room and i realize i dont have any clothes to put on cuz ther ALL DIRTY. So once again the girls came to the rescue...i had to sort out my whites from my dark colours and bright colours and woollens from something else ITS ALL SO CONFUSING!! i had to trek three flights of stairs to put my washing on. Then back up the stair to sweep the corridor. Then I had to bleach and clean the mop and bucket with boiling hot water which i scorched my feet with on numerous occasions!! Then out to the corridor where I scrubbed it from top to bottom......

At this stage its almost midnight and the sweat was dripping of me. I went down the three flights of stairs to get my washing and put a new load on.....I didnt have money to put clothes into the drier so i had to hang my pants and clothes around the room...i then cleaned my room made my bed and then went bak down to get the second load of washing ad hang them around my room...

Finally i got into bed about 2am absolutly wiped ........and i no its only a matter of days before i have to do it all again....AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So growing up sucks......Im not enjoying doing chores MOMMY!!!! I DONT WANT TO CLEAN ANYMORE!!!!

u wont even recognize me wen i get home if i keep this up!!! anyway thought ud find this email amusing...i will not take u for granted anymore mother...........this is NOT fun!!!!

Other than my chores i still absolutely love vancouver and as hard as all my chores where it was actually very funny we all had a great time laughin at my expense!!! so for now its slightly amusing....!!!!

Still waiting to hear back on sum jobs....other then that not much news!! Gettin on great with aisling and all the girls in the house are lovely!!

Better go make sum breakfast.........

Ill call u guys soon!!!

Love ya lots!!

x xx x x

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Busy Saturday

Today has been busy. In morning I cut the grass and attacked some ivy which was attacking our shed and did general tidy up. Spousy did more though - washed every window in the house inside and outside - there's about 22 of them.

Whilst having lunch I alternated between England's World Cup opener against Paraguay and the ladies French Open tennis final on TV - I'm an expert channel flicker. I made sure I listened to BBC's experts views at half time and also Dunphy and gang on RTE. Predictably you would think they were commenting on two different matches - BBC guys thought England were playing great, Dunphy and gang didn't.

At 4.00pm I'd an inter-club singles tennis match. It was exhausting and lasted 3 sets and almost 3 hours. It was close but the other guy won. I'm absolutely shagged this evening, can hardly move, I was even too tired to do serious stretches afterwards - hence I can hardly walk. But I better learn as I've more tennis in morning.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

George Lee - The Terminator!

If I listen to one more sentence of Irish economy negativity on programs and news bulletins from RTE's George Lee I think I'll freak. In the last few weeks he has been a right moany Mary! If ever one man has tried his best to talk us into a recession then the nearest I can think of is George Lee.

Look, we all know the economy has benefited from the property boom and of course the scale of the building program and valuations can't last forever. The recent interest rate rises were inevitable eventually - they had dropped to amazingly low levels about 2-4 years ago. But to hint that Ireland in general is in major trouble from changes in the property area and interest rates is very speculative.

Mr. Lee seems to like a bit of one-track journalism to keep his points nice and crisp. On a recent RTE program he augmented his fire and brimestone on property by rattling on about closures of many factories. There will always be businesses closing even in strong economies, especially as trading models change. Furthermore, he did not balance this one bit by mentioning all the new operations which continue to start in Ireland, nor indeed the continued success and growth of many long term large facilities here.

I'm not arguing that the economy and wealth here is going to continue at same pace as previously. However, equally I do not believe there is any strong evidence to suggest it will go into serious decline. We are now a very adaptable and well educated country and have built up a considerble variety of skills in the last few decades. Our English language base is very valuable internationally and we also have good quality labour sources both within and outside the country.

Of course there are challenges ahead, they are always around the corner, but being plummeted by one track negativity by journalist economist (and mainly behaving like the former) George Lee is likely to make many investors unnecessarily nervous. Wow, can you imagine putting George Lee in charge of a sales campaign. He would have all the customers convinced they should buy from the competition.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Perfume - by Patrick Suskind

I just finished reading the above novel. I hadn't heard of it before and it was given to me by a pal to read. I had been telling this pal about my theory of the past being full of bad odours (which was also subject of my blog on 2nd May - "Smell....the sense of the past"). He reckoned I should read this novel "Perfume", and gave me the book (thanks G!).

Patrick Suskind is a German author and the book was originally published in the German language as Das Perfum in 1985. I was a bit nervous that the translation into English might dull the quality of writing. However it still proved to be a colourful and interesting read.

It's a most unusual story. Set in France (mainly in Paris) during the mid 18th century it covers the birth, childhood and adult life of a fictional bizarre man called Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Grenouille was born with an incredible sense of smell (and memory of smells) and also he himself has absolutely no body odour. As he grows up his driven passion of the pursuit of perfection in analysis and derivation of pleasure from odours develops him into a murderer. He also demonstrates phenomenal skills as an expert in the art of perfumery.

The beginning few pages of the book includes an amazing description of the stench of Paris in the mid 1700s. It made me smile as it confirmed even more strongly than I had thought how bad odours were a big feature in the daily routine of life in the distant past.

As I say it's an unusual book and makes you think a bit differently in lots of ways. It's not a bad yarn but of course includes plenty of fantasy. It also covers life in 18th century France quite well. I notice the book has received many good reviews and in fact it's just about to be released as a movie with Dustin Hoffman starring. It also is the featured book this month in Ryan Tubridy's book review club in his RTE morning radio programme.

"Perfume" is unlikely to hit the heights as a major work of literature but it is a different and interesting read. It really makes you think more on the sense of smell.

Friday, June 02, 2006

E.T. Phone Home...1971 style!

I'm a little amused by all the media coverage this week on the changes in Ireland in last 20 years since 1986. I understand and agree with the sentiments expressed but relatively speaking at the time I thought the mid 1980s were not that bad. The 1950s, 60s, and even 70s were considerably worse. Here is a little memory of telecommunications when I was 16...

I was in West Donegal in summer of 1971 camping for a few weeks with my cousin. We cycled there and we spent our time fishing and snorkeling and some rock climbing etc. We had hardly any money and had almost been surviving on what fish we caught! Money got too tight to survive by end of first week so I needed to make a phone call home to Dublin for help. The process of phoning home went like this....

I cycled a few miles to the small Kincasslagh Post Office - making sure to be there at a time when the postmistress was in attendance. In the outside phonebox there was no dialing facility - just a crank handle which generated ringing and alerted the reasonably elderly Postmistress. When she got finished selling some stamps to a customer the Postmistress answered my call...


"I want to make a call to Dublin."

"Dublin!!?" She was almost in shock.

"Ye-yes, please". I was getting a bad feeling.

"Oh God, I can't connect you to Dublin. Is it important?"

"Well, I need my Dad to send me money, I've hardly any left."

"Ach I see. I'm going to have to try to get you through to Lifford first and they can connect to Dublin. Hold on a wee minute." The high pitched but warm West Donegal accent was offering some hope.

I could hear clanking and crackling in the background and then a dull distant ring. A male voice answered as "Lifford".

The postmistress pipped up....

"Hello Lifford. I've a wee fella here who wants to phone Dublin, can you help him?

After exchanging a few pleasantries with Lifford the postmistress hung up and left me talking to the Operator in Lifford.

"So you want to call Dublin?" There was a hint of amusement in his voice. "Well, I got a few calls through to Dublin earlier, so fasten your seat belt! What's the number?" I had a faint worry that he might have misheard me as saying Dubai or some such remote part of the World. But no, he knew I meant Dublin, Ireland.

I could hear him dialing the number I gave on his rotary dial set. On first attempt nothing useful happened. Then he tried again. After a seemingly long pause and crackling I could hear a faint ringback. The Operator was pleased....

"Ah it's ringing!" he exclaimed with glee. I was starting to feel a form of unexpected honour and I began to share his enthusiasm.

I should explain that the number ringing was in a neighbour's house in Dublin as we didn't have a phone in our house. There were a few reasons for this. The initial reason was that we couldn't afford it. In 1971 I would say only maybe one in five of our neighbours had a phone in the house. However my parents then figured it was important and we had applied for a phone earlier that year. The waiting list for a phone line was up to 5 years in those days and we eventually got a house phone in 1976!!

Anyway, our neighbour Mrs. O'Farrell answered the phone and the Operator guy chirped up...."Put in 2 shillings please Caller!".

After I put in the coins the Operator let me go ahead and I asked Mrs. O'Farrell politely if she wouldn't mind going next door to get one of my parents. She always was very obliging for important matters like this. After quite awhile (and another shilling requested by the Operator) I got talking on the poor quality line to my Dad. I managed to get his agreement to help and gave him an address to send some money - Dad was always generous if he had any money to spare.

I ended the call with my last coin used up and a major relief came over me from the success of this titanic struggle. I had to remember to crank the ringer handle again to alert the Postmistress in Kincasslagh that I was finished the call - so she could pull out the cord on her ancient switchboard.

I then watched for the post over coming days to a nearby house. The post in those days was probably better than today and the cavalry were soon seen coming over the hill!

I was in the same part of West Donegal recently. I recalled the above incident (and many others like it) with a smile as I used my PDA mobile phone to downloaded e-mails and talked to anyone in the World I wanted to. Now THAT is what I call change!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Law is an ass....

I've had this feeling building up in me for years that Law in general really needs some fresh thinking and serious reform.

I suppose the Mr. A case this week tipped me over the edge into something close to a state of rage. I'm not going to go into this in detail but let's just state a few stark realities...

The difficulty with the existing piece of law it seems related to not allowing for the defense by an accused that they genuinely thought that the girl was over the correct age. In the Mr. A case the guy admitted he KNEW the girl was 12 years old at the time. However because of the technicality of the piece of law being deemed imperfect due to the non-allowance of defense of genuine assumption by an accused of age of victim - it was decided the entire piece is flawed and we throw out the whole damn piece of legislation - both currently and historically. Mr. A knew he was guilty of a crime, so did his defense team - and Mr. A even apologized for what he did as he was released. It seems the Judge could not take any other decision as it would involve the court in "a process akin to legislation".

What a disaster. If we can't allow Judges to make intelligent moral decisions in the stark irrefutable logic of justice then the law is indeed an ass.

I'm not just talking about Irish Law. It's the same Worldwide. Everything is about minute technical detail - Law and Justice are two different worlds when it comes to the written detail. Yet we allow (rightly I believe) considerable outcome variations to occur by using random juries to decide guilt or innocence and the level of sentencing (within ranges) is at discretion of a Judge - so that two seemingly very similar cases can have wildly different sentences by different judges. I believe the execution of true justice must become a foundation of all interpretation of written law. Furthermore I think the performance of individuals in the legal system (from solicitors upwards) needs more than self regulation from within, it needs outside independent monitoring.

All I'm asking is that we laterally rethink many of the parameters which make up LAW and give us what we all want - JUSTICE.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It's such fun to beat the crap out of fit young tennis players!

Being on the wrong side of 50 and overweight, I don't expect to be much good competing in sports against guys half my age. I regularly play tennis against hot shots in their 20s.

The number of times I win is amazing and extremely gratifying! The fit young big hitters have excellent court coverage abilities but sometimes overhit or get frustrated with themselves. My skills I suppose would be good placement of shots, consistency and reasonable power on forehand when I get a clean opportunity to hit hard. Although overweight I've some sort of basic fitness and can last through long matches (but taking longer to recover between long points!).

It's good to know one is not totally past it in an energetic sport after half a century on the planet. I wish I had taken up tennis seriously in my teens. I was almost 40 when I started playing in any proper way. I would encourage everyone to enjoy some sport and start as young as possible - but certainly don't be discouraged by starting when older.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Da Vinci Code - The Movie

Okay, I went to the movie lastnight.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy it near as much as I did the book. I was pleasantly surprised.

Firstly it was beautiful visually. The Louvre looked amazing on the big screen and likewise all the other wonderful buildings. The flashbacks were very well produced, looked brilliant and got the intended messages across very well. Other good visual effects also helped get across the various ideas being explored which otherwise could have involved much longer dialogue. I thought the moving camera work (no doubt with elements of computer graphics) over the inverted pyramid at the Louvre at the end was well done. I also liked the way they kept the aurally beautiful French language in many of the Parisian scenes.

To me the finer details of the acting skills, the mechanics of the plot - murder, police work, chases etc. were all of minor interest compared to the stimulation of both thought and senses with all the core ideas explored. The mysteries of early Christianity and development of the various Churches have always interested me and I like history of art and great historical buildings. I didn't feel the 150 minutes of the movie sailing past. I founded it absorbing to watch.

Of the actors I thought Ian McKellen was the best. I was expecting Audrey Tautou as Sophie to be poor from reading Sinead's review. Audrey was certainly a bit staid for a lot of the movie (and unhealthily skinny!) but towards the end she had a number of scenes where her acting skills came out. Regarding Tom Hanks - of course he is a good actor - but he just doesn't quite impress me as the professor Langdon of the book. He somehow visually fails to get best impact from the important lines he delivers. It's more a role for a Harrison Ford or Kevin Costner type - who seem more expressive as thinkers.

Having read the book with all it's absorbing detail - the movie was never going to get through everything. The pace and energy of the one or two day sequence of events also somehow came across better in the book.

Overall it's a movie I enjoyed on many levels and would watch again.

Friday, May 19, 2006

More on The Da Vinci Code...

As the book and now the film release hype reaches a crescendo I can safely say I'm sick of reading about the Da Vinci Code. However, I'm not sick for the obvious reasons of disliking Dan Brown's work. I'm nauseated by the literary and general artistic snobbery which is almost triumphantly displayed by expert critics. Rarely is a self respecting decent critic seen to publicly praise the work.

I think in truth what probably subconsciously irritates many purist critics is that the book presents its ideas so entertainingly without overworking the reader too much. It also touches on so many subjects which only experts in each field should be qualified to have a considered view on. It has elements of an "Introduction for Dummies" book in terms of art history, places and Christianity. Worse - it goes on to make conclusions in the fictional plot which are rather speculative to say the least.

I liked the book for two reasons...

1. It helped further enhance my existing interest in history of art, famous places and history of Chistianity and religions generally. The concept of the suppression of females in religion was also a well raised subject. Hence it did for me and evidently millions of others what any really good book should do - allows the reader to take something useful away from it, learn something, provoke thought and encourage further research. I wasn't for one moment convinced by the "garment" created from the cutting and stitching of fabrics of raw materials but it definitely provoked more study into actual facts. There was plenty of encouragement offered to the reader to think a bit differently and laterally.

2. It was a good yarn in a well tried and trusted thriller or detective format.

Yes the book was designed and written with maximum commercial success in mind. Yes it was using well understood shrink-wrapped psychology in keeping the reader interested and wanting to keep reading. Yes it had ingredients designed to make big numbers of vertical marketing groups read it - Christians, non-Christians, clergy, women (and men) irritated by overdose of male roles in religious hierarchal structures, thriller novel lovers, detective novel fans, casual history fans, lateral thinking fans, holiday readers, readers who want something easy to digest, young, middle aged and old people etc. Yes it is very American in how it's full of punchy ideas and yes it also avoided complex expressive literary writing styles. But so what I ask? The fact is that most of these elements tend to be seen as negatives by highbrow critics.

Here's a question partially related - in experiencing something new, should we criticise a well designed multimedia PC based self learning software package for the masses which maximises visual and aural stimuli as well as using psychologically proven teaching techniques in favour of drudging through research and going and listening to a plethora of badly delivered live lectures by experts? Each has their place and their merits.

The Da Vinci Code brings traditionally less studied subjects - raspberry flavoured by presentation skill and controversy - closer to the unwashed masses. This can irritate many well read critics.

However study of lateral ideas in art and religion should not be a domain for snobbery - it is for anyone who wants to feel liberated in thoughts away from their everyday lives. Shakespeare plays were always designed for the common people of England when they came out - now Shakespeare is largely in the realm of the artistic snob.

I'm going to be different to most critics and say The Da Vinci Code is a good book. I know hundreds of millions of intelligent people will support me. I doubt if the film will be a better overall experience but if it comes any way close then it can't be bad.

(PS - My first impressions on the book last year are on my blog of 1st Sept 2005.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Adware, Scareware....I'm being attacked...Aaagh!!!

Wow, I've had a busy week or so at home fighting infestations on the home PC which is connected to broadband. This surprised me as I already have plenty of anti-virus and adware/malware protection, good security levels and firewall settings etc.

It seems a few of my daughters clicked on some weird adverts which arose directly or indirectly while on Bebo and before long I had nothing but trouble with loads of various strange uninvited programs and hidden files hopping around the PC.

The most cunning of these was manifested by a flashing security sign on the bottom toolbar which regularly launched a small pop-up saying that the computer was infected with a Malware type virus and to click for more help. In doing this I was directed straight to a very plausible looking website called which could fix the problem. This was very professional looking - with impressive picture of a Spy Falcon retail software box, loads of information and testimonials etc. You could download the software for a reasonable cost by giving credit card details. I was slightly tempted until I noticed that nowhere was there an address for the company nor a way of e-mailing them. Then a bit of Internet research showed it to be a Scareware thing - a complete scam.

Another problem was infestation of Internet Explorer - even though my home page was blank - by launching IE I was directed to another security site which was also very impressive - but yet another complete scam.

I ended up working very hard in most of my spare time over the last week finding how to sort out all the problems - via Internet searches, forums, talking to experts etc. I was successfully killing loads of problems and hidden files - but many were returning and one nasty program in particular - Smitfraud - was very hard to shake off. The other thing is that full scans can often take hours to execute - so you are going away, coming back, revisiting overnight etc. Eventually the only product I could find to really fix everything for good was XoftSpy - which I bought yesterday online for 48 US Dollars. It was also very fast at scanning. I would highly recommend it.

I'm left stunned by the ferocity of attacks and damage which can be carried out from the Internet and the incredible plausibility of some of the anti-virus software scams out there which can grab money by the poor user being conned. Then there are these nasty hidden key loggers etc. We are all used to the silly stuff which comes in by e-mail - false banks etc., and you know never to open unknown e-mail attachments - but this was on a different level of cunning.

On a scale of 1 - 10 on computer skills I might be a 5 or a 6 from working professionally in the telecoms industry. However, God help those who naively expose themselves to the raw Internet! No wonder Internet Security is such a growing business for profit making. It's like a constant war keeping evil away and probably getting worse!