Wednesday, May 30, 2007

People whose voices I like...

Blankpaige wrote an interesting piece about some radio presenters whose voices she liked and disliked.

I've tried to think of 10 male and 10 female voices that I've liked listening to over the years. Note that I'm purely judging the sound of the voice, I'm not necessarily a fan of the person. They are also not in any particular order of favourites, nor have I put long thought into this (I'll probably think of others afterwards or regret some of the ones I've chosen!).


1. Vincent Price - I loved his unique clear, haunting, slightly aristocratic mellow tones.

2. Anthony Hopkins - great clear distinct poetic voice. "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti...fffhhh fffhhh fffhh".

3. Richard Burton - similar reasons as for Hopkins. They are both Welsh of course.

4. Gay Byrne - great intonation and expression, impossible to lose interest in what he is saying.

5. Ian Paisley - a passionate and decisive voice. I love mimicking him (I'm told I do it well!).

6. John F. Kennedy - nice positive delivery, smooth and easy to listen to Boston accent.

7. Ronald Reagan - could inspire and move in his speeches with his soft yet passionate voice

8. John Cleese - great stiff upper lip voice with so many interesting characteristics.

9. Pat Kenny - probably has the clearest diction and best delivery of all Irish broadcasters

10. Terry Wogan - distinctive, laid-back and easy to listen to.


1. Hilary Clinton - clear and positive.

2. Mary Robinson - throaty and deep, but pleasant and distinctive.

3. Meryl Streep - soft and wide ranging in expression.

4. Julia Roberts - good clear and pleasant American accent.

5. Audrey Hepburn - sophisticated, friendly, fragile, nice mixture of English/Continental tones.

6. Barbara Stanwick - a bassy voice with good delivery.

8. Jodie Foster - slightly nasal, distinctive and easy to listen to.

9. Grace Kelly - soft and regal.

10. Jennifer Lopez - quite smooth and warm NY accent.

If I was to pick a voice I've personally loved more than any would be that of my spouse. She has a nice soft blend of her parents Derry/Donegal accents peppered with south east Dublin tones. But I'm biased!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Michael McDowell's exit from politics

The actor John Cleese starred in a series of hilarious sales training videos in the 1980s. In one such video Cleese was a weak salesman who nevertheless was warm and friendly to his prospective clients, and they in turn loved him. In one scene Cleese is sitting in an office with one of his prospects and the client is enjoying a big cigar given to him by Cleese. The client tells Cleese how much he enjoys his visits and loves chatting to him. The phone on the client's desk then rings and he takes the call from reception. He seems irritated. After hanging up he says to Cleese:

"I'm really sorry, I'm afraid I'll have to take leave of you now. It's so annoying, you are my favourite visitor. But I've got to see a right bastard down at reception who keeps selling me tons of stuff!"

If ever there was a summary of Michael McDowell as a political creature it might be that he was similar to the successful but detested salesman at reception in the above video. McDowell was not always liked, he could be arrogant, aloof, egotistical, impulsive even. But he was visionary, skillful, single minded, and he got results.

Michael McDowell successfully tackled the insurance compensation culture in Ireland, created conditions for reduced insurance premiums, started the Garda Reserve, added many tough laws on crime and the gangland culture as well as anti social behaviour measures. Not all in the conservative legal World agreed with his tough measures, but McDowell came from a strong legal background himself and knew what could be achieved. I've also written before on how right he was to try to extend the licensing laws to provide many more cafe bars in Ireland.

Even in defeat and departure from politics McDowell was controversial and impulsive. An all or nothing man in many ways. I had thought he would be a great leader in the PDs but in truth he was a lone but skilled maverick. He was not always good at warming to and motivating people, both in his party and with the electorate. He did seem conscious of this as time moved along and I detected he was slowly working on improving his image. I still believe he achieved more in his post as Minister for Justice than anyone before him. Irish politics has lost a powerful, energetic and colourful character who also indeed provided much entertainment for the media.

To borrow from Theodore Roosevelt "...his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Proportional Representation - enjoy the ride!

Many Americans, British and others are confused by the PR voting system and even Fianna Fail many decades ago hated it and tried to get rid of it. But in the last few elections FF in particular have been getting good at vote management with their supporters using the PR single transferable vote (STV) system .

On Friday and Saturday it should be fun studying all the voting patterns, surpluses, transfers on 2nd, 3rd preferences etc. And with manual counting it's going to offer plenty of slow suspense!

Our PR system offers each voter a chance to help elect several candidates who are considered compatible with the voter's desires. With good knowledge of people in the constituency there are many clever possibilities.

For example, if one person is likely to smash the quota (e.g. a popular party leader or a powerful local person) then their surplus can help drag in second weaker candidate with 2nd preferences. This depends on party or pact loyalty being strong.

In another possible case, if one candidate is likely to be elected, but without a useful surplus, then it might make sense for some supporters to vote for a weaker compatible candidate as first preference. If the weak candidate gets elected than that's good. If they get eliminated - well at least your second preference can usually go to helping the prime candidate. If the prime candidate is already elected at that stage of counting by reaching the quota, then the 3rd preference can even help a further compatible candidate. In this case if too many voted for the moderately prime candidate as first preference and they barely reach the quota - then your 2nd preferences for the weaker candidate will not even be counted.

These are just examples of the logic that might be applied and every constituency will have it's own special features. As you can imagine - this vote management game needs careful co-ordination to get the best effect - it could easily go badly wrong if the numbers and estimates are not balanced right. In the end it's the people's choice and there is only so much that parties can attempt with working the system.

Let's get ready to rumble!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Internet fame?

I was in the local Off License this evening. A nice lady approached me and said...

"Hello, John, isn't it?"

Who is this person I thought? I hate when I forget people I've met before. She looked a lot like a neighbour we knew from a previous address, but seemed a bit taller.

"Ah, Eleanor! I haven't seen you in ages", I offered.

"No, I'm Esther" she said.

This was getting weird. Senility is setting in. But at least I got the first and last letters right! I surely don't know an I!?

"I'm Claire's mother".

Mmmh, maybe a mother of one of my daughters' friends?

I struggled to think of a Claire. This friendly lady could see I was having difficulty.

"Gingerpixel's Mum! I saw your photograph on the Internet from the photo shoot on Killiney beach".

Ah, the penny dropped! Esther did indeed look like my blogging/photography pal Claire/Gingerpixel. We then exchanged a few pleasantries.

I can safely say that this is the only time in my life that a stranger has identified and spoken to me based on a photo on the Internet. The World is changing!

Friday, May 18, 2007

I'm voting for Fianna Fail and PDs

I don't think I've read one pro Government blog for so long in the election run-up. It's far cooler to be anti-establishment. But I'm brave. Forget all the silly media hype of scoring on individual events, who-said-what and Bertie's modest personal transactions etc. Here's the real deal...

The current Government is a coalition. It works well and has been stable for so long because FF and PDs have similar ideologies and the PDs are of course an original FF offshoot. Plus the PDs are very small but make a useful contribution. There is much hype about McDowell. He has arguably an irritating personality - but by golly he is the best Minister for Justice I can recall in my lifetime. Exactly the right decisive man for the job.

We have largely forgotten about how bad coalitions can normally be. FG+Labour+Greens is quite a bizarre cocktail of ideologies and has a high chance of failure when difficult choices come about. It may not always be apparent at the top table but you can be sure that grass roots in the respective parties will cause hell when it gets hot on policy implementations.

I don't trust this inexperienced Rainbow coalition to do any better on health or spending. It's much more likely they will squabble and argue and waste more time and money. Much of the problem in health is in sorting efficiencies in hospital management, sorting out consultants, increasing services and improving and balancing public and private care. It's certainly not to do with shortage of funding. The Government have a plan in place, it's slow and difficult but it is making progress. Do we really want to tear it all up and start again with a new government of very mixed colours? Can't you imagine FG and Labour arguing over private/public? Not apparent now? Everything sounds rosy when your just talking from the sidelines. Just wait to see them in Government making real and tough decisions.

The bottom line is I like stable democratic Government (which we have taken for granted in the last ten years) - the Rainbow simply don't convince me that they have the ideologies or experience to achieve this.


I wrote this before lastnight's Ahern-Kenny debate. I thought I'd hold back posting just in case I learned something interesting from it. All I learned was that Kenny sounded loud but inexperienced and full of individual anecdotal cases, but Ahern had all the big answers. In theory it's easier for opposition to attack the sitting tenants. This didn't happen - Kenny had his figures muddled - got worse as the debate went on - and just fired out good sounding individual cases when he was being cornered. He couldn't even be clear on economic figures nor be consistent on his Justice spokesman's figures. Can't you imagine how more muddled Kenny would be with Labour and the Greens at his side? Kenny isn't a bad politician but he and his party are still lightweights. Until they get much bigger with better players and can stand a good chance in Government without far left wing parties support, they simply don't have my vote. We may perceive that there are problems in the country now - I sure as hell don't want them getting worse.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sorrows and lessons from little Madeleine McCann

I hadn't intended to write on this subject but Twenty Major raised a few important questions and we found ourselves in total agreement in our respective comments. His brief article has provoked considerable healthy debate.

As parents who have three daughters who were once Madeleine's age, my wife and I are filled with sadness and sympathy for the parents and the little girl. It's a living nightmare for each one of them. What form of humanity is out there to do this? Whoever did this were once children themselves but must have had a bizarre upbringing.

Having said the above, I cannot help but comment on the fact that it is highly irresponsible to leave children this age unattended in any dwelling. Especially in a foreign holiday resort with such a huge mixture of non-locals and easy access to all sorts of further places to take kidnapped children. I think of the sacrifices so many of us parents make as the kids are small to ensure they are safe - it is a tiny price to pay in reality. They grow so fast and when they are older they don't want to go on holiday with you anyway - as we ourselves have discovered.

If your small daughters are pretty and look different to the locals, they do attract attention. I've noticed this in the past on our own holidays abroad. An example we had was in Turkey when our youngest was just 11. She was getting a lot of looks and friendly comments from some local men. It seemed innocent and I'm sure most of it was. I actually found the Turkish people very nice, but holiday places also attract different types of local people and foreigners. One guy serving us in a restaurant called my daughter a little princess and patted her head a lot. Another guy jokingly offered me a camel for her! I carefully avoided the quip I might have used at home that she was worth at least two camels. You must be careful in these places. The notion of us leaving her in the apartment without trusted adult supervision in these foreign holiday places would be beyond comprehension. I don't buy this checking her every 20 minutes idea. It's not remotely enough and 20 minutes is a very ill-defined term when you're chatting and having drinks.

Madeleine's parents will not read this article and even if they did I'm sure they already now know the lessons privately anyway. The media have - understandably I suppose - not made a major factor of the non supervision of the child in order not to hurt the parents more. This has the side effect however of almost implying this practise as acceptable. So if by speaking the raw truth I can somehow encourage anyone with small children to be very careful on holiday abroad - then it's worth me saying it.

I deeply hope for a good ending to this horrible episode and all other similar cases.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ireland and UK in Eurovision

In coming last Ireland did really badly on Saturday's Eurovision. I thought the standard was quite high this year from nearly all countries.

In recent years we seem to forget again and again that Eurovision is now big visual , big impact entertainment. It must have instant appeal for public voters all around Europe. It needs major professionalism put into the song, presentation and promotion. It's not near enough just to have a reasonable song. Both UK and Ireland and now increasingly insular remote places to the expanding Europe and it is no coincidence that we both made good company for each other at the end of the voting table. We need much more wow factor and imagination to get even noticed.

Anyway. It's just a bit of fun. Nobody died as they say! Well done Serbia.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Satellite Navigation - it's VERY USEFUL!!

I'm well known by friends as a gadget geek. In the last year I've been reading up on choices for portable satellite navigation units for the car or walking. The recent trip to Bordeaux kind of forced me into making my mind up on a purchase. For various timing and availability reasons we booked our flights in and out of Biarritz rather than Bordeaux. The prospect of driving a hired car up from Biarritz to a very rural chateau 30 minutes southeast of Bordeaux was kind of daunting - not to mention the local travelling we would be doing during the stay.

A few days before departure I finally purchased the latest TomTom 910 portable SatNav unit. It is an amazing unit - fitted with a micro 20GB hard disk it contains all the latest maps of everywhere in Europe (does Ireland very well too), North America and various other places on the hard disk. With a nice 4 inch screen it can also store your photographs, play MP3 music and act as a handsfree unit for your mobile phone via bluetooth.

Anyway - the cool thing was that I could programme the destination chateau's address into the unit when sitting planning in Dublin and it could demonstrate visually and aurally every step of the route for me from Biarritz airport all the way to the Chateau. This feature caused much amusement in the car when we eventually went on the real trip. I was saying things like - "Oh yea, I remember this junction!" My wife thought I had genuinely been there before!

The SatNav shows you your location as you go along and talks to you about junctions and next turns etc. It even bleeps when at a speed camera and tells you your speed and if you are over the speed limit etc. If you go wrong it can recalculate an alternative route within 5 seconds. It shows you where petrol stations and rest places and various other useful points of interest (POI) are. You can even make it phone the POI - e.g. restaurant - via the bluetooth link to your mobile phone (yes, it stores all the phone numbers of the POIs) to say make a booking. The unit brought us flawlessly on the two hour drive from Biarritz airport to the remote chateau without me going near a paper map. When we entered the courtyard of the correct chateau the unit calmly announced "Your have reached your destination". We cheered loudly and I felt like kissing the SatNav unit!

One really cool thing was when we wanted to go into Bordeaux to a particular recommended restaurant. I'd never been in Bordeaux in my life and it seemed a bit daunting to find this restaurant. We keyed into the unit the full restaurant address including the building number on the street. I gulped and nervously put my faith into the SatNav unit doing things right. I was stunned to experience the unit talking and guiding us into Bordeaux, through the streets and right up to - not just the correct street - but right outside the door of the restaurant, where it announced "You have reached your destination"! Brilliant!!

We also went on a trip to the lovely town of Saint Emilion one day. The safe predictable route for tourists was via main routes and motorways - which is how some friends in another car who left just before us went. However with SatNav - the unit guided us through very scenic and more direct smaller country roads. We had a much nicer view of vineyards and countryside and also arrived at the town long before the others - saving fuel money as well. I would never have attempted such a route with maps - we would be going crazy and getting lost at every small junction.

Anyway I'm hooked on the benefits of SatNav and I wont be going anywhere strange again without this baby! God bless technology.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bordeaux and it's trams

Tram in Bordeaux
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
My wife and I are just back from a break in the Bordeaux region. We were staying at an amazing old Chateau about 30 minutes from the city of Bordeaux. We were amongt sixty or so others who went over to the rented Chateau to help one of our friend's family celebrate the husband and two children's significant birthdays. It was a huge and magical castle sized place and I could blog for hours on the chateau itself and indeed the great wine, vineyards and countryside etc. Throw in all the good company of close friends, partying and late nights and it was indeed a blast!

In this instance I just want to briefly comment on the trams we experienced in the city of Bordeaux. I understand they were made by the same company who built the Dublin Luas trams. What struck me was how they designed them without overhead power feed lines - power comes from the ground. Much easier on the eye - no spoiling of the views of the wonderful city of Bordeaux. In particular - the trams travel across the lovely Pont-de-Pierre bridge and it would have been rather ugly to spoil the bridge with overheard lines.

Also, as you can see in my photo, along some of the route the tracks are over manicured grassed lawns. Trust the French to make a mundane city tram line look nice - and achieved with such a simple idea!

Bordeaux is a beautiful city and it has remained so even as it is being modernised. I wish we would more often put in the same attention to detail as we develop our own cities in Ireland. It doesn't always cost much money to enhance beauty, often just a bit of imagination. I take my hat of to the French in this category.