Living in the Future

Last Saturday, Youtube celebrated its 10th birthday. We’ll skip the whole Valentine’s Day and move swiftly onwards to what Youtube means to me.

Youtube is the future writ large. Right now, if I want, I can watch pretty much any figure skating competitive performance from about the last 30 years by means of a simple search on Youtube. I watched the 1988 Olympic figure skating championships through a haze of static. If you told me when I was 15 years old that less than 30 years later, I’d be able to watch all that stuff, on demand, pretty much for free, I’d have looked at you as though you were completely made. At the time, Ireland had all of 2 official channels and okay, so there was multichannel of a sort…

The idea you could sit in front of a screen and choose what you wanted to watch rather than what the controller of RTE One was up for, well that was the stuff of dreams. It Is Never Going To Happen.

It did.

It’s not just the figure skating of course. It’s all the concerts of classical music, the videos by bands that you can watch ANY TIME YOU LIKE and not just between 7.30 and 8 on a Thursday evening, when Top of the Pops was on. It’s all the stuff that I’d never heard about much like Jon Stewart and John Oliver. Seriously, can we have John Oliver over here please? I watched Neil Finn and Paul Kelly live from Sydney Opera House early one morning. Live from Sydney, in a dining room in Dublin.

And it’s not just all those 1980s pop bands I’d forgotten, or bits of Bosco and Fortycoats. Or classic clips from various talk shows. Or clips out of Dara O’Briain shows.

Youtube is full of educational stuff. A lot of the Khan stuff turned up there first; there are any number of university lectures up there. People sit in their dining rooms and write and present Photoshop tutorials. SOmeone in Spain carefully put together three “how to do bobbin lace” videos. If there is a craft you want to try, someone, somewhere, has made a video showing you how to get started. You want to write programming code? What language? Someone’s done it.

You want to see a review of someone unpacking a new gadget? Name your gadget. Someone somewhere has made a video of the box opening of whatever your favourite newest mobile phone is. You want to learn how to draw or paint? Take your choice. There must be a million trillion art videos on Youtube. You want to see a review of some other product like, oh various different types of fountain pens or water colour paints? Someone has done it. You want to see a cute video of a 4 year old singing the song from Frozen? Every single parent of a 4 year old has made it available on youtube.

You want to see planes doing weird landings in high winds? Youtube. You want to see the sheet music of an obscure piano concerto while someone plays the recording? Youtube.

You want to see what it’s like to surf the tube of a wave? Youtube.

You want a first person experience down a high ski jump? Youtube.

You want to see classic 1980s ads involving frying eggs on a rock if you only had a rock? Youtube.

Youtube is the sort of future I never imagined and it’s hear. It’s amazing. When I talk about the future, I remember that thanks to Youtube, I’m living in the sort of future I couldn’t conceive 30 years ago.

shop review: Casi One, Brussels

Way back in the mists of time, I bought a Caran D’Ache Ecridor in a stationery shop which stuck in my memory by location, rather than by name. It may have been a Prisma (which you cannot currently get by the way). The location was pretty much “down that street off Place Debrouckere, parallel to Rue Neuve, but not Boulevard Anspach. This is how I remembered it anyway; a little more scraping my memory would have revealed that it’s Boulevard Adolphe Max. It’s where Waterstones used to be. Not sure if it still is.

Anyway, sometime before I finished in UCD I had to give a run over to Brussels, and between the meetings I went for, and the plane rides there and back, I went back into the stationery shop which, after 15 years, was still there. I like that sort of continuity in shops – you see it in Dublin with the Pen Corner as well. I bought another Caran D’Ache there, a limited edition pink one designed by Claudio Colucci. I liked the colours.

Casi One is a wonderful stationery store. They have every mechanical pencil I want, a decent range of Clairefontaine paper; lots of other things that I crave. I draw from time to time (this is not something that I broadcast much) and after a lot of failures, I’ve settled on water colour pencils as my tool of choice. They have all the collection sets of Caran D’Ache Supracolor II pencils. They look gorgeous; I stood in front of the window display with a deep wish I could buy all the stuff.

I haven’t been in Casi One much in since I left Brussels, mostly because I haven’t been in Brussels much since I left Brussels. On the last occasion I was there, they remembered me from the previous time, which was about 9 months previously. I have found them immensely helpful but also, very happy to leave me browsing around their wonderland. I love the Pen Corner in Dublin but it’s a toss up as to whether I prefer it to Casi One or not.

Bucket List: Ireland

Any listicle is going to be subjective but having looked at this list, and having knocked off 14 items, plus a half for doing Newgrange not on the winter solstice, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t really a great list.

So I’m making my own.

  1. Malin Point and Mizen Head. No point in doing one without doing the other.
  2. The Giant’s Causeway
  3. Killarney National Park
  4. Hook Lighthouse
  5. Swimming in Banna
  6. Surfing in Lahinch
  7. Whale watching in Clare or Cork
  8. Achill Island – driving to Keem Beach
  9. National Museum Kildare Street
  10. Hunt Museum Limerick
  11. Cashel
  12. Powerscourt Demesne and Glendalough
  13. Galway City
  14. Crawford Art Gallery Cork
  15. Gunpowder Mills, Ballincollig
  16. Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle
  17. Local GAA match anywhere in the country, preferably junior level
  18. Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in one of the cities
  19. Titanic Experience
  20. Newgrange and the other Boyne Valley burials (I prefer Knowth btw)
  21. Poulnabrone Dolmen and the Burren
  22. Aran Islands
  23. Skelligs and Valentia
  24. Stay in one of the Irish landmark properties
  25. Clonmacnoise

How dare people voice an opinion…

Via Stephen Kinsella’s twitter feed I got linked to this, by Noah Smith.

The piece is worth a read but the overwhelming message that I get from the discussion is that some macro economists do not want to engage in discussion with people outside the macro-economic tribe because they don’t know enough about macro economics. I think this is probably wrong.

Most people’s lives are directly affected by macro economic policy. Whether you want to claim that macroeconomics is generally descriptive, the fact remains that elements of macroeconomic research and ideas pervade macro economic policy for most governments. Those policies, with the best will in the world, can rarely be roadtested on a few people, so effectively, every time a government announces a shift in macro economic policy, it is a gamble, and that gamble directly affects people’s lives. There is no lab in which you can really experiment.

So.

I used to work in IT on operations support – this means making sure things keep working on an ongoing basis. Mostly, things kept working. It’s when things don’t work, that you find out where people’s strength’s, and where an organisations strength’s lie. Ultimately, major problems were extremely rare occurrences, and were always the cause of some learning. This is important. You could argue, for example, that if the lessons learned from the great recession of the 1930s were absolutely learned from, we wouldn’t have had the latest iteration of great recession. The narrative around that is pretty much history repeating itself, and people not learning from history. Most of the protections put in place after 1929 and its fall out were basically unpicked. Would we have had the economic crash of the 00s if that hadn’t happened? Probably not. We might not have seen a lot of the growth of the previous 20 years either. Arguably, you can question whether the growth was worth more than the ensuing cost. I don’t think there is a straight answer and if an economist told me there was, I’d question the grounds on which he made that assertion.

Macroeconomics is a large part of everybody’s lives. I think economists need to recognise this, and recognise that a key result of that is that people will have opinions on macro economics. You can, as at least one has done on twitter, argue that macro is descriptive rather than prescriptive. To do so, however, is not strictly speaking, intellectually honest. Macroeconomists do advocate for particular types of economic policies, often depending on their general ideological leaning. I am not a great fan of the labels right and left because I think they tend to be overly simplistic, but there are certainly some economists who see things from a small government, laissez-faire point of view, and some who see a certain amount of regulation being of use. Economists are fundamentally tribal. You can see it in their own labels for themselves; whether they are Keynesian or Austrian school for example. What large groups of macroeconomists often cannot do is agree on things.

If they are fundamentally descriptive in activity rather than prescriptive, from the outside, this is troubling. If, of course, they are not purely prescriptive, but biased per a particular world view, this is not surprising.

I have somewhat complex feelings about non-experts weighing in on matters requiring expert knowledge. This tends to be very troubling when it comes to assertions over various health matters (cf, vaccination, cf, nutrition as two examples of areas where non-experts (putting it kindly) have caused a lot of damage). One of the things I feel people need to learn to be aware of is where their knowledge ends and their learning needs to start. As such, I’m not sure that computer science graduates are qualified to give nutritional advice, for example. So I have some sympathy with the poor macroeconomist, a target of the great unwashed in society, daring to voice an opinion on their subject.

However, I do think that macro economists also need to recognise where their expertise ends and starts, the limitations in their field of study, the issues caused by their field of study. One of the biggest issues I have with economics as a field of study as a whole is the tendency for people’s thinking to be coloured by ideological views. I don’t know how many economists would recognise that this happens but it does. The tribalism that exists within the field could not exist otherwise. The net result is you see assertions coloured by those views rather than data, and data sweated to support those views. Historically, there is no evidence that neoliberalism is always right, or always wrong. Most neoliberalists will never understand that as a tool it is only sometimes appropriate, and at those times where it is not, they assert the problems are caused by non-pure application of neoliberal policies. People’s lives get damaged by absolutism like that.

In the meantime, macroeconomics is not the same as high level physics, nor high level mathematics. It impacts on people’s lives in a way that the latter do now. Additionally, a high level understanding of macro economics is not outside the capability of most people. I do not think that the world is helped by macroeconomists retreating into a world where they only talk to other macroeconomists about economics. In certain respects, they enjoy a position which most serious academic physicists (Brian Cox being a notable exception) do not, which is that people are interested in and have an opinion on their field of study.

Instead of fighting against it, and more importantly, moaning about it, maybe they should embrace it.

Swimming progress

Way back in early January when I started looking at the whole swimming thing again, and switched my allegiance to DCU’s swimming pool away from Westwood (Clontarf Road)’s swimming pool, I was struggling to make 225m.

Some background. Back in the mists of time, I used to swim 1600m regularly. I haven’t done that for around 9 years which is appalling now that I admit it. I also exclusively backstroked while doing it. There were two reasons for that. 1) sports injury which was what got me swimming at the time and 2) it’s easier for me. I want to highlight that I’m not saying it’s easier for everyone; I only have experience of me.

In theory, I’m supposed to be rectifying the lack of a reliable front crawl but the second last time I went to the swimming pool, my nose clip somehow got lost which made front crawl a non-runner and during the course of that back stroke, I discovered I could swim 775m backstroke with a significant amount more ease than when I endeavoured to alternate between front crawl and backstroke. So I got to my mid target which was aggregate 800m over a swimming session and thoughtfully, wondered if I could do the 1600m backstroking without any hassle.

The answer to that question is actually yes. Today’s swimming trip was 1625, all backstroke.

Now, this is a monumental success and Runkeeper thinks I’m amazing. And I’m very proud of myself. Today, in particular, I’m also rather sanctimonious about it but that will wear off later.

In the meantime, I’ll be wanting to keep that up while doing something about substituting in the occasional front crawl lengths.

 

Passport cards

Ireland does not have an official mandatory ID card system. If you have a recent card issued with your PPS number (or RSI, depending on how old you are and what you are used to calling it), it will have a photograph on it as well. But it’s not an official state identity card per se.

Some time ago, Charlie Flanagan made some comments about the possible introduction of a passport card which could be used to travel on. The press release regarding that card is here, was made today.

My early adult years were spent in France, Germany and Belgium, and 9 months in the UK which doesn’t count because they don’t have an ID card system either.  So I have spent time going through the process to pick up residence permits in France, Germany and Belgium. All of them required me to carry one of their official papers along with my Irish passport at all times. From the time I was 21 years old, I have carried my passport everywhere with me.

I have seen a lot of horrified looks on people’s face when they have heard this. Often the same people who were horrified when they were told to carry their driving licence everywhere they were driving.

The response has generally been of the “What if you lose it” variety.

In Ireland, people are terrified of losing their passports. I have had several friends put their passport somewhere safe, so they don’t lose it, who have also wound up having to get passports issued, often at comparatively short notice, because they’ve put them somewhere so safe, they can’t remember where that safe place was.

Charlie Flanagan is aware that we don’t have an official ID card system here, but that there is a requirement by a lot of people to produce an ID, usually, it must be said, for being allowed to buy alcohol or get into a club. He is concerned that people will lose their passports. So he has introduced this passport card on grounds of convenience.

You cannot get this passport card – which costs 35E – without already possessing an ordinary passport. It’s not clear what would happen if you lost the passport card; although already DFA in Ireland has the right not to issue you with a new one if you have a not great record in losing your passport. I really don’t understand why this card could not be issued as a separate card; there’s no obvious explanation for the requirement to already possess a passport.

But at the end of the day, perhaps it’s time we had a wider discussion around identity cards in this country and recognised that we are, de facto, introducing one courtesy of the PPS card system, already require drivers to produce identification, and, the greatest driver for this new ancillary passport card appears to be youngsters being age checked in clubs, bars and off-licences.

News consumption in a networked world

If you read any pieces on the future of news, and especially, the future of newspapers, in my experience, most of them point out that newspapers are dead dinosaurs, clinging onto life in a world they don’t understand, flailing desperately to protect their revenue models, trying to find ways to get people to pay for news content online that the newspapers have previously given away free online (with some advertising support) in a desperate bid to keep their ways above water. Occasionally, there will be a battle about copyrights with aggregators – Google News doesn’t operate in Spain at the moment, for example, or clipping services.

Print sales are dropping for a lot of publications and income from digital advertising isn’t even going to come close to replacing lost income from print based advertising. The picture of life for newspapers is a grey and dying one, it seems.

I tend not to buy newspapers. Part of it is I’m a child of the connected era, and I’ve been reading papers online for well over 15 years; another part of it is that none of the Irish broadsheets, with the possible exception of the Examiner, really appeals to me. The Sunday Independent has a bunch of writers who don’t so much as “not appeal to me” as definitively drive me away from the newspaper. So I operated a pick and mix thing with newspapers online. And I customised Google News and I followed a lot of media outlets on Facebook.

In truth, I used to see the internet as the great white hope for someone like me. I speak multiple languages and the internet gives me access to multiple news services in those multiple languages. But I can’t customise Google News to handle news sources in multiple languages. It is getting to the stage where I’m going to give up on it. Facebook, in some respects, is better. I can follow any number of organisations on Facebook, and media wise, that includes but is not limited to several German, multiple times that several French, and some Finnish language services in addition to the New York Times, The New Yorker and the Atlantic. But I don’t really get to choose what I read either which way. Facebook tinkers around with their newsfeed algorithm on a regular basis and Google is simply uninteresting as an interface.

I started thinking in detail about how I – and I hate this term – “consume” news, and how people consume news. News is compelling, and particularly, happening now news is compelling. But the recent events in Paris made it clear that even while news is happening, there are big swathes of time in the middle when NOTHING is actually changing, then moments of utter confusion while people try to work out what has changed in the 10 seconds between swathes of time when NOTHING is actually happening. I found this with passenger aircraft going missing. Rolling news often isn’t so much rolling news as rolling guesswork and misinformation. Mostly now, I prefer summary reports.

This is true in terms of rolling news on the television. I find it utterly frustrating because while it’s on for 24 hours, the number of news stories it covers seems to be significantly less than the amount of news stories that you would get in a 30 minute summary on, say, Channel 4.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that between all the news services I have access to, I don’t believe I am anywhere near as as informed as I used to be. I also have realised that I don’t actually like navigating news online all that much, and similarly, am not such a great fan of dedicated applications on tablets or phones either. It is entirely possible that this is a function of how I learned to acquire news in the first place; namely by lying on my stomach as a child with the newspaper spread out on the floor in front of me. That double page spread seemed to offer so many possibilities.

The internet should as well but it’s not as easy to navigate I think because far fewer of the possibilities present themselves to you on a single page. For all the access to more material, I find it less easy to find. In some respects, some form of curation is nice, but neither Facebook nor Google are doing well on that front, although to be fair, Facebook are doing significantly better on that front; I’d just like to be able to split my newsfeed into a feed of media based links and a feed of status updates from my friends. I’d equally like them not to bother refeeding me links that are 5 and 6 days old. I saw one Le Monde report on the Charlie Hebdo shootings every day for almost a week after the shootings happened.

So I started wondering how I could change this and decided that it probably would be a good idea to start buying newspapers again, and specifically, a couple of different newspapers, from different countries. I specifically wanted them in paper format for various reasons, and up front, the choices were to be the weekend Financial Times, the weekend Le Monde, mainly because I didn’t think it would be possible to get Le Monde Diplomatique, and Die Zeit. I know there is no Irish paper in there but the one thing I have felt well informed on over the past 5 years are Irish matters. Sometimes too well informed.

As it happens, it looks like this is going to be a bit of a quest. It transpires that Easons on Nassau Street does stock (at least last on Thursday of last week) Le Monde Diplomatique but it’s a monthly paper so I suspect I will be looking at that one week, and the weekend Le Monde the rest of the weeks. None of the four branches of Easons I was in had Die Zeit, and again, only the branch on Nassau Street had any German newspaper, which is why I’ve been reading Frankfurter Allgemeine. My local branch of Easons had two copies of the FT last Saturday morning so if you went to the one in Omni and found it gone, I’m sorry. I did enjoy reading it though.

So this week, I have learned that Harz is now a good place to go if you’re looking to learn to ski again, and I’m quite pleased about that because the last time I went skiing, it was in the Harz mountains. And just because you’re reading the Financial Times doesn’t mean you’re away from celebrity divorce battles. Mind you, not too many reality TV stars play for the high stakes of a fortune totalling over 400 million pounds sterling.

I haven’t gotten to Le Monde Diplo yet though.

In the meantime, I’m looking at finding a way to curate news reports more effectively for myself across languages. Under the About Treasa there will shortly be a list of news media sites mainly because I can’t rely on any of the aggregators to supply accidental serendipity about stuff.

Brittany, my Brittany

Last night, Nationwide from RTE had as its mandate to provide a look at Brittany and how it might appeal to Irish people. I was disappointed in the program for various reasons, but the primary one is that it didn’t reflect my Brittany, the one I lived in and visit regularly. If you do want to watch the piece, really, the most interesting clip is the submarine base in Lorient which I haven’t seen yet because when I lived there, it was still in the hands of the French Navy. It’s a good while ago.

Anyway, to get to Brittany, you can fly into Nantes year round and then, during the summer, there are occasionally flights to Rennes, Lorient and Brest. Ferry wise, your best option is a service into Roscoff; the one from Cork with Brittany is the shortest. I have been known to fly in to Paris, and get the train across to Vannes or Quimper. Usually I pick up a car and there are car hire places close to most major rail stations in France.

For me, one of the most beautiful places in the world is the Pointe du Raz, not far from Quimper. I’ve seen some beautiful sunsets there; it’s very peaceful, mostly, although during the summer can be very busy. Lots of gorgeous cliff walks.

The city of Quimper, twinned with Limerick is utterly beautiful and has a lovely cathedral and a rather nice central shopping area. The art museum is fantastic and occasionally features work by Irish artist Roderic O’Conor. Especially noteworthy are any exhibitions of Paul Gauguin who spent a lot of time just up the road in Pont-Aven. Outside Quimper are a couple of villages which are well worth seeing, namely Concarneau and Locronon. Concarneau is a walled city on the coast. Locronan is a stunning village which looks frozen in time, built mostly from stone.

The city of Vannes, historic capital of the department of the Morbihan is another gorgeous city, stuck in beautiful scenery. It’s also close to a lot of beautiful beaches, particularly on the Quiberon peninsula. This area also includes the prehistoric stone alignments in Carnac which you really should visit if you’re in the area. Also close by are a few passage graves not unlike Newgrange, and the one in Locmariaquer is fascinating both in terms of ease of access and the artwork on the inner walls.

Sports wise, sailing and biking are big in Brittany but it is also a very good place for other water sports like surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, sandsailing. Most beaches have a decent children’s play area.

Brittany is a gorgeous part of the world. I strongly recommend.

waterbaby

I started back at the swimming again  today. That again is quite telling. It tells you I have been swimming on several well spaced apart occasions in the last indistinct period. I’m back at my old haunt, DCU Sports Club mainly because a) it’s the closest pool to me (just about, Ballymun isn’t too far off either) and more importantly, they have a very decent deal for alumni which has seen me chop more than 60% off the cost of gym membership. Against that, I don’t have regular access to climbing walls any more but I figured that was a suitable sacrifice to make in the face of starting back at the swimming.

I’ve been a member of a number of gyms with swimming pools (swimming pools are deal breakers for me; if you don’t have one, and preferably, one that’s at least 25m long, we’re not going anywhere), and of all of the, DCU’s is probably the most windsandbreezes friendly. Provided I don’t get lost looking for the carpark. Yes, UCD’s new 50m pool is beautiful, but it’s not a great place for me to start back at the swimming. And yes, I’ve had NAC membership (somehow never quite got into the habit of going to Blanchardstown), and yes, I’ve had ALSAA and Westwood membership. Westwood had a climbing wall and a fairly decent swimming pool.

But for some reason, I prefer DCU. The last time I was regularly swimming in DCU, I used to go three to four times a week after work. It seemed easy (although it pretty much predated Twitter, Facebook and 1.4 million other online distractions) to fit into my life and by the time I stopped going, I was doing 1600m each time. It’s probably the fittest I ever was. I miss that. Why I never got it working at any of the other pools, well Blanch’s outofthewayness aside, I don’t know.

Today, it was lovely, if evidence of the mountain I must climb. 225m is a long way short of 1600m. I don’t think it will be as hard this time though because the main reason I didn’t do more was the sudden arrival of Children. Lots of Children.

At this point, I would like to apologise to Sunday morning regulars at Tipperary Swimming Pool whom I probably terrorised in the same way at the age of 10. The pool isn’t the same when it’s not almost completely empty.

Anyway. While I’d probably have gotten more than 225 done, the truth is I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near 1600 so I’m not going to crib too much. I did find the conversation between the other two in the jacuzzi somewhat surreal given that it covered the economic and political differences between Russia and the West, with special mention of political leanings in the UK, all in German.

Still, this is why we go there; to improve mind and body.

Not a kindness

Every once in a while, when frustration grabs me, I decide to clear out the wardrobe. Any house organisational blog (of which there are thousands) will tell you that you should do this regularly. I’ve done it a couple of times in the last 18 months. I did it again today.

One of the trials of this exercise is the section of the wardrobe given to “those clothes”. The ones someone gave you, either as a present, or because “this would look terrific on you”.

These are clothes that almost without exception, I never, ever wear. By all rules like “if you haven’t worn this since the last time you did a clear out” or “if you only wear this when times are desperate and you wouldn’t be seen alive and outside in it”, they should go. But because they were, basically, presents, they are hard to throw out. I dislike tossing out the milk of human kindness. The problem is, very often, these clothes are clothes which you are getting because someone else is passing on to you stuff which they really should be clearing out in their own right. In certain respects, by taking clothes when they don’t want; you are doing them a kindness, but when you hit the point that they need to go from your wardrobe, 3 years later, they are still coloured by “oh X gave me that, she said it would look wonderful on me”.

What X in fact did, was gave you that, because “it’s too good to throw away”.

The conversations are embarrassing as well as you frantically try to find a diplomatic way to say no to someone who is not listening. Giving people clothes which they do not want is not a kindness, it is an obligation.

Dressing yourself is a deeply personal thing. There are colours I would not, in one million years, want to buy. There are fabrics which I hate because of the way they make my skin feel. There are shapes which do nothing to accentuate my good points. I have, very painfully, over many years, learned to identify the things I like and don’t like. Other people foisting their stuff on me messes up a carefully built system of knowing that absolutely EVERYTHING in my wardrobe suits me.

It’s not a kindness. Please don’t give me clothes that I didn’t explicitly choose myself.