7am, Sunday morning

It’s the last day of January and, also, I’ve been awake since 4.30. I’m not sure how I managed this but it probably has something to do with the utterly bizarre dream I had which involved driving a Ford Fiesta down a trainline in Finland and being chased by boys who were interested in stealing the code I had written for some top secret machine learning something or other. I’m not sure this is indicative of a rested mind but it’s probably better than the one about plane trips to somewhere that sounds like it should be in China (but it doesn’t exist) but which apparently was near somewhere that sounds like it should be in Japan, be a shrine but also probably does not exist. In my defence, my most recent reading material has included Prisoners of Geography, about the geopolitical realities caused by geographical physical features. It’s a terrific book and it is buy Tim Marshall. It is the best book I have read in 2016 so far. n=4 and all that, but it does out play Terry Pratchett’s last book which surprised me.

I’m just in a geopolitical kind of mood at the moment.

Anyway, amongst the piles of clickbaitish “how to be Mark Zuckerberg” type advice drivel that either arrives in my inbox via one or two subscriptions that I occasionally think about cancelling, and the passive aggressive advice columns that have a half life of years on Facebook are many variants of Habits of Successful people. During the week, I had an interesting one on Don’t get the habits of unsuccessful people. It was quite interesting in a way.

One of the key issues I have with all the “How to be Mega Successful Advice” is that none of them seem to include the words “First have a ground breaking idea”. I’m pretty sure that Mark Zuckerberg could have gotten up at 5am all he liked but if he didn’t have the idea for Facebook first, all he’d be is totally exhausted. I get weary of the “First get up early every day blah blah” advice.

It’s like this. Humans need a certain amount of sleep. I’d suggest people should decide when they are going to get it. I prefer going to bed early and getting up early. The price of getting up at 5.30am is being asleep by 10pm. You can’t operate on a lack of sleep for long.

The idea is basically that you have more creative time. I do not know that it always works.

I was up at around 10 past 6 this morning. In part that was because I woke at 4.30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I could have done with another couple of hours but sometimes you have to cut your losses. This morning, then, I have already whinged about viral posts on Facebook. Now I am going to mention that any magazine that advises you to get up early every morning because [Array.Of.Rich.Tech.Execs] get up at outlandish times is being negligent if they don’t also tell you what time [Array.Of.Rich.Tech.Execs] goes to bed.

7am on a Sunday morning, even when it is pitch dark outside, is a lovely time of the day. I’m not saying this to be sanctimonious. The day is full of possibilities.

I know people for whom the day is still full of possibilities at 10pm at night. I’m asleep then.


Sharing stuff on Facebook

Yesterday, when I signed into Facebook, I came across yet another epistle full of maniac praise for some family member, which closed with the Share if You have A….

It, along with the screeds that feature a nice little paragraph of passive aggressive emotional manipulation along the lines of “I know most of you won’t read this, and only my true friends will, copy and paste to your wall, don’t share”. I don’t know who came up with this formulation but they should be stripped of access to social media. It is corrosive stuff. You often find it at the end of a hectoring lecture about knowing people who suffer from, usually, cancer. I hate it.

In many respects, Facebook is a great tool. It’s just, sometimes it gets monumentally abused by people who don’t seem to do much self examination. This week in particular, I got a lot of the two stylees above, but I also seemed to have a few friends sharing a lot of viral self help nonsense.

I’ve had years of people sharing this kind of stuff with me. What I have worked out is the following:

  1. You’re not allowed to be disappointed.
  2. You’re not allowed to complain.
  3. Everything wrong in your life is your fault anyway
  4. Whatever you’re doing, it’s wrong, so the fact that things continue to be wrong is still your fault anyway.
  5. Be positive. Otherwise everything is your fault.
  6. Avoid negative people. They only drag you down.
  7. If you don’t like what you’re doing, shut up and accept it and convince yourself you like it. You’ll be happier.

They dress it up in flowery language of course, so you don’t realise that you’re basically being told to shut up and stop annoying people. This isn’t really all that helpful, because sometimes, it’s good to talk, work things out.  Three is probably a straight out lie, along with its brother four. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that 5 probably isn’t as helpful either – iirc Be realistic is likely to be more constructive than being positive.

Six is a sop to one and two. Sometimes you’ll need support even if you convince yourself you won’t because you’re dealing with stuff man. I find it’s good to provide support and do some listening to people who are having a rough time. This presumes that we’re not talking first world problems like the wifi being down.

Seven is an expression of privilege. Variants of it exist in the idea that people would be fully healthy if they only had the right mental attitude. The world doesn’t work like that and my experience is that people who are happy to dole out the kind of advice that amounts to “Lie to yourself” have never had to lie to themselves.

My personal summary of advice in rough times is this:

  1. Identify what is wrong
  2. Figure out how to change it.
  3. Talk out ideas if you have to.

In the meantime, anything vaguely viral in the advice and manipulation front on Facebook, I ignore it.

Bucket lists and dreams

IMG_4659A while ago, I realised that my life was going by and it was about time I started doing things rather than thinking about doing them. As a result, I spent the last week in Switzerland, primarily doing the Glacier Express train trip.

There were mountains. High mountains with big lots of trees and snow on them. It was wonderful.

There was also the Caran d’Ache shops in Geneva and Zurich. I have loved and adored Caran d’Ache writing instruments since I was 15 years old. The only place that really sells them in Dublin is the Pen Corner, and while they have accommodated me with special orders once in a while, they don’t do the art side of things. Kennedy have some of the pencils, but nowhere near to all of the pencils.

As a result, the Caran d’Ache shop in Geneva was the ultimate shop in the world for someone like me. Lots of limited edition fine writing implements, the sort with near annual income salary level pricing (there must be a lot of very, very wealthy people in Geneva). I bought two Paul Smith 849s which I wanted and which have the benefit of not being expensive, but not being cheap plastic either.

I like the 849 pens – I have about half a dozen at this stage and they are a nice weight in my hand. They are, perhaps, not as nice as the Ecridors themselves (130E if you’re buying – I was not on this occasion although I have a shopping list of 3 that I want – it never ends). And of course, there were the pencils.

All those Museum Aquarelles which I can’t get in Ireland, and the Luminance pencils, which I can’t get in Ireland. I had a dozen Aquarelles, and I picked up another half dozen colours which I like a lot, plus I picked up two or three Luminance pencils just to try them.

Plus there were a few Swiss Wood pencils, and series five of the woods of the world collections. I could have spent a lot of money in the Caran d’Ache shop just on art pencils. The truth is I was somewhat limited by the whole lugging thing – my holiday consisted of five days of travelling basically – so I was able to resist full boxes of their neocolor IIs and other water solubles.

I did buy a couple of brushes because they were the equivalent of 2 euro less expensive than they are here and brushes are always handy. In theory, I’m not really needing to buy pencils as I binge bought a bunch of Faber Castell Sparkles not so long ago (they tended to be very hard to get here for a while although since I stocked up, both Easons and the Art and Hobby Store have got in copious supplies).

But I found it very hard to say no to the Caran d’Ache Swiss wood basic HBs. Basic isn’t a great word – they are probably twice the price of the sparkles and you can’t get them here. I have five of them which should keep me going for a while. They have a most beautiful smell of wood.

Outside the shopping in Caran d’Ache’s shops, I spent time in Zermatt, Saint Moritz, Lugano, and especially, I spent time in Swiss trains. The Glacier Express is a 9 hour train journey which basically goes from Zermatt to Saint Moritz or vice versa. I was hoping to see the Matterhorn: IMG_20151019_185311

But it was covered in clouds/fog/hidingtypeweather for the day I was in Zermatt. This was regrettable.

The journey across Switzerland was amazing – we don’t do scenery like it and we certainly don’t do weather like it. The Glacier Express is certainly worth doing in the winter, and they will lay on lunch for you for a consideration – it’s around thirty francs and it is definitely worth doing it.

Saint Moritz was where I bought some non-Caran d’Ache writing tools, and had a walk around. It’s a lovely town, for what I saw of it, although it could be a very expensive place to be shopping given that the shops tend to the high income level brands rather than your average high street store.

From there, I took the scenic train back down to Chur, which I was hoping would be brighter than it had been the evening before but the fog never lifted. It was very atmospheric, but not very conducive to photographs.

I then took the long way to Lugano, via Zurich, which is a lovely train journey even in one of the high speed Intercity Express trains which run all the way to Hamburg.

Zurich is a lovely town. It took has a Caran d’Ache shop. The buildings are beautiful and the train station is especially beautiful as train stations go. It’s also really well located for shopping.

Lugano is beautifully situated on hills around a lake. Again, I wasn’t there for long as I was going onto Como and Lake Como which is a gorgeous, gorgeous town in Northern Italy. From there, I finished up in Milan.

In short, I did a lot of travelling on trains in the week and saw an awful lot of Switzerland plus a bit of Italy.


Journalling and related comments

My assorted feeds and social media platforms are giving me the annual binge of life changing advice. It’s ongoing through the year of course, but around end December, start of January, it tends to be on a scale equivalent to the Pacific Ocean. This year, journalling is in. In particular, a remarkable number of advice sites for men trying to make their way in this world are advising journaling as a, let me see, cornerstone habit.

I started journaling in about March 1993. I used an ordinary notebook which was a little bit bigger than A6. I’m not a fan of using dated diaries for this: they are a bit arbitrary and dictatorial. If you use an ordinary notebook, you can write as much, or as little, as you like. I’ve used A5 notebooks almost constantly since 1994 and my preferred choice, although not possible to get in Ireland, are Clairefontaine clothbound notebooks, preferably gridded, and the biggest number of pages I can find. Most stationery stores in France or Belgium help in this front, although in Belgium, they used come with margins. I’d like, sometimes, to move up to A4 but they don’t fit in my handbag. A5 is a 20 year habit now. Other notebook manufacturers exist and I have happily used Paperblanks A5 which are beautiful notebooks, although I don’t like the paper as much as I like the Clairefontaine paper.

So I approve of writing a journal, or a diary, as we used to call it in my time.

The thing is, courtesy of the internet, journaling is a whole industry, resulting in loads of stuff showing up in my social media and news feeds. I had not realised that bible journaling was a thing, and the whole art side of things regrettably passed me by for most of my life. There are journaling prompts to beat the band all over pinterest. I have not worked out how much of this is born of the fact that people can be overwhelmed with stuff and information. One which turns up regularly is bullet journaling which I don’t personally consider as journaling per se, but as organisation/management. Planning, per se. There are many systems.

I started writing a diary at the age of 19 because I had fallen in love with someone from whom I wound up moving for practical work related reasons at the time and I wanted to coral memories of days that made me feel happy. I’m not sure I would have succeeded in it if I’d done it for the purposes of getting richer.


Slide to Update and a brick of an iPad

If you have an iPad 2 and Apple’s less than perfect latest version of iOS 9 has bricked it, in my experience, here’s what you can forget about trying.

  1. Hard reset. It does not work. Even if you try it several times, it does not work.
  2. Charging it. It does not work.
  3. dfu mode and recovery via iTunes. It does not work and will present you with various issues while demonstrating to you in a long drawn out waste of time that it does not work.

The only thing that worked in terms of getting the iPad to actually respond to input is restoring the device to factory settings. Before you do that, however, you have to do the following.

  1. Go to icloud.com and delete the device from Find My iPad.
  2. It is worth updating iTunes to the very latest version. Do not do this via “Check for Updates” because if you’re 12.1.2, iTunes will tell you you are fully up to date which, given that the very latest version today was 12.1.3 is not really accurate.
  3. Even if you don’t do (2), you can do the factory settings rebuild and configure the iPad as a new one but if you want to restore from a back up via iTunes, if you are on 12.1.2, iTunes will tell you that the version of iTunes is too old for the iPad and that you need to go to itunes.com and get the latest version. I did not have a back up on iCloud.

    If you do not want to do this, your next choice is to build the iPad from brand new.

  4. Wait out the restore (in my case it’s currently estimating about an hour).

If I had known this on Sunday, I would not have upgraded the OS on the device in the first place, but having been stupid enough, I would on every occasion in the future now go for a factory reset. Not one of the provided solutions worked to deal with this and according to Apple, the problem had been fixed in the latest release of iOS9 anyway. Since I had the problem as recently as Sunday, I’m unconvinced.

I’m not happy.

Progress in Finnish

So, I’m slightly behind schedule on the Finnish vocab heist. I am not going to beat around the bush; this is slightly disappointing because it means I am unlikely to hit my target of completing the fully 3000 words by the time my birthday rolls around in a month’s time.

However, I am currently at 1510 words which there are now fewer words to learn than I have already learned. In other words, I have beaten the half way mark. Psychologically, this is seriously important. I am very happy about that.

This brings with it interesting progress. Reading the news in Easy Finnish on the YLE website is getting easier and easier every day. I’ve reached a stage where very often, I can work out what a word means from context. If you learn languages at all, reaching that point is phenomenal because it means that it is getting easier all the time. I am really, really happy about that. Also, it isn’t just the news in Easy Finnish, it is the stream of headlines from Helsingin Sanomat on Facebook, and other Finnish sites which I have “liked”.

So although I will most likely miss my November target, I’m not unhappy. I am a lot further on in terms of reading than I was the last time and this is great.

Drawing, maths and languages

Yesterday, when I was talking to one of my friends, she told me that you could see, across the various Facebook posts (my instagram pictures are usually sent across to my Facebook account), how I was getting better at the drawing all the time.

This made me happy for the obvious reasons of you’d like to think that as you do more of a thing, you get better. But this was also the friend with whom I had the original conversation of “I was never very good at drawing” where I realised that I got irate with people who said that about maths or languages and pointed out to myself, about art at least, that for most things, few people started out very good at anything, it was very much a learning by doing thing that got them better. And that I’d never given much time to art because “I was never very good at it”.

So the above is some approximation of Mount Fuji, done on a train last week or the week before. Let me tell you, drawing on trains in Ireland is not easy. The trains bounce quite a bit. You need to get the drawing bit done in Heuston before the train sets off. The painting bit, requiring a lot less precision, is okay.

I’ve found myself in conversations about learning Irish during the week and the message I have taken away from it is that many people, in Ireland at least, are unable to draw advantages from things they have to do, even when they don’t want to do it. When you point out those advantages, you get yelled at.

It is fair to say that usage of Irish is not particularly broad, but that’s not why anyone really learns it, and even if you never see yourself speaking Irish, there are tangible benefits to learning it as it has a lot of sounds that are just not in English which may be useful should you want to learn another language later.

What that language might be is also something you cannot dictate at the age of 4 or 5.

I don’t speak Irish on a day to day basis, mostly because an chaighdeán and I speak slightly different varieties and I just don’t understand the radio a lot. But I do speak French and German significantly more regularly and I am learning Finnish. Having learned Irish has fed into all three of those, especially the Finnish (as it happens). Knowledge is only wasted if you are the wasting type.

What saddens me most is the argument that education should be dictated purely by what most people are likely to need to earn money. Education should be directed towards equipping people to learn on an ongoing basis, and towards teaching them to think.

When I see a lot of arguments online in Ireland, I feel that in those two objectives at least, education has failed. Much of the argument also centres on how education has failed to provide adequate vocational training. If we focused on education like this, then arguably, 80 years ago, it was fair enough to get people out of school when they were 12, not worry too much if they could read or write, because sure, they weren’t ever really going to need it, were they?

We got to a space in our country where we provided an adequate basis for people to develop their own views on their lives and then move on. I sometimes feel that with a focus on what “industry needs” and “what people need for their careers” that we will lose that view of education, that it is a tool for living, and not just a tool for an employer.

Which brings me back to art.

It’s hard to make a living from art. Most people can’t. An awful lot (embittered photographer comment coming up) of people expect to be able to get art for free or “a credit, which will be good for you”.

Most of the people I know in the tech sector, so people who do the currently fashionable professions of tech related programming, network management or software design, system administration or whatever you’re having yourself, have developed hobbies which are fundamentally not tech focused. Anecdotally, for the women, it tends towards craft work, knitting, crochet, sewing, and for the men, it tends towards craft beer, and, wood turning.

This leads me to think that despite arguments that the tech sector can be very creative, in terms of designing solutions to problems, that creative side of things is not really tangible enough.

I regret massively that I did not take up drawing and painting at a much earlier stage in my life (and I’m going to write a couple of excuses in a moment).

Part of that is because there is, I think, a truth missing from our lives. It really doesn’t matter how good you are at something provided you are enjoying doing it. And if you focus on enjoying it, you may wind up getting good at it.

We are not all born to be Olympic champions but that’s not why people go running every day.

School is where we should be getting the fundamentals of these skills, the building blocks on which we can build stuff later. Anyone who knows anything at all about languages knows that you never stop learning. No one who is 40 years old today has a static command of their native language. Anyone who works in technology has an ever increasing set of use cases for various words whose meaning was actually reasonably set down prior to tech, eg, analyst, architect, and, let’s face it, computer. Yet, I suspect if someone popped up and suggested that the ability to draw might be a skill which should be part of a rounded education, the same arguments coming from the cohort who see no value in Irish for the simple reason that they were never very good at it (and didn’t bother trying) would be advanced in terms of art. This is a pity because it is predicated on the idea that people are born good artists. But drawing is a skill which can be acquired to some reasonable level.

When I went to school, there was a tendency of seeing some people as good at art, and some as less talent. In many respects, art was seen as a talent and less as a skill. People in my class were seen as good at drawing and the others…well. I was, for the most part, one of the others, bar on one occasion, when I drew a holiday scene, actually won a prize for it, and still had a teacher demanding to know why I didn’t colour in something which, in real life, was white.

In an act of rebellion, I coloured it in pink, when, age the age of 8, I lost that argument. Pink was about the one colour this thing was never going to be. Looking back now, I don’t much remember the praise.

I remember the surprise, the astonishment, that someone from the “Not good at drawing group” (but terribly good at maths and English) had produced something that didn’t look like a spider had been at a paint box. I retreated back to the maths and the English. It seemed somehow safer.

No doubt, there were others who retreated to something else from the maths and English. We all, as children, have our safe places.

There is research around that suggests that kids learn better when effort is rewarded rather than success. I don’t have a link to it handy but it’s particularly interesting in the context of other research which says in the US, in particular, children from Asian families have a view that working at maths will enable you to get better at maths, whereas in other groupings there is a view that you have to have some sort of leaning towards it. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m inclined to see some merit in that argument, and not just limited to maths.

As it happens, I did Mount Fuji twice, once in my watercolour book, and once as part of my inktober getting better at drawing notebook which isn’t so great for paints. This is how it looked first.

#inktober #inktober2015 #sennelier #hahnemuhle #fineliner A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

When my friends can actually recognise the places I am drawing, this makes me feel very good. Drawing is fun, and you can learn how to do it. The same is true of most things.

Birds of A Clef: Mex

I have a sketchblog on the go (also on this domain) but I haven’t really been publicising it much.


Anyway, I have a couple of projects on the go, one being the vans, and the other, rather suddenly, being a collection of birds from a project called Birds of a Clef. It has caught people’s interest for some reason with the net result that requests have come in.

Like this one, for example.


I see these taking more control than the van did.

Getting around Dublin

There was word during the week that in terms of some new investment in public transport infrastructure in Dublin, DART Underground would be shelved and money would be put into Luas via Broadstone to Dublin Airport. During the past week, there was an editorial in the Irish Times pushing BRT because it was cheaper.

I was extremely disappointed in the Irish Times. If you read the BRT documentation at the time public feedback was sought, you might be aware that on the day BRT went into operation (if it did), demand for it would already surpass capacity. As such, building it was never going to be anything other than utter folly.

Doing things because they are the cheapest option is incredibly stupid, particularly if they don’t actually work. You might as well not do them at all, save the money and push it towards something that does work. We are incredibly wasteful in this country sometimes. I do not know how we change this, but our theoretically national paper of record could go someway towards not supporting inadequate schemes because they are cheaper than the alternatives when compared to the alternatives they are inadequate.

There appears to be no coherent, encompassing vision for transporting people around Dublin beyond the city manager’s desire to get everyone to cycle everywhere. In terms of public transport, there is disorganisation and chaos, and an utter lack of a future plan. I get told that when we eventually get all the private transport off the roads, the buses will be grand. This makes me sick in my stomach for a couple reasons, not least the fact that there is a long way to go before the bus transport network in Dublin is grand and removing the cars is not going to cater for that.

Dublin’s public transport system is a collection of errors cobbled together in a “yerrah it’ll be grand” way. Most of the people who tell me it’ll be grand, it’s fine, sure we don’t need…probably do not get the buses at the times I do. They do not sit in a bus on Eden Quay for 8 minutes while a driver change is not completing because the second driver hasn’t arrived on time. They don’t spend 15 minutes on O’Connell Street waiting for passengers to board a 16. They probably don’t wait forty five minutes for that 16 because they have bunched on the route and now, there are three of them within 5 minutes of each other, and they are 45 minutes behind the most recent bus before them.

What is needed is a coherent plan for the city that doesn’t depend on the political generosity of a minister for transport. These things need to be planned for the needs of the city. But we can’t even get these things right in Dublin where the lack of efficiency in the system causes me night mares five days a week and this has to be costing the city money in lost productivity and frustration. What hope have the other cities of getting any sort of a reasonable plan and financing in place when the main road between Limerick and Cork isn’t being funded properly either?

Currently, if you are transiting the city from north to south using a bus, in most cases, you need to get through what I now call the Pass of Thermopylae, basically the slip of a road from D’Olier Street onto College Green. It currently has one lane because of Luas works. Dublin Bus’s social media team explained that this was causing delays.

But these delays are never going to go away because at some point, presumably, there will be a tram running along the lane which is currently dug up. On several mornings it has taken 20 minutes to get from Eden Quay to Dame Street purely because buses aren’t getting onto D’Olier Street, a combination, I suspect, from a lack of bus stop space, and limited flow capacity onto College Green. The current works, remember, are being done now because we didn’t want to do them 20 years ago.

Ultimately, at some stage, someone is going to have to sit down and say “we have X flow rate of people through these areas and buses are perhaps no longer the most appropriate way to do this. There are 21 bus routes going through D’Olier Street. There are 10 bus routes coming down through Drumcondra. And ultimately, we are going to have to recognise that this costs money and needs to be managed over a time frame greater than the lifetime of a Dail. Public transport in the urban areas will have to stop being the sweeties of a transport minister.


waves and numbers and stuff