We choose to go to the moon

I was just a month old when Eugene Cernan and Harrison Jack Schmitt left the Moon behind for the last time and since they left, no one has been back. I wasn’t even alive the last time the V-15 flew, in 1968. It still holds the record for the high speed achieved by a manned aircraft.

Technology has entered our lives a lot since then; well, in parts of the world. We carry little boxes around that allow us to talk to people anywhere in the world (at some financial cost but the technology is trivial), which take photos, which make television, which allow us to play games, which allow us to read newspapers. We fly around the world almost trivially, and we drive all most trivially. Our trains are faster than ever before, well some of them.

But none of these are big visionary changes except maybe the trains. No one stood up and said We Will Do this.

When people think about John F Kennedy speeches, I suspect that the one which comes to most people’s mind is Ich bin ein Berliner.

I don’t. I think of We choose to go to the moon. There’s a line in it which I think resonates greatly and illustrates the difference between a generation which went to the moon, and a generation which has not.

Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? (okay, a bit more than 35 now) Now, flying the Atlantic is trivial. But space travel remains, pretty much, non-trivial. Challenging. Massively expensive. Oh we’re talking about space tourism but…even now, you don’t rock up to a spaceport and say here’s a lot of money, I want to go to space…

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

For me, this is the key piece. We accept challenges. We seek them out. Or at least, we used to.

Now, then, our brightest and our best don’t seem to be working on challenges like going to the moon. NASA is aiming for Mars in the 2030s. I know I’m getting old, and I know time is flying, but that seems like AGES away. It’s a far cry from the attitude in 1961 of We’ll get to the moon before the decade is down. Possibly it’s because he’s dead, but I can’t think of a politician since Kennedy who pulled inspiring stuff like this. And God knows the man himself was far from perfect.

Certainly, none of the ones in Ireland seem to operate beyond a vision of the next election. It’s a limited horizon to say the least

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Where is the adventure of our generation?

What is the defining achievement of our era?

I’m not suggesting that Ireland puts money into a space program seeing as we hardly have money to put into education and health at the moment. But our priorities don’t seem set – and this is a world wide issue – on a grand future any more.

So you want to make bobbin lace

Every once in a while I will get it into my head to try something new, or something at least once. This has seen me try cable skiing, cross country skiing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, driving racing cars (once), driving karts, whitewater rafting, crochet, knitting, tapestry and building websites using WordPress.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been looking at the options involved in bobbin lace. This is not straightforward for rather dumb reasons. You cannot walk into a shop in Dublin (or if you can, I haven’t found it), peruse bobbins and bobbin lace making gear and do the instant gratification thing. So I bought my first bobbins at the Knitting and Stitching show a couple of years ago. I managed to buy six members’ bobbins from the Guild of Lacemakers who had come over from the UK to exhibit.

Since then, I eventually bought another bunch of bobbins in a tiny shop in Santiago de Compostela, along with 4 useful looking pins about a year ago. In the meantime, all sorts of interesting things have happened in my life. I acquired some useful looking aeroboard and then settled down to perusing the internet looking for Guidance.

At this point, a little diversion to a period in my life ten years ago when I started doing crochet and found it difficult to a) find patterns b) hooks c) fine thread. Hard and all as that was – and it has changed big time in the intervening years – it is nothing compared to the research required in trying to figure out what to do here.

There are minimal and unclear lessons in English on Youtube. Seriously. Youtube has everything on it but in English, the whole lace bobbin thing is unclear. If you want to learn how to do the lace stitches from the internet, in English (I keep banging on about the English here for a point), you really need to look at this site. Jo Edkins’ Lace School. The site was built in 2002 and is styled accordingly but in terms of the resources on it, it is second to none which I have found thus far on this journey. She also has two books available on Kindle. I will get them because I live in fear and terror at this stage that her website might disappear.

In terms of getting useful stuff out of the School of Youtube, you need to swallow your guts and dive into the world of videos not in English. It’s not completely scary but I recommend that you at least learn cloth stitch from Jo Edkin’s site first and then, here are the terms you need to learn:

  • tombolo
  • bolillo
  • fuseaux

These are the terms for bobbins in Italian, Spanish and French respectively. Bolillo also seems to refer to some sort of bread roll as well. It is worth searching for videos to watch even if you don’t understand them, just to get a feel for things.

Anyway, I finally got my act together and found Jo Edkins’ site yesterday. This was result number 3:

Some yellow thread, bobbins and cheap pins

Treasa’s third effort making lace learning from the internet

I’ve learned a lot over the last few days.

  1. I find the spangle jewelly things on the end of the English bobbins useful because the bobbins themselves are a touch on the dainty side.
  2. I like my Spanish bobbins more, possibly because my hands, although soft and light on the keys of a 1882 Bechstein grand piano are still lacking in the daintiness and stuff.
  3. Faking the whole work cushion thing using decent aeroboard works but I advise against aeroboard that is more than about 3 cm deep.
  4. Those pins are too thin. However, in my defence I was kind of limited in terms of what was available yesterday at 4.30 when I couldn’t find the box Which Has Vanished.
  5. Having watched a lot of Italian youtube videos (tombolo) I’ve decided I don’t really like the Italian bobbins either.
  6. Finding supplies is hard work. This matters because I don’t know if I can go with the whole aeroboard thing for much longer (certainly on the aeroboard I have at the moment anyway) and I do want some sort of a lacemaking pillow. But I also need it to fit into my life.

And so, another journey starts.

Sephora Express Nail Polish Remover

Niall Harbison writes occasionally about things that would make Dublin more like San Francisco. He has never mentioned Sephora. I’m sure they have Sephora in San Francisco because they seem to have it in America. Where they definitely have it is in France. French taxi drivers have been utterly stunned to hear that we do not have Sephora in Ireland because quite frankly Sephora is everywhere. Except where it isn’t, which includes Ireland and Belgium at least, and also, I believe, the UK.

Sephora sells cosmetics. Last year, someone asked me, as a favour, to drop in there and get this nail polish remover thing that comes in a jar; apparently it was life changing. I bought it. She was right. It is life changing.

I can tell you now that Bourjois sell something similar through Boots; I haven’t tried it yet but the jar is fairly similar so I suspect functionally, it works the same. I haven’t finished out this jar yet so…

Here’s the deal. I hate removing nail polish. Usually, I’ve managed to run out of the stuff, it smells vile, I’m out of cotton wool pads, or, more importantly, I spill the wretched stuff. You still need to deal with this if you’re cleaning nail polish from your toe nails. However, this makes the whole finger nail things a whole lot more effective. You decide you’re done with the 3 layers of nails inc that you have on or you’ve chipped it, or you’re wearing a dress that clashes something awful with it. You open the jar, dip your finger in, wait a mere moment, and pull out your finger again. Rinse and repeat. No spillages (that is to say I have not yet managed it), no wasted cotton wool pads (let us take into consideration the total cost of ownership of a bottle of nail polish remover). More importantly, it’s all done very quickly.

Quick is good.

I personally would not be without this.

Also, it costs about 7E which is not, perhaps, completely outrageous. Really is a pity there is no Sephora here.

 

N=1 on beauty: General Beauty Product reviews

In my experience, on a sample size of 1, what every woman wants is to feel absolutely fantastic. What most fashion writing does is make every woman feel positively ick. Again, sample size 1. I read Harper’s Bazaar recently, something which is highly unusual, because I usually read surfing magazines, and I realised that I wasn’t beautiful enough, not thin enough, not gorgeous enough and not rich enough. I find that about the fashion pages of the Sunday Independent Life Magazine as well.

The bad part about this is, I actually buy quite a lot of beauty products. Not because I expect them to change me into someone beautiful enough, thin enough, gorgeous enough and rich enough. Seriously – I am not that deluded – they don’t. They never have. I buy expensive perfume because I already feel great. I don’t buy J’Adore by Christian Dior because it will make me feel great. I buy it because I already feel great. It may not be a great as defined by the staff of Vogue Magazine but I don’t buy it so that’s not a problem.

If I don’t feel great, I buy a fountain pen. It lasts much longer than a bottle of perfume and does make you feel great, although guilty for about 5 minutes. A Lamy Safari which comes in all sorts of funky colours costs around 20E as well. This makes it cheaper than a lot of what is sold in Brown Thomas.

So. I wanted to review a few of these beauty products which I have spent a significant amount of money on over the years without starting from the premise that I am anywhere less than perfect. You have been warned. Mostly, those reviews will be based on stuff I paid for; occasionally, it will be based on stuff I got a free sample of, having paid for something else, and which I then subsequently went and bought some of. Also, some of it may have happened at a beauty counter somewhere.

Sometimes I consider the possibility of building other websites, for example, a website based off the premise of “here’s a free sample of X beauty product I got, here’s a review of it”. Then I looked at how many samples I have and realise this may not be practical. Particularly as there tends to be a skewed distribution in the data – most of what I get tends to be perfume.

However, samples work on me must better than muttered implications of I’d look so much better if…

I walked into a branch of Sephora (and until Sephora arrive in Ireland we are a poor country) once and one of the sales assistants came up to me – he was selling Christian Dior stuff – and said “This colour is going to look AMAZING on you”.

Take ten seconds to consider how that is different from “You’d look amazing wearing THIS colour”.

Just to spell it out: in the first one, there is no insinuation that I don’t look anything other than amazing, in the second one there is. Score one Sephora.

I have spent a lot of time at beauty counters in Dublin and have had the whole skincare routine and cosmetics routine. I don’t necessarily like it. I especially don’t like it if applying make up takes 30 minutes. I do not have 30 minutes to spare in the morning. I prefer to spend that time making a decent breakfast. I have a similar thing with my hair. It needs to dry by itself, quickly. I have it short for that reason, and that reason only.

I realise part of this is me – after all, there is all that n=1 business. I hate the thought that you are only acceptable if you put on a tonne of stuff in your face. The no make up selfie thing made me said because for so many women, the idea of being seen without make up is almost anathema.

But it’s not me. And here’s the irony. I buy the stuff. I buy the foundations, the undercoating, the overcoating, the expensive brushes and I buy perfume and skin care. Believe me, I buy the stuff. Usually when I am feeling great. I’d say something else there but it’s probably a trademark so I’ll skip.

Cosmetic companies, and for the most part, cosmetic reviewers do not sell to me. So I’m about to write the sort of reviews I want to read.

Possibly I’m alone there. But – you know what – it doesn’t matter.

I apologise in advance

This annoyed me. For a bunch of reasons.

This was the number one reason.

It’s probably fair to say that many Irish women’s hair is overprocessed, heat-styled to within an inch of its life, dyed to smithereens and highlighted beyond recognition. And even if it is still in a relatively natural state, Irish hair tends to be quite coarse in texture – compare it, for example, to the silky manes of our Asian sisters.

So it is probably fair to say that if you’re Irish, you should be feeling bad about your hair.

This will explain the next blog entry which I will link here when I have written it, shortly.

Museum of Musical Instruments

I lived in Brussels until 1999 and at the time that I left it, it suffered from quite a lot of dereliction. I was back there in Decemer 2012 and it was still, in many respects, quite grey. The fact that it was winter probably didn’t hugely help there though.

However, I was there last week and obviously, in summer, the sun was shining and it was a bright and dressed up city. Quite a lot of the dereliction has been cleaned up; they have retained a lot of the building frontage so that renovated buildings still retain what are often beautiful art deco exteriors. I’d forgotten some of the more beautiful parts of town as well.

One building which really is worth a trip – particularly if you are a musician – is the Museum of Musical Instruments. The collection has been building up over time; there is a very fine collection of traditional instruments from across the world, including sets of pipes which I did not know existed, for example. They have a phenomenal collection of European stringed instruments and every variety of a violin which you did not know existed. When I was there, they also had a significant exhibition of the instruments of Adolph Sax.

The building it is housed in was completely derelict when I left Brussels. It was built at the end of the 19th century for a chain of department stories called Old England. I’m not fully au fait with the commercial history of the company but the shop was long past to history by the time I arrived in Brussels more than 15 years ago. It was an iron built building.

The interior has a lot in common with multistory department stories of the time (the old Samaritaine building Paris was not dissimilar for example) and there is, in addition to the musical instrument collection a rather interesting exhibition on the subject of the building as well.

All in all, I really enjoyed the trip in there so am glad to have gone and I would recommend it pretty much to anyone in the vicinity.

If you have to copy an idea that’s done millions of times before

…it’s probably not that romantic.

One of the panels on the Pont des Arts in Paris collapsed recently under the weight of all the love locks attached to it. Possibly the first couple who did the writing their names on a lock and locking it to a bridge and tossing the key into the waters before were being romantic (as opposed to litterbugs) but when thousands of people do it, it’s not romantic any more, it’s formulaic.

In the same way as getting engaged at the top of the Eiffel tower is unlikely to be romantic and more likely to be kitsch, that is.

The Ha’Penny Bridge in Dublin is wrecked with the wretched things as well. Throwing metal into the river isn’t exactly ecologically sound either. I don’t know why people get a warm fuzzy feel about this.

Romance really isn’t something that grows from copying stuff a million other couples have done before you. Feb 14 is not romantic. And the amount of money involved is not a KPI for romance either (so the value of your engagement ring doesn’t count either).

Romance is a feeling. Not an action. Not a price tag. And not the destruction of a communal area.

 

Maven is my girlfriend

Have a read of this.

Today one of our engineers delivered a presentation that contained inappropriate content at our AtlasCamp developer conference in Berlin, Germany.

The inappropriate content was:

Maven is my girlfriend

  • Looks beautiful
  • Complains a lot
  • Demands my attention
  • Interrupts me when I’m working
  • Doesn’t play well with my other friends.

Maven is a software deployment management tool. I’ve looked at it and didn’t like it but likewise, have not had cause to use it.

Apparently the slide was sort of okay because people at said conference didn’t object. Until it wasn’t okay because the slide reached twitter.

Then it mattered. You’ll note the Atlassian “Dude it’s not cool” post is highly vague on the inappropriate content and the comments are closed.

Quelle surprise.

 

Reality and fiction

One of the very few works of chicklit – for want of a better word – that I have returned to time and time again is The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy. Maeve Binchy has never, per se, been my favourite writer but that book spoke to me for several reasons; I felt greater empathy with most of the characters, they seemed to come far better to life to me.

There is one jarring scene in the book though, where Kit McMahon’s father is meeting his friend Peter for a drink. Peter has left the house in a temper because his wife is fighting with his two daughters for whatever trivial reason. He doesn’t want to deal with it because triviality is not what he is about at that point in time. Peter is the local doctor and that day, Peter has attended the death of a baby in one of the more rural locations around Lough Glass, the town where much of the book is set. The family of the mother have let him know that it is for the best that the child has died for he didn’t have any father, you see. The book is set in 1950s Ireland. Peter rails against this because the child could have lived, could have grown up happily in the care of his mother in the hills. There was no need for this child to die.

This baby, its mother, its family are tangential to the primary plot of the novel, almost unimportant in certain respects. Binchy could have chosen any sort of a bad day for Peter to have. He is a doctor in 1950s Ireland. TB kills people. Farm accidents kill people. Road accidents kill people. Polio is still a problem in the country. Instead, very deftly, Binchy includes a fatherless child of an unmarried mother, abandoned, if you like, by the father of that child. And the death of the child is preferable to his survival because he didn’t have a father. We know nothing about them; we don’t even know their names. They occupy at most a few lines in a novel of around, oh, seven hundred pages as far as I remember.

But the baby is not tangential to life in 1950s Ireland. He is a searing commentary on social attitudes in Ireland during that time. And, in certain respects, the mother of the child, no doubt a young woman, and almost certainly somewhat naive, had a lucky escape. She did not wind up where a lot of poor young women wound up. I don’t use the word poor in its sense as unfortunate (although it does fit), but in its sense as less well of economically. It is not the unmarried mothers from the well of families who wound up in the Mother and Baby Homes or the Magdalene Laundries for extended. £100 bought you out of staying in at least one of the Mother and Child homes for a year to work your costs off. And the healthy babies were adopted or fostered anyway.

I’ve always found that tableau of Peter, going for a drink with his friend to try and work through the idea that a child might be better off dead than loved by his mother and not finding the relief of talking it over because that just isn’t the night for it to be particularly jarring.

While the primary plot of the book focuses on a girl who does not actually wind up pregnant at any stage during the novel, the question of pregnancy before marriage is very much otherwise present in the book, and touched on in different ways. The town has the memory of a girl who reputedly drowned herself because she was pregnant. The primary character’s mother is believed by Peter to have drowned herself because she was pregnant also. When his own daughter winds up pregnant, he is only glad that things have changed enough that she does not drown herself. And it is not the only book in which Maeve Binchy deals with the question of pregnancy. Circle of Friends focuses on the issue too with respect to the fate of Nan. Pregnant. Father of child abandoning her. The edge of respectability such that her mother will not take on the child and pretend it is hers, a wonderful miracle and late pregnancy, wasn’t God so good to them to grant them another child with Nan already so grown up. In the book, Nan reviews her options dispassionately to the extent that she knows none of them are options at all in 1950s Ireland.

We need to make sure we don’t go back to that way of seeing things.

I’m mindful that much of what I have written here lately is less than uplifting. I want it to be different and I have some personal projects to deal with which might, if I am lucky, be more uplifting.