Irish Water

I am but a simple person but if I wanted to implement a user pays system for water charges in Ireland, here is how I would have done it.

  1. Sorted out the infrastructure
  2. Install household meters
  3. Send usage notices to house holders
  4. Do this over a period of at least a year
  5. Set up a utility company to charge per usage in a similar manner to the other utilities: ie every two months rather than every three.
  6. Implement an over time diminishing tax credit.

In other words, before founding Irish Water or some equivalent, I would have fixed the principal problems with the water network. Irish Water’s twitter feed is a daily litany of things being fixed. This really shouldn’t be happening. There is no way that the infrastructure should have been handed over in the state it appears to be in.

Additionally, as the more sensible approach to water charges is to base it on usage, over time before charges fall due, users should get a picture of their usage.

Then, when the network is okay, and we the people are familiar with our usage in actual terms, implement charges.

This, in my view, would have been the sensible way about doing it.

However.

  1. a lot of people are unhappy about how the meter install company was selected. More information on the rationale would be helpful
  2. a lot of people have pointed out that they are having trouble reading their own meters. Irish Water has suggested people will never have to do so. However, the vast majority of people in this country are well acquainted with the idea of checking their electricity and gas meters, some because they do it be default, some because they move house every once in a while. According to a conversation I had with someone on Twitter, by the end of September, Irish Water had not yet figured out what process would be in place for someone moving house.
  3. Because of the way Irish Water was set up, and the lack of transparency about usage, a system of allowances was set up, to be administered by Irish Water. Who decided that they needed the PPS of the accountholder and their children (but not any other adults) to ensure people got the right allowances. The only allowance which is linked to an individual is the allowance per child. The other allowance is household linked. It should not need a PPS number.
  4. Because of the screaming and howling about all this, a terrified government appears to have come up with the idea of a tax credit as well. The implementation of said tax credit doesn’t look to be exactly clear yet. But we do now apparently have a water charges system that a) involves usage allowances and b) tax credits. This doesn’t strike me as an efficient way of arranging things. Most other countries get by with a simpler set up.

So, what would be the best thing to do? Well, the Irish Government are in a bind, really, because they have to do this. It is not unique to them – I had correspondence with John Gormley on the matter and at that stage, the Green Party at least, when they held the Environment ministry, had no intention of reducing income tax to cater for the fact that water which we had previously been paid for through taxation was now planned to be charged via a utility. It is hard to say how Fianna Fáil and the Green Party would have implemented this (because I am certain they would have (my contact with John Gormley dates back to March 2010)), and it is evident at the time, John Gormley’s expectation was that the central coffers would not necessarily suffer by people paying water charges directly to a utility.

The issue for me is not that it’s happening. It is that if there was possibly a way to do something badly, the Irish Government appear to have managed to choose every possible poor decision in so doing.  This is what I find irritating. We were starting a water utility from scratch and we could have made it work if we’d tried.

It would help if some people with the power to change things – presumably we do have some – had the guts to recognise this and fix things. I’d prefer they avoided cosmetic things like firing half the managers. It is the whole way the system was set up from the outset which needs review, and not just the current people in charge.

Mortgages

During the past week, the Central Bank made noise about implementing rules around minimum deposits and maximum salary multiples for mortgages.

In summary, this is a good thing. If we had this in place 15 years ago, or more to the point, enforced it, it is possible that a lot of people who are in negative equity now would not be, a lot of houses built in places where we don’t need houses would not have been built, 15% of our economy would not have relied on construction, thus skewing employee skillsets, and we would not have had to bail out the banks. So much.

There is screaming and howling about this because of house prices now. House prices in Dublin, in particular. In summary, house prices in Dublin are clinically insane.

When this becomes a problem, what the people of Dublin, and Ireland, do, appears to be to scream at people in charge to find ways of giving housebuyers more money. Sort out affordability.

Sorting out affordability always seems to mean bending the roles to give people more money. It NEVER seems to involve chopping down the cost of housing. The interesting thing is, a lot of the people screaming about this and how will they ever afford their own home don’t appear to have the financial nous to understand that a net impact of a policy like this will be that prices come down. Whereas saving 100KE for your 500KE house might look horrifically impossible from here, if your house collapses in value to something more reasonable like 100KE, all you have to save is 20KE. It’s still a lot of money of course. Simple truth is that if a lot of people suddenly can’t afford extant house prices, house prices are going to come down.

Of course, this means that a lot of people who own houses will shout about their losses.

What it boils down to, however, is a choice between them – and they contributed to the financial collapse here by overpaying for their houses – and the future of the country. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

Discussions around the property market in Ireland have always featured a lot of discussion on blame. Whose fault is this current disaster? A lot of people like to blame the generation older than mine because they benefitted. But they benefitted because many people in my generation lost the run of themselves and over extended themselves. No one was ever forced to do this except by themselves. Simple truth is if people aren’t buying property, property prices will come down, probably slowly as people try to catch falling knives.

I read a rant on the subject this morning which depressed me. Firstly, home is not linked solely to owning property; it’s how you live in it. Secondly, the person writing it seems to think that having a massive debt around her neck was a good thing.

Instead of screaming for more money, the priority should be to reduce the cost of housing. Let me put one example on the table: a two bedroomed apartment in Brussels to rent will set you back somewhere around 900E. It will be far better serviced by helpful things like transport infrastructure and healthcare and commerce and it will not be out in Ashtown or Ratoath which is probably where you’d have to go to pay similar rent in Ireland.

I don’t know how you fix some of the structure problems of property in Ireland: I think you’d need to knock a whole pile of buildings and build properly designed accommodation (not the apartment complexes we’ve built, that’s for sure) and start over. What you don’t do is feed more money into the system. We’ve already had one huge, economy killing fiasco. It would be nice to have learned from the experience.

Let them eat 2G

Yesterday, many thousands of people held up traffic in Dublin city centre to voice their displeasure at Irish Water and water charges.

On Thursday, social media blew a fuse about comments Joan Burton made about protesters.

Per the link above:

All of the protesters that I have seen before seem to have extremely expensive phones, tablets, video cameras

It’s hard to know what her point is. Probably the obvious one is an implication that the protesters are probably poor so how do they have such expensive stuff?

But that relies on a bunch of assumptions: that all the protesters are poor and I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption. Also, anyone who has tried to negotiate the Byzantine array of phone options available in Ireland will be aware that it is possible to get a very good phone for not very much money.

The issue, as far as I can see it, is that the protests are being filmed. So the question I would like Joan Burton to answer is this: why does it bother her that protesters are recording the protests?

It doesn’t bother me too much. And the thing is, I am not actually against water charges per se; I just think they way they have been implemented here has been unnecessarily complex and disorganised. Our water authority is playing fast and loose with semantics – what is a bonus if not a performance related reward? The messing around with the idea of allowances has enabled Irish Water to request PPS numbers. In principle, I am against factors which make a system complex – and the system of allowances does. What would be more useful is a lower usage charge and none of this messing around with household allowances (which are house related) and child allowances (which are individual child related). I’m tired of being told that if I live alone the allowance will cover X of my needs when a) I don’t live alone and b) the vast majority of adults who don’t have children don’t either. This is meaningless.

At the end of the day, it should not be difficult to set up a utility to charge for water, reduce income tax to cater for that and then make sure we have a simple usage based model. After all, we already have gas and electricity utilities.

Rant (a bit late but fine…)

It’s ages since I did a new WordPress install, and in fact, it’s so long that I cannot remember. There’s some evidence to suggest it’s at least three years.

I did two new installs today for the lace and sketch sites and it transpires that I don’t have access to blogroll any more without installing a plugin. If I go to the plug in recommended it hasn’t been updated in more than 2 years. In fact, the blogroll was hidden by default from WordPress 3.5.

Apparently not that many people used it so it was taken out of the core product. Fine. WordPress is free and all that. But when they tell you to use a plug in instead and then don’t update the plugin for 2 years, it’s annoying particularly when, apparently, the links manager is still in the product, works for any update of existing sites. Don’t enable the widget by default, fine. Taking it off me completely, that’s annoying.

I really, really don’t like it when functionality is removed from a software product and it’s not adequately documented why it’s been removed. The only comment I can find on WordPress.org about it is under the aforementioned plugin to say “it is being removed in WordPress 3.5″. But no “because”.

Since the plugin hasn’t been updated in a couple of years, it’s safe to say that the links manager wasn’t a big coding drag on the product, and since it is still hidden in there for backwards compatibility, I fail to see why they had to hide it. I’m not very happy about that while noting that yes WordPress is free and currently every site I have runs on it. That being said. I’m not impressed by this. It was quick and simple to manage. Yes you can use a custom menu for this but…arghh.

 

Some updates

If you’re a regular around here, you’ve probably had a slight shock because I’ve had the decorators in (again). I updated the underlying software and while I was at it, applied their latest default theme. I find it a bit overwhelming but there you have it. I’ll be playing around with it and there might come some background images shortly. Leave it with me.

I’ve added two new sites to this domain which are both specialist blogs that I didn’t really feel like building separate domains for. One is Learning to Make Bobbin Lace and the other is Urban Sketching.  It is a measure of the software supplied by my very nice hosting company, Blacknight, that so far, this hasn’t caused any problems. Neither of those two sites have much content yet but if you are interested neither in urban sketching nor lacemaking, the chances are you won’t care.

In the meantime, my tech/data blog is still running over at treasalynch.com and the photography blog at livingforlight.org. The latter is probably looking at a full overhaul later when I decide what I want to do with it but for now it’s staying in place. After that, I’m in the process of looking at my digital assets and cleaning them out. I will probably shut down thingsthatstrikeme.org by the end of the year completely so some of the more interesting material will possibly get republished here before I ditch the site altogether.

After that, all the best.

So those cookbooks: Anyone want them?

If anyone is based in Dublin and wants any of the following, free to a good home, let me know either here or through Facebook. First come first served.

Breakfasts more than 80 inspiring ideas Jacque Malouf

low GI food

Keelings Book of Fruit

Feast by Nigella Lawson

The Real Food Real People Cookbook from Supervalu.

Greek – Love Food

Dumonts Lexicon of Spices

Fresh in Summer, Fresh in Spring, Fresh in Winter, Fresh in Autumn, all by Alistair Hendy

Fat Free Low Fat cooking Anne Sheasby

BOUGHT Borrowed and Stolen Allegra McEvedy

French Leave John Burton Race

Gorgeous Suppers – Annie Bell

Bread Machine Cookbook – Jacqueline Bellefontaine

I believe this reduces the number of cookbooks to about 80. A remarkable number of them were gifts though which is surprising.

Anything strike through is gone.

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.

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.