Visiting the past

I had cause at the weekend to wander into the hidden storage of my life, looking for things put away some fifteen years ago which, I suppose, most reasonable people would assume I might not need again. But need and want are not the same thing and having reviewed online options, I decided that I already owned decent Finnish-English dictionaries and what appeared to be still considered the better of the Finnish language text books. In fact I also had a decent grammar book as well which is useful.

They are all in pristine condition, despite being out of the day to day running of my life for quite sometime. Some of them were located in under 10 seconds, much to my surprise. Others amongst them caused me to visit more recent pasts in storage. It transpires that when I was in my cassette buying phase (for those of you under the age of 25, music didn’t come on CDs but on cassettes and records) I was also a fan of Bad English and Alias. This came as a surprise to me in a lot of respects. I wouldn’t even recognise an Alias song now which is particularly surprising.

The tapes are stored in a carry all bag which I used to shlep my stuff around between 1995 and 1999, ie, for most of the time I was one of those much mourned items, an emigrant. It’s something of an odd feeling to look at this bag and realise that for five years, between it and a long gone rucksack, I could contain the most of my life when I chose to move house. Moving house was, at that point. For people in the future, moving house may, furniture aside, become much more easy again as books and music and films get stored in digital format; an entire library hiding on a Kindle, an entire library of music coming from a streaming service. But I hit the transition phase, that place where people bought more stuff, but it wasn’t small in physical size. 20 years ago, kids didn’t have loads of music because they didn’t buy loads of it. Now they store it on a little box that fits in your palm, if you like. And the same with books, well, most fiction books anyway.

I’ve often considered, lately, how I would sort out completely clearing down my possessions. The furniture from IKEA, I’ve no particular emotional attachment to it so I could live without that, I suppose. After that, I run into trouble.

And yet, I know that we can recover from the loss of most things.

CD reviews: Alexandre Tharaud

It is nice, on occasion, to write about nice things, so I’m going to write about stuff I consider to be nice. such as, for example, some piano music, and specifically, one musician who, I don’t think, has a lot of traction here in Ireland and this really is a pity.

I say that mainly because I haven’t happened across him until recently. He’s been around a while, maybe a little under the radar.

If you are looking for an interesting album of bits and pieces, Alexandre Tharaud has a lovely album of pieces which he occasionally uses for encores, called Autographe. Standout pieces on it include Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor (posthumous) and an extraordinary transcription of Sibelius’s Valse Triste. Also worth a listen is an album called Journal Intime which is devoted to the music of Chopin (he has a couple of Chopin albums but this one is the stand out one for me).

I don’t know a whole lot about him other than what’s on his own site, and the occasional interview (from the point of view of online reputation management, someone’s done a really good job) but quick summary: he’s French, he’s done some very interesting stuff with a couple of French composers (really decent albums of Rameau and Couperin, for example, plus some Chabrier) and he’s age bracketed with people like Evgeny Kissin: not amongst the young showmen.

I like his style of playing a lot. The work done on the Autographe album is exceptional – very atmospheric.

This from the Journal Intime album is a good example.

It’s a major contrast to the brightness of some of the more high profile concert pianists who happen along the route to Ireland, I think. Recommended.

Whither constitution

So, moving on from the debacle that is Irish Water, there are now calls for a constitutional amendment to make sure that Irish Water can’t be privatised.

This is idiocy of the highest order and it is not what the constitution was designed for. Although to be fair, it’s hardly new to abuse the constitution to try and prevent legislation some people don’t like so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Irish Water is now a completely poisonous mess; not because many thousands of people marched in the streets on Saturday; it was a mess before that.

So, what needs to be changed to fix it? Well in the real world, the one inhabited by the people who vote and are supposed to pay this, it’s possible that it cannot, at this point in time, be fixed in such a way as it can start charging.

Here’s what I wouldn’t have done.

  1. I wouldn’t have hired John Tierney.
  2. I wouldn’t have allowed Irish Water to have access to PPS numbers.
  3. I would have had a lower flatrate per 1000L charge and no messing with household and children’s allowances.
  4. I would not have panicked and implemented a tax credit.
  5. I would not have panicked and talked about 100E rebates.
  6. I would not have done an about turn on household allowances if people don’t fill in the form. I’m not in favour of the allowances but if someone is going to be determined to implement them, they should be house related.
  7. I wouldn’t have given Phil Hogan the nomination for Ireland’s representative on the European Commission. But it’s fair to say I wouldn’t have done that anyway.

Here’s what I would do now.

Right now, the problem with Irish Water is NOT the risk of privatisation; it flatly doesn’t matter if it is or not because regardless, the problem is how usage charges were implemented, which is basically with all the finesse of an approaching fireball. Damage everywhere.

Updating the constitution really should be for key visionary changes in how we want this country to operate. Being nice to people. Banning capital punishment. It really shouldn’t be a political football used by one or other organisation, like SIPTU or the Labour Party, to stymy administration.

Fixing the problems with Irish Water now will be reputationally difficult but sometimes, hard decisions have to be taken. Fine Gael keep telling us that so it’s about time they learned that reality as well.

Irish Water, as is, needs to be abandoned. Closed down. Liquidated. It has cost money and it will cost money. But there is no way of fixing this.

Blundering on with a bad product without having the guts to deal with the reality of it being a bad product closes down companies as they throw good money after bad.

And maybe then, we can start from scratch and do it properly and efficiently.

on shoe shopping

I don’t especially enjoy shoe shopping. Part of it is that I find it a hassle trying stuff on, trying to work out whether it fits, and hoping for the best. Trying shoes on in shops is never really that ideal.

I like to think I’m not very demanding on the style front. I don’t need 27 different pairs of shoes in every colour under the rainbow. What I need are a pair of runners or two, a decent pair of runaround town flat shoes, and two or three pairs of reasonably dressy shoes which I can wear to work and, more importantly, can catch buses on and drive while wearing. More often than not, lately, there’s been a flat pair of shoes for wearing until I get to where I am going…

You can’t see me now but I’m sitting at my desk wearing a pair of shoes I have quite a while because I haven’t been wearing boss shoes for a while on account of being a student. Comfort is my king. Running around UCD was a boots or trainers trick, and not four inches of torture.

I don’t know if it’s only be, or what, but I cannot wear very high heels while driving. 7cm is SERIOUSLY pushing it. Anything above that and the pedals feel all wrong. For the odd special occasion, it’s not a big deal to fling a pair of flat shoes on while driving. I’m looking for shoes I can wear to work, with a suit or a dress.

A nice, decent pair of black court shoes, circa 5 or 6 cm high, and with a pointed but not life threateningly sharp toe is what I am looking for. I’d like it in particular if they had a tapering heel but not stiletto. A particular plus point would be if they did not cost 245E+ Much better if they came in below 100E. I’m all for buying good stuff but I have to be prudent for a short while here and shoes, unfortunately, are consumables, unlike, say, good pens.

This however, is too much to ask. I’m watching carefully for a Repetto sale – I like Repetto shoes but right now, they are above budget and need to be delivered from France. In the meantime, having gone through the three big department stores, what I am looking for is not available from what I can see. There’s a gap in the market between absolutely flat, and 3.5 inches high and growing. I know it’s coming up to Christmas; I know the glamour shoes are all the range. I’m aware that there are shoes which are probably not shoes at all but throwing weapons. What there are not are simple, beautiful mid heel court shoes without a million decorations in plain black leather.

It breaks my heart.

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.