Random new info


I occasionally edit pages on Wikipedia which involves a certain amount of research. Today I was updating a page on a rail accident and linked to research I did with that, I spent some time on the page of the European Rail Agency. The link above captured my interest.

Today, there are more than twenty signalling and speed control systems operating at the same time in Europe. The Thalys train sets, in particular, linking Paris and Brussels, have to be equipped with seven different signalling and speed control systems and radio communication variants.

I used to travel on the Thalys from Brussels to Paris the odd time, some years ago.

Seven. Seven. Seven different signalling and speed control systems and radio communication variants.

I know Thalys now travels between France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands but even so, you’d have to wonder how in that framework, they manage to need seven different signalling systems.

We all partied. Again. And Again. And Actually, we didn’t

A couple of journalists have written pieces on the hammering the media got for its role in the crash. Michael Clifford is here at the Irish Examiner and Gerry O’Regan is here at the Irish Independent.  In general, they are defending the media against charges that they may have slipped up in terms of the events before the crash.

Sometime in 2000 and sometime again later, around 2003 I think, I went to my bank to enquire about the possibility of a mortgage. I’m not going to name the bank, because it won’t really matter, but in both cases, they both were happy to give me a mortgage; it’s just the amount of money concerned in both cases came nowhere close to funding any reasonable accommodation that was within a reasonable distance of where I worked.

Around the time, I also variously looked at apartments and have very clear memories of visiting a 2 bedroomed apartment in Balbriggan. I specifically remember it because it was the first showing, it was packed, and while it was at the top end of what I was going to manage between mortgage and deposit, there was always, you know…that hope. That apartment started off at 220,000E when the doors opened. While I was looking at the bathroom and one of the bedrooms, it made its way up to 300,000. I left because what was the point. This wasn’t in 2006 – I had more or less given up looking at places at that stage – it was earlier. And I have to be honest, when I looked at this apartment, it wasn’t really what I imagined my life to be. It was small, massively open plan, the rooms weren’t big, it was dark. The kitchen and the living room were pretty much one. It was designed by someone who was safe in the knowledge they would never want to live there. I wondered was I the only sane person left in the country. Even if I had the 340,000 it was likely to need to secure at that time, I didn’t want it. Especially I did not want it if I had to move fast. Decisions involving multiples of my annual salary are not decisions I like to be making in a snap form. On the only occasion I came close to trying to buy a house, early in around 2010, I think, I visited it 2 or 3 times myself before deciding whether to call in the cavalry in terms of a sanity check.

When I hear people say “they didn’t know” or “it was supposed to be different”, it’s annoying. When I hear peoples way we all partied, or we all lost the ruin of themselves, I feel angry. One of the key reasons for which I didn’t buy property in Ireland in the last 15 years is that for most of it, it hasn’t really been worth the money. The only reason I’ve even entertained the notion is because renting in Ireland is not a walk in the park either. It has been like being between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I have mixed feelings about the media at the moment. In my view, there are times they need to tell us unpleasant truths. A lot of people in Ireland did not lose the run of themselves. They didn’t buy houses they didn’t need, and they didn’t party most of the 2000s. Most of the people I know who did buy were comparatively prudent in terms of what they did buy (as in they haven’t bought 2 bedroomed apartments in Balbriggan). The unpleasant truth which the media has not been telling us is that high and rising house prices are a bad thing. Many people in Ireland have not and still do not want to accept this reality. People who own houses like feeling wealthy; news stories about new paradigms, this time it’s different, tell them what they want to hear.

When people do not want to hear unpleasant truths, that is when I expect the media to step in. You did not need to be an economist in the 2000s to know that repeated loosening of lending standards were a bad thing. They were a sign that houses were getting beyond normal affordability. At the very top of the market, there was anecdotal evidence that people were getting mortgages worth up to 10 times their gross annual income.

This was insane. And yet, people signed up to it.

I can’t understand this. My policy in life, regarding housing, is to pay as little as I can possibly get away with. Here, it seemed to be the complete opposite. People did not want to hear that rising prices were a bad thing because it would have forced them to examine their own behaviour. Most people don’t want to do this.

We didn’t all party. Those who did desperately need the narrative of we all partied because that means, they don’t have to address the fact that maybe they were particularly wrong.

It easier when you can point at all the other people who made the same mistake.

Michael Clifford mentions two people who tried to call a halt. He points out that the difference between journalists and those two people is that they weren’t journalists but economists. One of them was Morgan Kelly. It is safe to say he was not a journalist. He’s a person with no skin in that particular game and his figures were fairly sharp when eventually the media started giving his views a platform. Prior to that, it’s not like the media wanted to give platforms to people who were unhappy with how things were.

The other is David McWilliams. I personally don’t see David McWilliams as anything other than a journalist and the piece he wrote on education which I looked at the other day wasn’t the work of an economist. He is, however, a business man.

There is none so blind as those who don’t want to see. When people claim we all partied, it is because that allows them the nice fluffy thought that they weren’t particularly stupid – every one else was at it.

The problem with that is that, actually, everyone else was not at it. Some of us couldn’t afford to but we’re paying even now for the ones who could.

Windsandbreezes: 16 December 2005: The Dark Art of Economic Forecasting

20 Sep 2006: Just because the internet makes information so much easier

14 Sep 2006: Wobbles or safe





Caran d’Ache GRAFWOOD

I started learning to draw properly recently, mainly because I was bored with photography, had some time on my hands, and liked watercolour pencils. After some interesting attempts at buildings in Dublin, and especially the Neues Rathaus in Munich, I decided a bit more effort needed to be made on basic drawing skills, perspective and all that. It’s like scales for music; practice isn’t exactly the most scintillating activity ever but it makes the nice and fun things easier.

Most of my non-coloured pencils in my art box are watersoluble graphite and when I started trying to draw things with it, I found they were very, very soft. Fantastic in a way – 10 year old me loved soft pencils – but not so much for drawing. So I gritted my teeth and went back to Kennedy’s to see if they had harder Caran d’Ache pencils, or Faber Castells as a second choice. I’m nothing if not brand loyal and to be fair, while they aren’t appropriate for trying to draw the nose of an Airbus just so, the Technalos are lovely pencils, the ballpoints and fountains are lovely pens and the two lots of coloured water colour pencils are sublime. Kennedy’s had a decent whack of the Grafwood pencils which are not water soluble. What little I knew about pencils suggested I needed H variants rather than B variants, so I bought four of them, I think H, 2H, 3H and 4H.

Having tried all four of them at this stage on varying things like faces of very scary people, aeroplanes, more aeroplanes and bits of aeroplanes, specifically wings, I have to say I like them a lot, and especially, I could see myself having H and 2H on hand all the time. They are much harder than what are in any of my mechanical pencils (which I suppose I could also use) but they are a pleasure to draw with. The 4H is very, very hard, and I can’t see myself using that very much, but then, I didn’t think I was going to need pencils like these in the first place so who knows. On my desk, there are a handful of other wooden pencils, 2 crystal Faber Castells which are three sided and I also have some of the special woods collection Caran d’Ache, the 3rd collection I think.

I’m having ethical issues with those pencils. They are gorgeous – I mean seriously gorgeous – but once they are gone, they are gone. So do I use them or not? My instinct is to say yes.

In the meantime, because they were bought specifically for the purpose, and especially because they are nice to work with, the Grafwoods will be the top sketching pencils. I need to do something about storage for them and I haven’t thought about it yet.

If you read any pencil reviews at all (I do sometimes), lots of things matter to people who are serious pencil experts. I’m not one. The Grafwoods come painted with a sort of metallic looking lacquer, and the colour varies with the lead weight of the pencil which makes them comparatively easy to identify quickly. I like this. It makes the lacquer have a second more utilitarian function rather than look pretty. They are a nice weight in my hand. And of course, they feed the brand loyalty which I have had since I was 15 for the company that makes them.

In the meantime, no one is getting to see the actual sketches

RIP John Renbourn

I was saddened to hear of John Renbourn’s death today.

Guitar magazines will have endless debates about who might be the best guitarist in the world. In my view, it was John Renbourn and no one comes even close.

Such a loss. He was 70.

Deutsches Museum

On an island in the middle of the River Isar in Munich is one of the greatest museums in the world. I can say that advisedly. The Deutsches Museum on Museum Island is overwhelming.

It is one of the earliest museums of science and technology in the world, and, I am told, if you were to walk every exhibit, you would walk more than 17km.

In truth, what happens is you walk into the first section, which is full of boats and model boats, you get knocked backwards, and never really recover. They have a terrific aviation section. They have an amazing aeronautical section. They have a mindblowing collection of clocks and weights and balances. They have every sort of textile weaving system. Every sort of printing press that you can imagine. Every sort of ceramic you can imagine. A terrific model railway. A terrific collection of keyboard instruments.

They have holograms.

Most importantly, they have 2 Enigma and one Lorenz cipher machine, plus a bunch of other cipher machines. And an IBM 360 with a punch card reader. Every sort of adding machine and calculus machine or analogue calculator that you can imagine.

The entry fee is eight euro fifty. It is worth every cent and you will come out a complete wreck having not seen everything.

access to art

There’s a moment, when I have a blank page in front of me, and I freeze. I can’t draw, and I’m faking it.

I won a prize for art at school when I was about, oh 9 or something. I was surprised. Other kids were better at drawing at me – I saved most of my effort for my times’ tables. And art class at school, well…we had it a couple of hours a week but we just sat down, attempted to draw stuff, and generally I had indifferent to a complete lack of success. I was pretty handy drawing the diagrams for the chemical experiments but you know, a ruler got you out of a lot of trouble for that.

I really regret this now.

One of the things which really gets on my nerves is people saying “I can’t…” and yet I was doing the whole “I’m not that great at drawing” act which is a little bit hypocritical. And I happened across an unusual movement (unusual for me, that is) called Urban Sketchers.

I like the idea of location drawing although more honestly, I prefer the sort of art travel journal side of things. So I don’t always sketch on location, but often take reference photographs and do some art journalling later. Sometimes it’s hard as in, I haven’t done anything of note today, and there’s nothing to draw.

I like water colours but I struggled with them, and then I discovered watercolour pencils. Sketch with the pencils and then apply water using a brush. I’d like to say simples, but the sketching bit is hard.

Of course, the one thing that  happens when you pick up a new hobby is you become invaded by a certain amount of gadget freakery. The reason I had welding glass handy for this morning’s eclipse which I missed anyway was some camera related gadget freakery. Painting/art is no different. You have no idea how many pencils are to be got. Spend any time reading pencil review blogs where they are just discussing the sort of pencils I had at school and you realise that beyond computers there is a level of geekery which cannot be equalled. I love mechanical pencils but this is something completely different. And then there is the paper. Which is not exactly perfectly available at the moment either. Plus I am choosy.

For the purposes of the pencils, I use a mixture of four sets. My absolute loves are my Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelles. They are lovely to colour with. They are also impossible to get in Ireland. Mine were acquired in the London Graphic Centre and I have a set of 12. Caran D’Ache sell a couple of configurations, and the pencils can be got individually too. In an ideal world, I’d have the full set of 72. It may be possible to ask Kennedy’s Art Supplies on Harcourt Street to order them as they are Caran D’Ache retailers.

In addition to them, I have a set of Faber Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, also 12, with a slightly different selection of colours. There is also, I think, a 120 colour set of those. In fact, about 4 years ago, Faber Castell did a special anniversary box set of all their premium coloured pencils. I would kill for one. I really would. It’s a beautiful thing. I got my Albrecht Durers from the London Graphic Centre, although they can occasionally be got in some form, usually 12, I think, from the Art’n’Hobby Shop and I have seen them in Kennedy Art Supplies for definition. Evans may have them as well but I’m not sure about that.

The first water colour pencils I got were actually Caran D’Ache’s as well, and I only had a couple of them initially, and they were from what was, until 2013 when the Museum set was born, their premium line, the Supracolor II set. They come in boxes of varying sizes – mine is 18 – but I think the biggest set you can get is around 120 as well, either in a tin box, or a presentation wooden box. I covet that presentation wooden box. I got them in Kennedy’s Art Supplies on Harcourt Street which is, incidentally, a lovely shop. I’m pretty sure Cork Art Supplies have them as well although I’ve never been in there.

The other set, which is probably easier for most people to get, because they came from the Art’n’Hobby Shop, are Derwent Inktense. They are slightly different in terms of make up – I’m not an expert on what’s inside the wooden pencil case. In addition to Inktense, which is pretty much Derwent’s premium watercolour pencil range, they do a straight range of Watercolor pencils which can be got in both Easons and the Art’n’Hobby Shop. My experience is that as far as the watercolour pencils and the Inktense range are concerned, Jervis Street tend to have both, and it’s pot luck with the other branches.

In terms of quality, the Museums are out on a plain of their own, far out ahead of the others. I love them. Next in line, it’s difficult to call a difference between the Albrecht Durers and the Supracolor II. I mix and match. Of my own supplies, the ones I am least likely to use at the moment are the Inktense. The set I have is a 37 piece set including a large number of Inktense blocks. If I had my time back, it’s possibly I would not get the set that includes the blocks (although they have their uses the odd time).

Paperwise, that’s a bit more hassle. The selection of paper on offer in Dublin is…disappointing. The current art journal is going into a mixed media A4 pad by Canson as it’s the right size, there’s more than 12 sheets in it. It’s not pure watercolour paper but it’s doing what I want it to do. There aren’t a lot of other choices and I haven’t tried enough of them to write a definitive view on which is my favourite. I know for the art journaling I like A4 sized paper. For anything outside the art journal, I haven’t really settled yet.

Watercolour paper comes in a couple of different guises, in terms of how it’s pressed, how textured it is, and who manufactured it. Most common, I have found, is Cotman, closely followed by some form of Langton, with Daler Rowney Aquafine and Nouvelles Arches occasionally to be found. From the point of view of a small travel journal, there does exist a Moleskine watercolour sketch book but I have never seen it for sale in Ireland.

The other gadget you’ll require for this game is some sort of brush. I use water brushes which are handy little freaks which you can fill with water and avoid the having to carry water around with you. You have to make sure you get them clean before contaminating colours, and you can use them for pan watercolours as well. I’ve never tried the tubes so we won’t go there.

They are not easy to find in Ireland, sometimes, but the Art’n’Hobby Shop chain tends to have some examples. I got a Caran d’Ache one at the London Graphic Centre and based on my current limited knowledge, they only appear to manufacture one size. Derwent sell three sizes which you can occasionally get in a three pack (recommended, in my experience, that’s usually 3 for the price of 2 priced), and the only other brand I’ve seen here are Pentell, one of which I own.

Being honest, the one I use most often is one of the Derwent ones, their number 3. It’s a nice brush and it has the benefit of being comparatively easy to replace as yes, the Art’n’Hobby Shop tend to have them. The Pentel can be generous, and overly generous, with the water. I love the Caran D’Ache one, but I tend to be mean with it because I can’t get them here. It’s likely that the next time I see them, I will buy two or three. The Derwent one I am using at the moment is starting to show signs of suffering.

I also have five or six Daler Rowney brushes. Theoretically I need to carry a bottle of water and water receptacles around to use them. I tend not to. Having used them in the past, they are very nice brushes, and the range I own gives me a lot of flexibility.

Parker 51

So someone with the initials AK decided they’d had enough of their Parker 51 and sold it to one of the antique outfits who turn up at Clontarf Castle. Last week, I bought it.

It’s a black pen, dates, I think, from the late 1950s. It has a black body and a rolled gold top. AK, or someone known to them, had it engraved with their initials. The clip is loose and the button on the top of the cap is missing. The cap has a couple of dings on it otherwise but the body is in broadly good condition and the nib appears to be a gold nib.

It has an Aeromatic filler, and, interestingly enough, it just have been in use until very recently. I bought it expecting it to be dry and looking at the ink reservoir on it, expect it would take some flushing to clean. However, this may or not be the case. The pen turned out to be full of black ink. It may have had blue in it at some stage as blue came out when I started to flush it, but once I realised it was actually full of ink, I stopped cleaning it and had a closer look. What is in it now (and what hasn’t appeared to run out yet) is black ink. I don’t own a true black ink in my ink collection. I have a very dark blue called Midnight Blue courtesy of MontBlanc, and I have what can best be described as a light black – ie black with some very dark grey shading – called Onyx from Pelikan. Neither is as black as this. Bearing in mind that the pen was bought in Ireland, it is most likely that it was filled with a commonly obtainable black ink here, and that’s must likely to be Quink with a possibility also of Waterman. I may buy a bottle of Quink for the pen as I am not sure I want to put any of my brighter colours.

With that out of the way, the Parker 51 is basically an iconic pen. If you spend any time around pen nerds at all (the internet has quite the community of them) the Parker 51 is spoken of in terms of being one of the greatest fountain pens of all times. It is no longer manufactured, but lots of them were made and there are plenty of them available on Ebay, and they turn up in antique/vintage shops from time to time. I’ve always been a little bemused by this. I have one Parker jotter and it’s nice but it’s not earth shattering. I own quite a few pens (trust me, while I have a problem with pens, it’s not a Problem) and probably the two most interesting ones are a Waterman and a Cross. They are not as expensive as the Caran D’Ache fountains that I have but they  are probably easier to write with.

The Parker 51 is significantly easier again. It has the ease of operation of one of my best Lamys (these can be nib hit or miss – the best is very very good, the worst is replaced ASAP). The Parker flows across the paper. It might be the smoothest pen I have owned so far. It doesn’t look like a fountain pen in certain respects – the nib is almost totally engulfed with only the pointiest bit poking out from its plastic hood – and its rounded ended body looks a bit space age, ca 1950s. It is a pen which looks vintage, and old fashioned. The shape is similar to a Platignum I picked up the same day (which is writing awfully and definitely needs a major clean) although the Platignum was clearly a less expensive pen at the outset, and is a much smaller pen. It is also in better condition cosmetically.

I’m surprised really. I didn’t expect to love this pen or find it writes as well as it does. The nasty thing is is I’d probably take a second one if I got the opportunity and put blue ink in it. I really don’t think it’s the kind of pen you put orange, pink or turquoise ink into. Maybe dark violet might be alright.

The Parker 51 came with a number of different filling mechanism. Mine is Aeromatic which means it’s not from the earliest array of Parker 51s. There is some discussion online to suggest that the Aeromatic fillers are a little more bulletproof than the older Vacumatics. I’m not enough of an expert to be certain why – I believe it has something to do with the build materials. However, the net result is that if you get a Vacumatic, it really should be serviced by someone who knows what they are doing before you put ink in it.

I paid 25E for mine which is not bad. As I can’t date it, I can’t open market value it for certain, but it has some cosmetic damage and it is engraved. Prices online for the pen vary greatly but it looks as though 25E is a good enough price for the pen. Most pens of this age are likely to have some cosmetic damage and some pens very similar to this one are commanding 4-6 times the price online.  The nib appears to a medium nib which puts it in the slightly rarer category for those pens.

Regardless of any resale value it might have, I’m really glad I bought it. I don’t even know what the pen actually looks like when I am writing with it, so perfect a feel is it. I’d be very sorry to lose it. It has a permanent place on my desk. As mentioned above, if I happened across a second one, I probably would take it if it were an Aeromatic and and in reasonably good nick. I own about 30 other fountain pens and in the grand scheme of things, I don’t actually need any others.

But…yeah this is lovely.


RIP Terry Pratchett

My world is mourning the loss of Terry Pratchett. I heard, via a text from a friend, in the most incongruous place of all, a Tesco carpark, that he was gone. And my heart sank.

It’s one thing to know he was ill. That he’s gone is a whole other deal, and not one I’m happy to be accepting. But this is reality sometimes. It doesn’t do fairness, and it doesn’t do the things that make us happy all the time. But the world will never be without Terry Pratchett. He left a lot of himself scattered about the place.

The first Terry Pratchett book I read was Equal Rites, sent to me as a birthday present by a young man whom I haven’t seen in some years. We’re neither of us very young any more, but somehow that doesn’t matter. Equal Rites, I read, sitting on a brown carpet clad floor in a house in one of the less remote parts of France. The town even had a TGV station (after a certain amount of fighting with the SNCF) to bring all the summer tourists. And I laughed. And I cried. I read any number of books as the fit took me, but I had never read anything like this, never encountered a book which made me feel this happy, and to some extent, I never have since. It was the power of surprise.

Most of the obits that are starting to turn up will tell you that PTerry wrote 70 books. Someone who leaves that legacy may never be truly gone.

3D printing people

Via twitter and the Guardian, I arrive at this today.

For those who want not to sully their browing history, Will.i.am, a former popstar, but now Chief Creative Officer of a 3D printing company called 3D Systems, has suggested that:

“Eventually 3D printing will print people,” said Will.i.am. “I’m not saying I agree with it, I’m just saying what’s fact based on plausible growth in technology.”

“Unfortunately that is the reality, but at the same time it pushes humanity to have to adhere to new responsibilities,” he said. “So new morals, new laws and new codes are going to have to be implemented. Humans – as great as we are – are pretty irresponsible. Ask the planet. Ask the environment.”

I’m just saying what’s fact based on plausible growth in technology.

So, here’s a quick primer: we can already 3D print human forms. We’ve been doing it for years with modelling clay, stone, metal, you name it. Even if you used a 3D printer to print a human form with a high level of exactness, all you will wind up with is a statue.

It does not matter how far 3D printing technology improves in Will.i.am’s lifetime, the fact remains that 3D printing on its own will print at most a highly detailed statue. What Will.i.am should be concerned about, if he’s getting worried about stuff on the moral plain is artificial intelligence. And that debate is already happening. Will.i.am is looking at the wrong technology in terms of ethical concerns. Unfortunately, someone in De Zeen and someone else in the Guardian gave him the platform to come across as being completely dumb about this.

Artificial intelligence does not need a human avatar to cause problems (assuming it gets to the point that it can). And while I don’t necessarily agree with Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk’s concerns at present, the point is, building a statue is of zero concern. Building a creative thinking machine on the other hand is a bit more concerning from ethical points of view. But if you ask any AI specialist, they will tell you we’re a good way away from that right now too.

In the meantime, I have to wonder how someone who makes comments like the above gets a job. If I can possibly help it, I will never have any dealing with the company that hired Will.i.am in a high profile role that allows him to mouth off like this.

things I’ve always dreamed of having

  1. a grand piano
  2. a pair of pointe ballet shoes. I can’t dance and have never studied ballet but they look very pretty. Thanks to Pinterest, I have seen ballet dancers’ feet. They don’t look so pretty.
  3. a pair of white skating boots. Another pointless exercise as there is the grand total of 0 permanent skating rinks in Dublin and I choose not to go to the temporary ones for various reasons. I blame Noel Streatfeild for that one.

I’m sure some people would call the piano a lot but I found a Kawaii I really liked, a second hand one, in a piano dealer in north Dublin a while ago, and it cost less than half the price of my Fiesta. Sometimes I think we set the wrong priorities when we demand people be Sensible all the time. Is the world really that damaged by my having a piano rather than a newer Fiesta?

I’m sure there are other things on the list. But those ones have been there since I was very young.