EU membership and Hungary

This is interesting.  Per AP, Viktor Orban yesterday reaffirmed Hungary’s membership of NATO and the European Union.

Hungary’s prime minister said Friday that despite differences of opinion, the country must remain a member of the European Union and NATO.

I don’t have so much of an interest in NATO (I really don’t have time and Ireland isn’t a member) but I do take an interest in matters in the European Union and Viktor Orban was at the European Parliament last week or the week before taking some criticism over, amongst other things, the death penalty. In particular, he met significant criticism from Guy Verhofstadt.



Coloured pencils

One of the things which has astonished me lately is that there are people out there making youtube videos showing you how to use Crayola coloured pencils to make eyeliner.

Anyway, this is by way of an aside. I bought a couple of sets of coloured pencils in the last couple of months and now I am going to rabbit on about my endeavours to be mildly artistic.

If you’ve read my previous lyrical waxing on pencils, you’ll know that I have a focus on watercolour pencils. However, I didn’t get any more watercolour pencils (this was a mistake as I should have bought two sets of Museum aquarelles but that’s by way of an aside) but focused on water resistant pencils this time. The first set I got were a dozen set of Faber Castell Polychromos, and the second was an 18 set box of Pablos by Caran D’Ache.

Much of my late night youtube crawling features coloured pencils and reviews of same. I got the dozen Polychromos for two reasons: 1) I’ve seen some stunning dry pencil art and 2) a box of 12 was not expensive, not compared to a box of 24 or 48 anyway. If you’re not going to go any further…no point in outlaying a lot of money. My strong belief is if you are going to do something, you should get the best tools you can possibly afford, hence my decision to skip the Crayolas for now.

I like the Polychromos pencils. They are nice to work with and really, the primary disadvantage with them, as is also the case with the corresponding Albrecht Durer box of 12 watercolour pencils is the lack of colours you get. Blending the dry pencils is harder than blending the watercolours and so, there’s more flexibility with the watercolours (plus I’ve extended the available colours with a few additional purchases). This tends to limit what I do with them. The other minor issue is that they are round pencils.

I could write a long essay on pencils, and talk about how round mechanical pencils are okay but round wooden pencils are not. Suffice to say all my watercolour pencils are hexagonal and they are more comfortable in my hands. It isn’t a deal breaker, but…

Anyway. When I was drooling in Schleiper a few weeks ago, I spent some time on my knees in front of boxes of Caran D’Ache pencils and trying to decide what I should best do. I eventually decided to best buy a box of 18 CdA Pablo coloured pencils. Mainly I did that because whatever they had in the way of Luminance pencils were outside my “I can justify this to myself” price range.

(and likewise the Museum Aquarelles).

The Pablos are beautiful pencils, and because they have a slightly wider range and are hexagonal, I’m more inclined to reach for them than I am for the Polychromos.

Leaving aside the openstock pencils I have bought, one of the interesting things is that the colours in the Pablo and the Supracolor II boxes line up exactly, as do the colours in the Polychromos and Albrecht Durer boxes. I think this is a good thing. I’ve augmented both the Supracolor and Albrecht Durer sets with some individual pencils from the openstock options which I can get here so I have some more flexibility. I’m not currently happy with how these are stored and if I’m deeply honest with myself, I probably should have gritted my teeth and bought a full colour set from one or other range.

Theoretically, as a photographer, I really shouldn’t be seeing art as expensive. But I have a shopping list of pencil stuff that I’d like and that’s not going to come cheap. There are things I’d just like to have.

  • 120 box set Supracolor II
  • 80 box set Museum Aquarelle
  • 120 box set Luminance
  • 120 box set Pablo
  • 120 box set Polychromos
  • 120 box Albrecht Durer.

There is probably around 1500E worth of pencil sets there.

Which is, of course, far less than I spent on camera gear in the day.

That aside, I probably need to look at prioritising and if I do cough up serious money for full colour sets of pencils any time soon it will probably be the Supracolor II tin set and the Pablo set. These will cover me for everything that’s not covered by my graphite collections.

In the meantime, I have an art journal under way which is mainly watercolour pencils and fineliner with one or two graphite sketches. mostly these are done after the fact, based on reference photographs or reference sketches from my handbag sketch book. I’ve found that sketching makes airplane journeys go faster for example.


Schleiper Creative

I was in Brussels a few weeks ago looking up the European Union’s open house event. When I was europeanunioned out, I took a trip to an art supply shop called Schleiper. When I say it was by some distance the best art supply shop I have ever been in, I am being deadly serious. None of the art supply shops in Dublin come even close. Schleiper is heaven to someone like me.

Schleiper covers my notepad needs, my coloured pencil needs and my watercolour and sketch pad needs. If I hadn’t flown hand luggage only, I’d most likely have done quite a bit more damage than I did. As it was, I picked up two A5+ notebooks that I use for my diary but with MOAR pages (note to self: well stocked up on diary notepads for around 5 years) mainly because I just can’t get them here. I gazed wantingly at the wall of Atoma notebook supplies. I really wanted loads of that too but the purposes for which I’d want them isn’t yet clear and there’s no point in doing the shopping until you know exactly what you want.

They had the best supply of painting gear that I’ve seen. Easels, canvases, paints, the lot. And they were good on coloured pencils too.

In the end, I bought what I call a handbag sketch book (because the ones I like are not commonly obtainable at the moment). This is a sketchbook that I keep in my handbag and basically sketch into with a fineliner pen when I’m, oh, queuing to get on a pen, wandering around a museum and such. I’m not very good at drawing and so I need to practise. It’s easier to do that if you have a sketchpad to hand all the time. A5 is the biggest I get in my handbag but it’s that bit too big. The next size down that I find in Ireland is too small.

This is somewhere between too small and too big so I like it. I haven’t finished out the current (fiasco of a) A5 but I’m getting close and so…I had to force myself not to buy several of these small ones but I’m angling to go back there within six months (by which time I should have run out of handbag sketching supplies) and will…do the needful at that time.

On the coloured pencil front, I was prudent and with the balance of hindsight, this was a mistake as Schleiper had a discount sale the day I was there and I think they knocked 20% off what I bought. I really should have gone straight back in and … I bought an 18 pencil box of Pablo pencils as I wanted some dry coloured pencils. In truth, I should have bought all the other things I have.

My personal view of the staff in Schleiper is that they are unfailingly polite and very helpful. In addition to the pencil and paper stuff I wanted, they had notebooks (which I didn’t know I needed and which makes any stationery shop in Dublin look like a village store) and supplies for absolutely every other creative activity you could want including cake decorating, knitting, chocolate making sewing, and every type of paper based art.

I fully recommend the place if you can find it. It’s not too far from the European Parliament in Brussels.

2015 – Dublin International Piano Competition

This is just a brief note. I was at the finals of the Dublin International Piano Competition the other evening.

There were four finalists, including one who had been in the finals three years ago. I missed most of the early rounds so my judgment really is based on what I heard in the finals.

My personal view is that the most promising of the four was a 20 year old American called Alex Beyer who played Beethoven. After that, I would have given a toss between Catherina Grewe and Nathalia Millstein. In the end, the jury went with Ms Millstein. I hope I am spelling the names correctly.

In terms of the music we heard, there was a preponderance (as usual) of Russian concertos, with only Beyer venturing too far west to Beethoven. In general, four very good performances, and to be fair, Nathalia Millstein did a technically very precise rendition of Prokofiev 2. I am not a fan of Prokofiev’s piano music, it must be said.

What annoyed me most, however, was nothing to do with the stage, but the behaviour of the audience. One pair got up and left – from the middle of a near front row – in the middle of the first performance. Someone else had a mobile phone text message in the middle of the third performance. A significant number of people arrived sufficiently late that they were not allowed in until the second performance. Over the course of the evening, a lot of people saw fit to leave mid performance.

Dublin has one of the finest piano competitions in the world. It would be nice if it wasn’t taken for granted. John O’Connor has ended the last two pleading for money.


Open days in Ireland

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Brussels to have a look at some of the European institutions’ open day events (mostly I stayed with the European Commission). You had to queue to get in but mostly, the queues went quickly and there was a lot to see and visit. One of the things which struck me is that perhaps, we could look at doing something like this in Ireland. We sort of do already but I don’t think many Irish people seriously buy into it.

On Saturdays, if you are so minded, you can go to the National Gallery, pick up a ticket and go and have a tour of Government Buildings and the Taoiseach’s Office. It wasn’t said, but if I remember rightly, those tours were instigated by Albert Reynolds when he was Taoiseach. Basically, you get an introduction and brief history of the building, a look at some of the noteworthy art pieces, a tour of the Taoiseach’s Office and a visit to the Cabinet Room. When I did it, only 8 people were on the tour and apart from the tour guide, I was the only Irish person.

Something I discovered during the week is that when the Dáil is not sitting, on weekdays, you can go to Leinster House for a tour. There are tours at 10.30 and 2.30 on non-sitting days. You need to go to the Kildare Street entrance 15 minutes ahead of tour time. I plan to do that some time soon as one of the things which struck me when I did the Government Buildings tour was that a similar tour of Leinster House would be desirable. But again, I am not sure how many people take up this opportunity. It is something which might be interesting to know.

That aside, however, I wonder what the impact on citizen political engagement might be if there was more access to the governing institutions; not just the Dail and Government buildings, but the various county councils and city halls as well.

Open days at the European Institutions

Around 9 May every year, the European Institutions run an Open House event. If you’re in Dublin, you’ll find some events (this year food related) on the nearest work day (which on this occasion was Friday 8 May). If you can go to Brussels, and have an interest in the European institutions, it’s worth a trip.

Via Facebook, I was sent the SCIC agenda for the day. SCIC is that part of the European Commission which is responsible for conference and meeting organisation, and, for my purposes, the interpreting service. There were a few discussions on the table which I wanted to hear, and there also was an opportunity to hear a few Commissioners speak. We hear a lot about how distant Europe is and, if you never seek it out, it can be.

What struck me most about the day is this is something we could do in Ireland in some respects as well, not just from a European perspective, but from a civic interest in our country perspective.

A couple of talks stood out for me. I was impressed with Maroš Šefčovič’s discussion on energy policy unity. Marianne Thyssen also spoke comprehensively about youth unemployment. Both Commissioners took questions from the floor and in particular, an organisation with a specific interest in youth unemployment in Belgium took the opportunity to engage directly with Ms Thyssen. This is the sort of access which is often really not possible and yet I think there is a lot to be said for it.

However, possibly one of the more important ones was the presentation on the European budget. The budget for the European Union as a whole, is 145 billion euro. This compares very well to most national budgets (it’s less, for example, than the budget for Belgium itself). One of the key points this presentation highlighted is that we do not really know enough about how Europe works. I’d tend to agree with this for various reasons and I’ve wondered how we fix this when people are unwilling to recognise the difference between Europe, the European Union, The European Commission, The European Parliament, and the different pieces which make up the jigsaw.

Apart from that, the question of machine translation and the possibility of automated interpreting were discussed. As someone with more than a passing interest in both, I found those two presentations interesting although I had expected something different from the interpreting. In simple terms, we are closer to automated translation than to automated interpreting, and this does not surprise me based on my knowledge of artificial intelligence in both fields. A lot more work is required for voice/language recognition to even get automated interpreting off the ground and although there have been signal advances in machine translation, arguably, it is still somewhat limited in quality terms. It is very heavily dependent on a body of translation done and corrected by humans. Much of that is linked to our approach to natural language processing.

The presentations were in a number of languages and SCIC had a couple of teams of interpreters on hand to handle the meetings and presentations. Without wanting to go into that detail too much, they provided language channels in French, German, English and Dutch, and accepted speaker input in Latvian and Slovakian in addition. The conference room in question, the Schuman Room in the Berlaymont which is that iconic EU building which has been in geography school books since the 1980s, is a gorgeous room to work in (you can trust me on this), and they opened up 9 interpreting booths for people to have a go. If you know anyone who has even the remotest interest in interpreting, it is a golden opportunity. I did it although strictly speaking, I already knew how it was going to go. Which is basically fun.

Apart from the conference stuff, in the Commission, every DG had a stand with information. If you wanted to collect informative leaflets, books, and other bits and bobs, it was terrific. I was limited by hand luggage considerations so didn’t go completely wild. I favoured Eurostat’s publications however.

This was all the European Commission. It’s worth knowing that a 10 minute walk away, the European Parliament was running events for the day and across the road, the Council of the European Union had opened up access as well. I just didn’t have time to do it all.

I think there’s a lot to be said for events like this; events which open up access for European citizens. I found it interesting and informative, and it offered experiences that I think would benefit most young Europeans.

Household logic fails

We don’t have what the Americans call a junk drawer. Actually, we even have fewer drawers than my mother has in her kitchen. We have four drawers which have, approximately, the following:

  • The most commonly used table cutlery plus some kitchen tools
  • Some more kitchen tools
  • The herbs and spices (in a shallow drawer is the only way to do this and the nice people at Schwartz are now putting labels on the top of the jars so win all round
  • the aprons, trays and a very nice aperitif dish set I picked up in France about 10 years ago. It has lighthouses on it.

The net result is that batteries are distributed around the house as are more batteries. Yesterday I found the string in the bottom of a bag that contains about 100 blank recordable CDs or DVDs. With some 3.25″ floppy disks. I don’t have much call for thread.

Some time ago, I decided that this wasn’t an ideal state of affairs, having not been able to find the spare batteries for the remote control again, and invested in one of those organising boxes. I had one for jewellery making stuff already but about 1000 American organising blogs talked about these boxes like they were the second coming of Christ. They recommended a particular one with adjustable walls on the interior which I could not get here.

I’m familiar with these boxes. Mostly in my life they have had screws in them. I grew up in a mechanic’s household. Anyway, I bought one at one of my local sources which was either Woodies, Home Store and More or some craft shop or other. Who knows, and into it I fed the useful things that most people put in junk drawers like the spare batteries from the remotes, the spare batteries for the kitchen timers, the spare USB cable for the camera or whatever else you want to plug into the computer. It was put safely and since then, I have had no difficulty finding batteries as required. Such as this morning when one of the timers became really illegible. I need to buy a couple of replacements for that but I digress.

At some stage on Friday night, one of the pictures in my own room fell down. I have no idea, and it must have gone down with a clatter because at least one of the pieces of art equipment under it has been broken. The pictures hang on 3M command strips and the picture in question is a large canvas of the sea off the Old Head of Kinsale with many stunning shades of blue. I love it, probably because it reminds me that however long I’ve been in Dublin, there is life outside the M50 and it is generally far more beautiful. I slept through the crash and wallop less than a metre from my head which, in one respect, is a bit sobering. Dripping taps wake me, as do the student parties 400m away on the other side of the estate.

So, I was reasonably sure I still had a few command strips * somewhere * but the logical place for them, the jewellery cum craft cum whatever you’re having yourself was completely devoid of them. I gritted my teeth and went to Tesco to get some. They had a variety which frankly looked a bit like Velcro but I risked it, got them home and discovered I had picked up that part of the range which was, in fact, a bit like Velcro, but not Velcro (probably because this wasn’t really Velcro, just a bit like Velcro but not like it at all). Either way, it wasn’t two sided sticky so…yeah. Bit of a problem there.

Today then, I went to Woodies, and stood, as you do, completely rumbled by the vast choice of Command strip products, frantically looking for spare strips like the one that was on the hook of the picture that fell down, gritted my teeth and bought a new set of hooks on the grounds that – and this pains me because it’s rarely true – they’d always be useful. I got some hooks for the inside of the wardrobe as well to hold things like those canvas bags we all have loads of now but can never find because they don’t have a home.

And rehung the picture, probably slightly at a different height, did the inside wardrobe hook, hung the bags and hoped none of them would fall.

Later, I decided that actually, the place mats that usually live with the stuff in the bottom drawer could possibly come out, and maybe the trays could do with being organised, discovered the aperitif dishes and idly wondered whether there was some other prettier use they could be put to.

And found 6 Command hooks with a dozen spare strips that would have saved me 16E in Woodies this morning if I had realised that in fact, although I thought I didn’t have a junk drawer, I did.


Is your body beach ready?

The UK got into a bit of a tizz about an advertising campaign which ran posters in the London Underground lately. I think they might all be gone now – I don’t live in London – but basically, the consisted of a bikini clad model and an implication that you needed to have an acceptable body to be beach ready.

This is drivel of course, but it caused much debate, many columns on websites because of course, people just want to voice their opinion on stuff, and decry other people getting professionally insulted and all sorts of related good clickbait like that.

I found it depressing. I have been known to spend a significant amount of time on the beach and for my purposes, bikinis have been less than suitable.

Here’s why.

1) if you are carrying 24kg of camera equipment, the camera bag will wind up strafing at some point. It also rubs off sun protection cream which means your black Lowe Alpine camera bag does not get sunburnt, but you do, and what’s more, at those points which the camera bag will strafe. Hurty Hurty Hurt.

2) if you are going in the water taking photographs, it gets cold, no matter how sunny. Let me tell you, being cold and sunburned at the same time is a bad thing.

3) Putting on sun cream is horribly messy; invariably you miss bits and invariably you wind up sunburned. My personal preference is to cover up.

4) if you have decent breasts at all – by which I mean more noticeable than the sound of a feather falling in the night – bikinis are low on support.

So if being beach ready bodywise means being able to wear a little yellow bikini, the likelihood is that I will never find one that I feel comfortable in even if I was several sizes smaller because the whole breast thing, you see, and in any case, being beach body ready, in my case, means covering up completely so as to avoid getting sunburned.

In the meantime, the company concerned flog a meal replacement shake thing. I’ve never understood the attraction of them and I’ve never been convinced that they are a healthy option compared to eating a balanced food diet but that’s by way of a diversion. Ultimately, companies which flog things to make you want to change the way you look operate on reducing your self esteem and arguably, that’s what this does. In my view, attacking people’s self esteem is a healthy activity either but your mileage may variable. The issue I had with the discussions is they got down to a “we should be allowed to attack people’s self esteem to make them lose weight because being obese is not healthy”. Which leads me to think that a lot of people who post opinions below the line of major UK newspapers didn’t spend enough time in school. Attacking people in this way does not work for everyone, probably doesn’t even work for many of them at all.

Then there was the argument on whether the model looked healthy or not. I am not willing to make a call on that either. And then there was the argument about feminists and how stupid they were which seems to crop up on a regular basis. Naturally it was noted that the only people who were outraged by this were people a) who wouldn’t use the product and b) who weren’t beach body ready.

In many respects, it was all very dreary. I couldn’t even get behind the anti-campaigns, of people standing next to the poster who very clearly hadn’t been Photoshopped and weren’t a size 0 or whatever. Or the ones who voiced the view that “How to be beach body ready: go to a beach”

Mostly that’s because a) I wouldn’t use the product anyway: if you want liquid food, use fruit, a hand blender and some  yogurt. Throw in some nuts if that’s what grabs you. b) I don’t wear a bikini because they’re not really designed for women with breasts per se and c) even if I did, I couldn’t because I am extremely fair and the safest occasion on which I can prance around half naked tends to involve 100% cloud cover and driving rain. Which doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to be honest, when you think about it.

If I wanted to point one thing out about the whole beach body and bikini thing it would be this: in terms of avoiding sunburn, it is nowhere near as safe as simply covering up. And if you’re going to be covering up anyway, is there any need to half starve yourself by using meal replacement drinks in a mad bid to lose a lot of weight in a short space of time?