Category Archives: annoyances

Protecting ourselves…

I went  on a bit of a twitter rant this morning and screwed up the threading which is proof that when it’s longer than 3 tweets, you really should get up, have breakfast and write a blog post instead. Here we are.

I was on holiday last week but since Friday, my newsfeed from Ireland has featured the name George Hook in rather distressing frequency. I don’t listen to the guy’s radio show and have not for a very long time. He wasn’t entertaining as a rugby analyst but as a radio presenter, he annoyed me on a few levels. What did for me originally was a comment to the effect that if you were in a relationship with someone, didn’t you de facto give consent for sex? Well…no. Actually it took a while but even in Ireland we got laws against marital rape. Typically, for sex not to be rape, all participants have to have consented to the activity. It’s not that difficult to understand. Giving consent once is not de facto, consent for every other time a person might want sex, ever.

At some point end of last week, however, he made some comments about a high profile rape case in the UK, details of which I will skip, but in which he made a few comments on how awful the rapists were and then said “But -”

“Buts” like that are not really a good sign. They tend to go a good way towards negating everything that went before the “But”. The general outcome of what he said is that women perhaps have a responsibility not to put themselves in a position of getting raped. This is actually very difficult.

The case he described entailed drink, agreeing to have sex with one person, and somehow getting raped by a few more. Perhaps she shouldn’t have agreed to have sex with that one person, maybe should have drunk less.

I could, to some extent, take elements of that apart and point out that if you agree to have sex with one person, you don’t agree to have sex with all their friends later by default. And this would be still be true.

The thing is, I started wondering, how do you prevent yourself from getting raped. What can women do?

Well, I considered it this morning and concluded that the only way to reduce the risk of getting raped was to avoid men all together. This struck me as somewhat extreme, to be honest. I have a bunch of male friends. None of them have ever tried to rape me. I like to assume that this is more the general way of things because in general, my experience is that people tend to be decent rather than scum.

I just want to guard against those men who are not nice, whom I don’t know and who might rape me. Clearly, the best way to do this is to dress in a way not to tempt them and not to go out partying and have a few drinks. QED. Safe from rape.

Except. Or But.

The problem is personally, this is not my experience. I’m fortunate never to have actually been raped. But I have had a couple of experiences where I have been fortunate. The last one was relatively recent and the following were all true:

  1. it was about 6pm on a Friday evening
  2. I was standing at a bus stop
  3. I was completely sober
  4. I was wearing a pair of jeans.
  5. I was wearing a non-skimpy top.
  6. There were about 8 other people standing around waiting for the bus.
  7. I was asked for directions by a softly spoken person.

I feel very fortunate that there were 8 other people there because once I had given directions, I wasn’t left alone. Despite repeated comments that I was not interested, and I did not want him to touch me. He accused me of lying when I told him I was not interested in the activities that he was proposing. His operational mode depended on not drawing attention so the fact that there were 8 other people meant that walking away was an option. I’m not sure it would have been if there were no potential witnesses.

It freaked me out. I didn’t report it to the police at the time because it’s hard enough to get a rape complaint taken seriously and in this case, you know, I was lucky.

The only thing I did wrong was give directions to someone who asked for directions.

So I get antsy when I hear people talking about what women should do to avoid getting raped because sometimes, merely existing is a risk factor. I sometimes think a lot of men don’t realise just how much of a risk factor being a women is in terms of getting raped. Yes, men get raped as well and to be honest, it’s probably hard to figure out what the exact statistics are because rape is an notoriously under reported crime.

And it nearly always comes with either an overt or implied querying of what the victim did wrong. Did she wear the wrong clothes? Was she too drunk? Did he look a bit weak?

The implication that there’s some sort of an excuse. Something similar plays out with domestic violence.

I used to be friends with a woman some years ago who was with someone for a few years when he started battering her. I saw some of the bruises. He eventually got as far as threatening to kill her – there were a few more details to the threat which I really don’t feel like going into here – at which point she figured that between the bruises she couldn’t cover up any more and some comments he had made about her family, there probably wasn’t anything retrievable there.

But there is often a subtext of “What did she do to draw him on her” when a woman is being abused domestically, or “why is he so weak” when a man is being abused domestically. We call it victim blaming and the annoying thing above all else is that it effectively proffers an excuse to the abuser, the rapist, the attacker. It actually doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing – this does not actually give anyone a right to rape her. And yet, it gets used as an excuse. We need to stop taking those excuses seriously.

There is no given right to sex and yet some men seem to operate under the impression that they have an absolute right to it. It’s worth reading up on the Isla Vista killings as an example of what can happen when this gets taken to extremes.

Women already take precautions in a milion myriad little ways against the risk bad things happening from the moment they get up. Many women in abusive relationships spend their time working out how best to manage their abuser so as to minimise the risk of a blow out. Women walk out the front door, choose not to go certain places, choose not to talk to certain people. These are coping mechanisms which women come up with. But it’s not good advice for men to come together as a society and tell women how to behave because instead of that being safety advice, it is actually controlling behaviour. Instead of telling me not to go jogging in the park on my own, or on realising that I already don’t go jogging in the park on my own, the bestresponse would be to figure out how to make it safer for me to jog in the park on my own. This doesn’t just benefit potential rape victims – it’s good for people who aren’t likely to be rapists as well. They usually get benefit out of the improved lighting or the cctv.

I remember reading a fascinating piece which I have no chance of tracing any more on the question of all the advice that women got given to avoid being mugged, raped, assaulted, murdered. It amounted to a serious amount of activity limitation. Don’t go out after dark, don’t drink, make sure you get home at a certain time, ring someone to tell them you’re safe. The piece operated on what it would be like if, given that most rapists tend to be men, we advised all men to effectively curfew their lives so that the risk of any of them carrying out rapes was minimised to zero. The response was very different. This was seriously limiting, how could they live like this? And yet, that is often what we expect of women. To shut themselves away to some/a lot of extent to reduce the risk of someone else doing something awful to them.

I don’t think it’s all that helpful.

There are a couple of things which I think need to be understood.

  1. you cannot always identify a rapist in advance of being raped
  2. there is no distinct way that you can behave which guarantees that you don’t get raped.
  3. instead of limiting the horizons of women who might get raped, we need to reinforce a value in society that raping women is wrong

In many respects, that’s a peer education thing and in other ways, it’s an enforcement issue. I wrote to Alan Shatter when he was Minister for Justice while I was living in Ireland on the question of rape sentencing after we had a bunch of very questionable sentences on rape/sexual assault conviction.

Rape is a violent crime. That it typically is visited upon women does not make it less violent or less of a risk to society, and when you bear in mind that men who are victims of rape are even less likely to report than women are, you can see the poison that it sows in a society when we don’t treat rapists seriously. This means no excuses. She wore a short skirt? So what. She’s allowed to – you don’t get to rape her just because…we’re not in the business of forcing women to dress a certain way to prevent men from behaving a certain way. She had a couple of drinks? Well why didn’t you wait until the morning before having sex with her? Oh she didn’t know you, why did you invite her back to your hotel room for sex if you didn’t know her?

The questions we ask of victims, we need to ask of rapists. Ask them to account for their behaviour, what they have done, take responsibility for what they have done.

Bodycamming your way through lifelogging

First of all, Seamus has this here and that’s why I’m writing on my own site.

Back in the mists of time, ie, around 2014, I did a couple of university modules on adaptive personalisation and collective intelligence. This saw me playing with recommender systems and fighting with people about whether Duolingo was great or not. I continue to take the view that Duolingo is not great for all sorts of reasons including their own statistical summary of why it works (despite a near 90% drop out rate, yes, quite).

One of the things which came up in those modules – can’t remember which but it was the same lecturer – was some research some guy was doing, I think in DCU, about life logging and the fact that he had cameras going the whole time. I hated the idea. I was out of step with the lecturer concerned, who voiced wonder about how the guy’s girlfriend had turned up in his films a few weeks before he actually met her and hooked up with her.

I hated the idea. I hate the idea of CCTV anyway and already, I have severe issues with the fact that you can randomly turn up in a film which someone shot of where you were despite you not asking to be in their film. I hated the idea that just because some guy wanted to record his entire life, parts of my life got recorded as well. I did not then, and still don’t see the point. I’ve lifelogged for the past 25 years using that high tech system called “pen and paper”. From practice, I can tell you it’s faster to check something in pen and paper than searching through a youtube video for it.

In practical terms if you just want to remember stuff writing it down works. Sometimes words on a page evoke a feeling and a memory far better than a photograph ever does.

I still don’t understand why anyone would want to record everything if they haven’t worked out whether or not they would want to re-watch it. Recording stuff rather than writing it misses context – it misses the context of what’s in your mind, how you feel, how you think about something. Memories are a whole lot more contextual than the external film that plays. For thsoe who do want to do it though, they need to consider how that desire impinges on people who do not want to be recorded into their film, to have their moves recorded by a third party who may mean nothing to them.

If I’d met that guy who was lifelogging away 3-4 years ago, he and I would not have hooked up because I would have found it as creepy as hell.

Cities for living

tl;dr: read this Intelligent urban transport systems

When I left Brussels for Dublin in 1999, I was operating under the assumption that Dublin was becoming a better place to live. The bus system was still catastrophic, but the Luas was under construction, and there was a buzz around the place which suggested there was a focus on how people could live more easily in a city which to be honest, had been a bit of a disaster when I was in college there in the early 1990s. People from Dublin do not tend to like hearing this but fine.

However, against that any time you as a returning emigrant highlighted things that could be done better (and were elsewhere), there was still a prevailing attitude of “Well here’s the Ryanair website, off you go if it is so much better in France”. Most people would take the view that health care in fact was better in France. In general.

I spent 17 or 18 years in Dublin before eventually escaping again. It took about 5 years of planning, battling, thinking about stuff and trying to catch opportunities before it all came together and I got out. The thought of growing old in Dublin depressed me and when I look at debates around certain aspects of living in Dublin still going on I reckon I would be old before Dublin reached a stage where in fact it was an attractive city to live in. Essentially, it can be very difficult to create a healthy life style in Dublin – I managed it for around 12 of the years I lived there and when it went bad, it went quite badly. In the end, I was losing 2-3 hours a day in commuting over a commuting distance of 7 km. It’s one thing to lose that sort of time if you’re travelling 60 km each way. It is ludicrous if the distance is 7km. I walked it one day. It was deeply unpleasant as well.

I’ve long been of the opinion that people in Dublin would be a lot healthier if the place had a coherent, dependable, integrated public transport system. It doesn’t. Not only that, it isn’t getting one any time soon. There is a current project in place which will displace 13 million bus journeys to facilitate something like 1 million bike journeys. There just isn’t an integrated consideration of the question “How do we make this place a good place to live”. Symptoms are attacked piecemeal, other problems are not addressed at all. All in all, if I had to pick one word to describe trying to navigate Dublin, the word Stress would line up.

I whinge at length about public transport in Dublin, but in particular I want to highlight a key problem in that particular city – I am not sure that it is unique to Dublin but my experience is that it is particularly bad in Dublin. It is a city and society in which the default is an unhealthy lifestyle rather than a healthy life style.

For more than 10 years, I worked somewhere that was a guaranteed 20 minutes from where I lived. Every single morning, that’s how long it took me to get there and that’s how long it took me to get home. This meant I had more time to do things like go swimming three times a week, cook in the evenings when I got home without being utterly exhausted, go climbing, do more needlework, go to more concerts. The logistic reality of my life was not all that stressful in the grand scheme of things. When I started working in the city centre I attempted to make public transport work for me because really, it’s more environmentally sound, and in theory it should be a bit cheaper. In reality, the transport times across two jobs in two different city centre locations were either completely unreliable, or consisted of a mode of which one was completely unreliable. I eventually went back driving because the journey times were generally more reliable, and came in at shorter than the public transport options. Again, that was for 7km, and one of them was sa point to point bus service.

People cannot live healthily like this. And yet in Dublin we just took it for granted? Appointment at 7pm? Travel wildly early because travelling on time didn’t guarantee you’d be on time. The amount of time wasted in inefficient travel in Dublin for me was just beyond calculable and it was utterly depressing.

Time wasted like this has all sorts of knock on effects. It puts stress on parents trying to collect kids from childcare, arriving home later from work cuts into time for doing stuff like oh preparing and cleaning up food, doing any sort of a hobby, getting exercise. I can clearly flash back to having spent a crazy amount of time figuring out how best to fit swimming into my schedule and still failing because an 8km journey could take up to 2 hours. Arriving home at 8pm with a need to be up at 6am has a fairly desperate impact on your ability to manage things like a regular healthy eating habit, a reliable sleeping patter and any sort of relaxation. We have increasing rates of burn out and our health indicators are pointing towards obesity and diabetes and other environmental issues in the area of air quality.

As a society we create an environment where the default option is to be unhealthy and to be in an unhealthy environment. It’s a macro level problem. And we expect people to fix it on a micro level. Individuals need to fight hard to sort out diets and eating habits, and getting enough exercise even as they still don’t have time for either and are trying to operate in a lifestyle which is designed to counteract every effort they make. It doesn’t have to be that way.

When you move outside the public transport side of things, there is also the general social issue of presenteeism. Where people work crazy hours and make a virtue of it. Despite the fact that it adds to their stress, adds to the amount of time they don’t spend recovering, doesn’t necessarily add value to their working day. And then they complain about people who they perceive to have easier lives and instead of working on the premise of improving life for all, they look to disimprove life for all

It’s corrosive and it is something we will have to address urgently particularly in the wider context of things like minimum basic income and especially automation of jobs and moves to replace workers with intelligent systems (for a given value of intelligent anyway).

It is clear that we need things to be sustainably financially for things to operate without causing war or catastrophe. But against that, we need to ensure that the benefit of things are shared relatively fairly. We don’t tend to have this debate either and ultimately, it is not going to be healthy to have an increasing number of people unable to find work while another sector overworks itself to an early grave.

I suppose, the point I’m making is we don’t ask whether the way our society operates is healthy and whether our objectives are sane and sensible in terms of enabling people to live healthy lives. I’m not sure how we start that conversation. But I do know that reliable transport would make people’s lives a lot better.

Trail running shoes moan

When I started “running” for a given value of running earlier in the year, I had to go and buy trainers.

This was hard and I wanted two pairs: one to run in and one to mooch around in. I now don’t like the mooch pair and they were Nikes. I loved my trail running shoes. They are a gorgeous black and aquamarine. They are also no longer available. And ASICS have annoyed me by not having nice colours for the replacement range.

Am annoyed. Amazon has the older pair in every size except mine. Mutter, mutter. The search starts again.

On the techbro and Google

At some point when I was doing my Masters, someone leaned on me to apply for an internship with Google. Going to be honest and say I thought it was ambitious for some practical reasons – they were looking for people to work in SRE and I have zero interest in that any more, and I was interested in data analytics and machine learning. They interviewed me; it went badly, they said no. I wasn’t surprised because deep down I knew they weren’t offering internships in an area which interested me in the location they were interviewing for, and what they did want, I really wasn’t. I think I got leaned on to apply by the Googler who leaned on me because I was female. But I don’t know for sure and never well. Either way, we weren’t a fit at that point and the way my life has gone since, we probably continue to diverge in interest. I use some of their products and form part of their product and that’s about it.

They were in a no-win situation in the news lately though following a 10 page essay, piece, whatever you like to call it in which a person who will never need to benefit from it cribbed a bit about the Google diversity programmes and trainings. Specifically, he seemed to argue that there was somewhat of a biological reason for which women didn’t seem to make it in companies like Google. It got me thinking, not about the fact that Google didn’t want me, but what it was like to be in tech, listening to these arguments going on. Sure there is a chronic lack of women in tech compared to men, but against that, there seems to be – in the US in particular – a high quotient of assholes working there – in the technology sector, I mean. I am not targeting Google with that comment specifically. I’m not sure the two points are unrelated.

I started working in the IT sector when I was 27 years old. IT is not a vocation, you don’t have to be born to it, and you can learn it later in in life if you want to. But it is not a vocation. This piece seems to me to elude a lot of people talking about tech and in particular, it comes to the fore when people are talking about the pipeline.

You can learn to do pretty much any job in IT if you want.

IME you don’t even have to be a maths genius. I programmed in assembly language for over 10 years. I was sysprog for a mainframe. When I was 13 years old I learned Atari BASIC. I’ve taught myself Python to some extent and have coded in R, Java and I’ve done a year of SQL dev as well.

But despite the Atari BASIC at the age of 13, I wasn’t a tech nerd all the way through school. I could solve problems (I copped how to duplicate computer games on cassettes by realising a twin deck tape recorder could do it when every one around me was messing around with computer tape decks and trying to save stuff from RAM having swapped cassettes). Mostly as a teenager though, for me, the world was music. I played three musical instruments, I sang choir, and I did dancing lessons.

I did not hide in a room doing computery stuff. When I was 14, I decided I wanted to live in France and figured knowing French would be handy. From then on, my primary motivation was foreign languages. I did my first degree and first postgrad in languages. I’m a qualified translator interpreter.

In my view given a choice between learning to program and learning to speak a foreign language the amount of work in acquiring the foreign language far outstrips any effort involved in getting functional as a programmer. But for the most part, computer programming and related tasks pays more.

When I was doing my machine learning masters, I was sitting in class one day when a fourth year undergrad told me he wanted some advice. He was about 20 years younger than me and he was thinking of doing the same Masters as I was. There was a significant amount of overlap between the modules and I basically told him he’d be wasting his time but fine if that was what he wanted. The conversation moved to the fact that as far as he was concerned, women didn’t like working hard. Did I not notice how few girls were in the classes?

I’m female and I am 20 years older than this guy plus I’ve just told him I worked in system support as a programmer for more than 10 years. Sure there are few girls in the class, although being honest, it’s not as bad as I expected, half the classes were foreign intake – in my year, primarily China – and all told, I didn’t think he was in the place for generalisations.

“Girls” he told me, “did not like work. They really only came to university to find husbands, princesses all of them”.

There were, at the time, plenty of women in the science faculty, not just doing other bits of compsci, but doing assorted natural sciences stuff and biotechnology. TBH, I’ve never done a full engineering degree or done a chemistry degree, but what I do remember is that the people who did – many of which were female – worked harder than frankly, I’d seen any of the compsci students do. Including this guy, who was, after all, looking for a way to avoid getting into the work force by redoing quite  abit of his fourth year and then writing a dissertation to get a masters. I thought his attitude stank.

The biggest work soak of my Masters actually wasn’t a compsci module. I did two stats modules with the maths people – time series analysis and multivariate analysis. Those courses were harder work than anything else I did in UCD. Those classes were about 50:50 women/men. I don’t think it was the lack of interest in work which was the problem, somehow.

The thing is, I worked with a bunch of IT heads in a specialised business, and to be honest, for the most part, my experience is that the men I worked with then were not bastards. But quite a few of them were like me and did not come from a compsci background. I know at least one person had a history degree, one was a languages dude like me although with a different set of languages, and at least one had a background in psychology or sociology, One started off life as an electrician, and I know a couple who went in with school leaving certs as their qualification. Trained by various employers. There was a time you could do that.

When I was in school, we did not have a computer module – it was the mid 1980s when home computers were really only getting there. I had a maths teacher who…was interested in application of maths and a couple of times, he took us off syllabus and spent a week doing some basic macro economics, and he spent a week teaching us BASIC as well without the benefit of anything so much as to run code on. I tended to have a go off it when I could get my brother off the computer.

I went to an all girls school and by the time I got to the age of 16, a key objective of my maths teacher was to retain as many girls in the higher level maths class as he could. He argued massively with any girl who made known a wish to go back to what was called Pass Maths (the syllabus calls it Ordinary Level Maths) from his honours class because they felt they were not up to it. In his opinion, anyone who had made it through the higher level course at junior level was capable of the higher level course at senior level. It was very often a losing battle for him. When we eventually finished up, I think the class had 7 people in it. Out of a cohort of over 60. The school itself, while having some good maths teaching did not necessarily push young women in that direction – my class had a cohort of secretaries and legal secretaries and a few nurses. The higher level physics class was even smaller than the higher level maths class, although for some reason, the higher level chemistry class was bigger. It may have been considered useful for nursing, along with biology.

One thing the maths teacher discussed with us one day, probably after another one of us had stepped back into the ordinary level class. He told us that in general, the boys’ school had bigger higher level maths classes but even so, there were times when the girls – what few of them he got to teach – did better than the best of the boys.

This is probably linked to the benefit of an extremely low teacher pupil ratio, plus the fact that he scheduled extra classes for us every chance he got. On average, in Ireland at the moment, more boys than girls take higher level maths although to be honest, the difference isn’t massive – it is in or around the 10-15% fewer girls mark. This is seriously different to the split on higher level languages where girls far outstrip boys for most languages bar Irish and English. The statistics can be found here.

What does all this have to do with Google Boy and his essay about innate differences? Well women tend to do well in most STEM subjects even the ones who go into computer science, the few of them. So he can write all the essays he likes but..frankly, his points are probably only relevant at the extreme end of the spectrum of the need for brilliance – a location occupied by Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton amongst others. In the early days of computer science, most software was written by women because it was considered beneath the men who were involved in hardware engineering. The position of women in software engineering has changed over time which suggests it’s less the question of innate skill and more a cultural matter.

The other thing is this: the technology industry at the moment is not really in a great place. It has massive security problems, an issue which is going to get worse and worse as we bring more devices online via the internet of things (for example), and as cyberwarfare becomes more of a front than it already is. One of the things I despise more than anything in software engineering is the whole release early and often ethos. You don’t get away with this in certain areas and yet it probably has contributed to a significant amount of the risk run by individuals and companies with respect to their technology assets. The culture is also such that while there are a large number of systems around running old code, the simple fact is that technical debt is more of an issue for more recent systems than it is for the mainframe so called dinosaurs with inbuilt backwards compatibility and a rather different ethos about release early and often (are you stark raving made?).

There is a desperate lack of women in technology. I wonder really how much of it is being culturally driven in a different direction and how much of it is realising that you’d have to work with a bunch of guys like the guys in Uber as a useful example. There are a lot of very bright women around the place. The technology industry is probably missing out. Instead of trying to make excuses for why it is missing out, and in addition to its diversity programmes and efforts to advertise itself to women, I think a period of self reflection in terms of the kind of organisation that seems to float to high profileness in the tech sector might be in order. If one thing is obvious from this debacle, it is that at no point do any of those busily suggesting that it’s alright that there aren’t that many women, or minorities in general in their sector consider that maybe their behaviour contributes to it.

Swim shiny

I am permanently in the market for wearable tech for swimming. I hate to say it like this because I hate the words “wearable tech” where good old gadgets will do.

What I want is the perfect pair of wireless ear buds that don’t move, and a watch which does all the following:

  • stores 6 gig of music
  • tracks my swimming when I start swimming, and tracks every stroke. Unlike my running tracker which considers everything I do as walking, for some reason, even when I run 150m.
  • talks to my mobile phone
  • provides me with swim specific information
  • does not tell me when my phone is ringing because I am in the pool.
  • does not send me text messages
  • does communicate easily with my phone and syncs automatically with my platform independent fitness tracker, Runkeeper

I have spent a lot of my time lately looking for this device and it does not exist. To be fair, the whole wireless earbud thing is not made easier by the fact that sending signals through water is challenging to say the least, and really, if I think about it, there’s a high risk that I’d pick up the signal from that dude splashing around there, listening to Rammstein. Not ideal.

But.

In terms of an actual decent swim tracker, the one which most of my network (hello Jamie) recommend to me is the Garmin Swim with the proviso that Garmin have not updated it in some time. I think the device dates from 2012. It is now 2017. It does not talk to phones as far as I can ascertain, so it does not tell me when my phone rings, or send me text messages, and since it does not talk to my phone, it has to be hooked up to something or other to get the data from it into Garmin Connect which apparently I can then configure to talk to Runkeeper. It is not, by the standards of anything which can be taken into a swimming pool and used to track swimming, particularly expensive, although context matters. When the competition is around 200E and you’re coming in at 125E, you’ll look cheap as well. .But 125E in my opinion is too much to be paying for five year old technology in a sector which is supposed to be cutting edge. The alternatives which seem to be getting kudos in the reviews are the Garmin Vivoactive HR and the Polar V800. I think. They didn’t have it at Intersport today so, I could be mistaken.

I have spent a lot of time reading reviews for fitness trackers and the one thing which has surprised and disappointed me is there are very few swim specific reviews floating around. Almost every single review that covers the swim features of the Garmin Vivoactive and the Polar V800 all give a great detail about their capabilities in terms of step counting, GPS capabilities and stuff that really interests cyclists and runners, but is a bit superficial on the swimming front. There are a couple of others floating around like the Moov and some of the Fitbits. But while the Moov has got some kudos as a swim tracker, the review in question has not been really detailed in terms of how useful it is really for swim tracking.

I don’t own any of these electronics at the moment – the way things are going the Polar V800 is way too expensive, so that leaves the Vivoactive as next most likely. But I feel like I’d be buying blind because no review of them really covers the things I want to know.  Sure the Moov has coaching stuff but all that is irrelevant when I can’t be sure it gives me SWOLF values for swim efficiency. I know I’m not an efficient swimmer but I’d like to at least be able to get changes in how I am getting on. When I look at all the information that I can get together, it really looks as though the Garmin Swim is still the best option. I’ve had the Apple Watch 2 recommended as second best behind the Vivoactive in a test of several devices which did not include the Polar V800 which regularly outscored the Vivoactive in tests where both of them were included.

These are expensive gadgets. I’m not the kind of gadget freak who will be spending 500E a year on a new swim gadget – I want the damn thing to last me 2 or 3 years of regular swimming too. I’m resigned to them not playing music or podcasts at me because you cannot beat the laws of physics (yet). But it’d be nice to get a swim tracker again that actually focused on the needs of swimmers rather than being a bolt on to running and cycling watches.

It would be equally handy for them to actually look attractive. With the exception of the French company Withings who make attractive fitness trackers broadly useless for swimming, wearable tech watches are not really attractive, even the ones that their manufacturers claim are sleek and attractive to wear. I wear a Swiss watch with a traditional clock face and you will get it off my left wrist when I am dead. I’m not interested in wearable tech to replace my watch because none of them come even close. This is why I wish their manufacturers would work on making them do exactly what they are supposed to do in terms of fitness tracking and stop assuming we’re all going to wear them all the time.

In the meantime, I still don’t know what to do about swim tracking. All I can say is I’m not particularly enthusiastic about shelling out 500E for a Polar V800, and in any case, since none of the reviews seem to be genuine in depth reviews of them as a swimming tracking device (as opposed to a water proof device that we checked is it water proof and can you at least get in the pool with it). I’m not the world’s greatest swimmer but as matters stand, I really don’t know what to do when the reviews are just inadequate.

 

All Successful People have smoothies for breakfast

I am sometimes inclined to wonder how many successful people actually read books or watched videos which amounted to “How to be Successful”.

I mean,  you just know that the bosses of a bunch of high value tech start ups get up every morning and tune into the latest “How to be a Boss” vlogs on youtube. And yet there are loads of them. And by the vagaries of Youtube’s near totally useless recommender system which has decided that because I like bullet journaling videos, I am probably interested in other videos by organisational experts who are telling you how to live your life. This morning tossed up an assortment of 20 year old law students with perfect lives selling you their lifestyle. One of them went through a morning routine.

My morning routine is fairly simple.

  • Get up
  • Make my bed
  • Have a shower
  • Dress
  • Get breakfast
  • Pick up bag
  • Walk out the door.

This is it. In fact, I attach a lot of importance to the bed making bit because back when I was a student in student accommodation, my bed was my sofa. The place looked a lot tidier and was a bit more useful if the sofa was usable.

Also – and for me now this is the single most important feature of making my bed first thing – I won’t have to make it 14 hours later when I am falling into bed wrecked. No one sane likes having to do their bed clothes when they are shattered after a hard day at the coal face of sitting in front of a computer and listening to colleagues moaning.

I digress. A common feature of morning routines involves breakfast and the perfect breakfast. This morning, I was informed that smoothie bowls were great. I was a bit bemused by this because I wasn’t familiar with the concept of smoothie bowls. I made smoothies for breakfast for years but recent comments about it being better to eat fruit rather than liquidise it first means I’m less inclined to do them. Smoothie bowls are actually smoothies in a bowl with a pile of fruit plonked on them. I suppose the good point is you get the pleasure of the smoothie with some food chomping. What I’m not so sure about is the assertion that because smoothies were so go for you, probably lots of really successful people must be making them because they are, like, really successful, and smoothies probably contribute to that because they are looking after themselves.

Right.

Gotcha.

Think you are talking nonsense, but anyway.

I’ve watched an awful lot of How to be success in Life type lifestyle videos on Youtube. It is a veritable little industry between telling people how to organise, how to live, how to eat, when to sleep, how to apply make up how much to stuff into life, staring meaningfully into the distance while “studying” . It’s not because I don’t know how to organise mornings. I used to get up at 10 past 7 when I was in university and had a regular little routine going. It never occurred to me that 20 years later people like me would be flogging these routines on Youtube videos. The comment on my grave will be “She was very organised”. It’s just, I like art journals and youtube’s recommender system pulls me down continuingly awful rabbit holes (try looking at one small cat video and you’ll be fighting off recommendations about kitten rescues for months).

I don’t try to monetise this but really, if you want to be successful, following someone else’s morning routine isn’t going to help. There is no moral/financial pay off ratio that makes having a smoothie a tool of success. I was bitterly unhappy for the months I was having smoothie breakfasts; not because of the smoothies (oh they were nice) but because I wasn’t knee deep in the key thing “Find out what you want to do, and what you have to do to achieve it, and do it”. When I figured that out, it really didn’t matter what I had for breakfast.

People who get up early in the morning

Enda Kenny announced during the week that he was stepping down as leader of the party currently in minority government, and this, needless to mention, caused a leadership battle. The two front runners included Leo Varadkar. It was reported during the week that he wanted to lead the party “for people who get up early in the morning”. (Irish Times report)

This is generous of him but it hides something. Many people in Ireland who get up early do so not because they are spectacularly productive but because they have no choice. Leo Varadker wants to lead a party for people who spend 3 to 4 hours a day commuting to jobs in Ireland’s urban centres. Some of these people are not that far from work as the crow flies, it is just they need to negotiate the M50 in Dublin or the N20 and Dunkettle Roundabout in Cork. Leo Varadker was Minister of Transport who shelved the M20 from Cork to Limerick and also, who applied the first delay to Metro North in Dublin. He cut PSO subsidies too.

I used to live in Dublin, and I used to get up early in the morning. Much of that was to ensure I got across the city without spending one hour in traffic. There was a time it was to get stuff done in the mornings, like study, self education and the like. But that stopped when I stopped working somewhere that didn’t involve city centre traffic, for example. When I hear Leo Varadkar talking about being a leader for a party for people who get up early in the morning, he is probably trying to make you think he wants to be a leader for a party for the movers and shakers in the country. Watch any two bit productivity how to be successful video on youtube and many of them will talk about getting up early. Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier. None of them then say “and go to bed 30 minutes earlier”.

But the vast majority of people getting up early in the morning are losing hours of their lives daily to commuting. They are trying to exist as best they can in a country which does nothing if its back is not up against a wall pushing bricks out behind them over a cliff.

We are not talking about armies of Steve Jobs here. We are talking about the kind of people that Theresa May in the UK described as JAMS. Just About Managing.

I’d like to see someone have a vision for Ireland. Radically improved public transport in Dublin and its hinterlands is something which should be built not grudgingly and as little as possible, but with a lot more forward thinking and reality. Stop talking about Metro North and build it. Stop talking about the M20 and build it. Rethink how Ireland approaches public transport. Desire for people to have better lives. Not to be spending hours trying to commute to and from work or school. Desire for more people to be able to live close to work and work on that. This means rethinking how we approach accommodation. Talk about building a better lifestyle for Ireland. Which feeds into better mental health and better physical health. People who are spending 3 to 4 hours commuting daily are shattered. They are not getting enough exercise, they are probably not eating healthily. They are not spending enough time with their families.

Be the leader for a party fighting for these people, Leo. And drop the pity slogans about “people who get up early”.

French Presidential

The first round of the French presidential election is taking place today and I am a little fascinated by a lot of things about it.

The top three candidates are pretty much within the margin of error for polling purposes so it really isn’t safe to attempt to predict the outcome on the basis of polling data. Additionally, there is some variation between the top two which means some polls indicate Marine Le Pen will come first; some indicate Emmanuel Macro will come first.

The coverage in the United Kingdom has been interesting. I know the world suggests you should never read below the line in the Guardian but I find it more entertaining at the moment given Brexit than it has been for years. Below the line on the New York Times is good. We have forgotten to value other people’s views.

It seems to me, vibe wise, that a lot of UK press seems to be gunning for a Le Pen victory and a lot of their commenters (usually ones angling for a free and perfect Brexit) too. Almost as though what is likely to be most disruptive is also most desirable. I call this playing with fire.

You could, to some extent, understand the desire on the part of the average rabid Brexit supporter for Le Pen to win in France as they are being fed a line that this would finish off the hated EU altogether. I consider that a bit childish in my own view – whether the EU continues to exist or not is of limited importance if you really believe what is right for Britain is to be outside the EU. If Britain’s only chance of success is that the EU gets smashed also, then that has to call into question the convictions about Freedom, Independent Britain and a Bright New Future Taking Back Control. I sometimes think they’re a bit like that character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the one who crashes his father’s Ferrari.

Both the New York Times and the Guardian have large numbers of commenters below the line who truly appear to be convinced that France’s only chance is if they vote in Le Pen. On the NYT in particular, some commenters have a focus on how dangerous France is given Terrorism but who don’t appear to understand that regardless of the numbers killed in France through terrorism lately, it is still less than the numbers killed through gun violence in the US since the start of the year. In other words if you want my opinion, the US is probably far more dangerous than France is by some distance and accelerating. France is fighting terrorism. The US is not giving up the second amendment.

I wouldn’t pretend to suggest that France got a great choice of candidates this year but as a country, they are not unique in that. I estimate that the most visionary speech made by a prime minister in the UK in the last 20 years was Hugh Grant talking about David Beckham in Love Actually. And let’s face it, the US voted in Donald Trump who makes absolutely every French candidate look competent and statesmanlike, even Le Pen.

As a general note, I sometimes feel that the English language populations are somewhat poorly served by their media when it comes to news about foreign countries where they do not speak English. Absent forcing every one to somehow magically become fluent in a foreign language, I wonder how we fix this. Force journalists to have some command of the language of the countries they are reporting on, I suppose.

A lot to think about…difficult to find a practical solution.

Myths or not myths

Colm Ó Broin has an article in the Journal today on the subject of the Irish language which annoyed me greatly for a number of reasons. I could add to the dozens responding on both the Journal’s site and on their Facebook page but then when would I bother paying for a hosting package.

Anyway, my primary issue with it is that it’s an incredibly poorly argued piece and it centres on what he considers to be the main myths around the Irish language. For simplicity I am going to list them, and then I will respond to them, and then I will add some other thoughts on the question of Irish in general terms.

  1. Irish is a dead language.
  2. Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish.
  3. Gaeilscoileanna are elitist.
  4. Irish shouldn’t be an EU language.
  5. Irish isn’t compatible with modern technology.
  6. We don’t have to speak Irish.

The number one problem I have with this is that most of these aren’t myths; at best you could say some of them are opinions and some of them are assertions. Collectively they are a strawman, but I am going to comment on each of them.

Irish is a dead language.

No it isn’t and it is not one of the myths I hear being thrown around too often either. However, you would have to be delusional to not accept that it is a language which is living on the edge in terms of endangerment. We are having this entire conversation because the Census figures revealed that the numbers speaking Irish have dropped somewhat over the last 5 years.

A worryingly low number of people speak Irish in daily life although interestingly enough, I know about five of them living here in Luxembourg.

I suppose you could possibly call this a myth because Irish technically isn’t dead. But those supporting Irish need to recognise the reality that it is endangered and more to the point many efforts to resuscitate it have been singularly unsuccessful. If I had to choose one successful item, it would be TG4 but there’s a horrible risk that this has been a bit too late.

But the problem is, it did not have to be this way and some contributions as to why it is this way are linked to decisions made in the past. There is a whole cohort of Irish people who will never forgive the Irish schooling system for inflicting Peig on them. There is a whole cohort of Irish people who were native speakers of English who were taught Irish as though they were native speakers of Irish and who struggled with it because no one with any authority was willing to admit that for a large proportion of the population, Irish was at best a second language and for many people, it was rather foreign. The fact that many of these people after 14 years cannot or have no confidence to speak Irish is a shocking reflection on the education system of the time. There are cultural reasons for this which I will come to later.

Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish.

Historically it could be argued that there is some truth to this. There were times in the history where children were supported to learn English within their families because there were good economic reasons to do so, of which one was emigration to a larger and more economically viable English speaking country. But in this day and age, this is not a fact, or a myth but an assertion and more to the point, I have not heard anyone suggest it in the last 30 years.

ETA: in any case, it would be profoundly prudent to maintain a situation where people were also able to speak English as this is a pretty handy skill to have. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we become monolingual Irish speakers. Plus take Luxembourg. Most people are equally at home in French, German or Luxembourgish

Gaeilscoileanna are elitist.

For the purposes of any non-Irish people floating around a Gaelscoil is a school taught through the medium of Irish. There have been an increasing number of these in the last 10-15 years.

However, they have always existed, at a time when they were just known as schools in local areas where Irish was the locally spoken language, and still is in a number of locations. I think it can be safely argued that Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist in locations where in fact, they are basically the local school because this happens to be a Gaeltacht or Irish speaking area. But it is not such a safe argument in areas which are English speaking areas. Historically they have attracted students at times when they tended to have smaller class sizes and often, less diverse in terms of class, and in the modern age in terms of ethnicity and were chosen for that reason. Obviously there are downsides to smaller schools in that they often may not have the same level of facilities but if you have high parental engagement that can be countered.

In other words I don’t think it is safe to assert that Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist. Historically, some of them appear to have been, I do know that on the ethnicity side of things, some schools have broadened their cohort’s diversity. But additionally, children attending Gaeilscoileanna tend to have a high level of parental involvement and in urban areas that tends to indicate schools with a certain level of elitism.

Irish shouldn’t be an EU language.

The problem I have with this is it is an assertion or an opinion but it is not a myth. In many ways it is a choice to be made. There are arguments to be made in both directions but to select it as a leading myth is just not one of them.

Irish is not compatible with modern technology.

I’m stunned to hear anyone assert this. Ultimately there was actually an argument of this nature with respect to Irish about 70 years ago and it was a valid argument. This is because at that time, Irish used a script which has a lot in common with what are now called uncial scripts, and for which there wasn’t a commonly available typewriter. To be fair, the Irish alphabet at the time was heavily Roman in style but with certain stylistic features and slightly different ways of writing certain letters – the letter A being a key example the S also, and the G. Its way of handling miniscules and majuscules was a little different in that it was a question of scale rather than the case in the Roman alphabet where there are differences in  form between the miniscule and majuscule letters.

So the decision was made to move to a fully Roman style to cater for the fact that all our typewriters tended to be UK quertys. It also reduced the number of alphabets which needed to be taught in primary schools thus apparently aiding the teaching of reading. This matters because if someone had had a chat with the Germans, we could have gotten a QWERTZ which also catered for that other problem which was not resolved at the time, namely, the Síne Fada, known to the French as the acute accent in terms of form. They certainly weren’t pronounced the same way. In Ireland, they were typically handwritten in after the typing was done.

Modern technology does away with that. If we had Unicode seventy years ago, we could have just installed another font on the computer, baby, and typed away. As it now, it is trivial to add fadas to vowels in Irish even on an English keyboard. Alt-GR is your friend. And to be honest this is a problem that the French, Germans, Spanish, Danish and Greek have had to solve in some shape or form. In a way, the English centric world of Ireland caused us not to be aware that other people were dealing with not being English too. Suffice to say, writing in Irish is now a whole lot easier than it was when we didn’t have any technology at all. I’d argue that this is a myth and countering it is useful if people are asserting it. It is just that, amongst the whinging comments about Irish I hear from time to time, not being compatible with technology is not one.

We do not have to speak Irish.

Strictly speaking this is 100% true once you get out of school. We do not have to speak Irish. It may be desirable that we do, but it is not necessary. Describing this as a myth is not much of an argument.

Okay.

So much for the myths.

I live in Luxembourg, a place with about half a million people living there, and most of the natives, which is not close to most of its population, speak Luxembourgish, French and German. To some extent Luxembourgish has been the subject of a bit of a revival, particularly since the 1940s as I understand it. There is an argument – and I wouldn’t make it to any Luxembourger hanging around – that the line between it being a separate language and a dialect of German is a bit thin. I can, however, confirm that if you do speak German, this is no guarantee that you’ll understand Luxembourgish. It is also spoken in parts of Belgium and Germany and possibly northeastern France as well. Regarding the number of native speakers, estimates vary between 250,000 and 400,000. The interesting thing about Luxembourgish is that it has historically not been the national language. Luxembourgish for a long time was a German speaking area, and then it switched to French – this is linked with various events and transitions in its history. Luxembourgish became the official national language in 1984.

70% of the people in Luxembourg speak Luxembourgish daily according to the government here. That is far in excess of the numbers speaking Irish daily although less than those who claim to know a bit. The point that I am driving at here is that Luxembourg has been comparatively successful in turning Luxembourgish into a national language in use by a large proportion of the population and Ireland really has not. Maybe ten times the number of people speak Luxembourgish daily as speak Irish.  Yet Irish is an EU language and Luxembourgish is not. It is something which perhaps we need to think about.

If you talk to any Irish people, they will have very strong opinions on what went wrong in Ireland. They will point at the teaching and I would argue that in truth the teaching left a lot to be desired. Not necessarily because of the teachers but because of the context they were required to teach it in.

  • assumption that everyone spoke it anyway
  • delusions about creating a particular cultural form of Ireland – ask anyone about the dancing at the crossroads colleens
  • poor teaching materials
  • poor teaching methods.
  • a focus on the literary and not the language as a tool for communication.

The problem is the way I learned 20 years ago – which was terrible – is almost certainly not the way it is being taught today so people’s arguments about it is based on something which is not a reality any more. There has been an recognition at some point that most people don’t speak it and there has been an effort to start teaching it as an acquired second language in some places. At this point I have some concerns about the Gaeilscoileanna because we are basically teaching kids to read Irish before they can speak the language at the same time as we are teaching them to read English. There is some research floating around that kids below the age of about 7 have trouble with bilingualism and tend to be a little behind for a while before catching up.

Anyway.

The biggest problem that I saw with Irish 25 years ago, and very little has changed, is that it really wasn’t massively relevant to young people’s lives. There was no pop radio in Irish. No Irish rock bands or pop bands. Even the Scots had Runrig who were a credible rock outfit in Scotland at least in the 1970s. We had nothing. We had people who were angling to create a culture where we all listened to trad music, went to céilís and were basically living the life off a John Hinde postcard. Raidio na Gaeltachta started a series of world music at some point in the late 1990s, late on a Friday night if I remember rightly, and the purists went mad. People had already thrown fits about songs in English being played on RnG.

This basically ensured that the young Irish population who were interested in pop music and rock music listened to English language radio. Actually, we listened to a lot of pirate stations because it was in the 1980s when we got Radio 2 which was dedicated to younger people’s music. I’m sure some people didn’t like that either. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Raidio nan Gael was playing the hell out of the Highland Connection by Runrig because it was one record in their collection that appealed to young people in their broadcast area and there were songs in Scots Gaelic on it.

We didn’t do this in Ireland. We tried to shape the young generations into an image of Ireland that might have never really existed but which you could buy for 50p in any newsagent in the country and stick a stamp on instead of recognising that a living language lives and develops with its young people. And we lost one, two, maybe 4 generations. If I’m honest forcing young people to read Peig and delight in the life of an old lady living on an island off the coast of Kerry was not likely to be successful either. I know she’s been replaced so I refuse to complain about it as a problem now.

But the thing is, I cringe when I see the arguments about Irish coming up because they tend to be predictable and both sides get stuck in a rut.

I never see good reasons to study Irish being pushed. If you look at Colm Ó Broin’s piece it’s basically a moan of “why won’t you understand and speak my lovely language?” But he does not give us one good reason to do so. And this is a bit dumb because actually, there are a bunch of good reasons to speak Irish. Of course, it would help if it were taught properly but, here’s a few options.

Irish has a wider range of phonemes than English.

Eh wha? This basically means that Irish has a wider range of actually sounds you have to make. Now you might not care one way or the other about this but this actually makes it easier to pronounce other foreign languages and therefore supports the learning of other foreign languages (some industrialists suggest Chinese but I’d still suggest French or German and let me say German and Irish have a few useful phonemes in common).

In simple terms, if you learn Irish it should be easier for you to learn another language later on. In particular you are aware that things work differently to English syntax sometimes. Our verbs come before our subjects and we have those wonderful prepositional pronouns.

Irish is pretty handy for cursing.

Those wonderful curses that we have in Ireland which usually sound like cruel or unusual punishment. The Irish Times has a bunch of them here.

It’s an amazing opportunity for making up your own words.

Sasamach. That’s all I have to say.  Oh yeah, the official word for Sasamach is Breatimmeacht which is pretty decent too when you think about it. But there is no other language in which you could create that pun, or play on words like that about Brexit. (oh btw – Sasanach is the Irish word for English person and amach is one of the Irish words for outside, specifically, the one used for when you are transitioning to being outside).

Unique #hashtags on twitter

You just know that something #sneachta is not going to be about 3m of snow in New York but will refer to 3cm of snow in Palmerstown or possible 7cm of snow in the Sally Gap. And of course there is the classic #whatthefliuch meaning I have certain concerns about the amount of rain which has been failing for the last half an hour which even by West Kerry standards is somewhat excessive and it may be that getting home after work could be fraught with difficulty. No mere English hashtag could squeeze in all that meaning

It explains an awful lot of the lyricism and imagery of the English as mangled I mean spoken in Ireland

On the downside, that gave us James Joyce. Your mileage may vary on that. But the whole thing around alliterative adjectives of which I cannot think of one example right now comes straight down the pipeline from An Ghaeilge.

Actually, we do some fairly spectacular mangling of English. I give you this tweet from The Irish For discussing the verb to shift, a verb which Collins English Dictionary asserts means to move or change.

On the other hand, the past weekend has seen a discussion on what it actually means in an Irish context.  On twitter (what was that about Irish and technology again?). I’m going to link to this one because it demonstrates other words which have specific local meaning in Ireland and which I suspect many foreigners would have some issues with unless they have seen the Snapper. In any case, Collins is not familiar with the concept of shift being an activity engaged with in courting, as it were.

That case system is pretty handy for learning Finnish

Just trust me on this.

It hasn’t got a lot of irregular verbs.

11 I believe.

People will ask you to same something in Irish.

Seriously.

Rinne sé bean di.

I have very clear memories of a teacher in a convent struggling to explain what this actually meant. We none of us really wanted to buy the “oh well that just means they got married. Yeah, they got married”. Is Toraíacht Dhiarmada Agus Gráinne still on the syllabus? If not, it is one hell of a pity.

But the point is, Irish is one of the oldest written western European languages, if not the oldest (okay depends on how you define Greek) and as such it’s got a very handy selection of myths and legends which are real myths and legends. We had superheroes before Marvel Comics did. Check out Fionn MacCumhail, occasionally good and occasionally bad, or Cuchulainn. It is something to behold really when you think about it.

Moving forward

To be honest, I learned French by watching Beverly Hills 90210 so I’m really happy to know that we have Irish translations and dubbed versions of some of the Harry Potter stuff, for example. We need more of this stuff.  I was also delighted that (despite the lack of support from some people) that there were pop programmes on TG4 and a lot of cartoons were dubbed. Also, some of the Asterix and Tintin stuff is now available in Irish. I would love to see Calvin and Hobbes available in Irish too. These are all good things. TG4, operating on a shoestring budget, has done spectacular things to get the Irish language in to public consciousness, such as Rugbaí Beo and a lot of fascinating documentaries. The language has a special place in the education system and it would be wonderful if, going forward, this time was not wasted but resulted in people who spoke the language as a means of communicating and not because it was some way of proving Irishness

In the meantime, it seems to me that we would get a lot further if we looked at good reasons to speak it and learn it rather than trying to refute myths which aren’t really myths.

Aaaannn this is 3352 words. Oops. I had other plans for this evening.