Category Archives: life in general

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.

Neolithic monuments in Ireland

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Newgrange is one of the highest profile historic sites which we have in the country and when most people talk about going to Newgrange, they mean they want to see this one.

When I go to Newgrange, I always go to Knowth as well. Yes, you can actually go into the passage in Newgrange, and yes, it’s extremely well done but it’s always very busy.

Knowth is generally much quieter and, on occasion, no matter how busy Newgrange might be, you might have the site at Knowth more or less to yourself. There’s a lot to be said for this.

Knowth is bigger than Newgrange, but it does not look anywhere near as perfect. It hasn’t been restored (or reconstructed) in the same way as Newgrange was, and some different decisions have been made about the site. A key one is the question of the quartz stone. At Newgrange, this was built up as a wall. At Knowth, the view was taken that it was probably a terrace around the entrances. I’ve mixed feelings. Certainly Newgrange looks more complete but….

That aside, the reason I would still favour Knowth over Newgrange is the art. Knowth has significantly more external art than Newgrange and it is stunning.

Yes, the entry stone for Newgrange is iconic:

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but then, there’s this:

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and this:

20150415_160718I find what’s around the base of Knowth simply to be on a scale which is borderline unimaginable at Newgrange.

I didn’t have time to go to Dowth yet and it’s not included amongst the options you can get to from Bru na Boinne. However, if you are interested in neolithic art in Ireland in that area, I would strongly recommend Knowth as a seriously underrated site. It is wonderful. You can actually look down the passageway although access down it is not permitted to the public and you can see some public access work done on the eastern end. You can also walk to the top of it and the view from it is quite impressive.

I find the whole idea of pre-history in Ireland fascinating. If you go to the National Museum on Kildare Street, you’ll find examples of 3 and 4 thousand year old jewellery which contains carvings not dissimilar to some of the carvings on these stones and it’s extraordinarily beautiful. I really do wonder about the societies that were able to access the gold, shape it, carve it. It seems to me those societies, however on a smaller scale than is currently on the case, must have been extremely sophisticated, particularly with respect to their ability to use tools to achieve tasks which would probably challenge us today.

 

 

 

a Vision for Dublin

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RTE ran a kind of re-enactment historical event in Dublin City Centre today to have a look at what life in Dublin might have been like around 1916 and in the run up to the 1916 Rising. I went into it really to see the tram (I love that tram) and maybe take a few photographs for sketches I might do later. I haven’t decided yet.

The weather was stunning. The sky was a glittering blue, a lot of people came out and there was a terrific atmosphere around the city. Many people were clad in period appropriate garb which looked fantastic, but which must have been stultifyingly warm. There was an Edwardian music stage, a wedding, a funeral, the occasional march of would be rebels. In a way, it was very like those sliding photographs you get today where you can slide from 60 years ago to how a place looks now. You could not get into any of the talks for love nor money. I think, arguably, RTE could call it a major success. I’ pleased for them, and I’m pleased that there was a focus on social history like what were people wearing, what were the talking about, how were things like funerals and weddings organised by people at the time (the wealthier ones anyway). That it wasn’t just a militaristic event.

One of the things which struck me yesterday and which was reinforced by today’s experience is that perhaps, we could pedestrianise O’Connell Street permanently from Abbey Street upwards. It’s a fine wide street and we could, to some extent, turn it into a plaza.

Yes, I know we’d have to re-engineer some of the bus routes but – why not. We are re-engineering the city centre at the moment anyway for Luas re-configuration, and there will be more re-engineering if BRT actually happens (I might not necessarily be in favour of that directly).

Dublin has a dearth of open spaces like squares with cafés. Where we have squares, they tend to be garden squares, like Merrion Square. I’ve long wondered if we could pedestrianise a reasonable swathe of the city centre – there are old pictures of the area in front of Busaras where the Amnesty International Gas Candle currently stands, behind Custom House and the IFSC. But these open spaces, like College Green just have cars and buses going through them.

O’Connell Street looks like it could work though. We could pave it properly as a square and be a bit more careful about who we let open businesses in there and turn it into an amenity for the city. We don’t have to make it the main thoroughfare any more. There are a load of bridges built and if we re-engineered public transport effectively, we wouldn’t even be dealing with as much car transport.

And if we got it to work there, how about making it work in College Green, for example. I’m open to suggestions.

We rely too much, sometimes, on the Phoenix Park for the lung of the city. I just think we could reconfigure the city so that it becomes much more attractive to walkers than to avoiders.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Bucket List: Ireland

Any listicle is going to be subjective but having looked at this list, and having knocked off 14 items, plus a half for doing Newgrange not on the winter solstice, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t really a great list.

So I’m making my own.

  1. Malin Point and Mizen Head. No point in doing one without doing the other.
  2. The Giant’s Causeway
  3. Killarney National Park
  4. Hook Lighthouse
  5. Swimming in Banna
  6. Surfing in Lahinch
  7. Whale watching in Clare or Cork
  8. Achill Island – driving to Keem Beach
  9. National Museum Kildare Street
  10. Hunt Museum Limerick
  11. Cashel
  12. Powerscourt Demesne and Glendalough
  13. Galway City
  14. Crawford Art Gallery Cork
  15. Gunpowder Mills, Ballincollig
  16. Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle
  17. Local GAA match anywhere in the country, preferably junior level
  18. Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in one of the cities
  19. Titanic Experience
  20. Newgrange and the other Boyne Valley burials (I prefer Knowth btw)
  21. Poulnabrone Dolmen and the Burren
  22. Aran Islands
  23. Skelligs and Valentia
  24. Stay in one of the Irish landmark properties
  25. Clonmacnoise

News consumption in a networked world

If you read any pieces on the future of news, and especially, the future of newspapers, in my experience, most of them point out that newspapers are dead dinosaurs, clinging onto life in a world they don’t understand, flailing desperately to protect their revenue models, trying to find ways to get people to pay for news content online that the newspapers have previously given away free online (with some advertising support) in a desperate bid to keep their ways above water. Occasionally, there will be a battle about copyrights with aggregators – Google News doesn’t operate in Spain at the moment, for example, or clipping services.

Print sales are dropping for a lot of publications and income from digital advertising isn’t even going to come close to replacing lost income from print based advertising. The picture of life for newspapers is a grey and dying one, it seems.

I tend not to buy newspapers. Part of it is I’m a child of the connected era, and I’ve been reading papers online for well over 15 years; another part of it is that none of the Irish broadsheets, with the possible exception of the Examiner, really appeals to me. The Sunday Independent has a bunch of writers who don’t so much as “not appeal to me” as definitively drive me away from the newspaper. So I operated a pick and mix thing with newspapers online. And I customised Google News and I followed a lot of media outlets on Facebook.

In truth, I used to see the internet as the great white hope for someone like me. I speak multiple languages and the internet gives me access to multiple news services in those multiple languages. But I can’t customise Google News to handle news sources in multiple languages. It is getting to the stage where I’m going to give up on it. Facebook, in some respects, is better. I can follow any number of organisations on Facebook, and media wise, that includes but is not limited to several German, multiple times that several French, and some Finnish language services in addition to the New York Times, The New Yorker and the Atlantic. But I don’t really get to choose what I read either which way. Facebook tinkers around with their newsfeed algorithm on a regular basis and Google is simply uninteresting as an interface.

I started thinking in detail about how I – and I hate this term – “consume” news, and how people consume news. News is compelling, and particularly, happening now news is compelling. But the recent events in Paris made it clear that even while news is happening, there are big swathes of time in the middle when NOTHING is actually changing, then moments of utter confusion while people try to work out what has changed in the 10 seconds between swathes of time when NOTHING is actually happening. I found this with passenger aircraft going missing. Rolling news often isn’t so much rolling news as rolling guesswork and misinformation. Mostly now, I prefer summary reports.

This is true in terms of rolling news on the television. I find it utterly frustrating because while it’s on for 24 hours, the number of news stories it covers seems to be significantly less than the amount of news stories that you would get in a 30 minute summary on, say, Channel 4.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that between all the news services I have access to, I don’t believe I am anywhere near as as informed as I used to be. I also have realised that I don’t actually like navigating news online all that much, and similarly, am not such a great fan of dedicated applications on tablets or phones either. It is entirely possible that this is a function of how I learned to acquire news in the first place; namely by lying on my stomach as a child with the newspaper spread out on the floor in front of me. That double page spread seemed to offer so many possibilities.

The internet should as well but it’s not as easy to navigate I think because far fewer of the possibilities present themselves to you on a single page. For all the access to more material, I find it less easy to find. In some respects, some form of curation is nice, but neither Facebook nor Google are doing well on that front, although to be fair, Facebook are doing significantly better on that front; I’d just like to be able to split my newsfeed into a feed of media based links and a feed of status updates from my friends. I’d equally like them not to bother refeeding me links that are 5 and 6 days old. I saw one Le Monde report on the Charlie Hebdo shootings every day for almost a week after the shootings happened.

So I started wondering how I could change this and decided that it probably would be a good idea to start buying newspapers again, and specifically, a couple of different newspapers, from different countries. I specifically wanted them in paper format for various reasons, and up front, the choices were to be the weekend Financial Times, the weekend Le Monde, mainly because I didn’t think it would be possible to get Le Monde Diplomatique, and Die Zeit. I know there is no Irish paper in there but the one thing I have felt well informed on over the past 5 years are Irish matters. Sometimes too well informed.

As it happens, it looks like this is going to be a bit of a quest. It transpires that Easons on Nassau Street does stock (at least last on Thursday of last week) Le Monde Diplomatique but it’s a monthly paper so I suspect I will be looking at that one week, and the weekend Le Monde the rest of the weeks. None of the four branches of Easons I was in had Die Zeit, and again, only the branch on Nassau Street had any German newspaper, which is why I’ve been reading Frankfurter Allgemeine. My local branch of Easons had two copies of the FT last Saturday morning so if you went to the one in Omni and found it gone, I’m sorry. I did enjoy reading it though.

So this week, I have learned that Harz is now a good place to go if you’re looking to learn to ski again, and I’m quite pleased about that because the last time I went skiing, it was in the Harz mountains. And just because you’re reading the Financial Times doesn’t mean you’re away from celebrity divorce battles. Mind you, not too many reality TV stars play for the high stakes of a fortune totalling over 400 million pounds sterling.

I haven’t gotten to Le Monde Diplo yet though.

In the meantime, I’m looking at finding a way to curate news reports more effectively for myself across languages. Under the About Treasa there will shortly be a list of news media sites mainly because I can’t rely on any of the aggregators to supply accidental serendipity about stuff.

waterbaby

I started back at the swimming again  today. That again is quite telling. It tells you I have been swimming on several well spaced apart occasions in the last indistinct period. I’m back at my old haunt, DCU Sports Club mainly because a) it’s the closest pool to me (just about, Ballymun isn’t too far off either) and more importantly, they have a very decent deal for alumni which has seen me chop more than 60% off the cost of gym membership. Against that, I don’t have regular access to climbing walls any more but I figured that was a suitable sacrifice to make in the face of starting back at the swimming.

I’ve been a member of a number of gyms with swimming pools (swimming pools are deal breakers for me; if you don’t have one, and preferably, one that’s at least 25m long, we’re not going anywhere), and of all of the, DCU’s is probably the most windsandbreezes friendly. Provided I don’t get lost looking for the carpark. Yes, UCD’s new 50m pool is beautiful, but it’s not a great place for me to start back at the swimming. And yes, I’ve had NAC membership (somehow never quite got into the habit of going to Blanchardstown), and yes, I’ve had ALSAA and Westwood membership. Westwood had a climbing wall and a fairly decent swimming pool.

But for some reason, I prefer DCU. The last time I was regularly swimming in DCU, I used to go three to four times a week after work. It seemed easy (although it pretty much predated Twitter, Facebook and 1.4 million other online distractions) to fit into my life and by the time I stopped going, I was doing 1600m each time. It’s probably the fittest I ever was. I miss that. Why I never got it working at any of the other pools, well Blanch’s outofthewayness aside, I don’t know.

Today, it was lovely, if evidence of the mountain I must climb. 225m is a long way short of 1600m. I don’t think it will be as hard this time though because the main reason I didn’t do more was the sudden arrival of Children. Lots of Children.

At this point, I would like to apologise to Sunday morning regulars at Tipperary Swimming Pool whom I probably terrorised in the same way at the age of 10. The pool isn’t the same when it’s not almost completely empty.

Anyway. While I’d probably have gotten more than 225 done, the truth is I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near 1600 so I’m not going to crib too much. I did find the conversation between the other two in the jacuzzi somewhat surreal given that it covered the economic and political differences between Russia and the West, with special mention of political leanings in the UK, all in German.

Still, this is why we go there; to improve mind and body.

Nous sommes tous Charlie

I lived in France, for a bit, and Belgium also. I speak fluent French. I never read Charlie Hebdo because I like my comic strips to be pure humour (think Asterix, Calvin & Hobbes, Sturmtruppen) rather than laced with acerbic satire.

The thing with satire is if you’re missing some of the cultural references, and as I moved around a bit, I tended to be missing them, it’s hard to read. I mean, if you look at Waterford Whispers, and Sminky’s Shorts, you can see how much you need to understand Irish cultural references, and unspoken references at that, to understand what’s going on. So while I’d pick up magazines about knitting, crochet, surfing photography, science, current affairs, economics and food, I tended to let the satiricals alone; Canard and Charlie. Being frank about it, for me, Charlie Hebdo was a splash of colour in Relay that I didn’t actually bother picking up.

I’m not going to say I’m sorry for that. For missing out on what they’ve done for the last amount of time. I’m only going to say that for the most part, you know, no matter where you live, if you get up, go to work, you should be pretty sure that you’ll come home in the evening without the downpoint of having been shot dead just because you were a journalist or cartoonist who wrote stuff someone didn’t like. Regardless of their reasons for not liking it.

I guess I’m saying I really didn’t care too much what Charlie Hebdo published. I care a lot that they had the right to do so because that right, that’s a good right.

It’s an important right.

Of the cartoons which have sprouted up in the past few days, it is probably predictable that the one which impacted on me most was one of Uderzo’s. If you’ve not seen it, it was posted to the Asterix Twitter Feed. I really would love a print of it. I’ve no idea whether it will turn up in the comic and graphic novel shops – I suppose I could be lucky.

In the meantime, I suppose, France is a very different country today to what it was on Monday, and while you can look at that in a sombre manner, it’s also fair to say that France is a very different country every day. Each place changes just a little every day anyway, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Our lives never flatline.