EWAC: Vanilla sponge square (or something)

Last Monday, something weird happened and I went into Superwoman mode when I got in from work. Lunch for 2 days, sorted Breakfast for 2 days, sorted. Bread in and out of breadmaker, sorted. You couldn’t believe how on top of things I was. I even did a new dinner (sort of) out of a new cookbook which was fantastic and I’ll write about that in a minute. After all that productive activity, I decided to bake a cake. Something that I could garner all the ingredients for without little difficulty. The cook book was Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals which I got for Christmas and which is a very nifty cookbook.

The cake, well…I’m going to try it again later on today because frankly, it didn’t start off all that well when I made the utterly elemental error of mixing up teaspoon and tablespoon, particularly with respect to baking powder. The error was further compounded by the omission of 150ml of milk.

Kids. Don’t do this. If you seem to be adding a lot of baking powder to a cake mix, always check you’ve read the recipe correctly. I could have used the end result as a brick to build the new kitchen extension with.

13 years in Dublin

Around now, 13 years ago, I got on a plane in Brussels with about 5% of my belongings – the rest had been collected and were in transit somewhere between Brussels and Dublin, and moved back to Ireland. I’m not sure what I expected. I do know I had plans to stay in Dublin for 2 or 3 years and then move back down to Cork. It never quite worked out that way. I didn’t buy the house I was planning to buy and I haven’t yet met someone to spend the rest of my life with.

There have been lots of unexpected good things. There has been the kitesurfing, and the photography, and the being profiled by the Irish Independent as a blogger, and by RTE as a photographer. I got stuck into the boards.ie community in a big way, and twitter also. And via those two tools have made a lot of friends around the place. I’ve been very lucky in many respects.

At some point, I did point out that moving house, and starting off from scratch, building a social circle and all that got harder as you got older. This was why, at certain points, I did not move back to France, to Bordeaux, as I thought about for a while, just because at that stage of my life, it would be too lonely. But I don’t think it works like that any more. I could move anywhere in the world it seems, at this stage, and somehow, the global community that is Ravelry, would open doors for me as, it did, here in Dublin. I’m not so worried about moving from that point of view; I just own lots of stuff.

But Ireland has been a rough place to live as well. Not purely because it’s doing poorly economically, but because that doing poorly could have so easily been avoided. I think this happened because of a lack of confidence. Confidence to say that debt driven growth was not good enough, would lead to tears. If you said this in Ireland in the early 2000s, you were a pariah. I got told where the Ryanair site was often enough if I wasn’t happy with how well the country was doing.

Most years, at this time of year, I remember being an emigrant. There wasn’t really a lot wrong with it then; and even less now with much better/less expensive communications and the like. It is not something that would bother me so much, apart from the packing.

Dublin has changed a lot. Some things are better. It seems to me that it’s less alcoholic in the past couple of years, or maybe I’m just out with a different bunch of people now. Property is no longer insanely expensive, although I’d argue it’s still over priced for the economic situation of the city. Some of the infrastructure is better. For all that Dublin Bus has cut back on services, they are still streets better than they were in 1999. Irish Rail has improved beyond recognition and we have things like the Luas and Dublin Bikes. These are all good things.

I still don’t own a house here. There are a couple of different reasons for this but the key one at the moment is for all the houses we have on sale, I just don’t like anyway. And deep down in my heart, I’d prefer to be buying a house near the coast in Cork, with greater access to the Atlantic. Possibly, the five years of eurohopping still have tainted my soul in some respect and I may never fully settle.


Favourite piano concertos

A while back, I went to the final of the Dublin International Piano Competition, an item which along with figure skating championships had been on my bucket list for about 10 years. While it is fair to say that the finalists were all very talented, I wasn’t so enthused about the choice of concertos I sat through that evening. In summary, we had Tchaikovsky No 1 twice, Rachmaninov No 3 and what I think was Prokofiev No 3 although I am not familiar with that piece and it didn’t endear itself to me enough for me to seek it out any further.

So, bearing that in mind, I wanted to – again – list a bunch of piano concertos which I particularly like, some of which are well known and some less so. After that I would choose a couple of movements out of piano concertos which are almost standalone work of genius.

  1. Saint-Saens Number 5
  2. Rachmaninov No. 2
  3. Grieg in Am
  4. Schumann in Am
  5. Bruch in A flat Major for 2 pianos
  6. Hummel No 3
  7. Tchaikovsky No 2
  8. Beethoven’s Mighty Emperor No 5
  9. Liszt No 2
  10. Brahms No 2.

If I am looking to listen to powerful piano music, these are often close to the top of the list.

Now for a few odds and ends which stand out for various reasons

  1. Shostakovich 2, II Andante.
  2. Adinsell – Warsaw Concerto
  3. Ode to the Yellow River (get Lang Lang’s performance of this – it’s well worth it)
  4. Saint-Saens Africa Fantasy
  5. Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  6. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody arranged for piano and orchestra
  7. Rachmaninov 3 Opening movement
  8. Mendelssohn 1, opening movement
  9. Mendelssohn for 2 pianos 1, second movement
  10. Franck – Symphonic Variations

Happy listening.

Special presents

I don’t often do the Ebay trick but lately I find myself regularly looking through it. I am on the hunt for one particular item, well, 4-6 of them anyway. Special, all the same.

In 1998, I was on holiday in Finland learning Finnish on a government sponsored course and over one weekend had dinner with the family of a girl I had taken in after an au pair story hadn’t really gone well. They wanted to give me something and so they gave me a beautiful piece of Finnish glassware. You’ll (currently) find a picture of something similar here on eBay. I still have it. It was designed by one of Finland’s top glass designers, Oiva Toikka. I love it.

Recently I learned that there are little serving bowls in existence. The pattern doesn’t appear to be sold at the moment so if I want them, I need to find them on one of the auction sites. So for that reason, I am watching Ebay for them. I want the clear ones (the rare blue and green ones don’t interest me) and am looking forward to actually owning them.

I’m very fortunate to have some unusual but very thoughtfully selected things in my position. Another one is a most beautiful pewter tea measuring spoon which, for someone like me who drinks a lot of looseleaf (and expensive) tea is a highly thoughtful gift. You’ll find some very similar measuring spoons here (at the moment)

I like things like these.

Interesting stuff to listen to: More or Less

Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times does a radio series on BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service called More or Less which takes a look at how statistics are reported. It is produced in cooperation with the Open University which is an extraordinary resource that I have the fortune to benefit from at the moment.

We don’t really have something like this in Ireland which is a pity. New Zealand has a lovely blog site that does something similar except on a blog rather than on the radio. I’m inclined to perhaps looking at this model and doing a post a week on the subject but this would mean I’d have to find time to read the Irish papers, even the ones I can’t stand, to find some poor statistical reporting and then write about it.


I’m tempted, however.

Science – it’s a girl thing

Let’s assume you want to get more women into science, and more women to stay there once they are in.

And then you release this video clip. Daily Telegraph link by the way.

I feel sorry for the European Commission in certain respects. They have to deal with all sorts of cross cultural misunderstandigs and miscommunications. They’re everybody’s favourite target – particularly amongst politicians – for a punchbag. And then sometimes, they just get things wrong.

There are issues getting girls into science. I’m not absolutely sure why although when the time was I chose languages over chemistry because I wanted to live in France (yes, I know this is a superficial reason) and the chem/lang course I’d love to have done did not exist at the time. I am back studying mathematics and statistics however with some vague interest in geology and oceanography so….

But women don’t stay in science because they don’t think it’s cool and trendy. There are practical issues for a lot of jobs which make them very unfriendly for women who take time off to have children. There is a lot of instability in the academic/science world in terms of funding at the moment. Science is still not really all that well remunerated compared to – for example – the financial industry. And, though it grieves me to say it, whether many are willing to admit it or not, women are not always welcomed by men in the workplace, regardless of what work it is.

This video sucked. It has been pulled from the campaign site now. But in terms of getting girls into science, I have to say I think this comic strip is one of the best ever:

XKCD nails it again.

There are a couple of great, great messages in this.

Today is Alan Turing’s birthday

I first discovered Alan Turing by reading The Code Book by Simon Singh. This year is Turing Year; it’s the centenary of his birth and today is the day.

There’s a round up of useful informatino here around activities linked to Turing year courtesy of Christian Perfect here. It’s well worth a look.

I have a job in information technology. Alan Turing was one of the key groundbreakers making the future I live in possible.


Stormclouds gather

big black clouds and a  castle

I was in Disneyland in Paris during the week. It was a one day trip, but while we were there, I witnessed the most amazing rain and thunderstorm that I’ve seen in a long time.

We came out of one of the restaurants to the news that nearly all the attractions in the park had shut down; my niece, operator of the iPhone app keeping us updated of queue lengths and fastpast wait times wasn’t sure why this might have happened. A glance at the sky, however, was a bit more revealing.

Most entertaining was the guy who cut his losses and breakdanced his way through the rainstorm as he was already soaked. I’ve never seen clouds quite like this in Dublin – some fairly nasty ones yes, but nothing as dramatic as these ones.

Ravelympics and the Streisand effect

I’ve been a way for a few days during the week so am just catching up now with this. Transpires the US Olympic Committee took a bit of exception to the existence of something called the Ravelympics.

If you read my other site, thingsthatstrikeme, you might know that I occasionally wield a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles and linked to that, of course I am a member of Ravelry. I’ve never gotten involved in the Ravelympics though because of course, I haven’t really had time (look, the last major work I finished took three years; we have a top that’s running on a year at the moment so…). But I’ve known about it. Basically the deal is you sign up to do something a bit harder than you’re used to, and start it with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and finish it with the closing ceremony. That’s the deal. What people do tends to be up to them, they may decide to clear a bunch of works in progress, they may decide to do their very first sweater, lace shawl, you name it. The options are fairly limitless. And typically, they do all this while watching the Olympics and supporting the athletes from their country. Ravelry has a 2 million strong user base, and the site itself, while based in the US, has a worldwide reach. It is an extraordinary example of the use of social media to promote a particular interest and beats off competition from any other specialist site I know including all the photography ones in terms of its reach and success in its target community. It is funded by advertising and the advertising is fully targeted towards its user base which is a bad thing for me, actually because look at all that lovely yarn they have in the Yarn Room. I digress.

Anyway, the USOC sent a cease and desist to Ravelry over the Ravelympics because they own Olympics in the US and it’s fair to say, the C&D wasn’t all that well received. Not so much about the accusations of trademark infringement but the attitude towards the knitting and crochet community. Money quote is this one:

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games,” the USOC wrote in the letter. “It is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

From here.

All told, I’m not sure I agree with the USOC on this, frankly. I’m also not sure that their understanding of the true nature of the Olympic Games matches mine.

Ravelry seem to be looking into a rename of the Olympic driven knit-along. I don’t blame them. They’re a small site and they don’t have limitless funds. However, it’s clear to me that the USOC aren’t all that clear on the hard work that goes into creating handmade items on a large scale. LIke I said, I’ve this intricate lace skirt that took three years. Three years for one item.

From the same article:

The USOC, for its part, has released two written apologies on its website, but it has not backtracked on its requests. “That [cease-and-desist] letter was sent from our law department and was written by a summer law clerk,” explains Sandusky. “The ‘denigration’ statement was made in error. The letter was probably a bit strongly worded and we regret that and apologize to the community. But we don’t apologize for trying to protect our right to the term ‘Olympics.’”

I just have an issue with the idea that C&Ds are sent out by summer law clerks. Additionally, I do question knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing when it comes to the right to the term “Olympics”.

I suspect their issue relates to slippery slopes. I feel sorry for them.


elective subjects

I started studying for a degree in mathematics and statistcs with the Open University last October and so far, it seems to be going well. It is involving a certain amount of planning however, particularly in terms of modules.

I’ve been to university three times before and have the paperwork to prove it. Each time, I pretty much did what I was told by the university concerned in terms of working towards said paperwork. In DCU, I think I got to choose options from a couple of pairings of subjects but there wasn’t much in the way of electives and that was for the language degree. I don’t think there was an elective for the postgraduate diploma in IT and apart from freedom to choose from some of the evening school (I did Finnish), I don’t think there as anything much in the way of elective at the University of Westminster for the interpreting diploma either.

I have 60 credits to play with on this course, however, and I am finding it difficult now to make a decision. Initially, because there are such a lot of maths courses there, I was going to choose from them but one of my friends has noted I’m going to be doing a lot of mathematics and statistics and a break probably would be a good idea. I looked at a database design course which I figured might be useful but actually, what I’m slightly more interested in at this point are some of the science courses. The shortlist was initially oceanography, geology and astronomy (pick two) but being honest, I don’t think I’m up for the astronomy. So there’s a very strong possibility I will take 30 credits in oceanography and 30 in geology. This decision needs to be made soon because the oceanography course is only available this February. I don’t see any evidence that there will be some sort of replacement. I need to look into it very carefully, however, because it’s a level 3 science course and at this stage, aside from some statistics and maths, I won’t have any level two science which makes a level three science quite a tall order.

The Open University helpfully provides a reading list and having looked at an introduction to one of them on Kindle last night, I’m going to get it and read through it and if it looks like I can manage it, or can get enough help on the basics that I may be missing, I might be okay.

I have past history with science; I did chemistry for the leaving certificate, yes, and had to study technical English and physics in my language degree (I got a very good grounding in economics at the time too, enough to avoid buying property in Ireland between 1999 and 2012 (so far)). I studied supermolecules for my degree project in French and German. They were amazing.

So I’m inclined to hope I can make this work. Then, the question is, will anyone want a statistician who knows a bit about rocks and oceans?


You never know.