May 062009

I woke up this morning to find this monstrosity cable-tied to the telegraph pole outside our front gate:

Now, while I’m sure there’s a large portion of the Irish electorate who’d love to see the heads of certain Irish politician’s on a pole, I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind!

I’m sure Cllr. Adrian Healy is a lovely man… but do I really want to look at him every morning while waiting to deposit the munchkins on the school bus? I don’t think so! Incidentally, this poster wasn’t up when I went to bed past midnight last night (I know, because I had to pop out to the car for something), it was surreptitiously positioned in the dead of night by the election poster wraiths.

These ethereal creatures of the darkness are mercifully scarce, but the population explodes rapidly  pre-election, and left unchecked can quickly reach plague proportions. Sneaker than a malevolent super-sleuth, they could certainly teach the CIA or MI6 a thing or two about moving around undetected. They’re practically invisible: we only know they exist at all because of the conspicuous trail of unflattering mugshots they leave in their wake to torture the general population.

Stop polluting our countryside with poster politics and start tackling the issues!

POLITICIANS: you’re not that pretty!

Stop trying to win our votes with banal posters and start tackling the issues — show us what you believe in, what you stand for, and what you’re going to do for our community if you want our votes.

All these posters do is sully the view, generally annoy the electorate and add to Ireland’s growing waste mountain.

See some sense… please!

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Jan 102009
Batt O'Keeffe
Image via Wikipedia

With the excitement of Christmas and New Year behind us the kids are gearing up to going back to school. Their partly looking forward to seeing their friends again, and partly mourning the fact that the holidays are coming to a close.

I can sympathise with them, in part because I still recall the conflicting emotions of going back to school after the Christmas break from my own childhood… but mainly because of the clash of sentiments it causes for me now as a parent.

Back to school means back to routine: getting up early, making school lunches (a personal pet peeve of mine), organising the kids, getting out of the door on time. The return to school imposes structure on the fluidity of life… and on one level that’s a good thing. At the same time structure and routine are always going to be more boring and mundane than disorder and spontaneity, and part of me riles against the conformity of it all.

But back to school they must go… and while spending lots of time with them over the holidays has been wonderful, for the most part I’ll be happy to reclaim the bulk of my working week as we head into what promises to be a very challenging year.

Talking of challenging years, I guess I should be grateful that the children have a school to go back to in 2009, given the cutbacks our esteemed Government is imposing on our education system. Faced with the cost-cutting initiatives spearheaded by Cork TD and Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, financially embattled schools across the country are facing a very tough 2009 on the fiscal front, and will no doubt be looking to parents for fundraising and direct financial contributions. The Government will bail out the banks, it seems, but bailing out the schools falls to mums and dads.

I’m all for parents getting involved and raising money for schools — but for my money (if you’ll pardon the pun) such funds should surely go towards equipment, facilities and resources over and above those demanded by the standard national curriculum. Schools should be adequately funded by Government to cover all of the basics. When parents have to raise money to subsidise things like the school’s heating bill there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

Nobody questions the need to cut Government spending in the wake of the economic downturn, but the approach the Government has taken speaks volumes about the character of those we choose to lead us. When the going got tough, they  chose to target the most vulnerable in society: the very old and the very young, or to put it another way, those least likely to fight back. Of course they underestimated the backlash (they seem to underestimate most things, with the notable exception of their own competence to govern).

The irony here is that health and education are probably two of the last places a Government should look to reduce funding: the first is vital to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce today, a workforce that will help our beleaguered economy push through the recession; the second is the foundation stone on which all future prosperity will be built.

Now, Mr O’Keefe, perhaps you can explain to parents, teachers, and most of all to children, how undermining the stability of that foundation could possibly be considered a good idea.

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Nov 242008
Three 45 Mbit/s wireless dishes on top of 307 W.

Image via Wikipedia

I sat watching the depressingly slow advance of the little blue progress bar on my laptop screen. Downloading the 150 odd e-mails that had accrued in my mailboxes over the last 24 hours was taking an age… and as for checking the various websites that help keep me connected and up-to-date… forget it.

On Friday evening we unexpectedly lost our fixed wireless broadband connection. One minute it was there, the next it was gone. Like most broadband connections in Ireland it was an overpriced and under-performing beast – but it also put a wonderful world of information and connectivity at our fingertips. Now it was gone, and we were back to the excruciating crawl of a dial-up connection.

You don’t realise how much you’ve come to rely on something until it’s taken away. I can’t count how many times a day I’d look up a website, do a quick Google search to double check a fact, go online to communicate with friends, family and business contacts and to generally stay connected with the world around me. Going back to dial-up was like stepping back into the dark ages… I had to remind myself that this was, in fact, still the reality for a rediculously high number of households in rural Ireland.

No broadband… it took a while for the implications to sink in. My first instinct was to go online, do some research and explore other options, but of course I couldn’t. That’s when it hit me – how could we run our home-based businesses without internet access? The answer: not very well at all!

Everything about the businesses depends on the internet: the websites, e-mail, payments, banking, accounts. Even the business phone line is delivered online. Dial-up simply isn’t an option for us any more.

Unfortunately we live in what can only be described as Europe’s digital backwater. While Ireland has made great strides to improve broadband availability over recent years, we typically pay through the nose for much slower connections than our European peers, and an unacceptable proportion of Irish households still can’t get a broadband connection at all.

It’s curious that we find ourselves in this position as Europe’s digital poor-relations. To listen to our government you’d swear we were ahead of the curve in the technology stakes. They talk about Ireland leading the charge towards a knowledge based global economy, but while they pimp Ireland as the technology hub of Europe on the global stage, small businesses at home are struggling to compete because they don’t have access to the bandwidth they need. It’s a shambles!

And it’s not just small businesses that are suffering in this impoverished digital environment. The internet, and the suite of communication and information technologies it enables, is a vital educational resource for our children. They’re growing up in a technology centric world; to thrive and succeed tomorrow they need to engage with that technology today. Without a decent internet connection at home and at school they simply can’t do that.

The next day I rang our telephone provider, praying that our local exchange had finally been “broadband enabled”. Luckily it had! I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and signed up straight away. It’s going to take three long weeks for us to get connected, and because we’re a long way from the exchange, there is no guarantee we’ll get the connection speeds we need.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. It’s going to be a long three weeks.

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Nov 122008
the 44th President of the United States...Bara...

Image by jmtimages via Flickr

On the 4th of November 2008 Barack Obama made history when he was elected as the first black president of the United States of America. It’s an achievement that is remarkable for a lot of reasons… and one that has far reaching implications not just for Americans, but for people around the globe.

One of the most striking things for me about Obama’s election has nothing to do with race. It is the overwhelming impression I get that here, finally, is a politician who has been elected into office on merit. That may not sound like such a revolutionary a concept – but here in modern Ireland it’s practically unheard of. Our incumbent administration endures because a large chunk of the electorate has zero confidence in the competence of the opposition to govern. It really is that simple.

Back across the Atlantic (I refuse to call any ocean a “pond”) you could argue that the same thing applied last week. The alternative to the Obama / Biden ticket was hardly a compelling proposition. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could convincingly dub John McCain a dynamic force for change, and as for Sarah Palin… well, I think enough has already been said on that score.

But despite the fact that Obama would probably have won the election anyway, through lack of viable opposition… I’m still left with the very strong feeling that he won the votes of the undecided masses largely on the merits of his policies, and the overwhelming belief that here was a man who had the best interests of the American people at heart.

That last point is an important one… but one that seems to have been overshadowed by the “Obama Mania” that’s gripped the world over the last week. Buoyed on a wave of euphoria that spread from its epicentre in Chicago to engulf the globe, people seem to have lost sight of the fact that Barack Obama is, in fact, President Elect of the United States of America. He is not President Elect of the World at large.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr Obama will make an excellent president. His biggest obstacle will be the incredible burden of anticipation that now weighs heavily upon him. People expect incredible things from this man, and I’m sure he’ll prove a force for long-overdue change in the US. The knock on effects of that change will ripple out to impact many nations around the world – our little island state included. Much of that impact will be positive; some of it won’t. Whatever changes the new president decides to implement, you can be certain of one thing: those changes will be driven by policies forged around the best interests of the American people. The wellbeing, economic or otherwise, of Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world, simply won’t factor into the equation.

I always find it amusing when blockbuster Hollywood disaster movies – the likes of “Independence Day”, “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Armageddon” – portray the rest of the world waiting with baited breath for America to save the day, save the planet and save humanity. The truth of the matter is that, despite the hype surrounding this election, we are not beholden to the US or any other nation.

The US president is not, in fact, the “Leader of the Free World”. The independent nations that constitute “The Free World” are, and always have been, free to make their own decisions, based on what’s best for their own people. What it ultimately boils down to is this: Barack Obama will do a great job of looking after America’s best interests… here in Ireland we’ll have to make do with Brian Cowan!

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Jul 262008

The new lawn out front was looking a bit patchy, so I called in to our local co-op this afternoon to pick up some grass seed. They put the seed into a potato bag (see photo below).

Irish Potato Bag (Front)

Front of the Potato Bag

Nothing strange there, you might think… until you turn the bag around and read what’s on the back.


Irish Potato Bag (back) featuring recipe for Smoked Reindeer Stew)

That Irish culinary classic, Smoked Reindeer Stew

Yes, you read that right smoked reindeer stew! That’s just the sort of thing you might want to make with your bag if Irish spuds! Oh, hold on, I seem to be out of smoked reindeer again… I’ll just pop down to the local Dunnes Stores and pick up a pack!

What’s unbelievable is that somebody somewhere in Irish Potato Marketing actually chose to put that particular recipe on the back of the bag. Priceless!

Jun 132008

Hello all!

Yes, I know you’re out there, lurking, because the mighty Google Analytics tells me it is so. There are real, live people visiting this blog. Trouble is not many of you are commenting. Well let’s remedy that, shall we?

One of the best things about blogging is that it’s a two-way street. I want to hear what you have to say… whether you agree, disagree or just want to say hi!

If you’re not sure how the whole commenting thing works, check out Darragh Doyles Commenting 101 post for the full run down. Then come back here and let me know what you’re thinking!

Come on, join the conversation and let’s get to know each other a little bit better….

Apr 012008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 31/03/2008

Day-dreaming at work again? Not focussed on what you’re doing? Join the club! Apparently though, day-dreaming can be a useful tool in helping you to excel in the workplace – especially when it comes to delivering a killer presentation.

Presentation skills are something that, sooner or later, most office- or corporate-based employees will need to develop at some point in their career. If you’ve had to deliver a presentation already, then you don’t need me to tell you how nerve racking it can be to get up in front of your peers and deliver a knowledgeable, entertaining and informative performance. Because that’s what an effective presentation is, essentially: a performance, and one that all too often falls flat.

But Janet Howd, a professional singer, actress and presentation coach, maintains that we can all harness the energizing power of day-dreams to help us deliver more compelling presentations. Writing in Management-Issues, Janet explains that, once we’ve done our research and know our subject matter, rehearsing the presentation in our minds can pay real dividends.

“As soon as your knowledge is in place, envisage a sparkier, more fluent, more assured, more attractive you,” she suggests. “Once you’ve got that vibrant persona in mind, visualize this new self giving the presentation you’ve been working on to a group of close friends who are all rooting for you.

“As you develop your message, stay well within this comfort zone. If you find yourself lost for words just follow Shakespeare’s example and invent some! As soon as you have finished this imaginary performance, write down or dictate as much as you can remember of what you said. Don’t think about anything else until you have written those first impressions down.”

Once that’s done, she goes on to suggest that you make notes of your mannerisms and intonation in your imaginary performance, how and when you used equipment an props, and how you engaged with your audience. Then, by analysing your notes you should be able to distil the salient elements into a template or “script” you can use for your presentation proper.

To cover all the bases, and make sure you have everything under control, Janet suggests that you make another foray into your imagination, this time putting yourself through a worst-case-scenario presentation. In this nightmare experience from hell you may have lost your notes, your laptop crashes, and the projector’s on the blink; suddenly you’re at a loss for words in front of an openly hostile audience. How do you cope with these setbacks, what do you do, how do you feel?

“Once you’ve analysed that hellish vision and incorporated any useful data from it into the real presentation, you are far les likely to be thrown off course during the real performance,” says Janet. “It also makes it unlikely that members of your audience will choose to visualize themselves anywhere but in your presence.”

Which is all good – and of course there’s another benefit: the next time your boss catches you daydreaming at your desk, you can, with a straight face, tell him or her that you’re actually hard at work on your next presentation.

Mar 072008

I spotted this over on Maryrose Lyons’s Brightspark blog; it’s an article on the New York Times website highlighting use of the much neglected semicolon. The New York City Transit public service placard, which extols the virtues of not leaving your newspaper behind when get off the trains, says simply:

“Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

It’s great to see the rarely used little punctuation mark getting such a prominent airing, though I doubt the exposure will trigger an explosion in usage among New York commuters, more’s the pity.

I was amused to see that the article had been amended. It seems the New York Times originally left out the crucial comma (shock, horror) in the punctuation of the book title “Eats, shoots & leaves” by self-proclaimed punctuation pedant Lynn Truss.

Just goes to show, punctuation is something even the best in the business can (and do) get wrong.

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