January 2004

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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Department of E-nostalgia: this site contains Flash implementations of popular retro games such as Space Invaders. zap those aliens!!

Always good for dreaming contentedly in front of the PC while pretending to work: this list by country of the top things you should do before you die. Given that the list includes entries like doing the Cresta Run in an alcohol-and-drug-induced stupor, that might also cover top things you can do while you die.

Here's the one's I've already done:

  • Australia: Bondi Beach
  • Australia: the perfect city experience (Sydney)
  • Canada: the haunting call of the loon
  • Canada: Lake Superior
  • Canada: West coast culture (Vancouver)
  • China: The Peak
  • China: Star Ferry
  • France: The Riviera
  • India: Wait for the novice monks (Leh, Ladakh)
  • India: The Kashmiri Himalayas
  • India: Sunrise over the Taj Mahal (also visited it by full moon)
  • India: A houseboat called Repose (Kashmir)
  • Indonesia: Borobodur
  • Ireland: Climb the magic mountain (Mullaghmore)
  • Ireland: Skellig Micheal
  • Nepal: A cliche (yes, trekking is a cliche, but let's have more cliches like that)
  • Netherlands: The original Haarlem
  • Russia: Moscow in the snow
  • Spain: Andalucia
  • Spain: The Palace Hotel
  • Spain: The tapas bars of Seville
  • Spain: Islands in a sea of cloud (Sierra Nevada)
  • UK: Drive north on the scenic Antrim Coast Rd
  • UK: The British museum (The Greatest Stolen Property Collection On Earth)
  • US: Sunset Boulevard at 7.00 p.m (big obvious LA sunset).
  • US: Seattle's Pike Place market

That still leaves me plenty more to get to!

The inventor of the (in)famous keyboard combination, Ctrl+Alt+Delete, retires. A bit I like: he was on some panel with Bill Gates, and remarked at one point, "I might have invented it, but it was Bill who made it famous".

Gates didn't laugh.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Meme category in the Bloggie awards covers self replicating ideas. A good nominee is Unconscious Mutterings, which invites the visitor to respond with random associations to a list of words. Here's my response to the current list:
  1. Political:: Jungle.
  2. Concentration:: Voodoo
  3. Fish:: Phish
  4. Lunacy:: Lunar
  5. Red:: Deep throbbing.
  6. Imply:: Twister
  7. Recognize:: Childhood
  8. Sexist:: Pig
  9. Commercial:: Babylon
  10. Stricken:: Plague

The Bloggie awards voting page (best blogs in a variety of categories) looks interesting: could waste an enjoyable hour or two visiting the nominees.

An interesing use of GM: plants that can detect mines.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

She's a Flight Risk is back in action - welcome back, Isabella. She points today to this excellent list of fives.

Interesting piece here on the social and media impact of blogging. Some good comments from Instapundit, for once I mostly agree with him.

The New York Times has a good Q&A page outlining the agenda of the Kurds in Iraq. Hat-tip for the link, Agonist.

A very cold day by our temperate standards: 0 C. Croghane is covered in snow. Editing in a cosy home office instead of braving the slippery roads.

Monday, January 26, 2004

To make up for Spirit's difficulties, Opportunity has landed and is sending back some pretty striking images.

A good weekend: we went to ROTK finally, it's an epic film and does not disappoint. Preceded by lunch at Caviston's: I had tuna sashimi and lobster - an excellent pre-cinema nosebag.
On Sunday we took Scooby for a walk in the Ow river valley (Lug is nicely frosted with a light coat of snow) and had a roast afterwards. Today there's a lot of snow round the country but not a lot here yet.

Friday, January 23, 2004

On Mars, Spirit has gone silent except for the odd bleep. Well, it was good while it lasted ...

Turning into a nasty cold rainy evening out there - well we haven't been short-changed on real winter weather this time round.

Flame of the Week: Apple is the most successful company ever, you idiot! Any flame mail that starts off "You're quite stupid" is sure to degenerate into a spitting hissy fit before long. Ain't nothing madder than a mad Apple fan ...

A discussion here of how plants may use grid computing to regulate their 'breathing'.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I'll have to stop posting big articles I write to the blog, and put them on some other blog, but hey for now here goes:
There has never been so much buzz about broadband, with prices falling and new offerings coming to market. Yet Ireland remains one of the slow learners, with adoption rates far below what they should be. We examine why.

Broadband calling

Many of us retain a nostalgic fondness for the banshee screech of the modem, which has long been the means by which we went online from home ? at least until we could upgrade to ISDN. But the cry of the modem is still heard in the land ? and far more widely than it should be, for a modem is DOS-era technology that belongs in an IT museum. And upgrading to ISDN didn?t feel like much of a bargain either. Pricing has been of the order we associate with our telcos (i.e. steep), and if you go for the one option that makes ISDN worthwhile ? being able to use the phone while online ? your access speed isn?t noticeably better than a high end modem.

Broadband is not so much a technology as a category. While most people think of broadband as being much, much faster than modem technology (and it is), the defining feature is broadness. The range of frequencies in the communication channel is wide. Bands in that range can be used for different tasks (multitasking) ? or the same task can use several different channels (multiplexing). Both of these capabilities result in a more flexible and efficient connection, much as a wider, smoother road carries a lot more traffic. Opinions vary as to how much broadness is broad enough, but according to the IBM Dictionary of Computing, a broadband channel is "6 MHz wide."

For instance, it is generally agreed that Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable TV are broadband services in the downstream direction. Which brings us to another feature of many broadband offerings: they are usually asymmetrical. The downstream speed (data coming to you from a server) is dramatically faster than the upstream direction (going from you to the server). This is built into the fundamental nature of the technology ? for example, cables were invented with a view to transmitting TV, and DSL was invented primarily for the Web-surfing consumer. Neither were designed with heavy traffic in the other direction in mind. If your data transmission requirements are high ? web publishing, data traffic, big e-mail ? you need to ask searching questions about the upstream capability of the service you intend to purchase.

Another typical, if not defining, feature of broadband is ?always-on?. You are permanently connected to the service and either charged a flat rate or a per data volume charge. Always-on doesn?t always mean broadband ? for example, it is a feature of many new mobile technologies such as GPRS. Anyone who has thought of something they wanted to send or look up ? in the minute or so after hanging up a connection ? will appreciate the bliss of always-on.

According to analysts IDC, ?most of the future growth in consumer Internet access will be based on the uptake of broadband services. Residential Internet customers across Western Europe continue to migrate to broadband, while in some cases, new Internet users move straight to broadband without having previously had a dial connection.?

The cheapest and most common form of broadband is ADSL, which uses a regular phone line with special enabling technology to dish out 512 Kbps. Eircom and ESAT both provide variants of ADSL. The A stands for asymmetrical, by the way, so your mileage may vary in the upstream direction.

Satellite broadband is ideal if you live in the (many) parts of Ireland where broadband doesn?t go, such as in rural areas or in the city where the copper wire connection is too old or companies are too far away from a telephone exchange. The downside is that satellite can be sluggish in the upstream direction, if this relies on traditional modem technology.

The main players include Leap, Irish Broadband and GV Distribution. GV Distribution are sole distributors for Aramiska, which offers high-speed Internet access and broadband services to businesses, delivered via two-way satellite technology, which means superior performance in both the upstream and downstream directions. Prices vary widely in the satellite market: generally you get what you pay for in terms of bandwidth and contention ratio, which reflects the bandwidth allocated to a given number of customers.

According to Gordon Smith, Sales Director of GV Distribution, "Our service provides users with a fast and cost-effective always-on Internet connection with a contention ratio of 4 to 1 for upstream and 8 to 1 for downstream with no latency issues, something other providers fail to mention.?

Irish Broadband provides wireless broadband coverage throughout Dublin city. The service will be available to all business and home Internet users in Cork city in February and will then roll out in Drogheda and Dundalk, followed by Galway city in April/May.

According to Paul Doody, Managing Director, Irish Broadband: "Our licences are equivalent to the most widely deployed spectrum by telcos worldwide and therefore we can provide the cheapest and most cost effective broadband solutions in the Irish market." Monthly rates vary between EUR 75 and EUR250 depending on service levels.

Cable is a good land-based platform for broadband, and often comes bundled with a TV and phone connection, making it attractive to the general public. Compare with telco and satellite, geographical coverage is relatively sparse, and performance may be affected by the number of subscribers in the area. NTL and Chorus both have expansionary plans, but the success of digital satellite TV in Ireland has undoubtedly cooled the cable market.

Radio wireless can also be a broadband carrier, especially suitable for community services such as may be found on Ireland?s western isles. With ADSL constantly spreading, however, it?s getting harder to justify the investment required for such schemes.

The irony is that ADSL not only doesn?t reach all parts, there are high profile locations where it ought to reach, but doesn?t. If the line quality is poor, ADSL loses too many packages in transmission and the service fails. If the line doesn?t meet the transmission spec, ADSL will not be installed. According to Declan Ryan, Managing Director of the Matrix Group in Parkwest Enterprise Centre, customers there and in City West have been extremely disappointed at the lack of ADSL-capable lines.

It can even be the case that the line checks positive but Eircom won?t provide the service or give an estimate of when it will be available. According to Ryan, ?The most embarrassing case of this was a client from Central Europe who moved here and signed their building lease ? having checked that they could get ADSL. It was very embarrassing to be Irish on the day the client discovered that they could not get ADSL, and Eircom could not tell them when it would be available. The client just kept walking around their new offices in disbelief and saying ?What sort of a country is this???.

It?s not much better for one regular consumer in the heart of the city. According to a visitor to Karlin Lillington?s excellent and popular technology web log (http://weblog.techno-culture.com/), ?I live within spitting distance of Guinness Brewery and was all set to sign up for wireless broadband from Irish Broadband - but following a site visit it appears I live in a black hole. It beggars belief that it's so complicated in this day and age ? back to dial up for me I'm afraid! "

Along with patchy availability, pricing is a strong restraining factor to the growth of broadband in Ireland. A gleam of good news is that Eircom are announcing plans (subject to regulatory approval) of a price reduction for its wholesale broadband product, along with a corresponding cut for its entry-level retail offering. The former incumbent sells wholesale DSL access to other broadband providers.

The price that Eircom charges to providers will now be reduced by 15 percent from EUR27 per month to EUR23 per month, which should allow the other operators to pass on price cuts to customers. In addition, the firm is to introduce a new entry-level retail broadband product priced at EUR39.99 per month from 1 March 2004. Entry-level pricing previously stood at EUR54.45 per month. According to Eircom, the price cut will make Irish prices equivalent to those in the UK and will make Ireland the fifth-cheapest market in Europe for a comparable product.

We shall keep our fingers crossed that the move is approved, which should provide knock-on benefits to Eircom-dependent broadband suppliers and their customers. However, for customers using Eircom lines, the recent increase in Eircom line rental does take some of the shine off the proposed broadband cuts. At EUR 24.18 per month, a 25% increase within one year, this brings our rental costs to the highest in Europe highest. Without a truly competitive environment, suppliers are obliged to differentiate on service aspects such as speed and allowed data transfer. At present Esat BT offers a Rate Adaptive DSL service to the residential market. This service offers a maximum download speed of 512KBps and a maximum upload speed of 128Kbps. This is roughly 10 times faster than a normal dial up connection.

With this service Esat BT also allows up to 8GB to be uploaded or downloaded on a monthly basis without penalty. This 8GB is based on the higher of the two amounts, i.e. if you download 7.9GB and upload 7.9GB then there is no penalty. If however you download 8.2GB and upload 5GB you will suffer a penalty as you have gone over the limit in one direction. This compares with Eircom?s limit of 4GB per month.

The penalty for going over your limit is suspension from the service until the first day of the next month. This penalty is in place in order to protect the quality of the service for customers who use it. You can track and manage your usage at a Web address supplied by Esat. Esat BT also provides a free dual modem (Ethernet and USB port) for the duration of your contract and a free Security Pack (Norton Internet Security Pack 2004 for Windows users) with 90 days of free updates. If you sign up before February 20th 2004, you can also benefit from free connection on a self-install option and your first months rental free of charge. The current monthly rental charge is EUR49.49 (inc. VAT) per month. This compares with Eircom?s current charge of EUR54.45.

The overall picture of Irish broadband is mixed and frustrating. ADSL is getting more reasonable, but is far from being as ubiquitous as it should be. Consumer-priced wireless broadband is available but only in a few metropolitan areas. Business-grade wireless broadband is available and reasonably ubiquitous, but at business-grade prices. Government initiatives such as moving to open up the ESB power grid for broadband are welcome and encouraging signs of action, but come with a big lead time.

Meanwhile everyone from consumers to external investors is throwing their hands in the air, wondering why we are lagging behind economies such as Eastern Europe. According to industry watchdog www.comwreck.com, "Under the direction of its regulatory regime Ireland has not only got Europe's highest line rental, but also Europe's highest DSL wholesale pricing (EUR 27 per month, back-haul not included); Ireland ranks at the low end when it comes to DSL availability (below 50% of lines), DSL uptake (only recently reached 1%), Internet penetration (34%) and real actual home Internet usage i.e. more than once a week (17%)". To put this last figure of 17% into perspective, the equivalent Swiss penetration rate is 45%.

This shortfall will bite us hard when we find ourselves competing directly inside Europe against countries with drastically cheaper wages and wall-to-wall broadband cover. If we don?t pick up the pace before then, Irish people who could be contributing to the information economy will still be using the Internet equivalent of the old black phones with revolving dials and buttons marked A and B.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

A kid called Mike Rowe decides to add a Soft to his name and registers MikeRoweSoft.com. The Empire of Evil is pissed and coming after him with writs. Everyone else is busy sniggering.

The battle is heating up in the Year of the Search.

Quiet weekend: we went to Dunlaore but missed out on a seat at ROTK. However, we did some reasonably good shopping, including two nice box plants. Gardened on Sunday and had a wheat and dairy OD on lasagne and apple crumble.

Monday was in at Jefferson House doing some training on the Ort of Communication.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Niue is dead! Long live .nu! An article on the bizarre world of minority domains. Echoes the point I made earlier this week about artificial domain scarcities.

Here's an interesting technical backgrounder on how Spirit takes photos of such brilliant clarity. The short version: spend the money on lens and CCR, not pixels.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Spirit goes a-trekkin. 10 feet across the Martian surface - go, Spirit, go!

No sign of global warmin at our Canadian offices in New Brunswick. It's -27o with a wind chill that makes it feel like -43o. Yes you read that right!

A new take on domain names: they're like houses, so rent 'em out to the highest bidder. Or is this just a flash in the pan due to overuse of the .com namespace?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Here's one to illustrate that homo sapiens can rationalise pretty much any behaviour, no matter how nefarious. This guy is (hilariously) rationalising the ethics of selling fake Viagra.

Croghane mountain is covered in snow - quite low down too. The gardener in me is happy to see a good short vicious cold snap to kill off those pesky slugs and grubs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Windy, sunny and freezing cold. For lunch: a bag of blocks and a swimmer (that's Dublinese for take-away fish and chips).

"We're going to have a real interesting time trying to figure this stuff out." Spirit gets busy on Mars.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Planted a row of radishes (first seeds of 2004) and booked an apartment in Los Gigantes Tenerife for two weeks in February.

Dept. of Hell Freezes Over: Apple concocts a deal with Softies fellow travellers HP to produce a clone of the iPod. It will be blue, and more to the point, will support Microsoft WMA file format, generally held to be superior to iTunes.

A pleasant weekend saw us doing various house and garden chores on Saturday and doing pretty much nothing on Sunday - a rare event that needs the most extreme weather conditions to justify it: and they were extreme, sleet, howling winds, petrifyingly cold. We bought a mound of Sunday papers and had the stove cranked up from early in the day. A. cooked a perfect roast chicken.

Friday, January 9, 2004

A followup note from S. on the subject of the mound near Leighlinbridge:

The mound to which I referred is known is DINN RIG and is referred to as a "ceremonial site". It is huge, and completely covered in dense trees and scrub, which makes it disappear into the surrounding landscape. It is flat topped, (a feature you cannot appreciate until you battle your way up there), and would command a stunning view of the surrounding countryside if it wasn't overgrown. It is made of loose rock, which can be seen in places where erosion, and roots have torn at it.

I agree with your assessment of the locality as a hot spot. Dinn Rig is mentioned in the 17th century Annals of the Four Masters as the seat of the kings of Leinster, and as such a major centre of power. A colourful description of its destruction is to be found here.

Today it is sleeping however. Definitely worth further investigation. (It can be approached by river.)

Slate has a tantalising review of the Handspring Treo. I'd be very happy to get my paws on one of these little devices.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Spirit is doing OK on Mars, though a pesky air-bag is in the way and the wee feller is delaysed while they fuss with the tackle, and Spirit might even have to do a "robotic pirouette". BTW, it's somewhat bigger than I thought - a reviewer on Slate used the term "Mini Cooper" sized. I thought it had the dimensions of yr basic remote-controlled toy.

Absolute Friends gets a good review in Time, in spite of the naked anti-establishment anger in its pages. At any rate, it has temporarily lured me aside from the long haul of Roland's quest for the Dark Tower.

It's a nice day here ... the north winds bring blue skies ... and the flocks of gulfs and terns who come to the north side of the building (my view towards Dublin) to surf the updrafts and get plenty cruising height before they saunter off to keep an eye out for tidbits.
They look immaculate against the blue.

A thoughful piece on Slate discusses the ethics of colonising Mars.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Reading Le Carre's newest, Absolute Friends: it sucks you in in that effortless Le Carre way. Like most of his recent works, not a lot happens, just lots of atmosphere and people relationships.

It's a rotten bad stormy day here in Aughrim, the trees are tossing madly. On the bright side, the daffs are starting to show: a month early!

A sign of passing time: I notice that the bark of the silver birches I planted the year before last is starting to turn silver.
When I first got these trees, they had coppery bark, and I thought I'd been fobbed off with "non-silver" birches. But of course the birch doesn't develop its silver until it's a couple of years of age. Doh!
The largest of these trees must be pushing twenty feet now - they were probably about twelve high when I planted them. One thing that grows well in Aughrim is trees, that's for sure. One of the first things I planted when I got here was about 50 ash saplings given to me by JF. Most were about 3 to 4 feet in length, and now some of the biggest are taller than me already. I guess I've planted over 100 trees on the land here by now, all of them (bar a couple of maple and eucalypts) are native: rowan, ash, silver birch, oak, hazel. The property is bounded on one side by a hedge of sceach: whitethorn and blackthorn. Along this bound I have built a dry stone ditch, which I'm gradually populating with further saplings, montbretia (the striking freesia I associate with Kerry and W. Cork) etc.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

A building worth taking a plane to see. Santiago Calatrava?s new conference centre on Tenerife is a stunning piece of work.

L8r: the day fades to a pearly opalescent gray. Listening to Miles play "In a Silent Way" as I work through the AutoTest code. I noted in a new (and well received) biography of Satchmo that while Miles acknowledged that "you couldn't do nothing new with trumpet that Pops hadn't been there before you", he was derisive of how Satch was always portrayed having a huge Uncle-Tom-style grin. Obviously Miles worked overtime at repairing this image of the Black Man, as every single photo (of the many) that I have seen of Miles, he is glowering intensely at the camera.
PS. Satchmo's handle came from that grin - it's short for Satchelmouth.

Fine sunny day here in the capital. The building where I work is yr average architectural disaster - large glass cube in leafy Dublin suburb. But where I sit is on the top floor looking out through a massive glass wall at a spreading view of Dublin city and bay. The Spire is a thin white needle on high pressure days like today - when there's an inversion it disappears in Dublin's smog - a good environmental indicator.

The day started well as I drove in before dawn - a massive full moonset, big amber ball declining over the city.

Time to get those fingers doing the walking again after a pleasant seasonal break. We pretty much stayed close to home and got in some good local treks. Aisling's mum came to stay for a couple of days, which is always a pleasure (nice to be able to say that about yr mum-in-law!).

Had a contact mail from S., an old buddy who has hunted down a few megaliths with me in his day (not to mention going round the world with me). Here is a link to a good site which has info on the megaliths of Leighlinbridge (where S. visited in 2003 and found an impressive mound). This one looks like a pretty decent standing stone: Leighlinbridge is obviously a hot-spot.

posted by A Seeker after Knowledge 3:52 AM

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January 2004 archive
Living somewhere near here:

Lough Dan, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
Click the piccie for a bigger version ...
Blogs we like
Blogcritics: news and reviews
Where is Raed? in Baghdad
Oblomovka in California
Melanie - this really is a blog.
Deborah - is buzzing in Sweden.
Paulianne diarying in Diois
Karlin Lillington on the move.
Tom Chi making music in Seattle.
The Homeless Guy - out and about.
The Agonist - somewhere in Texas (when he's not touring the Silk Road).
Eric Raymond - an individual.
William Gibson - for as long as he keeps it up.
Ilonina - is random.
SlashDot - geek central.
BoingBoing - a directory of wonderful things.
Bernie Goldbach - is under way in Ireland.
Ideas Asylum - for insanely good ideas.
Tom Murphy - has a PR angle.

Dept. of War-blogging Just to keep an eye on these guys and be reminded that the neo-cons aren't going away any time soon ...
Den Beste - good on engineering topics, rabid on everything else.
John Robb - war-blogging from the armchair (which is the closest to a war-zone most of these guys get).
Instapundit - for breaking news, and a right-wing take on same. "If you've got a modem, I've got a (bigoted) opinion"

February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003

I live in Ireland, in a lovely part of the country called Aughrim in the county of Wicklow. I work in South Dublin - it's a long commute - but 2 days a week I work from home. Whenever possible, I walk with my dog Scooby (Scooby's a feisty Glen of Imaal terrier with loadsa character) under beautiful Croghane Mountain.
About the name Mulqueen Mulqueen is a Clare sept, first recorded as a bardic tribe in the annals of the Dal Cais in the 10th century. I'm from Limerick originally myself, and the name is mainly found in south Clare, North Tipperary, and Limerick East. The name is O'Maolchaoin in Gaelic - the "Maol" (as with all the many Irish surnames beginning in "Mul") means "bald". It doesn't mean there were a lot of hair-challenged gents back then! The tag refers to "tribes wearing horn-less helmets" - it wasn't just the Vikings who wore horns, many Irish tribes did too. The "chaoin" means "gentle" in the sense of well-bred (the sense that survives in "gentleman" or "gentility"). Presumably the bardic (poetic) activities are referred to here :-) Anyhow, some of us are still writing - there is a disproportionate number of Mulqueens working in Irish journalism. Heraldic elements in clan history generally tend to be much later additions, but for the record the Mulqueen coat of arms holds a lion and a heart, and the motto: "Fortiter et fideliter" - brave and true.