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Showing posts from 2009

Article on Public Servant Bashing

I enjoyed this article in this weekend's Sunday Tribune about media bashing of public servants.

snippet:
DNA tests on a nurse from Enfield recently discovered she is a direct descendant of a family of cruel kitten killers from the 1890s. Investigations into the background of a teacher in Kilkenny revealed that wealthy ancestors on his mother's side used to stand outside the homes of starving people during the famine, munching potato salad sandwiches and feeding the leftovers to the local bird population. What else would he do with that kind of history but look for a job in the public service?

http://www.metalireland.com/community/viewtopic.php?t=38821&p=687405

Courts Service Online

I went this morning to the website of the Courts Service in the hope of downloading a PDF of the forms needed to make a Small Claims application. My fabulous German kitchen is still unfinished, and the company that was installing it seems to have ceased trading.

I was amazed to discover that I didn't need to fill out the form because I was able to complete the entire process, including paying entirely online. The Small Claims Court is designed to be cheap and easy, and the application was certainly that.

That's what online government should be like. Hats off to the Courts Service.

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics, and Charts

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The recent Irish Government report Delivering the Smart Economy provided me with a number of great examples for a class I like to give sometimes about how poorly (often deliberately) designed charts and graphs can be misleading without actually lying. Now I can replace some of my contrived examples with real life ones.





The first example Business Expenditure on R&D is unusual. It shows business expenditure on R&D by indigenous and foreign companies over the years. Bizarrely the graph codes the information with bars of three rather colours than two. The far too subtle drop shadow above the bars is meant to point out that the bars are overlaid on top of each other. At a glance it would appear as though the foreign investment is not significantly greater than the indigenous because the total areas of of their respective colours is comparable. A more honest designer would simply have used two colours and stacked them one atop the other. This (the designer might retort) would make th…

Bad Spelling

I saw a sign today at a hostel that said "NO VACANCY'S". What really puzzled me was that it was a LED sign that appeared to have been mass produced. The end of civilization, as we know it, is nigh.

Dexter Season 1, Google's China Policy, and Blasphemy (way to segue!)

I am working my through Season 1 of Dexter. It is slow going. Not because it is poorly written, but because I find it so disturbing. When something is on TV you have to watch it or miss it (so 90s), but on when watching on DVD you can come up for air if needed.

Dexter is a psychopathic serial killer, who only kills other serial killers. The violence in Dexter is not cartoony, and although much of it happens off screen it is still a bit disturbing at times. But what worries me most is that Dexter might get caught. Having already paid good money for Season 2, it is safe to assume that he doesn't get caught, but I find the suspense and the tension too engaging at times.

Feeling for Dexter is strange. It does not sit comfortably with me and I wonder if the show is experienced differently by US and non-US audiences. Dexter goes to great lengths to ensure that he only kills bad people who have beat the system. This makes it OK, sort of. And this is a recurring theme. In one episode a p…

Interlacing of the Body Snatchers

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Classic Sci-Fi Collection
EAN: 5050582513738


I recently bought a Sci-Fi Box set that had six old movies in it: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Thing From Another World, Incredible Shrinking Man, This Island Earth, Creature From The Black Lagoon, and It Came From Outer Space. I like old movies and I thought some of them would be fun. I was most interested in Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1956] since this is a very famous movie. Mercifully the movie came in both the original Black & White and the colorized version. Someone who is going to be interested enough to pay for a movie like this is not going to be interested in seeing a version with colour added sometime in the 1980s. I was very disappointed by the quality of the picture. The box claimed that the movies were digitally re-mastered. Not only was the picture quality shabby in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it was interlaced. This means that the DVD was made using a transfer from video tape rather than actual film. That …

Bye Bye Eircom

My Eircom broadband will be disconnected in the next 24 hours. The company made the classic mistake that large incumbent near-monopoly operators make : denial. For almost two weeks I had problems with my internet service. I concluded it was an issue with the name servers. I went several times to the Eircom website to see if it was a known issue but there was nothing there. When I eventually read about the problem it was in the Irish Times. I continued to have problems but the Eircom website insisted that although there had been a problem it had since been resolved.

When I contacted Eircom to find out how to have my service disconnected (there's no easy way to find this information) I got a form response telling me that all was well, but telling me none of the things I asked for.

When I eventually spoke to someone today I got the expected "not our fault" attitude. That was a mistake. "Eircom is very very sorry" was the only appropriate stance to take. At various…

President signed Bills

I was disappointed to learn today that President McAleese signed both the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 into law. The president of the Republic has only two non-ceremonial powers. One is to refuse a Taoiseach's request to dissolve the Dail and the other is to refer a potentially unconstitutional law to the Supreme Court. One would think that since both of these laws were so controversial that they would have been worth testing.

In fact the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 is probably exactly the kind of law that the framers of the constitution would have had in mind when they wrote it. The President's role is to protect the people and against any government that might attempt to trample on their basic rights. But President McAleese is not the kind of president that is going to rock the boat or stand up to the government. She never was.

The people of Ireland are slightly less safe now and their civil liberties are damaged. Hopefully the…

Regulation Good, Free Market Bad ?

Recent problems in the finance industries have given many commentators good cause to call for better regulation of the sector. I am a great believer in the power of the market to sort the wheat from the chaff and I generally think that the market should be left to its own devices. Free market economics has gotten a bad rap lately, especially in Ireland. For many years government policy fanned the flames of the property bubble. A variety of tax incentives distorted the property market and cause prices to rise much higher than they might have had the market been left to function normally. Yet somehow the facts have also been distorted and much public discourse seems to revolve around the premise that the free market is to blame for the country’s woes. There are indeed reasonable arguments that tighter regulation of the financial sector might have made things a little better. But of late these have been distilled into the simplistic principle that regulation is good and deregulation is b…

Spencer Tunick (non) Exhibition

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The exhibition of photographs taken by Spencer Tunick last year was on recently. It was called an exhibition, but they didn't even go to the expense of making prints. The photos were projected from a PC. It is interesting that despite the huge fanfare that accompanied the taking of the photographs, the display of the photos themselves was a non-event. The artist, as far as I know, did not even put in an appearance.

This suggests that my suspicions were justified. It was never about creating photographs. It was about hundreds of people getting naked in a field. The photography was a side show.

I am a bit disappointed by the pictures that were displayed. I found some of Tunick's other work very interesting. The Blarney pictures are a bit twee, sort of John Hinde postcards with naked people.

Googlemobile

The googlemobile drove past my house today at 1442, so I guess I will be on street view in due course. I was expecting it to look more impressive. I had hoped to stage some frightfully clever piece of performance art in the front garden. Perhaps a commentary on the survielance society, but in the end all I had to show was my empty coffee cup on the window sill. The siñorita will probably give out about about that once a week every week until the googlemobile comes around again.

The month in the run up to an election seems like an unfortunate time to build up a street view database. Election posters all over the place will obscure some views, will date the pictures, and will send the face blurring algorithm into overdrive.

Weeds Season 3

I like Weeds. The episodes are short and densely packed with plot and wit. It is a dark drama based on a widow who turns to drug dealing to support her suburban lifestyle. There's plenty of interesting commentary and observation of the conformity of suburban life, and the thin veneer that covers the dark goings on behind closed doors. Weeds inhabits the same world as American Beauty.

I think though that it misses the mark slightly. The problem with Weeds is that it is not dark enough. The inevitable violence of the drug business has a cartoon quality. So the danger that drives much of the plot and the tension is somewhat unreal. When one character is very seriously injured in a non-drug related incident, his injuries and his pain and suffering are played for laughs. Some interesting characters have become cartoon stereotypes. So when another character is beaten up (off screen) by a drug gang it's hard to take it seriously. Instead of being like the Desperate Housewives meets …

Secretly tethered to the cloud

Thee doesn't seem to be a place to report a concern about an application on the iTunes music store. So I am posting my concerns here.

I downloaded Lemonade Tycoon last night for my iPhone. I'm very new to the App Store and I was surprised to find so many free applications.

Apple vets all the applications before putting them on the store. The vetting process is, by all accounts, very tough and developers complain a lot about it. But I guess it's important to make sure that applications don't contain anything malicious. After all, an iPhone virus sweeps around the globe story would be too juicy for the world's media outlets to resist.

I think Apple has missed something though and I don't think the vetting process is strict enough. I downloaded a translation application last night. The free version of this program connects to a server to do the translation online. The paid version has off line translation built in in to the app. The iPhone is clever enough to send…

iPhone

I got an iPhone for my birthday. So far I'm pretty impressed with it. If I was in charge of Apple there are a few things I'd change, but it's pretty clear that a lot of thought has gone in to it. I wouldn't want to write a novel on it. But I could certainly read one.

How We Blew the Boom

I saw a very interesting documentary recently that did a very good job of explaining how the Irish economy went so wrong so quickly.

http://www.rte.ie/news/2009/0318/howweblewtheboom.html

Boxer does a runner

Boxer has decided not to go ahead with its plans to offer commercial DTT channels in Ireland. One wonders if they thought the whole thing through properly in the first place. Between the cable companies and Sky, pretty much everyone in Ireland who wants more than the four national channels, has more. Boxer would have had to compete either on choice (impossible given the bandwidth constraints) or cost. Certainly offering the basic selection of UK stations and a few more for about EUR10 a month would be attractive to many since the entry level pricing for cable and satellite is the order of EUR30 a month.

However satellite customers wanting to pay less can just cancel their subscriptions (as I have done) and get the UK free-to-air channels free anyway.

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is now looking at Plan B. But the consortium that came in second place is a rogues' gallery of companies that I wouldn't have a lot of faith in.

The Digital TV rollout is of national strategi…

Ode to the Phonecard

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I don’t remember precisely when Phonecards disappeared from the cultural landscape. They somehow just faded away. Once almost every wallet in Ireland was incomplete without one. I guess I personally stopped using them in the late 90s when I got my first mobile phone. Many people with mobiles continued to use them because they were the best way to make international calls without a home phone. So for collectors of phone cards, and there were many, foreign students were the best source of used cards.

Phonecards were obviously, in hindsight, an intermediate stop gap between technologies. Cash payphones were cumbersome and expensive to maintain. Prepaid phonecards allowed phone companies to collect money for calls without physically having to go to collect the cash. Mobile phones were expensive to use and required minimum monthly commitments. But when mobile phone companies began offering prepaid mobile calls, the phonecard’s days were numbered. Anyone who was organized enough to prepay…

Adobe abandons Ads for PDF

I thought it was a really clever idea. Many people publish content on the internet as PDFs instead of HTML pages. Thanks to schemes such as Google Ads, content publishers can make some money from ads embedded in their HTML pages. Publishers of PDF content could not do likewise until Adobe developed Ads for PDF.

Imagine you download a document on how to build your own PC. When you view the document an ad in one of the panels is downloaded from Adobe and displays information about an electronics store near where you live. It's a very clever idea.

But Adobe has abandoned this technology as of today. That's a pity because I think it could have worked with a bit of imagination and some elbow grease.

Oh well. Not all brilliant ideas make it. Google's plan for world domination is back on schedule.

Elgato Digital TV Decoder

The recently bought an Elgato digtal TV decoder for my mac. I bought it bundled with a hardware accelerator for video compression. Both products worked very well but were a few things that disappointed me.

The digital TV decoder does HDTV only on Intel Macs. I have a G5 with 2 PowerPC chips and buckets of RAM. I expect it would have been able to handle HDTV. But the software didn't even try. The website did say that performance would vary from machine to machine depending on spec, but if it had said flat out that it wouldn't work on my G5, I wouldn't have bought it. The box did actually say this up front. But it was in my living room at that stage.

The hardware accelerator worked well but had some frustrating limits. Elgato's EyeTV software stores captured TV in an uncompressed format. The hardware accelerator did an excellent job of converting this to MPEG4. However the dimensions of the compressed video were limited. So even if I captured HDTV the accelerator would s…

Delicious Library 2

Delicious Library is a really great product for Mac users. It is a library application that allows books, DVDs, CDs and the like to be cataloged using their bar code numbers. The really cool part is that if you have a webcam you can just show the application the barcode and it will do the rest. After it reads the barcode, it downloads track listings, author details, and cover art, and what not.

I felt very cheated that I was expected to pay to upgrade from version 1 to Version 2. I'm sure Version 2 is great. But I don't want to pay again for something I already bought.

Canceled my SkyTV Subscription

I finally canceled Sky today. In fairness the service is excellent and is good value. But Sky pissed me off just one time too many. I have been angry at Sky ever since the data privacy fiasco when the company wrote to all its Irish customers telling them it had changed the privacy policy and would be selling on customer details after all.

This morning I got a letter saying that I was going to have to pay 75c extra per month because I was paying by credit card instead of direct debit. That kind of pettiness really annoys me. Americans have a great term for it. It's called "nickel and diming".

Sky was keen to keep me. I was offered a 10% discount for the next 6 months. That more than makes up for the 75c. But I was pissed off.

So now I have 31 days of Sky TV left. I wonder what programs I'll miss?

Digital TV

Los reyes magos left a digital TV decoder under the siñorita's Christmas tree as they did in many homes across Spain this year. It was a Philips decoder and was slightly more expensive that the others but was nice and compact. It very easy to set up. It prompted me for a country (Ireland wasn't there) and then a postcode. I hope the postcode was to make it more efficient in some way and is not part of some rights management issue that would prevent viewing of otherwise available channels. I was impressed. There were some twenty-odd channels and most of them were useful. Spanish networks are in the habit of broadcasting programmes both in Spanish and in the original version. That usually means English, although it was briefly entertaining to watch manga in 日本語.

I visited my sister in France over the break. Digital TV has come to France also. There, however, the programmes seem seem to be only in English. This is a wasted opportunity.

A buddy of mine called to the house today wi…