Thursday, December 30, 2004

Not quite back yet

On the 23rd, my hard drive or nearly died. I ran out and bought a new one, but I had a lot of trouble getting the first one out. I've done this sort of thing with desktop machines, but never before with a laptop. Everything is so small that when I stripped one of the screws holding the HD in place, I was really stuck.

But, yesterday I finally was able to get into my local hardware store and get the small screwdriver I needed to get the HD out. So, now I have the new HD installed.

My only problem now is that I think I may have messed up the Windows2000 installation. Not sure yet. If yes, then I'll have to redo it and then redo all the downloading of patches, etc. that entails. Uggh. Takes hours. Probably should have gone to XP, but I didn't want to pay for it. I don't even know what it costs, but I'm sure hundreds. Plus, I'm also sure I'd lose something I have with Win2000 Professional.

I'm sorely tempted to learn how to run two OS on the one PC. I'd love to install Lynux and see what that's like.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas cards

One other thing about Christmas that always catches me out is Christmas cards. I never do them early enough. Yesterday I went to the post office to buy some Christmas stamps, but they were out. I was taken aback because I actually felt like I was on the ball this year. Cards written, ready to mail and still only the 21st of December. Not ready early enough according to the Post Office, apparently.

Oh well. The cards went out yesterday with the standard bird stamps.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


A friend of mine who recently bought himself a geochron, sent an e-mail yesterday sympathizing with me for the short days. Yes, these are very short days in Ireland. Today, of course, is the shortest. When it's cloudy or rainy it can be so dark that it seems as if the sun forgot to rise.

This morning, however, it's crystal clear outside. A great day to be at Newgrange.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Hillary on immigration

I hadn't realized that Hillary Clinton is now the right wing advocate for immigration reform:
I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants... Clearly we have to make some tough decisions as a country, and one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry-and-exit system so that if we are going to let people in for... work...lets have system that keeps track of them... People have to stop employing illegal immigrants.

Just browsing

This caught my eye. Richard (who is young and in California) reports that a quarter of his hits come from Firefox users. I figured that people reading his blog would be much more likely to switch to something new like Firefox than would those who read mine. So I checked.

MS Internet Explorer still accounts for 55% of all browers coming to this site. Not as high as I had expected, but clearly the leader. Firefox accounts for 20% (Netscape 11%). I cannot believe the Firefox number is that high - more than double what I expected. Not really that different than Richard found with his site.

Maybe people reading blogs are more disposed to trying new software than other web users?

The Newshound audience is older than the average web site audience, so I decided to check the Newshound stats too.

MSIE accounts for 89% of all browsers loading up the Newshound. That's the kind of number I'd have expected. What's amazing (and somewhat worrying) is that 11.4% of those are using versions of IE that Microsoft no longer supports and which have serious security flaws.

Only 6% of Newshound users are using Firefox. Still, that's more than I would have anticipated and more than Netscape and Opera combined. {I'm surprised at how small Netscape's share is.}

Firefox is off to a flying start.

Tower Bridge

I was watching a really interesting documentary the other night about the Tower Bridge in London. The Tower Bridge was built towards the end of the 19th century, but it took years to get it built because of disagreement about what the bridge should look like.

Some people wanted a thoroughly modern bridge and others wanted a bridge that fit in with the Tower of London, which is nearby. The latter group were the winners, but I have to admit I thought at least one of the modern designs was very attractive.

In the end, they built a modern structure, but put a shell around it that gives it that medieval look. Makes a great tourist attraction, but I bet there were some people at the time who thought that was a great waste of public money.

French bridge

I saw this bridge on the news the other night. I thought it was spectacular. I kept wondering if there were any environmentalist protesters trying to stop its construction. If someone was trying to build such a bridge here it would be held up for 50 years thanks to all sorts of objections.

Here's a better picture of it than the one the NY Times has published.

I love bridges. I love looking down the East River from the Queens side and seeing all those bridges. One or two are pretty ugly (the Manhattan Bridge is my least favorite), but I never tire of looking at the Brooklyn Bridge.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Today's Newshound listing

I decided to create a new blog for days like today. The blog is

You'll get today's listing there. Unfortunately, none of the Irish News articles will work until the Newshound site itself is working.

Newshound woes

Now that I've confirmed that very few people could get to the Newshound during that earlier window, I'm going to try and post a version of today's listing here in a few minutes.

Also, mail is also not working.

Not the Olympics answer

The NY Times remains skeptical about baseball's willingness to tackle the drugs issue. I agree that I'm not conivinced that the owners or players really want to root this out.

The Times advocates using track & field as a model. I agree to an extent. I too want to see stringent enforcement and long-term bans for any player caught cheating. However, (as a friend reminded me) I have no interest in banning players for drinking coffee with their breakfast or taking a Sudafed.

Serious drugs (not just steroids) should be banned and their use should be punishable with serious sentences (minimum of one-year-no-pay suspensions). The testing should also be more rigorous than that which is used in track & field. Blood testing and DNA (or whatever) tests (for those genetic engineering solutions that are coming to a ball park near you) should also be included.

The NY Mets are about to sign Pedro Martinez for more than $50m. Before the deal is final, they are insisting that he have a medical. If they didn't insist on a drugs test too, then they're fools. No team should sign any free agent without making these tests a pre-condition.

Hosting solutions

This is sort of "off topic" for me, but this morning's events reminded me again of an article I read in the SB Post back in early October. Adrian Weckler was advocating that Irish companies go with US-based web hosting companies rather than their Irish counterparts.

I agree and I disagree with him.

I've had the Newshound hosted with a US-based hosting company for 3 or 4 years or so. I chose them originally because (a) the price was right and (b) there was no reasonable alternative in Ireland. I had been using an Irish company before that, but they charged a whole lot more for a whole lot less.

Looking back, I think I should have done more research before choosing my hosting company. I may have found a better fit, but at that time I couldn't have anticipated the technical developments that I've added since. Still, they did offer a much, much better deal than my Irish company.

Weckler emphasizes web space in his article. Space is important, especially if you have a photograph-dependent site. Anything less than 500MB will be totally inadequate. A 2GB limit sounds good.

But, possibly more important (certainly for me) is uptime. Some sites guarantee 99% uptime. Others guarantee 99.9% uptime. Others guarantee 99.99%.

There are 720 hours in a 30-day month. If your site is up 99% of the time, that means that every month your site could be down over 7 hours. You may not think that's a lot, but those 7 hours may not be while your customers are sleeping or golfing. It could be the busiest day of the month and the busiest hours of that day.

Even 99.9% is probably inadequate. Your site will be down three quarters of an hour every month. Sufficient for many, but not for any serious eBusiness.

I would recommend that any serious eBusiness should be looking for 99.99% uptime and at least 1GB of web space. Presuming you can use Linux tools, PHP scripting and MySQL are also MUSTS. There are other factors to consider too.

And, the last (& possibly MOST important) consideration is how difficult is a potential hosting company to contact when things do go wrong. I hate overpaying if I don't have to, but I'd be willing to pay a little extra for a company that I could actually get on the phone any hour of any day.

This is important no matter what guarantee you get because sometimes your site will go down due to factors that are outside the control of your web host. Your guarantee won't mean anything, but if you can at least find out what's gone wrong it will help somewhat. If all you have is an e-mail address, then when your site is down, it's almost a certainty that so is your web hosting company's. And, their mail servers are probably down too so e-mail contact is out.

This is where an Irish company going with an Irish hosting provider might (and I emphasize might) do better than with a hosting company in the US. I know I wouldn't sign-up with any Irish host that didn't provide me with real 24/7 contact information. If an Irish company's not willing to provide that to their Irish customers, then I agree with Weckler.

Are there any hosting companies out there who want to make me a reasonable offer?

Newshound down

The Newshound has been down since at least 3:30 if not earlier. I have no word as to when it will be back up.

UPDATE 12:10: The site came back around 10am. 6.5 hours down. Errr.

Further UPDATE 3pm: It seems I was not entirely right earlier. I was able to see the Newshound, but not everyone else was. I don't know how many could or couldn't see the site, but it's down for me too now. I finally got my web host company on the phone and found out they'd been hacked over night. I was sympathetic, but now more than an hour after I called and nearly 12 hours since the problem surfaced, my sympathy is waning. I downloaded the key databases while I could access the site earlier, just in case.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shopping online

Funny thing is, I don't mind shopping online. I shop online quite a bit, but shopping online is not really that good in Ireland. Most of the time when I shop online I'm buying for someone in the US.

In Ireland, it's pretty bad. The choices are limited and often you end up in UK sites where shipping becomes grossly expensive. I don't know if it's a function of the small, off-shore market or Irish people's reluctance to take to the web, but online shopping's not that well developed yet.

Another oddity is that you have to pay Irish VAT (sales tax) of 21% no matter where in Europe you buy. I didn't know this until recently when I bought something from I thought I'd have to pay UK rates (which are 17%, I believe), but when it came time to check out they tacked on a few extra pounds for the Irish rate.

Shopping online should be ideal for Ireland seeing as shopping in stores is such a bad experience, but it hasn't really taken off here.

What's really frustrating is that I'm desperate to be rid of going shopping. It's a nightmare here. You have to remember to bring a bag with you because a lot of stores only have plastic bags, which you have to pay for.

And everywhere you go you have to pay to park. One trip to Tallaght a few weeks ago to a toy store (shopping for toys is not hell - I like that) really annoyed me because I had to pay - in advance - to park for 30 minutes. This is both aggravating and stupid because if I'm standing on line and my meter is about to run out, I'll just abandon my purchase rather than risk an excessive clamping fee.

Another year done.

Whooo. Thank God that's over. I know it's a cliche, but I H A T E shopping. I don't really mind going to the supermarket, but anything more adventurous is pure hell. I hate not knowing where to go to get, what? I don't know. And, I hate the crowds. And, of course, I hate parting with the money.

I go shopping for my wife's birthday and Christmas all in one go. A day of fear and frustration that always finishes with foolishness. I always end up buying willy nilly with little regards for whether I have anything she needs/wants/might like.

I am just thankful that I don't have to do that again for 12 months.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Cowboy Taoiseach

I didn't know John Bruton is a Texan. "Mr. Bruton also said he hopes Mr. Bush remembers him. When he was governor of Texas, Mr. Bush made the Irish leader an honorary Texan".

Friday, December 10, 2004

Free tips for living

Every so often I have an experience that for the greater good and to educate the masses I should probably share with the wider world. Last night was just such an occasion.

The time was around 11:30. I walked into the kitchen and noticed that the washing machine wasn't functioning properly. Over the previous 3-4 days it had been slowly dawning on me that the washing machine wasn't right, but I hadn't paid enough attention to really see what the problem was. Now, with 30 minutes left in the day, I had seen the light.

So, using my ingenuity, I turned off the machine and opened the drain at the bottom. Tip 1 - get a big bucket before you try this. I was using a small tray, which for all the good it did, I could have just cupped my hands.

After I cleaned up the gallons of water on the kitchen floor, I found a few items in the filter, took them out, thought to myself, "that wasn't so bad" and turned the machine on again.

30 minutes later I could see that I hadn't solved anything. So, this time, I got out the manual that came with my Whirlpool and looked for some advice. I decided to follow the manual to the letter. Tip 2 - think about what you're reading before following instructions too closely.

The manual called for the machine to be unplugged, then drained (got a big bucket this time). But, unplugging my washing machine isn't so easy. As in many Irish houses, our washing machine resides in the kitchen, under the counter. This means that in order to unplug it, you have to wriggle it out of its position.

The space the machine is in affords an extra half inch on each side, so the wriggling can take quite a while. Eventually, after almost breaking my back and nearly dropping the machine on my foot I had it out and unplugged. This is when I realized how much easier it would have been to have simply gone to the fuse box and turned off all the sockets in the kitchen. (NOTE to Whirlpool, you might want to offer this alternative to unplugging when you're selling these front-loading machines.)

I followed the rest of the steps in the manual, nearly broke my back again pushing the machine into position, turned it on and it still doesn't work.

Now it was past 1am and the machine still didn't work. So, Tip 3 - don't start these projects at 11:30pm. Start early in the day when you can think clearly and when you have time to keep trying until you get it right.

There you have three valuable pieces of advice all for free.

UPDATE 9:15pm: Twenty minutes at a reasonable hour and the washing machine was as good as new. Well, it's working anyway.

Amazing what things fall out of children's pockets. The offending piece of junk was a hair clip blocking the pump, but I also found 5 elasticky hair thingies, a toy credit card - shredded and US$0.11. Why any of my children would have a dime and penny from America is beyond me.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Lost in the supermarket

Okay, I wasn't really "lost", but I saw an opportunity to allude to one of my favorite songs and I took it.

A couple of items caught my eye today while I was shopping. One - "All our salmon is 100% Irish". What does that mean? Do fish have passports? I can understand the "Irish beef" label, but somehow it seems a bit presumptuous when it comes to fish. Maybe one or two of these salmon were spawned in Scotland? Or, maybe they renounced their citizenship when they took up residency outside Ireland's territorial waters? I don't know, but I'm betting Superquinn doesn't either.

Two - "Super Free Range" eggs. There are Barn Fresh eggs, Organic eggs (no response when I asked the kid doing the stocking if they had any "Inorganic eggs"), Free Range eggs and Super Free Range eggs. I understand the concept of "free range" eggs - the chickens are free to wander around the farm yard. So, what about Super Free Range? Do these chickens have the right to wander as they please over an entire county or something?

Daniel O'Donnell

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I would bet that there are very few fans of Daniel O'Donnell among the Irish bloggers. I'd love to be able to say I stand outside the crowd on this, except I'd probably be physically ill. I cannot stand Daniel O'Donnell.

When I first "experienced" O'Donnell through the television I couldn't believe anyone that syrupy could actually have a large fan base, but he did. Then I heard he had a fairly big following in Britain too. "At least nobody in America has heard of him", I thought.

Well . . . it seems I may not be right on that account either. There are some very unwell people in both western Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (and, I assume, elsewhere). Oh God.

The British Way

There has been so much talk in the British press about the "softly, softly" approach that the British military takes in Iraq compared with the US military. This was a big feature of the Black Watch's transfer to the Sunni Triangle before the assault on Fallujah.

According to Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times, the "softly, softly" didn't work when the Black Watch got to the Sunni Triangle. And, even though this edge to relations between the US and British troops was probably more a media creation than reality, some British soldiers did apparently have to concede that the US has had it tougher in the Sunni Triangle than they have in the south.
"The threat here is at the other end of the spectrum from what we faced in Basra," said Black Watch Capt. Stuart MacAulay, sitting on the edge of a bunker at Camp Dogwood with a map of the area spread in front of him.

"After the suicide bombings against us, I went to an American soldier I know here and put my hands up. I said, 'I confess, I was one of those who sat around in Basra criticizing your approach.'

"And I'm embarrassed that I criticized American tactics without ever being here and without having met them."

He was hardly alone. The British self-perception of superiority to the Americans took hold in the first days of occupation, feeding on outrage over the handful of British deaths by U.S. friendly fire during the March 2003 invasion.

The feisty British media did the rest, turning modest differences in style into a clash of military cultures.
I actually think this rivalry is a good thing - or at least not a bad thing, and it was there 60 years ago.

I didn't pay too much attention, but I couldn't help noticing the way the British media had been all over the US Army & Marines before the Black Watch moved north. I haven't seen anything like this article in the British press yet, however.

"Feisty British media" is a great put down. Makes them sound like hyper-active children, which probably isn't far from the truth.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Not all that shocking, really

I can't stop thinking about Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and the other stars of baseball who have so discredited the game. What's bothering me is that I should have realized this has been going on for a long time.

When I was in high school I knew there were kids on the football team (and others who just wanted the body-builder look) who took steroids. I couldn't have provided any specific names, but I know it was part of the lunch-room conversation in the school 24 years ago.

At the time I can remember being unsure of any real benefits from taking drugs so I just dismissed it. But, looking back on it there were a lot of guys who were convinced that these things made you stronger (and I'm sure they were right).

So, am I shocked by baseball's revelations? No, I'm really not. What shocks me is that I was willing to go along with the charade when even a half-hearted attempt at real thought would have convinced me that the big numbers in the 90s were, essentially, thanks to Dr. Frankenstein's lab.

If 16 & 17 year-old boys were willing to pop some pills in order to be better at football, increase their popularity and, maybe, get a girl, what about when the potential windfall is millions of dollars, national, public adulation and groupies in every city? The motivation was there, the opportunity was everywhere and there was ZERO risk because Major League Baseball had no drugs policy.

DUH!! The only thing shocking would have been if baseball players weren't taking steroids.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


So, now Major League Baseball and the players union are beginning to take the steroids problem seriously. Seeing as this problem is only 20+ years in the making, I don't think anyone can accuse them of jumping the gun.

About damn time! Now, let's have a serious system: one violation gets a one year (unpaid) suspension. Second violation and you're outta here. Blood, urine, & DNA testing should all be part of it.

{I don't, however, see any role for legislation here. Senator McCain should stay out of it.)

Road safety

I forgot to comment on the recent decision by the National Roads Authority to improve the crash barriers on the major roads. On the 9th of November, I noted that a small patch of grass and a bush did not constitute a real barrier to out-of-control cars heading towards the on-coming lanes. Eight days later the NRA announced that "all future motorways and dual carriageways will be fitted with crash barriers irrespective of the width of the central median". Such is the power of this blog.

However, the NRA's explanation for having to fit crash barriers on existing roads, included this bizarre statement:
The central reservation area enables the vast majority of drivers to regain control of their vehicles without loss of life or injury to themselves or others, or indeed, damage to vehicles. However, irresponsible driver behaviour, including so called "joy riding" incidents has left the NRA with no alternative but to extend the retrofit programme to all motorways and dual carriageways regardless of the median width.
I'm sure that if it wasn't for "irresponsible driver behaviour" we'd have nearly zero crashes in Ireland.

I accept their point that installing these barriers will divert money from other road safety upgrades. That doesn't change the fact that at one time someone in their organization thought bushes would suffice. Why?

They're blaming irresponsible drivers for what is essentially a failure of forethought on their part.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Letter to the editor

Often the letters pages are a source of great amusement for me. Here's a snippet from a letter in yesterday's Sunday Independent responding to Eoghan Harris's Thanksgiving article about America:
I found Eoghan Harris's article horrific, full of half-truths and one-sidedness. Firstly, Mr Harris seems to believe America is the land of the free. A cursory glance at America today will show the huge infringes on civil rights. One can not even rent out a library book without being monitored by the secret service.
And, who penned this defense of civil liberties? Who is it that has such exacting standards in governmental transparency and honesty? Who is it that worries so about the state snooping on its own citizens? Why it's Jonathan Mahon, Kildare Branch, Communist Party of Ireland, that's who.

At first I thought he was kidding and that this was done tongue in cheek. However, after reading it again, I think he's being serious.

Hello Jonathan, are you there? Have you heard of Stalin, Ceausescu, the Stasi, etc.?

I still half suspect he's joking. He'd have to be, right?

Odd feeling

The Irish Voice has a short piece about the Newshound's fund-raising campaign in this week's paper. It's very positive and I'm thrilled with it, of course. Still, it's an odd feeling to see something about me in the paper when I had no idea it was coming.

I guess people who are in the spotlight get used to it. My wife says that one more article like this and I'll qualify for "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!".

I'm also thrilled to be called "young". I suppose, after all, I'm only 28 (in hexadecimal). Oh yeah, I'm not actually a "computer engineer", but I do know HTML!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

New Logo

I love my new logo, but I'm not sure I like the look of the rest of the site. Oh well. I'll live with it.

The new logo is thanks to Carrie. You didn't think I could do that, did you? Way beyond me.

Friday, December 03, 2004

What sort of tree am I?

Suzanne Breen says that "Christmas trees are like men. It's important to pick the right one". And, here's what she has to say about the tree outside Belfast City Hall
[i]t's 27 years old and was raised in Botanic Gardens, but it's certainly no looker - and it's dressed appallingly. It seems lop-sided. It has neither poise nor presence.
Poise? Presence? Aren't we talking about a tree here?

Now I'm worried. What does all this say about me that my wife mentioned the other day that "pretty soon that ragged, old artificial tree is going to have to go"?

I'd better get back on that exercise bike! And, maybe I should take up that health food thing that I've been mocking for years.

Drop out

The new head of homeland security did not start life with a silver spoon. Kerik started life
in rough-and-tumble neighborhoods in Newark, Paterson and in Ohio, where his mother abandoned the family when he was 2 years old. In his autobiography, The Lost Son," Mr. Kerik wrote that he learned only in researching the book in 2001 that his mother had been a prostitute and that she died from a severe blow to the head, possibly murdered by her pimp.

He also wrote that as he got older, he had a "flair for truancy" and dropped out of high school to join the Army, where he became a military policeman and martial arts specialist, and finished work on his general equivalency diploma.
Hard not to admire someone who overcomes so much and makes something of himself.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


If this were early June, Irish people would already be writing off the possibility of having a decent summer. Here we are in early December and we've hardly had a whiff of winter yet. A couple of sort of frosty mornings, but I haven't had my winter coat out yet. Still going with my light jacket.

At what stage do we decide that winter's just too late and we'll just do without it this year?

UPDATE Dec 4, 1pm: It seems I'm not the only one. "Meterological readings from Armagh Observatory also show that, with a mean monthly temperature of 8.6C, the temperature last month was two degrees higher than average". Last month was also the driest November in 15 years. Winter, schminter!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Senator Norm Coleman, writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, {Note: I couldn't get this article to load in Netscape} outlines the case against UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, but stops short of what seems obvious: an organization that depends on the goodwill of its members for accountability is incapable of being in charge of anything important.
As a former prosecutor, I believe in the presumption of innocence. Such revelations, however, cast a dark cloud over Mr. Annan's ability to address the U.N.'s quagmire. Mr. Annan has named the esteemed Paul Volcker to investigate Oil-for-Food-related allegations, but the latter's team is severely hamstrung in its efforts. His panel has no authority to compel the production of documents or testimony from anyone outside the U.N. Nor does it possess the power to punish those who fabricate information, alter evidence or omit material facts. It must rely entirely on the goodwill of the very people and entities it is investigating. We must also recognize that Mr. Volcker's effort is wholly funded by the U.N., at Mr. Annan's control. Moreover, Mr. Volcker must issue his final report directly to the secretary general, who will then decide what, if anything, is released to the public.

Therefore, while I have faith in Mr. Volcker's integrity and abilities, it is clear the U.N. simply cannot root out its own corruption while Mr. Annan is in charge: To get to the bottom of the murk, it's clear that there needs to be a change at the top. In addition, a scandal of this magnitude requires a truly independent examination to ensure complete transparency, and to restore the credibility of the U.N. To that end, I reiterate our request for access to internal U.N. documents, and for access to U.N. personnel who were involved in the Oil-for-Food program.
I think the UN's role should be redefined to one of humanitarian or aid relief chief coordinator, but nothing more. Even at that, it needs to be reformed to prevent the kind of wide scale corruption that undermined the oil for food program from undermining humanitarian relief programs.

The United States should never again fight a war under a UN flag. In 1991 the US fought to expel Iraq from Kuwait with the UN's blessing. The US then established bases in Saudi Arabia to ensure that the UN's sanctions regime was adhered to by Saddam. Over the next 12 years the US earned the enmity of the Arab world - troops in the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, blamed for the UN's sanctions regime and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - while the UN turned a blind eye to the undermining of the sanctions the US was supposed to be enforcing.

Saddam tightened the screws on his people, causing suffering and death for thousands and blamed America. The UN's complicity in this is a reflection of how undermining America was more important for some UN members (including some UN Security Council members) than undermining Saddam's regime.

Ireland, which understandably invests a lot in the UN, should be at the forefront in demanding an accounting from Mr. Annan. The UN allows Ireland to punch above its weight, but if corruption like this had taken place in any Irish state organization there would be loud calls for tribunals, etc.