Thursday, March 29, 2007

I love you StatCounter but we've only got 3 hours to save the world - II

Reposting this old blog post in honour of those great guys at Statcounter. I love everything about it and they've gone and given me another reason. I'm going to go all "Mulley" on you and send a love link to Statcounter.


Originally posted 26 April 2006

Veteran bloggers can probably recognise the stages but for us blog virgins (*) there is so much we have yet to learn. We don’t even know what we don’t know. And some of us don’t even know that!

The first flush of enthusiasm. Then the distraction of reading other people’s blogs. You get yourself some StatCounter stuff and spend the next month trying to build traffic. You try to master Blogrolls and construct lists of ‘bloggers what inspire me’.

Around month 4, serious writer’s block kicks in. You write about it. The block passes and you continue for a few weeks blogging but somehow there is a gnawing feeling. And then it hits you. You don’t blog. You don’t read.

You swear at your laptop and every internet café you have the misfortune to fall over. You start to panic as it dawns on you that (a) you’ll never be Róisín Ingle (b) you’ll never be a ‘writer’ (c) your life is so pedestrian that people will probably start busking around its edges (d) you’ve said everything that you want to say but haven’t really said anything.

At this point you realise that if you are going to suffer this crisis of confidence, then at least you should just do a PhD. Then at least after four years of it, your Granny could boast that there is a doctor in the family.

But of course by this stage you are clinically addicted to the ‘Sphere. StatCounter’s bar charts stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain in a process similar to cocaine addiction. You start to steel to feed your blog habit. You scour Blog O’Sphere looking for an angle. A cheap twist on someone else’s innovation. You begin posting inane comments in the hope that it will restore the ‘Counter’s bar charts.

You fall into a soporific humour. You want to blog but you are afraid that you can’t. Or at least you are afraid to find out. First your punctuation, then your grammar, then your spelling goes. Your self-esteem falls so low that you don’t even bother putting two spaces after a full stop. You begin to seize on anything that will fake a post. You cut n’ paste a joke from your work email and post it. You look at the StatCounter keywords and pretend to yourself that it might be poetry.

You acknowledge your weakness (but never your addiction) and promise to change. You write a million and one draft posts – okay so it is two – but they never see the light of day. Self-esteem is now non-existent. You furiously and compulsively check to see what other bloggers are posting on.

You’ve a million and one - okay, so it is only two – posts that you were about to write but have been beaten to the punch. You start posting comments that say LOL and LMAO but in truth there is never a chance of your cellulite ass ever being laughed off.

And that’s when it hits you. You just can’t help but be touched by the warm embrace of Blog O’Sphere and its older, wiser bloggers who seen it, blogged it and won an award for it. Brilliant bloggers who have so much to write about but still take the time to post a ‘welcome back’ or a ‘missed you’ comment. You realise that it is not about you. Or your non-existent audience. It’s because for the first time ever, you are part of a community that accepts you for not being Róisín, not being profound, innovative or funny.

Why wouldn’t a girl blog?

(*) In those early heady days of phase 1, I took JL Pagano literally and dropped my blog virgin subtitle. Gosh, who feels stupid now?


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Don't sweat the small stuff

I'm sure my reaction to yesterday's "historic" events in Northern Ireland was similar to that of many others - one of relief rather than celebration. Far too much time has been spent and far too many lives blighted by the bigotry and barbarism that has passed as a noble defence of the Union and/or pursuit of Irish unity.

It is truly remarkable that two groups who hitherto wouldn't allow themselves to be photographed together, let alone exchange a civil word, are now preparing to jointly govern the process. Much credit must go to the two Governments for orchestrating events such that Sinn Fein were the ones with the veto on "progress" (rather than the traditional Unionists) but were too afraid to use it. Neat political manoeuvring, one has to concede.

Clearly there is no division too great that cannot be bridged by dialogue and engagement.
But if you were an Al Qaeda 'freedom' fighter or an Israeli military strategist, you might take a different lesson. Perhaps the Al Qaeda terrorist might think that democratically elected Governments are not to be trusted. When they say "we don't talk with terrorists" they actually mean "we don't like being seen talking with terrorists, but we realise that if you are going to defuse/resolve the problem, you just have to". On the other hand, if you've a strong military position and are the political ascendancy, you can be guaranteed that whatever "assurances" you seek, you'll still be sold out by the Government which swears it will protect you.

Maybe that is as it should be. Perhaps you have to show yourself to be the bigger person by deciding not to throw your might around. The only thing you can do with extremists is try to make them look as moderate as possible. In the rush to proclaim the brave new order, it doesn't really matter that the moderates get trampled. Unless of course they become radicalised and become themselves terrorists. In which case you fight an uphill battle for years, allow thousands of lives to be destroyed before conceding that you need to talk with the men of violence.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm pleased that the DUP and Sinn Fein could be brought to the alter in an arranged marriage. And I'm willing to concede that until 'normal politics' breaks out in the North, you have to prop up the 'democratic process' in the most undemocratic of ways. It is such a shame that it took 400/25 years (take your pick) to come to the obvious conclusion that you couldn't force anyone out of the Union/into a United Ireland (take your pick).

On a brighter note, the lessons of the last few days are most persuasive. By adopting a contrarian view point to the accepted wisdom, it is possible to resolve so many apparently intractable problems.....
  • Roy should realise that he doesn't yet have the Ireland job and that maybe Steve Staunton is doing his best.
  • The various Tribunal judges might accept that some of our politicians are/have been crooked but probably no more/less than any other profession (Lawyers, Gardai, Teachers, Doctors, Clergy, Bank Officials)
  • Our criminal justice system might accept that we will always have criminals and you don't have to be fair to them just so long as you are not unfair to those who don't commit crime.
  • Our politician's might realise that if you have to lie and cheat to get re-elected, is re-election something worth destroying your integrity for?
  • Our doctors might consider why they chose to practice medicine in the first place.
  • M50 motorists might accept that they contribute to the traffic chaos.
  • George Lee might realise that all economies are cyclical so if he waits around long enough he'll get his much hoped-for recession.
  • Marty Morrissey and Glenda Gilson might realise that plucking out your eyebrows and re-drawing them in with a pencil is a pretty pointless and counter-productive fashion tip.
  • Cosmopolitian readers might realise that the achievement of fantastic sex cannot be summarised into 10 glib steps.
  • We all might realise that everyone is entitled to respect and civil liberties regardless of age, sexual orientation, religious or ethnic background. And this includes Marty and Glenda!
  • We all might realise that every life is a precious and fleeting treasure and that we should celebrate every day.
  • Given the importance of our lives, perhaps we shouldn't spend too long blogging.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Welcome to my world

A quick welcome back to my time zone, the only PMT* that really matters. I'm so glad now that I resisted the exhortations of Omani and others to conform the the winter daylight saving lark. When you blog in the dark and are permanently bathed in a green glow, who needs to change their clocks. Lying in late every day is about as close to daylight saving as a young girl can get.

Being a lifelong 'contra', the blankpaige sees no reason to conform to this middle age convention. The next thing you know and we'll be expecting no-one to were sandals before 1st May!

A personal welcome back to Omani (hope you'd a good break) and reassurance to JL Pagano that we do not have ourselves an interregnum (or whatever it is called), just because a girl tidies her links don't take it so personally!


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wikinomics for beginners

As I trudged home depressed from work last night, I was listening to a very interesting podcast on "Wikinomics" - this whole concept of how the 21st Century is rapidly becoming characterised by the economics of community-derived knowledge. The obvious example - and hence the name - was how Encyclopedia Britannica could be overtaken (x12) almost overnight by an army of authors to produce Wikipedia, an online, continuously updated reference library with the same level of authority/accuracy. They also gave the example of a mining company which published on the web its geological survey data (normally highly classified, business sensitive data) and offered a couple of million dollar reward for anyone who could "data mine" this better than their in house experts. The company generated several billion on the strength of this 'strategic investment' thanks to a bunch of curious web-friendly people who liked to solve problems. The techies among you can, not doubt, give many more eloquent examples - IBM/Linux, Boeing's superjumbo, etc.

This set me thinking. Several months ago, a quietly announced government decision has in one stroke undone twenty five years of previous government investment and good work by my peers and I in my particular field. The area doesn't matter, suffice to say when the shit eventually hits the fan in many years from now, we'll be decrying the short sighted political decision in the same manner as we decry the M50, bad planning and house price inflation, without connecting it to the very practical decisions of certain FF crooks/politicians. I am faced with the realisation that the last seven years of my own effort and that of about 25 colleagues has been wiped out, to secure a Government marginal set.

But enough about my problems (and soon to be our problem). My careful analysis of the situation is that the present Government, not surprisingly, want to be re-elected. Hence they'll do whatever is necessary to secure marginal seats - at whatever long term cost. Abolish rates, eliminate 3rd level fees, free medical cards .... It was ever thus. That's the nature of democracy. So, come the next election, what would the best result be for me - someone without political allegiance?

Throw out the present Government? I'm not naive enough to believe that the opposition won't pull similar strokes in advance of the subsequent election.

Hope for a landslide victory by one side for that the Government will be secure and might just do the right things for the right reasons? But that's unlikely to happen, because our PR system tends towards indecisive outcomes and coalition governments.

Keep returning alternate parties to power? Sure that will only make the problem worse!

Vote Green ? Sure that's a wasted vote.

Vote for the biggest party 'cos this has the best chance of returning a single party government?

Can you see my dilemma? I am angry and pissed off, I want to campaign for change so at least I can constructively vent my spleen and, if nothing else feel better. I just cannot motivate myself to go back to work on what was to me a most important social priority knowing that despite all my best efforts, some greasy politician will piss my efforts away for the instant gratification of re-election. What tactic should I employ that would best deliver a government with a tolerable political ethos and which would not pull strokes come the next election?

Without complicating matters with talk about nonsensical previous track records, supposed policies etc., can the Blogosphere community please advise this poor blogger on the best voting and electioneering strategies to deliver my objective of a strong benign government that does the right thing 'cos it is the right thing to do? (Armed revolution is not allowed as an option.)


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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Action Now!

I know that many bloggers regularly use their sites to highlight matters of grave concern and in doing so shine the spotlight of public interest on these hitherto ignored problems. So today I speak to you about one such serious injustice.

Nutley Lane is a microcosm of all that is right and decent about southside Dublin in the 21st Century. This tree-line boulevard meanders gentle from right to left and then imperceptibly to the right again, as it gently inclines from the lower Merrion Road to original superhighway that is the Stillorgan Dual Carriageway. At one end, local residents are blessed with the fabulous Merrion Shopping Centre where no day is complete without a blow dry and a skinny latte. Adjacent stands the majestic St Vincent’s Hospital, a noble testament to modern healthcare and the very embodiment of the Public/Private co-location model currently espoused by the Minister for Health.

At the other end, stand two beacons to future and continued prosperity – the RTE Television mast and the UCD water tower. No son or daughter grows up on this mean street without believing a priori that an arts degree and an enjoyable student sojourn through Donnybrook public houses is adequate preparation for a life in broadcasting. The kids on this block know the value of hard work and hone their commercial savy picking up stray golf balls on the Elm Park Golf Course which bounds the road to the south.

Scattered liberally along its route, are examples of the finest technology know to man. I speak not of plasma screen TV’s recording in DVD format from the numerous web-cams perched aloft the blossom laden trees which sentinel the footpath. But rather pay homage to the ubiquitous SUV’s and the 4x4’s which glide majestically up and down this thoroughfare. In regulation black with matching leather trim, all luxuary marques are represented – Lexus, BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Range Rover. Long before McWilliams realised there was an easy living to be made by slagging Ireland’s noveau riche, the long established money had grasped the importance of a high driving position and bull bars.

But this idyllic way of life is coming under threat from two nefarious sources. Firstly the increasing prevalence of cyclists and Fiat Punto’s – not to mention those infuriating SmartCars – is causing the sunglasses-on-the-forehead John Rocha-wearing Mummies to turn down the Norah Jones CD and ask Tarquin to buckle up. It is bad enough having to negotiate those infernal speed bumps without having to dodge a sweaty Northsider on a Raleigh Pioneer. And do you know that two Fiat’s can squeeze into the respectable distance that one leaves between your X5 and Mrs Armitage’s XC 90. Dropping Alicia to the Gael Scoil is trying enough without having to risk your metallic paintwork on some rusty bike handlebar.

“I witnessed one woman cyclist today stick out her hand before making an exaggerated right turn, I can tell you I was glad that I went for the servo-assisted brakes option otherwise, I’d have to explain another ‘trolley damage’ incident to Marcus,” explained one exasperated Nutley Land resident.

And then there are all those commercial vehicles. What is the point of having a superior driving position if you are going to be eclipsed by the 2FM Roadcaster or the Number 18 bus. In fact, has anyone asked why public transport to Lucan and Ballymun needs to traverse this quiet avenue? And does anyone believe that there is such a place as Lark Hill? These vehicles are unnecessary, do untold damage to the road surface making it unsafe for local residents to navigate. There is one pothole halfway along the road which when it rains turns into a major obstacle for the Cherokee and the Pajero. These vehicles are not designed to be driven in such rough conditions and it makes the Lauren Hill jump.

After several round-table discussions at Elm Park, Concerned Residents Against Infuriating Cars (CRAIC) have compiled an action plan which it hopes local politicians will adopt.

- Ban on cars with engine capacity of less than 1800 cc
- Ban on estate cars, transit & hiace vans and other vehicles known to be driven by the Travelling Community
- Ban on all public transport vehicles
- Ban on commercial vehicles (other than IKEA delivery trucks)
- Opening of an Ambulance entry to the hospital from the Merrion Road
Ban on drivers who wear tracksuits (Louis Vitton designed leisure wear excepted).

We do hope that Blogosphere will lend its support to this important campaign otherwise local residents will be forced to ignore the dangerous camber and mount the footpaths to avoid contact with some louse-infected Ford Focus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Meeting the Day with a JD-soaked Smile!

Note to iPOD generation. Amy Winehouse and Duke Special are history. Check out good ole Dean Martin and put a Jack Daniels soaked smile on your face today. You won't regret it!

"You're nobody 'til somebody loves you, so find somebody to love!"



Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Iarnrod Eireann would like to apologise for ...

You only know how good your public transport is when things go wrong. For the past year, I've been a CIE junkie taking train and buses everywhere. My VW Golf and the attendant bank loan has been liquidised and is being carefully invested in BT2 and Monsoon. I'm doing my bit for the environment and my carbon footprint is now smaller than a highly anorexic stick insect on a bicycle. I have reach the zen point of acceptance that the train and bus timetables are not cosmically aligned for my personal convenience. I appreciate that our temperate climate will throw up a statistically significant number of inclement days and so a brolly is a useful investment. I've discovered podcasting and rediscovered the joy of reading.

I arrived at my train station this evening to be gruffly told that all north and southbound services were interrupted due to technical difficulties. "Iarnrod Eireann would like to apologise for the late running of this service which is due to technical difficulties." No prob, I thought, how bad can it be? The platform indicator counted down the next train from 23 minutes to 15 minutes. "Iarnrod Eireann would like to advise passengers that due to technical difficulties all services would be subject to interruption", the station announcer ominously advised. No worries, it will come when it comes. Then I notice that the 15 minutes has become 34 minutes. Still 34 minutes seems like a fairly certain number.

20 minutes and 4 garbled messages later, we were advised that the train now standing on platform 1 was the delayed 17:12 service to ..... Wait a minute, there is no train at platform 1 or indeed on the other platform for that matter. 10 minutes of repeatedly being assured about this phantom train, we were advised that the next southbound train would be leaving from platform 2. Out in the rain and over the tracks. Having just gotten to platform 2, the announcement subtly changed to Platform 1. Cue everyone rushing back through the rain to the original platform. Train in 8 minutes, the display said with much authority. "Passengers are advised that the 17:26 service will leave from platform 3". But there is only 2 platforms in this station! "Passengers are advised that due to delays, services are running up to 40 minutes late." Now we kind of figured out ourselves that trains were hardly running late because of the absence of delays.

In the space of four minutes, three trains proceeded to depart half-empty from the now dangerously crowded station for the station one stop beyond my destination. But as Northbound trains were running 55 minutes late, none of use were inclined to try the "go-beyond-and-come-back" routine. Only when the last of these three trains had disappeared down the tracks did the announcer advise that services had returned to normal. Then, without a hint of irony, announced that the delayed 17:48 service was leaving from the preceding station and would arrive shortly at platform 1. It was 19:13. Well, at least it would be here in 4 minutes (or 12 minutes, if the display was anything to go by). The train duly arrived. But it did so into platform 2 disguised as a Northbound service to Malahide. Probably for health and safety reasons, the platform announcer waited until it had left the station almost empty before he revealed the cunning nature of its deception. When the train did appear at the announced platform, correctly signed, with a corroborating display and a confirming CIE platform worker, some 22 minutes later, it was a free-for-all. I was swept into the carriage by the undertow of frustrated fellow commuters and pressed too close for comfort against a man with an unhealthy addiction to cheesy nachos and an aversion to deodorant.

Now don't get me wrong, I accept that trains can go technical, there can be a bridge strike at Connolly and there is little the poor station announcer can do about it. It is probably just a coincidence that important platform announcements appear scheduled to coincide with a train revving its engine and obliterating the message. I'm willing to accept that years of under-investment, Celtic Tiger growth and the tortuous planning process have all mitigated against optimal train services. But do you have to treat your customers with such contempt?

Is it just me or ....

Has Gmail gotten really bad with spam?


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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Paige says Relax

As they tend to do, the press has picked up on a story about VAT on condoms and has become indignant at the stupidity of taxing a public health initiative. You see the whole thing revolves around considering that for tax purposes, prophylatics are considered as a luxury item and are hence VAT rated at 21%. The argument is lazily put forward that sheaths are not luxury items they are an essential for safe sex.

Perhaps it is old age but I find myself becoming all Alice Glenn with rage. Of course condoms are luxury goods. Every day essentials are sanitary towels, hair-straighteners, fishnet stockings and good put-down lines. Medication for an asthmatic child is clearly a luxury item and so we should tax the hell out of those wheezers. Women who have drunken sex with their repulsive bosses at christmas parties need help not some stealth sheath tax.

But perhaps the thing that worried me most about the whole story was the troublesome observation that the Revenue Commissioners could not say how much tax was being gathered by way of VAT on condom sales. Like the size of the tax take had any relevance to the argument. Can someone not start a campaign to boycott BP or Shell for the environmental impact of selling petroleum refinery byproducts to a dodgy firm to mould into ultra-thin, ribbed for added sensitivity, rubber johnnies?

For the poor bastard who steps out of line in the Revenue commissioners and for their trouble is asked to quantify the tax take on condom VAT, perhaps I could give you a quick ready reckoner.

You multiple the annual sales in condoms by the average price and then calculate VAT @ 21%. In this instance the calculations are not complicated by a withholding tax.


(And if the damn fine chap from the Dept of Finance who regularly devastates me with his smile on the 8:05 to Blackrock wants, I'm willing to engage in some research in the field on this subject!)

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And lo there was a god and his name was....

Damien Mulley.

And he rocks at

We are his most humble servants and we bow before his greatness. Oh sure, Twenty Major is good but does he/she ever give generously to Blogosphere?

I confidently predict that the Sunday Times will shortly do another one of those page filling "50 top Irish people to watch" and Damo will take the top five slots.

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