2010-12-31

AWSum

Over the last few years, I've used a few different VPS providers, most notably Bytemark and Gandi -- Bytemark have been excellent, and their support is second to none. Gandi have been reasonable too, although pricey for what you're getting.

A few months back I got a 'Micro' EC2 instance from Amazon, and have been fiddling with it. I took the plunge and got 2 more this week, and have been moving stuff over. The 'Micro' instance is (up to) 2 cores and a reasonable chunk of RAM for running one or two small websites. It's basically a VPS, and the management console lets you take snapshots of your root disk. If you only want a machine to install a random OS on for a few hours and play with something, you can do that, too, and it costs a few cents.

The Micro instance is something like 55 USD a year, and the hourly usage charges bring it up to about 142 USD a year, whcih considering Gandi want 24 EUR and Bytemark 17 GBP per month for the same thing, is not to shabby at all. I've cut my hosting bill and gotten some nice management features on top of it. You can also do loadbalancing between your instances for something like 20 USD a month. Highly recommended so far.

2010-11-24

Hibernating

'Tis the season, apparently.

One more stint of travel before the long and well-anticipated 2 weeks off work for xmas. I've only had one unbroken year in the streak of taking these 2 weeks off before in my entire working life -- I get very grumpy if it doesn't work out.

The last few weeks have been progressively colder at home, so the heating has been bumped up a notch and the Slanket has been seeing more and more use. That tiny roundy cat you see above is also starting to disappear under the duvet for the day when I'm out. Outside, it's got that damp, crisp thing going on. I think I've gotten back to liking this time of year. The last few have been not so good, for reasons I got basically sorted out this year, so in a way I feel like I'm missing something by going away (that and Favourite Lady, of course).

I've been doing a little more Airsoft, when I can. You tend to only really get the serious players out these days, so it's a little less annoying. I've also gotten my ticket to Berget for next year. I didn't go last year because I bought into the lame idea that I have to bring an entire squad, but I think I'd like to head along even with one or two people I know this time.

Work has been progressively more involving. I've been getting a lot more code done recently, and am trying to find a balance between direction-setting and getting-hands-dirty for the project. I'm encouraged to find I still like getting my hands dirty, but there's always last-minute phone calls to encourage people designing software to not pull the theoretical hot saucepan down on top of themselves which impinges on Make Time, as we're to call it these days.

I've also been looking again at Domotics -- I've picked up a Scooba, a few Roombas, and am looking at lawn and garden automation for next year. I'll do a proper post on this at some point. Making Things Talk is a fascinating read so far, it may be the first paper book I bring on a plane in a few years.

Speaking of which, I'm off to California on Sunday. I'm spending a week with the Analytics development team (I manage the Analytics Frontend SRE team), and then am in Seattle for 3 days with the Analytics Backend SRE team. It's my first Mountain View visit in a good long while, almost a year in fact. It'll be good to see videoconference peeps for realsies for a change.

2010-11-15

Sagrada Familia has scrubbed up nice, hasn't it? The whole centre part of it was building site when I was there last, so this is a step in the awesome direction. We even missed the pope by exactly a week, as he came along to consecrate it (they need a level 11 god-botherer to consecrate something this bug, since he's high enough level to know the spell, and can only cast it once a day).

Barcelona is still nice. People use the city, which is a far cry from anything I've seen in Dublin (Dublin has character, but that character needs a few auld shcoops to loosen itself up and usually finds a way to wreck anything out of the ordinary).

November is also a reasonable time to go. It was t-shirt weather throughout, except for the top of the tourist bus. We didn't get enough time to do all the touristy bits, but got some successful shopping done and felt like it was a weekend well-spent nonetheless. We'll probably be back.

Roll on the next thing we're doing!

2010-11-05

Braaains

Work this past week has been a long trial of getting back up to speed after Tel Aviv. Even though it's pretty much a regular week, catching up my brain from all the stuff I promised to do, and getting back into the stuff I was doing when I left had just about happened by today, basically.

I'm currently looking into full-spectrum/white lighting, for home and work. November is usually a bad brain month, in general. This year, I've been continuing my theme of doing things pro-actively by attempting to spend at least some of it outside the country (I'll be in Barcelona next week, and heading to California at the end of the month), and the aforementioned lighting. I can recommend Androv for cheap bulbs -- their 'dimmable' bulb makes a bold claim I've been unable to reproduce, but their other stuff is good, and cheap. It makes a discernable difference to overall mood if I'm working under one for the day.

The one bad thing, of course (and the reasons why hotels use low-light yellow bulbs) is that it shows up every speck of dirt and dust in the room. Once you can deal with this, I heartily endorse this event or product. You feel less like you're holed up in a fortress of solitude, and brighter lights (properly shaded) are in general good for your eyes.

I've been doing other brain stuff recently, which I'll get into. The moral: making your brain work is damn useful if it's what pays your bills.

2010-11-02

Round One! Fight!

David Ben-Gurion:


Heihachi Mishima:


This was the only real thing I noticed out of the ordinary about Tel Aviv Airport. Security was courteous and only a little bit more paranoid than the US (X-raying bags before letting you near checkin desks), it was reasonably OK.

I didn't get much time to myself this trip. I'll probably be back, though. We did get to go see the Old city in Jerusalem on our last evening there. What I will say is that it was interesting. I'd like to see more of the country, or at least the bits that don't get you peered at suspiciously when leaving or entering.

Flights back got me some lovely germs, which put me out of action until today. Two more trips this year, to Barcelona for a weekend in 2 weeks, then California and Seattle later this month.

I guess it's also time yet again to plug TripIt. If you travel with any degree of frequency, it's invaluable, and has saved me way more money and time than I've spent on the pro version (when a connection home from Seattle got cancelled, it texted me hours before the airline did, so I was able to rebook flights before the rush). Do it.

2010-10-25

There's no 'I' in Gargamel's Cat

I'm spending this week in Israel, in The Company's Tel Aviv office, doing some ninja work on Analytics production -- a bunch of stuff gets done out of here, and I'm helping out the nice people here to keep their services stable and non-annoying. I'm on the 26th floor of a giant office building, and the view is amazing.

Tel Aviv beats my record for "Furthest east on a traditional world map", the previous record held by Dubrovnik. I don't get to do a lot of touristing this time, but they're at least threatening to bring me to Caesarea later in the week. I also get to possibly walk around and see Jaffa/Yafo on friday.

Didn't bring a more beefy camera than the Nexus One, so only a handful of photos this time.

2010-10-19

Now You're Square, Part Deux

It's getting to be toward the end of the year, time to resurrect the old monolith.

I've been considering moving to Wordpress, but wordpress is far too annoying to set up, and I realise that most people read/skim via RSS and don't care about delivery mechanisms. It's like putting letters you write to your bank manager in lovely scented paper envelopes you made yourself.

I've been doing a lot of travel recently, most recently to Seattle (again) and Italy. Was also going to be going to Lisbon, but got my annual dose of brain mush right before. I'm heading to Tel Aviv next week, Barcelona with a Nice Lady in November, and Seattle in November too. I'm personally responsible for crying icebergs.

I'm not going to pretend like I'm going to update this more often, but let's just say I'd like to. I'm feeling a little more like I'd like to remember some of this stuff, and we won't have USA assorted biscuit tins full of B&W negatives in 2050.

2010-06-07

The surprising alternative to Data Loss

I've been fiddling around with various ways to back up configs and other small but important files (encrypted password safes, etc). I considered using S3, but it became a little to annoying (which is ironic, since a large part of my job over the last few years has been convincing people to use a particular kind of database for storage, when they're used to another kind).

I've recently been fiddling with Dropbox, which I had vaguely heard of before, but appears to now be not as terrible as it used to be. There also now appears to be a CLI version for linux, which means it's actually useful, and it also supports symlinks.

So, after installing dropbox on the various linux machines at home, and on the colocated boxes I have, it's a simple case of ln -s /etc /home/doc/Dropbox/cf/$HOSTNAME/etc and suddenly you've got a backup of /etc in the scary web 2.0 internet cloud we've all been hearing about.

As an aside, I paid attention to backups a little more yesterday, since my Drobo got unexpectedly powered off (possibly due to cat), and had forgotten its partition table when it rebooted. Just so we're clear, the Drobo is a terrible product made by an evil marketing company who ignore their customers, and I regret buying it. Don't make the same mistake!

I suspect my next step is to go pick up one of those fancy WD My Book DAS boxes. I think I'm a little tired of having a small aeroplane taking off under my TV.

EDIT: Did I mention Dropbox has an android app? Awesome.

2010-06-02

This may be the Android I'm looking for

So, since the HTC Desire is coming out in Ireland as of now, I figure I'd stick up a short synopsis of my experience with my Nexus one, fiddling with it, and developing for it.

I got a Nexus One just before christmas, and spent the holiday period acclimatising. I had an iPhone, and was keeping it on standby in case Android sucked as badly as it did last xmas when I got a G1.

Thankfully, Android appears to have gotten its finger out in a big way. It's a lot zippier, and the SDKs actually support most of the hardware in the later phones.

The Evolution of Truly Smart Phones

I should explain -- I really like the idea of developing for a platform I use every day. I don't consider myself a 'developer', mainly because I couldn't code my way out of a wet paper bag. I'd consider myself a 'super-power user'. I'm not going to go rewriting drivers to do the right thing, but I am going to write a bunch of shell scripts to make my life easier, write some dinky scripts to do things I do often, and automate away what I shouldn't have to do myself. Until recently, that was how a lot of people dealt with, say, running a linux machine. You'd have your ubiquitous ~/bin/ directory with your safety nets in it, and that'd follow you around for years that turn into decades.

What I'm getting at here is that I've always wanted to do this with a phone. The phone is growing, and the laptop shrinking so that they will eventually converge. I predict that we won't even be calling the device in our pockets a phone within a few years any more. Back 6-8 years ago when I first started hearing about Python for Symbian S60 and such, that got a bit exciting. However, S60s python support was kind of a toy. It was the early-on "Hey, look at this, it's been done" sort of feature, and I was left feeling a little disappointed.

The G1 was similar. It's a phone, it runs linux. You can do stuff to it. However, you need to do stuff to it for it to be useful. You need to track a bleeding-edge release branch and occasionally brick your phone to get the good stuff done. Fuck that. I have things to do. I am a user, not a developer.

So, when I first looked again at the Android 2.1 SDK, I was pleasantly surprised. Hardware support, an application model that's easy to understand (differences of opinion about the efficacy notwithstanding). I can do this.

The Science Bit

Anyway, here are my cliff's notes on how Android is put together:
  • Applications are made up of Activities. These are dialog items, things that you see.
  • Messages are passed around using Intents. Some of these are Broadcast Intents any application can listen for (such as an SMS coming in, call coming in, screen actions, etc).
  • Applications can also have Services. These services may be killed by the OS at any time, but can be revived by Intents.
...and that's basically it. So, if you want to, say, write an app that saves all your SMS messages to a file on the SD card, you just write a Service that listens for the "SMS Received" Intent, writes the bundle of data that comes with the intent in the format you like to wherever you like. If the OS kills your Service, it'll be revived whenever an SMS comes in because it's registered as a listener for that intent.

Obviously I'm glossing over a lot here, but this is basically how it works. This is extremely powerful, and abstracts away a lot of the shite you have to deal with when writing code for phones, or in general (i.e. it's all in Java, and you just talk to the phone using Manager interfaces).

Does it make Calls, then?

Obviously, the SDK can be as nice as you like, but the handset also has to be nice. After the disappointment of the G1, I was extremely sceptical. However, the Nexus One is actually a damn nice phone. It's roughly the same size as the iPhone (i.e. it goes into my pocket) and its screen is very nice indeed.

As an actual phone, It's ever so slightly flakier than the iPhone. I've had it freeze up once or twice on me, when finishing a call especially. However, a couple of freezes I've caused myself, with apps that do stuff that blocks. However, what's supremely cool about the phone is that you can actually debug what's going on on the phone. Let's go back to our linux machine with ~/bin/ directory for a moment. Say the machine gets a little slow, or an application crashes and I'm not sure why (hell, I've had more than my fair share of app crashes on the iPhone). Step one is you reproduce what's happening and check some logs, right? Wouldn't it be great to be able to do a tail -f /var/log/messages on a phone?

You can do that, basically, with any android phone. Turn on USB debugging in settings, plug the phone in, and run adb logcat from the SDK tools directory. Suddenly you've got broadcast intents, service actions, and stack traces from Activities and Services that crash on the phone. That's before you write a line of code, you're able to find out exactly what your phone is doing. It's not just paying lip-service to running a closed and jealously protected linux kernel and userspace -- it's actually a linux machine.

Code

My exposure to coding in Java was extremely rusty, and I originally set out to just fiddle around. There are a lot of tutorials on Eclipse setup and how to build packages and do various things. It didn't take that long, though, and there are enough examples out there to get you going.

I can't stress enough how easy it is to build apps, once you have your head round the execution model. I've done mobile development before, and nothing compares. I don't have to learn Objective C or anything!

After getting started, I had fiddled around a bit with Locale, which is probably the most powerful Android app I've run into. I was a bit fed up having people IM me on my commute and be impatient when I didn't reply on my phone while driving. I wanted to have Locale set my IM status to busy when the phone connected to the handsfree in my car. However, there was no Bluetooth plugin for Locale, in fact it was the most requested feature on their forum. So, I fired up eclipse, grabbed their example condition, and had a go, and it worked. I didn't get bored and annoyed fiddling with bluetooth libraries or drivers, I just wrote some classes to do the things required of a plugin,a nd there was minimum drama.

After dropping the one-off $25 on an Android Market developer account, I submitted it and it went straight up. It's on the market now, and as of this writing over 2,000 people have installed it.

Since then, I've gotten bored and written some more plugins. Right now, my phone manages my presence, setting IM status to where I am, busy/unavailable when I'm probably asleep (right now it's time-based, but when I get my WakeMate it'll actually be accurate). It silences my GPS and media when I'm on a call, and lets people at work know when I'm at my desk (and my phone is docked).

My iPhone got sold sometime in March and I've never looked back.

Ever since I got my hands on a Nokia 7110, sometime in 1998 when I was doing some neolitic mobile development for AOL, I've dreamed of a phone that doesn't do everything, but at least matches what you put into it with results that affect how you do things, and doesn't patronise you. Maybe the Nexus One is that phone, maybe a later device will be it. Maybe it'll be a tablet, or a cross between the two once digital paper gets robust enough. However, I'm pretty sure that if it's in the next few years, it'll be running Android.

2010-05-19

Called It!

Although I'm dubious of its release date, this looks like the tablet which may fulfil the must-haves I want:


HDMI, some USBs, a nice screen and flippy camera. Also Android, which is spectacularly easy to develop for, so easy even I can do it :-)

They mention a June release date, although Engadget appear to have a story on how mobile operators (as is their wont) are holding it up, some wanting it out for thanksgiving (because 95% of the population of the world give a shit about thanksgiving) and some the summer.

This is what a tablet looks like. The iPad is a laughable toy compared to some of the devices we'll be seeing over the next year or so..

2010-04-07

Airport Extreme works THIS WAY. EAT IT.

So, I'm getting increasingly annoyed at Apple's railroading of people's use cases (no, this has nothing to do with the iPad).

It's only after I started using a Nexus One with android that I realised how shite the iPhone was in a lot of ways. Case in point: The one thing that I wanted my phone to do wasn't implemented yet, so I did it. The concept of doing that on iPhone without jumping through a ridiculous number of hoops is alien to me.

Another case in point happened this evening, or at least a symptom of it.

I'd recently gotten a Soekris net5501 to act as a home dhcp/dns/etc. server, having gotten tired/bored of just letting the Airport extreme do everything. I wanted to use DynDNS properly, and I wanted something I could leave on when I go on business trips (So I can leave power usage monitoring on, etc).

Sounds like a plan, right? So after fiddling with getting the Soekris installed, I plugged everything in, set up ISC dhcpd and Bind, and then went to Airport Utility to turn off DHCP on the Airport Extreme.

Except, you can't.

You can't actually turn off DHCP, without putting the device into bridge mode. You literally cannot run a NAT network using an Airport Extreme where it's not the DHCP server for your LAN.

Rather than ditching my Airport on some unsuspecting fanboy and doing research to find a good 802.11n router, I just set a DHCP pool size of 1 and got on with my life.

However, this basically reinforced my increasingly negative opinion of what Apple is up to these days. Apple products are increasingly not for people who know what they want.

As a disclaimer, I own an ipod and use a macbook pro as my only computer for day-to-day use. They work fine, and are great products. Which makes it a shame that a lot of their other stuff falls down so hard.

Aside: here's how to get ISC dhcpd to ignore a certain MAC address if you have a stupid device you want to talk to another dhcp server:

host stupidhost {
hardware ethernet MA:CA:DD:RE:SS;
deny booting;
}

2010-01-27

The most anticipated tablet since Moses


...and yet, there's nothing new.



Don't get me wrong, I'm still excited to see this happen, but for probably a different reason from a lot of other people.

I was an iPod holdout for the longest time, my longest-serving and most awesome MP3 player was the iRiver H120. I loved that device. It had a real-life remote control, tactile, that I could use with one hand without having to look at it. It had a decent (for the time) 20GB of storage, and it was reasonably priced.

However, it would never have existed without the iPod.

Similarly (and I know I'm biased here), anyone who used webmail before April 1, 2004 (the launch of GMail), was used to having 10MB of storage, or less. Now, the idea of using 10MB of storage, or paying for 250MB (as you could with Yahoo Mail) is laughable. Now Hotmail offers 5GB, 500 times as much storage as they used to.

However, it wouldn't have happened without GMail.

If you needed another example, check out pricing for 3G data in both Europe and the US. 5 years ago. I remember being quoted ludicrous charges per KB, or if you were a large enterprise, you could get 1GB of data for maybe 50 euro on top of your existing plan. Cue the iPhone -- people's demand for 3G bandwidth skyrockets, prices come down. Suddenly producing a smartphone is a lot more lucrative because your average joe has one.

Wouldn't have happened without the iPhone. See what I'm getting at?

These companies and products are doing what you might call 'writing on the wall'. So everyone else can see it. It is now okay to produce tablets, for people who don't particularly want a laptop. Laptops still exist because they originally made them in that form factor because the parts inside were annoying.

So, I won't be buying an iPad, for a couple of reasons. One, Apple have gone way overboard gouging for money. No iChat, so you have to use SMS and keep Apple's carrier partners happy. Their own book store, when the iPhone kindle app works fine (I'd be interested to see if it keeps working or gets a hi-res version).

Their stuff in general is lowest common denominator consumer stuff, not necessarily ground-breaking in terms of function. Don't get me wrong, I own a 64GB iPod Touch, and it's very, very nice. However, as regards innovation in function or tech? No, not really.

Perhaps their biggest contribution to the progress of tech is to make smaller components cheaper and more cost-effective to make, and to make cool tech ubiquitous and in demand. The industry usually follows with genuinely good tech (like the iRiver), and we all step up, because we see the writing on the wall.

Tablets, for me, won't become compelling until they become general-purpose home computers. A tablet, for me, will have to do this:
  • Dock. With mini-DVI and bluetooth for keyboard maybe (so I can use it as a home computer). We can do this now. I want to be able to throw away my laptop and desktop.
  • Fold up, so I don't have to have a giant case for it. Foldable screens are coming.
  • Have a non-crippled OS, Like Chrome OS (for a generic internet tablet) or Android (for a proper computer). Hell, I'll even take Linux or Windows if it does what I want and I can write software for it outside a cage.
  • Be provider agnostic in all respects. Support any software writable for the platform.
  • Multitask. Seriously, Apple. I shouldn't have to even mention this. This is like saying "It should have an on switch".
All this is going to be doable in the next few years. Most of it's doable now, if people bit the bullet and just sold devices, without trying to grab onto you as a customer and not let go, and without trying to strongarm your use case.

Let's just hope the manufacturers and software people with a bit of vision aimed toward letting people do what people want will take the enthusiasm and the place now hopefully carved out in the collective psyche for a tablet make something that's truly revolutionary.

2010-01-20

Jet Set Willy

This trip (I'm in Seattle for 2 weeks, with a few days in California in the middle) is a lot more relaxed and less annoying, mainly due to experience (It's trip #16 to the states in the last few years) and optimisation of stuff. I've spent zero cash so far, and the first piece of actual paperwork was from Budget for the rental car. I've been trying to work with zero paperwork this time, Through using Tripit and Evernote on the Nexus One (although Tripit's iPhone app is also great).

Been meaning to write this stuff down for a while. A lot of youse reading this know all this already, but it appears that even these days when it's unusual to meet someone who isn't a regular plane traveller, some of them don't get the fundamentals.

A few tips for the regular transatlantic traveller to make things a little less annoying. Some of this is Dublin-specific:

1. Learn to Drive

If you're a Dublin person, chances are reasonably likely that you don't know how to drive, and/or don't have a reason to. I've only had a driver's license for about 3 years, because previous to that I lived in town. Even if you've no intention of driving in town, getting your license can be done relatively easily. Do your theory test, get lessons, get license.

Driving in the states is a piece of piss. People talk a lot about how Californian drivers are mad, etc, but they're actually talking about not indicating when merging, going too fast, and other stuff that's actually pretty normal for Ireland. If you've driven in Dublin city centre at all, California (and America in general) is a cakewalk.

2. Packing (i.e. Leave shit at home)

This is a list of things you don't need for a 2-week trip to the states:
  • Towels
  • More than a couple of changes of clothes.
  • More than one spare pair of shoes (pack your larger pair).
  • Every goddamned cable you own.
  • Giant bottle of shower spooge/shampoo.
Here's what goes in my carry-on:
  • Laptop
  • Kindle
  • Headphones/iPod
  • Passport/Drivers license
And in the hold:

  • PSU for laptop
  • 3-5 changes of clothes
  • Spare shoes
  • Small toilet bag with small razor, meds, deodorant stick, toothbrush.
  • Assorted cables - Phone charger, ipod cable, etc.
This time round I also brought my GPS for driving in California, which I can usually leave out.

I flipping hate people who bring those giant rolly bags on the plane with them. I particularly hate people who bring a bag so heavy they can't lift it. Protip: If you're unable to hold your carry-on bag above your head, it's too heavy.

Oh, and don't put a laptop or anything else of immediate value in your hold luggage. Baggage handlers nick shit ("Oh no!" I hear you cry "So prejudiced!". Well, they do, and having magnanimously placed expensive shit in your hold luggage because you're not prejudiced won't get you your laptop back).

Also, don't put stuff you'll need right away in your hold luggage. It can go missing for up to several days, and possibly longer. This includes stuff like work ID badge, drivers license, etc. It also includes your car and house keys on the way back :-)

3. Checking in, security, and using your waiting-around time

Checking in online is grand if you like paperwork. Most airlines allow you to book seats online without checking in (BA let you pay money, about 20 quid per leg, which is well worth it on an 11-hour flight). I did that this time, which worked out pretty well.

You don't need the email or any printouts to check in, you just need the PNR reference, which if you use Tripit will be right there on your phone. Even at that, all I did was scan my passport this time in the wee machine and it was all good.

When you go to drop your bag in, and you see a big line at the economy/premium economy, and no line at the Business bag drop, chance your arm. The Aer Lingus guys in Dublin never care.

Before you get to security, you're usually standing in line for 5-10 minutes. By the time you get to the end of this line, you should have two things, one in each hand: Your boarding card inside your passport, and your carry-on bag with all your stuff in it. Including pocket contents, phone, jacket, hat, belt, everything.

Don't take your shoes off unless you're told to, most airports either do or don't ask at random intervals. I've seen entire lines of people with their shoes in their hands fumbling through, when I just walked through with shoes on.

Wait until the guy waves you through the scanner. Nothing pisses them off more than people walking through unexpectedly. If the thing goes off, ask them what to do. Some will send you back, some will just use the wand.

When you get through security, grab your stuff from the trays and get out of there. Don't go re-arranging your stuff before moving away. Most airports have benches or chairs right after security for doing this. If you want, just head a bit down the way before re-arranging yourself. Nobody cares that you're not wearing a belt or shoes, you just went through security.

Airports mean a lot of waiting around. I usually leave a good bit of time to get into the airport, through security, and have some decompression time. Get a large bottle of water for the plane so you don't have to bother the flight attendants.

In general, being on a plane is very light on activity, so if you're planning on sleeping, don't eat a lot, and eat light foods before flying. Dublin's pre-flight eating options appear to specialise in the biggest Irish breakfast you can possibly eat, which is in general the last thing you want to be eating getting on a long-haul flight.

Another Dublin-tip: Even if you're not going through security in Dublin, go into the 'form-filling area' in the B terminal and fill out your visa waiver and customs forms now. It's a pain in the hole to do it on the plane later. This also kills some time.

Another pro-tip: Your plane is SEATED. Being first in line to board doesn't mean you win anything. The overhead baggage bins are never 'full', and if you've got a sensibly sized carry-on, it should fit under the seat in front of you anyway. Usually if the overhead bins are starting to fill, the flight attendants will ask people to put their 'personal item' under the seat anyway, leaving room for you.

4. Don't be a stupid arsehole

Read the customs and visa waiver form before filling it in. Fill it in properly. You'll be sent to the back of the line if you screw up in even the tiniest way.

Do. Not. Lie. To. The. Immigration. Dude. Do not sass, or in any way antagonise them, because you just signed a form saying you agree not to question their decision.

Being unsure of where you're going means you stand out of the way of people who are.

5. Flying

If you're nervous of flying, go to your doctor. Doctors don't care about prescribing Xanax or Valium or something. Make sure you're not driving right after. Take it 45 minutes or so before takeoff to cover takeoff in the fuzzy period between when it kicks in and when it wears off.

Booze when flying is in general a bad idea. Airlines only serve booze on long haul flights any more because people expect it, and nobody wants to be the first airline to stop doing it. It dehydrates you, and at best it sends you to sleep for an hour or two and then you feel shitty for the other 5-7 hours of the flight.

That turned into slightly more of a rant than I had expected, of course. My general bugbear with flying is that it's not a big deal. People make such a rigmarole about doing it, taking half their worldly possessions, running round all freaked out in airports, etc. It's basically equivalent to taking a slightly less bumpy and longer bus to somewhere. Hopefully at least some of the above has been useful, at least.

2010-01-05

Think


I had thought that in the 13 or so years since I left secondary school that they would have progressed from rote learning, but apparently not.



This is long overdue, and what the chamber says makes a lot of sense. I did mediocre-wise at school, and mediocre-wise at College, because regurgitation is key in Irish education. The viewpoint is that if you get through a course, you're set for life in a cushy job. This is brought home as complete bollocks to a lot of graduates these days, and rightly so.

One of my big frustrations with college (and after college) was that people had the expectation that they should be able to learn off what was in lectures and pass a course. The biggest uproar in my college class was when Mark Humphrys set a question on an AI exam that was actually not unlike those "Google Interview Questions" you see knocking around. The man got eaten alive for setting something that wasn't "in the notes", and I was disgusted by it.

The sign above is from IBM HQ -- they were above doorways and in visible places in IBM, to remind you to think. Don't just do your job. Don't do just enough, and don't expect to succeed by remembering. Think.

2010-01-02

Arab Sheiks, Hindu Sikhs, Jesus Freaks




Colm has posted a good run-down with some excellent points of the problems seen with the blasphemy.ie campaign as it stands.

I somewhat agree, but I'm also of the opinion that the response has to be somewhat tempered, in order to not have yourself branded a crazy fringe group. The statements (quoted, not illegal, some quite tame) don't go far enough, but the context is important. The Dermot Ahern one is quite reaching, and probably not illegal. They probably would have gotten more mileage from me if they'd gotten behind the likes of the infamous Muhammad cartoons, or the murdered Dutch film-maker (whose name escapes me). But of course, muslim-bashing is a touchy subject and doesn't get you in mainstream news sources.

I'm also not convinced this is a PR coup. For the most part, stories sell themselves, and a reasoned but moderate view is a pretty good way to make media outlets yawn and move on. In the past year, I've spent a good few mornings on the phone with Joe Duffy's or Gerry Ryan's researchers offering a completely rational view on Airsoft, its legality, its place in society. None of this ever appeared on radio, because they were hoping I was a giant IRA nut or a crazy shut-in. The best way to make your story boring is to talk sense. You need to shout louder and be heard without losing your credibility. This is the hard part.

I think possibly the best thing blasphemy.ie can do right now (right after they get a better hosting plan) is to follow up while the public eye is on them with something a lot meatier. This is a pretty feeble attempt to get prosecuted. There are more laws than most of us have ever read that are never intended to be enforced, and I suspect this is one of them.