In The Town Of Ballybay

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I stopped at this pub in Longford, about half way, because I was desperate to take a photograph

Excuse me if I’m a little taciturn and incoherent here, I’ve just driven from my home in Galway to Ballybay in County Monaghan, some 270 km (170 miles). All right, I’m sure that’s not very impressive if you’re the sort of American who drives that far just to find some shade, but it’s the furthest I’ve gone since I learned to drive just a few months ago.

The second furthest I ever drove was around Connemara, yesterday.

I enjoyed it, but now I barely have the energy left to trace out words on the phone screen. And tomorrow, I party all day. So better get a little oblivion time in.

‘Night. x

Connemara

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Well we knew the weather was about to change, so we spent the last fine day on a trip to Connemara, our local semi-wilderness.
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View from Ballynahinch Castle. This used to be the home of the Martyns, one of Galway’s ruling families. It’s now a pleasant hotel, as low-key as it is up-market. We stopped for coffee and considered booking a suite for the weekend, but a quick search through our pockets for change failed to produce the necessary €1,260.
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The destination really was the journey. Which is just as well because by the time we reached our ostensible objective the weather had given up on us. You’ll just have to imagine what this beach would’ve looked like in the sun.
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Sun peeking under the clouds to say ‘bye.

Androids And Sunshine

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Again an incredible day. Not hot exactly, maybe about 18C. The sort of temperatures you can wear as little as you like in, yet walk around all day without breaking a sweat. Comfortable weather. Relaxed weather. Sexy weather. I sat by the canal and contemplated my navel. Then I contemplated my friend’s navel. Hers was best.

But back to Android. I’ve had more than a week to get used to the world’s leading smartphone OS. How am I feeling?

Still a little irritated, to be honest. But that’s not really Android’s fault. I’m asking a lot of it – in essence, I want this phone in my pocket to do almost everything I carry a PC around for now. The major exception would be complex Photoshop work for finished drawings, that really would be overambitious, but I hope to be able to do most of my spontaneous sketching, as well as all the online stuff of course. And some serious text editing, such as this.

As I was saying earlier, I was spoiled for mobile blogging with the Nokia N900. By its excellent desktop-like browser, but also its hardware keyboard. I am getting to like using Swype though, the text entry method where you trace from letter to letter on the keyboard. It is very good, but there are one or two things Android really, really misses badly.

Like Ctrl+z.

To my shock and astonishment, there its no universal command in Android for “undo”. And undo is something I use a lot. A lot lot. On every keyboard I’ve owned, the Z is always first to wear off. So its absence is deeply disorientating. And painful. I was writing this column yesterday, and accidentally hit the “select all” option. How to undo that? I try the Android “back” key, as conceptually back is a little like undo.

Only – and this is a mistake I’ve made many times in my first week – instead of hitting the back button in the bottom right corner, I hit the return key on the keyboard, immediately above it. Which overwrites everything with a new blank line.

So I… Wait, I… There isn’t anything I can do. Two wrong key presses, and I’ve consigned an hour’s work to oblivion. Crap.

That ain’t good enough, Android. As there is no undo feature in the OS, entering text into a Web page becomes extremely hazardous. (A browser has no undo feature, as it assumes one exists in the OS…) Of course an individual app can have the facility, but guess what? The WordPress one doesn’t.

So until Google fix this shit I need a new approach. I found two. The first was a custom keyboard that also has undo functions. That means doing without Swype unfortunately, but it may be the solution for some special purposes. Or if you don’t happen to like Swype anyway. The one I’ve tried is called Programmer Keyboard, a lovably OTT solution that gives you a full 101-key desktop board on your phone!

And it also gives me the other thing I really miss from Android – arrow keys. Oh but you can select things with your finger! Yeah, or the letter next to the one you want, and then the one the other side of it, and then the line below… Gimme arrow keys.

A better approach though is to avoid composing the text in the page or app altogether, by using a proper text editor. The one I’m trying – and liking – is called Jota. (Pronounced “iota” rather than “jotter” apparently; I have no idea where the developer is from.) This has all the essential editing tools, for both writers and coders, even in its free version – and that includes multi-level undo.

Oh, and you can put arrow keys on its toolbar too. People, we have a winner.

Charge Of The Lie Brigade

“Better communities start at your doorstep.”

That’s what it says on the final reminder to pay your Household Charge (the new property tax being introduced here in Ireland). They manage to combine meaningless bullshit, calculated deceit and veiled threat all into one brief phrase. That shows flair.

Don’t pay the charge and your neighbors suffer, it seems to say. As if central government is lowering its funding to local authorities by precisely the amount the household charge should raise. Of course, central funding for local spending will be reduced by far more than the household charge was ever going to raise – even if everyone could pay, never mind will. The shortfall will eventually be made up by allowing local authorities to raise the charge. So central government can keep lowering its contribution, effectively raising taxes while avoiding blame.

Neat.

I just wish though, instead of this careful blend of wheedle and threat, instead of pitting neighbour against neighbour, they’d try being honest for once.

“We’re sorry, we know it isn’t fair to ask you to bear such a big portion of this debt. But as you probably know, the more money people have, the harder it is to get it out of them. We promise we’ll go after the the tax-dodging bastards, but right now we need money fast and it looks like it’s got to be you. What do you say?”

I’d pay that.

What A Day

President George W. Bush accepts a bowl of sha...
Can you count all the things in this picture that make me angry?

Dropped off the radar again there, sorry. Thanks to some amazing weather for March – I think it reached 20C (68F) today – I’ve been held prisoner in the garden. At least it’s an opportunity to grow a skin. Technically, I don’t have a skin by the time winter ends. More a film.

It’s been a great day too in another sense – former leader Bertie Ahern has resigned from the Fianna Fáil party, on foot of the findings of the tribunal into planning corruption. This is huge, really. If it’s not literally an admission of guilt, it’s at least the admission of guilt he can sue you for calling an admission of guilt.

Too wrecked to go into this right now though, didn’t get any sleep last night to speak of. I’d gone shopping for a phone case online, and naturally I’d noticed small things here and there that would be useful too – a spare battery, a spare charger for the spare battery, a spare spare spare battery charger, so forth. The whole thing had rolled into a pleasant shopping safari, and it was about 4 a.m. by the time I was finally ready to proceed to the checkout. All that remained was to enter my credit card – done – and confirm my shipping address – done – and… Wait.

Of the five things I’d decided to buy, through five different sellers, not one of them would ship to Ireland. Actually it didn’t even tell me this. It just said for each item that there was a problem with my address, so possibly it was five different problems. Messages that vague and unhelpful only qualify as information in the theoretical sense, like yelling in an unknown foreign language. You know that it conveys meaning, but not what or to whom.

So what could I do about it? As mad as it may seem, Amazon.co.uk offers no system for filtering search results by where the seller will ship too. The process of separating the exporters from the non-exporters is essentially trial and error. Which is ludicrous for an online seller, and kept me up until well past dawn. And yet when you go to Amazon from Ireland, they tell you to use Amazon.co.uk. In the end I just bought almost everything elsewhere; a policy I may stick with from now on, at least until the day we finally get an Amazon.ie.

And now it is 4 a.m. all over again. Tomorrow I must go to toil in the fields once more, so farewell.

Sarkozy – Little Brother Is Watching You

EPP Summit October 2010
He'll protect France, even if he has to turn it into a fascist police state

Unable to pass up an opportunity to move his country further to the right, Sarkozy is introducing a law that criminalises visiting sites about violence and hatred “habitually”. Whatever that means.

Can we please apply the brakes of sanity to that? Imagine if there was a law against “habitually” reading books about violence and hatred. Or indeed about habitually reading anything. Or a law against conversations about violence and hatred? Unthinkable. Yet those are the only two things you can do by visiting a website. Read, and discuss. A website is just a form of document after all – indeed, the form that is rapidly replacing books, newspapers and magazines. Yet leaders are eager to make sure that the replacement for printed literature is a thousand times more circumscribed, monitored and controlled than literature has been the birth of democracy. And not only controlled, but controlling – because now we have books and newspapers that can read you back, check you out when you check them out, write reports on you. If it sounds like an old Soviet Russia joke, there’s a good reason for that.

But surely monitoring people’s reading habits is unthinkable in a democracy? Nope, not at all. In fact such laws already exist. It’s just that they’re specific to child pornography. But all around the world, laws that undermined a basic principle of democracy for just that one extra-super-special, won’t-someone-think-of-the-children case are being broadened and repurposed – precisely as predicted.

All you need to pull this off is an urgent threat to security. Say, the threat to security that a shooting spree by one madman who’s now dead so clearly represents. Once you establish the principle, it becomes perfectly legitimate to police people’s reading. And so easily, you have made it a crime to be the sort of person you think might commit a crime.

A Tale Of Two Cities – The Musical

Tyrone Power Snr., father of movie star Tyrone...
A Young James May Tyrone Power Snr. as Sidney Carton

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this too much. A musical by an amateur company could go wrong in simply breathtaking ways. Plus I find dialogue on stage hard to follow when spoken, let alone sung. Plus I’d never actually read A Tale of Two Cities and could recall little about it except that the cities in question were Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. So there would be crowd scenes, mayhem, and possibly accents. I expected to start confused and to gradually become perplexed.

Indeed it threw me right at the start, because it didn’t begin with what’s possibly the most famous opening line in all literature, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Instead it went straight into a murder scene, which can really be only one of those things. Quickly though I found myself following the plot – indeed, caught up in it. To my pleasurable surprise, I was being entertained.

Particularly after the appearance of Sidney Carton, played by Alan Greaney. You hate to single anyone out in an amateur production, especially one with so many great performances, but Carton – or this interpretation of him – really brought the thing alive. Suddenly there was a funny, engaging, cynical, drunken character right next to the centre of the action. Lovely.

Did Dickens really write him as fun as this, or is it Jill Santoriello‘s adaptation? Some people swear to me that he’s a great comic author, but I’ve generally found his humorous characters too clownish to be genuinely funny. Mostly he elicits the sort of half-laugh that means “Yes, I can see how that probably slayed them a hundred and fifty years ago.” But Sidney Carton the dissolute barrister was not only funny, he was… cool. A perfectly modern antihero.

Alas, just after the intermission I suddenly remembered; I may not have read the novel, but the ending of A Tale of Two Cities is almost as famous as the beginning. So I watched an hour and a half of intricate plotting, knowing exactly how it was all going to turn out by surprise.

Yet though it is famous, I think the ending was the weakest part. I’ll try not to give it away here in case you don’t remember it, but the problem is that it’s, well… a bit downbeat.

Actually, quite seriously amazingly downbeat.

Yet musical theatre requires a big closing number, and a downbeat big musical number is… not ideal, I think. To me it seemed a little anticlimactic. It wasn’t the fault of the production – or even the writer, except insofar as she took on a problem that may not actually have a solution. Indeed it is to their credit that it did come off as tragic and dramatic. Dickens always sails close to the sort of melodrama that a modern audience finds hard to take seriously. As Wilde said of another work, one would need a heart of stone not to read the death of Little Nell without laughing. So if it didn’t quite hit the climactic high, it did avoid the pitfall.

But that quibble aside, a really fun evening. Good by any standard, astoundingly good for amateur theatre. And you have just barely got a chance to see it, with one matinée at 2:30 and the closing performance tonight.