Diary Of A Slightly-Madman

Ahascaragh, east Galway, which has little if anything to do with the rest of the post

I wonder just how much more of this I can take.

Since I arrived back from Germany I’ve been house-minding out in the country, with only one of those things for company. You know, hairy things. Eat animals. Don’t talk much. Cats, that’s it. My language skills are slipping away here. When your only interlocutor doesn’t care whether you’re saying “You’re a kitty aren’t you yes you are!” or “Bacon bacon bacon bacon sandwich, going to make a sandwich of you now”, your language patterns become increasingly random.

Ahascaragh water garden. Still very little to do with the article

Comfortable lemon.

Cats make peculiar companions, but they are warm and furry so it’s easy to forget this. Until you find yourself, out shopping, having to choose between something that comes in a clumping and a non-clumping form. Little good comes in a choice between clumping and non-clumping.

But lord knows how disconnected I would have gotten without having the cat to take care of. It needs to be feed regularly even if I don’t. I’m already living like one of those cognitive science lab experiments. The weather has been pretty crap but it’s not at all cold, so on days when I don’t leave the house I entirely eschew clothing. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it feels great. As long as I don’t pass a mirror. This isn’t nudism any more than walking around with nothing on under your clothes is. (Though I do like to refer to that practice as “cryptonudism”.) Effectively I am wearing a house. I like it, it’s very roomy in the crotch. And everywhere else.

My sleeping too has grown unconventional, drifting from the usual eight hours at a time to two separate “watches” of four hours, leading me to suspect that this is actually more natural. At least, for abnormal people. What I mean is, it’s quite natural for a significant proportion of the population to pass the night… differently. Would it not make sense, for humans or human ancestors sleeping in vulnerable groups, to have an innate variation in their sleeping patterns so that they’re never all asleep at once?

So if you ever ask again what I’m doing awake in the middle of the night, I’ll be forced to tell the truth. I’m protecting you, you ungrateful bastard. From leopards.

Galaxy Note With Ice Cream Sandwich 3

Android 4.0 is of course an OS designed to work equally well on phones and tablets, and one of the chief features of the Note is its huge, tablet-like screen. So let’s have a look at the advantages of holding your phone sideways.

For a start, landscape mode is a great fit for a GPS device that has Google Street View!

This brings a whole new meaning to the term SatNav.

The included calendar app, S Planner, looks particularly fine on its side.

As does the updated Gmail client. Missing from the inbox view are buttons to scroll through mail. After a confounded moment, you realise that this is now done by swiping. Which is nice. The look is cleaner now. Especially when you choose to write a new mail…

How’s that for stripped down?

But making fullest use of gestures is the beta of Chrome for Mobile. It may not be quite stable yet (the main reason this post is late…) but even allowing for that it’s still better than any other mobile browser around. It’s in the “deck of cards” view that gestures really come into their own. You can use two thumbs to leaf through the page previews, a far faster way to find what you want than clicking on tabs.

I’m beginning to wonder if this really is the best mobile browser interface after all – and not the best interface of any browser, ever.

The Frankfurt Mission 2 – Sausage City


The Ballyhea group was on telly today – TV3’s Morning Show. That’s as close to media glamour as I’ve got in a while. Not that I was on myself – I’d be useless at that kind of thing, cameras tickle. They had the eloquent, informed ones: Diarmuid and Cath and Vicky. Between them they covered the enormous cost of the bank bailout to each and every one of us (€60,000 for the average household if you spread it evenly), how it affects ordinary people, and how the current response to it will be as disastrous for us as similar ‘medicine’ was for the Developing World – a pretty comprehensive encapsulation of the issue. You can watch it here.

Back to our adventures in Germany then. I’ll skip over the details of organising tickets for the bus into town, the tram to the hotel, and the rooms – except to say that Cath did them all, and found the cheapest way to do them all. One of those people every expedition needs.

Settled in, we next needed to reconnoitre. Having dinner seemed like a good way to do that, so we headed in to the older and more attractive part of Frankfurt. It has to be said, it’s not very big. For a major global hub of wealth and power, Frankfurt is surprisingly unimpressive. It has its expensive suburbs of course, but the historical city centre is not much to look at. And while I’m being rude about our hosts, German sounds like English with a wheel missing.

You feel bad about thinking this when you remember that the reason there’s so little left of historical Frankfurt is that it was obliterated in World War II, first by bombing and then by ground combat. Before then, it actually had the largest mediaeval city centre in the world. So we had our dinner in the ruins, essentially. But first we took the photo-opportunity of a statue representing justice to make our point.

After checking out the ECB building and finding it a lot less like Forty Knox than our mental image, we had dinner at the outdoor restaurant you see behind us there – mainly sausages and sauerkraut of course. I am pleased and relieved to be able to report that the frankfurters were the nicest. After, we fell to singing songs – mainly Cork ones like the Banks and Thady Quill. We weren’t drunk or anything, it just seemed appropriate. Eventually though a woman resident brusquely told us we were too loud, the implication being that this was far too classy a neighbourhood for that sort of thing.

To show solidarity with us, a drunk German man at the next table started off a chorus of Molly Malone. Politics was on!

Galaxy Note With Ice Cream Sandwich 2

Some Screenshots:

Multitasking, something of an afterthought until now, becomes integral in Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Hold the home button and every app you’ve used recently is there waiting to take up from where you left off. Well I say recently; presumably it’s limited by available memory, but it seems able to hold dozens.

That “Deck of Cards” view in Google Chrome Beta for mobile, allowing you to flick through your open tabs. This is a really good idea.

Another feature of the new Chrome browser – preview of search results. Touch a small magnifying glass icon in the results and screenshots are spread out for you. It’s remarkably fast too.


In short, I love this browser! It’s not perfect yet; it crashed once, and it took me a while to coax it into allowing me to upload those screenshots. (Tip: Zoom out. When screen is magnified, WordPress can get confused about which link you’re pressing.) But I created this post using it exclusively, a real-world challenge involving complex JavaScript-heavy pages and devilish floating input panels. The only mobile browser to even barely pass before this was Nokia’s MicroB, which is essentially desktop Firefox for Linux in a mobile guise. To finally surpass this is high praise indeed – and an indictment of other mobile browsers when you consider that they’re still behind a standard Nokia set three years ago.

Anyway, the take-home here is that mobile browsing finally works right. Well done, Google.

Galaxy Note With Ice Cream Sandwich

image

The latest version of Android is at last available for Samsung’s Galaxy Note!

Well, kind of. If you live in certain parts of Germany, and perhaps downwind. No one is sure when carriers will actually make it available in their location.

Tired of waiting I cracked, and installed Ice Cream Sandwich myself. A caveat then: As far as I know the version I am using is precisely the one that Samsung released to carriers in Ireland¹, but there may be more to be done with it before the networks roll it out. Particularly, while it appears to be the latest version of Android (4.0.3) complete with Samsung’s “TouchWiz” top layer, not all of the much-publicised Premium Suite seems to be present.

(The only obvious inclusion in fact is S Note, which seems to be a more capable replacement for the – already very useful – S Memo note-taking and sketching app.)

Anyway, that’s all beside the point. What’s it like!?! The initial impression might be a little disappointing – it hardly seems to have changed at all. But that’s because the front end is still Samsung’s TouchWiz customisation. Look closer and you begin to see quite the opposite – everything has changed. There hardly seems to be a single element of Android that hasn’t been either subtly or radically improved. This really is a new OS. It shows best perhaps in an improved tightness, in a great many more options and details, more fancy transitions. All in all, just a nicer overall experience.

For me of course, what matters most is the pen functions. And the good news is, my hopes are realised. That little dot appears on the screen to show it tracking the pen tip, so you know exactly where your line is going to appear when you draw. As odd as that might sound to those who haven’t tried it, this makes drawing far more spontaneous and intuitive. And the pen seems to have become even more responsive too. As you can see above, it gives you a natural, ink-like line. I can say unequivocally now that this must be the best pocket-sized electronic sketchpad you can acquire.

The wider public I think will be more impressed by something that doesn’t actually come with Ice Cream Sandwich, but requires it: The beta version of the new mobile Chrome browser. On a big screen like the Note’s you can set it to act like a desktop browser, and it can deal with complex, JavaScript-laden sites such as editing WordPress.  Clever pop-up magnifications help you choose small menu items, and it employs a metaphor that stretches back to PalmOS, the lost rival mobile system, and even all the way to the original WAP mobile browser – that of a “deck of cards”. Open tabs can be viewed almost as if they were a poker hand, and unwanted ones can be flicked away. It’s all very cute and fluidly animated, basically making other mobile browsers – even Apple’s – look crude and unfinished. And it’s still in beta.

This alone makes the upgrade something to look forward to. Hang on, it can’t be much longer now! And if you are thinking of buying a Samsung Galaxy Note, be assured that the bits that seemed rough on release are now smooth. The fabulous tablet-phone just got more fabulous.

As well as Vodafone, The Samsung Galaxy Note is now available in Ireland from 3 and O2.

 

  1. For the more technically inclined reader: The ROM I installed came from here; to flash it I used Odin, a simple process that doesn’t even require you to root.  Note that I am NOT recommending you try this yourself. It almost certainly voids your warranty, and there is a non-zero chance that it will irretrievably destroy your phone. 

The Frankfurt Mission 1 – Knock Out

What’s Obi Wan doing in there?

Only now can the story be told – because since I got back I’ve been too shagged. How did I become involved with the Ballyhea Burn The Bank Bondholders band? I have to be honest, I am not altogether sure. It sounded like a wild thing to do. It was a noble cause. It would mean spending time with one of my favouritest people. I had some time, flights were cheap, what the hell.

Our journey begins as it ends – in Knock. Knock is one of the world’s weirdest little airports. It has a runway long enough for 747s, but it is miles and miles away from anywhere almost anyone would want to go. The nearest cities are Galway, Limerick and Derry, but the closest of them is an hour away and they all have their own airports anyway.

Knock was the brainchild not of a planner or politician, but of a priest – who thought that the site of a minor and, it has to be said, suspect apparition could become a major destination for pilgrims, if there were only an airport to bring them. But the maxim “If you build it they will come” applies poorly to superfluous infrastructure. Knock had to wait for a new miracle and a new prophet – Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who knew how to put unwanted airports to good use. So from Knock, an hour away from Galway, we can fly to Hahn, two hours away from Frankfurt. It’s a very useful service – and not only for us, as we were to find.

Knock though is well worth visiting for itself, if you enjoy mocking people’s beliefs. Perhaps I can find a better way to put that… It’s fascinating, because it displays religion at its most incredible. The town of Knock is more or less a religious strip mall, selling objects of veneration in boxes of a dozen beside charming isn’t-drunkenness-funny souvenirs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone’s faith could survive a pilgrimage here.

I would swear that religious art has just got more dumb-looking in recent decades. These figures seem actually to have concussion, the features weirdly cartoonish and toy-like. The 3D pictures of animals are… unexplained. Virgin Marys now come in Standard and Luminous. I resisted the desire to buy a luminous one.

I do not know what a Happy Death Cross is, or how it differs from the usual sad death type of crucifix. We speculate that if you look close, Jesus has a big smile.

So we tear ourselves away from the anthropology just in time to meet up with the Ballyhea folks at the airport, and board our flight. Though not before paying an extra €10, for Knock is a toll airport.

Aboard then, and of course the first thing that greets you is Ryanair’s extraordinary panoply of warnings, right in front of your face. They know that the usual safety cards are often damaged or taken as souvenirs (seriously, I have a friend who collects them), so to save a few cents every flight Ryanair plaster them to the back of the seat in front of you. You spend your entire journey being constantly reminded of the things that can go wrong with a plane.

And I ask you, if you didn’t know all the safety drills already, would you really be able to work them out from this? What the hell is that guy doing with the yellow vest – the hula? And look at the first panel of “Exit B Overwings”, the bottom row of the right side. The whole point of doing this in pictures is so you don’t need to read English to understand the drill. But without that caption, the picture seems to say “If you look out the window and see fire, stay in the plane”. That’s really only good advice if you’re flying through a fire.

Gotta say, plane wings are lovely things.

When we boarded though, someone noticed a thing that took us all by surprise. Among our fellow-passengers was one of the people we were hoping to meet in Frankfurt – Doctor Patrick Honohan, the governor of Ireland’s Central Bank, on his way to the very meeting we were going to picket. This, I admit, was troubling. Were we so broke that our Central Bank Governor had to fly Ryanair? It seems almost shameful. Of course to his credit, Honahan had recently turned down a pay rise in the hope, naive as it might seem, of business and public sector leaders following suit. So perhaps this was another example of economy.

Or perhaps he’d just wanted a quick pray.

Back From The Brink – Our Adventure

Sorry for the lack of updates in the last couple of days. Frankfurt was exhausting – but fun, and very satisfying. For once I was actually doing something about the state of the nation instead of just talking about it.

Ringleader Diarmuid O’Flynn, and Filmmaker Donnacha Ó Briain who accompanied us

The story, in case you haven’t heard yet: Ballyhea is a townland in Cork once known for little except a decent GAA tradition; now it’s perhaps the most spoken-of place in the country. Because on Tuesday night, the Ballyhea Bank Bondholder Bailout Protest group – and some hangers-on like me – attached a petition of complaint to the front door of the European Central Bank, after the model of Martin Luther and before a meeting of the Eurozone’s Central Bank governors.

So was it an exercise in futility, to petition one of the most aloof and rarefied institutions on the planet? Of course it wasn’t going to change ECB policy. But it brought it to the attention of the wider world that Ireland is not obediently accepting the austerity process – even if that’s the image our government wants to project – and that we are not ready to bear the gambling losses of commercial banks.

We don’t like it, we don’t deserve it – the problem is we don’t think we can do anything about it. And that sense of helplessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Something like this is a way to break that cycle, and make people aware that they can stand up. I’m a fine example; it’s not like me to take direct action. I fret about it compromising my neutrality as a commentator, I want to avoid being identified with one particular issue, I… am a lazy, cynical bastard basically. But Ballyhea’s uncomplicated approach was an inspiration. We booked Ryanair flights to Frankfurt – €56 return including the bus from the Ryanairport – and stood in the street with some signs. For this, we got to talk with the Wall Street Journal, German newspaper Bild and several other international media outlets, plus appear on Irish TV (video) and radio. We got the message out there.

Anyone can do this. More will.

We stand outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, intriguing the passers-by
The 40 theses, attached to the bank

European Central Brink

We’re here in Frankfurt to protest the fact that a truly vast amount of private bank debt had been foisted on the Irish public. We are asked to put up with this in order to keep the Euro from collapsing, but one has to ask if that is just, or feasible, or even worth it.

This says it all really. One of the stars on the euro sign outside the ECB, the actual big one you see on the TV news, held together with sticky plaster.

Champing At The Bit

Passengers leaving Ryanair jet
“But… But this is where we left from!”

This is weird. I’m going to sunny Germany tomorrow, but I’m sitting here with nothing to do. For once I packed well in advance. This is as unlike me as it is possible to imagine, and must basically have happened by accident.

So tomorrow we’re driving to Knock, which should take about an hour, flying with Ryanair to Frankfurt, which should take two hours, and then getting from there to where Frankfurt actually is, which will be the longest leg of the whole trip. You know the usual way.

English: Night view of the euro monument (euro...
Oh look, it’s breaking up!

Hahn airport – “Frankfurt-Hahn“, as Ryanair have the nads to call it – is actually nearer Luxembourg. The tickets were fantastically cheap though, it must be said. We are going to Frankfurt basically because we can afford to. Oh, there will be some research and meetings and stuff. This is the home of the European Central Bank, the institution that is handling our currency in such a profoundly wrong-headed way, so there is much to learn. Perhaps we will even have a little protest. I plan to stand opposite the ECB with my arms folded, frowning really hard.

I’ve been planning this trip for a few weeks though, you think I found time to refresh my German? Did I hell. But then, do I need to now? My phone can speak German for me. Even the free Google Translate is very good – though bear in mind that to use an online translation service you have to pay for data at roaming rates. Right now I’m just getting it to say things like “How many cars may I eat?”, “This shop sells millions of ducklings in a box”, and let’s not forget that old favourite, “My wombat is constipated”.