Tuam Raider

Tuam. Not the worst for traffic

Well here I am in sunny Tuam, for the first time really since I passed my driving test. Yes I’m sorry Tuam, I admit it, I used you. People say it’s easier here than in Galway city. After the fact, I’m not so sure. Galway traffic is insane at rush hour it’s true, but Tuam was then going through an interminable process of roadworks, diversions, temporary traffic lights and tailbacks. And though Galway has imposing roundabouts, Tuam has far too many of those ridiculous mini-roundabouts that transform a simple honest junction into a revolving door. Also, some trick signage; my instructor introduced me to a way you could fail your test without even trying. At one junction there’s a yield sign, so naturally you stop if there’s oncoming traffic. If there is no oncoming traffic, you fail your test.

How come? Because there’s a STOP line marked on the road – presumably left there from a time before the junction was demoted to a mere yield. But the indicator of the greater hazard overrides the lesser, so if you went through without stopping you’re breaking a stop sign, an instant fail, even though there’s no stop sign there. OK, it’s not part of any known test route, they’re not actually out to trick you with legal ambiguities. But with all those diversions in place, you never know your luck.

I’ve just passed a restaurant called Cré na Cille. It’s named after quite a famous novel by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, sometimes called “The Irish language Ulysses“. One  problem though. Literally, the title means “Graveyard Soil”.

I wonder what their specials are.

Speaking of tests, we have our first one coming up on the MSc course already. Well it’s a project, for the Data Analysis and Project Management module, but we will be marked on it. We’ve two weeks to get a proposal together, which includes assembling a team, creating a proposal, even devising a contract to sign for ourselves. It’s not something I mind doing, it’s just that before I do I could probably use a few lessons in, you know, project management. And data analysis.

We’ve had just two so far. I only have the sketchiest idea of what the course is even about. Project management and data analysis – you might as well say “All that businessy-computery stuff.” So I literally don’t know where to begin. I have no idea at all of what would make a good project. Or even a feasible project.

And as a part-time student, I’ve very little idea about a team either. The full-timers meet much more, and many of them will have been undergraduates together. Us part-timers meet literally one day a week. Some of us might be able to get together socially, but most not. So I’ve volunteered to create a forum or bulletin board for us, so we at least have some level of virtual presence.

I’ve done forum admin before, but I’ve never actually set one up from scratch. It’s not hard though – not at least if you rent some web space that supports the necessary technologies. I set one up last night in fact. And in the light of what I learned by doing that, I’ll be setting it up all over again today. I’m also going to suggest we create a spreadsheet of our strengths, weaknesses, and other factors, centralising the information we need to assemble project teams. A database, if you will.

Huh. Maybe I have a project idea after all.

Or would that be a metaproject?

My Furst Day In Scoohl, Part 2

Fred Ott's Sneeze (film by William K.L. Dickson)
Fred Ott’s Sneeze (film by William K.L. Dickson) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Please excuse the flailing around. I’ve not been getting much time to keep up the blog. Bad enough that it’s the first week in college, with all that that entails. But – perhaps due to the sudden change in routine – I’ve come down with a nasty cold as well. I mean, really nasty. So much so that I wonder if it’s not actually mental illness brought on by the sudden increase in workload and stress. I feel depressed, have slowed reaction times, difficulty remembering what I’m supposed to be doing, constant tiredness, sneezing.

Well, I suppose the sneezing does remove any ambiguity.

It’s an oddly mental cold though. I find my sense of time is badly affected. Not timing, that would be bad enough, but time itself. I sometimes forget it’s the present. Which is unhelpful. It is important to be fully aware that the things one is experiencing are actually happening and not just a memory. Especially when driving.

My powers of concentration are, to put it mildly, impaired. To put it colourfully, I have the attention span of someone falling downstairs on fire. So it’s week one and I’m already behind in my work. I’ll tell you about the other two core elements of my first year’s courses – Database Systems, and Systems Development & Project Management – when I catch them and pin them down. All I really know so far is that they use the word “systems” quite a lot, and they are nothing I ever in the past for one moment envisaged myself studying.

My Furst Day In Scoohl

Old and New at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics. The chapel still has crosses on its roof, but it goes by “Lecture Hall 1” now

Well on Thursday morning I had my first ever lesson in programming. Weirdly, it was given in a disused chapel with stained glass windows. My course being multidisciplinary in nature, it’s taught in the business, the engineering and the arts faculties; the chapel is part of an old seminary the college bought and built into its school of business and economics. Where masses were once said, people are now taught advanced capitalism. I like to see that kind of continuity.

Surrounded by more impressive buildings constructed during the now almost legendary Age of Money, the chapel looks like it’s preserved in a museum. There are other curiosities kept here too. Do you see the wooden thing to the left of the picture? That’s a sculpture called Logos 1 by Michael Warren, transposed here when the prominent position it was actually commissioned for got built over. It was never exactly impressive I suppose, but it was at least dignified when it could be seen against the sky.

Though of course we made fun of it anyway. It was always a mystery how this timber was supposed to represent the concept of logos. Or indeed, how anything could. To quote Wikipedia:

The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to refer to “reasoned discourse”[4] or “the argument” in the field of rhetoric.[5] The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the Universe. After Judaism came under Hellenistic influence, Philo (ca. 20 BC–AD 50) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy.[6] The Gospel of John identifies the Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos),[7] and further identifies Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos. Although the term “Logos” is widely used in this Christian sense, in academic circles it often refers to the various ancient Greek uses, or to post-Christian uses within contemporary philosophy, Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

Jesus Christ. One word can mean anything from an argument to… well, Jesus Christ. No wonder I’ve given up humanities for science.

So back to that first lesson – Business Applications Programming. Adding to the disorienting effect of the stained glass, the lecturer had close-cut steel grey hair, a tan and an American accent, lending the strange impression that I was being taught Visual Basic by a Marine sergeant. Well, I could use the discipline.

Somehow the lecture seemed simultaneously too slow and boring and too fast and unintelligible. Perhaps it was both, in rapid alternation. Not at all a gentle theoretical introduction, we got straight into the business of writing a program. But with a tool designed to be as simple to use as Visual Basic, that was little more than a matter of pushing buttons in the right order.

Yet at the same time there were a couple of tricky concepts introduced. In particular, the elusive one of Object Orientated Programming. I’m not really qualified to explain this to someone else yet, but I think in a nutshell programs used to be written with their functionality as the first priority, leaving the user interface as a bit of an afterthought. As they got more complex though, the interface would get more and more convoluted until it became practically unusable. So nowadays, you design the interface first and build everything around that.

Presumably the functionality goes to hell instead, but I guess that doesn’t show so much.

Another view of the Cairnes complex

Comedy Tonight

OK, maybe I’ll have to be taking two days off per week. One for college, the other to recover from college. Or maybe I’ll get more used to this, we’ll see.

I’ll tell you about my back-to-school experience tomorrow though; first I’ll talk about this show while there’s still a chance you could make it. Well, the final performance is on at 8:00 tonight at the Town Hall Theatre Galway, so you’ll have to be fairly near. Or what the hell, charter a plane. It’s pretty good.

People from Galway will need no introduction to… well to anyone really. We’re informal like that. But Little John Nee will be familiar to most. A clown, musician, actor and street performer for his day job, about once a year he puts on a theatre show. In Galway it’s one of the events of the Season.

Always funny and poignant, a Little John play can sometimes have a serious historical or social side too. The Mothers Arms, not so much… This is straight-up comedy, albeit of the dark persuasion. Our protagonist is a former blues man, who fell in love and became so happy he had to put down his ukulele (yes) and take up organic farming.

On collision course with his happiness: The Highly Strung Orchestra, a band on the run, plus Dublin property developers and Northern terrorists. The epicentre: run-down local singing lounge The Mothers Arms. Featuring an ensemble of misfits, tattooed ladies, tattooed gentlemen, and faithful old overweight dogs.

And all really just a story that Little John tells us. Though he illustrates it with music and is supported by three great musicians playing bits, it is essentially a comic monologue. Well mostly comic monologue, a little bit gothic opera, full of sharp, funny descriptions of rural life in a state of terminal disrepair.

It could have been longer. A problem with comic drama is that characters are introduced because they’re funny, and then nothing much happens with them. I’d like to see Little John do something more complex. But the meandering, anecdotal style is full of charm, and full of darkly amusing lyrics about contemporary life like, if I’m not misquoting:

You want to hit a banker but there isn’t one in sight
So you settle for the wanker who just bumped into your pint

A lovely little show, and very much part of the fabric of Galway culture. Catch it tonight if you can.

Comedy Tonight

OK, maybe I’ll have to be taking two days off per week. One for college, the other to recover from college. Or maybe I’ll get more used to this, we’ll see.

I’ll tell you about my back-to-school experience tomorrow though; first I’ll talk about this show while there’s still a chance you could make it. Well, the final performance is on at 8:00 tonight at the Town Hall Theatre Galway, so you’ll have to be fairly near. Or what the hell, charter a plane. It’s pretty good.

People from Galway will need no introduction to… well to anyone really. We’re informal like that. But Little John Nee will be familiar to most. A clown, musician, actor and street performer for his day job, about once a year he puts on a theatre show. In Galway it’s one of the events of the Season.

Always funny and poignant, a Little John play can sometimes have a serious historical or social side too. The Mothers Arms, not so much… This is straight-up comedy, albeit of the dark persuasion. Our protagonist is a former blues man, who fell in love and became so happy he had to put down his ukulele (yes) and take up organic farming.

On collision course with his happiness: The Highly Strung Orchestra, a band on the run, plus Dublin property developers and Northern terrorists. The epicentre: run-down local singing lounge The Mothers Arms. Featuring an ensemble of misfits, tattooed ladies, tattooed gentlemen, and faithful old overweight dogs.

And all really just a story that Little John tells us. Though he illustrates it with music and is supported by three great musicians playing bits, it is essentially a comic monologue. Well mostly comic monologue, a little bit gothic opera, full of sharp, funny descriptions of rural life in a state of terminal disrepair.

It could have been longer. A problem with comic drama is that characters are introduced because they’re funny, and then nothing much happens with them. I’d like to see Little John do something more complex. But the meandering, anecdotal style is full of charm, and full of darkly amusing lyrics about contemporary life like, if I’m not misquoting:

You want to hit a banker but there isn’t one in sight
So you settle for the wanker who just bumped into your pint

A lovely little show, and very much part of the fabric of Galway culture. Catch it tonight if you can.

The Sensible Season

In many languages, the silly season is called ...
In many languages, the silly season is called “cucumber time” or similar – presumably because newspapers publish photographs of amusingly-shaped vegetables. Or maybe just because eating cucumbers is bloody silly.

The silly season is over now, says the Taoiseach. Hmm. I didn’t think cutting the funding for disability carers was all that silly myself. Stupid, yes. Wrong certainly. Atrocious, unthinkable, regressive, inhuman and vile, these are all good words. But not silly.

What I did last night now, that was silly. I was checking the lights on the new old car, which meant I had to walk around it while it was switched on. I keep my keys attached to a belt loop by a curly cord which, while absurdly stretchy, was not going to wrap around the whole vehicle, so I was about to detach them when I remembered the fault with the ignition.

The key doesn’t lock in like it’s supposed to. You can pull it out while the electrics are still on, even while the engine is running. Which sounds pretty risky – and indeed we’re waiting for this to be fixed by the dealer. But I thought I might as well take advantage of it. Rather than detach the keys from the carabiner, I simply pulled them and continued around the car.

But I was tired yesterday evening – my first day, as I was saying, of getting up before humans. So when I finished checking I just turned the lights out, I didn’t use the key to put the ignition back to its off position. I didn’t know it would make a difference.

I know now. This morning, up with the lark once more, I vaulted into the car only to discover I had an absolutely stone-cold dead battery. I’ve never had the experience before of turning the key and getting no reaction whatsoever, not even dashboard lights. It’s kind of creepy, as if time has stopped. I almost expected to look up and see birds frozen in mid flight. The LED display that shows time and mileage was blank. Even the random blinky red light that magically scares away car thieves wasn’t randomly blinking.

After a slightly frantic search I found my father’s old car charger. It hadn’t been used for maybe a decade, but to my huge relief it still seemed to work. So what had happened to flatten the battery? I’d definitely turned the lights off. Blinky and gauge are normally on at night. What else was there?

When the car finally had enough juice it became clear. The fan was on at its lowest setting – so quiet I hadn’t noticed it, but enough to let all the vim leak away. Perhaps that battery isn’t the world’s freshest either.

Well, I’m just glad this happened now. If it had been tomorrow morning, the first day of my MSc course, it would’ve been awkward. Flat battery stymies career in science. Student vague on concept of galvanic cell. I’m beginning to feel like irony is out to get me.

 

Day Zero

Ceci n’est pas une bicyclette

O… K. Thanks for waiting.

Up, showered, fire lit, and driven to shop for the paper all before 9 a.m. It’s not quite the school run, but it’s a good try-out. No noticeable errors, except when I indicated to take a bend in the road. It occurs to me that I’ve probably never driven a car before nine until now. And possibly before noon.

The next trick will be to stay awake until bedtime tonight. In all honesty, I could sleep right now.

But enough about me. Yesterday I was privileged to offer a bed for the night to Jill Lundmark, a woman form New Zealand who is cycling around the world in no particular direction. What makes this a little more unusual is that she’s 74.

Starting eight years ago, she’s cycled through Thailand, Laos, Burma, Scotland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iceland, Morocco, India, Switzerland, France, England, Wales, and Ireland. It was a dream she’d had since reading Irish cycling travel writer Dervla Murphy in the 60s. Last week, they met.

You can read Jill’s journals and follow her adventures. You may even meet her on her way. I wish her all the best. What with Jerry Levy last week, a pattern seems to be emerging. Anyone can crash at my place, as long as you’re in your seventies and are travelling around the world on an interesting mission.

It’s complete open house here.