I Get Certified

2015-07-22 22.36.53
I’m too wrecked to go out so I am having a small party at home. Here is my invited guest.

As of 5.15 pm today, I am an Oracle-certified MySQL developer!

Somewhere in the distance, a dog barks.

Yeah, OK. Boasts that you have to explain are not good boasts. For the last four months I have been studying hard for a qualification in something most people have never even heard of.

Which is a shame, because it is actually the secret language that runs the world.

But first, let me tell you about my day. This was… a tough day. Not only did I take a two and a half hour professional exam, I attended a two hour public meeting right after. The way it began though – well that was even worse.

You know when you know you’re doing something wrong? I mean, when the front of your mind thinks everything’s all right but the back of your brain is waving frantically to get your attention? The feeling you’re forgetting something that you decide to ignore. The nagging awareness that you probably shouldn’t blog while drinking a bottle of wine. Sometimes you know deep down that you’re making a mistake but it just doesn’t seem to reach the surface. So yesterday evening I was being very organised for my exam. I did all the little things, like making sure the car had petrol and water – even that the windscreen washers were working properly. Yet even as I did it I thought to myself: “You know, there’s a danger here. This is breaking my routine. If I break my routine to do all these checks, I could forget one of the important things I do routinely. Fortunately though, I haven’t forgotten anything this time.”

So I finished checking the windscreen washers and went peacefully to bed. Leaving the the car electrics switched on.

This morning an hour went on trying to charge, shove, and sometimes swear the battery back into life before I eventually got a jump start off a neighbour; hardly the calm and collected pre-exam preparation they recommend. Perhaps it was for the best though. Had I time I would probably have indulged in some last-minute panicky “study” as likely to confuse as to clarify. And the record shows I actually seem to do better in exams when faced with non-starting cars. It wasn’t déjà vu, this did happen before.

Outside the venue I met up with Nick and Diarmuid, two of the best students in the class, and was relieved to find that they seemed at least as nervous as me. Because we were (for no readily apparent reason) doing the exam in batches of three, we had feedback from those who sat it earlier in the day. The news was… mixed. On one hand, almost everyone so far had passed. On the other, they had all said it was harder than they’d expected. You can imagine which of those hands seemed more significant to three people about to walk into an exam.

Or about to try. We went to the front door only to find a sign saying to use the side door. We went to the side door only to find it locked. We rang the intercom, only to get an answering machine. I hope I didn’t actually leave the message that went through my head at that point.

But they let us in eventually, and when they’d done with mugshots and fingerprinting (well, almost) they sat us at the consoles. The exam is a computer-based, multiple choice affair not dissimilar to the driving theory test. Except instead of being about stuff everyone needs to know, it’s about stuff nobody in their right mind wants to even think about. I had a tense moment when the very first question was completely unintelligible to me, another when I came to one that, I will swear to my dying day, did not have any possible correct answer. But mostly I felt like I was doing OK. Afterwards Mark our tutor asked me on Facebook how it had gone. I said I thought I’d got about 3 in 4. When the results came through – in only about 15 minutes, mercifully – it transpired that I had 78%. The passing grade is 64. I am a Certified MySQL Developer.

Which is what, exactly?

It’s like this. Once all the important knowledge was kept in wise old people. That’s what the word “wizard” originally meant: Old guy who knows things. Later, with the invention of writing, far more information could be kept within books. But in this information age in which we’re living, the vast (vast vast) majority is kept in databases. They are the electric libraries, the quiet machines behind the scenes of every modern technomarvel. And that’s how I ended up here, basically. MySQL is as important to modern Web design as HTML itself.

And on the way home I attended a public meeting about technology and the arts, part of the campaign to make Galway the European Capital of Culture in 2020. Asked for suggestions on the theme of a digital city, I sketched out an idea for an app so spontaneously that it took even me by surprise. A good idea? I can’t tell. I was very tired by then. Some great ideas come when you’re tired, but so do some great hallucinations. I can only say that it’s simple – so simple that it has to be either brilliant or obvious. The difference, I guess, being whether someone else has done it already. Such is the fine line between stupid and clever.

But it would be great to do, I hope they take me up on it. And why wouldn’t they? I’m an Oracle certified database developer. That’s like a wizard from the future.

Interlude – Pictures of Trees

Well unsurprisingly, last Thursday brought on a relapse. Throat is sore again; my head feels like a hat. So it’s another photography special. Here’s some pictures that weren’t quite good enough to publish when I felt well.

Actually I meant to use them but didn’t have a chance at the time, what with the car crash a couple of days later. (It had been a busy summer, hasn’t it?) All taken in local woodland during August, using the Galaxy Note‘s default camera.

Martina and the Tree
Fairy shelving  units
A spring
Crazy modern architecture

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 Medium Is The Extra Large

I’m applying for some college courses. After I fill out the online form and pay my money, one springs me with a surprise: They also want an idea for a “digital media project”. Huh. If I had an idea for digital media project I wouldn’t be applying for college.

So I’m staring at this, trying to figure out what they mean. What is a digital medium anyway. Someone who signs seances?

OK, seriously. Seriouslish. A medium is any means of communication more complicated than direct conversation. A telegraph, a town crier, a tombstone, a talking drum, a cardboard tube if sufficiently long. If you’re speaking through it, it’s a medium, and so the vast majority of human communication is via some medium or another.

What is digital? People use the word to mean “Things on the Internet and… stuff”, but it’s really anything that can be encoded as numbers. An analogue recording is a model of one physical thing (say a sound) made in another physical thing (say a groove), and so a copy of an analogue recording is a model of a model. Digital recording models the physical thing purely as an abstract number, which is why it can be copied forever without any loss of detail. That’s a huge boost in efficiency, so not only is most music and television digital now, but digital technologies also play vital roles in apparently analogue media like newspapers and radio. Really, a better question is what isn’t digital media now.

Which gives me my idea. What, indeed, has yet to be made digital? I should make some outrageous proposal to digitise a thing that everybody thinks of as quintessentially analogue. A digital… cloud? No that’s already a thing. A digital aeroplane! What could be less like a string of numbers than a solid object flying through the air?

Except, even planes are digital already. The joystick connects to a computer now, not to the wings and tail. It’s like they’re playing a flight simulation game and the game is flying the plane. But they’re in the plane, so they’re in the game… All a little head-wrecking when you think about it.

So I turn my attention to that third word. What constitutes a “project”? Any plan of action, really. That being the case I have a number of digital media projects lined up – first thing tomorrow morning in fact. Turning off the digital alarm on my phone and checking my digital email. Getting up and turning on the digital TV. Seen this way, pretty much my whole life is a digital media project.

Ladies and gentlemen of the admissions committee, I submit: Myself.

Come To The Comedy Show

First I march in Germany, now I’ve helped organise an anti-capitalist comedy gig. I’ll be living in an Occupy tent next. If there are any left. As a cartoonist and columnist, I always felt that having political opinions was the day job and my spare time was my own. These days though I don’t know what the hell is happening.

Anyway, this looks like it’s going to be an excellent show. More than a show really, a kind of event. A tour of free gigs powered only by goodwill, cutting out the middle-oligarchy. Demonstrating that the way we’ve been doing things is not the only way.

3:00 this afternoon, at Kelly’s on Bridge St. It’s a great venue for comedy, they’re great comics, it’ll be a great gig. See you there I hope.

Sunstruck

Cat is sure that Tree didn’t use to be that colour

Good grief.

I’m being blinded by the light reflecting off my own skin. Thanks to last year’s wholly ineffective summer, I haven’t been struck by the cancer-particle for an age. What melanin I ever possessed is long gone, chopped up for firewood or something. I am now little more than a collection of human organs in a see-through bag.

But le soleil tapait dur, as they say in French lessons. I received more dangerous photons to my surfaces yesterday than I have in the last two years, and I include X-rays in that. So while some areas of me are transparent, others are luminous. First I was at a funeral, and so got basted in sunspit before I was even ready to contemplate the idea. Very few people pause at the graveside to apply sunscreen. Then driving home I had the windows down. Only a 100kph wind was sufficient to refresh me, and it was amazingly relaxing to be basking and buffeted at the same time. A thrillingly sensual experience, like bathing in a hot air jacuzzi. I arrived home scorched.

And now I lie on a lawn, hoping to make my other parts match. I am supposed to be composing my blog here but, though I try to write in a personal way, nearly everything that has happened in the last few days has been so intensely personal, either for me or for someone close to me, that there is little on my mind that I can fairly write about. I am emotionally drained and of little use today. And so I make myself useful.

Inside, ladies of the superior generation are discussing whatever it is they discuss when I’m not there. My mother and one of her sisters, visiting another sister at the house of a cousin who… You know I’m not even sure where I am. I just drive. I am the ferry of aunts. And happily so. In the sun, the world is made of simple things.

In The Town Of Ballybay

image
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

Mná Mná

Niceol Blue seems to get mentioned on this blog more than any other person. That’s what comes I guess of having a wonderful voice and a computer almost permanently in need of repair – two things I have a weakness for. But she also organizes Mná Mná – Women in Music, a monthly showcase gig for musicians and particularly singers who are female. I’m worried overseas readers won’t get the title. Suffice to say, Mná is the Irish for Women, and is pronounced – more or less – “Mnah”.

It’s been on once a month for almost a year now, but to my shame last night was my first visit. I’ve been missing something good. A thing like this could so easily be what I might call… excessively supportive. But thanks to what I can only guess are hidden reserves of steely ruthlessness, the standards are excellent. Three acts last night, each worth the entrance.

Next month will be a special gig for their first anniversary – definitely one to watch out for. You can sign up for notifications here.

Loosening Up

All right, not usually as loose as this

I must apologise form the infrequency of posts in the last while. That whole girlfriend business didn’t exactly help of course, and I’ve a cartoon commission on that has proven to be much more tricky than expected.

My work usually concerns ideas and words – so much so that at their worst, my cartoons are just two people talking. My drawing, if it can even be called such, is normally minimalistic, loose, and spontaneous. This job is quite the opposite. While still cartoony in style, it’s to illustrate the precise way that certain tools are used (I’ll tell more when the clients have actually published), so suddenly I have to pay enormous attention to tiny details. The tools have to be drawn correctly, they have to be held correctly. Hands! Endless hands. No one likes drawing hands… My own are physically tired now.

And we’ve had predictable communications problems. The clients of course know precisely how the tools are employed. So when they describe what they want, they know what they mean. I merrily walk off with a profound misapprehension of their wishes, and consequently have to discard hours and hours’ worth of entirely useless work. Perhaps I’ll do an exhibition of those later in the year. Under the title “Unnecessary Pictures”, because that will make them sound like art.

But this will be finished shortly – I hope – and I will try to make up for my absence.

Truth In Advertising. Or At Least Verisimilitude

I just saw this TV commercial for Bell’s Whisky, in which an orchestra plays Axel F on tumblers of scotch. Quite cool – except of course you can’t make a tumbler resonate by running your finger around the edge like you can a wine glass.¹ So the whole thing was faked.

OK, you expect things in adverts to be faked. I know cars don’t really turn into dancing robots. Nevertheless I’m strangely offended by this. I’m imagining advertising executives with little or no grasp of physics getting really enthusiastic about their idea. So when someone points out to them that it’s not actually a physical possibility, do they change their minds? No, they carry on as if it’s a physical possibility, and fake the cool thing they can’t actually do. It’s like using camera tricks in a magic performance.

Contrast that with the well-remembered ad for Sony Bravia televisions,² where thousands of coloured balls bounce around what look like the streets of San Francisco. That was beautiful, but I wasn’t impressed because after all it’s easy to do something like that with CGI. Only I found out recently, they didn’t use CGI. They dropped one hundred and seventy thousand coloured balls down hills, in San Francisco. Now that is cool.

 

  1. All right, we could get into an argument about this if you like. I think it might just be possible if you superglued the tumbler to something solid. Half the trick of making a wine glass sing is firmly holding it down with the other hand on the base, otherwise the energy you’re putting in with your finger is wasted on moving the glass around. I don’t think that merely holding a tumbler down is going to work though. Firstly, you can’t properly grip it so it’s going to move around anyway. Secondly you’re holding it by the part you want to resonate, so you’re damping it.
    Even if it was attached with glue though, I’m not sure it would resonate at an audible frequency. Only the sides of the glass would be free to vibrate rather than the whole vessel.
    At least, so I imagine. Science, a range of different-sized tumblers, and a clean Formica work surface are calling to me. I must resist…
  2. [Video] If you have the bandwidth, do watch the HD version.