Albums versus Podcasts

I find it extremely difficult to switch off at night.  While on tour with Storyman, or The Guggenheim Grotto as they were then known, Kevin & Mick dubbed me “tippy tappy”, such was my penchant for being interrogated by the glow of my teeny netbook, clacking loudly on the keyboard, while everyone else was trying to sleep.  (More about Mick in a sec.)

Two years ago, I wrote a little post with some links to some things I had been listening to.  One was an intriguing podcast called “Find The Conversation”.  I never explained why I was recommending podcasts.  I had discovered around that time, that listening to podcasts helped me to fall asleep more easily than ever before.  Listening back the next day, or the following night, I’d sometimes realise that I only made it ten minutes into the show.  It was effective because it allowed my mind to focus on something without having to respond.  I was paying attention until I conked out.  It worked like a dream.  (Sorry.)  Anyway, there are a few podcasts I listen to on a regular basis, which I thought I should recommend / thank, if anyone out there suffers from a similar affliction.

Firstly though, I’d like to link to just a few Irish friends who have released albums in the past few months.  They are marvellous people, and make fantastic music.  There are loads more, but I’ll give you three for now, in no particular order.  Support them if you can…

Mick Lynch
I met Mick & Kevin of Storyman about ten years ago.  On one particular US tour, all three of us spent 1440 hours in a row together.  That’s two whole months.  Yet, we’re still firm friends.  At least, that’s what their lawyers tell me.  This is Mick’s solo debut.  (I highly recommend Many Moons – it’s a heartbreaker.)

Oliver Cole
Ollie is a fellow Meathman, and was a member of Turn, whose album Forward had a lasting effect on me.  Always positive and confident.

Patrick Freeman
Paddy’s debut is a little gem.  Often at sessions, when Paddy’s breaking out in song, other musicians will audibly mutter “bastard!” in appreciation of the man’s talents.  I think, in these parts, that’s pretty much the highest accolade going.


Albums versus Podcasts

So they’re some albums to keep you company for a while.  I will never be able to listen to music while nodding off to sleep.  I get too involved in it, and it just ends up keeping me awake.  So, hence the podcasts for bedtime.

Second Captains (podcast)
I would normally never watch or listen to shows solely about the to and fro of sport.  They usually speak in very grave terms about things which really don’t seem awfully important, like Mitchell & Webb’s Sky Sports ad parody.  However, I love the Second Captains’ podcasts.  Yes, it is about sports – but they make it compelling with their wit and intelligence.  I got hooked on the show around the time the Lance Armstrong case was finally blowing apart.  Also, they pepper the show with fantastic sound clips.  Here’s one from Japan’s incredible defeat of South Africa in the World Cup featuring commentary from New Zealand, Japan, France & Italy.  I will freely admit, my eyes well up every time I hear it.  (For some reason I’m unable to link to the exact time in the podcast.  Jump forward to the section in question – it’s at 1h 02mins and 41secs – just before the end.)
https://soundcloud.com/secondcaptains-it-com/dublin-rain-kerry-flop-japan-shock-ireland-cruise#t=1:02:41
http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/second-captains

99% Invisible (podcast)
This is a podcast about design.  If you like amazing stories, or have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, this will be right up your street.  To be honest, the presenting style annoys me a little.  But the content often more than makes up for it.  My favourite podcast so far has been this gem about architectural engineering gone wrong, and then covertly made right – the Citicorp building in NYC.
http://99percentinvisible.org/

No Such Thing As A Fish (podcast)
QI is a show on TV in the UK.  The QI Elves are the researchers behind the scenes who seem to have the same obsessive need to collect stories and interesting facts, for no reason other than to just know them.  Extremely entertaining and informative.
http://qi.com/podcast/

 

Irish Postcodes

These two shaded areas are, unbelievably, the same postcode - P51.

These two shaded areas are, unbelievably, the same postcode – P51.

Today, I’d like I must write about the need for a proper Irish postcode system, and to outline the reasons why the €27m #Eircode project is being considered such a shambles and yet another missed opportunity.

The Post
Unless you’re in the transport industry in some shape or form, the only experience of postcodes you’re ever likely to have is with the postcode that Eircode assigns to your house.  The natural assumption is to associate these postcodes solely with An Post delivering letters to your door.  That assumption is wrong.  Your Eircode will not help An Post for the foreseeable future.  They’ve been delivering to your address, in some cases, since P&T was formed in 1922.  They’re doing okay.  It wasn’t perfect though.  So An Post developed their own geolocation system in conjunction with the Ordnance Survey. (See for yourself at : www.geodirectory.ie.)  For every BUILDING in Ireland the geodirectory provides “a unique, standardised address in the form of an eight-digit number, each pinpointed to an exact geographical location.”  These services needed a unique standardised code – so they developed one.  But that code is not Eircode.  So, if An Post and the security, fire brigade, and ambulance services already had a working geocode, then why were they involved in developing a new one?  I could speculate until the cows come home, but that’s what twitter is for.  I’d prefer to focus on the reasons why those of us who actually could use these codes are so livid at Eircode’s poor design.

Online Shopping & Deliveries
I’ll assume that the vast majority of you would have no experience of actually processing postcodes in business.  I’ll try to give you some insight into how they’re used in the transport industry globally.  This happens from the tiniest courier place in London, to global giants like DHL or FedEx who have a 45 billion dollar annual turnover.  (Yes, 45 billion.  They’re so big, their aircraft can afford to pop wheelies.)

Let’s take online booking.  You know those delivery charges which appear after you’ve bought your high-end triathlon gear from Chain Reaction or Wiggle?  (Or your Fifty Shades of Grey from Amazon?)  They’re calculated using postcodes.  In the UK if you’re in BT28 (a Belfast postcode) and the goods are being shipped from a warehouse in WD8 (a Watford, UK postcode – go on you ‘orns!), the following can be figured out :

  • A cost for delivery from a very small geographical area.
  • An estimated date of delivery judging by that company’s usual service standards.

So far, so logical.  This is an old system, but as you can see, its simplicity makes it extremely useful.  Now, larger transport companies will have warehouses in all corners of the country – and those warehouses will be responsible for covering deliveries to particular postcodes.  By assigning postcodes to particular warehouses, the entire country can be covered accurately, without conflict or overlap.  Due to the lack of postcodes in the Republic of Ireland, many transport companies have their own internal version of postcodes.  This was entirely necessary for most of us, as Irish county boundaries are problematic.  (Cavan’s panhandle, for example, is best covered from Leitrim or Fermanagh, rather than Cavan county.)  The problem remains that an internal sortcode is fine, but without the sort code being adopted by the entire country, its usefulness is limited.  It doesn’t help with locating ambiguous addresses, etc.

Geographically Distinct Areas
The first few characters of a postcode are usually the sort key.  The French postcode 75013 uses the first two digits as the sort code, with 75 being central Paris – the final 013 bringing you to the 13th district.  (Incidentally the first two digits were being used by the French for their small administrative areas over 150 years ago.  They understood its usefulness.)  In the UK, the tiny area of HS1 gives you Stornoway, an island area in the Hebrides off the east coast of Scotland.  This is the beauty of having a sensibly defined sort key.  Anyone who has lived or travelled to an Irish or Scottish island knows that things work differently there.  Deliveries may only be carried out twice a week.  Ferries may only operate on certain days, at certain times, and may have strict weight restrictions, etc.  Sometimes deliveries are only made as far as the port – with islanders organising the remainder of the trip.  The cost and time it takes to deliver to an industrial estate outside Glasgow is often quite different to the cost and time of delivering to an island in the Hebrides.  You may be a city dweller who wonders, who cares?!  But without the postcode being of use to every address, there is no point in adopting it.  We will only have to replace it when saner heads prevail at some point in the future – no doubt at considerable cost.
Without having a distinct SORT KEY for a geographically distinct area, a postcode is of no real benefit to any type of transport firm or agency.  To take one example, Eircode have used the same sort key, F92, for Arranmore (Donegal’s largest inhabited island) and the north western Donegal mainland.  Cill Rónáin, Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, has the same sort key H91, as Connemara and Galway City.  Galway city and the Aran Islands may be in a relatively small geographical area, but keen eyes may have noticed that the Aran Islands are separated from the mainland by a small section of the Atlantic Ocean.  Sort codes which ignore clear and obvious boundaries, like seas or oceans, need to be redesigned.
In two seconds a website could tell a Hebridean that his delivery will take 4 days at a cost of fifty quid by using the first three characters of the postcode.  The Eircode-using Irish equivalent website would need to lookup a large database to tell an Arranmore resident the cost and time for delivery – and they’d need the full exact code.  Any mistake made here, and your estimated delivery time, and cost for delivery will be wrong.

Unique Identifiers
Now, the pro-Eircode people, be they government departments, An Post (who won’t use it) or Nightline (the only one of approximately 3000 transport companies in the country who were consulted and the only one who claim they could use it), say that this new Eircode is unique to your address.  Unique identifiers would be fine, but they’re of little use to anyone who hasn’t bought the latest version of the updated postcode database from Eircode.  This is because the last four characters of the code are completely random – there is no geographical information contained in it.  This means that in data terms it’s an expensive system.  Rather than the code carrying the necessary information, with a simple grid system, you MUST carry out a data lookup to see what geographical location relates to the Eircode you’re trying to deliver to.  Your code is useless without a fully up to date database which can provide the longitude and latitude co-ordinates.  Think about it – when was the last time you updated your sat-nav?  Even with the now 40+ year old UK postcode system, you could get within a few streets of any new house – regardless of whether you had all your devices up to date.  (And regardless of whether you had a decent data or satellite reception.)  Apart from one delivery company who have been given access to the entire database, the only non-governmental agencies who are promoting the Eircode as useful seem to be direct-marketing companies.  Now whenever direct marketing companies are enthusiastic about anything, it’s time to pretend you’re not at home, or at the very least pretend you don’t speak English.  (That reminds me of the snub Eircode have given the Gaeltacht areas and Irish addresses too, but I won’t deal with that here.)

In the UK, the postcode database used to be proprietary.  They database was available at 4000 GBP per year, before they were advised to make it open source.  The government were eventually convinced that making it available to businesses was of huge benefit to the economy and most significantly to small businesses.  4000 GBP was a fairly large fee for a small start-up to have to bear.  They opened this up 2010.  Five years later, Ireland is introducing a brand new closed system.

The problem of new buildings
When you build your new dream house out in the countryside, and you’ve been assigned your new postcode – people can start sending you mail and deliveries.  Now because the only actual geographical information in the Eircode is the sort key, not all companies, or devices will have your eircode information.  (In fact, at time of writing no sat-nav/GPS manufacturer, nor google maps plan to implement the Eircode system at all.)  So, the best that you can hope for is that your delivery will arrive in your postal area, and you can direct them from there.  Now you can see where it’s advantageous to have smaller geographical areas than “north west Donegal”, or the beautiful P51 eircode in which is actually split in two as shown below.  In case you’re wondering, it would take 1 hr 40 minutes to drive across this Eircode which stretches from Cappoquin, Co Waterford all the way to Ballydesmond, Co Kerry.  You’d also have to pass through two other postcodes on the way.

P51 postcode

P51 Postcode. East and West?

 

Alternative Postcodes
There have been alternative postcodes put forward.  Both look promising.  The most commonly suggested ones are http://www.myloc8ion.com/ and Openpostcode.org.  I don’t know a whole lot about either one.  What I do know from the papers, radio and Irish Government committee recordings which were uploaded to the web, is that the Loc8 Code was excluded from the tendering process by the government.  Illegally so, according to the EU.

Both of these systems however are examples of postcodes that give valuable geographical information, without total dependence on satellite or internet look-ups.

Likely Outcomes
In the modern era, no politician or government agency is ever permitted to change their mind.  We’re subject to the leadership qualities of the World War I Generals.  You must proceed in a straight line towards the stated target.  Even if 100,000 soldiers lie dead in no-man’s land before us, we must not waiver.  In the modern era, to change your mind is seen as a fatal flaw – not as the result of consideration, reason and common sense.  It ends, or at the very least, stunts careers.  That’s why the Eircode disaster will probably be pushed through regardless of how awfully inadequate it is.

 

Some More Illuminating Reading  (I might update this over time)
http://www.broadsheet.ie/2015/07/20/no-honour-no-code/
A Crowd Sourced Google Map of Eircodes
http://www.ossiansmyth.ie/eircode-routing-keys/

Van Morrison – The Bang Sessions

Van Morrison – Blowin’ Your Mind.

I have just received the strangest, actually genuine, email ever. I’ve been asked to “help spread the word” about a pledge campaign for a limited edition release of Van Morrison’s Bang! sessions, because like many Irish musicians, I’ve mentioned Van on my website probably more than once.

Now, here are a few reasons why I find the email a little strange.  Instead of numbering the list, I’ve decided to use exclamation marks, which seem more appropriate to my state of bewilderment right now :

! – Please help promote Van Morrison.

!! – Please help promote a re-release of already heavily exposed 50 year old recordings. (Including such unknowns as half of the material from “Astral Weeks” plus a little known tune by the name of “Brown Eyed Girl”.  Obscure, I know.)

!!! – … which as a bonus, on its very own vinyl, includes the deliberately “unreleasable” crud that Van recorded in order to get out of his contract, featuring lyrics like “Oooh aah you got ringworm”, in the knowledge that it would, could nor should ever be released. Except that it was.

!!!! – Since Van Morrison usually wouldn’t need to run a pledge campaign, and Bang! no longer exists as a label, and the Berns family still own the recordings apparently…  who exactly is doing this?

!!!!! – I refer back to exclamation mark one. I’m still not over that.

Of course, in expressing my puzzlement at the email/campaign, I have also unintentionally shone a light upon it.  However, I couldn’t avoid saying something about it.  It’s just too bloody weird.

Find The Conversation

At the risk of contributing to your information overload, I wanted to share some things I’m reading, watching and listening to at the moment.  Inspiration is drawn from many sources, and even if something doesn’t inspire anything directly, a bit of knowledge can’t hurt.  Okay, it can hurt a lot.  Still… go for it!

Austerity Debunked
For citizens of Ireland or anywhere else that espouses austerity, you may like to know the influential paper that has been the  the whole reasoning behind austerity programs has just been blown to smithereens.  The Colbert Report demolished Reinhart and Rogoff in typically hilarious fashion last night.  It’s accurately described here in Business Insider, but you’re probably better off just watching him do it :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Oa-Bfdkg3w
and the interview with the grad student who spotted their “error” :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgMV4KV6Qw0

Find The Conversation
If you’ve ever felt that humanity is on the wrong track, then you might wonder whether we’re taking the necessary steps to right our course.  This podcast goes some way towards addressing this.  Their website (and the start of each podcast) explains it better than I could, so dive in and take a listen.  Warning : may provoke thought.

From April to December of 2012, Aengus Anderson traveled America and recorded long, unstructured conversations with a cross-section of thinkers and doers, from transhumanists to neoprimitivists, urban farmers to musicians. The resulting conversations were wildly diverse but unified by a few themes: critiques of the present, hopes for the future, and discussions of what each thinker considered “the good.” The results may not yield any existential answers, but you’ll hear thoughtful and often provocative discussions emerging from a cacophony of ideas.

Find them on Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/theconversation-1
Or their website: http://www.findtheconversation.com/

The World Is A Battlefield
Contradicting Pat Benatar’s assertion, it turns out that the world is a battlefield.  Also on soundcloud, I heard this interview via “Democracy Now!”, an independent news organisation based in the US.  The reason I’m posting it is because it introduced me to the phrase “forward deployment”, meaning invading a country and preparing the ground for battle before you’ve actually “started” the war.  There are several levels of creepiness laid out here, describing the drone wars, outsourcing of secret prisons and torture centres.  I’m not sure if you even SHOULD listen to this.
https://soundcloud.com/democracynow/the-world-is-a-battlefield

25 Things

I found this hidden on my facebook page, and decided to dust off the cobwebs and repost it here.  This was written in January 2009, back in the days when you didn’t have to pay The Facebook Corporation when you wanted to share thoughts online with your friends.  It was the result of the only illuminating chain post ever – 25 things.
Enjoy!
T

“I want everyone to know that I’m not in the least bit fooled by all of this superstition business. I’m only doing this out of courtesy… I feel guilty knowing all of this crazy shit about people and keeping quiet about my 25 random things. I’m not tagging anyone but the people who were nice (or bored) enough to send me theirs! 
I just hope this isn’t mind-numbingly boring for you all…”

  1. Of my grandparents, I’ve only known my maternal grandmother.  My maternal grandfather met me briefly though.  He sang and acted in the theatre, so it would’ve been nice to have known him better.
  2. I was once in the middle of a weird stand-off moment between Reg Presley from The Troggs and Paul Jones from Manfred Mann. Paul’s an evangelical Christian and Reg believes in crop circles and aliens. They’re not entirely compatible.
  3. I once watched a World Cup match with Daniel O’Donnell. Yes, there WAS a sweater around his shoulders. There were other people there too.
  4. Every time I play football (or “soccer” for the Americans!), the big toe on my right foot bleeds. It doesn’t hurt, but it stains my sock.  [2012 update : This stopped happening eventually.  New boots stopped removing my toenail mid-game.]
  5. One of the weirdest drives I’ve ever made was from Dublin to Kenmare on a beautiful clear night while I was in college. I had to stop on the road between Killarney to Kenmare, which winds on for miles and miles through amazing scenery, in order to wake-up and physically push the sheep off the road. They wouldn’t budge. Big woolly boulders in the middle of a tiny boreen. Thugs!
  6. I have never broken a bone in my body, which is miraculous considering the stupid things I’ve done.
  7. I learned how to walk at about 3 years of age. Until then, I realised that rolling was by far the quickest way to get around, and used it to devastating effect. I could also climb out the window before I was 1. I don’t know how that works either.
  8. My parents, in an effort to get more than 1 hour of sleep, eventually nailed the sides closed, and nailed a lid down onto my cot. Not to be outdone, and inspired by the WWII prisoners at Colditz, I decided to tunnel out, by pulling back the mattress and mesh wire bottom, wedging myself into the gap and wriggling until I hit the ground head-first.
  9. The prison theme continued into the garden, where in an effort to avoid the early death of their first-born, my parents surrounded my play-area with very tall chicken wire fencing.
  10. At three years old, incensed at being sent to bed at 10pm, while the sun was still shining outside and there was clearly valuable playtime left, I jumped out my bedroom window to avoid the sentry near my door. I missed the corner of the steel oil tank by centimetres, and didn’t quite expect the force of the fall. My heels dug into my backside, leaving me quite sore, but grand. The “tuck and roll” technique has its flaws. I was aided by my superman t-shirt, which had a nice blue cape. If it weren’t for that cape…
  11. I haven’t chosen an epitaph yet, but I think it’ll be hard to beat Spike Milligan’s, “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite!”, which is Irish for, “I told you I was ill.”
  12. Hairiest moment while driving – when the gearstick came off in my hand, mid-corner, leaving me in fourth gear – which is not the nicest gear to be stuck in. It’s very disconcerting when it happens, by the by.
  13. Most accomplished moment while driving…  Coasting from the Swiss Alps towards Turin with the fuel reserve light on, in the middle of the night, because the Swiss petrol stations in the ski resorts were not open 24hrs and didn’t take our French debit cards. The Mont Blanc tunnel was still closed due to the fire a year earlier, so we tried to cross the mountains… but the mountain roads had snowed over, so we had no option but to turn back to Italy.
  14. I’m a mine of entirely useless information, like Michael Caine, but with a more realistic Cockney accent.
  15. I have an addictive personality… tinged with a bit of OCD. Hence my fear of computer games and gambling.
  16. I’ve played shows in French and broken, nay, shattered German. Not the songs themselves, just the banter… (It’s really hard to sing “Elphinbine Herz”).
  17. Strangely, I’ve had more problems with my name in Ireland than anywhere else. Bloody Paddys!
  18. I’m a Virgo. I don’t believe in horoscopes, but I’m apparently typical of Virgos. I’m obsessive about details, and I over-think everything… including this sentence.
  19. My first concert was The Big Day Out in Galway (the Wescht of Ireland) in 1996. The line-up included The Divine Comedy, The Cardigans, Nenah Cherry (I can’t remember if Youssou N’dour was there with her), The Bluetones, Ron Sexsmith and Radiohead. Donal Dineen DJ’ed in between acts (I distinctly remember a euphoric “I want to hold your hand”.) If there was ever a doubt before, I was totally lost to music from this point on. I took the three hour bus journey alone too, which I’m proud of. I later discovered that one of my future best friends was at the same gig. I’ve a sneaking suspicion Ash played too, but I’ve no evidence of that whatsoever.
  20. Anyone who tries to tell me that my University years were the best of my life, automatically gets filed into the “blithering idiot” sector of my brain. I spent hours every week learning how to prove conclusively that 1 is equal to 1, without the aid of narcotics. It was not fun.
  21. I feel really guilty going to areas where I don’t know how to say at least a few poorly pronounced words in the local language.
  22. I’m an idiot, but I think the fact that I know I’m an idiot makes it less of an issue. Although maybe that’s just me being really idiotic.
  23. Mick and Kev from The Guggenheim Grotto dubbed me “The Singing Duvet”, and I think it’s the best description I’ve heard thus far. Thanks lads! (Most common names include : Tiger, Tigger, Der Teig, Todger, Taj, The Long Fella, and Ya Lanky Streak of Piss… no, that last one’s not one I use myself.)
  24. Good music sessions, after gigs or at friend’s houses, is one of the most amazing experiences you can have. It’s a shame that more people don’t get to witness them.
  25. I believe that there’s more than one true love out there. I know I’ve missed one already, so if I ceased to believe in that, I’d be forced to combust right here in front of your eyes.