Archive for April 2002
Engineering assignment is complete, I’ll post it tonight then take a few days off. I might even read a book, something I haven’t done in some time, since I got a TV. (A colleague here at work bought a new one and gave me his old one, which is fully functional and more than adequate.) The first way to improve my TV setup will be to sort out the input signal, but I’m in no hurry to do that, since if I did, I would just spend more time watching it. I spend far too much as it is, by my standards anyway. Last night I had one eye on my assignment and the other on Scrubs, so I hope I didn’t start inserting pulse and blood pressure figures where forces and velocities should go…
My career in training is starting to take off, quicker than I thought, and it’s down to the fact that my company is releasing new products in one of my fields (Enterprise Backup). That’s far from all I do, but it’s something I seem to have an aptitude for. It’s also a relief to find that the reason you can’t solve a problem is because of problems with buggy driver software or bad cables and circuits- something that’s been happening far too often lately. (To any Compaq lawyers reading this: I’m not talking about our products.)
I’m at work, but not for work. Last week I bought a second-hand mountain bike from a guy in the same building, who was selling it on behalf of someone who left last month, so it was a real bargain. I’ll ride it home after this, my first experience of riding in Dublin. I waited till Saturday because I didn’t want to ride it in rush hour traffic if possible, and because I wanted to buy a helmet first. I am that kind of rider in general, but the need for bike safety has been drilled in even further since I moved to Dublin.I have only ever had one major cycling accident, and that was in 1991 and not even on a road, but in a shopping centre car park. I was taking my usual shortcut, but someone had cordoned off one section with a chain, the bike stopped and my face hit the bike. It had gear levers that stuck straight up, so I ended up with a large cut on my chin and two front teeth that were missing chunks and eventually had to be bridged.
The Dublin authorities seem to make some nominal attempts to cater for cyclists, following much the same pattern as I saw in London: where the roads are nice and wide, there may be cycle paths, but these tend to start and end abruptly, sometimes leaving a cyclist surrounded by trucks at dangerous intersections. The Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) has a Cycle Tracks page that covers this – also, BBC News has an article on cycling in London, which also discusses the problems with cycle lanes I see here too. According to DCC figures, 75% of cycling accidents in the Dublin region have involved heavy goods vehicles (trucks), many on the heavily-used routes along the Quays to and from the ferry terminal to the UK. I think this is why Dublin City has very few cycle couriers compared to London or New York.
I never saw any actual accidents, but on at least three occasions I saw the aftermath, with paramedics crouching on the road around some kid who’d been knocked flying or dragged under the wheels. Type “Dublin cyclist accident” into Google to see what I mean – there are a few Dublins in the USA, but nearly all the search results refer to Dublin, Ireland.
Since I moved house last November, I no longer walk home, but in the two years I did so, I saw some pretty shocking scenes involving “The Cyclists of Dublin”. By “The Cyclists of Dublin” I don’t mean just anybody who rides a bike in Dublin, but a particular breed of (mostly) young males who seem determined to live fast, die young, and make ugly corpses. I’m justified in calling them “The Cyclists of Dublin” because a) there’s something about their behaviour that is peculiar to Dublin, and b) there are so many of them around.
My “favourite” incident occurred about 22:00 one night in autumn, a moonless night. On my former route home from work, I used a pedestrian crossing on a fairly large street, 100 yards from the main N11 route south of Dublin. I crossed with an apparently clear road and a green pedestrian signal, but when I was halfway across, I heard someone shouting “Watch Out!” I stopped dead, and a cyclist narrowly missed me, shouted “I got no brakes!” and kept on going, down the hill towards the main road. From what I could see of him, the cyclist was a young male, in black clothes and hat (but white face), riding a black bike with no lights or reflectors, with no brakes (he said). I’m sure he stopped at the main road, but I didn’t wait around to see whether it was a controlled stop, or whether another vehicle stopped him the hard way.
Then there was the old guy riding a rickety bike, struggling up the hill near my offices, with a 5-foot (1.5m) step ladder strapped horizontally to the back carrier of his bike. There was quite a queue behind him, including buses with passengers yelling at him, heads stuck out the windows. Lights and Helmets are a rarity, as is any additional reflective clothing. I won’t talk about the drunken cyclists, young and old, I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like in the home of Guinness.
At one point, I considered nominating The Cyclists of Dublin for a Darwin Award, but I don’t know if they give out collective awards. (I saw plenty of nominations for groups of people, but no awards. I can no longer access the site, since our firewall guardians have it pegged as “tasteless”, although I disagree. I even think that reading about the innumerable ways in which human stupidity results in self-selective evolution should be mandatory for kids in their last few years of school, especially in the USA.)
The routes I could take to work have far too much traffic for safety during rush hour, so I intend to use the bike for recreational purposes only, never for getting to and from work. My plan is to get up 1/2 hour (or more) earlier and have a mad dash along the seafront every weekday morning, while the traffic is thin. Let’s see if I stick to it.
Not much time to write on Monday or Tuesday, since I was helping to give a training course at work, on Enterprise Backup Storage technologies. Next time I’ll probably be doing it on my lonesome. We keep classes thankfully small for these courses, only 6 students this time – a good thing, since they all deserve as much hands-on time as possible.
Last night I stayed up far too late listening to music, which happens occasionally. Sometimes, usually when I’m a bit groggy, I start idly browsing through my music collection. Jump cut to two hours later, and I find myself still sorting through tracks and finding new songs I’ve just got to have a blast of before I hit the sack. Last night’s odyssey started somewhere around The Beastie Boys with Sound of Science, and waypoints included Geddy Lee’s My Favourite Headache, U2’s Pop, Carole King’s Tapestry, Fugazi’s Argument, Bill Hicks’ Arizona Bay, a Nanci Griffith best-of compilation, and I finally crashed out to the dulcet strains of Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh – the title track. I think I had some interesting dreams, if I could only remember them.
I’ve taken a week off from my Engineering course, and now I’m behind. The Torture Never Stops…
After my “scientific calculator” story earlier, looking back at my childhood, I’m struck by how genuinely poor my family was when I was growing up. We had very few actual assets, nothing of any lasting value. I’ve no intention of turning this blog into an autobiography – as if anyone would want to read that – but a little background data may help to explain why I think the weird way that I do.We moved to South Africa when I was just short of 7 years old, in early 1975, from Scotland. Television was a novelty at its launch there in 1976, and my parents could never have afforded one. However, I actually won a colour TV in a church raffle in 1978, when I was 10. I have declined such competitions ever since, reasoning that my chances of winning have been and gone. (Statistically incorrect, I know – luck has no memory, and every time is like the first.)
What I really missed, though, was music. I would have genuinely appreciated having a piano in the house. We had some records at home, but little worthy of nostalgia, mostly cheap cover albums that held no interest for me. After I had my appendix removed at 12, I even Mario Lanza as an offensive weapon, to drive away a school classmate who dropped in for an unwelcome visit while I was recuperating. Even at that age, I was learning to keep myself occupied, always a useful skill to have, I think.
Funiculi, Funicula, Funiculi…
Aaarrggghhh! (door slams)
When my father remarried in 1982, my new stepbrother, Mark, brought along a LP case full of hard rock and heavy metal; including AC/DC’s whole catalogue to date, plus Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, which was, and still is, pretty amazing. He brought an acoustic guitar, which later led me to investigate the bass. He also described, with gleeful horror, some of the musical excesses wrought by progressive bands. I had a chance to investigate some of these musical nightmares when I started babysitting for a friend of the family, who had several shelves full of albums and a decent midrange hi-fi. One album stood out and definitely changed my life: Yessongs. Suffice to say that it expanded my musical horizons dramatically and inspired my own interest in music. I may talk a little more about this and related albums in future blogs.
Well, that was the weekend that was – nearly all of it spent on my first major written assignment for Engineering Mechanics (Solids). I’m doing OK with the maths, but it’s a huge annoyance to have to return to working on pen and paper, with a basic school-approved pocket calculator. My handwriting has atrophied in the 16 years since I left school, to the point of illegibility. I remembered getting better handwriting from a fountain pen, so I bought one, a Parker. It was incredibly cheap (€12), I thought, when back in my school days in South Africa I would have had to save for months for an equivalent pen. Scientific Calculators have come a long way too – about the same price, and that was only because the €8 schools-endorsed model was sold out.
Of course, the first time I mentioned my “back to basics” gripes to someone else, the response was “well, in my day we had to use a slide rule”. I learned a bit of slide rule myself, for fun, but I did most of my school work with log tables. Try searching for those on the ‘Net today, and you’re more likely to find heavy furniture. Calculators were only approved for use in my last year or two of school (1984-5), and only for those who could afford them.
Received a package of 4 DVDs from Amazon last Friday, but only got to watch one: Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads in Concert). I jumped at the chance to pick this up, and it’s well worth it. I hadn’t seen the whole thing before, so I was unaware of the whole concept behind the staging and filming, and the commentary adds a whole new level of interest – for example, the numerous references to Noh and Kabuki theatre styles, such as the Big Suit. Favourite track so far: Cross-eyed and Painless. The music sounds great, even though the band admit that there are some remedial overdubs.