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Archive for May 2002

bus-boat-bus

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Friday 31 May 2002, 17:00

Well, my flight on Sunday is definitely off. Aer Lingus e-mailed to tell me that, and that I should forget trying to book anything until next Wednesday, and they’re not even sure about that. They’ve offered a full refund, which I’ll be taking them up on, and if they give me problems over that, they’ve lost a customer for good.

I’ve found a seat on a coach-ferry-coach service that goes via Stranraer and Belfast on Sunday, for a surprisingly low price, so I’ll actually save money if Aer Lingus play ball. The downside is a total journey time of over 9 hours, but broken up into 3-hour segments, so it shouldn’t get too monotonous. I’ve already got a book to read, and I’ll need to get another – not a problem. Sleep isn’t really an option – I can rarely sleep while travelling.

I may post another quick update before I leave, but if not, see y’all next week…

Written by brian t

May 31, 2002 at 5:31 pm

Posted in travel

star whirrs

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Last night, on impulse, I went to see the new Star Wars film, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I’m not going to inflict a full review on you, since there must be a million reviews out there already, but I’d like to log a few thoughts on it while they’re still fresh in my mind. Spoiler Alert: while I’m not going to discuss plot details, you may still want to skip the next section if you haven’t seen the film yet.

  • Why “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”? There’s no particular reason why that should matter, if all the characters involved have no connection with Earth. Since they are apparently human, however, it’s interesting (to me) to imagine a connection with human science fiction of the last century.
  • Much has been made, elsewhere, of George Lucas’ debt to the pioneering work of Joseph Campbell, but in my opinion he owes equally as much to Isaac Asimov in particular. Starting with the obvious, there are the robots, with C-3PO stepping straight out of Asimov’s Robot stories. I expect him (it?) to quote the Three Laws of Robotics at any time. The bad guys in Episodes 1-3 use robot soldiers without such safeguards.
  • There’s the matter of Coruscant, which is the capital of the Republic, a city covering a whole planet. Rename Coruscant as Trantor, and we’re looking at a scene from Asimov’s “Foundation”. In both Star Wars and the Asimov books, the rulers of the Republic/Empire are forever bickering among themselves, while struggling to manage outlying regions and overlooking the threat from the “dark side”. The difference is that Asimov’s books document the downfall of an Empire into chaos, while Star Wars charts the downfall of a Republic and the rise of an evil Empire.
  • My major gripe with the film: too many impossible stunts. Some are fun to watch, but others leave you asking “why?”. In the former category is Anakin’s perfectly-timed skydive through the crowded skies of Coruscant, and Obi-Wan’s battle with Jango Fett on the roof of the clone factory. Near the end, however, Amidala takes a 20-foot leap from a pillar on to the spiny back of some alien creature, landing without so much as grunt. She’s not even a Jedi, so that can’t be it. The gravity appeared Earth-standard, so that would normally mean that even if she survived such a jump, she wouldn’t be able to have children, and we would thus have no Luke Skywalker or Leia Organa later.
  • If it appears that I’m turning into an anorak, well, so be it. Looking at it cynically, if the Star Wars universe was perfectly thought out, with no plot holes, it would be average, but human nature means that it’s fun to poke holes in stories and imagine how we might have done better. I think George Lucas has been doing the same, having fun filling the holes in the original Star Wars universe, taking note of outside criticism, and plotting how to set the stage for the “main sequence” (episodes 4-6).
  • It’s also fun to plot how things will turn around in the gap between the current storyline and the known story. For example, we can see the beginnings of the Empire in the designs of costumes and ships, and there’s a glimpse of a Death Star design. Also, while the Clones were fighting in the service of the Republic, they are clearly the first versions of the later Stormtroopers. The Republic’s downfall will not come from external attacks, so Count Dooku had no need to take on the Republic’s clone armies at this time. It doesn’t appear that he had a choice, since they were only invoked in the rescue attempt of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Amidala. When Palpatine takes over, the Clones will presumably go with him and become the Stormtroopers.

Yikes! How many words was that? Get a life…

Written by brian t

May 30, 2002 at 4:28 pm

Posted in life

bridge it out

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So far, so good. They have easyInternetCafes in Glasgow now, as well as London, so it’s cheap and easy to get online to update the site, if I don’t mind typing the HTML by hand. Not a problem, since I’ve made a point of keeping this site simple.About the AerLingus strike… services are definitely disrupted on Friday and Saturday, but as for Sunday, when I’m due to fly… I won’t know until closer to the time. If it falls through, there will be no point trying RyanAir from Prestwick as a backup, since they have no flights on Sunday, and tickets for both flights on Monday are currently at €120 and climbing, with Tuesday prices not far behind. I can probably get a train to Liverpool, then a ferry to Dublin – we’ll see what’s required.

Getting here was not much trouble – in fact the day started off better than expected, when I was able to catch the express train to Howth Junction for the airport bus, shaving 20+ minutes off the travel time. I had expected Dublin Airport to be a zoo, but the opposite was true – nearly deserted, there was less than 3 minutes wait for check-in, and no hassle there. After that, things took a slight downturn, when the flight was late leaving, and I had a little hassle at boarding when the attendant asked for my ticket. There was none, it was a ticketless flight, so I showed her the email. Her response was “if you want to change your flight, you need to go to the ticket desk”. I think she figured out her mistake right then, since she waved me through before I had time to answer. If there had been any problem with my booking, what was I doing with a valid boarding pass in my hand?

The flight left the gate about 20 minutes late, got halfway to the runway, then turned back, since there was a problem with the “door closed” sensor. An electrician looked at it, and we then carried on as before. He probably just bypassed the sensor – when I was an Instrument Technician at Highveld Steel (South Africa) all those years ago, we used to say “if in doubt, bridge it out!” I’m kidding, the aviation industry has higher standards… I hope.

I’m staying at the Travel Inn, Glasgow City Centre, which is OK, if a bit bland. It’s a bit out of the centre, but only because Glasgow city centre is so tiny by UK standards. It’s smaller than Coventry, but still larger than Birmingham, which is hardly a centre at all. It’s 5 minutes walk from Queen Street station, and in a good location for the Barrowlands, where the concert is.

As I wrote earlier, I was booked in a “disabled, smoking” room when I changed my reservation. Well, it’s a disabled room, with handles, alarm pulls, and greater than normal floor space. I could set up a full drum kit in there if required, that’s how much space there is. When I checked in, I was told it was a non-smoking room, which was fine by me. Unfortunately, it looks as if they’ve taken a smoking room and converted it to non-smoking, because I asked for it. There is a non-smoking sign placed on the desk, but there is also a vague tobacco smell, and fag ash on the window sill.

If I spent a lot of time in hotels, I would probably demand more character from hotel rooms, but since I only spend a few days a year in hotels, I don’t mind if the room is “a vacuum with a bed”, as I believe guitarist Robert Fripp has described some rooms he’s seen in his many years on the road.

Written by brian t

May 30, 2002 at 2:16 pm

Posted in scotland, travel

disabled, smoking

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Well, it’s looking better than I had feared. My flight was one of those cancelled with no alternative arrangements on Thursday. They gave a phone number to call, and I got through to an agent after less than five minutes wait. I only need to be in Glasgow by Friday evening, but all Friday flights were full. She found me a place on the same 11AM flight as before, but leaving on Wednesday rather than Thursday, so I’ll be leaving for Glasgow tomorrow morning.

The hotel situation isn’t quite as rosy, though – when I called to extend my stay, the only guaranteed room was “disabled, smoking”. I’m not sure what “disabled” does to a room, except for the obvious (more handholds, space for wheelchairs), but I hope that “smoking” doesn’t mean that the whole room reeks of tobacco – curtains, carpets, etc. Ugh. It’s the same price, and I may be able to wangle something on arrival.

The extra day means I can definitely take a side trip to Edinburgh and Dunfermline, if I start early enough in the morning, probably Thursday. I’ll try and update this diary from a ‘Net café during the week, otherwise, the next entry will be on Monday. Cheers…

Written by brian t

May 28, 2002 at 4:14 pm

Posted in travel

air langers

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Ah, Monday morning. I must have slept funny, since one whole side of my head feels like it’s been stuffed with semolina pudding until it leaks out of my tear ducts. Couldn’t brush my teeth, since my housemate was hogging the bathroom, so I’d better find some chewing gum. Welcome to the 21st Century.

I’m flying to Glasgow on Thursday, on Aer Lingus, supposedly, but guess what? This is the day that Aer Lingus pilots are going on strike. Read the press release here. I’ll find out on Tuesday whether I still have a flight on Thursday. Well, I only need to be in Glasgow by Friday afternoon anyway, the rest was just sightseeing and shopping for musical instruments…

Written by brian t

May 27, 2002 at 8:09 am

Posted in travel

tea shuck

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It’s Election day here in Ireland. Don’t get me started… oops, too late.I suppose elections are essentially the same the world over. You wake up one morning to find your local streets plastered with posters of people you’ve never heard of, with faces you wouldn’t trust to correctly show if they’re alive or dead. They all want one thing: power! That’s enough reason not to vote for any of them, ever.

This year, in Dublin, I’ve seen some particularly Irish variations on the theme. People were slapping up posters, tying them to every available pole they could find. In some cases, the posters caused huge traffic jams when they obscured traffic signals. There was even some defacement and tearing down of posters. My favourite, though, was the poster hung at the station I use to get to work. All it had on it was a woman’s face, a name, and the word “Education”.

You want education, Ms.? Just look at what happened to your poster. For starters, no-one knew what you actually stood for. (Education: more? less? Catholic? Montessori?) Secondly, you put your poster up far too early, long before the election was officially announced. Thirdly, you hung it in an easily accessible spot (a station) at shoulder-height, visible to hundreds of people a day, many of whom travel at odd hours and carry pens. It started off with a moustache, and your face progressively disappeared in a sea of black. The poster then vanished, just as the election campaign was getting into gear. If I could just remember your name, I would make a point of not voting for you.

To a Brit such as myself, it appears that the first priority in the creation of Ireland’s political institutions was “not like Britain”. This means a preponderance of Gaelic titles, since to use English would not be Irish enough. (Funny how it’s good enough for the USA, who had far more reason to be angry at Britain).

The following table may help in comparison between government institutions and people in the USA, UK, and Ireland:

USA UK Ireland Irish Incumbent
President Royal Family President Mary McAleese
House Majority Leader Prime Minister An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
House Minority Leader Leader of the Opposition An Tánaiste Mary Harney
Congress Parliament Oireachtas n/a
House of Representatives House of Commons

Dáil Éireann

n/a
Senate House of Lords

Seanad Éireann

n/a

“Oireachtas” is pronounced “O’Rictus”, and “Dáil” is pronounced “Dull”. “Seanad” is, of course, a gaelicised “Senate”, pronounced as expected.

The Taoiseach (pron. Tea-shuck) and Tánaiste (pron. Tarnished-huh) were the focus of most of the media coverage of the election campaign. I tend to switch off at the first sign of political coverage, but during the campaign, my overriding impression of Bertie was of a man who lives up to Lyndon B Johnson’s description of Gerald Ford: “so dumb, he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time”.

Written by brian t

May 17, 2002 at 8:05 am

Posted in ireland, politics

the cold new town

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Not much to report today. Preparations for my Glasgow trip are complete, at least the essentials – flights, hotels. I’m going to attend the Stuart Adamson tribute concert at the Barrowlands hall, which is where Big Country had quite a few successful gigs. All that remains is for me to see what else is happening in the 3 days I’ll be there, although I may take a side trip to Edinburgh and Dunfermline.I was last in Dunfermline, my home town, about 8 years ago, when I visited Edinburgh to look around Edinburgh University. I had an offer to study Computer Science there, but was unable to take it up, since I could not afford to stop working. That was my first visit to Dunfermline since I was 6 years old, but I still remembered my way around, and even walked along the route I took to school. Not long at all, now, but when I was 6 it meant taking a bus, being a bit much for my wee legs.

One of Big Country’s famous songs, Chance, has the line “a cold new town”, and I know Stuart Adamson must have been referring to Dunfermline as it has been in the last century – a light industrial town with little character. It’s not quite the Milton Keynes of Scotland – that honour goes to East Kilbride – since Dunfermline played a pivotal role in Scots history. It was once the residence of Scots royalty, much as Windsor is to London, and Robert the Bruce was buried there. The wide Forth river between it and Edinburgh gave it some exclusivity and privacy.

Dunfermline is also famous as the home of Andrew Carnegie, who later moved to the USA and eventually controlled the first steel company in Pittsburgh. After he sold it to JP Morgan, becoming the richest man in the world, he then devoted his life and money to philanthropy. Whenever you hear the name Carnegie in the USA or Scotland, his money was behind it – for example, Carnegie Hall, Carnegie-Mellon University, etc. The Carnegie Corporation is still helping people today.

You can read a full book on Dunfermline here.

Written by brian t

May 15, 2002 at 7:47 am

Posted in scotland