Thursday, 30 June 2011

Old soldiers never die, they just get disconnected

These old soldiers stand on the North Circular Road in Dublin, relics of an era when public communication tools were still important resources.  You don't see many phone booths anymore.  Internet Cafes have taken the place of the public phone booth, and soon those will go the way of the Dodo with the advent of ubiquitous computing.

Nowadays everyone has cell phones so public payphones are no longer profitable.  When you consider the amount of money payphones collect vs. the amount the phone company has to pay to clean up graffiti and vandalism, payphones are not a good business model any more.  For example, take a look at the Eircom booth on the left:  Someone has broken into the coin box.  I'm sure the thieves were disappointed with the haul; there probably wasn't much change in there anyway.

Back in the day, (and I'm talking about the 1970s here,) payphones were everywhere.  Back in the 1970s you could open up a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal and find a plastic toy whistle.  The Quaker Oats company had not intended the whistle to be anything other that that, a plastic toy.  Phone hackers (called Phreaks) discovered that the Cap'n Crunch whistle could be easily modified to emit a 2600 hz tone.  That was the frequency used by the telephone company to signal that a trunk line was free.  In a nutshell, it bypassed the coinbox on a payphone and let the "whistle blower" into the phone switching system through the back door.

Phone phreaks used to play games where they would route calls around the world with payphones.  I read a story about one Phreak in Los Angeles who used a Blue Box (a home built gadget that emitted other frequencies used by the phone company) to route his calls.  First Dallas, then to New York, then London, then Frankfurt, then Moscow, then Tokyo.  Finally he routed the call back to the phone booth adjacent to him.  He answered the phone and had a conversation with himself; the delay on the line was about 60 seconds.

The days of phone booths and Phreaking are long gone.  However, with the recent hacking jobs in the news (i.e. Lulz Security) it appears that Hackers & Phreaks are still finding ways to amuse themselves.  I'm not saying this is good or bad, I'm just saying the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

I walked into Rothar bike shop on Phibsborough road, earlier this week. This is a charity in Dublin that specializes in refurbishing abandoned bicycles from Dublin streets and selling them at low prices to the poor. Sometimes all they get is a frame, and the bike has to be built up from there. They currently have a staff of 15 volunteers, working on a rotating stock of bicycles. Their stock changes every week. I came in looking for a 3-speed older-model Raleigh. I was kind of wishing they would have an old BSA but those are rare as hens' teeth. I was not able to bring my own bike with me to Ireland due to money issues. A bicycle is considered “special luggage” by the airline industry and most carriers (like American & United) charge around $200 to ship a bicycle on the airplane. Well, I sure have been missing my bike lately. My other half tells me I have been losing weight; we have been walking everywhere since I got here. (I think she is looking pretty good too!)  My parents have been kind enough to store my bicycles for me at their house.  Must collect them when I return to USA for a visit.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Transit is GO

This is what we did last weekend; we rented a van and moved stuff.  I helped my other half move out of her old house.  We like Enterprise since they usually give us a good deal and they seem like they have their heads screwed on right.  So, we booked a little station wagon, (in Ireland they call them Estate Wagons) for 28 euro a day.  We took the bus into the center of town and walked through a sketchy area called Mountjoy Park, over to an enormous sports complex called Croke Park.  I guess that is where they have soccer and Irish Hurling matches.  (No, Irish hurling is not what you do after drinking too much at the pub.  haha)

So, we arrived at noon as our reservations stated, and there was no little station wagon.  The folks at Enterprise were very apologetic; the previous renter had not returned it yet.  Would we like a larger van?  Er... yeah, fine.  We walked outside.  Holy crap!  This thing was a monster truck.  Well, ok it was just a Ford Transit van but it was a really enormous Ford Transit van.  You could fit the planet Mercury in the back and still have room for a Space Shuttle or two.

This was my first experience at driving since arriving in Ireland.  Allll rightie then:

Transfer is complete on an internal power with the launch vehicle.

Second stage tanks now pressurised. We are still go with Transit.

Guidance is internal, ignition sequence starts, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero

All engines running, LIFTOFF. We have a liftoff.

Liftoff on Transit Van.

Dublin, this is Transit.  Tower cleared.

Oh, I should mention that when we got the van there was an enormous scrape on the left side.  The previous renter had grossly misjudged the size of the vehicle and whomped a telephone pole pretty good.  The agent at Enterprise told me (with a pleading look in his eyes) "Just take your turns pretty wide, alright?"

Monday, 27 June 2011

Jacques Amyot

This is my favourite rose.  I first encountered it while visiting Vintage Gardens in Sebastopol, Calif. during one of their rare open-house days.  These folks had 5 acres of roses.  As I was wandering around I came across a low bush in a corner of the property.  They had let the rose grow to its natural abundance, a low mushroom-shaped mound about 5 feet across and 3 feet high.  There was a great profusion of antique looking pink flowers, since it was early May at the time.  They weren't the usual big and bold hybrid tea roses that we are used to seeing at the local nursery.  The pink mound of roses looked somehow more French, ruffled and petite.  So, being the kind of guy I am, (hey, you should always take time,) I bent down and smelled the roses.

Oh WOW.  You know that mens' cologne called Old Spice?  It was like that, but a hundred times better, and in a rose.  This was what they were going for back at the Procter & Gamble labs.  The scent was fantastic!  It really stuck with me, as you can tell.

So, back in March I ordered a pair of Jacques Amyot roses before I even arrived in Ireland.  They're hard to find since not many people are interested in growing Noisette roses from the 19th century for the nursery trade but I located a French grower, Roseraie Fabien Ducher who stocks them.  My other half was kind enough to plant them for me when they arrived and now we have lovely smelling flowers.  She tends to like the blue roses, like Blue For You and Blue Moon, while I am partial to old roses myself.  (My other favourites are Lady Hillingdon and Gertrude Jekyll.)

I highly recommend Fabien Ducher if you live in the E.U.  Their customer service is fantastic, they ship quickly and the quality of the stock is excellent.  They can be found at:

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Big Spikey Thing

Dublin is doing its best to make sure that it will never become a Zeppelin destination city.  To that effect, they have erected this giant dirigible deterrent, called The Spire of Dublin.  Just kidding, this is apparently some form of public art that the public is still scratching their heads over.  I'm not sure the public likes it, because it has a rude nickname, which I will mention at the bottom of this post in a comment.

Construction of the 121 meter tall sculpture began in December 2002 and finished just over a month later in January 2003.  The base is 3 meters wide and the tip is 15 cm wide.  It contains a Tuned Mass Damper, which is a stabilising component to reduce harmonic vibration.  No news yet on when they will install the 1.21 gigawatt Flux Capacitor.  The Spire cost 4 million euro to build and is full of used pinball machine parts.  (Ok I made that last part up, but it did cost €4,000,000.)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

I'm jolly with my new brolly

I like the rain.  This is a good thing because the rain is fond of Ireland.  This is something one must take into consideration when one moves to a new country.  It reminds me of that old joke where there is a long line of people waiting to get into Hell.  The devil comes out of the gates (you know the ones, they look just like that sculpture by Rodin) and he walks down the line.  Every so often the devil taps some pour soul on the head and his minions take that person out of line and throw them in a pile.  One curious fellow says to the guy behind him, "What's that all about?"  The other guy says, "They're from Seattle.  Too wet to burn."

Even the Irish have been complaining that this has been a terrible summer.  Well, I don't mind.  My other half and I went to Marks & Spencer, (we like to call it Marks & Sparks) and bought brand new umbrellas.  It's funny... you think, "Well this is Ireland, of course it rains a lot," but then you see so many people running around in Dublin with their coats over their heads like Cornholio from Beavis & Butthead.  It's like they were surprised by the rain or something.  That's like getting surprised by Toyotas in Japan.  I'm scratching my head wondering why everyone doesn't have an umbrella permanently attached to their wrists, like those secret agents you see in movies with a briefcase handcuffed to their hands.  When I brought up this conundrum with my other half she said, "Maybe they're just used to it."  Oh.  That makes sense.

The photos above were taken around the Post Office on O'Connell Street in Dublin.  The weird silver pole is The Spire of Dublin.  More on that later.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Ha'penny Bridge

Walk down Liffey Street Lower (Sráid Life Íocht) and you will see a white bridge at the end.  That's the Ha'penny Bridge.  It crosses the River Liffey which is the big river that runs through town that nobody ever goes boating or swims in.  You know how the water is really gross and disgusting at your local duck pond?  Yeah, it's like that.  Back when Ireland had the Pound for currency there was a half-penny coin, and it was called the "hay penny."

The story goes something like this:  In the early 1800's there was no bridge here.  If you wanted to cross you had to pay a ha'penny to William Walsh who would take you across in his ferry.  Well, he didn't maintain his boats very well and around 1815 the city of Dublin went to Mr. Walsh and said, "Look man, your boats are all derelict and rotten, and we don't think they are safe.  So you either buy new boats or build a bridge here."

Yer man Walsh decided to build a bridge, and the city allowed him to charge a ha'penny to cross, (the same price as a ferry ride previously.)  Thus, the Ha'Penny Bridge was constructed in 1816.  The toll was eventually dropped in 1919.

So, here is a little photo essay on what it's like to cross the Ha'penny Bridge in town.  By the way, the original color was white, as you see here.  It was apparently repainted many times, but the city had the bridge retrofitted for strength because it saw so much foot traffic, and they restored it to the original color.

From the north side at Lower Ormond Quay (quay is pronounced "key") the bridge goes south to Merchant's Arch and the entrance to Temple Bar.  That little arch you see in the last picture is a cobblestone tunnel.  It funnels traffic into Temple Bar, a famous area for pubs and night life.  Temple Bar gets a lot of tourists and there is a good police presence there, so I'm told it's a pretty safe area.

Thought-provoking quote of the day:

"We build too many walls and not enough bridges."
--Isaac Newton

Thursday, 23 June 2011

I'm berry excited

I found this shop in Mary street today, and I got excited about planting goji berries and blueberries. I have never eaten goji berries before; I heard about them from the hippies at Whole Foods market in Monterey. They tell me goji berries are grown in Tibet and they are full of all sorts of powerful antioxidants. Good enough for me. I'm a big fan of the Tibetan people and culture. In fact, I wish the world would do more to help them get out from under Chinese oppression, but that's another story. My other half says she wants to plant goji berries because she has heard similar good things about them, and since she's a biologist I trust her good judgement.

Blueberries are all kinds of awesome. If you're on a low carb diet, you can't go wrong with these little kisses of sunshine. Who doesn't love blueberries? 20000 bears in Minnesota can't be wrong. (I have it on good authority that the bears in neighbouring Wisconsin prefer Leinenkugel's and brats.) This weekend we are going back into town and I think we're going to pick up some plants for our little garden.

Mr. Middleton's Garden Shop is packed with floor-to-ceiling displays of seed packets. We shall not want for seeds here. The sales girl was very friendly, and I get the impression that she is really a gardener, so three cheers for Mr. Middleton's shop.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Could Harry Potter be in Dublin?

Do you remember the scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Number 12, Grimmauld Place is revealed?  It has been disguised from Muggles and is essentially invisible to them.  Mad Eye Moody knocks three times with his walking stick and Number 12 appears to grow from between numbers 11 and 13.  Well... I found this strange looking building near O'Connell Street and it made me wonder:  Could Harry Potter be living in Dublin?  Perhaps there is another Potter--a relative of James--working in Ireland as a solicitor.  I was about to knock but an ancient house elf appeared in the upper window and gave me a mad look, so I thought better of the idea.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Reclining Poet

Oscar Wilde once lived at No. 1 Merrion Square.  A fantastic sculpture of him reclines in the park nearby.  This statue is so lifelike you might really think he is alive, as if this were some kind of street performance artist dressed as a statue.  It was commissioned by the people who brought you Guinness.  You will notice that there is no public statue of John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry anywhere in the world.  Douglas was probably Wilde's greatest enemy and critic.  I think Wilde had the last laugh.  Even though Douglas caused Wilde's bankruptcy and exile, the world would rather forget a numbskull and remember a genius.  Douglas dropped out of the Naval Academy, having little talent for academics.    Wilde attended Trinity College, Dublin from 1871 to 1874, and then attended Magdalen College, Oxford from 1874 to 1878.  Oscar Wilde is today a celebrated historic figure of Dublin.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Doors of Dublin

The buildings in Merrion Square were constructed in the late 18th century and early 19th century.  These doors belong to Georgian townhouses.  Most are commercial offices however some are still residences.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Asian Grocery at its Finest

"A man going by on a bus wouldn't notice," is something my grandmother used to say.  If you look out the window of the Luas light rail train when it stops on Upper Abbey Street, you might not notice the Oriental Emporium.  Behind the blue neon is one of Dublin's best kept secrets.  This is the place to get Calamari from Monterey Bay.

Yes, that's right.  Packed in Watsonville and shipped all the way to Dublin.  Plus, it's the only place I know to get Pennywort Drink.  Of course, I have no idea what Pennywort Drink is, but if I did, now I know where to get it.

Ethnic markets are always fun to explore.  The locals probably think we're all idiots, pointing at the spikey fruit and saying, "Dude, WTF?  Huh huh huh," but that's ok as long as we buy something.  This place has everything.  In the powdered seasonings aisle we found "Powdered Chicken" (makes 50 litres!) and fat white bags of MSG powder that looked like something Tony Montana would be proud of.  We bought a bag of dried shiitake mushrooms that looked like it came from a Grateful Dead concert.

The folks who run the store are always smiling, and seem good natured.  That's what makes the store for me.  I always get a genuine smile and a thank you.  Plus, nobody complained when I took pictures of the calamari.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Taro, okra and daikon, oh my!

Ok I have to admit I like okra.  Those funny green flower pods that get slimy when you cook 'em.  I use Alton Brown's recipe for Wet Fried Okra where you cut up the okra and put it in a bag with corn meal (or finely ground polenta) and do the shake-n-bake thing to coat the pieces nicely.  The corn meal sticks to the slime in the pods and absorbs all that mucilage.  Then you fry them in a pan for about 15 minutes.  We have a hard time not eating them right out of the pan like popcorn while they are frying.  They are SO yummy.  Thank you Alton!

We get our okra from a super cool grocery store in Parnell street called Madina.  The sign out front says "Asian food" but it's more like Middle Eastern food.  Inside they play some kind of Arabic music that sounds like a guy singing in a Minaret, (hey it's kind of catchy...) and they sell stuff like pickled lime and Turkish coffee.  Plus, the copy of the Qur'an over the counter gives it away as a traditional Middle Eastern market.  We have yet to try the lamb butcher in the back but it sure looks good.  When I think of "Asian grocery" I think more like ginseng tea, Thai curry paste and packages of dried seaweed.  This place doesn't have the seaweed, but they pretty much have everything else!  They have Indonesian pilchard in a can and daikon radish as big as a baseball bat.

We love the produce here and the sales staff are so friendly.  Three cheers to the cool sales clerk with the NY hat and perpetual smile.  This is the only place I've seen in Ireland that sells fresh okra, and honestly I don't know how they make a profit because they are practically giving it away.  Great prices.  We want to come in some time when nobody is around and ask the sales clerk to tell us what all the funny vegetables are.  One of them looks like an alligator; I think that's a cherimoya fruit?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Oh so that's where rainbows come from

In Ireland, rainbows come from these special street lights made in factories deep underground by Leprechauns. No seriously, this is a street light in Merrion Square, a really posh business district in Dublin. This is the place where all the pretty Georgian doors come from in those posters of The Doors of Dublin. This place is so posh that the Saudi Arabian and Arab Emirates embassies are here. In order to work in Merrion Square, you must drive:

  • a black BMW
  • a black Bentley
  • a dark metallic pewter Jaguar
  • or ride a Dutch bicycle called a Gazelle, (must be black of course)

I went for a job interview here. Niiiice place. It was one of those recruitment agencies that fills positions for companies, also known as headhunters. I was most impressed with the black Gazelle bicycle however, which I found parked at the iron fence surrounding the park. Apparently that is the new thing in bicycles; people are going the classic route and buying Dutch bikes with hub dynamos, integrated fender lights and leather Brooks saddles. Finally, the world has come to its senses. Bicyclists don't have to look like idiots anymore and wear lycra shorts and stupid shoes you can't walk into the grocery store with.

Ahem. Anyway, I went for a job interview in Merrion Square, and found it was a very cool experience. These old buildings from the 18th century exude a serious Scrooge & Marley business aire like this is the neighborhood where all the important work gets done. I would love to get a job in Merrion Square, but alas I believe I am destined for some cube-farm where the HR ninnies police your calendars (sorry sir, that Waterhouse painting depicts the female breast and is against our corporate policy,) and limit you to fewer than 3 cube toys. So I guess that will have to be a Dr. Who Tardis and possibly a Hot Wheels Lotus Elise, or the blinky-LED kit I soldered together, (I haven't decided yet.)