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Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

More Avatar. If anyone cares.

James Cameron has announced a 5th Avatar film in a desperate attempt to get somebody, somewhere to care about any of them.

Avatar may have been the highest grossing film ever (until you adjust for inflation, and then it falls to #15), but no one feels deeply for it. I am no fan of Star Wars, but I’ll concede it has millions of fans who love every aspect of it. They dress up as the characters, they speculate endlessly about the next installments, and they buy bucket loads of merchandise.

Does anyone buy anything related to Avatar, other than porn parodies?

* Funny that he is adding sequels, when he has yet to even make a second one.

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Axel Oxenstierna palace

In Stockholm’s Gamla Stan today I finally managed to track down the Axel Oxenstierna palace. Unless you are a history geek (like me) you wouldn’t know he was “Lord High Chancellor” of Sweden in the 1600s. With  King Gustavus Adolphus he led Sweden into the 30 years war. Without their intervention it probably would only have been the 12 years war.

I have been looking for the house for a while. In amongst the old narrow twisting streets of the old town it was difficult to find, and surprisingly hard to to find the actual address. Some googling last night eventually gave me the address. And as I was in town yesterday I had to get there.

I love finding places like this. Small connections to the past, that are just a little obscure. And it is always more fun to go out specifically to find something with a particular link, than to just read about it on a plaque as you are passing by chance.

 

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I don’t care that WhatsApp is now encrypted end to end. I am not going to start using it. I will stick with my usual communication channels of phone call, SMS, email (3 accounts),  Telegram, G+ hangouts, Apple Facetime, Microsoft Lync, Slack, Voxer, Snapchat, Tinder, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and nothing else!

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Oculus Rift vs the HTC Vive

I have been humming and hawing for a while about  VR headset. I am excited by the technology and I have played around with it at work (2nd gen Oculus) and at CES (3rd Gen). Hey I had even played around with one of the original arcade VR systems back in the 1990s when they first came out.

The problem has been deciding which headset to go for – Oculus Rift or a HTC Vive. The descriptions of the capabilities of the Vive do seem better – full room scale VR, and it will ship with proper controllers. Though there haven’t been proper head to head comparisons yet but they will come.

The reality though is that the Oculus Rift has already lost this battle, and has a serious credibility problem. Less than a month from the launch date, they have amassed three pretty major strikes against themselves*:

  • They bungled the launch and seriously mislead consumers with their pricing shock. After leading everyone to believe that the device would cost about $350 they came in with a price nearly twice that.
  • They don’t have the controllers ready. Buyers have to make do with an X-Box controller which hobbles the experience. HTC are providing their handset with the right UI hardware from the start.
  • And now it appears they cannot even ship the headset. It is not clear how many people (other than journalists) got them, but it looks like most punters are being told they won’t get theirs yet. It is a launch that is not a launch.

The race for the VR business is just beginning, and already Oculus are coming across as shifty and a laggard compared to the competition. Much of this may be because – Oculus is backed by the deep pockets of Facebook, but neither has ever shipped hardware before. HTC for all its troubles in the handset business is experienced at this.

In the next year or two we may see the market discussion go the way of the console wars where Playstation and XBox sales figures are compared every quarter. But just as the PS4 soundly thrashed the XBox One in terms of sales, I think the same is in store for the Oculus – despite the price difference.

Once I have sold the kidney to pay for it, I know which one I will certainly be getting.

* And now Eve Valkyrie, which was a launch exclusive title for the Rift will be available for the Vive later this year. That was something of a killer app for me. Now it is coming to the competition that’s game set and match to the Vive.

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Good start to the day

There needs to a a word (something we can borrow from German perhaps) that describes that perfect moment when you are commuting to work by car, channel hopping the radio stations trying to find something that is not inane presenter chatter, ads, jingles, or music you hate, when you arrive on a station just as a brilliant song you haven’t heard in ages starts and you get to listen to the whole thing uninterrupted from end to end, so a smile arrives on your face for the rest of your journey. Maybe Pendelnmusikspürsinn or something.

I had such a Pendelnmusikspürsinn moment on the way to work this morning. The song was John Cale’s version of Hallelujah. This is the one that turned Leonard Cohen’s otherwise unremarkable song into the something amazing. In recent years it has been covered repeatedly, especially as a sort of religions anthem. Which is amusing as when you actually listen to the lyrics you realise it is filthy. The original versions are all about sex:

You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to a kitchen chair..
..And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

or how about this verse:

There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do ya?

followed by:

But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

To be fair Cohen wrote over 80 verses, and many have biblical references. So it is possible to put together a version that looks religious. But Cohen himself has said the song is about love and ecstasy. And that is far more fun for the drive to work.

 

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I love Vegans, but I couldn’t eat a whole one

There is a joke about vegans that goes – “How do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry they’ll tell you”.

Is it true?

Well at on my hike last weekend I offered to take the group photo. It gives me a great excuse not to be in it. I had the camera, a real one, and not a smart phone, and I said “say cheese”. From the group I got a chorus of “cheese” and one “but I am a vegan”.

I can confirm the guy was a vegan, as he could be heard during much of the day going on at length about his vegan-ism from the other end of the hike.

No wonder some of them get a reputation for being humourless bores.

 

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I need to change my bio

I have another mini-blog post up at work on Cloud and digital indistrialization. Looking at it I realize, I really need to change my bio 🙂

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Hiking the Sörmlandsleden with a Combat HR Specialist

This week’s Meetup.com hike was a beast. We did 24km, and we did it at a galloping pace covering the distance in about five and a quarters hours, or over 4.5 km an hour. Not bad for sustained walking on rough ground.

routeMy ambition is to start doing some multi-day hikes, and I need to eat healthier,  so I have been experimenting with alternatives to the sandwiches and chocolate I would usually bring. Most people go for sandwiches (Sweden and Ireland). But a few eat hot food. So I thought it was time I brought out my stove for its first use in the wilderness*.

On a previous hike someone showed me their preferred trail recipe – boil water, add a stock cube, stir in a can of tuna. “Yum! No, it’s fine, you can have all of it”.

In the interests of research, and my palate, I went for one of my freeze dried packets. This week it was one I picked up in the US –  Mary Jane’s Farm, Lentils, Rice & Indian Spice. For snacks I had some home made trail mix, and a RawBite bar.

RawBite vs Clif - the one on top is far betterThe RawBite’s are Danish, and made with just nuts and fruit. Compared to Clif Bars, they are cheaper, lighter (50g vs 68), have 15% more calories per gram (213 vs 250 total for each), and most importantly smell and taste much much better! Snack breaks on the walk where half of one, together with a handful of the trailmix washed down with water. Then for lunch out came the JetBoil.

Prepping for lunchI boiled up two cups of water, and one went into the food pouch.  The pouch was paper based (so you can burn it if needed) and had good tear marks. It didn’t have a fill level inside, which is always a plus. And there was no way to seal the bag once the water was in. I folded the top down twice and let is sit for 10 minutes. Then the rest of the water went into a mug to make a cup of tea. Barry’s tea, with real milk. That done, I went back to the Lentils and Rice.

Freeze dried lunchWhen I unrolled the top of the bag I was hit by a wonderful aroma. Lentils and rice are small so don’t suffer from the freeze drying process. Everything had rehydrated nicely, and the texture and taste was good. Very good. Maybe it was my hunger, and the wooded surroundings, but there was no difficulty in eating up every single bite. The spices were just right, giving enough flavour to what could otherwise could have been very bland. But it certainly could not have been called “spicy” (I bring a tiny bottle of tabasco to take care of that if/when needed).

It had cost me $8.66 in REI in Dallas. It was vegan friendly and organic. The stats are:

  • MaryJanes Outpost, freeze dried foodPrice: €7.60
  • Weight: 122g
  • Calories: 435kcal
  • kCal/100g: 356
  • Fat: 1.5g
  • Approx shelf life: 24 months

If it loses out somewhere it is that the calorie value is a low. Most of these meals I have tried are over 550kCal. For that reason it is probably better as a lunch rather than a dinner option.

When I had finished it I was able to drink my tea like a proper gentleman. Prep, cooking, eating, and pack up took about 25 minutes. And it was great to have a hot lunch on a day when the temperature was about 6°C.

One of the nice things about these hikes is the people you meet. Two weeks ago I talked to a digital artist for DICE, who designs foliage for the Battlefield series of games. He spent much of the walk taking research photos. This week there was a release manager for Spotify, and a guy who had just left the British Army where he had worked as a “Combat HR Specialist” in Afghanistan. I bet you didn’t meet anyone as interesting as that today 🙂

* I have used it in parks and campsites before.

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Vienna dawn

One of the occasional benefits of business travel and starts, is seeing sights like the dawn sky on fire behind the Schwecat Refinery outside Vienna.

Refinery dawn

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Time to stop the unquestioned reverence of 1916

There was an article today in the Irish Times, from the descendent of a person who fought in the Easter Rising. He pointed out that “sharing the glory of ancestors is a rational as sharing their guilt”. This needs to be said a lot more in Ireland. We have a worrying tendency to place these heirs on a pedestal, and defer to their views and opinions as if they were the men and women of 1916. This is of course daft. And it is the sort of hereditary privilege that republicanism (actual republicanism and not the Sinn Fein sort) is against.

It is a short step from there to questioning the whole reverence that the events of the 1916 rising are given in Ireland. The proclamation in particular is regularly wheeled out to decry some action action or inaction of the government. Or to bemoan how the aspirations that triggered the rising and the founding of the state have been betrayed or abandoned. Which is of course bollox.

1916 ProclamationYou can’t take a historical document like this, and use it to benchmark the progress of a modern country a century later*. People love to cherry pick and selectively quote bits of it. But you have to look at the whole, and put it in its proper context

The admirable sentiment about

“guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”

must be put alongside

“supported by gallant allies in Europe”

and note that those allies had broken treaties to invade a small neutral country where they then committed atrocities there.

The statement most often abused from the document is the one saying

“cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”

If only I had a euro for every time someone invoked it to talk about how not enough was being done to help children struggling with poverty, education issues, homelessness, special needs or whatever. These are real concerns, and ones the government should be addressing. But because this is the right thing to do, and not because of a faded document from the beginning of the last century. Especially when “children” here was a shorthand for “citizens”. Or should we insist the government needs to re-focus on ensuing our youth do more to live up to the call for:

the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good

The proclamation was a document written by a tiny unrepresentative group of people, who claimed to speak for the whole country. And while it has some admirable sentiments, more of them are questionable. And the whole thing is based on the idea that violence (and the regrettable deaths of innocents) is justifiable in pursuit of their goals. That alone makes it an anachronism today. And it certainly should not be constantly held up as the goal and height to which Irish people should be striving.

British troops on Moore streetWe should aspire to things, and decide how we want Ireland to be now, based on what we believe is right today. I would be very surprised if the men and women of 1916, good Catholics that most were, would have agreed with Gay Marriage, but modern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for it.

I recognise the sacrifice that was made, and acknowledge the part it played in the Ireland gaining it’s independence. But we have moved on. We can learn from the proclamation. But we should not be held captive to it.

* See also the US (pop 350 million) revering what a small number of rich white people (which included slave owners) wrote 230 years when it was a country of 2.5 million. Or the billions or religious who let their lives be dictated by what some tribes of itinerant bronze age goat herders wrote.

 

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