Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Month: March 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

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1916 ProclamationYou can’t take a historical document like this, and use it to benchmark the progress of a modern country a century later*.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.



March 17 – lets be clear

I stopped off in a Dallas “sports” shop to pick up a baseball bat and a knife. If anyone refers to “Patty’s Day” near me today there will be a stunning and a disemboweling,

Happy St Patrick’s* Day to you where you are!


* Paddy’s Day is also acceptable.


The wrong blessing

Sitting having breakfast in the hotel I overheard an interview with John Kasich on the election. The details didn’t interest me, but I was amused when he finished by saying “god bless, and god bless the United States” as he signed off.

The way things are going with the Republican nomination race I thought “god help then United States” might be a more appropriate prayer.


Freeze dried food – “Good-To-Go”

Good-To-Go Thai Curry frontIn the last year or so I have been experimenting with freeze dried food. You don’t see it too often in Ireland, but gear shops in Sweden and the US tend to stock plenty of it. It’s a dining option for people spending time in the outdoors, and certainly in the US it is also marketed as an emergency preparedness thing.

As I might occasionally need to use this stuff in anger in the hills or forests. And because it makers a change from eating in restaurants. And as gear shopping is fun, I have been buying and sampling various freeze dried and semi-dried meal-in-a-bag offerings to see what is good and bad. I posted most of the results on Facebook before now. But I will move them all to this site this week.

As I was in REI on Sunday I picked up 2 dinners from the very good Mary Jane’s Outpost range. And I spotted a new vendor – Good To Go which I had not seen before. I grabbed the “Smoked Three Bean Chili” and the “Thai Curry”. This evening as I didn’t fancy going out, I used the hotel room coffee maker to boil water and I sat down to try the Thai Curry.

What is insideThe first thing I found was that this stuff needs an awful lot of water. The pouch was big, and held about 189g of “food”. That’s more than the two Mary Jane’s which were 122g and 158g each. the instructions were to open the included sachet of coconut milk powder, then add 600ml of boiling water and let sit for a rather lengthy 20 minutes. Most others I have eaten are 5-10 minutes. There were no volume markings inside the pouch so you have to bring your measuring cup to know how much water to add.

I was a bit nervous at first that there was too much water, but when I reopened the pouch after the wait it all looked fine. And boy was there a lot in the finished pouch. I have never felt like I have eaten as much from a freeze dried meal. It just went on, and on. And even better it was very very tasty.

After it has sat for 20 minutesThe rice had rehydrated well so the grains were not crunchy. There were thumb sized chunks of broccoli to provide texture and something to chew on. The best thing was the flavours and smell. It tasted like a curry, and had a lovely aroma of coconut and spices. Texture and consistency was good throughout – there were no lumps of dry powder. This was one of the best free dried meals I have ever had. I was looking forward to each bite, and it certainly didn’t taste like backpacking food.

Each pouch cost $11.50 which is a little pricey. But as well as excellent taste and quality, you do get 760kcal of food, which is about 25% more than most of the competition. It was guten free and suitable for pescatarian’s whatever they are. The stats are:

  • Price: US$11.50 (before tax)
  • Weight: 189g
  • Calories: 760kcal
  • kCal/100g: 402
  • Fat: 28g
  • Approx shelf life: 18 months

Good-To-Go are relatively new as a company, so their range just has 4 offerings right now: Bean Chili, Green Curry, Classic Marinara with Penne, and Herbed Mushroom Risotto. The Curry gets 5/5. And I will be going back to REI on my way to the airport to pick up a few more!



The need for trail equipment in Ireland

Yesterday I got into a discussion on Facebook about equipment being put on mountains to assist climbers and hikers. I clearly won the argument. Because despite being respectful and balanced, the Kerry Climbing group just chose to delete my comments. They don’t seem to like engaging with anyone who disagrees with their view point.

Trail shelter

Adirondock style shelter on a Swedish hiking trail

That view is that no one should put artificial aids in the mountains for climbers and walkers. No signs, no steps, boardwalks, or chains (used to help people on steep ground). Or rather not in Ireland. Because every Irish walker and climber who has spent time beyond the UK and Ireland has used these things. This hypocrisy is one thing that bugs me about this position. I was given a line about “Irish ethics” being different. But in 20 years of climbing and hiking in Ireland, other than a vocal minority, pretty much everyone I know would be happy with the idea of having trails in Ireland like you see elsewhere. And I have yet to see some of these fundamentalists refuse to use things in the few places they are in Ireland – like the bridge over the Dargle above Powerscourt waterfall for example.

The safety angle is the one most often cited: if you put these things in place then people who have no business in the mountains will come out, and get in trouble. Funnily enough that argument sounds exactly like the discredited “abstinence only” approach to sex education – the answer to young people having sex and getting pregnant is to tell them not to have sex.

The fundamentalists in each case are wrong. People will have sex, people will want to enjoy the mountains. So if you are worried about their safety then you have to be realistic and focus on doing what you can to reduce the risks. You recommend they go with experienced groups, who can teach them about navigation, mountain conditions, and so on. But you also lay out safe trails with transparent difficulty levels, provide signage to keep people from getting lost, and provide infrastructure to help ensure they don’t get caught out by difficult sections.

Erosion on Djouce

Erosion on Djouce from hikers.

The other benefit to all of this is the sustainability one. It would be better to direct hikers onto prepared trails that can take hundreds of walkers, than have them contribute further to erosion or have them open new paths as they try to avoid damaged areas.

The impression I get is that many of the objections are just elitist snobbery. They say “you are not fit to be in the mountains” and only those of the right calibre should use them. And this exclusionary attitude is damaging to the perception of the sport and the uplands as well. Why should the general public care about mountains and access issues if they are being told that these places are not for them to enjoy as well?

Boardwalk above Glendalough

Boardwalk above Glendalough

I am not arguing for trails and paths everywhere. I appreciate the wilderness feel of getting away from it all on unmarked routes as well. But popular areas (like Carrauntoohil), or sensitive ones where traffic has lead to damage (many locations in Wicklow) should have options that are equipped. This should be planned, and done to a high standard like the boardwalk above the Glendalough lake.

And those that then attempt to remove these items should not be praised, but should be treated as vandals.



Plano Texas – the other America.

This week I am in Dallas, or Plano, one of the Northern Suburbs to be exact. I doubt you have heard of it, but you probably have heard of its most famous son – Lance “I am not a cheat” Armstrong.

Plano is an odd sort of place. For most Irish people their knowledge of the US comes from the Eastern and Western coastal states, and the big cities like Chicago,  which have a strong history of Irish connections. These are the older, urban,  liberal parts of the country. I think to really get to know the US you also need to spend time in the centre, and in the suburbs, in places like Plano.

It is very different. I seriously doubt you would overhear department store workers in Boston happily admitting to voting for George W Bush (the younger one). And getting from DFW airport up to Plano means spending time on “President George  Bush Turnpike” (the older one).*

To be fair Plano is not the most typical of urban areas. It is home to a large number of big corporate offices (like ours) and is pretty affluent. But it is an example of suburban America that has seen huge growth in recent history.


A land of squares

Plano, as the imaginative name says, is pretty flat and featureless. On Google maps you can see how it has been subdivided into a chess board of squares, and each developed according to the sort of simple plan you would get in Sim City – this square is residential, this is retail, this is light commercial.

There is some public transport, but this is where everyone, even the poor, needs a car to get around – as I discovered last year when I found myself here for 10 days with no drivers licence, and so no rental car. There are some paths, but pedestrian crossings are rare, and people look at you like you have two heads when you walk. Each road junction has a strip mall, and if you are going to go the 100m across to a shop on the other side you pretty much have to drive. I could comment on how the shops keep repeating every few miles as you drive along, but then the same is true of most of Europe these days as well – where doesn’t have H&M, Zara, Spar, Lidl, etc?


A strip mall at every intersection

Culture is a little bit lacking. A check on Trip Advisor lists things to do in Plano. The top 15 include 2 shopping centres, 3 churches, a cinema, and one listing each for “Bars and Clubs” and “Game and Entertainment” centres.

The top of the list is the Arbour Hills Nature Preserve. As I am trying to get back into hiking I got excited by this one. And apparently it has trails. Some of these are almost 4km long. Which, when I checked, is actually pretty good for the greater Dallas area. It’s somewhat different to Stockholm where multi-day walking trails wind through the forested parts of suburbs before heading off into the country side.

It is flat, far from the sea, has no culture, and is easy to mock for being soulless.  So why do people flock to live here? Because they like it. There are jobs. Housing is cheap. It is relatively safe (you rarely see the police, and for all the eye rolling we do about US/Texan gun culture, I have never seen one outside of a “sports” shop). I have friends from outside the US who have moved here, and they were pretty happy with things. They get to lead comfortable lives, they can raise their children easily enough and they don’t have to worry about many of the stresses that you can have elsewhere. Part of the reason for that is because things are a bit boring. But there are stages in life, like when you have small kids, when boring actually is fine.

Would I move here myself? God no! I can see myself putting on 10kg in a few months quite easily. The car culture, the heat, and just the totally different mind set of the people would grate on me. But mostly I would go mad not having mountains or the sea the escape to.

Which is why I am off now to REI. And as well as window shopping for gear, I will be asking the locals “how far do you have to go to get to some decent hiking trails here”. I won’t be moving to Plano, but I do find myself here at weekends from occasionally. And driving around the strip malls is not the way I want to spend my time!

* For US readers this is doubly amusing to Irish people as there you can’t name public infrastructure after living people. I think the rules do say they have to be dead at least 20 years.


The little things in life that make it all better

We moved into a new office on Monday. It’s more modern but also open plan and features hot desking everywhere. I hardly need to point out that all the studies show this sort of environment leads to increased sick days, staff turnouver, noise, stress, and distractions. While also reducing productivity, employee satisfaction and performance. It also sends a message to employees that they are seen as just another interchangable resource. But hey, it is about 30% cheaper so that’s all good in the end.

And it is a long way from the worst ever work space I had. Back in my Accenture days I had a length of shelf in the corridor of a client’s office. I worked there for a few months whenever I was in the office.

withsnowStill, if I get in early I can grab a desk with a nice view as we are on the 9th floor. This was it at 0800 on Monday.

withoutsnowThat’s Irish snow though. It manages to quietly sneak away when you are not looking. Four hours later it was all gone.

There was a moment of panic when I discovered that they had only stocked our caffeine stations with Lipton Early Gray tea (as well as the coffee of course). It would be a cold day in hell when I am reduced to drinking that. Fortunately I got a special delivery from home yesterday.

TeaMy productivity will go up a few notches tomorrow I think. Now if only I could get scones, and Ballymaloe relish delivered here as well.





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