Dublin

A Last Weekend to Remember

 

Bray Head

 

 

Image via Wikipedia

And yes, I do remember it! Does that set the tone for the rest of the post or what??

Anyways, allow me to get to the story.  Friday last, I had taken the day to work from home.  I did some writing, worked out a bit of my reports and the like when not tending to the feast I was preparing.  Scott and Lauren were off to their friends in Wexford for the weekend leaving Alison and I to our own devices in the apartment.

We had decided to do Powers Court Gardens in Co Wicklow on Saturday and Ryan would be coming too.  Due to bad weather, the call was made to push it all back to Sunday which was fine with me.  Unfortunately, they changed their mind at 8:30 in the morning and I wasn't so much interested in getting my butt out of bed on Saturday morning.  So they set off on their own adventure but I wanted some fun myself.  So begins the epic day that followed.

I decided that it being my last weekend in Ireland and all, that I would go out and do a marathon of the Porterhouse pubs.  There are four in Ireland so they would be my stops for the day.  The furthest away was in Bray - about an hour's journey on the DART (commuter rail) south of the city.  I arrived in town and wandered around until I was able to find my way to the pub.  It was a bit of a cave - dark with red lights to shed some light without making it bright.

I sampled their Porterhouse Red Ale while reading their little primer on the different types of beer and how they are made (Did you know a Lager is a "bottom fermented" beer?).  I followed that pint up with a glass of their Porterhouse Plain Porter - so clean and smooth.  The whole while Seamus, the bartender, and I had struck up quite the conversation.  We were watching the rugby and chatting up the waitresses while sharing favorite brews and stories of the good 'ole days.  After those were down I took my leave and decided to hike the big hill with a cross on it at Bray Head.

Let's just say that it was an hour or so later of walking that I noticed I hadn't come across a trail head and was making my way around the far side of the hill.  Clearly, I had missed the boat on this one.  Oh well - it was a good 10km jaunt to the next town over by way of a gorgeous seaside trail.  After chatting up an old Irish fellow at the DART station, it was time to head back to Dublin City Center.

Upon arrival in the city I grabbed some food quickly and took note of the abundance of goth kids running around in their black, metal addorned clothing.  One group rolled into the restuarant basically carrying one girl.  She couldn't hold herself up let alone keep her head from flopping onto the table with flexibility that would make Gumby jealous.  Being the concerned citizen I am, I made sure to tell the Guarda so she could get some medical attention (either on the verge of alcohol poisoning or had some serious drugs in her) and it was only about half six at this point.

To Porterhouse Central next where I ordered a Temple Brau - tasty for sure.  More rugby to be seen and at that point I noticed another guy watching the match by himself.  Side note -the match was international rugby for the Barclays cup and was being played in Chicago.  Jeff, the guy's name, was a financial planner working for a Boiler Room sort of company and had dreams of going out on his own.  Anyways, we talked a good bit and when he said he was home to the wife and kids I took my opportunity to part ways and head to the second to last Porterhouse in Temple Bar.  Of course, it was on Jeff's way so he came too.

Now, mind you that I'm a responsible adult and all that but I felt rather uncomfortable with letting this guy buy me a couple pints.  I didn't think that he was going to drug me, nor was he trying to take me home.  To me, it was more like the guy wanted someone to drink with and since I was "on holiday" (as he put it) I wasn't allowed to buy a single drink.  This was new territory for me.  I've never had someone else buy me a drink that wasn't later reciprocated etc... I guess when you're as cool as me you've got to get used to that (HAHA BIG JOKE).  He introduced me to an excellent Polish Strong Beer - Okocim Mocne (7% ABV) that was absolutely tasty.

To Temple Bar we go where he again refuses to let me buy a round for the two of us.  We siddled up to a table and enjoyed some modern Celtic music - very cool.  They had all sorts of traditional instruments alongside guitars and drums.  A very interesting sound.  Speaking of instruments - I've made a promise to myself.  If I can teach myself to play the guitar this summer and stay at it, and really dedicate time to it as I've been neglecting to ever since that day mom and I got my Dean Exotica.  If I can do that and really be true to it all, then I'll buy myself some uilleann pipes because I've been absolutely taken away by their sound and their songs.

From Porterhouse Temple Bar, Jeff steared me to the Brazen Head - Dublin's oldest pub situated on what would have been the outskirts of old Duvlin - the Nordic settlement.  He got the Guinness and I got the seats.  We ended up sharing a table with a Montreal transplant and a migrated Limey.  They were good fun though it was a bit odd when the lady was probing to see if Jeff or I were cops - she wanted to light up a joint right there in the open air bar... which she did.

From the Brazen Head, I took my leave from Jeff - good luck to that merry soul.  Thank you for the pints, my friend.  I met up with my old roommate from UCD, Fergal.  It was his last night in Dublin before heading back to Luxombourg with his family Sunday morning.  After the hellos and a bathroom stop at Burger King on lower O'Connell, we headed our way to the Porterhouse North.  It was the first time I had walked through the North Side - definitely an experience.

Upon our arrival at Porterhouse North, I walked in no problem despite my cargo pants and hiking boots... and Fergs was stopped immediately even though he was well kept (for him at least).  I love not getting carded - it'll be a real change when we get back to the States.  This time around I ordered myself the Oyster Stout, a beer that I had sipped before and could actually taste the seafood - GROSS!  This time around, it was great but I'm not sure whether that was something to do with my current state or if my taste buds had really just changed that much.  Oh dear it's going be interesting to come back to the States and the crappy beer etc etc.

Anyways, the cap of the night came next.  We headed out the back of the clubby pub to their patio since it was a nice night out.  Almost as soon as we sat down at a table, a bit of a fight broke out right behind me.  Anyone who knows me well knows I'm very protective and can act like the security guard.  Well before I knew it I was on my feet holding this drunk back so he wouldn't pummell this much smaller guy.  When said drunk started to try to hit me I decided it was time to put an end to it.  I told the guy we were going down and I *gently* brought the guy to the ground and *lightly* put my knee on his back to keep him from going anywhere.  The bouncers came in as I was getting a good round of applause and they took care of boucning then entire group.

I had gone back to my beer when a LARGE black bouncer was coming towards me.  All I could think of was theat he was going to bounce me for taking the drunk down and that I'd not get to finish my drink :-( sad thoughts, I know.  Quite the opposite, the bouncer told me to talk with the waitress and that she'd take care of me for the rest of the night.  Needless to say, I buy another drink that night - completely not expected but whole heartedly appreciated!  Thanks, Porterhouse bouncer!

So for an entire day of travel, food, drink, and fun I had spent less than 20 Euro when I ought to have spent at least triple that for all the craic that had been had.  It was an amazing ni Fergal and I capped it off by taking one last photo before parting ways and then I headed north and walked my ass home.  I would say it was a learning experience and a confidence boosting night - I couldn't have asked for a better Saturday.

So back to work - I have the reseach report for work, a presentatifo them as well.  Then there is that journal entry thing that I need to do for BU as well as their research report... this last week has inevitably come down to crunch time as it usually does with me.  I need to learn how to plan this stuff out better!

 

 

America Can Learn A Thing or Two; Part Two

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 05:  A crowd gathers for the annual lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree on the West Front of the capitol December 5, 2007 in Washington, DC. This year's tree, a 55-foot balsam fir from Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest, is decorated with strands of energy-efficient LED (Light Emitting Diodes) lights as part of the Captiol's commitment to save energy.   

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

One of the biggest energy hogs for any building would be the lighting and the climate controls.  I've seen varying amounts of integrations both in the US as well as abroad.  I have to say, though, the Irish design and architecture do a great job of using their designs to reduce the consumption of energy for airconditioning and lighting.  By leveraging open dynamic cooling, novel insulation methods, and available lights, the United States could reduce their consumption of energy.

One of the first things that I noticed when I walked into the Quinn School of Business was that the atrium was wide open... I mean WIDE open.  The ceiling was transparent to let in as much light as possible - there were even trees freestanding on the ground floor.  It gave the entire building a spacious, airy feel that limited the use of artificial light as much as possible.  It was always bright and this allowed supplemental lighting by way of indirect light - it wasn't as harsh on the eyes at all.  Take note, USA.

Where the two come together is another interesting thing that I've never seen anywhere but Ireland.  At the top edge of a line of windows on the exterior of buildings, there is a grill arrangement with angled slats.  These slats angle off the light depending on the sun's position in the day.  It allows two different savings.  First, by giving a shade to the window, there is no need to lower shades which would block out too much light and therefore require the use of lighting.  The second is that by reducing the need to tint the glass, as is the custom in the states, colder climates such as Ireland will be able to utilize the natural convection heating and not need to turn on the heaters.

When it comes to design, besides the transparent ceilings and the like, there are a few design characteristics that Ireland just nails.  The first was that shade above windows - that's great for reducing consumption.  The second really noticeable and beautiful design feature is the use of what I would call buffer space inside windows.  Basically one completely clear pane of glass is either outside the line of the building's walls or flush but then about a foot or two behind that is the interior pane.  By creating an open buffer, a wall of air, between the structural glass, heating and cooling efficiency is greatly improved.  It's similar to how double paned glass keeps windows from leaking heat but on a grander scale.  Colder air in the shadows would be able to cool the heated air in the sunny parts to make for a temperate average temperature.

By combining technologies such as these with designs discussed here, I think that the United States could do a lot to reduce electricity consumption and ultimately the need for oil dependency.  More to come this week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Weekend Of Lasts

Trim Castle  

Image via Wikipedia

This is our last weekend in Ireland...

This thought screamed through my head this morning as I woke up.  Tomorrow is the last full Saturday that we'll be in the country, the last Sunday, Monday et all, following too.  This weekend is last bit of our European adventure.   I'm left stunned at all we did.  I'm stunned with all that I've done.  I came here saying "no judgement" and "no regrets" so it's been a few days that I've been thinking back through trying to evaluate my successes on that account.

It's time to remember the great times, the trying times, the hard times, the late nights of laughs, and the early mornings of tears.  It's been a trip filled with a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts.  Funny how the time seems to have been stolen back away from us.  It was just yesterday that I was feeling the same bits of anxiety as I prepared to embark on this adventure in January... I have those feelings again.  What will Boston, the US, the summer have in store for us - for me?

At the same time, I feel myself getting ramped up for production.  I fell into this semester from the highest functioning lifestyle that I've ever experienced.  Needless to say, my Irish lifestyle did not match the fervor of that pace.  Having completed a number of phone interviews in the last few days, the first few conference calls for Accenture and some student groups, I'm reminded what it feels like to be back "on edge."  Listening to my fellow interns address the analysts on the call while my mic was muted gave me the first example of how we Americans are always "on edge."  They sounded tense, wound up but held back - like a mouse trap ready to spring.  Is that really how we are?

This weekend will be busy with seeing my Irish friends and saying goodbye to them.  We have the International Street Performers Championship going on too - I hope to make it over to Marrion Square for that one.  Here's one that I never thought I'd find here in Ireland - International Gay Rugby Championship.  I was on the bus with one team and helped steer them to the pitches the other day.  In any event, they will be playing for an international cup this weekend just a few hundred meters away from our accomodation.

My projects are on their way to completion.  I was able to collect over 115 responses to my online survey regarding student experience - that was amazing!  Thank you to all that participated.  That will be going into my research project that I will present to my office on Tuesday and hand in a report on Thursday.  Also due on Thursday will be my research project comparing the Irish and American teaching methods at University as well as a internship journal.  So, needless to say there will be a lot of working to be done... and of course, as soon as I say that the roommates are telling me that we're going to some gardens.  So stay tuned for further info, I guess.

PS - photos are now up at my new flickr account.

 

 

 

 

What Is the Taste of Dublin?

Coffee Press 

Image by QuintanaRoo via Flickr

Yesterday was an interesting experience.  Not only was it thrifty Thursday, it was the night of the Tastes of Dublin festival.  It was absolutely amazing.  Basically, round up every *decent* restuarant in the city, grab a bunch of international beer distributers, and then pile on some wine and you'll have an idea of what we had going last night.

All day, we were preoccupied by the prospects of a night filled with music, food, drink, and friends.  I definitely was not up to my usual efficiency master ways.  This particular festival happens to be rather popular and has sister programs all over the place - Tastes of Cork happens to be in the next few weeks.  In any event, the office hired a few taxis to bring those adventurous souls over to the Ivy Gardens (GORGEOUS) where the festivities kicked off at 1700.

Upon arrival, we were ushered through a hedgerow of ivy, weird how that happens, which then opened up to an entire hidden world of food and beer... oh yeah, wine too.  Starbucks employees with french press coffee greeted us (they ground the beans so fine that there was silt in my coffee - big time bummer) and a band of pretty girls were handing out the Evening Herald.

Our first instincts were to go around and get the lay of the land while waiting for the rest of our mates. We wandered about seeing everything from cocktail jugglers to horrible bands in gazebos to Vietnamese food all over the ground.  Finally, the rest of the lads showed up and met us in by the ivy entrance.  It was game time.

First stop were the liquor vendors tasting their wares, then a few of the younger guys and I decided it was time to taste the Sake - a first for me.  Three glasses later, I felt like I had transported into a world of cultural food.  We went touring the globe stopping by India for some of their tandoori chicken and then to Lithuania for cider, lager, and weissbeir.  That was a tasty stop - we came back numerous times since the owner seemed to like us a lot.

After a bit we moved into the other areas of the festival - we had only scratched the surface so far.  I ventured through restaurant row  and passed up a chance to eat Gordon Ramsey's food - he's the chef that yells at everyone in Hells Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares (both are favorite tv shows these days).  It was the fillet of beef that won from a vendor that escapes my mind at this moment.  From there we ventured to the Jameson tent where I had my first measure (really was half a measure I suppose) of Middleton Extra Rare - that's 150 Euros a bottle, friends.  All I can say is YUM.

A stop at the chef demonstration tent nearly threw me into a slumber but a wafting scent of barbecue led to me to the Viking exhibit where they were showing off the newest in outdoor kitchens - basically a kitchen on wheels.  A stop for some Magnums follows before we decide to find the rest of the lads.  They hadn't moved from the Lithuanian beerhaus... figures.  I grabbed them and we moved out in search of something.

In the mean time, I was introduced to premium import beer.  An deluxe importer called me over and recommended a Belgian strong lager after interviewing me regarding my beer tastes.  I believe he described the beer as something that would "kick me in the face with flavor" but still allowed for easy drinking.  Needless to say, 10% later, I was happy.  More food followed a better band at the gazebo (are you getting the nomadic nature with which we conducted ourselves?) before finding a mojito tent.

Now, for having been told that Americans can't drink, I think I did pretty well.  Considering that my Irish coworkers had partaken of the same beverages as I had, they were borderline "Will Farrell" as they put it while I was well within my limits.  More food and a stretch amongst the gorgeous fountains laughing and having fun with the entire gang preceded our made dash to the wine tent as we only had mere minutes before that all closed.  That was a mess - angry vendors turned up their nose at me when I came to their tables genuinely interested but toting a plastic glass (their dishwasher had apparently broken).  In any event, we ended the evening well enough and I took a stroll back to the office by way of the quays at night.

Absolutely fabulous evening with the work mates.  The second best part was that my ticket was reimbursed!  A whole night of Irish entertainment on the cheap - my kind of night.  For those of you reading and worrying that all we did was drink... well we did a lot of that... BUT I've removed a lot of the hanging out times since it was rather passive.  And no... I was not "wasted" or otherwise - just jolly and warm.  Mom isn't going to like this post...

America Can Learn A Thing or Two; Part One

A red tank of diesel fuel on a truck in Bombay, India.  

Image via Wikipedia

This will be the first of a few posts that I wanted to throw together that address some of the lessons that I think the United States can learn from countries like Ireland. CNET published a story about how green technology could make Europe a technology power house - story found here. At the same time, this is a chance to try BlogDesk as a remote blogging software tool.

Anyone that has gone outside of the United States will know that we waste a lot of energy (in the US). I have a feeling that I'm going to be a little shocked upon my return. Maybe, just maybe, someone with some pull will read this and make some changes. It's really not hard to conserve a little bit but making change is the difficult bit.

I'll address some background first. The Irish consider themselves "hardy folk" as Mary McClosky put it upon our first meeting. They keep the heat down, take short showers, turn out the lights when not needed, and unplug appliances when not in use. It's an attitude of conservation brought on because electricity costs are EXCRUTIATING.

Not only does Europe pay amazingly high prices for gasoline, equivalent to ~ $8.20/gallon, but the energy costs are easily twice what we pay in the US. Just looking around cities in Europe, it is clear that costs are a significant issue on everyone's mind - there are barely any cars on the roads and many that are use diesel fuel instead of unleaded gasoline.

What these environmental factors breed is a culture of conservation. The "hardiness" is less about being strong willed and more about being sensible. I've learned that it is possible to use all that you need and not overuse. In reality, it's very easy to do but hard to keep in mind. Just keeping in mind that I should unplug the computer or turn off the lights has been a large change mentally for me just because I've been so conditioned to not care.

One thing that Ireland has that makes this easy is that every outlet has a circuit-breaker in it with a switch. I can shut off the power just by throwing the switch and it keeps power from flowing to the machine or appliance. It's stupid simple but apparently is too difficult for Americans to ever want to implement.

Take aways from today's entry would be:

  • Foster a mindset of conservation
  • Use what you need and no more
  • Unplug when done
  • Switch off when leaving
  • Find circuit breaking plugs to manage power leaks

Thanks very much for reading and I'll see you next time!

 

 

 

 

Help Change The Face of Education

A-levels (concept) (notes) 

Image by orangeacid via Flickr

Second post for the day - I'm asking for your help.

As part of my time abroad, I am required to do a fair bit of research. I am currently working on a research project looking into a concept known as "student experience" and I need your help. All I'm asking for is that you take 5 minutes to take a very short survey.

URL: Help me with my research

The above URL will bring you to survey monkey where I have put together a 5 minute survey. Please take a few moments to fill it out and help me with my research but also help companies and institutions improve the experience that students, faculty, administrators, and parents have when dealing with the administration. It only takes five minutes or less.

15 Days To Go

I promise that I will write more... I promise, promise, promise.

As the headline says, our program has 15 days remaining before we leave the Emerald Isle for the harsh realities of the United States. I don't mean that to be a negative statement but rather a sobering fact. We've been in a world where a dollar means nothing, where cars run on the wrong side of the road, where it rains every day (almost). Returning to Boston is going to be a shock to our system much the same way arriving in Dublin was - but we're "normal here" (not many of us are actually normal to begin with so... I'm not sure how to put that into thought, sorry).

Our impending departure illicits a whole plethora of emotions, mostly panic. There are a mulitude of things to wrap up here before I can even think about heading home. Our internships have projects that need to be delivered (more on mine in a few), we have a portfolio and research project for BU that no one has even looked at. On top of that, I just don't want to leave. I like the abstract world that we live in. My decisions here don't necessarily have real-world impact. Allow me to unpack that.

First, our grades don't matter. They do, but they don't. Whatever mark that we earn from University College Dublin is then passed through a matrix to yield a conversion to the "American" system. That matrix tells me that a 70% is an A... you tell me if you wouldn't laugh a little bit. Euros are funny money. Long past are the days that we were converting the currency in our minds. Pints are well over $7 USD and just hopping on the bus feels like an investment (over $2.70 each way). On top of all that, I speak differently. It's sloppy, inprecise, and sort of bugs me. I'll say something such as, "Oh, he was acting like a fool, like" and my questions no longer have the proper syllabic emphasis, e.g. questions don't end with your voice being "high" we sort of put it in the middle.

Did I mention that my rambling has gotten worse? That sentence was how many lines long... geez.

The moral of the story is that we're changed but it's as if we're in a playground. Our choices here don't impact our career (in theory). Mostly, I'm thinking of my internship with that thought. I'm using this experience as an opportunity to practice being at a real internship, practice for Accenture and EMC this summer. It's actually really helpful to see what I'll be able to get away with and what won't fly even whenconsidering what the different expectations will hold. I guess it's like I get to expell all the bad habits now... to include blogging while at work (oops).

So now that the kvetching is over, let's talk shop a little bit. I've been living in another culture for so long, I sometimes forget that all of you are sort of watching this game from the bleechers. I love Ireland. Despite the ups and downs in my personal life and the various other concerns that have come up, this semester will go down in my Wikipedia page as one of the best experiences ever. I am eternally grateful to my parents, Paul, Laura, and Brian, for their unending support, latenight phonecalls (my time, not theirs) - I could not have been here in Dublin without their support.

By the way, remember that melodramatic post a while ago about needing to find that "BIG" answer... some sort of wholistic change?  Well I found it.  Let me tell you a secret - it was with me the whole time.  Basically, I got a dose of reality - some would call it a good smattering of perspective.  Not only have I finally grown to see my parents as good friends instead of those people that try to embarrass me all the time, but I've found myself.  I've found the internal value in myself that doesn't require external validation for me to know that I'm me and that's really ok.

While my world no longer plays like a Las Vegas slot machine, I can tell there are going to be many, many new adventures to be had and all I have to do is be patient for them.  Hopefully you all will be a part of that with me.  I intend to quintuple efforts for this blog between now and my return.  There will be a few post-return entries that will hopefully have some interesting stories.  Then I'll be archiving these posts into my other blog, http://www.jamesmconnors.com under their own tags so they don't disappear when the jamesindublin domain expires.  Thank you for stopping by - I hope to see you next time!

 

 

Starting A "Real" Job

I've started a new chapter in my time here in Ireland. With exams now over, it's time that I turned my eyes away from the pages of notes and stick my head into the wild world of business. Yes, that's right, I'm at my new job... internship, work placement - whatever you want to call it. I just posted up a bit on how the whole exam thing went down... very interesting indeed. I'm currently mooching my lunch as much as possible and have the entire room of the office to myself. So, what am I doing? I'm working as a management intern at Campus IT ltd. Their main offices are in Dublin, Ireland with another office in the UK. It's an interesting company - they build software applications on top of Oracle database programs and sell them to colleges and universities. The real wonder is how they can exist when the market is so small. Since there are probably as many college in all of Ireland as there is in the Boston metro zone, I would say that their market is rather small.

What am I doing here? Well, it's not computers and it's not finance either. I'm actually going to be running a research project on what makes up a student's experience. Since their market is primarily the administration of these large colleges and universities, the student experience they talk about is the one that is tied to the differing models of administrative back-ends. I think it could be an interesting project and will definitely be a good conversation piece for future interviews. My role will be lead project manager, interviewer, head researcher, presenter, and coffee guy.

In reality, though, I'll have the opportunity to stretch this oddly creative brain of mine to try new things and experiment with the way I think. Having no background in sales, marketing, or market research, I wouldn't think that I'd be a good fit for the role BUT we had that amazing thing called the Cross Functional Core Curriculum! Hurray for Boston University School of Management and your ability to make me stretch my mind further and further every year.

I'll keep you all posted on the outcomes of the research and periodic updates for sure!

Exams Are Over

I last wrote about a week ago about how studying early wasn't so much fun. Well, it's not and apparently my mind doesn't like to work that way either - early, that is. Instead of following the detailed study plans that I generated, I was much more inclined to work on the "fun" stuff. The fun stuff being my blog, podcast, personal branding strategy, networking, etc etc etc. Basically, I found every opportunity to not study that any college student would be able to manage. It was brutal... but that wasn't even the worst of it. Saturday's exam was, in my mind, going to be the hardest - the mathematical modelling for decision making. I had extensive study guides, past exam papers, notes, problems, and all the rest printed out... all for nothing. The final exam was basically the exam that the instructor had set in 2005... not impressed. I hardly had to think about it since we had already worked through it, just adjusting my work for the new numbers (he did change a couple of those).

OH! Before I forget, let me say a little bit about UCD exams. Basically, imagine a large conference hall at least two football fields in area. Now, fill that hall with 4,000 desks and chairs in rows. Now, place 4,000 students into those chairs, an "invigilator" talking over a PA system, more invigilators pacing up and down the aisles in random intervals and a dead silence. That might be about what we experienced - it was truly something out of Harry Potter.

Monday's exam was a breeze - the Management of Information Systems comes to me as if it were hard-coded into my brain, gosh I love technology! Unfortunately, this particular exam didn't get over until after 7pm leaving me scant hours before the finance exam the next day. At the same time, two of my close friends from softball were headed back to Virginia the next morning ?. It was a sad night indeed. I did, however, pop over for a while to hang out and say goodbye. I dominated at charades but was constantly killed off when playing mafia. In any event, I made it back to my dorm by mid-night and faced a tough decision. Continue to study until I was tired and then sleep for a bit or sleep now and get up really early. Knowing my night-owl tendencies, I opted for the former option working until just about 5am, sleeping for 3 hours, getting up at 8, walking to the convenience store for some coffee and breakfast, getting home, popping the first redbull of the day and then carrying on the studying.

I was furiously trying to fill my little head with knowledge all the while under the gun that I hadn't realized it was going to be so hard. After the first exam, I figured that this class would be no different... I was wrong. Needless to say I didn't feel as confident as I usually like to when it comes to exams but I was able to answer enough questions that I think I did reasonably well (plus I only needed to get 45% of the points on the exam to pass the class with a B).

Studying Early Is Not Fun

Surprise, surprise - James is having a hard time studying for these exams.  I hate studying.  I really dislike the way that classes are taught and here's why. Our educational system is built to reward small impulses of work.  What I mean is that tests measure a student's performance on one day; papers measure how well a student can prepare less than a day's work; cold calls measures a student's ability to scan the text before class.  How can educators figure out a way to constantly assess a student's true knowledge and understanding?  I don't have an answer to that.

I know that some may say that rewarding knowledge will then disenfranchise those that aren't as "smart" as another.  I dissagree.  I'm not a smart person in so much as that I can't just walk into tests and beat them.  I have struggled and toiled for every grade that I've received ever since middle school.  There has never been a subject that I could simply do well in without a lot of work.  This tells me that someone can build knoweldge through hard work.

If we reward knowledge, as a society, then we maintain the balance of rewards as they stand today: some people would still be able to get by with less work than others.  However, the shift would change society in a positive way.  By rewarding knowledge, our culture would have the opportunity to have a larger mean knowledge compared to today.  The benfits of this are far reaching and go well beyond my ability to ponder amid exams.  But think, what would our world be like if we cared more about knowledge than grades? Or if grades measured knowledge and not temporary recall.

All this was a bit of procrastination on my part but I think it has value.  What do you think?  Do you think that our system and society would be better served if knowledge were rewarded rather than tests etc?

An Essay on the Value of a Degree

I wanted to throw a link up to send you all over to my www.jamesmconnors.com blog to check out the latest post.  It is a short essay about the value of Irish educational systems in comparison to American systems.  You can find the article at http://www.jamesmconnors.com/pontification/irish-education-or-american-you-decide. In other news, I've posted up more photos to the Ireland photo set at www.flickr.com/photos/nalgene1080 please take a minute to look through them when you can.  I'll be tagging and describing them in the near future.

Where's the Big Change?

So, Friday was the last day of classes for the entire term.  The day passed without much incident beyond a small group of friends doing the famed Baggot Street Mile (mile long pub-crawl). The Irish students had other plans though.  The entire school was swarming with new security guards, ids and bags checked at all the entrances, and the largest display of public drunkenness that I have ever seen, save maybe Marathon Monday.   People were sloppy everywhere - guys peeing in the bushes, girls flashing guys, it was a mess.  I am somewhat glad that I slept most of the day away and then went out. With the closing of the last few assignments over the weekend, I am left looking for something to fill the void.  At this point, the void was filled with pontification.  I basically came up with the thought that I should have some sort of BIG revelation from being here.  The summer before freshman year of high school, I was fortunate enough to go abroad for a month in Australia.  When I came back, there had been so many big learning moments and my parents said that I came back a different person.  When I went to the Air Force Academy, my parents said I was a changed person.  What will they say this time around?

I do not know what I am expecting, some sort of giant neon sign to tell me I am not the same.  Perhaps it will be the way others treat me but I have not really noticed much change there either.  One of my good friends told me that she thought I might have changed but I did not know it yet.  I want to know it.  I want to validate this feeling of obligatory learning.  I mean, I am in a different country far flung from the states for six months, I would hope that I have learned something.  But what has it been?  My opinions have changed a bit; my worldview is broader.  I have learned to do without an oven and can go weeks without doing laundry but where is the big achievement?

What I have come up with is that I might be done CHANGING and that the largest contribution that this whole experience has given me is that I have become more ME than ever before.  I have had time to think, to explore myself and to understand who I am and what I want.  Could this be the gift that I am seeking underneath my shamrock?  I am hoping it is.  I would love to know that this is the right thing because I don't want people to think I have had this tremendous opportunity and then just wasted it but that brings up another point.  I have to care about what the other people think and let them have that force over me. What I know to be the benefits of my time here in Ireland ought to be my own counsel.  That private knowledge should be validation enough to prove that I have indeed taken advantage of where I am and what I am doing.  My thoughts in private moments should count more than what anyone outside of those thoughts could say.  Well, they are.  I believe that I have gained strength here to take what I want, to do what I need, and to think as I may because in the end it is not about THEM, it is about me.

Why Do We Hate High Achievement?

I have been wondering for a while now about a simple question.  Why does our culture hate it when someone is going above and beyond?  Why is high achievement looked down upon by our peers?  Today, I experienced this very effect while at a program meeting.  Allow me to explain. There is a project that requires a certain amount of writing.  Now this project was supposed to encompass our views from our entire job placement in Ireland within the 7-week internship.  This report is supposed to be 14 pages long... just 14 pages for almost two days of daily entries.  Anyone that has read this blog knows that I love to write so when I saw that it was 14 pages DOUBLE SPACED!  Really?  That is not enough.  Seven pages of writing are not enough to sum up the deep pontifications from almost two months.

When asking about the requirements to understand whether it would be ok to write more, my peers scoffed, laughed, and became perturbed.  Why?  Why is it so bad that I want to do a little bit more than the minimum?  You will say, "But, James, if the minimum was enough, why would you want to do more?"  Well, to that I say this: we are abroad in a foreign country for the longest time than you have ever been away from everything that is normal to you.  I have to say that there is plenty that I would like to talk about.  I have been thinking critically about those aspects of my experience that are not "normal" and have noticed some very interesting differences.  I want to write about it - I want to have something tangible to show for my time here.

Why does that threaten society when someone would like to do a little bit more?  I do not think that it threatens to unbalance the world or shake the status quo.  Are we a society that is afraid to push a little bit harder for fear of filling the voids of our lives that we currently fill with mind-numbing television?  Or does it come to something much more personal?  Perhaps it would not have mattered if it were one of their friends, but because it had been me, an outsider, it was acceptable to be openly perturbed.  I cannot really figure it out.

Do you have any experiences like this?  Any ideas as to why we as a society dislike those that push the minimum requirements?  Leave a comment and we will get back to you.

Clogged Tubes - A World's Move to Broadband; [Originally Published with UCD Observer]

Clogged Tubes - A world's Move to Broadband Most University students take for granted that there is going to be fast internet connections around them these days.  We have grown up with the likes of YouTube, Google, Limewire, Kazaa, and the rest.  In fact, there is a lot of technology driving your ability to download podcasts, watch your friends' antics online, and even get your course information online.  However, no computers in the world would be able to get you information if it were not for a little something called Broadband.

What is Broadband?

Broadband is a telecommunications technology that runs both at a hardware level (physical wires etc.) as well as a data level.  In its basic form, broadband is a network of high bandwidth cables spreading throughout the world.  High bandwidth refers to the amount of information that one can send at one time over the internet signal.  On campus, we have high bandwidth wireless and wired connections that allow large amounts of data to be moved at once - approximately 100 Megabits (100,000,000 bits) per second for the wired connections in the Quinn School of Management.  Once that information leaves the University network, it is most likely passed off to the greater "internet" over a T3 or Fiber Optic connection.  These two connections are VERY high bandwidth connections that allow the highest speeds and data transfer rates.  From there, a series of smart switches, also known as routers, process the information and direct it to its intended destination e.g. YouTube video data being sent to your computer.

Who has Broadband?

Unfortunately, not everyone in this country is lucky enough to be on campus with such good connections.  In fact, only about eighteen and a half percent of households in the Republic of Ireland have broadband connections and the country ranks thirty-fourth in the world for number of broadband internet users.  What do these other seventy-one percent use to connect to the internet?  Usually dial-up connections over ordinary phone lines or a technology known as DSL, which stands for designated service line.  These connections are faster than ten years ago but still do not approach the speeds of modern broadband services available.  Dialup connections rely on an old backbone of telephone wires that then connect to the modern "internet" through a node or entry point.  The data then follows a similar path to the YouTube video in the first example.

How does Broadband work?

Broadband internet connections work in a highly efficient manner.  When a client (end user, YOU) type in an internet connection, your browser sends data over the Ethernet or wireless connection to what is called a DNS Server which stands for Domain Name Service server.  This computer sits attached to the internet and holds a translation table to change your www.google.com into its IP address (standing for Internet Protocol address), 64.233.183.99.  Those series of numbers are then used to address your request for the page through the University proxy server (topic for another day) and on to the internet.  Routers will look at the request and the IP address and then decided the fastest route to get to the destination using the least "hop," end-points for the cable at another router, with the highest speed cables.  For example, if you were trying to get to the UN homepage, whose website is hosted in South Africa (for this example), the data might be sent first to Dublin, then the UK, then Spain, then to Egypt, then finally to South Africa where the server is located.  All along the way, routers are picking the fastest connections and the whole process takes mere milliseconds.

How can I get Broadband?

The easiest way to get broadband for yourself is to go on the internet and search "Broadband Ireland."  A number of results show options for selecting a service provider.  These include RTE, BT Ireland, Smart Telecom, Clearwire, and Irish Broadband.  Another route you might take is using what is known as mobile broadband.  You have probably seen adverts for this service from Vodafone and O2 wireless.  These services use a 3G cellular connections to access the internet over the wireless data networks.  Unfortunately, for those of us studying here for just a semester, both of those providers require 12-month contracts.  However, just last month 3 Mobile released a service known as 3pay Mobile Broadband that offers pay as you go 3G internet.  It is a handy service that allows you to pay daily, weekly, or monthly using top-up vouchers.

There are many great benefits to having a broadband connection - everything from being able to see more of the world to being more productive on the internet.  Some countries such as Northern Ireland and South Korea have been able to offer 100% broadband coverage to their citizens but they are the exception, not the rule.  There are a number of options for internet service here in Ireland and everyone ought to go out and at least explore their options.  Look for more information on internet regulation, network policies, and rumors of a Tiered Internet in upcoming issues.

The Gratitude Campaign

I wanted to take a few minutes to blog a really great organization that I've found. It's called the Gratitude Campaign and the mission is simple - say thank you.  They have a very nice video that explains everything about it but let me share why I feel so strongly about this organization. Some of you may know that I spent some time at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado as an Active Duty Air Force cadet.  In that time I came to a new understanding of what it meant to love my country, to be proud of my job, and be willing to give it all up so that others may live in freedom.  I'm no longer affiliated with that institution, nor do I hold any current ties to the military.

However, I do have friends there.  I have friends in Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Kansas, and all of the other States.  I have other friends that are in the Middle East, or on a boat on an Ocean somewhere.  All of these friends are in the profession of arms, they are the professional fighting men and women that serve our country without asking for more than some shoes to wear and some food to eat.  I also know that they don't get much more than that.

In the Vietnam era, our country was fighting a highly unpopular war.  The country was more or less in revolt about our involvement in that conflict and hated everything attached to it.  So it was no surprise when riots welcomed home soldiers returning from the fight of their lives, shouting their slogans and hatred at the men and women who had put their lives on the line to do as their country had asked them to.  This concept rocks me to my core.  I understand the politics around our current military engagement and I say forget about those details.  You don't have to support the war, but I think you should support the men and women that are serving our country.  That doesn't mean you have to go out and buy cell phones for every soldier or even offer to make a dinner for the family while the soldier is away.  It's as easy as saying thank you.

I've found a simple thank you to be one of the most meaningful gestures that anyone has ever offered to me while I've been in uniform either for the Air Force or for the United States Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol.  Immediately following the tragedies of 9.11, I can remember people opening doors, buying meals, and saying thank you for my service.  I felt embarrassed at the time because I didn't think I deserved the thanks but they weren't thinking of me, James Connors - it was the uniform, the soldiers they were thanking.  Now, six an a half years after that day, we're starting to forget about those soldiers that are still away from their families and friends.  We're forgetting about the men and women holed up in the sand.  We're overlooking those people that are fighting for their lives in a battle to keep our country free from fear and terror.

So, this is what I ask: please go to the website, www.gratitudecampaign.org and watch the video.  Then, the next time you see those whom have been fighting for your rights and your freedom, give them the sign.  It doesn't take words or grand gestures.  You don't have to buy their lunch or write them letters.  Just give thanks in any way you can, as simple as a sign.

For more information about The Gratitude Campaign visit their website at www.gratitudecampaign.com.

A Weekend in Paris

Well well well - another update for another trip.  This time it was a long weekend in PARIS!  What a gorgeous city.  I have to say that it was probably one of the prettiest city that I have traveled to thus far this semester if not ever.  It was after class was over on Thursday afternoon and a team meeting at the same that I boarded the Air Coach en route to Dublin Airport.  No worries and an easy transit through security - surprisingly so.  However, once I was given the gate assignment, I noted that it was in a different terminal.  I headed out to the place where I was supposed to be a noted that it seemed like a commuter terminal, no jetways but rather doors that opened out onto the tarmac.   Anyways, I found food and drink and found a seat to just cool my heals before we took off.  On the plane, I was seated next to an Irish couple heading to Paris for a vacation.  We spoke about what to do, practiced our little French and compared notes.  They were so cute. Upon arrival at Charles de Gaul airport, I thought I had stepped into a pipe dream.  There were not the normal sorts of straight walkways that we are used to in the states.  Rather there were moving sidewalks that dipped up and down as if it were an ocean swell that we were transiting.  All the while, the path was in these huge tubes with concrete walls - it felt like I was in a cave spelunking or something.  Once into the central terminal, it was through passport control (so many stamps now!) and into what they called "tube central."  The atrium was literally something out of the game chutes and ladders with tubes crisscrossing through the center.  It was so weird but I was able to find signs that pointed to the rail line that headed into the city center.

Onto the shuttle train it was and towards the RER (their version of a commuter rail I guess) station and trying to figure out their system of ticketing.  I opted for the unlimited pass that would let me get onto pretty much anything anywhere any time just because I didn't want to have to deal with that sort of stuff while also trying to navigate and translate my way through the city.  That first night, I made my way alone into the Montmartre (sp) area on the North side of the city and into my hostel for the night.  The only other BU person was in the city on the opposite side staying with a friend so I would be alone at the hostel for two nights before setting myself in with the other BU people that would arrive on Saturday.

Friday started bright and early as the Australian pair, whom were staying their last night in Paris at my hostel (they had been on the road for 2 months then) got up at 0-dark-thirty.  To my glee, there was breakfast waiting in the downstairs for me - croissant and crusty roll with coffee and OJ - I headed out into the city knowing only that I needed to meet Nicole at the Eiffel Tower at 10am.  My plan was to hit the metro over to the Arch du Triumph, which I did, and then walk into the city from there.  It was really need to see all these places that I had seen photos and videos of but now in the flesh.  Onwards into the city, I went and moseyed in towards the center seeing Parisians going about their normal morning.

Nicole made it out to the tower just a bit later after getting lost on the C-Line of the RER (I do not blame her that line is CRAZY with odd end points and routes).  We opted to save some coin and walked up to the first level of the tower, grabbed a quick snack, and then pushed on to the second level.  Photos all around then found out how to get to the tippy top.  The weather could not have been better - clear and relatively warm, minus the wind.  We finally got into the HUGE line for the top stage elevator then it was on our way up!  Hopefully you do not have a fear of heights and in the back of my mind, I was trying to remember that I am planning to jump out of a plane this summer...

Anyways, we hit the top and walked around taking photos as we went.  Somewhere up there Brian and my mother become engaged and on thinking that, I saw a couple seal that deal right there as well - very odd but I took the opportunity to get on a knee for Nicole and ask her to take a photo of me.  You should have seen the looks on people's faces when I said that - haha!  After getting down, we walked around the park adjacent to the tower, took the obligatory photos, and then headed out for more adventure.  The next spot would be Notre Dame Cathedral and oh, goodness it was beautiful.  From the outside to the inside, it was absolutely amazing.  History, stories, meaning, beauty all coming together.  I lit a candle within for my family and friends so I hope good fortune reaches you wherever you are.

After the cathedral, it was to the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxemburg Gardens) where we actually spotted David Letterman with his son, publicist, and personal assistant.  It was SOO surreal to see him there, totally unexpected.  I did not know where to place his face but I knew it was from US TV back home so I started to go through shows that I knew and I finally realized it was David Letterman with a salt and pepper beard.  Too funny.  Once we had had enough sun, we moved towards the Louvre where it was going to be a student's night with free admission with a student ID.  It was a lot of fun to see the old and impressive stuff.  We saw the naked lady without arms - very famous, old cuneiform tablets, the Mona Lisa and so much more.  I was definitely disappointed that the real thing was so small and unimpressive - not to mention the room was completely different from the movie, The DaVinci Code.

That night we headed back to Nicole's friend's place at Cite Univeriste and had a cool little family dinner with parents and friends.  Then I made my journey back north to my hostel for a night of annoyed sleep.  Some drunken bitches rolled into the hostel room at 2am and not only turned on all the lights but were like yelling to each other.  Of course, they were American.  I bit my tongue while they were getting ready for bed but when they continued to yell at one another from the opposite sides of the room, I had to say something.  Needless to say, they shut up really fast - I also adjusted my wake up time to be up showered and out before their alarm even went off.

Saturday started much the same way as Friday but I then ventured through the city on my way to Gare Du Nord (The North Train Station) where I met up with Nicole, Parker (her friend), and Parker's mom and aunt.  We tried to find a train to Giverny, Monet's home, but there was not anything from that station - we found that it was on the other side of the city where we could make it out to the gardens there.  We trucked and barely hopped on the train as it made its way out of the city center.   I caught up with Lost on my iPod while on the train - much fun.  Upon arrival in Vernon, we boarded a bus to get us to Giverny and we set ourselves loose on the small town.  We devoured some delectable crepes at a small hotel/b&b before heading into the house and gardens of Monet.  I took MANY MANY photos of flowers and really got my artsy on.  With someone's suggestion, I have been trying to find marketable photos that I might be able to print and sell at some point in the future.  Check out the Flickr feed for more of those.

That night, I wandered the streets of Paris after moving my stuff from Le Village to Le Montclaire hostels.  Starbucks and all the rest of the American fat machines were around.  After a brief dinner, I thought it would be a good idea to walk down along the Seine... well that was sketchy but I managed to navigate the stone boardwalks without getting mugged.  I had a really good talk with a close pal, a long think while making my way from Notre Dame over to the Eiffel Tower.  I snapped a couple fun night pictures of the tower just before and during the "sparkling" that happens late at night.  That was really special for me.  Along the way, I got a call from my softball pals that were in and we met up along the Seine and headed back towards the hostel by foot.

The next morning we (softball pals and I) trekked our way out to Versailles.  WOW - that was an amazing experience.  I do not think I can remember any buildings that are that old and that HUGE!  Unfortunately there was a ridiculously long line to get tickets and then to get into security and to get into the halls.   In the face of that, we headed around the back to the gardens.  Let us just say it was just like the paintings and all the books - expansive gardens, trees, shrubbery, grass, lakes, ponds, fountains etc... it was perfect.  We wandered snapping photos all along the way.  Tucked away in one of the maze gardens was a café where we pickets up from paninis and that amazing ice cream that you just can't get in the states.  More wandering and more photos ensued before we retreated to the train just as the bad weather rolled in.

It was a chill night that followed and then the next morning I had an uneventful trek back to Dublin.  Sorry for the super long post... I sort of got away from myself.  Hopefully this means my writing spirit is back and I will be able to keep this guy topped off a little bit better.  Thanks for reading!

I went to other places over spring break

Sooo I've not been good about keeping this up to date over the last while so allow me to tidy this one up. After leaving Amsterdam, Grace and I flew into Barcelona and made the most of that city.  It was so cool to be able to use a bit of my limited Spanish.  We toured the city looking at the normal touristy sites but also did a tour of Gaudi architecture.  This tour culminated in a walk within the walls of La Sagrada Familia.  Absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!  Go to the spring break collection on my flickr site - http://www.flickr.com/photos/nalgene1080 for more looks at this place.

After leaving Barcelona, we met up with Grace and my friend, Sarah, and rented a car (with GPS) to drive south.  Our first day on the road we made it into Alicante amid explosive festivities - literally.  People were dropping firecrackers all over the place in celebration of the Las Fallas festival.  Basically, the neighborhoods of Alicante build these large statues and scenes out of very flammable materials.  They party and celebrate all through Holy Week and then they burn them on the last day of the festival - we were there for that night.  We met up with friends of friends in the city and they showed us around a bit until we retired to our car and slept in a parking lot, in the car, for the night.  That was enough for us because the next day we found a place to sleep in beds.

< ![endif]-->The next day we walked around the parks and museums of Alicante before pushing on to the beach and then off to Valencia.  We saw the sites as best we could whilst there and enjoyed a relaxing night.  The next day we took in the beach and scenic vistas and even toured an old Moorish fort atop the highest point of the city.  It was absolutely gorgeous to look out over the entire city as well as the beach.  It was definitely the nicest weather we had had all week.  With heavy hearts we headed further south to Granada.

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Granada was where Grace had been studying for the semester so she owned the town.  We stayed with a friend of hers in a very nice hotel.  Absolutely a gas.  We went out that night and sampled the local haunts, namely the tapas bars.  Granada is the only place around that will give you food with every beer you order - it was tasty too.  The night wore on meeting up with friends and new people until eventually we made our way back to the hotel.  The next day, we played it cool touring the city a bit and getting a beautiful glimpse of the Sierra that looms high above the city center much in the way that you'd imagine the Alps would in Switzerland.

With heavy heart, I departed Granada the next morning en route back to Dublin.  I thought that I might MIGHT be able to get onto an earlier flight into Heathrow so that I could get a flight back to Dublin before the night was out... unfortunately that definitely didn't happen.  On the other hand, I rolled into Malaga not knowing where the heck I was going from an hour and a half bus ride from Granada.  Being the inventive guy that I am, I went to the rail station nearby to the bus terminal and was able to navigate my way on the light rail system out to the airport.  This too was in vain as I found the British Airways office closed for a 4 hours making my attempt for moving up my flight a 6.5 hour wait in Malaga Airport.  I read my books, did some work, listened to podcasts, watched some shows I had on my iPod while waiting, trying to be productive.

Finally, the time came when the desks opened and we could get through security.  I ended up meeting a graduate student from George Washington University in line who had been out traveling and learning more about the culture.  He was an international marketing strategy guy - very interesting to talk to.  We chatted and met up after security and have kept in touch since.  That night was a horrific overnight in quite possibly the worst terminal ever.  It started with a sleepless night in an ice cold terminal wing - the Brits didn't want us near the shops so they herded us into one wing that was sooo very cold.  It was awful but I ended up meeting a nice old man that told me his life story around 3am.  I has some calls from friends and family around the 4am time that were interesting (oh how I love time changes).  At about half four, the Biometric office opened and we all had to register with them - they took 4 finger palm prints and a head photo.  This was apparently a recent security measure to control international travelers when in common concourses.

Anyways, the story ends with me getting a hassle at every checkpoint for one reason or another, not getting any breakfast, and then finally got on the flight.  Upon arrival in Dublin, they told me they had lost my bag but didn't know where it was... I wasn't really batting 500 that day.  I headed home, and took care of some of the work that had piled up and then got myself into bed for a long deserved nap.  I woke up in the afternoon to word that I had gotten the Accenture internship which was amazing and then woken up again a few hours later to news that they had found my bag.  All in all, it was a great end to a horrible 48 hours.  It was a great trip and a nice way to spend my spring break.

Amsterdam: Red Lights, Smokey Streets, and... Museums?

Well, there's a headline for you if I've ever seen one! This place known as Amsterdam is such an odd place for an American. From the get-go you're assaulted by foreign languages and strange sights but for some reason, it's not overwhelming. I flew into the city on Thursday afternoon not knowing how to get to town, how to get to the hotel, or really how to do much of anything in this new city. I made it... safe and sound. That's sort of been the theme of this trip so far - start with a goal and figure out how to get there. I'm sure there's some sort of deep moral statement floating in there somewhere but I've not found it yet. Probably something to do with having an end in sight and just working until you make it there.

So, allow me now, for a few moments, to pontificate about what it means to be in Amsterdam and how this city would never be possible in the States. First, the entire city is built for the people that live in it. Parking is about 35 euro a day so there aren't many cars around. To make up for that, there are THOUSANDS, and I mean THOUSANDS of bikes around everywhere. Every single spare space is filled with bikes locked to fences, railings, light posts, other bikes, and more. There are special lanes on every street for bikes to go through. These lanes have their own street-light system and are completely separate from the passengers. Trams are everywhere and go to every point in the city. We've yet to find ourselves lost in the city without some tram-rails sitting around nearby. It's great. All of the taxis are BMWs or Mercedes Benzs - clean, new, and expensive?

On the approach into the airport, I saw a number of firsts for me. At first it was the wind turbine farm that was off the coast. Next it was the turbines lining the major canals outside of the city. Then it was the canals themselves - they were both a great way to tour the city but also a means of travel. The Dutch have a very intricate energy plan here - something I wish we could make work for the states. On the canals, individual company lands had their own turbines - it was great! Who would have seen that coming?? States, take note.

Unavoidable when talking about Amsterdam is a discussion of the Red Light District. This was something I would have called Las Vegas if I didn't know better. Apart from the rest of the city, this area of town runs along two minor canals just south east of the central train station. Here, the setting changes from the quaint cultured structures of the rest of the city in exchange for neon neon neon. Girls here, sex toys there, a whole manner of debaucheries for those so inclined. Instead of Las Vegas' street vendors shoving cards of naked women into your hand along the street, the RLD was tame with the main drags being rather tame while letting the side alleys hold the practitioners of the world's oldest trade.

I still don't know how I feel about this whole situation. My mother would probably try to understand what they do by way of "cultural relativism" but I'm not sure that I can really agree there. The streets were crowded with on-lookers. Couples, homosexual and heterosexual, old people, young people, foreign and domestic. You name it and people came to gawk in hopes of seeing something but there weren't there to partake. Much like me, these people were just walking through the RLD - something that would leave a trip to Amsterdam otherwise unfinished. Sure you saw some Johns going in and coming out, heard the taps on the windows from girls in underwear etc. It was rather uncomfortable really. But just as soon as it started, it was over. The RLD is tiny - much smaller than I had imagined. In fact, it didn't really stand up to any of the preconceived notions that I had. It wasn't dirty, sketchy (too much), and was seemingly safe. Police on bikes, motorcycles, and cars patrolled the area much more often than other parts of the city. Security cameras were everywhere - who knows who was working them.

In general, it shows a rather mature approach to what we Americans look down upon as dirty and depraved. When reading some of the brochures of tours etc that were given to us in our room, we understood more the Dutch attitude towards the RLD. True, they are trying to get rid of it and they will eventually. But I'm not sure if that's the best way to control it. As it stands, the whores are unionized, have structured health tests, and apparently command a good salary. One history article mentioned that it was the oldest profession in the world, exploiting the woman's power in the work-place, and how it's a job that's portable. I personally see that as a bit of a romanticised version of dealing with it but whatever. I didn't partake but I don't look on others with disgust - it's a personal thing I suppose and everyone has their reasons, who am I to tell them theirs are wrong?

Another controversial topic bubbling through the canals that ring the city center is the bit about weed... It's legal here, you'll smell it EVERYWHERE from the shopping malls, to the Irish pubs, and definitely down the alleys where the "coffee shops" make their business.  It was strange... very strange.  Being on the outside of this one, I didn't really get it.  I know in the states that weed is illegal and all but for the most part, that law keeps it off the streets.  It's not something that is EVERYWHERE.  Perhaps it's because this is one of the few places where the drug is legalized and therefore everyone comes here to partake, but it sure seems like the legalization increases the amount of people in the general populace lighting up or even having to smell it.  The widespread use of marijuana calls up some concerns about safety - aren't there a bunch of commercials in the states about how driving high is just as bad as driving drunk?  Hmm... I guess that's why they have lots of trams and bikes...?  Then there's the thought - if it's legal, can you just go out for a smoke like people lighting up cigarettes while you're at work... that's gotta be different - maybe it'd make afternoon meetings more entertaining?

In general, I'm not convinced that the States ought to bring this drug to the legal market the way it is here.  Whether it's a matter of culture or if it's a matter of details, I'm don't think the States are the place to rock the boat on this one.  Yes, we can go back to cultural relativism and the like but at the end of the day I ask myself, is this what I want it to be like in Boston?  Resoundingly the answer is no.  Unlike the RLD, which doesn't publicly affect anyone else, those partaking of weed tend to affect those around them without their consent.  It's been so long since I've walked into a restaurant and been asked "smoking or non" that I'm not sure whether I could deal with being assaulted by weed-smoke every time I went to dinner.  Maybe the food spots would like it (reference munchies) but I doubt that their profitability would outweigh social welfare and responsibility.

The last bit that makes these last two topics so incongruous is the sheer density of museums here.  Every block there's a museum, especially around our hotel.  Granted, we're living in the Museum District, but even in other parts of the city there are MANY MANY places for one to visit the past.  So far, my favorite has been the Van Gogh museum - I actually felt as though I learned something that I didn't already know and found it interesting as well.  It was great.  His works were organized in chronological order and were accompanied by stories of his life.  I can definitely say that I knew more coming out of there than I did going in.  Not just about the painter, but about what it meant to be a painter.  Van Gogh, for those out of the know (haha), was a self-taught artist.  He rejected all formal training and refused to go the traditional route.  So, he set out on his own going into nature to discover the true forms of art and how to capture them.  He kept himself in strict discipline to study only sketches and then once mastered, moved into the paint.  His career was very short - he painted for a short 9 years before killing himself (another shocker).  We could see the progression in his artwork as he was influenced by new people with whom he came in contact.  We could see his skill building, peaking, and then fall away as his life dwindled in the twilight of his life.  Disturbing but in some ways poetically tragic.

So, I sit here in the hotel lobby alone hoping that my travel companion makes it back ok tonight as we sort of did our own separate things this evening.  We leave early tomorrow morning with a 10:20 departure from Amsterdam on our way to Barcelona.  It's going to be an interesting few days to be sure.  I'll do my best to keep you guys in the loop and whatnot but no promises.  Check out the contact page for more ways to get ahold of me!

Wow - Long Time, No Write

Sorry to keep you all hanging.  There's really no reason for not posting - I've been having a great time relaxing in the past while since writing last.  Brief overview of what's been going on to catch up quickly: 1 - Last week was the last week of class before our break.  It was really uneventful except for the first bit of work that I've really needed to do.  It was a term paper for our Irish history class and it's worth 30% of the grade.  I'll be sure to let you all know how it went.  I wrote about the causes of the 1641 Rebellion in Ireland.  It was just like most of the other rebellions in Ireland (unsuccessful) except that it was the first look of the North vs. South and Catholic vs. Protestant conflicts that have been in headlines over the last few years.  Needless to say that I did a lot of research for a 2000 word essay and got lost in the beheamouth that is James Joyce Library (HUGE - think Boston Public Library on steroids).

2 - Last weekend I went down to see parents and cousins in the southern portion of the island.  Castle Island, Co Kerry where they called home.  There was a lot of catching up, a bit of harmless birthday partying, and lots of relaxing.  It was really great to see all those that I hadn't seen in 9 years now.  How things have changed, but oddly stayed the same in some ways.  I ended up doing some work online for one set of cousins while fixing a couple computer issues with another.  I guess it's just my currency with which I can pay the family back for all their hospitality and the like.

3 - Currently, as of 5pm yesterday, I'm in the historic Amsterdam City.  I met Grace, long time best-friend, at the airport last night then journeyed through the city to find our hotel.  It's a cute little boutique hotel (Hotel Piet Hein) situated in the quiet and quaint depths of the museum district.  Things here have been great so far and I'm going to be writing more for sure.  So stay tuned and come back often for updates (I mean it).

Thanks for staying subscribed and keeping up to date.  Just a reminder - if you want to get in touch, don't hesitate to email me at james.m.connors@gmail.com or leave a comment here.

My Article (Original Version) for the UCD Observer: "Nano Nano"

What is nanotechnology?  Well, it is all about small stuff.  It started about ten years ago when scientists started experimenting with what they called "Bucky balls."  These microscopic, molecule size materials were made entirely from carbon.  They promised to be an interesting field of research and to this day have yielded some amazing advances for computing and science in general.  These Bucky balls have some interesting properties.  They are tiny - to give a scale of the size, a pinhead could hold over 3000 buck balls.  They are incredibly strong and can conduct electricity too.  Since that time, scientists and engineers have explored and developed novel and innovative uses for these miniscule Lego blocks. About two years ago, researchers managed to form these carbon nano-structures into what are now called nanotubes.  They are long hollow chains of carbon molecules in a particular mesh structure.  These engineered structures are considered some of the strongest and most robust materials known on earth.  They can also be manipulated into useful structures.  Scientists have used them to make molecular toilet bowls and other structures just to prove it can be done.  All fun aside, researchers have found very useful ways to use and transform nano-tubes into nano-wires and other structures for industry.  The following three technologies are some technologies already on the market or nearly to market that all of us can benefit from.

Nano-wire Capacitors

Current batteries use chemicals to store electrical charges.  Unfortunately, the amount of charge batteries can hold is limited because the chemicals swell when energized.  Also, after many charge-discharge cycles, the chemicals tend to wear out and become unusable.  Nano-wire capacitors stand to change the way we store energy forever.  Instead of using chemicals, these batteries would use bundles of miniscule nano-wires.  Capacitors are limited by the surface area of the circuits storing the charge - nano-wires, being so small, have TONS of surface areas.  Nano-wire batteries would be the same size as our current batteries but could store 6 times the charge and would never suffer from "memory" or wear out.  Think about not having to charge your phone for weeks at a time?  Don't need that charger for your next trip, now would you?

Nano-particle Solar Panels

Today, the world derives less than 10% of its power from renewable or green sources.  Of that, most is hydroelectric.  One reason for is that solar cells have been incredibly hard to make and prohibitively expensive.  A new US company, Nanosolar, has developed a novel way of producing cheap, efficient, and flexible solar cells.  They use nano-particles in an ink that is then printed on sheets of conductive foil.   When compared to traditional photocells today, Nanosolar's cells produce pay for themselves in a few months where others take years to make back the money invested in them.  These new cells come in two flavors, one geared towards utilities companies, the other to manufacturers.  The manufacturer side is a flexible cell that can be cut to exact size and used on almost any surface.  This means streetlights could power themselves, bike lights do not need replacement batteries, and your car roof can keep the car battery charged when the engine is not running.

Nano-wire Generators

Ever wished that you could put all of your walking and motion into better use?  Well, an emerging technology promised to do just that.  A new sort of fabric is in development that uses nano-wires woven into fabric with Kevlar casings and brushes (microscopic mind you).  Like industrial generators, when these brushes move, they create static electricity with the nano-wires, which then conduct that energy to a battery or nano-wire capacitor.  Next time you go for a run, you could charge your iPod so you will have tunes all through your work out.  For those with prosthetics, nano-wire generators promise to provide power for more advanced electronics and motors thus improving quality of life.  Just think, your next static shock could just power up your dead mobile phone or give an artificial heart a few more thumps.