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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...

Google As a Social Commentary

 

Image via Wikipedia

I'm not sure if this is the post that you were looking to find on this blog but stay with it for a few minutes because I think it's going to turn out fine.

For many of us, "Googling" has become the new standard for information searching.  I know for my own self, Google has become the center of my world.  After UCD blocked our access to outside mail servers (they were afraid of scary viruses...) I had to find other email solutions outside of Boston University infrastructure.  Naturally, I turned to the one parent figure in my digital life - Google.  Gmail, GCalendar, and GTalk are now the focal points of my information gathering.  I have embraced the Goog and it feels good.  I know that I am an early adopter of sorts but I can't be the only one doing this.  Google is now inseperable from our society and we from it.

Yesterday, Thursday the 5th of June, Google announced a new feature to their ever popular GMail service - GMail Labs.  This beta service, along with many other Google Labs program, is a way for you to access non-mainstream features in order to make your life easier.  Features such as changing the way your signature is displayed, adding the old Snake game, or even locking yourself out of GMail for 15 minute email time-outs are all part of the offering.

So, that's all well and good, James.  We know you are a geek and love this stuff but what about the social commentary part of all this?  Here it comes.

Google doesn't do things lightly - they move relatively slowly, though much faster than other corporations of its size.  The launch of a new service is a definite sign that there had been interest in such a feature as well as someone that was interested in developing the tool - perhaps part of their progressive 15% time allocation for employees to pursue their own projects.  To me, this is a sign of a new wave of human.  In my mind, this is the same sort of movement that is propelling Barack Obama through to the Democratic party's nomination - we want change and now there is a voice, a drive to get it.

Let me expand.  As part of this new feature, private users will be able to code their own features for GMail and have them integrated with the service.  Sure, you can do similar things using extensions and personal scripts such as Greasemonkey and Better Gmail 2 for Firefox.  Those services are great but they aren't native, each user has to go out and get it for themselves.  GMail Labs will be for the masses and supports all those that are out using Google products.

Some are bashing Generation Y as the generation that will ruin the world with our preoccupation with social networks and social media.  I happen to believe that we will be the agents of change that our parents could never dream to be.  We have a drive, a carnal need to change things.  We are driven to make an impact on the world around us.  Generation Y will be a seen as the network of individuals that come together to make change in this world.

The launch of GMail Labs is a perfect example of this.  When a company like Google makes a move, it's for a good reason.  Their strategy reflects society and our passions, our desires.  I would look to Google to become the next Microsoft... but in a rather friendly, positive partnership rather than the hostile prisoner relationship we have with Redmond.

 

 

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!

 

 

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.

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

This piece was originally written for the University College Dublin Observer student newspaper, a bi-weekly paper written by students for students.  This version is the one that I wrote and is not the version published (they edited slightly). Last week, Microsoft announced its plans to buy out Yahoo with a 44.6 billion dollar cash and stock buyout offer.  This represents a 61% premium over Yahoo's stock price at the time of the offer.  That premium would net Microsoft some very attractive properties including Yahoo's popular photo service, Flickr.  This seemingly random announcement comes 6 months after merger talks failed last summer but soon after both Google and Yahoo! announced improvements to their online application.  Possible explanations for the timing point to the obvious, the 800-pound gorilla in room known as Google.  However, verbiage in Microsoft's letter to Yahoo! made the move sound as though Redmond had lost patience in waiting for Yahoo to submit to their monopolistic ways.

So far, Yahoo has been able to stay independent without needing a dominant company like Microsoft to hold their hand.  But let us be honest, this takeover is all about the money - online advertising money to be precise.  Steven Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, outlined "search and online advertising... new innovations in the areas of video, mobile services, online commerce, and social media" to be the crown jewels of the deal in his letter to Yahoo executives last week.  Indeed, Yahoo has the highest readership among websites with upwards of 500 million hits per month, an online search and advertising business second only to Google as well as number of other online communities.  Now just add the fact that you have knocked off the only competition between you and Google and you are looking at the same incentives the Microsoft execs are no doubt salivating over.

There does not seem to be much of an upside for Yahoo, unless of course you forget the 61% premium Microsoft planning to pay for Yahoo's stock.  Ballmer made sure to threaten the Yahoo management team with investor power by adding rhetoric about "reserving the right to ensure investors understand the opportunity [they] are offering.  Indeed, some analysts are predicting that if Yahoo execs do reject Microsoft's offer, large investors may apply strong pressure since they face substantial returns on their investment.  So the question stands, does Yahoo have a choice?  Well, yes - sort of.  Google has expressed objections to anti-competitive nature of the potential merger and offered to "help" Yahoo! fend off the buyout in the same breath.  Other options include finding another buyer or going private by partnering with a private equity firm.

One other option would be to outsource search and advertising to Google as they have in the past, thereby making themselves almost toxic to Microsoft.  Redmond would inevitably baulk at investing in a venture that would benefit that "significant competitor" that Ballmer talks about in his internal communications and the buyout offer itself.

At a glance, this offer seems to have come out of nowhere but in Microsoft's defense, Yahoo is a very attractive purchase.  The combined entity would become a strong rival to Google's search and ad platforms while standing to shape the face of social networking.  Some industry analysts posit that the merger would create more competition despite the Google's please of foul.  Others cheer the move amidst concerns that Yahoo does not have direction or a clear idea what their business really is.  Over the years they have dabbled in social networking, messaging, email, finance, content and news creation, and now are writing software for enterprise electronic communication solutions.  A Microhoo would probably have a clearer mission for each of the respective brands while leveraging the significant engineering talent of each company.

As of press time, Yahoo! is still sitting on the takeover offer reviewing their options to find the decision that is "best for Yahoo! and our shareholders" as  Jerry Yang, CEO and co-founder writes in an internal email.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, the longer Yahoo stalls, the farther their stock prices fall.   In contrast, Yahoo's stock price has risen enough that Redmond might be forced to make a new bid.  Only time will tell but in the interim, grab some popcorn, a Guinness, and wait with bated breath.  Hopefully we will get an outcome in the next week or so.

Booo Monopoly Microsoft, Hurray Google!

Today Google announced that they would be launching capabilities to support presentations within the Google Documents & Spreadsheets service. This marks a major inroad into the world of document management and word processing. A ZDnet blog brings more details to the announcement. But what does this mean? For one, Office might not be the top dog for too much longer, in the personal computing field at least. Currently, Microsoft owns 95% of the office productivity market, most of which is dominated by the business market. Corporations are usually much slower to adopt new technologies because of their need to test, harden, and secure most applications. The other reason MS has such a large market is that it's products work well together - windows with office, office with exchange, exchange with Windows Mobile etc. Companies are going to need to branch out and take some risks if they are ever going to get out of the MS strangle hold.

There are many companies starting to test out these new technologies. Many cities and towns are starting to require that documents archive into an open source format. Massachusetts legislatures were among the first to convert to the open source formats - Hamburg, Germany is close to follow. Why are they moving? Well, open source products are earning more and more respect among the consumer and business groups. Google Apps provides an online office suite available free of charge to individuals and schools as well as a more robust premium version for enterprise. Open Office is another open source office suite - desktop based - that utilizes the now common and highly secure Open XML formats. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Microsoft?

True, Redmond has tried to embrace the XML wave by releasing their Office Open XML format. BUT - this isn't inter operable with other open source document programs. I, for one, feel that there needs to be more testing and proving built into the current open source productivity suites so that corporations will find more confidence in these solutions. By bringing more money and time into these technologies, the very solutions we're working to improve will develop incredibly fast.

No matter what productivity platform you choose to use, I suggest everyone look into the open source solutions because they are making up more and more ground on currently available private software (Read as MS Office Suite). Check it out - GO OPEN!!