So... it's been a while hasn't it? So many things change with time; school has started, my internship has ended, I'm applying to jobs, I have offers - there's so many things that have moved forward in my life since the last time I made time to write here.
I'm not going to apologize for not writing - I've been filling my time well, I promise you that much. This summer I worked for Accenture, a global consulting firm, doing systems integration and technology consulting for EMC. It was an absolutely amazing experience and has given me much more than employment, but confidence, ideas, inspiration, wisdom, and perspective.
One thing that has been missing, however, has been the thrill that I get from writing on a regular basis. Back in Ireland, I was writing for the University College Dublin paper - the observer. In addition, I was blogging often, podcasting weekly, and had all the time in the world to engage audiences online. In contrast, the summer has been amazing but busy - I barely had time to deal with anything outside of work and a rather interesting social life. My goal is to write every day, either here on Jamesmconnors.com or over on Collegetechcentral.com but hopefully both. I want this to be a part of my life that doesn't go away anytime soon.
So best of luck to me and best of everything to all of you - thank you for continuing to read and stay involved!
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!
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.
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!
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).
This semester, I have been studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland through the Boston University Dublin Management Internship program. Unlike many of the other BU abroad programs, we directly enroll in a host institution rather than taking classes at a Boston University student center. This means we are taking the actual Irish classes along with Irish students as they work towards their degrees. This interaction and firsthand experience has allowed me to gain an interesting perspective on differing educational systems.
Here at the University College Dublin Quinn School of Management, the curriculum, course requirements, and credit hours are very different for equivalent degrees in the United States. There are a number of reasons that I think the educational environment is different here. First, students do not pay for their school tuition, the government does. As much as it is elitist to say, I think this may contribute to student buy-in as far as the educational process goes. Since they have no financial responsibility, as compared to US students, students may not take classes as seriously as they might otherwise if there was a financial stake in their coursework.
Second, many Irish students have a three year program to earn their Bachelor's Degree as compared to the American four year system. When looking at the curriculums, the Irish spend their entire university career in the college of their major taking courses that relate directly to that major. There are not the same sorts of "general education" or "elective" course requirements as we have at Boston University. It seems that by reducing the course load of outside classes, Irish curriculums are able to graduate students a year faster than most American colleges. I wonder whether this has an effect on the work place and hirability. One might question maturity and experience given students are hired into firms for full time work at the age of twenty-one rather than our traditional twenty-two.
Finally, the Irish curriculum and teaching style that we are experiencing is very different from that which we are used to at Boston University. Classes are almost exclusively lecture style with little to no classroom participation and minimal feedback. The instructor will generally talk about notes they have prepared in a PowerPoint presentation or an Adobe PDF that then displays on a projector. Classes tend to be about three hours long with a break in the middle and meet once a week. In contrast, the longest class I had experienced prior to UCD was two hours, met twice a week, and was VERY interactive. Even our large lecture style courses tended to interact either by cold-call, interactive clickers, or other real-time feedback.
I have not yet formed my opinion about what system is "better" since I have not really gone out and experienced what it is like to work alongside these students. In a little over a week, I will be starting an internship in downtown Dublin where, among other goals, I hope to experience firsthand what it is to work in Ireland. I personally prefer the BU system and curriculum because it works better for me, or perhaps because I have grown up with it, so to speak.
What do you think? Does the Irish system of education sound better to you? Is it more fun? If you were a hiring manager, who would you rather hire? Post a comment or drop a line to james.m.connors [dot] gmail [dot] com and let the community know what you think.
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), 126.96.36.199. 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.
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.
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.
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.
This past weekend a rag tag group from Boston University ventured west to the far off city of Galway. While there we would sample the local flavor, shops, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and ride the Aran Islands. I stayed in my first hostel (not like the movie Hostel fortunately) and enjoyed a nice weekend away from the stressed of the town we call home (UCD Belfield/Dublin).
Galway is in many ways just like a little town in Maine known to the world as Freeport - the home of outlets galore and the headquarters for L.L. Bean. Unlike Freeport, there wasn't any sort of huge anchor store, but much like Freeport, there were tons of little shops, pubs, eateries, classy hotels, and B&B's. Whole streets, "shop street" for example, were closed off for pedestrian traffic only and sort of resembled the Diagon Alley of Harry Potter fame. We explored many of these shops the first night we were there, Friday.
I've come to the conclusion that I enjoy a certain measure of touristy stuff but only to a point. I really don't like playing the tourist with camera in hand and city map in pocket. I don't like feeling like an outsider in this country. Slowly but surely, it's starting to dawn on me that we're here, that we're actually living here in the country and little by little I'm gravitating towards the local spots. For the first time, we've been able to find an organic Irish session where musicians sort of show up and play great music together. It was a wonderful time eating a late dinner while listening to some musicians jam away with a fiddle, pipe, drums, and banjo.
Saturday started early with our group getting some food before departing on a bus for the Aran Islands. Weirdly enough, Galway itself doesn't have a ton to do, but it's a hub for all the other cool places around - the Burren, Aran Islands, and The Cliffs. After the 45 minute bus ride to the docks, we climbed aboard a large ferry amidst the ever present haze and set off. Upon arrival on the island, a salty 30 minutes later, there was some dispute about how we should see the island. It was very much like the Bahamas with some vans cat calling and trying to get us to come on their tours. We opted for the road bikes. It would so much more intimate to see the island under our own power than to go flying by it in a van. That said, our entire group wasn't ready for that. Needless to say, we made it out to the ruins and the cliffs at the far edge of the islands. Let me tell you, it's a rather heavy hit to look out from a 300 vertical drop, see the horizon and know that the next landfall would be your country.
We climbed back down to find my bike's tire had gone flat, though there is suspicion that someone had switched their bike out with mine. Though, this would be the first of two flats in our group of 7 - I don't think they took good care of the tires... We took the coastal route back to town and saw seals in the bay though they weren't out on the rocks as promised. This was very disappointing but inevitable I guess. Finally, it was back to town, the sweater shop, the boat (sleeping), the bus (sleeping), and back to Galway for a nap.
The whole hostel situation was interesting too. I had been dubbed the accommodation booker/trip leader (I wonder why?) and therefore organized all of the rooms and such. I made sure the girls (4) were in a 4 person room with their own bathroom - this ended up being a great move for them. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get us 3 guys into our own room so we were sharing our accommodations with 3 other people who all woke up before us. So the rule of thumb was go to bed early because the last 2 hours of sleep sucked as others would hit the shower, slam the door, rustle through backpacks and leave. In any event, it was cheap, the place was clean and welcoming, had great service and generally didn't live up to the negative stereotypes that we sometimes hear. I definitely think that hostels are going to be the way to travel, except for that 5 star hotel Brian agreed to pay for in Amsterdam.
I'm pooped, I'll write more tomorrow and finish this off.
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.
Ok, all I can say is that JK Rowling is absolutely amazing! Last night I was among the select few that got to sit within the presence of one of the most influential writers in my life. This event got national media coverage as well as a HUGE following here at UCD.This adventure started a few weeks ago when I was at Refreshers Day where all of the student clubs (known as societies) toted their wares and tried to entice students to join up with their groups the same way vendors sell produce at Boston's Haymarket. At this event, I was physically stopped and pulled me back in order to explain all the multitude of reasons that I ought to join up with their society. That society is known as the L&H Society (Literary and Historical Society) and their mission is to bring attention to the arts within the UCD community. For 2 euro, I could open myself up to "untold treasures" but what got me was the event that went off on Tuesday. 2 euro would get me in to see the person whose words have enchanted my mind and emotions, offered escapist nights of reading, a second life where anything was possible. 2 euro would get me in to see JK Rowling, the famed author of the Harry Potter series.
Unfortunately, they didn't email the tickets to me but rather, I ended up standing in line an hour early in order to queue up to get a ticket on Monday morning. But boy was I happy that I did! After softball practice on Tuesday, I walked up to the library and found a rather HUGE line waiting for the doors to open to let us into the amphitheater. After 45 minutes the line begins to move as the masses flood into the gargantuan lecture hall. Security guards and media people were whirling around snapping photos, checking bags, and a whole manner of other duties. The decision was hard, go back and get high or stay low and be in the front. I opted for the latter and sat off to the right hand side thinking there might be a good look at her from the side but I was in for a whole lot more than that.
When JK came into the room, cheers, clapping, hoots and hollers erupted from all around me. We got to our feet to welcome our prophet into our midst. A large thrown chair was brought in and put on stage not more than 10 feet away from me and you know who settled into the cushy seat in an elegant black dress. She read from Deathly Hallows at the part where Ron comes back to the other two in the forest after saving Harry from the pond. JK brought the book to life - I mean I'd hope she can, it's her book after all - but it was more than that. She gave the book soul. Her voice took on the personality to the characters. Her emphasis, perfect. Her accent, true. It was overwhelming. At interval she would stop, explain something from her writing process or other background that just fueled the atmosphere in the room. When she stopped, there was a palpable feeling of remorse that the sweet storytelling had come to a close.
The next phase of the reception was to take questions from the audience. She answered the questions of 10 students who had submitted their questions ahead of time. With honesty and openness, she answered questions about her writing, the story lines, the pressures and all. Two major points really panged at our hearts though. The first was when she spoke of not writing Harry Potter any longer. It was clear that she was going to miss this story that had been part of her life for 17 years. 17 years, she said, and this story had been the one constant in all this that time. I have no doubts that she will miss it every day. That said, the second and most emotional point was when she called us out as her target audience, "her people" as she named us. We were the age group that she had been gunning at when the first book was released. The entire room cooed with understanding and emotion. JK herself started to get a little misty when she was talking about that bit.
In any event, the evening came to a close after the L&H Society's auditor presented JK with the famed James Joyce award in recognition of all her contributions to society. She has singlehandedly helped students and adults rediscover their passion for reading and imagination. This event was amazing and absolutely thrilling. I'm so happy that I got to participate!
Hit a homer with the Irish. As some have heard, I'm now playing with the UCD softball club. We're a rag tag group of Irish and international students that all love to throw oversized balls around a rugby pitch and play in the rain. So far it's been absolutely amazing playing with these kids - they've been welcoming and sociable and absolutely a wonder to play with. It's great that we can just play and have fun. Yes, it's a safe and comfortable sport but there's other benefits to it.
What other game can you work out, play hard, get crazy competitive and then finally walk home friends with everyone you're with. What other sport will you play through the sodding rain and cold just to play around with your friends? Baseball... that's the only other sport that has that sort of draw. Some of you know how much I loved baseball in high school and the now I get to play it out with bigger balls, less stress, and more fun.
It's also wonderfully social. Some have described it as an excuse to drink but I've found it quite the opposite. We've gotten together on the off days to watch rugby matches, grabbed coffee at the café, and even had a pint or two at the pub. Unfortunately, all of my class projects are with other international students or Americans. I don't get to meet any Irish people there so softball is amazing to get together and get out and meet people. It's grand for sure. We've got intervarsity games coming up in March and April where we'll travel to other cities to play their teams. So here's to you, Mr. I love Ball and your rocking ability to get me to continue the sport I love.
Well hey there everyone - I'm sorry that it's been a while since I've written anything on this blog. A lot has gone on, as you can imagine so I'm thinking that I'll break it up into a couple different posts. This one will cover our trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland.
It was an interesting trip, though not nearly what I wanted it to be. So what did we actually do? As I've written before, the Quinn School of Business puts on a number of great events and programs for us but this wasn't one of them. No, this trip was a sort of add-on trip for us from the Boston University program at Dublin City University. The few of us at UCD that went (6 of 11) were invited along on their special program as part of their Irish culture class.
I should have known this wasn't going to go well. Originally we were told that we'd be driven up in the coach with all of them and that there'd be a short presentation and then we'd be on our own for a few (3-4) hours to explore the city. Well, it ended up being a 1 hour presentation, followed by an hour lunch (tasty I must say), followed by 3 hours of bus touring seeing various paramilitary murals on the sides of houses or walls from back when there was such sectarian violence. Our guide was the same guy that gave the hour powerpoint on flags and their significance to the religious fighting.
Ok, so it wasn't a total bust but it definitely wasn't what I had been hoping for. I wanted to get to walk around downtown and see the memorials, I wanted to see the Giant's Causeway. I had such hopes for that sort of stuff and we really didn't get a chance to get off the coach unless it was to see a couple murals all in once place. Though, I do have to say that there was one stop where the locals came out to heckle us - including one little girl with blue hair. But let me tell you, I never thought I'd be bothered by something here in Ireland but the 10 year old with a bottle of beer drinking in the doorway of a block house really hit me weird. I get that it's a culture thing and that we're getting used to these new sort of cultural norms but come on! In a country where you can legally drink at 18, what're they starting at 10 for?
Finally we parted ways with our tour guide and a few of the students that had apparently planned to stay the night in the city and we were on our way back to Dublin. It felt like it had been a dream almost but that may have been the fact that I slept most of the way there (we had to be up at 6am... the earliest yet) and most of the way back (did I mention that we were up at 6am?). I wish that I could have spent more time in the country because I think there's more to see and experience there than just the reminders of how recently war had gripped this otherwise developed country.
After talking with Mom and Brian, I've decided that I'm going to grab a bus north next weekend to see around with or without anyone else. Obviously, I'll invite the rest but I'm not going to let them hold me back from seeing the country. I really want to see the Giant's Causeway and the northern coast up there. I've heard such amazing things. Next post will discuss some of the coursework from this week, an Irish house party, softball, and an article I wrote for the University College Dublin Observer. Thanks for reading!
Well the rain has made it's way back and it's going to be sticking around here for a while, apparently. What a shock, right? It's actually starting to get to be normal at this point. In any event, tomorrow's weather is supposed to turn "Bloody Arctic" according to our UCD coordinator. They are expecting sleet, snow/hail, rain, and lots of wind tonight, tomorrow, and Friday. However, Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be really great, which is awesome because we're supposed to be going to the horse races on Sunday.
Today was the first day with a different class - Investment and Portfolio Management. It was pretty cool in content but 3 hours in the dark was a little bit on the trying side. I think it's going to be a really great class since this is the first time that we'll actually get into the nuts and bolts of investment vehicles and securities products other than bonds and common stock. Today was hedge funds and derivative markets.
Just a comment that my BU colleagues and some other exchange students have made so far: Irish students don't really seem engaged with the classes. I do have some evidence to back up this claim. As soon as students enter the class, they start up their computers, plug in their internet, and fire up chatting software or browse to social networking websites. True, some do actually take notes but most don't. Is this because they don't really have a stake in coming to University? I mean, yes, $45,000 a year for BU is definitely a motivator for me.
If you wish to receive future newsletters from me, please follow this link: Click this link to opt-in to my newsletter - You MUST subscribe if you want to continue getting newsletters
Well, the Eagle (that's me) has landed! I've safely arrived here in the Emerald Isle and I couldn't be happier! It's rainy, windy, cold, and expensive but I'm away and having a blast. Of course, I miss you guys back home and all too ;-) . I hope this email finds you all well and good back in the USA where a dollar really is a dollar and not 60 cents.
This newsletter is going to be an occasional note put out by yours truly to try to keep all of you that aren't IM'ing or Skyping me on a regular basis. Speaking of which, you can find all the ways to contact me at http://www.jamesindublin.com/contact. Feel free to call, text, whatever you want and I'll try to respond as soon as I can.
So, what have I been doing?! Other than starting the first two days of classes, it's been an exercise in thriftiness, Guinness, and meeting WAY too many people all at once. Some of my observations thus far: if it's not raining, it's windy; if it's not Guinness it's not beer; the only way to meet people (in a platonic sense of course) is to go "out" - a.k.a. pub/club; the Euro makes my savings look insignificant. If you hadn't figured it out yet, it's expensive to live abroad and the current state of the Dollar puts us Americans at a HUGE purchasing power disadvantage.
Enough complaining. It's been an absolute dream to be here, it really has. Sometimes I have to step back and realize that I'm taking classes thousands of miles away from my best friends, my favorite haunts, and the familiarity of Commonwealth Avenue. I'm sure that the Dublin City Centre will become a new fixture of familiarity at some point it the not so distant future, hopefully, and I'd be more than happy to show it to you if you decide to come visit. Officially I can't host anyone in our apartment but the reality is that there's space enough on the floor and my room has its own bathroom with shower.
Let's go out with a story - this tale comes from the first Saturday we were in country... the 3rd night since arriving. Our group of 11 BU students were on our way to a pub in Raneleigh, just north of campus. It was latish - for me anyway - at about 10pm. As we walked along the sidewalk as a group, I felt a sharp pain in my arm like someone had hit me with a stick or something - come to find out it was an egg. We were, I was, egged in the first 72 hours of being in this country, which is supposed to be filled with some of the nicest people in the world. Let me tell you, Mr. I drive a car on the wrong side of the road and throw eggs at Americans, we were none too pleased with your mischief. But really... were we THAT obvious to the locals?!
I hope you found this entertaining - remember to sign up with the link to the newsletter for further fun tales and antics. This message will be posted up on the main site, http://www.jamesindublin.com too in case you delete this pretty little message before you get a chance to click the links. There's a sign up box in the right hand navigation of the website as well.
Well it's true - the wind has seemingly blown into this strange little country called Ireland where the skies are grey and rainy and the people are strangely happy to talk for ages! Don't get me wrong, they're more than friendly and that's a great thing but gosh, I see where my family gets it! In all honesty, it's been a very crazy weekend since getting here and as such I'm a bit tardy with my web responsibilities.
Thursday morning was our first taste of what it meant to be in Ireland. After a long flight over night from Logan (surrounded by screaming babies mind you) we arrived to be greeted by a rather disinterested Guarda (Police office of Ireland) passport inspector who told me gruffly that I was authorized 30 days in the country... this would be only the beginning of the confusing revelations from over the next 4 days. Finally we met up with the others in our group and collected our bags. It appears that I packed much less than most of the others (this would come in handy in the next leg of the trip).
Obviously, after baggage comes communication so our group of 8 (3 had arrived at 5am) descended upon the poor Vodaphone store where we picked up sim cards and cell phones. Speaking of, my new number here in Ireland is +353 87 656 7404 for those of you that are interested. Next, we were introduced to the weather - POURING RAIN!! We got soaked whilst waiting for the correct AirCoach to pick us up. Of course, as soon as we loaded onto the luxury bus, the sun came out... for a while. We ventured forth to the city center and beyond, eventually coming to the UCD Belfield stop. Unfortunately, the rain decided this would be the perfect time to start pouring it on again. We were caught out in the open when the coldest, most bone chilling rain I've ever experienced fell down on our heads. It gets better - the reception desk decided we looked smart enough so she gave me the campus map... in Gaelic... :-(.
It took us about half an hour to find out accommodations on this campus but we were pleasantly surprised when we did. My apartment is AMAZING!! HUGE common room and kitchen (no oven though :-() with each room having their own bathroom and shower. The beds are tiny but we have ample storage and a nice big desk to work on - things were on the up and up. The group on campus met up with the off campus kids (they're staying 2km north) at around 2:30 to pick up our student ID cards after which we wandered over to one of two student bars on campus. Darts, pool, Guinness, and the like were the cure to our travel hangovers and signaled our arrival. Of course, we decided the campus pub wasn't good enough so we ventured into the city center not really knowing where we were going but knowing what we needed - food and SHEETS! Luck would have it that we got off the bus at St. Stephen's Green right next to a large mall where we found most everything we wanted. Then it was back to the dorms and to our beds. All told, we were up for a good 45 hours and I was BEAT!
Friday was our orientation to UCD which included a briefing by the directors and coordinators within the Quinn School of Management, a campus tour in the rain, and a rather tasty bag lunch. Shopping and pubs were the order of the evening... but we had a bit of a twist. The first came as we were walking in a large group to the pub in Raneliegh where the off campus people are staying - I was egged... that's right, one of these previously mentioned nice Irish persons decided that I was too good of a target and threw an egg at me. Luckily it bounced off my arm, struck another person in the back and then broke only after hitting the ground. Needless to say we were all a bit shocked and didn't really understand what just happened. We made it to the bar - it was filled to the brim with 40's and 50's (year olds) - and we were immediately met with people carding us. Unfortunately not everyone in our group is 21 so they wanted us to leave... we were packing up to go when the bar keep came over and asked for our order. Apparently the owner couldn't pass up 11 Americans looking to spend a few Euro at his establishment.
Later that evening Larry and I had the walk of our lives. Back in the rain - the cold, drenching rain, we walked back to campus from the pub. We started at about midnight. After an hour of walking, it became clear that we weren't where we should have been... we were lost(ish) in Dun Loughaire and we were getting tired. After finding a map at a local bus stop, we were about 1.5-2 km off track and needed to get over a "mountain" in order to make it back to campus. Thanks to my superior powers of navigation (haha... that's a laugh) we were able to get back to campus in one piece but not before confronting another danger of the Irish 'burbs - Teenagers. There was a large gang of teenagers beating each other drunkenly on the same road that we needed to take to get over the mountain. Being smart, we kept moving quickly without making eye contact and got away. Well, we thought we had... until we looked back behind us to see a few of the group running after us. Lucky for us we were able to get away and keep the from catching up but it was a scary experience none the less.
Saturday was our orientation to Dublin from our program coordinator for BU. This consisted of a monument scavenger hunt all over the city center... in the rain. Are you starting to see a pattern? It was fine and fun but we were ready to get back to home since it was already dark when we were leaving... a 4:30... Before we hit the bus back, we went in search of the 2 Euro store and the Lidl supermarket. Finding bargains at both, we made our way back home finally and called it a night. Sunday would be a day of rest until 8 when we found ourselves at a bar watching the Pat's topple the Chargers in the AFC championship. It was a good day to be sure - rainy, but good.
Today is gorgeous outside - the first day of blue skies and sun that we've had and it's the first day of classes. It must be a good Omen. However, when there isn't rain, there's wind and as our UCD coordinator put it, "it's blow'n a gale" out there. I was almost taken off my feet as I crossed the open field between my dorm and the Quinn building. In any event, I've been at this for a while and now it's time that I got on to my first class. I'm hoping that the rain will hold out until I can get out of class so I can get some photos of the campus and such put together and posted up. Thank you all for your emails and phone calls. Don't hesitate to get me on one of the connections I listed under the contact page.
That's right, it's now 11am EST and in 8 short hours I will be getting onto the proverbial chariot ready to whisk me away to a new world. I think I'm ready. I've done my homework, packed the bags, weighed out the luggage (It's far too heavy for sure), and said some really hard 'see you later's. This isn't going to be an easy change, I don't think, not having all the things that make everyday "normal."
But isn't that the point? Study abroad, in my mind, is all about stepping outside of the normal hustle and bustle - the daily grind. Yes, I'll meet people that might not like me because of my citizenship. Yes, I'm going to have to learn to deal with people driving on the wrong side of the road (that's humor btw ;-) ). All of that is part of the experience. During my semester abroad, I'm going to have the unique opportunity to study at a new school, meet new people, do new things. I won't be condemned to walking along Commonwealth Avenue playing the life or death game of "Dodge Car" just to get to class. I'll be getting a different view of the our country, the world, and all of humanity (if everything goes according to plan).
All that said, leaving is still difficult. How do you say "Goodbye" or "See you in 6 months" to people that you've spent practically every day with? How do you express the sadness and loneliness you'll feel not having them close by? How do you tell them that everything is going to be all right and fine? You can't. It's impossible to express in words all that you wish to say. It's impossible to get that across in a few minutes of goodbyes. It's too difficult a feeling to communicate among strangers and worse - so, you do your best. You make the efforts. You show the intent and try to look at the positives.
At least this time, when I leave, I'll know when I'm coming back - a firm goal to work towards. Please, don't take that to mean that I'll be counting down the days until we leave Ireland because that wouldn't be accurate at all. In fact, I have the benefit of being so swept up in all things Dublin that I won't have much time to stew on these thoughts after I step on that plane.
On the upside, Dublin is in a heat wave at 43 Degrees F, and only light rain forecasted for our arrival :-P. Lots of rain gear and warm clothes will be the staples for fashion these next 6 months - though for my friend from Seattle, this might not be that big of a change.
Once I'm settled in at UCD (University College Dublin) I'll be able to send out a mass email pointing everyone here and updating them on how to get ahold of me while I'm abroad. As for this website, I think It's going to become a regular travel journal of sorts that I update on a regular basis (schedule unknown at the moment) but rest assured, you'll have plenty to read.
Until next time, safe travels to all and take care!
There's less than 48 hours before I am speeding across the Atlantic Ocean on my way towards what I am sure will be a VERY exciting semester studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. That's right, I, James Connors, will be spending roughly the next half year studying abroad in a the Emerald Isle.
Ok, James, big deal - why am I reading this? Well, I'm going to be using this as sort of a travel journal. I'll try to write often with personal experiences, insights, trip recaps and the like. I plan to have this as sort of the nerve center for those people that want to keep up on me or as one friend put it "trans-atlantic stalk" me as I take part in this new and different place. Check out the different pages linked above for more information about the blog, contact information, schedules and more!
Let me throw out some basics:
Day of departure - January 16, 1900hrs EST
Day of return - June 22 (Tentative)
Place of study - University College Dublin, Quinn School of Business (Belfield, Ireland)
Well, that's all for now. I'm going to throw the contact information up so that the link works and then get on my way to bed. Goodnight, everyone! I hope that 2008 is shaping up for you all as well as it has been for me!!