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Relaunch And Rebirth - Our Site Moved

Rude Awakening album cover
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To all that may have had an issue getting to the website, I'm very sorry.  We have moved... well, I have moved.  For a number of reasons, the hosting company that I was using, Bluehost.com, was not meeting my requirements:

  • Their support personnel, though intelligent, have often been rude when responding to issues.  They have straight up refused to help with an issue that was clearly on their end.
  • Admin work they were performing in an unannounced maintenance window actually deleted my website.
  • The shared hosting service that I was on was routinely overloaded and nothing was ever done to the load even after I had brought it up a number of times.  There were times when my mostly text site would take nearly 40 seconds to load... in internet time, that was an age.

So what have I done?  Well, I've taken action and seen an opportunity here.  Not only will I NEVER DO BUSINESS WITH THEM AGAIN, I will be taking all of my properties over to Godaddy.com.  I've had good experiences with Godaddy thus far and have even recommended them to clients and friends alike.  Goodbye Bluehost.  Take your slow service and unresponsive techs and keep them to yourself.

The new project is ambitious.  I have left the traditional 'shared hosting' behind for the next step up in the evolution of my digital life.  For the time being, all of the North West Wind Productions properties - jamesconnors.com, collegetechcentral.com, bualumni.org, and buakpsi.com - will be hosted on a virtual dedicated server.  This move has started this past week and will continue through the next month.  Each property will move on its own schedule depending on the critical nature of the content.

I'm proud to say that the old website, Jamesmconnors.com, is now relaunched as jamesconnors.com - hopefully this will be easier for people to find and get involved with.  So far, so good.  I've been able to make some good changes thus far and the site has never been faster.  At the same time, I'm getting some amazing experience configuring in a linux environment and it's really nice to have the added horsepower of a virtual dedicated server.

Hopefully you're seeing improvements to the site as we're moving forward too.  But, I'm curious.  Where do you host your website/blog?  Do you use a hosted service like wordpress.com or blogger?  Do you opt for shared hosting?  Virtual dedicated or fully hosted?

  • Why Choose a Dedicated Web Hosting Company?
  • Types of Web Hosting - Assessing Your Website's Needs
  • Determining the Appropriateness of Shared Hosting or Dedicated Hosting to Your Needs
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Lessons From a Weekend of Training Cadets

US Civil Air Patrol members practice searching...

This past weekend, I spent my Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday out in the Blue Hills reservation just south of Boston, MA training the cadets of Boston Cadet Squadron.  These young adults are members of Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer organization that I have been a part of for eight years now.  Our goal for the weekend was to work as a single team while we trained in Emergency Services, survival, and overnight camping.  At least that had been the plan.

I have been instructing these same topics for a number of years now but of late, my lessons have focused on learning through my teaching.  Working with cadets that are from ages 12 to 18, I have found it a challenge for me to properly orient my instruction and leadership style to suit the varied needs of the cadets in our squadron.  Timing can be ironic - I'm currently a teaching assistant and candidate for Teach for America.  This means that I've been working in the "teaching" area for a while now and I am just starting to notice the issues that come along with being a teacher.

There are such varying levels of support needed by our cadets - everything from complete autonomy to complete and total supervision.  There are a few that I would trust to be out in the woods for weeks on end but others that I would prefer to have a physical leash to.  How does one cope with these situations?  How do I change behavior when I don't have the "full" story on cadet conditions, attitudes, and history?  Answer: you do your best and work as a team.

In order to make legitimate change with these cadets, I need to alter behavior.  Through my experience, I have found this to be a difficult task, though not impossible.  The United States Air Force Academy taught me many things about leadership and one of the most powerful tools we experienced was the power of peer accountability.  This is the idea that you are responsible for the actions of your teammate, and they are likewise responsible for yours. 

We are making changes in the way that we work within the group.  I am changing my role within the power structure.  We will go back to basics in order to obtain the correct temperment and attitudes.  We will remove priveledges such as talking, break times, and "fun" activities if need be.  We will provide structured rituals such as current event and news reviews, squaring of corners, and the buddy system.  Finally, we will delegate responsibility to the lowest level possible while enabling those levels to make good decisions.

Hopefully, these changes will create the environment necessary for proper learning to take place, for friendships to form, and leadership to flourish.  My goal for these kids is for them to develop into leaders with a sense of purpose, drive, and self respect that their peers in inner-city Boston do not have.  I want them to be constantly thinking about the group, not just themselves, I want them to work as a team.

If you have suggestions for making this process easier, please email me at james(dot)m(dot)connors(at)gmail(dot)com or leave a comment here for people to share.

[Edit: removed "children" from first paragraph 10.10.08]

Learn to Let It Go...

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Maybe it's that time.

How do you know when it is time to let go?  I find this to be one of the hardest things to do in my life.  Whether it be parting ways with that extra snack that you were about to eat, or saying goodbye to a close friend.  Sometimes the RIGHT thing isn't fun or interesting or even popular.

I believe that the way that we make decisions is a direct reflection of who we are as individuals.  So many times in our lives we give into the group, let our "friends" influence our choices, or otherwise forfeit our ability to choose for ourselves and be independent.

I'm making a choice.  I'm letting go.

Maybe it was the crappy weekend that you had.  Perhaps it was a fight you had with a best friend.  Perhaps you were let down by someone that you thought you could trust.  No matter what the issue was, it's time to let go.  Dwelling on the past doesn't bring more insight - just pain... especially when it's a bad memory.

I have made many mistakes in my life, done a lot of things that I wish I could take back.  That said, I am starting to let go.  The United States Air Force Academy was a really hard and sucky place to live.  I decided that the straight up misery I experience wasn't worth the end result (I had decided I didn't want to fly anymore).  So I left.

After leaving, I had to learn how to be a human again - I was a robot.  Cadet James Connors now needed to become a normal person again.  For a long time I hurt and was down about my decision.  I had nightmares about the sucky parts of the Academy, the affects it had on my life and my relationships.  Eventually they started to fade intot he noise.

Now, I only remember the good parts of the Academy.  I have let the bad stuff go.

While in Ireland, I had repeated dreams of going back to USAFA and rejoining.  The visions would leave me restless in the morning because I honestly wish I could go back most of the time.  Then again, most of the time, I don't remember the bad parts.  So it's up to me to remind myself of why I went and why I left.

Everyone has challenging situations and experiences in their lives.  Some of them turn out really well, some totally suck and still other scome out with a mix of both.  Let go of that nasty bits.  They aren't going to help you move forward with you life.  Do yourself and everyone around a favor, let it go.  Just be.  Stop worrying - you can't change it now.

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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!

 

 

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...

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!

 

 

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).

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.

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.

Mind the Step...

Ireland3 054 Ireland3 056 Welcome back from the break. Sorry about that, I was just crashing last night. As some may have noted on my fitness blog at http://surelybonds.blogspot.com, I have decided to start training for a marathon. Yesterday was the first day and even at just 3 miles, I was tired (we had just had 2 hours of softball practice - I am not that bad haha).

Last night, I made a couple revisions to the PHP coding of the website so now you have a date in the message feed around all of the items. I hope that this will help those of you out that were not quite clear on the dates. Sorry about that, it was part of the template I used and did not really do much modification before I left. I also posted up the article that I wrote for the Observer. Since then, they have asked me to come on board as a bit of a regular columnist in the science and technology field. Therefore, that has been kind of interesting. I submitted an article about nano-technology this afternoon - it will be posted up once published next week. In any event, I will continue here with the trip to Galway picking up with our tour of the Cliffs of Moher.

Flash back to Saturday night, there were two different camps when it came to deciding which tour company to take. One company got us back at "approximately 5:30" and came highly recommended by the hostel staff; it also was supposed to pick us up right there at the hostel. However, we needed to make it on a 6pm bus back to Dublin... The other company got us back at about 5pm but was not as recommended citing some customer service issues, was 2 hours shorter and departed on the other side of the city centre. Well, the camps were divided between the two and those that wanted to take the "better" tour knew that there were other options to get back on later buses or trains - we would just have to pay for the ticket again.

Needless to say, we ended up going to the "other" tour that got us back by 5pm because it was the safer bet and those that wanted it were not willing to compromise. I understand that but I really did not want to split the group up and I also wanted to enjoy the 20 euro that I would be paying to see the sights... Fortunately, for us, our tour was amazing. Billy, the coach driver and tour narrator, flung our agile bus around mountain switchbacks like a La Mans driver. He didn't seem to have any regard for the winding roads and charged forwards with the sort of determination a middle aged woman might have to get home when they need to pee (I remember that lmc...).

In any event, when I called to confirm the location for departure on Sunday morning, the owner/operator told us to stay put at our hostel and that he would come pick us up. Five minutes later, we were whisked away in a nice mini coach and delivered to the loading area for the main tour. I had a slight feeling that this tour was going to be better than we had heard. At this point, I bumped into a bunch of friends from the softball club that were also in the city for the weekend. We chatted a bit and then parted ways to get onto our respective tour company's buses. Our coach was not nearly full; each of us had our own row and got to spread out comfortably. This was a godsend because those of us with long legs rarely get comfortable on the cramped seats of the coaches here in Ireland.

Before we knew it, we were rushing past beautiful scenery as we headed south out of the city. It was still early and the morning fog still held the harbor but we could tell there would be better conditions to come. Our first stop would be an area known as the Burren. Billy explained to us that it was named such for the abundance of limestone rock that scoured the hills. Indeed, the landscape looked much like the alpine zones of high mountains with little more than scrub brush and grasses filling in the space between rocks. We let off some passengers at a welcome center for a preordered "walk" around the hills. I couldn't help but think of it as the Australian "walk about" where we just sort of wandered through the brush and such forth until we found what we were looking for. For the rest of us, we held on for dear life as Billy launched our nimble craft up some treacherous switchbacks and hills as we climbed the side of hill to reach a welcome center for some natural caves. Unfortunately, the tour was not included in our tour costs so I decided that once you see one set of caves, they are really all about the same. Mammoth Cave National Park pretty much got me set with all of that and the caves in Colorado Springs that we visited during basic training gave can't really be topped.

After dining on a latte - can I just say that this country is in love with its espresso drinks!? I mean I cannot get a regular filter coffee for the life of me. Instead, they hand me a café Americano and I am sorry, but that is not the same. Anyways, we left that facility passing an aviary that some researchers were trying to preserve and train hunting birds for public display. We then had to bypass the next stop because of road works - another thing this country has an awful lot going on. If there is so many road works, why do the roads still stink? I mean it really ought not to take 4 hours for us to cross this country... it's not that wide! Our backup was a spot called the corkscrew hill, which as you might guess had more switchbacks but also offered a beautiful view back down the valley. I am not sure that the pictures do it any justice because of the haze.

Next, we were dropped off at the cliffs - dropped because the city had decided to raise coach-parking costs from 5 euro to 60 euro per bus. In protest, the tour companies are boycotting the parking area. Anyways, the first thing we noticed was that the visitor center was built into the hill - that was pretty cool. The next was the odd look of built up steps and ramps around the edge of the field. It looked something more akin to the Great Wall of China rather than the dramatic landfall that everyone calls it. Ironically, the Cliffs of Moher are not the tallest cliffs in the country - they are about a third the size of those found in the northwest coastline near Ulster province.

We trekked up to the walls that contained us in the publicly owned areas. They kept us back from the edge by about 10 feet but even so, the view was absolutely amazing. Looking in each direction the site was just as majestic as the professional postcard photographers make them out to be. Craggy cliffs shaded in grey as far as the horizon to the south and a hill with a small castle to the north. Many photos and scenery shots were taken to be sure. A couple of us BU students ventured farther down the coastline and finally past the public area on a well-trodden path with a series of signs that were ironic. First was a Samaritans sign that read, "Feeling depressed? We care" and gave their helpline number. Good to know that I can call someone while I am enjoying freefall before hitting the rocks and water below. Next was a large national park style sign that proclaiming that we were entering private property. Finally, an even larger sign asked us not to go beyond that point. Well, we went past that point and with about a thousand of our best friends that day and the millions that have already gone before us, we pressed on further down the cliffs.

Now, we no longer had the fences holding us back and one false step would easily send us sliding down the mud and into the abyss below. I trod carefully. We took many more photos and had some great shots of the coast and cliffs since there were no fences to get in the way. I have posted all of the shots back up onto flickr and facebook so take your choice - links are to the right hand side in my blogroll. It was about time to get going so we headed back to the visitor center to avail ourselves of the restrooms and then headed for the gift shop (The visitor center "experience" was something like 12 euro... not happening. There were the standard knickknacks and Chinese made Irish gifts etc - we left without purchasing anything. Back to the bus for us.

We made another stop two stops on the way back to Galway. One, a nice rocky shoreline with 30ft cliffs on the edges, the other had an old castle. I think I slept through the second one, oops. We made it back to Galway in record time thanks to Billy's lead foot. We were so early that we caught the citylink bus at 5pm instead of waiting an hour for the 6. Good thing too because the bus hit traffic and made us about an hour behind schedule. It was to home and to bed that we went since all of us were about to get into bed on the bus already.

Well thanks for reading the annals of my journey over the weekend. This week I have got another article for the Observer - turned in today - a hiking trip to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendaloch on Saturday. We are also launching our private beta of my newest adventure with MinuteFix at http://www.minutefix.com where we offer community based IT support at per minute rates. If your problem isn't solved you don't pay anything. So we are off to Irish History class here in a little bit but I wanted to get this written and posted up now that I am back from grocery shopping in the city center. I hope you are all well and in good health. Thinking of you all!

For the Love of the Game

 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.

James In Dublin Newsletter

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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.

Cheers,

James Connors

International Student Extraordinaire

Social Networking Right in Your Browser - FLOCK

We all know that there are a number of browsers on the internet these days. Today, I want to take some time to discuss FLOCK, a socially oriented browser built on the Firefox platform. This unique browsing program combines a host of features from Blogging to media streams right into your browser, thus eliminating the need to browse to blogging interfaces or load special plug-ins. Though their market share isn't even on the level of the big three, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, FLOCK carves out a niche for socially minded, tech savvy users. Perhaps we will see more and more users from my generation using this tool as social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace become more and more popular. I think FLOCK is worth everyone's time because of the accessibility, standardization, and tools that this wonderful browser has to offer. Dominating the browser scene is the standard, meat and potatoes, Microsoft Internet Explorer. Despite a recent update, IE still fails to follow some basic web standards and is known to be vulnerable to many mal-ware exploits. Mozilla Firefox is the open source alternative giving IE its toughest competition. This browser combines an easily extensible platform with standards compliant engine and a healthy dose of non-conformism that has many younger users leaving Microsoft behind. Apple's Safari browser should be familiar to every Mac user since it comes bundled with every Apple system much the same way IE takes over Windows. Steve Jobs boasts about Safari's fast load times and full compatibility as two of the browser's strongest point. Apple has even launched a Windows Beta aiming at promoting market share and providing development tools for Windows programmers to use on the newly released Apple iPhone. Unfortunately, none of these browsers can combine all of the bits and pieces of social media that I was looking for straight out of the box. Then came a mention of FLOCK on the CNET Buzz Out Loud podcast that brought this new browser to my door.

As I said earlier, FLOCK is built for those who have a large web presence, especially if that has to do with social networking and blogging. Being a 20 something and interested in technology, this was a natural step for me - perhaps just an extension of my long hours spent crawling through Facebook. In a nut shell, FLOCK brings all of the best things that I love about Firefox, ScribeFire, Sage, and live bookmarks into a single integrated interface. I'm going to focus on the two features I find to be the most convenient: blogging toolset and the Feed Sidebar.

The blogging tool set will automatically discover most internet based blogging interfaces such as Blogger, Wordpress.com, Livejournal, and more. Asking permission first, FLOCK can import your settings from these blogs and then offer you the ability to write a post straight from a button on the tab-bar. For me, it's always been cumbersome to have to navigate to the back end of my wordpress blog and then post so this was a great time saving feature.

By entering the interface (a quill icon), the user gets a new window with full HTML support in which to craft their post. At this point, the user hasn't needed to decide where it's going. Upon finishing their work, the blogger gets a confirmation screen and chooses where to post their blog. I have to admit, sometimes when I start writing a blog post, I can get carried away and end up with a rant rather than something tat is designed for public consumption. Having the option of where to post the article allows me to easily tunnel to my rant blog and come back another time to write the intended article when I'm relaxed. All in all, it just works. The interface is easy and intuitive, such that I've recommended it to many of my non-technical friends.

The second feature I wanted to mention was the use of a sidebar feed aggregator. Those familiar with Sage in the Firefox browser will appreciate the simplicity of this nifty tool. Whenever you browse to a website that has an active RSS or ATOM feed attached to it, FLOCK will post a toolbar and ask if you want to subscribe to it. Assuming you choose to subscribe, you can then browse through all the available articles from the feed via a sidebar interface. The sidebar will show the number of new articles in the feed and, when clicked, opens a tab that shows you the feed in a Sage-esque sort of interface. The reader can choose the display to work with two or three columns, and decides whether to see headlines, excerpts, or the entire article. By default, FLOCK will mark the news items read as you scroll past them allowing you to scan the headlines for something of interest while leaving not requiring the user to check or click anything to proven that they've moved on from that given nugget of information.

The innovation just continues from here. Media feeds, visual bookmarks, and a trendy "in" feel brings FLOCK to the top of my list of browsers now. It's as easy as Firefox but more useful for those spending lots of time on the social web. I appreciate all of you readers and especially Todd Cochrane's mention on his Podcasting website, www.geeknewscentral.com. I listen to his witty conversation many times a week, so go on over and check him out. Stay glued to this feed for more web centric posts and all of your technology analysis!