student

My Real Education Is Outside of the Classroom

BOSTON - FEBRUARY 05:  Dan McGoff #19 of the B...

When describing how to best take advantage of Podcamp Boston 3, Chris Brogan said something to the effect of, "It's not what people are teaching in the classrooms that makes Podcamp special.  Rather, it is what goes on in the hallways, lounges, and small informal gatherings that makes the magic that is Podcamp" (Loosely quoted).

It was soon after podcamp that I started to learn this same principle while interning for the IT consulting firm, Accenture.  We had formal training, workshops, on the job learning and the rest but what made working for them so special was the day to day interactions passing by a coworker's desk.  It was the informal talks at internal networking talks that provided huge value, not the formal reports and speakers.

As I've entered my final year of college, I've brought the lesson of informal gathering, investing in intertactions, and the value of uniting others to my every day life within the University.  It is easier to parse through the lecture notes and find the important chunks.  Focusing in class is far less challenging now that I know what is important.  All the classwork prepares me to work with peers in the hallsways and on teams.  My experience informs my actions in student groups and guides the decision making I use every day.

So what are the next steps?  Here are a couple:

  1. Find what drives you - focus on it and develop it.
  2. Get extroverted - we all have introverted days but getting outside yourself lets you see the value you have to bring to others and vice versa.
  3. Get involved - you can find something that excites you every day that you're alive, I promise!  Find it and follow it.
For me, I have found a new energy investing in the Student Alumni Council at Boston University.  It wasn't until I took a leadership role organizing our members to assist with the University-wide Reunion and Alumni weekend that I actually rediscovered my love for the group.  I do a lot of grunt work but the few hours of networking and the fun pay-offs of meeting new people were more than enough to jumpstart that drive within.  SAC will be a new priority for me in the coming months.
What are you passionate about?  Have you started to find the value in the hallsways and informal gatherings?  What are you favorite conversations to have in the halls of conferences?

 

Go to Office Hours

It's a lonely place here in the School of Management Starbucks... I'm all alone while waiting for students in my IS323 class to come and pick my brain about their projects.  Let's be honest, they're not coming.  The only team that stopped by today did so when I wasn't even officially having my hour.

Yet here I sit, waiting to make their lives easier, impart knowledge and experience, and maybe -just maybe- make their days a littl ebit brighter.  The SMG Cross Functional CORE Curriculum is a challenging experience for everyone involved but I'm here to make it easier.  The school is literally paying me to help make students' time easier, yet no one is here.  I shouldn't be surprised, people rarely take advantage of this "free" help.

But why?  Why don't students admit that they could benefit from some help and keep me company and learn something.  I promise, I'll even crack a few jokes when you're really feeling down about your homework.  Office hours are your chance to get in touch with students that have gone through and been in your shoes if they are for your Teaching Assistant.  We're not worht THAT much, but what about your professors.

Academia is probably the only place where genious professors, people with high knowledge and value are literally being paid to sit there and talk with you.  It doens't matter what you talk about; the weather, the Red Sox, the financial crisis, or even your *gasp* assignments.  Take advantage of your professors - their time is worth a lot more than you can afford.

Responsibility, Hazing, and the Lawyer Nation

Since when have we lived in a state where people are so afraid of litigation that we purposefully change our lives (that are well within the rules) just to appease those that stand to sue us?

Today, I experienced for the first time the empty feeling of caving into someone else.  We had traditions, all of them legal and safe, but they must be broken because of the mere threat that an administrator would choose not to like our activities and censure us.

The laws pertaining to hazing in this state are broad, open, and seem to encompass just about anything that one could possibly want to do.  They set forth a few examples of common issues but then throw in a wildcard stating that "any other activity or practice" that harms mentally or physically another person is considered hazing.  Take that a step further.

Boston University is so afraid of litigation that they have taken the wildcard and applied it to all manners of activities from scavenger hunts to dress codes, wearing greek letters to how we term certain things, and everything in between.  It's ludicrous .  Now, on a mere rumor, we are changing our process because of the possibility that it maybe out of line w. their interpretation of the laws/rules etc.

Individuals need to take responsibility for their organizations.  We aren't hurting people, honest.  Our practices do serve a purpose.  We are indeed helping them learn and though we are open to changing, why are you forcing us to because you're afraid of being sued?  Shouldn't the student experience mean something?  Shouldn't the fact that we are preparing our members for the real world be important?

BOSTON - FEBRUARY 12:  Brian McGuirk #28 of the Boston University Terriers is surrounded by teammates Kenny Roche #6, Tom Morrow #21 and Pete MacArthur #16 after McGuirk scored the game winner during the Beanpot Tournament Championship Game on February 12, 2007 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston University defeated Boston College 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brian McGuirk;Kenny Roche;Tom Morrow;Pete MacArthur

Before you flame me, yes, I understand the issues involved.  Number one - hazing is a VERY touchy subject... no one is contesting that.  However, we are not hazing.  No one is being hurt by our process, no one has complained, no one is distressed or altered.  Number two - Boston University cannot afford litigation and even if not a lawsuit, the bad PR that would stem from the mere alligations of Hazing.

So I leave you with this thought for the evening: When did we become so sensitive to hurt feelings that we are allowing ourselves to compromise our missions and objectives?  Why are we so trigger happy to sue when most issues could be worked out with a mature conversation?

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.

 

 

 

 

Help Change The Face of Education

A-levels (concept) (notes) 

Image by orangeacid via Flickr

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

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

URL: Help me with my research

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

Conducting Research on Student Experience - Please Help

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear algebra, at Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) — Teknillinen korkeakoulu (TKK) in Espoo Finland.

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

URL: Help me with my research

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

Zemanta Pixie

Starting A "Real" Job

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

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

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

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

Exams Are Over

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

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

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

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

Microsoft Selling Away Office 2007 Ultimate for $60 - 90% Off

ATTENTION STUDENTS I wanted to send a note off quickly to let everyone know that Microsoft is selling Office 2007 Ultimate, their flagship productivity suite for $60.  That's about 90% off the retail cost - all you need is a .edu email account.

LINK: http://snurl.com/27xux [this is a non-affiliate link]

Get everything you need: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, Infopath, Publisher, Groove, and OneNote.  It's a great opportunity if you haven't picked up a productivity suite lately.

Studying Early Is Not Fun

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

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

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

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

Irish Education or American, You Decide

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expecto Patronum

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!

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.

To Belfast and Beyond

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!