Saturday, 29 December 2012

Brightly Coloured Flying Mice

I don't know why we like them but we do. Their simple, energetic battles for nuts forms a microcosm of  the wilds. An endless competition for food that's existed for beyond our lifetimes. All the evolution in the world, leading to a Saturday morning sparring-match across the bird feeders. It starts as the morning begins and night fades to the west, awakened by the glow of dawn. The winter days' rising sun pushing it later; my breakfast entertainment missed.

Their colours are their avian dressage; pomp and regalia for their rivals. It's strange. A perfect camouflage hides them in the bushes and the grass but like coins on concrete. Their contrast stark on the grey slabs, chasing, alive amongst the winter's deadness. The flora paused, the fauna bursting.

I impose a hierarchy on them. The green tits take the lower levels. There's too many to see each one as an  individual, special, so they form a backdrop for the goldfinches and the odd robin that takes authority. Bearing livery collars of rouge and crowns of cardinal red, they take office unconsciously. A monarchy dictated by rarity; human evaluation on each shining mystery of life.

Fragility and speed, eluding the eye as the take from the hedgerow. A bounce, to a skip and a flutter and they're catching the mesh. An ever cautious eye, keeping watch over their shoulders, hiding themselves against their nourishment. Pausing only for a moment, to take note of the ever approaching competition, surveying from each vantage point.

The source of my enthusiasm eludes me. Scavengers existing for millennia yet take from a dispensable sympathy. Our own ingenuity has taken us from the ever warm tropics, ever present warmth, abundant rains and bountiful crops to our coats, our cars, our houses and to roofs that create this hostile chill.

They don't need us; they don't want us. We hold them dependent in our gardens for viewing pleasure. They aren't mine. They'll leave when the seasons turn. I won't watch them, I won't know where they are. My mind will wander to the trees, as they emerge and arise back from the depths of Winter. Their greenery takes to them and all will be living.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Problems with Being Green

The following article is by Engineering PhD student Pádraig Daly in University College Dublin. With a Masters degree in Power Electronics, Padraig is pursuing further research on the topic of integration of wind energy into a national grid. Padraig is also a keen outdoors-man and great friend of mine.

I am your stereotypical wind engineer. I am an uncultured lover of electricity. My passion: wind turbines. My lust: integrated energy solutions. The partner of my dreams: the informed policy maker who knows their way around a circuit board. If you’re not too busy shooting polar bears or dropping napalm on the rainforest over the Christmas, it might be worth having a think about your energy consumption. If the television is anything to go by, public transport in the United Kingdom is now entirely done in small dinghies pulled by firemen and the Ash trees are going to come alive and kill us. Thus, we might think that now is about the right time to take a good hard look at the area that’s causing most damage to the environment: energy policy.

The Need for Renewable Technologies

World energy demand is expected to double by 2050, with the globe’s population set to increase by 40% to 9 billion in the same period. This population increase is a source of concern, not because I’ll be competing with someone from India to buy the last box of cornflakes on the internet, but more importantly, the impending competition for energy supply. Is it morally wrong to tell developing nations to curtail their energy consumption for the sake of mitigating global warming, when they have not yet reached the same living standards as the west? Is it not right that all people in the world achieve the same standard of life as the western middle class? 

There is an oft repeated and misunderstood expectation of meeting this energy demand through renewables. Currently, the world uses energy at a rate of 13 trillion watts. That might be hard to grasp. Put another way, our bodies consume energy at a rate of 2,500 watts (energy per second). Just as a reference, you probably produce 100 watts cycling to college every day. A typical incandescent lightbulb uses 40 watts. This 13 trillion watts is consumed unevenly, with a person in  the U.S. consuming energy at a rate of 10,000 watts, and someone in Bangladesh at a rate of 200 watts. On current technology, we could possibly provide 7 trillion watts from renewables. So the simple answer is that we can't replace all fossil fuels with renewables - not with current technology.
The only reasonable expectation is that we reduce our energy consumption, and the reason why is global warming. The nuts and bolts of global warming is that in order to prevent or at least mitigate a 2°C rise in global temperatures - those at which irreversible damage to eco-systems and bio-diversity will take place - we need to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Gases such as CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for 100 years, methane (10 years) and nitrous oxide (100 years). There are also the air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, lead and particulate matter which all can cause significant respiratory and cardiovascular problems for human beings. In the animal world, there is a predicted reduction in the pollination of plants by bees (1 in 3 bites of food you take comes from a plant that was pollinated by a bee), or damage such as droughts in the basins of the great rivers of Asia such as the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Yangtze where 1/6th of the world live. 

The world has to double the energy production and half the greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  Nobel Laureates have listed the provision of energy as the number one challenge facing humanity in the future.

The Energy Mix

Renewable energy, (excluding hydro generation for reasons which will be explained later), accounts for just 1.3% of current energy demand. So for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will remain the world’s dominant energy source. Coal now accounts for 29.6% of energy demand, trailing only to oil, which holds a share of 33.6%. Coal has gained importance as an energy source due to its abundance, security of supply and ease of extraction. 
I discounted hydro generation as the easiest locations have already been exploited. Anyway, hydro is not as clean as it is made out to be. There’s a high CO2 footprint in its construction, the relocation of people significantly reduces their social happiness, and the release of hydrostatic pressure at the far side of the dam causes landslides, continuously washing away villages in developing countries. Renewable generation must be sustainable. Sustainability is having the ability to meet the needs of a healthy lifestyle for all people in the present, without compromising the needs of future generations.
Current usage rates of the word ‘sustainable’: unsustainable.
Nuclear Power

Nuclear is not a form of renewable energy, but it is CO2 free. It is also a very safe form of energy in comparison to oil refineries and coal mines. The small death rate per watt of electricity produced by nuclear, in comparison to that of oil and coal is condradictory to our perception that nuclear is a dangerous form of power generation. However, nuclear waste is a huge social issue. 

The use of nuclear energy is currently legislated against in Ireland, as well as its use being unachievable in the due to the comparatively low levels of energy demand and the requirement that the power plants be complimentary to a system which can accommodate the variability of wind energy. 
On a global level however, nuclear could play an important role in greenhouse gas prevention.

Nuclear: barely killing anyone, at all, ish. Kind of.

Wind Power

Wind generation is variable, needs to be forecasted and doesn’t provide the power system with the same suite of services fossil fuel-fired power plants do. However, wind generation has a much lower greenhouse gas footprint. Wind generation produces no such gases. 

The paradox with wind generation is that wherever it’s windy, no one lives. Some of the windiest places in Europe are along the west coast of Ireland and Northern Scotland. There are no major cities in such areas, meaning transmission lines need to be built to deliver this renewable energy to the demand centres. That’s difficult. There is a public unease about the construction of powerlines. No one minds new roads as they can see the benefit; all the cars pouring into their local towns boosting the local economy. Society has had electricity ‘on tap’ whenever we’ve wanted it, and as a result we don’t see the need for new transmission. We don’t see the bottlenecks and weaknesses on a power line like we do on a road. 

(By the way, overhead power lines don’t give you cancer. What is given off by a power line is an electromagnetic field, which is the same as what comes out of an air conditioning unit, for example.)

Solar Power

There are two forms of solar power: (a) solar thermal, where you use the sun’s radiation to heat the water for your shower, and (b) solar electric, where electricity is produced by solar panels. Electricity is a higher form of energy than heat, meaning solar panels are always more desirable from an energy perspective, though cost considerations might point you in the direction of solar thermal collectors (in Ireland anyway). There is also a paradox with solar energy, in that wherever it is hot, hot water from solar thermal units is not needed. Instead, you install solar panels that produce electricity, which again requires a transmission network to the cities. 

Solar panels are currently about three times the cost of wind turbines in Ireland. The starting point of silicon, which most solar panels are made out of, is sand, and there’s loads of sand about the place. So you’d be right to wonder why solar panels are so expensive when there’s sand all over the shop. Well, the reason is that the purity of the silicon must be extremely high for solar panels to create sufficient levels of electricity.


Intuitively, biofuels sound good. It’s money for the farmers, and a strong rural economy means a strong overall economy. Another advantage is that the necessary infrastructure is already in place. 
There are two types of biofuels: bioethanol, which is produced from sugar cane or corn, and biodiesel, which is produced from vegetable oils or animal fats. When looking at biofuels, you need to look at the life-cycle of the fuel; the embodied cost of such fuels. You get only ~100 units of energy from bioethanol for every 80 units you put in. The levels of efficiency are worse when you use corn. 

The main energy input is the fertiliser that has to be mined and transported from somewhere else. Every product you buy has a transportation cost and a resulting CO2 footprint associated with it. The next problem is that biomass production displaces food production in Africa (the only place where its efficient to grow such crops). Farmers in Africa make more money growing corn for fuel than food, and as a result corn for food is scarce, increasing its price and putting it out of the reach of people in Africa. If you can’t afford food then you go hungry and die. Bioethanol production is also water intensive. For every litre produced, 14 litres of waste water are created, which can’t be discharged into rivers. The waste water uses up the oxygen in the water and all the fish die because they can’t breathe. Its oxygen demand is a thousand fold too high.
As for biodiesel, palm oil production in Indonesia is destroying the tropical rainforest. What’s the point in using biodiesel if it’s produced this way? However there is research being undertaken on using the oil produced by algae for biodiesel, which is wildly promoted as the panacea of energy production.

Electric Cars

Electric cars are no longer a purely academic research topic, with a lot of the technical issues associated with the roll-out of electric cars having been ironed out. All new electric cars have a fast-charge capability (30 minutes charge-time at a public charging point). However, it's important to note that we’ll only ever be able to slow-charge our cars at home (8 hours charge-time) due to there being a different electrical connection at houses.  Although the technology is now ready, society is most certainly not. In the minds of the public, there is a link between electric cars and inflexibility; people believe that the inability to pop into the petrol station and refill the electric car will mean their travel ability is hindered. They might get stuck on the N77 to Portlaoise with a flat battery.

The fact however remains that 90% of journeys made by cars fall within the range of current electric cars. And for those long trips that we occasionally take to see our granny in the back-end of Ireland, hybrids could be used.  Electric cars are essential in my view, as we’re unlikely to power our freight transport with electricity. So whatever oil is left in the future will be needed for that component of transport. The fact is that oil is used to produce so many consumer products, and that burning it to power your car, when reasonable alternatives exist, is ‘wasting’ this unbelievably valuable resource.
It is also worth nothing that electrifying the road fleet comes with a major caveat. If we increase our electricity demand due to the large-scale roll-out of electric cars, this increased demand must be met with renewable energy sources. It’s no good driving around in electric cars if the electricity produced for the charging of the car comes from combusting oil, coal or natural gas.

Final Comment

We should question modern thinking towards renewable energy. Their promotion should be balanced, reasonable and take into account the full environmental impact of their introduction. The issues of water, biodiversity and conservation should be the priorities of society's decision makers. A change in attitude and behaviour by the ordinary person can be the real driving force behind the positive powers of change.

Another Well Thought Out Argument by the Catholic Church

Monday, 10 December 2012

Living on Petty Cash

Above all else that has come of the recession, a communal isolation in Dublin culture has been one of the most damaging consequences. A superficial glance at the city’s nightlife will deceptively portray otherwise – club promoters incessantly infiltrate social media and public broadcast with reminders of their existence, and any online event guide will be brimming with suggestions for your forthcoming week. So there’s always something happening or somewhere to be, right? Probably, but it comes at a price. 

Behind the sponsorship and the commission of mainstream Dub culture, there’s an ever-present reminder of austerity. In the unspoken nature of the recession’s frugal reality, much of the communication that formerly depended on having a disposable income has dissipated, breeding isolation on the social panorama.

Meanwhile, social networks have been forming a new era of disparate communication. In connecting everyone instantaneously, they’ve also extinguished the irreplaceable light of human interaction and engagement.

Cue PETTYCASH, the new arts collective organised by Niamh Beirne and Oisin McKenna. It is a response to the current scarcity of open creative spaces and free culture events that invite the fusion of creative disciplines, things that have been palpably absent in many mainstream events. So how did PETTYCASH start, and what do the organisers ideally hope to achieve?

PETTYCASH is a new live literature and visual arts collective who will be hosting a monthly showcase night in The Little Green.  It started as a response to limited engagement among young people and young artists in Dublin in spoken word and performance poetry.  Niamh and I went to college together and both had varying involvement in the spoken word scene in Dublin, but always found it to be a little bit insular, dated, and reluctant to engage in the most popular means of artistic distribution and marketing that young people most frequently engage with.  We thought this was a problem.  So we wanted to create a young, playful brand, that appealed to young people by marketing itself more like a clubnight than a literary arts night.  We wanted to have artists of different backgrounds involved (especially visual artists, but also theatre makers, musicians etc.) to get a bunch of people in a room together who otherwise may not have met, providing a fun, engaging and informal environment for them to enjoy some art, and hopefully have conversations that they would not otherwise have had, hopefully leading to new projects.’ 

PETTYCASH’S inaugural showcase night, Dole Queue, will be launching this Wednesday 12th December and the set up looks uniquely appealing. The line-up promises a group of performers, poets and visual artists, who will all be showcasing art around the theme of the dole queue.  
It’s going to be a super casual and informal environment that hopefully people will feel really at ease in.  There will also be free chocolate coins.

When asked what they anticipated most from this Wednesday night, Oisin McKenna speaks about the unique collaborative atmosphere that they hope to create with Dole Queue. 
I think what I’m most happy about is the broadly varying kinds of artists we have involved.  We have visual artists from fine art, graphic design and animation backgrounds, and performers who come from backgrounds as varied as broadcasting, journalism and theatre, as well as more conventional poets.   The whole thing we really wanted to do with the night, is getting lots of people talking and collaborating that otherwise have not, and I think this is a line-up that could really accommodate that.’

With some projects like Supafast and Block T starting up in recent years, there seems to be promise in social events that gravitate around more than just music. Block T in Smithfield have established itself as a centre of alternative arts, though exhibitions and performance hosting, while smaller venues like Supa fast serve as valuable creative spaces for independent projects. With this in mind, do you think there's a growing interest in events like Dole Queue, which serve as a platform for the arts in Dublin?

Yeah totally! I think people get tired of the same conventional exhibitions, films screenings, club nights etc, and irrespective of the quality of the art on show, people are always looking for a different place to view it and a different way to consume it.  Places like Supafast and Block T are amazing, because they provide a really social atmosphere in which to consume the art, and that sets up a perfect platform for collaboration.  That’s kind of what we want to do.’

The Little Green café, located on 13 High Street, Dublin 8, will be venue for Dole Queue. Are they excited about pettycash?
The Little Green is the base venue for a collective called Emergence, who run a bunch of brilliant clubnights and other events throughout town.  It’s been recently renovated (it was formerly U) to bring together a gallery space as well as a café/bar.  And it’s fucking beautiful, a really lovely space.  They’re really excited about PETTYCASH! They’ve been really supportive and have had really great input into the kind of night we want to run.’

Is this the first time they’ve hosted a spoken-word and visual arts style collective like this?
Obviously they’ve had plenty of visual arts events, but I think this the first time they’ve combined it with poetry.  Though they did have a handful of plays and performance related events on at their former location on Little Green Street.

Any final words on pettycash, especially to anyone who might be interested in stalling it over next Wednesday? 
We think it’s going to be really special and that we’re offering something that’s not available at the moment.  Right now it’s just Niamh, myself and a bunch of our extremely talented friends.  But the most important thing we want to do is meet new people and new artists. So if anyone enjoys the night or likes to sound of what we do, please please please get in touch, we badly want to hear from you.  Don’t worry, we’re sound.’

DOLE QUEUE launches at 8pm this Wednesday at the Little Green Café, 13 High Street, Dublin 8. Admission is, of course, free.
PETTYCASH are also on Facebook, sure have a look see.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Skríobh's Guide to Being a Happy Cyclist

There's a happy medium to be found in cycling, somewhere between the incessant, unbridled, ramblings of the "enthusiast cyclist" and the Belgian truck drivers who only stop for cyclists to remove them from the undercarriage of their articulated death-machine. This joyful place is the spirit of cycling; the happiness one can only enjoy in the refusal to comply with gravity and friction's demands; that your feet will not be the only source and power of your travels.

Cycling fits a neat space of human ingenuity in being ridiculously fun and effortlessly practical. It's part of a scientific marvel: a balancing act on dainty wheels; the faster you travel, the less you're concerned about balancing. It defies intuition and polishes the soul, a triumph of man and machine combined in wheeltacular motion.

There are however, the inconveniences and perils of the outdoors, your own fitness and the grim realities of drying the arse of your jeans in a disabled toilet in university after being caught in the rain to contend with. With this in mind, we've set out the most simple set of advice we could think of for enjoying the wonders of cycling.

1. Ireland is incessantly cold, wet and windy. Being warm, dry and windproof is a novelty which never wears off. Buy/wear appropriately. 

2. Clean and lubricate your bike once a week. A clean bike is a working bike. A working bike is a bike you'll want to explore the world on.

3. Some cycling should be done uncomfortably quickly. Some cycling should be done for uncomfortably long.
Never, ever both at the same time.

4. Learn how to cycle near other cyclists, pedestrians and traffic. This only comes with experience and must be earned. There isn't much help to be found on the internet on understanding the intricacies of this velo-ballet. Surround yourself with people who've more experience than you and are willing to share that wisdom.

5. Eating healthily pays off. Drink less alcohol. Drink more water. Milk is good too. Supplements are expensive and unnecessary. The same can be said of expensive equipment. The first man to run a sub-four-minute mile had a watch, a field and a big bag of training. No magic Garmin watch or carbon frame will ever be the making of a happy cyclist.

6. Set your goals. Be honest with yourself. Train appropriately. Achieve.

Monday, 12 November 2012

What has Happened to Austin Tice? (Updated 13/11/2012)

UPDATED (13/11/2012 @ 12:40pm)

Bilal Hussein, Associated Press - Marc and Debra Tice spoke of their fears for their missing son at a press conference in Beirut last night.

Austin Tice's parents have appealed for information on their son's whereabouts at a press conference last night from the Lebanon.  Marc and Debra Tice stated that in correspondence with the Syrian government they have failed to gain any further information on the location of their son. After having sent a Twitter message to the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jihad Makdissi, he responded "“If he is to be found inside Sy. I am def sure ur gov will B notified. R u sure he is inside Syria? Reports he entered illegally.”

When UN military observers went to Syria earlier this year, they were targeted by Syrian forces and were forced to withdraw. International coverage of the situation was stifled by pressure applied by the government to international envoys and foreign journalists who attempted to cover the events taking place. Tice's parents stated on their website that Austin travelled to Syria to report on the lives of civilians affected by the conflict: "It is our son’s love for the people, especially the children, of this region which compelled him to come here as a journalist."

Marc and Debra Tice described the absence of their 'cherished son and beloved brother' whose absence at this time of the year was especially difficult. Marc Tice asked that "whoever is holding Austin to please treat him well, keep him safe and return him to us as soon as you can".


Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist, former Marine and Georgetown University Law student, travelled to Syria this summer to cover the violent anti-Assad uprising and on-going civil war. He embedded with Syrian rebels and documented life in one of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. His work gave an insight into the lives of rebels, the ordinary people of Syria and those whose lives have been changed irreversibly by revolution. The Syrian government is incredibly hostile to international journalists as it fears that a sympathetic international community would provide support by means of arming and financing the rebels, or that there would be a direct international militarised action against the state. For these reasons, Syria was an incredibly dangerous place for Austin Tice to be.

Austin Tice had been providing articles to McClatchey, CBS and the English version of Al-Jazeera with coverage from the front-lines of the conflict. Tice's last communication with the outside world occurred on the 13th of August in email correspondence with colleagues. Since his disappearance, it is believed that he has been kidnapped by government forces. The source of these beliefs come from a video uploaded to Youtube on the 26th of September by a user called Khalidfree75.

The video has come under widespread scrutiny, as it fails to fit with the common traits of other videos from the conflict. The Free Syrian Army, or Jabhat al Nusra is the strongest of the anti-government forces. They have produced their own videos which have a different style to that of the video of depicting Austin Tice. Open Briefing, the UK think tank/public intelligence agency have analysed the 'Austin Tice still alive' video and pointed out many of these flaws. They point out a number of discrepancies between the Khalidfree75 video and the usual jihadist videos:

  • The clothing of the soldiers appears freshly laundered or is new. They are also wearing Afghani/Pakistani pashtuns. Most videos from the conflict show men wearing tracksuits, t-shirts and a mix of combat fatigues.
  • None of the armed men are identifiable. In a significant proportion of videos from the conflict, rebels are clearly identifiable, talk to the camera and are willing to have their faces shown throughout. 
  • The user Khalidfree75 has uploaded only this video. Most users who upload footage from the conflict have uploaded several videos from several different engagements with Assad forces.
  • The video is short, has received no editing and does not display the prominent logos or prayers from the Qu'ran typical of Jabhat al Nusra videos.
The video below shows the stark contrast between the Khalidfree75 video and other footage from the conflict: (Be aware: this video contains graphic imagery of a man shot dead at 5:45)

Open Briefing have shown that the Khalidfree75 video was first shared on opposition Facebook pages before receiving widespread coverage in international media when it was shared on a pro-Assad Facebook page. Most intelligence analysts believe that the video was a ham-fisted attempt at portraying opposition rebels as the kidnappers and executors, which would portray them in a negative light internationally.

The most prominent fact of the situation is the logical reasoning behind the video. A journalist sympathetic to their cause would be of great benefit to the rebels. Austin Tice previously served with the United States Marine Corps as a forward air traffic controller. (Source: Austin Tice's Linkedin page). This duty entails directing close air-support from attack helicopters or low flying attack aircraft such as A-10's or AC-130's on to targets in close proximity to US ground troops. While the Syrian rebels would obviously lack this type of weaponry, Tice would have been able to provide support, advice and tactics to rebels and would have been considered a valuable asset to them. It just doesn't make sense to kidnap and execute the sympathetic, useful journalist who's covering your plight and who could provide you with military intelligence.

The McClatchey news website has reported that the Syrian government have since gone on to say through a Facebook post that Tice was believed to be a CIA/Mossad agent, who was involved in the killing of three Syrian pilots and had been captured by the Syrian military. The Syrian government deny that they know of Tice's whereabouts, but say that he is facing the death penalty for his involvement in the killings. They don't provide a link to this post though and no other news website has covered this statement.

Whatever has happened to Austin Tice, he has undoubtedly paid the most extreme price for travelling to Syria. His whereabouts are unknown, there is no prospect of his return and the situation in Syria continues to worsen. If he was a freelance journalist and not an agent of the CIA, he has attempted to provide an insight that so few are willing to provide. The reality of life in Syria must be documented. It is the duty of the international community to provide assistance to those who are persecuted, whose lives can be made better through the peaceful resolution of conflict. Failure by the West to address the situation in Syria in a meaningful way will only further radicalise a militarised population of young men, whose attention could soon be turned against those who chose to stand by.

 The inaction of those with the power to save life are a cause to the disservice of our shared humanity. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

This Is Not What I Asked For 2

I'm not complaining. Are you able to say that you saw Girls' Generation's gee and not be a lying pervert?

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Photo Consciousness 3

Now I know why my friends advised me against growing a moustache
Because all good hotels have soft openings

Testing the Speed of the Internet. Results: Slow

Friday, 12 October 2012

Singapore Will Learn a Lesson in Irish Property Bubbles

Reading through the daily newspaper in Singapore is like travelling backwards in time to Ireland in 2005.  The similarities are remarkable. The Irish nation had grown accustomed to its new-found titles of wealth and in Singapore, the outlook is very much the same: growth in the economy has been staggering over the past decade and has been surprisingly resilient against volatile international markets.

The levels of personal wealth of the island nation are amongst the highest in the world and there is a thoughtless optimism in it lasting. However, there are frightening indicators that were blindly ignored in Ireland that could be staring Singapore in the face.

The proud confidence embellished by recent economic growth is easily noticed, especially when you're hearing the locals say "the only way property prices can go is up!" and housing construction catering for non-Singaporean residents has boomed. These conditions are providing the building industry with an open invitation to grow. While Singapore might have its export market to fall back on should the property market fall through, it will be of little solace for the man on the street who'll be saddled with negative equity, for the lifetime of his 50 year mortgage.

The most telling aspect of Singapore's property market is to be found in the national newspaper, the 'Straits Times'. Saturday's edition managed a cool 15 pages of property adverts in a 48 page newspaper. The front page relays comforting tales of prudent government action and international architecture prizes for the recently opened World Building of the Year 'Gardens by the Bay', confirming in the hearts and minds of Singaporeans that they too could live in somewhere architecturally significant. Their pride is nestled closely to the cultural identity, a stinging reminder of Irish developers' Docklands-trophies of glass and concrete.
"Buy a house, WIN a car!"

These shared characteristics are almost painful to an Irish reader. When it was announced that the price of apartments within the state-run social housing scheme had achieved record breaking levels, it should have come with a wink and a nudge; some sort of acknowledgement that there could be something afoot.

House prices will go up for another year or two and on a typically stifling Saturday afternoon, after weeks of intently visiting the show-houses that could be their future home, a young couple will quietly discuss their bidding price out of earshot of the estate agent. In the hall of this 2 bedroom apartment, slightly too far from the city centre, they will struggle to justify the asking price. They will appreciate the large windows and especially the spacious layout in the kitchen (for such small square-footage) and reconsider how close they are to the new subway line.

They will look to each other and know that they are both thinking "No; it's just too much, we can't afford this" and politely make their thank yous and leave. They will tell their friends (the ones who came to the wedding) that they will be renting for another year just to see if the market can even out and they'll see how things are in 12 months, and that will be the end of Singapore's property bubble.

Irish people thought they were special; that they would break from all historical trends in property bubbles and ride through Morgan Kelly's doubts and criticisms with a galloping economy and certificates of "Richest Nation Per Capita" tucked into nouveau riche saddlebags. Singapore has joined the bandwagon, but it is no pioneer.

It is a freshly painted cart on a very well worn road.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Indonesia: Sometimes by Candlelight

An archipelago of 17,000 tropical islands strewn with natural disasters, terrorism and turbulent politics, cemented together with economic growth and a burgeoning population. There are volatile separatist movements in Northern Sumatra as well as in West Papuan and the country is still struggling to address the violent devastation brought about by the Boxing Day tsunamis and the extremists (who remain active) responsible for the Bali bombings. To round off this list of woe, Indonesia is facing an energy crisis as well.

As the Indonesian economy grows, there's been an increase in the amount of people who can afford night-time lighting and some basic consumer electronics. The price of oil has increased worldwide in the past decade and Indonesia's electricity network can't keep up. Blackouts are becoming an increasingly common experience for the ordinary people of Indonesia's towns and cities.

Arriving into the mountain village of Kaliurang on the slopes of Merapi, was a surreal experience: a whole village, in darkness. The only light in the main street came from the solitary glow of a gas stove at a food stall, the hostel I arrived at was lit by candles.

I asked the owner of the hostel how often blackouts like this happened. He said that it was a rare occurrence, maybe twice a year. However, the candles were still left out the afternoon of the next day, which made me doubtful of the veracity of his statement.

The blackout lasted an hour. When light returned I went to the village centre in search of dinner. People I asked about the situation gave the impression that it was a more regular experience than my host was letting on, saying that it was a once a month or every two month occurrence.

In Java's second biggest city, Yogyakarta, I experienced the second blackout of my visit. The lights failed suddenly and there as an audible groan from the internet cafés and hostels. Some of the larger hotels in the city had private generators and light spilled out onto the streets. Car headlights and scooters provided illumination as the crowds made their way back to hotels and losmen. If the hostel owner was telling the truth, I was either incredibly unlucky to experience the two blackouts that occur in a year in the space of a five day visit, or they occur with such frequency that it's preferable to lie about them.

These were blackouts on a small scale, but Indonesia has experienced some of the most widespread in history. In 2008, 100 million people (imagine everyone in England and France sitting in the dark) were left without electricity when coal ships couldn't make delivery due to rough seas. The resulting deficit in supply caused a cascading fault through the power grid. For individuals, it is an inconvenience. For Indonesia's economy, it scares away possible investment. Companies' manufacturing facilities grind to a halt with each blackout. Even with cheap labour and the availability of resources, for some companies, it won't be worth the effort.

These power blackouts, similar to those that occurred recently in India, are the physical manifestations of a global energy crisis. As demand increases in developing nations such as Indonesia, the world's ability to cope will be tested. Wealthier nations have a better capacity to adapt with a price increase for energy, and can do without some luxuries. For those in developing nations where 50% of the world's population lives, it means going without lighting, heating and access to education. It is a global challenge that will shape every aspect of life in the next century.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Running Deep

An interview with Fergal Smith, professional surfer.

Fergal chalks down a big one at Mullaghmore. Photo courtesy of Mickey Smith

Riding heavy waves is the realm of the calm and focused, for those who can act with a deliberate precision, sharpened by the cold of the North Atlantic, crafted over sessions with punishing waves. Driven by the glimmer of solid groundswell and offshores, Fergal Smith is continuing to power through the heaviest slabs and thickest lips. This year, Fergal has taken the front cover of Surfer Magazine’s August edition and paddled into the fiercest waves both hemispheres have to offer. Skríobh talked to Fergal about Western Australia, the waiting game and Ireland’s cold water Teahupoo: Mullaghmore.

The front cover photo was taken in March of this year. “We knew it was going to be the last good swell of the winter, so it was going to be a good blast. Probably one of the best runs we’d had all winter. Eight or nine days in, we surfed there in the morning, Aileens in the middle of the day, I got one of the best waves I’d had all year there. This was the 3rd surf of the day, for the eighth or ninth day. Then back down for the last half hour of light. We turned up, me and Tom Lowe. I went first, and it was literally my first wave and that was it. My second wave was almost a bit better, just the sunlight was really good on that first wave.” With the North Atlantic and Ireland’s jagged coast, there are so many variables that it can be beyond rare that everything dials in. When your career relies on swirling low pressure systems for swell and the position of the moon for tides, taking advantage of perfect conditions is for the hardened, patient waterman.

When the Atlantic complies, Ireland is gifted epic peaks and long periods. Last December, Mullaghmore unloaded its raw energy on a plinth of battered limestone on the Sligo coastline. “We had one big, clean groundswell at Mullaghmore, it kinda looked like the day. I’d paddled it a few times before then but it was nothing amazing. Tom (Lowe) came over and we gave it a good stab. Didn’t get loads of waves, but got one wave in particular that was kind of a stand-out for me. Paddled into a 10-12 foot plus wave, pulled into a big barrel at Mullaghmore and for me, it was a milestone, getting over that hump. Riding an 8 foot board suited for putting into barrels was a different realm. That was a big moment, for me anyway.” For the rest of the year, that’s all we’ve seen Fergal do. Later on in the year, in March, Fergal, Andrew Cotton, Richie Fitzgerald, Al Mennie and a determined crew of others chalked down some of the biggest waves ever ridden at Mullaghmore, receiving international coverage.

 Ireland’s northwest carries as much weight as some of the best known waves in the world. The fierceness of Sligo’s monster is comparable to one of the most photographed waves in the world: Teahupoo. I asked Fergal which was a bigger deal for him. “Mullaghmore’s more scary, coz you don’t know it. But if I got as many days to surf Mullaghmore as Tahiti, I reckon I’d get more comfortable on it. Mullaghmore’s a bigger deal for me, hands down, by a million times. It’s so rare. To get really good winds and big, thick period groundswell and low tides, it’s such a combination that if it happens once a year, that’d be great. But then Tahiti’s so gnarly, the wave is so heavy. The intensity of that wave surpasses any other wave for paddling”.

Fergal Smith, Teahupoo. Photo courtesy of Mickey Smith.

When Teahupoo went Code Red last winter during the Billabong Pro, the footage of some of the thickest waves ever surfed went viral. Nathan Fletcher and Bruce Irons got pulled into waves of nightmares, and acted as a reminder of Teahupoo’s status as a mecca of heavy wave surfing. Fergal’s approach is one of calm readiness, patiently waiting for the right wave. “It’s just these perfect, groomed lines coming from New Zealand. It’s really manageable. You can get your head around it…It almost looks like…I don’t know, not “ fun”. When you’re paddling out in the channel and you’re half a mile away, it just looks like a 6 foot perfect wave. Then you get close and you realise it’s more like a 12 foot perfect wave….it feels doable, well, that’s how my head works.” It’s in stark contrast to the turbulent, shifting North Atlantic waves at home.

The limits of Mullaghmore have yet to be tested. As a wave of consequence, its potential is yet to be seen, possibly due to a number of factors: the small contingent of Irish people that are capable of even towing into the wave and the lack of international enthusiasm for hitting to the colder climbs for swell that might not show. “You can only paddle waves in Tahiti up to 10, maybe 12 foot, max. If you’ve the right day, the right board, the right head on, you could paddle a 15+, 18-20 foot wave at Mullaghmore. There’s an entry, y’know, there’s a chance of doing it; the right board and you get a let in. It’s a bigger scale than Tahiti. Tahiti’s more of a slab. Mullaghmore’s kind of a big wave. The idea of paddling into a 15 foot wave at Mullaghmore, that’s the ultimate goal. There’s not many waves on the planet that you can do that.” It’s this work ethic and ambition that has earned Fergal the coverage that he’s now receiving.

One of the most recent videos that Fergal appeared in was ‘Roar Power’, shot on the west coast of Australia. Growing up on the west coast of Ireland, I asked Fergal what were the similarities between the two places. “It’s totally different in loads of ways but then again, it’s kinda out-back, it’s still a bit old-school.” The coastlines of Mayo, Clare and Donegal have that rural, forgotten feel to them. Speaking about Australia, he said: “It’s lovely, it’s real wild coastline and the locals are quite friendly…It gets stormy and windy and rainy, there’s nothin’ really goin’ on…it’s a lot like Ireland’s coastline a lot of the time; one day a year or a couple times a year, the wind’ll be right, and you’ll get the most messed up, crazy slabs in the world…you just have to take the rough with the smooth, be really appreciative of how lucky you are for those days and the rest of the time  just appreciate where you live.” It is a patience only shown by those with a passion most will never experience. The long periods of down time only further intensify the highs and justify the wait.

Roar Power from Darren McCagh on Vimeo.

What are Fergal Smith’s plans for the future? “I’ve got to a stage where I know what I really enjoy doing, and I know what challenges get me most excited so I’m just focusing on them. The days that are paddleable: I’m just keeping them in mind, and as soon as they’re there, that’s what I’m putting all my energy into. Getting lots of new boards, just getting set up for paddling really good waves and really working on that side of things.”

You’ll be able to check out all of Fergal’s surf adventures from the past year at the 2012 Westport Arts Festival, where he’ll be premiering his new video, shot by his brother Kevin Smith, with support from his sponsor Analog Clothing as well as Mickey Smith’s award winning ‘Dark Side of the Lens’ and Relentless Energy’s ‘Powers of Three’. The Smith brothers will also be exhibiting a visual art piece in the centre of town. It’s set to be one of the highlights of the festival, make sure not to miss it.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Photo Consciousness 2

I have seen the face of globalisation and it is called 'The Baconator'.

"You are one of several billion trillion, you will have no significant meaning on anyone's life and it is most likely you are already dead."

Angriest Bird

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Something Green

Interview with Eamonn O'Sullivan, team member of the Galway Botanic Garden Project

The source of life on earth is an unknown. Every living organism shows the traits of a desire to survive, to adapt and to reproduce. The evolution of each living thing traces a path backwards through the history of that organism and is the evidence on which the world’s understanding of the current human condition is based. Skríobh hopes to explore the depths of knowledge and understanding, and to do that we interviewed Eamonn O’Sullivan to learn more about his role in the establishment of a botanic garden in Galway.

The Galway Botanic Garden Project was established as an entrant to the NUIG Student Union Enterprise Competition, with the aim of providing a botanic garden near the centre of Galway that would provide people with an insight into Ireland’s unique flora.

“We’ve got a lot of rare plants, we’ve got a lot of unusual plant communities and there’s not really a lot of awareness about that.” Eamonn and the team have proposed Galway as the site for a new botanic garden, because of the special position between the botanically interesting areas of the Burren to the south and Connemara to the north west. The west of Ireland receives large amounts of rainfall every year and rarely experiences temperature extremes, which creates distinctive conditions that occur in a tiny amount of places around the world. Eamonn points to northern hepatic mats, which are communities of mosses that have adapted to live in these conditions. “Some of the species only occur in a few sites in Ireland, Scotland, the Himalayas and Western China.” The team hope to highlight what makes the west of Ireland special on a global scale.

When asked about funding for the project, Eamonn acknowledged that 2012 in Ireland probably isn’t the most fortuitous time to be seeking funding, but said “it’s a good time for us, we’re just out of college; we’re enthusiastic. Is it a good time economically? Probably not, but what can you do?”. While it would have been easier to source capital for the project before Ireland’s economic collapse, he gives a sense that there are more important values to the project than money.

Ireland's hyper-oceanic ("feckin' awful wet")  contributes to Ireland's unique environment

The team hope that the function of the garden would extend beyond just showcasing Ireland’s flora. Looking to the Eden Project in Cornwall, the team plan that the garden will provide opportunities for education and research as well. “It’s a big undertaking to plan; you really want to get it right. It’s a weight on your shoulders trying to bring something like this to fruition but we’re collecting excited, knowledgeable, enthusiastic people as we go along”.

Image courtesy of Galway Botanic Garden Project

Eamonn looks to bogs in the west of Ireland to emphasise the point of why a botanic garden is needed. Schoenus nigricans is a type of bog rush which ordinarily grows in mineral rich, alkaline soil but manages to grow in the mineral poor,  acidic soils of western Irish bog lands. It’s a feat which is still poorly understood and has long been a source of astonishment to continental botanists. 

When the conversation moved to the topic of climate change, Eamonn gave the example of some of his colleague’s work, Rory Hodd. Rory, who is also involved in the garden project, modelled effects of climate change on some of these plants peculiar to Ireland that could be at risk. “They’ve a very specific microclimate requirement, and the zone that they can grow in is shifting north. They’ve a very poor dispersal and limited distribution; they only grow in north facing corries. They can’t really jump from one mountain range to the next so populations just decline. It’s probably to do with climate change”. It’s a small symbol of change in the context of the summer that experienced the lowest ice-levels ever at the North Pole.

The Galway Botanic Garden Project could be the Irish contribution to education on the vast uncertainties of climate change. While the function of the garden would be to showcase and educate, the reach of the project would go beyond that. It would stand as a monument to wildlife, to the remote, to the special and the hidden beauty of Ireland.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Photo Consciousness 1

"Molest or honey trap", as if it's some sort of option.

The cycling form of insecurity

In Singapore, Tetris is played in real life, with giant, oversized pieces

This is in fact a painting of a new breed of tiger. It is called Sean Connery


Friday, 14 September 2012

Man of the People

Mick Wallace announced this week that he would be availing of the €41,000 provided to Teachta Dáilí who are leaders of political parties for undertaking research. He has stated that the money would be put towards research on "different issues that concern the people of Ireland". When Skríobh contacted the office of Mr. Wallace for further clarification on what subjects he was hoping to carry out research on, what the money was going to be spent on, or how he felt entitled to €41,000 a year on research when there were so many cut backs to 3rd level education, we were politely told that Deputy Wallace hasn't engaged with the media in three months. We emailed as well, but we've had no response.

We probably won't be getting the scoop on this one.

His Facebook page has provided the media with the best insight into Mr. Wallace's studious intentions:

"Why should I be the only TD in the Dail [sic] not to avail of the same money to use to [sic] build a stronger platform.[sic]"

Because you can't put a coherent sentence together, Mick. The use of question marks is not optional.

Also, the statement that he is receiving just half of his wage is misleading. He is receiving his full wage, but is using half of it to pay back a personal debt incurred by his company to the Revenue.

Mr. Wallace's argument that he is staying in the political world to fight for what he believes in (not yet known to anyone except for Mr. Wallace) has earned him praise from the socialist left in Ireland; that he is a 'man of the people'.

The standard for being a 'man of the people' has been raised since Mick Wallace became a TD. Skríobh has organised a small test to see if you too are a 'man of the people'.

1. Have you previously personally guaranteed a loan of nineteen million euro to your company?

2. Does one of your hobbies include importing Italian wines to your chain of delicatessens?

3. Have you failed to settle a tax bill of 1.4 million euro to the Tax Revenue?

If you answered 'Yes! That's me!" to all three questions, congratulations! You're a man of the people! Sleep easy in the knowledge that you're a well respected and admired person and that your peers want you to make important decisions on the social and political issues of our time.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The US Dirty Bombed Spain

The year is 1966 and the US are maintaining a constant fleet of B-52 bombers in the skies over Europe; ever ready to strike a nuclear blow to the USSR. It is part of a strategic defence policy which provides nuclear weapons to be in the air and ready to be deployed over continental Europe; an ever present safeguard, basking in the threat of mutually assured destruction. 

The flight paths brought US bombers across the Atlantic, around a lap of the Mediterranean and then back to airbases along the eastern seaboard. A transatlantic flight and loitering along the Iron Curtain required mid-air refuelling and on the 17th of January, 1966 an accident occurred. Unfortunately for the Spanish fishing village of Palomares, this accident occurred directly above them.

On board, were four thermonuclear hydrogen bombs. The B-52 collided with the tanker plane, causing the tanker plane to explode in mid-air killing the crew and the B-52 to disintegrate. The crew bailed out and the remains of the plane showered the village of Palomares with burning wreckage. Three of the four bombs on board fell on land, with one bomb diving into the sea.

Nuclear weapons are made up of two parts. One part is conventional explosive and the other is a nuclear fuel. The conventional explosive must be detonated in a precise manner in order to begin the chain reaction which results in a nuclear explosion. This can only be done by arming the weapons electronically and detonating them with their on-board circuitry. When the bombs landed on the ground, the conventional explosives in one of the bombs detonated. The resulting explosion scattered plutonium fuel into the atmosphere, dispersing radioactive dust over a 2 square-kilometre area.

This sort of weapon is now the biggest fear of United States' homeland security: the use of conventional explosive mixed with radioactive material in a US city. The immediate death toll would be low. The panic, fear and paranoia created would last lifetimes; a "dirty bomb".

One of the unexploded nuclear bombs

The US armed forces began a clean-up operation of the contaminated farmland. For three months, US soldiers and Spanish Civil Guardsmen gathered contaminated soil and collected it in barrels, to be shipped to the Savannah River processing plant in South Carolina. The US servicemen were given protective clothing and regularly screened for radioactivity.  Local townsmen and Spanish Civil Guardsmen who helped in the operation weren't afforded the same protection, going untested and untreated for radiation.

A cultural legacy left behind, a memento for a sunny fishing village previously innocent of the lasting misery of radioactive waste. Now, the village is only noted for its invisible scar and a field surrounded by fencing and radioactive trefoil signs. In a publicity stunt run after the incident, the US ambassador swam in the Mediterranean with the Spanish Minister for Tourism. "If this is radioactivity, I love it", he said, taking a waiting towel as he padded up the beach.

The remaining bombs were recovered and sent back to the United States, where they are on display in a museum in New Mexico, near where the first ever nuclear bombs were created. The US financed the monitoring of the health of Palomares citizens and found that cancer rates remained within ordinary levels. Now, the Spanish department of energy states that they have found new areas of polluted land, and are demanding that the US return to finish the clean-up job that they failed to do in the 1960's.

The town remains in a state of paralysis. Raising the issue in the media causes tourism to fall. The extent of the remedial work is out of their control. It is for the US to act, and to accept responsibility for the injury inflicted on a small seaside village.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Captain Asshole

Italian newspaper La Stampa, has released the tapes from Costa Concordia's Voyage Data Recorder. They revealed that the captain of the ship, Capt. Francesco Schettino, is actually a bigger idiot than previously imagined. 

Main cause of idiocy: mullet

After performing a salute to a retired colleague who lived on the island of Giglio, the ship collided with rocks and listed over which resulted in the death of thirty people. Having been seen drinking and dining with a young, blonde Russian lady earlier in the evening, the captain has also admitted to being distracted while on deck.

"Hey, you know what, let me drive! I've been drinking and I don't have any other way to impress this sexy, young, blonde girl"-What all good captains say, just before taking command of a giant ship

The tapes recorded that after the collision, the crew were told to inform the local coast guard that nothing of significance had occurred and that there had been a blackout onboard. Capt. Schettino was recorded as saying "at most, we're going to need a tug".

"Just the one tug, please!"

The transcripts also note that the captain made a personal call to his wife 17 minutes after the collision. "Fabi, my career as a captain is over. We hit a reef, the ship is listing but I performed a great maneuver (and) everything is under control," he told her. "Don't worry, let's forget all this sailing and we can start another job."