I’ve been watching, on Youtube, episodes of an old 1970s US sitcom called “Barney Miller”. You might vaguely recall it being repeated on RTE in the 1980s, or at least its theme tune, which was quite well known. Set in a detective unit in Greenwich Village, NYC, it’s a quirky character driven comedy made all the more interesting by the times it was made in. The cops in the unit (it rarely ever leaves their squad-room, and so feels like a play) pretty much accept that the city is ungovernable, but also display an extraordinary reluctance to actually jail criminals. It’s very indicative of an attitude prevalent in the US in the seventies where criminals were seen, in many instances, as victims of society. It’s a charming show. Give it a look.
On another topic, check out COGS:THE BRAIN SHOP in ST. Stephen’s Green Centre. A new business flogging some pretty cool games for kids and adults, including my favourite, Quoridor. Just the sort of shop I’ll be getting Christmas presents in. You’ve been warned.
Just a quick note to thank all those who nominated and voted for me in the 2013 Irish Blog Awards, where I won in the “Best political blog” category. Genuinely flattered to win. Thrilled that someone is actually reading. Thanks.
I look forward to receiving my €50,000 in stolen Nazi gold prize.
Every year I rewrite this piece to review my experience of blogging:
I’ve been writing this blog since December 2008, and I thought that I’d scribble a bit on blogging itself and my experience of it.
Firstly, from a personal point of view, along with writing fiction (sometimes the two blend) it is a very satisfying outlet. I see things online or on TV and want to scream at the screen, and with a blog I can get it out. Does anyone actually read it? Certainly the number of visits I get every month has risen pretty much every month since I started.
Does it make a difference? Probably not, although I have been told of one former politician who seems to partially blame me for their fall from grace. As an ex-girlfriend of mine pointed out wisely to me, if I wasn’t blogging she would have had to listen to my rants. A fair point.
Having said that, I am constantly surprised at the people I meet who read the blog. I did get a column with Dow Jones Marketwatch.com out of it, occasional invites on to radio shows and TV, the odd newspaper or magazine interview, and even get the odd stranger introducing themselves to me in the street. Also invitations to speak at things. It’s one of the curiosities of the modern media: there is a demand for people who actually think about stuff.
But what’s more amusing amusing, of course, are the people, from a political background, who actually state to me that what they tell me is “off the record”, which I find incredibly flattering.
What have I learned in these five years? What advice can I impart to a new blogger?
1. Be consistent. Either commit to regular posts or don’t bother. I have actually reduced the number of posts to maybe one every two days or so, unless something interesting pops up that warrants an instant comment. I did this because a number of regular readers pointed out that I was posting stuff faster than they could read it, that is, they only pop onto the blog every few days and were finding reams of material. But unless I have written a very long piece, I try to give readers omething new every 48 hours at least.
2. Not every post has to be a tome or a well thought out treatise on a subject of great gravity. Funny things happen to people all the time. Write about them. Don’t forget that book or new TV show you’re reading or watching.
3. You will be surprised how some posts, which you put a lot of work into, fail to take off, yet other casual posts catch people’s attention and end up being tweeted all over the place.
4. Controversial one this: don’t be afraid to recycle posts. Depends on the subject, of course, in that there’s no point running a “But where is Osama now?” post. I write a series on Irish politics, “The Occasional Guide to Irish Politics”, and I find that many of the topics remain live and unchanged years later, hardly a surprise in Irish politics, I know, but still. Recycle, but tell people you do it. I have never had a complaint. Don’t forget that not everyone pays as much attention to your blog as you do.
5. Twitter. I’m not hugely active on Twitter, as I haven’t really the time given the nature of my job. But as a means of drawing people to new posts I find it works well. But be very choosy as to what posts you highlight, as there is only so much naked self promtion people will tolerate. I tend to go for the more thoughtful ones, and get a good response.
6. Ireland needs more partisan bloggers. I don’t mean party drones pushing out the usual “My party or die” garbage, but thoughtful stuff from a party base. For example, my readership spikes every time I write a piece about the future of Fianna Fail. Not an attack on FF, but a piece on “should FF do this or that?”. I get contacted privately (a lot) by FFers on the posts, some complimentary, some critical, but it’s all robust and sincere debate. Only once has an FFer got cranky with me, outraged that I, an Irish voter, had the cheek to write about his party and that I should “mind my own business”. I asked a couple of FFers about him, and one summed him up as “Yeah, we tend to put him in a corner with a packet of crisps and a Club Orange, and try to avoid startling him with loud noises.”
7. There are some nasty types out there, but not as many as you think. The web has given every anonymous mouth-breather an opportunity to get out into the world in an attempt to wreak revenge on their frustrations, and I have attracted a few. Some would say I’m one myself. I’ve been accused of being paid money by large and secret corporations (which I would take if offered, by the way), snorting cocaine, hiding my former Progressive Democrat affiliation (seriously?) and, most bizarrely, and one poor soul regarded this as a cutting insult, liking Bearnaise sauce. Just be aware that the poor bastards are out there watching until their mother calls them down for their tea. Do not engage with the crazies, though. You make their day, and they always have more time than you, because this is all they have. Don’t forget, they regard their anonymous vomits on politics.ie as a “body of work”.
8. Recognise that not all of your audience are from your own country. About 40% of my readers are from outside Ireland (US, UK and, cough, a certain city in Belgium) so occasionally write a piece aimed at them. And don’t be afraid to invite guest bloggers. Just make sure they don’t libel anyone.
Finally, be nice to the people who take the trouble to engage with you. I try to reply to all the emails I get from people, and NEVER EVER quote non-public people without their permission. I get a lot of emails from political people telling me stuff going on in their respective parties. Some of it will be of the hatchet variety, which I don’t use, but other stuff can be very telling. Take Ogra Fianna Fail’s transformation into THE place for young gay political activists to go, for example. I was tipped off to this not by openly gay young FFers but still-in-the-closet young politicos who were surprised at how open Ogra had become.
Is blogging worth it? If, like me, you carry a notebook around with you and always have a few draft blogs knocking around in your head, yes it is. It’s the cheapest form of therapy you’ll ever find.
1. If you have a hole in your sock, throw out the pair. It’ll cause you less frustration in the future. No two black socks are the same black. NASA said so. Probably.
2. It is almost impossible to fall in love with someone who does not make you laugh. If you do, it is highly improbable that it will last.
3. It is, however, possible to fall in love with someone because of their vocabulary.
4. You start to appreciate really simple things, like a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut and a good book.
5. Incredibly, time does actually speed up as you get older, and time management becomes very important. Use your alarm to prevent the day running away from you.
6. Set a single personal objective every day. It could be 30 minutes of a workout or 500 words of a novel. You will feel better once its done.
7. Don’t watch TV in bed. Read.
8. Don’t do “a big shop” for food, as it will spoil faster than you can eat it. Buy as you need it.
9. Set aside time for vegging, which is a pleasure in itself, like, say, watching “NCIS”, and do something productive until that time.
10. Simple foods can be reinvented. Lea and Perrins sauce in baked beans, anyone?
11. Salads can be both filling and tasty, with a bit of imagination.
12. Reducing the number of takeaways you eat actually makes them nicer.
13. Better to have just one proper fry a month, than four “healthy” ones.
14. Going to the cinema in the afternoon is much more enjoyable.
15. You dread people who don’t know you buying you presents, and filling your home with crap you don’t want.
16. You realise that money is a perfectly good wedding present, and the groom/bride will be perfectly happy even if they won’t admit it in public.
17. You stop being intimidated by policemen.
18. There actually are situations in your life where the phrase “if you love someone, set them free” applies.
19. Married people with children are not happier than you, just a different kind of happy.
20. Audiobooks are cool.
21. Much to the horror of your younger self, it is possible to like both old and new movies, music and TV shows.
22. You become more shocked at the deaths of celebrities as they get closer to your age group.
23. Older women are not actually in competition with younger women. They have a completely different type of sex appeal. I refer you to Birgitte Nyborg in “Borgen”.
24. You suddenly realise that you are actually in the middle of your life, and if there’s something you really want to do, you’d better get a move on. You are no longer waiting for life to start. It’s started.
25. Many of the people you watched on the TV as a kid, and were major stars to you, are not only dead, but forgotten.
Just finished Alfred Coppel’s “The Hastings Conspiracy”, about a Soviet plan to trick a left wing British Government into thinking the US planned to invade Britain. 1970s hokum, but enjoyable enough. I’m now in that wonderful position of perusing that mocking edifice that is my “To Be Read” pile for my next book. It’s looking like Tim Weiner’s “Enemies: A history of the FBI”.
I’m also currently interchanging between seasons 3 of “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” on Netflix. Have to say, I’m enjoying Dexter more, as it is (ironically) a bit lighter, and just a tad more fun. Breaking Bad, I’ve found, has been a bit of a slog. I enjoy it, true, and can see what all the hoohah is about, but the reality is that I limit my TV viewing everyday, and prefer to allocate it to Dexter.
Just finished a first draft (20,000 words) of a new short story, Dr Iceweather, about a capitalist terrorist. Not sure if it’s any good yet, but starting the polishing process. The plan is to bundle it with two new short stories I’ve plotted but not written yet as a collection for Amazon. One of them has the working title of “Adolf Hitler Street, Tel Aviv.”
And then there’s the Seanad referendum. Have been asked to speak in a debate (possibly 2) in late Sept (details to follow) and I’m working on my online contribution to the Yes side. My gut instinct tells me that turnout will be low, that pro-Seanad middle class voters are more likely to vote, and that the No side is ahead, despite what the polls say. But that just makes it all the more exciting.
She's beautiful. Her life has to be perfect, right?
To look at her, you’d think she has it all. She is very beautiful, and there is not a single day that goes by that her image doesn’t appear in VIP or The Star or in an ad campaign. So why is she sitting at home alone on a Friday night with an M&S meal for one and a Downton Abbey marathon on the SkyPlus? She has no shortage of friends, and certainly no shortage of male admirers, indeed all she has to do is walk into any pub or nightclub in Ireland and they’re flocking. But that’s it. They do come flocking, and she can see it in their eyes. The look that recognises her as that girl from that poster/magazine/thing on TV3 and how I’d love to bang her and tell my mates about it. They see a commodity, a mobile bragging right, and she sees they see it too. Last time she gave into a moment of weakness, and woke up in bed with a guy who was pretty fit and seemed pretty grounded, until he tried to take a picture of her whilst she slept. What was even more disturbing was that he couldn’t even see what the problem was, and turned nasty. She’s had boyfriends as famous as her too, and with that came her lovelife as public property and discovering their casual attitude to infidelity on the front of a tabloid as she went shopping with her mother. Her older sister, who didn’t quite inherit the same beautiful gene, loves when she visits, and wants to talk about her glamorous life whilst she, the sister, only has this, pointing at her two kids thrashing the house in front of the telly whilst her boring but loving husband snores loudly in front of the fire after his steak and kidney pie. Her younger niece, approaching ten, is fascinated by her cool auntie and her beautiful photos in ALL the magazines which she cuts out and keeps in a scrapbook. The niece wants to be just like her when she grows up, which is funny, because she increasingly envies her sister and family and yes, even her boring but loving husband.
In late October 1979, an ambulance was called to the Kensington home of General Sir Richard Terry, then deputy Chief of Staff of the British Army. General Terry was pronounced dead on the scene from cyanide poisoning, with a short note in his own hand, which was verified by his wife, Lady Susan.
Because of his military rank, and the presence of poison, chief inspector Charles Hayes of the Metropolitan Police was assigned to the case to ensure it was “properly” (read discreetly) handled.
An inspection by Hays of General Terry’s medical history revealed that he had in fact recently been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour which was deemed inoperable, and his life expectancy was measured in a few short and painful months. Further inspection of the records by other specialists at Hays request confirmed this diagnosis.
Hays concluded that there were sufficient grounds for concluding that the general had indeed taken his own life.
Was in the Clondalkin Motor Tax Office renewing my driving licence today. Straightforward enough process, save for three guys trying to apply for some form of licence. One stood at the window with the official, whilst another filled in documents at the far side of the room, and a third took photos in a passport photo kiosk, and all three shouted at each other for holding the others up. In particular, I liked the one who lost his temper with passport photo guy not for not having his photos ready, but for somehow slowing up the photographic process.
Just finished one of my guilty pleasures, a 1968 thriller called “The President’s Plane is Missing!”, written by the late respected aviation journalist Robert J. Serling (brother of Rod “The Twilight Zone” Serling). A good old fashioned yarn about Air Force One going missing. Incidentally, he followed it up with an intriguingly titled sequel, “Air Force One is Haunted!”
Am reading (and enjoying) Johnny Ryan’s “A History of the Internet and the Digital Future.” Fascinating how human history is shaped by ordinary people just trading ideas.
When I first read about Google’s new product, Google Glass, the Human Resources manager in me thought “Holy crap!”
See, I didn’t see a pair of glasses with access to the web or the ability to take pictures or video. I saw a total surveillance system recording daily interactions in the workplace. Just think for a moment about the effect such a system would have in sexual harassment cases, or teacher discipline, or allegations of police brutality.
Picture the husband about to beat his wife as she looks at him through her glasses. Even a barked threat to her to take them off becomes a recorded piece of evidence of the truth in a situation, especially if the glasses are uploading the images and therefore destroying the glasses does not eliminate the recording.
Ah, says you, but people are smarter than that. People won’t say or do things if they are being recorded. But that’s the point. Not if they are being recorded, but if they think they are being recorded. What will be the effect of potentially living in a Total Surveillance Society?
Consider the scenario five years from now, when the technology is widespread, and Google and their competitors have partnered with fashionable glass manufacturers and shrunk the technology even further, when you no longer know whether the person you are talking to is actually wearing Google Glass. Yes, companies will have protocols about people having their glasses “on” but the reality will be that someone summoned to meet the head of HR or their boss will want to record it.
Indeed, given that people have a right to a witness for meeting like this, I would have thought a judge would endorse the right to have your glasses operational at meetings of that nature. Now, it’s true, people could be recording these meeting on their smart phones now, but even that’s not the same. Knowing that what you are saying to a criminal suspect or a student or an employee could be uploaded as a piece of footage within minutes of you saying it will radically change behaviour, or destroy those who don’t change theirs.
In short, this has the potential to be a massive social game-changer.