Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Should women cover their hair in public?

It is only relatively recently that Ireland has had a significant number of immigrants and so seeing a woman wearing a burqua  is still something strange. I was recently having a conversation on the topic and it is interesting that the male and female reaction seems quite different.

I don't have strong feelings on the topic. I think it is slightly ludicrous as a fashion statement, but if women want to dress this way I see no reason to stop them. The women in contrast felt strongly that the wearing of a burqua was a terrible thing and should be strongly discouraged. They also were quite convinced that no woman chooses to dress this way of their own free will and that the real people to "blame" were their husbands and/or fathers who make them dress in this way.

I don't really know any  burqua wearing females (the outfit tends to discourage casual social chat), but I don't think that they are forced to wear the burqua. Instead I think it is just a social taboo against uncovering their head in public in much the same way  that Irish society has a taboo on women uncovering their breasts in public. Irish fathers and/or mothers don't explicitly tell their daughters to cover up, but girls just pick up the taboo by observing older girls and women.

In France it is considered socially OK for women to sunbathe topless. In fact the practice is so common that visiting Irish women who leave on their bikini tops look out of place in much the same way that burqua wearers look out of place in Ireland.

We would rightly be outraged if laws were enacted to force Irish women to remove their bikini tops if they didn't feel comfortable doing that. In the same way it is natural that Muslims would be outraged if we tried to restrict their freedom to wear the burqua in public if they want.

Some people say that burqua wearing women are a scary sight. Ironically Catholic nuns used to dress in very similar outfits when I was a child. Mind you they were very terrifying for a young child to encounter - but that is another days discussion.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Spotify's new running mode

Recently, Spotify notified me of their new running mode whereby their mobile phone detects the pace at which you are running and then selects songs with a tempo to match this. I decided to try it out yesterday morning as I went for a run. In general I was very impressed.

When you select running mode, you need to tell the app the initial pace to start the selection process from (probably because I was standing still rather than running when I launched the app). I started at 160 bpm as they recommend and then they asked me to select a playlist of songs from which they would choose music for me. I chose the epic playlist and it seemed to pick suitable songs whose beat encouraged me to stay going at the same pace (i.e. they weren't racing along like a Darude song which would encourage me to sprint and at the same time they didn't pick relaxing Whale sounds which would have slowed me to a walk).

Overall, I think that I like this feature and will use it again. In fact I ran 10km with this run rather than my more normal 5km route so this is proof of its effectiveness. One complaint I would have is the fact that it kept repeating the same song - maybe I was stuck at the same pace but still it could get boring on a long run.

One interesting thing I noticed is that Strava interacts with Spotify by turning down the music when it has statistics to report, so it is easier to hear. In contrast, BeyondPod pauses the podcast playback completely until Strava has finished reading out stats.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is Hungary trying to re-establish the Iron Curtain

It is with a mixture of amazement and disappointment that I read recent reports that the Hungarian government is building a fence along its borders. In historical terms,  is relatively recently that the Hungarian people were rightly outraged about the existence of the Iron Curtain which restricted their rights to freely travel within Europe. Does nobody in power over there not see the irony that they are putting in place a shiny new version of the same thing that they fought so hard to pull down.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Migration between countries and within countries

There is currently a major migration crisis in Europe, because there are so many people from Africa and the Middle East who want to come into the EU. The USA have a similar problem with large numbers of people from Mexico trying to cross the border into USA. The consensus is that the problem will be solved by tightening up the border controls. However, I think that the problems might eventually be solved better by allowing free migration to all.

I know this might seem counter intuitive but I think that this lesson comes from a smaller scale migration crisis which we have within Ireland. Basically too many people want to move from relatively poorer areas in the west of Ireland to the greater Dublin area in the East where jobs prospects are better. Everyone agrees that the scale of the migration is unsustainable and it has led to unsustainable growth in rent pries which makes it difficult for people on a normal wage to afford to live.

The big difference with this local migration crisis and the larger one is that there is no international border involved. Hence, nobody is proposing to introduce border controls at the M50 junctions. Instead politicians seek out much more positive steps to solve the crisis e.g. giving companies special grants and/or tax breaks to relocate to an economically disadvantaged part of the country.

It is no longer considered OK to discriminate against people based upon their race or gender, but for some strange reason, it is generally accepted that it is still OK to discriminate against people based upon where  they happened to be born. I know that I am very lucky because I was born in USA to parents who were in turn born in Ireland. This means that I am free to live almost anywhere I like in Europe or North America. But, wht are people who happened to be born in Mexico or Syria denied that right?

Perhaps the same solution could work on a global scale or maybe I am just dreaming?

Friday, August 28, 2015

What kind of person does Watson think I am?

I just heard about a new demo site for showing the capabilities of IBM Watson running on BlueMix. The demo at https://watson-pi-demo.mybluemix.net/ claims to be able to tell your personality from a sample of what you have written. I was initially very skeptical about the chance of this working well, but I decided to give it a try anyway, using some text from this blog.

What it said was:
You are skeptical and shrewd.
You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. And you are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys.
You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of prestige.
You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person. You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.
Amazingly this is a very good summary of how I see myself (which of course could be very different from how other people see me). I was especially impressed with the part where they say that I have very little time for art. This is actually true, but there was no mention of anything to do with art or what I thought about it in the sample text I gave it.

Why not try it to see what your personality is really like. It only takes a few seconds. If you really want to know what is happening under the covers you can read this article which describes the internals, but it is quite complicated.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Monopoly Challenge (Dublin Edition)

A colleague of mine who lives near London, recently posted to Facebook that he was planning to complete the Monopoly Challenge. This is an informal game whereby people try to see how many of the streets mentioned on the Monopoly board they can visit on a single day (proving it by a picture of them standing beside the street sign). This sounds like a really fun activity and so I have decided to see if I could do the same with the Dublin edition of Monopoly.

Initially I thought it would be easy, because as far as I remembered most of the streets were quite close to Dublin city centre. However, when I dug out my old Monopoly board I was reminded that three of the streets included are actually in Cork (over 250km away). Luckily a quick search online told me that in more recent versions of the board the Cork streets have been replaced by Dublin ones. I decided to be kind to myself and use this newer Dublin only version.

There is now an even newer electronic version of the game where players pay for their properties and rents with a swipe card rather than using the quaint old bank notes. Apparently the street list was updated again for this version, but I decided not to use this version since it is too far away from the Monopoly game I remember fondly.

Looking at various stuff written online about the challenge, it seems that the rules are not well defined. So I decided I would make up my own set of rules - I know this sounds like cheating but at least I am defining the rules before I start rather than changing them as I go along.
  • Time limit - people seem to set the time limit anywhere between an hour and 24 hours. I decided to pick 3 hours as a limit that will allow me a chance to get a good proportion of the streets and at the same time stops me getting bored.
  • Transport methods - some people specify that the challenge has to be done by foot, while others say that anything goes. I personally intend doing it on a bike which is probably the fastest way to do it in crowded city centre traffic.
  • Order - some people say that you can do the streets in any order while others insist that the streets need to be visited in the order they appear on the board. I decided it would be fun to use the stricter version of the rule.
  • Non-street spaces are a little bit tricky to locate, but with some imagination a suitable proxy location can be found:
    • Crumlin and Kimmage are not streets as such, but I intend using Crumlin Rd and Kimmage Rd as proxies for the relevant area.
    • Transport hubs can be dealt with by taking a picture with the name of the relevant hub. I might get to BusAras and maybe Heuston station, but there isn't any realistic chance that I will be visiting Dublin Airport never mind Shannon Airport.
    • Community Chest - this is normally defined as any charity shop.
    • Income Tax - a picture outside the local PAYE office should meet this one.
    • Chance - I will treat these spaces as wild cards with any street counting as a match
    • In Jail - people in London use the Tower of London for this space, but I will use Mountjoy Prison instead.
    • Electric Company - there are electrical distribution cabinets scattered through the city. However. I am sure I will find it hard to locate one when its turn comes.
    • Free Parking - in principle this is easy, find any place where you can legally park for free. However, I don't think it will be easy to find one near the city centre - especially if you are strict and say that the parking space in question has to be currently unoccupied.
    • Water works - supposedly Irish Water have been busy recently installing water meters all over the country. Lets see if I can find one to take a picture of. 
    • Super Tax - apparently the revenue commissioners have a special unit based in Dublin Castle who look after the tax affairs of high net worth individuals. I think this would be ideal for the Super Tax space, but I am not sure if the unit has a sign outside.
  • Use of technology - most people don't mention any restrictions here, but since part of the challenge is to see how well I know the city, I will ban the use of google maps or any other navigation aid on my phone. When/if I get lost it might be fun to try out that old fashioned method of navigation by asking random strangers for directions.
    Of course this doesn't mean I can't use Google maps to help plan the journey in advance. In fact I produced a handy personalised google map with all of the locations.
  • Scoring - some people use complex algorithms involving the price of the streets on the board, but I think I will use a simpler scheme where one point is awarded for each street/space and a bonus point is awarded for getting all streets of a particular colour.
My daughter has agreed to help me with the challenge and we will do it on Saturday if the weather permits. Watch this space for a report on how we get on.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Triathlon time is getting better as I am getting older

I did my first Triathlon in roughly 1 hour and 35 minutes in my 50th year. This year I returned to Loughrea to complete it 3.5 minutes faster in 1 hour 31.5 minutes. The main improvement was in my swim time which improved from over 20 minutes to under 17 minutes. This surprised me since I had only swam twice in the last year (both in the week leading up to the Triathlon). Maybe I am just getting better with age :-)

What was truly inspirational about the Triathlon was watching the athletes with various disabilities taking part in the national para-triathlon championship which was hosted in Loughrea this year.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My new post code

Until recently Ireland was one of the few countries not to have post codes. The only exception to this is Dublin which was divided up into 23 postal districts and my postcode used to be D15 (which I shared with about 50,000 people). Recently the government has launched a system called eircode which provides each address in Ireland with a unique post code. I thought this was good news until I found out the detail of how the new codes work.

My new Eircode is D15NY1* (I obscured the final character to avoid publishing my address). The D15 portion is the same as before and shows roughly where I live, but the NY1* portion is simply a random sequence of characters with no meaning. For example my next door neighbours' post codes are D15KD9* and D15WN8* so they share nothing in common apart from the D15.

For some bizarre reason the postal service think it would be a privacy issue if your  post code were to reveal where you live (is this not the whole point of a post code?). A more likely explanation for the choice of random characters is the fact that the promoters of this system are selling a database which maps between post codes and geographic coordinates. I guess commercial users might want to buy the database, for casual use there is a web site to do lookups.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Whether to use MapMyRide or Strava

One of the ways to make exercise more fun is to share records of your activity with your friends so that they can like and/or comment on it. I used to record my activity regularly with MyTracks, but as my phone got older and less powerful I got out of the habit.

Recently I got a new more powerful phone and decided to start recording again. It seems that the most popular apps currently used by cyclists are MapMyRide and Strava, but I heard conflicting reports about which was best. I decided to use each of them for a month and then use my experiences to decide which is best.

Just as I was ready to write up my review, I found an existing review which summarised almost exactly what I found myself. The only additional points I would make were:

  • Strava now has support for saving routes which was one of the main features missing when the previous reviews was written.
  • MapMyRide now has support for segments which was previously a big advantage for Strava
  • There is a better social vibe on MapMyRide since it seems to have a wider range of people I know using it. Strava in contrast seems to be only used by more serious athletes whose main form of socialisation is to race each other up hills.
Overall the two applications are very close, but I decided to stick with Strava as my main app. The main deciding factor for me was the amount of annoying advertisements which appear in the MapMyRide app - they can seriously interfere with the usability.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Copying text to and from remote servers

When working with a remote server it is very useful to be able to copy text from the local machine to the remote server or visa-versa. Normally this can be done via the clipboard commands of ctrl-C/ctrl-V. However, this feature sometimes stops working for no clear reason which is very frustrating.

Luckily I have found out that there is a relatively easy way to fix this. There is a program which runs on the remote server that looks after synchronising the contents of the clipboard on the local and remote computers.  The problem is that it sometimes stops working and needs to be restarted.

The VNC protocol is normally used to connect to Linux type systems and in this case the program in question is called vncconfig. It can be restarted by launching a terminal window on the remote system and typing the command:

   killall vncconfig ; vncconfig -nowin &

The RDP protocol is normally used to connect to Windows type servers. In this case the program which does the synchronisation is called rdpclip.exe and the procedure to restart it is only slightly more complex.

Open a command window on the remote system and type taskmgr.exe - the following dialog should appear and you need to click on the processes tab and locate a process with an image named rdpclip.exe. If you have problems spotting it, click on the "Image Name" column header to sort processes by image name. Once you find the process right-click on it and select "end process". This will ask you for confirmation. Once you confirm you can go back to your command prompt and type rdpclip.exe then cut and paste should be working again.