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Wednesday
Jan042012

Good riddance to the upgrade bug

It took some time, but I finally went cold turkey. In the best traditions of cold turkey I wasn't even particularly aware of the monkey I removed from my back. For the longest time my fix was the next computer hardware upgrade that would turn my computer into the powerhouse I needed. Of course I never really needed that last ounce of power but upgrading was a habit, and I was in it's grip.

In early 2005 that habit started to change. There had been several occasions when I'd looked into replacing my Windows PC with one of Apple's offering. There were numerous reasons why I had resisted in the past, mainly related to my investment in PCs - managing PC and their associated infrastructure was how I had earned my salary in the past - but after purchasing my first iPod in 2002 I started to the look at Apple more seriously, It still took me another three years to build up to actually buying my first Mac, but in 2005 while on Holiday in the US I purchased a 12" PowerBook G4. At this time Apple were still using the Power PC architecture which made running Windows on Apple hardware a painful thing to do, so I still had my trusty Windows desktop as a fall-back, but over time I realised that on more and more occasions I was choosing to use my PowerBook rather than my Windows PC. 

This is were it started, my 2005 Apple 12" PowerBook G4

In early 2006 I was starting to suffer 'PC upgrade' withdrawal symptoms. In previous years this would have resulted in me looking at the available options for new processors, motherboards, graphics cards and memory. But this time was different, In the summer of 2005 Apple had announced, to much surprise, that they were transitioning away from the Power PC architecture to Intel's x86 architecture. In essence, Apple's OS X and Microsoft's Windows operating systems could now run natively on the same hardware. I could now buy a Mac and if it turned out that I still couldn't make the transition to OS X I could run Windows on the Mac hardware. So in June 2006 I unplugged my Windows PC and replaced it with a Mac Mini, still unsure if the great Apple experiment would work I bought the cheapest desktop Mac available. I never plugged the PC back in, and I never did install Windows on my Mac, in Apple parlance, I had become a switcher.

The basic Mac Mini remained on my desk until May 2008 when I replaced it with a top of the line 24" iMac. It was only as I packed the Mac Mini away that I realised that it was exactly the same machine I had purchased two years earlier, nothing had been upgraded or replaced, I had never gone two years without upgrading something. In previous years I had watched as the latest and greatest processor or graphics card approached the price were I could justify the upgrade, but this little Apple PC was retired in the same state it had arrived. The same is true of that 24" iMac that followed it. It remained on my desk for over three years without seeing the sharp end of screw driver. When it was replaced in July 2011 I hadn't upgraded my home desktop in over five years, and I strongly suspect that the 27" iMac that now sits in it's place will finish it's service in the same condition. I no longer had a detailed knowledge of which processor was the best, and I no longer had a box full of useless computer parts whose original purchase price prevented me from simply disposing of them. Those Apple Macs may have cost more to buy, but they had been cheaper to run. 

And then this Christmas the unexpected happened, for the first time in over five years I found myself upgrading a desktop computer. Upgrading is probably the wrong word as my brother in law's iMac had developed a terminal problem with it's hard drive, but rather than dispose of it I offered to replace the offending drive, and for a lot less than the EUR400 the local Apple retailer wanted. Even though I've never needed to open up an iMac I knew it wasn't going to be the easiest job I'd even undertaken. I'd replaced hard drives in PC that don't require any tools and could be completed in minutes, but the tools and effort required to get to the hard drive in the iMac surprised me. It wasn't especially difficult, it just involved lots of steps, detailed knowledge of what you are trying to do (thank you iFixit.com) and keeping track of the parts removed, and it was my first upgrade which required the use of heavy duty suction cups!

Apple's iMac, pretty on the outside, nightmare on the inside

My desire to upgrade has undoubtedly dulled over the years simply because I have less interest in it, and I'm getting older. I may have installed a new Hard Drive in my MacBook Pro when I needed extra storage but it's clear that the upgrade Monkey had left for pastures new. I have no doubt that the experience of owning and working on Apple products has removed my need to get the toolbox out and take my computer apart, and I don't miss it.

Sunday
Jul032011

6:30 am, Sunday morning, Dublin.

The ferry arrived at Dublin's North Wall port as close to on time as makes no real difference. While I had managed to sleep on the ferry it was sleep of no real quality and certainly not enough to make me feel rested. As we approached port and with camera in hand I wandered onto the deck of the the MS Stena Adventurer in an attempt to wake up.

The Sun rises over the Bailey Lighthouse in HowthThe Poolberg Lighthouse with Poolbeg Power Station's chimneys in the backgroundThe River Lifey leading into the centre of DublinLansdowne Road, the home of Dublin's Aviva Stadium

I had planned to drive straight to my apartment and sleep, but as I drove down North Wall Quay into the centre of Dublin the sun lit up Liberty Hall and the Customs house. This was the first Sunday I had ever driven my own car on the Quays of the River Liffey, and with the sun shining like it had not done in several weeks this was not an opportunity to be passed up. I parked my car, grabbed a camera and enjoyed the stunning July morning.

Looking down North Wall Quay to Liberty Hall and the Customs HouseThe Samuel Beckett Bridge photographed from North Wall QuaySamuel Beckett Bridge photographed from Sir John Rogerson's QuayDetail of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

Monday
Jun272011

Just your average Monday evening

Leave the office. Get on the Dart. Get home. Cook food. Quick pint in a local. Meet the New Lord Mayor of Dublin and have a personal tour of the Mansion House.

One of the above is not normal for a Monday evening. Can  you guess which?

Lord Mayor of Dublin Andrew Montague and me.

Sunday
Jun192011

tUnE-yArDs at Whelans

It is a rare occasion that I get to a gig. But on Friday night the forces clearly aligned because while sat in Wagamama's in Dublin my brother in law Barry mentioned he had a spare ticket to a gig. I'd never heard of Merrill Garbus's music project 'tUnE-yArDs' before but Barry assured me that she was well worth seeing. The date for the gig had been set before her latest album had taken off (at least in terms of indie album sales) so the gig was a sell out. He couldn't describe the music by using bands we'd both heard but a quick listen to a tUnE-yArDs Youtube video on his phone convinced me that the gig was better than sitting at home and watching a film. Probably.


Merrill Garbus (Photo by Vince Kmeron)
What followed was possibly the best 90 minutes of live music I've seen. Despite loving every moment of the set I'm still struggling to describe the music. Having spent the £8 on her latest album 'Whokill' once I got home, I can't disagree with it's genre being labelled as alternative, or even iTunes suggestion that based on this purchase I might like Joanna Newsom. Garbus has been likened to Bjork and some tracks remind me of Feist. Hell, you could even liken her to Reggie Watts for her use of live drum loops on stage. While her use of the Ukulele may have been considered more unusual before Jools Holland met the Ukulele orchestra of Great Britain, there is no doubt that she posesses an incredible voice. But difficulties trying to describe her style can't take away from the fact that 5 minutes in I turned to Barry and asked him why we weren't doing this every Friday night.

Whelens on Wexford street is a small venue so I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I discovered I was stood next to Merrill at the bar as she ordered a post-gig pint. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that my new found fandom took over and I asked her to sign one of the posters for the gig that we had liberated about 5 minutes earlier, she was even kind enough to do the same for Barry, and almost lost her pint in the process. Barry held her pint as she signed the poster, and almost left with both pint and poster.

Barry holds Merril Garbus' pint while she signs an autograph

and almost leaves with it.
Merril Garbus's music was a most unexpected discovery that leaves me wondering what other gems I've been missing, and how I can find other talented non-mainstream musicians. The hangover was worth it!

Thursday
Jun162011

Bloomsday

While many will argue that James Joyce's Ulysses is one of the greatest masterpieces of modernist literature, few would argue against the view that the Novel is almost completely unreadable. Joyce's masterpiece can be viewed almost as a literary experiment and it is therefore little wonder that discussion of the book tends to be limited to the realm of Academia.

But for one day a year Leopold and Molly Bloom, Stephen Daedalus and the other characters from the Novel can be found walking the streets of Dublin. While it may not be celebrated widely outside the Irish Capital, the 16th of June is Bloomsday, the day Leopold Bloom took his now famous journey through turn of the 20th century Dublin.


The Irish Times' John Waters introduces 'Ulysses O’Rocks'For Bloomsday this year I found myself standing by the Blackrock Cross in Blackrock's Main Street. As part of the day's celebrations there was a live performance of 'Ulysses O’Rocks' – a play based on the Novel. What made the evening for me was not just the actual production but the introduction which was given by the Irish Times' columnist John Waters. While he accepted that the Novel is effectively an academic work he recalled his enjoyment of listening to the unabridged production that RTE Radio broadcast for 1982's Bloomsday. He argued that this was a book that belonged to and should be enjoyed by everyone. But as many readers have discovered, Ulysses can be hard work. Many have started, few have finished.

While St. Patricks Day has become famous for Parades and Pints of Stout I find it refreshing that Bloomsday celebrates the achievements of a real Irishman and has inspired people to take to the streets of Dublin and perform live theater. Ulysses may remain a fixture on many people's bucket lists but for an hour this evening Dubliners gathered on Blackrock's Main Street to watch a retelling of Leopold Bloom's fictional Journey through Dublin 107 years ago.

Dubliners watching Live Theater in Blackrock to celebrate Bloomsday

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