Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some general Facebook begrudgery

I begrudge Facebook for all the usual reasons that people waaah about it - "privacy waaah", "annoying apps waaah", but I have a few pet peeves that I've heard few others voicing, so I'm going to get them off my chest.

Irrelevant ads

Without having to consult any of the information I've given it, Facebook has a rough idea of where I am in the world, and what browser I'm using.

I use Google Chrome almost exclusively, and yet, for about a month, I got ads imploring me to try Google Chrome - while I was using that very browser! What a waste of a perfectly good slot that could have gone towards selling me irrelevant training-courses I have zero interest in.

That's not too bad, but I've also been enticed to try out the HTC Desire, which is exclusive to US Cellular in the US, seemingly - problems with this are that I don't live in the US (even if I do spend a lot of time there), and I already have the HTC Desire! I've posted on Facebook from my HTC Desire. Facebook knows this already. But it doesn't give a toss, it'll count my impressions anyhow when advertisers are checking their stats.

It bugs the hell out of me - it's like a waiter hovering over you insisting you try the fish when you've already got a mouthful of mackerel. [Also, in this analogy, the waiter reads your diary every day to sell you food more efficiently.]

Despite having access to the same geo-location software that lets (for example) highlight Irish-relevant content, as well as a whole crazy stack of personal information both proffered and acquired through observation, the advertising on Facebook is worthless. As a person who is interested in the whole online-marketing game, this is a pity, but it's hardly the kind of thing that ought to put me off the service as a whole, so let's move on.

Coerced Evangelism

What does bug me is Facebook's 'Friend Finder' service, or rather, how I'm accosted every time I log in to Facebook to find more friends. My work e-mail is pounded every day from people I've e-mailed once or twice announcing that they've signed up for Facebook, and I should too, and it's because of this wretched service.

I haven't used it, but it's my understanding that it uses your e-mail credentials to scan your contacts, informs you of the ones that are already on Facebook, and pesters the ones who aren't (such as my work e-mail).

The last thing I need are more friends on Facebook. Horrible, needy things, friends. Crying out for advice, venting about bad days, and generally getting all histrionic in my news feed.

Speaking of generally misleading users...

There was a recent tizzy over the recent breaching of Gawker's user accounts, so when Facebook displayed a message advising me that my account wasn't as secure as it ought to be, I was interested. Here's what it looked like as I went down the rabbit hole:

Oh dear, it seems that my account protection could be a little better.

Okay, my e-mail addresses are accounted for, what else can I do?

Add my phone details so that they can use that as an extra layer of verification security, like Google does to verify business listings (among other things)? Sounds great, only they call it 'Facebook Mobile' for some reason. Oh well, better sign up for it - my every security is at stake.

Hang on a tick! Facebook mobile is only available to Meteor customers. Damn you Facebook! Almost fooled me into signing up for something again, but lucky for me I can't even complete the process you've duped me into since I'm on Vodafone.

A group of 10 or so of my friends are currently organizing our plans for New Year's Eve. We're using a big e-mail thread. It's quite elegant, there's no privacy concerns about somebody intruding on the conversation, and the conversation is fairly focused, 24 emails later. Not only that, but the ads Gmail displays are somewhat pertinent!

Now that I think about it, most of us aren't even friends on Facebook. 

I was excited about Facebook when it was a sandbox for US college students to display hilarious pictures of me drinking from various penis-shaped straws. Now it's a social obligation that I propagate because of my crowd-following proclivities. Even after painstaking efforts to set up privacy filters to funnel innocence-shattering content away from my younger and older relatives, there's little I wish to share on Facebook. [I can't wait until everybody moves to the next big thing and we enjoy a few months in 'the sweet spot' before it gets too popular and becomes a pain again.]

So to summarize: Facebook is an online service that has been tainted by its cynical and often misleading attempts to boost its userbase (not to mention its users' level of engagement with the platform), which continues to chagrin me with each iteration, unlike another online service I use every day, but that's a blog entry for another day.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Yankification of Sully

As far back as I can recall, my sense of fashion has been outsourced to whatever woman is willing to take the job. Throughout my schooling, the process of acquiring new clothes involved opening the wardrobe and seeing what duds my mother had placed within.

When I moved out of home and started college, I suffered through a turbulent few months of fashion faux-pas as my loose-fitting fleece tops gave the impression that I was a middle-aged insurance salesman trying to hang out with college kids. I limped along until I moved to Belgium, where I acquired a girlfriend who set about making me fit in with my sexy European counterparts.

When I moved to Pittsburgh, I sufferred through a turbulent few months of fashion faux-pas as my tight-fitting European threads gave the impression that I was a hip, young homosexual. I acquired a girlfriend who set about making me fit in with my tubby Yankee doodle counterparts.

When I look back on pictures from these different eras, it seems to me that it's not just the clothes, the environments, and the attractiveness of those around me that change, but also my very essence. The fat, greedy, stupid Irish boy grows into a worldly, svelte European who wishes to share with his fellow man. That European then grows into a fat, stupid wannabe-yank man.

Think I'm being harsh? See for yourself:

Not to worry, despite my increasing grotesqueness, my narcissism is still powerful enough to create gifs of my evolving visage (not to mention the .jpg alternative for those not able to view the gif).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rubberbandits - Horse Outside

From what I know of the Rubberbandits, their comedy is fairly hit and miss. Nonetheless, I watched their latest music video since a few people I know appear in it, and I found it to be a slice of pure brilliance.

Yesterday, it had ~600 views. After noticing the furore on Facebook I clicked again to see what the hit tally was at - over 90,000. Eeep. I think it's time to declare this a phenomenon.

I'm not a fan of video-dumps, but I'm curious to see if those who aren't au-fait with the Irish scumbag sub-culture can appreciate this, because it might just be the best thing I've seen online since the bedroom intruder song.

I'll be supporting this for Christmas #1 with my wallet, judging by how quickly this video is picking up hits on YouTube, it shouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine a few thousand others doing the same.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Genital arrangement & swearing: My TSA Abuse Story

The TSA agent stepped into my personal space, pushing his face against mine as I tried to undo my belt buckle, his seething voice raising into a roar:

"You're Irish, but you speak German? WHAT THE FUCK? EXPLAIN YOURSELF"

At 6"8 he towered above me, his red veiny face pulsating with rage as he looked down on me. 

"Get into the fucking scanner"

I gingerly took a few steps forward and --- y'know what, dear reader? I'm too close to this story, and I'm sick of reading blogs where the author's emotional bias creeps into the facts, so I'm going to defer to an omniscient narrator for this post and start over.


Sully had always fancied himself as an excellent traveller. A terrible cook, a mediocre boyfriend, but an excellent traveller. A seasoned veteran of airports, delays, reschedules and lost baggage, he made a point of maintaining a cheerful disposition in the face of any adversity, because that's what excellent travellers do. He offerred chirpy pleasantries and generously broad smiles to all airport personnel, and was always quick on the draw with the passport stashed in his back-right pocket, or the boarding pass in his back-left.

Even when his spirits were low, as they were on this day, the ritual of navigating his way through an airport towards the plane was an exciting adventure, mostly because he got to condescend to all the bad travellers who weren't as capable as he was. He tutted under his breath at those who set off metal detectors with obviously metallic apparel, mentally chastised those who made a fuss of themselves for no good reason, and generally felt superior to those who found the rigors of security theatre stressful.

Being the good traveller that he was, Sully was four hours early for his afternoon flight out of O'Hare airport. After checking in his luggage, he was left with only three hours and fifty-four minutes to locate his gate, so he set off towards the security checkpoint to start on this endeavour.

The queuing lane up to passport control was long, but empty, causing the TSA operative manning the station some mirth as she watched Sully shuffle left-to-right through the ropes, doing a great deal of walking but only barely inching towards her, all the while peering at her self-consciously out of her peripheral vision. She was a middle-aged blonde who spoke with a drawl that Sully thought didn't belong in Chicago, and slumped in her chair in a fashion that reflected the sleepy atmosphere of the entire airport that morning.

As she glanced at Sully's passport, he looked ahead. There was a TSA agent about the same age and build as him strutting around, looking about to see if he could do anything. Despite the low traffic at the security checkpoint, the only open lane to go through the metal detector was backed up beyond the conveyor belt, and didn't seem to be moving at all. Just to the right, there was a longer queue of airport personnel who were going through the full-body scanners at a much quicker rate.

As he had yet to have any first-hand experience of the backscatter Xrays, Sully was disappointed to note the sign saying "Employees only" in front of it. The passport-controller must have been reading his mind, or his face:

"Okay, you're good to go. You can step to the right through the body-scanners if you want - it's an employee lane, but you'll be fine."

Sully offerred his thanks, but was cut off by the strutting, younger TSA agent who approached the desk, and slowly enunciated:

"Das ist sehr langweilig."

The passport-agent furrowed her brow at him.


Her confusion was tangible. He bopped on the spot, thoroughly enjoying himself

"Oh yeah. Sie sprechen kein Deutsch"

The words hung in the air for a moment, then she turned towards Sully with a quizzical look.

Forgetting where he was, Sully volunteered his assistance.

"He said he's bored. In German. And he's teasing you for not speaking it".

After seeing how his face had dropped, she broke out into laughter, as did the passengers around Sully.

He had stopped bopping on the spot.

"That's true, this is boring, but I didn't want the passengers to hear it!"

He chewed on his words and glared at Sully, but then let out a hearty chuckle to show that there were no hard feelings, then bopped back over towards the full body scanner.

Sully felt a little ashamed as he made his way towards the scanner. Had he got so caught up in American gregariousness that he had overstepped its bounds? His hometown was a place where people wouldn't approach one another to ask the time, let alone discomfit a stranger tasked with keeping people safe.

As he emptied his pockets into the plastic tray, he paused at his passport. Once, when flying out of Pittsburgh, a TSA agent chastised him for carrying it through the metal detector. A month later, at the same checkpoint, a TSA agent asked him for his passport as he stepped through the metal-detector. To avoid doing the wrong thing, he held up his passport at the German-speaking agent and asked if he should put it in the machine.

The response was theatrical: "You're from Ireland, but you speak German?" He stepped in close and lowered his voice so no one else would hear. "What the fuck, man!"

The two strangers chuckled, and Sully was told to keep it with him at all times.

"So what part are you from?"

"Limerick," - Sully held off for any signs of recognition "the south-west."

"No way! I'm from Tipperary" he said, struggling to render the county's name with his American mouth. Possibly reading Sully's reaction, a big smile of knowing self-parody spread across his face.

"Well, kind of. You know what I mean!"

It was Sully's turn to use the scanner, the next TSA agent in the chain beckoned and cut short the chat.

Sully's new friend patted on the arm and wished him well: "Have a good one, man". It occurred to him that he meant it.

Sully assumed the position inside the scanner. Legs spread, arms overheard, it was a freeze-frame of a jumping jack, Sully thought, or at least, that's what his years-old memory of a jumping-jack told him. Sully straightened his back, sucked in his gut, and shook his genitals into a more presentable arrangement out of sympathy for the imagined agent whose morning coffee had surely been ruined by the wretched samples of humankind being delivered to his monitor.

The operator implored Sully to hold still. The machine made a slight whirring sound. Sully was conscious of his trembling hands so he held his breath. The whirring stopped and Sully was ushered out.

He stepped forward where a male and female TSA agent were blocking access to the collection end of the conveyor belt.

"Stand over there, keep an eye on your stuff" the male TSA agent said.

Sully walked into the V-shape that the filtering-ropes were arranged into, and placed his feet over the yellow outlines on the rubber mat, turning his back on the TSA agents. He braced himself for some feeling up. Thoughts raced through his head. What in or on my body could be mistaken for a weapon? Had my new friend set me up? How long does a full-cavity search take? I only have three hours and forty minutes to make this flight.

Thirty seconds later, Sully's train of thought was disrupted by the female TSA agent.

"Uh, sir, would you like to step through and collect your stuff?"

She had removed the barrier. Of course! The delay was just the xrays being processed, Sully realized.

Sully gathered his bits and went about his day, pleased with how breezy getting through security had been, and he made a note to blog about the TSA in a positive fashion to offset the torrents of abuse they receive online.

Little did Sully realize that nobody gives a shit about his blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A comment on the commenting policy

Meta-blogging isn't something I find particularly interesting to read, so I'll keep this brief, but in light of some recent comments I think it's prudent to clarify the commenting policy.

Feeding the hungry for Jesus

Another great aspect of having a girlfriend is being able to plug into her social network, and one of the benefits of having a wider pool of people to interface with is that you may find yourself doing something you wouldn't engage in ordinarily.

A recent example of this was during a trip to Wisconsin, when Kate and I were offerred the chance to join her sister and brother-in-law in volunteering at their church-run soup kitchen. I should clarify - Kate was offerred the chance, and she volunteered my services. If I seem somewhat hesitant, I should make clear that the opportunity to do something selfless isn't one I'd agonize over, but this was a church-event, meaning I'd be helping the unfortunate in Jesus's name - as a rule, I don't donate money to charitable causes with a religious agenda, but I decided to make an exception in donating my afternoon to be a good Christian.

So after kitting myself out with a pretty sweet hat (mandatory) and a sweet fake name tag (also mandatory), I was ready for action. What kind of action? Well, to prepare for the onslaught of hungry homeless folk, I had to assist by wiping down tables and chairs with bleach-water, lugging large containers of gloppy foodstuffs around, folding cutlery and napkins together, and generally doing my best to make baby Jesus proud.

Sully is no more! Meet Gus, homeless-helper extraordinaire 
Once the preparations were done, it was time for the volunteers to get their breakfast. On the menu was stuffed pepper, pickled cucumber, day old bread, day old donuts, coffee, and fresh-baked cookies provided by Kate's sister. Before we could tackle the generous spread, it was time to say grace before meals. Damn Christians and their delayed gratification! The orator gave shout-outs to the bakeries and restaurants that donated the grub, presumably so God would know who to reward.

There were about a dozen volunteers, ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-eighties, and as I was the youngest, most able-bodied of the group, I got lumbered with the most arduous task. I was the dishwasher, cleaning every implement, every tray, and every piece of cooking apparatus with a high-powered hose that melted through more than a couple of my plastic aprons.

Through the spray of steam and food particulate I'd throw covetous looks towards my fellow volunteers. Thomas and his task of 'Greeting'. Oh look at me, I'm a World War II veteran. Then I'd glare at Kate as she cheerfully carried out her duty of 'Corn Ladling', my envious grimace turning into an appropriately cheery smile to reflect hers when she caught my glance.

With the exception of the bread, it tasted a lot better than it looked

When I found out that I'd be cooped up in the kitchen, I wondered if I'd find it satisfying toiling for the less-fortunate without getting to directly witness their enjoyment on the frontline. It was a foolish notion - I was immediately invested in the work I was doing, and I can safely reflect on it as the most earnest two hours of physical labour I've ever engaged in. My back was hurting, and I was getting splashed with food and scalding hot water, but I wanted to be the most efficient damn dishwasher that kitchen had ever seen. During moments when  I had cleared my station and had to wait on more ware to arrive, I'd start addressing things outside of my jurisdiction (including cleaning some obviously-neglected pieces of apparatus).

The way the room was set up meant that those coming to avail of the food were filing past the open kitchen door, and many of them took it upon themselves to shout in "God bless you". After shrugging off the first few seemed a little ignorant, I took to shouting back "same to yourself."

It was a great experience, one that I'd happily repeat, but like I said, my quixotic notions about 'good' charity cause some dissonance (i.e: My moral compass takes issue with reaching out to the less fortunate so you can bolster the ranks of subscribers to your supernatural ideologies). I was able to rationalize the sweat exerted in Jesus's name as a purely selfish act arising out of biological imperatives. How so? Well, my girlfriend wanted me to help the homeless, and complying with her requests will assist in the fulfillment of my carnal urges to copulate with her, so really, I'm doing this to satisfy my evolutionary impulses, so at the end of the day, Darwin wins.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Silver Lining

It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and again, I do something remarkable. The kinds of things that would be routine for over-achievers are novel for occasional-achievers like me, so I try to enjoy the satisfaction for as long as I can.

One of the fastest ways to spoil my enjoyment of an accomplishment is to get my mother to weigh in on it. Try it sometime. Next time you’re in the same room as my mother and me, ask me about something cool I’ve done and see what happens.

In every example from recent memory, the conversation goes something like this.

Well wisher: “I hear you graduated with a first class honours degree, how did you manage that?”
Sully: “Well...”
Mother: “I was down on bended knee!”
Well wisher: “Eh?”
Mother: “I was praying for him the whole time. His exams started at eleven, so I’d start praying at five to-”
Sully: “My exams started at 9am this year-“
Mother: “And I wouldn’t stop praying until I knew he was finished”
Sully: “Well, actually, there was a lot of project work in addition to--“
Mother:  “Our Lady of the Wayside, she hasn’t let you down yet”
Well wisher: “Our Lady of the Wayside? What’s that?”
Mother: “It’s a prayer for students and young people. It’s done wonders for all my lads--”
Sully: “But, younger Sully failed out of college.”
Mother: “Shush – that was the best thing that could have happened to him.”
Sully: “He also failed his driving test three times.”
Mother: “And he never gave up! Our Lady of the Wayside! It’s wonderful!”

Yes, my mother believes in intercessory prayer, and petitions me ceaselessly to integrate the pointless exercise – actively trying to distract me away from preparing for whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish.

At the last family gathering, one of the observers of this ritual was a priest. After pithily remarking that her favoured prayer “must be a traveller’s prayer”, he nodded sympathetically when I bemoaned her lack of recognition for all the hard work and preparation that brought about the spoils of victory.

Priests will admit what my mother won’t. Prayer doesn’t get work done. Work gets work done. If you pray for something (like my younger brother passing his exams and staying in college) and don’t get your way, you shouldn’t be able to rationalize it by saying that the actual outcome was better anyhow. If your prayers won’t change the outcome, why continue to waste your time? The system lacks a consistent inner-logic.

Last week, I interviewed for a (pretty cool) job. I poured countless hours of effort into preparing, and my mother insisted on ‘chipping in’ herself. She told everybody who’d listen about her efforts on my behalf, and how she “had a feeling” that I was going to get it. I didn’t get the job, but the disappointment was immediately allayed by the recognition that Our Lady of the Wayside had let me down. A-ha!

Of course, this was one of those rare instances where it sucks to be right.

At times, I wish I could live in her fantasy-world. My mother thinks that she has beaten the system. She has discovered a prayer that will make your wildest-dreams come true, and if they don’t, you didn’t really want them to come true anyhow.

No amount of reasonable prompts and suggestions will cause her to reflect critically on her little racket with the man upstairs, but I keep prodding, mostly because she makes for a fascinating case study.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Pavlovian Response

While the efficacy to date has been questionable, my girlfriend's ongoing attempts to cultivate me into a fully-functional, socially-fluent human being show little signs of fatigue.

Over the past four years, we have logged a considerable amount of time watching films together, and yet, I'm still not sure what to do during those moments when her face crunches up and her eyes emit a salty discharge.

Derisive comments, for example, don't really work. We were watching Marley and Me at the cinema. The dog is the emotional vehicle in the film. The dog gets sick. It's sad. Then, (SPOILERS!) the dog dies. The characters on screen cry, and so do the estrogen-fuelled audience members. To make her feel better, I leaned into her ear and whispered "Well, there's a surprise!". To show that she appreciated my attempt to make her feel better, she punched my arm.

Now, if you're thinking "Sully my boy, you shouldn't be so confrontational", I'd say you're onto something. At least I would, had I not tried a gentler approach some months previous. We were watching I Am Legend at the cinema. It's a crap movie with crap CGI and a crap premise. Will Smith is craply moping around some strikingly empty metropolitan areas with his dog. The dog is his only friend, and the only semblance of his past life, before he lost (SPOILERS!) his wife and daughter. The dog becomes a zombie-dog and attacks the Fresh Prince, but doesn't survive the encounter. Will Smith has killed his only friend and reminder of a normal life, and is sad. He weeps in a manly fashion. I'm so busy scoffing that I don't realize my hot date is blubbering until a big ol' teardrop hits my hand. Thinking fast, I decide that drawing attention to a ludicrous emotional reaction to a terrible film is the best approach. I lean into her and ask her "What the hell are you doing?" She thumps me.

My problem isn't that I'm emotionally crippled, it's that I can't suspend my disbelief. Moments likely to cause her to choke up and remark "that's so sad" will make me think "that's an interesting technique to evoke emotion". More often than not, the techniques are hackneyed and convey little power, but my girlfriend, so filled is she with the milk o' human kindness will have a cry at them anyway.

I could keep you all day with examples of my emotional-callousness being rewarded with indolent bursts of violence, but not, dear reader, forever. I managed to break the cycle, and I owe it in part to Pixar.

We were watching Up (a quality film, by anyone's metric) on a tiny TV with fuzzy sound in her living room. Despite the technical limitations of the screening, it was a slice of heaven to be with her on the couch, watching a film we had put off watching until the other was around with our bodies arranged into that just-right comfort you don't want to disturb lest you can't recreate it.

During the opening montage in which we observe a young boy and girl become friends, fall in love, grow old together, and eventually part ways due to pesky mortality, it occurred to me that this family-friendly cartoon had put together a segment more engaging and profound than any film in recent memory. We both watched, rapt, and as it drew into the inevitable silent climax, my mind was processing what I had seen - the music, the lighting, the animation - was the flexibility of the medium a major advantage in this segment? My mind was buzzing with excitement. I looked down at her, as she clung onto my arm, and saw that she was, unsurprisingly, in bits.

She looked up to meet my gaze, bewitching me with those beautiful brown eyes, magnified by glassy tears. It was a beautiful moment.

I didn't want to fuck it up. But I had to give her some reaction! I pushed out my lower lip into a pout to register my sadness for the fake cartoon-people on the telly.

She pulled herself upright and gave me a little peck on the cheek. We settled back into our nook and enjoyed the rest of the film. It was pure heaven.

Since that moment many months ago, I've been repeating the habit of pouting during sad parts in films to win positive reenforcement for displaying my emotional intelligence. I didn't realize that I had made this a habit until my last plane journey. Whilst watching a heartstring-tugging scene in the (2010) Karate Kid on a 4" screen, I pushed my lower lip forward and held it there until the scene ended. Well I would have, if the air-hostess hadn't come along first, looked at me funny, and asked "Chicken or Pasta?"

*Artist's Impression

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How many dumb Europeans will this kill?

When I'm browsing the internet in Ireland, my computer knows I'm in Ireland.

This information is used to automatically redirect me to region-specific sub-sites, deny me access to my favourite foreign TV shows, and entice me with hot young girls in my area who want to "have sex tonight".

Okay, so I sound a little begrudging, but at least it makes sure that I'm only exposed to pertinent advertising. Like this PSA from the American Heart Association... 

Dial 911 at the first sign of a stroke? I'll have to bear that in mind, and forget about that Irish emergency services number I had committed to memory...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Delta Airlines lost my luggage and all I got was this lousy t-shirt*

Every now and again, my routine trips Stateside become an adventure.

Yesterday's trip was one of those days.

Due to some rough weather in JFK, I had to take a taxi to La Guardia to make my connecting flight to Chicago,  (why exactly an airport 20 minutes away by car was unaffected by weather is beyond me).

Delta did an admirable job of getting me to my destination only a few hours late, but as expected, my luggage didn't make the trip. I went into the baggage office to work out the details of getting my stuff sent to me, and requested an overnight bag. (It didn't seem that it was going to be offerred unless I asked).

I have to say, I was quite happy with the schwag within the bag:

  • 1 Disposable Blue Toothbrush with absurdly soft bristles
  • 1 4.25g (.15oz) pouch of Colgate Vacity Protection Toothpaste
  • 1 10g (0.35oz) pouch of Detergent (with instructions printed in mirrored fashion)
  • 1 Disposable Razor with 10ml (0.35oz) shaving cream
  • 4 Cotton Buds
  • 2 Cotton Swabs
  • 1 Foldable Hairbrush
  • 1 13g (0.46oz) Deodorant
  • 1 Large White SkyTeam T-Shirt
Also included was a card with a little apology in 10 languages, and a logo on the back that read "SkyTeam - Caring more about you"
"We regret that your baggage was not available on arrival. You may rest assured that we are doing everything possible to return it to you. we apologize for this inconvenience and thank you for your understanding"
All in all? Not a bad bit of schwag to keep me going. The bag may replace my toiletries bag (assuming I ever see it again). Granted, the Toothbrush's bristles are so slight that I don't believe that 'bristle' is the correct nomenclature. The 'Large' t-shirt is absurdly oversized for this normally XL sized blogger, and there's no contact lens solution or toiletries so that the weary traveller doesn't have to go shopping before ending his 20-hour day of travel, but it's better than nothing.

It's been 24 hours since my original expected arrival time, and the bag has yet to materialize. If I'm kept waiting another day, I might stroll into the Delta Airlines Baggage Office completely starkers to protest.

Law #45 of Internet Commentators

A common problem with reporting on the importance of scientific findings is that the PR department responsible for spreading the word has a tendency to overstate the significance of the research in order to gain the attention of the newspapers, which is then further spruced up by the papers so as to be noticed by the readers.

This results in such frothsome headlines:

As I'm aware of the laws governing Internet commentators, I know that anything pertaining to space and alien-life is going to bring out the conspiracy-theory whackjobs. I couldn't even finish the article before skipping down to the comments section:

I love the internet.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

MySalesGenie Scam - PrimeTime Investigates

A week after teasing my full investigation into the pyramid scheme, and before I got a chance to post about my findings, I got scooped by RTÉ's Prime Time series.

Serves me right.

I can't begrudge them - it's nice to think a gap I felt the need to fill isn't as obscure as I thought, and they've fairly nailed the investigation. There's a few things that they didn't touch on, so I'll write up that once I get a chance.

In the meantime, I highly recommend that all those with access to the RTÉ Player (those of you with an Irish IP address) check out the documentary while you can, and if you can't get it, here's a handy rip that I found on YouTube:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Old News: The practice of Irish oneupmanshit

I've always maintained that anything the yanks can do, we Irish can do too. We just do it shittier.

Television shows. Fashion. Women. Roads. Obesity epidemics. Anything they do, we Irish will chance a second-rate knockoff.

One thing that the nutbag yanks like to do is manufacture controversies about the theory of evolution's veracity. Let's have a look at an Irish take on this phenomenon, eh?

One of the more notable items from the news in Ireland last week was the short sightedness of Conor Lenihan, who is our Minister for Science (among other responsibilities) for agreeing to launch a creationist book. The inevitable backpedalling? He was attending in his "capacity as friend", not as a person with intellectual responsibility. Shitty Irish politics from a shitty Irish politician.

There was a bit of a shitstorm that played out on the blogs, columns, and letters pages, but what caused it?

A manic depressive by the name of John J May.

John J May has self-published a pathetic treatise on why evolution is a sham, called "The Origin of Specious Nonsense". He is promoting it with a series of inane videos on YouTube in which he lists some incredible scientific facts about reproduction, and argues that the mere act of considering these vast odds proves that the theory of evolution is false.

He's a shitty author, a shitty thinker, and he has a very shitty website. Let's look at the website, in all it's 2001 school-of-web-design splendour:

Not pictured: Terrible Soundtrack

The site has a dazzling range of keywords to lure in the punters. Including "evolution, birth death, charles darwin [...] Sam Harris, Daniel C Dennett [...] religeon, muslim, orthodox faith, atheism, life, babies, pregnancy, cancer." (And yes, they misspelt "religion" in the keywords.)

Of course, the effort to cast a wide net with the keywords has been nullified by the background music that can't be disabled, thus making spending any time on this website even more of a chore than it ought to be. Since the website is clearly a steaming pile of excrement, the author has wisely decided to over-compensate with breathless enthusiasm for the book's content: "You will be shocked, mocked,amazed, dazed, confused, amused, enraged, engaged, but most of all thrilled and mentally fulfilled by the information you are about to read.. After 18 years research & 18 months writing comes" THE ORIGIN OF SPECIOUS NONSENSE""

I'll hold for a moment if you want to take a quick vomiting break.

All flushed out? Jolly good.

Perhaps being aware of the popularity of lists on the internet, the author has compiled the seven reasons that he "rejects and detests evolution". Here comes the science!

1: It teaches us to be satisfied with - not understanding origins.
2: It promotes the dangerous nonsense of no first cause - no supreme scientist and suggests order came from disorder.
3: It is a metaphysical speculation, a doctrine dressed up in scientific garb.
4: Anyone who teaches evolution is either ignorant or deliberately suppressing the known scientific facts.
5: It is a toxic poisonous mind virus which destroys the hearts immune system against hope and common sense.
6: It is an anesthetic against reason.
7: It cripples sanity, promotes myths, obscures reality and elevates matter above a maker.

Actually, wait a sec. These are all emotional reasons! This troglodyte has no interest in a scientific discussion, despite his repeated appeals to reason and sanity. This jackoff deserves no interest from me, you, or the media. Those of us itching to have a dance-off between the forces of enlightenment and medieval superstition can go home disappointed. This lunatic represents no threat to the theory of evolution, his appearance on the radar serves only to highlight the incompetence of yet another Irish politician.

I'm going to leave the last word to Dr. Steven Novella, from last week's Skeptic's Guide to the Universe:

"Have you guys taken a look at John J May's book or website? This guy is the living embodiment of the arrogance of ignorance - the Dunning Kruger effect [...]" The less able you are to assess your own stupidity, the smarter you think you are."

Yep. Sounds fairly spot on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Misadventures in Small Talk: An Indecent Proposal

I indulge in small talk every so often. I’m not very good at it, but I give it a try.


I was at work, dealing with enquiries with a normal looking guy. The conversation ended on a cheerful note, but he didn't leave. He was hesitating. Then he said the weirdest thing:

“Can I quickly pitch something to you?”

I looked at him sideways, he felt the need to lubricate his pitch.

“It will only take two minutes”

Okay, I’ll listen to your pitch, hombre.

I nodded.

“Have you heard of My Shopping Genie?”

Blank look from yours truly.

“Okay, it’s this GREAT application for comparing prices online-”

A dozen price-sharing websites went through my head. None of them had 'My Shopping Genie' in the title. I grunted at him to show that I understood.

“- and it’s absolutely exploding in popularity right now.”

My sideways look was now at about 45 degrees.

“It will be bigger than Google in a few months at the rate it’s going”

My head was now spinning around like a propeller from his ejaculation. Unperturbed, he continued:

“It’s this thing that you can use to make money. I just started making money on it now because I signed up for it three weeks ago-”

I started to look around for something else, some reason to leave. Hopefully there’s a fire. He continued:

“You can make so much money on it -"

Drat. No fire. Maybe I could start a fire...

"-You just need to get people underneath you.”

Hang on a tick, did he just say "get people underneath you"?

“There’s a woman above me, a stay at home Mom -“

Did he just say “a woman above me?”

“She has two kids. She looks after them, she does some things on the computer, she makes €2,000 a week. It’s incredible.”

What the hell is he talking about? And why is he talking so quickly?

“I need to do what she’s doing so I can make that kind of money-“

I thought this dude was recommending some software. What the hell is going on?

“- so do you think that you’d be interested in signing up and taking part?”


Oh yeah. That’s right. It’s my turn to talk:

“Sure. What’s the URL again: My Sales Genie dot eye eee?”

“Shopping Genie”

“My Shopping Genie dot eye eee?”

“My Shopping Genie dot eye eee.”

“Okay, I’ll look into it, thanks.”

“No, don’t just go to that site, go to this one”

He handed me a torn up slip of paper with the URL and a seven digit code.

"I'll look into it later"

Mercifully, he left. I reflected on what had just happened:

"I'm pretty sure that this guy is involved in a pyramid scheme" I said to myself.

"I should look into this, it might make for an interesting blog entry..."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Harvey Norman's Vaguely Impressive Piffle

There was great excitement at work last week when an unmarked envelope was handed in at reception.

Inside was a letter from Harvey Norman (an electronics and furniture chain that have an outlet nearby), inviting me to a special VIP night as I was a "Valued Customer"

There are a few things about this letter that I find incongruous:

1. The envelope was blank, yet the salutation within is to a 'Valued Customer'. I don't think they really cared who opened the envelope.

2. They called me a "valued customer". I've spent practically nothing in Harvey Norman over the past two years on account of the underhand tactics employed by their TV shillers. I don't think they really cared who opened the envelope.

3. The letter advises the valued customer, who is valued for the custom they have brought to the business to "contact the store on 061-422800 for directions". Maybe a lot of their valued customers are forgetful. Maybe they didn't really care who opened the envelope.

4. The letter recipient is told to "feel free to extend your invite to family, friends and neighbors to take advantage of this wonderful night of savings" - they're essentially saying "it's a VIP night for people who aren't particularly important."

5. The letter promises "staff prices throughout the evening", but the letter itself has that phrase in quotation marks. They're effectively saying I'm giving you a "discount".

6. Attendees will get exclusive offers with "never seen before prices". Just because the price hasn't been seen before doesn't necessarily mean that it's lower.

7. It's the "First Annual VIP Night". Exciting! But the previous night had "over 1500 attending" But this is the first one!

Y'know what would have been a better idea? To announce that Harvey Norman are having a late-opening sale. Maybe they could say that they're liquidating stock. That would get me excited. Would anybody actually go for this bizarre marketing ploy?

Well, I went along at about 8.30pm to see if it worked. There were only about 20 people in the building, workforce included. It was only about two hours into the evening and the staff seemed to be begrudging the whole affair. When I approached the running 3D TV demo-unit with my friend and picked up the glasses to witness the paradigm-shifting goodness, some pissed off employee came running towards us and yelled "You okay, lads?" to startle me into putting back the anointed eyewear. Surely a VIP is deserving of a "Sir" when he's being rebuked for trying out the fucking demo-unit that they've been pimping on the radio ad-nauseam?

One of the best deals I saw was an iPod/iPhone TV docking station for €99. I called in again today (a week later) to see that the price was now €99, and instead of a big "VIP EVENING" A4 sheet drawing attention to the price, there was now a small square pricetag, the same as everything else.

I went to the VIP night with two friends and an open mind, and Harvey Norman proved to me that their staff are surly, their hyperbole about great prices and unbeatable sales is unparalleled, and they conduct their business in an underhand fashion for no good reason.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Google Latitude - Reports from beyond the velvet rope

Back in May, I treated myself to the HTC Desire, which runs on Google's Android operating system. One of the benefits of this operating system is that it acts as an intravenous delivery system for Google's rather nifty mobile applications. The Gmail client is solid, the Google Maps with turn-by-turn directions has saved me countless hours wandering around badly laid out Irish cities, and Google Translate allows me to swear at my phone and have it translated into a foreign language, instantly rescuing me from boring conversations at parties!

Google Latitude is a rather unusual service from the search giants that makes known your (phone's) current location to anyone you've granted access. Pretty simple idea, but Google have built some cool features on top of this simple idea.

Since I have an Android phone, and most of my friends don't, I feel like (for the first time) the cool guy who has been to the exclusive club, so I want to share with you plebs what kind of exotic delights you're missing out on.

Exotic delights like a handy pie-chart representation of how you spend your time:

(See the gap between July and August? That was my blogging hiatus)

Ever wondered "What's the furthest I've been from home?"
5,145 miles for me! (Since May 2010, anyhow)

Can't remember all those countries you've been to? Now you don't have to!
This barren map makes me want to spend obscene amounts of money to add a bit of colour

What are the places I visit most often? (Do I spend more time at my mother's or father's house?)

No wonder I spend more time at my mother's - look at the extra amenities!

Latitude can also be used to trigger proximity alerts. These SMS or E-mail alerts can trigger when you or your friend "are at an unusual place, filtering out routine alert cases at home or work", or "are at a routine place but at an unusual time". Neat! Hopefully things like this increase the amount of "chance encounters" with the kind of friends I'd hope to run into.

Bored? Why not watch a sped up version of the last 500 locations you've visited? Just click on the 'play' arrow in the top right corner of the map and watch your life being pissed away by going to work, driving around, going home, and sleeping over and over and over again!

The service as a whole is cool, but it's not quite perfect. I was immediately offended when it suggested that I spend a mere 22 hours a week at work on average, but I realised that Latitude thinks I'm half a mile away from my current position when I disable the GPS on my phone to save battery. It's no wonder that the 'out' slice of my pie-chart is so meaty. Also, saving the last 500 locations in the history might sound like plenty, but in practice it only goes back a few days - if your phone pings your location every few minutes for a couple of hours, each ping is logged as a separate location. If each recorded 'location' represented a different set of coordinates, the history feature would be much more useful.

Well, what about the privacy implications? I had only planned on leaving Latitude switched on long enough to populate the dashboard with some information, but now I'm starting to enjoy it. The amount of consideration that Google has put into privacy seems almost excessive, even in light of the Google Buzz fiasco. By default, e-mails are sent out monthly with the subject line: "Reminder - You are sharing your location with Latitude applications", which is a good thing too, because I had almost forgotten about it after I first activated it.

If you want to throw caution to the wind and share your location with everyone, you can create a location badge, which you can put on your blog for your fourteen yearly visitors not to give a shit about. Google is wise enough to offer a pared-down functionality, in which only city-level data is shared.

So far, I only have one one friend set up on Latitude, and it's been novel checking the widget on my phone and seeing how far away he is from my current position. I take it he enjoys the novelty too. Mere moments after I touched down in Shannon after a fortnight in the States, I got a text message from him that read "Welcome home!" Creepy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A meme worth sharing

Memes are a fascinating subject. Observing these discrete units of behavior patterns, practices, or even products makes me wonder about who started them, and the kind of people who propagated them.

Top ten lists. Lolcat pictures. Folding toilet paper in hotel toilets so you know the cleaner has been in. All memes that have stood the test of time, and will likely exist as long as their respective mediums do.

All these memes pale in comparison to what I witnessed a few weeks ago.

After a few weeks away from home, I showed up with my girlfriend in tow. Had this been a normal visit, I would have tried to ensure that the house was reasonably clean to hide from her the level of squalor in which I am willing to live, but on this visit, I was completely at the mercy of my housemates' lax sense of sanitation. The sense of trepidation in stopping by was heightened by her announcement that she wished to use the "restroom".

Happily, on this occasion, the communal areas of our residence indicated that ours was not a fetid shithole. All the same, I warned my missus that I wanted to check the toilet before I let her proceed.

I had figured that the upstairs bathroom would be in the best shape, but hadn't anticipated the extent of the moulting season that one of my housemates was going through. After a few minutes of wrestling dark scraggly hairs into drains and scrubbing week-old skidmarks off the porcelain, the lavatory was again safe for human operation.

My ladyfriend was waiting patiently downstairs, standing in the middle of the kitchen - as if to avoid touching anything. I told her the coast was clear. She told me that while I was upstairs, she checked the downstairs toliet.

"You're out of toilet paper"

I poked my head into the outhouse under the stairs. The toilet lid was down, and the cardboard core of an empty roll of toilet paper was perched atop it.

I cocked my head sideways.

"Huh." I exhaled.

"Oh yeah, I put the empty roll on because I didn't want anybody to-"

I grabbed her by both shoulders and shook her a little

"You did this? You put the roll on the lid?"

"Well yeah - I didn't want anybody to start and then realize-"

"That's genius!"

"Well, it would be a shame if somebody-"

"Where did you see this?"

"What, putting the roll on the lid? I dunno, I just did it now."

"That's incredible… It's genius."


"It sends a clear message, and it obstructs the would-be-user from even using the toilet…"


"Even a total fool wouldn't be able to misinterpret this. It's so simple!"


"It's averting potential toilet-disasters! Sparing the desperate use of hand-towels -"


"Sorry. What's up?"

"Can you let go now? I have to use the restroom"

Stupid meme that. 'Restroom'. Does anybody rest in there? No! I could live with 'relief-room', or even 'evacuation-room', but 'restroom', that's a meme I cannot abide.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Amazon - We Sell Book's

On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, my ladyfriend and I got an impressive demo of the Nook, and we were both quite taken by the idea of an e-book reader. She's since dropped some blatant hints about her desire to have one, so I've decided to start paying attention to this burgeoning gadget-category.

After a few weeks of seeing Nooks and Kindles at every turn (it was a few weeks full of airport departure lounges, hotel lobbies, and cafés) I'm starting to believe that e-books are in fact 'the future'.

As soon as I decided to start paying attention to the technology, Amazon unveiled their newest iteration of the Kindle, so I decided to check out the official video detailing why it was worth the cash. It's a fairly typical video for this type of product: the main points appear as text on screen as a soothing male voice dishes out the impressive facts, and the Kindle pirouettes around on screen flirtatiously from different angles. Sadly, I was only able to enjoy this gadget-porn for about 78 seconds before an unwelcome visitor presented itself to me:

Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!

Begone, misplaced apostrophe! You don't belong here! You'd think that the largest purveyor of the written-word in the world would know where to put a shagging inverted-comma, right?

Of course they do:

These are the kind of silly mistakes that pedants like me use as excuses to ruin Christmasses. (Ask my girlfriend about the year when she really wanted an iPod, and ended up with a Sansa instead)

(Okay, maybe these are the kind of silly mistakes that pedants like me use to make themselves feel smarter than a huge corporation that earns more in one hour of operation than they will in their entire lives.)

Update: Gamma Goblin kindly pointed out in the comments that this matter isn't as black and white as I'd like to believe. The prick.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sully Versus the Reiki Practitioner

In everyday life, I try my best to gently push back against the general superstition and woo that are scattershot throughout my human interactions.

Since magical thinking is ingrained in everyday phrases and metaphors, I like to think that my off-the-script responses will prompt some kind of scientific epiphany in those who I meet over the course of the day. I don't believe this, I just like to think it.

For example, people at work often remark that I must've been "the one praying for rain", and I've taken to replying "If I believed it would make a difference, I certainly would." This general policy of assholery brings about many conflicts of interest. Like the tale I'm about to tell you about.

I have an aunt who is awesome - easily the nicest woman I've ever met. She's an incredible host, a wonderful cook, and is generous with her time to an unfathomable amount. Knowing the story I’m about to tell makes me fret that I'm about to misrepresent this fantastic woman, but tragically, certain elements of her personal philosophy clash with mine.

Let me start with a tale to introduce this woman and what she's about: A few days after my cousin's grandmother died, he answered a phonecall from his neighbour, and later reported that he initially believed the voice on the other end of the line to be that of the recently deceased. When my aunt heard this, she told my cousin that it was his granny’s way of checking in on him. She told this story to a roomful of relatives (as the older generation nodded sagaciously, the young 'uns exchanged confused looks).

My aunt is a humble person, and when she talks about how 'science can't explain everything', it sounds as though it is motivated by sheer humility. I think it's clear that anybody who immediately grasps for the supernatural explanation rather than accepting human error is not interested in sensible exploration into life's biggest questions. She wants it to be true, and will share her take on the mysteries of life with anyone who’ll listen.

I can’t remember the comment I made that set her off, but I felt the regret as soon as I began to utter it. Whatever the case, she began with her tirade about how science can’t explain many things, like the energy channels in the human body that only her reiki crystal can detect. I attempted to talk to her about the ideomotor effect, but by this stage she had whipped out her crystal, unwrapped it from its protective cloth, and was insisting that I lay back on the couch.

I didn’t want to insult this nice, albeit deluded soul, so I heeded her wishes and threw myself on the sofa, looking up at the ceiling. She started talking to me about the seven chakras, their locations and effects on the functions of the body as she began with the ritual. Starting over my feet, she dangled the popsicle-sized crystal from a foot-long chain, and told me that the speedy revolutions it was making were caused by my energy chakras, and not by her hand. As she moved through my lower body and abdomen, she told me that I had good energy, a fiery spirit, and various other attributes that somehow related to the bodyparts the crystal hovered over.

When she got to my chest, she tutted. The crystal had stopped spinning.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Pandas, Canyons, and Hookers, oh my!

For the first time since I started blogging, I went an entire month without posting a single entry.

Often I attribute the dearth of posts to a lack of bile: I'm at my most prolific when irascible, and as the months go by, I'm finding less and less in the world around me that is worth increasing my blood pressure over. Every now and again, just to see what happens, I'll spend some time in front of the keyboard when I don't feel a vein pulsating in my head, but what comes up on the screen is the gushing schlock of a love-sick-teenager. Happy people don't make good writers. You want to hear about what a terrible time I'm having. I want to write about what a terrible time I'm having. When I'm in the middle of a horrible situation that is steadily encroaching on my dignity, I can feel the words arranging themselves in my head for the inevitable blogging.

More often, I blame my taciturnity on the fact that I've been too busy to blog. Sometimes I'm gripped by the notion that getting a good night's sleep is more important than telling nobody-in-particular about the time a barber shaved my earlobes for the first time without warning.

My most recent absence was a combination of the two factors: I spent three weeks hanging out with that elusive ladyfriend of mine, who has a somewhat soothing effect on my pent up frustrations. Furthermore, two of those weeks were spent road-tripping across California, Nevada, and Arizona. Just check out this map showing where I was in the world when I took these GPS-tagged photos.

Pretty freakin' cool, yes?

The highlights:

The San Diego Zoo!

The Grand Canyon!
Las Vegas!
(Note the boast that the photo is an "Actual Photo")
Mark my words, dear reader - I'll make up for the deficit, just don't hold your breath for a story involving sexual misadventures with hookers. (Or Pandas, for that matter.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aldi's Bargain Basement Bullshit

I am incapable of going on a shopping trip to an Aldi or Lidl store without checking out the weekly 'special offers'. I appreciate the efforts to have themed catalogues of 'fishing', 'camping', or 'world cup', but more often than not, the stores are filled with a mishmash of unrelated paraphernalia ranging from media-centre PCs to electric dog-bowl warmers.

On my most recent trip to my local Aldi, I observed the following on sale for €2.75 or so:

The ACU-STRAP morning & motion sickness band!  No drugs? Non drowsy? Sounds fantastic!

Let's investigate a little. What does this product do?
Stop travel sickness before it starts! The Acu-Strap uses the science of acupressure to alleviate the nausea of Morning Sickness, Travel Sickness, Anesthia and Chemotherapy. [Source]
Neat! The "science of acupressure". What is "acupressure"? Well, it works on the same principles of acupuncture - applying pressure to parts of your body to trigger a self-healing effect. After some investigation, it seems that while the proponents agree that acupressure works, few of the believers seem to agree on what the actual mechanism at work is, or even agree on how to map out the pressure points on the body. How very curious.

Skeptical Neuroscientist Steven Novella wrote a piece called "Why I am Skeptical of Acupuncture", and any sensible person who takes the time to read it ought to agree with him, so allow me to quickly copy and paste the five headings he uses to focus his undermining of this ancient chinese practice:

1) Acupuncture is a pre-scientific superstition
2) Acupuncture lacks a plausible mechanism
3) Claims for efficacy are often based upon a bait-and-switch deception.
4) Clinical trials show that acupuncture does not work

Okay, so acu-puncture/pressure doesn't work, but what's the harm? What's the harm in charging people €3 to wear a piece of cloth with a plastic nipple and enjoy a relatively cheap placebo effect?

Forgive the 'slippery-slope' mentality, but I can only see it as a negative that something so stupid is available so cheap on the mass market. This moronic fashion statement is a conversation-starter, and over countless coffees across Ireland, credulous nitwits will hear their friends rave about their magic wrist-bands that cured their nausea, as they regurgitate the pseudo-science about 'acupressure' and contribute to the growing number of people who are turning away from science-based medicine and embracing flashing lights, ritualistic practices, and other expensive (and dangerous) wastes of time, when genuine medical intervention means the difference between life and death.

I entirely expect that the vast majority of people who use this product will realise that it's a piece of junk as soon as they stop to consider that there's no instructions in the packaging telling them how to position the "scientific" acu-pressure nipple they just purchased, and that their nausea and vomiting hasn't taken the slightest hit. All the same, I worry for the ninnies (won't somebody please think of the ninnies!). The people who persevere with this piece of crap because they see that the box says to "Stop travel sickness before it starts!", so they wear the band constantly to keep the threat at bay. It's cheaper than buying medicine or going to the doctor, so if it doesn't work, just keep adjusting it until it hits the sweet spot!

I fired off an e-mail to Acu-Life, posing as a customer seeking advice on how to wear the band. This is the response I got:

I am not familiar with the Acu-Strap wristband... I am not sure there is any simple remedy for morning sickness. Generally, it passes after the first 3 months of pregnancy.

The Acu-Life strategy:

  1. Remove references to shitty product from website.
  2. Deny existence of shitty product.
  3. Sell remaining stock to Aldi for quick hocking.
  4. Profit!

Remember, reading Sully's blog keeps Rheumatism and Gout, Lumbago, Sciatica, and Arthritis at bay, and balances the body's four humors! If you stop reading now, it could be fatal.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Much ado about fadas

Part of the problem with being a pretentious prick is when technology obstinately reminds you that you’re a knob, and punishes you for it:

'Seÿffffffffffe1n' over e-mail, but 'Sully' to my friends

My name is Seán. Not Shaun, or Shawn, and certainly not Sean. It's Seán.

I’m not sure when exactly I decided that rendering my name “Seán” without the fada over the “a” was wrong, but I suspect that I became more insistent about it during the time I spent in the States, as I tried to impress upon the local ladies of Pittsburgh that I was interesting and exotic (“You have an accent? That’s hot. We should make out”).

It’s likely that I’m a stickler for the fada because Seán is such a common name on the Emerald Isle (in both senses of the word). I figure being one of the breed who is fussy about having it included separates me somewhat from those who don’t care (and those who insist on its omission).

It's not an unreasonable insistence – it's only people from Ireland that are expected to know about the sanctity of the fada. If I’m asked to spell my name by a person who sounds like a paddy, I’ll tell them “S, E, A, fada N”, and listen for the derisive light scoff. I don’t expect non-nationals to ‘get’ the fada, so I don’t subject them to it unless they bring up how wrong my name looks written down (a Polish colleague refers to me as ‘Soen’ in all e-mail correspondence, and it’s starting to grow on me.)

While I'm keenly aware that not everybody should know what to do with the fada, I've yet to get it through my thick skull that websites will often freak out when I spell my name the "right" way. When flying from New York to Pittsburgh, I suffered unnecessary delays because my boarding pass said "Se n". Being exceptionally slow to learn, a month later I got a boarding pass that said "Sen". Rather than fixing the root cause of the problem, I just got better at giving bitesize explanations for the fada and how computers don't like it. (I mentioned the 'Sen' thing back in February 2007)

As my garbled name in the screenshot above attests, putting a fada into an online form is a bit of a gamble, as there's no telling what will come out on the other side. A messy e-mail header is harmless enough, but when the bouquet of roses I sent my ladyfriend from came with a lovely note signed by somebody called "Se??????n", I felt it spoiled the sentiment somewhat.

After giving my (US-based) girlfriend some casual abuse over her 'inability' to spell my name correctly online, she jumped on the fada bandwagon. Including the fada is a cinch on Irish / UK keyboards [just hold down the Alt-Gr key when pressing a vowel], but US keyboards lack this functionality. It turned out that every time she wanted to casually mention my name in an e-mail that I would never see, she would have to go to my Facebook profile and copy/paste the troublesome character, or use the 'insert symbol' feature on Word.

Until I had to send an e-mail to a lecturer with a US-keyboard, I never truly appreciated what a pain in the arse this was, and despite my repeated insistences that I'm reformed and no longer demand to see the 'a' in my name wearing its proper headdress, she and a few of my close friends go to the bother anyway, in a uniquely touching display of my monomania taking precedence over their convenience.

I'm a little torn on this whole 'fada' business. As a pedant, I want things to be done right, but I appreciate that something of such little import should scarcely warrant a moment's thought, let alone an anguished blog entry. I know that more often than not, using a fada online is throwing a spanner in the works, but shouldn't web developers have adapted to their world-wide-userbase by now? It's tough enough for us Irish folk on the Internet ("Come on now Seœ∂fµn", the websites condescend to me, "every developed nation in the world has a postal code, just fill yours in and we can both get on with our day"). Shouldn't we Irish be able to enjoy the small dignity of being able to spell one's name as it's intended?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Clogged Razors and Crying Girlfriends: A Memoir

My grandfather died last month. I tried blogging about it, but couldn't quite find the right angle that fits my style, and instead of finding a way to address it, I just put off blogging altogether. When I've got writer's block, I open up my folder of stupid little posts that I started writing but never bothered to finish, and today I figured I'd post one. It's a little goofy, but I enjoyed reading it, so please enjoy this bizarre piece of writing from two years ago:


Apologies are in due for the lack of updates lately, but you see, I’ve been doing some soul-searching these past two weeks or so. The source of all my neuroses, anger and aggression has been located and diffused. I’m a changed man.

On Saturday, the seventh of June 2008, something amazing happened. But first; some context.

I’m a hairy man. Always have been. My mother had the first inklings, as she reported “a strange tickling sensation” as she brought be into the world. Growing up as a child, the school bully would exclude me from the pink-belly sessions that the other children dreaded, as the thick coating over my abdomen made dealing out the punishment more of a chore than it was worth.

For years, my mother brought me to specialists in order to curb the rampant growth of hair on my body. The local priest would show up once a week to bless the bathtub so I could immerse myself in holy water, but it was to no avail. The parish bishop pulled some springs and arranged an exorcism, which succeeded only in making me wet the bed. Prayer vigils were held across the nation by good-natured nuns who spread the word of the hairy-lad in Limerick who was relying on the grace of God to remould him in His image, as per the scriptures.

Finally, my mother found solace from a kindly biologist who proffered that my condition was part of the evolutionary process – I was a prototype for extreme-cold enduring homo sapiens, and I had been honoured by my creator. I myself found this to be a huge comfort, and it enabled me to experience a normal childhood, one no longer marred by my mother’s constant appeals to higher powers to heal my accursed flesh.

During my primary-school years, my condition may have worked to my advantage, as it only took a few shears, some glue, and a willing 12 year old to create a rather convincing looking bearded-dwarf who could buy booze without much hassle.

On holidays, I would enjoy massive popularity, as young children would cling to my body-hair in the swimming pool, and have me ferry them into the deep end. I still remember the magical Summer of 2000, when I learned the only phrase I’ve ever needed in Spanish: “Por favor, sea amable en mis pezones” [“Please, be gentle on my nipples”].

Of course, once I became of age and decided I’d enjoy the company of a girlfriend, things got difficult yet again. Teenage discos were a particularly unhappy time for me. To compound the aesthetic problems that quiffs of hair clamouring around my shirt buttons caused, the insulation provided by the body hair also caused me to sweat profusely when dancing. As an evolutionary experiment, it seemed I was doomed to fail, as my genes would never be propagated.

I soldiered on valiantly, but the fears amplified as I became more clued in as to what exactly one is expected to do with a girlfriend – would I ever find one willing to put up with full-body beard-rash?

I developed a rather sophisticated strategy to get on in life, and I took to preying on drunken girls who majored in social-work, knowing that their charitable streak would likely compel them to put up with me for weeks after the first awkward, inebriated encounter. My relationships would stumble along in a begrudging fashion, where my girlfriends would speak plenty about how ‘looks aren’t important to me’ in an attempt to convince themselves, until the inevitable night that I’d be roused from my slumber by the familiar sounds of a sobbing girl and the spluttering of an electric razor bested by my dense locks.

In October 2006, when I was living in Pittsburgh, the cycle began anew with a social-work major from Wisconsin. Over the following weeks, I waited for the signs that her tolerance was cracking so I could begin building a new casefile and moving on, but curiously, she seemed to find my vulgar personality a more pressing matter than my overly follicled torso. In an attempt to distract her away from my hideousness, I let her invest her efforts into correcting the errors of my ways, knowing that the strenuousness of this impossible task would irreparably subvert one’s ability to relate to into mainstream conventions.

With some brilliant maneuvering, I spent almost two years hiding what I was from my girlfriend, by conspiring never to be seen with my shirt off in a well lit room, and convincing her that I was wearing a coarse woolly jumper whenever she brushed up against me in the dark. These efforts kept her from fully appreciating the dearth of bare skin on my body as she continued her project of rewiring my brain.

While this dastardly ‘relationship hack’ would work within our little bubble, I lived in fear of the day when her eyes would be opened to the monster she was consorting with.

That day finally came without warning.

I had agreed to go on a double date to Six Flags Great America, figuring that a loud theme park would be a great opportunity to hide in plain sight. The morning we were due to leave, I observed her packing a bag.

“What do you need your swimsuit for?” I asked nervously.

“We’re going to Six Flags!” she replied in her chipper fashion.

“Six Flags, where we go to ride rollercoasters and consume over-priced snacks?”

“Yeah. But there’s a great water park there too”.

I swallowed hard. There was a water park? The gig was up. There was no point trying to hide it now. I could imagine the horrified looks on her friends’ faces. The suppressed titters in the queues. The teasing chants of the kids. And the Mexicans. Oh God those Mexicans. “¡Dios mío! ¡El pelo diablo!”

Hours later, as we plodded through the amusement park, lining up for hours in the obscene heat to experience 60-second thrills, the banter kept coming back to the water park, and what a treat it would be when we finally got to go for a dip.

After hours of enduring the cruel heat, the time came to go for a swim. I gave my girlfriend a quick goodbye hug and walked towards the changing room. Just before disappearing into the doorway, I looked over my shoulder at her. She was looking at me, wearing a big, dumb, oblivious smile that was still directed at me.

I had been getting on quite well with my male counterpart over the course of our couples-date, right up to the point we walked into the changing area and went into our respective stalls. Little did I know it, but that would be the last time he would be able to look me in the eye. Once I came out the other side of that door, his gaze was constantly distracted, and his warmth and ease of conversation evaporated, and we continued with stilted spurts of small-talk for the rest of the evening. Offending the eyes of this new acquaintance was a mere dress rehearsal for what was to come: it was time to throw away another relationship and enjoy the awkward two hour drive home.

The colour drained out of my world with each step I took towards the meeting point, as my new-friend flanked me by a good six feet to avoid association. I trudged along, looking at the shadow that stretched out in front of me, observing the outlines of my fur rustling in the breeze. I could sense that my girlfriend was nearby, but I hesitated until I was a few paces away before I looked up at her. And there she was, still wearing that big, dumb, oblivious smile.

As it turns out, she doesn’t swim with her contact lenses in.