Tuesday, June 28, 2011

After day of stress, Nokia adds the distress

"Do you have your phone? Do you have your money? Do you have your passport?" My nervous and sad wife peppered our daughter with questions too rapidly to allow an audible response, but our 16-year-old was nodding the whole time. She was ready, but scared too. She had her money in her pockets her passport and boarding pass in one hand and her brand new Nokia phone in the other.

It was 5:45 in the morning and she was heading to Germany for a three week German immersion program, one that will allow her to practice her German as well as getting a taste of Germany and its culture in 2011. My wife and I were both excited for her, but also tense at the prospects of her traveling without us, with people we didn't really know, to stay with a family we had never met.

It was very stressful for both of us as parents and for our daughter.

We anticipated the stress and for that reason we wanted her to have a new phone so that we could be sure she could contact us if she had any need to. Nokia is a trusted name in cell phones. We have had many in our house since I bought my first one in the mid 90s. We never had any serious issues with them - until yesterday.

Just as the stress and tension of the day were easing away - she'd arrived safely; she was getting to know and like her German host family - she called home from the family's phone in floods of tears: the new cell phone was broken.

And it was too. She was typing out a text to her mother when it switched itself off and she couldn't get it back on. Panic, upset, fear, a sudden realization as to how far away she was combined with her exhaustion - she had to get up at 3:45 - meant she had gone from stressed to distressed. My wife was distressed too - her 'baby' was crying and far away.

I was on the train home when my phone rang. My distressed wife relayed to me how upset our daughter was. Fortunately, being conservative and cautious has its pluses. "Yes the broken new phone is a real annoyance, but she has the old one too." I had insisted that my daughter take a back-up phone, a 7-year-old brick that has twice been called out of retirement - a totally reliable Nokia.

When she had the old phone out and working all was fine again. She was at ease and I was too. As for my wife, well, I don't think she'll be at ease until she has her baby back again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Only in Ireland - wet Dublin's water shortage

If you're not in Ireland you may not be aware of the fact that we're having a drought here. If you are in Ireland you are absolutely, 100% certain we are NOT having a drought. Yet, despite what now seems like weeks of daily, heavy rain showers, we have water shortages.

There are times when Irish people use the expression "only in Ireland" when it's definitely not "only in Ireland." News about corruption in politics? "Only in Ireland" you'll generally hear, but that's certainly not true. All democracies experience corruption and Ireland is actually ranked better than most.

However, the other day I was watching the news headlines with a friend when the newscaster mentioned our water shortage and my friend looked at me and said, "Only in Ireland would you have water shortages in such weather." I couldn't disagree.

It was raining at the time and, in fact, I couldn't recall the last time we had had two straight days without rain. Yet I also couldn't argue with the evidence just presented on the television of a reservoir that was far from full.

The report was thanks to Dublin City Council's warning asking people to conserve water. They asked us not to water our lawns. Well, no argument from me because ... God's got that one covered!

I really don't understand how we could possibly have a water shortage. I know we had a (relatively) dry spring, but come on. It has hardly been Phoenix here.

According to the official records, Dublin had only about 60% of the normal amount of rainfall during the spring. But let's face it, 60% of Dublin's normal rainfall is still a lot of rain. There are many cities on Earth that would love to get 60% of Dublin's normal rainfall.

This is one of those examples where you can see how the Celtic Tiger years were truly wasted. The city of Dublin grew rapidly during the time, but the water infrastructure wasn't improved or expanded as the city grew.

Nearly a quarter of all the water pipes in Dublin are 75 years old or more. They leak. A lot. That's one source of our shortage.

On top of that we need new reservoirs. The city grew, but the supply of water didn't. We're near the point where demand equals supply. There are plans to draw water from the Shannon, among others, but nothing is definite yet.

The only definite is that the government wants to meter and charge for water. I can see their point, but imagine how much easier it would have been if they government had actually tackled this when the coffers were overflowing rather than just jacking up public sector pay? Now every household is going to be expected to pay for water, which has been free up to now, just when many households are drowning in debt.

That's how we find ourselves this June in a Dublin soaking in rainwater, its citizens being asked to conserve because the reservoirs are short of supply. Only in Ireland.

{Photo – Vartry Reservoir from Water Supply Project - Dublin Region.}

Friday, June 17, 2011

High-mindedness, principles are nothing for this Met fan

As I was listening to last night's Met game, as the Mets self-destructed to blow one they should have won, I realized how unwilling I was to blame the main culprit (in my mind) - Francisco "Frankie" Rodriguez (a.k.a K-Rod). Three months ago K-Rod would not have gotten such a pass from me.

At the beginning of the season I didn't want K-Rod {photo} on the team. I was done with him and I wanted the Mets to off-load him at almost any price. In fact, I was done with him last August.

On August 11 of last year Rodriguez was arrested after assaulting his girlfriend's father in the family room at Citi Field after another bad loss for the Mets. The assault reportedly took place in front of some of Rodriguez's teammates' family members, including many children.

For the rest of the 2010 season and over the winter every time I thought of K-Rod I thought about how much I didn't want such a dirt-bag on the Mets. How could I root for that guy?

That was then. This is now.

Other than a blemish during the first week of the season, when I was still annoyed that this 'loser' was on the Mets, K-Rod has been perfect. Until last night. Last night he entered the game with the Mets ahead 8-6, but he yielded a 2-run-homer that tied the game for the Braves in the 9th inning.

An inning later and the Mets had completed the Braves' job for them when the Mets' pitcher balked home the winning run. A strange baseball play to end a strange game, one the Mets really should have won.

Yet, after a disastrous start to the season, surprising their fans as much as anyone, the Mets have actually played pretty good baseball since May 1.

One big reason the Mets have been playing well is K-Rod. He's been fantastic and for me that seems to have overridden all those noble ideas about what type of character I want on the Mets. I have had no trouble rooting for K-Rod.

Last year is soooo last year. Even yesterday seems last year; all that matters is tonight, tomorrow, the next day, the rest of the season. Go K-Rod and 'Let's Go Mets.'

{Picture thanks to NJ.com}

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

North Wicklow's own Hotel California?

Now that the days of squeezing pennies out of the peasants has passed the descendants of the local landed gentry have to find new ways to pay for the upkeep on their large homes and estates. Killruddery House in North Wicklow is no exception.

There are concerts there during the summer, movie and television programs are filmed there (Angela's Ashes, The Tudors, Camelot are three you might know) and there is a regular stream of events for which the general public can pay into the estate. All very praise-worthy, much better than their plan to sell off more of the land for housing development.

All of which brings me to their new sign.

The other day after my trip away I was driving by Killruddery when I saw that they had a new sign outside the main gate. The sign is an attractive invitation to the passing public to drop in.

You can (pay to) visit the house, (pay to) visit the beautiful gardens, (pay to) walk the hills that make up much of the estate or (pay to) enjoy one of their many special events. The sign is a lure.

Nice sign, I thought, but then I saw what was written on it. Immediately I said to myself, "Sometimes phrasing and grammar matter."

Right there on their nice new sign beneath the name Killruddery was their new slogan: "A Place To Escape." Uggh.

Of course I knew what they meant, but my reaction was to laugh at them. "Sounds like Colditz or Alcatraz or, better yet, Hotel California."
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!

I'm know that's NOT the image Killruddery's owners have in mind. In fact, I'd be surprised if they weren't happy at the end of each day when the last of the riffraff leaves their grounds.

That's not what their sign says, however. According to the sign getting away from the place is the real joy. Time for Killruddery sign 2.0.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guinness should not cost more in Dublin than New York

Two weeks ago, after taking a big sip from his pint of Guinness President Obama declared that we were "keeping all the best stuff here." It was a point on which everyone apparently agreed.

Imagine how much more interesting Obama's visit would have been if he had done a double-take on being told what his pint cost. I don't know what they charge in Ollie Hayes's pub in Moneygall, but probably around €4 ($5.75) a pint. The last pint I had in Dublin I paid €4.35 ($6.25) for it.

Last week I found myself in a bar on Broadway in the Bronx with a few friends. I ordered three pints and did a quick calculation in my head. I figured the pints would be around $8 each and had $25 in my hand.

I couldn't believe it when the bartender asked for $12. I actually said, "No, I'm paying for all three." She confirmed that $12 was the right price, that the pints were $4 each (€2.80).

It was a Happy Hour special, she explained, the regular price for a pint of Guinness is $5. That's not quite €3.50. I doubt you can find a pint of Guinness for €3.50 anywhere in Ireland.

How can this be? I've often acknowledged that the taste of Guinness is better here, suggesting that it doesn't travel well. No matter how it's traveling it cannot be traveling more cheaply to the Bronx than it is to Dublin's pubs.

Every week or so there are articles in the newspapers about how the pubs are struggling to make ends meet. There are all sorts of reasons pubs are having trouble surviving, but I doubt an excessive profit margin is one of the problems. I doubt they're taking a significantly bigger share on a pint than are their Bronx counter-parts.

That leaves only the taxes. The tax on a pint of Guinness must be far greater here than it is in New York. I suppose it's not entirely a bad thing - there are definitely too many people here who drink too much.

However the government promotes the pub as an essential aspect of our tourism offering. If the pub was not so important we would not have seen President Obama having a pint in one.

So if the government wants pubs to - at a minimum - be profitable concerns, to be open for tourists who have heard about the good times a pub can provide, surely they should do what they can to ensure that the price of a pint of Guinness is not higher in Dublin than it is 3,000 miles from here.

The price of a pint of Guinness is an easy to compare cost. Every tourist who pays more for one here than he does in New York or Boston or Chicago (maybe even at the President's local) will be struck by a simple thought: "Ireland is expensive." That's counter-productive.

There may be ten reasons why Guinness tastes better in Ireland than elsewhere, but the price sure ain't one of them. We have to fix that so that tourists can enjoy the excellent taste without the bitter aftertaste of knowing they overpaid for that pint.