Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Will the last person to leave the country please turn out the lights

So it's official - we're in a recession. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/we-blew-the-boom-1419958.html

I sat stony-faced in my car as the findings of the ESRI were read out on the radio. I partied hard with everybody else but never forgot the dismal 80s and 90s - when as a college student having to sign on the dole because there weren't even part-time summer jobs available.

This shocks me to my core but I have to admit along with everybody else that we had to have seen this coming. We had our economic boom, our Celtic Tiger. Why don't we just make the right decisions to ensure at least - good times or bad - our dear nation knows stability. Stability is a form of prosperity.

The rumour mills suggest that the government is planning to announce ubiquitious broadband as part of its National Broadband Strategy next week (3 July).

I couldn't urge this more. A person at home with a computer and a broadband connection is capable of setting up a business or an industry - as we have seen in recent years. It's a lot more than their counterpart at home in the 1990s had. Except for a one-way plane ticket to America.

This is not an epiphany, it's real. Enterprise and entrepreneurship are the antidote for unemployment and recession. Encourage people to use computers and broadband to beat the recession, they can work for anyone from anywhere. They can create businesses based on anything from selling stuff on eBay to using their intelligence to write, provide consultancy services or develop technology. This is the way out. Failure to provide them with the tools is economic sabotage. Let's hope intelligence prevails.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lack of political willpower is killing broadband in Ireland

  • Every morning I join a convoy of neighbours who depart from our tiny little village on the 45min-1hr drive to our capital city. I don't mind the drive, I listen to the radio and get up to speed. As an editor my job requires my presence at the office most of the time to attend meetings, make editorial/design decisions, guide my team of writers, etc. But the writing aspect I can do from pretty much anywhere - and I have! Park benches, phone boxes, airplanes, trains, buses, airports, etc.

    As a 21st century technology journalist I need a 24x7 awareness of what's happening in the digital world. Before I leave in the morning I ought to have scanned the web, checked email and if an urgent story needs writing - BANG - it's done. At the weekend if it moves, I’d shoot it. That was my routine when I lived in Dublin.

    But like many of my fellow journeymen I don't have that luxury. My village is not served with broadband. When I moved into my new home in January, Eircom were meant to have broadband-enabled the local exchange by April. I thought I could live with the pain for four months. I have to rely on my Blackberry until I get to my desk.

    Then it slipped to June, and now – apparently because the equipment in the exchange is ancient – this could slip into July. I’m literally going mad.

    While I would give my eye teeth just for a miniscule 1Mbps connection at home, the world has in fact moved on. 3Mbps is the average connection speed in Ireland whereas 16Mbps is the average speed across OECD countries.

    Fibre is the next hurdle and thanks to lack of vision in the Irish Government – consistent for the past 10 years and not helped by mentally constipated, overpaid civil servants and useless expert panels.

    Eircom chairman Pierre Danon’s announcement to leave to join a French broadband firm that already has fibre infrastructure should focus minds here, but it hasn’t. I don’t blame him. Fibre is the future, not DSL. In fact, we probably have the same total number of consumer fibre subscribers in this country as the number of Eircom chairmen over the last 10 years.

    A few things that are abundantly clear to me:

    The Government doesn’t seem to understand that if we don’t get the fibre issue right in the next year, it will take 15 years to resolve by which time Ireland could have lapsed back into the economic doldrums we survived through the 80s and 90s (anyone know where I can get a half decent plough or a Green Card)
    There appears to be minimal dialogue between the Government (aka Communications Minister Eamon Ryan TD) and Eircom over the fibre issue. In fact, I reckon the two entities have been doing their communicating via the press – http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/news.nv?storyid=single11108 – rather than straightforward talking.
    The National Broadband Strategy (the follow-up to the disastrous Group Broadband Scheme) was announced a year ago and we still have no winning consortium. It could take another year before broadband-deprived areas have the now ancient 1Mbps minimal connection
    As revealed this morning by Damien Mulley, minimal attention and resources have been given to the above scheme: http://www.mulley.net/
    The Next Generation Broadband Strategy document due to be presented by the Minister for Communications in March still hasn’t been unveiled (any day now I hope)
    Our education system is under-resourced in terms of ICT – Tesco is probably the biggest contributor of computers to Irish schools, followed by parents giving up their free time

    The bottom line is Ireland needs leaders, dynamic people of vision to propel the country forward for the next few decades and the truth is that we haven’t seen these kind of people since Sean Lemass and TK Whitaker. Stuttering, posturing politicians and bureaucrats don’t impress me, they never did.

    The Irish Government and its pampered civil servants need to wake up to the economic reality. Within three years 50Mbps connections will be standard across Europe with some economies enjoying 100Mbps like Korea and Japan already do. Ireland may not see any of this for 15 years unless the right decisions are made.

    Our pretence to the throne of “knowledge economy” is a pipe dream that fits nicely into prepared speeches. A nice idea, but it’s not reality. There’s an opportunity available for dynamic visionaries to make the right decisions here and now. Anyone want the job?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Are we dispassionate compared to our ancestors?

Have you ever had to fight for something you believe in? In fact, is there anything you do believe in that’s worth fighting for? We say we’re inflamed about the environment.
We say we’re angry about politicians who take hand-outs. We abhor injustice, we want to stamp out poverty, we want to rule out racial prejudice and are horrified at the rising levels of crime. But what do we do about it?
We create the means to communicate and write and create, yet we’re shocked when teens turn the World Wide Web into a living version of Golding’s The Lord of the Flies – to insult, offend, isolate and hurt.
Yet, we stand by and wag our fingers when protesters disable jets belonging to a regime that attacks a country just for oil under the pretence of defence.
I think we are becoming too comfortable with our standard of living and apparent luxuries. We frown at people who stand out, go against the realpolitik and make nuisances of themselves protesting, taking action.
The world today is incredibly complex and incredibly dangerous. But there are no sides to take. We slave to the wage and compartmentalise everything into that shining box of lights that adorns our living room. The horror may as well be something you’re absorbing from a DVD. We are becoming numb. But there are no sides to take, we just stand by and disapprove. If there are sides to take it’s too much effort to leave the comfort zone and we risk being marginalised.
The reason I’m thinking along these lines is because I’m reading an excellent book by Anthony Beevor called The Battle for Spain. It traces the origins of the Spanish Civil War back to Spain’s position as the granary of the Roman Empire and how the aristocracy reformed the agricultural landscape to focus on more cash-rich products, instantly creating a barren landscape full of peasantry. This bubbled away for years as the Church helped to maintain the status quo.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 communism became an international socialist agenda the situation in Spain became a class war pretty much between the dispossessed and uneducated workers and peasantry on one side and the more Fascist-leaning aristocracy and Church on the other.
The war became polarised between communism and fascism and in Europe in the 1930s it was a very real concern. Thousands of young idealists flocked to the banners of either side and the idealism and zealous ardour was captured perfectly not only by Beevor but also by director Ken Loach in his 1995 film Land and Freedom. You can check it out here: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=Land+and+Freedom&sitesearch=#

I think its okay to have a cause. I think it’s good to have an interest in politics, whatever your viewpoint. But when I survey the tired, jaded scene of politics in the US and politics right home here in Ireland I feel anxious that really dynamic, interesting, idealistic people aren’t speaking out.
Where are they gone? Is everyone really happy with their lot and afraid to upset the bandwagon?
At the time of the Spanish Civil War, prominent journalists like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell either reported and took part in the fighting. When I think particularly of Orwell’s reportage and writings warning us of totalitarian regimes such as in the eponymous 1984 I can’t help but think of now and what he would have made of the world today.

Belarus 2008

I promised the world a write-up on what we got up to on the Chernobyl trip in Januarythis year and every time someone asked me a question about how it went, my very jaded mind raced and it was very hard to really say how profound the experience really was. Avoiding clichés like tired, emotional and moving was impossible. A humbling experience? Definitely. I have tons of photography and a diary of notes that were intended for a blog that has yet to emerge. Now, here it is:
Thank you to everyone who donated. I raised close to €16,000 from Whitespace Ltd, Whitespace staff and corporate sponsors and I can guarantee you every cent was well spent (as you’ll read below). Collectively the team raised €120,000 for this year’s trip. 13 of us went out and worked very hard; every day was an early start and late evening and involved first-rate logistics and planning. There was very little personal time and I can guarantee you everyone left their egos at home
It was an eclectic bunch who went. As well as journalists and PR people, the team included a civil servant, a banker, a businessman, a gardener, a BBC music copyright executive, an architect and an accountant. The craic was mighty!
The aforementioned BBC executive is just back from India after organising the distribution of books to 500 orphanages
Some of the kids weren’t likely to see Santa Claus this year and those that have received a visit from the Santa trip previously wait earnestly for it every year thereafter
The kids’ anticipation is magical but also reminds you that this feeling is universal; we’re all the same
Seeing the kids receive presents, their joy and gratitude but also the emotional joy on the faces of their carers is amazing to behold, impossible to forget … the greatest feeling. One little boy started to cry when he received his toy. We thought he didn’t like his present, but when we asked we found out he was overcome by the fact that he got a present in the first place
Most of the guys on the trip got to be Santa or Father Frost as it is known there – I can’t tell you the stage fright you can get – Conor’s inflatable Santa suit caused a storm and provoked a near stampede by a gang of five year-olds at an orphanage in Dyatlovo, near the Lithuanian border
Watching Tom and the team in action was dramatic and inspiring – everything from windows, baths, beds, pets, roofs, books, toys, clothes, school equipment, kitchen equipment, games etc. would be decided for an orphanage following an assessment, and an exercise in delegation to procure everything; no one was left without a range of daily tasks
Visiting orphanages that had previously received support from the International Orphanage Development Programme, it was remarkable the impact they had in terms of the well-being of the children. Everyday things that we all take for granted from warmth to hygiene mean a lot … orphanages that were found in a deplorable condition a decade ago were able to demonstrate clean, modern facilities
Our team of interpreters were first-rate, worked really hard and were great, great fun
My own observation on the orphanages we visited is that despite insufficient State support and infrastructure, they are staffed by dedicated individuals and you cannot but be moved by the love they have for their orphans and devotion to their welfare
There was a strident emphasis on education in each orphanage and I met many extremely bright kids with strong ambitions for the future, including 12 year-old Yuri who could speak perfect English and who when he grows up wants to become a computer programmer making special FX for Hollywood movies
Every moment there reminded me how precious life is and emphasised that the dignity of the child should be foremost

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Every beginning is a start

Obviously. So here I am. I've done it. I've set up a blog. For years I brushed aside the notion of writing one because simply writing every day on www.siliconrepublic.com is just as time consuming, not to mention editing various newspaper sections and supplements. That's what I do. It's as much my vocation as my career. I wish to do nothing else, really.

My love is journalism and my experience and reward has been the gift of a front row seat to the biggest social revolution sweeping the world since the invention of the printing press.

Let's begin with a statement of intent - I refuse to class myself as a blogger until I've established a set tempo and publish something regularly. I don't want to be one of those people who start a blog and only update it once in a while. I'm very critical of that kind of thing. And I know I'm as fallible as the next person and will not rule out falling into that trap.

The reason I'm doing this is curiosity, an interesting experiment that may not go anywhere. And above all to say to people who ask me do I have a blog that YES finally I have one. I can't promise it will be good but it will be just what it is.

Since I don't have much time at my disposal and consider article writing the first and only art (since it pays the bills), I will publish whatever I damn well wish, whenever I wish. A sentence here, a chapter there, maybe an observation, a well meaning complement, a blistering rant, or just a photograph. If I'm feeling particularly digital I'll possibly even post a video or podcast. Anyone who knows me knows how hectic things can get around here so don't hold your breadth.

I will use the blog as a personal place to relate experiences, observations, etc. It will be separate from my work as a journalist. Beyond technology my points could be about history (which I'm passionate about), cooking (my skills are evolving), exercise and sports (don't expect much here), TV, films and music. Everything and anything.

As best I can I will refrain from writing after a night out on the town. Judging from previous drunken texts I've broadcast far and wide, this would be a prudent policy.

Journalists have rules, templates and traditions to follow. Bloggers don't. But they are creating their own legends, traditions and legacies as I type. I attended a conference a few weeks ago (the Irish Internet Association's Annual Congress) and Bruno Sarda of Dell made the observation that 175,000 new blogs are created daily with 1.6m new posts every day and 18 updates a second. The online population will double in the next 4-5 years, he said, to 2bn people.

I'm just adding to the general cacaphony. x