Google Plus Nothing

I finally got my Google Plus a/c sorted about two weeks ago now and have been playing with it ever since. Like most of my peers I have been an early adopter of many social networks and mobile networking apps. I’ve been on Twitter for too long to remember, Facebook too and have engaged in a year long experiment with Foursquare that has now drawn to a close. There has also been a spattering of other services that have come and gone without really featuring in my life (nor providing annoyance to my friends).

The striking thing about my connected life until now is the vast array of apps that I needed to interact with the various networks and also the frequently, limited functionality of those mobile apps compared to their desktop counterparts. Sometimes so bad, I’d rather make the slowest quip in the world than try to broadcast it from my phone. I used to be very anti-smartphone, not getting the phone-omenon in the early days. I still stand by my opinions at the time as things were just not ready for mass market in my estimation. Times have obviously changed and even I have now gone through several smartphones and a vast array of apps for those devices. I guess knocking the adage on its head applies here: There’s no whore like a reformed prude.

Upon investigating Google Plus for the first time, the interface was immediately apparent, as a well thought out, socially unifying experience. Facebook has always been shrouded in privacy concerns and locking down information was ultimately more trouble than it was worth. Of course, I still believe that if it’s that sensitive then don’t put it online! Facebook was great for getting back in touch with old friends whom I haven’t seen since school days and it served its purpose in such regard. However, I saw little benefit in joining groups related to my interests because updates were easily lost in the deluge of friend status posts and other garbage (sorry folks). Facebook allowed me to connect with lots of people, share photos to my friends in a more private way than Flickr but not much beyond.

Twitter grabbed me from the word go. As soon as I heard about the service, being a long time blogger (back then) I could see immediate advantage to concise information broadcasts from trusted peers and leading experts. It was like a 1950’s vision of the future cartoon, where all the information on the web would be available in one, tiny, 140-character burst – get your proton pills folks! However, as time went by I found myself craving more detail from Tweets. Twitter still features in my daily life; a convenient disposal chute for my garbage and a constant stream of what is happening in the world at any moment in time.

Foursquare was an experiment for me. Although not liking the idea of broadcasting my location to all and sundry, I decided to throw myself into it 100%. Within two weeks I had succeeded in annoying lots of folk with Foursquare checkins, cross posted to Twitter and Facebook. Straight away there was a problem. So many of my friends didn’t use Foursquare and so many didn’t care about my checkins, to the point of annoyance. Little value in such a service – all things considered. It was partial fun while it lasted. I gained a multitude of badges, held 20 mayorships simultaneously, uploaded some tips and photos of locations that I visited. However, ultimately the experiment yielded a big fail for me. Foursquare has potential but not within my catchment area. People don’t actively use tips, nor post photos of interesting things at locations. Businesses are not savvy enough to capitalise on rewards and offers for regular visitors or even the mayor. Then there were all the reasonably regular (at least at one stage) “Foursquare is over capacity” messages that prevented you from using the service to checkin. Ultimately it boiled down to a silly game/ego trip that produced very little of value.

Google Plus on the other hand offered granular privacy out of the box, through the concept of circles. The notion of circles was instantly intuitive and worked so well that not only did it guard whom you shared information with but also allowed you to filter friend updates from those whom you may follow just for interesting material (e.g. tech experts and others). Sharing is so powerful, yet so easy on Google Plus. My photos, my status updates, interesting articles I find, videos I like, links that are worthy of a +1, it’s all there under one roof. On top of that they have nailed the checkin system of Foursquare in a way that Facebook never did, in my opinion. I always found Facebook checkins pointless because cross-posting from Foursquare to Facebook just annoyed people so why do it directly? With checkins on Google Plus I can checkin somewhere and only share that with a select circle (e.g. family). That way the valuable information is broadcast to those who may be interested and it doesn’t annoy anyone else. I love the way I can filter, follow and organise my contacts. I like that the interface is simple yet feature rich. I love the Android app for Google Plus. It makes using Plus on the move an absolute joy. No clutter, no mess, and no inhibiting limitations unlike so many other apps for similar services.

I’ve been so taken by Google Plus that I’ve hardly interacted directly with Facebook since getting my Plus a/c. The only thing bringing me back occasionally is a group of friends who haven’t made the jump to Google Plus yet. My Twitter activity is probably more or less the same in terms of my output but I’m finding more and more interesting stories/discussions and in greater detail, through allowable verbosity, on Google Plus. Facebook looks like it may have served its purpose for me and as soon as other friends have migrated to Google Plus, I can see it fading into the distance, barring any shake-up on the horizon. I’ve gone from regularly using 4/5 services to now using almost Google ‘Plus’ nothing.

1848 Tricolour Celebration

Thomas Francis Meagher is a name well known in Waterford City. A celebrated revolutionary who made his mark on Ireland and also across the waters in America. Most people pass by his statue, on horseback, at the Tower Hotel every day, probably without being aware of what may be his most significant legacy to Ireland.

In 1848, at 33 The Mall, Waterford City, Thomas Francis Meagher flew a flag from the building. A flag that represented his views of Ireland’s political state and his desire to see peace prevail upon the land. That flag bore the colours green, white, and orange – colours to which Meagher aligned the Irish catholics (the green), protestants (the orange), and everlasting peace between the two (the white). This vision went without official recognition until eventually in 1937, the tricolour was formally adopted as Ireland’s national standard.

Today, a symbol of the Irish people, all over the world, the tricolour is proudly flown at sporting events, international festivals and anywhere that Irish people go. To many internationals, it symbolises neutrality, friendliness and the “craic” of the Irish. It is fitting that Meagher’s vision for peace, symbolised in the flag, should prevail across the globe as a welcomed and friendly nation.

In honour of the events of 1848, when the now official tricolour of Ireland was first flown in Waterford City, a celebration is planned for March 5th and 6th. On March 5th, following a Mayoral reception of guests, a Leviathan political theatre event will take place at the Theatre Royal – tickets available from the website. The first Leviathan event in the area, this promises to be a great evening of good-humoured and topical discussion on the subject matter of “the impact of flags and emblems on politics and nationhood”. On March 6th, from 12:45pm, The Mall will play host to a reenactment of the tricolour’s first unveiling. Thomas Francis Meagher (portrayed by an actor) will march up The Mall carrying the tricolour which will then be flown from the centre pole outside the Waterford Crystal showrooms. In attendance will be the Irish navy who will observe protocol while the flag is hoisted and also high profile guests of honour from the U.S., France and Canada. The Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Loyola Hearne will address the public and accompanying speeches from the Mayor of Waterford City, Mary Roche, and also Mayor of St. Herblain M. Charles Gautier will set the stage.

A presentation of a replica of Meagher’s famous Club ’82 jacket to representatives of the New York 69th Infantry Regiment will take place against the backdrop of music from The Barrack St Brass Band and local soprano, Donna Roche whom will give a recital in Christ Church Cathedral from 12pm and whom will also sing our national anthem during the flag raising ceremony. Craic agus ceol is expected to follow in the nearby pubs and a great family day out is to be had.

This promises to be a very special event that will attract many people to the city and raise Waterford’s profile on the international stage.

Full details of the event can be obtained from the official website

Think like the web or even like Jon Udell

Back in 2000, the patterns, principles, and best practices for building web information systems were mostly anecdotal and folkloric. Roy Fielding’s dissertation on the web’s deep architecture provided a formal definition that we’ve been digesting ever since. In his introduction he wrote that the web is “an Internet-scale distributed hypermedia system” that aims to “interconnect information networks across organizational boundaries.” His thesis helped us recognize and apply such principles as universal naming, linking, loose coupling, and disciplined resource design. These are not only engineering concerns. Nowadays they matter to everyone. Why? Because the web is a hybrid information system co-created by people and machines. Sometimes computers publish our data for us, and sometimes we publish it directly. Sometimes machines subscribe to what machines and people publish, sometimes people do.

Given the web’s hybrid nature, how to can we teach people to make best use of this distributed hypermedia system? That’s what I’ve been trying to do, in one way or another, for many years. It’s been a challenge to label and describe the principles I want people to learn and apply. I’ve used the terms computational thinking, Fourth R principles, and most recently Mark Surman’s evocative thinking like the web.

Back in October, at the Traction Software users’ conference, I led a discussion on the theme of observable work in which we brainstormed a list of some principles that people apply when they work well together online. It’s the same list that emerges when I talk about computational thinking, or Fourth R principles, or thinking like the web. Here’s an edited version of the list we put up on the easel that day:

  1. Be the authoritative source for your own data
  2. Pass by reference not by value
  3. Know the difference between structured and unstructured data
  4. Create and adopt disciplined naming conventions
  5. Push your data to the widest appropriate scope
  6. Participate in pub/sub networks as both a publisher and a subscriber
  7. Reuse components and services

1. Be the authoritative source for your own data

In the elmcity context, that means regarding your own website, blog, or online calendar as the authoritative source. More broadly, it means publishing facts about yourself, or your organization, to a place on the web that you control, and that is bound in some way to your identity.


To a large and growing extent, your public identity is what the web knows about your ideas, activities, and relationships. When that knowledge isn’t private, your interests are best served by publishing it to online spaces that you control and use for the purpose.


Mastering your own search index, Hosted lifebits

2. Pass by reference rather than by value

In the case of calendar events, you’re passing by value when you send copies of your data to event sites in email, or when you log into an events site and recopy data that you’ve already written down for yourself and published on your own site.

You’re passing by reference when you publish the URL of your calendar feed and invite people and services subscribe to your feed at that URL.

Other examples include sending somebody a link to an article instead of a copy of the article, or uploading a file to DropBox and sharing the URL.


Nobody else cares about your data as much as you do. If other people and other systems source your data from a canonical URL that you advertise and control, then they will always get data that’s as timely and accurate as you care to make it.

Also, when you pass by reference you’re enabling reuse (see 7 below). The resources you publish can be recombined, by you and by others, with other resources published by you and by others.

Finally, a canonical URL helps you measure how the web reacts to your data. If the URL is cited elsewhere you can discover those citations, and you can evaluate the context that surrounds them.


The principle of indirection, Hyperlinks matter

3. Know the difference between unstructured and structured data

When you create an events page on your website, and the calendar on that page is an HTML file or a PDF file, you’re posting unstructured data. This is information that people can read and print, and it’s fine for that purpose. But it’s not data that networked computers can process.

When you publish an iCalendar feed in addition to your HTML- or PDF-based calendar, you’re publishing data that machines can work with.

Perhaps the most familiar example is your blog, if you have one. Your blog publishing software creates an HTML page for people to read. But at the same time it creates an RSS or Atom feed that enables feedreaders, or blog aggregation services, to automatically collect your entries and merge them with entries from other blogs.


When you publish an iCalendar feed in addition to your HTML- or PDF-based calendar, you’re publishing data that machines can work with.

The web is a human/machine hybrid. If you contribute data in formats useful only to people, you sacrifice the network effects that the machines can promote. If you also contribute in formats the machines understand, they can share your stuff amongst themselves, convey it to more people than you can reach through word-of-mouth human networks, and enable hybrid human/machine intelligence to work with it.


The laws of information chemistry, Developing intuitions about data

4. Create and adopt disciplined naming conventions

When people publish calendars into elmcity hubs, they can assign unique and meaningful URLs and/or tags to each event they publish. And they can collaborate with curators of hubs to use tag vocabularies that define virtual collections of events.

The same strategies work in all web contexts. Most familiar is the first order of business at every conference attended by web thinkers: “The tag for this conference is ______.” When people agree to use common names in shared data spaces, effects like aggregation, routing, and targeted search require no special software.


The web’s supply of unique names (e.g., URLs, tags) is infinite. The namespace that you can control, by choosing URLs and tags for the things you post, is smaller but still infinite. Web thinkers use thoughtful, rigorous naming conventions to manage their own personal information and, at the same time, to enable network effects in shared data spaces.


Heds, deks, and ledes, The power of informal contracts, Permalinks and hashtags for city council agenda items, Scribbling in the margins of iCalendar

5. Push your data to the widest appropriate scope

When you speak in electronic spaces you can address audiences at varying scopes. An email message addresses one or several people; a blog post on a company intranet can address the whole company; a blog post on the public web can address the whole world. Web thinkers know that keystrokes invested to capture and transmit knowledge will pay the highest dividends when routed to the widest appropriate scope.

The elmcity example: a public calendar of events can be managed in what is notionally a personal calendar application, say, Google Calendar or Outlook, but one that can post data to a public URL.

For bloggers, this principle governs the choice to explain what you think, learn, and do on your public blog (when appropriate) rather than in private communication.


Unless confidentiality precludes the choice, web thinkers prefer shared data spaces to private ones because they enable directed or serendipitous discovery and ad-hoc collaboration.


Too busy to blog? Count your keystrokes

6. Participate in pub/sub networks as both a publisher and a subscriber

Our everyday calendar programs are, in blog parlance, both feed publishers and feed readers. Individuals and organizations can publish their own feeds to the web of calendar data while at the same time subscribing to others’ feeds. On a larger scale, an elmcity hub subscribes to a set of feeds, and in turn publishes a feed to which other individuals (or hubs) can subscribe.


The blog ecosystem is the best example of pub/sub syndication among heterogeneous endpoints through intermediary services. Similar effects can happen in social media, and they happen in ways that people find easier to understand, but they happen within silos: Facebook, Twitter. Web thinkers know that standard protocols and formats enable syndication that crosses silos and supports the most open kinds of collaboration.


Personal data stores and pub/sub networks

7. Reuse components and services

In the elmcity context, calendar programs are used in several complementary ways. They combine personal information management (e.g., keeping track of your own organization’s public calendar) with public information management (e.g., publishing the calendar).

In another sense they serve the needs of humans who read those calendars on the web while also supporting mechanical services (like elmcity) that subscribe to and syndicate the calendars.

In general, a reusable web resource is:

  1. Effectively named
  2. Properly structured
  3. Densely interconnected (linked) both within and beyond itself
  4. Appropriately scoped


The web’s “small pieces loosely joined” architecture echoes what in another era we called the Unix philosophy. Web thinkers design reusable parts, and also reuse such parts where possible, because they know that the web both embodies and rewards this strategy.


How will the elmcity service scale? Like the web!, How to manage private and public calendars together

The master of online living and organisation speaks again. We would do well to listen and perhaps even adopt a point or two. It would make many things more streamlined.

iTunes gifting scam

Surfers who link their debit or credit card to iTunes have reason to be cautious after a Reg reader found his bank account plunged into the red overnight following £1,000 in fraudulent iTunes gift purchases.

Reg reader Peter woke up one morning last week to discover an email informing him of a “£10 Monthly Gift for”, an account he’d never heard of.

Apple describes iTunes Monthly Gifts as a “great way to give a gift that keeps on giving”. The vouchers, sent to a recipient’s email address, can be used to purchase music and audio books from the iTunes Music Store.

Peter checked his iTunes purchase history, where to his horror he discovered scores of these “Monthly Gift” purchases – all of which had been generated within a short space of time on 19 January, but only one of which generated an email.

As a result of the fraudulent purchases, Peter’s bank account plunged from its £700 positive balance to £300 into the red, forcing him to borrow from friends in order to pay household bills until the mess was sorted out.

Peter promptly contacted both Apple and his bank (HSBC) over the scam. Apple responded with an automated message before suspending his iTunes account, a day after the damage was done. HSBC reacted better, restoring funds to his account so that Peter was able to make his mortgage payment, and sending him a form so that he could confirm in writing that he had had nothing to do with the disputed transactions.

Peter – who has had an iTunes account for years, spending an average of around £5 a month and never using it to make a gift purchase – is highly critical of Apple’s handling of the matter.

“After years of buying Apple products and using iTunes to buy some music and apps now and again, they’d taken the whole day to get back to me and basically claimed no responsibility or offered any help,” Peter, who works in IT and is aware of the security issues around online accounts, told El Reg.

“How is it even possible for iTunes to be used as some type of glorified bank account? Why the hell would I want to use iTunes to transfer money to people?

“It it completely unacceptable that Apple has turned iTunes into some type of pseudo-PayPal without the security measures, monitoring and care being taken to run something so important,” he concluded.

Peter is unclear on how his iTunes account might have been compromised. Phishing attacks (or worse) aimed at iTunes users are far from uncommon – though Peter reckons it’s more likely the hacker guessed his password rather than he mistakenly handed it over. In general, malware infection or the use of the same password on another site that falls victim to a hacking attack are routes towards becoming a victim of this type of attack.

It’s unclear how Peter’s account was compromised (we’ll probably never know) or how many other people might also have been affected by the same scam. The fraudulent gift purchase most closely resembles the mass compromise of iTunes accounts linked to PayPal, widely reported in August 2010.

A quick search of “iTunes + fraud” reveals that Peter’s case is far from unique, with other victims who link their iTunes account to a debit card account also waking up to discover hundreds of dollars in fraudulent purchases. Unlike the iTunes / PayPal scam, the many victims of iTunes-related bank fraud were not all hit around the same time, so the minor variant of essentially the same scam has escaped media attention, at least until now.

Peter’s tale of woe raises questions about whether iTunes ought to allow monthly gifts, given that it is a secondary facility that appears to be easily abused. “iTunes isn’t just a system for buying a bit of music; it’s turned into a banking system that can wipe out your finances and put whole families into financial limbo,” Peter warns. ®

This has made me think twice about my iTunes a/c. I had a problem some years back were I was accidentally charged by Apple for something and it took months to resolve. I’d hate to go down that road again.

Posted via email from jbwan’s posterous

It’s Green, White and Orange you know?

The Irish flag, our tricolour, our greatest national symbol, used to identify us across the globe and who knows, maybe beyond. We can all identify it at a glance. To strangers it’s a symbol of friendliness, the Irish humour, St Patrick’s Day and neutrality. Yet, so many of us still don’t actually know that much about our nation’s standard. The words “green, white and gold” have pervaded the country as being our national colours – it couldn’t be further from the truth. Our flag is actually green, white and orange but once upon a time it was orange, white and green!

The first time the Irish tricolour was ever flown was in 1848, long before the war of independence, long before the Irish constitution and not many people know that. Further more, even fewer know that the flag was conceived by Thomas Francis Meagher and first unveiled in Waterford on March 7th 1848, at 33 The Mall – his lasting vision for the true colours of the flag was peace (white) between the unionists (orange) and republicans (green) who all wanted to share the one land of Ireland. At some point in history the flag was reversed to position green as the primary colour but the symbolism and meaning remains the same.

Now, how many Irish people could tell you that? How often have you ever seen people express pride in the flag outside of a sporting event? This March (5th-6th) an event to commemorate the message, and first raising, of our nation’s greatest symbol, will take place in Waterford. An international event with guests from France and the United States will take place, to acknowledge the history of our flag and create a little bit of pride and goodwill in these difficult and gloomy times. For more information check out and join in the festivities.

Disclosure: I am a member of the organising committee for the 1848 Tricolour Celebration.

PS3 Not Reading Discs?

Almost a terrible start to the new year. My beloved PS3 that I use for Blu-ray much more than I use for games, stopped reading discs on me. I was playing a game of Street Fighter IV when it quit on me and hung the system forcing a reboot. After that it wouldn’t read a game disc nor a Blu-ray movie disc. Frantically searching for a solution, failing to believe it might be hardware, I came across numerous that ranged from hidden menus to bash it hard. In the end the solution that worked for me was so simple. Just start a downloaded game and exit it the way it should be exited. After that, hey presto, all was restored to normal. A bit worrying that an unpleasant game exit could cause the system to stop reading discs but there you go. At least the solution was painless. Hope this helps somebody else.

Posted via email from jbwan’s posterous

So long 2010

We find ourselves yet again at the annual cusp, the last breaths of 2010 will soon be drawn and the dawn of 2011 will break. As is customary at such times, one is invited (perhaps compelled) to reflect on what the year has taught us or at the very least, what is has presented to us. I for one will be very happy to see the end of 2010. It has been a very tough, sometimes shocking and overall, a disappointing year. I regret to admit that I grew a little more cynical of people as a result of 2010 but such is life I guess. Anyway, more of a time for points and not prose, let’s get to the standout stories for me.

1) You are what you tweet – the Gillian McKeith debacle. Yes midway through the year, we were treated to a rather scrumptious story from the twittersphere. A spat had developed between nutritionist Gillian McKeith and Bad Science guy Ben Goldacre. In what can only be referred to as an alleged sequence of misdemeanours, tweets were sent that accused Ben Goldacre of telling lies. Then suddenly the twittersphere went nuts, the topic was trending and retweets were rife. Once the story hit the big time, the tweets from the Gillian McKeith entitled account disappeared (i.e. were deleted) and the world’s worst cover up was attempted including the statement that the account was not Gillian’s despite several official tweets and logos, and prior printed publications suggesting otherwise. Ladies and gentlemen – how not to use Twitter!

2) Dublin Metro despite all needs. Yes, I’ve been banging on about this for years now but it’s still as valid an argument as ever in my opinion. I was delighted earlier in the year, to see that Kevin Myers has joined my band wagon of sense by slamming the metro in one of his columns. I have great time for Kevin’s articles, his lucid and direct arguments, even if sometimes I don’t agree fully – it was a relief to know that I was not alone in my thoughts on what I consider to be one of the biggest travesties in the state. This year, Ireland is swinging from the door frame of wreck and ruin. The country has been swept with budget cuts, banks have been all but nationalised, the IMF even turned up for a friendly chat, we were dealt an austerity budget, and in the end we were forced to take a bailout loan that the country will probably never have the capacity to pay back in full. Yes, Ireland will be in the back pocket of the IMF and more worryingly, the EU, for a very long time to come. It’s never a good idea to be the littlest member of the family whose causing trouble for your bigger brothers and I believe it won’t be long before we see hard evidence of that. Anyway, I digress. Despite all of these economically horrific events the one thing that has not been cut is the Dublin Metro project. Roads around the country have been slashed, hospitals will probably be increasingly centralised (i.e. further limit access to), and other nationwide capital expenditure for local councils is being slashed too. However, Dublin still wants its metro and a two finger salute to all those who speak sense to the contrary. The whole thing has become so absurd at this stage that despite there being no money to construct the metro, the project still isn’t being taken off the table. Sheer stubbornness, ignorance and callous disregard for their fellow man. One really does have to wonder whose legacy this metro is. No project as ridiculous as this, in these austere times, would ever survive if it wasn’t to serve as a tombstone epithet for some politician.

3) Student protests and Garda violence. This was the moment that really worried me this year – the moment that democracy all but died. What was largely a peaceful, in some parts sit down, protest by the students of Ireland, turned to a brutal and characterless assault of anyone that dared not be moved. Students moving through the streets, bleeding, Gardaí caught on camera kicking and beating students with truncheons. There could be no cover up for these events, in this time. Yet again Twitter and other social networks started to buzz with photos and videos of the events as they unfolded. We still await the outcome of what will no doubt be a suffocated inquiry.

4) Attack on Prince Charle’s car. Student protests in England surrounding education fees and such, boiled over into troubles and riots. During said troubles, Prince Charles and Camilla were being driven to the London Palladium for a night of unashamed entertainment. So, what would one do? I know Jeeves, let’s drive our most opulent vehicle through the riots. That will calm the students and show them that all is fair and equal. Boom, bang, crash! What more can one say…

5) Wikileaks. Well the year wouldn’t be worth mentioning if we didn’t mention Wikileaks and the debacle surrounding it. For anyone living under a rock for the past year, Wikileaks is essentially true freedom of information sped up and nothing more. However, when civil servants and petty government officials who feel they can be less than diplomatic in their words and actions have information tied to them, released to the public without the option of redacting it, then there’s a problem. Wikileaks isn’t making up anything, it’s simply setting free information that has been gathered by elected and employed public officials, on behalf of their countries. In other words, public information that citizens elected their governments to manage and gather in the best interest of the country. However, as we can see from some of the leaks, not all that information is in best interests, indeed it would appear that a right bunch of immature, undiplomatic and untrustworthy individuals are running this globe. Founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange is strangely finding himself at the centre of a scandal and arrest with subsequent trial at the same time the US are screaming for his head – hmm, me ponders. Amazon cancelled the hosting used by Wikileaks, PayPal froze access to the accounts used for donations to Wikileaks and apparently also froze the accounts of people who donated money to Wikileaks because the US State Department told them it was illegal. Just what kind of people do we have running this world; Where repressed news reports and public information is a reason to assassinate somebody’s character and act in an undemocratic way?

6) Horse Outside. Well, well, “Horse Outside”. The duo known as the Rubber Bandits, known for their antics on RTE’s Republic of Telly, released what can only be described as the track of the year. A controversial, possibly offensive to most societal groups, riotous composition and video to accompany it. I think it’s best to approach the new year with a smile on our faces and a happy state of mind. So, with that philosophy I salute 2010’s passing with one more play of “Horse Outside”.


Rare lunar eclipse tonight

The last total lunar eclipse in February 2008.

The last full lunar eclipse happened in February 2008.

(Credit: NASA TV)

A rare drama will play out in tonight’s skies: a full lunar eclipse on the winter solstice.

The last one occurred in 1638, according to NASA, and tonight’s may be only the second one in the last two millennia.

“Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is 1638,” Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory, who inspected a list of eclipses going back 2,000 years, said on NASA’s solstice lunar eclipse page. The next lunar eclipse on the winter solstice won’t be such a long wait, though. It’s expected in 2094.

Skywatchers expect the eclipse to occur over a three-and-a-half hour period, starting at 10:33 p.m. PT today and ending 2:01 a.m. PT tomorrow. The Earth’s shadow will completely cover the moon for about 72 minutes, according to NASA’s eclipse page. The shadow is likely to have a reddish hue.

A lunar eclipse happens when the sun, Earth, and moon align–with the Earth in the middle. By virtue of that placement, there is always a full moon during a lunar eclipse. Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse is viewable for quite some time and is safe to view. Tonight’s lunar eclipse will be visible across North America.

The last full lunar eclipse occurred nearly three years ago in February 2008. The next full lunar eclipse is expected to occur in 2014.

NASA is hosting several events to give more insight into the full lunar eclipse, including live Web chats today and a live chat with an astronomer during the eclipse.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of lunar eclipses, check out this Wikipedia page. It discusses the first known mention of a lunar eclipse in China in 1136 B.C. and includes other interesting facts about eclipse-related events throughout history.

Further reading: Images: Don’t miss the total lunar eclipse

A must see for anyone with a remote interest in visible things! Set to turn the moon red, in an event not seen since 1638 according to NASA. Can’t wait!

Posted via email from jbwan’s posterous

Don’t panic! (unless you want to)

So, #budget11 has been released from its cage and set free amongst the unsuspecting public. Terror hit the streets of Dublin as news of this cash gobbling monster spread. People flocked to ATMs in an attempt to claw back any money they could from the bricks and motar that retained their savings. Bank of Ireland customers experienced problems withdrawing cash due to an “unforeseen technical issue”. The reported queues at ATMs would have embarrassed the best stocked Russian supermarkets of the 1940’s even if they had a “meet the Baltika beer model day”. Aprés #budget11 I can’t but wonder how much of that frantically withdrawn cash was destined for the fuel pumps before midnight with 4¢ on a litre of petrol and 2¢ on a litre of diesel set to come into effect.

Some of the main focal points of the budget include a cap on public service salaries at €250,000 (as I noted yesterday), cuts to social welfare payments, cuts to capital spending, a notable increase in the PRSI contribution for the self-employed, removal of the stamp duty relief (now 1% on all sales under €1 million, and 2% on sales above €1 million), and a widening of the tax bands so that more people are “contributing” to the tax take of the state.

Let’s look at some of the things that weren’t done. To start the cap of €250K on public service salaries is ridiculous, this figure is way too high as I explained in yesterday’s opinion. It’s not that there are enough people earning this to make a significant contribution back to the coffers but rather it plays on the expected average wage and thus increases costs right across the board, untenably so. Ministers and An Taoiseach received a cut. Again a frankly ridiculous token gesture that still sees An Taoiseach earning more than the UK Prime Minister – take a hit, share the pain and then people will accept your proposals. Give them free cheese while you party hard with the leaders of the big countries and you’ll lose them forever – lead by example An Taoiseach. In capital spending we hear that many road projects will be stopped due to cutbacks but still the white elephant that is the Dublin Metro is allowed to proceed as if nothing was wrong. What exactly is the fascination with this project that it has to be kept on the table, even in the most austere times when the potential few who might use it will probably end up emigrating so that it can be built? Means testing social welfare, children’s allowance and pensions was not entertained. Such a simple idea that should gel well with a cabinet who seemingly believes that those who can afford to pay, must and I ask why not those who can afford to go without, be allowed to go without? Rather than cuts in children’s allowance, etc for everyone why not means test it for equitable treatment of the truly deserving? Same goes for pensions, I can’t imagine that ex-Ministers will really be requiring the level of pension payments of which they are in receipt of? Pensions are supposed to be about maintaining a good standard of life after the work is done, not about acquiring even more wealth and expanding savings.

Some basic things that I would have changed anyhow, for what it’s worth. The reality however is that amid all this talk of cuts and harsh measures, we really are just farting around in a huge cup of tea with no chance of achieving anything other than a comical enactment of a Brownian Motion demonstration. The wonderful bailout still hangs over our heads like a net of Damoclean rocks awaiting orders to fall. Senior bond holders (to you and me, this means people who took out a risky investment plan but paid enough in so that nobody would tell them they lost money in a downturn) still go untouched at our expense, even against the recommendations of the IMF. Yes, the IMF (the experts in sorting out financial disaster) were overruled by the boys in the EU who controlled the sweet box full of treehouse monies – thankfully our fate lies in their learned and experienced hands! Yes, the bailout we will not escape. It’s a mathematical certainty of which, only the most unscrupulous liars would have no trouble in denying.

How will the man in the street feel tomorrow morning? Probably a little more annoyed than he feels today, probably a few Euro worse off per week, probably not any different in terms of surviving than he was 12 months previous nor any worse off in those basic terms than he will be in 12 months to come. The country does need a heavy FDI injection to get some money circulating again while we endure the illusion that someday it will all be over and we can go back to 4*4’s in every driveway, bringing the 2.3 children to school and borrowing to acquire a holiday home which would be situated at most, 250 miles from your doorstep but ultimately people just need a reason to drive themselves forward again.

Apathy will attack the heart of the society for some time to come but we need to keep doing something, not for financial gain nor debt removal but for the continuance of the human race and to make life bearable. Very few will end up in 3rd world conditions, it’s attitude and spirit that keeps our heads above water while our meager finances more than cover the real cost of living. Only when man stares into the abyss and all that. I hold out hope that society will bond again, that neighbourly relations and community projects will thrive again and people will turn away from the “it’s my entitlement” attitude that has stifled so much in recent times. I have begun to see small pockets of this spirit grow in the last few months and I dearly hope it will foster the multitude into a new way of being – the old way of being. There’s no need to panic, unless of course you really want to. Maybe the threat to the Irish ladybird at the hands of the Asian ladybird is enough to push you over the edge?

It’s cold outside, inside, it will always be cold!

We stand in the eve of what is predicted to be the worst (most austere) budget in Irish history. Based on information leaked so far, the prediction for an average single income household, earning about €35,000 per annum will see a reduction of roughly €600 per annum in take home pay (for single people on the same margin the different is roughly €900 per annum). Those figures are simply based on the leaks so far and don’t account for anything that is set to come tomorrow. Yes, the budget of doom is set to land, roll, and extinguish all hope on this Emerald Isle.

Much is being uttered regarding a cap on civil service salaries – most recent indications suggest €250,000 will be the limit applied. I do subscribe to the philosophy that there is no greater pain and suffering at any level is individual, beyond comparison. As such I always stay clear of making a logical argument into a battle of two sides where each defeats the other and the problem lives to fight another day – the kind of politics that has been played in this country for way too long. Without applying the classical “but”, I do still feel that as a corrective measure, this rumoured limit is still grossly excessive. Public service is just that, it is people who seek a career that aims to improve the standard of life for everyone and to partake in the running of the country – it’s a vocation of such. Sadly in the last 10 years the public service has been seen as a gravy train by many (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly). There are many lower paid public servants that rightly voice their concerns about cuts but there are equally as many, excessively high-paid public servants, with guaranteed pensions of 50% of their final paycheck who scurry for subterfuge when genuinely angry people come knocking. This is where the gravy train view of the public service gains most credence and it needs to stop. It needs to be tackled by sensible caps on top level scales, the kind of salary that will only attract somebody who wants to make a difference and serve their country not chancers looking for big money first and duty second. The guaranteed pension at 50% of final salary for a full service term also needs to be scrapped or alternatively made less exclusive and opened up to the public to choose as a viable pension offering compared to the leading institutions – either way a flat 50% is not a viable payout.

One of my biggest worries is the legacy of the Greens and the carbon tax inclusions in this budget. Carbon tax was pushed so much as an environmentally conscious mechanism to reduce emissions. However, last week, in the criticism of the 4-year plan by other political forces such as the EU, the truth became blindingly obvious (not as if we didn’t already know). One criticism of the plan by the EU (to save a crippled economy and bring more cash into the public finances) was that they would have liked to see greater carbon taxes. So, there it is folks, the bitter proof – there is no interest in using carbon tax at all, to dissuade pollution or emissions, it’s plain and simple, a tax generator to screw the common man in everything he does. Even in a crippled economy. I dread to see what else will appear under this guise in years to come.

News broke this morning regarding the honour bestowed upon Brian Lenihan, as worst finance minister in the EU. To be honest, I never had much time for Brian, always thought that his ideas and interactions with the public were the actions of a desperate man. However, I don’t think it fair that he has been branded as such in this poll. He inherited a poisoned chalice, a bird’s nest of public finance mismanagement, and a black hole of financial corruption (at least a black hole in terms of public knowledge, some government officials may well have been aware of what lied upon if not beyond the event horizon).

It’s still cold outside; about the only thing that hasn’t entered a state of flux in the last week. I’m working in a public service building whose temperature was well below the HSA guideline minimum (due to heating failure) but nobody left on such grounds. Not a bad result for a country that is supposed to be a militant, unionised farce who drops shovels at the first breach of conditions. Despite what some people want to believe (let’s call them secondary problem creators, primary problem failures) this is not “Carry On at Your Convenience” – if you don’t get the reference then try to watch that movie with its own brand of bawdy, British comedy at some stage that it will probably be aired this festive season. If only people invested the same effort into problem solving as they did into pitting groups against each other; We’d not be in this predicament now, that’s for sure – the eye would never have been off the ball.

So, we sit and wait for the published budget to be aired tomorrow afternoon. We await our financial fate with unprecedented, nervous anticipation. For many years budgets have come and gone. I certainly never paid much heed to the prophecies of doom in previous times. I don’t think we have ever really had a harsh budget in recent history. However, tomorrow’s tale has me a little concerned for the future of society. I foresee a long Winter of civil unrest, should certain things come into being. Yes, it will be cold for a long time to come.