Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Some November photos. Click the photo for a gallery.

Monday, November 22, 2004

All the young dudes........

I decided after the election to wean myself of all media. I was super-saturated with information and I needed a low content media diet. This has been a failure in all but one area -radio. It was my habit to listen to NPR, (public funded radio to those non US readers), on the way to work, and really, given it's quality, this should be the last media outlet I forgo. However, it is so much easier to pop on my ipod than to stop my finger from clicking those links to Salon, Slate, CNN, The BBC or even The Drudge Report, (I know, I know, but everyone reads it, right?).

My commute is shortish, but I can get a half an album in during the ride, a full one if traffic is slow. This mornings soundtrack was Aladdin Sane, David Bowies 1973 album. Bowie was hugely important to my teenage self. Even in the 80's, ten years after their relase, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory felt new and exciting; they still do. Bowie had injected his alien personna into every note and groove, but yet somehow still spoke to the bored suburban teenager. Ziggy was one of the first albums I bought, and I wore several needles out listening to it.

Our teenage and early adult years are the only times in our life when we get a chance to really absorb recorded music. Mostly because you actully have time to sit down and listen. I listen to more music now, but its usually whilst doing something else. It's a rare occasion that I can pop on a CD and just chill out with it. Another reason is economics. Due to the usual financial restrictions of youth, my album collection was small, much much smaller than it is now. When you can't afford a lot of records, you are very choosy about what you buy. It also means you really treasure a good record.

There were some minimum qualifications for purchase.

  1. Had been borrowed from a friend, and it's greatness verified.
  2. Some of the album cuts had appeared on a mix tape a friend had made.
  3. Mark Cagney had played it on Night Train - a great late night radio show back in the days...
On returning from school everyday I would make a cup of coffee and stick on whatever record was the flavour of the month. Then I would listen, really listen. I could totally lose myself in the music. In my mind these musicans were my peers. As a young musician, music had yet to reveal it's secrets to me, ( there are many as yet unrevealed), but I could imagine myself playing these songs onstage. I yearned to be able to write and play like my heroes - and at the time it seemed like such a huge hill to climb. As I became a better musician and learned to play more complex songs, music lost a little of it's magic. Once I understood the inner workings of a song or recording, it didn't impress me as much. It's kinda like knowing the mechanics of how the magician makes the pretty girl disappear - the wow factor is replaced my the admiration of the insider.

There is another reason for the importance of music to the young - at a time when you are struggling to define yourself, but with no real life experience to use as a touchstone, music provides definition. Who you listen to is who you are. Bowie and his ilk provided a glimpse of a world yet to be tasted. Not that I really wanted to be a cross dressing, rockstar with a coterie of whores and junkies - but it provided an "other" something outside the usual teenage tedium of the hassles of school, and family.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Some photos

I have been meaning to post photos, so I have been experimenting with various upload tools. For the moment Web Generator works best. Click the photo for a gallery of random shots.


Monday, November 15, 2004

BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | 'Better rights' for gay couples

It's amazing how much Ireland has changed since I left. This was inconceivable then - but I always felt that Irish people were much more tolerent than they were made out to be.

BBC NEWS 'Better rights' for gay couples

Sunday, November 14, 2004

St Anne Of The Sunset Church as viewed from Irving Street, San Francisco


Coming Out for One of Their Own

This is very heartening - The one thing I learned from my time traveling was that people, regardless of their political, national or religious leanings are generally kind and good. Most people live and let live. The red states ain't as red as you think, and for that matter the blues states maybe not so blue.

I for one am not so sure that people bought Bush's agenda in it's entirety. Most people just didn't want to change in midstream.

You need a password for the Washington Post to read this. It only takes a minute, it's free and worth it.

Coming Out for One of Their Own (washingtonpost.com)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Poppy Day

Today is Veterans day in the US or Armistice day elsewhere. When I was really young, 5 years old maybe, my mother, who is a nurse, was a private nurse to a very old Anglo-Irish man, who owned Attyflin House several miles and another world away from our suburban home. A long narrow road wound up to an old manor house which was surrounded by some of the best dairy farming in Europe. The old man's name was Brigadier Hewson, and if memory serves me correctly at the time of his military service he was the highest ranking Irish born officer in the British army. As a little boy he meant little to me, except that I could ramble around his old house, being spoiled by the various house staff, and hang out with a beret headed gardner named Pa - whom my mother told me later was a pretty simple man - which is probably why he got along so well with a 5 year old.

Later on, as my own fascination with WW1 grew my father passed on some of the Brigadiers stories. Dad would go out Attyflin while my mother was nursing and hang out with the Brigadier, whom he held in high regard, just to hear these tales. Apparently Hewson had been wounded on the first day of The Somme, his first of two woundings during the war. He also told my father that war was a terrible thing, but getting old was worse.

Their was another old soldier in my life, albeit for a very short time. My Grandfather, James McDermott, who is a vague black and white memory. He died when I was almost a year old. In my fathers office his Black and Tan war medal is framed and hanging. A guerilla warrior in a dirty, nasty, vicious little war. We know very little about his time in the old IRA, apparently he never discussed it. We do know that he was considered enough of a danger to the new pro treaty Irish government during the Irish Civil war, that he was interned in The Curragh for almost two years. My Father and I keep meaning to research his history, but sometimes I wonder if those days should be left dead and buried.

These two old soldiers came from opposite of the divide in early 20th century Ireland, and it shows how far Ireland has come that they both can be recognised as Irishmen. It would have been interesting to know what Brigadier Hewson thought of my Grandfather's type of soldier, a rag tag guerilla army that brought the empire he fought and bled for to the negotiating table. I wonder what both of them would think of the new shiny brash Ireland of the 21st century.

On a side note - The Face Of Battle by John Keegan is a great book on what battle is like for the men who fight it. It's a down and dirty view of war from the trenches, as opposed to the usual grand sweeping view of great stratagies, clashing empires and visonary leaders. He examines 3 pivotal battles, Agincourt, Waterloo and The Somme and examines what an actual battle was like for soldiers over the ages.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Patrick Kavanagh

This year is Paddy Kavanagh's 100th anniversary, for my money he is the best Irish poet, ever. Sorry W.B, but your high fallutin' hibernian stuff was great an all, but I'll take his earthier stuff any day. Seamus Heaney of course comes second, by a nose. Of course it's absolute nonsense to be rating such giants against each other in the first place - but we like what we like.

Anyhow, Kavanagh's Raglan Road, is one of my favourite love songs. The words read aloud can induce a tear, but in the mouth of a great singer it can reduce a room of hardened criminals to a quivering mess. My mother once told me it was written to a women that ditched him to become Donagh O'Malley's wife - O'Malley was at the time the Irish Minister for Education. The Limerick Leader, my home towns local newspaper confirmed this in this weeks edition. Limerick Leader - November 6th

On Raglan Road on an Autumn day
I saw her first and knew,
that her dark hair would weave a snare
that I might one day rue.
I saw the danger yet I walked
along the enchanted way.
And I said, "Let grief be a fallen leaf
at the dawning of the day."

On Grafton Street in November,
we tripped lightly along the ledge
of a deep ravine where can be seen
the worth of passions pledge.
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts
and I not making hay.
Oh, I loved too much by such, by such
is happiness blown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind,
I gave her the secret sign that's known
to the artists who have known the true
gods of sound and stone.
And word and tint I did not stint
for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her dark hair,
like clouds over fields of May.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet
I see her walking now,
away from me so hurriedly.
My reason must allow,
that I had ruled, not as I should.
A creature made of clay.
When the angel woos the clay,
he'll lose his wings at the dawn of day.

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Bill says.............

So lets all get over losing, and put away the hair shirts. As usual our Ex has a bon mot or two to cheer us up. The tide of history is progressive over the long haul. This is a slight detour. We just gotta be vigilant that it isn't a fatal detour. America is moderate at it's heart.

"I'm old enough now and I've run enough times and I've governed enough, succeeded enough and failed enough to know there is a limit to how much any election can repeal the underlying tides of history."

CNN.com - Clinton offers words of wisdom to fellow Democrats - Nov 10, 2004:

Todays photo, The view from my window at work, a (bad) stitch of 3 photos.

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Skype - Free Internet telephony that just works

This is very cool. As usual I am late to the game. All my team members at work are like me, from some where else and use this to communicate back home to family. I know a friend who works for a small dispersed company and they use this as their internal phone system. We also use it as a back up at work. I called my younger bro in Sydney last night, it's clear as a bell.

Skype - Free Internet telephony that just works

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Diddly eye

It is very rarely that a genre of music with set prescribed boundaries, can be melded with another genre without, diluting both forms. Usually success is achieved when a musician or composer views the musical boundaries of his chosen arena as flexible and extends them, overlapping with or hinting at another genre, without smashing the fences between them. Irish Traditional music is such a type. Centuries of tradition have resulted in a delightful form of music which is handed down from generation to generation. Each new generation interprets the myriad of tunes through the prism of it's own experiences, the best among them can incorporate other musical forms. This has resulted in an ancient music which has withstood tyranny, mass indifference, condescension, musical conservatism and commercialisation to be as vital today as at any other period in its long history. But change comes slowly. It takes either a full on flaming visionary, or a subtle genius. The latter is the case here.
Every so often a musician or musicians crop up who can do just his, innovate without destroying the essence of the genre. Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill are such musicians. Hayes is an astonishingly gifted fiddler, rising way above the technicalities of great tone and well honed chops, (he has both to spare), to a place where he can incorporate subtle sensibilities from other forms. One hears a blue note here, or some Stephan Grapelli jazz there, but there is never a doubt that this is Trad, plain and simple. He has what he himself describes as "The Lonesome Touch" (also the name of their first album). It is the sadness that lies at the heart of Irish music, a wistful melancholy wrapped in the crazy joy of every jig and reel, that only the best musician can touch. But it is in partnership that these two find their genius. Denis Cahill's, (Chicago born), guitar playing is sublime. No showboating here. Subtle picking, harmonics, chords that stretch the harmonic architecture of Trad beyond minor and major - always supporting the melody, and gently innovating where he can. I have been playing guitar all my life, and it takes a lot to impress. Like most musicians I tend to listen to music with my brain rather than my heart. I am also a recording engineer which is the surest way to ruin listening to music for pleasure! However Cahill's playing overcomes both these aural handicaps, and leaves me slack-jawed. He makes me want to pick up my guitar and practice, his musicianship renews my own. This is the greatest compliment one musician can give to another.
I haven't even mention how their albums are perfectly paced, designed to be listened to at one sitting. But if you go out an buy their "Live in Seattle" album, you can hear for yourself.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Take by my workmate on top of San Bruno Posted by Hello

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A hard rains a gonna fall............

It was a biblical day in the Bay Area yesterday, meteorologically at least. The weather was appropriate to the post election mood in a city where 80% of the voting population threw their hats in with John Kerry - me included. Ominous clouds scurried hither and thither overhead for most of the day. Despite the stratacumuli, the rain defied gravity all afternoon. I knew it wasn't gonna fall until later. When you grow up in a country with 280 days of rain a year you develop a sense for these things. At lunch a workmate and I decided to brave potential inclemency, (he's from LA a Valley boy born and bred, so I had to assure him my weather sense was non-pareil), and cycle up San Bruno mountain. It's a relentless 5 mile climb to the top, a few clicks short of brutal, but do-able door to door in an hour, i.e during lunch. The mountain is a stones throw from where we work, the town of Brisbane nestles in its embrace and it overlooks the traffic whizzing up and down 101, and beyond that to my cube. Cubes suck but I could do a lot worse. At the top one is rewarded with a 360 degree view of the bay area, the Pacific on one side, San Francisco Bay on the other. The clouds were high enough that you could see all the way to the Farallon islands on the Pacific side, and on the bay side, Mt. Diablo poked over the East Bay hills like a giant ragged dorsal fin. Where else in the world could you do this on your lunch hour. One of the many great things about SF is the easy access to spectacular scenery. Most big cities require at least an hour of driving to get to anything equivalent. With a bike and some will power SF offers mama nature at her best and on the cheap. Our building sits right on the bay, and I try to take a few minutes each day to appreciate the gorgeous view over the bay from the lunch room.
By the evening commute it was raining, real rain, Irish rain, windshield wipers on full rain, hopping off the freeway and freaking out the Californian drivers rain. Cats, Dogs the whole managerie. 101 runs right along the bay, and it was so windy I swear I saw some surfable waves crashing along the shore. I don't think I've ever seen waves on the bay before. I've been feeling wistfull for Ireland and the pissing rain made me feel right at home. My Younger brother Hugh (younger bro no. 1 in terms of birth order),helped by finishing an IM session yesterday morning with this exhange. With the time difference it was end of day for him.

hugh: I'm off to the Cobblestones for the creamiest pint in Dublin
me: Have one for me!
hugh: You have the weather, women and the lifestyle, I've got Guinness!!
me: True.

Very True. Ireland has the perfect pint, The U.S has everything else - we'll call it a draw.