Archive for the ‘Discuss This’ Category

Frivolous laws?

There have a lot of grumbles of late, of laws and regulations that many deem frivilous and a waste of resources, whereas there are other more important issues which should be tackled but seem to have been sidelined to goodness know when. (Since I haven’t personally look into the matters discussed, I won’t cast an opinion over them just yet.)

One of the latest introduction is that of speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour in city centre area. Really? The whole city is going to be crawling. Not to mention, there are already plenty of stretches where it’s unlikely for vehicles to be going over 30km/h, and in general, road safety in the city centre has been good. Road accidents are more likely at places where there are long stretches of empty road ahead, which tempt some drivers into speeding and being careless. But in city centre? Additionally, the Garda resources are already limited and now they have to be stretched further to monitor really small speed discrepancies? And the government in general will also have to spend more money to put up the speed limit signs everywhere? Many opined that this brings on board more cons than pro argument. For now, I’m inclined to agree.

Recently, a blasphemy law was also passed, and I’m afraid I still haven’t quite get the point as to why this is necessary despite the changes in the faces of the society. How much time was spent debating the points of this legislation which can be better used to sort out other problems, such as harmonising public transport ticketing system, or improving health care, or fight against anti-social behaviour? PZ Myers, on invitation by Atheist Ireland, will be speaking at Buswells Hotel tonight, at 7.30pm, on this issue. The public is welcome and the entry is free.

Do you think these laws are unnecessary and wasting tax payers’ money? What’s next that’s going to be on the list of more frivilous laws?

Science Gallery M+, take II

So a couple of days ago, I voiced my opinion of what I thought about Science Gallery M+ scheme. Seems like I’m not the only current member to react to it, as I see this little snippet in the newsletter I received today from Dublin Event Guide for Free Events.

Joerg opined it as “this is odd”.

SCIENCE GALLERY NOW WANTS YOUR MONEY

My beloved and often highly praised Science Gallery dropped dramatically in my estimation. It is not that they are showing awful exhibitions (“What if” was not as great as others, but nevertheless interesting.), instead they decided to downgrade all their loyal members by raising the bar. Membership in the Science Gallery was always free and it included a few perks. As a member you got a 10% discount on tickets for non-free events, and on purchases in the shop and café and you got access to some events that were only available to the members.

We are now told that they need to raise money and therefore are introducing the wonderful Membership PLUS programme. Only problem is that the “PLUS” Members don’t get anything extra. Instead they get for EUR 30 per year (temporarily discounted to EUR 20 if you “upgrade” before 10 Feb) the perks that the non-Plus members previously got for free. And even worse: all normal members will not get ANY perks anymore. BAD move, dear Science Gallery! Kicking the 8500 people in the backside that felt passionate enough about the Science Gallery to join up, is not smart marketing.

By the way, I am not complaining about the fact that the Science Gallery needs to make money. Sure, it is a pity, but THEY need to decide what is needed to keep the “show” running. However, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been a better idea to charge an admission charge of just 1 Euro (not more!) from every visitor. With 500,000 visitors since the Science Gallery was opened 2 years ago, this might be a much better approach. http://www.sciencegallery.com/membership_plus

I can certainly understand Joerg’s point of view. He has, over the last couple of years, regularly promotes Science Gallery to thousand of subscribers to his newsletter, your truly included, because he genuinely cares about what’s going on in Science Gallery. His stand and mine is not at all too different – we both found it perplexing to have nearly everything taken away from the loyal regular members.

Science Gallery Membership Plus

Nano logo of Science Gallery

Do you know the Science Gallery?

If you don’t, you should check it out sometimes – they have some pretty amazing exhibitions and since its launch nearly two years ago, they’ve brought us, among others, Lightwave, Lab in the Gallery: Pay Attention, Bubble and most recently, What If.

The exhibitions are free to enter, but participations in certain events and experiments are fee-paying. Visitors of the Science Gallery may apply for a free membership, which perks include free wi-fi at the Science Gallery, a 10% discount from Flux Café, discounted event tickets, advanced invitations to events at the Science Gallery, etc.

But in the times of funding cuts, sustaining the level of activities while maintaining the high standard means Science Gallery is now looking for an alternative mean to raise some money.

Introducing Science Gallery Membership Plus.

Its cost is €30 annually, €20 for students. For anyone who sign up before 10 February, the price is discounted to €20 and they’ll also throw in a free invitation to the LOVELAB preview party and a behind the scenes tour of the show.

With this introduction, they’re taking away most of the perks that basic members have been able to enjoy so far and shift those privileges only to paying members. Yup, from the transition date of 10 February onwards, no more free wi-fi, no more 10% discount at Flux Café, no more discounted event tickets. Basic members will retain access to the Science Gallery website and event ticket bookings only.

What bugs me a little is that this whole thing is akin to scamming trade promotions, when you’re promised certain perks until they decided they’re going to raise the bar in order to enjoy more or less the same perks again. Why can’t they just add new perks for the fee-paying members? Or take away only some, not all, of the practical perks that most members use?

Moreover, how is this bringing the membership to the next level (quoting the e-mail I received)? No matter the spin, this looks like paying to get the membership to the same previous level, except now my profile will have a nice little badge that says “Member Plus”. I’d rather they come out and say directly that membership is no longer free. I would have understand the need to introduce the fee, and happily paid for it.

Even I admit that €30 per annum is not too much, but it would be nice to think that the Science Gallery hasn’t just gone all elitist suddenly… and that’s how I felt when they try to sugarcoat the intent behind this initiative.

Savings, Tesco style

So this is what “an offer” looks like at Tesco?

Anyone who fancies this offer?

Yes, it was previously €8.19 but now, special price of €9.50 (with a saving of €2.19)!

Three conclusions that I can draw from this:

  • Tesco thinks people can’t do simple maths the moment they see the word “Save” followed by a reasonable amount of figure (who cares if it’s incorrect and can someone tell me how to reconcile those 3 figures above?).
  • Tesco’s management is dumb and can’t tell that when the price goes up, it’s no longer savings of any sort.
  • Tesco has faulty and unreliable computer system which can’t calculate (they’ll probably claim this incident as computer error anyway).

And as a bonus, funny how the offer is supposed to end on 24 November 2009 but this is still sitting on the shelf and I do know of someone who paid that higher price just over the weekend. Normally, if there’s any real deal, the expiry date is strictly enforced. I should know. I’ve bought things before which when the prices didn’t show up on my receipt and I queried them, I was shown that the offers had expired and so I was not entitled to whatever special prices despite the tags still sitting on the display.

Tesco. Fail.

€140 Million CCJ Building

The building of CCJ in Dublin (photo by Matt Kavanagh/Irish Times)

The new Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) complex will open today for its first court hearing, and this €140 million complex boasts 22 technology-bolstered court rooms, additional 450 rooms, underground holding area for up to 100 prisoners (with their own entrances into each court room), separate areas of access for the judiciary and the members of the public, dedicated victim-support facility complete with suites for witnesses and victims of crimes, and also a playroom for child witnesses.

For more specs information etc, have a read at these articles on the Irish Times and the Independent.

What caught my interest is the architecture side of this building. This 11-storeys building (I know, doesn’t seem like it from the photo above, thanks to the clever positions of 3 rows of large glass panels) is circular, earning it the nickname of Pantheon. For any unaware passerby, it could easily pass for a corporate building; even a modern opera house. The interior is sleek, and its open central space gives this sense of a breathing space, which I can imagine many would need given the stress involved in a judicial process. The human circulation system is such that facilitate mobility of the suspects, judges, juries and witnesses while protecting their privacy at the same time. No pictures as yet that I can find on the interior of the individual courtrooms, but the children playroom is calming with circular motives in coordinated splashes of colours.

What do you think of the building? Is the cost justified given the facilities in place to better provide security and privacy to all who uses the building for one reason or another? (It is about €30 million over the budget stated on the website of the architect company involved, Henry J Lyons, but it’s also delivered ahead of schedule.)

On a side note, for a country of just over 4 million people in population, and knowing that the justice system processes some 400,000 criminal matters per year, the rate is rather alarming to me. I don’t know if this kind of rate is “normal” by any stretch, but I certainly have heard of a lot of thefts and robberies lately that perhaps I shouldn’t be this shocked over it…?

Calls to abolish passenger tax

Rarely do the chief executives of the main airlines operating in Ireland see eye-to-eye but today, Christoph Mueller (Aer Lingus) Michael O’Leary (Ryanair) and Geoffrey O’Byrne-White (Cityjet) are on an united front in urging the government to get rid of the €10 passenger tax for every traveller leaving from an Irish airport.

Ireland is a small island country, and to get away anywhere at all, we either travel by ferry (to UK and France) or by flight. We don’t have the luxury like our neighbouring European countries to hop around the continent by rail or by car directly. But the competitive air travel market has enabled us to travel in and out of the country very easily, and at a reasonable price. Most of the time anyway.

Dublin Airport

Last year, approximately 23.5 million passengers used Dublin Airport as their travelling hub. The tourist tax that’s currently in place would have generated €235 million for the government without further ado.

However since the introduction of this tax on 1st April, the number of passengers using Dublin airport have fell by about 3 millions. Assuming a linear model of projection, by the time the tax scheme operates for a full year, approximately 6 millions passenger losses will have taken place. That’s about 1/4 of last year’s number! Such a large scale drop in passenger number must be worrying for the airlines which are already struggling with high operating costs, increasing debt burden (alright, mainly Aer Lingus for now) and diminishing profits. Not to mention, this will actually also affect government’s taxation income when these companies simply aren’t posting that much profits that are taxable.

Hence the dilemma – is there a balancing point between the two? The government needs to generate revenue somehow given the state coffer is in a dire state. Yet at the same time, they cannot afford to alienate travellers at times of economic downturn. This country does not have bountiful natural resources to see through the hard time, but it does have a reasonably buoyant travel industry to keep things going.

Nonetheless, the passenger tax must not be cited as the main reason for the drop in the number of travellers passing through the airport. We are facing a worldwide recession right now, and many people simply are not inclined or cannot afford the international travel right now. Staycation is on the rise, not just in Ireland, but elsewhere too. Not only the Irish are not going away for holidays, tourists from abroad are also not coming to Ireland. Add on the horror stories from the past couple of years that earned the moniker “Rip-Off Ireland”, any wonder if the tourists are cautious about making Irish holiday plans when their dollars/pounds/yen etc could stretch further if they go somewhere else.

On top of it all, the economic downturn also takes it toll on businesses, that many are simply not travelling for work like they used to in order to cut down the business costs. Instead they turn to conference calls, voice calls (like Skype) and networking sites (like Twitter) to conduct their business and to market themselves.

Perhaps if the government deem that they really cannot afford to scrap this tax altogether, how about reducing it? Already examples are being cited for countries that have scrapped similar passenger taxes (Belgium and Netherlands) or reduced the charge (Spain, Greece) in an effort to stimulate tourism. Now, on a parting note, it would be interesting to see if the US is really going to start charging $10 entry fee per person, supposedly to fund tourism promotion costs.

Upper or lower? Top or bottom?

Here’s something a bit random that I wonder from time to time, but never really took the time to clarify with the locals. Afterall, having live here for years, I’m quite sure I’m past the stage where I can ask without being embarassed about it.

Never mind, I’m asking anyway.

Foggy and a tad confused - St Stephen's Green is at the top of Grafton St?

So there are street names with “Upper” and “Lower” attach to them. “Lower” would means it’s at the stretch closer to the city centre, while “Upper” would be the stretch further away from the city centre. Is this correct?

And talking to people sometimes bring forward something along the line, say, “the top of Grafton Street” or “the bottom of O’Connell Street”. I’m going out on a limb here and deduce “top of” is somewhat equivalent to “Upper”, and therefore is farther away from the city centre. Hence “bottom of” would be similar to “Lower”, and would be closer to city centre?

In terms of parallel streets, e.g. Upper Mount Street and Lower Mount Street, the street closer to the city centre is again indicated as “Lower” and the other as “Upper”.

Am I right? Please someone tell me that I’m right, or else please help educate me in this matter. I would really appreciate it. There’s no place for embarassment in learning. ;)

In case you wonder how I’ve coped so far with people who use these terms, especially the “top of” and “bottom of” designation, I usually double check by means of landmark(s) near it. E.g. top of Grafton St – that’s near St Stephen’s Green, right? Otherwise, if I’m giving a meeting point to people, I usually use landmark(s). Just to keep everything clear and straight forward, you know.

Good day folks.

2nd Referendum on Lisbon Treaty

The fact that a second referendum on Lisbon Treaty is taking place on 2nd October is emminently broadcasted, whether in form of poster war, or booklet distribution, or debates on television and radio.

Lisbon Treaty

However, there are some rather dodgy information going round from both the “Yes” and the “No” camps, and I’m flabbergasted to hear some of the touted “facts” (“they’re going to make abortion legal”; “they’ll make us go to war!”; “there will be more jobs”).

Here are a few links, sites and PDF documents that are presented in plain simple English (none of the legal jibberish talk) that hopefully will help you better understand the Treaty and make decision on your vote.

To anyone who have only been listening to others talking convincingly about the Treaty, please don’t make up your mind yet until you’ve get a chance to at least look at the 2-pages summary above – it won’t take long, I promise. See for yourself if what they’ve informed you is correct.

Please do not use your vote to make political points over the currently very unpopular government – this is not the time for “protest vote”.

Please separate the issues that are at stake and vote accordingly.

Please vote based on informed decision.

===
Side note:

What prompted me to blog this was a friend who is a postgraduate student – so someone highly educated – who believes in the hearsays and actually told me emphatically that Lisbon Treaty will bring Ireland to war, be dictated by EU on taxation and legalise abortions. And I happened to have read these for myself and know that these were not the provisions within the Treaty. (No, said friend hasn’t read the Treaty information leaflet.)

Same goes, with another friend in the “Yes” camp, arguing that Ireland will be alienated and we’ll be losing more jobs. But these are speculative. However, with the Treaty not ratified, it does meant the EU remains embroiled in the current way it runs (which you can judge for yourself if they’re efficient or not). Also, there isn’t anything in the Treaty that promises more job to Ireland – unless ratification opens up EU for more members, thus bigger job market, and this is what counts as more job openings?

What happened to science and mathematics classes?

It’s easy to go about our days, keep our heads down and get on with our work. It’s easy to plan for our free time to be filled with leisurely activities or trips away. It’s easy too to shake our heads in disbelief when we hear/read about the golden parachutes received by folks who have little interest in anyone’s economic well-being, except, errm, themselves. Surprise, surprise.

It certainly is NOT easy though to stay unaffected after reading about follies that should not happen in the first place, and one of the latest effects vital education programme.

Mathematical cartoon from Brown Sharpie, by Courtney Gibbons

For a country that prides itself in a knowledge-based economy and education excellence, it is therefore incredulous when cutbacks encroach into education sector in the craziest way possible. When said cutbacks mean science and mathematics teaching in school is going to suffer. When said cutbacks mean students who are interested and talented will not have teachers/mentors who can help direct their learning.

What is the logic behind the cutbacks on something that really matters?!

Just a couple of weeks ago, a pair of 14 years old boys won the first prize in EU Young Scientist Contest in Paris, France. A couple of days later, a team of four secondary school students from Wicklow won F1 in School Technology Challenge World Championship.

Don’t these achievements say something about the need for continuous investment in science and mathematics education? That we have tremendous amount of talents that should be nurtured, not snipped at the roots.

How are the students supposed to keep up with the high standard of scientific knowledge expected of them, to move into the age of information and technology, when they lack the foundation learning to start with? How are the third level institutions supposed to produce graduates in Science worth their salt when students are discouraged from secondary school level to pursue the learning?

The cutbacks certainly aren’t saying “we are trying to encourage students to take up Science” nor “we are trying to maintain the high calibre in Science and Technology”.

Is there any common sense left?

Phishing for wealth

Yours, to be precise.

Every couple of months, there’s a new article in the newspapers of the latest phishing scam involving your bank contacting you by email, and requiring you to click on some link in order to update your details, or to help recover your data, or to reactivate your expiring personal access code card etc.

Anyone who’s sensible would know there’s a scam behind it. Just like anyone who’s sensible would know there is no rich Nigerian that’s dying to give you their money if you help him/her smuggle the wealth out from wherever they are. Right? Right?

Sensibility apart, knowing how scams and spams work – one should never click on any link and should delete those emails – eventually, hopefully, they will go away. But how long will it take for them to stop pestering you?

I personally have received 6 such phishing email in the last week alone. 6! That’s pretty much once a day. It all started a few weeks ago, with about an email per week, which I duly forwarded a copy to my bank and then deleted. Suddenly I’m seeing more and more of them, and it’s getting annoying. Very annoying.

Seriously, how did the scammers get my email in the first place? Just randomly? But if so, how did they match that to the right bank that I’m banking with? I have no received any email purporting to have came from other banks that I am not customer of.

Does this mean I can assume someone in my bank has sold email database of some sort to unscrupulous muppets? Or does this mean the security system in place for data management of my bank is fundamentally flawed and if so, why are they not doing something to improve it? Then again, I guess once the emails are at the hands of the scammers, they’re going to try to spam it over and over until, well, whenever.

I certainly hope not many people have been conned over such phishing expeditions. In fact, nobody should! When in doubt, contact your bank by phone or in person. The sooner the scammers are unable to make any stealth getaway with your cash, the sooner all this will die off. (And/or they’ll go away and try to figure a new way to do away with your money.)

Until then, remember, (1) don’t click any link in the email, (2) forward a copy to your bank, (3) delete the email, and (4) when in doubt, check with your bank personally.

Phishers – Go. Away.

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