Blogging: 2013 in Review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Archiving


Over the past couple of weeks I have been busy going through old photographs from travels long since finished and uploading the to my flickr page.

Derrynane, Co. Kerry, Ireland, July 2013

Derrynane, Co. Kerry, Ireland, July 2013

It started accidentally, with me uploading a huge number of images from my summer in Ireland, mostly from Kerry on the south west coast. After this, I realised that I still had at least a memory card or two worth of photographs from our most recent visit to Thailand, in February of 2012, and Malaysia in July of the same year. While I’d uploaded some of my photos from Malaysia, I think the Internet still deserved a few more.

Further inspiration for uploading more photographs came when a package with around 250 photographs from our Honeymoon to Turkey in 2008 arrived on the doorstep. I had finally taken the initiative to put together a photo album from that time, and it only took something like five and a half years.

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Hierapolis, Turkey, July 2008

Now this really was an amazing collection of photographs, not just of the memories myself and Herself shared, but also of a very spectacular and scenic country, one which we’d both like to return to again in the future. I think I was quite selective in the photographs I chose to develop in that they reflected our experience together and the memories we’d like to look back in in the future. That being said, that I left out so many due to this is a perfectly good reason to trawl through the folders again and share some of these images here.

It’s interesting to watch how my style and quality of photograph has developed. With travel photography, there’s always the necessity to capture as much of the scene or the action as possible, and to present a sense of how it actually feels to be there. I think that as I’ve taken more and more photos, both every-day and travelling shots, I’ve become more capable of doing this. Of course most of my early shots are simple point and shoot efforts, regardless of the quality of the camera (back then mostly a Sony DSC-H5, which I still have back in Ireland), I still had to do my best to take as good a shot as possible, a skill which I kind of had to learn myself.  With time I spent more and more effort composing the photo, taking time to frame it, and to snap at the right time. With my DSLR now I am starting to see how this is even more important than ever, considering I know so little about light, shutter speed, aperture, and eveythign else bar pushing that little shiny button on the top.

Before I begin to share photographs here on mass, I should add that I’ve just uploaded a small set of photographs from a brief stopover in Hong Kong we made on the way to Seoul from Dublin in the same year. I am also beginning to dig into other folders saved on my hard drive and on CDs of visits to places like China, Japan, more Thailand and Malaysia, France, the UK where myself and Herself lived for a year after getting married, Ireland, and of course Korea. It’s is an exciting project ahead for myself.

Hong Kong and the Star Ferry, May 2008

Hong Kong and the Star Ferry, May 2008

When I think back over the countries I’ve visited I don’t think I’m that well travelled (I base this assumption on the amount of countries I still want to visit), but when I look back at the many different experiences and locations I’ve been to I can be proud of myself in this regard. I still know that I have many journeys ahead of me, and along this way I plan to have my camera, Herself, and for the foreseeable future, +1.

To view the sets on my flickr page, including recent uploads from Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, please click on this link.
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Undol -v- Radiators


In a classroom I teach in the heating hasn’t been working since who knows when. It has probably been broken since the summer. It’s one of those awful heaters that doubles as an air-conditioner, blowing out dry, heated air, in the winter, and flimsy puffs of cool in summer. Yesterday, I was sitting at a desk rubbing my knees and grimacing one of those ‘oh well you know’ friendly kind of faces towards the students who came in wrapped for artic exploration. I actually felt sorry for them because at least I could stand up and walk around for a little warmth.

I turned to one student, who I knew had lived in the UK for several years and proclaimed ‘what we need here are some radiators!’ to which she gave me a blank look. I remonstrated with her, trying to job her memory to which she replied ‘I prefer undol’. And I thought, ‘oh yeah…but no…’

Of course if you’ve lived in Korea, or indeed merely visited, you’ll have experienced undol. It is the floor heating which exists in every home, many hotels, and indeed any restaurant where floor seating is the norm. It’s great, to be honest, to crawl into your home from the cold, kick of your shoes and glide across the sleek floor and then lie down in a warm cosy spot, defrosting with the undol’s loveliness caressing your bum.

Old undol… (image by me via flickr!)

I know Herself is a big fan of it, especially when there’s a nice big cosy blanket to wrap around herself. I would be inclined to blame it for what seems to be every Koreans’ outspoken aversion to anything cold (except iced lattes etc.). Can you blame anyone for liking the cold after probably spending every moment they don’t need to be outside sitting at home on the undol. In fact anything that isn’t undol in winter is in fact cold. I know this sounds like stereotyping, which I’m no fan of, but in this case it’s not necessarily a bad thing. To back me up all I need to do is look behind me at my wife currently engaging wholeheartedly with all that the undol has to offer.

Back to my remonstration.

I grew up with radiators, not undol. Radiators were, in winter, great. Why? They were warm. They radiated warmth. They were cosy, provided you didn’t touch one which was doubling as an soldering iron for some reason. Of course if they’re never turned on they’re not much good. Sure they leaked, stuff got stuck behind them, you burned your finger, and of course they had to be painted every so often. But then again so does a house.

You see for all that radiators have not, and all that undol has, radiators have that undol has not. Let me explain, and elaborate on why Korean needs more radiators.

Radiators, radiators, radiators! (imagae via flickr)

Radiators, radiators, radiators! (imagae via flickr)

So I’ve given one side of the story already. The cosy, slipping under the blanket in front of the TV, versus the burning your finger and laboriousness of radiators. It’s a clear winner, but really it isn’t because you can’t have undol everywhere.

Firstly, I wonder how effective undol would be in a two story house? Firstly there’s the pipes upstairs thing, and then there’s a space issue. How many square metres is your average apartment compared with your average house? Would it work? And if it did, how much would it cost?

Next, while I think taking your shoes off as you enter the home is a nice concept, it can be really annoying and impractical, such as in the hallway, or indeed in the kitchen. A good tiled floor would be much more useful. And then there’s the cultural element. The amount of time I’ve been chastised for even letting the tip of my shoe laden toe touch the linoleum, and all I can think of is, ‘chill the fuck out, if it bothers you that my toes touched the lino, give me a space bigger than a toilet cubicle to take off my bloody shoes in…’ It’s a little overkill. Yeah maybe I should be more vigilant with my size 11s, but come on, it’s a floor not a child’s bed.

Take my argument out of the home, which is where most people I discussed this point with seemed to think was the only place that needed heat.

Oh yes, I’ve opened up the argument to the rest of the world.

Floor heating really only works when you don’t have shoes on. Yes, heat does rise, but when you’re wearing shoes and socks and walking around what does it matter, you’re not really going to be in one place long enough to really appreciate the warm floor. And if you don’t have undol what are you going to do?

What we have ended up with is a world of heatless buildings that seem to have been designed with the idea that, well we can’t have undol, we can’t have anything. There is the odd portable heater, which never does the job, and don’t even get me started again on the hot air belchers. I know that these would probably work better if they rooms they were in were actually insulated.

I know, you’re asking yourself when did I become an expert on construction materials and heating. Well, since I’ve froze my ass off every winter since 2005, I’ve decided I’m an expert.

Back to the point. Undol is lovely, but radiators, yes please! Or even better, lets knock a fireplace into every wall like there should be.

P.S. I say all this with my sockless toes all cosy and warm lodged on a warm patch on the floor.

P.P.S. Stay warm kids!

In Defence of Stamps


Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make the difference. There was a time when I would check the post every morning in the hope that there would abe a letter for me. I would ask my mother why was there never anything for me, and wistfully she would respond “well if you sent a letter to someone then maybe you would get something in return”. My obvious response was to drop my shoulders and curl my nose and skulk off muttering about some injustice or something.

I didn’t realise it until probably now that my mother’s response was probably something similar to what I know now. Personal letters or emails are wonderful, but they rarely come, or at least their infrequency is dwarfed by the sheer quantity of spam and bills. And even if I jump to the twenty-first century and talk about emails it doesn’t get much better, in fact it worsens.

Throw into your inbox all your newsletters, online transactions, receipts, work related mail, social network updates and notifications, and whatever else streams in between nine and six daily, and probably continues throughout the night if you recieve mail from across the timezones, email loses all the charm it had, if it ever actually had any in the first place.

I’ve come across a few articles recently where someone disconnected from their email for a year and found out how wonderful the world is, or something to that effect. There are also countless amounts of surveys or reports proclaiming the effects and costs laid on the corporate world from people checking and responding to overburdened email accounts.

I should also elaborate on the state of my email inbox at the moment, with over 3,600 unread emails and counting, many of which will not change or improve my life if they ever are opened. This amount started to grow from about six months ago when I suppose I just got tired of deleting them. There may be some important mail in there I should have read, but if it was really important they would have emailed back, right?

Sure enough you could argue that social networking has removed our need to email so frequently, and of course email has removed the necessity of writing letters, just regulary mail services removed whatever messenger network was there before. Perhaps there is someone out there busily considering the medium to overtake social networking, and good luck to them.

For all our complaints about social networking though it won’t go away, and neither will email, and incidentally neither will regular mail. We will see how and why we use these forms of communication change though, and some day we will be as nostalgic for old-fashioned tweeting or email writing as we are now for a hand written letter.

Modernity and modernising has always been about making it easier and more efficient to do things. To compliment everything modern there is always the old way, deemed in some respects old fashioned and antiquated as equally as it is is considered traditional or vintage. Speed and efficiency is undoubtedly the defining and divisive factor in establishing the difference.

Who is to say that there is actually anything wrong with, for example hand writing a letter, walking down to the post office, queuing up to buy a stamp, and then popping it in the post box, and heading off to finish the rest of your business? Compare this to standing on a bus grasping a railing one hand as it trundles through town, whilst tapping uncomfortably the tiny letters on the screen of a smartphone, including the backspace repeatedly, and clicking send, whereupon your email is sent directly to its recipient who is likely to be experiencing something similar in another part of the planet. Either that or it will be waiting for them when they wake up in the morning.

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Speed is everything. Even more important than money, seemingly, because somehow the idea that time equals money has proliferated and began obliterating everything that once stood for something, and by something I mean a person’s job and livelihood. Nostalgia is making mighty waves promoting the way things were and how the world was better before we had a full communication suite trapped inside a small black device which fits into our pocket. Conveniently, there’s a fair amount of nostalgia available online, or at least you can book it or order it online. How fortunate are we?

There is a tremendous amount of modern speed which does seem unnecessary. In Korea, I feel like every building over three floors must have a lift, buses bull through red lights, there is ultra fast internet for all users, deliveries are made at low cost and arrive the next day, and there is one of the fastest high speed rail systems in the world in a country where it only takes five hours to drive from one corner to its furthest extremity on the opposite side of the peninsula. Yes, I know that the clogged expressways undoubtedly encouraged this development, but they’re not always clogged. Speed equals progress, development, and of course convenience. This is good and the goal we should be setting for all of ourselves.

Don’t think that I’m critical of Korea here, a similar list could be drawn up about any country. In Korea and especially Seoul it seems that everyone and everything has to be where they should be now, and not tomorrow, and certainly not soon or over the next few days. Seoul is the only major city I’ve lived in so I can’t reasonably compare it fairly, but I’ve heard enough comparisons with such poster cities as London and New York to recognise the same obsessions with this instant. For all I may feign complaint over, the convenience of Korea is by far its most redeeming factors after living here for over eight years.

But let me ask you would you go back to slower and less convenient times? I wouldn’t. It’s not solely because I have a recognisable addiction to things been done instantly, or because of the convenience, or the cheaper cost, it’s because it’s better. Whether we are better people is an unnecessary observation, as again nostalgia feeds on these grievances. For all that I or others may raise about a modern obsession with speed, I don’t see myself slowing down, let alone stopping.

What I would do though is ask myself or others to think a little about what is really necessary? For starters, much of the devotion to doing things quick stems from the time is money notion I mentioned earlier. To do things quicker and more efficiently will save us more money in the long run, right? Well in many respects yes, but at the same time this is not always the case.

Take stamps for example. Mail or post is in its own right a fairly new phenomenon, and while the effort of writing a letter and posting may be considerably less efficient and signicantly more time consuming, it already seems to be becoming a redundant service that is poorly equipped to compete with the efficiency of email and multi-facetted social networks. Barcodes instead of stamps do little to help this cause.

If you want to post something you need a stamp. This something could indeed be a letter, but it is more likely to be some kind of a form, application, or parcel, but still you need to pay for it and since the Penny Black the preferred way has been to use a stamp, although of late some innovative soul discovered that barcodes are much more effective.

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I’m sure there is some reason for utilising barcodes as a means of determining the price of postage, and I suppose it’s probably a smart reason, right? I think though that maybe the world would feel a little less like a factory floor if we had less barcodes and numbers defining so much of our lives. Mail is such a small thing that perhaps we could be left enjoyed one of its redeeming traits, the small intricately painted and uniquely designed stamp.

At all corners there are numbers and codes pigeon-holing us. The favoured tool of streamlining our bureaucracy, giving a number not only makes us easily findable amongst the rest of the rabble, it removes the face of its owner, leaving if we’re lucky a male or female looking silhouette behind the digits.

Now comparing the barcode for a stamp with an national ID number is a bit severe I admit it, but I hasten to add that I don’t see any problem with regular old stamps. There was something to them which if anything make our connection with mail or post a little more tenable. They had a connection with not only the sender, but also the receiver.

There is a little more than nostalgia attached to this notion that stamps have a bit more attachment to people than barcodes. There is a novelty to them, and not just from the perspective of a stamp collector, from the point of view that we can try to make out the details, however intricate, of a stamp. We can see a little something that is special to another country. We can read the script and possibly have an idea what the currency is, and of course there is the feeling that it was not applied by a machine in a dark basement. Let’s be honest, when it comes to stamps there’s always that human element we can all recall, the taste of the glue on our tongues from licking the back.

The stamp has more personality in its own personalised way. In Ireland stamps come across as a celebration of the nation, which is odd for a country which doesn’t flaunt its patriotism as much as you may imagine, with pictures of flowers, birds, animals, historical figures, architecture, and indeed special events and occasions such as the Special Olympics, and fortunately never (or perhaps rarely) living politicians.

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It’s unfortunate that in Korea I haven’t seen a stamp since I was here in my first year in 2005 when I tried to send some postcards home. The stamps were small Rose of Sharon, the national flower of Korea, bright in their purpleness and backed by green leaves, and as typical a stamp as you could get. Some years later I went to send Christmas cards home, and each individual envelope was popped up on the scales, and a barcode sticker with its varieties of code was printed out and stuck on the top corner.

Much of this only sank home recently when I received and sent plenty of letters and parcels. I felt that, here was a little way of sharing the rest of the world. But at the same time it was a way of keeping a small industry and interest in the world alive, where we would be encouraged to look at the finer details of the wrapping of the objects which arrive in our letterboxes.

There is little argument against it, other than speed, perhaps. Yet, if you want to take it from the perspective of the consumer or the sender, you can be sure that when they go to the post office they still must queue up, and they still must put their letter on a scales, and the person will probably still tap a few things on a computer, if anything just to get a receipt.

Stamps are little things, but when we add up all the small things we find we have something greater. Efficiency will not make the world a better place, and in changing through development we often forget to stop and look at what it is we are changing. Stamps are small and insignificant but like most of the things which change without us knowing it will be long after they are gone that we notice we can’t tell one barcode apart from the next one.

Do You Have a Minute to Spare?


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If I Had A MInute To Spare is now open to guest posts. If you have a minute or two the spare and would like somewhere to say it, please get in touch through facebook or twitter.

Regular readers will know that I am open to anything really, and as I say in my introduction, this blog is a space for expressing or just getting some ideas out there. There’s no limit to the amount you submit, and while images are lovely they aren’t entirely necessary – I suppose it depends on what you’re trying to say.

So. Yeah. Guest posting. Who’s up for it?

deadly writer

P.S. Thanks to my old friend Ray for giving me the impetus to try this out. We’ll see how things go.