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Remembering the dog drying place

Friday, 23 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” — Milan Kundera

Prince drying himself


Where Drunken Thady met the Bishop’s Lady

Thursday, 22 February, 2018 0 Comments

Michael Hogan was born in Thomondgate in Limerick in 1832 and following the publication of his epic poem “Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady,” he was crowned “The Bard of Thomond”. The work tells the tale of the vengeful wife of the Bishop of Limerick and her life of unspeakable vice. One night, while roaming the city streets, she met a Thomondgate drunk known as Thady and tossed him over Thomond Bridge into the Shannon. Drowning, he found religion, and asked God for forgiveness. Having repented his sins, his life was spared, and he was the Drunken Thady no more. The Bishop’s Lady was not for turning, however.

Each night, she roamed, with airy feet,
From Thomond Bridge to Castle-street;
And those that stayed out past eleven,
Would want a special guard from Heaven,
To shield them, with a holy wand,
From the mad terrors of her hand!
She knocked two drunken soldiers dead,
Two more with battered foreheads fled,
She broke the sentry-box in staves,
And dashed the fragments in the waves!
She slashed the gunners, left and right,
And put the garrison to flight!

Thomondgate


When You’re Gone

Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 0 Comments

Dolores Mary Eileen O’Riordan led The Cranberries from 1990 until their break-up in 2003, and again when they reunited in 2009. She died in London on 15 January and is buried in Limerick, in Caherelly Cemetery, where the oldest headstone dates from 1717.

When You’re Gone appeared on the band’s “To the Faithful Departed” album (1996).

“And in the night I could be helpless
I could be lonely, sleeping without you
And in the day, everything’s complex
There’s nothing simple when I’m not around you”

Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan


One Ring to Rule Them All

Tuesday, 20 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Eight medals he has, a record unbroken
Of Cork hurlers he is surely the king
So now all together, one last rousing chorus
Three cheers for the maestro, the bould Christy Ring”

Christy Ring


Carraig an Thorabh

Monday, 19 February, 2018 0 Comments

That’s the Boar’s Rock and it’s the high point of a loop walk in the Glen of Aherlow that extends along Sliabh na Muc (the Mountain of the Pigs). Recommended.

Carraig an Thorabh


Abbreviate before reading

Sunday, 18 February, 2018 0 Comments

Those intrepid enough to work through “Building a Safe, Secure, and Credible NATO Nuclear Posture” published by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, must get to grips with two dozen key abbreviations before undertaking the journey. Favourites include, MUNSS, RAP and SNOWCAT. Here’s the list:

CMX: Crisis Management Exercise
DCA: dual-capable aircraft
DDPR: Deterrence and Defense Posture Review
DOD: US Department of Defense
ERI: European Reassurance Initiative
GAO: US Government Accountability Office
GPS: global positioning system
HLG: High Level Group
INF: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (Treaty)
MUNSS: Munitions Support Squadrons
NAC: North Atlantic Council
NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NNSA: National Nuclear Security Administration
NPG: Nuclear Planning Group
NPR: Nuclear Posture Review
NSNWs: non-strategic nuclear weapons
RAP: Readiness Action Plan
SACEUR: Supreme Allied Commander Europe
SIOP: Single Integrated Operational Plan
SNOWCAT: Support of Nuclear Operations with Conventional Air Tactics
STMS: Security Transportable Maintenance System
STRATCOM: US Strategic Command
TNWs: tactical nuclear weapons
WS3: Weapons Storage and Security System

Afterburners away


The Fogh of war and peace

Saturday, 17 February, 2018 0 Comments

The annual Munich Security Conference is one of those events where you’ll hear interesting words being used. Take “revanchist”, for example. It’s defined as “seeking revenge or otherwise advocating retaliation against a nation that has previously defeated and humiliated the other side in war.” The word comes from the French revanche (“revenge”) and it originally referred to French indignation over losing Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO from 2009 to 2014, regularly uses “revanchist” when referring to Russia and China and his candour is most refreshing.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen


Kersti Kaljulaid and Sophia talk weaponized AI

Friday, 16 February, 2018 0 Comments

The organizers of this year’s Munich Security Conference decided they’d try something novel for the pre-event titled “The Force Awakens: Artificial Intelligence & Modern Conflict”, so they put Sophia centre stage and had her do the introductions. Hanson Robotics, Sophia’s creator, describe her as their “most advanced robot” and for many last night this was their first opportunity to see a chatty bot in action.

The verdict? Unimpressive. The quality of Sophia’s audio output was sub-standard, but much worse was her language. The Munich Security Conference is an annual gathering of a global elite that’s comfortable with the global lingua franca but those in charge of Sophia’s speech rhythms ignored that fact that speed does not always equal progress. Her pace of delivery was way too fast for even most native speakers present. Earlier this week in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker posited that “Europe speaks its own post-Brexit English” and he claimed that this so-called “Eurish” is a mix of “romance and Germanic influences — and no tricky metaphors”, but Sophia, clearly, does not read the FT and neither do those in charge of her interaction with the real world. Skapinker’s “Eurish” is mostly imaginary but chatbot programmers would do well to slow the pace of delivery, simplify the vocabulary and go easy with the metaphors.

That aside, the real star of the show was Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia. Her English was perfectly attuned to the wavelength of the audience and her knowledge of both artificial intelligence and modern conflict was extraordinary. Then again, she would be familiar with both topics as Estonia is a leader in digital transformation and the 2007 Russian cyber-attack on Estonia was a sign of the dangerous new world we now share with the ruthless regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Teheran. Kersti Kaljulaid is on the front line and we are lucky that she understands the grave nature of the threats posed by AI in the hands of those who wish to destroy the civilization and the society she represents so eloquently and so knowledgeably.

Sophia


The Black and White Quest winner

Thursday, 15 February, 2018 0 Comments

For its Black and White Quest, 500px asked for submissions that were stronger without colour. The winner is Michail Christodoulopoulos with this evocative Semana Santa image. Why did the judges pick it? “This is a perfect use of black and white — it emphasizes its mood and tone. The shallow depth of field and composition makes the viewer’s eye go back and forth through this line of men and their expressions.”

Semana Santa

And the story behind the winning entry: “This photo was taken in Malaga last year during the Semana Santa / Holy Week,” says Christodoulopoulos. “I’ve been living in Spain for almost 14 years, but I never miss the processions from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, where the confraternities of Malaga carry their floats, representing the Passion of Christ from His entry into Jerusalem to His Resurrection.”


Insh-AI: WOTF on Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 14 February, 2018 0 Comments

Back in November last year, Wired ran an article titled Inside The First Church of Artificial Intelligence. The writer, Mark Harris, introduced readers to Anthony Levandowski, the “unlikely prophet” of a new religion of artificial intelligence called Way of the Future (WOTF). Levandowski’s church, we learn, will focus on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Last Sunday in the Sunday Times, Niall Ferguson, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, asked “Shall we begin to worship the machines — to propitiate them with prayers, or even sacrifices?” And, provocatively proposed: “Perhaps we shall need to devise an AI equivalent of “Inshallah” — Insh-AI, perhaps.” Ferguson’s syndicated column has the oddly banal title, The machines ate my homework, but it offers food for serious thought, especially today, Ash Wednesday. Ashes to ashes AI, he says, is all about “getting computers to think like a species that had evolved brains much bigger than humans — in other words, not like humans at all.” One consequence of this might be to “return humanity to the old world of mystery and magic. As machine learning steadily replaces human judgment, we shall find ourselves as baffled by events as our pre-modern forefathers were.”

What will become of us then? Will we, in despair, in hope, follow WOFT? Ferguson quotes the German sociologist Max Weber who argued that modernity replaced mystery with rationalism and as a result people “said goodbye to magic and entered an ‘iron cage’ of rationality and bureaucracy.” If AI leads to a re-mystification of the world and a revival of magical thinking, Ferguson knows what he’s going to do: “I’m staying put in Weber’s iron cage,” he says.

But you can’t put ashes on an AI and not everyone aspires to being caged.


A day for shriving, for making shrift

Tuesday, 13 February, 2018 0 Comments

It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day when many people get ready to sacrifice something they enjoy for the next 40 days and nights so that their lives will be filled, perhaps, with something different. The extravagant Mardi Gras feasting of today will be replaced tomorrow by Ash Wednesday’s cold embers, a reminder that so much of what we treasure is momentary, that the things we want to keep forever cannot be kept forever. T. S. Eliot addressed this, and much more, in his poem The Four Quartets, specifically in the fourth section, “Little Gidding“, from which this passage is taken:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.