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Time passes, love fades and Dylan meets Big Data

Wednesday, 30 December, 2015 0 Comments

Although he’s a poet and a philosopher, Bob Dylan is not so ivory-tower that he scorns advertising, especially if it helps the Bob Dylan business. Back in 2004, he appeared in a commercial for Victoria’s Secret lingerie. In 2008 he did ads for Cadillac, and in 2009 he partnered with will.i.am for a Pepsi spot that aired during the Super Bowl. In October, IBM pulled off quite a coup when it coaxed Dylan into appearing in a commercial for its artificial intelligence software Watson. “I can read 800 million pages per second. My analysis shows your major themes are time passes and love fades,” Watson tells Dylan as the two riff on a song idea.

According to IBM, five Watson services analyzed 320 songs from Dylan’s archive and came up with the key trends of time passing and love fading. The message of the ad is that Watson not only thinks but learns about a topic. Among those topics are Big Data, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which will be major themes here on Rainy Day in 2016.

The IoT is about connecting devices to the internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from phones to washing machines to wearables and almost anything else you can think of. The concept also covers machine components such as an airplane engine or the drill of an oil rig. According to Gartner, more than 20 billion devices will be part of the IoT by 2020.


The Christmas Candle

Friday, 25 December, 2015 0 Comments

The Christmas candle is such a beautiful thing. It is quiet and gentle and gives itself to all, unselfishly, as it illuminates the world and then ebbs away.

The Christmas Candle


The Irish coffee

Thursday, 24 December, 2015 0 Comments

“We’ll take off the clothes” was the first statement my mother would make shortly after returning home from Christmas Eve mass. What sounded like an invitation to party was, in fact, a declaration that a new round of chores related to the preparation of the Christmas dinner was about to begin and it would continue long after midnight.

But before the job of preparing the sherry trifle started, the traditional Irish Coffee had to be made. The ingredients were four: whipped cream, coffee, Demerara sugar and whiskey, preferably Powers, but Paddy would be accepted in its place. As a lifelong Pioneer, my mother had pledged to avoid alcohol so how could she justify drinking whiskey? Well, it was only “a taste”, it was a family tradition and it was Christmas.

Irish coffee on Christmas Eve

Method: Pre-heat a stemmed glass with hot water. Empty the water and add two teaspoons of Demerara sugar. Now add some freshly brewed coffee and stir. As soon as the sugar is melted, add a decent measure of whiskey (about 2.5cl). Stir again. Now, the tricky bit. Take a hot teaspoon and pour the whipped cream slowly over the back of the soon until a solid head forms on the coffee.

Serve and enjoy. And we did.


The holly

Wednesday, 23 December, 2015 0 Comments

On this day last year, with one foot on the dresser and another on the step-ladder, my mother was perched like an Alpine Ibex as she fearlessly ensured that the most important of the Christmas decorations, the holly, was positioned exactly. Despite her 86 years, she insisted on arranging the “sprigs”. Holly has an ancient terminology and “sprig” dates back to the Middle English sprigge, meaning a small twig or stem.

The holly

Green and spiky and adorned with red berries, holly is the perfect Christmas decoration. It is honoured in the “Sans Day Carol,” which was first transcribed from the singing of Thomas Beard, a villager in St Day in the parish of Gwennap in Cornwall.

Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who was wrapped up in silk:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died on the cross:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died for us all:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!


Object of the Year

Tuesday, 22 December, 2015 1 Comment

It’s a lapel pin. But it’s a unique lapel pen because my mother wore it on her favourite suit the last time I saw her on this Earth. We swapped lapel pins that night in September and I got the “better bargain”, as she’d say herself. Therefore, our Object of the Year award goes to my mother’s Pioneer pin.

Pioneer Pin

The Pioneer pin has its origins in a temperance movement that began in Cork City in 1838. At the time, Father Theobald Mathew was alarmed at the widespread alcoholism among Irish Catholics and he campaigned for what become known as “The Pledge, which was a solemn promise to avoid alcohol and stay sober for life. As a result, expressions such as “take the pledge” and “keep the pledge” became part of popular speech. My mother was a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, which grew out of Father Mathew’s crusade. The association does not advocate prohibition, but it does require complete abstinence from alcohol of its members and it also encourages devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The importance of revered objects was emphasized on Friday when the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, revealed his final acquisition before stepping down from his job. It’s a cross made from the wreckage of a boat carrying refugees from Eritrea and Somalia that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013 with the loss of 350 lives. The Lampedusa Cross was made by Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter who lives on the Italian island. MacGregor said: “This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection.”

There’s a clear link between the Lampedusa Cross and the Rainy Object of the Year in that both are linked by a humble, impressive and enduring faith.


Post of the Year

Monday, 21 December, 2015 0 Comments

On 10 November, BBC Sport reported: “Eleven-time Flat racing champion jockey Pat Eddery has died at the age of 63. Eddery, who rode more than 4,600 winners and won 14 British classics in a 36-year career, is regarded as one of the greatest jockeys of all time.”

The report went on to note: “Ireland-born Eddery, who retired in 2003 and was awarded an OBE in 2005, had been suffering from ill health.” That “ill health”, while a statement of fact, was also a term of discretion. Out of respect for the dead and, perhaps, for the sensitivities of an industry that has a special sponsorship culture, there was no further elaboration.

The world didn’t have to wait long for an explanation, however, and when it came it was especially moving because of its honesty. “Filled with grief this morning that my dad Pat Eddery is no longer here,” wrote Natasha Eddery, and she named the culprit: alcohol. She hadn’t seen her father in five years, she confessed in her Instagram post:

“…we stayed in touch and spoke on the phone, I never missed a birthday etc and not a day went by when I didn’t think about him. The last time I saw him face to face was when I brought him home from rehab and he drank straight away. I turned to him and said ‘dad if you choose to drink over health and family, I can’t be part of that life for you.’ Sadly his addiction was too strong and he couldn’t overcome it.”

Pat Eddery

Pat Eddery came from a country with a long history of alcohol abuse and it was not his fault that he couldn’t free himself from this destructive legacy. It was his good fortune to be part of a business that helped make him a winner; it was his misfortune that the same business fosters a fatal attraction. Natasha Eddery receives the Rainy Day Post of the Year award for declaring her love of her father and for naming the disease that destroyed him.

Tomorrow, here, the Object of the Year.


Film of the Year

Sunday, 20 December, 2015 0 Comments

On the outer edge of desolate Highland battlefield, a trio of witches predict that the Thane of Glamis will one day become the King of Scotland. Inspired by their prophecy and goaded into action by his wife, Macbeth murders the monarch and takes the crown for himself. What follows is classic Shakespearean tragedy.

This year’s screen adaptation by Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel of the 400-year-old work wins the Rainy Day Film of the Year award. Kurzel’s interpretation revolves around a pair of truly powerful performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Her fair is an ideal match for his foul and the film captures perfectly their intimate treachery as they plot to take the throne and keep it.

Justin Kurzel is equally good at depicting the psychological consequences of their crimes. When Macbeth confesses to his wife, after the murder of King Duncan, that his mind is “full of scorpions,” one can empathize with the director’s theory that this Macbeth is suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Were those witches a hallucination? What about the fact that he can’t get any sleep? When he begins to talk to Banquo’s ghost, Lady Macbeth tries to calm the frightened nobles at the feast: Don’t worry. He’s had these turns before, she says. It doesn’t work, though, and the guests depart.

Macbeth is about power and the evil that people will do to get it, keep it and bequeath it. But all the cruelty of Mr and Mrs Macbeth begs a critical question: What’s the point in brutally grabbing a crown if you’re going to lose it within a generation? Tragedy.

Macbeth

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Post of the Year award.


Book of the Year

Saturday, 19 December, 2015 2 Comments

What a twelve months it’s been for Angela Merkel: TIME Magazine anointed her its Person of the Year and the Financial Times followed suit. Even Vanessa Redgrave, that deranged old devotee of the blood-soaked PLO and the blood-drenched IRA hailed her as this year’s hero. It may be too early for Pope Francis to press her case for higher honours, but there’s already a move afoot to award her the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the light of such universal accord, it would be a brave person indeed who’d question Merkel’s Wir schaffen das (“We can do it”) approach to the challenge of accommodating one million migrants crossing Germany’s borders, but there are dissenting opinions. In fact, one was raised five years ago. In his 2010 best-seller, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Is Doing Away With Itself), Thilo Sarrazin blamed the country’s suffocating multiculturalism for encouraging the growth of a hostile counter-culture. He was immediately ridiculed, his public readings were subjected to intimidation and some had to be abandoned because of attacks by PC mobs. Last year in France, Éric Zemmour mirrored Sarrazin when his Le Suicide français accused the French cultural elite of undermining the national identity, leaving the country unwilling and unable to defend itself against existential threats.

Submission Facts are interesting, opinion is good, but it’s fiction that captures the public imagination and while Sarrazin and Zemmour spurred debate, it took Michel Houellebecq to bring their contentious ideas to a mass audience. That’s why his Submission wins the Rainy Day Book of the Year award.

Submission is set in a near-future where two opposing political parties are battling for the soul of France: the National Front, which promises to return the country to its former glory, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which promises to convert it. The Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes President with the support of the Socialist Party, which is determined to prevent a victory by Marine Le Pen at all costs. The morning after, the French wake up to a reality in which women go veiled, non-Muslims are forbidden to teach in schools and polygyny is the law of the land. All of this is related by a cast of academics and intellectuals who adjust remarkably quickly and compliantly to the new national order.

In his earlier works, Michel Houellebecq argued that the modern world, with its consumerism, individualism and hypersexuality, wrecks communities and makes people wretchedly unhappy. Patriarchy, in the form of Islam, is an alternative and in Submission it restores a sense of personal and public serenity that comforts the future French. “Europe had already committed suicide,” Houellebecq writes, echoing Zemmour. The triumph of Islam in France ends a civilization that had already surrendered, betrayed by its reputed guardians. Michel Houellebecq, as they say, goes there.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Film of the Year award.


Video of the Year

Friday, 18 December, 2015 1 Comment

The next Rainy Day award — Video of the Year — goes to Lara Marie Schoenhals for “Please welcome to the stage…” Background: Taylor Swift made headlines by inviting celebrity women onstage as part of her 1989 World Tour. The guest list included Julia Roberts, Joan Baez, Gigi Hadid and Lena Dunham. “Please welcome to the stage the first woman ever, Eve from Adam and Eve,” declares Schoenhals mocking Swift’s routine, and then she hits her stride with “the fabulous 51 victims of Bill Cosby,” as well as the “women survivors of ISIS” and the “ashes of the victims of the Salem witch trials.” The list of notorieties includes Tonya Harding, Angelina Jolie and Hillary Clinton.

In a searing essay in the Hollywood Reporter, Camille Paglia took a swipe at “Taylor Swift, Hollywood’s #GirlSquad Culture.” Money quote: “Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props, an exhibitionistic overkill that Lara Marie Schoenhals brilliantly parodied in her scathing viral video ‘Please Welcome to the Stage.'” So, “Please Welcome to the Stage…”

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Book of the Year award.


Drink of the Year

Thursday, 17 December, 2015 0 Comments

And the Rainy Day award goes to Caol Ila 12 Year Old Single Malt. Why? Because winter is here and ‘flu prevention measures have to be taken. Seriously. And this is a seriously medicinal single malt. Check out the Official Tasting Notes: “Nose: Subdued, citric fruitiness; a whiff of bath oil and dentist’s mouthwash. A little water raises almond oil and old-fashioned oilskins; still a fresh fruitiness (lychees?), a trace of olive oil, and after a while pot pourri or scented hand-soap.”

Kills bad breath, doubles as a deodorant and protects against the hospital bug — what more could one want? But that’s not all. Based on personal tasting, we can confirm that this remarkable whisky also delivers a tang of seaweed, a whiff of smoke, a glimpse of green barley, a hint of lemon pudding, a taste of treacle, a perception of salt, a smidgen of creosote and, depending on one’s temperament and temperature, wellness. Seriously.

Caol Ila

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Video of the Year award.


Word of the Year

Wednesday, 16 December, 2015 0 Comments

It’s time for the annual Rainy Day Awards and we’re launching this year’s series of seven with our Word of the Year. First, however, and to avoid confusion, a brief note on what the word is not. Although it resembles iota, which means “a very small amount”, and is related to the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, it’s not iota. And while it looks a bit like jot, which is related to iota, and means to write down something briefly and quickly, it’s not jot, either.

The Rainy Day Word of the Year award goes to… IoT. The acronym means the Internet of Things, which is the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in objects, empowering them to send and receive data. This is going to be huge and the International Data Corporation predicts that the IoT will include more than 200 billion things globally connected by the end of 2020.

The key driver of the Internet of Things is the ease with which we can wirelessly connect mobile items to the Internet using WiFi, Bluetooth or proprietary wireless communications protocols. Farewell, then, forever to the days when Internet devices had to be wired to a fixed location.

But what does it mean for me, for you? Well, IoT devices coming our way include home automation like Google’s Nest, the Vessyl intelligent cup that monitors what you are drinking, the Beam tooth brush that reports on your dental hygiene history and the HAPIfork that records one’s eating habits. Added to all that, we have wearables: fitness trackers, smart watches, clever clothes and healthcare embeds such as pacemakers and glucose monitors. Automated cars will also have lots of IoT capabilities.

Beam toothbrush

Perhaps the most disruptive thing about the IoT is its ability to unbundle products and systems. Unbundling? Think of the MP3 audio format, which unbundled individual tracks from albums. That upended the music business. Airbnb has revolutionized the concept of renting homes and rooms and the iOT will enable all kinds of devices and services and products to be leased on demand.

The tsunami of data generated by the IoT will pose enormous privacy and moral questions that are only starting to be addressed. Who owns the health-related data streaming from your wrist? Should cars that monitor driving habits report road behaviour to employers and insurers?

While that’s being debated, the IoT will be creating job opportunities for people with the right (Big Data) skills. These include data analysis, network design and security management certification. The research companies have been predicting tech job growth in the order of millions for years now so a good IoT Christmas present for someone you love (?) might be Getting a Big Data Job For Dummies.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Drink of the Year award.