Category Archives: Longform

They brought it.

My apologies for the terrible quality; I’ll try and bring the big guns to bear later. They’ll be back. They always come back.

I’ve started, over the past few days, to build a new bird feeder. It’s entirely different to the previous efforts; this is about building a Magpie-free space in which all birds of Starling-size and smaller can come and feed safely without having everything eaten in the space of ten frenzied minutes by what are effectively hungry, angry, vindictive flying children. Magpies are omnivores, and will eat anything that you or I can eat, and so much more. They can also work around by ingenuity or brute force any counter-measures that you can conceive of; they are strong, and clever, and persistent.

There are also too many of them. This year, the competition for food has heated up enormously, and they are getting more pushy, eating things that they would previously have passed up, more daring. They line the peaks of the rooftops, watching the gardens. I think that they know me, sometimes I hear squawks when I shake out a cloth or a breadboard, and they’re always in after I do anything in the garden, to see what’s changed.

So I heard a noise downstairs just now, the sound of wood falling, and thought that one of the pieces of wood that I had been varnishing earlier this morning had somehow fallen over. I had been careful about setting up, so even as I was running down, I was thinking that this was odd. No. I had been careful. There was a Magpie in the kitchen, which had come in to have a look at what I had been up to, because they can see it from outside, and the bird had come in from a door which was slightly ajar in a different part of the kitchen, and come around to have a poke at my work, to inspect it, to see how it is going. And poop on things, of course. I went to get the keys to open the big door to let it out, but no, it went around to the door that it came in by, and walked out. Casually.

The absolute cheek. I can’t wait for this feeder to be finished, they’ll hate it.

From Blanchardstown to the park, and just shy of 22 km in all. Might try for the full 27km menu next time. The road parts were occasionally scary though.

To make it harder for Magpies to clean out the peanut feeder and keep the smaller birds away, I made a cage. It works, up to a point. You can’t really keep Magpies out of anything; what they can’t solve through brute force, they solve through ingenuity, and vice versa, and if you defeat them on both levels, nothing else will get to whatever you’re protecting either. My idea is the increase the amount of energy they require to extract peanuts so that they spend more energy than they get from them, and hope that they’re smart enough to make this calculation too.

I think that there are too many Magpies in this area for the resources available to them, and they’re resorting to eating things in bulk that they would not normally be so keen on, such as peanuts. If anything is out there for any length of time, there can be up to 12 or more Magpies in the garden, checking it out. I took the feeders in because I felt that I was basically stocking Magpie feeders, and so encouraging them.

What pushed me into trying to solve the problem was the sight of a lean Greenfinch frantically dancing outside the kitchen door, trying to figure out how to get to the peanut feeder inside. Clearly, still some demand not being met out there for small birds. We’ll see how it goes, but I’ve already planned out a protected ground-level feeder for the ground birds that seem to have stopped coming.

I’m one of the people who put Spenser Confidential on top of Netflix’s most watched list. Me. If you’re wondering what’s wrong with the world today, you could do worse than with considering that I’m out there, enabling shit like this. I’m pushing the bad numbers. Me. Like Jeff Bezos, but somehow worse, in a very banal way that’s not decisively terrible, but probably should held to account in a public forum.

I didn’t even set out to watch it, I just needed wallpaper while figuring out what to do next with, I don’t know, anything. I was probably looking at my dating apps, wrestling with the dichotomy of hating them and yet wanting dearly top be loved, to be held, to get liked on those terrible virtual meat markets, where I somehow imagine that my image is being poked and prodded and tested for longevity, stamina, faithfulness and tallness by an array of women who probably felt with some justification that their standards weren’t being met. Or, I was eating.

The only saving grace from this generic ‘Mark Wahlberg is a sound guy from Boston (Bawst’n) with violent anger issues, mixed up in some criminal enterprise’ caper is the actor Winston Duke who is very watchable (quietly amiable and charismatic) and the whole thing made me laugh, twice. Here’s the Polygon review of it:

I’m not going to be flying anyone to Mars any time soon, but that doesn’t make me a good person when we’re adding up the numbers. Remember that.

In the old days, if you were single, that was it. You’d just be single, forever, and that was the long and the short of it. It was depressing, but also a reassuring constant, a reliable truth. Now, there all these apps that people have now, all the apps for meeting people and they have funny names that may be either secondary Star Wars characters or illegal sex acts, such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Happn, Badoo, Zoosk, Crumbl, Bidet, Paploo, Bossk, Wibbl… I may have made some of those up, although you’d be hard pressed to know which ones.

Dating is now an interminable process of tapping and swiping through apps of varying degrees of quality and substance. They vary from Hinge’s earnest and template-driven but ham-fisted efforts to hook me up with someone, anyone, to their own financial detriment, to Badoo’s seedy, nebulous nightclub feel. They all have a niche of some sort, and there’s also cultural separation, because different demographics use different apps and to achieve slightly different outcomes. They’re also pay-to-play (well, they have to be, in order to make money from it). Free to get in, but pay to get access to features of one type or another. And even with that, it’s still tiring somehow.

I could tap and chat to everyone and arrange lots and lots of dates, but I’m not the kind of person that can do that, and as it is I find it tiring to deal with. This is still all new for me, so maybe I just need to get used to it, because of course this isn’t how it worked when I last went on dates. In the old days, if you were single, that was it.

Now, if you’ve followed me on social media for a while, or (unlikely, I know) have come across me in person and the subject of cooking food comes up (even less likely, which is odd, because I like food a lot), then you’ll probably know about me and steel pans. And if any of the above situations rings a bell, and you don’t know about me and steel pans, then it’s quite possible that you were nodding along happily and paying no further attention to anything I was saying. That’s ok. I’m hurt, I’m offended, I feel like we haven’t given these interactions the same level of importance, but it’s ok.

I can no longer cook with non-stick pans. There, I’ve said it. Once upon a time, I couldn’t do any of these things with a steel pan – you know how it goes, you heat it up, you throw some oil in, the oil burns, you throw the food in, the food sticks and burns, you throw the food away and start again with the teflon-coated pan and whatever ingredients you have left – but now, I can’t really do any of it with a teflon-coated pan. Or for that matter, with the clever ceramic pans that I bought in Homestore and More, which are non-stick once and then never again. No, now it’s all about correct temperature, timing, heating trajectories, oil, the tools, the sense of how the food should be, the very nature of metal and heat transfer, like surfing on a wave made of feelings and context and hot egg. I think I can cook anything in a metal pan now (in so far as I can cook, but that’s a discussion for another day). I don’t need non-stick surfaces any more.

I miss the teflon-coated pans sometimes, though. Life was simpler then, like when we had the big fifty pence pieces. Do you remember them? Ah, magic.

Imagine if you will, just for a moment, being Johann Sebastian Bach, showing up a little late for breakfast (or maybe not, Johann Sebastian was probably the kind of guy that showed up at exactly the right time, being a self-disciplined and productive kind of person), someone (maybe your wife, who knows) asks “How are you? Were you at the music again last night, get any good stuff done?” and you could just say “Oh nothing much, just some of the most influential and consequential music of the next several hundred years, perhaps ever, in fact. So, what’s for breakfast?”. You could just coast on that, but then you don’t, you go one better, rinse and repeat.

I was listening to Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major again, and I still can’t get over how astonishing this music is. A man, an ordinary man with a fundamental understanding of music and the human condition wrote that. He didn’t just write that and call it a day, as he fully had a right to, he knocked it out and then got on with thinking up other music, which is incredible.

To be fair, I could have written these two paragraphs about Beethoven too, but I was listening to Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major and had this thought, this idea (again, I have it every time that I listen to it). I could have been listening to anything by Beethoven and it would be as applicable. The towering, immense genius of it, reaching down through the centuries.

If there’s one thing that I can do well in a kitchen, it is make pancakes. I’ll be making them for me alone, but I’m telling you, I’ll do it well. Practice makes perfect, I make them for a demanding customer under pressure, and I can deliver.

Also, I didn’t know that it was Pancake Tuesday, but everyone on the Twitter is talking about it. I did field a question about if Pancake Tuesday has to actually be on a Tuesday and I think that we concluded that it makes sense, but it doesn’t have to.

So that’s two entire things done from my infamous to-do list: I had to put my sites (and specifically my mother’s site – on SSL, and also write a blog post (I’ll revisit the infamous to-do list some other time). I’ve also had a look at my drafts, which stretch back years, since I’ve had a long-running habit of starting blog posts, outlining my ideas for writing them, and then not actually writing them. The drafts are not things I can publish as they are, but just sketches of what I would have intended them to be, still in need of flowery language, turns of phrase and interesting, readable detail. The difference between a PowerPoint slide and something that you’d enjoy reading for its own sake, albeit without the lengthy, tedious meeting before and after to discuss the reasons for looking at a projector.

I had a follow-on post to ‘On not having Asperger’s’ sketched out, and a post about the collapse of my marriage. Now, I’m glad that I wrote the outline about the collapse of my marriage because with the passage of time, I’ve forgotten some of the details, and yet here they are in vivid, searingly angry detail. I was actually stunned on reading it, and I’m sort of glad that I didn’t complete and publish it. This sort of thing can have a real impact in these situations.

I’ll close out with a couple of snippets from the bullet-point list of writing points from that post (uncorrected):

  • Conversation deathmatch (Eric, who thinks he asking for what kind of toiletpaper to buy, versus Kangor the Belligerent, undefeated winner of 2,000 sudden death matches!)
  • I saw Artie at Eflow in a whole new light when I realised what was happening. I wasn’t thinking “Ha, what an idiot!”, I was thinking “Oh shit, that must have been soul-destroying!”

I had a dream early this morning, which was vivid and had as its premise an interesting scenario. I was on a coach (it was one of the scenarios that happens near the Dublin docklands, vaguely) with a number of other people and apparently I had signed up to do some evening work of some sort. It was undefined, but possibly difficult and it would take 8 hours or so, late at night and into the early hours, somewhere out of the city, and there was some sort of handler or contact on the bus. I ended up sitting next to him. I was saying the direction of the bus to memorise where it was going, and he was unhappy about this, and told me to stop, so I kept muttering and other things besides.

I was aware that wherever we were going, we couldn’t leave, it was remote, and also the pay wasn’t defined. This all felt wrong. Just then, on the other side of the road, I saw a number 39 bus – a bus I could take to go home! So I called to driver and demanded to pull over and let me off. He complained that the luggage compartment was locked, that he couldn’t get my stuff out, but I had it all with me on the bus! So he pulled over at a filling station and I raced off, and so did everyone else, they realised that they didn’t want to do it either! The driver and the handler guy were very unimpressed, but resigned to it.

No, I don’t know what this means. It may be a metaphor for something, but… I don’t know what.

Since this is of interest to some people, here is what my technical problem was, and what I did to resolve it: I’ve had – for many years – my hosting with Blacknight, web and email. It’s a decent package, a finite number of sites and domains for an annual fee. It’s reliable, and I don’t need high performance. However, what I have needed is SSL certs, the now ubiquitous padlock that you see in your browser address bar, which indicates that your communication with the site you are looking at is secure. This is something that until now, web hosting companies have been able to charge a lot of money for, and I can’t justify that for a set of personal sites. What I need are SSL certs from a company called Let’s Encrypt which are free, the only catches being that you need to replace them every three months (this is usually automated), and hosting companies don’t like them because they are free. Natually, Blacknight doesn’t support Let’s Encrypt.

So after much procrastination (and propelled, as noted previously, by displacement behaviour) I took the jump and ordered a VPS hosting package from OVH. VPS hosting means that I get a blank virtual computer somewhere (in this case from a French company called OVH) and set up everything myself, which is normally provided by the hosting company. I have become a web hosting company, in other words. This isn’t a problem! This is something that I do myself all the time, as a job and also as a hobby, because I don’t get out enough and have interests like a real boy would do.

I installed the required software for web hosting, the firewall, a control panel (so that I have a web interface to what is happening on the server and to set things up) and repointed the DNS, which is the addressing for where to find things on the web. I left my email on its existing hosting with Blacknight because I don’t want to get into hosting email myself; this is trickier than web hosting, and can be destructive if I make mistakes. This all took a few hours and I’d love to say that the second site went even more quickly, but the opposite was true and it all took much longer. Having done all that, I then ran into performance problems, regretted the entire project, solved the performance problems, and now I have one remaining (highly esoteric) issue to solve and I can say that I am truly the master of my own web destiny. Or at least a moderately competent webmaster.

Don’t try this at home. Actually, I could have literally tried this at home; I have a number of Raspberry Pi computers at home (the famous €65 barebones computer), and I could have hosted the sites myself, on one of those, from my home broadband connection. Any one of them would have been a lot more powerful than the VPS that I’ve rented, and with much more free space. So why not do that? Reliability. I couldn’t guarantee uptime, the availability of the server and the sites on it to the world. There are many things that can go wrong, between my patchy router uptime, power, the server software itself not being so reliable on Raspberry Pi, and I’d like the server to be something that I can just forget about.