Thursday, November 22, 2007


Here we are back in the US for Thanksgiving.

I have had several questions from Irish friends and colleagues about Thanksgiving and it got me to thinking about this quintessentially American holiday.

Thanksgiving is becoming the most important US holiday because, i think, it addresses our need for a holiday that is all inclusive, non-religious, that celebrates family (whatever that means to you). We take a certain amount of flack about the amount of food we consume on this day since it is essentially a holiday for eating, but what other activity is so disctinctly human and sharing than food.

Few elements of the human condiiton are as universal as eating. Sitting down to a meal with friends and family is a key psychological bonding event. In many cultures, being invited to share a meal is an indication of acceptance and trust far exceeding any other.

We also take a lot of flack about the commercial aspects of our holidays, how the big sales start on the day after Thanksgiving and how much we spend on things at this time of year.

But to this i respond, "What should we do instead?" If we all stopped buying gifts to give then much of our workforce would be put out of jobs. retailers make it into the black each year because of the holiday season sales. without that, the economy of the US would literally be devastated.

But back to Thanksgiving. It is a holiday invented by the Lincoln administration, later coopted to spur sales, but uniquely egalitarian in its appeal. It celebrates in a sense the most common of human elements, the need for family and the need for sustenance.

We are long past the time when our thanks are for successful harvests. Sufficient food to feed ourselves for the next year is a givien in this day and age. We give thanks now for many things, family, health, propsperity, survival. But being thankful for culinary bounty is still a part of the holiday, still a comforting thought even in a day of always plentiful food.

Thanksgiving is a comfortable holiday (with its attendant family dramas and squabbles, of course) and I heartilly recommend it to anyone who has never tried it. At a time when we as a people are more and more divided by small things, this generic holiday of just being thankful for what you have, of seeing family and friends, of indulging in a good meal wth all its concomitant endorphins, this holiday is one the world can share. It is an intrinsically human holiday.

If you don't have a thanksgiving holiday in your part of the world, I strongly recommend you get one soon!


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A New Thought on Time

I was contemplating the nature of time the other day and trying to turn relativity on its head. It occurred to me that it might be possible to restate the Lorentz transformation (the time dilation effect) in terms of quantum time and avoid the necessity of thinking of time as a fourth dimension.

Time does not seem to be a fourth dimension to me. We cannot move in it, cannot change pour position along the dimension and are much more aware of travelling along it than other dimensions While standing still on earth seems stationary, we are actually travelling in all three spatial dimensions relative to the sun and other stars but are unaware of it. Time passing, however, we are aware of as long as we are conscious (and actually even when we aren't) , But we cannot translate along the time line...neither forward nor back. It is much more as if time 'flows' under us rather than we travel along it.

If we want to discard this notion of time as a fourth dimension, we must still deal with the dilation is, after all, demonstrable and real. But the mathematics of dealing with it are just a theoretical representation. The interpretation is that time moves more slowly for a faster moving body.

If, however, we consider time as quantized into units (commonly called chronons) then we might take a different interpretation perhaps increased speed causes a body moving through space to skip chronons, literally jumping across moments in time. Since a body could age only during these chronons, these quantized intervals of time, the effect of skipping a few would be to delay aging, to slow down time with respect to the moving body.

I am not sure how to test this. It should be possible to determine if time dilation actually occurs in quantized steps, but measuring events in the 10E-35 seconds range is just a bit difficult. But I do believe that looking at time as a more fundamental quantity than the spatial dimensions makes sense. Time IS different and not just our perception of it. I suspect we will not make great strides in theoretical physics again until we change our point of view on this.

Of course all aspects of time-dependent effects we measure now must be accounted for in any new model that changes the interpretation of time. But understanding time as a substrate for existence (anything that exists must exists for some minimum amount of time) could significantly change our understanding of cosmological structure and events.

There are new theories of physics which are trying to go beyond the horizons that even string theory have painted. Loop quantum gravity treats time in a different fashion than traditional physics. While I have a certain appreciation for M-Theory and its associated Branes, LQG is the first theory I've seen that seems to truly try to interpret time as more fundamental than space.

Another, somewhat random, thought occurred to me in thinking about all this. Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have both proven very useful in the last century. but General Relativity has not proven very useful in the day to day world. QM gives us semiconductors, electronics, and lasers...soon quantum computing. special relativity gives us accurate GPS systems 9among other things). But GR has been less helpful. While quite beautiful and very well demonstrated, it just has not provided the real world benefits one would have expected of a theory of gravity (anti-gravity for example). And, cosmologically, it has become something of an embarrassment. Its irreconcilability with QM is becoming increasingly problematic. We need a new theory of gravity which delivers usable effects as well as explanations.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Frightenly poor service from NTL

I just had my UPC DVR installed today and had to comment.

NTL's installer was 2 hours late and then disappeared for another hour because he showed up at my door and did not have the box. While he was gone (without telling us he was leaving) , NTL told me he was not qualified to do the install, the sales person had scheduled the wrong installer, and I would have to wait 24 hours more...

This was just before the installer showed up again and performed the install. Somebody had their head up a very dark place!

With regards to the box itself, this is, at best, a poorly designed, haphazard, crippled toy of a DVR. (The company should not even be allowed to use the term DVR for such a box)

The lack of recording a series is pitiful. This is a basic function of process and parse the schedule. My NTL installer told me it was because SKY owns the copyright for this feature..I presume he made that up.

The volume control on my remote does not function ... nor the mute ... this post implies it must know about the TV...but there is no manual with the device and I haen't found the user guide on the website that is mentioned.

The on/off button for on and the UPC button for on is STUPID...the symbol on the top button is the internationally recognized symbol for ON and OFF in a single button. The failure to put page up and down functions in other pieces of the navigation software is AMATEURISH, the use of the STOP button to unmark a show for recording is POOR DESIGN and the remote is UNCOMFORTABLE to hold, particularly if you have arthritis. The wasp shape of the TIVOs and the Logitech Harmony were chosen for a reason.

The Back button is OK, but why not make it sizable like the OK button?

The menu system seems to have been designed by a team of chimps...there is no logic to it, no usability and only one accessibility feature...sort of. The help button accesses one screen with a short description of four buttons.The preferences and settings could all be collected in a single screen. The three clicks to find your recorded progremmes.

Sorry for the harsh review, but I own 3 TIVOs in the US and they set a very high bar of quality. Any professional software development team could have done better than the mish mash of functions and features offered by this box.

NTL needs to be seriously educated in the meaning of quality and the customer support people need ot stop making up stories to cover for their installers. Actually, they probably just need to go out of business and be replaced entirely.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stem Cell transplant

Well, I have had my stem cell transplant and lived to blog it.

I went in on tuesday evening and wednesday was taken into radiology for the insertion of my hickman line...this is the line that kinked the first time I came in and had to be removed. This time it went in very smoothly. It has stayed in operation and is unpainful...a bit itchy sometimes. It is a three lumen (exit) tube that allows for multiple draws and deliveries in and out of my major chest vein. It can be left in indefinitely (whenever asked how long the usual time is, the doctors and nurses get this gleam in their eye and reply, "it can be indefinite.") but is not a sexy borg silver color...pasty white with red, yellow, and blue colored taps.

Next day was chemo day. As such, the procedure is pretty easy...I took a recommendation from a US source and chewed ice chips during the actual high dose chemotherapy delivery. This, coupled with the mouthwashes they give you, has seemed to save me the agony of mouth ulcers and esophageal ulcers Mucositis they call it.

However nothing saved me from the nausea...the one thing i dreaded most was not having it under control and it has not been. I was ill twice the same evening as chemo, and we (doctors, nurses, and me) have been working the problem since. Finally, a motorized infusion pump of nasuon (sp) coupled with cyclizine twice a day seems to be working.

The good news came yesterday when i was told my counts were on their way up again. Then, this evening, I was told I can go counts have returned to normal and the transplant has been a success...i don't need any antibiotics or significant aftercare...basically, it's over

I still have to get past the last of the nausea, but i seem to be ready to go home to recover.

hair has strarted to fall out this afternoon.. just the grey this time right now.

so, home in a day or so and then a couple weeks recovery then back to the office...looking forward to it.

oh yeah, somewhere in the process they have to pull the hickman out!


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I've got it my fault?

So Next Wednesday I will check ino the hospital to have my cancer treated.

For those of you who do not know, I was disagnosed with Multiple Myeloma last year and have been undergoing drug and chemo therapy for it. i am now about to undergo a Stem Cell Transplant where blood stem cells harvested in January will be returned to me after I undergo a high dose of chemotherapy to kill off my entire immune system.

This has been a hell of a year, trying to move to Ireland, get settled into a new job, and get treatment for this silly disease for which I've been lucky enough to have no symptoms, dealing with an ongoing case of pneumonia that has made walking and stair climbing unpleasant...caused by the reduction of my immune system which is part of the treatment, not necessarily part of the illness. But, here we are and, with this SCT, I hope to be in complete remission.

But what I wanted to talk about in this posting was the reaction some people have given me. I was surprised and, to be honest, somewhat dismayed.

Some people have questioned whether my cancer is 'lifestyle related' ... the implicit assumption being that somehow I am responsible for the disease because i do not live a 'healthy enough' life.

Well, first, there is NO scientific evidence for lifestyle having ANYTHING to do with Multiple Myeloma. It appears to be either a disease genetically inherited or prompted by random events as one ages. I subscribe to the 'stray cosmic ray' theory, but my mother had a related disease, lymphoma, so who knows.?

Secondly, let's consider what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. I do not exercise much, I am a bit overweight (130 kg or 270 lbs at 187 cm or 6'2") but I do not smoke (and never have), seldom drink and typically no more than a single beer at a time, and, prior to becoming ill, I walked 3 mils a day for 2 years, I typically eat my 5-a-day fruit and veg (often more), drink about 2-3 liters of water, coffee, or tea a day, drink decaf tea with all those anti-oxidants every evening, and take a multi-vitamin each morning. Yes, I eat red meat, but intermix it with a lot of chicken and pork and fish. I prefer a variety of food and flavours which means i eat a wide variety of things over the course of the week.

I meditate regularly, but do not practice yoga or a martial arts form. I am happy to say that my health has recently returned to a point where I can start walking routinely again. Of course, Galway weather does not lend itself to vast amounts of enjoyable, dry walking. I work a lot, but read for hours each day (leisure reading) and watch a lot of TV. I enjoy relaxing weekends and two week vacations, but also try to relax when I travel as well. And I love to travel.

So, do I lead a healthy lifestyle or not? In the 18 months since I was diagnosed, I have NEVER been told by any of my multitudinous doctors to lose weight or change my lifestyle at all.

Many people I talk to tell me i should be eating organic foods and many have recommended odd lifestyle changes which seem ludicrous to me. They also recommend a bunch of self-help and self-health books but I find such books boring and contradictory.

BTW, what does 'organic food' really mean? All food is organic. The term seems to be reserved now for food that is grown without fetilizers other than 'natural' ones like manure. For me, I find 'organic' foods to be smaller, less tasty, and more expensive than 'non-organic' foods. Frankly, give me the fertilized food over the food grown in shit.

Also, those growth hormones in US beef? hey, worked for me...I'm 6 foot 2! Actually, those hormones and the antibiotices in our US meats are typically helping to cut down on food borne disease and many are also broken down by cooking processes. The incidence of stomach cancer has fallen dramatically since the inclusion of preservatives in food became common.

When was the last time you heard of a case of trichinosis from rare pork? lists the annual incidence at

"approx 1 in 22,666,667 or 0.00% or 11 people in USA."

That is mostly due to the use of antibiotics in pork feed.

So, I am sorry, but I see virtually NO value in 'ORGANIC' foods over AgriBusiness foods. and I like BIG grapefruits, BIG Peaches, and cheap vegetables. particularly ones that don't I feel safe eating.

Another BTW, I, like most, eat a lot of potatoes, but i try to NOT make them my only veg. I enjoy spinach, green beans, asparagus, peas, black eyed peas, lima beans, corn, and manny other vegetables. Linda nad I were talking recently and realized that our variety of veg exceeds that of others we know by quite a lot.

So, I do not believe lifestyle has anything to do with my illness. For some, yes...lung cancer FROM smoking is an established fact...but don't suggest Dana Reeve should have changed HER lifestyle...she never smoked a day in her life. (

But what confuses me is the large number of people who WANT lifestyle to have something to do with it. Of course, that provides a thing to hang blame point a finger at and say, "that's why"...but those are false hopes. there are often no reasons...just the randomness of a universe driven by chance.

45% of men and 39% of women in the world will develop cancer at sometime in their life...his means YOU. Of course, cancer is the thing that gets us now because we survive most everything else here in western society...and even cancer is becoming more and more curable or manageable daily. My own will be pushed into remission with a stem cell transplant next week, and then I will manage it as an occassionally annoying chronic disease...hopefully for many long years.

So, before you self righteously think, "oh, they lead an unhealthy lifestyle" when you hear of a person aflicted with cancer, heart disease, or many other ailments, remember that, for many, the problems are not in their lives, but in their genes. And maybe in yours.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Value of Heroes

My nephew Steven was visiting us recently and we were watching some TV. The subject turned to heroes and whether there was something happening in TV, Film, and Comics. And, in an unrelated but perhaps synchronistic event, I exchanged some email with Jason Ohler on the value of storytelling in learning. That set me to thinking about whether something MIGHT be happening.

Storytelling when I was a young adult was fairly simple stuff. The stories were, of course, in books, movies, and TV. That has not much changed. But, the depth and structure of those stories from the 1940's, -50's, and -60's, when you go back and look at it critically, were very shallow Despite some amazing work which pushed literature forward, even when I go back and look at some of the most important stories of those times, I find a simplicity of structure, a lack of depth, and even a naivete that went unnoticed and uncommented upon during that time.

TV and movies were in their infancy then and it is perhaps to be expected that their storytelling skills were not as evolved. Oh, I know, Citizen Kane is STILL considered the best movie ever made, but for heaven's sake, it was Welles ... what can you do? Heterosis had to occur in somebody...we were just lucky enough for it to be Orson.

But the run of the mill film, even those we consider classics now, are, under the electron microscope of 21st century expectations, rather anemic story and structure wise.

Fast forward to the nineties and some very interesting thngs are happening. first, WE WON! Those of us who fought teachers, parents, grandparents, scout masters, teacher, nun, and every other "authority figure" of the 50's and 60's who told us those horrible comic books would rot our brains and seduce the innocent. We won and the graphic novel has emerged as a legitimate literary form.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

create your own slideshow

Found Picturetrail recently and it's great. It let's you build small display widgets with your own photos then embed them onto your own websites...very cool.

Other technology that's begining to shw up includes Microsoft's Surface, a computing table that is almost a one for one match to some of the ideas I wrote about here a couple years ago. It's good to see some of these things finally appearing but I still think the actual usage model is developing.

Microsoft wants to make $5k-$10k tables a standard sort of approach. Not a bad idea, but the price is too high. I think smaller form factors, simpler implementations and lower costs will be important to making surface computing more ubiquitous.

I've been asked to provide a keynote this week to a learning technolgy conference and I think this technology of touch and feel and manipulation is one of the key ones emerging right now. But it's not just a matter of lookig at your photos, or moving things around on a table with your fingers. it is about being able to manipulate a world that exists around you. it's about computing splashed on the walls.

For learning, this means access to information, knowledge, training, expertise, advice, and ideas all the time, spashed onthe walls and tables, on the surfaces that surround you.

I think that is the promise of so called surface computing (look back at my old entry on a new theory of surfaces), not these simple photo sharing apps we see in the MS Surface marketing vids.

But the technology is coming along nicely. Microsoft's is intriguing, but Apple's may be better. And we are experimenting with our own here at DERI.


Friday, April 20, 2007

The Darkling Plane

Much has happened this week. I feel I shoulld write about the events at Virginia Tech, should offer some thoughts and reactions.

But I find I have little to say. The events are, of course, horrific. The news coverage is, of course, pornographic. The "manifesto" is, of course, "rambling". The killer was, of course, a loner. Nothing is very different from previous massacres.

There are questions, of course. But I am constantly reminded of two songs: Jeremy by Pearl Jam, written about 16 year old Jeremy Delle, a student at a Richardson, TX high school who killed himself in class and I Don't Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats about 16 year old Brenda Spencer who sat in her room across from a school and fired her new rifle at the playground.

Specifically, the lines "Jeremy spoke in class today" from Jeremy and "And he can see no reasons / 'Cos there are no reasons / What reason do you need to die, die?" from I Don't Like Mondays.

The events occurred 12 years apart, in 1991 and 1979 respectively.

There are no reasons behind such events. Indeed there is unreason, the absence of reason, the dark void of rationality, a darkling plane of anger, hurt, fear, emptiness.

The victims are tragic, the famlies left behind are deeply bereft and it is only natural to ask why. But there truly are no reasons. A young man descended into the darkness of madness and the word 'reason' does not apply.

At least this time there can be no claim of "we didn't know", "no one ever suspected", he was such a quiet boy", etc, etc. This man was known to be ill, he was known to be disturbed, and many people DID try to get him help and to protect the world from his growing anger. But in vain. The rules and the laws, and the circumstances worked against the possibility of stopping him. But at least some people in his life tried.

There are heroes in this story. The 72 year old professor who gave his life so 20 of his students could escape; a true hero of the people. The survivors who aided fallen friends. There will be more stories of heroes as we learn more. But these events show, once again, heroes are not special, they have no 'powers'. They are ordinary people who perform extraordinary feats in a crisis...and some pay the ultimate price.

And there was a villain as well. But we should also mourn him. His descent into madness must have been intensely painful and lonely. He is a victim as well; a victim of something in his brain that took him onto that darkling plane. No condoning here, no excuses. But a realization that this was an illness which, had it been recognized when the chance to do so presented itself, 33 people would still be alive.

But there are no reasons. What reason do you need?


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nerds and Visions

I was invited to deliver a lecture recently for the Arts Faculty here at NUIG and my title was Learning to be Human: Why Nerds Need the Humanities. I hope my audience enjoyed it. I made it informal but tried to get across the notion that we nerds (those of us who willingly devote our lives to the pursuit of technological knowledge and seek total enlightenment and fullfillment through the deeper undersanding of technical issues) need the study of art, history, philosophy and the other humanities because without those subjects, we have no context within which to place our tech.

The talk went well and I, at least, had fun. The subject is acctually vital because our universities around the world have begun allowing satudents to focus and concentrate so much in singel areas such as IT, medicine, engineering, etc, that the students thus turned out do not have to have a braoder cultural literacy within which to place their knowledge and emotions. i would say that they were, consequently, not fully human...they have not learned to BE human. And it is their loss as well as that of the world.

My talk went round to th esubject of how you teach art, history, etc to such nerds as we now sow among our classes and culture. Given that the world truly changed 25 years ago with the invention of the personal computer, that THIS device truly CHANGES how generations of future people will view the world, then we need different ways, i contend, to teach these same old stories from history and literature.

Jane Austen doesn't work anymore for a lot of students; her novels are timeless and pertinent but not contextual enough to resonate at first blush. the movie Clueless, however, might work better.

The other aspect of this, I believe, is that our stories, our literacy, our timeless learned messages are about heores. You can HAVE stories abotu other things, but the importnat stories, the ones that teach us to be human are, interestingly enough, about heroes.

Those who know me will, by now, have figured out that I then talked about today's mythiical heroes and of course that meant Buffy, Batman, Superman, Skywalker, and the others.

Out of all this, I think there is a message evolving that I want to discuss in more depth. That is the message of how we teach and how we help students learn these messages. Not just WHAT we teach (although this is vital) but HOW we teach an what we use to teach with.

Enter a new invitation. I have been invited to present a keynote to the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) June conference here at NUIG. I've been giving this one a lot of thought in the light of this mesaage that I am evolving. That talk, Visions of a Learning Future will focus on the idea tht learnign will be continuous, technolgical, and immersive and engaging.

The nature of learning is changing. It's easy to say that no, people are the same always, therefore learning will essentially remain the same for the rest of history. but I don't think that's so.

Technology changes us. While many of our aspirations, instincts, goals, and drives remain the same over the centuries, I think others truly do change. We are NOT the same as cro magnon was. Our different understanding of the universe literally makes us different at a very low level from medeival folk. And reading and writing on papyrus makes you a DIFFERENT kind of person than if you only use clay tablets.

Of course the differences may be small at first. They may be incremental based on how divergent technologies are, how divergent knowledge is. But that's the crux of the matter. The divergence rate is accelerating. The singularity is near and as we approach teh knee in the curve of technologicla change the difference of each generation's inhabitants from those before is greater than the generational differnece before.

The effects of accelerating change like this are hard to grasp, because we want the acceleartion to only apply to a few select things. But the acceleration of EVERYTHING is increasing...better, perhaps to think of our world as existing as an expanding universe of manifold dimensions. Everyting is expanding and rushing away from what came before. Think of those metadata browsers that cluster documents or files or other objects based on some notional idea of 'proximity' . Whichever idea you choose, each generation of objects is always further away, less proximal, to each other than the previous generation .

That's actually an interesting idea. the iplication is that, past the takeoff point, we will change so rapidly that successive generations may not recognize each other as being of the same species. Charles Stross plays with this idea a bit in Accelerando.

I'll write a bit more about learning technologies and how they affect this in anothe rpost, I think.
One place where it will begin to play in the near future, however, is the migration of education into the immersive virtual world of 3d games...we'll look at how those will emerge and blend for everyday learning next time.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Illusionist -- a Study in Cinematic Language

Went to see the Illusionist today. Excellent film, a little slow starting, but the pace grew quickly. It was, of course, a bit predictable, but the story is probably a better one than The Prestige from a literary stance.

I won't give away any spoilers here, but the cinematic language used in The Illusionist is fascinating. The manner in which the plot is communicated visually, even down to some unusual costuming choices, telegraph the plot to you if you are prepared to receive it. There are, in fact, two scenes, with no dialogue, that disclose the entire plot. There are also a handful of scenes that provide more discernible clues, but the action and dialogue are very good at not giving away too much. At the same time, there is no cheesy use of cinematic special effects or illusions to hide or disguise the actual plot.

Cinematic language, from the interplay of characters in frame and out, to the precise angle of a mirror in a scene can be most telling if you learn to expect it, keep an eye out for it, and interpret it. In the Illusionist, I found the use of such language to be quite precise. it was very well done.

The hilarious bit is in one line where the lead character (Ed Norton) is taking to the Police Inspector (Paul Giamatti). Eisenheim asks, "Are you totally corrupt?" and Inspector Uhl replies, "Not totally, no". It was great.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Face of Fashion --- A Disaster in Photogrpahy

Went to London an dcaught the face of Fashion exhibit at the National Gallery. now, photography exhibits at musuems usually bore me because they are all war shots, suffering shots, screaming shots, or poor naked baby shots. And while I understand the importance and significance of such photographs, there is a limit to the amount of ugliness I will seek out in a museum.

But Face of Fashion sounded promising

God, was I wrong.

First, there were only 6 photographers represented
There weren't more than 50 photos, many very small
There were only 2 decent photos in the of Tilda Swinton and one of Angelina Jolie

Most of the exhibit was centered around and obsessed with Kate Moss (maybe she funded it). Cocaine Kate is a very uninteresting face, has the anorexic body of a starved 12 year old boy and cannot emote to the camera worth a damn. Corrine Day should find something else to shoot...Kate is over.

Oh yeah...just an FYI ... Nude photos do not constitute FASHION photography. nothing wrong with nudes, but they are not Fashion ... unless the model is wearing a hat!

This was not a fashion photogrpahy exhibit...this was a celebrity photo exhibit. And let's catch them or pose them in unflattering poses, with images of agony on their faces...after all, this IS for a museum.

The exhibit might have been valid as art if it had been titled Celebrities in Bondage or Paqinful Poses or something...but these were not, many of them, fashion models, there was no fashion in the shoe, and the pictures just made the people look ugly, not sensitive, not metaphorical, not interesting...just ugly.

A photo of Justin Timberlake (fad maybe, fashion...NOT!) with a bloody nose and Kevin Federline with a gashed throat just do not cut it as fashion, and not even as the 'faces of fashion'. One might have expected portraits of designers from the title...maybe some beauty and style from such photogrpahers as Helmut Newton or Irving Penn but no, we got to see Kate Moss naked and Justin Timberlake bloody.

the best photos were by Paolo Roversi and his photo of Tilda Swinton was lovely...and fashion concious in that she was wearing a very interesting leather jacket. Unfortunately, he photographs small...his photos were not large enough to reveal interesting details.

So this was a fine way to waste £16 ... 8 each for me and Linda. I hope the National Gallery does something worthwhile with the money.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Parking as Self Organizing Behaviour

Well Christmas and New Year's are both done now. We had a very nice holiday season which included our son Ian coming to visit and day trips to both Dublin and Limerick.

While shopping around Galway I began to understand why some people complain about the traffic here. They don't REALLY have traffic jams that are much worse than anywhere else in terms of the time they tie you up, but as I mentioned in a previous post, parking can take a while.

However, lately I've begun to think that the populace of Galway have responded to the parking needs of the city in a very self-organized manner. Typically by large scale violations of the law. A few examples will illustrate what I mean.

First, there is Salthill, the suburb I live in. Salthill has a main street, a street lined with restaurants, bars, casinos, shops, banks, and a post office. And on this street, parking is allowed only on one side. The entire road is only wide enough for four vehicles side by side and parking is prohibited on one side via the double yellow line marking common in Europe.

However, this double yellow line is completely ignored. People park on both sides of this street, most often, it seems, to do business in the post office. I suspect the mental gymnastics that occur follow the lines of "I will only be in the post office a few minutes, so parking won't matter".

But another way of looking at this behaviour is from the standpoint of a system which is either random or self-organizing. My thinking goes like this:

The people of the town have to do business in person in the post office
The people no longer walk as much as they did when the PO was built and the road designed
People drive much more now
The PO needs to provide a parking lot
The PO has no parking lot
The road is therefore used as a parking lot to the degree it is required
Parking on both sides does not slow traffic too much
Most people actually ARE done in just a few minutes
So people automatically began to park on the double yellow line

The Garda is sometimes seen in Salthill
A Garda station is approximately 2 blocks from the main street
Sometimes they are seen walking up and down on main street
They are not seen clamping cars parked on the double yellow lines

There seems to be an acceptance of the violations. It is apparently recognized that there is a necessity for the parking but there is no place it can be done. There is a self organized behaviour that emerges and which COULD be resisted by the authorities, but doing so would be hopeless...the number of illegally parked cars probably exceeds the number of clamps available for use.

A second example I noticed this evening. We drove to a restaurant in a shopping centre. There was, by the time we got there, plenty of parking in the 'official' parking lot with its rows of orthogonal spaces across the two lanes of shopping centre traffic. But many parkers had opted to park closer to the restaurant by parking at an angle across a yellow box painted on the road on the side of the roadway next to the restaurant.

These cars were definitely parked illegally, but because of the time of day, they were not causing anyone any trouble. The yellow box was not supposed to be blocked, but at least 15 cars were doing exactly that. They had parked parallel to each other, but at an angle that was convenient, not orthogonal to the curb. These people had self organized to form a convenient and effective solution to just happened to be illegal.

Some might simply say that people here engage in these illegal, unsanctioned solutions because there is insufficient Garda presence to enforce the rules. but the Garda participate in that they do not clamp such parkers in Salthill (a reaction that would just tie traffic in knots anyway). while they do clamp other offenders in different places.

Rather, I submit, a consensus emerges from the group dynamic in response to the conditions. Consequently, parking patterns emerge as self organizing behaviour, arrived at individually and commonly, organized to accommodate the needs of the parkers and the drivers alike, representing a system that is adapting to the constraints it finds itself under.