Rip off Ireland – a simple example

Let’s assume for a moment you were in the market for a new car and live in Ireland. Let’s assume that you were certifiable, and actually wanted to buy a top of the range, brand-new Ford Mondeo (not that the Mondeo isn’t a great car, just that anybody buying one new versus used needs their head examined)

Let’s go onto Ford Ireland and spec it out. The rule is to choose the most expensive body style, model, paint and extras. We’re going to town here.


That’s a cool €50,125, not including delivery and related charges, apparently.

Now let’s go over to Ford UK and choose exactly the same thing… But hang on a second, it seems like there’s more choice of model and extras. Let’s stick to our plan and choose the best of everything:


£35,565 – a lot of money. But let’s convert that into Euros at the current mid-market rate: €39,666.82 Hmm…

Now let’s look at what your money buys you in the UK:

– A Titanium Sport X versus a Titanium S model
– A 2.5 litre petrol engine versus a 2.2 litre
– Full Alcantara leather versus part-leather
– DVD navigation with touch sensitive controls and USB
– Solar reflective windscreen versus (presumably) a non-solar reflecting one
– Privacy glass
– Sliding load floor
– Dog guard
– Multimedia DVD system
– Roof rails
– 6 CD external autochanger
– Keyless entry and keyless start.

No wonder I’m still happily driving around in my 11 year old Mondy!

Four Peaks Challenge

A group of us from work have signed up a team to take part in the Focus Ireland 2009 Four Peaks challenge.

The challenge involves climbing the highest peaks in the four provinces of Ireland, namely:

The catch? We have to do it in three days, and the total distance to get round to them all involves travelling over 800 miles!

The second challenge for me as the token Englishman in the team is to learn how to pronounce them all 🙂

Whilst I’ve done similarly silly things in the past (a three day, 30 mile trek around the Lake District, including Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and High Street) and a 5 day 100 mile walk from Brighton to Watford (ok, not exactly scaling any mountains on that one!) I’ve not done too much walking over the past five years. Therefore I’m itching for the excuse to get out training in the hills surrounding Dublin, which so been pretty much ignored since we moved over here.

The challenge takes place in June, so there’s plenty of time to get the miles in. There’s also plenty of time to get sponsorship in as well…

We aim to raise €4,500 for Focus Ireland – a charity that aims to help the homeless of Ireland. Needless to say, you can choose to give us a donation online (see how easy we make it) just by visiting here to sponsor our imaginatively titled team: Inspired By Mountains (geddit?)

RTE News on social software and IBM

RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, visited IBM Dublin on Monday 1st December for a piece on social software within the enterprise. It went out on the News On Two programme the same day. Yours truly is included in a couple of arty shots and a quick vox-pop

Featured is the internal IBM research project called Beehive. Beehive is, as Mike described in the clip, a kind of Facebook for the Enterprise, allowing employees to share the lighter side of life within the firewall. It’s great at fostering relationships between people who you may work with but never otherwise get the chance to know and meet.

Additionally, Beehive acts as a fantastic proving ground for ideas and research which may eventually end up being part of Lotus Connections, or indeed other IBM products. Indeed, Connections is heavily built on the productization of ideas and research from our own experiences within IBM. There’s much more on Connections over at the Synchronous blog (including the odd post from me.)

Hamleys Dundrum the first flagship store outside Regent St? Don’t think so…

I read recently that Hamleys, the famous Regent Street toy store, are to open a three storey shop in the Dundrum Town Centre shopping mall in Dublin. As I live in Dublin this is nice for me.

However, I take issue with the claim that this is:

its first standalone store in Europe besides its Regent Street flagship.

When I was a kid growing up in Luton I clearly remember the opening of the first ever Hamleys store outside of Regent Street in a two storey shop attached onto the side of the Arndale Centre by the town hall. As a kid it was kind of a big deal, and a must-stop destination on the Thursday after school shopping trips with my Mum. It was there for a good few years in the mid to late 80’s. Checking Wikipedia there is no mention of it, but my memory does not deceive me. I might go and edit the entry but as Google isn’t turning up any references to the existence of the store somebody will probably take the edit down for lack of citation or something.

So, hard luck Dublin you are not the first to get a proper Hamleys Store (Airports and concessions in House of Fraser don’t count I’m afraid) you were beaten by the proud former holder of the worst town in Britain title. As a salutary reminder of the looming recession it is worth noting that the next tenants of the Luton Hamleys store when it closed down were no less than Poundsaver.

iPhone 3G first thoughts

  • It wasn’t hard to get one if you were prepared. I pre-ordered early the day the pre orders started and was ok. There was a bloke in front of my in the O2 Blanchardstown store who pre-ordered a 16GB and was only offered an 8GB, despite his protestations about being ‘the first person’ to pre-order.
  • O2 ported over my pre-pay number right there and then. I’m used to this taking days in the UK.
  • Sign up and activation was painless. I think mainly because I had it all done by 10am Dublin time and Ireland is a small country anyway.
  • The device is noticeable heavier and fatter than my 16GB iPod touch, which is not a criticism, just a difference to be expected and gotten used to.
  • The Home button seems to require more of a firm press than the Touch.
  • The multi-touch screen seems like it has been slowed down a bit from the Touch. Presses need to be a bit firmer and scrolling seems slower.
  • Love the volume and silent buttons. LOVE the speaker and not having to find a pair of headphones just to watch a quick video or listen to a song.
  • It makes and receives phone calls.
  • No visual voicemail – now I have one I honestly don’t care. I maybe get 1 voicemail a month and never have to trawl through any others to get to it. I can understand the value for heavy users, but that ain’t me.
  • It sends and receives text messages. I honestly cannot remember the last time I sent or got an MMS – not bothered about that.
  • Wifi with enterprise access at at last. However I haven’t been able to get it to work at work, due to the fact that there is a rogue unprotected adhoc access point somewhere with the SSID I need to use and that’s all the phone will see.
  • I need to get over the mental hurdle of being stingy with using cellular data. So far I’ve used 244K of download. I still get a slight panic when I tap on Weather or Stocks and it just goes off and gets data. So I only (only?) have 1GB per month, but I need to just go with the flow and treat data access as a normality.
  • App Store – immediate downloads: Twitteriffic, the light saber thing, Facebook and Exposure.
  • App Store – there’s lots missing from the Irish store. No games at all, and certain other apps are not there. I WANT SUPER MONKEYBALL!!!
  • The Remote app is teh awsomeness. It may just make me get an Apple TV just to show it off!
  • There’s lots of crud and no way to get through it other than scrolling. More evident on the iPhone interface than iTunes. Let me ignore the app developers producing ebooks or bible stuff please!
  • I’ve not paid a penny for an app yet. I want to hear the wisdom of those who have. I want a good weight of reviews.
  • GPS – well I went outside and it knew where I was, so it works. So does cellular triangulation.
  • Maps – tried to search for ‘Hotel’ when located at home. It gave me three results. IN THE WHOLE OF DUBLIN! I know this isn’t a phone issue, it is a data issue. Come on Irish companies, start advertising yourselves – your market just got a whole lot more mobile.

Small differences

In all honesty there’s not much different about living in Dublin compared to the UK. A few more Garda roadblocks to check on illegal vehicles maybe (shock horror, the Irish seem to appreciate that pro-active policing is infinitely better than sticking a random revenue generating safety cameras up!)

However, one difference has become apparent recently. It’s getting to the time of year which in the UK is marked by the night sky being filled with fireworks as kids and adults alike enjoy the run up to Guy Fawkes night.

Not here however. Fireworks are illegal in the Republic of Ireland. It seems awfully quiet.

Debit card annoyances

Naturally as I now live and work in Ireland I have an Irish bank account, and an Irish debit card. My nice new card is stuffed with logos. On the front it has a Laser logo, and on the back are Maestro and Cirrus logos.

Laser is the debit card system in Ireland. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a debit card, it is a card for which you can pay for goods and services directly from your bank account, unlike a credit card which as the name suggests operates on a credit system. If you don’t have enough money in your account then your debit card transaction may be declined.

Maestro is the de-facto European standard for debit cards. Cirrus is the de-facto European/World system for ATM withdrawl cards. In the UK I happily had a card from my bank which carried both the Maestro and Cirrus logos. I could use it to withdraw cash anywhere in the world (well, anywhere I tried to) and I could pay for goods and services in many countries and over the ‘net using Maestro.

Naturally I was happy that my new Irish card carried these logos, though I was intrigued about the Laser one. It turns out that Laser is a debit card system solely for use within Ireland. It works in exactly the same way as Maestro in most senses. This is great for buying my Starbucks, but leaves me stumped when trying to buy stuff over the ‘net from the UK.

No problem I thought as my card also carries a Maestro symbol. The problem however is that it appears that Irish Maestro cards (at least from AIB and Bank of Ireland) don’t actually fully confirm to the Maestro standards. The most obvious omission is an issue number. This leaves you ok for point of sale transactions abroad where the card is physically swiped and a PIN entered, but means that the card cannot be used for ‘net or phone based (i.e. customer not present) transactions. This is a major annoyance meaning I am currently reliant on my existing UK debit or credit card for such stuff. Seen as I don’t get paid any money in the UK anymore, this is bothersome.

What makes it worse is that even some Irish services are rendered unusable due to this problem. For instance I tried to book tickets to see Shrek The Third at our local Vue cinema last week. I popped onto their web site and got through to the payment section. I happily selected Maestro (no Laser option), entered my card number, my CCV number, but wait a minute – it’s asking for an issue number. Putting the transaction through without it failed. It turns out that online payments for the Dublin Vue cinema are handled by Vue’s UK based payments system.

I’ve seen one reference online to the fact that the Irish clearing banks are not linked up to the rest of Europe in the way that other countries are, hence online funds verification can’t take place and the Maestro facilities the Irish banks can provide are subsequently restricted. I don’t know how true this is.

Time to get an Irish credit card. Good old Visa, accepted everywhere 😉

First day

Well, my first day at IBM Ireland has drawn to a close, and so far so good. The team seem great, and certainly full of enthusiasm and no little amount of talent. Given the warnings about traffic I set off quite early and ended up grabbing a paper and a coffee in a nearby village as I arrived at the site way too early. After getting in a little later I sat in on the daily team meeting, and spent the rest of the day in a fairly typical fashion for a new joiner – getting my laptop set up and attending a couple of meetings. Of course, I have the advantage that I know all of the ins and outs of the company and it’s systems, so at least I’m saved that headache and learning curve.

There’s a few noticeable differences between DSL and Hursley – DSL is not a cashless environment in the same way as Hursley, which makes things easier and less hassle as you don’t have to worry about loading money. There are two canteens and a sandwich bar (which was very good) and loads of vending machines. I’m in a large, very open-plan office which is fine. Other than that, things are pretty much the same though I’m sure other differences will become apparent over time.

I’m using a loaned T42 Thinkpad at the moment whilst we wait for a hardware order to come through. I’ve installed the internal Linux client based on RHEL 5 as I had on my old laptop, and am just waiting for the various IDs to come through before I can get going in anger.

Over the next few days I’ll be spending a lot of time getting up to speed with both Lotus Connections and the work the team are doing at the moment. Then starts the job of getting on with helping the team to define and deliver new features and function into the next Connections release. On first impressions, it’s going to be fun!

Farewell Hursley

Today is my final day in the WESB development team, my final day in the Hursley lab, and bar a couple of days holiday my final day in IBM UK.

Thing is, I’m too excited about moving to Ireland and starting my new role in Lotus to get too emotional about leaving. When I started here as a grad I shared the common view that I’d stay for a couple of years, get some good training and a good name on my CV then go off to find something new. The thing is that like most of my peers I found that life was too good in IBM and especially in Hursley. Nearly nine years later and I’m finally off. It’s been a great place to work, and a superb bunch of people to work with. However I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little stale in my current job. I’ve spent all of my time in probably the two most interesting types of job in the lab (product development and lab services) and the time is right to try something new. Yes, I’ll still be in a development role, but a fresh product, fresh organization and fresh surroundings will provide new energy. As I’ve stated before, I’m looking forward to thinking about stuff which appears in a browser to an end user rather than designing and writing middleware. The Lotus Connections calls I’ve been on already have proven that I’m making the right move. There’s going to be some exciting stuff happening in the future of the product.

The next time I write an entry in this blog we will be over in Dublin and I’ll be getting ready to start my new role on Wednesday. Can’t wait!