Monday Mar 16, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Circular cloud We had a bad experience with a pickpocket during a Dublin St. Patrick's festival a few years ago. So in recent years we've decided to celebrate in some of the villages of county Meath. Dublin events can be O.K. for families but the parade isn't terribly impressive for anyone less than 12 feet tall, unless you bring a ladder taller than everyone else's. For anyone with young children I highly recommend smaller parades in places such as Skerries, Trim, Baltimore Md. and Denver (free beer and gloriously warm weather during the one St. Pat's day I was in Denver!)

Thursday Mar 20, 2008

7 years in Ireland, 7 years at Sun.

Today marks my 7 year anniversary of arriving in Ireland and working for Sun. I should thank my wife for talking me into it, my kids for making it a fun, wonderful adventure. I should thank my Sun friends for helping make it work. And finally I should thank the Irish immigration department and my other Irish friends for tolerating my reverse emigration even thought they may think it's a totally daft idea altogether.

Monday Jul 09, 2007

Avoiding government "abandoned property" seizures

Those who live abroad should be aware of abandoned property laws in their home country. A recent article in the San Fransisco Chronicle (found by The Consumerist) explains a California law allowing the government to seize property in safe deposit boxes which haven't been checked in three years. [Read More]

Thursday May 17, 2007

No, you may not display your child's ultrasound DVD here!

Virgin Gorda Baths

My family and I recently returned from a wedding in the Caribbean. I could fill this blog with photos and pages of descriptions of steep green hills, dark starry nights, intense blue skies, green waters, awesome coral life in knee-deep water just offshore, friendly people and good food. My only disappointment in the entire trip is barely worth mentioning but I will mention it here because it indicates that consumers may not have the right to view content which they own and create.

During a rare moment when we weren't involved in wedding, sailing, swimming or snorkeling activities, we decided to show a DVD of an ultrasound to some close relatives who were nurses and who were also at the wedding. The G.E. 3D/4D ultrasound scan our Irish midwife used isn't yet available many parts of the world and usually isn't covered under U.S. health insurance. The ultrasound was recorded onto what appeared to be an ordinary commercial home DVD recorder and played well on our DVD player in Ireland and my parent's DVD player in the U.S. So I was surprised, mystified and slightly irritated when I popped the homespun DVD of our next child into the Sony DVD player in our hotel only to see a "Media is not playable in this region" error message appear on the screen...[Read More]

Thursday Apr 19, 2007

Walk a mile in the moccasins of an immigrant...

Native born kids explore their home country

Once again the dreaded April 15th tax deadline has passed for U.S. citizens. Tax complexity increases every year because each special case added to the tax code benefits a potential election campaign donor. While Americans are breathing a collective sigh of relief in the knowledge that they've once again cheated something as unavoidable as death, few understand that complexities and bureaucratic obstacles in U.S. tax laws are minor compared to that experienced by immigrants. Much has changed since the mid 19th century when my Prussian, Walloon, Irish?, Tunisian? ancestors arrived and someone recorded an approximation of their name in a book and asked them to try to stay off the dole.

I challenge "real" journalists, bloggers and citizens of every nation to walk a mile in the footsteps of an immigrant to your homeland. Where would you start? How would you become legal? Who would you trust? [Read More]

Wednesday Jul 26, 2006

Sunset over Trim and Tara County Meath

We had a Spanish student visitor for a short time. Her English improved quickly, so I haven't learned much Valencian or Spanish. Unfortunately, some neighborhood youths "welcomed" this group of students to Malahide by hurling stones at them. Our visitor was one of the most gentle and polite teenagers I've met in a long time. As a going away treat, we decided to take her to a couple of our favorite places in the nearby countryside, Trim and Tara in county Meath Ireland.

A friend once told me that Irish graves are often set to line up with the rising and setting Sun. The celtic crosses at the site where the top photo was taken appear to be aligned this way. Church near Trim Some horses (and glare from the #$(&\*! dust that the Sony Factory installed in my DSC-V3 Lens)

To someone unfamiliar with Irish history, the Hill of Tara may seem like an ordinary countryside hill with a few odd mounds and ditches on the top, but when I use my imagination and watch the ever-changing weather and light move over the Meath countryside, I've never been disappointed. I'd like to get up there on a clear moonless night before light pollution from housing developments and the new motorway exchange, blots out the night sky that the Celts were so familiar with. Hot air Balloon has view of Tara's shape. Rainbow as seen from hill of Tara

Friday Mar 03, 2006

National Car Test (NCT) Passed!

Rainbow Car

I'd been told that the NCT was the reason that you don't see many old cars in Ireland. But then I wondered what happens to old cars here? Some seem to end up on farms or set on fire. I talked to a Nigerian man a few days ago who said that european cars often find there way to Nigeria where they are maintained for a long time. One of these old cars ended up in my driveway when its previous owner moved away. I'm amazed that our 19 year old car doesn't leak any fluids, doesn't have any corrosion is safe and doesn't pollute beyond the NCT limits (which seem to be less strict than the limits U.S. cars were required to pass in the mid 1970s.) I can certainly find fault with other aspects of Irish road safety, but I think the NCT is a good idea that should be imported to the U.S. Pollution tests only required in certain U.S. cities and as far as I know, very few U.S. states require a biannual safety test. Wouldn't this help reduce deaths, insurance costs, hospitilizations, and provide a needed boost to the U.S. auto industry?

Is it me, or does our car look a bit boxy, like the '66 rambler?

Extra passport pages stapled

Those of us from outside the E.U. have to have our passport stamped at nearly every E.U. airport so mine quickly filled up. My wife had to pay about 40 euro to have pages stapled in (expensive government issue staples?) but mine was free! It did take a couple hours though. There were four people ahead of me in the queue, my stapling took about 40 minutes so I guess there is something complex about stapling a couple dozen blank pages into a passport.

Monday Nov 21, 2005

Paris is still Paris

I can't say much about Paris that hasn't been said before. Our short visit included little beyond the most popular tourist sites so my photos are also clichés. But I can tell you that in spite of recent news reports of suburban violence and car burnings, Paris is still a thriving and beautiful city to visit in the autumn. The crowds are much smaller and tourism industry employees are less frazzled than they were during our August 1999 visit. Thanks to the help of our friends and our two-year-old ambassador we were much better prepared this time and had a great experience. We found a clean, comfortable hotel near the Bastille and visited some popular sites as well as our current favorite museum, Musée national du Moyen Âge Nearly everyone we met was friendly and helpful. The cool weather allowed us to ditch the usual American tourist uniform; baseball cap, T-shirt and sneakers and instead wear a sweater, overcoat and leather shoes. We weren't nearly as well dressed as the average Parisian but I think it helped. We also tried to learn how to greet people, thank them and apologise for our language skills, in French. It really surprised me when a French woman asked me directions. I wish I'd known how to say, "Do I look like I know what I'm doing?" in French. As soon as our daughter got over the disappointment that we were going to the city Paris and not her cousin Paris, she seemed to enjoy it too. We will certainly try to return someday.

Thursday Sep 01, 2005

Identity, locality, duplicity

Robin Wilton's posting on locality and identity caught my eye because botched ID management is a growing problem which is likely to affect nearly everyone. Here is just one example:

When the U.S. social security administration (SSA) began, it was necessary to create a unique identifier so that benefits would not be given twice to the same person or only once to two people with the same name, etc.1 This number was not to be used for any other purpose and it is usually illegal for a business to demand that an individual divulge their social security number. But many businesses do, and now these numbers are in widespread use in many commercial tracking databases. Several private credit reporting agency's use these numbers to track whether individuals have a good history of paying their debts. When I signed up for a storage shed, the individual running the business asked for my social security number in order to run such a "credit check." He intended to enter it into a laptop which was running Microsoft Windows, an operating system with many flaws which could make these numbers and names available to even casual hackers. Its no surprise that these numbers and names are widely available to identity thefts. This widespread fraud is one reason why I sympathize with bloggers who choose to use a pseudonym, and it is why my daughter's name is not mentioned on this blog. But my grandfather was the victim of identity theft and he had never gone near the internet. One thief even had the gall to use the name of a newborn baby in order to apply for medical coverage of his back surgery.

Because such fraud is widespread and because it can become impossible to use a credit card, buy a home, car or even rent a storage shed without a good credit rating, it is important that the credit rating agency records are accurate. However, since many businesses have improperly protected their customer data, these records are not accurate. Until recently individuals could not freely view their own credit report unless they had been denied credit. Congress passed a law which allowed individuals to obtain a free credit report every year. The credit reporting agencies were required to set up a method for individuals to access their credit report. They created http://www.annualcreditreport.com Access to this information was rolled out by region from west to east and this week it covered residents of all U.S. states. When I learned that Wisconsin was covered, I tried to access the website and received an access error. Why was the site inaccessible? I used netcraft to find out what the site was running. O.K. so they're using Apache on FreeBSD, it's not quite what I would have chosen for a website requiring the stability, security and scalability to serve an entire nation, but at least they weren't running something crazy like IIS on Windows 2000. But wait, I mispelled the address typed into netcraft, I typed www.anualcreditreport.com! The typo brought me just one of at least 112 imposter annual credit report websites.. For an example of how bold these imposters are, when I brought up one news article describing the imposters, the article's commercial sponsors were "free" credit report companies! The real annualcreditreport.com website can be accessed directly or through a link from a known site such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But it can't be accessed from outside of the United States! That's right, even though according to American Citizens Abroad, the number of U.S. citizens living overseas now exceeds the individual populations of 25 U.S. states, this website attempts to block access from abroad. Of course web domain based access restrictions don't work. It might keep honest citizens from accessing their own credit reports but real fraudsters laugh when they encounter a website attempting to use domain as an indication of locality. During the final days of the 2004 election the president's campaign website used this method to block access from abroad. U.S. congressional websites try to keep out outsiders by requiring a zipcode.2 But even those of us who live in a country with only 24 post codes can type 54321!

When I saw these misguided attempts at "fixing" the identity fraud problem, I couldn't help but think of the song "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly..." I lost track of how many "identity" issues surround the original identity fraud issue. The problem continues because few people understand both the technical aspects of the problem and the way criminals think and behave. The identity problem is technically solvable, but as long as companies can get by with sloppy customer record keeping, it won't be solved. We may need a consumer oriented equivalent of the Sarbanes-Oxley act.

1SSA has problems of its own. One of my college friends shared a surname with a famous Beatle. My friend was listed as dead while he was a healthy 20-year-old. It took quite a while for him to convince SSA that he was alive. In the meantime his friends had a wake and a seance for him. He told us that "things are pretty good in heaven, there is no math here."

2One of my pet peeves is a website which demands a zip code. Only a couple dozen neighborhoods in Dublin have a zip code. Postal locality in the remainder of Ireland is likely to be described as something like:"Sunview B&B, An Daingean, County Kerry.") P.S. For the few non-irish speakers out there, An Daingean Uí Chúis means "The Fortress of Hussey" in Irish-Gaelic. (Don't tell anyone that An Daingean was called "Dingle" for a while, one of my favorite parts of Ireland already sees quite a few tourists!)

Wednesday May 18, 2005

The Wall of Tolerance

Here's a bit of cross-cultural trivia. In the upper midwestern United States, parchment diplomas are decorative items suitable for framing or hanging on mom's refrigerator.1 A transcript is the generally accepted proof of a university degree. A transcript is printed with state-of-the-art technology which in 1987 was green and white fanfold DECWriter paper.

Fast forward to the 21st century go northeast a few thousand miles, and you'll find that the crucial document to the Irish visa department is the parchment diploma. Even though the important Irish "leaving certificates" are often printed on dot matrix computer paper, the immigration worker looked at my Oshkosh transcript as though I'd passed a dead fish through the slot in the perplex window. I was told that the diploma must be on parchment and it must say B.S. in a specific field of study. So I wrote to the kind folks at U.W. Oshkosh for a replacement for my lost decorative diploma. They were very helpful, but the University of Wisconsin no longer prints diplomas which specify a major degree. In fact, until UW changed printing companies you were lucky to get your correct name, school and BA, BS or PhD spelled correctly. UW's reasoning is that it is too easy to forge a parchment diploma. They have a point, most post 1987 ink jet printers can print a more convincing diploma than my original. I haven't seen a DECWriter in a while, so parchment diplomas might actually be easier to forge than fanfold green and white paper transcript.

The unappreciated frontline government workers did come through in the end and I thank them. I now have two decorative diplomas indicating that I have a Bachelor of Science in an unspecified subject (B.S. Physics, Comp Sci minor) and my wife has two B.A. diplomas which mention neither her Spanish nor her Journalism degrees. But while looking for my original, I dug up another document to hang on mom's fridge:
Wall of Tolerance

I doubt if this is what Rosa Parks had in mind, but it works for me. So here is my challenge for the traditional media, try to immigrate or get a work visa into your home country and document what happens. Good luck! I wonder how many of us would have the tolerance to make it through the red-tape and other obstacles at our own border, especially in my homeland where few even bother with a passport?

1 Were it not for my grades in Digital Signal Processing and Nordic skiing, mom's dodge station wagon might have qualified for one of those "super student" bumper stickers that are so despised outside of the U.S.
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