Léirmheas – Ullchabháin Óga

Ba mhaith liom léirmheasanna a dhéanamh ar na leabhair a léim as Gaeilge do foghlaimeoirí. Is é seo an chéad iarracht. Coimeádfaidh mé an Gaeilge simplí is soiléir, agus beidh leagan Béarla ag deireadh an leathnach. Tá níos mó leabhair á léamh agam, ach táim ag tosú le leabhar atá críochnaithe agam.

Is leabhar do pháistí é Úllchabháin Óga, agus bhí sé scríofa as Béarla le Martin Waddell, agus rinne Patrick Benson na pictiúr. Rinne Gabriel Rosenstock an aistriúchán. Mar leabhar do pháistí, tá an scéal simplí, agus mar sin, tá an Gaeilge simplí, ach tá an Gaeilge álainn. Bhí cúpla focail nua ann, ach bhí mé in ann iad a thuiscint ag féachaint ar na focail eile sna haibairtí.


  • Scéal: 2/5
  • Pictiúir: 4/5
  • Gaeilge: 5/5
  • Ullchabháin: 4/4

Review – Owl Babies

I would like to do a review of the books I read in Irish from the point of view of a learner. This is the first effort. I will keep the Irish simple and clear, and there will be an English translation at the bottom. I am reading a few books in Irish at the minute, so I’m starting with a simple books that I have completed.

Owl Babies is a book for children, written by Martin Waddel with pictures by Patrick Benson. Gabriel Rosenstock did the translation. As a book for kids, the English is simple, and so the Irish is simple, but the Irish is also lovely. There were a few new words there, but I was able to understand them by looking at the words around them.


  • Story: 2/5
  • Pictures: 4/5
  • Irish: 5/5
  • Owls: 4/4

Space Opera by Cat Valente – A Book Review

Last night I finished Space Opera by Cat Valente. It’s a book that was recommended to me by a friend around the Eurovision time with a promise of glitter, glam, and the Eurovision in Space. I bought the book on Kindle and didn’t get a chance to read it for a few months, by which time I had forgotten even that much about it.

The opening of the book is immediately reminiscent of Douglas Adams:

Once upon a time on a small, watery, excitable planet called Earth, in a small, watery, excitable country called Italy, a soft-spoken, rather nice-looking gentleman by the name of Enrico Fermi was born into a family so overprotective that he felt compelled to invent the atomic bomb.

This tickled me greatly, and as I continued reading, the similarities in style grew. There were digressions, verbose and improbable similes, a chaotic view of the universe. I laughed out loud reading this book more than I had in as long as I can remember. And not just exclamatory snorts, full blown, wake-your-just-about-asleep-partner laughs. I remember thinking: this writer is doing a much better job of writing in Adams style than Eoin Colfer did when he wrote “And Another Thing!”, and I thought that was a neat trick. At that stage, I nearly dismissed the book as a neat trick of stylistic writing, and as such, inferior to the original. I’m so glad I didn’t.

I (like many people) have a very personal relationship with the works of Douglas Adams. When I was 12 or 13, an aunt bought me The HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five parts. I read it straight through, and immediately re-read it. It became my bible. It was gleeful, hilarious, inventive and all the things you already know this book is. The books were a safety blanket for me, and it was only when I discovered the works of Terry Pratchett that I stopped re-reading them constantly while interspersing with other books. While my original copy didn’t return from a trip to the Gaeltacht, I have multiple copies of the series, and of all of Adams’ works. The first Neil Gaiman book I read was Don’t Panic, a biography of the HitchHiker series. I read it before I knew that Neil Gaiman was a cool author in his own right.

Gaiman’s book was full of fascinating insights into Adams process. If you know that The Restaurant at the End of the Universe was originally conceived as an episode of Doctor Who then a lot of things start to fall into place: Slartibartfast’s complete change of character, the prominence and agency of Trillian (who had been the token girl up to that point), the reason Zaphod and Ford seem so out of place in a plot to save the galaxy. You also see how Adams’ disaffection drove the darkness of the books. The message was “the universe is meaningless, so you might as well go a little mad”. This led to some hilariously absurd prose, and the cynicism appealed to me as an edgy teenager. As an adult who believes that cynical detachment is a vestige of privilege and an abdication of a responsibility to people who may be marginalised, it’s more problematic.

When I read Space Opera, I saw the same hilarity, the same glee in writing, the same playfulness with language, and familiar taken to absurd extremes. As I read, I saw pain, fear, and anxiety brought to life with the same pathos and authenticity that Adams brought to the characters in his works. But I also saw hope. One of the lessons that Adams books teach us is that hope is for suckers, and even if you get a happy ending, that’ll be written out in the next book (fucking hell, Fenchurch didn’t even get a fridge!). God’s final message to his creation is “We apologise for the inconvenience”. It’s very a very English form of nihilism.

In Valente’s world, the measure of how sentient you are is how you make music. The world of Space Opera contains a children’s book called “Goguenar Gorecannon’s Unkillable Facts”. The first unkillable fact is this:

 Life is beautiful and life is stupid.

While Adams universe proclaims that life is stupid, Valente agrees, but doesn’t condemn it for that. When I started reading the book, I didn’t expect more than a giggle and some overwrought similes. I didn’t expect a book that would pull apart some of my gooey SJWey parts, sprinkle them liberally with glitter and put them back in glowing with hope. It’s a long time since I’ve read something so uplifting, and I was honestly kind of surprised. Valente thanks Adams in her acknowledgements for the book, but as a massive Adams fan, I want to thank Valente for giving me something that brought me back some of the feelings I’d had as a kid.

I’ve spent the last 800 words comparing this book to the work of Douglas Adams, because of my personal connection to his writing, but Valente’s book is its own creature. It is inventive, colourful, lyrical, bananas and glittery. Bookfrack. For a book with such a silly premise, there’s a lot of depth to this book. I cannot possibly recommend this book more highly. Go read it now.

Mass Effect Andromeda

I just finished the final battle in Mass Effect Andromeda, and I have very mixed feelings.

Mostly, I enjoyed the game. When it was good, it was great – there were moments in there which were on par with any of the other Mass Effect games. It was trying to tackle big ideas – the implications of creating life, exploration and colonialism, and how science and warfare play on those – and give players a choice in how they shape their version of Andromeda.

The game was gorgeous. My machine runs it at full resolution, and I loved drinking in the alien landscapes. I could feel the hot dry wind on Kadara and a chill on Voeld (although that might just be #TheBeastFromTheEast). I enjoyed roaming around the different planets in the Nomad, and doing the whole exploration thing.

The combat was great – really well balanced, lots of options depending on your play style. It had a fun crafting system which is not a sentence I thought I’d ever say. The game also had a story mode if you just wanted to skip the combat. There were times when the game was just spamming enemies at you, but that’s a problem common to all Mass Effect games, and is part of what allows the game scale the final battles so they’re appropriate whatever level you’re at when you trigger that plot mission.


The pacing of the game was all over the place. Certain plot-arcs seemed to take forever, others happened in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment. This robbed many of big moments of their emotional impact, as there was little build up. At least once I found myself thinking “wait, was that it?” as the game moved me into the next chapter.

It may be the relationship options that I chose in the game, but some of the characters were lacking in depth, and others just won’t stop talking. Maybe it says something about me that my least favourite crew mates were the humans.

The thing that annoyed me most about the game was how meh many things felt. There’s a lot of incomplete, or half-assed content.

People talked a lot about how flat and affectless the facial animations were in the game, but I was willing to let that slide as potentially being limited by the engine, or by tooling – I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. The moment before one of the final battles where Ryder scrunches up her face in anger ruined that. It was fantastically expressive, and showed what the engine could have done. Similarly, the Archon’s lip-syncing towards the end was great – he was sneering up a storm, and I couldn’t wait to slap him around Meridian.

The moments of well-done gameplay or facial animation, or character interaction only serve to highlight what the rest of the game is missing. I’m annoyed because I feel cheated out of a more complete game.

I read a great article about the development of the game, and how it was a complete mess. I believe it. This has all the hallmarks of a software product released too soon. I couldn’t even start the game for 10 days because its anti-copyright scheme didn’t like the language setting on my operating system – that’s basic QA. But it also has all the hallmarks of a software product that has been in development for too long – scope creep, extraneous content and features, and a lack of focus. It’s rare that a game exhibits both of these problems at the same time, and yet here we are.

Mass Effect Andromeda kept me amused for its duration, and for that, I am thankful. At its best, it delighted me, but the distance between those moments of delight only served to highlight how “good enough” the rest of the game was, and I think that’s a shame.

Dublin Diary (Seattle Edition) – What is home, anyway?

We arrived back in Dublin more than four weeks ago.  I still don’t feel quite settled.  Since December 12th, I have slept in 8 different beds.  Constantly moving like that is surprisingly stressful, and mentally tiring.  And it has robbed me of the “coming home” sense that I felt entitled to after nearly three years away.

Moving to a new place is big, and strange and scary.  You don’t know anyone, and mundane things are alien – did you know that America uses a very different font on its street signs? – and all of this serves to underline the fact that you  are somewhere else.  After a few weeks, you know your own neighbourhood well enough that you have a favourite place for coffee, and you have met some people who may become friends.  Over months and eventually years, you carve out a space that is yours, and you become comfortable.

Moving to somewhere you have lived before is a different experience – you are already familiar with the place, with the street-signs and with the people.  But small changes stick out a lot, and are jarring – that petrol station used to have different branding, and that pub that I never went into has closed down!  After a long enough time, a place that once was as close as your skin can feel alien and grating.

It doesn’t help that I’m back in Seattle after less than a month away.  This is a great opportunity to see friends that I was worried about leaving behind, and it makes a business trip feel significantly less onerous.  But it’s a very strange feeling – this is the first time I’ve taken a taxi from the airport alone in years – and I have a better idea of where I want to eat than I do in Dublin.

All this is to say that travel is an odd experience, and moving homes even more so.  I don’t quite know where I feel at home just yet, because I haven’t had a chance to settle.  I don’t really have a solid conclusion for this post, which I recognise is unsatisfying.  But then, I have fouind this period of living as a peripatetic is also pretty unsatisfying too, so maybe that works.

Theme song for the week: 

Dublin Diary – Christmas Music

Coming home around the holidays, it’s been hard not to focus on the holidays themselves. These are always emotional times, driven by nostalgia, and I have disadvantage on Nostalgia (WIS) saves.  But there is one thing that has stuck out this year against other years: usually by this time of year, I am sick and tired of Christmas music.

We arrived in Dublin on Monday, and I went almost straight to work, and then on to the pub.  Within 24 hours of arriving home, I’d heard the entire Irish Christmas playlist.  I knew every word of every song.  Each one made me smile.  And I wondered why I hadn’t heard them before now.

I don’t seek holiday music out, I find it in public places.  “Maybe I just haven’t been out in public?” I thought. It turns out that there’s a much larger ouevre of Christmas music in the US, and a much broader range of songs.  We were staying in a hotel for our last couple of nights before coming home, and in the hotel bar, there were jazz, R’n’B, and a much broader range of pop Christmas songs playing.

In Ireland, the closest that we come to the twee version of Ireland that people expect is at Christmas.  We are very traditional in our celebration of Christmas – even those who are not religious get together with their families and feel the warmth of the season. Part of that is that limited Christmas playlist.  Thinking about it, most of these songs are at least a little problematic — from The Fairytale of New York’s employment of homophobic slurs and the abusive relationship it describes, to Band Aid’s assumption that everyone in Africa needs to know it’s Christmas, to the fact that Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas time is just plain shit — but they are firmly ingrained in my soul. Someone was playing Fairytale of New York in the office the other day, and I teared up; it may have been nostalgia, it may have been a hangover, but that unique combination meant that I knew it was Christmas.

I actually like that the US has a broader, less grating list of Christmas songs. It draws from a broader range of cultural background and musical styles, and that diversity softens the temptation to be a humbugging grumpus. I was excited to hear the songs that I knew, because I hadn’t heard them yet.

If you’re interested, here’s my list of “10 Christmas Songs that you’d be sick of by now, if you were in Ireland”:

Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody
Wizzard – I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day
The Pogues and Kirsty McColl – Fairytale of New York
Band Aid – Do They Know it’s Christmas
Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmas Time
John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Cliff Richard – Christmas Time (Miseltoe and Wine)
Bing Crosby – White Christmas
Chris Rea – Driving Home for Christmas
Jona Lewis – Stop the Cavalry

P.S. I had never listened to the lyrics to Wonderful Christmas Time until I heard it this year.  I firmly believe that Paul McCartney is one of the best songwriters of all time, and this is one of the worst songs that I’ve ever heard.  “The children sing their song: ding dong ding dong ding dong“.  What, did he see that Lennon was releasing a song, and rushed this unpolished turd out the door? HUMBUG!

Dublin Diary – Breakfast

This is the second post that I’ve written, and a pattern is starting to emerge; see if you can spot it.

This morning, we woke up at 03.30, and when 06.15 rolled around, we decided that there was not point in trying to go back to sleep, so we should instead, get up and go into town for the world’s greatest breakfast: a Breakfast Bap from Keogh’s Café.

Breakfast Bap

Many words have been written about the wonders of a Full Irish Breakfast, but for those of you unfamiliar, it is usually comprised of sausages, bacon, eggs and pudding.  For those of you reading this in America, it’s worth pointing out that the sausages and bacon are different to what you’re familiar with, and pudding is yet another pork product – Irish breakfast is really about letting pigs know where they stand.  The sausages tend to be pork, salt and pepper, with the flavour of the meat being to the fore.  Irish bacon is the same part of the pig as a pork chop, but sliced thinly, and smoked.  Pudding is similar to a sausage, but usually with more spices (and lard) involved.

A “bap” is a bread roll that is both taller and broader than a hamburger bun.  They also tend to be more floury, more fluffy, and they absolutely must be consumed fresh.  Baps are generally found in Ireland, Scotland and the north of England, where they are most commonly used as a base for a meat sandwich.

Keogh’s is a small café in the middle of Dublin.  It’s (apparently) family run, and has been in the same place for the last 20 years.  Their baked goods are made on-site, and their food is both delicious and reasonably priced.  I have very fond memories of sitting in Keogh’s on a succession of secondary school Saturday mornings reading books and writing letters.  There are few places in this world which are more deserving of the description “cosy”.

“Cosy” is an excellent description of the vibe that I’m feeling since coming back.  Familiar food, familiar places, the little things that are the marks of ‘home’ – we had proper rain this morning, for a start.  It’s all a little trite, but I think the permanence of the move hasn’t quite sunk in yet, and so, for now, I’m just noticing how important sandwiches are in my life.

Dublin Diary – The Sandwich

We arrived back in Dublin yesterday, after living in the US for close to three years.  It’s a strange feeling to come home, and given how hectic things were in the last couple of weeks before we moved, I don’t think I’ve really processed it yet.  I promised a whole lot of people that I’d keep them up to speed on things, so I’ve decided to revive my blog as an easy way to do that.

For those of you who don’t know, this magnificent specimen is a Chicken Tikka Roll, and it may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Food of some gods

It’s not that it’s particularly good.  The cheese is salty and has a rubbery texture, the tikka sauce doesn’t actually taste like a tikka masala sauce, and the best thing that has ever happened to that chicken is being covered in the dubious sauce.  Those of you who have heard me rant about bread will be pleased to know that this bread was pretty great, but it should be noted that the crust of a Spar roll can be so crunchy as to lacerate the mouth of the unsuspecting.  However, a Chicken Tikka and Grated Cheese roll has been one of my staple meals since I started secondary school.  And you can’t get them in the US.

Most convenience stores (shops) in Ireland have a hot and cold deli counter, and most will have someone behind the counter who’ll make you a sandwich. The sandwiches are generally pretty passable, but there is nothing special about them – they don’t claim to be artisanal, they don’t use fancy ingredients, they’re among the least pretentious sandwiches you can find.  My sandwich cost €3.60, and an expensive one (with a hot filling) might cost €4.50 (~$4.65).  The simplicity of the sandwiches, and their ubiquity is something that I have sorely missed.

I went into that shop knowing I was going to come out with a mediocre sandwich, and that is exactly what I got.  And it was perfect.

Right, well…

Here are a couple of facts about me:

  1. I don’t like conflict.  By which I mean I don’t like people yelling at each other and not coming closer to a mutual understanding.  I don’t like it when people talk at cross-purposes and don’t take the time to understand the other person’s position.
  2. In times of great stress, my first thought is always “what can I do to make this better?”. I don’t like dwelling on discomfort. I want to move on.
  3. I am an optimist.  I think that the things that bring us together are more important than the things that make us different. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the problems that we’re facing as a species, but that I want to figure out how to solve them so that we can explore the galaxy together.

Donald Trump is President Elect of the USA.  He ran on a platform of economic protectionism backed by a calliope of dog whistles, and straight-up racism.  61 million people voted for him.  Some of the people who voted for him are cross-burning, klan joining racists. Fuck those people.

However, there are (I hope) a large number of people who voted for Trump who are not consciously racist.  They’re people who bought into his economic plan, or his promise to “drain the swamp”.  These are people who have never examined their privilege, because for them, it doesn’t feel like privilege.  This privilege is undeniably a part of what drove them to commit the undeniably racist act of voting for Donald Trump.  These are the people that we need to get on-side. Yelling at them, and calling them racists, particularly doing this online, is only going to drive them towards institutions that explicitly support white nationalist causes.

I want to digress for a moment. I mentioned up top that I like to think of what I can do to make things better.  I also know that people who have been bearing the brunt of this oppression are sick and tired of reaching out and being rebuffed.  They have a rough enough deal without having to add an “educate racists” task to every to-do list. I’m not saying that they should.

However, I am a cis-het white guy from a very privileged background.  It is not my place to be a leader in a queer space, or a feminist space or a space for people of colour.  I am and will continue to be an ally.  I will continue to protest unjust laws, and stand with my queer friends, with my Muslim (and other non Christian) friends, and with my friends of colour.  But I can also put my privilege to good use.  It’s much less dangerous for me to go into spaces with these unintending racists, and try to change their minds.  It’s much less dangerous for me to challenge them on things that they may think of as “harmless banter” which are actually hurtful and cruel.  But that challenge has to be the beginning of a conversation. Screaming “RACIST!” and then moving on will not change anyone’s mind; talking to them about the impact of their words, and why they chose to speak like that just might.

Vox has a couple of articles that I found very interesting on this topic.  One was about a study which explored methods of changing voter attitudes towards anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and the other was about applying some of these techniques to combat racism.  There are no easy answers here.  I like to think that living in a liberal bubble like Seattle, the “this has an impact on people who aren’t you” lesson isn’t one that needs to be taught, but as the Seattle Times shows, there are plenty of Trump voters around, they’re just in hiding.  Beyond that, I don’t know how to drive an effort like this in a structured, organized manner, which is what’s needed if it’s to be effective on the large scale.

If what you need right now is the catharsis of venting your frustration and anger at someone who did something stupid for reasons you don’t understand, then that’s great.  But if your goal is to win people to your side, to help them learn not to be racist, and in doing so, to make the world a better place, then it will only happen through an open, judgement-light conversation.

A Flash of Annoyance

We’ve started watching The Flash this evening. It’s my first foray into the DC live-action multi-verse.

1) The DC Multiverse is very confusing. Meta humans are a thing. Or might be a thing. At least, Green Lantern is a thing. Or not. The quality of Marvel’s integration between all of their properties isn’t always great, but at least I know what happened when.

2) I find it really difficult to believe in a modern super-hero story where the characters aren’t even a little genre-savvy. Barry fights a guy who can clone himself and he gets his ass kicked. Because he can’t fight, and he doesn’t learn to. Peter Parker knows all of the dangers that come with being a super-hero, and tries to address them even if he doesn’t do a great job. Barry just jumps straight in…

3) This show is full of smart people doing stupid things. When Barry was getting his ass kicked by the clones, he tried to fight them all at regular speed. Other times, people are doing that “I know what you’re going to say… “.

4) Barry’s powers are really inconsistent. At some point, someone jumped out a window, and fell to their death – Barry couldn’t save him, but he could have made it to the ground in time to catch the dude. Barry has a suit to allow him run really fast, but when he runs really fast in his regular clothes, nothing bad happens to them, or his hair. This was a major part of the origin episode of the 90’s show.

5) We have the main science-guy Dr Wells (or as I keep calling him “JD from Scrubs’s big brother”). He is continuously referred to as Dr Wells. Then there’s the woman who does the actual doctoring, who is consistently called “Caitlin”, not Dr Snow. Say what you will about the quality of female representation in the MCU (it is woefully inconsistent), but I’m 3 episodes in and not a single episode of The Flash has passed the Bechdel Test.

I’m also a little conflicted here – I remember a friend of my dad’s had the 90’s version of The Flash, possibly on LaserDisc. When we’d visit, I’d get to watch a couple of episodes. I was about 10 when this happened, so I’ve no clear recollection of whether or not it was any good, but then I’m not sure this incarnation is any good, so I’m not sure what it brings to the table.

I have a few notions about where the show is going to go, but I don’t know that I care enough to watch it all the way through and find out. I care more about Jessica Jones based on a couple of two minute trailers than I do about Barry Allen based on two hours of full-length episodes. And I think that probably says everything I need to know about The Flash.

Comic Con

I’m just in the door from Emerald City Comic Con.  Although my feet are aching, my eyes are sore and my head feels a little too tight, I had an absolutely stupendous time.  Comic Con is a lot of fun!  I saw some fantastic costumes, and I took part in some really great conversations.  I saw some stupendous art, and I got to meet and chat to some exceptionally talented creators.  I’m tired and sore, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was worth it.

The people at ECCC are awesome.  They are welcoming and friendly without having to think about it.  People were walking around with weapons which were taller than themselves, but they had all been peace-bonded.  Other characters were walking arm in arm with their sworn enemies.  People were happy to stop and have their photos taken.  ECCC has a strict anti-harassment policy, and I didn’t see anyone come close to breaking it.  I myself was dressed as FemShep (from Mass Effect) and no one asked why I hadn’t dressed as ManShep.  I even got a couple of compliments, which was nice.

I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite cosplay on the citadel.

The only hint I saw of the sexism that can all too often be found in the discussion of comics was at some of the artists’ stands.  The convention floor had an area where artists could sell prints of their work, and there were some overly sexy depictions of female characters; these actually looked pretty old-fashioned and out of place next to some of the more contemporary work which surrounded them.  There were a number of measures in direct opposition to this sort of thing, too – panels where the panelists talked about using monsters and robots to discuss issues of gender and sexuality, and another that talking how to create welcoming gaming spaces were among them.

I attended a lot of panels, and they were also awesome.  They ranged from huge halls, with thousands of people coming to see Gina Torres or Alex Kingston, to smaller rooms, with maybe a hundred people coming together to talk about personhood and the dehumanization of the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, or the resurgence in popularity of archery in pop culture.  I personally found the smaller panels more interesting – the conversations were usually led by people who were experts in the field, and after a bit of an introduction from the panelists, they opened up to questions from the floor.  Our last panel was the one about personhood in BSG, and I could quite happily have invited the entire room to the pub to continue the conversation well into the night over copious pints.

I also discovered that Comic Con involves a lot of walking.  It took up the entire floor-space of two large buildings, and we did several laps of each floor each day, moving from panel to panel, and browsing the merch.  A lot of this walking happens at a pace that you cannot control because you’re stuck behind someone else.  This is frustrating and it tires you out a lot quicker than being able to walk at your own pace.  The best way to stop yourself getting grouchy is to ensure that your blood sugar up with delicious snacks.

Comic Con was a huge amount of fun.  It had the friendly openness of other Cons that I’ve been to, even though it was almost overwhelmingly large.  I will be going again.

…I should go.