Monthly Archives: November 2014

A fitting poem by a Master

shropshire picThe Land of Lost Content
by Alfred Edward Housman

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

This is how I feel at the moment 🙂 I’ve lost my old ‘un-digitial’ life somewhere along the way, and as Sam Anderson puts it, ”it’s too late to just retreat to a quieter time”. This quote appears in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, (a book I’ve been raving about for ages). It comes from an original article called ‘In defense of distraction’, written by Anderson for New York magazine in 2009.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like…

And so it’s the end of the first term already, the ‘C’ word is everywhere, and the shop windows are blinding in their kitchy, screaming glitter. I should be shopping!   I’m not used to semesterisation, and I must admit, I’m not liking it. The end has crept up suddenly, like a dark shadow, and it’s relentless, you could say it ‘looms’. I’m not ready to submit everything, I haven’t read enough, I’m not prepared. Please can I have some more time? I was never that person who delayed starting an essay until a few days before the due date, I never left things so late that I needed to stay up all night to work on them. I wouldn’t have felt ‘right’, but this term has been a completely different animal.

I believe that from day one I didn’t gel with what was happening here. I don’t know why – maybe I’m actually a bit slow to catch on, you know, a can short of a six-pack, that sort of thing. Whatever, it’s all just trundled happily downhill frome then on. While I fully understand that people operate on different levels, (wouldn’t it be so dull if we all had the same thoughts, or believed the same things, or saw with the same eyes?), there comes a point when you need to be realistic. Here, then, is my reality, (at 12.55 am on a Wednesday in November), I’m trying to wade through an MA that I jumped into without thinking enough about whether it was the right move or not. There, I’ve said it! I’ve come to realise that just because you put your mind to something it does not mean that it gets easier, or ensures that you feel better about it, or even that you learn quicker – none of the above apply here.

Yes friends, this is a low point, and there have been many like it since this began in September. But I’m stubborn, and I’m not going to give up, not just yet anyway, not tonight. I’m posting a poem here because it just popped into my head – my head is like that – it’s full of wonderful poems to suit every occasion. Obviously, Henley wrote this about something far more troubling than what to put in a portfolio that would earn him a degree, but that’s of no matter here –  read this, it will do you good:



By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

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Presentation time – Digitizing the Voice

  • This presentation is called Digitizing the voice, because it seems that we have digitized almost everything else in this age of technological wonders. Also, the presentation concerns the spoken word, and the power that words have in today’s world.
  • I’ll begin with a nod to Melissa Terras who blogged about tweeting an open-access paper: I didn’t realise that this was an unusual act, and that academics didn’t do this all the time. I believed this was the norm, and because they had written the paper, it was up to them what they did with it. How wrong can you be?
  • So, following on this lead, I’m going to talk about the journey of a piece of writing of my own that’s very non-academic. It’s called Storm and it’s a slice of consciousness, only a ‘slice’, because I believe a ‘stream’ would be much longer. This piece is not new, but Mike Cosgrave says that’s ok, as he uses some of his own older poems as demonstrations in class from time to time.
  • Slides 4-11 is where I’m reading my work – I’ve chosen some images to accompany the reading, and these are they.
  • In an effort to be digital, I tried to create a nice visualisation of the text using Many Eyes. I found though, that it wasn’t such a user-friendly piece of software. The user needs to create an account in order to use the programme, and it won’t allow you to leave with a file of your creation, only a thumbnail sized image, and this isn’t very useful as it can’t be resized without it becoming terribly pixelated. I used WorditOut instead, and the result was a lot more visually pleasing, I thought.
  • I took the first few words of the piece ‘Sometimes there are too many words’ and ran them through 8 different search engines (some I had never heard of) to see what they would each return in terms of results. As I expected, Google came back with the greatest number of results – weighing in with 91’200’000. I did think that Yahoo would be the next in line, but it was in fact Aol with 87’800’000
  • I published my piece on on Saturday 15th November at 12 midnight, and I tweeted it immediately afterwards to see what would happen. To my surprise, 30 minutes later my work had been favourited! Like Melissa Terras and her tweeted paper, I have no way of knowing whether this person actually read my work, or was just congratulating me on publishing it – writers do that, they support each other.
  • I also ran my text through Google translate and converted it to Latin. I did think that this would result in a different wordcloud from WorditOut, but it turned out to be the same shape as the English one.
  • Being unusually brave, I went to O Bheal on the night prior to delivering the presentation. There, on each Monday, an ‘open mic’ night is held for anyone who wishes to read their work. I had the idea that I would get a friend to record me while I was reading. Sadly, the technology let me down on the night so I have no recording to include here – maybe it’s just as well 🙂


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Farewell John Smith’s


Well said, Stephen!

Today was a sad day in the history of University College Cork, as it saw the closure of the university’s bookshop. I can’t begin to describe how devastated I am on realising I can no longer wander in to browse through the treasures on the shelves, exchange a few words with the friendly folk who work there, and probably forget my umbrella because I’m so distracted at finding the perfect read to go with my cuppa.

I was going to write something to the tune of ‘given the current economic climate, it’s not surprising to see even university bookshops closing down’ and blah blah blah,  because that’s what people keep saying when I moan about it, but that would be a lie. It is surprising, it’s shocking even, come on, this is a university – who ever heard of a university without a bookshop? Really?  I understand that the decision to close was not up to UCC, and that there is no doubt a John Smith’s head-office somewhere which, in its wisdom, decided we didn’t actually need a bookshop – hey, we’re just a university, why would we need a bookshop?

I don’t hold with the reasoning behind the closure at all- that ‘most’ students are going online now to the likes of Amazon to source their books for the coming year, how many is ‘most’?  Not everyone is prepared to do that. Some still enjoy leafing through a physical book before they make a purchase, they like to see if it’s reader-friendly, what size the font is, the chapter layout, the overall ‘feel’ of the book, if it ‘speaks’ to them. Amazon won’t go to the trouble of organizing all your first-year English books by module and wrapping them nicely together so you know you have everything you’ll need. Amazon has no comfortable red couch downstairs for you to sit and breathe in the quiet book smell, or launch into the first few pages of your latest exciting find because you just can’t wait until you get home.

Perhaps another bookseller will see this as an opportunity and come to fill the John Smith’s-shaped space left now in Aras na Mac Leinn.  Let’s hope so!



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New Tools, New Thinking


My new toy!

So it’s been a number of weeks now since I bought my Asus Transformer Book T100. (it sounds like something from a video game). The thinking behind the purchase was sound – I needed something small and light I could take to college every day, something that wouldn’t feel as if I was carrying a dead body in my back-pack. I love my Macbook, but it’s just too heavy to drag with me all day. It’s also old-ish, but I couldn’t finance a new Mac just now. Here’s what I would have bought though, if I could have: air

I shouldn’t expect the Asus to perform like a Mac, it’s unrealistic. Isn’t it amazing how we become so used to one particular tool that it’s a shock to the system when we have to use something different? I know, it was about time I learned the ins and outs of Windows – I’ve used the OS before, but not for long enough to understand how it thinks. The college does Windows, it’s all over the place, and I can understand that PCs are a less expensive option for an environment such as a college or a workplace, it makes sense.

The Asus fills my requirements adequately though– it weighs 1.21 lbs, so it’s no heavier than a hardback book. Great! Mission Accomplished! I really do like the tidy size, and the fact that it’s not terribly pretentious and overdone.
Once I’d gotten over the fact that it thinks differently, I was more-or-less OK, I mean, it runs Windows 8. I can mostly get my head around configuring it to do what I wanted. I’ve had some difficulty finding things, but in my defence, I tend to search in the logical places, the folders that sound as if they might hold what I’m looking for. No matter, there’s always Google!

I do have to say that the touch-pad is not as responsive as I would have expected. It appears that you need to click very ‘decisively’, almost forcefully, or your command is ignored completely. Not good, but not quite a disaster either – just different.

I love the long battery-life, but I’m not fond of how long it takes to charge. Overnight charging is the only answer.

Here’s a real review by someone who knows what they’re talking about in terms of specs and tech stuff.

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How we write

The-Shallows-How-the-Interne    In his enormously entertaining book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr tells us about Friedrich Nietzsche’s travels around Europe in 1881 in search of a cure for his failing health, or at least a period of remission. His eyesight was deteriorating, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to focus on a page of writing for any length of time as it caused monstrous headaches and bouts of vomiting. Nietzsche was at his wit’s end and feared he would have to give up writing altogether. In 1882 he ordered a typewriter, a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. Carr goes on to tell how the Writing Ball was Nietzsche’s saviour for a time, and once he learned to touch-type, he was back to himself again.
A close friend of Nietzsche’s, Heinrich Koselitz, began to notice a change in Nietzsche’s writing. He remarked on the new ‘forcefulness’ of the prose, and the ‘tight’ structure of his compositions. Nietzsche’s response to his friend’s comment was “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.
(Nicholas Carr, The Shallows. pgs 18-19)

Reading this made me think about the tools I use to write. It sounds foolish and immature to admit that I’ve always preferred a 2B pencil – somehow it just feels right! I know some who can sit down at a computer, close their eyes, and off they go, but the words won’t flow that way for me. There’s something about holding the pencil and physically forming the words that feels far more ‘real’. I can think while writing the words, sound them out in my head. I’ve often wondered if many others feel this way.
My writing is different when I type. I feel as if it’s more restricted somehow, not as free to be whatever it wants. I feel as if I should write to suit the appearance of the blank screen, whereas, a physical page can look just the way I want it to – I can doodle in the corners, I can cross out whole sections, I can draw maps and directions – I can hear the words better when I write them.

How different then, are the thoughts of the individual who is ‘born digital’ from those of the older, less tech-savvy person?

Speaking of writing, read this amazing account of the journey:


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A Hallowe’en Poem

Under the Stairs

In the space beneath the stairs,
in darkness,
lurk the demons of my life.
They feed on twisted dreams
and liquid sorrow.
Sometimes they escape
and ooze their way
into my heart
waiting for me to scream.

Here’s a wordcloud I made of the text using Wordle:

You can follow my ramblings on Twitter


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