New theme

Regular visitors will notice that this blog has a new theme implemented this morning. I wanted to change the old one, because basically, the rules of typography are very old and they exist for a reason – dark text is easier to read on a white background. The old theme was nice, but it’s dark colours were starting to become a bit oppresive.

The picture in the header above was taken using a Canon digital camera in January in the hills in wicklow on a misty afternoon. I like it. It softens the slight harsh edges of the rest of the blog theme.

Wow – mention the word gun and the world tunes in

Well, it may not be the world, but a lot of people have visited this blog in the last two days. Exponentially more than ever have before.

A few days ago I wrote a blog entry about the Virginia Tech shootings, offering some thoughts on the nature of gun control. Normally, I get 20 or 30 readers a day dropping by, but sometimes it’s far less. I’m not that disciplined about blogging, so days and the odd week can go by without an entry.

However, 335 people have visited this blog in the last 36 hours, all on the back of search terms that have mentioned the word gun. Here’s the list of search terms that drew people here yesterday. (I’m writing this at 8.30 am on a Monday morning, and already another 109 people have swung past since midnight last night.*)

gun 192
Gun 13
pics OF A GUN 2
gun control 2
virginia guns 2
virginia kill 1
how to make guns 1
dead guns 1
gun picture 1

Check out the search terms third from the bottom. ‘How to make guns’??? Okay. Yeah, that’s what’s wrong with the Internet in one single sentence.

Anyway, this is interesting, because it shows that lots of people are turning to blogs to find out what general opinions are regarding day-to-day news items showing on TV, in the press or on the Web. None of these visitors left comments and I don’t know how long they remained on the page – in other words I don’t know if they actually read anything or quickly clicked on – but either way, it’s interesting.

If you have a blog and want to inflate traffic to it, start using the word gun. Or better yet, post a blog entry entitled ‘how to make guns’

(* UPDATE: It’s now 3.4opm in the afternoon where I am, and the total number of people to view this blog in the last 24 hours is 455)

(* FINAL UPDATE: It’s now 11am two days after I first posted this and as of now, the total number of people to view this blog has been 676)

Cars and money

I’m researching a story and just came across this factoid:

In 2006 in Ireland, 736 Jaguars, 344 Porsches, 140 Lamborghinis, 52 Bentleys and 30 Ferraris were registered.

Isn’t that bizarre in a country with a population of less than four and a half million people. What a waste of cash. (Not that I wouldn’t say no to the right Ferrari, but I certainly wouldn’t pay for a new one, even if hypothetically I somehow managed to lay my hands on that much cash.)

Gun control and 32 dead.

Wow. 32 people dead.

Guns don’t kill people, people do. That is true, but they do make it easier – it’s a lot harder to run amok with a kitchen knife or a baseball bat than it is with an automatic machine gun.

I don’t think I will ever understand the argument put forward by the anti-gun control lobby in the US that says that the solution to crimes like that which occured in Virginia is to arm everybody. The head of the local branch of the pro-gun association in Virgina was interviewed on Irish news radio this morning and he actually said that the reason this tragedy happened was that this state (Virginia) is trying to ban concealed carry permits. He argued that if students and teachers were carrying concealed firearms, they could have taken the gunman down.

What do you say to somebody that chronically stupid? Seriously. Sure they may have been able to shoot the guy, but is that really an answer? I understand that the US has a different gun culture than the place I’m from, and I’m not arrogant enough to presume that just because the culture I come from is different that somehow it’s superior. But get with the program guys – it’s not the 1870s anymore and times have changed. We now live in the 21st century and there is no good reason to make military style automatic weapons and semi automatic handguns available to the general public. If you think that everyone should have the right to bear arms, why stop with guns. Should people have the right to own atomic weapons or maintain private armies?

If not, what’s the difference?

For me, here’s the argument: If students and teachers had been armed then they MAY have been able to stop the gunman. However, if guns were illegal, then this almost certainly wouldn’t have happened at all.

It’s possible to argue that making guns illegal doesn’t mean they won’t be used, but rather that only criminals will have them, and to a point that’s true. In Ireland, guns are used all the time by criminal gangs, even though here firearms are illegal and the police are not routinely armed. The difference though is that guns are almost never used in personal crime. You will never be mugged at gun point. Drug gangs whack each other and occasionally guns are used in bank robberies and the like, but they are not routinely carried by petty criminals.

The kind of people that go on gun rampages in the US are by definition unhinged – they aren’t typical criminals of the gun-toting type that uses firearms in other countries.. Yet these disturbed people are able to lay their hands not just on a rusty old farming shotgun but on automatic weaponry designed for military use. The result is 32 people dead that really didn’t need to die. Is it really more important for a minority of people to feel . . what? More secure? More prepared in case the federal government comes for them in the night?

Growing up is sometimes uncomfortable, and what we are seeing here is a young country experiencing the growing pains of leaving adolesence. Sometimes, doing the right thing means swallowing your pride.

Party time!

I’ve discovered a new symptom to aging – my ability to drink is abandoning me. We threw a party on Saturday night and it’s now Monday – two days later I’m still suffering. There was a time when . . . well anyway, who cares?

In the meantime, this arrived via e-mail.


1. You leave clubs before the end to ‘beat the rush’. (worse still you don’t go to the clubs)
2. You get more excited about having a roast on a Sunday than going clubbing the night before.
3. You stop dreaming of becoming a professional footballer / basketball player and start dreaming of having a son who might instead.
4. Before throwing the local paper away, you look through the property
section. and are your favourite websites.
5. All of a sudden, middle aged people are not 46, they are only 46.
6. Before going out anywhere, you ask whether there is anywhere to park.
7. Rather than throw a knackered pair of runners out, you keep them because they’ll be alright for around the house jobs.
8. You buy T-shirts without anything written on them.
9. When visiting home for the weekend, you head to the local pub/nightclub and ar genuinely shocked to see people you can remember being born or have babysat make up half of the pubs/clubs patrons.
10. You worry about your parents’ health.
11. Your parents start to have a life of their own and go on more holidays/social events than you do.
12 . You have more disposable income, but everything you want or need to buy costs between 200 and 500 quid.
13. You actually start to pay off the balance on your credit card as it falls due.
14. You don’t get funny looks when you buy a Disney video as the sales assistant assumes they are for your children. You are buying these things for your friend’s child.
15. Pop music all starts to sound the same and you haven’t a baldy who or what th latest pop sensations or boy bands are.
16. Oxegen is waaay too young. Electric Picnic is the way forward, far less packed and a lot more comfort. Comfort is now important.
15.On a long night out, you opt for Milanos over a quick take away because they do a really nice half-bottle of house red.
16. You always have enough milk and toilet paper in, and your house is always relatively clean and tidy.
17 . To compensate for the fact that you have little desire to go clubbing, you instead frequent trendy bars and restaurants in the mistaken belief that you have not turned into your parents.
18 . While flicking through the TV channels, you happen upon RTE’s Would You Believe. You get drawn in. You remember being there when events are shown on Reeling Back the Years.
19 . The benefits of a pension scheme become clear. You pay for your own VHI.
20. You go out of your way to pick up a colour chart from Woodies .
21 . You wish you had a shed.
22 . You have a shed.
23. You start considering doing stuff because its good for you, like eating healthily and walking places for the sake of walking not just to get from A to B.
24 . You actually find yourself saying ‘They don’t make ’em like that anymore’ and ‘I remember when there were only 2 TV channels’ and ‘Not in my day….’
25 . Pat Kenny has some really interesting guests on the Late Late and you conside texting in a comment. ( FYI If you actually do, then you should be ticking the 40-50 age category).
26 . Instead of tutting at old people who take ages to get off the bus, you tut at rowdy school children.
27. You find yourself having discussions with your friends that when we were young, before all this Celtic Tiger lark we actually appreciated when we were given things from our parents and indeed we worked for what we got….while the young ones these days haven’t a clue. (You really believe this).
28. Going to 21st’s is a distant memory and if you do have to go to one its an irritation, in fact, your social calendar is taken up with 30th’s, Weddings and Christenings.
29 You chose pubs where you can get a “nice seat for the night” over packed loud places.
30. Girls start to see the benefit of bringing a spare pair of flats in their handbag for the end of the night for sore feet. Barefoot walking on the path is now insane!
31 . You find yourself saying ‘is it cold in here or is it just me
32 . You understand the above and forward it to your fellow aging friends.

Wireless theft . . .

In the words of Malcom McClaren, “ever had the feeling you’ve been had?”

I’m currently road testing a Nokia business mobile phone that features wireless internet – it’s quite a cool gadget, if a little clunky to use. Anyway, the interesting thing about this phone is that it allows you to wander around and it flashes up on the screen when there’s a wireless network near by.

This makes taking the dog for a walk quite interesting, as you can scout for unprotected wifi zones very easily. You could wander around with a laptop open but the fact that this device fits in your hand makes it practical to go fishing for wifi.

Anyway, I have a wireless network in my house and so was lounging on the sofa the other night when I thought I’d do an e-mail check using the phone rather than getting my lazy arse up to walk the 15 feet into the office where there is a PC. So I scanned for a network and found mine, as well as one other. Hmm, that’s interesting.

My network wasn’t security protected, as I didn’t think there was anyone else around my area using wireless. Turns out I was wrong. Lots of people were using wireless. My wireless to be exact!

How do I know this? Well, I set up some security protection on my wireless router on the main PC and idly clicked the button marked “DHCP Client list” which shows the MAC address of machines connected to my network. There should have been three – my desktop PC, my laptop and the wireless internet phone. Instead, there were another nine or so mystery surfers. Check it out.


(I’ve blurred out my details, but theirs are visible.)

Wankers! It turns out that probably every 14 year old boy in my area has been downloading full length movies on my connection. (I dread to think just what exactly has come down my pipe. Probably best not thought about actually.) No wonder it seemed a little sluggish. Having set up security so that my connection can’t be piggybacked, I then went for a walk with the phone to see how many wireless networks there are nearby and it turns out there’s one in every second house near me. I counted 10 in a 15 minute walk around the block with the dog.

Anyway, enough about that – back to work for me. I’ve overdue on a feature for the Irish Independent, so I should really typing that, not this.

31 today.

Sheesh, how did that happen. I’m old. Seriously. When I was 15 (which secretly I still am, but don’t tell anyone) people over the age of 25 were universally morons. And 30, well that’s middleaged – you might as well start saving for a coffin.

Still, it could be worse. At least I’m not 40!

Tokyo travels and going sword shopping

1-custom.jpgI always find returning from Japan to be disconcerting. For a start, there’s a nine hour time difference, so by the time I’ve gotten over the jet leg on arrival, it’s usually time to go home. This time has been unusually trying . . . I’ve come back to a mountain of work and other demands on my time. This is of course a good thing, and it would be incredibly churlish of me not to realise just how privileged I am, so I’m not whining – just explaining why the blog has had to go on the back burner for a few weeks.

This was my tenth trip to Japan, and like always, it was quite different to previous trips. The only thing that gets easier is that my Japanese is slowly and torturously improving and my knowledge of the Tokyo rail network is starting to come together. There are hundreds and hundreds of train stations in Tokyo, criss-crossing a huge area. The place gets described as a city but actually, it’s really a series of cities that have slowly grown together and now occupy a huge area. For someone coming from Dublin – where you can walk from one side of the city centre to the other in around 30 minutes – Tokyo is inconceivably huge.


The reason I was in Tokyo, as usual, was to study kobudo, or old martial arts. I don’t often write about that here, because I have a separate discussion forum from the dojo I oversee and training gets talked about a lot there. This time around, there is an experience that is partially based in training that I would like to relate, but isn’t strictly speaking a dojo matter, so I thought I’d blog about it here.

I’ve been interested in Japanese sword for a very long time, but only really engaged fully with learning properly in the last three or four years. It’s been a fascinating exercise, but it’s slowly become obvious that you can’t really practice swordsmanship without a proper sword.

Now, if you asked my wife about swords, she’d roll her eyes – I have about ten. (When I said I wanted to get another one, she said, “why do you need more than one?” to which I replied “Why do you need more than one handbag or pair of shoes.” She replied. “Touche.” Seriously though, my wife is increidbly supportive of my weird habits). None of the other ‘swords’ I have are actually real swords – they are training replicas that look authentic but actually have soft alloy metal blades that don’t hold a sharp edge. These are the ones we use in taijutsu training – training that involves close quarter grappling with weapons – rather than sword specific training. The reason is that the blades are safer to train with, because they are essentially soft. This also means they are easily damaged.

However, there are many differences between an alloy training blade and a real sword that extend beyond the material the blade is made from, to do with balance, feel, lethality and more. So I’ve wanted to acquire a blade for a few years, but the problem is that real ones are extremely expensive. Sword making in Japan is a government protected activity – sword smiths are only allowed to produce two swords a month in order to artificially inflate the price of them and hence make the industry viable. It takes many many years to learn how to make a Japanese sword and you are looking at around a €10,000 to commission a licensed smith to make a new one specifically for you.


Today, the sword industry is mostly kept afloat by art collectors and aficionados – some sword collectors are actually trained in their use, but not many. These are considered art objects and the pinnacle of the development of this art form is considered to have been reached several hundreds years ago.

I won’t go into the many many ways that swords are identified and classified- people can and do write books about the subtle variation of the shape of blades, the forging techniques used to give different parts of the blade different physical characteristics and strengths and the famous smiths who forged them in the past. However, on this most recent trip, I was fortunate to be able to acquire a really nice sword.

The experience of acquiring this sword had a value in its own right for me, as it involved a visit to a . . . well, if I say arms dealer, you might get the wrong impression. A very respectable man who deals in Japanese antique weaponry. I don’t have good enough Japanese to negotiate such an encounter, but was able to rely on the help of two friends who are long term residents of Japan and who happen to be both sword nuts and extremely highly skilled exponents of multiple martial arts.

I was also able to bring some of my students along to observe – an experience I would have killed for in the past. We got to handle many many old weapons, worth many thousands of euro. Because I had come equipped with the cash to purchase something, I felt it appropriate to make some demands on the gentleman’s time, and so he pulled out spear blades, daggers, arrow heads, halberd blades, and many many swords. We got to examine lots of weapons before the one I eventually bought leaped out at me.


In the car on the way to the shop – which is actually just a room in this private dealer’s house – I had commented to my friends that I knew I needed to be very lucky. I had cash with me, but I wasn’t going to buy a sword just because I was there. It was a lot of money for me, so it needed to be the right sword, one which ‘spoke’ to me as a budoka. In other words, I needed to be lucky because the sword dealer needed to have both the right blade and the right blade in my price range. I actually wouldn’t have been surprised if we’d left without anything, but luckily, luck was with me.

It’s a tachi (old style of sword that looks extremely similar to but predates the katana) that comes from the end of the Muromachi period. It’s not dated exactly, in the way that some swords actually are, but that probably puts its manufacturing date at around the middle of the 15th century. It’s currently housed in shirasaya, which means that it’s encased in a plain wooden storage scabbard and handle, but I am shipping it to the US this week to a specialist artisan who will build a new koshirae, or mounts and furniture for it.

I’m excited by this and also feel privileged to be able to give this sword a new lease of life – it’s a beautiful thing in its own right, but it’s also very old, and a lot of people have owned this over the centuries. There is a school of thought on such matters that says that we don’t own things like this, but rather temporarily take care of them. By remounting it, I am giving it a new lease of life, as this sword will hopefully still be around and looked after in another 450 years.


With the assistance of the experts, I picked out a tsuba (sword guard) and the various bits and bobs that are used to make the new tsuka. These are all edo-period (17th century) antiques, made by craftsmen who worked in metal before the machine age and hence hand made everything.

It’s not a signed blade, so is known as a mumeito and its value as an art object is diminished, but because of this, its price became accessible to me. The blade is in excellent condition, with no flaws, but in a sense I don’t care about that. The person who made this sword did it as a commission for a samurai who wasn’t looking for something to put on his mantelpiece – he was looking for a functional weapon that he knew his life would depend on.

The physical features that have become valued over the years as examples of artistic expression in blades like this came about because of the strength or flexibility they impart to a blade – in other words, form followed function, and became valued after the fact. A nice looking sword that snapped in battle or chipped or bent was no use to anyone.

Obviously, the days of this tachi being used in battle are long long gone, and hence this will only ever be used as a display piece or in kobudo demonstrations, but in a real sense, it offers a connection to the past.

So that’s it for now. I will probably publish some pictures of the newly mounted sword when I get it back from its fit out in a few months time. Thanks to Mathew for the pictures in this blog entry – I’ve managed to break my camera and will be blogging about that one later, but for now, I’m relying on the kindness of others.