Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 3: three days in Dublin

For various reasons, our holiday was split between North Wales and Dublin, Ireland. The two primary reasons were:

  1. When traveling to Europe, I VASTLY prefer to take a direct airplane flight. I'd much rather suffer through a single 10.5 hour flight than take a 2, 3, or even 4-leg flight, with layovers, extended flight times, and many opportunities for missed connections, lost baggage, etc. Aer Lingus happen to offer a direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin, and Dublin is (pretty) close to Wales, so I chose for us to fly to and from Dublin, and then we got from Dublin to Wales and back on Irish Ferries. Overall, this was a great decision, and I wouldn't change it, even if our flight to Dublin was delayed 2.5 hours due to a flat tire on our airplane.
  2. I've found that, when we get to Europe, the jet lag is SEVERE, so I've begun incorporating a minimum of 36 hours of "zoned out time" to start each trip to Europe. That 36 hours should probably be more like 48 to 60 hours, but that's not really the point. The point is: when we get to Europe, I want to arrive at some place where we can just check into a place and rest and recover, without any complications for trip planning. I want us to be able to sleep, and wake up, and go out and do things when we have energy, and come back when we want to rest, and for that to be as easy and simple as possible. I don't want to have to drive anywhere, or be on any particular schedule, and I want there to be plenty of interesting and easy choices when we do have the energy to go out. So that means I want to arrive at a city which is tourist-friendly, walkable, big enough to have lots of options for things to do and see, places to eat, public transit, etc. Dublin fit that bill, perfectly.

Anyway, even though seeing Dublin wasn't really the primary purpose of our trip, we still got to do it, so what did we do?

For one thing, we walked.

Dublin is a wonderful city for walking. Its downtown is compact, and easy to navigate, and full of innumerable places to go and things to see, all within easy walking distance of each other. And if you get bored or tired of walking, Dublin has good buses and light rail service to take you around.

And the walking is, for the most part, fun, because Dublin is full of interesting architecture, and great shops to stick your head into, and lots and lots of public art, some of it really surprisingly good (like a vividly-drawn tiled mosaic in a downtown parking lot, or the phenomenal Irish Famine Sculpture), others of it simply dreadful, but still oddly compelling, like, yes, that Molly Malone statue, and still others of it somewhere in between, like this curious set of gargoyles that we found mounted on fence posts at the St. James Hospital LUAS station.

For another thing, we ate.

The restaurants we found in Dublin, while occasionally disappointing, were overall extremely good. We had an absolutely fantastic breakfast at The Woolen Mills, where we were introduced to an Irish Boxty. We had a superb lunch at House, with a rich mushroom soup and delicious fresh-baked dark bread. We had a lovely dinner at Paulie's, a great pizza and fun appetizers. And we had a very pleasant afternoon tea at Bewley's, with an elegant selection of fresh-baked pastry treats.

And for another thing, we learned.

We visited several of the many locations of the National Museum of Ireland, which is not only a wonderful museum, but is free. Free! The archaeology museum had astonishing 5,000 year old precious metal artifacts: necklaces and bracelets and crowns. The decorative arts museum had both traditional and modern craft work, including a fascinating gallery of late-stage Waterford crystal, and a compelling temporary exhibition of the fashion design of Ib Jorgensen.

We walked through the grounds of Trinity College, and we toured the galleries of the Old Library, and we got up close and personal with the Book of Kells, and we went upstairs to the ancient reading room, and saw the harp.

We walked along O'Connell Street and looked at the General Post Office, with its bullet-pocked walls. And we walked along St Stephen's Green and cast our eyes to the Shelbourne Hotel, and to the Royal College of Surgeons, and thought about those spaces, and those places, and those times.

And, most of all, we made the trip just a few kilometers west of downtown, to Kilmainham Gaol, and walked through the museum, and took the tour, and read the letters, and looked at the photos, and stood in those same spots in the yard where so many others before us have come to look, and to listen, and to think, and to learn.

Oh, of course, we did some really mundane things, too (... cough ... Guinness! ... cough ...), like checking out the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square, taking in the view from the Gravity Bar, walking along the Grand Canal, feeding the ducks in the St Stephen's Green ponds, and enjoying the perspective of the city from midway across the Ha'Penny Bridge.

There's a LOT to do in Dublin. We could have spent at least a week there, and found many more things to do.

But we were over our jet lag, and it was on to Wales.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 2: castles!

As someone born and raised in the U.S. of A., my experience with Things Medieval tends to be mostly fanciful, and not much based in reality.

And yet, there we were, in North Wales, where medieval history is front and center.

Quoth the Wikipedia,

Following a series of invasions beginning shortly after their conquest of England in 1066, the Normans seized much of Wales and established quasi-independent Marcher lordships, owing allegiance to the English crown. However, Welsh principalities such as Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth survived and from the end of the 11th century, the Welsh began pushing back the Norman advance. Over the following century the Welsh recovery fluctuated and the English kings, notably Henry II, several times sought to conquer or establish suzerainty over the native Welsh principalities. Nevertheless, by the end of the 12th century the Marcher lordships were reduced to the south and south east of the country.

...

In 1274, tension between Llywelyn and Edward increased when Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys and Llywelyn's younger brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd defected to the English and sought Edward's protection. Because of the continuing conflict with the Marcher Lords and Edward's harbouring of defectors, when Edward demanded that Llywelyn come to Chester in 1275 to do homage to him, Llywelyn refused.

...

War broke out again in 1282, as a result of a rebellion by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, who was discontented with the reward he had received from Edward in 1277. Dafydd launched a series of attacks co-ordinated with the Welsh rulers in Deheubarth and North Powys, who had been Llywelyn's vassals until 1277 and were now Edward's vassals. Llywelyn and the other Welsh leaders, including those in the south, joined in and it soon assumed a very different character from the 1277 campaign. It became a national struggle enjoying wide support among the Welsh, who were provoked particularly by Edward's attempts to impose English law on the Welsh. Edward, however, soon began to see it as a war of conquest rather than just a punitive expedition to put down a rebellion.

...

Edward divided the territory of the Welsh principalities between himself (that is, retained under direct royal control) and his supporters through feudal grants, which in practice became new Marcher lordships. The lordships created were mainly grants to Anglo-Normans such as the Earl of Lincoln who received the lordship of Denbigh. But additionally, Edward's Welsh allies received back their own lands, but on a feudal basis; for instance, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, of the princely house of Powys Wenwynwyn, received his ancestral lands as the lordship of Powys and became known as Owen de la Pole (or "Poole").

Lands retained under direct royal control were organised under the Statute of Rhuddlan of 1284, which declared that they were "annexed and united" to the English crown, although they did not become part of the Kingdom of England. They were the King's personal fief and in 1301, they were bestowed on Edward's son, Edward of Caernarfon (the future Edward II), with the title "Prince of Wales" and thereafter the lands and title became the customary endowment of the heir to the throne.

Well, anyway, there we were in North Wales, and the weather was beautiful, and called for a spot of traveling, and we had hired this brand new Ford Zuga which was just a joy to drive, so off we went to see some CASTLES!!

We didn't have to go very far to get started, as we could see the first castle from out our bedroom window! Our hotel was just across the River Conwy from the walled town of Conwy, so that was our first stop. There's a nice car park just south of the city walls, so we parked the car and spent a lovely hour walking the narrow medieval streets, stopping for a cappuccino and a scone, and poking our noses into the various shops.

This isn't the only castle at the mouth of the river Conwy, as it turns out: from our hotel room, we could see the site of Castel Deganwy, the ancient fortress of the King of Gwynedd in the 500's. Although we didn't make it up to that site, it was interesting to contemplate the varied choices made by the different kings in the different times: mountain top, or river mouth?

I wished we had found the time to explore Castell Conwy, which is said to be one of the best-preserved 750-year-old buildings you'll ever see, but such was not to be, as we had got a late start that morning and had other things to do.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful building to walk around, and it made for a lovely view from our hotel room, high upon the hills above.

And similar sights greeted us elsewhere, for there are castles all around Wales, and we would frequently see them as we drove around.

But, really, enough of this nattering on about castles we didn't visit; what about the castles that we DID vist?!

One fine sunny morning, we headed out in the auto and made our way to Caernarfon, which is about as far north and west as you can get and still be in mainland Wales (Anglesey Island is farther north and west, but then, it's an island).

Caernarfon is the 800 pound gorilla of Welsh castles, not just for its historical and cultural significance, but for its overall entertainment value: this is a GIANT castle.

The castle towers stretch nearly 10 stories into the air, the castle walls are solid and nearly 5 stories tall themselves, and the interior of the castle keep is an immense expanse of lawn (of course, when originally occupied, the interior of the castle was packed with stores and barracks and production facilities and courts and all of the other Machinery of the State; for now, you just have to see that all in your imagination).

In addition to clambering around on the castle walls, the various interior spaces of the castle are filled with exhibits and displays, so there was lots to see and learn about.

I found myself a bit disappointed by the museums, because they mostly focused on the military history of the castle, and I wished I could have learned more about the other roles it played in the life of late-medieval Wales (trade, education, agricultural and industrial development, etc.), but since the castle was largely a military fortress, perhaps the museum's focus was appropriate.

Still, I always find myself wondering about the most mundane things when I'm wandering around a castle: "where did they keep the pigs and chickens?" "how did they make beer in the castle?" "where did people go to do their laundry?"

But, did I mention the part about clambering around on the castle walls?

We could have stayed at Caernarfon all day, but I was impatient, so we popped back into the auto and drove out onto Anglesey Island, up to the small town of Beaumaris.

Beaumaris Castle is often referred to as "the greatest castle never built," a nice tag line which cleanly encapsulates the very interesting story of the castle. By the time that construction on the castle was begun, in 1296, King Edward I and his master castle builder, James of St. George, were at the peak of their power, their skills, and their ambition, and so the plans and scope of Beaumaris Castle were extravagant in the extreme.

Although the castle was never finished, it is so beautifully located, and what was actually built is so beautiful, that it is a joy to wander about and contemplate.

Of particular interest, when we were there, was the work of a team of modern stonemasons, hard at work on repair a section of the main keep walls, using historically-accurate tools, techniques, and materials. As we walked about the castle, the "ting! ting! ting!" of their mallets and chisels upon the stone wall lent a fascinating sense of realism, making it almost possible to imagine being a craftsman hard at work inside the castle as it was under construction.

By this point, after all this hard work touring castles and keeps, we were tired and hungry, so we repaired to a friendly cafe on the waterfront and sat at the outdoor table and enjoyed Welsh Rarebit sandwiches and Jacket Potatoes with a view of the Snowdonia mountains in the distance.

And we declared the day a perfect success.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 1: family matters!

We took a simply lovely, though far too short, visit to Wales to visit our cousin.

... OK, let's see: your great-grandfather is my great-great-grandfather, right?

Yes, that was John Francis Xavier Goggin; here's a picture of him! He was born in 1847, in Limerick, Ireland.

OK, yes, that's my Irish side, for sure. But: 1847? Wasn't that the time of the Great Famine?

Oh, yes, definitely. I think they had to leave Ireland; pretty much everyone did. In fact, he was actually baptized in England in 1850; the family ended up in Hartlepool.

...

Wales is a beautiful place, particularly during late May, when the sun is shining and the grass is growing.

We stayed at an absolutely beautiful country house hotel.

The hotel was not far from LLandudno, a Victorian-era seaside resort, famous (or infamous) as, possibly, the place where Lewis Carroll stayed when he was writing Alice in Wonderland.

In addition to visiting the coast, we went walking in the Snowdonia National Park mountains, utterly beautiful, even on a day when the RAF are practicing their mountain-flying tactics overhead.

And we spent many lovely contented hours at the home of our cousins, which is nestled on a quiet country road, with a flock of sheep on one side and several mares with their colts on the other.

I'll have more to say about the entire trip later, just putting something short up now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Devil's Interval: a very short review

I missed Linda Lee Peterson's first novel, and instead dove right in with The Devil's Interval

I think that starting with book 2, as it turns out, was Just Fine.

Peterson is quite ambitious, and tries to accomplish a lot, weaving together a complex plot, a lot of local San Francisco atmosphere, and some fairly strong secondary characters.

I think she is at her best when she channels her inner Janet Evanovich, with passages like:

He sat down gingerly on the edge of his chair. "Where's Michael?"

"Out being Father of the Year, where else? Leading his admirable, sainted, patient, kind, generous, self-righteous life," I said. I think I was shouting. I shook the thermos. It was full. "Coffee, and it's hot? Or, do you want tea?"

He waved his hand. "Whatever you're drinking, I guess." He hesitated. "You seem like you're on a roller coaster between manic and depressive, with a hangover holding the whole thing together."

"Right you are," I said grimly.

Peterson needs to develop this, but she's definitely got the skills to pull it off.

Where she struggles, I think, is in her attempt to simultaneously incorporate a harder edge, stirring in some grit and tragedy. It just isn't in her to have her bubbly, energetic, enthusiastic, unstoppable heroine-with-the-two-kids-and-the-suburban-household down in the muck and the mire. This part of The Devil's Interval is clearly heart-felt, but lacks depth and plausibility.

Still, her story moves at an enjoyable pace, and I was never bored or frustrated.

I see that she's now published a third Maggie Fiori novel, perhaps I will give it a try!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

smaze?

There was one clue I couldn't complete in last week's Split Decisions crossword puzzle by Fred Piscop.

It turned out that the missing word was: "smaze".

"Smaze"?

It's in the dictionary, alright.

But I've never heard it, in 57 years.

And the various spellchecking software on my various computers is dubious, and growls at me with little red underlining of this not-so-well-known word.

Perhaps it's new, and now I am on the bleeding edge.

At least on this beautiful Sunday morning the skies are blue and the air is clear and there's not a whiff of smaze to be found.

Happy Mothers Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Titles

Marking the end of one of the great political dynasties of my lifetime, Jerry Brown is retiring.

And so, we have an election.

There are 27 registered candidates for the June 5 primary election for Governor of California.

California, if you weren't already aware of this, is where 1 of every 7 Americans lives, and is now the 5th largest economy in the world.

So, um, it's actually an important election.

Anyway, one of the aspects of running for Governor of California is that, on the ballot, you get to list your "title".

Just as with job titles at many of the companies I've worked at recently, you can pick your own title when you get your listing on the ballot.

A few of the titles that are listed are pretty mainstream and as you would expect:

  • California State Treasurer (John Chiang)
  • Lieutenant Governor (Gavin Newsom)
  • California Assemblyman (Travis Allen)
  • COO, Justice Department (Amanda Renteria)

But, um, there are a few others.

Here are a sampling of the job titles of some of the other candidates:

  • Marketplace Minister
  • Graphic Artist
  • (none)
  • Entrepreneur/Economist/Father
  • Virtual Reality Manager
  • Mathematician
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Transhumanist Lecturer
  • Puppeteer
  • Blockchain Startup CEO

Ah yes, California.

This sort of thing actually happens happens quite commonly around these parts

And, usually, it seems to turn out OK.

So we will see.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Song of the Lion: a very short review

Anne Hillerman continues her series of Navajo Police novels with Song of the Lion.

After what I thought was a somewhat weak second effort, I had some concerns approaching Song of the Lion.

Overall, Song of the Lion benefits from better plotting, smoother story-telling, and improved pacing.

Most importantly, with Song of the Lion, Hillerman succeeds by evoking the sense of place that is so much a part of these novels: the wide open spaces, the mountains and rivers and plants and animals, the spirits and traditions, the tens of thousands of years that have made the Great South-West what it is.

The drive worked its magic. The morning sun brought the landscape to life -- iron reds, subtle grays, warm browns. She passed the country she'd seen with Palmer, the dinosaur walkway, and rolled across the bridge over the Little Colorado River, the place where, after miles of meandering, the river begins to make its rock-rimmed descent to the canyon's ancient floor.

It is wise of Hillerman to recognize from where the strength and beauty of these stories springs, and to return to it time and again.

However, I could wish that she was working harder to develop her technical writing skills. All too often, her dialogue and descriptions are a bit flat, a bit bland, a bit ordinary.

Lee put his hat back on, making it easier to talk with both hands. "He wants me to do some contracting work if the project is approved and told me about the big powwow here. I'd never met him in the flesh. So I figured I'd mosey on out here and say hello. I wanted to find out about the hubbub over the hotel, or resort, or whatever the heck the plan is before I sign on to work with him."

Possibly the problem is that her stories are a bit over-stuffed: she always has a broad cast of characters, with various sub-plots, incidental encounters, and unrelated episodes filling the novel. This was true of her father's novels too, with rather the same result: sometimes you feel like you are just driving through these novels at highway speed, enjoying the view, but not really stopping to savor the individual details.

Whatever, I really can't complain. Song of the Lion is a lovely novel, I enjoyed reading it, and I hope Hillerman writes many more.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Derby 10.14.2.0 released!

It's been a while since I've written much about Derby; it's been pretty quiet.

But over the spring, we completed another release!

This was a patch release, with fixes for CVE-2018-1313.

More details here and here.

It's interesting to be on the "inside" of a vulnerability disclosure, even if this one wasn't tremendously high-pressure. Apache have a well-documented process for handling vulnerability reports, and the Apache Security team, as well as our correspondent Gr├ęgory Draperi, were extremely helpful and informative throughout.