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Comet 17P/Holmes

A new “star” has appeared in the night sky. Well, sort of. A few days ago, a relatively insignificant comet called Comet 17P/ Holmes suddenly erupted, creating the above eerie looking object in the sky, just beside the northern constellation of Perseus.

I saw the object through my small telescope a few nights ago, and it was truly unmissable. This comet “haz flavur” as they say ’round here.

To find it, try to locate the big irregular “W” in the northern sky (the constellation Cassiopeia). Then, try to find a very bright star relatively close-by (Capella). The object is about half-way between these two positions. You should be able to pick it up easily with a pair of binoculars, although, according to NASA, no equipment at all is needed: it’s clearly visible with the naked eye.

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This video is incredibily thrilling and utterly frightening at the same time. Enjoy!

(found via Tom Raftery‘s blog)

 Bertie Ahern

Our senior politicians and civil servants have awarded themselves huge pay increases, bringing our Great Leader’s salary up to 310,000 euro, and those of other senior personnel to over 200,000 euro. The salary increases have been made to keep the pay of senior public professionals in line with the private sector.

Now, while I don’t have a major problem with key people in leadership positions earning high salaries, what amazes me is the government’s utter lack of forethought about how this news may potentially affect the economy. Because some people have attained much higher percentage rises than others, a widespread perception of inequality has almost definitely been created within the public sector. This news is likely to blow the existing pay agreements out of the water. It also means that industrial action and wildcat strikes are now more likely, with a corresponding knock-on hit to productivity and inflation.

To make matters worse, the government have just weakened their own negotiation position when it comes to future industrial disputes. In their minds, the conditions seemed right to justify a large pay increase for themselves. The precarious state of our economy seems not to have been much of a factor presumably. But who would bet against it being a HUGE factor in the broader round of bargaining ahead? It looks like one law for the élite, and something else for the rest of the population.

Another thing I am picking up is that the salaries were recommended by an independent board, tasked at benchmarking comparable salaries against the public sector. “Blame them, not us” the politicians seem to be saying. Clearly, that’s a rubbish argument. Do politicians automatically accept every single recommendation that passes their desk? And how many are accepted with such haste? A wiser set of politicians might have opted to forego their pay raises, recommendation or no recommendation.

I have a feeling that it’s now going to be a long, hard winter, all thanks to our political masters’ generous pay increases.

Well, I don’t have a pain quite yet. Give me a few hours though.

I had a routine operation today to have a mole removed. It wasn’t a big thing – just a routine procedure under local anasthetic with a small area of skin removed for further examination.

Suspicious Mole

I realise I’m a total wimp though, when I read Phred’s recent blog entry.

You can all squirm now.

A bunch of euro

After a prolonged period of avoiding the task of managing the domestic budget, I have finally succumbed to the pressure. I’ve spent some time over the last few days rummaging through the bank accounts and figuring out the current financial situation.

It turns out things are OK (ish), so, always the engineer, I began to figure out some way to keep an eye on expenditure that makes sense to me. What I have come up with is something quite nifty, well to me at least.

Now most of you are probably one of two types: the first type (the Surfers) don’t care too much about money: so long as there is some loot sloshing around somewhere, everything is fine and dandy. The other type (the Turfers) are ultra-organised: with discrete, and closely monitored categories for expenditure: clothes, petrol, groceries, dog shampoo, I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter, that kind of thing. I firmly belong to the first group with a small proviso: I worry, every so often, about how close I am to there being no loot to slosh around. I’m a Surfer with a small “s”.

The idea of classical budgeting sends me into goosebumps. Who says I can’t buy the latest book on Japanese toe-painting because I have already overspent on my monthly Oriental Book Purchasing Budget? Gaaa!

Instead I have come up with the concept of a “run rate” – how much dosh is available to be spent on a daily basis, and how am I doing against this figure. The run rate is calculated by subtracting all non-distretionary expenditure (bills, in other words) from my monthly income (salary, wages), and then dividing this remaining amount by the number of days in the month.

I exclude bills because I don’ t have much control over them. I could, of course, decide not to pay them, but then burly people would come to my door and start stamping on my flowers. Or worse. Not nice.

So, if my monthly salary were 1000 euro, and I knew I would need to pay rent, electricity and cable next month of 400 euro, then my run rate would be 600/30 = 20 euro per day. If I go over this amount any day, that’s bad. If I can stay under it, that’s good.

That’s pretty much it. A small elaboration is where I look at my last week’s expenditure compared to the total weekly run-rate (20 euros x 7). I do that just so I don’t feel guilty about blasting money on a 180 euro book on Japanese toe painting if I so wished. (I also use a monthly run-rate, but as I said, I’m an engineer at heart).

What’s nifty about this is that I don’t need to keep too many figures in my head, and the whole analysis thing can be done on a computer in 5 minutes or less. It means I can monitor frequently how I am doing, thereby changing my spending behaviour in mid-course if that is what is required. I don’t need to wait until the end of month to start pulling out my hair. It also means I can decide very quickly if I can afford something or not.

That’s the idea anyway. The practice may be different but we’ll see.

So what about you? Are you a Surfer or a Turfer? How do you manage your budget?

The whole experience of my Masters results has taught me to be suspicious of reasons and justifications, even when they seem blindingly obvious.

Had things not gone well with my thesis, I would have been able to fall back on a some very plausible reasons as to why I did not succeed. People would have understood, sympathised and consoled. I would have had a convenient comfort-blanket at hand to justify my failure. No-one would have been any the wiser, including myself.

The thing is, though, that I succeeded despite these set-backs. The obstacles put in my way were not, in themselves, sufficient reasons for failure. Huge though they were, they didn’t stop me from getting such high honours.

What I have learned, therefore, is that it is sometimes possible to succeed despite external adversity. Blaming other people or the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is not always the most honest means of justifying failure. Often, perhaps, failure comes from within.

That’s a very good thing, too. Failure from within provides an opportunity to learn. While I can’t always do much about what happens around me, when it comes to me and my behaviour, change is possible.

I think I have learned more from this experience than just the subject I studied.

First the good news – I’ve just been informed that I have graduated with first class honours from my Masters degree course. Both my thesis and course work seem to have made an impression. I’m pretty delighted about it. It was a lot of hard work for me, often in more than trying circumstances, so I feel a genuine sense of achievement in having managed to get this result.

Now the bad news. My mother-in-law is unwell. Very unwell. It’s likely that she will be spending a lot of time in hospital over the coming months with a very uncertain outcome in prospect. She has been an incredibly warm, caring, supportive and strong figure within the whole extended family. She has touched the lives of so many people, I struggle to know where to begin. I really wish her the best in the time ahead.

Here’s what one commenter to the BBC Sport website said in response to Ireland’s defeat at the hands of Argentina:

Eddie O’Sullivan needs to do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. He’d probably miss.”

Ouch!

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