Ten Years Ago (2008)

This is the year where the Global Financial Crisis came to a head. After months of worries about the state of the global economy, investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, stock markets collapsed, inter-bank lending was frozen and governments around the world were forced to bailout failing banks. Barack Obama is elected President of the USA. The Large Hadron Collider is officially opened. SpaceX Falcon 1 became the first privately developed launch vehicle to achieve orbit. 11 mountaineers die while attempting to climb K2. Ireland: Brian Cowen is elected Taoiseach following the resignation of Bertie Ahern. Ireland votes No to Lisbon Treaty. The Irish Eurovision entry that year is a turkey.

Twenty Years Ago (1998)

US President Bill Clinton is impeached following revelations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky in the White House. The Second Congo War begins, killing upwards of five million people over the following years. India and Pakistan raise the geopolitical temperature by testing multiple nuclear weapons. Al Qaeda bombs US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hurricane Mitch kills 18,000 people after making landfall in Central America. The International Criminal Court comes into being; the United States and China vote against it. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is placed under house arrest in the UK. The first modules of the International Space Station are launched into space. Evidence is presented that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Google Inc. is founded. The movie Titanic wins 11 Oscars. Ireland: The Good Friday Agreement is signed, bringing to a close the 30 year Troubles in Northern Ireland. In August, dissident Republicans explode a bomb in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, killing 29 people. Death of “Father Ted” funnyman Dermot Morgan in London. Olympic swimmer Michelle Smith is banned for 4 years following drug tampering allegations.

Thirty Years Ago (1988)

The Soviet Union begins a program of perestroika (restructuring) which ultimately leads to its breakup. There are mass protests in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Estonia this year. 167 workers are killed in the Piper Alpha Platform Disaster in the North Sea. Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground. The Iran-Iraq War ends, having killed 1 million people in the previous 8 years. Terrorist organisation Al Qaeda is founded. The Space Shuttle flies again after a two year pause in operations following the Challenger disaster.  The Soviet Union launches a rival Buran space shuttle. It only makes one flight. George HW Bush is elected US President. Death of singer Roy Orbison. The Phantom of the Opera opens in Broadway. Ireland: British soldiers kill three IRA activists in Gibraltar. At their funeral in Belfast, UDA terrorist Michael Stone kills several mourners. During funeral procession, two British corporals are caught and killed by the IRA. The European Court of Human Rights makes a ruling against Ireland, asserting that its anti-homosexuality laws are unlawful.

Forty Years Ago (1978)

Pope John Paul I is elected and dies 33 days later. He is succeeded by Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope since 1523.  Spain formally ends 40 years of military dictatorship. The Jonestown massacre – over 900 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple cult take cyanide and die. Serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are arrested. Film director Roman Polanski flees the US after pleading guilty to sexual abuse. The first Global Positioning Satellite, NavStar 1, is launched. The first ascent of Mount Everest is made without supplementary oxygen. The first radio episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is aired on BBC Radio 4. First airing of the US soap opera “Dallas”. The film musical “Grease”, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, is released. Louise Brown becomes the world’s first baby born via IVF.  Ireland: Rose Dugdale and Eddie Gallagher become the first people in Ireland to marry in prison. Thousands of people march in Dublin in opposition to the building of civic offices in Wood Quay, a historical Viking site. Ireland’s second TV channel, RTE 2, is launched. Cork Regional Hospital (now Cork University Hospital) is opened. Dublin Institute of Technology is opened.

Fifty Years Ago (1968)

The Vietnam War is in full swing. The North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, a sustained wave of surprise attacks against South Vietnamese and US allied forces.  Reports of atrocities, including the My Lai massacre and the execution of Nguyen Van Lem, lead to widespread dissatisfaction in the US about the war. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in April. Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy is assassinated in June. Richard Nixon becomes US President in November. The Prague Spring: liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia are suppressed by a massive show of force from Soviet-allied countries. A massive wave of strikes and protests hits France, momentarily bringing the country to a halt. Enoch Powell makes his Rivers of Blood speech. Intel Corporation is founded. Premieres of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes and Oliver!. Apollo 8 enters orbit around the Moon, taking the iconic Earthrise shot. Ireland: Aer Lingus flight 712, en route from Cork to London, crashes off the coast of Wexford. A civil rights march in Derry is violently broken up by police, kickstarting The Troubles over the following years. John F Kennedy Arboretum, the University of Ulster, Coleraine and Cork County Hall are opened.

Sixty Years Ago (1958)

The European Economic Community (present day European Union) comes into being. The Great Leap Forward begins in China. Millions die of famine from subsequent agricultural and economic mismanagement. France’s Fifth Republic is established. 22 people, including 8 members of the Manchester United team, are killed when their plane crashes in Munich. Imre Nagy, leader of the Hungarian uprising, is executed. Britain’s first motorway is opened. The Lego brick is patented. NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration are founded. America launches its first satellite, Explorer 1.  Frank Kilby demonstrates the first working integrated circuit (aka silicon chip). The Jim Henson Company (Muppets Inc.) is established. The Lituya Bay megatsunami occurs in Alaska, reaching a height of 525 metres. Ireland: The world record for the fastest mile is broken by Herb Elliott in Santry Stadium. Brendan Behan publishes Borstal Boy. It is quickly banned in Ireland. The Harcourt Street railway line in Dublin is closed.

Seventy Years Ago (1948)

The Marshall Plan is signed by Harry Truman, providing 13 billion dollars in war aid to 16 countries. The Soviet Union blockades western Berlin, leading to a US-lead airlift of supplies into Berlin for most of the following year. Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated. Communists take power in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union builds its first ballistic missile. Israel declares independence and is immediately invaded by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka gain independence from Britain. South Korea and North Korea are established as separate political entities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is formally adopted. Apartheid rule begins in South Africa. British Railways and Britain’s National Health Service are established. The World Health Organisation comes into being. Ireland: John A Costello is elected Taoiseach. Ireland passes the Republic of Ireland Act, officially severing all ties to the British state.

Eighty Years Ago (1938)

Adolf Hitler assumes overall control over the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht). German troops occupy Austria. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns from talks with Hitler in Munich, declaring “peace in our time”. The following day, Nazi Germany invades CzechoslovakiaKristallnacht: Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues are looted and vandalised across Germany, with thousands of Jewish men arrested. Vast reserves of oil are discovered in Saudi Arabia. Chinese Nationalists flood the Yellow River in an attempt to halt the Japanese Invasion of China. Otto Hahn observes nuclear fission in uranium. Superman first appears in American comic books. The Beano comic appears in the UK. The ballpoint pen is invented by Lazlo Biro. DuPont Company announces a new synthetic material called “nylon“. A massive meteorite explodes over Chicora, Pennsylvania. Orson Welles’ radio show “War of the Worlds” is aired, to considerable consternation. South African fishermen catch a coelacanth – an ancient fish long believed extinct. Ireland: Douglas Hyde becomes Ireland’s first president. The Royal Navy hands over to the Government of Ireland the Treaty Ports of Spike Island (Cobh), Bearhaven and Lough Swilly.  Douglas Corrigan flies from New York to Ireland; supposedly he had made a navigational mistake having intended to fly to California instead.

Ninety Years Ago (1928)

Alexander Fleming accidentally discovers penicillin. John Logie Baird transmits a television signal from London to New York. New York station W2XB pioneers regular television programmes. The voting age for women in the UK is reduced from 30 to 21. Josef Stalin introduces mass collectivisation in the Soviet Union. The first flight across the Pacific Ocean is made from California to Australia. Herbert Hoover is elected US president. Ireland: The first non-stop fixed wing transatlantic flight from Europe to North America takes off from Baldonnell airfield. For the first time, Irish pound notes and Irish coinage are introduced. The Gate Theatre in Dublin is founded.

One Hundred Years Ago (1918)

This is the year of the 1918 Flu Pandemic. It wreaks havoc across the globe, eventually killing an estimated 50 million people. World War I comes to a close. After the withdrawal of Russia from the war and the failure of the German Spring Offensive on the Western Front, Allied forces launch a counter-offensive that breaks through the Hindenburg Line. German sailors mutiny in Kiel. On November 11, Germany signs an armistice agreement. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is broken up. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary become independent republics. Moscow is reinstated as the capital of Russia. The Tsar of Russia is executed along with his family. Britain assumes government over Palestine. Women over 30 years old are allowed to vote in the UK. Iceland declares independence from Denmark. The Royal Air Force is established. Death in jail of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who sparked World War I. The first pilotless drone, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, is flown. The brightest nova of the 20th Century (V603 Aquilae) is observed. Ireland: US troopship SS Tuscania is torpedoed off the coast of Antrim. There is a general strike against conscription in Ireland. The RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors, is sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of Cork. Death of John Redmond, Irish Nationalist leader. The Irish mailboat RMS Leinster is torpedoed – 500 people are killed. The British Government in Ireland issues a proclamation banning Sinn Fein, the Gaelic League, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers. Sinn Féin win a landslide victory the Irish General Election. They promise to set up a government in Dublin instead of taking their seats in Westminster. Constance Markievicz becomes the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1818)

US General Andrew Jackson invades Florida in the First Seminole War. The 49th line of latitude North (49th Parallel) becomes the official line of demarcation between the United States and British North America (Canada). Illinois becomes the 21st State of America. Chile is declared an independent republic. The British East India Company defeats the Maratha Empire, effectively resulting in British domination of India. Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein is published. The Christmas Carol “Silent Night” is composed. Karl Marx is born in Trier, Germany. 1818 Occultation: the planet Venus moves in front of Jupiter as seen from Earth. Such a phenomenon will not occur again until 2065.  Ireland: Ireland is in the grip of a severe typhus epidemic. Down Cathedral is restored. The General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street, Dublin, is opened.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1718)

The US city of New Orleans is founded. Pirates Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Stede Bonnet wreak havoc in the Caribbean. By the end of the year, they are both dead. The War of the Quadruple Alliance is declared when Britain, France, the Low Countries and Austria join together to quell Spanish territorial ambitions. The Hapsburg Kingdom of Serbia is proclaimed under the governorship of Johann O’Dwyer. François-Marie Arouet adopts the name “Voltaire”. Death William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Edmund Halley discovers the proper motion of fixed stars. The first textbook on probability theory is published by Abraham de Moivre. Ireland: Scots-Irish migrations to America begin. The Jervis Street Hospital is founded in Dublin. It is now part of the Jervis Street Shopping Centre.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1618)

Battle lines in the Thirty Years War are drawn after Catholic representatives of Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria are thrown out of a window by a Protestant mob in Prague Castle. The war will devastate central Europe, resulting in over eight million deaths. Sir Walter Raleigh is beheaded in Westminster after his men attacked a Spanish outpost in Guyana. He was executed as this incident broke a pardon agreement previously agreed with King James I. Three comets appear in the sky this year. Johannes Kepler discovers his Third Law of Planetary Motion. Ireland: The Plantation of Ulster continues.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1518)

King of Spain Charles V grants permission to send 4000 African slaves to the New World. This marks the start of what was to become a vast transatlantic slave trade. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses are translated into German. Within weeks, his writings have spread across Europe. A dancing plague hits the Strasbourg region. Major European powers sign a non-aggression pact in response to growing Ottoman power. Spanish Conquistador Juan de Grijalva lands in Mexico. The first epidemic of smallpox hits the New World. Albrecht Dürer etched “The Cannon“, his largest etching. Ireland: The young Archduke Ferdinand visits Kinsale and describes in vivid detail the strange attire of the local Gaelic townspeople.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1418)

The Council of Constance comes to a close. This brought the papacy together again under one pope (Martin V), based in Rome. In the Hundred Years War, Paris is captured by the Duke of Burgundy as more of France succumbs to English rule. The Vietnamese Emperor Lê Lợi leads a major revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. Chinese admiral Zheng He reaches Malindi in Kenya. Filippo Brunelleschi wins the competition to build the Dome of Florence Cathedral by balancing an egg on smooth marble. The island of Porto Santo in Madeira is discovered by Portuguese explorers. Ireland: The Great Book of Lecan is completed.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1318)

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland re-takes the strategic town of Berwick-on-Tweed after a long siege. A man purporting to be King Edward II turns up at royal court. He is arrested, blames his pet cat, and is executed. Ireland: King Robert’s brother Edward the Bruce is killed at the Battle of Faughart in Co. Louth. This puts an end to the devastating Bruce Campaign in Ireland.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1218)

Armies of the Fifth Crusade attack the Egyptian city of Damietta. The central Asian empire of Qara Khitai is defeated by Genghis Khan.

Nine Hundred Years Ago (1118)

The Muslim Almoravids lose control of the Spanish city of Zaragoza to Christian armies. Henry I of England finds himself in deep trouble in Normandy, when many of his barons rise up against him. Death of Baldwin I, first crusader king of Jerusalem. John II Komnemos becomes the Byzantine Emperor.

One Thousand Years Ago (1018)

King Cnut the Great accedes to the Danish throne, bringing the Kingdoms of Denmark and England together. Malcolm II defeats the Northumbrians to become the first king of a united Scotland. The First Bulgarian Empire ceases to exist – it will now form part of the Byzantine Empire. The Battle of the River Bug takes places between the Duke of Poland and the Prince of Kiev. Count Dirk III of Holland beats a much larger Holy Roman Empire army at the Battle of Vlaardingen.

One Thousand One Hundred Years Ago (AD 918)

The Kingdom of Goryeo was founded. This kingdom gives its name to the modern name “Korea”. Vikings under Ragnall ua Ímair defeat a Scottish army in Northumbria. Æthelflæd, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, dies in a battle with the Vikings in Tamworth. Ireland: Sitric Caoch the Viking becomes king of Dublin.

One Thousand Three Hundred Years Ago (AD 718)

The Second Siege of Constantinople ends in disaster for the Arab Caliphate. Pelagius founds the Christian kingdom of Asturias in Spain. Charles Martel “The Hammer” becomes de facto king of the Franks.

One Thousand Four Hundred Years Ago (AD 618)

Emperor Gaozu founds the Tang Dynasty in China. Songtsen Gampo founds the Tibetan Empire. Ireland: Death of St Kevin of Glendalough.

One Thousand Five Hundred Years Ago (AD 518)

The illiterate Justin I founds the Justinian Dynasty in Byzantium after the death of Anastasius I.

One Thousand Six Hundred Years Ago (AD 418)

Theodoric I becomes the King of the Visigoths. The Council of Carthage confirms St Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin.

One Thousand Nine Hundred Years Ago (AD 118)

Building work starts on the Pantheon in Rome. A mural of a man with a wheelbarrow is painted in Sichuan, China. It is the earliest known depiction of this device.

Two Thousand Years Ago (AD 18)

Emperor Tiberias grants Germanicus command over the Eastern Roman Empire.

 

Tambura

Based on the wonderful Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch. Script whipped from MontyPython.net   (then devilishly adjusted).

(a customer walks in the door.)
Customer: Good Morning.
Owner: Good morning, Sir. Welcome to the National Brexit Emporium!
Customer: Ah thank you my good man.
Owner: What can I do for you, Sir?
C: Well, I was, uh, sitting in the public library on Thurmon Street just now, skimming through ‘Rogue Herrys’ by Horace Walpole, and I suddenly came over all British.
O: British, sir?
C: Perfidious.
O: Eh?
C: ‘Ee I were all ‘angry-like!
O: Ah, angry!
C: In a nutshell. And I thought to myself, ‘a little fermented Brexit will do the trick’, so, I curtailed my Walpoling activites, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some Brexity comestibles!
O: Come again?
C: I Want To Leave The EU.
O: Oh, I thought you were complaining about the Bulgarian tambura player!
C: Oh, heaven forbid: I am one who delights in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse!
O: Sorry?
C: ‘Ooo, Ah lahk a nice tune, ‘yer forced to!
O: So he can go on playing, can he?
C: Most certainly! At least until 2019. Now then, some Brexit please, my good man.
O: (lustily) Certainly, sir. What would you like?
C: Well, eh, how about a little 350 Million a Week.
O: I’m, a-fraid we’re fresh out of 350 Million, sir.
C: Oh, never mind, how are you on Negotiating Free Trade Agreements with the rest of the world?
O: I’m afraid we never have that at the end of the week, sir, we get it fresh on Monday.
C: Tish tish. No matter. Well, stout yeoman, four ounces of British Empire 2.0, if you please.
O: Ah! It’s beeeen on order, sir, for two weeks. Was expecting it this morning.
C: ‘T’s Not my lucky day, is it? Aah, Have you some Impact Assessments?
O: Sorry, sir?
C: Financial Viability, Strategic Studies, that sort of thing?
O: Normally, sir, yes. Today the van broke down.
C: Ah. Agricultural assessments?
O: Sorry.
C: Regional assessments? Disadvantaged Areas?
O: No.
C: Any Supply Chain impacts, per chance?
O: No.
C: Military? Aerospace?
O: No.
C: Academic cooperation?
O: No.
C: Banking Sector? Insurance? Capital Markets?
O: No.
C: Fishing?
O: No.
C: Medicines and Biotech?
O: (pause) No.
C: Automotive?
O: No.
C: Extractive and Mining?
O: No.
C: Telecommunications, IT Sector, Information Security, Machine Learning, Media, Parcel and Bulk Transportation, Microelectronics, Nano-engineering, Quantum Computing?
O: No.
C: Horticultural, perhaps?
O: Ah! We have Horticultural, yessir.
C: (suprised) You do! Excellent.
O: Yessir. It’s ah… it’s a bit runny.
C: Oh, I like it runny.
O: Well,.. It’s very runny, actually, sir.
C: No matter. Fetch hither la Brexite de la Belle Bruxelles! Mmmwah!
O: I…think it’s a bit runnier than you’ll like it, sir.
C: I don’t care how fucking runny it is. Hand it over with all speed.
O: Oooooooooohhh……..! (pause)
C: What now?
O: The cat’s eaten it.
C: (pause) Has he?
O: She, sir.
(pause)
C: Open Skies Agreements?
O: No.
C: Access to High Skills Labour Pools?
O: No.
C: Gibraltar?
O: No.
C: Scottish Independence Referendums?
O: No.
C: European Cities of Culture?
O: No sir.
C: You… do have some Brexit, don’t you?
O: (brightly) Of course, sir. It’s a Brexit shop, sir. We’ve got-
C: No no… don’t tell me. I’m keen to guess.
O: Fair enough.
C: Uuuuuh, Enhanced Border Controls.
O: Yes?
C: Ah, well, I’ll have some of that!
O: Oh! I thought you were talking to me, sir. Mister David Enhanced Border Controls Davis, that’s my name.
(pause)
C: Security Co-operation?
O: Uh, not as such.
C: Uuh, Extradition Agreements?
O: No
C: Environmental Standards?
O: No
C: Pharmaceutical Testing?
O: No
C: Children’s Soothers?
O: No
C: Gastric Flushes?
O: No
C: Anal Fissures?
O: No
C: Transylvanian Botulism Brexits?
O: Not -today-, sir, no.
(pause)
C: Aah, how about Customs Agreements?
O: Well, we don’t get much call for it around here, sir.
C: Not much ca–It’s the single most popular Brexit in the world!
O: Not ’round here, sir.
C: (slight pause) and what IS the most popular Brexit ’round hyah?
O: ‘Illchester, sir.
C: IS it.
O: Oh, yes, it’s staggeringly popular in this district, squire.
C: Is it.
O: It’s our number one best seller, sir!
C: I see. Uuh… ‘Illchester, eh?
O: Right, sir.
C: All right. Okay. ‘Have you got any?’ He asked, expecting the answer ‘no’.
O: I’ll have a look, sir.. nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnno.
C: It’s not much of a Brexit shop, is it?
O: Finest in the district sir!
C: (annoyed) Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, please.
O: Well, it’s so clean, sir!
C: It’s certainly uncontaminated by Brexits.
O: (brightly) You haven’t asked me about the Irish Border, sir.
C: Would it be worth it?
O: Could be.
C: Have you –SHUT THAT BLOODY TAMBURA OFF!
O: Told you sir…
C: (slowly) Have you got any Irish Border Agreements?
O: No.
C: Figures. Predictable, really I suppose. It was an act of purest optimism to have posed the question in the first place……. Tell me:
O: Yessir?
C: (deliberately) Have you in fact got any Brexit here at all?
O: Yes,sir. Brexit means Brexit.
C: Really?
(pause)
O: No. Not really, sir.
C: You haven’t.
O: Nosir. Not a scrap. I was deliberately wasting your time, sir.
C: Well I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to sack you.
O: Right-0, sir.
(The customer takes out a ballot and votes out the shopkeeper)
C: What a senseless waste of human life.

Inspired by this senseless waste of human life.

Airport arrivals, the point of transition. From a world of cramped spaces, endless queues and tiresome inactivity, now life can begin again. It is a place where worlds come together. In this spot, each day, a thousand mini-stories get told.

Witness the anticipation, the young woman hiding behind the sign. The father and daughter wearing outrageous, unkempt wigs. The small children sidling up to the doors, furtively looking down into the hallway. The expectant stares, the worried looks, the checking and re-checking of panels, counting the flights that have landed. What’s keeping them? Why is it taking so long?

Then the joy, the elation. The moment of recognition. Passivity suddenly replaced by pure joy. The children racing around, soon to be whisked into the arms of a loved one. The young woman jumping from behind the sign. The cries and grasps of delight. The older traveller feeling like a small helpless child, now reunited with a person long missing from their lives.

The embraces. The looks of sheer love and relief. The passionate kisses. The tears. For a moment, all is well with the world. For a moment, emotions are laid bare, differences forgotten. The importance of these people, being here, in this place, at this time. Nothing else counts.

The grabbing of the bags, the gifts handed over, the hands clenched tightly around each other. The small children raised aloft, like tiny trophies after the journey. Here, this way. Let’s go. You are with us now.

The story ends, to be replaced in seconds with another tale. Then another. And another. The arrivals hall. If there is such a thing as magic, you will find it here.

Here go I
Frogmarched into a fiftieth year.

Painfully aware
Of time
Slipping like sand
Through open fingers.

Painfully aware
That I am still alone,
Undone,
Half done,
A thin, soft voice
In a loud cacophony.

Painfully aware
Of all that has
Passed me by,
While I slept
And crept
And wept
Through the years
Of my vitality.

Painfully aware
That hopes of love
And warmth
And deepest kisses
Are lost,
Muddied and torn:
The heavy costs
Of compromise.

Painfully aware
That others of my ilk
Never came so far.

Painfully aware
Of the depths
Of my fragility.

I have a small problem with the idea of ‘stories’ and data when it comes to data visualisation. To me, a story is a construct – a neat beginning, middle and end that enables us humans to relay information to each other. The power of stories in human communication is extraordinary. They inspire, they motivate, they change lives. But narratives have a flaw. They don’t need to be right. They don’t need to be accurate or true. The only requirement is to be packaged in a way that makes the audience sit up and listen. This is the reason why TED talks have been so successful, yet so criticised. They are brilliant as a means of conveying information to the audience, but in creating the story behind the presentation, so much may be left out. The audience legitimately might ask ‘that seems almost too perfect. What are they not telling us?’.

Such it is with presenting data. Data is messy. It’s often wrong or inaccurate. It may be tied to a particular question, which is different to the question you are trying to ask. It may show answers that are unintuitive and inconvenient. Data is at war with narrative, or more precisely, it doesn’t care about narrative.

So when presenting your data, be sensitive to the clash between the story you would like to show and what the data is saying (or not saying). As a rule, when presenting data honestly, you should start with everything. Give your audience a chance to see the bigger picture in all its glory and chaos before you dive into the detail. Allow them to ask questions, and work at creating a consensus. Where you see something interesting, gain agreement with them that they can see it too. Be alert to questions from them that might lead to new investigations and new interpretations.

Your job as a data presenter is to show signals in noise, not to eliminate the noise completely. By eliminating the inherent messiness of data for the supposed benefit of the audience, you might just insult their intelligence instead. You also step down a path of deception – careful editing of information – so uncomfortable questions need not be asked. 

That’s the problem with stories and data. Balancing the clean and packaged with the messy and inconvenient. To tell data stories properly you should be prepared to take people on a journey whose end is undecided, whose conclusions are tentative at best. Give your audience a chance to find their own meanings and be sensitive for differing interpretations.

It’s 2017 and vampires, werewolves and witches are no longer that scary. Been there, done that.

Here are some things that should really frighten the bejeezus out of us this year.

Scary Insect

This from news that insect abundance has fallen by 75% over the last 27 years.

Scary Icecap

Whether its icecaps, or sea-ice or huge shelves of ice ripping free from Antarctica, it’s all a depressing picture.

 

Scary Super Bug

Scary Antibiotic

The top two pictures are related – improper use of antibiotics over the past few decades has created new bugs that are resistant to almost all known bacterial killers. At the same time, new antibiotics have failed to keep pace. The world is finally waking up to this huge crisis.

Scary Flu

One hundred years ago, a flu pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people in a period of months. Smaller pandemics have happened since, but it is a matter of time before a virus of similar lethality makes it’s comeback.

Scary AntiVax

And it’s not only a damaging flu that could make its presence felt. Old diseases like measles and whooping cough are coming back too, due to different pressure groups who believe, despite decades of medical evidence, that vaccines don’t work and are harmful. Some kids depend on the rest of us to be vaccinated in order to be protected against these diseases.

Scary Acidification

Kind of a hard one to draw, but there is increasing evidence that our oceans are becoming more acidic. This is having detrimental impacts on shellfish and other ocean organisms, which then propagates up the food chain.

Scary Nuclear

We thought that common sense had finally prevailed against the use of nuclear weapons as an option in international politics. We thought wrong.

Scary Paranoid

The rise (and seeming acceptance) of extremist hate groups is particularly worrying, given that the world has been there before and the consequences were so disastrous. Both media and politicians have been stoking up this hatred for quite a while.

Scary Brexit Black Hole

For us on this side of the pond, we’re still waiting to understand how Britain will prosper from a withdrawal from the EU – particularly if, as expected, there is no deal. Pro-Leavers are great on rhetoric, but thin on the details of how Britain is expected to thrive economically when leaving a successful partnership that gave us 70 years of peace in Europe. The only thing we have seen so far is an increase in xenophobia and companies deciding to move out.

Scary Politician

And finally, the biggest ongoing threat to all our lives and livelihoods – the ongoing destruction of democracy and democratic values by politicians on the make.

Now these, to me, are scary as hell.

My daughter and I went to Alt-J in Trinity College yesterday. We got there early and managed to get right up to the barrier. An hour and a half of sheer bliss.

I think we have a convert!

Attached is a gallery of images from the concert last night.

I think about death a lot. My death. It’s probably an age thing. I’ve noticed people my age getting ill, dying. I realise that I’m nearing the age when my father became ill. It’s no longer something I can avoid, nor stay oblivious to. One day, I will cease to be. 

It’s such a difficult thing, to consider one’s nonexistence. To me, life is a constant flow, interrupted by sleep and the rare hospital operation, but these are just instantaneous leaps, rather than gaps. It’s always it’s one thing after the next. I can’t imagine the flow ending, but some day it has to. One moment awake, the next, gone.

I think sometimes about sudden death. Being hit by a train, a gunshot or a bolt from the sky. An abrupt transition, where death visits perhaps without you even knowing it. No struggle, no fight, just permanent closure. How strange that seems to me.

I think about slow death, the brain losing its faculties bit by bit, consciousness falling apart. Heart still beating, eyes open, but nothing happening inside. Night announcing itself early. How strange that is too.

I think about living forever. The thought scared me so much when I was little. It frightens me less, now because I don’t think it’s possible. Even if you could live forever, you would eventually crave death. Coming to an end is less scary than continuing on and on, past all things and people familiar to you, past the extinction of our species, past the swallowing of the Earth by the Sun, past the heat death of the Universe. And yet on forever from there, as if all that time was nothing? Sooner or later it would all be too much. Death simply makes sense compared to the alternative. 

I think about how mundane death is. How it’s there every day. On our roadsides, in the trees, beneath the waves – the constant background shuffle of somethingness into nothingness. Such a natural part of existence.

The meaning of everything I have and will encounter. The experiences I have, the people I know, the places I have been to, the joys and the devastations. How it all will mean nothing someday. I think about that a lot.

I love my life. I do not want it to end for a long time yet. Being alive is such a wonderful thing. Having death as a backdrop, the ordinary becomes precious, the casual contacts important, the friendships priceless. One day I will die, but I’m not sure I would have it any other way.

New advances in Artificial Stupidity (AS) are going to change life forever, announced the World Technology Forum (WTF) yesterday. “In the last half century, we have witnessed computers take over all aspects of life, to the point that we can now make monumentally stupid machines”, declared Paul Brokering of the University of Seattle and Chair of the WTF. “Profound idiocy, unimaginable ten years ago, is now available at our fingertips”.

Using techniques such as Derp Learning and Peurile Nets, we can all now gain access to the kind of insights once reserved for an elite class of moron. Many of the developments are in the trial stage, but here’s a sampler of what’s ahead of us.

  • A device that likes all sorts of bullshit stories on Facebook, based purely on half-formed notions it already agrees with. Extra points where the news source website is called “ezclicksfrcash.ru” or “instantsexmoneylove.tv”. This device will even add a helpful comment like “They shud b strung up” where a stock photo from 2010 is used showing a happy couple who allegedly went on to spit in their kids’ ice creams or something equally appalling and imaginary. 
  • An activist device that rejects all scientific findings when they go against their instinctive prejudices about the way the world should work. “These devices reject all vaccines and antibiotics, in fact to them, all medicine is one big conspiracy and doctors know far less than they do compared to their Google based research over the last 3 weeks” announced Kim Dian and Gunther Parmeister of the University of Uppsala. 
  • A device that observes everything in the world as if it was 6,000 years old. “Version 2 of this device is already making theme parks and setting up TV stations”, says Anton Leclerc, chief scientist with the Machine Ignorance group in the Sorbonne.
  • A device that can make incredibly sweeping generalisations from a small data set. “It’s truly amazing in its stupidity.” says Vincent Okbanda of Rome University, “If it sees snow, it will declare that climate change is a hoax. If it hears about a broken solar panel, it will declare coal to be non-polluting. If it hears of a 90 year old granny who smoked 40 cigarettes a day, it will declare tobacco to be healthy. The lack of thinking involved has surprised us all”.
  • A device that declares everybody it disagrees with to be part of a conspiracy. “In studies, these devices have also discovered flat earth chemtrails from the Planet Nibiru, powered by Bigfoot” – that’s an impressively powerful amount of bullshit from such a small device”, says Ian Proctor of the Institute of Virtual Neuroscience in MIT.
  • An iPresident of the United States. Attempts to make a device this resistant to logic and common sense are still a long way off, as the solution being offered up by nature appears vastly more stupid than anything they have been able to create in the laboratory thus far.

How such technologies will change the world is the subject of intense debate among scientists, but rough estimates suggest that hundreds of billions of Internet days could be saved immediately. “Think of it this way”, says Brokering. “Instead of people spending hours expressing profound ignorance on multiple topics, they could simply wake up, press a button on their device, and go back to bed again. We could then all be spared their wisdom. Now how could this be seen as a bad thing?”

 

19387584869_efc874be54_z

Alt-J (Photo: gyduxa / Flickr / CC Licensed)

My initial experience of Alt-J nearly drove me mad. I happened upon “Hunger of the Pine” in September 2015; downloaded it, and it kept me awake for nights afterwards. This haunting tune locked itself into a dark recess in my brain, resilient to all my attempts to dislodge it. A sleepless embrace indeed. It was such a powerful melody I had to skip over the tune on my playlists for a while, just to increase my chances of getting some proper night rest.

But it found its way back and the more I listened to it, the more I fell in love with it. It’s like a classical tune, changing and developing at the song goes on. I was intrigued – what else had this band produced? I listened to the full album “All This Is Yours” and I was immediately hooked. Then quickly “An Awesome Wave“, then, then – no! That’s all they had. This band only released their first album in 2012. There is a maturity to their music that would imply they had been around forever,

The songs are sublime. Tesselate, Breezeblocks, Left Hand Free, Something Good, Taro and Every Other Freckle are some of the best songs in my library. I never get tired of them. The musicality, the complexity, the dreamlike nature of many of the tunes – it’s mesmerising. I’ve become a fan.

So, 2017 is wonderful on two fronts for me. Firstly, they are coming to Dublin in July and secondly, they have just released their third album “Relaxer“. I downloaded it with some trepidation – what if it wasn’t as good as the previous two? I shouldn’t have worried. It’s brilliant.

There is not a duff song on the album. Echoes of Pink Floyd and The Clash on some songs perhaps, but the music is very much their own. I particularly love Deadcrush, Adeline and In Cold Blood.

And soon they will be in Dublin! They are playing in Trinity College on July 11. I cannot wait. I might even buy the tee-shirt.

%d bloggers like this: