Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy St Stephen's Day

Today is St Stephen's Day, which is celebrated in parts of Ireland by "Wren Boys". I can remember Wren Boys going around on St Stephen's Day. It was a rural Irish thing, since when we spent Christmas in Dublin there were no Wren Boys (pronounced "Ran Boys" in Westmeath where I'm from). I could never really understand what it was supposed to be about, and nobody could tell me. It's one of those very old traditions whose use has been lost over time.

The New York Times today has a story about the British "Boxing Day" , which is what they call St Stephen's Day. The article omits the most important aspect of Boxing Day from my Irish perspective: The excellent soccer matches on TV. But, Fox Soccer Channel has a feast of soccer today, including Arsenal vs Aston Villa, so I'm not missing out....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

John Bruton on CNN's GPS program today

John Burton, former Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and EU Ambassador to the US, was on Fareed Zakaria's GPS programme on CNN today, as part of a panel discussion on economic problems. The video or transcript is not up there on the CNN site yet, but will probably be there soon. I'll post a link when it is there.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jetblue $29 Boston to New York, and other cheap flights from Boston...

Not quite in the Ryanair category of cheap flights, but still a lot cheaper than the usual fare out of Boston to places like New York ($29), Chicago ($49), and Seattle ($99):

Book before 6pm though....

1890 and all that: Avoiding "LoCall" charges

The Irish telephone systems uses a "1890" number, sometimes called a "LoCall" number, to apply local charges to calls which may not be local. The rough US equivalent would be to allow people to call a long-distance number as if it is a local call within your area code. The problem is that 1890 is a "non-geographical" number (doesn't include an area code) which is billed differently from "geographical" (including area code) numbers. Typically, Irish mobile phone minutes or "all you can call" plans do not include 1890 numbers, so you have to pay for them seperately.

I used the "LoCall" 1890 numbers over the summer to use an international calling card from Ireland. I had assumed that the calls would come out of my prepaid Vodafone airtime minutes, as local calls do. But, no. The 1890 calls all showed up on my Vodafone bill, quite expensive.

Each 1890 number must map to an actual local phone number. What if you just call that number? It turns out that the problem is finding that local number. But, I was happy to see that there is a site called "SayNoTo1890" which allows you to find the non-1890 equivalent.

Aside from my Vodafone mobile bills when I am in Ireland, the 1890 situation is especially important to me because (a) I can't call 1890 numbers from outside of Ireland, and (b) My calls to Irish local numbers are free under my Vonage phone plan.

Today I needed to phone Quinn Healthcare in Ireland, but only their 1890 number was on their Website, and I could not find my Irish health insurance card. So how do I phone the 1890 number from outside Ireland? The solution was to look up SayNoTo1890 and find the Quinn Healthcare entry. I then called that number (in Fermoy, north County Cork) for free.

PS: You know what would be a neat iPhone or Blackberry or Nokia/Symbian application? An application which would simply map the 1890 number to the local number.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

White Christmas?

The extended forecast for Boston seems to say so....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Fringe" in Boston

This week's New Yorker contains a witty review Kalefa Sannah of "Fringe", a medical investigation drama set in Boston. Excerpt:

"The series began in September, with a passenger on a flight to Boston injecting himself with what appeared to be insulin; the syringe actually contained a man-made virus that, within minutes, reduced the plane’s population to zero. The midair gore (the Parents Television Council called “Fringe” that week’s worst show, citing a vivid depiction of “instant, extreme, liquefactive necrosis”) was less spooky than the idea of the ghost plane gently touching down at Logan Airport, guided by computers that must have been slimeproof. Dunham needed help with the case, and, as so often happens at the F.B.I., the experts decided that the right man for the job was a mad scientist who had spent the better part of two decades in a mental institution; in keeping with common practice, the institution agreed to release the man, Walter Bishop, on the condition that his estranged son, Peter, keep an eye on him and give him his prescribed dose of two or three wordy rejoinders per scene."

This review, which I read yesterday night on a plane gently touching down at Logan Airport, is genius. I am always looking for ways of getting some value from the money I pay monthly to Comcast for cable TV, so in the case of "Fringe" I may go beyond reading reviews of TV programs in the New Yorker and actually watch the program on TV. Now that would be something.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Virgin America to fly from Boston Logan to California

The Boston Globe reports today that Virgin America will fly from Logan to California, starting soon.

The most interesting part of this story, for me is that it says that Generation X-ers and Y-ers have no airline loyalty. I guess that means they are not interested in frequent flyer programs? Is that really true? I guess that frequent flyer programs have become more and more "corporate", and often seem largely just a way to try to sell affiliate credit cards, but I dunno....

Personally, I will almost certainly continue to fly United or American to California in order to pick up miles. Although, you know, those touch-screen entertainment systems are nice on Virgin Atlantic, so that is a draw for me to go to Virgin America...

[Crossposted to my Travel Blog]

Monday, December 1, 2008

"A post shall go monthly between New York and Boston"

The Postal Museum in Washington DC has a great exhibit about the early days of mail between Boston and New York, including a simulation of the eerie ax-marked forest path which used to guide the way between the two cities. Imagine traveling along the Mass Pike route without the actual Mass Pike being there. That's a lot of forest, most of which is still there.

By the way, you'll look fruitlessly for an exhibit on the history of "going postal" at the Postal Museum. I know because I looked for one, but I didn't think it was a good idea to ask the staff did they have plans to add it.