Environment Science Technology

Shannon floods at Limerick – the role of Ardnacrusha

As tempers rise to match the River Shannon floods, much anger is focused on the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station and its associated dams, reservoirs and channels. Although many readers will already have a detailed knowledge of its design and layout, for those who don’t I thought it might be useful to provide a quick summary of the scheme and offer a few rough calculations of my own.

Aardnacrusha power station

When the Shannon Scheme began operation in 1929, it was the largest hydroelectric station in the world, but perhaps more significantly for the government of the day, it was a huge statement of intent for a newly-independent country and a great gamble, since it cost more than one fifth of the State’s entire annual budget to construct. What’s more, with an initial generating capacity of 35 megawatts, later increased to 85 megawatts with the addition of a newer and more efficient fourth turbine, according to the project’s detractors Ireland would never need so much power. There were even some who condemned the project on the grounds that it amounted to Communism, much as the same people would later attack the Mother and Child Scheme, but that was Ireland for you.

Shannon scheme Power house
Power house

Ninety years later, Ardnacrusha contributes about 2% of the total ESB output– enough for a town the size of Ennis.

It didn’t come without a social cost either, as I outlined in this post. They were hard days, different times and attitudes to workers were at best callous.

Aradnacrusha works canteen


Thomas McLaughlin, the man behind the scheme, was 29 years old when his project began. A man with little interest in non-academic pursuits, he had achieved a PhD in engineering and a collection of influential friends from his college days who would become instrumental in persuading the government to invest in the scheme.

McLaughlin wasn’t the first to propose using the lower Shannon for power generation. As early as 1844, Robert Kane was pointing out the opportunity for hydro power  presented by the drop in water level between Killaloe and Limerick. Potential energy, quite literally. But it wasn’t until John Chaloner-Smith’s research on river flows was published in 1921 that the hard research became available to design a workable scheme.

McLaughlin’s plan, developed with Siemens, required a dam at Parteen Villa (not to be confused with Parteen), just south of Lough Derg, to impound the lake and turn it into a reservoir.

Shannon scheme

From the dam, a 12-km canal, the head-race, diverts most of the Shannon’s water to the power station at Ardnacrusha where it falls nearly 30 metres  through pipes 6 metres in diameter, the penstocks, to drive the turbines.  The water leaving the power station runs along the tail-race, a 2-kilometre channel blasted out of solid rock until, at Corbally, it rejoins the old River Shannon which was reduced to a trickle by the diversion.

Shannon scheme


parteen weir
Parteen Weir

Before moving on, I have to acknowledge that the scheme is a magnificent engineering achievement by any standards and even today, almost a century later is still deeply impressive. Nothing like it had ever been seen  in Ireland before.

Siemens plant arriving at Limerick docks for Shannon scheme
Unloading at Limerick docks

Revealingly, the main contractor, Siemens-Schuckert, came from a country that was being crushed under punitive war reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, and yet that was the reason why Germany was so active in developing hydro-electricity.: France had control of all the German coal-fields  Ireland’s infrastructure was so primitive that all the construction equipment had to be shipped from Germany because none existed here.

Everyone will have an opinion on the reasons why Ireland was so primitive compared to England, Wales and Scotland, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the London government prior to 1922 had little interest in promoting industrialisation in Ireland, apart from Dublin, Belfast and perhaps Cork.

According to Siemens, they imported the following:

6 Large multiple bucket dredgers on rails each about 220 tons
3 Large bank building machines on rails each about 240 tons
27 Smaller dredgers and shovel excavators on rails and caterpillars
130 Steam locomotives
8 Electric locomotives
31 Portable air compressors
13 Portable concrete mixers
8 Tower cranes
3 Cableways, each 310 m long
1,770 Railway wagons
20 Road trucks
31 Barges, trugs, launches and pontoons
Temporary power station, Ardnacrusha
Temporary power station

In order to construct the power station, it was first necessary for Siemens to build a power station with nine diesel generators producing nearly 3 megawatts. They also built a large engineering shop,  a smithy, a joiner’s department in addition to a tool-making shop and a welding shop.

Only when everything was in place could the project begin.

By law, the ESB is contractually obliged to guarantee a flow of only 10 cubic metres per second along the old course of the river, which is just one-fortieth of the volume it abstracts for the power station, and this has led to many different problems, both hydrological and environmental. With such drastically reduced flows, there has been a great amount of encroachment by alluvial forest, with alder, ash and willow clogging the river and causing major blockage when it floods. On top of that, the scheme killed what was once a world-famous salmon fishery and an eel-fishing industry.

Now, a few figures.

The average annual flow of the Shannon is a little over 200 cumecs (cubic metres per second), so the ESB wouldn’t always get its full 400 cumec flow, nor would it wish to. But in a flood it could take that much while leaving the old river bed untouched. If the flow goes above 410 cumec then the next step is to store the flood in Lough Derg, using the Parteen Weir, and releasing the extra water gradually down the old channel. All well and good until we get flows of 800 cumec and more as we have today. That means 400 cumec down the head-race and the other 400 going somewhere else, but the question is where?

It’s often suggested that the ESB could have created storage by lowering the lake in advance of the storm, and that’s true, but no matter by how much the lake is lowered, eventually it will fill up and after that, any excess flow is going straight over the weir and down the old Shannon channel, because it has nowhere else to go. Therefore, the only hope is that they can create enough capacity to store the excess water until the rain subsides and the water stops concentrating in the river. It’s a relatively slow river, and we don’t see it peaking until several days after the rain has stopped.

The lake’s surface area is 130 million square metres. Its average volume is 887 million cubic metres and its average depth is 7.6 metres. This allows us to make a crude estimate of how much storage can be created by reducing the water level during periods when there is no flooding.

The current flow into the lake is 840 cumec. How much storage do you reckon we’ll need?

A half-metre drop would give enough storage to contain a day and a half of flood, after which the water would need to be released down the old Shannon. But will the flood only last a day and a half?

A metre would give three days storage.

1.5 metres would give protection against a flood lasting four and a half days. That’s a five-foot drop, in the old money. Is that acceptable to the people and businesses who rely on Lough Derg? What if the flood lasts five days? A week? Two weeks?

Furthermore, you don’t just lower the level of a water body like Lough Derg overnight. It takes weeks and you’d be doing it in contemplation of an event like Storm Desmond, which does not provide weeks of warning.

What are the other factors?

With the exponential growth in paved, impervious areas around the country — roads, car-parks, driveways, roofs and all the rest of it — rainfall no longer has so much time to percolate through the soil and gradually make its way to the watercourses.  With uncontrolled development, widely seen as A Good Thing, rainfall now concentrates in a flash, running straight down the gulleys, into the drains, out to the streams and into the rivers. Before you know it, you have a flood.

There’s the neglect of watercourses, as I mentioned. We could be clearing intrusive alluvial forest and replacing it with forestation on land.

Let’s not even mention climate change, but we all know it’s there and we all know it will lead to more of this.

The important thing to bear in mind is that there’s only a given, fixed amount of storage and you can make it as big as you want, but eventually a storm will come along that will fill it up and then the water will go where the water wants to go. Or to put it another way, the ESB can only delay the flood. It can’t prevent it.

Let’s remember something else. Shannon floods are nothing new. The river below Corbally has the same flow now as it did before the power station was built, though perhaps made worse by the factors I just mentioned. Whatever about upstream at Castleconnell, Montpelier or Plassey, Ardnacrusha is not to blame for flooding in Limerick City. In 1850, a fearful flood filled up all the basements of the houses and covered the quays in some places to a depth of three and four feet.  It even threatened to tear the parapets off Mr Nimmo’s fine bridge across the Shannon, which had been replaced at great cost following a similar catastrophe some years earlier.

None of this is intended to get the ESB off the hook, but it seems to me that if we’re to have a rational debate on the issue of flooding, at the very least we should be basing it on some sort of rational facts and figures, and we should be looking at all the factors involved. Of course, I do realise that the figures I have here are very crude, but in the absence of a complete hydrological model, I’m afraid they’re the best I can do for now.

shannon scheme
Excavating the head-race

shannon scheme

shannon scheme
Intake sluice house
shannon scheme
Constructing volutes to produce a tangential flow
shannon scheme
Parteen weir under construction

shannon scheme

shannon scheme
Head-race embankment
shannon scheme
Parteen weir



Old River Shannon

Irish Waterways History



Clare county library

National inventory of architectural heritage

History Ireland






Dublin Web Summit

What’s the difference between Ross O’Carroll-Kelly and Paddy Cosgrave?

Isn’t it obvious?

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly went to UCD while Paddy Cosgrave attended Trinity. Ross followed the rugby route to success but Paddy took the road less travelled at the time, a hard road where you have to answer every question with “So”.

Ross is a gobshite. Paddy is the founder of a tech startup.

Everyone following the narrative so far?  Good.

There’s absolutely no similarity between Paddy Cosgrave and Ross O’Carroll-Kelly.

On the one hand, Ross thinks that the world is there to provide him with whatever he wants in life, but on the other hand, Paddy Cosgrave believes that he has the right to speak to a prime minister and have the government push down hotel prices, control traffic in our capital city and force a private company to provide broadband services so that he can hold a conference.

Oh, wait. Shit.  All of a sudden here’s a fictional rugby-jock gobshite looking a lot like the uber-geek entrepreneur trying to persuade our government that it should turn our capital city inside out in order to suit his conference.

Damn!  What do these two lads have in common?

Easy. A sense of entitlement.

But at least Ross has a sense of his own absurdity. while, judging by his radio interviews today, it’s not clear that Paddy understands he isn’t God.  For that matter, it isn’t even clear if Paddy knows he’s not Garth Brooks, based on the self-pitying interviews he’s been giving since the start of this farce.

What precisely did he expect the government to do about hotel prices? And if he thought the government could somehow control that, why did he not think they might put a limit on the absurd charges he imposed to attend the Web Summit? Is it one law for Paddy and another for everyone else?

What exactly did he think the government should do about broadband in the RDS? Was that not a commercial matter between him and the people renting the space to him?

It’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the things Paddy wanted from State agencies.

  • Free use of the Mansion House, Wood Quay and Herbert Park, where he planned to erect marquees, though he did promise to reinstate the ground after insofar as we reasonably can.
  • A €100 contribution from the city council for each attendee from abroad.
  • A free Garda escort for those he considers to be VIPs.
  • Free Leap travel cards for all staff and attendees.
  • Free shuttle buses to and from the RDS and circulating to hotels around Dublin.
  • Free closure of three city-centre streets so that he can hold a party.
  • Free advertising for his event.
  • A large space to be set aside in the airport for registration of his attendees who incidentally, are paying anything between €600 and €5,000 for the privilege of gong to his trade show.

Some of the demands are plainly delusional or impossible.

  • Temporary Dublin-bike stations.
  • Controls on hotel prices.
  • Better WiFi in the RDS, which has nothing at all to do with the government.


He didn’t want much, really.

Paddy Cosgrave: this year’s Garth Brooks.


This is the document released by the Web Summit organisers. The last few pages list Paddy’s demands, or “asks” as he prefers to call them.  Well worth a read.

Download (PDF, 287KB)



For an alternative view, here’s Professor Lucey who is, of course, quite wrong.






The best evil gadget ever

I’m a sucker for gadgets and to be honest with you I’m a complete sucker for the gadgets that Lidl  and Aldi offer up at ludicrously reasonable prices.

I bought that telescopic yard-brush. I bought the solar-powered garden gnome. I have the welder that never welded anything in the seven years since I got it.

I have drills, grinders, chisels, juicers, compressors and nail-guns.

I bought their computers.

I bought casseroles, woks and knife-sharpeners.

I am a true Lidlite but today raised me to a new level  of belief when I blundered into my local store and found the best thing that Lidl has ever sold.

Today, you see, they offered me — wait for it — a robotic floor cleaner.  That’s right. An autonomous gadget that wanders around your floor at random sweeping up the assorted detritus of life, from dog hairs to toenail clippings while never ceasing to recite mellifluous poetry and simultaneously engaging you in a game of chess.

robotic mop

No. I made the last bit up, but this little machine, for a modest outlay under €30, will meander around your living room swirling up little bits of dust and assorted annoying stuff. It won’t quite wash your floor, even though they calll it a mop in the ad, but that’s not really why I bought it anyway.  Oh, didn’t I mention that I bought it? Of course I did. Who wouldn’t be without this wonderful little device? What life would be complete in its absence?

I was thinking, you see, that maybe we might be able to modify it. Maybe we might fit it with a small Bluetooth speaker and get some of our evil tech friends to install a nasty little processor changing its behaviour from random to emotionally attached.

Couldn’t we get this little robotic mop to pair up with some hated public figure, following them everywhere, making sarcastic comments about their intellect, their appearance and their profound lack  of moral fibre?

This is going to make us all a fortune.

I even have a working name for it. The Moppelganger.


Lidl Killers
Hail Mighty Lidl
Shopping For Essentials


Getting Sick of Broken Smartphones

I have a Galaxy S4 and it’s broken.  It cost as much as a mid-range laptop even though it doesn’t do nearly as much and it’s broken because I dropped it, as one does when you’re holding a small device in your hand much of the time.  It’s oblong, it doesn’t fit my hand very well, it’s inconvenient to hold and to use, the screen is too small for all practical purposes, it’s easy to drop and break, but it cost what?  About five hundred euros.  It has no hard drive, it has a miserable processor and minimal memory.  It has a tiny screen and it doesnt even have a fucking radio.

But they still charged me €500 for it and yes, you”re right.  I’m a bigger fool for paying that sort of money to buy a phone.

I am an idiot, but I suspect a lot of people are beginning to think the same way.  I suspect a lot of people are starting to realise that we have been scammed by Apple and Samsung and all the rest of them into buying a small, inadequate computer and paying the same money for it as a full-sized working computer.

Fuck this shit.  I dropped my Galaxy S4 once onto a concrete floor and I’ll have to replace what amounts essentially to the entire phone if I want it fixed, simply because the screen is broken.  By contrast, I dropped my laptop and broke the screen a few years back, but after a brief interaction with eBay, a new screen appeared magically from the ether, I whipped out the old one, put in the new one with a bit of cursing, and the thing worked fine again.  My laptop was about twenty times the size of my phone, with piles of hardware and technology in it, yet it cost not a whole lot more than the slim little thing I held in my hand.

This to me makes no sense.  I know we don’t measure technology by the ounce, but seriously now.  Come on.   How can a phone cost €500 when a great laptop might cost another €200?  That’s just bullshit.

I won’t get my Samsung fixed.  Forget it.  Instead, I’m going to buy one of these snappy new little Nokia 215s for under €30.

nokia 215

It has everything I need.  Internet, phone calls, camera.  It even has a radio, unlike my 500-euro Samsung and if I drop it on a concrete floor, as you do, I’ll just go and buy another one for under €30.

Guess what?  I have seen the future of phones, and it is the same as past of phones, because people are getting sick and tired of being ripped off.


In Praise of Electronic Wizards

I’m a big fan of the Canon Powershot series.

I’ve had three.  I lost one, an S80, broke one, a G9 and  stared in hurt bewilderment at the third, a G11, which stopped working for no obvious reason.   These are great little cameras, offering functionality approaching an entry-level DSLR but without the bulk.  You can shove them in your pocket and come home with some fairly decent snaps, which is exactly what I did the day my Canon G11 died, but before I go on about that I must tell you what happened the previous version, the Canon G9.

canon g11

You know my dog, Satan, the Hound of Hell.  A highly-intelligent little bastard who once climbed the garden wall and tightrope-walked a 20mm plywood edge to escape and lie in wait for postmen.  A rational dog who sits down and analyses problems.  A smart dog who doesn’t make a break for freedom until I’ve driven away from the house and the sound of the motor has faded  in the distance.

There’s only one way to outsmart a dog like that: set up video cameras on tripods and see how he’s escaping, a trick I pulled successfully many times, until the last when I came back to find my tripod knocked over and the lens at a scrotum-tightening angle of dislocation.  As I said, a problem-solving sort of dog.

I’m not sure the dog had anything to do with the demise of the G11, but it’s possible, as I’ll explain.  Nothing traumatic happened to it.   I was out and about as usual taking snaps but  when  I got home and  switched it  on, nothing happened.  The lens refused to come out, even though it hadn’t  been bashed, battered, dropped or soaked.  It didn’t even respond to cursing.

Very annoying.  Infuriating.  My only surviving decent compact gone for a shit.  What could I do?  All the websites said  something along the same lines: it’s buggered.  Throw it out.  I even bought a nasty, plasticky little consumer Canon compact to replace it but of course I was just fooling myself.  Nothing would match the G11.

And so, for a full twelve months, we sat looking at each other, each of us as baffled as the other until one day a chance Facebook interaction alerted me to the possibility that an electronic wizard friend might take a look at it for me.  Bring it out, he said, so I did, without getting my hopes up.

And right there, in front of me, he stripped it down into its minuscule parts, every last screw, nut, ribbon cable, and logic board spread out across the table in much the same way they would be if I’d dismantled it myself – with a hammer.

Hmm, he said.  The lens barrel seems to be stuck.

Hmm, I echoed.  Stuck.

I’ll check the galvos, he said and disappeared upstairs to his little workshop before returning with a glum face on him.  Galvos are shot.  Must have been the strain of trying to move the lens.  Burnt out.

Galvos? I muttered.

Little motors, he explained.

Does that mean the camera is fucked?

God no! he said.  Get a new barrel on eBay and we’ll stick it in.

canon g11 lens barrel

So I did.  I sent away for a new barrel from some character in Hong Kong and in due course it arrived out of the internet.  It now sits in my fully-functioning Canon G11, thanks to the technical wizardry and nimble fingers of my technical wizard friend.

As I was leaving, my curiosity got the better of me.  Any idea what made it stick?

Oh yeah, he said.  It had a tiny hair jammed  in it.   Could you imagine that?  Just a little hair wrecking a whole camera.  I can’t understand how it got in there.

Hmm, I said.  Would you by any chance hazard a guess if it was human or animal?

Oh, he said, I couldn’t be certain, but I’d say it was a dog hair.  Do you have a dog?

Oh yeah, I told him.  I have a dog all right.  He’ll be delighted to know the camera is fixed.


Postman Brings Pluggy-Inny Things, Gets Savaged By Dog


What the fuck is that?

Kill, growls the Hound of Satan.   Fucking Kill!


All right, all right, all right.  Jesus Christ, give me a minute.

I get to the door and whoever it was is gone, but the Hound of Satan is on the trail and streaks past me in a flying ball  of spit and brimstone, trailing a Doppler-shifted snarl as he makes straight for the postman’s moving van and sinks his fangs into the rear wheel.  Rotating Hound of Satan.

Jesus, howya John.  Sorry I didn’t hear you knocking sooner.

No bother Bock, says cheery smiling John Postman.

Snarl!! threatens the Hound, but John the Postman only laughs.

He might bite you, John, I warn.

Not a bit of it, laughs John the Postman.  I have a few of these fellas meself at home. And he waves a bunch of letters the Hound.  Haven’t I?  Yes I have.

The Hound snatches the bunch of letters out of his hand and runs away with them, spitting out bits of chewed paper into the pissing rain while snarling threats over his shoulder.  You have nothing like me, Motherfucker!

John is the coolest postman I have ever known.  Here Bock, he says.  It’s a box of something from somewhere.

I know what it is, I tell him.  It’s that clever pair of plug-in things that I got from the internet at a quarter the Price Currys were asking in their half-price sale, the thieving bastards with bad after-sales service.  And other shit.  Bastards.

netgear powerline

No way!! John celebrates.  Does this mean you’l be able to surf the web in your north-tower eyrie from now on?

Sure does, John, but what about your letters?

Oh, yeah.  Right, he agrees.  My letters.

So we pick up the sodden, saliva-riddled pieces of former documents, bills, billets-doux, summonses and poison-pen threats.

John is very gracious about it.   Not to worry, he says.

I awkwardly proffer the bottle of wine I’ve been holding.  Happy Christmas, John.  You’re a good postman.

He seems taken aback.  Jesus, Bock.  Eh, thanks.

Enjoy it, I tell him.

Damn fucking right I will, he says.

Grrrrrr, says the Hound.

Grrrrr, says John, and the Hound slinks away, defeated.


Smartphones for the Stupid

I got one of these incredibly smart phones the other day.  An unbelievably smart phone, but not smart in a neat-slacks-and-jacket sort of way or a tidy-haircut way, or even a well-turned-out sort of way.   No indeed.  My new Galaxy S4 can achieve things that are currently beyond the power of the Illuminati, Starfleet Command, Bruce Lee and the Ancients all put together, or so I’m led to understand by my children.

galaxy s4

Old!, they mock when I mutter curses at my new smart phone, or ask them how to get rid of the silly screen saver, and yet, my children conveniently overlook my oldness when they want something complicated fixed on their laptops, a glitch beyond their callow knowledge, something that only a member of my Guild might perhaps fettle.  I’m not old when they need to recover lost data from that crashed hard drive, or when they can’t get Wi-Fi on their netbooks.  I’m not old when a picture needs to be Photoshopped.  I’m not old when a car won’t start.

But how easy it is to mock the elderly when a phone is involved.  I don’t do phones.  I just don’t.  I never did and what’s more, I have no idea why I acquired the world’s most advanced smart phone, since I have not the slightest possibility  of using its full powers.

What do I like about it?

I like its large screen.  I like the fact that it’s big enough for normal adult fingers to type on.  I like the fact that it works as a, well, as a phone.  And that it sends texts and that I can get on the internet with it.  All of that is pretty good with me.

Do I need it to read bar-codes?  Probably not.  Do I need it to check the horizontality of my snooker table?  No, that’s ok, thanks.

Do I need it to be a camera?  Yeah, it’s fine for snaps, but when I want real pictures, I’ll use a real camera.

Do I want it to follow my eyes as I read the screen?  Yes.  About as much as I want it to wake up a warehouse full of robots and take over the Earth.  And I don’t want it watching for hand gestures, facial tics or involuntary sneers.  It’s a machine and I like my machines to be stupid, please, just like me.  I do not want an oblong sentient being living in my pocket — especially not one that’s plugged into a cyber-hive-mind and might just conspire with all its clones to subvert whatever independent existence I have left.  I don’t want my phone to be a character from Battlestar Galactica.

Do I need something that can remotely pilot a drone into Afghanistan and wipe out a village?

I want it to be a phone, and if you’ll forgive the mixed simile, we are not yet Borg.

In a few years, perhaps four or five, will this thing we have in our pockets, uncomfortably close to our vital parts, still be a phone?  What is a phone, even?  Will the law have to be rewritten to prosecute people driving while holding a computer, and does that small word even do justice to the power of the thing we carry around with us?

I don’t think so.  I think the old-fashioned concept of a phone will disappear before long and we’ll be left with a gadget that we use for voice communication as a trivial by-product of its many formidable capabilities.

The yardstick for computing power used to be NASA.  How much more computing power does your washer-dryer have than the machines that calculated the moon landing? Could your cigarette lighter send a man to Mars?

The test for storage in the old days was always scriptural.  This little piece of plastic could hold three hundred copies of the Bible.

Yeah.  Right.  I have a thing in my pocket, the size of half a cigarette, that can store a thousand times as much data as my first desktop computer.  It cost about five euros and if I lose it I’ll just buy another one.  Megabibles.  Gigabibles.  Terabibles.  The new scriptural measure of digital storage.

Do I need a computer in my pocket that’s more powerful than NASA, the KGB and Sauron all sitting down together and agreeing to be clever together?

Smarter than a Jack Russell?  Meaner than a junkyard dog?

What I want is a phone with a big, clear screen.  It needs to do the following: make and take phone calls, make and take text messages, show me the internet.

It does not need to be a camera, a hammer, an assault rifle, an inflatable boat or a frying pan.

That’s it.  Everything else is mission creep.




The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay

I always liked this piece of doggerel, though I’d hesitate to call it a poem.  It was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes a century and a half ago,and it gently lampoons the notion of “lifing”.  This Victorian physician might well be the man who invented planned obsolescence.

Next time your flat-screen TV ups and dies for no reason, remember, Oliver Wendell Holmes warned us about it back in 1858, seven years before the assassination of Lincoln.


one hoss shay


The Deacon’s Masterpiece

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it — ah, but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, —
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
Georgius Secundus was then alive, —
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock’s army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, —
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, — lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will, —
Above or below, or within or without, —
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou”)
He would build one shay to beat the taown
‘N’ the keounty ‘n’ all the kentry raoun’;
It should be so built that it could n’ break daown:
“Fur,” said the Deacon, “‘t ‘s mighty plain
Thut the weakes’ place mus’ stan’ the strain;
‘N’ the way t’ fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T’ make that place uz strong uz the rest.”

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That could n’t be split nor bent nor broke, —
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees,
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the “Settler’s ellum,” —
Last of its timber, — they could n’t sell ’em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he “put her through.”
“There!” said the Deacon, “naow she’ll dew!”

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren — where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; — it came and found
The Deacon’s masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten; —
“Hahnsum kerridge” they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came; —
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundreth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. — You’re welcome. — No extra charge.)

FIRST OF NOVEMBER, — the Earthquake-day, —
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There could n’t be, — for the Deacon’s art
Had made it so like in every part
That there was n’t a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And the back crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, ‘Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
“Huddup!” said the parson. — Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday’s text, —
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the — Moses — was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, —
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet’n-house clock, —
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!
What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, —
All at once, and nothing first, —
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.


Favourites Technology

How Consultancy Works

Here’s how consultancy works if you happen to be a government agency or a large private-sector company with bad control of your finances.



Phase I – Preparation

First you have The Idea  about setting up  a system to manage all your information.

Then you set up an internal ad-hoc group to develop the idea.   None of these people should know the first thing about technology, but you should make sure they’re all on expenses.

After that, arrange regular meetings to discuss progress, ideally several hundred miles from your head office.

On no account should you hire an experienced professional to advise at this stage.  Instead, you need to consult widely, among other people who know nothing about technology.  The best place to find this level of ignorance is in senior management.

You should hold a two-day seminar in an expensive spa resort and gauge feedback.  Make sure to set up focus groups, working parties and task forces.  And a golf outing.

Eventually, the person who first thought of the idea will write up a request for proposals.

Next, make sure that the person who approves the expenses gets credit for the idea.

Appoint a consultant.  Agree fees for final delivery and hourly rates.

Go back to the expensive spa resort for the consultant’s presentation.

The consultant will provide a list of technical buzz-phrases.  Write these down for future regurgitation at management meetings.  Repeat them at every opportunity.

Vitally Important!!!  Believe everything the consultant tells you.


Phase II – Implementation

Create an implementation team.  Ideally, the team will consist of staff members who know absolutely nothing about the technology.

Pay consultant to train the implementation team at €12,000 per day.

Pay consultant to produce implementation manual.

Once implementation team is trained, agree deadlines for delivery.  Agree payments to consultant for team’s  failure to meet delivery deadlines.


Phase III – Slippage

Implementation team fails to understand consultant’s manual.

Project falls behind.

Consultant supplies support staff at €12,000 per day to help client meet deadline.


Phase III – Realisation

Project fails to meet specification.

Search for scapegoats begins.

Consultant in the clear thanks to to well-constructed contract and failure of implementation team to meet deadlines.

Senior management in the clear thanks to specialised nature of project.


Phase IV – Retribution

Blame the person who had the idea in the first place.


Phase V — Official launch.  

Book an expensive spa resort.

Invite the media.

Set up an internal ad-hoc group to promote the initiative.

None of these people should know the first thing about public relations or technology, but you should make sure they’re all on expenses.


Phase VI — Abandoning the Plan

Quietly walk away from all mention of this idea.

Lose the files.

Declare it a great success.

Wait several years and then put it in your CV.


Phase VII– Closing it Out

Consultant moves on to next corporate client.

You join senior management.

Favourites Technology

New Tourism Ireland Website Cost €3 Million

Tourism Ireland’s new website was designed by Hugo and Cata creative agency for a digital world.

At first glance it appears that the cat did most of the work, and a very well paid cat he is indeed, while Hugo did most of the talking.  But what a talker Hugo is,  persuading the Tourism Ireland management that a website should cost €2.5 million to design and build.

How appropriate for this pantomime.

Hugo and Cat

Let’s say the cat is on a hundred grand a year, which is good money by any standards in a time of austerity, especially when all you need to survive is the odd fish-bone.  This means that the moggy needed to spend 25 years working on the project, which, you’ll agree, uses up quite a few of his lives.

Two and a half million buckaroonies for a website isn’t chickenfeed. but hold on.  A man like Hugo would have no ordinary cat.  Any feline in his world would be the very cream of cat programmers, so let’s say he’s on a grand a day, because he’s worth it.   That means he spent 2,500 days developing this website.  Giving him weekends off to prowl the rooftops flashing the dosh at the lady cats — Loadsamoney!! — he still spent a full ten years on the job.  That must be a hell of a website, wouldn’t you think?

Well, yes, you would think so, but you’d be wrong.  This is the most confused, ill-functioning website you might ever have seen.  It starts nowhere and it goes nowhere.  It looks like somebody stole it and crashed it into a wall.   My dog has had better dinners.

If there’s a wrong way to do it, a right way to screw it up, nobody does it like us, and so, in their wisdom, the authorities awarded the contract to a London-based firm, rather than a local developer, even though their tender was not the lowest.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a firm simply because it’s based in London, but since there’s no shortage of developers in Ireland, it seems surprising that Tourism Ireland couldn’t find a single one that came within a whisker of Hugo and his feline friend.  Nobody was up to scratch.


Of course, the formidable managerial intellects at Tourism Ireland weren’t satisfied with spending the two and a half million on Hugo’s cat.  They also decided that they should buy the domain name from the Irish Times for half a million euros.

For some reason, they felt it was better to have an American domain representing Ireland than our own .ie extension.


I don’t know.  This doesn’t seem like a decision based on professional advice, but of course, as usual, I might be wrong.  I’d be very interested to hear what professional advice they had when they drew up the request for proposals.  Were any web professionals involved in preparing the tender documents?  What factors persuaded Tourism Ireland to award the contract to a company whose tender was not the lowest?  What personnel prepared the detailed specification ?  Did any external consultants assist in completion of the specification?  Did any external consultants assist in evaluation of the completed design to ensure compliance with the brief?  If so, who did these consultants work for?

So many questions.

One question has finally been answered, of course.

We now know that a cat can most certainly laugh.

laughing cat