Eye Candy – Timelapse That Out Time-lapsed Everyone

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Keith Loutit has been here before with his equally epic time-lapse filmed in Singapore called The Lion City. But he has gone and out done himself once more with his latest creation The Lion City II – Majulah. Filmed over a period of years, returning to the same location and camera position to see and show how cityiscapes transform before our eyes, albeit somewhat invisibly, his is a time-lapse to put all other time-lapse’s to bed! It’s pure eye candy.

Player Two – Grab The Kleenex

Player TwoI’m not one for video games. Loved playing them with my younger brother when I was a kid, but somehow I grew up and fell out of love with them. My love loss was further compounded years later when my 9 year-old nephew kicked my ass playing Call of Duty (I swear to this day that I still didn’t see what I was supposed to be shooting at!!).

But I am soon to become a father for the very first time. So my tendancy for sentimentality has been slowly on the increase these past few months. That’s probably why I really like this advert for Microsoft’s Xbox. I’m not at all expert enought to espouse the pro’s and con’s of one system versus another. I just liked the story behind the ad and the heart strings it was tugging on me when I watch it.

Apparently (I saw “apparently, because it could be true, or it could have been planted by an ad-man) a user on a forum posted a message about how he missed playing with his Dad, who had sadly passed away. He found an old Xbox in the garage and found the ghost of his Dad on one of their favourite games.

It’s a simple but heart warming ad, and if you have any remnants of a soul, thenI defy you to not have a little lump in your throat after you’ve watched this.

Russian Airport Security – A Myth

vnukovo-airport-at-nightI’ve written several times before already about how security at Russian airports is a joke. Like all things Russian, it is a Potemkin village designed to provide the proletariat with the illusion that the State has their best interest at heart and takes their lives and well-being seriously.

So imagine my feigned surprise when I read this morning of the story about an unaccompanied 11-year-old girl who managed to slip through security checks at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and then managed to board a flight to St. Petersburg without a ticket or ID. There are so many failures here, not just with the airport security, but also with the airline itself.

According to the newsru.com website, the unnamed girl said that she had never flown by plane before and decided to go to Vnukovo after school where she mingled with crowds, slipped passed the security checks (see the security video footage below) and managed to get on-board a plane. As she boarded the Rossiya Airlines plane, the girl said she told the flight attendant she was travelling alone but was never asked by cabin crew to present any travel documents.

It is a sad but undeniable truth that Russia has for many years fabricated the illusion to its own citizens that it is both security concious and mindful of potential security issues, particularly in the wake of dozens of bombings and targeted attacks in Russian in recent years. The reality though is very different. This perceived blanket of security is non-existent. Security checks across Russia’s transport infrastructure are either never performed, or if they are, they’re done in a perfunctory and cursory fashion by a person who earns a pittance in salary and simply can’t be arsed to do their job professionally or properly.

Take for example the metal detector when entering the Airport Express train station. Every time ANYONE goes through it, the detector is set-off, but the security guards wave you through. The same is said of the security screening at the airport entrances. Sure, they have large x-ray machines scanning my bags before I even get through to the check-in hall. But 99% of the time the staff are chatting amongst each other barely glancing at the screen to see what’s inside passenger’s bags. It’s a joke! And don’t event get me started on the kid they employ whose sole function in life is to stamp my boarding pass before immigration!

Given the continued spate of bombings that have taken place at a variety of Russian airports and train/metro stations, you would think that if anywhere, Russia would take the idea of airport security seriously. That being said, it’s also not above the Russian security services to manipulate and manufacture “terrorist” attacks as was demonstrated with the apartment bombings in the September of 1999. Here it was proven that the FSB, in an effort to justify a war in Chechnya, and thus facilitate the apparatchik and military establishment to steal left right and centre under the guise of a civil war as well as enabling a newly installed Putin to demonstrate his hard-man image to the Russian proletariat.

Of course, the easiest way to resolve such issues is to assign blame. And it’s absolutely normal in Putin’s Russia that the blame rests, not with the state, but in this instance the parents of this little girl and the airport and airline whom she managed to slip past on on to said airplane. I have a hard time trying to understand why the parents should be blamed. Sure, an 11-year-old should have come straight home from school. But looking back to when I was that age, it was perfectly normal to go to and from school by oneself without the need to be chaperoned by your parents. No doubt her parents were worried sick when she hadn’t arrived home. Slapping them with a fine is just another way for Putin’s government to avoid criticism for a failure on the government’s part i.e. to provide fit-for-purpose state services by competently trained staff and properly organised institutions.

The longer I deal with Russia, the more Kafkaesque the country becomes over time.

KLM Airlines – When An Upgrade Is Really A Downgrade

KLM Seat Map KLM Seat PitchFor those of us who fly frequently for work or business, there seem to be fewer and fewer perks afforded these days to frequent flyers these days. The entire experience of business travel is often a stressful and soul destroying one, fraught with long queues at the security, lost passengers, cancelled/delayed flights and very little in the way of edible food or on board perks once you get on board your flight. And with airlines these days maximising load factors with flights nearing full capacity by way of selling more Economy seats and having fewer Business Class seats, the days of a freebie upgrade have all but diminished.

So imagine the joy experienced by one KLM passenger who was told he was being upgraded on a flight from Prague to Amsterdam, only to have that jubilant feeling dashed immediately when he was told by the ground crew that although he was being bumped up to Business Class, he wasn’t allowed to avail of the creature comforts everyone else was to enjoy near the pointy end of the flight. WHAT?!

This is what happened to a passenger who wrote about his experience in a complaint to KLM. KLM’s new preferred method of dealing with customer queries, compliments and complaints is via their Facebook and Twitter social media tools. Given the very public nature of social media, it means that the airline’s dirty laundry is aired in public for all and sundry to see, and this one makes for interesting reading.

I managed to reach out to the passenger in question to find out more. It turns that on his return flight back to Amsterdam, he was told he was being “upgraded”. BUT, he was told he wouldn’t be served a business class meal and wouldn’t be getting the frequent flyer points either. To make matters worse, when he was nearing the plane, it was only then that he realised that his preferred seat – which was a window seat in the Economy Comfort section in KLM’s premium economy cabin – was substituted for an aisle seat. Not only that, but the aircraft in question has no difference in seat pitch or seat comfort between the Business Class and the Economy Comfort. So he was effectively moved from a seat he paid extra for to a seat he didn’t want and has clearly stated in his passenger profile on KLM’s frequent flyer programme that he doesn’t like.

But wait, it gets better. Because whilst he knew he wasn’t getting a Business Class meal, the cabin crew made doubly sure that both he AND his fellow passengers knew that he was “upgraded” by way on blabbing out loud to him during the cabin service that he was only entitled to an economy meal. It was at this stage, he explained, that he reached boiling point, because in his eyes, he had not been “upgraded”, despite the ground staff and cabin crew repeatedly using that phrase to him. If anything, he explained, he had received a “seat reassignment”.

When he arrived home, he wrote a complaint to KLM, expecting the airline to acknowledge the error of their ways, and offer up a remedy or token of apology, but their responses only further served to rankle him. His biggest frustration, he emailed to me, was that the airline continued to reply scripted responses feigning platitudes of insipid and insincere apologies over his experience during the flight, and never once offering anything at all to make-up for the fact that his “upgrade” wasn’t an “upgrade”, but rather a “downgrade”.

In his original opening complaint, he wrote to KLM explaining the dictionary definition of an upgrade, i.e. the definition of an upgrade is “an occurrence in which one thing is replaced by something better, newer, more valuable, etc”, and further explaining that being moved from a preferred seat, to a worse location AND not being treated the same as your fellow passengers in Business Class does not, by definition, meet the criteria of an “upgrade” and therefore should not be referred to as such. It’s hard to disagree with the man.

From their replies (see the attached conversation), however, it’s pretty self evident that the customer services people either didn’t understand his point, didn’t care about his point, or weren’t empowered/inclined to do something to make it up to him. Even when he pointed out to KLM that Business Class is not just a seat, it’s a service – a selling point that the likes of Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Emirates, Virgin and Cathay capitalise on – the airline failed to acknowledge the issue.

I know many of you will look at this and think it’s another one of these “First World Problems”. That it’s merely someone being difficult. However, there is a valid point to his argument, which is that if an airline sells the concept of a frequent flyer programme to customers, with one of those benefits being upgrades and preferential treatment for it’s most revered passengers. When they treat that loyal customer like a second class citizen, that same passenger who has helped keep that airline in business, then maybe it’s time to start thinking about flying with someone else.

The differences in customer service, quality of product offerings on-board with Asian/Middle Eastern airlines versus European Flag Carriers and US airlines has long been discussed in travel forums across the internet. Everyone knows that the Gold Standard of in-flight service and customer service on the ground is held by the likes of Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates Airlines.It’s the principle concept of good customer service in any business and in any industry, and these three lead the way. And they have proven that if you treat your customers well, they will come back time and again. But treat them with contempt and you’ve lost not just one, but perhaps hundreds of potential customers, new and old. A lesson KLM’s latest financials would suggest that they cannot afford to ignore.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, KLM will do regarding this issue. They had made noises about offering our weary traveller a “surprise” on his next flight. But it appears that doing their “utmost” meant doing nothing at all. It’s one thing to ignore and shrug off a complaint, it’s quite another to promise you’ll resolve it, and then break that same promise. My guess is that this wasn’t the first passenger KLM have done this to, and it will most likely not be the last. And scripted false apologies on Facebook are also not the way to handle such things either. But if you, like me, travel a lot for business, you might might find yourself also getting a “downgrade” soon.

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Denis O’Brien Might Try To Silence The Government, But He Won’t Silence Me

Denis O'Brien Catherine Murphy TDThere’s a concept known as “Parliamentary Privilege“, used in both the British and Irish Houses of Parliament, which grants members of both houses legal immunity and protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties. It allows members to speak freely during ordinary parliamentary proceedings without fear of legal action on the grounds of slander or contempt of court.

This allows Members to raise questions or debate issues which could slander an individual, interfere with an ongoing court case or threaten to reveal state secrets, and plays a perfectly useful and legitimate purpose in a democracy, when legislators are elected in order to govern in the best interests of the electorate who chose them.

However, Irish billionaire Mr. Denis O’Brien would have you think otherwise. In fact, his opinion on the matter is so strong that he has actually gone to court and successfully sought an injunction to gag the Irish press from reporting what an elected Irish parliamentarian said during a session of the Dáil about Mr. O’Brien.

Unlike corrupt dictatorships such as Russia, Azerbaijan or Syria, for example, Ireland’s press supposedly enjoy the legal right to print, publish or broadcast a story without the molestation of the Irish government, or anyone else for that matter, especially if it simply reprinting what was said during a session of the Oireachtas.

What has Mr. O’Brien so scared? Well, it’s really very simple. Ms Catherine Murphy TD, is an Independent TD for Kildare North. She outlined a series of revelations in the Dáil on May 28th, which concerned alleged preferential treatment given to Mr. O’Brien by IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

The claims emerged as Ms Murphy introduced a bill to permit the Comptroller and Auditor General to investigate the sale of Siteserv to Mr O’Brien and other IBRC transactions.

Her speech to the members of the Dáil was as follows;

“This bill extends the functions and powers, or seeks to extend the functions and powers of the C & AG [Comptroller and Auditor General] to cover IBRC. It was the Taoiseach that first suggested that the C & AG review the Siteserv sale’s process and it was then pointed out to him that IBRC does not come within his remit.”

“With this Bill, I’m attempting to address that problem by broadening the remit of the C & AG. The reason I’m anticipating the need to involve the C & AG, if not a full Commission of Investigation, which may well be a better option, is because I believe the Government have got this badly wrong, not least because most of the key players in the Siteserv saga have links with KPMG and its eventual purchaser and vice versa, is a web of connections and conflicts, that requires outside eyes to unravel.

I have no doubt that the special liquidator [Kieran Wallace] is more than capable of doing such a review but his direct involvement in the sale process, and his relationship with the eventual purchaser of Siteserv, and his current actions in the High Court, in supporting Mr O’Brien versus RTE, place him in a position where there is, at the very least, a perceived conflict of interest, if not an actual conflict of interest.

The review is not confined to Siteserv but it is the transaction that prompted a review. I would worry about the transactions that have been excluded from the review, given that what we now know, that in the final months before prom night, the relationship between the department and IBRC had completely broken down.

“If deals were being done without the knowledge or input of the minister then we need to know what they were. We are now aware for example that the former CEO of IBRC made verbal agreements with Denis O’Brien to allow him to extend the terms of his already expired loans.

We also know that the verbal agreement was never escalated to the credit committee for approval. I’m led to believe, and I would welcome the minister clarifying, the rates applicable at this time, that the extension also attracted some extremely favourable interest terms.

I understand that Mr O’Brien was enjoying a rate of around 1.25%, when IBRC, and arguably, when IBRC could, and arguably should have been charging 7.5%. We are talking about outstanding sums here that are upwards of €500 million. The interest rate applied is not an insignificant issue for the public interest.

We also know that Denis O’Brien felt confident enough, in his dealings with IBRC that he could write to Kieran Wallace, as the special liquidator and demand that the same favourable terms extended to him by way of a verbal agreement could be continued.

We now have Kieran Wallace, who’s been appointed by the Government to conduct a review into the IBRC review, actually joining with IBRC and Denis O’Brien in the High Court and seeking to injunct the information I’ve outlined from coming into the public domain – surely that alone represents a conflict.

In FOI documents released to me, the minister, his officials and the Central Bank and even the Troika acknowledge that IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank, is no ordinary bank and there’s a significant public interest because the bank had been fully nationalised and was in wind-down mode.

They all accept that this is the people’s money that we’re dealing with and that there can be no dispute regarding the public interest in this. The same FOI materials detail incidences where the minister can specifically intervene, and issue an ministerial order that material matters have significant interest. Included in these material matters are incidences that are outside the ordinary course of business.

I would argue that what I’ve outlined out here regarding verbal deals, extensions, etc, are outside the normal course of business and I would ask the minister to exercise his right to intervene in the current proceedings and defend the public interest.

“I’ve a motion on the order papers, signed by the majority of the Opposition – 45 members have signed it and more are welcome to – calling for a debate into the proposed review. When I tried to raise it on the order of business, I was silenced and I was told to take it up with my Whip. I am the Whip of the Technical Group and I did raise it at the weekly Whip’s meeting.

The Government Chief Whip told me that they would not be altering the KPMG review, the Government would not be giving time to debate this issue and suggested that we use Private Members’ time.

It’s not just an Opposition issue, minister. This is an issue for all in this house. It’s an issue of serious public concern where there is public money involved and I know, if you got your hands on maybe an extra €20 million, I don’t think you’d have to think too hard on how to spend that money. I urge the Government to reconsider this and give the Bill and the motion the time they deserve. I believe this is in the public interest. Thank you.”

Mr. O’Brien, who is said to be worth about €7bn, is considered Ireland’s richest man with widespread interests, including mobile phones, oil and aircraft leasing. He lives in Malta for tax purposes. He had argued that even the rich and powerful had a right to privacy and that Murphy’s remarks were “materially inaccurate”, based on stolen information and made in breach of an earlier injunction he had got against RTÉ banning it from reporting details of his banking arrangements.

RTÉ, which had been independently investigating the telecoms and media tycoon, consulted its lawyers and did not broadcast details of Murphy’s speech as it feared they could have been in breach of the O’Brien injunction granted 10 days previous. It was imposed despite RTÉ contending that press freedom, public interest and legitimate journalistic inquiry should be paramount.

The Irish Times initially reported the remarks online but then removed its article following a letter from O’Brien’s lawyers.

Even the former Attorney General, Michael McDowell, has said it is “absurd” to tell media outlets they can’t report on the speech given by independent TD Catherine Murphy in the Dáil .

“We now also have the ridiculous situation in which O’Brien’s spokesman uses the airwaves to condemn Deputy Murphy for ‘peddling lies’ in the Dáil but listeners are not told what her allegation is,” said McDowell.

It should also be noted that Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in Ireland’s Independent News and Media Group, which owns The Irish Independent newspaper. It also publishes the Irish Daily Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday World, Dublin’s Evening Herald and a raft of other regional titles north and south of the border.

The Irish Independent, which is controlled by Mr. O’Brien, is Ireland’s best-selling daily newspaper. They are quoted as saying that “Mr O’Brien successfully stopped RTÉ from broadcasting the details which Ms Murphy raised in the Dáil”.

Mr. O’Brien is big in radio too, through his Communicorp group which owns two major national stations, Newstalk and Today FM, plus three regional stations.

So, the owner of the large majority of Ireland’s media outlets is using an injunction to prevent reports on his affairs appearing in the rest of the media he doesn’t control. Sounds like something one would expect from the likes of Vladimir Putin!

The fear he wields through his high priced lawyers has now prevented the Irish media from reporting even privileged Dáil speech, and it shows how dangerous the extent of the O’Brien empire is for Irish media and society in general. Mr O’Brien may justifiably claim a right to reputation, but the right of the press to report parliamentary proceedings is paramount in a functioning democracy.

I’m really beginning to think that O’Brien is Ireland’s equivalent to a dictator. His latest bid to gag the rest of the Irish media he doesn’t already own is something you might expect from the likes of Putin, Assad or China’s Xi Jinping.

This is Ireland for fuck sake. The country that showed the world only a fortnight ago that we stand for equality. That equality also extends to a free press and the freedom of speech!

Clearly, there are questions to ask about the press freedom implications due to Ireland’s lack of media plurality and diversity. Given that this is hosted outside the Irish Republic, written by someone outside of Ireland, I’m going to enjoy the letter his lawyers send to me. I think I’ll file it under “garbage” 😉

Living The Dream….In 28ft

Canadian, David Welsford, doesn’t pay rent, nor does he have to battle traffic each morning on his way to work. He doesn’t even have a full time job. Instead, he’s living his dream on board a 50-year-old wooden boat he restored, called “Lizzy Belle”.

She was built in Novo Scotia, and when David saw her, rotting away on a wharf in Bridgewater, NS, it was love at first sight. The restoration was a labour of love. That was a few years ago, and it was then that he decided to take her out onto the open ocean, give up the luxuries of life on dry-land and trade it in for a life alone on the sea. “For me, what’s more important than having a big house is having a space that makes me feel good,” he says.

This short documentary, filmed by his friend Kevin Fraser, explores David’s unique maritime lifestyle, the sacrifices he’s made and challenges he faces – from putting food on the table and filling his tummy each day, to the loneliness he sometimes experiences or the lack of a romantic relationship with whom he can share his experiences.

“There’s always a way to make money. There’s always a way to live,” he explains. “If I have enough to go and have a beer and I have enough to go to the grocery store, if I can put enough diesel in the tanks of the boat, then I think I’m one of the richest people in the world.”

This is one man’s idea of living the dream. But the message is simple. Do what ever makes you happy. We only get one life, so let’s make sure we live it.

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Eye Candy – Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta

This short time-lapse, produced by Roadtrippers, is a beautiful and vibrant introduction to the nine-day International Balloon Fiesta event held every October in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Every year, the city’s skies are filled with hundreds of hot-air balloons, all shapes and sizes. Launching into the sky at all hours of the day — many taking flight just before sunrise — the spectacle creates a sight and experience which is unique in the ballooning calendar.

Hat-tip to Amber for sharing

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