Passes an essential poet

The Marketing Society Christmas Lunch had some top notch guest speakers through the years. Dara Ó Briain was a big hit. Mario Rosenstock had us rolling laughing in our chairs, but none of them came close, not within furlongs, of the quality that was Brendan Kennelly.

Through the medium of poetry he took us to great heights and dropped us to despair faster than a rollercoaster. He rolled us from hot to cold and back again, made us laugh and weep. He did this using poems from ancient and modern times, all memorized in that brilliant brain and delivered in a natural and friendly manner as though each one of us was his best friend out for a pint in the local.

I count it a triumph that I heard him speak in person. Sadly today he has been taken from us and at last he can answer his own question because he is in a place which he knows now more than any of us alive today. He leaves us with a garden complete and filled with delights. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis.

A Half-finished Garden; by Brendan Kennelly

Because her days were making a garden
she haunted that particular beach
drawing rocks, sticks, shells and stones,
random-pitched sea-gifts, over the years,
bog-oak, sculpted and twisted,
she lugged from the beach up to the garden
that was half-finished when she had to leave it
to go to a place of which I know nothing.

Here is the picture (I have nothing but pictures),
the sea helpless to govern its giving
through rumble and slither, bang, roar and hiss,
a house on a cliff-top with staring blue windows
and, work of the dead to pleasure the living,
a half-finished garden, epitaph, promise.

Marconi in Ireland

On this day, Oct 17th, in 1907 the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company began Transatlantic Broadcasting to Glace Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada from Clifden in Co. Galway on the West of Ireland.

It was not the first time Ireland was at the bleeding edge of communications technology. In 1863 two Prussians; Julius Reuter and William Siemens created the South-Western of Ireland Telegraph Company. They constructed a sixty mile line from Cork City to Crookhaven, an isolated tiny village in West Cork. Their idea was to link with the London Stock exchange via telegraph. At the last moment they could send messages from the London Stock Market via telegraph all the way to Crookhaven. There a small pilot boat would shoot out to sea with a box of messages and pass them up to an Ocean going steamer. Whoever received that information at the other end, again via an isolated pilot boat, had an advantage on the New York market.

The plan worked in the other direction. London brokers could make buy and sell decisions based on advanced information from the New York Stock Exchange long before the steamer docked in Southampton.

Were Messers Reuter and Siemens successful? You bet they were! The modern Reuters and Siemens companies were founded on that success.

The British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company built their own line from Cork City to Skibbereen, and out through Baltimore to Cape Clear Island. This gave them a jumping off point even closer to the liners.

This was followed by London & South of Ireland Direct Telegraph Company and the Universal Private Telegraph Company, from Queenstown, now Cobh in Cork. They piggybacked on the already constructed telegraph lines. West Cork was a hive of activity and fortunes were made by access to this information.

In the North of Ireland another cable was run out to Greencastle from Derry to catch the liners coming round the top bound for Scottish ports or Liverpool.

Eventually all these enterprises were replaced by undersea cables that spanned the Atlantic Valentia Island in County Kerry being the anchor for one end.

With the arrival of Marconi in 1907 there was a new way to communicate, Wireless. Marconi and Wireless became synonymous terms in Ireland of the 1950s and 60s.

Following the Second World War the nations of the world were rebuilding their shipping fleets. The Marconi Company was highly aggressive in market expansion. They provided signaling equipment for free to many fleets to establish themselves as the market leader in wireless operations. To operate the equipment they needed radio officers.

Ireland, for some reason, was a centre of excellence for Marconi recruitment. I read a hilarious article many years ago in the Irish Times about the recruitment pitch made by a Marconi recruiter in Kevin’s Street College of Science and Technology (now part of T.U. Dublin). On a dark, rainy day in Ireland the flamboyant recruiter waxed lyrical about the advantages of travelling the world with Marconi.

The leaflet above gives a sense of his start point, a smartly dressed navy officer operating complex radio equipment. Well paid for sure, but then the recruiter painted an even better picture.

First he spoke about how both the alcohol and tobacco were duty free. It was practically given away for free on board the ship. And while on board you did not spend your money. So you arrived in port with pockets full of cash, in countries where that cash went very far. Hot countries with blue skies and warm sun and beautiful girls. Sun so warm that those bright eyed, dark haired brown skinned girls wore hardly any clothes.

“All you need to do” he said, “is pass your exams”.

In the sexually repressed and impoverished Holy Catholic Ireland of the day he was preaching to the choir. One third of seagoing Marconi staff in the 1960s were Irish.

Radio Poem; by Berthold Brecht

You little box, held to me escaping
so that your valves should not break
carried from house to house to ship from sail to train,
so that my enemies might go on talking to me,
near my bed, to my pain
the last thing at night, the first thing in the morning,
of their victories and of my cares,
promise me not to go silent all of a sudden.

Happy Birthday Virgil

Publius Vergilius Maro was born in Italy on Oct 15th 70BCE. He became a Roman in the year 49 when Julius Caesar expanded citizenship north of the Po river. His family then lost their land after the second civil war, displaced to make room for the Veterans of the armies of Octavian/Augustus.

Octavian subsequently became a Patron to Virgil, who went on to create the Julian Family myth and the Epic of Imperial Rome: The Aeneid, telling how Aeneas fled from the burning ruins of Troy to Italy where he was instrumental to the foundation of Rome.

Excerpt from 3rd Georgic; by Virgil (Trans. John Dryden)

Thus every Creature, and of every kind,
the secret joys of sweet coition find,
not only man’s imperial race; but they
that wing the liquid air, or swim the sea,
or haunt the desert, rush into the flame.

For Love is Lord of all; and is in all the same.
’Tis with this rage, the mother lion stung,
scours over the plain; regardless of her young:
demanding rites of love, she sternly stalks;
and hunts her lover in his lonely walks.

’Tis then the shapeless bear his den forsakes;
in woods and fields a wild destruction makes.
Boars whet their tusks; to battle tigers move;
enraged with hunger, more enraged with love.
Then woe to him, that in the desert Land
of Lybia travels, o’re the burning sand.
The stallion snuffs the well-known dcent afar;
and snorts and trembles for the distant mare:
nor bitts nor bridles, can his rage restrain;
and rugged rocks are interposed in vain.
He makes his way o’re mountains, and contemns
unruly torrents, and unfoorded streams.

The bristled boar, who feels the pleasing wound,
new grinds his arming tusks, and digs the ground.
The sleepy leacher shuts his little eyes;
about his churning chaps the frothy bubbles rise:
he rubs his sides against a tree; prepares
and hardens both his shoulders for the wars.

Darwinian Team Design

Agile organizations need a jailbreak process to release resources for Waterfall deliveries.

You are a manager in an agile organization. You have spent a lot of time and energy building the agile flow and everything is working beautifully. Your client requirements are created by your business analysis team, they flow smoothly into product design, they are reviewed by Architecture, they are passed effortlessly into development, are tested and released. Your backlog is cleared out gracefully like watching a well played game of Tetris (yes you can detect the sarcasm here).

This Utopian idyll is then ravaged by a terrible enemy. Your company purchases a third party system, it is probably a multi-tenanted SaaS solution for Risk management, or FIX routing, a BI system or a HR plugin. The third party project team descend upon your peaceful Shire mounted on a Waterfall dragon breathing fire which evaporates your delicate workstreams.

In particular you need to release QA test resources from Agile teams to test the new system. The purchase contract gives you a fixed and limited window in which to test – that fire breathing dragon is booked elsewhere next month.

How do you structure your Agile organization to cope with these incidents? This is an example of why we always need slack in the system. Staff take annual leave, parental leave, they get sick. They also get pulled out of their Agile team for other projects.

I frequently see two problems in real life project delivery: fully committed resources and over-specialized resources.

The fully committed resources have no built in system slack to take on work from outside their backlog. Commitments have been given to customers/clients on release dates and any deviation from the schedule has severe knock-on effects. It is a system designed for a Utopian Idyll that does not exist. Things change, priorities shift, sometimes you need to insert a piece of work. You need some wiggle room in the system to cope with fire-breathing dragons.

Over-specialized resources often go hand in hand with fully committed resources. You have a single agile team that knows the Finance System. They know everything about the finance system and that is pretty much all they do. They are brilliant at what they do. But when they are fully maxed out finance work cannot move. They are under pressure to work extra time to clear the backlog while the team beside them jog gently along with a backlog only 80% full.

Any student of Darwin knows that highly specialized species can collapse when there is a change in the environment. The Agile environment benefits from a Darwinian design. Build your teams to be capable adaptable generalists instead of making them best of breed specialists. Push work to them even though you know they will not deliver as elegant a solution as the specialist team. Move your specialized resources between teams.

I welcome your thoughts on this challenge.

€15 a pack

The Laffer curve is an economics graph which explains the impact of tax on revenue. Nowhere is this played out more clearly than in the Irish market for tobacco. When taxation is low incremental increases in tax are in the “region of increasing revenue”. If you put 50 cent on a pack of cigarettes the Revenue hoover up that 50 cent.

As the tax take rises you reach the revenue maximising point. Any further rises in tax push you into the “region of declining revenue”.

Anti-smoking activists like to celebrate this as winning the war on tobacco. The price becomes so high that smokers simply quit. In truth this is not what is happening. Yes people are smoking less, but this is mostly down to education around the damage smoking does to health. The tobacco industry fought a long and highly effective rearguard action to muddy the waters and delay the messages that smoking kills you.

More effective still was removing the allure of smoking which was created by some fantastic advertising through the years. Without the ads you lose the “cool” status of sucking burning tobacco smoke into your lungs.

In Ireland today there are 5 major players in the tobacco market; JTI, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and BAT. The 5th is the market share held by those who don’t pay tax. As the tax rate rises the benefits from smuggling become ever more attractive.

Some smuggling is small scale and opportunistic. Travelers returning from abroad stocking up on cigarette cartons and selling them to friends. Then there are travelers who regularly arrive with a full suitcase of product which is sold in black markets.

Larger scale smuggling involves moving product in scale. Entire sections of containers are filled with cases of counterfeit product. This is distributed via door to door deliveries in some towns and city communities. Car boot sales and flea markets are also used to distribute the product in bulk. The gangs use the techniques of drug dealers to move the product. You pay one person and a separate person brings you the goods, often a child, who will not face jail if caught.

At the top end of the market are players who build their own cigarette factories. They import bulk tobacco, mostly from China. They purchase the papers, filters, cellophane, packaging etc on the open market. They source industrial scale cigarette manufacturing equipment from engineering companies. In every respect except one they are fully commercial tobacco companies. That one issue is they don’t pay tax.

Smugglers and counterfeiters now hold either the largest or second largest share of the Irish tobacco market. Today the budget raises the legal price of a 20 pack to €15. The criminal gangs are celebrating.

Nihon Hood

Ishikawa Goemon is the Japanese Robin Hood. He is a famous Japanese hero who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. He is celebrated in art, theatre and in modern computer games. He was considered to be a master of Ninja fighting (ninjutsu) techniques with near superhero abilities. He had to flee for his life from his ninja school, but stole a legendary sword from his teacher.

Goemon set up his own band of “merry men” to rob from the wealthy lords, merchants and priests and redistribute the loot to the poor. His life is in the period portrayed by James Clavell in his novel “Shogun” which is set against the backdrop of the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu (Daimyo Toranaga in the novel) in a Japan ruled by the despotic Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

It was Goemon’s attempt to assassinate Hideyoshi that led to his undoing. Entering the sleeping chamber of the “Chief Advisor to the Emperor” the ninja brushed against an incence burner which fell on the floor waking everyone up.

Goemon was boiled to death in front of the main gate of Kyoto on this day in 1594. In some accounts his baby son was put into the bath with him and Goemon either saved the child by holding him out of the water, or held him until the water was boiling and killed him quickly and mercifully before succumbing himself.

Portrayed as a clever, mystical, warrior poet and a balancing force to corrupt autocratic power he very much occupies the place of Robin Hood in English folklore 400 years earlier.

As an aside Goemon is often associated in stories with other great ninjas of the day. The Tokugawa clan were protected by another famous ninja who supposedly trained with Goemon. If you have seen the Quentin Tarantino “Kill Bill” films you already know him as the maker of the best Katanas: Hattori Hanzo.


Oct 7th 1571 was a massively important day for the history of Europe and of naval warfare. In the gulf of Patras in Western Greece the undefeated Ottoman fleet met the combined fleets of the Holy League. On the Christian side Pope Pius V promoted the cause, Philip II of Spain was the banker and the Venetians supplied most of the galleys.

The victory at Lepanto signaled the end of Ottoman naval expansion in the Mediterranean. It frustrated Ottoman ambitions to provide naval support to their land armies in the Balkans. Ultimately this resulted in Christian success in holding Vienna and denying the Turks a route into central Europe. Lepanto marks the high water mark of Ottoman expansion. From here began the long slow decline of the mighty Turkish empire.

At the same time Lepanto was both the greatest and also the last clash of galley navies. Since the days of ancient Greece naval warfare in the Mediterranean was fought from oared vessels. After this battle the Galleon became the premier fighting platform. Advances in sail design, hull design, construction techniques and cannon technology rendered the galley obsolete. The ships of Spain and Portugal which were discovering sea routes to the Indies and the New World were the future of the Age of Sail.

If you doubt the importance of Lepanto simply run a search for paintings of the battle. It was a celebrated subject of art for centuries to come.

Greece; by Oscar Wilde

The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
burned like a heated opal through the air;
we hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
for the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
and all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
the ripple of the water on the side,

The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
the only sounds: -when ‘gan the West to burn,
and a red sun upon the seas to ride,
I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!

Equus October

In Ancient Rome the sporting season came to a climax each year on the Ides of October – Oct 15th – with the chariot races dedicated to Mars the God of War. This also marked the conclusion of the annual military season and the end of the farming year.

The Chariot races were the big draw in Rome. Most people today think the gladiatorial games of the Colosseum where the big attraction but they were a sideshow compared with the crowds in the hippodrome.

Rome had four Demes. These were more than just teams. They represented power in Rome. Their members were loyal to a fault and were happy to use their collective might to influence elections. Known by their colours they were the Whites, Reds, Blues and Greens. By the time of Justinian and the New Rome in Constantinople they had reduced to the Blues and Greens. It was they who almost destroyed the city in the Nika riots of 532 AD.

The October races dedicated to Mars were two horse chariot races, called Bigae. The right hand horse of the winning pair on the day was sacrificed to Mars. His head and tail then became central to a number of religious ceremonies. The head was displayed proudly in the Suburba of the winning Deme. The blood was used in Pariila the following April. Most sacrificial animals in ancient Rome were meat animals and their parts were feasted upon. The horse was unusual and to sacrifice the best horse of the year demonstrates the importance of the ritual.

A Letter in October ; by Ted Kooser

Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,

then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side — a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winter jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned

the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.

I rose sick.

I have read interpretations of the Sick Rose that posit the Rose to be life or love and the Worm to be decay. I say that Blake suffered from sinusitis. The “rose” represents the nasal passages. When a germ “the invisible worm” invades the tissues they become inflamed and red “crimson” and then you get the sore throat and headaches and the coughing and the chills and sweats and these do “thy life destroy”.

It does not actually destroy your life but at the time it feels like it. And I speak from a position of experience in the now. Moan, moan, moan….

The sinus is a fold, curve or bend. The word originates from ancient Rome and the practice of toga wearing. A fold of the toga hung over one arm and this fold was called the Sinus. It acted as a useful pocket in which to keep odds and ends; a speech for the Senate, a snack, an amulet to ward off invisible flying worms.

When you graduate with a bachelors degree your gown has no sleeves, but if you move to a masters degree the robe has these strange sleeves with slits for your hands to pass through. The ends of these sleeves are sewn shut and they are called sinuses. In the days when teachers wore gowns in school they often kept chalk and a duster in their sinus. If they confiscated contraband from schoolboys it would end up in that magical voluminous sleeve end.

The Sick Rose; by William Blake

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
that flies in the night
in the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
of crimson joy:
and his dark secret love
does thy life destroy.

Don’t Go

Golden Week in China kicks off on Friday Oct 1st with China National Day. The 7 day national holiday period results in some of the largest movements of people on the planet. Planes, trains and automobiles are all locked solid. City based workers try to get home for the holidays and everyone tries to visit a good tourist attraction.

As a European the image of the Great Wall of China above is my vision of the seventh level of tourist hell. I will avoid visiting China during this week in any year. As for this year in particular, with the Delta variant of the Covid-19 Virus in full swing it is the perfect week for transmission.

The best advice for this Golden Week is to stay at home in your own bubble. But this is very hard for those who are homesick. Homesickness is a strong theme in China, where family is so important. In my post Beauty of Form I talk about Li Bai’s Tang Era poem “Thoughts on a Still Night”.

Here is another Tang Era poem about homesickness.

秋夕貧居述懷 – 孟郊


Narrating My Troubles on an Autumn Evening in Poor Lodgings; by Meng Jiao

Bedded in the cold, bereft of distant desires,
I give an ear to autumn, suffering estranged love.
Branches high and low are tossed in the wind,
giving voice to the thousands and tens of thousands of leaves.

A shallow well will not slake a thirst;
a barren field in time destroys the plough.
New colleagues are not old friends,
and listening to poor conversation is torture.