Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015 Global Peace Index

The 2015 Global Peace Index results are in.  Europe remained the world's most peaceful geographical region.  No real surprise there as 15 of the top 20 countries are in Europe.

Iceland remained the most peaceful country in the world.

Both Czechland and the USA improved from last year's results.  Czech Republic moved up to 10th place (the 6th most peaceful country in Europe).

The USA moved up to 94th place.  Not the best of scores but it's an improvement.


Here are the top 20 countries.
1.  Iceland
2.  Denmark
3.  Austria
6.  Finland
7.  Canada
8.  Japan
9.  Australia
10.  Czech Republic 
11.  Portugal
12.  Ireland
13.  Sweden
14.  Belgium
15.  Slovenia
16.  Germany
17.  Norway
18.  Bhutan
19.  Poland
20.  Netherlands

Update:  The 2016 results.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quarter Two Team Building Event

On Saturday we had our second quarter team building at a park in Brno. 

One of my goals for this years was to have a quarterly event for my team members in Czechland, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland

Piotr & Damir handling the firewood

Unfortunately we did have a bit of rain but not enough to spoil the day for everyone.

There was plenty of excellent food.  And alcohol.  Plus we had Láďa as the DJ so all was good.




Anytime you get a bunch of European chaps together in a park there is bound to be a bit of football (soccer).

Tomáš trying baseball for the 1st time






The best part for me was getting to play some baseball.  Of course the challenge here was having to explain the rules...over and over again.  But it was still great to hit a few balls.




Our first quarter event was in January.  Way to cold with the ice and snow but it was fun.  It would have been better in March but I wanted to set the expectation right from the beginning that I want something planned each quarter.

These first two gatherings have both been in Brno.  It's time to start mixing things up a bit.  The Polish team has committed to hosting an event.  And I'm sure that I can convince the Slovak team to put something fun together.  





So let's see if we end up in Wrocław or Bratislava for our third quarter bash.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

2015 Eurovision Finals

The Eurovision 2015 finals were yesterday and it was my first time watching the show.  This was the 60th anniversary competition and there were 27 contestants vying for the title.

The competition was interesting but with so many performers the final night of competition lasted about 5,5 hours.

Unfortunately the Czech duo of Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta didn't do so well.  They competed in semi-finals #2 but their song, Hope Never Dies, didn't make it to the finals.  Hopefully the Czechs will compete again next year.

Final 27 results
Sweden came in 1st place with 365 points.  Russia was second with 303 points and Italy came in third place with 292 points.  Since Sweden won it will host the 2016 competition.

The winner was Måns Zelmerlöw with his song Heroes.  Here's the winning performance from YouTube.
video 
©Eurovision Song Contest

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Speak English!

I have a funny, funny team here in Czechland.  I came in to the office today and these little flyers were posted at every desk.

This is because I'm always telling the Czechs to speak English.  And the Romanians to speak English.  And the Bulgarians to speak English.  Heck I even tell the British folks to speak English but that's just for fun.

If people are speaking a foreign language then...great!  I'm all for it.  If a Czech speaks Czech with a non-native Czech speaker then someone is developing their foreign language skills.  Awesome!  If two native Spanish speakers speak Spanish then...problem.  If a native Spanish speaker speaks Spanish with a native Slovak speaker then...no problem.

With such a diverse team it's a fantastic opportunity to improve, or maintain, a foreign language.  My rule is that if you're not speaking a foreign language then you need to speak English.  Especially if English is the foreign language.

While I did get a chuckle out of the "Uncle Sam" flyer, my favorite was of my assistant, Jakob, as a Star Wars Jedi using the force to improve his language skills. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

2015 World Hockey Championships

Czech Republic hosted the 2015 World Hockey Championships over the past two weeks.  Ice hockey is a very big deal over here.

The championships were co-hosted by Prague and Ostrava.  Matches in Prague were at the O2 Arena and in Ostrava they were held at the ČEZ Aréna.

Canada took the gold with a 6-1 victory over Russia who took the silver.  The best part for me was that the USA beat Czechland 3-0 for the bronze.  It's going to fun at work tomorrow reminding folks that the Czechs lost the bronze to the Americans.

As a consolation prize, Czech hockey superstar Jaromír Jágr did earn Most Valuable Player.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage

On 22 May, Irish voters decide on a constitutional amendment that will allow for same-sex marriage.  If it passes then Ireland will be the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage via the ballot box.

There are posters up all through out Dublin right now.  Both for and against; mostly for.

The amendment is supported by the government as well as by every major political party.  Hopefully the measure will pass.

The referendum is only for Ireland.  It does not include Northern Ireland which is the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is not recognized.  Here's a great TV commercial I found on YouTube about the upcoming vote.

video

In 2001 the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.  Belgium followed in 2003 and in 2005 so did Spain and Canada.  South Africa passed legislation in 2006.  In 2009 it became legal in Norway and Sweden.  Gay marriage became legal in 2010 in Portugal, Iceland, and Argentina.  In 2012 it became legal in Denmark.  Brazil, France, Uruguay, and New Zealand all passed legislation in 2013.  Same-sex marriage became legal in 2014 in England, Wales, and Scotland.  So far in 2015 only Luxembourg has legalized same-sex marriage.  It becomes legal in Finland in 2017.

These are just the countries that permit same-sex marriage.  Other countries such as Germany allow for civil unions/domestic partnerships that allow for many of the same benefits as marriage but not equal protection.  Let's see what happens this year in Ireland and the USA.

While Czechland does not recognize same-sex marriage it has allowed for registrované partnerství (registered partnerships) since 2006.  While not perfect, Czech registered partnerships grant equal status when it comes to inheritance, alimony, and hospital privileges but it does not allow for joint adoption, widow's pensions or joint property rights.  That's still way more benefits than many parts of the USA allow for. 

Since 1999 gays are allowed to serve openly in the Czech military.  In 2009, a law was passed that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, education, housing, and access to goods and services.  Again, way more than what most American states have.

While more and more countries are recognizing gay marriage there are still many more that want to limit equal rights.  In February there was a motion in Slovakia to restrict marriage to only between a man and a woman.  Fortunately it failed but most likely only because not enough Slovaks went to the polls.

Update:  Another reason for me to like my favorite island even more! Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote on Saturday.  In politics it was a landslide with 62,07% of Irish voters choosing "Yes/Tá" for equality.

Update:  Gay marriage actually became legal in the USA.
Update:  In July 2017, gay marriage became legal in Malta.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff is the capital of Wales.  With a an estimated population of 347,000, but over one million in the greater metro area, it is the largest city in Wales.  It is also the 10th largest city in the United Kingdom.



Archaeological evidence shows that people were living in the area for the last 6,000 years.

Caerdydd, the Welsh word for Cardiff, was just a small town until it became a major port for transporting coal in the early 19th century.  King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status in 1905 and it later became the Welsh capital in 1955.

Cardiff Castle is perhaps the city's best known landmark and it's located directly in the city center.  It was built by Norman invaders in the late 11th century on top of a 3rd century Roman fort.



The Keep is set on an artificial hill that was built by the Norman invaders around 1081.  The present stone version dates back to the 1130s.

In the mid-18th century the castle was passed to the Marquesses of Bute who renovated the grounds.  It took a while as construction and renovation continuted into the 1920s.

During WWII, air raid shelters for up to 1,800 people were built in the medieval castle walls.  In 1947 the castle was given to the people of Cardiff.


The Cardiff Market is a Victorian market in the city center.  It's on the former site of the town gallows.  A farmer's market has been here since the 18th century.
Cardiff city center

Rugby in Bute Park










About 10% of the city is covered by parks and green spaces.

Millennium Stadium is home of the Wales national rugby union team.  It was built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup.  During the 2012 Summer Olympics it hosted 11 football (soccer) matches.


The city hall is located in Cathays Park.  It opened in 1906.

The park is also home to Welsh National War Memorial.  It was unveiled in 1928 to commemorate the servicemen who died in WWI.  A plague was added in 1949 to honor those who died in WWII.

The docks had been the largest coal-exporting port in the world.  However, due to a decline in demand, the docks began to decline between the two world wars.  By the 1980s the area had become derelict.  During the 1990s the area went through a huge transformation and is now Cardiff Bay. 

The Senedd is the Welsh National Assembly building.  It was opened in 2006 at a cost of £69.6 million.

The Pierhead Building was built in 1897 as the Bute Dock Company headquarters.  In 2010 it re-opened as a Welsh history museum and exhibition hall.  The clock is the Welsh "Baby Big Ben".

The Norwegian Church was consecrated in 1868 to serve the city's Norwegian Lutheran community.  It closed in 1974.  Today it is the Norwegian Church Arts Centre and home to a cafe and an art gallery.

The Antarctic 100 Memorial was unveiled in 2003.  It overlooks the point from which the SS Terra Nova left Cardiff for scientific research from 1910 - 1913.

The Wales Millennium Centre is home to the national orchestra and opera, dance and theater companies.  It has a large theater, two smaller halls plus shops, bars and restaurants and the Cardiff bay Visitor Centre.  The first part opened in 2004 and the second bit opened in 2009. 

The inscription above the main entrance is actually in Welsh and English.  The Welsh is Creu Gwir Fel Gwydr O Ffwrnais Awen which translates to "Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration" and the much smaller English part references a poem In These Stones Horizons Sing.

St. Fagans National History Museum is an open-air museum of more than 40 re-erected buildings from across Wales. 

The museum opened in 1948 and it includes various homes and cottages, a chapel, school house, community center, and even a tannery and pigsty.

The museum is located on the grounds of St. Fagans Castle which is an Elizabethan manor house.

The house was built in 1580 on the ruins of an old Norman castle which is why the estate is called a "castle" today.  In 1946 the owner gave the residence and park to the the country as a gift.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

UK Outlets

I wrote before about the different electrical plugs used over here in Euroland.  I've learned a bit more since then so here's the update.

In the UK and Ireland, they use the three prong plug.  The thing to note is that all of the outlets have an on/off toggle.  The switch is a safety feature.  Just remember to check the switch otherwise you'll get a surprise when you discover that mobile phone hasn't been charged.

The British Isles seem to take electrical safety quite seriously.  In addition to the safety switch thing, there are no electrical sockets in the bathroom.  So you need to go in to another room if you want to use a hair dryer.  Although there are (5 amps maximum) sockets for electric razors.

In Czechland the washing machine is usually in the bathroom.  Since there are no electrical sockets in the bathrooms on the islands, the washing machine usually ends up in the kitchen.

The UK/Irish building codes also mandate that all of the bathroom light switches are outside of the bathroom, or in the ceiling with a pull string.  No one wants to risk an electric shock.  Perhaps it's because over here the electric current is 240 volts which will kill you way more quicker than the 120 volts we have in the USA.

Update:  Cyprus has the UK outlets with toggle switches too.

Update:  SingaporeHong Kong and Macau have the UK sockets and toggle switches as well.

Update:  New Zealand has the toggle switches too,  Maybe the whole except North America has them?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dublin Bus Madness

There's no underground in Ireland.  There is Luas, Dublin's tram line but with only two lines it doesn't really get the job done.  To get around in Dublin you either drive or take the bus.  I think I've become spoiled by the efficient, logical way the buses work in Czechland because it's taken me a while to sort out the buses in Dublin.

The buses themselves are fine.  They are all double deckers and have free Wi-Fi.  The Wi-Fi is important.   

Buses don't stop at every stop along the route.  When your bus approaches you have to extend your hand for the driver to know to stop.  Or if you're on the bus you have to signal the driver to stop.  Otherwise the bus won't stop and will continue on.  And if the bus is full then it won't stop even if you hail it.  This part is fine.  Here's what does my head in.

All of the bus stops have a number.  Just a number...mostly.  In the city center there is a number and a name but the name is written quite small and it's just the ones in the center that have a name.  The kicker is that when you're on the bus the stops are announced by name, not number.  WTF!!  The stop name is announced in English and then in Irish.  The English and Irish stop names don't sound anything alike so really need to pay attention.  But let's review, the stops are numbered (without names) but the bus announces names (without numbers).  It's mad!

I even asked about this in the Dublin Bus office and was told that I just need to learn them.  Fortunately, there is a Dublin Bus smartphone app that bridges the divide.  Thank goodness for that free Wi-Fi.

At the stops themselves you won't find complete route information.  You get the bus number, the starting point, the end point and some of the main stops along the way.  But it does not tell you every stop it makes.  So you really need to use that smartphone app to make sure that you take the right bus.

When you get on the bus you need to have the correct fare because the drivers don't make change.  If you overpay then you get a receipt that you must take to the main office in order to collect your change.  Fortunately I've mastered the Leap Card which is a prepaid card that allows me to pay as I go at a discounted fare rate.

At the bus stop

  • Buses collect passengers at bus stops or bus shelters.
  • While waiting for the bus, please queue in order of arrival.
  • Please put your hand out to tell the driver that you want him/her to stop so that you can get on the bus. 
  • As the bus arrives and leaves the stop, stand well back to avoid the side mirrors on the bus.
  • As the bus approaches check if it’s the right bus for you by watching out for the destination and route number on the front scroll.
  • If you need the bus to be lowered or to use the ramp, just ask the driver when the bus stops.  You will hear a bell/buzzer while the bus is kneeling or the ramp is being lowered.  Please be patient and stay clear until this has finished.
  • The bell/buzzer will stop when the operation is complete; it is now safe to get on the bus.  For your safety, please do not attempt to enter or leave the bus from the side of the ramp.
  • If you are vision impaired or are unsure whether the bus is the one you need, just ask the driver, who will be pleased to help you.
  • Please allow other customers to exit the bus before you get on.
  • Please queue and enter the bus on the left hand side if paying with coin or Leap Card and on the right hand side if you have a prepaid ticket or paying with Leap Card flat fare.
- See more at: http://www.dublinbus.ie/en/Your-Journey1/How-to-use-the-bus/Step-1/#sthash.2MXCOQze.dpuf

At the bus stop

  • Buses collect passengers at bus stops or bus shelters.
  • While waiting for the bus, please queue in order of arrival.
  • Please put your hand out to tell the driver that you want him/her to stop so that you can get on the bus. 
  • As the bus arrives and leaves the stop, stand well back to avoid the side mirrors on the bus.
  • As the bus approaches check if it’s the right bus for you by watching out for the destination and route number on the front scroll.
  • If you need the bus to be lowered or to use the ramp, just ask the driver when the bus stops.  You will hear a bell/buzzer while the bus is kneeling or the ramp is being lowered.  Please be patient and stay clear until this has finished.
  • The bell/buzzer will stop when the operation is complete; it is now safe to get on the bus.  For your safety, please do not attempt to enter or leave the bus from the side of the ramp.
  • If you are vision impaired or are unsure whether the bus is the one you need, just ask the driver, who will be pleased to help you.
  • Please allow other customers to exit the bus before you get on.
  • Please queue and enter the bus on the left hand side if paying with coin or Leap Card and on the right hand side if you have a prepaid ticket or paying with Leap Card flat fare.
- See more at: http://www.dublinbus.ie/en/Your-Journey1/How-to-use-the-bus/Step-1/#sthash.2MXCOQze.dpuf

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Irish Whiskey Museum

Today was a nice leisurely ramble around Dublin.  At one point it started to rain a bit.  Rain in IrelandShocker. 

However, it worked out for the best because in order to get out of the rain for a bit we decided to check out the Irish Whiskey Museum.  

This is the the first (if not only) Irish whiskey museum in the world.

The tour is only €15 and it lasts for an hour.  The guides are very knowledgeable and they tell the complete story of Irish whiskey.  There are a couple of interactive exhibits and some funny anecdotes to keep one entertained. 


The museum is not affiliated with any one brewer so it wasn't like it was just a commercial for a particular brand. 



The best part of course was the testing.  Included in the admission are good-sized pours of three different whiskeys.  And of course avoiding the rain.