Recently Read #2 - Ireland's dark past, an entrepreneur who pioneered wind energy and how browsers work

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Recently Read #2 - Ireland’s dark past, an entrepreneur who pioneered wind energy and how browsers work

This is the second in my series of recently read where I give a brief summary of what I am reading. You can read the others here.

High-Performance Browser Networking by Ilya Grigorik

Why read it?

I build web apps for a living, and I’m always keen to know how things work under the hood. In many ways, the way we develop websites and applications are constantly changing. In my short tenure as a software developer (7 years), promising technologies have come and gone to emerge again later.

One thing that has not changed is latency and bottlenecks. The fundamentals of how we make websites perform have not changed. Fewer network requests, fewer bytes, and move things closer to our end users while optimising our code for speed and complexity.

Even though what we should do is obvious, the why things are the way they are is more complex. I was looking for a book that could give me an in-depth overview of different protocols such as WebRTC, web sockets and HTTP2. The book goes much further than that and tackles networks, wireless networks and even mobile networks.

It is an excellent book to read if you want to learn about the journey of the byte as it makes its way around the world.

What I Learned?

A lot. It would probably require more than one blog post to go through everything. Not only does it cover what it promises(performance), it also covers everything you could need to know about browser networking.

Read if

You’re a web developer.

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Why read it?

When Trump was elected, I heard that this was because of his Machiavellian brilliance. Being on the other side of the world, I didn’t know much about Trump until his election. After the election, I questioned if the this moniker was a suitable description of Trump.

I studied the author’s writings in college, and I have always been interested in leaders who cling to power even when it is slipping through their fingers. It’s evident to everyone but themselves. However, some leaders like Putin, avoid this fate.

The Prince was a controversial book. The ideas frightened people (and still do) because it provided a blueprint for power retention. The Catholic Church even banned it at one point.

What I Learned?

From a historian’s perspective, this book must be a gem. Not only does it act as a guide for rulers, the author references wars, groups and families that he was involved with for a time.

Machiavelli writes a lot about Cesare Borgia. Cesare Borgia was, in some ways, a pawn of Pope Alexander. The Pope used Borgia to carry out his plans for the expansion of the church’s lands. Every Pope after Alexander inherited a lot more land.

That’s not to say Borgia only followed the Pope’s instructions. Cesare Borgia is the case study of how to stay in power. Through a combination of murdering opponents, positioning and uniting splintered groups(he established an army), Borgia stayed in power for a long time.

Cesare Borgia was the Pope’s son. He should not have been able to ascend to power. However, through a combination of luck to get there and incredible intellect to stay there, Borgia retained power.

Read if

I found this a challenging read. I had to use Wikipedia to fill in some gaps. However, it’s a short read, and I recommend it for people who want to know more about the term Machiavellian. Do people in office politics play the same games as Cesare Borgia minus the violence? Do people court powerful allies to gain power in office?

What about our political leaders? Behind closed doors, do policymakers create alliances to push their agenda? Do they sacrifice their allies when the time comes?

Probably. Certainly, we can look to leaders such as Putin who have silenced opponents and ascribe machiavellian traits to them.

This book has inspired great stories throughout the years and I’ve no doubt it will continue to intrigue us for many years.

A Dangerous Visionary by Eddie O’Connor

Why read it?

I have been learning more and more about clean energy in the past year. Eddie O’Connor started Airtricity before moving on and starting another renewable energy business. I wanted to get insight into what goes into running a renewable energy company.

What I Learned?

One of Ireland’s most successful businessmen started his career in the public service. It’s not something you expect. I think the stereotype about government bureaucrats shrouds the fact that some talented people work in government.

O’Connor has proven to be one of those people. After starting at Ireland’s national electricity supply manager(known as ESB - Electricity Supply Board), he rose through the ranks before working as Managing Director of Board Na Mona(another Irish state-owned company), then finally crossing over into the private sector with Airtricity.

A lot of his book covers his management style, which involves a lot of process improvement and delegation. Back in the ’90s, he recognised the importance of buy-in, and it’s pretty impressive what he achieved at Bord na Móna. Bord Na Mona is a state-owned company where some workers would embrace the government stereotype of as little work as possible. He was able to root out these inefficiencies by gaining employee buy-in.

“The problem with a lazy worker is that they want to make other people lazy”

After leaving Board Na Mona, he covered how the media dragged his name through the mud before starting his venture with Airtricity. He had learned in 1989 that climate change was an issue. He saw himself as Ireland’s biggest polluter as Ireland is a net importer of coal for electricity. There was a petite fuel mix for electricity generation in the ’90s.

Nowadays, Ireland produces a lot of energy from wind. Solar and wind cheaper are significantly cheaper than coal, and it’s getting lower. Fossil fuels have lost the cost advantage they once had over renewable energy. As of writing, renewable energy sources are four times cheaper than the fossil-fuel counterparts and they’re getting cheaper.

Read if

If you want a personal and passionate perspective on renewable energy but are business-minded, you might like this book. It lays out the practical implications of renewable energy and the exciting future that lays ahead.

If you’re Irish and you like the idea of public servants being called out, this book is not afraid to do that. Senior Civil servants, politicians and others are attacked by O’Connor again and again. Not in a bitter way, more that they would be slow or sly to move.

Republic Of Shame by Caelainn Hogan

Why read it?

When travelling abroad and meeting new people, particularly Americans, I get the impression that there is a romantic view of Ireland. Ireland, for the most part, seems to have had a positive cultural impact on our planet. However, we have skeletons in our closet, or should I say we have baby skeletons buried in our sewerage tanks in Tuam, Co. Galway.

In 2017, news travelled around the world about a collection of children’s skeletons that were found in a sewerage tank. It was unfortunate timing for the Catholic Church and other religious orders which were supporting the’ No’ side in the upcoming abortion referendum. This story and others set the narrative that these religious orders care more for their own heavenly entry credentials than the welfare of women and children.

The Catholic Church used to have a firm grip on Ireland much to our determent. We are still feeling the effects of the Catholic Church’s influence on our constitution to this day where we’ve had to hold several national referendums on the rights of women, children and gay marriage to name but a few. They also have a strong grip on our education system where they openly practice discrimination against parents who do not practice a ‘catholic ethos’.

The Church’s shackles are slowly being shattered piece by piece. The story of the baby skeletons being discovered is a sewerage tank in Tuam was yet another chisel handed to our increasingly secular citizens. It also dragged up a piece of history many in Ireland would rather not know about and some would rather the public did not know.

Many were unaware of Ireland’s ‘industrial shame complex’, but the author explores the frightening treatment of vulnerable women under a regime afraid of catholic Ireland shame. Women who became pregnant out of wedlock were treated horribly by their families, the nuns and wider state involvement. Letters exchanged between health boards and the “mother and baby homes” clearly demonstrate an attitude that saw these women as a problem.

I lost my faith at the age of 15. School in 90’s Ireland never presented the idea of other religions. Every day, we had to say our prayers before school(and after). When I stopped believing in God, I stood out quite a bit. I remember being the only student not to walk up and sit down to confession with the priest. Every other student queued, but I remained in my seat. The first year I did this, I was only one. The second year, there was 10 more to join me. By the third, it was common to make jokes about priests.

This experience and many others led me to view the church with a perspective I don’t think I’ll ever shake. So another book to cast another light on the church in Ireland was always going to appeal to me.

What I learned

Caelainn Hogan is a terrific writer. She does a fantastic job of describing her own journey and discovery of those affected by mother and baby homes. The books weaves between the personal stories of those affected and the wider role of the Irish culture at the time.

The last mother and baby home closed in 1996. It’s on the street where I live, and I walk past the building every time I walk my dog. To read what happened in homes like this is harrowing.

What was even more harrowing was the state’s involvement and the general public’s ignorance. I get the impression that the citizens did not know or did not want to question the church’s authority.

The nuns come across as heartless. There are countless examples of nuns selling these young infants to the highest bidder(usually American couples looking to adopt).

The survival rate of the children in mother and baby homes only went up after the adoption laws were implemented, allowing for Irish children to be adopted.

Vulnerable women seemed to have no place to run. Ostracised by their family, they had two options. Turn themselves into the mother and baby home to risk losing their children or flee. Fleeing did not always help. There was an abundance of cases where women running to England were discovered and sent back.

The choice these women had was an illusion. In some cases, the choice was made for them by their family.

Read if

You’re Irish and want a detailed overview of the mother and baby homes. It’s also a great insight into Irish culture under the thumb of the Catholic Church. I think it’s important to read books like this, so we never repeat the past.

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