Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Imaginary World of Polls

In the build up to the American Presidential election, we're hearing a lot about the impact that the debates are having in the polls, how in day to day polls, the lead that Obama has is increasing slightly or decreasing slightly, with pollsters giving the reasoning behind this based on the performance (or lack of) in the Presidential debates, or due to Romney's behind the scenes comments.

The Irish Times reported yesterday that "46% of likely voters said they would vote for Obama in the election, while 45% said they would back Romney. Yesterday, Obama was ahead by three percentage points at 46% compared to 43% for Romney."

Interesting stats right? Might we infer that Romney's strong performance in the first debate and solid performance in the second debate has seen him make up ground? Should Obama be worried?

Unfortunately for the pollsters, their little polls have a problem. They aren't accurate to infer anything of the sort.
"The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points for likely voters."
So any gain that we have seen from Romney could be completely (or mostly) due to the fact that the polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. Of course that's not as interesting as declaring a tightening in the race, or assigning causation between what's happening in the race and what's happening in your polls.

While the Irish Times note the margin of error at the bottom of the article, the rest of the piece reports the figures as if they are accurate, as if the margin of error doesn't exist. Our media need to get more savvy and honest in reporting these statistics and make it clear to readers that nothing at all can be inferred from these numbers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"I'll give you a discount if you pay in cash..."

"I'll give you a discount if you pay in cash"

A tempting offer no doubt. Save money on some work you're getting done.

But what's going on here is that somebody is saying to you:

"Hey, you know that agreement that we have as a society where we all pay a set proportion of our income to fund the services that we all use? Yeah well I'm not going to pay all of the amount that I owe. But listen I'll split the difference with you by giving you some money off my charge. That way we both win." 

But everybody else loses. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Higgs Boson and the Beauteous Forms of Things

Yesterday evening a group of scientists discovered what they believe was the Higgs Boson fieldIt explains why all matter has mass. Quite breathtaking that humans have been able to discover this and a very exciting development.

As it happens, I was reading this old poem the other day from William Wordsworth. I don't know many poems but this is one of my favourites. I think what he says is worth remembering at the moment when we're so focused on the amazing intricacies that we've been able to discover about the nature of the world. Perhaps sometimes we need to close our books and enjoy the world without having to understand how it all works?

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Monday, July 2, 2012

An open letter of thanks to the taxpayers of Ireland.

"It's all pissed against a wall. P.S the wall is now owned by NAMA."  
(A comment by 'MrMatisse' I found on in relation to how tax money is spent in Ireland. )
Dear taxpayers,

I've been feeling a bit bad for you guys lately. You see you've been paying tax for many years, and it has been spent in a variety of ways. Some would posit that it has been wasted, while some feel it was spent wisely. I'm not writing to get into a conversation about the wisdom of how your money was spent, or where your money was spent. That's a debate for another day.

No, the reason I feel bad is that you've been paying all of this money, and nobody has said 'thank you'. Nobody has even told you where your money is going. It just disappears directly from your paypacket every week, without a whisper. I posted recently about the lack of clarity around the TV Licence, but the lack of recognition of general taxpayers is at a whole other level.

When was the last time you got a note recognising your contribution to the country we live in? When has anybody ever given you an indication of where your money is being spent and what difference it is making to our country? Do you have any idea what impact your contribution makes?

The idea of taxation has somehow been construed as a burden. The very word, 'taxing', has negative connotations. The Beatles have a song about it, painting the taxman as the bogey man.

 "Don't ask me what I want it for, if you don't want to pay some more"

How did it come to this? A lot of it is probably due to the origins of taxation, as a payment imposed by a Lord on peasants. But in a democracy it shouldn't be this way.

Imagine a group of people coming together for the first time. Their land is barren and they have no basic services. They have two options: (1) Every man for themselves, let's try to build stuff individually and see how far we get. (2) Let us all pool our resources according to our ability to pay, and build shared roads, services and provide a range of supports for members of our society.

We're basically living in option number 2, but what should be a voluntary decision to contribute our fair share to the society around us (to contribute towards the roads that we use, towards the education of our neighbours and towards a safer society) has become a burden on our pay packet.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy and Senator Catherine Noone have raised this issue, and information like the below has been compiled to give a sense of where the money is going. But how ridiculous is it that you have to come along to a blog like this to get a sense of where your money is being spent?

So, while everybody else is waiting around, I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer my thanks. Hopefully, in time, we'll develop transparent and open systems. I believe that as the custodians of our money, the government have a responsibility to tell us what they are doing with it, and even more importantly, the government has the opportunity to engage taxpayers in how they spend the money. 

Maybe soon we will see where our money is going, we will see the impact that it is making, and won't feel so bad about that mysterious number in our paycheck. Here's hoping. 

Is mise le meas,

Darren Ryan

Appendix - After I posted this blog, a friend asked me how our spending compares to other countries. Here's a sample breakdown of expenditure from Canada for 2010 - 2011, breaking up every dollar that they get in. It's a nice way of displaying the info.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hello, TV Licence Inspector

This little item came through the postbox the other day. It's time to renew our TV Licence.

Every year in our humble abode we pay €160 to own a television. Why do we do this? If you listened to the adds on the radio or TV you'd swear the reason we pay the TV licence is because of the fear of the TV Licence inspector; the fear of fines. You could even go to court for non-payment of this. TV Licence inspectors visit 18,000 homes and premises each month. Be afraid.

"Don't answer doorbell, it could be the TV licence inspector" 
- an actual quote I've heard from friends of mine.

What is missing from this equation is the why. Why do we pay this? On the nice letter from our friends in TV Licence HQ, there is not a word about why we pay it. Not a word of thanks. No mention of the difference that our contribution has made to the development of public television in Ireland. No indication of what that money was spent on, what it achieved and how Ireland is a better place because of the fee. 

Personally I believe that a strong public service broadcaster is great public good. If we relied on something like TV3 to provide us with our broadcasting, it would be bad for society. Tallafornia. Lawless Ireland. Ireland’s Bogus Beggars. We need to be spared from that rubbish. 

So I pay my TV licence because I'm happy to make that contribution. 

But why don't they ever talk about the reason for our contribution? Why don't they run broadcasts which say: "Pay your TV licence, as this money allows us to run excellent television services that are free to all, and make Ireland a better place." 

Perhaps they fear that they wouldn't be able to stand over such claims? And if they can't then continuing to fear people into paying for something that they don't value is just pointless. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Jump

Last week I jumped out of a plane from 11,000 ft. Amazing rush, buzz, excitement, thrill and all of those great things. But more than all of that, I had an amazing experience.

In my mind there are two ways you can do a skydive. One is to jump for the thrill, maybe get a DVD made where you're waving at the camera and taking a record of the dive, swinging your arms around in the air madly and screaming. Definitely a fun way. You'll have great memory and tell a great story.

A photo I took while freefalling

The other way to skydive is to take it all in while you fall. Look around you,  breathe it in, imbibe it! Not so that you'll have the memory and the story (or the DVD record) when you land, but so that you appreciate the view, the feeling of flying and the sheer beauty of the world from that height right there and then, for the 30 seconds that you freefall and the few minutes that you float to the ground. I guess you could call it 'mindful skydiving'.

But the best thing is, you don't have to be doing a skydive to take 30 seconds to remember how incredible the world is...

...though it definitely helps when you're seeing it from this view.

**I did the parachute jump for The RISE Foundation, who support the families of people affected by addiction. They do some amazing work and if you want to make a contribution to them you can do so at **

Monday, May 7, 2012

Can you learn to stop snoozing?

Following my blog post last week where I shared my passion for snoozing and my plans to start something to tackle it, I have gotten a slew of emails and questions from people on the topic. It seems to have sparked something in people's imagination. It also got about four times the number of reads as any of my other blogs to date. This kind of confirms my thought that this is a latent problem people that people haven't been able to tackle. There are so many snoozers out there, but I'm convinced that people don't really understand (or admit) the actual impact that snoozing has on their lives.

So in response to my blog post, the common questions that have been asked by everybody who has emailed me or gotten in contact have been the following:

"Can you learn to stop snoozing?" and "Can you teach somebody to stop snoozing?"

In short, the answer to question 1 is "Yes". And the simple answer to question 2 is "I don't have a clue, but I'm going to give it a shot".

Q1: Can you learn to stop snoozing?

I don't want to spend too long on this, as the simple answer is yes. Lots of people have stopped snoozing and become early risers. You've done it too. Last time you needed to get a flight or do something really important, you probably managed to pull yourself out of bed. When people have kids, they suddenly don't have any choice about whether to snooze or not (babies are badly designed without snooze buttons). Also, lots of people on-line have written about their own success stories.

But getting up to tend a crying child or catch a flight is one thing. The true challenge comes when you are getting up with absolutely no external stimulus other than your own declared desire to get up at a certain time  in order to do something that you want to do.

The reality though is that although it is certainly possible to stop the habit, it is rare that epic snoozers become non-snoozers.

Q2: Can you teach people to stop snoozing? (and what would that look like?)
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein
You've probably tried to stop snoozing before? I've often made the decision of an evening. 'Tomorrow I will get up early and go to the gym'... but when the morning comes the old habit kicks in. You can't just change such an in-built habit with willpower alone.

So how do you tackle it? The problem with a lot of snoozing tips is that they are taken in isolation and are only somewhat effective. My idea is to combine all the different elements of what is known about snoozing and put them into a 4 hour intensive anti snoozing workshop. As this is only a pilot I can't tell you whether this will work or not, but I am determined to find out.

The workshop will cover three main strands:

1. Goal setting: 
The key thing with stopping snoozing is knowing why you want to get up in the morning. For some people this will be getting up an hour early to go to the gym, for some it will be getting up just 15 minutes earlier to have a more relaxed morning. But whatever it is for you it's important to define and be clear about the reason you want to stop snoozing, and know what difference it will make in your life. This will give you the motivation to keep going with breaking the habit. The goal setting workshop will be run by a hugely experienced career coach.

2. Techniques, Tips and Practice: 
Snoozing is a habit, which can be broken. When you snooze you usually do so without really waking up or choosing your actions. It's a subconscious thing. But by changing some of our actions and thoughts in the morning we can change the context of the morning slog.
- Actually practice getting up in the morning. Periodically throughout the workshop we will actually practice the art of getting up immediately with the alarm clock.
- Tips and tricks will be provided, a combination of which can help to tip the balance towards getting up rather than staying in bed.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice to bring awareness and thought to your actions in the moment. It can be really useful in breaking the automatic habits that we have in our lives, and snoozing is a pretty big one. The workshop will take some of the practical elements of mindfulness and apply them to getting up in the morning. Anne Twohig-Wall from Ananda Programmes, (a hugely experienced workshop facilitator) will be running that section of the day.

3. Network and Support:
The key element that brings all of the above together (and what makes this workshop really different from just reading about this on-line) is the network of ex-snoozers that it will bring together to support and encourage each other to stop snoozing and change their habits. We can support each other in our efforts, whether that's morning calls or texts to make sure people are awake when they said they'd be, sharing information and success stories on an online forum, meeting for a coffee before work in the morning, etc.

Workshop Details: 

Date: Sunday 27th May from 11am - 4pm (had thought about starting at 9am but thought given the audience that wouldn't be a great plan)

Cost: €20 per person (just to cover costs). For this you'll get the full day and a unique "Anti-Snooze Booklet" that I'm putting together. Lunch won't be included in that.

Location: It is being held in the CFCP, a great little venue on lower Pembroke Street (it will be worth coming for the venue alone!).

Interested? There are already 6 people signed up to come along to this pilot workshop, and I want to get 10 people on board for the first one, and then see where to bring it from there. If you are an epic snoozer or know any epic snoozers who might be interested, then either leave a comment below or email me at

Until then, happy snoozing!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Morning Glory

"I'd like mornings better if they started later." - Anon

As anybody who knows me knows, I'm a fan of the snooze alarm. I'd say I'm a passionate snoozer. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I may be the very best (or at least most prolific) snoozer that I know. My superpower is being able to fall asleep instantly after being woken up, so I can literally snooze for hours, with an alarm going off across the room every 5 minutes for long periods of time (my record back in college was 4 hours I think). Think about that. Every 5 minutes for 4 hours, that is 48 times rising to turn off the alarm, and then sneaking back into the bed and falling straight back asleep. You gotta say, that is pretty impressive.

The only problem with this superpower is that it gets in the way of actually doing the things that I want to in life. I'm a pretty ambitious guy, and there are a few things that I'm trying to get done at the moment. But I'm also a pretty busy guy and a lot of my evening times are taken up with work, events, sports or just hanging out with some great friends. That doesn't leave all that much time for doing the bonus activities in life that I want to do. For example, this year I would love to get to the gym a couple of times a week to get fitter. I'm trying to learn Spanish. I'm keen to read more. And I want to start each day not rushing my breakfast, not rushing out the door to be in work just on time, and having time to just relax in the morning. These are all things that I could do in the morning if I could get myself out of bed at a reasonable time on a regular basis.

But it's not just me

I know I am not alone in this struggle. If you google anything about this there are countless tips and techniques suggested online (my favourite one is Steve Pavlina if you're interested in checking any of them out).

Too many times I've shared these stories with people who have laughed and shared their own experiences. It is pretty funny, but on some level it isn't funny at all. What we are effectively saying or accepting is that we are unable to decide when we wake and when we sleep. 'Rational Darren' makes the decision when going to bed that he will sleep until 7am and get up then. 'Morning Darren' overrules that decision. Laughs in the face of that decision. Morning Darren hits snooze and climbs back in to bed. In some ways it's almost like an addiction. I'm a snooze addict.

My Belief
I believe that the inability to get up in the morning is preventing people from achieving their goals in life.
Think about the number of people who are in the gym in the first few weeks of January, but then can't keep it up. Think about the number of people who say 'I really don't have time to read'. Think about the number of your work colleagues who get in either just on time or 5 - 10 minutes late. It's unlikely that they have had a restful and relaxed morning. Most likely they were rushing for the train or bus, skipping breakfast etc.

In addition there is evidence to say that early risers are slimmer, happier and healthier (it's science!). No wonder. If you have the time to exercise, eat well and start the day calmly, this has a massive impact on all three things (as opposed to rushing around with one leg in your trousers with a toothbrush in your mouth and the alarm still going off).

It doesn't have to be like this

I have worked hard at this issue over the last few years of my life, and I go through patches of being brilliant and patches of ridiculous and humiliating snooze failure. But there are ways to improve, and I want to help people to take control of their snoozing.

Morning Glory

I'm looking for 10 epic snoozers to take part in a pilot workshop that I'm running called 'Morning Glory' (possibly best name ever?).  It will cover some of the key techniques for getting out of bed in the morning, some theory and practice, and also will link you in with a network of 'snoozers' who want to wake up when they choose. By building a small network of ex-snoozers we can support each other in our efforts to break the snooze habit.

The pilot workshop will be held on Sunday 27th May from around 11am - 4pm (venue TBC).The first session will only cost about €20 per person (just to cover venue costs etc - this is a non-profit project. My only goal is to change people's lives a little bit here).

If you are interested yourself or know an epic snoozer, please e-mail me at I'm pretty sure that this is the first time that anything like this has ever been done, so it should be a bit of craic as well as lifechanging! :) Any thoughts and questions also welcome.