Category Archives: Personal

embracing the wonder of story

In 2010/2011 I lived in Birmingham whilst my wife and I were both studying there.  We were newly married, both studying for pretty costly postgraduate degrees.  Consequently, there was little money left over each month for leisure activities, and so we both joined our local library.  As if we didn’t already have enough reading to do!  However, it was a charming experience altogether even if somewhat antiquated.

We visited the library sporadically often picking up several books per visit and subsequently failing to return them on time.  It was during one visit that I happened upon Yann Martel’s book ‘The Life of Pi‘.  I devoured the book.  It was certainly the most compelling read of the year which is sad given that I spent the guts of £5,000 to read the other books as part of my postgraduate programme.

What follows could be considered a spoiler.  So if you have not read the book or seen the movie and intend to so unfettered, read on with caution.  I would note at this point that I loved both the movie and the book even though both were very different.  The book captures perfectly for me the wonder of good story telling.  It is creative, dynamic and personal.  The movie is refreshingly cinematic.  It deviates from the usual nonsense special effects and plunges the viewer into a world of beauty, delicacy and mystery.

Personally, the most interesting this about the book for me was the final few pages.  After the protagonist Pi Patel recounts being stranded at sea for the best part of a year on a lifeboat with a full sized, untamed, Bengal Tiger to the insurance agents representing the sunken ship – they are simply refusant to believe his tails of being stuck at sea and surviving for so long under such challenging circumstances.  They believe he is lying and cannot access the truth.  Pi, perhaps partly realising the implausibility of his story, perhaps partly wearied by the utter refusal of the agents to believe his version of events, makes up an entirely different story.  One that is much more believable under the circumstances.  This story includes murder, cannibalism, barbarism, deep hatred and clear psychological abuse over many months.  It sounds believable.  However, neither story accounts for the sinking of the ship.  Both give an account of Pi’s journey from life boat to dry land, but none account for why, how, where and when the ship actually sank in the first place.  Both Pi and the agents acknowledge that information is lost.  Therefore, neither of Pi’s stories believable or otherwise are helpful to the insurance agents who are merely interested in exploiting cold, hard evidence.  They’re tangibly frustrated by what they perceive to be a time waste.  Pi, however, notes that in both stories his family dies, his world is torn apart, and he suffers incredible pain and sadness.  The agents concede that this is true.  Finally Pi simply asks which story is the better story.  The admit the one with the animals and excitement is the better story and that they can not prove which story is true.  Later, Pi receives the official insurance report which reads as a fairly generic report until the last line ‘Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal Tiger’.  The believed the better story.  Either could have been true – but they believed the better story.

The concept of story has always gripped me.  The poignancy with which this book approaches the subject is astounding to me.  Pi Patel, an inconspicuous young man tells one ridiculous story and one believable story – both containing untold heartache and suffering, one told with passion and truth, the other with staleness and habit.  It is easy in life to demand the more realistic and comfortable story and we can so often miss out on the chance to engage with greatness or even tell of greatness ourselves.  Often opting for comfort and normalcy.

This book changed my impacted me in a number of ways.  But, the ending always gets me – can I believe the better story?  Can you believe the better story?

PS – The book and the movie have several points of deviation – however both mediums are fully worth engaging with.

Toolbox Essentials Redux

I posted my original Toolbox Essentials post last March – almost a year ago now!  I thought it was time to a little bit of an update.  So, here we go.

Macbook Pro 13″

This one still headlines and dominates the top spot.  Unsurprising really.  This is still, very much, the Apple of my eye.  See what I did there?  I am currently running the most recent version of OS X Lion, and I will update as soon as Mountain Lion is released.  The MBP I am currently using is a different machine to the one I posted about a year ago.  I got a newer model with slightly more RAM, bigger hard drive, faster processor, etc., and Cassie, my long-suffering wife got the hand-me-down.  I would suggest that the situation isn’t too bad for her either.  Same information on this as last time really.  I love the machine.  I love how multi-functional it is whilst being so light and transportable.  I take it everywhere with me.  Work, study, and home.  It is rarely further than 10 paces away from me.  Same complaint/jealously: I’d like a little more screen real-estate at times.  Those times when i’m working on what feels like 563 different documents and PDF’s it would be lovely to not have to be constantly scrolling through endless windows.  However, this is not a major complaint.  Indeed, I chose to stick with the 13″ model because I like the portability of it more than the larger models.  I have 4GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

iPhone 4S

I think really this one should be first on the list.  I love my iPhone.  It’s probably the only phone where I have yet to have a serious and almost irrepressible urge to embed it into the wall.  I could probably run the world from an iPhone if I had to.  One thing, and one thing only, is the battery life.  I think I probably use mine a little bit more than the average person in the course of a regular day, but I need to put my phone on charge during the day for an hour or so if possible, and sometimes again in the evenings – and that is with the brightness at half!  My carrier is Three and I must say they have more than impressed me time and time again.  Apart from the fact that I get unlimited data (thank-you!!) the customer service is great, the reception is better than I have ever experienced and they genuinely value your custom.  I have been with all the major carriers in the UK (Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, O2) and each one of them, with the exception of Vodafone has managed a screw-up of monumental proportions at some stage.  The long and short of it is, if Three continue with the levels of service I am currently experiencing they will continue to have my business.  I have 7 email accounts linked to my iPhone, 4 twitter accounts and multiple Facebook pages and the iPhone allows me to manage them on the go.

iPhone’s native calendar app could use a little bit of work in my opinion, but there are numerous workarounds, as Apple say ‘There’s an app for that’.  I won’t go into detail about apps etc at the moment.  In fact, I’ll do a separate post on that tomorrow.  But, suffice to say, the iPhone allows me to work, play, conduct business, email, consume media, listen to music and even makes phone-calls.  I have the 16GB Black iPhone 4s.  The camera on this little bad boy is amazing.  Like truly stunning.  Check out my Flickr, all the photos there were taken on either the iPhone 4 (pre-upgrade) or the iPhone 4S (post-upgrade) camera.

iPad 2

My trusty companion.  When I first got an iPad I was in awe, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I would use/need it for, now I can’t imagine not having one.  It truly is a beautiful piece of machinery.  It compensates for the lack of real estate on the MBP as I can use this as a supplement and bring docs/news/papers etc. up and read them off of this.  I consume a lot of news through the iPad and use the Twitter app quite regularly.  It is very useful for when you’re rushing out the door to a meeting or conference and don’t want to bring your laptop, or your not sure if having a laptop would be overkill.  I use my iPad everyday.  Without fail.  I have the 16GB, wi-fi only model and it serves me well.


I bought this briefcase on eBay for not a lot of money – less than £20 and I love it.  I wanted something vintage, old-school and badass and this fits the bill.  Again, like all the items in this list, I use it everyday.  It’s incredibly durable, incredibly spacious and a real lifesaver.  I’ve managed to fit in my laptop and charger, my iPad, 2 notebooks and 10 library books that took it to capacity.  So it’s incredibly helpful for transporting a lot of stuff.  This is necessary for a PhD student.


Yep.  I am a convert.  I’ve been hearing people rant and rave about Moleskins for years now, but I’ve never owned one.  I do love notebooks, I have about 4/5 different ones that I carry around with me at all times for different things/project right now.  However, someone bought me a Moleskin this Christmas and I fell in love.  It truly is a remarkably beautiful notebooks, well crafted, simple and a pleasure to use.  I think I’ll always have at least one of these in active use from now on.  I own a plain-jane, bog standard black one.


I use the standard Apple earphones that came with my iPhone.  Working in an open plan office these are a must.  Riding public transport these are a must.  Sitting in a library these are a must.  You get the picture.  I would like to get some on-ear headphones an upgrade as I don’t really like in-ear earphones.  But, they’re great for now.

Now that I have  all of my Apple devices as you can imagine Apps are a big part of my life.  Tune in tomorrow for a look at what apps I use most, what apps I recommend, and what apps I couldn’t live without.

What can you not live without?  What’s in your toolbox?

Where to begin…

Well.  We’re almost at the end of 2011 – which seems ridiculous!

I guess I’ll give a quick run down of things since I last posted…

    • I finished my Master’s dissertation.  It came in at 13,030 words altogether and I think it was a pretty decent piece of work.
    • Of course, the above bar which says 97% is now redundant as I am, in fact, 100% done.
    • I finished up my contract with Muskoka Woods as Director of Senior High Programming.  I worked their from May – September.  It was my 4th year in the Muskoka region and I can honestly say that I leave a piece of my heart their every time I leave.  Moreso, however, I leave a piece of my heart with my colleagues.
    • Cassie and I are now settled in Northern Ireland.  We’re living in Newtownabbey which is a town right on the edge of Belfast and loving life.
    • I am working for FMPCI.  A church in North Belfast.  I’m currently working as their Youth and Community Development Worker and having a blast doing so.  It’s a fairly multi-faceted job and I am really enjoying it.
    • I am officially a PhD student…Well, not officially I guess.  Really I am an undifferentiated postgraduate research student but it’s the same thing really.  I just need to pass a differentiation which is one of the many hurdles doctoral students must overcome.
    • I am researching consociationalism in Northern Ireland with Prof. Rick Wilford, a world expert in the field, so I am delighted on all accounts.
    • I am slowly beginning some consultancy work which is taking on various guises at present.  I am mostly consulting around skills development and change management but this, undoubtedly will morph over time.
    • I will have a few exciting projects/partnerships to announce in 2012 hopefully. Stay tuned for more information.

Progress Update

It’s been quite some time since I have posted on here which is a little disappointing to me.

However, a lot has been going on and a lot has changed.

First and foremost I celebrated my 1 year wedding anniversary!!

I am currently working as Director of  Senior High Programs at Muskoka Woods in Canada. I have been doing that since the beginning of May and my contract will end mid-September. Alongside this demanding, but super cool job, I have been ploughing away at my MA dissertation which is due in September and a number of other personal projects.

After this, I will begin the process of relocating (from Birmingham – where we have lived, studied and worked the past year) back to Northern Ireland. I will once again be beginning the hunt for jobs, a car, a house, etc..

There are a few reasons behind this move, but one of the overwhelming reasons is that I will be beginning doctoral studies in Queen’s University Belfast in the school of Politics and International Studies. I am really excited to begin PhD studies and even more excited after have been accepted to be be supervised by Prof. Richard Wilford.

All in all, it’s a very exciting but very busy time and I love every minute of it. This blog will be revived. I will make it happen.

Where have I been?

I’ve been in a bit of a transition mode lately which is why things have been pretty quiet around here.  It’s likely to be that way for the next week or so.  I hope to get back to regular service soon.

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • Happy Easter.  I hope everyone has had a lovely time.
  • I have not posted one post since the last Monday Retrospect.  #fail.  It has been a busy week.
  • It’s official.  From September onwards I will be living in Belfast.  I have got accepted to a PhD program at QUB.  I have another application in at TCD that I am waiting to hear about.  Either way it looks like I’ll be commencing PhD research and I’m pretty excited about it.
  • The TEDxBelfast videos are finally online.  They’re being uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel.  (AlanInBelfast has uploaded the available so far TEDxBelfast talks here).  They’re all great, but I especially recommend listening to Mark Dowds‘ talk embedded below.
  • You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships and interactions everyday.  You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity. – Epicurus
  • I’m in the process of putting together an abstract for a conference that I’d like to present at on transitional and restorative justice.  I’m not brimming with confidence, and I’ve never done anything like this before.  But, I’ve got to start somewhere I guess.
  • For those who don’t know already, Cassie and myself will be spending the summer in Canada.  I leave in about 2 weeks and Cassie will follow me out shortly after.  We’ll be working here!
  • Let’s connect on Facebook, Twitter, or  Or, all of them.
  • TOWARD Consulting have put a new video up.  Head over to their homepage and have a look.
  • Finally, I will leave you with this hilarious video from Los Whittaker.  He’s already put up one hilarious video that’s gone viral and this is just number two.  Enjoy.
That’s it for this week.  What’s going on with you?

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

    • Want to succeed as a PhD researcher…Thesis Whisperer reckons you need to become best friends with the Librarian.
    • The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland have put out their latest party political broadcast/party election broadcast.  I think it’s a visually stunning piece of work.  It uses all the right words, but for me, it lacks any tangible policy or plans.
    • I’m currently working on a paper that is exploring whether or not justice is necessary for peace.  If you have any opinions feel free to share them.
    • I was away at a wedding for the past few days.  It was nice to meet up with some friends that I haven’t seen for a while, and of course watch friends commit to each other in new ways.
    • 22 days and I’m outta here.
    • It is not the strongest of species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin.
    • I love this display of creativity.  Check out AmpleSample which challenges people to come with abstract uses for carpet samples.
    • Are we connected on Facebook?  Or Twitter?
    • Currently doing some reading around the Sunningdale Agreement (1973) and the Belfast Agreement (1998) for my dissertation.
    • And no, before you ask I am not relying on these Wikipedia articles!
    • #fact: Academia is expensive.

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • The Legislative Assembly and Local elections are well underway in Northern Ireland.  It certainly is a fascinating time in our country’s history.  Alan in Belfast has composed a list that ‘Charts the Assembly Elections‘ – it provides great insight into who’s who, what’s what, and where’s where!
  • If you’re serious geek like me you’ll want to read about the different types of dashes to use and when to use them.
  • The next month is going to be an absolute roller-coaster.  I love it.
  • “Here is a test to find out whether you mission on earth is finished or not: if you’re still alive it isn’t.”
  • Spring time weather does the soul good.  The essays not so much.
  • A few other people are following along in the same vein as The Monday Retrospect.  There is now a Thursday Retrospect being run by Clamorous Voice and The Friday Retrospect being curated by MetaphoraMetaphora.
  • I’ve just started reading ‘What the Dog Saw’ by Malcolm Gladwell.  It seems like a pretty fun book.
  • I heard Gladwell speak this past year on the subject of Serendipity – what a truly fascinating dude.
  • Yesterday I found my favourite pair of shorts.  I thought they were long gone but they were just hidden!  The summer is looking good!
  • I’ve still got some books available for sale on Amazon.  They’ll likely be available for another 3 weeks or so.  Click to go to my shop.
  • Rory McIlroy – I feel for him.  And, I’m not even that into golf.
  • I’m currently researching the differences (if any) in representative governance and democracy.  if you’ve got any thoughts feel free to jump in.
  • Do you guys often preorder books?  I think I’ve only ever done it once.  I preordered Tribes by Seth Godin.  What have you preordered and why?
  • Check out this awesome looking home library.

That’s it for this week.  What’s going on with you?

Dissertation Supervision

I had my first official supervision appointment with Prof. Stefan Wolff on Wednesday.  It was really beneficial.

I explained to him the approach that I was hoping to take for the next month in terms of reading and structure.  He seemed really happy with my methodological approach and proposed direction.  He gave me some valuable food for thought regarding the underlying assumptions about ‘power-sharing’ governance in post-conflict societies.

We also chatted a little bit about doctoral studies.  If I haven’t already announced it yet Prof. Wolff has also agreed to be my PhD supervisor.  Obviously this is great news.  I’ve managed to bag a well-respected scholar in my chosen field and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the relationship unfolds.

Now I begin the task of starting to piece together this work.  I’ve added a tracker to let you all know how I’m getting on with the word count.  It’s looking a little bit meagre at the moment, but it will get better!  I promise.

126 / 13500 words. 1% done!

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • I have been deeply saddened by the news of PC Ronan Kerr’s death this week.  This is a futile attempt to derail a complex peace process with which the people of NI are engaging.  Thoughts and prayers are with the family and community at this time – they have all shown such grace in the face of adversity.
  • For further information about the complexities and meaning of this attack check out this erudite account ‘Why the dissidents kill’ by Ross Frenett at ‘Human Rights in Ireland’ and an impassioned account about ‘Getting Serious about Peace’ by Nathan Erskine.
  • Comparative study (in Politics/IR) is important and useful, but perhaps a little bit overrated?
  • Harvard Referencing or Chicago Referencing?  Which do you prefer?  Me?  I prefer Chicago.  Personally I think Harvard referencing is one of the most god awful things to enter academia.
  • Is there any difference between representational governance and democracy?  Let me know your thoughts?
  • First say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus
  • I am looking forward to watching ‘The Event’ tonight!
  • Some of the most awesome offices ever!

    Beauty Office

  • I’d like to take this blog onto someday – I just don’t quite know if I’m there yet!  Who knows…maybe I am.
  • Inspiration and Genius–one and the same.” – Victor Hugo

That’s it for this week.  What’s going on with you?

%d bloggers like this: