Retro Video Games & Classic Science Fiction Comics Expo at NUI Galway To Celebrate 40th anniversary of Computer Gaming

 Panel in the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland, DERI, NUI Galway

A special event in NUI Galway on Friday will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the birth of popular computer gaming when the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland, located in the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI), will host a ‘Retro Games’ extravaganza. 
Members of the general public are invited along to enjoy the wonders of classic games including Asteroids, Pacman, Space Invaders, Sonic the Hedgehog and Earthworm Jim on legendary consoles and computers such as the Sega Mega Drive, Nintendo,  Atari, Amiga and the Commodore 64.
The sights and sounds on offer will capture the essence of the early days of computer gaming of the 1970s and 1980 which made a major contribution in the overall development of digital sound and graphics. 
Of particular significance will be the showing of ‘Pong’, the first commercially successful video game, released in 1972 by a then new American company called Atari Inc. which was primarily responsible for the formation of the computer game and video arcade industries.
Attendees will also be introduced to the software coding that constitutes the games and will be able therefore to gain an insight into how digital technology actually works.

There will also be displays of American and European 1960s science fiction comics and memorabilia including Star Trek, Thunderbirds, Green Lantern, Thor and the Avengers. Today's children can relate to many of these  fictitious characters as they are  making a welcome return to modern day cinema.

1960s Science Fiction Comics:
Influencing Social Change & Inspiring Scientific & Technology Innovation
Science Fiction has inspired generations of young people to invent future technologies from robotics to space stations.
This was particularly evident in the 1960s when manned space travel began with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to journey into outer space on 12th April 1961.  Before the decade had ended, mankind had landed on the Moon.
On July 20th 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto its surface from the Lunar module Eagle.
 Space travel captured the imagination of youth and the 1960s witnessed an explosion of popular science fiction worldwide that embraced comics, films, television programmes and toys.
In the United States, Marvel and DC comics created a myriad of super–heroes that appealed to a young readership because of their exciting adventures across distant galaxies that promised an often benign future where interplanetary travel would become a characteristic of high tech societies. 
For the first time, children read about civilisations where women as well as boys and girls particularly teenagers fought battles for truth and justice. 

Females heroines such as Wonder Woman and teenagers such as Saturn Girl and the X-Men were as prominent in science fiction as adult males such as Iron Man and Hawkman.  
For the first time, super-heroes did not have to have by definition the perfect physiques. A number of the genre had disabilities such as blindness (Daredevil) and heart defects (Iron Man).
There was a realisation too that mankind’s attitudes and technologies were endangering the health of the planet, the destruction of other species and of humanity itself. This environmental message features prominently in comics such as the Sub Mariner and in films such as the Planet of the Apes (1969) and Soylent Green (1973).
In recent years, there has been a remarkable rebirth in these classic super heroes thanks to CGI (Computer-generated imagery). Films such as Thor and Green Lantern were  box-office successes in 2011 and this year sees the return of the Avengers

The event takes places within National Engineers’ Week and is part of an exciting schedule of activities across Ireland designed to capture the imagination of youth and to demonstrate the benefits and challenges that careers in science and technology represents.

Galway city Coderdojo Club Promotes Father and Son Bonding

One of the unexpected side benefits of the recently established  and highly successful Galway city Coderdojo club, based at DERI and IT in NUI Galway, is the high level of fathers present that are obviously enjoying the quality learning time that they are spending with their children and most noticeably with their sons. There are of course many mothers with their daughters and sons in attendance. But I just can't help but be impressed with the amount of fathers that turn up every Saturday who are actively participating in their  sons' education and learning something new in the process, something that I have never noticed before on such a scale outside sporting activities.

Part of the rules of the club is that children younger than 12 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Furthermore, we recommend too that these adults should if possible not just sit around passively waiting for the classes to end but actively take part in the course.
The results of this policy have much better than we expected!

Galway City Coderdojo Goes From Strength to Strength
The club has 148 participants that come from as far away as Newport and Ballina in May, has a waiting list of c.30, and has already laid the foundations for two new clubs (Castlebar and Athenry).

Read previous article  New Coder Dojo Hackers Club Reflects Galway’s Digital Vibrancy

Rare Artifact from the Inventor of the Mouse to go on public display in NUI Galway


A rare specimen of a human-computer interface used by technology pioneer Douglas Engelbart in his legendary 1968 ‘Mother of all Demos’ presentation will go on public display at the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland located at the internationally renowned Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) of NUI Galway as part of National Engineers’ Week.

The five finger chorded keyset was used for the first time by one of the greatest of all modern inventors Douglas Engelbart at a presentation in the San Francisco Convention Centre on December 9th 1968. It was a seminal moment in modern history as it introduced many of the key technologies of the Digital Age such as the computer mouse, video conferencing, word processing and hypertext. The keyset was used in combination with one of his other new inventions, a three-button mouse, to allow fast data entry and computer interactions. 

The artifact Is on loan to the museum from Karl Flannery of the Galway-based Storm Technologies who received it from Engelbart in the mid-1980s whilst working in the USA.
At the time of the ‘Mother of all Demos’ in 1968, Doug Engelbart was working at the famous Stanford Research Institute located in Menlo Park California.

The keyset will go on public display at 3pm on Saturday March 3rd as part of National Engineers Week and will form the centre piece of a fascinating collection of artefacts that represents significant milestones in the history of communications technology.

 Bell Laboratories of New Jersey, probably the most influential research facility of modern times, has loaned to the museum for one more month replicas of the world’s first telephone and first transistor. 
 The telephone or ‘electrical speech machine’ was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. 
The ‘transistor’ was developed in 1947 and became the building block of modern electronic devices. Bell Labs, owned by the Alcatel-Lucent corporation which is a partner of DERI, can list amongst its achievements the laser, synchronised sound and motion picture, the solar cell and the Telstar space satellite. 

The museum also has a replica of the original Google server from 1998 that was constructed by Scoil Bhríde Menlo in conjunction with  Cumann na bhFear in Ballinfoile. The company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, put together a server consisting of 10 hard disks of 4 gigabytes each, then the largest capacity drives available, encased in a cabinet covered with children’s Lego bricks.  
This school was selected for this task as Google was founded in a garage in Menlo Park, California, so named in the 1850s by  two Irish immigrants,  Oliver and McGlynn, in honour  of their Galway birthplace.

The Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland operates under a multi-sectoral board chaired by Dr. Chris Coughlan of Hewlett-Packard with representatives from Engineers’ Ireland, NUIG IT, GMIT, small businesses and Irish Diaspora groups as well as DERI.

St. Brigit & the Remarkable Status of Women in Celtic Ireland

Today (February 1st) is the first day of Spring, the season of birth and re-birth that follows the harsh cold barren months of Winter. In Ireland, it is dedicated to a female, St. Brigit (or Bridget, Brigid, Bride), the country's most famous native born saint. According to legend, she was born to a slave-woman and Irish chieftain. Her name also has a strong affinity with a Celtic deity associated with fertility and symbolised by fire, the element that offered humankind protection from the natural deadly force (cold) of winter.
Brigit is second only in the Irish saints' calendar to St. Patrick who was born in Roman Britain.
The  distinctive St. Brigit Cross, made from rushes or straw today by children in schools across the country, is a symbol of Celtic Ireland as renowned as the Shamrock and its associations with St. Patrick.
The fact that Brigit was female is quite significant as the early Celtic Church in Ireland was unique in contemporary Christian Europe in giving considerable recognition to the role of women. Brigit was only one of many  female religious saints of this era. Others include St. Ita, St. Gobnait, St. Attracta, St. Brónach and St. Trea as Irish society was not as patriarchal as their Roman, Greek or Germanic neighbours.
Whilst they were of course Christian, many of the early Celtic saints followed the tradition of the pagan Celtic druids which had both male and female members as well as displaying a deep respect towards the sacredness of wildlife and Nature.

According to the historian Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in his book 'Early Medieval Ireland', a woman could divorce her husband for a variety of reasons (including if he failed to satisfy her sexual needs!); could  own and inherit property and was treated as an individual in her own right with inherent protections under Celtic law. Women fought on the battlefield as warriors until this was banned by the church.

Celtic female influence extended as far as Iceland....
The influence of Irish women at this time (5th-7th century) was felt outside Ireland; St. Ives in Cornwall is called after an Irish female saint (a.k.a. Eva or Aoife) where St. Breaca was also renownedSt. Grimonia and St. Proba lived in France (Gaul) in the 4th century, St. Dardaloch in Pavia, Italy (c.300ad) and the nunnery in Austria made famous in the film and musical 'The Sound of Music' was probably founded by an Irish female missionary (Erintrude).

In Iceland the hero of one of the great Icelandic Sagas is the Irish female slave Melkorka, a stong willed woman who refused to be coerced by humiliation, rape and brutality. In fact it has been noted by some that the status of women in Iceland (where I lived for a number of years), which was higher than in contemporary Scandinavian societies, possibly owed its origins to the impact exerted by the high number of Irish women living amongst the country's early Viking settlements- they were brought to the country as slaves and wives from the Viking towns of Ireland. It has been said that it was their influence that persuaded many of their pagan husbands to vote in favour of the country's adoption of Christianity at the famous 'Althingi' (parliament) of 1000AD.
This independent-minded spirit must have left a lasting legacy as Icelandic women were amongst the most successful in securing equal rights for women's during the course of the 20th century.

Female Celtic Warriors
Celtic mythology provides ample evidence of the power of women in pre-Christian Ireland. The country itself -Éire ('Ire(land)' in English)- is named after a goddess; the names of most of the great rivers with their life-giving waters are associated with nymphs, goddesses and female animals; the Celtic God of War (Morrigan)- the most masculine of activities- is female. Some of the most powerful Celtic rulers were women such as Queen Maeve and Queen Boadicea. (Bó = Cow in Irish)
The fiercest and most macho hero in Celtic mythology is 'Cuchulainn'. Yet he was actually totally female-dominated(!):
  • trained in martial arts and weaponry by Scathach
  • first defeated in battle by Aoife
  • protected by the War Goddess Morrigan
  • kept on the 'straight and narrow' (most of the time!) by his strong-willed wife Emer
  • nursed back to health from near fatal battle wounds by his mistress Niamh
  • and killed by the army of Queen Maeve
High Status of Brigit in Celtic Church & pagan associations

Brigit was also a powerful Celtic goddess of fertility associated with the birth of animals and symbolised by fire. Hence her links with one of the four great pagan festivals of the seasons- the Spring Festival of 'Imbolc' which occurs in February and the time of 'lambing'.
It is therefore quite possible that St. Brigit was originally a high priestess of the pagan goddess Brigit who converted along with her female followers to Christianity during the time of St. Patrick.
According to legend St. Brigit was the daughter of Dubhthach, an Irish chief, and one of his 'Picttish' (from modern Scotland) slaves. She was made a bishop by St. Mel (whom the actor Mel Gibson was named after) and founded one of the most famous Irish monasteries beside an Oak tree on the plains of Magh Liffe thereafter known as 'Cill Dara' or Kildare- 'the Church of the Oak Tree'.
In the Celtic pagan religion, trees were considered sacred, none more so than oak trees which were prime locations for spiritual worship.
The monastery also was the repository of a 'holy flame', another clue to its possible pagan origins as a temple of Druid priestesses in a sacred woodland. It also has striking similarities to the story of the 'Vestal Virgins' of Ancient Rome whose primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of the 'hearth'.
Under Bridget's leadership as Abbess and bishop, Cill Dara became a great place of spiritual learning and of the arts/crafts particularly metal work and illumination. For centuries thereafter, each succeeding Abbess of Kildare took the name of 'Brigit' and was regarded as a person of immense stature thoughout Ireland with the monastery being second only to Armagh in its ecclesiastical importance.

Rape of Brigit and the decline in the status of Women in Irish society
But over time, the importance of women in society was reduced as Viking raids, wars and the growing influence of the patrician 'male only' Vatican took its toll. The death knell came in 1132 when it seems troops of the King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough sacked the monastery, raped the abbess Brigit, carried her off and forcibly had her married to one of his followers. As is the case throughout the history of humanity, 'rape' is used as the ultimate weapon against female independence and the physical symbol of man's power over womankind.

McMurrough is the same man who invited the British Normans to Ireland to aid him in his wars; they of course soon decided to conquer the country for themselves and stayed for over 800 years.