Friday, March 16, 2018

Baby Boomers and their Technology

A recent study of older Americans by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed "that over 90% of adults over 50 own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet". In an article: Getting Connected: Older Americans Embrace Technology to Enhance Their Lives by G. Oscar Anderson, we are told that "older adults are using a variety of devices to stay informed, shop and connect with others" - the data are nicely summarized by Statista below:
Infographic: Baby Boomers Embrace Technology | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

There are no real surprises in this, other than wondering what type of phones are the 22% of 50-59 year olds that don't have a smartphone are using. The Baby Boomer generation people (like me) born between 1945 and 1960, are now reaching retirement age. We grew up without WiFi, smartphones, computers, and Facebook. I guess like many Boomers, I wonder what our lives would have been like had we had the technology of today to grow up with. Many of us will feel that we will have missed out on the technology that the digital natives of today take for granted. 

Baby Boomers are not old (yet), and we love our technology. Our lives are different, and possibly better, because of technology. I think the above chart will look a lot different in another 10 years - there will definitely be more wearable technology as more and more devices for health services will be necessary for older people. Home Assistants will also be become as ubiquitous as the smartphone, with lots of services like health checks and security being standard on such assistants. 

Embracing technology? Bring it on!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Teaching as a Career?

Image source: Clipartion.
It is reported by Kevin Doyle in the Irish Independent today: "Almost 400 new college spots created amid demand for teaching courses". This is an announcement to encourage more students to enrol in primary and second level teaching courses - particularly for STEM subjects. This is partly to address "severe shortages of teachers in some subjects", but also in response to the "number of students starting secondary schools is increasing". Good planning I think you'll agree, though the extra places will bring the "number of places to more than 1,000" - I hope this is enough!

Why does anyone want to be a teacher? For those intending to go into primary level, they mostly have to make the choice as an 18 year old in sixth class in school. For second level, you have to get a degree first and then go into teacher training. For third level, there is no training - but it will take at least 6 to 7 years to get a PhD before you can become a lecturer. In the past I have heard people say that teaching was a "vocation" - I don't know anybody who believes this. Some people will have always wanted to be a teacher, while others (like me) will end up doing it in a roundabout route. Like every profession - you have to want to do it.

My advice to students thinking of a career in education is that it is well worth the effort. The personal rewards are great - though you won't get rich. When you see a student graduating and you can say to yourself "I had a part to play in this" - there is a great deal of satisfaction. All of the time - you are helping others, at times you need to have a lot patience and passion to succeed. Yes - there are frustrations (mostly to do with administration work and student behaviour), but you will develop your own strategies for how you will best deal with any frustration. The positives greatly out way the negatives. I would also advise students not to go into teaching straight away after leaving school or college. Get out into the world so that you can share these real-life experiences later with your students. If you want to be a French teacher, go to live and work in France, West Africa, or Canada. If you want to be a science teacher, why not try to work in industry first? If you want to be a history or geography teacher - travel and experience the rich culture of other countries. All this need not cost a huge amount, but I think it preferable to going into teacher training first.

Teaching is a wonderful career - but is not for everyone. One of the most common reasons to become a teacher is to make a difference in the lives of as many students as you can - so says Michelle Manno in a teaching blog post: "Reasons for Becoming a Teacher". She also tells us that as a teacher "you are more than just an educator: you are a mentor, a confidant and a friend". Teaching is truly a means to Change Lives Through Education.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Third-Level Education worth it? Maybe not - says David McWilliams

Albert Einstein (c1947).
Image source: US Library of Congress.
It won't come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I would not be in full agreement with David McWilliams who wrote in Saturday's Irish Times that "Third-level education is yesterday’s idea". This "idea" is perhaps surprising coming from an Adjunct Professor in Trinity College, the article seems to be a bit of rant against "credentialism"  (and having to go to the bother of filling out CAO forms in his family). McWilliams does not propose abolishing Third-level education or anything like that. The gist of his article is that the "value of stock of knowledge is falling because anyone can access it online", and that "it matters less whether an institution blesses you or not". Perhaps McWilliams is simply following the advice of the great Albert Einstein: "Never memorize something that you can look up"?

I think McWilliams here is a little bit guilty of regducing third-level education to simply being an exercise in garnering a blessing from a university or college in the guise of a credential on a piece of parchment. Of course we all (including McWilliams) know that it is much more than that. But he may have some argument in questioning the need for credentials in the modern world. Technology it seems is making this "yesterday's idea".

Technology has changed everything - or has it? Was it not always thus? Josiah F. Bumstead, writing in the book "The Black Board in the Primary School: A Manual for Teachers" in 1841 recalls asking a Clergyman on a school committee if the school had a blackboard. "No" replied the clergyman, "it is of no use to get them. If we had blackboards, we have no teachers to use them to advantage". Bumstead was of course astonished at this (so he wrote the book) - 175 years later we should be equally astonished if our teachers and students could not use technology to advantage. What will the David McWilliams' of this world be writing about in another 175 years?

In the same newspaper, Irene Falvey writes that her "arts degree has served me very well". Her degree was part of her path to lots of reading, travel, working broad, and getting a job related to her degree. Now that's more like it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

"unfair"? Making up for lost class time

Image source: RSVPlive
This morning it is reported in the Irish Independent that the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) have said that it would be "very unfair" to shorten Easter holidays to make up for days lost due to bad weather. This might sound like a little bit of moaning to those in the private sector, but the statement comes just two weeks before the Easter holidays, and no doubt teachers as well as students and their parents will have plans in place for the two week break. I myself am taking a break during my own College's two week hiatus in Semester II as our reading week is followed immediately by an Easter break week. I agree it would be "very unfair" to ask me to make up for lost classes (I lost two days of classes) by rescheduling missed classes during the reading week and break (and thus forcing me to cancel an already paid for holiday). The snow and storm Emma was no one's fault, and due to the closeness of the Easter break we cannot blame the INTO for its stance. For once I am in agreement with a teaching union.

It's easy to forget that this country does not experience extreme weather events very often and that we are not really prepared very well for them. Imagine if countries like Finland, Canada, and Russia came to a halt every time a few inches of snow fell? What we do need is a plan for when things like this happen - this is proper Risk Management. We can't stop the snow falling, but we can plan for what happens when days are lost like in the past week. While the risk of schools and colleges closing due to bad weather is quite small in this country - storms Ophelia and Emma have meant that at least four days have been lost this academic year. I will make up much lost time by shortening breaks and making my classes last as close to the hour as possible. If needs be, I will schedule an online or recorded class. But this is me micro-managing my own classes - others will do things differently. For State run schools where thousands of students, parents, and teachers are affected, it should not be beyond the might of the Department of Education to plan for making up lost time in all schools. For example, there could be increased class times for a short period, extra after hours or holiday time classes for exam students, use of technology to deliver on-line, and of course - pay teachers the extra that is needed to make this work. 

While there will be little appetite amongst many for using holiday time for extra classes for exam students, let's not forget that thousands of them will flock to grind schools this Easter paying a lot of money for extra classes. My view is that it is the Dept of Education that should at least be controlling this, if not providing the extra classes via the school system itself. The Dept does provide "advice" and "options" - but nothing concrete. leaving it to schools themselves to figure out.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Irish 101 complete!

FutureLearn, part of DCU, are in the process of creating basic Irish language courses aimed at people from other countries who want to learn a bit about Ireland as well as pick up the cúpla focal. Their first course: Irish 101: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture, is now finished. I took this course out of curiosity as well as a personal journey to re-visit the Irish language. I even managed to complete it! I am now enrolled in Irish 102: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture which starts on 26th March next. Both are short courses with a suggested four hours a week study.

The experience of learning Irish again was a mixed one for me. I'm not proud of the fact that I cannot hold even a modest conversation in Irish. From 1964 to 1977, I probably had Irish classes every school day. I even attended 6th class in an all Irish school in Trabolgan (Co Cork) from September 1971 to May 1972. I wasn't particularly good at speaking Irish, but I was awarded a Fáinne Nua at the end of this school year (I think every student got one!). I scored a D in honours Irish in the Intermediate (Junior) Certificate exam, while I got a C in ordinary level Irish in the Leaving Certificate. Since 1977 I have almost never had the need to have a conversation in Irish. Despite this, I was surprised at how familiar the Irish covered in the first course was to me. It has to be said that there was a lot of Dia dhiut and  Is maith liom in it - basic stuff. Quite a bit of grammar was covered (which I had totally forgotten), which was a bit boring. There was a good mix of animation, video, text, and quizzes - well done to the Future Learn e-Learning team for developing content that holds student interest well.

I'm looking forward to Irish 102 where among the topics we will be learning how to discuss the weather, and tell the time in Irish. Anyone interested in taking the course can enrol hereBígí linn – join us!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Snow means no classes #sneachta

With the whole country shutting down and joking about bread for sale on Donedeal, it was inevitable that NCI would close too because of the bad weather. Many of our students travel long distances to College and it would have been unfair to expect them to attend lectures. Classes for Thursday and Friday are also cancelled. Interestingly, online classes are cancelled too.

Snowmen (snowpersons?) in Blackrock this morning.
The word "cancelled" is an interesting one. We are in week 6 of the 12 week semester, and cancelling one week's worth of classes will put a lot of pressure on lecturers to complete a 12-week curriculum in 11 weeks - or to be more accurate, 7 weeks of lectures in 6 weeks. I'd prefer if the word used was "postponed", but with hundreds of classes being cancelled over the next three days, it will be very difficult to reschedule everything college-wide.

I have two evening classes (Weds and Thurs) and I cannot afford to lose one class. If I cannot reschedule the classes, I have the option to cover the material on-line or in a recorded lecture. I could also make sure not to set any exam questions based on material due to be covered at the end of the module in case I don't get to it. Another alternative is to speed up, but much feedback from my students tells me that I go too fast already. I could also ensure that I stick to the curriculum and not get side-tracked as I often do. My classes always start on time, but I could shorten breaks and continue until last minute.

I hope all our students stay safe and warm, and that they wrap up well in front of the fire while studying!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wedding Bells for Eileen and Peter

I am just home after the wedding of my niece Eileen to Peter in Kilkenny - a great day was had by all. It was a great family occasion and we celebrated the happy couple's special day in style. I decided to take a lot of photos with my 10-year old Canon EOS 350D. When I got it I found it to be a fantastic camera, but it has been surpassed in quality by the iPhone. I had a lot of difficulty with focusing it, and ended up having to delete many out-of-focus shots. I did get some nice ones below to share.

I wish Eileen and Peter all the happiness that they deserve for the rest of their lives - best of luck to you both!

Mother and Grandfather of the Bride.

All Married Now!

The Happy Couple arrive at Lyrath Estate.

With Roma, Claire, and Vicki.

Chris and Kathleen.

With my little sister.

Brendan and his Grandfather admiring a 2012 Brenchley.

First minute of wedded bliss.


David and his Grandmother

With my two Bros.

The Boss enjoying a pint.

The Best Man Michael with a well earned pint.

The wedding party.

Mother and Bride.

My Mum and Dad.

Cousin Lauralea and Joe.

With Roma.

Kathleen and Chris.

The Bride and her Grandmother.

The Happy Couple.
Granddad dispensing advice to Claire.


Vicki and Claire with Grandparents.

The O'Loughlins.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eugene Loughlin - more family details

Earlier this week I discovered my namesake, and great-great uncle Eugene Loughlin who lived in London, and I also discovered he had a son called Eugene who was five years old in the 1911 census. This census show no details on my uncle - I now know that from the England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index (1837-1915) he died in July, August, or September in 1907 in Woolwich. Based on the ages of his sons Patrick (6) and Eugene (5) in the 1911 census - they were obviously very young when he died. Patrick and Eugene are my first cousins twice removed - I will try to find out more about them.

Eugene Loughlin married a Marie Quin in October, November, or December 1901 in Greenwich, London. It seems odd for a Catholic family at that time that their first son, Patrick, was not born until 1905 - perhaps there were still births or infant deaths between 1901 and 1905. His death in 1907 would have been at the young age of 37 years - did he die in an accident, get cancer, or die of a heart attack - we'll probably never know. 

It's fascinating to look up ancestors and find snippets of their lives on-line. In another hundred years it will be easy for researchers to do this to find out anything about us today. I have no pictures from the early 1900s to see what my great-great uncle looked like. Future generations will have millions to choose from on Facebook and the like!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Post #2000 #Blogging

On 13th November 2006, I published my First Blog Post. Today, over 11 years later, this is my 2,000th post. Never would I have thought back then that I would write so much and that it would become part of me. I have written about education, family, sport, travel, books, politics, history, technology, data analytics, and yes - some shite too!

Below I've plotted (using Tableau) the number of posts each month since I started blogging:

Click/Tap image to enlarge.
2016 (in red) sticks out as it was the year I challenged myself to write a blog post every day - which I found difficult to do, and will probably not try again for some time. I can also see it took me a couple of years to get going. After my first post of just two posts in 2006, I only made 15 posts in 2007. 

I've always felt that this blog is a personal website - blogs were originally set up as "web logs", a kind of on-line diary. I often wish I had started doing this when I was much younger - I'd love to reach back to my school and college days (which are fast fading as memories). I have regularly received comments on this blog which have slagged me off, criticised me, disagreed with me, supported me, and of course lots of spam. It can be liberating (and scary) to share thoughts and discuss topics of the day on-line - but what the hell. Not that many people read this blog, though posts do show up in Linkedin views quite a bit. When I write about educational matters it usually gets picked up by, which can double or treble views.

Thanks to all those who have read any of my blog posts. I plan to keep going for at least another 11 years!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"Eugene Loughlin" - 1901 UK Census

When I was baptised "Eugene" after Pope Pius XII, it was the first time in some generations that the eldest born male O'Loughlin was not named "Joseph" or "Patrick". My Mum told me that my grandfather PJ (Patrick Joseph) was a little perturbed at the name she had chosen, but could not argue with me being named after a Pope. He then said that he was happy because he had an uncle "Eugene", a brother of his father "Joseph", and that it was a family name after all. 

My great-great uncle Eugene Loughlin was born on 25th November 1870. The "O" and apostrophe was commonly left out in official documents at the time. I am told he was a publican in London, and I decided this morning to search for him in the 1901 census in London using Sure enough, I found him straight away, with his sisters Hanna and Mary, living in 58 Mansford Street in Bethnal Green. There are no houses there now - a block of apartments occupies this site opposite Oaklands Secondary School for girls. Eugene is listed in the census as a "Licenced Victualler" and is classified as "Own account" meaning that he was self-employed. No occupation is given for his sisters. Here's an extract from the census form:

Click/Tap image to enlarge.
I have found no trace of this Eugene after the 1901 census either in UK or Ireland - Perhaps he died between 1901 and 1911. I have found a "Eugene Loughlin" in the 1911 census, aged 5. He had a brother Patrick aged 6 - definitely family forenames. They are listed in the household of Michael and Marie Dennehy living in 206 Albert Road, North Woolwich. This house also does not exist any more, it is in an area that was heavily bombed in World War II - and is very close to the location of an unexploded bomb found earlier this week. Michael is listed as their step father - perhaps a clue that that my great-great uncle Eugene did die between 1901 and 1922. Interestingly, their mother Marie is listed as a "Licenced Victualler" - perhaps keeping up the family business! 

Click/Tap image to enlarge.
More research needed!

Monday, February 12, 2018

How To... Create a Random Sample in Excel 2016 #YouTube

It been a while since I last published a "How To..." video on YouTube (five and a half months to be precise). Today, while browsing through a Research in Education book I came across a short piece on random selection of a sample from a larger population using Excel. I decided to try this for myself and thought such a video might be useful. Using Excel's Data Analysis Tookpak, it is very easy to do - the video is just 3 minutes and 22 seconds long. 

Random sampling is an important technique in Statistics. Every researcher must be careful to avoid bias in sampling, otherwise experiments may be compromised and you may end up with meaningless or misleading results. Here's the video...

Friday, February 09, 2018

Professor Neil J. Salkind RIP #statistics

Image source: Amazon.
For over five years now I have been teaching statistics at NCI, and there's no doubt in my mind that the textbook "Statistics for people who (think they) hate statistics" has been a centre piece for me in preparing for classes, using explanations and examples in my notes, setting tutorials, and getting ideas for exam questions. Salkind's writing style is both humorous and informative - for me he has a brilliant, yet easy, way of explaining statistics so that they can be understood by almost everybody. I have often said to students that his book is my favourite textbook, and if I was ever to write a statistics book I would want it to be like his.

I have never met or communicated with Professor Salkind. Yesterday, while looking up details in Google to order the 6th edition of his book, I was shocked to see an obituary notice for him. He died on 18th November last year. I feel so sad - the world has lost a great teacher. I dedicated my Statistics class last evening to his honour.

Rest in Peace.

Here is Professor Salkind speaking briefly about the 5th edition of his well-known textbook:

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Why is data science sexy? via @james_aka_yale

James Le asks why is data science "sexy" in his on-line article: 16 Useful Advice for Aspiring Data Scientists? In the end he says that "sexiness comes down to being effective".  Hmmmmmm?

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Not a Data Scientist!
Image source:
The Dutch footballer Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink once said, in response to Alan Shearer who claimed that scoring a goal was better than sex:

"You can never say a goal is better than sex - all the guys that say that are not having proper sex."

I guess the same could be said for Data Scientists in what the Harvard Business Review calls The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century. Let's not lose the run of ourselves!

Le goes on to collate advice from 16 data scientists who responded to his question: “What advice would you give to someone starting out in data science?”. For students aspiring to become data analysts/scientists, the list makes for interesting reading. Just a selection of some interesting quotes from Le's article:

"It’s very easy to get a Wikipedia-level understanding of, say, machine learning. For actually doing it, though, you really need to know what the right tool is for the right job, and you need to have a good understanding of all the limitations of each tool."

"put effort into understanding how the data is captured, understand exactly how each data field is defined, and understand when data is missing"

"For the person who’s trying to transition like I did, I would say, for one, it’s hard. Be aware that it’s difficult to change industries and you are going to have to work hard at it."

Joke: "a data scientist is someone who knows more stats than a computer programmer and can program better than a statistician"

"learning how to do data science is like learning to ski. You have to do it. You can only listen to so many videos and watch it happen. At the end of the day, you have to get on your damn skis and go down that hill".

Eugene's advice:
  • Ask a question first
  • Answer the question by using statistics, data mining, and visualization to make sense of the data
  • Think before you plot
  • Challenge every number
  • Above all - be passionate about data!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Re-learning Irish #ConasAtáTú?

DCU are currently running a free on-line course in learning basic Irish - it's called Irish 101: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture. I decided I'd check it out for two reasons: first as an on-line learning experience - it's only three weeks long and I am less likely to drop out. Secondly, even though I hated Irish at school, I decided to brush up 40 years after my last Irish class and see how much I have to re-learn. 

An Fáinne Nua.
Image source: Gael Linn.
So far, not much of the basics is new to me - but is is really basic in the first lesson, "Conas atá tú?", "Dia duit" and all that. In 1972, after completing a year in a Scoil na nÓg in Trabolgan (Co Cork), I could speak Irish fluently and even had the precious Fáinne Nua to show that I could. But since then I have not had much use for Irish, though like a lot of Irish people I have found it handy when abroad and trying to confuse the locals. I have always been opposed to compulsory Irish in our schools - I prefer it to be a language of choice rather than being shoved down our necks.

The course has a lot of spoken English in it - but that's to be expected for first time learners. I will persevere (I'm almost a third of the way through). DCU have done a good job on this and I hope it is a successful programme for them, and that they plan some more for improvers. Good stuff DCU!

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Being Trolled

Recently a viewer of one of my videos added a comment that simply stated "IRA". Foolish idiot that I am, I responded pointing out that the IRA had nothing to do with the video and that it was a pointless comment. This unleashed several responses such as "Your pointless", "IRA bomber, run!!!!!!!!!", "FUCK THE IRA ACTUALLY NO JUST YOU!", "Over 50 lines of places to bomb!", and "IRA WERE GONNA DIE". Needless to say it is an uneasy feeling that someone would take the time to write comments like this (appalling grammar included) on a video that teaches you how to sort data in Excel. I reported the comments to YouTube as "Spam or Abuse" and blocked the user, but several reappeared as comments. I don't know if they were reposted by the troll, or if YouTube "investigated" the comment and decided they were not "Spam or Abuse".

Image source: Karen Gately.

Compared to some people being trolled - my experience is almost nothing. I often thought to myself that if it happened to me I would brush it off or ignore. I can understand how other people can get upset by abusive comments - it makes me want to reach into my computer screen and give the troll a clip on the ear. There are no more comments today, so I hope the troll has stopped - I hate to think that he (yes - I'm guessing that the troll is male) will have moved on to someone else.

For the record: I have never been in the IRA or planted a bomb.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Edward Browne, Colour Sergeant

Recently in correspondence with a distant relative, I was shown an extract from a family notebook that appeared to be copies of inscriptions from headstones in St Michael's Cemetery, Gorey, Co Wexford. There are several Brownes buried in this cemetery - see full list at The Brownes are my ancestors on my maternal Grandmother's side of the family. In the note (see middle below), the James Browne that died on 19th September 1876 is (I believe) my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. In the next note (at the bottom of the page), James is recorded as having erected a headstone (presumably) in memory of his father Edward Browne (also from Gorey and who of course would be my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather) - to my surprise he is recorded as being a "Coloured Sarg (sic) in Her Majesty's Service"!

There is not much military history in my family tree. While we are sure that my Great Grandfather James Byrne (no relation to the Brownes) served in the British Army in the First World War - no record of him can be found. To have an ancestor as a Colour Sergeant opens up the possibility that he may have seen action in the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). I have no record of how old Edward was when he died, but his son James was born in 1811 - so he definitely would have been of fighting age. More research needed. Note that I find there is some doubt about this as the St Michael's Cemetery list indicates that the Edward Browne who died on 15th June 1852, was 46 years old at the age of death.

According to Wikipedia, a "Colour Sergeant (CSgt or C/Sgt) is a non-commissioned title in the Royal Marines and infantry regiments of the British Army, ranking above sergeant and below warrant officer class 2". Wikipedia goes on to say that the "rank was introduced into British Army infantry regiments in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars to reward long-serving sergeants" and that this rank was considered to be a "a prestigious attainment, granted normally to those sergeants who had displayed courage on the field of battle". Go Great-Great-Great-Great Grand Dad!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Just how young is our @campaignforleo Taoiseach? #DataViz #Analytics

According a new Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll out today, our Taoiseach is enjoying excellent approval ratings of 60%. Pat Leahy writes in the Irish Times that Varadkar’s approval jumps to 60% as voters show their satisfaction. Much of this high level of approval is put down to Varadkar's youthfulness and straight-talking. As I have just started two data visualization modules this week at the College, it got me thinking when I saw this headline how could age of the Taoiseach over time visualized, and how does Varadkar compare to the other Taoisigh?

I looked up Wikipdia and one page gives all the information I needed to draw a time series chart in Tableau. With still quite limited skills in Tableau, I managed to create a coloured area chart with year (1922 to 2018) across the X axis, and age along the Y axis. Each shape that you see represents the time each Taoiseach* served and the age they were each year. The raw data consists of simply listing the name of the Taoiseach for every year between 1922 and 2018 in one column, and their age in a second column. One thing that Tableau is not (yet) good at is adding images. So I had to save the Tableau chart as an image, load it into PowerPoint, insert the images (all taken from Wikipedia), and save the slide as an image (I could have done this in a graphics package either). Below is the result:
Click/Tap to enlarge image.
Indeed, Leo Varadkar is our youngest appointed Taoiseach ever - but not by much. W.T Cosgrave was just 42 when he became President of the Executive Council in 1922, and Bertie Ahern was 46 when he was appointed Taoiseach in 1997. You can see that he has a long way to go to reach the longevity of former Taoisigh - Éamon de Valera was President of Executive Council/Taoiseach for 16 years years from 1932 to 1948!

The Tableau interactive worksheet (without images) for above diagram is available in Tableau Public at this link

*The title "Taoiseach" was not used before 1937, the title "President of the Executive Council" was used from 1922 to 1937 instead.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"May the force (of big data) be with you" via @ShradhaMukherj7

Dr Shradha Mukherjee provides us with a really interesting article in the DataCamp Official Blog about the "Top 10 Breakthroughs in Big Data Science in 2017". Google searches for "Big Data" now result in a similar number of results as does searches for "Star Wars". The list of breakthroughs, according to Mukherjee, makes for interesting reading - here are her "Top 10":
  1. Are we alone in the universe?
  2. Wonder how the dolphins are doing?
  3. Will this cancer medication really work?
  4. Can we predict the next severe thunderstorm and tornado?
  5. How to increase safety and minimize crimes?
  6. Is this a new species of plant?
  7. Can molecular structure predict smell of the molecule?
  8. Where did the constitution come from?
  9. Which is the best city to celebrate Christmas in U.S.?
  10. What's the risk of a second heart attack?
All of these questions are being answered with data! The list contains some trivial and serious questions, and I'll not reproduce all the details here - readers can go to the link at the top of this post to read the lot. However, two are most interesting for me: #5 and #9. I never believed that analytics could be used to predict crime, yet police in Vancouver are doing just this. They are using data mining to predict where "crimes are likely to occur" - a valuable tool I think you'll agree in the fight against crime. Imagine police shouting warnings to criminals along the lines of "Armed police - we have you surrounded with data"!

Chicago is the best of 100 cities in the United States to celebrate Christmas. Using 29 parameters, such as "affordability, number of Christmas events, shopping deals", a profile of each city can be built up to come out with the highest score (and best city). The cool thing about this is that any data analyst can do this and create a system of rating cities. You could gather/mine/scrape date from a variety of sources and come up with new and different "Top 100" lists. Imagine doing this for: best city to buy a book in, best city to go to the toilet in, best city for free stuff, and best city for creamy pints of Guinness! The list is endless!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

100 years of Coastal Erosion in Co. Wexford

The Irish Ordinance Survey has a really cool tool, called GeoHive, where you can overlay old maps with modern aerial photography. I have written here before about coastal erosion near our house in Co Wexford, and next week some local residents are meeting to see if we can get some erosion protection works done. Ahead of this I used GeoHive to generate the following image:

Click Image to Enlarge.
The overlay on top of the aerial photo is from the 1888-1913 25 inch map, and it illustrates how much of the coastline has been washed away in just 100 years. I have pointed out where the coastline was in 1988-1913 - this is directly opposite our house. To the left of this is the beach today, (running from top to bottom of photo) with the coastline clearly visible as a band of bushes to the left of this. The area to the bottom right, called "Pattern Green", is almost completely gone today - indeed the last house (at the 7 o'clock position under the "G" of "Pattern Green") made the news two years ago after it was washed into the sea. The photo above must be a few years old, as there has been much more of the coast eroded since it was taken.

The good news is that at the rate of erosion illustrated by my image above, my house will not be washed into the sea for another 100 years!  The bad news is that erosion has accelerated over the past few years and affects the value of every house that you can see above. There's no stopping Mother Nature, and we cannot predict what will happen over the next few years - will Mother Nature use Global Warming to pick away at more of Co Wexford's coast?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Nothing like a Passport to tell you you're getting old!

I recently had to get a new passport, and there's no doubt that one's appearance changes over the years. In 1974 (at the age of 15) I made my first trip abroad to France - the photo for this was taken by Barney McGirr, the Chemist in Carnew. Of course our passports were green back then - should we join the Brits and hanker nostalgically after our old passports? Every ten years a new Eugene shows up - a little older, and a little wiser. The ten year sequences was broken in 2008 when I lost my 2004 passport in France, and had to get a new one. For the 2018 version the photo was taken with my iPhone - it appears on both booklet and credit card style passports that will keep me going for the next 10 years. 






Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Census 2016 Sapmap Area: County Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown #Census

I often use census data in my Statistics classes (they are a great source of non-normal data) - this year I will be able to use the 2016 census results for the first time. One of the most interesting sets of data is from the Small Area Population statistics - you can look up your county or right down to your local area. The county Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) has a population of 218,018 - this includes me. It is also one of the wealthiest parts of Ireland (this does not include me!). Data are easily downloadable in Excel or PDF format.

An interesting analysis to make is to examine how people commute to work. DLR is well-served by public transport with trains DART, LUAS, and plenty of bus lanes. The pie chart below (created in Tableau) shows the breakdown of the census figure for "Population aged 5 years and over by means of travel to work" - this represents 94,397 people.

Data source: Census 2016.
Despite some of the best public transport infrastructure in the country, 47,577 (50.4%) of us still travel by car to work. Train, DART or LUAS is a distant second with 14,094 (14.9%) using this to travel to work. Only 7,781 (8.2%) use buses.

Despite the well-documented increase in the number of people cycling to work, only 5,770 (6.1%) do so in DLR - this is less than the number (6,875 or 7.3%) of people who walk to work. For my own mode of transport (motorcycle) I am one of the 805 (0.9%) people who reported in the census that we use a "motorcycle or scooter" to travel to work.

More to follow!

Monday, January 08, 2018

"Look what a Parking Payment Machine can do!" - Eight years later. #CunningPlan

On April 26th 2010 I wrote a post about the introduction of parking meters on Upper Sheriff Street in Dublin's Docklands (which previously had free parking) - Look what a Parking Payment Machine can do! At the time I thundered "Dublin City Council obviously decided that they were having none of this free parking lark and that folks would have to pay for the privilege of parking on Sheriff Street" and "What genius in the Council decided to do this?". I further moaned "Grown up people in the Council made the decision to charge for parking here, but all they've done is empty the street".

Well - almost eight years later, the street is still empty (the red Hyundai at the right in the photo below is mine at 11:30 this morning). I walk this street a lot at lunch time and it always seems to be empty. I wondered previously if a Cost-Benefit Analysis had been done - you don't have to be a genius to figure that this street is generating very little revenue for Dublin City Council - their cunning plan to generate more money does not seem to be working. 

But... perhaps it does make money? 1 euro buys you just 25 minutes of parking time in this empty street. I used up all the change I had which only got me 50 minutes while I dashed into the College to pick up some papers. 

In 2010 I thought this was " just mean and stupid" - I still do.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Computer science will now be a Leaving Cert subject, via @siliconrepublic #STEM

Yesterday, Education Minister Richard Bruton announced that "an important and timely addition to our education system" is being made with the introduction of computer science in second level schools. According to Eva Short in Silicon Republic, students will be taught "computational thinking and analysis; programming languages and how to modify computer programmes; and how to design webpages, digital animations, simulations, games, apps and robotic systems". Good stuff I hear you say - it should have the desired effect of increasing the number of students studying STEM subjects. There will of course be a knock-on effect for third-level colleges, many of whose introductory computer science modules in first year will have to be pitched at a higher level. This is initially being rolled out to just 40 schools this year, with first Leaving Cert exams taking place in 2020, adding a further complication for third-level colleges as some students coming into first year in 2020 will already have studied computer science, while most will not have.

Interestingly, the Silicon Republic article states that the new course aims to "teach students to be creative, adaptive learners and to employ flexible, solution-oriented thinking" - I would argue that subjects such as Maths, science, and many others already do this. According to the Action Plan for Education (2017), the Dept of Education has the ambition to "create the best education and training service in Europe by 2026" - quite an ambitious target in a European Union with richer countries aiming to do the same thing. No harm in aiming high, but sound-bites like this need to be backed up with action and a lot of money. Hopefully it all comes true.

Image source: Rupert Mallin.
But my main thought on all of this is from the educators perspective. What a time to be a young teacher, or for those studying to become teachers! Richard Bruton is one of the (very few) Ministers I respect - I assume he has the teaching unions on side (and inevitably the money needed too). Many inspiring young educators will be champing at the bit to be teaching these computer science classes. A pity it is just 40 schools first, but rolling this out to all schools at once would be risking too much. It is fascinating to me that in my lifetime, the classroom has changed from using inkwell and pen (yes - I did use these at a desk like the one to the right!), to modern classrooms with a computer on every desk. If every one of our teachers (and children) get this opportunity, there is no doubt that Ireland's future is bright. I might not get to share in this (2026 is the year I formally retire!), but I can watch from the sidelines to see how it all goes.