Friday, September 13, 2019

Learning Outcomes vs Learning Objectives

Every module that I have taught over the past 17 years has a set of Learning Outcomes - usually about four or five. In essence, these outcomes are what students will have achieved upon completion of the module - assessment is based on these outcomes. When creating modules, one of the hard things to do is to actually write the learning outcomes. First - there is the level to consider, I usually use Bloom's Taxonomy for the appropriate verbs to use. There is a big difference in learning to "describe" something compared to "analysing" something. It is also hard to write a four or five statements that cover everything in the module - by their nature, sometimes module learning outcomes are high level compared to what is actually covered in part of a class.

From 1989 to 2002 I worked for an e-Learning company called CBT Systems, which became SmartForce, and which is now known as Skillsoft. It was all about producing e-Learning content - first on floppy diskettes, then on CD-ROM, and then on-line. All through this time the development of content was based on the following structure:
  • A curriculum with several courses - up to 10 in some cases
  • Each course had several lessons - usually three to five
  • Each lesson contained several Learning Objects - four to six would have been typical
So the building block for content development was to create Learning Objects, and then stitch them together into the above structure. Often we debated what the definition of a Learning Object was. I recall one occasion when one of the VPs (Bill B.) asked a bunch of us in a meeting "What is a Learning Object?" - we were not able to give him a satisfactory answer. In the end he told us that a Learning Object was "the content necessary to achieve a learning objective". From that day forth, content was created in building blocks of objects on the basis of achieving a single learning objective. If a learning object covered two or more objectives, it had to be split so that each part covered just a single objective. Very clear and easy to follow - at the beginning of each lesson, the learning objectives were outlined and then assessed at the end.

Learning Outcomes are not the same as Learning Objectives - the difference is that "outcomes" are at the macro level, and "objectives" are at the micro level. We clearly state the Learning Outcomes, but rarely state the Learning Objectives. Our timetables are rigidly based on hours - a one-hour class could have more than one objective. A typical module will have 36-48 hours per semester - so a lot of learning objectives will have to be covered. We kind of do this anyway - but perhaps not on the clear one objective per object that e-Learning allows us to do. 

In the era of bite-sized learning, do we need to begin to set a single learning objective for each bite? 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bite-sized Lessons - A Message for Third-Level?

An interesting ad popped on my Facebook feed this morning - it was from Babbel.com who were advertising bite-sized language lessons that last 10-15 minutes, with the tag line "you'll always find time for them". I like the sound of such short lessons, my own YouTube Channel contains short "How To..." videos of about 5-10 minutes length - this seems to work well for casual learners. I signed up for Babbel, but there is just one short free lesson - the rest are not free :-(

If you search for "Bite-sized Lessons" there are quite a lot. At the top of my search was Hub Spot who are enabling learners to "get bite-sized chunks of learning as you have your morning cup of coffee" - lessons are from just 4 to 20 minutes. 

MakeUseOf.com asks the question: "Have you ever taken a productive trip to the bathroom?" and tells us about Google's "testing on the toilet", which consists of topics such as testing for code.

Want to learn Irish? Duolingo offers learners to "Learn Irish in just 5 minutes a day"!

Learning in bite-sized chunks is nothing new - my view is that if someone wants to learn something fast, they will Google it and choose a quick way to learn. So content providers have recognised this and are even pitching "learning on the loo". With a vast quantity of educational material available for free on line, it is no wonder that the likes of YouTube and Wikipedia are becoming the first port of call when you want to learn something. Yet Universities and Colleges continue with timetables with classes that are one to four hours long. My shortest class this semester is two hours long, and my longest is four hours. Certainly not "bite-sized"!

Breaking a class up in to bite-sized chunks is awkward when the timetable is measured in hours. A solution of 15 minute bite-classes would be chaotically impractical. Instead of having a two-hour lecture followed by a two-hour tutorial (as in one of my classes), my practice is to break it up by trying to get students to engage in practical work as often as possible. For example, my on-line Programming class is basically just one big lab, with very little presentation/lecture involved.

At third level, we have vague broad Learning Outcomes at the module level. A 10-credit module might have as little as 3 or 4 learning outcomes for 12 weeks of classes. We usually don't go any deeper by outlining learning objectives (note different word) at the class level, and certainly there is very little (in my experience) use of learning objects at a bite-sized level.

More about Learning Outcomes vs Learning Objectives in my next post.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Back to Football at the Aviva #COYBIG #euro2020

Not since March 26th, 2013, had I attended an Ireland soccer match in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. By that time I had been a little fed up of very poor performances, crap football, and high ticket prices. On March 26th, 2013 Ireland and Austria shared a 2-2 draw with David Alaba scoring an injury time equaliser for the Austrians. It was also a very cold evening.

Switch forward six years to 5th September 2019 to see what I have missed, and to also learn a lesson in perseverance, commitment, and making the best of what you've got.

Not so cold in the Aviva last evening for a Euro 2020 Qualifier with Switzerland. The Swiss came with a great reputation due to recent form and high FIFA rankings - they were the favourites. In an even first half there were not that many chances and I thought Ireland were very comfortable defending against a more skillful side. As John Giles might have said, the Swiss were "no great shakes". In the second half, Switzerland upped the pace of the game and dominated for long periods. Still - I thought Ireland were comfortable with Coleman, Whelan, Duffy, and Randolph keeping us in the game - I also thought Hendrick was excellent throughout.

In a game where quality was rarely on show, a brilliant passage of play led to a goal from Fabian Schar scoring what looked like the winner on 74 minutes for the Swiss - the goal had been coming. The two guys in front of me got up and left - they were also 10 minutes late coming back after half-time, and were also late at the start of the match - tickets for our section were €45! Inexplicably, the Swiss dropped their pace and Ireland had a chance. A brilliant shot from Glen Whelan cracked off the crossbar, the Swiss cleared, but the ever willing James McClean reclaimed the ball, crossed into the box, and David McGoldrick nodded home. I had an excellent view of this being in line with the goal behind McClean. Relief, and a lucky escape with a draw.

So, my return to the Aviva was worth it to see Ireland's boys give everything against a better team - they never gave up and cannot be faulted for lack of commitment and effort. Ireland faces two away games out of the three that are left in our group - Georgia are up next (our best prospect of a win) followed by the Swiss. The last game in the group is home against Denmark - hopefully we'll still be in with a shout by then. Realistically, I feel the best we can hope for is to finish third and take our chances in the play-offs - Switzerland and Denmark should take the first two places in the group.

YouTube highlights from Sky Sports...


Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Sample/Taster Classes - Should We Do This?

Last evening I delivered the second of two Information Sessions to potential students interested in studying Data Analytics on-line at NCI. Part of the session was a sample class of about 45 minutes to let these students taste the experience of what an online class was like. In this session, which is carried out via the Adobe Connect Virtual Classroom, participants will get a chance to see what the virtual classroom looks and feels like - it is important not only that a course is right for a student, but also that a student is right for a course. I'm not the only person to deliver sample/taster classes, but is is relatively new to me - this is only the second year I have done them, and all have been on-line versions. But is a Sample/Taster class a true reflection of what the leaning experience is going to be like?

So my question today is: "Should Colleges deliver sample classes as a taster for what the learning experience is going to be like"?

Some of the things I did in my sample class:
  • The content for the class was taken from one of my statistics classes that I have been teaching for several years - very familiar material
  • Despite above - I rehearsed this class several times before delivery 
  • I made full use of the range of interactivity tools to engage participants
  • I got students to perform a simple experiment (tossing a coin) and I provided a link to Google Sheets where they could insert their results which were then shared and discussed with the class
  • I asked students to give a status (Agree/Disagree with a statement)
  • I used a poll as a leading question to a section on probability
  • I shared an Excel file so that students could try out what I was covering on screen for themselves
  • Throughout we used the Chat section for Questions and Answers
  • I used The Beatles and the chances of winning the Lottery as content - interesting examples that should prompt most students to pay attention
In short - I tried to have a full range of activities using interesting topics. I was acting as a salesman for the course!

I do point out in the session that students will have different lecturers in each module that they have, and that the experience will not be the same. None of my classes will be like above all the time! Just as students have different learning styles, teachers/lecturers also have different teaching styles. There is also a mix of teaching experience, in some cases they will have a lecturer teaching a module for the first time, while others (like me), will have been teaching the module for a long time. Use of tools in the Adobe Connect environment will be different - in short again, each class will be a different learning experience.

Some Colleges may be tempted to roll out the "A Team" for sample/taster classes (I do not flatter myself that I am part of the "A Team" in NCI!). Well rehearsed taster classes from an experienced lecturer with a specially chosen topic, and with lots of interactivity, may give a misleading experience. While I feel that we should still deliver sample/taster classes, it is something to be careful about.

It all reminds of an old Salesman Heaven and Hell joke...


The Salesman Heaven and Hell Joke (jokes.net)

When a young salesman met his untimely end, he was informed that he had a choice about where he would spend his eternity: Heaven or Hell. He was allowed to visit both places, and then make his decision afterwards.

"I'll see Heaven first," said the salesman, and an angel led through the gates on a private tour. Inside it was very peaceful and serene, and all the people there were playing harps and eating grapes. It looked very nice, but the salesman was not about to make a decision that could very well condemn him to a life of musical produce.

"Can I see Hell now?" he asked. The angel pointed him to the elevator, and he went down to the Basement where he was greeted by one of Satan's loyal followers. For the next half hour, the salesman was led through a tour of what appeared to be the best night clubs he'd ever seen. People were partying loudly, and having a, if you'll pardon the expression, Hell of a time.

When the tour ended, he was sent back up where the angel asked him if he had reached a final decision.

"Yes, I have," he replied. "As great as Heaven looks and all, I have to admit that Hell was more of my kind of place. I've decided to spend my eternity down there."

The salesman was sent to hell, where he was immediately thrown into a cave and was chained to a wall, and he was subjected to various tortures. "When I came down here for the tour," he yelled with anger and pain, "I was shown a whole bunch of bars and parties and other great stuff! What happened?!"

The devil replied, "Oh, that! That was just the Sales Demo."

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"We want to be learners - not students" via @emasie

Elliott Masie.
Image source: The Masie Center.
I love it when Elliott Masie's "Learning TRENDS" newsletter arrives in my Inbox - I have been subscribed for over 20 years (you can subscribe here - he has been doing this since 1997!). There is always something new and thought-provoking in his letters to his subscribers, and today's is no different. Today he tells us about his end of summer learning thoughts, one of which is: "Brand Change - From Student to Learner". He recalls recently dropping out of a University on-line course as the "learning method was non-motivating" despite the content being "pretty good".  He added: "We want to be learners - not students". So - which term should we use for the people in our classes?

Thinking about this I am reminded of an occasion many years ago that we decided to stop calling students "students", instead we were to use the word "learner" here in the College. This caused some hilarity in the Students' Union where the abbreviation "SU" was commonly used. Instead of "Students' Union", "Learners' Union" was to be used - cue some jokes about "LU" (pronounced "loo"): are you going to the LU for a game of pool? It didn't catch on. Nevertheless, in some official documentation, we do use the term "learner" in things like module or course descriptors. In fact, I do a search in any of my documents to ensure that I have not accidentally inserted the word "student".

My preference is for the word "student" - after a lifetime of using this term, I'll not change now! While Elliott Masie's focus is in the main directed at corporate learning, we have a lot to learn from him in academia. As someone who now teaches on-line, I do find it hard to be motivating in my methods from beginning to end of class - it's hard work! Some of my students do drop out, like Elliott did. I don't have an insight as to why this is, but I suspect non-motivating learning methods are amongst a variety of reasons. Maybe if students were motivated to learn more, they would not drop out?

Learning is best achieved with motivated teachers and learning methods - not just on-line, but in classes too. Here are some some research-based strategies for motivating students to learn from provided by the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching:
  • Become a role model for student interest
  • Get to know your students
  • Use examples freely
  • Use a variety of student-active teaching activities
  • Set realistic performance goals 
  • Place appropriate emphasis on testing and grading
  • Be free with praise and constructive in criticism
  • Give students as much control over their own education as possible.
Source: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

The full list and explanations are well worth reading. I can't personally say that I do all this, but Elliott Masie certainly motivates me to adopt better strategies to improve student learning - thanks Elliott!. And the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching resource is a good place to start.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Data Scepticism & Curiosity

A few days ago I wrote about some advice for Data Analysts given by Brent Dykes, writing in Forbes.com, who tells us Why Companies Must Close The Data Literacy Divide. Amongst other things he advises us all to be both sceptical and curious about any data that we analyse. Critical thinking is a very important skill for students to develop, so I often tells my class to challenge any number that they see. My most basic example is "8 out of 10 cats" prefer Whiskas (according to their owners). How did they test this? Did they set up an experiment with 10 cats or more? What was the sample size? Was there a control group? Did the owners conduct a test? Such a claim would not pass a scientific test today!



Brent Dykes offers up some questions that you can ask to challenge the source and value of data. As he states: "it is important to be able to step back and weigh other less obvious factors that may be influencing the results and its interpretation". Here are his questions, and I recommend them to students analysing any data set:
  • Collection method: Could the method or way in which the data was collected influence the results?
  • Credibility: How credible or reliable is the source of the data?
  • Bias: Is there potential bias from either the data producer or you as the consumer?
  • Truthful: Is the data being manipulated in a way—intentionally or inadvertently—that misrepresents its true meaning?
  • Assumptions: Are there any implied assumptions that could be affecting how the numbers are interpreted?
  • Context: Is there additional context or background information that is missing and needed to properly understand the data?
  • Comparisons: If supplemental data is included for comparison purposes (e.g., period-over-period data), does it offer a fair and relevant comparison? Alternatively, is an obvious comparison missing?
  • Causation: Are you potentially confusing correlation with causation, which represents a direct pattern of cause and effect?
  • Significance: If the data is statistically significant, is it also practically significant?
  • Outliers: Is an outlier important or is it unnecessarily skewing the overall results?
  • Quality: Are you able to distinguish between data that is unusable or that which is still directionally helpful?
Source: Dykes (2017)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"Eugene O'Loughlin, your content violated YouTube's Community Guidelines and has been removed"

Oh dear - I am in the bad books at YouTube! Today I received an email from YouTube telling me that "Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think that it violates our harmful and dangerous policy. We've removed the following content from YouTube:



I think I can guess that they don't want anyone downloading videos, or perhaps the example video I used on President Obama's Inauguration was in breach of copyright. I published this video on 23rd October, 2013 - so it has taken nearly six years for YouTube to rap me on the knuckles. In this time, the video has amassed 89,918 views, 177 Likes, and 15 Dislikes. Further analytics are not now available, and I have 7 days to appeal this "decision" - no doubt made be an algorithm, not a person (or a "team"), before it disappears completely.

I will not be appealing this decision, even though you can still use Mozilla Firefox (with the Easy Youtube Video Downloader Express add-on) to download videos from YouTube. The screen shots I used six years ago are now dated, as is the choice of PowerPoint 2010. It feels funny to have a video like this classified as "harmful and dangerous", and I am sure I am joining thousands of other content developers having videos removed.

What does concern me is if this is the start of something new. By using screenshots from the likes of Microsoft PowerPoint - am I breaching copyright rules? Or am I just being "harmful and dangerous"? I'm also concerned that this may affect the search/recommendation algorithms for my other videos - will a bad boy get less? I'll be watching out for evidence of this over the next few weeks.

I hope that lots of the 89,917 views were useful for the folks that watched, and that many were able to show videos in their presentations. For a couple of years now it has not been possible to embed YouTube videos in a PowerPoint presentation - so my video was a handy workaround. 

A final BIG THANK YOU to all my viewers for watching this video!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Data Interpretation - What Questions to ask

My most common advice to students engaged in interpreting data for an assignment/project is to look for four things:
  1. Find links
  2. Observe trends
  3. What patterns emerge (eg clusters)
  4. Make predictions
This is basic advice, but it can be a useful starting point when you first open a data file and wonder what to do with it. Brent Dykes, writing in Forbes.com, tells us Why Companies Must Close The Data Literacy Divide. He offers loads of advice to improve data literacy for all. Included in this advice is some on Data Interpretation, and suggests making the following types of observations:
  • Trends: What direction is a trended metric heading (up, down, flat)?
  • Patterns: What repeatable patterns or cycles are you seeing in the data (e.g., seasonality)?
  • Gaps: Are there any obvious gaps or omissions in the dataset?
  • Clusters: Are some values bunched closely together in certain areas?
  • Skewness: Are values noticeably concentrated or skewed more to one side than another?
  • Outliers: Is there a data point that is detached or far removed from the rest of the data points?
  • Focus: Has something in the chart or table been emphasized to draw attention to it? Is it obvious why part of the data was highlighted?
  • Noise: Is there any extraneous data included that detracts from the main message of the chart?
  • Logical: Does the data help to answer a specific business question? Does the data support a proposed conclusion or argument?
Source: Dykes (2017)

These are really simple and great suggestions that I will now add to my shorter list. Students will naturally be curious about any dataset that they use, and many won't need a list such as above to get going. Nevertheless, Dykes' list will make a great starting point and will form that basis of a good assignment or project. Data Analysts/Scientists need to have the skills and tools to enable them to make the above different types of observations almost immediately upon opening a data file. While the list is aimed specifically at charts, I feel that it can be applied to any type of data. 

Think Data!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Interesting New Data Visualizations from YouTube #Analytics

YouTube/Google have stepped up their offerings to video content developers with their new Studio. This makes analysing data trends a little more interesting. Back in May 2015 (centre of chart below) there was an almost sudden Fall in the number of views - at the time I put this down to "advice" given to me by my YouTube Content Manager. This resulted in me making changes to tags and thumbnails which I blamed for the Fall in views. Today, while reviewing YouTube's new data visualizations I noted a huge contrast in the before and after May 2015 period. For several years my How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010 was by far my top performing video - it was my first million views video. This is illustrated by the purple line dominating the left side of the chart below. After the Fall, it never recovered the number of views. In the six months just before the Fall, my How To... Plot Multiple Data Sets on the Same Chart in Excel 2010 (in blue) increased dramatically before falling back along with all other videos. But it recovered and went on to become my second million views video, and is still my top performing video today. Strange!

The chart below from YouTube Studio is an excellent representation of seven and a half years of data on my five top performing videos. I like the choice of colours to clearly separate the five lines on each line, each data point is the number of views per day. Despite meaning that each line shows nearly 2,800 data points, the weekly and seasonal trends are clear to see. The chart is also very interactive with rollovers at any point giving more details. I, as the user, can also select from 23 different data sources and many different filters, and I can zoom in on any time period for mire detailed analysis. Thank you Google!

Tap/Click image to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

New Video: How To... Determine the Median Value in a Dataset

My latest education video is a short one showing how to determine the Median value in a data set. This plugs a small gap in my How To... Statistics by Hand playlist. The Median value in a data set is the middle value when the data are ranked from highest to lowest (or vice versa). This is easy to determine when there are an uneven/odd numbers of values, but not as easy when there are an even number of values. Here's how it works:


The Median is a useful measure in that it is not affected by skewed data. If you think about the average salary in a large company versus the median value - you may get a very different picture. Felim O'Rourke writing in TheJournal.ie "64% of workers in Ireland earn less than the 'average' salary", tells us that "the average earnings in 2017 were €37,646". He compares the mean value and the Median value concluding that the Median gives a better insight. The average value includes high earners whose salaries in the hundreds of thousands skew this average value upwards. For example, if there are 10 people working in a company and 9 of them earn €30,000 each while the 10th earns €60,000 - the average salary will be €33,000, but the Median value will be €30,000. Statisticians and data analysts should always consider the Median when describing data, as it can give a different and maybe more important insight into the data.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Python vs R Debate #analytics

One of the modules I teach is called "Programming for Big Data". It is normal when creating module descriptors not to be specific on what technologies will be used. So the module descriptor for this module does not specify what language will be used - it just states in general that "...programming languages such as R, Python, Java, etc" will be used. Last year I took over this module and decided to create a brand new set of course resources (I always do this when taking over a module, I just cannot use other lecturer's notes). As R is the preferred language in most other modules on our data analytics courses, and I was far more familiar with it - I decided to switch from Python, which had been used previously, to R.

Last evening at an Information Session for incoming students I was asked about this again, and would the students be learning Python. The answer is "No", and that we are continuing with R (students can choose in their Project module to use any language they wish). Today I decided to take a quick look at the 20th annual KDnuggets Software Poll (which had over 1,800 participants - so good sample size), and Python stands out the leading language. In 2017 Python and R were neck-and-neck (59% and 57% respectively), but this has changed in 2019 (66% for Python, and 47% for R). I am very glad to see that other technologies that we use in the Data Analytics programmes (RapidMiner, Excel/SQL/Tableau) feature strongly in the poll.

Image source: KDnuggets.
In this coming academic year, our Higher Diploma in Data Analytics (which I teach on), is due for its five yearly programmatic review. This means that the academic year  2019/2020 will be the last for the "old" version of our programme, and from September 2020 we will be starting with a "new" version. One of the biggest decisions we will have to make is whether we continue with R, or switch to Python as the main programming language. I am already favouring such a switch mainly for two reasons: first, the survey results below show a dramatic change, and secondly - Python is regarded as an easier language to learn than R. This is an important consideration in a one year conversion course like a Higher Diploma where a huge number of students will not have done programming before. 

Much debate ahead!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

3 Weeks with Google Pixel 3a #loyalty

Three weeks ago I started using Google's Pixel 3a - it is also of course 3 weeks since I dumped the iPhone series which I had been using since 2008. 

The first thing I can say about the Pixel is that it is far superior to my previous iPhone 6. For a budget smartphone (it was $399), it is the best phone I have ever had. Switching from iOS to Android was not as complicated as I expected, and so far I do not miss the iPhone. I'm still getting used to where things are on the Pixel.

Without realising it, it seems that I am part of a global trend of people switching from iPhone to an Android phone like the Pixel 3a. The excellent Statista website reports that Loyalty Is Waning Among iPhone Users. You can see below that it has dropped from a high of 92% to 73% - quite a decline and not good news for Apple's share price. 

Infographic: Loyalty Is Waning Among iPhone Users | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Price for me was by far the biggest reason for switching to the Pixel 3a. I simply was not prepared to shell out nearly a thousand euro for an iPhone X, nor was I prepared to wait for the Pixel 4 - rumoured to also cost around a thousand euro. Budget phones like the Pixel 3a provide everything that I need, so no need to spend a fortune just to keep up with the latest gadgets.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Back to work

Today I am back to work after a long summer break - memories of Route 66 and beaches in Wexford seem so far away while going through hundreds of emails that arrived in my Inbox over the summer. I always make a point of not checking work email while I am on annual leave. The main reason is that I believe that everyone should take a break from the work email - I often think of this as the longest dog leash in the world. Also - since I am not teaching during the summer, not much happens for me during this time anyway. Despite hundreds of emails - I have got through them all, only a few dozen need a response as most are subscription and automated mail.

End of Route 66 with a new academic year to look forward to.
I will be teaching the same modules as last year, so there will be a lot less workload in preparing for classes in September. This time last year I took on an R Programming module and had to prepare a complete new set of module resources - this involved a lot of work. Thankfully I can reap the benefits of doing this next semester (it was also my first ever online module). There will be some updates, but these can be handled on a weekly basis. 

I am looking forward to the new academic year - I will not have too many left as I see retirement on the horizon. My subjects are Statistics, R, and Project Management - nice modules to work with. There is a great buzz in meeting new students each year, lots of new people to get to know. I also look forward to meeting students from countries that I have not had students from before. Last year I had a students from Uruguay and Paraguay for the first time - diverse classes make for a great learning and teaching experience. 

Back to work!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Goodbye iPhone, Hello Pixel!

In September 2008 I got my first ever iPhone (I'm getting an iPhone!!!) - it was a a second generation iPhone. I was very excited at the time and since then I have been using iPhones through the various generations - my current one is an iPhone 6. I broke the screen on this early last year, but never got around to replacing it. It lasted well until our Route 66 trip when I think that sweat damaged the bottom part of the screen through the cracks. Due to a dodgy battery, it was crashing and running out of power all the time. Cue - a new phone. But which one?

A new iPhone was going to cost a lost of money. Sure - I would have loved an iPhone 10, but the price put me off and I started to look at other options. I had been reading about Google's Pixel 4 due out later this year and wondered about waiting for it. However, it is expected to cost around €1,000. As part of my research I looked at other phones and came across the Pixel 3a, and have found that for half the price of a Pixel 3 (Google's current flagship phone) I would get a phone that could do everything I need, and more. 

My new phone arrived today and I have been having fun setting it up. Google have a very straight-forward way to connect your old iPhone and transfer data and apps to the new phone. Not everything ported across, but I am impressed with the installation process. Once I logged into Google, everything Google related (Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, etc) was automatically installed. After 11 years of iOS, this was the first time that I had ever owned an Android device. The change in interface and how things work takes a bit of getting used too - but I am learning fast. The Pixel feels great and the screen quality is very impressive. The fingerprint access is cool, and the squeeze option to bring up Google Assistant is something I'm sure to use a lot.

Changing from an iPhone 6 to a Pixel 3a is skipping a few generations of phones, and the difference is huge. Already the Pixel provides me with a lot more features that can be accessed very easily with voice control. I never thought I'd switch from Apple to Google - apart from a brief experiment with the Microsoft Lumia phone, I have been loyal to Apple since 2008. The Pixel is the simplest to use phone that I have ever had, and I have not experienced any major difficulties so far. Goodbye iPhone, Hello Pixel!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Route 66 Look Back

The excitement is over, and Route 66 is now complete for us. This day last week was our last day on the road, and I am writing this post in the air over British Columbia on the way from Vancouver to Calgary on route to Dublin. No posts on the past week because I left my iPad behind on our Los Angeles to Vancouver flight. Thanks to Air Canada’s Lost and Found for finding it for me. This, combined with a broken iPhone, left me feeling a little disconnected over the past week.

Everything I had hoped that Route 66 would be came true. It was a great ride through such a variety of American countryside, with many different and exciting experiences. I suppose the first thing was the ride - 2,848 miles was a long way in 12 riding days. But my 59 year-old body was up to it. I had worried that Roma would be bored sitting as a passenger for the entire trip - but she loved it too. Our Harley-Davidson Electra  Glide worked perfectly, and it was a joy to ride - it was the best bike for a passenger too with a very comfy armchair seat for Roma to sit in. EagleRider was the company that organized and ran the trip - they are outstanding! I was a bit worried about rules and being confined to doing what our guides said to do, but it was nothing like this.

I learned a hell of a lot on this trip. First - you can put 15 total strangers together for two weeks and ride across most of America, and become great friends. We were lucky with our group - great people from the USA, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, and Belgium. We all had a passion for bikes, and a real interest in everything American. Anyone from our group reading this - thank you for being such fantastic companions on our trip. I also learned a lot about the route itself - it is part of American history - it is sad that some of it is no more, or some of it is derelict - we did ride many authentic parts of the old route. Sometimes this was parallel to perfectly good highway, but was brilliant nonetheless. We could not stop everywhere along the route - otherwise we’d be there forever. EagleRider did an excellent job in selecting the best places to stop - our guides Jan and Jennifer were the best we could hope for. While it was work for them, they made our holiday a great experience, sometimes hoping above and beyond the call of duty. Anyone even thinking of doing Route 66 - you could not get a better partner than EagleRider to organize the trip.

Yes - there were a lot of souvenir shops, I bought loads of t shirts and fridge magnets. But these will all remind me of a great trip. At least I have a new wardrobe to see me through the next few years. We finished our trip off to take a detour on the way home for a few days in Vancouver to see our daughter Kate - we had a lovely few days together.

The highlights of the trip were the Petrified Forest, the Joshua Tree park, Oatman, Santa Fe, making new friends, and pulling into Santa Monica at the end. I will miss this Route 66 road so much.


So - where to next? Where will our Route 67 be? Lots to plan for and think about. But the past three weeks has been amongst the best holidays I have ever had. Home now and a few days recovery in Wexford. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Victorville to Los Angeles, Route 66 - Day 14

We made it to the end!

After 2,845 miles (4,552 km) we reached the end of Route 66 at the Santa Monica Pier. The actual route is 2,448 miles, but with detours to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, with added on a bit more. Everyone in our group cheered in the Santa Monica car park as we got off our bikes for the last time on the Route. We posed at the “End of the Trail” sign with a sense of relief and achievement that we all arrived safely to this point. It felt great to complete America’s iconic road and I loved every minute of it.

This last day was one of the shortest rides on our tour. We set out to ride the Angele’s Crest Highway in the Angele’s National Forest, but a road closure knocked about 60 miles off our total. Nevertheless, it was a great ride weaving in and out of the twisty road. We circled around northern Los Angeles through Topanga, until suddenly the Pacific Ocean comes into view. It was a short ride to Santa Monica Pier where we celebrated our achievement. After the inevitable photo shoot, Roma and I wandered along the pier, had a hot dog and coke for lunch, and bought some more souvenirs. Soon it was time to go and we got back on the bikes to drop them off at Eagle Rider. A visit to Los Angeles is not complete experiencing the heavy traffic on six lane highways - we got this and more, but made our way through the traffic like a professional biker synchronized gang. It was a bit sad to drop my Electra Glide off, but it makes me hungry to get back onto my Road King in Ireland. 

Our final dinner together was a great celebration of our ride. We made great friends on this trip and it is already sad to think that we might never see some of them again. Route 66 is an incredible experience and I would certainly recommend Eagle Rider to lead any tour. What next? We’ll have to wait and see!

Good bye Route 66!

We did it!
A fun bunch to ride with.
Making shadows.
On the road in California.

At the start (and end for us) of Angele’s Crest.
Taking the shade at the last petrol stop in Los Angeles.
I enjoyed every single one of the 2,845 miles.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Las Vegas to Victorville, Route 66 - Day 13

Our second last day on the road saw us Leaving Las Vegas - while it was a bit sad to be leaving Vegas, I won’t miss it much. We had a long ride today with few sight seeing stops. It was very hot today, so we had plenty of stops for water. I was also showing off my new Route 66 themed helmet - my old one was past its best. While we had a lot of road to ride, there was still time for one Route 66 themed stop at Amboy - a very out of the way place that sold delicious Pecan Pies and feck all else. We had the simplest of lunches ever at a gas station a few miles after Amboy - a sandwich and a coke in the shade.

There is no doubt that the highlight of today was the long ride through the Mojave Desert after crossing into the last state on our tour - California. We rode through the Joshua trees at altitude and I did my best with a rendition of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as I rode along. Spectacular and hot sights. Our final stop before our hotel was at the forgetful Bottle Ranch - a sight that would be just a load of old junk except it’s position on Route 66 makes it a curiosity stop.

This evening we had our last dinner as a group on the road. It will be sad to leave such good new friends - we have one more day’s ride plus a farewell dinner tomorrow to go. Some photos of the day below...

At the bottle bank.
Showing off new helmet,
One of many water stops today.
The Joshua Trees.
On the road to the Mojave desert.
Leaving Las Vegas.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Laughlin to Las Vegas, Route 66 - Day 12

Today was an easier day on the bike as we rode the relatively short trip from Laughlin to Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam. We only had three stops on the way to Vegas. Our first was at a point overlooking Lake Mead (formed when the Hoover Dam was built). The ride to this point was unspectacular until we reached our destination. At the look out point we could see that draught is affecting water levels in Lake Mead. We then rode to the nearby Dam - but first there was a security check where the only question was “Do you have any weapons?”! After answering “No” I was allowed to proceed to see the Dam. There were thousands of people there - this is a huge attraction. There were a lot of delays crossing the Dam wall as there were so many people about - our second stop was at a great viewing overlooking the Dam form a high point. Brilliant! We then made our way back through the crowds across the Dam again.

Our last stop before the hotel was at Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas. This is a big dealership with lots of cool new bikes. Inevitably, I bought yet another t-shirt! We also bought a new suitcase as we will have a lot more “stuff” going home than coming out here.

We are staying at the Golden Nugget hotel, which is also a big casino. Again, I was not in the least tempted to try my luck. I did not win anything, but I lost nothing either! Instead we went to see the Bellagio Fountain in action and also enjoyed wandering around the likes of Caesar's Palace. One thing l did do was to have a go at the SlotZilla over Fremont Street. It is a very simple, slow, and short zip line experience. I would have liked to use my GoPro, but this is not allowed in case I drop it on someone in the street below. 

Tomorrow is our second last day on the road when we will cross into California. The end of this great trip is coming!

Some photos from the day below...

Huge amount of activity in Freemont.
Enjoying The Fountains of Bellagio at Beer Park.
Enjoying the sights.
Add caption
Welcome to Las Vegas at Harley-Davidson.
At the Hoover Dam.
At Lake Mead.
Getting ready for another great ride.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Grand Canyon to Laughlin, Route 66 - Day 11

What better way to start a day than get up on a bike and ride to a nearby airport for a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon! That was us today - up at 6 am for a thrilling 20 minute flight showing the canyon in all its glory. Magnificent, and probably the highlight of our Route 66 trip so far. 

Our next stop was in Williams, Arizona - a much more interesting town compared to Winslow yesterday. Here we stopped for coffee and wandered around the many shops, though several places were closed as it is Sunday. By now we are fatigued by the many places we stop that have souvenir shops - we bought very little today. The ride through the countryside today was at first similar to yesterday, but it got way better as the day went along. We had a “free” 60 ride through increasing desert countryside - loads of rocks to see. It was very pleasant to stick on cruise control at 52 MPH and to just enjoy the ride and absorbing the experience of the Mother Road. Later we would ride down from the heights of Northern Arizona into the western themed town of Oatman. The ride into the town was through a long series of dangerous and thrilling narrow winding roads over the mountains. I hung back a bit as the more adventurous riders took the corners at a higher speed than me - nevertheless, despite the danger, we all arrived safely into Oatman. This town is right out of a cowboy and Indian TV show - complete with burros (donkeys) wandering the street. We spent quite a bit of time here taking pictures and buying nothing in the endless shops. We felt like celebrities as we rode into town on our iron horses, and leaving later with dozens of cameras focused on us. 15 seconds of fame at last!

After Oatman, the heat increased dramatically to over 40 C. This was OK while riding, but slowing down and stopping felt like we were riding into an oven. We arrived into Laughlin soaking in sweat and we are staying in the Aquarius hotel, which is basically two tall towers built on a casino. I was not tempted by the many bright lights of slot machines, but I settled for a buffet dinner and a walk along the Colorado River which runs beside the hotel.

So - another great day on the road which experiences to remember for a lifetime. Tomorrow it is on to Las Vegas - more about that tomorrow.

Some photos from today...

Getting ready for the highlight of our trip at the Grand Canyon.
Pretending to be a gambler in hotel casino.
Standing near a corner at Williams, Arizona.
Williams, Arizona.
On Route 66 (Arizona).
You meet the strangest people on Route 66!
Roma at one of the many disused, but restored petrol stations, on Route 66.

Howdy Pardner!
Main Street, Oatman.
This coffin is too small for me!

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Gallup to Grand Canyon, Route 66 - Day 10

Another long and exciting day on the Mother Road - finishing up with an incredible sunset in the Grand Canyon. We left New Mexico and crossed over into Arizona - a State that I had last visited in 2000. Our first major attraction to see was the Petrified Forest where trees from millions of years ago were turned to stone. This is a national park which is very big, and you only get to see the stone trees near the end. The rocky scenery here is stunning, and despite some light rain it was an incredible experience to be able to ride through the “forest”. We spent over an hour and a half drinking in the experience - a fantastic start to the day.

Next we had a brief stop at the wonderful Wig Wam village. Lots of old (rusty) cars and trucks plus wig wams which are interesting looking but very small. Inevitably one of the major highlights of this trip was to be able to stand at a corner in Winslow Arizona - the Eagles song (Take it Easy) was an ear worm in my head for months before we set out on this trip. There’s no doubt that this sleepy town is milking the song and the famous mention of a corner. There are the inevitable souvenir shops and Eagles music playing everywhere. Someone in Winslow hit on the idea of turning the song into a tourist attraction - who knows why this particular corner was picked. Anyway, it was a great photo op.

We had a wonderful ride thought forests after leaving Flagstaff - a pleasant change from the almost desert areas of New Mexico and Arizona. Our destination today was the town of Tusayan near the Grand Canyon. We took our bikes out to the Canyon to watch the sunset (along with hundreds of other people). The Grand Canyon is awesome and it was. A wonderful experience to be there for a spectacular sunset - I’m so looking forward to. A helicopter ride over the Canyon tomorrow.

some photos of the day...

Sunset in the Grand Canyon.
Our first time together in the Grand Canyon.
Our new car (in the Petrified Forest).
National Park time.
Petrified trees.
With some of the wonderful petrified trees.
Admiring the view in the Petrified Forest National Park.
Wig Wam Village.
Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona!
We’re Still Standing.
A Star is Born in Winslow Arizona!