Sunday, February 14, 2016

Portaferry #322

Today I spent much of the day in Portaferry in County Down - I had attended the Month's Mind Mass of my late uncle Seámus Quinn. With both my Aunt Breeda and Uncle Seámus now sadly passed on, I am already wondering if and when I will be back in Portaferry again. I felt quite sad leaving the town as I have many happy memories of many happy visits there. The last time I visited Portaferry was in the summer of 2014 during my ride around the Causeway and Mourne Coastal routes - indeed this was the last time I saw Seámus. 

Below is a short  extract from my book Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes in which I wrote about Portaferry:


Portaferry to Strangford (85 km)

Strangford Lough is the largest sea lough in Ireland or the UK - it is also a Marine Nature Reserve. It includes several areas of special interest to marine conservationists and is recognised internationally as a major location for marine research. Arriving in Portaferry I first make my way to Windmill Hill overlooking the town. From here is one of the best viewing points in the lower part of the Ards Peninsula - you can see southwards towards the Irish Sea and the Mourne Mountains, west towards the town of Strangford, east towards the Isle of Man, and northwards up though Strangford Lough over the town of Portaferry.

View northwards over Portaferry to Strangford Lough.

At the top of Windmill Hill are the remains of Tullyboard Windmill that are still in good condition. It was one of the many windmills that dotted the hills of the Ards Peninsula and was built in 1771. Like other windmills in this area it was used for scutching flax and for grinding grain. However, it was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Day in 1878. From the top of Windmill Hill you can see the old St Patrick’s Church, which was built in 1762, and its adjoining cemetery. I pay a visit to the grave of my dear Aunt Breda who is also my Godmother. On a bright sunny afternoon looking out over Strangford Lough, this seemed like the most beautiful and peaceful resting place in Ireland.

Portaferry is well known as a boarding point for the short ferry journey across the lough to Strangford. Watch out for the ferry going sideways when the tide is in full flow. Overlooking the small harbour where the ferry arrives and departs is Portaferry Castle. On the seaward side the castle is intact, but several walls have fallen on the landward side. It was built in the sixteenth century by William Le Savage, who was a descendant of the ‘Savages of Ards’. This family were Norman knights who invaded England with William the Conqueror and came to Ulster in 1177 to seek their fortune. You can go inside to look at the thick walls and see the places where wooden floors once crossed overhead. Beside the castle is the Exploris Aquarium, which is well worth a visit to see the fascinating marine life from the lough and from the Irish Sea. Also here is the Portaferry Lifeboat Station which replaced the Cloughey station in 1980. One of its best known rescues was on 26 May 1985 when a converted fishing vessel, the ‘Tornamona’, hit rocks and sank at the entrance to Strangford Lough. On board were the Dunlop brothers, Joey and Robert, who were on their way from Portaferry to the Isle of Man TT races with a cargo of racing bikes.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Irish Euro Coin Proof Set #Proud #323

I have been collecting coins for as long as I can remember - most of what I have is a load of junk, but nevertheless I like to get the occasional proof set. The Irish Central Bank has recently released its 2016 proof set which commemorates the 1916 Rising and the 100th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Image source: The Central Bank.

The set contains regular proof versions of the 1c to €1, but it is the 2€ coin that gets the special treatment. We are now starting to see these coins in circulation. Quoting from the booklet that accompanies  the set, the coin's design is based on the "figure of Hibernia who stands atop the GPO building in Dublin". The design is by Emmet Mullins and it is a brilliant, if small, design that does justice to 1916. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Election Promises - this time: Labour. #GE16, #324 @labour

Image source: Labour.ie.
At 96 pages, Labour's Election Manifesto is the longest one I have come across so far - but I am only interested in what they have to say about third-level education. I searched their web site in vain to find the manifesto, and a tweet to @labour asking where it is got no response. Nothing for it but to Google "Labour Election Manifesto" - hence my 96 page result.

As in some of the other manifestos, the word "university" is not mentioned once. The word "college" is mentioned seven times - mostly in relation to Further Education Colleges and Institutes of Technology.

The section in the manifesto dealing with third-level starts out with "Labour abolished third-level fees in 1995, and we are opposed to their re-introduction". They did indeed abolish fees, but over the last five years in government they have presided over an increase in the student contribution to €2,500/year. Only in the Labour party could they see this as free fees. The first policy on the manifesto is that Labour expect "expect radical reform in third level institutions" in particular "the reform of academic contracts". Now they have my attention - so I decided to read on, but.... nothing on what they plan to do about contracts. Labour are committed to improving standards in third-level, but there's nothing new in this - so are all the other parties. They have an interesting idea to create an "Education Ireland" brand to make us a "Centre  for International Excellence". I also like their idea for international students: "Postgraduate students should be allowed work in Ireland for up to a year after they complete their studies. High-value research students should be allowed bring their families to Ireland if they are staying for more than two years" - at least this is progressive thinking. But how are they suggesting they will do this? The answer is - Labour will "prioritise the development of a one-stop shop website which can enable international students to learn about Ireland, pick a course and apply for their visa". A website - that will do it!

The other three party (FG/FF/SF) manifestos/election plans that I have reviewed are long on strategy, but short on ideas. Labour at least tries to be innovative, even in the face of possible disaster at next week's election. There seems at the moment that there's a very small chance that they'll get to implement any policy - so like the others, they can say and promise what they like.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fianna Fáil's manifesto for Third-level Education #GE16 #325 @fiannafailparty

Having taken a look through both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin's plans for third-level education in their policy documents over the past couple of days, today it is the turn of Fianna Fáil's "An Ireland for all" document. 
Image Source: Irish Election Literature.
I first reaction that I am not too impressed. So much of what they want to do - improve access, provide more resources for teachers and students with difficulties, re-introduce post-graduate grants, are also policies for other parties. Fianna Fáil do say they will freeze the student contribution "fee". They also say that they will "Raise Higher Education funding and standards" - to this they will provide €100 million for "current funding to Higher Education institutions". Given that there are over 40 Higher Education Institutions, that a bargain!

Perhaps the stand out policy for me is that Fianna Fáil will "Explore the roll out of an income contingent loan system to assist students and parents with costs". Student loans are thorny subjects in other countries, and can land students in debt for many years after they graduate. The commitment is to just "explore" - so we'll have to see how this will develop.

I suppose a political party has to have a manifesto, but the election will surely result in a hung Dáil followed by negotiations on policy with other parties. Basically, FF, FG, and SF can say what they like.

Tomorrow I'll see what Labour propose for third-level education.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What does Sinn Féin say about Third-level Education? #GE16 #326 @sinnfeinireland

The Sinn Féin Election Manifesto is 58 pages long, and I took a quick look this morning about what it has to say about third-level education. Like Fine Gael's Economic Plan (36 pages) there is actually very little mention of third-level education. Sinn Féin do however have some specific policies - they promise to abolish fees and introduce grants for postgraduate students. Good ideas I'm sure you'll agree. 

Image Source: SinnFein.ie.
Like the Fine Gael Plan, the word "university" is not mentioned, and the word "college" is used only once (in one of their case studies, p 12). I like their commitment to "academic freedom must be protected" and their stance that education is "a basic and fundamental human right". They also state that they will "invest additional funds to tackle staffing shortages at third level". Good!

Can the third-level sector rest easy reading the Sinn Féin manifesto? So far so good, though if they get into a government with other parties there is bound to be a lot of horse trading and who knows what educational policy will be. I would l certainly have liked to see more focus on research in the manifesto - indeed the word "research" is mentioned only once (in a reference to "fisheries and seafood" (p 55). I would like to see a better commitment to improving access to third-level, abolishing fees is not enough - this didn't work before when Labour did this in the 1990s.

By all accounts Sinn Féin are set for a good election with perhaps winning as many as 30 seats. If they do get into government there will of course be a lot of tough choices ahead for Sinn Féin, and their coalition partners, to make. My wish is for education at all levels to be a priority - more than any other sector it looks far beyond the present and into the future lives of our children.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

@FineGael's Long Term Education "plan" #GE16 #327

I'm not usually one for checking out political party manifestos or plans, essentially I don't believe what they say - now matter how well-intentioned or well-meaning they are. In our electoral system where an overall majority for one party has not been achieved since 1977, everything has to be negotiated post-election with other parties.

Image Source: Finegael.ie
Fine Gael has published "A LONG TERM ECONOMIC PLAN TO KEEP THE RECOVERY GOING" (their caps), and I decided to look at what their plan for education at third level is. Sad to report that it is very little, and very vague. The word "University" is not mentioned once in the 36-page document and the only time the word "College" is used is a single reference to the Garda College. In contrast - the word "etc" is used four times in the document! I also looked for reference to "third level" education  - none to be found, and the HEA (Higher Education Authority) is mentioned just once in a rather grand statement:

We will benchmark entrepreneurial activity in Irish higher education against appropriate international peers and work with the HEA to ensure an ambitious and implementable plan to identify and address skills gaps, ICT and STEM needs. (p22).

There's no proposal on how above is to be done, though I'm sure in time that Fine Gael will publish a green paper on their policy, followed by a white paper, and maybe even an orange paper (to complete our national flag colours!). This proposal concentrates on "entrepreneurial activity", with no mention of learning and teaching, or research. There's no mention of funding for research in third-level, though there is a vague statement about "Doubling investment in publicly performed research".

Oh dear - not much in this document for the third-level sector to get excited about. I suppose it is natural that I, as a third-level employee, would look into such documents as above and see "what's in it for us". I'm sure others do this from other sectors. I would hope that the successive policies of all our governments of improving access to third-level education is continued and improved further. For me, providing funding for conversion courses in areas like Data Analytics, Software Development, and Cloud Computing is an inspired use of public money provided by the Springboard and ICT Skills initiatives, Long may they continue, and I certainly hope that Fine Gael, and all the other parties, commit to this.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Sometimes NOT Going to College is the Best Thing to do #328

There's no doubt that there are many successful people in the world who did not go to College. If your measure of success if getting a career that you love, then College may not be for everybody. Sometimes dropping out or not going at all may well be the best decision that a young person can make when they leave school. There's enormous pressure from teachers, career advisers, classmates, and parents to "pick a course" in a College as a natural progression from school. 

Image Source: GreaterMalaysia.com.
Tessa Cooper chose not to go to College and it was "it was the best career decision" she ever made. Writing in the Guardian Online she tells us about looking for a job straight from school (it was not easy without a degree), and being determined not to let the lack of a degree hold her back. At the age of 24 she is now a Product Manager having worked for The Guardian, Comic Relief, and FutureLearn. Judging by her success I've no doubt that she would have succeeded at College too. I feel that she set out to succeed and overcome barriers (such as no degree) that got in her way. This separates her from many others who do not have the same determination. If you would like to find out more about Tessa, see her website called The Start-out where she has a "collection of stories, advice and ideas to help young people find and develop a career they love".

There's no law that says you must go to College straight after school. Most of my own students are mature learners over the age of 25 - many have never been to College before. Colleges like the National College of Ireland (as our mission statement says) change lives though education, by providing courses for older students. Whether it is an undergraduate or postgraduate degree of study - learning part-time while working suits many people. Some students keep on working during the day, and study by night. It's never too late to go to College, my oldest ever student was in his 70s! 

Studying for a degree is a very fulfilling and rewarding achievement. It is not for everybody. Some employers, such Ernst & Young, have now removed the requirement that you must have a degree in order to apply for a job. It will be an interesting research study in years to come to see if this will make a difference.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Carnew Musical Society and AIMS honour my Dad #329

It's always nice when a community never forgets and honours one of its members. In the Gorey Guardian this week you can see an article by Fintan Lambe entitled "Carnew Musical Society and AIMS honour Joe O'Loughlin". He occupied many positions on local and regional committees - culminating in a two year term (1980-1982) as national President of the Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS). He was presented with a gold pin and a copy of a portrait of him in his chain of office in honour of his contribution to AIMS and Carnew Musical Society.

Image Source: The Gorey Guardian.
Dad loves his music and is still a keen supporter of the Carnew Musical Society. He and my Mum Phil love to go to shows - Carnew Musical Society will be hosting its 50th show this November. I'm certain that both have seen every one of the previous 49 shows several times! Your community and family are very proud of you Dad!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Fundraising for Mellon Educate #330

This morning I assisted Roma for a while in her bucket collection for Mellon Educate in the Bloomfield Shopping Centre in Dún Laoghaire - she's off to South Africa again this year. I have managed to reach my 57th year without ever having done this before, and I have to say I was both nervous and uncomfortable about asking people for money. I had the quiet shift between 09:30 and 10:30, and I guess I collected about €20 in that time (including a tenner from a nun!).

It is an interesting people watching experience. Some people of course put their hands in their pockets and drop a few coins into the bucket. Many say they'll "get me on the way back". Some apologise and say they have no change. Others avoided even looking at me as they passed by. One or two were a bit rude. I'm in no doubt that I have done all of the above to other bucket collectors!

It will be in a different light that I will pass all bucket collectors from now on - I expect I'll be a soft touch for the next while. Even if I choose not to donate I will try to be polite no matter what the cause is.

For more information about Mellon Educate, check out the video below:

Friday, February 05, 2016

Election Kick Off #Yawn #GE16 #331

So - General Election 2016 is finally here, and the fun begins. Three weeks of election promises are coming our way and each party will make us happier and more prosperous if we elect them. What a bore! 

Two elections ago I got a letter published in The Irish Times about using a colour scheme to both identify and shame political parties who leave their poster ties behind. Today, on our road there are still poster ties from elections past - I think most people will agree that the whole country is still littered with these plastic "fuck you" reminders from our politicians. I challenge them all to remove not just their own, but all ties from lamp posts that they are removing posters from after the election.

Apparently, poster campaigns are very effective. Often I hear about election candidates who have had a brilliant poster campaign, and have benefited at the ballot box. In my constituency (Dún Laoghaire), some candidates decided to put up posters before the official "off" - Cormac Devlin (FF) and Mary Mitchell-O'Conner (FG) suddenly discovering the need for "Public Meetings" that require their faces to grace our lamp posts before the election starts.

Because of this blatant misuse and abuse of the rules about election posters, neither Cormac Devlin or Mary Mitchell-O'Conner will get a vote from me. Do you think I am stupid? Do you for one second think I am going to look up at a poster on a lamp post on my way to the polling booth and think to myself: "Wow - what a great poster - I think I'll vote for that candidate".  Jaysus!

More election rants over the next three weeks!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Nine Million @YouTube Views #332

Yesterday my YouTube Channel passed the nine million views mark. As always I am greatly humbled and honoured that the channel has had so many views, and that so many people find my videos useful. Yesterday in the elevator in the College a student, not in any of my classes, thanked me for my statistics videos which he said helped him pass his exams. The 9,007,320 views, since November 5th, 2007, is charted below:

Click image for larger view.

You can clearly see that the upwards trend in views of a couple of years ago at first stalled and then declined. The narrow pointed declines show Cristmas/New Year period each year. This year the decline was to a new low of 1,004 views on Christmas Day. You can also see a very sharp decline from early May of this year - this is the time I introduced thumbnails as graphics to each video in the channel. I removed them in January this year and am already seeing a good rise in views (at the right side of the chart) in response to this move. 

It also took a long time to move from 8 to 9 million views, almost nine months (it took just four months to go from 7 to 8 million). This reflects the steady decline in views this year. There is a lot more competition of viewers on YouTube, and of course some of my videos on the likes of Excel versions 2003 are now getting very dated.

Anyway - as soon as I saw the number, the Katie Melua song "Nine Million Bicycles" came into my head. No doubt it will be an ohrwurm (ear worm) in my head for the rest of the day. Here she is..... Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Do you need a Masters to get a job? #333

Students coming up to their final undergraduate exams often ask me for advice about doing a Masters - specifically if it will give them a better chance of a job. Last week I also posted about if a postgraduate degree is necessary to get a job. Since then I have come across an article in The Independent (UK version) that London Zoo was "under fire for advertising job vacancy seeking ‘unpaid intern with a Masters degree". No - the internship was not about shovelling shite, but was for part of a conservation project that relies on volunteers to get the work done. The job ad (since removed from ad agency) stated that applicants should have "undergraduate or Masters level degree". The article further goes on to put the Zoo under fire for this because it is based in London where the cost of living is very high, and therefore would exclude everyone except those whose families "have the financial means to support" them.

Image source: London Zoo.

If a Masters graduate is passionate about conservation and animals - I don't see anything wrong the with advertising the position as done by the London Zoo. However, it is an indicator of the ever higher qualifications required for some positions - perhaps in the future a similar ad would look for a PhD student. 

Students have to manage their own expectations when it comes to job - expecting to walk into a 50 grand a year job is not a practical expectation. I'm a supporter of internships whether paid or unpaid - vital experience is gained that otherwise might not occur. Students of all qualifications should consider it as just one step of many on the road to a career of their choice.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Bringing BYOD to the Classroom #BYOD #334

As Colleges grow and attract more students, there is inevitable pressure of classroom availability. Some classes are moved on-line, while Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) offers the opportunity to turn ordinary classrooms into computer labs. This semester I am holding a class in an old style tiered lecture theatre where students are bringing in their own laptops instead of using computers in a lab. I'll be sure to report here on this throughout the semester. 

The Open University published a report a couple of years ago: Innovating Pedagogy 2014, in which it states that "BYOD could be considered as enriching and extending existing teaching methods" and that it "is a means to introduce everyday social learning to the classroom". Up to now, I and many of my colleagues work in a traditional controlled classroom environment. In a computer lab everybody has the same access to the same software and other resources. It is much easier to plan a lesson if everyone is using the same device. When students bring their own - things change. For example - last evening in my BYOD class some students asked how to do things in Excel using a Mac (which I have never seen, never mind use). Others used Google Docs instead of Excel and I found myself unable to answer their questions. For the first time in a few years I felt I was not in control in a class, and I felt foolish and unprepared for this to happen.

Image Source: The Workflow.
BYOD is a new challenge for me and I hope that my students and I can work together to make things work for an "enriching experience". Like anyone who walks into a class to deliver a lesson - we like everything to "just work", and not to be concerned with things like Google Docs on a Mac being used when you planned Excel on a PC. BYOD is here to stay - let's hope we are ready for it.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Exploring Ireland's East and South East Coasts #335

This semester I have two evening classes on Mondays and Wednesdays finishing at nine o'clock. This allows me to have the morning off in lieu and some time to myself. There are several things I want to use this time for: some exercise, blogging, and writing a book. 

In 2012 when I first set out on a motorcycle trip around the entire coast of Ireland I started in Dublin at the South Wall (in photo below) intending to circle around the coast roads of Ireland. When the trip was complete I started to write a book about the trip beginning in Dublin and working my way clockwise around the coast. The intended title was The One Hundred Corners of Ireland.
At the South Wall in Dublin Bay with Howth Head in background.
When I first sent my early chapters on counties Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford to various publishers I was rejected by them all. One called the samples "self-indulgent" and said "who cares" about my travels! In the end the Liffey Press published Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way which covered the coast from Kinsale to Derry. This book is now sold out and no longer available to buy new.  Last year I self-published Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes through Createspace (paperback) and Kindle Direct Publishing (eBook). This book covered the coast from Derry to Newry. What about the east and south east coasts?

Exploring Ireland's East and South East Coasts will be the third part of a trilogy following on from the two books above - I will self-publish this. I will have to manipulate the story of the trip so that I start at Newry and finish in Kinsale. I already have about 18,000 words written about Dublin to Kinsale, but much of this will have to be reworked to delete the "self-indulgent" bits! Also, I had not thought of adding photographs in my original 100 Corners book - but I will do so in the new book. Photos push up the cost of print to order books a lot, but I will also have a cheaper Kindle version as well.

After several months of inactivity on this project, I am starting back on it today. In addition to reworking the Dublin to Kinsale bit, I will have to write Newry to Dublin from the start. I know I will also have to revisit some parts of the coast to get more photos from places that I either missed or did not get good shots first time around. 

Ready, steady, go!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Feeling Robbed by @VirginMediaIE #336

Yesterday I was singing the praises of Virgin Media for their super broadband speeds in my neighbourhood, but today after opening my mobile phone bill - it is a different feeling. While I was in the US earlier this month for a week I got charged a whopping €61.50 for usage while roaming. Knowing that it is expensive to roam, I had kept my mobile phone activity to a minimum (except in WiFi zones). I turned off data roaming, but crucially not until the day after I arrived. I did get a text message (see below) from Virgin Media on arrival warning me of their outrageous charges of €2.50/min calls and a whopping $7.00/MB of data. I've no argument with the calls and texts which amounted to a staggering €34.54 - I tried not to use the phone at all but this proved difficult on a family holiday. Despite turning data roaming off on my phone I got charged €26.96 for "Internet Usage while Roaming".

I called Virgin Media Technical Support to check this out, and sure enough - I did access the web on the morning of 8th January. For example, I got charged €2.55 at 00.16 am for 14 seconds, and €10.40 for 60 seconds only 10 minutes later. Outrageous! When I got home I turned data roaming back on and couldn't resist contacting Virgin Media on Twitter to ask "Why bother"? 


Because Virgin Media don't have their own network I'm certain that they are at the mercy of Three who probably charge them a fortune for piggybacking on their network. I also got a great deal (including unlimited data in Ireland!) to join Virgin Media (€25/month) - so I can't complain too much. They could of course just be robbing us blind - but Richard Branson is not like that. I think?

I wonder when the people that sit down to work out the charges - what are they thinking? A business model where you charge an exorbitant fee for a service and warn customers not to use it, just doesn't make sense to me. I made a mistake - not turning off data roaming before I left Ireland. Clearly they like it when customers forget to do this - nice little earner!

Contrast the above €7.00/MB with my wife's service provider Vodafone (who I left to go to Virgin Media) - she had 200 MB a day for FREE

Virgin Media customers - be warned: Don't use your phone abroad.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Oh How Things Have Changed - 228.73 Mbps! Thank You @VirginMediaIE #337

It seems like no time ago that I and my neighbours suffered the rubbish Broadband service from Eircom. Despite many promises from Eircom, our promised speed of 8 Mbps never got near 2 Mbps and was frequently lower - I moaned quite a lot about this (see post from October 2010 here). With the arrival of UPC (now Virgin Media) on our road in March 2013 - all that changed, and since then we have enjoyed great service. I saw an ad yesterday by Virgin Media claiming up to 360 Mbps so I decided to see what our speed was this morning. I had signed up for 100 Mbps, which was upgraded to 125 Mbps free by a Tech Support rep when I was making a service query. The test below shows a staggering 228.73 Mbps - I have no idea if I could spot the difference between 125 and 228 Mbps. The speeds are getting so fast and upgrading frequently - Virgin Media don't even bother to tell us that our speed has increased. It just happens (woohoo!).

Then (Eircom)
Now (Virgin Media)

However, I and my fellow residents of Dublin are the lucky ones - we are connected to a fibre network built by UPC/Virgin Media. Most people in the country are not. My mobile phone can only pick up a max broadband speed of 0.1 Mbps at my Mum and Dad's house near Carnew - yes, that's zero point one, over two thousand times slower than my connection here in Dublin. Of course, they are not connected to a fibre network, and the local broadband over the Three network is rubbish. Many houses cannot do things like watch Netflix, work from home, or do many of the things us Dublin residents now take for granted. 

There is news today in the Irish Independent that 500,000 rural mobile users 'to get better signal' (there must be an Election soon?). This is to cover mobile phone "blackspots" because the mobile phone companies do not have to guarantee 100% coverage. While it is not practical to connect every household in the country to a fibre network, actions such as allowing Amplifiers (currently illegal without a licence) could connect more people to better speeds and services. No doubt urban speeds will continue to get faster, but rural areas should not be left behind.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Turning into an Arsehole in 10 Seconds #RoadRage #Apology #338

Yesterday morning while riding my bike into work at about 07:45 I got into a confrontation with a motorist. I was riding through Blackrock between the two lanes of traffic on my very wide Harley-Davidson. Occasionally there would be two cars close together, and I would have no option but to wait for the traffic to move on before I could make progress. Sometimes motorists move out of the way, but on a big bike I basically have to wait most of the time. This morning after a similar wait I moved through some traffic outside the Frascati Shopping Centre. I pride myself on the skill to move between traffic without touching the cars (or cages as we bikers prefer to call them). Suddenly I heard a roar behind me from a driver in a red Citroen Minivan:"HEY!". I ignored it. "HEY" again, and instead of riding away (as I should have done) I decided to confront the motorist whose car I had just passed by. Here's the (brief) conversation (with actual words):

Motorist: "HEY - MIND MY MIRROR!"

Me: (after reversing a few feet, and knowing that I had not touched his mirror): "Could you show me where I touched your mirror? (yes - I was pompous and wondering why he decided to lecture me about this after I had passed)

Motorist: "That's not what I said" (in fairness).

Me: "I have been riding through traffic for the past few minutes and not touched a single mirror".

Motorist: "Mind my mirror".

Me: "Fuck you and your precious mirror".

What made this driver confront me, and for me to turn into an arsehole and issue the F word to him in less than 10 seconds? Perhaps he was angry at being stuck in his cage while I nonchalantly passed him by? Perhaps I hated my riding skills being questioned?

I apologise to this unknown driver for using the F word - but not for anything else.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Using My Own Data in Class #339

Preparing class notes is part of every Lecturer's job. Some lecturers will use notes created by others, some will use lecture notes provided by text book authors, while other will create their own. My preference is to create my own - I find I understand the subject better, and consequently am in a better position to teach it.

I use a lot of material from textbooks and examples form the web. Creating notes for students has got easier with online resources. So - if I want to show an example of a chart, it will be easy to find a suitable example online (citing source of course!). Not being an active researcher, I have very little of my own data to use in notes - YouTube Analytics from my channel is about the best that I can do. However, last evening I introduced the topic of "Multivariate Analysis", and while preparing the notes I remembered that I did a lot of this type of analysis for my PhD between 1985 and 1987. There is no soft copy of my PhD, and only three hard copies were ever printed (I have one, the Library in Trinity has one, and God knows where the other one is!). There is also a microfiche copy in the Trinity Library. So I decided to use a chart from my PhD to illustrate the results of a multivariate analysis - here it is (scanned from my hard copy):

This shows three populations of Calliostoma zizyphinum (a marine snail) from Scanlan's Island (Co Clare), Rosmoney Bay (Co Mayo), and Audley's Castle (Co Down). I took ten shell measurements for loads of shells at each site and fed the results into a computer which generated the above printout, and it shows that the three populations can easily be separated based on their measurements. Shells to the left of the diagram are a lot narrower that those on the right. I got a bit of a buzz in using my own 30 year old PhD data in class for the first time, and explaining to students what it means.

My PhD was submitted to Trinity in January 1988 as a printout only - no online or disk submissions in those days. Inside the back cover I included a printout of all my data, which I have since scanned into a file. Now - do I dare carry out the multivariate analysis I did in 1987 on the same data again? It would be interesting to see if modern tools would show the same result. What would I do if they didn't? 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is a postgraduate degree necessary to get a job? via @TimesHigherEd #340

Many undergraduate students ask me about continuing their studies after they graduate - a Masters is sometimes looked upon as a ticket to a getting a good job. It can be an expensive year or two, but can definitely improve a student's prospects (though I'd love to see hard evidence of this). 

Image source: Postgrad.com.
Victoria Halman, writing for Tines Higher Education, asks the question: "Is a postgraduate degree necessary to get a job?". In her article, Halman quotes research that "confirms that having a postgraduate degree will enhance earnings over time". A postgraduate qualification is becoming an "unspoken requirement" for many positions, and it is "becoming the norm".

For some positions, a postgraduate degree is a mandatory requirement - try getting a job as a Lecturer in a university without a PhD! In my own career I am certain that my PhD played a significant role in being hired by CBT Systems in 1989 and NCI in 2002. If I lived my life again I certainly would do the PhD again. 

I'd like to think that students would embark on postgraduate study because they really want to study/research in a particular area - in other words they are passionate about their studies. I'd hate to think that they think it is the ticket they need for a job. I have met many students with Masters degrees who find it difficult or near impossible to get a job, but most seem to get on the job ladder. 

It is also an opportunity to prolong student life - this was certainly a factor for me in making the decision to continue as a postgraduate student in the Department of Zoology in Trinity in 1983. The late Professor JNR Grainger encouraged me to do so - I remember well him commenting on my final (4th) year project that I "had a talent for research" and should use it. I did, and added nearly four more years to student life.

My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that students should get some work experience after graduating, and then come back for a Masters after 2-3 years. I also think that students should definitely go to a different College for their postgraduate studies for different experiences in a different academic environment. Postgraduate study is very rewarding and worth doing - but only for the right reasons.

My first business card.
One final note - does it guarantee a job? As I said above, I feel it was a benefit when I was hired by CBT Systems. However, when I was getting my first business card I was not allowed to add either "Dr" as a title, or "PhD" after my name. This decision was of course made by people who did not have a post graduate qualification, but was made in case I looked over-qualified and in case it intimidated others. How things have changed!

Euegen O'Loughlin, M.A., Ph.D. (Dubl.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Irish obsession with third level is unhealthy via @IrishTimes #341

Writing in an Opinion piece in today's Irish Times, Pat O’Mahony (Education and Research Officer at Education and Training Boards Ireland), tells us that over "the past 50 years, we have become obsessed with the idea that third-level education is the way to achieve our economic destiny". According to figures he quotes "the numbers going to college have ballooned from 11 per cent in 1965 to 69 per cent in 2011. Ireland now has the highest proportion of young people with third-level qualifications across the EU". Impressive stuff I think you'll agree. However, Pat also quotes recent research by the HEA that one in six of our third-level students drop out after first year. The EBTs (I had never head of this group before today) were set up in 2013 and provide education for programmes like Youthreach and Skills for Work - essentially non-third level training programmes. Pat  (in the Irish Times article) suggests that more emphasis be placed on apprenticeships. Pat is right in suggesting that more students should consider apprenticeships, but my sense is students should not pigeon-hole themselves in any particular area.

A Carnew boy gets a PhD!
(With my Dad - 14th July, 1988)
College is for everyone.

There - I said it!

College is no longer for the elite that it once was - it is open to all and should remain so. So what if one in six drop out after first year - the more that go to College, the higher this figure is going to be. This opportunity should be available to all school leavers, and those coming back to education. Access to education is a human right, it is a European right, it is an Irish right.

No exceptions.

If we put barriers in the path to education, we are not doing the right thing by our students. Pat O'Mahony is well meaning is his thoughts - specifically "would it not be better if, on leaving school, these young people entered employment through an apprenticeship". But please - do not ever deprive students of an opportunity to go direct to third-level (in fairness - O'Mahony suggests that apprenticeships could be followed by College).

Keep the paths to College open. If a student does not succeed - they have learned by the experience and may want to try again. I myself failed second year in Trinity, and thanks to my Dad - was encouraged to try again.

The National College of Ireland (where I work) has a mission: "To Change Lives Through Education". We mean it. College is for everyone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Attendance Rates for Third-level Lectures are Falling Due to Online Notes via @IrishTimes #WhatsNew #342

Students have unrealistic expectations, says Dr Greg Foley in last Thursday's Irish Times, on "the level of work required to perform well in college". He points to the amount of course notes that lecturer's are making available online and the "growing dependency culture in which students rely on material posted on the internet by their lecturers". He states that we are discouraging "students from being independent learners" by doing this. So what do I think?

We use Moodle for all course resources in NCI. I can't imagine not using it for my classes - my own teaching work relies heavily on me posting not only course notes, but exercises, sample files, and links to other online resources. I also use it to communicate with students and to do things like post results of continuous assessments. In short - it is a vital tool for me that I could not do without.

Has Moodle pushed my students into a "dependency culture"? Of course - I don't know the full answer to this. But my sense of it is that students are becoming dependent on Moodle (and other CMSs). If I forget to upload notes ahead of a class it is almost certain that at least one student will email me and ask (sometime demand!) when will they be uploaded. Many students follow along my lecture with my notes on their screen (at least I think that's what most of them are doing) - some even add their own notes. 
Is Moodle to blame for a "dependency culture"?
Image Source: Moodle.Org.
The trouble with some lecturers is that they themselves attended class years ago when there was no online material and many will long for the "good ol' days" when you had to write everything down. It's almost as if we had to do it the hard way - so so should today's students. Thankfully most of us have got over this nostalgia trap and make good use of on-line resources. At least I think we do - I have seen very few course pages belonging to other lecturers. I have not ever been at a best-practice in Moodle session - we all do our own thing. I'd like to see some research on this.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Looking Ahead to Semester Two #343

Tomorrow is the start of a new semester at the National College of Ireland, and it is both a busy and exciting one for me. I will be teaching the following modules:

ModuleCourse
Business Data Analysis
Higher Diploma in Data Analytics
Advanced Business Data Analysis
Higher Diploma in Data Analytics
Advanced Business Data Analysis
BSc in Technology Management
Managerial Foundations of Information Systems
BA in Management of Technology in Business
Business Systems Analysis
Certificate in Business Analysis

Above is one module more than I normally do - so it will be busy getting through this lot. I'm guessing there are about 160+ students in the combined classes. The Advanced Business Data Analysis module is a brand new one for me (it follows on from the Business Data Analysis module). I've had to brush up on statistical techniques such as Multiple Linear Regression, Multiple ANOVA, and Factor Analysis. Also I will be using the R Programming language in this module. I'll be keen to emphasize that it is not a programming module as we will be using R packages mostly. Nevertheless, I'm expecting this to be a challenging module. 

An extra challenge is that for the first time I will have a BYOD (bring your own device) class, students will be using their own laptops during the new Business Data Analysis class in a normal lecture theatre as there is huge pressure on labs in the College due to the success of our Springboard courses. Hopefully this will work out OK - this is on Monday nights and due to Easter Monday we will lose a class that I cannot afford to do in order to cover all the content.

While working on the Business Systems Analysis module, I will be updating the content for the module due to the release of the BABOK v3 last year. This will also mean an update to my Introduction to Business Systems Analysis book which I hope to get done before the semester is complete. There's also a re-submission of the Higher Diploma in Data Analysis course as we are adding a Data Visualization module, this in turn requires a reshuffling of other content to fit it in.

It's good to be challenged!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

50 Years of AIMS, and my Dad #Proud #344

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS). My Dad (Joe) was once National President of this organisation in 1980/1981. Last evening, at The Lodge pub in Carnew, Dad was presented with a commemoration pin presented to all former Presidents of AIMS. They also presented him with a framed photo with the AIMS chain of office from 1981. He looks great - in the photo he was 50 years of age. Today, with the pin, he is 84 (almost 85) - and still going strong. Congrats Dad!

Dad in 1981 with the AIMS chain of office.
Dad (with AIMS 50 Years Pin) today.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Abandonment in eLearning Courses? via @emasie #345

In his latest edition of "Learning TRENDS", Elliott Masie notes a sharp rise in "abandonment in eLearning courses". Masie reports that learners "take the first session - but don't return for the next section" especially in MOOCs where there is often a 85% abandonment rate of registered learners after the first few segments of learning.

There are of course several reasons for abandonment. Among others, Masie suggests reasons such as "Interest Fulfilled", "Return If Needed", and the "Slippery Slope". I agree with his assertion that learning content creators need to "watch and learn from Television Producers about changing models of participation". 

Short, sharp, and focussed video content is what users want - I think this is a factor that everyone in the eLearning world acknowledges. It is here to stay. Asking learners to wade through hours of content in a MOOC or any other online course is an invitation to increase the abandonment rates. 

The pattern of student drop out of a typical course.
Source: Science20.
A recent report from Think With Google, tells us that a whopping "67% of millennials agree that they can find a YouTube video on anything they want to learn" and that what the report calls "micro-moments" are the new battlegrounds for "people's hearts, minds, and dollars". This trend has implications for Education at all levels. At third level, our courses are still broken into 3-4 years, in turn broken into semesters, then weeks, and finally 1-2 hour classes - the same as it has been for centuries. I see it in my own classes that it almost impossible to retain students' attention for a 50 minute lecture. This of course is not a new phenomenon - I was a student once myself who switched off seconds after the mention of Krebs Cycle in biochemistry class. No Facebook or YouTube to distract me in the 1970s!

Education content developers and providers need to absorb the above trend, and design learning around smaller chunks of Learning Objectives. Many third level institutions define a 12 week module with just 4 or 5 learning outcomes. Coming form an eLearning background myself I always thought that this was a bit ridiculous - eLearning was about developing Learning Objects (one per learning objective). A short three hour course could have 12 to 15 learning objectives. These were small chunks of learning developed individually and then assembled into a longer course. The elearning course was always structured in a way that students could always take the learning objects that they needed, and skip the ones they didn't need. My colleagues in CBT Systems/SmartForce in the 1990s were ahead of their time.

A new debate is needed in the next few years before this evolution in learning turns into a revolution. Thanks to thought leaders like Elliott Masie, I think this debate is underway and in good hands. Where it will lead us - we have to wait and see!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Great Animated Explanation of Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" via @fghtmediocrity #346

In class I sometimes refer to Habit #7 in the late Stephen Covey's  "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". I am a great believer in sharpening the saw by taking breaks and never carrying over annual leave days from one year to the next. I came across the video below created by Malkhaz Geldiashvili, and I think it is a great way to explain the 7 habits.  



I don't know if I have ever met a "Highly Effective" person - very effective, yes. I certainly can't consider myself to be "highly effective" as I have a lot to learn according to Covey's list of habits. His book is one of those in my house that has been on a bookshelf for years, but I have not read it all. Perhaps it's time to dust it down and read it all? I'll report back later in the year if I do so!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Taken Before Their Time #347

Rock music has lost many notable artists recently, many who I grew up listening to. It seems that the generation that is just 10-15 years older than me are starting to gig in that great stage in the sky a little too early. Look who we have lost (and their ages) in the past year:

  • Glenn Frey of the Eagles (67)
  • David Bowie (69)
  • Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead (70)
  • Phil Taylor of Motörhead (61)
  • John Bradbury of The Specials (62)
  • Natalie Cole (65)
  • Jim Diamond (64)
  • Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate (71)
  • Cilla Black (72)
  • Steve Strange of Visage (55)
  • Chris Squire of Yes (67)
  • Bob Burns of Lynyrd Skynyrd (64)
  • Leslie Gore (68)
  • Demis Roussos (68)


Image source: Classic Rock Bob.
All these music icons were in their sixties or early seventies - it has indeed been a terrible few months for music. Of course in my youth I would have thought of anyone older than 50 was ancient, but the ages of the above are uncomfortably close to this 56 year old.  

Please - God? Take no more, or at least wait until they are too old to rock.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Are traditional lectures better than watching a video? via @timeshighered #348

Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone of the University of Nottingham, writing in the Times Higher Education website last September gives his opinion on "This is why traditional lectures are better than watching a video". While he sees some value in recording lectures, he refers to these videos as "souvenirs of a module", he sees no substitute for the "the enforced regularity of attending a lecture at a fixed time, every week, which can provide a useful structure for learning". Looking through logs of views for his videos, he finds that "many students watch the videos only in last-minute binges before a coursework deadline, instead of during the week in which they were directed to watch them". In my own blog post yesterday I reported that YouTube Analytics from my channel shows similar evidence of my own students viewing videos one or two days before an exam. Dr Rennick-Egglestone also points out the "social nature of traditional lectures" and how they provide a forum for discussion for students. 

Image Source: Slate.com.
While I am in agreement with most of Dr Rennick-Egglestone's points, I do think he sees some value in providing short videos as a "supplement to a traditional lecture" rather than a recording of the whole lecture. I have never recorded a lecture, though I have made a video at my desk by recording a voice-over for one of my PowerPoint notes at the end of a semester when I had not covered all content in class. I have made lots of short videos to supplement my classes - I find that these work well for my students.

The way content is consumed and delivered has changed enormously in the past 27 years that I have been working in education. The first lesson I created in 1989 was delivered on a 5.5 inch floppy disk - it could only be viewed on an IBM compatible PC, and nothing else. Today I could create the same lesson in a fraction of the time and in seconds have it available on multiple devices all over the world. The likes of Amazon Prime and NetFlix have changed the dynamic of how we watch and learn. No longer must we wait a week for the next episode - I think the same can apply for lectures. A lecturer can (as Rennick-Egglestone points out in his article) respond to levels of attention in a classroom, but not online. But I feel that the balance of video versus the classroom is swinging towards video. A good lecture should also make for a good video, while a bad lecture will not improve when recorded. There are many challenges facing lecturers with increased administration and research work as well as teaching. Video may be a help or a hindrance - but it is up to us to make it work. I see more and more of my (particularly younger) colleagues engaging in video creation. One day we'll all be doing it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Using YouTube Videos for Exam Preparation #349

When I first set up my YouTube Channel it was with the intention of providing videos primarily for my own students. The channel took off with more than just my own students viewing the videos - indeed, viewers from Ireland are just a small fraction of the overall number of views. 

My most recent series of videos was again aimed at my own students - these were about conducting statistical tests by hand. Effectively, I conducted each test as I would have in class, and crucially: how I would have expected students to do so in an exam. There are over 100 students studying the Business Data Analysis module and they sat an exam (set by me) on the morning of 12th January last. It was interesting for me to see if the videos I created were used by the students. While I can't tell who the viewers are, I can tell (using YouTube Analytics) which countries the viewers come from. Here a chart of the last 28 days view figures for just one video:



Of the 298 views, 219 were from viewers based in Ireland. Given that the majority of the views happened just before the exam took place (the peak is at the day before the exam), I think it is safe to conclude that most of these viewers were revising for their Business Data Analysis exam. This pattern is repeated in all stats videos on the "By Hand" playlist.

It is interesting to note that most views were just before the exam - are students leaving their revision very late at almost the last minute? Or are they just using the videos as a refresher before the exam? I can't tell if students have viewed the videos more than once, but the figures suggest a lot of last minute revision for this exam. There might be a paper in this?

It is gratifying that the videos are being used for the purpose intended. I have not marked the exams yet (and if I had I would not comment about it here) - hopefully the videos were a help for both revision, and understanding the content.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choosing College Courses #350

In the spring of 1978 I filled out a paper CAO application form with my top four choices as follows:

  1. Pharmacy (UCD)
  2. Pharmacy (Trinity)
  3. Science (UCD)
  4. Science (Trinity)

No doubt I added more to this list, but I can't remember what other choices I made. At the time I did not know that Pharmacy in UCD and Trinity was the same thing, UCD did not actually run a Pharmacy course at the time. I had 17 CAO points made up of 3 each for five C honours and 2 for an A in Ordinary Maths. Under the current system this would be somewhere between 350 and 410 points. Somehow 17 points was good enough for Science in Trinity, but not for UCD. With the limited help of a Career Adviser I made up my mind that since I was studying Biology and Chemistry in the Leaving Cert that I wanted to be a Biochemist. I really didn't know what a Biochemist was. I wasn't particularly good at Chemistry - I was good at Biology while History and Geography were my favourite subjects. Looking back I don't think that I was well informed about the choices ahead of me in the CAO process - not like the avalanche of information available to applicants nowadays. BTW - I remember delivering my application by hand to the then CAO office in Clare Street. No Internet thingie in those days!

Meeting Leaving Cert students at an NCI Open Day.
In the past week, Dr Derek O’Byrne (Registrar in Waterford Institute of Technology) wrote an Opinion piece for The Irish Times on High third level drop-out rates are due to disatisfaction with courses not ability (typo in an Irish Times headline!). In this piece he refers to Higher Education Authority research showing that "one in six students dropped out in first year". If this trend is followed we can deduce that approximately one in six CAO applicants this year will also drop out. O'Byrne also refers to work by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning that "satisfaction levels with chosen courses is a primary cause of student non-progression". Clearly, if a student is not satisfied with his/her course, then maybe it's for the best that they drop out and try something else. Leaving Cert students are under tremendous pressure to pick a course - I'd hate to be in that phase again. Computer Science was not an option in my day, I would almost certainly choose that if I were filling out a CAO form today.

It's difficult to give advice to Leaving Cert students - all are different. They have different abilities, different ambitions, different motivations, different likes/dislikes. Around 60,000 students will be sitting the Leaving Cert this year and us Colleges in September will shoe-horn them into just a few hundred courses. It it any wonder that some will drop out after a year? There's no stigma or shame in dropping out - it is your response to this that counts and what you make of your life afterwards. My advice is simple - go for what you like and what you are good at. Follow your heart, not just your head.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Seámus Quinn RIP #351

While I was away in the US my Uncle Seámus Quinn passed away after a short illness. He was 87 years old and was married to my Godmother and Aunt Breeda (O'Loughlin). Because of being away I was unable to attend his funeral which I would very much like to have been at to support and grieve with the Quinn family. Both Seámus and Breeda were always very good to me and I miss them both - I have fond memories of visiting them in Portaferry, Co Down.
Seámus Quinn (with Chris Finnegan, left) at my Mum's 80th birthday party in Dublin, 27th August, 2014.
When I was a student in Trinity I had many opportunities to visit Seámus and Breeda in Portaferry as I stayed many times in the Queen's University Marine Biology Station there. I always got the warmest greetings at their house on Windmill Hill. Indeed the last time I saw him was during my trip around the Northern Ireland coast in the summer of 2014 was in Portaferry. Again he was delighted to receive me and we had a great conversation about the Northern Ireland coastline - specifically his beloved Ards Peninsula. He also admired my Harley-Davidson and I think he would have fancied a "go" on it if he was younger. I recall a few miles after leaving him that I had forgotten to take a photo of him with the bike - I thought to myself that I would be back again soon. It was not to be, and I regret now not having turned back to get the photo. 

Rest in peace Seámus, I know that you are happy to be with Breeda again. I hope they have a wee Black Bush above in Heaven!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Back to Work #352

If I needed any reminders that my holiday in Florida was over I got them this morning and today. Sub-zero temperatures this morning made us feel at home (not!), while this pile of 210 exam scripts was waiting for me at the College:


I'm always slightly nervous in starting to grade exam scripts. Most of these scripts are in award years, and I am fully aware that a student's future may well depend on a grade that in my judgement which I award based on the answers in front of me. Grading takes a long time - an average script (if all questions are answered) may take 15-20 minutes. This means that this pile could take up to 4,200 minutes (or 70 hours). However, I know without opening them that there will be some excellent scripts and some poor ones - with the rest in between. The average time is likely to be less than 10 minutes in many cases. Here's hoping that the grades will reflect the effort put in by each student.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Going Home #353

Our short trip to Florida is now over and we are waiting at the departure gate for the flight from New York to Dublin as I write. We arrive to freezing weather at 05:00 after a week of temperatures in the low twenties. It was lovely seeing my daughters Claire and Vicki again, even if only for a few days. We had some good laughs, ate well, and drank (more than) a few glasses of wine. Our base was West Palm Beach, but we also traveled to Miami, Orlando, and a Cape Canaveral. WPB is a very nice city - especially the centre: City Place. I might never be back there again, but I'll certainly have fond memories of WPB.

Singing in the rain!
America for me is a wonderful country and I have always loved coming here. The exchange rate between the dollar and the euro does not make it an ideal destination financially, in addition I found a lot of things expensive, especially the booze. But everywhere people were so friendly, and my only complaint about the trip was the number of mosquito bites I got. I do hope to get back to America again before the end of the year. God Bless America (and all other countries too!).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Kennedy Space Centre #354

On our last full day in Florida we first said goodbye to Claire who returned to New York, and then we headed north to Cape Canaveral to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. Another long drive (2.5 hours), but very much worth it. A cool day with not much of a crowd was ideal for seeing the attractions. Star of the show at the Visitor Centre was the Space Shuttle Atlantis. There is a big exhibit and display surrounding the shuttle which itself is displayed tilted to one side. It is an incredible ship full of history and adventure. Don't bother with the simulator - it is very boring and a major disappointment. 

We took the bus tour to the launch pads and along the way we saw the giant buildings and vehicles used to house and transport the rockets. We were treated to the story of the Apollo missions which I fondly remember from when I was a kid. The huge scale of everything blows your mind away as we are all used to watching launches on our TV sets where things look so small. Our bus driver was also very entertaining - he seemed to know a lot of astronauts personally.

Space missions mark one of the high points of what technology can achieve. Even old timers like me can look on in awe at rockets and shuttles, and just for a few moments wonder what it would be like floating around in zero gravity. The Kennedy Space Centre is definitely worth a visit.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

No Guns & Ammo, but Outlets #355

One of the things we thought about doing while in America was to go to a shooting gallery and fire a few rounds. However, the spoil sports Americans insisted on first taking a course, and no drop in shooters. How better to overcome the disappointment of not being allowed to shoot than to go to an outlets park. Not.

When you pick up a guide to the Palm Beach Outlets, the smallest section is the Men's section. I was fed up within seconds of parking the car, so I decided to walk around rather than into each shop. Eventually I did go into a Sunglasses Hut, but as I break my sunglasses on a regular basis I was not interested in anything over $20 - sadly the $250 Ray Bans did not tempt me.

Usually there should be a gadget shop or a DIY store to keep the lads busy while the girls check out last year's fashions, but not here. The only thing I bought was an ice-cream, but it was delicious!