Friday, June 23, 2017

An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis (O'Loughlin, 2009)

At the formal launch of my book with
Paul Mooney (left) and Mark Ryan (right).
Eight years and a bit after my first book was published in 2009, I picked up 13 copies today from The Liffey Press. Over the years the original print run sold out and we have had several short print runs of 50 to 100 copies at a time. The main market for the book is my own students studying Business Analysis in the College. I buy them at a discount from the publishers and pass this on to the students.

I updated the book in 2014 (not a 2nd edition) with corrections of minor errata and a new cover. I make very little money from it now and it sells very little outside of my own class. At eight years old it is getting to the age when a textbook will be regared as being too old. Hoefully I will be able to flog the copies below - the next time my module runs is in December, so I'll be holding them for a while yet. These are the last of the current print run - we'll have to see if there is demand further copies after this.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Two more YouTube videos

In my short recent burst of creating new "How To..." YouTube videos, my most recent two are closely related. Excel has become a lot better at Data Visualization and now has options to draw sunburst diagrams and tree maps in the Office 365 version. These type of charts are great for displaying hierarchical data. They are really easy to create, and also easily modified. Enjoy!





Data source: Breaking down hierarchical data with Treemap and Sunburst charts.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Creating Pareto Charts just got easier!

On the 26th of September 2008, I published only my second ever video on YouTube: "How To... Create a Pareto Chart in Excel 2003" - I had published my first, "How To...Convert PowerPoint to iPod Movie", nearly a year earlier. At that time in one of my classes I needed to show students how to create a Pareto Chart which I did step-by-step in a Word document using screen shots. I recall viewing another "How To" video online but thinking that the content creator had done a poor job of explaining the steps, so I challenged myself to do better - here it is:


Over the years this video has been viewed 109,849 times, but in more recent years (as Excel 2003 gets used less and less) views have decined to 3 or 4 a day. It is now one of five videos I have on the channel - to date the Pareto Chart videos have totalled 506,122 views - not bad!

One of my more recent videos is about creating a Pareto chart in Excel 2016. Microsoft obviously recognised that this is a popular charting tool and have added it to the latest version of Excel. Gone is the need to rank the data, calculate cumulative values, calculate percentages, and manipulating the chart to get the end result. Excel does all this for you. See below how it is done today and compare this to what we had to do above in the good ol' days:

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Photograph in Leaving Certificate History and Appreciation of Art (Ordinary Level) Exam

I was surprised, flattered, and amused to discover that a photograph taken by me of the Children of Lir sculpture in Ballycastle (Co Antrim) which was published in this blog (see Revisiting the #CausewayCoastalRoute and the #MourneCoastalRoute) on 26th July 2015, was used in the Leaving Certificate History and Appreciation of Art ordinary level paper last week. Question 19 asks students to "Describe and discuss the public sculpture..." - a zoom-in for the swans was also provided. Here's the illustration and question:

19.       Answer (a) and (b).

(a)   Describe and discuss the public sculpture illustrated on the accompanying sheet using the following headings:
  • location and size
  • form and shape
  • colour and surface.
(b) Suggest a design for a sculpture to be situated at the entrance to a town‐park or forest‐park. Give reasons for your design decisions.

Illustrate your answer.




I only found out about this when the publishers, The Educational Company of Ireland (www.edco.ie), contacted me seeking permission to reproduce the photo in their State Examinations Booklet of all exam papers to be published next month. My permission to use the photograph in the exam was not sought in advance - I guess that this would have compromised the exam process!

Here is original photo:

Children of Lir and Fair Head, Ballycastle.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Word Mixing to Defeat Plagiarism

Recently I heard about a website called Spinbot.com that will "rewrite human readable text into additional, readable text" - it is an "automatic article spinner" tool. The site is designed for "bloggers, twitter users and online marketers", and is described as a "dream come true" to help rework content to help with SEO. In its self-promotion, Spinbot.com states that with a "single click you can turn your old blog post or website article into a completely new one, thereby doubling the payoff you get in return for the time and energy you have already invested into creating quality website content". Nothing wrong with doing this I hear you say - re-writing one of your own old posts or any old material is OK, it is your own content.

However, there is (from an academic point-of-view) a more sinister use of this clever tool to avoid plagiarism. Before I go further - I have not detected this as a problem with any of my own students. Could it work that if you copy a passage, say from a book or website, put it through a tool like Spinbot to change words - that it would beat a plagiarism detection tools like Turnitin?

To test this out I took one of my own short posts: "New @YouTube Video: How To... Perform a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test (By Hand)" written just yesterday to see what it would look like after it was spinned by Spinbot. Before doing this I ran the post through Turnitin using default settings and you can see that it had a 16% similarity with two Internet sources. None of this was copied from the sources listed and you can see that they are simple terms being reused. 

Click image to enlarge.
Now when I put the above post through Spinbot, and then pass it through Turnitin (again with default settings) - here's what comes out:

Click image to enlarge.

Well well well - a 0% similarity index even though I didn't write a single word! Spinbot has completely changed the text and has beaten Turnitin. I'm not surprised that this might be tempting to students. However, there are some tell-tale signs that a spinner has been used to mix words. The "Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test" (actual name of test) is transformed into the "Wilcoxon Marked Rank Test" (no such test). Also the original text "For some time I have noted a gap in my series of Statistics By Hand series" is transformed into "For quite a while I have noticed a crevice in my arrangement of Insights By Hand arrangement". Finally, "Ultimately it will tell the researcher if there is a significant difference between two data sets or not. Enjoy!" is transformed into "Eventually it will tell the scientist if there is a huge contrast between two informational indexes or not. Appreciate!"

While there is some clever stuff going on here, the second readings after Spinbot has been applied make for more difficult reading that is not natural. Anyone aware of tools such as Spinbot.com will immediately be suspicious, even those not so may question the second passage above. I'll certainly be more aware of this and will be watching out for it in future.

Comments are disabled for this post to block Spammers trying to sell me essay-writing services.

Please note: Opinions and comment expressed in this post (and all posts in this blog) are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of anyone else or any institution.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New @YouTube Video: How To... Perform a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test (By Hand)

It is almost six months to the day since I last published a video on YouTube. For some time I have noted a gap in my series of Statistics By Hand series. Today I have published the 157th video on my YouTube Channel. The Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test is a non-parametric test to compare two sets of paired data. It is usually carried out on small data sets or non-normal data (a paired t Test is used for normal data). It is an easy to do rank based test with the only calculations necessary being subtraction and addition. Ultimately it will tell the researcher if there is a significant difference between two data sets or not. Enjoy!

Friday, June 09, 2017

UK Election - How did the pollsters do?

The final YouGov poll before yesterday's general election in the UK predicted the result as follows: Conservatives (42%), Labour (35%), Liberal Democrats (10%), UKIP (5%), and Others (8%). In their final statement before the election they stated:

For now, YouGov’s final call for the 
2017 election is for a seven point 
Conservative lead, leading to an
increased Conservative majority
in the Commons.

YouGov were experimenting with more than one method of polling - so how did they do? The actual result was as follows: Conservatives (42.4%), Labour (40.0%), Liberal Democrats (7.4%), UKIP (1.8%), and Others (8.4%) - here's the visual of this:



The poll was almost spot on for the Conservative and Others vote, but it underestimated the Labour vote by 5% (more than the +/- margin of error), and over estimated the Lib Dem and UKIP votes. So they got the overall result they predicted (an "increased Conservative majority") wrong, but not by much in my opinion. The science of sampling clearly has some work to be done, but I believe that the approach of YouGov to include factors (such as age, likelihood of voting) other than voting intention is a good approach - they can only get better.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Rolling Medians for Time Series Analysis via @BBCNews

The UK General Election is tomorrow, and while I'm not too bothered who wins or loses, I am interested in the opinion polls and the efforts of the polling companies to get their predictions right. Polling data makes for interesting Time Series Analysis (TSA) - several different methods can be used to analyse the data and make short term forecasts. In my Statistics classes I most often use Moving Averages, Weighted Moving Averages, and Exponential Smoothing as methods for TSA. This year I introduced the more complicated Holt-Winters method. These concentrate on the mean (average) and smoothing factors.

The BBC keeps a tracking poll-of-polls and provides an interesting visual to show "voting intention" trends over a period of time. Interestingly, they use the median (the middle value of a set of numbers) instead of the mean (the average value of a set of numbers). The trend lines below are calculated as a "rolling median of the seven latest polls". As the poll-of-polls is updated every day, the median "recalculates to take account of the latest 7 poll values". Here is the BBC visualization:

Image source: BBC News.
Taking the poll-of-polls data, I have re-drawn the visual below using a simple seven point moving average (instead of median). The data points (dots) are the same of course, but you'll see slight differences in the trend lines, though they follow the same general trend:

Data source: BBC News.
In something like a general election, a one percent difference on polling day could have an enormous impact on the number of seats won or lost - especially in the UK's first-past-the-post system. Polling companies are trying many new methods such as considering voter's likelihood of voting, their age (older people are more likely to vote), and their demographics (better off people are more likely to vote). The models are getting more complicated - YouGov's 2017 Election Model makes for very interesting reading - it works by "modelling every constituency and key voter types in Britain based on analysis of key demographics as well as voting behaviour in the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU referendum. Turnout is assessed on voters’ demographics and is based on analysis from 2010 and 2015 British Election Study data". Every day YouGov polls around 7,000 voters - currently their model shows results as follows: Conservatives (311 seats), Labour (255 seats), SNP (51 seats), and Liberal Democrats (10 seats). This is "hung parliament" territory - let's see if they get it right this time!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Leo Varadkar and the New Generation

So - the new leader of Fine Gael is 38 year old Leo Varadkar, and he is to be our new Taoiseach next week. He has made headlines all over the world as the son of an Indian immigrant to Ireland made good, and of course as the country's first openly gay Taoiseach. I wish him well, but he needs a mandate from the people very soon and I hope he calls a General Election before the end of the year. I admire Leo Varadkar as a (so far) straight talking politician. He is courageous and I was one of the many who was listening to the Marian Finucane radio show when he said all of a sudden "I am a gay man". His statement yesterday that "prejudice has no hold in this republic" is a powerful message to all Irish people. 

I met Leo Varadkar once at the Irish Blood Transfusion Serve awards when he was Minister for Health. He presented me with my award for 100 donations and in the few seconds we had before the photo below was taken he congratulated me and asked where I was from. I was struck by how tall he was and how young too. Apart from Brian Cowen, who is three months younger than me, all Taoisigh that I have ever known were a lot older than me. Now suddenly our new Taoiseach is almost 20 years younger than me! This does signify a generational change greater than anything we have ever had in Ireland before. I have never voted for the Fine Gael party in my life, but I might do so now that Varadkar is at the helm.


Friday, June 02, 2017

25,000 @YouTube Subscribers

A recent nice milestone to hit is reaching 25,000+ subscribers on my YouTube Channel. Every day there is a trickle of scubscriptions that over the years has now added up to 25,000+. The actual number of people who have subscribed to my channel is 29,094, but when you remove the 4,086 "lost" subscribers the figure stands today at 25,008.


The trend above from YouTube Analytics shows a recovery in numbers after the damage done to the channel two years ago (when I changed metatdata). The trend roughly follows the pattern of viewers over the same period. I haven't posted a new video since 16th November 2016. In the next few weeks I will have time to update some videos and create new ones. Hopefully this will boost the number of subscribers and views. You don't get anything for having this or any other number of subscribers - it's just a nice number to have.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

It was 50 Years Ago Today #SgtPepper

Image source: Wikipedia.
Woke up, got out of bed, but I have no hair left to drag a comb across my head - Happy 50th Anniversary to John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was only 7 years old on the 1st June, 1967 - so have no memory of its release. In our house at that time there was only one radio, which was mostly tuned to Radio Éireann (Radio 1 today). We did not own the Sgt Pepper album. My first copy was a recording on cassette tape from an LP in the 1980s - I did not buy it until it came out on CD in the 1990s. As I write this post I am listening to the album on Spotify.

I do rememeber hearing "When I'm Sixty Four" on the radio - it might have been in my Dad's car. He was able to connect our house radio to an aerial in the car so that we could listen to radio programmes. Along with "Yellow Submarine", I'm sure it was one of those songs that we would all sing along to in the car. 

The album is just 39 minutes and 52 seconds long. For me it is one of my most listened to albums - only Abbey Road is listened to more by me. I love all the tracks. In secondary school in Roscrea (CCR), we used to sing "With a Little Help From My Friends" at Mass - Holy Cool Beatles we were! We also thought that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was cool because we thought (wrongly) it was named after the drug LSD. Most of us didn't know what LSD was, but it must have been cool because of the link to Sgt Pepper. On my Dad's 64th birthday (1995) I remember that I sang "When I'm Sixty Four" down the phone to him (and he joined in!) - it is one of the few songs that I know most of the words to. I love the harmonies on "She's Leaving Home", but "A Day in the Life" tops everything. For me this is Lennon at his best - it must have been amazing to hear when people bought the album and brought it home to play the first time. 

I have been listening to this album for most of my life, and will continue to do so for the rest of it. Like millions of Beatles fans all over the world, I feel it is part of me. Every track is instantly recognisable to me, and Sgt Pepper is as fab today as he was in 1967.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"colleges make millions from resit fee" says @oreganMark in Irish Independent

I have just finished grading assessments for Semester II (phew!) and am generally very pleased with results. Unfortunately for some students - repeat exams may need to be taken in order to pass subjects. As a student myself who had to repeat exams in both 1st and 2nd year in Trinity, I have a lot of sympathy for students who have to study through the summer and sit repeat exams. There is the stigma of failure to overcome, not to mention thinking about all the other things a student should be doing during the summer. I know of students who had to give up J1 opportunities in America, or come home early to sit repeat exams. This doesn't influence me in the slightest when grading - a fail is a fail, and I always remember advice an old colleague gave to me when I first became a Lecturer: "you don't fail the students in exams, they fail themselves". Sometimes tough love is necessary.

Image source: The Graveyard Waltz.
Writng in the Irish Independent (Sunday 21st May edition), Mark O'Regan tells us that "Students count cost of failed exams as colleges make millions from resit fees". He uses the example from UCD which "earned €1.8m in a single academic year from charging students looking to repeat exams" - UCD charges €230 to repeat a module. O'Regan contrasts this with students who are facing "unprecedented financial pressures", and with staff who "enjoy lucrative pension and service related pay-offs". All this paints us in the third-level sector as money grabbing leeches who prey on cash-starved students who failed their exams. You'd swear we were awarding fail grades just to get an extra few bob in repeat fees! 

Not so.

To those students whose results do not match their expectations, and have failed one or more modules - there's no more stigma in failure. Repeat exams are a second opportunity that should be grasped with both hands to get through a year. For students like me back in the 70s, this was how I got though my first two years in College. I owe a lot to the second chance I got through repeat exams - the fee is worth it. The alternative is to drop out of College, which could end up being the best thing that ever happened to a student, but picking yourself up when you are down and trying again is a sign of character.

Please note: Opinions and comment expressed in this post (and all posts in this blog) are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of anyone else or any institution.

Monday, May 29, 2017

John F. Kennedy #idol

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of former US President John F. Kennedy. Like a lot of Irish people I have always had a strong admiration for him, though I was only four years old when he died. Indeed the date of his death, 22nd November 1963, is my earliest memory. I don't recall where I was exactly (most likely either at home or in school) when I heard the news, but I have a vivid recollection of people talking about it. I also have an image of President Kennedy coming out of a fog and turning back to see the bad men chasing him - I guess in the mind of a small boy this is what I thought an assassination was about. When he visited the South-east of Ireland in the summer of 1963, I have no memories of this.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Irish Times: 13th April, 2009.
I have been to Dealey Plaza, where he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, during a business trip to Dallas in the late 1990s. I also went up to the Sixth Floor Museum and looked out the window from where Oswald fired the fatal shots. Last summer I visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston, and in January 2016 I visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. I have also read Robert Dallek's masterful biography - "John F Kennedy: An Unfinished Life". I even quoted Kennedy in a letter to The Irish Times in 2009 at the height iof the economic crisis in Ireland. It's fair to say that I am an admirer.

Of course dying young (he was just 46) keeps him young in all our minds. We think of the waste of a life, and what might have been had he lived. His generation are now almost all gone, and most of the people who voted for him are now old or gone too. Today I think of a man who was no saint, who stood up to the Russians, who inspired a generation, and who will remain in my memory until the day I too depart this life.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Good Bye Windows Phone? #SpokeTooSoon

Oh dear - less than two weeks after abandoning my Windows phone in favour of an iPhone, I am back using it again. Last night I left my iPhone on a charger overnight but this morning discovered that a crack in the glass appeared. This is the first time that I have broken a smartphone like this, but I am convinced this happened without any contribution from me. I plugged it in to charge, and then there was a crack. I did not drop it - the crack is a clean single line near the top of the screen, which also leaves a shadow on the screen behind the glass. Did it spontaneously crack while charging? The touch screen in the small space above the crack is still working, but below it there is no response. The screen will have to be replaced.

However, I'm wondering if it is worth it as the cracked screen is already a replacement screen. It will cost around €100 to fix, with no guarantee that it will last - I think the Windows phone has suddenly become attractive again!

Right now there are four old iPhones in my house - including the cracked one to the right. Two are glass-cracked iPhone 6 models, with two old iPhone 5 models. I shudder to think what we have spent on these over the past 2 or 3 years just to create another Apple graveyard of devices - I'm guessing my house is not that different from many others. While Apple laugh all the way to the bank, I am still astonished that glass is still being used in smartphones - there must be an alternative. Millions must be being spent on replacement screens all over the world.

So it is back to fewer Apps and a Google-less Windows phone. Outlook, Edge, and Bing Maps are my new best friends again!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Annual Conference: The Business Analysis Association of Ireland #baai17

Image via @IrishCompSoc
Yesterday I attended the Business Analysts Association of Ireland's Annual Conference at The Irish Computer Society in Ballsbridge. The theme of the Conference was "Change is Now" and was attended by over 60 Business Analysts who heard a variety of presentations on topics of interest to BAs. Reuben Godfrey of the Blockchain Association of Ireland kicked the event off with a discussion on what Blockchain Management means for Business Analysts. He was followed by Niamh Corby from the Revenue Commissioners who interestingly use the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) in their projects, but not all of it. The morning session was completed by the wonderful Lanre Oluwatona who started off by saying "I'm not here to scare you" - which he promptly did! He talked to us about the General Data Protection Regulations coming into law next year, He pointed out that there will be 99 articles in the new regulations compared to about 30 now. Brilliant presentation Lanre!

After lunch we had interesting talks about No Code Workflow from Shay O'Conner of FlowForma (fascinating stuff), designing cost effective IT solutions from Piaras McDonnell (who in particular warned us about licensing issues with software), and Cloud solutions from Oracle by John Caulfield. The event was finished off by a thought-provoking presentation by Kevin Breen on "Digital Transformation".

In between all of above I made a presentation on "Data Visualization - What can you see?". I used much material from my recently completed first time Data Visualization module at NCI - it was very tough deciding what to include and what to leave out. Hopefully I got it right, there were plenty of questions and comments afterwards. I did feel like a bit of an idiot when I tried to use a link to my Tableau Public Page. I didn't realize that the presentation was being run over two screens and I looked confused and awkward (I was!) as I tried to show  online material. Anyhow - I have uploaded my presentation to Slideshare and embedded below. Enjoy!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

"...no drag-and-drops for deep learning" and "Why R is Bad for You according to Bill Vorhies via @DataScienceCtrl

A most interesting post by William Vorhies at Data Ceience Central poses the argument: "Why R is Bad for You". We are lead to believe that knowledge of the R programming langauge is an essential skill for data analysts/scientists - you can use it to do almost anything with data such as clean, manipulate, visualize, transform, perform statistical tests, and in general look for links/trends/patterns in data. Vorhies says that "R is not the best way to learn data science and not the best way to practice it either". 
Image source: The R Project for Statistical Computing

The trouble is that you have to learn R before you can use it. I and several of my colleagues use R for data analysis in class - in my case to perform statistical tests such as ANOVA, Time Series, and Principal Component Analysis. In the new Data Visualization module introduced this past academic year we also used R to plot charts such as boxplots, interactive charts, and flight paths. It is a very powerful language, but none of my classes are programming classes. Students learn how to perform basic programming in R before they come to my class. Usually I give students code in the notes and ask them to use and modify code already written. However, much time is spent in lab work fixing syntax problems - a missing comma can be difficult and frustrating to find and fix for someone not good at programming. 

Bill Vorhies writes that the "largest employers, those with the most data scientists are rapidly reconsolidating on packages like SAS and SPSS with drag-and-drop" - especially in larger companies. These tools, and the likes of Tableau software, are very powerful and much easier to learn and use. Excel is probably the most used data analysis tool - and is getting more powerful. So why learn R? 

R is free. Many employers list it as an essential skill in job adverts. Having the ability to programme in any language shows that you have a logical mind and you are good at problem-solving - probably good at deep learning too. If you have already learned how to use R, then keep on using it - but as Vorhies says: "in the commercial world the need to actually code models in R is diminishing". Something for us educators to think about!

Please note: Opinions and comment expressed in this post (and all posts in this blog) are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of anyone else or any institution.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Abandoning the Windows Phone

Just last year I purchased a SIM-free Microsoft Lumia 950. It was a lot cheaper than a new iPhone or Samsung and the two big things for me were lots of space and a good camera, and of course the very familiar Windows 10 interface. The old iPhone I had sucked for space and the camera was poor. With a 20MP camera and 64GB space on the Lumia - this problem was gone. I quickly got used to using Outlook instead of Gmail and Edge instead of Chrome, and I was confident that the Microsoft App Store would have all I needed. Popular Apps such as Kindle, Netflix, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp all had version that worked on Windows. Bing Maps is not as good as Google Maps for me, but I got by. Groove was better than iTunes, but my Bose headphones volume controls didn't work and it would not connect via Bluetooth to my speakers. A huge downside for me was no radio app - I had to use a shortcut to RTÉ Play Live link on the start page. And of course since Microsoft phones are no longer for sale in Ireland there can be little hope of App developers continuing to support Windows.

I have had a spare iPhone for a few months that I used as a second phone for use with Vodafone down the country (especially in Wexford where Virgin Media via Three sucks) - so I am switching back to it. Now the Windows phone is a second phone which I will definitely keep for the camera and of course it still will be able to connect to the web using WiFi.

I tried and persevered with the Microsoft phone - it's now time to go back to Apple.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Happy Birthday Elliott Masie ! @emasie

Elliott Masie.
Image source: Twitter (@emasie)
Last Saturday the great Elliott Masie turned 67 - I have been following him probably longer than anyone else on the planet. I met him once in the (then) CBT Systems offices in Clonskeagh in Dublin for a meeting where I described the CBT Systems product development life cycle to him. I can't remember exactly when this was, but it was around 1993/94. He was a gentleman! 

I have been subscribed to Masie's Learning Trends for as long as I can remember - I always look forward to reading what he is thinking about. In his most recent newsletter (#965), he reflects on what he calls the "half-way point of my career" at age 67. He writes that learning is "amazing", "personal", and "awesome". I particularly connected with his comment that "Learning is all about Curiosity. The world of learning is allowing curiosity to come alive in more and more ways". 

The age of 67 is now the retirement age for workers of my generation - retirement date for me is officially in October 2026, just nine and a half years away. I'd like to think that I will still be as passionate about Learning and Teaching as Elliott Masie is at the same age. There's no sign of Elliott retiring as he is "pumped" to keep on exploring learning - long may he live and stay "curious".

Friday, May 12, 2017

Top 10 Skills in Data Science via @bobehayes

A really interesting post by Bob Hayes for Customer Think "Top 10 Skills in Data Science" tells us that so-called "soft" skills like communication and project management are really important for data scientists. Hayes takes a look at 25 skills assessed in a data science survey, and uses the chart below to filter out the top ten:

Image source: Customer Think (click to enlarge).
It's no surprise to me that Communication is important, but I would not have expected it to be top of the list. In fact we dropped a Communications module from one of our Data Analytics programmes last year and replaced it with Data Visualization (still partly communication I know). Managing structured data (#2) and Maths (#3) rank higher than data mining/management, and statistics (#9). To me these important skills are vital in all roles and perhaps there is a case to be made that these are a given and should be exlcuded from a top ten list of skills? At #11 is "Database Administration", at #12 is "Algorithms and simulations", and at #14 is "Machine Learning" - these would be in the top ten if the standard skills were omitted. Their importance is not lessened, but they should be in the top ten skills for a data scientist.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Data - More Valuable than Oil? via The Economist

The hype about data continues - now it is more valuable than oil! The Economist reports that The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are "titans" who "deal in data, the oil of the digital era". They have vast amounts of data on us all that is now regarded as a "God’s eye view" of their users' activities. While The Economist discusses how data is valuable to companies it also considers the power of data in different ways: "Google can see what people search for, Facebook what they share, Amazon what they buy" - this can be used to stifle competition. Anti-trust authorities must move to the 21st century and become more "data-savvy in their analysis of market dynamics" to protect privacy. The article signs off with a warning: "But if governments don’t want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon".

Image source: The Economist.
All of this is true, and I'm certain that data is indeed the "oil of the digital era". I'm not sure it is "more valuable than oil" - try getting data to heat your house in the winter, power your car, make plastic, fly across the ocean, and generate electricity to run our computers - but it makes for a good headline. Everybody needs to be more "data-savvy", which is good news for Colleges and Lecturers like myself - we have to keep innovating to provide the right education for students who will need to be as knowledgeable about data as their ability to read and write.

Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write (HG Wells, 1903).

Saturday, May 06, 2017

First Communion 1966

At this time of year thousands of Catholic children make their First Holy Communion all over the world. While religion has taken a back seat in many Irish families, the Communion stills seems to be a big day as it is the first real big landmark occasion from which our lives are measured. As a sacrament it probably has little value to many children and parents any more - but it still a great celebration of growing up. In my day (1966), it was a mark of reaching the "age of reason". I don't think any of us in Second Class in Carnew National School (Co Wicklow) really knew what that meant. I recall our teacher practicing with cream crackers on our tongues (no putting out your hands for communion in those days) in class while she prepared us for the big day.

Holy Eugene!
I don't remember anything about the day - the photo above was taken after the ceremony on the steps of St Brigid's Catholic Church in Carnew. You can't tell from this photo, but I was wearing short trousers - it was my first ever suit which got outings to Mass every Sunday until it fitted me no more. I was only seven years old. It was part of growing up at that time that you did this - I don't remember anyone in our school not making their First Holy Communion as a choice. Religion dominated our lives without us realizing it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Did you know - 28 O'Loughlins were killed in the First World War?

Michael Patrick O'Loughlin.
Image Source: Find A Grave.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has a brilliant "Find War Dead" service, and I decided to look it up to see if any O'Loughlins were killed in the First World War. To my surprise, there are 28 listed as being killed in the war or who had died shortly afterwards from wounds. There are no Eugene O'Loughlins, though there is an "E O'Loughlin " listed among the dead. The O'Loughlin side of my family came from Newmarket in North Cork and there is no family history that I know of where any O'Loughlin took part in the First World War.

13 of the 28 dead were from Australia, among them Private Michael Patrick O'Loughlin (Service number 3216) who was killed on 28th September 1917 aged just 24. He has no known grave and is listed on The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 27). He has a page on The AIF Project website, but it does not say where or how he died. The firstworldwar.com On This Day feature shows very little happening on 28th September 1917.


The other 15 (of 28) O'Loughlins who died are listed as being from the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was a part of throughout the war. They served in various regiments as follows:

  • Cheshire Regiment
  • Irish Guards
  • Manchester Regiment (2)
  • Royal Dublin Fusiliers (3)
  • Royal Engineers
  • Royal Field Artillery
  • Royal Marine Light Infantry
  • Royal Munster Fusiliers (3)
  • Seaforth Highlanders
  • The King's (Liverpool Regiment)

I'm guessing that if I go back far enough I must be related to at least some of the O'Loughlins listed by the CWGC. Indeed, all of us in Ireland must have at least a distant connection to the many war dead from 1914-1918. Incidentally, the CWGC lists 35 O'Loughlins killed in the Second World War - this includes civilian war dead. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

There's still a bit of farmer in me!

In Dad's 1978 Zetor tractor.
A regular Saturday activity for me is to make the 90 kilometre trip to Ballingate to visit my Mum and Dad, and brother Joe. It takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive down - on Saturdays cycling clubs and horse boxes make this a slow trip through Rathnew, Rathdrum, Aughrim, and Carnew. Apart from the road to work, it is probably the most travelled road for me. Before lunch, my brother Joe and I decided to head for the bog and feel a few trees. This is forward planning for next winter - this timber will dry out over the summer and we will spend many a further Saturday sawing the tree up into logs for three houses, (Mum and Dad's, Joe's, and mine). I took a car boot load of ash logs home and placed them in my back garden for next winter.

I also got an opportunity today to drive Dad's tractor with a trailer. It is a Zetor and he bought it new in 1978 - we are looking forward to its 40th birthday next year. I even managed to reverse the tractor and trailer without doing any damage - I was proud of myself for not having forgotten this skill which is an essential one for anyone working on a farm. The field in the photo below was once a bog which Dad drained in the 1970s. It is now planted with trees, so we are being environmentally friendly by replacing trees that we cut down for fuel. The trees we cut down today are all oak trees over 75 years old - it seems a pity to cut down these magnificent specimens of wood, but they were overhanging the edge of the field and had to go.

You can take the man out of the bog, but you can't take the bog out of the man!

Our job today was to kill these trees.

Phew - End of Semester II

Not yet!
Image source: Endgadget.
Last evening I had my final class of the semester. It has been a long 14 weeks (includes two reading weeks) for both students and Faculty - now classes and tutorials are over for another academic year. For some students, this week's classes will have been their last classes in College ever. For me, it is about putting my notes and books back on the shelf until the beginning of the next academic year in September - which will be the 16th academic year for me in NCI. For the next 20 weeks it is not quite feet-up time - May (for me) despite no classes is always the busiest time of the year with exams and projects to be graded.

Traditionally, the end of semester II also marked the end of the academic year, but that is changing. One of my classes this semester started their academic year in January rather than the previous September - they will be continuing on to semester II over the summer. I don't envy them or their lecturers. Timetables, and the systems and people who support them, are more flexible than ever. We will all have to get used to this.

While I am happy that the semester is over, I am also a little saddened that classes are finished - it is by far my most favourite part of what I do. Students are now facing into exams (one of my exam papers is tough) - for them their learning is not yet complete. It's stating the obvious that I know how anxious students can get before exams - it is always a relief to me too when the exams are over!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Unemployment in Ireland 1983 - 2017

In yesterday's post about a recruitment fair at NCI: What a Time to be a Graduate!, I wrote about how timing is almost a "lottery" for when graduates finish College. Today's opportunities open up many possibilities for our graduates, though it was not always this way.

Figures below from Eurostat show Ireland's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate since 1983 (coincidentally the year I graduated from Trinity College):



My final year Trinity ID card (1983).
In July 1983 when I graduated the rate was recorded as 14% - the rate was on an upward spiral reaching 17.1% just 14 months later. This was the highest rate of unemployment recorded in Ireland since 1983 - not a good time to be seeking a job I think you'll agree. I postponed the inevitable by continuing on as a postgraduate student and graduated with a PhD in July 1988 - the unemployment rate was almost as bad at 16.9%. By August 1988 I was on a FÁS course. While initially this was a big come-down (PhD to a FÁS course in one month) - I never looked back as it directly lead to a career in eLearning.

According to the Central Statistics Office, the most recent unemployment figures (for March this year) show the rate at 6.4% - very much on a downward trend. While I exaggerate by stating that timing is a "lottery" when you graduate - you can see from above that the good times are back for graduates.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What a Time to be a Graduate! #NCICareersfair

Today in the College we had a fantastic recruitment fair with over 30 companies visiting NCI to meet with our students. As has now become familiar to us there was a great buzz in the Atrium with every stand busy. I am told by our wonderful award-winning careers service (a BIG SHOUT-OUT to them!) that most employers are in recruitment mode and looking for graduates. It is a golden time for the 2017 graduates who have a fantastic variety of opportunities and employers to choose from.

Recruitment Fair at NCI today.
There is an element of lottery about the time of graduation. Of course it was not always this way, 7-8 years ago in the midst of economic crisis, an event like this was very different. While opportunities for graduates always seem to be better than for non-graduates - timing is everything. Leaving Cert students today condidering going to College will graduate in 2021 - who knows if the current upward cycle of opportunity will have bombed by then. Let us (Ireland Inc.) be optimistic and work to make sure that our future graduates will continue to have opportunity like today's graduates. It is our job in the Colleges to keep the supply of top quality graduates coming.

I wish our 2017 graduates much success in their careers. I hope they choose the right company and the right job to suit their skills. 

NCI: Changing Lives Through Education

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Twelve Million @YouTube Views #DozenMillion #ThankYou

A nice thing to discover this morning was that the number of views on my YouTube Channel has just reached 12,003,866 views. It has taken four months for the most recent million views to be racked up - I wrote on December 14th last about reaching 11,000,000 views. The most popular video is still How To... Create a Basic Gantt Chart (published in 2010, and has 1,102,083 views), but over the past couple of years my How To... Plot Multiple Data Sets on the Same Chart, with 731,904 views, is catching up fast.

I haven't actually published a video since November last year. To keep the number of views climbing I have been advised by my YouTube Partner Manager to try to publish on a regular basis. In fact in the past year only two videos How To... Perform the Kruskal Wallis H Test (By Hand) and How To... Perform the Mann-Whitney U Test (By Hand) have been in any way successful. I have often been asked to create more videos on how to use SPSS, but the number of views on the ones I have are very low. I have a few more in the pipeline (Multiple Regression, Wilcoxon Rank Test, and perhaps more Excel videos) - now that we are coming to the end of the academic year I should be able to find time to create some more.

A HUGE THANK YOU to all my viewers - as always, I am humbled and gratified with so many views. I hope that my small efforts can continue to help people to learn "How To..." do stuff.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter With Family

A quick post to share some photos of a great Easter Sunday lunch with my family in Skuna Bay. 14 folks fitted into our kitchen for delicious roast lamb all beautifully prepared by the lovely Roma. I almost forgot to whip out the camera, but I managed to get a few snaps. A pity it was not warm enough to eat outdoors, but we were cosy anyway. It took us a while to clear up, but Roma and I lit the fire and put our feet up for the evening.

Family friend Mary Ball, my brother Joe, and Mum.

Chris and Dad.

Dad and Me.

Vicki and Claire.

Sister-in-law Miriam, sister Kayo, and Mikey.

With the lovely Roma.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thirty Pieces of Silver (in stone)

While out for a walk today I wnet into the small cemetery at Donaghmore in Co Wexford. It is very close to some bad coastal erosion and over the past year Wexford Co Council did a fantastic job in creating a wall of boulders to protect the road and cemetery. I took the following photo of the grave of Anne and Loughlin Brenan (no relation) who died in 1748 and 1772 respectively:



In 2014 Wicklow County Council published "Here Lyeth - The 18th Century Headstones of County Wicklow" by Chris Corlett. It is of particular interest to me in that Denis Cullen, who I believe to be my ancestor, is lauded as a skilled stone-carver of headstones. The Cullens were based in Monaseed, Co Wexford, and according to Corlett in his book - they are responsible for many fine headstone carvings in Wicklow and Wexford. The headstone above is one of many ornate headstones in Donaghmore which are similar to the type that Cullen and his son created in the 18th/19th centuries. It is not signed (as Cullen typically did), so it may not be a Cullen original. Another stone nearby looks as though it might be a Cullen one. Above you'll see carvings of Christ on the cross, a ladder, a hammer and nails, and interestingly - 30 pieces of silver to the left of the Crucifixion (I counted them - there are 30). It's great to see such craftsmanship lasting over 250 years.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Second Reading Week

This year in the College we have introduced a second "reading week" - essentially a week in the semester where there are no classes. Our first reading week was back in March - it was week 8 of the semester and coincided with the week that has St Patrick in it. It was also approximately half way through the semester. Our second reading week is this week - it is the 12th week of the semester and leaves just two more weeks after this. This week we would have lost a day anyway as the College closes on Good Friday (I don't know what for - it is certainly not on religious grounds). I'll reserve judgement on how well or not the second reading week works. I for one would have preferred the semester to end a week earlier instead. Next year I understand that the two reading weeks will be consecutive as Easter is so early in 2018. As far as I know it is common in many other colleges to have reading/study weeks around Easter time.

As I've written before, taking a rest or taking a break between activities (ABBA) is important. A 12 week semester is a long time and weariness creeps in on both student and faculty. There is merit in taking a "break" in the middle of the semester. The College Library is busy this week - our 4th year Computing students are close to their final exams and are studying hard. Many other students are taking the time to work on assignments and end-of-semester projects. Even though a second reading week prolongs the semester, I know that some of my own classes welcome the "break". I don't know how many students take a holiday or do no College work during this week.

Easter has lost its religious appeal for many people. While Easter Monday is a national holiday in Ireland, Good Friday is not - many businesses stay open and of course many shops will be open. Only the pubs will be closed, though this is sure to change next year if our politicians are to be believed. Very soon Good Friday will be like any other Friday, with just a tiny proportion of us going to church. I still like going to Easter Services and will do so again this year. 

Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Kerry 0-20, Dublin 1-16 #GAA

It was a real treat to be in Croke Park today with my daughter Kate to see the Allianz League Final between Dublin and Kerry along with 53,000+ GAA fans. In a thrilling game Dublin’s four-year reign as Division 1 football champions and their 36-game unbeaten streak was ended in dramatic style. The manner of Kerry's victory was spoiled a bit at the end for me as Dean Rock missed a free from long range after Anthony Maher's cynical pull down on a Dublin player. He knew what he was doing and committed the foul a long way from goal. Nevertheless Kerry deserved their victory with some fantastic football reminiscent of Kerry teams of old. We were treated to a tough close game with a lot of skill and an exhibition of point scoring, many from long range, by both teams.

For me there is a tinge of sadness in that my regular companion to matches in Croke Park hopes to move to Canada for a few years this summer. Kate loves The Dubs and wears her colours proudly - she will miss the big games this summer, and I will miss her too. Today's game certainly whetted the appetite for the Championship this summer. Now that everyone knows that the Dubs are beatable, it's game on for Sam in September!!!

A Great Day Out at GAA Headquarters!



Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Here's a Good Idea (or is it?) - "cut college fees for courses linked to skills shortages"

Recently I read an article by Owen Ross in The Irish Times entitled "We should cut college fees for courses linked to skills shortages". Ross, who is is Head of Department of Business and Management at Athlone Institute of Technology, speaks a lot of sense when he writes that there should be financial "incentives for school leavers to undertake designated programmes". He suggests that programmes associated with "skills shortages might cost €2,750 per year", while other programmes associated without skills shortages "could cost €3,250". However, this is only a €500 difference and may not be enough to entice many students to choose differently. In another suggestion he writes that "graduates who enrol on designated third-level programmes in disciplines with skills shortages" should get tax credits in the years after graduation. What ever about the merits of Ross's suggestions, at least he is innovative (in an Irish context) in his suggestions and is certainly not burying his head in the sand like a lot of policy makers in third level education.
Image source: Times Higher Education.

My one major reservation, which Ross alludes to himself, is that students could be being incentivised to sign up for courses like Computer Science and Engineering that they are completely unsuited to. Drop out rates are higher in these disciplines than others, and every year I see students coming to College and dropping out. While the reasons for doing so are varied, often students who are not suited to a particular course just simply don't like it either. It is so difficult to decide what you want to do after fours years in College - at the pace the world is changing it will be a completely different place after graduation.

When I meet prospective students who visit the College to see what it is like and to find out about courses, my only advice to them is to choose what they are good at and what they like/love. This to me is the primary consideration when choosing what to study in College. Secondary considerations such as location, where your mates are going, where your parents went, cost (important yes - but still secondary to me), salary after graduation, prestige, or the incentives mentioned by Owen Ross, should not be the main reason for choosing a third level course. So if you want to study Ancient Greek, Welsh Civilization, or flower arranging - do it. Who knows - you might still end up working for a multinational in an IT role, but you have done what you wanted to do first.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The End of the Windows Phone #DeadPhoneWalking

Almost exactly a year ago I purchased a Windows Lumia 950 phone to replace an old iPhone. At the time I had obviously considered purchasing a new iPhone, but they were very expensive and I was constantly running out of space on my old one having to delete photos, music, and apps to make room for new things. The Windows phone seemed a good alternative - it was considerably cheaper, had a good hardware reputation, had plenty of space (I have a 64 GB extra SD card), and the piece-de-resistance was the brilliant 20 MP camera. Sure I - had heard about the "App Gap", but was assured by Microsoft and on-line commentators that this gap would get smaller. In any event, the main apps like Whatsapp, Facebook and Spotify were Windows enabled - while Edge and Outlook were good alternatives to Chrome and Gmail. Overall I was impressed by it and was happy to work around some of its limitations (for example, there is no Radio App - I simply added a shortcut to the URL of the RTÉ Radio Player to the Home screen).

Image source: Swoon.
In today's Irish Independent, an uncredited article (presumably by Adrian Weckler), iPhone and Android win out as Microsoft pulls plug on Windows handset, confirms the demise of the Windows phone. It's been coming for a while as Microsoft's market share has declined, and the likes of "Snapchat and YouTube, which never launched versions of their services for Windows phones, have been utterly vindicated". Lumia Twitter accounts have not been active since last November.

So now I have a dead-phone-walking in my pocket with more than likely no new apps and very few updates to come over the next few months as support will slowly dwindle and eventually stop. While I feel I was a bit of a sucker for changing from an iPhone to a Windows phone, I actually really liked my Windows phone. While there is frustration that most Apps were iOS and Android compatible only - there are work-arounds.

I don't know how long I will keep using my Windows phone, but I am in no hurry to get rid of it. It is still a great piece of kit and I absolutely love the camera on it. I have recently been thinking of replacing my faulty iPad with a budget Windows 10 tablet, but I am re-thinking this already - what will Microsoft pull the plug on next?

Monday, March 27, 2017

When Past Students Visit

Last week, one of my past students (BD) who graduated about 4-5 years ago came back to the College and dropped by my office for a visit. This does not happen to me very often and it is a pleasure to welcome a past student back. It can be awkward bumping into a past student on the street as I usually forget their names, but as more and more students now connect with me on the likes of LinkedIn - it is easier to keep in touch. I loved hearing about the work that past students have been doing since graduation and many have travel adventures (that I never had) to re-tell.

The visit reminded me of my own past teachers and Lecturers - several who have now sadly passed on to the great classroom in the sky. I owe so much to them, but I have not been good at keeping in touch and letting them know how I have been getting on - it's 1983 since my last class. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thinking of London (and Berlin)

Just last Saturday I looked across at Westminster as I made my way to Westminster Underground station. Normally such a place is a photo opportunity, but two years ago when I last visited I had "been there, done that". Countless tourists have taken photos like mine below standing in front of Big Ben - yesterday there were people standing at almost the exact same spot, probably doing the exact same thing as me posing for a photo, who were cut down in a terror attack. Just last September I was posing in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin little knowing that just a few weeks later another terrorist would kill innocent bystanders in the same way. We know not when terror will strike, and it is chilling to feel even a minor personal connection with these two tragic events. I hope these attacks do not deter tourists going to either London or Berlin - the Londoners and Berliners are most welcoming and I have certainly enjoyed every minute in both cities.

At the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church, Berlin 2016.

On Westminster Bridge,
London 2015.