Tuesday, September 01, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Bar Chart in Tableau

My second Tableau video is about creating a simple Bar Chart. I don't expect that many people will use Tableau just to do this as most will already know how to do it in Excel, but it is a good way to check if you are on the right track in Tableau. It is also easy to switch to the many other chart types available. Once again I am using the data from the "Living in the EU" web page - I selected "Quality of Life" data showing the GDP by country. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Do you really need a degree to enroll on a postgraduate course?

One of the (many) non-teaching duties I have to do is to review applications for courses - it is as a Course Director that I have to do this, not as a Lecturer. I am Course Director for an NFQ level 8 Higher Diploma. There are set criteria for applicants, this is regarded as a postgraduate course - so it is relatively easy for applicants with a degree to be accepted. But what about those without a degree?

First - let's take a look at the word "postgraduate". It means that you should first be a graduate before continuing on this path of study. Courses such as these are designed for students who have completed undergraduate degrees. A BA or BSc is the ticket you need to get into a postgraduate course. There is no doubt in my mind that studying for a degree prepares students for postgraduate work (and academics all over the world share this belief). Studying through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year builds students' learning abilities and critical skills such as higher-order thinking and problem solving. Also - there is no doubt that the ability to write good essays also develops over the four years of study. Learning outcomes at NFQ level 8 demand a significantly higher ability than lower levels. In all, a degree is an ideal requirement for postgraduate study. 

Nevertheless, many people who apply for postgraduate courses don't have a degree. Many universities will not accept non-degree holders. The message very often is - "Come back when you have a degree". Some Colleges, such as NCI, offer a path through what we call RPEL (Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning) to get into postgraduate study. The idea is that applicants may have lots of experience that will enable them to complete the postgraduate course. For example, suppose a computer programmer with 10 years experience in software development, and who has set up their own company, applies for an MSc in Technology. Arguably they are more qualified than a fresh BSc in Computing graduate who has never worked on real software development. Usually I would recommend to the Admission Office that in a case such as this that the applicant be admitted to at least a level 8 course. 

Basically - the idea of RPEL is that if you can demonstrate that you have done the equivalent of achieving the Learning Outcomes of a degree programme, then your experience qualifies you for the programme.

However, many cases are less clear than above and it becomes a little more difficult when applicants have experience that is short or not so relevant. I am then asked to judge whether they are capable of completing the postgraduate programme. This is not a pleasant task as often an applicant is highly committed and motivated to participate in a course that might change their lives. Some such applicants succeed very well, though many do find it tough and drop out. A one year Higher Diploma is a very attractive option for someone seeking a level 8 qualification compared to having to go through 3 or 4 years for a primary degree. Often my head says "No" and my heart says "Yes". I've no desire to put barriers to education in front of applicants, but I am mindful that it is a postgraduate course that I am dealing with.

NCI's mission statement is "To change lives through education". I reject very few applications.

I deal with level 8 applications only.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My First "How To..." @YouTube Video using @tableau Software #FilledMap

Later in this upcoming semester I will be using Tableau Software for the first time in my Statistics classes. I normally run a lab session on visualizing data: first I used Excel, last year I added SPSS, and this year I will add Tableau to the lab. Tableau is free to students and academics for learning and teaching purposes, though a (free) license is needed to run the software. Many students have already been using Tableau in projects, and there certainly has been a demand for more experience in data visualization tools like this.

For the video below I used a simple data table from the "Living in the EU" web page - I selected "Quality of Life" data showing the GDP by country. While this is easy to chart in Excel using bar or pie charts, the idea is to see how this looks in filled map (a kind of heat map) using a map of the European Union. The video also shows how good Tableau is at recognising different data types. Hopefully I can create few more for my students to help them get through the lab.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Flipped Classroom - "professional suicide" for Lecturers (via @jhrees)

Writing in The Kernel on 23rd August last, Jonathan Rees asks many questions about one of the latest trends in third-level education - his article is entitled: The ‘flipped classroom’ is professional suicide*. Clearly no fan of this trend, Rees wonders about "pedagogical problems" such as how his students "would find time to do their assigned reading if they were watching class videos in their dorm rooms three times a week" and what would his other students "be doing while I [he] personally interacted with other students". Later in the articles he raises questions about "copyright issues" and "competition" with the Internet.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
I find myself agreeing with Rees, though I have to say that I have not tried to formally adopt a flipped classroom methodology (is it a "methodology"?). While I do create and upload many videos to YouTube for my students, I still use class time for traditional lecture and tutorial work. Some of my colleagues use the flipped classroom with success and feedback from students seems to be good so far.

There is an interesting (unattributed) quote in Rees' article:

Why should you lecture, when you can get some hotshot from Harvard to do your job for you?

This is a hard one to agree or disagree with. As a learner I definitely would prefer an on-line lecture on a subject from a Professor at Harvard who has written books on the subject and has been teaching it at Harvard for many years, compared to an inexperienced part-time lecturer who has never taught the subject before. While lecturers, especially younger ones, must start somewhere (we all remember that first time we taught a module) the temptation to go for the Harvard professor as a learner is huge. When College management are deciding who teaches what, some subjects are inevitably given to new and inexperienced lecturers (who in time may become great teachers and experts in their field). When it comes to exams, the Harvard professor does not set these and there is the dilemma for students on which set of lecture notes/podcasts to study in preparation for exams (the good stuff from Harvard, or the class notes on which the exam will be based).

In 2010 I started (and completed) the free Harvard University course on "Justice" by Professor Michael Sandel. There were 12 lectures in this course and I enjoyed every single one of them. In short, this was the best on-line class I have ever "attended" - it would be hard to get a better set of lectures than this. So - what about this for a dilemma? What if your College had a module on "Justice" in one of its courses? As Professor Sandel himself might ask - what would the right thing to do be? Should Sandel (the best) be on the module timetable? Could/should he (or Harvard) be paid for this? If a new lecturer is assigned, should they create their own material or use Sandel's (I use his train wreck story from lecture #1 in my class)? Should Sandel's course be on the module Reading List (or video/podcast equivalent)?

Image source: Philip Holt.
As a leaner I know which I'd go for, but as a Lecturer the decision is more difficult. I don't want to be a turkey voting for Chistmas, and talk myself out of a job - but I do see more more flipping happening in the future. If a course has several flipped modules, it would be easy to trawl the finest Universities for on-line content and say to students - "Watch this video and we'll discuss it in the next tutorial". This would save a lot of money. The temptation for Colleges/Schools to do this will become more and more real. The availability of top class content combined with tight or decreasing budgets will (I believe) force Colleges to rethink how they allocate teaching duties. When you think about it - what is wrong with creating a full degree programme with modules taught by experts from Harvard, MIT, Oxbridge, or any of the top-class Colleges around the world? Expensive Lecturers would no longer be needed! Learners would get the best education available and Colleges would save a lot of money that could be put to other use (such as research).

I just hope this doesn't happen before I retire in 10 years time!

* The ‘flipped classroom’ is professional suicide
By Jonathan Rees on August 23rd, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

How To... Calculate the Percentage of a Number in Excel 2013

I've always been confused when calculating percentages. If I want to determine what is 15% of 456, I have to always check if I am using the right method to calculate. Sometimes I have to do a simple calculation first - eg, use a formula to calculate what is 15% of 100 - if I get a result of 15 I know I am right. In Excel I use formulas to do the same, but am always wondering things like should I divide or multiply by 100? Where should the numbers go?

So I decided to make a video to remind me how it is done, and hope that this will also help other "percent" challenged folks out there in YouTube land. Here is the video:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Metered Water Bill #IrishWater

Yesterday I wrote about Irish Water and the work of Geoffrey Drage on statistics, and coincidentally today I got my first metered water bill. This is just the second bill I've received from Irish Water - the first was a fixed reading with a cap €64.82. 

I'm sure that like many people I wondered what would I have paid if the cap was not in place and I had to pay for every litre used. In my bill below we used just over 20,000 litres of water during April/May/June - I'm visualizing the 1,000 litre oil tank in my garden and at 20 of these, this does not seem like a lot of water. Had my bill been based on usage it would have been just over €10 higher - not a lot. This is not so bad after all???

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Have We Learned Anything in Nearly 100 Years? #Statistics #BigData #IrishWater via @ad_greenway

In a short story by Andrew Greenway on data and digital, he writes about the work of Geoffrey Drage nearly 100 years ago. In December 1916, Drage presented a paper to the Royal Statistical Society on "The Reorganisation of Official Statistics and  a Central Statistical Office" (available in Jstor). This paper was published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Vol. 80, No. 1, pp. 31-64) in 1917. 

In 1916 there was no Central Statistics Office in the UK (Ireland of course was part of the UK until 1921), and when I read some of the key findings of Drage's paper I wondered have we learned anything about data and statistics since then. With more news this week from Irish Water of new databases, plus the lack of existing data when the company was set up, and the difficulties they are having with errors - I thought I was reading a list of things wrong with Irish Water (and other bodies), when I read the following findings by Drage:

In 1916, Drage diagnosed six problems with government statistics as follows:
  1. Lack of cooperation between the different departments
  2. The absence of any central or general supervision of national statistics as a whole
  3. Publications (such as the Parliamentary Blue Book) serving conflicting purposes, confusing users like administrative and departmental officers
  4. The inclusion of departmental reports of quantities of matter for the purpose of showing how much work is done in a year
  5. The fact that compulsory powers are too few and seldom applied
  6. Defective supervision in the collection of statistics and the employment, especially for census work, of ill-paid, uneducated, and therefore uninterested persons in the collection.
With the exception of the point #6 above, the others make for interesting reading (though in #6 above you could make a case for front-line staff today being under-valued. It wasn't until 1941 that a Central Statistics Office was set up in the UK when Churchill got fed up with bad data during World War II. The CSO in Ireland was set up in 1949 (we didn't need a war).

It seems to me that problems at the bewildered Irish Water Company with new databases, PPS numbers, data protection, and joining the dots seems to have learned nothing in nearly 100 years. Expect lots more data analysis mess to come!

Monday, August 17, 2015

"How To... Add Music to a PowerPoint 2013 Presentation" - new @YouTube video

In an effort to boost video views on my YouTube channel I have looked back at some of my popular videos in PowerPoint and Excel versions 2010, with the aim to update them for version 2013.  While writing this post, my "How To... Add Music to a PowerPoint 2010 Presentation" video has 365,943 views. So it is the first of a few that I will create a newer version of over the next couple of weeks. 

In this video I show how to insert and play an audio file (I use the free Kalimba MP3 file that comes with Windows) on a slide. I then show how to play the audio this across slides, and finally show some of the basic editing features available in PowerPoint.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough

One of the top books (#4 as I write) on the New York Times Best Seller List this summer is "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough - the great story of the history of aviation with Orville and Wilbur Wright as the central characters. The story of how these two pioneers of aviation were the first to fly a heavier than air powered airplane (the "Wright Flyer") at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on 17th December 1903 is reasonably well-known - but there was more to it that that single day. nI bought the paper back version to read on holidays in Italy

Image Source: Amazon.
David McCullough has a very easy to read writing style. This is a well researched book that traces the origins of the Wright brothers' burning desire to fly just over 110 years ago. Today it is difficult to look up to the sky and not see a jet or their white trails - we take flying for granted. But in the years before 1903 several aviators around the world were in a race to be the first to fly - the Wright brothers got there first.

Their story is one of perseverance - they had made many attempts before they finally got it right (see famous photo of this flight below). The relationship between the two brothers undoubtedly helped them to succeed as they were very close and worked well together. Neither brother every married - too devoted to their work. The book does not stop at the Kitty Hawk flight as it tracks subsequent brothers' efforts and those of others as aviation was a new horizon at the beginning of the last century. The founding of a company and the rivalry between countries to build airplanes based on their design makes for further fascinating reading. Wilbur's early death in 1912 perhaps robbed the 20th century of one of its most brilliant inventors before time.

As you might expect, there is much more to the story of the Wright brothers than the flight at Kitty Hawk. This is a fascinating popular history read that I heartily recommend to anyone who has ever set foot on the steps of an airplane stairs.

First flight2.jpg
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown

I love my Kindle Reader on my iPad, but reading from it in the sun is very difficult. So for summer holidays I decided to buy a couple of paper books to read in the sun. I looked up the New York Times best seller list on-line to see what Americans were reading this summer. "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel Brown (not the one who wrote The Da Vinci Code) was at the top of the list and sounded interesting, so I went to Hodges Figgis on Dawson St  in Dublin to buy. In reading the description of the book it reminded me a bit of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken", which I previously read and reviewed.

Image source: Amazon.
This book tells the story of Joe Rantz and the University of Washington rowing team who won gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. It is also a story of the depression and how a boy like Rantz managed to overcome poverty and family difficulties to not only study at university, but also to be a key member of the rowing team. The rivalry between UW and other colleges, particularly from the east coast, is fascinating, and builds up nicely to the Olympics. The boys in the boat rowed to victory in front of Hitler and his Nazis. They did not get to fight Hitler in World War II because they were too tall for the army.

While the story is fantastic, there is a lot about rowing in this book. The terminology and the endless training that the boys went through does get a bit boring. Once one race is done, it is back to training and onto the next - then more training and more races. However, this is a trivial compliant in an otherwise excellent book.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dramatic fall-off in YouTube views

In the past I have never been slow to (boast) report about reaching milestones such as 7 or 8 million views on my YouTube channel. Since I founded the channel in 2006 the rate of growth has been steady and followed fairly distinct patterns. 

I expected (and hoped) for growth to continue - on 25th March 2014 the channel reached a record high daily view of 11,944 views. Had previous patterns been followed, this would have been exceeded later in 2014 and nearly doubled by March 2015 - not so. While late 2014 and early 2015 were similar to corresponding periods 12 months earlier, since May this year there has been quite a dramatic fall-off in views, dropping down to 2012 levels, and even lower than Christmas 2013 and 2014.

I have no explanation for this. In April/May this year I did introduce custom thumbnails and updated keywords/descriptions on the advice of my YouTube Partner Manager. I'd be really surprised if this caused the drop-off, as most of my views are the result of searches in YouTube and these changes should have improved that. Perhaps this fall-off was going to happen anyway if I had reached a saturation point. I have been adding more videos, and hope to keep this up in the next few months - but it has always taken time for a new video to gather views

There is some evidence in the chart above that the downward trend is reversing, this normally happens after the summer - so hopefully it will soon be in five figures a day again.

Friday, August 07, 2015

New Book: "Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes"

This morning I have published my third book!

Following on from "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" (which is now out of print), I have written about the Causeway and Mourne coastal routes in Northern Ireland which I toured last year and revisited this summer. It has taken nearly a year to write (including several episodes of writer's block and laziness). Much of the time was taken in formatting photos and inserting them in a way that does not disrupt the flow of text. The book is self-published through CreateSpace, and the process of uploading and re-uploading files took quite some time.

The book is short (113 pages) - the two routes are way shorter (500 kms) than the Wild Atlantic Way (2,500 kms), so inevitably there is less to write about. While I was reasonably familiar with the Co Down coast, before 2014 I had never been north of Belfast or east of Derry. For a bike ride - it doesn't get better than these two routes. The A2 road runs right along the coast for long stretches, and with sites like the Giant's Causeway, the Mussenden Temple, the Glens of Antrim, and the Mountains of Mourne - it is arguably as good as, if not better, than the Wild Atlantic Way. The WAW takes a long time (10 days for me), so the CCR and MCR are ideal for a shorter trip (3-5 days).

The experience of self-publishing through Amazon's Createspace was interesting. First, there is no stress with trying to get a regular publisher interested - I did not submit this book to any publisher. No rejection letters! The quality of the printed proof I got was very good - I'm keeping it as my first copy. Createspace will print the book to order, but this makes it expensive. The minimum I could sell it for is $22.50, so I really don't expect to sell very many at this price for such a short book. At the moment, it is just  available on the Createspace Bookstore, but it will be available on Amazon in 3-5 days. I can make it available as a Kindle book which I plan to do next week - this will mean that it can be a lot cheaper to buy.

Both my WAW and CCR&MCR books cover exploring the Irish coast from Kinsale in Cork to Newry in Down. The coast from Newry to Kinsale around the Southeast coast is a natural follow on - and this is my next book project. Much of it is already written, though I may need some more photos.

Books by Eugene.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Touring South Wexford

Yesterday I took advantage of one of the few rainless days this summer and decided to tour around the South Wexford coast. It is three years ago since I first set out to complete a circuit of the coastal roads of Ireland. I had started to write about my explorations as soon as I got home, beginning with South Dublin and continuing on to Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, and Cork. The intention was to write a book (tentatively called "The 100 Corners of Ireland") about the entire trip, but it has ended up in three parts: "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" (published in 2014), "Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes" (published in 2015), the third part will be "Exploring Ireland's East and South-East Coast" (hopefully to be published next year). When I originally started I did not have the intention to include photographs (even though I took hundreds).

I did not have that many photos of the Co Wexford coast, so my trip yesterday was to put that right - below are a sample of some of the photos I took:

Kylmore Memorial Garden.

Outside Sinnott's Pub in Duncormick.

Bannow Church (where the Normans first landed in 1169).

Inside Bannow Church.

Ruined Church in Wellingtonbridge.


Slade Castle, Hook Head.

Hook Head Lighthouse.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Deansgrange Cemetery World War I Graves Tour

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council are running a series free  heritage tours this summer and one I noticed today was for the Deansgrange Cemetery World War I Graves Tour, and I decided to tag along. 

Image source:
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.
Over a one and a half hour tour I and about 20 other people were enthralled by the information about the dead of World War I that lie in the cemetery. It is known that there are about 125 people directly involved in WWI buried in the cemetery, with about 80 others thought to be involved. A difficulty in determining who was involved or not is divided along Catholic and Protestant divisions - Catholics tended not to want graves to indicate that the dead were in the British Army, while the Protestants celebrated this.

The first grave we saw was for Joseph Tierney. The regular headstone on his grave records that he died on "5 Jan 1916". However, a special Commonwealth Graves headstone notes that he was soldier 73108 with the rank of Corporal in the Royal Engineers who died on 5th January 1915 aged just 24. The one year discrepancy appears to be an error and our guide told us that it is due to be corrected to 1916.

There are several connections to the 1916 Rising with many graves of Sherwood Foresters who were killed at Mount St in 1916. One of the Foresters, Montague Bernard Browne, died in hospital on 28 April 1916 after being wounded in 26 April probably at Mount St. The Foresters exacted a little revenge on the 1916 leaders in that most of the firing squads who executed the 1916 leaders were drawn from their ranks. 

Below are some of the photos I took today - if you get a chance to make this tour, it is well worth it 

We were told that all buried here died of the Spanish Flu.

Only Victoria Cross winner in Deansgrange.

These guys are not actually buried in this grave.

Note small memorial bottom left.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth Century Ship and its Cargo of Female Convicts" by Siân Rees

Looking for something to read I checked out Amazon best seller list in the history category and noticed an unusual title at Number 1: "The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth Century Ship and its Cargo of Female Convicts" written by Siân Rees. Despite its slightly titillating title, this is a super book about how women from England were transported to Australia in the 1780s.

Image Source: Amazon.
The book tells the story of many women and what crimes they committed - mostly theft, prostitution, and shop-lifting. The sentence for these crimes was often death, but were commuted to "transportation beyond the seas". Rees paints a picture of dreadful conditions in jails at the time, and also the difficulty of dealing with prisoners and their crimes. There was also a desire by Government for people to set up a colony in what is now Sydney, and here was a handy way to get started - in particular there was a shortage of women. The ship used was the Lady Julian, and it was a much better place for the women than in the horrid conditions in jail. At times the women did turn the ship into a brothel, mostly while in port.

The voyage from England to Australia is described well and the lives of the women on board seemed to have been a lot better than for convicts on other ships. How the women did after they arrived is also described and the hardships of an early colony make for interesting reading. Women were used in ways that today we would consider barbaric, for example there is the description of the horrific burning at the stake of Catherine Sullivan in 1788 for forging coins, and the unwritten rule that sailors could take a "wife" for comfort during the voyage to Australia.

Siân Rees has written a very well researched and easy to read book that is captivating and informative. At 99p for the Kindle edition this is an absolute bargain.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Revisiting the #CausewayCoastalRoute and the #MourneCoastalRoute

Yesterday I traveled up to Ballycastle in County Antrim on my bike to revisit some parts of both the Causeway Coastal and Mourne Coastal Routes. My book is almost finished, but there were some sections where I was missing some photos or where I wanted to retake existing ones. The first port of call was at The Dark Hedges (of Game of Thrones Fame) near Armoy. Due to motorcycle races, the streets around Armoy were closed, so I had to take a detour. The Hedges are as magical and mystical as they are portrayed in Game of Thrones. I went to Fair Head and on a fine day there were great views from the top of the head out to Rathlin Island and even to Scotland. I also visited Torr Head and rode down the A2 around the Antrim coast. I also wanted a photo of St Patrick's Grave in Downpatrick, and of the Town Hall & Bagenal's Castle in Newry. Below are some photos from the trip
The Dark Hedges, Armoy.

Children of Lir and Fair Head, Ballycastle.

Lough na Cranagh at Fair Head

View of Mull of Kintyre from the top of Fair Head.

Cliff face at Fair Head.

At Fair Head with Rathlin Island in Background.

On the A2 near Glenarm, Co Antrim.

St Patrick's Grave, Downpatrick.

Town Hall, Newry.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Denys Corbett Wilson - First Man to Fly from Britain to Ireland 1912

While reading David McCullagh's excellent new book about The Wright Brothers, I heard about a commemorative stone in the townland of Crane near Monageer in Co Wexford and decided to go along for a look.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The stone is located on Google Street View here, and I have also uploaded it to the Open Plaques Project here. To the left is an image of the Bleriot XI that Denys Corbett Wilson flew after it crash landed. Wilson was a pioneering aviator - here is his Wikipedia page.

At 7.47am on the 22nd April 1912 he set out from Pembrokeshire in Wales and after about 100 minutes he crash landed in Crane. A hundred years later the flying route from Britain to Ireland (London-Dublin) is one of the busiest air routes in the world.

Denys Corbett Wilson was killed in World War I on 10th May 1915 when his plane was shot down during a reconnaissance mission over France.

Below is the granite commemorative stone - it does seem odd that the Corbett Wilson Committee erected this in "April 22nd 1987". Perhaps this is a typo?


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: "How To Fly A Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery" by @Kevin_Ashton

One day earlier in the summer I was listening to a radio show and author Kevin Ashton was being interviewed about his book "How to Fly a Horse". I was so impressed with his thoughts that I bought the book immediately the interview was over from the Amazon Kindle Store and started to read. I'd be interested to know if there was a spike in Amazon sales of the book in Ireland during and following this interview.

Image source: Amazon.
Using many interesting examples, Ashton explores creativity and creative people. He points out that many stories of creativity follow long hard battles with trial and error before finally something is created. He cites the work of James Dyson - widely regarded as a creative genius for his work on vacuum cleaners. Dyson follows a "make, break, make, break" approach. He made 5,126 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before he finally "created" a marketable product. Ashton believes that much creativity is not about "eureka" moments, but is the result of hard work over a long period. He also cites great instances of "creativity" by the Wight Brothers, the Coca-Cola Company, Mozart, Bach, Steve Jobs, Stephen King, Fleetwood Mac, and many more. The common thread is that creativity followed enormous amount of hard work with much trial and error.

Many people believe that only special people are creative, and that they themselves are not. I never thought of myself as creative and cannot point to a new product or service as the likes of James Dyson and Stephen King can. The message for me from Ashton's book is that anybody can be creative as long as they work hard, keep trying, and never give up. From the last page of the book:

All stories of creators tell the same truths: that creating is extraordinary but creators are human; that everything right with us can fix anything wrong with us; and that progress in not an inevitable consequence but an individual choice. Necessity is not the mother of invention. You are.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: "River God" by Wilbur Smith

Ever since I came across a magnificent book called "When the Lion Feeds" when I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the books of Wilbur Smith. I have read every single one of them and always make it an automatic purchase whenever a new one comes out. His latest book, "River God" is the fifth book in his Ancient Egypt series.

Image source: Amazon.
His previous book in the series featured Taita and lots of magic. This book has thankfully less magic though it is a sometimes incredible story. Taita is the most egotistic man that ever existed - he has an answer for everything and seems perfect in every way (apart from having no goolies). That aside, the book takes us from Egypt to Babylon to Cyprus and back to Egypt. For Wilbur Smith fans it is true to form, but those new to Smith would do well to read the previous four novels in this series.

For me, Smith was in his prime writing about South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). He has been criticized for being racist and sexist - no arguments from me on this front. In "Desert God" there are no sweeping descriptions of the African landscape. The characters are weak, unlike the Ballantynes and Courtneys from his other books.

I read this book on holidays which fitted the bill of an easy read while soaking up the sun. I wish Smith would revisit his roots and write again about the Ballantynes and Courtneys - but this is surely not to be in today's PC world. No doubt I'll buy the next Wilbur Smith book when it comes out - but he lost his touch a long time ago.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Naples #Holidays

Our final day of holidays in Italy was spent in Naples. It turned out that it was cheaper to spend Sunday night in Naples in a hotel and fly home on Monday than flying a day earlier. We stayed at the Hotel San Pietro near Piazza Garibaldi. Coming down from the mountains the city is spread out under the shadow of mount Vesuvius. This volcano has not erupted since 1944, and will surely cause havoc if it does so again.

The first thing that strikes you about the area we stayed in is the filth of it. Graffiti and rubbish are everywhere, even on the churches. However, our hotel was excellent - very comfortable and clean. With just one afternoon and evening to explore the city we walked down to the old city centre (which is a lot cleaner). We had lunch on the Via Duomo, though disappointingly the Graffiti spoiled Duomo itself was closed. We visited the Buried City at the San Lorenzo Maggiore, and walked down an excavated old Roman street. Close by we enjoyed the brilliant Greco-Roman underground aqueduct - the Napoli Sotterranea. We had an excellent English speaking guide who brought us through some very narrow passages - this is well worth a visit. We stopped for a beer at the piazza Bellini, and later we had our last pizza in a very busy restaurant on the Via Tribunali. Even though it was a Sunday night, the narrow streets were very busy with people and fast scooters. Most scooter riders were not wearing helmets and they seem to be immune to any rules of the road. 

Naples is a very historic city, but not as well kept as Rome. Whether I ever go back I'm not sure, but I'm glad to have visited.

At Piazza Garibaldi.

On the Via Duomo.

Underground with some bombs.

Ravello #Holidays

1,500 steps up from our holiday apartment is the town of Ravello on top of a hill. We took our time and climbed the steps on a very hot day. Hard work, but worth it to get to the top. There are several very steep sections, but a couple of water fountains helped. Once there we made a bee line for a cafe and a nice cold beer. There are lots of nice shops with expensive ceramics and souvenirs. We went to Mimi's Pizzeria for a great pizza lunch, on the way passing a plaque dedicated to D.H. Lawrence who wrote Lady Chatterly's Lover here. I also looked through Villa Rufolo and its gardens - the best views of the Amalfi Coast are from here. I decided to take the steps back down to Minori, again hard work - but at least easier than going up. We thought about revisiting Ravello for its famed summer concerts, but it was too much to contemplate going back up the steps, a taxi would be €50, or we would have to take two buses. Instead I got a free classical CD in the Tourist Office which we played when back in the apartment. Ravello - definitely worth visiting.

About 1,400 steps to go!

Overlooking Maiori viewed from Ravello.

Roma and Eugene in Ravello.

Relaxing with a cool beer in Piazza Centrale in Ravello.

Thinking of new business for Monkstown Pharmacy?