Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Weekend in London

So far March has been a very busy month and I have reached the 23rd day of the month and am only writing my third blog post! With no self-induced pressure to write a post every day I have gone from prolific to occasional posting. A break from blogging will hopefully refresh the mind as well as stop me posting just for the sake of it.

This past weekend Roma and I visited London for a city break - we have done this a few times before and it is a great way to relax and experience a city very different from Dublin. We weren't the only tourists there, London is an all-year round attraction despite cool weather at this time of year. We did very little shopping and lots of walking. We went to the Tower of London and walked across Tower Bridge. We went to Soho and Brick Lane. We wandered through markets and small shops. We drank wine and we drank beer. We had lunch out and dinner out. We took some selfies, and learned a new word "elsies" (not a selfie - getting someone else to take your photo) from the tour guide in the Tower of London. 

The highlight of the weekend was "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical". As the two of us grew up (and met each other!) in the 1970s this was a trip down memory lane like no other. Neither of us realised that Carole King had written many iconic songs before her landmark 1971 album "Tapestry" such as "The Loco-motion" (for Little Eva), "Up On The Roof" (The Drifters), and "I'm into Something Good" (Herman's Hermits). A superb performance by the cast at the Aldwych Theatre combined King's music and her life story that fully deserved the standing ovation at the end.

Here's the lady herself visiting the same show just two weeks ago!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reading Week

It is 8.30 am on the first day of Reading Week. We have no classes in the College this week (though I am running a rescheduled class) and it is a time for students and Faculty to take a break from classes and catch up. It is not really a full week since St Patrick's Day on Friday makes it a short week. Students will use the opportunity to work on assignments and projects, as well as getting some study in. No doubt they will also take a break from study - and perhaps some will do nothing academic this week. When students refer to this week as a "break", I am quick to remind them that it is not and that it should be used wisely. For part-time students, some of whom come to evening classes three days a week, it will be a welcome respite from the pace of learning - especially for those who have full time jobs and families.

Image source: Get into that boat.
For Faculty, it is also a break from classes. Most of us will use the time to catch up on grading assessments. I have two large classes and a small mountain of assignments awaits - this was the week to clear my desk ahead of the remaining 5 weeks in the semester. However, an unexpected project has scuppered these plans and I will not be able to get everything I had planned for the week done.

It is important for people to take a break no matter what their activities are - what the late Stephen Covey called "Sharpen the Saw". A 12 week semester is a long time for both students and Faculty to keep going. This year at NCI we are introducing a second reading week in the lead up to Easter. It will incorporate Good Friday when the College will be closed. Many other Colleges have "breaks" at Easter - so now we are too.

To all students - enjoy the week. Take a break. Catch up on studies. Clear all assignments. Plan for projects later in the Semester. Bake some cookies. Take your partner out. Sleep. Come back to College next week refreshed!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Saying Thank You Online #thanks

It's nice when people take the time to say "Thank you". It is a polite thing to do and it makes the receiver feel good about something. It doesn't take long to say it, but saying thank you in the anonymous online world takes a little bit longer. Typing out a comment takes some time as does selecting options to create and publish a comment - not to mention a few seconds to check for typos and grammar.

A few of my YouTube viewers take the time to say "Thank You", while this is a small fraction of the total number of viewers every day, it is nevertheless gratifying that they take the time to do this. As of today there are 7,467 comments on my channel since the beginning of 2010 (when YouTube started to track comments) - not all are favourable and there are also many questions from viewers. But the vast majority are viewers simply saying "thank you". If each of these comments took an average of a minute to write, it adds up to just over five days worth of non-stop commenting. Here's what some recent viewers had to say in the past week:
  • life saver!!!
  • Super helpful, thanks
  • thanks! Short and to the point
  • thank you so much this was so helpful!
  • You legend! Thank youuuu so much!
  • Outstanding... worked like a charm. Thank you for this informative video.
  • Great video, everything is explained simple and steb by step. Thank you!
  • Thank you! Helped a lot.
  • thank you sir this one is very useful for me ..
It has made me more likely to do the same on other websites - I sometimes comment and "like" posts, or share them on LinkedIn and Twitter.

So - this is my opportunity to say a BIG THANK YOU to all my viewers and to those who take to time to comment.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

And even more memories of Roscrea #CCR

For my final trip down the soon-to-close Cistercian College Roscrea memory lane I'm concentrating on what I was there for - education.

My Favourite Class
No doubt about this - French was my favourite class. John Shanahan was my teacher for all five years of my time in CCR - 2A all the way up to 5A. Despite loving this subject I only managed a disappointing C in the Leaving Certificate. Twice during summer holidays I was sent to France on an exchange which helped enormously with my conversation and vocabulary. In first year my introduction to educational technology brought us "Voix et Image" - we recited "Voilà Monsieur Thibaut" so many times. I expected to meet loads of Thibauts when I went to France, but never did. For some 2A nostalgia, here's the video...

Other classes I enjoyed
I very much liked History and Geography - I did both subjects up to the Intermediate Certificate. By then I was being steered towards choosing Science subjects for the Leaving Cert, so I did not continue with either. Rody Ryan was our History teacher - only he could make an exciting subject boring. He spent most of the class writing on the board extracts from the course textbook, which we all had in front of us, and made us take down his notes. While I wanted to learn more about The Flight of the Earls and the War of the Three Kingdoms - I learned how to transcribe text instead. I also liked Fr Patrick's Latin classes, but not the Latin part. I loved Roman History and "Padjo" keep my interest in Julius Caesar and the Romans alive despite me being poor at Latin vocabulary and grammar. Incidentally, Fr Patrick is the only teacher to have ever thrown me out of class!

My Least Favourite Class
I had to think about this one. History (see above) came close, as did Chemistry for the Leaving Cert. Religion classes were not that interesting either, but there was less disinterest in the Church at that time compared to now. The "honour" of my least favourite class goes to Irish. In the year before I went to Roscrea I had completed 6th class in the all-Irish school in Trabolgan, Co Cork. I left there with a Fáinne Nua (which I later lent to a Ruane boy from Mayo in Roscrea and never saw it again), and the ability to speak Irish fluently. Somehow, five years in CCR knocked this out of me. By the time I got to the Intermediate Cert (when I got a barely deserved D) I had lost all interest. Trying to teach Irish through English does not work. Despite his best efforts our teacher (Mr McD) could not get me to build upon my foundations set in Trabolgan. The incessant emphasis on grammar and poetry bored the shite out of me, meanwhile in French class we were using tapes and images which was the way to go. I know that my poor performance in Irish was not due to my school and teacher alone - but the slow decline from 2A to 6B, and the inability to hold a conversation in Irish started in CCR in 1972.

"2" for Study
By the time I got to 6th year, I had never got a dreaded "2" for study which meant a trip to the President Fr Peter. By the time I got to 6th year (and 18 years of age) I was also beginning to become less interested in actually studying - I think I spent most of my time thinking about sex, even though I hadn't a clue what it was! I started to mess in study - students' performance in study was graded 0 - 6, but it was really just a system to keep us behaving. I usually got a 3 or a 4 which indicated I was not on the radar of the priests who supervised study. My first "2" was for messing with Niall Duff - we were "shooting" each other with "machine guns" (our rulers) and idiotically we did not see Fr Kevin coming to catch us. The second "2" was for reading a novel during study: Arthur Hailey's "Hotel". The Mire caught me reading this, confiscated this "dirty" book, and gave me a "2" for study. Fr Peter was sympathetic when I went to see him. I'm sure he was bored with endless excuses and trivial matters - he let me off with a warning not to do it again.

Mass
While not quite education, Mass was for our benefit to develop us as men as well as being good for the soul. If I recall correctly, in the years before 1972 Mass was compulsory every day, but after 1972 it was optional on some days. Sometimes I went just to skip study. The church had a hierarchy where younger boys sat at the front and older boys at the back. At times Mass was cool - especially when we had songs like "Let It Be" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" as hymns, for a few minutes we were Holy Beatles. For the most part our behaviour was exemplary - Mass was not the place to be messing under the watchful eyes of Fr Peter and God Himself. Studs on our shoes were very popular in the 1970s, and it was almost a competition to see who could make the most noise walking back to our seats after Communion. There was always an enthusiastic rendition of "Hail Redeemer" at the end of Sunday Mass - 300 boys belted it out as if our lives depended on it.

There it is - some memories that were personal to me. I know that there might be some CCR Alumni reading this who will have different recollections to me, and may even disagree with some of mine. Yet these are my memories, good and bad. I'd love to have a computer full of videos, selfies, and photos of all five years to refresh and relive some memories, but the 1970s and my teenage years was mostly about living in a boarding school with a great bunch of classmates disconnected from the rest of the world. This year we will be celebrating 40 years since we left CCR, this might be the last one before the school closes. Back in 1977 the world was at our feet, and none of us would have predicted the life we have now. Equally, none of us would have predicted that such a vibrant College would close 40 years later. I and my classmates have a lot to thank CCR for - I will be sorry to see it close.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Even More Memories from Roscrea #CCR

Some more thoughts about my time (1972 - 1977) in the soon-to-close Cistercian College Roscrea...

Cistercian Abbey and College from the air.
Image source: Music Ministry.
Nicknames 
One day in October 1972, less than two months after I started in Roscrea, the Prefect (JB) at our table during dinner started to ask all the 1st year boys what age we were. All the other boys answered "12", but I had just turned 13 so was the "oldest" boy at the table - our Prefect immediately declared that I was "Granddad", a nickname that stuck with me in various forms (such as "Gramps") for the next five years. My brother Brian inherited this nickname when he went to Roscrea for the five years after me. I was also sometimes called "Locka". Not everybody had a nickname, it was almost a badge of honour to have one. Others in my year included: Ball, Thatch, Horse, Chiquita, Taff, Tosh, Masher, Giggs, plus of course many were known by the surnames and abbreviations of same: Hessy, Macker, Ryano, and Noxo. Even our teachers and minders had nicknames: Rubber, Felix, The Rod, The Fish, Padjo, The Rat, Glider, The Bonav, The Mire, and Sparky. It's funny that when us Old Boys meet up we do not use nicknames any more, preferring first names instead.

Rugby
I have to admit that I did not like playing rugby - ever. It was compulsory in 1st year for all of us to play rugby in the Kids' Leagues. I hated it. I was always stuck in the forwards and spent a lot of time pushing and shoving in scrums and rucks. I played most games without ever touching the ball. I was not very good at rugby, and I got hurt a lot with being pushed around and getting savage hand-offs in the face from older and bigger boys from the year above us that we were forced to play against. Sure - it toughened us up and prepared those who went on to play for the JCT and SCT. I was a shite rugby player.

Wembley
Soccer was my preferred game, and "Wembley" was our mecca. The football pitch, beside the solitary tree near the bottom left in the photo above, was like the Theatre of Dreams. I preferred to play in goal and on this pitch I won the FA Cup, the League, the World Cup - pulling off world class saves in every game! Nearly everyone had a favourite English team - Leeds United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United were the preferred ones, I was very unusual in that Preston North End were my team. My hero was Preston's Irish goalkeeper Alan Kelly. I played as much soccer as I could, dreaming of the day I would line out in goal for Preston and Ireland. I was a shite goalkeeper, but I loved it.

Bullying
A culture where older boys hit on younger boys would not be tolerated today. While bullying was rare in Roscrea as far as I saw - it did occur. In my previous post I wrote about food - it was common, and accepted, that older prefects had first choice of food at the dinner table, and some abused this position to fill their own bellies while leaving others hungry. I also recall one instance that left me rolling in agony. The corridor between the toilets and common rooms was plenty wide for two boys to pass each other, but in one of those instances where I and another older boy tried to avoid each other by both going left, and then right - the other bully needlessly knee'd me in the thigh to get me out of his way. I thought my leg was broken. Over 40 years later I remember this instance like it was yesterday.

Bunking
Escaping from College was not easy - getting caught led to serious consequences like extra study and writing 100 lines from Lepanto. I was a cowardly shite whose fear of getting caught out-weighed the thrill of "bunking" - most of the time. I remember bunking to Lawler's shop outside the gates of the College - forbidden, but one of the easier bunks to get away with. Bunking Mass was popular, but again the risk was not worth it - Fr Peter (RIP) would not tolerate this, not to mention the wrath of God thrown in. I was in awe of those who seemed to get away with it all the time.

Smoking
Cigarettes cost a lot of money - I could never afford them, and my Mum and Dad would kill me if they found out I was smoking. There was a certain attraction to smoking as it made you look older, and of course you would have been part of the smoking "Saloon" which was the coolest place in the College to be seen smoking openly. I preferred Mars Bars to cigarettes - to me it was no competition. On one occasion, a classmate (Ryano) tried to teach me how to smoke in the toilets. We stood on the toilet bowl and he showed me how to inhale and blow the smoke towards the roof so that The Mire couldn't catch us. While it was exciting to be doing something illegal, I was a shite smoker. During the Leaving Cert exams I managed to get a packet of Rothmans. I sneaked down to the golf course so that I wouldn't be seen and smoked a fag. I was as sick as a dog. I did persevere and was a smoker for about six years afterwards. Mum - if you are reading this it was Ryano's fault!

Radio
In the days before computers and mobile phones, radio was our connection with the outside world. The Top Twenty on Radio Luxembourg, and Sport on 2 (BBC Radio 2) were my favourite programmes. Every Saturday afternoon I was in Anfield, Old Trafford, Elland Road, and many other Division 1 grounds as commentators like Des Lynam and Alan Parry thrilled us with commentary and results. Saturday afternoon study started at 16:30 - this meant that we did not get the final results. However, I cheated this by feeding my earphone up my sleeve and listening to the results, passing notes to other boys to tell them how their team got on. Radio Luxembourg's Top Twenty was on late on Sunday night, so it meant listening using an earphone (for one ear) in bed. It was a cool thing the next day to be able to not only say what the Number 1 was, but also to have actually heard it. We had to register our radios before study so that they would be taken away from us, but I was addicted to mine and regularly "forgot" to register. It was confiscated by The Mire many times. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

More Memories of Roscrea #CCR

Digging back into memories from over 40 years ago I try to recall some stories and events from my time in Cistercian College Roscrea. It was just five out of the 57 years of my life, but CCR definitely left an impression on me. I have spent my entire career in education, and a lot of what formed me as a person came from this school. While I had some good times there, there were also some not-so-good times too. Below are a few that come immediately to my mind.

The Food
Image source: Frank C Murray Construction.
I don't know what the food is like in CCR nowadays, but in the 1970s it was dreadful. First, imagine 300 growing hungry teenagers all coming for dinner at the same time - it must have been near impossible to prepare this many dinners, never mind make them tasty and nutritious. I think all of us were hungry (not starving) all the time. A Tuck Shop stocked with Mars Bars, and food from home helped keep us going. My most miserable moment with food was once taking a cold roast potato from a plate of collected left-over waste food from a clean-up trolley long after dinner was over - I was so hungry I ate someone else's leftovers.

The Bread
Not all food was bad - the bread keep us alive. It was baked in the Monastery and there was usually plenty of it. Brown or white - the bread was famous, my Dad always made sure to bring some loaves home. It was one of the few things that I looked forward to at meal time. 


Butter
Despite having plenty of bread, there was never enough butter. It was divided up between all the boys on each table. At the beginning of teatime, it was the job of one boy to mark out with a knife portions of butter for everyone - all we got was a square of butter about the size of a sugar cube. Woe betide any boy who marked out unequal squares. We were experts at spreading this thinly across thick slices of delicious bread. 

Visits
Something else to look forward to were visits from my Mum and Dad. Between September and Christmas we just got home for the mid-term at Halloween - a visit was most welcome. Sundays were often boring days, so a visit that involved going out to lunch/dinner meant that we got a "feed" that we talked about for days. My Mum would also bring home cooked food for us - if it was a cake or a tart, we were very popular at table when we shared it out.

Letters
Possibly strange for boys today to imagine writing a letter home every Sunday, but this is what we did. In first year, our letters were read by Fr Bonaventure to check for "spelling and grammar" before we handed them up for posting. This gross invasion of privacy would not be tolerated today. No doubt this spying worked to concentrate minds on making an effort to write neat letters, but I recall making sure that my letters were mundane and non-critical in case I got myself into trouble. Letters went out in the post on Monday, and like clockwork my Mum would respond and her responding letter would arrive on Wednesday or Thursday - I loved the details of what was happening on the farm at home. Mum has kept many of my (and my brother's) letters to this day - I look forward to getting my hands on them again.

More memories to come...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Memories of Roscrea #CCR

I sometimes wish we had camera phones back in the 70s. That way I would remember more of what happened, where I was, what I did, and who I was with (though I'm not sure I would be proud of selfies with long hair, wide shirt lapels, and flared jeans!). From my five years spent as a boarder in the soon to close Cistercian College Roscrea, I have very few photographs from my time there - just six, five of which are from musicals and one class photo from my final year in 1977. The musicals had official photographers and I got copies of the ones below from classmates just a couple of years ago. Our sixth year group photo shows 56 lads, two of who are sadly no longer with us: Enda Nolan (second from left in third row), and Kieran Egan (fifth from right in third row). This photo was taken just before our Leaving Certificate in May 1977 - all our talk then was of exams, summer, and what we were going to do next (in those days not all went to College). 

Class of 1977.
I'm in the middle of the second row from back.
In my time in Roscrea I took part in three musicals. I can't remember for sure what we did in first year (it might have been The White Horse Inn) when I would have been a chorus "girl" - in an all-boys school this was the lot of first years. In third year I had a small part (Willi Veit) in Schubert's Lilac Time, while in fifth year I was in the chorus of My Fair Lady (this time as a boy!). Musicals were certainly a highlight for me. They were directed by Frances Bergin (who died just last October)  - a very gentle woman who always kept us in good spirits and on our toes. Apart from the thrill of being on stage, practice and rehearsals were during study time and we sometimes got off homework because of that. I've published the photos below here before, but here they are again:

Lilac Time cast (1973). I'm second "lady" from right.
(That's a young Rory O'Connell from RTÉs "How to Cook Well" programme sitting at the front).
Lilac Time (1873).
I'm the middle "lady" front left.


I'm Getting Married in the Morning from My Fair Lady.
I'm just to right of centre.

The Ascot Opening Race from My Fair Lady.
I'm at the back just to the right of the painted window.

This evening Sir you did it!
I'm at the front left of group of waiters.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Irish County Maps now available in @Tableau 10 #analytics #GAA

Included in the latest version of Tableau Software is a feature that allows you to create maps based on the 26 counties of Ireland. This was not available in previous versions where to use Irish maps you needed a lot of latitude and longitude coordinates. The six counties of Northern Ireland are not included as an Irish county - instead the local authority regions are mapped according to UK maps. Users of Tableau should note that Irish counties are not classified as "Counties" in Tableau's "Geographical Role" - rather they are classified as "State/Province".

In response to a recent article in the Irish Independent Mayo the big spenders: This graph breaks down each county's costs in 2016, I decided to take a look at how spending compares to success in the senior All-Ireland football and hurling championships. I took the spend data from the Independent article, and the number of titles won by each county (Northern Ireland not included) from Wikipedia. While of course spending in 2015 has nothing to do with winning titles years ago, it does make for interesting viewing when put together in a Dashboard using Tableau. I created a Dashboard showing each county's population, GAA spend, football, and hurling titles. Each map acts as a filter for the other, so go ahead and click on your own county to drill down for detail. The dashboard is published on Tableau Public here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Four Generations of my family in CCR

Many students who went to Cistercian College Roscrea did so because a father or a family member had gone there in previous generations. The first connection that my family had with the Cistercians was when my grand-uncle James Murphy went to work there on the building of the Abbey. He liked it so much that he joined the Monastery and became a priest. In 1905 the abbot of the Monastery asked the then Brother Alberic to be the first Bursar and Dean of the College. In the second decade of the 20th century, his three nephews: Tim, Charles, and Pat Hurley (who were brothers) went to CCR as boarders. Charlie became a priest (and later a Monsignor) - his second name was "Francis" which is my second name too named after him. Tim became a doctor and moved to Cardiff in Wales. Pat bought a farm near Carnew in Co Wicklow (the farm where I grew up and where my Mum and Dad still live) - he lived in Dublin with his sister Eileen.

Pat Hurley
Fr Alberic (James) Murphy.
My Dad in the early 1940s.
What I looked like in 1974.

My Dad went to school in CCR from 1944 to 1947 - hard times at the end of World War II. He once cycled all the way from Carnew to Roscrea! Myself and my two brothers (Joe and Brian) also went to CCR - between 1972 and 1982 there was an unbroken sequence of three O'Loughlins boarding there. There have been no family members since. I often wondered if I had sons would I have sent them there. Probably not. I have lived in Dublin since 1978 and there are many schools close by my home that would be just as good if not better. Sadly, there will be no future generations of Hurleys or O'Loughlins attending CCR.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Announcement of the Closure of Cistercian College Roscrea #CCR

It is with mixed emotions that I learned on Friday that Cistercian College Roscrea is to close in 2017. In a letter to past pupils from the Abbot Dom Richard Purcell, he stated that it was "with great sadness and regret that the monks of Mount St Joseph Abbey, as Trustees of Cistercian College Roscrea, have taken the decision to permanently close the College". It seems the monks had no real choice but to make this difficult decision. A 45% decrease in student enrolment, insufficient resources to cover day-to-day costs, and unrealistic alternatives have forced their hand. Up to as recently as 1989 there were about 300 boys boarding in the school - the projected figure 2017/2018 is 150, clearly an unsustainable number. Despite a growing population in this country and a consequent increase in demand for school places - it seems that demand for full-boarding is in terminal decline.

Image source: Wikipedia.
I attended CCR from September 1972 to June 1977 and have many memories, both good and bad, from my time there. There were about 60 boys in my year, and many of us keep in touch through reunions - this year were are hoping to gather for our 40th Anniversary of finishing up in CCR. Strange that this will be the last such reunion while the school will still be open. I'm sure that the Past Pupils Union will keep things going for a while, but as the song goes "But year after year, their numbers get fewer, Someday, no one will march there at all" (The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, by Eric Bogle).

I'll post some memories here over the next few weeks.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Think First, Plot Second: Sharing Dashboards Online Using @Tableau #Analytics

This week I plan to use Tableau Software to get students to create dashboards - we will use Carbon Dioxide data from every country in the world. Tableau Public allows anyone to publish their dashboards online for all to see. 

Visualization of data is now big business. The Best Data Visualization Tools of 2016 (by PC Mag) lists Tableau and Microsoft Power BI as the top two tools for big data analysis and intelligence. There is a danger in using such tools without first thinking what you want to show. It is dead easy to open up a data file in Tableau and create interesting charts at the click of a button. But what is the best chart to choose? What are you trying to show? Will people understand what you are showing? Are you making your audience work hard to get value out of your charts? These are the questions we are asking students in our Data Visualization classes at NCI, which we hope to answer by thinking first and plotting second - too often it is the other way around.

Here's a quick dashboard created in Tableau, only part of the dashboard is visible due to size of blog pane - the full interactive dashboard can be seen here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Careful With That Axe" - Mostly Irish & Dublin Readers! #GoogleAnalytics

While checking through Google Analytics this week (for ideas in my Data Visualization class), I used my own website to generate data from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016 (when I posted every day) for viewing. I had incorrectly assumed that most traffic would come from America (as is the case for my YouTube channel), resulting from searches that include stuff I write about. Much to my surprise, 57% of sessions* come from Ireland, and only 16.7% come from the US. If I include the UK, about 80% of sessions come from just three countries - here's the top ten: 


Interestingly, of the 57% views from Ireland, 77% of these come from the Dublin region. Apart from family, I rarely meet anyone who has read my blog. Based on figures from LinkedIn, I seem to get most views via that network. 

So a big THANK YOU to all my Dublin-based Irish readers for checking out my blog!

Incidentally, map data is poorly illustrated in Google Analytics - I'll not be using it in class.

A session is the period time a user is actively engaged with your website, app, etc. All usage data (Screen Views, Events, Ecommerce, etc.) is associated with a session. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

RIP Dr Hans Rosling #Statistics #Analytics #HDSDA

It has been announced today that the great Dr Hans Rosling has died at the age of 68 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was well-known for promoting statistics and the use of data to explore development issues. 

Rosling made several presentations including TED talks. One of his best presentations was on comparing life span with wealth in 200 counhtires over 200 years. It is a brilliant piece of Data Visualization and his love for data shines through. Worth another look.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Using Google Slides to Share Content in Class for the First Time #Analytics

Recently I had been looking for some free online sites/software that would allow students in my class to share graphics/charts so that they could be viewed in class on the lecture theatre's screen at the completion of an exercise. I had seen several brilliant instances in the past where teachers/lecturers used text sharing ideas like Padlet, and Stoodle. But I wondered would there be an easy way for students to (voluntarily) share graphics and create a slideshow. Enter Google Slides!

In a tutorial last week, I gave my class (50 students approx) a data set taken from the Met Éireann website - the idea was that all students would use the same data source. The task was to draw at least one chart of choice to visualize some aspect of the data - students could have chosen rain, temperature, monthly, yearly date (and lots more). No direction was given as to what specific data to use - only that it must come from the file given. Students could plot bar charts, pie charts, line charts - anything that they wanted, the idea being to show how many different types of chart we could show from different students.

Students created their charts mostly in Excel and Tableau. They then copied and pasted the charts into a separate slide for each student via a link that I had previously set up in Moodle that gave them edit access to a blank Google Slides presentation. At the end of the exercise I viewed the presentation on-screen for all to see, and invited comment on several slides as they came up. Not surprisingly there were several different interpretations of the data, and many different types of chart.

I'll not show my class slideshow here, as it is confidential to my class. However, I did prepare and embed a Google Slide show using my own data/charts below, which was easy to put together. Google Slides has turned out to be a very powerful way to share simply students' work.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Kaiser Wilhelm Church - Memories #BerlinAttack #WhatIf

While writing about Berlin yesterday, I was struck that not far from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, was the location of the the Berlin attack using a truck driven by the Tunisian Anis Amri on 19th December last year. 12 people died and 56 others were injured. The attack took place at the Breitscheidplatz Market beside the Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Just three months earlier I had visited the exact same spot to see the church, much of which survived bombing by the British and Americans in the Second World War. Like many others, I posed for photos and walked around the market not in the least expecting that someone would later kill people in the same place. The Breitscheidplatz market was the first place I ever experienced a Virtual Reality headset at the Samsung stand in the market. Of course since that day I have often wondered "what if" the attack took place on the day I was there.

We can't live our lives in fear, yet there are many destinations and countries in the world that I know I will never visit because of security fears. I would never have put Berlin on any such list - is anywhere safe? Not far from where I work there is a memorial to the victims of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. At the top of the list is a lady named Cristina O'Loughlin (no relation) who was innocently going about her business in South Leinster Street when she was killed by a bomb - it could have been any one of us walking past at the wrong time. 

At the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, 3rd September, 2016.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

No Disrespect Intended #yolocaust

Are selfies taken at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial disrespectful to the millions of people murdered during World War II? The yolocaust.de website has recently provoked a strong reaction, both positive and negative, to people taking selfies at the memorial.  The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe consists of 2,711 concrete slabs called stelae, and is easily the most sombre place I have ever been when visiting Berlin last September. Yes - while I was there there were many people taking selfies (including me), and jumping from one slab to the next (not including me). There were young and old mostly just walking along the many passes and corridors between the slabs. I also visiting the underground museum - numbing.

I was born just 14 years after the end of World War II in safe Catholic Ireland on the edge of Europe far away from the atrocities committed in the name of National Socialism. Thankfully none of our Jewish community, LGBT community, or people with Mental Disability went to the gas chambers. I don't even know if there is a holocaust memorial in Ireland - we were far removed from these awful events. However, speaking in 2012, Alan Shatter (the then Minister for Justice) said that an "inconvenient truth is that those who chose to do and say nothing during this unprecedented period in European history included this State [Ireland]" and he recalled that the Irish Ambassador to Germany recommended that the Irish Government refuse visa requests from Jews to protect Ireland from "contamination". What a load of bollocks that thankfully should not happen now. 

In the photo below (taken by Roma), we certainly meant no disrespect to anyone - this is just one of probably thousands of photos taken that day at the Memorial. Young people in particular, who are now several generations away from WWII and used to selfies everywhere, might find the fuss over yolocaust to be both awkward and bemusing. To small children, this place is like a playground. In a hundred years time when most of us will all be dead - what will people think of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe? Hopefully it will retain its sombreness and that there will be no need to build any more similar memorials between now and then.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

This is Cool! #handshakes

A teacher in a North Carolina has a novel way of greetign students to his class - personalized handshhakes for each student. What a great way to start class - Barry White, Jr., a fifth grade English teacher at Ashley Park Pre K-8 School does this with every single student in his class. Check out the video...



Of course there is a reason behind all this. According to White, when they "start doing the moves and that brings them excitement and pumps them up for a high-energy class". He started doing this after noticing his favorite basketball player, LeBron James, doing the same thing with his teammates. What he is doing is building trust, and creating a deep and meaningful relationship with his students. When students know their teacher cares, they are attentive, engaged and driven to be successful.

At third level things are a bit different. I have up to 70 students in some of my classes and it would be very difficult to do something like what Barry White is doing in his class. There isn't the same relationship with students at third-level as there is at other levels. Most of the time I do not know students' names, and I certainly don't have a personalized relationship with any of them. While this is a pity, it is unavoidable with so many students who I have in class for just three hours per week. It doesn't mean that I don't care - but building trust and meaning is a lot harder.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"3 Small Things" via @dennistyang #leadership

I read with interest today a post on Medium by Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy, entitled "3 Small Things That Separate Great Leaders From the Good Ones" - who writes that "Staying connected with employees is a top priority" to avoid "losing touch with your employees". This is easy to happen when a start-up grows rapidly in to a large organization where the "easy intimacy of those early startup days fades away as headcount increases". In my previous job, where my employee number was 36 when I started in 1989, the company grew from being very small to very large (500+ employees in Dublin office) - I could see this first hand. So what does Yang recommend to "temper that disconnected feeling and help 21st century employees find humanity in the workplace" so that leaders are "great" rather than just "good"?
  1. Establish personal connections: by learning everyone's name
  2. Maintain an equal footing: by having an open office plan and embedding in teams in rotation
  3. Be yourself but manage your emotions: by maintaining a calm demeanor in the face of adversity

A Great Leader: Abraham Lincoln.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
None of the above is easy - the aim is to "help people trust your leadership, so they can go about their business doing great work". 

I never had the guts or the opportunity to set up a new company like Dennis Yang, and I won't be doing so in the less than 10 years left of my working life. I never regarded myself as leadership material. In my Project Management classes, I often say to my students that PMs need to be leaders to be successful - where there are leaders, there must be followers. 

I have worked with some great and not so great leaders in my time (who I will not name or give a clue to identity here). Instead I turn to outside my own environment to hail other great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Pádraig Pearse, Mick O'Dwyer, Éamon de Valera, Roy Keane, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and many more. Some will say that circumstances (war, sport, protest) made these people what they were - nevertheless they responded in a way that great leaders always do.

Some will say that a person is born to be a great leader, that you don't just pick it up off the ground. But leadership can be learned, and taking Dennis Yang's simple advice shows that those who aspire to leadership so that others will follow can do inspiring things to become "great".

Saturday, January 28, 2017

First Friday

Image source: NCI Blog.
Semester II started this week in the College - it is my 31st semester teaching in NCI. In all the previous 30 semesters I never once had classes on a Friday evening. I'm no stranger to evening classes from Monday to Thursday, but this semester due to a new timetable (and a new module for me) - I agreed to a class on Fridays from 18:00 to 21:00. One of the good things about teaching in the evening is that I do not need to go into work until lunchtime - I have the morning to myself. 

I was pleased to see so many students turning up on a Friday evening - it can't be easy for them, they also have classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings (plus some Saturdays). Students of course know in advance that classes take place on Friday evenings, so they have to be ready to commit to this before they start the course. It cannot be easy for those who are also working full time to fit classes and study - they give up so much free time to learn, especially on a Friday.

I have to say that my first reaction to teaching on a Friday evening was a positive one - I was pleased with my first class which was on An Introduction to Data Visualization. The students seemed enthusiastic and I was happy to share the evening with them. A pizza and a glass of wine rounded off the evening - a good start to the weekend!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Semester

It's Sunday evening before the new semester starts at the National College of Ireland - my first class begins tomorrow at 09:00. As usual, I will have four modules to teach, but the good thing for me is that for one of the modules I deliver will be to two separate classes. So in reality, I have just three modules:
  • Business Data Analysis
  • Advanced Business Data Analysis (two classes)
  • Data Visualization

There are a few "firsts" for me with these classes. It will be the first time that all my modules will be based on data - three of my classes are Higher Diploma classes, while the other is a final year undergraduate BSc. The Data Visualization module is also a first timer - this is a new module on our Higher Diploma in Data Analytics programme, and I am very much looking forward to it. Also for the first time ever in my 29 semesters since I started in NCI, I will have classes every day. Finally, I will also be teaching on Friday nights for the first time.

A new semester is always full of hope and expectation. All my classes are Award Year ones, so I'm expecting high levels of student participation and attendance - it is "show time" for them as I will tell them all this week. The College is introducing a second Reading Week in the week leading up to Easter, this will effectively make the semester 14 weeks long - I'm certain that it will feel like it is dragging on later in the semester. 

So - here's to a great semester for all NCI students. Our motto is "To Change Lives Through Educaiton" - this is exactly what we do.

Friday, January 20, 2017

President Trump

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
So - Donald J Trump has finally become the 45th President of the United States. Can we all stop holding our breath now? The world did not end when he swore to "uphold the Constitution of the United States" - like it or not he is now the man in the hottest seat in the world.

What will he be like? Will he be any worse than some of his predecessors who were slave owners, womanizers, warmongers, or criminals? Will he be any better than the leaders and statesmen who abolished slavery, saved democracy from despots, and who have already made America great? We don't know yet. I don't have high expectations, like a lot of people I thought his candidacy was a bit of a joke at the beginning, he seemed to have talked himself into losing the primaries as well as the election. But he won! Maybe he will win as President?

At first I am prepared to give the guy a shot and not pre-judge. A lot of people hate him, but 62,980,160 Americans voted for him - we should respect that mandate. Whatever the next four years give us, we must not forget that today's Inauguration is arguably the world's finest example of democracy in action.

I wish you well Mr President, but you have set yourself up for a fall with your "America First" policy. It will be among the greatest political achievements ever if you can succeed with even a fraction of what you propose to do. God Bless America (and the rest of the world too)!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Irish YouTube Earnings - One euro a week

While reviewing my YouTube Channel analytics for 2016, I decided to take a look at earnings just for Ireland. I have often wondered if it was worth my while letting the ads run when I am checking out my own videos, and I also wondered if I make any money out of my own students. As you'll see below, I earned the princely sum of €49.45 from ads served on my channel in 2016 - just under one euro per week (or about 0.14 cent/day). I think I'll keep the day job!



The best day was June 6th when I earned €1.54. Ireland accounts for just 0.9% of total earnings from the channel. This tells me it is very difficult to make money in Ireland from YouTube. Ireland accounts for just 1.5% of my overall views, so it is outside this country where most earnings come from. This goes a long way towards reducing my ethical dilemma about making money out of my own students - basically I don't!

Around 32% of views, and 59% of earnings comes from the USA - God Bless America!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

70% Third Level Drop Out Rates #SnobValue

In today's Irish Times, Carl O'Brien writes that Over 70% of students drop out of certain college courses - a worrying statistic for everyone involved, not least the students themselves. O'Brien cites evidence that "Courses with non-progression rates of more than 70 per cent include computing with software development at IT Tralee; computing and games development at IT Sligo; industrial physics at DIT; and computer forensics and security at Waterford IT". These seem to be stand out figures, but no information is given about class sizes and actually how many students this represents. "70%" is a headline grabbing figure that that does not reflect the general picture - the following chart (from the Irish Times) shows rates much lower than this:

Image source: The Irish Times.

Misleading headline?

At 26%, Computer Science drop out rates in ITs are the highest - just a third of the headline grabbing "Over 70%" rate. No figures are provided for non-IT and non-University Colleges. 

It is a complex subject trying to figure out why a high rate of 26% drop out from ITs exists. I'm not from the IT sector, so I'll not try to guess why this is happening. Even a 15% rate for Computer Science in the Universities is very high - that'as almost one in six students. Commentators point to the lower points required for entry into IT courses - but I'd like to see hard evidence of this. O'Brien reports that "Senior academics" recently "expressed concern that students who are totally unsuited to higher education are being shoehorned into universities by their parents”. All this because of "snob value". Again - I'd like to see the evidence for this. My three children all went to College - to learn and get a qualification, not for "snob value". I myself went to College - no one who comes from Carnew could ever claim this was for "snob value".

There is no mention of teaching standards on O'Brien's article - perhaps he will write about this at another time. As I have written before - education is not just about learning, but is about teaching too. High drop our rates, no matter what the figure is, is not due to students alone - there are probably many factors, and we cannot rule the Colleges/ITs themselves out of the equation. It is so easy to point the finger at "snob value", or at students who are "unsuited to higher education" - let's look at the mirror too.

Friday, January 06, 2017

"There aren't enough Data Scientists to go around" via @McKinsey #Analytics

According to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute: The age of analytics: Competing in a data-driven world, "big data continues to grow" and if anything, "earlier estimates understated its potential". We will continue to see a demand for data scientists and for equiping managers with the knowlege and skills necessary to make better decisions using data. Deep Learning and Natural Language will become more common by necessity as companies struggle to extract value from their data. Check out this video from McKinsey which warns "Make no mistake - the data analytics revolution is happening":



Why not consider a career as a Data Analyst/Scientist? Come along to the January Open Evenings (Wednesday 11th, and Thursday 19th) at the National College of Ireland in the IFSC and find out about our Higher Diploma/Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Data Analytics. See you there!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Leaving Exams Early

I always tell my students never to leave an exam early. My exam papers are designed to take the time allocated to respond to my exam questions. I often half joke with my students that if I was standing outside the exam hall and pointed a gun at their head telling them to go back in and write some more - they would be able to do it. 

Image source: tes.
There are many reasons for leaving an exam early. Clearly, if a student has not prepared for an exam they might leave early because they struggle or are unable to answer any questions. It is also possible in some subjects that the exam is easy to complete before time is up. I recall one student who left a 2 hour exam after 45 mins telling me that she had "got everything done" in that time - this I refuse to believe. Some students may be satisfied with just a pass and are not targeting a high grade. Others may simply have given everything before the time is up.

It could be of course that as exam setters, I and my colleagues in third-level could be setting exams that are too easy and require only short answers. I have no evidence of this other than seeing students leaving the exam hall early. In my own time correcting exam scripts I have only once ever awarded a 100% mark (a statistics exam where this is possible). This means that there were more marks possible in every single other paper that I have marked. Exams that require an essay type answer will not generate high marks if the "essay" is just ten lines long - too often I see this.

My advice to students is to use all of the time allocated in an exam. The worst thing to do is to leave questions unanswered and leave early - at least make an attempt. If you feel that you have done enough, try to see if there is more that you can do such as add new opinion or compare your answer with the literature. Most important of all is to really analyse if your answer reflects the question asked. If you have given one example, why not provide a second and compare it to the first? This could be the difference between a good grade and a great grade. If you have had do perform calculations, go over them again. One thing I do know - if you leave the exam hall early you have no chance to improve your mark.

In all of my subjects exams are 1.5 or 2 hours long, usually exams are spread out over a week and there would be only one exam every two days. 2 hours is not a long time to commit.

Just to be clear - I do not stand outside the exam hall during my exams and observe who has left early. The exam invigilators do not report this to me either. This is to avoid any bias in correcting the scripts. It makes no difference to my attitude when grading whether a student leaves an exam early or not.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Blogging Every Day - Reflection

2016 was my year of daily blogging. Lots of writers do this to build an audience and to make some money. I'm not a writer, so I was not looking to be creative or to write thought-provoking prose. I am mindful that the word "blog" is an abbreviated version of "Web Log" - in a sense it was originally intended to be a web diary. I have only once ever kept a daily diary before and that was in the year 2000 when I was given a Whoseday Book as a gift - this was before I had any kind of an on-line presence other than email. I wrote in it by hand every day - on 2nd January 2000 I noted that I got a puncture in my car (Volvo V40), lost £1 at bowling to Claire in Castlebar, and watched "Blazing Saddles" on TV.


So 2016 was very much an experiment to just see if I could do it. I had no plan on what to write, though I knew that I would still be writing about education, YouTube, sport, books, travel, and family as I had done in previous years. Similar to the Canadian writer Stephen Downes, who has a blog called "Half an Hour", his blog is a "place to write, half an hour, every day, just for me". 

In addition to my regular types of post, I also published a lot of material from the Eileen Ryan Collection belonging to Roma. In May I did the Jeff Goins 500 word a day challenge. Throughout the year I wrote about Big Data as I am becoming more involved in this at work. There was also two elections to write about: Trump in the USA, and our own General Election last February. I tend to comment on events of the day or things I have done. As I showed to myself in the Jeff Goins challenge, I am not creative at all so I cannot make things up.

I did find the challenge of writing "anything" every day difficult. Some days it was easy, but others I was often reduced to looking up something in the News and write about that. There were plenty of times throughout the year when I had four or five posts in the pipeline ready to go, sometimes I would find or see something interesting and flag it for later. As Jonas Ellison in his blog post "How one year of daily blogging changed my life" writes:

Blogging every day forces you to notice the details of your life. You need fodder for the day’s post. And you’ll scour your world to get it. You become hyper-aware. You find ways to turn little subtleties into big ideas. You start writing with questions only to be faced with answers by the time you reach the end of the post. Your headspace literally becomes transformed.

The web site "Blog 2 Print" allows bloggers to convert posts into a book. When I create a book for all posts in 2016 it runs to 360 pages! That's 150 pages longer than my Wild Atlantic Way book. While it is tempting to order a copy for myself, the cost ($192.95) is prohibitive. But you can see for creative people that if they get into the habit of writing a post every day, than a book could easily follow.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Last One #GoodBye2016 #1

So - we've reached the end of another year and the countdown is on for 2017. 2016 has been an interesting year for me and I hope that next year will keep me curious. The best things about 2016 for me were as follows:

Blogging 365
Well - I finally made it to the 366th day of this (leap) year with a blog post every day. Last January 1st I wrote "one of my resolutions for 2016 is to post every day if I can". I somehow managed to do this, though I have to confess an occasional slip up where I had to post twice in the one day and back date one post to the previous day. I also was stuck quite a lot for things to write about - I can remember sitting in front of my computer late in the evening wondering what on earth I would write about. I'll do a separate reflection on blogging in 2016 in the New Year.

Travel
This year we were lucky enough to be able to travel to the United States twice (Florida in January, and Boston in June) for holidays. I was also in Berlin in September for a short break. During the summer I rode my bike around Wexford quite a bit. Travel really does broaden the mind and this year I was at places like the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the Kennedy Museum in Boston, Salem, whale watching off Cape Cod, Fenway Park for baseball, Harvard, the Bundestag in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate, the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Antrim, Drogheda, Achill, Dunbrody Abbey, Croke Park, Arbour Hill - all enjoyable and fantastic places to visit and see. It is also strange to think that when Roma and I visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Church and surrounding market in Berlin on September 3rd, that three months later the exact same spot would be the location for a terrorist attack on December 19th. 

Republishing "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way"
This year I secured (for free) the rights to republish my book "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way", which I did through Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Just 35 copies have been sold since the relaunch last July, and I had a moderate amount of success with a short advertising campaign at the end of August. I will try this again before the summer season next year. I will also this year aim to complete my trilogy of books about riding around Ireland with a book about exploring the east and southeast coasts.

New Harley-Davidson
In August I sold my 13.5 year old Heritage Softail Classic and purchased a new Road King. While I do miss my old bike, the new Road King is a fantastic machine and I can't wait to try it out on a long trip. I got it at the end of the summer when I was back to work, so apart from the odd trip or two down to Wexford I have mostly just used it for going into work. If I keep riding this bike for 13.5 years like the last one, it will take me up to 70 years of age - I hope the good Lord spares me long enough to enjoy.

Year of Celebration
2016 marked our 30th Wedding Anniversary for Roma and me - if we stick together for another 30 years it will take me up to 87 years of age - I hope the good Lord spares me long enough to enjoy! We also celebrated 20 years living in Blackrock - we moved to our current house in May 1996.

1916
It was the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and I very much enjoyed both writing about and experiencing some of the events to mark this iconic year in Irish history. It was a year to feel extra proud to be Irish (I always do anyway).

R
From an academic point of view I felt the year went well. One of the highlights was learning and using a lot more of the R programming language for a Statistics module. It involved a lot of learning and planning - but it was worth it. I am not a programmer, but it is great to be able to program. 

Best of 2016 
By far the biggest highlight of the year for me was the return home from America of my eldest daughter Claire. She had been away for nearly four years, so no more worries about her living in a huge city far away. When she was born in 1988 I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen - it is so good to have her home.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Family Tree: Four Generations #2

One of the things I spent a bit of time on this year was in developing a Family Tree. At the beginning of the year I switched my tree from MyHeritage to Ancestry. I find Ancestry much easier to use and it has a lot of Irish genealogical content available.

I have now completed the generation of my grandparents and great-grandparents on the tree. Dates of births and deaths of my great-grandparents are now established and in most cases backed up with copies of birth, marriage, and death registrations. I also now have photographs of four of my eight great-grandparents. 

Click/Tap Image to Enlarge.
The generation previous to above is incomplete. Part of the difficulty here is the non-availability of genealogical documents, another difficulty is the spelling of surnames. In Ireland we now have access to births registrations from 1864 to 1915, marriages from 1882 to 1940, and deaths from 1891 to 1965. I do know that my great-great-grandfather Patrick O'Loughlin was born in 1821, and died in 1897. Registration of his death (20th Dec, 1897) is the only document from this generation that I have found so far:


The big mystery in my tree is my great-grandfather James Byrne (Burns), who I have written about before in the blog. We are told he served in the British Army in World War I, but no record of his service has been found - this I would dearly like to find. My diagram above does not show the dates that I have for my great-great grandparents, but I do have some - to complete this generation is a project for 2017.

If there are any of my relatives reading this and who would like to see the tree in full, please send me an email or get in touch through Facebook and I'll send you an invitation to share the tree.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Who is Watching "How To..." videos on Christmas Day? #3

Each year I am fascinated that so many people watch some of my videos on Christmas Day. This year was the highest number of views ever (2,869) on this day. So who's watching?

By Geography, the top three countries were as follows (all figures from YouTube Analytics):

  1. India: 698 views (24%)
  2. USA: 274 views (9.6%)
  3. Malaysia: 170 views (5.9%)

When you compare this to exactly a month earlier (25th November), the top three were:
  1. USA: 1,120 views (18%)
  2. India: 1,011 views (16%)
  3. UK: 558 views (9%)
It's interesting to see that while there is a big drop in numbers from the USA, which has always been the channel's best country, India takes over the top spot during both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Incidentally, the number of views on Christmas Day in Ireland was 18 (0.6% of total) - some of my students perhaps?

The most watched video was How To... Plot Multiple Data Sets on the Same Chart in Excel - this video is the channel's second most popular video and, in my view, reflects a growing demand to learn about charting and analytics.

This has been a good year so far for my YouTube Channel with just over 2.25 million views. This followed a poor year in 2015 when some changes I made to metadata in May caused a collapse in views - the recovery is now complete and hopefully the channel will continue to grow. I am exited about a new module (Data Visualization) next semester and hope that it will afford me some new opportunities to create more videos. Watch this space!