Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Twelve Million @YouTube Views #DozenMillion #ThankYou

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter With Family

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

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

Chris and Dad.

Dad and Me.

Vicki and Claire.

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

With the lovely Roma.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thirty Pieces of Silver (in stone)

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Second Reading Week

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

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

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

Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Kerry 0-20, Dublin 1-16 #GAA

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

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

A Great Day Out at GAA Headquarters!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The End of the Windows Phone #DeadPhoneWalking

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

When Past Students Visit

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thinking of London (and Berlin)

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

At the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church, Berlin 2016.

On Westminster Bridge,
London 2015.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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. 

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. 

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.

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!