Thursday, June 23, 2016

Boston Here I Come! #192

Quick post today - I am on the way to Boston for a few days. I hope to keep up the daily blogging while I am there - I plan to visit as many of Boston's attractions as possible, it is a very historic city. 

Happy Holidays!

Image source: TripAdvisor.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sharpening the Saw #193

The late Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" advises us in the 7th habit to "Sharpen the saw". Sometimes we are too busy to take the time to do the things we need to do to keep fresh. Covey advises that we need to renew and strengthen four key areas:
  1. The body
  2. The brain
  3. The heart
  4. The soul

This habit's main thrust is for us to take breaks and come back refreshed to take on the tasks we do in our work. We can participate in different activities and renew ourselves in the four areas. According to Covey, without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. 

So - it is time for summer holidays and I have just finished up work. Tomorrow I fly to Boston for a few days and hope to renew myself through visiting family, checking out the city of Boston, going to museums, experiencing different surroundings, trying different food (and different beer) - in other words, doing anything that is not connected with work. While on holiday I never check my College email or voicemail. All this (I hope) will lead to a refreshed and renewed Eugene!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Additions to "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" #WildAtlanticWay #194

Continuing the work on republishing my book about the Wild Atlantic Way, one of the things I have been doing is adding and deleting some of the photos from the original book. When I set out on the trip I had no plans whatsoever to include photos in the book. I am not a photographer and know very little about how to include them in the test. Thankfully my publisher, The Liffey Press, encouraged me to include some of the hundreds of photos I took on the round Ireland trip. I had taken the photos to reminds me where I was when I came to writing the book.

New photos to be included are some of my own - these will replace a few of the photos that did not print out well in the original edition. Today I received some brilliant photos from my good friend and colleague, Leo Casey, which I am including in the revised version. On the day I was in the Céide Fields in North Mayo - it was pissing rain. My own photos from that day are dark and dreary. I also did not know about Dún Bríste until researching later for the book. 

By very kind permission of Leo, the following two brilliant photos will be included in the new version:

Céide Fields Interpretive Centre (via Leo Casey).

Dún Bríste (via Leo Casey).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Using CreateSpace #195

Since my book Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way sold out in late 2014, it has been decided by my publisher not to reprint any more copies. It's taken a while, but I finally got the go-ahead to take the book back and do what I like with it. I am currently working on a print-to-order version with Amazon's Createspace, and I'll follow this up with a Kindle version published through Kindle Direct Publishing. I can't believe that it is almost four years to the day that I set out on a round Ireland motorcycle trip!

I have to rework the entire 225 pages of the book. All photographs have to resized to be 12.6 cms wide and I am saving them as 300 dpi. The position of each photo in the book has to be changed as I don't have the skills for fancy arrangements like in the original version. Also, I am unable to set the Microsoft Word page size to match exactly to Createspace - therefore some photos are not in a good position as in the screen grab below. It takes a long time to re-arrange a few pages, and even longer to upload and preview a PDF version online. Every time I see an output like below, I have to rework the Word version and upload again. I have also dropped some photos and added some new ones. I'm hoping to get this job done before I go to America on holidays next Thursday - it's hard to find the time to write blog posts during this work!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Dad #FathersDay #196

My Dad Joe is 85 years young, and still going strong. I am incredibly lucky (at the age of 56) to still have my Dad (and Mum) hale and hearty - very few men my age still have their Dads to wish "Happy Father's Day" to. Dad still keeps active and is once again selling bedding plants from his farm in Ballingate. He always has a cheerful smile and a positive outlook on life - I hope I will be as cheerful and positive at the same age. My favourite moment each week, during visits to Dad and Mum in Ballingate, is when he finds a different way to offer me a glass of whiskey. He always mentions the medicinal qualities of the water from places like Glendalough and Middleton (where whiskey is distilled) - you just have to try it!

So "Happy Father's Day" Dad from me for the 56th time - I look forward to our next drop of "medicine" together!

Showing my Dad how a Selfie works!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

There's always hope #USA94 #Euro2016 #197

Oh dear - Belgium thrash Ireland and we are all very glum. No shame in losing to a better team as Belgium outclass Ireland. We now need to beat Italy. Fuck - we have no chance.

Or have we? We beat them before (44 seconds into video - Ray Houghton scores)...

Friday, June 17, 2016

Professional Development Day #cpd #198

Today was professional development day for staff in the College and I'm sure I was not alone in thinking as I got up this morning "Oh no - not another professional development day" - it's one of those things many people love to hate. However, I was in for a great surprise - the theme for today's session was "Blended Learning" and several colleagues shared their experiences with many different and innovative tools. I'm glad I did not miss this.

Image source: University of Ottawa.

My first learning from the day is that learners are "hunter-gatherers" - we build our learning in different ways, so it makes sense that we consider blending the ways we teach and learn. We the had a discussion on using Turnitin which always generates debate - I have used this tool quite a lot as unfortunately plagiarism continues to be a problem (though with just a small number of students). We then had an excellent presentation about using Moodle for group projects - I've been using Moodle for many years and this was something I did not know was possible. Moodle offers a great way to set up groups (including allowing students to do this themselves) and to even schedule presentations. We also learned about gamified learning in a brilliant interactive session where we used tools like Spiral and Kahoot - so easy to use and full of possibilities in class. The next two sessions were more technical - we learned about a WePresent that allows students to share their devices on classroom screens. I'm not sure that I will ever do this, but the technology for the classroom is being enhanced every day. We also learned more about Office 365 and how Microsoft is catching up with Google.

The final session I attended was about Yammer - part of Office 365. I had not heard about this before and to be honest don't see myself using this. I see it as a social media tool like Facebook but used within organizations. All such social media tools rely on a critical mass of users who are prepared to contribute and keep it going - otherwise initial enthusiasm will wane.

Overall - a very useful and enjoyable day full of ideas!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How To... Perform a Kruskal-Wallis H Test (By Hand) @YouTube #ILoveStats #199

The Kruskal-Wallis H test (sometimes also called the "one-way ANOVA on ranks") is a rank-based nonparametric test that can be used to determine if there are statistically significant differences between two or more groups of an independent variable on a continuous or ordinal dependent variable. When you have more than two samples to compare you would usually attempt to use analysis of variance (ANOVA). However, if the data are not normally distributed (i.e. not parametric) then an alternative must be sought. This is where the Kruskal-Wallis H test comes in.

The formula I use to calculate the H statistic in the video is as follows:

where "n" is the total number of values, "R" is the sum of the ranks for each sample, and "n with an i" is the number in each sample. The key to performing this test is ranking each value from the smallest to the largest. Once this is done the test is straight-forward to complete. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Nice Bikes at @DublinHarleyD #200

I had my bike service today at Harley-Davidson Dublin for the first time in several years (I had it serviced in Motorcycle City for the past few years) - just for a change. They reported a few items that need to be fixed, so I'll be back very soon. While waiting I had a look around the new and used bikes for sale - as you can see below they have a mouth watering range of bikes. 

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm - my bike is 13 years old and I bought it new. I'd hate to part with it, but...........?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How To... Perform a Chi-Square Test for Independence in Excel @YouTube #ILoveStats #201

Adding to my recent set of new videos, my latest is using the Chi-Square Test for Independence. This is a non-parametric test that is a bit like a two-way ANOVA. It is applied when you have two categorical variables from a single population. It is used to determine whether there is a significant association between the two factors. 

In this video, the example used is based on an opinion poll. Voters might be classified by gender (male or female) and voting preference (Left Wing, Centre, or Right Wing). We could use a chi-square test for independence to determine whether gender is related to voting preference. Note that it is just a relationship that is established (or not) - we do not establish causation.

I will be adding this test to the Advanced Business Data Analysis module next year. The module currently does two-way ANOVA, which assumes that the data are normally distributed. If the data are not normally distributed, the ANOVA test is not appropriate - use Chi-square instead.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Following Ireland #COYBIG #202

I can't remember when I first went to see (the Republic of) Ireland play in an international football game. I have an FAI history book which lists all Ireland's fixtures - when I look through the fixtures I know I was definitely at the famous 2-1 win over The Netherlands at Lansdowne Road in a World Cup qualifier on 30th September 1980 (Mark Lawrenson scored the winner), though I might have been at the 2-0 win over Switzerland on April 30th that year. I have been at many Ireland games since, though the high prices now charged at the Aviva for games is a deterrent, especially when you get Giles/Brady/Dunphy on the telly. 

I have only been to one Ireland away game which was against Portugal in the old Stadium of Light in Lisbon during a downpour on 15th November 1995. Ireland were thumped 3-0, but I did buy an Ireland jersey for the occasion which I still have 21 years later. It's time to put it on again today as Ireland begin another Euro Finals with a game against Sweden. On a good day we can beat anyone (ask Germany), so let's hope the Boys in Green can give us all something to shout about. I think their biggest task will be to keep Zlatan's mouth shut.

If Christy doesn't get you in the mood for Euro 2016 - nothing will...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Star of the Sea #203

The local church in Ballygarret is called Star of the Sea - it's a typical rural church and I have attended Mass there over the years (there is a terrific choir there). In the car park there are two interesting headstone like plaques commemorating two historical events. Ballygarret is twinned with the town of Refugio in Texas. In 1833 hundreds of local people left this area to emigrate to Texas and colonise that part of America which was then controlled by Mexico. They had a very difficult journey and not all made it to Refugio. Looking through the family names I don't see any that might be my own ancestors, but it must have been a terrible experience to leave your home forever.

Close by there is an interesting plaque that commemorates the first notification of potato blight in Ireland on 18th August 1845 at the outbreak of The Great Famine. This was at Killegney close by, blight was also discovered in Oldtown near Ferns. Little did they know the tragedy to follow over the next four years. The county of Wexford was not as badly affected as other counties during the famine, but this is where it started.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Coastal Erosion in Co Wexford #204

I am spending this weekend in Wexford at our family home in Donaghmore. Coastal erosion in this locality has been an issue for us since we bought the house in 2002 - our garden facing the sea is very close to the coastline - half of the passageway down to the sea (green path in some of photos below) that we used to access the beach is now gone. Below is a compilation of photos showing the erosion since 2008 - most photos are taken from approximately the same place on the beach. A little bit is being eroded every year, but this past year (Storm Imogen) has been the worst. While I will be long dead before the rate of erosion means that our house will fall into the sea, a few more storms will result in the garden itself being in danger, and of course all this does not do the value of the house any good.

The video below shows some of our unfortunate near neighbours whose houses are already falling into the sea. Since this drone footage was taken, the damage to the blue house and mobile homes beside it has worsened. Our house is approximately 500 metres further along the coast from this location. Wexford County Council have no budget to erect coastal protection in this area, though if you look carefully in the video you will see a graveyard very close to the edge - there may be an effort to save this from falling into the sea.

Friday, June 10, 2016

How To... Perform the Mann Whitney U Test #205

From my Advanced Business Data Analysis module we learned how to compare two groups using the Mann-Whitney U Test. This is a non-parametric test which indicates that we can't use parameters like "mean" and "variance" to compare the groups as in a Student t Test - usually because the data are not normally distributed. I don't require my own students to be able to do this by hand - we use SPSS and R in class to do this. Nevertheless, showing and learning how to do it by hand gives a good understanding of how this rank-based test works. 

If you want to perform the test described in the video above in R, you just need three lines of code as follows:

TreatmentA <- -="" c="" font="">
TreatmentB <- -="" c="" font="" nbsp="">
wilcox.test(TreatmentA, TreatmentB)

Note: the  wilcox.test() function is used for both paired and unpaired tests.

The above code will generate the following output at the R console:

Wilcoxon rank sum test with continuity correction

data:  TreatmentA and TreatmentB
W = 2, p-value = 0.01244
alternative hypothesis: true location shift is not equal to 0

The "W" value of "2" is the same result as in the video when calculation "U".

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Value of Student Work Placements #206

One of the duties I have to engage in at my College is to visit some of our third year students who are on work placement. It is a tedious task that takes up a lot of time - I hate it. It is part of each student's assessment for their work placement module - even though the module is simply pass/fail, they have to be assessed.

Image source: Highly Trusted College.
Nevertheless, when I get on site I get over my ennui and actually enjoy talking to the students and their supervisors. Over the past couple of weeks I have visited several students in their work placement including in Bank of Ireland, Dunnes Stores, and Hewlett-Packard. All seem to be getting on well and enjoying learning about their new roles. Students gain valuable experience which will boost their CVs and develop some fantastic skills before coming back to the College for their final year. 

I am struck by how much effort the companies I visited put into their work placement programmes. They take their responsibility in recruiting raw students for six months seriously. They train and mentor the students, and while they expect some value in return - in the main it seems to me to be more of a continuation of students' education and development, rather that the extraction of value from each student. Long may it continue!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

How To... Perform a Two-Way ANOVA in Excel 2013 #207

It's been a while since I uploaded a video to YouTube - partly because I had a very busy semester II, and partly because I had plenty of videos already to support existing classes. This past semester I took on a new (to me) statistics module: Advanced Business Data Analysis. While much of the work done in the class was in R and SPSS, we did use Excel for a few of the statistical tests. The first was for a two-way ANOVA*. This is a hard test to calculate manually, so we use tools instead to perform this test. More videos to support this module to come in the next couple of weeks.

* From my course notes:

Use two-way anova when you have one measurement variable and two nominal variables, and each value of one nominal variable is found in combination with each value of the other nominal variable. It tests three null hypotheses: that the means of the measurement variable are equal for different values of the first nominal variable; that the means are equal for different values of the second nominal variable; and that there is no interaction (the effects of one nominal variable don't depend on the value of the other nominal variable).

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

If you blog, will you lose your job? via @THESISWHISPERER #208

One of the joys of working as an educator at third level is the academic freedom that we enjoy. This isn't a licence to do whatever we like, but in my case it allows me to run a YouTube channel (which I would not have been able to do in my previous job because it would have been in competition with the company's business), and to blog. Even in my blog I do not write disparaging comment about the College, its students, or any of my colleagues. Even if I wanted to do this - thankfully academic freedom does not stretch this far. I can give my own opinion on the likes of educational matters and my own experiences without fear of sanction from the College. I suspect that very few people in the College read this blog - in the near 10 years that I have been blogging there have only been a handful of comments from colleagues about something I wrote. Nevertheless, I don't think I would get away with it if I slagged off the College.

Dr Inger Mewburn.
Image source: The Conversation.
How far should academic freedom go? In an article by Dr Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer) entitled "If you blog, will you lose your job?" mention is made of a case in La Trobe University in Australia where an academic (Roz Ward) was stood down after a Facebook post in which she suggested a red flag should fly over state parliament instead of the “racist Australian one". She was later re-installed. Dr Mewburn asks "if you are an academic, should you blog or otherwise be present and opinionated online?". She doesn't blog about matters that she has no expertise in for fear of being "hung out to dry by university management" - she freely admits that she just doesn’t "have the guts" to do so. But what she does do, and I'm fully behind her on this, is "support academics who blog on controversial and risky topics, even if I don’t agree with everything they write". 

Academics must be allowed to express their opinions. Whether it is via a blog, Twitter, or Facebook - comment should be part of what we do. As Trinity College academic Professor Brian Lucey puts it about academics he states they "need to man and woman up, start doing press releases, contact journalists, cultivate contacts in the media, do newspaper articles and columns, start blogging… They need to get engaged".

Please note:
Opinions expressed in this post, and all other posts in this blog, are my own and do not represent the opinions of the National College of Ireland in any way.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Confirmation & Commemoration #209

This weekend I was in Westport Co Mayo for the Confirmation of one of my in-laws. The ceremony was in Holy Trinity Church of Ireland, and I can safely say that this is one of the very few times I have been in  Protestant church. I hadn't realised that the ceremony is very similar to a Catholic ceremony. Nevertheless it was enjoyable and interesting at the same time - it was given by Bishop Patrick Rooke of Tuam, Killala and Achonry. One big difference between the Catholic and Protestant churches is that the latter have lots of interesting plaques on the inside walls commemorating Lords and soldiers. I was right beside the one below commemorating three local men killed in action in both the first and second world wars - very sad that all three were only sons. There were several others dotted around the walls - I think it is nice that communities remember their war dead like this. We should do more of this.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Near Misses while Cycling in Dublin #210

Well - I made it to the end of this week despite several efforts by South Dublin drivers to see how close they could come to killing me without actually doing it. On Monday while riding along the cycle lane outside the Convention Centre a woman swerved out of oncoming traffic to drive into the Centre's car park. I jammed on my brakes and swerved to avoid her - despite my bright yellow cycling top I'm certain she did not see. Later in the week I had to test my brakes again - this time the same thing happened as another driver forced me to stop suddenly while she drove into the petrol station on Newtownpark Avenue. I looked around and there was no traffic on my side of the road. Either the driver misjudged my speed or did not see me. The most serious incident for me this week was on the Blackrock Bypass where a motorist turned left onto Carysfort Avenue right across me as I riding along the cycle lane - just in time my sixth sense told me he was not going to stop to let me continue and again I tested my brakes. Again - I'm convinced that the driver did not see me.

Image source: My Parking Sign.
Every morning and evening when I cycle to and from work I feel that I am going into battle - not just with motorists, but with other cyclists as well. Many cyclists (mostly male) are very aggressive, and of course there is appalling behaviour on the road. I am no angel, but I do stop for red lights and observe the rules of the road (I have to admit to keeping going at pedestrian lights when there are no pedestrians, and occasionally cycling on the path on the Strand Road). There are some brilliant cycle paths and dedicated traffic lights for bicycles in Dublin - unfortunately they are regularly abused. I feel like hissing every time I see a cyclist go through a light, but what purpose would that serve? I get particularly annoyed when I see cyclists wearing "Be Safe, Be Seen" vests running a red light. Clearly this message is for other people, not them.

Wouldn't it be great if everybody was just nice on the road? Wouldn't it be great if everybody obeyed the rules of the road all the time? Nobody owns the road in front of us, yet we all behave as if it is our personal property and how dare anyone take advantage of us. I have many more mornings and evenings of cycling to and from work - lets hope I make it to retirement!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Another Icon Passes Away #RIPMuhammadAli #TheGreatest #211

Image source: Retro-Reviewer.
Sad news this morning of the death of one on the greatest sportsman ever - Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. I am old enough to remember many of his fights and saw him box on TV several times in the days before Pay Per View television. He would have made a fortune if he was boxing today - there hasn't been anyone like him since he hung up his gloves. There have been many imitators who try to be loud-mouthed and brash like he was, but they were missing one ingredient - class.

As a sportsman Ali inspired many generations of more than other sports people. He showed that you could stand up to Uncle Sam when he refused the draft. He showed that a poor boy from Louisville Kentucky could reach the top in his sport. He showed that it was OK to be a Muslim. He showed that you should never give up by winning the world title three times. He also showed humility when diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease - he stated that it was Allah's way of telling him that he was not the greatest. Rest in peace Ali - may Allah be with you.

For 1970s teenagers a popular song in the discos was Johnny Wakelin's "In Zaire" which was based on the famous Rumble in the Jungle fight between Ali and George Foreman. Here's a video from Top of the Pops in 1976....enjoy!

Friday, June 03, 2016

20,000 @YouTube Subscribers #Milestone #212

This week the number of subscribers to my YouTube Channel passed the 20,000 milestone. This figure is the difference between the total number of subscribers (23,200) less those who have unsubscribed and de-activated accounts (3,190). My very first subscriber signed up to the channel on 28th September, 2009. The top four nations (according to YouTube Analytics) are as follows?

United States
United Kingdom 1790
India 1527
Ireland 895

I'm especially pleased to learn that I have so many subscribers from Ireland - I'm guessing (and hoping) that many of these are students of NCI. The United States provides by far the most subscribers - more than three times the next figure for the UK. God Bless America! The largest lecture theatre in NCI is the Kelly Theatre which has capacity for 270 students. If I were to hold a lecture for the 20,000 YouTube subscribers I would have enough students to fill the Kelly Theatre 74 times!

The bar chart below shows the top 20 countries by number of subscribers. The chart is done in Excel from data downloaded from my channel. I also added the data to Tableau as well to display a heat map of the world. It is not that effective for data like this because of the huge range between smallest and largest values, and the fact that the data are very much skewed as you see. I still used the Tableau heat map by inserting it as a partially transparent background image to the bar chart.

A huge THANK YOU to all my subscribers - I do hope you all find my videos useful.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

UCLA Professor shot dead by student "for getting bad grades" #WearOrange #213

Dr William Klug.
Image Source: UCLA.
Awful news from the University of California at Los Angeles yesterday that mechanical engineering professor Dr William Klug was shot dead by a student who then it is believed took his own life. UCLA was locked down for hours as terrified students huddled in classrooms until the all clear was given. Today's Irish Independent is reporting that Dr Klug was allegedly shot by a student because of "bad grades". This killing happened the day before today's National Gun Violence Awareness Day in America - Dr Klug's murder is just one more senseless killing in a country that has a love/hate relationship with guns.

Killing someone over a bad grade is obviously an extreme reaction by the UCLA student (if this is true). There is no doubt that people can react strongly to low grades. I have seen this myself as I have awarded "bad grades" many times, and though I have not experienced anger - I have had several students disagree with the grade I awarded (I once had a student who was very unhappy with a grade of over 80%!). Most, if not all, Colleges have procedures where students can receive formal feedback on grades, and can appeal results. They will also have External Examiners to ensure standards are appropriate. In the end - it is my professional opinion what an assignment/essay/exam is worth. I have to remember that I don't "fail" students, they fail themselves. An academic can be a bit of a snob at times to students ("I have a PhD and years of experience in this subject - what have you got?"), but we can obviously get things wrong just like everyone else. We take great care to make sure the basics are done when grading, for example - adding the marks up correctly and then inputting the grades into the College's systems correctly. It also helps if you have a brilliant Exams Office who check everything. 

The death of William Klug shows that anyone is vulnerable to gun violence. We are all vulnerable to anger and resentment. A "bad grade" can have a life changing effect on a student - it could mean that they lose out on a job application or progression to a higher level course. It could even mean they are paid less than others doing the same job. Getting angry won't change things.

Video promoting National Gun Violence Awareness Day...

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Locating my Cullen Great-Grandparents' Grave #214

First - a family history lesson. Below is part of my family tree on that shows my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Up to now I have only been able to find the grave of my Dad's maternal grandparents Thomas and Bridget Hurley in Clonfert outside Newmarket in Co Cork (I posted about this in 2008). 

Click tree to enlarge.
Last week my Mum told me that her maternal grandparents were buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin. Since I knew the date of death of her grandmother Anne McCann (5th March, 1952), I contacted Mount Jerome Cemetery online who almost immediately responded with the grave number: "A2-624-23450 also in this Grave are  Richard Cullen Snr 1940, Margaret Cullen 1862 and Desmond Cullen 1972 there is a Limestone Celtic Cross on the grave". There is a map online at the Mt Jerome website to show where this is. To find it walk down Prospect Walk from the centre of the cemetery towards Greenmount Walk by the wall. The grave is in section 624 and the number is 23450. It is a single grave with my four relatives buried there. The Celtic Cross is about two metres tall and is just one row back from near the end of left side of Prospect Walk. The names on the headstone are just about readable: In Loving Memory of  Richard Cullen who died 10th March 1940. Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on his soul. Also his wife Anne who died 5th March 1952. Also Margaret (Cissie) Cullen who died 23rd October 1962. Also Desmond P Cullen who died 30th December 1971 aged 57 years. I only remember "Uncle Des" - he was a Bohemians fan and we used to talk about football!

There is a grave cleaning service at the entrance to Mount Jerome cemetery and I am having the headstone cleaned (just the part where the names are). Some of the lead letters have fallen out - it costs €3 per letter to replace each one. I shall certainly post a photo of the cleaned up version when it is done in about 5 weeks. The grave looks like it has not had any work done to it since Uncle Des was buried in 1971. There is a wreath on the grave which could be there for a very long time. I will buy a few bags of white stones to cover over the top to make it look a bit better.

Richard Cullen is a descendent of Denis Cullen - a well known stonemason in the 18th century from Glendalough in Co Wicklow. I am working on confirming this through Anne McCann is a relative (possible an Aunt) of the actor Donal McCann - I have yet to establish what the exact relationship is.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" to be re-published as an eBook #215

Coming soon to an on-line bookstore near you!
It has taken a while but I have finally got the go ahead to take my Wild Atlantic Way book and republish it. It was launched in June 2014, but was out of print by the end of that year. My publisher has decided not to reprint it (not enough orders/cost of print), and has finally agreed to let me take over the text for republishing.

I plan to re-release the book through Amazon Createspace for print versions, though I don't expect this to yield much in the way of sales. The estimated cost to buy (with no royalties for me) will be about €20 + postage & packaging - way too expensive for a book of this type. But I also plan to release it as an eBook through Kindle Direct Publishing - I have better hopes for this. There will be quite a bit of work for me to republish - mostly in formatting the text and photos. I plan to replace 2-3 of the photos, but make no changes to the text apart from two typos. At least I do not have to rewrite or add in new sections. Work will start on this in the next week or so - I'd love to get it out before the end of June. Watch this space!

Photo by Deryck Tormey.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Finishing #TheEnd #My500Words #217

Finally - day 31 of the Jeff Goins 500 word challenge has arrived. I did it! I noticed as I checked back over all the posts I have done that I missed one. Day 23 was about "The End" - instead of doing two posts I am combining "The End" with "Finishing".

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
Jeff Goins describes the 500 word challenge as a "marathon, not a sprint". I found it difficult at times to figure out what to write in response to the daily prompts that Goins provides. In one sense I don't feel like I have finished - doing this challenge is part of a 366 day challenge to write a post everyday for a year. Over the past month Goins has not just provided me with prompts, but he gave me reasons to write. 500 words is a lot when you have nothing written. As I wrote each post I regularly checked (using Microsoft Word's word count feature) how many words I had written. Every single post is over 500 words - once I got going each day, it was hard to stop. I liked the discipline of the challenge even though I did not always write interesting material.

Looking back on my posts - none of them are fictional. Part of what Goins does is help writers to write - I'm guessing most are fiction writers who need help to get an idea onto paper, or a book to a publisher. This was not my aim - I have absolutely no imagination for writing fiction and have no ambition to write a blockbuster novel. Everything I wrote during the month was fact - I especially enjoyed writing about my past. Some readers have mentioned that they liked it too (thank you!).

The end of this challenge coincides with the end of the academic year. At work at the this week it will be all about getting results signed off for our Exam Boards next week. In two weeks time students will get their results. Not all will achieved what they aimed for, while many others will do better than they had hoped. Some will fail and will have to come back in August to do the  repeat exams. While this will suck right now, I earnestly hope that each and every student who has failed will learn from it and do better the next time. There is no shame in failing an exam - it is not The End.

In 30 days I have written over 15,000 words. It just goes to prove that this can be done. Had someone said to me that I would write this much in just 30 days I would not have believed them. I feel that I have achieved something and have reached a goal set by another person  (Jeff Goins) who I don't even know. I have 216 more posts to go this year and right now I have no idea what I will write about tomorrow. The end of the 500 words challenge is just the beginning of the rest of the year.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Innocence #My500Words #218

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.

- Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here, 1975)

Mum says I am three months old in this photo which
would mean it was taken in January 1960. (The car is a
Morris Minor, and that's my Mum to the right).
It's day 30 of the Jeff Goins 500 Word Challenge and today's task is to write about "childhood", "innocence", "ignorance", "dreams and hopes". I was born in the 50s (just about - October 1959) and grew up in the 1960s. This was the decade of flower power and free love - but all this had passed me by before I realised what it was. Hippies were mystical creatures that existed in far off places like Dublin and America. I didn't grow my own hair until about 1972 - the 1960s was strictly short back and sides style hair cuts in Harry Ringwood's barbers in Enniscorthy. The whole decade seemed to pass by very quickly, and the older I get the less memories of it I retain. It was a decade of school, religion, and playing. My favourite TV programmes were The Monkees, Robin Hood, and The High Chaperral. When I was very young I loved Wanderly Wagon and Jimmy O'Dea telling stories. Cartoons like "The Pink Panther" and "Tom & Jerry" were very popular in our house. The one thing thing that bugged me was that we only had RTÉ television in our house - every one else seemed to have BBC and HTV (ITV Wales) as well, but we lived in single channel land on the wrong side of a hill and could not pick up a strong enough signal from Wales. I was so jealous of the boys in school talking about what they had seen on Blue Peter and (later) Match of the Day. Little did I know that 50 years later I would not be able to count the number of TV stations I have in my own house.

My best friend in school was Barry Brennan - we were inseparable. He came to our house to play, and I went to his. He lived in Carnew so he was a "townie", so exotic places like Byrnes sweetshop were just down the road for him. I was so jealous. His back yard was Wembley, Croke Park, and Landsdowne Road to us - we were Georgie Best, Mick O'Connell, and Mike Gibson. Innocent times indeed. I have not met Barry (I'm guessing) since the 1980s. We hooked up last year online via Linkedin, and promised each other to meet - maybe some day we will.

Above all the 1960s was a decade with my Mum - she brought us everywhere. As we were small she had to bring us everywhere she went. She was from Gorey, so we were familiar with the houses of all her friends - it was non-stop visiting. She also brought us on her weekly shopping - I have fond memories of Jim Browne's shop in Carnew with everything seemingly being wrapped up in brown paper and string. She bought us to Mrs Doyles after Sunday Mass - we loved this 'cos we always got to play with their toys which always seemed to be better than ours. Dad was great for bringing us all on picnics. We played games like "I Spy" and guess the make of the next car we would meet on the road. And we sang Yellow Submarine in the car just like every other family in the 1960s. Innocent childhood memories.

I was ignorant of what was going on in the 1960s. The Vietnam War was on, but all I remember about this was that every evening on the News a helicopter would be reported shot down. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were starting - but that was far away. Seán Lemass was Taoiseach for most of the 1960s, but I remember nothing about him. Towards the end of the decade I got to know The Beatles, but the (one) radio in our house was always tuned to RTÉ Radio and I remember praying that someone would play a Beatles song on the radio - but they hardly ever did.

The quote at the top of this post is taken from the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Part I" from the Wish You Were Here album by Pink Floyd. Here they are (minus Roger Waters) in "Live at Knepworth" in 1990...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Write What You Know #FreeDay #My500Words #219

Today is day 29 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge, and it is is basically a free day. He advises us to write about "anything you know well that you don't have to research". It can be academic or informal - so today I was at the EdTech 2016 Conference and today's 500 words is about this.

The Irish Learning Technology Association's Annual EdTech Conference was held in the Law Society Building in Blackhall Place - I had never been there before. Due to work commitments I could not attend the first day yesterday, but I did get to it today. Learning Technology is something I know about.

Today's proceedings opened with a keynote talk by Mike Feerick of Alison Online Courses. In a very entertaining and informative talk he told us how Alison makes money with their free courses. He is a campaigner for free education and walks the walk. He also told us a lot about cultural differences between nationalities around the world, and how small Ireland is on the overall scheme of things.

After the morning keynote there were four breakout Practitioner Paper sessions - I was the last presenter in one of these. In our session there were interesting talks about Digital Skills in Action, professional development courses for the legal profession, screen-casting for feedback, tools for solving numerical problems, and developing online tutorials for library patrons. For my turn I spoke about reflecting on 10 years using YouTube (what else!) for Learning and Teaching. My talk was short at 10 minutes, but nevertheless I hope that the many delegates who attended shared my enthusiasm for using video in education. The slides from my presentations are below:

During the coffee break it was great to catch up with a very dear old friend, and many other learning technology people. It was just great to be in the same room as so many other educators who are as passionate about Technology Enhanced Learning as I am. After coffee I attended a super presentation on Moodle Analytics and how they inform us on student behavior. There were so many interesting looking talks in the other three that I would have liked to attend - but that's the way conferences like this work. You can't attend everything.

Following lunch, the very entertaining Tom Farrelly of IT Tralee talked to us about designing and developing online "units" for international students (note to self - this is free and is a fantastic free resource, so contact NCI International Office on Monday). We also saw the results of a survey on VLEs which made for interesting listening - particularly the perception by students that the only technology us Lecturers use is PowerPoint.

The final session was a group of Gasta rapid-fire micro presentations. These were fun and interesting, but 5 minutes each was very short. Some presenters found themselves rushing to finish and get as much information out as possible - enthusiasm bursting out of each presenter.

The day went by far too quickly - you know you are enjoying yourself when this happens. Well done to all the organizers on a super day. One to remember.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Eulogy #My500Words #220

Day 28 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge is a bit morbid - I have to write my own eulogy. I must imagine what someone might say at my funeral if I had passed away unexpectedly. What would I want them to say?

I don't know who would write my eulogy, but I think I would want this to be my brother Joe. This is what I imagine he might say...

Eugene O'Loughlin
Born: 7th October, 1959
Died: 26th May, 2016

We are gathered today to say "good bye" to my brother Euge. He was also a brother to Kathleen and Brian, a son to Joe and Phil, a father to Claire, Kate, and Vicki, an uncle to many nieces and nephews, and a cousin to many. All our family will all miss him terribly. He was very much a family man and was devoted to Roma and his three girls.

Euge was my older brother by just 11 months and we grew up together in a close knit family. Though we lived on a farm, he never wanted to be a farmer. He would never have made a good farmer anyway - he once crashed the tractor he was driving in to the back of a combine-harvester I was driving in the middle of a big field at the great speed of about 1 mph! So he left us to go to College in the Big Smoke. He seemed to have spent an awful long time as a student, but he eventually graduated with a doctorate in 1988. He never forgot his Wicklow roots, and loved visiting Ballingate at the weekends. He also was a great man to have the family over to his house in Skuna Bay (Ballygarrett) where we had many great dinners and sing-songs.

Over the past few years Euge has written a lot on his website and in his books. We have read about his travels, exploits, thoughts, and deeds almost everyday. For a fairly shy man he was not afraid to post his thoughts online. He was also the O'Loughlin family tree man and he loved to dig deep into our family history - looking for connections between ancestors and if we were related to famous people. Anytime he found something interesting he couldn't wait to tell us all about it.

In addition to his family, Euge had two big passions in his life - education, and riding his Harley-Davidson. He was a committed lecturer and teacher, and worked hard for all his students. I think he was at his happiest in work when he was standing in front of a busy class of students who were willing to learn. He loved working in on-line education, but it was as a Lecturer in the National College of Ireland where he was happiest. As a teacher as well on YouTube, the world and NCI have lost one of the most passionate of educators. He loved his big motorbike and made many long trips to Spain and Portugal as well as riding it in and out to work. He loved to show the bike off and make lots of noise. There's one more biker in heaven!

He had great plans for retirement, which alas he will not now see. He wanted to travel and see more of the world. He wanted to ride his Harley every day if he could. He wanted to take his grand-children to see football matches. He wanted to write more books. He wanted to grow old and spend some of his pension on good wines and whiskey. He wanted to hold Roma's hand some more.

There's no doubt that Euge was devoted to Roma - his companion for the last 35 years. She was always part of the O'Loughlin family and we hope that we will keep her close to our hearts. To Claire, Kate, and Vicki - I know that he would want you to support and love your Mum always.

Finally - Euge always said he wanted to be cremated, and that his ashes be put into the sea. Cahore Point in Wexford was his choice of location. So please join us after this service to say a final farewell to Eugene.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Work #My500Words #221

With five days to go I am at Day 27 of the Jeff Goins 500 Words Challenge - today is about to telling about my work experiences. I have had just two "real jobs" - the first was with the e-Learning company CBT Systems (later SmartForce) and then my current job as a Lecturer at NCI. More about these later.

Baling straw, Orkney Islands 3
Some of the most enjoyable work I ever did - baling straw!
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
When you grow up on a farm as I did, there are always plenty of jobs and a variety of work to do. From an early age one of my jobs was to collect eggs from our battery hens - to a small boy it seemed like we had thousands of hens, but it was more likely a few hundred. We collected the eggs on cardboard trays and learned at an early age to be careful with these fragile and precious items. Later at about age 12, I was given a brilliant new job on the farm during the harvest - to drive the tractor and trailer in the field for my Dad and his helpers when they were loading bales of straw onto the trailer. Dad put the tractor in the lowest crawling gear as possible and all I had to do was steer. When we got near the edge of the field, Dad took over for the turnaround and I was James Hunt for another few minutes. Later, as an older teenager I got to drive the tractor for real while baling straw. Our farm was a hive of activity during the harvest - in addition to our own harvest we also cut corn and baled straw for many neighbouring farms. I loved this too.

For a short period after graduating from College I worked for McLernon Computer who provided PCs to pharmacies. This was in early 1989 when hardly any pharmacy had a computer - so it was very much a green-field activity. My job was to install and train the users in how to use the new system. It was quite a complicated system to use, and of course many pharmacists had never used a computer before. After about 6 weeks in this job I got a new job with a company called CBT Systems (CBT = Computer Based Training). My employee number was 34. I loved this job right from the start - I was involved in creating training courses (to be delivered on floppy disk). I knew I was good at this and that I was happiest at educating others. I started in CBT Systems in March 1989. I was lucky to survive a round of redundancies in 1991, and also lucky to gain promotion to Director level. The company went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 1995 and I was suddenly into a world of stock options and international travel. While I liked this work, I found management to be a much higher level of pressure - but I was making a lot of money on stock options for about three years. I was not a nice person during this time - I felt greedy. I don't think I would be good as a rich person!

By 2002 CBT Systems has transformed into SmartForce and our world fell apart as there were two big rounds of redundancies that year - I was let go in the second round. A former colleague told me about a new course in a place that I had never heard of - the National College of Ireland. It was an e-Learning course for which they needed part-time Lecturers - what lucky timing for me. In 2003 I was made permanent and have loved (almost) every minute of my work in the College. Working in education must be one of the most rewarding life experiences - and I get paid to do what I love. Academic freedom (such as it is) allows me lots of opportunity to do things like set up a YouTube Channel and go to Conferences. Our holidays are longer (34 vs 22 days in SmartForce) - which gives me a wonderful break in the summer. I get to learn and teach many different subjects, and my current involvement in Data Analytics courses makes me feel like a pig in shite (still a bit of a farmer in me!).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Disappointment #My500Words #222

It's Day 26 of the My 500 Words Challenge and today's task is to write about disappointment, to (as Jeff Goins puts it) "tell the story, confess the failure, and help us learn with you. How can we, even in the midst of disappointment and despair, still find hope?".

First there are many levels of disappointment. I've just finished reading a book: "The Crusades" by Abigail Archer, which I was very disappointed with. I get disappointed every time I check my Lotto tickets, or don't win a bottle of wine in a draw. Some meals out in a restaurant are disappointing, and even the odd pint is disappointing. Some pricey wines are disappointing, but that leaves me satisfied with the cheaper stuff!

Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue.jpg
Caïn, by Henri Vidal.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
In sport the big disappointments are about being a fan of the Ireland soccer team - I was disappointed when Wim Kieft scored that deflected goal for The Netherlands to knock Ireland out of Euro '88, when Salvatore Schillaci knocked us out of Italia '90, when Gaizka Mendieta scored the wining goal for Spain in the penalty shoot-out in Japan-Korea 2002, and when Thierry Henry handled the ball to knock us out in the play-off for South Africa 2010. The only representative sport I ever played was Gaelic football - in school we were knocked out of a few competitions, while in Trinity I played for the 2nd football team - no major disappointments as we were shite.

I did have some disappointments with jobs I applied for. In 1988 I was offered a position in an e-Learning company called Intuition - I would be starting in 3-4 weeks. I had just finished my PhD and was relieved and pleased with myself to get a job. However, the weeks passed and there was no communication from Intuition, and I gradually realised that I would not get the job. I was gutted. I also had some disappointments applying for other jobs and promotions I would have like to have got. Hopefully I won't be disappointed on this front again as I do not intend applying for any more jobs - retirement is in less than 10 years time!

By far the biggest disappointment in my life was failing my second year repeat exams in Trinity. It was the end of September or early October 1980 and I was confident I would pull off a pass just like I had somehow done with the first year exams 12 months earlier. I walked confidently to the hall of the Chemistry building to look up the results on the Notice Board inside - no websites or emails in those days. I remember giving a thumbs up to a friend outside the door who already knew that I had failed - I should have got a clue when he did not look me in the eye. When I saw my results I was crushed. How could this have happened? It wasn't by a narrow margin that I had failed, but by a considerable amount. I lived with this failure for a few years and I don't think I really got over it until I graduated from Trinity seven years later with a PhD. Despite this disappointment, it was one of the most salutary lessons in my life - I never looked back. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Travel #My500Words #223

I am now up to Day 25 of the My 500 Words Challenge - not long to go now to the finish! Today I will write about "travel".

In the year 2000 I travelled to India on a business trip while working with SmartForce - it was one of the longest that I had taken part in. Previously I had been to the UK, Germany, Canada, and the United States on business trips. This one was set up for me to establish partnerships with Indian e-Learning companies so that content development could be outsourced. While most of the trip was very forgetful, I did have one experience that I enjoyed: a visit to the Elephant Caves on Gharapuri Island near Bombay (Mumbai). For some reason I decided to wear my Ireland jersey, and I was hosted by two Indian men from one of the companies I was visiting - the trip started out at the Gate of India and a short boat ride took me to an island where columns and statues of Hindu Gods were carved out of the rock. One of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. 

Another business trip brought me to the Grand Canyon in Arizona - easily the most breath-taking sight I have ever seen. Myself and some colleagues in SmartForce hired a plane to fly over the Canyon - what an experience! That moment when we were flying along quite low and then passed over the edge of the Canyon - wow! The earth dropped away beneath us.

In today's world I am not that well travelled. My first time outside Ireland was in 1975 when I was almost 16 - an exchange with a French student who lived in St Etienne. The next summer I was off again - this time to Paris and Normandy. My first holiday abroad was my honeymoon to Poreč in Yugoslavia - the part that is now in Croatia. I have been on holiday to Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, USA, UK, Austria, and Morocco - in addition to the business trips above. I reckon I have been to 13 countries outside of Ireland. Not bad I suppose, but I want to see a lot more. Experiencing other cultures is part of life - we don't have to go that far back to when our ancestors hardly ever set foot outside this country. Roma and I have many dreams and plans to travel when we retire. I also feel that there are a few more European trips on my motorbike still left in me.

When I travel I avoid Irish bars - there's one just across the road from my house that I can go to any time I want. I try to eat and drink whatever the locals are eating and drinking - and try to bring fond memories home. Of course when I travel I take lots of photos - so memories are easier. With the exception of the Passo Tonale ski resort in Italy, where hardly anyone spoke English, I have never had problems communicating - almost everyone speaks English. The only other language that I have a few words in is French - but when I try it in France the locals quickly respond in English.

Travel really does broaden the mind - I am very jealous of today's young people who move all over the world with ease. It's the one thing I wish I had done more of when younger. During my College days I did not travel - almost unheard of now.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cut the Fluff (and grading assessments) #My500Words #224

Day 24 of the 500 Words Challenge is an unusual one - "cut the fluff". According to Jeff Goins everyone "has their pet peeves". He doesn't like "fluff and useless words that only take up space". Today he wants us to "just get to the point" and write without using the word "that" or "very". Curiously - for the first time in this Challenge he does not give us a subject.

For most of the past three weeks since semester II ended in the College I have been grading exam scripts and continuous assessments. Grading is a difficult job at times - how do I decide whether to award 16 or 17 marks out of 25 for an answer to a question?

Image source: MindSumo.
Some grading is straightforward - in my statistics exams if you calculate the right answer you get full marks in the question. If a student makes a mistake I'll dock one mark, two mistakes I'll dock two marks, and so on. But where explanations are required it is not so easy to give full marks as I can almost always point out something else which could have been written. In my opinion high marks should be awarded for something extra, eg give two examples instead of one, compare your answer to the literature, show extra reading on the subject, show expert knowledge, and demonstrate higher order learning. I have grading rubrics and many year's experience to guide me. Also in the College we have a second marking system where a colleague will review and grade some sample papers. As is normal in all Colleges, we have external examiners as well.

The hardest part of grading is when I add up all the marks and have to write a fail grade on the cover of the exam script. In my early days in the College I remember mentioning to a colleague I "had failed students in an exam", he retorted I had not failed the students - the students had "failed themselves". I keep this in mind when I am grading. In the end the mark is a judgement on my part I have to stand over. Students can request a feedback and review of their exam papers - this is done within a week of results being published. For feedback I often get one or two students who just want feedback on their exam, where they did well, and where they lost marks. Sometimes however I get a request for a feedback session when a student feels he/she should have got a higher grade. I go through the paper with them - in the feedback sessions we are not allowed to change grades (unless a mistake is discovered). Every time I have had a feedback session students are accepting of their grade as I show them how it was determined by me. Following the feedback session students can request a formal review of their grade if they are still not happy - so far in my 13 years in the College I have not had such a request in any of my exam papers. It is only when these sessions are finished when the academic year is truly over.

Cut the fluff really works! While writing the above I use the word "that" eight times, and did not use the word "very" at all. So I changed the eight occurrences of "that", eg I replaced "for that part of" with "in". I also replaced "that" with "which", and simply deleted it several times.