Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Using Google Docs in Class #FirstTime

Since Google brought out Google Docs several years ago I have made just a few half-hearted to use it in class. I have been a Microsoft user since the early 1990s and the "Old Dog" in me will not change over to Google Docs at this stage. However, some of the collaborative features of Google Docs offer many opportunities for use in class - many educators at all levels have been doing so for years.

Last evening in a Statistics class I introduced the topic of Probability. Usually I start this out in a simple experiment by asking the students to toss a coin 20 times and record the number of heads (H) and tails (T). In a second experiment I ask students to work in pairs and to toss two coins 10 times and record if the result is HH, TH, HT, or TT. In the past I would write down the results on a whiteboard, but in large classes I would only take a few results resulting in many students' experiment results not being recorded. I would then have the job of manually calculating the average scores from the whiteboard.

Using Google Docs I set up a spreadsheet in advance of class to record the results, and shared this through a link in Moodle. Each student was listed by name and number - so they could easily input the results for their own experiment onto the spreadsheet. I had also set up the formulas for calculating the class averages. While there was obviously some errors inputting results - this approach worked well by getting all students to participate, and saving me a lot of time and bother by preparing in advance.

Below is a selection of (anonymized) data from last nights class - now to think of other opportunities to do the same.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Switching from @VodafoneIreland to @VirginMediaIE #NoBrainer

Yesterday, after many calls and long delays, I finally got to switch my mobile phone to the new Unlimited service offered by Virgin Media who recently took over UPC. As an existing UPC customer, they are offering three months free calls/text/data with a rolling contract at €25/month. Sounds good? Yeah!

Image Source: Wikipedia.
My existing 24-month contract with Vodafone expired this week, I was on their Red Essentials Pack (100 mins/free texts/1GB data). I had also purchased an iPhone 5 with this contract, so my monthly bills obviously included a charge for the phone (Virgin Media is SIM only). My average monthly bill this year was €52.11. Much of this was data that exceeded the 1GB monthly allowance. So I have unlocked my iPhone, and having looked around at what deals are available, I have made the decision to switch from Vodafone and cut my monthly bills in half with Virgin Media. No doubt this opening offer is a customer grab and may not be available for long, but with the next three months being free (instead of paying an average of €50/month to Vodafone) - I feel as though someone just gave me €150. I'll put this towards my next iPhone when my current one finally gives up the ghost.

Virgin Media promised to shake up the market, and with these offers they will surely do so. Judging by the length of time it took me to get through to not surprisingly tired operators yesterday - many customers will flock to Virgin as I have done. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

She's Leaving Home

My youngest daughter Vicki is departing this morning to Florida for a year as part of her undergraduate degree at the University of Ulster - the third of four years in her degree is a work placement and she is off to the Ibis Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach. How exciting - I wish I had the opportunity to do this back in the academic year 1981-1982 when I completed my third year in Trinity College. About three years ago I wrote about my eldest daughter Claire leaving for the US. It doesn't get any easier seeing your family go, but the feeling of sadness I now have is tempered by the opportunity that the wonderful Land of Free has to offer our young people.

The photo below was taken yesterday before Vicki left. Look out America, there is another O'Loughlin coming!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EY Ireland reviews degree requirement via @SarahMcCabe1 and @IndoBusiness

The Sunday Independent reports that Ernst & Young (EY) is "reviewing whether its entry-level job candidates should be required to have a degree". This follows the decision by EY in the UK to "ditch the requirement for degrees at entry level from 2016 onwards". Uncited research is quoted by EY's UK talent manager that there is "no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken". I must search for this research as I'm sure it would make interesting reading for my colleagues and I in third-level education.

Many highly successful people such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the late Steve Jobs did not complete degrees in College - and they were none the worse off for it. Millions of people (including me) who do hold degrees are not multi-millionaires nor household names. Go figure!

Of course, you cannot be absolute about whether having or not having a degree leads to success or not. There are so many variables leading to success: hard work, circumstance, luck, opportunity, failure, etc. I studied as a Marine Biologist and apart from a short stint as an Intern in NUI Galway in the summer of 1983, I have never succeeded to get a job as a Marine Biologist. What was my degree worth?

Taking a look at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for earnings and unemployment rates in 2014 (see graphic below) it would appear that people who hold a degree are likely to earn a lot more and be less likely to be unemployed than the national average. I know this is not the same comparison that EY have stated ("success in higher education" compared to "future success in subsequent professional qualifications") - but nevertheless it holds out the hope for graduates that they will be more successful with at least a Bachelor's degree in their hand. Will a 23 year-old graduate be better than a 23-year old non-graduate with work experience? The only real way for the likes of EY to find out is to try it - and from 2016 they will. I do hope they will publish results.

Image Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Taking blurred photos in the middle of the night #SuperBloodMoon

Photographed with my iPhone.
I got up at 1.30 this morning to see the Lunar Eclipse - they said it would be brilliant, and it was. I watched the moon fill in shadow and was transfixed by the orange glow when the moon was covered in the Earth's shadow. Fascinating - I stayed up until just after 3.00. However, my many photos taken with my Canon EOS 350D digital camera are not so fascinating. I tried several settings and my big zoom lens, auto and manual focus, flash and no flash - but nothing seemed to work. While this camera is several years old, I should be able to take good pictures, but never learned how. There are twelve different settings on the settings dial - but I only ever use one, Automatic. 

Myself and my daughter Kate wondered as we looked up what two people sitting doing the same thing 1,000 years ago would have thought? No Twitter or Facebook to let our ancestors know what was happening, or websites to tell us when it was happening and what the cloud cover would be like. No wonder they thought of it as portents of evil  - only God could do this - right?

I took about 80 photos, perhaps the one (above) that sums up my photography efforts was taken with my iPhone - here are the best two with the Canon:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Is Richard Branson right that "university course lengths should be halved"?

When Richard Branson says something - it is noticed. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs and businessmen in the world he has plenty to say, and people (including me) listen. On 8th September last, Branson blogged about "Why university course lengths should be halved". Branson did not go to college, but nevertheless I was curious about what he had to say.

Image Source: Wikipedia.
Richard Branson says that the "length of time it takes to complete a degree is far too long to be practical for the modern world" and that many students are "attending a course with no real life benefits". While I would emphatically disagree with his second point, I'm not so sure I would disagree too much about the first.  

I attended a four-year honours science degree in Trinity. The schedule was quite full and the weekly timetable was hectic. Some of the students I have today will have days in their timetables where they have no classes or at most - very few. Many regard such gaps in their timetable as a "day off" rather that a study day. Even though they are full time students, many will also have part-time jobs that are facilitated by gaps in the timetable. If I was pressed on shortening a four year degree in to three or even two years - I'd have to say that it could easily be done. In fact my own College is now offering a two year full time BA Hons in HRM Strategy and Practice - clearly there is a demand for this. But there is more to going to College than attending classes.

Would I shorten degree courses? First I've got to consider students when they come into College first. Most students on full time programmes come straight from school and are not ready for the "real world" just yet. Over their time in College, many do gather "real life benefits". Can the average student get the benefits of a degree in half the time? I'm not sure that such a drastic condensation of a course would work - fitting four years worth of classes into two would test the ability of even top students. Condensing four into three years - now that's worth considering. Some courses have work placements - NCI has an off-campus work placement module in the second semester of year 3, while I know other Colleges who have a full year "off" as work placement before graduating. An argument could be made to complete taught modules earlier and let the students out into the workplace earlier. 

Shortening courses will involve redesigning classes and study time - but Universities and Colleges are full of smart people who should have no trouble in coming up with a solution. Four years IS a long time to attend College - at the very least we should be able to come up with a package whereby students who want to (and are capable of) a fast-track through College can do so. 

Is Richard Branson right? Partly!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Dashboard in Tableau @YouTube @Tableau

My previous three Tableau videos showed how to build a basic Filled Map, Tree Map, and a Bar Chart. Tableau offers a great tool to easily create dashboards, and so in my latest video I combine the above three separate charts into one dashboard. This video is just about creating the very simplest of dashboards - see Tableau's website for great examples of more dashboards.

As in the other videos, the data used in this video is taken from "Living in the EU" - see

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A New Mindset with Technology in the Classroom using @LumensLadibug @ICTEvangelist

Last evening I had my first Statistics class with a new group of Higher Diploma in Data Analytics students. The class was held in one of our labs which was not really designed for teaching. It is a long narrow lab with the lectern at one end - it is the only class I have to used a microphone in. We have in addition to a large screen at the front, two TV monitors near the back and a large screen at the side. While awkward for some students, most can easily see slides and activities I might be doing on screen. I tend to use a whiteboard a lot in classrooms (turning off the screen as I do so) which means that everybody in the class has to look to the top of the classroom to see what I am writing. A new rule for labs introduced this year is that students are not allowed to lay their monitors down flat on the desk - this means views of the whiteboard at the front of the class are restricted. What to do?

Image source: Lumens.
Enter Ladibug!

Apparently we have had this technology available to us for a few years (I must have missed the memo). Thanks to the very helpful efforts of our IT Dept I got a training session yesterday before class to set Ladibug up and use it as part of my class. The idea is a simple one and is basically similar to the old style Overhead Projectors except it is connected to the computer. The gadget (see photo left) is made by Lumens and I have used it to project onto the screens what I write on the lectern with pen and paper. It took a little bit of getting used to the focus, but otherwise, my first class with this gadget was a success. I'm looking forward to getting more skilled with it over the next few weeks, and I also hope that it works OK for the students.

Using technology in the classroom is nothing new. In 1855, the abolitionist Samuel Joseph May wrote about the introduction of the blackboard to classrooms, being at his time the most modern instructional technology: the winter of 1813 & ’14, during my first College vacations, I attended a mathematical school kept in Boston by the Rev. Francis Xavier Brosius. On entering his room, we were struck at the appearance of an ample Black Board suspended on the wall, with lumps of chalk on a ledge below, and cloths hanging at either side. I had never heard of such a thing before. There it was forty-two years ago that I first saw what now I trust is considered indispensable in every school the Black Board and there that I first witnessed the process of analytical and inductive teaching.

Today, Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), writing in Education Evangelist graphically shows a Growth Mindset for Teachers when using Technology:

Image source: Education Evangelist.
I like Anderson's mindset that "Our kids and those we work with, have a right to access learning in all manner of different ways, including with technology" and that when "it comes to using technology, a significant number of teachers can have a bit of a mental block". The Growth Mindset for Teachers asks questions for educators ranging from "Will it [technology] impact learning" to "Have you tried Google". We still work in an arena where lecturers stand at the top of a class and students sit at a desk trying to absorb and understand what the lecturer is saying. While most are nowadays comfortable with the likes of PowerPoint and Moodle - many of us need to embrace more technologies to enhance our teaching practice and mindset. I have used YouTube a lot for my classes over the past few years, but I have not really developed beyond the short "How To..." style videos. Mark Anderson's diagram above is inspirational in that it tells us that it is OK to use the likes of Google, Twitter, and YouTube in our classes, and to go on and develop a new mindset embracing technology.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Back to College - End of 1st week #Phew

It's 5 o'clock on Friday at the end of our first week back in Semester 1 and I have finished classes for the week. This year I am teaching Statistics (to three groups), Project Management, and a new module on the Fundamentals of Business Analysis. Apart from tired feet and a slightly sore throat I'm glad to be back in the classroom for the first time since April last. Some students have been in my classes before, while others are new. Next week I will be starting an evening class on Statistics. For the next 13 weeks it will be teaching and assessment that takes up most of the day - much busier than the last few weeks have been. It's good to be back.

Image source: Meme Generator.
There is of course a lot of optimism at the start of a new academic year. Classes are full and exams seem a long way off. I remember the excitement as a student of meeting friends after the summer break, and the anticipation of new courses and new lecturers. There has been a great buzz about the College this week - I wish we could bottle it for the weeks ahead. In some of my classes this week I kept the content very introductory and not too difficult - the serious stuff starts next week. 

The semester at 13 weeks is very long and this will test the endurance of both academic staff and students. We do have a "Reading Week" in the middle of the semester which coincides with the October Holiday Weekend, but it is still a long haul. The middle of December seems so far away, but I know it will pass all too quickly. 

To new students - welcome to NCI. To returning students - welcome back! Together well get through the semester and hopefully learn a few things along the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Tree Map in Tableau @YouTube @tableau

Continuing on my new series of YouTube videos for Tableau Software, my latest video shows how to create a basic Treemap. I have used the same "Living in the EU" data as for my previous Tableau videos. 

According to the Tableau website, "Treemaps let you display data in nested rectangles. You use dimensions to define the structure of the treemap, and measures to define the size or color of the individual rectangles. Treemaps are a relatively simple data visualization that can provide insight in a visually attractive format". A Treemap is a cool tool for displaying data in a presentation. Viewers can get a great sense of perspective and scale when comparing data values. Using basic data they are easy to create - check out video below:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Can you ever leave Carnew?

I grew up in Ballingate just three miles from Carnew in Co Wicklow, and attended the National School until I was almost 12 years of age when I was sent off to boarding school, followed by moving to College in Dublin in 1979 and living there since. Despite the 44 years that have passed since leaving National School I often answer "Carnew" when people ask me where I am from. I guess that comes from a sense of roots and that my Mum and Dad still live there. Two nights in a row out in Carnew is a rarity for me (one night in a row is rare too!). Last evening we had a great meal in Pooles Restaurant on the Mill Lane, but the evening before Dad and I attended the launch of Noelle Keogh's book: "Carnew: A Town of History & Heritage".

It was the first time I was ever in Kenny's Corner House at the "top of the town". The launch marked the start of Carnew Heritage Weekend. Just over two years ago I wrote about attending an exhibition in Coláiste Bríde in Carnew for the then Carnew Heritage Week events. Much of the fascinating facts and anecdotes about Carnew and its surrounding townlands was collated by Noelle Keogh, and her new book reflects the fruits of her efforts on behalf of Carnew Heritage Club. I spent most of yesterday reading the book and enjoying the stories of times past. The photos are a great reminder that Carnew has always had activities like slate quarrying that are now gone - but not forgotten. I particularly enjoyed the references to my grandfather PJ O'Loughlin for his auctioneering, GAA, ploughing, and dairy activities. I also enjoyed meeting people in Kenny's that I had not met for a very long time - I think my Carnew accent returned too for the evening!

You can take the man out of Carnew, but you can't take Carnew out of the man.

My Dad Joe with author Noelle Keogh.
Image source: The Enniscorthy Guardian.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Savage Consequences of Repeating an Exam in an Award Year

Yesterday I wrote about my experiences in repeating exams in both my first and second years in Trinity back in 1979 and 1980 - a difficult time, but I also learned a massive amount from the experience. I went on to pass my third and fourth years, and to graduate with an honours degree. Luckily for me that things were not the other way around, ie passing the first two years and failing third and fourth year. Had I to repeat in fourth year I would not have been awarded an honours degree.

The current situation based on QQI policy* is that "Honours classification, or any classification higher than ‘Pass’, shall be made based on first attempt grades", and that "the existing approach to repeat for honours (it is not to be offered) shall be maintained". So, if you repeat even one subject you cannot get an honours award. If you have a high overall average mark in the 2:1 or 2:2, either before or after the repeats, you still will not get an honours award. Passing your exams at the second attempt, no matter how well you do or how much you learn, means no honours. Imagine a student who has performed very well in seven out of eight modules, but fails the eight - no honours is allowed. This has long been how the system works, and though I regard this as grossly unfair, I and my academic colleagues have to go along with the QQI policy. 

I regularly warn students in an award year that this is the rule. If they fail a module in semester I, the honours degree is gone because they have to repeat the module. So even before semester II starts, there is no chance of getting an honours degree (there are rules about extenuating circumstances). This can be a huge demotivating factor. Why put in a huge effort when a bare pass will get the same award as an average grade of 60%.

This rule is particularly cruel in one year programmes, such as a Higher Diploma. Quite often students who study on these programmes are back to education after several years, and are working full time. I know from first hand experience with students that not having a second chance at honours can be very demotivating - one student asked me recently "who will give me a job with just a pass?". 

I understand that this rule is under review by QQI, and that the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown was involved in a pilot programme where (under strict conditions) students could apply to retain their honours despite repeating one subject. NUI Maynooth also have something similar. I would urge that the ITB experiment be seriously considered nationally.

Imagine this...

...the 2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary ended in a draw (3-22 to 1-28). A replay ended in a win for Kilkenny (1-17 to 2-14). But wait... Kilkenny did not win the title at the first attempt, they needed to repeat to win. What if that when they climbed the steps at Croke Park to receive their award that they were told "Sorry lads, you didn't win it at the first attempt, no Liam McCarthy Cup or All-Ireland medals for you - here's a ribbon and a nice mug"?

2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions?
Image source:

The views expressed here are entirely my own and I make no attempt to represent the views of the National College of Ireland or its staff.

*QQI Assessment and Standards (Revised 2013), available at

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Repeat Exams

In the Autumn of 1979 I repeated two first year subjects (Physics and Chemistry). I found both difficult throughout the year and had failed the summer exams quite badly. I was not optimistic when I walked into the Chemistry Building in Trinity where results were posted (no looking them up on-line in those days). Convinced that I had failed again, I was genuinely amazed that I scraped a pass by compensation and I was somehow into second year. Exactly a year later this time I walked with some confidence to the same Chemistry Building to check on the results of another two repeated subjects - to my horror I had failed the repeat exams.

This was a turning point in my life. I was 21 years old and I was a failure. I had spent two summers studying for repeats, while all my friends in College were either travelling or working abroad. My options were to repeat the year, or drop out of College.

With strong encouragement from my Dad to repeat the year, I went through the motions of applying to repeat. My tutor in Trinity informed me that I was "allowed" to repeat, but that it would be much better for everybody if I didn't because he told me I'd be wasting both my own and the College's time by doing so. I'd show him! I repeated the year (I was the only one in my class to do so) and worked a lot harder to comfortably pass all my exams in the summer sitting. For the first time in three years I did not have to study over the summer, and now I was going into third year. I was at last getting the hang of College. In the summer of 1983 I graduated with an honours BA (Mod) degree - it should have been a year earlier, but nevertheless I felt a great sense of achievement. I went on to graduate from Trinity with a PhD in 1988 - not a failure any more.

Today, results for repeat exams at NCI are published. Congratulations to those who have got through, for those who have to repeat the year, it's a tough road to travel, but you can do it.

Only those students who have repeated exams know how it feels. Only students who have repeated a year know what it feels like. Overcoming this and learning from it will be some of the toughest times in College and life that you will encounter. Learning from mistakes makes us all better and stronger. There is no shame in succeeding at the second or subsequent attempt.

Repeating exams in first and second year, while bad enough to go through, has little long term consequence. Repeating exams in an award year has dreadful consequences - more about this in a new post later this week.

Perhaps the worst part of repeating second year in 1980 was that Johnny Logan had just won the Eurovision Song Contest with "What's Another Year" - everybody I met that year thought it was a really funny joke to remind me of this. Anyway, here's a blast from the past...

Monday, September 07, 2015

"The pathway to prosperity is diverse, but for most young people, it likely runs through college" via @JoshZumbrun and @WSJecon

No major surprises in a report (Hey, Millennials, Want to Pay Off Student Loans? Consider These Careers) from Josh Zumbrun in the Wall Street Journal in relation to career paths for Millenials in America. Many of the top careers are based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subject areas. If anything is surprising about the list of careers it is the diversity of careers. Zumbrun reckons that the number one position is reflective of America's aging population and the neeed for more senior healthcare. But look at what is at #2 and #3 - Actuaries and Statisticians respectively. No doubt this is as a result of more demand for evidence-based decision making using big data. Long may it continue. 

Image sourced from: Wall Street Journal.

I loved the quote at the end of Zumbrun's article: "The pathway to prosperity is diverse, but for most young people, it likely runs through college" - most of the jobs on the list above will require a College degree.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Motorcyclist (55) killed in collision with van via @Independent_ie #ThinkBike #SlowDown

Earlier this week I wrote about motorcycle safety and the tragic death of a Mexican biker in the full glare of YouTube. I also mentioned a 55 year old Irish biker (Seán Coleman), who died in an accident in Cork, and how this sent a shiver through me as I too am 55. Tonight the Irish Independent reports the death of another 55 year old  biker - this time in County Mayo. Another shiver runs through me, I could be reading a headline about my own death. May God be good to Seán and the latest biker my own age to die on our roads. 

To all bikers - slow down and ride safely. To everyone else (including bikers)...
Image source: Cumbria Crack.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Loving Croke Park and the GAA

September, football, sunshine, 82,000 people, Croke Park - it must be All-Ireland time again! Following last week's dramatic draw between Mayo and Dublin in the semi-final, Roma and I went to the replay today. Roma was hoping for a Mayo win, as usual I had divided loyalties, though I did get a reminder from my Mum this morning that I was born in Dublin. I wore my Wicklow jersey anyway (with Mayo and Dublin colours around my neck).

When Mayo went four points up in the second half I thought they might do it, but a purple patch of three goals for the Dubs saw them win easily in the end. The best team won, and for Mayo another year goes by until the next opportunity to banish "The Curse". Roma's cousins Finn and Eamonn Mongey were players on the last Mayo team to win the All-Ireland in 1951. Since then they travel in hope every year, but today they were second best to a rampant Dublin team. 

Another Kerry vs Dublin final beckons - the two best teams in the country look set to entertain us in two weeks time. Can't wait!".

The last Mayo Team to win the All-Ireland in 1951.
Image source: Film Ireland.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

27 Bikers Killed on Irish Roads in 2013 #SlowDown #ThinkBike

Following on from my post yesterday about the recording of the death of a Mexican motorcyclist with a helmetcam, I checked out the statistics on motorcycle deaths in Ireland, and had a stark reminder of how dangerous our roads are for folks on two wheels.

The Road Safety Authority publishes statistics on all sorts of things about Irish road activities, including deaths. In 2013 (the latest year that statistics are available as I write), 27 motorcyclists were killed in Ireland - this is 14.2% of the total number of people (190) killed on our roads in 2013. Motorcyclists account for only about 2% of road users. According to the RSA, motorcyclists are six times more likely to be killed on Irish roads than any other road user.

Image Source:
International Journal of Motorcycle Studies (2012).
Just yesterday evening on my way home from work on my bicycle at about 5.15pm a large SUV pulled out a line of stand-still traffic into the bus lane just past the Merrion Gates on the Merrion Road. It is illegal for motorists to use the bus lane at this time, it is legal for cyclists to use the bus lane at all times. Despite the fact that I was wearing a bright yellow high-visibility jacket, the driver did not see me - but I saw him and stopped in the nick-of-time to avoid a collision. The SUV roared up the bus lane and I did not see it again. Another cyclist asked me if I was OK. Had I been travelling on my motorcycle I would have been moving a lot faster and could have been involved in a more serious incident. This SUV driver is an accident driving around South Dublin waiting to happen. Such incidents reminds us of our mortality and how easy our lives can be taken away by carelessness (5 pedal cyclists were killed on Irish roads in 2013).

Motorcyclists of all ages dies on our roads, not just young hot-heads burning rubber in a speed fueled death wish. Just last December I felt a shiver when I saw a report in the Irish Times of the death of 55 year old biker Seán Coleman in Cork - the same age as me.

Here are the Top Ten Safety Tips for motorcyclist from the RSA:
  • Be vigilant. Look into the far, middle and near distance, and behind you, using your mirrors and checking over your shoulders, before changing position or turning.
  • Keep your distance. In wet or icy conditions, always leave a bigger gap.
  • Be seen. Make sure your position is correct. Use dipped headlights and wear high visibility clothing (such as a neon vest and ‘Sam Browne’ reflective belt).
  • Avoid surprising others. Never do anything on the road that could cause another road user to slow down, brake or swerve or that could startle pedestrians.
  • Think like other road users. Anticipate how they might react.
  • Read the road. Ride to current road, weather and traffic conditions.
  • Match your speed to the conditions. Never let others dictate your pace.
  • Never ride your bike after consuming alcohol or drugs.
  • Maintain your bike properly. Regularly check petrol, oil, water, damage, electrics and tyres.
  • Take lessons from an experienced instructor. See every ride as a chance to improve your skills.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Another Motorcyclist Dies #SlowDown #ThinkBike

The Irish Independent today shows a chilling video detailing the death of a motorcyclist on a dual-carriageway/motorway in Mexico. The 45 second helmetcam video shows the motorcyclist appearing to ride too fast into a bend and hits the centre barrier - the helmetcam in on the helmet of another motorcyclist riding behind.. Horrifically he is thrown over the barrier onto the oncoming road where he is killed when run over by a car. From what I can see the motorcyclist is entirely responsible for his own death by riding too fast.

It is chilling to watch the death of anyone - it seems so much part of what we do today that a video like this gets posted on the Internet. No doubt it will force some motorcyclists to slow down, but it should shock everyone. 

About this time last year I wrote about the shocking video and death of David Holmes riding at 156 kph, when his family allowed the video from his own helmetcam to be posted on-line. None of us want to be a statistic or end up with 45 seconds of fame on YouTube where the world watches us die.

Fellow bikers - please slow down!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

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

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I deal with level 8 applications only.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

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

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

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Metered Water Bill #IrishWater

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

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

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

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

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

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough

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

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

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

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

First flight2.jpg
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dramatic fall-off in YouTube views

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 07, 2015

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

This morning I have published my third book!

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

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

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

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

Books by Eugene.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Touring South Wexford

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

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

Kylmore Memorial Garden.

Outside Sinnott's Pub in Duncormick.

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

Inside Bannow Church.

Ruined Church in Wellingtonbridge.


Slade Castle, Hook Head.

Hook Head Lighthouse.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Deansgrange Cemetery World War I Graves Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Victoria Cross winner in Deansgrange.

These guys are not actually buried in this grave.

Note small memorial bottom left.