Saturday, May 20, 2017

Annual Conference: The Business Analysis Association of Ireland #baai17

Image via @IrishCompSoc
Yesterday I attended the Business Analysts Association of Ireland's Annual Conference at The Irish Computer Society in Ballsbridge. The theme of the Conference was "Change is Now" and was attended by over 60 Business Analysts who heard a variety of presentations on topics of interest to BAs. Reuben Godfrey of the Blockchain Association of Ireland kicked the event off with a discussion on what Blockchain Management means for Business Analysts. He was followed by Niamh Corby from the Revenue Commissioners who interestingly use the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) in their projects, but not all of it. The morning session was completed by the wonderful Lanre Oluwatona who started off by saying "I'm not here to scare you" - which he promptly did! He talked to us about the General Data Protection Regulations coming into law next year, He pointed out that there will be 99 articles in the new regulations compared to about 30 now. Brilliant presentation Lanre!

After lunch we had interesting talks about No Code Workflow from Shay O'Conner of FlowForma (fascinating stuff), designing cost effective IT solutions from Piaras McDonnell (who in particular warned us about licensing issues with software), and Cloud solutions from Oracle by John Caulfield. The event was finished off by a thought-provoking presentation by Kevin Breen on "Digital Transformation".

In between all of above I made a presentation on "Data Visualization - What can you see?". I used much material from my recently completed first time Data Visualization module at NCI - it was very tough deciding what to include and what to leave out. Hopefully I got it right, there were plenty of questions and comments afterwards. I did feel like a bit of an idiot when I tried to use a link to my Tableau Public Page. I didn't realize that the presentation was being run over two screens and I looked confused and awkward (I was!) as I tried to show  online material. Anyhow - I have uploaded my presentation to Slideshare and embedded below. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

" drag-and-drops for deep learning" and "Why R is Bad for You according to Bill Vorhies via @DataScienceCtrl

A most interesting post by William Vorhies at Data Ceience Central poses the argument: "Why R is Bad for You". We are lead to believe that knowledge of the R programming langauge is an essential skill for data analysts/scientists - you can use it to do almost anything with data such as clean, manipulate, visualize, transform, perform statistical tests, and in general look for links/trends/patterns in data. Vorhies says that "R is not the best way to learn data science and not the best way to practice it either". 
Image source: The R Project for Statistical Computing

The trouble is that you have to learn R before you can use it. I and several of my colleagues use R for data analysis in class - in my case to perform statistical tests such as ANOVA, Time Series, and Principal Component Analysis. In the new Data Visualization module introduced this past academic year we also used R to plot charts such as boxplots, interactive charts, and flight paths. It is a very powerful language, but none of my classes are programming classes. Students learn how to perform basic programming in R before they come to my class. Usually I give students code in the notes and ask them to use and modify code already written. However, much time is spent in lab work fixing syntax problems - a missing comma can be difficult and frustrating to find and fix for someone not good at programming. 

Bill Vorhies writes that the "largest employers, those with the most data scientists are rapidly reconsolidating on packages like SAS and SPSS with drag-and-drop" - especially in larger companies. These tools, and the likes of Tableau software, are very powerful and much easier to learn and use. Excel is probably the most used data analysis tool - and is getting more powerful. So why learn R? 

R is free. Many employers list it as an essential skill in job adverts. Having the ability to programme in any language shows that you have a logical mind and you are good at problem-solving - probably good at deep learning too. If you have already learned how to use R, then keep on using it - but as Vorhies says: "in the commercial world the need to actually code models in R is diminishing". Something for us educators to think about!

Please note: Opinions and comment expressed in this post (and all posts in this blog) are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of anyone else or any institution.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Abandoning the Windows Phone

Just last year I purchased a SIM-free Microsoft Lumia 950. It was a lot cheaper than a new iPhone or Samsung and the two big things for me were lots of space and a good camera, and of course the very familiar Windows 10 interface. The old iPhone I had sucked for space and the camera was poor. With a 20MP camera and 64GB space on the Lumia - this problem was gone. I quickly got used to using Outlook instead of Gmail and Edge instead of Chrome, and I was confident that the Microsoft App Store would have all I needed. Popular Apps such as Kindle, Netflix, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp all had version that worked on Windows. Bing Maps is not as good as Google Maps for me, but I got by. Groove was better than iTunes, but my Bose headphones volume controls didn't work and it would not connect via Bluetooth to my speakers. A huge downside for me was no radio app - I had to use a shortcut to RTÉ Play Live link on the start page. And of course since Microsoft phones are no longer for sale in Ireland there can be little hope of App developers continuing to support Windows.

I have had a spare iPhone for a few months that I used as a second phone for use with Vodafone down the country (especially in Wexford where Virgin Media via Three sucks) - so I am switching back to it. Now the Windows phone is a second phone which I will definitely keep for the camera and of course it still will be able to connect to the web using WiFi.

I tried and persevered with the Microsoft phone - it's now time to go back to Apple.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Happy Birthday Elliott Masie ! @emasie

Elliott Masie.
Image source: Twitter (@emasie)
Last Saturday the great Elliott Masie turned 67 - I have been following him probably longer than anyone else on the planet. I met him once in the (then) CBT Systems offices in Clonskeagh in Dublin for a meeting where I described the CBT Systems product development life cycle to him. I can't remember exactly when this was, but it was around 1993/94. He was a gentleman! 

I have been subscribed to Masie's Learning Trends for as long as I can remember - I always look forward to reading what he is thinking about. In his most recent newsletter (#965), he reflects on what he calls the "half-way point of my career" at age 67. He writes that learning is "amazing", "personal", and "awesome". I particularly connected with his comment that "Learning is all about Curiosity. The world of learning is allowing curiosity to come alive in more and more ways". 

The age of 67 is now the retirement age for workers of my generation - retirement date for me is officially in October 2026, just nine and a half years away. I'd like to think that I will still be as passionate about Learning and Teaching as Elliott Masie is at the same age. There's no sign of Elliott retiring as he is "pumped" to keep on exploring learning - long may he live and stay "curious".

Friday, May 12, 2017

Top 10 Skills in Data Science via @bobehayes

A really interesting post by Bob Hayes for Customer Think "Top 10 Skills in Data Science" tells us that so-called "soft" skills like communication and project management are really important for data scientists. Hayes takes a look at 25 skills assessed in a data science survey, and uses the chart below to filter out the top ten:

Image source: Customer Think (click to enlarge).
It's no surprise to me that Communication is important, but I would not have expected it to be top of the list. In fact we dropped a Communications module from one of our Data Analytics programmes last year and replaced it with Data Visualization (still partly communication I know). Managing structured data (#2) and Maths (#3) rank higher than data mining/management, and statistics (#9). To me these important skills are vital in all roles and perhaps there is a case to be made that these are a given and should be exlcuded from a top ten list of skills? At #11 is "Database Administration", at #12 is "Algorithms and simulations", and at #14 is "Machine Learning" - these would be in the top ten if the standard skills were omitted. Their importance is not lessened, but they should be in the top ten skills for a data scientist.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Data - More Valuable than Oil? via The Economist

The hype about data continues - now it is more valuable than oil! The Economist reports that The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are "titans" who "deal in data, the oil of the digital era". They have vast amounts of data on us all that is now regarded as a "God’s eye view" of their users' activities. While The Economist discusses how data is valuable to companies it also considers the power of data in different ways: "Google can see what people search for, Facebook what they share, Amazon what they buy" - this can be used to stifle competition. Anti-trust authorities must move to the 21st century and become more "data-savvy in their analysis of market dynamics" to protect privacy. The article signs off with a warning: "But if governments don’t want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon".

Image source: The Economist.
All of this is true, and I'm certain that data is indeed the "oil of the digital era". I'm not sure it is "more valuable than oil" - try getting data to heat your house in the winter, power your car, make plastic, fly across the ocean, and generate electricity to run our computers - but it makes for a good headline. Everybody needs to be more "data-savvy", which is good news for Colleges and Lecturers like myself - we have to keep innovating to provide the right education for students who will need to be as knowledgeable about data as their ability to read and write.

Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write (HG Wells, 1903).

Saturday, May 06, 2017

First Communion 1966

At this time of year thousands of Catholic children make their First Holy Communion all over the world. While religion has taken a back seat in many Irish families, the Communion stills seems to be a big day as it is the first real big landmark occasion from which our lives are measured. As a sacrament it probably has little value to many children and parents any more - but it still a great celebration of growing up. In my day (1966), it was a mark of reaching the "age of reason". I don't think any of us in Second Class in Carnew National School (Co Wicklow) really knew what that meant. I recall our teacher practicing with cream crackers on our tongues (no putting out your hands for communion in those days) in class while she prepared us for the big day.

Holy Eugene!
I don't remember anything about the day - the photo above was taken after the ceremony on the steps of St Brigid's Catholic Church in Carnew. You can't tell from this photo, but I was wearing short trousers - it was my first ever suit which got outings to Mass every Sunday until it fitted me no more. I was only seven years old. It was part of growing up at that time that you did this - I don't remember anyone in our school not making their First Holy Communion as a choice. Religion dominated our lives without us realizing it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Did you know - 28 O'Loughlins were killed in the First World War?

Michael Patrick O'Loughlin.
Image Source: Find A Grave.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has a brilliant "Find War Dead" service, and I decided to look it up to see if any O'Loughlins were killed in the First World War. To my surprise, there are 28 listed as being killed in the war or who had died shortly afterwards from wounds. There are no Eugene O'Loughlins, though there is an "E O'Loughlin " listed among the dead. The O'Loughlin side of my family came from Newmarket in North Cork and there is no family history that I know of where any O'Loughlin took part in the First World War.

13 of the 28 dead were from Australia, among them Private Michael Patrick O'Loughlin (Service number 3216) who was killed on 28th September 1917 aged just 24. He has no known grave and is listed on The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 27). He has a page on The AIF Project website, but it does not say where or how he died. The On This Day feature shows very little happening on 28th September 1917.

The other 15 (of 28) O'Loughlins who died are listed as being from the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was a part of throughout the war. They served in various regiments as follows:

  • Cheshire Regiment
  • Irish Guards
  • Manchester Regiment (2)
  • Royal Dublin Fusiliers (3)
  • Royal Engineers
  • Royal Field Artillery
  • Royal Marine Light Infantry
  • Royal Munster Fusiliers (3)
  • Seaforth Highlanders
  • The King's (Liverpool Regiment)

I'm guessing that if I go back far enough I must be related to at least some of the O'Loughlins listed by the CWGC. Indeed, all of us in Ireland must have at least a distant connection to the many war dead from 1914-1918. Incidentally, the CWGC lists 35 O'Loughlins killed in the Second World War - this includes civilian war dead. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

There's still a bit of farmer in me!

In Dad's 1978 Zetor tractor.
A regular Saturday activity for me is to make the 90 kilometre trip to Ballingate to visit my Mum and Dad, and brother Joe. It takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive down - on Saturdays cycling clubs and horse boxes make this a slow trip through Rathnew, Rathdrum, Aughrim, and Carnew. Apart from the road to work, it is probably the most travelled road for me. Before lunch, my brother Joe and I decided to head for the bog and feel a few trees. This is forward planning for next winter - this timber will dry out over the summer and we will spend many a further Saturday sawing the tree up into logs for three houses, (Mum and Dad's, Joe's, and mine). I took a car boot load of ash logs home and placed them in my back garden for next winter.

I also got an opportunity today to drive Dad's tractor with a trailer. It is a Zetor and he bought it new in 1978 - we are looking forward to its 40th birthday next year. I even managed to reverse the tractor and trailer without doing any damage - I was proud of myself for not having forgotten this skill which is an essential one for anyone working on a farm. The field in the photo below was once a bog which Dad drained in the 1970s. It is now planted with trees, so we are being environmentally friendly by replacing trees that we cut down for fuel. The trees we cut down today are all oak trees over 75 years old - it seems a pity to cut down these magnificent specimens of wood, but they were overhanging the edge of the field and had to go.

You can take the man out of the bog, but you can't take the bog out of the man!

Our job today was to kill these trees.

Phew - End of Semester II

Not yet!
Image source: Endgadget.
Last evening I had my final class of the semester. It has been a long 14 weeks (includes two reading weeks) for both students and Faculty - now classes and tutorials are over for another academic year. For some students, this week's classes will have been their last classes in College ever. For me, it is about putting my notes and books back on the shelf until the beginning of the next academic year in September - which will be the 16th academic year for me in NCI. For the next 20 weeks it is not quite feet-up time - May (for me) despite no classes is always the busiest time of the year with exams and projects to be graded.

Traditionally, the end of semester II also marked the end of the academic year, but that is changing. One of my classes this semester started their academic year in January rather than the previous September - they will be continuing on to semester II over the summer. I don't envy them or their lecturers. Timetables, and the systems and people who support them, are more flexible than ever. We will all have to get used to this.

While I am happy that the semester is over, I am also a little saddened that classes are finished - it is by far my most favourite part of what I do. Students are now facing into exams (one of my exam papers is tough) - for them their learning is not yet complete. It's stating the obvious that I know how anxious students can get before exams - it is always a relief to me too when the exams are over!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Unemployment in Ireland 1983 - 2017

In yesterday's post about a recruitment fair at NCI: What a Time to be a Graduate!, I wrote about how timing is almost a "lottery" for when graduates finish College. Today's opportunities open up many possibilities for our graduates, though it was not always this way.

Figures below from Eurostat show Ireland's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate since 1983 (coincidentally the year I graduated from Trinity College):

My final year Trinity ID card (1983).
In July 1983 when I graduated the rate was recorded as 14% - the rate was on an upward spiral reaching 17.1% just 14 months later. This was the highest rate of unemployment recorded in Ireland since 1983 - not a good time to be seeking a job I think you'll agree. I postponed the inevitable by continuing on as a postgraduate student and graduated with a PhD in July 1988 - the unemployment rate was almost as bad at 16.9%. By August 1988 I was on a FÁS course. While initially this was a big come-down (PhD to a FÁS course in one month) - I never looked back as it directly lead to a career in eLearning.

According to the Central Statistics Office, the most recent unemployment figures (for March this year) show the rate at 6.4% - very much on a downward trend. While I exaggerate by stating that timing is a "lottery" when you graduate - you can see from above that the good times are back for graduates.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What a Time to be a Graduate! #NCICareersfair

Today in the College we had a fantastic recruitment fair with over 30 companies visiting NCI to meet with our students. As has now become familiar to us there was a great buzz in the Atrium with every stand busy. I am told by our wonderful award-winning careers service (a BIG SHOUT-OUT to them!) that most employers are in recruitment mode and looking for graduates. It is a golden time for the 2017 graduates who have a fantastic variety of opportunities and employers to choose from.

Recruitment Fair at NCI today.
There is an element of lottery about the time of graduation. Of course it was not always this way, 7-8 years ago in the midst of economic crisis, an event like this was very different. While opportunities for graduates always seem to be better than for non-graduates - timing is everything. Leaving Cert students today condidering going to College will graduate in 2021 - who knows if the current upward cycle of opportunity will have bombed by then. Let us (Ireland Inc.) be optimistic and work to make sure that our future graduates will continue to have opportunity like today's graduates. It is our job in the Colleges to keep the supply of top quality graduates coming.

I wish our 2017 graduates much success in their careers. I hope they choose the right company and the right job to suit their skills. 

NCI: Changing Lives Through Education

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Twelve Million @YouTube Views #DozenMillion #ThankYou

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter With Family

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

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

Chris and Dad.

Dad and Me.

Vicki and Claire.

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

With the lovely Roma.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thirty Pieces of Silver (in stone)

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Second Reading Week

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

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

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

Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Kerry 0-20, Dublin 1-16 #GAA

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

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

A Great Day Out at GAA Headquarters!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The End of the Windows Phone #DeadPhoneWalking

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

When Past Students Visit

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thinking of London (and Berlin)

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

At the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church, Berlin 2016.

On Westminster Bridge,
London 2015.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Weekend in London

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reading Week

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Saying Thank You Online #thanks

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

And even more memories of Roscrea #CCR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Even More Memories from Roscrea #CCR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

More Memories of Roscrea #CCR

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

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

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

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

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

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

More memories to come...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Memories of Roscrea #CCR

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

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

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

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Four Generations of my family in CCR

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

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

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