Monday, March 31, 2008

Our Brian Wins Pie Competition!!!

The brother Brian's bakery, Thomas's Bakery in Dalton-in-Furness, has won a Best Pie Competition in Cumbria run by a local radio station - Abbey FM. The competition was organized by the radio station in response to the Hairy Bikers - see the article "Pies in their Eyes" on Abbey FM's web site.

The picture on the left of Brian, my sister Kathleen, and I was taken outside Brian's bakery in Dalton in June 2006. This was during the 2006 European Football Finals in which England were taking part - hence the St George's Cross flag on Brian's van.

The pies were blind tasted in a "Pie-Off" by hairy biker and DJ John Little - click the "play" button on the audio bar below to hear Abbey FM's report on this competition:

Brian was also interviewed by Abbey FM (as well as the BBC!) - below is a short clip featuring Brian's reaction to the result:

I contacted the News team at Abbey who kindly supplied the reports in MP3 format. They also gave me permission to reproduce the clips here - many thanks to Rosie Hillman for sending me the files.

I plan to add more photos and reports on this to my blog. It's not every day that your brother wins a "Pie-Off" competition. Well done Brian!!!

There Will Be Blood

I went along to see the movie "There Will Be Blood" last week while in Cork. Having heard a lot of the hype and reviews, particularly Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, I was expecting a good movie.

I have to say I was disappointed - perhaps because I expected a lot more. It is very long - too long, and I felt there wasn't really that much of a story line to it. It was boring in places and could have been a lot shorter. The "music" was a bit annoying at times, and some of the dialogue was hard to understand - you have to pay attention all the time.

Having said all of this, the performance of Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview is brilliant and is worth going along to see for this alone. As usual, he gets right inside character, and delivers a real tour-de-force of a performance that earned him the Oscar for this role. The acting overall was strong, though Paul Dano as Paul/Eli Sunday is not a believable character.

This movie also won an Oscar for cinematography, which while it is excellent, probably reflects a poor standard in the other nominations.

Dad - 77 years young today!

Happy birthday to my Dad Joe on his 77th birthday today. Dad was born on 31st March, 1931. I called to wish him Happy Birthday and even sang "happy birthday to you" to him which he enjoyed. He is in great form and is keeping busy with growing plants and amateur drama festivals.

The photo to the left was taken just after Dad's 75th birthday in 2006. The framed newspaper page is from The Irish Times on the day of his birth. Long life and happiness to Dad!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Killiney Lions Club Dinner

Last evening, Roma and I went to the annual Killiney Lions Club dinner at Killiney Golf Club. It is our second year attending and it gave me the opportunity to wear my tuxedo as it was a black-tie event. Claire took the photo on the left of the two of us before we headed out for the evening.

I'm not in the Lions Club, but Roma joined the Killiney club about two years ago - she is to be the President next year!

It was a pleasant evening though it was nice to be one of the younger people attending - I'd say the average age was over 60. If the younger Lions Leos group were discounted the average age must have been closer to 70. Everybody at our table was retired, except for Roma and me!

We had a nice meal, not too much to drink, and we even got up to strut our stuff on the dance floor! We met a lot of people - of course Roma knows many more than I do. They are a nice group, but a bit formal with the ceremonial "traditional greeting" (which was a slow hand clap) for guests at the beginning. I expect to be attending a lot more events over the next year while Roma is President - she has mentioned that we will probably be invited to Holyhead in Wales as guests of the Lions club there. Two of the Wales Lions had wonderful dickie bows in the Welsh colours complete with dragon - fantastic!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Being an Invigilator - Boring!

I'm in Cork this week again to deliver the Business Systems Analysis module over two days to 13 students on the NCI Diploma in Business Analysis and Consultancy.

Right now it is just after 09.00 and I am supervising an exam that they are taking for a previous module. I had forgotten how boring it is to be an Invigilator! Of course I'm not supposed to be blogging while supervising an exam. I'm supposed to be watching the students (which I am doing every few seconds). I also supervised an exam last evening - I didn't get finished until 20.30.

I used to supervise exams a lot when I was a Postgrad in Trinity - I even made it to Senior Invigilator! It was boring then too, but at least I got paid for it.

I called Jim O'Callaghan last evening in the hope that we can meet up this evening. It was good to talk to him again. If we don't meet, it is off to the cinema - I haven't been to a movie for a very long time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jean Michel Jarre Concert

Last evening Roma and I went to the Jean Michel Jarre concert at the National Concert Hall (NCH) for a performance of his 1977 album Oxygene. Before the concert we had a very nice meal at Peploe's Restaurant on St Stephen's Green where apart from excellent food we also did a little bit of celebrity watching - the actor Gabriel Byrne was at the next table.

The concert was excellent and both Roma and I really enjoyed it. It's been many years since I had been in the NCH - I think the last time I was there was for a concert in which Dad sang as part of a chorus. Can't remember what it was. The first time I was in the NCH building was back in 1977 (the year of Oxygene!) when I sat the National University of Ireland Matriculation Examination - at that time this was a second way (in addition to Leaving Cert) to get to College. I didn't do very well.

JMJ looked great for someone who is 60 years of age later this year. He had three other musicians playing with him. He explained at the start that he played all instruments on the Oxygene album himself using eight-track recording machines. In order to replicate the sound, he would have needed eight hands - hence his three helpers!

All the instruments used, mostly keyboards and synthesisers, were analogue devices - though he didn't say they were all from the 1970's. He did say that you can only get the gear second hand nowadays. I counted 30 separate keyboards! The stage looked like a setting from an old science fiction movie. Lots of knobs and switches - not a computer or any digital device in sight. JMJ moved around each to create the electronic sounds that were very futuristic back in 1977. It was great to see all this old gear in use.

Each part of Oxygene (I to VI) was played without interruption - the first round of applause was at the end. I had listened to the whole album in my iPod earlier in the day to get in the mood - the concert reproduced the album faithfully as far as I could tell.

Midway during the concert, a giant mirror was lowered from above the stage so that the audience had an "aerial" view of the stage - a bit like the picture on the back of the Oxygene album. Fantastic!

For an encore, JMJ played a piece on his own - I would have preferred Oxygene Part IV. Overall, a fantastic concert that I thoroughly enjoyed. Continuer à jouer de la musique Jean-Michel!

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day All-Ireland Club Championships - Croke Park

Today is St Patrick's Day and Kate and I went to Croke Park to see the All-Ireland Club Championships in hurling and football. We had perfect seats on the half way line with a great view of everything happening. We sat in the wrong seats (18 and 19) beside where we should have been - two others occupied the seats which we had tickets for (20 and 21). The weather was near-perfect - the low sun made looking down towards the Canal End a bit blinding at times.

The first match was the hurling final between Birr of Co Offaly and Portumna of Co Galway. We missed the first goal even though we were only 2 minutes late, but there were plenty of scores to keep us entertained. Birr led until about 25 minutes after which Portumna powered away for an easy win. Final score: Portumna 3-19, Birr 3-09. Star of the show was Portumna's teenage forward Joe Canning who scored 10 points.

Before the football final, we were moved out of our seats by new arrivals who had tickets for the seats we were sitting on - I checked with man occupying "our" seats, but he had tickets with the same seating numbers, but a different section. He wasn't for moving and I asked a steward to check the tickets after which Kate and I finally sat in "our" seats. Moral of the story here - always check your tickets - if you sit in someone else's seat, you will be moved.

The football final between St Vincents of Dublin and Nemo Rangers of Cork was a closer affair than the hurling - St Vincent's winning by 1-11 to 0-13. There were a lot of people supporting "Vinnys" in the crowd of over 31,000.

Despite the sun it was getting cold as we were leaving - Kate in particular felt the lower temperature. All in all, a good day's sporting entertainment and Kate certainly enjoyed her day out.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

1,000 miles from Richmond to Sigean

I'm having fun planning my summer holidays on the web. Roma and I are taking Kate, Vicki, and Emma (Bourke) for two weeks to a rented villa in the South of France to the town of Sigean. While Roma and the girls will be travelling by Ryanair from Dublin to Carcassone, I am taking the Harley-Davidson over land and sea!

My planned route is shown below in Google Maps:

The first leg (Thursday June 26th) is from Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead in Wales. I then cross Wales into England arriving in Portsmouth that evening where I will be staying in the Ibis Portsmouth Centre for the night. It's close to the naval dock where Nelson's HMS Victory is tied up - I'll be sure to check it out.

I have an early ferry from Portsmouth to Caen in France on Friday morning (27th June) which I will follow with about a 250 mile trip to the town of Chauvigny in north-central France. I will be staying in the Hotel Restaurant Le Chalet Fleuri in Chauvigny for the night.

The final leg of the trip (400 miles approx) is from Chauvigny to Sigean where I hope to hook up with Roma and the girls who will have arrived by air the same afternoon. After such a long trip I'm certain that I will find comfort in a cold beer or a glass of the local vin rouge!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Using YouTube

I have started to use YouTube as a resource in some of my classes - I regularly search YouTube, TeacherTube, and Google Video for ideas and short videos to play in class. Hopefully they can be both informative and entertaining - eg, I play the Monty Python Spam sketch when explaining where the term "spam" came from in relation to unwanted emails. They also give me, and my students, a break from my voice!

I also have an interest in podcasting lecture notes for students that they can add to iPods. I discovered a way of creating videos from my PowerPoint presentations using PowerPoint, Windows Movie Maker, and free software from Jodix.

The process is quite simple:

  • Create a PowerPoint presentation as normal
  • Save slides as JPEG format
  • Import JPEGs into Windows Movie Maker (WMM) as a slide show
  • Record voice over in WMM while playing slides
  • Save everything as a Windows Movie Video (.WMV format)
  • .WMV format doesn't work on an iPod (it will play in Windows Media Player), so it needs to be converted to an MP4
  • Use Jodix's Free iPod Video Converter tool (available here) to convert .WMV file to .MP4
  • Add MP4 file to iTunes and sync with iPod
I have made a video which shows how to do above step-by-step and uploaded it to YouTube. I also have it embedded here – click the play button to activate video.

As I write this I note that the video is quite popular with over 260 views. It has also been linked to by eight other sites.

I create podcasts for one class where I record a short (15 mins approx) video podcast which summarizes my weekly lectures with that class. In addition to the MP4 movie, I provide an audio-only version (MP3) recorded using a free audio recording tool from Audacity in the College’s Learning Content Management System - Moodle. I also make the WMV version available for those who choose to play the video on their computer or if they do not have an iPod.

This is also an (action) piece of research on my part – I intend to survey the students about this before the end of the semester. Who knows, I may even get an academic publication out of it!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Launch of HOG Gaelic Chapter Ireland

On Saturday, 1st March, I went along to the launch of the new Harley Owner's Group (H.O.G.) Chapter, Gaelic Chapter Ireland.

The location was at the new Dublin Harley-Davidson premises in Ballymount. I had a good look around at the new and second-hand bikes. The whole place looked very American, but very good - I liked it. Prices for parts and accessories looked OK too. There are some great looking new bikes, but my own 2003 bike still looked great in the car/bike park outside.

The event was not very well organized. I'd guess there were over 100 people there - a lot of leather and grey hair. It was attended by mostly middle-aged men (like myself) who all share a common bond - a love for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. There was a presentation from a HOG UK manager, but it was difficult to hear what she was saying due to noise and bad acoustics. She also had a presentation which was too small and difficult to see for most people there. Not very informative.

I recognised a few faces from the previous HOG Chapter (Ireland 1 Chapter) of which I was a (mostly inactive) member. I went on a few Sunday ride outs, as well as three St Patrick's Day parades with them (in 2001, 2002, and 2003). I signed up to join this new Chapter and will look out for new events - should be fun. I'd love to do the St Patrick's Day parade again. Though it is hard on the bike's engine, it was fantastic fun.

I'll be re-joining HOG in any case to get HOG Assistance insurance for my summer trip to in France - a "must have" for anyone travelling on the continent.

Cork, and an old friend, re-visited

I was back in Cork last Thursday and Friday to deliver the first day of five a day Business Systems Analysis module to a group of 13 students on the NCI Diploma in Business Analysis and Consultancy. The location was Jurys Hotel - we had a small room for the class which was a bit stuffy and warm. However, thanks to the students, we "mucked in" and got through the day's material. I was satisfied at the end that all were happy with the day's proceedings.

Before going down to Cork I got in contact with an old friend from my Trinity days - Jim O'Callaghan (Jim - if you're reading this, it was great to see you again - you haven't changed a bit!). Jim was one of the first people I became friends with in Trinity. As I recall, we met in College Park in training for the Gaelic football club - most likely in the first week or two of our time in college (this was October 1978). We had many a good time over the next six years and were very familiar with the watering holes around the city centre - especially the Lincoln Inn and the Pavilion Bar.

We went to Jacques Restaurant for a very nice steak dinner - this was after rejecting Jim's suggestion that we go to a vegetarian restaurant close to my hotel. We have only met once (we estimated in 2000 or 2001) for a short lunch in Dublin since the late 1980's, so we had a lot to catch up on. After dinner, we adjourned to the nearby Counihan's Bar where I had a few nice pints of Murphy's ("When in Cork.......!"). We talked about our college days, football, mutual friends, and what we had been doing since graduation. Jim has his own successful company - O'Callaghan Moran & Associates (OCM), which provides provides environmental consulting services to the public and private sector. The main difference between our conversation on Thursday night, and those of our College days was kids - we didn't have any then!

I'll be down in Cork again at the end of March and the end of April - we promised to stay in touch.

In class the next day, I discovered one of my students had worked for Jim - small world!