Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad!

My Dad, Joe O'Loughlin, is 78 years young today - Happy Birthday to him!!!

He was born on 31st March, 1931 and has always loved to sing - here's a picture taken of him at our family get together last January when he was probably singing "The Mountains of Mourne". I'm hoping we'll all meet up again on Easter Sunday in Wexford - we might even sing "Happy Birthday" to him!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

150 Years of The Irish Times

Today is the 150th anniversary of the first edition of The Irish Times. To celebrate, the IT included a free copy of the first edition of the IT in Saturday's edition. While it made for interesting reading, not a lot seemed to be happening in Ireland in 1859. The ads on the front page were the best part.

As part of their 150th celebrations, the IT has made their digital archive available free for a limited time. I had never kept a copy of the paper from the day that my engagement to Roma was announced on Saturday 7th September, 1985. A quick ego search using my name found the notice which of course was sent to the IT by my late parents-in-law - Billy and Mary Rose. We had actually got engaged on 15th June earlier in 1985.

The notice after ours was for the writer Fergus Hanna Bell - a son of novelist, short story writer, and playwright Sam Hanna Bell (1909-1990). I read one of Sam Hanna Bell's books - December Bride which was also a film starring the gorgeous Saskia Reeves and my distant cousin Donal McCann.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

28th March, 1989

Today, 28th March 2009, marks the 20th anniversary of my first day at work with CBT Systems (which became SmartForce in 1997, and SkillSoft in 2002). I was dressed in a suit with shirt and tie and I took the bus from Llewellyn Park in Rathfarnham where we lived at that time. I still remember the walk down Mount Street to No 39/40 and a very nervous ring of the bell. The receptionist (Olive Bolger) let me in and I was introduced to Ronan Fitzpatrick who would be looking after us for training. He showed us some CBT content and it was the first time I had ever seen some. In my interview for the job I did not know what the letters CBT stood for (Computer Based Training). There were two others starting the same day, including Kate McCarthy who is still with the company. I had a great 13 and a half years leaving with the company, made some money, traveled quite a lot, and took voluntary redundancy in 2002. I still have some of my business cards from my time there - perhaps the best job I did was as Production Manager (as in card above) responsible for getting courses completed on a monthly basis from four production centres. It seems like a lifetime ago when I started - a lot has happened to me in the intervening 20 years.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Queue Jumper

This morning I needed to get petrol for the Harley on the way to work and I stopped off at Esso in Stillorgan. I had a 9 o'clock class and was in a bit of a hurry. Typical... the woman in front of me at the check-out wanted to pay in coins. She had several bags which had to be counted out by the guy behind the counter - this was taking quite a bit of time. Another woman came in behind me and became impatient. She had the correct amount of money and decided to jump ahead of me to get the attendant to take her money - I was annoyed at this. Rightly, the attendant told her that he was dealing with another customer (the coin woman), and to wait. In the end she left the money on the counter and walked out. Bitch! To make matters worse, when the coin woman left the attendant refused to deal with me when I asked him until he had put the bitch's money in to the till and to record the sale!

I got a minor amount of satisfaction when I passed the bitch out in traffic a few minutes later. Was I right to be annoyed at this queue jumper? I said nothing to her, but wanted to say "Hey - there's a queue here!". I took the easy way out, avoided confrontation. and let the bitch jump ahead of me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Paying Parking Fine On-line

Kate and Roma managed to get a parking ticket for my car in the car park at Blackrock DART Station yesterday - they had overstayed their Pay-and-Display ticket by 30 minutes. The fine is €40 if paid within 28 days and of course these days you can pay a fine on-line at APCOA. The parking ticket man took six photos of the car, including the one shown here. I'm impressed with Kate's parking abilities to get the car into such a tight spot! 30 minutes is not much of an over-stay, but these days there is no mercy shown.

Since Google have been in the news a lot this week about privacy concerns over their Street View mapping tool with a lot of people wanting their details blotted out - I have blotted out the Ambulance drivers face in the photo above. (Just in case he ever stumbles upon this blog post!)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Failed Seminar - Lessons Learned

Yesterday I "delivered" the lunch time seminar as part of NCI's Professional Development Series - the topic of my talk was "Getting the most out of Moodle". However, it was one of the most depressing experiences I have had doing this type of thing.

At 0908 in the morning I logged a call on the IT Helpdesk that there was something wrong with Moodle - I was preparing for the seminar, but nothing seemed to work. Little did I know it, but it would take until the middle of the afternoon to sort out the problem. I had access to a second Moodle server, so I decided to go ahead with the seminar. Big mistake - I should have cancelled.

I was about to give a seminar on Moodle which was to feature how I use this system - without it being available!!! Nevertheless, I persisted in the hope that it would be available on time and I checked my setup in the minutes before the seminar. Next problem was that the projector I needed was in a locked office - I had to get Security to let me in to get it with a master key. The projector too was to be problematical throughout my presentation. The seminar was poorly attended (about 10 people) - it was an unusually fine day. Right at the start I almost had a bottle of orange juice spilled onto my laptop - the omens were not good! Moodle was still not working. With the second Moodle server I was able to do a few things - but one of the first, adding in a RSS News Feed, didn't work. I had practised this, but could not get it to work in the seminar. Next thing to go wrong was that my wireless connection to the Web started to slow down and then dropped all together. I could only get it back with "limited (ie useless) connectivity" - now I couldn't do anything. (No exaggeration - nine times out ten when I try to use the wireless network there is always something wrong.) Some people left, and I was reduced to describing about what I do rather than showing it. Even though it was almost 2 o'clock when we finished - I felt like a right eejit after this fiasco.

I shoulda...
  • transferred everything I wanted to show onto the backup Moodle server
  • not used a portable projector
  • sorted out the RSS feed in advance
  • not relied on the wireless network
  • cancelled the seminar before it started
  • not done a seminar on a fine day
  • had a plan B, C, and D!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Maulin Trail, Co Wicklow

Today Roma and I decided take a hike over the Maulin Trail in Co Wicklow. Starting point was Crone Wood carpark close to Enniskerry. The trail is seven kilometres long and neither of us had done it before. We had a free guide from The Irish Times to help us on our way - the IT told us the walk was "Suitable for all grades of walker". The first part towards Powerscourt Waterfall was easy enough - we had an excellent view of the Waterfall from the top. After this we headed into the woods along a narrower trail which was quite steep in places. We stopped a few times to catch our breath, but it was not too difficult. I had hoped to get to the top of Maulin Mountain (570m) - the guide told us the view was excellent. However, the trail does not go over the mountain, and while the guide describes how to get back on the trail - it does not tell how to get off it. The way down and back was easy and we made the round trip in 1 hour and 50 minutes.

We went to the Powerscourt Arms Hotel afterwards for lunch and a well deserved pint. We got home in mid afternoon and did a spot of gardening. Overall an excellent and energetic day!

Breaking a link

Today I ended my last connection with CBT Systems/SmartForce/Skillsoft by selling 1,195 shares that I owned in the company. These shares were purchased between May 2000 and May 2002 for just over twice the price that I sold them for. Skillsoft stock rose over 25% today and I decided that this was a sign to sell - I have held on to these shares for nearly nine years and they have never been worth more than what I paid for them.

I joined CBT Systems almost 20 years ago to the day (28th March, 1989), when it was a small company - my employee number was 36. It went public on the NASDAQ in April 1995 - between then and 2002 when I left I had a lot of stock options and for a short period made some good money. At its height, it was worth over 6 billion dollars and employed over 1,500 people. It was great to be part of the dot com boom, not so great to be part of the dot com bust. I took voluntary redundancy in September 2002 and have never been sorry that I had left the company.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How To...Create a Project Network Diagram in PowerPoint

One of my favourite topics in my Project Management and Business Systems Analysis classes at NCI is Project Network Diagrams (PND). They are used to show graphically the sequence of activities in a project, to show the critical path, and to calculate the duration of the project. They are relatively straight-forward to do, but not the first time you try one. I almost always set an exam question on this topic.

Today I created a short video for my YouTube How To... Channel. This shows first of all how to draw a PND based on some data I have provided, and then shows how to put it together for display on a PowerPoint slide. Here's the video:

This video was created using CamStudio, but I still have not mastered the art of creating quality videos under 1GB in size (YouTube upload limit). The quality is not great, but is good enough to view. After a while in the video you will notice that the video starts to lag behind the audio - this is OK for a while, but by the end of the video it is very noticeable. 

I recorded this video several times to try and get the quality right within the file size limitations. This version is about 0.4GB, so I could have increased the data rate to improve the video a bit more. I always use 8-bit mono (instead of 16-bit stereo) for audio to keep file size down. I also recorded a very good quality version using Adobe Captivate - but this only generates Flash SWF files that are not recognised by YouTube. It was my first time time using Captivate and it is an excellent and easy to use tool.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Plinky is a service for Bloggers who are having difficulty coming up with ideas to blog about. The idea is simple - Plinky provides "Prompts" to get you thinking and you post your response. 

Some recent prompts:
  • Animal face-off! Who would win in a fight between a bear and a shark?
  • You've been invited on a talk show to explain your job to the hosts. What would you say you do on a daily basis?
  • What's the last place you visited that made you wish you were back home?
  • What’s the most awkward movie you’ve watched with your family?

Plinky sends you a weekly list of prompts every week. I might find this useful as sometimes it is hard to think of something to write about. 

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Book Review - Battles for the Three Kingdoms: The Campaigns for England, Scotland and Ireland - 1689-92

The title of this book - Battles for the Three Kingdoms: The Campaigns for England, Scotland and Ireland - 1689-92, was an attractive one as I always enjoy reading about the War between James II and William III. The book was slightly disappointing - here is the review I wrote at Amazon:

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read about Williamite Wars1 Mar 2009
By EFMOL "eugeneol" (Dublin) - See all my reviews
In secondary school history class, the period 1689-1692 was one of my favourites - it had: brave Irish soldiers such as Patrick Sarsfield, gallant French allies, a single cannon ball depriving the Irish victory at the Battle of Aughrim (and General St Ruth his head!), and of course the dastardly anti-Catholic English desperate to put the Irish in their place. All of this is described by John Barratt in this interesting book. 

A measure of how good a book is for me is often how long it takes me to read it. I bought this last November and it has taken three months to read. While the book is interesting, it tells us little more than what students of secondary school Irish history will already know about what we in Ireland called "Cogadh an Da Ri" (War of the two Kings). Most of this war was fought in Ireland with the two largest land battles taking place at the Boyne and Aughrim. However, John Barratt does a good job in adding in other events in Scotland and at sea - this gives a more complete picture of what happened during this period. 

Overall - the book is a worthwhile read, particularly for those not familiar with the War in Ireland. Barratt's thoughts on the indecision that racked both sides at crucial times, the influence of the French, and the likely outcome of the war in Britain's favour regardless who won the Battle of Aughrim, make for an interesting angle that just about makes the book worth buying.