Monday, August 31, 2009

Birthday Weekend

Last weekend was a significant birthday week in our family. August 27th is shared as a birthday between my Mum Phil and my daughter Claire. Mum is 75 and Claire is 21. To mark the occasion we partied ith the O'Loughlin family in our house in Wexford last Saturday 29th to celebrate. We also marked the occasion for Roma's birthday which was the next day (August 30th).

For once the weather held up and we had a nice day. Though the evening was cool I lit the brazier which was a great success - especially for toasting marshmallows later in the evening. Mum's friend from Virginia, Mary Ball, also came along - for many years she has really been part of our family. Roma had been working all day preparing the evening meal, and though I did help out, she prepared a great meal for all. Brian came over from England for the party and was his usual self - joking and having a great time catching up with all the family. I hadn't seen him since the Reading vs Preston North End match last February. Kathleen and her family also came from Kilkenny - grandson Daniel provided us with great entertainment as only a small boy can in a large group of adults. Joe and his family came from Bunclody, and the family was completed of course with Mum and Dad who were in great form throughout.

The picture above is one of several I took with my camera - many are out of focus and of poor quality. I don't know what t is, but my camera seems to be working poorly - I do need a better flash (maybe Santa might bring one for Christmas?).

All in all we had a great evening. Claire is 21, and looked great - in the picture above are two of her close friends - Louisa and Molly. Later, when most people had left and we settled down to a glass of wine, Claire entertained us greatly with stories of her social life and her opinions on everything from Barack Obama ("he's done nothing") to 1970's music ("you guys were so lucky - 1970's music is way better than today's"). Mum - at 75, what can I say. She truly looked fantastic and loved the evening with all the family.

So Happy Birthday to Mum, Claire, and Roma - I love you all!

Friday, August 28, 2009

How To... Use Absolute Cell Reference in Excel

I have posted a new "How To..." video on YouTube - my first last April.

This one is about using Absolute Cell referencing in Excel. This is a neat Excel tool that makes copying data and formulas a little easier. It is easy to implement once you know how to use it. I learned about it the hard way as I tried to figure out why formulas got messed up whne I copied them. You can save a lot of work if you know how to use this tool - especially if you have a lot of formulas dependent on a static value.

This video was created in my office using Camstudio which is a free and easy to use screen recording tool (

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cork 1-13, Tyrone 0-10

Yesterday Kate and I went along to the All-Ireland Senior Football Semi-final between Cork and champions Tyrone. We had seats high up in the Cusack Stand, but they were very central and we had an excellent view of the football. On account of my ancestors (on my Dad's side) we were up for Cork.

Cork certainly started very well racing into an early lead that Tyrone could never pull back. Amid shouts from the crowd of "Rebels, Rebels", Cork put on a display that will make them favourites for the All-Ireland final - even if they are facing Kerry. The Cork defence was super, they snuffed out almost everything that Tyrone had to offer - they even had a player (Alan O'Connor) unfairly sent off, but they overcame that too. Everyone in the crowd was expecting Tyrone to up their game at any time as they have been doing for the past couple of years - but it did not happen.

Best team won!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Climbing a mountain - reflections on Croagh Patrick and going to College

While climbing Croagh Patrick last Saturday I had plenty of time to think - and I did, about lots of things. I am heading back into my eight academic year in NCI and will once again have first year students for a Technology Fundamentals module. I was thinking about what an adventure going to College must be for new students. Also, my daughter Kate is going to Trinity next month to read Natural Science - of course, this reminded me of 31 years ago when I was about to embark on the same adventure in October 1978. So I started to think about the similarities between climbing a mountain for the first time and going to College.

I set out with lots of enthusiasm to climb Croagh Patrick - from the bottom it looks like the picture above - easy? College too is easy - right? I bought a walking stick because I figured I might need to lean on it along the way. Lots of people did not bother with walking sticks - I guess they figured they would not need any help. Students don't get sticks when they enter College, but they do need help along the way.

Within 100m I was almost out of breadth and was already wondering how I was going to make it to the top (or the end of the year). I had to rethink my strategy and slow down - rushing into anything (climbing mountains/going to College) is not a good idea. There were lots of other people (fellow students) on the mountain who were equipped differently. There were the "professional" mountain climbers (star students who find College easy) with the right boots, gear, Alpine walking sticks, and energy bars. There were people like me - wearing the only boots I had, carrying a backpack with a camera, a jumper that I did not use, a wind cheater, and water. I had had lots of advice (as students get from teachers and parents) on what to bring. There were people totally unprepared for a mountain - light T-shirts, sandals, no water, even some people wearing Wellingtons, all sorts - just like College. Some people do it the hard way - even in bare feet, but all have a common goal - to get to the top.

After a while I got into a rhythm and routine as I got used to the mountain. Some parts were steeper than others - in College, some subjects are easier than others. Now I started to open up to other mountain climbers who were going up with me, stopping for rests, and of course coming down. Lots of banter about the climb - "only 10k more to the top", "what time is the next bus?", and "is there an elevator here?" Making friends on the mountain was getting easier - we were all in the same boat, and feeling the same sore muscles, and the same determination to get to the top (like making it through to the end of the year and passing your exams). Some people passed me out - I guessed they had done the mountain before (2nd years). Some were actually running up and down the mountains as if they knew where the best footholds were for every step - they must be third or fourth year students, or graduates. They made it look easy.

Some people were struggling - stopping for rests, looking longingly back at the bottom, or deciding that the mountain was too tough after all. Students drop out of College for all sorts of reasons, people set out to climb a mountain and not make it to the top - College and mountains are not for everybody. What I did see was others urging their companions to keep going. Some were pulling and pushing, offering hands - lots of parents were carrying jumpers and coats for their kids. There was lots of advice - "lean forward", "slow down", "drink some water", and "keep going". It could have related to studies instead of mountain climbing - "get your head into the books", "eat properly", and "keep going". The tougher the climb became, the more I listened to the advice. Advice for first years anyone?

There are lots of small pitfalls - stepping on sharp stones, slipping backwards, somebody getting in your way. Students miss lectures, forget assignments, fail continuous assessments - but the important thing is to keep going. Nobody said mountains or College were going to be easy every step of the way. Expect setbacks - you will not be disappointed. But there are also lots of places to take a rest and take on some refreshments (student bars - in my case The Lincoln Inn). We all need this or we will certainly exhaust ourselves on our respective paths. As Stephen Covey wrote - "sharpen the saw".

Near the top, you call upon all your resilience and recently gathered experience to take on the final part (exams). You have made it this far and there can be no turning back. On Croagh Patrick the hardest part was the last bit - just like exams. Then you're there - at the summit. Exhausted. Thirsty. Exhilarated. You look around and everyone else looks the same - just like your fellow students after the last exam is over. Everywhere there are cameras and smiles. Some people who look like they have just been out for a morning stroll are posing for official looking photos - they must be graduating. You are glad to have made it to the summit at the first time of asking. You look around, but already some of the people who climbed to the top with you are already on their way back down. Absorb the moment - summer is waiting and next year is just around the corner. You have been to the mountain top - enjoy!

You look back down the mountain and take in the view. You can see a whole lot more at the top than you could at the bottom - like knowing a lot more at the end of the year than at the start. The path from the bottom to the top looks a lot easier from here - the stones you tripped on, the gravel you slipped on, the steep parts, are forgotten memories. You have been to the mountain top and you know that you can do it again.

Heading back down of course is a lot easier than coming up the mountain. Some people are racing down the mountain. Are they trying to reach the bottom before you? Will all the jobs be gone when I get to the bottom? You don't know what's at the bottom, but you know you have to reach it. You know you will have to come back up again, so you notice more on the way down than you did on the way up. There was a easier way past a certain obstacle, there's a view you didn't see on the way up - you stop and absorb the sights, you even offer advice to those still on the way up. You have been to the mountain top, and you are ready for more.

It then seems like seconds have passed and you are suddenly at the bottom. You look back up at the top and despite aching muscles you will have an inner pride in your achievement. The mountain looks a lot smaller than when you set out. You know that you can do it again, second year suddenly looks a lot easier. You have been to the mountain top, first year is over.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Google satellite photos on Maps

I was recently sent an email with a link to an address in South Co. Dublin and I noted that the clarity of the photos used had much improved on previous versions. Google have obviously recently updated the photos - so I decided to look at my own house:

My house is the one in the middle with the conservatory at the back. In the back garden you can see a dinghy that we kept there for the winter - it belongs to my brother-in-law and is now thankfully gone since June. Out front you can just about see Roma's Honda CRV in the driveway, Claire's silver Citroen C3 is clearly visible in front of Jack's house next door, while my (and Kate's!) red VW Golf is also visible parked outside the house.

I don't have any privacy hang-ups about putting a picture of my house on the web . My address is easy to find in the Dublin telephone book and in the on-line version. I'd guess that anyone with even basic IT skills could find it in minutes - so what's the point in trying to hide it, or deny that it exists? This photo was taken probably during April/May this year - so would be burglers are already too late.

This type of content publication on-line is not for everybody - lot's of people have legitimate privacy concerns. Even if a burgler cannot use it for a real-time "casing" of a house, he can check things like walls, fences, getaway paths, and so on. They can probably even use Google Maps to tag maps to tick off houses that they have already "done", and create a list for an accomplice for what's left.

Google is getting more fascinating for me almost every day. Earlier today I added a graphic of my Harley-Davidson as a background to my Google Calendar, from my free Google Sites Page. Long live innovation at Google!

From a learning point of view, Google Maps must be ideal for students of geography - especially Ordinance Survey. Even when you want to find your way around, Google Maps (which I also have on my iPhone) is just as good as GPS. Expect a lot more location-based services like advertising and marketing to happen in the next year or so.

There is no hiding place any more!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amazon Book Review - Assegai by Wilbur Smith

5.0 out of 5 stars Wilbur Smith back on form, 12 Aug 2009
Assegai is a typical Wilbur Smith book that will please his loyal fans. After The Quest (which was very poor by his standards), this has Smith back on form. There's lots of action that keeps the reader wondering what's happening next. The central character, Leon Courtney, is a likeable fellow. As other reviewers have pointed out, there is a lot of killing of animals. Some may find this a bit squeamish.

While I enjoyed the book I have one major quibble with it. The book is billed as a Courtney falling in love with Eva, the German industrialist's daughter - but she does not make an appearance until the second half of the book. Advertising is a bit misleading on this.

Finally - the real winner in this book, as in most of Smith's books is Africa. Lots of descriptions of beautiful animals and landscapes - Smith's love of Africa shines through once again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Croagh Patrick

Yesterday I climbed 764m to the top of Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo - it's at the centre of the Google Maps satellite image below.

Since I first went to the West around 1981 I have been fascinated with Croagh Patrick. Several years ago I got about half way with the girls - but often promised myself that I would go all the way at the first opportunity. This weekend Roma, Kate, Vicki, and I went to Castlebar for the anniversary mass for my parents-in-law Billy and Mary Rose Bourke. I seized the opportunity to go to Croagh Patrick and fulfill a long term ambition to climb to the top. I set out at 1320 and made it to the top in 1 hour and 40 minutes. I was surprised at how busy it was, but glad that there were lots of other people there too. Unfortunately a 47 year old man died a couple of hours before I made the climb - he had become ill after reaching the top. As I arrived in the car park below the mountain I saw a rescue helicopter flying away from the top - little did I know that it was an emergency.

I'm astonished that anyone would attempt this climb in bare feet as happens on Reek Sunday at the end of July - the rocks, stones, and gravel made me really glad that I had a pair of sturdy boots. Though my thighs in particular today are sore, it was well worth the effort to go to the top. The picture to the right just about summarizes how I felt after reaching the top - I was tired with the effort, but exhilarated. There was cloud at the very top, but about 50m down the sky was clear to reveal spectacular views over Clew Bay.

Near the bottom I started to think about a well deserved pint of cider to cool down, and by the time I got to Campbells Bar at the foot of the mountain I would have paid whatever they asked - such was my thirst. Sadly they did not have any cider (weirdos!) but a pint of Heino was just as welcome. A pleasant end to a satisfying day.

There is a lot of time to think when you climb a mountain - I have some thoughts which I plan to post as a Reflection at a later date.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My YouTube Channel

I am fascinated that my YouTube Channel has reached 20,640 views. On the 8th April last I posted about reaching 10,000 views. In four months this has doubled, running at over 80 views per day. My "How To...Create a Pareto Chart in Excel" is the most popular with 8,837 views.

Elliott Masie has written about the phenomenon in his post How-To Videos Abound! He notes that "People want to get short bursts of high-value instruction on a wide range of topics" and that there "is significant growth happening in the use of short instructional video". Two things that came to mind when I read his post: First, I am a Lecturer in the National College of Ireland, (since 2002) and have reached far more students via YouTube than in my classroom (probably about 200 per year). Secondly, my academic publications over 20 years only have about 25 citations in total by other authors (very poor I agree). A lot of work went into my academic papers, while each of my short videos took only a few minutes to create. Perhaps we are reaching an era when academic output will be measured not only by the number of peer-reviewed publications, but also by the amount of on-line material and its subsequent viewing figures.

With YouTube, I have a vast world-wide audience. Most of my videos are viewed in the USA, India, and Australia. I can teach far more students using this medium than in the classroom. Of course there's no danger of me moving permanently to YouTube as I don't get paid. But I have had very good comments posted about my videos from viewers - including a proposal of marriage!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Wet July is over - hurray for August!

I can't really complain - July started for me in Nerja with all day sunshine and 30+ degrees. It was a nice start to the month and I had looked forward to a long break when we got home on 5th July. Since then Ireland has endured a miserably wet summer, most of which I have spent in Wexford. Met √Čireann’s weather station at Johnstown in Co Wexford recorded 211.9mm of rain, more than 50mm (2in) higher than the previous record (see Met √Čireann says July the wettest on record in The Irish Times).

I came back to Dublin last evening on my Harley-Davidson with my wet gear on. Not too much rain, but a lot of spray on the road. It's nice and sunny this morning and I'm heading back down to Wexford for the holiday weekend. Next week is my last week of holidays - unfortunately it looks like more bad weather for the remainder of my holidays.

While in Wexford I have no Internet access for my laptop (just a poor Edge signal for my iPhone). I have gone into Gorey on a couple of accasions to use free WiFi in the Amber Springs Hotel. A pot of tea and warm scone with cream and jam - only €4.50. Add in free WiFi for over an hour's use and this is a bargain. I have had little opportunity to blog - hence the low number of posts in July.