Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten Moments from 2010

It's New Year's Eve 2010 and I can barely move due to back pain. So what better to do than sit at my computer and write some thoughts on 2010. I've decided not to do a "Top Ten" or a formal review of the year (I saw a tweet from someone who was complaining about being fed up of reviews). So here, in reverse order, are some of the things that I will remember from 2010:

#10 - My Blog
Eugene's Blog Stats,
Click image to enlarge.
This post will be my 216th of the year which is exactly 90 more than in my previous highest total in 2009. I certainly have had a lot to say! I have written about education, politics, sport, concert and book reviews, technology, and family matters. On 8th September last I added a Statcounter to the blog - the image to the right is a weekly summary of page loads an visits to the blog. The peak views were in October which were mostly for my post about my late brother-in-law, Jim Kelleher. I did not set out at the start of 2010 to make so many posts - but having my blog nominated (by my NCI colleagues) for the Irish Blog Awards in February certainly gave me the impulse to post some more. Here's to more posts in 2011!

#9 - YouTube
Eugene's YouTube Channel,
Click image to enlarge.
One of the more satisfying things for me in 2010 was the modest success (at least to me) of my YouTube Channel. As I write there have been 207,708 views altogether - 163,515 of these were in 2010. Some more stats are available from YouTube's Insight feature - see image to the right for some details.

I have not been slow to boast write about this channel throughout the year (see January, February, April, June, September, and December). The channel contains only educational videos, so it is gratifying to me that so many people (far more than I could ever teach in a classroom) are viewing my videos. I intend to add many more videos throughout the year, and I hope to exceed the 163,515 total in 2011.

#8 - My First Election
Last June I stood as a candidate for the staff representative on the National College of Ireland Governing Body. It was the first time ever that I had stood for election for anything. I was nominated for the Chair of the Dublin University Zoological Society in 1981, but as I was the only candidate - no election took place. I had never realized just how nerve wracking an election can be, but the count was even worse! So I am delighted to have won (a split vote in the opposition helped) and to represent my academic colleagues on the Governing Body. I think that I can safely say that this election will also be my last - I don't want to go through all that nervousness again.

#7 - Broadband
Throughout the year I have had many broadband woes. As I write I am awaiting a response from eircom to my official complaint about their "service". They are obliged to respond within 10 days, but I'll hang on until after the Christmas holiday to go to Comreg. A quick speed test just now shows my supposed 8mb connection running at 1.4mb.

I also had the brilliant (at least I thought so) idea to give my Mum a computer for Christmas - a mobile broadband connection would also overcome the difficulties with fixed line BB in her area. I signed her up for Vodafone BB, but cancelled after getting a max speed of 0.3mbps (yes - that is a zero). I then signed up for the National Broadband Scheme provided by 3, only to find that this was even worse with speed averaging 0.1mbps to 0.2mbps (yes - they are zeros again).

I predict that my eircom broadband woes will continue into 2011. One things I did learn recently is that if you tweet about this someone in eircom will spot the tweet and offer to help - hurray for Twitter!

#6 - The Weather
Weather for Ireland
by MET.IE.
What a year for Ireland's favourite topic of conversation - the weather. For a change we had a reasonably good summer - I spent part (12 days) of the summer holidays in Greece, and the rest in Wexford. For me, Ireland in the summer (when the sun shines) is the best - not too hot, and not too cold. My only regret is that I did not get to ride my bike as much as I had hoped - I am planning a trip to Spain on it for next summer.

Snow, snow, and more snow were the order of the day from 27th November to 29th December (with a one week break in the middle). So many people have said they "had never seen anything like it" before - with older folks comparing it to the winter of 1963. For the next 50 years people will be comparing bad winters with 2010! At its worst we had a foot of snow here in Blackrock. I did not ride my bike at all during the snow, and only ventured out in the car a couple of times. I got used to taking the DART to and from work, and also got a lot of exercise walking. Thankfully we have not had the water troubles that are now widespread in the country.

#5 - Horslips
On December 4th last I fulfilled a long held dream to see Celtic Rock band Horslips live - I have been a big fan since the 1970s (I'm listening to their new album Treasury as I write this post). Horslips played the O2, and despite the snow and ice I had a brilliant evening listening to songs from my teenage years (see my review of the concert here). It was my concert/event of the year.

In 2010 I also went to see Gilbert O'Sullivan in the new Grand Canal Theatre - more 1970s nostalgia (of a very different sort). Next up, Christy Moore - also at the Grand Canal Theatre, next Tuesday.

#4 - Roma in South Africa
Roma with Nozibusiso Zuma, daughter of
the South African President Jacob Zuma.
Roma took part in the Niall Mellon Township Trust building blitz in Capetown back in November - something she found very fulfilling and is considering doing again in 2011. During the year we had several highlights as part of her fund-raising efforts, culminating with her parachute jump on the 16th August. Roma raised over €5,000, with money still trickling in. People have been very generous towards her efforts.

At first I did not really believe that she would go through with this, but as the year went on her determination to succeed got stronger and stronger. Her idea to do this was to achieve something like this before she was 50. We missed her while she was gone, but we managed on a combination of pizzas, Chinese take-aways, and microwave food. However, Roma's participation in the building blitz was the biggest thing that happened in our family this year - Claire, Kate, Vicki, and I were right behind her on this.

cartoon from
Cartoon by Dave Walker.
#3 - The Recession
Ireland's economic difficulties got worse in 2010 - it seemed that every time one turned on the News things just got worser and worser. Finally in November Ireland had no choice but to accept an IMF and EU bailout of billions of euro. I'm not sure anyone in Ireland knows exactly how much we need or are getting - politicians, bankers, economists, and accountants have got everything wrong so far IMHO. I believe none of the bollixes, nor do I believe any of the opposition politicians who can't wait to get their grubby hands on power.

Like most people I am expecting a change in government at the next election - most predict this will take place before next March. I have written that despite being a life-long Fianna Fáil supporter - I support the call for a change. Despite the fact that 858,565 people gave Fianna Fáil their first preference vote (41.6% of total) in the last election, there is an overwhelming desire to get rid of this party from government. I have seen many vicious and over-the-top comments - Fianna Fáil supporters have even been called "traitors". As I have written as recently 19th December last, I don't think that they will do as badly as people predict - mainly because the alternatives aren't any better.

In the midst of all the bad news, there was some good news. The Irish Times asked Twitter users to name the things they love about Ireland and published a list of 50 - my favourite was at #48 by @xfirefishx "The fact that people 10 miles down the road laugh at your “funny” accent vice versa". 

#2 - My sister Kayo
Jim and Kayo
(January 2009).
On October 2nd last, Jim Kelleher died after a long fight with cancer. Jim was my sister Kathleen's "lovely husband", and is dearly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues. During Jim's illness, and after he died, I saw a side of my sister I had never seen before. Her strength at a difficult time, her love for Jim, dedication to his care, and how at the age of 48 she is coping with this life-changing tragedy - is an inspiration to me (and I know to many others - see the many comments by people who loved him on my post about him here). I walked arm-in-arm with her behind Jim's last journey from Danesfort Church to the adjoining cemetery - her broken heart and tears were mixed with bravery and fond memories of their life together.

Rest in Peace Jim, and love you Kayo.

#1- My book launch
Paul Mooney, me, and Mark Ryan.
Finally, perhaps the biggest event of 2010 for me was the launch of my book "An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis" on 3rd February last. The book was formally launched by Mark Ryan of Accenture, and the former President of NCI, Dr Paul Mooney. This is my first book, and while sales have been poor - it was recently made a compulsory text for an undergraduate module in the Quinn School of Business in UCD in a class of 80+ students. It's now on three reading lists in UCD, and several in NCI. I followed this in June with a chapter (iClassroom – Opportunities for Touch Screen Hand-held Technologies in Learning and Teaching) in another book (Critical Design and Effective Tools for E-Learning in Higher Education: Theory into Practice), which was launched in DIT last June.

I have not written anything since June, and have no immediate plans to write another book or chapter in 2011 - I will be concentrating on the launch of a new web site instead.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Darren Ferguson sacked by PNE

After yesterday's miserable 1-3 defeat at home to Middlesborough, I think it was inevitable that Preston North End's manager Darren Ferguson had to be sacked. PNE are having a terrible season, with League One football next season looming large. In the excellent John Roper - The Way I see it blog, Roper writes at the end of his review of PNE's latest defeat:

Cheerio DF!
Photo from Football 365.
My message to the owner and the chairman is simple - you need to act and act now because the end of January will be too late. Back him or sack him is an oft heard quote at clubs in peril at the bottom of divisions - I think that's exactly where we are right now. Over to you.

Looks like PNE owner Trevor Hemmings acted quickly - something no doubt he found difficult to do, sacking the son of his friend Alex Ferguson. 13 wins in 49 games speaks for itself - he had to go. It's exactly a year to the day since PNE sacked their previous manager Alan Irvine. At the time I wrote that "it does seem to all to have been a very hasty reaction by (then) PNE chairman Derek Shaw". While I disapproved of Irvine's sacking, I think the right decision has been made to get rid of Ferguson - I never thought he was a good appointment. He had very little Championship experience and had left his previous club Peterborough United by "mutual consent" when they were also bottom of the Championship. Fellow Championship club Burnley have also just sacked their manager Brian Laws - I'm sure he will be the early favourite to take over at PNE.

Déjà vu - Election may not usher in expected change

Photo from The Irish Times.
Professor Michael Marsh of Trinity College is obviously a fan of my blog, and must have read my post "Could it happen here - Government wipe-out?" of 19th December last? 

Prof Marsh writes in today's (29th December) Irish Times about the expected election next year and speculates that the election might bring in the same dramatic change as happened in Canada in 1993. He compares Fianna Fáil's election prospects with those of the Canadian Conservative Party in that election. He also expects that Fianna Fáil may not do as badly as the polls suggest due to the election being "fought with a strong emphasis on local candidates, and policy will again take a back seat" - all politics is local!

Of course, I don't really believe that a respected academic like Prof Marsh reads my blog as part of his research for his articles (but you never know!). However... I did publish a full 10 days before him - maybe I should be writing for The Irish Times!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

High-street shop GOOD, Internet BAD

I'm the first to admit it when I get something wrong. Last Saturday I moaned wrote about my experience in trying to buy a Vodafone Broadband Connection. What I could not do in a shop, I could easily do on-line - hurray for the Internet (or so I thought)! I have spent quite a bit of time this week trying to get a connection to the Vodafone network with the modem that arrived on Monday. After I installed the software, I could not get the connection to work. To cut a long story short - my SIM card had to be activated. This is not easy to do - in fact Vodafone Tech Support told me that they could get someone to fix it next January! So much for my brilliant idea of a Christmas gift for my Mum! 
Good Customer Service

On Friday last I went into a Vodafone shop on Henry Street where I bought a 2nd connection. Absolutely brilliant staff in the shop who actually accepted my O2 on-line account (they asked me to log in to a computer on their counter) as proof of where I lived - contrast that with the paper-only copy of a bill required by The Carphone Warehouse! This time the new SIM card worked first time when I tried it. Vodafone's Claire in Tech Support also today cancelled my 1st connection no problem and told me I could drop the first modem back into any Vodafone store. 

Credit where it is due, well done Vodafone. A good customer story - connecting as it should be.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day - 2010

It's Christmas Day! Season's Greeting to all my readers - I hope you are all having as wonderful a day as I am!

Happy Christmas Everybody!
We have plenty of snow and ice to add a seasonal feel to the day, but almost everybody I have spoken to over the past few days is fed up of the cold weather. I have even heard people welcome the fact that heavy rain is coming! We're never happy. Roma took the photo to the right today - these icicles are over a foot long and are hanging from our Conservatory.

I will be well dressed thanks to the lovely gifts from my family - the shirt and top in the photo are from Roma. I also have David McCullagh's "The Reluctant Taoiseach" to look forward to.

We went to mass today in our local church - Guardian Angels in Blackrock. I was delighted to see that technology has arrived to religion - a projector beamed the words of all the hymns onto a screen behind the altar. It was like being in Croke Park when the national anthem is being sung while the words of Amhrán na bhFiann are displayed on the big screen. We were all able to sing along. Of even more interest is the fact that a webcam was beaming the entire ceremony over the web - Fr Leycock assured us that several people would be watching on-line. Guardian Angels live web feed can be viewed here.

Now it's downstairs to help with the final preparations for Christmas dinner - we are late eaters in our house. 

Best wishes to everyone, and God Bless us All!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Great Comedy - My Blackberry Is Not Working!

As it's coming up to Christmas and it is still very cold outside, here's a wonderful comedy sketch from Ronnie Corbett and Harry Enfield that takes a side swipe at Blackberrys, Apples, and even Xbox's - this is from The One Ronnie Show and it is sure to cheer you up! If you are a fan of The Two Ronnies, you will of course miss the late Ronnie Barker - but Harry Enfield is wonderful in this role that you could see Barker doing if he was still alive. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Solstice and Snow

Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
I'm not sure if I am enjoying the snow or if I am fed up with it. I was up early yesterday to clear the driveway  paths at my house for the umpteenth time over the past few weeks, but I also wanted to see the lunar eclipse just after dawn. The moon was clearly visible in the western sky, but the bright lights of Dublin obviously reduced the impact of this phenomenon which has not occurred on the Winter Solstice for four hundred years. I did not get to see the red glow (as in the photo from The Irish Times web site). Next lunar eclipse visible in Ireland takes place in 2015.

I am taking the DART to work (and suffering Harley-Davidson withdrawal symptoms). Last Monday I got off in Blackrock and witnessed the worst traffic jams I have ever seen in our neighbourhood. I am entertained by the efforts of drivers on our roads - many who appear to have paid absolutely no attention to radio and TV warnings about how to drive in the snow. Paddy Comyn of the Irish Times has a helpful video in an article about Winter Driving Tips:


Anger and danger are never too far apart. Yesterday I witnessed on Carysfort Avenue a young male driver of a small truck, that had a load of peat briquettes, revving up and skidding all over the place. He was getting angrier and angrier, with loud curses coming out of his cab - he could not get up the hill. As I was passing he made a very dangerous turn (which I had to take steps to stay out of his way), and then astonishingly shot off down the road and overtook a slower moving car. Absolute shite for brains!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Could it happen here - Government wipe-out?

Latest opinion polls in Ireland confirm the downward trend in popularity of both Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach Brian Cowen. A poll conducted for the Sunday Business Post indicates gains for Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, but losses for both Fianna Fáil and Labour. Although my firm belief that all politics is local, it appears that Fianna Fáil are heading for a major disaster at the next election early in the New Year. How bad could it be?

Former Canadian Prime
Minister Kim Campbell -
photo from Wikipedia.
In 1993 the Canadian Government, led by Canada's first woman Prime Minister Kim Campbell of the Conservative Party, faced a general election with ratings in the teens in opinion polls. Campbell's initial popularity (51% approval rating according to Gallup in August 1993), fell badly after a series of mistakes before and during the election campaign. Incredibly - the Conservatives lost 149 of their 151 seats, including Campbell's own seat. The Conservatives (now merged with the Alliance Party) never won more than 20 seats in any election since 1993 (Source: Wikipedia). The party has since changed its name to become the Progressive Canadian Party.

Now could this happen here? Most political pundits expect Fianna Fáil to lose at least one seat in constituencies where they currently hold two (that's about 30 seats). If the polls translate into seats, FF could be down to 25 seats. In the 1993 Canadian election, the first-past-the-post-system made the Conservatives election performance (they got 16% of the popular vote) even worse - so a repeat is unlikely here under our proportional representation (PR) system.

Brian Cowen - to follow
Kim Campbell into the
history books?
Photo from Wikipedia.
I also don't expect Brian Cowen to lose his seat - in fact I'd say that only Cowen, Willie O'Dea, and Séamus Kirk (out-going Ceann Comhairle/Speaker automatically returned) are the only FF TDs certain to retain their seats. All others are vulnerable. Nevertheless, PR will ensure at least 25 seats, and they'll probably do better than this. Add in "all politics is local", plus some "cute hoors" who will convince the electorate that they had nothing to do with the economic disaster, and there should be another few seats. Finally, I think that the number of FF TDs who have announced that they will not contest the next election will increase - this will give newer and younger candidates, untainted by the economic collapse, a better shot. Some will no doubt make it to the next Dáil. My overall prediction today: 35 ± 5 seats.

I think FF's biggest tactic in the Election is to say to people who voted for them the last time - "OK so you don't want to vote for us, but look around you - what is the alternative?". Here in the Dún Laoghaire constituency, where I will be voting for Mary Hanafin again, I look around and see Labour's Eamonn Gilmore - the magician without a wand! I've never voted Labour before, and see no reason to start now. (Voting for a party, any party, 'cos they are not Fianna Fáil, is not a reason for me to change). I also see the old man of the Fine Gael Party Séan Barrett (66 - he should retire) - nothing he has ever done will make me change my vote. We also have independent socialist Richard Boyd-Barrett (who came close to winning a seat in the last election) - not in a million years would I vote for him. The Greens  - 'nuff said!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another nail in the coffin of on-street shopping

Yesterday I bought a mobile broadband package from Vodafone - I made the purchase from Vodafone's on-line store. Nothing unusual about this purchase - I'm not a Vodafone customer, but buying the mobile dongle and the €19.99 monthly plan was very straight-forward and easy. BTW - Happy Christmas Mum! (please anybody reading this don't tell her before Christmas!!!).

On my way to the train this morning I stopped off at The Carphone Warehouse shop in Blackrock at 09.00 to make the purchase - I was passing by and thought this would be easy. I also thought I would have the dongle for the coming weekend and check it out before Christmas Day. First - I felt that I was interrupting the guy in the shop, no welcome or smile to greet a new customer. When I asked about Vodafone Broadband, he informed me that it would be no problem. Buying a package as a gift would not cause any difficulties - it was OK for me to pay the bill and someone else to use the connection. He said I'd need photo ID - no problem, I produced my driver's licence. Then he said I'd need a utility bill as proof of residence. Because I did not have one on me, he said that he could not do anything for me - I'm not believing this! So - that's it, I'd have to come back with an ESB bill. As I was leaving the shop I suddenly remembered that I get bills by email (eircom, O2, eFlow, etc) - I could show him one on my iPhone, genius! But no Dumbo - this would not work either, it had to be a paper copy which he needed to staple to the order. I finally gave up, grumbling about this archaic practice still in use in the 21st century. did not ask me for ID, nor did it ask for any proof of residence, but it didn't smile at me either. It's ridiculous that buying on-line (it just accepted my details) is so easy compared to walking into a shop. OK - the commission for The Carphone Warehouse on this purchase is probably very small, but they lost a potential customer. No doubt Vodafone make them do this, perhaps it's even a tactic to drive buyers towards the website by making it more convenient and easy to buy on-line.

If shops want to survive and compete against on-line stores, they'll have to change with the times. A paper copy of a bill? - FFS! Maybe they should be allowed to accept an email copy of a bill (I could have done this in seconds right there in the shop), and attached it to an order. There must be an easier way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My YouTube Channel - Going from Strength to Strength

Today I am reporting that my YouTube Channel has reached 200,000 views, over 150,000 of these views have been in 2010. On June 4th last I reported that the channel had reached 100,000 views - so that means that the last 100,000 occurred in the past six months. The channel also reached another milestone when on November 29th last the daily viewing figures passed 1,000 for the first time. So I feel that my "How To..." and "Problem-Solving" videos are finding an audience of people who want to learn about PowerPoint/Excel/Word tools and about some methods for solving problems. Viewers have also started to ask questions using the YouTube comment option - I try my best to answer all questions. I get a kick out of the following comment which a viewer posted after we had exchanged 15 comments: "omg it worked!! thank you so much for your help :)".

Once again I reiterate (as in previous posts) that this is a very modest total in the overall context of YouTube viewer figures, but I am constantly astonished that simple short videos can reach so many people. In my classes today I had less than 20 people in each class, but my YouTube channel has had over 750 viewers so far today. The educational reach from my computer is beyond anything I have ever thought of - and it is gratifying to know that so many people are viewing the channel. Embedding YouTube into PowerPoint 2003 continues to be the most popular, with doing the same in PPT 2010 starting to roll as well.

Now that I am almost at the end of Semester I in NCI I hope to get the opportunity to upload a few more videos in both series above.

I have mostly been getting fairly positive comments, but a few less positive (ie negative) ones have started to appear. They are mostly to do with my accent. Here's one from @FazWardak88: "Dude your voice is really annoying", to which @nitemare1004 responds "you are sooo right >_<". Not much I can do about this - my mish-mash of a Carnew/Wicklow/Dublin accent is here to stay!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The first sensible thing an Irish bank has done in three years

No doubt most people, like me, were flabbergasted when they heard that AIB Bank was to pay €40 million in bonuses to some staff - money that would have to be funded by taxpayers. The bonuses worked out at €17,000 per employee that had "earned" the bonus during AIB's descent into the financial quagmire of their own making. AIB shamefully hid behind "legal advice" in claiming that they were obliged to pay, while a jaded Minister for Finance could only muster a threat to tax future bonuses at 90%.

Photo from
First - I admire the balls of the staff who took AIB to court to get their bonus money. Perhaps their division made a profit, but they risked public ire by their actions. AIB ignored the public's outrage by agreeing to pay the money - bankers paying bankers, how sad it is to see AIB get this so wrong by not putting up a fight.

Well guess what - a U-Turn, they are not going to pay! In a news item in the Irish Independent this evening there is a PA report that AIB in U-turn over 40m euro bonusesThe U-turn was announced after Finance Minister Brian Lenihan intervened and wrote to the bank's board overturning its legal advice. More "legal advice"!

To their credit, AIB have seemed to have been a bit embarrassed with this bonus story, but I didn't believe they would do anything about it (on "legal advice") - bankers paying bankers again. The Independent report cites a spokesperson as saying "We are determined to position the bank to play a full role in the recovery and development of the Irish economy. In doing so, we are committed to treating our customers, staff, the taxpayer and the public in a fair and transparent manner."

Good for Brian Lenihan - his "legal advice" was stronger than AIB's, and they have blinked first. Next step - see if the staff have the balls for a further lawsuit, I bet they are seeking "legal advice" already. Have a go in the courts if you are tough enough!

Some sense in Irish banking at last.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preston North End 1 - Ipswich Town 0

I was at Deepdale in Preston yesterday for the PNE game against Roy Keane's Ipswich Town. Both teams were on a run of bad form going into the game - PNE were bottom of the Championship, while Ipswich were on a five game losing streak. Going to and from Preston in a day means an early start - up at 5.00, Aircoach 5.47 to airport, Ryanair 7.45 flight to Liverpool (with loads of Everton fans), 9.00 bus to city centre, 9.57 train to Preston - arrive at 11.00. I met my brother Brian and his friend's son Jamie at about 12.00, and we went up to Deepdale for a corporate lunch in the Great Room. Lots of Christmas decorations, plus of course a turkey lunch. This corporate ticket was a Christmas present from Brian - thanks bro'! I really enjoyed the lunch - catching up with Brian, getting to know Jamie, and chatting to other PNE supporters.

Brian and me at the Tom Finney statue.
The great thing about corporate entertainment is you get to eat and drink in comfort, and then go out to one of the best seats in the house to watch the game. Ipswich dominated the early part of the game and should have taken the lead on a few occasions. But PNE got stuck in, and by half-time had got back into the game, 0-0. Half-time was spent in the Great Room having dessert - very well organised. Just for a day I was one of the "prawn sandwich" (Roy Keane's words) brigade that disappears at half-time - we were back out just in time to see the second half kick off. Within five minutes PNE were in the lead thanks to a great move which was ended by on-loan Iain Hume finishing off a Beast pass - YESSSSS! PNE bossed the second half, with Brown and Cort at the back mopping up everything. While Hume was awarded the MoTM - I felt that captain Brown was the best player on the pitch. At the end we celebrated a well deserved 1-0 win along with about 9,500 other fans in the ground. See match report by the local newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Post here.

No time at the end of the match to go back into the Great Room for tea and mince pies - I had to get a train at 18.00 back to Liverpool, followed by a taxi to the airport, just in time to make the 20.30 flight back to Dublin (Ryanair recently changed this regular flight from 21.30 to 20.30 - nice for Liverpool and Everton supporters, but not for PNE folk).

The evening was rounded off with dinner at the Conrad Hotel with Roma's family - we got a great surprise when Roma's brother Edward announced that he and his partner, the lovely Karen, are getting married next summer - best of luck to you both!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Flash Mob - Hallelujah Chorus

Here's a feel good YouTube video that is a "Must See"...

...Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel's Messiah:

Flash Mob's are getting very popular - I'd love to see a TV documentary about how they put these together. No dancing in this one, but fantastic none-the-less. What would Handel think of this? A good feel to the start of the day.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

30 Years Without John Lennon

Thirty years ago today John Lennon was shot dead by Mark Chapman - I remember where I was and how I heard he had been killed as if it was yesterday. I was on a Zoology Field Trip to Ballyvaughan in Co Clare when our bus driver (Vinny) told me he had been shot the previous evening. Of course I didn't believe him and waited for the punch-line - alas, Lennon was dead and my generation's biggest hero was gone. For the next few weeks the radio was full of John Lennon songs. I remember being at a college friend's 21st birthday party (Gerry W) soon after where the Double Fantasy album was played all night.

My fav photo of Lennon -
this one is copied from Topnews.
Thirty years later I still miss him, and like everyone else I often wonder what his songs would have been like if he had lived. He would be 70 years old now - I bet he would still be writing controversial songs and using the "F" word more often. Would he still be cool? Or would he be just another old fart (like Keith Richards or even Ringo Starr)? What would he think of the Internet, and even having his own web site


Lennon's killer, Mark Chapman, is still in jail - I bet the fucker thought he would be out by now. I didn't know that he was married and that his wife (Gloria) still stands by him, and even visits him once a year for sex (I actually think that Lennon would be cool with this!). The Daily Mail reports today that she was even aware "of her husband's murderous intent and even saw the gun he planned to use in the attack". She could have stopped the nutter? She and Chapman get to have 44 hours together alone once a year, where no doubt they play husband and wife. I admire her for sticking with him, but he gets no sympathy from me. 

Fuck you Mark Chapman, fuck you.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Book Review - John Giles: A Football Man

I have just finished reading John Giles' autobiography "A Football Man". Though I did not attend his book-signing, I do have a signed copy courtesy of my daughter Kate, who works in the Dubray Bookshop in Blackrock. I've never met Johnnie Giles, though I did see him play once for Shamrock Rovers in a League of Ireland game against Limerick in Milltown around 1980 - I don't recall seeing him play for Ireland.

The biography is a enjoyable read, though the story of John Giles is well known to people of my generation. There's very little new in this book, though he has plenty to say about Matt Busby from his time at Manchester United. Of course his early days as a boy in Ormonde Square provided an insight into how this great footballer grew up, he didn't much like school (Brunner), and seemed destined to play football from the beginning. His time at Leeds United was very familiar to me as Leeds were the team that everybody hated when I started to follow football in the late sixties/early seventies. Indeed I remember that in school during 1970, after the Chelsea vs Leeds FA Cup final, we divided into two teams for football, and I wanted to be on the Chelsea team. Giles was a tough hard player which contributed to the Leeds United image, and to his credit, he does not try to play down this in his book. His thoughts on "The Damned United" make for one of the few new and controversial bits in the book.

This is the second of three biographies that I am reading - the first was Abraham Lincoln (reviewed here), and next up is a new biography of Patrick Pearse. Very different people - a Leader, a Footballer, and a Rebel. In fact, John Giles could be regarded as having all three characteristics! 

Not just a football man.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Horslips at the O2

In the 1970's, most teenage Irish boys like me worshiped Horslips (all my teenage years were in the 1970's - 13 in 1972, 19 in 1978). I recalled wanting to grow my hair like Charles O'Connor, but never did! Celtic Rock gave us a unique mix of Irish traditional music and a hard rock sound that connected with a generation who had long hair and a weird sense of dress. Horslips played the O2 last evening - the venue was about half full, but the lads created a great atmosphere on a very cold evening. Nostalgia, nostalgia, and more nostalgia!

Most of the hit songs from the 1970's were there, plus many that I had either forgotten or not heard before. The sound was very authentic and so like the original sound tracks on their albums - the 30-40 years time lag did not make a difference. Charles O'Conner and Jim Lockhart showed their versatility with several instruments - I was always especially fond of Lockhart's Jethro Tull-style flute playing. Fantastic. The concert was rounded off with Trouble and Dearg Doom - this got the audience rocking big time.

I remember that in the 1970s that Horslips used to play in the Funge Art Centre in Gorey, only 13 miles form Ballingate - I desperately wanted to go. But I was not a concert-going teenager like today's lot, and genuinely did not know how to go to a concert - no TicketMaster then. There was also the added problem of transport - no Luas or DART then either. It is to my eternal shame that I did not make a better effort to go - so last evening's concert was my first time to see Horslips live, 30 years too late.

Now that I have seen Horslips on stage - I am happy. I hope they do more concerts - I am a teenager again! No more Celtic Tiger - Celtic Rock is back!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Why more and more smart students are staying home from college

On a day when once again most students at primary, secondary, and third-level are staying at home because of bad weather and cancelled classes, it is interesting to note that on-line education could provide many options for students so that they don't miss classes. I am at home again today too - but at least I can do some work from home (thanks to Moodle I can mark some assignments, and I'm also doing some research into a possible new postgraduate programme on Business Intelligence). A big worry for me is that if the weather continues to cause cancellation of classes next week that I will not get the syllabus finished. Next week is week 13 of a 14-week semester - and I still have to cover material for which I have already set exam questions.

Blended Learning at NCI.
The Irish Independent of the 24th November last has an article on Why more and more smart students are staying home from college. The article (no author given in on-line version) states that "Irish third-level colleges have been slow to let their students study over the Internet and off campus, but that may now be changing". Yesterday I asked the question Will Universities be Destroyed?, because so much quality educational material is now on-line. The Independent reports that the number of students taking courses on-line provided by the Institutes of Technology has grown by 31% in the last year. Sligo IT has lead the way for many years with its Open and Distance Learning courses - you can take certificates, degrees, and even postgraduate degrees on-line. My own College is now offering a blended learning version of our popular Certificate in First-Line Management. Exciting times ahead should this prove a success.

Richmond in the snow.
There is a lot of snow on the ground still, with lots more to come today according to Met Éireann, who seem to have got every prediction about the snow right so far. It's the heaviest snow in Richmond since we moved here in 1996 - I took the photo to the right this morning. Our road does not get treated with salt or grit - the compacted snow and ice on the road is about 2" thick. Great to see the neighbourhood kids out yesterday having snowball fights and building snowmen.  

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Will Universities be Destroyed?

Adrian Hon writes in the Daily Telegraph about Why free online lectures will destroy universities – unless they get their act together fast. He starts out his post with a statement that will be familiar to every Lecturer in the country:

"university students sit in lectures every day, listening to someone speak for an hour in crowded theatres. Most are daydreaming, checking Facebook, surfing the web, texting and tweeting; if they’re particularly motivated or the lecture is unusually good, some might actually be paying attention"

And he adds...

"At the same time, millions of learners around the world are watching world-class lectures online about every subject imaginable, from fractional reserve banking to moral philosophy to pharmacology, supplied by Harvard, MIT, and The Open University."

Photo from Daily Telegraph Blog.
So the question is - will universities be destroyed? I was reminded by a colleague today that the bad weather we are experiencing at the moment will not cause on-line classes to be postponed. Why should learning be stopped by a few cms of snow? A major difficulty for both students and lecturers is the perception that (with some exceptions) most College lecturers are "little more than talking textbooks" - why pay a lot of money to go to College when you can get thousands of hours of top-quality lectures from renowned experts from all over the world?

Will the day come when a student can take modules on-line from different courses, different Colleges, and different countries? What about a degree that is made up of a Maths class from Harvard, Finance and Economics classes from the London School of Economics, Technology subjects from MIT, and Project Management from NCI :-). With the technology we have today, the learning experience can be just as good on-line, so that even precious face-to-face contact between teacher and student can be realized without compromising the educational experience.

Yes - this day will come.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Free Harvard University course - "Justice"

Harvard University is offering a free course on Justice, with Professor Michael Sandel. Harvard invites us to take "a front row seat at the first course Harvard has ever made available to everyone, online and on the air". Here's the preview of the course:

Each lecture is about 55 minutes in length, and is very well produced. The quality of the video, sound, and camera work is excellent - there must be a good team of people working on providing this class on-line (it will remind you of a one-man show in a theatre). Professor Sandel is also one of the best lecturers I have ever seen - on-line, or in a class. As I go through these series of lectures, I hope to learn from him - not just about the subject matter of the course, but also his strategies for learning and teaching. His classes are very engaging, and to me it looks like his students are hooked on every word. While we all don't have the resources available to Harvard to do something like this (though note that they use YouTube to deliver the content), there is a lot we can learn from it. Be sure to check it out if you are interested in on-line learning.

The full list of lectures available online is as follows:

The Moral Side of Murder / The Case for Cannibalism
Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasure
Free to Choose / Who Owns Me?
This Land is my Land / Consenting Adults
Hired Guns? / For Sale: Motherhood
Mind Your Motive / The Supreme Principle of Morality
A Lesson in Lying / A Deal is a Deal
What’s a Fair Start? / What Do We Deserve?
Arguing Affirmative Action / What's the Purpose?
The Good Citizen / Freedom vs. Fit
The Claims of Community / Where Our Loyalty Lies
Debating Same-sex Marriage / The Good Life

Monday, November 29, 2010

What have the Government ever done for us?

The Sunday papers yesterday were full of news about a poll by the Sunday Business Post that shows Fianna Fáil "at lowest ever support" - 17%. This could lead mean that "Fianna Fáil could face a humiliating defeat" in the next General Election. The Business Post also reports that "Support for Fine Gael (33 per cent) and Labour (27 per cent) remains strong, with Enda Kenny on course to lead the next government". Well - we live in a democracy - so be it.

Let me get this out of the way first - I do support the call for an early general election, and agree with the Business Post's assessment above of the likely outcome. I am, however, fed up of all the various commentators, pundits, experts, and lobby groups consistently spouting "The Government is doing nothing for (insert your name/cause here)". Just do a Google search for "The Government is doing nothing" and you'll see what I mean. This got me thinking - do Brians Cowen and Lenehan get up in the morning and say "I'm going to do nothing today for (insert your name/cause here)"? Monty Python famously asked a similar question in "The Life of Brian" - here's one of the funniest clips you'll ever see:

So - what have our government ever done for us? "Nothing" I hear you say!

What about the M50 extension recently completed? Or the roads to Cork, Galway, Waterford, and Limerick? The new Convention Centre? The Aviva Stadium? The Port Tunnel? Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport? By-passes all over the country? New buses and trains?

Or one of the highest rates of social welfare in Europe? Or the second highest minimum wage? Free medicines (until recently when a 50c charge was introduced) for all medical card holders and older people? Free transport for over 66 year olds? Free libraries all over the country? Free museums and parks?

And of course free education for every child who needs it? Teachers, specials needs assistants, facilities for disabled learners, increased spending on technology?

Who provides all the doctors, nurses, Gardaí, prison officers, defence forces, and health services?

So I ask you - what has the government ever done for us?

Before you hit the comment button (I will publish all comments) - I do agree that much of the above could be done better. We take a lot for granted, but I do think that comments such as "The Government is doing nothing..." are wide of the mark.

There - I finally said it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our snowman!

Is there anything more fun than making a snowman with your family? This afternoon, Vicki, Claire, and I decided to make a snowman in our back garden. We had about three inches of very powdery snow, which meant we had plenty for our snowman, and a few snowballs! I had great fun with the girls - sadly, we have had very few opportunities over the past 20 years to do this, this amount of snow being rare in Dublin. It's one of those things I envy people in other climates, who can do this with their kids all the time. I know it brings hardship for some people, but I still love to see it. Even though I am 51 years old, snow still brings out the kid in me - I can't resist any target with a snowball.

Now - going to work tomorrow will not be such fun. We had snow in January earlier this year during which I fell on my arse outside Salthill DART station. Must be careful!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Snow in November!

Snow in my back garden.
Last night I was woken up twice by thunder, and this morning got up early to see some snow on the ground - I'm guessing about 1". Not much, but snow in November is not that common here. While it is worse in other parts of the country, there is not enough to cause any disruption here in Dublin - or is there? The are no DART services because of the snow - I wonder how 1" of snow stops an entire railway service? I was out early in the car and was glad to see that the main roads around here had been gritted over night. 

I did witness an accident when a driver going too fast at a bend in a Merc SUV crashed into the back of a parked car right outside my house. No one was hurt, I'm glad to report that the driver, after inspecting the damage to his own car first followed by another inspection of the parked car, knocked on No 33 to fess up. The owners promptly moved their car into their own driveway. I guess the tinted windows in the SUV blocked out all the white snow so that the idiot driver felt that warnings to drive carefully in the snow did not apply to him.

It's a day for in front of the fire!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

From the campus to the dole queue

Student Excellence Awards were presented at the National College of Ireland today, and I finished a class early to attend. The award for both Best First Year Student and best Third Year Student went to students (Brian S and Darren O'N respectively) from the B.A. in Management of Technology in Business - much of my teaching in on this programme. Many congratulations to both students, and all the other worthy winners of their respective awards. Students are presented with a certificate, and get their photos posted on the Atrium wall for a year (plus of course the added value of having something really worthwhile on their CV).

There is now considerable difficulty for new graduates in getting jobs. Last Tuesday the Irish Times published a report "From the campus to the dole queue" - the report describes the experiences of three recent graduates. Sad that such talented students cannot find work. At my own College's recent Graduation Ball, all the students I talked to at one table had no job and were just about to emigrate to Australia or Canada. While I envy them the opportunity to travel and work abroad, I know that the streets of Sydney and Toronto are not paved with gold either. Good luck to them all - I do feel that they are better off out of this country for a few years. The world is now a lot smaller than it was. I dread the day when my own daughters have to make a similar decision.

I do sometimes wonder if my own efforts as a Lecturer at third level are being wasted as we (Ireland) educate graduates for the emigration trail. I think not - work and travel abroad is only part of a person's development. Going to College is a significant step in personal development. Long may it continue!

Some graduate unemployment figures from the Irish Times report - they make for stark reading: 

The number of people unemployed in Ireland in September, representing a jobless rate of 13.7 per cent. This is one of the highest unemployment rates in the developed world.
The number of unemployed graduates, according to recent report of the Union of Students in Ireland
The percentage of 2009 graduates describing themselves as unemployed, according to a survey conducted by UCD Students Union
The number of graduates set to leave Ireland every week, according to a USI estimate
The number of graduates set to emigrate in the next five years

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mise Éire

This morning I caught a few notes of Seán Ó Riada's most famous composition "Róisín Dubh" (meaning "Black Rose") on RTÉ Radio 1, which was also used as the theme music to the 1960 Irish film "Mise Éire (meaning "I am Ireland"). I love this music and always think of the time in school in the 1970's when the film was shown to us boys - it tells the story of Ireland (in Irish) from the 1890's to 1918. While the film, and Ó Riada's music, were unquestionably designed to stir up patriotism in the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the 1916 rising - it always sends a shiver down my spine when I hear this piece of music. While listening to this I can thrust out my chest in a little bit of Irish pride.

Below are two YouTube videos featuring Ó Riada's music. The first shows Matt Cunningham playing Róisín Dubh on tin whistle - brilliant. The second is a clip from the beginning of the Mise Éire film posted by a 65-year old YouTube user "rasherst" (Jim) who also has posted other parts of the film. So here's some reminders of some of the things we can be proud of as Irish people...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book Review: A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr.

Abraham Lincoln is considered by many, including me, to be one of the greatest leaders of all time. Many biographies have been written about him, as well as many books about the American Civil war. This is the second biography of Lincoln that I have read - seven years ago I read Jan Morris's "Lincoln: A Foreigner's Quest". This (rather light-weight) book left me wanting to read more about Lincoln, but it has taken me quite a while to get around to it.

Image from
Ronald C. White Jr writes a fantastic account, not just of Lincoln's life, but there is also some fascinating examination of the words and prose of Lincoln's most famous speeches. For popular history readers, this is an easy to read book. While it has over 60 pages of references at the end, it is not too academic and is written with lightness in mind. This book should have a wide audience, even for those who are familiar with Lincoln's life and death. White does not over dramatize anything - even Lincoln's assassination which is described in just one page.

While Lincoln is remembered for preserving the Union and freeing the slaves, White also paints a picture of a man who changed his opinions as war ravaged the country and slavery became more central to victory or defeat. However, White also points out (p276) that in 1858 Lincoln stated, in a debate with his rival for the presidency Stephen Douglas, in Charleston "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people". By the end of the war he had emancipated the slaves, even though by today's standards the above statement would be regarded as an extreme form of racism. 

Lincoln's speeches still resonate today, and are expertly dissected by White. In his short (10 sentences) Gettysburg address he concluded: "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth". Oh how I wish that leadership of this quality was in evidence in poor old Ireland today. 

In his inauguration speech in 1865 Lincoln is also famously quoted as saying "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations". Hugely emotive words that Ronald White describes as Lincoln asking his audience to "enter a new era, armed not with enmity but with forgiveness". While this was said after the end of the Civil War, and we are not at war in Ireland today - I think that our future leader, whoever he or she is, could do worse that read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address and his 1865 inaugural address. For that matter, they should also read this book by Ronald White - inspiration and leadership are on every page.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The House of Cards is Falling - Each Man for Himself!

After a calamitous and dramatic weekend for Ireland - it is now clear that it is "each man for himself". I have  heard this afternoon that the Green Party calls for election to be held at end of January - effectively pulling the plug on Fianna Fáil. Perhaps this is a last ditch attempt to claim some credit for bringing down the Government. Those old reliable independents (Healy-Rae, Lowry withdraw support) are also looking to their own electoral back yards. A budget that the country needs badly to be passed is now under threat. But that doesn't seem to bother "I'm all right" Jackie and "honest" Micheal - but their limp thunder has been stolen by the Greens.

We are Irish!
Image from Wikipedia.
So - an election at last! It's every man for himself now as the race to claim no responsibility for the economic mess we're in will reach epidemic proportions between now and polling day. Some people are already setting the pace with anti-Fianna Fáil sentiment. One commentator in an Irish Times Poll Do you agree with the Green Party's decision to pull out of Government? writes that "Only a fool would vote for Fianna Fáil. We will see in January how many fools there are in Ireland", while another writes "Fantastic, I would vote for Vlad The Impaler to see the back of Fianna Fail". Expect to see a lot more of these very intelligent and helpful comments. Brian Cowen came out fighting in the press conference this evening - but it is the last Hurrah of his doomed administration.

I'm looking forward to writing about the election campaign, which might be as late as next March - I have only blogged about the Lisbon Treaty Referendum before. My archive shows no comment on the 2007 election. Right now there is an overwhelming desire by voters to get rid of Fianna Fáil at all costs. But look around you folks - are you prepared for a government run by Enda Kenny and Eamonn Gilmore? Perhaps their greatest electoral asset at the moment is they are not Fianna Fáil!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Flickr and Family Photos

I was surprised to find that I did not have a Flickr account - I thought I was connected to everything! So I've created a new account and have uploaded my first set of photos. A few weeks ago I had my work colleague Bonnie Cullen take some family photos at the Dublin Camera Club studio - here's a slideshow of some of her excellent work with Roma, Claire, Kate, Vicki, and myself as her subjects:

Bonnie Cullen is a published photographer and has her own Flickr photostream here - check it out for some fantastic photos.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some photos of Roma the Builder in Cape Town

Today is Roma's last full day with the Niall Mellon Trust in South Africa. She begins her long journey home tomorrow, hopefully arriving back in Dublin early on Sunday morning. I spoke to her last evening and while she is exhausted from all the physical work, her spirits are very high. There are many photos located on the November Building Blitz website and Flickr. I have spotted a few so far that feature Roma (click to see larger versions):

Up Mayo!
Roma fourth from right.
Roma with Nozibusiso Zuma, daughter of
the South African President Jacob Zuma.
Roma (with water bottle) and
colleagues form the grey team.
Roma mixing mortar!

The township where she and the 750 volunteers are working is located in Wallacedene - you can see where this is on the following Google Map - check it out on street view and you'll get an idea of the conditions that township residents live in: