Sunday, January 31, 2010

The iPad

I watched with interest parts of the launch of Apple's new iPad (Steve Jobs still look frail, and his voice is very hoarse). It has met with mixed reaction - but it has no doubt hit a huge "WOW!" factor. Me - I can't wait until I try one out. 

It most closely resembles the iPhone - so I probably have a reasonable idea on how it works. Apple have placed huge emphasis on its usability, ie "with just a touch of a finger". It certainly looks good, final judgement on this will have to be when I get my hands on it. I think its real power is that it will be so easy for people to carry around - at 0.68 kg it is a truly powerful portable device. I'm thinking in particular that students will make spectacular use of this device - both for College and non-College purposes. It does have an iWork productivity tool suite (not bundled) - while you can import Microsoft Office documents and work on them, no sign yet of Office being available on the iPad. This might be a crucial issue for the success of this as a tool in business. No doubt Microsoft will develop an Office suite for the iPad - at the very least to oppose the inevitable rise of free and cheap imitations on the App Store. Luckily for them Apple have decided that iWork is an extra and will have to be paid for separately.

A few comments from others that I think capture how valuable this device could be:

Elliott Masie focuses on how the iPad might support learning:

Whatever the Apple Tablet might do technologically, The MASIE Center’s Learning LAB is focusing on how content such as manuals, learning programs and even Performer Support might be impacted. As a trustee of a college, I would be fascinated to imagine students buying articles or textbooks in a totally new model. And, what if a new model for learning content modules might emerge in which a Learning App could be purchased for $1 or $3? Think of developers around the world focusing on ever better ways of supporting learning about millions of topics. 

George Siemens looks at its place in the digital world:

The real story of Apple’s iPad is not the device itself. Rather, the long-term impact is that many of the information structures of the physical world – books and newspapers – now have a place in the digital world, as well as a revenue model online. Apple possesses the mystical ability to charge for content. For example, many people who would balk at paying for $10 software for their desktop/laptop had no problem paying hundreds of dollars for iPhone apps (I’m looking at myself here – which does cause a bit of eye strain). Similarly, books, newspapers, and information online will now fall under the control of Apple. Think of this for a second. Apple, if the uptake of the iPad is as significant as many expect, becomes the central node through which content (books, newspapers, movies, music) flows for many people who a) don’t know or care what a torrent is and b) who like their devices nicely integrated and easy to use.

But perhaps the most telling comment comes from Damien Mulley in his post Our Mums are about to join the web:

The iPad...

" going to make using the web easy for people who up to know found using a mouse, keyboard and a browser a tad intimidating."

...and he interestingly speculates on the possible impact of the iPad on the iTouch.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Temporarily out of stock!

Wow - is this a good or a bad thing?

My book is "Temporarily out of stock" at However its Sales Rank is "1,119,746 in Books" - I don't think this is something to get too excited about.

I don't know how this works - did they get just 10 books and sell them all? I'll check with David G of The Liffey Press at the book's formal launch next week (I am getting just a little excited about the launch now!!!).

Book Review - Conspiracy: Irish Political Trials

I have just finished reading Myles Dungan's new book Conspiracy: Irish Political Trials, published by the Royal Irish Academy. It covers seven famous trials from Robert Emmet (1803) to Roger Casement (1916). I found it an interesting read for the most part, but also tedious in others.

While the first chapter on Robert Emmet is very good, if you have already read Patrick Geoghegan's excellent biography of Emmet: Robert Emmet: A Life (as I have) there is little or nothing new - in fact the chapter reads like a summary of Geoghegan's book. Similarly, Jarlath Waldron's Maamtrasna: The Murders and the Mystery is a far better account of the Maamtrasna trials. However, the other chapters were a much better read.

The trial of John Magee in 1813 gives an excellent account of the defense of Magee by Daniel O'Connell who clearly manipulated the trial for his own publicity purposes. Dungan does an excellent job here of mingling court transcripts with opinion and analysis. The State Trials chapter, covering the trial of Daniel O'Connell in 1844 is more of a history lesson than an analysis, but still makes for a very good read. In fact each chapter gives a little history lesson - not necessary for your average Irish person who will recall the basics of 19th century history from school.

The Phoenix Park murders in 1882 and trial are covered very well, though there are so many participants that it is hard to keep track. I expect this is because The Invincibles and the murders of Burke and Cavendish are themselves more well known than the five men hanged for the murders (Brady, Curley, Kelly, Fagan, and Caffrey).

The Parnell Commission trial is heavier going - the other sections involving murder and death sentences are easier to understand.

The final section on Roger Casement's trial in 1916 was potentially the most interesting, but perhaps the most disappointing. The chapter is 41 pages long, but most of it is not about Casement - whose trial covers the last 14 pages. Instead we get a history lesson about 1916, and (very good) accounts of the courts martial of Pearse and the other 1916 leaders.

Overall, a worthwhile read. I felt that the extracts from the trial transcripts were very long in places, and there is a very annoying overuse of "[sic]" - a simple comment at the beginning explaining that quotations are original and exact would have covered this. Also - what's with the plastic noose on the cover? Did they have plastic ropes in the 19th century for hangings?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

YouTube - 50,000 views!

More (modest) success with my YouTube Channel as it passed the 50,000 total video views mark this afternoon. The channel itself also passed the 1,000 view mark earlier this week. These are all educational videos and it continues to astonish me that I can reach so many learners with this medium. I have about 130 students in my classes this semester - never could I hope to reach thousands of students in the classroom.

I have recently started a Problem-Solving Techniques series of videos that draw upon material in my book. I don't know if this blatant self-publicity will generate any extra sales, but it is worth a try. The viewer figures are still very low for these, but hopefully they will attract a modest audience who might find them useful.

The comments from viewers continue to be very favourable - here's one of my recent favourites (exact quote!):

        Your my fu*king hero boy,im off to shoot a goat in your honour.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Munster vs Northampton in High Definition

Santa was very kind to us last Christmas and brought us a brand new 40" Samsung High Definition LCD television. I quickly decided (in about two seconds) that I would add Sky HD to our satellite subscription. This involves getting a new Sky HD box which was installed yesterday. We also moved our old Sky boxes around so that our old SKY+ box replaces an ordinary Sky box in the playroom, which in turn was moved to the kitchen as a free-to-air box. Shane from Sierra Communications did an excellent job of all the installation work.

The first big event to watch was the Munster vs Northampton Heineken Cup match - brilliant clarity and definitely worth getting for sport. HD excels particularly for slow-motion replays. All detail is crystal clear - I'm looking forward to seeing more football and golf in HD. Munster won a slightly disappointing game 12-9 - see match report Munster show guile and guts.

Friday, January 22, 2010

At the Dentist

Just after Christmas I broke a tooth (biting into a piece of chocolate!). Ouch - a visit to the dentist.

My dentist is Frank Dillon who is based in Henry St. I first met Frank when he was practicing in Monkstown with (my then) dentist - Des Fortune. I like Frank - he's cool and also near enough the same age as me. Today, while on his chair, we agreed that 1970's music was the best.

Frank's surgery is what a dental practice should look like - everything is clean and white. Even his computers are white, there are Apple iMacs everywhere - in fact you might wonder whether you are visiting a dentist or a computer laboratory. Frank is very proud of his set-up, and tries his best to convert me from the PC to the Mac.

Oh - and he's an excellent dentist too! See his (very white) website - there's even a iMac on his Home Page!

Brendan O'Connor wrote about a visit to Frank's surgery in his Diary (scroll down to Tuesday) in the Sunday Independent on 15th June, 2008. Like me, O'Connor is fascinated by all the gear. I have to agree with O'Connor's brilliant last line "I love it. Frank's dental practice is like fight club without the fighting".

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alasdar's Blog

I have started to follow Alasdar's Blog - Alasdar Browne runs Precision Coaching, a company that specializes in providing Coaching, Leadership, and Mentoring services. As part of his services, Alasdar blogs about these topics and gives his insightful opinion on how we can all develop better as people and as a business.

Alasdar's latest post is about Great Service Comes From The Heart, which is based on a short video. Alasdar's message from this is that "The milk of human kindness is really a CHOICE........." - check it out, it makes you think.

Other posts range from a really thought provoking Learning to say 'No'.........., to Abraham Lincoln's Leadership Principles, and to my favourite (so far) Eat That Frog....... Alasdar posts about once a week and if you are interested in improving your outlook and attitude to what you do, both in your personal and business life, it is a blog definitely worth following.

I should also mention that Alasdar "Ali" Browne was a school mate of mine in Cistercian College Roscrea from 1972 to 1977. In my New Taoiseach post (7th May, 2008), Ali is fourth from the left in the third row from the back. If you check out his photo on his blog you'll note that he hasn't changed a bit in 32 years!

Great blog Ali - keep it up!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Launch Postponed

It is with some embarrassment now that I decided to postpone the launch of my first book An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis. We made the decision last Friday when the weather forecast was for severe weather conditions on Sunday and Monday. Schools were being closed until Thursday, UCD closed yesterday, Trinity postponed exams - it seemed as if the whole country was going to close down! I was particularly concerned that my Mum (Phil) and Dad (Joe) would not be able to travel from Carnew. So rather than sit here by myself, I decided the best thing to do was to postpone. 

Today nearly all the snow and ice is gone and there is no difficulty in this part of Ireland with travel. The launch is now re-scheduled for February 2nd at 6 o'clock in the President's Office in NCI.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fame at last - my Blog is a "Fluffy Link" today!

One of Ireland's leading bloggers and all round expert at everything WWW, Damien Mulley, added my blog as a Fluffy Link in his daily post today. Damien is a regular on radio and TV where he expertly articulates his opinions on what is good, bad, the latest, and greatest about the Internet. I wrote previously that I attended his presentation to the Institute of Business Analysts and Consultancy.

I have Damien's Fluffy Links in my Google Reader and I check them out almost every day. It's a great way to keep up with what Damien is doing, and to also check out his convenient posts about the wonderful and the weird of the WWW. I'm delighted that he added me as a "Fluffy Link", though I will forgive him getting my name wrong, he left out the O' (Oh apostrophe) - something us O'Loughlins and other "Oh apostrophes" can get a little fluffy :-)) about.

I'm curious about how he came across my Blog. Google Alerts may be responsible as I referred to him in my Leningrad Cowboys post last week.

So Damien, if you are reading this - thanks for the plug, and keep on rockin' the Web.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The snow in Richmond

It snowed this morning in South Dublin, not much, about 2cm. It was a pleasant wintry feel - I'm guessing the temperature was around zero. Roma and I walked to the Pharmacy where I swept away some of the snow from the front pathway. One guy came up to me and told me that there had been a solicitor on the RTÉ News last evening stating that if you clear away the path outside your home or business you risk being sued if someone falls and hurts themselves. Apparently if you do NOT clear the pathways you cannot be sued. The guy told me it that the law was the other way around in America. WTF kind of country is it where you can be sued like this?

Hospital A&Es are reporting a big increase in people presenting with injuries sustained in falls. I had a nasty fall yesterday on at the entrance to Salthill DART station where there is a slight slope - I was walking along (carefully I thought) and in an instant I was on my arse. A kind young fella helped me up. My elbow is a bit sore, but that's it. No thoughts of suing CIÉ.

More snow on the way tomorrow!

The University of the People

The University of the People, set up in 2009, offers a new tuition-free gateway to a higher education. It offers courses in Business Administration and Computer Science through e-Learning over two to four years. It currently does not offer degrees and is not an accredited institution, though it intends to apply for accreditation and for authorization from recognized agencies and authorities in accordance with the rules, regulations and relevant timelines of said agencies and authorities.

This is an interesting idea - there are no fees or charges, how can they make any money? The most interesting thing for me is that a short course "Skills for Online Learning" is compulsory for all students. The course provides the students with a basic introduction to the computer applications which they will use to pursue academic studies in an online environment, and must be passed before students are allowed to continue. It's clear from browsing its website that it intends to rely a lot on open source material.

Open Content is one of the Emerging Technologies in Education that I have written about in a previous post - I agree with the 2009 Horizon Report that we will see much more of this. Several companies, such as the Galway-based Alison offer free on-line courses, Alison does state that it is a for-profit social enterprise. Alison appears to me to make money from advertising and donations.

Long live the day when you can learn anything for free online. Need to know something? Look it up in an on-line encyclopedia. Need to figure out how to do something? Look it up on a "How To..." channel in YouTube, such as my own ;-)). Need to understand a difficult concept? Go to iTunes U and watch a podcast from a top University Professor. Want a free on-line course? Go to the University of the People or to Alison. Quality, assessment, and proof of accredited certification will be a huge challenge. Nevertheless, there are more opportunities for people to upskill themselves for free than ever before. This will become a more accepted way for people to learn in the very near future. Traditional educational institutions - watch out!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Fantastic Stuff from the Leningrad Cowboys & Russian Red Army Choir

Came across the Leningrad Cowboys (via Damien Mulley) and have watched a few of their videos on YouTube. Very different from anything else I have seen, good fun, excellent music, and fantastic to listen to and watch. I think the best stuff is done with the Russian Red Army choir.

Check out their brilliant version of the traditional Russian song "Kalinka", and an outstanding version of ZZ Top's "Gimmie All Your Lovin'" from YouTube:

Learning from Cold Weather

We have been having very cold weather, that we are not used to in Ireland, for three weeks now. Yesterday we had a small snow shower that caused chaos in Dublin city centre and elsewhere on the east coast. I had a dental appointment at 3.30 in Henry Street and saw at first hand people slipping and falling in the slush. It was not yet icy, but we were all finding it difficult to keep our footing - I slipped a few times, thankfully without falling. One women walking beside me in the IFSC slipped and fell onto the Luas tracks - luckily there was no tram coming. The picture to the right (link from the Independent newpaper) was taken near Lucan, Co Dublin.

Why do we never learn?

My next door neighbour (Jack) is just back from Chicago where he says it's like this all the time in winter. Our main roads are gritted, but others roads (including our road) are not. There is a shortage of salt - we rely on a small mine in Co Antrim and imports from Spain. It has not been like this since 1982. There are calls on the radio this morning to "Send in the Army". Even I have decided to work from home today (I know - writing this post is not work!).

As an educator, I like to look at events such as this to see how can we learn from them, and if we have learned from the past. Some thoughts, in no particular order, below.
  • Nobody is to blame for the snow. However, people are attacking the government and local authorities, and even blaming the Minister (See Dempsey told to 'come out of hiding' as chaos reigns)
  • If something goes wrong, is it somebody's fault? Do we feel better if we can blame someone else for our woes?
  • Why are we always more concerned about "old people" and "rural areas" - they can certainly handle a bit of snow and ice better than city folks
  • Should we have sand and grit on every street corner for a once in every 20-30 year cold snap? Absolutely not! It would be vandalized in minutes.
  • We don't know how to drive in bad weather. Wednesday morning at about 12.30am I was driving home from Donnybrook along the Stillorgan dual-carriageway in the snow and at 55kph - this is a 60kph zone (I was picking Vicki and pals up from Wesley). I was overtaken at speed by several cars! Was I the only person to see the snow or know that there was ice on the road? How do we learn to drive in conditions like this when they rarely happen? Unfortunately we need more weather like this to learn how to drive and behave better on the roads
  • I'm no saint - but I have cleared the ice and snow on the path outside my own house. Nobody else on my road has done this. I've seen very few paths being cleared in housing estates or outside shops - are we all waiting for someone else to clear them? Is this type of work with a shovel and sweeping brush beneath us? We have to learn that we our responsible for our own "bit", and not wait on others, or go on The Joe Duffy Show for a good moan
  • On the DART home last evening (which took 20 minutes longer than usual, not due to weather - but to a fire on the train in front). The train was packed and the curse of mobile phones struck "I'm on the DART and it is going nowhere" was to be heard every five minutes - I was praying nobody would ring me and I'd have to say the same
  • One innovative woman in the seat opposite me on the DART gave instructions on her phone to her family about how to put the dinner on
  • We Irish love talking about the weather - we have to learn to talk about something else!
  • The good news is - the snow and ice will eventually melt!
I watched a Grumpy Old Men programme a few days ago - may be I should be on it! We all need to learn how to deal with bad weather and "suck it in". I promise to be cheerful from now on and look on the bright side (the sun is shining as I write this - Tada!).

I remember The Big Freeze in 1982 very well. I spent it while in Rooms in Trinity. We had gas, but no water for 10 days - it was great fun (apart from the smelly shared toilet downstairs). The newspapers and radio were just as full of moans then as now. My favourite memory of this Big Freeze was finding £10 under the snow as it was finally melting - it must have been there for 10 days. It was spent on Guinness that night in the Lincoln Inn. The Army was called in 1982 (see 'Storm Troopers' fought 1982 freeze), but is was all over very quickly when the rain returned. 28 years later, we still haven't learned.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My Book in the College Library

I got a little bit of a thrill this morning when I was in the NCI Norma Smurfit Library to see my book on the library bookshelf! It's Call Number is 658.403. I took a quick picture with my iPhone while nobody was looking - it is very quite in the College this week. These books are located beside MIS books (Call No. 658.4038 - this is how I came across my own as I borrowed a popular MIS book written by Ken Laudon for class).

Books with a Call Number of 658.403 are associated with Business Management - especially in the area of Decision Making. My book is squeezed between The Politics of Organizational Decision-Making (Pettigrew, 1973) and The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy (Monahan, 2002). I'm glad to see that the DIY Lobotomy book is about Creative Thinking and is not a Medical text.

I hope the book makes it onto the shelves of other libraries. I'll make sure it stays on the NCI library shelf as long as possible as it will be on some of my module Reading Lists for some time. This poses an ethical dilemma - should Lecturers be allowed to recommend their own textbooks to their students? Especially when they have already paid fees? In my case the book was written specifically for a Business Systems Analysis module and contains all the notes and exercises I use in class. While all students in the class bought the book, I donated the proceeds (and will continue to do so for future sales) to the NCI Foundation. I am under no illusion that either the NCI Foundation will make much money out of this, or that I am giving up thousands of euro in royalties. Nevertheless, it eases my conscience a little bit to know that I am not trousering students' cash and exploiting their vulnerability.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


This morning when I logged on to my computer and opened Google Chrome, my Home Page was different from my normal iGoogle page - it looked like below:

Upon investigation it turns out that this is a site called set up by "two guys named Alex and Erty decided to purchase the name and create some sorta site using it" - see article about this here. At first I thought this was a hack into Google, but a quick look at Chrome History shows this was accessed by someone (Vicki and pals) using the computer last evening - my iGoogle settings restore the pages that were open last.

Isn't it strange that I was automatically suspicious? I was careful not to click on anything for fear of doing damage. I even searched for "googlegooglegooglegoogle" on a separate tab to see if it was related to any hacking or security breach at Google. All it is is "Alex and Erty" using frames to position four Google search windows on one page so that you can search for four items at the same time. If you load googlegooglegooglegoogle into each of the four frames you can search for 16 items at a time. Full marks for innovation and creativity, though I'm not so sure how useful this tool will be. It just shows that there are creative developers out there looking for new ideas all the time - keep it up "Alex and Erty".

Friday, January 01, 2010

2000/2009 - a Decade of Change

Ten years ago we were on the brink of a new Millennium. Now as I'm about to enter my seventh decade (I was born in the 1950s - this makes me feel old) I thought I'd look back over the 2000/2009 decade and try to remember things that happened without looking them up on the Web.

New Year's Day 2000 started out with a Bourke family "do" in Islandeady near Castlebar, Co. Mayo. We had a lot of champagne is what I remember most about the night, and also checking the News on TV/radio for any Y2K bugs - which as I recall did not cause any major problems. Entering a new millennium was not really an exciting event (as I'm certain not to live through it!) - but a new decade was. At that time, I had a great job and was making good money in SmartForce - Oh, and I bought my first Harley-Davidson! My world seemed to on an upward spiral - in the year 2000 alone I traveled to the USA 10 times (mostly business class). The boom was in full swing and I thought that this prosperity would never end. 2001 changed all of that - the attack on the Twin Towers in New York shook the world and I recall watching the footage on the Internet at work with disbelief.

One good thing Roma and I did in 2001 was to buy #5 Skuna Bay in the late summer. The 24th July 2001 was a notable date for me as it was the last day ever that I sold SmartForce stock options - this covered a good portion of the cost of the house. The stock was at about $40 in mid July and fell to $16 by late August (it still has not recovered) - a fortuitous sale if ever there was one. This was really the beginning of the end for SmartForce - by 2002 it had gone through a failed merger with Centra, two rounds of redundancies, and a takeover by SkillSoft. For me I took the most difficult decision I ever had to make by applying (successfully) for voluntary redundancy - I got the final word while sitting on a rock outside a hotel near Heathrow Airport while suffering from a "mother and father" of a hangover. In November 2002 I was officially unemployed, though I had a very good redundancy package to keep me happy. Also in November 2002 my former colleague at both SmartForce and NCI, and good friend Dr David Keane, contacted me to see if I was interested in some part-time lecturing at NCI. My first class was on Change Management as a guest lecturer, and I got some teaching hours on NCI's new Diploma in e-Learning.

In January 2003 I got more teaching hours in NCI, and by June I had secured a full time position as an Assistant Lecturer. I was thrilled to get this (even though the money was very poor, especially compared to what I had earned in SmartForce). It was 15 years since I had graduated from Trinity with a PhD in the hope that I would go on to secure a position as a Lecturer/Researcher in a College/University - I had finally done it, albeit by a most circuitous route. In 2003 I also purchased my second (and current) Harley-Davidson, a Heritage Softail Classic, which as you'll see from previous posts I love to bits.

2004, 2005, and 2006 are a bit of a blur really. In 2004 I moved from Assistant Lecturer to Lecture in NCI and was by then really settled into the job. It is a great place to work  - the people are smashing and the job itself is very satisfying (except when some of my classes are poorly attended). The IFSC is a nice location and I commute the 7 miles mostly by motorcycle, and less frequently by bicycle. In 2005 I started to teach a new module on Business Systems Analysis, which has become my favourite subject to teach. I have done a lot of night classes, which I have recently got fed up of doing. I have also got into teaching Project Management which is a subject I am also very fond of - having been a Project Manager for much of my time in SmartForce. 2005 also saw my longest ever trip (to Algarve and back) on my motorcycle - this was quite an adventure. 2006 (Sept 8th) also saw the death of my Mother-in-Law, Mary Rose Bourke, may she rest in peace. In 2006 I started this blog with my first post on November 13th. 2006 and 2007 I posted only a few items, only really getting into it during 2008. This post is the 268th post since I started.

2007 was also the height of the property boom and we decided to get in on the act by buying an apartment in Spain from Polaris World - we paid the deposit in March 2007. Almost three years later the apartment is still not built, and Polaris are in trouble having recently filed for protection from creditors. This could end up being our worst financial decision ever. However, a really good financial decision was to not by an apartment in Ireland! Sadly, my uncle Charlie O'Loughlin also died in 2007 (Sept 10th) - may he also rest in peace.

2008 and 2009 was all about recession in Ireland. We have seen the value of our property fall dramatically (our house by over 50% in two years), and income reduced. Thankfully, I am still employed by NCI - however, management/union negotiations on cost-cutting are still on-going and I pray that whatever happens that I still have a job at the end. 2009 also saw me reach 50 years of age and publish my first book.

I have thought about what I might be writing about in ten years time. Hopefully I will continue to blog, though I have promised myself to write less about myself and write more comment on the issues of the day - especially in relation to education and technology. I'll be 60 in 2019 - certainly thinking about retirement, and I may even be a Grandfather (hopefully towards the end of the decade).

Goodbye to the Noughties!