Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blogger links to Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Buzz

I have been experimenting with linking up some of my Social Networking and on-line presence tools with one another. In addition to Blogger, I also use Twitter, Linkedin, Gmail, YouTube, Buzz, and more recently, Facebook. First - it's hard to keep track of everything (and my presence on-line is modest compared to most people I know). Post something on Blogger, and later check out what someone else is doing on Twitter, followed by checking out who is active on Linkedin - it gets awkward. Sometimes I will have Twitter, Linkedin, Blogger, Buzz, YouTube, Gmail, all open at the same time - but mostly I just have one-or-two open at a time. It is also quite diverting to have so much going on when you are trying to get some work done.

Lately, many tools are offering to link with other tools. Already - if I post something on Linkedin, it also shows up on Twitter (and vice versa). Much of what I do on-line is also updated on my Gmail, and any comments I get on my blog and on YouTube also show up in my Gmail Inbox (thanks to all for your comments). This is a convenient way of checking what's happening on-line.

Today I have linked this blog with Twitter (through Twitterfeed). This is a service which allows you to automatically "feed" your blog to Twitter, Facebook, and several other services. So, when I post here on Blogger - there should be an automatic post on Facebook and Twitter (through Twitterfeed). I think Google Buzz is an attempt to do all of this at once - it even posts when you add an image to Picasa.

Very soon many of us will have an increased on-line presence - many friends, colleagues, and my students use Bebo, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Linkedin, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Buzz, Flickr, Picasa, and lots of other tools. There will be an increasing demand to provide tools to manage people's on-line presence through a single interface. Our lives will get more complicated as we sign up for the Next-Big-Thing - if you are like me you will have multiple accounts with on-line services, sometimes with different username and passwords. Just stop and think for a moment how many Internet services you are registered for - how do you manage them all?

Graphic created with free version of Shape Collage using logos plundered from Google Image Search.

Finally - today is the 31st of March (which is my Dad's birthday - hope you had a great day Dad. Love you lots). I note that this post is the 22nd post I have made this month which is the most for any month since I started using Blogger. My previous highest was 20 for February of this year. (Too much time on my hands I hear you say!). With the odd exception, almost all of my posts are written in the evening or at the weekend  (it is almost mid-night as I write this). Sometimes I write several posts for publication later, and finish them off during the day at work during a break. So if you think I'm skiving off work (and some of you do!) - think again.

Monday, March 29, 2010

One in a quarter of a million

I see in the weekend news that there are approximately 250,000 iPhones currently active on Irish networks. The Digital Reach Group (DRG) has published some stats on iPhone usage in a survey on the use of smartphones in Ireland. Briefly, the stats are as follows:
  • 35% traffic is though O2 network
  • 10% traffic already through Vodafone
  • Remaining traffic is through WiFi
  • The most popular individual smartphone handset is the iPhone followed by handsets from Nokia’s E and N series and Blackberry’s 8000 series respectively
  • The top five handset manufacturers on the network are 1. Nokia  2. Sony Ericsson 3. Research In Motion (Blackberry) 4. Samsung 5. Apple

The iPhone is certainly getting more popular. In one of my classes last week, 3 out of 7 students present owned an iPhone. Good to see too that there is more competition in the market with the entry of Vodafone, though at first it seems as if there is not much difference between O2 and Vodafone on pricing. In my house we have three iPhones (+ one Blackberry and one Ericsson). World domination cannot be far away for Apple!

While I love my iPhone, I see that not everyone is happy with the it - it has even been blamed for killing the traditional pub quiz

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gilbert O'Sullivan at the new Grand Canal Theatre

Roma and I went to see Gilbert O'Sullivan in concert at the impressive new Grand Canal Theatre last evening. The show was excellent, and a real trip down the nostalgia lane. We had seats in the fourth row and we were right in front of his grand piano for a perfect and close view of his performance. GO'S had most of his chart success in the early 1970's, so his classic songs have been around for a long time. He is now 64 years old, but has lost none of his voice or charm. Most of his songs are love songs with a story to tell - so a GO'S concert requires quite a deal of listening and concentration on the words. As a bad listener, my mind sometimes wandered - this was not helped by the presence of two beautiful backing singers! He had 11 people in support (including a String Quartet) who provided an excellent sound - acoustics in the new theatre are excellent.

All the old hits: Clair, Alone again (Naturally), Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day, Can't Think Straight, What's in a Kiss were delivered in great style along with a mix of excellently performed songs from his many albums, most of which I don't recall. The dreaded "Here's a song from my new album..." worked out really good - especially a funny song about being allergic (to clothes on girls, rules in school, and work) - I might even buy the new album when it comes out later this year. For an encore, GO'S finally got the audience on its feet with a rousing version of Matrimony and the highlight of the show (for me) Get Down. After the concert I bought The Berry Vest Of album with all his hits (€15 - which I thought was OK for a concert).

I had the good idea of driving in early and getting a pre-show dinner in the Crystal Boat Chinese restaurant on Grand Canal Docks. We parked in nearby Barrow Street and made the restaurant in good time. I was a bit worried that a restaurant almost right beside a 2,000 seat theatre on concert night was almost empty. The best that can be said for this restaurant is that it is take-away food at a table. There are several superior restaurants in this area - take my advice and go to these instead.

The first single I ever bought was  GO'S's Get Down. This was in 1975 (it was a hit at the end of 1973). I bought the single (45rpm vinyl!) in a Paris record shop while on an exchange with a French lad called Thierry de Pettiville (salut Thierry de Irlande - au cas où vous vous jamais Google!). We didn't buy singles in our house (later my sister Kayo did in her Bay City Rollers phase) - so it took me a long time buy my first (I only ever bought one other single - Fernando by ABBA). As my only single I played it over-and-over on our mono record player at home.

Finally, the evening was spoiled somewhat by my car being clamped - this is the first time this has happened to me. It was clamped at three minutes past ten (22.03 on the ticket) - the zone had a Pay-and-Display sign for 07.00-24.00 which I did not see. In fact it never occurred to me to even look, or be suspicious why there was a free space within short walking distance of a theatre. I did not even think to look - the €80 release fee will make me more careful. I could moan about the injustice of being clamped in a quiet area at ten o'clock on a Saturday night, and the disproportionate fine of €80 for not paying a €2 parking fee, but nothing makes you feel more stupid than sitting in your car waiting to be de-clamped (they came within 15 minutes). This, on top of my recent penalty points and a close shave last week in avoiding a parking ticket at 08.55 in Blackrock, is clearly showing that I am "losing it". Nobody told me that when I turned 50 that all of a sudden I would break a spotless (not counting a summons in the early 1980's for no light on my bicycle) record on the road. As GO'S might say (sing) - I'm a Writer, not a Fighter, so I'll just grin and bear it, and try harder the next time....

Told you once before, and I won't tell you no more,
So pay your fee, your fee, your fee,
Pay the Corpo with a pound (euro doesn't rhyme)
Or you'll be Out of Bounds

(with apologies to GO'S for murdering his Get Down lyrics)!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Restaurant Review - Dali's Blackrock

It has been a while since I went to Dali's Restaurant in Blackrock for dinner - last evening Roma and I were there with Peter and Dorothy to celebrate Dor's xxth birthday. Though only about two thirds full, Dali's was busy, and had a good vibrant atmosphere. It has been a while since we have been out together, so we had a great chat catching up on news.

Seared scallops for starters left me wanting more - superb. Main course was delicious monkfish wrapped in parma ham. I followed this with a wonderfully sweet toffee pudding. As I am still on a Lenten fast from the booze, I had a deliciously fresh bottle of sparkling 2010 Chateau Ballygowan.

Overall - Dali's has lost none of its class. Excellent surroundings, comfortable tables, friendly staff, and superb food. A bit pricey these days, but worth it. Happy Birthday Dorothy!

This was also a nice way to relax after what has been my busiest week of the academic year so far.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lady Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Lady Ada Lovelace Day. I have written about her in a previous post Technology Today - How Did We Get here? in an unpublished article for The Sunday Times as follows:

An Englishman, Charles Babbage, is recognized today as the Father of Computers - he was the first person to think of the concept of a programmable computer. In 1822 he began work on a Difference Engine that could calculate a series of values automatically. Though this was a very large machine weighing over 13 tonnes and standing over two meters high, it was never completed. A replica of the Difference Engine was built in 1991 by the British Science Museum, which could give results of calculations up to 31 digits - more than a modern pocket calculator. Lady Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, worked with Babbage and wrote some instructions (programs) for his machines. For this, she is regarded as the first computer programmer - though they didn't know it at the time, this was the first combination of hardware and software.

I always mention her as the first computer programmer in a class I give at the beginning of a Technology Fundamentals module for 1st years on the History of Computing. As with most other Colleges, there is a dearth of women students taking Technology courses, and it is my way to give encouragement to the women in my class from the history books. Here first programme was a calculation using Babbage's Engine to calculate Bernouilli numbers.

It is interesting that 158 years after her death (at the age of 36) she is still remembered.

Ireland's Greatest Person

RTÉ are running a poll to find the greatest Irish person ever. They have 40 people listed, and I am very surprised that some people have made it onto the list: Stephen Gately, Ronan Keating, Louis Walsh, Adi Roche, Joe Dolan, Colin Farrell, and Liam Neeson. Can these people really be counted as "great"? Try this quote about greatness from Buck Rodgers (American Baseball Player):

There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one's maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.

There are some truly great Irish people listed - my shortlist from the RTÉ list is Pearse, Collins, Parnell, Dev, and Oscar Wilde. Of course these people all have one thing (apart from being Irish) in common - they are all dead! I'm a bit like the National Trust in the UK who will not put one of those "So-and-so lived here in 1948" plaques on the wall of a house the Trust owns until the person is dead (there's one on John Lennon's house in Liverpool, but not on on Paul McCartney's). The living can still mess things up and remove themselves from the list! Here's my reasons why I selected above (I don't expect people to agree with me on any of this):

I choose Patrick Pearse because I feel that he was an idealist who had a vision of Ireland as a Gaelic Society free from Britain's rule, and he was prepared to give his life for a doomed cause. Ruth Dudley-Edwards accurately reflects on his legacy as a "Triumph of Failure". As far as I know, he and Dev are the only educators on the list.

Michael Collins is on my list because of his contribution to Irish independence and to a "what might have been" factor had he survived the Civil War. He was also prepared to pay a savage price to get his way.

Charles Stewart Parnell makes my list, first as a Wicklow man, and second because he was the first real Irish man to put it up to the British right in the middle of Westminster, but also liked his "bit in the side". A real democrat who shunned the traditional violent way that Irish history documents over the centuries.

By now I might sound a bit like a republican (which I'm not), but my next choice is Éamon de Valera - to me a giant in 20th century Irish politics. He dominated politics from 1916 to 1973 more than any other Irish person. A divisive figure still, but none-the-less certainly saved this country from destruction in World War II, and played a central role in setting up the Irish state.

Finally, just to show that I am not a complete Philistine, I have added Oscar Wilde to my short-list. Mostly because of his wonderful quotes, but also because of his literary talent (I don't "get" Joyce or Yeats). One of my most memorable trips to the theatre in the past couple of years was to see "An Ideal Husband" by Wilde. I can't end this section without one of his famous quotes - The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

There are of course lots of great Irish people not listed: St Patrick, Brian Boru, Patrick Sarsfield, Robert Emmet, Henry Grattan, William Rowan Hamilton, Ernest Walton, Brian Friel, Brendan Behan, George Best, T.K Whitaker, to name a few. Also, there are only three women on the RTÉ list (Sonia O'Sullivan, Adi Roche, and Mary Robinson) - what about Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Brenda Fricker, Maureen Potter, Constance Markievicz, Edna O'Brien, Maria Edgeworth, and Margaret Burke-Sheridan?

And vote on the RTÉ poll went to Patrick Pearse - patriot, writer, teacher, and revolutionary.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

YouTube - Top Ten Free Campus Uses

I read with interest an article today by Joe Dysart in the 2010 January/February edition of Today's Campus digital magazine about the "Top Ten Free Campus Uses" for YouTube. In the article, Dysart interestingly describes YouTube as the Swiss Army Knife of communications, and that it has emerged as a marketing juggernaut for colleges and universities. Dysart concludes that YouTube is a frothy mix of remarkable popularity, ease-of-entry and virtually non-existent costs that have the wheels of innovation spinning at countless colleges and universities as they continually find ways to use YouTube

In the table below are the top 10 uses of YouTube cited by experienced users - see what you think:

Marketing The most popular use of YouTube, low-budget videos can become over-night sensations.
Hiring Post information for job applicants on YouTube - your organization's values, benefits, facilities, etc.
How-Tos My own number one use of YouTube - short videos showing people how to "do" stuff.
Video FAQs EG - "What are the Lecturers like?" - show a Lecturer in action.
News Video Clips Put College news on YouTube (Duke U does this)
Focus Groups Try out a video on YouTube - eg, test the marketing punch of an ad. Use Google Insights to see who's watching.
Administration-to-Staff Communication Major project updates, announcements - make them via YouTube. Viewers will feel more valued, and it is much more personal and effective than an email.
Employee-to-Employee Video Mail Next Big Thing? Videomail! Google has created "Google Video" in the hope that videomail will replace voicemail in the near future.
Employee Training Reach a wide audience by putting training videos on YouTube (make them private to keep internal).
Savings on Business
Some organizations are saving lots by cutting down on business travel. However, face-to-face meetings will always have an important place in business. Using YouTube for training will have similar effect.

As some of my readers will know I have a YouTube channel with two series of videos - "How To..." and "Problem-Solving Techniques". It is a very powerful and easy to use tool (not to mention it's free!) to reach a very wide audience.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Freedom....! - I got my bike back

My precious Harley-Davidson is home after two weeks in Harley Hospital - Motorcycle City in Blessington Street. Graeme and Brian (the best Harley mechanics around) replaced the drive belt, rear tire, and rear brakes. However, it was a small part, a seized "collar" on the axle, that caused such a long delay. The part had to be ordered form Holland. A few hundred euro later and I am back on the road. Freedom.

While I enjoyed using the long cage (DART train), my commute to and from work was an hour each way. How so many people have the patience to do this, and longer, every day is a curiosity for me. The Harley gets me in and out in 15-20 minutes each way - and it's cooler too.

I picked the bike up on Saturday and took the long way home via the M1 and M50 - freedom....!

I have sowed the seeds with Roma about taking the bike to Europe on summer holiday next year. I feel that there are several more long trips in me still. I'd like to go back to Normandy, though we both decided that if we do go to Normandy we would prefer to take a car/van and stock up with wine and Calvados! I've never been to Northern Europe and would like to travel in Holland, Germany, Denmark, and into Sweden - something like this trip to Malmö:

View Larger Map

A guy can always dream........

New Blog Topstrip

I am making some efforts to both change and brighten up this blog. I use a template (Sand Dollar) provided by Blogger, but have not changed to any others simply because I have not found a template that I like better than Sand Dollar. There are plenty of templates available on the web - but I have decided to make my own changes by adding to the Sand Dollar template I use. I have changed the layout slightly, as well as some colours and fonts.

The main change so far is that I have added a new topstrip graphic to replace the old simple brown box with the blog title. I have had some fun adding graphics to create the new graphic:

From left-to-right, the pictures are:
  • Roma and I on our wedding day - 13th September, 1986 (XOXOX)
  • Preston North End crest - my fav team
  • Roma in 1984 - a photo I have had in my wallet for 26 years
  • A Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic - my bike
  • The Beatles
  • Me in 2008
  • George Best - the greatest ever footballer
  • Harley-Davidson logo - my fav brand
  • Me on Harley outside NCI - 2009 photo for "Inside NCI" magazine
  • The cover of my book
  • Mum and Dad's wedding day - 22nd October, 1958
  • Calliostoma zizyphinum (L.) - my PhD was based on the morphology of this topshell
  • Me in 1984
  • John Lennon - my idol
  • Patrick Pearse - another idol
  • Map of Co Wicklow - so that I'll never forget where I am from

Not on the topstrip, but will be added:
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • iPhone

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lovely Rita Meter Maid

I avoided a parking ticket at 8.55am this morning by the skin if my teeth. I had just dropped off Kate to work and decided to buy the paper (Irish Independent with free 2006 World Cup DVD), and parked in main street Blackrock. I had no change for the parking meter, but sure I was only dropping into the shop for a minute. Returning to my car I spotted "Rita" approaching my car, so I jangled my change. Sure enough, she spotted that there was no pay-and-display slip in my window and took out her ticket book to write me a ticket and an €80 fine. I called out Wait - I had to get change!, and much to my surprise she walked away without writing me a ticket!

Indeed she was "lovely" - so in tribute (and thanks) to her I am singing the famous Beatles song from Sgt. Pepper...

Lovely Rita (Lennon McCartney)

Lovely Rita meter maid, nothing can come between us
when it gets dark I tow your heart away
Standing by a parking meter, when I caught a glimpse of Rita
Filling in the ticket in her little white book.

In the cap she looked much older
And the bag across her shoulder
made her look a little like a military man.

Lovely Rita meter maid, may I inquire discreetly,
When you are free to take some tea with me?

Took her out and tried to win her,
Had a laugh and over dinner
Told her I would really like to see her again

Got the bill and Rita paid it,
Took her home and nearly made it
Sitting on a sofa with a sister or two.

Oh, lovely Rita meter maid, where would I be without you,
Give us a wink and make me think of you.

~The Beatles 1967
Album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Graphic above is a link to a "Lovely Rita Meter Maid" drawing by ~SioUte.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Virus Attack on my Gmail

I owe several people an apology....

Today I was attacked........well my Gmail was by a virus - I don't recall this ever happening before to me. I think it came from a comment posted on my blog about linking with another blog - I foolishly checked it out, and suddenly without my knowledge emails were sent from my account. Hopefully people who received the email deleted or ignored it. I ran a scan on my computer but it came up clean - hopefully no more damage will be done.

Since an upsurge in spam on my blog a few months ago I have switched on Comment Moderation so that I can filter the comments. Despite deleting the comment, it may have still resulted in being infected.

If any of my readers have got an email with "Dear Friend" in the subject line, please let me know. I do have virus protection software at both work and at home - but nothing seems to be have been detected. Perhaps the protection provided by the PC Rubbers method would be better?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day

Today is St Patrick's Day, when the whole world is Irish for a day (well anyone that wants to be). The day started off badly as Claire's car was broken in to last night and there was a lot of glass to clear up. Thankfully nothing was stolen. Roma and I played a nine holes of golf in Leopardstown. I had a reasonable day's play as I scored three pars in a score of 17 points (sometimes it takes me 18 holes to get that many points). Roma played well too and is showing the benefits of her recent lessons and play. We adjourned to the Horse and Hound in Cabinteely for a bite of lunch (very nice) and a pint. I decided to take a break from Lent for 24 hours - the photo shows me holding up my pint (just the one!). The photo was taken by Roma with my iPhone - I am very disappointed with the quality of iPhone photos, no matter what I do I can't get a clear picture.

St Patrick's Day is celebrated to honour Ireland's patron saint (a Welsh man!) who us brought Christianity - these days it seems to be just a big excuse to drink a lot (see photo above!). I noted very few cars outside the local church this morning at Mass time (I didn't go either). As the Church is rapidly becoming less relevant to people's lives, will the day come when St Patrick's Day is no longer celebrated for what it is intended to be? Will the "St" be dropped? Perhaps it will be simply "Ireland Day" in the future? There are many people in Ireland today who are questioning the role of  the clergy (St Patrick was a clergy man too), not just in the Catholic Church, but in all Christian churches. Did St Patrick do us a favour at all? If he had stayed away in Wales maybe we wouldn't have any of the Church scandals we have today?

I hope it stays as St Patrick's Day (I hate it being called "Paddy's Day") forever.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

25 years of dotcom

Yesterday (15th March) was the 25th anniversary of the day the first dotcom name was registered - In 2009, was sold to its current owner, Missouri based Investment Company, and is used as the personal blog of Aron Meystedt, owner of and Nearly 200,000,000 registrations later, the Internet thrives as the world’s network for entertainment and business. See report on this anniversary.

On 15th March 1985 (when I was exactly half the age I am now), very few people would have known what a dotcom was. I was a postgraduate student at Trinity during March 1985 and had still not yet even used a computer. In fact I don't think I had even seen one in action (apart from on Star Trek). By 1986 I was using the DEC-20 mainframe computer to start analyzing my research data. Though at the time I thought it was brilliant, I had to wait 24 hours for printouts to see my results (none could be shown on-screen). It's hard now to imagine a time when office desks had typewriters on them instead of PCs, no Google/FaceBook/YouTube, no USBs, no WWW, or many of the things we are used to today. I wonder what people in 1985 were predicting what the world would be like in 2010?

To the right is an image from the Irish Times Archive website of the front page of that newspaper on 15th March, 1985. The first dotcom doesn't get a mention. You can just about see that the headline is about a Cardinal - somethings never change (see today's front page of the Irish Times!). Also on the front page is a report about Britain being "29% cheaper than Ireland" - plus ça change aussi!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shape Collage - Free Automatic Photo Collage Maker

I am experimenting with some software I came across when checking out a new (to me) blog by Rita Lima. Rita (@awaypa) and I are now hooked up on Twitter. Rita recommends a free Paint program called which she reckons is a good free alternative to Adobe Photoshop. It's available for download from I already use Gimp 2 as a basic graphics tool - I don't need to have much, but will check this new tool out.

However, the coolest thing for me on above site was another free download - Shape Collage. This allows you to create collages of your photos of all shapes and sizes. It's fun and really easy to use - once you have downloaded it you will be able to create collages in only a few seconds. So, naturally the first collage I created was one of pictures of myself. I just dragged and dropped nine portrait style photos into Shape Collage, clicked the Create button, and Hey Presto - a collage is created. You can choose how far apart you want your photos, how many you want, in what order, and the layout - at the click of a button, no special skills required. I love it when people create such wonderful tools that can make amateurs like me create professional looking graphics.

Here is my first effort. Unfortunately it does not improve my looks, but the photos included range from 1974 to 2008. Doing this in Gimp would be difficult for me - I wouldn't even know where to start. The picture here took less than a minute to create. Try it out yourself!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

SlideShare - Lunch Time Seminar 12th March, 2010

Yesterday I presented the Lunchtime Seminar in NCI - my topic "Self Publishing". I started out by mentioning my self-published paper on rhythms in the shore crab, and my unpublished article for The Sunday Times on the history of computing. I of course mentioned my blog, but the theme was how easy it is for people to publish anything they want, using Blogger or WordPress, on any subject they like - with not an Editor or a Publisher in sight. I showed off a few of my own posts, but also mentioned several others and showed my audience how blogs can be used as an ideal support for businesses - my example here was Alasdar's Blog.

Other ideas for Self-publishing I discussed were converting your blog to a book with Blog2Print (I create a book from my own blog as I was talking), publishing and selling your own book with Lulu and Blurb, publishing magazines/newsletters with Issuu, videos with YouTube, web sites with Google sites, and even personal histories with History Ireland. I think the most interesting things for my audience were when I played the 1958 recording of my Grandparent's wedding message for my Mum and Dad, and a radio request from 1986 for Roma and I on our wedding day (13th September, 1986).

In continuation on the theme of self publishing, I have created a new account at and have posted the slides I used in the presentation. As you'll see, my slides are quite bare with just a diagram or two - I prefer my audience to listen rather than read lots of text from my slides.

I am experimenting with SlideShare, and may use it some more. I dare not use it for class notes as I'm certain they would infringe copyright or IP in some way. This post is published direct from SlideShare to my blog with the "Blog this!" option.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Technology Today - How Did We Get Here?

In November 2008 I was asked by The Sunday Times to write an article on the History of Computing - they were working on a Technology Supplement at the time. The opportunity for me to write for a newspaper doesn't come around too often, so I seized the opportunity to write the article. I put quite a lot of effort into the article, and the Agency who were working on the supplement kept the pressure on to get the article done. I submitted the article on time, and much to my disappointment I never heard from the Agency again - nor was the article (or the Supplement) ever published. I guess the Sunday Times pulled the plug on the Supplement - I didn't even get the courtesy of even a short note thanking me for the article but that it was not to be published. My journalism career was over before it started. 

Going through some old documents on my computer I came across the article. As it is now well over a year since I wrote the original article I no longer consider that this is owned by The Sunday Times and I now publish the original article here in full. I am presenting the lunch time seminar on Friday in NCI on the subject of self-publishing - so there is method in my madness in publishing this article here. I will be mentioning this post on Friday. It is far too long for a blog post, but here goes anyway...

Technology Today - How Did We Get Here?

Technology is everywhere today, so much so that it is difficult to imagine a time when there were no desktop computers, laptops, satellite TV, mobile phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, and gaming devices around. Only a few short years ago we hadn't heard of tools such as the World Wide Web, email, spreadsheets, databases, search engines, blogs, and podcasts. We are now so used to common names such as Google, iPod, YouTube, Facebook, and Bebo, that some have become part of the English language. Just look at a movie like All the President's Men made just over thirty years ago in 1976 and in the office scenes you will see Robert Redford working on a typewriter with not a computer in sight. Contrast that with today where you will see computers on every desk in any office, and not a typewriter in sight.

Over the centuries there has been a slow growth in the development of technology. While advances such as the invention of the printing press by Johan Gutenberg in 1439, photography by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839, the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, television by John Logie Baird in 1925, and the atomic bomb by Robert Oppenheimer and his team in 1945, information technology (IT) has also had an interesting history from earliest times up to today. So how and where did IT start? Who were the Gutenbergs and Bells of IT? Let’s take a look at the history of technology and see how we got where we are today.

Ever since Stone Age man first used pebbles, hash marks on bones and on walls, even their fingers, to count - we have been searching for ways to make calculations mechanically such as adding and subtracting. One of the first computing devices was the abacus - a calculating tool used for performing arithmetic. The ancient Greeks used the abacus as long ago as the 5th century BC, and it is still in use today by merchants and traders in some Asian and African countries for counting. The Chinese developed an abacus called the suanpan in the 14th century AD with which it is possible to multiply and divide as well as to add and subtract. In 1617, John Napier - a Scotsman, developed a new version of the abacus, called Napier's Bones, which could be used for more difficult calculations such as square roots. Napier is also known as the inventor of logarithmic tables – well loved by Maths students in the pre-calculator days.

In 1645, the French philosopher and mathematician - Blaise Pascal, invented the first digital calculator called the Pascaline. This device could add and subtract by turning dials on the machine's face. We can all be grateful to Pascal as the reason he invented this machine was to help his father with his work collecting taxes! In 1671, the German philosopher and mathematician, Gottfried Leibnitz, discovered the binary system which is the basis of virtually all modern computer architectures. Leibnitz also developed a machine, called the Stepped Reckoner, which was the first calculator to perform all four arithmetic calculations - add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Calculators with mechanisms like this were used for the next 300 years – even up to the1970's.

An Englishman, Charles Babbage, is recognized today as the Father of Computers - he was the first person to think of the concept of a programmable computer. In 1822 he began work on a Difference Engine that could calculate a series of values automatically. Though this was a very large machine weighing over 13 tonnes and standing over two meters high, it was never completed. A replica of the Difference Engine was built in 1991 by the British Science Museum which could give results of calculations up to 31 digits - more than a modern pocket calculator. Lady Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, worked with Babbage and wrote some instructions (programs) for his machines. For this, she is regarded as the first computer programmer - though they didn't know it at the time, this was the first combination of hardware and software.

The first person to make money out of computing was, not surprisingly, an American - Herman Hollerith, who was a statistician with the US Census Bureau. Counting for the 1880 US census (population 50,189,209) was not complete until 1888, and by law a census had to be conducted every ten years. As the US population was experiencing rapid growth, Hollerith estimated that the 1890 census would take more than 10 years to complete. In 1884 he invented the Census Counting Machine which used punched cards to collect the census data, these cards were then fed into a card reader to count and record the results. With the introduction of this technology, the 1890 census (population 62,947,714) took just six weeks to process even though a lot more data were collected than ever before. Hollerith set up a company, the Tabulating Machine Company, and many other countries used his technology in their censuses. This included the 1911 census of the UK and Ireland which was made available on-line by the National Archives of Ireland last year. In 1911, Hollerith's company merged with three other companies to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, which in 1924 was renamed to International Business Machines (IBM) - now the largest computer company in the world.

The real dawn of modern computing dates back to 1944 when the Harvard Mark I became the first fully automatic computer to be completed. The lead engineer behind the computer was the American Howard Aiken who was inspired by Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. This computer had mechanical relays, or switches which flip-flopped back and forth to represent mathematical data. It was an enormous computer - 16 meters long and 2.5 meters high, weighting 4.5 tonnes and had over 500 miles of wiring. It could store up to 72 numbers, each 23 decimal digits long, and could add three numbers in a second. It was while working on the next generation Mark II version that a moth was discovered trapped in a relay causing a malfunction – hence the origin of the term “computer bug”. Aiken is reputed to have said in 1947 “Only six electronic digital computers would be required to satisfy the computing needs of the entire United States” – how wrong can you be.

War was to play a major part in the development of technology. During World War II, an Englishman, Alan Turing devised machines, including the Bletchley Park Colossus, which could decode encrypted German messages created on an the Enigma machine. This was the world's first programmable, digital, electronic, computing device. It used vacuum tubes to perform the calculations. Turing is regarded as the Father of Modern Computer Science and went on to develop a test for artificial intelligence, and was also the first person to write a chess program for a computer. Bletchley Park, which is now a museum that includes a replica of the Colossus, was recently in the news as some American companies, including IBM, donated over €70,000 to help keep the museum open.

In 1946, two Americans – John Eckert and John Mauchly, created the ENIAC for the US Department of Defense to be used in calculations for artillery fire. Even though this machine weighed over 30 tonnes and had 18,000 vacuum tubes, it only had the computing power of little more than the modern calculator. The ENIAC was programmed by rewiring the machine, instruction by instruction, by women programmers who were called “computers”. The world's first successful commercially available computer was the Ferranti Mark I which was built in the UK in 1951. The first commercial computer in the US was the UNIVAC I built by Eckert and Mauchly – the first one was delivered to the US Census Bureau in March 1951. The fifth UNIVAC I was used by CBS to predict the result of the 1952 Presidential Election - with a sample of just 1% of voters it predicted that Eisenhower would beat Stevenson. 

By the 1950’s, vacuum tube technology was reaching its limits – the tubes were highly inefficient, needed a lot of space, and had to be replaced often. Transistors had already been invented in 1947 by Americans John Bardeen and Walter Brattain (who won a Nobel Prize for their invention in 1956). In 1958, another American, Jack St. Clair Kilby invented the integrated circuit which was a device that allowed the placement of many transistors into a small area – we now know this device as a computer chip. Kilby had to wait until 2000 before he too won a Nobel Prize. This chip revolutionized modern electronics – now computers could be a lot smaller and faster.

The first microprocessor was introduced by Intel in 1971 – up until now, computers could only be afforded by large organizations. However, it was not until 1977 that the first popular microcomputer, the Apple II, became available. It was also commercially successful selling over two million units between 1977 and 1993. The 12th of August, 1981, is a hugely significant date in the development of modern information technology. On this date IBM introduced the PC – the Personal Computer. It had an Intel 8088 processor with a speed of 4.77 MHz and up to 640 KB of memory. It had no hard disk and required two floppy disks – one for applications, and the other for data. Many other companies cloned the IBM PC. The launch of the PC was such a momentous event that Time Magazine named the Personal Computer as Machine of the Year for 1982. Sadly, many of the original design team of the IBM PC died in the 1985 Dallas Air Disaster.

Crucial to the success of the personal computer was the operating system used, MS-DOS. In 1980, IBM had approached a then little known college drop-out, Bill Gates, to provide an operating system for the IBM PC. Gates licensed the operating system to IBM and its clones. Gates had set up a company in 1976 to develop programmes in the BASIC language – from this modest beginning grew the mighty Microsoft Corporation. Software was now becoming just as important as hardware. WordStar was one of the first word processing applications for the PC and was popular up until the early 1990s. It is no longer developed, though curiously it is now reputedly owned by the Irish e-Learning company Riverdeep.

The 1980s was also a time of rivalry. In 1884 Apple launched the Apple Macintosh computer in direct opposition to the PC to much fanfare with a famous ad shown at half-time in the 1984 Super Bowl which depicted IBM as Big Brother. The ad, costing $1.6 million, was directed by Ridley Scott. The ad ran only once, though it is now widely available on YouTube. Apple also developed a rivalry with Microsoft. When Microsoft Windows was introduced in 1985, Apple sued for infringement of copyright of “visual displays” – the lawsuit was finally settled in Microsoft’s favour in 1993.

But perhaps the most outstanding release of the 1990s was the launch of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1992. This was closely followed in 1993 by the release of Mosaic, a web browser which allowed people to access content on the Web. By 1995, company’s world-wide had started to create a Web presence leading to the boom of 1995-2001. During this time another rivalry involving Microsoft erupted – the so-called “Browser Wars” with Netscape. In 1996, Netscape dominated with 80% of all browsers used. By 2001, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had a 90% market share. Microsoft had won again.

The World Wide Web too has evolved. Up until 2004, the Web was essentially an information retrieval only service for most people that required specialist knowledge in order to create Web content. Now anyone can set up a web site, create a blog, and publish videos, photographs, or anything they want on the Web, the so-called “Web 2.0”. Social networking, file-sharing, and blogging are now common place – much of this was almost impossible for most people to do as little as four years ago.

Today, IT is continues to grow rapidly. Based on Moore’s Law, processing speed, memory capacity, and even the number of pixels in digital cameras is doubling every two years. The computer that this article is written on is 630 times faster than the original IBM PC, and has 3,125 times more memory capacity. If the history of technology tells us anything – we ain’t seen nothing yet!

About the Author:
Dr. Eugene F.M. O’Loughlin is a Lecturer in Computing at the National College of Ireland. 

Monday, March 08, 2010

At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard

I came across an interesting article in The New York Times (January 12, 2009 edition) about how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is moving away from traditional large lectures to smaller classes for physics students. Here's the article: At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard. Traditionally, up to 300 1st year students would be packed into a large lecture theatre where students anxiously took notes while the professor covered multiple blackboards with mathematical formulas and explained the principles of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism. Now larger classes have been replaced with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. MIT claims that attendance at class has increased and that the failure rate has dropped by over 50%.

The photo above (linked to from the NYT website) shows Professor Gabriella Sciolla at a class on electricity and magnetism - you can see that extensive use is made of computers, electronic whiteboards, and large displays. Each class is about 80 students sitting around 13 tables - students use clickers to answer Prof Sciolla's questions. The classroom is obviously very high-tech, and the Prof has the benefit of having several teaching assistants in class - clearly this is a very expensive way to teach any subject. However, it is a very modern teaching method to overcome the limitation of the lecture method of teaching that has been in existence for several hundred years. At MIT this is an effort to do a better job of teaching science in response to criticism  of the standard lecture.

I sometimes do a small exercise at the very beginning of some modules where I ask students to match the retention rate of learning with different learning and teaching methods. Here is a table of learning methods and their retention rates - but they are mixed up. See if you can match the correct retention rates with the appropriate method of learning. In particular - what is the percentage retention of content for a lecture?

Correct order (top down): 75%, 10%, 30%, 90%, 20%, 5%, and 50%

Move your mouse over the image (don't click) to read the correct order.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

I went to see Martin McDonagh's play "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" in the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire last evening. I had not seen it before, but have heard on many occasions that it was well worth seeing. This version of the play was presented by the London  Classic Theatre company, and I must say that I had a very enjoyable and entertaining evening.

The play is a dark, moody, funny, and thoughtful piece of work. There are only four characters and is easy for even me to follow. However, as it moves to the later very dramatic stage, mental illness plays a significant role and you are left wondering at the end what was real and what was not real. The play is full of tension, and you will be literally on the edge of your seat right up to the last moments. The characters were excellently portrayed by the cast (I did not get a programme, so I don't know what there names are). Overall, a wonderful play and production - well worth seeing. Recommended.

The Pavilion Theatre is a very small theatre. We were in the second row, and as there is no stage were were right up in front of the action with a perfect view - I did not miss a word. One unfortunate thing about small theatres, and the largely middle to older age audience, is that every sound in the audience is exaggerated. Some people can't think without moving their lips at the same time, so I was treated to several (quite loud I thought) explanations and comments from the couple beside me, and elsewhere in the audience. Zip it folks!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Grade Inflation at Third-Level

I read with interest today reports (see RTÉ report - Initial 'grade inflation' findings published) concerning an analysis of grades awarded in higher education institutions. The report shows that first-class honours awarded to students in the Institute of Technology sector increased from 11% to 16.6% between 1998 and 2008 and that in the universities the percentage of first-class awards increased from 8.3 to 16.2% over a similar period.

This has been a phenomenon for several years (there's is even a website dedicated to this in Ireland!) and is a cause of debate internationally, with many people claiming that "in the good old days" it was almost impossible to get a First. I recall that in my own graduation class (1983) there were three Firsts out of about 18 students - the first Firsts for several years. The following year there were SIX Firsts out of a class of 22. Both sets of results were greeted with a degree of astonishment (and no doubt some joy by the students themselves) - it was a big talking point for some time. How could there be that many smart people in one class? 

My own view is that if a student achieves an overall mark of 70% or more that they are entitled to be awarded a First - regardless of how others performed in a class. I don't believe in throwing a bell curve over a set of results and then deciding that only 5% of a class can get a First. When I am marking any piece of assessment, one of the first questions I ask myself is "Is this a first-class piece of work?" If it is, I'll award an appropriate mark, if not - I don't. However, I do believe that 70% is too low a mark to be the cut-off point for First class honours. There is a huge gulf between 70% and 90% - but both marks will deliver a First. To get an "A" in the Leaving Certificate you need to score at least 85%, while 70% is a low "B" (B3). A B3 can hardly be described as First Class? A re-alignment of the grading system might be in order - What....change hundreds of years of distinguishing people by whether they graduated with a First or Upper Second I hear you say? (BTW - I'm a 2:1!).

Image copied from Karl Kapp's Blog - Kapp Notes, a must read blog for educators worth checking out. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

5,331 days to Retirement - or is it?

There is much in the news today (see Irish Times article) about the retirement age being increased from 65 to 68 over the next few years. I visited the Time and Date website to calculate how much time is left until my retirement age at 65 -  as of writing this post, I have 5,331 days, 2 hours, 14 minutes and 54 seconds until Monday, 7 October 2024

The Government plans to introduce the increased retirement age on a phased basis - 66 years of age in 2014, 67 in 2021, and 68 in 2028. This means that my retirement party (to which you are all invited) will not now take place on 7th October, 2024 as planned - but on 7th October 2026, when I will be 67 years young. The same Irish Times article above states that the average life expectancy was 76 for men. This means that I can expect to have 9 years of retirement instead of 11 - damn and blast! I'll just have to live two years longer to get my own back on the Government.

There is of course an issue for education. As a Lecturer in Computing the digital divide between my students and myself will widen even further. Assuming that I will be in the same job for the next 16 and a bit years, it is possible that I could be 50 years older than some of my future students in 2026. Old enough to be their Grandfather! It's also quite amusing to think that most of those students are in nappies right now!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Inside NCI - The magazine for Friends of National College of Ireland (Issue #4)

The February edition of Inside NCI is now available. Print copies can be picked up in the College, while it is also published online here. This edition features the former President, Dr Paul Mooney, with the former World Champion snooker player, Ken Doherty who is a member of the College's Governing Body, on the cover. It is packed full of news and items ranging from an introduction to the new President, Graduation 2009, launch of the new disability service, the Legends in your Lunchtime Series, and the launch of a new Home Visiting Service. Lots and lots of interesting stuff to read and it is packed full of photos.

I was delighted to see a news item on the launch of my book (page 7), and a flattering photo (thanks Emma F.) of myself and Mark Ryan of Accenture.

Congrats to the NCI marketing Department for once again producing an excellent publication - make sure you check it out.

Monday, March 01, 2010

History Ireland

History Ireland is offering a new service which aims to capture the individual histories of Irish people both in Ireland and around the world. Users (who must be registered, but this is free) are allowed to set up personal history pages to which you can add your own stories under several categories. History Ireland hopes to build an extensive database reflecting Irish lives, giving them a chance to be heard, remembered, and to add their voice to the historical record. Submissions, which are moderated but not edited, can be up to 800 words. I don't know if they are checked - mine appeared instantly on the site.

At the prompting of a comment left on my Grandfather's Ice Cream post I have re-written the story of my visit to Croke Park in the early 1960s. I have added some more information about my Grandfather which is taken from The Leather's Echo post from 21st November last year. This is now posted to the History Ireland site - it is the 10th personal story on the site. My new title for this story is My Grandfather, Croke Park, Ice Cream, and Gay Byrne.