Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review - Enigma: A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell

Paul Bew has written a very enjoyable biography of C.S. Parnell. I had not read any books about Parnell before, but of course knew a lot about him from learning about Irish history. This is an easy to read book and provides a lot of insight into his short life (he died aged just 45 in 1891). His most effective period was from 1882-1890 - a testament to his lasting legacy and contribution to Irish history that he achieved so much in so short a time.

Image link to Amazon.co.uk.
Parnell was a man of mixed abilities and character - take this extract from page 115 "his personal traits and idiosyncrasies became more noticeable: the legendary frigidity of demeanour, the impenetrable reserve, the lofty detachment, the strange sphinx-like silences, the inexplicable absences, the hint of steel - all these being to some extent offset by an engaging charm enlivened with occasional flashes of warmth and even whimsy, and his behaviour as a whole being marked by a general air of eccentricity".

The affair with Kitty O'Shea is not sensationalized. Such an affair would not cause the split and his downfall these days, but it was unfortunate that he is remembered as much for this affair as he is for his politics. 

At the end of the book there is a reprint of the essay "A Counterfactual Chief? If Parnell had lived till 1918", written in 2010 by Patrick Maume. To me this adds nothing to reading about the life of Parnell. Speculating what would have happened if he had lived longer is just that - speculation. Even Bew himself states in a note at the end "Perhaps all this speculation is beside the point". He is right.

Apart from the reprinted essay at the end, this is a very good book on an icon of Irish history and is certainly recommended by me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

It's St Stephen's Day - and Christmas 2011 is over. I love Christmas Day! We had a very early start (0700) to open pressies. Santa brought me an Amazon Kindle! I also have Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs in paperback - lots of interesting reading ahead.

With my new Kindle (and new jumper!)
showing page 244 of my own book.
An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis.
So far I love the Kindle - it's the 3G/WiFi/Keyboard version that I have. I find it very easy to use, and crucially - very easy to read from. I downloaded some free books at first - Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and the Bible. I also copied over some free eBooks that I have gathered over the years, eg "Knowing Knowledge" by George Siemens. Plus I have also copied over a few PDF files that I have had for some time (which I have not paid for). My intention is not to read these again, but I really like the idea that I have a searchable copy of these texts at all times.

My first purchase from Amazon was Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter - which I plan to read while travelling to Spain tomorrow for a few days. This will be the first time that I will not bring any paper books or newspapers with me when travelling - I want to see how I get on with the Kindle. 

As a piece of technology the Kindle is so far for me a wonderful gadget. Amazon pay for the 3G connection, so you don't need a sim card to use it. With WiFi - the connection is really quick, my purchase of the Dava Sobel book above was downloaded to the Kindle automatically in seconds! It holds up to 3,500 books - so I expect to keep adding to this over the next few years. Imagine having your own library in your pocket? I will no doubt blog about this in the near future - but I'm certain that the Kindle, and other such devices, have the potential to revolutionalize knowledge by having access to libraries of books and documents at our finger tips. This could also be the beginning of the end for book stores who are likely to go in the same direction towards extinction as is happening to travel agents and record shops.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Students are way ahead of us?

While at the ICEP Conference last week, Professor Sally Brown played us a YouTube video when she proposed that students are way ahead of us teachers/lecturers. It was in the context of a discussion on the use of technology in education. Though not exclusively about technology, she did point out that students can be way ahead of their teachers in many ways - the following ad for New Zealand's lotto nicely confirms this point. Enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

YouTube for Teachers

YouTube for Teachers was officially launched last week. This is an effort by YouTube to "to help teachers use educational YouTube videos to educate, engage and inspire their students". Many schools block the main YouTube website, but youtube.com/teachers is a sub-domain that can be set by network administrators to be viewable by students. I had expected that ads and comments be removed, but that does not seem to be the case.

Image link to the
Khan Academy.
There are some excellent Maths videos from the Khan Academy - every Maths teacher in the world should use these both to learn how to use the material to teach the material themselves, and of course to recommend to students that they use them for learning and revision. As I write this post, a staggering 92,138,529 lessons have been delivered by the Khan Academy. Want to learn about simple equations in algebra? Check out this video which not only shows you how, but is explained and illustrated very well. This is a great resource for teachers because they can use the same examples and perhaps improve their own teaching. 

I sense that this could be a breakthrough in the teaching and learning of Maths. We constantly hear about poor maths standards in school leavers, while industry is crying out for graduates with better maths skills (see Skills shortages can be addressed in the Irish Times). We also hear that not all maths teachers have a qualification in maths - in fact according to this recent Press Release from Minister Seán Sherlock which quotes a survey that "shows that out of a total of 3,311 teachers teaching maths in 422 schools, 2,198 teachers (66.4%) are fully qualified to do so". My point is that some of the best teachers in the world are putting excellent maths video on YouTube - so why not use this fantastic resource in the classroom? Teachers should have nothing to fear - I don't see the day that a class will consist entirely of watching videos. Students will always need the guiding hand of a good teacher. By embracing YouTube for Teachers, I am convinced that maths standards will improve greatly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How To... Draw a Basic Scatter Diagram in Excel 2010

One of the shortest videos I have created for the Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin channel is about creating a scatter diagram in Excel 2010 (see below). Creating a scatter diagram is really easy to do, and it is a useful diagram if you want a simple visual look at a comparison of two variables. In this video I use data comparing on-line course ratings against age. This is based in part on an example from the book Managing Information Technology Projects (Schwalbe, 2011), which I use in my Project Management classes.

For my PhD thesis (1988), I produced many scatter diagrams for data analysis such as multi-variate analysis. Unlike Excel 2010 where a diagram can be created with a few clicks from a mouse, back in 1988 I had to write a FORTRAN programme to read the data file. I then had to send the result for batch processing overnight, and pick up a printout of the diagram the next day. Practically stone age stuff!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ICEP 2011

The International Conference on Engaging Pedagogy (ICEP 2011) was held in NCI yesterday and I was able to attend most of the proceedings. The conference "is an annual event that brings together researchers and practitioners in the field of third-level teaching in order to discuss means and methods of improving student engagement (from ICEP About page)".

The opening address "Effecting Change to improve the Learning Experience", was delivered by Professor Sally Brown. She gave us both an entertaining and informative talk - she even started at the end! She displayed her Conclusion slide first and then went back to the beginning. While she was stating the obvious that if we keep on doing the same thing every day that nothing will get better, she still held the audience's attention with her wit and  informed experiences. She advised us to consider changing the way we assess students, use technology, engage with students, and to embrace change. 

I missed the first break-out session (which I was supposed to chair), due to attending some presentations by some 4th year students. But I was back for the afternoon breakout session - I attended the following three presentations:
  • The Use of Mind Maps as an Assessment Tool by Robbie O’Connor (Tallaght IT)
  • Motivating Student Learning by Mark Dowling (Griffith College)
  • Embedding Universal Design in the Curriculum by Margaret Kinsella (Blanchardstown IT)
Robbie O'Connor was excellent and showed us how he uses mind maps in assessing student work on an environmental engineering course. Mark Dowling was candid about how some strategies for engaging students did not work very well. While Margaret Kinsella both entertained and informed when talking about designing educational material to suit everyone - including disabled people.

The final part of the conference was an "Armchair Session" (sadly, with no armchairs!), which was led by Professor Phil Race. The theme was "Capturing the Voice of Irish Educators" where he set us various tasks to ask questions about the things that challenged us as educators - his slides from his presentation (which includes our feedback) are available here. Our discussions varied from "what can we do when we get silence after asking a question?" to "how can we overcome a reliance on the likes of Wikipedia?".

Overall - a very interesting conference and it was also great to meet both old and new faces too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

End of Another Semester

Today marked the end of Semester I for me in NCI.  I had no classes today but spent the day attending mid-year project presentations from our final year students. This was a hectic, but enjoyable day. Students were required to present on the progress of their final year project. Lots of interesting material which I enjoyed listening too. Now the hard part - marking the presentatons!

Semester I is over! Image from the
In the Direction of our Dreams Blog.

At the start of each semester, I always look down the line to the next 14 weeks thinking that it is sooooooo long! However, time flies - essays and projects have to be marked, and classes have to be delivered. I have enjoyed this semester more than most. I had first year, third year, and fourth year modules - plus an executive education module to deliver. My subjects were:
  • Introduction to Business
  • Project Management
  • Business Process Engineering
  • Business Systems Analysis
Before the Christmas break (we get Christmas Eve to the 2nd January off) - I have a lot of continuous assessment to mark. Exams take place in January.

I know some students check out this blog occasionally - so I'd like to congratulate all students on their work in semester I.

Semester II awaits!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Carol Service in Blackrock

This evening I was part of the St John the Baptist Church choir that sang at the parish Christmas Carol Service. Also participating was a traditional Irish music group and a children's choir from the local school. The service was held in the parish church and a reasonable crowd showed up for the evenings prayers and entertainment. Does this count as a  gig?

We had three carols to sing on our own - "Coventry Carol", "O Little One Sweet", and "Still, Still, Still". We also joined in on other carols like "Joy to the World" and " O Come All Ye Fatihful". I have to say that I am enjoying the singing in the choir - there were three men (incuding myself) and ten women singing. We certainly belted out the carols!

I still find the parts (bass in my case) hard to get right. Even though I practice a bit on the piano at home, I do get many notes wrong. So I sing out loud the bits I know, and sing low for the bits I don't know so well. If all else fails I sing along with the melody!

We have Christmas masses coming up - so that will be a mix of traditional hymns and Christmas carols. I'm doing the vigil mass on Christmas Eve, and the main 12.00 mass on Christmas Day. I'll be so holy that God has to let me into Heaven!

I have been a member of the choir for just three months and they are a great bunch to sing with - we even went for a drink after the service to Tonic in Blackrock. I have a long way to go before I get all the hynns and carols right - I mustn't have been listening at mass over all the years, everthing seems that I have never heard them before. I'll keep this up for a while - something to do on a Monday evening (choir practice), and the auld religion bit won't do me any harm either.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The 10 Worst Songs of the 1970s Pictures - Rolling Stone

Following on from yesterdays's post about the top 10 photos of 2011, I naturally decided to beat that post with a look at a reader's poll in Rolling Stone magazine - The 10 Worst Songs of the 1970s. Since all my teenage years were spent in the 1970s, I actually remember most of these rubbish songs as I listened to David Hamilton on BBC Radio 1 almost every day. For children of that fabulous decade - the 1970s, here's the top 10 worst songs:

  1. Rick Dees - 'Disco Duck'
  2. Starland Vocal Band - 'Afternoon Delight'
  3. Paul Anka - '(You're) Having My Baby'
  4. Debby Boone - 'You Light Up My Life'
  5. The Captain and Tennille - 'Muskrat Love'
  6. Rupert Holmes - 'Escape (The Pina Colada Song)'
  7. Terry Jacks - 'Seasons In The Sun'
  8. Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods - 'Billy Don't Be A Hero'
  9. Morris Albert - 'Feelings'
  10. Minnie Riperton - 'Loving You'

I don't remember "Disco Duck" which was a one-hit-wonder for a Memphis DJ - perhaps it was only a minor hit on this side of the Atlantic. The Captain and Tennille's  "Muskrat Love" is the other one I don't recall. "Billy Don't Be A Hero" was a hit for Paper Lace over here. So - if I had to pick a favourite from this list, it would have to be The Pina Colada song by a mile. Here it is for for all you 1970s lovers (with Rupert Holmes looking very like Kenny Everett!):

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The National Geographic Magazine's Top 10 Photos of 2011

I am a big fan of the National Geographic and have been reading and learning from it since the 1960's. As a boy I used to put their maps on my bedroom wall and pour over them, as well as reading articles on everything scientific and geographical over the years. I also love the photographs - you can pick up any National Geographic magazine and wonder at the quality and brilliance of some of the photos.

Photo by Joel Sartore - "Rift in Paradise".
Image link to Top 10 Photographs of 2011
on National Geographic.
The National Geographic magazine's top 10 photos are now available on-line. As usual there are some stunning photos shown - my favourite is the one with the lion in the tree. I wish I could take photos like this - I'm sure hours of practice and patience went into setting up this shot. Also certain in the digital age that perhaps several photos were taken of which this one was selected - perhaps it was even uploaded to the Internet on the spot. Imagine that in the recent past that the photographer would have had to go back to a studio to develop the film and wait to see the end result!

It's a great credit to the National Geographic that they are still in existence and continue to be popular despite the digital age when anybody can shoot almost professional photos with basic digital cameras. Many of their photos are available as free wallpapers for your desktop, and are certainly worth browsing. A fantastic learning resource.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Students use smartphones to study more, and more efficiently

StudyBlue is a website that is designed to help students study better, principally by allowing students to make on-line flashcards with photos and audio for mobile devices. According to StudyBlue author Scott D, "It turns out that students who make flashcards on smartphones or study their flashcards on mobile devices are getting a ton of benefits from their mobile study sessions by taking advantage of the opportunity to study everywhere they go". 

Image link to StudyBlue.com
(click link for better view).
According to StudyBlue, students with smartphones are:
  • twice as likely to study between 6 and 8.00 am
  • almost three times as likely to track their progress
  • study 40 more minutes each week by studying everywhere they go

StudyBlue have prepared an Infographic to illustrate their findings which are based on a study of nearly one million users from the Autumn 2011 semester - so it is bang up-to-date. I also like the bit at the bottom of the infographic that shows the percentage of students who "often" use their smartphones before going to sleep (46%), waiting in a queue (55%), and commuting (74%).

StudyBlue also has a section for Teachers. I have registered as a user and will investigate using this for a class in the future. So far it seems easy to use and already has features that should be in VLEs like Moodle.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

How To... Use the COUNTIF statement in Excel 2010

My YouTube Partner Channel is now renamed Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin. YouTube have changed the layouts, and I have edited my channel to suit. Gone is the (very basic) banner graphic which I drew myself from the top - I may replace this with something better in the future. For YouTube Partners there are some good Analytics (formerly called "Insight") - while they don't really tell me much more than what I was able to determine before - they are certainly more user-friendly to use. The number of views today stands at 660,015. Last week the channel had 17,971 views, and the number of subscribers continues to grow (now at 699). I'm hoping that YouTube's new structure for education channels will help drive more traffic to the channel. 

My lastest video added this week is about how to use a COUNTIF function in Excel. This is a function that I actually use myself quite a bit, it is easy to learn about, and is very useful. At 3 minutes 41 seconds it is also one of my shortest videos. This one was recorded using Camstudio's free screencasting tool. Have a look and see what you think:

Monday, December 05, 2011

"Software is like magic: all you need is ability"

Last week I commented about an anonymous Irish Times article "Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian" in which I agreed that there is not enough technology education in our schools. This debate gains further ground from John Naughton writing in today's Guardian newspaper "Programming should take pride of place in our schools". Naughton writes that if "we don't change the way ICT is thought about and taught, we're shutting the door on our children's futures". Here-here!

Image link to The Guardian.
For anyone passionate about technology and education - Naughton's article is a "must-read". While the article is about UK schools, it can easily be translated for schools all over the world. Naughton sees learning the likes of Microsoft Office as merely "office skills" - and that what's missing is "any appreciation of the real significance of introducing children to programming". In the UK and Ireland, our schools and colleges are constantly criticized for not producing graduates with the skills needed by industry. Despite this, talented young people like Shawn Fanning (Napster) and Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook) innovated with little more than a laptop and programming ability. We should teach at least some basic programming in our schools. Not just as an option in Transition Year - but as a full subject for Junior and Leaving Certificates. It would be better and more useful than some of our exiting subjects. I left secondary school in 1978, and since the mid 1980s I have used computers almost every day. Not once since 1978 have I had a conversation in Irish longer than a cúpla focal.

Naughton's final paragraph is telling:

That's why software is like magic: all you need is ability. And some children, for reasons that are totally and wonderfully mysterious, have an extraordinary aptitude for programming – just as some have a musical, mathematical or artistic gift. If the government excludes computer science from the national curriculum then it will be effectively slamming the door to the future.

Technology as a main subject for secondary school students WILL HAPPEN - it's just a matter of when.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

New Restaurant - Le Plancha in Blackrock

We decided to try the recently opened new restaurant in Blackrock - Le Plancha. It is located beside the Wishing Well Pub and replaces Papa's Mediterranean Restaurant which finally closed after a few years of being open and shut intermittently. Le Plancha "is a modern Irish restaurant with a style of cuisine using influences from the Iberian Peninsula & France". Certainly different from a lot of the run-of-mill restaurants we now have in Ireland.

Photo from LePlancha.ie.
The menu is short, but excellent. Fish, beef, duck, and chicken - but with delicious sounding sauces and vegetable mixes. For a starter I had a smoked duck salad - very tasty. After this I went for baked halibut with a wonderful mix of mushrooms, peas, and pickled onions on an olive oil mash. I was not disappointed - this was really good. I even had a desert of chocolate brownie with smashing Bailey's ice-cream. All-in-all - an excellent meal which I felt was good value at €78 for the two of us (including drinks).

Despite the Recession - businesses are still opening up. Just take a look at bizstartup.ie to see that many entrepreneurs are still dipping their toes into new business ventures. It must take a lot of guts to start a new business these days - especially in the restaurant business. We met the owner, the lovely Eimear, who looked after us well. We had a chat about Facebook and Twitter and their roles in promoting businesses - hopefully I convinced her of the benefits that social networking tools can have for her in her new venture. Good luck to Eimear and all at Le Plancha, and many thanks for a lovely evening out.

Le Plancha is not on Twitter yet, but they can be found on Facebook.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ballingate House Upper

Out of the blue I recently received an email from CM who was researching his family, and who had discovered one of my very early posts on this blog: Ballingate House Upper - Where I Grew Up. This house stood on the spot where my Mum and Dad's house now stands. CM Googled "Ballingate" and found my Blog post - it turns out that CM's Grandfather was born in this house.

Photo used with permission (courtesy of CM).
CM sent me an old photograph of the house - I had never seen any pictures of it before. My Grand Uncle Pat Hurley bought the house (and surrounding farm) for £1,200 in 1942. Ballingate House Upper was demolished in two parts. According to my Dad, during World War II (possibly 1944) the roof was removed to avoid paying rates, and an auction was held to sell all the slates and timber from the house. This auction realized more than the £1,200 it cost to buy the farm - a nice piece of business despite the fact that a fine house was ruined. Dad bought the farm from Uncle Pat in 1959 - by then the house was a ruin and it was demolished to make way for our family house in 1960. The rubble from the house was piled beside the avenue leading to our farm for many years.

Image link to BuildingsOfIreland.ie.

I visited Mum and Dad today and showed them the photo above - it did not take Dad long to figure out what building was in the photo. While he remembers the house well, not everything was as he thought. Ballingate House Upper is shown in the mid 19th century ordnance survey map to the left. The house is the square shape at the north east end of the buildings shown - we had some good fun today walking around the existing house and the remaining buildings trying to figure out the aspect of the house in the photo. We are certain that the photo was taken from a south-west angle.

Once again the power of the Internet is making the world smaller. A simple blog post has prompted CM (who lives in France) to check out his family history and an old photo can now be shared for all to see. I know CM now plans to visit Ballingate before Christmas.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The only Irish channel on YouTube's Directory for Lifelong Learning!

YouTube is getting its act together as far as Education Channels are concerned (must be the Google influence?). In the past few days I have been getting YouTube Partner updates telling me about new features and more Insight into who is viewing my Learn with YouTube channel.

Click image to enlarge.
YouTube have set up a Lifelong Learning section in the Education category. There are 103 channels listed today at EDU › Channels Directory for Lifelong Learning, and guess what? My channel is one of the 103! YouTube have changed the name from Learn with YouTube to Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin, so I have some work to do to in changing my Channel header and title. So far, this is the only channel listed from Ireland. I'm sure more will be added to this directory over time, but it's cool to be one of the first 100.

My channel is at #72 for "Most Viewed" - a long way behind #1 which is the National Geographic Channel which has over 10 million views. I am also near the bottom at #99 for number of subscribers, also a long way behind the National Geographic which has over half a million subscribers. Given that these are figures for the whole world (not just Ireland) I am giving myself a small pat on the back today!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian"

Last Tuesday's Irish Times features an article on Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian. It is a column "designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously". I don't know who wrote the article, but he/she certainly speaks for a lot of parents and for those in education.

Image link to Edutopia.org.
In the article a parent writes about their son who spends a lot of time on his computer at home, and very little time on a computer at school where most work is still done by hand. The argument is that this is no preparation for working life and that this is "so absurd when you consider what most people’s working lives are like nowadays: everything is based around a computer. Everything we write is typed into one program or another". 

Parents are hearing all the time that there are jobs in IT - indeed yesterday I was at a stand in NCI's Open Day at which this years school 6th years attended, and I told any prospective student who asked about computing that there are jobs in IT. Some were wondering how much knowledge of computers did they need to do a Computer Science course.

So are students prepared for College/work? Almost all students who come to the College now are digitally literate. This means that they can use a computer to do based things like send/receive email, look up stuff on the web, and create a Facebook page. They do not yet know about programming, computer architecture, electronics, operating systems, and software engineering. Many schools have ECDL programmes as part of Transition Year - but by the time students have finished the leaving certificate two years later they will have forgotten most of what they have learned (especially if they don't use any of what they have learned). ECDL and Facebook is not enough for the real world.

So I agree with the anonymous Irish Times writer that technology should be a more important part of education. The trouble is that it costs a lot of money - not everybody can afford a laptop, and the Department of Education certainly can't afford it. To spend more would mean sacrificing something else. Dare I say that the money spent on educating students to learn Irish (which many cannot speak after 14 years in our education system) would be better spent on technology?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Social media pioneer says technology will transform education

Well what do you know - somebody important says that "technology will transform education", this is according to Mark Schaefer writing in BusinessGrow.com. LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman sticks his neck out and tells us that technology will replace the “factory model of education” and goes on to declare that "Technology opens up the educational echo chamber by introducing the possibility of learning from a variety of experts and perspectives. It creates an opportunity for global dialogue, expanded connectivity, and the possibility of learning from the best teachers, wherever they may be”.

WTF is an "educational echo chamber"?

Image by Campbell taken from Morten Flate Paulsen's
book "Online Education".
Back in 1999, Cisco CEO John Chambers (no relation to the echo chamber?) is quoted as saying that "The next big killer application on the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error". e-Learning sales people loved this, and I heard it quoted many times myself in my last years with SmartForce. When I joined the then CBT Systems in 1989 a rallying cry to us all that technology was about to change education - the real pioneers of learning technology were people like Bill and TG of CBT Systems who did it with 5¼ inch floppy disks!

Reid Hoffman - you are about 22 years too late with your new ideas!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reputations - Gandhi

This evening's lecture in the Trinity College Reputations series was about Mohandas K Gandhi, and was delivered by Dr Mridu Rai of the History Department. From the outset she set out to tear Gandhiji's reputation apart. 

Image link to IndianChild.com.
At first, Dr Rai told us that there was a lot of myth about Gandhi. Among many arguments she presented:
  • He was effectively a "racist" because he only worked as a lawyer in South Africa for Indians, and had "no time" for the "blacks"
  • He was a snob (not her words) as he only worked for middle class Indians, and only a latterly acted for lower class Indians under pressure
  • He repeatedly "sold out" lower class Indians in India in favour of the rich and the British - preferring instead to "compromise" 
  • His tactics of "non-cooperation" and "passive resistance" were efforts to provoke violence responses from the British - not what a non-violent protagonist should be advocating
  • All his ideas were ignored by Indian politicians - so much so that he was pretty much an outcast for the last years of his life in the sense that Indian politicians like Nehru were "fed up" of him
  • She even told us that his speeches were incomprehensible in his last years as he had lost all this teeth
The lecture made for uncomfortable listening for those like me who have long held Gandhiji in awe. I have read Louis Fisher's excellent biography of Gandhi (see my short review on Amazon here), and have always believed that he was a noble and righteous man with the independence of India by passive resistance being an achievable goal. Dr Rai dissected his life with the expertise of the historian, and while we might disagree over the ultimate reputation of Gandhi - she presented a well thought out account of his life with the passion of the historian. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nostalgia moment - Lisbon 15th November 1995

Experimenting with Roma's new camera on the night before she left for South Africa I got a photo of myself wearing my Ireland jersey - it was also the night of Ireland's brilliant 4-0 win over Estonia in the Euro 2012 play-offs. I bought the jersey in 1995, and like to wear it when Ireland are playing (even if just watching the match on telly).

Come on you boys in green!
This photo reminds me of the night of 15th November 1995 when Ireland took on Portugal in the last game of the group stages of the Euro 1996 in the Stadium of Light in Lisbon - the only "away" international I have ever been to. I travelled with my brother Brian and we had a great time - my memories include drinking pints at 7 o'clock in the morning at Dublin airport, the rain, Brian's almost all day hilarious haggling with a persistent Brazilian selling "gold" rings, and the dancing girls at a Musgrave's bash after the game which we crashed.

Alas - the game which Ireland had to win to qualify, was not what we had hoped. We later lost a play-off to Holland. From FAI History Chapter 33:

The fans played their part and travelled in numbers as an estimated 25,000 crowded into the Stadium of Light in Lisbon on a night when the rain poured down incessantly. Ireland had to work to the limit to restrain a marvellous Portugal who made nonsense of the conditions by playing wonderful, compelling football.

Ireland succeeded in defying them for an hour but then Rui Costa conjured up a beautiful opening goal with a chip that floated over the top of the defence and dipped into the net off the underside of the crossbar. Ireland were ineffective in attack, unable to muster a revival as Portugal won emphatically 3-0.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Label Cloud

A new feature on my blog is a "Label Cloud" - it is just to the left of this post. The list of words in this label cloud is made up of tags from labels that I can add to each blog post. So for example, I can tag any post about YouTube with the label "YouTube" - this will then appear in the label cloud. Searching will become easier and I can categorize posts more easily - just click on a word and all posts tagged with that word will be displayed. Words at the top are larger because more posts are tagged with these labels. I have tagged my most recent 100 posts, so the list to the left reflects this - I will over time revisit old posts and tag them too. I have to remember that when I write a new post to tag it too - this one will be tagged with "cloud".

While I like this idea, the cloud that Blogger provides is very boring - just see for yourself the square paragraph of text that makes up my cloud. Wordle.net allows you to create a cloud - you just provide a list of words and it will do the rest. Below is the same list created by Wordle that as of today makes up my label cloud to the left - much more interesting I think you'll agree: 

Created by Wordle.

So come on Blogger - you can do better. Or better still - come on Wordle and make a gadget for Blogger!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How To... Use If Statements in Excel 2010

IF...THEN...ELSE - always fascinated me since I first learned about IF statements back in the 1980's when I first learned programming. Logic is central to IF statements - that's why I like them. I always had fun writing them and testing then to see if they worked. 

IF statements can be used in Excel as conditional statements. My latest video show Excel users how to write a basic IF statement. The syntax is quite simple:

IF(logical_test, "value_if_true", "value_if_false")

In the video I use the example of using an IF statement to check if a student score is a pass or a fail - the IF statement for this is as follows (assuming a pass mark of 40%):

IF(B2>=40, "Pass", "Fail")

where "B2" is the cell where the mark is located on the Excel spreadsheet. In this statement you are testing to see IF a value (the contents of cell B2) is greater than or equal to 40 - if this is True, then the word "Pass" is displayed. If this is not True, then the word "Fail" is displayed. So for example, if the value in cell B2 is 60, then this is greater than or equal to 40 - therefore the statement is True, while a value of 30 is not greater than or equal to 40 - therefore the statement is false. Check out the video on YouTube and see what you think:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reputations - Marie Antoinette

This week in the Reputations series of lectures by the Trinity History Department was about Marie Antoinette by Dr Linda Kiernan - this was a really good lecture! Very informative, and full of interesting insights into what people (particularly the French of the late 1700s) thought of her. She was a much maligned woman, and was seriously the victim of a vicious campaign against her by the revolutionaries that ultimately succeeded in getting her to the guillotine. A sympathetic view, but not the complete view as presented by Dr Kiernan.

Image link to Wikipedia.
I particularly enjoyed Dr Kiernan's analysis of the image of Marie Antoinette. Her presentation and illustration of the many pamphlets that were distributed about Marie Antoinette were both entertaining and informative. Also - with 52 slides for her lecture, Dr Kiernan also went to come effort to provide us with as much material as possible. The analysis was deep and thoughtful - her role as a Hapsburg and as a French Queen was critically analysed. This left us in no doubt that Marie Antoinette was both a simple (devoted to family) and a complex character (trying, but failing to be a Hapsburg at a French court).

I have always felt some sympathy for her - for example, she never said "Let them eat cake". She was also portrayed as as a foreigner, lesbian, abuser of her son, frivolous, having undue influence on the King, a whore, among many other things - many untrue. Her trial was a joke, but her execution inevitable. 

Much of Marie Antoinette's problems were due to her being a woman in a man's world. Traditionally, the King's mistresses were singled out as the cause of problems at court, but as Louis XVI had no mistresses -  Marie Antoinette was singled out to blame. She stood no chance.

However, Marie Antoinette and the King were hopeless and useless - they did nothing to revert the tide of public opinion against them. They were extravagant, without any real sense of the misery their subjects lived in. They were true cuckoos in cloud-cuckooland. "Spin" had not yet been invented - they certainly could have done with a PJ Mara or Alastair Campbell at court!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My YouTube Channel - more views than either the Open University or Trinity College

Last Wednesday (November 16th) - my Learn with YouTube hit a new landmark figure. For the first time the viewing figures crept over 3,000 views in one day. As I've written many times before, it  is very gratifying to me that so many people find my learning videos so useful - the Channel is going from strength to strength.

Image link to Scoop.it.
YouTube provides detailed analytics for the channel and its individual videos. As I write this post the channel has 621,911 views. YouTube also attempt to show most viewed channels and videos in each category. I classify all mine as "Education" videos, but the Education Most Viewed list does not show channels like mine - it concentrates instead on Colleges and Universities. At the top of the list with a staggering 97 million views is the Khan Academy. So I checked out where my channel would fit on this list.

Guess what - I would be at #78 in the top YouTube 100 Education channels in the world! I do realize that if this list included all channels classified as "Education" that I would be way further down the list as channels similar to mine would inevitably get higher on the list. However, I would be ahead of The Open University Channel on 612,506 views, and behind St Petersburg College (Florida) on 632,807 views. No Irish College or University makes the top 100 - my view count is about 3.5 times that of Trinity College (176,681 views).

Sure aren't I great all together? It's fun to compare figures and see where my piece of the learning world fits in with the big boys.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Graduations at NCI

Yesterday was Graduation Day at the National College of Ireland - a real highlight of the academic year for me. Many students graduating have been in my classroom over the years - my especial congratulations go out to the B.A. (Hons) in Technology Management, the B.A. in Management of Technology in Business, and the Certificate in Business Analysis classes. Well done to you all. Lots of smiling faces of graduates who were the best dressed I have ever seen them over four years! It got me thinking of my own last graduation day in July 1988 in Trinity. As academics attending the NCI ceremony, we get to wear the same gown used for our graduations - in my case the colourful Trinity PhD scarlet and gold gown. So I had my photo taken and compare it below with a photo taken 23 years ago. The gown is the same, but the rest has changed quite a bit!

My own Graduation Day (with my Dad),
14th July, 1988

At the NCI Graduation Day,
18th November, 2011
The NCI ceremony was held in the National Convention Centre, and it was my first time in this magnificent building. At least this will be a fine legacy of the building boom years in Ireland that we can leave with pride to future generations. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Roma in South Africa

Right now - Roma is in Capetown on the Niall Mellon Township Trust Building Blitz 2011. She arrived there on Saturday and started work at 0700 on Sunday morning. I have spoken to her twice since she started on the Blitz - she sounds exhausted, but very happy. The Trust has a Facebook Page - check it out for photos and good wishes coming from people back home here in Ireland. 

The Blitz have some folks uploading photos to the Trust Facebook page - Roma is on the Grey Team, but no sign of her yet on the photo album despite my efforts through comments to get more photos of her team. Maybe tomorrow? If so I will link to on this blog.

We are surviving at home without Roma. This evening for dinner we had three sausages and some chicken that had to be cooked. Since she is away we didn't cook any vegetables ;-). We had only one potato left, so we supplemented it with a bag of chips from Aldo's in Cabinteely. Harley (the cat) has hidden his food from us, and the goldfish in the fish tank is looking more appetizing by the day! Tomorrow I think we'll get a Chinese takeaway from Fu Moon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Social Media Presence Infographic

Yesterday I delivered a Guest Lecture to some fourth year students here in the College - something I have rarely done during my career as a Lecturer. I think this may only be the second or third time at most that I have been asked to do a guest lecture in NCI - many thanks to @pj_wall for inviting me into his class.

The lecture was basically about my own experience and presence on the World Wide Web. I tried my best not to be in a "look at me and aren't I great" mode. Perhaps my lecture would help to inspire students to think about their web presence and develop it to the best of their abilities. For the lecture I prepared one slide (always a good idea not to have too many slides) showing the following infographic:

This shows how my Blog, YouTube Channel, Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin communicate with one another - for example: when I publish a blog post, Blogger automatically sends out a tweet through Twitter, updates my Facebook page, and adds to my Linkedin page. One post, four updates to give me activity on several sites. Gmail helps me to manage everything as each social network tool automatically sends me an email if someone comments on my blog, retweets one of my tweets, likes something on Facebook, or comments on Linkedin.

Also above I for the first time showed off my new website (which has taken me two years to get going) - www.thereshouldbealaw.ie! It is hosted on Tumblr and has its own Twitter account (@thereshudbalaw), and Gmail account. I'll blog about this at a later date.

All of the above takes up quite a bit of time, but thanks to automatic feeds, I don't have to visit each site on a regular basis. My blog and YouTube channel takes up most time. I rarely post directly onto Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin - preferring instead for Blogger to do the work for me.

Reputations - William of Orange

Last evening the Reputations II series of lectures from the Department of History in Trinity College continued after a two week break with a lecture on William of Orange presented by Dr Robert Armstrong. This was a fascinating lecture with the theme of William as a European Statesman - there were many facts and interpretations of William that I had not known before. I was hooked on every word wonderfully presented by Dr Armstrong.

William of Orange.
Image link to Leibnitiana.
William of Orange (or William III) is mostly known to us Irish as the Protestant King who won the "Cogadh an Da Ri" (War of the two Kings) over the Catholic King James II. He was the victor at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and is remembered particularly in Northern Ireland by the Loyalist community there. He is not particularly remembered in any other country.

However, as Dr Armstrong told us, William was not really interested in Ireland (he only stayed here for a few months). Instead, he cared about England's position in Europe and the prevention of French dominance. He succeeded in keeping the Netherlands independent, though at a high territorial cost, from the French. When he invaded England in 1688, he may not have intended to become King. He was known to be religiously tolerant, but was also a private and cold person. He was almost constantly at war during his adult life, but was not an especially outstanding commander. His main aim in life seemed to be "Stop the French" and Louis XIV.

Overall - this was a memorable lecture on a leading European character who had a huge influence on Irish history.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This Blog is Five Years Old Today!

On 13th November 2006 I created this blog with a short My First Post. I posted my second post the day after with a note about my Harley-Davidson motorcycle, but did not post again until four months later on 11th March 2007. In fact during the first year of this blog's existence I only posted FIVE times in total. It was really only in early 2008 that I started to post regularly, with seven posts in February and 124 for the year. These days I can't imagine such a low level of activity. Nowadays I average over 20 posts a month - not quite every day, but fairly regularly nonetheless. I rarely post more than once a day, though I sometimes write more than one post in a day and hold some back to publish on another day.

Image link to Rosy ~ Posy Blog.
This is the 717th published post on this blog, and the 234th this year. Simply put - I love blogging! I may even be addicted to blogging - according to this site, I am 80% addicted!

80%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Over the past five years I have posted about many things - family, sport, education, politics, travel, holidays, books, films, motorbikes, YouTube, and many more subjects. I don't have a particular theme, and I don't blog as part of my job. In fact I rarely blog during working hours since I was once wrongly accused by a student of writing a blog post instead of answering that student's email during the day. Nowadays during work hours I usually either publish a post that I have previously written, or write about education matters (which is part of my job).

Below are some statistics from Blogger's Stats Overview of my blog which only goes back to going back to May 2009. Currently there is an average of about 100-120 hits per day according to Statcounter.com (as you can see Blogger has a higher count). I am very curious as to why the most popular post of all is my How To... Draw a Polar Diagram in Excel - nearly three times more than the next post. I cannot explain this - perhaps it is search engines that are responsible. I regularly post about videos I have uploaded to YouTube, but this one is low down in YouTube View Counts (4,753 views since December 2008). In fact it is only the 28th most popular video on my Learn with YouTube channel. I have seen it linked to on other sites, but can't explain its popularity.

Many of my blog posts, especially from 2008 and 2009, have not been read at all (0 views), or have just a few views. Most traffic sources are from Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Most searches that lead to the blog are searches for variations on my name. Ireland, the United States, and the UK dominate page views by countries. It will be interesting to see in another five years if anything changes!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Classic Motorcycles Show at Leopardstown

Today I went up to Leopardstown Racecourse to see the IVVMCC Annual Classic Motorcycle Show. There was quite a big crowd there with of course a lot of bikers attending. There were also some families with small children. But what a disappointment the Show was!

Honda CD175.
For a start, there were not many vintage bikes on show. There were plenty of stalls selling all kinds of parts and bits n' bobs for bikes. A more accurate title for the event might have been the "Annual Bike Bits in a Box Jumble Sale". None of the old parts interested me - mostly because I didn't know what this bar, or that pipe, or the other lump of iron was for. Of courses there were enthusiasts there who were drooling over all the bits, but sadly - not me. There were a few old bikes - but I'd say no more than 20 in total. There was even a guy selling country and western CDs!

I was tempted to enter a draw for a Harley-Davidson Sportster - but tickets at €50 each was a bit rich for me. The most interesting items by far for me were two Honda CD175s, one red and one blue, for sale at one of the stalls. I took a photo - the red one is just like the same bike my brother Joe and I had back in the late 1970s (see photo to left! - that's me leaning on the bike!). So this was quite a nostalgic moment for me - our red CD175 was stolen from Trinity College on 8th December 1981. The bike above brought back some memories. I asked about it and the guys on the stand think it was a 1978 model - they wanted €400 for it. It is not working and would take quite a bit of rebuild and repair to get it going. As someone who has almost no mechanical knowledge, I thought about buying it for about 2 seconds and decided not to. As you can see it is in pretty poor shape, even though it is 33 years old.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Clever Clogs (again)!

This evening Roma and I went to a Table Quiz in aid of Tightrope Productions - a drama production company based in Dún Laoghaire. Our daughter Vicki is a member of the company. The quiz was held in the Baker's Corner pub and was attended by mostly young people.

Image link to 1stForToys.co.uk.
We found the quiz quite hard - there were just the two of us in our team - I felt like Johnnie No-Mates! In the end between us we scored 57 out of 100 points, but it was enough to WIN! We were in the lead for most of the quiz, closely followed by another team (of six adults). We were ahead by 1 point going into the final round, but won by 3 points in the end. First prize was €40, which we did not accept - preferring that it be added to the fund-raising for the evening. We had a very enjoyable evening - I even won the raffle in which first prize was a €30 voucher for Diffney's Menswear!

57/100 is actually a very low score to win a quiz. Three weeks ago at the Killiney Lions Club quiz night (in which I prepared the questions and was also quizmaster) - a score of 86/100 was the winning score. So I won't get carried away with this victory. Nevertheless, it is exciting to be leading a quiz and winning in the end. In February of 2010 I was also part of a winning team in another Killiney Lions Club quiz night with a score of 82/100 - so we are on a roll!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Recent business closures in my area

Yesterday TGI Friday's on Newtownpark Avenue in Blackrock (South Dublin) closed - this is directly across the road from our estate. It used to be The Playwright pub, which was a very popular pub when we moved here in 1996. A few years ago during The Boom it was purchased for over €8 million and redeveloped as TGIs. In the beginning it was extremely popular - especially with families. I can remember waiting up to an hour for a table with a radio controlled buzzer to be called to a free table. The food was nice and very American - but over priced. Nevertheless we went there on many occasions as it was very handy to our house. In the last few years there was no bother getting a table (I wonder where the buzzers have been?). Large sections of the restaurant were closed off, and the number of staff greatly reduced. Food quality suffered too as the company tried desperately to stay in business with special offers (eg a pint for €2), and even introduced pool tables recently. It couldn't last and sadly is now no more.

TGI Fridays in one of several businesses to shut this year close to my house in the Google map above. To the right the Centra is closed, and a small barber shop too is gone. To the left is TGIs, and not visible is Papa's restaurant which closed earlier this year. This gloom of closed and empty shops is I'm told repeated all over the country. It's almost impossible to find any areas with small businesses and shops that don't have empty premises. Some will stay closed for many years, while others may re-open under a new name (Centra above traded as Blackrock Fair for a few months before it finally closed a few weeks ago).

A flicker of light is that a new restaurant is about to open in the old Papa's premises. It is undergoing renovations right now and will open as "Blackrock's New Dining Experience" soon under the name of Le Plancha. I wish whoever is brave enough to do this very well, and I'll be sure to support this new venture. In the midst of all the doom and gloom, there is hope.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Birthday Dinner

Last evening the O'Loughlin clan gathered to celebrate my sister Kathleen's 50th birthday at the Sha-Roe Bistro in Clonegal, Co Carlow. The evening started in Osbournes Pub where we managed a pint before dinner. This is a very quaint and picturesque pub with a wood stove in the centre of the bar - well worth checking out as it is also beside the starting point for the Wicklow Way. We proceeded to Sha-Roe next door.

The Birthday Girl!
As you can see - the birthday girl looked very glamorous (as did the rest of the family). We all very much enjoyed the evening and I think it was a special one for her too. Plenty of banter and chat - we even sang some songs after dinner!

The Sha-Roe Bistro is a gem - it was my first time ever to eat here, it is a top class restaurant. Its chef, Henry Stone, is Georgina Campbell's Chef of the Year for 2011. I anticipated a fine meal and I was not disappointed. We had a table to ourselves (nine of us) beside the kitchen a little removed from the main restaurant - this was just as well for the packed diners in the other room as we were quite boisterous.

The food was simply perfect - I had a to-die-for seafood "bouillabaisse" as a starter. Rich and tasty - clearly a lot of effort went into making this. Several of us had perfect rib-eye steak for main course, while others had the delicious venison. Everybody at the table enjoyed every bite - it was quite simply a divine dining experience. I will certainly be back - recommended.

So - "Happy Birthday" to Kayo for another year!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Seven Reasons Why Educators Should Blog

Steve Wheeler is a blogger who I sometimes check out - he is Associate Professor of Learning Technology at Plymouth University. Recently I checked out his post - Learning with 'e's: Seven reasons teachers should blog. He writes that from his "personal experience blogging is one of the most beneficial professional development activities I have ever engaged with. I learn more from blogging than I do from almost any other activity I participate in". I too learn a lot from blogging - here are Professor Wheeler's seven reasons why teachers should blog:

  1. Blogging causes you to reflect
  2. Blogging can crystalise your thinking
  3. Blogging can open up new audiences
  4. Blogging can create personal momentum
  5. Blogging can give you valuable feedback      
  6. Blogging can be creative
  7. Blogging can raise your game
A comment from Doug Woods on the blog in reaction
to above also adds:

    8.  Blogging is fun

                   Image link to
                     Open Gardens Blog.

Each of the above points is developed further, but point #3 is my favourite. Prof Wheeler writes "You can become a teacher within an infinitely larger classroom, and as you blog on subjects you think are interesting, you will discover that there are plenty of other education professionals 'out there' who are also interested. I don't know how many educators read this blog - there are an average of 80-100 unique visits per day, I hope that some are involved in education. As Prof Wheeler puts it, they can perhaps "learn something new from you".

There are also reasons for educators not to blog. Peter Corliss in a comment on Prof Wheeler's blog points out concerns about issues such as "privacy", IT "policies", "bad-mouthing", "exposing flaws", and "embarrassment". I agree that these are serious issues that are putting up barriers to more widespread blogging.

Two of my academic colleagues at NCI are bloggers - check out Dr Leo Casey and Prof Jimmy Hill. It would be great if others did so too :-).