Monday, February 28, 2011

Dublin 3-10 Kerry 1-15

The second of the Allianz Spring Series matches got underway in Croke Park on Saturday night in front of a good sized crowd. Dublin were for once favourites to beat Kerry, but had to wait until injury time to score the winning point and survive a last kick of the ball free for Kerry that went wide.

Goals were a feature in this game with Dublin taking their chances and Kerry not doing so. In fact Kerry were woeful with some scoring attempts that went miles wide. The majestic Colm Cooper did keep Kerry in the game with some super points, but otherwise they were wasteful and perhaps should have won. See full match report from Irish Independent here.

On this evidence Dublin will be difficult to beat this season. They have scored three goals in each of the last two games, so tighter marking might stop them - I felt all three of Dublin's goals were soft goals to concede. As for Kerry - they played well, but fell short. I did admire some of their slick passing and fielding, and of course Cooper's scores. It was also a bit awe-inspiring to see so many players with dozens of All-Ireland medals between them on the pitch (none on the Dublin side).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Breda (O'Loughlin) Quinn - my Godmother

My Godmother, and Aunt Breda, has sadly died after a long struggle with cancer. She was a beautiful lady and particularly good to me especially when I as young. She lived in Portaferry, Co Down - where I always got a great welcome when visiting the Queen's University Marine Station there. She never forgot my birthday or special occasion, and was always very generous to me.

The photo above was taken in October 2008 in Wexford when we celebrated my Mum and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary. As always she was in great form looking very glamorous - a real lady.

Special thoughts today for her husband Seamus, and family Charles, Declan, James, Paul, Clarissa, and Leone.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today's General Election

Well - it has finally arrived. Polling Day and a General Election. All the arguments are over, and the long wait for the count kicks in. Whatever happens, I hope we get a stable Government as a result - we simply need a safe pair of hands to run the country for the next few years. I go along with most of the informed opinion that this will be an excellent election for Fine Gael, with Sinn Féin and Independents also doing well.

Photo from The Guardian.
Enda Kenny will be Taoiseach - of that there is no doubt. While I have never voted for Fine Gael, I am not anti-Kenny in the sense that I believe he may actually turn out to be a good Taoiseach (maybe not a great one!). He doesn't have a particularly difficult act to follow, and the country is at such a low ebb that he is starting from rock-bottom where the only way is up. My belief is that anyone who takes up the Taoiseach's Office means well and will do his/her best for the country (this includes Brian Cowen). He has a lot to live up to and the country is waiting for the massive change that is about to overcome us tomorrow. A little bit if trivia for you - when he was a teacher, Kenny gave grinds to Roma in Castlebar!

Will Fine Gael get an overall majority? Well I have to say that I'd prefer this to a Fine Gael/Labour coalition. My sense is that Labour don't have the balls to make the tough decisions over the next few years that need to be made. If they are part of the new Government - I believe it will be weak. However, I don't think Fine Gael will get a majority - they will need Labour. The real work begins at the Coalition Talks bargaining table - the country will have to wait in second place while the deal is done.

My own first preference vote will go to Mary Hanafin as I have done in every election since 1997. I have decided not to desert her now in her hour of need when she needs my vote more than ever. As I have written elsewhere on this blog, I have not been greatly inspired by the other candidates on the ballot paper in Dún Laoghaire. However, I have made a last minute change and plan to vote for Mary Mitchell-O'Conner of Fine Gael as #2 (Andrews #3 and Barrett #4). In the event that Hanafin is eliminated or has a surplus, I would like my vote to transfer to Fine Gael as I would prefer MMO'C to be elected ahead of Bacik and Boyd-Barrett. None of the other candidates will get a preference vote from me as I plan to stop at #4 - they have not done enough to convince me to vote for them. Not even Eamonn Gilmore - who is a magician without a wand.

Ireland expects.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quango Pay - some people are earning a lot of money!

Last November I wrote about The top 100 best-paid in education - Does Not Include Me! - an article written by  Seán Flynn and Peter McGuire which had been published in The Irish Times. At #1 was Prof Des Fitzgerald, who is Vice-President for research in UCD, who earns €263,602. At #100 was Professor BG Loftus, who is Dean of Medicine at NUI Galway, who makes a paltry  €112,610 per year. Sadly I did not make the top 100.

Image from Betty the Sheep Blog.
Last Tuesday's Irish Times, in a follow up report by Flynn and McGuire, asks the question: "Who earns what in our education quangos?". The Times reports that in  "total, these agencies cost the taxpayer close to €1.5 billion – equivalent to what the State spends on the entire third-level sector". FÁS accounts for nearly two -thirds of this.

The Times lists the Quangos in the following order:
  1. FÁS 
  13. GAISCE 
Some of these Quangos I had never heard of, and there are many more not listed. Some like FÁS have huge annual budgets (€950 million), while others have quite small budgets (e.g. IRISH UNIVERSITIES QUALITY BOARD which has a budget of €750,000). In November 2008, the Government announced plans to amalgamate the NQAI, HETAC and FETAC and the IUQB into one super agency- Qualifications and Quality Assurance Ireland. But over two years later this still has not happened. (You might argue that the Government had more important things on its mind over the past two years). Last year, an Bord Snip Nua recommended "a culling of the various education quangos" and that many of the quangos could be "re-integrated back into the Department of Education or completely abolished". Fine Gael promises to abolish 150 quangos across the State after the General Election.

The thing is - all these State Agencies (except FÁS) do a lot of good work. SFI must be retained - in planning for a smart/digital economy it is essential that State funded research continue (even though NCI sees only a tiny fraction of their money). The State Examinations Commission must be kept separate from the Dept of Education. However - the rest could easily be combined. But how much money will this save? How many people will lose their jobs, but will retain fat state-funded pensions? Where will all the existing CEOs go -  some of whom are on enormous salaries? What is the cost of redundancies in this sector? It is easy for Fine Gael to be populist by blindly promising to "abolish quangos". Some of these were in existence that last time Fine Gael was in Government - why didn't they abolish them then?

Meanwhile, those of us who work at the "coal face" of education have to live with the existing system. No doubt that whatever replaces the above agencies, our work will not be any easier.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blogging is good for you says Scientific American #iba11

Jessica Wapner writes in the June 2008 edition of Scientific American that Blogging--It's Good for You. She postulates straight off that "Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off" and that "expressive writing produces many physiological benefits". This is good news for all the bloggers nominated for the Irish Blog Awards - we are making ourselves healthier by the very act of blogging.

Image from the QuickSprout Blog by Neil Patel.
The short article (which is under the "News Scan" section) documents many benefits from blogging - though these are mostly based on the fact that "Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings". Expressive writing, and therefore blogging, can reduce stress,  trigger dopamine release, activate a cluster of neurological pathways, improve sleep and memory, boost your immune cell activity, help AIDS patients, and even speed healing after surgery. Wow!

Here's the science bit which explains why we blog:

"The frontal and temporal lobes, which govern speech—no dedicated writing center is hardwired in the brain—may also figure in. For example, lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke’s aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty (a neuroscientist at Harvard University) speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog."

It would be wonderful to think that blogging helps our health - the nominees for the Irish Blog Awards will no doubt be reassured by Scientific American that we will have longer and healthier lives compared to those who don't blog. I'm sure that starting blogging at age 47 (as I did) is probably a bit too late to have much of an impact on my health., but I feel a lot better for writing this post :-)).

Just think - Blogging is the elixir of life!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Twitter Traffic for #Libya

Last evening I watched the Twitter traffic on TweetDeck for the #libya hash tag. The speed of the traffic and the quantity of tweets made it almost impossible to read as it was passing by my screen so fast. Last week I watched the same thing happen with the #mubarak hash tag.

Twitter is becoming a powerful revolutionary as well as a political weapon, and is under-mining totalitarian regimes. Not what it was intended to do - but it shows the wonderful power of the Internet and Social Networking tools to give ordinary people the means to fight back against tanks, secret police, tear gas, and ultimately dictators like Mubarak and Ghaddafi. Other dictators watch out! 

I recorded a short video to show the Twitter activity:

YouTube user MariKurisato has a better quality video (with music) here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Greens ask "Is this where Eugene O'Loughlin lives?" #ge11

I missed an ego moment on Saturday evening last when a Green Party canvasser for Ciarán Cuffe called to our house and asked - "Is this where Eugene O'Loughlin lives?". Jaysus - I missed this as I was in Croke Park at the time watching the Dubs bate Cork and Tipp!

Election poster ties on Newtownpark Avenue.
(Photo taken by me at the end of our garden).
Someone in the Green party had picked up my blog posts about election posters ties (see my posts on this here and here), and armed with the electoral register decided to canvass my vote. Roma met him on the doorstep - he told her that Green Party election poster ties are biodegradable (Duh!), and that their policy was that they should be removed along with the posters after the election. He even produced a garden secateurs to prove his point! First - fair play to the Greens for supporting my ideas on election poster ties (and for spotting my blog posts). Secondly - your shared concern, while welcome, will not result in my vote. Too late for that (see why here). Cuffe will be no better than #6 on my ballot paper - a vote that is certain not to transfer to him before he is eliminated from the count.

The fate of the Nation will not rest on whether election poster ties are removed or not - much more serious matters will be decided this Friday. Nevertheless - it is this type of "someone else can clean up" attitude (not by the Greens) that sometimes pisses me off about politicians and their supporters.

But full marks to the Greens for effort!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dublin 3-13 Cork 0-16

The Allianz Dublin Spring Series in Croke Park kicked (and pucked) into action last night, with a double win for Dublin over both the Hurling and Football All-Ireland Champions - Tipperary and Cork respectively. The series is excellent value, €148 for three tickets to four weekends of football and hurling - this works out at about €12 per ticket (and mine are on the half-way line too). Good thinking by the GAA to get the crowds to matches (35,000 last night).

The first match last night saw Dublin beat Tipperary in hurling by 1-16 to 1-15. The game was full of errors and scraps for the ball - a fog added a weird feeling to the game with the ball going out of sight when hit high. The only real excitement was the closeness of the game. Dublin just about deserved to win in my view. All the time I expected the All-Ireland Champions to flick a switch and turn on the style and scores - but they were found wanting against a resolute Dublin side.

In the interval between the two games we were "treated" to entertainment by Jedward - I wanted to vomit when I heard this. However, I will have to say that they are excellent entertainers who certainly got the younger crowd going. They were like so lip-syncing! While their act was entertaining, I cannot say much for the song about lip-stick that they will represent Ireland with for in the Eurovision Song contest.

After the Jedward break came the main event - Dublin vs Cork. By now the fog had lifted and we were treated to a very entertaining game. Goals were the deciding factor - Dublin got three while Cork never looked like scoring a goal. In the end Dublin were well worth their victory, but there were many errors by both sides which will mean lots of work for the coaches before the business end of the season.

Full marks to the GAA for a great evening of sport. Dublin vs Kerry next week!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Group of Death #ge11

Yesterday's Irish Independent declares that my own constituency, Dún Laoghaire, is the 'Group of death' and "will claim big scalps" in the General Election. Áine Kerr (political correspondent) writes about the possibility of Mary Mitchell-O'Connor (who so far is the only candidate to canvass my vote) pulling a surprise and taking a second seat for Fine Gael. While Fine Gael have had two seats here before when it was a five-seater (Monica Barnes and Seán Barrett) - winning two this time out will represent a major surprise. This constituency will be watched closely during the count - if Fine Gael win two seats here, they will have done extremely well countrywide.

My own thoughts are that Eamonn Gilmore and Seán Barrett will take the first two seats as predicted by all - after that it will be a dog-eat-dog scramble for votes to fill the last two seats. The contenders: Mary Hanafin (FF), Barry Andrews (FF), MMO'C (FG), Ivana Bacik (Labour), and Richard Boyd-Barrett (Celebrity Socialist) - no chance for anyone else including out-going Green Minister Ciarán Cuffe. I wonder are we the only constituency with two candidates with double-barrelled names?

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI constituency poll predicts that Barrett and Gilmore are safe, and that Mary Hanafin looks good for the third seat. The poll also predicts that Ivana Bacik will edge out the others on transfers.

Five candidates for the two remaining seats - let's see what the bookies think.

Election odds from at 0900, 19th Feb.
This is good news for Mary Hanafin (4/9) and she looks sure to take a seat, though she will be heavily dependent on transfers from Barry Andrews - the sequence of eliminations will be crucial here.

Election odds from at 0915, 19th Feb.

BoyleSports offer very similar odds, though they predict (well their punters do so) that it will be a bit less comfortable for Mary Hanafin at 4/7. Interestingly PaddyPower are offering better value at 2/1 on Richard Boyd-Barrett while BoyleSports are at Evens. Both agree that Barry Andrews is the outsider, but that it is very close between the other four.

So how do I think it will go? Barrett and Gilmore will be first and second in that order. Since I'm voting for Mary Hanafin I both hope and expect that she will take the third seat - most likely to be elected on Barry Andrew's transfers. The fourth will go to Mary Mitchell-O'Connor - she will get a good surplus from Seán Barrett, and will also attract transfers from Barry Andrews. But her election depends on Ivana Bacik being eliminated before Boyd-Barrett as FG are likely to benefit more from Labour transfers. It it is the other way around - Bacik will take the seat.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Final Do Election Posters Work? #ge11 #rte11 #vinb

After having a go at some election posters around Dublin and Wicklow in the past week or two, on a more serious note I decided to look at what other posters are on the web and I did a Google search for "election posters". Here are some of the results from past and present from Ireland and further abroad:

Must be the best election poster of all
time from 1918 Election?
Graphic from
What would Dev think of Fianna Fáil now?
Graphic from
Graphic from Airminded.

What were Fianna Fáil thinking about?
Graphic from

Sinn Féin showing the power of
the Ballot Box in 1989.
Graphic from the CAIN Web Service.

And finally - Vote for Me!
Created in Zazzle.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Blogging is a Dream Come True" (#iba11)

The above quote is from Professor Bryan Caplan, of the Department of Economics at George Mason University (GMU), from a blog post entitled Why Do So Many GMU Economists Blog? (via @stephenkinsella).  

In the post, Caplan contradicts the argument that GMU "faculty can't publish "real articles" in "real journals," we took our marbles, went home, and started blogs" - he has three problems with this view:
  1. GMU economists who blog the most also publish the most journal articles
  2. Most of the GMU faculty who don't publish in academic journals don't blog either, they don't write anything at all
  3. He asks - "how many leading economists would do conventional research in their spare time for free?"
Blogging allows us bloggers to "live the life of the mind" - it may not make all our dreams come true as Caplan suggests, but it gives us all the liberty to learn and say what we want. Most people who write blog posts really think about and reflect on what it is that they are going to write - having an audience (however small) almost forces us to do this.

Caplan concludes with an excellent thought:

Here's a forum where you write for a sizable, high-quality audience about anything that interests you. Here's a forum where you can eternally debate other people obsessed with ideas.  Here's a forum where you can instantly pose as a public intellectual - and try to "fake it till you make it."  Here's a forum that actually penalizes atrocious academic writing!  

I couldn't put it better myself!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Irish Blog Awards (#iba11) - Why Blog in the First Place?

This Blog has been nominated for the 2011 Irish Blog Awards - many thanks to the folks who nominated the blog, much appreciated (I know who you are!). 

Graphic from
I have been nominated in the Best Personal Blog - there are 97 Blogs nominated in this category - including the brilliant TwentyMajor and the fantastically named Ouch My Fanny Hurts! This will be a tough category in which to even get shortlisted - never mind winning. Check out all the blogs at the Nominations page - some great stuff.

I was reading Professor Steve Wheeler of the University of Plymouth (@timbuckteeth on Twitter) who was writing about blogging in his Learning with 'e's Blog. In his post The truth about blogging - he gives several reasons for blogging. Wheeler tells us "To blog is to teach yourself what you think". As an educator myself, I was particularly in agreement with his statement "Blogging in effect, can contribute to an endless cycle of learning through content creation, feedback, reflection and refinement of thinking. It is this kind of critical reflection cycle that can build excellent, creative, flexible and responsive educators". I learn a lot from doing this, and for me Wheeler hits the nail on the head with his arguments. While I am writing down my own personal thoughts and opinions - I am mindful that I am also writing for an audience. This means that I check sources, spelingg, grammar, use quotes, and more recently - acknowledging in captions the owners of graphics and other material that I use. 

Blogging takes a lot of time - since this time last year I have written 227 posts. Most days I write something - usually in the evening. Sometimes I publish straight away, other posts take me several days to write. Quite often I am stuck for something to write about - when this happens I just go on-line and find lots of interesting material from the news sites on which I can comment. I have no central theme to my blog - other than that I think out loud. I write about my family, education, travel, reviews, politics, Preston North End - anything that gets me thinking. Sometimes I even bitch and moan.

While I am thinking my fingers move over the keyboard and "Hey Presto" - I have a new post.

Long live blogging and the Irish Blog Awards.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Can Social Networking Keep Students In School?

Larry Abramson writes in about the difficulty that many Colleges have in getting 1st year students to stay on in College. He asks the question: Can Social Networking Keep Students In School? Colleges have tried everything to prevent high drop-out rates in the 1st year - extra services, special events, more support, communicating directly with students, and even giving free iPods to 1st years. So can social networking work?
Graphic from the Social Networking in Education Wiki.
First - there is a plethora of SN services to choose from. In my own classes Facebook dominates by far, but it can be confusing to have so many different networks all inter-linked. Abramson writes about a "School-Based Facebook" and suggests that Inigral (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) is the tool to do this. "Only students can gain entry to these sites, and they're invited in the moment they are accepted to a school" - the site is for students only, not administrators or academics. Crucially, the effect of SN for students is still hard to measure, and as one Columbia College student puts it "So, the Facebook app can be there. But unless you're being proactive and you want to go out and look for things like that — it's really on the student". Will-power and effort required.

Me - I think this is worth pursuing. So many students have laptops, smartphones, and use SN regularly (by that I mean several times an hour, sometimes even in class!) - they really are the so-called "digital natives" (as stated by Marc Prensky). Why not exploit and encourage students to use SN - instead of blocking and controlling it. If this is how the late teens and early twenty-somethings communicate - well how tough can it be for College authorities to figure out that this is the way to go? I wish there was something like this to help me in 1978 when I first went to College, instead of ending up trying to figure out everything for myself ("grow up" I hear some of you say?).

Thankfully - Colleges are starting to reach out to students with social networking. I am delighted to report that my own College, NCI, has an excellent presence on SN sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (links are to relevant NCI pages). Networking is vital to success - let's embrace it on-line.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Even More Do Election Posters Work? #ge11 #rte11 #vinb

On a spin out to Wicklow on the Harley today I couldn't resist taking a few more photos of election posters - they still do not influence my vote. Two major themes I noted today in the Wicklow constituency (where I first voted for Paudge Brennan of Fianna Fáil in 1981) is the lack of women standing, and that many posters have been vandalized. Only one out of the 24 candidates standing in Wicklow is a woman (Anne Harris of Labour). Dick Roche's posters have come in for some vandalism - his first name giving the vandals some childish ammo to use. It's not just Fianna Fáil candidates who are targets of the vandals - several of  Labour's Tom Fortune's posters around Newtownmountkennedy have been defaced. Here's a selection of posters I saw today:

This is my favourite one so far.
(N11 - Kilmacanogue)

Dick Roche - "Not In My Face!".
(N11 - Kilmacanogue)

Sinn Féin promise no U-turns on policy.
(N11 - Newtownmountkennedy) 

Two and a Half Men.
Fine Gael's all male ticket in Wicklow.
(N11 - Newtownmountkennedy)

Tom Fortune of Labour loses face.
(N11 - Newtownmountkennedy)

Andrew Doyle looking for three #1 votes.
(N11 - Kilmacanoge)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Power of Twitter Feeds

An interesting thing happened yesterday when I ranted and moaned about eircom (@eircom) - Customer Update from eircom - "Things can only get worse!". I got a reaction from eircom via email and Twitter within an hour! Two things caused this to happen: the first is that my blog posts are automatically fed to Twitter, where my tweet was picked up by @eircom who must be still following me from the time last year when they tried to resolve my broadband connection problems. The second is my blog post was read by someone within eircom who quickly emailed me after they "came across your blog today regarding your on going problems with your BB connection that we are providing" - and offered to help again.

Logo from homepage.
I use Twitterfeed to automatically tweet my blog posts as a tweet - saves me tweeting the same thing on Twitter. It also feeds my Facebook page and posts to my Wall - this is just about the only activity that I have on Facebook. It is a cool way to ensure that one blog post ends up in three locations (Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook) - and maintains activity on Twitter/Facebook without the need to log on to either site. My blog posts also end up on Buzz and Linkedin which manages the feed itself.

Customers now have more power than ever. Calling a Support line means that only you and the Support Rep hear the conversation. While "calls may be recorded" - the customer's complaints are only heard by one person. Even if a customer calls several times with the most justifiable of complaints, companies can manage and control the complaint - and who hears it.

Suddenly, putting a complaint out in the open on Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook gives the customer more power. Companies, like eircom, see that a customer is saying bad things about them in the Blogosphere/Twitterland - and they are obviously motivated to reduce retweets, sharing, and the viral spread of bad comment. By putting a twitter username (@eircom in my case) at the beginning of a blog post (in the first 140 characters), or a hashtag, ensures that more people will see the post. And grabs more attention.

10 out of 10 to eircom for the quick response!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Customer Update from eircom - "Things can only get worse!"

As the ad goes -there must be somebody in eircom who is "in charge of doing things differently". Today I received in the post a "Customer Update" from eircom outlining some changes to the way calls are charged for, and of course some information about "Changing our customer's broadband experience". What a load of bollocks! And get this - eircom (the biggest ISP in the country) sent me a letter via the post office! It must be quicker than sending an email!

Last October I wrote about Leaving eircom for good. Sadly, due to the equally crap service from Imagine and Chorus - there is no one to change to that can provide a better service. I'm stuck with eircom. If you are one of the "over 240,000 people who are enjoying completely uncongested broadband" - lucky you. Technically I have an 8MB NGB line from eircom (at least that is what is on my bill). Here is today's download speed.:

Numerous calls to eircom Tech Support (and I have to say the Tech Support folks, especially on Twitter @eircom, were as helpful as they could be) established that the "NGB" line to my house can only accommodate "up to 4MB". As you can see above I am only getting about 20% of this. The speed does go up to 1.6MB (less than 50%) at times. I should point out that a Customer Complaint made by me was addressed by eircom and I did receive a refund on my last bill.

Message to eircom - sending me out "Updates" like this makes me more angry about eircom than before, and more determined to change. Does the person "in charge of doing things differently" realize that annoying customers is actually a good way to get rid of them?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Brother on the BBC

The brother Brian was interviewed on BBC Cumbria today on the Gordon Swindlehurst Radio Show. He was asked about Thomas's Bakery pies and their success in competitions - Brian's secret of success? "Do the Right Thing!".

Brian's Pies.
(Graphic from Thomas's Bakery
web site). 
Brian previously won competitions on an Abbey FM radio show featuring The Hairy Bikers (I blogged about that here). He and his Bakery must be doing something right - only a vegetarian haggis ("cheating" according to Swindlehurst) beat him for a top award last year!

I know some family read this blog - so if you would like to hear Brian's interview, click on the player below. The sound is not the great as I recorded this from the BBC Player.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Party Leader's Debate #rte11 #ge11 #vinb

I must confess to switching over to the Party Leader's debate on TV3 during half-time in the Ireland vs Wales match on Sky. The first half in the match was poor. Sky don't have John Giles and Eamon Dunphy (the absolute best in football punditry) on at half-time - so switching was easy!

Mock-up from the fantastic
Big Mental Disease Blog.
For the few minutes that I watched it - Michéal Martin won by a mile - much more articulate and very effective in challenging the bull-shit from Eamon Gilmore. Well done Michéal. Vincent Browne was wasted in the role of moderator - I would have enjoyed the half-time beak much more if he had got stuck-in to both leaders.

Leader's debates do not influence my vote - I don't actually care who "wins" according to the tabloids. My mind is made up despite the best efforts of parties and TV stations to influence me. All I want is a "safe-pair-of-hands" to lead the country. Alan Kelly, Packie Bonner, and Shay Given inspire more confidence than a debate on TV3.

Big Jack for Taoiseach.
(Photo from BBC News)
Anyway - thanks to Darron Gibson, Damien Duff, and Keith Fahey the evening was not quite wasted as Ireland beat a very poor Wales team by 3-0. Who knows - maybe the miracle of Ireland's qualification (thanks to Gary Mackay of Scotland) for Euro '88 may be repeated and kick-start the economy as Big Jack and the Lads were credited with kick-starting the Irish economy in 1988 with success on the football field. 

This got me thinking - a bit like Christy Moore's "Joxer Goes to Stuttgart" song. Now here's an Irish dream team for Government: 
  • Taoiseach - Jack Charlton
  • Minister for Finance - John Delaney (of FAI)
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs - Eamon Dunphy
  • Minister for Tactics - John Giles
  • Minister for Labour (and hard work) - Roy Keane
  • Minister for Goals - Robbie Keane (Junior Minister - Frank Stapleton), 
  • Minister for Equality - Andy Gray (sacked after 5 mins and replaced by Mother Theresa)
  • Minister for Education - John Giles (again)
  • Minister for Health - Mick Byrne
  • Minister for Sound Bytes - Eamon Dunphy
  • Minister for Enthusiasm - Des Cahill
And finally: Minister for Inspiration - Ireland's Assistant Manager Marco Tardelli. Just watch this from Italia '90 and be inspired:

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

There must be an election on...

Yesterday evening, I was canvassed by Mary Mitchell-O'Connor of Fine Gael for my vote in the Dún Laoghaire constituency - she was the first candidate to knock on my door. She was very pleasant and asked me for my vote. I was honest with her and told her she would be only a fourth preference for me. I had planned to challenge all candidates on their records and policies, but I went all polite and mannerly - I even thanked her for calling to my house!

MMO'C in Dún Laoghaire.
(Photo from
However, even though our doorstep conversation lasted less than two minutes - I was not too impressed. I saw her on RTÉ's Frontline programme a week or so ago and felt that she towed the party line too much and was in the shadow of fellow FG candidate Seán Barrett. First she told me that she only wanted to be elected for one 5-year term. While she is of course entitled to do this, I think she should think longer term than this - we need more women in politics. I also provoked her a bit by saying that a Fine Gael/Labour coalition would not last 5 years. Her answer - "I was in labour myself!". There's no answer to that.

I think she should step out of Seán Barrett's shadow, lose the "running-mate" tag, and be more ambitious & individual.

Anyway - as she is first off the mark in my area I have decided to elevate her from #4 to #3 preference (ahead of Seán Barrett). She might drop down again. A message to all candidates - canvas my vote, you might be lucky!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

More Do Election Posters Work? #ge11 #rte11 #vinb

I took a walk this morning in my neighbourhood and snapped a few more election posters that caught my eye. Still no way they will influence my vote, but I partly admire the candidates for trying. It is still very windy today, so no sign of replacement posters for those lost or damaged. Anyway - here's a selection from today's walk (I'm having fun with this!):

Ciarán Cuffe appealing to younger voters
with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
Try dieing your hair instead!
(Newtownpark Avenue)

Make sure you don't vote for this party!
(Newtownpark Avenue)

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB)
is watching Gilmore's back.
(Newtownpark Avenue)

Eamon Gilmore is sliding down the polls.
(Newtownpark Avenue)

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore
appealing to middle-of-the-road voters.
(Stillorgan Road)

Enda "The Invisible Man" Kenny poster.
(Stillorgan Road)

At last - a poster that makes me think.
I'm voting for the Cycle Track party!
(Stillorgan Road)

Another crooked politician?
(Leopardstown Road)

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Do Election Posters Work? #ge11 #rte11 #vinb

I'd like to meet the person who looks up at an election poster and decides there and then - "I'm going to vote for the person on that poster". Marketing people tell us that that posters are very important - I recall from the last election in 2007 that some candidates were regarded as "having run a good poster campaign". Getting your face familiar to the electorate is apparently vital, and election posters are supposedly a very effective way of doing this. I suppose this is especially true for new candidates. We have already seen the full portrait posters (mostly now blown away by the wind) - these will be followed in the days leading up to polling with those clever diamond shaped smaller signs with candidate and party names. But do election posters work?

Poster ties on lamp post
at the end of my garden.
(Click to enlarge).
The wind has indeed taken its toll on posters and will no doubt have caused financial worries to all parties as they will have to be replaced. Printing companies must be very happy! Do the party volunteers not check the weather forecast? We now have the unsightly poster ties littering our lamp posts - now we have shiny new ones to go with the dirty old ones left over from the last election. I have ranted written about these poster ties before (here, and here). A message to all the political parties - please take down all the poster ties when you are replacing posters blown away by the wind?

While out and about today I took some photos of posters with my iPhone. As I was doing so, I asked myself if they have any effect on my voting intentions. The answer is a definite "No". It doesn't matter how many air-brushed posters (Mary Lou in Dublin Central is looking fantastic!) that parties put up in my neighbourhood - it has no influence on how I vote - I almost feel insulted by their presence. Here is a selection of posters (carefully chosen to represent three biggest parties) in the Blackrock area in the constituency of Dún Laoghaire:

Mary Mitchell-O'Conner
looking for the postal vote.

Olivia Mitchell (in the wrong constituency)
shows us what she thinks of Eamon Gilmore.
(Stillorgan Park)

A crooked politician?
(Stillorgan Park)

Mary Hanafin looking for
votes from tree people.
(Marion Park).

Not many votes down here Eamon!
(Newtown Park).

Mary Mitchell-O'Conner
gets under a wheelie-bin.
(Newtownpark Avenue).

Friday, February 04, 2011

Elevator Psychology and GroupThink

In my Project Management classes I often use a video called "Elevator Psychology" which is filmed in a Candid Camera style. It illustrates the concept of GroupThink and it arises when we discuss conflict within project teams. Kathy Schwalbe, author of a texkbook I use in class (An Introduction to Project Management), describes GroupThink as "the conformance to the values or ethical standards of a group" - in other words project team members might just go along with what the group is thinking if there are no conflicting viewpoints on various aspects of a project. Have a look and see what you think:

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Universities in Crisis

Tuesday's Irish Times has a report by Professor Michael Burawoy of the University of California, Berkeley on Learning from the global phenomenon of "universities in crises". He makes lots of points and "suggests strategies for the survival of our universities in the face of massive financial problems" in the region of a "€500 million-plus deficit". He suggests three strategies to tackle this problem. Prof Burawoy's talk on this subject to the Royal Irish Academy on 13th January last can be heard here

My University Alma Mater - Trinity College.
Image from
The first strategy is to "turn to the private sector, for long a favourite move in the US, and now spreading across the world". Nothing new for us there. I'm not sure how well this would currently work as a strategy here. I understand corporate donations are very difficult to source in Ireland's current economic climate. 

The second strategy is to "increase revenues by introducing and/or raising student fees, whether through a deferred loan system or pay as you go". Nothing new there either. This is a hot potato in our General Election campaign - any party advocating the re-introduction of fees will get a hostile reception. Fine Gael should be careful with this strategy. I predict Labour in government will prevent the re-introduction of fees (though may allow back door fees, like the registration charge, to increase).

The third strategy is to "reduce costs" by replacing "permanent faculty with part-time workers, or use short-term contracts" and by making more use of tactics such as more "distance learning or shortening degrees are other ways of diluting education to make it cheaper". I hate that expression - "diluting education". Here there are some newer options. At NCI we make extensive use of a lot of part-time Associate Faculty - in addition to being cheaper for the College, we also benefit from some great industry experience and some wonderful hard-working lecturers. In fact many Associate Faculty teach more hours per week than I or many of my full-time colleagues do. I myself started out in NCI in the Associate Faculty. I'm certain it costs less to educate a student at NCI than in some other Colleges.  Distance learning, blended learning, or e-Learning will certainly reduce the costs of delivering courses, but many third-level Colleges do not have the expertise or the resources to do this effectively. Universities and Colleges must make the decision to move to distance and on-line learning an educational one, not a financial one.

Whatever "strategies are pursued, they all have grave consequences for the structure of higher education" according to Buroway. He concludes that in Ireland "where the university is still a tiger, it must not succumb to the whims of the market". Any decision should be a public one, and not be "anonymous decisions made in the corridors of power or by the logic of the market".

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Eleventh Hour - RTÉ 2

I had an interesting experience on Sunday afternoon when I helped out in the rehearsals for RTÉs new late night politics programme - The Eleventh Hour. I had never been in a TV studio before, nor had I ever set foot on RTÉ grounds in Donnybrook. Apparently I had been invited to help out in the rehearsals because someone connected with the programme had read some of my blog posts - particularly the ones connected with Brian Cowen. My big mouth was bound to be noticed at some stage ;-).

Still from RTÉ Player.
Everybody in RTÉ was very nice and welcoming - they put me at ease very quickly. Up until the day before I had thought that the programme was going to be a radio programme (I think my face is more suited to radio!) - it has been some time since I felt nervous like this before an event. The studio used was the one they use for the News - it was here I met presenter Daire O'Brien (who normally covers the Magners League). He was brilliant and helped me settle in very quickly. Even though the show was just a rehearsal (we did it twice) - cameras, lights, action were all in evidence. I was fascinated about how everything worked and was put together - it was all over very quickly. The RTE crew were very professional. The topic for discussion was the probable coalition between Labour and Fine Gael - I felt I answered questions I was asked well, and overall I was happy with my "performance" though I did feel I was a bit stiff.

The first real programme was broadcast on Monday evening and featured Eamon Dunphy (always good for a controversy), Fintan O'Toole, and Elaine Byrne (of TCD). It is aimed at taking some of the Vincent Browne audience from TV3. This programme will be best remembered for some non-political rather than for the political comment. Roma's cousin Iarla Mongey was on the second programme last night and gave a good account of himself.

While Sunday was just helping out with rehearsals, it would be great to be involved in the real thing and be on the real panel. However, the likes of Eamon Dunphy (and Elaine Byrne for that matter) are way out of my league and I'd be no match for them. Maybe they might be stuck for a panel some evening and come calling - I'll keep my phone on!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Brian Cowen first of the CCR class of 1977 to retire.

I am jealous of my Cistercian College Roscrea former classmate Brian Cowen (CCR 1972-1977) who has announced that he is retiring from politics and will not contest the next election. 

Photo copied from the
Views from the Lifeboat Blog.
Brian Cowen is just 51 years young. I, and our classmates, wish him well in his retirement and that he can spend some time on the golf course where he can talk about anything he wants, and to whoever he wants, without being pilloried by all and sundry. In retiring 14 years ahead of the rest of us, and I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, he is a bollix - so jealous! I do hope that he can come to some of the re-unions that the CCR Past Pupils Union holds on regular occasions. We have questions to ask him.

A glittering political career that went sour almost the moment after he acceded to the highest position in the land has ended in disaster and ignominy. He will be remembered as a poor Taoiseach - his achievements will pale into insignificance alongside the fact that it was on his watch that the economy spiralled out of control and that he could do nothing to stop it. I'm sure he is grateful now for the existence of Charlie Haughey, who surely is safe in the position of Worst Taoiseach Ever.

It is a pity to see someone who has dedicated his life to politics make this decision to retire - but it is the right decision. The new Fianna Fáil Party that will certainly emerge after the next election needs him like a hole-in-the-head. While they could certainly have done with him retaining his seat, he would have been too much "baggage" - it's time to move on. And Cowen knows this. He is a smart guy, though not the smartest in our class which yielded six medical doctors and two PhDs! 

There is also the unwritten rule that a former Taoiseach has had his day, and doesn't interrupt the new kids on the block (ironically, Micheál Martin is the same age as us - 51). It's a lonely place if you get to the top of an organization, but then return to the bottom. Like it or not - you are a "has-been", and nobody wants to know you or hear from you. I'm sure that secretly Micheál Martin will be glad that he is gone.

Me and Brian Cowen, May 1977.
But I want to remember the Brian Cowen from my school days. He was a smart and popular boy - well liked by both teachers and pupils. He was a great sport and excelled at football, hurling, and especially rugby. In sixth year we were prefects on adjoining tables in the refectory, and we shared a newspaper many times and talked mostly about football. He once sent me the wrong way with a clever "shimmy" to one side during a football match in a one-on-one situation when I was playing in goal, and he scored an easy tap-in - somehow this memory has stayed in a memory cell somewhere in my head. He was an excellent debater right throughout our five years in CCR. My memories of that time are fond ones.

I don't think we have seen the last of Brian Cowen - an autobiography is surely the next step. Like him or hate him, I'm sure that we will all be fascinated in a few years time when he tells his own story - I hope it is a "warts and all" story. I would advise that he sees to his health - he looked exhausted on TV last night. His father (Ber) died a week short of his 52nd birthday.

While many are glad to see the back of him, I'd like to wish him well in retirement.