Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday to my Dad Joe!

Today is my wonderful Dad's 80th birthday - he was born Joseph Oliver O'Loughlin on 31st of March, 1931 in the parish of Tomacork, near Carnew in Co Wicklow. His parents were P.J. O'Loughlin and Kathleen (Hurley) O'Loughlin, and he was the first born in his family.

Dad has lived all his life in the parish of Tomacork - first in the townland of Tomacork itself, and in 1960, he, my Mum Phil, and I (just 1 year old) moved to Ballingate where he and my Mum still live.

His plans for the day are to go to Mass in Askamore this morning, and then to have lunch in one his favourite haunts - Conway's of Kildavin in Co Carlow. I will travel down after work today on the Harley - hoping that there won't be too much rain. I'm looking forward to personally wishing him a great "Happy Birthday!".

Dad is a twin, but sadly - his twin sister (Sheila), died in infancy, we remember her also on this day. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - All the King's Men

I have just been enjoying some fantastic videos on YouTube featuring the singing group All the King's Men - a 21st century version of The Flying Pickets. In the video below they sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" - written by Solomon Popoli Linda. It is a fantastic performance, and there are several other videos of them singing songs ranging from Michael Jackson to Earth, Wind, and Fire - all by voice alone. Check them out on YouTube - video quality is not great (looks like a phone job), but sound is brilliant.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I told David Norris to be Quiet!

As a graduate of the University of Dublin, Trinity College - I am a member of the elite who get to vote in the Senate elections for the three representatives from Trinity that are in the Senate. I have voted for David Norris (#1) for as long as I can remember - I think he has been a Senator for 100 years or more (was he in the Roman Senate too?). David Norris is one of those people who make Irish people feel better about themselves, and I am happy to say that I have been a voter for him in several Senate elections.

Photo from
Senate election ballot papers arrived today and I am delighted to say that I hardly had the papers open when I had already placed my #1 vote for Senator Norris. But Gosh (as he might say!) - there were 19 other people on the ballot paper. I gave my #2 to Fiona O'Malley (daughter of Des O'Malley) - I once spent a very pleasant evening sitting beside her at a 40th birthday party dinner. She is a bright and feisty candidate, and may well come through the very crowded list to do well. After that - well I didn't know who to choose next! Senate candidates don't get on TV debates, so it is very much based on name recognition (so much election literature went straight to the recycle bin). Karen Dubsky is a graduate of Zoology (as I am) - so I gave her #3. When I think of it - voting for her because I once met her and that she is a fellow graduate is a pretty shitty reason to vote for her. She did not send any election material to me. Having sealed the ballot envelope, I was already embarrassed by this blatant "vote for someone you met once" selection method.

Most of the others were names that I did not recognize - shame on them for their shitty campaigns. No votes for them.

I wish Senator Norris well in the Presidential election later this year - though he is certain to lose, particularly if Michael D. Higgins gets to Government's nomination. I do have the distinction of once telling him to be quiet. In the mid 1980's when I was a postgraduate student in Trinity, I used to invigilate exams. One day I invigilated an exam in the Arts Block in Trinity in one of the rooms which could only accommodate about 20 students -a small exam. Mid way through the exam the Lecturer in the next room started to started to speak quite loudly - many students in the exam looked at me in a way that they wanted me to do something about the noise. So I went outside and stood outside the room where I could recognize the voice of David Norris in full flow (well known then as now). He was telling his class about a "cultured thief" who had stolen some of his James Joyce notes from his car! I knocked on the door and explained that there was an exam next door - David was very apologetic and polite - he instantly lowered his voice. How many people can claim to have successfully asked him to be quiet???

Good luck to David Norris - I have no doubt that he will top the poll in Trinity. Politics in Ireland is the better for his entertaining, witty, and incisive contributions to debate in this country.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Second Screens - Unofficial Learning Devices?

Elliott Masie writes in his latest Learning TRENDS post about Second Screens - Unofficial Learning Devices? In this very interesting post he describes how the iPad, SmartPhone, and his Tablet computer have become learning accessories in every day activity. For example - he says that his iPad "is often on my lap as I watch TV at home" so that he can "look up a reference in the news, locate an actor in a movie or read something different during the boring bits". He uses his SmartPhone during a webinar, "serving as a back channel - either by text or IM - to someone across the world". While his Tablet computer, with a 3G connection, gets him to places where a fire-walled connection would not let him go so that he can connect "on my own personal network rather than within the gated community of the host network".

Image from MasterNewMedia.Org.
This is cool (from one of the coolest guys on the planet!). Most of us would think of an iPad/SmartPhone/Tablet not as a learning tool, but as a quick way to get on-line and look stuff up. What we don't realize is that we are learning - I sometimes use my iPhone to look up information on actors in a movie, or to get more information on a historical event if watching a documentary. My daughters do the same thing - all the time! Sometimes they even watch a video on their laptops and TV at the same time.

Masie points out that there are many implications of "Second Screens", including:
  • People are using their Second Screens to continually enhance, contextualize and expand the CONTEXT side of CONTENT that is being viewed
  • Learners will have access to more back-channel and secondary content, context and opinion as they engage in learning
  • The firewall as we know it will become much more porous, at least in blocking outbound traffic at work.  My Second Screen can go where the First Screen cannot
Clearly Masie has identified some challenges as well as many benefits of "Second Screens". Is is clear that with the availability of ubiquitous devices like iPads and SmartPhones that learning can truly take place anywhere and anytime. 

You can subscribe to Elliott Masie's Learning TRENDS here, and join almost 60,000 learning professionals from all over the world - it is well worth subscribing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: "Chess" at the Grand Canal Theatre

Last Saturday evening, Roma, my sister Kayo, and I went along to see "Chess - The Musical" in the Grand Canal Theatre. With music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (of ABBA fame). I was really looking forward to a great evening's entertainment - I was not disappointed.

Image from Chess - The Musical web site.
I had not seen this show before, and other than the two most famous songs I know him so well and One night in Bangkok - I knew very little about it. In fact, I didn't even know it as about the game of chess!

This is a fantastic show - great music, excellent dancing, outstanding costumes, and wonderful singing. All with the old East/West political undertones too. We wondered about the presence of an orchestra, but the cast played all the instruments on stage - except for drums and keyboards which were at the side. There was even a webcam in one of the trumpets which fed to a giant screen at the back of the stage. The Grand Canal Theatre has great views from all seats, but I have to say that seats right in the middle of row 16 in the Stalls must be just about the most perfect seats in the house.

We had an excellent quick dinner in the Ely Bar & Brasserie (in the IFSC) before hand. Great service and nice food too (though a little on the pricey side).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Next Door is for Sale

It's the first time I have ever had the experience of having the house next door to me being put up for sale. The "For Sale" sign went up on Wednesday last, and the first thing I did of course was to look up the price. The house is priced at €575,000.

Photo from
Like everywhere else in Ireland, we can all tell the tale of how high house prices went up to in the Boom, and how low they have come down to now. We bought our house (the one to the right in the photo) for £149,000 (€190,000 approx) in 1996. In 2007, a house four doors up the road went on the market for a whopping €1,600,000. But the timing was rotten for the folks selling and they had to reduce the price several times - in the end selling for a rumoured €950,000. Based on these prices, the house next door to us is a bargain at €575,000.

But the main curiosity is of course who will buy the house and move in next door to us. These houses have 5 bedrooms and so would suit a family. What will the buyers be like? Will they turn out to be the neighbours from hell, or will they become friends? It will actually be great to have neighbours again. The house has been unoccupied for some time and was rented out before that.

A word of warning though to any prospectives buyers! The guy next door has a very loud Harley-Davidson which will wake you in the morning when he starts it up - it does not have a quiet mode. You will need to get double glazed windows and have a tolerance for motorcycles. I think I'll park it out front when viewing is taking place!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some of the Best Advice on Plagiarism Prevention by Nels P. Highberg

My last thoughts on cheating/plagiarism this week comes courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education - Plagiarism: An Administrator’s Perspective by Nels Highberg, who is Associate Professor at the Department of Rhetoric and Professional Writing in the University of Hartford. Highberg gives some advice, from an administrator's point of view, on some ways that might reduce plagiarism. This article is well worth reading if your are interesting in combating plagiarism - in his advice he hopes to "help everyone become a bit better at discouraging, recognizing, and responding to plagiarism".

Banksy v Picasso Bad artists imitate Great artists steal
Photo ahisgett's photostream on Flickr.
Here are Nels Highberg's six recommendations:

  1. Do define plagiarism in your classes
  2. Do not assume that students have learned to cite sources as you wish in previous writing courses or in high school
  3. Do remember the realities of university life and the fact that introductory writing courses are often taught by passionate but overworked adjuncts
  4. Do assign projects that students cannot find already done in other places
  5. Do provide detailed prompts for all major assignments
  6. Do follow your university’s protocols
Each point above has more detail and sound advice in the article. I especially like his approach in the fourth point above where he advises that instead of "asking for information that already exists, put another spin on the assignment.  Ask them to read a book but to connect it to the larger themes or other texts in the course.  Or ask them to relate the book to certain news events of the last month or two.  Do something that forces students to do more than repeat what already exists". It's not always easy to implement this - keeping up with the latest news event takes time, and after all we still have to adhere to the assessment guidelines set out in module descriptors. Plagiarism might still occur, but it will be reduced - and where it does occur it will be in smaller amounts.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More on Cheating - Students who admitted plagiarism not asked to repeat course

Here's something I find hard to believe! Seán Flynn and Lorna Siggins of The Irish Times reported last week that Students who admitted plagiarism not asked to repeat course, college confirms. The College in question is Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). The Times reports that GMIT "acknowledged that students who admitted plagiarism were not asked to repeat a course", though three students did get a zero mark when found to have plagiarized in their assignments.

Keep hammering home this message!
Image from
"Five Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism"
The Times also reports "that alleged inter-county footballers at the institute were given preferential treatment", though I should point out that the College "vehemently denied these charges". There's no suggestion in the Times report as to what this "preferential treatment" is, but the insinuation is that GAA players were allowed to cheat and get away with it. I played GAA (badly) for the Trinity Seconds Football team between 1978 and 1980, but sad to report I got no "preferential treatment" for my efforts on the football field!

The thing about all this is that students see and read these reports. If they see a top sports star they admire getting away with cheating, they may feel that it is OK for them to do it too. What message does it send out to the student body if a College turns a blind eye in even one case of cheating? There must be a zero tolerance of cheating - whether it is plagiarism in an assignment or copying from notes in an exam. The message must be clear - if you cheat you will get caught, and you will face punishments up to and including expulsion from the College. It doesn't matter how many goals you score.

With software like Turnitin, it is certainly getting tougher to get away with plagiarism. I use Turnitin myself for student assignments and I must say that it is a wonder - it catches everything. Hopefully, recent high profile cases involving Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (former German minister) and Seif al-Islam Gaddafi (Colonel Gaddafi's son) will also help to put the pressure on cheaters, and help stamp out cheating.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cheating is Rampant in College

Professor Stephen Davis, in a presentation to Jackson State Community College on 13th March last, confirms what many academics feel is happening in Colleges all over the world - Professor: Cheating is rampant in college (from The Jackson Sun newspaper). The article quotes him as saying "Cheating is a contagious type of behavior" and that "Cheaters have lost an internal set of controls" - in other words, students are cheating more and feeling less guilty about it.
Image from
"Five Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism"

I have written about serious form of cheating, plagiarism, before on this blog - here, here, and here. As a Lecturer I have a responsibility to detect and report plagiarism when I suspect it. On this blog I have highlighted it as a scourge. Any opportunity I get to highlight this further - I will take.

It is my belief that every student who plagiarizes the work of others knows exactly what they are doing. However - many students will still take a chance and hope that their dumb professors/lecturers will not spot it and that somehow software like Turnitin (we use this in NCI) will not detect it either.

Prof Davis suggests that to overcome plagiarism, we need to be more vigilant - he advises teachers to "require students to turn in papers in increments such as a first draft and preliminary research". However, Davis also says that "students cheat if they perceive at the beginning of a semester that their teacher is unfair" - this is a new one on me, but I can see his point. Fairness and valuing work done are important considerations here.

Davis also encourages us to "have an open dialogue with students and get a baseline feeling on how the campus feels about academic honesty". Many students are terrified of being caught cheating, and will not do it. They are also terrified of accidentally cheating - bad scholarship (eg omitting one reference) is not the same as deliberate cheating. I myself encourage students to read the many leaflets and literature provided in libraries which will tell them what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it.

Finally - here's a new method of cheating that I had not heard of before. According to Davis, "one of the ways students are cheating is with the usage of water bottles. They write answers on the label. If the bottle is opened, it magnifies the writing". (Must pass this one on to the Exams Office!).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Motorbikes in the Bus Lane

Confession - I ride my motorbike in the bus lane on the Stillorgan Road every day to work. I know that this is illegal and that the bus lane is only for buses, taxis, bicycles, CD plate cars, ambulances, school buses, Garda cars/bikes, and other emergency services - in fact everybody except cars, trucks, and motorbikes. I'm not the only biker to ride in the bus lane - it certainly beats weaving in and out of traffic. I am very careful and do not speed - it is certainly a safer way for me to travel, not to mention a lot quicker. They won't admit it - but the Gardaí seem to turn a blind eye to it. Most other bus lane users also turn a blind eye and let us get on with our journeys.

Photo from Barry Ward's website.
There will be some who think that bikers in the bus lane should be shot on sight, and that they are a danger and menace to society. It is also galling for all those folks stuck in their cages (cars and trucks) to see us pass by illegally - it takes me 20 minutes to get from Blackrock to the IFSC this way. In a car it could be over an hour. If bikes had to travel the same way as cars, all advantages are lost and bikers would have to revert to using cars - making the traffic worse.

So - an angel I definitely am not. Just wanted to get that off my chest first before I start ranting again.

A few weeks ago a white mid-sized school bus (clearly marked as such) drove up very close behind me in the Stillorgan Road bus lane and made several aggressive efforts to pass me out on the inside. This never happened to me before and it was quite intimidating - not to mention scary. The bus was going very fast and it was a close shave when I steered out of the lane at Donnybrook Bus Depot to cross into the main traffic. He had tried to kill me.

Today I had the misfortune to be in front of the same school bus again from Belfield to Donnybrook. Once again the driver was very aggressive and drove up right behind me (less than two feet - no kidding). He tried to pass on the inside several times, beeped at me to get out of his way, and wound down his window to roar ("this is a f**king bus lane") at me after as we came to the end of the lane. He headed up Clonskeagh Road. He had tried to kill me again.

Get this - he was doing all this aggressive driving while he had SCHOOL CHILDREN IN HIS BUS!

Clearly this bus driver has a thing about bikes being in the bus lane - it can't be just me (two incidences only) that causes this maniac to drive like this and put the children's lives at risk. My life was at risk too - in his anger at me being in "his" bus lane he was making irrational decisions and taking risks, he was making the situation worse. OK - I was wrong to be there in the first place, but two wrongs don't make a right. Nor am I trying to dilute my own offence by pointing a finger of blame at someone else. Also - if any readers have children, or know people who have children who take this white school bus on the Stillorgan Road to Clonskeagh, be warned. Your children's lives are at risk in this bus.

He will not get a third chance to kill me.

(Written 11 hours after the incident after I calmed down).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dublin 4-15, Mayo 3-13

Croke Park in the sun - - Spring must be here! A small crowd of 18,000 saw an extraordinary football game. What was most extraordinary was that Roma, a Mayo native of course, came along to her first ever football game. Some women think that all football games are the same - but there's nothing like being at a game like this.

Horslips were playing before the match - I could hear "Dearg Doom" from outside the ground on my way in. Alas - they were finished by the time we got inside (see them on YouTube instead!).

Dublin raced into a 14-point lead in the first half - it looked like Barcelona playing a pub team. Everything Dublin tried worked - including a super first-half hat-trick by Diarmuid Connolly (who will never have it so easy again). While Mayo came back into the game a bit - there was still an 8-point difference at half time. Dublin 4-8, Mayo 1-9. Five goals and lots to cheer about. Roma wasn't too impressed with her team - it was looking very bad for Mayo.

Roma at a football match!
The second half changed everything - with an incredible Mayo come-back from the 8-point deficit to level the scores after 10 minutes of the second half. Even Roma jumped out of her seat to celebrate Mayo's third goal - addictive or what! Dublin pulled away to win by five points, but Mayo can take a lot of credit from their second half performance - it is not often that a team who scores 3-13 in a match loses.

As for Dublin - this is five wins in a row in the League. However, they are not good at defence and are shipping a lot of scores. Once teams figure out how to keep their on-fire forwards in check, they will have a tougher time winning games. But on this form they can look forward to a long summer in the Championship ahead. All the way to the All-Ireland Final?

As for Roma's verdict? Her grand uncle Eamon Mongey (see a tribute to him at the website), was a key member of the Mayo All-Ireland winning teams of 1950 and 1951 - so there is GAA in the blood. She enjoyed her first game and hopes to be back to cheer on Mayo in the All-Ireland final in September!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Little Piece of Spain

In March 2007, Roma and I visited the Murcia region of Spain with a view to purchasing a property for investment purposes. While I was very skeptical about some of the salesman's hard sell approach to getting us to part with our money, in the end we signed on the dotted line and bought a Polaris World 2-bedroom apartment in a golf resort called Terrazas de la Torre. It was now time to sit back and simply watch our investment increase in value - right? How wrong could we be!

Our piece of Spain - click to enlarge.
Polaris World must be to worst company of all time to deal with - no communication was responded to, and no information was provided as to the progress of the building of our apartment over four years. We had to rely on rumour and speculation from bloggers and discussion boards for what little information we could get. Suddenly, almost four years to the day we signed, we get a letter notifying us that we were to close the sale in six weeks! Feckin' hell!

We finally got to see our property on St Patrick's Day - we now own a little piece of Spain (marked in red on photo). While we were not allowed access to or own apartment, we did get to view it from the outside. We were also shown another apartment by the excellent Rob from Fairways Condado (who did our snag list - I strongly recommend Rob and his services), which was the same design as ours. While small, it looked great and it nice to be able to set foot inside an apartment in Terrazas - even if it wasn't our own.

Terrazas de la Torre is far from finished - on the Thursday (17th March) we were there, there was very little building activity taking place. Our snag list was very short with just some minor issues, and the building you see above looks good. The gardening surrounding the building is (predictably) very new - the grass has just been laid and all plants are very small. In time this should look good. The swimming pool at the front of the apartment block looks good - apart from the green water (which can easily be fixed). However, as you will see in the video below - there is still a lot of construction work to be done. There are a lot of "skeleton" buildings around, and right beside our apartment block there are some foundations dug for new blocks. Very dusty and dirty looking. The golf course looks good, and is open as we saw people playing on it. Copolla's Bar is good, but not much else in the "town centre". In short, while some of the resort looks great - it is very much still a building site.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green Beer on St. Patrick's Day

I spent St Patrick's Day in the Murcia region in Spain staying at the La Torre Golf Resort. While it was very quiet in the hotel where we were staying, they did mark the day with an Oirish themed barbecue lunch. Roma and I were the only Irish people there. The Swedish-Irish people certainly enjoyed themselves with silly leprechaun hats and green/Guinness paraphernalia. The music, which was a bit loud for the middle of the day, was all about the IRA and the Black & Tans - courtesy I'm sure of an Irish Rebel Songs CD. Stereotyping was alive and well in Spain - we decided to have a quiet lunch.

One thing I couldn't avoid was the green beer - well I suppose I could have not ordered it, but it was St Patrick's Day after all! In my 51 years on this earth, this was the first St Patrick's Day that I had spent outside of Ireland. And the first time I ever had a green beer - Sláinte!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stand and Deliver

"Students paying high fees will expect high-quality lectures in return" - so says George Watson who is a Fellow in English at St John's College, Cambridge. His article "Stand and deliver" in the Times Higher Education Magazine gives us Lecturers "tips on how to meet those expectations". 

"The Lecture" from the works of William Hogarth.
The British Parliament has decided to introduce fees for third-level education - and Watson asks if students will be looking for value for their money. Will they have the traditional power of the customer? Getting value for money is not as easy as it sounds - Watson makes an interesting argument and compares how it is "a lot easier to get into the (British) National Gallery, which is free, than into the Louvre, where you have to stand in a long queue to buy a ticket". Some students are certain to value their education more if they have to pay for it - and they will expect high standards. If fees are re-introduced here in Ireland, we educators are certain to be put to the test - I hope that we can stand up to the challenge. I believe that we already provide a high standard of education at third-level in Ireland. But it is human nature to expect more when you have to pay for something out of your own pocket - no matter how good it was when it was free. 

To get back to George Watson's "tips" - there are three:
  1. Put the notes as high as the lectern permits, to raise the chin. 
  2. Look at the back row after every sentence or two, since voice follows the eye. 
  3. And do not drop the voice at the end of sentences

Watson warns us that "only the first, which can be done at once, can be consciously remembered and obeyed". We have to work on the other two. 

This is a good start to becoming a better Lecturer and providing better value for money - I intend to follow this advice as much as possible. When I was a student myself I mostly sat near the back of the lecture theatres, and often felt that the Lecturer was not talking to me - just my classmates in the front rows. We have to speak to every student in the classroom and make them feel involved. Otherwise, as Watson concludes,  students "silent or censorious in the back row, will probably expect nothing else".

Monday, March 14, 2011

Using video to “reinvent education”

YouTube is having a huge impact on education. The Khan Academy is possibly one of the best examples this - it is a not-for-profit organization that is changing education by providing free on-line classes and tutorials for students in subject areas like Mathematics and Science. All on YouTube. Salman Khan started out by making videos for his cousins and posting them on YouTube. They started to attract other viewers who found the videos useful, and now he runs the Khan Academy with over a million students. He won a Microsoft Education Award in 2009. His video library has over 2,100 videos on such wide ranging topics as a simple video on Basic Addition and the more complex Graphing linear inequalities in two variables.

In the TED video below, Khan talks about how he set up the Academy and he shows how students are using his videos to learn. A key message for me was that he wants teachers and students to use videos outside of class instead of homework, and use class time for interaction and doing "homework". This presents all us educators with both a dilemma and opportunity. The dilemma is that we could be replaced by the Salman Khans of this world, but what an opportunity to embed technology in our teaching, and use class time for real learning!

My own modest YouTube channel is attracting more and more viewers - as I write this there are over 264,000 views on the channel which now has 40 videos. It is now regularly breaking the 1,000 views a day barrier. A long way behind the Khan Academy, but it makes me feel that I am also making a contribution to the re-invention of education.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Election Poster Tie Shame - Seán Barrett, Barry Andrews, Ivana Bacik

Regular readers of this blog will now that I have long campaigned against the use of, and the non-disposal of the plastic ties that hold up election posters. Two weeks after the election, most of the posters have gone. I have seen some election workers out with long-handled secateurs taking down both posters and ties for Lucinda Creighton in Sandymount (take a bow Lucinda!). But it is a lasting shame that many poster ties still litter our lamp posts due to to the laziness of candidates and their workers.

List of shame - Newtownpark Avenue.
The lamp post across the road from the end of my garden is on the busy Newtownpark Avenue road in Blackrock. During the election campaign we have had posters of Barry Andrews, Seán Barrett, and Ivana Bacik adorning this pole. The Barry Andrews posters were blown down by the big wind during the first few days of the campaign. These were replaced by two sets of Seán Barrett posters, and one for Ivana Bacik. I know this because I had their faces looking in on my kitchen and bedroom for the duration of the campaign.

The posters belonging to Barrett and Bacik were removed within a few days of the election - but they left their poster ties behind. There are now nine poster ties on this lamp post, including some left behind from the last election.

Why do election workers refuse to take these down? If they can put them up there, they can take them down - how tough can this be?

Shame on you!
So my List of Shame is made up of Labour's Ivana Bacik, Fine Gael's Seán Barrett, and Fianna Fáil's Barry Andrews. I know there are many others out there in all constituencies, and it is perhaps unfair to pick on these three?

I now call on the new Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to do something about this scourge. My main problem is not really with the ties themselves - but with the arrogance of our politicians who think they can leave them on our lamp posts for somebody else to clean up.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review - Uneasy Rider by Mike Carter

Mike Carter. Journalist. Age 42. Divorced. Buys a BMW. Points it east. Rides 20,000 miles. Rides through 27 countries. Drinks through 27 countries. Has adventures in 27 countries. He's having a mid-life crisis. And he's telling the world about it.

Book cover from
First - I bought this book hoping to enjoy reading how a motorcyclist traveled all over Europe on a BMW R1200GS. However, there is very little for a motorcyclist to enjoy as far as the mechanics of the trip were concerned. I like to see both sides of Robert Pirsig's "Classic" and "Romantic" views of the motorcycle (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) - but you get no "Classic" (how a motorcycle works), and hardly any "Romantic" (what you can do with a motorcycle) views. Carter could have done this trip in a van and the story would have been very similar.

The book often appears to have been put together very quickly - as if Carter was working to a deadline that had to be met. The last part of his trip from Corsica to London is covered in less than two pages - France didn't make the deadline. In the Epilogue there are two mentions of Spain - but did he ride through Spain at all? Did I miss this in the book? Carter wanted to ride as far as Mount Ararat in Turkey. He gets there (bottom of p227), but five sentences later he turns around and heads home - so anti-climatic. And he talks about his divorce to anyone who listens - all the time.

There are many good tales and adventures throughout the book - and Carter tells this well. The book won the Oldie 2008 Travel Book of the Year - and there is plenty for travelers to enjoy. Most though is about the people Carter meets, rather than the places he goes. 20,000 miles and 27 countries is far too much for a 352 page book - and it shows. Enjoy the tales of strange night clubs, bars, and the people he meets - this is the best part of the book.

I have had two long motorcycle trips myself (Dún Laoghaire to Almancil in Portugal, and Dún Laoghaire to Sigean in France). I had mechanical difficulties and petrol problems, a sore arse, back trouble, I got lost several times, and had constant worries about the security of my bike. Carter has none of this, or at least doesn't write about it.

Overall - a disappointing book from a biker's point-of-view. I am also not convinced that it makes a good traveler's guide. But it is an interesting "guess what happened to me on my holidays" read.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ireland's New Government

Today is the first full day for our new Government and all news and media reports have an expectant mood that this new brush will sweep better than the old one. Enda Kenny is Taoiseach, and a new Cabinet has been appointed - but will it work?
Photo from Irish Times.
My first impression is that this is a male-dominated aging Cabinet - the average age is 56.5 years, I worked it out. Indeed only Simon Coveney (48) and Leo Varadkar (32) are under the age of 50 - I didn't think that 13 out of 15 Cabinet Ministers would be older than me. Six of the cabinet are over 60 (soon to be 7 when Enda turns 60 on April 24th next. Remember that it is intended that this Cabinet runs the country for the next 4 to 5 years. In 2016 Michael Noonan will be 72 - he's past the retirement age already! I'm trying not to be ageist here, but I expected a breath of fresh air - not the same old faces who have been moaning for the past 10 years.

It is also disappointing that there are only two women in the Cabinet - neither in a senior position. It is clear to me that both Kenny and Gilmore are repaying favours. I hope the first Cabinet re-shuffle is not too far away so that a clear-out can take place.

Finally - I am puzzled by the appointment of Seán Barrett as Ceann Comhairle. He is our local TD and did well in the recent election (despite me not voting for him). The TD appointed to the Ceann Comhairle position is automatically returned at the next next election. Barrett will be 67 this year and if the Government runs full term he will be 71 or 72 at the next election. What's going on? Surely he will not retire before the next election as he will not have to contest it. I'm being ageist again, but I for one don't think we should be represented in the next Dáil by a 72 year old for the following five years?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Top 10 Tricks Bloggers Use to Drive Traffic #iba11

Here's something for the finalists at the Irish Blog Awards to consider (BTW - congrats to all finalists!). Canadian blogger (and all-round Learning Technologies guru) Stephen Downes in a recent post Fads and Fanboys: The Top 10 Tricks Bloggers Use to Drive Traffic writes that "bloggers have typically turned to some tried and true methods for attracting and keeping their readers' loyalty" - in other words  "Tricks".
Photo from

Here are the 10 "tricks" described by Downes:
  1. Simple Structure - "avoid taxing their readers' minds"
  2. Pander to Fads - "if something is in the news, its a trending keyword, which means that it's time to write an article mentioning the fad or trend"
  3. Celebrities - "Pick a few people who are ‘stars' in your field, and follow them religiously"
  4. Homespun wisdom - "Don't give people new things to learn; stick with the comfortable and familiar"
  5. It's new! It's new! - "Talking about harmless new things is a surefire winner"
  6. Tips and Tricks - "introduce people to a small thing they can do that doesn't take much time and gives them a shiny result, you will have your readers' interest every day"
  7. Work the Social Networks - Use Twitter and Facebook to "will generate legions of loyal readers"
  8. Be puzzled - "If you can ask questions of your readers while getting them to think you're actually informing them, you've hit the golden mean"
  9. Arts, Entertainment and Sports - "Never stray far from arts, entertainment and sports"
  10. Find the ‘Best Of' - "Your list need not actually evaluate resources for different values of ‘best' – just list the ones you know, and call them the best"
After taking the piss out of each of these "tricks", Downes goes on to say that we should do the "exact opposite of this". He then challenges all us bloggers to (among other things) "Focus on what's important, not faddish..., Challenge your readers with new ideas and new ways of seeing the world..., Don't be distracted by the gossip chain that is the social networks..., Take the time to weight, evaluate, try out and look up".

Wise words indeed - something we should all take into account when we blog. We should ask ourselves what  are we trying to do? It is very tempting to regard blogging as a "look at me" exercise, or spend time looking up page hits data, or counting our followers and comments. Sure - we want as many people to read our blogs as possible. I'm certain that the traffic to the finalists' blogs is up since they were nominated. If we take Stephen Downes' advice, we may have less readers - but they will be better readers and we will have played a role in making them better.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Four Myths You Should Know About "Do Not Track" Technology.

I had an interesting discussion yesterday in class with my students about technology, ethics, and privacy. Students have many different views on what is right and what is wrong. For example, some feel it is OK to download music without paying for it, while others consider it as stealing. All agreed that our privacy is important, and that technology such as monitoring software can be regarded as an invasion of privacy. This is a topic that is guaranteed to get students talking and contributing in class.

Image from the Privacy Choice Blog.
There are lots of things about the Internet and World-Wide-Web that we don't know about - and one of them is that many of us don't realize how much our activity on the web is tracked by others. Leslie Harris (President and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology) writes in the ABCNews website in an article Diving into 'Do Not Track' that "third-party companies typically contract with websites for permission to track your behavior across many, many sites". He sites the example of (which I use) who "contract with hundreds of these data collectors (many of whom are advertising networks or are associated with advertising networks)".

Your tracking information is valuable, and these "third-party companies" are prepared to pay for this information. Expect to see the browser companies in the near future add a "Do Not Track" feature.

Leslie goes on in his article to discuss four myths we should know about "Do Not Track" technology. These are:
  1. Do Not Track Puts the Government in Charge of the Internet
  2. We Need a New Law for Do Not Track to Work
  3. Do Not Track Will Kill the Internet
  4. Do Not Track Is a Panacea for Modern Privacy Problems
In the above points, Leslie uses advertising to illustrate his points - this is the big target for data aggregators. The video below from ABCNews about tracking makes for very interesting viewing:

Monday, March 07, 2011

Students use Facebook to Oust Teacher’s Blog #iba11

In a special report by, students at Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown PA used Facebook to post "links to teacher Natalie Monroe’s blog on Facebook, where it went viral to a much wider audience". Monroe posted comments about her students on her blog - some examples:
  • “A complete and utter jerk in all ways. Although academically OK, your child had no other redeeming qualities.”
  • “Just as bad as his sibling. Don’t you know how to raise kids?”
  • “Shy isn’t cute in 11th grade; it’s annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it.”

Image from Daily Fiber.
Hard hitting stuff. Monroe defends her position on her blog. In a post written on 3rd March last, she is "disgusted" and writes "if the people at the top would demand more of parents and students and would support their trained staff, maybe these other issues wouldn't spiral so out of control". She says she is getting much support from "teacher after teacher", and aims her anger at school authorities and writes "What a shitty way to run things". The lady is coming out fighting.

A lot of her support comes from the Freedom of Speech corner - one commenter on the EducationTechNews site writes "teachers should have the freedom to speak their mind". I agree with this. Another commenter also writes that you should not "use your real name if you are going to trash where you work on line" - can't argue with this either. My own position is to not write anything in my own blog that I would not say to anyone's face.

Monroe is now suspended from her job as a teacher pending an investigation. While Facebook was the medium used to catch her out, it is of course not Facebook's fault that this has happened to her. She needs to be more careful what she writes on-line because it WILL be discovered - there is no secrecy.

Some of my own students have told me that they read my blog from time-to-time - so I know not to write anything stupid or derogatory about them. If you blog, you may be writing for a small audience. But be warned - Facebook is watching you!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

National Grammar Day in the USA - The Economist

Last Friday was National Grammar Day on America. The Johnson Blog in The Economist website is not sure how to appropriately celebrate the occasion and suggests "Split an infinitive?". 

Image copied from
First - what is a "split infinitive"? According to WordNet Search it is defined as "an infinitive with an adverb between `to' and the verb". Perhaps the best known example of all time is the statement by Captain Kirk at the beginning of each of the classic Star Trek episodes that their mission was "to boldly go" where no one had gone before. Apparently to grammatically be correct, this should be "to go boldly".

I was once told by an Editor (Siobhán P.) that the world is divided into two types of people - those that care about split infinitives, and those that don't.

After reading the Johnson Blog, I was reminded of the occasion of my viva voce for my PhD in Trinity in 1988. After a long and sometimes tough discussion about my research it came to the point when I was to finally find out if my dissertation was to be rejected, accepted, or accepted with modifications. I was confident that it wouldn't be rejected, and hoped that if accepted that I would not be required to make any serious changes. The good news I got was that it was to be accepted (lots of joy at this!) - but the bad news was that I had to unfortunately make some changes. My external examiner had spotted several split infinitives and he wanted them corrected - nothing else! This was during the time when word-processors were not widely used (though I had used a Mac), and when fully hard-bound submissions were required. So - I did not want to redo everything, so I simply corrected the split infinitives and printed out the text using the same font as the dissertation. I then cut out the words and pasted them with glue onto the copy of my dissertation that was to be sent to the Graduate Studies Office (and which now resides in the TCD Library). I then decided to completely ignore split infinitives for the rest of my life.

How many split infinitives can you spot in this post? I make it 6!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Blogspot Banned in Turkey - 600,000 less people blogging! #iba11

Blogland has 600,000 fewer bloggers according to a BBC report today - Blogspot banned in football row. The BBC reports that "A court in Turkey issued the ban in response to a copyright complaint by satellite TV firm Digiturk. It complained when it discovered that some matches it was broadcasting were showing up on blogspot blogs written on the Blogger site". This can be done in Turkey because "copyright protection laws allow for entire services to be shut down".

Image from Wikipedia.
I'm with Cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz has said that the ban was a "disproportionate response" and that "banning all these websites will not solve the issue". Digiturk should maybe go after the bloggers who are infringing copyright - not everybody. This is like banning everybody from driving just because a few motorists are speeding.

Here in Ireland we are rightly celebrating blogging with the Irish Blog Awards. While I made the long list of nominations for an award, this blog lost out to the many excellent short listed blogs :-( 

So - while we are celebrating blogging in Ireland, spare a thought for our Turkish colleagues who today have been prevented and censored from doing what we can freely do. There is a lot wrong with our country, but we should cherish the freedoms that we have.

Turning Blogspot back on should be a condition for Turkey to join the EU!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

One in the eye for the English!

Ireland's incredible win over England in yesterday's Cricket World Cup has made news all over the world., in a post by Kevin Cullen, writes Wicket awesome -- Irish stunner over English one for the ages. This is a really interesting perspective on the meaning of this win. Here in Ireland I have heard that this is like  Kilkenny beating Kerry in football!

Photo from
Cullen writes about former British Prime Minister John Major - "Today, somewhere in one of those invincible green suburbs, John Major is crying in his warm beer, tempted to knock some old lady off her bicycle and kick both the dog and the pool filler, having witnessed the positively Orwellian sight of Ireland beating England. In cricket!". 

Ireland had a surprise win in the 2007 World Cup over Pakistan - but this is huger! Any time Ireland beat England in anything - is a huge occasion. Even if it is only cricket, which is played by only a few people in Ireland. The manner of the win was incredible - not a fluke. And Kevin O'Brien is a definite Irish hero for the rest of his life - I'm sure that he will never have to buy a Gin and Tonic ever again in the cricket clubs of Ireland!

What is it about beating England? I tweeted about this last night - here's my tweet:

Euro 88 Ray Houghton, Ireland beat England. 2011 Cricket World Cup, Kevin O'Brien, Ireland beat England again. Twice in 23 years! #cricket

We survive on the scraps of wins over England - apart from rugby, a win is so rare that it calls for national celebration when ever it happens. ABE - Anybody But England, alive and well in Ireland. I've heard it said that people in Kerry will always cheer for England's opponents - except when they are playing Dublin!

A good day to be Irish - thanks to our cricket team. Good luck Boys in your next game against the mighty India!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cousins are great!

One of the nice things about sad occasions like a funeral is that you get to meet family that you may not have seen or met since the last funeral or wedding. On the sad occasion of my Aunt Breeda's funeral last Monday I met several of my O'Loughlin cousins - some of whom I would not have known if I passed them on the street.

Family Tree - graphic from
I have 23 first cousins on my Dad's side of the family: Charles, Declan, James, Paul, Clarissa, Leone, Pauline, Alex, Anna, Kate, Liz, Jim, Dan, Rosemary, Carol, Mia, John, Charlie, Linda, Louise, Johnnie, and Richard. I was surprised, and delighted, that several mentioned this blog. I do write about family events - hence the interest. 

There is a certain ease with which cousins can almost instantly strike up a conversation as if we were best friends and met regularly - even after the longest time since the previous occasion that we've met. Being part of a family - no matter how infrequently we meet up, reminds us that there are blood ties between us that can never be changed. We are cousins forever, and long may the relaxed chat and banter continue. One place in South County Wicklow, Tomacork near Carnew, binds us as this is where one of our parents grew up. The farm where Joe, Breeda, Paddy, Mary, Charlie, and Eileen O'Loughlin grew up is still there - I pass by it regularly on my way to play golf in Coollattin. Tomacork is a constant reminder of where we all came from - below is the Google Street View of the entrance to the farm where our parents grew up.

For those of you who check in from time to time, I also have an on-line family tree - it can be accessed here. Feel free to send me updates - three of my Quinn cousins are expecting new arrivals in the next few months. Please also report any errors or missing details.

By-the-way - I discovered at the weekend that one of my biggest fans in my family is my Aunt Mary who thinks I am "wonderful". Hi Mary - thanks for reading this blog, love you to bits!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Plagiarism in the news again

Plagiarism has hit the news today with both the German defence minister (Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg) admitting to, and Colonel Gaddafi's son (Seif al-Islam Gaddafi) being accused of plagiarism in their doctoral dissertations. I recently posted about plagiarism: "Plagiarism, Spam, and Essay Writing Services" and "What punishment for plagiarism?". These two posts attracted some comment - including an accusation that I had plagiarized in one of the posts myself!

Photo from Wikipedia.
Guttenberg resigned today after admitting to copying part of a PhD thesis, and has been stripped of his doctorate by Bayreuth University. He is quoted as saying "I'm not only leaving because of my error-filled doctorate, although I can understand this would be reason enough for many in the academic community. The reason is because of the question whether I can still live up to the highest expectations I put on myself" (quote from report by today's Irish Times). He's right about the "reason enough for many in the academic community", and he was right to resign as a consequence. In Germany, as far as I know - a doctoral thesis must be published in full. This makes the possibility of being exposed much more likely to happen if you cheat. However, how did this get past the review and the internal/external examination process? Perhaps Turnitin was not available when he submitted his PhD? How come it was not detected before this? 

Image from
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi's dissertation "is being checked for plagiarism by the London School of Economics" according to The report also states that "Online activists identified 17 alleged instances of plagiarism in Mr Gaddafi’s thesis". No doubt Gaddafi has many enemies who are taking the time to check out his work.

While I stand over everything I wrote in my own doctoral dissertation - I often wonder what a Turnitin report on it would look like? I typed the dissertation on an original Mac Classic using MacWrite - but I have long since lost the floppy diskettes that I used. There are only three copies of the dissertation in existence. There is one in the Library in Trinity, I have one, and the third I do not know where it is - it was given by me to my supervisor in 1988. It also exists on microfiche in Trinity. Perhaps they have the technology to scan it now, or will have in the near future. No dissertation is safe!