Monday, May 30, 2011

My Eircom Broadband Connection Still Sucks

I got my eircom bill today. As usual it charges me for a "download speed of up to 8Mb and an unlimited upload and download allowance". As usual this means nothing - as you can see my download speed is just 1.13Mb (14% approx). I've moaned about this before (Broadband woes continue) - I even got a refund from Eircom (fair play) when I made an official complaint. It has been reported to me by eircom that despite the fact that I am an 8Mb NGS customer, the line from my local exchange will only support a 4Mb connection. So much for "up to 8MB" - clearly this lie from eircom is difficult to continually suck in. I accept that "up to 8MB" means that I can expect to get less than this - but 86% less is just a joke.

Now - the joke is worse and no longer funny. Look at the extract from my latest bill below:

Not sure why I blotted out my phone number - it can be looked up in the phone book.

My "unlimited upload and download allowance" is costing me an extra €16.50 (+VAT) a month! FFS! The reason for this is there is a lot if watching on-line TV shows and movies in my house.

What makes this situation worse is that I can't change! I'm sick of UPS and (Craig Doyle) advertising 25Mb broadband - their network here in Blackrock can't support this. Imagine! tried and failed to connect me to WiFi. Magnet say that they need to first take over my eircom line to see if they can do better. I think going mobile is the only option - but I'm hearing that it's not great either.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Worst PowerPoint Slide Contest Winners

InFocus Labs held a "What Not to Present" contest to show up some horrendous use of PowerPoint - Worst PPT Slide Contest Winners. It's a while since I have written about PowerPoint - the last post on this was on 14th April last year. I have seen many boring slides since then - all falling into the same too cluttered/too much text trap. The "winner" of the InFocus Worst PowerPoint slide is...

Image from InFocus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marking exam scripts

I am in the middle of marking a bunch of exam scripts and continuous assessment - it is the highest amount that I have had to do since I joined NCI. This is due to having two large classes (85 and 150 each)  - I mostly have had smaller classes. It's very busy, and marking has to be done in a short time (why is this?). I have been doing this now for eight years, and it doesn't get any easier.

Image form Tshui Yee's Blog.
One of the toughest things to do is award a fail mark to a student. Even when this is the only option available, for example when an answer given does not match the question, or the answer is a blank, or very little effort is made - I always find it tough to write a mark such as 25% beside a student's name. Obviously I can't go into any details about my current marking efforts - but suffice it to say that there are the usual high, medium, and low marks.

I was a student once myself, and had a tough time getting through the first two years in Trinity. In fact I had to repeat 2nd year - I have every sympathy with students whose summers are ruined by having to repeat exams. I did this two years in a row.

Why do we fail exams? When I look back on my exams in 1978 and 1979 - there is no question that I could have worked (a lot) harder to prepare for the exams. With hindsight I know what went wrong - the fact that I passed the repeat exams with flying colors, went on to get a 2:1 honours degree, and a PhD, proves what I was a little tosser I was in my first two years in Trinity. As I go through my students' exam papers right now I have to wonder if those that are going to fail know what they have done and what they are doing (as I'm sure someone once wondered about me). Our standards are (rightly) high - we cannot hand out sympathy marks. It's not easy knowing that a fail mark awarded by me will force a student to come home early from a summer in America, or cut a world trip short.

There's one thing a former colleague in NCI once told me when I mentioned to him that I had failed a student. His words - "we don't fail the students, they fail themselves". 

But I still find this tough to do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Graffiti by "The Little Guy"

Out for a walk at lunch today on Mayor Street Upper in Dublin City centre (here), I took some photos of some graffiti on the boardings surrounding the ill-fated new Anglo-Irish Headquarters. Very thought provoking. This graffiti has been there several months at least - I have walked by it regularly. So I decided to blog about this and record a very emotional piece by an obviously passionate graffiti artist. He is called the "Little Guy" - at least that's the name beside this excellent piece of prose. I'd love to meet this guy - was he a docker? This is very mush a cry from the heart that most of us can sympathize with - a symbol of changed times, and a hankering after earlier days. Read for yourself and see what you think.... 

PS - this is post #600 on this blog!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Future is Glass

I just watched a super video from Corning - "A Day Made of Glass". It gives us an insight into what the future might look like, with all sorts of fantastic gadgets and not a mouse or a keyboard in sight!

This builds on the successful technologies such as the iPad (I still don't have one). In an article, "Education Can Rock Too" - Meg Wilson of EdReach wonders about the impact of these new glass-based devices on education. She asks "What kind of opportunities will technology offer students next?". Just a few short years ago we would have wondered about using the likes of iPhones, iPods, iTouchs, iPads, and the many clones that are out there in the classroom. Simply being able to play a video in class required a degree in setting up video players that students could see and hear at the same time (you also needed a degree in patience in dealing with IT Dept). Now - click on YouTube and you're effortlessly there in seconds, who needs IT Dept! I just hope I get the opportunity to some day use these gadgets in the classroom.

I just wonder about the all-glass bus shelter in the video above - how long would it be before one of our neanderthal thugs takes a sledge hammer to one and smashes it to pieces? There's no such thing as a "damage resistant" bus shelter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review: "Old Man on a Bike" by Simon Gandolfi

When a 73 year old man sets off on his own from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego on a motorbike, you have to admire his courage, sense of adventure, and his madness. It is even more mad to think that he did this on a Honda 125cc motorbike and not on a big BMW tourer. Yes - I thought Simon Gandolfi was mad to undertake this trip. Surely neither he at his age, or such a tiny bike would survive the trip?

Image from CSC Blog.
There are lots of adventures along the way and Gandolfi entertains us with stories of the people he meets and places he passes through. He certainly didn't have it too easy - he crashed, got wet, got cold, lost his documents, and got lonely. Loneliness is not mentioned, but clearly there were (just a few) occasions when he wanted to be home instead of riding a small bike over dust roads in the wind and rain. I don't blame him.

While the book is an humerous and enjoyable read, but it is also quite boring in places. Gandolfi insists on telling us how much each hotel costs, what he has for dinner, and that he has to get up in the middle of the night. A more accurate title would be "Old Man eats, sleeps, and pees his way through America". The best bits for me were political comment - he describes himself (in his blog) as having "Leftists tendencies" and has many discussions with locals about politics. Despite some of the physical challenges facing him, Gandolfi never loses his sharp political comment nor his sense of humour. 

For me - most travel books end in anti-climax. The author arrives at his destination and goes home. Gandolfi's arrival at Ushuaia (in Tierra del Fuego) occurs in the fifth last paragraph of the book. No sense of relief, elation, or satisfaction of having completed an extraordinary journey and challenge. All he has to say is "My journey is done".

As long as I can ride my own bike, I will always be inspired by Simon Gandolfi that you are never too old to get in the saddle. I will be thinking of him on my more modest trip this summer as I travel across France and Spain on my Harley-Davidson  - I will be 22 years younger and will have an engine 12 times bigger that Gandolfi's Honda!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to tie your shoes #TED

The TED  (Technology, Entertainment, Design) organization has produced some wonderful Talks since 2005. The very first Talk was by Terry Moore when he talked about how he found out that he had been tying his shoes the wrong way his whole life. Watch and enjoy the message:

This reminds me that it was my Grandfather PJ O'Loughlin who taught me how to tie my shoe laces. PJ died in 1965 (19th June), so I was very young (5) when he taught me how to do this.  He taught me the "weak form" (as in the TED video). Like Terry Moore I had thought that by age 51 that I had mastered the art of tying my shoe laces - turns out that both my Grandfather and I were wrong! A "small advantage some place in life, can yield tremendous results some place else".

Friday, May 20, 2011

New YouTube Channel - Dr Keith Maycock

I'm delighted to be able to mention that one of my favourite people, my colleague Dr Keith Maycock, has a new YouTube Channel started just a week ago. Keith already has eight videos about logic and octal/binary/decimal conversions. I know already that many of his students have used these videos for the recent exams at NCI. Watch out for a lot more from Keith - here's a sample of his work (listen out for his "Good Morning Vietnam" tribute at the start!):

Welcome to YouTube learning and teaching Dr Maycock!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Teachers' online e-learning mocking 'fears'

Ben Grubb, writing about Teachers' online e-learning mocking 'fears' in The Sydney Morning Herald, reports that "Australian university lecturers are resisting putting recorded lectures online because they fear students will mock their off-the-cuff flubs in YouTube mashups and social networking posts". 

Image from
Grubb goes on to say that "some academic teaching staff believe off-the-cuff comments or jokes during a lecture or tutorial could lead to a defamation action or their intellectual property being breached by students who repost uploaded university material on sites outside the university or academic teaching staff's control".

I have to say that as a very strong advocate of recording videos for students that I had not really thought that this type of thing would happen to anything I have recorded. My own College does not yet advocate the video recording of classes, but no doubt it is not that many years away. I missed one class this past year (actually this is the only class I have missed since joining the College in 2002) - I recorded the missed lecture as a podcast and asked the students to download the lecture notes and have them in front of them while they listened to the podcast. (As an aside - I note that Moodle Logs are telling me that less than a third of the class even accessed the recorded lecture. The Logs do not tell me how much this third listened to).

Based on above - it is fair to say that a fair proportion of a class will not view or listen to a recorded lecture - therefore reducing the risk of being "mocked". However, it doesn't take much skill for a student to cut a piece of a lecture out and upload it to YouTube. Whether it is a joke, a mistake, a funny incident, an accident, whatever - it is fair game for sharing on the web. It's also easy to take a video recording, remove the audio, and parody the lecturer - or even doctor or airbrush the video. 

Anything can be done with even the most basic of editing skills. But this is not a valid reason to not record and upload lectures? What are we trying to do - teach or protect ourselves? Students slag off their lecturers all the time - whether it is in the College corridors, in emails, or in the pub, a lecturer can expect to be the butt of sarcasm and jokes. One good thing that could come from this is that lecturers will have to be better prepared for class - even practising and getting the jokes right!

Deal with it!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review - "Those in Peril" by Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith has written 33 books and I have read them all. The minute I see a new book from him in a book shop I buy it straight away. His latest book is called "Those in Peril" and is not based on any of the dynasties that he has written about in the past.

Image form
"Those in Peril" is basically about Somali pirates. This is not one of Smith's best offerings, but is for the most part a very good yarn that his fans will enjoy. It is fast paced, bloodthirsty, and violent - but contains the usual love interest and fantastic descriptions of Africa (though the latter is less than in most of his books as a lot of the action is at sea). The central characters are Hector Cross and Hazel Bannock - two almost unbelievable and rich people that most of us can only dream about.

There are plenty of twists and turns - Smith certainly knows how to keep the action going, and his usual graphic descriptions of death may make you squirm. Unlike other novels - there are no descriptions of rich heavily armed hunters killing helpless animals. So un-PC nowadays.

The first 200 pages are high octane - if made into a film it would cost a fortune! But extraordinarily, the book falls completely flat for 40 pages (pages 222-262 to be precise). What a bore this section is, until we get back into the action. You can skip these pages and not miss anything. The end, and climax, is nail-biting - I was expecting it to be predictable, but I was wrong.

A final criticism of an otherwise good read is the thinly veiled racism towards Somalis. It's clear that Smith has little time for them - expressed by his central character who kill them by the dozen. This is a "good guys" versus the "bads guys" where the good guys are good at everything, and the bad guys get almost everything wrong. There is also a completely useless map inside the cover - none of the place-names (other than the Puntland region) used in the book are shown on the map.

Recommended for Wilbur Smith fans - an ordinary read for those new to Smith.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I like this - #thereshouldbealaw @thereshudbalaw

Jimmy Fallon of NBC gives his top ten therehouldbealaw hashtags on his Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show on NBC. My favourite one is "There should be a law against standing there like an idiot after getting off an escalator" - watch the video for some more:

A new website aims to capture peoples ideas for "laws" - I posted the following one:

There should be a law against people pressing the button at pedestrian lights when there is no traffic on the road. How many times does it happen to you that you are driving along a road and have to stop at a pedestrian crossing, while the person who has pressed the button has already crossed and is further down the road than you are? Arrrgh!!

Anyone who does this - off with their heads!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Vanity has struck me and I have registered my full name as a domain name My Blog now points to this domain, anyone using the old address will be automatically redirected to this new domain. The new site is essentially the same as the old - it's my same old blog, but with a new address. Welcome to! Lots of people do this with their blogs, so I am not in the least bit embarrassed at my vanity.

In order to make the site look a bit different from before I have changed the layout a little bit and also added a custom background. I will change the background from time to time, but my first one is a collage of people that I admire, have read biographies about, and been inspired by. Vanity has struck me here too as I have added a photo of myself taken for my passport in 1984. 

I had some fun putting the graphic together. With the exception of my own photo, all the images are pilfered from Google image searches. I decided to go with a black and white theme - some of the photos were originally in colour and I converted them to B&W. All of this work was done with PaintShop Pro.

There are 51 people on this graphic - can you name them all? Most are easily recognised, but there are three or four that most people won't easily get. The first person that emails me with a full correct list will be treated to a nice lunch on me!

Friday, May 13, 2011

How To... Add and Change Chart Titles in Excel 2010

Following some feedback from YouTube user 31snax that I should post a video on "how to add a chart title and names for the 'y' and 'x' axis" to my YouTube Channel - I recorded the following video this afternoon in response. This is a short tutorial on Excel 2010 to show you "How To... Add and Change Chart Titles in Excel 2010". Most of the work in creating the chart is done for you by Excel - but there are a few extras that need to be done in order to create a professional looking chart. Please pass onto anyone you think might be interested.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sh1t My Students Write

No - it's not my own students, but I came across the Shit My Students Write website while browsing through news stories on This website allows people to post to the web site about amusing moments that educators come across while assessing their student's work. It contains such gems (exact quotes) as:

"Darwin’s theory of natural selection is also known as survival of the fits"

"We were as close as two pees in a pot"

"The potato literally encouraged the Irish to overbreed"

"Most respondents stated that attitudes towards sex changed after the Vietnam and Woodstock wars"

I'm sure many are typos - but others are genuine blunders by students. There is no doubt that under the pressure of an exam we all come out with the most unlikely statements that make no sense, and might even be embarrassing. Judge for yourself by checking out the Shit My Students Write website for yourself. Below is the ABCNews report:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How come I am the only one who knows how to drive on a roundabout?

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) uses the following video to show us Irish drivers how to drive around an Irish roundabout. It is clear, simple, and so easy for even the dumbest driver to follow - if you are in any doubt as to how to correctly drive around a roundabout, this video should help you:

This is for the jerk who was in the right lane and wanted to turn left at the Sandyford roundabout (under the Luas bridge) across me who was in the (correct) left lane to go straight. The driver of the big Audi beeped his mighty horn and shook his fist at me - clearly I in my small VW Golf was in his way. I wondered what I had done wrong. Hey jerk - if you want to know what you did wrong, just look at the RSA video.

Monday, May 09, 2011

New YouTube video - PERT Analysis

I have uploaded a new video to my YouTube Channel - this one is about a Problem-Solving Technique called PERT Analysis. PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique) is used by Project Managers to help estimate the duration of a task here there is a high degree of uncertainty. It takes into account the optimistic time, most likely time, and pessimistic time that a task can be completed. The name PERT is still used to describe Project Network Diagrams and Gantt Charts - so it is often a confused with other techniques. I teach PERT in my Project Management classes and is a favourite of mine for test questions. Check out the video on YouTube below.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Bucket List from the National Geographic

Recently I got an email from the National Geographic asking me "What's on your bucket list?". Of course the NGS is actually trying to sell me a book about the "50 Places of a Lifetime" to visit. I have subscribed to the National Geographic since 1992 - but I think I'll skip buying this book.

Graphic from NGS Newsletter.
However, it did get me thinking - what would my "Bucket List" of places of a lifetime? I'm not going to do a top 50, but I outline below the top 5 places that I have been, and the top 5 places that I have not been to that I really want to go to. What would be on your "Bucket List"?

Five best places I've been to.            Five places I want to see.                    
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Paris (everywhere!)
  • Ramblas, Barcelona
  • San Francisco
  • Acropolis, Athens
  • Rome and The Vatican
  • Sydney Harbour
  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Berlin
  • Hawaii

Me at the Grand Canyon in 1997.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Learn with YouTube

Click here to subscribe.
I have re-named my auld YouTube Channel - it is now (modestly) called "Learn with YouTube". I am committed to add as many new videos as I can - mostly drawn from subjects that I teach and refer to in class. My two themes are still "How To..." and "Problem-Solving Techniques". I don't plan to stray from this - there are lots of more topics in these areas that I can concentrate on, and hopefully folks can use them to learn.

The channel is going from strength to strength with (as I write) 326,396 video views, 6,301 channel views, and 34 subscribers. YouTube are now providing a lot of "Most viewed" data in certain categories like Education - my Channel is at Number 35 in the Most Viewed in Ireland Education Channels. A quick look through the 34 above shows that not all are educational, and not all are based in Ireland (some have selected Ireland, perhaps by accident, as their location). The "Most Viewed" Education Channel with the location as Ireland right now (with 3,549,215 views) is the photonictech Channel - much of this is in Arabic. Long way for me to go!

I applied some time ago to YouTube to become a member of their Partner Program. Most people do this for revenue sharing, but you need millions of views to even make a few hundred euro. Me - I just want the status, and maybe a Partner logo on my channel! However, my application is still "being processed" - I expect it to be rejected. This may happen due to copyright issues - I am uncertain as to the status of screenshots from Microsoft products in my "How To..." videos.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Working without a computer

This morning I am without my laptop at work - I brought in Roma's iPad so that at least I could get something done. However, I have learned that it is almost impossible to do my job without my laptop. What happened? A small problem launching Outlook has snowballed into a disaster - now the only solution appears to be a complete rebuild of my laptop. It is currently on the operating table in the IT Dept awaiting surgery. I'm not looking forward to re-installing applications, re-creating shortcuts, changing settings, and generally getting the laptop back the way I want it.

My workload at the moment now that classes have finished is mostly marking continuous assessment. For the past two weeks I have been unable to do this as I could not open files. I could go to one of the computer labs, but I prefer not to do marking in a public place. In any case I will not have access to My Documents where I have the questions, solutions, marking scheme, and mark sheets. Moodle is the only thing that I have access to - but even this is hopeless without My Documents.

We have become so tied to technology that we are almost totally dependent on it to get things done. I could give a class, but they are finished for the semester. I can't do any course work without my laptop - this iPad is good for email and Internet access, but I can't open and examine a Microsoft Access database file on it (though I'm sure it is possible to do this by purchasing an app).

So what am I doing? Checking personal email, and writing a blog post! This is the first time I have written a blog post during work hours for over a year (lest anyone should think I am skiving off work). I'm going to spend the rest of the morning seeing what I can do with the iPad in an environment where the PC is king.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"The Pride of Parnell Street" at the Pavilion Theatre

I went along to see Sebastian Barry's play "The Pride of Parnell Street" by Fishamble - The New Play Company featuring Mary Murray and Joe Hanley in the Pavillion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire last evening. I had not heard anything about it before hand and actually thought it was a comedy. While it has some very funny moments, it is definitely not a comedy and is a more dark piece of drama - as you might expect from Sebastian Barry.

There are only two actors in the play - admirably performed by Murray and Hanley. They are on stage for the entire play without an interval. It also has no dialog - every line is delivered as a monologue, with each actor taking turns to speak. Dark subjects such as child death, wife battering, drug abuse, AIDS, and the 1974 bomb in Parnell Street are mixed together and handled very well by the two actors. They held the audiences attention throughout (except for the idiot whose phone rang) - excellent performances from both, and well worth seeing.

The Pavillion Theatre is quite small (300 seats) and intimate. However - last evening there was only about 50 people present and it must have been difficult for both actors to perform in front of such a small audience. There was no opportunity to applaud during the play (which I would have liked to do) which was 1.75 hours long - the silence was eerie at times. Top mark to Mary and Joe!

Before the play Roma and I had a very tasty dinner from the Starter Menu in the 40 Foot Bar and Grill beside the Theatre. Very comfortable surroundings and good value food too.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Leo Varadkar - My Hero!

Minister Leo Varadkar has just gone up in my estimation as he has demonstrated that he is serious about removing election poster ties - the Irish Independent reports today that Varadker's team 'cuts party ties' to help FF. This is a topic that I have been ranting and raving about several times on this blog - most recently on 13th March last showing the lamp post across the road from the back of my garden. While it is nice to think that Leo has listened to me, neither my message nor his has reached Barry Andrews, Seán Barrett, or Ivana Bacik in the Dún Laoghaire constituency - their election poster ties still adorn said lamp post.

Above - Minister Leo Varadkar
with 10,000 poster ties collected
by him and his team.

Left - my letter to the Irish Times
on March 8th, 2008.

Right - the lamp post at the end
of my garden.

At last - something might be done about this scourge?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Osama Bin Laden is dead - and many people across the world are celebrating, or at least glad that he is dead. I too am glad that this peddler of terrorism is no more, that this self-styled leader will send no more suicide bombers to kill innocent people, that people all over the world can feel just a little bit safer, that the hunt for this evil man is over.

The late Osama Bin Laden.
Photo from India Talkies.
Of course - not everyone is glad that he is dead. He had many followers who supported him and carried out his terrorist activities. In addition to the many who will celebrate his death, there will also be many who will be genuinely mourning today. Fearfully - there will be many who are already planning vengeance in his name.

Bin Laden lived by the sword and has now died by the sword. He fought the Russians in Afghanistan as what Robert Fisk called a "mountain warrior of mujahedin legend" (quoted from today's Irish Independent). No doubt he would have been considered a hero in the West for this. But his greatest challenge was to "to turn America into a shadow of itself" - something neither he nor anyone else will ever be able to do. Today's action by American Special Forces shows that the US's reach is long and dangerous - the message is simple: Don't Mess with America.

The surprise for me is that it has taken so long to track him down. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is just a few months away - many who lost family and friends in these attacks have had to wait a long time for "closure". Also no doubt that President Obama's ratings will soar after this - he must have been tempted to wait a little longer until his re-election campaign gets going (or needed a ratings boost). Not for this President. This is a good day for Obama, and a very bad one for Bin Laden.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Two years on Twitter today

@dubl_twopcharts tweeted today that I was a Twitter user for two years - on their bio they state that "With this account we are tracking Twitter users from Dublin. If you follow us we will track your history". I now follow @dubl_twopcharts to see what happens!

The tweet reads:

Image from Silicon Republic.
Today 2 years on Twitter: @JoeHigginsTD, @ClaireTully, @DealHunter_IE, @StudioRua, @eoloughlin and @FionaKinsella

This is the only thing I share with Joe Higgins!

If asked I would not have thought that I was on Twitter for two years - it still seems like a very recent thing that I have been doing. I gave up Twitter (and Facebook) briefly in May 2009, but returned not too long after. I tend not to have Twitter on at work because it is so distracting and addictive. I figured out how to get my Blog posts onto Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, and Linkedin - post once and it appears in five separate places. This is most of my activity on Twitter.

As of today I follow 312 people and have 176 followers. I have tweeted 787 times. Almost every web page that I go to has a Twitter link - it has definitely become very popular in a short space of time. It is here to stay and I will keep it as part of my on-line presence.