Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Choir Boy!

Image source:
Last Monday evening I did something that has been on my mind to do for quite some time - I joined up with a church choir. Dorothy S persuaded me to join her in the St John the Baptist Church Choir in Blackrock where I was made very welcome for practice. Thank goodness I didn't have to do an audition!

It has been a long time since I read music (I did up to grade 5 in the piano!). I found it difficult to recognise some of the notes, but was able to participate to some extent. They have me singing bass, and I even had to sing parts for some hymns. They like their Latin Chant, and I only recognized one hymn in the whole practice session. I brought home some sheet music to practice - it will not be easy for me to get into the swing of things. I was the only guy there - I am told there are two more who no doubt will make it easier to get going. 

I enjoyed the evening, the ladies of the choir were good fun and did not put me under any pressure. I'm not turned off so far, and it might even do my soul some good and get me into Heaven!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My YouTube Channel - Half a Million Views!

I have just checked the viewing figures for my Learn with YouTube channel this morning and spotted that it is exactly 500,000 as I write this post! Wow! Thank you to every single person who has viewed my videos - I can safely say that this is one of the most thrilling moments in my education career. To think that what started out as a simple experiment for one of my e-Learning classes has grown to this, is amazing to me. I would need a lecture theatre with room for 1,370 students every day for a year to reach the same number of people through the classroom.


Here's Spokesmayne who also got excited when his channel hit 500,000 views - so exited that he recorded a video about it. It pretty much sums up how I feel about this landmark right now...

Monday, September 26, 2011

European Parliament - Spoil Sports!

Today's Independent newspaper reports that the European Parliament is to vote on a wide range of new laws aimed at bikers and their rides. The article, Bikers out in force against new safety rules, reports on a protest in Dublin by the Motorcyclists' Action Group. Among the proposals are to force all bikers to wear high-visibility jackets, the introduction of an NCT style test for all bikes, and no customization of bikes.

I sometimes wear a high viz vest - the photo to the right was taken near the top of a mountain in Andorra last summer when it was raining and was very cloudy. But mostly I don't. My bike has three headlamps which are on all the time - kinda hard to miss me when they are on. The long-sleeved high viz jacket that is proposed takes away from the leather jacket look, and is definitely uncool (even my sleeveless one which is decorated with Harley-Davidson logos). This new law will create a business opportunity for clothes manufacturers, as well as practically kill the leather jacket and motorclothes industry. Wearing a high-viz jacket will not make me feel safer - that will only happen when idiot drivers in cars and trucks start to pay attention on the road. Dull coloured cars being driven around with no headlights on in the twilight time by idiots are far more dangerous. Despite the noise my bike makes - some idiots don't hear me, despite the three headlights, some idiots don't see me, WTF difference will a high-viz jacket make?

An NCT test is bad news for Harley riders - mine would almost certainly fail a noise test as the exhaust pipes are Screamin' Eagle custom pipes that make a lot of noise. Very few of us keep the factory pipes. I have also customized my bike quite a lot, which both personalizes it and makes it look cooler. 

These proposals are no doubt aimed at saving lives - if they save even one life in the whole of Europe, then of course they will be worthwhile. However, I feel that they are being introduced by faceless Eurocrats with nothing else to do besides spoil our fun on bikes - where is Maggie Thatcher when we need her?. I bet none of them ever had something exiting between their legs. My message to them is to "Feck Off"!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Breakfast in Avoca

We decided as a family (minus Kate) to head off to Avoca in Kilmacanoge for breakfast this morning. We missed breakfast time by 10 minutes (11.30 is still too early to stop serving breakfast on a Sunday morning!). However, the folks in Avoca had no problems in providing breakfast. I had fancied Eggs Benedict which I had the last time I was there, but they were not available this time - I settled for a BLT bap.

My favourite bread from Avoca.
Image link to
Avoca was very busy, though not nearly full. They have plenty of tables and chairs, and lots of delicious food for breakfast and lunch. Avoca is certainly surviving the Recession very well - it's not a cheap place, but people obviously feel that it is value for money. It is excellent for a treat at not too high a price.

It is also popular with people of all types. I saw people reading the paper over a coffee, an older couple having an early lunch (with wine!), and also people with young children and babies. The trouble with small children is that they cry when they bang their heads off a table - but this happened only once so not too much crying to listen to. Overall - a very pleasant breakfast.

Friday, September 23, 2011

YouTube Launches Site Specifically for Teachers

YouTube is recognising the importance of video in the classroom by launching a new site YouTube for Teachers. I'm not sure what is going to happen to TeacherTube (which has been around for quite a while) or where this new site fits in with the YouTude EDU strategy. An article by Tina Barseghian for the Mind/Shift web site entitled "YouTube Launches Site Specifically for Teachers" also predicts that "a bigger announcement will be made about huge changes that will address many of the concerns teachers have had about using YouTube videos".

Image link to GarrisonSites Blog.
From what I have seen, YouTube are struggling with dealing with a plethora of educational videos. They obviously see the value in using YouTube as a medium for learning - but with various versions of their site for TeacherTube, the new YouTube Teacher, YouTube EDU, plus "Education" and "How To" categories on the regular YouTube site, it is a slightly confusing picture. I'm sure the YouTube folks are working on a plan to simplify their educational landscape.

I can see for myself what my own (modest) efforts at education via YouTube can do. One of the lines from the new YouTube Teacher channel home page that I like is:

Go from teaching 25 students to 25,000! Students all over the world deserve access to quality instruction. By sharing your videos, you can help students around the world.

In the last two weeks alone my own channel (Learn with YouTube) had over 24,000 views by learners. My classroom efforts at College reached just under 100 students. Spot the difference?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Today's Irish Daily Star

A College Guide 2011 supplement is published in today's Irish Daily Star newspaper and I have a short article entitled "How to make the best of time in college". I know that this supplement may not be available outside the main towns and cities where Ireland's third-level colleges are - so I reproduce the article here:

Click image to enlarge.
This is an abridged version of one of my blog posts from last year - Advice to Eugene on entering College, October 1978.

1978 - soooooooo long ago!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Cat in the House

I don't have a name - please help!
I came home this evening to find that my daughter (her name is Claire - I put this here so that the whole world can see it!) had brought a kitten home. She told me that other cats were going to kill it and that she saved its life (I didn't believe her!). She even bought a litter box, food bowl, and some food. Sure - the cat is cute (see photo), but I didn't want a cat in the house.

I grew up on a farm with lots of cats and dogs - plenty of room for them to run around and catch mice (we do have mice in the house). I liked cats. But I don't believe that a small garden and a city dwelling are suitable for either cats or dogs. The two main reasons (there are others) why I don't want a cat are: pee, and poo.

However, we are keeping the cat (it's still a kitten - maybe about six weeks old). My two daughters are so enthused with the creature that it's hard to be hard-hearted, and I really don't want to be a spoil sport. I'll see how it goes. It's just a kitten, so there will be toilet accidents. The kitten needs a name - Claire suggested "Marilyn", in an effort to gain my approval. Cute and all as the kitten is - it does not come close to Marilyn Monroe!

We need a name for the cat - all suggestions welcome.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How To... Make a YouTube Ready Video With PowerPoint 2010

Since starting to create videos for upload to my Learn with YouTube channel, I have used various tools to create the videos. They are mostly made with Camstudio and Windows Movie Maker. Recently I have begun to use the audio recording options that PowerPoint offers. I simply create my presentation slides as normal, and then record the voice-over for each slide one at a time. When finished I save the presentation as a Windows Media Video (.WMV) which can then be uploaded to YouTube. The .WMV file size is quite large, but that doesn't really matter any more. My most recent video below is about how to do this: "How To... Make a YouTube Ready Video With PowerPoint 2010":

This actually took a bit longer to make. With Camstudio for example, I record the video in one take from start to finish. If I make a mistake I record it again. Usually I'm happy with the video as long as I don't make a major mistake. But when I was recording one slide at a time in PowerPoint, I found myself recording each slide over and over as I tried to get the recording a little bit better each time. I don't do this when recording the whole video in one shot. Some slides I must have recorded them more than 10 times before I was happy.

I'm feeling a little bit of excitement building as the view count for the channel edges close to half a million views. Last Thursday the view count for a single day went over 2,000 for the first time. At the current rate (484,571 views as I write this post) - I should pass the half a million mark before the end of the month!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's Showtime (Tight Rope Productions)

Image link to Pavilion Theatre 
On Friday evening we went to see my daughter Vicki perform in an evening of music and drama at The Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire. Tightrope Productions provides "young people between the age of 16-20 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area with an opportunity to develop knowledge and skills of performance and express their own creativity in a safe environment"

The evening was a mixture of songs and dance from musicals such as Guys & Dolls, Blood Brothers, and Miss Saigon. All very enjoyable, and of course I spent the evening watching out for Vicki as she sang and danced her way through the performance with a huge smile on her face. (Proud Dad!). It was her "debut" with Tightrope and I'm sure she will come back for more next year. It was great to see her and all the other young people on stage gain in confidence as the show went on. There were some very powerful performances with superb voices to be heard. Some of these kids will have a future on the stage if they keep this up.

One small gripe - several teenagers in the audience could not control themselves (there was a line of boys in the row in front of me who giggled and chatted their way through most of the performance) and disturbed the enjoyment of the evening for some people. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Running to school! How do we maintain this enthusiasm?

This morning on my way to work at about 8.30 I saw a young primary school girl running in the direction of her school. There were lots of other kids about walking, so I'm certain that she was not running because she was late. I was impressed by her determined enthusiasm as she ran - I'd say she was about 10 years old.

Image link to The Creativity Queen website.
Can every day be like this? Wouldn't be wonderful if students of all levels of education ran to school or to college? I don't know why the girl this morning was running - perhaps she wanted to meet her friends before class. Perhaps her teacher had arranged a pre-class session with her. Perhaps she wanted to be early for school. Perhaps she wanted to learn. Perhaps school is a great place to be!

While I do not expect 3rd level students to run all the way to College, wouldn't it be great if all were as enthusiastic about going to class just like the girl on my way into work this morning? How can we motivate students to do this? How can we motivate students to want this? We are in the first week of Semester 1 here in NCI, and all the classes are full - enthusiasm everywhere (though I haven't seen anyone running to class!). Sadly, this enthusiasm will wear off as we go into the long 13-week semester and Winter sets in.

As an educator myself, I was delighted to see such enthusiasm from the primary school girl this morning. Long may she want to go to school!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

GOAL Jersey Day - 7th October

I've done something at the College today that I have not done before - I have launched a charity event in the hope of raising funds for GOAL's appeal for donations to help with water and sanitation programmes for schools. The idea is a simple one - wear your favourite sports jersey to work and donate €2 to GOAL for the privilege of doing so. GOAL Jersey Day is on 7th October next. Lots of schools and work places do this - I think it's a first for NCI?

Image link to
It started out as a simple mention by me in a conversation "GOAL Jersey Day - that sounds like a good idea, we should do this" - but then I had to follow up. I contacted GOAL and they were obviously very willing for NCI to participate in the event - they are sending out posters and collection boxes. While the number of staff in NCI is quite small (just over 100), the Student's Union are also involved. With a bit of luck we should collect a handsome sum for GOAL.

I plan to wear two jerseys on the day (that will cost me €4!) - in the morning I will wear my Wicklow GAA jersey, and switch to my Preston North End jersey for the afternoon. I'm hoping that as many staff as possible with wear their jersey on the day - those that don't will still be pushed for a donation. This should also add a dash of colour around the place, and should also reveal the inner passions of my colleagues for their favourite teams!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Silver Wedding Anniversary - 13th September, 1986

Today is the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Roma Bourke on 13th September 1986. It is a day I will never forget and 25 years later it still has a special place in my heart.

One of the things about my wedding day is that I remember it almost minute by minute. I've no idea or record of what I was doing on 13th Sept 1985, but it's easy to remember something big in your life like a wedding. First, a wedding album chronicles the day very well. Secondly, we probably have more photos from friends and family from this day than any other in our lives - so it is much easier to remind ourselves what happened on that day. 

We were married in St Patrick's Church in Newport, Co Mayo. The Reception was in a marquee on the lawn of Roma's parents house in Rosmindle, we spent our first night of wedded bliss in Newport House, and honeymooned in Poreč in what was then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).

We missed it on the day, but just before the wedding ceremony Roma's cousin Anne-Elizabeth had a request for us on the Val Joyce show on RTÉ Radio 1 which she recorded. To hear this message (22 secs) click on the "Play" button on the toolbar below:

One of the sad things about the day is you just have to look at our wedding group photograph to see that so many of our friends and family have passed away in the 25 years since - we remember them too on this day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Problem-Solving Techniques #19: GoogleStorming

Here is one of the easiest and quickest problem-solving technique that anybody can do - GoogleStorming. It is a variation on Brainstorming, but you use Google instead of a team of people, to brainstorm some ideas. The idea of it seems to have been developed by Joyce Wycoff in an article for the Innovation Network - a copy of the article can be found here - (see page 6). Wycoff writes: "You're sitting at your desk chewing on something that has been troubling you for weeks. You need a new idea but do not know where to look. You need something fast, something easy, something you can do yourself without calling a lot of other folks together. What's the answer? Googlestorming!". 

The idea of GoogleStorming is a simple one - here it is in simple steps:
  1. Pick an object at random
  2. Google it
  3. Click on one of the top five links returned in the Google search
  4. "Wander" through what you have found for new ideas
  5. See if what you find can stimulate your mind to come up with a new perspective to help you solve your problem
As Wycoff puts it "Googlestorming is a way of wandering without leaving your desk". I made a YouTube video which describes this technique and it also shows an example of using GoogleStorming for helping to solve the problem of sustaining change using a paper clip!

I now have 51 videos on the channel and have added quite a few over the past few weeks. These new videos still have very low viewing stats, but I hope that this will build up over time. I also noted a spike in overall viewing figures last week when about 1,900 views occurred on Wednesday 7th September - my highest ever daily figure! I'm closing in on the half a million mark - at the current rate of viewing, this should happen sometime in the next 3-4 weeks.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort

Roma and I decided to treat ourselves to a night away in The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort in Killenard, Co Laois this weekend in honour of our up-coming 25th Wedding Anniversary. It's a lovely hotel, but perhaps not quite deserving the five stars that are displayed prominently throughout. We had lunch in the Slieve Bloom bar on arrival after which we set off for a round of golf. We came prepared for bad weather and we were expecting heavy showers and rain from about mid-afternoon. At least that's what Met Eireann predicted on Thursday evening's News - they got it wrong (again). Because rain was coming (or so we thought) we decided to have a go at the Par 3 course instead of the main course. Apart from one very brief shower - no more rain. We did get a nice rainbow after the shower...

We had dinner in the nearby Sols Orien's, which was delicious - but portions were way too big. We stopped for a quick jar in The Thatch pub where two guys called "Rough and Ready" were singing songs - they were good, but way too loud for me.

Overall - The Heritage, which belongs to NAMA, is a very comfortable place to stay. The food was delicious and the staff were very friendly and helpful. The Par 3 golf course could do with some signs (like pointing to where it is, and to where the first tee is!). Recommended.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Girl Effect: The Clock is Ticking

I'm not a girl - this is mainly because I was born a boy. Today I came across a website called the Girl Effect - the folks behind this are promoting the "unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world". The first thing is that the Girl Effect website is very cool - interesting use of graphics and large fonts. The videos are very powerful and inspiring - see below for an example:

There are other inspiring videos of young girls trying to make a difference in countries like India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. Check it out yourself - it's not just about girls.

Web 2.0 - making a difference.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Problem-Solving Techniques #18: The Circle of Opportunity

There are many different ways to solve a problem. Walter Michalski, in his book Six Sigma Navigator, lists and describes 222 problem-solving techniques. One of these is The Circle of Opportunity which is a great tool for generating new ideas based on random associations between words or characteristics of a problem. It is very easy to use - a flip chart and marker is all you need. In the following video I go through how to use this tool and use an example from Michalski's book.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Roma's 50th Birthday Bash

We had a big celebration in our house last evening for Roma's 50th birthday (actual birthday was 30th August). She also used the occasion as a fund-raiser for The Niall Mellon Township Trust as she is off to South Africa again in November for the Building Blitz. She had asked for people to donate to the Trust instead of bringing presents and thanks to to all her family, neighbours, and friends she raised well over €1,000 from the evening. Incredible generosity from all.

We decided early on that we would get caterers in to do all the food - we settled on a hog roast from the wonderful people at Tao Hog Roast. Riaan and his colleagues arrived at about 11 o'clock in the morning to set up in our garden and we had a pig cooking on a spit all afternoon and into the evening - ready for about 9 o'clock.

The birthday girl with Riann of Tao Hog Roast.
This both a fun and delicious way to cater for a large party. We had the smell of cooking in our garden all afternoon and evening, and everybody thought that the meat was just fantastic. Tao also provided spuds cooked in the spit, and fresh Greek salad. They also do all the plates, knives, and forks - and even take away all the dirty plates! The Tao guys are very professional and very friendly - thoroughly recommended!


Saturday, September 03, 2011

First cousins

I have 22 first cousins on my Dad's side of the family. Coincidentally of the 22 plus my two brothers, one sister, and me there are 13 boys and 13 girls. Last evening in Gleesons of Booterstown, 11 of us met for a get-together, a (very small) bite to eat, and a few jars. Lots of family chat of course, but also a very relaxed evening, the last time most of us met was at a funeral. There is an 18 year spread in our ages from the oldest (me) to the youngest (Anna O'L, who organized the evening).

It's important to keep in contact with family. The O'Loughlin's are a small family - my grandfather PJ O'Loughlin was an only child, and only one of my grandmother Kathleen (Hurley) O'Loughlin's siblings had children. My Dad has just one first cousin. Our O'Loughlin parents grew up in the parish of Tomacork just outside Carnew in Co Wicklow. The family home is at the exact centre of the Google map below:

It gives a sense of identity and a common linkage that is important to keep alive. Though no O'Loughlins live in Tomacork any more (my Mum and Dad live about three miles away), we had plenty of chat last night about Tomacork and Carnew. Many of my cousins had seen the "Who Do You Think You Are" programme about Graham Norton that was on TV recently. Norton's father was from Carnew, and a lot of the programme was based in Carnew. Hence the interest and chat last evening about our own ancestry.

Good to see all the cousins again - I hope that we meet in similar relaxed surroundings again.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Six Reasons Why Kids Should Know How to Blog

I've been reading an article posted by Jenny Luca for the "Mind/Shift: How we will learn" web site about Six Reasons Why Kids Should Know How to Blog. She writes that "kids need to have an understanding of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen". Here are her six reasons:
  1. Creating positive digital footprints
  2. Communicating with digital tools
  3. Transparency for parents and family
  4. New ways of thinking about web tools
  5. Effective digital citizenship
  6. Pride in their work
Standing out for me are two of the above reasons. First - a positive digital footprint. Luca makes the point that soon "it will be the norm for these students to be Googled when they begin to look for jobs". Do you really want that picture your friend took on their camera phone of you picking your nose on-line? Everybody has a "personal brand" that is now more visible than before. A blog can help to make your brand more positive. Secondly, by engaging in "effective digital citizenship", young people can create a digital collection of their work (an ePortfolio) - it makes sense and is important to their future lives. Somewhere in the USA right now there is a teenager on Facebook who will in the future become President of the United States - what is she/he posting right now?

Image link to
Many schools use blogs in many innovative ways to enhance student learning - for example see the excellent book by Will Richardson - (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms). So I am all in favour of young people taking up blogging - Richardson is his book points out that most people make more of an effort to write carefully as it is a form of publishing. People will even check for grammar and typos, and will also think carefully before they write. Richardson also points out that in education - teachers should blog as well as students to "show students that it is something of value and too model appropriate ways of doing it (blogging)".

I love blogging!