Friday, August 31, 2012

How To... Calculate the Factorial of a Number in Excel

Today I came across the exclamation mark symbol while preparing some notes for a statistics class on Probability. It has been a very long time (probably 1st year in College) since I came across or last used this symbol. When used with a number it means that it is the factorial of that number. For example: 

        5!  =  5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1  =  120

While this calculation can be done in your head, it is much more awkward to calculate the factorial of a larger number. So I decided to see if I could find an easy way to do it in Excel 2010, and sure enough it is relatively straight-forward to so using the FACT function. Here is my short video showing how to do this:

Today was also the first time that I had someone with me when I was recording a video. Normally I close the windows, turn my phone to silent, and put a Do Not Disturb note on the door. Up to now I have been on my own in a quiet office - I do not like company when recording. The Head of the School of Computing at NCI, Dr Pramod Pathak, expressed an interest in seeing how I made the recordings, so he was a welcome guest today. Having someone else beside you doing this is quite an experience. Of course I wanted the recording to be a good one and demonstrate an easy way to create educational material - but I also felt that I had to do a better job and not make any mistakes while being watched. Having someone present definitely  made me feel and perform differently.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Students Citing Wikipedia, Google, and YouTube (via @mashable)

Four of the top ten web sites cited by students are: Wikipedia, YouTube, Yahoo Voices, and, according to Sarah Kessler writing in Mashable. In her article Students Cite YouTube, Google, Wikipedia the Most, she writes that when "doing homework, many students turn to the same websites as they do when they’re surfing the web under other circumstances" and that "students referred to Google more than any other database when discussing their research habits". While this is not in the least surprising, it does show the dependency of modern students on these easy to access and use resources. The article also shows a very interesting Infographic based on some studies by - you can see the graphic here.

Many students are open about using these tools - I have seen students Google some words in some of my own open book in-class tests, and even send my question to Ask.Com to find an answer. The trouble is that the likes of Google return millions of results and the key is in using Google properly. I don't know anybody who looks at more that a handful of search results before trying a different search if they don't get what they want. Perhaps we should have classes on searching for information on the web. It is too easy to just type in a few words and search. Equally, us educators have to be conscious that it is easy for students to find information and that in addition to the threat of plagiarism, there is also the possibility that a difficult assignment can be made very easy by clever use of search tools and the likes of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drawing Box Plots in Excel

I have added a new video to my YouTube channel about how to draw a simple box plot chart in Excel. Box plots are part of the syllabus of a new module I am teaching in the upcoming semester - Business Data Analysis. I have a tutorial class where I will be setting students some tasks to display data in Excel, and a box plot is a nice tool to do this.

This video took several "takes" to make as I had never created a box plot before. Creating a video is a great way to learn how to do this and I hope the resulting video will help my students to complete their lab work.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Birthdays and an "American Wake"

The 27th of August is a notable day in our family as both my Mum Phil, and my daughter Claire celebrate birthdays on the same day. Mum is 78 and Claire is 24 - I hope both ladies will forgive me for revealing their age. We had a small family get together in our house to mark the occasion, and also to get some family together before Claire sets off for America this Saturday for a year. All were in great form and below is a small slideshow of some photos I took on the day:

Happy birthday Mum and Claire!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Celtic Rock meet Seán Ó Riada - #horslips

It was 1970s nostalgia, balding heads, expanding waistlines, dyed roots, and for a couple of hours at least, youth restored for the middle aged fans of Horslips who rocked the National Concert Hall last evening. I had been at a previous concert at the O2 back in December 2010 - this time in the more intimate surroundings of the NCH they were supported by The Orchestra of The National Concert Hall, with arrangements by Golden Globe nominee (and conductor) Brian Byrne. It felt like Celtic Rock meets Seán Ó Riada.

The concert was based on two of Horslips' most famous albums - The Táin and The Book of Invasions. This of course meant we were treated to some of their best music: "Charolais", "Dearg Doom", "Daybreak", "Trouble (With a Capital T)", and "The Power and the Glory". At times the Orchestra drowned out the lads, in fact probably the only time that this did not happen was for the second encore when they played "Shakin' All Over" without the orchestra. However, for tracks like "Daybreak" and "Dearg Doom", the orchestra really excelled and helped make the evening special for Horslips fans. It's not the first time Horslips have played with an orchestra - check out "Trouble (With a Capital T)" in the YouTube video below when they hooked up last year with the Ulster Orchestra at the Waterfront in Belfast.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Good Customer Service

Two incidences this week got me on to a "I'm a consumer and I know my rights" high-horse. I was itching for a fight and would demand that both products be exchanged. However, I was disarmed by polite and helpful customer service - so I thought I'd give them a plug on my blog.

Image source: The Think Green blog.
First, I had called Crossan Motorcycles earlier in the week to tell them that I was not happy with the motorcycle helmet I had bought from them three weeks ago. At the time I expressed some concern that the helmet felt very tight - it was size 61-62cms while my head is almost 64cms in diameter (yes - I know that's big!). However, I still bought the helmet based on the expert advice that it was the correct fit. Three weeks later I had enough of the too tight fit. But in the phone call I was informed that the shop was under no obligation to exchange the helmet (I even checked this out with the Northern Ireland Consumer Council - the shop was right). I was mad at this and I told them so. Today I called to Crossan Motorcycles near Mayobridge just outside Newry where the manager Shane agreed straight away to an exchange for a larger size - he would sell the smaller helmet on eBay for a lower price and we agreed to share the cost. I have to say that I was treated with the utmost respect and came away happy that I had the right helmet. Two lessons for me: One - if I'm not happy with a product I should not buy it regardless of advice received. Two - be nice.

Also yesterday I had received a Sky+ HD box from It was €117 including post and a remote control, and a six month warranty. It is used, but the box looked in great condition. A new box would have been €259 from Sky - I felt that I had got a bargain. When I connected it to the TV it worked straight away. I called Sky to pair the viewing card with the box - I had HD immediately. However, I noted that recording and live pause were not working. I was mad again. I called Sky Tech Support, but despite their best efforts they could not get it working. I got in touch with TVTrade who gave me a dose of my own medicine by sending me a link to one of their own YouTube videos on how to reformat a Sky+ box. It worked perfectly! Many thanks to Dave for his advice, and keep up the good work with the YouTube videos.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Obama's secret weapon - our own Michael D. Higgins!

Fiesty stuff from President Michael D. Higgins on Newstalk Radio two years ago in a debate with Michael Graham where he condemns the Tea Party approach to Health Care in the United States. Apparently it is getting popular on YouTube. Though it was recorded long before our own Presidential Election last year, I do feel that if it got the same publicity then he would have been a shoo-in from the beginning (instead of winning after the Seán Gallagher implosion).

Though I did not vote for Higgins, I do admire his energy, passion, and strong convictions on the provision of  at least some basic health care for all (which the Tea Party opposes). He tears the Tea Party apart in this interview. President Obama should start using this YouTube clip in his campaign!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Useful Tool for Students - Convert Words to Pages

I am often asked when setting assignments what the expected word count should be. I usually give guidelines such as 3,500-4,000 words. I warn students that this usually does not include tables, graphics, and appendices. I also advise not to over do quotations, especially long ones, as these should not count towards word count either.

Image Source: Helen Woodall Blog.
For some assignments there can be a lot of "non word count" stuff like tables and quotations - this can sometimes make for lengthy assignments which will actually have a low word count if all these are excluded. It is important for students to remember that the word count refers to their own work - you are not going to get any credit for having a 100 word quotation from somebody else in your essay.

Another way that students like to be able to measure what they should do is to estimate the number of pages that they have to write. There are several tools to help guide for this - Word to Pages is one such tool. I like it because you can check out different font types and sizes. For example, one page of Times New Roman size 12 font is about 400 words. 1,000 words is roughly 2.5 pages.

Finally - I always advise that it is a good idea to stick to the word count. Definitely do not write less that whatever figure is guided, and probably you should exceed it by a couple of hundred words to take account of labels and quotations. The main reason I advise sticking to the word count (and this is Project Scope Management, which I teach) is that it is a guideline that should be followed. Check with your lecturer/teacher if there are penalties for not following the word count guideline - this does happen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

iPad Workshop for Age Action

Today I spent an hour at the Abbey Street Age Action computer training room where some silver surfers (over 55s) brought along their iPads to learn how to use them courtesy of Apple Reseller Compu B. In a slightly chaotic class they did learn some basics. Some were using the iPad for the first time, while others were little bit more experienced. I was surprised to find that some had received iPads as gifts from family - Age Action provided  an ideal informal workshop to help get them started. There was no syllabus, no list of tasks to complete - just get cracking on surfing the Internet. For some we had to overcome WiFi connection difficulties, no email accounts, and no Apple Store ID - it's difficult to hold a class without these things. Some left without achieving very much, and I felt a bit frustrated at this. No doubt more organized sessions will be required - the iPad is here to stay as our silver surfers have shown.

Image Source: Age Action.
Writing in January 2010, shortly after the iPad was launched, Damien Mulley wrote a telling piece in his blog entitled "Our Mums are about to join the web". Mulley stated that the iPad "is going to make using the web easy for people who up to know found using a mouse, keyboard and a browser a tad intimidating". How right he was - I can safely say that his prediction is coming true. I noted that older learners who have never used a computer before find the touch and feel of an iPad much easier to cope with than a keyboard and mouse required for a PC.

Age Action are currently running their annual Silver Surfer Awards - nominations are now open. The Silver Surfer Award is for the over 50s "who have an interesting story about how they use their computer, internet and mobile phone use". God I'm over 50 -  I actually qualify for this myself!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Blue Screen of Death #BSOD

Several times this week my home computer suffered from the Blue Screen of Death - the message each time was:

A device driver attempting to corrupt the system has been caught. The faulty driver currently on the kernel stack must be replaced.

Image source: Sound On Sound.
So that's easy to fix - just update the faulty driver, right? It started to take a long time to check out drivers - especially for items recently installed. So I purchased Driver Genius to do the job for me. It scanned my PC and found that it has 193 drivers! I'm sure many are redundant, but I was still amazed that there were so many. The first scan revealed that 32 drivers needed to be updated - Driver Genius downloads and installs these for you, and then can continue to monitor for updates. So hopefully there will be no more BSODs due to driver failure - none so far.

Ever since I started to use PCs running Microsoft Windows in about 1988 - General Failure Errors and BSODs have never been far away. Nearly 30 years later no one has figured out an easy way for Windows to tell the user what exactly went wrong and how it can be fixed. These things don't happen by themselves - there is a reasons for everything. How tough can it be to capture the information as it happens, dump it to a text file, and when Windows starts again it reads the file and tells us what to do "Windows has detected that you need to update your Web Cam driver....".

The BSOD is not confined to older computers - (mine is just over three years old). My brand new laptop at work encountered a BSOD on the second day I had it!

Friday, August 17, 2012

How To... Plot a Simple Scattergram Excel 2010

Suppose that you want to graph the heights and weights of a group of people. Since both height and weight are variables, we use the phrase bivariate data, meaning that there are two variables (height and weight). Bivariate data are best displayed on a Scattergram (aka Scatter Plot). To construct a scattergram, follow the instructions in my video below:

I used scattergrams a lot in my PhD research to compare populations of the painted topshell Calliostoma zizyphinum. They are an excellent way to see differences in populations. My scattergrams were drawn using SPSS v2 on a DEC 20 mainframe computer - at that time (1984-1987) the small Computer Science Department in Trinity was the Brunswick Chambers building at 200 Pearse Street. I had to learn some FORTRAN programming to feed my data files into SPSS, and then wait until the next day to see the results on a printout which was placed in a pigeon hole style box for collection. No instant results in those days.

I'm certain that if I had Excel that I would have been able to shave months off the time (4 years) it took me to complete the PhD - data analysis has become a lot faster and easier with fantastic tools like Excel.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How To... Draw Simple Line Charts in Excel 2010

Sometimes a simple task can seem like a hard task - especially if you've never done it before. Some of my more popular videos on my Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin channel are on subjects like plotting histograms and pie charts. Very easy to do when you know how, but also easy to get wrong when you don't know how. 

I will be setting some of my students some tasks to visually represent some data in class - using Excel 2010. I noticed that for two of the tasks (Line Charts, and Scattergrams), I did not have any videos for these on my channel. So, today I have created a video for Line Charts (Scattergrams tomorrow) - check it out below:

Doing this allows me to spend more time in class helping students get the tasks done - I will be strongly suggesting that they view the videos before class. Even if they don't, they are short enough to view in class if needed. Also, some students will already know how to complete the tasks, so they can get on with the work without having to sit through an explanation from me first. I have read that doing this is like taking class at home and doing homework in class.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Video Recording Tools - and Another #YouTube Landmark Reached

With a new laptop recently provided for me at work, I have much more flexibility when recording videos. I now have plenty of hard disk space and memory. The quality of the recordings is better, and the videos are created faster. As reported earlier this week I have also switched to Snagit instead of Camstudio. While Camstudio is free, I have in the past encountered some problems with it. For now I am using the one month's trial version of Snagit - so far with no problems. It is just as easy to use as Camstudio, and creates excellent videos that can be uploaded immediately to YouTube. All very integrated.

On Monday my YouTube Channel, Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin, passed the 1.25 million views mark. having become a "views" millionaire earlier this year, I'm not as excited about this landmark as I had been about previous ones - I think the 2 million mark is the next one to get excited about which will be some time next year.

As you can see above, I also have over 100,000 "Monetizable views". Two months ago I switched on monetization to allow ads on my videos. As far as I am aware, part of my Partner agreement with YouTube is that I do not report how much I earn from the channel. Suffice it to say that I will not be retiring anytime soon, but I am surprised that the channel is making a lot more than I thought it would.

I am also interested to see if advertising has a negative impact on the viewing figures. In each of the summers since I started the channel in 2006, viewing numbers have dipped (as you can see above where Christmas/New Year also shows a decline). So far viewing figures have recovered each September, so I'll be watching out for trends this coming September.

As I write, there are now 205 Channel Partners in the Lifelong Learning section of YouTube Education. Mine is still the only Irish one, but as more and more are being added by YouTube I am slipping down the Top 100 Most Viewed - today I am at #99, about 160,000 ahead of Stage Time TV in position #100. But it can only be a matter of time before I fall out of the Top 100. Until recently, I was ahead of additions to the Lifelong Learning network like the much publicized Udacity (now almost 1,300,000 views), who have now passed me out. Udacity has money behind it, and over 3,000 videos - I have no money behind my 73 video channel. Hopefully with plans to create some more videos in the next few weeks for a Statistics module I am teaching, I can improve on this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How To... Calculate Data Range and Sample Variance in Excel 2010

The second of my two statistics videos to publish this week is about data variability using Data Range and Sample Variance. Range is really easy to figure out and calculate - it's simply the largest value minus the smallest values in a data set. Sample Variance is a little bit harder to understand, but is also really easy to calculate in Excel.

As I am creating these videos, I am also preparing corresponding sets of lecture notes and tutorial exercises. It's not since the days of my PhD research in the 1980s that I used statistics a lot - so I am basically re-learning it all again. There are far more sources of learning today than in the 1980s. In addition to the course book ("Statistics" by James McClave and Terry Sincich), there are a lot of sample files also provided. The Khan Academy provides a lot of Statistics tutorials, and of course there's also plenty of learning material available on the likes of iTunes.

I find making the videos a really good way to learn - I am making immediate use and showing others what I have learned. This is one of the most effective ways to learn according to the Institute for Applied Behavioral Science.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How To... Calculate Data Mean, Median, and Mode in Excel 2010

It's been a while since I created a new video for YouTube, and this new Statistics using Excel video is the first of what I hope are several videos on this subject that I am teaching for the first time in the upcoming semester. The videos will be primarily for my own students in a Business Data Analysis module for a class of 4th year students - but of course I hope that the videos will also be usefull to others as well.

The subject of this video is how to calculate the mean, median, and mode of a set of data using Excel Functions. They are relatively easy to calculate manually, but Excel makes the job even easier.

In making this video I am using my new work laptop for the first time to do so, and I have also switched from Camstudio to Snagit as a screen capturing tool. Both are easy to use, but there are problems with installing Camstudio that I do not wish to try on my new laptop. For the moment I am using the trial version of Snagit.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Native Irish Tree planted by Crann on my behalf

I had a nice and interesting surprise on my return to work yesterday in the post - a Certificate of Tree Planting!

Last March I made a presentation by webinar to the Learning Innovation Network on the topic "Does your lecturer need to be qualified to teach?", and as you can see the tree was a corporate gift from the LIN network "in gratitude" for my participation.

I've never had a tree planted on my behalf before - I don't know what type of "native Irish tree" it is, or where it is. It would be nice to be able to walk up to the tree and say "That's my tree" and maybe even carve my initials in the bark. Many thanks to Dr. Mark Glynn of the Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI) for this thoughtful gift.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Back to work...

The first day back at work is always a day to endure rather than get much done, no matter if it's one week or six. I spent most of the morning deleting emails - I do have far too many subscriptions to newsletters and web sites. 

Photo link to Irish Independent.
The best thing about today was watching Katie Taylor win her Olympic semi-final in the staff canteen (which was packed). Great support for Katie and we will all be rooting for her in the final tomorrow. Olympic Gold for a Wicklow girl coming up!

I also got a new laptop computer today! Pretty powerful 3D Intel i7 processor with 1TB of hard disk space. I had a lot of software to install, and data to copy over from my old laptop (which has served me almost 7 years). But....I have already got a Blue Screen of Death - hopefully that will be the last one for another 7 years?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Monsignor Charles F. Hurley P.P. V.G.

Almost five years ago I wrote in this blog about searching for the grave of my grand-uncle Charlie (known as "The Mons" in our family) in the nearby Deansgrange Cemetery. I was not able to find his grave, and the office at the cemetery did everything they could to find his grave. The only piece of intelligence, from the Newman University Church, that I had was that he had died in 1980.

Photo from the 1958
edition of An Fiolar.
It turns out that the date was way off. I found his name this morning on the Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives website where he is listed as being buried in "St. Patrick's Section, Part Six, No. 765". The date of death was given as 16th January, 1985. With this new intelligence I set off to Deansgrange to try again to find his grave.

While the St Patrick's section is easy to find, "Part Six, No. 765" was not. One of the cemetery workers offered to help, but the number 765 meant nothing to him and he recommended to try the Office.

In the office, a very helpful man looked up the records for 16th January 1985, and found Charlie's name in seconds - he is buried in plot 25 B in St Patrick's. Gravestones are numbered on the back. I was able to find his grave, which was beside those of other priests from the diocese. It was in quite good condition. The "F" in his name is for "Francis", I am also named Francis as a middle name after him. The "P.P." stands for Parish Priest, while the "V.G." stands for Vicar General. Though the headstone just lists his last parish in Harrington Street, he was also P.P. in Ballybrack (where me married my mother and father). I'm told that he also spent time in Rome and was even considered for a promotion to a Bishop.

It was nice to finally find his grave - I'm guessing that he has not had many visitors over the past few years. I remember him well and have fond memories of him. My grandmother (his sister) was very fond of him and I can recall many times the fuss over his visits to her house when he was treated like royalty.

Rest in Peace Uncle Charlie.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Bank Holiday Weekend in Wexford

I went to Wexford for part of the weekend and met up with some family. My brother Brian, who lives in England, was back in Ireland with his kids and it was great to see them. We had a mostly fine day and even had a chance to get a photo in with a bit of blue sky and sunshine. 

My brother Brian, sister Kathleen, and me.
This is the last weekend of my holidays as I am due back to work on Wednesday next. I have had nearly six weeks off - one of the perks of being a Lecturer is 31 days holiday a year. Despite the dreadful weather, I have enjoyed the break and can't believe how quickly it has passed. It seems like only yesterday that I was enjoying 36C in Spain at the end of June. The best part was my 100 Corners tour (which I still have to finish).

The summer is not over yet and hopefully I will  get out and about some more during August before the new academic year starts in September.

Friday, August 03, 2012

South Armagh to Meath (and new boots) - #100corners

A brief return to my 100 Corners of Ireland tour when I went up to Mayobridge in Co Down to buy some new boots for the bike. I decided that I would return to Dublin via the coastal route and add to my 100 Corners story.

The Newry Canal.
First - the boots. I bought a pair of size 12 TCK motorcycle boots in Crossan Motorcycles of Mayobridge. These are water-proof with a GoreTex lining and should keep my feet nice and dry for the next few years. Unusually, I was able to try on a few pairs and choose one - normally I cannot get boots to fit me. Many thanks to Louise for all her help in selecting boots to suit. 

A view towards King John's Castle in Carlingford.
So I returned to Newry and started 100 corners again. I took the road to Omeath and has a nice ride along the Newry Canal, which I never knew existed. After stopping for petrol in Omeath I went on to the wonderful town of Carlingford. I had never been here before and it is a real treat - lots of old buildings and some really nice narrow streets with cafés and restaurants. I stopped for a wonderful whipped ice cream at Taffe's Castle. Carlingford - definitely worth a visit.

I continued around the Cooley Peninsula which has the Oriel and Táin trails. With glimpses over towards Warrenpoint and the Mountains of Mourne, this is truly one of the nicest parts of our country. I stopped at Greenore and was surprised at the number of lorries that were going in and out of this port. On to Dundalk and the village of Blackrock. Again - this was a location that I had never been to before and was nicely surprised at how lovely it was. Blackrock has an intriguing sun dial in the centre of the town - it was 1.5 hours too slow according to my watch! 

Port Oriel, near Clogherhead.
After Cooley, I traveled down the coast through Castlebellingham and on to Annagassan. A quiet village which boasts a Viking Festival later this month. I took some coastal roads from here to Clogherhead, and they really are coastal roads being right along by the sea. On the approach to Clogherhead there are some great beaches. A real gem is the harbour at Port Oriel where I bought some fresh sea bream for dinner and had some delicious sea chowder for my lunch - fantastic!

The railway in Drogheda.
By now I was against the clock and had to be back in Dublin by 5 o'clock. So a quick run down the coast through Baltray towards Drogheda was next - a great ride again along the coast and then River Boyne. The approach to Drogheda is super - especially as the railway bridge looms into view. Alas - I had to head for the M1 to be back in Dublin on time, but I will be back to finish this last leg of the 100 Corners Tour.

It felt good to be back on the road again, thought it was on the only decent day weather-wise this week.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Glasnevin Cemetery Tour and Museum

The Glasnevin Trust have been advertising their museum and tour of the cemetery on the radio a lot lately, so I decided to go and have a look to see what was on offer. Visiting a cemetery on your holidays does not sound like a very exiting thing to do, but I was not disappointed with today's visit to a place where over 1 million people are buried. It is of course a location for the final resting place of many well known Irish people like Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Brendan Behan, Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, and many others.

The tour started out with a rendition of Patrick Pearse's famous oration at the graveside of the old Fenian  Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa - his "the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead" speech. Pearse wrote this speech in his cottage in Ros Muc in Connemara, where I was last week on my 100 corners tour.

While the tour was a bit like a lesson in Irish history, it was nevertheless very informative. I found the grave of Daniel O'Donnell to be the most impressive - it was a vault where his family are piled on top of one another in coffins. His own coffin is under an altar-like structure - we were told by our guide that it is considered "lucky" to touch his coffin, which I did. Despite a downpour at the grave of Maud Gonne McBride, the tour (with about 50 people) was very enjoyable. After the tour I set out to find some of the other graves not part of the tour - I saw Parnell and Arthur Griffith's graves, as well as Francis Sheehy Skeffington.

One of the big differences that you will notice  in Glasnevin is the contrast between the graves of Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera. Dev has a simple grave with no flowers, while Collins has a more elaborate grave with lots of flowers.

Overall, I thoroughly recommend this tour - below is a slide show of some of the graves I visited: