Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blog Awards Ireland 2012

Eugene's Blog did not make it to the final of the Irish Blog Awards - the short-list of 60 was whittled down to seven yesterday and your's truly is not one of the seven. Nevertheless I was delighted to make the short-list and am not too disappointed.

The Finalists in the Best Personal Blog category are excellent blogs (I took a quick look this morning to check out what I lost out to!). For me one sticks out by a mile - Head Rambles by the self-confessed "Ireland's most cantankerous auld fella" Irish Grandad. His posts are very funny, topical, and like myself he feels free to comment on anything - check out his "God's Waiting Room" post from a couple of days ago. The other six are all by women and are a bit more serious commenting on stuff like disabilities, photographs, and arts & crafts. Worth checking out.

One thing I notice about many of the finalists in all categories is that they have cool names - "Eugene's Blog" looks a bit boring beside the likes of "Simply Zesty", "The Magpie Girl", "Like Mam Used to Bake", "Gutter Candy", "Swear I'm Not Paul", and "Cigar Loving Doorman". Many have also gone to great lengths to have really great designs and layout. Good luck to all at the Final on October 13th next.

I must put my thinking cap on!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Keynote Lecture at NCI by Dr Jeff Ullman

Yesterday I attended a lecture entitled "Algorithm Design for Map-Reduce" by Dr Jeffrey Ullman, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University held in NCI. There was a very good attendance and Dr Ullman discussed (among other things) how mappers, reducers, joins, inputs, outputs, computation costs, communications costs, algorithms, and matrix multiplication work (covered in 62 slides in 60 minutes). All very important stuff I'm sure you'll agree.

Dr Jeffrey Ullman.
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As I had no idea what "map-reduce" was before I went to the lecture I should have anticipated that there was a possibility that I might not know what the subject matter was all about and struggle to understand it. However, I had hoped to find out about this as I had been told that Google use this for PageRanking in searches and that I might get an insight into how it works. 

However, I am slightly embarrassed to report that I did not understand a word that Dr Ullman said during his lecture. I should have walked straight to the corner and put on a Dunce Hat.

I stopped taking notes after about 15 minutes as I had no clue as to what I was writing down. I'm sure that the content of the lecture meant a lot to many of the audience, but without actually explaining what Map-Reduce was I was lost within seconds of the start. Clearly this lecture was meant for a more specialist and knowledgeable audience than me. I am even more embarrassed to say that I Googled "map-reduce" after the lecture and found my true level with MapReduce for Dummies, after which I understood it a little bit better.

Today I attended part of the official opening of NCI's new Cloud Competency Centre. Dr Ullman delivered the keynote speech and this time was most interesting in discussing MOOCs and on-line education. Unfortunately I had to leave after about 15 minutes to go to a class, but the lecture was much more interesting to me than yesterday's one. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Introduction to Learning Technology - September, 1972

An Anonymous poster today added a comment to one of my posts written in January this year - Yet another newspaper article saying technology will change education. In my post I referred to the first time in 1972 that I experienced technology in education during French class with our teacher John Shanahan. The comment (with link to part of a speech by Mr Shanahan) is as follows:

You might like to hear John Shanahan give an account (September 2012) of how the Voix et Images teaching came into the classroom in 1967. You can listen to him below on Youtube. There is no picture because of no lighting. Worth two minutes though (

I suspect the "Anonymous" poster is a Cistercian College Roscrea man.

Anyway - the technology used by Mr Shanahan was quite basic, but brilliant and novel for a group of 12/13 yers olds learning French. He had a tape deck and a projector with which he could scroll slides on film by hand. In the video above a reference is made to "Voix et Image" and I was delighted and very nostalgic to discover the first lesson on YouTube (sound quality is poor). So here is "VoilĂ  M. Thiboud....":

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How To... Draw a Basic Control Chart in Excel

Control Charts are considered to be one of the Seven Basic Tools of Quality. They are helpful in Quality Control Management to show if a process is in or out of control. The principle to drawing a Control Chart is fairly straight-forward, but it is not so easy to do in Excel because you need to add lines for Upper Control Limits (UCL), Lower Control Limits (LCL) and a Central Line (CL). 

The video below shows a way to work around this by plotting four sets of data. The first is that actual data representing the quality measurements, the other three are "cheats". For each data point representing the measurements, plot the Mean, Standard Deviation + 3, and Standard Deviation - 3, in other words the same value over and over. This gives us straight lines as shown in the video. Check it out and see what you think:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education

Steve Kolowich, writing in the Inside Higher Ed website, states that "Faculty members are far less excited by, and more fearful of, the recent growth of online education than are academic technology administrators". His article, Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012, which is based on a report by the Babson Survey Research Group (available in full here), reports from the survey that 58% of us faculty are "filled more with fear than with excitement" about on-line education (the corresponding figure for admins is 80%).
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This in itself is not a surprising figure as I'm sure that many Faculty are fearful about their jobs as more-and-more educational material becomes available on-line. The survey also finds that the majority (66%) of Faculty consider that Learning Outcomes in on-line courses are "inferior" compared to traditional courses. I'm not sure I agree with this as I am firmly convinced that it is possible for a learner to achieve a learning outcome regardless of medium of delivery.

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A more surprising aspect of the study was that despite the above, the majority of Faculty are still recommending that students take on-line courses. I myself have introduced and recommended the Kkan Academy videos as a learning aid to students in a Statistics class. The report asks the question: "Why are nearly half of professors who believe that online learning outcomes are inferior to that for face-to-face instruction still recommending them for their students?". While this varies (53% - 74%) between different disciplines, it is still an interesting paradox.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Quiz night in aid of the Niall Mellon Township Trust

Last evening I once again had the pleasure of being Quiz Master at in the Rochestown Lodge Hotel in a fund-raiser hosted by the Killiney Lions Club in aid of the Niall Mellon Township Trust. Over €700 was raised and hopefully good fun was had by all. The standard was very high with two teams finishing with 84 points (out of 100). I prepared all the questions and fortunately there was no controversy with any of the questions (or their answers). As usual the format was ten rounds of ten questions. Here are the questions for Round 4 - see how you get on:

Round 4
What international airport is represented by the three-letter code NOC?
What American state capital can be obtained by adding a vowel to the end of a month?
How many dots are there on a pair of dice?
Which team did Leinster defeat in the Heineken Cup semi-final on their way to winning last year's European title?
How many legs does a flea have?
What does the word "vodka" mean?
In which European city would you find the Bridge of Sighs?
What do the letters "A", "T", and "M" stand for in a bank cash machine?
If you were infected with the rhinovirus, what would you be suffering from?
What is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

National College of Ireland's new blog

NCI has recently launched a new blog - see The by-line reads: 

"Welcome to the Faculty and Staff Blog at the National College of Ireland. Get to know us better through our posts, and join the conversation – we welcome comments and discussion!"

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Already there are interesting articles about Cloud Computing and Digital Marketing, with lots more to come. So bookmark/follow the NCI blog and learn more about us.

Adding a blog to an organization's web site is a great way to dig a little deeper into the organization. While the posts for the most part are not personal, they are of course written by individuals within the organization. Many organizations are now doing this and often invite guest posts from people outside the organization. It's a great way to see what customers really think, rather than the normal selected quotes and endorsements that we have seen in press releases. Real user experiences can be described in a bit more detail, and they also lend an air of authenticity to what is written. I'd like to see items like "A Day in the Life on an NCI Student" or even one for a Lecturer in the future on the NCI blog.

Keep on blogging!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2012 @C4LPT

The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (founded by Jane Hart) is running its 6th annual Top 100 Tools for Learning survey of learning professionals worldwide. The survey can be accessed here and is open until the 30th September. I have completed the survey where I was asked to name my top 10 tools for learning. This is my list (in no particular order):

Microsoft PowerPoint 
  • Still my chosen tool to provide notes for students as well as using in class for presentations. It's not perfect, but it gets the job done.
Microsoft Excel

  • I use in some classes for exercises (eg, Project Management, and Statistics), I also use ot for a lot of my videos on my YouTube channel, but perhaps its most important use for me is as a tool for keeping track of grades and student details
Microsoft Word
  • Every report or document I write is in Word - I am currently working on new programmes using Word and many of its features
Microsoft Project
  • This is an important tool for my Project Management classes, not just for exercises - it is also great at showing items such as Gantt Charts and Project Network Diagrams
  • This is an absolute essential for me - all my class material is on Moodle. It is so useful that I never bring my laptop to class as I don't need it
Google Chrome
  • For some time this has been my browser of choice and I use it for accessing all on-line material. In the main this is my Blog, but I also use it for YouTube and Gmail
Google Drive

  • This is my most recent tool for learning. I have the 100GB option and now store many files from my home as well as my work computer on Drive. As well as giving extra security (especially a a time that my home computer is crashing regularly), it also gives me ease of access to my content such as documents and photos

  • This is for my blog where I write (among other things) about education a lot. I have been using it since 2006 and don't see a time where I will not do so. Mobile versions (eg for iPad) are poor, so I generally stick to the PC for writing posts

  • A recent addition to my list of learning tools. I previously used Camstudio for making my YouTube video, but I have now switched to Snagit. It also replaces Paint Shop Pro as it is a handy graphics package
Sticky Notes

  • I believe this is an essential tool when copying and pasting material into documents. It allows me to remove all text formatting. Previously I used Notepad to do this, but the constant presence of Sticky Notes on my desktop is very handy

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Hello UPC" - not so fast!

Hmmmmm... after getting a little excited at the prospect of getting "up to" a 25mps broadband connection from UPC to replace the paltry 4mps connection that I have from Eircom (see shitty D+ rating below), I called UPC Sales to see what was available. The good news is that they can provide Sky+, telephone, and 100mbs broadband for about €20 less than what I am currently paying for everything per month. The bad news is that it could take up to three months before the network will be live. But I don't believe this as companies that provide broadband services in Ireland never tell the truth. I remain to be proven wrong, but I suspect  that we will not be connected to faster broadband until at least the New Year.

My current connection
In the past few week I have got extra space on Google Drive - syncing data has been a lengthy experience as it takes hours to update everything from home. So a faster connection would be really useful. With an upload speed of 0.32 mps, using cloud services like Google Drive will suffer from this tiny upload speed. The UPC option is looking better by the day - I just wish they would get on with it. A week has passed since they put cables on all our houses - they are still hanging loose.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Countdown to "Hello UPC" and "Goodbye Eircom"

I wrote here last week that UPC are upgrading their network in my area. One of my fears was that in order for me to get broadband, everyone on our estate would have to do so too. Turns out that this is not true!

I called UPC Sales today to check out what is happening. They are upgrading their ancient network to fibre optic - I am told that it will be capable of download speeds of "up to" 100 mps - considerably more than the 3-4 mps that we get now. Their very helpful Sales Assistant on the phone (Alannah) worked out a package for me that includes Sky+, broadband, and phone, that is nearly €30 a month cheaper than what I pay now for equivalent to Sky and Eircom. The disadvantage of the new package is that there will be less channels available (mostly those that we don't watch) and that our broadband connection will be 30 (yes - thirty!) times faster than we have now. Apparently installation and testing of the new cable in our neighbourhood will take 2-3 months before we can connect.

For me it is a "no brainer" to switch to UPC - anything is better that the 4mbs shite that Eircom provide. Here's a flavour (UPC ad) of what we can expect in our neighbourhood in the near future:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How To... Add a Timer to a Presentation in PowerPoint 2012

Recently while preparing for a Pecha Kucha session I was wondering if there was a way to add a time to each slide in a presentation. This type of session requires 20 slides of 20 seconds each, so a timer would be useful to help presenters know when they are about to reach the end of each slide and then to automatically continue on to the next slide. I tried the technique outlined in my new video below - it is based on using the Animations feature in PowerPoint and is actually quite easy to use. I have added it to my YouTube Channel - see what you think:

Monday, September 10, 2012

First day of New Academic Year

Today was the first day of the 2012/2013 academic year in NCI, and I had my first classes with a group of third year students. I decided not to load them with a lecture on the first day and to instead have a discussion about what has and has not worked for the students over their past two years in College. This gave me valuable insights into they think works so that maybe I can accommodate that into my own modules. So I forced the students to turn off computers and I sat at the back of the class to make them turn away from the board and screen. I think it worked - I know these students quite well at this stage, so the atmosphere was quite relaxed.

The new academic year is exciting for both students and faculty. Everyone starts off with a clean slate and there is no pressure to get assignments done - exams are months away. Nevertheless, we will have to get "stuck-in" pretty quickly as we have a lot to cover in the curriculum over the next 13 weeks. This is my 10th year as a full-time Lecturer in NCI (not counting the year in which I lectured part-time) - I started in August 2003. I have to say I have loved every minute of it and being in the classroom is the most satisfying experience that I have ever had in the education environment. 

So I look forward to the new semester - I have two new subjects, so this will involve far more preparation than usual as I have to prepare new course resources. However, this is what I am paid to do - and I love doing it!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Short-listed for Irish Blog Awards #bloggm

blog awards irelandA nice surprise this morning to find that "Eugene's Blog" has been short-listed for the Blog Awards Ireland 2012! Though my blog has been nominated for the Blog Awards before, it has never made the short-list. There are 28 categories of blogs, and mine is nominated in the Best Personal Blog section. There were 196 blogs nominated originally and this has now been short-listed down to 61. 

According to the Blog Awards Ireland website, there were over 1,400 blogs nominated in total this year in all categories. This is an incredible figure - so many people are blogging. I have been blogging since November 13th 2006, and other bloggers have been at it for a long time too. Some bloggers post on a daily basis, while others post now and again. 

I post nearly every day - usually about 20 posts per month. Sometimes it's hard to think of something to write, while other times I have more than one topic to blog about - if so I usually hold one topic over for another day. I love doing it, even though I know that my readership is quite small - on average there are between 200 to 300 page views per day. The chart to the right shows daily viewing figures for the last month. During the last month the most popular post was How To... Calculate Mean and Standard Deviation in Excel 2010 with 468 views, while my most popular post of all time is How To... Create a Basic KPI Dashboard in Excel 2010 with 4,468 views. This blog is therefore important for driving traffic to my YouTube Channel.

The next important date in Blog Awards Ireland 2012 calendar is 29th September next when the finalist list will be published. In the mean time I will be checking out some of the other 60 excellent blogs in the Best Personal Blog category.

Keep on blogging!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Pecha Kucha session

Today I participated in the Faculty Development Day at NCI where I was thrilled to be asked to present on using YouTube in my classes and for assessment. The rules of Pecha Kucha are quite simple - it is based on using 20 slides each with a 20 second duration for an overall time limit of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. This makes for a structure that must be adhered to, but you have to get your point across in 20 seconds at a time.

Below are my slides used today on Slideshare. They don't make too much sense without a voice over, but I place them here is case any of today's participants would like to see them.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Will UPC cure broadband woes? The answer appears to be "No"

UPC are coming to Blackrock! At least a card through the door says they are. Today an engineer came to my house and added a fibre optic cable to the corner of my house. It is still dangling at the end (see photo), and has not been connected to anything. We don't have a UPC account and basically this is replacing the old Cablelink network which has probably been here since the 1980s - we have never used it since we moved here in 1996. So I don't know why they are replacing a cable I don't use?

Just under a year ago I wrote about the area where I live as being a black spot for broadband. Currently we have an "8MB Next Generation Broadband" connection from Eircom that is only capable of a maximum of 4MB. This is shit. So anything is better than this. UPS seem to offer speeds of up to 25MB - can this be true?

My hopes of getting a great broadband speed appear to be dashed as the engineer told us that since our house is at the end of the cable - EVERY HOUSE on our road has to sign up for broadband before we can get it! WTF - can this be true? There are 32 houses on our road - I can't believe that UPC would go to the bother of upgrading the network, only for this to happen. I've already called the UPC sales hotline to enquire more, but gave up after holding for several minutes - not a good sign. 

My only response to all this is to not believe anything that a company that "provides" broadband says.

Monday, September 03, 2012

LIN Summer School recording

Today I was sent a link to a recording of a presentation I made at the Learning Innovation Network (LIN) in DIT last June at the e-Learning Summer School. It is in fact the first time I have had a talk recorded that I could see later (there were some attempts that didn't work). I have been given permission by the good folks in DIT to be allowed publish it on my blog.

It is strange looking at yourself. First, quite a few minutes at the beginning are not recorded, so there is a sudden start. I also wave my hands around a lot - I hadn't realized that I do this! And I talk too fast. So even though it is strange to see myself in a video recording, I can learn quite a bit from the experience. In fact, I'd even recommend it as a way for Lecturers to improve themselves (if needed of course).

The talk is about "e-Learning and YouTube". It preceded a workshop where participants got a chance to create their own YouTube videos (this session in a separate lab was not recorded). It was well received and a very enjoyable experience for me.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Mayo 0-19 Dublin 0-16

Today, Roma,Vicki and I went to the All-Ireland Football semi-final between Mayo and Dublin. Not being from either county I naturally wore my Wicklow jersey for the day. Mayo certainly deserved their win, but they faded badly in the second half when a 10 point lead was reduced to just two by the Dubs. It meant for an exciting second half, with Roma cheering on the Mighty Mayo Men from the edge of her seat.

A huge crowd of over 81,000 created a wonderful atmosphere in Croke Park - there was a huge turn out from Mayo, with the Dubs occupying Hill 16 as usual. At time the football was both brilliant and awful. Fantastic scores, greatly fetching at mid-field, a great display of goalkeeping from David Clarke in the Mayo goal - all mixed in with some poor passing and a lot of dirty play. 

Though Mayo were brilliant at times, they did not score for a long period in the second half as the Dubs dominated. But the Dub's comeback ran out of steam and time - they can have no complaints about the result.

So - this year's All-Ireland final will have a new look about it as Mayo and Donegal have never met in the decider before. Between them they have only one All-Ireland each during the last 60 years (Mayo in 1951, Donegal in 1992) - so is a chance for one of the lesser lights of Gaelic football to shine.

Now - if only I could get tickets for the final?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

She's Leaving Home

As I write this post my eldest daughter Claire is on her way to America for a year - perhaps longer. We saw her off at the airport and had a few hugs, kisses, and tears before she headed off on the next chapter of her career in New York. Unfortunately it is nowadays a common sight where people of my generation see off the next generation who are leaving Ireland. Claire hopes to break into the film industry and I've no doubt that my tuxedo will get a few nights out in New York and Los Angeles in years to come!

The photo below was taken today shortly before she left. Look out America, there is an O'Loughlin coming!