Monday, December 31, 2012

Review of 2012

It's the last day of 2012 and before I look forward to 2013, here's a quick look back at 2012 and what it meant to me.
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The Good

Undoubtedly the biggest thing for me in 2012 was my YouTube Channel passing the 1,000,000 views mark on 30th April last. As I write there are 1,089,630 for the year 2012 and it should pass the 2,000,000 views mark during March next year if current trends continue. The views fell during the Christmas holidays, as they do every year, but should pick up again in January. As there is a release of a new version of Microsoft Office next year, I should be able to add updated versions of my most popular videos.

Closely associated with above, I switched on monetization on my videos to allow Google to display ads. While these are probably annoying for my viewers, it makes a little extra cash for me. Since the switch-on in June the channel has earned over $7,000, averaging just over $1,000 per month. I'll put more effort to getting more and better content onto the channel to try and improve this.

100 Corners
I had a great time during the summer riding around the coast of Ireland on my Harley-Davidson from Dublin to Sligo. Since then I have been re-living the trip by writing it up into a book. One of my hopes for 2013 is that I get this book published. Despite a lot of bad weather, I got to see so much of Ireland that I had never seen before. This project is not yet finished.

My Blog
I enjoyed writing on this blog during the year - this will be the 243rd post of the year, a little down on 2011. As my 100 Corners project takes up a lot of my spare time, blogging is one of my activities that I have devoted less time to this year. I will blog in 2013, but the book project will be prioritized. I want to get back to writing a bit more about educational matters - this I can do at work. Finally, I got a new title for my blog "Careful with that axe, Eugene", it sounds a bit cooler than before.

During the year I received two awards: The first was the Irish Blood Transfusion Service's Gold Drop Award for reaching 50 donations. The second was the National College of Ireland President's Award for Innovation in Assessment. While these are modest achievements, it's nice to get recognition like this from time-to-time.

The Not So Good

We had the highs and lows of sport this year with Katie Taylor giving the whole country a boost when she won the gold medal in London, but the let down of the year was the Irish soccer team at the Euro finals. I felt before hand that there was a very strong chance that we would lose all three games, but that the Croatia match offered a chance of getting something. It was not to be and I, along with most of the country, felt a big let down.

Our Country
Ireland is still in a bad way and there seems to be no end in sight, despite what the economists and politicians tell us. I am one of the lucky ones who still has a job, but the College is not immune to the financial difficulties of Government funding for Higher Education. The HEA's response to HE Institutions' own assessments carried out this year uses very tough language about savings that need to be made and the need for more clustering and mergers between institutions. I think 2012 was the beginning of the end of Higher Education as it is in Ireland, and that 2013 could be an even tougher year for us all. This is clearly a major worry for my colleagues and I at NCI.

According to the Irish Independent today, 200 people a day left Ireland during 2012, a level not seen since the Great Famine of the 19th century. One of the emigrants this year was my daughter Claire who now lives in New York. We miss her and of course wish she was here, but opportunities for her, and many of her generation, lie elsewhere. 

I don't think I ever officially resigned from anything before, but in October this year I resigned from the Governing Body of NCI. It, and the aftermath, was not a pleasant experience - but I had over-stepped my role and felt I had to "go".

100 Corners
It was a pity that I did not get to finish this trip in one go. Looking back I feel that I let the rain beat me and I guess I was also a little homesick. I abandoned the trip in Sligo on a very wet day and with very bad weather forecast for the next two days I didn't have the stomach to continue. 2013 will put this right.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Shackleton Endurance Exhibition

The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is running an exhibition of photographs of Sir Ernest Shackleton's famed, and failed, expedition to cross the Antarctic in 1914-1917. The exhibition is being held in the ferry terminal building and cost me €5 admission, which was worth it.

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The story of survival, bravery, cold, ice, endurance, and navigation is now well-known due to a revival of interest in Shackleton in the past few years. This is due to a number of books, eg Michael Smith's excellent "An Unsung Hero", which was about Tom Crean, and the 2002 TV movie "Shackleton" starring Sir Kenneth Branagh in the title role. Another revival of interest is the example of Shackleton's leadership, management, and decision-making skills  which I know is sometimes used in Management classes as a great example of how to do these things right. 28 men took part in the expedition, and thanks to Shackleton's skills - all survived the disaster.

The Exhibition features all the well-known photographs saved during the expedition. There are also some silent movies from the trip - all taken by Frank Hurley. The photos in the exhibition are made from the original glass plates that Hurley made on the expedition. While it was nice to see these copies of the photos, I had seen them all before in various books and TV documentaries. Probably the best bit for me was to see a full scale model of the lifeboat, the James Caird, which Shackleton, his navigator Frank Worsley, and three others used to sail the 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia. The exhibition allows you to test your navigation skills with a sextant in front of a film of high seas, a computer screen displays the results of your "navigation". It was the first time I have ever held a sextant in my hand and needless to say I would have missed South Georgia by hundreds of miles.

The Exhibition is well worth seeing if you are not familiar, or just know a bit about the Endurance Expedition.  Apart from the sextant, there is little new for those whose have read about and are familiar with this incredible story.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

East Pier Battery/Fort in Dún Laoghaire

Today, Roma and I decided to walk the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, something we have done together many times before. It's a great place to meet people and you will nearly always bump into somebody (as we did) doing the same. It seemed that EVERYBODY was out to walk off some of the Christmas cheer. Some brought their dogs, the evidence for this was unfortunately scattered like a mine-field on the pier. At the end of the pier is a former fort which was closed many years ago. I had never seen it open, but today Teddy's Ice Cream were open for business inside the fort. 

We went inside for the first time and had a wander around. There are numerous brass plaques on the walls pointing our the Officers Quarters and the WCs. A large upside down bell is still in situ and you can also see what looked to me like rails on the walls for large cannon to be swivelled around in case the pesky French tried to invade. It was obviously quite a feat of engineering to build this in the 19th century, there are massive granite blocks everywhere to see. Though there were major renovation works last year, it is still a little bit dilapidated. This could be a fantastic new amenity for Dún Laoghaire, especially in the summer when Teddy's are likely to sell more ice cream!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Republishing audio files with

I noticed recently that audio files that I have published on this blog in the past through ODEO are no longer available. Since I recently signed up to I have moved my audio files there and hope that they will be available for a bit longer. So here's a selection republished:

Wedding Message for my Mum and Dad from
Paddy and Kathleen Byrne, 22nd October, 1958.

Radio request for Roma and me from 
our wedding day, 13th September, 1986.

My Dad (Joe) singing "If I can Help Somebody".

Dad singing "Fr O'Flynn"

Dad on The Derek Mooney Show.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas!!!

It's Christmas Day and it is 20:05 as I write this post. We had had a wonderful day in our family, tinged with a little bit of sadness that Claire is not here. She called us nice and early (late her time in NYC) and it was great to hear her voice so early in the morning. As a young girl, her voice was often the first we heard on Christmas Day: "Mummy, Daddy, look what Santa brought.....!!!"

I am well dressed and will also smell well, the highlight for me is Sarah Millican tickets to her concert in the Olympia. After presents I went down to the St John the Baptist Church in Blackrock for choir - the third day in a row. I loved the sound we made over the Christmas festivities, and also the applause for us all at the end of Mass, especially for the final hymn - Adeste Fideles.

After a wonderful dinner cooked by the fantastic Roma with help from Kate and Vicki, I am just about able for the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. 

Merry Christmas to all friends and family!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

It's the 24th December and that means just one day until Christmas! I have been wrapping presents for most of the morning and still have some last minute shopping to do. I've done most of my own shopping on-line this year, but did also make a trip to the shops in Henry St too. I chatted briefly to our postman this morning and he told me that the amount of on-line shopping and parcel delivery through An Post was "phenomenal" this year. No doubt it will be more next year.

Like us, many families in Ireland will be without loved ones for Christmas. This year will be the first Christmas without Claire who is based in New York. In the photo below, taken in Sept/Oct 1988, Claire is just a few weeks old before her own first Christmas. While it won't be the same without her we know she is having a great time in NYC. I plan to hook up the computer to the TV and Skype her  into our kitchen.

Two sleepy heads!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reflections at the end of Semester I

Today is the last day before the Christmas break and it is the end of the first semester of the academic year. This was my tenth first semester since I joined NCI full time in August 2003 - modules taught were IT Project Management, Business Systems Analysis, Management Support Systems, Business Data Analysis, as well as some classes on 4th year projects.

The Business Data Analysis (statistics) class was the most challenging as I took this module over from a colleague who had left the College. I decided from the outset not to use other lecturers' notes as I prefer to create my own. This helps me get to know the subject a lot better and makes it easier to teach. It has not been since I was studying for my PhD in the 1980s that I had used statistics in any meaningful way. I also used marked weekly exercises in this class instead of tutorials and it seemed to work fairly well. It helped that the class were final year students who are keen to do well.

Each year I feel that the semesters are passing by quicker and quicker. While there is a lot of work preparing for classes and assessments, this too is getting easier for me. I have almost all continuous assessments for the semester graded (excellent results all round!). Students will be back in January for exams, so they will have a busy Christmas (hopefully) studying. I wish them all well.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Educasting 20 with @mike_kiely @pamelaaobrien @topgold #StudentVoices

The last in a short series of discussions with Bernie Goldbach of Limerick IT - click below to hear:

In this Educast we talk about reaching out to students in the class, discussion forums, formative feedback, using Facebook, communication channels, using student email accounts, and I end up with summary of a meeting held in DIT this week.

During our conversation about connecting with students we talked about the line between official communication channels with the likes of Moodle and Outlook, versus the unofficial channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Bernie made a great statement when mentioning that there is a problem with "the creeping line of connectivity and expectation of service". In other words if we are seen to be spending too much time on the highly visible social networks, we might have a problem with students who are waiting on grades and feedback for an assignment.

Many thanks to Bernie for the invitation to be part of Educasting - his enthusiasm for everything audio, technical, and educational is infectious. I wish there were more like him in third-level education.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Educasting #19

Part two of my conversation with Bernie Goldbach (@topgold) and Pam O'Brien (@pamelaobrien) is now available on This educast also features Barry Doyle (@truered74), click below to listen:

Among the items we discuss is a simple, but brilliant, idea from Bernie where he gets students to discuss the 10 most highlighted sections in a Kindle eBook, and he records the conversation into a 20 minute audio file. Simple, but it works. Students using technology to engage with a text in a way that is both modern and cool.

Note: this blog post is written using Google's free iPad App for Blogger.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cinema Posters

Last evening I was out to dinner with my in-laws and we had a fascinating session looking over some old cinema posters. My late father-in-law, Billy Bourke, ran the County Cinema in Castlebar, Co Mayo for many years and he kept all the cinema posters from this time. There were dozens of posters featuring James Bond, Carry On, Clint Eastwood, Walt Disney, you name it - if it was shown in a cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, the poster for the movie was on view last evening. All the Bourke family were there, and they each had the opportunity to take home any poster they wished. We selected the following few, and had great fun doing so:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Old Gadgets

At a class this week I brought in a Psion Organiser II (model XP) to show my students what one looked like and to relate the tale that I have had this gadget since 1988 - it is older than most of the students. I bought a battery for it (no re-chargeables in those days) and turned it on - it is still working! I also took my old 3Com Palm III out and inserted batteries into it and it worked too, though it took a few efforts to get it going. Neither device has been switched on for at least 10 years.

After switching them on I immediately looked to see what was on them, but of course all data and information is log gone. I had wondered if there was any information/files/data still on them, but found nothing. What a pity - it would have been interesting to see what appointments I had in 1989, or re-read anything I had written 20 years ago. I'll keep them for as long as I can and they are still working - maybe they might be worth something as antiques in years to come?

Following on from my Educast chat earlier this week where I talked about capturing student voices, I had a thought that wouldn't be great if we were able to keep old files, emails, documents written a long time ago? Today's students submit essays and their writings through Moodle and Blackboard, and of course they are easily stored on computer. With so much stuff on-line nowadays, it is likely that we will all be able to keep our digital voices potentially for ever. Is my generation the last last one who will not have a digital archive for their entire lives? 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Educasting 18 with @topgold and @pamelaaobrien #StudentVoices

Today I had the pleasure of being involved in the Educasting #18 Boo with Bernie Goldbach and Pamela O'Brien, both of Limerick IT. The topic of our Educast was "Student Voices". We did the conversation over Skype, and Bernie has used Audioboo to record and broadcast. Click below to listen to what we had to say:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Penalty Points Work

On December 10th 2009 I wrote about getting my first penalty points, they were for speeding in my car at 68 kph in a 50 kph zone outside St James' Gate brewery in Dublin.

I feel like a saint!.
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Well - now that three years have passed, these penalty points have now expired - yippee! I now have no penalty points for the first time in three years and no longer have to declare this on insurance forms. I can also drive/ride without the stigma of having points, and also not have to worry too much about adding to this total. 

Since December 10th 2009 I feel as though I have been an absolute saint on the road. I did not want to risk getting any more points, so I have been paying total attention to things like speed limits and how fast I am going much more than I ever did before. I'm guessing that I have looked at my speedometer more times in the last three years that I did in the previous 30 years. For the past three years I have been holding up traffic behind me and looking at other people driving like lunatics with the (pompous) thought in my mind "If you had penalty points you would not drive like that". Having penalty points definitely slowed me down and made me pay more attention. I even ride at under 30 kph in Dublin City centre (no one else seems to do this)!

Maybe this is why they work? Everybody takes chances on the road. You get to see this a lot from a motorbike as I always get to the top at the traffic lights. If penalty points make the recipients (like me) behave even a little bit better and obey the rules of the road, then the roads will be that little bit safer for us all.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Clever Advertising by Amazon

I got a nice surprise today when I noticed at lunch time an ad for my book on I thought Wow, Amazon are advertising my book! See two ads below for yourself below.

Upon reflection, this may just be some clever work by the folks at Amazon. First, I didn't pay for the ad, so I started to wonder how it appeared on an American TV News web site. What I'm sure has happened is that Amazon paid for an ad, which when served on the ABC News site displays recommendations based on my Amazon user profile. I checked to see if I was logged in on Amazon, and sure enough I was. When I logged out the ad was no longer served. I'm guessing that Amazon have figured out a way to target ads based on profiles from their own site, and serve them on a third party site. About a month ago I got an email from Amazon recommending my own book to me, so now they can target ads on any site based on recommendations.

Still cool to see my book advertised on a big American web site.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

President's Award for Innovation in Assessment

At the National College of Ireland Graduation ceremony on 22nd November last, I received an award for Innovation in Assessment from President of NCI - Dr Phillip Matthews. This award recognised my method of assessment in Project Management modules where I use the weekly tutorials for marked open-book exercises which assess student's knowledge of the most recent work covered in class. The tutorials are supported with my video channel, and I am available in class to help students through their work. This is a popular method of assessment with students as they prefer it to projects, essays, and presentations. What is not popular is that I don't tell them in advance which of the three hours a week I will hold the tutorial - this has a remarkable positive effect on attendance.

Yesterday I finally got my hands on a photo of the occasion - below I am receiving the award from Dr Matthews:

(Yes I know - I forgot to tuck my tie under the front of the gown!)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Budget

This year's Government Budget seems to have affected everybody (I hate the use of that word "hit"). From the €1 extra on a bottle of wine to the new property tax, I (along with everybody else) will be paying more tax.

I'm no accountant or economist, and I've no idea if this budget will get the country back on its feet. I just hope they (that Fine Gael/Labour Government that I did not vote for) know what they are doing.

So be it - if they take away half our money, we'll just have to live on the other half.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Microsoft Community Video Tips Channel (@MSVideoTips)

Microsoft as part of their MVP Inititative have set up a Community Video Tips YouTube Channel to help new users learn about how to use new and updated Microsoft technologies. They have completed one programme and are now on the second series.

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Anyone can submit videos up until December 16th next, I have submitted several of my own to hopefully contribute to this community.

Check out the Community Video Tips channel - there is lots of great stuff there and not just in the English language. Microsoft have their own videos, for example in their Office on-line Help, but is is also great to see them acknowledge the many teachers/trainers/instructors that are out there showing learners how to use Microsoft products. It is a great Community idea as there are so many people sharing their videos on YouTube. 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Clever idea: Shahi - a Visual Dictionary (via @tombarrett)

Here's a useful free on-line tool that combines search, photographs, and a dictionary. Shahi, is a visual dictionary created by Abdullah Arif (@abdullaharif). It is a simple, but clever idea - enter the word you want to search for: first you will get full definitions from Wiktionary, you can then have displayed alongside this user generated images from Flickr, a graphic search from Google, and a feed from Yahoo! (which was not working when I tried it). 

I looked up the word "axe", and here are the results:

This saves looking up items separately on different websites. Of course this will all depend on how content is tagged, as you can see above there are photos of an axe that you can chop things with, but also ones of a body spray. In the Flickr feed there is less accuracy with photos of people and even a tree (which presumably was about to be chopped down with an axe). Abdullah's work here show how so much stuff can be combined on the web to give very useful learning tools. But also shows that we all should be better at tagging our content.