Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Web at its best with @SocialWebMining #analytics #HDSDA

On Tuesday last I received delivery of the 2nd Edition of Matthew Russell's book Mining the Social Web. This is an exciting book that (hopefully) will get me, and many others, up to speed mining the rich sources of data in Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+. It does not cover YouTube as I would wish, but no doubt that will come in a future edition, and anyway I'll have to learn to walk before I can run.

Image source: Amazon.
However, in order to follow the examples and code that the book uses, Russell advises that a setup involving VirtualBox and Vagrant, plus using GitHub be used. There are step-by-step instructions at GitHub to get this working. So I set about getting this to work at the office and immediately ran into firewall issues. I had to switch from the wired College network to the wireless Eduroam network just to download the necessary packages. I tried it at home yesterday, and again at work today. I got a little step further each time, but eventually this evening I finally got everything to work on my home PC - two days after starting.

But that is not the coolest thing about this experience! I tweeted about the frustration I encountered, mentioning Matthew Russell's Twitter handle (@SocialWebMining) in my tweet. Well - Matthew picked up this tweet and offered to help via GitHub. We spent a couple of hours exchanging issues and he was a great help in getting me further along the way to getting the setup to work. How cool is it that the author of a book helps out somebody thousands of miles away? This is the web at its collaborative best, doing something that would have been almost impossible just a few years ago. Thank you Matthew for your help.

Now I will learn how to mine Twitter first and will no doubt report here some of my findings. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Custom URL for Google+ Profiles #NowWhat? #TooManyThings

Today I received an email from Google offering me a custom URL for my Google+ profile. This is so that it "lets you easily point people to your profile (no more long URLs!)".

Image source: Wardell Design Blog.
The wonderful URL "reserved" for me is I tried to change it to have +eoloughlin at the end, but even though this is my Google user name I was told it had already been taken! 

Google+ hasn't really taken off for me yet, and Google seem to be determined to keep this up even after their "Buzz" debacle. I wish them well, but I'm not sure how a custom URL makes a difference (it's easy to shorten URLs these days with the likes of It's also so easy to find people's Google+ profile - a search would be quicker than trying to remember a URL.

I also note that for people with an apostrophe in their name (and I'm sure with other nationalities' symbols too) that it is not possible to have a URL with their full name.

Thanks Google, I have added this to my web page, it's now the 5th link after Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, and YouTube. I have too many things!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review - Ireland's Arctic Siege: The Big Freeze of 1947

During the summer I read Kevin Kearns' excellent account of one of the worst winters on record ever endured in Ireland. It was called "The Big Freeze" which lasted two months, and brought the country to a standstill. I had meant to write a short review when I finished reading the book, but it has been sitting on my desk now for months and it is finally time to review and put it away.

Image Source: Amazon.
Kearns writes about the hardships suffered by everyone, most notably the poor living in tenements in Dublin. Bad freezing weather meant that ordinary things like fuel and food were running out fast, and as always, it was the poorest that suffered most. Since Ireland did not possess any equipment to clear roads and railway lines, there was hardly any traffic for two months meaning that aid could not be delivered to those that needed it. One thing that comes in for particular criticism was the de Valera government's inaction throughout what was a national crisis. Kearns tells of tales of bravery and of tragedy in the east and west of the country. The lack of leadership stands out, and it was the ordinary citizen that won out in the end.

My Dad was in school in Roscrea in the mid-lands at the time and remembers very little bad weather. Areas like Cork were not affected too much in what was a long spell of cold right across Western Europe. I remember the harsh winters of 1981/1982 and 2010/2011, but they were nothing like the misery our parents and grandparents endured in 1947.

I really enjoyed the book, but did think it was a bit long - I wondered which would come first, the end of the snow or the end of the book. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Gather your own Big Data with #Lightbeam from Mozilla Firefox #awesome

Today I noticed quite a bit of news and traffic on Twitter about a new tool that allows you to track the first and third party sites you interact with when browsing the Web. It is called Lightbeam and can be added to Firefox from here. In just a few moments I visited Amazon, YouTube, and this website. It is surprising how many sites interacted with this. When I visited - 28 sites were connected even though I typed in just one URL. The graphics are also very cool - here's the one for the above 28:

It updates every time you visit a new site, and you can capture and save the data (in a JSON file). This is an awesome use of analytics and will really inform users just how much tracking is going on. I wonder if the CIA and MI5 have already figured out a way not to be tracked by this?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How does Google/YouTube know your age? #analytics #HDSDA

From time-to-time I share some analytics from my YouTube channel with my students (begging their forgiveness in advance for my self-indulgence). Many are fascinated (as I am) about things like number of views, demographics, and earnings. In the Demographics section I usually display the age profile of viewers over the lifetime of the channel, and comment that the biggest group are males in the 45-54 category (to which I belong myself). See these data below:

One of the most common questions I get is how does Google/YouTube know the age of someone who is viewing the video? If you are not logged on, or say you are using a public computer - how do they know? In the chart above there is no "Age unknown" category. One YouTube insider has told me that they "take a look at the viewers that are logged in and estimate what the total distribution is from there, taking into account some demographics are more likely to log in than others". Another told me that if "3 out of 10 people have the information available, the information will be extrapolated to the 7 with less fine manner". 

One thing you can do is check out the analytics for subscribers only, as this is likely to be more accurate assuming people don't lie about their age when they create a YouTube account. When I do this a completely different picture emerges:

I would have expected both charts to be similar. However, in the second chart above you can see that the age profile is a lot younger than I had previously thought, with the 25-34 age category dominant, while the 45-54 category accounts for a much smaller number. I am mindful that younger people are possibly more likely to subscribe. While Google are getting better at profiling people, clearly there is some way to go to really have accuracy in this field.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Mum and Dad - 55 Years Married Today!

On 22nd October 1958 Phil Byrne from Gorey and Joe O'Loughlin from Carnew, were wed in Ballybrack Church in South Dublin by Joe's uncle Monsignor Charles Hurley. Today is their 55th (Emerald) wedding anniversary - an increasingly rare achievement you'll agree. Below are scans of some photos (click to enlarge) from the day - sadly most in the group photo are no longer with us. Congratulations to my Mum and Dad - roll on the 60th anniversary!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"Political Gridlock" in America - Black and White Tellies to Blame! (via @usnews)

Brad Bannon writing in the web site has an interesting opinion on why there are political problems on Capitol Hill in the US between President Obama, the Senate, and the House of Representatives: "Hate Political Gridlock? Blame It on the Boomers". Baby Boomers are people born between 1946 and 1964 (that makes me a baby boomer!), and Bannon points out that they "currently dominate American politics" - by (my) extension they do in the rest of the world as well. He says that the baby boomers are to blame for the polarization that exists in American life and politics. 

Black and white photo of me
as a baby (boomer) in 1960.
There is a very simple reason for this according Bannon: "The boomers grew up in the world of black and white television and a black and white culture with no shades of grey. They lived in a world where there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. For boomers, it's their way or the highway. The boomers grew up during the the Vietnam War and the assassination of two Kennedys and one King. Conflict, not compromise, goes with the territory". I never thought of it that way! My Mum always said that watching too much telly was bad for me. So I guess that all those kids my age watching TV in the 1960s and 1970s were sowing the seeds of political stubbornness that would grow 40 years later. The Monkees, Wanderly Wagon, and The  Waltons have a lot to answer for!

Maybe we are to blame for everything? But don't worry - the "millennials" (those born between 1982 and 2003) are here to save the world because they "grew up in a world of color TV"! 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Using Audioboo to keep audio memories

Since I first started blogging I have used various tools to add audio files to my blog, but the tools to embed/display audio files never seem to last very long. I have used Audioboo for a while now to store audio files which can be embedded into a blog post. Below are some samples which I have previously published, but the links in these old posts were broken/no longer valid. These are precious files to me and I'd like to be able to ensure that they are kept on-line forever.

Wedding message for my Mum and Dad from Paddy and Kathleen Byrne (Mum's parents) which was recorded on a 78rpm vinyl record and sent to my parents in 1958:

Wedding request on the Val Joyce Show on RTÉ Radio 1 on the 13th September, 1986 for my own wedding to Roma Bourke:

My Dad Joe singing "If I can Help Somebody":

My Dad singing "Fr O'Flynn":

My Dad singing "The Mountains of Mourne" on RTÉ's "The Derek Mooney Show":

Monday, October 14, 2013

Banning Laptops from Lectures (via @TIMEIdeas) - Not for me!

Professor James Loeffler writing for Time Ideas in an article entitled Professor: I Banned Laptops from the Lecture Hall, states that when he "finally got tired of playing Internet policeman" that he decided to "ban laptops" in a history class. He cites the reasons as that in addition to laptops providing "an outlet for boredom", that they have a "negative effect on the more attentive students, many of whom compulsively transcribe every utterance" onto their laptops. Loeffler concludes that the "essential skill of discernment, of determining what is important and what is not, gets lost in a world of students turned secretaries, dutifully taking dictation". He claims that many of his students "are relieved" as a result, and that laptops "undermine the radically simple mission of higher education: learning".

Image source: 1 act a day Blog.
While I see merit in what Prof Loeffler has done, I'm not sure I agree totally with him. He does point out that there have been distractions in classes since the days of Aristotle (I can remember doodling in class with a pencil - should this be banned?), and he is right to be concerned with anything that might interfere with "learning". I do feel that students using computers (or tablets/smartphones) in class can be a distraction and my suspicion is that many are not involved in note taking or looking up a word or term they don't understand. Only last week I posted about how Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. My belief is that Professors/Lecturers/Teachers should have a strategy for dealing with technology use in the classroom. For example, the iPad and many similar tablet devices have note-taking properties with a stylus - surely this is just the same as using a pen and paper? Maybe even better?

I would love to see the day when every student has a laptop or tablet in class that can be used for in-class engagement as well as for note-taking and referencing. What can be frustrating for students is that they might be allowed in some classes, but not in others. Universities and Colleges need to seriously think about their strategies for dealing with this in an era when the humble wristwatch is being turned into a smart device, and students are becoming completely immersed in digital environments.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Review: "Farewell to Famine" by Jim Rees

A couple of week ago I heard an interview on the RTÉ Radio 1 "The History Show" with Wicklow historian Jim Rees, who talked about The Fitzwilliam Clearances in South Co Wicklow and North Co Wexford (where I grew up). The interview can be listened to here. In the interview he refers to his book "Surplus People: The Fitzwilliam Clearances 1847-1856" which is unfortunately out of print. In the mean time my Dad lent me his copy of another one of  Rees's books "A Farewell to Famine".

Image source: Amazon.
This book tells the incredible story of Fr Thomas Hore from South Wexford who brought hundreds of survivors of the Great Famine from Wicklow and Wexford to America - mostly to Arkansas and Iowa. Along the way he kept his group together until they reached New Orleans, where the groups started to fragment. Rees describes the sense opportunity and the salvation of theses people - as he put it, they were not so much as going to America, but were leaving Ireland.

What it must have been like to leave everything behind is hard to contemplate. As Rees describes it - it was like a death in the family when someone left Ireland as they were very unlikely to be seen again. The real hero of the story is Fr Hore, who despite many setbacks, managed to get a least some of his flock to the land he bought for them (at $1.25/acre) in both Arkansas and Iowa. For all of them there was possible death and certain hardship if they remained in Ireland - in effect he was a priest who saved hundreds of people from poverty and death at a time in Ireland when the population was uprooting in hundreds of thousands for a new life in America. A list of those families who travelled shows surnames that will be very familiar to locals.

I highly recommend this short book, it will be of particular interest to people from the South Wicklow and North Wexford areas. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Mannerly Student: College Classroom Etiquette via @DianeGottsman

Here's some good advice for students from etiquette expert Diane Gottsman - she gives 12 tips for good behaviour and manners in College. I posted about the first of these relating to laptops in class yesterday, but several of the others are just simple common sense and good manners. Read all 12 for yourself here.

Image source:
While I think that everyone, not just students, should adhere to classroom etiquette, my favourites from Gottsman's list are:

  #6:  No such thing as “fashionably late”
  #8: Choose your seat wisely
#10: Avoid monopolizing your professor’s time

One not on the list is about students getting up in the middle of the class and walking out (presumably to go to the loo) without excusing themselves or apologizing for the disruption (however brief) they cause.

It's easy to have manners, but it is not easy to be mannerly all the time. It's also easy to be rude, and unfortunately it is easy to be rude all the time. College is a place of learning, but by the time students get to College they should not still have some manners to learn.

I know some of my own students read this blog, and in the main they are (and always have been) a mannerly bunch. This post is about manners in general, and is not based on experiences in my own classes. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Surprise surprise! Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers

What should we do about laptop use in class (or desktop use in a lab)? This is a common question that challenges both lecturers/teachers, and students. From my side of the classroom all I can see are the backs of laptops or computer screens. I of course don't see what the students are looking at. Many are following my notes/examples on their own screens. However, I also know that some are on Facebook or checking email. But it could also be that they are checking up a definition of a term I use, or looking for a translation of a word, or trying to find background information. I no longer insist that students switch off their laptops or mobile phones - they could be using them for learning. My only problem is with the misuse of technology in my classes.

Image source:
However, a recent publication by Sana et al (2013) provides some evidence that multi-tasking, by attending a lecture and using a laptop at the same time, is detrimental to learning. The study showed that students who use a laptop during class, or are near another student who is using a laptop, scored lower in tests compared to those who were not multi-tasking. So what do we do?

I agree with the authors of the study that a "ban on laptops is extreme and unwarranted" and that it "cannot be overlooked that laptops foster positive learning outcomes when used appropriately". The laptop is now an important tool for learning in the classroom. I met a student in another College recently who told me that one lecturer there does not allow students to use a tablet computer in class to follow notes downloaded from a VLE. The class were forced to PRINT OUT the lecture notes and bring them to class! No distractions from laptops in that class! Sana et al (2013) provide some suggestions for dealing with laptops in class:
  • discuss the consequences of laptop use with their students at the outset of a course
  • explicitly discourage laptop use in courses where technology is not necessary for learning
  • provide educators with resources to help them create enriching, informative, and interactive classes that can compete with the allure of non-course websites, so that students are deterred from misusing their laptop in the first place

Ultimately it is our own responsibility to manage our learning and teaching. If you bring a laptop to class and spend the entire lecture on Facebook, then you are being irresponsible because not only are you learning very little, you are also distracting others and consequently impacting on their learning as well. For us teachers, if we allow technology to be used in class - then we should lay down the ground rules in advance or perhaps find ways to incorporate the technology into student learning.

Sana, F. Weston, T. & Cepeda, N.J. (2013) Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education 62 24–31. Accessed 9th October, 2013 at:

Monday, October 07, 2013

1982 - it's really only a few minutes ago?

Photo taken in October 1982.
Last evening at the dinner table we had a chat about around this time 35 years ago when I started College in Trinity. I have very few physical reminders, like photographs, from that time, the nearest I can find is my ID card from 1982. I'm sure I'm not alone in looking back over time and wishing I was young again. Today in 1982 I was exactly 23 years old, and looked a lot younger than I do today. Sometimes I look at the skinny hairy young fella that I was and almost not recognise him. If someone told him 30 years ago what he would be doing now I'm certain he would have laughed at the stupidity of all suggestions.

What would I advise my 31 years younger version of myself?

Answer: "Don't change a thing, no regrets"!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The People Have Spoken #seanref - and we said "Feck Off!"

So - maybe we like our Senate after all? 

Or maybe we don't like being told what to to?

Or maybe we like the politicians in the Senate and don't like those in the Dáil?

Or maybe we wanted to give the Government a kick in the teeth? 

Or maybe we actually wanted reform and not abolition?

Or maybe we don't want to lose Senator David Norris?

Or maybe Enda Kenny got this wrong and totally underestimated our intelligence?

Whatever,we said "Feck Off!" anyway.

Image source: Gadgetsteria.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Why I'm voting "no" in the #Seanad Referendum

OK - first, I know no one cares whether I vote "Yes" or "No" in tomorrow's referendum to abolish the Senate. But here goes my rant anyway! In referenda, I normally go with what the government says is the right thing to do, but not this time. I am voting "No", as is my democratic right.

Seanad Éireann.
Image source: Wikipedia.
Since I graduated from Trinity College in 1983, I have had a vote in the Seanad elections to elect the three Trinity senators. This is a privilege that I take seriously, and have voted in every election since. I have had the pleasure of voting No 1 for Senator David Norris in every election since he was first elected in 1987. He, and many others such as Mary Robinson, Shane Ross, Joe O'Toole, Fergal Quinn, Noël Browne, Catherine McGuinness, Éamon de Buitléar, Garret FitzGerald, Douglas Hyde, Seamus Mallon, Conor Cruise O'Brien, T. K. Whitaker, Gordon Wilson, and many others, have made enormous contributions to Irish society through their roles as Senators. I say we are less without them.

The abolition of the Senate will save €20 million, but no one can seem to agree on the exact amount. If it was just about money, why not reduce the already enormous salaries the politicians pay themselves by €10,000 each to a slightly less enormous salary. Or stop the enormous pensions they get. Or just stop waste. I'm not convinced.

The abolition of the Senate will reduce the number of politicians. Turkeys voting for Christmas, I never thought I'd hear politicians campaign for a reduction in their own number! I'm not convinced.

The abolition of the Senate will make creating laws more efficient. Yeah right - our so-called democratic government already steamrollers through legislation without adequate discussion in the Dáil, never mind the Senate. I'm not convinced.

The abolition of the Senate will remove a powerless group of people from the Oireachtas. Well why stop there? Our President has no power, so why not get rid of him - that'll save a few bob. There are 166 TDs in the Dáil, most of whom are just lobby fodder, why not get rid of a few of them - more bobs saved. Actually, real power lies in the hands of very few people, so why not get rid of all those pesky politicians who get in the way - lots of bobs saved. Can Duce Kenny be far away? Is he that desperate to say that he won a referendum? I'm not convinced.

So I'm not convinced that getting rid of the Senate is a good thing, I'd be in favour of reform rather than abolition. 

Finally, despite many pleas from the media and politicians not to use my vote as a protest vote, I sure as hell protest at what the Government is doing to our country by lining their own pockets, wasting precious resources, and failing to tackle the bankers. 

So "No" it is.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A new iPhone @VodafoneIreland

At the weekend I treated myself to a an iPhone 5, upgrading from a 4s. For some time I have been unhappy with my contract with O2 which averaged €60-€65/month. I have opted for a new €35/month plan with Vodafone. With this I will have to manage better to use WiFi whenever possible rather than the Edge/3G network.

The iPhone 5.
Image source: Apple.
So far, the change from the 4s to the 5 did not go smoothly - it took two hours to backup and restore. In the end I managed to get my new phone to "look" like my old phone. But not until after a lot of re-installing and re-work. Most of the problems were caused by the fact that two iPhones have synced to my computer. Just when you think things will go smoothly, something will get in the way.

The new iPhone is fine - no doubt I will have fun setting it up over the next few days. It is my 4th iPhone, though I did consider moving to Samsung. However, the contract is for two years, so I'll be a Vodafone customer for some time. Back in September 2008 I rather excitedly wrote about getting my first iPhone. To do so I had to switch from Vodafone to O2, now I'm switching back again  - the only reason is the €35/month deal. O2, you have priced yourselves out of the market that I am in and you have lost a customer while you all figure out what the takeover by Three means for you. #eyeofftheball