Saturday, November 30, 2013

Some People Just Don't Get It. #FatSalaries #FatCats #FatTopUps

News this week of top-ups from charity fund-raising being used to top up senior manager's already fat salaries makes our collective Irish blood boil. To me it's not just that the likes of senior management in hospitals and healthcare facilities (like the CRC) are on already on inflated salaries funded by the State, or that their top-ups were taken from charity funds - it that after five years of economic recession and austerity there are still people who are creaming it in Ireland.

Image source: Grand Strategy.
According to The Irish Times (28th November, 2013), the Central Remedial Clinic paid one of its Chief Executive Officers an annual salary of €106,900. This is a pretty good salary - I wish I was on it! But this was topped up "with funds from the clinic totalling €136,000" to give a total pay package of "more than €240,000". Many other examples have been reported in the media - the people concerned should be ashamed of themselves.

Now, I don't begrudge anyone earning big money, but I don't believe in the "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" idea either. Similarly, I would not advocate a Cuban style same wages for everybody approach. But when the wages are being paid out of the public purse - this is different. If you feel you deserve a big salary, try the private sector. Health services are being cut everywhere, but wages are still inflated and now exposed as being topped up. This stinks. Some people get rich while others have to wait for basic services.

As for our politicians who are (rightly) up in arms over this, there is a whiff of the pot calling the kettle black. T├ínaiste Eamon Gilmore guffed at the Labour Party Conference that if "agencies don’t comply" with government guidelines on salaries that a way will be found to reduce "their funding correspondingly". Eamon Gilmore is on a salary of €184,405 plus plenty of expenses. It's not fair to single him out - there's many more like him in politics, plus of course the banks (which we own too). 


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Academic Freedom to Blog - via @ChrisParrTHE

Chris Parr comments in the Times Higher Education that many "university employees like to blog". He says that academics like to do this "to gather their thoughts in one place, pass comment on current affairs, or vent their frustration at the annoyances of everyday life". Though I am not a University employee, I do work as a Lecturer at third-level at the National College of Ireland (NCI). In his comment, Parr describes a situation where academics got into a bit of bother at the Chicago State University over using the College's brand and name in their blog.

Image source: Tenured Radical.
As a so-called academic myself I of course support academic freedom, and I'm glad to say that there is a healthy attitude to this at NCI. Very few of the academics at NCI blog (I'm only aware of one colleague that does), but it is common among academics of other colleges - three of my favourites are Stephen Kinsella (UL), Brian Lucey (TCD), and Karl Whelan (UCD). There is no restriction on my blogging by NCI - I have never been asked to modify or delete any of my 1,000+ posts. It is really cool to be able to take time during working hours and feel free to write a blog post on educational matters. For non-educational matters I tend to write posts at home (as I am now doing), or during a break.

I am of course careful in what I write so that I do not invite comment from College management. Even when I feel critical of College activities I self-censor myself and hold back, sometimes with great difficulty. In this way I have a self imposed control of my own Academic Freedom. But if others want to go further I support their freedom to do so. In the video below, students and faculty of Florida Atlantic University are protesting about academic freedom in a case where a professor stood on a piece of paper with the word "Jesus" written on it. As a Christian myself I think this action is a bit silly, but the professor involved should not be censured for expressing an opinion. Long Live Academic Freedom!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Bing Video Search, YouTube, and From a Video Embed Code" still missing from Microsoft @Office365

The now long running problem with embedding YouTube videos into Microsoft PowerPoint presentations seems to have no resolution in sight. On Microsoft's support page article "You can't embed an online video in a PowerPoint 2013 presentation", at least Microsoft acknowledge that there is a problem and point the finger at Google: 

"Due to changes in the YouTube service, PowerPoint 2013 is currently unable to support Youtube videos. Microsoft is currently investigating potential fixes to this feature".

Image source: Interactive.
This update is dated 20th November 2013. This problem first started to occur in the early summer this year and I can't believe that Microsoft's programmers can't sort this out within a few minutes. In the statement above I smell a legal issue ("changes in the YouTube service"), but this does not make sense as you can easily work around this by using PowerPoint's Developer Tools (see my video how to do this here). This work around uses a modified URL, but the method referred to above uses embed code. Maybe it's legal to use one, but not the other? 

In any event, I wish this could get sorted. Tom Warren, writing in The Verge last May, replicates a "cease and desist" letter (see below) from Google to Microsoft in a row over the YouTube App on the Windows phone. While these two kids fight over this, the rest of us are kept waiting. Grrrr!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Semester Fatigue - Another View

My post of last Tuesday on Semester Fatigue has attracted a few more views (213 views in 3 days) than my normal posts, and is today at #16 in the top 20 "Top Stories" on the Ninth Level Ireland website. I also received a few likes and comments. Today I read another view, "End of semester fatigue – an honest reflection", posted on the Canadian based Institute for Learning and Teaching website.

In the post, the anonymous science instructor reports that his students "are tired, struggling to take in the new material they are learning and to keep up with the relentless pace of their second year science courses", and that his "classes, which are usually filled with questions, observations and jokes from the students are slowly becoming less and less interactive". The instructor has found that he/she is "mirroring these changes", and that he/she would "love to slow down the pace and end these courses by pleasantly coasting through the last few lectures". I feel this guy's fatigue! The article also contains some interesting observations that this instructor made when observing a colleague who mixed short "chunks" of lectures with a "carefully chosen problem" in order to maintain student interest.

Image Source:
While I was a student myself in Trinity College (class of 1983), the academic year was divided into three terms - two of 8 weeks each and one of six weeks. I think this makes more sense than the two 14-week semesters that we currently have at my College, and in other colleges. Yes - we do have a reading week in the middle when there are no classes, but only for some students. 

I do feel that the light at the end of the semester tunnel is getting closer, but we have three weeks still to go in which I will be covering material in class that will be assessed in the end of semester exams. There's no let up despite the lengthy semester, so it's full steam ahead until December 15th!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reorganization of YouTube Playlists

As the volume of videos on my Learning with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin I have re-arranged the Playlists to better reflect the different types of videos on the channel. My Playlist selection is now as follows:

  • Basic Statistics in Excel 2010
  • How To... Word 2003
  • How To... Word 2010
  • How To... Excel 2003
  • How To... Excel 2010
  • How To... Excel 2013
  • How To... Powerpoint 2003
  • How To... PowerPoint 2010
  • How To... PowerPoint 2013
  • How To... Moodle
  • Problem-Solving Techniques
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

One of my viewers also suggested this to me and of course YouTube have plans to create courses out of playlists in the near future (with edX I think). Some videos are in more than one playlist, and I hope to grow above list to shortly include videos on more Microsoft Office 365 tools.

Despite this, most of the channel's video views are not through either the channel page or though the previous playlists. Only 0.6% (23,347) and 0.1% (2,187) of 3,800,742 views are via the channel and playlists respectively. So I don't expect the above change to do anything very much to improve viewing numbers, but it will help me to be a bit more organized.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Semester Fatigue

It's week 11 of our 14 week semester at the National College of Ireland and I feel and detect an element of fatigue setting in amongst students and staff. We have had ten long weeks of classes, assignments, projects, as well as corrections. For most people at this stage, the end of the semester can't come quick enough. The holiday season is coming and exams in January seem a long way off. I feel myself getting a little fatigued, but there is still three weeks to go. Absenteeism by students and their leaving class early increases at this time every year - it's no wonder after the 11 week effort that they have put in. This is also (in my experience) a risky time for drop-outs to occur.

For academics, we can take some advice on "Work Life Balance" from Franklin University, who recommend five ways to avoid academic fatigue. These are: 
  1. Take care of your physical body. Eat right. Sleep well. Breathe deep. Get some exercise. Hydrate enough. A little self-care goes a long way.
  2. Pick your peak time. Do the hard stuff when you’re at your sharpest. That may be 4 a.m. or 3 p.m. Everybody’s different. 
  3. Learn to let go. Sometimes you can’t do it all. Remember, work is infinite but time is finite. There’s always more to do. And there are only 24 hours in a day. 
  4. Give yourself a break. Long hours don’t necessarily equate to productivity. While seemingly contrary, a short or long break can boost productivity. 
  5. Reboot. A nap. A walk. A snack. Everyone has something that re-energizes them. Find what works for you and build it into your day. 
Image source: Franklin University.
Some good advice here, but I'm sure we all ignore some of this advice at least some of the time - for example I don't exercise much and never take naps. For me, I believe taking a break is the most important (or "Sharpen the Saw" as Stephen Covey called it) - especially a break between activities (ABBA). Even if is is just taking a glance at headlines on a news website, or checking personal email for a few minutes, or reading a report on last night's match - it is better than going straight from one activity to another.

There is something for everyone in the advice above and at this time in the semester it is important to keep both the energy and enthusiasm levels up. Students are relying on us even though they may be fatigued themselves.

So cheer up everybody - there's only three weeks to go before the the end of the Semester!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: "The Rocky Road" by Eamon Dunphy

I have always liked Eamon Dunphy as a TV pundit. I don't always agree with what he says, but I find him a passionate and fascinating character when it comes to football. Watching football on TV over the past 20 years would have been much duller without his participation in TVs best trio of football pundits - John Giles, Liam Brady, and Dunphy. You can always be sure that even if the football is poor, the chat before, at half-time, and after would be exciting. He always called it as he saw it - so when I saw his new autobiography I just had to purchase it straight away. I once said "hello" to him in a shop in Donnybrook when he was buying cigarettes (Sweet Afton), and I think I once saw him play for Shamrock Rovers against Limerick in the late 1970s.

Image source: Amazon.
The Rocky Road deals with Dunphy and his life up to the World Cup in 1990. For football fans of English and Irish football it is a fascinating account of a self-confessed journey man who signed for Manchester United as a boy, but played all his football in the lower English leagues, finishing up in the League of Ireland. His account of life as a footballer playing for York City, Reading, and Millwall is by far the best part of the book for a football fan. His time at Shamrock Rovers was brief and not as interesting, but it does offer an insight into the attempt by him, John Giles, and Ray Treacy to instil some life into the League of Ireland.

His time as an international footballer was far from the glory days of Euro 1988, Italia 1990, USA 1994, and Japan-Korea 2002. His hard hitting accounts of how Irish football was run by "suits", while bitter, show that his passion was football and that he hated seeing it taking a back seat to the junkets and goodies that surrounded the international game.

The controversies with Jack Charlton are well known, and are well aired by Dunphy in the book. He does admit that he was not always right and that his major regret was the effect that it all had on his family. The last paragraph of the book must have been difficult for him to write. There is very little personal material in the book - no account of dating, getting married, birth of his kids - in fact they are barely mentioned at all. What does get a mention is some serious name dropping by Dunphy at every opportunity, for example on page 331 Ruari Quinn is mentioned once for no reason at all. 

Overall - and I can't resist this: It's a good book, not a great book!

Friday, November 15, 2013

"How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010" reaches half a million views on @YouTube! #wow #analytics

The Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin YouTube Channel has reached another landmark today as one of the videos has passed the 500,000 views mark. This is a WOW moment for me and I did not for one second think that so many people would view this video when I first posted it on 4th January 2011 last. As I write, the video today has 505,782 views. There are similar videos on how to create Gantt charts in Excel versions 2003 and 2013. The combined total of views for all three Gantt chart videos is 621,601 views - WOW again! A BIG THANK YOU to all my viewers!

Some data on the "How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010" video since it was posted:

  • 51 Dislikes
  • 744 Favourites added
  • 497 subscribers
  • 157,811 views from the United States
  • 27,129 views from Ireland
  • 2 views each from Togo, St Helena, Eritrea, and San Marino
  • 65% Male, 35% Female
  • 1,456,750 estimated minutes watched (since 01-SEP-2012) = 2 years, 281 days
  • €**** Total estimated earnings ;-)

Here's the landmark video:

Monday, November 11, 2013

How To... Display a Range of Descriptive Statistics in Excel 2010

Over the past year since we developed and started the new Higher Diploma in Data Analytics at the National College of Ireland I have been in many discussions about what is the best tool to use when analysing data, especially "Big Data". Some say the R or Python programming languages, others say SAS Software or IBM's SPSS, and I know there are many other tools available as well. One common theme though is that many people still ask "Can I get that in Excel?". It's still probably the most popular tool for analysing data and of course it is far more commonly used than any other as it is on most of our desktops.

Excel has become a great tool for analysing data. You can perform all the basic descriptive statistics calculations, and can carry out many of the inferential statistics calculations such as ANOVA, t-tests, regression, etc. I accidentally came across the "Descriptive Statistics" option in the Data Analysis tool and checked it out. It calculates 12 statistics in one go, and would be a great way to check out manual calculations. So I created a new video to show how to do this - here it is:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, "Vatican Pimpernel" - 50th Anniversary

October 30th last was the 50th anniversary of the death of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, who was known as the Vatican Pimpernel during World War II. Hugh is my third cousin (once removed). My Great-Great Grandfather was Daniel Murphy, his brother James, is Grandfather to Hugh. I was four years old when he died, though never did meet him. My Dad often mentioned that we were related to him and a few years ago I was able to figure out the connection through the Murphy family in North Cork.

Image source:
Monsignor O'Flaherty helped Jews and Allied soldiers escape captivity and almost certain death in Rome which was occupied by the Germans. He used the diplomatic immunity of the Vatican to run his operation and was decorated after the war with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), and the US Medal of Freedom. The following extract from gives a short summary of what he did:

In the autumn of 1942, the Germans and Italians began to crack down on prominent Italian Jews and aristocratic anti-fascists. Having socialised with these people before the war, the Monsignor now hid them in monasteries and convents, in his old college and in his own residence. In the spring of 1943, his operation broadened to include escaped British prisoners-of-war and shot-down allied airmen. He developed a network of safe apartments in Rome in which they could hide.

By the end of the war he had helped over 6,500 Jews, American and British Soldiers escape from the Germans and his activities earned him the nickname “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican” as he became the master of disguises, evading capture from the Germans when he had to leave the security of the Vatican to go on his rescue missions.

In 1983, his story was made into a film called "The Scarlet and the Black", starring Gregory Peck as O'Flaherty, John Gielgud as Pope Pius XII (after whom I am named), and Christopher Plummer as Col. Herbert Kappler. Here's an extract of the movie from YouTube:

Rest in Peace Cousin.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Three Pints for Dad, Joe, and Me #moments

Today I had the pleasure of a pint of stout with my Dad (Joe) and my brother (Joe) in O'Neill's Bar in Tramore, Co Waterford. Many friends and family have been asking about Dad, and as you can see he is in great form, and getting ready to enjoy a pint of plain. Three pints and three O'Loughlins - went down well!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

A Million Irish People are members of Linkedin! #gosh

The Silicon Republic is reporting that LinkedIn reaches 1m Irish members, reveals details on employment at home and abroad. This includes about 100,000 Irish users living abroad. This is an astounding number and in the article, Sharon McCooey of Linkedin is quoted as saying “One million Irish members is an important milestone for us, illustrating that Irish professionals really understand the potential of LinkedIn to network, showcase their experience and seek out job opportunities”.

Image source: Silicon Republic.
The population of Ireland is 4,588,252 according to the 2011 census. 535,3893 of the population are over 65, and 1,205,527 are aged 18 or younger (Data source: Central Statistics Office). It's my guess that not many in these two age groups are members of Linkedin, so if we discount them we are left with about 3 million people - so, one third of these are members of Linkedin. Phenomenal!

Though I keep my own Linkedin profile up-to-date, I am not a big user. I do like to see who has looked up my profile, but most of the news flow is about who has connected with each other. I know there is a lot more useful information in there, but I just don't seem to be bothered to check it out. How useful is it for me to know that I am linked to "6,894,555+ professionals" according to my profile? It would take 80 days just to count to that number non-stop! One of the things that annoys me about Linkedin is "Endorsements". I have been "endorsed" for Lecturing by people I know have never been to a lecture of mine. I have been "endorsed" for Moodle by folks who have no idea what I do with Moodle and have never seen one of my Moodle course pages. I have been "endorsed" for stuff by people that I have never met and only know via Linkedin. While is is great to be endorsed for anything, I'm not sure how valuable many endorsements are. When I endorse others it is always on the basis that I am familiar with the work that person has done that I am aware of.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Real help, from real people, in real time

Here's something very interesting from Google - Helpouts. This is where people can get and offer help on-line to get a helping hand with whatever it is that they need help with. So far you can get a Helpout for setting up printers, cooking, health and fitness, DIY, and many more areas. The idea is a simple one, say you need help with learning to play guitar - there's free helpout where you can access an expert live on-line who will help you out. The number of categories is quite small, and the variety of Helpouts is still low - but this is certain to grow. Some Helpouts link to YouTube channels - here's a Google video with more information:

To me this sounds like a great idea, even though it is still in its infancy. The costs are from free, to $1 a minute, to $25 per Helpout. It's an interesting model that I'm sure Google has run the numbers on - their revenue sharing model (38% for Google, 62% for content provider with AdSense) is sure to attract people who can offer their expertise on-line. Think of that time you rang your Dad to help you out when unblocking a sink or fixing a plug. As long as you have a computer - help is never far away.

Friday, November 01, 2013

How To... Draw a Simple Histogram in Excel 2010

An essential ability for anyone analysing data to have is to be able to draw a Histogram. Not to be confused with a Bar Chart, a histogram is a chart (usually a simple column chart) that takes a collection of measurements and plots the number of measurements (called the frequency) that fall within each of several intervals (called bins). It is the frequency and bins that you need to draw the histogram.

In my latest video I show how to draw a histogram with Excel's Data Analysis Add-In. The example data I used are the grades of students who took an exam. Here is the video from YouTube: