Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reading my own book #weird

In preparation for the reprint of my sold-out first book, An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis, I have just finished reading through the entire book checking for typos and errors. Since it was first published in 2010, I have spotted some minor items that need correction. There are several that I hope can be updated before a reprint is ordered by The Liffey Press.

Reading my own book feels weird! When I read books by people I know and have met, I always find that as I am reading I hear their voice in my head coming from the pages. In contrast, I do not hear my own voice from my own pages, and I wonder if other authors feel the same? I'm sure other authors will always be self-critical and feel as they re-read their own material that they could have done better. For example, I found that as I re-read my own book I over-used words like "vital", "essential", and "imperative". Very tiresome I have to admit.

Ahead of the likely reprint of my Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way book in the New Year I also plan to read through it again in the next few days. I only know of two errors, one of which is erroneously placing the colourful village of Allihies in Co Kerry - it is of course in Co Cork!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Look up - the sky is full of air planes! #thingsididntknow

Today I saw a tweet from @airlivenet that a Virgin Boeing 747 was "circling at 5,000ft with serious gear issues", and the embedded URL brought me to emergency.airlive.net. I didn't know this but you can track the position of any air plane in the air anywhere in the world. Sure enough the Virgin jet was circling south of London Gatwick Airport, and later flew out over the channel - presumably to dump some fuel before an emergency landing - here's a screen grab from emergency.airlive.net of its flight path (in both shades of green) while circling (the pile of planes near the top is Gatwick airport):

Thankfully the plane later landed safely after circling for four hours. This site got me thinking about how many planes there are in the sky at any one time - above you can see three planes approaching Gatwick from the east in their landing paths. According to Science on a Sphere, at any given moment, "roughly 5,000 planes are in the skies above the United States". Here's what a screen shot of the world looks like today - screen grab taken from www.flightradar24.com:

Click to enlarge.
This is a fun site (www.flightradar24.com) to look at as you can zoom in and out over any location in the world for more detail. Some of the things you will notice is the low number of flights over Africa as well as being able to see flights avoiding Ukraine.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2,225 viewers on Christmas Day

Quite often when I use my own YouTube analytics in my classes I draw attention to Christmas Day and make a joke about viewers watching my videos while eating their turkey. It is always one of the lowest daily viewing figures for the year, and this year was no exception as 2,225 viewers tuned in. So -  what were they watching and which countries did they come from? The table below lists the top ten countries (with number of videos watched in brackets), and the top ten videos (with number of views in brackets):

1 USA (283)How To...Add Music to a Presentation in PowerPoint 2010 (193)
2 India (297)How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010 (147)
3 UK (134)How To... Plot Multiple Data Sets on the Same Chart in Excel 2010 (137)
4 Malaysia (113)How To... Create a Progress Gantt Chart in Excel 2010 (123)
5 Turkey (82)How To...Plot a Normal Frequency Distribution Histogram in Excel 2010 (105)
6 Saudi Arabia (57)How To... Create and Edit a Basic Table of Contents in Word 2010 (79)
7 United Arab Emirates (56) How To... Calculate Mean and Standard Deviation in Excel 2010 (77)
8 Canada (51)How To... Create a Basic KPI Dashboard in Excel 2010 (75)
9 Philippines (50)How To... Draw a Simple Box Plot in Excel 2010 (73)
10 Singapore (47)How To... Create a Basic Pivot Table in Excel 2010 (72)

Judging by the types of videos watched, it's clear that viewers tuned in to learn how to do various Microsoft Office tasks - eight of the top ten videos viewed were based on Excel, with one each for Word and PowerPoint. Below is a heat map for all countries. Ireland, with just 14 views, ranked 37th of the 109 countries that had at least one view. YouTube lists 233 countries and territories in total, therefore there were 124 countries in the world where no one tuned in to my channel. Interestingly, North Korea was added this year to the list of countries with views on my channel. So far there are just three views - on 20th and 21st of September, and on 22nd October. The videos watched were about creating Gantt charts!

Heat Map of World Views.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Trade Route 66 for the Wild Atlantic Way" says @Ryanair #WildAtlanticWay #Route66

The good folks over at Ryanair have set up a new web site for America (http://www.ryanair.com/us) according to the Irish Independent. Even though Ryanair do not yet offer flights to America they are doing their bit for Irish tourism, and of course they are also hoping that Americans will fly Ryanair when they come to Europe.

Image source: Ryanair.

If you are American and thinking of coming to Ireland to see and experience the Wild Atlantic Way, why not read all about it in my new travel book "Exploring Ireland Wild Atlantic Way: A Motorcycle Odyssey". It's available on Amazon here!

I'd love to ride the iconic Route 66. At 3,940 km it is about 1,440 km longer than the Wild Atlantic Way. There are no highways on the Wild Atlantic Way - in fact only between Oranmore and Galway City did I get to ride at more that 80 km/hour for a few minutes. The rest of the Way has an 80 km/hour speed limit. Route 66 no doubt has places where you can open up the throttle and enjoy the beauty of America. Route 66 for me? Maybe some day!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Google+ Year in Photos 2014

A nice feature provided by Google is that they create a 50 seconds video of your photos from the past year that is downloadable (and they add music to it!). I just got an email about mine today. I don't know how they select the photos or if they are taken from my Google Drive or other cloud service. It was a nice memory of the year - here it is:

Click here for full larger version.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

SOLD OUT! "An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis"

My first ever book is officially "Out-of-Stock"! Yesterday I picked up the last seven copies available from The Liffey Press of "An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis". This book was published in early 2010 and all 1,000 original print copies are now out of supply at the Liffey Press distributors. It has taken nearly five years for this to happen, so it has been a slow seller. At least I didn't have the indignity of having excess copies of my book pulped as happens when books don't sell. The book is still on several college reading lists - Algonquin College in Ottawa are the latest to recently add it. As we are out of supply it is likely that they will use an eBook instead of printed copies. We are planning to run a second print - this can now be done with what's called "Digital Printing" where any number of copies can simply be printed and bound to excellent quality - a print run of 100-150 more copies is likely. This also gives me an opportunity to correct some typos that escaped my several proof-reads!

Below are some sales data rankings from Amazon (Author Central) - this only accounts for books sold through Amazon and not through other sources. I am guessing each peak represents the sale of a single book, followed by a drop in ranking until the next book is sold. The top chart represents sales ranking from Amazon.co.uk  - the highest ranking achieved was at the lofty heights of #8,510 on 24th March 2013. The lower chart shows a similar pattern from Amazon.com - the highest ranking achieved here was at #43,845 on 7th April 2014. Very modest figures I think you'll agree, but I'm gratified that it has continued to sell since it was published.

Sales and Ranking for Amazon.co.uk.
Sales and Ranking for Amazon.com
My "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" book is also almost out of stock. It has sold much better and as of yesterday there were just 24 copies left (out of 800 printed last summer). We are also considering a "Digital Print" run for this book, but this is not as easy a decision because this book has a lot (169) of colour photographs and apparently there is a drop in print quality using this quick method.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Data science toolkit via @HarvardEXT #analytics #HDSDA

The good folks over at the Harvard Extension Hub have given some great tips for students interested in a career in Data Analytics in an article entitled: "Why Data Science Jobs Are in High Demand". They provide a good model for what skills a data analyst should have:

Image source: Jonathan Davidowitz.
  • Wrangle the data (gather, clean, and sample data to get a suitable data set)
  • Manage the data in a way that gives you access to big data quickly and reliably
  • Explore the data so you can generate a hypothesis
  • Make predictions using statistical methods such as regression and classification
  • Communicate the results using visualization, presentations, and interpretable summaries.
At the National College of Ireland we cover all these skills (and more) in our Higher Diploma in Data Analytics course. We use the Python and R programming languages, plus tools like SPSS and Excel to analyse data. If you, or a colleague, are interested in studying Data Analytics part-time, check out our course at the SpringBoard website now. In addition we will be holding Open Evenings on Tuesday 7th and Thursday 22nd January from 5-7pm - why not come along, meet the NCI team, and find out more about the course?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Life is a struggle on €232,000, says university president #WTF?

Dr Michael Murphy, president of UCC, tells us that the heads of Irish universities "are as challenged at paying their bills as anyone else" according to a report by Niamh Horan in the Irish Independent. Dr Murphy is paid €232,000 per year, yes - that's over €19,000 per month, or about €4,400 per week, or almost €900 PER DAY! Nice money if you can get it, and Dr Murphy certainly is getting it.

Dr Michael Murphy.
Image source:
Irish Universities Association.
Why does an intelligent person like Dr Murphy feel the need to spout this shite? Why does he feel the need to elicit pity from the average Irish citizen for his desperate financial situation? He is quoted in Horan's article as saying:

"Contrary to popular opinion, I do not have a house or a car provided by the university. But I do know that a university in Britain last year advertised the post of vice-chancellor (for a university) the same size as UCC, (which is) behind us in rankings, and if I had applied for it I would have doubled my salary, got a house and the use of a Jaguar".

Seems to me like a no-brainer decision to make? If you are finding it so hard to pay the bills, why not feck off to the money bags university and drive the Jag around campus?

By doing this Dr Murphy insults every taxpayer (who pays his salary) in Ireland, and the hundreds of thousands of working people who are genuinely "struggling" on a fraction of what he earns. He also insults his academic colleagues - most who earn a lot less than what he does. Sure - academic positions are well paid in Ireland, but telling us that he is as "challenged" at paying his bills as anyone else is just galling to hear. 

Get real - there are probably well over 4,000,000 people in this country with a population of 4,500,000 who would gladly like to have a go at paying their bills on €900/day. Stop this Sean-Bhean bhocht "poor me" nonsense - PLEASE!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The shorter the name, the higher the earnings - Mr Bond #analytics

A student told me recently that James Bond movies with shorter names made more than those with longer names. I found this hard to believe, but the statistics show that there may be some truth to this. The table below (provided by Statistica) shows that the top three grossing Bond films had just one word in the film title. Only "Moonraker" bucks the trend. I remind students that "Correlation is not Causation", but I wonder what the movie moguls behind the Bond franchises are thinking?

Guess what - the title of the next Bond movie is the single worded title: "Spectre"!

Infographic: The highest-grossing Bond films of all time | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Saturday, December 06, 2014

John Bishop at the 3Arena

Last Christmas my daughters got me the brilliant Christmas present of tickets to a John Bishop Show at the 3Arena, and almost 11.5 months later I finally got to see this classiest and funniest of comedians. Is there a funnier man on the planet? I think not!

Image Source: Irish Independent.
The show started with recorded material with Gary Lineker, Samuel L. Jackson, Graham Norton and José Mourinho - this is all about Bishop missing three penalties in charity matches. Bishop comes back to this theme to end his show with a penalty shoot-out with a member of the audience. He comes across as a normal person talking about his life and he plays himself down with ease while we laugh our guts off at his stories. I'm sure he appealed to all ages in the audience, though I (and I'm sure everybody else) felt he was talking to me. His story of First Class flight to Australia where he had a shower (and a w*nk) was particularly funny for our section of the audience as Michael O'Leary (CEO of Ryanair) was just a few rows behind us!

Overall - a fantastic evening's entertainment, and from the buzz of the 9,500 sold-out crowd leaving the 3Arena, everyone else there felt the same as me. Now to get an Anadin for my sore sides! 

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Three (Irish) Tenors Concert

Guardian Angels church in Blackrock was packed (it's not often you see a church full these days) on Thursday evening for a fund-raising concert by The Three Tenors - I had to sit in the balcony at the back. There's no doubting the singing talent of these three lads who belted out a mix of traditional, religious, and seasonal songs. In particular I liked the Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus - I suppose because we do these hymns in our own choir. Church pews were not made for long concerts, especially ones like this which had an inexplicably long interval of 25 minutes to sell raffle tickets. Nevertheless the three tenors gave us value for money and I was humming their tunes on the way home - especially Goodbye from the musical The White Horse Inn. I didn't win a raffle prize.

Image Source: The Three Tenors.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Fr Peter Garvey O.Cist. #RIP

The President of Cistercian College Roscrea while I was a boarder there from September 1972 to June 1977 was Fr Peter Garvey - he passed away last Tuesday. He was new to the role and we were his first class to go all the way through the then five years of secondary school. He was an extremely intelligent likeable man and a fine priest who was passionate about the education of generations of CCR boys including myself. The 1970s were a time of great change. While the Church still dominated society and education, questionable fashion style and long hair seemed to help us rebel against the norms of the time. Think about it - we entered the 70's mourning the break-up of the Beatles, and ended it with the break-up of the Sex Pistols. During all of this Fr Peter had a school to run.

My class had him for Religion in 1st year, but I have little memory of his classes. In those days, religion was far more accepted than it is now and we were less likely to question faith. Fr Peter was just one of several Cistercian priests who helped turn us from boys into men and I can only look back at that time with good memories.

I'm certain I did not come into Fr Peter's radar at all until I got to 6th year. I never got into trouble, largely because I was afraid to do so - no drinking, smoking, bunking, robbing apples from the orchard for me! One thing I do recall was that Fr Peter did not tolerate bullying, and cracked down on it quickly in a time when bullying was more tolerated (especially in an all-boys school). In 6th year I found studying difficult and as this was graded I started to get poor marks. A "2" (out of 6) for study meant an automatic visit to the President's Office. The first time I got one I didn't go to his office, hoping that he would not say or do anything. He called me to his office one day later looking for an explanation - he was not cross, did not get angry, nor did he add any further punishment. We just chatted and he offered to help and advice - which I ignored. This resulted in more "2s" for study which meant more visits to his office, more chats, and more advice. Later I was caught reading a "dirty" book - more visits to the President.

Fr Peter Garvey on left.
Image source: Dublin and Glendalough United Diocese.

The lifestyle of a monk living in a monastery appeals to very few people today, and I often wondered how Fr Peter and his fellow monks kept going. Today is his funeral at the Abbey in Roscrea and it is time to say goodbye to him. I am reminded of the last few lines from the film "Goodbye, Mr Chips":

Pity he never had any children.
What was that you were saying  about me?
Nothing at all, old man.  Nothing at all.
We were just wondering when you were  going to wake up out of that beauty sleep.
I heard you.
You were talking about me.
Nothing of consequence, old man.  I give you my word.
I thought I heard you saying  it was a pity
Pity I never had any children.
But you're wrong.
I have.
Thousands of them.
Thousands of them.
And all boys.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips.Goodbye.

(Source: http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/g/goodbye-mr-chips-script-transcript.html)

Goodbye, Fr Peter.

Monday, December 01, 2014

101 miles from Dublin #Belfast

I spent last weekend visiting Belfast and came away liking the city even more than before. Until my daughter started College there last year I had only ever been in Belfast for the briefest of visits and had never stayed there. With "only" four weekends to Christmas it was a very busy city centre full of shoppers (or should that be "shappers"!). The Christmas Market at the King's Hall was almost inaccessible - such were the queues to get in.

We had great food in Fratelli's Restaurant on Friday, and in Howard St on Saturday. We also did some shappin in Victoria Square and Castlecourt Centres. To escape the Christmas shappin fever I went out to the Crumlin Road Gaol for a fantastic tour of the old gaol which was closed in 1996. I have been to see Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, and Wicklow Gaol - "The Crum" is a great experience, even the Death Cell and the Hang House had a fascinating, if macabre, interest. I even touched the rope - our guide told us that it is not known if it was ever used. The last hanging in Northern Ireland took place on 20th December 1961 when Robert McGladdery was executed for murder. It is a strange and horrible thing to be standing inches away from a scene of judicial death like this.

On a brighter note, Belfast has a feel good factor with the streets, bars, and restaurants all very busy We went to the wonderful St George's Market where there was plenty of food on offer and lots of arts & crafts. The entertainment at the market was provided by the brilliant Leading Ladies - who finished off their set with ABBA's "Thank You For The Music". Great stuff!

Overall, I ask myself why I had not gone to Belfast before. I guess The Troubles had a lot to do with this as I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when The Troubles were at their height. Belfast was (to me) where murders and bombings were a daily occurrence. Today - it is a cosmopolitan city with a lot going for it. I will definitely be back!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Tableau Experience Dublin #analytics @tableau

Yesterday I attended a presentation from Tableau Software given by their CEO Christian Chabot. The event was packed with not a seat to be spared in the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin. It seemed to me that there were people from all types of backgrounds - some were familiar with Tableau software, while many (like me) were not. I am always interested in seeing new software, but I have heard a lot about Tableau and was curious about the companies policy of making their full software available for free to students, and how it could be used in our Data Analytics programmes.

I have to say I was very impressed with the product, demonstrated very well by Chabot who proved, (using Kiva Loans open data) how easy it is to create great visualizations with "Excel level competence". I decided to try this out for myself and within minutes I was able to create my own visualizations with some World Bank data that I often use in class. I was using the free Public version of Tableau which is very easy to learn. This software is very powerful and makes analysing data a lot easier especially for executive focus. As Chabot said to us - "Bye Bye Excel!". You can publish your results to the web - here's my first interactive World map effort showing CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) for the year 2000 across most countries in the world - this took minutes to create with absolutely no data cleansing or manipulation on my part. The US Virgin Islands has the highest value!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wishing I was on the #WildAtlanticWay - Achill Island from the air via @poloconghaile and @AerPhotoIreland

In today's Irish Independent travel writer Pól Ó Conghaile reminds us what we are missing here on the east coast with news of a video showing one of my most favourite parts of the Way: Achill Island. The video is interesting not only for the beautiful scenery on view, but that it was made by a drone flying over Achill - you can even see the drone's propellers in parts of the video. According to Pól, the video "footage was captured by Seán Gallagher of Aer Photo (www.aerphoto.com)" - check it out on YouTube for yourself:

Of course most of us cannot see the sights of the Wild Atlantic Way from the air - I covered the 2,500 kilometres on my motorcycle, and it looks great but different from the ground. Videos like this are great tasters for tourists, but rarely can we see the sights as portrayed in the video. Here's a second video from AerPhoto show-casing the brilliant Atlantic Drive in Achill:

Check out the AerPhoto website for more great videos (and photos).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Making mistakes in class - the case against recording lectures

To record or not record lectures - that is the question.

There are several advantages to recording lectures: students who miss a class can watch/listen to a lecture on-line, it is useful for students with disabilities, it could be useful for revision, and might also help students who learn best as visual learners. Some disadvantages might be: issues with Intellectual Property, files being misused by a minority, pandering to students who miss lectures.

Image source: Izquotes.
We are all human, and humans make mistakes. I prepare for every class as best as I can, but cannot say that I will be 100% perfect. Recently when I have made a mistake in class I said to my students "This is why I'm not in favour of recording lectures". I am concerned that if I record a lecture what will happen to the recording, and more importantly that it might show up errors (even if I correct them in class). A copy of a lecture recording in the wrong hands could embarrass a lecturer and the College. Regulations need to be tight and a College needs to be ready for the introduction of this.

Lots of lecturers provide recordings of their lectures and it's great that they have the confidence to do this. I see this as a common practice in the near future and in principle I favour this. Lecturers need the backing of their Colleges in the event of misuse - I think it might be a mistake for third-level authorities to assume that academic staff would embrace this practice without debate.

NB:This post is a personal opinion only and does not reflect the views of any other academics or of any college.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Amazon Author Page

Amazon have updated their pages for authors in order to add more features. One odd thing is that Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk operate different pages, so I've had to update both. Amazon.com allows more features such as adding a blog feed and creating a dedicated author page (amazon.com/author/eoloughlin). 

This is a good way to let readers know more about authors, and no doubt Amazon feel this will helps to generate more sales. For the page I added a new photo of myself with what I hope is an "author" pose!

My books!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Mousetrap #whodunnit

I finally got to see Agatha Christie's murder mystery "The Mousetrap"at the Bord Gáis Theatre last evening. It is the world's longest running play having been performed over 25,000 times since it began its run on 25th November 1952. Thankfully I had never heard what happens at the famous twist at the end - no spoiler alerts ever got to me!

Image Source: St Martin's Theatre.
"The Mousetrap" is usually only performed at St Martin's Theatre in London, but has been doing a diamond anniversary tour. It is running in Dublin for the first time and played before a full house last evening. The performance was brilliant, with the suspense being kept right up to the end. I'm sure like every one else in the theatre I was kept guessing as to "who done it". I got it wrong - but I won't spoil it here by revealing who my guess was.

A long running tradition with this play is that after the play is over, one of the characters asks the audience not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theatre. As the ad for the play suggests "suspect everyone", apart from being a brilliant play - it is great fun looking for clues and trying to guess "who done it" all the way through. A most enjoyable evening!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Giving and Receiving Feedback

We all crave feedback with questions like: "How am I doing?", "Was that OK for you?", "How can I do better?", and one I get a lot: "Where did I lose marks?". Feedback is an important part of learning - it's important to take tough feedback on the chin as well as enjoy good feedback. For my part I give a lot of feedback to students and it is easy to give good feedback, but not so easy to give tough feedback.
Image source: Forbes Magazine.
Just this week I read an article by Dr Paul Mooney with some great advice on "The Art of Giving (and soliciting) Feedback". He has five "rules" for to follow for giving feedback successfully:

  1. It must be from an "acceptable source"
  2. The purpose of the feedback must be "developmental"
  3. The message needs to be "clear"
  4. "Medium Security" - compliment where appropriate 
  5. Be "clever" on timing
Feedback must be honest, though I often take the approach of Point Out Positives (POPs) when I have difficult feedback to give (such as for a failed grade) - I try to find good material to talk about first.

But it can be frustrating when you receive conflicting feedback. Here's are some extracts from two reviews I recently received for a research paper submitted for publication:

Reviewer #1:
"This is a poor and rather pointless paper" and that it was a "dull read".

Reviewer #2:
"This is a great paper" about a "very successful project" and that the reviewer was "looking forward to its presentation" at the conference.

What does one make of this? One is tempted of course to just accept the second reviewer's comments and ignore the first reviewer. But that's not making use of feedback just because I don't like it. Reviewer #1 did not make any suggestions for improvement (which would have been "developmental according to Dr Paul Mooney) - perhaps because he/felt felt there was no possibility of improvement (at least their opinion was an honest one). Conversely reviewer #2 did not makes any suggestions in order to make a "great" paper greater.

Feedback - a tough thing to get right?

Saturday, November 08, 2014

"It's a shame, but this is the end." - David Gilmour @pinkfloyd #endlessriver

I've just purchased Pink Floyd's new album "The Endless River" and am listening to it as I write. According to David Gilmour it is likely to be the last album from Pink Floyd - this one is by the two remaining members (Gilmour and Nick Mason). It also includes material from Rick Wright (who died in 2008) from the Division Bells album released in 1994. Gilmour and Mason pay tribute to Rick Wright in this album.

So far? Brilliant! Lots of atmospheric music and fabulous guitar work by Gilmour. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Gilmour tells us that "I think we have successfully commandeered the best of what there is. I suspect this is it" and that "It's a shame, but this is the end". What a pity it would be if there is no more from this legend of a rock band, but 68 year old Gilmour has already retired (in 2012).

Roger Waters is not featured on this album - he even said so himself "I have nothing to do with 'Endless River,'" and also wrote "Phew! This is not rocket science, people. Get a grip". He is not part of Pink Floyd.

See below a video embedded from Rolling Stone magazine where David Gilmour and Nick Mason talk about the new album:

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Is Jerry Kennelly Right about "second-rate" Colleges and "Mickey Mouse" Courses?

My blog post on Monday about Jerry Kenelly's comments on third-level education in Ireland got quite a lot more views than my regular posts (about four times more) with much of the traffic coming from 9thlevel.ie (where as I write it is the 7th most read story). Some readers took the time to comment on my post - not all of it complimentary. One commenter even said that Jerry Kennelly was "200% right".

To recap - Jerry Kennelly is reported to have said that some (unspecified) Irish Colleges are "second-rate", and that they are "set up for the benefit of academics". He also claimed that a lot of (unspecified) courses that are "absolutely useless", and that they are a "waste of peoples’ time and energy".

I have been challenged in comments to address and rebut the issue. I don't feel I have to defend the Irish third-level sector, or prove any commentator wrong. Nevertheless, two recent papers about the contribution of the third level sector directly rebut what Jerry Kennelly has to say.

Higher Education System Performance Report 2014

This report, the first for Ireland, makes for interesting reading. Two of its key findings were: 
  • Ireland is 1st in the world for the availability of skilled labour
  • 75% of Irish employers are satisfied with graduate skills
How could this be in a country with second-rate Colleges who deliver useless Mickey Mouse courses that waste people's time? Clearly Jerry Kennelly is not satisfied with graduate skills, but he is in a minority.

The Economic Impact of Higher Education Institutions in Ireland (Zhang, Larkin, and Lucey 2014)

In the above recent paper it was reported that the "gross income of Irish HEIs (Higher Education Institutes), a total of €2.6b in 2010-11, generated gross output nationwide of €10.5b". Again - not bad for a "second rate" system. The paper also shows that in Ireland we get "value for money" from our third level sector and that it should be a "source of pride" for the Department of Public Expenditure and the leadership of the third level sector in Ireland.

I'm sure there are other reports that that contradict and rebut what Jerry Kennelly had to say - but above two suffice for now.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Entrepreneur Attacks Third-Level Colleges Shocker - says Irish Colleges are putting students through “Mickey Mouse courses”!

So another day goes by that a so-called Irish Entrepreneur who has made millions of Euro here has a go at third-level Colleges in this country. Jerry Kennelly, founder of Tweak.com, says in an article reported by The Journal that There are too many second-rate colleges in Ireland with ‘Mickey Mouse courses'

Dr Jerry Kenelly.
Image Source: Tweak.com.
Now Dr Kennelly (he has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Limerick) is of course entitled to his opinion. There are many who probably agree with him. 

I don't. 

Despite his negative attitude towards our courses in our Colleges, which didn't prevent him from accepting the UL doctorate or a fellowship from IT Tralee, he thunders that the Colleges themselves "are set up for the benefit of academics". Wow - I didn't know that! 

I don't agree with this either (but then I wouldn't since I am an "academic"). On what basis does he spout this nonsense? 

He also says that the Colleges "have a lot of courses that are absolutely useless", and further comments that courses are a "waste of peoples’ time and energy". Strong stuff indeed. Kennelly complains that he cannot hire Irish people and that he has to "employ people in Stockholm, Lisbon and Hyderabad to get the job done, to find the qualified people". Presumably Swedish, Portuguese, and Indian Colleges don't have "Mickey Mouse courses"? So what does Dr Kennelly do about this? He turns at an easy target (third-level Colleges), and blames us for his woes. Does he actually understand what he is saying when he states that "there’s an absolute disconnection between education and the real world"? Maybe he should join one of our Industry Panels that we have to put all our new programmes through to ensure we provide courses that Industry wants?

So Jerry - I challenge you to name the "second-rate" Colleges that are causing you angst?  What are the "Mickey Mouse" courses that you are referring to? Which degrees "aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on"? 

Third level Colleges' first duty is to provide education to our students. Indeed the mission of my own institution (National College of Ireland), is "To change lives through education". Later this week it is Graduation Day in NCI. I and my colleagues will see our graduates proudly accept their degrees - their lives will have been changed by their achievements. I dare Jerry Kennelly to stand on the stage at our graduation ceremony (or indeed at any other College Graduation) and tell our students that they have just wasted their last three or four years in a second-rate College doing a Mickey Mouse course. Jaysus!

(Amended to remove some language)

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Broken Axe

Today I was not careful with an axe - I broke my brother Joe's axe trying to split a small block of wood. I just had to post a photo of said broken axe on my blog!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Academics and Social Media - What's the Right Balance?

This week I came across an article written two years ago by Tanya Roscorla, "Why Educators Should Spend 15 Minutes a Day on Social Media", in which she gives the "why" and the "how" educators should make digital connections on-line. My first reaction was "only 15 minutes"? - It takes me about that length of time just to write this post!
Image Source: The American Ceramic Society.
Roscorla writes that some educators find that Twitter helps them stay on top of their game. Connecting on-line through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ both to colleagues in the same institution, and academics elsewhere increases collaboration and sharing of ideas. Academics are, in my experience, bit more likely to share their work for free on-line. In fact, the last academic paper I read (this one by Zhang, Larkin, and Lucey, 2014) was shared by @brianmlucey on Twitter - otherwise I would not have seen or heard of it.

Quite a few years ago I made the decision to use YouTube, my blog, and Twitter for both personal and work reasons. While I am very careful what I write, I regard it as part of my job to make content available on-line and comment on educational matters. Some years ago a student made a complaint to me that I had not responded to an email, and that while the student was waiting for a response - I had posted to my blog. Understandable irritation in one sense if a student sees me blogging or tweeting while they are waiting for a grade or a response. Nevertheless, as Roscorla mentions in her article, educators must find the time (in sometimes very busy schedules), to spend at least 15 minutes a day on social media, and that they "have to decide that connecting online is important". When something is important, we have to find the time for it - finding the right balance is the difficult part.

Recently, an educational colleague from another institution said to me that I "was not busy enough" if I have time for the likes of YouTube, Twitter, and this Blog. In one sense, she was right - there is no mention of social media in my job description, and I am being paid as I spend time in this medium. For me though, it is part of what I do and part of what I am. While I spend a bit more than 15 minutes a day on Social Media - it is part of my job and is here to stay.

PS - this article took 22 minutes to write!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Google Glass in Education? via @ValaAfshar #googleglass

I suppose that it was inevitable that the good folks at Google would take wearable technology to the next level and beyond. The exciting looking and sounding Google Glass looks set to become part of human life as Google comes up with more and more wonderful things that it can do. I've not yet seen one, nor have I spoken to anyone who has tried it out - I would just love to have one!

Vala Afshar is Chief Marketing Officer with the Extreme Networks company, and today I picked up a Slideshare presentation he made on 14 Google Glass Innovative uses in education - it makes for interesting thought (I'd like to see the actual presentation). Some of the ideas are simple, eg (from transcript): 

while others definitely could catch on:

When I got an iPad a few years ago I genuinely thought that I would make use of it in class, but now I don't even bother to bring it to College - too awkward. A Google Glass device could make interaction more seamless and easy. Check out Afshar's ideas in the slideshow below - I look forward to seeing more and more innovation in this space!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reading Week - Good or Bad?

This week it is the so-called mid-semester "Reading Week" in NCI. Many other Colleges also have a Reading Week, though I'm not sure that all do. It was introduced here a few years ago and usually takes place in week 7 or 8. It also coincides with the October Bank Holiday and St Patrick's Day in March - in reality the Reading Week is four instead of five days.

Image source: Youth Utility.
Is the Reading Week "nothing but a poorly disguised trip home for a visit to Mum’s tumble drier" as described by student Eleanor Doughty in The Independent article "Reading week: What is it good for?" published last year?

In my classes I of course advise my students to use the Reading Week to catch up on the first six weeks, work on assignments and projects due later in the semester, and to study. How much of this is done I don't know, but I do know that when I ask students when they come back how much work they've done, the answer is usually very little to none. 

Around this time last year I wrote a post about Semester Fatique, which was read by 755 people (much higher than the average most posts get). For me it is nice to get a break from classes, though I am still at work. For students it is good to get a break from classes as our semesters are very long - probably too long. The Reading Week does offer the opportunity to catch up and study, but even if it just provides a break so that students can return a little refreshed and ready for the rest of the semester, it is probably still a good thing to have in the Academic Calendar.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Linkedin "Jobs you may be interested in" - Still A Long Way To Go

I am a part-time Linkedin enthusiast. I keep my profile up-to-date and connect with lots of interesting people, and both my blog and Twitter feeds post automatically to my Linkedin account. I am often puzzled as to why some people I don't know would want to connect with me, and I am definitely puzzled when someone endorses me for something I have never done!

Thankfully I am not seeking work, but that doesn't stop Linkedin sending me links to jobs I "may be interested in". My occupation is a Lecturer in Computing, so I guess some (simple and crude) Linkedin algorithm is picking out the word "Lecturer" from my profile so that it can recommend other Lecturer positions to me regardless of discipline. 

Today Linkedin tells me that I might be interested in the job of "Lecturer in Anatomy" and other positions that I have no experience or qualifications for. I did not attend Med School, I have no medical qualifications (not even First Aid!), and I certainly have never had anything to do with the study of Anatomy.

So - while Linkedin may be useful in some circumstances for job-hunters, it certainly still has a long way to go before it can match a Linkedin Profile with a vacant position. Matching skills needs and competencies is still a difficult task, and Linkedin have a long way to go.

PS: I did not apply for this job! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Microsoft Ends Nokia Brand #nostalgia

Yesterday the Irish Independent reported "End of an era: Microsoft drops Nokia brand for Lumia" in favour of its own Lumia range of Windows smartphones. It is indeed the "end of an era" as for many of us a Nokia phone was a first mobile phone choice.

The Nokia 5110.
Image Source: Iretron.com.
My first mobile phone was the Nokia 5110 like the one to the left - it was launched in 1998 on the Eircell network. Yes - for almost the first 40 years of my life I did not have a mobile phone! Harder even still to imagine is that Nokia was once a company that made toilet paper!

I used it for making/receiving calls, and playing "Snake". Text messaging was not yet that popular. It was a novelty that hardly ever rang when I got it as not everybody had a mobile phone. I rarely used it at work though it was handy for calling home when I travelled (except in USA where it didn't work). One of my toughest project management assignments was for a custom e-Learning project for Nokia - they certainly demanded a lot from me and my team.

Now that Microsoft are retiring this brand I'm sure there will be some nostalgia for the old handsets in the way that vinyl is making a comeback. Perhaps we will see this, and the many other early mobile phones in museums. Its already being called a "vintage phone" on eBay!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Grade Inflation at Third-Level #MyTwoCents

Why is it that if students work harder and get better grades that the media latch on to the "grade inflation" bandwagon? This week the Irish Times blasts that "DCU, UCC award more ‘firsts’ in new indicator of grade inflation" and that some students "have a much higher chance of graduating with a first class honours degree than other college-goers" and that new figures are a "fresh indicator" of “grade inflation”. There is no reason why the figures quoted, such as "between 2004 and 2013, an average of 71.7 per cent of students at TCD graduated with either a 1st or a 2.1" are much different in other third-level Colleges such as the ITs and NCI.

Normal Distribution.
Image Source: Wikipedia.
I would be interested to see what the overall distribution of grades by actual mark is. We don't mark to a bell curve - not allowed to. For example, a "First" is an average grade of 70% or over - if you get 71% or 99% it is still a First. Data like these are usually normally distributed, but the Irish Times omits reference to this or the variation. The Times does quote a source from Trinity that it attracted “exceptionally bright cohorts of students”. This is most likely as a consequence of rising CAO points at the entry level. If you have a course, such as Science in Trinity where points have been rising steadily for years, the calibre of students entering is getting stronger. See below a table of the points required for Science (I don't know what the grades are for this course) in Trinity since 2008 (source CAO.ie):

2008415 points
2009440 points
2010 455 points
2011 470 points
2012 500 points
2013 505 points
2014 515 points

The number of points needed has increased by a whopping 100 in six years, but the degree course is most likely substantially the same. Is it any wonder students will do better? Should Colleges start to mark harder, set tougher tests, or not let the bell curve move in order to avoid accusations of grade inflation? 

Today's students are also a lot smarter when it comes to assessments and exams - they can cram a lot better than any student from the past, and with a lot more continuous assessment about - there are more opportunities for getting better grades. Many recruiters require at least a 2:1, so guess what? Students respond to these needs. Students don't get better results without working for them - if they get a First, then award a First!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Visit to Titanic Experience in Belfast

This weekend I made a quick visit to Belfast and checked out the the Titanic Experience for the first time. The building is shaped like the bow of the Titanic and inside there is a lot of information about Belfast, Harland and Wolff, Shipbuilding, and of course the tragedy of the Titanic. A lot of Irish people died in the sinking of the unsinkable, including the ship's surgeon Dr William Francis Norman O'Loughlin - a native of Tralee in Co Kerry near where my O'Loughlin ancestors came from. He is listed among the dead on the memorial outside the building where the Titanic and its sister ship the Olympic were built. Even though he was born in Ireland and died before Independence, he is listed as being of "British" nationality in the Experience's computer list of the dead (many others were listed as "Irish" ).

The Experience was well worth the visit, though at £42.99 for three of us it was a bit expensive. There are a lot of audio-visual features and a great ride "inside" the ship to show how it was put together. There are no relics (that I could see) of the Titanic brought up from where the ship now lies - I suppose this is not surprising in the city where it was built. I was a bit surprised though that there was very little from the ship yard - some drawings, contracts, but not many rivets or parts of ships. There was some reconstruction of cabins which really helped you see how some people travelled in luxury. Lots of black and white photos were brilliant - really gave a sense of times past.

The tour took about 2 hours and is well worthwhile, despite the steep cost.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The best way to travel the Wild Atlantic Way is on a motorcycle #FirstToDoIT #WildAtlanticWay Eh @ATTADoyle @attastowell?

It's been a while since I posted about the Wild Atlantic Way, I haven't been on parts of it since last August and I miss it. I have kept an eye on Twitter posts (I still keep a feed on Tweetdeck for the #WildAtlanticWay hashtag). Fáilte Ireland have reported a great year for Irish tourism in 2014 and I'm sure the Wild Atlantic Way has contributed hugely to this surge in visitors to this country. Media coverage has also been extensive (even I was interviewed about my book on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and by Ryan Tubridy on 2FM during the summer) with lots of radio and TV coverage. Fáilte Ireland also had a lot of events and even sponsored Bikefest in Killarney this year.

Yesterday a tweet by the Google Travel Team (@GoogleTravel), in which they mentioned Chris Doyle (@ATTADoyle) and Shannon Stowell (@attastowell) of The Adventure Trade Association, was a nice reminder of my own ride around the Wild Atlantic Way. Chris and Shannon travelled by motorcycle for 10 days. While I was interested in the sights and stories of each location, they spent a lot of time rock climbing, diving, surfing, canoeing, and getting muddy. They also had one of those helmet camera thingies with which they got nice video shots of our coastline. It's clear they had a camera and support team to help them - I just had myself. Like me they spent 10 days on the 2,500 kilometre trip, and I'm sure they would agree with me that the best way to get around the Wild Atlantic Way is on a motorcycle. It's too long for cycling in one go, and in a car it is a lot harder to get though the many towns and villages (try Castlegregory on market day!). 

Here's a video reminder of the Wild Atlantic Way featuring Chris and Shannon that they made for the recent Adventure Travel World Summit in held in Killarney:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Please take my short (5 mins) survey on audience retention in @YouTube learning videos

As part of a research paper on why learners who use YouTube videos for learning often never watch a video until the end (or near the end) I am conducting a short survey on audience retention. The average audience retention for my YouTube channel is 49%, which means that on average only half of each video is watched. What causes what Elliott Masie refers to as "Learning Interruptus" - with the results of the survey, combined with YouTube Analytics, I hope to provide some insight to attempt to answer this question.

The survey is embedded below, but if you encounter any problems using this page, go to http://goo.gl/forms/x2Q5kBpdB8 for a direct link to the survey.

(Many thanks to those who have already completed the survey!).

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

It's Official - Submitting Assignments at the Last Minute Results in Lower Marks!

If you are a student who leaves everything to the last minute and submits essays and assignments just before the submission deadline, you might be losing marks for doing so. According the the Times Higher Education online magazine students’ "last-minute submissions score lower". Citing a study by the Warwick Business School, research found that "marks dropped the closer to the deadline the essays were handed in". Students in the study who submitted work 24 hours before the deadline scored an average of 64%, while those who handed work in with just a minute to go, scored 59% - the difference between a 2:1 and a 2:2! Interestingly, students who submitted work between two and 12 hours before the deadline scored only slightly lower (63%) than those who submitted the day before. Some blame the Colleges and Universities for not doing enough and who "are failing some students…on providing them with study skills to make the most of their undergraduate study".

So - the message is "Get your work done in plenty of time and don't leave it to the last minute!".
Image source: The Velveteen Viking.

In some of my classes I often refer to Creative Problem Solving techniques - specifically those listed in "101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques: The Handbook of New Ideas for Business" by James Higgins (2005). Techniques #36 is "Deadlines". The book tells us (p83) that "many creative individuals claim they work best under pressure". Therefore deadlines would appear to be effective? Not so fast! Other researchers (cited in above book) point out the greatest levels of creativity follow periods of relaxation, not time pressure.  

Monday, October 06, 2014

Book Review: "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914" by Christopher Clark

How World War 1 was started has had a simple answer for over 100 years: A Serb kills an Austrian Prince, Austria declares war on Serbia, Russia (Serbia's ally) declares war on Austria, Germany (Austria's ally) declares war on Russia, Britain and France (Russia's ally) declare war on Germany. Four years later, millions are dead.

Image source: The Interpreter.
Christopher Clark has written a fascinating book about the lead up to WW1. Though at times, especially in the middle, it is a heavy read - nevertheless I really enjoyed reading this book (Kindle edition). Right from the start, Clark engages the reader in the politics, both imperialist and nationalist, of the time. Ireland gets a brief mention near the end, but this is not a book about Britain and Ireland's role in the wear. Rather, it concentrates a lot on the alliances - especially between Russia and France, that played a key role in the out-break of war. 

The title of the book is very appropriate - it is astonishing how brinkmanship, nationalism, imperialism, and eejitness combined to cause so many nations to go to war. No nation/empire comes out of this well - my own sense of blame after reading this book is that the Versailles Treaty should simply have been a parade of political and military idiots from all sides to appear in front of a firing squad. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Separated Families

Yesterday I met with my Mum's brother Brendan Byrne and his wife Judy who were visiting Dublin for just one day. They live in Toronto Canada and Brendan was back in Ireland for the first time in 16 years. Brendan grew up in Dublin (Temple Cottages), but left Ireland when he was only 7 years old. The Byrne family (my grandparents Paddy and Kathleen, my aunts Patsy (Cathy), Bernie, and Evelyn, and my uncles Brendan and Richard left Ireland in 1958. Raymond and Gertie (Trudy) Byrne emigrated to England. (Sadly Paddy, Kathleen, Patsy, Evelyn, Raymond, and Gertie have now all passed away). This left my Mum Phil as the last member of her family in Ireland - she married my Dad in 1958. So it is a joyous occasion when she can meet with any of her bothers and sisters. We met in Wynn's Hotel in Dublin for lunch, a chat, a pint, and some selfies!

I have been posting some photos on Facebook and am told by my cousin Lauralea that Wynn's Hotel is where my Grandfather Paddy Byrne proposed to my Grandmother Kathleen Cullen- probably in 1931 or 1932. A nice coincidence on a lovely family day.