Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday in Dublin

A last blast of summer today when the blue sky and the sun came out - Dublin was basking in sunshine. After the hectic day yesterday with my Mum's birthday party, we celebrated Roma's birthday today with a nice lunch at Chez Max beside Dublin Castle. Afterwards we wandered around the city centre - Grafton Street had some great buskers and entertainers out. We finished up in St Stephen's Green where there was a display by the Irish Archaeological Society. I couldn't resist taking up an replica medieval axe and getting Roma to take a photo, in honour of Pink Floyd and the name of this web site. And yes, I was careful with that axe! I also picked up a painting of one of my heroes, Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, from a street seller in Grafton St (the painting is on the bench behind me in the photo below).

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I love my Mum and I don't care who knows #birthday #80

Today we celebrated my Mum's 80th birthday in our house in Blackrock - it was a wonderful day that only families can experience. Thanks to all the Byrne and O'Loughlin families who helped to make this a special day for Mum!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

You Can Never get fed-up of Football! #GAA #Kerry #Mayo #Wicklow? #CrokePark

A belated post about last weekend's terrific All-Ireland football semi-final in Croke Park between Mayo and Kerry which finished 1-16 apiece. A feast of exciting football, with the result in doubt right up to the end, was served up by super players from both sides.

I can't get enough of football! Croke Park is our biggest stadium and is Dublin's version of Wembley, the Nou Camp, and the Bernabeu. A huge crowd of over 52,000 last Sunday stills looks bare. What I like about the GAA and Croke Park is that fans of different counties can mix together - no segregation like they have in soccer. We had two very enthusiastic young boys from Kerry behind us who shouted non-stop throughout the game for their heroes - annoying, but fantastic all the same.

Even though Wicklow were not playing, I decided that the GAA is for all counties and I wore my own Co Wicklow jersey, me being from neither Kerry or Mayo. Of course I am married to the lovely Roma from Castlebar, so as you can see in the photo she is appropriately dressed for the occasion. One Mayo supporter said it was "bullshit" that I was wearing a Wicklow jersey - but I think it adds to the colour of the occasion.

The game was won and lost several times by both teams and I was really impressed by both, especially in the second half. Great scores and excitement all the way to the end. I'd love to go to the replay, but it is on in Limerick - like most other people I feel that this was a big mistake. The GAA want to keep Coke Park available in case there is a draw in next Sunday's match between Donegal and Dublin. This match might end in a draw if the Dubs play with one hand tied behind their backs!

Here are some highlights (from RTÉ) of the match:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy 80th Birthday to my Mum

My mum Phil (Byrne) O'Loughlin was born on 27th August, 1934 and reaches the milestone of 80 years young today. Happy Birthday Mum! Lots of love from Eugene.

Some facts for anyone born on this day 80 years ago from

If you were born on 27th August 1934., your age is Eigthy years and One days. 29,221 days passed since day of Your birth (or 4174.4 weeks). But you are not alone with this! In world 276,000 babies was born on that day.

You were born on Monday, and your zodiac sign is Virgo.

The "big bum" was on ≈4th December 1933. (if you were born on time), but for details, ask your parents, they may have some interesting story for that day ;-)

If your hair were never cut since b-day, today, it would be 10.23 meters long.

Heart beats since your birth: 2,945,500,000.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pouring Water Over my Head - Why? #IceBucketChallenge #ALS #MND

This evening I joined my daughter Vicki in the Ice Bucket Challenge. We emptied our ice box into separate buckets and did the deed, not once - but twice! Our camera-lady didn't have record switched on, so there was no alternative but to do it again as no one would believe that we did it without the video evidence. So here is...

According to David Sable writing this week in an article on Linkedin "Lessons from the Ice Bucket Challenge", Facebook has tallied more than 2.4 million unique videos of Ice Bucket Challenges have been uploaded. And 28 million people have posted, commented or liked these videos. He feels that not everyone has donated, but so far the American ALS Association has received "$41.8 million in donations in just about a month" - this is more than double the whole of 2013, so what made this work?

What Sable refers to as "Click and Shout" is about "using social media to raise awareness, but then making sure that what’s social is tied to an action in the real world". A campaign like this engages people way better that any other Marketing campaign - the "entertainment" is proof that a great idea like this, plus a good cause, "engages people". Sable also writes that there is "no substitute for the pure emotion that helps to motivate behavior" and that we should all "post, like, share videos" and to "Shiver a little bit".

I wonder what the next on-line craze will be?

PS - apologies to Facebook friends for double post.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Senseless Damage #WelcomeToBelfast

During a recent visit to Belfast my car was "keyed" along both driver-side doors, the front wing panel, and the bonnet. Today I am having this damage repaired at a cost of several hundred euro - I have to get this done because the damage is so deep that rust will be inevitable. I also photographed this damage before repair to show when I sell this car that it was "key" damage rather than crash damage. No matter how good the paint job it gets today I'm sure an expert will spot the colour difference. This senseless damage will cost me today, and potentially on the trade-in value in years to come.

I mean no slight on Belfast as this could have happened in any city in the world - but why did someone do this?

Could it be that a Southern registered attracted made someone angry enough to key it? 

Was it part of some gang initiation right-of-passage? 

Or was it a simple random act of vandalism? 

I wonder what's inside the mind of the person who did this? Often when I see senseless acts of vandalism like graffiti or a smashed-up bus shelter I wonder what the perpetrator would think of this when they are older? For example - how does a 60 year old man today feel about keying a car 40 years ago, or what does he think if someone else does the same type of damage to his own car. I am as angry as anybody would be right now because this senseless damage is costing me a lot of money and some inconvenience. I'm also angry that nothing will be done about this (I did not report it to the Police - what's the point?), and that the bastard who did this got away with it. I can only hope (very un-Christian of me) that some day that he/she will have similar damage inflicted upon their own car. Only then will they know how their victims feel.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why don't learners complete the job?

Elliott Masie writes in yesterday's Learning Trends about learners not finishing or continuing learning - he writes: "Learners start videos, begin eLearning modules, enroll in multi-segment MOOCs - and they don't continue or complete them". Today's technology allows us to pause, stop, and rewind on-line content - and much of the time we do not complete. Masie calls this "Learning Interruptus".

Even my most popular video on YouTube "How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010" (730,757 lifetime views) has only a 69% audience retention rate (av­er­age per­cent­age of a video your audi­ence watches per view) - this means not everybody is watching to the end. Below is a Google Analytics chart showing that the average retention rate for all my videos is just 49% (figures only available from Sept 1st 2012):

Recognise any of the following?

  • The phone rings, we stop what we are doing and answer it
  • Same for text message or other alerts
  • You get an email alert - again you stop what you were doing to see who it is (I've turned mine off)
  • You check Facebook/Twitter/Google+ in the middle of a task
  • Somebody knocks on your office door - you let them in

If you are watching an instructional video or an online seminar - you can always pause and come back - but do you come back?

Elliott Masie has some good suggestions to help overcome this such as setting markers where a learner has left off, or creating a reminder list to continue. I see students in class all the time checking material online, or checking their (silent) phones. If they were paying attention in my lecture they have just interrupted this learning. I think this is just something we all have got to live with. Only a few short years ago I insisted on screens being turned away in class and no mobile phones allowed - now I don't. For learners, handling these interruptions will be a challenge - any technology (as Masie suggests) would be great to help and encourage us all to complete our learning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 IDG Enterprise Big Data Research Summary #HDSDA #Analytics

A recent IDG Enterprise report on "Big Data" highlights somes of the growing trends and emerging opportunities for Data Scientists. In the report the results of a survey show that 34% of companies were "Hiring staff with analytics skills", while 40% report that the big challenges faced are the lack of skilled employees to both analyse and manage Big Data. Also, 24% of companies said that they plan to hire more people in roles such as Data Analyst and Data Architect in the next 12-18 months (see summary slides below).

This is good news for students studying Data Analytics at the National College of Ireland where we have nearly 200 students studying analytics. Recent Springboard and ICT Skills conversion courses have been highly successful, with the next one starting in September already booked out. Almost all of our students who finished last year are in employment either in full-time positions or internships. There is a real demand for people with data analysis skills - long may this (and full classrooms at NCI!) continue.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Book Review: "The Riddle of the Sands" by Erskine Childers

More holiday reading when I picked up a copy of the "Riddle of the Sands" that had been in the house for some time. It was first published in 1903 during a period before World War I when there was what Nigel Jones in his book "Peace and War: Britain in 1914" called "invasion literature", a lot of books published on the topic of potential invasion of Britain by Germany.

Image Source: Amazon.
This book from the early 1900s is one of the few spy novels still read today. It is a "stuffy" read and it also helps if you know a bit about yachting to understand all the boat stuff in the book. It is slow moving at times - even boring. It takes a long time for the action to start. Carruthers and Davies are two English yachtsmen who, based on the thinnest of evidence, think that the Germans are planning surprise invasion of Britain from the sands that make up the north west coast of Germany. Before you know it, the book is finished and nothing really happens (except a lot of sailing).

Books like this were designed to warn the British people of the danger posed by Germany. Childers worked in the House of Commons as a clerk and was keen to play his part in getting the Government to spend more on the defence of Britain.

Coincidentally, I started to read this book on the 26th July - exactly 100 years after Childers landed in Howth with a cargo of arms on board the Asgard. He was on the wrong side of the Irish Civil War and a vengeful government had him executed on 24th November 1922 for possession of a pistol. A tragic person.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Book Review: "The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century" by David Reynolds

With the recent 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the World War I there are many new books about the war. This new book by David Reynolds has an interesting angle on the effects of the war right through the 20th century. It is a long book (544 pages) and I bought the Kindle edition for a bargain £6.64. 

Image Source: Amazon.
The book covers many themes from "Empire", to "Capitalism", and to "Remembrance". It is easy to read - not too academic. For Irish readers there are interesting aspects of the effects of the Home Rule Bill in 1914, and the consequences of the 1916 Easter Rising's shadow reaching the Troubles in Northern Ireland via the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Rising in 1966. The book is dominated (for me) by the British experience - there is even a whole chapter devoted to the "Tommies". However, other conflicts in the Middle East and of course World War II are discussed. Reynolds very cleverly links events in a way that the reader may not have ever connected them.

Though the book is very long, I'd certainly recommend it for its different angle on the war.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - Strangford to Newry (100 kms)

The final section of my tour of Northern Ireland took me around the Mourne Mountains in Co Down. Though not as specular as the Co Antrim coast, I certainly enjoyed this road in the early evening sunshine. I think that it would be even better if done on the morning when the sun shines from the east.

At first the road runs along the edge of Strangfrod Lough and I can see back towards the Ards Peninsula where I had been a few hours earlier. Just as the road turns inland for the village of Ardglass I came across the very fine Kilclief Castle which dates from 1413. It is open to the public in the afternoons only and it was closed for the evening and I could not get inside. Nevertheless, a nice surprise as this is the earliest surviving tower house in Ulster. There is a good poster sign showing how the inside might have looked when it was inhabited.

I motored on to Ardglass, a village which contains four medieval tower-houses - more than any other town in Ireland. The best known of these is Jordan's Castle (photo to right) - the other three are  Ardglass Castle, Cowd Castle, and Margaret's Castle .

Close by there is Coney Island (which is not really an island) - a namesake of the more famous version in America, and of course another one in Co Sligo on the Wild Atlantic Way.Further on the road is the village of Killough, which is similar to Ardglass in that it is situated on a circular bay. There are lots of lovely sycamore trees lining the main street here. Accoridng to Wikipedia "Killough is in the running for a nomination in the competition for Ireland's first Amish Village, helped in no small way by the absence of an Off-License, a Chinese Takeaway, a Bookmakers and indeed any form of craic at all"!

Following Killough, I was getting closer to the Mourne Mountains - there were in the misty distance at the time (and hard to photograph). I passed the quiet villages of Clough and Dundrum before reaching the much busier town of Newcastle which has the beginning of the mountains as a gorgeous backdrop - you would think you were in the Alps here! It is a popular seaside resort and starting point for tourists checking out where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

In the village of Annalong I stopped to take a photo of an archway across the road featuring King William III on his white horse - it also bore the legend MY HELP COMETH FROM THE LORD (Psalm 121:2). Like many towns and villages across Northern Ireland there was lots of colourful flags and bunting out to celebrate the 12th July.

In Kilkeel, I paid a quick visit down to the harbour - this is the main fishing port in Co Down, with one of the largest fleets in Ireland taking shelter here. Interestingly, the river Aughrim runs though this town of winding streets. I motored inland from here to the village of Rostrevor. By now the sun was almost setting and I got a great view of the sea and hills around this village and Carlingford Lough. MAny well known people lived in Rostrevor, including Dana, Mary McAleese, and T. K. Whitaker (the economist and a pivotal figure in the development of the Republic of Ireland). 

I was now against the clock before dark set in. At Warrenpoint I had time to stop at the Narrow Water Castle. A sign at the castle tells us that it was built by John Sancky in the 1560s, and that it cost £361.4s.2d. For me the Mourne Coastla Route ends here as it is a dual carriageway all the way to Newry from here with little of interest to see or do between Warrenpoint and Newry. IN Newry I filled up with petrol and headed home to Dublin.

I had a great time going around the Northern Ireland coast. Being short, it took just three days and is a lot quicker than my 10-day trip around the Wild Atlantic Way. It is well worth doing this trip on the bike - especially the north and eastern coasts of Antrim.

This also marks the end of my tour of Ireland - I have now been all around the entire coast. I have seen lots of sights I never saw before, and have been to many places I had never been to before. We have a wonderful island and we don;t know it!.

"Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes" - I wonder is there a book in this? 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - Bangor to Strangford (131 kms)

Leaving the busy centre of Bangor I continued on around the North Down coast via Donaghadee where there is also a fine harbour with a lighthouse at the end of its pier. This part of the Mourne Coastal Route travels down the east side of the Ards Peninsula and back around Stangford Lough to the village of Strangford. There is of course a ferry from Strangford to Portaferry, but I decided to go around the Lough (which takes about 50 mins) rather than take the short cut.

The road on the eastern side of the Ards Peninsula runs mostly on the coast - on clear days you can see the most south-western parts of Scotland, and the Isle of Man. I motored on through the villages of Millisle, Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert, and to finally to Portavogie. Here I stopped briefly at the harbour which is best know for its fishing fleet. I felt sorry for the fishermen who harvested the battered prawns I ate last evening in Carrigfergus. There is a fine monument "In Memory of the Fishermen who were lost at sea" at the harbour - there are 27 names recorded, sadly with room for more to be added. At this point I am at the most eastern part of the island of Ireland!

Not far past Portavogie is is the village of Cloughey where Kirkistown Castle which was built in 1622. Though open to the public, it was closed when I was there and I rode around to a nearby estate to get a better photograph. The castle gives its name to a local golf club, and of course to the famous Kirkistown Motor Racing Circuit.

The southern tip (Ballyquinten Point) of the Ards Peninsula is not accessible by road, but you can get pretty close at Barr Hall. I had visited this area many times while a student at Trinity on Marine Biology Field Trips to Portaferry. Coming into Portaferry I first stopped at the local church to visit the grave of my Aunt Breda who was also my Godmother, and then met with my Uncle Seámus and Cousin James. Somehow I managed to forget to take a photo of the three of us. 

Overlooking Portaferry is a ruin of an old windmill, built in 1771 but destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 1878. At one time there were no less than 82 windmills stretching the length of the Ards Peninsula. Indeed it must have looked much as the Netherlands does today, and it was undoubtedly this feature of the Peninsula which gave rise to the acronym “Little Holland” ( There are fantastic views of Portaferyy, up Strangford Lough, and across to the Mourne Mountains from the Portaferry Windmill.

It was back heading northwards again leaving Portaferry to tour around the inside of Strangford Lough. At Kircubbin I stopped for petrol and spent a long time chatting to a fellow Harley rider about bikes and touring. At the top of Strangford Lough is the town of Newtownards (where I was arrested, but not charged, in 1982!). Overlooking the town is Scrabo Tower which is visible from most of north Down. It was built in 1857 as a memorial to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry who was one of the Duke of Wellington's generals during the Napoleonic Wars. 

I stopped next at Ballydorn where a lightship, called the "Petrel",  has been used since 1968 by the Down Cruing Club. Close by is where there are wonderful ruins of Sketrick Castle, which dates back to the 15th century, but which was destroyed in a storm at the end of the 19th century. Right beside the ruins is the wonderfully named "Daft Eddy's Restaurant"!

In the town of Killyeagh I stopped outside the castle. I would have liked to have toured the grounds and get a closer look, but the castle is private, and is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited castles in Ireland. Parts of the castle date back to 1180, though the walls were built in 1625. Oliver Cromwell was a visitor here in 1649, though I am sure he was not welcomed with open arms when his forces blew up the gatehouse and attacked the castle!

Downpatrick is the county town of Down, and also the reputed location of where St Patrick is buried. It leads to the final part of this section of my tour to the village of Strangford. Along the way I stopped at the magnificent 18th century Castleward. One interesting thing about this grand house is that one side is designed in Classical Palladian style (as in my photo), while the other side of the house is designed in Georgian Gothic style. Apparently Lord Bangor and his wife could not agree on which style to use, and each got their own way!

Tomorrow - the final part of my Causeway and Mourne Coastal trip.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - Larne to Bangor (65 kms)

The fourth part of my journey around the Northern Ireland coast took me from Larne in Co Antrim, through Belfast, and on to Portaferry in Co Down. This is quite a populous and built up stretch of the coast with only the Ards peninsula offering lots of countryside.

The road from Larne to Whitehead runs close along the coast, but only in some places is there a sea view. I decided not to detour around the Islandmagee peninsula as it was evening time, but may do do the next time I am visiting Belfast. My first stop was at Carrigfergus to see both the electricity station and the castle - quite a contrast between the two which are clearly visible from another. The castle is magnificent and features a Redcoat Guard looking down from the top wall. The castle was built in 1177 and today it has a fine statue of William of Orange who first set foot in Ireland on 14th June 1690 on his way to victory over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne.

I spent the night at the Dobbin's Inn Hotel - basic, but cheap accommodation. For dinner I went to the busy PaPa Brown's Grill where I had some scampi with my batter. The WiFi network was not working here and along with the mediocre food - this made for a less than enjoyable dining experience. I stopped for a pint in the hotel bar where I listened for a while to an animated debate about Scottish Independence between three drunks. I went to bed.
Leaving Carrigfergus I headed for Belfast which marks the end of the Causeway Coastal Route. The Northern Ireland coast has been a great ride so far, however - I did not intend to tour a city as part of the trip and I moved on through Belfast to get to the Titanic Quarter where I viewed the new Titanic Experience building. I got a bigger thrill seeing the iconic Harland and Wolff yellow cranes which have been dominating the Belfast sky-line for - these are classed "Samson" and "Goliath", and were built in 1974 and 1969 respectively.

The Mourne Coastal Route begins in Belfast, so I set off for the Co Down coast. I stopped first at the town of Hollywood (home of golfer Rory McIlroy) near which is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. There is also a fine promenade in the town with fine views of Belfast Lough, on which I took a short walk. I passed through the area of Helen's Bay and stopped in the village of Crawfordsburn where there must be a local rule that everything should be painted in black or white paint!

Riding through Bangor I stopped at the very busy harbour to call on the Tourist Office to get a map of the Mourne Coastal Route - would you believe it, they didn't have any! Bangor is a very busy town set around a picturesque harbour. The pier here is called Eisenhower Pier after the US President of the same name who addressed troops here a few days before the D-Day landings. 

Tomorrow - the rest of Co Down!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes - Ballycastle to Larne (65kms)

After visiting Ballycastle on the North Antrim coast it was time to turn southwards. The Causeway Route, which started in Derry, continues on to Belfast around the brilliant coastline of Co Antrim.

The first part of today's journey was inland for a while. There is a second road around Tor Head, but I choose the more inland route to see the Vanishing Lake at Loughareema. This is not a tidal lake - it is a freshwater lake that disappears when a "plug-hole" that often gets blocked with peat (thus filling the lake) clears, and all the water flows away. The "lake" was empty when I passed. Apparently when the water does drain away it does so very rapidly. There is also a lot of forest in this region which gives the bleak landscape a lusher feel.

Back at the coast I reached the village of Cushendun which lies at the end of one of the nine Glens of Antrim (Glendun). There is an interesting story of a goat here. The last animal culled during the 2001 Foot & Moot Disease outbreak in Northern Ireland, was a local goat. The sculpture of a goat, by Deborah Brown, was presented to the people of Cushendun in 2002 in memory of the goat. Cushendun is a small village in a beautiful location and is well worth a short stop.

Further along the coast is the larger town of Cushendall, well known in the South of Ireland as the centre of hurling in Co Antrim. They are obviously very prod of their local hurling team as there is a huge mural in the town marking 100 years of GAA activity in the two. Also of interest here is the Curfew Tower located in the centre of the town which was built in 1817.

The next part of my journey was on the road which runs right along the coast all the way to Larne. This has to be one of the best bike rides in Ireland though the road is quite narrow and there are not that many places to stop and check out the scenery. 

My next stop was at Carnlough where there is a picturesque harbour. This was built using stone from local quarries which was carried across a bridge which still stands. Carnlough is also where the current Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, is from! The town lies at the foot of Glencoy - another of the nine Glens of Antrim.

Very close to Carnlough is the village of Glenarm. There is a large castle here which is not visible from the road, but you can see the so called "Conjuror's Tower" which is named after one of the Earls of Antrim who was known as The Conjuror. Glenarm is located at the foot of Glen Arm which I decided to take a trip around. It is not the most interesting bike ride but you do get a super view (in the distance) of Glenarm Castle. 
Also note-worthy on this detour is that you get to see Slemish Mountain where it is reputed that St Patrick tended sheep and where he also found God. The mountain is part of an extinct volcano and dominates the surrounding landscape for miles. It is also a popular place of pilgrimage on St Patrick's Day. 

The road from Glenarm to Larne is literally on the edge of the coast, with only a small wall to separate the road from the Irish Sea/North Channel. This was of course part of the 2014 Giro d'Italia cycle race and there are several old bicycles painted in pink along the route, including the statue of a fisherman and his bike near Cushendall. The Giro really showcased Northern Ireland's scenery to the world and it is clear that the locals along the route welcomed the riders with open arms and pink paint.

The last stop on this part of my trip was at the port town of Larne. I had been here once before to get a ferry to Scotland, but had never explored the town. The most interesting part for me was the Chaine Memorial Tower which sticks out into the sea. It was built in memory of James Chaine MP. He was responsible for developing the sea route from Larne to Scotland and died at the young age of 44 in 1885. The tower, a replica of an Irish Round Tower, was built by public subscription in his memory. 

Tomorrow - on to Belfast and to Co Down!