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 (" - 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 and operate different pages, so I've had to update both. allows more features such as adding a blog feed and creating a dedicated author page ( 

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 (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, 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:
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!