Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel

It's sometimes difficult to write a review of a book when you are not sure if your enjoyed it or not. I found the first of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy "Wolf Hall", to be a difficult read. Despite the fact that both these books won the Booker prize, I found I had to work hard to understand the prose and keep up with what was going on. I don't enjoy a book if I have to do this, but despite stopping several times (including breaks to read other books) I persevered with "Wolf Hall" to the end. Being reasonably familiar with who Thomas Cromwell was and this period of English history made it easier to understand what was going on.

Image Source: Amazon.
"Bring Up the Bodies" is written in the same difficult to read (for me) style. The story of Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating one and his character as portrayed by Mantel was the one thing that kept me going with this book. However, it was not until I watched the BBC TV adaptation of the two books that I really got to grips with the text. Actor Mark Rylance plays Cormwell to perfection and with every line in the book I envisaged his cold face staring as I tried to understand Mantel's wandering prose. Suddenly it became a lot clearer and finally enjoyable. It was like having someone explain to me what was going on. 

I probably will get the third book in this trilogy which will probably concentrate on his downfall and death - which in itself is a fascinating story.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Gathering Requirements - 1st Annual Conference of the Business Analysis Association of Ireland #BAAI15 @IrishCompSoc

Today I had the pleasure of attending and participating at the Irish Computer Society's hosting of the first annual conference for the Business Analysis Association of Ireland. I sit on the committee for this group and I can tell you that the ICS put in a huge effort to make today the success that it was. About 60 people attended, most of whom I had not met before, so it was great to meet and network with so many Business Analysts. 

We had very interesting talks ranging from subjects such as: Change Management, building a Business Intelligence competency, Extraordinary Productivity, Memory Improvement, Data Privacy, Six Sigma, Agility in business, and Business Analysis in the Public Service. So much was squeezed into one day that it felt like we wanted more. A great and enjoyable day.

My own presentation was about Requirements Gathering (though I prefer to use the word "Elicitation"). I promised those attending that I would put the slides up on Slideshare - so here they are: 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Killiney Lion's Club Charter Night

Roma is in the Club - the Lion's Club! Last evening we attended the Killiney Lion's Club Charter night (I have been at quite a few of these in the past), and had a great evening in the company of Roma's fellow Lions and their partners. The event was held in Killiney Golf Club and after an excellent dinner we had a few speeches where a lot of people were thanked for their efforts over the past year. Congratulations to the Killiney Lion's Club on their excellent year of charity work. It is also an opportunity for me to scrub up and wear my tuxedo, and also to go out with a pretty girl!

Friday, February 20, 2015

DIT Spring Academy - "Learning Interruptus - That's All Folks" on @SlideShare #ditsa

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of presenting to the DIT Spring Academy on "Video in Education". I spoke about how learning is commonly interrupted and how this could be overcome. I also presented some learning analytics from my YouTube Channel, and on how to manage a YouTube channel. Plenty of interesting discussion from the audience followed - many were interested in what makes my YouTube channel successful, what videos were created, tools used, and also how this graduated from being for just my own students to a wider audience. They were also interested in how to make money!

Here are my slides for the presentation - missing is the live demo of YouTube Analytics.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Bishop in the Family

In my last post I mentioned finding the grave of my great-great-grandmother Julia Cullen. Her maiden name was Browne, and my Mum remembers her Aunt Maggie always claiming that "there is a Bishop in the family" - Bishop James Browne of Ferns (Co Wexford plus parts of Co Carlow and Co Wicklow). The Bishop was born on 28th August 1842 and died on 21st June 1917. He was Roman Catholic Bishop of Ferns from 6th July 1884 until his death. He was ordained a priest on Christmas Day 1865. There is an entry for him in Wikipedia here.

The photo of the Bishop to the right is scanned from the "Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland" by Joyce, P.W., Sullivan, A.M., Nunan, P.D. (1900). I have a copy of this book which has been in our family for a long time, and which I have stolen from my Mum!

How Bishop Browne is related to us I do not know. My great-great-grandmother Julia (Browne) Cullen died on 21st May 1878 aged just 37. James Browne was a priest at this time and, if related, must have officiated at her funeral.

Both my Mum and I think he is the image of my brother Joe!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Discovering the graves of my Great-Great Grandfather (Richard Cullen) and Great-Great Grandmother (Julia Cullen, née Browne)

While chatting to my Mum recently she told me that she had the gravestone of her Grand-Aunt Maggie (Margaret Cullen) cleaned up, and also that she had done the same for the gravestone beside this. Today I went along to the cemetery in Gorey in Co Wexford (Google Satellite view: - you can actually see the gravestones at the near left) to check this out and noted that there were a lot of Cullens listed, so I called Mum to check out who's who.

Some context first:
  • My Mum Phil's maiden name was Byrne 
  • Her Mum and my maternal grandmother Kathleen Byrne's maiden name was Cullen
  • Kathleen (Cullen) Byrne's father was Richard Cullen - my Great-Grandfather
  • Mum grew up in Gorey with her Grand Aunt - Margaret Cullen (mentioned above, gravestone in Gorey below)
So the connection to the Cullens buried in Gorey is as follows:
  • The first two names on the gravestone above, Julia and Richard Cullen, are my Great-Great Grandparents. Julia was the second of his three wives and the only one that he had children with
  • Bryan and Patrick Cullen on the gravestone are two of their sons
  • Margaret Cullen in the grave beside them is their daughter (see photo below)
  • They also had a son called Richard, who I mentioned above is my Great-Grandfather (I don't know where he is buried)
Below is the gravestone of Mum's Grand Aunt Maggie - though I was two and a half years old when she died I have no memory of her. According to Mum, the other person in her grave was a very distant relative who died alone and the family buried her here.

If above does not make sense, see below tree. The "Phil Byrne" on the bottom left is my Mum.

Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Water Meters on our Road #rant

In what has become a familiar sight around Ireland for the past few months, Irish Water have just dug up the path outside our house to install a water meter. In our middle class area there is no sign of protest. I went out to have a look and chat to the lads doing the work. It was explained to me clearly what was happening, by what I have to say was a very mannerly lad from the North. I let then into my garden to get some water. In many ways I feel some sympathy for the lads doing the work - they haven't had it easy in some areas where residents feel a genuine resistance to the idea of metering water.

Water is a precious resource, but we are not short of it in Ireland. Just stand at the mouth of the Liffey, Slaney, or the Shannon rivers and you'll see millions of litres of water flowing into the sea every day, We don't need to conserve what Nature dumps on us on a regular basis from the sky. Of course we do need to conserve treated water and that's where the problem is. We all object to leaks and waste, we all want our sewage to be treated, we all accept that treated water is not free. But water taxes are here to stay and there is nothing we can do about it.

My main problem with water tax is how this has been implemented. In years to come this will be a case-study for students to learn how not to do things. The shambles over fixed vs metered charges, PPS numbers, and the reaction to protests makes me wonder if there is a hidden Department of Cockups in Government whose job it is to make a mess. We all paid for water in the past anyway through tax which I feel is the fairest way to do this. Those who are unemployed or cannot pay paid less tax than those who could afford it. Forcing everyone to pay the same is ridiculous. To some people the €260 charge per year is the price of a case of nice wine, for others it is more than their entire weekly income. "Fairness" is not a word that the Dept of Cockups thinks about - instead they plan to be unfair, divisive, and weak. With an election coming next year, politicians are more concerned about their seats than the people.

Irish Water - welcome to our road.

Advance warning to politicians - when you are canvassing in the next election, do not knock on my door.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Book Review: "Irish Voices from The Great War" by Miles Dungan #review #GreatWar @MylesDungan1

I was delighted to get a copy of the re-release of Myles Dungan's 1995 book "Irish Voices from The Great War" as a Christmas present, which I have now just finished reading. I have read quite a few books about The Great War and this one is much different as it concentrates on the Irish contribution to the war. My own great-grandfather James Burns fought in the war (according to my family), and Dungan's own uncle (pictured on the book cover) was killed in the war. There possibly isn't an Irish family today that was not affected in some way by the war.

Image source:
Irish people of my generation who went to school in the 1960s and 1970s grew up in a country where Irish participation in the First World War was literally airbrushed out of our history. The Easter Rebellion in 1916 was the most important event between 1914 and 1918. Myles Dungan pays tribute to the Irish Regiments like the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and their fighting in places like Gallipoli and the Somme. Irish soldiers fought well and the memories of those that survived of battle are captured and elegantly combined by Dungan to give us a flavour of what it must have been like to serve in the army. Heroism and fear go hand-in-hand in the trenches, and there's no doubt that Irishmen did their "bit" for what they believed in.

There is no effort to rewrite history here, though Dungan lays much of the blame for the fruitless slaughter at the feet of the generals (thought he does admit that they "got it right" on occasion). Reading any book like this you cannot but be appalled with figures like only 108 men of the Dublin Fusiliers D company out of 239 survived one battle at Suvla Bay. The waste of life makes you angry, though Dungan's matter-of-fact approach lets you judge for yourself if the sacrifice was necessary. 

Overall this is an excellent read for students of Irish history and it goes a long way to reverse the way we were taught our history. One thing though that was very annoying - the number of punctuation errors in this book is unforgivable. It would have been bad enough in 1995 when first published, but not to fix this problem for the re-release is ridiculous.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

New Irish Times Data Blog via @IrishTimesData. A Must Read for #HDSDA #analytics

A sign of the times and the great interest in "Big Data" is that the Irish Times has announced a new data service with a new blog about all things data. It has already discussed a wide variety of topics such as: clamping in Dublin, water charges, names, asylum rates, and A&E Overcrowding. For students of data analytics this will make for interesting reading and will be a good way to keep up with the latest data news and trends. 

Image source: The Irish Times.
One of the blog posts is about "Is your name going out of fashion?" - so I had to look up "Eugene". Sad to say that my name is not a popular one - it did not make the top 604 boy's names list for the year 2013. However, The Irish Times does provide a link to a spreadsheet containing 1,665 names for the period 2004 - 2013, and "Eugene" is ranked 464th on this list. There are 59 "Eugenes" - 18 of these were in 2004. It has declined in popularity over this time period:

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
 Eugene 18 7 * 7 9 5 4 5 * 4

The dataset is an interesting one to analyse - I'd recommend to my students to review and see what other analyses are available.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Seagull on my window! #Gullgate #NoFear

Recently the Department of Health advertised for a specialist company to rid them of a colony of seagulls circling the Department's building (see "Gullgate: 'Sweet-stealing seagulls’ at Department of Health to have wings clipped by pest control" article in Irish Independent. It also was the subject of a lot of jokes last summer when Senator Ned O'Sullivan stated that seagulls were "losing the run of themselves" - he called them "raucous" and "cheeky"!

Well here's a cheeky herring gull that landed on the window of my office. He/She pecked at the window and seemed very interested in the name tag necklaces I keep hanging on the window. It was not in the least put off by me holding a camera in its face - I was no more than a metre away from it.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Liverpool 2 West Ham United 0

Yesterday was my first ever visit to Anfield in Liverpool to see the Premier League game between Liverpool and West Ham United on a very cold last day of January. My brother Brian invited me over as he had been given two tickets by one of his suppliers for seats almost right on the half way line in the eight row - perfect for seeing 22 millionaires kick a ball about for 90 minutes!

In a game at times littered with poor passes, West Ham played very well early on with Andy Carroll winning everything in the air and the outstanding Alex Song dominating mid-field. Liverpool took control in the second half with goals from Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, who got a great reception from the crowd as this was his first game back after a long injury. The biggest disappointment for me was that neither Steven Gerrard or Mario Ballotelli were in the Liverpool squad -  I would love to have seen them play (for different reasons!). In the end the best team won and the big crowd got the result they wanted. 

"You'll Never Walk Alone" was of course sung with gusto before kick-off by the sell-out crowd. Overall - a great experience and a very enjoyable day out. If you listen carefully to the video towards the end below you will hear Brian beside me joining in with this Liverpool anthem.