Friday, October 30, 2015

Quiz in aid of Niall Mellon Educate

Last evening I had the pleasure of being Quiz Master at a fund-raiser hosted by the Killiney Lions Club in aid of Mellon Educate in the Rochestown Lodge Hotel. Rome will be part of the building blitz in Capetown next month to build a school.

Writing a quiz is hard work - I have now written several quizzes. Getting the balance between difficult questions and easy ones is hard. You don't want a quiz to be too hard so that people feel stupid for not knowing the answers, or too easy so that it is not challenging. I try to write a round of questions where some questions should be easy for everyone to get, and to also have one or two hard ones that the top teams will be the only ones to get. I also like to have questions that will generate discussion and even argument among team members. When I read out the answers I love to hear groans and people saying "I was right!".

Here are questions from two of the rounds - the first set was a numbers round which had some teams in difficulty. See how many you get right:

  1. How many days is it until Christmas Day?
  2. Including Pluto, how many planets are there in the solar system?
  3. How many furlongs are there in a mile?
  4. How many points did Dublin score in this year’s men’s Senior All-Ireland football final against Kerry?
  5. What is the maximum number of CAO points that you can get in the Leaving Certificate?
  6. How many cities are there on the island of Ireland?
  7. How many sides are there in a heptagon?
  8. How many tablespoons are there in a cup?
  9. How many golf clubs are allowed in a bag during competitions?
  10. How many pockets are there on a casino roulette wheel?

The TV round was the easiest - six teams got 10/10, see how you do:

  1. Name one of the two current presenters on this year’s ITV show “The X Factor”.
  2. What was the surname of Del Boy and Rodney in “Only Fools and Horses”?
  3. Who played the part of Fr Dougal Maguire in the TV series “Fr Ted”?
  4. Who is the presenter of RTÉ’s “Kitchen Hero” programme?
  5. In what TV series would you find the characters of Daenerys Targaryen, Ned Stark, and Jaime Lannister?
  6. In what 2015 BBC drama series did Irish actor Aidan Turner play the lead role?
  7. Name the four Teletubbies.
  8. Earlier this year British actress Anne Kirkbride died: what character did she play in a well-known TV soap series?
  9. “Here we come/ Walking down the street/ We get the funniest looks from/ Everyone we meet...” Which 1960s TV series were these the opening lines of the theme tune?
  10. Which sit-com was set in the fictional seaside resort of Walmington-on-Sea?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How To Be Productive

I was never one for paying too much heed to advice from people who produce lists about how to be better at almost anything. Viktor Hanacek (writing for Medium) gives us a new list intended for marketers: "7 Things You Need To Stop Doing To Be More Productive, Backed By Science". When I saw the "backed by science" I decided to take a look - here are his "7 things":

  1. Stop working overtime and increase your productivity
  2. Don’t say “yes” too often
  3. Stop doing everything yourself and start letting people help you
  4. Stop being a perfectionist
  5. Stop doing repetitive tasks and start automating it
  6. Stop guessing and start backing up your decisions with data
  7. Stop working, and have do-nothing time

Some interesting stuff here. For point #1 above, the "science" shows that taking a nap can increase productivity - this is because 70% of people do not get enough sleep at night. There is some simple advice about using programming for repetitive tasks and to avoid procrastinating. I love the line in relation to #4 above: "They [perfectionists] procrastinate and wait for the perfect moment. In business, if it is the perfect moment, you are too late". In my early years in NCI we had to endure some professional development off-site days - mostly forgettable (and a very unproductive use of time). One thing I do remember is the acronym ABBA - a break between activities. This is emphasized in #7 above where Hanacek writes "It‘s important for us to take time for reflection. We often find the solutions when we’re not searching for them". Rushing from one thing to another is not good for us, and not good for productivity either.

The best thing I ever did (many years ago) to increase my own productivity was to get rid of games from my computer and my phone. It's amazing how many times I was tempted to play a game of Solitaire ("for a break") - no time wasted on this now. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Another Bloody Castle" #ABC

My toughest critic, when she finished reading Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes, said "ABC: another bloody castle - castles here, castles there, castles every feckin' where - I'm fed up of castles". Indeed  - there are a lot of castles on the Irish coastline, that's where the people that built them decided to put them. Also - towards the end of the book there is not too much scenery (apart from the Mourne Mountains), and most of the interesting things to see are castles and old buildings. I must keep this criticism in mind when completing my trilogy of exploring our coast as I write Exploring Ireland's East and Southeast Coasts.

The critic who uttered the above words? My Mum!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cancer Awareness

This past week I had been nervously waiting for a screen colonoscopy on Friday morning. In a recent health check I mentioned to the doctor that my Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer (which he has thankfully fully recovered). The doctor decided that due to my age (56) and family history that I should get my own bowel checked out - hence a visit to St Vincent's Hospital for a colonoscopy. Even though I had no symptoms warning of colon cancer, I still was fearful of what might be found - the very mention of the word "cancer" is terrifying.

People warned me that the cleansing of the bowel with Movi-Prep the day before would be worse than the actual treatment itself. Movi-Prep does exactly what it says on the tin - and the advice to stay close to a toilet is definitely to be heeded. In the hospital there was quite a bit of waiting, but the whole experience was straight-forward. Apart from a brief slight discomfort, I didn't feel a thing. Probably my dignity suffered most with a tube and camera up my ass with an audience looking on. I could see the whole thing on TV - interesting to say the least!

Afterwards the doctor came and told me that all was clear but that he had removed one polyp which he was sending off to see if it was cancerous - even saying that to me was scary. A polyp might turn into a cancer in time, and it was best to get it checked.

A lesson here is that we all need to take our health seriously. Like a lot of men I am not a regular visitor to the doctor and up to now have not really been worried about my health. There are many screens available to us and we should use them. Former Enterprise Ireland chairman Hugh Cooney has bravely spoken publicly about his cancer and how he ignored the warning signs until it was too late - his message to men: "don't be stupid, because we are too complacent about our health. My message is avoid cancer if you can, and how do you avoid it". The Irish Cancer Society have published the video below about early warning signs that should not be ignored:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Calculating Statistics By Hand - Variance and Standard Deviation

In the good old days, statistics had to be calculated by hand - even calculating an average figure may take a long time. Calculating something like variance or a t-statistic could take a lot of time and brain work. Calculators took some of the work out of this, and of course the likes of Excel and SPSS can now to the work in seconds. We (I) still teach statistics in the old way and insist that students learn how to do the various calculations with pen and paper, plus a calculator. My view, and the view of many of my colleagues, is that the ability to understand how statistics work is enhanced by being able to see how each calculation is done, and how the formulas for these calculations are made up.

One of the most important statistics to be able to calculate is Variance. It is used in descriptive statistics, and for me it is vital to be able to calculate it quickly. Learning to do it by hand will lead to greater understanding of how other statistics are calculated. Most importantly of all - hundreds of thousands of students all over the world have to be able to do it in exams without the help of a computer. I have made several videos that show how variance is calculated in Excel (eg, see How To... Display a Range of Descriptive Statistics in Excel 2010), but this is not the way students calculate statistics in an exam.

Aver Document Camera.
Image source: Tiger Direct.
Recording hand written calculations was tougher than I thought it would be. I tried, gave up, and tried again the Aver Classroom Technology Document Camera. There has been one in the College for a few years now, but I've never used it. One of my colleagues, Dr Keith Maycock, has used it for great effect in his YouTube Channel. It is a clumsy gadget to use. Videos are recorded onto a USB and a separate screen was necessary to see what I was doing. The audio was not consistent, and I also found the angle of my hand caused me to block a lot of what I was doing. In the end I created my first video on how to calculate variance by hand. A criticism I have received about my many statistics videos using Excel is that this is not how it is done in an exam. So I have decided to make a new series of videos showing how the various statistics such as variance, z, t, F, r, etc are calculated on pen and paper with just a calculator to help. Here's the first one:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Using Google Docs in Class #FirstTime

Since Google brought out Google Docs several years ago I have made just a few half-hearted to use it in class. I have been a Microsoft user since the early 1990s and the "Old Dog" in me will not change over to Google Docs at this stage. However, some of the collaborative features of Google Docs offer many opportunities for use in class - many educators at all levels have been doing so for years.

Last evening in a Statistics class I introduced the topic of Probability. Usually I start this out in a simple experiment by asking the students to toss a coin 20 times and record the number of heads (H) and tails (T). In a second experiment I ask students to work in pairs and to toss two coins 10 times and record if the result is HH, TH, HT, or TT. In the past I would write down the results on a whiteboard, but in large classes I would only take a few results resulting in many students' experiment results not being recorded. I would then have the job of manually calculating the average scores from the whiteboard.

Using Google Docs I set up a spreadsheet in advance of class to record the results, and shared this through a link in Moodle. Each student was listed by name and number - so they could easily input the results for their own experiment onto the spreadsheet. I had also set up the formulas for calculating the class averages. While there was obviously some errors inputting results - this approach worked well by getting all students to participate, and saving me a lot of time and bother by preparing in advance.

Below is a selection of (anonymized) data from last nights class - now to think of other opportunities to do the same.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Switching from @VodafoneIreland to @VirginMediaIE #NoBrainer

Yesterday, after many calls and long delays, I finally got to switch my mobile phone to the new Unlimited service offered by Virgin Media who recently took over UPC. As an existing UPC customer, they are offering three months free calls/text/data with a rolling contract at €25/month. Sounds good? Yeah!

Image Source: Wikipedia.
My existing 24-month contract with Vodafone expired this week, I was on their Red Essentials Pack (100 mins/free texts/1GB data). I had also purchased an iPhone 5 with this contract, so my monthly bills obviously included a charge for the phone (Virgin Media is SIM only). My average monthly bill this year was €52.11. Much of this was data that exceeded the 1GB monthly allowance. So I have unlocked my iPhone, and having looked around at what deals are available, I have made the decision to switch from Vodafone and cut my monthly bills in half with Virgin Media. No doubt this opening offer is a customer grab and may not be available for long, but with the next three months being free (instead of paying an average of €50/month to Vodafone) - I feel as though someone just gave me €150. I'll put this towards my next iPhone when my current one finally gives up the ghost.

Virgin Media promised to shake up the market, and with these offers they will surely do so. Judging by the length of time it took me to get through to not surprisingly tired operators yesterday - many customers will flock to Virgin as I have done.