Sunday, November 29, 2015

Brooklyn, the Movie

Last evening I went to see the new Irish movie - Brooklyn. It is based on Colm Tóibín's novel of the same name and tells the story of a young woman emigrating to America and returning home for a short time following the death of her sister. It is set in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in 1952. It struck me on hearing about the story that it could have been about my mother Phil who was just 18 in 1952. Later in the same decade all her family emigrated to Canada - thankfully she stayed behind.

The lead role is played by Saoirse Ronan in what the Berkshire Eagle said was a role "tailor-made" for her. I found the story line to be very slow - all I was interested in was whether she would go back to Brooklyn after being home or not. There's plenty of tears from Ronan - which she is good at doing if you like that sort of thing. Emory Cohen is excellent as her American boyfriend, but I thought that Domhnall Gleeson as her Irish equivalent was desperately wooden in his performance. The picture painted of 1950s Ireland is not a good one - I'm glad it was October 1959 when I was born so that I did not have to live through very much of this depressing decade.

Judge for yourself, but I was bored for most of this movie.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How To... Perform a Chi-Square Test (By Hand)

Sometimes it is the easiest of tasks that takes the longest time. In my Statistics classes we cover the Chi-Square (Goodness of Fit) test to see if there is a significant difference between observed and expected values. It is one of the easiest statistics tests to do - all you need are two values and then be able to add, subtract, divide, and square a number. So when I decided to record this I though maybe one or two takes would see me through. 27 takes later I recorded the version below which is now on YouTube. Somehow I got tongue-twisted and made small errors, especially with the calculator. As with all of my short videos (this one in 7 mins 32 secs), if I make an error I simply discard and start again. So what should have taken less than half an hour probably took about four hours to do!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

NCI Open Day

Yesterday the College held an Open Day for Leaving Certificate students and it was my turn and pleasure to be present at the School of Computing stand. Apart from the fact that the age gap between the average 18 year old student and me is now up to 38 years, I very much enjoyed chatting to the young prospective students.

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Almost every single student that came to chat with me at the stand enquiring about our degrees in Computing wanted to specialize in gaming. They showed great enthusiasm for gaming and were mostly already keen gamers (I was beside a virtual reality stand that was very popular). I pointed out to them all that they will be graduating in 2020 and that a lot can change between now and then. This got me thinking that it is very difficult to advise students about course choices for a career that will not start for another five years. All I can do is tell them what's hot right now (analytics and cloud computing), that they may be working for companies that don't exist yet, doing jobs that don't exist yet either, and using technologies that haven't been invented yet. Leaving Cert students are bombarded with options - let's all hope that they make the right choices for themselves and that their chosen course will lead to a fruitful experience in College and a career that will make them productive and happy.

Next Open Day: Saturday 23rd January, 2016 (10:00 - 13:00) - see for details.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How To... Perform a One-Way ANOVA Test (By Hand)

There are several methods to calculate the F statistic in a one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test - I learned the method in the video below from the good folks in the Mathematics Support Services at NCI. All the methods are based on calculating F by taking into account the differences within each sample and between each sample when you want to see if there are differences between three or more samples.

ANOVA involves a lot of calculations, especially in larger sample sizes - but the good news is that it is mostly just adding, multiplying, dividing, and squaring numbers. The video below took several takes to get right, and at 16 mins 27 secs is bar far my longest video on YouTube. I hope my viewers will not get bored before the end and drop off!

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Crowd Tickler" Dara Ó Briain at Vicar Street

A nice birthday present this year was two tickets to comedian Dara Ó Briain at the intimate location of Vicar Street - Roma and I went along last evening for a belly full of laughs and a fantastic stand-up comedy show. Jokes and funny stories were delivered in Ó Briain's casual and sarcastic style. We heard personal as well as general humour on differences between Irish and British people, how the Channel Tunnel was built, parenting children, psychology, Comic Relief, sincerity, and many more laugh-a-minute jokes. He is particularly good at inventing stories from material contributed by the front row audience - a guy called "Napoleon" came in for a lot of slagging.

The show started at 8.40 and ended at 11.10 - two and a half hours (with a 20 min break in the middle). Ó Briain talked non-stop and is definitely value for money - I'll be watching out more shows when next he is back in Ireland. 

Here's a flavour of his current show...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How To... Calculate Student's t statistic (Equal Variance) by Hand

Continuing my new series of Statistics calculations by hand, I have released a "How To..." video Student's t test for unpaired (independent) samples with equal variance. This is one of three options when conducting a t test to compare the means of two samples to see of there is a significant difference between the samples (or not). It is slightly awkward in that you first have to determine if the variances of the two samples are equal or unequal with an F test before you can use the formula for t. In addition, if the variance is equal (as in the video below), you must pool the variance. 

At 12 minutes and 6 seconds this is one of my longest videos, and it took a few takes to get it right. In my Statistics exams I set a problem similar to this, and it is a solution like this that I want students to provide in their answers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cappagh Hospital Trust via @cappaghhospital

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In the late 1960s while trying to be Tarzan in the hay shed at home in Ballingate, I managed to break two of my fingers in my left hand swinging from a rope tied to a beam at the roof of the shed. I can still remember the pain and was brought first to Dr Doyle in Carnew who sent me to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin. I remember two things in Temple Street: One was that X-rays of my broken fingers were displayed to medical students by the attending doctor - it was then decided to send me to Cappagh Hospital as I would need an operation. The other memory is about the witch, masquerading as a nurse, who tied my fingers in a splint. I was screaming in pain and she had no sympathy, telling me to shut up, and that big boys don't cry. I spent 10 days in Cappagh and my memory is of a ward full of boys, many with injuries like mine - but I also remember many with Polio. In contrast to Temple Street, the nursing staff were very gentle - and I certainly have fond memories of the care and education (we had classes) I received there.

On the radio this morning I heard former (and disgraced) British Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aiken on the Today with Seán O'Rourke Show, being interviewed about his time as a small boy in Cappagh when he was suffering from TB. The purpose of his interview was to publicize the Cappagh Hospital Foundation who are raising money for their Orthopedic Centre (you can donate here). Aiken also has fond memories of his care in Cappagh, in particular a nun called Sr Finbarr. I remember the nuns being good to us - I wonder if I had the same nun taking care of me?

I have never been back to Cappagh Hospital and it is easy for events from over 40 years ago to be forgotten. Since then (and before) thousands of Irish children have been taken care of in a safe and loving environment. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the memories Jonathan Aiken!

Monday, November 16, 2015

How To... Test for Equal and Unequal Variance (F Test) by Hand

I am finding my new videos showing statistics calculations by hand useful for my students - reaction so far has been positive. When comparing the means of two samples, we use a t-test to determine if there is a significant difference between the means. Students often find the decision as to which t-test formula to use a confusing one. First, they have to decide if the two samples are paired (dependent) or unpaired (independent). If  the samples are unpaired, you then have to determine if the variances of the two samples are equal or unequal. Quite often researchers assume that the variances are equal, but we need to conduct what is called an F test first to be sure. The F statistic is easy to calculate, it is simply the larger sample variance divided by the smaller sample variance. In the video below I show how this is done by hand (includes calculations of variance):

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bourke Gathering Castlebar

Happy 90th Birthday Joe Bourke!
Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of joining the extended Bourke family in Breaffy House, Castlebar, to celebrate the 90th birthday of Roma's uncle - Joe Bourke. All descendants of Joe "The Boss" Bourke (the birthday boy's grandfather) were invited to meet up with long lost cousins. Roma's grandfather was Gussie Bourke - one of nine in his family, hence the large gathering of descendants. I'm told there were about 300 people of all ages. This of course included a lot of "non-Bourkes" like me, and I tended to mix a lot with my fellow out-laws for the evening.

Great to see Joe Bourke in great form at 90 years of age - as he said himself, red wine and cigarettes are keeping him going. There were lots of old photos on display, and there was plenty of "who's who" questions being asked. It was a long night  - the Bourkes and their wives/husbands/partners are great craic. Nice to have such a big family gathering that is not a wedding or a funeral.

Friday, November 13, 2015

NCI Graduation - A Special Day

Wednesday this week was my favourite day of the year, when about 800 students graduated from the National College of Ireland. I always feel a great sense of pride in the students who have reached this day - all can be rightly proud of themselves with their achievements, whether it is a short course for a Certificate or a Masters that they studied. It is especially nice for me to see students that I have taught along their way to picking up their scroll from the President of the College - I like to think that I had a small contribution to their success. It is a great day for students, though Faculty are not thanked at the ceremony - it is a great day for us too.

This year was my 12th NCI Graduation Ceremony. For the first time I did not take part in the Academic procession or sit at the podium in front of all. Instead it was a very special day for my family as my daughter Kate graduated with a Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. I played the role of a proud Dad for the day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lucky 13

In November 2002 I became a part-time lecturer in the Associate Faculty at the National College of Ireland. Just a month earlier I had taken voluntary redundancy from the e-Learning company SmartForce, and even though I had a very generous redundancy package in my pocket I was at a loss at the age of 43 as to what I would do after thirteen years working for the same company. A former colleague (DK) in SmartForce who had just begun a new job in NCI and contacted me to see if I was interested in some part-time work. I will be forever grateful for this contact - thank you DK! In just 5 months time I will have been working longer in NCI than in SmartForce.

In the dot com boom of the late 1990s and very early 2000s, I had never thought of leaving SmartForce. I had often regretted that I had not followed up on an academic career after graduating from Trinity with a PhD in 1988, but the money was good in SmartForce and I was very happy there. Things changed dramatically in the summer of 2002 when SmartForce was taken over by Skillsoft - in a short space of time I went from being a loyal company man to wanting to be the first out the door when redundancies were announced. 

National College of Ireland.
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My first class in NCI was a guest lecture to 4th year BSc in Computing students - the topic was Groupware (I used Lotus Notes), and I remember preparing for it for several days beforehand. At the same time the College had just started a Diploma in e-Learning, and the opportunity presented itself for some part-time work. Bingo - I had my first classes. When a vacancy arose for an Assistant Lecturer position in the summer of 2003 I was successful in landing a permanent role. At last I had fulfilled an ambition for an academic career.

Today I had had dozens of "Likes" on my Linkedin profile - many thanks to the students and colleagues (past and present) who have "liked" my work anniversary. I have loved (almost) every minute of working in NCI. Today is Graduation Day at the College, and it is a very special day personally and professionally. My daughter Kate graduates along with the many students who have been in my classes over the past four years.

It has been a incredibly lucky 13 years for me.

Friday, November 06, 2015

"an end to the college degree’s unprecedented run as the only credential that matters" via @skonnard

This week I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight, at an event in the College. Pluralsight provides a vast library of on-line courses in areas ranging from personal development to programming. The College has signed up to Pluralsight and many of our IT students use this as an extra resource - especially for project work. 

Image source: LA Times.
Coincidentally I read a post in Techcrunch by Aaron this week entitled "Edtech’s Next Big Disruption Is The College Degree", in which he predicts that by the end of 2020 that "the traditional degree will have made room on its pedestal for a new array of modern credentials that are currently gaining mainstream traction as viable measures of learning, ability and accomplishment". He makes a strong argument that the centuries old traditions of going to college and graduating with a degree is now being challenged - "powerful forces are converging to challenge the assumption that a college degree is the only way". He points to "monumentals skills gaps" in the workplace and in graduates that a degree does not fill. Qualifications such as "badges, course certificates and dynamic assessments" are gaining more currency in the workplace where specific skill sets are required.

While I'm not in agreement that 2020 is a likely timeline for a "new credentialing movement to reach its tipping point", or that a KPI dashboard approach to "vet, assess and track the skills and abilities" of graduates - I do agree that technology will revolutionize the degree system. Richard Branson recently stated that "university course lengths should be halved" - perhaps technology and credentialing will achieve this?

Education pioneers such as Aaron Skonnard will succeed in turning our traditional systems up-side-down - it's inevitable. Remember the six most dangerous words in the English language? "We've always done it this way"!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Outrage at the Banks - What's New? #BOI via @independent_ie

The Irish Independent reports today that there is Outrage over new BoI restrictions on cash transactions - the Bank of Ireland is to restrict cash withdrawals and lodgements in its branches, and have told its customers that they cannot withdraw less than €700 at a cash desk. It is also moving to limit cash deposits and cheque lodgements made with the assistance of a staff member, to amounts over €3,000. 

Image Source: Shannonside News.
At first I viewed this as part of the inevitable influence of technology in banking, and for the most part I have supported this. It is very handy to lodge cheques using an in-branch machine with a card and PIN without having to fill out a form and queue for a cashier. Every bank branch has more machines, and less cashiers than before.

But... yesterday I had need to lodge a cheque in my Bank of Ireland branch on Georges' Street in Dún Laoghaire. I arrived just after opening and the bank was not too busy with customers. There are three lodgement machines in this branch, but one was already "Out of Service" - 33% of capacity unavailable. I had to queue behind other customers for the other two machines. I'm guessing it was about 10 minutes before I got my turn at the machine (at which I quickly managed to lodge my cheque with no problems I have to say). All this time there was nobody in the queue for the one cashier that was open! I never thought I'd see the day when I had to queue for machines and there would be no queue for the cashier. Banks don't care about us having to queue, as long as they can reduce the number of people that they employ - we will still have to wait.