Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Jeff Goins "My 500 Words 31-Day Challenge" #246

Trying to write a blog post each day for a full year is not easy. For the month of May I am taking on the Jeff Goins My 500 Words 31-Day Challenge. This is Goins' way of getting writers to get into a habit of writing daily. Here are the "rules":
  • Write 500 words per day, every day for 31 days
  • You can write more if you want, but 500 words is the minimum
  • Don’t edit. Just write
  • If you miss a day, pick up where you left off. Don’t make up for lost days
  • Encourage, don’t criticize (unless explicitly invited to do so)
Let's see where this takes me!

Image source:

Friday, April 29, 2016

What will be the top jobs in 2025? via @gwenmoran #247

In the year 2025 I will be 66 years old and until changes to retirement age in recent years I would have planned to have been retired since October 2024 at age 65. This now means I could will still be working in 2025 and not retire until October 2026. In case I need a new job I read with interest "These Will Be The Top Jobs In 2025 (And The Skills You'll Need To Get Them)" by Gwen Moran in Fast Company. She divides the skills into five categories:
Image Source:
  • Technology and Computational Thinking
  • Caregiving
  • Social Intelligence and New Media Literacy
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Adaptability and Business Acumen
Interesting that education is still considered a top skill category - suggested jobs in this area are "Teachers and Trainers". Moran writes that we "need to become a society of people who are always learning new things". Also very interesting is the Caregiving category - as more people live longer, every aspect of the healthcare sector is poised for growth with jobs such as "medical technicians, physical therapists, and workplace ergonomics experts" in demand. 

Interesting that "computational thinking" will be valued - this is the "ability to manage the massive amounts of data we process individually each day, spot patterns, and make sense out of all of it". Software developer jobs will grow by 18.8% between now and 2024, while computer systems analyst jobs will increase 20.9% by 2024. Market research analyst and marketing specialist jobs will increase 18.6%. All will need analytical skills.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

OH NO! "Time to ditch the college lecture?" #248

I read with interest today an article in the MPR News site by Eric Westervelt entitled "This educator says it's time to ditch the college lecture". It refers to Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman who tells us that the traditional lecture is "long overdue for revision" - largely on the grounds that students learn very little from a lecture. He bemoans teaching standards in the third level education environment that is "obsessed with publishing and research funding, which remain the bedrock of tenure and promotion".

Image Source:
Wieman eschews the traditional lecture in favour of mini-lectures mixed with problem-solving sessions where students are divided up into groups and given a problem to think about and discuss. He calls this "Active Learning" - he teaches quantum mechanics. He says that his mini-lectures are "merely to prime the undergrads to grapple with the concepts and key questions on their own and try to figure out what's important — or not". He is quoted as saying: "I know you can double how much a student learns depending on what method the instructor is using". This all sounds very familiar to me - I do this in many of my classes. I am more than aware that students' attention span is short - I quite often will get students to start on a problem after only 5 or 10 minutes of a lecture. My practice is to mix tutorials and lectures where possible so that students are doing practical work as much as possible. I also do this because I too get bored with a long lecture! Sometimes in a statistics class I will get the students to perform a test in R or SPSS first, and then explain it afterwards! Having done the test, it takes less time to explain it, further reducing the need for a long lecture.

Problem-based learning has been around for a long time - in my experience students hate it. Active learning is bit different and has been adopted by some colleges (eg Stanford) who report that the results were "striking" and that students in the active learning sections did "substantially better than the students in the traditionally taught classes on all common exams". There is still road-blocks to this as an education path for Colleges - the insistence on being measured by research performance rather than teaching performance is the biggest obstacle. For my part I am not an active researcher so I can look at ways to improve my teaching. Given Carl Wieman's thoughts and success in this area I just might follow suit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Taking Notes: Laptops vs Handwriting #249

Since I became a Lecturer I have noticed that students have been taking less and less notes during class. The advent of Blackboard and Moodle allowed students to download class notes thus removing the need to take notes. Or does it? My "lecture notes" are fairly basic. It would take no more than 15 minutes to read notes from one of my two hour classes. I tell students at the beginning of the semester that the ideal situation for them would be to download and print the notes in advance of class, and take more hand-written notes with them. Over the past few years more and more students bring their laptops to class - in fact this past semester I have had my first completely BYOD class as no computer lab was available.

Image source:
James Doubek, writing for MPR News says "Attention students: Put your laptops away" and suggests that note taking by hand is better than by laptop. Not surprisingly he quotes research that shows that "laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting" - Facebook and the like are the main culprits here. I know it goes on in my classes - I can see it for myself and my Teaching Assistants also tell me that they see it during class all the time. Some of my students think I'm stupid and that I don't notice. I didn't know this, but apparently you can type faster than you can write - this makes note-taking by laptop a good idea. Perhaps now with better stylus technology note-taking on a laptop can move to a new level. It's possible that students who "typed more extensive notes than their longhand-writing peers could possibly help them perform better". 

My own view is that note-taking has become a historical art - I rarely now see it in class either on paper or on a laptop, Does this mean that I as the Lecturer should provide more detailed notes? Probably yes - if students are not taking notes, they have to get them from somewhere. In the past 10 years this has become part-and-parcel of the Lecturer's lot to provide detailed notes on-line. 

There's no getting away from this.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pilfering IP #GoT #250

Well I've finally done it. After years of doing things proper by paying Sky for the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, I watched the first episode of season 6 from a streaming site. I switched from Sky to UPC/Virgin Media last year and no longer have access to Sky Atlantic - missing GoT was really the only downside to this switch. For nearly a year I wondered how I would see the next series - in the end I decided to join millions of others watching from streaming sites that make the series available for free. At least I paid for five seasons!

Image Source: Wikipedia.
There is of course the ethical question to consider here - what is the right thing to do? In one of the modules I teach in the College we consider the ethical challenges posed by Information Technology. It's easy to download movies, music, and software without paying for it - but this does not make it right. I've been told that streaming is not stealing as it is not the same as downloading - I don't believe this for a second. 

Filmmakers need to be paid for their work - otherwise they won't make movies. If it is not right for me to walk into a shop and steal a DVD, it is not right to do the same on-line. But somehow it does not feel like I'm doing wrong - maybe it's because so many other folks are doing it. It's a bit like being at a red traffic on my bicycle and seeing so many others breaking the lights - sure what's the harm in it?

For Game of Thrones it is worth the risk - it is such a fantastic series. The streaming site I chose was full of traps to get me to register and provide credit card details - so desperate I was to see GoT that I nearly fell for it. Be warned!

Monday, April 25, 2016

2016 Census and #BigData #251

I did my bit for the 2016 Census last evening and completed our household form. No problems with any of the questions - it was very similar to the 2011 census. In my Statistics classes I regularly use census data - students are interested in this source of data and it is relatively easy to understand. For me it is an ideal source of non-normal data for nonparametric data analysis. I'm sure that we'll switch to the 2016 census once the data are released later this year.

The Central Statistics Office makes its data available online and it can be quite fun to go through. Looking at my own Electoral Division Blackrock-Newpark (CSO Area Code ED 05013) where I live, the population is 2,164 (1,001 males and 1,163 females). Of this, 1,608 respondents said they were Catholic. Just 8 males were reported as single (27 females), while 1,069 were reported as not being able to speak Irish. Only 8 out of 776 households had no central heating - the vast majority of houses (564) were heated by natural gas. As for education, there are 32 people in my local area with PhDs (24 males/8 females), Social sciences, Business and Law was the field of study with the highest number (369). 269 people gave their occupation as Professional Occupations. 641 houses (out of 776) have a computer, while 10 households have four or more cars.

Census data is truly a treasure trove of information. The release of the 1901 and 1911 census data a few years ago was hugely popular, and no doubt in a 100 years time the 2016 census data will be poured over by our descendents (and used in Statistics classes!).

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dublin 2-18 Kerry 0-13 #GAA #LAOCHRA #252

The Dublin football team march on with an easy win over Kerry. While the score was close for an hour, the gulf in class was evident. Dublin were superior all over the pitch and in the end were well worth their 11 point win. The All-Ireland draw will likely see these two counties meeting in the All-Ireland semi-final this year, but on the evidence of today the Dubs will have no fear of The Kingdom. 

Many Kerry fans about us in the Cusack Stand felt the sending off of Aidan O'Mahony in the 50th minute changed the game, but I felt that the small matters of superior skill and talent won out in the end. 

After the game there was a show called Laochra - brilliant stuff which kept us entertained and ready to invade England. Very patriotic stuff. The best for me was the 32 children in county jerseys calling out the Proclamation (despite the sound failing for the last 2 or 3 kids). 

A great day to be Irish!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review: "The Matchmaker" by John B. Keane #253

It's been many years since I was in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin - I can't remember what I last saw there. When I heard an ad on the radio for John B Keane's "The Matchmaker" Roma and I decided on a night out at the theatre.

Image source: Gaiety Theatre.
I had no idea that this play about marriage and sex was so funny. The play is about the efforts of Kerryman Dicky Mick Dicky O'Connor as he corresponds with a variety of lonely rural males and females eager to find a mate in County Kerry during the 1950s. It was first performed in 1975 with a cast of two starring Ray McNally and Ronnie Masterson. This 2016 version features Jon Kenny and Mary McEvoy - neither of whom I had seen on stage before. Kenny and McEvoy moved effortlessly between the many characters who wrote and received letters from Dicky Mick Dicky. Kenny made fun of a lighting mistake, while MacEvoy soldiered on when unbelievably a phone went off in the audience which was then answered loudly by a gobshite who kept talking as he left the auditorium - we could still hear him out in the hall. Turned every head in the theatre away from the stage.

Both actors got a deserved standing ovation at the end of the play - they were on stage for almost all of the time and kept us entertained throughout. While the play has a serious aspect to it in dealing with loneliness in rural Ireland, it is in the main a funny look back at the 1950s and how some in our parents generation met. Recommended.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Student Feedback #254

Each semester, most Colleges will give students an opportunity to give feedback on their experience of a particular module. In a survey they are asked using a Likert scale to agree/disagree with statements like: 
  • Students are encouraged to ask questions 
  • Different styles of teaching were used when appropriate
  • I feel that assessment in this module was appropriate
  • Lecturer gave appropriate feedback & coaching
Above is just a sample of the 22 statements we provide in the survey (I have modified the above four statements to preserve confidentiality). Some of the questions are about students' own learning, the ones of interest to most Lecturers are usually about what the students think of the Lecturer. While it is always great to get positive feedback, negative feedback can make for difficult reading - especially if you have put a huge effort into a module. No matter what - feedback is always welcome and I can always learn from it to improve my own teaching. In one module this semester I got some great feedback on suggestions to change the sequence of topics, which I will certainly do.

The statements in the survey are really only useful to analyse if a sufficient number of students actually take the survey. Some modules I get no feedback on because there were no responses, in a previous year I also saw I got great ratings only to discover that just one student responded to the survey. Mostly, the response rate is low resulting in low quality feedback.

Freehand comments at the end of the survey are interesting. Thankfully I get some nice comments, but also some comments from less-happy students who might find the module boring or out-of-date, or that course notes were poor, or that the content was too hard/easy, or that the Lecturer was simply not a good lecturer. While one negative comment can outweigh ten positive comments, this is the comment to learn from most. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Taking on a new module #255

This past semester I had five classes:
  • Business Systems Analysis
  • Managerial Foundations of Information Systems
  • Business Data Analysis
  • Advanced Business Data Analysis (2 separate classes)
This is one module more than I normally am required to do and represents an average of 15 hours class contact per week, which is low by third-level standards outside the Universities (our normal "load" is 12 hours/week). The first three above I have been teaching for several years, and did not require much preparation on my part - this is a dream for many academics, but it is boring. However, the Advanced Business Data Analysis module was a new challenge and it took me more time than I have ever spent preparing classes to get ready for this module. A colleague who had taught it before kindly lent me his notes and module resources, but I much prefer to create my own notes so I set about doing this. 

I wanted to make the new module as practical as possible, this meant preparing examples in Excel, SPSS and in the R programming language. I am very used to Excel and SPSS, but had limited experience with R. Nevertheless, it was fun getting to grips with R and learning how to use its power. I got a great buzz when both I and my students in the class were able to carry out exercises on the same data with all three tools. 

Despite the word "Advanced" appearing in the tile of the module, most of the statistical tests used (ANOVA, Tukey, Mann-Whitney, Kruskal-Wallis, Chi, Shapiro-Wilks) were not that advanced. Given that this was the second term most students were able to pick up these tests quite easily. Some subjects such as power, confidence intervals, and effect size were a little more complicated. Factor Analysis is advanced and we finished up with this. 

It's hard to be 100% right at any time - even when teaching a module for several years it often happens that I discover an error in my notes or an exercise that should be different. We mostly operate at confidence levels of 95% in Statistics, so we're not perfect! When delivering a new module, there is obviously a higher risk of making an error, and of being unable to answer questions as they arise. Experience overcomes this, but that will now have to wait until next year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bring Your Own Device to Class #BYOD #256

It sounds good - students can bring their own laptop to class. No need for expensive computer laboratories and students can work in their own environment with their own laptops. This semester I have had my first ever BYOD class - it was not without its problems despite the best efforts of the College.

The first problem is that many students brought laptops to class that did not meet the specifications set out for the class. PCs were recommended, but several students brought Macs. Some computers were old. Some brought laptops from work that they didn't have admin rights to. In short - not all met the specifications. But I don't need high powered computers for my classes - I use mostly Excel, R Studio, and SPSS. Unfortunately SPSS proved to be a problem as students needed to access something called Citrix in order to be able to use it. Some could do this, while others couldn't. I could not hold an in-class test that required SPSS - assessment had to change. I did not like this.

Another problem was connectivity. Several students could not access the College's WiFi network, and used their phones to tether laptops for connectivity. As a consequence, I had to allow mobile phones in an in-class test! Why they could not connect, I don't know.

Why does this happen? I am not a learning technology management specialist - I don't have the time in class to help a student connect to the network. I was not prepared for the problems that arose - especially in the first 3 to 4 weeks of the semester. I will of course be better informed next year.

Please note: the problems mentioned above are based on my own personal experiences in my own classes only.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Last Week of Semester #257

One class to go tomorrow and it is the end of the semester - already this week I have finished with two modules, just one more to go. I get a mixed sense of feelings with the end of a semester. In some cases I feel sad that I will not have some students in class again, while with other classes I have to be honest and say that it is a relief to be finished. Over the next few days I will review the semester, which has been one of the hardest since I came to work in the College. This is also a nervous time for students - exams are on the horizon. More reflection on the semester in the next few days.

Image source: Keep Calm-O-Matic.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Memory from Facebook and the Dragan Effect #258

Experimenting a bit more with the Dragan Effect in Corel Paint Shop Pro I used it to apply the effect on a Facebook memory from one year ago. My Dad has 85 years of lines on his face and I wanted to check how he would look as this effect is intended to enhance tone and skin texture. The photo below is a selfie taken with my old iPhone 5 on the bridge in the village of Clonegal, Co Carlow on 18th April 2015. This bridge is over the River Derry and also marks the border between county Carlow and county Wexford. I think he looks good!

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wondering About Twitter #259

My first ever tweet was a 1:08 PM on 22nd May 2009 - it simply said "Edtech". I must have been at an EdTech Conference where delegates were using Twitter as a back channel for discussion. I joined in. Since then I have tweeted 6,292 times, I follow 1,690 accounts, and have 1,514 followers. I find Twitter is a great learning tool and in the past had often just watched for tweets with interesting links to follow up. However, in the past year or so I have been using Twitter less and less. I hardly ever tweet anymore - in fact most of my recent tweets are auto-generated ones from my blog posts. I use Facebook more - though it's a bit rubbish, too many feckin' cat and dog videos!

Image source: Stargazer's World.
Stephen Fry in leaving Twitter earlier this year posted on his website that "Too many people have peed in the pool", he longed for the early days when Twitter was fun and a "secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest". Now he writes that "the pool is stagnant" and refers to it as "frothy with scum, clogged with weeds and littered with broken glass, sharp rocks and slimy rubbish". A relieved Fry is happy that he is "free, free at last". Of course he has got a hard time from a lot of people who see Twitter as a way to attack him - he is a controversial person (whom I admire greatly), and arguably did a lot for Twitter in this part of the world.

I won't leave Twitter (just yet) but I'm wondering about the value of staying a member of this social media tool. Sometimes when I'm bored I check it out, but for the most part I am not really following any of the 1,690 accounts. Without Stephen Fry, Twitter has just become a lot less interesting.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Dragan Effect #260

I have Corel Paint Shop Pro for doing the little bit of graphics work that I occasionally have to do such as resizing or cropping images. When I launch it I get the usual tips to enhance images. One today caught my eye - it was how to make a Dragan Effect with a photo. It is named after Polish photographer Andrzej Dragan - the effect uses dramatic lighting and editing techniques that enhance the tonality and skin texture of the images subject. I decided to try it out by following the recommend YouTube video (below) to do this - it is easy to do, all you need is a photo! Here's my first (amateurish) result:
From this... this.

Corel have  Discovery Centre where you can learn to do lots of things with images - this gives a lot of power to people like me who do not have the skills or artistic know-how to do things like the Dragan Effect. Here's the video showing how to do the effect in Corel:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Making Mistakes in Class (and learning from them) #261

Image source: Simpsons Wiki.
We all make mistakes. Most of the time we can hide them, cover them up, pretend they didn't happen, or even laugh them off. However, I am more exposed when in front of a class - mistakes are easily spotted by students.

A simple typo in course notes is often OK - I can correct this on the fly or point it out to the students as a typo. Sometimes I even remember to update the notes the next day with the correction. If I spot the typo myself I feel OK, if a student spots it first I feel embarrassed. 

What about more serious errors? Errors on exam papers are horrendous - despite all the reviews that take place they still get through. I once had a paper where the marks did not add up to 100%. On another occasion I discovered that I had two errors in the same statistics formula in my course notes - it was pointed out to me by a student. Despite the fact that this formula is rarely used, it was still an error. I had to bring this up in my next class and of course correct relevant course material. Admitting making a mistake in front of 50 students is not easy. One could logically conclude that if had made one mistake in the module - what other mistakes have I made?

Learning from our mistakes is important - I can take some consolation from an article by Dr Lisabeth Saunders Medlock (Life coach and psychologist) "Don’t Fear Failure: Nine Powerful Lessons We Can Learn From Our Mistakes". She writes that "our mistakes and failures are gifts, gems, guideposts in our learning and growth as people" and asks us to "embrace failures, mistakes, screw ups and shortcomings because they not only make us uniquely who we are". She gives us nine powerful lessons to learn from making mistakes:
  1. Mistakes teach us to clarify what we really want and how we want to live
  2. Mistakes teach us to accept ourselves and that we can be flawed and be loved
  3. Mistakes teach us to accept our fallibility and face our fear
  4. Mistakes teach us about ourselves and how to tell our truth
  5. Mistakes teach us, through analysis and feedback, about what works, and what doesn’t
  6. Mistakes teach us to take responsibility
  7. Mistakes teach us about integrity
  8. Mistakes teach us to engage in our lives — to live fully
  9. Mistakes allow us to inspire others

I feel better already!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What people learn from blogging #262

Blogging teaches you a lot of things - keeping up a daily post is incredibly difficult without posting shite all the time. Koundeenya Dhulipalla writing in suggests seven things he has learned in almost 3 years of blogging:
  1. Blogging isn’t just writing and publishing
  2. Every blogger does not need to be a writer
  3. It is not necessary to post daily
  4. Length doesn't matter
  5. Headings matter – a lot
  6. It’s all about the brand
  7. Monetization is mandatory
Dhulipalla's post makes for interesting reading for someone like me who is trying to post daily - there is some wise advice in his post. Point number 3 above, which I am trying to do, advises "... consistency is important. But that doesn’t mean to publish posts daily just as to maintain consistency even if they are of low quality". Point taken! He reminds us that we "are not alone on the Internet" and that "...there are a billion of other blogs who blog on the same niche. Readers have a choice".

Every blogger, including me, dreams of having a blog that is read by thousands and can make money. In the last 28 days this blog has been read (or at least accessed) 6,620 times and has made a whopping €3.47 in revenue. Despite the minuscule readership I do not plan to give up - certainly this year I hope to keep up a post a day, though next year I will definitely not keep this up. 

The term "blog" is short for "Web Log" - a kind of on-line diary. This is my blog and I hope to keep on doing this for the rest of my life. I learn so much by doing this, I thoroughly recommend it to everyone else!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Contrasts in War Cemeteries #263

Yesterday I posted about Holger Eckhertz's recent book about D-Day 6th June 1944 from the viewpoint of the German soldiers who survived the fighting in which thousands died. I mentioned that I had visited the La Cambe German war cemetery in 2008 and added a photo to my post. Wikipedia tells us that there are over 21,000 soldiers buried there. If ever there was a symbol of the waste of life it is at La Cambe. According to Eckhertz, France was considered a good posting for German troops as the alternative was the Russian front. For many it still ended the same way - butchered by bombs, machine guns, and flame-throwers.

My very clear memory of my visit there was how quiet it was and how few people were there. It's almost as if this is a forgotten piece of 20th century history. Certainly on the day I was there there were just a few cars in the small car park and hardly any people visiting this cemetery which is immaculately maintained by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V. (German War Graves Commission).

The quiet La Cambe German War Cemetery, Normandy.
In total contrast to the peace and calm of the German War Cemetery I then visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which is located just 10 miles away in Colleville-sur-Mer - 9,387 soldiers are buried here. I couldn't believe the number of buses and cars in the packed car park - I even had difficulty finding a place for my bike. The approach roads were very busy with traffic and there were huge crowds everywhere. It was like being on a busy city street. Just as at La Cambe, this is a monument to bravery and sacrifice - but wasted life too. The soldiers buried here lie in peace just like their German counterparts 10 miles away. The sea of white crosses is heart-breaking, and it the strongest anti-war message that you can get.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer.
The photos above were taken at the end of a trip on my bike to the South of France - I was on my way to a ferry in nearby Ouistreham. Two weeks earlier I had passed through Cherbourg on my way south and spotted the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize where 2,958 mostly Canadians are buried. This too was a very quiet location. One of those buried there is Gérard Doré who was killed during the battle for Normandy at just 16 years of age - he's thought to be the youngest soldier killed on the Western Front during the war. I posted a photo of a plaque dedicated to him at the cemetery to Open Plaques.

At the Canadian War Cemetery in Bretteville-sur-Laize.

The Canadian War Cemetery in Bretteville-sur-Laize.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Book Review: "D Day Through German Eyes: The Hidden Story June 6th 1944 " by Holger Eckhertz #264

This book has to be one of the most fascinating and saddest books about the Second World War that I have read. When we thing of D-Day in 1944 and the brave advancing Allied troops assaulting beaches in Normandy, we don't often think of the German men and boys who were waiting for the invasion of Europe. This story is fascinating in that it is not Holger Eckhertz's story, but one of his grandfather Dieter who in 1954 interviewed many of the German survivors of D-Day. As in all battles, it was a fight of two forces. In 2008 I visited the German War German War Cemetery at La Cambe in Normandy, and noted that there were 21,000 soldiers buried there. Below in a photo I took at the cemetery - I couldn't help thinking at the time (and now) that there were probably fuck all Nazis buried there, and that they were ordinary lads like me.

Eckhertz's book paints a picture of German soldiers defending what they thought was Fortress Europe against invasion. Their war was one one endless waiting only for the fighting to be over in a few hours, sometimes minutes in savage fighting on both sides. The interviews for the book are with German survivors of the battle, and they describe the overwhelming odds that the Allies possessed in equipment and men. Waiting in a so-called Tobruk was a nightmare - many Germans died in flames without ever seeing an American/British/Canadian soldier.

This book is short and quick to read. Regardless of your politics and thoughts about that bollix Hitler and his bollix henchmen - the lads who manned the guns on D-Day to defend Europe against the allies were only doing their duty - which in the end was to die.

At the La Cambe German War Cemetery in Normandy, 2008.

Monday, April 11, 2016

101 Posts in 101 Days #265

Image source:
At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to myself to blog a lot more. In 2015 I posted 143 items - an average of just over 10 posts per month. I started in January seeing if I could keep this commitment up by posting every day. So far this year I have managed to keep up the daily postings - 101 posts in 101 days. Subjects ranged from education, travelling, 1916, sport, family, politics, and some shite too. 

Can I keep this up for another 264 days? The count-down hashtag certainly helps to motivate - I don't want to miss out on even one for the year. Looking at the analytics for the number of views, Blogger is reporting about 50 views on average per post so far this year. In the past month the United States has the most views (1,829) - no doubt from people searching for something and ending up on my page. Second highest is Ireland (1,375), and I'm also big in the Ukraine (583) which comes in third. Google Search and Linkedin are the sources of most traffic to this blog. One new reader this year is my Mum who since Christmas has been using a SmartPhone!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Football - League Semi-finals #GAA #266

Going to Croke Park to see football is one of life's pleasures. However, today's League semi-finals saw two very one-sided games which were both over long before the finish. Kerry saw off Roscommon by 3-15 to 0-14, while the Dubs easily beat Donegal by 1-20 to 0-13. Both were 10 point margins on the score board, but the gulf in class was evident for us all to see. On a cold day Kate and I enjoyed seeing Kerry and Dublin utterly dominate. We shared the experience with about 30,000 other fans, but the atmosphere was very subdued due to the one-sided nature of the games. Perhaps the final on 24th April will be more exciting?

Enjoying a beer at The Crossbar in Croke Park with Kate!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

The Apple Graveyard in my House #267

As I wrote yesterday, my switch from an Apple iPhone to a Windows phone has so far gone smoothly. I put my old iPhone 5 into the drawer and noticed a graveyard of other Apple gear. The thought struck me - how much did all this cost? Two iPhones and four iPods in various forms all still working - I can't help thinking that this is a great waste. Of course I have lots of cables too - below is just part of this Apple wasteland. I'm hoping to use one of the iPods in the car - my Windows phone will not connect as an MP3 player - the rest will go to charity.

Friday, April 08, 2016

First Two Weeks With a Windows Phone #268

On 22nd September 2008, I got my first iPhone (a 2!) - a freebie from O2 (and of course I blogged about that here). Since then I have had three more and got very fond of the device. My iPhone 5 was my last one - I had it two and a half years and it had started to give a lot of trouble - like failing the SIM card several times a day. It was time for a new phone.

Image source: Microsoft.
New iPhones are soooo expensive. One of the biggest problems with my 16GB iPhone was space - I was constantly deleting photos to make room for more. I was also limited in what music I could keep on it and subscribing to a podcast was fraught with the danger of filling it up. I also felt that the camera was shite. I investigated other options including the new Microsoft Lumia 950. Many of the reviews gave it lots of praise but pointed out the dearth of Apps - the so called "App Gap". I liked the option of 32GB space expandable to 200GB via a microSD card. The camera was a big thing for me - at 20 MP I was impressed. While in Florida last January I investigated one in a phone store and one of the attendants told me it was the best built phone he had.

Two weeks ago I bought one! And so far so good. I miss Google, but Bing Search and Maps is fine. The main Apps I wanted to use like Facebook and WhatsApp have Windows versions - it was also easy to configure email and calendar. Not all Apps have Windows version, the first I really wanted was a Radio Player App. The only one available switched off the radio when it went into sleep mode. However, I went to the RTÉ web page and played the radio directly from there - and it was easy to add this as a shortcut to my Home screen. The screen is bigger than I'm used to and as a handset it feels a lot bigger in my pocket. I got a 64GB microSD and I have my entire music collection (13GB) on it and there is still lots of room for more. The camera is fantastic and easy to use. I also like that you can browse all files in Explorer on the phone.

I don't see myself using it like a PC with Continuum, or using Word or Excel on it. I still have all my files on Google Drive which so far I have not managed to access from the phone (no App). 

Overall - I thoroughly recommend this phone. With its Nokia pedigree it is not inferior to the iPhone in any way - and it is a lot cheaper.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Some Recent Additions to @OpenPlaques #269

Since I began adding street plaques to the Open Plaques Project a couple of years ago I have uploaded a total of 40 plaques, mostly from around Dublin. From the "About" section of the Open Plaques website:

Open Plaques is 'the museum of the street' established 2009.

It is a community-based project which catalogues, curates, and promotes commemorative plaques and historical markers (often blue and round) installed on buildings and landmarks throughout the world.

The service brings the history that plaques encapsulate to life - and to a larger audience - by building the definitive and most comprehensive resource about these historical markers. The data and resources generated by the project are free to use under a Public Domain declaration. We aim for wide distribution and re-use.

Many plaques that I spot have already been uploaded by other users. While out for a walk in Blackrock last Monday morning I photographed three plaques, while I was coincidentally given a fourth by a former student - here they are:

Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
Located at Frascati Shopping Centre
in Blackrock on the site of the
former Frascati House.
Open Plaques Link.
Edel Quinn.
Located at Trafalgar Terrace.
Open Plaques Link.

Howard Grubb.
Located at Longford Terrace.
Open Plaques Link.
William Sealy Gosset.
Located in the Guinness Storehouse.
Open Plaques Link.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Book Review: "Conduct Unbecoming - A Memoir" by Des O'Malley #270

Image source: Amazon.
My Dad lent me this book that he had received as a Christmas present and I have to say I probably would not have bought it myself. Des O’Malley was a Fianna Fáil TD between 1968 and his expulsion from the party in 1984, during which time he occupied three ministerial positions and served as government chief whip. He founded the Progressive Democrats, a party he led until 1993. He was a central part of Irish politics for three decades and his rivalry with Charlie Haughey is already the stuff of legend.

O'Malley comes across as a self-righteous crusader against terrorism and corruption. Nothing wrong with that, but you'd think from this book that he led the charge against all evil in Ireland for three decades. He is particularly antagonistic towards Haughey and Albert Reynolds. He's not afraid in his book to say so if he doesn't like somebody. He does give Haughey credit for some things - which I'm sure given the tone of the book was a difficult thing for him to do. He was also very critical of his predecessor as Minister for Justice - Micheál Ó Móráin, whom he labelled as an incompetent and an alcoholic. This would have made for difficult reading for Ó Móráin's family.

The Arms Crisis in the 1970s makes for very interesting reading - for me this was the best part of the book. The Beef Tribunal stuff near the end was so boring that I seriously considered abandoning the book with only a few pages to go. I would have liked to have learned more about O'Malley the person, much of the time reading the book it was like reading a quick version of late 20th century Irish history. 

There's no doubt that Des O'Malley made a huge contribution to Irish politics and to the nation. He sacrificed a lot (something he told us several times in the book) and never sought the highest office. He tried to break the mould of Irish politics by forming the Progressive Democrats - a party that ultimately failed despite spending several years in Government. 

Overall - this is a book that students of modern Irish history will find interesting and a worthwhile read. If you see it second hand in a book sale - it is worth a few quid to buy. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Failing to Explain #271

Learning and Teaching is not easy - I've always known this. Sometimes it is easy to explain a concept or how something works, but other times it is not so easy. Some of the modules I teach I have been doing so for a few years, which means I have a lot of experience - but no guarantee that everyone in the classroom will understand what I am saying. In fact, I would be astonished if I ever had a class where 100% of the students understood 100% of the material. A topic that is easy for one student to learn may not be so for another - any teacher/lecturer will accept this. Recently I failed to explain a concept in one of my classes so that a student asked me many questions - it was not working for him. I tried my best, but in this instance I could not get him to understand what I was saying - it brought to mind a quote from Albert Einstein:

Note to self: Work harder.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Book Review: "That Could Never Be" by Kevin Dalton #272

Image source: Amazon.
During the summer of 2003 when I was out of work I happened to call into Hewitt's shop in Monkstown while out for a walk. This is not a bookshop, but I noticed a book on the counter with the curious title "that could never be". It was a memoir of Reverend Kevin Dalton, then Rector at Monkstown Parish Church. I had never met him or even knew of his existence, though I was possibly at a ceremony or two at funeral in his church. I noticed that the book was signed by the author and if I recall correctly I was told that the profits of the book went to parish funds. I bought it, brought it home, put it on a shelf intending to read it, but never got around to it. Recently I came across it and decided to read it almost 13 years after buying it.

Dalton was an orphan who grew up in Protestant schools, from an early age he wanted to be ordained. His life is interesting, though nothing special or too much out of the ordinary. He did benefit hugely from people who helped him financially while growing up and when he was studying to be a vicar - he had very generous friends. There are no stories of abuse in the schools he was in, though he does paint a tough picture of life as an orphan. The most interesting part of the book is about his time as a clergyman and how he dealt with parishioners. Most stories are very short and end up the same - the problem never happened again. 

The book is short (192 pages) and is easy to read - it was written by Patrick Semple. Don't expect any revelations or daring deeds - this is quite an ordinary memoir.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

"The Plough and the Stars" at the Abbey #derogatory #273

As it is the centenary of the 1916 Rising it's no surprise that the Abbey Theatre marks the occasion by putting on Seán O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars". Roma and I attended with my Mum and Dad, and we all enjoyed a fantastic performance of this classic play with a modern touch.

In 1926 when this play was first staged, there was riotous behaviour by the audience. According to the Abbey Theatre's web site:

Image source: National Museum of Ireland.
The Plough and the Stars was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1926, less than ten years after the Easter Rising of 1916. On the night of the fourth performance, the Abbey Company was met by an unruly audience who protested against what they believed was a grotesque distortion of historical events slandering those who had died for Ireland. The riot featured a coordinated appearance by the widows and bereaved women of 1916.

During the disruption W.B. Yeats rose to praise the new play and addressed the audience saying, “You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?”

In 2016 the performance in this sold-out run was greeted with loud applause from all. In a simple, yet very effective set, O'Casey's take on the sacrifice of the Easter Rising and the poverty in Dublin is conveyed sensitively and bluntly. One can see some reason why people in 1926 would have taken exception to the play, but in today's eyes The Plough and the Stars is not interpreted in this way. We can now look back with pride on the events of Easter 1916 and at the same time wonder how our ancestors lived in Dublin tenements during a violent time in our history.

This modern version of The Plough and the Stars is tastefully done. From the looting of iPhones, to the electric kettle, to the remote control and Sky Sports in the bar, to the modern uniforms of the British soldiers - I loved it all.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Eileen Ryan - Postscript #1916 #274

This is the last of 20 posts about one of Ireland's "silent heroines" and "noblest daughters" - Eileen Ryan. In the Kilmainham Goal Collection there is a letter written on 23rd July 1953 to the then Senator Margaret Pearse by Seán Collins, a former officer in the Old IRA. In it he comments on the lack of commemoration of Eileen as "one of Ireland's great women patriots". He thought it was a great "national shame" that at every Easter commemoration "this great patriot is silently passed by". His reason for writing to Margaret Pearse (sister of Patrick and Willie) is probably given in the letter as he recounts a visit with Eileen to St Enda's School in 1920 for a tour. Collins recalls that Eileen was a "University student" at the time and that she was "one of those who helped Countess Markievicz in Easter Week". Finally in the letter, Collins hopes to see "belated justice done".

We only have a photocopy of this letter, the original is in Kilmainham Gaol. I don't know if Senator Margaret Pearse ever acted on Collins' plea or if any there was ever any commemoration for Eileen Ryan. She was an undoubted Nationalist though we know very little about her - some day her story may be told.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Eileen Ryan Obituary - One of Ireland's "Silent Heroines" and "Noblest Daughters" #1916 #275

Eileen Ryan died on 29th July 1923 - I'm told as a result of tuberculosis. She had a long obituary and the clipping from a newspaper (possibly The Connaught Telegraph) survives in the Eileen Ryan Collection. Among the mourners were her sister Gabrielle "Mrs Bourke", and "Gus Bourke (brother-in-law)" - these are my wife Roma's paternal grandparents. The funeral service had seven priests, which must have been a mark of great respect that was held for her. She is buried beside the Republican Plot in the Old Cemetery in Castlebar - I'm told that she wanted to be buried in the Republican Plot (which contains the remains of IRA men killed in an ambush during the War of Independence), but that the family were having none of that - though she was buried beside it instead.

The last part of the Obituary is a "Who's Who" of republican names from 1923 in the "Wreaths were sent by:" section. Mrs Eamonn Ceannt (wife of executed signatory of Proclamation) wrote "to darling Eiblin, one of Ireland's silent heroines". Mrs Pearse (mother of Patrick and Willie) wrote "in loving remembrance of one of Ireland's noblest daughters". There are also messages of sympathy from Dr Kathleen Lynn "in deepest remembrance" and Mrs (Madeleine) Ffrench-Mullen "in loving memoy of Ireland's noble-hearted child". Lynn and Ffrench-Mullen founded Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), and they were also lovers. A message from Ronan Ceannt (son of Eamonn Ceannt) states "in fondest remembrance of dear Eileen". Finally, Castlebar Sinn Féin Club's message reads "To God and Ireland true".

There's no doubt that Eileen Ryan was held in high esteem, though it is a pity very little is known about her. Recent remembrance of events in 1916 have recognized and emphasized the role of women during this turbulent period in Irish history. Perhaps some day her story will be told.