Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer Holidays - Yay!

Today is my last day at work before I go on holidays. After the hustle and bustle of Semester II, exams, grading, and exam boards, the past couple of weeks have been relatively quiet. I've had plenty of time for blogs posts and creating new videos. This past week I attended the NCI Summer School which finishes today - it's been a good way to end the academic year. The year has been an exciting one for me in that I have been involved more in lecturing on data analytics. Hopefully more to follow next year - we are already recruiting students for data analytics programmes, so more busy times ahead.

For most of July I will be on a road trip on my Harley-Davidson Road King with Roma - we are travelling around southern Germany and Austria for 12 days starting in Munich. I'll post plenty of comment/photos from the places we plan to visit - I'm as excited as someone who is really excited about riding a motorcycle around Germany and Austria. Over 4,000 kilometres of road lies ahead, the tough part for Roma will be travelling light for 12 days (she is flying to and from Munich).

So in the meantime, Happy Holidays everybody!

Road Trip!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Too Busy for Reflection?

John Dewey
Image source: Goodreads.
xxxxxxxxx We do not learn from experience...

we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey
Yesterday at a continuing professional development session there was much discussion on Reflection. The old Dewey quote above was mentioned, and the importance of reflecting on experience to improve ourselves as teachers and educators was stressed. There is no argument against the value of reflection: thinking back on what went well, what didn't go so well, where one can improve, or what can/should be done differently. These are all good practices, and I'm certain that most people do this informally after many activities. I fixed a shelf in my bedroom yesterday, but when standing back looking at my work, I decided to take down the shelf and put it back up again as I was not happy with my first effort. The second effort was a lot better!

Image source: Creativity at Work.
Formal reflection, like filling out templates, journals, even blog posts, takes time. I guess I am reflecting on yesterday's session now, but during busy term time I rarely have a chance to formally reflect on classes delivered - I'm too busy! Quite often I think of how I could do better in a module, but end up doing exactly the same thing when next delivering the module. It would be great to write things down after a class or at the end of a day - but I almost never do. I'm sure it is possible for me to make the time, wiser people than me might even be able to demonstrate that it would save time in the end. I guess I should try harder, but somehow I'm not too bothered!

Please note: Opinions and comment expressed in this post (and all posts in this blog) are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of anyone else or any institution.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere - Day Two: What Makes a Good Teacher? #eqfee

The theme for day 2 of the NCI Summer School was "What Makes a Good Teacher". In the workshop session we had to visualise from our own past who we thought were good or bad teachers. For me I first identified my Junior Infants (1964) teacher Mary Keating as a good teacher for encouraging me to learn to avoid getting a slap with a ruler (it worked!). Secondly I identified my 1st year (1972) French teacher John Shanahan also as a good teacher who introduced me to technology in education. I'll not name who I thought was a bad teacher here.

Professor Chip Bruce gave us a great talk about community learning in Nepal. He also discussed multi-modal learning and how who teachers are. He gave a wonderful example of a milk tester in Nepal who is a teacher to the community. He asked the intriguing questions: "If education is conscious life, then what is the teacher's role?". Dr Leo Casey talked to us about teaching being about enabling participation (as distinct from alienation). Participation involves more than one person, therefore there is an important social element to teaching. He gave us the three Rs of teaching: Respect, Risk, and Reflection. He finished up with some advice to us all: "Education always involves risk". 

The third session was delivered by Dr Rose Rudnitski from Mercy College New York. She talked to us a bit about "grit" - you have to have this to succeed in school (my "Grit Score" at is 3.70). Later she talked about wise advocacy/leadership, which I found heavy going in parts. The evening finished up with the energetic Tomás Ó Ruairc of the Irish Teaching Council. He asked us first: "Who teaches teaching of tomorrow?" - the answer is "we do". Teachers are learners too and Tomás had a great message for us about having the "courage" to teach - avoid traps and guilt, and get out and get learning.

Overall - I very much enjoyed the day and look forward to some more during the rest of the week.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere - Day One #eqfee

Prof Chip Bruce.
This is my last week before summer holidays and it coincides with the NCI Summer School which I am attending. The first day was an open seminar on "Natural Born Learners": Early Years Education and Inquiry Throughout Life. We started off by being asked to think of the earliest play activity we could remember - my choice was to tell the group about playing with my dog Dino as a small boy. Later we used Play Doh to create artifiacts from our earliest learning - I chose to make (a very poor) model of an inkwell and pen that was part of every desk in Carnew National School back in the early 1960s.

Later we were treated to a talk from Professor Nóirín Hayes of Trinity on early childhood learning, the importance of play, care, and opportunity for small children. The last talk of the evening was from Professor Chip Bruce who inspired us with the tale of the Paseo Boricua community in Chicago - learning in the community works boths ways. He told us about wheel-chair bound Mrs Lopez - school kids would stop by her window and "cheer her up", while she asked them "Are you learning your ABCs?". Both had a role in the children's education. Actions like this helped to improve self-awareness and also develop a community that was on its knees.

Lots more to think about and experience over the next few days!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Two More New Videos

Continuing my recent burst of video recording activity I have added two more new videos to my channel:
  • How To... Add and Modify a Moving Average Trend Line in Excel 2016
  • How To... Display Two Lines on a Chart in Excel 2016
Both videos use the same Facebook Q1 2017 stock data downloaded from Google Finance. Excel has added the moving average option to version 2016, making it easy to show a smooth trend in time series data. Displaying two lines on the same chart is not that easy - a secondary axis is required. I wanted to show the closing stock price and trade volume on the same chart for Q1. The trouble is that volume data is in tens of millions, while the closing stock price ranges from $115 to $145 - scale (as always) is a problem for the data visualizaer. So if you want to learn how to do this - here are the videos:

Friday, June 23, 2017

An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis (O'Loughlin, 2009)

At the formal launch of my book with
Paul Mooney (left) and Mark Ryan (right).
Eight years and a bit after my first book was published in 2009, I picked up 13 copies today from The Liffey Press. Over the years the original print run sold out and we have had several short print runs of 50 to 100 copies at a time. The main market for the book is my own students studying Business Analysis in the College. I buy them at a discount from the publishers and pass this on to the students.

I updated the book in 2014 (not a 2nd edition) with corrections of minor errata and a new cover. I make very little money from it now and it sells very little outside of my own class. At eight years old it is getting to the age when a textbook will be regared as being too old. Hoefully I will be able to flog the copies below - the next time my module runs is in December, so I'll be holding them for a while yet. These are the last of the current print run - we'll have to see if there is demand further copies after this.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Two more YouTube videos

In my short recent burst of creating new "How To..." YouTube videos, my most recent two are closely related. Excel has become a lot better at Data Visualization and now has options to draw sunburst diagrams and tree maps in the Office 365 version. These type of charts are great for displaying hierarchical data. They are really easy to create, and also easily modified. Enjoy!

Data source: Breaking down hierarchical data with Treemap and Sunburst charts.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Creating Pareto Charts just got easier!

On the 26th of September 2008, I published only my second ever video on YouTube: "How To... Create a Pareto Chart in Excel 2003" - I had published my first, "How To...Convert PowerPoint to iPod Movie", nearly a year earlier. At that time in one of my classes I needed to show students how to create a Pareto Chart which I did step-by-step in a Word document using screen shots. I recall viewing another "How To" video online but thinking that the content creator had done a poor job of explaining the steps, so I challenged myself to do better - here it is:

Over the years this video has been viewed 109,849 times, but in more recent years (as Excel 2003 gets used less and less) views have decined to 3 or 4 a day. It is now one of five videos I have on the channel - to date the Pareto Chart videos have totalled 506,122 views - not bad!

One of my more recent videos is about creating a Pareto chart in Excel 2016. Microsoft obviously recognised that this is a popular charting tool and have added it to the latest version of Excel. Gone is the need to rank the data, calculate cumulative values, calculate percentages, and manipulating the chart to get the end result. Excel does all this for you. See below how it is done today and compare this to what we had to do above in the good ol' days:

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Photograph in Leaving Certificate History and Appreciation of Art (Ordinary Level) Exam

I was surprised, flattered, and amused to discover that a photograph taken by me of the Children of Lir sculpture in Ballycastle (Co Antrim) which was published in this blog (see Revisiting the #CausewayCoastalRoute and the #MourneCoastalRoute) on 26th July 2015, was used in the Leaving Certificate History and Appreciation of Art ordinary level paper last week. Question 19 asks students to "Describe and discuss the public sculpture..." - a zoom-in for the swans was also provided. Here's the illustration and question:

19.       Answer (a) and (b).

(a)   Describe and discuss the public sculpture illustrated on the accompanying sheet using the following headings:
  • location and size
  • form and shape
  • colour and surface.
(b) Suggest a design for a sculpture to be situated at the entrance to a town‐park or forest‐park. Give reasons for your design decisions.

Illustrate your answer.

I only found out about this when the publishers, The Educational Company of Ireland (, contacted me seeking permission to reproduce the photo in their State Examinations Booklet of all exam papers to be published next month. My permission to use the photograph in the exam was not sought in advance - I guess that this would have compromised the exam process!

Here is original photo:

Children of Lir and Fair Head, Ballycastle.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Word Mixing to Defeat Plagiarism

Recently I heard about a website called that will "rewrite human readable text into additional, readable text" - it is an "automatic article spinner" tool. The site is designed for "bloggers, twitter users and online marketers", and is described as a "dream come true" to help rework content to help with SEO. In its self-promotion, states that with a "single click you can turn your old blog post or website article into a completely new one, thereby doubling the payoff you get in return for the time and energy you have already invested into creating quality website content". Nothing wrong with doing this I hear you say - re-writing one of your own old posts or any old material is OK, it is your own content.

However, there is (from an academic point-of-view) a more sinister use of this clever tool to avoid plagiarism. Before I go further - I have not detected this as a problem with any of my own students. Could it work that if you copy a passage, say from a book or website, put it through a tool like Spinbot to change words - that it would beat a plagiarism detection tools like Turnitin?

To test this out I took one of my own short posts: "New @YouTube Video: How To... Perform a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test (By Hand)" written just yesterday to see what it would look like after it was spinned by Spinbot. Before doing this I ran the post through Turnitin using default settings and you can see that it had a 16% similarity with two Internet sources. None of this was copied from the sources listed and you can see that they are simple terms being reused. 

Click image to enlarge.
Now when I put the above post through Spinbot, and then pass it through Turnitin (again with default settings) - here's what comes out:

Click image to enlarge.

Well well well - a 0% similarity index even though I didn't write a single word! Spinbot has completely changed the text and has beaten Turnitin. I'm not surprised that this might be tempting to students. However, there are some tell-tale signs that a spinner has been used to mix words. The "Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test" (actual name of test) is transformed into the "Wilcoxon Marked Rank Test" (no such test). Also the original text "For some time I have noted a gap in my series of Statistics By Hand series" is transformed into "For quite a while I have noticed a crevice in my arrangement of Insights By Hand arrangement". Finally, "Ultimately it will tell the researcher if there is a significant difference between two data sets or not. Enjoy!" is transformed into "Eventually it will tell the scientist if there is a huge contrast between two informational indexes or not. Appreciate!"

While there is some clever stuff going on here, the second readings after Spinbot has been applied make for more difficult reading that is not natural. Anyone aware of tools such as will immediately be suspicious, even those not so may question the second passage above. I'll certainly be more aware of this and will be watching out for it in future.

Comments are disabled for this post to block Spammers trying to sell me essay-writing services.

Please note: Opinions and comment expressed in this post (and all posts in this blog) are mine alone and do not in any way represent those of anyone else or any institution.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New @YouTube Video: How To... Perform a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test (By Hand)

It is almost six months to the day since I last published a video on YouTube. For some time I have noted a gap in my series of Statistics By Hand series. Today I have published the 157th video on my YouTube Channel. The Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test is a non-parametric test to compare two sets of paired data. It is usually carried out on small data sets or non-normal data (a paired t Test is used for normal data). It is an easy to do rank based test with the only calculations necessary being subtraction and addition. Ultimately it will tell the researcher if there is a significant difference between two data sets or not. Enjoy!

Friday, June 09, 2017

UK Election - How did the pollsters do?

The final YouGov poll before yesterday's general election in the UK predicted the result as follows: Conservatives (42%), Labour (35%), Liberal Democrats (10%), UKIP (5%), and Others (8%). In their final statement before the election they stated:

For now, YouGov’s final call for the 
2017 election is for a seven point 
Conservative lead, leading to an
increased Conservative majority
in the Commons.

YouGov were experimenting with more than one method of polling - so how did they do? The actual result was as follows: Conservatives (42.4%), Labour (40.0%), Liberal Democrats (7.4%), UKIP (1.8%), and Others (8.4%) - here's the visual of this:

The poll was almost spot on for the Conservative and Others vote, but it underestimated the Labour vote by 5% (more than the +/- margin of error), and over estimated the Lib Dem and UKIP votes. So they got the overall result they predicted (an "increased Conservative majority") wrong, but not by much in my opinion. The science of sampling clearly has some work to be done, but I believe that the approach of YouGov to include factors (such as age, likelihood of voting) other than voting intention is a good approach - they can only get better.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Rolling Medians for Time Series Analysis via @BBCNews

The UK General Election is tomorrow, and while I'm not too bothered who wins or loses, I am interested in the opinion polls and the efforts of the polling companies to get their predictions right. Polling data makes for interesting Time Series Analysis (TSA) - several different methods can be used to analyse the data and make short term forecasts. In my Statistics classes I most often use Moving Averages, Weighted Moving Averages, and Exponential Smoothing as methods for TSA. This year I introduced the more complicated Holt-Winters method. These concentrate on the mean (average) and smoothing factors.

The BBC keeps a tracking poll-of-polls and provides an interesting visual to show "voting intention" trends over a period of time. Interestingly, they use the median (the middle value of a set of numbers) instead of the mean (the average value of a set of numbers). The trend lines below are calculated as a "rolling median of the seven latest polls". As the poll-of-polls is updated every day, the median "recalculates to take account of the latest 7 poll values". Here is the BBC visualization:

Image source: BBC News.
Taking the poll-of-polls data, I have re-drawn the visual below using a simple seven point moving average (instead of median). The data points (dots) are the same of course, but you'll see slight differences in the trend lines, though they follow the same general trend:

Data source: BBC News.
In something like a general election, a one percent difference on polling day could have an enormous impact on the number of seats won or lost - especially in the UK's first-past-the-post system. Polling companies are trying many new methods such as considering voter's likelihood of voting, their age (older people are more likely to vote), and their demographics (better off people are more likely to vote). The models are getting more complicated - YouGov's 2017 Election Model makes for very interesting reading - it works by "modelling every constituency and key voter types in Britain based on analysis of key demographics as well as voting behaviour in the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU referendum. Turnout is assessed on voters’ demographics and is based on analysis from 2010 and 2015 British Election Study data". Every day YouGov polls around 7,000 voters - currently their model shows results as follows: Conservatives (311 seats), Labour (255 seats), SNP (51 seats), and Liberal Democrats (10 seats). This is "hung parliament" territory - let's see if they get it right this time!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Leo Varadkar and the New Generation

So - the new leader of Fine Gael is 38 year old Leo Varadkar, and he is to be our new Taoiseach next week. He has made headlines all over the world as the son of an Indian immigrant to Ireland made good, and of course as the country's first openly gay Taoiseach. I wish him well, but he needs a mandate from the people very soon and I hope he calls a General Election before the end of the year. I admire Leo Varadkar as a (so far) straight talking politician. He is courageous and I was one of the many who was listening to the Marian Finucane radio show when he said all of a sudden "I am a gay man". His statement yesterday that "prejudice has no hold in this republic" is a powerful message to all Irish people. 

I met Leo Varadkar once at the Irish Blood Transfusion Serve awards when he was Minister for Health. He presented me with my award for 100 donations and in the few seconds we had before the photo below was taken he congratulated me and asked where I was from. I was struck by how tall he was and how young too. Apart from Brian Cowen, who is three months younger than me, all Taoisigh that I have ever known were a lot older than me. Now suddenly our new Taoiseach is almost 20 years younger than me! This does signify a generational change greater than anything we have ever had in Ireland before. I have never voted for the Fine Gael party in my life, but I might do so now that Varadkar is at the helm.

Friday, June 02, 2017

25,000 @YouTube Subscribers

A recent nice milestone to hit is reaching 25,000+ subscribers on my YouTube Channel. Every day there is a trickle of scubscriptions that over the years has now added up to 25,000+. The actual number of people who have subscribed to my channel is 29,094, but when you remove the 4,086 "lost" subscribers the figure stands today at 25,008.

The trend above from YouTube Analytics shows a recovery in numbers after the damage done to the channel two years ago (when I changed metatdata). The trend roughly follows the pattern of viewers over the same period. I haven't posted a new video since 16th November 2016. In the next few weeks I will have time to update some videos and create new ones. Hopefully this will boost the number of subscribers and views. You don't get anything for having this or any other number of subscribers - it's just a nice number to have.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

It was 50 Years Ago Today #SgtPepper

Image source: Wikipedia.
Woke up, got out of bed, but I have no hair left to drag a comb across my head - Happy 50th Anniversary to John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was only 7 years old on the 1st June, 1967 - so have no memory of its release. In our house at that time there was only one radio, which was mostly tuned to Radio Éireann (Radio 1 today). We did not own the Sgt Pepper album. My first copy was a recording on cassette tape from an LP in the 1980s - I did not buy it until it came out on CD in the 1990s. As I write this post I am listening to the album on Spotify.

I do rememeber hearing "When I'm Sixty Four" on the radio - it might have been in my Dad's car. He was able to connect our house radio to an aerial in the car so that we could listen to radio programmes. Along with "Yellow Submarine", I'm sure it was one of those songs that we would all sing along to in the car. 

The album is just 39 minutes and 52 seconds long. For me it is one of my most listened to albums - only Abbey Road is listened to more by me. I love all the tracks. In secondary school in Roscrea (CCR), we used to sing "With a Little Help From My Friends" at Mass - Holy Cool Beatles we were! We also thought that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was cool because we thought (wrongly) it was named after the drug LSD. Most of us didn't know what LSD was, but it must have been cool because of the link to Sgt Pepper. On my Dad's 64th birthday (1995) I remember that I sang "When I'm Sixty Four" down the phone to him (and he joined in!) - it is one of the few songs that I know most of the words to. I love the harmonies on "She's Leaving Home", but "A Day in the Life" tops everything. For me this is Lennon at his best - it must have been amazing to hear when people bought the album and brought it home to play the first time. 

I have been listening to this album for most of my life, and will continue to do so for the rest of it. Like millions of Beatles fans all over the world, I feel it is part of me. Every track is instantly recognisable to me, and Sgt Pepper is as fab today as he was in 1967.