Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Lesson in Probability #lotto

So - there has been another winner in Ireland of the Euromillions jackpot! Congratulations to whoever it is - their lives have just changed (hopefully for the better). I often use the probability of winning the Irish Lotto in statistics class when discussing the topic of probability. Using combinatorial maths you can work out how many combinations of six numbers there are out of the 47 balls in the Lotto draw - there are 10,737,573. In other words you have a better than a one in ten million chance of choosing the six correct numbers and winning the lotto. As I say to my class, if there was a horse in a race at odds of 10,000,000 to 1 would you put a bet on it? Of course, you do increase your chances of winning if you buy more than one line of numbers.

According to the Irish Lotto website, you have a "1 in 29" chance of winning a prize in the Lotto only draw, (the odds of winning are a better "1 in 17" if you add Lotto Plus). A "1 in 29" chance of winning is equivalent to about 3.5% - if you play regularly you can expect to win about 3.5% of the time, very low odds I think you'll agree. As Charles Wheelan puts it in his book "Naked Statistics", buying a lotto ticket is "a stupid thing to do". Here's how the "1 in 29" ( or approx 3.5%) chance of winning the Irish Lotto is made up:

So if you spend €2 buying one line in the Lotto draw, you can expect a return of around just 7 cent - it's a near mathematical certainty that you will lose money. In last Wednesday's draw (27th Dec), there were 25,213 winners in total of the various prizes. Using the "1 in 29" odds, this means that a whopping 721,177 (25,213 x 29) players did not win!

Of course, somebody does win - IT COULD BE YOU!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

14,000,000 YouTube views, and who's watching on Christmas Day? #Analytics

On Christmas Day this year, there were 4,101 views on my YouTube channel, which also passed the 14,000,000 lifetime views mark on the same day. December also shows the traditional decline from a high of around 12,000 views per day to a around third of this amount over the Christmas holidays leading to the New Year. 

Click image to enlarge.

So, I wondered who was watching on Christmas day? YouTube Analytics tells me that India leads the way with 1,329 (32.4%) views, while the United States is a distant second with 320 (7.8%) views. In the top ten on Christmas Day are countries like Saudi Arabia (138), Turkey (117), Egypt (85), and the United Arab Emirates (55). None of these countries feature in the top ten list for the whole year so far. Countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, and Ireland basically switch off at Christmas. There were 39 views on my channel on Christmas Day - I wonder if any of these were my students?

The most popular video worldwide on Christmas Day was How To... Perform Simple Linear Regression by Hand with 346 views. Even though there is a question on my exam paper next week on regression (that's not a hint, they already should know this!), in Ireland there was just one view which lasted 4 minutes and 51 seconds - less than half the duration of this video. 

It's also interesting to note that YouTube/Google are now providing more visuals for content creators  to analyse our data - these are visible on the left side panel on the chart above. More on this another day.

Thank you to all my viewers over the holiday season. For those of you preparing for exams I hope that the videos will help in your revision.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The End is Nigh for Hand-written Exams?

In the age of emailing letters to Santa instead of writing physical letters, Laura McInerney of The Guardian asks "why must students write exams with a pen?". Hardly any of us write letters anymore. Indeed, other than signing your name - when is the last time you actually wrote by hand? I note very few students in my classes actually taking notes with pen and paper. This is unlike when I first came to the College in 2002 when I had to wait to move on slides until students had taken down everything. In fact the only time I see students writing for more than a few seconds is in exams. Some exam papers are extremely difficult for me to read as they are hand-written by students not used to writing for two hours at a time. 

Image source: Huffington Post.

I'd hate to see the skill of hand-writing being completely lost. I agree with Catherine Pearson writing in the Huffington Post about "The Benefits Of Writing With Good Old Fashioned Pen And Paper" - she articulates that as handwriting is slow, it "can be particularly useful during goal setting, brainstorming... — all pursuits that require time and deliberation.". Some famous writers, such as Quentin Tarantino, claim to write all their material by hand as it makes them more creative.

So - should we make students write exams by hand in this day and age? For some subjects, such as programming, practical on-line exams are clearly the best. Many students would prefer to use a computer to write their answers (though I often find that responses are on average a lot shorter than hand-written answer). There are technical challenges, but these are being overcome everyday. Even the great Professor Sugata Mitra (of Newcastle University) "imagines an alternative education system with no need for memorisation or teaching to test" and suggests that a "tablet connected to the internet to be brought in to the examination hall" (see his article in The Guardian "Should students be allowed to use the internet in exams?"). My mind is still open on this, but I see myself favouring computers to be permitted in all exams within a few years. After all, it is the computer that most of us are using at work - not pen and paper!

The good news for old-fashioned lovers of pen and paper is that pen sales are still increasing in the digital age. Sales are expected to reach $20.2 billion worldwide by 2019 according to the Chicago Tribune article "How the pen industry hangs on in a digital world". While this will come under pressure from electronic pens and styluses, the pen is still keeping its "mightier than the sword" status!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Visit to the City of Preston #PNE

Sir Tom Finney Statue, flat cap, PNE jersey,
I must be in Lancashire!
Yesterday I travelled early to Preston in England via a flight to Liverpool to see the local North End club host Sheffield United with my brother Brian. I have visited Preston on several occasions now (all to see PNE), and I'm beginning to know my way around. Preston people are very pleasant, I love the Lancashire accent where the word "the" is abbreviated to a simple "t". They love their football in Preston and 15,202 showed up to see a competitive game that PNE deserved to win by more than the 1-0 final score. The winner was scored by the £12 million rated Jordan Hugill in the second half. He is a very combative striker who's constantly jostling with his markers. He's not afraid to muscle his way to the ball - he'll be hard for PNE to hang on to in January transfer window if one of the big clubs comes knocking with a fat cheque book. Go PNE!

Incidentally, the return flight from Dublin to Liverpool cost €39 (thank you Ryanair), while parking (short-term) for the day in Dublin airport cost €29 (thank you DAA - not!).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Last Day of Semester #WhoMakesUpThisShit

It's Friday of the last week of semester one and I have now finished all classes - this was the 31st semester that I have completed in NCI. The last week of a semester always gives me mixed feelings in that as each day passes I have a last lecture/tutorial with each class in turn. Some I will see in class again in semester two, others not. They say that time flies if you are having fun, I definitely had a lot of fun working with students this semester, as it absolutely flew by. I also notice that the older I get, the faster the time goes!

Sir Ronald Fisher.
Image source: Wikipedia.
I was asked a lot of questions this semester by students during and after classes - most I hope I gave satisfactory answers to. By far the toughest question I was asked was "Who makes up this shit?"! I had just completed a statistics class and the topic was Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). While the class giggled about this, I was a bit taken aback as I had never been asked a question like this before. I sensed it was asked with tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless it is an interesting question. Why and how do people come up with new ideas, and who was the first to do something?

A one-way ANOVA is a statistical test to determine if there is a significant difference between the means of 3 or more groups, and it was created by the well-known statistician Ronald Fisher in the 1920s - see a profile of him in Wikipedia. If you want to know how to perform a one-way ANOVA test, check out my video below which shows you the technique that I covered in class - which led to the "Who makes up this shit?" question!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Blast from the past #AntiNuke

In a tribute to the late Dr Frank Jeal, posted in the News & Events section on the web page of the Zoology Department in Trinity College, there are many tributes and comments from past students and colleagues of Frank. Included are some photos which bring back a lot of memories of Frank, especially the one below also which includes yours truly (and Frank on extreme left). That combat jacket was one of my favourites, I was also very fond of my head of hair! I'm guessing the photo was taken on a Zoology Field Trip probably in 1980 or 1981 - I don't recognise the building or where it was, though Portaferry in Co Down was the destination for most field trips.

I note in the photo that I am wearing an anti-nuke badge on my left lapel - they were quite trendy at the time as the ESB were planning a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point in Co Wexford. I remember once wearing it to a chemistry lab where our lecturer spotted it and asked me why I was wearing it. No doubt at the time I was worried about nuclear fall-out and Carnsore being wiped off the map (or I was trying to be trendy!) - there was a lot of opposition to it at the time. My lecturer pressed me along the lines of "If it was possible to guarantee that the nuclear plant was 100% safe, would I still be opposed to nuclear energy?" A difficult question for me to answer at the time - he was a PhD in chemistry, I a mere 2nd year student. I'm sure I still opposed it - nothing can be 100% safe. Just 5 years later - the Chernobyl disaster happened.

Monday, December 11, 2017

10 Years of Learning and Teaching with YouTube

On Tuesday 11th December 2007, I created my YouTube channel and uploaded my first video. Given that YouTube was only founded in 2005, and taken over by Google in 2006, I was indeed an early adopter of this medium. 13,875,105 views and 28,603 subscribers later, I am still at it!

My first video was "How To... Convert PowerPoint to iPod Movie". At the time I did not have a SmartPhone (the iPhone was first released on June 29, 2007) - so the old-fashioned iPod seemed to me at the time to be a great tool for learning. In the years around 2007 I mostly taught on the then MSc in e-Learning programme. I created the video as part of an exercise to get students to use technology in innovative ways. Nowadays creating a video is very easy, but back then to get it on an iPod I had to do the following:
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation
  • Import each slide as an image into Windows Movie Maker, add narration, and save as a movie
  • Use a (free) Jodix iPod video converter to convert the video into iPod friendly format
  • Add the video to iTunes, and sync with iPod
This video has been viewed just 6,390 times in ten years, and hardly at all in the past few years as technology is now more enhanced. The picture quality is poor, and some of the syncing of audio to each image is not good. So for a little bit of nostalgia (at least for me!), here is my oldest and first ever YouTube video:

Thursday, December 07, 2017

If you don't know data, you're out of the game. via @tableau

Tableau Software have published "2018: The Year Ahead for Business Intelligence" - it is always interesting to check out what respected and leading companies like Tableau think the future might hold. A key theme throughout is how much easier it is going to be to analyse data so that anyone can do it. While the article is very general, it breaks down into the following 10 topics:
  1. Don't Fear AI
  2. Liberal Arts Impact
  3. Promise of NLP
  4. Multi-Cloud Debate
  5. Rise of the CDO
  6. Crowdsourced Governance
  7. Data Insurance
  8. Data Engineer Role
  9. Location IoT
  10. Academics Investment
Go to the article to read and watch videos (which rather annoyingly are not available to embed) for yourself, but for me two topics stand out for attention: #2 "Liberal Arts Impact", and #10 "Academics Investment". 

Liberal Arts Impact
Who'd have thought that data had anything to do with the Arts? Anya A'hearn (what a brilliant name!) of Datablick tells us that the art of storytelling has helped "influence the data analytics industry" and that "organizations are placing a higher value on hiring workers who can use data and insights to affect change and drive transformation through art and persuasion, not only on the analytics itself" - it's all about telling a story with data.

Academic Investment
A little bit closer to home for me is data analysis, not just teaching, has a role in third level institutions. As Dr Michael Galbreth (University of South Carolina) puts it; graduates "need to be comfortable with data". There is a huge demand from students to learn more about data, with most colleges now having some kind of data analytics/science programme. Colleges are responding to this demand, and we have to be on our game to develop, update, and deliver the right programmes. As Anya A'hearn puts it; "If you don't know data, you're out of the game". True.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

40 Years Ago #ccr

Outside CCR Front Door.
I spent yesterday evening in the wonderful company of about 30 lads in their late 50s who all did their Leaving Certificate in 1977 in Cistercian College Roscrea. We were marking the 40th anniversary of finishing secondary school there. While I see some of the lads reasonably regularly, it was brilliant to meet up with two who I have not seen since June 1977 (PB and TO'T).

We were met in the College for a reception where the biggest treat for me was to meet my French teacher John Shanahan. I told him that I had written about him in my blog when I posted about My Introduction to Learning Technology - September, 1972, and again about My Favourite Teachers - thank you Mrs Keating, Mr Hallahan, Mr Ó Riordáin, Mr Shanahan, Mr O'Loughlin, and Dr Jeal #thankateacherWe had a great chat about Voix et Image and how he was a pioneer of technology in education. Si jamais vous arrivez à voir ce message, merci M. Shanahan pour votre inspiration avec la technologie!

So - walking around the College we were given a tour by the House Captains. A lot has changed in 40 years, though the cold rooms and corridors remain the same. We even attended Mass celebrated by Fr Kevin in the school chapel. In the evening we adjourned to the County Arms in Birr for a super meal, a few beers, and of course more chat. Memories flooded back of our time in CCR 40 years ago - lots of shared stories of bunking mass, robbing orchards, fights, hair cuts, the leather, Roscrea girls, listening to the radio on Saturday afternoons with Tosh, tuck shop, rugby, and of course the bread which kept us all alive. 

I spent just 5 out of my 58 years in Roscrea - yet it is a valued connection when 30 lads can celebrate together and spend an evening in each others company as if we were best friends. We all have had different life experiences with (please God) lots more to come. We vowed we would meet up for a 50th anniversary, though I felt a little sad leaving everybody this morning.

I'd like to give a big shout out to current Roscrea student Manus Heenan who as part of his Transition Year studies has created a mini-business making and selling bread using the original recipe from the monastery. He had the clever idea of selling his goods to a captive audience like us during our reception in the College.  I bought a pack of his ready-to-go bread mix. Details of Manus's business can be found at, and he even has a great YouTube "How To" video showing us how to make Roscrea's famous bread.