Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 - A Review

2018 is almost over, and I had many blessings and new experiences throughout the year, that I am grateful to have had. Some highlights that come to mind... 

Undoubtedly, the key highlight in 2018 for me at work was the opportunity to teach a module on-line for the first time. The module was Programming for Big Data and I had about 25 students from lots of different places in Ireland in my class. It had been several years since I taught programming (Java) in the College, so I was quite rusty at the beginning. A few new things about this were: the programming language used was R - though I use this on a regular basis, I had never taught it as a subject before. The online experience was of course new, and I had to develop a lot of new content. I also decided not to give lectures on-line. Even though I did prepare PowerPoint slides for each class, I hardly used them - preferring instead to have students writing code as much as possible. Another first was that I did a series video reflections on the experience.

My YouTube channel is going from strength to strength -  a record daily views figure of 15,252 was reached on the 10th of December, and there were just over 3.5 million views throughout the year.

In 2018 I visited three places that I had never been to before. In March, Roma and I went to Cuba for a week's holiday, in the summer we went to Vancouver to visit with family and see the sights. A city break in September took us to Amsterdam. Travel does broaden the mind and I hope to visit many new paces in 2019. Iceland and Route 66 are on the list for 2019!

Empty Nest (again!)
Roma and I are alone again in our house as we get to know what being "empty-nesters" is like. While our house is always open to our daughters, it is quite the new feeling to have the house to ourselves for the first time since 1988. 

Retirement (not me!)
In July Roma sold her Pharmacy and promptly retired. I think I like the idea of retirement! Selling the pharmacy was a huge thing for her after running it for more than 25 years. I have never seen her more relaxed!

I have been consumed with Brexit all year - the amount of "what-ifs" is amazing, and with just a few weeks to go no one seems to know for sure what will happen. I have become an avid reader of The Guardian and have watched with a mix of curiosity, amazement, and bewilderment at the carry-on in our nearest neighbour. Later today I will cross the border in to Northern Ireland - perhaps for the last time while people of both sides are citizens of the European Union.

While I continue to use Facebook, Twitter has become almost a side social media issue for me. I hardly used it at all in 2018 and almost never tweet. Is this the end of social media? Both Twitter and Facebook are a time-suck - I have better things to do. In 2019 I expect Facebook will become less of a thing for me.

Diamond Anniversary/Wedding
From a family point-of-view, 2018 was a great year. In February my niece Eileen got married - it was a great occasion where many of our family got together for an all too rare occasion. In October, my Mum and Dad celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary - another great family occasion. In 2019 I myself will reach a landmark - I will be 60 years of age next October!

I'm not a person for regrets, but I do regret not attending Pope Francis's Mass in the Phoenix Park last September. I had no excuse not to attend, but I did not make the effort to go. I was completely fed-up of the non-stop media coverage of clerical abuse (a very serious matter) - it appeared to me that Pope Francis was undergoing penance by coming here. On almost every occasion/event, he had to withstand heavy criticism of the Church. I doubt if a Pope will come to Ireland again in my lifetime - but if he (she?) does - I will definitely be there.

Careful with that axe
Finally, this post will be my 103rd of the year. This is by far the lowest number of blog posts for any year since 2007. For most of the year my blog posts were not being automatically posted to Facebook (they still automatically post to LinkedIn and Twitter). I have no explanation for why I have slowed down writing - it was certainly not intentional. In May I only posted 3 times, and never exceeded 10 posts in any month. On several occasions I have let a week go by without writing anything. I'll try harder to write (meaningful stuff - not shite) in 2019.

Oh - and I got "Careful with that axe" tattooed on my arm!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Samuel F. O'Reilly #tattoo

US Patent 464,801.
Image source: Google Patents.
I believe that we all learn at least something from even trivial experiences. By total coincidence when I was listening to RTÉ radio on the morning after my tattoo, there was a feature on Irish inventors - one of whom I learn was Samuel F. O'Reilly who is credited with inventing the tattoo machine. He was born in Waterbury, Connecticut to Irish immigrant parents in 1854. He was twice imprisoned for crimes like burglary - he also deserted from the US Marine Corps. 

By the mid 1980s he had moved away from a life of crime and opened a tattoo studio in New York - he also transformed himself into "Professor O’Reilly". At that time, tattoos were inflicted using needles attached to a wooden stake which were hammered into the skin. Based on an electric pen invented by Thomas Edison - Prof O'Reilly patented an electric rotary tattoo machine on 8th December, 1891. The patent (#464,801) is described as a "Tattooing apparatus with incorporated liquid feeding device".

Due to the success of his tattooing apparatus, tattooing became very popular, especially amongst sailors who were not considered "seaworthy" unless they had a tattoo. It was also considered to be high fashion to have a tattoo - Prof O'Reilly even made house calls to those who did not want to be seen in his tattoo studio. 

Little did I know that the machine used on me last Friday was invented by an ex-con Irishman - you learn something new every day! You can read more about "Professor Samuel F. O'Reilly" in the Irish America website.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Tattoo #LoveYouMum

For my 59th birthday last October my wonderful daughters (Claire, Kate, and Vicki) gave me a voucher for a tattoo at Dublin Ink




At first I was nervous, but not today. I felt cool, and about 40 years younger. This was a taboo that I wanted to cross. Like many of my generation I considered tattoos as a waste of time and effort. In recent years I have indeed noticed that "ink" or "body art" has become a lot more prevalent, especially amongst younger people. All three of my daughters have tattoos. so I decided to join them.

The brilliant Christian at work.
The folks at Dublin Ink could not have been kinder to this first time tattoo punter. I was at all times put at ease by staff who seemed to be about 30 years younger than me. My tattoo artist was Christian, who I have to say was very methodical with everything he did. Hygiene and safety were primary and I never at any stage felt uncomfortable. Chris told me that I would feel a scratch - and that's exactly how it felt. The needle from my platelet donation the day before was far more painful! 

I have a plastic cover to wear for 4-5 days - this will keep everything clean and hygienic. So far nothing negative - there is a (very) little bit of swelling, hopefully the next few days will be OK.

There was only ever going to be one tattoo for me - "Careful with that Axe". This of course is the title of my blog, but more importantly - it is also the title of a track by Pink Floyd. The axe is a Gotland Viking Axe with a crucifix in the centre.

So - so far so good, but how do I get this past my Mom? I feel like a teenager who has just got a tattoo after drinking for the first time! She is going to kill me! Or at least I will be grounded! I hope the crucifix will win the day!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Blood Platelets #150 #GiveBlood

Ireland needs more blood platelet donors. Platelets are a component of blood, essential to stop bruising and bleeding. Over 22,000 platelet transfusions are needed every year in Ireland - I donate about 10 times a year at the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Clinic in St James's Hospital. Especially at holiday time, donations are needed more than ever. Unlike whole blood, platelets only last a few days - so a steady supply is needed. Today I did my 150th donation. Platelets are used in the treatment of cancer and leukemic patients, bone marrow transplant, new born babies and burns victims. The Irish Blood Transfusion Service provides life-saving platelets to all of the hospitals in Ireland. Due to the rising number of cancer diagnosis in the country, there is always a need for platelet donors. There are just 2,400 Irish platelet donors and they are looking for new donors to join the panel.

You can see a Blood Platelet Apheresis Machine to my left in the photo above. Basically it extracts whole blood, and removes the platelets with a centrifuge, and returns what's left. It's completely painless (OK - the needle at the beginning can sting for a second) and takes about 50-70 minutes, though this varies from donor to donor. My donation took 73 minutes today. I started to watch the movie "Passengers" on Netflix throughout the donation.

If you are interested in becoming a blood platelet donor, check out the Give Platelets page at the Irish Blood Transfusion Service's web site. You'll be glad you did it!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Who is Watching What on Christmas Day

Image source: Icon-Icons.
I am always fascinated that there are folks who will view my videos on Christmas Day. Perhaps some are taking time off from their festivities to do a bit of study, or maybe the viewers were searching for something else? In total, there were 4,717 views on my channel on Christmas Day - the high number of views ever for me on this day. The top viewed video was How To... Perform Simple Linear Regression by Hand which was viewed 376 times (8%) of total. The top two countries were India (30%) and the United States (13%) - this reverses the usual trend where the US is on top. There were 24 views in Ireland - perhaps some of these are my own students???

I'm looking forward to a good year next year and hope that the channel continues to grow. Currently the total number of views is 17.5 million - with a bit of luck this number should exceed 20,000,000 well before the end of 2019. I hope to be able to create more videos next year - I recently had to withdraw a video when a very observant viewer spotted a minor error. First up will be a replacement for this video. Statistics and Data Analysis are now very popular, so I'll be watching out for more opportunities to create content. I've yet to decide if I'll make videos about R programming which I'm teaching this year for the first time. I have a whole archive of recorded lectures, but these are 2.5 hours long and not suitable in their current format. I do know from my own experience that view duration is actually quite short - the average view duration for my entire channel in 2018 is 2 minutes and 29 seconds. Even for my popular Linear Regression video, which is 10 minutes and 55 seconds long - the average duration is 2 minutes and 49 seconds. So short is best.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Data Science: The End of Statistics? #NotYet #Statistics

I came across an interesting blog called Normal Deviate today. Though the author has ceased to post since 2013, it has an interesting post: Data Science: The End of Statistics? that set me thinking about Statistics. Despite its title, the author is not writing about data science bringing about the "End of Statistics". The author bemoans the fact that the "very fact that people can talk about data science without even realizing there is a field already devoted to the analysis of data — a field called statistics — is alarming". The author also complain that that so-called “data scientists” are ignoring biases, not computing standard errors, not stating and checking assumption and so on. He/she states there there seems to be more of an emphasis on computer science to process large quantities of data to the detriment of statistics. The point seems to be that statisticians need more computer science so that they can "do serious computing" and to be able to understand and use "programming languages".

As a Lecturer who teaches statistics in a School of Computing, I don't consider myself as either a statistician or a computer scientist. I am a Marine Biologist by qualification who over the years has picked a few skills in statistics and programming. Nevertheless, I try to do my best to both get students to learn about analysing data with statistics, and to get them excited about data. In one class a few months ago when finishing up on the topic of Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) one student asked out loud "Who makes up this shit?"! Good question - who needs statistics? Charles Wheelan in his book (Naked Statistics) gives us plenty of excellent reasons why we should study statistics:
  • To summarize huge quantities of data
  • To make better decisions
  • To answer important social questions
  • To recognise patterns that can refine how we do everything from selling diapers to catching criminals
  • To catch cheaters and professional criminals
  • To evaluate effectiveness of policies, programs, drugs, medical procedures, and other innovations
  • And to spot the scoundrels who use these very same powerful tools for nefarious ends

The End of Statistics? Not yet!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Fines for Firsts

Today's Guardian reports that in the UK, that the University watchdog (OfS) "threatens fines over grade inflation". This is as a consequence of the proportion of first class degrees increasing from 16% to 27% in six years. According to the article "84% of universities seeing significant unexplained increases in the number of first-class degrees awarded".

Below I have drawn a chart showing the average percentage of First Class Honours Degrees for 148 Universities across the UK showing the 16% to 27% increase:

Data Source: UK Office for Students (OfS)

The average increase is indeed dramatic - OfS describes it as "unexplained". There could be a wide variety of reasons for this unexplained increase. UK Universities have cited "more emphasis on the quality of teaching, alongside the fact that with higher tuition fees students are working harder to achieve higher grades". It could also be that students are smarter and that technology enhances their learning. The points race to get into University in Ireland, and no doubt elsewhere, hones exams skills in students as they are more prepared for exams. Today's students have more resources available to them than ever before. It could also be that universities and colleges are deliberately inflating grades - competition between third level institutes for students is greater than ever. I don't know if the number of first class degrees is counted in University rankings - but it they are, there is a strong case for leaving them out.

It should also be pointed out that an average grade of 70% or over is needed to achieve a first class honours at a third-level university. To achieve a H1 (maximum points) in the second-level Leaving Certificate, you need to get 90%.

I always feel that if a student is awarded a First - that they have earned it. One question I always ask myself when grading assignments, projects, and exams is "Is this a first class piece of work?" - if so, I'll consider a grade over 70%. It is hard to consistently get 70% over several modules and in continuous assessments plus exams. Only the exceptional students achieve this. I recall the astonishment at the fact that in my final year (1983) in Trinity - 3 out of 18 of us in my class got Firsts (sadly, this this not include me). The following year there was open questioning of grading when 6 out of about 22 students got Firsts. 

A First is a badge of honour that only a few students should achieve.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Final thoughts #vlog15

My last class for the on-line module Programming for Big Data on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics took place last evening. Yippee - I reached the end of the semester in one piece! Here are my final thoughts and reflections on teaching a module on-line for the first time...

Monday, December 10, 2018

An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis - Republished on Amazon

Since it was first published in 2009, my first book, An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis has sold quite well (though I made very little money from it) - but is now out of print. My original publisher (The Liffey Press) and I have decided that it will no longer be available from the publisher - no new print runs will be done, and I have taken back control of the book.

I have reworked the old version of the book and it is now published directly on Amazon. Even though I got all my old files back from The Liffey Press, it was not as straight-forward as I thought to republish. I got each chapter as a separate file, and had to combine them into a single document using Microsoft Word. I had a lot of difficulty with section breaks and headers, and when I went to publish the Word doc - lots of changes were made in the publishing process (blank pages, wrong page numbers, etc). In the end, I converted the Word document to PDF format and it worked a treat. The book is now available as a print-to-order version - online it looks almost exactly like the old version. I have a proof copy on order to check it out.

With Amazon of course you can also make a book available as an eBook for Kindle. I tried this with my book, but unfortunately it looked dreadful. Many of the tables split up badly - too wide and too long for the Kindle screen. Diagrams also are sometimes missing, or only half are on view. It just simply will not work in the current format - it would have to be completely re-worked for publication on Kindle. I had hoped that the book would be available on Kindle for a low price - but this is not to be. I am therefore reducing the price of the printed version from £25 to £15, and will probably lower it again next year. Amazon gets 40% of the sale price, the author gets 60%. However, the cost of printing is taken out of the author's cut - I expect to get about £2 royalty from every sale. This book is quite cheap to print as it is all in black and white. 

This is my third book that is now published through Amazon. It's nice for an author to think that their books will be available effectively forever after they are out of print. Thank you Amazon!

Monday, December 03, 2018

A Record Week on YouTube

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not slow to brag highlight notable landmark viewing figures on my YouTube Channel. After a significant fall-off in viewing figures the previous week, due in the main to the Thanksgiving Holiday in the USA, this past week has seen my daily viewing figures record being broken three times. Before Monday last week, the highest viewing figure per day was 13,811 achieved on 19th April last. On Monday, a new record was set with 14,143 views. The next day this record was broken with 14,551, on Wednesday the figure reached 14,726 for a new record that will probably stand until next April (should current trends be followed). Needless to say, it was also a record week (88,039 views), and a record month (340,000 views) - I am also heading for a record year.

As always - I continue to be astonished at these figures. That so many people find my videos useful is amazing and humbling to me. Yes I do also make money from this, but current figures lag behind what I used to make between 2012 and 2015. My statistics videos have shown the most growth, so I think I will plan a few more.