Friday, March 29, 2019

"59 year old farts" don't like Harley-Davidson's new electric bike #LiveWire

Here's news of something I thought I'd never see - Harley-Davidson have recently announced the launch of the LiveWire, a new electric bike. Petrol Heads everywhere must be both surprised and astonished that such an icon of American iron is embracing the electric era. This is what it looks like:

Image source: Clean Technica.

Apart from the Sportster like tank, this does not look like a Harley. No exhaust pipes (which means no noise) looks weird, and the "engine" looks like it wouldn't pull you out of your bed. However, this bike is not built for cruising on long journeys. For a start, it will do just 175 kms (110 miles) on a charge. There is no room for luggage, but I suspect many riders will like the instant acceleration that an electric "engine" gives plus not having to deal with gears. What riders won't like is the price tag, Dublin Harley-Davidson is quoting prices starting at a whopping €34,695 (pre-orders open in April) - that's more expensive that any new motorcycle (other than Trikes) that Harley-Davidson sells in Ireland.

The Beautifully Organised Blog gets it right for me when it quotes a rider called David Lutzow, of Pasadena. While he thinks that it is great for the environment that Harley-Davidson is going electric, he is not sure if it will "catch on". He says. "I think it will attract the younger people — they call them, what, millennials or whatever? I think it will attract that group, other than 59-year-old farts like myself.

As a fellow 59-year-old "fart", give me the smell and noise of my Monster Ovals exhaust pipes and the rumble of my 1600 cc noisy engine any time!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

30 Years Ago - CBT Systems

On 28th March 1989 I walked though the doors of 39/40 Lower Mount Street in Dublin into my first "proper job" - my how the 30 years since have passed! The company was named "CBT Systems" - when I was interviewed for the job (with BB and TG) I did not know what "CBT" stood for - no Google in those days to look it up! CBT (Computer Based Training) Systems became SmartForce in 1997, which in turn was taken over by Skillsoft in 2002 when I left the company.

I remember that my first day was spent looking at the company's existing e-Learning courses, though it was not called e-Learning then. I remember that the product we (two others started the same days) looked at was called "Protocol 90" - a course on telecommunications that was the first big success for CBT Systems. We spent over a week training in a basement office before we were added to project teams.

One of my first business cards.
When I think back to the technology that we used then it amazes me how we got any work done. The PC I had was an early 1980s IBM 8086 with no hard drive - I was very excited to have a computer to myself to work with! It had two 5.5 inch floppy disk drives, the program we used (TenCORE) was on one disk, our work on the other. The operating system was MS-DOS. No network to back up our work - this was done at the end of the week by copying our work onto separate floppy disks which were taken off site. None of us had mobile phones, laptops, or our own computers at home at that time. 

I remember being very nervous on the first day, but I was put at ease straight away. No way would I have predicted that I would spend over 13 years in CBT Systems/SmartForce which involved moving from floppy disks to the dot com boom. Though it is now nearly 17 years since I left SmartForce I still have fond memories of the people and the work since my first day nervously knocking on the door of 39/40 Mount Street.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A New Leader @YouTube

For almost all the time since I published my How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010 in January 2011, it has been my most watched YouTube video. It was my first video to reach a million views , and to date it has 1,216,688 views. Earlier this year, my How To... Plot Multiple Data Sets on the Same Chart in Excel 2010 (published in April 2012) became my second video to reach a million views and just a few weeks ago it surpassed the Gantt chart video to take over as my most viewed video. Today it has reached 1,285,406 views. In both cases it has taken about six to seven years to reach the one million views landmark - not exactly "going viral", but figures I am proud of just the same. It is hard to create a YouTube "Hit" in the "How To..." space, a funny dog video might get a million views in just a day!

I have some plans for a new set of videos, but equipment and time are both short at the moment. I would love to do more Statistics By Hand videos but I no longer have access to an adequate document reader (I am experimenting with my new GoPro). I may also dip my toe into R Programming, and a bit more SPSS.

So here's to the new #1...!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Only snobs care about apostrophes

Image source: The Guardian.
The First Dog on the Moon cartoonist makes fun of apostrophe snobs in last week's guardian newspaper: Only snobs care about apostrophes: some correct and popular opinions. It's good fun and as a satirist, the First Dog is not really insulting people who insist on the correct use of apostrophes. I'm also sure he is not having a go at Irish surnames - many, like mine, have an apostrophe in them. I am a self-confessed apostrophe snob!

Beto O'Rourke
Image Source: Facebook.
Your name is one of your most precious things - and I always appreciate the effort that people make to get my surname right. The correct spelling of my family's surname is "O'Loughlin", not "Oloughlin", or "O Loughlin", or "Loughlin". The apostrophe is on all keyboards, just like other symbols and the rest of the alphabet. If people don't make the effort to get a surname right - in a way they are giving a mild insult. Leaving out the apostrophe is the most common error that people make when they get my name wrong. Would "John Smith" be insulted if the name omitted one character and was written as "John S ith"? 

Perhaps if there were more famous people who had an apostrophe, then people would get it right. I hope that Beto O'Rourke gets to be President of the United States - if only to show the world how an Irish name is spelt!

It is not snobbish to want your name spelt correctly - make the effort!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Reading" Week

Today is the start of Reading Week - no classes for four days following yesterday's St Patrick's weekend Bank Holiday. It is a welcome break for me after eight weeks in a row of classes. Most of this week for me will be spent grading Continuous Assessments. I also have the remainder of the semester to plan - though just four more weeks to go. This semester was my first ever with three evening classes, so it will a little strange going back to 9 to 5 for the week.

Reading Week is not just a break from classes. For students it is an opportunity to catch up on study, work on projects, and most importantly to take a break from classes. For faculty it is an opportunity to catch up on grading and class preparation - for some it will be an opportunity to concentrate on research, and most importantly to take a break from classes too. With Easter being so late this year we do not have the opportunity to have two Reading Weeks, so we need to make the most of the break.

The question is - despite above comments, it is worth it? Even the name "Reading Week" suggests that a lot of academic work is being done. No doubt there is much work being done - especially for those students in their final year, or those taking a one year course. But is it the same for all? For me I think that since it was introduced in the College that the break aspect of the week has become most important as semester fatigue sets in. In the week before Reading Week I often note a slight drop in attendance - I guess this is not surprising as it also the lead into a Bank Holiday weekend.

I do hope that students find the time for both study and a rest this week, and set themselves up for the last push before exams start on 1st May. Reading Week - make the most of it!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Being Irish and Native American on St Patrick's Day

So - I was born, reared, live, and will die in Ireland. In my family tree at Ancestry, as far as I can tell - all of my traced ancestors are Irish. So I guess that makes me 100% Irish? While I certainly feel 100% Irish, apparently this is not the case!

Some years ago I got my DNA assessed by the National Geographic's Genographic Project. Clearly it is tracing my DNA back a long time and the results show a mixed ancestry reflecting a mixed heritage. I am 2% Native American according to my results!

While the figures are very general, it does point out that everyone in the world today is linked in some way. In fact, the common direct maternal ancestor to all women alive today was born in East Africa around 180,000 years ago, and that the common direct paternal ancestor of all men alive today was born in Africa around 140,000 years ago. Not quite Adam and Eve as they lived 40,000 years apart and they were not the only man and woman alive at those times. But only their direct ancestors survive today.

I hope that some of my Native American cousins will celebrate St Patrick's Day today - perhaps even with a pint of the black stuff (which I plan to have later)!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Happy 30th Birthday World Wide Web!

This NeXT Computer was used by Berners-Lee
at CERN and became the world's first web server.
Image credit: By Coolcaesar at the English language
Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
So - 30 years ago today in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web - I was just starting my first proper job (in a company called CBT Systems, which later became SmartForce). Like almost everyone, I was oblivious as to what was going on - and certainly not aware of the impact this moment would have on our lives 30 years later. According to Wikipedia, the definition of what the World Wide Web is:

The World Wide Web, commonly known as the Web, is an information space where documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators, which may be interlinked by hypertext, and are accessible via the Internet.

Of course - very few people used the web in 1989. We didn't even have email (I got my first email address at the end of 1994). There was no wasting time looking up the latest news, or checking Facebook, or watching YouTube. I recall wasting time actually chatting with colleagues in the office!

In 1989, Computer Based Training (CBT) was in its infancy - all our courses were delivered on 5 1/2 inch floppy diskettes. Within 10 years we were delivering courses on the World Wide Web via the Internet. WWW made innovation possible on a scale none of us thought possible - but look at us now! Education has thrived with learners able to study at long distances learning almost any topic they want. One of the four modules I teach (R Programming) is on-line, with students from all over Ireland connecting with me as I sit in my office - a long way from a 5 1/2 inch floppy diskette!

A screen-shot from one of my on-line classes.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Jerry Merryman RIP

Jerry Merryman (1932-2019).
Image source: NBC News.
Until today, I did not know who Jerry Merryman was - it turns out he was one of the three men who invented the hand-held calculator. Sadly he died on 27th February last - one can say that he truly had an effect on people's lives.

I am reminded of the Intermediate (now Junior) Certificate exams in 1975 - I was 15 years old and calculators were allowed in State Maths exams for the first time in Ireland. If I recall correctly, there were just two boys in the whole exam hall who had calculators, one was in front of me. It seemed grossly unfair that some boys had calculators, while most of us did not - we had to use the old-fashioned Log Tables instead. The Department of Education quickly abandoned calculators in exams after this and they were not re-introduced for some years. 

Jerry Merryman and his colleagues certainly made life easier for anyone needing to carry out basic and advanced mathematical functions. Some argued when they were introduced that students would lose the ability to add and subtract. This may be so, but it frees up valuable time to study other things.