Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 is dead, long live 2020!

So - 2019 is almost over and 2020 is upon us. A new decade begins - this will be my eight decade, which makes me feel old despite only catching the last three months of the 1950s. A quick look back on the year of 2019:

Highlight of the Year
No contest here - this was the trip with Roma and a great bunch of bikers across the 2,848 miles of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in July. For 14 days we rode our Harley-Davidsons on Main Street America, and enjoyed every second of it. We got to see lots of iconic American sites - the highlights being: the Grand Canyon, Cadillac Range, a corner in Winslow, Arizona, Oatman, Joshua Tree and Petrified Forest parks, and much more. Definitely the trip of a lifetime, but I hope to get a few more of these in for what's left of my lifetime.

Educational Highlight of the Year
In January last I delivered my second module on-line. I really enjoyed this experience and felt comfortable in this environment. I will be doing so again this January (R Programming module) and I find that every time I do it, I get a bit better at teaching in the on-line environment. 

Entertainment Highlight of the Year
40 years after the movie was released, I finally got to see Grease. While I was familiar with a lot of the songs, many I heard for the first time. I did not know the story line - so it was a great evening's entertainment. Hopefully I can get to more shows in 2020.

Technical Highlight of the Year
No doubt about this - I got a Google Pixel 3a phone during the summer, and it is the best phone I ever had (after several iPhones). It just does everything, and of course is the perfect companion for anyone like me who uses a lot of Google's tools and features. Recommended.

YouTube Highlight of the Year
In mid October, my YouTube channel passed the 20,000,000 views landmark figure. Despite getting an official warning from Google/YouTube for violating their terms and conditions, it was still a good year. Views were down on 2018, but revenue and subscriber subscriptions were up. Lots of plans for this channel next year!

Turning 60
I don't feel like I am 60 years old, but on October 7th last - I did turn 60. If I get the "four score years and ten" life allowance, I have three of my four scores already used up. No regrets over the past 60 years, and I look forward to another score plus ten. It has, however, made me think about how to spend the rest of my days - the big plan is to retire in late 2020 and to enjoy myself travelling. There's a whole world out there to see, and I intend to see it. 

Roll on 2020!

Monday, December 30, 2019

YouTube Review of 2019

This past year has been a mixed year for my YouTube Channel. Views (3.1 million) are down considerably from last year's 3.5 million. However, earnings are up due to a splurge in advertising spending on YouTube during the last few months of the year. The number of views continues to follow a familiar weekly and seasonal pattern, with November and early December being the best time of the year:

Click/Tap to Enlarge.
The highest number of views on any one day was 13,915 on 10th December - this compares with the highest number of 15,252 views recorded on the same day in 2018. Right across the year, the number of views has been slightly under what they were the previous year. I have no explanation for this, but I did not publish that many videos in 2019 - I know that it is recommended to publish regularly to keep up viewing numbers, subscriptions, and revenue. The lowest number of views on any one day was 3,691 on 24th December. Curiously, on Christmas Day there were 3,983 views!

In 2019 I "gained" 10,242 subscribers, and "lost" 2,100 for a net gain of 8,142. This means that the channel has 44,646 subscribers in total - if current trends continue this should rise to over 50,000 during 2020, a nice landmark figure to look forward to. I wish I knew how to reach out to these subscribers to gather feedback to improve the channel.

I do have ambitious plans for more new educational videos during 2020. I am a firm believer that the learning-byte sized short "How To..." style video should be free for all to access. If you just at any one time need figure out how to do one thing, then there is no need to subscribe to or purchase a full course.

As always - I am both grateful and humbled that so many people find my short videos helpful and that I can reach out across the world to help them learn something useful.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

My Primary School #Carnew

Me. Carnew N.S. (1965).
Today, while on my way to see my Mum and Dad, I stopped off at Scoil Aodán Naofa (St Aidan's School) in Carnew, south Co Wicklow, where I went to primary school. To me it has always been simply "Carnew National School". I attended this school from 1964 to 1971 (aged 4 to 11).  As it was built in 1958 (the year before I was born), it was a relatively new school at the time. There were four classrooms (seen in first picture below), later extended to six with the addition of two prefab buildings at the back of this building. There are more buildings added since I was at school here.

I have only patchy memories of my time in this school. My first teacher was Mary Keating - a woman who took no nonsense and who ruled the classroom with a ruler. I can barely remember who else was in my class, I did bump into one (BB) last summer after a round of golf in nearby Coolattin - otherwise since 1971 I have rarely met my classmates. I can remember the names of only four teachers: Mary Keating (Junior Infants), Mr Hennessy (3rd class - I forget his first name), Seán Hallahan (4th class), and Frank Fitzgerald (5th class). I did not complete 6th class in Carnew and was sent instead to an Irish school in Trabolgan, Co Cork. I often wonder what would have become of me if I had stayed in Carnew, and not gone to Roscrea for secondary school. I still consider Carnew (Curnoo!) as my home town (even though I was a reared three miles outside the town), as this is where I went to school. Did I have a Curnoo accent (probably), rather than the posh South Dublin one I have now (according to my daughters)? 

There are now forbidding "Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted", "CCTV in Operation", and "Staff Only" signs at the school entrance - I would have loved to checked out the school and to see if the yard at the back is still there. Us country students used to have our lunch outside in shelters (the townies could go home for lunch), and the field beside the yard doubled as Croke Park/Lansdowne Road/Wembley. Alas - I has to look at Google Satellite Maps to see that all has changed since I left 48 years ago in 1971.

My entire life has been involved in education - Carnew National School is where it started.

Carnew National School - old buildings from 1958.
What was my first day at school like (in 1964)?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Decline in Number of Blog Posts

There are five days left in 2019, and I need four more blog posts to avoid falling under 100 annual posts for the first time since 2007. To date I have published 2,184 posts (including this one) - that's a lot of ranting, raving, and bullshitting! I do write about education, family, and in the past few years I have concentrated a bit more on data analytics and statistics. Overall - since a high of 262 posts in 2011 the number of posts has been declining on an annual basis. The exception is 2016 when I did an experiment to see if I could write a post every day. 

Number of Blog Posts by Year.

I don't have an explanation as to why I am writing less and less posts. Very few people read them, so it is very much a personal project to keep doing so. While I am an academic making a living as a lecturer, I am not engaged in research and writing academic papers. I should be, but I'm not. So blogging is my only publishing outlet. I like to comment on contemporary education topics and data related issues, but it is very much in the form of my thoughts on certain subjects. It is sometimes hard to think of something to write about, but I intend to keep going. Just three more posts in the next four days and I will hit the 100 target.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Time for holidays #HappyChristmas

Irish coffee glass.jpg
Image source: jules / stone soupCC BY 2.0Link
Today is the last day at work for most people, though many will have taken today off - especially those travelling. It is a quiet day in the College, and the roads were also very quiet coming into Dublin too. Despite this, it is one of my favourite days of the year. We have a tradition in the College to wind up the calendar year with Irish Coffees in the staff canteen - a great get-together with some festive cheer. 

The past semester seemed to have passed me by very quickly. I had the same modules as in the previous year and only minor updates were required to deliver them again - so not so much preparation for classes. I also managed to stay on top of continuous assessment grading - it's great to reach the end of the semester and not have this hanging over me. It was with a little tinge of sadness when I finished each module - I may not be teaching three of the four modules again. I will especially miss the Business Data Analysis module - I have come to love teaching statistics since I started doing so in September 2012.

January will be busy as I will have about 150 exams scripts and projects to grade. Once again I will not have any new modules, and will have just two Statistics classes and one programming class. The biggest thing that I will be participating in next year is the Programmatic Review of the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. The documentation required for programmatic review is horrendous - I am not looking forward to this one bit. The length of time it takes is also huge. Even though this is just a one year programme, it takes a year to develop. The review will start in January 2020, and will be presented to a panel sometime in late 2020. Once confirmed (early 2021), we will then be able to deliver it for the first time in September 2021, with the first graduates receiving their Diplomas in November 2022. It seems such a long time away before the first students will graduate.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"If you want to be a great data scientist, you have to know some basic statistics" via @DataScienceCtrl

An interesting set of blog posts that I've been reading recently is hosted on Data Science Central and is written by Stephanie Glen. Her recent post "Statistics for Data Science in One Picture" captures the essence of Statistics in an easy to understand graphic that should aid students in grasping this widely variable subject. I intend to refer to this graphic in my next set of Introduction to Statistics notes. Students reading this post should check out the Data Science Central blog.

Glen's post got me thinking about what Statistics are essential for a Data Scientist to know about. Her graphic below covers basic probability and statistics - but does not mention actual tests like ANOVA and Chi-Square, which are behind everything you see on this chart:

Image source: Data Science Central (by kind permission of Stephanie Glen).

When I finished my postgraduate studies (in 1987!) I can remember saying to myself thank goodness I will never have to perform multivariate analysis or an ANOVA again. Little did I know at the time that 25 years later I would be teaching two modules on Statistics, and that this subject would become a hugely enjoyable part of my academic life. Statistics is the Science of Data, and if we are to be analytical and accurate with our data analysis - the study of statistics must form part of our training.

I doubt that many data analytical reports being written today will contain the results of a t Test (for comparison of two normally distributed data sets) or a two-way ANOVA (Analysis of Variance between three or more samples). But there will be charts and data tables so that links, trends, patterns, and relationships can be identified and analysed. Dashboards can summarize huge amounts of data in a small space, but I've never seen one that displays a p value.

However, if you want to classify data, make predictions and recommendations through machine learning - then you have to start with Bayesian statistics as Glen suggests in her chart. If you want to decide whether to include or exclude outlying data - then you have to understand central tendency and probability distributions. If you want to search for clusters or groups of data - then you have to study methods such as PCA (Principal Component Analysis) and correlation. If you want to take the guesswork out of data analysis - then you have to perform statistical tests and understand p values.

In short, if you want to be a great data scientist - you have to study statistics!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On Being a 60 Year Old Data Scientist

A 60-year old Data Scientist.
I read with interest Stephanie Glen's Blog post on Data Science Central "On Being a 50 Year Old Data Scientist". She is 52, and asks the question: "Should the over 50 crowd put down their textbooks and pick up their gardening tools?". She reports from research that many scientists do their best work after the age of 43. There is no age limit to becoming a Data Scientist - I have had several students in their fifties in my Data Analytics classes. The oldest student I have had in my class was 70 years old.

I'm not sure if I can count myself as a Data Scientist - but I do anyway. Though my PhD (1987) was based on growth of marine shellfish - it was essentially a big data study in the early days of computing based on the thousands of measurements I took. This is my seventh year as a Lecturer in Data Analytics - during this time I have taught modules on Statistics, R Programming, and Data Visualization. I certainly don't feel I am too old to be a Data Scientist. But like Glen says in her article, there is a definite "reality check" - especially in the United States where education is so expensive (a Masters in Data Science could set you back up to $54,000). Trying to get on the promotion ladder could be difficult when starting so late in life. Glen's last question is: "Are you going to be able to recoup your investment in your remaining working life? You be the judge".

I judge that it is worthwhile! This evening I will be hosting an on-line Information Session and Sample Class for the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics, and I hope that there are people older than 43 attending the session. The class can be accessed here, more details (including registration) are available here. Aspiring students of all ages welcome.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Growth in Python Programming #DataAnalytics #RvPython

Recruiting company indeed published some interesting findings last month about trends in Tech Skills over the past five years. They compare the top 20 tech skills as a percentage of all Tech Jobs between 2014 and 2019 - here's a summary of their findings:

Image source: indeed.com.
The standout changes are the growth in Python (123%), Amazon Web Services - AWS (418%), Machine Learning (439%), Azure (1107%), and docker (4162%). No real surprises there, but what is a surprise to me is the absence of the R programming language from both the 2014 and 2019 lists. R is a popular programming language in the data analysis domain, and we use it a lot on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics at NCI. It is the language I teach in the Programming for Big Data module, and I also use it in my statistics and data visualization classes. Most students on the course use R for projects and assignments. 

As the Higher Diploma programme is due for its five year programmatic review, we will need to have a debate of what the preferred language to use is. Based on the indeed data above, it would appear that Python should take preference over R. I am of the opinion that if you can learn one language, that other programming languages should be easier to adapt to - but why add an extra step if Python is the tool of choice for most jobs? Python is also regarded by many colleagues as easier to learn than R, but since I have never used it I can't really judge. More research will be needed to inform us better of what choice to make. Changing a language in a module has many knock-on consequences for course resources, exercises, labs, and assessments - as well as of course requiring Lecturers and Teaching Assistants to be skilled in Python.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Most Watched Videos in Ireland this Year

So - a vlogger by the name of James Charles, who until today I had never heard of, had the most watched video in Ireland this year (why do they publish a list like this when there is still 3.5 weeks left in 2019?). Also on the list are the excellent 2 Johnnies and Foil, Arms & Hog - hilarious stuff! The full top ten is available here. This got me thinking about what are the top ten videos viewed in Ireland from my own channel.

So far this year there have been 22,939 views of my videos (out of a worldwide total of 2,917,601 for 2019). Judging by the list, many of these views must be coming from students. The top 8 are all "By Hand" videos, essentially students are checking out my videos for exam preparation (which is what I intend in publishing them). For example - for the top viewed video in Ireland about how to perform an ANOVA test by hand, 172 out of 262 views were between the 6th and 10th of January. My exam took place on 10th January.

Here's my (modest) list of Top 10 viewed videos in Ireland this year - a very long way from James Charles (whose video has 48,078,143 worldwide views).

Click/Tap to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

12 Years on Facebook - Is It Worth It?

Image source: Wikipedia.
Yesterday I received a notification from Facebook that I had joined up 12 years ago - so on 3rd December, 2007 I signed up to the platform that now boasts 2.45 billion monthly active users (as of September 2019). At that time Facebook was only three years old and still relatively new. I even abandoned it for a while in 2009, but got sucked back in. So - is Facebook worth it?

I review my Facebook feed in the morning - it is part of my routine now where I check headlines and interesting articles in The Irish Independent and The Guardian over my tea and brown bread. Usually I have time to check Facebook as well, but rarely find much of valuable interest. Initially I enjoyed the activity of relatives and friends - seeing what they were doing and wishing Happy Birthday to people I would otherwise have no idea when their birthday was. Younger people no longer seem to participate - preferring Instagram instead. I used to enjoy seeing what my cousins/nieces/nephews got up to.  I am "friends" with some people I have not met in many years - some are very active (ie, daily), and while it can be interesting to see that so-and-so has checked in to Heathrow Airport, this is not of much value. I have also been "unfriended" by an old schoolmate - a weird feeling!

I do post to Facebook - this blog allows me to post anything I write, which keeps my activity up. I often check in and review places, plus post the occasional photo when at a match or something interesting. But I'm moving more towards using WhatsApp for this now - sharing with close family and friends in the privacy of WhatsApp seems more attractive than Facebook for much content. 

For 48 years of my life I managed without Facebook. It is a "time suck" - watching funny videos can suddenly turn into 15-20 minutes of re-living "Only Fools and Horses" or the "Mash Report" (one of my favourites). On balance I find that reminders of birthdays and seeing celebrations, like birthdays/weddings/parties, of other people is always interesting. Here's to the next 12 years!