Thursday, December 31, 2020

Goodbye 2020

It's New Year's Eve and this is my final blog post of the year. It is also the 87th post for 2020, which is my lowest annual total since 2007. While 2020 has been a momentious year, you-know-what has curtailed much activity and stiffled ideas for things to write about.

Good riddance 2020!
Image source: freepik.

Earlier in the year, Roma and I were planning our big trip to Australia and New Zealand for October straight after my planned retirement. We had planned to come back to Ireland via Canada and so complete our first ever round-the-world trip. I remember saying to Roma one evening as we were looking at flights: "Let's wait a bit and see what is going to happen with this virus...". Little did we know.

I suppose the biggst thing that happened for me in 2020 was my retirement. While perhaps my timing was not the best, I have no regrets. I do find myself looking for things to do, but I am working away on my plans for a Programming in R series of videos for launch in January 2021. 

2021 holds out the prospect of a vaccination and a return to some kind of normality. I am near the end of the list of vaccination priorities, so it could be closer to the summer when my turn comes. I am looking forward to meeting people and seeing old friends again, playing golf, riding my bike, having lunches and dinners out, going to all the museums I had planned to visit, taking random breaks, and of course travelling. You know - normal stuff!

Happy New Year everyone - it's gotta be better than 2020!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Data Visualization: Covid-19 Lives Lost via @IrishTimes

Over Christmas I was reading the "Covid-19 Lives Lost" series in The Irish Times. It is dedicated to "Those who have died in Ireland and among the diaspora led full and cherished lives. This series is designed to tell the stories behind the numbers". There are 68 people listed to date and it makes for very sad reading - each death of course affects 68 families. There were some couples who died within days of each other, at least three priests, two died just short of their 100th birthdays, and there was one from 1959 - the same year I was born. What struck me most was that so many of the stories were about people born in the 1920s and 1930s. They lived very long lives, but were cut down in the end by a cruel virus.

While not a scientific study, I decided to note the year of birth for each of the 68 people listed. The year of birth varies, but sadly they all have on thing in common: 2020 as the year of death. The chart below illustrates the cruel nature of the virus. Nine of the deaths occured in those born in 1937, while eight occured in those born in 1926, 1931, and 1935. Let's hope that the new vaccines will stop these deaths so that our parents and grandparents can live out the rest of their lives in comfort.

Tap/Click to enlarge.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Happy Christmas 2020!

It's Christmas Day and I want to wish all my friends and family a very Happy Christmas! 

What a year it has been, and it is not over yet! I wonder what 2021 has in store for us? Our Christmas tree this year is from Ballingate grown in a neighbouring farm to my Mum and Dad. It's one of the nicest I have ever got. Later I am off to the in-laws for a small family dinner that hopefully will be safe for us all. I miss not being at choir this year, so I'll have to burst into song later on.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Introduction to Children First Certification

Today I completed Tusla's "Introduction to Children First" e-Learning programme, and I'm happy to report that I passed the assessment and I am now certified as having completed the course. It is the first e-Learning course that I have completed for several years.

I have had to complete this course as part of a new volunteer role that I am taking up in the New Year. The role does not involve any contact with children and I will be working from home, but nevertheless it is compulsory training for all volunteers. I have five more courses to complete before I can get started.

While I was a little reluctant to have to complete this programme since I will not be involved with children, the "Introduction to Children First" course was quite interesting and covered much material that I did not know about. It was about 1.5 hours long and featured a lot of video - it was well made, and deals well with this difficult subject matter.

The programme is free, though you will have to register to take it. Tusla emails you a certificate once you have completed the (very easy) assessments. It's definitely worth taking for anyone that will be involved with children in any capacity. The programme is available here.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Remembering a Football Icon (and my Shame) #Pablito

It was sad for all football fans to hear the news of the death of Paulo Rossi this week at the young age of 64 from lung cancer. I watched nearly every game of the 1982 World Cup and remember his hat-trick against Brazil like it was yesterday. A World Cup winner is a rare commodity, and Rossi was definitely a zero to hero icon.

Unlike my other football heros such as Alan Kelly, Pelé, George Best, Maradona, and Messi - I did actually get to see him play in the flesh on the night of the 5th of February 1985 in Dalymount Park. The World Champions were in town to play Ireland and I had a ticket for the match. Unfortunately, the FAI only issued tickets for one section of the ground, and 40,000 fans showed up. I remember the massive queues at the turnstiles, and virtually no stewarding at the match. My ticket told me to go to the North Circular Gate, but there were hundreds of non-ticket holders there as well - the Gardaí opened the gate and we all spilled in. It was very crowded inside, but despite the mayhem - I got to see all the action.

The first goal in Italy's 2-1 win was scored from the penalty spot by Paulo Rossi. Despite it being a clear penalty (Lawrenson foul on Altobelli), Rossi was booed as he lined up the spot kick. While booing a penalty taker is not a surprise, afterwards the crowd chanted "Paulo Rossi, you're a w***er" several times over. To my shame, I joined in. 

Perdonami Pablito.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Most Visited Pages on this Blog - Plagiarism!

Every month, Google sends me performance data for For the month of November, there was a very modest 868 "Total clicks" (how many times a user clicked though to my blog). It also tells me which pages are the most popular - the top three (with dates published) are:

  1. Using Google Translate to Beat Plagiarism Detection Software (11th February, 2013)
  2. How To... Calculate Pooled Variance in Excel 2013 (11th May, 2015)
  3. Word Mixing to Defeat Plagiarism (15th June, 2017)

The had 195, 178, and 57 clicks respectively for the month of November. I'm surprised that a nearly eight-year old post is the number one, but this has been the case ever since I posted it - it is consistently one of the top viewed posts. It has had 17,717 views in total since first posted. The third highest post, also about plagiarism, shows that this is a popular topic. 

Even more interesting is that over the same period, the "Total Impressions" (how many times a user saw a link to my site) is 54,900 impressions. Of these, 4,639 (8.5%) are for the number one post about Google Translate. 

What does this tell me? It's stating the obvious that there are a lot of people out there looking to find out how to cheat. None of my posts offers a service to cheaters - they were simply comments at the time after I had been involved in cheating/plagiarism issues at work. It also tells me that if you want to attract traffic to your site, plagiarism as a topic will sell!   

In contrast to above, my recent "Retiring Today" post attracted just one click (thanks Dad!) and four impressions over the same month. I should note that all my posts are automatically re-posted to LinkedIn where my retirement post got 3,501 views!

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Sub-titles on YouTube

Today a viewer of one of my YouTube videos sent me the following message: "Thanks for the arabics substitles". While this is gratifying, I have no idea how Arabic subtitles were shown - I can only guess that viewer's own language settings are in Arabic and that YouTube detected this and provided the subtitles by translating my spoken word (reveal - I can't speak Arabic!). 

This is a fantastic piece of technology. It has been around for a while and is getting better all the time. My spoken word in English is automatically translated into other languages - I'm assuming that it is first transcipted into English so that the text can then be translated into any language supported by Google.

Just to check, I turned on sub-titles on one of my videos - my language settings are that English is used. I was surprised to see how accurate YouTube is - despite my Irish accent, there were very few errors in translation. I did not have to do anything when I created the video, and a transcript of my voice is also auto generated. This is brilliant for non-English speaking or for viewers with hearing disabilities.

What will they think of next!   

Monday, November 30, 2020

The First Month #NoRegrets

This day last month was my last official working day at the National College of Ireland - I can't believe how fast the time has flown, and how easily I am fitting into retirement. Of course, all my plans for travel have had to be postponed for another day, and the Lockdown has reduced options for things to do. 

The best part of retirement so far is that I can now visit my parents Joe and Phil during the week as well as at the weekend. I have been stopped several times by the very polite Gardaí on the road to Carnew in Co Wicklow asking me the purpose of my journey. I usually have some dinner for my parents on the passenger seat to show them, and they let me continue. We have plenty of chat and we have not yet exhausted all topics.

Have I missed my work at NCI? Yes. I do miss teaching, but I am 100% satisfied at my decision to retire. I am so glad that I am not stuck at my computer working from home all day long - this must be hard for everyone. While I feel that on-line classes are here to stay, there's nothing like the classroom experience on a good teaching day. 

At first, in the days after my retirement day there were so many on-line messages congratulating me on my retirement - I was overwhelmed! There were over 800 "Reactions" and 100 comments to NCI's lovely message on LinkedIn. I loved getting messages from past students and from people I had worked with in the past. This has now all dried up - the party is definitely over!

As posted elsewhere on this blog, I have been making some new YouTube videos to keep me busy. And plans for a series of videos on R Programming are well advanced - I hope to start releasing these videos in mid-January. I have also done a small piece of work for another third-level College, which I found really satisfying - it was good to feel useful again.

So far - retirement is good!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Lecturer in Computing Vacancies at NCI

National College of Ireland has just advertised for FIVE permanent positions for Lecturers in Computing - see NCI Vacancies here. The areas of specialty sought are: "data science, cybersecurity, financial technologies, computing, business computing, cloud computing, (and) artificial intelligence". If you are an aspiring Lecturer, NCI is a great place to work and you should consider applying. Please read the "Qualifications & Experience Required" - there are a lot. The salary is quite low starting off, and it will take a few years to rise up the salary scales. You won't be doing this job to get rich.

NCI - A Great Place to Work.
Image source: The Irish Times.

One thing that does strike me about the job advertisement is that I would not be qualified to apply! I do not have a "PhD in Computing, Informatics, Computer Science, Data Science, Cybersecurity, Financial Technologies, Business Computing/technologies or related areas". Nor do I have an "Established track record of research achievement as evidenced by scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals". I have absolutely no "Evidence of research funding". It's sobering to think that I would not have qualified to apply for my old job.

Nevertheless, applicants should not be put off by this. It's rare that a candidate ticks all the boxes on any job description. Passion and commitment to education are the primary characteristics needed. Good luck to all who apply!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Return to Whole Blood Donation #GiveBlood

I have been donating blood to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service since I was about 18 years old, but for the last several years I had been doing so at the Blood Platelet Clinic in St James' Hospital. Platelet donation is very different from whole blood donation - it can be done much more frequently. However, earlier this year I was retired from the Platelet Panel due to several consecutive low platelet count levels. So, after 155 donations, today was my first day back at the whole blood clinic in Stillorgan. Lots of Covid-19 restrictions of course, but nevertheless a pleasant experience.

If you can, give blood.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Four New "How To..." YouTube Videos

Things to do during retirement? Make videos!

Today I posted four new statistics videos to YouTube - I have never done this in one single day before. These are about using SPSS for non-parametric tests (Mann-Whitney, Wilcoxon Signed Rank, and Kruskal-Wallis), and one for how to determine if a data set is normal or not. While I used to cover these exact same tests in class, I never made the effort to make videos about how to do them in SPSS. 

I have now posted 11 new videos in the past two weeks. They will take a while to attract new views, but as of today they have received almost 1,000 views between them already. I'm not expecting too much, but they do fill some gaps in what I used to cover in class. 

I think that's it for now for Statistics videos, hopefully viewers will dine them useful.




Wednesday, November 11, 2020

How To... Determine Cronbach's Alpha in Excel and SPSS #Statistics

Cronbach's Alpha is a test statistic to measure internal consistency and reliability. I never covered it in any of my statistics classes as the datasets I used did not suit this as a test. It seems to be very suitable for data like survey responses and to determine if questions on the survey correlate with each other strongly enough so that you can conclude they all measure the same thing (the subject of the survey). If, for example, you  were conducting a survey on attitudes to Medical Insurance, you would want to make sure that your survey questions measure the same thing (attitude). You would expect respondents who give a high rating to the statement "I like the quality of my Medical Insurance", to also rate the statement "My Medical Insurance is good value for money" highly. 

Excel does not have an option to calculate Cronbach's Alpha, so a workaround is necessary. This is a very easy test to do in SPSS - here's how to do both:


Friday, November 06, 2020

Two More YouTube Videos on Effect Size

I never really concentrated on Effect Size while teaching statistics at the National College of Ireland - I just showed a formula for calculating it for a two-sample test, didn't really explain it that well, and moved on. I should have placed more emphasis on it, but now I have posted videos for one-sample, two-samples, and ANOVA tests.

When you find a significant difference in Statistics, another way of putting it is that you have found an "effect". But statistical tests do not tell you if this is a small, medium, or large effect. I have concluded this short series of four videos on Effect Size with the final two about ANOVA tests - this is an easy test to do and is worth following up when conducting the ANOVA test.


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

How To... Calculate Effect Size #YouTube #Statistics

Following on from yesterday's publication of a video showing how to calculate Effect Size for a one-sample test, today I have added a new video showing how to calculate Effect Size for a two-sample test.

When you find a difference (in other words, an "effect") with a statistics test, it is often important to know how meaningful that difference or effect is. For example, if you were conducting a test to see if a drug had an effect on the treatment of a disease, you would like to find a meaningful difference rather than a trivial one.

This series of "How To By Hand" videos are being made at home with my GoPro Hero 7. I am using it like a document reader and it gives good quality, but is awkward to set up. I have to use my old SCUBA diving lead weights to anchor the GoPro stand on my desk. Once recorded, I use the GoPro Quik App to transfer it to my computer for upload to YouTube. As usual, I do not edit the videos - if I make a mistake, I simply start over.

Here is today's video:

Monday, November 02, 2020

How To... Calculate Cohen's d for Effect Size #YouYube #Statistics

On my first "working" day of retirement I have made a new statistics video - it is over six months since I last published a video on YouTube. This is one of a few statistics videos that I wanted to do to plug a few gaps in the series that I have already produced. Statistics videos are now my most popular, so I'm hoping that this one will prove popular too.

Cohen's d measures effect size. This tells us how meaningful a difference is when we find a significant difference as a result of a statistics test. Usually we report a difference as p < 0.05, but this does not tell us if the difference is small, medium, or large - so it is important to calculate the effect size.

Here's how it's done for a one sample z test (it can also be used for a one sample t test):

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Kevin Barry and "The Mons" #100years

Image source: Wikipedia.

One hundred years ago today, Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy Prison for the murder of a young English soldier. He was the first of 24 republicans to be executed by the British during Ireland's War of Independence. He was accompanied to the gallows by two priests: Canon John Waters, and a Fr McMahon who gave him all the spiritual comfort that a condemned person would want.

There is a story in our family, which I got from my Uncle Pat, that my paternal grand-uncle Monsignor Charles Francis Hurley (my second name is also Francis in his honour) also attended the execution and that it greatly affected him for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, he is not mentioned on any of the documents in the Kevin Barry Papers archive in UCD, nor does a Google search find any connection between him and Barry.

Affectionately know as "The Mons" in our family, he attended Cistercian College Roscrea (1908 - 1912) was ordained as a priest on the 28th February, 1920 in the Irish College in Rome. One of his first postings was to St Patrick's College in Carlow - at the time it was operating principally as a seminary for the priesthood. So he was a very young priest when Barry was hanged nine months later. Kevin Barry grew up in nearby Tombeagh and went to school in Hacketstown, Co. Carlow. I don't know if The Mons knew the Barrys personally or how he was connected other than he was working in Carlow where Barry was from in 1920. It is also thought by some in my family that at the time of the execution that he had moved to the Holy Cross College on Clonliffe Road in Dublin - this is where Canon Waters was based. It is possible that at the execution he assisted Frs Waters and McMahon, carrying holy water and oils for anointment. Clonliffe College is about a mile from Mountjoy Prison. Perhaps he was outside the prison where hundreds of people were praying for Barry on the morning of his execution - we might never know what exact part my grand-uncle played on that fateful day exactly one hundred years ago.

PS - if any family are reading this and can add more to this story, please get in touch!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Retiring Today

Today is my last day as an employee at the National College of Ireland - I am officially retiring! I have been planning this ever since my wife Roma retired just over two years ago. It is early retirement (I am 61 years of age), but I have long desired to go early. My timing in the middle of lockdown during a Pandemic is of course perfect, but nevertheless I decided to go ahead.

Last week, while visiting the College for the first time since early March, I cleared out my office. I decided to be tough and only take home what I really wanted. There was lots of paper for shredding, but I was also surprised to generate half a bag of rubbish. I decided to keep just a few books and leave the rest. I thought it might be a bit emotional doing this task, but I found it easy to do. I have fond memories of my office - I was one of the lucky ones in NCI to have an office to myself. I will very much miss students and colleagues dropping by for a chat.
Emptying my office.

Goodbye to Room 3.21 and NCI!

While visiting the College I met with a colleague (HGV), who posted a photo (with my agreement) on LinkedIn, not thinking it would attract much attention. 

I was overwhelmed with the response! At the time of writing there are 425 Reactions and over 100 Comments. I got messages of good wishes from current and former colleagues, and loads from former students. Messages from former students who have found success are most satisfying - it is always great to hear from them.
So it is "Goodbye" to the National College of Ireland after 18 years - I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Over the next few weeks I will reflect in this blog about my 31 years as an educator.

I'm off!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Statistical Illiteracy

Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic, numbers and statistics have become part of our lives. We have got used to numbers in a way we never thought possible - nothing right now will make us happier than seeing numbers going down. We should all be able to interpret and understand what the numbers mean.

Carlo Rovelli writes in yesterday's Guardian newspaper: "Statistical illiteracy isn't a niche problem. During a pandemic, it can be fatal" and that "Insufficient understanding of statistics is widespread". Most of us trust our Government to use data in the fairest and wisest way possible. Others use numbers to spread fake news and concoct conspiracy theories. However, as Rovelli says: "Our extensive statistical illiteracy is today particularly dangerous".

Most people understand as least some basic probability. For example, tossing a coin will be 50/50 for heads/tails. No matter how often you toss a coin, you cannot be certain whether the result will be heads or tails. But you know what the probability is. 

Numbers don't lie, but statistics involves uncertainty. In my classes we often conducted statistical tests at a 95% confidence level, sometimes 99%. In relation to Covid-19 - if a vaccine was effective for 95% of people in Ireland, that would mean that it would be ineffective for around 50,000 people (1% approx of our population). This has obvious ethical implications. Would you take the chance and get vaccinated with 99% accuracy? How about 99.9%, which would mean that a vaccine would not work for about 5,000 people, or even 99.99% and 500 people losing out? You can see why vaccine trials are so important. No vaccine will be 100% effective. This means that you cannot be 100% certain that you will get infected with the virus, but also that you cannot be 100% certain that you will be safe. So for example, if you reduce your number of contacts, you will reduce the probability of getting the virus, but not by 100%.

Knowing and understanding statistics and probability will help stop the spread of the virus, but remember, not by 100%.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

World Statistics Day #StatsDay2020

Today is the United Nations World Statistics Day, and the theme this year is about "Connecting the world with data we can trust". UN Secretary-General António Guterres tells us that "the United Nations marks its seventy-fifth anniversary and the world deploys data to face a common challenge, let us use World Statistics Day to spotlight the role of statistics in advancing sustainable development for all".

As a Lecturer who has been teaching Statistics for the past seven years, I think it is fantastic that statistics get recognition like this. We now know more than ever how important data has become - Statistics is the Science of Data and is an increasingly important skill to have. In the video below, various experts tell us that "Statistics can save lives",  "Data is a force for good", "Good data is essential to keep us safe", and that we "need data for a better world".

The writer H.G. Wells (1866-1946), once prophetically said that "Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write”. He was right!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

YouTube Channel Feedback

Over the years since I first started my YouTube Channel in 2006, I have received many comments on videos from viewers. These are mostly positive, though there are some negative comments too. Rarely are the comments more than a line or two - mostly just saying "thanks". I also know very little about my viewers. YouTube Analytics gives me lots of general demographic data such as what country viewers are from, their age, and gender - but nothing on individuals.

Recently, I received much more detailed feedback from a viewer that struck me as both kind and informative. I'll not name the viewer here, but based on the viewer's name she is most likely to be from the USA. She is a single mother with a disabled child who works full-time and is also a part time student studying for a BA degree. She is using her studies, and my videos which she really likes, to compete for jobs that she would not otherwise be qualified for. She is clearly a dedicated learner and I wish her well in her future. Hearing her story and getting feedback like this certainly motivates me to continue my YouTube work.

At the National College of Ireland, our Mission is "To Change Lives Through Education". I have seen this happen over and over in my time at NCI.

My kind viewer is just one of 23,014,049 viewers and 51,300 subscribers - the 23M and 50K landmarks were both passed recently. I have plans for a new series of videos, and will possibly retire some of the older videos that are no longer valid or useful. I would certainly like to grow the number of views and continue to hope that my videos will contribute in some small way to changing lives through education.

Data Source: YouTube Analytics (15th Oct, 2020).

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

€250 for students #Budget2021

In yesterday's budget it was announced that third-level students in Ireland are to be given a payment of €250 each in the coming academic year to compensate for moving to on-line learning. This does not sound like a lot of money, but in total it will amount to a whopping €50 million. Students who already pay the €3,000 student registration fee will get €250 of this back - this does not sound like a lot of money any more.

Nevertheless, it will be a welcome refund for all. Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris is quoted as saying "For students, this year has been like no other. The majority of college will be online for this semester and we will provide financial assistance through a €50 million fund". I don't know how much assistance €250 will buy, perhaps some equipment like headphones, mics, or a down payment on a new laptop. Many students will already have a lot of the equipment they need. They should not need to buy any extra software as it should be provided by their College.
Image source:

While I welcome any financial assistance provided to students, I can't help feeling that money like this should be targeted at students who are in real financial difficulty. They already of course get the SUSI grant, and this needed €250 will be on top of that, lack of money should not be a barrier to education. There are many students who are well off enough not to need this €250, and I wonder should means be considered? In any event, I hope students spend this money wisely. It is borrowed money that will have to be repaid some day in the future by today's students.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Digital Natives are not used to online learning via @guardian

With most Colleges and Universities returning to class this week there are understandable worries about how incoming new students will perform. In the 19th September edition of The Guardian newspaper, Anna Fazackerley writes about fears that UK universities predict record student dropout rate. She worries about students having “lost the discipline of learning” due to long months without classes and exams. She quotes a source saying that "the university experience won’t be as good because so much has to be different, from how they are taught to how they socialise”. 

There's no doubt that going to College this year is going to be a lot different than what would have normally been expected. But my sense of it is that students will adapt and create a unique "university experience" like no other. After all, today's incoming students are "Digital Natives". While almost all colleges are rushing to switch to on-line teaching, Fazackerley quotes a university advisor who says that  while incoming students may be “digital natives”, they are "not used to online learning". 

I beg to differ!

I have been teaching on-line classes for the past two years, and I know that many students prefer on-line learning for lots of reasons: work/life balance, convenience, less travel to College, recorded classes, and many more. Lots of courses are already delivered on-line for many years. Incoming students in their late teens/early twenties have been learning on-line for almost all of their lives. They have been using the likes of YouTube to learn everything from how to take out a contact lens, to cooking chocolate brownies. I also know from comments in my own YouTube Channel that many students look to "How To..." videos to learn everything from how to perform a statistics test, to how to draw a pie chart in Excel. To say that young people are  "not used to online learning" is way off the mark. 

My message to incoming students is that they should grasp the opportunity to be the first generation to attend College fully on-line, and to create opportunities for connecting and socialising like never before. You are already experts at on-line learning, and I predict that in four years time when you graduate, that you and your fellow students will be much sought after by employers as you will have had to overcome challenges that no other graduates will have had to do before. 

Seize this opportunity!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Curves and Lockdown #analytics

Most people will be aware that the city of Melbourne in Australia has endured one of the world's strictest lockdowns, but the data so far is showing that this drastic action has yielded fantastic results. In a stark lesson for those people who protest against lockdowns and face-mask wearing, the evidence is that Melbourne's early lockdown intervention serves as another lesson for people living in Dublin as to what a new (albeit moderate) lockdown will mean for us, and why early intervention is necessary. 

Check out the chart below...

Source: The Shot.

The upsurge in cases in June looks small, this was due partly to the sharing of a cigarette lighter between security guards at a hotel where international travellers were being quarantined (see: The Irish Times article "The strange tale of the cigarette lighter that spread coronavirus around a city"). However, the spread of the virus quickly got out of control, and the authorities introduced a lockdown in early July. You can see that this had little effect at first as cases still climbed, but since August they have dramatically declined. Could this happen in Dublin, a city/county about one quarter the size of Melbourne?

In my opinion, the government has no option but to renew restrictions in Dublin. This is shitty for everyone, not just for the protestors, people who deny there is a problem, or those whose personal freedom is being denied by a piece of cloth on their face. We don't want a curve with a higher peak than Melbourne's above, and the consequent higher number of deaths that will follow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Gompertz Curve #analytics #covid19

One thing that the Covid-19 Pandemic has done is to introduce the science of data to many more people than ever before. We listen out for numbers every day and worry when they increase. Expressions such as "flattening the curve" and terms such as the "R number" are now part of our vocabulary, Today I heard a new term - the Gompertz Curve!

The Gompertz Curve is a type of mathematical model for a time series analysis, and is named after Benjamin Gompertz (1779–1865) who was a British mathematician. According to Wikipedia, the Gompertz Curve is a "sigmoid function which describes growth as being slowest at the start and end of a given time period". Here's a curve for the daily cumulative number of deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland since the first case was diagnosed on March 1st to today:

This is a familiar chart for those of us who are following Covid-19 data closely. The curve follows the classic Gompertz shape and the number of deaths per day has thankfully slowed. But for how long?

A similar chart drawn for cumulative cases over the same period is a little bit different:

You can see that from March to July, the curve was indeed a classic Gompertz shape. But since August the curve has started to go up again, and can no longer be described as a Gompertz Curve. If we imagine starting a new curve in (say) June when it was last flat, we can expect the increase to get more pronounced before it levels off again.

Worrying times ahead. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Missing NCI

Yesterday I was in Dublin City Centre for the first time since mid-March, and I happened to be close to the National College of Ireland so I called by to see it. The College is closed on Sundays and I made no attempt to go in. I have not been in my office now for 28 weeks (sounds like a horror movie!), and I find myself missing College and my colleagues. It is a weird feeling standing outside my place of work and not being able to go in. 

Home is now my place of work, as it for many. Home will also soon be a place of learning for most students - this will be different for everyone, challenging for many, and brilliant for others. This of course is the same for students coming to classroom based courses. I do hope that Colleges will be more than ready for the coming semester. While I have been teaching on-line for the past two years, I have very limited experience of taking classes on-line. 

It's an aspect of the coming year that almost all lecturers who will be teaching have not themselves taken classes while studying for their degrees on-line. It will take quite a long time for this to change, but today's students who will become tomorrow's lecturers will have a unique set of learning experiences that I hope will make them better teachers.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

"The quality of our third-level education will be maintained and, in some cases, enhanced" via @gregfoley2002

The always insightful DCU Lecturer Greg Foley get my 100% agreement with his letter "Lecture Notes" in The Irish Times yesterday. In his letter, he points out that while students will be "missing out by having so little on-campus time", that the there are "advantages of techniques like screencasting", and that the quality of education will be "enhanced". Let's all hope that this is true!

In a blog post expanding on his letter: Going online and the student experience, Greg asks about what the student "experience" is and writes that for many students, "the on-campus experience is not all it’s cracked up to be". He uses the word "elitist" to describe those who say that a lack of on-campus experience somehow stunts student learning.

I have written elsewhere in this blog that I feel that an education revolution is taking place and that third-level in particular could change forever. Foley writes that for "many disciplines..... the lecture is not an effective way of teaching". Certainly, I and many of many colleagues, have found that teaching on-line is a different experience than in a physical classroom. The Lecture is dead, long live on-line teaching!

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Pool Tables to attract Third-level Students

First - a confession. I spent a huge amount of my College time in first and second year in Trinity in the Junior Common Room playing pool and table football. If I had used this time on study instead, perhaps I would have got through these years and avoided the endless repeats I subjected myself to. 

Image source: The Irish Times.

An advertising feature in today's Irish Times entitled "Just received your exam results? It’s time to book your student home at Brickworks" shows a picture of pool and football tables at the top of the article (and on the thumbnail link on the IT home page). I'm guessing that this is not an accident, the article does feature a lot more photos showing other facilities and student rooms. However, I am fascinated by the use of this photo as a headline - is this clever marketing or a real indicator of what life will be like in student accomodation?

Brickworks looks like a fantastic place for students to live - my digs in Terenure in my 1st year were a million miles away from this. Student accommodation businesses are certainly in uncertain times and are currently offering what seem to be very flexible terms. With an expected drop in International students, and Colleges running classes on-line, it's going to take more than pool tables to fill these places up!

Thursday, September 03, 2020

"Academics are notoriously slow to change" via @timeshighered

So, between Covid-19 and Google - we are entering into a new era of education. We have unprecedented abilities to change and improve the way we teach and learn. As Dawn Lerman and Falguni Sen wrote in the Times Higher Education (THE) website last April, "Could the coronavirus force positive change in higher education?". They argue that we "need to build on the speed and enthusiasm with which academics have embraced online teaching" though doing this in colleges where "only a handful of faculty previously taught online is no small task". This was easily accepted because back in March/April we all thought it was a temporary measure of just a few weeks - and we didn't really have a choice.

Now we are all faced with at least a semester being delivered online, and possibly a full academic year - colleges/universities everywhere are boosting their online teaching skills with staff development programmes and training in the use of tools like Adobe Connect and Microsoft Teams. As Lerman and Sen write, converting a course for online delivery is "time-consuming work", and my own experience confirms this. Incoming students will have high expectations of Technology Enhanced Learning and the abilities of their lecturers to deliver.

I disagree with Lerman and Sen's claim that "Academics are notoriously slow to change" just because we "teach the same courses year after year". I believe we have changed and adapted to the new environments. Nobody expects us to change from classroom to online delivery perfectly overnight. A brilliant lecturer in a theatre may struggle with virtual classrooms, while others may thrive online. 

Thankfully, new and younger academics entering a career as a lecturer will be far more technology efficient than academics of my generation. I predict that they will all have to deliver at least some of their lectures/classes online, and that on-line teaching ability will be just as important as lecturing, carrying out research, and publishing papers. Get ready for this!

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Google: “In our own hiring, we will now treat these new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles

Higher Education is about to be disrupted again! While the Covid-19 pandemic has moved millions of third-level students online and classrooms remain empty, Google (with a perfect sense of timing) is launching a series of "career certificates" that they claim can be completed in six months. They further claim that these certificates are equal to a four-year degree programmes during their own hiring process (they do not claim that this will be the case for other companies). Google already has an IT Support Professional Certificate, and plan to create new certifications in areas such as Data Analyst, Project Manager, and UX Designer. At the moment their website (Grow With Google) seems to indicate that this is for the USA only (you need a Zip Code to register interest, EirCodes don't work) - but surely if this is successful, it will spread worldwide faster than a virus. I'd certainly like to see it available to Irish people - we need these skills in our economy. The courses will not be free, but Google is making some scholarships and subsidies available


So - how can a six-month programme be the "equivalent" of a four-year degree? Clearly the extra-curricular activities associated with studying for a degree such as sports, travel, and partying are not part of Google's career certificates. To me, a nineteen-year old school-leaver with a career certificate gained after six months is not as qualified as a 22-year old with a four year degree. Students learn more than just the core skills in a subject area, and they also build on their skills as they move up through the years. Nevertheless, four years seems a long time compared to six months!

Some Colleges, such as our own National College of Ireland, have had some success with compressing a degree into two years. Examples of such programmes are the two-year part-time BA (Honours) in HRM Strategy and Practice and the BA (Honours) in Business Management. This is more attractive to people in a hurry, and who are prepared to commit to fast-track study.  

Google is definitely shaking things up and universities/colleges better watch out and get ready to react.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Well Done Waterford IT!

So - Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) is first out of the blocks and has announced that all lectures, tutorials and practical classes will be delivered remotely for the 2020/2021 academic year, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a message to students, WIT announced that "delivery will include live-streaming of lectures and other forms of remote learning platforms appropriate to individual modules or programmes". Some classes such as laboratories and workshops, or those that require special equipment, will take place on campus but be subject to "appropriate social distancing and PPE based on the physical layout of the learning spaces". A sensible and clear communication from WIT.

I applaud WIT for this move.

Waterford IT.
Image source:

If done correctly, delivering lectures, tutorials and practical classes on-line should result in a good learning experience for students. While there are challenges, learning on-line should see students adapting to the new environment. My sense is that our students, especially those in their late teens and early twenties, will adopt new techniques very quickly. Many have commented on the learning experience of college life being missed out on. While this is true, it is not a show stopper. Many students already commute long distances to College as they cannot afford city accommodation - these students will find life easier, and perhaps will enjoy being in their own communities a bit more rather than sitting on a bus/train for hours each day.

No doubt there will be studies carried out into the effectiveness of the switch to on-line learning in the coming years, and it will be really interesting to see what the effect is on students' health and well-being, as well as their academic performance. 

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Proposal: Make the 2020/2021 Academic Year Online Only

The more I think about it, the more I feel that the coming academic year should be declared entirely online. No uncertainty, no doubts, no health risks, and of course - no need for physical classrooms. Students are still wondering if they'll need accommodation, or if they will have to book a B&B for their once in a month appearance in College. Others worry about the risk to their health and might not want to attend a class. If Colleges are recording classes anyway - why bother turning up? 

What about the academics?

An article in last Saturday's Guardian newspaper "UK universities' promise of face-to-face teaching is risking academics' health" points out many downsides to students not returning to College, including the "financial basket cases" that UK universities and colleges are in compared to their wealthier American counterparts who can afford to ride out the Covid-19 storm. The article makes the obvious point that "online teaching involves absolutely no risk of catching Covid". Why would universities and colleges put older (60+ like me) academics at risk when there is a risk-free online alternative? For a brief few weeks in March and April colleges everywhere showed that online teaching could be done. Starting the next academic year off online and/or blended learning is fine - we have no choice. But the rest of the year is still in doubt - today, Trinity College's website states that a "decision on the second semester will be taken closer to the time". 

With no sign that the virus is going away, or that a vaccine will be widely available by the end of this year - we should make the decision now to go fully online as much as possible for the entire academic year.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Want to study for free at NCI?

Check out this great video from NCI featuring my colleagues Orla O'Sullivan and Sam Cogan telling us about studying in NCI on our Springboard courses. Some programmes, like Data Analytics, are filling up fast - so if you are interested in gaining a new skill, now is the time to act. Our next Open Day (which will be on-line) is this Saturday (29th August). I will be on duty to answer your questions - so see you there!

Monday, August 17, 2020

90% of Data is Crap? #analytics

In a recent book "World Wide Waste" by Gerry McGovern, he tells us that up to "90% of digital data is not used" and that we " and then don’t use" our data. He cites quite a lot of sources to base this information on:
  • Around 90% of data is never accessed three months after it is first stored, according to Tech Target. 
  • 80% of all digital data is never accessed or used again after it is stored, according to a 2018 report by Active Archive Alliance.
  • Businesses typically only analyze around 10% of the data they collect, according to search technology specialist Lucidworks. 
  • 90% of unstructured data is never analyzed, according to IDC.
  • 90% of all sensor data collected from Internet of Things devices is never used, according to IBM

McGovern goes on to say: "Cheap storage combined with cheap processing power made the World Wide Web the World Wide Waste" and that the "Web is an ocean full of crap". I don't disagree with this. My own Google Drive right now has 192,178 files, 19,853 folders, and takes up 360,216,594,133 bytes - I have no idea what all this "crap" is!

This 90% figure is based on Sturgeon's Law, which states that "ninety percent of everything is crap", and is also similar to the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule ("80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes"). I'm sure everyone can think of situations where this applies, and it is no surprise that data is similarly regarded.

So if 90% is "crap", 10% is therefore useful. But the key thing here is how to identify the useful 10%? This is where we need skilled data scientists and analysts posing the right questions and using the right tools to find value in data. Learning how to prioritise the 10% is not easy, but it starts with questions. If 90% of your sales come from 10% of your customers - do you know who the customers are who make up the 10%? 

Asking a question is easy, but asking the right question is not.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Afraid to go back to work? #Over60s

Older people with underlying conditions appear to be the most vulnerable to dying if they catch the Covid-19 virus - younger people are less affected. Take a look at the data example below from May 13th in New York city:

Data Source: worldometer.

So, if you are in the 46-64 years old age group (as I am), you are over four times more likely to die than someone in the 18-44 years old group if you catch Covid-19. This makes me fearful for any teacher/lecturer going back to classes where most students are a lot younger. For teachers going back to primary/secondary schools - the gap is even bigger. But like nurses and doctors going into work in a hospital - it has to be done. Or does it?

The new school year is only a couple of weeks away, and another five weeks to third level Colleges opening up. While Colleges seem to be ready for on-line classes, our Government is prioritising school opening. Today is the 11th August, and three counties are back in lockdown - how can schools reopen in these areas? Or those beside them? I fear we will see further disruption to schools.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Phased Return to Campus

Several weeks ago when it was announced that the NCI Campus would reopen on a phased basis from 10th August, it seemed so far away. I have not been in the College since the middle of March, and have no plans to go there for at least the rest of this month. My summer holidays are over, but I am continuing to work from home. Yes - like everyone else, I miss my colleagues and the normality of being in an office. August would have been a relatively quiet time in the College Campus. Repeat exams would have been taking place, but the numbers of students in the building would have been small anyway.
It has been a strange realization that we can continue to work for almost five months without seeing colleagues and students. In a way, the timing of the Covid 19 arrival in Ireland and subsequent lockdown was suitable! Only a few weeks of classes were disrupted at the end of Semester II, and we have had a long lead in to the new academic year. I'm beginning to wonder if I will return to the office at all?

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Back to Work #wfh

After a couple of weeks break, I am now "back" to work, but working from home. It's a strange feeling not to be riding into the College in Dublin City Centre this morning trying to see what has changed on the street landscapes since before my holidays. Though NCI is opening its campus next Monday, I have no plans to go there in the next few weeks - I will continue to work from my home office.

The Government has published guidelines for third-level institutions today. Shauna Bowers writes in today's Irish Times that Students to wear face coverings in lectures where two metre distance not possible. She also reports that "In the event that tuition requires the staff member to be less than two metres from students, the staff member should wear face shields, visors or other protective equipment which will be provided by the college or university", and that class sizes be restricted to just 50 students. All of this makes perfect sense from a public health point of view, though NCI is way ahead with plans for opening the campus next Monday:

But will there be any students? Most classes are going to be on-line in semester I - both Lecturers and students will be at home for class. Some Colleges are planning to provide classes both on-line and live in the classroom - I wonder how well that will go down with the unions? Is it practical? Is is necessary? Who is going to come to the College campus when classes are also on-line? We showed at the end of the last academic year, and with courses running over the summer, that everything is possible on-line. True - many students might prefer to study in the library, but with more ebooks available, this too seems to be a bit old-fashioned. 

It is my view now that physical classroom space in a College campus is no longer necessary. It is possible or even probable that students feel the same. No one thought a few years ago that the likes of Tinder and Bumble would replace the pub or disco as a place to meet someone - yet it seems to be very normal now. It is not that long ago that it would have been unusual for a student to bring a computer to College - now they almost all do. An true education revolution has taken place over the past few months, and Colleges will struggle to justify the existence of their old-fashioned lecture halls and classrooms. 

There should be no going back.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

A Proud Legacy #GAA #WicklowPeople

In the Wicklow People newspaper published on 15th July last there is a wonderful article by Ettie Kilbride about the little known GAA club in Tomacork which was founded by my Grandfather PJ O'Loughlin. He was originally from Newmarket in North Cork and came to Tomacork, just outside Carnew in South Co Wicklow, in 1930. In the photo of the Newmarket 1927 County Junior team to the right he is wearing a suit and is seated at the right side of the middle row. He was 23 years old in this photo. 

Right from the start he set about creating a new club in Tomacork, while also managing a new farm and starting a new family (my Dad and his twin sister Sheila were born in March 1931) - he clearly liked to be busy! According to the late Jim Brophy's excellent book about Wicklow GAA "The Leathers Echo", PJ played for Carnew Emmets in the Wicklow Junior Hurling final in 1932 beating Glenealy 3-0 to 2-2. According to Ettie Kilbride, this Carnew team was an "amalgamate" team of Tomacork and Carnew. A separate Tomacork team (which did not feature my Grandfather) then went on to win the title by themselves in 1933. Reproduced below (without permission from the Wicklow People) is Ettie's article in full with the story of Tomacork GAA and the role played by my Grandfather in this piece of GAA history. 

Thank you Ettie for the memories!

The Wicklow People - 15th July, 2020.
Reproduced without permission.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Study Data Analytics at NCI

It's a time of year when many people might be considering taking a course this coming September. Higher than normal unemployment rates may also be a factor in some people considering new options. SpringBoard+ offers lots of free and partly-free options, and many of these courses are delivered by the National College of Ireland. The Higher Diplomas in Data Analytics and Computing are very popular - over 2,000 students have enrolled in these courses over the past five years, almost all via SpringBoard+.

A third level (8) degree in any discipline is all you need to qualify for the course. If you do not have a degree, there is a path for you to follow via NCI's Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) process - so don't be put off if you do not have a degree. Our next Open Evening takes place on-line on 16th July next - check the Events page at for details. Why not join us!

Check out the following video from NCI's Marketing Department featuring Daren Malone, one of our data analytics graduates, and hear what he has to say.

National College of Ireland - Changing Lives Through Education

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The HSE's Covid Tracker App #Analytics

Many people will be worried about the data privacy implications with the new HSE Covid Tracker App. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has stated "Please take two minutes to download the app. It is totally private" - if you are reassured by statements from politicians, then you should be OK. 

Clearly - the motives for creating and using this tracker are morally justified in my view. Anything that can help slow down infection rates, which in turn will save lives, is good for the common good. Nobody wants to get catch this virus, nobody wants to pass it on, nobody wants to die from Covid-19, and I'm certain that nobody wants to be the source of infection for someone who dies. So what's the problem with a tracker app?

No data collected is private. Repeat - no data collected is private.

Data sits on a computer somewhere - everything from phones to servers. In order for this app to work it has to gather data - that means that it can be accessed. No doubt these data will be a valuable source of information for researchers everywhere. Who knows - a data scientist might come up with a cure before a medical scientist looking for a vaccine.

I have installed the App and intend to use it. There are very few age groups listed - the oldest is "60+" which the App tells me is the most vulnerable group. I am in this group, and have in interest in staying alive. During installation I was told "Your identity will never be revealed to other app users" and that "Any personal data you provide will be processed in line with GDPR and data protection law". There were several opportunities to visit data protection sites.

We have to trust this App, the people who created it, and those who protect the data. There will be hackers out there already trying to get their hands on these valuable data. Since I took the screenshot above on my phone 22 minutes ago, the number has gone up to 160,440 Check-Ins today.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Out of the city #Wexford #wfh

It's the end of June and finally the end of the Covid-19 Lockdown, and I have decamped to Wexford for the rest of the summer. I am continuing to work from home thanks to recently installed Vodafone broadband. It's good to be out of the city and be in beautiful Wexford.

One of the first things I did when I got here was to go to Carnew to see my Mum and Dad - I hadn't seen them since St Patrick's Day. It was very hard to confine myself to Dublin and stay away from them - especially when others took risks and broke the Lockdown rules. I was never 100% sure that I would not have the virus - 99% was not good enough for me. So many people have lost parents and grandparents - my family and I are blessed that Phil and Joe were safe and healthy.

Someday I might write about experiences during Lockdown - especially relating to being an educator in the on-line world. But I do notice some things coming back to normal. It was great to be able to drive more than 20 kms though the familiar roads of Wicklow - driving, such a simple pleasure. 

When in Gorey the other day I used cash to pay for parking, 50c got me 30 minutes. It was the first time using cash for over three months. I was only going to be in Gorey for a few minutes, but I did not want to risk a €40 fine. Other simple things like mowing the lawn were also a treat, even though the length of the grass made my lawn look more like a meadow than a manicured green grass carpet. I almost consider it a badge of honour to have my lawn like this. I mow the lawn myself - many of my neighbours use lawn mowing services to keep their grass in a trim condition.

Normally on this week every year, I start my (generously) lengthy summer holidays. This time last year Roma and I were on Day 3 of our Route 66 trip riding from Springfield to St Louis. I'm not taking holidays this year until the last two weeks in July - it's going to be difficult to stay working at my computer while walks on the beach are close at hand.

It is good to be back to some semblance of normality - good riddance to March/April/May/June 2020.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Is now a good time for a gap year from College?

Many new and returning students are facing into uncertain times when the new academic year begins in September. For many students, deferring admission or continuation for a year is suddenly far more attractive. Many Universities and Colleges have still to finalise if classes will be held on campus and/or on-line. 

College of course is as much about campus-life experience as it is about classes. I spent eight years in Trinity and loved (almost) every minute of it. I did not have a gap year - it wasn't really a thing back in the late 70s and early 80s. Today's students must be wondering if it is worth going back to College and inevitable uncertainty, or is it a good time to step away from education and do something else?

Believe it or not - there is a Gap Year Association. It recommends four key components for making a year off before college worthwhile:
  1. Service work or volunteering
  2. Internship or career mentorship
  3. Some amount of paid work
  4. "Free Radical"  - something creative, so that the year is not over-scheduled

In addition to current uncertainty, students may experience burnout from the competitive pressure of College, and  have a desire to know more about themselves. Travel is also a good reason to take a gap year - but this may remain restricted for some time. Why take a gap year if you can't travel the world?

On balance - I think this would be the perfect time for a gap year if you can afford it. While travel may be restricted, and opportunities for casual work in bars and restaurants reduced - there is still plenty to do.