Aug 192010
 

Whale Watch Ireland, Galley Head, Cork Whale Watch Ireland is an annual all-Ireland land-based whale watching event run by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). This year’s watch will take place on Sunday 22 August between 2pm and 5pm at 15 headlands around the Irish coast.

This is a completely free land based watch (no boat-trips involved), and experienced IWDG guides / spotters will be on hand to give you the best chance of spotting some of the 24 cetacean species encountered around the Irish coast.

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator Padraig Whooley showing children a whale jaw-bone at Whale Watch Ireland Some of the species you’re most likely to spot include harbour porpoise, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, minke whale, if you’re lucky you may see fin whales blowing offshore, and if you’re REALLY lucky perhaps a humpback will put in an appearance.

As with all wildlife related events, there are no guarantees you’ll see anything – but the anticipation and uncertainty all adds to the excitement… and it’s a fabulous, free family outing at some of Ireland’s most spectacular natural locations.

Here’s a list of Whale Watch Ireland 2010 locations from the IWDG site:

Location Meeting Point Watch Leader
Howth Head, Dublin Balscadden Car Park Brian Glanville
Bray Head, Wicklow Pitch & putt car park Dinah Boyne
Hook Head, Wexford Hook Lighthouse Kevin Mc Cormick
Ardmore, Waterford Ram Head signal tower Andrew Malcolm
Galley Head, Cork Lighthouse Pádraig Whooley
Garranes, Beara, Cork Dzogchen Beara Ctr Patrick Lyne
Slea Head, Dingle Penisula, Kerry Slea Head Shrine Nick Massett
Brandon Point, Kerry Car park Mick O’Connell
Loop Head, Clare Lighthouse Aoife Foley
Black Head, Clare Lighthouse Joanne O’Brien
Downpatrick Head, Mayo Car park Conor Ryan
Mullaghmore Head, Sligo Mullaghmore lay by Fiona Farrell
Lough Swilly, Donegal Fort Dunree Dermot Mc Laughlin
Portstewart Head, Derry Harbour Hill Jim Allen
Larne, Antrim Larne Town Park, Glenarm Rd Ian Enlander

So get yourself to a headland near you on Sunday to find out more about the whales and dolphins around Ireland, and hopefully see a few for yourself.

I’ll be at the Galley Head watch in Cork… if you’re in the vicinity come say hello!

Dec 172009
 
Mathematics homework

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The twins had finished their homework, and had gone off to play. Next to me the little one struggled on valiantly, ploughing through maths, reading and several worksheets before moving on to rehearsing her lines for the upcoming school Christmas concert. She could hear her sisters playing in the next room, but was keen to keep Miss happy by getting all her homework. It was too much.

Since school restarted in September, when the little one, who’s six-years-old, got a new teacher, we’ve seen the volume of homework she brings back each afternoon increase. Now it’s reached a level that’s bordering on the ridiculous. A six year old is already tired after being at school all day. The last thing she needs when she arrives home is big chunk of homework. To her credit she does it diligently every day, except Friday, which is thankfully homework free.

As I help her with her maths, reading and writing, I can’t help thinking that enough is enough… that outside school hours the priority for young children should be to play and have fun — to learn through non-academic pursuits that expand knowledge, promote problem solving, stimulate imagination, develop spatial awareness and all those vital things that you can’t teach in a classroom. Instead they have homework, which after a long day at school leaves them mentally exhausted, tired, cranky, and almost incapable of constructive play.

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Jun 232009
 
WASHINGTON - APRIL 17:  Pope Benedict XVI spea...

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So the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, has said "it is no longer tenable" for the Catholic Church to manage 92% of all primary schools. What a revelation! And it’s taken the Church until now to work that out?

Dr Martin, of course, is furiously back-peddling, squirming to try and salvage some form of "face" in the wake of the damning Ryan Report into what it described as "endemic" child abuse by clerical institutions in Ireland, and the public backlash that has ensued both here and abroad. But there’s no face to be saved… the Church’s reputation is in tatters. Any parent worth their salt will tell you that its involvement in even 1% of our primary schools should be more than "untenable"… it should be absolutely criminal!

Those are emotive words because, quite frankly, when it comes to the safety and security of my children I am emotional!

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Jun 042009
 

Adult blue tit bringing food back to hungry chicksWe live in an old schoolhouse, and bisecting the garden is a six-foot stone wall — effectively separating what were once the boys and girls yards. It’s a charming throwback to a bygone era, a lovely original feature of the property, and this spring it’s also home to a family of blue tits. They’ve chosen to nest in a small hole between the stones about a third of the way up, the entrance secreted behind the leaves of a young pear tree that’s fanning across the wall.

I first noticed the parents coming and goings a few weeks ago, but thought I’d keep it to myself until I was sure the eggs had hatched. The girls love nature and wildlife, but their enthusiasm they can get the better of them sometimes, and the last thing I wanted was an abandoned nest. Once both parents were busy feeding their hungry chicks the likelihood of that happening was pretty slim, and so when I could hear the insistent cheeping that told me they’d arrived I showed the girls the adult birds’ comings and goings, the caterpillars and grubs they were bringing, and, in between the parents’ visits, I showed them the nest itself.

In the darkness of the hole you could just make out the bright yellow gapes of five hungry little mouths. The excitement was palpable.

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Feb 092009
 
Charles Darwin.
Image via Wikipedia

It’s refreshing when you see some genuinely good television.

Refreshing, but depressingly rare. Our screens are flooded with vacuous celebrity talent shows and patently unreal reality programmes. Television schedules crossed the  boundary into the banal a long, long time ago, and with the exception of a few pinpoints of light among the shadows of mediocrity, show no sign of returning to a more cerebrally stimulating norm any time soon. Little wonder that the youth of today are eschewing TV and are spending increasing amounts of their leisure time online, interacting with their peers in all sorts of ways.

As I write this, as if to reinforce the point, a mid-morning re-cap of dancing on ice is flickering across the TV screen in the other room. The off switch really is the only escape.

But despite the tidal wave of mediocrity television still has the power to enthrall and inform.

Last night I had the pleasure of watching David Attenborough present an exploration of Charles Darwin‘s tree of life — a look at the celebrated naturalist’s extraordinary journey as he struggled first to unravel the mysteries of natural selection and evolution, and then to prove his controversial theories to a sceptical world.

Attenborough, naturally, was at his seasoned and consummate best: an inimitable presenter who engages and informs with just the right amount of gravitas, but without overshadowing programme content. Who, you wonder, will take up the mantle of television’s most celebrated wildlife presenter when he inevitably hangs up his microphone? Please television gods, let it not be Bill Oddie! Continue reading »

Feb 012009
 
[ Swimming Pool ]
Image by -Meesho- via Flickr

I’m writing this sitting on the viewing balcony of Dunmanway public swimming pool. The girls are doing swimming lessons, and though Mum usually takes care of business, this week Dad’s on duty!

Now, swimming isn’t exactly what you’d call a spectator sport. Once every four years, when the Olympics roll around, maybe, but any other time forget it! Watching children learning is… well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be too near the top of my list of things to do before you die. Swimming with them is another matter, of course. Getting into the pool, or even better the sea, and playing with the children has to be one of the highlights of any holiday.

The lessons though, are important. We don’t live far from the coast, and are often on the shore, and sometimes even in the sea during the summer months. We also have a small boat that we’ve been threatening to do up and get into the water for the last three summers, but that might actually make it to sea again this year. So swimming lessons are crucial, and the girls are coming on a treat.

The twins are tall and thin, and glide through the water effortlessly – or at least they did until their current teacher started getting them to do an appalling straight-armed version of the front crawl. I’d defy anyone to move gracefully through the water while swinging their arms like demented windmills.

The little one, on the other hand, is possessed of a more robust build. Her natural swimming style? You can only describe it as brick-like!

It doesn’t matter what she tries, she pushes off the side with gusto, kicks her little legs valiantly, does absolutely everything right… and sinks like a stone.

It’s a twist of fate – she’s a natural sinker. The human body is more than 80% water, and is usually neutrally buoyant: with our breath exhaled most of us will float with our heads just below the water’s surface. But as with most things in nature this isn’t a hard and fast rule; some people float, others sink.

The little one sinks.

Luckily, sinking doesn’t seem to phase her too much… she just proceeds under the water, sticking her head up when she runs out of air. Every week she’s loving the water more, and every week the teacher does her level best to coax her to the surface. Meanwhile, down in the deep end the twins have stopped learning how to do the front crawl wrong, and are now treading water while clapping their hands – which of course is a vital skill to have if you’re on a cruise ship and fall overboard whilst applauding the cabaret act.

This is one of the reasons I don’t bring them to swimming lessons more often. My pedantic nature, and the fact that I’m a pretty good swimmer, means that I often spend the car journey home correcting what the swimming teacher has taught them. I shouldn’t, but sometimes I can’t help myself. It confuses the issue and does more harm than good.

Then again, I remember my Dad doing the same thing when I was their age. There was one swimming teacher in particular who’s methods clashed with Dad’s view of how swimming should be taught. Every week he’d tell me not to do it that way, do it this way instead. It was hard at the time, but as I improved and moved on to more advanced classes with other teachers, guess what I found out? Dad had been right all along.

I suspect something similar is happening here… but what to do? Do I let things run their course, or intervene and tell the twins that, actually, you don’t keep your arms straight when you’re doing the front crawl? Or perhaps I should focus on teaching the little one how to float first, and let the twins sort themselves out.

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Jan 182009
 
Transparent version of :Image:Nintendo DS Lite...
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“What are you doing girls?” I asked the twins.

“Shhh Dad, we’re connecting,” came the distracted reply.

They were sitting in the living room heads burried in the Nintendo DS consoles they’d got for Christmas, playing the same game, together but apart. On one level the remote interaction, using portable electronic devices to communicate and collaborate in real time, is a really important skill for them to develop — on another it’s worryingly antisocial and all consuming. Trying to get their attention while they’re immersed in a game or engrossed in a wireless instant messaging chat with each other (even though they’re in the same room) is disturbingly difficult.

It’s a sign of the times… technology is bringing us closer together, but at the same time its pushing us further apart,  diluting the need for real human contact.

Via the internet it’s now easier than ever to connect, share and communicate via media that by their very nature transcend physical barriers like geography and time zones. Always on, high speed access to the internet is fundamentally changing the way a whole generation of people do everything, from Christmas shopping to chatting with their grandma on the other side of the world.

The rise of the internet to become a dominant force in practically all of our lives is unprecedented. According to Internet World Stats in June 2008 there were a staggering 1.46 billion people online. That’s 21% of the human population — and it’s still growing at a phenomenal rate! Even if you don’t own a computer, have never sent an e-mail, and never want to, the influence of the internet in your life is profound. How so?
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Jan 102009
 
Batt O'Keeffe
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With the excitement of Christmas and New Year behind us the kids are gearing up to going back to school. Their partly looking forward to seeing their friends again, and partly mourning the fact that the holidays are coming to a close.

I can sympathise with them, in part because I still recall the conflicting emotions of going back to school after the Christmas break from my own childhood… but mainly because of the clash of sentiments it causes for me now as a parent.

Back to school means back to routine: getting up early, making school lunches (a personal pet peeve of mine), organising the kids, getting out of the door on time. The return to school imposes structure on the fluidity of life… and on one level that’s a good thing. At the same time structure and routine are always going to be more boring and mundane than disorder and spontaneity, and part of me riles against the conformity of it all.

But back to school they must go… and while spending lots of time with them over the holidays has been wonderful, for the most part I’ll be happy to reclaim the bulk of my working week as we head into what promises to be a very challenging year.

Talking of challenging years, I guess I should be grateful that the children have a school to go back to in 2009, given the cutbacks our esteemed Government is imposing on our education system. Faced with the cost-cutting initiatives spearheaded by Cork TD and Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, financially embattled schools across the country are facing a very tough 2009 on the fiscal front, and will no doubt be looking to parents for fundraising and direct financial contributions. The Government will bail out the banks, it seems, but bailing out the schools falls to mums and dads.

I’m all for parents getting involved and raising money for schools — but for my money (if you’ll pardon the pun) such funds should surely go towards equipment, facilities and resources over and above those demanded by the standard national curriculum. Schools should be adequately funded by Government to cover all of the basics. When parents have to raise money to subsidise things like the school’s heating bill there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

Nobody questions the need to cut Government spending in the wake of the economic downturn, but the approach the Government has taken speaks volumes about the character of those we choose to lead us. When the going got tough, they  chose to target the most vulnerable in society: the very old and the very young, or to put it another way, those least likely to fight back. Of course they underestimated the backlash (they seem to underestimate most things, with the notable exception of their own competence to govern).

The irony here is that health and education are probably two of the last places a Government should look to reduce funding: the first is vital to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce today, a workforce that will help our beleaguered economy push through the recession; the second is the foundation stone on which all future prosperity will be built.

Now, Mr O’Keefe, perhaps you can explain to parents, teachers, and most of all to children, how undermining the stability of that foundation could possibly be considered a good idea.

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Oct 072008
 

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Louder Voice knocks the socks off other peer review sites in terms of usability, design and its community-centric features. Another example of an Irish tech-company delivering a product / service that’s truly world class.

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And the newly launched Louder Voice for Business offers similar reviews functionality for your business website… which is excellent news for businesses who “get” the shift towards conversational marketing and online consumer engagement.

What is the Tuesday Push

I figured it was finally time for me to engage with this Tuesday Push malarkey (… I, know, I know… better late than never is probably going to be carved on my tombstone).

According to Damien Mulley, orchestrator of the “push”:

The Tuesday Push is a way for the small but growing tech community in Ireland to make some noise about ourselves by picking a good example of an Irish Tech Company and highlighting their product(s) every second Tuesday.

Louder Voice – reviews the way they were meant to be

The worthy recipient of this week’s “push” is LouderVoice (LV) – a great peer review site that makes reviewing products, services and anything else you can think of intuitive, easy and convenient.

You can post reviews via a variety of media: directly on the LouderVoice website, via SMS (so you don’t even need an internet connection – delighted or otherwise with that restaurant? Post a review while it’s fresh in your mind), through micro-blogging services like Twitter, you can even post reviews to your own blog and LV will pick them up from your RSS feed.

Cross-posting of reviews can work the other way around too (I think, although I haven’t done this yet): you post to LV via the web, SMS, Twitter or wherever, and LV will publish the review to your blog… which is a great way to keep things fresh and varied.

One of the best things about LV is the vibrant community of reviewers who contribute, which means that there’s plenty of conversation on everything from the best value wine to the latest tech gadgets to the most popular TV show and everything in between. It’s a community that’s growing all the time as word spreads and LV gains momentum, and as a consumer the benefits of exchanging information, ideas and opinions is obvious and compelling.

Reviews and your business….

But there’s another aspect to this conversation and interaction that’s often overlooked (and the reason I featured LV, complete with screenshot, as a great example of a review site in the Social Media chapter of “Understanding Digital Marketing”). This is a conversation you can participate in, yes, but as a business it’s also a conversation you can learn from.

Listen to people, find out what they’re talking about, what they like and don’t like. Even if they’re not talking about your product or services directly there’s a wealth of information and intelligence there that can help you to serve your customers better.

Of course, one of the best ways a business can use reviews in order to gauge consumer sentiment is to integrate review functionality into their own website – and if you want to explore the possibilities the all-new LV for business offers a suite of review services that are ideally suited to the purpose.

Anyway – the best way to find out more about LV is to start using it – so off you go and start reviewing – I’m looking forward to reading what you think.

NB. If you want your company to be considered for the Tuesday push you can submit your details online.

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Oct 012008
 
Banknotes from all around the World donated by...

Image via Wikipedia

A new programme aimed at secondary schools is apparently going to teach our children how to budget, save and be smart with money. The programme, dubbed “Get Smart with your Money”, is a joint venture between the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and the Financial Regulator, and encourages students to explore their attitudes to money.

A “free pack”, containing a teachers manual full of activities, tips and case studies, and individual learner journals for the students, is being distributed to secondary schools around the country. The programme was officially launched last week by Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin.

“Having a dedicated module on finance which helps young people to understand budgeting, planning, shopping around and how to manage their resources in order to make the most of their money is very welcome,” she said at the launch.

“Students will be able to build on their knowledge from other financial areas of the curriculum such as mathematics and business studies,” she enthused.

Given the chronic state of underfunding in our schools, both primary and secondary, and an economy that’s nose diving into the depths of recession, I can’t help but wonder if Ms Hanafin and her cabinet colleagues might benefit from a bit of fiscal training of their own….

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