The Online & Free Education

This is such an amazing week.  It is such an incredible time to be young of mind and free to pursue educational desires.  Free, online classes are starting to populate for this semester.  I’m feeling more and more torn that I cannot just drop everything else in my life just to enjoy these amazing resources.  On the other hand, it was as if these classes were conceived with the busy, corporate worker in mind.  It’s as if the designers put every thought of my schedule and convenience when creating the online curriculum.

Coursera

Tonight is something of a historical night, now that two offerings on Coursera.org have finally come online after some time in preview.  I’m going to be following both the Software As A Service Berkeley class with Ruby on Rails, and Model Thinking from UMich.  The first is interesting because it is teaching something that is very relevant to the IT industry, whereas in general a computer science curriculum emphasizes the science and math aspect.  The second class fits more under philosophy or some other soft science.   I am very curious how they will be utilizing Coursera and how effective they will be in educating me.  

Luckily for the administrative hiccups, Stanford’s Coursera courses have all been delayed, and I might be able to consume all of their offerings after all.

Udacity

Tomorrow, the first Udacity CS classes will be launching!  I will be following along the CS 101 Search Engine class, although it hardly seems as basic as 101 suggests it should be.  Udacity will be an interesting experiment to see if Professor Thrun’s certifications for his classes will carry any weight in the real world.  I love the idea that a single man is doing what it took universities so long to get running.  I love that a single man will accredit his classes and universities be damned.  I would love to see a future where professors break free of the university model, break free of the ivory tower by getting real time feedback from the world, stay current with technological trends, and teach the world.

MITx

MITx is doing something similar to Stanford and Professor Thrun, in that they are offering free online courses then charging a fee for the certification, although if done correctly it shouldn’t be too different from other types of accredited engineering certifications.  I am excited they will be offering “real engineering” classes rather than so many more software classes.   But I won’t be experimenting on their platform until they’ve offered something I haven’t taken.  I am sad yet relieved at the same time!

Open Courseware

I’m also following along Berkley’s SICP class online in near real time. These are just independent study materials, but the exercises and projects have been educational!  I found this material to be easier to digest than the MIT opencourseware’s equivalent Intro to Computer Science course material.  Both courses are taught in Python.  The first has homework solutions and the later has the benefit of video lectures.  Probably the most wholesome approach is to use both, although I don’t plan to do that.

Others
I wonder how Codecademy.com and Codelesson.com will fare with these giants now playing in their sandbox?   It seems to me that neither offers a very complete solution to the online education problem.  Codecademy is still very vocational and lacks anything that resembles study material, while codelesson is essentially structured self study and doesn’t have the power to draw large virtual rosters.  

A Lone Celebration

Since this is the time of the year when the pair bonding ritual is blazenly celebrated, I’m going to go on a somewhat contrary path. I want to celebrate the ending of relationships, for which I am personally thankful for.

Cheers to:

  • The end of my draining relationship with being constantly on instant messenger.  This is the first step to taking back control of my time for its primary customer — me.
  • The end of my physically abusive relationship with my Macbook Air, as in, I no longer use it as my primary computer.  Now I don’t have the constant neck and shoulder pain.  I never gave ergonomics much of a thought until I started having a constant feeling of mild pain.  Once I realized that I can adjust my desktop to the best possible configuration for my health, health regained! 
  • The end of caring what everyone else is doing, caring what everyone else is achieving, being taken advantage of by power-hungry sociopaths, and feeling envious or demoralized.  
  • The consummation of my compulsions for video games, movies, tv.  

Overall, I am most happy that my time is 100% mine and not to be compromised for anyone else.  

Python 3.0 Print Oddity

English: Python logo Deutsch: Python Logo

Image via Wikipedia

So I tried out the python doc’s code sample for HTMLParser in the shell, but modified it a bit for Python 3.0 and also my own purposes.  It seems like if you just re-run the class in IDLE, the behavior will update but old print statements will persist.  So strange! I wonder why?

from html.parser import HTMLParserclass MyHTMLParser(HTMLParser):    def handle_starttag(self, tag, attrs):        if tag == 'p':            print ("Encountered a P tag:", tag)            print ("Attrib:", attrs)    def handle_endtag(self, tag):        if tag == 'p':            print ("Encountered  an end P tag:", tag)    def handle_data(self, data):        print ("Encountered   some data:", data)parser = MyHTMLParser()parser.feed('<html><head><title>Test</title></head>'            '<body><h1><p>Parse me!</p></h1></body></html>')

Looks like the correct behaviour, but why does the original print output get displayed?

Encountered   some data: Test
Encountered a start tag: p
Encountered   some data: Parse me!
Encountered  an end tag: p

This must be some residue of the previous Python version, although the docs suggest I should be able to do everything as before except wrap print parameters with the parentheses.  

 

Old: print "The answer is", 2*2New: print("The answer is", 2*2)

 

I guess in Python 3+, only the str.format is safe to use for all occassions — at the moment.  

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Ender’s Game Musings, AudioBooks, Reading

I've been having a blast lately rediscovering audiobooks as a distinct media form. ??By combining audio listening while on the go and reading on the Kindle, I've doubled my consumption rate of literature compared to last year when I was only using a Kindle! ??In only two months into the new year, I've been able to reach the halfway point of this year's reading goals — which, of course, I've now set higher! ??This puts me back to a respectable 18% completion! ??Perhaps, if I can continue at my current rate of 100 books per year, I should be able to read 7000 books before I die. ??That should well enough cover my reading bucket list!

So, out of the many legal platform choices for audiobooks out there, none of them seem to be fully featured…

We have Overdrive Media, which serves as the platform for most libraries and Barnes & Noble. ??OverDrive has a better PC software that will have the audio divided up into sensible 'chapter' locations — whereas Audible has nothing of that sort. ??Overdrive updated their Windows Phone app to Mango, so now you can listen to books in the background, just as it should be. ??

Amazon's Audible certainly has the price point advantage over Barnes & Noble. ??I'm tempted to buy my audiobooks from B&N instead just because the delivery platform is better. ??Yet, I have to wonder if my digital media will sink with the ship when some inevitable day Amazon devours B&N?

There's been murmurings of a newcomer to the audiobook territory, Audiobooks.com! ??They boast of a Netflix all-you-can-eat subscription model, which also has me sorely tempted. ??I've got to also wonder what will happen to their customer base if they end up shuttering.

This weekend, I re-read the first Ender's Game via audiobook. ??I can highly recommend this audiobook, as it is among the better books to listen to because of the multiple narrators and general good voice acting. ??I'm also finally reading the second and third books of this series to wrap up what I started so long ago in my youth!

Spoiler Musings Ahead!

The second and third Ender's Game books makes an earnest foray in exploring the??Portuguese??and Chinese culture. ??I'm still having a hard time "disbelieving" the setup where 3000 years after a civilization advanced enough to commit interstellar xenocide and mankind has colonized the far reaches of space via advanced alien technology, there exist entire colonies that have stunted religious and cultural baggage reeking of the 21st century. ??This becomes especially anachronistic by the third book, where ancient Chinese customs from pre-21st century are used as a template for this space colony. ??It seems almost a rule that science fiction should become dated first by the science rather than that of human nature! ??While it is self-admitted that Orson Scott Card himself is not very knowledgeable about Chinese culture, the third book makes this evident by omission when compared against his second novel, where unexplained Portuguese language is sprinkled throughout the novel. ??

/End Spoiler

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