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June 26, 2012

The Shape of the Summer

Udacity has launched its new hexamester. I am enrolled in four courses. One is ST101 introduction to statistics, which I do not expect to trouble me unduly, and one is the CS262 programming languages course that I'm about 60% of the way through. I am excited about CS221 Logic and Discrete Maths, which hasn't quite launched yet, and I've made a start on CS258 Software Testing. That one requires you to understand objects (classes and methods) in a Python context, which I don't, so I am going to have to find some remedial support on the web for that (Steven says that CodeCademy has some good stuff on beginning object oriented programming) but otherwise I think it will be ok but challenging for me.

I'm trying to do German on Duolingo daily, at least until I go to Castellans Folksommer, and Japanese (on Anki and Read the Kanji) daily. I'm also doing the self-study 6.003z. I'm intending to exercise and play music for half an hour each daily, cook my family delicious food made from fresh ingredients, and squeeze in a bit of sketching, knitting, blogging and reading. Hmm. And, as Marianne said, 'isn't it lovely that you have the time to be a full time homemaker and mother'.

And I'm back on My Fitness Pal, or as my wicked mate Ang calls it, 'My Fat Friend', trying to track food and exercise. An acquaintance of mine has started Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation, which is a regular sort of online diet and fitness plan except that it runs in structured, deadline-focused, lumps, like the Udacity courses. I know from Udacity and 6.002x that this sort of structure suits me. But the result of it being in lumps is that I can't start yet, and it costs a lot of money, which violates my 'taking advantage of free online courses' model. So I thought I might just try regular old 'eating less and exercising more' for a month or so first before deciding whether to shell out my cash.

Food -- Gordon's Lasagne again, this time with absolutely perfect Natoora fresh pasta sheets. Which are expensive but the packet is twice as big as you need for this dish so I have frozen the rest. Natoora has a partnership with Ocado, which is good because I don't think I could possibly afford to do all my shopping at Natoora! We make this recipe serve six (four large dinner portions and two smaller lunch portions), and it is full of vegetables (I think I use more than Gordon calls for; particularly more mushrooms this time). This time I skipped the creme fraiche, used whole eggs rather than yolks, frozen spinach, and much less parmesan than recommended because I made Marianne grate it and she lost heart after about an ounce. Still delicious. Tonight will be a soup, roughly in line with the Minestrone from How to Eat Nigella Lawson, and homemade bread.

Finally, Dallas is back! Not properly on television in the UK until September though, because in Channel 5's world nobody in the UK who wants to see this has access to the internet.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:59 AM | Comments (2)

June 21, 2012

But Where Did The Time Go

Three quick links before I zip off to spend the weekend camping. In the rain. Again.

I certainly learnt a lot from Portal, mostly about not trusting psychotic artificial intelligences. So I was cheered to see that Valve are marketing Portal to schools.

I thought this video from McDonalds Canada on 'how our food stylists photograph and retouch a Quarter Pounder with Cheese' was really interesting.

And this might be the single most offensive thing I've seen on the Internet ever, so be warned:

Science: It's a Girl Thing.

The really sad thing about this is that the actual website has a dozen or more fantastic videos of female scientists talking about their work and their life. But how would you possibly tell?

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:34 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2012

A new Matt Dancing Video

I think this is worth an entire inspirational video post of its own really. One of my all time favourite things on the internet, now in new mass participation mode. See it before everyone else does!

Posted by Alison Scott at 06:50 PM | Comments (2)

June 19, 2012

Some things to watch and a study update

Two TED talks for today. The first came from a discussion in the 6.002x pages -- Why is x the unknown?. I was surprised I didn't know this. And Luis van Ahn on ReCaptcha and Duolingo -- this was a link from a piece on the BBC.

Another thing I was surprised I hadn't previously seen was this set of 3D photos taken (mostly) on the International Space Station. They used a Fuji W1. Unfortunately these are anaglyph, but they're still very interesting photos.

I'm more than halfway through Udacity CS262 now, and have hit the brick wall (for me) that is parsing theory. Honestly, I just zip through this material, going 'yup, that's ok, that's ok, understand that, that's fine...' and then run face first into a brick wall of UTTER INCOMPREHENSION. With Peter Norvig, who had a take-no-prisoners instruction style, that was not so worrying. But the instructor in CS262 is Wes Weimer, and everything up until this point has been completely lucid and spelt out in perfect detail. How hard was it? I turned to Signals and Systems for light relief.

The 'study group' of ex-6.002x students who are looking at 6.003 over the summer is really taking shape now. Someone has written us a website to gather all the course material together; other people are recording video tutorials and writing solutions to questions. I have watched the first two videos and solved most of the associated problem set; there are also problem sets (though no solutions) available from the current version of the course (for which the videos are not available) and I'm going to try to solve all of those as I go as well.

Sebastian Thrun wants to break the record for number of people on a MOOC with his Introduction to Statistics course, subtitled 'making decisions based on data'. I signed up before he started plugging it, but suspect that the people who really, really need to start making decisions based on data won't be inclined to take the course.

We've had a bit of a spate of GCSEs recently. Marianne is only in year 10, but has taken several modular exams that actually count towards her results in the last few weeks. The last of these is today, although she still has more mocks and the mocks still 'count' in that they are shown to the sixth form colleges she applies to. I am confident that the way she has coped with all this stress is within the normal parameters for teenage girls because I have seen Phineas and Ferb. Meanwhile, Jonathan has been told that all his end of year tests will take place in the Hall under exam conditions 'to get students used to taking public exams'. Because, you know, secondary school wouldn't be stressful enough without that. He's only in year 7.

Food -- These 'healthy' baked sweet potato skins were really delicious. Steven made the filling; to save time we used caramelised onions from a jar, we used red kidney beans instead of black beans because we'd run out, and jarred red peppers instead of chipolte because of the spicy food thing, and a mix of half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash. So in practice it was totally different. But seriously delicious, and crammed full of veg. The recipe suggests that one half potato will be enough as a portion; obviously not. This is going to become a standard meal for us.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2012

Very very quickly

Very quick update -- I finished MITx 6.002x and have an awesome certificate to prove it. Some of the course members are intending to press on with 6.003 (Signals and Systems) on Open CourseWare over the summer, and I'm joining in with that. So if you see me at a festival this summer I will probably be the one with the big textbook. 6.002x did not cost me a penny other than a little pencil lead (I already had the ream of paper I used), but without the formal course support, I have invested in the textbook and some support material for this one.

I also finished Udacity CS212, and have slipped in a bit of CS262 in the gap before their courses properly start up again on the 25th.

food -- notably Jamie's '30 minute' green curry with not-very-Korean slaw and noodles. This is becoming a regular for us, and got eaten up despite being full of vegetables. Also locro, a very inauthentic but highly delicious South American stew which we've been cooking ever since we got it out of this long-forgotten Sainsburys' casserole cookbook. Onion, stewing steak, tomatoes, paprika, potatoes, chickpeas, sweetcorn and chorizo.

Off to the Big Session tomorrow; it's hardly going to rain at all!

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2012

Almost at the end of the beginning

I have a lot more to write about learning, and the luxury of having a year (or so) to study. But meanwhile, the MITx final creeps ever closer. I have, essentially, finished studying for it; I have completed all the coursework, watched all the enrichment material and tutorials, and worked, catastrophically, through the finals review pack, getting stuck on almost every question. I do not know this material well enough. I will certainly pass; but I would like to do much better and I am not sure that I can.

Meanwhile, my friend Flick(a) is off to the South of England Show tomorrow, to do what looks suspiciously like cosplay on horseback. In strong winds and driving rain, according to the weather forecast. What could possibly go wrong? We will go along to watch if the weather forecast improves.

I didn't start with an intention of just doing programming and circuits. I wanted to continue to work on Japanese, and to improve my music, either by learning an accompanying instrument or improving my melodeon or (preferably) both. Japanese has been taking a back seat while Udacity and MITx have sucked all my time. But I made two small strides this weekend; at Chippenham I took a ukulele workshop for absolute beginners with Sue Snell. Jonathan also did every single one of her children's workshops and badgered us until we bought him a ukulele (hey, it's another instrument! We like those.) And then yesterday we arrived at the Jubilee fair to dance out with Chingford Morris to discover that I was the lead musician. I've not done that before, but it went fine; I played for five dances and a social.

I want to structure my days so that they (almost) invariably include 30 minutes of exercise. Not a problem when I'm camping at a festival and walking between venues. But on the chilly, damp days in between it's much harder. Obviously there are things like dancing and badminton to put in the mix, which helps a bit.

The single thing holding my art back most, apart from generally not doing it enough, is that my drawing skills are rubbish. And the patent cure for rubbish drawing is daily sketching. This is an excuse to mention one of my favourite things on the entire internet, the most inspirational 'daily sketching' thread ever -- though Questionable Content is also a good example of what daily practice gives you.

I mean, I know that daily practice is the key to everything. Art, music, exercise, Japanese, probably even circuit design. And I have plenty of time to devote the few minutes every single day to each of them. But somehow it doesn't quite happen.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2012

Remembering Childhood Nightmares

Of course, when you're busy, there's lots of things to write about and little time to do it. So this is a very quick update. We were driving back from Chippenham last night when the beacons were lit, and had fun spotting the ones near the road. I love beacons, though I think it's a shame that they abandoned proper beacon chains in favour of specific lighting times.

We missed the Jubilee Concert of course, but it appears to have been very well staged. Highlight is unquestionably Madness, with the light show on the palace -- at 2:41 in the BBC playback (for a week) or on YouTube (until it gets taken down, but more will spring up I'm sure).

An inspirational concept rather than an inspirational video today: Hard Fun. Isn't all the best fun hard?

And since I last looked, the 1972 ITV adaptation of Marianne Dreams has both been issued on DVD and been deleted. That's sort of annoying. Anyway, it was (I never remembered this) called Escape into Night. I'm amused to see that it's rated '12', even all these years later. Obviously I saw it when it was brand spanking new; I was seven at the time and it had a lasting impression on me to say the least. The colour originals have been lost so this DVD is black and white. In the way of the modern world, the entire thing is also on YouTube.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)