May 10, 2012

Missionaries and Cannibals

I'm currently studying two courses. They're both MOOCs; massive open online courses. The Wikipedia article on MOOCs is rotten and very out of date. They're exciting at the moment because some famous universities, and extremely interesting lecturers, are getting involved in them. This form of study is good for me because it's free, and it's very convenient, and because abilities like google-fu and forum participation are very handy.

It feels extremely disruptive. People keep saying 'oh, but it won't take the place of traditional undergraduate residential study'. And it might well not, if you're a first rate university. But it seems clear that lectures delivered this way have the potential to be far better than the more mediocre sort of university teaching. Credentialing will come; perhaps not for a year or two, but it will come. And at that point, people are going to start wondering what exactly they get for their money with full time residential study.

I'm studying the pilot MITx course from MIT, 6.002x Circuits and Electronics. It's a largely unamended MIT sophomore course; prerequisites are some calculus (I'm rusty but I've found the maths very soothing and easy), and electricity and magnetism, which in theory I did at Cambridge but I didn't exactly pay attention. Anyway, whenever I get stuck I stop, read around the issue, and Google. Try doing that with a real lecturer.

The other course is CS212 from Udacity. I know amazingly little about programming. I think it's mostly an accident of fate, but anyway. Time to sort it out. Unlike MITx, Udacity isn't an established university; it's a for-profit startup. That allows it quite a lot of flexibility in what it delivers and how; and it's doing bite-sized eight week courses (hexamesters, they call them). The introductory course, CS101, was straightforward (though I did get a bit stuck on the bonus hard questions in the final exam). I had a choice of followup courses, but I have chosen to do 'Design of Computer programmes'. The lecturer is Peter Norvig, Google's Director of Research, and the course is jolly good but I'm finding it quite dense; and last week's unit was just a bit too hard for me.

Anyway, all of that was just preamble to what I was planning to say, which is that I'm going to put some course jottings on the blog. I finished unit 4 of CS212 yesterday. Unlike unit 3, it felt like it followed on tidily from what had gone before. Starting with puzzles such as 'I have a 9 pint and a 4 pint container, and a barrel of beer. How can I measure exactly 6 pints', and 'there are 3 missionaries and 3 cannibals, who need to get across a river in a boat...', we developed code to solve first those specific puzzles, and then general puzzles requiring an effective search.

Today: week 9 of MITx.

Posted by Alison Scott at 07:40 AM | Comments (3)

August 13, 2007

Things I've Learnt Today

I was pretty amazed to learn from Boing Boing that Colossal Cave was based on a real cave. Presumably if you visit the cave you see various places where adventurers have scrawled XYZZY on the walls.

I was rather less amazed to learn that the Hatfield Galleria didn't have any shops whatsoever worth visiting. Many of the stores are boarded up; of those that remain, many are not outlets at all, or are just branches of discount chains such as The Works or TK Maxx. There are a few true outlets, but none of the high-end manufacturers' outlets I'm used to from other outlet villages. The M&S outlet store is particularly weak, with a few end-of-runs at small discounts (I would not be surprised to discover that the prices here are exactly the same as in other M&S shops; certainly one offer I particularly noticed was the same) and a 'clearance' area that appears to be a random jumble of unsalable customer returns.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2007

You Learn Something New Every Day

This feels like a new category for the blog. I certainly learn something new every day, and some of those things are even bloggable. One of the non-bloggable ones is that I was told this morning that the Met Office had added new areas to the Shipping Forecast for the first time for years -- Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

When I was young I had a jigsaw made of the countries of Europe, and a map of the UK with the counties, towns and major rivers on little bits of sticky plastic which you fixed in place. But the countries of Europe and the counties of Britain have changed a good deal since then. The US states, on the other hand, are a gratifyingly stable form of learning; no changes to the lower 48 for well more than my lifetime. Nevertheless, I've learnt more about the shapes and positions of states today than in the whole of the rest of my life, thanks to Statetris, a flash game where the states drop from the top of the board and you have to rotate them and get them in the right place. My top time on 'hard' is 3:23; not bad for a foreigner. Now, if we could just get someone to teach US children where France is on the map, we might be getting somewhere.

Separately, I learn from Green Chair Press that the rhyme I know as 'The Queen of Hearts' was published in 1782 and has four verses, one from each suit.

If this were LiveJournal, I could do a version of the Good/Bad poll, so you could choose for each YLSNED item whether it's new learning, or old hat. Feel free to comment instead.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:48 AM | Comments (1)