My Coursera Accomplishments —and— thoughts about MOOCs

(Originally posted on 2016-06-09, 2016-06-19, and 2016-07-28.)

I recently participated in online non-credit courses (MOOCs), and I did well. This gave me a real sense of accomplishment. That’s something that I miss from my software development days.

I have a college degree, but my disability makes homework a real challenge. This format allows me to study, and attend lectures, when I am at my best, which is rare.

That flexibility makes online lectures better than live college lectures. Although, yes, you would also want access to your instructors.

The first course was Survey of Music Technology.

Dr. Jason A. Freeman taught the class. He is from the Georgia Institute of Technology. I completed it on June 1, 2016.

This was like a recording studio engineering course that I took at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam (back in 1990?). Back then we did the recording on tape, and when we needed to splice it? We used razor blades, and we walked uphill, both ways, and we liked it!

Here is a video that shows what we did in the Crane class. We also spent a lot of time doing wacky things with analog synthesizers. I was always able to figure out what the sound would be just by seeing how the modules were hooked up.

The course had one quiz each week, and two projects. The first project involved using the Reaper DAW as a virtual recording studio. For the second project we did something similar, but we used the EarSketch instead.

EarSketch allows us to write software in place of the DAW. It’s a Python API and runtime environment.

I earned 100% on all tests and assignments.

survey

The second course was The Blues: Understanding and Performing an American Art Form.

Dariusz Terefenko taught the class. He is from the Eastman School of Music, the University of Rochester. I completed it on June 8, 2016.

This was like a Jazz Improvisation course that I took at at SUNY Plattsburgh back in 1988. 

Dr. Terefenko’s version was much deeper with regards to composing and improvising on the piano. I suspect that he has covered everything. If you are a piano player, and you love the blues, then you need this course.

It’s pretty amazing how much information was in the lectures. This would have been difficult to do in a live classroom setting. The logistics of getting everyone into the class, out of the class, and on the same page, eats up way too much time in a traditional setting.

Blues

The third course was Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python)

This is a basic beginner’s programming course taught by Charles Severance from The University of Michigan. I would recommend it to any beginner. You really need to take all five courses in the Python for Everybody specialization, in order to get the full benefit though.

What’s “For Everybody” mean? For some reason, in academics, there’s a stigma attached to anyone using relational databases to create computer programs. Outside of academia? Everybody does this, but inside academia, there’s Computer Scientists, and then there’s “everybody” else.

I believe that this is a bad name for the course. It makes it look as though it’s not as serious, and the name itself undermines the accomplishment made.

I earned 100% on all tests and assignments.

python-for-everyone

Lastly there’s Python Data Structures.

This was about how to use the data structures built-in to Python’s standard API.

It was very different from my previous data structures courses which involved using pointers, and other techniques, to build our own data structures.

I earned 100% on all tests and assignments.

Python Data Structures

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You Too Can Train Your Cat

(Originally posted on Feb 12, 2016 as /archives/10756)

Kay trained our cat. The trick is simple; only pack animals respond to punishment. So? Don’t use punishment to train your cat. Use positive reinforcement instead.

When I describe how to do this, people get upset as if it’s manipulation, especially with regards to teaching children. The thing is: we are always using operant conditioning. You can’t not. The difference is: are you going to do it well, or haphazardly?

With regards to humans: over-permissiveness is wrong, but you can maintain control without hitting.

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How to Easily Simulate A Painting

(Originally posted on Jul 13, 2015 as /archives/10491)

This thumbnail is a cropped version of the image that is automatically posted to Facebook when you click the Facebook icon at the link.
This thumbnail is a cropped version of the image that is automatically posted to Facebook when you click the Facebook-share icon on Anita Farmer’s post. It is not my image.

For an excellent tutorial on how to easily simulate a painting via Photoshop blend layers please see Anita Farmer’s Beginner’s guide to transforming your photo into a watercolour masterpiece.

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World’s Craziest Photoshop Tutorial?

(Originally posted on 2015-02-16 as /archives/10105)

 

Photofocus claims that Fafa’s Photoshop Tutorial with Glove and Boots is the World’s Craziest Photoshop Tutorial. Maybe. You can see it here:

I say, “Nay. The You Suck at Photoshop series is the actual World’s Craziest Photoshop Tutorial.” Warning: it’s not as family friendly as Glove and Boots. It’s NSFW, and all-that that implies. Here’s the first video in the series:

As I get better at Photoshop, I always go back to the You Suck at Photoshop series, to get a better perspective on how I have improved.

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Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest

What are Strandbeest?

(Originally published on 2016/08/31.)

Theo Jansen invented the strandbeest. He describes them as “new forms of life” that “live their own lives“. That’s not accurate though. These aren’t alive by any scientific definition of the word.

Most of the strandbeest leg-bones share the same relative lengths. Mr Jansen calls these ratios “the holy numbers“. Trying every possible combination of ratios was an intractable problem, so Mr Jansen used an evolutionary approach, with a computer simulation, to get to the optimal ratios in a reasonable amount of time. 

There are many full-sized, strandbeest videos, but I am only going to post one here:

 

The remaining links will be to smaller strandbeest that you-too can own.

I Built My Own Strandbeest

I have three kits. I finished the first one (minus the propeller). Here are Adam Savage’s builds of the same three kits:

All three kits are available from multiple sources, at a wide range of prices. The Amazon.com links (below), are some of the more affordable versions.

Kit #1

My first build was a scale working model of Animaris Ordis Parvus. It’s the Vol. 30 Gakken kit. You can find it here:

Here’s another version of Animaris Ordis Parvus. This one is in English:

Kit #2

The second kit is Gakken’s “Biped Walking Robot”. It comes as a Japanese “mook” (model+book):

Kit #3

The third kit is Gakken’s scale model of Animaris Rhinoceros Parvus. The English edition is branded as “Jr. Scientist”, but it’s actually the Gakken kit:

Hexbug’s Motorized, Steerable, Strandbeest

Hexbug sells two sizes of strandbeest. They are four legged versions similar-to Animaris Ordis Parvus. They go forwards, backwards, and turn. They do this by using two motors and crankshafts instead of one.

The Animaris Ordis Parvus Gakken kit’s crankshaft is actually split-able in the center, so one could potentially create something like these from that kit.

Here is the larger version, called Vex Robotics Strandbeast XL, which is a kit:

Here is the smaller version, called Hexbug Tarantula, which is pre-built:

Lego Strandbeests

Jason Allemann from JK Brickworks has created a Lego steerable strandbeest. It’s web page is here.

Jason shares step-by-step PDF instructions on how to build the legs here.

This is my favorite Lego steerable strandbeest. It’s Lego Ideas page is here. Unfortunately Lego will not be releasing this as a kit.

Here’s a Lego version of Theo Jansen’s Animaris Rhinoceros Parvus. It’s Lego Ideas page is here. Unfortunately Lego will not be releasing this as a kit.

Here is OSchoe’s Mindstorms Lego steerable strandbeest. It’s web page is here.

Blender and Bullet Physics Engine Simulation by Phymec

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The Kansas Speedway: Inadequate Parking for those with Disabilities

(Originally posted on 2015-11-22 as /archives/10609)

This image is from a 2014 Texas Speedway road race. © Paul Danger Kile, All Rights Reserved

I missed this year’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway.

I do prefer road racing to NASCAR, but we didn’t have road racing this year. Heartland Park Topeka was on life support, and Kansas Speedway didn’t host the IMSA TUDOR roadracing series.

The thing about NASCAR is this: it is perfect for those who are at the track. TV shows the front runners most of the time, but spectators get to see cars battle for position everywhere: not just in the front. Most super speedways allow you to see all of track from any stadium seat. You can listen to team managers talk to their drivers via a scanner: that you rent or own. That rocks.

Here’s the thing: I bought the tickets, but I missed the race, because of my disability. Here is a quote from my email to Kansas Speedway. I haven’t heard back from them yet. Maybe the email went to the bitbucket?

  1. The Kansas Speedway parking lot is inadequate for those of us with disabilities.
  2. Disabled placards are unavailable to people that can walk this far:
  1. The walk from the end of Talledega Drive to Gate A is over 1.2 miles long (more than 6300 feet).
  2. Disabled parking at Kansas Speedway is only available to cars with disabled placards. (http://www.kansasspeedway.com/About-Us/FAQ.aspx)
  3. There is no tram service in the parking lots. (http://www.kansasspeedway.com/About-Us/FAQ.aspx)

I have documentation that proves that I have a disability, but most days I can walk 100 feet, so I don’t have a placard. I cannot walk more than half a mile 95% of the time. I suspect that many other people are in exactly the same situation.

A few days before the race I called Kansas Speedway, and I explained my situation. I was told, “You won’t have any problem, because we have a tram going to Gate A.”

I looked at your map on race day (10/18/2015) and I realized that the tram goes to Gate A, but doesn’t go to the parking lot, so it won’t help. I was unable to walk long distances on race day, so I had to miss the race.

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