Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review Day: Coursera

I just finished a free 10-week online course in "Designing and Executing Information Security Strategies". It was something of a soft-skills course, with emphasis on analysis and argument over right answers. Here are my thoughts about Coursera, based on my first class.

What I Liked

  • The course materials are self-contained and all freely available. No textbooks required.

  • Lectures are posted as slides and video, and text dumps of the video are available, to capture all of the extraneous comments the lecturer provides around the slides. You can playback the video at faster speeds to be more efficient.

  • The weekly quizzes and assignments keep you more invested than just reading a book might.

What I Disliked

  • Site navigation for this particular course was all over the place, reminding me of Blackboard in the 2000s. It's hard to get a big picture view of what you've done, what's due this week, and upcoming deadlines from one place.

  • The multiple-choice quizzes are easily gamed. Answer order is randomized automatically, even if it's nonsensical, as shown by the number of "A" options saying "All of the Above". In this class' quizzes, generally all of the "check all that apply" questions needed all of the options checked.

  • Most egregiously: Written assignments are peer-reviewed, with results ranging from "blind leading the blind" to "grades not grounded in reality" to "obviously I've never graded an assignment before". I graded at least two assignments back-to-back that were identical and obviously copied, many that had a bare minimum of English proficiency, and a few that were decent. In one assignment, I had to provide risk recommendations for new banking software that might be in violation of European privacy laws. I proposed starting a pilot with US citizens only, and expanding to foreign members after the initial kinks had been worked out. I got downgraded with this comment:

Overall, I found Coursera to be worthwhile for "personal growth" types of learning activities, but lacking in the rigor that would prove you had actually learned something. If I were to see a Coursera course on a resume, I would give the interviewee the benefit of the doubt that he or she had taken the course, but wouldn't assume that they knew the subject matter. I'm starting a course in Functional Programming with Scala this weekend, which I'm hoping will be a better fit, since there are right and wrong answers, and thus no peer review.

Final Grade: B-, good for personal growth but not certification

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Time-lapsed Blogography Day

Eighteen years ago today, on April 23, 1996, I was a senior in high school. My first stop after driving to school was the homeroom of one of my crushes, to thoughtfully drop off some physics notes for bonus nice points. I don't know how kids today stalk their crushes (probably a GPS app), but back then, knowledge of a girl's homeroom was painstakingly gained through hall wandering and triangulation. Probably fifty percent of a teenager's brainwaves were dedicated to learning locker locations, travel paths between classes, and phone numbers.

I didn't go too any of my morning classes, because the jazz band took a field trip to Hammond Middle School for a double-feature assembly. I played a few good improvised solos for the youngsters, who were also impressed by the original composition, Bubba's Fried Chicken Stand.

We got back to school during fourth period, but naturally we had to take fifth period off to catch up on lunch. Since we also had seventh period concert band off because of our super strenuous assemblies, I breezed through a boring class of Calculus with Mr. Kokonis and then headed down to the boathouse early for crew, spending about an hour sitting in my car listening to a tape of Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band.

The Potomac River was the roughest it had ever been in my crew career that day, with whitecaps and the wind blowing from the southeast at 29 knots. I knew the exact speed, because there used to be a weather/boating phone number you could call from your rotary phone to get Potomac weather conditions. It was always voiced by a meteorologist who seemed pissed off to get stuck with forecast recording duty yet incapable of reading more than two words at a time, not unlike a drill sergeant with a brain tumor. "WIND SOUTH. TEN KNOTS. USE CARE. ON THE WAT. ER."

Because the water was so bad, my rowers just worked on the ergs while I surreptitiously observed the girls doing their workouts on the other side of the exercise room.

I got home around 4 PM that day to learn that I had won the $1000 Band Booster scholarship (not a big surprise since my name was on all of the plaques in all of the hallways everywhere), which bookended nicely with the $1000 Computer Science scholarship I had won the day before from Tech. Today, those amounts would probably buy a meal at the high-end athletes-only dining hall.

Later on, there was almost drama when I learned that I had to attend the scholarship awards ceremony in order to get it, in spite of the fact that it conflicted with the world premiere of The Admiral's Overture. The powers that be did not see any irony in denying me for a music scholarship because I was busy doing music, and I had to flurry between events like politician to get all of the moneys.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Random Chart Day: Finances

Now that I have over a decade of financial history to mine, I will be posting occasional charts and trends. Data is fun.

Annual Salary over 14 Years

I would add the salaries of my Florida State teaching assistantship, but that would require a logarithmic Y-axis to not be mistaken for 0.

Phone Bill over 10 Years

All phone service has been through Verizon. I had a landline in Florida too, but those records were long lost in a hard drive crash.

Cable/Internet Bill over 10 Years

I had Cox in Fairfax, and then Adelphia in Sterling, before they were bought out by Comcast. In Florida, I paid $29.95 for dial-up service through the 90s era "" in addition to cable, but those bills are long lost as well.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Weekend Wrap-up in Food

  • Cornish game hen roasted in the toaster oven on Friday night, while starting the first season of Orphan Black.

  • Bagel and cream cheese over the morning paper on Saturday.

  • Grilled glazed salmon for the birthday of Rebecca's dad, followed by badminton.

  • 10 piece Chicken McNuggets meal on Saturday night, while Rebecca went in to DC for Marc's birthday.

  • Bagel and cream cheese on Sunday, before the Easter service at Riverside Chruch.

  • Gorgonzola cheese on crackers over four rounds of Hearthstone.

  • Marie Callendar chicken pot pie for lunch.

  • Foot-long cold cut combo from Subway for dinner, after a pleasant walk through Claude Moore Park. Deer count: 6.

What did you eat this weekend?

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