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February 2, 2013

Coursera

Filed under: Commentary,Robots — Bob @ 1:48 pm

A few weeks ago a friend highlighted an online course Control of Mobile Robots through Coursera for me to check out. I was intrigued because of the content (obviously) but also because I’d not yet experienced one of these “online universities” such as Khan Acadamey or Uda City. In fact I’d never even heard of Coursera before.

I just finished my first week of class. The sessions were good, the video quality was outstanding, and the material was interesting. The format of this particular course is set up to be a series of short videos (6-10 minutes each) plus a teaching assistant video (called a “glue lecture”) that is intended to help with the weekly quiz. There is also a forum for information exchange and Q & A.

I really enjoyed the lectures, very interesting material and the content is easy to follow. I did find the “glue lecture” was very different than the regular lectures, in as much as it was very focused on math especially differential equations. I’m really glad that I also checked out the forum before starting the quiz. There was a little bit of feedback like “wow this requires more math than expected” and “where to get enough background in differential equations to understand this course?” so I knew I needed to brush up. Fortunately Google is full of useful information. Another hour or so doing some background reading and playing with some graphing tools (like Wolfram Alpha and Excel) I was feeling more confident.

After re-watching the “glue lecture” a few times, and working out some of the examples on paper, I decided to take the quiz. I was well prepared because it was definitely focused on the math. The questions were good, easy to understand, and (for a multiple-choice test) it was well designed to insure guessing was not going to get a passing grade.

Week one is now “in the books” and I got 100% on the quiz. Yay me!

I’m impressed with Coursera so far, and would recommend it if interested in giving yourself a bit of a mental challenge with a structured educational experience.

January 5, 2013

Looper bonus

Filed under: Commentary,Movies — Bob @ 10:39 pm

MV5BMTY3NTY0MjEwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE3NDA1OA@@._V1._SY317_CR15,0,214,317_We saw Looper in the theatre and really enjoyed it. Not long after that we discovered that the director Rian Johnson (who also wrote the script along with help from friends) recorded a soundtrack intended to be listened to in the theatre.

He is very specific to say that you shouldn’t listen to this commentary the first time you watch the film, and I’d agree as it would otherwise ruin a good story and a well-made film. But we were intrigued enough to want to listen to the commentary as intended, while watching the film. We never made it to the theatre again, but we did watch it on iTunes tonight via our Apple TV (an awesome product that we get quite a bit of use from).

The experience was really good. The film was good to see again, but more significantly we really enjoyed the background on what scenes were trimmed, which were cut entirely, and how the remaining scenes were made. Once again we were reminded that films aren’t made as a single piece of work but instead are crafted, refined, re-cut, re-shaped, and polished until it becomes “just right” – something deemed good enough to release.

I’d recommend the same experience for anyone who is a fan of film-making.

January 1, 2013

2013

Filed under: Commentary,Food & Wine,Holidays — Bob @ 10:19 am

tian of salmon lox

Wow. Can’t believe its been nearly six months since I posted anything here, something I want to change in 2013. Last night was New Year’s Eve, Eileen and I went to Trafalgars Bistro with friends for a late dinner and midnight celebration. The picture here is the second course, titled “titan of salmon lox”. Delicious!

I’ve been somewhat busy with various robot and electronics projects, food, and travel since the last update. Here is a list of topics I hope to cover in the next few weeks:

– Progress on my Outdoor Robot project
– Experiences with 3D printing at Shapeways
– My version of the “cone bot”
– Trip to New York City
– Projects going on at Sophos (the things I do during the work week)

Hope everyone is ready for 2013! Below is a pic of our dog Cairo on Christmas Eve, after he destroyed his new stuffed toy. There is no squeaker safe from his wrath!

IMG_1411

June 10, 2012

Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs

Filed under: Commentary,Holidays — Bob @ 2:22 pm

The Pacific Science Center in Seattle currently has on exhibit a traveling show about Egypt’s (arguably) most famous pharaoh Tutankhamun as well as a few other “big name” pharaohs such as Ramses II.

Its impossible to compare a traveling show with the stunning and often overwhelming experience of being in Egypt, visiting the various sites, and being inside the Cairo museum. We had the chance to do that back in 1997 and it was amazing, a place I’m actually keen to revisit someday. But this exhibit was done very well, being both entertaining and educational. It covered a few aspects of ancient Egypt beyond just the famous pharaohs themselves, with a bit about their family and daily lives as is understood today by archaeologists. The pictures here are some of the artifacts on display. The intro video narrated by Harrison Ford was a bit over the top though, and could have been dropped without really detracting from the overall experience. Maybe it was just that having an actor who played an archeologist, rather than actually being an archeologist or historian, that made it sort of ridiculous.

As part of the package we attended the IMAX film Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs that was definitely a miss. It should have been significantly better than it was, it was neither really informative nor entertaining, with a seemingly random storyline and was often confusing to an educated viewer.

October 5, 2011

We will miss you Steve

Filed under: Commentary — Bob @ 6:47 pm

Steve Jobs died today.

This was quite interesting news; neither unexpected nor expected. It just happened, exactly as you’d think it might.

I read an article that compared him to Edison and Einstein. This seemed quite appropriate. He will be remembered as an innovator who had dramatic impact on technology and business in ways no other single person has in a long time, or will have, at least for some time to come.

My life was changed by Apple Computer, Inc. in the early 1980s when I was exposed to the Apple IIe. This was not the first computer I ever used: I used a Commodore Pet at school, and my father had a Commodore CBM at the office. I dreamed of being able to have a Radio Shack TRS-80 for my very own. But the IIe was different in the sense that it opened my eyes. It wasn’t that the IIe was so innovative – I didn’t know much about electronics at the time so couldn’t appreciate the renowned design. The software wasn’t that different from what you might find in those other systems. In fact my first programming experience wasn’t for an Apple computer at all (I taught myself to write BASIC on a Commodore machine by reading programming magazines). The difference was that my mother ended up working at an Apple reseller, and so I got the chance to play with all sorts of machines I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I also worked in the repair department, which meant I had to learn a bit of electronics. In those days the most common repair was to replace a driver chip in the floppy disk drive controller board that would burn up (literally) when connected wrong – the connector could be attached in either orientation but only work correctly in one.

I was working at this store in 1993 when the Apple Lisa was launched. I spent as many hours as I could playing with that machine. I was totally amazed with the things that you could do with it. The technology was fantastic: double-sided high density floppy drives, graphics printers, and of course the bitmap display and mouse. The first hard drive I ever used, a magnificent 5 megabytes, was attached to this Lisa system. Amazing. The story behind the development of the system was also quite something, compelling in a way that I can’t quite describe. But there was more to come.

I was still working at that store in 1984 when the Macintosh was launched. My parents purchased one for me, a gift meant to be both inspiring and utilitarian. I played with that machine for hours and hours and hours. The story behind the creation of the Macintosh, by Steve Jobs and his team, was so fantastic and wonderful that I dreamed of doing those grand things and many other grand things in my life. This event, the launch of the Macintosh and its story of its creation and my eventual ownership of one, changed my life forever. The many things I learned in life about design and software and commitment and accountability can all be traced, to some degree or another, to this.

And because of this, I’m eternally gratefully to Steve Jobs and Apple.

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