Archive | May, 2013

Spiderman-Obama English learning in the Murcia Regional Library

31 May



2012-10-01 18.10.48-1

I’ve heard that Obama was popular internationally, but this was the first time I noticed his image used. Apparently a mixture of Obama’s charisma, the allure of American comic books, and Spain’s lack of English ability has opened the opportunity for a unique advertising.



A master’s degree in computer science for $7,000

15 May

Sorry for the lack of posts recently: my four different courses from Udacity have been taking up a lot of my time, not to mention my reflexive job hunt and the accompanying fear freaking out which is intensifying as the summer approaches. And similar freaking out about getting a visa for Brazil. Apparently visa agencies don’t really exist in Spain, so I might have to take another trip to Madrid.

However, I just saw this from Tyler Cowen, which merited sharing. If this plan goes through, then it is big news. Sometimes projects like these are announced and then quietly sputter out, but I think that neither  Sebastian Thrun nor Georgia Tech would have made the announcement if there were doubts of it reaching fruition. I’m sure that by the time I am in my mid-30s there will be plenty of opportunities like this for me to get new training. I can’t wait.

Introducing MOOCs: Udemy

3 May
Udemy holds a special place in my heart. It was the first platform for online courses that I discovered. Although it has been around since 2010, I was first introduced to Udemy by a Brazilian-focused blog I followed which noted that Brazil for Beginners was about to begin. Udemy is a bit different from the other MOOCs that I’ve reviewed here. In fact, it isn’t really a MOOC. It is more of a platform, in which instructors can provide videos, presentations, and PDFs to potential students. It successfully raised a lot of money, too. All in all, despite my early introduction to Udemy, it just can’t compare to Udacity and Coursera. The reason for this is simple: It seems like Udemy doesn’t have any quality control, and is a random collection of online courses. Some of them are just taken from other sites, such as iTunes U or Khan Academy, and some are specifically made for the Udemy platform.
Whereas Udacity and Coursera courses are created by university professors and the quality is tightly controlled, it seems like Udemy was thrown together quickly by internet entrepreneurs  and was then populated quickly by whatever material could be found (or by whoever found Udemy and decided to put content on there). Udemy is only a platform, and seems to have no relation to the people who publish content there, so like any other open marketplace there is good quality stuff a lot of crap that you must sift through. Udemy classes seem to be all over the place. For example, there is a class on how to use google adwordshow to use wordpressa Tai Chi class, and a class called An Introduction to basic Hand Balancing. Now, I would certainly enjoy learning all of these things if I had enough time for it, but I am concerned about the quality of the courses offered on Udemy.

Some of Udemy’s courses are free, and some of the courses must be paid for. Each class is independent of all other classes. They lack the structure that Coursera has, and there are no quizzes or tests. Many of the classes seem to focus on internet marketing and SEO. I assume that the passive income crowd and bloggers are using Udemy as a source of income, but I have no doubt that in the long run it will earn much less than Udacity or Coursera.
The open nature of Udemy also causes it to lack focus. This isn’t inherently a bad thing: lots of great things come from diversity, but I fear that as a business model Udemy won’t reach the heights of the major players in online education. Whereas MRU is highly focused, and Udacity is fairly focused, Udemy has no focus whatsoever. It is merely a platform, in which people put up their own classes. Again, I want to stress that this doesn’t mean that they are all bad. I took Brazil for Beginners from Udemy, and it was my first venture into serious online education. It was nice: I got a good introduction to Brazil. Also, it is specific enough that if I had to wait for Stanford or Yale to put up a class on Brazil, I probably would have had to wait for several years. So although it is nice to have the official stamp of a well-known university on the course that I am taking, there are also benefits to allowing other actors to provide course material. However, the class consisted of only video lectures. There wasn’t any interaction with other students in forums, and there were no writing assignments, quizzes, or tests.
Regardless, if you want to learn how to market yourself on the internet and how to build a good blog, you will probably learn far more at Udemy then at any other MOOC platform. Coursera doesn’t offer any marketing courses, but Udemy is full of them. Udacity won’t teach you how to do SEO for goolge, but you can find that on Udemy.

To Kill a Mockingbird

1 May

I just finished reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I was amazed. No wonder this book is considered to be a classic of American literature. The characters are brilliantly described. I could feel the atmosphere of the town and its citizens as I read the book. I completely agree with Lou Pendergrast when he writes that “there is sadness and happiness, racism and equality, immaturity and maturity, injustice and redemption.” It seemed vaguely similar to The Shawshank Redemption, in that it has a little bit of everything, but at the end was deeply inspiring. It has been a long time since I was this excited about a novel. I normally give novels that I enjoy only 4 starts, because I tend to be quite critical. To Kill a Mockingbird gets a full 5, without a doubt.

The main character, a little tomboy names Scout, is intensely lovable. Her antics, her thoughts, and the sometimes wise and sometimes outrageous things she says endeared her to me instantly. And her special relationship to Boo Radley was a beautiful thread throughout the novel. From what I’ve read elsewhere online, everyone loves the character of Atticus, too. With good reason, I say, as he seems to be a paragon of righteousness and a steady moral compass for his little southern town.

I have seen this novel criticized for being unrealistic. It is true that the issues dealt with in the novel are very black and white. There is no moral problem presented that causes the characters to struggle to find the right answer, because in this simple world the right thing to do is always obvious. People don’t do the wrong thing because they are mistaken. They do the wrong thing because they are stupid, evil people, or because they are afraid. Meghan Conrad described this criticism very well, writing that “The characters are one dimensional. Calpurnia is the Negro who knows her place and loves the children; Atticus is a good father, wise and patient; Tom Robinson is the innocent wronged; Boo is the kind eccentric; Jem is the little boy who grows up; Scout is the precocious, knowledgeable child. They have no identity outside of these roles.” I can’t deny this criticism: it is true that the characters don’t struggle with moral issues and that they show very little change in who they are over the course of the novel. But I still enjoyed it intensely, despite that. There also exists the valid criticism of the white savior: a poor black man needs help, so the white hero valiantly defends him. That is true: the few black characters in this novel are mostly objects that are acted upon, not actors themselves.  Still, this novel was describing a realistic situation in a realistic setting, so if I dislike the reality that it displays, I certainly can’t blame that on the novel. To do so would be just as foolish as disliking a person because he told me some facts which I dislike (which is something that human beings often do, actually!).

If you haven’t yet read this book, move it to the top of your reading list.

Correlation between age and language learning ability.

1 May

Recently I saw a question on quora (one of my favorite sites) about age and language learning. It is, of course, common knowledge that children learn languages better and faster than adults. This served as a beautiful example of how common knowledge is often wrong. That’s right: children are actually not better. Judith Meyer, the author of learnlangs.comweighed in with a very concise answer. She basically says that age itself doesn’t seem to have much effect, but other things that are correlated with age (free time, focus) do have a big effect. I’ve seen Benny address this issue before as well, but I prefer Judith’s conciseness.