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Learning something new (Interactive Programming with Python) pt.2

May 21, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished the fourth week of my Rice Coursera course, Interactive Programming with Python.

The idea of the course is to teach programming through having students recreate classic videogames in the Python programming language.  To facilitate this, one of the teachers (Scott Rixner) created a web-based Python platform called CodeSkulptor.   An interesting thing about CodeSkulptor is that he had to create it using JavaScript, a more web-friendly language, and makes a joke in one lecture about what a pain programming in JavaScript is.

The video lectures do a good job of helping you get to know the professors as people, which I think helps.  Some day I’m going to see one of these guys walking on the Rice Campus and walk up to them babbling, forgetting that we’ve never met.  Hopefully fame won’t go to their heads.

I haven’t yet developed a full understanding of how the course’s lessons will help me outside of class, but I am learning how to program within the framework provided.  It’s a slow process, I just have to be patient.

I have a standard workflow, moving towards the assignment due date Saturday at midnight.

  • Sunday-Monday: recuperate
  • Tuesday: do the mandatory 5 evaluations of classmates’ projects and a self-assessment.  Watch one more lecture.
  • Wednesday:  try to watch every lecture at least once and go through some examples.
  • Thursday:   Look over again, letting it seep into the brain and procrastinating.
  • Friday: Do both quizzes for the week.  The class  allows you to take quizzes up to 5 times until you get 100%,  That really breaks the inertia because I’m not scared to take the test.  Read all about the mini-project, watch the video lecture on it again and check the grading rubric.
  • Saturday:  spend about 5-6 hours completing the project

Problem with this is that if I have other things going on I haven’t left myself much leeway to finish.

This Friday I am taking an all-day  GIS Vector workshop at UT Austin, which means I’d better get cracking on the IPP course.  My daughter’s never been to Austin, so my wife will drive up and take her to the Capitol and various other free stuff.  In the evening we’re going to try to see Austin’s famous bats head out to feed.

– Andrew Taylor

Categories: Virtually Learning

Learning something new (Interactive Programming with Python) pt.1

May 6, 2013 2 comments

I am starting Week 3 in my  nine-week Coursera class created by Rice computer science professors, An Introduction to Interactive Programming in PythonI’m enjoying it so far and recommend that anyone interested in learning programming take a look at it.

Learning something new is not really an adult thing to do!  It’s uncomfortable – most of the time we’d rather do the things we’ve done a million times before and are therefore great at.  There’s probably nothing in the world I’m better at than the work tasks I’ve been doing for 20 years, and it’s easy to forget that this is exactly why I’m good at them.

It’s hard to be patient when you feel like a blockhead, trying to pound your head through a new type of task.  Why should it take me all Saturday (with fits and starts) to finish the class project “Guess a Number”?  Answer – it takes as long as it takes, and through not taking shortcuts (or cheating in some way)  I will end up understanding the material better.

I have two advantages that help me to keep plugging through projects like this.

One is that I learned to play my first instrument (diatonic harmonica) as an adult.   I thought it would be relatively easy – it wasn’t!  However I did have a facility for the instrument (within limits) and after a few years of effort became a competent player,  an aficionado of  the great players,  and a fan of the  “Blues genre.”    The return was well worth the effort and time I invested.   The best part is that I remember not being able  to do things with a harp (colloquial American term for harmonica) at all that are now very easy.  I can’t imagine not being able to solo at all, or not having a vibrato – but I remember that it took me about four years to be able to do those things effectively, with maybe an average of 45 minutes per day at my most enthusiastic.  That’s a lot of practice time, and to become very good I’d probably have to double that effort at least (obviously I’m investing that effort in other areas now).

The other thing is that  in my field  (Information Science)  I am continually exploring  new tools (software, tech, etc.) and teaching our faculty how to best use them for their work.  Once all the professors are up to speed with a technology, a new version comes along that requires further training.  So I am continually learning to do new things and helping others learn.

I should also mention that since Christmas (inspired by reading Moonwalking with Einstein) I have successfully added 468 country locations to my long-term memory (sic) through completing a “Countries of the World” course on the Memrise website.   Now know lots non-actionable information – the names and locations of all the island chains in the South Pacific, all the countries in Africa, Central America, etcThe point of mentioning this that I successfully completed a learning project, and reminds me that if I invest effort and time I can learn new things and  develop new skills such as programming.

– Andrew Taylor

Learning Javascript

August 27, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m currently trying to get back into learning JavaScript as my first programming language.  I considered taking a Computational Science Course here at Rice U. which uses Python as the first language, but I don’t want to stress myself out too much or become intimidated by students with more attention to invest in a course.

I have two JavaScript projects which I am trying to do more-or-less concurrently.  One is following Code Academy‘s online curriculum, the other reading and doing the exercises for the online book Eloquent Javascript.

I’m not  as fast a learner as I’d like but if I’m patient I know I can learn new skills through repetition and practice.  I consider myself to have a poor short-term memory but a great long-term memory.  The key is to keep banging my head on that wall a bit every day and not worry about how long it iss taking me.   I learned how to play the harmonica as an adult, and I can remember not being able to do play things that are very easy for me now (bending, vibrato, improvised soloing, etc.), even though I’m not currently practicing or playing out.  Knowing I’m pretty good at something I remember not being able to do at all (unlike reading, riding a bike, etc.) is very empowering.

I have read several anecdotes from long-time professional writers responding to questions about how they wrote so many books, articles etc.  The answer is that they wrote 2-3 pages every day for 40 years.  It adds up.

Categories: Virtually Learning