Chapter 1 – Math Sucks…

I hate math.  I hate everything about math and have hated it since I was a child.  Maybe I have not summed it up enough…I hate math.

The funny part about my dislike of math, I’m actually quite good with numbers.  I am a baseball stat geek who has managed the books for various large businesses and mortgage companies during my pre-grad school career.  But the simple thought of having to re-learn or deal with math more complicated than basic math that can be done on an adding machine terrifies me.

So much to my chagrin, the first lesson in Udacity for Python of course requires math. I knew it was impossible to escape math and algorithms in programming, but I had hoped to put if off as long as possible…i.e. not have to deal with it in lesson 1.

I really hate math….but I guess I am going to have to learn how to play nice.

First impressions of the first “classes”…

I must admit, I am rather impressed by Udacity.  The system is quite easy to use, the instructor speaks in a nice, slow, easy to understand cadence.  I am halfway through lesson one and I have had a chance to take a couple “quizzes”and I am quickly approaching my “homework” assignment.  The quizzes are ingeniously introduced by the instructor as the instructor “writes” them on the lesson video, complete with check boxes for the answers.  I have never been a fan of multiple choice questions with multiple answers, but this is purely a pedagogical issue that I have.  The quizzes are intuitive and easy to use.

The lessons, the first being an introduction to Python, are also quite easy to follow and seem to be limited to only a couple minutes at a time.  As a former distance education student, I cannot tell you how many times my eyes would glaze over or I would check on my fantasy baseball team as the instructor droned on for 20+ minutes at a time.  These lessons are short, precise, and to the point.

One caveat of this entire system is the message board.  Since Udacity gives out “karma” points for posts begun or replies, as well as voting on these posts, it seems like it is filled with the usual people who troll around looking for people to harass or annoy.  I think the original intention was a good one, to create an organic FAQ page run by the users, but as with all great ideas, it is usually ruined by a couple of people who miss the concept.

The FAQ page aside, the lesson has been easy to follow, incredibly useful, and the quizzes  have done a good job of summing up the lesson that has been introduced.

Background…

So why am I doing this and how did I get here (well, in a non biological or deeply philosophical sense)?

I am a former librarian with a couple grad degrees who originally wanted to only work soley in the domain of paper.  I didn’t want to sit behind a big fancy google boxes, not that google existed back when I was in undergrad.  After taking some time off between undergrad and grad school to let my GPA simmer down, as well as feeling the repercussions of a mis-sent email (always check to see if you hit reply-all), I finally enrolled in graduate school.  While in graduate school at the University of North Carolina, I noticed that I kept getting pulled further and further into the tech world.  It started out, oddly enough, when I was working with my first love, paper.  When I was describing a collection I was processing for archival use during my internship, I was instructed to build an online finding aid.  This concept blew my mind because I had no idea how to do that.  With the careful help of the professionals  in the special collections library I worked at, I was given a quick and dirty introduction into XML through the EAD (an archival description tool).  And from then on, it was tech all the way.  I later found myself helping builld online courses for the business school, the graduating and moving on into a purely technical archivist position, then out into the private sector to work at a small startup that wanted to create a paper-less world (yeah, it failed badly), and then into a technical librarian position, and finally into teaching computer skills courses.

After taking a year off to become a stay at home dad to my son O, as well as working as part time instructor, I took on the project of creating a website for my local neighborhood association.  One would think that the experience gained through all of these positions would have made this a quick and easy task…but this is the furthest from the truth.   The skills I used on a daily basis, basic html, css, and other basic programming coding were gone and I soon found myself googling basic coding just to put a bloody picture up on the site.  In the end, I finally gave up and downloaded a free copy of a web editor and having it do all the work while I grumbled and sulked.

So I went from someone who could have taught the basics of web programming to a person who had to rely on google to put a picture and a link on a webpage.   Oddly enough, either through serendipity or just dumb luck, a former professor of mine posted a comment about Udacity.  Udacity is a small online education system started by various IT and education professionals to help educate the masses on basic computer science skills.  In addition to this, through the miracle that is google, I then found the Stanford system Coursera, which allows non Stanford students like myself to participate in Stanford online courses, without getting credit of course.

So now I am starting over, not quite at the beginning, but pretty darned close.

In the beginning….

My first love, the Tandy 1000.

…there was a stay at home dad / Adjunct Professor with an iMac and the desire to advance his programming skills past the Basic that he learned as a child on his Tandy 1000 into the 21st century.

This blog will follow my journeys through two different online learning programs, Udacity and the Stanford Open Education system Coursera.    Although I do have a technical background, I have found that my skills have diminished greatly though a lack of use and a lack of upkeep.  Like most skills, if you do not keep learning, you will eventually forget or lose them.

So I hope that you will follow this odd journey through a new “academic” world.