Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to School (or why no book reviews lately?)

I've talked about AV, about writing, and about reading on here, but since April's review of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass there have been no new book reviews. There've been posts about my various AV training endeavors (with Crestron, Extron, and a trip way out west to meet the good people at Biamp), but that's just stuff; how things work and how to do them rather than stories, the best of which illuminate something deeper in the human condition. Have I taken two months off from reading? Been reading but neglecting to write reviews? Or is it something else?

As you likely guessed from the title, it's something else. I am slowly, perhaps belatedly, trying to make up for the weakness in the liberal arts part of my college education (I went to a school with an intense science, math, and engineering focus. Humanities classes were pretty much an afterthought). Why? First, a genuine love of learning. Second, I see it as a part of being educated, which is a good thing. It sets an example for my children of the value of learning for its own sake, and keeps me mentally agile by stretching parts of my mind that I would otherwise not use much.

A screencapture from PHI-181, of Yale Open Courses
One current stop is Philosophy 181 - the Human Condition from the good people at Yale Open Courses. Structurally, it's a lecture class in which reading lists are published online along with a video of the lecture. Production values are quite good, with crisp, clear audio and video quality more than adequate for its purpose. There does not seem to be a direct record feed from the room's AV system; instead,  content is viewable through a camera-view of what appears to be a front-projection screen. This gives the quality you'd expect; mostly intelligible, but visibly washed-out.

Reading lists, homework assignments and the like are provided in .pdf format. Students are, alas, on their own for actually acquiring the reading material and there is no interactive element; no grading of assignments, communication with instructor or staff, or anything else. As such, it's more an archive of a lecture course than an actual course. I had a strong "what you put in is what you get out" vibe from this, and so long as I diligently read the course material I feel that I'm learning something. Hats off to Yale for putting this online.
(As an aside, one of my last AV integration projects was the addition of tracking cameras to a lecture hall at another university. It uses a nifty system from the good folks at Vaddio which uses a fixed camera to follow infrared emitters on a lanyard presenters can wear around their necks. A control unit pans and tilts the tracking camera to follow the IR so the presenter is always in-frame. There's even an option to add a wireless lapel mic to the lanyard for either voice-lift or audio recording. I love seeing how the kinds of systems with which I work can intersect with my "real life")

Coursera's Cryptography Course
I've also been checking out some online courses from Coursera. These are even simpler technically, as there's no large-scale room system. Instructors have a camera, mic, and some kind of interactive touch-screen with annotation software. The majority of the lectures are just desktop slides plus annotations streamed along with the instructor's voice, although there's a Modern Poetry course which has a single camera with an operator who doesn't seem to realize that panning really fast makes people a touch seasick. Overall, they've done a nice job of fusing technology with content, and creating something that feels as if it's made for today's world.

I'll perhaps give a more complete review of the Yale course and the Modern Poetry course once I finish them. There are also, as always, more projects on the horizon. What's up with myself and others?

  1. After a longish absence, I'm back with the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers Group. Find us on the web, twitter, or Facebook. It's a terrific writing group, offering prompts, social meetings, and moral support in addition to sharp, intelligent critiques by some very talented people.
  2. The latest collaborative blog-hop challenge is over. See Nicole Pyles here  for the conclusion. I'm not as nice as she; I'd have given a less happy ending. 
  3. I've landed in a new spot in the AV industry! See my next pixels post for my transition to the consulting side of the world with the talented team at Shen,  Milsom and Wilke, and a good-bye to the hands-on part of my professional life. 
  4. A shout-out to Steampunk Emma Goldman, who'se contributing to A Steampunk's Guide to Sex in which a talented group of writers puts some "steam" into their "steampunk". 
That's all for now. More, as always, to come.


  1. I had a similar educational experience as you, since after 16 when I took my GCSE's, I then focused in on Maths, Further Maths and Physics at A-level. I did keep up French as an AS Level, but I studied Computer Systems Engineering at university, so even that fell by the board.

    If I could go back now and do something else educational, I think I'd pick archaeology, because I could combine science and history. I have never been able to stand English Literature as an academic subject, except maybe for a laugh at the latest outlandish interpretation of someone's work (when someone tried to see the sexual undercurrents in Peter Rabbit during Beatrix Potter's lifetime, she told them not to be so daft, she just wrote about animals who talked and wore clothes). English Lit was very formulaic when I was at school, all onomatopoeias and similies and really, really crap, hip poetry (when the most important thing about a poem is that the words form a triangle, you lose me fairly quickly). Okay, rant about the bad teaching of English Lit in UK schools over :)

    Good luck and have fun with you courses. :)

  2. I'm always for folks getting more education. I haven't had more than a few webinars for online education, but they were rather successful. Good luck keeping up with the course - I hope you learn at least as much as you expect.