EppsNet Archive: Coursera

Academically Speaking, I’ve Still Got the Geedus

28 Jan 2013 /

I took a Computational Finance midterm over the weekend on Coursera. I’ve taken a few Coursera classes before — they had quizzes, problem sets, programming assignments, essays — but none of them had a midterm or final exam.

It’s the first academic exam I’ve taken in at least a couple of decades, and the first exam ever in which — because it was online — I was able to participate in the company of my life partner, Wild Turkey.

Here’s my result:

Computational Finance midterm results

I lost the one point on this question right here:

Question 22

If you understand the question, it’s obvious which one of the four I missed, but it may not be obvious what the right answer is. It wasn’t to me, anyway.

My wife asks, “Did you see the grading curve?”

“No, but when you score 149 out of 150, you leave it to others to worry about the curve.”


Coursera Recommendations

27 Jan 2013 /

Coursera‘s been around long enough now that some classes are being offered for a second time, including a couple that I’ve taken and recommend:


Screw Economics

23 Jan 2013 /

One of the classes I’m taking on Coursera is Principles of Economics for Scientists, taught by Prof. Antonio Rangel at Cal Tech.

First of all, it’s a great class. Rangel has a real passion for the material and he’s provided extra resources to accomodate online students, many of whom probably don’t have the math background of the average Cal Tech student.

He’s from Madrid, so his pronunciations and mannerisms are different, like the gesture below, which I captured from one of the video lectures.

Prof. Antonio Rangel

He was explaining how something or other would increase our understanding of economics and he punctuated the word “understanding” by pointing at his head with two fingers. I don’t know what this gesture means in Spain, or if it means anything at all. Probably he knows what it means in America, but as I said, he’s passionate about the material and I think he loses himself in what he’s saying.

He’s also one of the only two people I know who pronounce the word “subsequent” as sub-SEEK-went, the other being one of my work colleagues, who’s actually from this country and therefore has no excuse . . .


Virtual U.

8 Jan 2013 /

Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much LaterNYTimes.com

Profits shmofits . . . if you’re not using Coursera.org, you are missing a life-changing opportunity.


Thanksgiving Ingredient Network Leftovers

21 Nov 2012 /

Via Lada Adamic, whose Coursera class on Social Network Analysis I just completed and enjoyed:

If you don’t have quite the right ingredients handy while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, here is a network of common substitutions as found in reviewers’ comments on a large recipe site (click to see a larger view):

Thanksgiving ingredients network


Language Poetry and Aleatory Poetry

16 Nov 2012 /

The last couple of weeks in ModPo, we’ve been reading “Language Poetry” and aleatory poetry, including the work of Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein, Jackson Mac Low, Jena Osman and Joan Retallack.

I have to admit it all seemed lazy to me. The reader has to do all the work. (See below for a differing opinion.) I didn’t like any of the poems enough to share one, so here instead are the lyrics to Randy Newman‘s “Marie”:

Randy Newman at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritag...

Randy Newman at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You looked like a princess the night we met
With your hair piled up high
I will never forget
I’m drunk right now baby
But I’ve got to be
Or I never could tell you
What you meant to me

I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie
I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie

You’re the song that the trees sing when the wind blows
You’re a flower, you’re a river, you’re a rainbow

Sometimes I’m crazy
But I guess you know
And I’m weak and I’m lazy
And I’ve hurt you so
And I don’t listen to a word you say
When you’re in trouble I just turn away
But I love you

I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie
I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie

If that isn’t poetry, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what ModPo professor Al Filreis says about aleatory poetry:

So this kind of writing, I want to emphasize, has rigor and it has intention at the level of design. It’s not easy, it’s not facile and it’s not to be confused with improvisation and indeterminacy and even random or arbitrary are the wrong words to describe it. Many, as I’ve said, resist it. Many find no beauty in it. . . . Why should I waste my time, it doesn’t mean anything. Well, I have so many things to say in response to that and gosh, I’m not even sure where to start, but I’ll give it a try.

Well, here’s one thing: when I think about how much of my time I spend, my own time, how much time I spend and waste really, watching and listening to things that make a whole lot of conventional sense but ultimately don’t mean anything. Where normally meant statements are empty and useless and unbeautiful, I figure that I owe it to those who seek a significant alternative, the time of day. Maybe they’re telling me to relax. Maybe they’re telling me let down my guard. I’m always, I seem to be always on guard for meaning in meaninglessness. Maybe I should let down that guard and maybe I should hear the music in the apparent dissonance and discordance of my world. And maybe the discovery of sense in language that was not intended at the level of the sentence or of the phrase makes that sense all the more powerful. And maybe when words formed through quasi non-intentional chance operations produce something “accidentally” lovely (I’ve got air quotes around the word accidentally), when that loveliness is accidental, I’ll be all the more astonished at the beauty that’s just out there, that’s ambient in our language and just waiting to be rearranged.


Favorite Poem of the Week

28 Oct 2012 /

My favorite poem of the week — again from Modern & Contemporary American Poetry — was “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” by Bernadette Mayer, especially the final image of the stressed-out new mother reading The Wild Boy of Aveyron, about a feral child raised by wolves.


Visualizing Social Networks

27 Oct 2012 /

I’m taking a Social Network Analysis class on Coursera. These weren’t assignments for the class (well, the Facebook one sort of was), just some experiments I wanted to share.

Facebook

You can use netvizz to download a gdf file of your Facebook network, i.e., all of your Facebook friends and all of the connections between them.

You can then use your favorite graph analysis software (I used Gephi, which is open-source and free) to look for patterns.

My Facebook network is in the image below. Of the four main clusters, two consist of co-workers, one is family and one is people I know from roller hockey.

Facebook network

Click image to enlarge

Twitter

This is the network of people I follow on Twitter. I used NodeXL (a free, open-source template for Excel) to download and lay out the data.

Twitter Network

Click image to enlarge

I labeled the nodes in this one. With a few exceptions, the light blue nodes are people I follow because I think they’re funny, the light green nodes are related to sports and/or USC, the dark green nodes are people of professional interest, the red nodes are former colleagues, and the dark blue nodes are everyone else.

The size of the node indicates number of tweets, i.e., larger nodes tweet more than smaller nodes.

LinkedIn

My LinkedIn network is a little bigger than my Facebook or Twitter. The green, yellow, blue, purple and orange clusters are co-workers and recruiters. The gray nodes at the top are people with whom I share one or more professional interests. You can see that they split out into multiple sub-groups.

LinkedIn network

Click image to enlarge

I used the LinkedIn Maps application to generate the graphic.

Summary

These are small-world networks and I had a good idea in advance about who was connected to who and why.

The value of tools like this is in applying them to “real world” networks. In the absence of analytical tools to extract patterns from raw data, large, complex networks just look like giant hairballs.

To give you an idea, this image shows what my Facebook network looks like in Gephi before applying a layout algorithm,

Facebook hairball

Click image to enlarge


Poems I’ve Read Recently and Liked

19 Oct 2012 /

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry as part of the Modern & Contemporary American Poetry class on Coursera.

One of the things I like about the class is that the video lessons are done a little differently than other Coursera classes I’ve taken. Rather than recorded lectures, the videos consist of the instructor, Al Filreis, leading a small group of Penn students in close readings of selected poems.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorites so far:

These next two, both by Richard Wilbur, I want to single out as being particularly exquisite and heartbreaking:


Ruby on Rails for Rubes

28 Apr 2012 /
Ruby Tuesday

(Photo credit: matt hutchinson)

The biggest headache in software development is that most programmers can’t program and don’t want to learn anything.

I recently finished up a MOOC called Software Engineering for SaaS, offered by UC Berkeley through Coursera. For a modest investment of a few hours a week for five weeks, I learned some Ruby on Rails — a well-designed platform and a lot of fun to work with — as well as tools like GitHub, Cucumber, RSpec, SimpleCov and Heroku.

Over 50,000 students from 150 countries signed up for the class. According to a final email from the professors, about 10,000 students attempted at least one assignment or quiz. Or to look at another way, 80 percent of the students gave up without even trying.

Approximately 2,000 students, or 4 percent, completed all four of the assignments and the three quizzes.

One of the enrollees who gave up without trying is a former colleague of mine, an ASP.NET programmer, who threw in the towel when he realized he wasn’t going to be allowed to do the programming assignments in C#.

Evidently he read under Prerequisites: “Programming proficiency in an object-oriented programming language such as Java, C#, C++, Python, or Ruby” and missed the course description at the top of the page: “This course teaches the engineering fundamentals for long-lived software using the highly-productive Agile development method for Software as a Service (SaaS) using Ruby on Rails.”

“I’m not going to learn Ruby on Rails,” he said, as though it was a silly, irrelevant thing to suggest to a professional programmer, like learning a yo-yo trick.

Thus spoke The Programmer.