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Course Review: The Music of The Beatles

Provider: University of Rochester at Coursera [course page]
Lecturer: John Covach
Subject: Music + History
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2-4 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 08/31/2014

“Being in the audience actually looks like quite a lot of fun.”
― Paul McCartney

“I’m not sleeping with all the women I appear with.”
― Ringo Starr

Description: John Covach discuss the rise and evolution of The Beatles.

Strengths: This is my second MOOC taught by John Covach. He is a rather personable fellow that is genuinely excited about music and music history. In The Music of The Beatles, he offers context for the music of The Beatles, such as influential people, places and events, in chronological and peripheral order. Although I knew some of the tidbits taught in this course already, there was a lot of stuff that I did not know. It was nice being able to make sense of what influenced their music.

Weaknesses: This is not an Entomology course.

Conclusion: As a child, my dad used to play a lot of music by The Beatles along with other bands. The Beatles may have broken up half a decade before I was born, but their music is till important 40 years later. We see how their songs made it possible for British artists to succeed in the USA market. John Covach really did offer some great insight into such an important group, also offering suggestions of good books about The Beatles and some tracks to listen to. I highly recommend any of John Covach’s courses for folks with a love of music and music history.


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World of Keiko 09/06/2014

I haven’t posted an update in a while. I apologize for my recent activity and endeavor to go back to a more regular posting schedule. Though I have posted some reviews and an interview with an author that I highly admire, there have been some events that I felt it necessary to avoid posting about earlier as I was trying to deal with their impact. First of all, a friend of mine passed on in early August. Though I had seen posts about a tumor being removed from his neck months ago on Facebook, his passing came as quite a shock and I felt ashamed due to having lost contact for a while. Some celebrities passed on, being followed by some really horrible comments by folks lacking compassion or understanding for the circumstance, such as those directed at Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda. Then an author that I have exchanged a handful of conversations with via social networking passed on suddenly due to Cancer a week and a half ago. I don’t really have any inspiring words to say about death. It is sad and inevitable. We miss our loved ones and often create illusions in order to comfort ourselves as well as others. Make the most of this life and make sure that folks know that you care about them while you still have the chance.

GAMING
I haven’t had nearly as much time playing WildStar as I’d like, but hubby recently brought over a workmate that plays Magic: The Gathering. As such, we’ve started playing m:tg again. Its been fun trying out new deck combinations, but I have a long way to go before I have a few competitive decks to play with. It is still enjoyable learning some of the abilities of cards that I am unfamiliar with and experimenting.

Magic: The Gathering card back

Magic: The Gathering card back (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

EDUCATION
I have posted some of the MOOCs that I have finished over the past month and will be posting several more reviews that are in the backlog. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline for the last quiz and assessment for Crafting an Effective Writer course leading to a fail. As such, I have signed up for the next intake which starts in another week. I’ve also started posting some quick reviews (longer ones are posted here on my blog) on CourseTalk (my profile).

I am currently studying the following courses:

  • Think Again: How to Reason and Argue by Duke University at Coursera (2/12 weeks) *** I ended up dropping this course, with the plan of studying it in a later intake.
  • History of Rock, Part 2 by The University of Rochester at Coursera (1/6 weeks) ****
  • Foundations of Teaching for Learning 1: Introduction by Commonwealth Education Trust at Coursera (1/4 weeks) ***
  • Diabetes – a Global Challenge by University of Copenhagen at Coursera (1/5 weeks) ****
  • Vjx Visualizing Japan by Harvard at EdX (1/6 weeks) *****
  • ChinaX Part 7 by Harvard at EdX (1/4 weeks) *****

I will be starting the following courses in the next week:

  • Patient Engagement Design by Stanford Online (September 8) Though interesting, the material isn’t necessarily relevant to my current requirements, and will take away from other studies due to time limitations.
  • Poetry of America: The Poetry of new England by Harvard at EdX (September 10) Will study this in a future intake.
  • Crafting An Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade (Fundamental English Writing by MSJC at Coursera (September 12)
  • Sustainability in Practice by University of Pennsylvania at Coursera (September 15) Due to other commitments, I’ve decided to take this course in a future intake as it looks to have some value.
  • Chinese for Beginners by Peking University at Coursera (September 15)
  • Psychology and Mental Health by University of Liverpool at FutureLearn (September 8)

It may seem like a bit, but I get bored and often only learn the quality of a MOOC after the course goes live. I am willing to drop some of the courses if there is an issue with quality/content or there are other problems (e.g. schedule conflict). I don’t feel obligated to learn new things, but I can’t help but feel excited about some of the material that I’ve learned of late. This is pure gold for my writer self. Some things we learn in order to improve our employment options, whilst other things are studied to enrich our lives and help us become better informed citizens.

English: The Peking University campus

English: The Peking University campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WRITING
I haven’t done much in the way of writing, but I have done some fleshing out of characters and plotting of Winged Dawn using paper. Though I hate having lots of scraps of paper lying around, it appears that digital doesn’t help with the consistency at which I work on projects. I suppose that I’ll be going old-school for a while. #stationarywars


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Meet the Author: Abner Senires

Kat and Mouse: Guns for Hire Payback cover

 

Q: Who is Abner Senires?

Abner Senires was born in 1745, the son of an itinerant blacksmith father and fortune teller mother…

…no.

I grew up on sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV, on 80s cartoons, comic books, anime and manga, and role-playing games. So basically a geek. And proud of it.

I got started reading fantasy in 5th grade with The Hobbit, followed by Lord of the Rings, the Prydain books, half of the Narnia novels, The Sword of Shannara. Science fiction came late in 6th grade. My dad got me started on Isaac Asimov‘s short stories and I later graduated to the Foundations books, then to Herbert’s Dune.

It was about that time (5th, 6th grade) when I ran into an old issue of Reader’s Digest my parents had lying around somewhere. In it was a short story about a guy who wakes up and finds himself trapped on an alien planet. He’s inside this domed forcefield and in the dome with him is this alien creature he has to fight.

I remember how jazzed I got reading that story and I knew I had to write stories like that. So I dashed off not exactly a plagiarized version of the story but one close enough. I showed it to my dad and told him I wanted to be a writer. He had seen me poring over that Reader’s Digest, realized what I was doing, and when I showed him the story and told him what I wanted to do, he gave me a copy of Writing Short Fiction by Damon Knight. He said to me “If you want to learn how to write stories, read this book.”

That started my writing education.

 

Q: Tell us a little about the Kat and Mouse series

The series takes place in the year 2042 in the West Coast metropolis of Bay City and follows the adventures of Kat and Mouse, a pair of female mercenaries. All they want is to take on straightfoward, non-nonsense jobs, get paid, and get on with their lives. But inevitably, each job turns out to be one that gets the Ladies in over their heads and they have to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve gotten into. And that digging out often involves car chases, running gun battles, and all sort of swashbuckling derring-do.

 

Q: How did the series come about?

While I was in college I got the idea to write a series of ongoing stories about a character. At the time I had envisioned something along the lines of the Conan stories so I went and read a bunch of Conan stories, primarily from the first three Ace/Lancer paperback collections. The character started to take the form of a female warrior, along the Red Sonja line. Then I ran across the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Lieber and read the first two story collections. The single female warrior then became a pair of female warriors but I didn’t have anything more beyond that.

And then I think it was one day when I happened to be going through my bookcase in my college apartment. I started to re-read a collected volume of the Gunsmith Cats manga and suddenly it hit me–the two female warriors could be bounty hunters like Rally and Minnie-May in Gunsmith Cats.

Then another thought hit, spinning off from the female warrior duo idea: Gunsmith Cats took place in modern day Chicago. Xena took place in a mythic past that was a sort of Greek myth-based with artistic licenses taken. Another series of female warrior duos, Dirty Pair, took place in the far-flug future of spaceships and laser guns. What about stories of a female warrior duo in the near-future? In the world of cyberpunk?

Boom.

Kat and Mouse was born.

 

Q: The series features a lot of action sequences. How do you organize them in order to balance the chaotic nature of a battle with the requirements of moving the storyline along?

Whenever I have to write a fight sequence I first determine who and what the opposing forces are. From there I input a series of fight variables into a combat simulation program I’ve written which takes into account the story elements I’m working with. Then I run those figures, which include statistics about Kat and Mouse, through several iterations until I…

…I’m kidding.

There’s no program.

I really just use a bunch of d20s and a to-hit chart…

…no.

All kidding aside–I don’t so much go for chaos of battle but rather go for a hyperstylized depiction of battle. The prose version of John Woo’s gun-fu bullet ballets. Slo-mo as necessary. Leaps and spins and baddies spraying blood and crumpling. That’s the overall sense I go for when writing the sequences.

In terms of moving the story along, I see the sequences as necessary to the story. After all, I’m writing cyberpunk action-adventure. Operative words: “action” and “adventure.” It’s meant to move along at a goodly clip. And the sequences are often part of the obstacle in our duo’s path. To get through them they may have to rely on wits.

And when wits don’t work, out comes the weapons.

 

Q: How has the distribution of the series affected the way in which you write it and vice versa?

When I first started, I had it in mind to be at least two episodes ahead of what was currently posted. I had originally set it up so that I had six to seven installments of each episode releasing every week. With two episodes set to release, that means roughly twelve to fourteen installments, and roughly twelve to fourteen weeks between, say, episode one’s first installment and episode three’s first installment.

So at first, that was working out well. Episodes one through three had already been written by the time I first posted the series so I had lots of time between three and four. And at first, I was writing episodes within six to seven weeks, from first to final draft.

But as things progressed, Real Life started to get in the way and suddenly, those six to seven weeks started turning into three months, four months. I started to need more time and ended up taking some breaks in the middle of releasing the episodes. I think there were at least two hiatuses (hiati?) in the middle of Season 1. Then a few months break between Seasons 1 and 2. And I know there was another long break in the middle of Season 2.

I ended up dividing each episode into more installments. Nine to twelve (depending on the total episode length) as opposed to six to seven. And I decided that if a break was neccessary between releases of an episode, I was going to tell my readers that there would be a break.

When I didn’t do that initially, I was wracked with stress and guilt at letting my readers down. But I realized it was better to write a good and proper story rather than a completed-in-time-but-totally-crappy story.

 

Q: What have you learned by releasing the story in this format?

The biggest thing is consistency. Consistency in the posting of episodes and in the general work that goes toward writing these episodes. It’s one thing I’m constantly working on because, as I pointed out earlier, things get in the way and pull me in directions totally unrelated to the serial.

It wouldn’t be much of a problem if this was the only thing I was doing that provided for living and eating. But it’s not yet that. So other matters will take precedence.

It’s a juggling act.

 

Q: How has your background influenced your writing?

I’ve drawn a lot from movies, TV, anime, and manga. I’ve been known to pull bits of business, plot points, references, and that sort of thing from those source. As I mentioned above, Xena, Gunsmith Cats, and Dirty Pair were the main sources of inspiration for the series.

In terms of writing style for the series, I drew a lot from William Gibson’s short story “Johnny Mnemonic,” Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe stories, and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels.

 

Q: What sort of tools do you use during the writing process?

I know other writers use Scrivener but I think I’m old school. I use OpenOffice to write my drafts and revisions. I also use a yellow pad and a pen to breakdown episodes. And sometimes I’ll type up the episode breakdowns in OpenOffice.

I also have an iTunes playlist specifically for episode writing. It’s made up of songs and music from old anime soundtracks (specifically the original Bubblegum Crisis, Megazone 23 Part 2, and the Macross movie Love, Do You Remember)

 

Q: Do you have any advice for writers considering delivering a series in serialized format?

Make sure you know who your characters are before you start writing your story. The format isn’t a place to necessarily explore different backstories. Have one that you’ve settled on, one that informs the character and how they’ll act, react, think, etc.

Second, know your story, the one that you’re going to serialize. By that I mean outline. Know what happens when, from beginning to end. Know when you need to foreshadow something that will happen later in the story. Yes, you might be writing the story and then immediately posting that installment. But if you find you need to go back because the installment you just posted contains an element that needed to have been hinted at five installments earlier, I say you’ve just shot yourself in the foot. (Now the pantsers out there will probably scream at me and stab me with pitchforks for saying that.)

 

Q: Where can folks pick up copies of the first two box sets?

Kindle versions of both “boxed sets” are available at Amazon.

A nice epub version of Season 2 is up at Smashwords and will soon be available at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other online retailers.

A better epub version of Season 1 will be up in about a week. Otherwise, the current version is available at Smashwords, Barnes & Nobel, Kobo, iTunes, and other online retailers.

 


AUTHOR BIO
Abner Senires writes sci-fi pulp adventure and probably drinks far too much coffee. He lives just outside Seattle, WA with his wife and a pair of rambunctious cats.

WEBSITE: www.AbnerSenires.com
BLOG: blog.AbnerSenires.com
TWITTER: @abnersenires

KAT AND MOUSE, GUNS FOR HIRE: PAYBACK
Things are heating up for near-future female mercenaries Kat and Mouse as they tackle even more hair-raising jobs for shadowy clients and run afoul of terrorists, freedom fighters, hired assassins, a Japanese crime syndicate, and warring punkergangs. And smack in the middle of this, an enemy from the past is back and wants revenge on the duo.

Now these two sassy sisters-in-arms must fight back and survive…and still get their jobs done.

Available from:
Kindle
Smashwords/epub

 

 

 


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Course Review: Computer Science 101

Provider: Stanford Online (Open EdX) [course page]
Lecturer: Nick Palante
Subject: Computer Science + Computer Literacy
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 4 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 08/31/2014

“Bad code isn’t bad, its just misunderstood.”
― Anonymous

“Programs for sale: Fast, Reliable, Cheap: choose two.”
― Anonymous

Description: Nick Palante offers a well-rounded introduction to Computer Science.

Strengths: This course covers a lot of different areas of Computer Science, which ranges from some exercises using a chopped-down version of Javascript, to learning about hardware, security and some history of computer technology. This well-rounded approach to the subject offers newcomers to the area of Computer Science the understanding that it is not just about programming and that there are numerous issues to consider when using a computer.
Students are able to try the exercises until they get it right, which reflects the nature of coding where you often have to go back over code to see why a feature isn’t working as intended. This teaches the habit of reading code to determine errors, then problem-solving. Though code comments are mentioned, they weren’t the focus of the coding exercises. Using a browser-based language such as Javascript also avoided the need for students to install special software.
Weaknesses: Folks looking to learn everything there is to know about programming or computer engineering will be disappointed.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed Nick Palante’s approach to the subject. Based on my own experiences with the course, I recommend this course folks with computer literacy issues. Be sure to mention this course to loved ones that fit into this category.


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Course Review: Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Provider: The University of Edinburgh @Coursera [course page]
Lecturer: Various Lecturers
Subject: Science / Veterinary Science + Animal Welfare
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 1-3 hrs/week over 5 weeks
Completion Date: 08/22/2014

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi



English: Trindledown Animal Shelter. The squar...

English: Trindledown Animal Shelter. The square is largely farmland, but also has a large animal welfare centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Description: The team of lecturers teaches us about studies on animal behaviour, laws and why we should consider animal welfare.

Strengths: This course discusses the role of animals in our daily lives and how to improve their welfare by looking at their behaviour. There has been numerous studies done in recent years regarding animal behaviour and cognition. Given the important role that animals play in our daily lives, it makes sense to give something back by considering what we know about animals. The research is ongoing, but has led to countries adopting laws to improve the welfare of animals. The course in no way endorses vegetarianism or veganism, nor does it support any religious or ideological stance beyond suggesting that if we are to place animals in certain situations that we should consider animal welfare for what remains of their life.

Weaknesses: Some of the issues raised and imagery may result in folks reconsidering their stance on animal welfare.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this course. It also led to many interesting conversations in the course forums. I actually learned a few things during this course as well. I recommend this course for folks with an appreciation and/or curiosity about animals and government policy.


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Course Review: Leaders of Learning

Provider: Harvard @EdX [course page]
Lecturer: Richard Elmore
Subject: Education + Leadership
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study 
Recommended Load: 4-6 hrs/week over 6 weeks 
Completion Date: 08/07/2014

picture of an e-learning classroom

picture of an e-learning classroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This course discusses the role of our own learning theory plays in creating and organizing learning environments.

Strengths: Leaders of Learning discusses how learning environments are affected by theories of learning and vice versa. It discusses this in the context of the four modes of learning quadrants: Hierarchical Individual, Hierarchical Collective, Distributive Individual and Distributive Collective. These have very unique traits, and folks are encouraged to consider where they sit in these quadrants based on a questionnaire filled out during the first week of the course. Students are asked to consider education leadership, structure and environment in the following weeks. This concludes with a peer assessment where students are called to design their own ideal learning environment.
The course designers considered the logical way in which one’s belief about how learning works plays a role in the structure of a learning environment. This often creates specific challenges for students and teaching staff. If those involved in the give environment understands these traits, they can begin to plan ways in which to deal with some of the associated problems. In this regard, this course is about clarifying challenges and encouraging those involved to find solutions – which takes leadership and organization.

Weaknesses: Scary penguins may haunt your dreams… for no particular reason….

Conclusion: The release of this MOOC is timely given recent changes in distribution methods and content in the west. There is no doubt that there will be more changes in the next few years as countries and organizations attempt to catch up to existing technologies and knowledge about learning methods. This course is focused on those involved in education, but it will likely also benefit those involved in other areas as well. I recommend it for anyone interested in either teaching and/or leadership.


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Course Review: England in the time of King Richard III

Provider: University of Leiceister @FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: Deirdre O’Sullivan + others
Subject: History
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study 
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 6 weeks 
Completion Date: 08/06/2014

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham....

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham. “Middleham Castle”. RichardIII.com . . Retrieved 2007-10-24 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: The discusses England at the time of King Richard III.

Strengths: Deirdre O’Sullivan brings together a team of experts to discuss English culture at the time of King Richard III, with a short history lesson of the Wars of the Roses. We learn about the military, communications (text and linguistic), culinary, employment and religious devotion of English people. In the last week, we also learn about the archeological dig that uncovered the body of King Richard III, teaching us a little about archeological processes used during this important find.
This course uses a variety of different information about the state of England during this period to offer context and insight into what led up to King Richard III’s death. This showed the affect that the Black Death had on civilization, changing the manner in which the social classes dealt with each other. It led to changes in habits as a result of changes in income and working environment. This apparently led to revision of many laws as well.
We also see the establishment of standardisation in language during this time, something that reminds me of some of the changes brought about by Emperor Qin during his rule in China more than a 1000 years prior. The introduction of such things enabled easier communication within the country. We also see the publication of various texts, such as books on cooking and falconry, thus allowing the sharing of knowledge between various groups.

Weaknesses: Be warned: Studying this course may dispose of ignorance with great prejudice.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this course. At the beginning I believed that I knew a lot more about this time period than I did. Over the span of the six weeks, I saw the banishment of misconceptions about medieval society as well as the answering of many of my questions. The University of Leicester put together a freaking excellent introduction to English history.
I primarily recommend this MOOC to anyone interested in history and/or looking to avoid errors in their creative projects, such as written works. However, I believe that most people can benefit from understanding how certain events can have major effect on the path of mankind. This is a must-enrol!

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