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New Releases: The Only Living Boy

Publisher: Bottled Lightning
Creators: David Gallaher & Steve Ellis
Links: Official Website, Facebook page, Twitter, OLB Comixology store page

I opened up my email last night and saw a message from Noisetrade Books. Given that I haven’t read much of late, I nearly didn’t open it. However, I am sure glad that I did. Why? Because it contained a listing for the first installment of the YA graphic novel series The Only Living Boy by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis.
The series is now into its second issue and follows a young boy that finds himself in a dystopian world after running away from home. It is a world with its share of monsters, weird non-human races, and at least one scientist that enjoys his share of experimentation. Young Erik Farrell must learn who to trust, how to fight and the art of bluffing in order to survive a world far removed from the world that we are familiar with. There are some awesome side characters as well. However, I don’t want to spoil things for you guys.
Seriously, just check it out for yourself. If you like what you read, spread the world and send some money the direction of David and Steve. They’ve put together a fine product in The Only Living Boy and deserve the kudos. Check out the official website for more details about the series.


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Course Review: Good Brain, Bad Brain (Basics)

Provider: University of Buckingham @FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: Alison Cooper
Subject: Medicine / Neuroscience
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 3 weeks
Completion Date: 07/10/2014

Description: In this first of a trilogy of mini-courses on the workings of the brain, Alison Cooper offers a short introduction of how the brain processes information, and also uses several case studies to show how changes in its physiology can affect physical, social and psychological behaviour.

Strengths: Alison Cooper explains the physiology of the brain and how we process information. By laying this foundation, we can see how changes to the physiology of the brain can change human behaviour in fundamental ways, both good and bad. It is this feedback loop between our actions and reactions to what we perceive can effect our survival as well as the survival of those around us. A lot of information is also covered in the short span of this MOOC, the fast pace avoiding getting bogged down in one subject for any length of time yet also managing to cover enough to offer context.

Weaknesses: Don’t drive while drunk!

Conclusion: I found this course to be a great refresher for the physiology of the brain. I recommend the MOOC to folks with an interest in how we relate to the world around us and/or human anatomy. If that is of interest, then folks should also consider signing up for The Addicted Brain at Coursera and Introduction to Psychology at Open2Study. There is also the other instalments in the Good Brain, Bad Brain series as well as some other brain-related MOOCs at FutureLearn.


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Course Review: SW12.2x China Part 2

Provider: Harvard @EdX [course page]
Lecturers: Peter K. Bol and William C. Kirby + others
Subject: Humanities / History + Sociology + Philosophy
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 5 weeks
Completion Date: 07/06/2014

Terracotta Army China

Terracotta Army China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Peter and Bill lead a team of experts teach us about the history and philosophy of China during the Qin and Han dynasties before discussing the arrival of major religion to China, with a special focus on Buddhism from India.

Strengths: It is probably not a surprise to folks that follow my blog that I have been fascinated by Eastern cultures since I was a small child. The older of my two brothers introduced me to Kung-fu movies, whilst it was the likes of Robotech that led to my fascination with Japanese animated series. The differences between Western and Eastern entertainment and culture is sometimes subtle, but there are times when the differences between the two collections of nations are much more obvious. But we need context for these differences, which is where the ChinaX mini-course series comes in handy.
In the second part of the series, the team talks about the first Emperor during the short-lived Qin Dynasty. We see how the way in which a government deals with national resources can often be at a cost of quality of life and justice for the citizens. This results in chaos and the eventual over-throw by the Han. Though the Han would eventually be over-thrown by other forces, they refined the centralization of resources whilst also considering justice.
The last two modules of this mini-course deals with the importance of religion such as various forms of Daoism. One module is dedicated solely to Buddhism, the major religion in the centuries to follow. We see not just the origins of these belief systems, but some of the social implications as well. One of the main themes of these last two weeks is the search of self by both the rich and the poor of the northern and southern Chinese kingdoms at the end of the Three Kingdoms era.

Weaknesses: I was a little saddened that the Three Kingdoms era wasn’t discussed, but that is understandable given the possibility that some of the information is biased.

Conclusion: As with the first part in this mini-course series, this China (Part 2) is in self-paced mode, allowing certificates every 4 months to students have have received a passing score of 75%. This second instalment deals with changes in approach to centralize resources starting with the first Emperor. This has had lasting effects by subsequent governments. The fall of the Qin and the Han also paved the way for Buddhism and Daoism, two belief systems that have lasted into modern times, along with some other lesser belief systems such as one requiring death. Though some things may change, other things stay the same.
I highly recommend this course and the other instalments in the series to anyone with an interest in history, eastern culture and religion, and for anyone looking for background for their creative projects.


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Course Review: Child Nutrition & Cooking

Provider: Stanford University at Coursera [course page]
Lecturers: Maya Adam, MD
Subject: Medicine / Health / Nutrition + Cooking
Delivery: Self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 4-6 hrs/week over 5 weeks
Completion Date: 07/02/2014

Walkway to the School of Education, near the Quad

Walkway to the School of Education, near the Quad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Maya Adam discusses teaches the fundamentals of nutrition, discusses the role that nutrition plays on health and also teaches students some recipes. This is is dispensed in five modules, containing periodic quizzes throughout each sub-section, at least a couple of recipes and a final quiz for each of these modules to test comprehension of the material.

Strengths: One of the things that I was worried about going into this self-paced course was the possibility of the lecturer phoning it in. Thankfully, she avoiding this and presented some relevant information. Also, she spoke of not just the possible health benefits of home-made food, but also the social and educational benefits for a family. This aspect is often over-looked when people talk about home cooking. She also discusses the evolution of the food pyramid as well as some clarification of terminology often used during discussions of nutritional health, such as what constitutes “organic”.
The recipes were pretty neat as well, with Maya Adam explaining some of the reasons for adding specific ingredients beginning in the first two modules. By understanding how taste and smell can affect appetite, we can affect intake of food as well. This is especially important given recent recommendations regarding portion sizes in western countries.

Weaknesses: No free sandwiches. Yep, you actually need to prepare them yourself.

Conclusion: This course looks at nutritional health in a refreshing way, cutting through the ignorance and the misconceptions. Though I do not have any children, I found that this course complemented some recent courses on nutrition. It looked at nutrition not just from the scientific viewpoint but from the social as well, which is also relevant to health. I recommend this course for anyone looking for a multi-disciplinary take on nutritional health.


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Course Review: Tangible Things

Provider: Harvard at EdX [course page]
Lecturers: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Sarah Carter, Ivan Gaskel, and Sarah Schechner
Subject: History
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 4-6 hrs/week over 5 weeks
Completion Date: 07/04/2014

Selected items from the Main Street Museum in ...

Selected items from the Main Street Museum in a collections group (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Laurel and the team discuss the importance of museum collections in telling us about our past, present and future. It consists of videos, plenty of readings and discussion of the material, with a strong focus on students looking for examples of artifacts in their local area.

Strengths: This course discusses the mindset of individuals involved in establishing and maintaining museum collections. In this regard, we see how a collection can be more than the sum of its parts, helping inform, entertain and assist in making decisions about the future. It also deals with issues relating to how and why we collect artifacts, such as in the fourth week where we see the affect that the removal of cultural and religious artifacts has had on the destiny of native peoples.
The team discusses a bunch of different parts of history as well, ranging from gender issues via a poncho; to global economics through a museum-in-a-box. It finishes on an interesting note as well. We see, curious as it is, how an artifact can also be used to make other artifacts. I found that rather charming, but something that we rarely think about when we consider museum items.

Weaknesses: No Zebra death-matches.

Conclusion: The multi-disciplinary approach used for this course added relevance and variety. We never get bogged down thinking about one item, thus helping us to get a taste for how much museum collections have to offer. I recommend this course for anyone with an innate curiosity for the world around them, our past, present and our future.


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World of Keiko 07/03/2014

Its been a rather busy but highly productive week focused primarily on my studies. Hubby also finished his vacation, which means that we will have to scrape out some quality time together likely playing WildStar and the pen and paper RPG that he GM’s some weekends. In any case, things have been quite good on my end.

GAMING
I haven’t spent much time playing WildStar this past week, but I seriously need to step it up a notch in order to start paying for my game-time with platinum. A few patches dropped this past week as well, including the Strain patch and one opening up the WildStar PTR. Not too shabby, but I also need to consider the other things that I want to achieve with my spare time.

STUDY
I completed several MOOCs over the past few weeks and have finally got around to post reviews of all but the one that I completed this afternoon over at edX. I dropped one course for personal reasons regarding feedback, and am having a ball with my current enrollments. I also rediscovered Degreed, a great service for tracking your learning. They organize pathways as well, which are a collection of linked online materials for learning about a particular topic, case study on a famous person, and collections of linked online free courses. I think it is pretty neat and highly encourage folks check it out.

I am currently enrolled in the following MOOCs:

  • Crafting An Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade by MSJC at Coursera (3rd week of 5 week course)
  • English Common Law: Structure & Principles by University of London at Coursera (2nd week of 6 week course)
  • The Addicted Brain by Emory University at Coursera (2nd week of 7 week course)
  • Literature of the English Country House by The University of Sheffield at FutureLearn (5th week of 8 week course)
  • Econ-1: Principles of Economics by Stanford Online (2nd week of 8 week course)

I am also slowly working on the following self-paced and/or archived courses in my off-time:

  • Calculus One (self-paced) by The Ohio State University at Coursera (16 module course)
  • Competitive Strategy (self-paced) by Ludwig-Maximillians-Universitat Munchen (LMU) at Coursera (6 module course)
  • ChinaX part 2 (rotating honor code certificates, self-paced) by Harvard at edX (6 week course)
  • Space, Time & Einstein (self-paced) at World Science U (one of 3, 3 week introductory course. They are also great preparation for the 3 10 week university level certification courses available on World Science U)

I am supplementing my studies with the following The Great Courses series in the minute amounts of spare time:

  • Introduction to Nanotechnology – 24 lectures (science is awesome!)
  • A New Way of Life – 36 lectures (folks that enjoyed Cosmos will dig this lecture series)
  • The Art of Storytelling –  24 lectures (storytellers across all genres will benefit from this series)

I have a few courses starting next week as well:

  • The Music of the Beatles by University of Rochester at Coursera (6 week course)
  • Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys by University of Michigan at Coursera (6 week course)

The key in all of this studying is to mix up the information enough to avoid getting bored. Short topical videos are usually good for this, but mixing up the subjects works even better and can potentially help connect some of the subject matter together. As mentioned in previous posts though, if a course turns out to not meet my learning requirements, messes with other studies or the instructors end up delivering the material as drones, then I will drop it. I am learning to build up resistance to certain levels of stress, but I still have a long way to go.

WRITING
I did manage to spend some time brain-storming some schools of thought for a fantasy world that I am attempting to flesh out. It is baby steps, but every few days I discover a new piece of the puzzle. When the preliminary information is complete, I need to expand to add meat to the bones. Still, any progress is a step in the right direction. This world-building will likely make it into the setting for the Heaven series, as it seems to work well with the Mage Academy that the main character and her associate graduate from in the first chapter.
I really have some hurdles to deal with for the main character as she will soon deal with a major loss in her loss. She also has to deal with an epic destiny, which will put herself in direct conflict with a church that can easily hide its more recent corruption because of misplaced trust. I would really like to delve into the problem of how people deal with having their greatest beliefs about the world around them questioned. It is a psychological question, which is where some of my recent study on psychology really helps. And there is this issue of betrayal by those that profess to honesty and righteousness. However, it is less of an attack on real world religious institutions and more on organizational betrayal in general. And last but not least, how do you hold on to the spiritual when everything seems to be demanding otherwise.
This is not to say that I will be able to pull any of this stuff off, but it is a challenge that will offer some good therapy for me. I am dealing with my own upheaval due to recent things that I have learned about myself and the world around me. It is something that I really need to address and it seems that this book may offer me some help in that regard.


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Course Review: History of Rock Part One

Provider: University of Rochester at Coursera [course page]
Lecturers: John Covach
Subject: History + Music
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2-4 hrs/week over 7 weeks
Completion Date: 06/30/2014

Description: In this first of a two-part MOOC series, John Covach teaches us the origins of rock from the 1930’s to the 1970’s and the issues faced by those within the music industry during this tumultuous era. There were three fortnightly quizzes culminating in a final exam in the last week.

Strengths: First of all, I suppose that I should offer the disclaimer that I spent a lot of time listening to the music mentioned during this course due to my father’s eclectic tastes. Some of my best childhood memories were at times spent listening to music. Those were great times, each made more vivid by music. I am a music appreciator by nature, which is part of the draw to this course in the first place.
This course deals with the history of music in a predominantly chronological fashion. Mister Covach, a rather likeable chap, and manages to energise the student watching the lecture videos even further. We are encouraged to seek out the music being discussed, and he also offers some complementary videos explaining some music fundamentals (rhythm, melody and harmony) via a short youtube playlist.
As for the material, though the lectures discuss many of the artists, we see how music changed on account of marketing and due to world events such as the world wars. We are given the clear indication that Rock was a genre that evolved out of other genres, such as R&B, Country and Western, Folk, Soul, etc… Rock, just like these other genres is a product of the environment, but heavily affected by marketing in the new world of radio and television.

Weaknesses: I did not receive any hidden messages from Satan whilst studying this course. What’s up with that? :-D

Conclusion: John Covach presents this course with an enthusiasm unseen in many of the lecturers I’ve watched of late. His passion for music and music history shows in the release of not only this two-part MOOC series, but in an upcoming course The History of the Beatles starting on Coursera next week. (I am enrolled in that course as well.) The energy in his delivery of the material is not only energised but interesting as well. We are able to draw connections between many of the events mentioned and see a definite cause and effect.
This course also offers some insight into the current state of the music industry, where we see traditional labels going up against Indie labels. Though it is not quite the “history repeats” scenario due to the arrival of the internet, we do see some similarities in marketing. There is this rather bizarre focus on “good and clean-cut” versus the “bad boy”, which is in conflict with the reality of human nature. That being said, conflict sells records.
If you are interested in music history, then I highly recommend this MOOC. I also recommend History of Rock, Part Two and The History of the Beatles over at Coursera. If you are looking for a course in basic music theory, then The University of Edinburgh MOOC Fundamentals of Music Theory goes live on Coursera on July 14. Saylor Academy also has some courses on Music History and Theory. Folks may also be interested in some music-related courses over at EdX.

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