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World of Keiko 11/21/2014

Its been a few months since my last update. I have posted numerous course reviews and a handful of book reviews. The large amount of time spent studying has led to me feeling a tad worn down.

GAMING
A recent return to varied gaming has helped things quite a bit, though I am finding that this has taken over to a large degree. WildStar had begun to feel a bit of a chore, farming materials had become the focus because it was a means to pay for game time. This is contrasted by several other games that I have started playing or returned to in the last few months.

The first of these games is Awesomenauts. For those that are unaware, Awesomenauts is a platform MOBA with a retro 80’s Saturday Morning Cartoon feel to it. You level as you play matches, unlocking characters, maps and upgrades. Each character has a unique vibe, and I was surprised to find which of the cast members that I especially enjoyed. In other MOBA games, I tend to enjoy playing ranged characters, but characters such as Skolldir toss this tendency. There are still a few ranged characters that I enjoy, but ones that have movement powers created a level of mild annoyance for me. Some of the maps have traps and tricks, but these are easily negotiated by paying attention and acting accordingly. It is a welcome contrast to games such as DOTA2 and League of Legends because it doesn’t attempt to emulate them. All in all, I highly recommend this game.
The second of these games is Villagers & Heroes. Villlagers & Heroes is a free-to-play MMO that recently gave out some free keys to one of their DLC packs, which led to me giving the game a run. I was oddly entertained by the game, though even the increased backpack for having the DLC still led to me spending large amounts of time travelling back and forth to a vendor. Players are able to level every gather and craft skill, but the amount of loot that drops in the game is insane. The game has some interesting features, such as the village and housing system, but it still has a way to go before it can be a serious competitor for other MMOs. However, the developers are working hard at implementing positive changes and to correct various bugs, which means that the other way for the game to go is forward and upward. This game is not for everyone, but it certainly has its place in the MMO market for casual, social players because of that focus on the village system.

Champions Online

Champions Online (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The third of these games is Champions Online. I tried this game several years ago after it went free-to-play on steam. I tried it with my husband and a mutual friend, but they became disinterested so I stopped playing. Whilst looking around for a game to play, I saw it in a list and decided to give it a run again. I was glad that I did because there has been some huge changes. Where I was lucky to play to level 10 before, I am powering past level 30 with plenty of content left for me to explore, including the Nemesis System, where you can create your very own nemesis that is interacted with via a series of quests, instanced events known as Alerts, and whilst out and about doing your thing in the world. There is also a means to pay for stuff that is otherwise restricted to real money via the Questionite exchange, which means that playing the content is able to earn me the ability to pimp out my account and/or character. It is plenty of fun and I am finding numerous “moments” during gameplay. There are a few features that I would like implemented, but the game itself is pretty solid already. If you are looking for a genuine free-to-play MMO that features plenty of customization and goofy villains, then this stands head and shoulders above DC Universe Online.
The fourth game is Loadout. Loadout is similar to Team Fortress 2, but features more ball-sack, which is something that you will understand if you play with the appearance options of your characters. The graphic, cartoony violence is hilarious as well. The strength of this game is the customization of your various weapons, which is a bit of an artform. There is some element of strategy involved, but folks should be sure to regularly check what gear that they have to work with. I like this game already, but there are some differences seen in the Campaign Beta version that I would love to see implemented into the main game because it gives something more for folks to work with. Yes, I do recommend this game.

There are several other games that I also found enjoyed, but they didn’t receive as much gameplay as the four in the above list over the past two weeks. These include: Super Sanctum TD, Magical Diary, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, Castle Crasher, Dust: An Elysium Trail, Warframe, One Finger Death Punch, Forsaken World, and Bastion.

Magical Diary

Magical Diary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I intend to give Fractured Space, Hawken, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, Double Action: Boogaloo, APB Reloaded, Zombies Monsters Robots, Rising Angels: Reborn, Insurgency, and Narcissu 1st & 2nd a run sometime soon, but there are only so many hours in the day that I can allocate to gaming.

EDUCATION
As mentioned above, I have been feeling a bit burnt out by studies of late. I have decided to drastically limit my enrollments for the next few months in order to account for this problem and hopefully respark some enthusiasm. I will be posting several reviews over the next week, which will coincide with posting reviews over at CourseTalk. My current plans are to finish the ChinaX series, some MOOCs over at FutureLearn, some courses already started at Coursera, and those already started at EdX. Below is a list of the courses that I am currently studying:

  • The Bilingual Brain by The University of Houston at Coursera (fifth week)
  • Origins by University of Copenhagen at Coursera (third week)
  • Introduction to Cyber Security by The Open University at FutureLearn (2 weeks left)
  • Understanding Language by University of Southampton at FutureLearn (1st of 4 weeks)
  • Blue is the New Green by University of British Columbia at EdX (second-last week)
  • Epidemics by Hong Kong University at EdX (second-last week)
  • ChinaX part 9 at EdX (1st week)
  • Introduction to Linux by The Linux Foundation at EdX (self-paced, so no rush)

Based on my recent decisions, I believe that I will not be studying near as many MOOCs in future. Much in all as I enjoy learning new things, I also need some time spend for purely silly fun. I am looking for a more balanced approach to how I spend my time, and the only way to do that is to more evenly divide my life into work, exercise and play.

READING
I have been spending some more time listening to LibriVox audiobook productions of late. I won’t be posting all of my reviews on this blog, opting to post most exclusively to Goodreads. The strong focus has been on science fiction, with a dab of fantasy and a pinch of non-fiction classics. I highly recommend folks friend or follow my goodreads account for a more complete list of my reviews.


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Course Review: Hadrian’s Wall

Provider: University of Liverpool at FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturer: Ian Haynes
Subject: History + Religion + Politics + Culture
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 02/11/2014

Description: This course discusses the society at the time in which Hadrian’s Wall was built until it fell into disrepair.

Strengths: I recall watching short articles on Hadrian’s Wall as a kid. It was a bit of a strange place, for which I recall the moss-covered remains of the wall that ran along the pathway for hundreds of miles. It always struck me as a fascinating place, but it never interested me near as much as Stonehenge… until now.
This course offers further insight into the society that lived in and around the wall, ranging from religious practices, slavery, politics, warfare, bureaucracy, commerce, etc… Over the span of the course, students are shown artefacts located at various dig sites along the wall, predominantly relating to those belonging to the multicultural military force belonging to the Roman Empire.
We learn about religion through altars and headstones. We learn about fashion through artwork and the occasional piece of jewellery. We learn about relationships, law and military structure through tablets. We learn about commerce through the various records that have survived the test of time. And we gain insight into each of these based on where they are found.

Weaknesses: The Roman Empire didn’t just consist of Romans? Not listening… *hands in ears* La-la-la-la-la…

Conclusion: This course offered great insight into what society at Hadrian’s Wall looked like by way of architecture and the various artefacts that have managed to survive at the remains of these sites. It was well-paced and interesting, though the dramatisations featured some rather peculiar acting. In any case, if you interested in the history of England and/or the Roman Empire, this course is a must.


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Course Review: Psychology and Mental Health

Provider: University of Liverpool at FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturer: Peter Kinderman
Subject: Science / Medicine / Psychology
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 19/10/2014

Description: This course offers an insight into the impacts of mental health on society and the various schools of thought on origins of mental illness, prevention and treatment.

Strengths: As mentioned previously, I am somewhat fascinated by Psychology. This stems from a family history of mental illness and an interest in writing characters that reflect reality. It is one of those areas of study that also has a huge impact on society yet remains woefully unfunded in the budgets of various countries throughout the world. It is important, but in order to address mental health issues, we must have some grasp of the various issues involved in prevention and treatment of mental illness.
This course first deals with the origins of mental illness, ranging from genetics to environmental factors. The debate is ongoing, but many psychologists and neuroscientists tend to fall in either of two categories. Though the course lecturer reveals his own stance, he also offers a bunch of different papers for students to read and make up their own mind on the subject.
With this subjective approach, the course also avoids having much in the way of graded assessment. Quizzes and activities are more a means of encouraging students to consider what they know about Psychology and mental health rather than feeding them answers. This adequately reflects the nature of psychology and science in general. It allows for new information to offer further insight into such problems or questions about nature and human nature.

Weaknesses: This course involves reading numerous scientific papers and advisory documents. If this doesn’t appeal to you, then this course is not for you.

Conclusion: I really liked the approach used, though I would liked more of a focus on the terminology used in psychology. But that is not exactly what the course is about. It moves slightly closer to philosophy of Psychology because students are asked to spend their time considering how they think about mental health. This course may not be for everyone, but if you are looking to understand how people consider the problem of mental illness and its impact on society, then this MOOC will likely be of some interest.


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Course Review: Crafting an Effective Writer

Provider: MSJC at Coursera [course page]
Lecturer: Lawrence Barkley, Ted Blake and Lorrie Ross
Subject: Communication / English + Writing
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 4-5 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 21/10/2014

Mt. San Jacinto College

Mt. San Jacinto College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This course goes over the basics of English, covering grammar, sentence structure and the various categories of words in the English language.

Strengths: This course is a great refresher in English, going over the stuff that we often forget after leaving educational institutions due to lack of practice. It was also my second attempt at the course, having had a failed start in an earlier intake. This time around, I completed and passed the course. I was gratifying for me and I found myself smiling in appreciation at things relearned. I suppose that my own experiences in high school English were different from others though. I enjoyed it because it laid the foundation for learning and interacting with other people.
As mentioned above, the course goes over the basics of English. The teachers and teaching staff were thoughtful but were careful not to treat students as idiots. This approach made the material accessible and avoided breaks in the flow of delivery. The assessment and quizzes appropriately evaluated student learning, and I found myself going over the lecture videos and notes in order to correct errors in logic and perception. I was pleasantly surprised, and discovered that several areas that I have had issues with for years being addressed by this humble course.

Weaknesses: It involves the basics of communication, which some folks may find unappealing.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this course. I was a bit worried several times throughout though, as some personal stuff creating a slight obstacle for finishing assessment by the deadlines listed, but I am glad that I stuck with it. The high quality of this introductory course bodes well for the rest of MSJC’s offerings, though I doubt they will offer any more courses on Coursera for a while apart from the regular intakes of this MOOC. This course will be of great assistance that are looking for a refresher in English, had difficulty with English in school, or for folks new to the written English language.


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Course Review: Visualizing Japan

Provider: Harvard and MIT at EdX [course page]
Lecturer: John W. Dower, Andrew Gordon, Shigeru Miyagawa, and Gennifer Weisenfeld
Subject: Humanities / History + Politics + Business + Militarisation
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3-5 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 12/10/2014

Japanese military paraphernalia (including Jap...

Japanese military paraphernalia (including Japanese armour, yumi, yari, katanas and tachi among others). Hand-colored glass slide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This course tells the history of Japan between the1850’s and 1930’s using a variety of publications and artwork created at the time.

Strengths: This course is an oddity to begin, with the collaboration of two reputable universities making it possible. It goes further, making use of numerous collections of artwork and other visual artefacts to understand what was going on in Japan during and after Admiral Perry’s expedition forced the Japanese government to open up its borders after several centuries of isolation. It moves through various areas as well, allowing us to see how some aspects of militarisation began to infiltrate even the cosmetics industry. We also see how various socialist parties attempted to gain traction in the nation. It is a fascinating look at Japanese history through the eyes of the Japanese people.

Weaknesses:

Conclusion: My recent studies have forced me to rethink my understanding of history in Asia. This course offers insight from Japan rather than China, but we can see some obvious similarities. Each nation sought to hold on to its own identity but was inevitably forced to reincarnation. I highly recommend this course to anyone with an interest in Asia and modern Asian history. I also recommend folks check out Harvard’s ChinaX mini-MOOC series as well as UTokyo’s two-part MOOC series Visualising Post-War Japan, all twelve MOOCs made available through the EdX platform.


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Course Review: SW12.7x China Part 7

Provider: Harvard at EdX [course page]
Lecturer: Peter K. Bol, William C. Kirby + others
Subject: Humanities / History + Politics + Religion
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2-4 hrs/week over 5 weeks
Completion Date: 10/10/2014

Description: Part 7 of the ChinaX mini-MOOC series discusses the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

Strengths: This course discusses some of the internal and external factors that led to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Though the rejection of the Manchus as long-time foreign invaders does play some part, we see how the role of foreign trade and religion played a huge part in creating strife in the nation. The Qing are forced, if somewhat unsuccessfully, to combat these elements that have weakened the country from within via the likes of the Opium trade. We also see the dramatic role that religion plays, with 30 million dying due to the Taiping Rebellion. I had heard of the latter as well, but I didn’t know the role that Christian proselytising played in the establishment of a cult that caused deaths of so many. This course leads into part 8 of the series which discusses the contest between various political ideologies that led to a version of Communism gaining control over China.

Weaknesses: I was really beginning to dig those Queues…

Conclusion: This instalment of the ChinaX series filled in some gaps in my knowledge of important moments in Chinese history. The role of religion also mirror, to some degree, the establishment of cults and denominations in the west. It also shows the role that racism can play in destroying a nation from within. I recommend this course to anyone looking to make sense of modern Chinese history and for those curious about what led up to modern events. I also recommend folks also check out the following offerings at EdX: MIT and Harvard collaboration Visualising Japan; and University of Tokyo’s (UTokyo) two-part MOOC series Visualising Post-War Japan.


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Course Review: History of Rock Part Two

Provider: University of Rochester at Coursera [course page]
Lecturer: John Covach
Subject: History / Music
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2-4 hrs/wk for 6 weeks
Completion Date: 10/07/2014

Description: This course discusses the history of Rock between the 1970’s and early 1990’s.

Strengths: This is my third MOOC with John Covach as teacher. In the first instalment of the two-part series, we see the beginnings of Rock leading up to the early 1970’s. In between, I studied Covach’s course on The Beatles, which covered the history of the band between the early 1960’s until the mid 1970’s. The MOOC offered a great crossover for that transition period. This second instalment of the History of Rock covers a bunch of music that was released after I was born, which I enjoyed with my parents and siblings during the 80’s and early 90’s.
With all of Covach’s classes, students learn about the various divisions in music. These boundaries are called to question with the success of artists such as Michael Jackson. However, we also see other boundaries forming. And yet these boundaries are also brought down with the crossover of bands such as R.E.M. Genre is constantly being redefined throughout this period, and bands are experimenting with various styles. Given that this is still happening today, one can easily argue that this is the very nature of music as an art-form.
Students are encouraged to consider how past events affect the present. We see continuity of ideas such as the Hippie Aesthetic. The material in this course offers further context for the music whilst at the same time asking questions of us as listeners.

Weaknesses: Musical taste can be just as divisive a subject as politics and religion.

Conclusion: This course took me back to a childhood spent listening to top 40 radio shows, the show Countdown and eventually the ABC music show Rage. Most of my fondest childhood memories were spent listening to much of the same music mentioned in this MOOC. I recommend this course and other offerings by John Covach to anyone with a love of music.

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