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Awesome Sauce: Regular Cars

As some of you are already aware, I have an interest in cars. This is a love that I share with my husband, though he is more versed in the mechanical side because I juggle other interests as well. In this installment, I would like to discuss another car-related youtube channel entitled “Regular Cars”.
Regular Cars is dedicated to car reviews that sprinkled with a refreshing amount of toilet humor from a chap that does his homework. The writers among you may also find the descriptive quite impressive as well because of the wordplay. The reviews are varied as well, ranging from the 2000 Toyota Celica GTS to the 2014 Honda Civic Si, the 2014  BMW S1000RR to the Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa. Yes, that does mean that there are reviews for motorcycles as well which totally works for me. These reviews are accompanied with a clever little song at the end.
So, if you are okay with some potty humor thrown into your car and motorcycle reviews, then you’ll take to this channel like a zombie to brains. You can also find Regular Cars on Twitter and Google+.


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Awesome Sauce: Project Binky

In the first of hopefully a series of future blog posts, I would like to share neat Youtube series entitled “Project Binky”. I found it on account of a recommendation by my husband, a fellow that enjoys his share of car shows with a special focus on the technical side of things. It is, in my opinion, a great example of high quality content available via Youtube.
Project Binky is a series produced by Bad Obsession Motorsport, a channel about racing and cars. The series is a look at the technical side of a car rebuild, specifically a “rotten old Austin Mini”. The two chaps do an amazing job of making a rather funny yet educational show which explains various aspects of the build and solutions for the various problems that the duo come across. it shows some rather impressive fabrication of various metal components, decision-making process for non-factory parts, mechanics and auto-electrics. I have learned a lot so far, including some techniques for welding and prototyping. All of this is delivered via low-key yet hilarious comedic dialogue that is clearly inspired by Monty Python and Police Squad/Naked Gun. It is the perfect marriage of learning and humor.

I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in the technical side of car rebuilds whether they are a writer, a hobbyist or anyone with a general interest in cars. You can also find Bad Obsession Motorsport via twitterFacebook and Google+.


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World of Keiko 01/23/2015

It has been a couple of months since my last update. The holiday season was oddly relaxing, though hubby and I were waiting on word regarding a position that he’d applied for up north. I’d mentally prepared for the possibility of a move but in the end he didn’t get the job. I won’t go into further details on that matter.
Just before Christmas, hubby and I went to Kinkua National Park with some of his workmates. It is half an hour south of Bundaberg and consists of mostly sand for twenty kilometers along the coast. It was a bugger getting into and without the use of our tablet for tracking our location and direction in real time. Though our Jimny handled the trails like a champ, it rained for most of our stay. We ended up having to cook in the rain that evening and left early the next morning. Hubby scored a fractured rib whilst tackling whilst a co-worker received two broken rib from being tackled by a team member during that same game. Hubby is still recovering, but has been careful at work so as to not re-injure himself.

GAMING
The Steam Holiday Sale resulted in my husband and I purchasing some excellent games. Of these, we scored some titles from Telltale Games (The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead Season 1, Tales From Monkey Island, Tales From The Borderlands), Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Mass Effect 1 & 2, L.A. Noire (awesome game!) and many more. There was some real gems in there, though I am hoping that Life is Strange will drop in price soon as I would really like to play it.
So, I gave up playing Champions Online after Perfect World International abruptly dropped their support for SMS payments. I’d pretty much played out the game anyway, but it seems like a big FU to players of other games such as Neverwinter. Regardless of how much that I enjoyed Neverwinter, this move was done without warning to either players or those companies that such services went through. As such, I doubt that I will pick up any of their games anytime in the foreseeable future.
I started playing RIFT again and couldn’t keep from grinning. I still enjoy it and am slowly getting my stable of characters to cap. I participated in my first Arklight event last week. For those unaware, Arklights are one of the new mounts that can be gained for all toons from either a specific box (a small drop rate but each toon has a shot at it by finishing an achieve for completing the two Arklight dailies) or by getting 850 of the event-specific currency. You get 10 of the currency for completing each of the two dailies, with some of the currency dropping from the box. You can also pick up a box from the cash shop using the premium currency.
I gave Aeria Games’ Aura Kingdom a run a few weeks ago and was somewhat impressed. The character options are pretty reasonable, with an engaging storyline (if you chose to pay attention to it) that is a lot darker than your average anime-style RPG. The world-building seems decent, though some folks may not like the anime aesthetic. I probably won’t get into it as much given other gaming, but it does offer a lot of promise.
After viewing ChaosD1’s review of the infamous Scarlet Blade with my hubby, my hubby decided to give it a run. As nice as the graphics are, the storyline doesn’t take advantage of the world-building already in place. Seriously, they could have easily had a game that included an engaging storyline and massive boobs. It was a lost opportunity.
Last but not least is my return to SWTOR after more than two years hiatus. Logging into my account, I noticed that I had a bunch of premium currency to purchase shiny things. I learned that this was because of the small monthly stipend given by having an authenticator attached to an account. Not too shabby. I played some starship missions and couldn’t stop grinning at how much that I remembered of the game. I still haven’t played PvP since returning to the game predominantly due to comments from other players on the state of PvP. This was a complaint back when the game was subscription-only. It is a little sad, and one of the big reasons one of my gaming buddies left the game years ago. That being said, I like what I have seen of the cash shop and the availability of some premium stuff in the Global Trade Network (the GTN is the auctionhouse equivalent) as it allows players to purchase premium items using credits.

EDUCATION
I completed a bunch of courses over the holiday season but didn’t get around to reviewing them. I will attempt to give an overview of some of the completed courses below.
Harvard’s ChinaX parts 8 and 9 over at EdX introduced the modern era of China, covering the rise of communism and what occurred in China after the passing of Mao. It has changed my view of modern China in a big way and never attempts to pretty up events such as the major purges of critics of the CCP. We see how Mao idolized the work of communist leaders in Soviet Russia, resulting in decisions that led to the death of tens of millions of citizens and the stagnation of his country. I am currently working on the tenth and final installment of the series that deals with how the country has changed dramatically since Mao’s passing.
HKU’s Epidemics course over at EdX dealt with much of the same material as The Pennsylvania State University MOOC Epidemics – The Dynamics of Infectious Disease at Coursera, but it dealt more with case studies. I liked the format and the content was top-notch. Some folks may feel inclined to speed up some of the videos though as many of the lectures talked slower in an attempt to deal with concerns over pronunciation.
UCBerkley’s The Science of Happiness covered some material that I was already familiar with but brought it all together in an engaging and logical fashion. I discovered a few more interesting psychology speakers as well. I do have some concerns over how much the answers were spoon-fed, but I somewhat understand that some students may not have access to the studies mentioned.
Open University’s Introduction to Cybersecurity at FutureLearn was extremely relevant and featured some high quality content. The content flowed easily and it helped build on some of the material on security covered in Chuck Severence’s Internet History, Technology & Security over at Coursera. It is a great introduction to the subject of cybersecurity and posts links to some neat tools and software that you might find useful.

It felt a little odd trying to get into study mode again, but I find myself excited about learning new things again. It feels amazing, but I realize that I will have to pace myself. Below is a list of the courses that I am currently studying:

  • The Rolling Stones by The University of Rochester at Coursera (week 1/7)
  • Introduction to Linux by Linux Foundation at EdX (self-paced chapter 2/18)
  • Jazz Appreciation by UTAustin at EdX (week 1/10)
  • Forests & Livelihoods in Developing Countries by UBC at EdX (week 3/6)
  • In the Night Sky: Orion by Open University at FutureLearn (week 2/4)
  • Elements of Renewable Energy by Open University at FutureLearn (week 1/4)
  • Empire by University of Exeter at FutureLearn (week 1/6)

READING
I have read a couple of short stories so far this year. You can locate my reviews for both via my Goodreads widget. As folks will likely notice, I am reading more science fiction classics these days. They may sometimes be a little goofy, but such stories have helped shape the imagination of artists and all manner of other creatives. I welcome and consider all legit recommendations across the wide spectrum of genres, with a particular focus on classic fiction stories, such as the Conan stories.


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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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