Monday, April 23, 2012

CS 101 has started

Coursera's version of CS 101 went live today. Iris is viewing/practicing lecture 1 materials right now. We signed up for it months ago after watching this engaging video. But, there were many delays.

From what I've seen, the extra time was well spent. The browser-based API to perform the programming exercises works well. Iris was up and running (tweaking the sample programs provided) in minutes. In six weeks, the class will cover:
CS101 topics are covered with a mixture of video lecture and active lab work, all in the browser:
  • The nature of computers and code, what they can and cannot do
  • How computer hardware works: chips, cpu, memory, disk
  • Necessary jargon: bits, bytes, megabytes, gigabytes
  • How software works: what is a program, what is "running"
  • How digital images work
  • Computer code: loops and logic
  • Big ideas: abstraction, logic, bugs
  • How structured data works
  • How the internet works: ip address, routing, ethernet, wi-fi
  • Computer security: viruses, trojans, and passwords, oh my!
  • Analog vs. digital
  • Digital media, images, sounds, video, compression
The class is free. It's a great diversionary activity for kids who are suffering through standardized exams this season. In addition to having fun, they might just learn something useful.

Kids 13 and up can sign up with parental permission. The class is certainly appropriate for advanced kids younger than 13, but they can only do it with an adult. (Sorry, that's the law governing internet correspondence with minors, not Coursera's policy.) I signed up using my email address, log Iris in, and then take a hands off approach while she plays around.

Thank-you Coursera, Nick Parlante and Google for giving him time to work on this project.

What am I doing? I'm learning from data. This Caltech class is so much more challenging and rigorous than the AI class I took last Fall. Limits, functional analysis, proofs by mathematical induction, perceptron learning algorithms, error bounds and a heck of a lot of homework problems that can only be solved by writing your own code.

It's a time commitment, but I am enjoying the deep dive into rigor. I also like how you can view the lectures live and then ask questions, just like in a real class. Students type their questions in and the head TA reads them aloud to the professor during the Q&A session following each lecture.

Here's another computer/human hybrid teacher story:
At Virginia Tech, computers help solve a math class problem

She just finished the exercises for lesson 1 and proundly announced that she got an A+. Thank-you so much, Nick, for giving her something more useful to do on the computer than dress and groom ponies or Barbie!

Community Service

One of the goals for my time off is to help out more with the South Bay Quilters' Guild, both by making more charity quilts and by helping out with guild social media.

IMHO, we are a great bunch of people, united by our love of quilts and quilting. We also take our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization status very seriously, participating in myriad community services projects. (We are famous among quilt guilds for the quantity of charitable work we do considering our membership size.)

Check out these four Quilts for Wounded Soldiers that were turned in by SBQG members in April 2012. They are already enroute to Afganistan.
The quilts are shipped to combat hospitals in Afghanistan and given to soldiers in Intensive Care Units. These troops are often sent home in unheated cargo planes, so the quilts are functional for warmth in addition to showing that we care and thank them for their sacrifices.

The quilts needed are ”quick quilts” with just 3 requirements:
  • Size is 4 ft x 6 ft 6 in, or 48 inches by 78 inches (the size of stretchers and gurneys)
  • All cotton; no synthetics, including the batting
  • Red/white/blue or appropriate patriotic theme (no cartoon characters)
You need not be a member of our guild to make and donate quilts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


and vegetable varieties at Joshua Tree National Park.
Watching my baby scramble very high. Breathe.
Lunch spot at the abandoned Lost Horse Mine.
The native squirrels were brazen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I am

  • on sabbatical
  • unemployed
  • between jobs*
  • a stay at home mom and wife
  • a community volunteer
  • all of the above
I was among the hundreds of people terminated in the mass layoffs at work nearly three weeks ago. My former section, staffed with subject matter experts instead of traditional CS types, is no more.

My reactions are not nearly as interesting as those of the ones around me. Most men and childless women said that they hoped that I would find another job soon. Other moms and a couple of men told me that they hoped I can enjoy some time at home with Iris and taking care of my health. One former boss (not the one who terminated me) called with a proposal to hire me back through a consulting firm as soon as his budget allows it*.

I haven't had much time to dwell on it. It took a week to take care of administrivia related to a change in job status. Then our family headed out for spring break. As in many prior years, we went to Joshua Tree National Park via dimsum in the San Gabriel Valley.

A friend recommended Capital Seafood where we discovered this treat. Every table ordered them, so we had to give it a try. It begins with a puff pastry.

With the surprise inside of lightly-sweetened almond milk with beans and spices. It smells and tastes so much better than it sounds.

When we were hiking in JTNP, I came across some delaminating granite (pictured at top). Granite is generally considered a very tough stone. But, under harsh conditions such as those found in the high desert, it can crack and peel. I spent some time studying and trying to photographically capture the peeling layers of the stone. It reminded me of the pastry.

* For that reason, between jobs is the closest to the truth, unless congress completely cancels a badly needed future satellite program.

But I am also on sabbatical as I am taking this tough online class and learning the python programming language by writing all my homework programs in python and numpy. And I am a wife and mother and do a disproportionate amount of the family work in our partnership regardless of market work status. And I've been doing community volunteer work since I was a teen. Perhaps all of the above would be more accurate?