The Big Picture

Brand new online University started by two Stanford Professors

Posted by | Education, Entrepreneurship, The Big Picture | No Comments

Taught by Professor David Evans and Professor Sebastian Thrun, two high-level subjects in “Building a Search Engine” and “Programming a Robotic Car” appear to offer outcomes based education, free, and online for all!

Rather than ramble on, I’ve cut and pasted the FAQ from their site here: (I hope Google doesn’t anti-SEO me for this!)

FAQ From http://www.udacity.com/

Is there a fee to take the course?
Nope, no fees. All of our classes are offered entirely free of cost.

Can you enroll in both classes?
Yes! Keep in mind CS101 is intended for students with no previous programming background, while CS373 assumes students have prior programming experience.

When do classes start?
February 20th, 2012.

When do I have to be online to watch the lectures?
The lectures are posted each week for you to view at your convenience.

How is the class formatted?
Both classes are broken into 6 week-long units and seventh week that wraps up the course and has a final exam. Each unit contains multiple lecture segments with interactive quizzes built in. There will be one homework assignment which will include programming problems each week. There will be approximately 50 minutes of lecture videos.

How long will enrollment be open?
Enrollment will be open until the first homework assignment, February 28th.

Will the courses be offered again? When?
The courses will be offered again starting April 16, 2012.

Which programming language will be used?
Python will be used in both CS101 and CS373. If you are taking CS101, don’t worry if you don’t know what a programming language is yet. If you are taking CS373, you should either already know Python, or have enough experience with another language to be confident you can pick up what you need on your own.

Will there be closed captioning?
Yes, the videos will have captions in English. We’re also working to support other languages in future.

Will you be offering other classes?
Yes! We will be announcing more courses soon.

What will I get for completing the classes?
Students who complete a course will also receive a certificate signed by the instructors.

Is Udacity affiliated with Stanford and/or Google?
No. Udacity is an independent company.

Can I audit the course?
Yes!

Open Source hardware – The start of something big?

Posted by | Entrepreneurship, Personal, Sustainability, The Big Picture | One Comment

Imagine a future where anyone in the world could build their own everyday items… along with the plans for a machine to build them out of accessible materials. Every single bit of R&D would be done by someone who was passionate about the subject, and all their work would be documented online daily, available for re-use by anyone. From kids in an struggling African school, to the biggest corporations around the world.

Sound far fetched? It is happening now! hackerspaces.org is an emerging online community of professional and auteur tinkerers, working together to make open source designs for many high tech fields, perhaps the most notable of which is 3D printing. The machine below has been developed by enthusiasts around the world, and can be built for around $1000. A commercial version would be in the order of $30,000. It can print almost any shape in 3D out of plastic.

I am a member of the Melbourne chapter, called hackmelbourne.org. We meet every meet every Tuesday evening in Camberwell.

The power of this collaboration is in it’s scalability. I don’t know where this movement is headed, but I like it!

Should education be a game?

Posted by | Education, Personal, The Big Picture | 4 Comments

The TED talk below discusses the motivational mechanisms that drive people to contribute valuable personal resources to gameplay. Tom Chatfield asks the question, how could we use these motivational theories to improve the way the world works? After the video I will lay out some thoughts I had in response.

Tom already mentioned the most obvious candidate for an application of gaming motivational theory, education. I am currently halfway through my final year of a Commerce degree in Entrepreneurship, and I can confidently say that the experience of getting a degree is neither fun, motivating nor even intellectually satisfying for most people. The industrial era model of sending batches of students through a system to learn the same things as each other in order to compete for the same job with the same qualifications just isn’t relevant any more. I propose a system capable of allowing a student to start without knowing what they want to do, leave and return when they want and ‘graduate’ when they are ready.

Any teacher can testify to the variety of student aptitudes present within even a small class of 30, let alone a student population of 20,000 as found in many of our universities today. Does it make sense for all of the students within a study unit to attend the same number of classes for the same period of time? Why can’t we just attempt the exam first with a couple of days to cram and see if we can pass it? I can personally attest that on several occasions I have learned more about a subject in the day before an exam than in the whole semester of study preceding it. Of course there are the arguments for memory retention, but the current system doesn’t score too well there either…

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Accelerating Change?

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There are several views out there regarding the concept of accelerating change. The most pressing question for futurists and entrepreneaurs is accelerating towards what? Some suggest the only answer (looking at the trends so far) is that we are headed toward a singularity of some kind. The primary problem with this argument is that is based soley on past trends, whereas the future is by definition, unpredictable. A game changer (like an environmentally triggered social change toward technogical regression for example) could break this model at any time.

Fifteen views of evolution: When plotted on a logarithmic graph, 15 separate lists of key events in history and prehistory show an exponential trend

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ParadigmShiftsFrr15Events.svg

The graph above represents 15 abstract measures of change, plotted on a logarithmic graph. If this can be considered an accurate and reliable measure of the rate of change in society, then perhaps the key message to take away is that an entrepreneur or company who thrives amongst significant change with be well placed for the coming exciting years!

Greenwashing in the Energy Industry

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In this blog I hope to point out a few organisations who I think present a misleadingly “Green” image. There are remarkable similarities in the imagery used between the sites, and the wording used to explain their purpose. Check out their websites and tell me what you think!

Environmental Clean Technologies” is an Australian company who specialises in reducing the impact of the coal industry on the environment. It allows coal companies to spend money positioning themselves against more traditional sustainable energy alternatives. The truth is that coal can never be truly sustainable simply because it relies on massive amounts of rainforest to be compressed over millennia under the ground, only to be mined and burnt. Clearly this can never compete with a wind turbine or solar panel that collects it’s energy directly from the sun. No coal is clean coal.

The Natural Choice is a brand launched by Jemena Gas Networks Ltd and Natural Gas appliance manufacturers, retailers and installers to promote Natural Gas as an environmentally-friendly, cost-effective and powerful energy choice. This site, www.thenaturalchoice.com.au, was developed to aid with Australians’ decision-making regarding Natural Gas. On the site you can find information about Natural Gas, how to get connected and how to purchase and install Natural Gas appliances.” (from http://www.thenaturalchoice.com.au/UpperContent.aspx?ParentId=25)

Natural gas is actually a fossil fuel just like coal or petrol… in unburnt form it is a much worse greenhouse gas than straight carbon dioxide. Apart from the greenhouse gasses, natural gas sports a lot of other nasties which have to be disposed of somehow. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Gas#Environmental_effects)

Hydrogen.org.au is an organisation designed to promote hydrogen as a green alternative fuel. To anyone with some physics background, using hydrogen as a replacement for petroleum fuels has never been a realistic idea, especially in the automotive industry. It is simply too volatile, physically hard to contain, and requires too much new infrastructure. Not only that, but commercial hydrogen is currently extracted from crude oil, making the whole exercise futile anyway. The whole fuel chain is tremendously inefficient, even if the hydrogen was produced by renewable energy driving a water based electrolysis process.

I find that when an industry needs a whole organisation dedicated to presenting an environmentally sound image, it is usually for a good reason…

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