Semester Two at the OU

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So my materials for my next Open University modules have finally arrived, and considering I’m doing two modules this semester, I’m really rather gutted with what turned up, or rather, the lack of what turned up.

Now, the modules are half what TU100 My Digital Life was, i.e. TU100 was a 60 point module, whereas these two are 30 points apiece, but still. With TU100 I got lots of books, plus the senseboard. With L185 English for Academic Purposes Online, I got a single resources book of test text. All the rest of the module is online, and not even in epub form, which is a bit naff.

TM129 Technologies in Practice has given me marginally more, and with the long-awaited I Robot novel I received a Windows Networking Essentials textbook, and a DVD of James May’s Big Ideas: Man-Machine. But I’m rather peeved that I get no textbooks on robotics, as that was the main topic that made me pick the module, but at least I can download all the online material as epubs for easier reading and future reference. Also, the DVD is a bit of a cop-out. Not because the subject matter is crap (I watched it the other night and quite enjoyed it), but because my mate has exactly the same video, as part of a box set that he got from The Works (a cheapo UK arts/crafts/bookstore), which meant it probably cost him less than a fiver, meaning the single DVD likely only cost him a quid or two.

I get that the OU can keep their fees low by producing less printed material, but like I said, I find it rather disappointing. However, I should count myself lucky. As I live in Wales, my university fees are a third what they would be if I lived in England, so I can only imagine how hard-done-by my fellow English students may be feeling.

Anyway, despondence aside, I have decided to crack on. The term doesn’t officially start until October 7th, but as all the material is live on the website, I figured I may as well get ahead. Especially as I’m having to juggle two modules, and you never know what’s around the corner disruption-wise. That and I couldn’t wait to learn about robots!

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Bits, Birthdays, and Bobs

Yes, I know, I haven’t posted in nearly a month, my bad. It’s been a bit of a busy month, but also a fairly uneventful month; lots of little things going on, but not things that warrant a posting on their own.

I haven’t even been to the cinema since seeing Spiderman. Seriously, what happened to all the summer blockbusters? School holidays are normally jam-packed with films, but there’s been nothing worth seeing this year. September looks promising with Kingsman, and possibly American Assassin (yay Keaton!…swoon), but until Thor comes out in November, there’s bupkiss. Actually, there’s also Blade Runner 2049 as a possible see in October, but yeah, 2017 has been a bit thin on the ground film-wise.

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I had a birthday, but as there was nothing worth watching on the big screen, I made do with going blackberry picking on the Anglesey coast (I sure know how to live life to the fullest) followed by a meal at my local(ish) vegan restaurant. The place is called Voltaire, in Bangor, and the food at the place is a-may-zing! I had a huge burger, filled with chilli beans, nachos, and sour cream, which came with a huge side of fries. Honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the burger’s size. Its circumference was about three hand spans!

I then stuffed down the best choc-fudge sundae ev-er! It had ice cream, topped with whipped cream and choc and fudge sauces, and in the centre was a large chunk of a choc-fudge brownie with even more sauce.

I was so full I was in pain, but boy, it was sooo worth it! Not sure my coastal walk put me in enough of a calorie deficit for all of this, despite my glutes aching like crazy the next day. Looks like September is going to be a work-those-lbs-off month.

The bigger news is that I’ve finished my first Open University module. Yep TU100: My Digital Life is done and dusted. I did the final online test (got about 96%) and turned in my final written assessment a few days ago (10 days early!), and now I have a month to kill before I officially start my next two modules. Although, as the material gets posted this month, I can always make an early start on things. In the mean time, I’m filling the gap with OpenLearn courses (doing one on the Internet of Everything at the mo) and job applications. Exciting stuff I know! I won’t get my degree module result until mid-October, so fingers crossed for a distinction grade. Fun thing, the OU Student Union got in contact with me asking to use my material unboxing photo from last year in some social media posts for the next intake. Which was cool.

I wonder if I’ll ever use the SENSE board again🤔….

Summer of Code, aka Computer says, “No”

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So I thought I’d test myself with the Open University’s Summer of Code. Each day, a new problem is set, requiring participants to write a script to solve it. It’s mainly for transitioning second to third years, but as I’ve done a bit of coding in my spare time in the past (using Python) I thought I’d give it a shot.

For my uni course, I’ve been using Sense to do assignment scripts, though not by choice. Sense is a basic programming language using command ‘blocks’, as opposed to having to write out the commands yourself. The OU uses this programming language to teach coding. Sense is ok, but it does ignore certain principles that Python uses, such as the first character in a string in Sense is at position 1, not 0 as it is in Python. It’s also pretty limiting … as I was to find out.

I managed, with a few hiccups, to do the first two day’s tasks using Sense. However, the third task highlighted how basic Sense is. There’s no easy way to convert from letters to the equivalent alphabet numbers. Or rather, not without using a hell of a lot of if-elseif-else blocks that would grind my laptop to a halt. It also didn’t help that it took me half an hour to actually figure out what the problem entailed, as it was written in a rather unclear fashion. After two hours of struggling, and realising I’d left my Python course notes several 100 miles away in Amsterdam, I had to give up. I was rather irked, to say the least. Especially, considering I’d aced the previous two tasks.

Day four wasn’t much better, but by this point, I was getting the impression it was because the questions were overly complicated, rather than the coding itself. If I couldn’t figure out how to do them on paper, how was I expected to do them in code? The tasks were supposed to take two hours to solve, but most of that time was taken up with me going, “WTF??” It also didn’t help that the questions would sometimes have mistakes in their convoluted explanations, making things even less clear.

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I gave myself a break from day 5, and tried afresh on day 6. This time, I did progress a little further in answering the question than I had the previous couple of days, but again, I got stymied, so I decided to call quits on the whole thing.

It wasn’t an entirely defeatist move. As it is, I’m also doing a free Open Learn badged course on “English: skills for learning“, which is designed to help “develop the English reading and writing skills needed to succeed” with university work. As I have my final module assignment to do (it’s a doozy), and as one of my next modules will be “English for academic purposes online” I prioritised, and figured out of the two time-sinks, learning how to write a proper assignment was more important than goofing around with unintelligible questions, and contrary scripts.

The past week or so has also made me realise I’ve pretty much forgotten all the Python I’d learnt. Though, in fairness, I haven’t touched the language since 2015. So it looks like I’m going to have to shoe-horn in some refresher learning. Codecademy do a lot of free programming courses, and I’ve already covered jQuery, HTML, CSS and Java with them. However, I did my Python with Coursera (when it used to be a good MOOC provider), which means I can do some Python refresher with Codecademy. I just need to find the time!

Decisions Decisions

The time finally arrived for me to choose my second lot of modules for my Open University degree, something that I’d been waiting excitedly for.

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As you may know, I chose to do the Open Degree, basically to give myself a bit more flexibility in the modules I can choose, and I’m basically doing Information and Computing Technology combined with Creative Writing. Sort of an ICT major, Writing minor kinda deal. I’m still in the midst of doing ‘My Digital Life’, which, though a little outdated (it’s the last time it’s running), I’ve found to be interesting and informative, but I had 60 credits left to fill, to complete what will technically be my first year of study. And so, choices had to be made.

Since beginning this degree, I’ve already known one of the other first year modules I wanted to take, which is ‘English for Academic Purposes Online’, and which’ll be my first languages module. But at 30 credits, this left me having to decide on another 30-pointer, which wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to learn a language, or retail management, or delve into essential mathematics. This left me with two options:

  1. An introductory statistics module.
  2. A module delving into robotics, networking and Linux.

The sensible part of my brain told me to do statistics. After all, I’m a scientist, and if I ever manage to get a science-based job, statistics may well be needed. The other part of my brain said, “But robots!” As I was having trouble deciding, I put some feelers out to my social media followers, asking what they’d do. To be honest, the masses weren’t much help. My Twitter poll got one vote, for robots, and my Facebook post got one comment, again for robots. However, the FB post was the clincher, as they basically said I could do a statistics course anytime, and thinking about it, they’re right. I’m sure if I did a Google search now, I could find any number of free statistics MOOCS online. So, with that in mind, I’ve chosen ‘Technologies in Practice’ as my third first-year module.

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These choices mean I also know what type of degree I’ll end up getting in six year’s time. My second and third years will be split 50:50 between computing and language modules, but my first is going to be split 75:25 between computing and language modules. Meaning the majority of my modules will be science ones, therefore, my final degree will be a BSc. Woo, another science degree!

As an aside, did you know the first year Open University modules don’t count to the final pass mark? I didn’t! I’ve been busting my hump to try and keep my overall grade for TU100 within distinction level, panicking whenever I’ve got a low(ish) mark, only to find I’m stress over nothing. Basically, I just need to get a passing grade to make it to the second year. Still, I guess it shows I’m making an effort, and setting my personal bar high.

But robots! Yay!

Once Bitten

I missed a weeks blog entry, mainly because I didn’t have much to say, but also because I got pissed off with the mark of my latest uni assessment, which put me in a bad frame of mind.

My previous Open University assessment came back at 100%. The last one was 82%. Now I will put my hand up, and admit I goofed up slightly when it came to laying out calculations (though taking marks off me because I wrote ‘seconds’ instead of just ‘s’ is a bit much). But a couple of other parts had been marked down for reasons that made me fume. Now, if you’ve ever done (or are doing) a course with the OU, you’ll no how much they beat it into you NOT TO PLAGIARISE! Mention your sources!  Acknowledge your sources! etc etc. So, when I was faced with summarising an article written by someone else, I took those warning sirens to heart, and made sure I acknowledged the author of the article whenever I mentioned his thoughts on something. Unfortunately, apparently, this is considered “reviewing” and article as opposed to “summarising” it, which lost me marks, gained me an admonishment for “not reading the question properly” and promptly made me annoyed. The second kick in the proverbial nuts, was another “you didn’t read the question properly!” Arguably, I had. The trouble was, I had translated the question’s meaning differently to what was apparently being asked, so again, lost marks. Ugh! Anyway, my next assignment comes with another ‘summarise the article’ type question, so I’ll be sure not to mention the author at all (except in the reference) and see what happens. I need to keep my overall percentage grade up as the OU is quite stingy when it comes to their 1st and 2:1 pass rate.

Beyond the aggravation of my assessment, I managed to catch a couple of films at the cinema, namely Kong: Skull Island, and Ghost in the Shell.

Kong: Skull Island

First up was Kong: Skull Island. It was a fairly entertaining film. Samuel L. Jackson’s character was a bit of a cliche in a ‘man’s better than animals’ kind of way, Tom Hiddleston’s was as easy on the eye as always, and it was [spoiler alert] nice that Kong actually survived the end of the film, unlike in King Kong, which had me bawling my eyes out.

The only real problem I had with the film was the ‘bad-guy’ monsters. Now I could suspend belief and believe that the creatures on the island had gone through some collective evolutionary gigantism, giving way to giant oxen, spiders, (unseen) ants, stick-bugs, and of course, apes. However, the monsters seemed completely out of place with everything else. The didn’t conform to a scaled-up creature, or even a prehistoric creature, so they ended up jarring against the backdrop of animal life. The were these two-legged, weird-skulled, things that would have been better-suited to a sci-fi film set on another planet.

Still, overall, it was an entertaining movie, and I’m glad I got to drool over Tom…I mean got to see it 😉

Ghost in the Shell

Prepare to be disappointed. Why? because I really enjoyed this film! I’m going to pass over the whole white-washing thing, as that’s an argument for another day, and (IMHO) not as clear cut when dealing with anime and manga, and just review the film based on the film itself.

Now, many years ago, I watched the original anime. It was cool, but it was also so long ago that I’ve forgotten most of it. I remembered the iconic jump scene, and Batou on his boat, but the story line itself has been lost from memory. So, overall, I went into the film fairly fresh. And you know what, it was a pretty darn good movie. My mate sulked at the end, but I think he’d been caught up in all the negative reviews, and had basically prepped himself to not like the film, and did just that. But I went in with hope, and wasn’t disappointed. The visuals were great, especially the imagining of the futuristic city. The plot was followable, which is something that can be an issue with anime films, whose writers interweave spirituality, visuals, and crazy ideas, to a point where they can overwhelm you. And I remembered I once had a crush on Batou…and now I do again.

The only thing that irked me was that Scarlett Johansson seemed to stomp around in a rather (for want of a better word) butch manner. I don’t recall her being that way as the Black Widow in Marvel, and I don’t recall the Major being all stooped and stompy in the original anime (but like I said, it’s been a while since I saw it), so I’m not sure what was going on there, but it was very distracting

To be honest, I think the white-washing argument pushed critics to instantly write-off this film, and hence turned the viewers against it before they’d even seen it, leading to it bombing in the cinema. This is a shame, as the film itself doesn’t deserve the full force of negativity it received. Very few films are perfect, but this isn’t as crap as the nay-sayers make it out to be, so go see it while you can.

Panic Stations!

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Well these past couple of weeks have been a bit of a freak out. After a stream of application rejections, one suddenly came up golden, leaving me to plan a trip up to Edinburgh, and create an award-winning presentation all in one week. Why is it the jobs I REALLY want, a) accept my application so I have to make a fool of myself at an interview, and b) require me to do a presentation. As if interviews aren’t bad enough for the socially anxious/awkward. It was like the St. Andrews University job all over again, and ho boy, did I die a death there!

Still, for a week I juggled a university TMA assignment with creating a presentation on critiquing the company’s social media account, and what I would do to enhance it. That was all fun and games!

Then this socially anxious bundle of nerves headed north for a stress-filled visit to my favourite city in the UK.

First came train problems. A signal failure down the line meant my connection in Llandudno was delayed by 10 minutes. I had a second connection at Warrington Bank Quay, with, you guessed it, a 10 minute gap between arrival and departure. I don’t know how the driver and conductor managed it, but he made up six minutes, giving me enough time to arrive and pee before my next train. Phew!

The weather was dry, but clearly cold, as the snow-capped mountains en route attested to.

It's a wee bit cold in Scotland 🏔⛄🌨 #scenery #scotland #snow #mountains #snowymountains #snowy #cold

A post shared by Kate Llewellin (@kllewellin_cetologist) on

The evening saw me at the Holiday Inn, eating hummus sandwiches using a chocolate wrapper as a plate, while I caught up with my social media stuff, and occasionally reviewing my presentation. That was until the power suddenly went out at 8:45. What was even more fun that the hotel’s water supply seems to be reliant on electric, so I had no drinkable water either. Defeated, I went to bed early. Was woken at 5am by the one light I’d accidentally left on suddenly springing to life. 8 hours it had taken them! The water took a little longer to recover. Brown’s okay only if it’s hot chocolate or coffee. Still, at least the radiator wasn’t reliant on electric, and I stayed toasty, while outside it hit zero. And as I lay in bed, the gibbons in the zoo next door began their eerie dawn chorus. Kinda like this….

The interview happened. I’ve had worse (*cough* *St Andrews* *cough*). Could’ve done a whole load better. Did learn one thing, and that was the zoo had a power cut too, so I doubt I’ll be able to get a refund for my shitty night.

So now it’s a waiting game for the next week until I hear back that I haven’t got it.

Novel update:

Manuscript

That’s a whole load of paper!

After giving my manuscript the once over with the spellchecker and grammar checker, I’ve finally printed it out for its first read through. Ah, the first read through…when you’ve realised everything you’ve written sounds like crap! The joys and self-doubts of being a writer!

 

Info Overload

First came power cuts, then came more power cuts, the came internet outages. How I managed to get anything done is beyond me, yet I did. Did two weeks worth of uni work in one week, got my first TMA back (mark much better than expected; phew!), did a couple of job applications, and finished my initial grammar and spell check of my 3rd novel’s manuscript. Living in rural Wales ain’t gonna slow this brain down!

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Mind you, my brain’s got a lot to attend to. Remember how I was so excited at rediscovering RSS feeds and Feedly? Well, I still like them, but jeeze, talk about info overload. The 20 per day slots (10 per day (when auto-scheduling) in Hootsuite, 10 max in Buffer) I usually struggle to fill have been filled and then some, thanks to the wealth of articles I’m collating. My posts now stretch several days ahead. Great if I have a day off, but it’s going to get to a point where I’m so ahead of myself, the posts will be scheduling when they’re old news. Either I need to pray for a slow news day, or failing that, at some point I’ll have to do a purge, and double up my Hootsuite schedule to clear the backlog. The internet giveth, and the internet bloweth away.