#100DaysOfCode – Week 5


Neither noisy house martins, nor the hottest May Day Bank Holiday on record, could stem my coding tide, and the start of week 5 saw me covering the basics of JSON APIs & Ajax with Free Code Camp, after which, I had a little detour to Codecademy to learn the basics of PHP.

In actuality, Codecademy’s PHP course has been discontinued, and if you go straight to their website, it’s not findable. However, they’ve not actually deleted it fully, and Google remembers all (unless EU law dictates otherwise). So when I did a search for free PHP courses, Google threw it up. It doesn’t completely work, as whenever you finish off a section of the course it only registers as 1% complete, but you still get the badges associated with completing each section, and the course code itself still works.

Honestly, I had no idea what PHP was about, having never touched it before, but it turns out it’s relatively simple. Basically, it’s like the love-child of HTML and JavaScript, and instead of writing all your JS code in script tags at the top of your page, you can pop it in the <?php ?> tags anywhere in your HTML code, and it can generate numbers, create lists, and add text directly to the web page. In many ways, it’s simpler than JS, except objects, which are a bit more convoluted when it comes to creating them.

Overall, I feel as if I’ve got the hang of basic PHP, so I’ll be ready for my Open University module in Web Technologies come Autumn. I still need to go over the basics of SQL, but I think I’ll go back to Free Code Camp and do a couple of their Intermediate Front End Development Projects first, just to mix things up a bit.

And what do I mean by noisy house martins? Well, the little, feathered, crap-machines that built a nest over the window of my room last year returned in late April, and have finally settled down to nest, and boy, do they like to argue with each other….

This is 12 hours a day, 7 days a week! How I missed them!


Choosing a New Path at the OU

Recently, I was mooching about the Open University’s revamped study pages, when I stumbled across a widget that lets you plan out your future module choices. This got me thinking more in-depth about what path I wanted to follow.

monitor-1307227_1280As I’ve said before, I’m doing an Open Degree, which gives me plenty of flexibility, but I’ve chosen to follow, more or less, the Computer Science route, but with the two Creative Writing modules thrown in. But the question was, what Computer Science route? The OU provides lots of different ICT modules. Some big (60 points), like the now dearly departed My Digital Life (TU100) was, and others small (30 points), like Technologies in Practice (TM129) is. Luckily I had a vague notion of what I was interested in, namely web page design, and as it happens, the OU has a path for that.

For the Open Degree, the OU helpfully provides lots of different study plans based on possible routes of interest, as (and speaking from experience) choosing what to do when given free module reign can be fairly daunting and confusing. I happened to have a bit more of a direction in mind, as I wanted to make a bespoke degree that would help me with web communications, but I still wasn’t sure what modules to do. However, one of the routes created by the OU happens to be Web Development…

This route provides an insight into the internet technologies required to design and create web, cloud and mobile applications and services together with an appreciation of both technical and business perspectives. [OU website]

Stumbling across this has made me completely rethink what I was going to study in the second year. I had planned on doing Communication and Information Technologies (TM255), which (while it contains the word communications) focuses more on data sharing, wireless networks, online collaboration and the like, which, if I’m honest, wasn’t really the path I wanted to take. But thanks to the route map, I’ve shifted focus, and plan to do two half-modules in its place, namely Object-Oriented Java Programming (M250) and Web Technologies (TT284). This, in turn, led me to think about my third-year modules, and given that some of the modules I want to take will be ending during my duration of study, I had to plan carefully what I wanted to take and when.

Subsequently, I made a thing…..

Screenshot at 2018-07-09 18-54-29
*I May have to wait until I complete the previous IT module, or I may be able to start it at the same time

I’m undecided between TM356 and TM352, but I should have a better idea of things once I’ve done the second year modules. TM356 has an exam as part of its marking process, and I don’t do well in exams. Being able to do coursework, and having time to consider my answers, is way better for me. Conversely, TM356 ends in a project, which is a bit impractical, seeing as my final module is also a project. Which means, if I do the modules simultaneously, I’ll be having to work on two projects simultaneously (unless I can do the same project for both). It’s a lot to think about, but thankfully I have a few years to go before I have to make a hard and fast decision.

Plus, during the holiday between the first and second year, I can do a free Java course to prep myself.

Actually, doing all this has got me quite excited for my future studies. Knowing what I want to study, and when it’s coming up, has got me quite invigorated. Kinda makes me sad it takes so long to complete a module, and then wait for the next to start.

A Second Life in Second Life

So I’ve recently done a section on virtual worlds in my Open University module (My Digital Life), and a lot of it was about the use of Second Life in the realms of education, business and pleasure. It got me thinking and intrigued about the place again. Many years ago I tried logging in, but my old PC simply couldn’t handle it, and my foray into the world died before it even started.

By the end of the section, I had succumbed to curiosity. Armed with my more powerful Linux laptop, I signed up again, got a new avatar, and I entered the world at the OU’s remaining island (Deep Think).

I didn’t meet anybody while I was there, which was probably a good thing. It gave me a chance to wander round and get a feel of the place undisturbed. But more importantly, I had major problems using the edit avatar menu, and on several occasions I inadvertently ended up butt naked. Being alone certainly saved my avatar’s blushes.

Second Life_001

I’ve called my cat Mor’du

After my wander, I went and visited the International Space Flight Museum, which was actually pretty cool.


I went back a couple of times, mainly to tweak my avatar’s look. I also visited another museum, namely the Museum of Natural History of Vienna, where I looked at dinosaurs, and managed to get trapped under the floor. But again, I didn’t see anyone else.

Do I think I’ll be going back to Second Life? Probably not. But it’s handy having an avatar if a get-together is ever on the cards.

RSS Romance

So this week was another below average hours study week for my university course, and I did just over 10 hours. However, this week was an introduction week to HTML, CSS, and RSS. HTML and CSS I’ve done before, via Codecademy (a site with free programming courses), so although the introductory theory was new to me in places, using it was not, and marking up text was not a new and scary undertaking.


It was the RSS section that came as a bit of a revelation. Now, I have dabbled in RSS before; MANY years ago. I forget the program I used for it, but I have a feeling it’s now defunct. For those who don’t know, many online news sources provide RSS feeds of their articles. They tend to be found via the orange wi-fi-like symbol above. Whenever a news article is added, the RSS feed gets updated through the use of XML (a kind of organisation-specific html). Then, using a News Reader, you can gather theses different feeds together in one place, sort them into different topics, and use them to keep track of recent news and articles. Back when I was using RSS feeds for the first time, not many outlets used them. it took a lot of Googling to find relevant RSS feeds, and in the end, I gave up using them. These days, most respected outlets provide RSS feeds, or so I found out via this weeks study, and with that revelation, I’ve fallen back in love with RSS feeds.

For part of the in-module assessment, I had to use a News Reader, and add the BBC’s technology RSS feed to it. I went with Feedly, as this seems to be the top Reader out there. It was a short and simple task, but raised the question: What other RSS feeds are there out there, and would they be useful to me? Turns out, it’s a lot, and yes.

So why are RSS feeds important to me? As someone who maintains several social media sites for herself (both for her marine biologist persona, and her sci-fi novelist persona) as well as one for the marine charity MARINElife, and sources articles for the Aquarium Welfare Association, being able to hunt for suitable news stories effectively is important. Up to now, I’d basically been using Google’s personalised news sections, and searching which articles had been added within the past 24 hours. This, of course, was a bit limited, as well as laborious. Now, using Feedly, I can grab the RSS feeds from appropriate sites, including several scientific journal sites, and quickly run my eye over them for any new posts. I can even add my personalised news sections from Google. Once done, I can mark the articles off as read, and they won’t show up again in my feed. A total time saver!

This, along with the prevalence of RSS feeds from sites, makes for many more post options. Some sites break their feeds down into topics. Some sites even allow you to create an advanced search, and then save the results as an RSS feed. Both of which making for a more relevant feed in News Reader. I spent a fun few days scouring websites for their feeds, and plugging them into Feedly….

So now I have a new quiver in my bow with regards to social media strategy and content curation. See, the Open University teaches you stuff.

This week I do my first proper assessment; a dreaded TMA. Fingers crossed that I get a good mark.

I put a call in about my OU pencil case. It hasn’t even been sent yet *frowny face*.

Google’s Digital Garage – A Review

It all started with Facebook winning the war with Adblock. The sponsored posts and ads that I didn’t want to see cluttering up my feed came back with a vengeance. How I rolled my eyes, after all, it’s bad enough that Facebook keeps changing my feed back to ‘Top Stories’ without having to wade through, what I consider, irrelevant tat. However, one advert kept popping up repeatedly in my timeline that piqued my interest, that being the one advertising Google’s Digital Garage.

What got me intrigued was that a) it was about marketing and the web, and b) it was free. I’m always up for a bit of free training, and as I wanted to learn more about SEO and the like for both marketing my novels, and for gaining extra skills in the realm of social media with the hopes of getting a job, I decided to have a look.

Briefly, the Digital Garage provides “free tutorials from Google on everything from your website to online marketing and beyond. Choose the topics you want to learn, or complete the whole online course for a certification from Google and IAB Europe.”

I signed up using my Google account, after which it asked me some questions about my online needs. Using my answers, the site formulated my personal learning plan, picking select modules from its selection of 23. For me that was 9 modules. Each module came with 3 to 6 videos, which were, on average, about 3 minutes long (overall they ranged between 3 and 6 minutes long).

After each video was a short quiz, and each module ended with a longer quiz. Once I’d watched all the videos, and passed all the quizzes for my selected modules, all the rest of the modules became unlocked, and I could work through them to gain a final certificate. Which I did….


The videos were easy to watch, and each module can probably be completed in less than an hour. So basically, if you do a module a day, the whole course will take less than 23 days. The quizzes were pretty simple, but if you got any questions wrong you could take them again until you got 100%. The ease of the quizzes might seem a bit of a cop out to some, as basically you can keep trying the answers until you get full marks, but to be honest, the video content is the more important thing.


My completed Digital Garage modules

I have to say, I genuinely learnt some new things, had a few aha moments, and made a load of notes. Now, not every module was relevant to me, for instance, creating a mobile app is probably not something I’ll need to do, but the seeds of knowledge are there should I ever work for a company that might benefit from one. I’ve gained a bit more knowledge about web content, keywords, SEO, and becoming more visible on the web, which as an indie-author is important. Starting up my blog again has been as a direct result of doing the Digital Garage.

Would I recommend doing the Digital Garage? Yes. As I said, it doesn’t take long to do, even if you only do an hour a day, and your online strategy may benefit from the information provided in the videos. To be honest, you have nothing to lose in doing it. And once you’ve completed it you get a nice certificate that you can show off on the likes of LinkedIn.