Sunday, August 31, 2014

Creative Zen

My morning routine involves listening to the radio as I go about doing my daily chores. I know many people recommend not listening to the radio first thing in the morning (why worry about the world right at the start of a perfect day?) But I like local radios – they give me a gist of news, a little bit of music and a whole lot of chatter about local happenings at the comfort of my home without really stopping me from going about doing my stuff.

Today morning, as I casually turned on my radio, it just dawned on me – My cute little radio/ MP3 player has spent 10 years with me. A decade of existence! Crazy. It comes in the “disposable electronics” category. The kind which you are supposed to throw and buy a new one every 2 years. That very moment, I decided I am gonna write a post about it.

So my MP3/Radio is – Creative Zen Nano Plus. 512MB of MP3 goodness. I bought it in 2004. Small, compact and runs on a AAA battery. I found a YouTube video for you to adore.

Creative Zen Nano Plus

I know most of you swear by your iPod. But somehow I never ever had an Apple device. I started off with a Sansa clip, quickly followed by this Creative one.

Which brings me to the point that – Creative has been making really amazing and affordable products for a long while. It however never gets that much love and attention from the tech press.

I remember, in my first computer, I had specifically requested my hardware vendor to get me a Creative Sound Blaster 16 card. And then I had a Creative Infra Multimedia system with a CD-ROM Drive and a remote from them in the computer.

Somewhere along the way, Creative lost out to the other companies in the arena. Though they still make really good speakers and headphones, I don’t see them getting the attention like Beats by Dr Dre or Sennheiser and the likes.

Anyway, besides my MP3, I still got a few speakers lying around the house that are Creative. And I hope my Creative Zen Nano Plus continues to entertain me for years to come.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Speaking assignment

Sorry for disappearing for a while. I had the opportunity to speak in a conference. The topic – Visualizing Big Data. I spent unreasonable amount of time researching for it. I had a 30 minute slot. Which meant, I didn’t have to speak more than 20 minutes. 3 weeks of after-work research for it was totally not needed.

Most of my knowledge of Visualization I can attribute to 3 individuals – Edward Tufte, Stephen Few and Nathan Yau. If you read their books and follow their blogs, you are pretty much covered as far as “talking” about Visualization is concerned.

Big data is a bigger mess. There is no formal definition for it (or I didn’t find one!). And every company and marketer twists it to their own liking.

This was the first time I was very careful about using attributions in my PowerPoint presentations. All images I used were Creative Commons (and I attributed them using the right convention). I spent a lot of time searching for the “right” images (using Flickr and Google) so that I inadvertently don’t violate any licenses. If you have been confused about proper attribution, I highly recommend reading this link.

So what did I learn? If you are the 4th speaker, people don’t really pay much attention. They are hungry and waiting for food. Most of them are also stuck to their phone or are just staring at you blankly without really listening. Also, as a speaker, it doesn’t matter how much you really understand. It is more important on how much you can simplify and convey your ideas. I still got a long way to go to be a good orator. But I had fun. And now, I am back to my lazy old self.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Learning online

If you aren’t living under a rock, then you are probably aware of the revolution that is sweeping education. It is called Massive Open Online Course (MooC). Almost every big university I know of, now has its own online course. Besides, you got the good old ones like Coursera. Finally, even SAP has got into the game with its Open SAP content. Education has been revolutionized for ever. There will be a time when people will no longer have to go to Universities to get a degree. We will all study online and study continuous till we leave for our heavenly abode.

I have been trying to study MooCs over the last 2 years. After over 3 failed attempts (in which I left the course half way – got bored or over whelmed) I finally managed to complete 5 courses now. That makes me a self-proclaimed expert. So here is what I have learnt after several botched attempts:

You have to dedicate time for studying in your week – Yup if you don’t plan and allocate time to it just like every other activity, you won’t have time to study. Make sure you plan your calendar for the week with ample time slots for studying.

You need more time to study than you think you do – Most courses say 4-5 hours of study time required per week. Trust me, they are just trying to make you feel good. On an average every week’s worth of lectures and test take me anywhere between 10-20 hours of work depending on how well I can concentrate.

Load your portable device with the lectures – Yeah, your smartphone ain’t for candy crush and Facebook only. Make time to read and listen to your MooC lectures during your daily commutes. Commutes are the best times to listen to the lectures. It is much better time spent than staring at your co-passengers.

Read the course discussion forums – Most course assignments are difficult. The forums are a treasure house of useful information. These forums are almost always well curated and well managed by the professor and the TA so spend ample amount of time to go through them and read the notes.

Practice to assimilate what you learnt – While you can clear the course and get a certificate by following what I mentioned above, online learning doesn’t ever give you the desired amount of practice that you need to master anything. So, you have to spend a lot of time beyond your course to really sit, practice and imbibe whatever you learnt.