Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

A flock of evening IT seminars

Not so long ago, the only IT seminars put on locally were those by the BCS and usually only about once a month over the winter months with very much the same faces seen at every one.

Roll that on a decade or so and there seem to be seminars coming out of the woodwork everywhere. This week there were two quite different but equally good ones.

First off was a very interesting perspective of how agile methods are used in CME. Although broadly aimed at the development community, it had enough background for others in the IT community to pick up on it. This was one of those from the BCS series and oddly, despite there being hundreds if not thousands more IT jobs locally now, the number attending was much the same as it has always been for BCS events. That unchanging number is a bit sad really as some other non-BCS events can have hundreds of people at them these days, so why not the BCS ones?

The next day was something of a marathon ISACA one on COBIT that ran on for around two hours. That’s something of a specialist field so it wasn’t surprising to see just a handful of attendees for what turned out to be a surprisingly comprehensive overview of the COBIT methodology. The ISACA events are quite frequently attended by a hundred or more people but it does vary from topic to topic and speaker to speaker.

Over the course of a year there are quite a number of such talks. By far the best attended are generally the ISACA and BASH ones representing the IT security and IT development communities with a continual stream of niche ones at Farset Labs.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Factoring in varying intensity in your choice of Open University courses

In theory it’s easy to calculate the amount of time that you need to set aside to do an OU course. On the face of it the only complication is that you need to do one course to let you estimate the scaling factor to apply to their estimates. Thus they quote 16 hours a week for a 60 point course and 8 for a 30 point course; my normal scaling factor is 1/2 so that generally makes it more like 6 hours for a 16 pointer and around 3 for a 30 pointer.

You might think that they’d quote around 3 hours a week for a 15 pointer but they’re run over a shorter time so generally it’s around 8 hours that they quote and sometimes as much as 11. Likewise, not all 30 point courses run over 9 months these days: those run over 5 months quote 11 hours a week rather than 8.

What’s also noticeable is that for the more intense courses (i.e. those run over shorter periods) the scale factor to apply is different. Thus for A251 I found that it took more than my predicted 5 hours a week throughout and a whole lot more in the final week to do the ECA. Also, you’ll find that courses largely presented online can seem to take more time in that you have to be online quite often to do them and can’t do your own thing as is the case for most OU courses.

In times gone by the way to gauge the intensity of a course was simply to ask those who’d done it. With a bit of luck you’d find someone who’d done both a course you’d already done and one you were thinking of doing. Thus I know that S283 that I haven’t done yet will be quite a bit easier than S282 which I have done. Unfortunately, with the demise of FirstClass, this is becoming much more of a hit and miss affair and the option of searching for blogs describing courses doesn’t turn up a whole lot (although if you’re doing science, check out Julian’s blog which has blow by blow descriptions of all the courses he’s done).

As it stands right now, there’s very little to go on out there and it can be conflicting too. For instance S205 is described both as extremely difficult and as little beyond A-level. Having read through some of it, it does seem to be at the easier end of the scale but that might be down to me comparing it to S204. You certainly need to read the course descriptions more closely these days, have a look at the course materials in your regional centre, ask the students in your tutor group and try FirstClass too.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Catching up on the reading at the library

Thanks to the massive amount of work that the final course assessment of the World Archaeology course entailed, I recently rediscovered the benefits of studying in the local library. Quite why it should be so, I don’t know, but I find that I get through a considerably greater amount of work in the library than elsewhere.

It’s not that I use the library resources (ie the books) whilst in the library either. Most of the time I take along the little laptop with the course text and, if I’m working on an assignment, sometimes the baby computer as well. So, how come with exactly the same kit at home or wherever, I don’t get the same amount of work done? I’m not really sure but maybe it’s something to do with the combination of actually sitting up at a desk together with being somewhere that I’ve come to associate with studying. Whatever it is, I get much more done in an hour there than I do in several elsewhere.

The archaeology course is out of the way now and the concentration has moved on to finishing the microbes course, the latest client-side assignment and the biology reading and notes. This morning ended up being very much a biology notes session during which I caught up on the biology notes (a once a month activity as I complete each book). Actually, I’m a bit ahead with the notes so I’ve had a bit of a preview of what’s coming up in biology.

The problem with the biology course is that there’s just so much of it. Moreover, it seems like almost every topic is an overview of the next topic lately. Thus we’ve gone from looking at the diversity of life in the first book, then in more detail on life in the second to highlight the uniformity of life and in the third book it’s picking apart the components of life from cells, through the components within the cells to, so far, how the various membranes work. Real-life useful topic from yesterday was how come bananas go off in the fridge when the microbe activity slows down in the cold: it’s because their cell membranes break down thus letting in the enzymes that cause the over-ripening.

Interestingly, I find that I make more progress with the biology when I read the real book than when I read it on either the reader or computer. That seems to be down to the writing style used which requires more referring to adjacent pages. Moving to reading the actual book has made my 10 pages a day target much more easily attainable.

Just arrived is The Greatest Benefit to Mankind which is one of the texts for the history of medicine course that me and Wendy have pencilled in for this October. At over 700 pages of text it’s something of a chunky book but seems quite readable. I’m hoping to get a reasonable way into that before the end of July when I’ll need to make my decision about the course.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Course choice time again as Open University registration opens

The registration for the Open University October start courses opens in mid-March so it’s time to start thinking in more detail about the courses to be done in the coming year.

Ordinarily, it would be a relatively simple choice for me as I’m plugging away with the Life Sciences degree so next up would be either of the February start courses S320 Infectious disease (or, rather, the new edition of it) or S377 Molecular and cell biology (on its penultimate run). Indeed, one or other of those is currently in my “definite” list for Feb 2012 along with the residential SXR376 Molecular basis of human disease.

However, for work reasons it looks like I should really be doing M255 Object-oriented programming with Java starting in October. Which creates a slight problem as a) it’s on its penultimate run (never good for an IT course) and b) I could do with doing something in the line of Life Sciences so that I hit 360 points by 2014 when that qualification ends. Point a is particularly bad as I want to do something in the object-oriented programming as a knowledge update so it doesn’t seem like a good plan to do a course that’s been replaced the following year: in practical terms the existing M255 is around 8 or 9 years out of date.

On the life sciences front, S205 The molecular world is something I’d like to do and is something that would help S377 no end. However, it’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll be doing S377 in February which means that I may as well do S205 later. I’d also like to get back into the psychology with DSE212 in October which would mean I could possibly finish the psychology degree in 2015 more or less alongside the life sciences one although it would mean two residentials in 2012. And then there’s A218 Medicine and society in Europe which counts towards life sciences and which is one of those seriously interesting courses that I’d like to do at some point. Finally, there’s SDK228 The science of the mind: investigating mental health which counts as life sciences but, oddly, not as psychology.

I don’t know what to do!

I’ve nearly talked myself out of M255 as it seems too dated. S205 seems to be out for now as I wouldn’t be far enough along with it prior to starting S377. DSE212 is sort-of out as I think the workload in combination with S377 would be a bit much and there’s the two residentials to consider too. SDK228 looks a bit too social-sciencey for me. Which leaves A218. For now anyway.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Racing ahead, keeping ahead or just sticking to the Open University course schedule

Whenever the subject of keeping to the official timetable or deviating from it on an Open University course is raised, the argument nearly always gets heated.

Up until a few years ago it wasn’t an issue as the OU sent out the course material no more than a week or two ahead of the course start date. Thus, except for those that planned on packing in a couple of weeks worth of work for a period, by and large everyone was following the official course schedule. Then it all changed. Around four years ago they started sending out the materials when they were ready so I ended up getting the materials for one of my Spanish courses almost three months ahead of time. Sense seemed to prevail after that and they now aim to get the materials out around a month early although generally speaking it seems more like six weeks early.

So now, if you start the course when the material arrives you’ll find yourself running four to six weeks ahead of the official schedule. And that’s where the differences of opinion arise. For example, in the computing course I’m doing at the moment you’re limited to being at most two weeks ahead which is too much for some, not enough for others and just right for nobody apparently if the ongoing debates in various places are anything to go by. To be fair, there’s a particular issue with the TT courses in that the material is drip-fed week by week just two weeks in advance which, for me, is a real pain. For all other courses, pretty much all the course materials turn up around a month before the course begins.

So, should you start early, wait ’til the course officially starts or build up even more of a lead-time on the official timetable? That’s really down to you. For me around a month in advance works well. It’s enough to deal with lifes ups and downs and it’s not too much that you become detached from the tutorials. OU degree programmes run on for so long that you’re bound to hit all kinds of real-life issues that’ll take several weeks out of your own schedule. Those with courses starting in October will have Christmas to contend with, the February starts will have the summer; in both cases you’re going to “lose” at least a couple of weeks. Then there are more major things like holidays, weddings, births and whatnot that can easily take a few more weeks out. On the whole, I’ve found that a four week lead can cope with just about anything but, of course, your life will be different.

On the other hand, running in lock step with the official timetable means that you’re always at the right spot in the course when the tutorials come around, at least if nothing has happened. The problem is that things do happen which is why it’s quite common to have forum messages asking in panic what to do when you’re X weeks behind and those talking of dropping out of the course. Great idea if nothing happens in real-life, not so good if anything does.

Finally, there’s the racing ahead approach. That’s fine if there’s no exam at the end but if there is then you’ll finish the course months early and, more importantly, months before the exam which can make revision more difficult as there’ll be a long gap between the end of your study and the exam itself. Tutorials become pointless as you’ll have finished the corresponding TMA two tutorials ago.

If you’re one of the crazy people doing multiple courses, a bit of lead-time is essential to avoid logjams of assignments; four weeks can handle up to four courses although having done just that in 2010 I wouldn’t recommend it

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.