Lessons From The Haunt

Both 2016 and 2017 have represented a change in season for my life. Likely, the 2017 Halloween season was my last as a full-season haunted house actor – at least for a while. As I move on to yet another new chapter, I’m amazed at how much the haunt taught me as a person.

In no particular order, I present the 10 life lessons I learned from working in a haunted house over many Halloween seasons. Hopefully, they’ll provide some amusement and a glimpse behind the scenes others might like. Continue reading “Lessons From The Haunt”

Maker Faire KC 2014

Since Fin was out of town, I took the opportunity to Geek-it-up at the Maker Faire Kansas City, and grabbed Blazed to explore.

The Make people threw a fairly decent party, both inside and outside Union Station. A solid mix of people were present. I spotted everyone there from dirty hippies to Glassholes.

We caught the “Coke and Mentos” guys doing a demo.

(Video is recording from another fair / year / someone else, but the presentation was similar).

We saw people building boats from trash.

There were people showing off plants:

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And electric cars:

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And Tesla Coils playing music:

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Inside, there were people trying to sell stuff. Some really cool local businesses, some big businesses, and a lot of kick starter and artish projects. Microsoft gave a moderately creepy demo of the X-Box One and the capabilities of the new Kinect.

I’d recommend a visit for all the nerds and non-nerds out there next year.

MOOCs, Coursera, and friends

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) turn the internet back toward education from entertainment. Multiple universities have toyed with the idea of posting classes online. MIT was one of the initial pioneers, publishing multiple lectures online with their “open courseware” initiative. The whole idea of open courseware opened a fairly significant debate with academics denouncing the quality of instruction or impacts to research.

Coursera takes the earlier MOOC initiatives and builds on them. Partnering with University programs, several extension or continuing ed classes have been published. I ran across the site while visiting a forum, with multiple people agreeing to jump in to a single class.

Let’s take a look at a few common questions I’ve seen posed about the MOOC experience.

Is it effective?

I completed the course “Write Like Mozart”, an introduction to classical music theory and composition. While I’ve played piano for a long while, theory has always been my weak point. Overrall, I left the course knowing a lot more about chord progressions, classical composition style guidlines, and an applied knowledge to several terms.

Effective? In this class, definitely. However, I do feel that the MOOC format (being “open”), inherently creates difficulties for those offering the courses. Write Like Mozart was largely INTRODUCTORY material, not a detailed dive into classical theory. This seems a common thread to all of the Coursera offerings. There is a complete lack of a development track for more complicated subjects.

What is the quality?

Courses at Coursera seem to be fairly over the map. Some classes are really awesome, some seem poor at best. The “Write Like Mozart” and Berklee School Of Music series were really well designed and implemented. I visited a few of the engineering classes, and wasn’t all that impressed.

Most courses have some fairly substantial weight behind them. The instructors themselves are qualified. However, some just aren’t really good. I see a mix of extremely active, involved teachers, and completely hands off. Each class has a different feel. I see a significant amount of community around a few. These are the gems. Then, there’s a few that leave me scratching my head.

The ones I’ve been working through or “auditing” have been very much worth the time.

What about interaction with other students?

In college, I joined a sum total of 2 study groups. And one, simply because there was a girl. Funny enough, I think I actually had significantly MORE interaction with other students through the MOOC format. Now, this wasn’t face to face, but through typed messages on a message board. Is that the same quality of idea exchange? I’d say it’s different. Each has some benefits.

College can definitely be significantly more social than the MOOC format.

Won’t Research Funding Die if this takes off!?

I’ve seen this objection from several academics. If MOOCs become popular, will students stop going to real college – instead opting for free online equivalents? Frankly, maybe the university systems NEEDS some house cleaning.

I’d need to drop at least a thousand dollars for the priviledge of taking a single college class. Much less gathering the credits I need to graduate. What horror – that information can be shared online for free!

Really though, I don’t think these sorts of classes provide the full support structure that an actual university does. And if they did, you’d see a bigger dollar figure required to work through them. I hope these sites being pushing full degrees. It’d reveal just how grotesque the current price of education is.

Real life classes still have an edge. There’s nothing that compares to asking a professor questions directly, visiting during office hours, or being able to interact with a full class. Also, there’s something to the idea of a SMALLER class. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd.

Conclusion

I’m a fan of Coursera overall. The site feels well designed, the classes are engaging, and the community is positive and supportive. I don’t think I’d compare it to my time in college. Of course, as an adult my goals are different. I hope more sites like Coursera pop up over time. After all, it’s what the internet was built for.

For those interested, my final project in “Write Like Mozart” is open for listening or viewing Noteflight.com.

— Fate

Review: No Impact Man


Fin and I have been on a documentary kick here lately, so when our next movie choice came up, we decided on “No Impact Man”. Fin was fairly excited to see it – “No Impact Man” is one of several environmentalist blogs she follows. As far as documentaries go, the film itself was fairly interesting and well put together.

Colin Beavan decides to put his views into action by making “no impact” on the environment for a year. He does this by removing various modern conveniences from his life (the biggest of which is apparently toilet paper), and attempts to reduce the amount of trash he outputs.

While I found the film interesting, I don’t think it really had any point besides being something of a human interest film. Other documentaries do a far better job of explaining the effects of modern agriculture, pollution, or attempting to be “Green”. However, seeing some of the normal arguments environmentalists might have with each other, or the general public, did provide some food for thought. The value of being an environmentalist is taken as a given at the start of the film. Lacking however, was any real advice on how to put ideas into action – most of the things highlighted in the film weren’t things everyday people would find useful.

If documentaries are your thing or you’ve heard about “No Impact Man” otherwise, you might want to watch it. Unlike some other movies I’ve seen, it doesn’t hit the level of “need to see” or even my giving a strong recommendation.

That said, while it is a documentary, be warned if you read further for spoilers.

Watching the documentary, I do have some very strong thoughts as to environmentalism and what an environmentalist lifestyle would be like. Now, I’d like to start by saying that the primary focus (for me) of writing here isn’t exactly environmentalism. It’s about focusing on the reality of the world around us. At one point in this movie, an older New York hippie highlights the hypocrisy of Mr. Beavan’s lifestyle when his wife writes for Business Week. That one moment highlighted my main objections to the whole idea of his “No Impact”.

Like it or not, the mere act of being alive has an impact. Nature isn’t an all giving kind and nurturing place with fluffy bunnies and puppies that never grow up. The documentary never addressed it, but I found myself wondering throughout the movie if the “No Impact” show piece wasn’t actually at times, causing WORSE impact for the environment. After removing electricity, “No Impact Man” continues to use gas service (lighting an oven with a match) and water service. He enjoys fruit cooled by ice from his neighbour’s freezer. He keeps light at night using candles. Not having the thermostat turned to warm the apartment during the winter, means his apartment mates are subsiding his heat. These examples to me is where “No Impact Man” moved from environmental activist to performing a stunt.

Sadly, part of that stunt seems to be the message “going back in time is an improvement”. The “how things were done in the past is better” idea proves just as fallacious as the “new is better” idea. When it comes down to it, so much of what we’ve discovered makes our lives easier and simpler. Our ability to modify the environment and live in luxury should come with a sense of responsibility.

About halfway through the film, it occurred to me that a lot of what I saw was only sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. I don’t think good things come when people sacrifice to assuage their guilt, it comes when people decide to take responsibility for their actions. The difference is subtle, but it is there.

The Fear Continues

On Friday, the science project of an 11 year old resulted in the evacuation of a middle school. A 2 liter bottle with “wires sticking out”? It must be a bomb! Hackaday (a nerd blog) has a great editorial on the misgivings of people seeing home made electronics.

Sadly, these responses don’t seem limited to just electronics anymore. Any number of backyard projects insight an odd mix of fear and anger – line drying of clothes, making your own soap or laundry detergent, home construction projects / DIY jobs, backyard gardens, the list goes on.

At what point did we as a society decide that it must be purchased at the store to be acceptable?

Sad, so very sad.