01 October 2005

Random Ramblings: More on E-Learning, Portable Firefox

Coincidences. In the aftermath of my post of MIT's OpenCourseWare, there was an article in this week's Post Database on the Thailand Cyber University (TCU). This Thai e-learning site is attempting to be a clearinghouse for free courseware. But it's just getting started, as evidenced by the statistics posted on its front page:
  • # Students: 3,655
  • # Instructors: 192
  • # Lessons available: 121
  • # Courses available: 0
  • # Participating universities: 5
Of course, it's unfair to compare newly established TCU with MIT, which has been in existence since the mid 1800's. But it may be worth keeping tabs on if you're interested in this sort of thing.

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One more thing I didn't mention in my recent posts on John Haller's portable apps. While my emphasis was on installing the software on removable media such as thumb drives, it should hardly come as a surprise that the program can also be installed on regular hard disk partitions. But why would you want to do this? After all, you can always install the regular version of Firefox on your hard disk.

Well, not always. There ARE indeed situations where/when you CANNOT install the regular version of Firefox. For example, under more the recent versions of Windows, if the logged in user is defined as a regular "User" (as opposed to a "Power User"), you won't be able to install programs into C:\Program Files. Granted, you probably won't find yourself in this situation with your OWN computer (chances are, you'll be an "Adminstrator", not a terribly good idea either for that matter). However, if you are using a "public" computer, such as one at an Internet café, a hotel, an airport lounge or something similar, there IS a VERY GOOD chance that this and other security measures have been put place to prevent you from installing programs and from doing things that can mess up the system. For example, access to the "Run" command and Windows Explorer may have been removed.

Since none of the Portable apps require installation - merely extraction - it's more difficult to prevent you from installing it on the desired hard drive. Of course, the whys and wherefores come into play again. Why would you want to install a program on a computer that the proprietor presumably wishes you not to? Answer: For speed and convenience; maybe also to minimize the chances of leaving your thumb drive connected for lengthy periods of time and thus, risk getting infected by who knows what arise.

OK, not a major point. But I just thought you'd like to know that you have the option of doing this.

25 September 2005

Random Ramblings: MIT OpenCourseWare

While visiting the Creative Commons website (Lawrence Lessig's et al's brainchild), I clicked on the "Education" link to browse what's there. That in turn led me to the Massachusett's Institute of Technology's OpenCourseWare site. OCW is billed as "a free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world." If you've always wanted to attend MIT (I did, but alas, they didn't want me to), this is a great chance to take some of their courses - especially if you're too busy or simply past the age of hobnobbing with kids in their late teens.

As the blurb above states, the courses are free - and what's more, they don't even require registration. Available are both undergraduate AND graduate courses in a wide range of discplines. The courses come with a syllabus, reading list, assignments/problem sets, lecture notes, and/or even exams (gak!). What you don't get though, is access to MIT instructors. Rather, if you wish some interaction, there's usually an online forum of other students taking the same course where you can shoot the bull.

Before you get too excited about the implications of OCW, it should be noted that taking these online courses cannot/will not/will never count towards an MIT degree. But at least you will get the satisfaction of having taken MIT caliber courseware. I'm impressed and gratified that an elite institution such as MIT would release its courseware in such a way. Having gone back to school a few years ago, I know the social awkwardness of such an undertaking, the frustration of have overpriced bookware forced on you, and the utter boredom of having to take certain required/prerequisite courses despite having significant life experiences. Thus, such alternative means of knowledge building is appealing to me.

The extent of computer knowledge available free on the Internet is already breathtaking and still ever growing. Hopefully, when other institutions of learning take the same road as MIT, a universe of academic knowledge will become available as well.

19 September 2005

Post Database: Identifying Unknown Music CD's

There was a letter to Post Database's Helpdesk last week (September 14, 2005) asking how one can identify songs on unlabelled music CD's. Wanda gave a logical answer for CD's containing MP3's, but left up in the air what to do with regular music CD's. Actually, there's a very simple solution: just install any music CD ripper that's capable of looking up Gracenote's CDDB music database or something similar like freedb. The ripper will attempt to identify the CD by looking up these databases and provide information on the artist, album title, date released, song titles, etc. This works best with popular commercial music CD's; local music CD's may not be sufficiently documented in these databases.

I know for a fact that this works with CDex, although you will need to enter your email address first before CDDB will work. Another more adventurous alternative is to download and run Apple's iTunes. You can run this even if you don't have an iPod, although naturally you can't use of all of its features. iTunes, aside from everything else is does, is still a multi-purpose media player, ripper, etc. It defaults to ripping to AAC, which while still a lossy format, should still be an improvement over plain vanilla MP3, especially if you rip at 160Kbps or higher. Unfortunately, not many hardware music players support this format besides the iPod. The same holds true for software players, although the full (but still free) version of WinAmp CAN play these AAC/MP4 files without a problem.

Note: Music files downloaded from the iTunes Music Stores, while still in AAC format, are encrypted and won't be playable on WinAmp (unless you know what to do them). But that's another story.

09 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Online Quizzes

Think your computer know-how is up to snuff? Try some online quizzes. Here are some that were designed for A+ certification: https://www.concentric.net/~Redward (click the "Quiz" button at the left). Sorry, but I won't tell you how *I* did. I haven't been able to find a site with decent Unix quizzes yet but no doubt they're out there. Meanwhile, here's a sample: https://www.ch.embnet.org/CoursEMBnet/Exercises/Quiz/quix1.html. P.S. Get all the answers correct and you can go to the next page.

09 February 2001

Random Ramblings: More Sheet Music Sites

More on sheet music. The Free Sheet Music Guide at https://www.freesheetmusicguide.com has numerous links to free music sites. Most of these sites are pretty small, but two more interesting and sizeable sites are:

08 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Sheet Music Sites

Like most folks of her generation, my wife studied the piano when she was young (me, I managed to squirm my way out of it). And like most parents, she's had the fervent hope that one day, at least one of her progeny would follow in her footsteps and take up the instrument as well. Waew, our oldest daughter tried it for a while and then gave up. Boo hoo. One down, one to go. Most recently, our second daughter, Wow, was finally old enough and eager enough to give it a try. So far, it's working ...

As we're not currently in Thailand and thus far away from a useable piano, my wife bought a cheapie electronic keyboard, both for Wow to practice on and for herself to relive her past virtuosities (or something to that effect). Unfortunately, we're also lacking all the sheet music she's accumulated over the years. Which is where I come in. Given that most of the great classical music is in the public domain, it only stands to reason that printable sheet music for such pieces could be obtained on the internet.

Well, yes and no. The first couple of sites I tried all wanted to charge money for their wares. Eventually, though, I came across two sites (there surely must be more) that provided classical sheet music in PDF format for free, being:

While The Sheet Music Archive has a much larger selection, Nissimo has some interesting links which makes it a worthwhile look-see. Try them if you're interested in this sort of thing.

16 December 2000

Random Ramblings: More Poster Sites

I can't get enough of this. Another site with a rich offering of posters: https://www.respree.com. The prices here are a bit on the high side, but their collection is quite impressive. Or forget about buying - just browsing is enough of a pleasure (or an education). Thumbs up!

15 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Online Museums

More on museums. Hardcore New Yorkers will no doubt notice that I've left out two of the biggies: the Guggenheim Museum (go to https://www.guggenheim.org and click on "New York") and the Whitney Museum of American Art (https://www.whitney.org). Both have online stores and yes, both have posters.

Among the non-U.S. museums, the MuseƩ d'Orsay in Paris, France tops my list. If you can't make it to the former Quai d'Orsay, skip over to https://www.musee-orsay.fr instead. This is where all the Impressionist stuff at the Louvre's "Jeu de Paume" ended up. Posters? Mais naturellment! And as a Van Gogh fan, I'd best not forget the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Holland (vide https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl). But posters? Er, didn't see any.

One more for the road. Perhaps my favourite painter is Joseph Mallard William (JMW) Turner, an English precursor of the French Impressionists. Much of his work is exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London (https://www.tate.org.uk). As with parts of MOMA though, the Tate's website doesn't seem to be cooperating today).

Aside from the pursuit of wall hangings, the above links are incredibly useful because of the educational opportunities they offer. While most museum websites don't have their entire permanent collectons online, they probably do have a good sampling. In addition, they often have historical and background notes, something many in-person museum go'ers might lack (unless they're art majors, historians or aficionados). Granted, there's no comparison to seeing a painting in all its glory, but short of that, art appreciation via the web is a lot cheaper than buying art books.

By the way, two interesting cum related sites are https://www.painting.about.com and https://www.arthistory.about.com. While searching for JMW Turner in the latter, I was provided with links to Turner's paintings all over the web. Terrific!

14 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Online Poster Sites

I found https://www.allposters.com quite by accident. As someone who has always liked posters (they're cheaper than paintings), this site is a lot of fun to browse through. The site doesn't seem to have posters that art museums create when special collections are on show though. Go to the online museum stores for this; for example in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ("The Met") at https://www.metmuseum.org and the Museum of Modern Art ("MOMA") at https://www.moma.org. (Note: The MOMA store is REALLY slow for some reason.)

28 September 2000

Random Ramblings: Enchanted Learning Website

Got a little one around the house that loves to colour pictures? Save money on colouring books and head for Enchanted Learning's website at https://www.enchantedlearning.com where the little ones will also learn a thing or two (and hopefully more!). There's so much stuff here that I don't know where to begin. Just take my word for it and check it out - it's terrific!

29 February 2000

Random Ramblings: Cloth Patterns on CD

If you read my HelpMe! link you'll notice my asking if anyone has any scans of Thai cloth. During a trip to Hong Kong last week, I happen to pick up some CD's of Japanese cloth patterns at Sham Shui Po. Apparently, a Japanese company called Pacific Production (no URL, just a telephone/fax #) makes these, a lot of them in fact. Alas, no Thai cloth patterns.