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A Sample Awesome Free Online Course

A Sample Awesome Free Online Course – Data Journalism

 

I cannot really imagine the immense changes that I have undergone this year. It’s like I am entering a new realm. I can no longer recognize my old self because of the changes. It’s so amazing and filled with exciting prospects that provide personal and professional enrichment for me and the target beneficiaries of my personal advocacy.

I have been volleying emails with successful techno-preneurs in the last few weeks.  And on top of my usual work grind, I have been working on simultaneous industries or tracks. It’s practically insane, yes. It has the price of giving up my social life temporarily but it’s all WORTH IT. 🙂

One of the late (sobs!) discoveries of this month is the data journalism course at Canvas. They were issuing certificates until July 2014 of this year and I am catching to watch most of the videos before the remaining read only course access closes this December 31st.

I had initial failed attempts to finish an MOOC or online course. I think I signed up for around 6 subjects in Coursera before but I never got beyond the first week.

But this year, I have finally surmounted the failures of the past. As of this date, I have earned two certificates for two data science courses. I had no prior background in R programming but I managed to crawl through it in the midst of all my work and personal obligations. It would have cost me Php 95,000 to enroll in those subjects here in Manila. I got to study them for free in the comforts of my home while drinking pineapple juice and streaming inspirational TED talks in between videos.

These days, with a simple android device and a fairly fast internet connection, you can do ANYTHING online. You can learn so many things. Google is full of golden things that can be harnessed to do some positive change. The only challenge is not to succumb to information overload and prioritize which courses are worth gold and which can be delayed or rejected.

I think that these days, being a Renaissance Man is no longer limited to the elite people who can afford expensive education. If you have a strong mind, a good internet connection, and an optimized life plan, you can be a hell of a polymath. The possibilities are immense and exciting.

I must admit that balancing my goals or pursuits is extremely difficult. I have this master game plan in my head and I need around 10 to 15 arms to do them daily.

Here is a very salient piece of advice that I got just this morning from one of the successful techno-preneurs that I have the privilege of talking with:

‘I think this is only very overwhelming because you want to see the results soon. But that’s not how expertise works, as far as I can tell. First, it’s important to narrow down the things you couldn’t live without, plus all the costs you are willing to pay for them (time, money, energy, psychologically, and other non-quantifiable costs). The things you’re willing to give up for each of these “tracks.”‘
This is my food for thought this Christmas as I sit beside the Christmas tree and think of 2015.
“When some things don’t feel right to you or if you’re not willing to commit any deeper, be quick about dropping them.” THIS is another golden piece of advice. I was reading a book of a father and son entitled Wisdom Meets Passion and in the latter chapters, they discussed this too. I think my life goals need a lot of pruning so that I can realize all those dreams one by one. It’s just amazing and exciting and beyond words.
I dropped certain things, including a huge percentage of time I use for socializing with people. I actually found my return to Facebook too noisy. It’s difficult to explain this to people when they ask me why I deactivated and returned to my shell. This shell has been PARADISE to me, nerdgasm-wise. And yes, nerdom has really come full circle this time around. And I do not have to apologize or feel sorry for it.

Thoughts
on Expertise,
Web GIS,
and Open Source

Ever been subjected to that awkward moment where someone was dying to impress you about how superbly expert he is about something but he ended up doing the total opposite? Around five months ago, somebody messaged me on Facebook about my Facebook status/announcement for a potential programming-mapping project. He said that he can just work for my company as a moonlighting programmer to customize the utility app, because it was “so simple” and he was bored with having mastered his job already.

Wapak!

Four words flashed in my head that instant: Ang yabang naman nito!!!

(Two other mapping guys a hundred times better than him with skills and programming prowess inquired about the project respectfully, and became our company’s partners beyond this initial project.)

I actually thought highly of him before this incident. When I told him that my client is using a customized app that does not use his tool of choice, ArcGIS 10, he immediately withdrew his offer and said that he cannot do it given that it’s not going to be implemented through the software that he knows like the back of his hand.

His arrogance has been extinguished almost instantly and he suddenly typed in “GTG,” that he’s busy with managerial stuff for his work, as if I was wasting his time. I wanted to call him up and LOL him like crazy to drown out the awkwardness. Instead, I said “OK, good luck with your managerial stuff!”

Today, five months later, he is an introduction to a long blog post about expertise and mapping thoughts.

This tiny event led me to ponder along with other ideas for five months: How can one be an authentic expert in something if you do not probe in the depths, if you do not have the thirst to work from the ground up and see what you find? How can you call yourself an expert programmer if you do not have the versatility to work from the very foundations of what you do?

(And he had the temerity to market himself as an expert in this industry. I feel embarrassed for the true experts who don’t concern themselves with such things just to get attention from other people.)

I do not know if this idea is something that comes across to some app users, but I have been picking my brain constantly regarding an issue of how ease of use can sometimes make end users too lazy for their own good. I cannot help but feel that ease of use in software, while it is marketed as a time saver and the logical way to go for solutions, actually trades our ability to empower ourselves and innovate on our own devices.

When you are given an easy to click interface or pre-packaged piece of application that you only need to pay for and upgrade annually, you live  with the precious cost and accept that you will never have full knowledge of how exactly the system works from ground up.

Some people are content with this “restricted” kind of knowledge and call it expertise.  But try changing the application and then these “experts” will no longer know how to do things because they’re stuck with a single way of doing things.

It makes them extremely inflexible and ignorant.  True think tanks of this planet are not afraid to work with the barest bones to build an entire body or system even if it takes an entire lifetime’s work.  True think tanks tinker with their boundaries and are versatile.

And most all, think tanks don’t brag then cower in shame if their tool of choice is not available on the table. They rise to the occasion and find solutions with dogged persistence.

I find that when I overuse easy to install and easy to use apps, I get somewhat “dumber” although I accomplish things that may astound an unsuspecting passer-by. I get to appreciate the shortcuts more when I know how it works in the background, if I can see the “skeleton” of the main thing being sold, if I can take things apart and understand why this certain function crashed, and fully understand why this particular command did not generate the results that I want.

I do not know why, but this is how I learn that I have truly learned. And this is the standard by which I hold people who call themselves intelligent or good at what they do. And based on this standard, I am a total beginner to mapping and programming. I love it well enough to post every considerable thing I can write about it, but I still have a LONG WAY to go.

In the interests of saving time, we occasionally delude ourselves into thinking that the expensive and user friendly software empowers us to do more for less. In fact, it makes you dependent to a brand to sustain your skill set.

Living in the third world country, I find that the growing community of open source GIS developers as a resourceful and cost-efficient alternative to branded moguls is a very promising one. I am not yet as good as the least of them, but I support them and I want to be like them.

Long live Open Source. Programming is king.

Visions

(image credits to Engr. Ranel O. Padon)

It’s like when I personally discovered that I can style my clothes without succumbing to brands, that a Php 10,000 get-up can be reduced to Php 1,000 if you open your mind for saving the little wads in your wallet. It’s really a matter of perspective and willingness to be open to new ideas that make the most revolutionary ideas.

Despite not blooming fully as a seasoned person in the practice, I have realized that I can be an excellent GIS specialist without being impoverished with maintenance costs of premium software. To be fair, branded GIS software does provide the ease of use compared to open source.

But if you are interested enough in GIS to give it your time and working attention, you can take the extra time to make the free version work for you  as well as or even sometimes better than the paid version that people have marketed for the longest time without challenge.

To balance, I still use expensive software but I try my best to step out of the shortcuts and understand the principles behind the shortcuts that the software provides. It makes life more meaningful that way as a worker.

I know that I have posted a lot about GIS software lately, particularly ArcGIS 10. I have come to respect the very easy user interface provided by ArcGIS 10 because it helps me meet my deadlines, but like what I mentioned earlier, I am also open to other types of powerful software particularly the open source ones. The open source ones somehow unveil the heart and soul of what GIS can do.

This is what makes learning so versatile. There is so much to explore here. When I was in college, I was only dipping my toes at the tip of a very deep pond. I was dabbling with population data with simulated real-life problems. At work, I solve real engineering and mapping problems and it gives you a sense of purpose when you are not producing outputs just to get a medal for your bedroom wall.

The deep pond, as I learned from my first year in the working world of engineers, was in fact a vast ocean of knowledge that needs flippers and bunch of other stuff. You find coral reefs of analysed geographic information bits, oil spills in the form of messed up data, and many other things. In school, they train you in a pond with ideal conditions occasionally throwing the deadline shark here and there. At work, you are in the ocean with all those waves and it’s up to you the surf the tides and emerge victorious.  

The ocean in its vastness allows you to choose various vessels. So far, I have unveiled in my blog the use of the common vessel for GIS or mapping specialists like me: the GIS software route. I was quite inclined to write more about ArcGIS 10. Again, I promise to write about my QGIS experience some other time.

Despite the popularity, one clear disadvantage of relying on GIS software is the giant space requirement and the technical knowhow required to operate and maintain it. When you use GIS software, you also experience physical limitations like the video card requirements. For example, when I am doing mapping stuff on an i3 Pentium processor, I occasionally find it not responding or crashing during an intense geoprocessing activity when used with other apps like Skype and Mozilla Firefox.

In comes Google maps and they have promoted the concept of crowdsourcing, where even non-technical people (their Asia-Pacific bigwig once said “even an 11-year-old can use our system”) can contribute to a growing spatial database. But Google has a limited set of things they can share as open source and the rest has to be paid dearly with a premium.

Another apparent disadvantage is that when one technical staff member corrects a database entry from his computer, it is not as easily reflected in the computer of his other team member who might be using the same layer. I personally experienced this at work where my officemate has edited something on a road network file and I was using an obsolete version already. We don’t talk a lot because we are all busy so when you need to scramble for a quick thematic map for a client, you do not have the luxury of time to verify if you are using the same file. It’s cumbersome but it happens especially when you consider large institutions or agencies.

Sure, we can set up a server and a local network, but then you can have conflicting copies of the same file if they are accessed and edited at the same time by different people working in multiple computers.

Small wonder that these days, more and more people and institutions are now opening up to what is considered as the Web GIS segment of the mapping world. It’s Coke Light to the heavy Coke that is given by the usual mapping software. Even the premium mapping mogul ESRI accommodates this growing segment of the mapping world that makes use of internet maps that do not require an installation of or purchase of their ultra-expensive GIS software by having their own free web viewer.

Definitely, this is not the last time that I will write about working with the skeletons of GIS giant applications. It’s me thinking aloud about a subject that I am passionate about. I have finally warmed up to the idea that I can use various mapping vessels (ex. GIS software, Web GIS, programming, etc.) to achieve a common end, and whatever vessel I choose, it will make me a better mapping sailor if I am going to be very accommodating and fearless in the face of uncharted waters.

Who knows, that just might be the road of making me the captain of my own GIS ship?

Or perhaps I can be content with canoeing or a boat or a few columns of a sun-kissed raft. The possibilities are endless. At the moment, I am scoping the area and sunbathing with my BB cream.

I have found by experience that the really kick-ass and worship-worthy GIS navigators would spend time digging deep in the cool finds of their respective GIS vessels than idly send out self-glorifying Facebook messages. And for me, they’re the true programming heroes worth liking and befriending on Facebook.

 

[Special thanks to Engr. Ranel O. Padon for being an inspiring programming teacher and for providing me with my first GIS wooden raft. 🙂 ]

 

The Price of Quality

More than taxes, skilled workers are confronted with a much larger and looming price that transcends everything else, and that is the price of quality.

So many people these days are so hung up on the idea of saving costs, sometimes to the point of sacrificing quality. Others enlist the expertise of someone to fix their problems but insist on getting a bargain price. And there are the insistent few who undervalue the worth of an expert’s knowledge, and insist a flat rate for working people with all levels of experience. These insistent people treat all guys as the same banana if they have the same job description.

If the cause is purely (100%) not for profit and conducted in the spirit of volunteerism, I’d understand the need to cut costs. There is such a thing as a labor for love. I admire the Red Cross and all those erected charitable institutions that have really noble purposes in them. I know of people who work there and I have genuine reason to admire them and offer what I can do for them, absolutely free of charge.

But if you use someone’s labor of love into a venture where you will gain a very large amount of money, I think it’s okay to give something back.

Some people may not agree with me. But if the work of the expert will become an investment for fairly large returns, I think it’s just right to have some form of fair compensation to the person who labors intensely to make it come about or at the very least, a token or a form of assistance or allowance that will ensure that the person will not be taxed too heavily in securing the resources of building the project.

This is why I totally admire organizations that have some incentive and reward system that allows them to appreciate the people who help them grow. Companies that have profit sharing for their seasoned employees and bonuses for every sale they make or client they satisfy are most commendable because they have the initiative to help their employees grow and gain with them.

This holds true especially if the expertise required to make things happen is not something that an ordinary person can do with a limited time.

How will you know if a person is an expert? If that person can quickly and efficiently do what the others cannot do on their own or the others will take a long time to do with the same speed and quality.

If the task is simple and any other literate Dick or Harry can do it, then there’s no need for expert compensation. If you are just being asked to shoot some emails and make phone calls to people, that’s pretty easy. But if you are asked to produce monumentally time-consuming things that require a lot of brain work, I think the pricing is substantially different.

Even with my friends, I feel ashamed when I ask for discounts for expert knowledge and skills that they have worked so hard to build. If they are good at what they do, I make sure they get the rate that they deserve or more. Especially if I am going to generate some profit out of what I asked them to do for me.

It is a sad and common culture of the modern times. It’s also the season and trend where people whine that they need experts at their bidding but are only willing to give the salary good for newbies.

And newbies end up with higher levels of stress as they make their mark, as they embark on their careers, as they begin learning the tools of the trade, because they are often forced to deliver what only seasoned experts can deliver.The experts sign and get the big bucks, and the newbie who wants to gain experience will work as a ghost for the expert for peanuts’ pay just to get access to the projects.

Take nursing graduates as a case in point. Most of them now are lumped in call centers because if they want to practice what they studied they have a few options: 1.) go overseas, 2.) pay a local hospital to give them experience, or 3.) take a care giving course to make them go overseas easier. (Oh wait, that’s just actually two options because the third option is a sub-option of going overseas.)

These days, it’s much harder to build a career than in decades past because they expect more from you and pay you so little. It’s a reality. I’m not referring to a singular instance or a single entity. It’s a general trend and reality that I have observed, and how this trend depresses me I cannot put into words. If you’re not one of the brainy moguls who run the world, you are just a natural casualty of this reality.

The truth and reality of the matter is that, if you are out to gain the necessary experience to get paid better, you will undergo a lot of stress and you will be the first to pay for the price of quality. But even when you have paid the full price of quality with numerous accomplishments under your belt or years of experience of getting paid coins, you will still deal with the issue of getting paid a bargain or insulting price for something you gave your entire life to build and hone.

I don’t know what’s more insulting, to be a newbie with peanuts’ pay expected to deliver work with an experts’ speed and accuracy or to be a really good expert who gets ridiculously low or no pay for the excellent marvels of your craft. It’s highly depressing if you are both, and for people with more skill sets to hone, it can happen.

First, you pay the price of improving your quality as a worker. Next, you make other people pay the price when you have become really good with what you do but you need to protect yourself from people who are only out for a bargain. There are no free lunches. Somebody always has to pay the price of quality.

In a fair and just world, the newbie pays for the price to improve his quality with years of hard work and the expert makes the clients pay for his quality. But sometimes the client refuses to pay the right amount and the expert is treated as a newbie who needs to pay for everything for experience.

What do you do when these things happen?

The best thing in a Utopian world is to walk out of that royal mess. But it’s not that easy to walk out on certain situations especially if they have inherent complications. You have mouths to feed, there is a ceiling to what you can earn in your line of industry, older people who are much better than you have settled for much less and we must carry the tradition, and embarking on your business or being your own boss requires a humungous capital that can get depleted if you make one wrong move without a cushion.

And we all know that the severe unemployment rates in the country can’t make choosers out of beggars. They either suck it up and accept the reality that they are as poor as rats and they cannot say no to a job that does not pay fairly because there isn’t much of a choice.

You sacrifice the actual worth of your skills to gain some stability or to gain something other than money.

And then people ask many people are so lethargic and gloomy these days, why there are so many crimes, why there are so many people leaving this country.I am not so surprised when these things happen. There’s nothing new about it. I’ve stopped watching the news for this reason.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you cannot worry about intangible shit like self-actualization or personal fulfillment if you cannot feed yourself or pay your rent or take yourself from one place to another. You can’t think clearly on a growling stomach.

People who work overseas get times five of what the local workers earn here but no matter how many impressive things they show on their Facebook accounts and how they make their poorer local contemporaries salivate on their computer screens, I believe they’re still underpaid because they pay a lot out of their very lives to get paid a lot in that way. They leave their families and loved ones, suffer the painful discrimination and racism, and sometimes endure unspoken but imminently abusive conditions because they are not in their home territory.

What a charade this whole enterprise is. Some of us are just good at camouflaging what we actually go through, but whether you work here or overseas, it’s not easy. Some people just busy themselves so that they will not feel gnawing self-pity that has eaten up their common sense.

I guess what I am trying to say is that everyone (I mean everyone, with certain exceptions like 1% of the world population) who works with much commendable quality is generally, sorely underpaid, and if you try to make your rights known or get the value of what you are able to do, you will just get laughed at or deemed ridiculous and unreasonable by the people who support this culture of exploitation.

You’re a mean person if you try to assert what is rightfully yours because people are conditioned to be exploited in general. There are a lot of working masochists walking about and it’s either you join them or you get criticized.

So you either eat that reality for breakfast with such depression or subscribe to positive psychology which does not address the very problem at the roots. Now I know why my Philosophy teacher told me once that it’s a hard life to learn how to really think deeper than what the surface allows you to see.The realities you find can be deadly, hard to accept, depressing, and downright frustrating.

Still, I’d rather be meaningfully depressed than superficially content.

And while the world is so unfair, we all end up dead and you cannot bring all your extra money and/or misery. So it does not make much sense to worry about it too much.

It’s either you say yes or say no.That’s just how life goes these days.

So if it’s all meaningless, why write this 1,700-word blog post? I guess, sometimes, we write to reveal the tears that never reach the eyes.

When they say that you should find work that you love, it’s not an advice. It’s a necessity to keep your sanity.