Gamified Khan

I do not exactly know when this happened, but Khan Academy, the famous crash course video site platform for numerous topics, did a restructuring of its website layout. No, the world did not end with it but I am not sure if it is entirely a good or a bad thing. It will fall into this vague, semi-good and semi-bad evaluation as far as I am concerned.

Their study “mission” and badge-based system kind of reminds me of Codecademy. But it’s more fast-paced than the code-intense UI of Codecademy. For fun, I tried Algebra I mission and it’s pretty decent if you need a refresher or to brush up on your skills:

Study at Khan Academy with a Mission

Study at Khan Academy with a Mission

Apart from that, they are now developing some soft learning tracks, something which did not exist before. (The last time I logged in here, this was a hodge podge of topics like a Youtube for study materials.)

A More Hierarchical Khan Academy Subject Listing

A More Hierarchical Khan Academy Subject Listing

I have really mixed emotions about the overhaul. It tried to be like the other learning websites in a way, so I feel a little bummed looking at it again for the first time. I am quite used to the layout of the other websites and Khan’s redesign kind of stripped its “anything goes for learning” vibe. It’s organized but for me, it kind of lost its uniqueness as a learning platform because it just conformed with the other websites like EDX or Coursera or Udacity or Canvas. Considering that Khan is probably one of the earlier pioneers for online learning, I was a little surprised that they gave in to peer pressure and identified similar features like those being espoused by their contemporaries.

I do wish this website all the best, though. Way back when MOOC was not a buzz word, they had been uploading numerous instructional videos. Before I made a life hack out of my learning targets through online resources, I actually relied on Khan academy to give me a crash course on things I want to know about but not completely specialize in. Khan was the go-to site of people who just want basic crash courses with no coursework requirements or needs to elevate one’s status with gamified badges. Now, I only have Youtube. But that’s enough, I guess. Youtube’s okay but it’s too broad. Khan was at least education-centric. I think Khan was a comfort zone. The way it was structured before was geared for enthusiasts. It’s just more packaged now, and I think their change marks an end of an era of loosely collating learning resources.

It appears that everyone is now specializing. While it’s impressive on paper, a more well-rounded convergence of industries is more intellectually interesting for me. I cannot seriously find myself being confined to specializing only in one thing. It’s difficult to keep or maintain at first but the rewards of being able to make uncanny and not-so-apparent connections between different subjects is enough drive to keep me on with whatever it is I am doing, learning-wise. It is not something I can recommend to people because it eats up more time than usual but if people have their idiosyncratic addictions that bleed their wallets dry, I have my learning plans. Learning new things is my heroine. Some people say it’s an insane way but I think that some good things are coming out of it, really good things. I am actually starting to reap the fruits of dipping my finger in every knowledge pie that I can get my hands on, and it’s surprisingly really good and exciting each time. I cannot really see myself doing otherwise, though my balance of time and energy can still use a lot of work. XD


Doing Journalism with Data

Astounding is an understatement for describing the wealth of information available in the internet. All that’s necessary is to make time and prevent yourself from getting information overload. I personally derive immense satisfaction in discovering new things, and online courses through platforms like Coursera and Canvas help me learn just about anything I need personally and professionally. I made certain sacrifices to my social life and that involves cutting down on my social media consumption to maximize my online learning. But it has proven to be quite worth it; all these resources, if I try to enroll on them offline from where I am physically, cost quite a fortune. There’s this traditional academic option to specialize with graduate studies and it’s a good thing to have. But if I, for example, would like a crash course on a topic outside of my industry of choice, an online course is the best way to go.

These days, not having money for tuition fee is not an excuse. In fact, education has been made more accessible. And each course has its own set of online tools, at least at the technical end of the spectrum. For example, here is my most recent discovery: Open Refine for cleaning data. This was discussed in detail from the European Journalism Center’s limited free course offering of Data Journalism at Canvas:

Google Refine open source tool for Data Journalism

Google Refine open source tool for Data Journalism


Some of the certificate-issuing courses like EJC’s data journalism offering are limited. Sadly, I only learned of the course last week and I basically had less than a week to skim through an online material designed to be studied by an online learner for 5-6 weeks.

Sample Data Journalism Module Video Lecture

Sample Data Journalism Module Video Lecture

Coming from an engineering background, I found the math side of the online course to be a bit too basic. But it’s a useful refresher for old engineers who are interested in taking a data-related slant for their careers or personal projects. The course was really designed for journalists with limited mathematical background, and it’s a perfect primer which teaches just enough math to make evidence-intensive data-driven journalistic pieces. It’s not as programming or math-heavy as the online data science course at Coursera. The data searching side, on the other hand, is quite new to me.

Some of the things discussed like regular expression in Google searches, web scraping, and data cleaning are familiar to me from my online pursuits. But there are others like new and amazing tools that make it easy to create data-driven stories. It’s a shame that they are only offering it for free for a limited amount of time. As of this writing, they will be closing it within two days and the material will only be available to me until April 2015.

There is one downside to enrolling in so many online courses: it makes it more difficult to tie everything together. I was told by one of my coding mentors that the best way to sift through the streams of information from the internet is by choosing a pet project, one at a time, and then just researching the ones relevant or necessary to accomplishing that pet project. I guess that’s my current life hack recently– to create a series of pet projects that will allow me to make use of all these tools and techniques that I harnessed from the internet and turn it into something usable and reproducible. And whatever good I find out of these pet projects, I will certainly share my learnings here at Helena blog.



Your Nerdom Come

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.