Book #8 “Munich” by Robert Harris

This book is set in 4 days in 1938 when Chamberlain is negotiating with Hitler in an effort to avoid war. The characters the book concentrates on are fictional but many of the minor characters are real people who were involved in the negotiations. The main characters are a German and Briton who are trying to maintain the peace, even if the cost is treachery. The book is well written and difficult to put down.

At the time of reading it we are going through BREXIT – I do wonder if Robert Harris will write fiction based around this in the future.

Book #32 Introduction to Artificial Intelligence by Wolfgang Ertel

I have had an interest in Artificial Intelligence for a long time, and over the years I have used bits of it in projects, but never really studied it.  At the moment, along with others, I am toying with project  ideas that use Artificial Intelligence. I borrowed this book from Richard to brush up my understanding.

This book is too much of a text book (aimed at Computer Science undergraduates) to be very readable, but skimming through helped remind me of topics.  The book was originally written in German, and the translation to English left examples with German roots. The individual chapters can be approached with limited dependence on earlier material.

The topics covered include: Propositional Logic, Predicate Logic, PROLOG, Problem Solving, Uncertainty, Machine Learning, Data Mining, Neural Networks.

I think this book is VERY niche, it is unsuitable for anyone who wants a general introduction to AI. It is ok as a text book, it is has a lot of details that would be covered in an undergraduate course, and would be good to supplement  lectures.

Book #3 Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

I was lent this book, and the quotes on the front suggested it would be gripping, but I have not got in to it. The blurb tells us that the book is about 5 lives colliding (literally in a car crash). I have read the first 136 pages and the lives (so far) of two of these characters seem to have been developed, but the book isn’t calling me back, so I have decided to leave it unread.

I asked the friend who lent me it if he had found it heavy going, he hadn’t but he had read it on holiday and so maybe I should try again when I have uninterrupted time?

Weighing yarn for a scarf

Yarn is usually sold by  weight and length.

A 100g ball of Stylecraft DK Special has a length of 295 m (322 yards), patterns will often tell you how much yarn you need as a weight or length. But if you are making your own pattern then you don’t have this information.

If we want to know if we have enough yarn for a scarf, work the first 10 cms


  • Take out any stitch markers, and pull the working loop through far enough that the work does not unravel without the hook in place.
  • Put the worked crochet in the bowl of the scales, and the yarn ball at the side on the side (we are only weighing the work so far).
  • Note down the weight of the worked crochet ( W for example 12g)
  • Add the yarn ball (and any other balls for this project) to the worked crochet.
  • Note down the total weight of yarn (Y for example 150g)

If we want our scarf to be 100cms long we will use W * 10 g of yarn (for example 12 * 10 = 120 g yarn), as long as this is less than Y (in this example 150g) we have enough!

Counting Foundation Chains

It is difficult to accurately count hundreds of stitches, so we usually put a stitch counter every 20th stitch, so it is easy to check each group of 20 actually has 20 stitches, and that there are sufficient groups, plus odd stitches to give the correct total.

Alternatively we make more chains than we need and then when we have completed the first row, carefully unpick the initial slip stitch and any other excess stitches, this is much easier if  the initial slip stitch isn’t pulled tight and there is a needle to hand to loosen the stitch.

Bag making and MORSBAGS

Yesterday I met with a few friends to do some sewing. Our plan over the next month is to make quilted bags, but at the moment I don’t want to start a new major project so I decided to make a basic bag (an alternative to a carrier bag). I leafed through a few patterns, but didn’t see anything that grabbed my attention, so I looked at an existing bag and worked out the pattern myself. The result is this:

Owl bag


Subsequently I discovered a project MORSBAGS which promotes the making of similar bags and then giving them away. They have a pattern which is very similar to the one I invented, except I had a seam at the bottom, otherwise half my owls would be upside down! And I made boxed corners using a method described in lots of places, including Method 1 here.

I like the idea of the MORSBAG project and think I will have a go at making some bags to give away, so I’ve sent for a hundred labels and try and make some over the year.

I’m back

Well my blog has recently suffered from neglect.

Life has changed a lot in the last couple of years: I am now retired and a grandma, so my focus is different. Recently I was thinking of New Years Resolutions and maybe recording what I do so here I am back with my blog.

I haven’t quite finalised the resolution but there are a few days to the New Year and I can always backdate as I have in the past.

MOOC – Week 1 to 5

I am trying to make sense of what is happening with our Begin Programming, it is more complex than I was originally thinking. The course is divided into 7 Weeks of content, and while the majority of active participants are working in the current week, there are people spread over the weeks, indeed some people have just started in Week 1. So looking at the data on the platform which gives what is going on in the Weeks of the course is not quite the same as the weekly data from Google Analytics.

As with all MOOCs the number of people returning each week declines, however week on week it appears that only about half the people who visit are actually leaving any footprint, marking steps as complete or posting comments. Of those who are marking steps complete they seem to be doing the most of what we suggest.

marking complete

Of those who are marking steps complete more than half of them do not post any comments, and quite a few post rarely. There may be some who post comments but are not marking steps complete.

But the bottom line must be I need more data in a usable form if I am to understand how are participants are engaging with our course.

Supporting learners learning in a FutureLearn MOOC

The FutureLearn model offers a powerful new way to learn online, they describe how they envisage this working in their about section.

One very important aspect is the idea of community supported learning, which is explained as as follows:

An intensive tutoring model can’t work for massive-scale free courses, so we need to offer online support without a large network of tutors. The solution is to harness the power of the community, where learners can make immediate use of their newly acquired skills by sharing their knowledge with their peers.

Following other learners is part of a powerful system we are building that will allow you to acknowledge good contributions and promote people who offer helpful advice, and to develop your own reputation. In this way, success comes not just from passing an assignment and completing a course, but also from making a contribution to the FutureLearn community.

I believe this is a very important strand to the FutureLearn model, but I think the community needs support from someone with a stewardship role and seeding with more experienced learners. Depending on the number of educators there are in the team they can provide this support and seeding.

For the first run of the Begin Programming MOOC, we have the team of educators who helped design and develop the course present and contributing to discussion, one of whom has the full-time role of facilitator, the others working on this alongside other work. We also recruited a group of seven of our upper year undergraduates to provide a more experienced voice, for a few hours per week. The experience that our undergraduates are developing in communicating technical information to varied community will prepare them well for the world of work.

On a recent project with WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) we introduced the idea of “buddies” to support e-learning alongside trained facilitators, buddies need to have taken the course they are buddying on, and receive training to take on the role, becoming a buddy is something many participants aspire to.

For second and subsequent runs of University of Reading FutureLearn MOOCs I would like to see people who have taken the course previously returning to help, like the Guides’ buddies. This could happen informally since there is nothing to stop anyone repeatedly attending a course, or is could be more formalised, with training on how to support in a MOOC and some sort of credit at the end.

For the Begin Programming I believe we would also want to keep some involvement from our undergraduates as they have a good understanding of technical complexities and they can benefit from participation.

There will remain a role in each run of a MOOC for the educators who have designed and developed the course, it would be a poor experience for learners if Professor Big Star never put in an appearance, other than in a few video clips.