Free online distance learning courses

8 02 2013
Back and already hard at work!

Back and already hard at work! (Photo credit: clemsonunivlibrary)

I recently came across the Coursera website and was amazed at the quality of the resources available for free.  Through this site you can enrol on free online distance learning courses on a massive range of topics from some of the top universities from all over the world.


Only one of the courses on which I have enrolled  has started so far, but the quality is really impressive.  Aside from the excellent learning resources, the tutors are regularly on hand to answer questions and the course community as a whole is very active in both the discussion forums and the course wiki.


As I have said, there is a really wide range of topics, including computer programming, equine nutrition, aboriginal world views, academic writing, maths, history, economics and business management.  Participating institutions include the University of Edinburgh, University of California, Stanford University, University of Toronto, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Princeton University, to name but a few.


It’s all free and definitely worth a look!



Book Review: Shepherd’s Prayer by Katja Willemsen

20 10 2012

I have recently read Shepherd’s Prayer, a Kindle eBook by Katja Willemsen. I reviewed it on Amazon but thought I’d post it here too.

From reading the synopsis, I was under the impression that this would be a thrill-a-minute, somewhat sensationalist adventure and not really my kind of book. From the outset it was clear I was wrong.

While it is fairly fast-paced, there were so many opportunities for the author to take the easy way out with the obvious “the lights came on, the police rushed in and we all went home for tea” ending, which never came. The characters are completely plausible and very well-developed and, while the story is exciting and has you wanting to keep on turning those ‘pages’, some important themes are addressed in an accessible way.

It’s a very interesting combination of adventure and a bit more. It punches well above the weight one might expect from the synopsis, in terms of depth, characters, plot and style. Definitely worth a read.

Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie

28 07 2011

I am actually rather enjoying the Sherlock series running on the BBC at the moment. They’ve done quite a good job of updating it, but the spirit of it is quite true to the original. Good fun.

I’ve been reading an Agatha Christie, The Secret Adversary, on my phone. There are some really quite amazingly racist, sexist and classist statements in it. Seeing how mainstream views like that were so recently does serve to remind how far we’ve comein a relatively short time. Still a good way to go, of course, but there’s always room for improvement in everything.

I’ve been playing round a bit with a few of the apps I downloaded the other day. I cropped and tweaked this picture in Photoshop Express.


When you were a child, what was your favourite book?

18 06 2011

I read a lot as a child. I really enjoyed school and pony stories, but I did read other stuff as well, honest!

Enid Blyton featured quite heavily. Not so much Famous Five and Secret Seven so much as Malory Towers, The Book of Naughty Children. All heavily moralistic!

On a similarly moralistic note, I loved the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson. They were about a girl whose father died and she and her mother, a children’s author, moved to a small village. The other children in the area were very into riding and Jill was desperate for a pony, although she’d never ridden before. The books focused on doing things properly, being honest, putting one’s pets first etc. Jill was by no means a sickly sweet heroine – she would quite often be struggling with frustrations and “ignoble thoughts”. Unlike her friends, she and her mother were not terribly well-off and Jill was always taking part-time jobs and looking for ways to support her ponies. “Pot-hunting”, entering shows with the sole of wish of winning prizes, was seriously frowned upon in these books – a stark contrast with the more modern books I’ve picked up! There is also no boy-chasing at all – another contrast with modern pony stories. I would whole-heartedly recommend these.

The Pullein-Thompson sisters were great favourites as well. Again, they were not about chasing boys and trophies and, as in the Ruby Ferguson and Enid Blyton books, the lazy and the conceited always got their comeuppance!

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley was a favourite and I still re-read that from time to time. My brother gave me it for my eighth birthday and it really stands up to the test of time. It’s about a girl called Penelope who lives in London and, with her brother and sister, goes to spend the holidays with relatives on their farm in Derbyshire. The farm had been the home of the Babbingtons, who plotted to save Mary, Queen of Scots, who was incarcerated at the nearby Hardwick Hall.

None of the heroines in these books shies away from doing things because she’s “just a girl”. They all face up to things. None of them thinks she only exists in the mirror of men’s eyes.

The values in these books had a big influence on me: no one likes a show-off, put your animals first, take responsibility for yourself (it is NOT your mother’s fault that you have forgotten your PE kit!), be truthful, kind and considerate and look up to your elders.

Old books

18 05 2011

I’ve just happened upon The Accomplisht Cook, OR THE ART & MYSTERY OF COOKERY, which was first printed in 1685. While much of the contents is a little more than I’d be willing to attempt (“Make the likeness of a Ship in Paste-board, with Flags and Streamers, the Guns belonging to it of Kickses“), I am thoroughly pleased with the headings in the section on “Directions for the order of carving Fowl“. I have reproduced the headings below. They strike me as the kind of thing that I could accidentally learn by heart and be caught secretly chanting as I work.

Lift that Swan
Rear the Goose
To cut up a Turkey or Bustard
Dismember that Hern
Unbrace that Mallard
Unlace that Coney
Sauce that Capon
Allay that Pheasant
Wing that Partridg
Wing that Quail
Display that Crane
Dismember that Hern
Unjoynt that Bittern
Break that Egript
Untach that Curlew
Untach that brew
Unlace that Coney
Break that Sarcel
Mince that Plover
A Snite
Thigh that Woodcock

On a slightly less excitable note, I rather like the look of THE COOKING MANUAL OF PRACTICAL DIRECTIONS FOR ECONOMICAL EVERY-DAY COOKERY by Juliet Corson, printed in 1877. It is sub-titled “How well can we live, if we are moderately poor?” and there are chapters on “cheap dishes” with and without meat. The recipes are straight-forward, easy to follow and sound tasty. Quite a few of the cheap meat dishes are made from things it’s not easy to get hold of post-BSE, but some of them are viable as-is and substitutions could be made in many of the others.

Taking a much-more-modern tack, I’ve been enjoying reading The 1940s Experiment and am hoping to try out some of those recipes too, particularly the mock cream.

Free stuff

12 05 2011


Just in case anyone hasn’t come across it, I thought I’d make a quick mention of Freecycle. Here’s the description from the Freecycle website:

Welcome! The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,944 groups with 8,449,161 members around the world. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on ‘Browse Groups’ above the search box. Have fun!

Free Books

Recently, I’ve noticed quite a few people looking for books in my local Freecycle group. I find that I have more books than I can possibly read available for free, so I thought it would be worth sharing that information too.

Local libraries

Until recently, I hadn’t visited a public library in 10-15 years. I was very much impressed by the quality of service on offer. I was registered and issued with a card and PIN very quickly, which allows me to use the reference library, withdraw books, DVDs, CDs, audio books etc, access the catalogue from home and request books, extend loans and make suggestions for new resources. I can also now log in to the e-Library and download e-Books and audio books in a variety of formats for a range of devices.

Google Books

Google Books offer quite a range of e-Books. Some are free and some paid. They can be downloaded or read online.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg offers over 33,000 e-Books to read online or download in a range of file formats. There are also human- and computer-read audio books. Additionally, there is a range of digitised sheet music, although this project is currently dormant. has just under 4,000 audio books available for download. The books have been read by volunteers and can be downloaded as MP3 or ogg vorbis files. is another site with free audio books. It is run by a group based in Mexico. is another free audio book site.


It seems to have become standard that people expect to have to pay for computer software. In fact, there is a vast array of free software available, ranging from computer operating systems to smartphone apps.


According to wikipedia:

Linux […] refers to the family of Unix-like computer operating systems using the Linux kernel. Linux can be installed on a wide variety of computer hardware, ranging from mobile phones, tablet computers and video game consoles, to mainframes and supercomputers. Linux is a leading server operating system, and runs the 10 fastest supercomputers in the world.

What does that mean? It means that, rather than paying for Windows or Mac OS on your computer, you can run a free Linux operating system instead. Linux tends to be less resource-hungry than other operating systems and can give an older computer, struggling to run the latest version of Windows, a new lease of life. As it is less widely-used, there tend to be fewer virus targetting it than Windows and updates are issued frequently due to the fact that it’s community-driven and people all around the world are contributing.

Personally, I run Ubuntu on my laptop. From beginning the installation, my laptop was up and running and connected to the internet within two hours. I didn’t need to install hardware drivers once the operating system was installed – it was just ready to go. I have not found anything that I have been unable to do with it. is a free suite of office applications, compatible with the pricey Microsoft Office. It is also very useful for recovering corrupt Microsoft Office documents, which Microsoft products can no longer open.


Free anti-virus, anti-malware, firewalls and anti-spyware software are available, negating the need for expensive and resource-intensive products such as Norton Internet Security.

Reading List

15 03 2011

I’ve some great book lined up for when I finish work. Here are a few from the top of my reading pile.

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