Back to school with Massive Open Online Courses

Hi, my name is Jere and I’m addicted to online learning. Over the years, I have started over 50 different online courses. I’ve only finished a few. Just recently, I earned my first certificate from Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I’ve learned a lot and more importantly, had a great time participating in the courses. That’s why I believe MOOCs will – if they haven’t already – revolutionize learning.

Harvard Business Review listed three ways to use MOOCs to advance your career. But it doesn’t have to be just to advance your career. I use them to learn new skills. I enjoy learning. Maybe some of the skills will help me at my job or somewhere along my career.  I do it for that a-ha moment, that feeling when I conquer a challenge.

First thing to understand about MOOCs is that it’s okay not to finish a course.

It’s okay to leave assignments unfinished and to watch only the videos you’re interested in. You’re not learning new knowledge for a teacher or a parent. These courses are first and foremost about you.

I love computer science and software development. I just never officially studied it. Instead, I dabble as a hobby on my free time. I’ve watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos because there is a 3-minute video for nearly anything you can imagine. That’s how I learned the basics of PHP and then searched Stack Overflow whenever I had more detailed questions.

However, YouTube is limited and doesn’t exactly offer curricula on any specific subject. That’s why I turned to MOOCs by established providers. You probably already have a subject or two in mind that might be of interest. These are the ones I have tried and recommend checking out:

  1. edX – great, university quality courses, no nonsense
  2. Udacity – good especially if going for a Nanodegree, which groups together relevant courses into a comprehensive package
  3. Coursera – The home of the famous Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng
  4. Khan Academy – Aimed at a younger, pre-university audience which makes it great for a recap of calculus
  5. Udemy – Mostly paid courses, taught by people around the world
  6. Lynda (Paid access) – Haven’t found suitable courses yet, mileage may vary

Depending on your area of interest, you will quickly find the site that best suits you. One common thread among these providers is that they have an extensive collection of programming and web development courses.

The first time I tried to study machine learning, I couldn’t finish all the work in the course or grasp all the concepts as the course progressed. I wasn’t ready to jump straight into watching videos about linear regression models and supervised learning.

What I learned was that I really enjoy the subject so I decided to find out what I had to learn first in order to finish the course. And that’s exciting! Now I have completed two Data Science courses with certificates from edX and have a plan on what to study next. Eventually, I will conquer machine learning.

Instead of watching delayed Olympic sports on NBC tonight, how about learning some world history on Khan Academy?

Renewing Let’s Encypt certificates in DigitalOcean’s Rails One-click app

A few months ago, I decided to add HTTPS support to my Rails app. I have been running it on an easy-to-setup DigitalOcean droplet for almost a year now. Given that the application is more of a hobby, I opted for the free Let’s Encrypt certificates.

DigitalOcean One Click Apps

DigitalOcean has a great resource of helpful blog posts and I found one that helped me setup SSL for the first time in my life. How To Secure Nginx with Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu 14.04 was an almost perfect match with my Rails setup.

It’s just so easy to get started these days that beginners like me will miss some details that they will have to learn later. There were some hiccups on the way, which helped me learn more about my Rails setup, nginx and the Unicorn web server.

Everything I know I have learned by doing and this was no exception.

I arrived at this solution through trial-and-error method, which is what my staging server is setup for anyways. This is what I did.

After the first failed run, I learned that DigitalOcean Rails droplet does not have Pip installed by default. Pip manages additional Python packages from Python Package Index. Make sure your Pip is installed and up to date with

sudo apt-get install pip
pip install --upgrade pip

My servers have limited RAM so I stopped Unicorn after a few unsuccessful attempts at renewing the certificate. However, make sure your nginx is running and setup as instructed in the DigitalOcean guide so that Let’s Encrypt can validate your site. To renew your certificate, run the following command replacing rails_app with your rails application folder.

sudo service unicorn stop
sudo service nginx start
sudo /opt/letsencrypt/letsencrypt-auto renew --webroot -w /home/rails/rails_app/public/

Next, I will ensure that the automatic renewal from DigitalOcean’s guide is working properly.

For $10 credit on DigitalOcean, use my referral link, which will award me with $25 after you’ve spent that amount.

How I got started with Raspberry Pi 3

I’m not quite sure where the spark came from but once it hit me, there was no stopping. Perhaps it was my exploration to computer vision through OpenCV that mentioned Raspberry Pi. Nevertheless, I started manically watching YouTube videos of Pis, Googling instructions and looking for interesting projects.

A little kid inside of me had awaken. Just thinking of having a Raspberry Pi brought back memories of the days tinkering with old x386 computers installing OS/2 or playing QBASIC demo game Gorillas to learn about coding. It also reminded me of the days when I built model airplanes and cars.

I had seen videos and photos but the size surprised me. It was so small and you know it’s small when it fits in my hand. I got small hands, okay!


For my first Raspberry Pi, I decided to go with Raspbian operating system so I skipped NOOBS, the visual OS installer and instead downloaded the latest Raspbian Jessie image from their download page. Burning that image to the SD card through Terminal was a breeze with these directions.

I didn’t have any extra keyboards lying around so I decided to do the setup through SSH from my Mac following these steps.

Then it was time for the mandatory system updates and upgrades:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

To access my Pi’s desktop, I did what any self-respecting DIY hobbyist does and sought guidance on YouTube. Alternatively, one could follow guides from Adafruit or official documentation, but I often prefer videos.

This is what I now use to launch myself a desktop environment on the Pi:

vncserver -geometry 1440x900 -depth 24 :1

For some reason the default mouse pointer on the Pi is an “x” and I couldn’t deal with it. Luckily, that’s easily changed to a black arrow by modifying /home/pi/.vnc/xstartup and adding the following parameter to xsetroot:

-cursor_name left_ptr

Getting started was fun and extremely easy as there is a plethora of official and unofficial tutorials available. Next I’ll probably set up file sharing or try to play audio through a Bluetooth speaker. Do you have any suggestions?

What Facebook’s new reactions mean for brands?

Facebook launched its new reactions yesterday. It’s great news for people who no longer have to wonder whether it’s okay to ‘like’ a sad message. Hovering over the ‘like’ button opens up 5 new options for quickly expressing how you feel. But what does it mean for brands?

Like, love, haha, wow, sad or angry

Despite pleas and petitions by users to add a ‘dislike’ button, Facebook decided to add more reactions. Having six reactions to choose from is smart and will benefit brands much more than a ‘thumbs down’ button.

Most brands probably want to elicit positive emotions in their followers, which is why it makes sense that most of the reactions are positive. But having the possibility to easily say you’re sad or angry about something is why reaction GIFs are so popular. It all comes down to the old adage that pictures are worth a thousand words. Emojis being so small could go for 10 words, which in social networks means scrolling through another five cute cat memes.

Now you can quantify people’s sentiment without analyzing comments

But back to brands. Instead of just begging for a like or share, brands can now ask people whether they ‘like’ or ‘love’ the newest product line of internet-connected socks. That’s an opportunity to increase your engagement numbers.

Every once in a while your brand might have bad news to share and now you’ll know exactly how sad or angry your followers are. It’s much easier to hit that ‘angry’ reaction button than to write a ranting comment.

And that’s good for brands for two reasons: the sentiment of these reactions can be quantified without going through each comment and comments will more likely be valuable feedback instead of emotional ranting. As a result, you will have more time to respond to thoughtful comments.

For now, Facebook Insights reports all of the reactions as likes. Odds are that’s going to change in the near future to include a detailed breakdown. To get ahead of the curve, you can already see the number of individual reactions by clicking on the number next to the reactions under each post.

 Which reaction does your brand want to be? Are you a ‘haha’ or a ‘love’ brand?

What to keep in mind for your brand’s first Periscope live stream

Periscope is a new way to share what is happening around you. Instead of 140 characters of Twitter or 15 second videos of Instagram, you can have a live video broadcast. Live streaming is a new phenomenon as a popular mobile application but it has been around for a long time. Twitch, a website specialized in live streaming games, was acquired last year by Amazon for almost $1 Billion, so you can be sure there is audience out there willing to watch interesting live video.

This is not an introduction to Periscope as an application but a collection of best practices for getting started. To get you or your brand started on Periscope faster, these are my tips and tricks for beginners.

Prepare before jumping into action

You will not get the full benefits of a new platform on the first go. Host a few practice streams before a big event to teach your friends and fans how to use the new application. Periscope is a new app and many people are not familiar with it yet. Some even get frustrated when they do not understand how to access the stream. Asking people to check out the app ahead of time makes it easier to join your stream when it is live.

First, make sure your phone battery is fully charged. It will drain quickly but you will be fine for more than 30 minutes of streaming even without portable chargers.

Have an introduction before the action starts. Introduce yourselves and what the stream will be about and how to participate in the live action (Periscope comments on mobile for example). It will take a few minutes for the audience to tune in to your stream.


Think about your audio source. Generally, you will be fine if you are face to face talking / interviewing and the action is an arm’s length away from the phone. Any further than that and it might be difficult to understand everything, especially since the stream quality might be low at times. This is something you can only find out by testing the setting before the real deal.

Update: As Shimon Das, pointed out on Twitter, it’s also important to take your time on Periscope. When starting and ending the stream or switching between the main camera and the front camera, the app will cut you off for a few seconds. Thanks Shimon for a great pro-tip!

Take your fans behind the scenes with Periscope

The best stream I have done was an interview with two HERE developers regarding a new 3D transit visualization concept during which we did a demo and discussed how the idea helps people and how they came up with the idea.

Periscoping is a 2-person gig. During a live stream, you will get comments in the stream but can also receive related comments on Twitter. Monitoring both can make for a more successful broadcast. Depending on the stream length, it might be a good idea to tweet about the stream again, possibly with a picture. It might also be helpful for the second person to participate in the live stream as a viewer for sound quality control or answer some questions during a presentation when the streamer is unable to talk.

Are you considering to try Periscope personally or professionally? Would you like to read more about Periscope and how to use the app? Leave a comment or a request below.