Tag Archives: MOOC

Studying the British Empire

As you may know, I have an interest in history. Understanding history often helps with writing both science fiction and fantasy, as they deal with different times and societies, while also having rich and well-developed histories of their own.

I’m getting back into using FutureLearn, and this week, the course called Empire has begun. It’s about the British Empire. I’m from a country that was part of the British Empire, so I’m expecting something about Canada in this course. But the British Empire was the largest empire in the world at one time. There’s a lot to learn. Below, you can see how much of the world was part of the empire (click to see a larger version).

The_British_Empire_AnachronousThat’s a lot of countries. You can see a strip through Africa, much of south Asia, parts of the Middle East, and plenty of Pacific islands, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Thirteen Colonies.

Do you know any interesting facts about the British Empire? Share them in the comments below.

Online Courses and How They Relate to My Writing

A year ago, I started doing online courses through Coursera, and soon after that, Future Learn.  I did so many in the first half of the year, I found myself burning out a bit.  I then took a break.  But I’ve started up again, and just finished my first one in a while.  I have four coming up over the next six months.

But why I’m taking them you may ask.  It’s really about two things: personal interest and research for writing.  Let’s look at the courses I’m going to do and what I just finished.

What a Plant Knows is an interesting plant biology course that has given me insights into how a plant interacts with its environment.  This course will help me with the development of plants on Ariadne.

Elements of Renewable Energy begins next week.  I’m interested in this course because of both personal interest and research.  On Ariadne, they will be seeking sources of renewable energy for electricity, and I think this will help give me an overview.  It may or may not show me anything new, but I think it’ll be interesting.

World War I: Aviation Comes of Age begins next month.  This is mainly personal interest, as I have an interest in aviation.  However, it may help me a bit with the development of new types of aircraft on Ariadne.

The Emergence of the Modern Middle East begins in March.  I’m interested in this course because it shows about the recent history of a very unstable region in the world.  This will help me with researching about international relations, as well as development of regional politics and conflict.  These themes will be important later on in Ariadne, as well as in any fantasy writing I do.

Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier begins in June.  This will be interesting for future fantasy writing I do.  History is a good thing to study if I want to write fantasy, as many elements of history can help me develop civilisations that are similar to ancient Earth civilisations.

Of course, this is only one way to do research.  How do you prefer to do research for your writing?  Please leave your comment below.

Ending My Study Break

As many of you may know, I’d been taking several online courses through Coursera and FutureLearn.  However, I’ve let six courses go by without me even touching them.  I’ve done a bit of housekeeping and removed myself from those courses.  I now have two courses that have just started, and I’m thinking about getting to work on them.  They don’t seem very intensive, so that’s good.

There’s one course I started in the summer than I still have an interest in, and that’s about the time of Richard III.  It looks like I can actually continue to go through the course.  So, I will do that.

I also need to go through future courses to see what’s interesting for the new year.  The courses I dropped may be available again next year, so I’ll see about them.  But this time around, I’ll make sure I don’t enroll in too many courses at once.  I think I burned myself out.

Another Casualty of War

It was kind of appropriate that I was studying this course, and I can now call it a casualty.  The Paradoxes of War course held at Coursera and created by Princeton University proved to be too much.  I was already 4 weeks behind because of other courses, and it turned out many of the videos were so long, I’d have to spend an incredible amount of time watching them.  So, I’ve stopped that course.

I am, however, working on the Richard III course, which is quite interesting.  I’m also starting the French Revolution course this week, so I’m doing very specific aspects of both British and French history, both of them involving major wars (the War of the Roses and the French Revolution).  These are the only two courses I’ll be doing through the summer, and no new courses until September.  This is a good thing.  It’ll give me a lot more time to concentrate on my writing.

One more thing that may be a casualty this month is What Will You Write?  No submissions so far, and it’s been nearly a week.  Camp NaNoWriMo has people quite busy these days, including me.  I’m thinking of postponing the current round until August, so it won’t take anyone away from the camp.  And once the new month starts, it should be much fresher for everyone.  Any thoughts?

More Class Culling

I’ve gotten so far behind in the Diversity of Exoplanets online course that I’m going to be cutting it.  Honestly, there’s not much that’s new, since I’ve already done two exoplanet courses.  What’s special about this one is that it’s taught by the exoplanet experts, the ones who have discovered so many at the University of Geneva.  Oh well.  The lecture videos are so long and there are so many that it would take up too much of my time.  I’ll take it again if it’s offered again next year.

I’ll be finishing the Ecosystems course tonight, as all I have left to do is the test.  It’s been interesting and fairly useful, particularly the parts dealing with biodiversity and conservation.  I’ll also finish the Archaeology of Portus course in the next couple days.  I’ve found that this course was very useful to me for worldbuilding.  Understanding the past is very important.

I have one ongoing course that I haven’t even touched, the Paradoxes of War.  However, I don’t want to quit this one.  I’ll just watch the videos.  I have about 3 weeks to get caught up, so that’s okay.  Next week, I start the Richard III course, which should be useful in understanding what society was like back then.  And next month, I’ll start a course on the French Revolution.  I also think that’ll be useful to me.  So, lots of history courses going on, which is great for developing cultures in speculative fiction.

No new courses until the end of summer after these.  I need to spend more time actually writing than doing courses.  I’ll conserve my time.

FutureLearn Writing Course Finished

I finally finished the Start Writing Fiction course on FutureLearn today.  It took eight weeks, and it was full of very useful information.  I feel I learned a lot about writing, and hope to continue to use what I learned.

For the final assignment, I had to write a 600-1000 word short story (more like flash fiction).  I finished it yesterday, did some minor editing and submitted it for review by others taking the course.  I received two reviews, mostly positive, but did feature some criticism that I agree with.  I’ll talk about that in a moment, but here is the story.  It’s based on Journey to Ariadne‘s Paolo Fernandes.

I stood in front of my parents, both looking unhappy with my decision. I was going to Mars and we were at the spaceport in Salvador. My mother looked at the floor, her hands in front of her, clutching her dress. My father stared at me, as if he were boring a hole through my head. His temper was difficult to predict. But now it smoldered, ready for an eruption.

I’d made the decision three months before. Mars. My parents couldn’t see me. I loved them dearly, but I was afraid of this moment.

“Paolo, you don’t have to do this,” said Mom. “You can stay and do wonderful things here.”

“Mom, we talked about this. There’s no way I can help save the Earth. I need to go and help find a way for humanity to survive,” I said.

“This is foolish,” said Dad. “Utter rubbish.”

“What would you have me do?”

“Be responsible. Don’t go around playing foolishly like this.”

“I was afraid of this,” I said. “You don’t understand the problem. You think everything will turn out fine. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. I know what will happen. It’s already happening. We’re going through a mass extinction, sea levels rising, riots everywhere, people starving. The government can’t stop it. The environmental problems can’t be reversed. What would you do in my situation? I have a chance to do something!”

“You’re being selfish. Think of your mother,” he said, his face turning red.

“I am. I’m thinking of everyone. That is not selfish. That is being responsible.”

“Paolo, please!” said Mom.

“I’m sorry. If we have any chance for survival, I have to find a way. Please understand.”

“Mars has nothing for us. We can’t survive with that air,” said Dad.

“We’ve been through this. All the best minds have gone to Mars. They have freedom to do research. They’re studying terraforming, colonising outside the solar system, light speed travel, and genetics.”

“Yes, I’ve heard this all before! Your terraforming idea is bad. It’ll take too long for us to see it.”

“But not for my grandchildren. You think of yourself all the time, Dad. Think of your descendants for once. I’m going. I made my choice, and I’m not backing down.”

They didn’t speak, my mom sobbing, my dad mulling over what I’d said.

“Final boarding call for orbital shuttle launch. Please present your pass to the agent and board the shuttle.”

“That’s my ship. I have to go. Mom, Dad, I love you. I’ll write. I’ll send videos.” I hugged Mom, and she held on with a tight vice grip. My Dad hesitated, then embraced me.

“I’ll hate you if you die. Good bye, Paolo,” he said.

“Good bye, Dad. Good bye, Mom.”

I turned and strode to the agent. I heard my Mom calling to me. I turned and waved, then went through the gate, handing my pass to the agent. I looked one last time. It broke my heart. My Mom bent over crying, while my Dad held her.

*   *   *

I sat in my seat on the shuttle, and I couldn’t resist looking at the man next to me. He was rather rugged-looking, not the kind of person I expected to be a scientist. His eyes met mine before I looked away, and stared at a blue spot on the otherwise spotless seat in front of me.

“Hello,” he said.

“Ah, hello,” I responded, unsure of how to continue.

“First time going into space?” He smiled, showing remarkably straight teeth.

I nodded. “Yes. Never been up there.”

“Don’t worry. It’s an exciting ride up. My name’s Carlos.”

I shook his hand. “Paolo.”

“Going to the moon or something?” He raised an eyebrow.

I shook my head. “No, Mars. You?”

“Farther. Going to the Pallas Mines.”

“You’re a miner?” I asked.

He nodded and grinned. “Good guess. I look the part?”

“Just a suspicion. I’m a geologist, so I’ve worked with miners before.”

“That’s great. By the way, don’t be nervous. The flight up isn’t that bad.”

I hadn’t thought about it, being preoccupied with my parents. I said, “That’s not it.”

“Oh? Left your wife?”

I wondered how much I should say to Carlos. “Left my parents, and not on good terms.”

“Ah, got it.” He patted my arm. “Whatever you do, make sure you go back to visit.”

I nodded. “I’ll try.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.”

“Thanks,” I said.

It wasn’t okay. At the time, I didn’t know that was the last time I’d see my father alive. Three years later, the Brazilian Civil War broke out. My parents were caught in some crossfire, and my Dad was hit while protecting my Mom. He was killed instantly.

Earth was a mess. Who’d have thought Mars, a planet named after the god of war, would be the most peaceful place in the Solar System?

So, the criticism was basically on how the ending felt rushed, but excused it because of the word limit.  They both said the dialogue was appropriate, and the description of Paolo’s parents was also appropriate, considering the short length.  What was not mentioned by either of the reviews was that I felt I needed a better description of Carlos (an adjective isn’t good enough, really), and I’m dissatisfied with a lot of the narrative early on.  I think this needs a lot of editing.

What you see above is written as the roughest draft possible.  No editing has been done.  I had no time to do any editing, unfortunately, as I’d been too busy recently.  My concerns would’ve been addressed with that editing, but I submitted it as is.

So, now that the course is finished, I’m going to focus on Journey to Ariadne again, but I would like to take some time to attempt a few flash fiction challenges on other blogs.  I also hope that the What Will You Write? challenges will become more popular.  If you can, share it with other writers/bloggers you think will be interested.

And of course, let me know what you think of this story in the comments.

Crazy Busy Student Life

I work full time.  I also try to write as much as I can.  But now it’s like I’m a full time student.  As of this week, I am studying 6 online courses at once.  I must be crazy.

The last time I studied 6 courses at the same time was in my second year of university.  I took 6 courses both semesters after transferring from one university to another.  Some of my courses didn’t transfer, even though I was told they would.  I had to take them again.  It was an incredibly busy time, including one day that was 13 hours long, from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm.  On my first day of that schedule, I’d caught a pretty bad cold, and it was a rainy January day.  I felt awful, but it was the first day of my lab sessions, which I could not be absent from.  They were mandatory, as they were orientations to give us all of the information we needed for the semester.  I’m pretty sure I crashed in bed when I got home.

But now, I have 6 online courses to do.  These include:

  • Start Writing Fiction – I have 3 weeks to go in this one.
  • Introduction to Ecosystems – 4 weeks to go in this.
  • Archaeology of Portus – 4 weeks to go in this fascinating course about Rome’s ancient port.
  • Diversity of Exoplanets – I’ve just started this, and I can thankfully fall behind, as everything is due in mid-July.  It’s 6 weeks long.
  • Paradoxes of War – Just started today, and I have yet to look at it. It’s 8 weeks long.
  • Organic Solar Cells – Starts tomorrow and lasts until mid-July.

So, am I crazy?

Getting Busy with Studying

For a short time, I was doing only one online course.  Now, I’m doing three.  Within two weeks, I’ll be doing six at one time.  Time to get busy.

This week, I finished week 4 of Start Writing Fiction at FutureLearn, so I’m halfway done that one.  But I also started two more this week at FutureLearn, Introduction to Ecosystems and Archaeology of Portus.  I’ve already finished the first week of the ecosystems course.  So, I’m doing courses on writing, biology, and archaeology right now.

Next week, I start one course on Coursera, The Diversity of Exoplanets.  The following week, I start two more courses, Paradoxes of War and Organic Solar Cells on Coursera.

Six courses seems a bit much.  I can cope with three no problem.  The writing course finishes within two weeks of my fifth and sixth courses starting.  But another starts at the end of June, and one at the beginning of July.  But many of the courses I’m starting now finish around that time, anyway.  So it’ll be a quieter July and August.

I finished the Moons and Imagining Other Earths courses earlier this month.  I received 93% on the Moons course.  I finally received my final grade in the Dinosaur Palaeobiology course.  100%!  That feels good.

Now, I think I’ll get to work on the Portus course today and maybe get ahead on the writing course today and tomorrow.

Writing Course Week 3

I finished week 3 of the Start Fiction Writing at FutureLearn today, and I’m getting a head start on week 4.

In week 3, we did a lot of work on editing.  We got some editing practice, and I already posted the story I wrote for week 2.  That was edited.  Also for week 3, we had to write a story that was only 200 to 350 words long.  And here it is, unedited:


The fire raged all around him. Dan sprinted to the only opening he saw, through a pair of large cedars. It should be only a few minutes to the road, he thought.

The wildfire began as a campfire. Dan remembered with a lot of sorrow how Jeff poured propane into the dying fire. It exploded in flames all around him, catching him and the trees around their small campsite on fire. The blast knocked Dan into a rock and he lost consciousness for several minutes. No campfires, said the warning signs. But they didn’t listen. They had to be cocky and convinced themselves that nothing would happen. Now Jeff was dead. The winds blew the fire in the direction of the road.

Dan coughed as he ran. The heavy smoke choked all life in the immediate area. He couldn’t see more than ten metres. It was a blind run, and he realised he didn’t know if his dash from the fire was straight. He gasped for air, his throat burning. His eyes watered. He groped through the trees with beer bottle vision.

“Jeff,” he said, coughing. “What did we do?”

I have to get out, he thought. I will get out. I can’t die.

The crackle of the fire drowned out all other sounds but one. A faint thumping sound from above grew louder. A helicopter. I’m saved, thought Dan. But can it see me?

He emerged into a clearing and collapsed. The helicopter swooped overhead, and landed near him, creating a fierce wind toward the fire. Two men jumped from the open door. Dan’s vision darkened as one man shouted, “Did you start the fire? Answer, or you’ll be left here.”

Who were they? They didn’t sound like rescuers, thought Dan before he lost consciousness.

I was able to keep the passive voice out of the story, which I’m finding remarkably easy now.  I’m keeping most of the sentences fairly short, which conveys a feeling of urgency.  It’s more active.

In week 4, there will be a lot about keeping notebooks and developing plot.  It sounds pretty interesting.

Writing Course – Week 2

I’ve just finished week 2 of the Start Writing Fiction course at FutureLearn, and this one ended with writing a story of no more than 500 words.  That’s pretty short.  Well, I’m not going to post it here.  Sorry.

My reasons for not posting it are that I’m not finished.  Week 3 will involve editing of the story, so I’ll be getting that done first.  If there’s more to be done in the following weeks, I’ll get that done before posting as well.  So you’re just going to have to wait.

This week was more about adding detail, and we had to rewrite our character sketches.  Then with the story, we had to take some of our notes or our character sketches and make a very short story.  I had a little sci-fi inspiration for this one, and it oddly got me thinking about what I could do to expand it.  I’m surprised how quickly this has developed into the seed for an idea.  I don’t have an overall story, but the type of people and at least three characters have been created in my mind.  All of this started out with watching a video of different people, encouragement to write about one of them and think of a backstory.  This course has become very useful.

A bit unrelated, but still relevant to writing, I’ve been starting to work on a revision of part 2 of Journey to Ariadne, and one of the critiques pointed out a big problem I have with writing:  too much passive voice.  I have to admit that is one of my problems, one that I need to work hard on cleaning up.  I hope to have part 2 up within the next week.