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Archive for April, 2015

Save $60,000 a Year and Fix Your Own Toaster

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Free Knowledge for Nerds

I’m back.

I haven’t written anything here lately, but I have had all sorts of remarkable experiences. The practice of praying in tongues keeps paying off, not just for me, but for people I have encouraged.

My young friend who got a music scholarship at the University of Miami is in the neighborhood most weekdays because of class, and we meet and spend long sessions in prayer. You wouldn’t believe the revelation he gets. It’s tremendous.

That’s not what drove me here to write, though. I had a wonderful experience over the last couple of weeks, and I really don’t know anyone who would appreciate it, so here I am.

I have always regretted burning out on physics and quitting school. I could not do anything about it. I’m sure the people I worked with at the University of Texas think I just wasn’t smart enough, and that I was a typical washout, but that’s not true. I got a physics degree in three years, and when I started, I didn’t really know algebra, and then I got accepted by a top grad program. You can’t be stupid and do that. I just got burned out, and nothing I did helped. I panicked and resorted to ADD drugs, and they made things worse. And the people who ran the UT physics department didn’t care at all. They did give me one or two breaks, but they were small, and the impression I got was that they wanted me out of there fast, without an ADA lawsuit.

Before I was admitted, I was warned that UT didn’t care about students, but I didn’t know how true it was. And I saw my lab students get the same treatment. I guess that’s Texas for you. There seems to be something about the high percentage of Germans there that makes Texas different from other Southerners. They can be extremely rigid and cold.

I believe the real reason I failed was that I was out of line with God’s will. Every Christian is on the enemy’s radar, and the enemy is real, and he will make bad things happen to you if you’re an idiot, which I was. These days I have supernatural tools to put my enemies in my place, but back then, I was defenseless, so I lost to jerks and creeps who probably spent their entire childhood and adolescent years receiving wedgies from younger kids and being pushed in the mud by Brownies.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed online education opportunities, but they have taken a while to develop into something useful, and I didn’t really work hard to take advantage, so it wasn’t until recently that things started to click.

In February, I felt like I absolutely had to find a good online electronics course. I build tube amps, and I took two electronics courses in college, but I have no idea what I’m doing. The first course I took was somewhat practical. The second was all theory, and it was about things like the photoelectric principle, which is not going to get anyone a job designing computers. I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned, and I didn’t learn that much to begin with.

I Googled and came across EDx.org, which is a site started by Harvard and MIT. You can go there and take courses from excellent professors at various universities, and you can even get certificates of completion. You can submit homework assignments, do labs with virtual equipment, and take tests.

I signed up to audit 6.002x, which is MIT’s basic electronics course. They provided an online version of the textbook for nothing. It was too late in the year to take the course for credit, but I already have credit for a similar course, and I don’t have any use for a certificate anyway.

The online textbook was nearly impossible to read, but I found the real book on Ebay. The American-market hardcover version runs $90, but I found the Indian edition, which is paperback, for about $20. I ordered it.

Near as I can tell, you can’t get the lecture videos unless you start from the beginning of the semester. That’s bad. But today I found the answer to that problem, and in doing so, I found the mother lode of free nerd classes. MIT has a site that provides a huge number of classes, for the princely sum of nothing. And the lectures are all on Youtube!

They even provide PDF lecture notes.

You can’t get credit, but on the other hand, you don’t have to submit a 1500 SAT or pay $60,000 per year (I checked) in tuition and costs. And if you ever have to get credit, you can take the MIT online class first and then show up at your local college and blow everyone out of the water.

This is wonderful. I feel like I’ll finally have a tiny bit of the knowledge you need to be competent with electronic devices. And the structure makes it easy to stick with it.

If you wish you could improve your brain, but you can’t go to college right now, this is a great resource.

I’ve already written about other providers, such as Khan Academy and NPTEL, but MIT is a cut above, because they provide real courses with real materials.

It’s incredible, really. Twenty years ago, I had zero chance of ever attending an MIT lecture. Now I can attend as many as I can stand, in my garage.

I’m sure there is stuff out there for liberal arts people, too. Truthfully, though, do you really need a professor to teach you about art history and novels? I’ve had plenty of liberal arts courses, and I learned absolutely nothing–nothing–I could not have figured out on my own with a library card.

Check it out if you want. If you’re technically inclined, you will never see a better bargain than this: MIT Open Courseware.

If you have a brainy kid who wants to get a head start on college, remember, taking courses online before you take them in person isn’t cheating. It’s just smart thinking.