Course Review

Introduction to Prism for WPF – Course Review

Introduction to Prism for WPF, by Brian Lagunas, is a Pluralsight course that covers how to use Prism, a MVVM library for WPF.

The course is not very long (about 4 hours), and it covers the basics of how to use Prism quite well. Examples are simple and to the point.

Prism is much, much better than using raw MVVM, as it takes a lot less code do the same, leaving your code much clearer and more concise.

However, my standard comparison point is DevExpress.MVVM, which is also free, but which I already have paid support in my regular component subscription with them. Plus, they manage to require even less code, and have many cool features.

Overall, recommended if you are interested in Prism. But you might want to take a look at DevExpress' library, too.

Course Review

So you want to be an entrepreneur – Course Review

So you want to be an entrepreneur is a course by Dan Appleman in PluralSight.

It covers some interesting elements, including what you will go through as an entrepreneur, looking at goals, coming up with the idea, hiring, accounting, and funding.

I learned quite a bit, as while I've been an entrepreneur for decades – selling software online – it is a solo thing and thus doesn't include a lot of what he talks about.

I was particularly interested in the “lifestyle company” concept, as I had not seen it before – creating a company expecting that it won't grow much – just enough to make a living for you.

Overall, quite interesting, and well worth the 4 hours. Of course, joining Pluralsight for this would be overkill, but if you are already there and interested in the subject, I'd recommend it. The author also has several other interesting courses.

Product Review

Pluralsight – “New Course Available”

It is a small UI change, but with big consequences for the user:

When you are looking at channels (their version of bookmarks), “New Course Available” might appear. If you click on it, you get a box like this:

So you learn about the new course, avoid wasting time viewing outdated material and replace it on your channel in seconds. And if for some reason you actually wanted the outdated material (if you are using an outdated version of a product, for example), it is still there.

Very, very clever.

Course Review

Learning technology in the information age – Course Review

Learning technology in the information age, by Dan Appleman, is a short (2 hour) course in how to learn tech in the most effective way for your career. This is part of Pluralsight.

I liked the way that he divided the tracks in learning technology:

  • Fundamentals – the basics, can last a long time, but might be complex
  • Information – relevant to a specific tech – you usually don't need to learn the fundamentals to use it, but it might leave important holes in your knowledge; gets obsolete quickly, but easier to learn.
  • Skills – actually using what you know about information and fundaments to do stuff – what employers/clients usually want
  • Innovation – what experts are best on – but can be expensive to learn to that level, and less cost effective than just being competent

The course also goes into how to learn on each of the tracks, and the advantages of the various ways to learn, such as books, online courses, schools, etc. And ways to create a learning plan.

Overall, pretty interesting, and I have added several of his other courses to my lists.

Course Review

SuperHuman Academy Procrastination Course Review

I have recently taken the SuperHuman Academy's Procrastination course (not sure how to link – I can't view the course if I am not logged in. Also – their affiliate system buttons don't work, and telling them didn't help, so there are no affiliate links here). 
The course is just a few hours. Since I have a chronic procrastination habit, I have seen other courses and books on the subject, but the course contained a lot I didn't know yet, as well as very interesting perspectives on old topics.
Price: as the course is not available on their page, I have no idea what the price would be. I got it as a full SuperHuman Academy bundle I got with a discount last year.
Some of the things I liked from the course:

  • Procrastination is not rest – it decreases energy, anxiety and affects your world view, making you think you are a procrastinator, and that there is nothing you can do to change that.
  • Procrastination is a self-protection mechanism from the conflict between a high desire for success but high fear of failure. It also comes from the fact that you get a instant reward from avoiding doing something you don't want to do – so you get a dopamine hit when you procrastinate, just like an addictions.
  • You should start habits as small as possible, as just relying on motivation mostly doesn't work. Committing to tiny things daily – such as doing a single push-up or putting your gym clothes – work better than trying to commit to larger things, which you can easily find excuses for.
  • You should have SMART goals – specific/measurable/achievable/relevant/time-bound (this one is quite popular, must be 3rd-4th time I have seen it).
  • Break down your goals – if you don't have clear steps, that will cause a great opportunity for procrastination to appear.
  • Get aware of your procrastination, by paying attention every time you do it, and taking notes of why you did it (obviously, as well as you understand it). Awareness will develop over time as you cultivate this habit. Some examples: distractions, dreading the activity, energy levels, thinking you can't do it, etc.
  • Be aware of the “what-the-hell effect” – when you do something you shouldn't, think “what the hell”, and make it worse. Such as eating a cookie, then going and eating a whole box because you already broke your diet.
  • Get a growth mindset, and reframe failure as every time you fail, it is an opportunity to learn, not a reflection on you sucking. Different countries actually have more or less of this baked into their culture, which affects their entrepreneurship rates.
  • Try to take on things you like doing, instead of things you think you should be doing (obviously hard, might even require changing your job). Delegate when possible. Procrastination can point out what you don't like to do, if it is not obvious.
  • Simplify things you do, something good that gets done is much better than the perfect one that doesn't.
  • When you are invested on things, it is less likely you will avoid them – you can invest money, emotion, safety, energy, reputation, etc.
  • Having deadlines can help
  • Ownership of problems helps puts the brain on problem solving mode – otherwise you might just feel sorry for your circumstances.
  • Manage your energy – sleep/nutrition/exercise/psychological state
  • Focus on starting, by planning to do something for just a limited time – many times you will realize it was note as bad as you thought and keep doing it. It also signals you that you do that kind of task. Quick wins can be build momentum. Pomodoro method is related.
  • Do the worst thing first. 
  • Batch tasks when possible – so you only have to overcome procrastination once per batch.
  • Whenever you have to stop an habit, go back as quickly as possible, but a lower level of intensity, so you don't get overwhelmed
  • Keep records of what worked and what didn't relating to procrastination.
  • Try to do positive procrastination when possible – such as instead of viewing cat videos on YouTube, view TED Talks. Then over time try to watch course videos. I.e. if you have to avoid doing something, try to avoid it with something better, that is actually useful.

This was a small fraction of my notes on the course, there was a lot of learn. Writing this post made me realize that I will probably have to watch the course again.
Overall, strongly recommended (as time spent goes – can't talk about cost-benefit, as price is unknown to me). There were things I was avoiding for years I got done, and I am much more aware of my procrastination now.

Book Review

Architects of Intelligence – Book Review

Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it, by Martin Ford, is a series of interviews with people who are in the forefront of AI development.

There are many names that will pop to anyone interested in the field, such as Andrew Ng (actually took an online course with him, very interesting – tan early version of, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Books, Nick Bostrom and many more.

Interviews usually talk about how they got into the field, where they see it going, when they think AGI (artificial general intelligence, sometimes also called Strong AI) will be created and how, and what will happen to jobs as AI/automation get more and more capable.

Overall, very interesting and well worth the time.

Product Review

HelpXPlain – Product Review

HelpXPlain is a tool for making “videos” with step by step explanations, and screencasts. They are not really videos – it uses Javascript and images to make something that looks like a video, but is much smaller and more fluid.

If perhaps you used something like Instant Demo (which hasn't been updated for a while), you have seen this before. The big detail is that this kind of program used Flash for output, which is a big no-no right now, as it is not on by default and will be retired completely by the end of the year.

I actually used the program the first day after the release (and bought it shortly after) but I didn't post a review as I hadn't done a full video with it.

Now I have – just a page that only had a description of a process – How to Print a ZIP file .

So, what is nice about HelpXPlain vs Instant Demo? First, the HTML/JS output, and second, it is mostly easier to edit your screencasts in. They are mostly a bunch of slides, which you can easily remove or duplicate.

Of course, I am not great at this – there are some awkward pauses in my screencast – but I think it took me about an hour, while working on the script and learning the program, which I think is just fine.

Size and responsiveness are pretty great for me. Adding the screencast is a bit harder than a YouTube video, but the simpler way is just a few lines of HTML and uploading a few files (it adds to 4.6 MB, 28 files).

One very nice thing is that you can also add the screencast to Help files. HelpXPlain is made by the same company as Help+Manual, which I really like, and have used for years. While most software now consider Help files outdated, I still like them (and you can post them online, anyway – they have search and everything). It also supports translation (as separate projects), with paid AI translation support. I didn't try that, though.

Overall, I really like it, specially considering how new it is. Very much worth considering for your screencast or support videos.

PS: They don't have an affiliate program (that I know of), so I don't get anything from this review.

HelpXPlain Screenshot

Book Review

The Only Skill that Matters – Book Review

The Only Skill that Matters, by Jonathan Levi, is a book that covers a number of techniques for learning.

Personally there was very little I learned from the book – but I had already watched his course on the subject, plus others, and I just read UltraLearning , which covers several parts of the subject.

That said, I think the book would be very adequate for those new to the subjects of memorization, speed reading and how to learn. Plus, it is quite short, and reasonably priced.


Fake news game adds resistance to misinformation

Quite interesting. Some researchers created a game where you make a fake news organization, and thus learn the techniques they use. After playing, people are more likely to spot fake news.

That can help against the epidemic of fake news, that is now everywhere in the world and really harming everything, from democracy to health.

View the full Study

Site Reviews

PluralSight – Review

I just realized that I apparently never posted about PluralSight, even though I reviewed a bunch of courses I took there.

PluralSight has a lot of courses in many areas. This includes development, game development, art, devops and more. They also have smart systems that will evaluate you and suggest courses in a specific area, such as C#, Java, etc.

One area that is constantly mentioned on Reddit and other places is their .Net courses. These cover many minor topics that is hard to see elsewhere, and usually their coverage will be more to the point than a book – so that you know what you need to work with a technology.

The professional plan is US$499 per year. There are usually sales throughout the year, and I usually renew then. You can also get a free trial, and Visual Studio subscription get you some free time.

Their iOS app is pretty good. They have Android and Windows (with off-line course downloads) but I haven't used them yet.

Many courses also have closed captions, and you can change video speed, although for me that works poorly and changes itself often.

Overall, very much worth it for the specialized courses, specially for .Net developers. For others, Safari Books might be interesting because of the book AND video coverage.