Thursday, December 20, 2007

MU120: CMA42

Yesterday, apart from getting my result for M359, I got the result for my MU120 CMA42 (computer marked assignment).  I scored 88% but today it is 92%.  It looks as though for one question there are 2 answers, not 1, and I have gained marks for correctly answering the question when previously it was marked incorrect.

Perhaps they can re-score my M359 exam, as an extra 4% will bump me up a grade.  LOL

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

M359: Was it worth it?

The results for M359 have just been released and I got a grade 3 (67%), this being my lowest grade over the 4 years that I have studied with the OU so far.  To say I am disappointed would be an understatement especially as I obtained an overall score for my assignments of 94% and spent a month revising for the exam.

I know I have an issue with exams but I strongly feel that the layout for the M359 exam had a detrimental effect on my final result.  This appears to be the opinion of a number of other students who also got high assignment scores but were let down by the exam.

With only 2 courses remaining I am still in with a chance of getting a 1st for my degree (according to the online degree classification calculator, Leningrad), it just means that I am going to have to work extra hard as I will require distinctions for both of the courses.  If I slip up on either I will probably end up with a 2.1 classification.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

M359: Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!

The course result for M359 should by available by the 14th Dec, and for previous years results have sometimes been released 1 or 2 days earlier.  So there I' am checking my student home page every hour to see if the result for M359 has been released when I notice "Your course result should be available by Friday 21 December 2007".  No explanations as to why, and I now have to wait an extra week.  As a fellow student pointed out, perhaps this is the final errata for the course, with the final results placed in an appendix at the end of our course record page.

Monday, December 10, 2007

MU120: Velocity, Speed & Acceleration

Having started Unit 11 "Movement" I have been struggling to get my head around velocity, and how it differs to speed and acceleration.  After having done some further research on the net I came across a web-site called The Physics Classroom which not only had an understandable lesson on "Speed and Velocity" but also some simple animations that clearly shows the difference.

Positive Velocity and Positive Acceleration

Observe that the object below moves in the positive direction with a changing velocity. An object which moves in the positive direction has a positive velocity. If the object is speeding up, then its acceleration vector is directed in the same direction as its motion (in this case, a positive acceleration). The "ticker tape" shows that each consecutive dot is not the same distance apart (i.e., a changing velocity). The position-time graph shows that the slope is changing (meaning a changing velocity) and positive (meaning a positive velocity). The velocity-time graph shows a line with a positive (upward) slope (meaning that there is a positive acceleration); the line is located in the positive region of the graph (corresponding to a positive velocity). The acceleration-time graph shows a horizontal line in the positive region of the graph (meaning a positive acceleration).


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Vote for JT on the 9th!

James Toseland, World Superbikes Champion 2007,  is one of the ten final contenders for this years "BBC Sports Personality of the Year" award. Vote for him on the 9th December.

James Toseland
Age: 27 Nationality: English
Sport: Motorcycling

2007 highlight: Second World Superbikes title

Toseland showed he loves life in the fast lane as he regained the World Superbikes title.

Reaching speeds of up to 200 miles an hour - he set the pace from the start in the 15 round championship.

The Honda rider won a race in each of the first five meetings, and treated home fans to a first career double at Brands Hatch.

After his second championship win, he moves to Moto GP in 2008.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hmmm??? Good or Bad?

Having just seen via John Naughton's blog that you can rate the readability of a blog, I thought I would give it a go.

The result for my blog is:


Now this could be deemed as being good as you my audience must be an intelligent bunch of people to keep coming back and reading my blog.  On the other hand it could be bad, in other word's my English is dire and I am using to many technical terms.  Hmmm???

Thursday, November 29, 2007

MU120: TMA01 Result

On Tuesday I got the result back for my first MU120 TMA.  Although I got 95% I lost 3 marks through stupid mistakes in part 1 of the TMA.  1 mark was for saying one word when I meant a different word, and the other 2 were for not spotting that Excel hadn't formatted the x-axis scale on one of the graphs correctly.

Monday, November 26, 2007

MU120: 50%

I am now half-way through the course, having completed units 1 - 9, CMA's 41 & 42, and TMA's 1 & 2.  If I am able to keep this pace going then I should have the whole course completed by the end of January.  The thing is that OU courses have a habit of really increasing the learning curve at the half-way point.  Fingers crossed that it isn't to steep for MU120.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dr. Gordon Moore

The BBC on their news web site has a fascinating interview with Dr. Moore.

In April 1965 a 36-year old electronics buff jotted down his thoughts on the future of the juvenile silicon chip industry.

Writing in a "throw-away" journal, Gordon Moore accurately imagined a future filled with mobile phones, home computers, and even intelligent cars.

But it was a much more prosaic prediction that has come to dominate his life and the industry that he helped found.

"I could see a change coming that the electronics were going to get significantly cheaper," says the co-founder of Intel, the largest maker of computer chips.

In the article in Electronics Magazine, he predicted that the number of transistors on a silicon chip would double every year for ten years.

This interview would have been useful when I did T171 back in 2004, and it might be useful for those students studying it's successor T175

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

MU120: Where am I?

Last Wednesday I attended my second tutorial for MU120, with the main theme for the evening being statistics.  I also handed my TMA01 part1 into my tutor.  Although this was just over a week early, as the cut-off date is the 25.Oct, I didn't want to have to worry about it being delayed due to the recent postal strikes.

Having completed unit 2 "Prices" I started unit 3  "Earnings" today.  With the next tutorial being the 31.Oct I am planning to hand in my TMA01 part2 then.  At present I am enjoying the course, with it not being too taxing and am on schedule to finish it by the beginning of Feb 08.    We will have to see if I can keep to my planned schedule.  Why the rush?  Well I want to minimize the overlap with M450 which officially starts in Feb 08.

MU120: Course Text

Last night at 8pm DHL delivered units 6 - 9 of the course text.  2 things impressed me about this:

1.  My student homepage said that this material was not going to be dispatched until 16.Nov.
2.  DHL delivered the package in the evening.

The one improvement the OU could now make with their dispatching of materials is too not pack them so tight.  When I unpacked the package last night I discovered that the audio cd cover had broken, and this is the second time this has happened in as many deliveries.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lewis Who?

On Sunday 7th October a certain Mr. Lewis Hamilton did not finish the Chinese F1 Grand Prix, thus failing to secure the Formula One championship.  Yet on the same date in another part of the world [Magny-Cours France], a Britain did win a motorsport championship.  James Toseland won the World Superbike (WSBK) championship, and this was his second time with the first being in 2004.

The point is that although Lewis's failure in China was extensively covered in the media, James winning the WSBK championship had no television news coverage and only warranted a couple of small paragraphs in some of the daily newspapers.

World Superbikes is a far more entertaining motorsport than F1, with plenty of drama, lots of overtaking and races not decided upon by pit strategy.  Plus in the UK we have the added advantage of having 3 championship rounds ,  Donington, Silverstone and Brands Hatch.

ref: BBC Sport
ref: Motorcycle News
ref: SBK - Official Site

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

M359: Exam

Tuesday last week (9.Oct) I took the M359 exam.  I haven't written about it until now as I came away from the exam very unhappy.

The reason for this was the layout of the exam paper.  Although I was aware that for the 12 short questions we had to place our answers in the exam booklet itself in spaces provided directly after each question, I did not appreciate what a pain this would be.  Each question tended to be a piece of description followed by 2 or 3 sub-questions, and the problem lay in if the question stretched over more than one page.  This meant that I had to keep flipping backwards and forwards between pages, which was very time consuming.  The worst culprits were questions 6, 7 and 8, as each of these questions referred to an appendix at the end of the exam booklet.

I am not the only one who feels this way about the exam paper, as there has been a general outcry from a lot of students concerning the layout, with a number of us making official complaints.

In conclusion the layout of the exam paper made a stressful situation even more stressful, wasted time and has cost me marks.  I now just have to wait until the 14.Dec to find out what my final grade will be.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


We must be mad, it is 4:40am and we are up watching the qualifying for the Australian round of MotoGP.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

MU120: First Tutorial

Attended my first tutorial for MU120 last night.  In total there were 5 of us (including the tutor).  The evening was split into 2, with the first half covering course admin aspects, such as TMA's and support, and the second half we had to answer 6 puzzles, some of them being quiet fiendish.  From now until Christmas the tutorials are every other week and it is my intention to attend them all unless something unforeseen turns up.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Gingerbread Haka

According to today's Metro this video "has been branded culturally insensitive".  Yet I think it is a very good and amusing piece of animation from Kangoo Animation, an animation studio in New Zealand.

Monday, October 01, 2007

M450: And so it begins

The M450 Computing project course website is now accessible, although at present it's content is very limited.  1 piece of new and 2 downloadable documents (study calendar and tutor allocation form).  It is the tutor allocation form that was of particular interest to me as it states...

"Please indicate below the single course that most closely relates to your chosen project topic"

Now my understanding was that with the amalgamation of the various computing project courses into a single course, a student could base their project around several 3rd level courses as opposed to having to choose 1 specific 3rd level course.  With this in mind I contacted OU and got the following reply from the M450 course manager...

"Yes it is possible for you to choose a project based on more than one of the level 3 computing courses and indeed we hope that people will do this, so your idea of basing a project on M301 and M359 seems excellent."

This for me is really good news.

Friday, September 21, 2007

OU: Change Of Plan

With M359 coming to an end (well for me anyway) and thus only needing a further 90 points to complete my degree, I decided a couple of months ago to plan out my remaining courses.

For B29 the Computing degree you are required to do a project, TM450, so I decided that this would be my main course for next year.  Now as I wanted to complete my project without any interference of any other courses I had to decided on what to do over the winter period, I decided on MU120.  Being a level 1 course with no exam it suited me fine and I could work at my own pace thus reducing the overlap with the project.  For my final course I decided on doing M366, Natural and artificial intelligence, as this is a subject that has always interested me.  The current course was running from Oct 07 through to Jun 08, so Oct 08 looked like a good bet, I would have just finished the project and would have my degree completed by Jun 09.

So my plan looked like this:

Course Title Start End
MU120 Open Mathematics Sep 07 Jun 08
M450 The Computing Project Feb 08 Oct 08
M366 Natural and Artificial Intelligence Oct 08 Jun 09

Well on Wednesday I discovered that M366 will not be running in Oct 08, and the next presentation after the current one will be Feb 09.  This is most annoying as a) I will have a gap between finishing my project and starting M366 and b) it means I will finish my degree 4 months later than originally planned.  I did contemplate contacting the OU to see if I could swap MU120 and M366 around but this would have defeated my objective for doing MU120 and also today I have discovered that there is not on Oct 08 presentation of MU120.

My plan now looks like this:

Course Title Start End
MU120 Open Mathematics Sep 07 Jun 08
M450 The Computing Project Feb 08 Oct 08
M366 Natural and Artificial Intelligence Feb 09 Oct 09

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

OU: Note Taking

Throughout my OU studies I have been endeavoring to find a note taking system that is ideal for me.  I have tried different systems such as highlighting important text in the course text and then making notes in a separate note-book, and mind-maps.  Yet they all seem to lead to the same result in that I tend to end up duplicating what is in the course text.  This is one of the reasons why I believe that come exam time I struggle to remember facts (i.e. lists).

Yesterday I came across an interesting article, "Advice for Students: Taking Notes that Work", at which detailed amongst other things several different methods for taking notes.  The one that interested me most was the Cornell System.

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes. About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the left-hand edge of the sheet. You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the left, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions. In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

I have decided to give this method a go when I start MU120 and if it proves successful I will then use it for M450.

A search on Google for "Cornell System" came up with numerous different sites (13,000+) some of which are listed below:

Cornell University - Learning Strategies Center
Study Skills - The Cornell System
Free Cornell Note Forms

Monday, September 17, 2007

M359: Possible Exam Strategy

On Sunday morning at the M500 Revision weekend Stuart Hutchison (our tutor for the weekend) discussed with us a possible exam strategy, and this is detailed below.

NoteIt is up to the individual how they use the following information; I am only documenting it as I believe some people might find it of use.

2 part exam, with 3 hours allowed.

Part 1:  12 short questions worth 5 marks each, giving a total of 60% of the overall exam mark.  This equates to 108mins for part 1 with 9mins per question.

Part 2:  2 out of 3 long questions worth 20 marks each, giving a total of 40% of the overall exam mark.  This equates to 72mins for part 2 with 36mins per question.

Breakdown (and possibly what could be expected)
Stuart has based this breakdown on his experience of tutoring M358 and reviewing the M359 sample paper.

Part 1:
Q1., Q2.  Warm-up questions, normally quiet easy i.e. “Describe the differences between data and information”.
Q3.  Entity – Relationship Diagram to Relational Model.
Q4.  Relational algebra.
Q5.  Normalization.
Q6.  SQL – Code supplied, what does it do / correct the mistakes.
Q7.  SQL – Write some SQL from scratch.
Q8.  SQL – procedures, triggers, cursors, views.
Q9.  Entity Relationship Model – Revise / update.
Q10.  De-normalization, complex data.
Q11.  Data warehousing.
Q12.  XML.

Part 2:
Q13.  Entity Relationship Model to Relational Model (including relational algebra).
Q14.  SQL / Restructuring / Normalization / Access control.
Q15.  Sub-typing / Entity Relationship Models / Populating a database.

Revision Strategy
A high percentage of the exam appears to be based on SQL and data modelling, therefore by using the following strategy a student could potentially expect to get a good overall mark for the exam.

1.  SQL – A must.
2.  Data modelling – Entity Relationship Models.
3.  Relational algebra – borderline effort.
4.  Normalization / de-normalization – borderline effort.

Block 1 – skim.
Block 2 – learn well.
Block 3 – the bible, a must.
Block 4 – skim.
Block 5 – section 1 skim.

By concentrating their revision on blocks 2 and 3 (especially block 3) a student should be able to do enough in the exam to get a good mark.

One final exam tip ;)  “don’t think as thinking costs time”  In other words do not waste time on questions you will struggle with, move onto what are the easy questions for you.

M359: M500 Revision Weekend (part 2)

Sunday 16th

Today was very similar to yesterday.  2 sessions each comprising of a short lecture followed by answering a selection of questions.  The only difference with yesterday is that Stuart also did a session on exam strategy (see follow-up posting).

Session 4 (SQL) covered:
Handling NULL
Data insertion
Group By
Ordering results
SET operations
Access control

Session 5 covered:
Distribution models
Distribution architectures
Technology drivers
Technology terminology
Multi-dimensional models
Information integration
Markup fundamentals
XML document structure
XML versus relational data
Embedded SQL concepts
Embedded SQL Statements
JDBC – executing SQL

The weekend has proved very useful as it has highlighted to me where my weak areas are and given me some clear ideas as to how to proceed.  My thanks goes out to Stuart Hutchison, a most excellent tutor.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

M359: M500 Revision Weekend

The M500 revision weekend is proving very useful. Our tutor is Stuart Hutchison of region 9. Stuart over a period of time has compiled a long list a questions and solutions to aid in revision for M359, and is using extracts from this list to aid in our revision (see below). I am finding them very useful as they are helping me identify my weak areas.

If you want to get hold of Stuart for further details on his questions and solutions he can be contacted on stuart.hutchison at


Friday 14th

Well here we are Aston Uni for the start of the M500 revision weekend. There’s 16 students taking the M359 strand and our tutor is Stuart Hutchison. This evening’s session covered Block 1, with Stuart doing some lecturing and then passing out some questions (which were a selection from a long list of questions he has compiled). These questions are proving very useful and informative. For me they are certainly highlighting areas where I need to pay extra attention.

The sorts of questions being:
Q3. Data Storage
List some fundamental problems associated with file-based data storage.

Q7. Database Concepts & Terminology
Complete each of the following boxes – which represent the 3-tier architecture of a typical DBMS.

After the evening session we spent a couple of hours at the “Sack of Potatoes”, the local public house, followed by a couple more drinks at the ABS bar, to drown our sorrows over England being whitewashed by South Africa.

Saturday 15th

The day panned out as Session 2, lunch and then session 3.

Session 2 covered:
CDM basics
ERD basics
Relational structure
Relational operations
Relational constraints

Session 3 covered:
Normal forms
Functional dependency
Design considerations
Normalization concepts
Complex data

Once again Stuart used questions from the long list of questions that he has compiled, to aid in getting across the essence of the subject.

The primary thing I learnt today was to not speed read the questions, but to read them and then read them again. For example I kept mistaking the word "data" for "database".

Friday, September 07, 2007

M359: Revision

Having just recently come back from a glorious 2 week holiday in Italy I am finding it difficult to get back into the groove.  With the exam for M359 looming (09.Oct) I have now made a start on my revision, with my plan being to cover a block a week.  I still have not completed TMA04 but am now treating it as a revision aid rather than worrying about what final assessment score I might get.  Also I have decided not to bother doing question 4 as this covers topic 2 of block 5 and therefore will not be tested in the exam.  So apart from going through my notes, making new ones, and re-reading the course text, I will be meeting up with friends who are on the course as well and also attending the M500 Revision Weekend at Aston University, Birmingham.


My only concern is that I start MU120 on the 29.Sept, with a CMA to submit by 11.Oct.  This means that for a week prior to the exam I am going to have to split my time.  Hopefully the prep material for MU120 want be to complicated.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

M263: Results Available

The course result for M263 is now available, and to my amazement I got a Distinction.  Well chuffed considering how concerned I was after the exam with regards to running out of time.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tower Crane - Completed

Well it's Monday morning and it looks as though the tower crane has been completed.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tower Crane

Behind the building where I work there is a construction site where they are in the process of constructing for building, 2 of which will be over 40 floors high. Today they are installing a tower crane and I have decided to photograph it's construction.

ref: Picasa - Tower Crane

Monday, July 23, 2007

M359: TMA03 - Result

Last night, at 23:40, I got my result back for TMA03.  Although it wasn't 100% like TMA02 it was still in the high 90's, so am rather pleased.

This does present me with another problem though and it is one that I have experienced with other courses.  How do I do well in the exam.  For all my courses so far, except for 1, I have got a grade 2 although my TMA scores have been grade 1 standard.  I really let myself down at exam time.  It's not as though I don't revise for the exams, it's just that I have difficulty in remembering certain things such as lists.  This results I believe from my job in that I work for a small company and have to cover all aspects of I.T. and Computing.  So for a 3 month stint I might be doing ASP.NET programming and then not touch it for another year.  If I then need to do more ASP.NET I tend to refer back to previous work, text books and the Net.  I have termed this as "Use and Forget".  This issue has manifested itself in the courses that I have done, for example with M359 I fully understood blocks 1, 2 and 3, and the concepts involved, with this being reflected in both my scores and my tutors' comments, but now looking back I can't remember the nitty-gritty such as "list the enduring issues in data management" from block 1 without continuously referring back to the text.  This means that I am still hunting for the revision / memory technique that suits me best.

Friday, July 20, 2007

MU120: Update

TI-84+ SEFor this course you need a graphics calculator (TI-83 or TI-84) and on Friday last week I took delivery of a TI-84+ SE.  It's rather impressive and all I have to do now is to figure out how to use it.

On Wednesday I received my first lot of course books for MU120.  This set is classified as the preparatory pack and it contained 3 books, a pamphlet (on how to use the calculator), course guide, audio CD and the usual welcome notes.  If I get chance I will post a more comprehensive list of what I received.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

M359: TMA03

Have just submitted TMA03 of M359.  This has been or rather felt like quiet a long slog, but perhaps it's because I had the exam for M263 half-way through the TMA which meant that there was a bit of a gap after starting it due to revision for M263.

Must admit at the moment I am feeling the mid course blues, although now the TMA has been submitted I hope that I can re-motivate myself and get back into the swing of things.

Monday, July 09, 2007

M359: Block 3 Ex 5.13 - Flawed?

IMHO the solution (page 211) provided for exercise 5.13 (page 117) of block 3 is flawed for a specific set of circumstances.

If the textbook table has a number of text books recorded for a specific course prior to the constraint (solution 5.13) being added, then once the constraint is added no text books will be able to be INSERT'd or UPDATE'd for any course not just the course where the number of recorded text books exceeds 5.

For the following table:
bookcode,title,                                 author_name,       no_pages,course_code
'65281', 'Beginning Syntax',                    'Kershaw, J.',     247,     'c2'
'12953', 'Grammatical Structures',              (NULL),            258,     'c2'
'63948', 'Interpreting Semantics',              'Hyde, E.',        (NULL),  'c4'
'73642', 'The Semantics of Romance Languages',  'Jane Hanley',     (NULL),  'c4'
'65284', 'A First Course In Logic',             'Jerry Maxwell',   115,     'c5'
'65285', 'More Logic',                          'Jerry Maxwell',   210,     'c5'
'65290', 'Even More Logic',                     (NULL),            (NULL),  'c5'
'65291', 'A First Course In Magic',             'Jerry Maxwell',   115,     'c5'
'65292', 'A First Course In Poker',             'Jerry Maxwell',   115,     'c5'
'65293', 'A First Course In Distilling Whiskey','Jerry Maxwell',   115,     'c5'
'38572', 'Practical Pragmatics',                'Christine Davies',320,     'c7'
'93881', 'Advances in Pragmatics',              'Farmer, S.J.',    (NULL),  'c7'

Note that course 'c5' has 6 text books recorded.

Now the constraint (solution 5.13) is added:
ALTER TABLE textbook
   ADD CONSTRAINT max_5_textbooks CHECK (
          5 >= ALL (SELECT COUNT(*)
                    FROM   textbook
                    GROUP BY course_code));

Both of the following queries will break the constraint with SQLAnywhere generating a "Constraint 'max_5'_textbooks' violated:" error message, even though the first query relates to course 'c2' which only has 2 text books recorded and IMO should not break the constraint:
INSERT INTO textbook
    VALUES ('65282', 'Ending Syntax', 'Jerry Maxwell', 115, 'c2');

UPDATE textbook
   SET title = 'A First Course In SQL'
 WHERE bookcode = '65291';

The following is my solution, which not only covers the requirements specified by the exercise but also for the above scenario:
ALTER TABLE textbook
  ADD CONSTRAINT max_5_textbooks CHECK (
         NOT (course_code =ANY(SELECT t.course_code
                               FROM   textbook t
                               GROUP BY t.course_code
                               HAVING COUNT(t.course_code)>= 5)));

For the above 2 queries (the INSERT and the UPDATE queries) the INSERT will work and the UPDATE will fail, which is as expected.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

OU: Next Courses

After I have completed M359 I will only need 90 points for my degree.  This equates to three 30 point courses and today I registered for 2 of them.  For my winter course I have decided to do MU120 - Open Mathematics, for a number of reasons.  The primary reason being that I want to do a course that I can complete as quickly as possible and with MU120 not only is it a level 1 course but also there is no exam at the end of the course.  Why to I want to do a course as quickly as possible?  Well my main course for next year will be The Computing Project M450 and I want to give this my full attention without any interruptions from any other courses.

ref: Open mathematics
ref: The Computing project

A Weekend Off

Valentino RossiHad a weekend off from OU studies this last weekend as we were at Donington for the British round of the MotoGP. Had a thoroughly good time even though Valentino didn't get on the podium due to his tyres deteriorating during the race as the track got drier.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

M253: Final Result

According to my student home page the results for M253 are supposed to be released on Friday 22nd June, yet at 4pm this afternoon (20.Jun) the results were released two days early.

I've PASSED!!!!!!

No more worrying that I might have to take this damned course again. Now I only have 5 courses left, including M263 (awaiting result) and M359 (currently doing), until I get my degree.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

OU: Update

Well it’s been just over a month since my last blog entry, so I thought I had better give an update on what has happened recently.

The reason for the large gap between entries has been due to me revising for the M263 exam, which took place on Monday (11.Jun). The exam was split into 2 parts, with part 1 being 14 short questions and part 2 being a choice of 2 of 4 long questions. Part 1 seemed to sail-by and until I hit question 13 I thought that I would have plenty of time for the long questions. But question 13 was to do with Proof, and this particular subject has been the only one in the course that I have not been able to get to grips with. After making several failed attempts at answering the question I thought I had better move on, and it was at this point I realised that I only had 70mins left to complete part 2. No worry that’s the amount of time the course team reckoned that we should take to answer part 2. Yet there are 4 questions, each taking up an A4 sheet, to read through before choosing which 2 to do. I dived straight into the database question, and got that completed in 35mins, although I missed part b because it wasn’t database related. I then started the second long question, and with out reading any of the other questions I went for the one that contained some programming. Managed to get the 2 implementations completed (a standard function and a recursive function), albeit I was running out of time fast and my hand writing was getting sloppier and sloppier. Whilst the papers were being collected I managed to top up points to the parts of questions that I had missed and unfortunately even if I get all my answered questions correct I will be just under the 85% needed for a distinct, so therefore I am now hoping for a grade 2.

Prior to the exam I had the final TMA for M263 to complete, which did slow down my M263 revision a bit, but it was worth it as I managed to get 85% even though I didn’t complete it all due to the Proof questions.

With regards to M359, I basically had put this on hold except for completing TMA02 (got a mind-blowing 100%), attending 2 evening tutorials and arranging a self-help group meeting (30.Jun). Now I have to get back into M359, but at least I can give it 100% of my time as opposed to having to split the time between both M359 and M263.

Yesterday I found out that I should get my final result for M253 on Friday 22.Jun. It will be nice to finally find out what I got, which is hopefully a pass.

Apart from a busy month OU wise, as a birthday treat for my wife, we went to Le Mans for the day on the 20.May for the French round of the MotoGP. Even though it rained during the main race and took us 3:30hrs to get out of Le Mans, we had a very enjoyable day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

M263: Unit 14 - Brick Wall!!!

Well it's finally happened. I just don't get unit 14. I have tried working my way through questions 4, 5 and 6, by following examples in the course text and get about halfway through answering the question when bang I hit a brick wall. It looks like I will for the first time ever not be sending in a complete TMA. What is doubly frustrating is this is the first section in any course text for any course that I have not fully comprehended.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

M359: A Lack Of Response!

Having just started Block 3 “The database language SQL” I am really enjoying M359. Yet there is one aspect that is really frustrating and that is the lack of response within the M359 FirstClass conferences from OU staff (i.e. the course team, tutors and conference moderators). A number of messages have been posted from students where a response from the OU staff would have helped a lot but none has appeared.

For example:
  1. There is a query concerning Q1 of TMA02 dating back to 08.Apr, and yet no response has been supplied from the OU staff;
  2. I posted a message on the 17.Apr asking “How comparable is section 5 (Normal forms) of block 2 with what is taught for M263 unit 11 (Databases) section 4 (Normal forms)?”. Yet again no response from the OU staff;
  3. Yesterday I posted a question, “For M263 if we want to say that B does not determine A we write it as B /~> A. Is there an equivalent in M359?”. I am not going to hold my breath.

Although this is a level 3 course and we are expected to do a lot of thinking for ourselves, this is the first presentation of M359 and for some of the students this is their first OU course. Therefore I am finding the lack of response very poor.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Slow-Mo Man

Greg Billingham is running the London Marathon, for Children with Leukaemia, in slow motion and has just gone passed the office where I work. His plan is to complete the marathon by noon on Sunday 29th April.

ref: Greg Billingham
ref: BBC News Report
ref: BBC News - Watch

OU: M450

A description for M450 “The Computer Project”, the replacement for The M301 Project (TM421), The M358 Project (TM422) and The M360 Project (TM427), is now available. At present I am planning to do this course next year.

ref: The Computing project

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

M359: TMA01 Result

Got my result back this evening for M359 TMA01. 98% and I am really pleased especially as I thought that I would loose a substantial amount of marks for question 1 at least.

I have made a start on TMA02 and managed to completed question 1.

By the way I forgot to mention that a couple of weeks ago I received "Block 3 The database language SQL" in the post. The pdf version does not appear to be available for download yet.

Friday, April 06, 2007

M263: TMA03 Result

Got my result back yesterday for M263 TMA03. 97% and I am well chuffed, especially as this was one of the most taxing TMA's that I have had to do.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

M253: Soul Destroyer

M253: “Team Working in Distributed Environments” is a 10 point level 2 course costing £260.

OU Summary
M253 gives you an understanding of the issues and processes involved in planning and carrying out a team-based, problem-solving project where team members are not co-located: a situation that is becoming more common in the electronic age. You will gain practical experience in team working on a case study, which will be developed through several phases. You will be able to develop: your skills in analysis, design and evaluation; your ability to reflect critically on the processes and outcomes involved; and your team-working skills. You will work remotely, communicating with your tutor and collaborating with other team members electronically.

What this summary does not tell you is that…
  1. This course does not reflect a majority of cases where you will find yourself working in a project team;
  2. You are reliant upon your other team members. Without them you run the risk of failing the course;
  3. You have to stick to the course schedule. You can not get a head;
  4. The teams tend to be run on a democratic basis with each member taking it in turn to be for example project leader. Can you imagine participating in a real life project where the team leader changed every 3 – 4 weeks?
  5. The supplied materials are minimal, both printed and electronic, and comprise primarily of 21 resource sheets (in the form of downloadable pdf files) of up to 10 pages per booklet;
  6. For those who have not studied an OU course that introduces you to system development (i.e. the former M206 or M301) or worked in a system development role, some of the concepts can be difficult and time consuming to grasp;
  7. Communication between team members is limited to FirstClass conference areas, e-mail and FirstClass online messaging. There is no form of verbal communication available;
  8. M253 is extremely time-consuming. You will end up spending more time on this course then you will on a majority of others.

I started M253 with a lot of enthusiasm but as the course progressed I found myself having to keep motivating myself to keep going, and towards the end I was getting quiet depressed, continuously looking for the “light at the end of the tunnel” when the course would be finished.

Is the course good value for money? No!
Is the course worth 10 points? No! Not for the amount of effort required.
Would I recommend M253? No! Unless it is mandatory for your degree.

So to sum up:


ref: Team Working in Distributed Environments

OU: and relax....

Yes I know that it has been a while since my last posting but I have just had a hectic 3 weeks. I have had to submit the ECA for M253 (26.Mar), TMA03 for M263 (02.Apr) and TMA01 for M359 (04.Apr). Oh the joys of doing 3 courses at the same time. Fortunately I have now finished M253, thank god, so I will hopefully not be in the same situation again especially as it did get a bit stressful. Of the 3 I enjoyed the M263 one the most, even though it was the hardest and required a lot of thought. The M359 TMA was ok except for question 1 which was a 600 word summary on how DBMS’s implement the enduring issues in data management. And what can be said for the M253 ECA? Only one word… HORRID!!!

My next set of TMA’s are…
M263 TMA04 (cut-off: Thursday 24.May)
M359 TMA02 (cut-off: Wednesday 16.May)

Monday, March 05, 2007

M263: A Wasted Hour!

On Thursday I scribbled down some notes on how to solve one of the questions for M263 TMA03, yet I soon discovered that my notes were not as good as I thought. Why? Well on Friday I tried to type up my notes but hit a problem, I could not resolve one item of reasoning which meant that the remainder of the question wouldn’t work out. I spent an hour searching through Unit 10 and the course handbook, but to no avail. It was then that I remembered that the solution to resolving this particular item was actually in the TMA, and everything else then fell into place. To say that I was annoyed with myself is an understatement. In future I must make my scribbled notes a lot clearer.

Friday, February 23, 2007

M263: Schedule Blown to Bits!

As I have previously written I have been managing to keep to my planned schedule for M263. But Block 3, units 9 – 12, has blown it all to bits!

After reading through the Block 3 units I realised that I didn’t fully understand the information, so have decided to re-read them plus spending extra time on the activities and exercises. This is proving worthwhile as I am now getting a far better understanding of the material and the TMA03 questions are now not as daunting as they first appeared.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

M263: TMA02 Result

On Friday got the results back for TMA02. Managed to get 98%, but rather annoyed with myself as I lost a mark through missing out a small part of a question. For Q3.d I missed the part that said "It should also demonstrate that your implementation does not have side-effects" and this is doubly annoying as I had underlined the preceeding line about testing. In future I'll have to go over TMA's with a fine tooth comb and highlight any mark related points, before starting the TMA, so as not to miss them.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

M359: Tutorial

Attended my first tutorial for M359 last night. It was at the University of Westminster from 7pm to 9pm. There were 3 tutors and 10 students in attendance.

The main topic of the evening was an overview of the course.

Apparently the course glossary should be available within the next couple of days.

Other points of interest where:
  • Substitution is allowed for the course;
  • No course materials will be allowed into the exam (unlike M263 were we can use the course handbook);
  • When including SQL code within a TMA the output generated by the code should also be included;
  • The OU has directed tutors to only mark the first version of a TMA that is submitted more than once. Therefore unless there are technical issues a TMA should only be submitted to the eTMA system once;
  • According to one of the tutors every TMA that is submitted using the eTMA system is automatically checked for plagiarism using a system called copyCatch. Apparently copyCatch Campus was developed in co-operation with the OU. This is interesting as according to my the copy of the "eTMA Student Guide" there is a warning when submitting TMA's that says "Please be aware that the University may subject your work to a computerised check for plagiarism", it does not say that every TMA is checked. Will have to look out for the warning message the next time I submit a TMA to verify exactly what it says.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

M359: Books

I have just purchased 2 books in the hope that they will aid in my studying of M359. They were recommended by one of the M359 tutors.

The Relational Database Dictionary

Database in Depth: The Relational Model for Practitioners

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

M359: Beta Testers

Not trying to be negative about M359 as I am so far enjoying the course, but...

TMA01 has finally been released 2 days later than originally scheduled! Still only 1 conference area available! Course website not complete yet! A delay in a number of additional documents!

Although this is the first presentation of M359 and one must expect a few teething troubles, I get the distinct impression that we are in fact BETA TESTING M359. If this is the case are we due some form of special consideration (such as discount on our next course)?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sod's Law

Sod's Law isn't it! Got home last night only to discover that I had received a welcome letter from my M359 tutor.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

M359: Missing!

M359 officially starts in 2 days time, Saturday 3rd February 2007, and yet there are still some items missing.

At present there is only 1 FirstClass conference area (“M359 07 Students”) available. Today the “Course team chair” posted a message saying:
“As the course progresses the forum will act as a 'virtual' meeting point for course related discussions with sub-forums for specific topics. This will also include a social area for more general chat. A moderator will be appointed in due course and will post a welcome message of their own when they take responsibility.”
Yet for all my previous courses the various FirstClass conference areas such as “tutor group”, “TMA discussion” and “general chat” have been made available from onset.

Normally by now I would have received some form of communication from my allocated tutor in the form of a welcome note giving his / her details, a brief explanation of the course expectations and hoping that I will enjoy the course. So far I have not heard anything, not an e-mail or snail-mail.

I appreciate that this is the first presentation of M359, but some of the aspects of this course (FirstClass conference area and tutor communications) are the same as those for any of the other OU computing courses I have participated in. So why haven’t they been implemented yet?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Microsoft - BlueJ Patent Update

It appears that Microsoft are dropping their patent application for "Object Test Bench". See here Movement - The Latest on The Microsoft Patent Application. This is most excellent news!

Bad News: Microsoft Applies for a Patent

Although I use Microsoft product quiet extensively I have never entered into the Windows vs Linux vs OSX war as I believe each OS has its own merits, and I most certainly have never used the term Micro$oft. Well until now.

Why? Because Micro$oft could potentially stop the development and distribution of BlueJ.

BlueJ is a fantastic IDE for the teaching of object-oriented programming using Java and is used extensively by educational establishments, including the OU (see M255). One of its key benefits is that enables you to create instances of objects, examine these instances and invoke methods on them, without having to run the whole program that is being developed.

Micro$oft has incorporated into Visual Studio a feature called “Object Test Bench” which appears to be a straight BlueJ copy, and Micro$oft have now made a patent application for “Object Test Bench”.

For the full story see here Microsoft patents BlueJ

And for a follow-up see here More on the Microsoft / BlueJ patent case

Monday, January 22, 2007

M359: Missing Materials

According to the course news there are some materials missing from the supplied course CD, due to timing issues. The missing materials are 5 pdf's and can be found on the course website via the "copies of CD-ROM files" section.

M359: Course Materials Received

Received the first set (there are 3 sets in total with the other 2 being dispatched later) of course materials for M359 on Friday. This is what I received...

  • 2 x block books
    • Block 1 - Databases in context
    • Block 2 - Introducing relational theory
  • M359 Course Guide
  • M359 Software Guide
  • Using the Electronic TMA System - A Student Guide
  • Course News
  • M359 Software CD
  • Database Cards Pack
  • M359 Errata 1 - Block 1 Replacement Pages
Missing was (apparently due to dispatch issues)...
  • Online Application CD-Rom v.8
The supplied errata replaces pages 14-17 of Block 1 as they were incorrectly printed during production.

The M359 software is easy to install and I have not experienced any problems with it after installing it onto 2 desktop PC's and a laptop.

Both the FirstClass conferences (well 1 conference area so far) and the course website are now accessible as well.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

M359: Course Materials

Getting a bit nervous as I haven't as yet received any course materials and M359 is supposed to start on 3rd Feb. With this in mind I have just contacted the OU's materials dispatch centre and they informed me that there has been a delay in them receiving the materials over the Christmas period. They reckon that the materials will be dispatched by Thursday of this week (18.Jan.07) and that I should then receive them within the next 5 working days. Lets wait and see!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

OU: Dip Comp (Open)

I have just received a letter from the OU confirming that I have passed the "Diploma in Computing". So now apart from being able to put "Cert IT & Comp (Open)" after my name I can now also put "Dip Comp (Open)" as well.

ref: Certificate in Information Technology and Computing
ref: Diploma in Computing