Climbing Via Ferratas in Dolomites, Italy (slideshow)

Via ferratas – Italian for “iron route” – are a fun mix between hiking and climbing. During World War many were built in the Dolomite mountain region of Italy to aid the movement of troops. Now, used for recreation, they enable hikers to traverse mountain terrain that is too steep or exposed for unprotected scrambling. Ferratas consists of steel cables, to which ferrata climbers can secure themselves, as well as other climbing aids such as iron pegs, ladders, bridges and carved steps in the rock.

Via Ferratas in Dolomites, Italy
Via Ferratas in Dolomites, ItalyMar 22, 2013Photos: 39

To view the slideshow, click on the photo above and then on any thumbnail.  Alternatively, click here to view the slideshow on Google+.

Logistics: we flew to Venice and took a bus to Cortina, which served as a base for several multi-day ferrata treks. The Dolomite region is dotted with mountain huts, which serve up great food and beer and provide a place to sleep. We used On Top Mountaineering for guide service (great for convenience – they take care of reservations, transportation, routes – and safety). September is a wonderful time to go.

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Top Scenic Hikes in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area

Views from Alamere Falls hike in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Views from Alamere Falls hike in Point Reyes National Seashore. (Photo by Jarda Sladek.)

Below is my recent post on Quora about top three local day hikes in the SF Bay Area. (And by local, I mean within a two-hour driving radius.)

Read Quote of Marina Spivak’s answer to Hiking in the Bay Area: What are the “must-do” hikes in the Bay Area? on Quora

I’d like to add one more hike to this list: Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore. This hike offers an incredible variety of scenery. Of course, there is Alamere – a rare “tidefall”, which is a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean. But there are also lakes, walks on the beach and above it, open views and secluded tree groves.

Make sure to check the tide tables before setting out on this one. Also, descending via Wildcat campground makes the trip a bit longer, but avoids a steep scramble to the base of the falls via an unmaintained trail.

There is plenty of great local hiking in the Bay Area. Popular choices include redwoods (Big Basin and Purisima Creek), various parks and preserves on the slopes of Santa Cruz Mountains (views of the bay and the ocean) and East Bay ridges (views of the bay). But Alamere Falls and the three hikes listed above are by far my personal favorites for great non-stop scenery up close. Alamere, Angel Island and Point Lobos offer coastal beauty while Pinnacles is all about interesting rock formations.

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How to Have a Rewarding MOOC Experience: Four Tips for Students

During the past year I had a great time participating in several Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, offered by Coursera and Udacity. From that experience, combined with thoughts of other students and instructors, I’d like to offer several tips on how to have a rewarding experience as MOOC student.

1. Shop around.

Not all courses are created equal, even if they are from the same university and offered through the same platform! Similar to courses in traditional university setting, MOOCs vary tremendously in teaching styles, amount of work assigned, type of feedback provided, and time instructor dedicates to the course and interaction with students.  So shop around.  Sample a course before committing. Listen to the first couple lectures, try out an assignment, and visit the discussion forums to get a feel for the course, the instructor and the platform.

If you find yourself unhappy with a course, by all means, drop it. There are no penalties. And with more and more MOOCs coming online every month, it’s likely that better alternatives will become available soon if they are not there already. On the other hand, if you try a single course and do not like it, don’t form your opinion of all MOOCs based on just this single experience – the courses vary quite a bit.

If a MOOC you are considering has been offered before – you can try searching for reviews and articles about it. But keep in mind that instructors often significantly change their courses from session to session to improve them.

Finally, on Coursera, if you are interested in a course but unable to take it when it’s offered, register for it anyway. This will give you access to the course materials, so you can peek in and decide whether it’s a good fit if it is offered again in the future.

2. Expect and forgive bumps in the road.

Teaching MOOCs is not the same as teaching in a regular classroom – it requires a different set of tools and techniques. Instructors are learning and experimenting with these as they go. In addition, MOOC platforms are constantly being upgraded to expand capabilities, even as the courses are being run. So there are bound to be some bumps in the road. Expect and forgive them.

It can take a tremendous amount of work – hundreds of hours – to create an online course! In many cases, instructors are doing this in addition to their regular workload and without being paid extra. Please show respect and appreciation for their efforts. If something needs improvement, post constructive feedback on class forums.

3. Engage with your peers.

Participate in class forums, hangouts, local meetups, and any other groups that form around your MOOC. Connecting with others who share your interests and goals will greatly enrich everybody’s experience. Students in MOOCs represent all ages, backgrounds and corners of the world: from teens in Africa to professors in the United States. You might make an interesting connection. You might get a better understanding of the material by helping another student with it. You might learn something new from your peers. You might get an interesting opportunity by establishing your passion and skill for the material in class forums…

Get-together with Scott Klemmer and his HCI MOOC students.

Get-together with Scott Klemmer and his HCI MOOC students.

4. Don’t worry about the grades but expect to work hard.

Commit the time necessary to do the assignments. We learn by doing, not by listening to lectures. What you get out from the course will be proportional to the effort invested. But don’t worry about the grades. In the current state of MOOCs the real value is in knowledge acquired, artifacts produced, and connections made.

Happy learning, doing, and connecting!

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