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uCertify Review

NOTE: For all those who come here because of my fiction, this is not one of those posts. That said, stay tuned as I have BIG news coming very, very soon.

I’m an IT guy by trade and I was recently approached by a representative from uCertify, a site that specializes in Computer Based Training (CBT) to use one of their training modules in exchange for an honest review.  Never one to shirk from either the chance to learn something for free or the opportunity to run my mouth, how could I say no?

My concise summation for the short attention span crowd: uCertify is decent. There are pros and cons but overall I’d say it’s worthwhile.

Here’s a more in depth review for those of you who are either genuinely interested in uCertify or are morbidly curious to see if this departure from my blog norm is still somehow a ruse.  There are a lot of CBT programs available to the IT community, one of the biggest and most known being CBT Nuggets and then newer competitors such as Udemy.  I hadn’t heard of uCertify before being approached by their representative, so I can only assume they’re one of the newest kids on the block and want people with contacts in the community to spread their gospel.  As a fledgling novelist, I can relate.

uCertify has an impressive array of courses to choose from.  Basics such as Security+, Linux Essentials and Microsoft Word 2013 to more in depth training like Certified Ethical Hacker and Oracle Database Administrator are present in their course list.  You can look through their most requested courses here.

It appears all of their courses are designed to prepare you to take and pass an associated certification exam. For those unindoctrinated to the world of IT, these certs serve as credentials that you know your stuff… it’s resume gold. Security+, for example, is required for nearly any type of government IT contractor.

I tried out the Python programming course.  I didn’t know Python before, having only experience in bash scripting and maybe dissecting the Perl scripts of others.

The interface is quite clean. Take a look.

They keep track of your progress and are perpetually evaluating your readiness to take the certification test based on your progress with the lessons and performance with the labs and tests.  The Chapters & Lessons section is the bulk of where I was during my stint with uCertify. Again, a very clean interface with quick access to labs, quizzes and flashcards.

I had zero problem and felt very comfortable navigating the site. My biggest issue came from their labs. I found them both daunting and buggy.  The Python Basics (Chapter 2) coursework was basically being able to type a line or two in Python and have the output spit out “Hello World.” It talked about the different types of data types such as integers and strings (basically not numbers).  Coursework was quite easy to follow and  included examples, charts and even videos. But here’s the very first lab:

Keep in my that this “def” thing doesn’t actually get talked about in the coursework until like Chapter 4.  This is the very first lab, which is labelled 2.1.24.  That in itself made me feel like for Chapter 2, lesson 1 there were 23 other labs that should’ve been included before I even got to this one. I honestly didn’t know what to put into this lab that wasn’t already there to make it run.  This is the daunting part.  The buggy part happens when you actually do run the program, see where you’re wrong, fix it according to what you need to succeed only to run it again and it still fails.  For a large percentage of their labs, you can copy the entire correct code from their assessment page, plug it in exactly as they gave it to you and it will fail.  I’m assuming the mileage on lab bugginess will vary depending on the course and coding, including Python, isn’t inherently a “this is right and this is wrong” sort of thing but more of a “what’s the best path to get what I need” endeavor.  You can overcome the bugginess by just running Python independent of the lab and testing their results but you won’t really be able to overcome the fact that the uCertify course is still saying you’ve failed to code the lab properly and not give you points toward completion.

I found the more I ignored the labs altogether and just focused on progressing the coursework, the more the prior chapter labs felt less daunting.  Perhaps it’s how they had to code the lab checks, where the only way to make it halfway workable was to incorporate Python elements that the student hadn’t even covered yet.

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of learning style and cost.  If you’re a step-by-step completionist, uCertify may not be the right thing for you, if my experience with the Python course is any indication.  It was rather frustrating to have a hot zero for chapter 2 labs while I’m green on chapter 5 coursework.  If you’re a whole picture type learner who mostly cares about how it all looks at the end, then you may benefit the most from it.  And of course, perhaps the cost is also a motivating factor.  While I’m not sure about Udemy prices, I know CBT Nuggets is subscription based per month.  uCertify is an ala carte affair, each course I clicked on cost $139.  I think that’s better suited for folks who don’t quite know what life is going to throw at them and may not get around to studying for certification properly for weeks at a time.

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War Journal 68: Leapolution II

I looked this good 4 years ago... the hell have I been eating?

I looked this good 4 years ago… the hell have I been eating?

Leap Day!  Some of you, two handfuls in fact, remember the last time I posted on Leap Day.  It only comes once every four years, so that first time I wanted to catch my blog in its infancy and see how it grew the next time Leap Day rolled around.

For the many more that are new, here were the stats back then:

I was in Afghanistan.  That kinda sucked.

I had 2 out of 3 pro sales to make SFWA qualifications.  I would later learn that one of those sales didn’t count.  At the time, that sucked even worse than Afghanistan.

I had 16 subscribers.  16!

I had a fierce thirst for more.

Now, four years later, and the only thing that’s still constant is the thirst!  Current subscriber count is 169, which is awesome.  I’m SFWA recognized.  I’ve sold 12 stories at pro pay to places such as Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, AE: The Canadian SF Review (making me an international player!) and the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology.  Speaking of, I also became an associate editor, directly affecting the landscape of speculative fiction comedy.  And it kinda rocks reading the work of other writers in the trenches, trying to get their funny on while battling the slush.

Who knows where we’ll be the next Leap Day.  Maybe 1699 followers and a book deal?  Your man can hope.

In the meanwhile, thanks for hanging out with a brother.  It’d be a lot lonelier in the trenches without you.

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Intelligence Report: The New Death & Others

Who doesn’t like fairy tales?

Those saying, “I don’t” would do well to stay away from The New Death.  For everyone else, read on.  James Hutchings delivers 64 tales and all except one would qualify as either a fairy tale or a fairy tale poem.

The New Death defies convention a couple of ways.  Fairy tales aren’t exactly on everyone’s “Hot, Fresh and New” menu.  Not only that, the accessibility of some of the stories are beyond the general audiences, for-all-ages quality that most people associate with fairy tales, as James Hutchings puts in quite a few that are racy, adult only stories.

Being an adult, I found The New Death suprisingly entertaining in a number of places.  Hutchings has a dry humor streak that’s just laugh out loud funny at times.  There’s a story where a bunch of old school monsters are complaining about their changing status and so it goes:

“These are grim days,” the Werewolf lamented. “No one even thinks about us any more, let alone finds us terrifying.”
“Things are worse for us,” said the Vampire. “Everyone knows who we are – we are mascots for breakfast cereal, puppets who teach children to count, objects of lust for young girls.”

Lines like these pepper Hutchings’ tales, sometimes in quirky places you’d least expect.  It makes for a light-hearted irreverent read.

Not all tales are fun filled.  Some are sad, many are ironic, and a few are plain strange.  This means there’s a lot here and plenty of variety for anyone who doesn’t mind a story that starts with “once upon a time” every now and again.

In today’s fiction markets, which is driven wholly on character based fiction, I found The New Death & Others to be a refreshing change of pace.  Sometimes I don’t want to care about the character… sometimes people just aren’t that interesting, whether you made them up or not.  Sometimes I just want the plot to drive the story and not have to keep up with a character’s nuances… I want a demon summoning wizard to stay in his evil lane, I want the princess to be a disposable pretty face in distress, yearning for her prince, and I want the incarnation of Death to be a sickle wielding skull face.  Times like that are what The New Death was made for.  Hutchings’ draw is the plot, sometimes way out there, sometimes close to home.

If you’re a fan a fairy tales, then I’m sure you’re going to get a lot out of the New Death.  And for those of you like me, who enjoys the occasional trip to the land of far, far away, then you’ll get a decent amount of distraction with this one and for cheap at 99 cents.

The New Death & Others is available for quick download here:

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Intelligence Report: The 2011 Publisher’s Survey

They're not dunce caps if you believe in the magical world of gnomes.

You guys remember when I said the HeyPublisher blog was so interesting that I was going to cover it in a later installment of the Intelligence Report?  The first and foremost reason for that is their 2011 Publisher’s Survey.  I have a business degree, so when someone talks about the business end of writing, my ears perk up.  And this survey is so very very juicy. 

I often wonder what the wizards behind the curtain are doing when they’re not showing their hand just to give me a rejection slip.  What’s going on in the Willy Wonka Word Factory?  More to the point, what the hell are they thinking?

I know what I’m thinking.  I’m thinking lovers of great fiction don’t necessarily make for great managers of business.  There appears to be a level of disconnect in the publishing community that is so epic it’s grandiose.

First let’s take look at the death toll.  Survey says “The average lifespan of a new online publication appears to be less than 6 months.”  That means whenever you’re browsing the “What’s New?” section over at Duotrope, most of those fresh fish have a half year shelf life.

Then we have the section of what publishers think writers do versus what writers actually do.  Ranking at number one, publishers think 85% of their writer base finds them through word of mouth.  As in, “have you heard of The New Yorker?  The pay for stories, bro!!”  In actuality, writers report that word of mouth is number 6 and that online databases such as Duotrope leave word of mouth with dust in its mouth. 

Then there’s the social media section.  This is where 60% of publishers believe social media outlets to be important but 53% report that they believe their social media marketing efforts suck.  The folks running the survey said this:  “Though most publishers have some social media presence, a full 33% of those surveyed still do not have a Facebook fan page.  Given that roughly 43% of the US population has a Facebook login, the fact that a third of online publishers are not engaging with their readers on the very platform where their readers are hanging out seems to us to be an inexcusable oversight.”

So let me get this straight.  You’re lucky to celebrate a one year anniversary and if you fail, you’ll likely attribute your lack of good stories to writer’s not spreading the word and your lack of readership on the shortcomings of a Facebook page that failed to create itself?

I know this is the Intelligence Report, but I don’t think I have any intelligent life to report.

Here’s a tip, publisher, writers know who you are.  But if your submission  guidelines sound like everyone else’s, only they’re offering the same pay or better, guess who we’re going to sub to first?  Good luck sorting through the carrion carcass of what the other guys left behind.  Besides, most of you guys work the same way:  if your slush workers weren’t so busy dissing stories before getting through the second paragraph, you may find some awesome gems.

If you want readership, give people something they can’t get anywhere else.  That means content of value, whether its free to enjoy or subscriptions that come with perks.  That means stories that are great but can’t find a home at other places because of their editor’s notions of what their public wants precludes them from buying it.  Try a little something called web design.  Pay for artwork… ever hear the term starving artist?  They work for cheap!

If you don’t know how to advertise, hire someone who does.  Just like a writer may have to align themselves with an agent… get with the program, publisher.  You too young to die.

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