The Learning Never Stops

I’ve always been interested in learning new things, usually by reading books and magazine articles, and sometimes – rare times – by talking to experts. When I wrote a monthly column for a computer newspaper published and distributed in Chicago back in the 1980s, I had the opportunity to interview a woman who worked with John Mauchly of ENIAC fame. She provided a wealth of insights into what went on during the 1952 election night predictions on TV, when the fabled computer, this ENIAC, was employed to predict the winner. It picked Eisenhower by an upset, but the disparity in votes between Ike and his opponent, Adlai Stevenson, was so great that everyone doubted the accuracy of the computer’s results.

I think my very first actual foray into digging through books to answer a question came when I was in the Air Force and I’d just seen Hannibal, a movie about the famous Carthaginian general who took on Rome. He was known for crossing the Alps with elephants and I and some friends were sitting around in the barracks talking about the movie and asking one another, “How many elephants did Hannibal have?”

I set out to find the answer by exploring books in the base library, a rundown wooden structure with a large collection. I found that Hannibal started out with 37 elephants, but lost many of them by the time he got to Italy. Still, he had enough of the enormous creatures to instill fear in the usually unflappable legions. Unfortunately, the elephants were just as likely to stampede across friendly lines instead of the enemy’s.

When I wrote military history oriented non-fiction, I devoured books on great leaders, great battles, and past significant events. I took notes. I studied. I translated what I learned into compelling articles – at least, I tried.

All in all, I learned a lot.

Now I’ve discovered eLearning. I spend a lot of time taking courses online, mostly using Udemy, a fabulous place with thousands of offerings. I’m not trying to get a degree (though I did toy with the idea of going for a master’s in history), but I am trying to fill my head with new knowledge and new ideas.

I’ve brushed up on C++, just for the sake of brushing up. Same with SQL. I’ve even learned a programming language that I never knew anything about when I was actively coding as a developer: Python. While I didn’t particularly like it at first I eventually came to regard it in a better light.

Now I’m learning about neural networking and using Python as the language of choice for implementing deep learning. Because there’s a lot of math involved, I started a calculus course, but found I understood very little, including the basic math aspects. My ancient algebra skills were lacking. I couldn’t remember much of anything from 60 years ago when I took high school algebra. The only thing I recalled about Algebra 101 in college was that the instructor didn’t speak English very well and nobody in class knew what he said.

So I took a high school algebra course (still taking it as of this writing). My plan is to graduate to pre-calculus, then calculus, and then neural networking using all this calculus that I’ll learn. To prep for that eventuality (hopefully before I’m 80), I am taking (again, as of this writing) a course on machine learning using Python and a Python package called tensorflow that hides much of the complicated math.

I enjoy these courses. All of them. I still enjoy reading history books to learn about the past, even the near past a few years removed from the present. So far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to stop learning new things. The learning never stops.

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