Beware the Coursera bait and switch!

anti_coursera

On July 30 I signed up on Coursera to take their “verified certificate” version of the course Evolution: A Course for Educators, taught by Joel Cracraft and David Randle of the American Museum of Natural History. I figured it would be fairly easy given my background and the certificate would add a little something to my resume. So, as I said, I signed up, paid the $29 fee for the certificate got an email receipt back from Coursera and waited for the class to start on Aug. 3rd.

Aug. 3rd quickly rolls around and I get another email, ostensibly from Cracraft & Randle, welcoming me to the course.

Great!

Then I tried to log in and start the course only to get a 404 error message telling me that the page for the course isn’t there.

I contact Coursera and they send back the usual “use X browser & clear your cache” troubleshooting message. I was already using browser X and I cleared my cache but this has no effect and I inform Coursera of this.

Next I get an email telling me that the course I signed up for has “changed format” (apparently in a matter of days) and that I needed to “un-enroll” from the old course, get my money back and then re-enroll in the new version.

One problem though, the new “format” is $20 more than the old one!

I suggest to them that since I already paid the price they had asked for (and got a receipt & welcoming email etc.) that they should allow me access to the course.

They responded by refunding my money and telling me (in corporate happy talk) that it was too damn bad and that if I wanted to take the course I would have to cough up $49 dollars, going so far as to suggest that I look into their financial aide services if I thought that would help.

Well, instead of paying more money I am telling everyone I know about their bait and switch and asking that you pass this on on Facebook and Twitter and the like. Thanks!

By the way, does anyone out there know Cracraft or Randle? I wonder what they would think of how Coursera treats their would-be students. 

[And I was so looking forward to the Dinosaur Paleobiology course they offer as well…]

And now a little poorly concealed bragging

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hopwood_haeckel_book

Last weekend while I was awaiting delivery of my copy of Cambridge University historian of science Nick Hopwood‘s new book Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud (2015) on 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel and his (in)famous embryo illustrations, (which I have written about a few times here an PCWP and elsewhere), I got a Facebook notification that I had been “tagged” in a post by my friend (in real life, not just Facebook) and colleague Dr. Nick Matzke. The somewhat cryptic post said the following:

Hey look who’s in the acknowledgements – Troy Britain

Attached to this comment was the following picture:

hopwood_page

Thereafter the comments conversation between Nick M. and I went like this:

Me: Wait, wait, wait, this isn’t Hopwood’s new book is it (my copy is in route)?!

NickYep it is!!

Me: Holy crap!

Nick: Immortality!

Apparently Professor Hopwood was kind enough to mention me (and Nick Matzke as well) in the acknowledgements section of his new book (page 304).

 The relevant section reads as follows:

For crucial pieces of advice, I thank Thomas Brandstetter, Troy Britain, Solveig Jülich, Ron Ladouceur, Nick Matzke, Signe Nipper Nielsen, Ron Numbers, Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, and Constance Sommerey…

Quite an honor! All the more given the company of people like Nick Matzke, Ron Numbers and the rest.

Thank you Prof. Hopwood, you are too kind! And thank you for writing this book! It needed to be done and I look forward to reading it (or rather the rest of it, I’m up to chap. 3 already)!

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What I have been up to lately

I have been a bit neglectful of my blog of late and I feel I owe my readers (who are not Facebook friends, and thus know already), an explanation. In part  it has been due to my usual procrastination but it has also been due to a change in career. For over twenty five years I have been in the small press printing industry (“quick printing” of letterheads, business cards etc.), however this business has taken a turn towards extinction so I have been looking for some sort of escape hatch into something else. Something preferably somewhat more in line with my interests in natural history.cdfa_logo_v_300

As a result of my search I recently lucked into a job with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as an “Agricultural Aide”, or more descriptively an insect trapper.

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Yours truly in my CDFA uniform.

Basically I catch flies for a living now.

The initial job is temporary (with a one year duration) but I hope to maneuver myself into a permanent position, with a bit higher pay and additional benefits.

Time will tell whether I will be successful in this endeavor. In the meantime this new job has at least broken the shackles that bound me to a printing press and given me something different to add to my resume if a future employment search becomes necessary.

Before, in my last printing job, I was mostly working part time. Now with the state I work four ten hour days (Mon.-Thurs.) and I feel every minute of it. Basically I have been coming home, eating dinner and falling asleep. This leaves less time and energy for blogging. Though hopefully I will start to adapt and get some of the projects I have been working on finished and published. In the meantime here is a quick pictorial view of my day to day life in the CDFA.

I drive a large truck with a State seal on the door around a particular part of Southern California…

truck

…servicing two different types of fly traps typically hung in various types of fruit trees. The McPhail (the interesting old fashioned glass type, baited with yeast pellets)…

mcphail

…and plastic, two part, Multilure traps (baited with a pheromone soaked sponge, the green thing inside).

mltOnce a week I visit every trap (30 or so a day), replace the bait when needed (every week for the McPhails and every six weeks for the MLTs) and gather up any Mediterranean Fruit Flies (Ceratitis capitata) that I might find in the traps.

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Image source, The University of Florida website.

Sometimes there are only a few and sometimes there are literally hundreds in a trap. Further, they are often not alone in the traps. There are frequently a variety of other species of flies as well as lace wings, bees, wasps and moths. More so in the McPhail traps (which are less species specific) but even in the MLTs.

picking_flies

Most, if not all, of these Med Flies are sterile files released by the CDFA as a biological control. However some might be wild flies and that is what I am really looking for, though I don’t make that determination. I simply gather the captured flies up and place them in vials of alcohol:

medflys

They are then turned over to someone else who goes through them looking for wild specimens (sterile flies are marked with ultraviolet dye prior to release); the presence of which might indicate a new infestation that would require further action on the part of the CDFA.

So that is basically what I have been up to as of late and which has been partly responsible for my lack of blogging. Fear not however, I have not given up the struggle against ignorance and unreason. I may just be a bit slower than usual at it.

mad_troy

Yours truly on the hunt.

A happy Pi day to one and all!

3.1415…

Happy Lincoln & Darwin Day!

The Emancipator and the Evolutionizer, together again!!!

Happy Lincoln & Darwin Day everyone!!!

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A cheeky new Evo-T

Evolutionists Do It… With increasing complexity and diversity.

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A brand new Evo-T inspired by an old National Center for Science Education bumper sticker, it comes in both men’s and women’s sizes and is sure to have creationists everywhere clutching their pearls in horror.

You know what comes next…

Buy now!

Bye now!

Fibonacci Pigeons!

Since I must post any pigeon related humor I run across—especially if there is a science angle to it—I present the following, Fibonacci Pigeons:10306175_684865348292743_3363294143001162433_n