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Friday, August 22, 2014

Khan Academy Visualisations Are Pretty Khool

Back in early 2011, when I first started full-time work as a developer, I was working at an investment bank. Funnily enough, I knew absolutely nothing about Finance at the time, having never been interested in business or commerce at school or, frankly, anywhere else. However, my manager suggested it'd be good to get up to speed with all the lingo and whatnot to "speak our clients' language". He gave me a 900 page tome called "Securities & Financial Instruments" that made about as much sense to me as the first time I tried to read Assembly code.

Then, I was fortunate enough to stumble across this video on TED about an education platform called Khan Academy and this quirky but engaging guy named Sal Khan. Not only did I learn about Finance from Sal's videos, I realised I actually liked it!

Fast forward three and a half years, I'm not working at the bank anymore but I love investing and I love tracking my finances; so much so I even developed a web app called Savvy for it. And Khan Academy has gone from being a hundred Youtube videos of Sal drawing on blackboards to a really impressive education platform covering everything from Prehistoric Art to Cryptography. I've learnt a ton, not only about Finance & Economics, but also about early 19th century history, WWI, probability & statistics, even some things about programming I didn't already know.

One of the really cool things they've implemented is the Computer Science platform, which allows anyone from beginner to expert programmer to create games, simulations and any other funky visual project they can think of. It was created by the jQuery man John Resig & his team, using his ProcessingJS library, and involves a really responsive online editing environment inspired by Bret Victor's talk on instant feedback & inventing on principle.

I managed to create this interactive visualisation of plasma fractals... although it's still a work in progress! I highly encourage you to check out John's blog post about the platform, or simply to get stuck in creating something cool.

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