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The No Excuse List: The Best Place On The Web To Learn Anything (noexcuselist.com)
378 points by joelrunyon on Aug 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

Hey guys, I'm the creator of the site. Thanks for posting it Joel!

I've been trying to delicately balance the line between too many links versus not enough links. I created this site in the first place because I had seen tons of these "best places to learn online" compilations, but all of them had about 200 links. Way too many to actually be useful.

So I sought out to create something where there were only a few websites per category, but you could trust that they were all the best the web has to offer. As you can see from some of the comments on here, it's a fine line between too many and too few. I keep finding new ones that I think are too good not to include.

I've been thinking lately about how I can make this site more useful to my users. It seems like most people come once or twice, see a link they like and don't come back until the next time they want to learn something. Although you could argue that's basically what the site is designed to do, I would like to see more repeat users. Any ideas? I have a few in mind already, but I wanted to see what the general consensus was.

You could pull together different courses and show how they complement each other to create tracts.

Sure, you can just organize them and leave them as they are right now and let people pick what they want, but if you vetted the courses and had suggested tracts to send people through, that could be pretty valuable.

This is basically what I was thinking about doing earlier.

"This is actually something I was thinking about. For instance, say someone wants to learn Ruby. They could go to noexcuselist and find a step-by-step process that someone has made using only free resources. Does that sound like something that would be useful? The hard part is, I'd have to expand the site and make it social, so people can post their own guides. I definitely don't have the technical expertise for that."

Is that what you had in mind?

I'm thinking of it as a guidebook or as a course, for all the courses out there (if that makes any sense).

So, wow, there are a ton of free resources out there - here's how to aggregate them, and utilize each of them most effectively with all the other free resources out there.

I really like the idea of the site, and the mission to limit the number of things on it. Too many options, and I just get choice paralysis.

However, to be frank, I don't know who you are, so why should I trust your recommendations? I wouldn't mind if you were the only person to decide what gets posted, but I would like to see content from users, primarily tags, votes, and comments. This might also increase user engagement.

You could also make it "social" if you wanted. Allow users to publicly commit to doing a certain tutorial X hours per day/week, and you track that from when they click through your site to the tutorial site, and then they check back in when they're done. Or it could be complete honor system. I wouldn't worry too much about people lying, because really, they'd just be hurting themselves.

I guess there's a couple of reasons why I haven't gone that route: 1) I'm not technically skilled. I work as a banker, so in order to make some of these changes, I'd have to find someone who can do it who I trust. I'll most likely start searching some freelance boards to implement some of the ideas I got today from HN users.

2) I don't want the 'social' aspect to seem forced. Giving people the ability to create accounts to track their favorites or to track how many hours they've studied is an interesting idea, but I'm thinking about how many people would actually use it. I think I will try to go to route of providing a better interface / search system to give users a better experience, then go into the social aspect as the site gains popularity.

Thanks a lot of the comment though. Gave me something to think about. Why would people trust what I recommend? Great question.

Right now you have short descriptions about the sites in the alt text. Consider adding an expandable section for each link that has: the short description from the alt text, maybe a "for people who like..." (or "for people who don't like...") pointer for users to understand the philosophy of a resource.

I think the problem with users coming once or twice is that taking the time to understand and try a resource is a lot of work. With only the bare links, they have no way to use their previous experience to judge the other resources without another significant investment.

You could also ask users to vote "works for me" and "doesn't work for me" and then display those votes when a user registers theirs. You could also use those votes to track the utility of each link to users.

This is just a random idea, but how about a scheduler? A lot of times when I am self-educating, I find myself hitting a search engine or Wikipedia and getting sidetracked indefinitely. Soon I stumble across another amazing site and any hope of focus is lost.

Fitting in with the title of your site ("No Excuse List"), allowing a user to create a list of to-dos on a per site basis with due dates, could be pretty cool. Although I am hesitant of yet another to-do list manager...

Great site, I think I had seen it before (in Reddit?). I like it just the way it is, no nonsense carefully curated list of things to learn online.

I feel weary of changing any of this, but if you want users to come back a good feature would be listing the starting dates for upcoming courses. Coursera and Udacity courses have specific launch dates, you can use this information for a more "what do I want to learn next week" experience.

Here's a link to an excellent music, (primarily guitar) learning class that does not get much attention in the North America: http://www.guitarmasterclass.net/. Consider adding this to you list. I appreciate the effort at building a website of curated links by the way.

A small note: "The Khan Academy" should just be "Khan Academy", and "DuoLingo" should be "Duolingo".

This is great, and I like the "no excuse" angle, but the list is a little overwhelming. The problem of self-learning today is not to find ressources, it's to find a good one and stick to it until you mastered the subject. If there are several good ones, just pick one of them. On this subject, see The Paradox of choice[1] and Buridan's donkey[2].

Sidenote: For me, "Windows 7, OneNote + more for students" and Dreamspark go to the same link.

[1] http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6127548813950043200

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buridan%27s_ass

Agreed. What I find is usually missing from a lot of lists of "learning" online is a time-proven track through a subject to take you from beginner to expert.

I think the problem with self learning is making the information digestable enough and regular gratification to the user about the things they've just learned (challenges that gradually increase in difficulty).

Highlight which of the sites offer that (with icons?) and it would help user pick the right sites based on their patience level e.g..

I think the finality of learning "courses" of traditional education has something to it. There's something to be said for having a task at hand and accomplishing a series of steps rather that lead to something rather than a mashup of useful tutorials and lectures (no-matter how brilliant they are), that don't have an underlying current, theme or curriculum to them.

This is actually something I was thinking about. For instance, say someone wants to learn Ruby. They could go to noexcuselist and find a step-by-step process that someone has made using only free resources. Does that sound like something that would be useful? The hard part is, I'd have to expand the site and make it social, so people can post their own guides. I definitely don't have the technical expertise for that.

I built a basic version of a site that does just that called Polymath - http://beta.whatispolymath.com (here's a sample course on Ruby, for example - http://beta.whatispolymath.com/courses/12/ruby-on-rails-for-...). No longer working on it, but email me if you want to chat more.

I thought it could have actually been built out a bit more. If they created a few more categories (and sub-categories), they could really have something very cool on their hands.

I've got the same feeling. I'd add categories for education level, accreditation and course length. Having a "starting soon" section would also be fine, listing the courses starting between now and the next two weeks.

I agree with you on 'picking one' and sticking to it. Maybe I should highlight one source for each that I strongly recommend or something?

Also, thanks for the heads up about the Dreamspark link. Looks like windows recently redirected it to the same site. You used to be able to download Windows 7 and other resources for free as a student...

I would be curious to know what you think of our self learning site called LearningJar.com, where we are helping people figure out the best resources to learn skills and follow their progress.

brings us back to the days of web directories

As someone who took up this hobby a couple years ago, I can attest that the collection of cooking links is awful. There's a difference between learning how to cook and a recipe, and these sites aren't even good at either.

I've heard good things about chefhangout.com and rouxbe.com. And sadly most of the best cooking information still exists in printed books. Ruhlman's 20 is a great place to start.

I, too, have been really disappointed with cooking education online. This is an area ripe for a good startup (that someone else can do, I have my hands full). :)

Some ideas:

- Leverage Google Hangout for some interactive classes

- Use gamification to help users learn some of the more boring fundamentals (basic cooking terms, substitution guidelines, units and measurements, basic baking chemistry guidelines, etc.)

- A better instruction format geared toward using your iPad or other tablet propped up in the kitchen. For example, make sure the user can navigate with the nub of a knuckle or some other clumsy way, so they don't have to touch their iPad with fingers that just got through tenderizing raw chicken.

- That instruction format should probably incorporate a hybrid text-audio-video approach. And by that I don't mean a blog post with an embedded video at the top. I mean a way to constantly review just that part of the video that talks about what you're doing.

- Start with videos about things that are obvious but are useful to see. For example, what EXACTLY should olive oil look and smell like before you add the food to it? On a typical gas stove or electric range, where approximately should the knob be? I'm starting to get nervous about this pan-fry step. Are you sure I shouldn't go ahead and flip the chicken? I think I'm burning it! Those kind of things are currently best learned with the assistance of a REAL cook alongside you in the kitchen. He or she can say "don't you DARE touch that portobello; it's SO not done!" There needs to be a way for the more moment-by-moment learning experiences to be available online.

TL;DR - thinking of doing a cooking startup? PLEASE don't give us another "recipes with an embedded video" site. Please.

I think voice would be a better method of navigation in the kitchen. I don't want to touch my tablet at all when cooking, and I'd love to keep my hands free to do other things. I'd rather say "pause" or "continue" or "go back a step" than try swiping when I've got things going.

Chef hangout is pretty much what you described. It's a live video lesson using Google Hangout. I haven't done it but hear good things.

Also I think a lot of what you want is just being taught the basics. Many of those you can pick up just from a video or in some of the simpler cases even a text description. Your oil (preferably canola if you're cooking with it, olive has too low of a smoke point and is better suited for other uses) looks a certain way (sorta shimmery) when it's ready. Once you know that it's pretty much the same for every recipe.

Some a chef would have to be present for. I don't think you can tell by sight when the alcohol has evaporated when cooking with wine, you just have to smell. You can't tell by sight when meat is done or a bean you're blanching is crisp-tender, you have to touch it or bite it.

For that reason I don't think online instruction will ever totally negate offline the way it can in many disciplines. But it definitely can do a lot better than it is.

Olive oil is actually excellent for frying. Extra virgin olive oil has a smoking point of 405 deg. F, which is similar to canola.

If it is labeled "extra virgin olive oil" you really don't know what kind of oil it is. Particularly if it has Italy anywhere near the name.

Yes, in theory it should be extra virgin olive oil. In theory there are people who inspect it. But if they raise doubt about the authenticity of a clearly subpar product, they get sued in a stacked court system. So everyone cheats and nobody calls them on it.

See http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/05/business/la-fi-olive... for an example of a lawsuit that was filed over this in the USA. (Because you really can't sue about it in Italy.)

Um, no. There's a lot of misinformation on oil smoke points on the net unfortunately. Going way off topic here for HN, but see http://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/SmokePointOil.htm for an accurate chart. It's ~320F for EVOO vs ~400F for canola.

That makes a noticeable difference in the kitchen. Using olive oil you'll find yourself overheating more often. It's also more expensive, and imparts a flavor, which you typically don't want in your oil when sauteing or pan frying. If you want that flavor, pour a little high quality olive oil on at the end. I do that with something like a pan seared halibut, it's heavenly.

Thomas Keller mentions in his books (I believe both Ad Hoc and Bouchon) that he uses canola for sauteing and pan frying for exactly those reasons. (Grapeseed oil is great, he mentions, but very expensive. Peanut oil is typically used for deep frying.) He's probably the most technical of the chefs with numerous Michelin-starred restaurants so I'm inclined to take his advice.

From the same chart:

Extra Light (Olive Oil) - 468°F

Maybe that's what GP was referring to. I would put the oils with higher smoke points in the chart closer to exotic territory (avocado, ghee, rice bran, tea seed). I buy my Extra Light OO in jugs at Costco.

Short takeaway: I use EVOO for dressing/cold applications, Extra Light for frying.

Extra light olive oil is garbage. One should not use it for anything. It is "a mixture of refined olive oils that are derived from the lowest quality olive oils available through chemical processing."

Do yourself a favor and buy jugs of canola instead. (Really you should buy small batches, as oil does degrade over time, but it's arguably worth the cost tradeoff.)

I use Grapeseed oil for stir fry and like the fact that it produces no smoke at all. I get from trade joe in a small bottle. Do you know anyplace that I can buy in larger size? Thanks.

Grapeseed oil is expensive. It's a better oil than canola, especially for something like mayo.

I believe it goes rancid though (just like canola) after a time so you should continue to buy in small sizes.

We're doing a lot of this (iPad in the kitchen, text-audio-video, moment by moment tutorials w/ pictures and video) over at http://www.onlinecookingschool.com/ -- I encourage you to check it out. Please send any feedback you have my way!

Looks pretty cool. Biggest feedback is to lower barrier of entry by having a step before the 14-day free trial. Maybe you put together a free package that users can get to and play with without signing in. If they want to save their progress then they have to sign in, which starts the 14-day free trial.

Right now the website just gives me the "this looks like a commitment" feeling, which I'd work to lessen since cooking is one of those things where people randomly get on a wild hare and it lasts a few hours to a few days; you have to hook them during that time or their interest wanes and you don't see them again for a few months/years.

I can't wrap my head around learning to cook online. Maybe it's because I started cooking around age 10, but it's something that responds best to actual doing as opposed to simulation.

Get a simple recipe and cook something. Learn from the experience. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Two of the best books I have that "explain" how cooking works (albeit in a very minimal sense) are David(?) Rosengarten's Dean & Deluca Cookbook and Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible (now over 20 years old and very, very well thumbed and sticky :-) I'd recommend them to anyone.

If you're an absolute beginner at cooking, I highly recommend the free Stone Soup ebook. All recipes are 5 ingredients or under, 10 minutes or under.


When I started cooking, I was intimidated by long recipes and never knowing what substitutions or omissions I could make.

This ebook really turned me on, because of its "minimal cooking approach". By stripping recipes down to their bare essentials, this book made cooking approachable. I began to understand the fundamentals, and that allowed me to feel free to experiment.

However, at this point all of my knowledge is ad-hoc. I wouldn't mind recommendations or pointers on how to improve my skill, and I agree that it's not clear where to go for this information.

Hey, thanks for the link. I've looked pretty hard for sites that teach cooking and they're pretty hard to come by! The cooking for engineers has been the best one that I've seen. Its surprising that there's not better resources. I didn't want to have to start linking to youtube channels...

Sadly some of the cooking for engineers advice is just bad. I just perused it briefly. For instance it says to make sure to buy a cutting board that fits in your sink, then recommends wooden cutting boards. You don't soak wooden tools so why would you need it to fit in your sink? I love my butcher block and it's much larger than my sink.

If you want to really jump into it, grab Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller and just start cooking your way through it. Keller has an engineer's mindset and level of precision, and explains things assuming you're not stupid but don't know much about cooking.

Personally, I would avoid it because things that are too big to fit in the sink are awkward to wash, even if I don't soak them.

I get a soapy sponge and scrub it off. I don't know what I need a sink for anyway. I don't want to get it as wet as it would if I ran it under the faucet. (Then I sanitize with vinegar/water and then coat with mineral oil. Cooking for engineers skips the sanitizing step and glosses over the oil.)

After you've put soap on it, you need to rinse it before moving to the next step, right? Seems like it would take a lot of wiping (and rinsing of the sponge) to get to the same level of confidence about lack of soap as a simple rinse of whatever you're cleaning. Does the vinegar displace soap, or something?

This may be surprising, but you don't actually need to rinse off dish soap. Hell, at home we don't even dry thing up, just leave them to drain and evaporate. Never noticed any kind of residue or flavour.

I just wipe it off with a wet paper towel. I never notice any residue or flavor doing that. I figure if I'm not tasting the vinegar I spray on after, I'm definitely not tasting some dish soap.

I also use a very light natural dish soap. YMMV if you're using one with strongs scents/chemicals.

The book I'm currently going through (after a year of using the techniques I learned as a kid to successfully follow random recipes) is Cooking for Geeks (http://cookingforgeeks.com). None of its advice is obviously wrong so far, and it's not telling me that I need every single kitchen gadget, which I like. But of course, I don't really know enough to know if it's wrong.

Does the food taste good? If so, then it's right.

For Dutch speaking HN'ers I'd recommend http://24kitchen.nl (also on TV)

Especially the desserts/baking section by Rudolph van Veen is great. He covers many classics, like creme caramel, tarte tatin, baklava, omelette siberienne, etc. He also explains the basic techniques well, like beating egg white with molten sugar to get a sturdy cream.

There's an amazing textbook titled "On Cooking" which is the single most influential resource I've used for learning how to seriously cook. From food safety to knife skills, butchering to baking, it covers everything. I would highly recommend picking up a copy if you're interested in or already have a passion for cooking.

rouxbe.com is very, very good. I went through all of their videos over the course of a week or so a couple years back, and the pacing, depth, and quality of instruction are extremely impressive. I would recommend it to anyone.

If you're just starting out with cooking as I was a few years ago, http://startcooking.com/ is a great site. Very basic information but explained concisely.

agree with rouxbe.com. their how-to videos/classes are very well put-together and the community of users incredibly active, insightful and participative.

I was disappointed, too, that rouxbe wasn't on the list. It isn't free, though, and that seems to be one of their criteria.

Memrise (under the languages section) is pretty amazing. Or, at least seems amazing from 15 minutes of going through the Chinese stuff. I hate memorizing things, but the interface and visual cues for learning characters, and way they track your progress actually makes the process enjoyable for me.

So far, at least.

As with all these tools, you could teach yourself this stuff before, it'd just require more work and discipline for you to find the necessary books and make your own teaching plan. The advantage of these services is that they lower the friction to learn. Hopefully they reduce the friction enough so that there is a much higher ratio of enjoyment/reward to effort, making you more likely to stick with it. But you still have to stick with it to learn anything.

Here's hoping I will.

Check out skritter.com for learning Chinese. These guys are incredible.

Seconding Skritter, they're amazing. I'd also like to add that they support Japanese kanji as well, and that their iOS apps are brilliant. The Chinese iOS app is out, and the Japanese one is in beta. I own a Wacom tablet that works great with the website, but more and more I find myself using the mobile app because it feels even more natural than writing with a pen, and I can do it anywhere.

Skritter seems pretty sweet, but has no love for Cantonese; it supports traditional characters (so they're most of the way there), but the tone selection is mandarin-only and they only display pinyin and not some cantonese phoneticization like jyutping.

Pretty slick, though.

I'm doing some Memrise now and the best thing about it is they seem to have gamified it. The plantlings that grow really do encourage me to keep, well, playing.

Excellent idea.

I find that when there's a secondary motive to keep going with a task, like the plantlings you've mentioned, that I'm actually not properly completing the task in question. I'm not learning the language as best I could because I've also got my mind on making the plantlings grow.

To get the very best out of your time for any task you should only have one motive to do it: because you want to.

I'm a big fan of Memrise. I think one of the best features is that it uses the community to suggest ways of remembering a word. People remember things differently, so if you have to see a picture of a baby crying with his mouth open to remember that the word 口 means mouth, then so be it.

I'm hoping duolingo comes out with their Chinese track soon. That'll be very interesting.

I'm not a huge fan of Memrise, especially for Chinese. At least when I checked it, there was way too much of an initial emphasis on characters and it also suggested a widely-believed but incorrect idea that characters = words. I say this as someone who has spent most his adult life in the Chinese speaking world, gone through the struggle of learning myself and met hundreds of other foreigners doing the same.

The best option for learning Mandarin would be Popup Chinese. If you exhaust their materials or find yourself wanting a southern accent, go on to ChinesePod. Once you can already speak and read some, go to Skritter if you want to learn how to write. If I had had these three resources 10 years ago, it would have been a much, much easier path.

How do you approach using Popup Chinese. It's unclear to me where to start with their materials, or how to best use their materials.

Duolingo is attempting to do the same "gameification" of language learning that Memrise is doing. They're both fairly successful, but I find that neither of them are as "sticky" as a really good game. It's too easy to put it down.

I was learning French with Memrise for a while, but found that after a certain point the memory keys were...not great. I've not been back for a while though so might give it another try.

I agree this will be the problem with service-like spaced repetition software like Memrise. They will start off with beginner examples and then totally drop off once you transition into intermediate.

My opinion is that SRS must be ingrained with your own interests. Additionally, the base decks on Memrise don't use further flash card techniques other than Q/A or word/definition. Cloze deletion cards come to mind when memorizing things much easier.

This is one of the problems. The framework is good, but content usually isn't. Content in SRS is really hard because language learning should collide with interests in order to feed the fuel.

More dedicated SRS users will just move to something more portable to create their content more easily/personally and beginners eventually drop off.

This is a nice comprehensive list, but I think sites that focus on aggregation need to step it up beyond a simple text-listing. There needs to be some other metric/gauge beyond just the title of the course. It could even be as simple as icon(s) for whether the resource is a text-based site, available as an e-book, or taught mostly through videos. Or: a complexity level (beginner/intermediate/expert)...Or hell, just a 15 word summary of why you included the link.

It's tough to design good taxonomies of course, but resources like this would greatly benefit from anything that would keep someone from having to click-through each link to discover the usefulness of each resource.

Not trying to sound ungrateful, but a lot of these link-sites come up on HN (there are several based on just programming books, for instance)...It'd be great to see such things evolve into something more.

Thanks for the suggestions. I agree with you on all of those points. I think for the next version, it would be great to have icons and more of a description.

As of right now, if you hover over the link, it'll explain what the website is focused on and what it generally covers.

A couple of good sites for this, that list not just the source website, but the actual courses themselves:



When in doubt, there's always Reddit to crowd-source this kind of thing - http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/tmtd4/what_are_th...

Don't forget the continued discussion on HN - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4240007

Some good links, but something like this really needs search and filtering, and some sort of category overview - as it is, on most monitors you need to scroll to even see all the main categories...

The description of the arXiv is a little off, it says "Cornell's library of published academic research papers", while really the arXiv is mainly for preprints, i.e., papers that have not yet been published. It is true, however, that in some fields it is common for journals to let you keep a (non-final) version of your paper on the arXiv.

Thanks. I will update.

From those that have taken them, which of the coursera/udacity/EdX courses are really really good? I go to the sites, get excited and register for everything but I know focus would mean I'd stick with them.

6.002x is an amazing course (it's the only EdX course that has run so far, but they have a great platform).

The Udacity courses are generally slightly easier (e.g. they avoid the low-level details of the maths), but I really enjoyed CS373 (Programming a Robotic Car) and CS212 (Design of Computer Programs).

The Coursera courses are a little hit and miss in terms of quality, but Quantum Computing and Design and Analysis of Algorithms are both very good.

What about Code School (http://www.codeschool.com)? I'm pretty sure that it's a well known place to learn programming, etc.

I think he didn't include it because there is a (monthly) fee on this one. But some courses are free and I agree, I definitely endorse this one to be on the lilst. I am one of those learn-by-doing people and codeschool is just great. Like codecademy on steroids.

You need feedback on whether you are doing well or not. That's the other part of on-line education that is missing.

Cool site, simple and with great links

you had me until w3schools ... see http://w3fools.com/

Yea, came to say the same. Change that link to w3schools for the good one: https://developer-new.mozilla.org/en-US/

This reminds me of dmoz, centered on learning and without external suggestions.

I love the simplicity of this site. The site is very precise and easy to use.

strobist.com for photography

http://cambridgeincolour.com for photography too. Particularly excellent guide on all the related concepts.

Good one

Include Treehouse

Treehouse is a great resource but it isn't free

very nice aggregate you've created there.

Let's help Li with a list of resources to learn how to Draw, Paint, Illustrate, Graffiti, Stencil, etc.

So far we only have this one: http://www.drawspace.com/

If you know of any other links please leave a comment

Yes, that happens to be the only one I have at the moment. I have 2-3 photography ones that fit under art as well... I was also looking for art history for my own interests, and that seems to be hard to come by too.

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