After signing up for this post, those of us that want to study machine learning have made a team.
In an effort to actually get high returns on our time we won't delay, and instead actually build the skills. First project: work through Python Machine Learning by Sebastian Raschka, with the mid-term goal of being able to implement the "recognizing handwritten digits" code near the end.
As a matter of short term practicality currently we don't have the hardware for GPU acceleration. This limits the things we can do, but at this stage of learning most of the time spent is on understanding and implementing the basic concepts anyway.
Here is our discord invite link if you're interested in joining in on the fun.
September 14th 2017 edit:
Wasn't enough activity to keep it going. The book we chose also focused on scikitlearn rather than teaching how some of the algorithms are programmed after ~chapter 2 so I think that was part of the problem, but the main failing I suspect is that I personally did not push forward hard enough and got distracted by other projects.
So alas, this effort did not succeed. Feel free to check out the discord to find the people interested in it, and maybe look at the logs to see where we went wrong ;)