How Did Hannibal Cross the Alps?: The #2 Podcast on iTunesU

hannibal.jpgDuring a week when university podcasts received widespread attention (thanks to a very popular article in the NY Times), we've kept a close eye on the high-ranking podcasts on iTunesU. Quite consistently, one podcast -- How Did Hannibal Cross the Alps? -- has ranked at the top. It currently sits in the #2 position, right behind What is Existentialism?.

The Hannibal lecture was presented at Stanford by Patrick Hunt, an archaeologist who recently wrote Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History (see related post) and whose long term project is to figure out how the great military leader crossed the Alps in 218 BCE with his large army, which included dozens of war elephants. I had a chance to catch up with Patrick and ask him why, over 2,000 years later, the adventures of Hannibal still manage to capture our imagination. Here is what he had to say:

"Here are some reasons I think the Hannibal topic is mesmerizing. First, the logistics of moving a large army - at least 25,000 surviving soldiers - over sometimes terrifying mountain barriers is very daunting and immensely challenging. Second, this is exponentially compounded by the fact that even with able scouts the increasingly steep terrain and bad weather en route to the summit were threateningly unfamiliar to the vast majority of Hannibal's army in this early winter of 218 BCE. Even in summer, the weather can be harsh and wildly unpredictable. In winter, it can be that much worse. Third, there were Celtic tribes to contend with, who would roll boulders down on troops and ambush them from (more…)

Andy, Are You Goofing on Apple?

andyk.jpgFake Steve Jobs, a wildly popular blog written by Daniel Lyons, an editor at Forbes, has been goofing on the real Steve Jobs all year. And now things have taken an odd turn. During the same week that Apple apparently shut down (an Apple rumor site) in exchange for cash, Apple may be applying similar pressure to Fake Steve Jobs. Or maybe not.

If today's blog post can be taken at face value, Apple lawyers have followed up hard-assed threats with a cash offer (of $500,000) to make FSJ go away. The recent posts all sound convincing. But then you note the references to Andy Kaufman, the master of walking the line between complete sincerity and absurdity. First, there's the picture of Kaufman getting strong armed during one of his famous wrestling matches with women. Next, there's the reference to a "Tony Clifton," which is the name given to a strange bit character Kaufman played during the 1970s (see below).

FSJ is a satire site, and you shouldn't get fooled. But you do. Just like the inevitable dupe does every April 1. Good stuff.

Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History

tendiscoveries.jpgHere are a few facts to know about the adventurous Patrick Hunt. He's a Stanford archaeologist who has spent more than a decade trying to unravel the mystery of how Hannibal, the great ancient military leader, crossed the Alps in 218 BCE with 25,000 men and 37 elephants. (Listen on iTunes to the course he gave on this adventure, and get more info below). He has broken more than 20 bones while doing fieldwork, fought off kidnappers, and twice survived sunstroke-induced blindness. And now he has just published an exciting new book called Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History. It's published by Penguin/Plume and starts shipping tomorrow. I asked Patrick what makes these discoveries ranging from the Rosetta Stone to the Dead Sea Scrolls to Machu Picchu so important. Below he gives us a brief glimpse into what makes each discovery historically significant and fascinating. Read on, and check out his captivating new book for the fuller picture.

Patrick Hunt: "First I should say that not every archaeologist would agree that these are the ten most important discoveries of all time. On the other hand, the ten stories retold in this book are often regarded as among the most exciting archaeological discoveries of the modern era (since 1750). And no one would deny that these ten vital discoveries have forever changed the world of archaeology, transforming how and what we know about ancient history. Let me tell you a little about them.

1) Rosetta Stone: This exciting discovery in 1799 was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and unlocking the history of the ancient world texts. It provides a window into the real history of Egypt rather than an imaginary one; all other decipherings of ancient languages since the Rosetta Stone's initial decoding in 1822 are based on its precedents. (See photo here.)

2) Troy: Its discovery and excavation beginning in 1870 proved once and for all that Troy was not just a myth based on Homer; Troy was a historical site where real people lived and fought. Its earliest excavator, the oft-maligned and often-unethical Heinrich Schliemann has been mostly credited right or wrong as being the "Father of Archaeology" and his techniques became the foundation of archaeological research, however greatly improved, afterward.

3) Nineveh and the Royal Assyrian Library: This riveting find beginning in 1849 by Austen Henry Layard, a sleuth of antiquity, eventually unearthed a whole lost library of cuneiform texts, including ones not only from ancient Assyria but also from far older Sumer, Akkad, Babylon and other great civilizations. This had a very significant impact on world literature, introducing such seminal works as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

4) King Tut's Tomb: The dramatic opening of this royal tomb in 1922 sought for years by a determined Howard Carter was the first time in millennia a pharaoh's tomb had actually been found intact; its treasure gave the world a unique opportunity to actually account for staggering Egyptian royal wealth. [Dan's note: National Geographic has a nice web site on this archaeological find.]

5) Machu Picchu: The remarkable high jungle mountain discovery in 1911 of the remote Lost City of the Inca by Hiram Bingham made it possible for the world to finally see an undisturbed Inca royal city mysteriously abandoned on a mountaintop but neither conquered nor changed by the colonial world. (See photo here.)

6) Pompeii: Preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 and not dug out for almost two millennia, Pompeii (probably accidentally found by a farmer digging a well) is the single most important Roman site in the world; its artifacts offer the largest and fullest record of life in a Roman city. Pompeii's misfortune is our great fortune. It preserves a city with thousands of objects virtually unchanged. (See images here.)


The Final Cut of Blade Runner: Now Out on DVD

Back in October, Ridley Scott released a final and definitive director's cut of Blade Runner, presenting to audiences the film that he would have made if studio execs hadn't meddled with things. A short two months later, the final cut is now out on DVD. It was released yesterday, barely in time for the holidays. For more on the making and remaking of Blade Runner, you can listen to this recent interview with Ridley Scott.

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University Podcasts Turn Professors into Stars

The New York Times has a nice piece today on university podcasts and how they're turning some professors into international stars. The article gives special attention to Walter Lewin, an MIT physics professor, and highlights courses that you'll find in our listing of free university courses. Just as an aside, the article mentions at least one course that yours truly helped put together.

You can access complete university courses via podcast here. If you want a more comprehensive list of university podcasts (which will give you access to many lectures, but not necessarily complete courses), click here.

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15 Most Viewed Posts in 2007

We dug back through the historical data and isolated the 15 most viewed posts of the year. If you're looking for a trend, one will leap out. People like numbered lists. Hence another one:

1) 10 Unexpected Uses of the iPod
2) 25 UC Berkeley Courses Available via Free Video
3) 45 Free Cutting-Edge Books … Courtesy of Creative Commons
4) The War of the Worlds on Podcast: How H.G. Wells and Orson Welles Riveted A Nation
5) Our Ancestral Mind in the Modern World: An Interview with Satoshi Kanazawa
6) Free Beethoven and Mozart Recordings via Podcast
7) Life-Changing Books: Your Picks
8) 10 Free University Courses on iTunes
9) Podcast Primer
10) MP3 Music Blogs: For Your Listening Pleasure
11) Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History
12) The Hottest Course on iTunes (and the Future of Digital Education)
13) Ten Podcasts to Build Your Vocabulary
14) YouTube Gets Smart: The Launch of New University Channels
15) The Decline and Fall of the Roman (and American?) Empire: A Free Audiobook

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Yale Launches Open Courses

Click here for 250 Free Online Courses From Great Universities

Yesterday, Yale announced that it is providing "free and open access to seven introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University." I've listed the course lineup below, with links to each course. You can access the homepage for the project here.

With this launch, Yale becomes the latest prestigious American university to give global users access to online educational content. But its approach is rather different. The high profile initiatives led by MIT and UC Berkeley both deliver high volumes of content, and they're designed to be scalable. (MIT gives users access to mass quantities of course materials created by its faculty, while Berkeley distributes through iTunes and YouTube over 50 courses that the university records at a reasonable cost.) In contrast, Yale's project is more boutique and high-touch.

Each course features a syllabus, reading assignments, class notes, and polished lectures, which, when taken together, contribute to a more rounded learning experience. The lectures can be downloaded in one of five formats (text, audio, flash video, low bandwidth quicktime video, and high bandwidth quicktime video). And quite notably, Yale has designed the courses to be downloaded fairly easily, which means that you can put the lectures onto an mp3 player if you're a little tech savvy. This does raise the question, however: why aren't the lectures also posted on Yale's iTunes site? This would surely facilitate the downloading of lectures for many users, and it would offer an easy way to drive substantial traffic to the courses.

As some have already noted (see the comments on this page), Yale isn't offering online courses in the truest sense, meaning you won't get access to a live instructor here. Nor will you be able to interact with other students. It's a one-way, solitary educational experience. But there's a reason for that. Not long ago, Yale experimented with a more comprehensive form of online learning when it created, along with Stanford and Oxford, an e-learning consortium called "The Alliance for Lifelong Learning" (a/k/a AllLearn). For many reasons, the venture (where I spent five years) wasn't ultimatley viable. And so Yale has opted for another model that has its own virtues -- it's less capital intensive; it's free (AllLearn charged for its courses); and it will get educational materials into far more people's hands, which is perhaps what matters most.

As a quick note, let me add that this project was funded by the Hewlett Foundation, and Yale expects to add up to 30 additional courses over the next several years.

To visit Yale's open courses, visit the following links:

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