What a Hurricane Looks Like From Outer Space

In anticipation of Gustav.... Here's what Hurricane Dean looked like for the crew flying in a NASA space shuttle last August. You can check out more NASA videos on YouTube here. It's also added to our YouTube playlist. Thanks to Bill for pointing this out. (Readers: If you see good pieces of cultural media, feel free to send them our way.)

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On the Lighter Side: Re-Thinking Classic Films

Ending the week on a lighter note ...

A backer of indie film festivals, Volkswagen presents "See Film Differently” - a series of videos that feature amusing re-interpretations of classic movies. Here, you'll find new takes on Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Die Hard, and Mary Poppins. Below, we've featured another (somewhat racy) bit and added it to our YouTube Playlist.

via Slashfilm

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Knock $100 Off Amazon’s Kindle

Nice find by Kottke.org. If you're willing to sign up for an Amazon credit card (with no annual fee), you can get a $100 rebate on the Kindle, Amazon's fast-selling e-book reader. This brings the price down to $259. And, as Kottke warns, you should always read the fine print. You can get more info here, and buy the Kindle here.

Teach Your Children Mandarin … They’re Going to Need It

Thomas Friedman's latest opinion piece in the New York Times starts like this:

After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

There's probably a good deal of truth to his last point. So to keep your kids (or yourself) competitive in the global marketplace, we're highlighting a series of free Mandarin podcasts, all of which can be permanently found in our Foreign Language Lesson Podcast Collection. And, as a quick aside, I should note that Rosetta Stone is currently running a sale (through the end of August) that will let you get 10% off their audio products, which includes instruction in Mandarin and many other languages. (Click here for more info)

  • Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Weekly lessons in Mandarin that get very strong reviews from iTunes users..
  • Chinesepod.com iTunes Feed Web Site
    • A series of well-reviewed lessons that will let you learn Mandarin on your own terms.
  • Survival Chinese iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Learn the phrases you need to get by while traveling in China.
  • Chinese Learn Online iTunes Feed Web Site
    • A dialogue-based introduction to Mandarin Chinese. Load them on your iPod and get up the Chinese curve.
  • iMandarinPod.com iTunes Feed Web Site
    • A more advanced podcast, this series of lessons teaches Chinese by talking about Chinese culture or what is happening today in China.
  • Mandarin Chinese Conversation iTunes Web Site
    • A language series put together by TimesOnline.
  • Mandarin Chinese Feed Web Site
    • 10 Lessons by the US Peace Corps. Make sure you visit the site and download the PDF that accompanies the lessons.
  • World Learner Chinese iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Another in the mix of possibilities.

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Learning Spanish with Free Audio Lessons: The Lay of the Land

Today we have the pleasure of welcoming a guest contribution by Eleena de Lisser, who runs Voices en Español, a bilingual blog and conversational Spanish podcast (iTunes - RSS Feed). In this post, Eleena draws on her experience and offers an overview of the best free audio lessons that will teach you Spanish (which happens to be the number one second language studied in the United States). Other Spanish lessons can be found in our larger collection How to Learn Languages for Free: Spanish, English, Chinese & 37 Other Languages. Many thanks Eleena, and take it away...


Learning Spanish today is as easy as sitting in front of your computer and downloading online audio to your MP3 player. If you’re motivated, you can learn a great deal of Spanish at little to no cost without ever leaving the comfort of home. A tremendous range of instructional Spanish language podcasts, from the beginner level to advanced, are widely available on the internet and many of them are free. (Some charge for accompanying transcripts and written practice exercises.)  So whether you are a raw beginner or a seasoned language study veteran, there is a podcast out there to suit you. Here are the details on a handful of educational Spanish language podcasts that are worth a closer look:

Coffee Break Spanish (iTunes - Feed - Web Site), whose slogan is “language learning with your latte,” is undoubtedly king of the instructional podcast hill, with a large and loyal fanbase. It is ideally suited for beginners and other students seeking a review of basic Spanish grammar and phrases. Mark Pentleton, the producer and instructor, and Kara, his student, are Scottish, so while you won’t be hearing a native Spanish speaker’s pronunciation in the initial episodes, that seems to add to the charm of the program for some listeners.

Another popular instructional series is Notes in Spanish (iTunes - Feed - Web Site), produced by Ben Curtis and Marina Diez, a husband-and-wife team out of Madrid, Spain. Ben is British and Marina is Spanish, and they too have built quite a large following for their conversational Spanish podcasts (for beginners, intermediates and advanced students), which promise to teach listeners “real Spanish” the way it is actually spoken every day in Spain.

LingusTV (iTunes - Feed - Web Site) is a unique entry into the instructional language podcasts arena. It’s an educational video podcast done in the form of a television sit-com (situation comedy), laugh track included. While the actors speak solely in Spanish, subtitles are provided and explanations of vocabulary and grammar points are provided on the web site.

SpanishPod101 (iTunes - Feed - Web Site) distinguishes itself from other currently available instructional podcasts by providing lessons that feature different accents from around the Spanish-speaking world. Dialogues are repeated multiple times and an English translation is provided, to further aid learning.

For advanced language students seeking a change of pace and a break from grammar drills, there are my two podcasts: Voices en Español (iTunes - Feed - Web Site), which contains interviews and literature readings with native Spanish speakers from all walks of life, and Cody’s Cuentos (iTunes - Feed - Web Site), a Spanish-language podcast of classic fairy tales and legends. While Cody’s Cuentos isn’t a conventional instructional podcast, the fact that you probably already know the story in English will aid your comprehension of understanding the tale in Spanish. Transcripts for the stories are available on the Cody’s Cuentos blog so that you can read and follow along in the text while listening to the audio.

This is just a small sample of the kind of  Spanish language programming currently available online. Several more Spanish learning podcasts are listed here in our collection of Free Language Lessons.

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An Animated History of Evil

This animated mockumentary traces the history of evil from Ancient Greece until today. While I wouldn't make the video part of a standard high school curriculum, I give it points for creativity. We've added it to our YouTube Playlist.

The Story of Stuff in 20 Animated Minutes

Here's another good submission (many thanks) that came out of last week's book giveaway...

It's an animated film called The Story of Stuff, which offers "a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something .... and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever."

The film, narrated by Annie Leonard, an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, can be viewed on The Story of Stuff web site, or it can be downloaded here for free. Below, we have posted a quick teaser that will give you a feel for what this film is all about.

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