The open education movement got a little stronger this week with the launch of Academic Earth. Run by Richard Ludlow, a new social entrepreneur only a couple of years out of Yale, Academic Earth brings video lectures from leading universities into a centralized user-friendly site. What you'll see here is an impressive early implementation of where Academic Earth plans to go. Take content-rich videos from universities, organize the videos well, make the visual experience attractive, add personal customization functionality and the ability to engage with the content, and you have a very useful service to bring to the world. I first started talking with Richard back in the fall and am really glad to see his site now ready for show time. Check it out in beta and watch it grow.
Sad news. John Updike, one of the most prolific authors of the last half century, has died at the age of 76. The cause was apparently lung cancer. Get the obit here.
In November, Updike published The Widows of Eastwick, a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick, the bestseller he wrote back in 1984. On his book tour, he stopped in for an interview with Michael Krasny, here in San Francisco, and they covered a wide range of issues — witches, sex, squirrels, oak trees, Rabbit Angstrom, his most famous character and how he died, and more. You can listen here.
As you probably know, Updike was a frequent contributor to The New Yorker magazine since 1954. Today, they're highlighting a few of his pieces, including a 1960 reportage on Ted Williams' last game, a short story called Here Come the Maples (1976), and a 2006 essay called Late Works, which looks at writers and artists confronting the end.
Also, for good measure, we're adding a lengthy clip from 2006, which features Updike reading from his post 9-11 book, The Terrorist: A Novel.
Back in October, I mentioned that Stanford had posted on iTunes a course called Darwin’s Legacy, which helped commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.
The course brings together important scholars from across the US who explore Darwin’s legacy in fields as diverse as anthropology, religion, medicine, psychology, philosophy, literature, and biology. It's now available on YouTube, and we've posted above a lecture by Daniel Dennett, a leading American philosopher who talks about the philosophical importance of Darwin's theory of evolution. To watch the complete course on YouTube, simply access this playlist. You can also find the course, and many others like it, listed in our collection of Free University Courses.
In the latest edition of The New York Review of Books, Robert Darnton, a prominent French historian who now runs Harvard's Library system, puts out a tantalizing idea: "Google can make the Enlightenment dream come true." Having settled its lawsuit with publishers and authors, Google is now steaming ahead with its effort to digitize millions of books and create a vast digital library available to individuals and institutions everywhere on a subscription basis. (The fees apply to copyrighted texts only, not to those in the public domain.) This opens up the possibility that Google can fulfill the Enlightenment promise of democratizing knowledge, enriching the intellectual marketplace, and diffusing the ideas that have the greatest social benefit. The question is whether Google will actually make this happen. Will Google's private interests line up with the public interest? Will the company keep the digital library open and fulfill the hopes of Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, and Jefferson? Or will the pursuit of profit gradually lead Google to drive up prices and close off access? Given the recent conduct of the banking community, it's hard to remain optimistic that market-driven institutions will act altruistically. Yes, Darnton acknowledges, Google seems to be starting off with good intentions. But what the company does long-term with its near monopoly on online information is anyone's guess, and it's entirely up to Google to do the right thing. For more on the Enlightenment and Google's online book initiative, you should dig deeper into Darnton's piece. Also you can join The New York Review of Books group on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.
I'm not sure that it's quite as intriguing as what happens when waves freeze in Newfoundland, but it's still pretty neat.
Toronto writer Robert Boyczuk has released the short story collection Horror Story and Other Horror Stories in trade paperback. You can purchase it on Amazon, or download it in a free PDF format here. Also now available is a free audio/mp3 version of Boyczuk's short story, “Falling". These finds were highlighted by Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing. Doctorow has elsewhere called Boyczuk a "supremely talented short-story writer." For more information on all this, browse this press release.