Free M.I.T. Course Teaches You How to Become Bill Nye & Make Great Science Videos for YouTube

If I had my way, more academics would care about teaching beyond the walls of the academy. They'd teach to a broader public and consider ways to make their material more engaging, if not inspiring, to new audiences. You can find examples out there of teachers who are doing it right. The heirs of Carl Sagan--Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye--know how to light a spark and make their material come alive on TV and YouTube. How they do this is not exactly a mystery, not after M.I.T. posted online a course called "Becoming the Next Bill Nye: Writing and Hosting the Educational Show."

Taught at M.I.T. over a month-long period, Becoming the Next Bill Nye was designed to teach students video production techniques that would help them "to engagingly convey [their] passions for science, technology, engineering, and/or math." By the end of the course, they'd know how to script and host a 5-minute YouTube show.

You can now find the syllabus and all materials for that course online at MIT's OpenCourseWare site. This includes all video lectures and class assignments. Or, if you prefer, you can get the video lectures straight from this YouTube playlist.

Becoming the Next Bill Nye will be added to our meta collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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MIT’s Introduction to Poker Theory: A Free Online Course

If you google my name, spelled in the unconventional way that I spell it, the first search results won't having anything to do with me. They'll reference another Dan Colman who, in the past year, has made a good chunk of change playing poker -- including winning $15.3 million in one tournament alone. He apparently did it all without availing himself of MIT's course -- Poker Theory and Analytics -- taught by Kevin Desmond, a graduate student in MIT's Sloan School of Management. Desmond has competed at the top levels of the poker world and worked as a Morgan Stanley analyst, and he contends that being successful in both realms requires "balancing expected returns against associated risks and," ... and "the key to success is self-discipline."

According to MIT NewsPoker Theory and Analytics introduced students to poker strategy, psychology, and decision-making in eleven lectures." Along with giving students the chance to play endless rounds of poker, the class featured guest speakers -- "Bill Chen, a professional player best known for his appearances on the Game Show Network’s High Stakes Poker television show, Matt Hawrilenko, a Princeton graduate who won more than $1 million at the World Series of Poker in 2009, and Aaron Brown, chief risk manager at AQR Capital Management." And it culminated with a live tournament.

You can access all of the lectures for the Poker Theory and Analytics course on YouTube, iTunes or (You can watch the complete playlist of lectures above.) And if you click here, you can get the syllabuslectures notes, assignments, poker software, and more.

Poker Theory and Analytics  will be added to our ever-growing collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities, in both the Business and Economics sections.

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MIT Creates Amazing Self-Folding Origami Robots & Leaping Cheetah Robots

Last Thursday, MIT released two staggeringly cool videos. And I don't think I'm being hyperbolic in saying that. Above we have a robotic cheetah that's "trained" to "see and jump over hurdles as it runs — making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously." The cheetah knows when to jump by using LIDAR — "a visual system that uses reflections from a laser to map terrain." MIT News has more on the tech behind this creation.

Making almost equally big news is another MIT invention -- a miniature origami robot that self-folds, walks, swims, and degrades. As the electrical engineering website IEEE Spectrum explains:

The unfolded robot, which is made of a magnet and PVC sandwiched between laser-cut structural layers (polystyrene or paper), weighs just 0.31 g and measures 1.7 cm on a side. Once placed on a heating element, the PVC contracts, and where the structural layers have been cut, it creates folds....

Once you’re done messing around, you can drive the robot into a tank of acetone and it will entirely dissolve.

One day, if things go according to plan, these creatures will become small enough to perform important medical tasks within your body, and then when they're done, poof, they'll be gone. And you'll have an MIT researcher partly to thank.

via Mental Floss

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

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The Historic LSD Debate at MIT: Timothy Leary v. Professor Jerome Lettvin (1967)

On May 3, 1967, Dr. Timothy Leary, that high priest of hallucinogens, faced off in a debate with MIT professor Dr. Jerome Lettvin about LSD in MIT's Kresge Auditorium. Leary spent the debate in the lotus position, dressed in a white gown, beads and bare feet. The very picture of a counter culture icon. Lettvin, on the other hand, cuts a distinctly conservative figure, sporting a short-sleeved white shirt, a skinny tie and thick-framed glasses. On first blush, the debate might look like a stereotypical clash between the hip versus the square, but it ended up being much more interesting than that. Lettvin, who proved to be at least as charismatic as Leary, more than held his own against the man Richard Nixon once called “the most dangerous man in American.” You can watch the full debate above.

Leary speaks for the first half of the video. For those familiar with his routine, little of what you see will come as a surprise. He argues that LSD is a “a way of life and a sacrament and a sacrament is something that gets you high." He goes on to cite groundbreaking figures like Einstein, Newton and William James who struggled to understand reality and consciousness. “The real goal of the scientist is to flip out,” he said to a packed auditorium filled with future scientists. “I don’t know if LSD is good or bad. It’s a gamble. It’s a risk. The sacrament is always a risk. … What isn’t? But LSD is the best gamble in the house.” Aiding him with his argument is a psychedelic picture show featuring a steady stream of images including ocean waves rolling backward, children bouncing on trampolines, and a man in a goatee eating soup, all set to a soundtrack by Ravi Shankar.


“Tim, your argument is exceedingly seductive,” Lettvin concedes at the beginning of his presentation (it begins around the 30:30 mark), which had none of the visual razzamatazz of Leary’s spiel. “I feel like this man is [in] the hands of the devil.”

Lettvin, however, proves not to be your standard anti-drug scold. At one point in the debate, he proclaims, “I can conceive of no more immoral thing than has been done by the government in the wholesale banning of drugs. … There’s a fundamentally monstrous thing about forbidding rather than reasoning people out.” And that’s exactly what Lettvin set out to do -- reason the audience against taking acid. “The question is not scientific but moral,” he says. LSD has the potential to rob takers of their critical faculties, rendering them permanently spaced out. “The price seems a little steep to pay. You are settling for a permanent second rate world by the abnegation of the intellect.”

Lettvin’s performance is all the more impressive because he had little time to prepare. The faculty member who was originally slated to debate Leary bowed out at the last moment, and organizers scrambled to get someone, anyone, to face down the famed guru. Lettvin reportedly came straight from the lab to the auditorium and he even had to borrow a tie. Too bad Leary didn’t have a spare Nehru jacket.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Turn Your Bike into an Electric Hybrid with MIT’s “Copenhagen Wheel”

Bonaverde's “Roast-Grind-Brew Coffee Machine” seemed like one of the cooler inventions I've recently stumbled upon. But then I came across this: The Copenhagen Wheel. Originally created by researchers at MIT, the Copenhagen Wheel "transforms ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes." It allows bike riders to "capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need a bit of a boost" -- like climbing a hill in San Francisco. The wheel also feeds data to your iPhone, allowing you to monitor pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time. After spending several years in development, the wheel can now be pre-ordered online and it will ship next spring. It retails for $699.

Get more background information on The Copenhagen Wheel via this MIT web site.

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MIT Teaches You How to Speak Italian & Cook Italian Food All at Once (Free Online Course)

At MIT, Dr. Paola Rebusco usually teaches physics to freshmen. But, on behalf of the MIT Experimental Study Group, Rebusco has devised an appealing course -- Speak Italian with Your Mouth Full -- where she combines teaching two things many people love: learning to speak Italian and cooking Italian food. The course summary reads:

The participants in this seminar will dive into learning basic conversational Italian, Italian culture, and the Mediterranean diet. Each class is based on the preparation of a delicious dish and on the bite-sized acquisition of parts of the Italian language and culture. A good diet is not based on recipes only, it is also rooted in healthy habits and in culture. At the end of the seminar the participants will be able to cook some healthy and tasty recipes and to understand and speak basic Italian.

As Rebusco explains in a short video, this course has the advantage of making the language lessons a little less abstract. It gives students a chance to apply what they've learned (new vocabulary words, pronunciations, etc.) in a fun, practical context.

Above, we start you off with the first language lesson in the seminar. It begins where all basic courses start -- with how to say your name. Below, you can watch the class learn to cook fresh pasta. Along the way, the course also teaches students how to make espressorisottohomemade pizzabruschetta, and biscotti. Lectures for the course can be found on the MIT web site, YouTube and iTunesSpeak Italian with Your Mouth Full also appears in our collection of Free Foreign Language Lessons and 1200 Free Courses Online. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients & Cooking Instruction:

Food Preparation

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“Wear Sunscreen”: The Story Behind the Commencement Speech That Kurt Vonnegut Never Gave

On June 1, 1997, Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune columnist and Brenda Starr cartoonist, wrote a column entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” In her introduction to the column she described it as the commencement speech she would give to the class of ’97 if she were asked to give one.

The first line of the speech: “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.”

If you grew up in the 90s, these words may sound familiar, and you would be absolutely right. Australian film director Baz Luhrmann used the essay in its entirety on his 1998 album Something for Everybody, turning it into his hit single “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” With spoken-word lyrics over a mellow backing track by Zambian dance music performer Rozalla, the song was an unexpected worldwide hit, reaching number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and number one in the United Kingdom.

The thing is, Luhrmann and his team did not realize that Schmich was the actual author of the speech until they sought out permission to use the lyrics. They believed it was written by author Kurt Vonnegut.

For Schmich, the “Sunscreen Controversy” was “just one of those stories that reminds you of the lawlessness of cyberspace.” While no one knows the originator of the urban legend, the story goes that Vonnegut’s wife, the photographer Jill Krementz, had received an e-mail in early August 1997 that purported to reprint a commencement speech Vonnegut had given at MIT that year. (The actual commencement speaker was the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.) “She was so pleased,” Mr. Vonnegut later told the New York Times. “She sent it on to a whole of people, including my kids – how clever I am.”

The purported speech became a viral sensation, bouncing around the world through e-mail. This is how Luhrmann discovered the text. He, along with Anton Monsted and Josh Abrahams, decided to use it for a remix he was working on but was doubtful he could get Vonnegut's  permission. While searching for the writer's contact information, Luhrmann discovered that Schmich was the actual author. He reached out to her and, with her permission, recorded the song the next day.

What happened between June 1 and early August, no one knows. For Vonnegut, the controversy cemented his belief that the Internet was not worth trusting. “I don’t know what the point is except how gullible people are on the Internet.” For Schmich, she acknowledged that her column would probably not had spread the way it did without the names of Vonnegut and MIT attached to it.

In the end, Schmich and Vonnegut did connect after she reached out to him to inform him of the confusion. According to Vonnegut, “What I said to Mary Schmich on the telephone was that what she wrote was funny and wise and charming, so I would have been proud had the words been mine.” Not a bad ending for a column that was written, according to Schmich, “while high on coffee and M&Ms.”

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