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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Google & edX to Create MOOC.Org: An Open Source Platform For Creating Your Own MOOC

mooc org

Almost exactly a year ago, we told you about Google's release of Course Builder, an open source platform that would let you build your own online courses/MOOCs for free. This week, Google has a new announcement: it's joining forces with edX, (the MOOC provider led by Harvard and MIT), to work on a new open source platform called MOOC.org. The new service will go live in the first half of 2014. And it will allow “any academic institution, business and individual to create and host online courses." This will give innovative educators the opportunity to put a MOOC online without necessarily making a steep investment in a course. (When added all up, the costs can otherwise be enormous.) If MOOC.org sounds of interest to you, you can put your name on a waiting list, and they'll contact you when the service launches next year.

Meanwhile, let me mention that 125 MOOCs will be launching between now and the end of October. To see a full list, visit or our collection of 625 MOOCs/Certificate Courses from Great Universities. You'll find many interesting titles on the list -- History of Chinese Architecture: Part 1Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity; Dark Matter in Galaxies: The Last Mystery, and Exploring Engineering, just to name a few. If you have questions about what MOOCs are all about, please see our new MOOC FAQ.

via The Chronicle of Higher Ed

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Stephen Colbert Tries to Make Sense of MOOCs with the Head of edX

Last week Anant Agarwal, President of edX (the MOOC consortium launched by Harvard and MIT), paid a visit to The Colbert Report. And it didn't take long for the host, the one and only Stephen Colbert, to ask funny but unmistakably probing questions about the advent of Massive Open Online Courses. "I don’t understand. You’re in the knowledge business in a university. Let’s say I had a shoe store, ok, and then I hired you to work at my shoe store. And you said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s give the shoes away for free.’ I would fire you and then probably throw shoes at your head." In other words, why would universities disrupt themselves and give education away at no cost? Where's the sanity in that?  If you have five minutes, you can watch Agarwal's response and get a few laughs along the way. And if you're ready to take a MOOC, then dive into our collection of 550 Free MOOCs from Great Universities. 120 new courses will be starting in August and September alone.

via The Harvard Crimson

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Noam Chomsky Went Gangnam Style … Ever So Briefly?

I'm usually pretty dialed into this stuff, but somehow this one slipped by me last fall. During the Gangnam Style craze, MIT shot a parody video where Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, made a cameo appearance. Maybe it slipped by me because the appearance is brief. About 5 seconds, starting at the 3:20 mark. We were on the ball enough, however, to spot another parody by Ai Weiwei and then we had Slavoj Žižek demystifying the whole Gangnam Style phenomenon, complete with wild hand gesticulations and frantic rubs of the nose. Anyway, one day this will make for some good archival footage -- public intellectual meets international pop culture craze -- so we're adding it to the trove.

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Get Ready for MIT’s “Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life” on edX

edX announced today what looks like a promising new open course -- Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life. Hosted by professor Eric Lander, one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, this course will give students a grounding in "topics taught in the MIT introductory biology courses and many biology courses across the world." The course will cover everything from the basics of DNA to the intricacies of genomics. And it won't run you any money. But it will require some time -- about 6-8 hours per week, across 12 weeks (March 5 - May 28). Plus here's a nice perk: any student who earns a passing grade will receive "a certificate of mastery," also free of charge. You can enroll in the course right here.

We have added Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life to our ever-growing list of MOOCs/Free Certificate Courses, along with another primo edx course, a MOOC version of Michael Sandel's Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?. Be sure to check it out.

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