What Actually Is Bitcoin? Princeton’s Free Course “Bitcoin and Currency Technologies” Provides Much-Needed Answers

"Don't Understand Bitcoin?" asked the headline of a recent video from Clickhole, the Onion's viral-media parody site. "This Man Will Mumble an Explanation at You." The inexplicable hilarity of the mumbling man and his 72-second explanation of Bitcoin contains, like all good humor, a solid truth: most of us don't understand Bitcoin, and the simplistic information we seek out, for all we grasp of it, might as well be delivered unintelligibly. A few years ago we featured a much clearer three-minute explanation of that best-known form of cryptocurrency here on Open Culture, but how to gain a deeper understanding of this technology that, in one form or another, so many of us will eventually use?

Consider joining "Bitcoin and Currency Technologies," a free course from Coursera taught by several professors from Princeton University, including computer scientist Arvind Narayanan, whose Princeton Bitcoin Textbook we featured last year. The eleven-week online course (classroom versions of whose lectures you can check out here) just began, but you can still easily join and learn the answers to questions like the following: "How does Bitcoin work? What makes Bitcoin different? How secure are your Bitcoins? How anonymous are Bitcoin users? What determines the price of Bitcoins? Can cryptocurrencies be regulated? What might the future hold?" All of those, you'll notice, have been raised more and more often in the media lately, but seldom satisfactorily addressed.

"Real understanding of the economic issues underlying the cryptocurrency is almost nonexistent," writes Nobel-winning economist Robert J. Shiller in a recent New York Times piece on Bitcoin. "It is not just that very few people really comprehend the technology behind Bitcoin. It is that no one can attach objective probabilities to the various possible outcomes of the current Bitcoin enthusiasm." Take Princeton's course, then, and you'll pull way ahead of many others interested in Bitcoin, even allowing for all the still-unknowable unknowns that have caused such thrilling and shocking fluctuations in the digital currency's eight years of existence so far. All of it has culminated in the current craze Shiller calls "a marvelous case study in ambiguity and animal spirits," and where ambiguity and animal spirits rule, a little intellectual understanding certainly never hurts.

Enroll free in "Bitcoin and Currency Technologies" here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The 10 Most Popular Courses on Coursera in 2017 (and 2,000 Courses You Can Take for Free in January, 2018)

Back in 2012, Coursera started offering MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) to the world at large. And they've since amassed some 28 million registered users, a catalogue of 2,000 courses, and reams of data about what people want to learn. In the waning days of December, Coursera published a list of their 1o most popular courses of 2017. (Find below, and enroll in any of these courses for free.) From this list, it drew some larger conclusions about trends in education and technology.

The list shows, writes Nikhil Sinha, Coursera's Chief Content Officer, that "cutting-edge tech skills continue to be the most sought after in online education." Artificial intelligence--encompassing Machine LearningNeural Networks and Deep Learning--topped the list of courses. Meanwhile "Blockchain has also burst onto the scene, putting Princeton’s Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency course at number five on the list." But, Sinha adds, it's "not just technology skills that are trending." The "basic learning and information-retention skills taught in our popular Learning How to Learn course are extremely sought-after by people of all ages." The same applies to the problem-solving skills taught by Stanford's Introduction to Mathematical Thinking.

You can review the Top 10 list below, and enroll in any of those regularly-offered courses. You can also find (click here) a complete list of 2,000 free MOOCs getting started in January, pick the course that appeals to you, and start some new trends in 2018.

  1. Machine Learning: A primer from Stanford University on getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed.
  2. Neural Networks and Deep Learning: Building on the course above, this course will teach you to feed a computer system a lot of data, which it can then use to make decisions about other data.
  3. Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects: The most popular MOOC ever, this course developed by Dr. Barbara Oakley gives you access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines.
  4. Introduction to Mathematical Thinking: Stanford University will teach you a style of thinking that will help you think outside the box and solve real problems in the everyday world.
  5. Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: From Princeton University comes a course that explains what is special about Bitcoin, and how it works at a technical level.
  6. Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python): The University of Michigan offers a course everyone should take--a primer on the basics of programming computers, using Python.
  7. Algorithms, Part I: Princeton's course covers "essential information that every serious programmer needs to know about algorithms and data structures, with emphasis on applications and scientific performance analysis of Java implementations."
  8. English for Career Development: Created by the University of Pennsylvania, this course is for non-native English speakers "interested in advancing their careers in the global marketplace." Along the way, you'll learn about the job search, application, and interview process in the U.S., and also explore your own global career path.
  9. Neural Networks for Machine Learning:  The University of Toronto gives you the chance to "learn about artificial neural networks and how they're being used for machine learning, as applied to speech and object recognition, image segmentation, modeling language and human motion, etc."
  10. Financial Markets: Created by Yale's Robert Shiller (winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics), this course offers an overview of the financial markets, which allow human society to manage risks and foster enterprise. It includes an introduction to risk management and behavioral finance principles underlying the securities, insurance, and banking industries.

Those were the top courses of 2017. Again, find a list of courses starting in January 2018 here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses, it helps support Open Culture.

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The American Revolution: A Free Course from Yale University

When you have a little time, you can drop in on a free course that revisits a seminal moment in U.S. history--the American Revolution. Taught by Yale historian Joanne Freeman, the course explores how the Revolution brought about "some remarkable transformations–converting British colonists into American revolutionaries, and a cluster of colonies into a confederation of states with a common cause." You can access the 25 lectures above, or on YouTube and iTunes. Also find a syllabus for the course on this Yale web site.

"The American Revolution" will be added to our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our larger collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Need a Last Minute Gift? Give Online Courses Created by Cultural Icons Like Annie Leibovitz, Herbie Hancock, Werner Herzog and Many More

If you're looking for a last minute gift for a thoughtful person in your life, here's one option to consider. MasterClass lets you electronically purchase online courses and give them as gifts to family members and friends. For $90, you could give the gift of a single course. (The recipient gets to choose which particular course they want to take.) Or, for $180, you can give the recipient a year-long pass to every course in the MasterClass catalogue. You can get started with the gift-giving process here. And find a list of available courses below.

  • Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography
  • Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking
  • Frank Gehry Teaches Architecture & Design
  • Samuel Jackson Teaches Acting
  • Judy Blume Teaches Writing
  • Steve Martin Teaches Comedy
  • Jane Goodall Teaches Conservation
  • Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz
  • Garry Kasparov Teaches Chess
  • Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking
  • Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
  • David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
  • James Patterson Teaches Writing
  • Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring
  • Thomas Keller Teaches Cooking Techniques
  • Stephen Curry Teaches Shooting, Ball-Handling, Scoring
  • Christina Aguilera Teaches Singing
  • Deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production
  • Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television
  • Marc Jacobs Teaches Fashion Design
  • Usher Teaches the Art of Performance
  • Serena Williams Teaches Tennis
  • Reba McEntire Teaches Country Music

See the full catalog here.

Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter 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. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Algorithms for Big Data: A Free Course from Harvard

From Harvard professor Jelani Nelson comes "Algorithms for Big Data," a course intended for graduate students and advanced undergraduate students. All 25 lectures you can find on Youtube here.

Here's a quick course description:

"Big data is data so large that it does not fit in the main memory of a single machine, and the need to process big data by efficient algorithms arises in Internet search, network traffic monitoring, machine learning, scientific computing, signal processing, and several other areas. This course will cover mathematically rigorous models for developing such algorithms, as well as some provable limitations of algorithms operating in those models. Some topics we will cover include":

  • Sketching and Streaming. Extremely small-space data structures that can be updated on the fly in a fast-moving stream of input.
  • Dimensionality reduction. General techniques and impossibility results for reducing data dimension while still preserving geometric structure.
  • Numerical linear algebra. Algorithms for big matrices (e.g. a user/product rating matrix for Netflix or Amazon). Regression, low rank approximation, matrix completion, ...
  • Compressed sensing. Recovery of (approximately) sparse signals based on few linear measurements.
  • External memory and cache-obliviousness. Algorithms and data structures minimizing I/Os for data not fitting on memory but fitting on disk. B-trees, buffer trees, multiway mergesort.

"Algorithms for Big Data" will be added to our collection of Free Computer Science Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography in Her First Online Course

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Dolly Parton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barack Obama and family, Bruce Springsteen, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Gaga: name someone who has risen to the very top of the zeitgeist over the past few decades, and Annie Leibovitz has probably photographed them. Her images, in fact, have often come to stand for the images of her subjects in the culture: when we think of certain celebrities, we instinctively imagine them as they appeared on a Leibovitz-shot cover of Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair. Safe to say, then, that she knows a thing or two about how to take a picture that makes an impact.

The people at online education company Masterclass have now packaged that knowledge in "Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography," a course that joins their existing lineup that includes Helen Mirren on actingSteve Martin on comedyWerner Herzog on filmmaking, and Herbie Hancock on jazz. For a price of $90 (or $180 for a year-long pass to all of their classes), Masterclass offers a package of workbook-accompanied video lessons in which "Annie teaches you how to develop concepts, work with subjects, shoot with natural light, and bring images to life in post-production." (If you want to give this course as a gift, just click here.)

The early lessons in "Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography" cover subjects like memories of her own development as a photographer to discussions of her influences and her view of the medium itself. Later on, she gets into the real-life case study of shooting chef Alice Waters for Vanity Fair, digital post-production, how to come up with the right concept (ideally, so her career has shown, one just strange or daring enough to get people talking), and how to work with your subject. "There's this idea that in portraiture, it's the photographer's job to set the subject at ease," Leibovitz says in the class trailer above. "I don't believe that."

Few aspects of Leibovitz's method have drawn as much attention as the way she handles her subjects,  which tends to involve both developing enough of a relationship with them to gain some understanding of their inner lives and putting them in situations which, so she has studiously learned while getting to know them, may lie a bit outside of their comfort zone. Few of us will ever have that much face time with a photographer like Leibovitz, let alone enough to ask her in-depth questions about the craft, but if you suspect you might find yourself one day in a position to photograph the next Caitlyn Jenner, Mark Zuckerberg, or Kim Kardashian — or someone more important to you personally — the strategies explained in her Masterclass course will surely come in handy.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter 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. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

 

1500+ MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Getting Started in December: Enroll Today

A quick fyi: 1500+ MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) will be getting underway this month, giving you the chance to take free courses from top flight universities. With the help of Class Central, we've pulled together a complete list of December MOOCS. And below we've highlighted several courses that piqued our interest. The trailer above comes from Yale's Introduction to Classical Music.

Here's one tip to keep in mind: If you want to take a course for free, select the "Full Course, No Certificate" or "Audit" option when you enroll. If you would like an official certificate documenting that you have successfully completed the course, you will need to pay a fee.

You can browse through the complete list of December MOOCs here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter 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. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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