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, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Discover The Backwards Brain Bicycle: What Riding a Bike Says About the Neuroplasticity of the Brain

Like most of us, engineer Destin Sandlin, creator of the educational science website Smarter Every Day, learned how to ride a bike as a child. Archival footage from 1987 shows a confident, mullet-haired Sandlin piloting a two-wheeler like a boss.

Flash forward to the present day, when a welder friend threw a major wrench in Sandlin’s cycling game by tweaking a bike’s handlebar/front wheel correspondence. Turn the handlebars of the “backwards bike” to the left, and the wheel goes to the right. Steer right, and the front wheel points left.

Sandlin thought he’d conquer this beast in a matter of minutes, but in truth it took him eight months of daily practice to conquer his brain’s cognitive bias as to the expected operation. This led him to the conclusion that knowledge is not the same thing as understanding.

He knew how to ride a normal bike, but had no real grasp of the complex algorithm that kept him upright, a simultaneous ballet of balance, downward force, gyroscopic procession, and navigation.

As he assures fans of his Youtube channel, it’s not a case of the stereotypical uncoordinated science geek---not only can he juggle, when he took the backwards bike on tour, a global roster of audience volunteers’ brains gave them the exact same trouble his had.

Interestingly, his 6-year-old son, who’d been riding a bike for half his young life, got the hang of the backwards bike in just two weeks. Children’s brain’s possess much more neuroplasticity than those of adults, whose seniority means habits and biases are that much more ingrained.

It couldn’t have hurt that Sandlin bribed the kid with a trip to Australia to meet an astronaut.

Did the arduousness of mastering the backwards bike ruin Sandlin for normally configured bicycles? Watch the video above all the way to the end for an incredible spontaneous moment of mind over matter.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

1,000,000 Minutes of Newsreel Footage by AP & British Movietone Released on YouTube

Both Faulkner and the physicists may be right: the passage of time is an illusion. And yet, for as long as we’ve been keeping score, it's seemed that history really exists, in increasingly distant forms the further back we look. As Jonathan Crow wrote in a recent post on news service British Pathé’s release of 85,000 pieces of archival film on YouTube, seeing documentary evidence of just the last century “really makes the past feel like a foreign country—the weird hairstyles, the way a city street looked, the breathtakingly casual sexism and racism.” (Of course there’s more than enough reason to think future generations will say the same of us.) British Pathé’s archive seems exhaustive—until you see the latest digitized collection on YouTube from AP (Associated Press) and British Movietone, which spans from 1895 to the present and brings us thousands more past tragedies, triumphs, and hairstyles

This release of “more than 1 million minutes” of news, writes Variety, includes archival footage of “major world events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, exclusive footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.” And so much more, such as the newsreel above, which depicts Berlin in 1945, eventually getting around to documenting the Potsdam Conference (at 3:55), where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman created the 17th parallel in Vietnam, dictated the terms of the German occupation, and planned the coming Japanese surrender. No one at the time could have accurately foreseen the historical reverberations of these actions.

Another strange, even uncanny piece of film shows us the English football team giving the Nazi salute in 1938 at the commencement of a game against Germany. “That’s shocking now,” says Alwyn Lindsay, the director of AP’s international archive, “but it wasn’t at the time.” Films like these have become of much more interest since The Sun published photographs of the royal family—including a young Queen Elizabeth II and her uncle Prince (later King, then Duke) Edward VIII—giving Nazi salutes in 1933. Though it was not particularly controversial, and the children of course had little idea what it signified, it did turn out that Edward (seen here) was a would-be Nazi collaborator and remained an unapologetic sympathizer.

This huge video trove doesn't just document the grim history of the Second World War, of course. As you can see in the AP's introductory montage at the top of the post, there is "a world of history at your fingertips"---from triumphant video like Nelson Mandela's release from prison, above, to the below film of "Crazy 60s Hats in Glorious Colour." And more or less every other major world event, disaster, discovery, or widespread trend you might name from the last 120 or so years.

The archive splits into two YouTube channels: AP offers both historical and up-to-the-minute political, sports, celebrity, science, and "weird and wacky" videos (with "new content every day"). The British Movietone channel is solely historical, with much of its content coming from the 1960s (like those hats, and this video of the Beatles receiving their MBE's, and other "Beatlemania scenes.")

Movietone's one nod to the present takes the form of "The Archivist Presents," in which a historian offers quirky context on some bit of archival footage, like that above of the Kinks getting their hair curled. The completely unironic lounge music and casually sexist narration will make you both smile and wince, as do Ray Davies and company when they see their new hair. Most of the films in this million minutes of news footage (and counting) tend to elicit either or both of these two emotional reactions---joy (or amusement) or mild to intense horror, and watching them makes the past they show us feel paradoxically more strange and more immediate at once.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

12 Interminable Days of Xmas: Hear the Longest, Trippiest Holiday Carol

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is, of course, already long and repetitive, such that when in recent years I've sung even the first few notes of it at "Ave Maria" speed, I've been greeted with satisfying moans of agony. This year I decided that the thing must be put to tape, with each verse slower than the last. The whole thing now runs to around 75 minutes.

To  make this pleasingly bearable, even if an exercise in Zen-like patience, I crowd-sourced the backing arrangements for the verses among musician-fans of The Partially Examined Life podcast, plus a few special guests, including Camper van Beethoven's Jonathan Segel (who arranged and performed verse 11 and plays solos on guitar, lap steel, and violin in the verse 12 group jam) and New York comedian Adam Sank (who adds a naughty monologue to verse 12).

Here's a quick guide to help you keep your bearings during this strange trip:

-Verses 1 and 2 are my effort, to establish the concept for the album: ignore the melody to set any beat at any tempo you want and throw down a bunch of tracks without second-guessing yourself or redoing anything.

-Verse 3 is Swedish prog-keyboardist/guitarist Daniel Gustafsson, sporting a baroque ensemble.

-Verse 4 is Jason Durso and Shannon Farrell providing some staid beauty while a narrator spouts some epigrams about our experience of time.

-Verse 5 is a disco monstrosity by a being who wants to be known only as Wilson.

-Verses 6 and 7 are electronic, textured pieces by Maxx Bartko and Belgian musician Timo Carlier respectively. Comedian Alex Fossella (@afossella) provides some brief narration in the vein of True Detective.

-Verse 8 is a collage of atmospheric sounds and acoustic instruments by Kenn Busch and Jenny Green, while Verse 9 turns into a tuneful acoustic folk song featuring UK singer Al Baker.

-On returning in verse 10, Daniel Gustafsson establishes a death-metal purgatory, which morphs in Jonathan Segel's verse 11 into an endless nightmare landscape.

-Verse 12 is over 25 minutes alone, with a jazz fusion vibe a la Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and contributions from Kylae Jordan (sax), Rei Tangko (piano), Gustafsson, Segel, Wilson, Carlier, Greg Thornburg, and Sank, over my bass and drums.

An early commenter on the Partially Examined Life site where the "song" was posted (as an exemplar in support of a discussion on Edmund Burke's ideas about aesethetic judgments of the sublime), said that it's "kind of what I would expect a Pink Floyd Christmas album to sound like."

Can you live through the 12 days? What will your mind look like on the other side?

A free, audio-only mp3 version of the song can be found here.

Mark Linsenmayer is a musician who releases his work free to the public. He also hosts the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast and blog, which you can access via iTunes or the PEL web site.

Norwegian Musician Creates Ice Instruments with a Chain Saw and Sub-Zero Weather

Most professional musicians have a very special relationship with their instruments. Male guitarists treat their favorite guitars like girlfriends—maybe better in some cases. Traveling cellists buy airline tickets for instruments. It’s just too risky to put your livelihood in cargo.

Not so for Terje Insungset, a Norwegian musician who, among other things, carves instruments out of ice. His background is in jazz and traditional Scandinavian music, but he’s built a reputation as an artist who makes music on unconventional materials. Considering where he is from, it’s not surprising that he has turned his attention to ice and its musical potential.

Turns out the sound of an ice xylophone is lovely—soft, deep, tinkly. The ice horn sounds like a lonely beast calling out across the tundra. Insungset collaborates with vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Together they perform around the world, sometimes indoors and sometimes in the snow, with elaborate microphone cords draped around and beautiful lighting.

There’s even an ice guitar.

Insungset has also built instruments out of arctic birch, slate, cow bells and granite. His interest in ice as a material developed when he was commissioned to play music in a frozen waterfall at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Unlike most musicians, he has to build his instruments in situ, as he did for recent concerts in Canada where the temperature was 36 below zero with a light wind. Perfect weather for ice music.

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Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit her website, katerixwriter.com.

Stephen Colbert Brings Laughs and Book Tour to Google

Stephen Colbert is one of the most refreshing comedians working today. He maintains his character’s obnoxiousness during his own show, riffing and improvising during interviews with everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Elijah Wood, building his character to deadpan heights even with Jane Fonda's tongue in his ear.

But in the hot seat himself, as an interviewee on Letterman, Oprah or even with Playboy magazine, Colbert is authentic, candid, funny and a fast-on-his-feet smartie. In early December Colbert visited Google’s New York offices and taped an interview for At Google Talks. Colbert fans will want to check out the unedited version recently posted by Google. As a guest, Colbert is funnier than Jon Stewart and we get an honest look at the bright guy behind the buffoon. The uncut interview has its highlights, including the point when Colbert’s reaction to Eric Schmidt’s suggestion that The Colbert Report launch its own YouTube show. His answers to questions from the audience are engaging, funny and revealing. It’s wonderful to hear the personal story about the moment he realized he wanted to make people laugh.

Colbert was also conducting business. The interview was part of his book tour to promote America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t. Below, you can see Colbert give his comedic pitch for the book. And, if you want to download a free audio copy, you can always do so by starting a Free 30-Day Trial with Audible.com. We have details here.

Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Read more of her work at katerixwriter.com and at thenifty.blogspot.com. 

The Intelligent Channel Launches (with Colum McCann Interview)

In a new effort to establish another home for intelligent conversation on the web, the Intelligent Channel went live on YouTube this week. Launched as part of YouTube’s new original channels initiative, the Intelligent Channel presents luminaries from the educational, arts, and cultural worlds in intense conversations.

The channel will kick off with three strands of original video programming produced by the channel’s parent company Intelligent Television in New York:

On “The Paul Holdengräber Show,” the renowned founder, director, and host of “Live from the New York Public Library” interviews award-winning writers and artists about their work and other passions. Holdengräber’s first guest - the show premieres today - is Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin. (You can watch the conversation above.) Holdengräber’s next guest is Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love.

In “Richard Belzer’s Conversation,” the star of “Law & Order SVU” and “Homicide” interviews actors, comedians, directors, musicians, and writers. Belzer’s opening guest is comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who discusses the implications of comedy after September 11th and in the face of tragedy more generally. His next guests will include Dick Cavett and Emmy-award winning writer-producer Tom Fontana.

In “Enlightenment Minutes,” the famous and the even more famous speak to the audience about their moments of enlightenment, personal transcendence, and growth.

The Intelligent Channel also features the new “Ed Archive” -- video, film, and oral histories from universities, museums, libraries, and archives that have yet to hit the web.  “Enlightenment Minutes” and the “Ed Archive” will premiere in February 2012.

The Learning Channel has disappeared, the Discovery Channel gives us less to discover than it did, and the History Channel has hardly any history any more!  The Intelligent Channel’s guests come on because they love enlightenment.

The Intelligent Channel - here’s to the conversation!

Peter B. Kaufman is founder of the Intelligent Channel and Intelligent Television (www.intelligenttelevision.com) in New York.

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