The Best of Open Culture – January

Here’s a quick recap of January’s reader favorites in case you missed them.

Lifehack for Learning Foreign Languages

langsam.jpgSee our complete collection How to Learn Languages for Free: Spanish, English, Chinese & 37 Other Languages,

Here is a quick “lifehack” for you. You can now learn foreign languages and stay current on politics all at once. How so? By taking advantage of a smart podcast concept being used by French and German broadcasters. Radio France Internationale (RFI) issues a daily podcast called Le Journal en français facile (iTunesfeedweb site), which delivers the nightly international news in slow and easy-to-understand French. Along the same lines, the German media company Deutsche Welle (which puts out many great language and music podcasts) also has its own nightly news program Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten (iTunesfeedweb site). It’s essentially the same concept: informative news presented in very simple German, and, in this case, it’s spoken very slowly.

Now, what’s very nice about these programs is that they also provide a written transcript of the spoken word. So you can read along as you listen and make sure that you’re really comprehending. (See transcripts in French and German). Even cooler, with the German version, if you have a video iPod, you can read the transcript on your little portable screen. (See directions).

Finally, check out this offbeat suggestion sent our way by a reader: Nuntii Latini (mp3web site) is “a weekly review of world news in Classical Latin, the only international broadcast of its kind in the world, produced by YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company.”

Related Resource: See our article called “Coffee Break Spanish & The Threat to Traditional Media

Harvard Now on iTunes: A New Model for University Podcasts?

HarvIt was only a question of when, not if. Harvard has finally carved out a space, albeit a rather small one,
on iTunes. (See yesterday’s press release.)  Established by the Harvard Extension School, the iTunes site currently features one free, full-fledged course called Understanding Computers and the Internet, which had previously been issued in other digital formats. (See our previous article.) In addition, you can notably access outtakes from 30 complete courses that the school will offer online, for a fee, during the spring academic term. These courses fall into three neat categories: liberal arts, management and computer science.

Harvard’s iTunes strategy is rather unique. While most major universities are simply giving away podcasts/information, Harvard Extension is evidently using the Apple platform more for business purposes than for public service. In a vacuum, it’s not a bad idea. In fact, seen in a certain light, it’s pretty savvy. Why not offer teasers to generate more sales for sophisticated online courses? Why not give customers a real sense of what they’re getting into? If there’s a problem with these ideas, it’s simply that they risk clashing with existing expectations — expectations that universities offer podcasts for free and for the public good. And there’s the risk that iTunes users will fail to make a critical distinction between your average free podcast, and a podcast that’s really meant to be part of a complete, fee-based online course. One way or another, the business motive will likely raise some eyebrows. But, our guess is that Harvard will be able to clarify the reason for the new model, and they’ll find in iTunes, as others will too, a new and potentially powerful way of giving visibility to certain forms of online educational content. Certainly, ventures like the Teaching Company should be giving this model a serious look.

For more podcasts, see our university podcast collection and also our complete podcast collection here.

45 Free Cutting-Edge Books … Courtesy of Creative Commons

Yesterday, we alerted you to the free audio and text versions of Lawrence’s Lessig’s book, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Today, we’re pointing you to a larger collection of high-quality books (45 in total) that you can download legally thanks to Lessig’s Creative Commons. The trove includes a good mix of genres. In fiction, you’ll find three works by sci-fi writer and blogger Cory Doctorow — Eastern Standard Tribe, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Under non-fiction, you can freely access Gamer Theory by McKenzie Wark (Harvard University Press), Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel (MIT Press), Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks (Yale University Press), and Dan Gilmor’s We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, For the People. Finally, on the “how-to” side of things, you’ll stumble upon titles along the lines of 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google. Not a bad collection of works, and certainly worth the price.

Most of these books are issued in traditional print ($$$) and free download versions, which raises the obvious question: does this make any business sense for publishers, let alone authors? Lawrence Lessig, who initiated the concept, asserts that it does, noting that more readers who access the free download copy will ultimately buy the print version than those who don’t. Or, put more simply: the converts will exceed cannibals, which results in a win-win-win-win situation. The readers win one way or another; the authors and publishers win; society wins; and so does the free flow of information. What more can you want?

Norman Mailer’s Fuhrer in MultiMedia

Norman Mailer, now 84 years old, has just published his first novel in a decade. And what becomes immediately clear is that age has done little to stop Mailer from taking his trademark literary risks. Just as he felt free to inhabit the mind of Jesus in The Gospel According to the Son (1997), he has now dared to get deep inside another world-historical figure, the anti-Christ figure of the last century, Adolph Hitler. Narrated by a minion of Satan, who otherwise masquarades as a former SS officer named Dieter, The Castle in the Forest takes a Freudian look at Hitler’s youth and his tangled familial relationships. But how well Mailer pulls it off is open to debate. Up front, it’s worth mentioning that you can freely access the first chapter of the new book and start judging for yourself. And, for that matter, you can also get Mailer’s own take on the book in this NPR interview. However, if you want some guidance before deciding whether to plunge into this lengthy book (450+ pages), you can check out the reviews that have started rolling out. So far, assessments are mixed: The audio podcast issued by The New York Times Book Review (which is itself based on a thoughtful review appearing in print) considers Mailer’s latest to be among his best. But it’s an opinion that stands somewhat alone, at least so far. The reviews in The Washington Post and the English version of Germany’s Spiegel Online take less glowing positions, and, as you’d expect, the criticism is more strident and politically-charged over in Europe, Germany in particular.

Finally, we leave you with this — Mailer reading from his new work, describing the conception of Hitler, as told from the devil’s perspective, in somewhat racy terms. (NOTE: the video quality is very Youtube-esque, but it gets the job done):

Digital MBA: America’s Best Business Schools on Your iPod

WhartonIs it something of an oddity to see the words of famous philosophers and historians getting digitized

and downloaded to iPods everywhere? Sure it is, and that’s why we generally like talking about humanities podcasts. But is it strange to think of America’s leading business schools carving out a space on iTunes and bringing their ideas to an international audience? Hardly. For schools whose success depends on being closely tied to the pulse of American and global audiences, getting involved with podcasting is a no brainer.

Let’s take a brief tour of what America’s top b-schools are up to these days, starting with The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania. Launched about a year ago, this podcast collection (iTunesFeedWeb Site) is an offshoot of the school’s online business journal called “Knowledge@Wharton.” And what you get here are “audio articles” that feature high-profile executives and faculty, including several that highlight stock market guru Jeremy Siegel. Some of these podcasts focus on timeless b-school issues (strategy, innovation, mergers, alliances, etc.). Others explore more timely questions: New Models for TV and Internet, What Makes an Online Community Tick?, and Which New Tech Companies Are Innovating Most?. Most are worth your time.

From Philadelphia, we move to Harvard in Cambridge. This podcast collection, known as HBR IdeaCast (iTunes  Feed), is also closely aligned with the school’s business journal, the famed Harvard Business Review. And, here again, you get well-produced audio segments that offer insights on key issues in today’s business world, whether it’s how to do business in China, how to be an effective and resilient leader, or how to adapt to very new trends in e-commerce.

Moving south to the Research Triangle, we visit Duke’s Fuqua School of Business (iTunesWeb Site), which has the beginnings of what promises to be a strong audio collection. While you’ll want to give the most time to the fairly robust Distinguished Speaker Series, you may want to peruse the MBA Leadership and Marketing Experience series as well. Also in the same general vicinity is another collection worth a good look. It’s from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (iTunesFeedWeb Site)

By now, you probably have a good sense of what you can generally expect to find in these collections. So let’s briefly leave you with two last ones. First, the compilation assembled by The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (iTunes  Feed  Web Site). Among others, you’ll encounter talks by Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker and also Steven Levitt, the co-author of the recent bestseller Freakonomics. Lastly, we end at Stanford and its series called “Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders,” which gives you access to what Silicon Valley has in no short supply – entrepreneurs, including ones from Google, Genentech, and Juniper Networks. Click. Download. Sync. And you’ll be in business.

For more podcasts, see our university podcast collection and also our  complete podcast collection here.

The Sundance Film Festival on iTunes and YouTube

It’s old news that the Sundance Film Festival has gone corporate. Some still protest that fact.
Others accept it, seeing it as an unavoidable reality in an era when even our sports stadiums bear corporate names. And yet still others choose to focus on the good that comes along with the bad. One upside to the corporatization of Sundance is the slick media that the festival organizers have made freely available on iTunes this year. Since the festival started on January 18th, Sundance has released a series of video podcasts on iTunes that feature directors and screenwriters talking candidly about their newly released films. Most of these videos run 3-4 minutes in duration. However there are a couple offerings that last a good hour. Generally speaking, you’ll want to have a nice broadband connection to make these downloads fairly quick and painless, and, from there, you can either sync them to your iPod, or just watch them on your desktop with iTunes (you can download iTunes for free here).

Separately, iTunes is also making available for a small fee ($1.99 each) a total of 32 short films that have been presented at this year’s festival. But, let us offer you this small tip: these videos can be streamed at no cost from the Sundance web site.

Finally, on to YouTube. The poster child of the Web 2.0 movement, YouTube has created a channel dedicated to the Sundance festival. And here visitors can find daily video coverage of the festival, interviews with filmmakers, and video blogs that capture the festival experience from the vantage point of independent filmmakers. To give you a feel for what you’ll find in the YouTube channel, we’ve posted a sample video, which features filmmaker Arin Crumley reviewing (with some salty language, hence caveat emptor) the short films shown on Day 2 of the festival:

Enlightenment on iTunes: The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant

KantFor those who dug our recent piece on UC Berkeley’s 59 courses available on iTunes, here’s another little item for you. Susan Stuart, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, recently taught a course on the epistemology (or theory of knowledge) of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. And figuring that it might help her students if she recorded these lectures, she put on a lapel mic and did her thing. Then, as fate would have it, her lectures were loaded onto iTunes (iTunesrss feedweb site) and, not unlike Lars Brownworth’s lectures on the Byzantine World, they went viral and became iTunes’ #1 educational podcast for a while. The recordings have a homegrown feel to them. But they get the job done if you’re up for grappling with Kant’s difficult but foundational philosophy.

If you want more information on these podcasts, here’s the written preface that comes along with the taped course.

“Kant wrote extensively on all major topics of intellectual interest. In terms of the publication of major texts his most prolific period was 1781 to 1790. In the domains of epistemology and metaphysics he published the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, with a second edition in 1787. In the domain of ethics he published the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals in 1785 and the Critique of Practical Reason in 1788. In the domain of asthetics he presented his theory in 1790 in the form of the Critique of Judgment. As a form of shorthand the three Critiques are known as the First, Second, and Third, respectively. In the first Critique Kant deals with how we come to understand our world; in the second Critique he deals with practical reason and how we act in our world; and in the third Critique he attempts to show a systematic connection between the first two. So, the first deals with how we think about our sensible world, the second deals with how we act in it, and the third supplies a link between the two in terms of felt judgement. In the first he draws together our inner experience with our necessary perception of an external world. He combines perception and understanding through the application of the productive imagination in such a way as to make judgements possible. He links the First and the Third Critiques by arguing that aesthetic judgments, that is, judgements about what is beautiful or sublime, derive from our determination to impose order on our sensory experience. Thus, aesthetics is just like mathematics: it attempts to find unity in experience. So, each of the Critiques is concerned with judgement, judgements of reason, moral judgements, and aesthetic judgements.”

See our complete list of university podcasts here, and our larger podcast collection here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.