Smart Links

Here are some links that our kind readers sent our way this week. Enjoy:

  • Be Jackson Pollock: A fun little site. Start with a blank canvas, swirl your mouse around, click to change colors, and see if can paint like Pollock.
  • Sundry Podcasts Worth Checking Out:
    • Ask the Techies  iTunes  Feed  Web Site
      • A weekly tech video podcast explaining the latest in cool technology from iPods to Photoshop. You can now find it in our list of Technology Podcasts.
    • Classical Greek Mythology  Feed  Site
      • A podcast that will teach you all about Greek mythology. Just as an fyi, more material will be added this summer. So watch it grow.
    • iinovate: iTunes  Feed  Web Site
      • Features
        Stanford students leading interviews with entrepreneurs, venture
        capitalists, and innovators. The latest clip includes a talk with Carly
        Fiorina, the former head of HP. For more related podcasts, see our
        collection of collection of b-school podcasts.
    • Slacker AstronomyiTunes  Feed  Web Site

A Little Lifehacker Love

Our foreign language lesson podcasts got a little love yesterday from the great Lifehacker site. Many thanks to them. For any visitors who aren’t familiar with our other podcast collections, here’s a list that you’ll want to peruse.

Arts & CultureAudio BooksForeign Language LessonsNews & InformationScienceTechnologyUniversity (General)University (B-School)University (Law School)Podcast Primer

The Skinny on Second Life


Ever wondered what Second Life is and if you should care about it? Imagine a 3-D immersive game where you control an avatar and travel through constructed environments–and now take away the game part. What’s left is a fairly wide-open creative space where users can create and sell in-game stuff–houses, objects, clothing, etc–or engage in group activities ranging from concerts to political activism to prostitution. It’s free to join but to own land (and receive a larger stipend of in-game cash) you have to sign up for a monthly subscription.

The online community has been growing fairly rapidly over the past year or two, now boasting over one million users who logged in during the past month. Big business has taken notice of the trend, and companies from Toyota, Microsoft and Sony BMG have all launched virtual presences in SL.

The service has been receiving some of its most enthusiastic press from educators who hope to take advantage of the free-for-all 3D spaces as tools for pedagogy. You can find a lot of engineering schools, medical institutions and, of course, the Star Trek Museum of Science on this list of science places in SL. The world’s creators actively encourage educational participation and teachers from many universities (including Harvard, Columbia and more) have tried running courses or training sessions in the simulation. There is at least one skeptic out there, though: Clark Aldrich, a consultant for an e-learning company, offers up ten things he sees missing from SL as an educational tool.

Whether or not Second Life becomes a permanent fixture of the Internet landscape, it’s certainly captured a lot of peoples’ attention. To learn more about it check out the plethora of podcasts available on iTunes. At the very least this world does offer some zany opportunities for multiple layers of simulation. Check out this video of a U2 “virtual tribute band” performing a concert with lovingly rendered tribute avatars:

Climate Crisis, the Happiness Conundrum & the Evolution of Religions: TED Talks on YouTube

Once upon a time we told you about TED Talks, the annual conference that brings together the world’s “thought-leaders, movers and shakers.” These talks have been available on iTunes in both audio (iTunesFeed) and video (iTunesFeed). And now you can apparently find some on YouTube. Below we highlight a few.

First up, Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor who recently wrote Stumbling On Happiness, a book that uses psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to show how our imagination — our unique ability to predict the future — usually interferes with our basic ability to be happy. Here you get some kernels of thought from the bestselling book, and some insights into why a paraplegic is often as happy as a lottery winner. Good stuff here.

Next, we give you Al Gore doing a little stand-up comedy (no kidding) and speaking on global warming, much as he does in An Inconvenient Truth. No other introduction is needed.

Lastly, we give you Dan Dennett, Director
of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University
and the author
of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. With this clip, Dennett takes on Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, and makes the clever argument that while the theory of intelligent design may hold no water, religions have themselves been intelligently designed. More on that here:

Serving Up 25 Music Blogs

Next up a series of music blogs, all of which figure into our growing collection of Culture Blogs. As always, these lists are a work in progress, and if you feel that we’ve missed something great, please feel free to email us and let us know.

  • Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: A blog by the music critic of the one and only New Yorker magazine.
  • All About Jazz Bloglist: What you get here is not so much a blog, but, even better, a meta-list of jazz blogs. This should keep jazz aficionados busy for some time.
  • Arjan Writes: A well-reviewed blog that looks at pop-alternative music. Features album reviews, interviews and free downloads of demo tracks and new releases, plus videos from new bands.
  • ArtsBeat: A blog put out by reporters and critics from The New York Times. Includes reporting from arts events from around the world, including recent reports from the festival at Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
  • Blogcritics Music: A community of writers and readers from around the globe musing about music.
  • Brooklyn Vegan: An "NYC-centric mostly-music blog that focuses on reporting international
    news, live show reviews, pictures, tour dates, gossip, tips, MP3’s,
    videos, and just about anything else a music fan could want."
  • Chicago Classical Music: A Chicago-focused blog for classical music enthusiasts.
  • Coolfer: A blog that "focuses more on the music
    industry than on specific bands." Want to know about music stories in the news? Then look here.
  • David Gilmour: You know him from Pink Floyd. Check out his personal blog.
  • David’s Journal: Along similar lines, this blog is put out by David Byrne, heady head of the Talking Heads.
  • Feast of Music: A journey through the music of New York (and occasionally other places). Emphasis is on classical music.
  • Glorious Noise: An online music magazine featuring essays and stories about how rock and roll can change your life.
  • Gorilla vs. Bear: Recommended by Nothing But Green Lights. See below.
  • Guardian Music Blog: An eclectic blog put together by The Guardian in the UK.
  • I Guess I’m Floating: Music and music news of the rock ‘n roll variety.
  • Ionarts: A DC-based arts blog with a marked focus on classical music.
  • Largehearted Boy: A "music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture."
  • Live Music Blog: Nothing like a title that pretty much summarizes it all. Yes, this is a blog about live music.
  • Marathon Packs: Writes about and lets you listen to interesting songs.
  • Moby’s Journal: Here again another not-entirely-musical blog by a music celeb — Moby.
  • Motel De Moka: A daily blog posting eclectic playlists, including indie rock, acoustics and ambient.
  • Music for Robots: An acclaimed mp3 blog that features diverse music. All music
    is posted with the permission of the artist and/or label.
  • My Old Kentucky Blog: What’s new and hot in indie rock, pop, folk and hip-hop.
  • Nothing But Green Lights: A UK-based mp3 blog that keeps track of indie, electro, folk & pop, all from the UK. The site only posts tracks that the internet is giving away for free, or ones that have been granted permission.
  • NYC Opera Fanatic:  A blog for the opera lover (a term, however unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to me).
  • Ryan’s Smashing Life: A New England music blog coming out of Boston.
  • Sandow: "Is classical music dying? That’s a big topic, and a blog seems like a perfect way to attack it." That’s how critic, Greg Sandow, describes his blog.
  • Stereogum: A popular gossipy blog about the indie music scene. The site often posts mp3s of new music, plus offers record reviews, announces tour dates, and covers music festivals.
  • The Modern Age: A highly touted blog about "about music, pop culture, the Strokes, puppies, Jack White, and cute boys." Brought to you by Miss Modernage.
  • Twangville: Covering "twang-infused music with an alternative slant." Alt-Country, Americana, Indie, Rock, Folk & Blues.
  • Your Home For Soul: As you can tell, it’s a blog for soul fans.

America’s Perception Problem in the Middle East

Cartoon_2 America’s misadventure in Iraq has had multiple costs for the US, with just one being the decline of American moral leadership on the international stage, and particularly within the Middle East. Intellectually, we know that America’s prestige is momentarily shot. But to get a feel for what this means in practice, it’s worth listening to this interview (iTunesMP3) with Lawrence Pintak, who directs the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo. A longtime observer of the Middle East, Pintak sees the evolution of America’s image going something like this: Before 9/11, the proverbial Middle Eastern cab driver expressed deep admiration for America and Americans, even while disagreeing with American leaders and policies. When the Twin Towers fell, sympathy for America was never greater. Now, six years later, it’s all gone awry. The mental line that separated Americans and American policy is gone, and the antipathy toward America is fairly complete.

What partly explains this shift is how the war has been refracted through the Middle Eastern media. Ever since Al Jazeera started airing in 1996 (you can watch it here in English), the Middle East has had its own free media and seen events through its own lens. And, in the case of the Iraq war, it has meant seeing what we don’t see — the unsanitized war, the bodies, the leveled buildings, etc. — but also much more mundane things that shape overall impressions. It means seeing, for example, how tone-deaf US spokesmen in Baghdad show up at journalist conferences in Abu Dhabi (a completely non-military event outside of Iraq) in army fatigues, leaving essentially the impression that the US sees the larger Middle East as a military stage.

Pintak knows the region well, and he articulates America’s perception problem in a balanced and thoughtful way. Check it out here: (iTunesMP3) Also, on a related note, anyone who wants to digg more deeply into Middle Eastern perspectives may want to explore Mosaic: World News from the Middle East (iTunes  Feed). This Peabody award-winning podcast provides a daily compilation of television news reports from across the Middle East. The news comes from independent and state-run news services, and it is all translated into English.

The Portable University

Over the past six months, we have created a series of resources that let you access university resources for free and on-the-fly. Below, we have centralized these materials in one place to give you quick access:

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Free Classical Music Podcasts

Smart music at no cost. Hard to beat.

  • An Intimate Tour Through the Music of Yo-Yo Ma iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Each episode of this podcast delves into the history of his career, and what led him to record each of the tracks of his current release Appassionato.
  • Bach Podcast from iTunes Feed Web Site
    • 60 free minutes of Bach.
  • Bach Festival of Philadelphia Feed Web Site
    • Live performances of J.S. Bach works performed by various artists for The Bach Festival of Philadelphia.
  • Boston Symphony Orchestra Conservatory iTunes Feed Web Site
    • This educational podcast gives you an inside look at the symphony. Currently you will find a two season overview and recordings of Beethoven and Arnold Schoenberg.
  • Classical Performance iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Classical music performances from WGBH’s Studio One in Boston.
  • Danmarks Radio – Mozart Symphonies Feed Web Site
    • For the celebration of Mozart’s 250th anniversary, Denmark radio offered podcasts of nine Mozart symphonies by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Since the web site is in Danish, your best bet is to access these high quality MP3’s through the feed.
  • Deutsche Welle
    • Beethovenfest iTunes Feed Web Site
      • Beethoven’s most famous symphonies performed by excellent young orchestras and new compositions by award-winning composers.
    • Classical Masterpieces iTunes Feed Web Site
      • Six master composers, six symphonies, a star conductor and a leading orchestra are the main ingredients of this remarkable musical feast.
  • Gramophone Podcast Feed Web Site
    • A monthly window into the world’s most authoritative classical music magazine, featuring an overview of the best releases, news, exclusive interviews with leading figures from the music world, and lots of greatmusic.
  • NPR Music iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Reviews, musician interviews, live recordings from Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and other NPR programs.
  • Radio Sweden: Mozart iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Swedish Radio has launched a Mozart Podcast to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday. They’ve been podcasting their own recordings from the 1940-1950s of Mozart’s operas.
  • The Concert iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and more from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston.
  • Wagner Operas Podcast iTunes Feed Web Site
    • Features, among other things, performances from the Bayreuth Festival.
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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.