Andy, Are You Goofing on Apple?

andyk.jpgFake Steve Jobs, a wild­ly pop­u­lar blog writ­ten by Daniel Lyons, an edi­tor at Forbes, has been goof­ing on the real Steve Jobs all year. And now things have tak­en an odd turn. Dur­ing the same week that Apple appar­ent­ly shut down ThinkSecret.com (an Apple rumor site) in exchange for cash, Apple may be apply­ing sim­i­lar pres­sure to Fake Steve Jobs. Or maybe not.

If today’s blog post can be tak­en at face val­ue, Apple lawyers have fol­lowed up hard-assed threats with a cash offer (of $500,000) to make FSJ go away. The recent posts all sound con­vinc­ing. But then you note the ref­er­ences to Andy Kauf­man, the mas­ter of walk­ing the line between com­plete sin­cer­i­ty and absur­di­ty. First, there’s the pic­ture of Kauf­man get­ting strong armed dur­ing one of his famous wrestling match­es with women. Next, there’s the ref­er­ence to a “Tony Clifton,” which is the name giv­en to a strange bit char­ac­ter Kauf­man played dur­ing the 1970s (see below).

FSJ is a satire site, and you should­n’t get fooled. But you do. Just like the inevitable dupe does every April 1. Good stuff.

Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History

tendiscoveries.jpgHere are a few facts to know about the adven­tur­ous Patrick Hunt. He’s a Stan­ford archae­ol­o­gist who has spent more than a decade try­ing to unrav­el the mys­tery of how Han­ni­bal, the great ancient mil­i­tary leader, crossed the Alps in 218 BCE with 25,000 men and 37 ele­phants. (Lis­ten on iTunes to the course he gave on this adven­ture, and get more info below). He has bro­ken more than 20 bones while doing field­work, fought off kid­nap­pers, and twice sur­vived sun­stroke-induced blind­ness. And now he has just pub­lished an excit­ing new book called Ten Dis­cov­er­ies That Rewrote His­to­ry. It’s pub­lished by Penguin/Plume and starts ship­ping tomor­row. I asked Patrick what makes these dis­cov­er­ies rang­ing from the Roset­ta Stone to the Dead Sea Scrolls to Machu Pic­chu so impor­tant. Below he gives us a brief glimpse into what makes each dis­cov­ery his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant and fas­ci­nat­ing. Read on, and check out his cap­ti­vat­ing new book for the fuller pic­ture.

Patrick Hunt: “First I should say that not every archae­ol­o­gist would agree that these are the ten most impor­tant dis­cov­er­ies of all time. On the oth­er hand, the ten sto­ries retold in this book are often regard­ed as among the most excit­ing archae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies of the mod­ern era (since 1750). And no one would deny that these ten vital dis­cov­er­ies have for­ev­er changed the world of archae­ol­o­gy, trans­form­ing how and what we know about ancient his­to­ry. Let me tell you a lit­tle about them.

1) Roset­ta Stone: This excit­ing dis­cov­ery in 1799 was the key to deci­pher­ing Egypt­ian hiero­glyphs and unlock­ing the his­to­ry of the ancient world texts. It pro­vides a win­dow into the real his­to­ry of Egypt rather than an imag­i­nary one; all oth­er deci­pher­ings of ancient lan­guages since the Roset­ta Stone’s ini­tial decod­ing in 1822 are based on its prece­dents. (See pho­to here.)

2) Troy: Its dis­cov­ery and exca­va­tion begin­ning in 1870 proved once and for all that Troy was not just a myth based on Homer; Troy was a his­tor­i­cal site where real peo­ple lived and fought. Its ear­li­est exca­va­tor, the oft-maligned and often-uneth­i­cal Hein­rich Schlie­mann has been most­ly cred­it­ed right or wrong as being the “Father of Archae­ol­o­gy” and his tech­niques became the foun­da­tion of archae­o­log­i­cal research, how­ev­er great­ly improved, after­ward.

3) Nin­eveh and the Roy­al Assyr­i­an Library: This riv­et­ing find begin­ning in 1849 by Austen Hen­ry Layard, a sleuth of antiq­ui­ty, even­tu­al­ly unearthed a whole lost library of cuneiform texts, includ­ing ones not only from ancient Assyr­ia but also from far old­er Sumer, Akkad, Baby­lon and oth­er great civ­i­liza­tions. This had a very sig­nif­i­cant impact on world lit­er­a­ture, intro­duc­ing such sem­i­nal works as the Epic of Gil­gamesh.

4) King Tut’s Tomb: The dra­mat­ic open­ing of this roy­al tomb in 1922 sought for years by a deter­mined Howard Carter was the first time in mil­len­nia a pharao­h’s tomb had actu­al­ly been found intact; its trea­sure gave the world a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to actu­al­ly account for stag­ger­ing Egypt­ian roy­al wealth. [Dan’s note: Nation­al Geo­graph­ic has a nice web site on this archae­o­log­i­cal find.]

5) Machu Pic­chu: The remark­able high jun­gle moun­tain dis­cov­ery in 1911 of the remote Lost City of the Inca by Hiram Bing­ham made it pos­si­ble for the world to final­ly see an undis­turbed Inca roy­al city mys­te­ri­ous­ly aban­doned on a moun­tain­top but nei­ther con­quered nor changed by the colo­nial world. (See pho­to here.)

6) Pom­peii: Pre­served by the erup­tion of Vesu­vius in AD 79 and not dug out for almost two mil­len­nia, Pom­peii (prob­a­bly acci­den­tal­ly found by a farmer dig­ging a well) is the sin­gle most impor­tant Roman site in the world; its arti­facts offer the largest and fullest record of life in a Roman city. Pom­pei­i’s mis­for­tune is our great for­tune. It pre­serves a city with thou­sands of objects vir­tu­al­ly unchanged. (See images here.)

(more…)

The Final Cut of Blade Runner: Now Out on DVD

Back in Octo­ber, Rid­ley Scott released a final and defin­i­tive direc­tor’s cut of Blade Run­ner, pre­sent­ing to audi­ences the film that he would have made if stu­dio execs had­n’t med­dled with things. A short two months lat­er, the final cut is now out on DVD. It was released yes­ter­day, bare­ly in time for the hol­i­days. For more on the mak­ing and remak­ing of Blade Run­ner, you can lis­ten to this recent inter­view with Rid­ley Scott.

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University Podcasts Turn Professors into Stars

The New York Times has a nice piece today on uni­ver­si­ty pod­casts and how they’re turn­ing some pro­fes­sors into inter­na­tion­al stars. The arti­cle gives spe­cial atten­tion to Wal­ter Lewin, an MIT physics pro­fes­sor, and high­lights cours­es that you’ll find in our list­ing of free uni­ver­si­ty cours­es. Just as an aside, the arti­cle men­tions at least one course that yours tru­ly helped put togeth­er.

You can access com­plete uni­ver­si­ty cours­es via pod­cast here. If you want a more com­pre­hen­sive list of uni­ver­si­ty pod­casts (which will give you access to many lec­tures, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­plete cours­es), click here.

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15 Most Viewed Posts in 2007

We dug back through the his­tor­i­cal data and iso­lat­ed the 15 most viewed posts of the year. If you’re look­ing for a trend, one will leap out. Peo­ple like num­bered lists. Hence anoth­er one:

1) 10 Unex­pect­ed Uses of the iPod
2) 25 UC Berke­ley Cours­es Avail­able via Free Video
3) 45 Free Cut­ting-Edge Books … Cour­tesy of Cre­ative Com­mons
4) The War of the Worlds on Pod­cast: How H.G. Wells and Orson Welles Riv­et­ed A Nation
5) Our Ances­tral Mind in the Mod­ern World: An Inter­view with Satoshi Kanaza­wa
6) Free Beethoven and Mozart Record­ings via Pod­cast
7) Life-Chang­ing Books: Your Picks
8) 10 Free Uni­ver­si­ty Cours­es on iTunes
9) Pod­cast Primer
10) MP3 Music Blogs: For Your Lis­ten­ing Plea­sure
11) Ten Dis­cov­er­ies That Rewrote His­to­ry
12) The Hottest Course on iTunes (and the Future of Dig­i­tal Edu­ca­tion)
13) Ten Pod­casts to Build Your Vocab­u­lary
14) YouTube Gets Smart: The Launch of New Uni­ver­si­ty Chan­nels
15) The Decline and Fall of the Roman (and Amer­i­can?) Empire: A Free Audio­book

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Yale Launches Open Courses

Click here for 250 Free Online Cours­es From Great Uni­ver­si­ties

Yes­ter­day, Yale announced that it is pro­vid­ing “free and open access to sev­en intro­duc­to­ry cours­es taught by dis­tin­guished teach­ers and schol­ars at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty.” I’ve list­ed the course line­up below, with links to each course. You can access the home­page for the project here.

With this launch, Yale becomes the lat­est pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ty to give glob­al users access to online edu­ca­tion­al con­tent. But its approach is rather dif­fer­ent. The high pro­file ini­tia­tives led by MIT and UC Berke­ley both deliv­er high vol­umes of con­tent, and they’re designed to be scal­able. (MIT gives users access to mass quan­ti­ties of course mate­ri­als cre­at­ed by its fac­ul­ty, while Berke­ley dis­trib­utes through iTunes and YouTube over 50 cours­es that the uni­ver­si­ty records at a rea­son­able cost.) In con­trast, Yale’s project is more bou­tique and high-touch.

Each course fea­tures a syl­labus, read­ing assign­ments, class notes, and pol­ished lec­tures, which, when tak­en togeth­er, con­tribute to a more round­ed learn­ing expe­ri­ence. The lec­tures can be down­loaded in one of five for­mats (text, audio, flash video, low band­width quick­time video, and high band­width quick­time video). And quite notably, Yale has designed the cours­es to be down­loaded fair­ly eas­i­ly, which means that you can put the lec­tures onto an mp3 play­er if you’re a lit­tle tech savvy. This does raise the ques­tion, how­ev­er: why aren’t the lec­tures also post­ed on Yale’s iTunes site? This would sure­ly facil­i­tate the down­load­ing of lec­tures for many users, and it would offer an easy way to dri­ve sub­stan­tial traf­fic to the cours­es.

As some have already not­ed (see the com­ments on this page), Yale isn’t offer­ing online cours­es in the truest sense, mean­ing you won’t get access to a live instruc­tor here. Nor will you be able to inter­act with oth­er stu­dents. It’s a one-way, soli­tary edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence. But there’s a rea­son for that. Not long ago, Yale exper­i­ment­ed with a more com­pre­hen­sive form of online learn­ing when it cre­at­ed, along with Stan­ford and Oxford, an e‑learning con­sor­tium called “The Alliance for Life­long Learn­ing” (a/k/a All­Learn). For many rea­sons, the ven­ture (where I spent five years) was­n’t ulti­mat­ley viable. And so Yale has opt­ed for anoth­er mod­el that has its own virtues — it’s less cap­i­tal inten­sive; it’s free (All­Learn charged for its cours­es); and it will get edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als into far more peo­ple’s hands, which is per­haps what mat­ters most.

As a quick note, let me add that this project was fund­ed by the Hewlett Foun­da­tion, and Yale expects to add up to 30 addi­tion­al cours­es over the next sev­er­al years.

To vis­it Yale’s open cours­es, vis­it the fol­low­ing links:

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Betting Against Google’s Answer to Wikipedia

As many now know, Google announced Fri­day that it’s test­ing a new con­tent ini­tia­tive — dubbed “knol” — that it hopes will rival Wikipedia. Real­iz­ing that Wikipedia entries rank first on 27% of all Google search result pages, the folks at Google­plex could­n’t resist launch­ing a com­pet­i­tive prod­uct. In announc­ing “knol,” the com­pa­ny high­light­ed two prob­lems that this new con­tent prod­uct will address:

1) “There are mil­lions of peo­ple who pos­sess use­ful knowl­edge that they would love to share,” but they don’t share that knowl­edge “because it is not easy enough to do that.”

2) “The key idea behind the knol project is to high­light authors. Books have authors’ names right on the cov­er, news arti­cles have bylines, sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles always have authors — but some­how the web evolved with­out a strong stan­dard to keep authors names high­light­ed. We believe that know­ing who wrote what will sig­nif­i­cant­ly help users make bet­ter use of web con­tent.”

How “knol” attempts to solve these prob­lems is fair­ly straight­for­ward. It will pro­vide experts with user-friend­ly tem­plates for writ­ing and pub­lish­ing ency­clo­pe­dia entries (or “knols”) on the web. And since a pic­ture is appar­ent­ly worth a thou­sand words, I rec­om­mend that you take a look at a sam­ple screen­shot here. Depart­ing from Wikipedia, Google’s project will cater to the indi­vid­ual author, not com­mu­ni­ties of authors. And it will encour­age many ency­clo­pe­dia entries on the same top­ic, as opposed to one uni­fied text. Google then assumes that the cream will rise to the top. If 20 peo­ple craft “knols” on “string the­o­ry,” then the best one — pre­sum­ably the one that gets the most links from qual­i­ty sites — will rise high­est in the search rank­ings.

Google’s con­cept is not alto­geth­er bad. But it’s also one of the more ordi­nary ideas to come out of Moun­tain View, and I’m guess­ing that the results will fall short of cor­po­rate expec­ta­tions. Here’s why:

Most fun­da­men­tal­ly, the infor­ma­tion gen­er­at­ed by these “knols” will be sub­stan­dard com­pared to what you’ll find on Wikipedia. Although the screen­shot pro­vid­ed by Google nice­ly fea­tured a Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty schol­ar writ­ing on “Insom­nia,” the real­i­ty is that few experts of this stature will take the time to con­tribute. Take my word for it. I’ve spent the past five years try­ing to get schol­ars from elite uni­ver­si­ties, includ­ing Stan­ford, to bring their ideas to the out­side world, and it’s often not their first pri­or­i­ty. They just have too many oth­er things com­pet­ing for their time. More often than not, Google’s knols will be writ­ten by authors with less­er, if not dubi­ous, cre­den­tials. The mediocre entries will be many; the great ones, few. And this will leave Google’s con­tent in a weak­er posi­tion rel­a­tive to Wikipedia.

To be clear, Wikipedi­a’s over­all tal­ent pool may not be much bet­ter. But Wikipedi­a’s mod­el has an impor­tant built-in advan­tage. A com­mu­ni­ty of writ­ers focus­ing on the same text will cor­rect one anoth­er and improve the over­all prod­uct over time. The final text becomes greater than the sum of its authors. Mean­while, Google’s mod­el, which will pro­duce a pro­lif­er­a­tion of lack­lus­ter entries on the same sub­ject, does­n’t include any kind of strong self-cor­rect­ing mech­a­nism that will improve the entries. The com­pa­ny seems to think that user feed­back, name recog­ni­tion, and a share of ad rev­enue (which prob­a­bly won’t amount to much) will do the trick. But that seems like wish­ful think­ing, and I’m bas­ing that on sev­er­al years of work­ing at About.com, which inte­grat­ed many of the same ele­ments into its mod­el. Strike one against Google.

If you’re look­ing for Strikes 2 and 3, let me out­line them briefly.

Strike 2 comes down to false premis­es: When you step back and exam­ine Google’s rea­sons for cre­at­ing project “knol,” they don’t hold up to scruti­ny. These days, pub­lish­ing on the web is fair­ly dum­my proof. Free blog­ging soft­ware, Google Page Cre­ator, Yahoo’s Geoc­i­ties and Wikipedia — these tools have made it incred­i­bly easy to pub­lish to the web. (Some­how, writ­ers have fig­ured out how to post 2,125,453 arti­cles to Wikipedia.) The argu­ment that tech­nol­o­gy is hold­ing back would-be ency­clo­pe­dia writ­ers just does­n’t fly. Nor does the notion that we’d get bet­ter qual­i­ty ency­clo­pe­dia entries if only authors could attach their names to what they write. On the one hand, anonymi­ty has­n’t slowed down Wikipedia at all. On the oth­er, many legit­i­mate experts will see writ­ing “knols” as being a slight step above “van­i­ty” pub­lish­ing, but not much more. In short, not a good use of their time.

Strike 3 turns on momen­tum and the lack of game-chang­ing func­tion­al­i­ty: Not long after YouTube launched and proved the via­bil­i­ty of video shar­ing, Google cre­at­ed its own com­pet­i­tive unit, Google Video. By the next year, Google real­ized it would nev­er catch up and bought YouTube for $1.65 bil­lion. Wikipedia, in com­par­i­son, has had a much longer head start. For six years, it has been refin­ing its mod­el, grow­ing traf­fic, and gain­ing user loy­al­ty. That’s a sub­stan­tial and most like­ly insur­mount­able lead. True, once upon a time a young Google came out of nowhere and knocked an estab­lished Yahoo out of its lead­er­ship role. But that hap­pened when Google brought its game-chang­ing search tech­nol­o­gy to mar­ket. With “knol,” how­ev­er, there’s no such game-chang­ing tech­nol­o­gy on dis­play — noth­ing that sub­stan­tial­ly changes how knowl­edge gets cre­at­ed. Google and its engi­neers cer­tain­ly excel at man­ag­ing knowl­edge and pro­duce many great prod­ucts (for which I’m per­son­al­ly thank­ful). But get­ting into the knowl­edge cre­ation busi­ness may pose new chal­lenges, ones that will require the Google staff to go beyond algo­rithms and think­ing in terms of 0s and 1s.

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Even Ahmadinejad Blogs

Here it is in Eng­lish. His Christ­mas wish is charm­ing.

Rumor is that Mah­moud is busy set­ting up a Face­book page. Stay tuned for it, and be sure to give him a nice lit­tle poke.

Full Sto­ry here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.