What Does 47 Billion Light Years (in Radius) Look Like?

That’s one esti­mate of the size of our uni­verse, and this video (added to our YouTube Playlist), using pic­tures from the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope, tries to put it in per­spec­tive. For more amaz­ing pho­tos from the Hub­ble, see this col­lec­tion.

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Harvard Opens Scholarship, Freeing Up Knowledge and Budgets

Yes­ter­day, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty passed a motion (see pro­pos­al here) that will require its fac­ul­ty mem­bers to pub­lish their schol­ar­ly arti­cles online. On the face of things, this marks a big vic­to­ry for the open access move­ment, which is all about mak­ing infor­ma­tion free and acces­si­ble to all. In real­i­ty, how­ev­er, the real win­ner may even­tu­al­ly be Har­vard’s library bud­get (and the future of schol­ar­ship itself).

One of the fig­ures behind the open­ing of Har­vard’s schol­ar­ship is Robert Darn­ton, an emi­nent his­to­ri­an who now over­sees Har­vard’s libraries. And, in a piece called The Case for Open Access, Darn­ton under­scores how dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing can relieve some impor­tant finan­cial pres­sures on the acad­e­my. Under the cur­rent pub­lish­ing mod­el, aca­d­e­mics write arti­cles for schol­ar­ly jour­nals and then the jour­nals get sold back to the uni­ver­si­ty libraries at exor­bi­tant prices, with some cost­ing more than $20,000 per year. And here the real prob­lem begins: “in order to pur­chase the jour­nals, libraries have had to reduce their acqui­si­tions of mono­graphs; the reduced demand among libraries for mono­graphs has forced uni­ver­si­ty press­es to cut back on the pub­li­ca­tion of them; and the near impos­si­bil­i­ty of pub­lish­ing their dis­ser­ta­tions has jeop­ar­dized the careers of a whole gen­er­a­tion of schol­ars in many fields.” Dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing solves this spi­ral­ing prob­lem in a straight­for­ward way. The cost of pub­lish­ing direct­ly to the web is neg­li­gi­ble. There’s no pulp to buy, no pub­lish­er’s over­head to pay; no cor­po­ra­tion (e.g., Reed Else­vi­er, the own­er of many schol­ar­ly jour­nals) look­ing to pad its prof­its and get thanked by Wall Street. The cost sav­ings are every­where.

The tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers will be quick to point out a flaw in the dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing mod­el — name­ly, that it gen­er­al­ly means work­ing out­side of a peer-review sys­tem that ensures the over­all integri­ty of research. But my sense is that there’s no rea­son that dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing and peer review can’t go togeth­er. It’s not hard to imag­ine ways in which con­ven­tion­al forms of peer review could be pre­served. But dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing also makes pos­si­ble new forms of peer review that did­n’t exist before. Pub­lish­ing to the web will almost nec­es­sar­i­ly increase the over­all read­er­ship of arti­cles, which will encour­age more fact check­ing and crit­i­cal com­men­tary in turn. And, because we’re pub­lish­ing on the web, these schol­ar­ly arti­cles can become liv­ing doc­u­ments that get bet­ter over time. It’s a new way of doing things. It may take a gen­er­a­tion to get all the kinks worked out and habits changed. But we will get there.

As a final aside, if you’re inter­est­ed in the Open Edu­ca­tion­al Resources (OER) move­ment, then you’ll want to check this new site spon­sored by the Hewlett Foun­da­tion. It aggre­gates blogs that reg­u­lar­ly focus on all things OER, offer­ing you a great start­ing point for read­ing in this area.

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Paris at Night

They don’t call it the city of light for noth­ing.

The Vegetable Orchestra

It’s right up there with the Ukulele Orches­tra per­form­ing ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it.’ Both are added to our YouTube Playlist, which now has 130 sub­scribers, which is not bad for a fledg­ling col­lec­tion.

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James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Free Audiobook

ulysses cover

Note: We post­ed this find back in 2008. But, since then, we’ve found a bet­ter audio ver­sion of the text. Please find it here.

This is a book that needs no intro­duc­tion, but we will give it a short one any­way. Pub­lished in ser­i­al for­mat between 1918 and 1920, James Joyce’s Ulysses was ini­tial­ly reviled by many and banned in the US and UK until the 1930s. Today, it’s wide­ly con­sid­ered a clas­sic in mod­ernist lit­er­a­ture, and The Mod­ern Library went so far as to call it the most impor­tant Eng­lish-lan­guage nov­el pub­lished dur­ing the 20th cen­tu­ry. Although chron­i­cling one ordi­nary day in the life of Leopold Bloom in 1904 Dublin, Ulysses is no small work. It sprawls over 750 pages, using over 250,000 words, and takes over 32 hours to read aloud. Or, at least that’s how long it took the folks over at Lib­rivox. In the Blooms­day tra­di­tion, a cast of read­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed in the project, offer­ing cre­ative read­ings with “pub-like back­ground noise.” The audio files can be down­loaded as many indi­vid­ual mp3 files here, or as one big zip file here. You can also stream an excel­lent alter­na­tive ver­sion at Archive.org.

This is not the only Joycean audio that you can down­load for free. Also at Lib­rivox, you can find sev­er­al key sto­ries from Dublin­ers — includ­ing, The Sis­ters (mp3), Ara­by (mp3), Eve­line (mp3), and The Dead (mp3 in zip file).

For more free clas­sics on audio, see our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

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The Secret History of Silicon Valley

What set the stage for Sil­i­con Val­ley to change the entire land­scape of tech­nol­o­gy? What made com­pa­nies like Google, Yahoo and Hewlett Packard pos­si­ble? Accord­ing to this talk pre­sent­ed at Google by Steve Blank, it all goes back to the after­math of World War II. It starts when Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty and its engineering/electronics depart­ment began to focus heav­i­ly on mil­i­tary R&D. And it con­tin­ues dur­ing the Kore­an War, when the Uni­ver­si­ty starts devel­op­ing new tech­nolo­gies that con­tribute to mil­i­tary intel­li­gence (or what Blank calls “spook work”) and var­i­ous weapons sys­tems. The next thing you know you’ve got a brain trust in the Bay Area that starts spin­ning out com­pa­nies lik Fairchild Semi­con­duc­tor, the father of all semi­con­duc­tor com­pa­nies, and, with that, Sil­i­con Val­ley becomes Sil­i­con Val­ley.

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Psychedelics Revisited

On Fri­day, we men­tioned the BBC pro­duc­tion called “What on Earth is Wrong with Grav­i­ty.” Below is anoth­er video by the same pro­duc­ers called “Psy­che­del­ic Sci­ence,” which sur­veys the past and present of psy­che­del­ic drugs, and the new era of sci­en­tists explor­ing ways to use these drugs again for ther­a­peu­tic pur­pos­es (i.e., the treat­ment of schiz­o­phre­nia and addic­tion).

via Boing Boing

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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Speak­ing of psy­che­delics, we’ve post­ed a doc­u­men­tary below (yet anoth­er BBC pro­duc­tion) that takes a not entire­ly flat­ter­ing look at the life of Tim­o­thy Leary, the Har­vard psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor who went coun­ter­cul­ture in 1960s and advo­cat­ed the ther­a­peu­tic and spir­i­tu­al ben­e­fits of LSD. I remem­ber see­ing him years lat­er when I was in col­lege. My mem­o­ry of the man: Spunky and about as non­lin­ear as you could get.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.