Ira Glass on Why Creative Excellence Takes Time

Ira Glass, host of the beloved radio show This Amer­i­can Life, offers a help­ful reminder that excel­lence does­n’t come auto­mat­i­cal­ly. (See video below.) It takes work, years of it. And he revis­its some of his ear­ly radio work in order to prove it.

The Glass video has been added to our YouTube playlist.

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Art by Committee: The Story Behind the Writing of “Shake Girl”

Here at Stan­ford, a cou­ple of our teach­ers (Tom Kealey and Adam John­son) took a nov­el approach to run­ning a writ­ing class. They want­ed to see what hap­pens when 14 stu­dents col­lec­tive­ly write, edit and illus­trate a graph­ic nov­el. (A graph­ic nov­el is a type of com­ic book that fea­tures a lengthy and com­plex sto­ry­line.) Fast for­ward a few weeks, and you can see what the class pro­duced. Their nov­el, “a wild­ly ambi­tious, emo­tion­al­ly sear­ing sto­ry,” based on a series of true events, is called Shake Girl, and you can start read­ing it here. Should you want to learn more about the writ­ing of this col­lab­o­ra­tive nov­el, you can lis­ten to this pod­cast that gives you the back­sto­ry and also read this sec­tion of the Shake Girl web­site.

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Robot Conducts The Detroit Symphony Orchestra

File this under “Ran­dom” …

Con­tribute to The Pow­er of Dreams Music Edu­ca­tion Fund at and click on Edu­ca­tion or go here.

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Maps Explaining Why Americans Know Less About the World

Speak­ing at the TED Con­fer­ence, Alisa Miller (CEO of Pub­lic Radio Inter­na­tion­al) explains why Amer­i­cans know less and less about the rest of the world. Along the way, she uses some eye-pop­ping graphs to put things in per­spec­tive. Watch the video below or find it on our YouTube playlist

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India’s Answer to M.I.T. Presents Free Courses on YouTube (in English)

Lots of newsprint has been ded­i­cat­ed to MIT’s Open­Course­Ware ini­tia­tive. And, of course, it’s under­stand­able. MIT’s project offers free access to mate­ri­als from 1800 MIT cours­es, many on the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­o­gy and engi­neer­ing. It is all great. But sud­den­ly MIT is not the only tech pow­er­house get­ting into the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing free edu­ca­tion­al resources.

In India, there are sev­en insti­tutes ded­i­cat­ed to train­ing some of the world’s top sci­en­tists and engi­neers and mak­ing the coun­try an up and com­ing world pow­er. They are col­lec­tive­ly known as the IITs, or the Indi­an Insti­tutes of Tech­nol­o­gy. And now some of the IIT cours­es are being made avail­able in Eng­lish on YouTube for free. (The main page is here; the cours­es are actu­al­ly here.) Some of the titles fea­tured here include: Intro­duc­tion to Com­put­er Graph­ics, Core Sci­ence Math­e­mat­ics, Com­put­er Net­works, Intro­duc­tion To Prob­lem Solv­ing & Pro­gram­ming, Flu­id Mechan­ics, and Envi­ron­men­tal Air Pol­lu­tion.

You can access the full list of IIT cours­es here. And note that we have inte­grat­ed many of these cours­es into our col­lec­tion: Free Online Cours­es from Great Uni­ver­si­ties, which now fea­tures more than 225 free cours­es.

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Ninja Fast Dictionary

Long ago, I got in the habit of using Mer­ri­am-Web­ster’s online dic­tio­nary. And I’ve suf­fered through the painful­ly slow page loads for the bet­ter part of a decade. But then I stum­bled upon a bet­ter alter­na­tive. Nin­ja­Words is “a real­ly fast dic­tio­nary … fast like a Nin­ja.” Give it a try. You’ll enjoy the speed.

PS Anoth­er cool option is, which is fast and fea­tures a handy auto-com­plete func­tion. Thanks to a read­er for flag­ging that one for us.

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1001 Books to Read Before You Die

As I write, the most emailed arti­cle on The New York Times offers a few reflec­tions on Peter Box­al­l’s book, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The Times piece makes a cou­ple of log­i­cal points: First, there’s no time to waste if you hope to read every book on the list. Read­ing a book per month, you’ll get through 1000 books in a mere 83 years. So you had bet­ter get start­ed now. Sec­ond, this “best of” list is bound to be con­tro­ver­sial. (Do you real­ly need to read Anne Rice’s “Inter­view With the Vam­pire” before it’s lights out?) The 1001 books on Box­al­l’s list can be pre­viewed here. The book itself, which runs 960 pages, is obvi­ous­ly more than a raw list. Each entry is accom­pa­nied by an “author­i­ta­tive yet opin­ion­at­ed crit­i­cal essay describ­ing the impor­tance and influ­ence of the work in ques­tion.” And also there’s appar­ent­ly some nice illus­tra­tions. If you’re a bib­lio­phile, it’s worth a look.

For more great books, see the col­lec­tion of Life Chang­ing Books cre­at­ed by our read­ers.

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HBO Revisits 2000 Election with “Recount”

On Sun­day night, HBO aired its new film “Recount,” which delved back into the con­tro­ver­sial Flori­da recount that deter­mined the out­come of Amer­i­ca’s 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Days before the film (watch the trail­er here) hit the air­waves, Char­lie Rose con­duct­ed an inter­view with Kevin Spacey (actor in the film), Jef­frey Toobin (Senior Legal Ana­lyst at CNN) and David Boies (who argued Bush v. Gore on behalf of Al Gore). In watch­ing the film and inter­view, my first reac­tion was to think: yes, it’s been eight long years, but it’s per­haps not been long enough. Per­haps anoth­er eight years is what it takes before polit­i­cal trau­ma can be trans­formed into pure enter­tain­ment. Or maybe it will nev­er quite get there. But that says noth­ing about the mer­its of the film or the inter­view below. If you missed “Recount,” it re-airs tonight on HBO.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.