“Last Lecture” Professor Randy Pausch Dies

Randy Pausch, the computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University whose “Last Lecture” caught the public imagination, has died of pancreatic cancer. Thanks partly to a Wall Street Journal article written last September, the public discovered the remarkably upbeat and uplifting lecture Pausch gave soon after getting diagnosed. Titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” (see video below, or download on iTunes here), the lecture became a media sensation and went viral across the web. And it served as the basis for Pausch’s bestelling book, The Last Lecture. If you haven’t seen the video, give it your time. It will teach you something more valuable than anything else we serve up here.

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Google’s Answer to Wikipedia Now Live

Last December, Google announced that it was testing a new content initiative — dubbed “Knol” — intended to rival Wikipedia. The fruits of their labor are now live (in beta), available for all to see.

As we mentioned in our initial piece, Knol caters to the individual author/expert, not to the wisdom of crowds (à la Wikipedia). Each encyclopedia entry is generally written, edited, and revised by one individual. The author reigns supreme here. But that doesn’t mean that Wikipedia’s collaborative approach is being entirely abandoned.

Google’s model leaves ample room for collaborative writing. It keeps open the possibility that multiple authors will write an encyclopedia entry. And, they allow for “moderated collaboration” — meaning that “any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public.” Collaboration is built into Google’s model. It’s just not taken to an extreme conclusion. (Get more info on the positioning of Knol here.)

Knol is not the only content platform trying to strike a balance between the author and mass collaboration. In June, Encyclopedia Britannica launched a beta of a new online encyclopedia that takes “a collaborative-but-not-democratic approach” to producing knowledge. Users can make contributions to a growing storehouse of knowledge. But whether these contributions get accepted remains up to the experts and editors. (“At the new Britannica site, we will welcome and facilitate the increased participation of our contributors, scholars, and regular users, but we will continue to accept all responsibility of what we write under our name. We are not abdicating our responsibility as publishers or burying it under the now-fashionable “wisdom of the crowds.”)

I have little doubt that the Google and Britannica models will generate some solid encyclopedia entries. That’s a safe bet. But whether these encyclopedias will ever become as comprehensive as Wikipedia, or as widely used, is another question. And the same holds true for whether the content will generally be qualitatively better than what Wikipedia has to offer. When Google first announced Knol last December, I voiced my doubts. Now that the rubber is finally hitting the road, we can see whether my skepticism is warranted (or not).

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The Great Dictator: A Classic Chaplin Moment

It’s 1940. The film is The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin’s famous satire of Nazi Germany. In this celebrated scene, Chaplin dances with a large globe with Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin Overture playing in the background.

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Physics for Future Presidents: Buy the Book, or Watch the Free Online Course

Richard Muller teaches one of the most popular undergraduate courses at UC Berkeley: Physics for Future Presidents. You can watch it on YouTube (above). And now you can buy Muller’s new book. Just published by W.W. Norton, Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines gives citizens the scientific knowledge they need to understand critical issues facing our society — is “Iran’s nascent nuclear capability … a genuine threat to the West,” are there “viable alternatives to fossil fuels that should be nurtured and supported by the government,” and should “nuclear power should be encouraged”? These issues (and more) get tackled here. For more info on the book, you can listen to a good interview conducted this morning (mp3) here in San Francisco.

Muller’s course, Physics for Future Presidents, has been added to our collection of Free Online Physics Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Watch Online: Francis Ford Coppola’s First Mainstream Movie, Dementia 13 (1963)

A good find by the folks at BoingBoing: Dementia 13, Francis Ford Coppola’s slasher/thriller from 1963, can be downloaded for free over at Archive.org. You can watch an embedded version above, or download an AVI file here. Here’s the gist of the plot: “An old Irish family is haunted by dark secrets around the death of a little girl seven years earlier. Two women, one married into the family and one soon to be, start unraveling the secrets at a price that they couldn’t have imagined.” Although Coppola had two prior films under his belt,  Dementia 13 is considered his first mainstream, “legitimate” directorial effort.

More great films can be found in our big collection of Free Movies Online.

Understanding Modern Physics: Download Leonard Susskind Video Lectures

What’s the “theoretical minimum” for thinking intelligently about modern physics? Here’s your chance to find out. Below, you will find three courses (the first of eventually six) presented by Leonard Susskind, a Stanford physicist who helped conceptualize string theory and has waged a long-running “Black Hole War” with Stephen Hawking (see his new book on that subject here). Freely available on iTunes and YouTube (see below), these video lectures trace the beginnings of modern theoretical physics, taking you from Isaac Newton (or Newtonian Mechanics) to Albert Einstein’s work on the general and special theories of relativity. Notably, these courses were originally presented within Stanford’s Continuing Studies program, which means that the content was pitched to an audience much like you — that is, smart people who don’t necessarily have an extensive knowledge of physics. Watch the video below — the first lecture that kicks off the series of courses — and you will see what I mean.

Finally, in case you’re wondering, the next three courses (covering quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, cosmology, black holes, and more) will be presented this coming academic year and, once taped, we will give you a heads up. Sign up for our RSS Feed and you will be sure to get an update. Also see our collection of Free Online Courses for many more courses along these lines.

Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum

Bonus Material

In 2006-2007, Susskind taped a separate series of lectures on Quantum Mechanics. You can download them as free video lectures as well:

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When the Flintstones Peddled Cigarettes

What can you say about this? A quick trip back to the 1950s… File this under Random …

(For foreign readers, all you need to know is that The Flintstones was a classic American cartoon.)

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Rewind the Videotape: Mike Wallace Interviews 1950s Celebrities

Watch Complete Documentary Films For Free (Featuring Super-Size Me)

Joerg, one of our readers, wrote us rather joyfully and declared: “Today I found the site of my dreams: Supposedly most of the greatest new documentaries can be watched online” and they’re “financed by ads.” The site is called SnagFilms, and indeed, it finds “the world‘s most compelling documentaries, whether from established heavyweights or first-time filmmakers, and mak[es] them available to the wide audience these titles deserve.” In exchange for making the films free, you do have to sit through some ads, but it is perhaps a small price to pay. Below we have posted Super Size Me, the 2004 documentary by Morgan Spurlock, which offers some startling commentary on the fast food industry. Other notable titles include the 2004 rock documentary Dig!, Under Our Skin, and Run Granny Run. You can see their full collection here.

NOTE: You can find this film in our collection of free online movies.

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YouTube’s New Screening Room (Free Indie Films)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.