“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.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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.

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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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rewind the Video­tape: Mike Wal­lace Inter­views 1950s Celebri­ties

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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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

YouTube’s New Screen­ing Room (Free Indie Films)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.