Top 10 Blog Posts of 2008

Here they go, the most popular posts of 2008:

10. Free Stanford Computer Science & Engineering Courses Now Online

9.) The Old Man and the Sea Animated

8.) Teaching on YouTube

7.) Turn Your iPod into a Travel Guide: 20 Travel Podcasts

7.) Listening to Famous Poets Reading Their Own Work

6. This American Life Demystifies the Housing/Credit Crisis

5.) Understanding Modern Physics: Download Leonard Susskind Video Lectures

4.) Yale Open Courses: The New Lineup

3.) George Orwell’s 1984: Download Free Audio Book Version

Also, James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Free Audiobook

2.) Top Five Collections of Free University Courses

1.) Intelligent Life at YouTube: 80 Educational Video Collections


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70 Signs of Intelligent Life at YouTube

Smart video collections keep appearing on YouTube. But rather antithetical to the ethos of its parent company (Google), YouTube unfortunately makes these collections difficult to find. So we’ve decided to do the job for them. These enriching/educational videos come from media outlets, cultural institutions, universities and non-profits. There are about 70 collections in total, and the list will grow over time. If we’re missing anything good, feel free to let us know, and we’ll happily add them. You can find the complete list below the jump.

Also, feel free to check out our YouTube playlist.


  • @GoogleTalks
    • Google has lots of famous visitors speaking at its headquarters, and they’re all recorded and neatly presented here.
  • Al Jazeera English
    • The Middle Eastern news service, which has generated its share of controversy, now airs broadcasts in English and presents them here.
  • Amnesty International
    • The leading human rights organization brings you various videos outlining human rights concerns across the globe, and the work they’re doing to improve conditions.
  • BBC
    • A series of videos promoting programs coming out of Britain’s main media outlet. Unfortunately many of these videos are short and not entirely substantive. A missed opportunity.
  • BBC Worldwide
    • Ditto.
  • Big Think
    • This collection brings you videos featuring some of today’s leading thinkers, movers and shakers.
  • BoingBoingTV
    • These videos are brought to you by the makers of the very popular BoingBoing blog.
  • Brooklyn Museum
    • A fairly rich lineup of videos exploring the collections at Brooklyn’s main art museum.
  • Charlie Rose
    • PBS interviewer Charlie Rose presents segments of his nightly interviews.
  • Citizen Tube
    • YouTube’s own channel presents videos dealing with the American political process and the 2008 election.
  • Computer History Museum
    • A good number of videos that delve into computers, networking, and semiconductors.
  • Council on Foreign Relations
    • A resource designed to provide insight into the complex international issues challenging policymakers and citizens alike. (more…)

10 New iPhone Apps for the Thinking Person

In advance of tomorrow’s release of the new 3G iPhone, Apple has launched its new App Store on iTunes, which features new tools that will immediately make the iPhone (and iPod Touch) a more versatile — and, in some cases, enlightening — device. Below, we have highlighted ten apps worth exploring if you’re hungry for enriching information. 9 of the 10 are free. (Please note: To access the App Store, you will need to download the latest version of iTunes (here) and also the new iPhone 2.0 firmware, which has yet to be officially released — although you can find an unofficial release and directions on how to install it here. The official release should be coming any time now.)

1.) The New York Times: Thanks to this app, you can read “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on your iPhone. It lets you customize the news you read, and also read articles offline.

2.) AOL Radio: One downside to the first generation iPhone is that it didn’t allow you to access internet radio. This app helps to change some of that. It gives you access to 150 CBS radio stations across the US, including some key news stations.

3.) Mandarin Audio Phrasebook: Lonely Planet, the publisher of fine travel guides, has produced a free Mandarin audio phrasebook, which includes 630 commonly used phrases. Via the iPhone you can hear how the phrases are spoken (and also see how they are phonetically written). For $9.99, you can purchase phrasebooks in nine other languages, including Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Czech. See full collection here.

4.) Truveo Video Search: The Wall Street Journal calls Truveo the “best web-wide video-search engine.” And now, with this Truveo app, you can use the iPhone to find videos from across the web, and, regardless of their format, play them all in one application. This sounds like a great addition, especially since many videos weren’t playable on 1st generation iPhones.

5.) NetNewsWire: With this app, you can add an RSS reader to the iPhone, allowing you to read RSS feeds in a neat and clean way. It also lets you “clip” articles that you like and read them later. Don’t forget to sign up for our feed, and you can always add more cultural feeds by perusing our list of 100 Culture Blogs.

6.) Google Mobile App: Let’s face it. In today’s information world, Google is a must-have. And so it’s nice to have an app that makes Google and its many functionalities completely iPhone friendly.

7.) AppEngines E-Books: For 99 cents, you can download a classic e-book to your iPhone, and read it in a quite legible format. In this collection, you will find Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, Dickens’ Great Expectations, and about 40 other e-books.

8.) Talking Spanish Phrasebook: Too busy to learn a new language? Then you’re in luck. This app will do the talking for you. It takes basic phrases in English and then converts them into spoken Spanish. There are also free versions in French, German, and Italian.

9.) Epocrates: This free app turns your iPhone into a comprehensive drug database. Very handy for the medical community.

10.) NearPics: If you’re traveling, and if you want to discover great places nearby, this app lets you discover pictures that have been taken in the vicinity. The app offers a way to discover intriguing places (or things) that normally fly below the radar. Also, this other app lets you put Flickr on your iPhone. More ways to satisfy your inner photographer.

Related Content:

10 Ways to Make Your iPod a Better Learning Gadget

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This American Life Demystifies the Housing/Credit Crisis

There’s been no shortage of articles trying to explain the ongoing housing and mortgage crisis. But none does a more clear and entertaining job than this recent episode of This American Life, “The Giant Pool of Money” (iTunesFeedMP3). Step by step, the show traces how we got into this mess. Along the way, you’ll discover how 70 trillion dollars of global money needed to get parked somewhere, and it found the US housing market. As the money poured in, the American investment community cranked out as many mortgages as it could. And when there were no more qualified home buyers left, the banks started lowering lending standards until there were none left. In the end, even dead people were getting mortgages (sadly, a true story). Give the podcast a listen. The whole debacle gets pieced together in a way that you’ve probably never heard before.

For more details, look here.

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Teaching on YouTube

Today, we have a guest feature by Alexandra Juhasz, Professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College, in Claremont, CA. This piece consolidates lengthier blog entries about a course she ran on YouTube, called “Learning from YouTube,” in Fall 2007. The whole goal was to better understand this new media/cultural phenomenon, and how it can be used in the classroom. How did she set up this class? And what did she learn? Find out below. Take it away Alexandra (and feel free to check out our YouTube playlist as well as our piece, 60 Smart Video Collections on YouTube) ….

I decided to teach a course about YouTube to better understand this recent and massive media/cultural phenomenon, given that I had been studiously ignoring it (even as I recognized its significance) because every time I went there, I was seriously underwhelmed by what I saw: interchangeable, bite-sized, formulaic videos referring either to popular culture or personal pain/pleasure. I called them video slogans: pithy, precise, rousing calls to action or consumption, or action as consumption. I was certain, however, that there must be video, in this vast sea, that would satisfy even my lofty standards, and figured my students (given their greater facility with a life-on-line) probably knew better than I how to navigate the site.

Learning From YouTube was my first truly “student led” course: we would determine the important themes and relevant methods together. I had decided that I wanted the course to primarily consider how web 2.0 (in this case, specifically YouTube) is radically altering the conditions of learning (what, where, when, how we have access to information). Given that college students are rarely asked to consider the meta-questions of how they learn, on top of what they are learning, I thought it would be pedagogically useful for the form of the course to mirror YouTube’s structures for learning, like its amateur-led pedagogy. Yes, on YouTube there is a great deal of user control, but this is within a limited and also highly limiting set of tools. So, I did set forth the rule that all the learning for the course had to be on and about YouTube. While this constraint was clearly artificial, and perhaps misleading about how YouTube is used in connection with a host of other media platforms which complement its functionality, it did allow us to become critically aware of the constraints of its architecture for our atypical goals of higher education. Thus, all assignments had to be produced as YouTube comments or videos, all research had to be conducted within its pages, and all classes were taped and put on to YouTube. This gimmick, plus a press release, made the course sexy enough to catch the eye of the media, mainstream and otherwise, allowing for an exhausting, but self-reflexive lesson in the role and value of media attention within social networking. Beyond this, students quickly realized how well trained they actually are to do academic work with the word—their expertise—and how poor is their media-production literacy (there were no media production skills required for the course as there are not on YouTube). (more…)

10 Ways to Make Your iPod a Better Learning Gadget

The iPod can supercharge your learning. But it’s often a matter of finding the right software and content. Below, we’ve listed several new pieces of software that will let you suck more educational media (DVDs, web videos, audio files, etc.) into your iPod. And we’ve also listed some important pieces of content that will make your iPod a better learning gadget. So here it goes (and be sure to see our related piece 10 Signs of Intelligent Life at YouTube):

1) Put Wikipedia on Your Ipod:
Encyclopodia is a free piece of software that brings Wikipedia to the iPod. Encyclopodia can be installed on iPod generations 1 through 4, as well as iPod Minis. Definitely worth a try.

2) Watch DVDs on Your iPod: This free, open source software works on MacOS X, Linux and Windows, and makes it simple to load and watch DVDs on your video iPod. Here are some helpful instructions to get you started.

3) Load YouTube Videos to Your iPod: ConvertTube allows you to take any YouTube video and convert it to a format that works on your iPod. It’s as simple as entering a url and clicking “convert and download.” If you want to give the software a test run, try converting these UC Berkeley courses that were recently launched on YouTube. Or these Nobel Prize speeches.

4) Make Other Video Formats iPod-Ready: Lifehacker recently mentioned three other pieces of software that will make a variety of other video formats iPod-ready. For Windows, see Videora; for Mac, see iSquint. Or more generally see Zamzar. In a nutshell, these items will turn a wide range of video formats into the one video format (MPEG-4) that your iPod likes.

5) Convert MP3 files into One Big iPod Audiobook File: Downloading free audiobooks can often require you to work with a series of separate mp3 files, which can make things rather cumbersome. This software does you a favor and mashes the files into one manageable file. And it has a feature that will let your Ipod remember where you stopped if you decide to take a break. (If this one appeals to you, be sure to see item # 10.)

6) Create eBooks for the iPod: This bit of software turns text files into ebooks that you can read on your iPod. After you load a text file, it will make the text readable through iPod Notes (which you can find under “Extra Setttings”). Then, voila, a portable text. Thanks to for pointing this one out.

7) Record Web Audio and Move it To Your iPod: Designed for Macs, iRecordMusic enables you to easily record audio from web pages and Internet radio streams. So if you’re surfing the web and find a good piece of streamed audio, it lets you record it and then transfer the media to your iPod. The only downside is that the software isn’t free. It will run you $24.95, but it may well be worth it. You can download a trial version here.

8) Get a Civic Education on Your Ipod: This site allows you to download to your iPod ten important documents that any educated American should be familiar with. The texts include: The Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights, Louisiana Purchase Treaty, Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address, Civil Rights Act, and several others. (Note: You can also download here an iPod version of Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Dictionary for $9.95.)

9) Load Maps onto Your iPod: If you travel to New York City, Paris, Berlin or Moscow, how will you find your way to the museums? iSubwayMaps is the answer. It lets you download subway maps from 24 major cities across the globe. You’ll only need an iPod with photo capability and you’ll be good to go. (By the way, if you want to load Google Maps to your iPod, here is a tutorial that will explain how.)

10) Study Foreign Languages, Take University Courses, and Listen to AudioBooks on Your iPod – All for Free: Ok, so this is a cheap but worthwhile plug for some of our richest podcast collections. Our Foreign Language Podcast Collection lets your learn over 25 different foreign languages. Our AudioBook podcast collection will give you portable access to 100+ classic works of literature and nonfiction. And this university podcast collection provides access to over 85 courses recorded at leading American universities. Not bad, if I say so myself. For our complete podcast library, click here.

Know of more software or content that will supercharge your iPod? Feel free to list them in our comments. And if they’re good, we’ll happily add them to the list.

For more great iPod utilities, see the recent features by Lifehacker and

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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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Our Ancestral Mind in the Modern World: An Interview with Satoshi Kanazawa

beautiful4.jpgHuman behavior is notoriously complex, and there’s been no shortage of psychologists and psychological theories venturing to explain what makes us tick. Why do we get irrationally jealous? Or have midlife crises? Why do we overeat to our own detriment? Why do we find ourselves often strongly attracted to certain physical traits? Numerous theories abound, but few are perhaps as novel and thought-provoking as those suggested by a new book with a long title: Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire — Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do. Written by Satoshi Kanazawa and Alan S. Miller, the book finds answers not in ids, egos and superegos, but in the evolution of the human brain. Written in snappy prose, their argument is essentially that our behavior — our wants, desires and impulses — are overwhelmingly shaped by the way our brain evolved 10,000+ years ago, and one consequence is that our ancestral brain is often responding to a world long ago disappeared, not the modern, fast-changing world in which we live. This disconnect can lead us to be out of sync, to act in ways that seem inexplicable or counter-productive, even to ourselves. These arguments belong to new field called “evolutionary psychology,” and we were fortunate to interview Satoshi Kanazawa (London School of Economics) and delve further into evolutionary psychology and the (sometimes dispiriting) issues it raises. Have a read, check out the book, and also see the related piece that the Freakonomics folks recently did on this book. Please note that the full interview continues after the jump.

DC: In a nutshell, what is “evolutionary psychology”? (e.g. when did the field emerge? what are the basic tenets/principles of this school of thinking?)

SK: Evolutionary psychology is the application of evolutionary biology to human cognition and behavior. For more than a century, zoologists have successfully used the unifying principles of evolution to explain the body and behavior of all animal species in nature, except for humans. Scientists held a special place for humans and made an exception for them.

In 1992, a group of psychologists and anthropologists simply asked, “Why not? Why can’t we use the principles of evolution to explain human behavior as well?” And the new science of evolutionary psychology was born. It is premised on two grand generalizations. First, all the laws of evolution by natural and sexual selection hold for humans as much as they do for all species in nature. Second, the contents of the human brain have been shaped by the forces of evolution just as much as every other part of human body. In other words, humans are animals, and as such they have been shaped by evolutionary forces just as other animals have been.

DC: Evolutionary psychology portrays us as having impulses that took form long ago, in a very pre-modern context (say, 10,000 years ago), and now these impulses are sometimes rather ill-adapted to our contemporary world. For example, in a food-scarce environment, we became programmed to eat whenever we can; now, with food abounding in many parts of the world, this impulse creates the conditions for an obesity epidemic. Given that our world will likely continue changing at a rapid pace, are we doomed to have our impulses constantly playing catch up with our environment, and does that potentially doom us as a species?

SK: In fact, we’re not playing catch up; we’re stuck. For any evolutionary change to take place, the environment has to remain more or less constant for many generations, so that evolution can select the traits that are adaptive and eliminate those that are not. When the environment undergoes rapid change within the space of a generation or two, as it has been for the last couple of millennia, if not more, then evolution can’t happen because nature can’t determine which traits to select and which to eliminate. So they remain at a standstill. Our brain (and the rest of our body) are essentially frozen in time — stuck in the Stone Age.

One example of this is that when we watch a scary movie, we get scared, and when we watch porn we get turned on. We cry when someone dies in a movie. Our brain cannot tell the difference between what’s simulated and what’s real, because this distinction didn’t exist in the Stone Age.

DC: One conclusion from your book is that we’re something of a prisoner to our hard-wiring. Yes, there is some room for us to maneuver. But, in the end, our evolved nature takes over. If all of this holds true, is there room in our world for utopian (or even mildly optimistic) political movements that look to refashion how humans behave and interact with one another? Or does this science suggest that Edmund Burke was on to something?

SK: Steven Pinker, in his 2002 book The Blank Slate, makes a very convincing argument that all Utopian visions, whether they be motivated by left-wing ideology or right-wing ideology, are doomed to failure, because they all assume that human nature is malleable. Evolutionary psychologists have discovered that the human mind is not a blank slate, a tabula rasa; humans have innate biological nature as much as any other species does, and it is not malleable. Paul H. Rubin’s 2002 book Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom gives an evolutionary psychological account of why Burke and classical liberals (who are today called libertarians) may have been right.

As a scientist, I am not interested in Utopian visions (or any other visions for society). But it seems to me that, if you want to change the world successfully, you cannot start from false premises. Any such attempt is bound to fail. If you build a house on top of a lake on the assumption that water is solid, it will inevitably collapse and sink to the bottom of the lake, but if you recognize the fluid nature of water, you can build a successful houseboat. A houseboat may not be as good as a genuine house built on ground, but it’s better than a collapsed house on the bottom of the lake. A vision for society based on an evolutionary psychological understanding of human nature at least has a fighting chance, which is a much better than any Utopian vision based on the assumption that human nature is infinitely malleable.


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.