Bitcoin, the New Decentralized Digital Currency, Demystified in a Three Minute Video

They sound like some­thing out of sci­ence fic­tion, but Bit­coins are get­ting just a lit­tle bit more real every day. They’re intan­gi­ble and invis­i­ble, but bit­coins recent­ly attract­ed some real invest­ment cap­i­tal from the Win­klevoss twins, who first dreamed up the idea for Face­book — or so their law­suit argued.

A bit of back­ground: Bit­coins are a vir­tu­al cur­ren­cy sys­tem. They were pro­grammed by an anony­mous programmer(s?) in 2009. There are a lim­it­ed num­ber of pos­si­ble bit­coins that can ever be traded—21 million—and the “coins” become avail­able incre­men­tal­ly. That process is crowd­sourced (any­body can mint bit­coins) but it requires solv­ing com­plex encryp­tion prob­lems. Most bit­coin min­ers have an army of com­put­er hard­ware to do the work for them.

What can a bit­coin buy? It depends. The currency’s val­ue has been gyrat­ing wild­ly in recent weeks, from a val­ue of just a few dol­lars up to $266 and then back down to about $100. So far bit­coins are accept­ed as cur­ren­cy by some­what shady elec­tron­ics web­sites that claim to be send­ing a mes­sage to big retail­ers: start accept­ing the vir­tu­al cur­ren­cy or miss out on a big mar­ket share (that hasn’t devel­oped yet).

Last week came the announce­ment that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss—former rivals to Mark Zuckerberg—own one per­cent of all the bit­coins in cir­cu­la­tion, the biggest stake so far. That news inspired debate over what, exact­ly, bit­coins are and whether they’re impor­tant.

They aren’t the first vir­tu­al cur­ren­cy and they aren’t being used wide­ly in com­merce. Some econ­o­mists have weighed in to say that unless peo­ple stop hord­ing bit­coins as an invest­ment and start spend­ing them, they are mean­ing­less. The bit­coin exper­i­ment may show the way to a dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy of the future. But, until it pans out, we rec­om­mend that you hang onto your dol­lars. And if you’re still try­ing to get your arms around the whole con­cept of the bit­coin, we sug­gest spend­ing a few min­utes with the video primer above.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her web­site: .


LA County Museum (LACMA) Makes 20,000 Artistic Images Available for Free Download

Lincoln Cathedral

The Los Ange­les Coun­ty Muse­um of Art hous­es the largest Amer­i­can col­lec­tion of art west of Chica­go. Devel­oped as an “ency­clo­pe­dic” museum—its col­lec­tions rep­re­sent near­ly every human civ­i­liza­tion since record­ed time—LACMA’s eclec­tic hold­ings span from art of the ancient world to video instal­la­tions. Like all great pub­lic col­lec­tions, LACMA sees its mis­sion as pro­vid­ing the great­est pos­si­ble access to the widest range of art.

Two years ago LACMA made a rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of its image hold­ings avail­able for free down­load in an online library. From that begin­ning of 2,000 images, the muse­um recent­ly expand­ed its down­load­able col­lec­tion by ten-fold, mak­ing 20,000 images of art­work avail­able for free.

This rep­re­sents about a quar­ter of all the art rep­re­sent­ed on LACMA’s site. They’ve cho­sen images of art­works the muse­um believes to be in the pub­lic domain and devel­oped a robust dig­i­tal archive with a rich­er search func­tion than most muse­ums.

LACMA’s online col­lec­tion (80,000 images alto­geth­er, includ­ing restrict­ed use and unre­strict­ed) is sort­ed by the usu­al cura­to­r­i­al terms (“Amer­i­can Art,” “Art of the Pacif­ic” and so on) but that’s just one of many fil­ter­ing options.

A search for works relat­ed to the word “ros­es” can be done as a gen­er­al search of all objects, turn­ing up, among 268 oth­er items, Toulouse-Lautrec’s Mlle Mar­celle Lender. This item hap­pens to be avail­able for free down­load. (Note the bloom in the Madamoiselle’s cleav­age to see why the image turned up in this search.)

But the col­lec­tion can be searched more nar­row­ly by object type and cura­to­r­i­al area. There’s also a cool option to search by what’s on view now right now. This choice allows users to zero in on a spe­cif­ic build­ing or floor of the museum’s eight build­ings. The col­lec­tion can also be entered accord­ing to chrono­log­i­cal era, from 10,000 BCE to the present day.


This is impor­tant for the pub­lic, but even more so for stu­dents and edu­ca­tors. Nine years ago East­man Kodak stopped pro­duc­ing slide pro­jec­tors. Since then the task of assem­bling qual­i­ty images for the study of art his­to­ry has become hope­less­ly daunt­ing, with teach­ers and stu­dents search­ing a myr­i­ad web­sites to cre­ate dig­i­tal “carousels” for class or study.

For what­ev­er rea­son, in an age over-abun­dant with high res­o­lu­tion images of near­ly every­thing, pic­tures of art itself are scat­tered and expen­sive.

Insti­tu­tions like Google Art Projects, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art and LACMA are among a few that offer exten­sive, free art images online.

Of course there are still copy­right issues that all insti­tu­tions must con­tend with. But it is to LACMA’s cred­it that they take their mis­sion of pub­lic access seri­ous­ly and put resources into mak­ing their won­der­ful col­lec­tion avail­able to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: The Guggen­heim Puts 65 Mod­ern Art Books Online

Google Art Project Expands, Bring­ing 30,000 Works of Art from 151 Muse­ums to the Web

Down­load Hun­dreds of Free Art Cat­a­logs from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Dis­cov­er Ansel Adams’ 226 Pho­tos of U.S. Nation­al Parks (and Anoth­er Side of the Leg­endary Pho­tog­ra­ph­er)

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her web­site, , to see more work.

A Gallery of Stanley Kubrick Cinemagraphs: Iconic Moments Briefly Animated


Type “stu­pid ani­mat­ed gif”—or words to that effect—into your pre­ferred search engine and you’ll be reward­ed with an abun­dance of ger­mane mate­r­i­al.

Mean­while a search on “ani­mat­ed gif of Stan­ley Kubrick rolling in his grave” fails to yield any­thing of sig­nif­i­cance.

Pity. I guess we’ll just have to imag­ine how the late per­fec­tion­ist and cel­e­brat­ed direc­tor would have react­ed to a gallery of his most icon­ic images, down­loaded and doc­tored into infi­nite­ly loop­ing, min­i­mal­ly ani­mat­ed snip­pets.


Per­haps I pre­sume. Per­haps he’d be pray­ing for some­one to rean­i­mate him, so he could haunt the realm of the late night cha­t­rooms, his every obser­va­tion and opin­ion punc­tu­at­ed with a lan­guid Sue Lyons lift­ing her head in Loli­ta, or a dia­bol­i­cal Clock­work Orange toast.

Admit­ted­ly, the longer one watch­es George C Scot­t’s Gen­er­al Turgid­son work­ing over a mouth­ful of gum, or Jack Nichol­son act­ing four kinds of crazy, the more tempt­ing it is to put togeth­er a cin­ema­graph of one’s own. That’s the high fly­ing term assigned to the form by artist Kevin Burg and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Jamie Beck who alleged­ly invent­ed (and lat­er trade­marked) it while cov­er­ing New York Fash­ion Week. To quote super­mod­el Coco Rocha, as they do on their web­site, “it’s more than a pho­to but not quite a video.”

Be fore­warned that it’s not a project for the Pho­to­shop new­bie. Maybe the instruc­tion­al video below just makes it seem so.  (Though if you’re look­ing for an instruc­tion­al video on how not to make an instruc­tion­al video, this is very instruc­tion­al indeed. If not, stick with a more straight for­ward, non-film-based how to. Stan­ley Kubrick, this guy ain’t.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Cin­ema­graph: A Haunt­ing Photo/Video Hybrid

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

Napoleon: The Great­est Movie Stan­ley Kubrick Nev­er Made

Ayun Hal­l­i­day rec­om­mends Stan­ley Kubrick­’s “Paths of Glo­ry” in its orig­i­nal form.

Artist Robbie Cooper’s Video Project Immersion Stares Back at Gamers and YouTubers

What if that screen you’re peer­ing at was some­thing akin to a one-way mir­ror? There’s a def­i­nite aspect of dress­ing room hor­ror, view­ing artist Rob­bie Coop­er’s Immer­sion project, a video col­lec­tion of the alter­nate­ly grotesque and dull expres­sions appear­ing on peo­ple’s faces as they play video games and watch YouTube. (The view­er is nev­er privy to what’s show­ing on the sub­jects’ screens, but one sus­pects it’s like­ly less rar­i­fied than a short ani­ma­tion inspired by physi­cist Richard Feyn­man’s remarks on a flower or film­mak­er Miran­da July’s lyri­cal advice to the pro­cras­ti­na­tion-prone). But before we denounce the most­ly under­aged par­tic­i­pants’ dead eyes and slack jaws—an effect made more dis­turb­ing by the sound­track­’s high inci­dence of gunfire—perhaps we should turn the web cam on our­selves.

That’s exact­ly what Coop­er is hop­ing will hap­pen, as he pre­pares to expand the pro­jec­t’s scope to include peo­ple of all ages and nation­al­i­ties. “Babies being born right now arrive in a land­scape where com­put­ers, smart­phones, the inter­net, and social media already exist,” he explains, “While the old­est gen­er­a­tion alive today can remem­ber a time before TV was a fix­ture of our liv­ing room.”

To widen the net, Coop­er is turn­ing to crowd sourc­ing. Whether some­one who know­ing­ly trains the cam­era on him or her­self can achieve the pre­vi­ous par­tic­i­pants zoo-like lack of inhi­bi­tion remains to be seen, but the Kick­starter cam­paign to fund this next phase lays things out on a grand scale. The plan is for the pub­lic to con­tribute via uploads and a social media aggre­ga­tor. More excit­ing­ly, they’re encour­aged to seize the reins by cre­at­ing a series of instruc­tions and prompts for those com­ing lat­er to fol­low.

Let us hope this will lead to a more heart­en­ing vari­ety of expres­sions, as well as the book, doc­u­men­tary, and  inter­ac­tive exhibits Coop­er envi­sions.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This is Your Kid on Tele­vi­sion

Art in the Era of the Inter­net (and Why Open Edu­ca­tion Mat­ters)

The Cre­ators Project Presents the Future of Art and Design, Brought to You by Intel and Vice Mag­a­zine

Ayun Hal­l­i­day’s lap­top is direct­ly respon­si­ble for two ver­ti­cal creas­es between her brows.

Where Your Web Searches, Emails, and Videos Live: A Tour Inside Google’s Data Centers

So much of what we expe­ri­ence as dig­i­tal is intan­gi­ble. The col­or and tex­ture of the Inter­net exists only for the time we have that par­tic­u­lar site loaded. With just a click of the mouse, the lush­ness dis­ap­pears.

Except that it doesn’t, real­ly.

Back­stage, every email, pho­to, YouTube video and doc­u­ment we share lives in a very real place, which is weird when you think about it. These mas­sive data cen­ters are like vaults of ones and zeros, some of which could wreak hav­oc in the wrong hands but, hon­est­ly, most of which will nev­er mean any­thing again to any­body.

Every time any­one uses a Google prod­uct, for exam­ple, like con­duct­ing a search or look­ing up direc­tions, their com­put­er talks to one of the world’s most pow­er­ful serv­er net­works, which are housed in huge data cen­ters. Very few peo­ple actu­al­ly get to see where Google’s servers live. These data cen­ters are high secu­ri­ty, for good rea­son.

The com­pa­ny recent­ly launched Where the Inter­net Lives, part of a mini cam­paign to pull back the cur­tain on how the web works. They hired a pho­tog­ra­ph­er to cap­ture eight of their data cen­ters on, well, not real­ly film, but you get the pic­ture. Oh, and the data cen­ters aren’t brick and mor­tar either. More like glass and dry­wall and pipes. Lots and lots of pipes.

And like Willie Won­ka and his famous fac­to­ry, Google invit­ed Wired mag­a­zine reporter Stephen Levy to vis­it and write a sto­ry about the pre­vi­ous­ly off-lim­its facil­i­ties.

Take a street view tour of the North Car­oli­na data cen­ter (and see their “secu­ri­ty team” at work). Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Con­nie Zhou’s images are love­ly and the facil­i­ties are beau­ti­ful in an eerie, futur­is­tic way. See how water is used to keep the proces­sors cool, where data is backed up, failed dri­ves destroyed to keep data safe and how work­ers get around.

Google employ­ees get a fair amount of play, with shots of them work­ing to build, main­tain and repair the machines.

It’s a peek behind the scenes, but it’s also mar­ket­ing. And what’s inter­est­ing is that it’s a lot like the auto­mo­bile industry’s mar­ket­ing (think of Saturn’s ads in praise of the assem­bly-line work­er) and cam­paigns by the Big Three to attract auto work­ers in the 1940s. Some of the pho­to cap­tions recall the nos­tal­gic, Utopi­an mes­sag­ing of the post-War era, when effi­cient, mod­ern sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties were sprout­ing up around indus­tri­al cen­ters. This lunch room looks pret­ty nice, and the sauna is right out­side.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal cul­ture and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her work online at kater­ixwriter

Codecademy’s Free Courses Democratize Computer Programming

There are good and bad online instruc­tion­al plat­forms for every­thing: some lan­guage cours­es work bet­ter than oth­ers and some approach­es to teach­ing music are more effec­tive than oth­ers.

This is just as true for com­put­er pro­gram­ming, where, like every­thing else, an abun­dance of free cours­es and tuto­ri­als from MIT, UC Berke­ley, Har­vard and Stan­ford offer inter­ac­tive tools for learn­ing web devel­op­ment and com­put­er pro­gram­ming. You can find a long list of free comp sci cours­es from these great uni­ver­si­ties here.

One new site that is get­ting par­tic­u­lar­ly good reviews is Codecad­e­my, a free online learn­ing sys­tem for learn­ing every­thing from HTML Basics  to Python in a “user active” style—meaning that users can use tuto­ri­als to design projects of their own choos­ing. It’s also easy to track your progress.

What sets Codecad­e­my apart from oth­er pro­gram­ming tuto­ri­als is that all stu­dent work can be com­plet­ed with­in a web brows­er. No soft­ware down­load­ing or installing is required. Respond­ing to crit­i­cism that the site did­n’t ini­tial­ly offer enough cours­es, Codecad­e­my has added numer­ous cours­es in 2012 and launched a Course Cre­ator pro­gram. This is a boon for users inter­est­ed in learn­ing how to teach. Codecad­e­my does not put user-cre­at­ed cours­es through an approval process and gives course cre­ators a link that they can dis­trib­ute as they wish. Codecad­e­my does, how­ev­er, screen the cours­es and selects which to fea­ture on its own site.

Enrollees in its Code Year pro­gram receive a pro­gram­ming les­son in their email inbox every Mon­day, start­ing with the fun­da­men­tals of JavaScript and then mov­ing on to HTML and CSS. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple signed up at the begin­ning of the year (includ­ing the White House and New York May­or Michael Bloomberg). If you were one the enrollees, it’s still not too late to keep that New Year’s res­o­lu­tion.

Find Free Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es in our col­lec­tion, Codecad­e­my’s Free Cours­es Democ­ra­tize Com­put­er Pro­gram­ming.

Kate Rix is an Oak­land-based free­lance writer. Find more of her work at .

University Presses & Libraries Turn to Pinterest to Promote Books

I’ll admit it: I’m not a big Pin­ter­est user. Until very recent­ly I thought the social net­work­ing site was a bit twee—too much about cute clothes and crafts, not enough about ideas.

Turns out the web’s 15th largest site has a lot more to offer.

Open Cul­ture has its own embry­on­ic Pin­ter­est page. But, more impor­tant­ly, uni­ver­si­ty press­es are mak­ing wide­spread use of Pin­ter­est to pro­mote new book titles. Like­wise, aca­d­e­m­ic libraries are using their Pin­ter­est pages to pro­mote events and help fund major cap­i­tal improve­ments. For libraries and archives, a major ongo­ing mis­sion is to keep the col­lec­tions vis­i­ble. It’s not easy to let the world know about your one-of-a-kind hold­ings, and Pin­ter­est poten­tial­ly offers a great way to bring these mate­ri­als to new and  younger audi­ences.

Big retail­ers haven’t fig­ured out how to make real mon­ey off of Pin­ter­est yet, though one the­o­ry holds that the site’s high­ly visu­al nature puts peo­ple in the mood to click and buy. True or not, uni­ver­si­ty press­es and libraries need all the help they can get to gin up sales, so they’re wad­ing into the Pin­ter­est waters and see­ing what hap­pens.

Alice Northover has cre­at­ed a Tum­blr that cat­a­logues a few of the best uni­ver­si­ty press­es that have Pin­ter­est pages. The list is a handy map of trea­sures to be found online.

There are the usu­al, and com­plete­ly worth check­ing out, sus­pects: Of course, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press has a page that fea­tures, among oth­er things, inter­views with Har­vard Press authors. Watch math­e­mati­cian Paul Lock­hart, author of Mea­sure­ment, trip out on par­al­lel­o­grams.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­sis­sip­pi has a robust pres­ence that fea­tures an exten­sive col­lec­tion of Faulkn­er crit­i­cism and appre­ci­a­tion.

Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty’s page links to its audio archive, which includes a fun, episod­ic pro­gram called “Wait? They Banned What?”. You might be sur­prised to find out that Bing Cros­by song was banned dur­ing World War II for being too catchy.

One of the best may be one of the most unsung, how­ev­er. New Zealand’s Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­si­ty of Welling­ton’s library hous­es a major col­lec­tion of Samoan his­tor­i­cal objects. Check out the library’s repos­i­to­ry of amaz­ing South Pacif­ic his­to­ry.

These sites offer very few dec­o­rat­ing tips for your Air Stream trail­er, and I found no links to loca­vore jam-mak­ing busi­ness­es, but Alice, whomev­er she may be, has cre­at­ed a great cura­to­r­i­al tool for explor­ing a new trend in book pro­mo­tion.

But wait. Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press has a pin on its page called “Lib­ri­an­ista” that links to short-hem­line clothes mod­eled by bespec­ta­cled cuties. I guess even the world’s old­est pub­lish­er gets to have a lit­tle fun.

Thanks to Kirstin But­ler for send­ing Alice’s Tum­blr our way.

Kate Rix is an Oak­land-based free­lance writer. See more of her work at .

Out My Window: An Interactive Documentary

Out My Win­dow — it’s a new inter­ac­tive doc­u­men­tary, a film unlike any you have seen before. Kate­ri­na Cizek, the direc­tor, put it togeth­er over the course of years, and the award-win­ning film uses its nov­el approach to explore life, as it goes on, with­in high­ris­es — the most com­mon­ly built struc­tures dur­ing the past cen­tu­ry. Cre­at­ed with 360º video and high end web tech­nol­o­gy, Out My Win­dow brings you to 13 dif­fer­ent loca­tions across the globe, mov­ing from Chica­go to São Paulo, to Ban­ga­lore and Johan­nes­burg. And the sto­ry does­n’t unfold lin­ear­ly. You choose where and when you want the sto­ries (49 in total) to begin and end. The film is bet­ter expe­ri­enced than described. So my rec­om­men­da­tion: Watch the trail­er, or just jump into the inter­ac­tive doc­u­men­tary and see for your­self.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.