When it comes to higher education, I've often wondered when we'll switch to a model of distance learning. As four-year universities become pricier, ya' gotta think that at some point, somehow it'll be possible to just stay home in our jammies, stream our lectures, participate in weekly study groups via Google hangouts, and save a hell of a lot of money on room and board.
Sebastian Thrun is bringing that model a little closer to reality. His new venture, Udacity, is offering a selection of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), beginning on June 25th. In addition to Intro to Physics, the free classes include Algorithms: Crunching Social Networks and Intro to Statistics: Making Decisions Based on Data.
The idea is pretty simple: courses are broken down into units; each unit comes with corresponding homework; there are forums where you can interact with instructors and other students; and some classes offer the opportunity to take a certified exam, which does have a cost attached to it. For more details, check out the Udacity wiki.
Just because the classes free of charge, though, don't think you're getting off easy. Thrun was tenured at Stanford, where he taught artificial intelligence, and helped invent the self-driving car at Google. He was intrigued and inspired by the possibilities of online learning after teaching a MOOC on AI at Stanford. While Udacity students won't get an established University's recognition for their coursework, they might get something else more valuable - a job. Udacity is working directly with companies who are seeking employees with specific skill sets.
For more on MOOCs: Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls [NYTimes]
Stats or physics not your thing? Open Culture has a list of 500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.
Intro Video for Intro to Statistics.
I have actually signed up for this...remains to be seen if I am disciplined enough to tune in regularly when there's not a real grade at stake.
Science As Art
This very purty video from the Materials Research Society features a collection of photographs from their "Science as Art" competition. As described on their site:
Visualization methods provide an important tool in materials science for the analysis and presentation of scientific work. Images can often convey information in a way that tables of data or equations cannot match. Occasionally, scientific images transcend their role as a medium for transmitting information, and contain the aesthetic qualities that transform them into objects of beauty and art.
As a special feature of recent MRS Meetings, we have offered the popular Science as Art competitions, with entry open to all registered meeting attendees.
My favorite images are Sedat Canli's "Rising Moon" and "Nano Graveyard" by Steven Herron.
[Source: Maria Bellantone]
Los Angeles Film Festival
So many movies, so little time!
The LAFF is in full swing in Downtown Los Angeles, with tons of movies, panels and events to satisfy your cinematic yearnings. Here are a few selections that might appeal to S'Lush readers...descriptions taken from LAFF program guide...
Robot and Frank: Frank is an aging ex-con, played to perfection by Frank Langella, living alone in a house filled with clutter and memories. When his son insists on buying him a robotic caretaker, he is quite resistant, futilely searching for an off switch on his new housemate. Over time, however, the two come to an understanding and even a friendship. But when Frank begins to re-explore old vices, it leads both him and his cybernetic pal down a dangerous path. With supporting performances by Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler, Robot & Frank is a comic look at the very near future of family and friendship.[For a clip, check out EW's piece on the movie from Sundance]
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: In this comedy that explores the funnier side of the apocalypse, an asteroid is hurtling through space on a collision course with Earth. Unlike some who decide to party their way out, Dodge, played to perfection by Steve Carell, is taking the news rather calmly, content to putter around his empty apartment until the end. Then he meets Penny, his spirited neighbor from across the hall, played in a delightful turn by Keira Knightley. With a stack of LPs clutched under her arms and a letter from Dodge's high school sweetheart in her hand, she convinces him to try and get his life together even as the world is falling apart.
The History of Future Folk: Sent to destroy the human race, General Trius, the most decorated soldier from planet Hondo, has a change of heart when he hears music for the first time. Taking on the alias Bill Hunt, Trius settles down in Brooklyn, where he starts a family and plays bluegrass banjo at the local tavern. When an assassin from Hondo comes to kill Trius, the two quickly bond over the power of music and form Future Folk — think Flight of the Concords from space. The duo rocks the house every night, but can they save Earth and Hondo from certain destruction in this wonderfully odd, surprisingly sweet sci-fi musical comedy?