Archive for December, 2007

Your Virtual Ph.D.

Want to master a new computer language? Brush up on your calculus? Learn how to fix your car? No sweat. With the vast array of college courses and podcasts available online, the apple of knowledge is ripe for the clicking. Here, we’ve narrowed the options to our favorites—the best of the geeky best, from free podcasts and lectures to accredited distance-learning programs from major universities.

UNIVERSITY EXTENSION PROGRAMS: MIT OpenCourseWare What Is It? Similar in philosophy to open-source software, OpenCourseWare offers anyone free access to course materials for virtually all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses. Once upon a time, you needed at least a library card to get a free education. But with this site, you can get rocket-scientist smart without even paying late fees.

Why’s It Cool? This is a site for people who enjoy the pure pleasure of learning. You won’t get credit for any of the course work—in fact, you won’t even have access to teachers—but if you’re a self-starter and curious, you can dabble in any of the subjects that MIT offers.

Can’t Miss? The sheer volume of subjects available is stunning. The site offers course materials in everything from aeronautics to biological engineering to linguistics.

Harvard Extension School

What Is It? The Harvard Extension School provides access to roughly 100 online courses in art, science, math and technology, all from the comfort of your couch. Upcoming fall courses range from an introduction to Greek literature to a variety of Web-development classes.

Why’s It Cool? These courses bring students right into the classroom with video lectures that are posted along with the other course materials. Bonus: Distance learners are always welcome to drop in on the real lecture if they happen to be passing through campus.

Can’t Miss? For a sneak peek of what these courses are like, a few sample lectures are available online.

To see a review of more course offerings, visit the Popular Mechanics website here:

This is something that I ran across awhile back and wanted to put the information out again in case anybody else was interested in learning for no reason in particular.

I always wanted to take classes at MIT but family, financial resources (lack of), and not wanting to actually LIVE up north where people talk funny and don’t know what grits or boiled peanuts are (shudder) were big obstacles. No, chilluns, when I was a little college student, there were no such things as on-line classes.

If I sign up for any, y’all will be the very first to know how I’m doing. Hopefully the experience won’t consist of me sitting under the desk whimpering and contemplating the zen of wrist slitting.

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Bowling for Iraq–Unusual Donation for Troops

When Doyle Claxton of United Bowling in Yulee received an e-mail from a soldier in Iraq asking if his unit could get two bowling lanes, he knew this was a wish he could fulfill.

Master Sgt. Robert Beane of Ft. Riley, Kan., who is currently stationed in Iraq, contacted Claxton through the United Bowling website. In making his request, Beane stated he and his unit rarely get down time, but the time they do get is priceless.

The Army does its best to keep the troops entertained.

“They try to come up with things like karaoke and stuff like that,” said Beane in a phone call to the News-Leader from Iraq.

“But unless it comes from the States, a band or a singer, there’s not too much else for us to do around here.”

Beane, who is a semi-professional bowler back home, said he was kidded by friends who said, “What are you going to do when you get over there, Beane? How are you going to bowl?”

Beane said he’d throw down some plywood and make a lane that way if he had to, but thanks to Claxton, he and the other bowlers in his unit will soon have real bowling lanes.

“It’s exciting!” said Beane. “Nothing like this has ever been done before so we’re doing a lot of work on this end, trying to make everything happen.”

Getting the bowling equipment to the soldiers involves having it delivered to a military base where it will be shipped to the troops overseas.

“We’ve had this idea for quite some time, but never had much extra time to focus on it,” said Claxton, who is footing the bill for the project.

Two lanes normally cost approximately $120,000 installed. Overseas shipments are usually between $4,000 to $5,000, but this will be handled by the U.S. military.

With no professional installer on base, Claxton said he will provide the necessary manuals and documentation to make it as easy as possible for the troops to install the lanes.

“We can also communicate via e-mail for further assistance,” Claxton said.

The two-lane bowling alley will be simple to set up and will also have to withstand the harsh desert environment.

“Everything will be old-school, with no complex pin-setting machines or electronic scoring. The pins will have to be set by hand and the score added manually, but it is the most ideal scenario for the circumstances,” said Claxton.

Read the rest at the News Leader, Fernandina Beach.

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The Genographic Project

The National Geographic Society, IBM, geneticist Spencer Wells, and the Waitt Family Foundation have launched the Genographic Project, a five-year effort to understand the human journey—where we came from and how we got to where we live today. This unprecedented effort will map humanity’s genetic journey through the ages.

The fossil record fixes human origins in Africa, but little is known about the great journey that took Homo sapiens to the far reaches of the Earth. How did we, each of us, end up where we are? Why do we appear in such a wide array of different colors and features?

Such questions are even more amazing in light of genetic evidence that we are all related—descended from a common African ancestor who lived only 60,000 years ago.

Though eons have passed, the full story remains clearly written in our genes—if only we can read it. With your help, we can.

When DNA is passed from one generation to the next, most of it is recombined by the processes that give each of us our individuality.

But some parts of the DNA chain remain largely intact through the generations, altered only occasionally by mutations which become “genetic markers.” These markers allow geneticists like Spencer Wells to trace our common evolutionary timeline back through the ages.

“The greatest history book ever written,” Wells says, “is the one hidden in our DNA.”

Different populations carry distinct markers. Following them through the generations reveals a genetic tree on which today’s many diverse branches may be followed ever backward to their common African root.

Our genes allow us to chart the ancient human migrations from Africa across the continents. Through one path, we can see living evidence of an ancient African trek, through India, to populate even isolated Australia.

But to fully complete the picture we must greatly expand the pool of genetic samples available from around the world. Time is short.

In a shrinking world, mixing populations are scrambling genetic signals. The key to this puzzle is acquiring genetic samples from the world’s remaining indigenous and traditional peoples whose ethnic and genetic identities are isolated.

But such distinct peoples, languages, and cultures are quickly vanishing into a 21st century global melting pot.

That’s why the Genographic Project has established ten research laboratories around the globe. Scientists are visiting Earth’s remote regions in a comprehensive effort to complete the planet’s genetic atlas.

But we don’t just need genetic information from Inuit and San Bushmen—we need yours as well. If you choose to participate and add your data to the global research database, you’ll help to delineate our common genetic tree, giving detailed shape to its many twigs and branches.

Together we can tell the ancient story of our shared human journey.

What to Expect
Your results will reveal your deep ancestry along a single line of direct descent (paternal or maternal) and show the migration paths they followed thousands of years ago. Your results will also place you on a particular branch of the human family tree. Some anthropological stories are more detailed than others, depending upon the lineage you belong to. For example, if you are of African descent, your results will show the initial movements of your ancestors on the African continent, but will not reflect most of the migrations that have occurred within the past 10,000 years. Your individual results may confirm your expectations of what you believe your deep ancestry to be, or you may be surprised to learn a new story about your genetic background.

You will not receive a percentage breakdown of your genetic background by ethnicity, race, or geographic origin. Nor will you receive confirmation of an association with a particular tribe or ethnic group.

Furthermore, this is not a genealogy study. You will not learn about your great-grandparents or other recent relatives, and your DNA trail will not necessarily lead to your present-day location. Rather, your results will reveal the anthropological story of your direct maternal or paternal ancestors—where they lived and how they migrated around the world many thousands of years ago.

For more details, read the National Geographic website.

I’m considering sending off a DNA sample and participating in this project.  It would be interesting, to say the least, to find out where my maternal ancestors wandered.   

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Getting the Story Straight

By Fred Thompson

Every once in a while I am more thankful than ever for today’s technology which allows me to talk to you directly instead of having to go through the filter of the main stream media.

Some of them are intent on making the outcome of the campaign dependent upon their pre-conceived notions. Every once in a while their incomplete and slanted coverage makes this clear.

Today I had this story written about me regarding what I said at a Town Hall event in Burlington, Iowa by a reporter who wasn’t even at the event. Incidentally, I declined to be interviewed by this particular reporter yesterday for reasons which will soon be apparent.

In referring to me, she reported “he doesn’t like modern campaigning, isn’t interested in running for President, and will not be devastated” if he doesn’t win.

Below is a transcript of what I actually said in response to a question by a local Burlington resident which was the basis of the reporter’s story.

It is clear that there are those in the media who will exact a high price for candor and from those whom they consider to be insufficiently ambitious. But it is with increasing amazement that we see that those who are willing to slant or leave out important parts of a story to make their point.

If a candidate succumbs to this he will be reduced to nothing more than a sound bite machine.

As for me I am going to continue to say exactly what is in my heart and is on my mind and give straight and honest answers to those who ask straight and honest questions.

Incidentally, the audience in Burlington broke into applause in the middle of my answer. The reporter wouldn’t know that because she wasn’t even there.

Go here for transcript. .

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