Photograph of Mike Jones, a vendor, showing up at the lot with his big white dog named Leah.

This photo, of vendor Mike Jones arriving at an antiques show/flea market with his dog, was taken by an MIT student in the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism class. Click photo to view more.

By now, you’ve likely heard of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) phenomenon. But an OCW newsletter I received last week put it into perspective nicely. It reports that according to the OCW Consortium,

  • In one year (2008-2009), 4,727 courses were made available online—an increase of 58%.
  • More than 250 institutions have published some 13,000 free courses online.
  • Courses are available in more than eight languages.

MIT’s OCW is always updating and adding courses. Among the new offerings:

And, OCW has improved the supplemental resources section, which includes online textbooks, multimedia content, image galleries, and exams and assignments (with and without solutions), among other things—all categorized by discipline. So if you’re looking for a textbook for calculus, fluid dynamics, or electromagnetic field theory; video demonstrations in lasers and fiber optics; or examples of student work from intro writing subjects, you’re in luck.

Be sure to check out student photos from the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism class. You’ll see a day in the life of a Boston Latin history teacher, how scuba divers celebrate Easter, and the real story and characters behind an antiques show and flea market.

Rolling Stone reports that MIT alumni had a hand in the “insanely complex video” for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky single “This Too Shall Pass,” which has gone viral on the net since its release March 1. Musicians OK Go, who even have a short video about how they love working with nerds, brought in folks from Syyn Labs and the MIT Media Lab including Heather Knight ’06, MNG ’08 to help create a two-story Rube Goldberg-esque structure.

“There were two Media Lab grads involved and me,” says Knight. “I managed the top floor in the final weeks and during shooting (first two minutes) with a dirty paw in almost every module there, Richard Whitney SM ’07 made the wooden ball bearing surface just after the music starts, and Jamie Zigelbaum SM ’08 worked with the lead singer Damian Kulash and his dad to make the first table full of small stuff.”

Kulash’s thoughtful New York Times essay on how free embedded videos boost revenues for bands and record companies may have influenced OK Go’s then-label, EMI, to disregard their own no embedding policy. “This Too Shall Pass” has been distributed freely throughout the Internet, much like the band’s star-making treadmill vid for “Here It Goes Again” in 2006. On OK Go’s Web site, you will find videos of top songs, the making of ‘This Too’, concerts,  and their recent decision to strike out on their own.

Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy Good news for Alex Rigopulos ’92, SM ’94 and Eran Egozy ’95, MNG ’95, founders of Harmonix and creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. They have won one of USA Network’s Character Approved Awards honoring innovators who impact American culture and influence opinions, styles, and world views.

MIT Media Lab alumni Rigopulos and Egozy won for pioneering the field of instrument-based music games and for allowing people to more easily engage with music. They find themselves in good company. The nine other honorees include Oscar-winning Director Kathryn Bigelow, (peer-to-peer microlending) cofounder Jessica Jackley, and environmentally friendly architect Angela Brooks.

Check out video of the game designers on the USA Network site.

Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

Dramashop just performed R.U.R, Rossum’s Universal Robots, which helps us understand what it will be like when the robots take over, and pretty much wipe out us humans, which I suppose serves us right, inasmuch as we have proved so proficient at wiping out other species and each other.

One night, I was asked to comment on the play afterward, because AI is my field. It took quite a while to think up three minutes of content, because it had to build to a reasonably good joke at the end.

Rossum’s robots are smart and look like people, which is convenient, because they are played by human actors.

The play invites speculation on whether we humans could ever build smart robots that look like people. My answer is yes, because arguments to the contrary mostly boil down to the unthinkability fallacy: “I cannot think how that could be done; therefore, it can’t be done.” Also, the biologists are doing pretty well on their side of the table, what with artificial organs and the like, and we computationally oriented types are making progress, too.

Of course, when we get close to really building such creatures, we better do a lot of simulation, because, as the play teaches, the unintended consequences of a mistake could be horrible beyond description.

In a fit of neosolipsism, it occurred to me that I and my environment might be just a simulation experiment, run by some cautious computer scientist in the sky, with a particularly twisted mind, trying out a few ideas before going physical. I don’t know how I could ever tell. That Pascal idea—I think, therefore I am—doesn’t seem to help.

If I am a simulation, let the record show that I resent it. And judging by the stuff I read in the papers, the experiment doesn’t seem to be going too well.

Such is the wild speculation encouraged by an MIT-filled audience, a late night, and a superbly done play.

Geeta Dayal and her new book.

Geeta Dayal and her new book.

Geeta Dayal ’01, who writes about visual art, sound, and technology, has just published a book on musician Brian Eno, Another Green World – and won recognition for her edgy work.

Dayal, who earned degrees in brain and cognitive sciences and in humanities, has been named one of 26 recipients of a 2009 Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. She won $30,000 for a publication titled Locative Art and Urban Space: Mapping an Emerging Field, which will explore topics from Christian Nold’s emotional cartography to Stefan Schemat’s GPS-enabled aural landscapes. Her work will incorporate multimedia content and be made available online and on handheld mobile devices.

Check out her blog, the Original Soundtrack, to learn about her  work, reflections on turning 30, and a recent article for Rhizome at the New Museum titled “Brian Eno, Peter Schmidt, and Cybernetics.”