Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top Free Online Educational Resources

Once upon a time I attended a forum at my university where I studied for my undergrad. At the forum a student asked the speaker with consternation in her voice, how she could continue to learn once she had graduated. I was so shocked by her question, I mean it is definitely something we need to keep doing. I just was surprised that this college student hadn't learned yet, how to learn on her own. As I sat there I ran down a list in my head of the many ways that I like to learn that were not a part of my formal educational experience. I don't know anyone in my circle of friends or anyone who reads my blog that doesn't already know how to learn on their own. However, I thought I might put up a few free online resources. And perhaps they will be of use to someone.

Formal Lecture Style:
Khan Academy: This website has over 2,700 video lectures on subjects from mathematics to humanities or even test preparation. It is really a great resource to supplement classes you are taking. For that matter they are great if you aren't taking any classes and want to learn the subjects on your own.

iTunes U(iTunes Required)
Many of the world's best universities have provided a number of lectures that anyone can download. Perhaps there is a subject in college that you always wanted to take but never had time or money to do it. Well, the good news is iTunes U allows you to essentially audit just about any kind of class you want. And you can take the classes from any number of the world's top universities for free. Many of the Podcast lectures are available outside of iTunes. However, iTunes U does a great job organizing and aggregating the free lectures into one easy place. A few years ago I was taking a genetics class and as part of my study, I would listen to lectures from a Stanford genetics class to supplement my education. It made a huge difference, I came to class very prepared. One summer while working, I listened to a European history class,  I enjoyed it so much I tracked down the e-mail address of the professor who taught it and thanked her. She responded and ended up giving me exclusive access to content she provided normally only to her students. The bottom line iTunes U has great content and offers a great user experience.

MIT's OpenCourseWare: MIT has had some lectures up for a few years now, however they recently expanded their offering with a dedicated website with over 2,000 classes to choose from. You can receive an incredible education for free. Even cooler if you so desire you can obtain certificates for completing courses.


Radio Lab is one of the best podcasts, definitely top three in my book or my blog... ha ha, sorry (bad joke) I couldn't resist. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich entertain with rich and creative use of sound to illustrate intriguing human stories and science. These podcasts are intellectually stimulating and are delightfully entertaining. Give this podcast a shot you will not be sorry.

This American Life provides an intimate look at lives of Americans, go figure. There is a great mix between real stories and short works of fiction. Each podcast is topical and provides a number of angles and insights to life. The stories are entertaining: they will make you laugh out loud, nod in agreement, and sometimes feel somber with sympathy. The stories are well vetted and worth listening to.

Freaknomics Radio looks at a number of different aspects of culture and society but from a very analytical perspective, think quantitative, think economic. This results in a fresh and very interesting look into the world we live in. I highly recommend this podcast.

TED has a tagline that does well to describe what it is all about, "Ideas that are worth sharing". This organization finds and promotes people and more so their ideas. The presentations often comforts and inspires me. TED reminds me that there are actually people in the world that are actively trying to make it a better place. (More TED)

Grammar Girl These casts are really short, but they offer valuable tips on writing and grammar. They are fun, valuable, and they can be pretty entertaining too.

99% Invisible has been receiving great reviews and was recently featured on Radio Lab. This design podcast covers an array of interesting design topics. For example I recently listened to an episode on music design and they talked about an iOS app called RJDJ, this app uses your mobile device's mic to influence the sound being produced, creating a soundtrack. I have played with this app for about two years now, it is pretty interesting. If you want to hear an example of this app in action click the link to download a recording I made in the NYC JFK Airport (download). I really recommend listening to 99% invisible, it is worth it.

Stuff You Missed in History Class I have listened to over hundred of these short fact filled casts. The hosts are history gurus, they share mini-classes on different events or people of historical note. In short these podcasts are are a great way to get your history fix.

This list could go on and on... because there are podcasts on just about any subject you may be interested.

YouTube EDU Is similar to iTunes U in that it has a great deal of college lectures on there. There are some pros and cons to YouTube EDU. First the good is that it is accessible on just about any device and browser. This means that it can be far more handy than iTunes U. The bad however, is this resource is not nearly as organized as iTunes U. 

There are number of other resources that are out there. These are just some of my favorite resources to turn to for free education. I will add more to this post later.

Cyber Security Part 3 - Future of Warfare - China Privateering

One of the main challenges that the first world faces in cyber security is that  developing nations do not  always have an interest in creating and enforcing laws against cyber crimes. A strong example of this is what is being called, "Ghostnet".

Ghostnet is the codename given to a campaign of targeted cyber attacks launched from China. This past year 760 companies were target by cyber criminals in China. Experts allege that some of these attacks have been launched by criminals that were state sponsored, traced to known government facilities in China. 

Richard Clarke, an expert on cyber security and former cyber security adviser to the White House, said, "I don’t think you can overstate the damage to this country that has already been done.” It is hard to estimate the damages done to U.S. corporations, but Roger's a former FBI agent said that a declassified estimate of the stolen intellectual property's value through these attacks reached nearly $500 billion. This estimate is based off of known attacks, this means that this is sure to be a very conservative estimate. Think about that $500 billion dollars, in intellectually property stolen by these targeted cyber attacks. To give some sort of perspective on a number that is so far removed from our daily lives. The entire Afghanistan War over the last ten years has not yet cost the United States $500 billion dollars. 

Why do these cyber attacks benefit China? An article in the Wall Street Journal discussing these targeted cyber attacks raised the point that stealing intellectual property is far cheaper than developing it. The Chinese have become masters in reverse engineering. However, even reverse engineering takes time and money. Favorite targets by cyber criminals have been companies that develop products that require a vast amount of resources to develop. In this same article there is a citation from a government intelligence official that claims that these GhostNet hackers attack on commission. There are well documented cases of corporations getting targeted by Chinese attackers over the last few years. Google was a victim of a targeted cyber attack in 2010 that was well publicized, they claim that this attack was also carried out by Chinese hackers. 

Now in the interest of full disclosure the Chinese have denied any such activities. And as I previously stated in a previous post it can be rather difficult to track hackers, so it is important to maintain some degree of skepticism. However, cyber attacks uniquely offer developing countries plausible deniability and great reward. These hackers are like cyber privateers, as stated before some hack on commission. Assuming the experts on cyber security are accurate in their analysis we can say that at least historically developing countries (China) can sponsor cyber criminals without any concern of consequence. $500 Billion in intellectual property gained in a year with a fraction of the time and money invested. 

Many Americans are concerned that we have exported too much of our manufacturing base to China. I think the Americans that believe this are perhaps right. However, America's strength has always been in intellectual property and if we loose our edge via serial robbery by targeted cyber attacks it leaves America in a very weak position. It has huge implications on the future of America's global trade and economic future.

Again, not to sound like a broken record but cyber security needs to be taken seriously. The government and corporations in the United States need to work together to fight to secure our property against foreign threats. Corporate America and the Federal Government should develop a stronger security relationship. The government should be protecting America's interests. 

Update:  Chinese Hackers Attack US Chamber of Commerce: This targeted attack had been going on for quite a long time. It was only recently detected. This supports what I have already written in my previous posts.