Thursday, May 28, 2009

Free Education from Academic Earth

Academic Earth is now live and FREE!! Thousands of video lectures are available from the world's top scholars. Did you ever wish you could take a course at Princeton, Yale or Sanford? You might have thought that you couldn't get in or you couldn't afford it. Well, you must have manifested this program, because now none of those things are a problem. School is free. The top Universities are offering lecturers for free. And, there are no prerequisites or GPA limits.

Bill Bradley is teaching "Russia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" from Princeton.

Also from Princeton, Alan Blinder is teaching "Origins of the Financial Mess". I didn't know who he was, so clicked on his name and got another lecture he's teaching, and the information that he's a professor of Economics and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School. They also then give you "Related Lectures" And, if you're not interested right now, the back click works just fine.

Walter Lewin from MIT is teaching "Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism" in case you ever really did want to know how electricity does what it does. And, if you wanted to know how to make anything go away....Charles Bailyn is teaching "Stellar Mass Black Holes" from Yale. Paul Bloom, also from Yale, is teaching "What it is like to Be a Baby: The Development of Thought" and "What Happens When Things Go Wrong: Mental Illness"

Does that remind you of terrorism? Sorry. Well, John Merriman from Yale is teaching "Dynamite Club: The Anarchists" which is about terrorism and those who seek to destroy a state rather than to gain power for themselves. Perhaps this is a little much for you, and you'd prefer something less incendiary.... Cristine Hayes from Yale School of Religion is teaching "Studying the Old Testament".

If you click on a lecture that looks interesting, you get the lecture and you get the course description at the bottom of the page and related lectures off to the right of the page. When you use the topic contents at the left of the home page, you get all the courses on a particular subject, laid out neatly with pictures from the videos, the University identity and the professor's name. Click on any picture, and you instantly get the course.

Confused about how you got to wherever you got to? Click on the name, "Academic Earth," in the top banner, and you're sent right back to the home page. It just couldn't be easier or more intuitively obvious.

At the bottom of each particular subject page, are the Editor's Picks. I imagine these change periodically, but today they range from THomas Friedman, Paul Bloom, Robert Shiller Marian Diamond and Kavita Ramdas, of MIT, Yale, Berkeley and Stanford.

Isn't this the best thing since the invention of the fork? (And, I believe that Italy and France are still arguing over who should be credited for that.) Registration is possible, but does not seem to be necessary.

Other free courses:
MIT's Open Course Ware

Stanford's Engineering Everywhere

How to get a free college education online: There is a recommended article at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Early Horse Betting on the 2009 Belmont Stakes

According to Phil Simms this morning, so many people are betting for the underdogs, that the favorites are getting better odds. Is this a matter of Remote Viewing, or is this a wish to regain the money they didn't win in the Kentucky Derby? Point of fact here: 9 out of the last 12 winners of the Belmont did not run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The Belmont favors the rested horse by 75%.

At this time, race favorites are Mine that Bird (with and easy inside rail run) and Rachel Alexandra (opened 4.5 odds) have been dropped to 5.4 and 11.4 respectively. Dunkirk (banged about at the Derby in the first turn but has been at Belmont since, skipping the Preakness) is at 4/1 and Charitable Man at 9/2.

The race will take place on June 6th, just a week from this Saturday. Many of the horses listed have still not confirmed 100%. The Belmont is 1.5 miles.

The Kentucky Derby is 1.25 miles, and the longest race that the young horses have raced up to that point. This is the reason the winner is seldom the favorite. It's always a brand new race for the 3 year olds. This year, it was wet which adds additional advantage to the stronger horse with more endurance, and sometimes fewer races to have tired them before the Derby.

The Preakness is the shortest of the races and offers some advantage to the sprinters, if they were not too tired after the grueling Kentucky win.

At the Preakness, Mine that Bird was closing, after a tough run, on Rachel Alexandra when she won the Preakness. She is big enough. Her jockey, Calvin Borel changed to her from Mine that Bird and he is confident. She won from the 13th post position. She was moved to the lead position by the first gate and never gave way. She likes to run in front and has won previous races by a combined 43.5 lengths. This is notable because she had a 4 length lead going down the Preakness stretch and only won by one length. Her jockey said that she was tiring at the end of the race, and he had to hold her together, which he did and she did, but this wouldn't bode well for the Belmont, the longest race any of them have ridden.

Musket Man (with good early speed) was 3rd in the Derby and third in the Preakness, followed by Flying Private and Big Drama.

At the Belmont we will see Mr. Hot Stuff at 35/1 who is now at 25/1. Summer Bird opened at 40/1 and is now down to 30/1. Chocolate Candy was 16/1 and now 15.1 with little interest. Luv Gov was the biggest longshot at 50/1 and hasn't changed. Flying Private is still at 20/1 and Miner's Escape is still at 25/1.

Chocolate Candy came alive in the second half of the derby from 8th position, way on the outside, to finish 5th. He had an easy trip at the Derby and rested during the Preakness. This is a colt bred for endurance and he's had a five week training period at Belmont to become familiar with the track and to peak. He will have Jockey Garrett Gomez on his back. Apparently, Gomez has worked him at Belmont and likes the way the colt runs. He had had time at Belmont to get used to dirt. He was raised in California on synthetic tracks.

Watch here how Chocolate Candy comes from behind and then fights off the other competitor with a second acceleration.

Musket Man was bred to be a 6 furlong specialist. The Kentucky Derby is 5 furlongs, so the Belmont should be his race. He won the Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles and the Illinois Derby at 9 furlongs. At the Derby, he was boxed in on the inside, and running right behind the leaders the whole race. He made a little run but was outrun by Mine that Bird and didn't seem to make an effort afterward. I wonder what might have happened if he had been able to lay back a bit with a little more breathing room in the early part of the race? And, he's been racing every month since last October. He's a professional, but still young for that kind of schedule.

Charitable Man is fresh. He's bred for this distance. He's been at this track and won 2 for 2. He shows a nice maturity, being comfortable letting the speed horses take the lead and run out of steam. He seems to have plenty left at the end and is able to turn it on when asked and accelerate away from a pack.

Dunkirk will have Jockey John Velasquez on board. Velasquez won the 2007 Belmont for these owners on Rags to Riches. Dunkirk has less experience than any other horse, and if you watch the videos of his few races, he can be a little loapy in the turns. This may have been the reason for his rough start at the Derby. It will be important for him to have an experienced Jockey like Velasquez, and an advantage to have had this time at Belmont to get used to the track, the turns, and his stall.

-- More as we get closer to the race --

Hot Computer Offer from Verizon: First Netbook

Get this, Verizon is offering their first netbook. They contracted with HP to provide the HP Mini 115 NR.

It is priced at $199 and has a 2 year contract available. Monthly data access will run you another $40 (which includes 250 MB of data transfer and additional charges beyond that) to $60 monthly ( with 5 GB of transfer and additional for extra), but if you are working out of your car, this is about the same as the Sprint Mobile offer as long as you don't exceed your contracted data transfer limits. Sprint no longer has an unlimited plan. Their best is $59 for 5 GB of data transfer, and they don't provide a computer. Their cards can run more than $300 additional.

The Mini has a 10 inch display with an adequate 1024 x 576 resolution, a 1.6 GHZ Intel Atom N270 processor. Intel has also supplied a GMA 950 graphics card. The HP comes with 1GB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive, WiFi, Bluetooth and a 3 cell battery.

The keyboard is almost the size of a regular keyboard. The Mini has 2 USB 2.0 ports as well as an integrated card reader for SD and MMC cards.

This unit is delightfully small and weighs about 2.4 pounds. It is silent, with only a small click to let you know the hard drive was working. But it gets hot on the bottom under the touch pad according to the reviewer at The Tech Herald.

I have gotten used to this with a Dell Inspiron. When on my lap I keep it balanced lightly at the edges so I don't burn my legs. It sounds as if the HP Mini must be treated just as carefully, or used on a flat tray or table.

The tester also found that at one location, the download speed was signifcantly slower than at other locations. This was a surprise, and never really explained.

All in all, this sounds like a good deal if you actually have need of internet-on-the-go.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Belcourt Castle: What's Up?

There are some beautiful homes in Newport Rhode Island, former home of the America's Cup elimination series, and Belcourt Castle, at 50,000 square feet is the largest. Belcourt Castle, built in 1894, is up for sale, and it may be haunted. The sole surviving member of the family, Harle Tinney, has put it up for sale at $7.2 million. So, if you've been in the market for your own castle, you might want to take a look.

It was built for Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont (after whom Belmont Park race Track is named) who inherited his father's (Rothschild) banking wealth and had his own love of French architecture and horses. Oliver was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis following his forebears Commodore Matthew Perry and Oliver Hazard Perry. The 3 acre site has extensive stables and carriage areas reflecting his love of horses. He married Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt who contributed to the collection of antiques.

Since 2006 when her husband passed away, Harle Tinney has been running the Castle by herself.

The ghosts?

Tinney has led ghost tours. Apparently, she and guests have seen a strange man in a dark robe with beard and hat who comes and goes, sometimes through the walls. He is known as "the monk" and seems to be the inspiration for one of the carvings.

The antique chairs in the Gothic ballroom also seem to have a separate energy. Visitors might feel resistance or even be thrown out!!

This is quiet compared with the suit of armor that screams. The original owner was killed by a spear through the eye slit. He apparently died in March, and that is the month with the most screams....

If you are interested, psychic Liz Souza is now running the Ghost tours on Wednesdays.

Proposition 8: Decision by California's Supreme Court

Its History:

This is the California Proposition that passed last November which prevents same sex couples from legally marrying in the state of California.

Get this, only 41.5 percent of Californians approved this ammendment to the state constitution. How was this done? It is because it was done according to the state initiative system. This was pointed out by rossl at DailyKos yesterday morning.

Now, it did pass with 52.3 percent of the vote, but only 79.4 percent of the voters turned out for the vote. So, 41.5 percent were able to change the state constitution. This is a shame. The United States Constitution is almost impossible to change, but California, as in several other states with an initiative system, makes it too easy to change the state constitution. By contrast, DailyKos points out, Nevada requires voters to approve any amendment change twice in successive elections. It is only made law after passing a second time.

Subsequently, the state Supreme Court began to look at the change, because they are the final arbiter of the meaning of the state Constitution, and Proposition 8 might logically conflict with the equal protection clause. Equal protection would require the Constitution to offer the same rights to same sex couples as it offers to hetero couples. Thus, Prop 8 and the equal protection clause can be seen to conflict with each other. This requires a decision by the state Supreme Court.

The Ruling Today:

A little while ago, the court handed down their 6-1 vote, rejecting the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8.

Their decision rested on the "narrow" conflict, redefining the word "marriage" to pertain only to opposite-sex couples. They held that Proposition 8 did not repeal any other aspect of same sex life. It left intact their right to choose a life partner, and their right to privacy, and due process. In this decision, the majority held that the scope of the issue was whether or not the people of California had the right to change the state Constitution under the provisions of the initiative process.

They unanimously agreed that those same-sex couples who married legally in California before November 5, 2008, would continue to have the advantages, disadvantages and rights of their marriages.

The Dissenting Opinion:

Justice Moreno explained that there is no "narrow" or "limited" exception to equal protection, adding that you can't promise equal treatment to some, or "almost equal" treatment. This is fundamentally different from truly equal treatment.

From the news release:

"Granting a disfavored minority only some of the rights enjoyed by the majority is fundamentally different from recognizing...that they must be granted all of those rights."

Justice Moreno further pointed out that this weakened the state Constitution's ability to protect any disfavored minority against the majority.

Isn't it interesting that this ruling would be announced today?

Obama's Choice: Sonia Sotomayor

What a wonderfully qualified individual! Sonia Sotomayor (pronounced with a little flip at the final "r", not a rolling "r". ) was originally picked for the Federal Bench in New York State as federal district court judge by President George Herbert Walker Bush. She was then moved to the Federal Appelate Court by President William Clinton. She had started as an assistant District Attorney, and then worked for a private law firm with international corporate clients. She is highly respected as a centrist candidate who has great intellectual credentials and wide experience.

She went to school at Princeton University (graduating Summa Cum Laudae) and then to Yale University Law School where she was well respected and was made an editor of the Law Review.

Judge Sotomayor was the Judge in New York who ended the Baseball Strike. Good for her. She is a lifelong baseball fan who grew up within walking distance of Yankee Stadium. She can be found eating a New York hot dog, much as she would also be found in a trendy New York restaurant.

She will be the first Supreme Court nominee who grew up in a housing project. Her parents were both from Puerto Rican families. She decided when she was ten years old that she wanted to be a judge, after watching Perry Mason. -- I also watched Perry Mason, but I am not a lawyer. Oh well, opportunity missed for me! Good for her.

Her father died just after she developed juvenile diabetes (age 9), and her mother supported her and her brother for the rest of their lives. Her mom was a nurse, and often worked two jobs. Her brother is now a physician.

We have no way of knowing, but she might be more of a civil rights advocate than a corporate advocate. This would be fitting as, if confirmed, she would be replacement for Judge David Souter. He has been an advocate of human beings, the people, most of America.

For those who are worried about "making law from the bench" which is code for supporting abortion, since she is also Catholic she is unlikely to be undoing any moral law from the bench.

Video of the announcement can be found here:

Video of her acceptance can be found here: