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Education Science

Feynman Lectures on Physics Vol. 1 Released in HTML Format 129 129

Dr. Richard Feynman's lectures on physics have been iconic standards of physics education for the past five decades. Videos of the series were put online at Microsoft Research a few years ago, but now the entirety of Volume 1 is available over simple HTML (mirror). In a letter to members of the Feynman Lectures Forum, editor Mike Gottlieb said, "It was an idea conceived many years ago, when through FL website correspondence I became aware of the many eager young minds who could benefit from reading FLP, who want to read it, but for economic or other reasons have no access to it, while at the same time I was becoming aware of the growing popularity of horrid scanned copies of old editions of FLP circulating on file-sharing and torrent websites. A free high-quality online edition was my proposed solution to both problems. All concerned agreed on the potential pedagogical benefits, but also had to be convinced that book sales would not be harmed. The conversion from LaTeX to HTML was expensive: we raised considerable funds, but ran out before finishing Volumes II and III, so we are only posting Volume I initially. (I am working on finishing Volumes II and III myself, as time permits, and will start posting chapters in the not-too-distant future, if all goes as planned.)"
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Feynman Lectures on Physics Vol. 1 Released in HTML Format

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  • And nobody is making a copyright claim?

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Trepidity (597) <> on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:46AM (#44841197)

      They have the agreement of the print publisher to produce this free online version. I'm actually somewhat surprised they got it; as the summary notes, they had to convince the publisher that having a free version available online wouldn't hurt print sales, which is often hard to convince publishers of.

      The thank-you section of the page lists:

      • Thomas Kelleher and Basic Books, for their open-mindedness in allowing this edition to be published free of charge
      • by fnj (64210)

        But isn't the copyright the property of Feynman's heirs? If not, why not? I am probably naive.

        • by EvanED (569694)

          This page [] says Caltech holds the copyright. Presumably they require(d) that faculty transfer copyright of works they did in the course of their employment to the university. My guess is that's probably standard provision for faculty, though I'm not positive.

          • by Anonymous Coward
            I don't know what the policy was when Feynman made that, but Caltech's copyright policy was (and still looks like) that copyright of books, papers, written work, and stuff related to classes remain with the author unless specifically funded by Caltech (above and beyond simply being an employee there). And when they do get the copyright, you get a portion of the royalties, or can chose to donate a portion of your share to research in a field you specify, and Caltech will match your contribution from their p
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        They have the agreement of the print publisher to produce this free online version. I'm actually somewhat surprised they got it; as the summary notes, they had to convince the publisher that having a free version available online wouldn't hurt print sales, which is often hard to convince publishers of.

        The thank-you section of the page lists:
        Thomas Kelleher and Basic Books, for their open-mindedness in allowing this edition to be published free of charge

        I guess it also helps that it isn't a book that's been

        • . . .

          I guess it also helps that it isn't a book that's been published recently - being an older title, sales are probably thin to begin with. An online copy can easily be a good marketing mechanism in that case.

          Still is #55,812 rank in Amazon book sales and that is just for the 2011 3-book commemorative set! I'm sure that this clear and somewhat comprehensive physics treatise will sell well long after I'm gone!

    • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

      by tloh (451585) on Friday September 13, 2013 @02:29PM (#44842725)

      I'll get to the copyright in a minute. But there is actually a huge bit of inaccuracy in the post. The videos at Microsoft research in *NOT* the Feynman lectures on physics. Those are actually a part of the Messenger Lectures recorded at Cornell in 1964 called "The Character of Physical Law" and preceded the Cal Tech undergraduate physics lectures which we now know as the Feynman Lectures on Physics.

      Bill Gates has long been a fan of the lesser known Messenger Lectures. As part of the drive to popularize Silverlight, he actually acquired the rights to "The Character of Physical Law" in order to be able to present them to the public using the Silverlight platform at Project Tuva. Not a bad move for like minded Feynman fans like me.

  • Conversion? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:17AM (#44840933)

    If they wanted to replace the "horrid scanned copies", and it was already in LaTeX, why not upload good PDFs?
    What a waste of money.

    • Re:Conversion? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EvanED (569694) <evaned@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:19AM (#44840953)

      Yeah, I had the same question.

      My guess is that it's the "book sales would not be harmed" qualifier, with the assumption that just posting good PDFs would harm sales and an HTML version wouldn't.

      I'm not sure how they got to that conclusion, but that's my guess anyway.

      • by fnj (64210)

        It may have something to do with stuff that can't be rendered properly in HTML. The web presentation is full of equations rendered like this:

        \begin{equation} \label{Eq:I:39:2} dW = F(-dx) = -PA\,dx = -P\,dV. \end{equation}

        I assume that is rendered as a proper equation in the hardcopy!

        The good news is that the web presentation is searchable ASCII text, which a bit-mapped scan would not be.

        • Re:Conversion? (Score:5, Informative)

          by RDW (41497) on Friday September 13, 2013 @12:52PM (#44841747)

          Browser issue? You should see the equations properly rendered by MathJax in the online version (maybe with a very brief delay before the sort of text you quote is replaced by an equation).

        • by fnj (64210)

          OK, I now found a cached version of the web page that actually works properly, and the equations are indeed rendered correctly.

          So why can't you just print the pages out to PDF? Would the result be considered "not good quality" PDF?

          • by EvanED (569694)

            So why can't you just print the pages out to PDF? Would the result be considered "not good quality" PDF?

            Nah... a printed web page will only print even remotely close to the quality of a real typeset book if a lot of effort was expended on creating CSS specifically for printing, and even then you probably can't get even all that good. (Could you even get a table of contents with page numbers? I dunno.) And that basically means that it wouldn't happen.

          • by rnturn (11092)

            ``So why can't you just print the pages out to PDF?''

            I'm guessing that the results wouldn't be very good.

            One could cut-n-paste the text from the web page into a LaTeX skeleton document and process the file as you would any other LaTeX document. (After editing to put in proper LaTeX chapter/section/subsection/figure/includegraphics/etc. markup tags, that is.) It would be a fair amount of work but doable for the motivated but cash-strapped (and ethically challenged) student.

        • FWIW, I clicked a chapter at (semi)random and saw what you did briefly, then apparently the embedded script parsed it because the page redrew with normal looking equations.
    • Or use this:
      htlatex feynman1.tex
    • by Bert64 (520050)

      And how can it be expensive? latex2html seems to work just fine...

      • You would deprive a fellow latex user of his easy exploitation of the ignorant who refuse to learn computing, whilst they also convince the publisher high quality online versions will not hurt sales?

        Personally, I hope they extract every last dime they can by running a terminal command and farting about the web for the other 8 hours of the day. However, I'm sure it has more to do with web formatting and hosting, links and other such things than getting paid to do nothing.

        Protip: In capitalist societies

      • The person who did much of the conversion work has commented in the Hacker News [] discussion of this, and explains why tools like latex2html were not good enough.

    • by xombo (628858)

      SEO most likely.

    • by rs1n (1867908)
      Because the good PDFs would harm the sales of the printed volumes. The HTML forms are better than bad scans, but not good enough to be printed out (like a high quality PDF) by folks who wish to capitalize in copyright infringement.
    • If they wanted to replace the "horrid scanned copies", and it was already in LaTeX, why not upload good PDFs?
      What a waste of money.

      or the LaTeX .DVI's

    • HTML works better in this case. PDF is better when you need the formatting to be the same on all the devices, but that is not the case here.

      With HTML, the user can adjust the size and have the text reflow, and can separately scale all the math (see the MathJax context menu on any equation to access the math scaling settings).

      For instance, the HTML edition is quite usable on even my iPhone, with my poor 50+ year old eyes. For a PDF to be usable on such a device, they would have had to format it in such a way

    • by ananthap (971180)
      PDFs are static in the sense that you can't change the page dimensions once you create the PDF. Imagine, if the PDFs were created in book format (2-up) and you had scroll up and down to read the the text. The problem would be worse for people on the move who have to use tablets. OTOH HTML .. The drawback with pure HTML (just HTML) is that it's not possible to bookmark a page. In the balance, I would prefer HTML. OK
  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:22AM (#44840995) Journal

    I assume this was expensive because TeX4ht wasn't up to the task. Was TeX4ht used as a starting point for the conversion tool? Is someone now maintaining an updated TeX4ht? Is the converter available in CTAN?

    Surely you didn't spend all this money having people manually convert one structural markup language to another, instead of investing in tools to do it automatically, right?

    • by fnj (64210) on Friday September 13, 2013 @12:58PM (#44841813)

      The TeX source for the equations is just embedded in the text of the page. The use Javascript to render them. I'm not sure why that was expensive.

    • Editing is more than just conversion or reformatting - it's also ensuring that the conversion/reformatting operated correctly and did not induce any errors snd that the process produced reasonable and useful output in the target format. (I.E. leave it Slashdot to concentrate on the 1% of the task that can be automated.) Editing is one of those thankless tasks, because done right it's invisible.

    • Afaict the problem is a practical latex document is likely to use a mixture of structural constants, "just put this where I damn well tell you to" constructs and constructs that while nominally strutural are being tweaked to make things look good on the printed page (for example moving a figure up or down in the text so it ends up on the page you want it on).

      An automated conversion is likely to produce something that is just about readable but a high quality conversion is likely to require human judgement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:23AM (#44840999)

    MathML for equations and SVG for diagrams. This is a quality transcription from the book to online.

  • aaand it's down

    • Quite abnormal, actually. Servers and connections are so beefy these days that the Slashdot effect is met only rarely.
    • Man this takes me back - it's just like the good old days of /., when we'd all head over to some small, random site and /. it. A nice, well-meaning site that had no idea about the tsunami of visitors they were about to be inundated with. Yep, those were good times :)
      • by cusco (717999)

        I remember one site replaced its home page with a static page that just said, "You assholes crashed my company's T-1". The good old days . . .

  • by tippe (1136385) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:49AM (#44841223)

    In addition to being a great physicist, Richard Feynman was also quite funny and a pretty big troublemaker in his day. What a great guy. If you get a chance, the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" is well worth the read.

  • I studied physics at 'A' level in the early 70's and also at University in 1975, but absolutely NONE of this work was available to me at all... and it predated my courses by a decade :(...
    • by cellocgw (617879)

      What are you talking about? The 3 Red Books were published in 1964. If you couldn't get them, blame your own ignorance.

  • by vm146j2 (233075) on Friday September 13, 2013 @12:34PM (#44841565)

    If anything screams kickstarter, this is it.

    • by MacTO (1161105)

      I wonder how much the rights holders would want to release the Feynman Lectures into the public domain, or a CC license that will ensure free access to this text.

      After all, the Feynman Lectures cannot be that valuable to them. While it is widely recognised, it is definitely directed towards people specializing in physics and engineering. As far as I know it's rarely used as a course text either (age, lack of supporting curricular materials, etc.).

  • "In other words, there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics."

    Many philosophers would disagree with that.
    • If you want to get technical, yes; he makes the logical assumption that there exists some objective reality, and that human perceptions are correlated to that reality. That's kind of the whole basis for the study of physics.
  • Have there been any discoveries in physics in the nearly fifty years since its publication that make any of the lectures, well, less than correct? Or can the intrepid autodidact dive right in and take it all at face value?

    • by amaurea (2900163)

      I just read the chapter on symmetry, and that is a bit out of date in that while it correctly explains that parity symmetry is broken, it still incorrectly claims that parity-charge symmetry holds, which we now know is false.

      The lectures are very educational and engagingly written, so I recommend that you give it a go anyway. If you take it all on face value, you will end up with only a very few, minor misunderstandings.

  • It could do with a tad of CSS sprinkling.

  • The original post refers to the videos being available. This seems to be a common error. The link points to the Messenger Lectures given at Cornell in 1965(?). As far as I know, the videos are not (legally) available online.
    • I couldn't tell you where the link points as Microsoft appears to be playing toddler games with Google again. I'm getting a screen cap of the Silverlight with the message "Sorry, Silverlight for your browser is not officially supported." Of course I have Silverlight for Chrome installed. Click on the link provided and am told:

      The version of Silverlight installed is: Silverlight 5 (5.1.20513.0) You are ready to use Microsoft Silverlight

    • by velleity (2992993)
      I forgot to mention that Feynman's Messenger Lectures were the basis of the book "The Character of Physical Law."
  • LaTeX to bystroTeX [] should be easy, although I do not yet have a working converter. BystroTeX [] produces HTML. The syntax of bystroTeX is Racket Scribble [], it is very similar to LaTeX so writing a converter should be more or less straightforward.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday September 13, 2013 @02:41PM (#44842851)

    Hi. I teach undergraduate physics. If you're a clever high school or early college student interested in physics, you may have heard of Feynman, and you may have heard physics people give rave reviews of the Feynman lectures. And hey, he intended these lectures as a first-year college physics course, so that's perfect for you, right?

    Wrong. This is not the right place to start learning physics. Feynman has some beautiful insights about how introductory physics concepts connect to "real" modern physics, and a way of cutting through the red tape to elegantly explain concepts in ways that make experienced physicists drool. But that's not what you need. You need the red tape. You need to learn to apply concepts to real situations, you need to get buried in the algebra, trig and calculus and dig your way back out again. Feynman won't help you about that.

    Feynman's Lectures on Physics represent how an experienced modern physicist would teach introductory physics to a roomful of other professional physicists. Feynman was a genius, but his lectures are designed to impress, not to teach. You should absolutely read it, and you will love it, later in your career. But start with a more traditional textbook.

    • by mgscheue (21096) on Friday September 13, 2013 @02:59PM (#44843007) Homepage

      Bruce Sherwood, who taught a course using the Feynman Lectures as a textbook, has some interesting comments, saying that it went quite well for him.

    • by bogjobber (880402)
      You are correct that Feynman's books are insufficient to learn introductory physics, but the lectures were only one part of the curriculum. From Feynman's Preface:

      "The lectures form only part of the complete course. The whole group of 180 students gathered in a big lecture room twice a week to hear these lectures and then broke up into small groups of 15 to 20 students in recitation sections under the guidance of a teaching assistance. In addition, there was a laboratory section each week...

      The reason t

  • That's all I have to say really, thank you :)

  • Despite the accolades from some, Feynman's lectures are far from clear and perfect. What would be more exciting is a collaborative website for adding comments to this online version to work through the kinks.
    • by lpq (583377)

      This is conversion to HTML?

      The other coefficients are only a little more difficult. To find them we can use a trick discovered by Fourier. Suppose we multiply both sides of Eq. (50.2) by some harmonic functionâ"say by $\cos7\omega t$. We have then \begin{alignat}{2} f(t)\cdot\cos7\omega t &= a_0\cdot\cos7\omega t\notag\\ &\quad + a_1\cos\hphantom{1}\omega t\cdot\cos7\omega t &&+ b_1\sin\hphantom{1}\omega t\cdot\cos7\omega t\notag\\ &\quad + a_2\cos2\omega t\cdot\cos7\omega t &

  • by alexo (9335)

    The MS research videos [] do not seem to load.

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