Federico Pistono's blog

My life - an infographic

I was tired of those boring resumes and curriculum vitae. I thought it might be worth a try with an infographic instead. I put all the relevant moments of my life in there. Hope you like it. =)

The full resolution is PNG,1400x4200px.

A Reflection on Zeitgeist: Moving Forward

A special treat for my readers. As guest blogger, my good friend Lorenzo G. wrote an excellent review and analysis of ZMF, and I wanted to share it with you.

On Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (read on scribd)
By Lorenzo G.

Just came back home from watching Zeitgeist: Moving Forward. I had expectations, interest in the matter, and have been involved in the Zeitgeist Movement for so me time lately -- mainly participating in online discussion and bi-weekly podcasts held by the Italian coordinator, my friend Federico Pistono.

What the movie showed was nothing I did not already know, apart from the results of studies on pre-natal learning and how mother-induced stress can eventually give rise to a person's susceptibility to addictive behaviour.

The movie really tries to involve the spectator by first establishing a bond with the audience (talking about human nature, our weaknesses, and thus 'touching' all or the majority of us sitting there). Then the flaws of the economic and monetary system were on display, making a link between 'us' and what the current situation of the world really is. Later on came 'hope', under the form of what could be a logically and scientifically plausible way of organising a complex human society. Then it was time for 'a solution', which later unfolded further by add ing criticism, addressing concerns and linking it back with the problems shown i n the first part of this long documentary. There is even a happy ending. All this keeps the audience emotionally involved and interesting, leaving them with a sense of hope as soon as the movie is over, yet with a slight bad taste in their mouth for all the cruel things we are doing to each other and our beloved planet.

This technique of involving the public emotionally is widely used and known to b ring good results, from political campaigns based on fear (as opposed to reason) to advertising. And for this exact reason the ideas behind Zeitgeist: Moving Forward and the whole Zeitgeist Movement are some of the most important cultural cornerstones that need to be brought forth and passed to the next generations. That is -- we "humans" are too susceptible to emotions to be good planners and good managers of ourselves and our environment. If a movie and not reasoning can reach us and make us feel 'wrong' in comparison to what we did to ourselves, if a simple movie can succeed where public awareness campaign and 'cold science' failed, well, then we are most definitively not the right kind of life form to take care of an entire planet. I am glad that in this case the persuasion techniques are put at use for a good cause -- mainly, to awake us. To open our eyes. Perhaps to push that tiny grain of sand that will make the pile crumble. But the implicit message here is, we are not rational beings. We can build rational machines, but we do not know how to make the needs of the many more important than the needs of the few, even when it comes down to survival of mankind on Earth. Hence, we need machines to take care of us. We need to outsource the management of our ecosystem to science and logic. And we need to do it quickly.

This planet had enough of politics and money that have caused all the sickness that is depicted in the movie. One passage struck me as particularly important: neither money nor politics have caused any good to humanity. People often say that well, thanks to money and the market we all have wealth and commodities that were not available before. This is just plain wrong. The causality does not go in that direction. In fact, the biggest inventions were done not for monetary gain . None of them. What brought us here, today, is the exponential explosion of technology and science and the availability of a cheap energy source. Ideologies and 'the market' have hindered science unless it can make a profit or can give a ruling elite more power.

Take those ideas even further, and what you have? Planned obsolescence (or "designed for the dump"). Counter-logic arguments such as a thing built do last is A Bad Thing, because then people would not want to buy a new one and keep the money flowing.

That is enough. We humans are very susceptible to the influence our body and our environment has on us; and logical reasoning does not apply to how we are using and abusing our world.

So who is going to do all the dirty work? Well, for the first time in history we can address this problem without involving slavery. In fact, not only I want a computer to manage my ecosystem, taking care of the extraction of resources in a way that does not overtake their replenishment; I also want machines to provide me with the food I need. I want to do what I have evolved to do, that is being a social animal, enjoying other people's company, learn, see patterns in nature and study them and eventually explore the rest of the universe because that is w ho I am. Technology can provide us food and resources, materials and transportation. I no longer need to exploit my peer or another human being.

Nor do I need to c are only for myself, for I am a social being. The economic system is doomed because it contains its own recipe for failure. It never accounted for a limited set of resources; and nobody imagined growth would decrease! But hey, guess what, the planet we live on is finite and is constrained by the laws of nature. Stock markets, trading, 'making money' over money is a natural nonsense. Nothing grows forever, it is said in the movie. Everything follows from this wrong assumption: stress, sicknesses, prisons, abuses, addictions, and most of the things that, when we seem them, a little voice in our head goes "this is wrong". Child abuse. Starving populations. Violence, war, famine, deaths totally preventable with simple cures.

So what, we often ask ourselves, what will we do when we won't have to work any more? Will we all sit and watch TV and become obese blobs or turn to violence an d boredom? Two are the answers to this criticism: first, remember when you were a child. You did not have "to do" anything, right? No work, no worries, just play. Explore. Learn. Imagine what your life could have been if you were not forced to sit in a school system that is designed like a factory, in a room full of kids your age as if the most important thing in learning is the year you were manufactured (or "born"), "learning" in a way that it did not really make sense and turned you away from the most fascinating subjects because of the way they were taught. Having to learn to pass tests, not for the sake of knowing. Imagine what could you be if you were not "forced" to work to pay for goods that for the most part allow you to go to work again, or to enjoy stuff that you need to get your head away from work. I personally would love to get back to my true self and live a second childhood, perhaps enjoying the true beauty of love for and from others and the caring of my own children, if I will be so blessed.

Secondly, we assume that we would become bored blobs of violent fat just because this is the world we know today and we assume we can't be different. We think t his is our human nature. We think that our worst, darkest sides are "what we are " just because that's all that you think it can be. And that is just plain wrong , because we are forgetting half of the picture. Violence emerges where there is social inequality, classes, envy, abuse. As far as I am aware of no scientific evidence suggests that violent blobs it is what we are. There is no 'genetic predisposition' in that. On the contrary; it's all about the environment we live and grow in. Moreover, through history the most resilient types of societies (the one that progressed unchanged through thousands and thousands of years) are tho se based on kindness, care-taking and sharing with others. Those where everyone is a peer. Capitalism, free market, labour, all of this has been around for too little time to prove its usefulness, and so far is showing to be too wrong to be sustainable.

I want to see a better world. I want my progeny to survive and they themselves to become a medium of progress and to make the world a better place. At the beginning of the movie there is a short story, that goes more or less like that: just like when you play monopoly, and you win everything that is there to win; when there is nothing left; then all goes into the box, where it has been well before you and well after you. Players come and go, the resources are limited. If we want to continue playing it's time to be responsible for what we do. To introduce reasoning into consumption. To refuse the folly that is unlimited growth, the process of making money and the destruction of our planet. To get back to what we are, because we can do better than that. And this is worth fighting for.


Human knowledge an infographic

The only real boundaries are the ones that we place on ourselves.

This infographic was inspired by Matt Might's post "The illustrated guide to a Ph.D."

Thanks to The Oatmeal for the style of presentation.

The full resolution is 1421x10500px, PNG format.

Update: Someone translated it into Castilian. :)


Khan Academy - an online, open school that really works

See video

Update 25/9/2010: some good news! @khanacademy awarded $2m from Google as part of 10^100 project http://is.gd/fqTy6 Sal, you deserve it! ♥

The internets is full of surprises. Every day something interesting comes out, and you feel like sharing links and stories. Facebook, Twitter, Google reader and alike have made this process fairly easy, so we do it quite often. But every now and then, you stumble upon something extraordinary, and boy you feel like taking the time to write a blog post about it.

In this case, it's not just a blog post. I shared this story everywhere I could possibly imagine: I posted it online, I talked with all my friends about it, and I presented it during my weekly podcast. Gather round children, this is the story of a man who is devoting his life for the benefit of all humanity.

In late 2004, Salman Khan began tutoring his cousin Nadia over the internet in mathematics using Yahoo!'s Doodle notepad. When other relatives and friends sought his tutelage, he decided it would be more practical and beneficial to distribute the tutorials on YouTube which he joined on 16 November 2006. At the time he was a Hedge Fund analyst, making quite a lot of money and in the process of becoming a successful businessman.

Money, power, stability. What more could anyone ask for?

Purpose. The conscience and the realisation that we are helping other people, building an emphatic civilisation, based on the sharing of scientific knowledge, for the betterment of humankind. Now, that's something worth waking up for in the morning.

He quit his job in late 2009 to focus on developing his YouTube channel, 'Khan Academy', full-time. Salman Khan is now considered internationally as an educator, who has produced (as of 2010) over 1600 videos elucidating a wide spectrum concepts in mathematics and the sciences in his home studio. His official channel, 'Khan Academy' has, as of July 2010, attracted more than 17 million views.

During an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2009, delineated his motive: 'With so little effort on my own part, I can empower an unlimited amount of people for all time. I can't imagine a better use of my time.' Programmes are being undertaken to use Khan's videos to teach those in isolated areas of Africa and Asia.

His videos proved popular, attracting, on average, more than 20,000 hits each. Students from around the world have been attracted to Khan's concise, practical and relaxed teaching method.

I bet you remember those times back in college, when you and your friends tried to figure out the intuition behind a concept, or how to solve a specific problem. It would take hours, four minds working non stop to find a solution, and a considerable number of headaches, when finally somebody screams "Eureka!" (or "Fuck yeah!", in some cases). He then explains the solution to the riddle to everybody else, which typically takes 10 minutes. Wouldn't it be great if you could just skip the 2 hours and have the teacher explain it in an intuitive and practical manner? I thought it was a mere dream, until I saw Khan's videos.

The whole story is absurd and fascinating at the same time. One guy who takes on MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, becoming more popular and appreciated than those established institution throughout the world? One person who wants to build the biggest online university, center for reason and science, by himself? Yep, apparently he's really doing it.

It's been a couple of years since I decided I wanted to learn chemistry. When I discovered MIT opencourseware and iTunes U I was blown away. Lessons from Stanford, Harvard and MIT recorded, available for free on the internet? Wow. I need to take some time off to learn a ton of subjects, I thought. But of course, that time never comes. I get back form work at 8 PM I feel exhausted, and while I enjoy keeping my brain working, I usually watch a TED talk or a conference from the Singularity University, but it's difficult to follow a course on Quantum Entanglement or Biochemistry at 11PM. With Khan's videos, in their 13 minutes format, I can enjoy learning any time of the day. At lunchbreak, on the train, after dinner, you name it.

The concepts are easy, very well presented, and I cannot stress this enough: it's intuitive. I've always been interested in why something happens, how does it work, what makes it work, what are the conditions under which it doesn't and so on. Anybody can apply a formula, especially computers. But can you derive the formula? Can you explain how did they came up with it? With the advent of Wolfram alpha, it becomes clear the inadequacy of the educational system. What matters most is the idea behind, the concept, the intuition.

I immediately started to follow the chemistry lessons, and I feel the excitement of discovery and understanding every time I watch one of his videos.

It all seems quite strange, but it makes a whole lot of sense if you contextualise it. The exponential growth of information technology and the advent of the free software movement lead to a groundbreaking shift in our mental paradigm: information is ever more accessible, reliable, and most of all free to all. GNU, Linux, Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Opencourseware, and now the Khan academy. It's a logical consequence of the exponential growth.

Salman expressed his desire to teach as many subjects as possible, possibly every subject. It surely crossed your mind the following question: who is this guy? What qualifies him to teach such a variety of subjects? Khan was valedictorian of his high school class and attained a perfect score in the math portion of his SATs. He has a Bachelor of Science in mathematics, another Bachelor in electrical engineering and computer science, and an Master of Science in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, he also holds an Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. And he's 33. He knows what he's talking about.

All I can say for to Salman now is: thank you, thank you, thank you. Don't ever stop, I will support you in any way I can.
To all of you: spread the word. It's really something that deserves everybody's attention.



When Microsoft calls..

Today, while at work, I received a call from Microsoft from a lovely lady. Here's how it went, more or less.

M$: "Hi, I'm calling on behalf of Microsoft customer service, we are doing a series of interviews in order to make our client's web experience better."
me: "Ah-ah."
M$: "I would like to ask you a few questions regarding the software you use and what kind..."
me: "So, this is basically a market research."
M$: "it's just an interview, we don't want yo sell you anything!" (laughs)
me: "OK, write this down then: we use only open source software, and we don't deal with companies that keep the source code closed."
M$: "So, you are not interested?"
me: "When and if Microsoft decides to release its source code, we might."
M$: "What do you mean 'source code'?" (she's confused)
(I pause for a few seconds)
me: "I mean the code the software runs on."
M$: "Could you hold the line for a minute please?"
(music runs on, me and my colleagues are rolling on the floor laughing)
M$: "Hi... ehm... nevermind, thank you for your time."

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