This Revolution needs a Revolution

Yesterday I went with my wife and son to visit the Victoria & Albert’s Museum exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. The aim of the exhibition was quite clear:

How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today and think about the future?

I was very much looking forward to visiting the exhibition. It is SO timely, and SO needed, I thought.

After visiting it, I left enraged. Why? After all, it was very well “put together”, full of artifacts and information, with a fancy sound system, and beautifully arranged and orchestrated.


More importantly, it was not a nostalgic attempt at regurgitating old revolutionary slogans.

What enraged me is how co-opted the whole collection felt. How all those efforts and sacrifices, how all that energy and suffering from past revolutionaries, has been assimilated by the system.

From the ® Registered slogans to the “no photographs” signs at the entrance (to which I, OF COURSE, paid no attention to whatsoever):

® slogan!

To the texts denouncing powerful corporations and states controlling Western media making it difficult to broadcast alternative opinions. You don’t say??!! How about adding “even museums”?

You don't say??!!

Of course, the whole thing had a watered down flavor, “ready for the masses to consume it” (at over£17 or over $20 per ticket). Not just because of the large dedicated-store (“Exit through the gift store” as Banksy brilliantly highlighted), where many appealing objects were for sale for nostalgics and revolutionary wannabes.

Interesting mash up poster

But also for the paternalistic tone of the whole exhibition, surgically isolating issues (identity, sexuality, peace, music, fashion…), even (correctly) including the new contemporary totemic theological substitute: technology.

Origins of Personal Computers

I was very happy and proud to tell my son that his grandmother was in Paris throwing cobblestones to the police in the student revolts of 1969; that his grandfather took me, when I was a little kid, to see a forbidden theater play during Spain’s democratic transition, fearing the secret police repression; that I participated as a kid in discussions with adults about anarchism and communism, when both were outlawed in Spain; and that I have participated in some of the revolutions and protests that came in the decades after that.

I’m not angry because they took “my” revolutions and repackaged them for easy digestion by accommodating masses. That was foreseeable, and an obvious result of the reigning empire of consumerist capitalism.

I’m not even nostalgically refusing to accept that times have changed.

What really annoyed me and made me angry was the lack of reference to a combative present, to the continuation of the struggle.

The fact that they showed, at the end of the exhibition “How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today” but completely left out “and think about the future” is what enraged me. Particularly as Trump is president in the USA, May PM in GB, the PP rule Spain, the far right advances in France…

We need to remember that the fight is not over, that fascism is not only back, but stronger and more powerful than ever. We, all of us, and the institutions that serve us, including museums, have a duty to promote thoughtful debate around ethics and values, and fiercely protest and fight through self-organisation, unity, and collaboration. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to those who fought for us in the past, we owe it to those who will come after us.

If the urban bourgeoisie wants to be the first to fall under the boot of the oppressors again, so be it. If proto and pseudo-intellectuals endlessly self-delude themselves into thinking that our democracies and institutions will save us from authoritarian demagogues, fascist megalomaniacs, and our own blind pursuit of endless consumerism, so be it. In the meantime, I will be teaching my children about the struggle and participating in the smartest and most effective way I can.

My artwork “God bless #Amurika”, on display at the Ludwig Museum (Cologne), explained

I have often criticized artists who hide behind “my work speaks for itself” or “it’s up to the viewer to interpret my work”. Nice try, but that’s bullshit.

Of course, anyone can interpret anything when exposed to an artwork! But the artist should at least make an attempt to explain the meaning behind a piece. No matter how self-explanatory (or obscure) it might be. It’s not “restricting the viewer”, it’s guiding; suggesting is not imposing.

I don’t buy “that’s not my job” or “I’m not good with words” either. Because if you can’t eloquently and intelligently express your thoughts and actions, I may enjoy your work under that framework (Art Brut, Outsider, or whatever), but I want to know. And no, I don’t want your dealer, curator, or critic to speak for you. Don’t let the establishment sequester your voice, your genius, your creativity, with the promise to make it shine and propel it to heights you can’t reach yourself: anything you do yourself is genuine, and therefore it has the maximum value… unless you are talking about money, of course. But that’s a whole different story. We are talking art here, expression, not market or money.

So back to my own work.

Like David Shrigley, an artist whose work I really like, I often find myself using hand written words all over my pieces.

I created “God bless #Amurika” on the invitation of Ludwig Contemporary Art Museum’s Art Lab in Cologne (Germany), November 9, 2016. Of course, I woke up with the nightmare news of Donald Trump being elected President of the USA. I could not think about anything else, I had to let the thoughts, feelings, fears and anxieties that the news provoked in me, out. I needed to fix them down, to exorcise them out of me, and to share them with a world that for the most part does not seem to be listening, and does not seem to care.

First I took the silhouette of a flying dove, symbol of peace and freedom, and added a cardboard cutout of spectacles pencil-painted green over it.

Notice that the spectacles do not have lenses (in the form of a different color, reflection, or any other hint suggesting their presence), so they are an intention, a symbol, rather than an actual mechanism that may be manipulated or become a restrictive thought framework.

But the spectacles themselves are the key: they are commonly associated in most cultures with science, education, knowledge, and culture.

That’s what the “dove” desperately needs, in order to fly high and above, to soar to the clouds. In order to remain free.

Inside the dove silhouette I wrote:

  • God bless #Amurika: “God”, in its broadest sense, not as much as spirituality, but as an undefined deity. That to which the irrational mind appeals (“bless”) to try to participate in a development over which it feels it has no control, but it wishes it did. Note the use of the “hashtag symbol” to denote current communication affected by social media, particularly the 140 character restriction imposed by Twitter, and the “subject ontology tagging” brought by the hashtag, which both focuses and narrows our conversations messages. “Amurika” is another reference to current departures from traditional communications, where proper form is superseded by intentional (or not) spelling mistakes and phonetizations.
  • #WhiteLash: the main real reason for Trumps’ Electoral College (not popular vote) victory. The extreme and irrational Republican Party opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency, amplified by ultra-conservative media, received by millions of latent (and even open) racist Americans has generated the perfect environment for a “WhiteLash” reaction.
  • #Trumpf: in reference to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show covering Trump’s family name and how it changed upon entering the U.S. from Drumpf to Trump, so #Trumpf became a calling for further inquiry into Trump’s (and his family’s) past. More info here.
  • Misogyny votes / Fear votes / Racism votes / Ignorance votes / Short sightedness votes / Selfishness votes: all those negative states of mind, personality traits, ways of thinking, ways of life… however you want to characterise it, is nothing else than, in the end, people. People fear. People are weak and vulnerable. People have fear. People are irrational and aggressive. And people vote.
  • But don’t attack voting, invest in education: and as the last line says, it is not necessarily voting that represents the problem. Voting is just an expression and tally of a choice (albeit a limited one in the case of a two-party election). Representation IS the real problem: when the vote goes to an intermediary. When your choice, your individuality, is aggregated, reduced, limited, and kidnapped by those who, enshrined in the “representative role they have been chosen to play”, amass power to abuse those whom they are supposed to represent, which again produces fear, anger and… here we go again. How to break that vicious cycle? Education. Educate people, and once they are educated, they can inform, debate, and choose freely, and directly, without the need of any intermediary. Direct Democracy. True Democracy.

Where is that dove, the embodiment of our aspirations, a quasi-spiritual figure, is trying to fly to?

In Cloud 1 I wrote:

  • Philosophy: the highest achievement of human self-consciousness. So lacking in political or scientific debate. So necessary as guiding light and principle of our social contracts and personal aspirations.
  • “Beliefs”: in brackets because it is a double-edged sword of a concept. On the one hand, beliefs are what hold us together through the gaps in knowledge. It’s what completes our rational structures to make a polished whole of each one of us. It’s nothing short of our identities. But at the same time, any gregarious movement of organized abuse (call it religion or politics) has often referred to “beliefs” as the reason and driving force behind their actions.
  • Pursuit: because no cloud is a destination, and there is no destiny other than to pursue. Or like the Zen koan puts it: the journey is the reward.
  • Improve: it is what should happen in that journey, constant improvement, aspiring to go higher. Not to trump anyone, but to gain perspective and understanding.
  • Aspire: what will drive that improvement. Not “ambition”.
  • Pride: not the kind that gives us a wrong and rotten feeling of superiority in an artificially stratified society, but the kind that we feel inside, when we overcome challenges, when we improve compared to our previous self. As “we” are always changing, for we are what we want and mean to be.
    Inspire: because, in the end, we are a group (society, species, family, ‘hood… however you look at it). And our well-being can only come from the well-being of all the members in the group. We should and must take care of each other, helping propel each other higher and higher.

In Cloud 2:

  • Happyness (I always thought it should be spelled that way, so I wrote it the way I like it): so personal, so clearly recognizable, so important, that it should drive all our actions. But not only our individual “happyness”, but ensuring the “happyness” of all.
  • Facts / “Truth”  / Data / “Reality”: we could go on and on about Epistemology, but at the end of the day, if we do not share a common illusion, we can not work together.
  • Debate / Science: to me, both are the same. To science needs debate, and there is no debate without science. But that is the only way for us to coordinate and move forward.
  • Equality / Share: Didn’t they tell you as a kid? Share. When did we stop thinking that was a good idea? When did “the other” become someone to be worried about, or even scared of? When will we realize that there is no “other”, that we are all “we”?

At the bottom, inside a “speech balloon”, I wrote:
Thank you Obama, but it was not enough
Because if we are to remain in a representative democracy, Michelle Obama might make a great president.

I added my signature, and for the date I wrote:

The day the USA woke up to reality: Nov. 9, 2016

Notice how in the picture I wrote all that in ALL CAPS to reflect the common online practice of using all caps convey a scream. A scream because this election has been more about shouting than it has been about reasoning. And because I want to shout, to scream in a different way: to reach the world, to spread the message. Finally a scream as a primal instinct. A shout because it hurts, because I’m angry, because I need to shout.

That’s, in a nutshell, what I meant, what I wanted to say.
Good luck and good night.

Interview for the art exhibition that I have curated and is currently being shown in Kaunas, Lithuania

By Airida Rekštytė – November 4, 2016

According to your profound theoretical education (sic) it will not be difficult to present us in short your intentions for organizing this event.

When did the idea of making this exhibition occur and what inspired it?

I have spent years as activist defending free software and online privacy, and opposing censorship.
During a dinner with the director of an event that focuses on those themes (the Internet Freedom Festival, also known as Circumvention Festival), I told him how it would be a nice challenge to try to convey the main messages of the Festival’s themes into an art exhibition. And he said, let’s do it!

What is your personal relationship with the internet and its possibilities? Have you encountered limitations for your freedom? Do you think this is an issue in democratic countries?

I have been an early adopter of technologies since I can remember, and most of my companies are or have been technology-based.
Internet freedom is under constant threat, not only in undemocratic societies, but also by democratic governments and their “intelligence” organizations worldwide. The main example is all we have learned about the US government and the NSA spying on not only their citizens but also other countries (their allies), thanks to Edward Snowden.

In internet space you declare that you are in opposition to the concept of Intellectual Property. How would you describe your attitude? In what sense your views affect this exhibition?

I used to lecture on “Intellectual Property” (as an Assistant Professor in Spain, and as a Visiting Professor in 60 universities worldwide), and my lectures lasted hours, so I will try to condense all that in a few paragraphs 😉
Intellectual “Property” is wrong both from a conceptual level and a practical level.
From a conceptual level, it is an oxymoron, as “intellectual” can not be “property”, since all intellectual activity emanates and feeds from previous intellectual activities. It is culture and communication. It can not be “fenced”, and “packaged”. It is as absurd as saying “my son” or “my neighbor” is “mine” (as a possession). Just like contemporary societies reject the notion of slavery, we should reject the notion of “intellectual property”.
In the same way, from a practical level we can not and should not rely on a “temporary monopoly” as a way to incentivize the creation of artistic and/or intellectual works. Both the “temporary” (term which is being constantly increased and is now way above anything remotely reasonable) and the “monopoly” (which has been proven to be counterbenefitial to society and the economy) are deeply wrong and flawed.
Does that mean that “content creators” and “artists” and “authors” should not receive monetary compensation for their efforts? Not necessarily. What it means is that the current methods to try to achieve that only create artificial scarcity and the restriction of freedom and culture.

Behind each artwork there is a story and a reason why it is in this collection. It would be interesting to know your motivations, but perhaps it would take too long for you to answer. I would like to ask you about Patricija Gilyte since she has many fans in Lithuania. What was your motivation for picking her? How would you relate her to your topics?

I first saw her work in an Art Show in London, and I automatically knew she had to be part of this exhibition. I know an artist and her work is really especial when I want to write a book about it.
“TRI_GALAXIAN L4116” in particular is uniquely exquisite. It has a balance, a rhythm, and a whole flow that asks to be translated to narrative, to dance, to any other form, so it can take a life of its own.
At a surface level it makes you wonder, it intrigues the viewer, and opens up possibilities as to what is it that you are witnessing, while enjoying it all along. And I think it is that mix of wonder and pleasure that really attracted me to her piece.
I see “TRI_GALAXIAN L4116” as the embodiment of intangible and ethereal Diversity.
Diversity is a hotly debated cultural issue. Whether we are talking workplace or demographically. But it relates to much more than that. And I wanted an artwork that took the conversation beyond the current limitations of the “Diversity” discourse.

Finally, which artwork is your favorite and better represents the idea of exhibition?

I have a very rational approach to encompass systemically both ethics and aesthetics. For that reason, I refuse to restrict myself unless absolutely necessary. So I have not thought about “a favorite”. But if I was absolutely forced to select one, I would have to consider it from different points of view:

– Concept: “Juego” by Mery. It has the subversive power of technology hidden under an apparently traditional painting.
– Artist: Claudio Zirotti. I really like how he has, for decades, continuously explored new artistic venues, refusing to limit himself to a single medium, style or message.
– Aesthetics: “TRI_GALAXIAN L4116″ by Patricija Gilyte. It’s absolutely mesmerizing and gracious. It’s the kind of work you fall in love with.
– History:”Jungle Emperor” by Osamu Tezuka. The story behind the controversy (plagiarism by Disney in “The Lion King”) is a fascinating story of inspiration, betrayal, aggression, and eventually history putting everyone in their right place.
– Playfulness: “[Fake] Banksy” by Dave Cicirelly. It’s a recursive play on Banksy’s playfulness.

Let’s pretend none of this ever happened

Walking towards my London Shoreditch office
to meet the Swiss investor and his impeccable suit,
leaving the City bankers’s coffee-holding fast pace behind,
I notice the absence nobody seems to
Where did he go?
His sleeping sack and pillow still on the sidewalk
as annoyingly positioned in the corner as always
But he’s gone
I wonder and I worry
his failing body, almost as absent as his lost gaze
with nobody to return it,
had been a constant and silent companion of my daily walk
We never spoke, but we connected
He needed help that I did not offer
but he was also longing for a contact that I did accept
with my eyes and my smile
He fed on that with desperate hunger
but I fear that could not keep his body alive
I look for him
Did he finally manage to gather enough crumbs in the form of coins
to enter the new temple of exclusive abundance
and be able to reach for an edible item that might keep him going for one more day?
Or did he perish, vanish, and was removed out of our sight and our path?
In that case they did not remove him from my life, from my heart,
where you all live, far away from me
As my gaze, still in the lookout, turns the corner
in the hopes that he’s defacing the wall with his urine,
I see the ultimate social irony:
inside the Bloomberg Space
a neon sign
someone most definitely put up for me today
“Let’s pretend none of this ever happened”

The romantic poet in me stops there
no more words, no more thoughts,
the insulting irony has spoken, in obvious terms, to nobody
But I can not
let it go
and enraged with fury and disbelief
I go on
determined as I always was
to subvert the system
to penetrate it, hack it, and milk it
for then I will have the dirty tools the system uses to turn our alienation against us
And then the day will come when we will see each other as one, and the world will be full of “us”,
as there will no more “them”,
and then I will be gone
for my job will be done
I see you
open your eyes
35000 decisions a day
this is the one
I’m not hiding
Hello Mr. Banker
here’s my soul
give me the tools
to obliterate your world
and free you all

“Big Bang Data” and “Tintin” exhibitions at Somerset House, London

Yesterday we went to see a couple exhibitions at Somerset House, in London.

The first exhibition we saw was “TINTIN: Hergé’s Masterpiece”. Basic but obviously appealing, it was too crowded to be enjoyable.

The second one was “Big Bang Data”.

While undoubtedly interesting, especially for someone who works in, teaches, and loves bid data and technology like myself, to me the most interesting aspect of this exhibition is that everyone who was there had already experienced the subject. Even more, we are all part of it. We generate that “big data”, we process it, we benefit from it, and we are abused through it. Furthermore, most of the works exhibited had been featured in mass media outlets. Such as the outdated but nonetheless striking Debtris

So, what’s the role of such a very well curated and exhibited collection of works in today’s world?

Art exhibitions can have many functions and serve many purposes. I won’t talk about it here now, for there are already countless books and debates revolving around such a complex subject. But it is obvious that as digital communications break the physicality barrier, any objectual gathering of non-physical content can be deemed irrelevant.

Romantics, demagogues, luddites, and even some anthropologist will persistently demand a return to material in the age of the digital. Yet, as an evolving organism, shouldn’t we embrace digital in digital form? shouldn’t we adapt our experiential expectations to the possibilities that digital content allows? I completely support Bret Victor’s point of view on the matter.

Food for thought as I look forward to #Utopia2016: celebrating the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s inspirational text. A year of artists, designers, provocateurs and thinkers experimenting with ways we might live, make, work and play.

Tate Modern curating methodology

December 2 I went to the Tate Modern with the whole family, since my mother-in-law was visiting from overseas.

I really like how it is set up according to concepts, rather than chronologically, by artists, or by styles. It feels more like an art gallery (which it is) than a museum. It puts things into the subjective focus of the curator. I wonder how much the artists themselves would agree with the collection parameters, but it definitely is a welcome departure from the more traditional museum logic.

After all, if we are to accept the subjectivity inherent in an artist’s piece, why should we be afraid of taking it one step further and let the curator do a “double take” on that interpretation?

I stood up against a terrorist in a German train

Yesterday, after spending the day at a tradeshow in Düsseldorf, on my way by train to the hotel in Mülheim, I stopped in the town of Duisburg, which was on my way, because I heard they were setting up a Christmas market. The market was indeed being set up, but it was still closed, so I decided to go back to the station. To avoid the sprinkling rain I took the 901 tram at König-Heinrich Platz.

From the window I saw three kids (around 12-13 year old, I guess) wearing some team sports uniform, laughing and rushing onto the tram. They were not particularly disrespectful or anything, but one man standing in the platform (tall pale and bolding German, around 40 years old) apparently didn’t think so, because they did not let a woman board the tram before them. Some of us appreciate old-fashioned manners more than others, but it is hardly a crime, anywhere in the world, to not let a woman board a train ahead of you… specially when you are a pre-teen or teenager, so commonly unaware of your surroundings.

So this man started screaming at the kids. I saw that out of the three kids (two white and blonde, the other one middle-eastern looking), he was only screaming at the foreign-looking one. My German is not too good, but I picked up words like “schwein” (cerdo), “mohr” (moorish, used pejoratively for “muslim”), “Paris”, “terrorist”… You did not need a PhD in Germanic Languages to understand what was going on there: an obviously mentally unstable person, directing xenophobic fury at the wrong “target”.

Had my German been better, I would have told this person that while I defend his freedom of speech, that is no way to address a kid. Or anyone for that matter. Since I could not communicate in his language, I did not say anything, but remained alert, fearing things could get worse. And they did.

This man held the automatic tram door, preventing the departure on time, while his screams got louder, his tone more aggressive, and his body language more menacing.

I was at the other end of the tram-car, but I looked around and nobody did anything. The car was full of people, most of them German looking. But they all acted as if that was not happening. Some looked around the platform, as if looking for the police, or some “authority”.

I have found, excuse my gross generalization, that while the English are to a large degree “conformist”, the Germans are to a large degree “obedient”. Had the police, or any other form of formal authority been there, things would have gone completely different. But upon lack of authority, brutality and submissiveness took over. Sorry to sound so obvious, but let’s keep in mind the dangerous results that mixing the “wrong” circumstances, xenophobia, ignorance, and mindless acceptance can produce.

At this point, seeing that nobody else was doing anything at all to stop this violent escalation, I got up from my seat, walked across the car, and positioned myself between that kid and the aggressor. The man kept holding the door and shouting at the kid as if I was not there. Everybody else remained still.

Then, a good four minutes into this non-sense, and after having gestured several menacing signs (“cut throat”, “fist smashing”, etc), the man, who was still in the platform, reached into the car, holding the kid’s uniform and pulling towards him trying to get him out of the car and onto the platform.

This is what I call a “terrorist”. Someone with the intent to instill terror in others, particularly to prove a point or avance a particular ideology. If you find the use of this word not appropriate, ask yourself about state-sponsored terrorism, or about the constant mis-use of the term “terrorism” by the media (western or eastern) or politicians.

That was the line, that was it. I grabbed the man’s hand, twisted it (I think my Aikido sensei, years ago, used to call this “sankyo”), kicked him in the chest, and knocked him onto the platform.

Free from the man’s hold, the doors automatically closed and the tram moved on. Nobody did or said anything. Nobody even looked at me. Not even the kid.

I have witnessed and suffered my share of violence throughout the years, but what struck me the most was not a demented criminal, a “terrorist” attacking a “victim”. What struck me the most was the appalling passivity of everyone in that train.
What’s happened to us? When did we become “lambs”? Have we always been “lambs” (whether “God’s”, “the crusade’s”, or “Bush’s”)?

What happened to idealism, utopia, values and beliefs? How can an agnostic like me have more “beliefs” (or at least be more willing to act on them) than the church-going and flag-rallied crowd? What do we think we have to loose, that makes us fear helping others? How can we be so blind in not seeing that inaction will cause us more harm than putting ourselves in harm’s way to defend our values and ethics (not “morals”)?

We are so full of ourselves. We talk non-stop about modern western civilization’s grandeur. I consider myself a liberal free-thinking humanist and peacifist. We are so proud of our humanism, our liberalism, or democracy, our liberty, our rights… but all those are little more than nice sounding ideals, tergiversated and manipulated by politicians, corporations and mass media.

Is John Gray right when he talks about “The Human Animal”, the “Homo rapiens”? When I look around me, that is what I see.
But a Zen monk once told me while sipping some green tea in Japan: “we are what we choose; not so much what we do, or even why we think we chose it”. Some contemporary information technology theories, behavioral neuroscientists, as well as some metaphysical philosophers, would agree with that to a surprising large extent.

So I chose. I chose to stand up.

Sankeien Garden Yokohama

Friday I only had one meeting scheduled late, so I decided to brave the very foggy and rainy day and venture forth to the Sankeien Garden. It was out of the way, but I read great things about it, so not caring about pictures not turning out OK or getting lost, or getting wet, I went anyway.

I can only assume that the place was mostly empty because of the suboptimal weather, but I was very very happy to walk around there almost by myself.

Words escape me to describe that place. Paradise on Earth. Where my soul belongs to. Where I must have lived in a previous life if there is such a thing… the feeling of belonging, peace, harmony, and happiness that I felt was that strong.

I went around for a long while, awe struck, with my jaw open, before noticing that I was not taking any pictures. And this is the kind of place that makes you seem like a photographer because there is no wrong angle. Everything is absolutely perfect. Beyond perfect.

In every old building (4 of them considered “national treasures”) I marveled at every detail. Luckily in one of them I met the director of conservation, who told me in a very good English, many interesting facts about the customs in eras gone by, the way the tools were built and used, what daily life was like back then… Quite a learning experience.

But it was not about the facts, it was all about the feelings. Truly spiritual, and I don’t consider myself to be spiritual, perhaps as a reaction to 14 years of education and strict discipline in a Catholic school for boys. I felt and understood both Zen and Shintoism there. Musk seemed to speak to me. Stones felt like they had a soul. Trees were my brothers. And crows, frogs, cranes, spiders, cats, ducks, carps, and all the animals there seemed to welcome me to their world. Because no matter how menacing and destructive the factories on the other side of the highway seemed, this is not “our” world. And we are delusional fools to believe otherwise.

I sat for hours, literally, in front of a house on a lake, visualizing my living there, with my loved ones. Can love be enhanced or diminished by place? I never thought so, but perhaps a harmonious environment enhances emotions, and makes us more sensitive to them. Like waves amplifying each-other through synchronization (not overlapping). After all, it’s all energy. We are information processing and communication carbon units. We transform energy.

At one point, standing next to the most magnificent small waterfall I have ever been close to, and listening to its murmur, I felt like I was melting, melting away, and becoming one with the ground under my feet. Then I realized that I was getting completely soaked from the rain. And I did not mind. I was not afraid of “catching pneumonia”, I had no need to run away from the falling drops. Just like the spiders hanging in there, waiting for the rain to stop, so they could rebuild their nets, I was standing there, stoically, waiting for the rain to stop so it would not distort the net picture. That was it, no frustration, no fear, no sadness…

All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. – Roy

I could go on about the feelings and sensations, about the couple dressed in traditional clothes for their wedding pictures, the old lady with whom I had a green tea by the lake, the salamander who found a way into an emergency light casting it’s silhouette for me to see as if it was a kabuki show, the stone lantern that is said to have saved the life of a tea master, or the brutal simplicity of one of the first Zen temples… but how could I ever communicate that with you? How can that be shared?

The curse of being alone again, of wishing to share to make the experience full. And this is how I understand that we are not isolated “brains”, but communicated “beings”. And that’s why selfish self-centered and destructive individuals who disregard the community are the biggest threat we face… along an artificial and forced “community” where a concentrated structure of power works to the benefit of the few, feeding on the suffering of the many.

No matter how much I enjoy being completely alone, I was born to share.
So I will try the haiku that came to my mind in those hours of contemplation:

Four Oxford Alumni Weekend lectures

[More pictures here]

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to attend Oxford’s Alumni Weekend with my son.
I knew he would not be the only teenager there, but I was surprised to see kids even younger than him accompanying their parents. The truth is that I wish I had brought him earlier. I’ll try to bring my daughter to the next one.
Besides the obvious networking opportunity, the true pleasure was to attend interesting lectures delivered by top academics, and to see my son actually interested in those lectures!

The first one was “Innovation in Healthcare: Drug Discovery, Digital Development and Adoption within the NHS” at the Saïd Business School, by Prof. Charles Bountra (Translational Medicine), Prof. Lionel Tarassenko (Electrical and Electronic Engineering), Dr. Dan Lasserson (As. Prof. Primary Care Health Sciences), and chaired by Dr. Nick Scott-Ram (Dir. of Commercial Development, Oxford Academic Health Science Network).
I took many notes, since I also have a professional interest in the subject. Here are some, in no particular order:

  • A study identified the 521 molecules being studied as potential new medications in 2002. 10 years later 45 of those molecules made it to the market, and 95 were still in research. The 381 remaining were discarded
  • In the UK 350,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer every year
  • Today there are 71 medications available to treat tumors. They increase the life of patients by an average of only 2.1 months at a very high cost, and only 30 have any clinical relevance
  • Diabetes and its implications account for 10% of the NHS budget
  • There are 7,000 identified “rare diseases”
  • The average time it takes innovation to reach patients is 17 years. Rather than “bench to bedside” is “bench to bookshelf”, since most innovation is done for publication purposes
  • The number of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus is rising rapidly. In Oxford the increase was 50% last year. It is expected to increase 100% in the next decade
  • Two changes that need to happen: patients WILL own their data whether clinicians or insurers want it or not; and there should be no difference between a GP (General Practitioner) and specialists
  • 30% of COPD and 25% of heart failure patients will be readmitted within 1 year
  • Every minute a stroke patient waits, she loses 2 million neurons
  • Thrombosis-busting drugs are effective 30% of the time; using stents for that is effective 85% of the time, but there is not enough trained people to perform that procedure

The second one was “Wild Weather – Is Climate Change Already Taking its Toll?” by Dr. Friederike Otto (Scientific Coordinator) at the School of Geography and the Environment (my son thought it was funny that it was at South Park(s) Road) / weather@home Notes:

  • What people care about is not the amount of water or precipitation, but the number and value of properties at risk
  • Many extreme weather events (especially heat waves and droughts, not so easy with floods and hurricanes) can be statistically demonstrated to be anthropogenic. Therefore there is a case for climate justice / damage liability. Poor nations that suffer those events are asking Oxford to help them build a case to take large industrialized countries to court
  • Extreme weather events have serios short term implications, like geopolitical unrest and the economic effect (for example insurance companies), but there are others, like new barriers or regulations
  • Example of a study: heat waves in Serbia would occur every 80 years naturally, but they actually happen every 10 years due to the anthropogenic effect

After the lunch break, we attended the lecture titled “The Quest for Artificial Intelligence” back at the Saïd Business School. It was delivered by a panel consisting of Prof. Michael Woolrich (Head of the Computer Science Dept.), Prof. Nando de Freitas (Computer Science and Google Deep Mind), Prof. Stephen Pullman (Computational Linguistics), and chaired by Dr.Cecilia Tilli (Academic Project Management – Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology). Here are some notes:

  • Our brain consumes 40W of energy, like a lightbulb. No AI comes even close to that energy efficiency
  • The basic circuit to build AI is built on Action + Reward + Observation (Memory and Computation)… just like our brain
  • 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents. Most are pedestrians
  • In 40 states in the USA the most common job is “truck driver”. Soon driverless vehicles will eradicate that job category. AI will also impact jobs like accounting, financial consultancy, and lawyers
  • Autonomous killing machines should be regulated and/or banned, just like land-mines are
  • The way healthcare is using data today is barbaric
  • The panel refused to speak about artificial consciousness, although they agreed it is a fascinating subject, one that they often talk about and debate… over a pint in the pub. Interesting work on consciousness done by Grigg and Koch
  • But here is is one thought I had during the lecture: IF intelligence derived, evolutionary speaking, from interpreting and adapting to moving stimuli, then Google Cars + Google Deep Mind… IF consciousness may be the result of quantum interference at the neural microtube level, then as micro electronic gets smaller and quantum effects start to take place… or maybe we could force the origin of artificial consciousness by introducing a reward mechanism for the “interpretation” (logical computation) of incomplete datasets (“reality”) thus forcing abstract flawed inference feedback into the machine learning algorithm…

Finally, before returning to London, we attended “From Quark to the Cosmos” a Particle-Astro Physics lecture by Prof. Ian Shipsey (Head of Particle Physics) held at the Department of Physics. The lecture itself was fascinating, although obviously it was all over the place given the subject (no pun intended). But the fact that there was a large section devoted to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), since one of its main components (“Atlas”) was developed and built at Oxford University, and the fact that one of the main engineers and architects of the whole LHC project was sitting in the first row, made it all the more exciting.
Again, here are some notes in no particular order:

  • The Higgs-boson is known as “The God Particle” because in an interview, before it was found, it was referred to by the scientist as “the god-damned particle we can’t find”, and the editor changed “god-damned” to “God”
  • The standard model of particle physics can predict events to 1/10 billion accuracy
  • 7^14 neutrinos pass through you every second. It would take 11 light years of solid lead to stop a neutrino
  • The Hubble Telescope looks at the equivalent area of space as the one that fits in the area circumscribed by holding a penny 25 meters above your head, due to its diameter. In that area there are 300 galaxies. The Universe is estimated to hold 100 billion galaxies
  • There are approximately 10^78 atoms in the Universe
  • Interesting: the periodic table of elementary particles
  • One atom is to an apple what an apple is to Earth, one subatomic particle is to a speck of dust what a speck of dust is to Earth
  • There is 5 times more dark matter than visible matter
  • The Universe is composed of 5% visible matter, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy
  • Mathematicians and Physicists think that the fact that clinical trials have to report a result as negative even if a secondary result is positive is absolutely crazy
  • Electricity (electron) + Magnetism = Electromagnetism (photon)
    Electromagnetism + Weak energy = Electroweak (Higgs-boson)
    Electroweak + Strong energy = Grand Unified Force / Supersymmetry or SUSY (dark matter)
  • How do we find dark matter… through asymmetry
  • Atlas is the largest digital camera in the world, inside the LHC. It’s as large as a cathedral, to be able to capture the smallest of events (particle reactions). It will be upgraded in 2023
  • It took 10,000 people from 60 countries to come up with the LHC. It produces the equivalent to 10,000 Encyclopedia Brittanica of data every second, which if recorded in CDs and stacked up it would reach 1.5 the hight of Mount Everest
  • The LHC has only run 1% of the collisions as of yet
  • There are 20 cells in a mm, 500,000 DNA, 500 billion atomic nuclei, and 10 trillion quarks
  • The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will discover more astronomic objects in one month than all previous telescope combined… and it will do it in movie format (not pictures, like current telescopes)

Networking at the CUNY President’s office

On May 6th, having just returned from quick trips to Cleveland and Atlanta, I attended with my wife the round table debate “Curiosity, Understanding, and Utility: Science and the Creative Economy” held at the City University of New York Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium.


William Bialek, director of the Graduate Center’s Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences, moderated a discussion with Jennifer Tour Chayes, distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research New England and Microsoft Research New York City; Fernando Pereira, research at Google; and Chris Wiggins, chief data scientist at the New York Times and faculty member in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics at Columbia University.


After the round table my wife and I were requested to join the panelist in a private reception at CUNY President’s Office, where we had the delightful opportunity to engage in very stimulating conversations. So much so that we did not even try the great looking sushi that was being served!

Interesting how two days later I was talking about those very same issues in a completely different setting: at Grace Hoadley Dodge Vocational High School, where I do volunteer work mentoring a Bronx teenager.