science

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.

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Human knowledge an infographic

The only real boundaries are the ones that we place on ourselves.
http://federicopistono.org

This infographic was inspired by Matt Might's post "The illustrated guide to a Ph.D."
http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures

Thanks to The Oatmeal for the style of presentation.
http://theoatmeal.com

The full resolution is 1421x10500px, PNG format.

Update: Someone translated it into Castilian. :)

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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.

References

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Debunking a Climate-Change denier

"The Danish political scientist Bjørn Lomborg won fame and fans by arguing that many of the alarms sounded by environmental activists and scientists — that species are going extinct at a dangerous rate, that forests are disappearing, that climate change could be catastrophic — are bogus. A big reason Lomborg was taken seriously is that both of his books, The Skeptical Environmentalist (in 2001) and Cool It (in 2007), have extensive references, giving a seemingly authoritative source for every one of his controversial assertions. So in a display of altruistic masochism that we should all be grateful for (just as we're grateful that some people are willing to be dairy farmers), author Howard Friel has checked every single citation in Cool It. The result is The Lomborg Deception, which is being published by Yale University Press next month. It reveals that Lomborg's work is 'a mirage,' writes biologist Thomas Lovejoy in the foreword. '[I]t is a house of cards. Friel has used real scholarship to reveal the flimsy nature' of Lomborg's work."(from /.)

And for those who still can't face reality, here's the empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming. It still amazes me how people don't realise the most fundamental and undeniable facts of nature. The deniers' arguments are always the same, poorly researched, very confuse, and sound like a broken record. Furthermore, science should be taken seriously, and unless you know what you are saying and have the factual backup to support, you should have the decency to shut up. That's why bloggers and journalists typically report what actual scientists say, by reading their publications or specialised magazines, but don't actually do research. Climate deniers, amazingly enough, do just the opposite. They don't study, they don't have any respect for the peer-review process, and they only present unproved, untested, original research, with the typical excuse: "It's only logical. No, it is not.

The confusion in their minds is probably caused by a sense of frustration, which is caused itself by other confused ideas they have. For instance, it's one thing to recognise the fact of global warming, and a completely different one accepting a carbon tax, a regulation, cap and trade or any other type of monetary reform. The former one is science, and the latter is politics, things that often take different directions, if not always being divergent. I don't think any of the proposed solution is going to solve the problem, to me they seem only badly designed patchwork, they don't address the real issues. The cause of the problem is the sick values that this society is proposing, the need for cyclical consumption of goods and services, the fact that it's economically convenient to pollute rather than not, that efficiency and sustainability are intrinsically enemies of a monetary based society.

I know what you are thinking. Here comes the idealist, the communist, the socialist, the utopian, or whatever label may come to a mind. Until we realise that social problems result from scarcity, that when a few nations control most of the world's resources, there are going to be international disputes no matter how many laws or treaties are signed. If we wish to end war, crime, hunger, poverty, territorial disputes, and nationalism, we must work toward a future in which all resources are accepted as the common heritage of all people.

Before you close this post, or mark it as nonsense, take some time to watch these videos. You might be surprised.

Peter Joseph: "Where are we going?" Nov. 15th '09 1/2 from peter joseph on Vimeo.

Peter Joseph: "Where are we going?" Nov. 15th '09 | 2/2 from peter joseph on Vimeo.

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Happy Newton Day!

On this day, one of the greatest man of the history of mankind was born. It was December 25th, 1642,, when sir Isaac Newton came to this Earth.

happy-newton-day.jpg

Newton was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, theologian and one of the most influential men in human history. His Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, is considered to be the most influential book in the history of science. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, laying the groundwork for classical mechanics, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries and is the basis for modern engineering.

Newton showed that the motions of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws by demonstrating the consistency between Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and his theory of gravitation, thus removing the last doubts about heliocentrism and advancing the scientific revolution.

In mechanics, Newton enunciated the principles of conservation of momentum and angular momentum. In optics, he built the first “practical” reflecting telescope and developed a theory of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into a visible spectrum. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound.

In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of the differential and integral calculus. He also demonstrated the generalized binomial theorem, developed the so-called “Newton’s method” for approximating the zeroes of a function, and contributed to the study of power series.

Newton’s stature among scientists remains at the very top rank, as demonstrated by a 2005 survey of scientists in Britain’s Royal Society asking who had the greater effect on the history of science, Newton was deemed much more influential than Albert Einstein.

A truly great man, let us remember him, on this day of secular jubilee.

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