Rant on Education

November 8, 2007 - 7 Responses

I’ve been thinking about Education a lot lately. Two reasons: my partner commented to me some weeks ago about an idea he had for making videogames to be used on schools. And secondly, I had one of those interviews about games & violence where the questions went on the direction of asking “but, do you seriously think is good for kids to play games?”.

Probably I’ve said this to many times, but I’ll say it once again: We are genetically designed to train and gain knowledge through play. Cats play with a ball of wool, dogs dramatize biting each other and we, mammalians homo sapiens, play in many many ways as well. We do so because Play is the framework nature gave us to gather the skills we’ll need to survive in the natural and social world.

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And the main thing with traditional education is that we are too scared to change it. It’s changing how we were shaped, it’s changing the future of our kids. But what’s really scaring is realising that if you go check the compositions and writings you did in your teens about biology, chemistry, history or you-name-it, chances are that you won’t remember a single thing that you wrote back then.. and the reason is simple: you just didn’t care about those topics. And after a single glance to the Wikipedia you’ll understand those topics are so damn limited!

High School education is terrible. Probably because teenagers are annoying as hell. But also because of its competitive design: Students constantly suffer the pressure of achieving good Results instead of focusing on the process of real Learning. That leads to classic end-justifying-the-means situations and thus, an average individual can’t tell what he’ll do for the rest of his life when he’s 18 years old.

That needs to get fixed. And Games and Play can be part of the solution if we add to that cocktail the power of the Internet. Working on real solutions on this field sounds like an exciting solution for technologists that want to do something more than just money. And hopefully, One Laptop Per Child is only the beginning…

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The Conscious Web

October 23, 2007 - 7 Responses

This is a thought that I had on my mind for a very long time, and actually wrote about it in very metaphorical terms a couple years ago. As the web keeps evolving, the sensation that this collective construction is slowly awakening is getting stronger.

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Globalization is leading us to create an universal system to access all the knowledge we have acquired throughout 10,000 years of recorded history. Each website, more and more, seems to me as an isolated neuron were a central nervous system such as Google is obsessed in extracting sense from all of the chaos. Wikipedia is the universal memory resource of the world. All the digital cameras out there are the eyes of this living system that will later obtain meaning through Flickr. And the tiny messages sent to Twitter are the kind of random thoughts planet Earth likes to have when it feels bored (or inspired).

The more global consciousness invades us, the closer to the notion of a living Earth we might get. Just think about all the media obsession about global warming… has technology permitted the consciousness of the Earth to output it’s pain?

And it has happened before. Our individual consciousness is the product of millions of years in evolution that took single-cell life onto the multi-cellular systems we are made of today. And probably our current thoughts are the fiction produced by millions of cells interacting with each other right now.

So I wonder.. am I writing this or is it the earth expressing itself?

Philosophical Rugby

October 6, 2007 - 3 Responses

Just like music, were Tango defines Argentine identity or Samba speaks Brazil’s rythm; sports emerge from cultures expressing their influences and virtues. American Football is the american adaptation of Rugby were they’ve created a propietary version of the sport that works perfect for broadcasting TV commercials and it’s focused on technological innovation. Meanwhile, Rugby represents the european tradition of fighting with barely any protections on for the oval ball.

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Right now, the rugby world cup is being held at france. Argentina’s Pumas are this year’s revelation after beating the strong teams of France and Ireland. And the thing it got to my attention about Rugby is how it was perceived by french philosopher Catherine Kintzler:

Rugby is a dialectical activity were you must conciliate the opposites, and the opposition. The movements are opposite within them: you must pass the ball backwards in order to move forwards; and the ball must be kept close and at the same time far away: stuck to your body while running, but released if you are falling after a tackle. That means that all actions are symmetrically oppossed.

Also, unlike other sports, some Rugby teams perform amazing theatrical performances to energize their spirits before playing the game. Such is the case of the world famous New Zealand team: All Blacks and their ancient maori Haka dance. It’s not common to see the notion of Play of theater and sports united like this.

When Books Were Technology

October 1, 2007 - 4 Responses

In a world of exponential technological growth, inventions from the past can sometimes be perceived as a common thing from nature. Books in particular, have been with us for so many centuries that we often forget they are one of the most important pieces of technology ever created.

The greatest contributor to books in the spanish language from the last century by using these to artistically express himself (just like games exploit computers for that very same expressive purpose and in many languages as well (C, Actionscript or Java)) was, without any doubt, Jorge Luis Borges. Few like him make me feel proud of the nationality I never chose.

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A particular short essay from him got my attention a few weeks ago. In his book Other Inquisitions he explores the birth of reading, he reminds the reader that back in the egyptian times books were received with reactionary comments, for them, they were “like painted figures that seem alive but never answer a single question asked to them” and they eventually provoke that “people stop using their memory and become dependant on symbols”.

The voice, in all cultures, was regarded as a sacred sound that had more power than symbols themselves. Reading was always a communal excercise were one read for the others to hear.

Borges finally recalls a writing from Saint Augustine from the 2nd century were he witnesses that precise moment when man seemed to begin reading in silence:

When Ambrosio read, he passed his view over the pages penetrating their soul, in the sense, of not conveying a single word nor even moving the tongue.

We already know how computers are changing our culture and  law as we know it. How is it changing our minds?

Karma Banana

September 4, 2007 - 3 Responses

Debating politics is probably the most excting form of dialectical gaming. Gaming because it gives us tools we eventually use for our survival in the social world. And even when it’s with bright and smart individuals, it may go beyond the boundaries of reason onto the realms of passion. But the thing with politics is that we definitely take it too seriously: Our pride makes us stubborn on changing our opinion and thus, it makes harder to understand our opponents points. And this is a good thing for me: The stronger the collision of ideas, the better the outcome in the long term, when reflection comes.

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After taking the reccommendation of Papamook and Patrick Dugan, I saw the excellent piece of documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. A great testimony of the coup Hugo Chavez had back in 2002 and proof of the importance of the so called Fourth Power. Yet, although the events portrayed in this documentary may certainly be important to Venezuela’s history or unknown to the institutional traditions of USA, Europe or Australia they aren’t even a novelty if we correlate them to the history of Argentina (and so many other latinamerican nations).

This documentary is about the karmic spectre that has been haunting latinamerica -the spectre of Populism, the spectre of Dictatorships. The vicious circle that keeps trapping real progress.

Throughout history, dictatorships and the shameful external politics of the United States have been the best allies of leaders such as Peron, Chavez or Castro -you know, that kind of leader that has a thrill for reforming constitutions and get eternal presidencies at the same time they declare themselves men of the people and democracy. Nobody, in its sane mind, would prefer a dictatorship. And when that happens, it only helps to expand the figure of such leaders. It happened over and over again in Argentina during the second half of the XXth century.

I’ll put a personal note here to make clear were I’m standing: My big interest for politics came when I read for the first time The Communist Manifesto, a piece of writing that still feels updated today. Since then a lot of utopias inspired me to pursue a path that would help me contribute in the process of making a better world. But when I went to Cuba for a month, it taught me many things and the essential difference of having an idea and living a reality. One thing came up clear to me: Ideologies are just like religions (but without the god thing). They only blind people behind impossible ideals and lead to massive wars.

Communist Massive Games

August 29, 2007 - 25 Responses

I have a fetish for communist propaganda. It’s simply amazing how fucked up ideologies are. Juan José Sebreli once described his experience traveling to Mao’s China in the sixties as the witnessing of a collosal work of art. He was shown “the model factory”, “the model school”, and “the model hospital” with all the workers cheerfully doing their repetitive job. When he finally assisted a big parade on Tiananmen’s Square, he concluded that totalitarian leaders end up to become -evil- artists that try to make of the whole reality surrounding them, a big façade.

Kim Jong-il isn’t an exception, and he has taken the madness to a magnificent level of artistic genius: Each year, North Korea celebrates their national pride under a massive gymnastic event where almost 12,000 kids transform themselves into pixels and make of the whole stadium a gigantic screen for the enjoyment of “The Great Leader”.

This massive game, not only displays beautiful imagery of the communist ideals, but it also effectively reduces the individual to the collective experience. A complete parade is online in 11 parts at Youtube.

Guy Delisle worte an autobiographical comic about the time he spent on North Korea. For western eyes, it’s certainly a very hard thing to understand such level of oppression. And living in a country where Castro and Chavez are worshiped by some, it’s also scaring.

Jefferson on Software?

August 27, 2007 - 3 Responses

Two months ago, I was invited as a collaborator on a project to write a book about intellectual property. My task was to study such field from the perspective of software. It was the perfect excuse to get myself some time to completely read the brilliant essay from Lawrence Lessig Code 2.0.

In a particular chapter, Lessig quotes a very interesting thought from Thomas Jefferson that I would like to share on this blog:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

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The impact of Free Software (as in freedom) is gigantic. Not until very recently I had consciously realized that almost every single application that goes to the web, has to have a part of its code open for the browser to render the recieved information. I simply was assuming that HTML, CSS or Javascript where interpreted languages, but not fully realizing the virtue of the decission Tim Berners-Lee made when he decided to release his hypertext technologies open and royalty free to the world.

Personal note: I’ve been quite busy lately working on exciting new technology. I apologize for the lack of updates the blog has been having, but I promise I will make it up later.

King of Kong

August 16, 2007 - One Response

 

Life is just a game -or at least there’s a 20% chance for that to be a scientific true fact. Cheers for all of you out there who are Players.

 

Social Play with your Ego

July 21, 2007 - 3 Responses

During the last 6 months I’ve been working very hard on a new startup where we are trying to build a more efficent and personal way to interact with the internet (and the people using it). In the mean time, we started making simple programs (now usually refered as widgets) to test out technical and conceptual ideas. Our very first was developed for Facebook, the popular social network that’s gaining a lot of attention during these days.

Egotics on Facebook

Egotics, our brand new app, lets you define your own Ego by telling the system what things you Know, Love, Hate or Are. Once you fill up your profile, your friends and the people around you can rate the facts that you had put about yourself, and you can rate your friend’s facts as well.

If you have a facebook account and want to have some fun with this idea, add the Egotics app to your profile and let your friends know about it. This has been an interesting exploration about how can we use the power of social networks to create ludic experiences. If you have any suggestions or detect any bugs, let me know.

E3 stuff

July 16, 2007 - 2 Responses

So the E3 was finally held in Santa Monica this year, but who cares about this suit-driven event? Certainly not me. Anyhow, two very interesting news woke me up this morning regarding the former “it” event of the game industry:

WiiFit. A new interface to plug into our Wiis so we can feel the joy of dancing and excercising in front of the TV. I just want to state that I love the fact that it seems that we finally have a massive platform for interactive hardware innovation. The Wii is becoming the one and only place where you’ll want to try out games in a more immersive and phyiscal way. Yet, it’s not that standard considering Nintendo is the only manufacturer of peripherals right now.

Finally, E3 also unveiled another elegant proof that Games-are-art-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-say-against-that. Escher inspired Echocrome plays with your perceptual skills of recognizing perspective. Reminds me of a time in my life when my perspective-recognition skills disappeared for a couple of hours and reality became flat just like in a videogame…