A Year Lived Fully: A Condensed Story of 2016 in Images

So I am rushing a last 2016 post before 2016 actually goes, quite inspired from a post the great cogdog Alan Levine just did… ‘Twas an unbelievable year, 2016. The good thing, great! The bad ones, terrible, including a bad flu that grabbed breadth from Hilda and me just during Christmas week. The students this year were great, and they produced the best blogs ever, to be shown in a next post. If I weren’t that lazy, I’d have done it a month ago. Three groups of students also won prizes for videos on the Internet for the Internet Society.

I did 35 posts in 2016, that is one every two weeks. Too little, now that we ought to reclaim and defend the Web. Yes, I fell into apathy with Twitter and other networks, but I participated a lot with my classes and students. That was a lot of fun.

So, 2016 began in Rincón, under the tropical sun with the four of us.

Rincón, Puerto Rico

Then came Alan for a month-long stay at Sagrado, where we had a wonderful time sharing the Inf115 course and his genius “Una foto cada día” activity, cloned from the famed ds106 assignment bank. I cannot thank Alan enough for the great inspiration and time together. I have suspicion he had some good time himself!

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The two big events of 2016 were our daughters’ graduations, of course. Chiara graduated from Syracuse University with a hard-earned BS in Biology and we went to upstate NY to share a little with her, her friends and environment. We saw her house, her neighborhood, her workplace at one cafeteria, where she was loved and commended by fellow workers.

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On our way back to NYC we stayed at the famous “quirky, art-focused” Carlton Arms Hotel, a place close to Madison Square Park, where everything is made and decorated by the artists who have been living there. Great place, if spartan–and cheap.

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In NYC, we had the luck to savor a wonderful meal at one of my favorite restaurants, the Hundred Acres, down in the Village. Spring menu, fantastic!

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At B&N of course, I bought a copy of this book, just to have with me. It would serve me well during the rest of the year!

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We also spent one night in Pennsylvania on the route from Syracuse: that was when we learned that we’d actually cross this state in mid NY. It was a nice stay, and of course we were so happy and proud for Chiara.

Younger daughter Flavia (on the right here, with friend Gaby) graduated from High School later, and she felt so adult, having just marked her 18th year!

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So, mission accomplished, in one sense, but still a long road to go.

During the summer nobody made a move: Chiara was studying, Flavia partying and I kept sort of going to my office to begin working on the STEMmED project’s end that was closing in fast.

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Flavia continued to do her dance and theater pieces, better and better. I kept on with my culinary passion (here a home-made roman Tomato Stuffed with rice, one of the delicacies of Rome’s ubiquitous rosticcerie).

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And now, since autumn, the STEMmED project is over, and we’ll soon complete its final report. As the last hours of this year come and go, I am enjoying a tranquil time with the family, here in San Juan, and recovering from the flu. Just want to thank friends and foes who helped make this a very non-conforming one!

[All photos taken and shared by moi meme. Please use according to CC-license BY-SA-NC]

[Featured photo–also by me– is of baby turtles being rescued by specialized personnel from a beach in eastern Puerto Rico. We were amazed and speechless witnessing the experience.]

Baby turtles being rescued on the beach.

Baby turtles being rescued on the beach.

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I love to read newspapers’ curation

Every day I read newspapers and I love doing so. Usually, I read them in their online editions. Rarely do I buy a paper, except perhaps on particular occasions, like Sundays’ New York Times, for instance.

So, I just though a salute to newspapers would be most appropriate for me at this point,  when I devote so much time to the Web and its more or less open stuff, like blogs. In fact I religiously awaken every day with the rhythm of two papers: Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día, and Italy’s La Repubblica. I tend to scour titles and main articles and read a couple while having breakfast. On Sundays, I love reading a few editorials from both newspapers’ best journalists and then I love to navigate my “other” preferred newspapers, like The New York Times (I pay an educator subscription at $4/week!), The Guardian and El País. In fact, the Web has bestowed upon me the incredible gift of being able to read in real time newspapers from Italy from very afar.

Screenshot from The Guardian

Screenshot from The Guardian

This is a really healthy practice, and I do enjoy it greatly. I like to discover stuff with a little serendipity and often I end up opening one tab too many or quickly filling up my Instapaper.

Articles Do Not Carry Links

One thing I have to say, though, that resembles a common practice at news sites big and small: articles do not carry links. Yes, they are published on the Web (so they are Web pages) but rarely do they have links to other Web pages. It’s very difficult to find links on the Web these days!! I try and teach my students to enjoy and enrich the wealth of linked webs of media; to learn and speak (write) the language of the Web, namely a language of  diverse (hyper-)media and http links. They end the semester with a good understanding of that. But news outlets? Nope, it seems that in the blue books of their best practices lie in gold:

Thou Shalt Not Place Links Upon Your Pages.

I understand why, but it’s a pity, and one big examples of an entire industry not appreciating the true nature of the Web. They then lament their diminishing sales.

Still, they (at least some) do a great job of navigating and curating the world for us. I end up enjoying my own curation from my best sources on the open Web, and I also appreciate very much the external curation made professionally by such outlets. It’s two worlds, and sometime they even coincide! I don’t count on social networks for my feed of newspaper articles. First because it’s much more pleasant to do that directly on their sites; second, since the news outlet sites are already well curated by professional journalists; and third because I don’t trust Facebook’s own curation and fear too much of the tunnel effect. It appears that this way I am also well defended from social networks’ tumor of fake or false news.

News Commons

Screenshot from La Stampa

Screenshot from La Stampa

One morning, while reading an Italian newspaper online, La Stampa, I discovered one little gem: I don’t know how diffused is the practice, but it’s very Web-like and promising in its vision. La Stampa puts all its content under a Creative Commons License (BY, NC, ND). It’s the first? I don’t know. How many news outlet do so?

Its’ so nice to return to society what society hath invested in you. Even if your purpose is to make money. I conclude there is a lot of improvement available for news outl;ets and good journalist work, solidly attached to the open arms of the Web.

 

[Featured image: flickr photo shared by illustir under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license]

 

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Closing that internet up in some way.

Wait a minute: Closing that internet up in some way? That [annoying] internet?

Internet Archive Servers
Paleofuture published this: Anticipating the Worst From Trump, the Internet Archive Is Building a Backup in Canada.

We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet,” Trump said in a speech last year, referring to ISIS recruitment. “We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some way.

Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech,’ Trump continued during his tirade. ‘These are foolish people.’

Yes, that will be the position of one powerful authority figure. And that is somehow the attitude a lot of people seem to have (with the complicit participation of the mainstream media) with the Internet and the Web (for all effects the two–though different things– are confounded every day). People are afraid of losing privacy, of being too distracted, of losing intimacy, of being exposed to fake stories and news, of being constantly under observation, by governments and corporations alike. The Big Data phenomenon is alarming because we all are but data providers who benefit big “content” companies in exchange of… well, the Web. And the same big companies are starting to charge, especially in universities. What is going to happen to Tim Berners-Lee’s idea of the Web? The open Web? I think we have somehow to defend it. I feel worried that the ideal that myself and my generation grew with may degenerate. But still, hey, it’s the same Web. The Web where one can produce, write, publish, compose, exchange and communicate and have plain old serendipitous fun.

On the other hand, “at EU level there is in Bruxelles a very strong battle on linking,” which is considered, by the powerful “content” industry, a violation of copyright. From:   Embedding isn’t copyright infringement, says Italian court, ArsTechnica UK, 12/5/2016.

There’s a lot to fear for in the times that are approaching. The Internet and the Web are not by any means the free, open spaces they were in the 90’s and the early 2000’s. The Web 2.0 is still there, and powerfully affording speech privileges to all. Already newspapers and media abdicated the power of links on their online articles. Then Facebook has no use of them. Now, some want to limit the Internet. Well, in some countries that’s what they have already done. Closing that internet in some way.

BTW: Glory to the Internet Archive! Beware, thou who publish on Facebook or other walled garden. If and when it is gone, your work will be too. Poof. Compare that with websites from the ol’ times which are still there in the open, at least in the Archive.

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STEMmED People Make Me Proud

Make me proud of the joyful collaborative spirit that produced eight years of extraordinary life. Well, it’s time now to fold our dear project STEMmED (STEM EDucation) which has been running since 2009 in two editions separated by one year of self sustain. It’s not an easy process, this one, charged as it is of emotion and of pressure, because the project represents a focused, collaborative effort of a great group of people who believe in what they do.

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STEMmED Collage, by Doribel Rodríguez.

STEMmED Collage. Image by Doribel Rodríguez.

This project has been a second home for all these years, and that means more than anything, the people I have been working with daily for so long. We won a federal US Dept. of Education HSI-STEM Grant in 2009 and another in 2011, so we have been working at this for over 8 years now, considering that the process of writing the Grant proposal began in early 2008.

Fascinating. This is what helped me stay mentally sane and hungry. I can certainly list the things we accomplished during the project’s tenure: lab remodeling, creation of learning spaces for students, course redesign, research, faculty improvement, school pipeline, student support services (tutoring, mentoring, labs), etc.

But what I’m particularly proud of is the fact we have sought to implement a model for learning centered around students. Look at the project design and sequencing: First we remodel labs, because within labs faculty and students can do pedagogical activities and research.

Concurrently we redesign courses, to take advantage of lab remodeling and the revamped faculty-mentored research students were beginning to do. The course redesign contains blogs, open blogging strategies and other Web 2.0 magic that reinforce the student-centered model. We then shake and complete the model by plugging in the school pipeline, with so many (over 1,500!) students from grades 10-12 we tended with tutorials, workshops, and other science and tech-related activities.

Plus, let’s not forget that students helped us in every imaginable way during this time: they have been working as assistants in admin, computing, research, tutoring and mentoring, and teaching. If this isn’t a student-centered model, I don’t know what is.

I am proud of that.

As part of the professional development activities we organized for faculty we had people of the caliber of Jim Groom, Mike Wesch, Alan Levine, Mario Núñez, Dolors Reig, Martha Burtis, Daniel Altschuler et al. come and visit us. That honors me, I mean the confidence vote these people made with us. With all, a friendship was borne and to date is bringing me happiness and growth, as well as to all our staff and collaborators and students.

Also, the participation of practically all faculty of our Science Department was a big motivation trigger. We began with a dispirited faculty and we grew together loving the research and the teaching and the novel things we were happy to concoct with them.

But I want to disclose fully what it has meant for me to work in this for so many years. The people around me. Students: It’s great to see them happy and making these spaces their own. Fantastic. Our three full-time employees, Aurelio Ceballos (flew away in December ’15), Gladys Chévere and Bernabé Soto. They have been uniquely good, professional and brave during these years. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and skills with us, guys! Bernabé has been instrumental in the course redesign process, media and instructional technology; while Gladys has been running everything smoothly all.the.time. Yes, and she also has been taking care of the financial component. I am in debt.

Also, working with Roberto Bouret, our superstar Maths tutor, made us and our students very happy. Roberto was a pillar of the House of Science, and a bit also a therapist for many students.

Last (but not least!) my dear Staff. I have been working side by side with these four guys  at all times. We have been sharing all decisions, all ideas, and of course, the good and the difficult moments. The stress and the happiness. I don’t want to be rhetorical but I lived through this thanks to Doribel Rodríguez, Mayra Alonso, María Lázaro and John Olmo. They devoted much more than their time, passion and energy and knowledge to this project and to my personal sanity. It’s been a pleasure!

Now, it’s my hope that students will continue to use the spaces we have built, and faculty enjoy a clearer, richer dialogue with students.

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Theology of The Nonexistent God: Finding He Who Is Not

Fascinating. If finding an existing God already proves difficult to many, imagine a nonexistent one! A whole theology built around a nonexistent god would then seem byzantine at the very least.

“The world,” we read in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, “came about through a mistake.” The demiurge who made it “wanted to create it imperishable and immortal,” but eventually he “fell short of attaining his desire, for the world never was imperishable, nor, for that matter, was he who made the world.” The Gnostics believed nonexistence to be a mark of perfection, and coming into being a form of degradation.

Now, what I find most fascinating here is the apparent contradiction of a nonexistent God: He Who Is Not. Wow. This is powerful. A fully dematerialized god. In fact, one god quite difficult to meet, if at all possible. So, the nature of nothingness of this god seems quite similar to the nature of the mathematical concept of the empty set: a set void of anything. Not even space void is so absolutely void as the empty set. Yet, the empty set does exist.

But what is also fascinating to me is the absolute metaphysical blabbing that can bring philosophers to state this, the most profound and light concept of He Who Is Not. Sure, the lightness of it all makes it even more unbearable. But also fun.

Oxymoron? It would seem so, but let’s not be that quick to jump to conclusions. In the end, saying “He Who Is Not” implies naming Him. But the simple act of naming someOne or someThing Does Not Make Him/It Be. Example: The famous (if nonexistent) flying spaghetti monster who lives–I am assured– on some orbit on the dark side of the moon. Since unobservable, nobody can disprove the assertion (Apollo missions did not see It, which of course does not prove Its nonexistence). Still, the burden is on proving the assertion, which of course cannot be done. Also, naming the monster does not make it pop into existence. So, He Who Is Not: We do name a He and we state that He has a property, namely that of nonexistence? Wrong!!! If He Is Not, Then He Hath No Property. Saying He Who Is Not is just a language trick. However, it is fascinating to me how absence of existence gets extrapolated into existence of absence and hence, the adoration of the latter.

Does this seem like the famous Gödelian game of “I never tell the truth”?? No, I think it’s much less deep. But not for this reason, less fascinating. It’s the old game of trying to trap the unbound into our modest language technology.

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