The magic of dreaming and the power of imitation

Two episodes describe the magic that happens when you get inspired by something and rush to work on an imitation process—on something that you want to go after. Such episodes may change your life. In my case, there are two episodes plus one.

First—John Conway, the mathemagician of Cambridge and Princeton, has died recently. This NYTimes articles helped me remember how fond I was of him.

Travels With John Conway, in 258 Septillion Dimensions: 
The Princeton mathemagician, who died in April, left 
an engaging legacy of numerical gamesmanship.

I remember when, fresh instructor of computer science, I inspired students by the same inspiration of his ideas, reframed by Martin Gardner and others (including Douglas Hofstadter). His ideas were weird automata that played according to a simple set of rules: the Game of Life. In a board, a set of dots propagate and reproduce according to a simple few rules of proximity. The fascination is enchanting. This way on cannot but fall in love with computing. And that was my practical introduction to automata, Turing machines, and self-replicating creatures. That was also the first time I got introduced to John Von Neumann’s genius: he was the guy who first had the glimpse that artificial stuff could reproduce by themselves. Imagine viruses without that principle. So, I inspired tens of students on those apparently pointless exercises to program automata that showed beautiful compositions on the board!

And there I was hooked to math and computing!

Courtesy of James Gardner, Martin Gardner Papers, Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, as published on Wired, A Life in Games: The Playful Genius of John Conway, by Siobhan Roberts, 9/5/2015.

This is how Martin Gardner presented his friend’s Game of Life (a cellular automaton) in his SciAm column (The fantastic combinations of John Conway’s new solitaire game ‘life’, October 1970)

“Because of its analogies with the rise, fall and alterations of a society of living organisms, it belongs to a growing class of what are called ‘simulation games’ – games that resemble real-life processes. To play Life without a computer you need a fairly large checkerboard and a plentiful supply of flat counters of two colors.”

Mulcahy, C. (2014, October 21). The top 10 Martin Gardner Scientific American articles. Scientific American Blog Network.

Here are the rules for the Game of Life:

From Wired,×258.jpg

And here is where one can play The Game of Life:

I played a couple of examples from the site, then screen-recorded the plays with the faithful Quicktime. At last I uploaded the mov file to, which then gave me these two brilliant GIFs. I could stare at the symmetries and patterns forming for hours.

Gosper Glider Gun automaton (Game of Life)
10 Cell Row automaton (Game of Life)

Then there’s the Sprouts game, which can be played on a piece of paper with just two players. Here’s an image of a possible game. People tell that at Princeton, when Conway proposed first the game, everybody, including secretarial staff, became addicted to it!

Play the game here! Instructions and info here:

How to Play

Start out by placing 2 or more dots anywhere on the page (click to place dots). The game is played turn by turn with two players. Each turn must follow the rules below.

Turn Rules
  1. First, a player draws a line from one dot to another or from one dot back to itself (click and hold to draw a line).
  2. Lines can be curved or straight but cannot cross another line or themselves.
  3. After drawing a new line, a dot must be placed somewhere on that line.
  4. No dot can have more than 3 lines coming from it or going to it

The winner of Sprouts is the last person able to draw a line. One game of mine, recorded and rendered as a GIF (I played against myself):

Second— I experienced my second moment of huge inspiration in two steps. My two friends Mario Núñez and Jim Groom are responsible. Jim had just given a brilliant and inspiring talk at Mario’s Blogfesores congress in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico (it was 2009, and I wrote about it here That was enough, but later he gave a workshop in syndication through WordPress and a magic plugin, Feed WordPress. The plugin would allow to subscribe to a number of syndicated RSS feeds and include their content in one’s own blog content. Wow. A universe opened up in front of me. That was when I started to copy whatever Jim ever invented or transformed. The point here is not so much to talk about his work, though, but instead of the inspiration, dream and magic that work injected in me (and many others).

Both example here suggest a mentoring component. In fact, I continued doing copycat business after them, and I keep on to this day doing almost every class of mine with a syndication-based technology and methodology—of connection and openness.

There’s a third part in all this, and that is when Mario and I coincided with social bookmarking (both loved –RIP–): Mario has also had a huge mentoring effect on me. One night, after a workshop he gave, he began talking of a tv series he was hooked with. It was Dexter.

Of course, Mario is a psychologist of the Jungian school, so guess what, the shadow in Dexter’s story was immensely attractive to him. But he managed to infect me with that same passion, and I got hooked too. Those were the times of the new golden age of tv that was starting up with gorgeous, well-scripted and greatly shot series. I began my tv series addition at that time. Forbrydelsen (the original The Killing), Homeland, and all the following up to Breaking Bad and Borgen, Peaky Blinders and the surreal Ozark.

The original show from Danish TV with Sophie Gråbøl

Well, last but not least, I have a powerful mechanics of following people I admire. So my choices, education and all were biased throughout the lenses of my own perception of such people’s examples. This article could well be an excuse to talk about authentic learning, but it is really only on the imitation game. That is a very powerful way to inspire people to education.

I am leaving you with the trailer of Forbrydelsen, even if I already have published it on this blog.

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Wrapping up the New Media COVID class

Wrapping up a nice semester split in two with a great groups of students. New Media (inf115) is a course of Sagrado, set up with a connected an open strategy, which borrows from the syndicated content model as well as from other social and connectivist learning approaches.

But I am not here to philosophize on theory, but on this particular semester’s practice. We got ourselves into this COVID mess and had literally to evacuate the University on one nice day of March. Just one tiny week after (to transition and learn Zoom) we (almost synchronously with thousand other institutions) did the now-famous pivot thing.

So we found ourselves online, zooming and lecturing at full speed. On Whatsapp my colleagues were sharing their successes and difficult moments. On Zoom my students (I had so many students, this semester, omg) and I ventilated in a very gentle and elegant way how we were feeling. Students did not understand their faculty’s shyness (and their own illiteracy) with technology and with remote methodology. All shifted to Zoom, and suddenly everybody was doing sync classes online, and recording them for the absent. And that provoked more anxiety in many cases and somehow a bit of cognitive overload.

I took a just and correct decision, namely to not translate our twice-a-week meetings into twice-a-week Zoom sessions, afraid as I was of losing my students before even pivoting. Instead we did a range of async activities coupled with some lectures (more like introductory lessons). We worked a lot online in the digital world, which we connected to the atomic one with crossing assignments. We did a podcast, personal curation that distilled onto group meta-curation (curation of the already curated if you will). We were lucky since our course lent itself very well to the digital spin others were forced to take with little prep.

Students enjoyed the time of discovery and production of GIF’s, Instagrams and memes. They participated massively into the “Una foto cada día”, the daily photo challenge prepared by Alan Levine (one of his famous SPLOTs). They did quite some storytelling throughout all the course, and finished with a nice work with Google Arts & Culture, when they assembled a story told with works of art from collections throughout the world. They also created a website each to host and share their creations. I think that most of them can actually use their personal website as a portfolio beyond the class. Their websites can be accessed from the sidebar of

In the end, I believe students finished off with a good idea of the Web creative and publishing affordances and mastering its expressive language.

Let’s begin with a couple of such galleries as mounted by this semester’s students. This is a Nature-inspired Gooogle gallery — by Andrea.

And this one was by Penélope on Urban Art.

A poster elaboration of the quarantine meme, by Angelo Parks made us laugh with some romanticism.

While this next, done by Marieliz, made everyone feel… well, avenged!

For the record, check all the memes & GIF: they were all published here, in one student’s blog:

The Instagram group curation was published here:

A video (the opening video of this post) built by crowdsourcing many microvideos from all students, showing their doings during the quarantine:

Last, two Spotify playlists, born out of a master playlist begun by yours truly and finished off by students (here…). Students in the end decided to curate two smaller and better focused playlist. The first is a varied (language, music styles, etc) list from many paths of music. Play it along!!

The second is made of only Puerto Rican musicians.

From Sophia, Lady Bird

Personal art from Alexandra:

Classics’ Gallery from Paulo

Inspirations from Instagram:

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#OER20: Caring for the Open Web As The Higher Ed Territory Par Excellence

Hey, welcome to my presentation for the 2020 edition of OER Conference. Session description and all is here (

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It’s the economy

The long pronounced mantra of current economies is that to survive in the disruptive digital world, one would need to

  1. Lower the number of workers
  2. Increase the content they produce.

Or, maximize per-worker productivity.

Which has a few corollaries: cut costs & cut number of workers (layover). By so doing, however, workers’ conditions and quality of life worsen, perhaps the quality of their work decreases, and so does their end productivity, inevitably.

It seems to me such discourse has been applied also to higher education (at least in North America), with bad results. The number of colleges and faculty (especially tenured faculty) shrunk; tasks and load increased; and the number of different and new courses/programs often increased.

However, it seems this trend is perhaps being questioned with good results. For instance, in the newspaper industry, things have gone more or less as described above, in a trial-and-error strategy that ended up shutting down many smaller venues and linked ever more news outlets to publicity income, thus kneeling effectively to Google and Facebook’s power. Oh, and paywalls.

Not so with Le Monde, one of France most important newspapers. Says its director:

Effectively, in two years, Le Monde has cut down not the number of journalists, but the number of articles published. Instead, it has increased the number of journalists and likely enhanced the articles they write (thus showing that they believe in journalists–the people, not the bots). Probably (Monsieur Bronner does not say in his tweet), it has even bettered journalists working conditions, who knows, more advanced equipment, more and better typewriters?

Interestingly, the move has produced an increase in the newspaper’s diffusion and number of Web readers.

I wonder, would such moves be practical and useful in other domains, including education? I bet they sure would. The rhetoric of always diminishing human resources (or their time or their space, or both) because it’s supposedly the only way to combat the digital disruption (the economy must always increase–why?) must not necessarily be. In the case of Le Monde, I just wonder whether they’re employing more full-time or part-time people. But I think I know the answer.

[Featured image: “Periódicos” by Gonmi is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

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Brexit: A Melancholic Goodbye

I was 17 and for the first time out of my own city and country. I was in London, summer 1976. I do remember Trafalgar and Soho from that stay. A month-long stay that my parents had planned to have me practice and better my English. Mind you, I didn’t practice much English. Public toilets in central London had signs in Italian. The waiters at the restaurant where I worked for two weeks–just in front of Harrod’s–spoke Spanish or other tongues but English.

I was most proud that I could move and work liberally and easily in London as I pleased, without my asking permission to anybody. That was the time when I began understanding the beauty of some kind of Union among countries. So, goodbye, UK. It is sad.

I enjoyed Scotland immensely when I visited many years later, and I still have may places to go in my bucket list: I’d love going to the Shetland islands, for instance, and going back to enjoy some distillery in the Highlands, now that I like Whisky.

The Guardian published a moving “Goodbye message” in 27 languages. Ain’t it great to have 27 tongues to mess with?

Italian film director Francesca Archibugi says:

My first reaction was like, ok, people, you wanted this. Now live with it! But my initial childish reaction (fully similar to the rage I had when the current president of the US was elected–and the same one, now he is being acquitted from impeachment) has evolved into some acceptance and the conscience that perhaps we were never that much together in Europe. Sure, political manipulation apart (the same unnamed president is responsible up to some extent of this Brexit), the EU will be weaker, and with it the dream of a federal union of states. Who knows, that dream every year seems farther away. But ok, perhaps #rejoinEU will be possible. Or having Scotland back as an independent state. I’d love it.

The New York Times published that Brexit is like some US State, say Texas, left the Union. Well, no. It’s actually very different. For a US State leaving the Union would in fact be quite more dramatic, give that the US is a federal republic; while the EU is not, and every member state is just that, a member with huge sovereignty.

Anyhow, I can’t but add that I do love the Isles, starting from their languages, cultures and yes, Fleabag.

[Featured image: Screenshot from The Guardian.

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