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A review of the talk by Robert Sharf – Mindfulness or Mindlessness

I don’t usually speak about meditation in this blog. But this, I think, is too important, and untweetable. There is a very important talk that has been given. I wrote a summary of it.

I wrote this summary on reddit, but I think a copy should stay here too.

So, what does this guy say, and why is it important.

I have by now heard the talk at least 5 times, and every time it was informative. Every time I unpacked more meaning, and connections inside it. I am at the point where I think it would make sense to make a full word by word transcription, and a mind map of it. Buddhism is not my thing, so I have resisted so far. But I don’t know how much longer will I resist :).

In the meantime those are my notes. I share them with you because it looks like a couple of people would benefit. But it would be confusing to have them all over the place.

In the 25 years of meditation I did, (20 of which in Taoist meditation) I had of course many different teachers. Eventually what I discovered is that it is not only important a technique, but where it is coming from. From what context (cultural and not only). What needs was it trying to solve when it was generated. What were its aims, and what limitations did it have to satisfy. Limitations that might be true at the time, but might not be true now. And what risks do people face when they do it. And what should they do when something bad happens. The best teachers so fare are those that have not just explained the technique, but also explained, as much as possible, all this information.

To make an example of how a practice can depend on the context, in Karate you keep the feet quite close together (especially from in front). Which sounds like a simple element. Until you realise that Karate came from Okinowa. Which is full of rice field.

Another example, in the Tao Te Ching it says that the Tao blunts swords. This has a spiritual meaning, but the secular meaning is way too obvious considering the practice was coming from a book written in the Warring States period.

So this guy is saying many many things, and it is not simply a critique to meditation. There is much more than that.

The first thing he is saying is that what modern people do when they do Vipassana is NOT what the monks usually did. And this not just because the practices have been simplified, but also because they have been placed in another context. Practicing Vipassana now does not entail necessarily a Buddhist world view. It does not require renunciation. It does not require to sit on the side of rotting corpse.

So, accepted that there is this difference he says:

  • this kind of difference have been seen in the past. And in general when a practice had to be dumbed for more popular audience. Historically we have seen this when teachers started to have a following that is not of full time practitioners, but of lay people.
  • This kind of practice, and what the monks do are not just different, they also lead to different places. In this he strikes, in passing a blow at the idea that all meditation lead to the same place. He does not do so by proving this to be false, but by showing how it is a particular philosophical idea known as Perennialism. By giving it a name it relativises it. You wonder how much do you agree with Positivism. Well, how much do you agree with Perennialism?

Note that those critique do not come from a westerner who did not practice meditation. Those are critiques from inside the meditation world, from some more teachers to other teachers. He is recording, and bringing out, an internal dialogue within the tradition. Not from without to within.

So what are those differences:

  • First of all lay people doing Vipassana are not renouncing the world. They are indeed entering into it more fully. What a Western person calls depression, is what a Buddhist calls being a “good buddhist”. Just this by itself should rise many serious bells. Are you going toward being a good Buddhist (and so toward what we call depression, but what could lead to enlightenment). Or are you going away from depression, toward a greater enjoyment of the world. [And note, I am fully aware that the more enlightened you are the more you enter into the world, but this is a somehow taoist position. In traditional buddhism this is not so much accepted. After all Buddhism speaks about fully transcending the ego, while Taoism does not.]
  • Vipassana by itself, he is saying, will lead you away from depression and toward a greater enjoyment of the world. But without the extra package that comes from the traditional buddhist doctrine and the traditional buddhist practices will not lead you toward becoming enlightened.

Then there is a number of risks he speaks about. He mentions that people following Vipassana without a Buddhist worldview might reach a certain ‘complacency’ that lead them to do despicable acts. Like Japanese soldiers in WW2. Note in this how before I said that modern Vipassana might lead to a deeper enjoyment of the world. And I said this might relate to Taoism. But Taoism, traditional Taoism, had an ethics attached to it. Had exercises for the student to discover its ethics. Also here that dumbed down version of Taoism, the Tao of Pooh kind of Taoism is probably missing that. But that would have to be another talk from a similarly great scholar but focused on Taoism. So complacency is one of the risk.

Then there is a risk into trying to go to a place without thought. The mention of the 500 eons long hell as mindless zombie. Again this is not a critique from the outside, is a critique from the inside. And here there are the critique about the meditation sickness. And how someone might end up either zoning out, or just being present in the moment, but unable to do anything.

[Notice that there are techniques that lead a person toward a place which is beyond time. A time without time. Some call it the time of God. Or fourth time. Or Real time. I don’t think this is what he is speaking about. And since the critique was coming from a meditation teacher I am sure the person giving the critique was fully aware of it]

So, why is this important, and what does this lead us to?

Well, for me as a taoist, lead me to start questioning my own tradition. How much of this is also happening in my own tradition. And in which ways it is similar and in which ways it is different.

Also, before this talk I use to point to whoever was asking me directions for meditation to the nearest Vipassana school. You see, although I am not Buddhist, I have a great respect for Buddhist traditional teachings. And they are simpler to find and to follow than the Taoists one. Not to mention cheaper. Now, after this talk, I am not sure anymore what to suggest to people. And this is where I am right now.

The author of the talk places the context within the ongoing debate of the effects of meditation. Mostly for clinical cases. And he is simply saying, yes those meditations might (and seemingly do) have all those good effects. But you cannot claim that this is what Buddhists have done through the centuries. Take it as a new approach, and you’ll be fine. But I think this conclusion is somehow limited. There is much more in this talk than this take away message for this particular debate.

An ever changing background

Yesterday I did a saturday hack project. What I wanted to have is a background in the computer that each time I open it would give me a different picture.

First I made a folder on dropbox for all the backgrounds.
Then I added the Change the desktop backgroundfolder to the list of backgrounds the computer would look into. So (1) Change folder background.

set it up to change picture when waking from sleep, random order.

Add the folder and ask to change the desktop each time

(2) add the folder. And while I was here I also

Now we need to make sure that we have a constant stream of new pictures in the folder. For this we will use Google API + Yahoo! pipes + an IFTTT recipe. I started with an existing Yahoo! pipe. Something which would pick a word and return 4 images from google images in RSS format. This I modified so that the images were always in jpg or png format (chose jpg if you want photo, and png if you want drawings), and always of huge size. I then needed to pick up the result with IFTTT (IF This Then That). In theory IFTTT can pick up the first image in the Description, by using {{EntryImageUrl}} . But the image URL would not go in the description. So instead I modified the Yahoo Pipe so that the whole description was the URL. Yahoo! pipesThen I picked the Description and told IFTTT to take the image at that address and store it in my dropbox background folder. You can see the result here.

And the now as google indexes new images, they appear as my desktop. I chose as images sunset OR forest OR mountains.  Which gave me a mixture of the three.

So how do you set up a similar system, without going through all of this? After register in dropbox; installing the dropbox application (by now most people already have this); setting up the background folder inside dropbox; telling your computer to use the backgrounds from this folder. Then:

Pick the RSS from yahoo pipes

Go to this Yahoo Pipe, and add the words of the search you want to have as background. Copy the rss address (we will need that later).

Open an IFTTT account. Activate this recipe and paste the address as the rss from where to pick the data. Then add the folder where you store the background. The one you did before. And you are ready to go. By the way, every now and then you might have to delete some of the pictures in that folder. Just do it, don’t worry. You’ll have new ones pretty soon :-)

Let me know if you use this. And what google image search do you use.

How Beppe Grillo is failing while trying to control eDemocracy in Italy

Doc Searls makes a great talk for State of the Net in which he explains how we are reaching the personal data cloud. And also how, also this time, like in the past, with computers, mainframe, networks, mobiles, the corporate world is trying to control those data. And in doing so they limit their usefulness. What gets built outside always becomes more valuable than what is being built inside. Inevitably ending to support those corporations prefer to interface with what is outside than build their own walled gardens.

What we should note is how the same thing is happening for eDemocracy. It is already happening. Alessandro Gilioli, journalist for the Espresso notices (in italian) it on his blog Piovono Rane.

Dice oggi Beppe Grillo che gli iscritti al MoVimento 5 Stelle di Roma non potranno esprimersi sull’ipotesi di mandare un assessore nella giunta Marino nella consultazione on line decisa (decisa?) ieri dai consiglieri comunali del M5S eletti a Roma.

[TRANSLATED] Beppe Grillo says that the people registered with the MoVimento 5 Stelle from Roma cannot express themselves on the hypothesis to send a collaborator inside the Marino’s [Major of Rome] team. Voting on line decided (decided? [nda]) yesterday by the city councilmen from M5S elected in Rome.

Let’s now look at Beppe Grillo’s post, because I think it is important:

In merito ad alcune iniziative dei consiglieri comunali di Roma si ribadisce che:
Рil MoVimento 5 Stelle non fa alleanze, n̩ palesi n̩ tantomeno mascherate, con alcun partito, ma vota le proposte presenti nel suo programma
– l’unica base dati certificata coincidente con gli attivisti M5S e con potere deliberativo è quella nazionale che si è espressa durante le Parlamentarie e le Quirinarie e quindi il voto chiesto da De Vito on line non ha alcun valore

[TRANSLATED] regarding some initiatives from the city councilmen of Rome, it is here clarified that:
– the 5 Star MoVement makes no alliances. Neither overt nor covert, with any party. Instead it will vote the proposals that are present in it’s own program
– The only certified database of activists of the M5S movement allowed to deliberate is the national list that have expressed themselves during the “Parlamentarie” [a vote in which the people to be elected to the parliament were chosen] and the “Quirinarie” [a vote in which the 5 Star Movement decided who to vote for the President of the Republic]. As such the vote asked by De Vito on line has no value.

Let us look at this point:”The only certified database of activists of the M5S movement allowed to deliberate is the national list“. First of all this is a new rule, that was not there before. Beppe Grillo first calls himself just a “spokeperson”. E even declares that everybody will be allowed to participate in eDemocracy. And now he claims that the only owner of the list of people allowed to take decisions is himself, and the company connected to him, the Casaleggio e Associati. We are absolutely in the situation described by Doc Searls. And it is right my friend Adriano Zaccagnini, when (leaving the 5 Star Movement) declared that the 5 Star Movement is not a Company-party, but a Movement-Party. Something like a Berlusconi 2.0.

Now let us discuss what can be done. The Major of Rome, Marino, il searching for an Assessor on law and urban security declares that he is willing to evaluate curriculum presented by the 5 Star Movements. By itself a generous act. People of the MoVement, from Rome, local activists, decide to consult the Net. What are the risks for Beppe Grillo? There are several. First of all he is risking to lose the control over the Movement. If local people makes agreements with the PD, what will be about his Leadership? Second, there is the risk that in future PD asks for something back: As we gave you an assessor, now you own us… . If Grillo is making this analysis he shows to be more ancient, politically, than many of his collaborators. Even Marino himself, simply is opening up to people with a good Curriculum presented by the Net. Why shouldn’t he? Then there is the problem of the local elections. Up to now each group was organising himself through meet up. And would organise its internal decisions as they wanted. In Sicily there is a Liquid Feedback platform. In Tuscany and Sardinia they are starting with Airesis platforms. And Beppe Grillo has no control over those groups. Activists from Bergamo, who organised themselves with a Liquid Feedback platform, have rejected the request to expel Adele Gambaro. This must have been an alarm bell for Beppe Grillo and his staff. Another alarm bell must have been the opening of  TuParlamento a Liquid Feedback platform. Open from a few days by some politicians from the Partito Democratico (center left party). Tu Parlamento opens on the 19th of June. The 20th of June, the day after, Beppe Grillo decides, finally, to look for programmers for his platform. Considering the complexity of some of the documents linked it is obvious that he must have been working on it from a long time. But this passage must have happened 6 months before the national elections. Not now.

In other words, Beppe Grillo, who has been the public person to discover the eDemocracy in our country is slowly losing control of it. What should we do, and what well happen? Regarding the situation in Rome, absolutely nothing. Beppe Grillo is irrelevant, because it is not him (nor someone from the M5S) that will decide the new “assessore”. The Net is absolutely free to decide and propose any name they want. Marino is free to accept those names or not. The only thing that should be clear is that this action does not have, nor can it have, any implication on possible future decisions (local or nationals).In this sense the Net takes decisions basing itself on the data of now. has a (perfect) memory, but does not keep promises (being always made by different people).

It is inevitable that eDemocracy will find its way out of the chains that Beppe Grillo is clumsily trying to place around it. Airesis has its own followers. Liquid Feedback never needed anything from Beppe Grillo. The new platform from Beppe Grillo is being planned with a series of limits to make sure that it can be controlled well. The more Beppe Grillo does this, the more the people will leave the Movimento 5 Stelle.

Is the Non Linearly Weighted Delegated Voting System Democratic?

This is a post I first wrote in the Italian Blog. But I think it might be of interest also to the English speaking readers.

Reading some posts on Facebook I realised how the non-linear weighted delegation system I suggested in this two posts can be considered “non democratic”. I would like to address this accusation.

The decision making system where everybody who is present can vote is called direct democracy. And it is universally considered a democratic system.

The decision making system in which each person can delegate its vote to someone else, but this one can delegate someone else (and the mandate received), is called proxy voting. And the kind of democracy that comes out of it is called “liquid democracy”. This also is considered a democratic system.

The system that me and Daniele Gewurz were suggesting, in which the mandate of a vote is worth $$v(x) = \frac{(M-1)x}{(x+(M-1)+k)}+1$$ for $$k\geq -1$$ is between the direct democracy system and the liquid democracy system.

If we want to express this in equations (and we definitely would not miss that, right!) if x is the number of people that mandate someone, in a direct democracy we would have v(x)=1 (for every x); in a liquid democracy we would have v(x) = x+1; and in the non linear weighted system we would have $$v(x) = \frac{(M-1)x}{(x+(M-1)+k)}+1$$ for $$k\geq -1$$.

In other words the non linear democratic system is clearly in between among the two systems, both accepted as “democratic”.

To be pedantic, we could object that this is not enough to keep it Democratic. If, for example, the new system did not act in a symmetric way. In other words did not act symmetrically by not treating all the participants in the same way, but we would let some people mandate others and some not, then we could say that the system is non democratic. But this is not the case. Sure, the vote of the people who are absent is weighted less than the vote of the people who are present. But since Direct Democracy (where this vote in not counted at all) is accepted as a Democratic System, the fact of counting it less cannot change the Democraticity of the system.

This concludes the defence on this point. I would like to make some other considerations.

Democracies are not suche because they permit to people to vote on things. Democracies are such because they prevent a series of possible development that could make their system un-democratic in time. Often to do this they lightly sacrifice what people are allowed to do, to make the system more stable. From this point of view systems are not democratic or undemocratic, but are more or less democratic, and more or less stable. Depending how faithfully do they represent the will of the people, and if they have characteristics such that make sure that they will keep on representing such will in future.

The morst interesting thing is that if we look at the constitution of various States there are many extra articles that have been inserted to avoid problems that were present in the past. So in Italy “apologia di Fascismo” is illegal; in Turkey the government does not control the army, but the army is controlled by the Constitution, to prevent a religious party to get in power and set up a Teocracy.  It is as if Democracies would fall ill, and would generate antibodies.

Well, the liquid democracy system has shown itself to be weak against a possible “illness”: the control of the system from a small group of people. With the mandate of others uninterested. And the use of non linear weight in evaluating the mandate reppresents the antibody. Is this the only possible solution? No, nearly certainly no. It is a solution (actually a class of solutions, since the weight depends on K and M which needs to be defined) that it seem to me that it solves in a simple and elegant way the problem. It permits to everybody to vote; it evaluates the vote of the people that are present more than the people that are absent, but does not exclude the absentee; it avoids that someone might gather too much weight. Obviously you are welcome to present other solutions, but please do not ignore the problem because it is serious.

Let us make another example more recent. No one claims that Silvio Berlusconi did not have in some moment a very vast support. But the Italian Law prevents a person from being elected if he controls too much media (journals and televisions). This makes him “unelectable”. Obviously the people who vote for Berlusconi consider those laws “un-democratic”. But those laws are there to let Democracy function. And in fact they are generally present also in other democracies.

So, since the non linear delegation system is between the direct democracy system and the liquid democracy system, both democratic. Since it does not make distinctions among people that vote. Since it is, in any case, ok to have in a democratic system little corrections that keep the system stable. And in this case the correction prevents the system from becoming controlled by a small group of people. Seen all this I would say that the non linear democratic system is not just democratic, but democratic and more stable than liquid feedback.

better algorithms or just traditional algorithms on faster machines

In 1998, October, I took a Master course at Sussex University. The course was called EASy, which meant Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems. It was the best thing you could find at the time on Artificial Life. And it had also a lot of courses on robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Not something I was very passionate about, but still an interesting subject.

The course is still there. Still led by Phil Husband. At the time we studied history of artificial intelligence. Some control theory (not much). We went back to Cybernetics (I actually had books on cybernetics from my grandfather!). Interestingly we were explained that the old approach to do Artificial Intelligence was not successful. They use to call it GOFAI for Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence. It was said with a certain disdain “oh, but that’s just GOFAI”. And the basic procedure for a robot was observing the world; making; a map of it; calculating the moving objects; calculating with an algorithm how was the best way to interact with those objects to move them as the robot planned; acting on those plans. Unfortunately by the time you you have done all this, the objects have moved. And the robot was basically lost and had to start again.

Every year robots controlled by GOFAI were humiliated at robot soccer by lighter algorithms. I have to admit was not very interested. I was just starting with Artificial Chemistry, being at the time convinced that making real artificial life required to let it emerge from an artificial chemistry medium.

Now, 15 years later things seem to have changed. Every 18 months CPU become twice as powerful. So we had 10 of those duplications. In other words, a robot now can do what 1024 robots use to be able to do at the time. Or 1 Robot in 1 second can do what before a robot needed 1024 seconds (17 minutes).


Look at this recent TED talk. Here they are using Quadricopters. And they are able to move, analyse data, respond to stimuli, bounce back a ball. They are led by mathematical algorithms coming straight out of control theory. Every 20 milliseconds (one fifth of a second) they analyse the situation, decide, and act for the next fifth of a second. And then repeat. In 1/5 of a second they can compute what 1998 robots needed 3 minutes and a half (24s). Did we got better with robotic theory? Well hearing the researcher explaining, I am not really convinced. But our robots are faster. And at this speed it does not matter anymore. 



One document, multiple point of views

Writing paper is a classic many to one process. With many authors convening together in a single final result. Final result that should contain several claims, often causally related to each other, reaching a final result, usually in the Conclusions. While this structure is useful it is not always easy (or indeed possible) to merge all the authors point of view into a shared world view. The usual solution to this is either to tone down the statements (finding very general ones), or that some authors suffer the indignity of having to signa paper they don’t fully agree with, or having the group split and produce different papers, with different author lists.

One classical example are the IPCC reports. Those are presented every 6-7 years by the Intergovernmant Panels on Climate Change, and should summarise all the recent findings on climate change and global warming. The report is “the largest and most detailed summary of the climate change situation ever undertaken, produced by thousands of authors, editors, and reviewers from dozens of countries, citing over 6,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies” [wikipedia]. Being written by so many scientists from all over the world leeds to serious problems over what is going to be written in such report. The solution was to accept claims only if a certain percentage of the scientists would agree with it. But this leds to a toned down report that under represents the threats we are facing. With reality being always as bad as, and often harsher than the predictions.

A similar problems happen in the authorship of wikipedia articles. Where many authors present their point of view, and often edit wars erupt. Wikipedia policy to “stay neutral”, and add references to each claim are useful but nowhere enough for the kind of disagreements about the world that are presented among the wikipedia authors.

In this paper we want to suggest that it should be possible to present inside the same article competing views, by presenting them side by side. The main part of the paper should remain co-authored. But when we reach the disagreeing paragraph, the alternative world views should be presented side by side, with the initials of the name of the authors that subscribe to each paragraph in tiny print below it.

Note that not all alternative views should be present, just the Pareto Front of them, as explained in the “Don’t vote, Evolve” paper. In brief this is done by listing all alternative versions of the same paragraph, and letting all the participants sign all the versions they subscribe to. Then we define a version A of a paragraph being dominated by a version B of the same paragraph if and only if, the people who subscribe to A are a subset of the people that subscribe to B. The Pareto Front of the versions will then be the set of all views that are non dominated (there is no other version that dominates them).

1) It is important that the authors don’t subscribe just to one version but to all the versions they feel they can accept.

2) Every person that has subscribed to at least one version will find at least one of the versions he subscribe to being present in the Pareto Front (the proof is trivial and left as an exercise). In this sense the Pareto Front represents the view of the whole community with no tyranny of the majority.

How VIlfredo defines groups depending on what people subscribe to

3) Each author that did NOT subscribe to a proposal, cannot have subscribed to any proposal dominated by it (or it would not dominate it). In this way the presented Pareto Front does not just represents competing views but also a minimal division of the group of authors. With people that subscribe only to version A, people that subscribe only to version B, people that subscribe only to version C…, Then people that subscribe to A and B, A and C, …, … . If we have n competing versions in the Pareto Front it will be possible to have 2n-1 groups. Each that represents an alternative point of view.

From a visual point of view, in a static medium the alternative point of view can be shown side by side. In a dynamic medium, one version can be shown with the alternative ones shown as tiny columns on the side. When the reader moves the mouse over them (hovers) the columns would open up into fully readable text (while the previous one closes by the side).

Vilfredo on IPCC

Delegating in eDemocracy, my Way!

The suggested function v(x)=(M-1)x/(x+(M-1)+k)+1, for k=0 and M=100. Has an Asymptote at 100, and near the origin it is tangent to the function y=x+1. It represents how should the weight of the vote change, as more people mandates a person to represent them.
The suggested function v(x)=(M-1)x/(x+(M-1)+k)+1, for k=0 and M=100. Has an Asymptote at 100, and near the origin it is tangent to the function y=x+1. It represents how should the weight of the vote change, as more people mandates a person to represent them.

Recently I wrote a very long post in which I tried, as exhaustively as possible to discuss if it was the case to let people delegate their vote in eDemocracy. The conclusion was that it would be better not to introduce it. Which is a bitter conclusion, because it halts the conversation before it starts. I also suggested that IF we wanted to allow delegated voting, it should be done in a “non linear” way. In other words, it should be possible to delegate someone, but it’s not a good deal. The vote of a person who is present should weight more than the vote of a person absent, which is asking someone to vote for him. Also no one, independently to the number of votes, should have a vote higher than a certain value M. How much is M? I was suggesting that we should start with 1/630-ith of the number of participating people. So no one person should have more power than a parliamentary in the [Italian] House of Parliament today. Without explicitly listing them I was suggesting that the characteristics that we should use to decide the weight of a delegated vote were:

  • v(0)=1  (the weight of who does not receive any mandate should still be 1)
  • v(1)< 2 (the weight of who receive a single mandate should be lower than the weight of two people that vote directly).
  • $$\lim_{x\rightarrow\infty}(v(x))=M$$ (If the number of mandates that a person receives grow, the weight must tend to M)
  • $$\dot{v}(x)\geq0$$ per $$x\geq0$$ (as the number of mandates grows, so does the weight of the vote of the person receiving them)
  • $$lim_{x\rightarrow\infty}(\dot{v}(x))=0$$ (Each extra mandate grows the weight a bit less each time)

I even went as far as to say that there were an infinity of functions that satisfied those requirements. And in fact…


GewurzFew days later my friend Daniele Gewurz wrote me… Daniele is a great mathematician, very precise in his work; His blog is called L’Accademia dei Pignuoli (con la u!) [Hard to translate, maybe: Academy of Nitpickers?]. So I contacted Daniele, and after I wrote the blog post he came back to me with the answer.

[pause… silence… suspense… ]

The function, in fact the functions that we are looking for exist. In particular, each function of the form:

$$v(x) = \frac{(M-1)x}{(x+(M-1)+k)}+1$$ per $$k\geq 0$$

will satisfy those requirements.

As k grows the weight of the delegated person will go down. For K=0 the single mandate will give an extra 0.99, that is v(1)=1.99 (if I receive the mandate from one single person, my vote will then weight  1.99, we lose 1% mandating your vote to someone that does not receive other mandates). If we assume that no person should have a weight higher than 100, and we take the fastest growing function (K=0) we obtain $$v(x) = \frac{99x}{(x+99)}+1$$. That you can see here on the side.

La funzione 1+99x/(x+99) passa per il punto (0,1) e (1,2), inoltre ha un asintoto pari a 100 per x che tenda all'infinito.

Notice how the function has an asymptote equal to a 100 (that is equal to M), and passes through the points (0,1) and (1,1.99). It is also monotonically growing (which means, it always grows), but, as it grows, it grows slower and slower. So it is better not to delegate to the same person that others ate also mandating, when possible. And instead distribute your mandate to other people. It is a function that fights against the creation of an elite!

Per x che cresce, il valore della funzione 1+99x/(x+99) tende a 100, senza mai raggiungerlo. Ha cioè un asintoto.

In the second image you can see how the function effectively approaches 100 (actually M, with  M=100, in the example) as x grows.

Per valori di x bassi la funzione y=1+99x/(x+99) approssima molto bene la funzione y=x+1. Chi riceve poche deleghe, le riceve quasi completamente.

And finally in the last image you can see how for low values the function approximates very well the function y=x+1. Which is the function that is (implicitly) used when people delegate their vote. In other words who mandates someone which no one else delegated,, will see his vote transmitted nearly fully. While who mandates a very popular person will only change slightly the weight of their vote.

We still need to decide if we should let people delegate to someone else the mandate they received. The famous proxy voting. Also in this case the same reasoning holds: it would be better not, as each passage between the person mandating, and the person actually casting it increases the imprecision (the person voting, ending up voting something different from what he should have voted to correctly represent the person asking him to vote for them), but if we really cannot avoid it, we can use another function. At the end the principle is the same, so the simplest thing is to just use the same function v. So if x people delegate another person (who’s vote will then have a weight of v(x), and this person delegates another person, this second person vote will now weight v(v(x)). It should be noted that if a person sums the mandates from two people ($$x_1$$ e $$x_2$$) the result will not be v($$x_1$$)+v($$x_2$$), but v($$x_1$$+$$x_2$$).

Let’s see some examples:

5 people delegate Anthony. Anthony’s vote, at this point, will have a weight of v(5)=5.76. So about 5 and 3/4. Anthony votes with Carl, and together have a weight of v(5)+v(0)=6.76.

Later Anthony needs to leave, and mandates Carl. Carl’s vote will then have a weight of v(v(5))=6.44.

Notice that if all have delegated directly carl, his vote would have had a weight of v(6)=6.66.

At the end of the day, passing through Anthony costed to the group v(6)-v(v(5))=0.21 (Note, 6.66-6.44=0.22, but 0.21 is the result of better approximations). Not exactly a full vote, but a fifth of a vote. On the other side, society, all together, will pay the price of a lower precision on the result. Who knows if Anthony, delegating Carl, is really doing what those 5 people wants?

What would be a better strategy for this group? Obviously if they could all participate, they would have a combined weight of 7. But if, instead, they knew that only 2 people would participate, the best thing to do would have been to split the mandates between the participants, and obtain v(3)+v(2)=6.87; having lost only 0.13 points respect to the fact of having voted all together. (There is also the option to split your mandate among different people, but this we shall discuss in another article).

Considering all I think that permitting delegation using the function $$v_{M,k}(x)$$ expressed with an M well chosen, and maybe also with a K=0 would permit to everyone to participate, without going toward those excess that we have seen in the various liquid democracy systems, where few participants will obtain enough votes to dominate the decision. And not let anyone else decide. Note that M is defined at a 1/630-ith of the total number of participants, and if the number of participants, is equal to 630, M will be equal to 1. And the result will be

$$!v(x) = \frac{(M-1)x}{(x+(1-1)+k)}+1=\frac{0x}{(x+0+k)}+1=1$$

In other words, if M=1 it is not possible anymore to delegate anyone.

And if M<1. In this case the function decreases as the number of the people delegating a person. In other words, if you are part of such a small group of people, do not mandate your vote, but participate directly!

Should we allow delegated voting in e-Democracy?

This post is the english translation of an italian post.

My dear readers, we must speak. We need to speak of the concept of delegating votes in eDemocracy. It will be long, maybe boring, but necessary.

What do we want from an eDemocracy system? I know what I want. It took me a long time to find out, but now I know. I want, actually I would like, a system that permits to everybody to participate, and that magically extracts from people’s interactions the best proposal. But what does best mean? In other moments (link to an example from a talk I gave in Italian) I left this quite vague. Now I think I can be more precise. Let us supposed that all the people would vote, and let us suppose that all people voted having a deep understanding of the issue. Then the result would be the best proposal… by definition. What everybody wants, assuming everybody has a complete understanding of the problem. Or at least complete within the limites that we, as human beings, understand it.

This brings us to two problems. The first is that not everybody votes, and the second is that not all, in fact no one, has a full understanding of the problem. Even experts, in general, only see one side of it. But we know that the solution is out there, somewhere. And we know that any proposal we make, and any vote we take (with any system) will approximate this answer. Sometimes the approximation will be better, sometime will be worse.

Asking experts (a sort of technicians’ government) does not work. They do not represent the general population and have a too limited point of view. Even if they had a complete vision (if they spoke among them, for example), they still would not represent el pueblo.

Asking people to vote directly (also known as Direct Democracy) also does not work. First of all not everybody votes, and then people are not prepared on the topic. Even less than technicians, much less than technicians (which at least do understand the problem).

Let’s consider further this point, as it is important. Why asking people to vote does not lead to the best answer (as previously defined)? Who is to judge when has a persone voted well or not? But, of course, only himself can. Each person can judge his own vote, after he has done it, when he learns more on the topic. In other words a good vote does not lead to regrets, later. In other words it is an informed and well thought out vote. People that vote, statistically speaking, in the great majority of cases, do not vote in an informed way. For example, if you ask to a 100 people if they are in favour of against death penalty, mostly people will be in favour. Often death penalty is seen as a deterrent for criminality. If, on the other side, people are informed about the effects of death penalty, for example on the fact that it does not work as a deterrent (nation that introduced it did not see their crime level decrease), and the always present risk of killing an innocent, at this point the number of people that support death penalty diminishes. We can suppose that if those people voted a first time (without being informed), after they would regret their vote. That’s a bad vote! And it does not help, and in fact it hinders, in looking for the best answer.

So, simply asking people to vote does not work. By the way, another reason why it does not work is that often voters cannot understand the consequences of their vote. In other word we vote for the sicilian fishermen to keep their job, and to make the sea around Sicily a natural reserve. For all human beings to have equal rights, and that mentally deranged human beings that have committed violent crimes should not be freed after serving their sentence. And so on, and so forth. In this context it is important how do we organise the vote. What are the options, how it is worded, and so on …

At this point people usually get up, declare the problem unsolvable, and focus on something else. But not finding the solution does not mean the solution does not exist.

A great approximation to the answer we are looking for is given by James Fishkin‘s Deliberative Opinion Polling. How does Deliberative Opinion Polling work?

A random, representative sample is first polled on the targeted issues. After this baseline poll, members of the sample are invited to gather at a single place for a weekend in order to discuss the issues. Carefully balanced briefing materials are sent to the participants and are also made publicly available. The participants engage in dialogue with competing experts and political leaders based on questions they develop in small group discussions with trained moderators. Parts of the weekend events are broadcast on television, either live or in taped and edited form. After the deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions. The resulting changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach, if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues. [source]

You understand the result from this process is a much better approximation of all the ones presented until now (technicians government, direct democracy). At least the method tries to consider both elements (population, and information) integrating them in a statistically representative group.

We can consider under this light also Representative Democracy. The one we hold. We elect representatives, they are divided into working groups (in Italian: commissioni parlamentari). Each working group, for each law, interviews the experts, and proposes the laws to the parliament. It should be noted that the representatives are not thought to be statistically representative of the population. They should be the cream of the population. This also because Representative Democracy is a 19th century system. At the time only a minority of people knew how to read and write. Thus we now have two problems: the first is that by not being statistically representative of the population they tend to vote for laws that will favour people like them (same education, income, social class). The second is that since the same people are in power for a long time, they can be corrupted. It should also be noted that while the laws are developed in the working groups, they are then voted in parliament, that did not hear the experts. And here the member of the parliament vote, usually, how they are told by the party (so much for article 67 of the Italian Constitution). And this last passage eliminates completely the idea that the result should, somehow, mirror what an informed population would vote for. While making it a simple power struggle.

All this is a long preamble to speak about Delegation. Because, since not everybody votes (for many reasons: time, interests), considering that very few are preapared enough to vote, considering all this … does it have any sense to ask those people to elect someone that votes on their behalf? And how much should the delegated vote weight?

In other words, if I vote, and you delegate your vote to me, how much should my vote weight now? One? Two? Between one and two? More than two? Let’s take an example: John, Anthony and Sam are having a discussion. They decide to vote, and John looses against Anthony and Sam. No delegations, no problems. But now Sam needs to go, and leaves to Anthony his vote. Now John finds himself fighting against Anthony and Sam delegation. We can assume Anthony will win.

But now we add Joseph, and Joseph agrees with John. If they meet in four, John and Joseph, vote on one side (2 votes), Anthony and Sam vote on the other side (2 votes), the result is even.  Now let us suppose Sam cannot participate. So now we have John and Joseph on the one side, and Anthony and Sam’s delegation on the other. If before we had a problem with information, because John, Joseph, Anthony and Sam might have been misinformed on the issue, now the problem is even bigger. Sam’s absence raises the doubt that if he was present he might change idea. Or he might discover that Anthony does not represent him correctly. Everybody else is, instead, present. They could change their mind, but they do not do it. In other words, the situation is no longer symmetric. If Anthony, plus Sam’s delegation weight more than Giovanni’s vote; it is also reasonable to assume that, if we are looking for the best approximation to the best vote, mentioned above, that Anthony plus Sam’s delegation will weight less than John’s and Joseph vote.  We are thus supposing the best answer will, with more probability be on the side of two people that are present, than on the side of one persone present and one person delegated. So if we were to introduce delegation, it should weight more than zero, but less than one. You delegate, but in doing so your vote looses some of its power, for the legitimate suspect that you might have delegated the wrong person. This has also the effect of making delegation inconvenient.

If I am a mob leader, and it is possible to delegate, it is convenient for me that you do not participate, but delegate me. In this way I am sure that we all vote as one. But the option is more risky. The delegated becomes the weak link in the chain. You just need to corrupt that person to gain all the votes (at least for one time). But if, by delegating, we lose some power, the result is that it is no longer convenient for us, as a group, to have a single representative. In fact, the more we are, the better it is. But this brings us to another risk, the risk that some of us vote differently.  But, let us remember, our aim is not to win. Our aim is to approximate the best answer. So, if a person votes differently, because he is convinced that that is the best answer, he should do so. So also for this it is better if delegate voting is worth less than non-delegated voting; it induces participation.

But how much could someone’s vote weight? At the maximum? because if the vote of a person, thanks to all the delegations received, weights more than all the other votes connected, he has, essentially received absolute power. And he can do whatever he wants. So it is important, even here, that there is a maximum, M. And the lower is M, more the system will avoid centralisation of power. Even if two people together, could have an absolute majority we would have a centralisation of power. At the moment, in Italy, we have 2 Houses (Camera and Senato). Each law must go through both Houses. The Camera has 630 deputies. So there is a need for 316 people to have a majority. This is like asking to have an M such that:  316 * M = (Number of people voting/2)+1. At the last elections 50’449’979 people could vote. This brings us to an M=((50’449’979 / 2)+1) / 316) = 79’826. In other words, keeping the power division as it is right now, no one’s vote should weight more than 79’826 (Of course having two houses increases security, because each law must be approved twice). Of course assuming that all who can vote, will vote.  In reality an M of 80’000 is absolutely too high. At least because, as we said, not all will participate in the vote. While considering that no one should have more than 1/630th of the total weight of the people participating, is plausible.

NOTE: This part in blue does not need to be read to understand the article. 

In other words we could consider a function v(x) that represents the weight of the vote of a person that is delegated by x people (for x > 0). Even when no one delegates a person, his vote will still be worth 1, so v(0)=1. If the power was transfered completely we would have that v(x)=x+1. If it was not possible delegating v(x)=1 for any x. But we said that we wanted 1 < v(1) < 2 so that the vote of a person receiving a vote should weight more than the weight of the vote of a person that no one delegates, and less than the weight of the vote of two person voting, together (to be pedantic we would have to write v(0) < v(1) < v(0)+v(0), but v(0) = 1 ). Then we want the function to be monotonically increasing, so that the more a person is delegated, the higher his vote must weight (or at least it should not diminish!), and we want a maximum of M. So v(x) ≤ v(x+1) ≤ M. We could even require the function to keep on increasing, as x increases, without ever reaching M. So v(x) < v(x+1) < M. With lim (for x→ +∞) v(x)=M. The fact that the function should be strictly monotonically increasing would be expressed by requiring the first derivative to be higher than zero: v'(x) > 0. With lim (per x→ +∞) v'(x) = 0. In other words, summing up:

  • v(0) = 1
  • v(1) < 2
  • lim v(x) = M (for x→ +∞)
  • v'(x) > 0       for x > 0
  • lim v'(x) = 0 (for x→ +∞)

Is there a function like this? Sure, there are infinite many! In a follow up post I will discuss a family of them (in Italian is already available here).

From all this we can desume that if we want to let people delegate their votes, a function like the one described above would be optimal. Who receives n votes will have a weight of v(n), with n described above.

But at this point we need to discuss on the real sense of those mandates. There are several reasons why a person delegates another. Maybe he is too busy, has already decided what to vote and delegates someone to give that specific vote. But this is not the most common mandate. Especially on the Internet, where voting takes little time, but deciding and informing one self takes more time. More common are mandates because a person does not feel proficient on a topic. Let’s go back to our definition of best answer. If I do not understand a topic, and I find myself facing a proposal that I do not understand I have few options. I can vote randomly, maybe intuitively, I can get informed, I can delegates someone, or I can decline the vote. Of those options, getting informed, or asking for help are surely the best (but they require more time). Voting randomly is terrible. Not only will I probably not guess right, but I risk voting for a different answer than what I would have voted if I were informed. So, basically, damaging my real position.  From the studies of Fishkin (see above) we know that people that vote intuitively, don’t have a great intuition. So even this option is not ok. And mandating someone else?

Delegating someone gives a sense of security. I don’t understand the topic, but this friend of mine understands it more than me. We have many values in common, I let him decide for me. This is ok in a conspirationist view of the world, that divides the world into good and bad. Bad people are in power, the good (we, of course) resist. And surely you will even find some cases where this is true. But in the great majority of cases the real difficulty is not choosing between good and bad, but which principle should prevail. And in this scenario (much more common!), mandating becomes harder, because the choice is less clear.

In this post I am presenting a series of ideas on how delegation works or does not in e-Democratic systems. Who does not agree with me, is not evil. Simply he does not agree. And if we have to vote, if we should introduce it, how can you mandate someone to vote for you? Surely you will not have spoken with your friend about those ideas. By the way what possibilities do I have of convincing a person that does not even make the effort of reading the article? Delegating your vote, like asking friends what should I vote? transforms a process of mass discernment, where all together we try to find what is the best course of action, into a simple power struggle. If you need to ask your friend, don’t ask what should I vote? ask what do the proposals say? which makes a world of difference.

And if I am really new to the topic? I can’t, in few hours on the internet, have a degree in Economy, Medicine and Physics. But you do not need a degree to understand most concepts. The most prepared people, instead of receiving a mandate to do what they feel is right, they should help others understanding. I am not speaking about an Utopia, but of a crowdsourced system to rewrite proposals.

And, what if the system, beside expressing how much do they agree or disagree on each proposal could also vote how much did they understood the proposal? And could, maybe, ask for clarifications? What if the system would put in touch people that ask a question with people that understood it? Maybe asking people who did understand it, clarifications. Or maybe it could invite who understood the proposal to rewrite it, in a clearer way. All doable things. The result would be a system where proposals are not only understood but also explained to the less prepared people. It wouldn’t be a perfect Democracy (i.e. the one that always let the best proposal emerge), but it would be a good approximation. I am going to speak about this model in a more detailed way in a future post. (The post in Italian is here)

And we still need to speak about proxy voting. If I can delegate you, can you then delegate another person? And what weight should my mandate has? The idea that I can delegate anyone, and he can delegate anyone, passing on my vote unchanged, leads to a system called Liquid Democracy. Since everybody can participate, it is democratic. Since the mandate can be taken back, and re assigned to someone else, it is liquid. Reality is that this system tend to create an elite of superusers, which receive the votes from everybody, centralising power. At this point fans of liquid democracy (or of liquid feedback, the only -or at least the most famous- system that implements it) will answer you, that you can always change your vote. Truly, try it, they will always tell you. And you must answer: “who cares?!”. Because, if you are going to lose time to follow who votes for what, and check that that is in fact what you would have voted, you can as well vote directly. And, finally, for a person that does check, and corrects, his vote there are many others that will not do it. Making those superusers, into a true elite into which you are not invited. In which your ideas might be discussed as an act of kindness and generosity. But not as a due act, among peers.

The next point is: “how long should a mandate last for?”. I would say that we do not even need to lose time on this. The longer it lasts, the lower correlation there will be between what the delegated person votes, and what the delegating person would have voted. We are soon going to move into the realm of random voting, except the people that receive the mandate, will concentrate power, and vote for a well defined direction. As I described before, on how proxy voting tend to create elites of superusers, is especially true for long mandates. In fact, the longer the mandates are, the bigger will the difference be between the people who have the power, and people who do not have it. I understand that some people claim that this is natural, this is how things always have been. Effectively there is not much difference between a person that is delegated through an online series of mandates (from people that forgot about it), and someone who is elected because his name is in the top list of one of the major parties. A party people by now vote for force of habit. This is the system we set up to change, and substituting it with another gerarchical structure is not the solution. Not even if some of us end up sitting in some of the high position of that structure.

But then, would a system where people delegate, and then ri-delegate each time work better? It would have other defects. For example, if people need to delegate each time, they can, as well, vote directly. Also, because of what we said before, delegations are always imprecise to understand what people want.

To all this we need to add that many people do not even try to delegate who, according to them, can represent them well. Instead they delegate some well known figure. An actor, a comedian, someone from the show business. Let’s remember how Bud Spencer tried to be elected for PDL (Berlusconi’s party), and Giorgio Gaber came back to vote, for his wife who was also in Berlusconi’s party lists. If those two examples haven’t convinced you that you cannot trust anyone with your mandate, just because he was a good actor or singer, I really don’t know what could.

And then there are those that delegate for convenience, to exchange favours, for promises made, because it is my wife, my husband, my son, my father, the cousin of my electrician, I can’t refuse his my mandate!

And the worse is that those people, mandate, and then they go away. Leaving to future generations the responsibility to handle a person whose vote now weights more.

Summing up, according to me if we want to build a system that let what people want emerge if everybody has studied the question, we should not use permit delegated voting. If we must use it, use it sparingly, use it for short time, more focused than more general. Better not to permit proxy voting than permitting it.

And let instead try to build systems in which everybody can participate; who has the time does not dominate the discussion (we shall speak about this in another post); who does not understand, can ask for explanations (and in this gets educated, which is never bad), and such that it does not let elite, club, groups, circles form that decide for other people.

I will add that in the systems I am developing (Vilfredo, BubblingAround, recently I am offering some free consulting for Airesis) I tend to follow (or suggest) those rules:

  • no one is allowed to delegate anyone else;
  • proposals are presented in an anonymous format, for those that vote them. So people vote the proposal, and not the author;
  • … [keep following me, and you will know the others, as I am writing]

From White House 2 to Betri Reykjavik

In recent Italian elections one party that wanted eDemocracy, but had no real platform installed, won about one third of the votes in the Parliament. So everybody started shouting that they now wanted them to install Liquid Feedback. Mostly people said so, without ever having used Liquid Feedback. While trying to present some alternatives I realised most people did not know of White House 2. One of the most successful, but unknown platform for eDemmocracy. So I wrote the following blog post. I translated here in Italian. Not exactly word by word, but quite precisely. 

White House 2 Logo

It was November 2008 when White House 2 opened up. It was made from Jim Gilliam (@jgilliam); the site was very simple. In a way brilliant: if you were the President of the United States, what would be your priorities?

Participants could insert laws that they wished were approved, and had to order them from the more important to the least important.

The site had a system for automatic research, similar to StackOverflow, so that if you wrote a law that had some words similar to other laws that has already been proposed, he would find you those proposals. So, instead of adding your proposal you could add the already existing proposal.

[Note: if participants can easily search through the existing proposals, they will avoid to rewrite them].

On every proposal the people could write if they agreed with them (and so add them on their list), or if they were against (and I think they could add in the list their opposition to that law), they could also add documents in favor, documents against, comments in favor, comments against. All neatly ordered in two columns, one green and one read. This helped people that would read the proposal get rapidly an idea if they supported or not the proposal. Obviously the site would measure for each proposal how many people favoured it, and how many people opposed it. Not only, but Jim, for each proposal would indicate if the President supported it or not (basing himself on the President public declarations). It would then compile an integrated list of what the people preference were. What people wanted regarding the Economy, regarding Education, …

But what would happen if a proposal was present but was not developed enough?

This is maybe one of the unsolved problems, and maybe unsolvable problems, in eDemocracy. If people can vote for proposals those cannot change in time. If it changes in time you must make everybody re-vote (loosing participation), or you risk that some of them will support on the website a proposal, they they don’t really subscribe to anymore. Wikipedia solves it by keeping the last version, and not letting people vote the pages. On Vilfredo anyone can rewrite anything, but then everybody must re-vote. The maximum of precision, the minimum of usability. On Ideascale (and in general in petition systems) you cannot change proposals. On Liquid Feedback people can suggest changes in the proposals. But then every proposal has an editor (who wrote it first) which has the responsibility, and the power to decide what to accept (this is, by the way, one of the weak points in LF). On Airesis there is a similar system, but slightly more refined: you can propose yourself as an editor for a specific proposal. Probably the perfect system will permit to anyone to rewrite any proposal. And will then let everybody chose the versions of the proposals they want to follow. Something similar to GitHub.  Votorola uses a similar system. (See on this also the presentation Clay Shirky‘s TED presentation). But all this came later; Jim Gilliam, at the time, came up with the following system: you could propose a new version of a proposal. This was then subject to the (automatic) evaluation of the people that have participated in the previous version (voting pro or against). If within 48 hours at least 70% of the people who participated accepted the new version, all the ones that did not answer the mail would be moved to the new version anyway. Who said no would remain with the old version.

“people can create a new priority, and then they can ‘propose an acquisition’ of an existing priority, either the endorsers/opposers or both.  and state a reason why.   then it goes up for a vote to all the people who are endorsing/opposing the priority to be acquired.  they get an email with the reason the person suggested the acquisition, and are asked to vote yes or no within 48 hours.  if they vote yes, they are automatically transferred over to endorsing the new priority, and if they vote no, they stay on the existing priority.  and then for the people who don’t vote within 48 hours, if more than 70% of people supported the acquisition, all the non-voters will be transferred over automatically.   otherwise they remain there.  anyone who voted no, still stays on the existing one no matter what.” [Jim Gilliam, personal email 5 March 2009]

The result was a fast and dirty, system, that would work well, but at the cost of mathematical precision. Surely there were people that in this way would find themselves supporting proposals they no longer agreed with. But just in part. But the system worked, and if you accepted the point of view that you were not supporting a dead law, but an alive proposal, you could also accept that the result was not always what you wanted.

Then Jim introduces an economical system (called “political capital”, pc). Many of you know the Karma system: if you do something good (write a proposal that wins approvals from other people, for example) you win points. The more points you have, the more the system gives you power. This is a system that works, but tends to create “super users”. Both Slashdot and StackOverflow use it (even though in very different ways). In StackOverflow the points are gained helping other people programming, and can then be added to your curriculum, when you are looking for work.  In WhiteHouse 2 there was a point system, but the points were not just gained, they also could be spent! Inviting a person to join the site would give you so many points. Mutating a proposal would cost you others. But if a proposal was accepted (the acquisition agreed on), you would gain back your points, and more. You could spend points advertising law proposals on the side of the website. A very interesting system, which more importantly, worked.

The great problem (in my view) was that the website did not have a solid mathematical base. Why would the proposal of a person who has invited other people have more visibility than the proposal of a person that would just enter to write that one proposal. Was it really 70% the threshold that represented the limit that would make sure that a proposal would substitute an other?

But it worked, and it worked so well that Jim explained to me how at first the number of proposals started growing in an exponential way. But eventually, even if the number of participants kept on growing, the number of proposals stabilised itself. They have mapped (more or less) the space of all the laws that Americans wanted. And for each law they had a measure of how many where in favour and how many against. Just for this description White House 2 was an exceptionally successful instrument.

It was also its peak moment. Jim decided to make it open source, to permit to other people to open similar pages for other groups. And since each group was seen as a nation, the new site was called: Nation Builder. He then abandoned the project [in a recent tweet, he explained how Nation Builder was too complicated to be installed, and needed to be offered as a Software as a Service product]. He closed White House 2 (which, he explains, was taking too much time managing the community), and he used his experience to build an instrument to permit to people to manage communities, put them in touch with activists, and generally help them handling them. For a political group using it, the software would help them getting elected, for example. Also this instrument was called Nation Builder (how confusing).

For the people of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Nation Builder is a system similar to meet up, but centralised. That will permit a continuous exchange of information between the center and the periphery. Something similar to Beppe Grillo’s site on steroid, but where the aim is to get your representatives elected. The site telling you who to contact, and how to keep an ear on what the supporters are saying. If you have read the l’articolo from the Guardian, Beppe Grillo is judged as an old style leader. This because, although he uses the internet to reach out to the people, he does not build up a dialogue (for example if you have ever written to Grillo, or at his staff, no one will answer you). Nation Builder, SaaS, will build this missing dialogue (for about 20 $ a month, I gather). But let’s go back to White House 2. The fact that Jim turned off the server was not the end of the code. As it often happens to valuable projects, it was recovered.

In the meantime the crises in Iceland happened, and they had new elections. Those were won by a small, new, party. (This was told me by Robert, one of the programmers working with this party). A party everybody treated as a joke, until using some “strange program from the internet” were able to mobilise so many people to win elections. Once the elections were won the party asked its programmers: “ok, now let us know what the icelandic people want us to do”. This group of programmers, in particular Róbert Viðar Bjarnason (let’s call him Robert, the one I mentioned before), recovered the old nation builder (now deprecated), forked it calling it Open Active Democracy. Then started working on it, he also added some of his ideas (I am not sure of the details, this part was told me by Smári McCarthy -icelandic, one of the designers of Liquid Democracy-) and an instrument to permit to anyone to help in the site translations. Then he used the result to make a series of websites.

The programmers made a first website to permit to the population to express what they wanted from Iceland ( defunct), then a second website to decide what to do in Reykjavik: Betri Reykjavik.

Logo of Betri Reykjavik

Then they substituted skuggaborg with Betra Island. And by now we have gathered that Betri and Betra means Better. With those sites their organisation (Citizen Foundation) won the EU eDemocracy Award. Then they tried to jump out of their nation and opened Your Priorities. A meta-website, divided in many sub-websites. One for each nation. And for each nation people could participate. The site is still there, but so far participation is still missing, showing that it is not enough to have the right software. It is also needed a local structure that connects it with the territory. (But we could use the italian sub-site, as we did for the meet-up).

I will add that with Derek (friend and collaborator with which we developed Vilfredo), we tried to instal a website of Open Active Democracy. At the time we saw this as the best software available.  We could not do it. Not only we were not Ruby programmers, but also the code has changed in time without being reinstalled each time. The result was that without the original database it would not work. Yet, a good programmer, with some time could make it.

Also there is sitill the italian version of Your Priorities. And always the possibility to contact Robert and his team.

And this is the story of White House 2.

My new homepage

Recently I have made some serious changes to my homepage. SOme of those changes I have been planning from a long long time. Others were more sudden.

The central page is of course at that leads to But then there was something that I wanted to do for a long time. Integrate my mind and thinking process directly on internet. When I think I often do that through mindmaps. I have used several type of software in the past. Starting from mindmanager (back at the time when I was on windows), then freemind. I also tried the mindmap from Buzan (which I found slow, costly and with a terrible costumer service). Recently I am using iThoughtsHD which I found do be the best mindmap tool for iPad. Also I find very good that every time I wrote them I received an answer directly from Craig Scott (the programmer of the application). I was in this way able to suggest and see implemented several ideas. In particular the only thing I really missed was the possibility to make html pages from mindmap, with nodes hosting URL links. This was possible in mindmanager, but not on any other system. So iThoughts made a release that permitted to export mindmaps in html format directly on dropbox.

At this point I organised a whole part of my public dropbox folder into a homepage for my mindmaps (in the form of a mindmap itself). Which then at But I did not like the long link. So instead I organised another subdomain: for those mindmaps. Added some rules in the .htaccess file to make sure people going there would be forwarded to my dropbox, and I was ready to rock.

Those lines were:

Options +FollowSymlinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^(.*)\.html$ $1 [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)\.php$ $1.php [NC,L]
RewriteRule ^(.+)$$1.html [R,NC,L]
RewriteRule ^$ [R,NC,L]

Those rules make sure that any requesto for go to

which is where the x map will be stored. Of course if you use it, you would have to change to the address where your dropbox stores your maps.

After I did all this there were still some problems with how to publish those mindmaps. One this is to make a mindmap, another is to put it on the internet, but yet another is to let people know of this mindmap, and connect it with the others. The connect part was easily done by making sure every time I made a new mindmap I would also update the general mindmap. Still there was the problem on how to make people aware of them. The best would have been an rss field. But I did not know how to make an automatic one, nor did dropbox offer an rss field of its public directories. So instead I had to set up another directory on my dropbox. Then I had to enable sharing mode (here is an explanation, here you activate it) . When you share a dropbox folder you also can get an rss field for it (here). But just going from the rss field to twitter would look lousy. So instead I took the rss field for it and used it inside yahoo pipes, and the resulting rss was then pushed in twitter using ifttt. The only thing that was missing at this point was to connect the dropbox folder where iThoughts store the mindmap with the dropbox shared folder wheich releases the rss feed. This was done using SynchTwoFolders,

The idea is:

iThoughts–>dropbox public folder–>SynchTwo Folders–>dropbox shared folder–>dropbox releases an rss–>Yahoo Pipes–>IFTTT–>Twitter.

And as a result every time I save a mindmap on my dropbox public folder (/public/maps) it gets advertised on twitter with a link to it. If you are interested in the yahoo pipe I set up in all this you can find that here.

So now I have a homepage, a series of mindmaps, a twitter account where new mindmaps are echoed; two active blogs (one in Italian and one in English), and a list of publication. What was missing? Making a page for each of my publication, and this is what I started to do. Starting to store one after the other the talks I gave at conferences on a youtube channel. What follows is the mindmap of the whole structure.



While the mindmap of the tweet the mindmap-hack is


[iframe]<iframe id="bubbleframe" src="" width="790" height="700" frameborder="0" ></iframe>[/iframe]

No more Ivory Towers

I am right now at the FET 11 conference. There I was attending a session from my old friend Josh Bongard on Crowdsourcing Science . There I commented that it would be already a good thing if scientists started to make themselves available to the wider public. This by giving a timetable when they are available to whoever wants to chat with them about science.

Original from James Stewart. was a time when scientists lived in ivory towers. Now that ivory towers are starting to crumble, we should do our best to really tear them down completely. So I am here suggesting, and promoting a new project. An open science project.
The idea is that I, and every scientist who is willing to participate in this, will donate some time to society for science.
I will be available one hour a week on Skype to discuss about science with anyone who is interested.
My Skype name is “pietrosperoni” and I will be available every tuesday from 13 GMT to 14 GMT. You must be able to speak in English or Italian. I speak a bit of French so that might work too, but it’s very poor. And I cannot write it.
In this time we can discuss about science. If you have an idea about my field of expertise you can come and talk to me about that. Maybe we can collaborate on developing it, and maybe making it into a publication.
Before any collaboration I expect you to know about the scientific method and how do peer-reviewed journals work. But I am willing to tell you about it. Those are some sort of basic things that needs to be known when you want to do science. A bit like you need to know the rules of the road when you start driving.
If you are a colleague and you want to chat you are also of course very welcome. In fact you should start joining me, and start to offer 1 hour a week to help people discover about your field of expertise.
You can find my interests as a scientist here. But I am willing and interested to discuss on many other topics.
You also can come to me and ask about any idea you might have found on my blog.
If you are a colleague of course you can come and Skype, but you can do much more: I invite you to join me!
You can do this from your blog, or from the comment section over here. If you have a blog and you write about this, please remember to advertise about it here. And (either here or in your blog) please remember to write:
Skype name:
Field of expertise:
Other interests:
For me:
Scientists, tear down the wall!

Taking a taxi in Lisbon (without being cheated)

Taxi in portugal are generally very cheap. This is why people, in particular tourists that come from richer countries, tend to take them a lot. But in Lisbon they are often not that honest. It is very common to take a taxi in Lisbon and end up paying much more than what you were supposed to. And what you are supposed to pay is what it is written on the taximeter (plus sometimes an extra of 1.60 euro if you have luggage), with the taxi having done the shortest or fatest route between the two points. It is not unfortunately uncommon to end up paying twice of three times what should be the real price by law. Interestingly Taxis in Coimbra are instead really really honest, and it only happened a couple of times that the taxi took a route that I thought was much longer. Of course I could notice because I live in Coimbra, and I can notice in Lisbon because I do the same route (from the Airoport to the train station) all the time.
So, speaking about Lisbon, this is how it happens, and this is what you should do to avoid it from happening.
Before event taking a taxi, you should know how much you are supposed to pay for the ride. Of course no one can know it for sure, but they will give you a range. Don’t ask tourists, but portuguese. And ask more than one. Separately. (1)
The first thing you should notice is where the taximeter is. In Taxi in Coimbra the taximeter is placed in the middle, between the two fron seats, under the windscreen. So everybody can see it. In taxi in Lisbon it is placed in front of the front passenger seat. Now in taxi in Portuagl you can only enter from the right side of the taxi. The other doors are locked. This is to prevent people from going down on the side of the street, and risking having an incident. So you enter from the right side of the taxi, and so, if you are alone, you naturally sit on the back of the front passenger seat. This sometimes is suggested by the fact that the front passenger seat is taken totally in front thus giving you a lot of leg room from that position (and much less on the other side), and preventing you even further to see the taximeter. The solution of course is to slide all the way on the other side, so to be able to see the taximeter (2). But as the taximeter in front of the front passenger seat should raise a warning bell to you, and the passenger seat totally in front will raise a second warning bell, the fact that in those conditions you go and seat on the back of the driver seat will raise warning bells to the taxidriver.
Notice that once the ride has started, if you are on the back of the passenger seat, you might try to look at the taximeter by moving toward the front seat. The taxi driver can (and did to me some times) asked me to put on the security belt. So really the solution is to go and seat on the back of the driver seat. If you have a backpack you can enter before the backpack, and then as the backpack enters you slide in to give space to the backpack.
Once the taxi has started you should check the taximeter at least once. Look that it starts at 2 euro, and that there is a “1” on the left side. If there is a “3” things are not ok (3). A “1” means that the taxi is going through his area. A Lisbon taxi in Lisbon will have a 1. A Coimbra taxi in Coimbra will have a 1. But once you go out of the city, or into another city they should put a tarif “3”. This is a much higher tarif, and it is there because taxi drivers are only allowed to work on their area, so if you ask them to go far away from where they normally work they will have to go back all the way before taking up another passenger. SO if you are in Lisbon, and you are being served by a taxi which uses a 3, you are probably being robbed.
Oh, by the way, dont think that if you get friendly with the driver by doing some chit chat talk he will not raise the price. By all means, get friendly, if you want to. Just don’t have any expectations for that to work.
Then of course the problem is the path the driver decides to take. And here you can use an iphone with google maps or any navigator (by the way, at the airoport there is a vodafone shop that sells sim cards. With one of that you should be able to go on internet while in portugal). It is very uncommon for the taxidriver to go on a long journey. They don’t want to throw away time and petrol either. So I would say do not worry so much about this. You know (because you have asked in point 1) how much you are supposed to pay, so just enjoy the ride.
Once you arrive you need to pay attention. They often will turn off the taximeter (at which point it is impossible to recover how much the price was also for them) and will make up a price. If this happens you are in trouble. Because you will need to take a stance. A policeman explained to me that if they turn off the taximeter you do not owe them anything. You could just walk away, and go to the police. But this is of course not easy. Especially since they will probably have your luggage in the back.
So if the price is too high, and they have turned off the taximeter, you can just tell them that the price is too high. They will often lower it (showing that they just made it up). One time I took a cab to an hotel in the city. The cab asked me for 28€. I protested, and he lowered the price to 12€. The hotel later told me that the right price was about 8€. Once they lower the price do not think that now they are going to give you the right price. In my experience if they have not been honest at the beginning they will always try to cheat you again even after conceding some.
Here the solution is to ask for a receipt. Something which, you can say, you of course need for the job. The receipt should contain from where the drive was, to where the drive was, the total cost, and the number of the taxidriver. If you have such a piece of paper, with the wrong price they are going to be in real trouble. Because you can just bring it to the police, and they would lose their licence. So they will resist giving you the paper will all the informations. Usually the paper will just contain the price, and nothing else. If you insist that they write also the trip (from, to), they will then avoid writing their number on the paper. They will often write another number that they might make up on the spot. The number that they should write is written on the windsceen inside the taxi. So once they give you the paper, you should check if the numbers are the same. If the price is not right they will never give you a paper will the 4 data all correct. You can then protest. And then something happens. They will lower the price further to the right price, usually get really really angry, and throw at you the piece of paper.
Pay attention at this point because if they are angry for not being able to trick you into paying more like all the other tourists (that’s the problem with expectations), they might get violent. So far no one tried to hit me, but they might slam the luggage on the floor. Especially in a way to break the wheels.
Here are some stories:
One time I took a cab from the airport to Oriente (the right cost being 5-6 euro). The driver had the taximeter in front of the front passenger seat, the passenger seat all the way in front. I sat on the back of the passenger seat. Once we started I tried to look in front, and the driver asked me to put on the security belt. He then took a very unfamiliar route, so I asked him where were we going. He told me that there were many ways to go to Oriente. He then asked me if I was poor, and if I needed money. This was weird. He took off the wallet, showed me some pieces of 50 €, and told me he was very rich, and if I wanted he could lend me some money. I told him I did not need his money. We arrived at Oriente. Not at the usual place, but on the other side, he stopped, far away from anybody, and asked me 12€ (double the price). I refused to pay, and asked him a receipt. So he said that I must have been very poor, so he offered me the ride for 5€. I gave him 7 saying that that was about the right price. And left.
Another time I arrived at the airport, took a cab, and asked to go to Oriente. Once we arrived the taxidriver turned off the taximeter and asked me 15 euro. I protested, and he lowered the price to 9. I knew it was still not right, so I asked him for a receipt. He wrote a receipt, but wrote the wrong taxi number. I checked the taxi number, and told him that this was not the right number. Then he lowered the price to 6 euro, got very angry shouting against miserable italian people (I told him that I was italian), and gave me the correct receipt. Yes, it was only 3 euro of difference, but I made the point. And I was quite amused at how the taxidriver got angry just because I did not permit him to cheat me on the price.
Another time I arrived at the airoport. I saw two policeman at the front of the airpoport door.
I asked them (in English, which they spoke very well):
-Hello, I would like to to take a cab to Oriente.
-Yes, sir, they are over there.
-Thanks, but the problem is that each time I take a cab to Oriente they give me a very different price, do you know how much should I pay?
-They should not give you a different price each time. The price is defined by the law, and it is what the taximeter says.
-But do you know how much should this be?
-Hmm, probably around 5 euro.
-That sounds very low.
-Maybe 6, 6.5 with the luggage, but not more.
-Yes, that soulds about right, but they usually ask me something between 10 and 15.
-They cannot ask you something that is not said by the taximeter.
-Oh, they turn off the taximeter as soon as we arrive, so they just can make up the price.
-If they turn off the taximeter you do not have to pay anything (sic)
-Yes, if they turn off the taximeter you do not pay anything, and you call the police.
-Thanks, this was very instructing. You are policeman… (I read his badge). So if they protest I can say that policeman … told me that I do not have to pay anything since they turned off the taximeter.
-yes sir (smiling)
-Another question, an I in the law if I record the whole trip.
-You can, but if they ask you to stop recording you need to do it.
-ok thanks.
Then I left, and went to the taxi queue. There were many taxi, and no one. Before getting near I turned on the video recorder from the phone. I pretended I was a stupid turist which was reconding everything. I can make a silly face like no one else. A policeman was bringing people to the taxis. I asked the policeman:
-Hello, Oriente? How much it would be?
-I don’t know, 9, 10, not more than 10.
-The police over there told me 5.50, 6. Not more than 5.50, 6.
-I don’t know. It might be too little.
-But he says there is a taximeter, if there is no taximeter I dont need to pay, is that correct?
Then he shows me a taxi. Interestingly it is not the first one of the line, but one on the side. I am not sure if it is the one that usually would go. While I sit inside the policeman goes and says a few words to the taxidriver. They speak portuguese and at low voice. I keep the video on. I enter and I slide all the way behind the driver seat. Telephone video recording very visible in my hand. The driver gets in, and brings me to Oriente. The taximeter is on 1, the driver turns it on at the beginning then does not touch it at all for the whole trip. We arrive, rapidly. I ask how much it is (still the telephone recording in my hand. All the time I was pointing it out of the window. The taximeter signs 3.70. Adding 1.60 for the luggage we go to 5.30. The cheapest trip on record. I pay 6, turn off the camera. The driver walks out, opens the back of the cab, takes mu luggage, and slams it on the floor wheels first (If you are a frequent traveller you should know that the weak point of a luggage is the axle of the wheel. If that breaks the luggage is much more harder to carry). Luckily the luggage was a Samsonite, so it survived. But this was another final lesson. If you pay the right price instead of the price they would want you to pay, take the luggae yourself, and do not turn off the video recorder before you are far away.
So to summarise:
-1: know how much you are supposed to pay
-2: slide in all the way so that you seat on the back of the driver seat
-3: check that the taximeter is using tarif 1 if you are inside the city
-4: maybe check on google maps that you are not going all around the city. (or just relax and enjoy the ride)
-5: make sure that the driver does not turn off the taximeter once you arrive, before you have the time to see.
-6: if he does turn off the taximeter you are allowed not to pay anything. Insist to pay at least the right price.
-7: if the price is not right ask for a receipt, which should contain where was thr trip started, where were you going, the price, and the number of the taxidriver licence.
8: double check that the 4 informations are correct. If the price is too high, they will not be. Insist to have them correct. The price will magically go back down.

COP15 Needs an e-Government System

This morning I received a mail from Copenhagen. It was very moving, and describing a situation of chaos, strong commitment, and braveness. It told the story of people fighting with non violence, and shouting that they want change.

And I am afraid all this is useless. I feel once again what I felt looking at Iran insurgency. But stronger.

Let’s focus on Copenhagen. The sensation is that there is a lot of people on the street asking for a strong carbon tax. Count me among them. But there is more. I am afraid people have ideas, and those ideas are not being heard. And then people assume the worse, and assume the world leaders, the ministers, and everybody who is inside is on the pay check of some big corporations. And then they demand change. But now they do not focus any more on the small change. The key point. Now they want a huge change, that will not happen. And then there are rallies, and people pushing, and the police resisting. And violence. Yes police violence should not be there. And I feel this is not the way. It is not by shouting “Shame on you”, that you win the heart of the police men. It is not by shouting to people that you get yourself heard. As it does not change if I write this in normal letters or in CAPS LOCK. It is the content that matters And when you are shouting, when you are polarized, you are already making violence. This is not the way.

Now, there are people who work hard to negotiate among different positions. The Center for Non Violent Communication is probably one of the best. It was created by Marshall B. Rosenberg. One of the student of Gandhi (or so I remember from his book. The wikipedia page does not seem to mention it). Now Marshall has worked in the past as a negotiator between groups, and I am sure there are a number of very good negotiator working inside the conference to negotiate between the  key people. What I don’t think there is, are negotiator between the people in the conference and people outside.

It is like all the effort is concentrated in getting the communication going between those big players. But no work has been done to get enough communication between the inside of the conference and the outside. The assumption seem to be that either there are no good ideas outside or it is just impractical to engage them. I think both of those assumption are wrong. Yes, we still need to develop the tools to make an efficient brainstorm with millions of people. But the idea of having everybody writing their own ideas, and voting on the ideas they like is already a good start. Why is there no system like this to harvest the ideas from the people?

I was just looking at a youtube cnn conference where people sent questions, and voted on the questions. Again there is the assumption that normal people are just ignorant. This is not true. Not anymore (if it ever was). Not with the internet that let anyone study any topic.

In all those situations we need to set up systems where people can chip in their ideas. While it is happening, can read each other ideas. And the most voted ideas emerge from the noise to the people who are making the discussion.

In memory of David Carradine, what would Master Po say?

I wonder how Caine would have commented David Carradine‘s death. Especially the modus operandi.

I can see it. The light dissolves, and a new scene is in front of our eyes:

Master Po walks. Young Caine is thoughtful…

-What’s the matter, Grasshopper? Continue reading In memory of David Carradine, what would Master Po say?

How Twitter, Google, Wolfram|Alpha and WIkipedia are not competing at all

It seems to me that Twitter, Google, and Wolfram|Alpha, are really not competing at all, but are instead providing complementary services. I would go farther by adding wikipedia (and blogs?), and suggest that the 4 services really represent the digestive process of our information society. From the first Churning to the Backbone

Wolfram|Alpha represents the deeper part. It includes only what is really known inside out from our society. What has been fully digested. FOr something to be in W|A it needs to be known, semantically known, beyond doubt. And notice that I am here speaking about a deeper Wolfram|Alpha than what you have seen here. The Wolfram|Alpha as it should be, once we learned hot to interrogate it proprtly, and once it has epanded with the rest of the knowledge we have.

At a higher level we have wikipedia. Wikipedia permits much more stuff to be present. You have actors, and theories, and stories, and a lot of other stuff.  You also have discussions and point of views. In short you have a lot of stuff that is not being digested anymore, but is also not the bones of our society. It is more like the muscles. The limit of Wikipedia is that since it does not allow for new research, by definition it is limited to what has already been discovered. Although not in a definite way as in Wolfram|Alpha.

And then we have Google. Google is really part of the digestive process. It has new stuff coming in every few days. But is is also less clear. You need to work to get to the results using google. But you can also find new threads. Things that are still not known. There is real food here, waiting to be digested.

And Twitter is the more superficial tool. Twitter has second to second update. It has multiple links in different forms that point to the same resource. Information is not organised in any way, shape or form. But it is information nevertheless. It represents the edge of the knowledge wave of our civilization. It is deeply alive, unpredictable, full of possibilities. You never know how it will react. It is the most alive part of the constant discussion that is going on in our civilisation. It is the civilisation equivalent to the constant chit chat that is going on in our head. Although it has memory, it is not really good with it. Anything that is in Twitter can be true, can be false, can be anything in the middle, neither or both at the same time.

If you are an alive and creative mind that wants to participate in the constant flow of creation of this society you will probably end up interacting in twitter in some ways. But if you want your creation to be grounded in reality you need to use the other levels as well. They are really not competing.

And Blogs? Blogs are ways with which we store personal longer stories. The untwittable (as Chris Anderson from TED called his). They work between the google level and the Twitter level. Letting information move between those levels, and letting complex information be churned before is ready to go deeper. Similarly you have journal articles (and books) working to bring the information to the wikipedia level.

Timesonline censors unconfortable comments

As many of you know, I eat in Primal Diet from a long time. It is at least 3 or 4 years. I was very ill when I started, and feel much better now. I often look around to see when new articles appear on this diet, and I was very happy to read that a mainstream newspaper was writing an article about it. Too bad that the title was not very flattering: “The Primal diet: the silliest diet ever?“. The article was even worse. The worse set of factual errors, that newspaper has ever written. According to this article being in primal diet means to eat for 95% meat, and for most of it “high meat”. High meat is well off meat. Meat that has been kept in the fridge for days, weeks or months. I personally have never eaten high meat. But also people in primal diet who do eat high meat, do that very sparingly. Maybe a little bit, every 2 to 6 months to promote the response from the body. (FYI, this part of the diet is inspired by how some tribal people do eat some eat in their original diet. Confront on this Vilhjalmur Stefansson report on Eskimo diets).

After reading the article, I wrote a comment saying that the article contained factual errors, that I was on primal diet from a few years, and that it is simply false that people in primal diet eat so much high meat.

Guess what? The comment never passed the revision process. My comment was just before the comment of “Chris, Neath”. Yet it never appeared.

I find this behaviour from an online very dishonest, and feel the need to point it out.
We should all watch out from newspapers that censor informations that challenge them.


Mindmanager for Mac is a joke

I have been using mindmaps for quite some time. Wherever I go I am known as the mindmap person. My whole website was build using MindManager’s export-to-HTML function. But those where the times of Windows. Now I have moved to Mac and I have left behind MindManager. Now I use Freemind, and iMindMap.

I recently expressed my choise pubblicly on a twitter:

@gtdguy with all respect mindmanager sucks on mac. There I use freemind (4 speed) and imindmap (4 beauty). But neither makes HTML maps good!

I was then contacted by Michael Deutch (“Mindjet Chief Evangelist”), who asked me:

@pietrosperoni Buon giorno Pietro. What features / capabilities are you looking for in MindManager Mac? Thanks for sharing :)

The answer was too long for a tweet, so instead I decided to blog it, and tweet a link to it.

Dear Michael, thank you for your question.
I was undeniably in a great desire to share what I think about the way mindjet was treating Mac.
I use to use Minmanager many years ago, when I had Mindmanager 2002. Now Mindmanager for Windows runs version 8, Mindmanager for Mac runs version 7, and version 7 for Mac is sensibly worse than version 2002 for windows, from 6 years ago. As you can imagine I am pretty pissed off, and you might have to make a huge work to evangelize me.

Nowhere is the discussion about Mindjet product for Mac more focused than on the Mindjet Forums themselves. So please let us go there. In particular in the MindManager 7 for Mac. And to really pinpoint the issue, I would like you to read the Board: Is Mindjet really serious about the Mac?. It is 45 posts, 16 months long, so far, and is the one place where we frustrated mindmanager users, who were used to have a Windows version vent our anger.
Please read it, I’ll wait. (By the way, the authors “psdf” is me)

The shortest answer to your question is that we need MindManager for Mac to be as good as the Windows version for us to take it seriously.

We need the same functionalities as windows, and we need them at about the same time. A few weeks later is acceptable. Few months is bad, and years after is enough for us not to use your software. But not to implement them, is unacceptable for us to even considering hearing someone speak good about mindmanager without feeling an incredible urge to chip in our experience. Especially from a company that pretends to be Mac friendly.

I personally need to be able to upload my old .mm files, from mindmamager 2002. I need to have an export to html with embedded in the image links as there is in all other versions of mindmanager. I am particularly angry with Mindjet because that functionality, the possibility to have links embedded in the map, is only present from mindjet products. This makes me suspects that you might have patented this functionality, effectively denying any Mac user from being able to have it. I will actually have to restructure my whole website because of this. And this because I refuse to run a Windows system just for a program.

I have deleted MindManager 7 for Mac long time ago so it is now too late for me to make a side by side comparison. Plus I don’t have a Windows computer with a MindManager program running inside. But please, I plead you, you are in Mindjet headquarters, take a laptop with a Windows MindManager 8 on the one side, another with a Mac MindManager 7 on the other and run them side by side. And then, in all honestly, tell me if you are not disgusted by the Mac version. It is a stub. Now run it against MindManager 7 for Windows and see if you do not feel the same way. Run it against MindManager 2002 (I am sure you must still have a copy somwhere), and tell me if you don’t still feel the same way. Run it against freemind. Run it against any other mindmap program for Mac and tell me if you do not feel just the same way: Mindmanager for Mac is a joke!.

On top of all this, it was mindnumbing to see how bad were Mac users being treated on your own website, with mindjet ignoring Mac users requests, pleads, protests; Mindjet employers do not post in the Mindjet Mac forum anymore. Worse than that, if Mac users share with other users outside their forum what is going on they get deleted:

Hi All,
Well, I actually posted on the PC MM7 forum about the poor service that Mindjet have given the MAC community and how in a world of migration from PC to MAC that this is a bad thing for IT managers. It got deleted. Perhaps by posting here I am risking being banned from the the forum altogether but I wanted people to know that things are not all well at Mindjet (I own 3 mindjet licenses + JV Gannt etc) . However, I encourage you to do the same and not lie down and take the fact that Mindjet have taken your money and ran. Perhaps this mail will be deleted before anyone sees it. Poor, disrespectful service to a long time customer.

We are now using that forum to share tips about competing softwares. What else can we do?
We tried to mail for support, and the answer we got were:

Thank you for your interest in MindManager. At this time, we do not have an exact date in place for an upgrade for Mac users. Please check our website for updates.

Best regards,


Sent: Saturday , August 30, 2008 05:21 am PDT (GMT-07:00)
Subject: What about the new MAC version?

Do you have a general date? Like 4th Quarter 08?? I won’t hold you to it.

September 3, 2008 11:08:19 AM EDT
Update for Case #59656 – “What about the new MAC version?”

Unfortunately, we do not.

Best regards,

Susan Kozak
Customer Service Representative

Mindmanager is being too well treated from Apple. In Apple shops MindManager for Mac is being sold and presented in nice views on stands. That’s where I bought mine, that’s where I brought it back (with my feedbacks) the next day. Eventually we are going to get your products out of Apple stores. It just does not belong there.

Now, the number of Mac users is growing. I come from academia, and I can assure you that almost everybody there is using Mac.

Can Mindjet really afford to have this growing black hole of disaffectionate users grow and erode your base?
I don’t think so.

Best Regards,

Pietro Speroni
Ex Mindjet costumer, Ex MindManager user.

P.S. if by any chance the pages in the mindjet forum got deleted (you know, thos damn hackers are everywhere), just mail me, and I will send you a copy of them.

Michael’s Reply:

@pietrosperoni Thanks, will share your feedback with our team! Lots of win users migrated to mac last year!

Facebook as a spiritual tool

[crossposted on the moblog, and the facebook notes.]

One of the leit motif in spirituality is to reach an integration among the various parts of oneself. There are many important reasons for this, which I am not going to enter right now. Becoming One is not seen in Taoism as a spiritual goal, but as a spiritual prerequisite. It is not school, it is preschool. Until you are one you cannot really get involved with spirituality. It is like if in your family you decide to build a house, but not everybody agrees on that. Then one part of you builds it in the morning, and someone else of the family will destroy it in the evening. Maybe using the bricks for something else.

The idea that we are many, that each of us is many, is quite common. In psychology is common, Junghian Psychology, if I recall well. Again, in Taoism it even reaches the point of believing that this is true in a litteral point of view. Each of us, is seen as a patchwork of different spirits (shen). And when you die each spirit will then go its way. As such in Taoism until you have reached a real integration between your parts of yourselves (your spirits), you cannot even have reincarnation unless you have developed a unit which is integrated enough to go through the trauma of death without shattering in a 1000 little pieces.

And another idea that is very common (you have it in Taoism, but also in Christianity, for example), is the idea that one day, one time, at some point we will all get together. Christian say “sit by the father”. In Taoism the idea is that any person who have showed a spark of interest for spiritual work will eventually join together in some place beyong space and time, a sort of heaven. And the joke then is if people are following the 1 lifetime program, the 10 lifetime program, the 100 or 1000 lifetime program, to reach it. And the faster it is, the rougher it is.

I have to say I am amazed by how well is Facebook helping in this integration work, for me. I have many friends, on facebook. But more importantòy I have friends from different groups. Each friend knew a different Pietro. Some were from my spiritual life (taoism, tai chi, meditation, …), some from my academic world (artificial life, mathematics), some are Go-brothers, others people I knew from childhood, or from high school, or middle school. And with each of them I was a different person. And now they are all together. All in the same place. And the internet does indeed feel a little bit like this place beyond space and time. And I read of many of them. But what is more important, is that, as I write about my life, I am forced to write in a way that is acceptable for both my academic side and my spiritual side. I can only write in an integrated way, because I know that friends from both worlds will read me. In this sense facebook is catalysing an integration in me. Is helping me to become one.

I know many people are having problems with facebook. I think a lot of the problem is that they are not ready or willing to have this integration. For me Fb is pretty easy: to become my friend you need to know me. With very few exceptions I do not add anyone who is not someone I personally know. But if I have met you, and you want to befriend me, then you are in. I don’t keep people that I know out of the door. Because that would be equivalent to keeping some part of myself out of the door, the part of me that interacted with them. You are all invited to the party. I sometime even go back in time, and look for people I once knew. People that were important in my life. Or people I wished I had the time to know better. Maybe now we have another occasion. But then on my status, in my notes, in the caption of my photo, I try not to speak thinking about one in particular (I might have done it, but mostly I try to avoid it). I speak to all my friends at the same time. And if anyone comments, I answer that person, personally. The answer is personal, but anybody can see it, and thus the integration goes deeper. I write in English and in Italian, because those are the languages with which I live, work, chat, play and love. My inner dialogue is sometimes in Italian and sometimes in English, depending where I am, what I am thinking of doing. And my facebook reflects that.

Most of you know that I use facebook pretty frequently. I update the status often, sometimes more than once a day. But what some of you have not realised is that I do not do much less on facebook. I avoid facebook applications. I only use the ones that are truly useful, that add functionalities that were not there, and are truly helpful. If I want to wish to my friend Happy Chinese New Year, I will do it in person, or through the status. Not through an application. In this way the integration proceeds. I very rarely invite people to use applications. I only do so when I think an application is very very good. (The “skip this” button is my friend). I invited my friends for the geo tagging application. I would do it for the “cause” application. Maybe the iRead could be another one, and the application to play Go online. Here you go, this makes it 4. And when I invite people I only invite people I think will appreciate it (or should, they know it or not 😉 ). I consider the other applications to be equivalent to spam. I try not to spam my friends. When a new application arrives (elves, and pirates, etc…) , I usually just block it. If an application is requiring me to send invitation to let you proceed, I report it (because it is breaking the TOS, and ruining the party for everybody), delete it and block it. With absolutely no pity, whatsoever.

I see often people who get tired of facebook. But very often those are people who are not using facebook as a tool to interact with friends that are far away (in space or time), but as a game. Those are the friends that use more of those facebook useless applications. They get tired, but what they are really getting tired are those useless applications. They are right in getting tired. They just need to use facebook, instead of be used by it. And then fb will stop being a toy, and become an instrument. You will forget about facebook, and think about your friend.

Keeping the application to the minimum necessary.
Speaking to everybody. Inviting all your (real life) friends.
It is fairly easy to let facebook help you in the integration process.

How to use social networks in emergencies.

In the article:
Tweeting the terror: How social media reacted to Mumbai
it is explained how twitter, blogs and social networks gave mixed results in during the Mumbai massacre.
I particular it is said:

As Twitter user “naomieve” wrote: “Mumbai is not a city under attack as much as it is a social media experiment in action.”

But then,

as is the case with such widespread dissemination of information, a vast number of the posts on Twitter amounted to unsubstantiated rumors and wild inaccuracies.

and finally:

As blogger Tim Mallon put it, “I started to see and (sic) ugly side to Twitter, far from being a crowd-sourced version of the news it was actually an incoherent, rumour-fueled mob operating in a mad echo chamber of tweets, re-tweets and re-re-tweets.

Well, this could easily be avoided if we agree to just write the source of the information.
Just write (yourname) if you have seen something yourself.
(cnn) if you are repeating news from cnn, and so on.

Something that permits to track the spread of info to recover the original source could possibly be done directly at the twitter server level.

Ebooks, the next revolution. But this time is BIG!

Another revolution is about to happen.

A revolution that is many times in size and importance bigger than the music revolution. I call it the e-book revolution.

In this moment a number of technologies are coming together:

On the one side OCR technologies are reaching a level of sophistication, where it is nearly as easy to photocopy a book as to make an ebook out of it. Do you remember when you would go to a photocopy shop, and ask them to make a copy of the book. Now it is that easy to have the ebook version of it, if you know how to do it. This means that more and more books are available in ebook format.

But the difference between the ebooks now, and the mp3, back then, is that when the mp3s came out, a song (5 minutes of fun) was about 5 MB. And since the internet was slower back then, it would take quite some time to download those 5 minutes of fun. Now a book, is often between 1 and 10 Mega Byte. And it can permit you to read it, study it, but also just to consult it.
More about this later.

I thought there were few ebooks around. That mostly you could find some old classics, but nothing really interesting. I was SO wrong.

Here is a collection available for download from pirate bay with more than 1000 ebooks, all on computer science. Here another with practically all of the ebooks from the “* for dummies” collection.

Those are not just some old classics. Those are good new books.

But why are users going through the whole work of digitalizing a single book to post it online? I guess this text will explain us: Continue reading Ebooks, the next revolution. But this time is BIG!

My first 2 talks available online: Tags & 21st Century Democracy

The two talks I gave at the: International Workshop on Challenges and Visions in the Social Sciences, this summer, are now available at
Not the best talks of my career, and hopefully not the last either. But the guys at VL did a great job in recording them.

One of the talk was about Tags, and the second about Democracy of the 21st Century.

In the one about Continue reading My first 2 talks available online: Tags & 21st Century Democracy

Would you rather have sex or know about it?

This is quite interesting. According to this very unscientific statistics, with way too few data, but enough to start showing some trends, we discover that people who just completed elementary school has way more sex than everybody else.

Elementary school 24
Junior high / middle school 11
High school 10
College 11
College – post graduate 12


So, either those people are lying on the number of partners, or they are lying on the education they received. Or it is all true, and we need to assume that the less you study the more you fuck. But also who would have done only elementary school? I mean, in most countries by now middle school is compulsory. So if you only completed middle school chances are you are quite older. And so you had more sex just because you are older.

I am still looking for some real good statistics on the number of sex partners, breaking it down by age, education, wealth, sex, location, sexual preference, and anything else you can think off.

One think in positive is that they clarify very well what they intend with sex:
This includes vaginal or anal penetration. This does not include oral sex.
Is very common for women to agree only to do oral sex with one night stand partners, and then when you go and look at the statistics, the man claim thay have had sex, and the women deny it.

P.S. for some serious study please refer to this.

Dublin, Friday 13th of June, 2008

The problem is not that there are too many elections for Europe, but too few. And the people feel they are not controlling a process that is bigger than them.
When people vote No at the battlecry: when in doubt vote No, how else would You interprete it?

Now, it can be that the United States have given a help, under the table, to finance the advertisments against the treaty. After all they have all to gain from being the only superpower. But the advertisments found a fertile land to sprout.

When 95% of the irish parliament said to vote Yes, and the clear majority of people voted for No… something must mean.

Calderoli for one time (the only!) is right in noticing how from when Europe had to ratify its constitution have lost every time.

Now, here, they want to call again for a second referendum, and again, and again, until the Yes wins. Strange that the constitution permits it.

I am not against voting again, but I think it should be done right.

When there is a referendum, and the result expressed is more than 20% different from what the parliament has suggested, it is obvious that the parliament is no more reppresentative of the people. And so it should be considered automatically delegitimised. New elections should be called immediatly, to renew the parliament. And after this a new referendum should be called. Referendum at which the new parliament should give indications of vote. And again if the results are more than 20% different, we should vote again, and so on. Until the fracture between the people and its representatives has been healed.

This would mean that the power truly belongs to the people, and the parliamentaries truly represent the people.

With the new technologies we could have one new election every other day, and a new referendum in between. Within one week we would have a new parliament, and a result of the referendum, that agree with each other.

A bug on the E90 comunicator

I think I found a bug in the E 90 comunicator.

I don’t really know where should I tell, and who should I ask for support, so please if this is not the correct place, just adress me to the correct place. In any case I will copy my post in my blog to be a warning for people looking to buy an E90, until it has been solved.

I will tell the whole story, even if this might be long, because I am not sure what exactly make the bug appear. As it doesn’t appear immediatly, every time you use the phone, but only some time…

I live in Europe, and the situation in europe is that each country has different telephone companies. Since for work I travel a lot, I have a number of sim cards. About 5. One for each country a work in, except for Ireland where I have two. All this will become important.

So, I bought the E90 in Christmas in Italy. And I started using it with my Italian TIm card. When a few days later I left Italy, by car through France, the Tim card stopped sending messages. Eventually I discovered that there was a
“call barring>International calls exept to home ctry.” activated.
For: messages.

The Tim card would be barred even when I would move it through other phones (Nokia 6630). It seemed a problem of the card.

Now I had this sim card from ages, and I never used Pin or Puk, so I had no password. I thought that it was my own mistake. I might have pressed something wrong. I accepted that when I went back to Italy I would get a new card, with a new pin and Puk. But I was wrong…

Some days later I was in Ireland, and I was using a Vodafone Ireland sim card in the phone. Eventually I used up all the credit of the card. I tried to send more messages, but of course it was not possible.

When the next day I recharged the card

Now I have two cards, one from Vodafone Ireland, and one from Tim (Italy). Both barred against sending International messages.

But it gets better. This VOdafone card is absolutely new, and as such I have all the Pin, Pin2, Puk, and so on. So I tried to use them, and I found that while I had no way to add (or delete) any barring in the Tim card, I could do so in the Vodafone card.

The password was actually the Pin1 number. I moved that to the Pin2, to test it and it worked. (The same thing in the Tim card was not permitted).

So I then tried to take off the barring…
and it didn’t work. I tried with the Pin1, I tried with the Pin2.
I tried putting all the barrings and then taking them all off at the same time (there is a special command).
I tried to do all this from another phone.

Interestingly enough there are 5 different barrings that can be added to the
“call barring>International calls exept to home ctry.”
Of this “Messages” is only one. Still I can activate them all. But when I deactivate them all, the “Messages” one remains. I cannot (there is no way, no command) to fine grain activate only one or the other.

So the end position is that unless I find a way to undoe what has been done from the E90 to those SIM cards, it has effectively ruined 2 cards. I will have to re buy those cards, which is about 20 euro. Bad, but not terrible (athough I think Nokia should pay for that).

But what more warring is that now I have no desire to use the E90 anymore as a phone, since I can see how it would ruin one card after the other. If I cannot use it as a phone I now question its usability in general, for if I was looking to buy a palm top, I would surely chose another model. And sending sms messages is my primary way of comunication, since I am all the time abroad.

Now, I don’t know who to tell about all this.

If I go to the SIM shop (vodafone or tim), they will say that is a NOKIA problem, and they would be right.
If I go to the NOKIA shop they will say that I need to get the password from the Telephone people, and of course people who sell those phone in the Nokia shop just don’t know things at this level of details.

If I am looking for Forum from Nokia there is a lot of them, but somehow none seem to be the right one. None is a
“forum for users who found a bug in a Nokia new phone, and are looking to give information, get it fixed, or get back the money.”

Who should I speak to? Who should I ask for support, before I put all in a big box, and I send it back to Nokia with written broken.

Pietro Speroni di Fenizio's weB log