Presentation: Graphene and 2D electronics

I gave this presentation on Graphene and 2D Electronics at the Marie-Curie Conference 2013 in Florence, on Nov. 25. It was an session with mindblowing presentations especially from renown surgeon Ugo Boggi and CMS emeritus spokesperson Guido Tonelli. As I knew, speaking just after a superstar physicist is really really challenging.

Everybody had to keep their presentations understandable by a general audience of researchers and Marie-Curie fellows from diverse disciplines: hard sciences, social sciences, and humanities. And to stay within 12 minutes. For this reason I think this presentation can be enjoyable by casual visitors of my website. Enjoy.

However, the whole session was humbling. I was really honoured and thankful to the organizing committee for the invitation. Most of all, it was great fun.

(illustration by Argonne National Lab)

Don’t know much about algebra (and language)

Data from the OECD skill survey of adults. Considering adults in the age range: 16-65. We are not talking of PISA tests. These are not just pupils.

  • Numeracy Proficiency: Italy is second last (Spain is Last, Japan is First)
  • Literacy Proficiency: Italy is last (Japan is first again)

Basically, too many people cannot understand written instructions and cannot perform a simple calculation (for example, the interest on their mortgage or their savings account).

Anyway, even adjusting for the level of education, people in the age 16-24 perform better at tests than those in the age 55-64.

Things are slowly improving … (but I already knew it (link in italian) )

The complete OECD Adult Skills Outlook is here



1984 + 29

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

George Orwell in “1984”

You want to have the right heroes

Nice Warren Buffett interview. The best quotes:

  • “If you tell me who your heroes are, I’ll tell you how you’ll turn out.” 
  • “You’re going to [bet on] the person that has the right habits
  • “You want to hang around with people that are better than you are”
  • Look at the persons you admire the most. Write down their qualities. Try to cultivate them yourself
  • “Try to do the job you would do if you were independently rich. It cannot get any better than that”
  • “It’s useful to take a job as a salesperson, just to learn to interact with people”
  • “If you just do something extra every day, I will be perceived as exceptional”
  • “You cannot let other people set your agenda in file. Learn to say no”
  • “You need to get on the right train. Some businesses are inherently more difficult than others”

Watch live streaming video from levoleague at

The new wave of media

A whole bunch of new written media outlets have arrived. All experimenting with different business models (subscriptions, donations, sponsors, advertising, conferences, etc).

No surprise: none seems to really work. Frankly, trying to guess who’s gonna make it is almost as much fun as reading them.

My list as of now;

In Italy? Il Post and Linkiesta are the ones I prefer, but basically they are web-only newspapers, betting on advertising. As usual, very little experimentation here.

A few one man shows in the US are thriving. The more specialized the better. Mainly monetising with consulting, books, venture deals. Again, almost nothing of the kind in Italy.

Am I missing something?

Sounds like a good idea

I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22

Swartz 13 – King 0

After a few days, Lessig again on Swartz:

Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?

His motive was political — obviously. His harm was exactly none — as JSTOR effectively acknowledged. But he deserved, your “career prosecutors” believed, to be deprived of his rights as a citizen (aka, a “felon,” no longer entitled to the political rights he fought to perfect) because of what he did.
Yet here’s the thing to remember on MLK weekend (even though my saying this violates a rule I believe in firmly, a kind of inverse to Godwin’s law, because though I believe these two great souls were motivated by exactly the same kind of justice, King’s cause was greater):
How many felonies was Martin Luther King, Jr., convicted of?
King, whose motives were political too, but who, unlike Aaron, triggered actions which caused real harm (as in physical damage).
What’s that number?
And how many was he even charged with in the whole of his career?
Two bogus charges (perjury and tax evasion) from Alabama, which an all-white jury acquitted him of.
This is a measure of who we have become.


The “Maglia nera” whoever has power

These are basically data following a Post Christmas-party discussion. From the World bank database, GDP growth in the last 20 years in Italy, Germany, France, US, Euro Area. As can be seen, Italy has almost always been the worst performer, the “Maglia nera“.

My argument is simply that it is not a matter of left and right policies, or of left and right political figures. I am choosing a 20-year time span for a reason: In the last 20 years we had for about 10 years a “centre-left” administration, and for 10 years a “centre-right” administration. Can you see the difference in the data? I can’t, since both in good and in bad times we have lost growth opportunities.

For full disclosure, I have voted for the “centre-left” coalition in the last 20 years. Frankly, it was a no-brainer. Anyway, data show that centre-left and centre-right have no clue on how to restore growth in the Country, or in a region, or in a city. And in the few cases in which they have a small clue, they have no courage (this addition is my opinion, not embedded in the data, so it might be wrong).

I have Crichton Amnesia

I just found the name of a sickness I have. I knew I was not the only one, but I now have a confirmation, and I am relieved. Michael Crichton, in a great 2002 speech at the International Leadership Forum, called it “Gell-Mann Amnesia”. It was actually his invention, and name of a Nobel prize only served to confer imore authority to the malaise. To me is therefore Crichton Amnesia.

So, I suffer from Crichton Amnesia. These are the symptoms, in four steps.

  1. I read a newspaper article, or listen to some news on the radio or tv on a topic I know in detail (for example, something related to physics, EE, research, academia).
  2. I realize than the author/speaker has no understanding of what he/she is describing and of what really happened. He/she does not put any effort, and swaps cause and effect.
  3. I decide that journalists are totally unreliable, and that one should never believe what they say.
  4. A few seconds later, I forget my resolution, and I start reading or listening very carefully the next piece, on a topic I have no direct knowledge of, such as Middle East, the financial crisis, China, the prison system, and millions of other things. Indeed, it is amnesia.

I tried to cure myself in 2012, following as little news as possible. Going to the original sources, when the news was really important and time allowed.

But my complete recovery is still far away, and the cure will take a lot of time and effort.

Building a business on smart homes: Alertme


I closely follow Alertme from 2006, since it was founded in Cambridge, UK. I really liked their idea of cloud-based home security and automation with Zigbee sensors before “cloud” was a term en vogue. It resonated with something we were (and still are) trying to do.

Then, they inexplicably (at least for me) switched the primary focus to smart energy, i.e. on ways to use the cloud-based sensor network to monitor and optimize energy use at home. I never understood the move. I made my calculations considering a family living in an apartment, and knowing our family energy consumption. I could not see how one could invest a 500-1000 euros and several hours in the hope to reduce their energy bill of a 50-100 euros per year. I thought the “home security” case was much more compelling. At the time, energy was a favored theme among VC, and I assumed this was a way for them to complete their series B round of 15M GBP. 

Now, it seems to me they are refocusing again on cloud-based smart homes, with a minor accent on security. The nice video above details their vision. As distribution is concerned, they switched from direct website selling to partnering with British Gas and Lowe’s. Much larger volumes, smaller margins.

I am really eager to see whether they will still be able to mark their difference with respect to the pack of other home automation companies (no more the Apple of home automation).