The Analytical Machine

I have recently finished reading The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick and I haven’t been so excited about a non-fiction book for a very long long time. More than 400 pages about the history of science may be off-putting at first glance but Gleick is simply a master. He carefully blends the history of the scientific discoveries with the personal life of the scientists and the society around them, until you truly appreciate the ambition (and sometimes the loneliness) of their visions.

I’m not in the business of writing reviews but I really wanted to recommend this book somehow, so I decided to draw an illustration inspired by the 4th chapter of the book. Here Gleick tells the story of Charles Babbage and his colossal Analytical Machine. This tragic character – definitely one of my favourites – somehow dreamt of a modern ‘computer’ in the midst of the industrial revolution. He spent most of his life trying to build one, with little support besides the passionate letters of Ada Byron, daughter of the famous poet and pretty badass lady herself: self-taught mathematician and basically the world’s first computer programmer.

I am seriously thinking about turning their story into a short comic…


Analytical Machine Babbage Farinella

How The Internet Works


metadata animation Farinella McGregor

With this very simple GIF (my first one ever) I am proud to announce a very exciting collaboration with Susan McGregorfrom Columbia University. Susan is Assistant Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and has been writing a paper about Digital Security For Journalists.

Who can read your emails? How to prevent it? What’s the difference between http and https? How does encryption work? These questions are becoming increasingly relevant for all of us, not only for journalists. This is why she asked me to draw some cartoons to illustrate the paper and make it more accessible. Exactly the kind of project I love.

You can read the online version as a Git Book or buy a printed copy from Lulu.

I hope you like it because we are planning to do more!

William Morris dream (COPY #7)


William Morris Farinella

A few weeks ago I visited the William Morris Gallery and it was for me a great revelation. I  had seen his work before but I didn’t know much the great man behind it. Despite his privileged life Morris was a social activist, advocating – amongst many other things – for a new form of art which was affordable and hand-made. He wanted to raise the artisan to the status of the artist, against the rise of industrial manufacture. This is why I have decided to draw one of his famous patterns as my monthly copy. To make it more interesting I added also a portrait of him and his lifelong companions: Gabriel Dante Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones (who inspired with him to the Arts and Crafts Movement) and his wife Jane Morris, discussing the teachings of John Ruskin’s The Stones Of Venice.

William Morris pattern

“Brother Rabbit,” design registered May 20, 1882 (printed 1917–23) (detail) Designed by William Morris (British, 1834–1896); Produced by Morris & Company, Merton Abbey, England Printed cotton; 106 1/2 x 37 1/2 in. (270.5 x 95.3 cm) Purchase, Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1923 (23.163.5)

Morris famously said:

“I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I would would follow up saying that I do not want science for a few any more than art for a few. Art has become a much more ‘popular’ during the past century (although probably not more affordable), while the appreciation of science has mostly remained a privilege of a few academics. I think it’s time to apply Morris’s revolutionary spirit to the sciences: to make them much more accessible and democratic. And since we’re at it, why not create science-inspired wallpapers, fabrics and patterns? The intricate structure of biology would lend themselves perfectly to beautiful designs and many artists are already working in this direction. We should have public commissions for scientific designs, to incorporate in our public schools and hospitals, libraries and museums.

Is it just a dream?

Esce Neurocomic!

Great news! From tomorrow you should be able to find the beautiful Italian edition of Neurocomic by Rizzoli Lizard.

As you may know, I have been living abroad for most of my adult life and I am not particularly inclined to nationalistic sentimentalities, but I can’t help feeling some pride in seeing this book translated in my mother tongue. So I have decided to indulge in a little celebratory drawing: here is Luigi Galvani, pioneer of neuroscience, losing his experimental subjects in a dark and stormy Bologna (our common hometown). The comic geeks amongst you can also have some fun spotting a couple of hidden references to popular Italian logos.

Thanks to all of you who supported me. When I started working on Neurocomic two years ago I would have never imagined this day would come.

Galvani Neurocomic Farinella

Duchenne smile (or COPY #6)

Duchenne Farinella Neurocomic

Here is a little illustration inspired by the latest Neurocomic talk at The Cube London. Our guest speaker Philip Loring, curator of Psychology at the Science Museum, guided us through the fascinating history of electrotherapy with a series of paintings, concluding with The Nerves Of The Army by CRW Nevinson.

CRW Nevinson Nerves Army

CRW Nevinson (1918) Nerves of the Army,
Oil on canvas, 88.9 x 54 cm (c) Imperial War Museums

So I think this also counts as my monthly copy, although heavily modified to omage Dr. Duchenne de Bolougne, one of the fathers of modern neurology and great practitioner of electrotherapy himself, which he employed to study the “physiology of emotions”. His pionering photographs were later used for the illustrations in Darwin’s book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Caption reads "FIG. 20.—Terror, from a photograph by Dr. Duchenne"

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Caption reads “FIG. 20.—Terror, from a photograph by Dr. Duchenne”

Also, did you know that Duchenne “determined that smiles resulting from true happiness not only utilize the muscles of the mouth but also those of the eyes. Such “genuine” smiles are known as Duchenne smiles in his honor.” ? This is why I love Wikipedia.

Finally, if this electric medley of science-art and history is not enough for your voracious brains, I strongly recommend the recent article Can you supercharge your brain? on Mosaic Science, reporting the current applications of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) in military training. Some crazy story…


May has been a pretty busy month: I’m back at work on the second season of MCB80x and I also started a new exciting collaboration with another American university… but I still found the time to make this little illustration, inspired by the talk Mike Jay gave on the 3rd of May, part of a series of events accompanying the Neurocomic exhibition at TheCube. If you are in London please come to see Philip Loring talk on the 5th of June.

endorphin, neurocomic, farinella

The illustration represents a molecule of endorphin getting distracted, while a sneaky opioid opens a μ receptor. Opium (also known as ‘poppy tears’) is one the most popular drugs of all times. Read more about the history of mind altering substances in High Society.