Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Love. What does it have to do with a van?

I did want to talk about it; I did want you to know. I'm telling you now: the van is coming to Rome (more precisely, to the musical festival of Capannelle). But wait; let's take it step by step, otherwise you won't understand a thing. 
Well, it all began - more or less - at the end of last year. The story I want to tell you started at that time. I used to drive my car listening to the three CDs of Mark Knopfler's last album, Privateering, which I had the luck to buy on Amazon, Deluxe edition. I don’t want to bore you with a review, though, for you can find one everywhere just by surfing on the Internet.
Instead, I'm going to explain to you what I did (make yourself at home, get yourself a drink maybe). After having listened to the first CD for a long time, I decided to skip the second one, for I was too curious about the third one, which is the one containing the bonus tracks. At first I wasn't so sure that buying it was worth it. I mean, you know, nowadays they're always giving you these bonus CDs and when you listen to those extra tracks you only think "well, they really made a good choice by leaving them out from the standard edition"
I feared such a thing. As I said, I'd already got a precise idea of what to expect. Until the day when I finally listened to it. Good heavens, after the first song, really good but not that transcendental (even if I appreciated some drum bridges very much), here comes a version of Cleaning My Gun that is more than amazing. I mean, can you believe that? I mean… if Mark (with or without van, it's not so important) is going to perform that song on stage at Capannelle (and you can bet I'll be there – I've got the ticket already), I don't know… I just can't ask for more.  Also the version of Sailing to Philadelphia is really good: calm and pleasant, as it should be. "Hill Farmer's Blues" came as a surprise to me, too, with its particular and penetrating guitar riff which seems to show you that things always happen for a reason; a good one. At least, that's what it says to me. And on this basis you can build strong structures. Sure you can, 'cause you've already affirmed the positive side of everything!
Now I can almost see you, telling me I've already deduced my moral from the situation. I could end like this, then. Yet it's not so and please don't go: wait (as you've not finished your drink yet, have you?). Actually, what I intended to say was a bit more elusive, decisive, and light, in a sense. It's the act of falling in love: yes sir. What always gets you. It screws all your plans, projects and strategies, your adaptation techniques, your surviving techniques. That comes always unexpected, like a sort of mystery. You can never tell. I'm not just talking about the love for a man, or for a woman. Not only. It's also about falling in love for a music, for a song, for a book, for a movie. Once it gets through your brain, new aspects, new points of view, new thoughts are free to run. You can feel energy running powerful through your veins. You feel alive.
I recollect some memorable artistic infatuations. For example, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells 3. I've been listened to it for such a long time. It's got a particular, limpid energy… almost spiritual. The CD opens with the sound of the wind, that softly modulates a six notes structure, then reprised all through the album.  Well, guess what? Still now – more than a decade after its making – when I hear the wind noise I often link it to the notes of that disc. If I don't hear them with my own ears, then I add them by myself: I add them mentally, for I consider them as an indispensable complement. 
Another example is Kate Bush's Aerial. Now, as you probably know, actually it's a box set consisting of two CDs. Let me say, very chic. Maybe the most beautiful CD cover among her last works. The light shade of brown, the girl at the table. Her expression. The inkpot, the pen. The window, the tree outside. The joy of the small things, redeemed by a feast of smooth colors. Look at the girl's eyes. It seems it's not you regarding at her, but vice versa: she's probing your soul. She's the one stepping forward, in spite of her apparent stillness… Don't you agree? But ok, let's talk about music. The opening of the second disk is simply amazing. You can hear the delicate notes of the piano, the voice of a child talking expressing his touching childly wonder – The sky is full of bird! – and immediately the natural call of a turtledove which will play along with yo,u all through the CD. The piano gently beats on the rhythmic structure of the call; the music is built around it, little by little. And for me there's no other way to listen to it. Now when I hear the turtledove I imagine being inside the disk. If I hear its call, I imagine immediately the repeated notes of the piano. More than a fantasy. I hear them. Tu-tu--tuu. Tu-tu--tuu.
The Kate Bush album features this wonderful painting
By now, something similar happens to me towards the van (well, perhaps you'll understand better now). Yes, I'm talking about the van at the center of Mark Knopfler's CD cover. When I happen to see a van even remotely similar to that one, wandering the streets,  I look at it with a new affection, with a new quality of attention that I would never have granted it before.
The "famous" van of Mark, now it's also mine :)
Love, affection… they have something unique. It's something owning mysterious roots, something you organize and recreate your own perception of the world around.  This is true for the love of a life, for a passion, for something that arouses the sense of beauty – a work of art. There's no way. 
When it comes to love, everything has to be remodeled.
Romano Guardini used to say: "Within the framework of a great love, everything happens soon becomes an event." And as I understand it, the same dynamic applies to all kinds of love. Every thing through which, or person through whom, the sense of a universal beauty and harmony touches us.
Also through a simple van, so to speak.

From a post in Italian. The Author want to express its gratitude to Claudia Castellani for the  translation.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Rdio and Spotify, an endless river of music

And suddenly it happens. All your huge music collection, all the disks you patiently bought in years, one by one... Well from now on, in a certain sense, it is as if you could better not to buy them. As a matter of fact, if you subscribe to a service like Spotify or Rdio (that have just become available in Italy), you find yourself in front of a huge sea, a wonderful ocean of music - all open for you to explore.

Now you can listen not just to your collection, but to an extremely large archive. That probably already include all items of your collection, and much more. I know, I know. Technically speaking, there is an important difference. Your albums are... yours, you can listen to them whenever you want, while the access to this mare magnum typically cost you something. That is, around five Euro for month, or twice if you want to access it also from smartphone or tablet. Spotify actually allow you also to use the service for free, but then the streaming is annoyingly interrupted by commercials, and there are other restrictions, so that usually you get tired soon. At least, I'm already tired now.

Music can flows and never ends...
(Image by Brandon Giesbrecht licensed CC)

After a bit of testing and some oscillations between Spotify and Rdio, I chose - as someone else - to give my money to Rdio. My main reasons are listed in the following points 
  • Interface. The one of Rdio is clearer and cleaner in respect of the one of Spotify. Briefly, I found it more simple and enjoyable. Of course, it's a matter of taste.
  • The web. Rdio works nicely from your browser. Spotify cannot play a single note if you does not load its client.
  • Albums. OK, here I have to explain. I grew up collecting albums. Vinyl records, cassettes, in a first time. Then CD and after that, mp3 collections. Anyway, I was used to think and respect the fact that the music that I love (pop/rock, jazz, classical) is logically encapsulated in albums. I understand a thing if I can examine its boundaries, the interfaces between the object and the rest of the universe. To me, boundaries of musics are defined by albums. An album is a complete work, organic, indicative of a certain age and a certain path of artistic maturation of the people involved in it (that's also the reason I am not excited by anthologies, in passing). Now, let's say I want to add an album in my collection, on Spotify. What can I do? I can add the songs of the album to a playlist. But it's exactly what I do not want to do!  I want to get the album itself preserving its peculiar identity! On Rdio I can add the album to my collection. The album. Without having to grow a generic playlist. This is really important, for people like me.
  • Rdio does have Pink Floyd. Spotify does not have Pink Floyd. Things are, I do like much Pink Floyd.
  • There are other minutiae as well... with Rdio you can use a device as a remote controller to play music in another device. You can use iPad or iPhone to remotely control the musical flow you're playing on your desktop, for instance. Cute!
  • Quality (?). Take this with a grain of salt, but it seems to me that streaming on Rdio sounds a bit  more clear in respect to the one from Spotify. But it's a subjective impression obtained after just a few tests. Maybe I'm wrong.

On the minus side: I'm aware of one thing. One important thing. There is the empirical fact that almost everyone is on Spotify, now.  The social aspect is much more important, there. So, I'm sorry for my friend on Facebook, I will not be able to see what they are listening. But I feel better on Rdio.

At any rate, independently of your choice, it's evident that we are on the threshold of an entirely new way to listen to music. It will certainly change your paradigms. When it comes to decide what to listen to, well, you can now listen to... everything. I've seen messages on Facebook about people wanting to hear  (more or less) all the good music they have lost. This is a difficult task, since it may actually takes much time...

For me? Now, instead of listening to the Piano Sonatas by Mozart (an icon of classicity at its absolute best, trust me) as performed by one interpreter, I can choose each time a different pianist. I can appreciate the differences, I can even study them, if I want.

Quite inconceivable, few years ago.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Why Curiosity already won (in my opinion)

Only a few hours before the  arrival of Curiosity on the Martian surface. The landing is a complex and intricate task, and we really hope all will be ok.

The Twitter account of Mars Curiosity, of course managed by NASA, at the time of writing, has a respectable number of 200,419 followers. You can bet that by the time you read this post, it was even a few minutes from now, the number of followers will be even greater.

In my opinion, a first important result of the mission has already achieved: to demonstrate once again that science affects the general public.  People love to stay in direct contact with these great missions: they account for the modern age what once could be the exploration of the Indies, for example. The pictures that come to us from the planets of the Solar System are the equivalent of stories and drawings of ancient explorers. These modern interplanetary missions are called to compile a brand new Million, the famous book that Marco Polo wrote describing his explorations.

The man has a thirst for discovery, to go over, to throw the heart over the obstacle. We are engaged in a thousand affairs, bogged in ten thousand daily problems, but (thankfully), we are still interested in a mass of metal and circuitry that is coming on a distant planet, It concerns us, fascinates us. And after all,  remind us that curiosity is a fondamental aspect of our humanity.

Marco Castellani
INAF - Astronomical Observatory of Rome

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Play Books more closed than iBook?

This morning I installed Google Play Books on my Android device. It 's quite obvious that Google is trying to create its own ecosystem that will be a viable alternative to Apple, so Google Books takes its place alongside Play Music, the Store, etc...

From my first impression, I'd say that I like the graphics, the rendering of the books is excellent - even on small screen (like my Xperia Ray) -  and the possibility to read a book everywhere using the browser (unlike Apple iBooks) is appreciable. Moreover, synchronization between devices is an added value.
Among the things that I do not like, I have to mention that there is no possibility to highlight text on your mobile device (or at least I'm not finding it!), and (most annoying) it seems to me that you can't upload your books, to be added to the library.

It 's the thing that leaves me more puzzled, because even Apple iBooks allows you to load books in ePub format (with no or Social DRM) in order to be addet to your library. I find this is a very a useful thing, and I am disappointed that you can not do it in Play Books (if there is, let me know, please!).
Definitively, it seems to me that you can only add books from Google Play Store.

Is Google getting more "closed" than Apple?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Jogging can be complicated...

A couple of days ago, I went for a jog in the park .

This simple action, actually, made me reflect on the amount of technology that we carry with us every moment of our lifes - even for a simple jog! I go out with my Xperia Ray and earphones, to listen to some music while I struggle. As a matter of fact, I also use a certain number of android apps, during my brief run. Just for fun, I decided to make a list of them :)

Actually, I was a bit more dressed...

I listen to the music taking advantage (obviously) from the built-in player of Android. Meanwhile, I trace my path and the parameters of the training with Endomondo. Sometime I stop to rest a while, and also to snap a few photos of the beautiful landscape (Instagram,LightBox). I also do not forget to make my check in with Foursquare. In passing, almost all of these things can interact with my Facebook profile and the Twitter timeline, of course.

The GPS is also widely used in my run, for applications such as Endomondo (which gives me a nice and detailed report of my effort, along with associated statistics on speed and time...), Instagram (for geolocation of photos) and of course Foursquare (even if, it can work rather fine without it).

Well, I'm pretty sure that there were times when jogging was much simpler... :)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Unboxing my new iMac...

Finally it arrived! The day before yesterday, I took the box, bringing it at home with me. Heavy, but not that much. In the evening it was still closed. Well with a specific reason, of course: is a sort of gift for my son, and should come as a reward for scholastic achievement. Problem is, the results (at the moment writing) are, at least, controversial. 

At the end, we decided to unbox. I believe that anyone living in a family, as a parent or in any other role, knows quite well that the subtle art of compromise is a necessary quality, indeed often decisive for the proper handling of healthy family relationships. 

Please Dad, let’s unpack it! Just to try if it works... I do not want to play, I promise, I'll only see if it works .. .. (no one believes, but there it is). 

For me, I was  looking at this large box and I was thinking... ok, I understand all, but it is a shame not to try it .... Moreover, I need  also to see if everything is fine ...

Admittedly, the only thing that stopped me - at that point - was a certain amount of laziness: just imagining  the scenario of unpacking, assemble and configure all this stuff.. in a time while you could better stay in bed reading a good book, or sleeping.... or ... 

Curiosity killed the cat, anyway, so that the request of my child won on my laziness. I decided to unpack. Hopefully it will be a quick thing. I still have memories of the other computer, the one with Windows. It was a mess. Attach the cables, the monitor, mouse, speakers, then the network cable (and at this point you already are in the midst of a forest of cables, that tend to weave in an exquisitely polymorphic way), then configure it all, then ...then .... 

Well, this time it has been different. Boys, it was fast. Very very fast. Just, place the'iMac on your desk, plug it. You’re done. Keyboard and mouse come already configured to work with your brand new iMac (I do appreciate this care for small details). Put your network wireless password. That’s all. A spectacle. And it all works, now.

New, new workspace - 2011
Elegance matters... 

The screen, although only the smaller 21.5'' (budget reasons forced me to buy the cheaper iMac, which is more than adequate for the domestic use, at least in my home), is also a spectacle. The computer itself steals very little space. And you have Mac OS X on board. With all the high-class software that you can easily install, often with a moderate expense (and I say this having spent years with Windows and Linux, I think I know rather well what's around for other operating systems...)

I like. I really like. Elegant, comfortable, not bulky. I'm so glad that this time I did not try to save money, deciding for the classic PC with Windows (on which to carve the mandatory partition for Ubuntu).

What are you saying? Ah yes. Yes, you're right. I have become quite Mac addicted, at this point. And (what's worse), I do not regret it.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Open source and research: the case of GAIA

How important is the open-source software as part of the scientific research nowadays? Since I am an astronomical researcher, a lover and a user of open-source software, I’m very interested in trying to deepen this topic.

Well, an opportunity to talk about it now comes from the observation of software tools that are utilized in a big project to which I am also taking part, that is the definition of procedures for processing and analyzing the photometric data that will be generated by the ESA (European Space Agency) probe called GAIA (curiously, one of the first articles appeared on my italian blog was just about GAIA, in 2002). The probe will be launched in 2013, but the work for the definition of the appropriate procedures is already running at full capacity.

An artistic image of GAIA
(Credit: ESA/Medialab)

In my opinion, even a simple, brief list of software tools used by the different teams of Gaia - coordinated through a European network of scientific institutes - would probably be enough to understand that the open-source software is doing great or - to put it in a more technical way – that it now can count on its own defined space essential for applications and fields, at least in scientific research.

To proof this, I’ve written down a list (incomplete) of the open source software currently used in the development of the Gaia data reduction procedures, made by simply thinking about the tools that are used, by me or my colleagues, for the daily work within the project itself...

So, this is the catalog:
  • Java: is the language of analysis software and data reduction. Following a decision of ESA, all procedures need to be written in Java. This involves a series of remarkable benefits in terms of independence from the hardware, portability, modularity, etc. ... too long to be fully explained here.
  • Eclipse: is the highly recommended development environment  (which is to say, do what you like, but you don't expect support with other environments…)
  • SVN: all the code is put under revision control, using subversion
  • MediaWiki: there is a wiki with restricted access, very large, in which is shown all the project documentation, the meetings and seminars for the various teams, the documentation. Briefly, a sort of mini thematic Wikipedia, devoted to people working on the project.
  • Hudson: a tool to automatically test the codes, at scheduled intervals, and submit reports on webpage
  • Cobertura: this tool is able to calculate the percentage of the code accessible to the test procedures
  • Mantis: is the chosen tool for controlling and managing bugs in the project
  • Grace: a useful tool to create graphics
  • Topcat: an interactive browser of tables and data editor
  • ant: a useful compilation tool in Java
  • Plastic (Platform for Astronomical Tool Interconnection) is a protocol of communication among different tools utilized mainly in astronomy (now is going replaced by SAMP)
  • And probably there's something more that I cannot recall right now... :-)

The interesting thing is that all this software is released under the GPL (General Public License) or similar, which makes it much easier to spread and use the software itself: there is no need to obtain proprietary and restrictive licenses (or to make our own institutes acquire them…): you can download the software and begin to use it immediately. That’s it. It's not bad, I’d say, both for the "personal scientific productivity” and for the undoubted advantage that this has as part of the real project. Can you imagine how much of the researcher’s time and of the taxpayer’s money should be spent if they had to obtain licenses (renewals, software keys…) for all these things?

(Originally published on the blog SegnaleRumore, kindly translated by Claudia Castellani).


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