Articles Written in 2007

Passione per lo sport

photo sharing

Il 23 Settembre scorso — ne scrivo solo oggi per la cronica mancanza di tempo — si sono svolti nella ridente (?!?) cittadina di Cavenago gli esami di graduazione di primo e secondo dan. La palestra in cui pratico il Karate, quando il lavoro mi lascia un po’ di pace, aveva una rappresentanza di ben nove allievi, sei esaminati per passare dalla cintura marrone (1° kyu) alla cintura nera (1° dan), e ben tre per conquistare il grado di 2° dan. È stato un piacere poter partecipare in qualità di fotografo, per immortalare qualche momento di tensione, prima dell’esame, lo sforzo degli atleti durante la performance ed infine la gioia dopo aver conseguito il diploma.

Studiare il Karate richiede un notevole impegno: se lo si pratica come agonisti, come Gabriele ed Andrea che vedete in fotografia, significa faticare parecchio, rinunciare ai pomeriggi con gli amici, alla PlayStation e magari anche alle ragazze, per trovarsi quasi tutti i giorni in palestra a sudare, per raggiungere un traguardo sfuggente, per vincere una gara, conciliando il tutto con l’impegno scolastico.

Anche per chi, come me, pratica quest’arte come amatore l’impegno è molto perché, anche se ci alleniamo solo due sere la settimana, e non abbiamo certo lo stress delle gare, gli impegni di lavoro ed in famiglia, per molti i figli, sono spesso difficilmente conciliabili con gli orari obbligatoriamente fissi delle lezioni.

Raggiungere quindi il primo traguardo della cintura nera è davvero motivo di soddisfazione ed orgoglio perché significa in qualche modo arrivare alla conclusione della prima parte di un lungo percorso, durato almeno quattro o cinque anni. Per chi raggiunge il secondo dan, ovviamente, la soddisfazione è ancora più intensa.

L’anno prossimo toccherà a me cimentarmi con l’esame di secondo dan, sempre che trovi il tempo di allenarmi decentemente per poter essere ammesso all’esame…

Un ringraziamento “di rito”, ma autenticamente sentito, va ai due istruttori della palestra che hanno portato tutti noi a questi risultati, con la loro competenza tecnica ma anche impostando nel dojo un clima amichevole e proficuo. Grazie Mauro e Roberto! Continuate così, nel solco tracciato da Antonio: il nostro sensei è certamente contento di tutti noi.

Nota importante: trovate sulla mia pagina di Flickr le fotografie dell’esame.

Desktop wallpapers

Vladstudio logo

My computer desktop, both under Linux and Windows, is very clean: no icons of any kind, only a couple of semi-transparent widgets like a clock and a calendar sticked on the background. Nothing else. Since I use a personal computer for many hours a day, I want to see beautiful images, not a crappy desktop full of unused icons. So I spend some time looking for wallpapers images, which I usually find in Flickr or site like GNOME-look.org or KDE-look.org.

This morning I was surfing here and there when I run into this site: vladstudio.com. It’s the site of a Russian graphic designer in which you can find plenty of desktop wallpapers. I was struck by the originality of his works and the beautiful colors.

My advice is to take a round on Vlad site and enjoy his art.

Una proposta davvero indecente

Articolo del Times

In questi giorni tutti, sulla rete, parlano della vergognosa proposta di legge che prevederebbe, qualora attuata, la creazione del ROC, registro dell’Autorità delle Comunicazioni, cui chiunque abbia un blog o un sito sarebbe tenuto a registrarsi.

In tutta questa vicenda molto italiana, il fatto a mio parere rilevante è che sul Times è apparso un bell’articolo di riportato dal blog di Beppe Grillo. Vi invito a leggere l’articolo originale, visto che nel post di Grillo non è riportato il link. È davvero ben scritto ed equilibrato, un po’ più pacato dello stile a cui Grillo ci ha abituato.

Una passaggio su tutti, davvero brillante:

If the Italian Government seems unable to adapt to the modern world, the explanation is quite simple. Your country would operate like this too if your grandparents were in charge.

Il mio commento sulla vicenda è scontato: se questa bella trovata fosse stata proposta dal centro destra, forse avrei pure potuto capirlo, ma proposta da gente che alle ultime elezioni si è spacciata come il faro delle libertà civili, contrapponendosi allo strapotere di un Berlusconi illiberale, fa veramente riflettere sulla triste condizione in cui versa questo Paese, bello sì, ma anche tanto sfortunato.

Aggiornamento: vi segnalo anche quest’articolo di Manlio Cammarata, che da moltissimi anni si occupa di tutto ciò che riguarda gli aspetti legali legati alla rete Internet: “Editoria: fermare la riforma che non piace a nessuno”. È molto equilibrato ed estremamente interessante.

Tagging is not the right way

Bad tagging example

Yesterday I was listening to some music with the Last.fm client, when a song I particularly like started. As always, I decided to mark the song as “loved” and to tag it with something useful. If you use the Last.fm client, you know that it suggests the most common tags for the tune you want to tag. Ok, usually the list of tags includes a lot of stupid words, but this time I was surprised to see the word “gnocca” in the list.

For people not speaking Italian, “gnocca” is a coarse term referring to the vagina and, by extension, to a sexy girl: it can be translated with “pussy” in the first case and… I don’t know a suitable translation for the second meaning.

Actually, this is the worst case of tag I’ve ever found, but it’s not the first time I was disappointed with other user’s tag choice.

As a matter of fact many internet sites that use tags to classify user contents, are showing their limits. The whole paradigm of user-defined tags, well known with the term folksonomy, is based on three ideas:

  1. it’s nearly impossible to classify contents inside a tree of categories;
  2. associating words (tags) to contents is effective, because the user will remember the world and then, searching for the tag, he will easily be able to recover the piece of information she looks for;
  3. as a good side effect, if many users tag the same object, the most appropriate tags will emerge and a big number of users will automatically screen unused or not relevant tags, so that other people will easily retrieve information.

While I agree with the first statement, the last two are questionable, at least. Sure it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a large and heterogeneous set of objects into a tree-shaped data structure, particularly if the set grows with time and you don’t know in what “direction” the tree’s growing. Everyone who owns a personal computer and has tried to sort out his or her “document” folder , now can understand what I mean: there isn’t a hierarchy that fits to all needs, because many documents can be correctly folded in different places at the same time.

The proposed solution is to tag documents with a chaotic cloud of words freely chosen by people, where the only valid criterion seems to be common sense or a more hazy association of ideas.

My experience is that tagging without a criterion is only another way to lose information. Using a hierarchical tree of directories (or categories) leads the user to lose documents, because people tend to forget the aspect of the document they have chosen to catalogue it. The same situation still gets worst with tags: I usually choose as many tags as I think appropriate, in the secret hope that the large number will help me in the task of searching information later on. The net effect is the proliferation of synonyms, singular and plural tags (eg: tool and tools) and completely useless words, because too much generic (eg: hardware, programming or software), or too much specialistic (eg: xgl or xen), so that about the 48% of my tags actually label only one document.

Those statistics are based on my personal experience using del.icio.us, one of the services to which I pay great attention when I choose my tags, because Internet bookmarks are very important for my job. You can download here the file containing my del.icio.us tags, ordered by frequency. More than 48% of tags is used only once, and only a 20% is used twice, so I guess that the most of my tags is completely useless. Not very good, actually.

The lesson here is that cataloguing a large quantity of information is not for free: a simple and easy way to have tons of documents well ordered, always accessible at any time under your fingertips, is an utopistic dream.

I think now it’s time to drop buzzwords like “web2.0″ (the parent of all buzzwords) and to pass to some more serious and structured ideas about information architecture. Since I don’t like to reinvent the wheel again and again and since I need something to index my documents, I decided to investigate how librarians organize the knowledge in a big library, following these two ideas:

  1. the librarian is a very old job, and librarians can boast a thousand-year-old experience;
  2. I have many documents on my hard disk, and these documents are very different about topics, media type and relevance, but nothing compared to the Library of Congress or other similar libraries in the world.

A quick search around led me to some readings and I discovered a whole universe of studies about information indexing. The most appealing theory I found is the faceted classification, in which multiple trees of “facets” are used to reach information. What are facets, actually?

A faceted classification system is composed by a number of categories (facets) what represent different aspects of the items we are going to classify. Each facet (aspect) is explained and developed in a tree of terms (now to be known as “foci”, or individually, “a focus”). To classify an item, therefore, you apply one or more terms from one or more facets to the item. In this way you have a multidimensional approach to the items you are indexing.

There are two main criteria developed by librarians to compose faceted classifications:

  1. the list of facets should represent several aspects of the items to be classified, and should be “orthogonal”, as much as possible;
  2. the tree of terms belonging to each facet should present at each node a unique criterion of division, i.e. the set of children of a node must be a partition of the whole parent node, so that the hierarchy has no overlapping terms.

Following these two principles the result will be a set of trees in which items are classified, and consequently several access points from which to start the search. Instead of a tree, the final data structure resulting from this kind of classification is a DAG (a directed acyclic graph), which provide a flexible way to organize knowledge, without being chaotic like a “tag cloud”.

An excellent example of faceted classification is the Nobel price winners page, a demo of the Flamenco Project of the Berkeley University: you can navigate through the various criteria in which Nobels are classified in an intuitive way, with a simple and effective interface.

Another example of use of facets is the Amazon jewelry page. You can reach the page going to Amazon.com and looking for “Jewelry and Watches” in the Product Categories menu.

Since I find the idea of facets very interesting, I decided to start a little experiment in this blog: Wordpress handles trees of categories, so I decided to adapt them and use the whole category system as a facets system. Is will not be perfect, because there are no facilities to navigate into the DAG, like in the Flamenco Project, and the reader cannot choose more than one focus at time, but it’s a starting point. If the result, in a few months, will be better than my experience with del.icio.us tags, I’ll probably start a software project to handle files on my computer using facets.

Vim syntax highlighting for GIT and Cogito

Coloured GVim

If you use GIT or Cogito like I do every day, you might find useful to have the commit messages highlighted inside Vim (of course I assume you use Vim :-)).

First of all, copy these two syntax file into your ~/.vim/syntax/ directory:

Then add these two lines in your ~/.vimrc:
au BufNewFile,BufRead /tmp/gitci* setlocal textwidth=75 fileencoding=utf-8 encoding=utf-8 filetype=cogito
au BufNewFile,BufRead COMMIT_EDITMSG setlocal textwidth=75 fileencoding=utf-8 encoding=utf-8 filetype=gitcommit

This will load the correct syntax file and set the encoding of the message to UTF-8, which is the recommended encoding for GIT commit messages.

That’s all.

Penguin visual effects

Compiz screenshot — the cube in action

If by any chance you are one of the two or three people in the world that missed the Compiz project, my advice is to try and search YouTube for the “compiz” tag. I find this video is especially attractive, maybe for the sound track and the editing.

I think I should find the time to install and tune Compiz on my laptop only to show it to the next people bothering me with the fabulous new and very original visual effects of Windows Vista.

Of course all these graphics on the desktop is not very useful, but here the issue is: why to pay a whole lot of money to buy an operating system full of bugs and viruses? Furthermore: Microsoft last advertising is heavily based on Windows Vista visual effects, that are ridiculous if compared with Compiz, and not that original if compared with Apple’s OSX.

Maybe Microsoft decided to quit the operating system market?

Explored!

photo sharing

Wow, this shot you see on the right is the first photograph of mine selected in the Flickr Explorer page. It has been “explored” for one day only, precisely in October the 1st, as you can see on my Flicker Scout.

Of course the algorithm used by Flickr to decide what photos are interesting is completely obscure and probably not really guided by artistic criteria but, in any case, I’m quite happy.

Thanks to all people that added the shot as fave and posted a comment.

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