Archive for April, 2012

April 21, 2012

I now realize that this weblog is a commonplace book. Some of these books referred to other commonplace books, representing levels of increasing aggregation.

« Let us take down one of those old notebooks which we have all, at one time or another, had a passion for beginning. Most of the pages are blank, it is true; but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very beautifully covered with a strikingly legible hand-writing. Here we have written down the names of great writers in their order of merit; here we have copied out fine passages from the classics; here are lists of books to be read; and here, most interesting of all, lists of books that have actually been read, as the reader testifies with some youthful vanity by a dash of red ink. »
~ “Hours in a Library”, Virginia Woolf.

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April 21, 2012

I have always desired to work in close collaboration with a biology wet-lab, where discrete objects become molecules and active sites. Now I suddenly realize that I can work in close collaboration with a “sociology lab”, where discrete objects become people and social movements.

April 17, 2012

« We are the last aristocracy. » ~ From a hacker mailing list

April 16, 2012

« The illustrations repay careful study. They are treasures, complex and witty, rich with meaning. »

« This fine texture of exquisite detail leads to personal micro-readings, individual stories about the data […] Detail cumulates into larger coherent structures […] Simplicity of reading derives from the context of detailed and complex information, properly arranged. A most unconventional design strategy is revealed: to clarify, add detail. »

~ “Envisioning information”, Tufte.

April 16, 2012

« We think that your work would benefit from stronger motivation that is based on an application domain. For example, in the subsequence work the connection to biology should be emphasized. It is true that some projects are based solely on theory, but it is much better and more common to have some applied motivation to your research. Towards this end we suggest that you work with domain scientists (say from biology) and try to demonstrate scientific progress in that domain. »

« Another related point is that we would like you to do a better job comparing your techniques to the state-of-the-art. For example, in the subsequence work you may want to investigate what techniques computational biologists use for the same task (classifying proteins) and try to compare your technique in a comprehensive set of experiments. This includes developing quantitative measures for assessing quality as well as experiments over a more comprehensive dataset (e.g., more than 10 proteins or so). Similarly for the table work, you may want to compare to other leading table compression techniques (as opposed to gzip). »

« In general, try to approach a research project by considering the following questions: who will care about this if I succeed, why would they care, precisely what is the contribution and to what community. Answering these questions in a crisp manner would be a great goal. »

April 15, 2012

Pasta alla gricia with marble-like guanciale. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

April 15, 2012

I’m training for a battle or imminent war, with shotgun, bullets, and a backpack full of other tools, supplies and ammunition. I’m running on a long, iron bridge between red, rocky mountains. I’m sweating. All of a sudden, I find myself in the middle of a battle, among the sandy dunes of a beach. I manage to kill some enemies with a gun. Some of my high school mates are also fighting on my side. At some point, the life of one of them is in danger: I collect all my forces and I run towards him, bringing him a little, circular, white gauze or cloth. I tell him to cough on it blood for two times: only in this way he will be saved.

April 6, 2012

I’m in a sort of dark, smoky Irish pub, having dinner with some of my high school friends. One of them has a curious, green punk crest, built on top of an array of tall, thin, white sticks. Before starting to eat, I receive a phone call, and I have to go to a formal dinner organized by my advisor, where he convened all sorts of famous scientists working in my field.

The table is long and linear, scientists have known each other for a long time and exchange jokes, but I don’t know anybody. After some time, my advisor and other friends of him take to the dining hall a very old man, hairless, blind, without lips, whose abundant skin covers eyes and teeth. They say he is a very famous, old and respected scientist. They start talking about him, about his story and his deeds. They say that a devastating cancer has given his head that shape, and that he fought in some global wars in the past. One of the commensals, with his bare hands, removes a strip of skin from the old man’s hairless head, and contemplates his living brain, full of admiration. Then he clumsily closes the old man’s head, detaches it from the rest of the body, and passes it to the commensals nearby. When the head comes to my place, I feel that it is as fragile, as soft and as moist as a lychee. In my hands, the head falls into pieces: it contains all sorts of little organs that one would not expect in a cranium (e.g. a little, dark liver). I’m really worried for the old man’s life, but I can’t do anything better than clumsily reassemble the pieces and pass the head to the next commensal.

Then, I receive another phone call, and I leave the dining hall for a nearby smaller room full of hotel staff. I’m not able to call back using my cell phone, and the staff suggests me to use a special phone of them, which appears very old and exceedingly complicated. I thus remove the SIM card from my phone and give it to them. For the whole duration of the dinner, they try to make their clumsy device work, in vain. I’m furious: I’m losing all the good dishes that are being served at the dinner. At some point all the staff in my room goes away, and just one girl remains. I ask her about my SIM card, and she says they left it in a trash can. She gives it to me: it has the shape of a long, wrinkled, white sheet.

I return to the dining hall. The dinner is over, and all scientists are leaving. A waiter tells me that he has set apart a portion of every dish for me: I’m happy and I start eating, alone. When I’m done, I try to find a way to leave the empty hotel. I find myself in a bare architecture built with white concrete. Sometimes graffiti appear on the walls. The environment seems as abandoned and as impersonal as a peripheral railway station. I see people sitting on the floor and leaning on the walls: I think that they are at the margins of society. This white environment is organized into a sequential set of not necessarily closed “chambers”, or separated environments. I tell myself that these are autonomous “folds of reality”. Each of them is populated by strange, nonsensical human characters that seem taken from a novel by Lewis Carrol. Such characters have no personality, just attributes, which are combined and used in illogical ways that I can’t remember right now. Some of them are black. They look like guardians of their piece of reality, and they try to lure me to stay in their “fold”. But their deceptions are not hard to avoid, and I manage to progress through the chambers.

April 1, 2012

« Indeed the requirement of rigor, which has become proverbial in mathematics, corresponds to a universal philosophical necessity of our understanding; and, on the other hand, only by satisfying this requirement do the thought content and the suggestiveness of the problem attain their full effect. A new problem, especially when it comes from the world of outer experience, is like a young twig, which thrives and bears fruit only when it is grafted carefully and in accordance with strict horticultural rules upon the old stem. »
~ Hilbert

April 1, 2012

I’m in a sea port, walking on wooden passageways very close to a stormy sea. Salt water frequently jumps on my path. Few people are standing still, looking at the sea. Most of them are women, but none of them has an identity. I repeatedly go back and forth along the passageways (now I realize that this setting reminds me of a ferry boat I took last summer). Sometimes I come close to some of these characters, and I realize that large pieces of their head have been cut away, or that portions of their flesh have been surgically removed with great precision. They say that it’s fun to have these cuts, and that I should get one myself.