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    Ludovico Magnocavallo
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P800, Christmas, A Change of Language

9 gennaio 2004

Charlie

Not much traffic here lately. I’ve been a bit tired due to my usual lazyness, then I went away for the Christmas holidays. I’m also beginning to feel nauseated by computers, and after all these years it feels quite strange (although this may be partly due to my job focus switching from Linux/Unix to Windows). I also find the time to scan all my grandfather’s letters from the First World War (more than a hundred letters), as a Christmas gift to my father who had never seen them. I also have lots of old photos and negatives from the late 1800s and the early 1900s (some of them on glass not film), from my mother’s family, and lots of other stuff at my father’s sister from the Second World War (letters, pictures, etc.). I hope to have the time to scan and arrange them in the near future as they’re a fascinating piece of my family’s history, and a fairly complete historical portrait from the last hundred years or so.

My computer nausea is making me feel more and more like writing about real life stuff (politics — which around here mean TV and huge financial disasters, life in general, etc.), so I may switch to Italian for my non-technical entries. And I’d like to start writing a bit on architecture, which after all I studied (and practiced) for quite a few years. I’m planning to buy a digital camera soon (analog photography and scanning take too much time, with only average results compared to digital), and take pictures and write short pieces on interesting buildings in Milano and its environs. I’m particularly fascinated by so-called fascist residential architecture, ie architecture from the 1920s up to right after the II World War, and Milano is a good place to research it. Another architectural fascination I’ve always had is on family mausoleums and funerary architecture. Family mausoleums are a kind of perfect built architecture, as they have very few practical or technical constraints, and a huge stress on symbology, meaning, and representation.

A little before Christmas I had the chance to find a used SonyEricsson P800 at a very cheap price (200 euros, with a scratched screen but perfectly working), so I asked my parents to buy it as my Christmas gift. After a couple of Palms and an iPAQ (and a few cellular phones), I have found the (almost) perfect electronic device.

Ebooks are readable (thanks to Handy Read), audiobooks are a joy (thanks to Unreal Player), IMAP/GPRS work very well, and though the P800 camera is very crappy, it comes in handy in a lot of situations (both pictures in this entry have been taken with my P800).

Charlie

The first picture is of our older dog, Charlie. She’s a crossbreed between a Pastore Maremmano (a sheepdog from Central Italy, renowned for its fierceness and toughness), and a Siberian Husky. She’s a very intelligent, affectionate dog who has been with us for the past seven years, since she was only 20 days old. She has a very strong character, and she is our first dog ever, so after a few months we had to go to a dog trainer. We had the luck of finding an excellent person, a German former World Champion trainer who retired from the world and lives in the hills near Biella, training only when and if he likes the dog and its owners. We learned a lot from him, and not only about dogs (though Enrica says I did not learn much, and I spoil our pets).

This summer while in Greece for a short holiday, I brought home another dog. She’s a crossbreed between a Spinone and something else, possibly a Bassotto (Dachsund). Greece is full of stray dogs (it’s really sad), most of which are very beautiful and all of which are friendly (all the ones I met anyway). Lili, our dog, was the smallest dog in the village and the youngest one too. She’s very intelligent, and cunning, and obedient. Managing two dogs and three cats in an apartment is not easy, and very time consuming (and I’m the one doing less, since I’m working at the office full time), but it’s a joy and I wish I could give a family to more stray dogs and cats.

I think animals find you, not the other way around. And our dogs run circles around most pure-breed dogs we meet, they’re so much more lively and intelligent.

Warming Up

7 ottobre 2003

Little more than two days left for the Rugby World Cup 2003. My .icl calendar with the World Cup schedule in CET times is the 2nd most downloaded file from my site.

Italy will play on Saturday (at 6:30 am CET!) against NZ, not a soft start. Can’t wait to see the big matches, and the teams we never get to see, like Fiji and Samoa.

This should give you an idea of the status of Rugby in some countries:

SUVA, Oct 7 (AFP) – Fiji’s government introduced emergency electricity measures Tuesday, saying they would ensure the nation gets to see Rugby World Cup matches televised live.

[...]

Energy Minister Savenaca Draunidalo said the cabinet had provided emergency funding to the Fiji Electricity Authority to run diesel generators for a month.

New updates are ready to download

1 ottobre 2003

New updates are ready to download

Every time I boot my laptop in Windows (which happens once per week or less), I am greeted by the familiar Windows Update popup. Every time, I feel lucky to have switched full time to Linux.

What kept my desktop environment tied to Windows for a long time were mainly Word (now I use a combination of ReST and LaTeX), Internet Explorer+OE (Firebird+Thunderbird), a decent editor (J), and good fonts quality (TTF Web Fonts+freetype with the TTF bytecode enabled).

There still are a few things that Windows does better, mainly desktop and apps integration, managing files graphically, scanner support and scan quality. And there still are a few things where Linux needs improvement, but it is definitely getting there. I can’t wait to install Sun’s Mad Hatter beta on my office desktop next week.

BTW, if you’re curious about the MSVDM toolbar you can see in the picture, it’s the free Virtual Desktop Manager from the Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP.

Travels and Architecture

27 settembre 2003

Fori Imperiali, Rome, ca. 1993

I admit it, I’m an architect. Not only as in IT Architect or whatever my job title of the moment is, but as in builder of houses. I graduated in 1995, and though I was totally in love with architecture, for a series of coincidences and some luck I soon found myself working in IT, which had been till then little more than a hobby.

I never got back to architecture, and soon I more or less stopped studying and researching it, but in the deep recesses of my mind things continued to work, though at a different pace. So lately I’m thinking about a research project on a period of architecture I’ve always found very intriguing, and usually overlooked by historians of architecture. The project will involve heavy researching in the field, which happens to be the city where I live. So it will hopefully soon be time to pick up a camera and start wandering the streets in my free time.

Photography has been the third of my passions (read: obsessions) in the past with IT and architecture, so while I wait for my ever procrastinating self to start working on this new project, I’m digging out my old pictures to scan them and put them online as a sort of mental training.

Since they will use up bandwidth, and very few people will be interested in them, my pictures category will stay confined to a row in the right menu, without making it to my blog pages. If you’re interested, point your browser from time to time to my pictures area.

DWIM

25 settembre 2003

Sometimes being reminded of one’s ignorance is not only instructive, but funny too. In a recent message on the armedbear-j-devel mailing list in reply to a non-bug I recently submitted, Peter Graves (the J developer) used an acronym I never saw before, DWIM (Paste would retain its current DWIMish behavior…).

After replying to the message, I made a quick search on DWIMI expecting to find a reference to some arcane editor of days past, but what I found was something completely different, rooted in the world of LISP gurus

/dwim/ [acronym, "Do What I Mean" (not what I say)]

  1. Able to guess, sometimes even correctly, the result intended when bogus input was provided.
  2. The BBNLISP/INTERLISP function that attempted to accomplish this feat by correcting many of the more common errors. See hairy.
  3. Occasionally, an interjection hurled at a balky computer, especially when one senses one might be tripping over legalisms (see legalese).

Foldoc goes on to relate a notorious incident involving DWIM, which is worth reading

Warren Teitelman originally wrote DWIM to fix his typos and spelling errors, so it was somewhat idiosyncratic to his style, and would often make hash of anyone else’s typos if they were stylistically different. Some victims of DWIM thus claimed that the acronym stood for “Damn Warren’s Infernal Machine!’.

In one notorious incident, Warren added a DWIM feature to the command interpreter used at Xerox PARC. One day another hacker there typed “delete *$” to free up some disk space. (The editor there named backup files by appending “$” to the original file name, so he was trying to delete any backup files left over from old editing sessions.) It happened that there weren’t any editor backup files, so DWIM helpfully reported “*$ not found, assuming you meant ‘delete *’”. It then started to delete all the files on the disk! The hacker managed to stop it with a Vulcan nerve pinch after only a half dozen or so files were lost.

The disgruntled victim later said he had been sorely tempted to go to Warren’s office, tie Warren down in his chair in front of his workstation, and then type “delete *$” twice.

Sometimes it pays to be ignorant…..

Radios, Quality, the Internet

25 settembre 2003

*

I have always been an avid listener of Internet radios since my favourite music is very specialized (early or “soul” reggae, dub, and some jazz+r&b), and very unlikely to be broadcasted over the air, especially in Italy where I live.

Last night I had a further example of the power of Internet radios. Perugia, which is one of the Italian soccer teams I try to follow, was playing an away match vs Dundee FC. I was at my home office, which has no tv, so I looked up the Dundee FC site on Google, followed the link and connected to their local radio station live broadcast of the match (which I only half-managed to follow due to my unfamiliarty with the Scottish accent).

What struck me is that the above procedure involved almost no conscious thinking on my part. My interest about the match match was followed a few seconds later by a live commentary streaming out of my speakers.

So, coincidences being the stuff life is mostly made of, this morning I was not surprised to find in my aggregator a new entry on Tim Bray’s blog on Radio, pointing to Doc Searls’ The Continuing Death of Radio as Usual.

Doc Searls makes a few interesting points, lamenting the low quality of radio receivers (AM in cars, FM at home), the slow death of over-the-air broadcasting, and IP broadcasting as the future of the Radio.

Not that it matters to anyone, but I agree with everything he writes, except his statement that There’s almost no way to get a good AM radio anymore, even if you want one.

If you don’t need to integrate a radio receiver with fancy stuff like a home theatre, or distribute its audio signal throughout a house, there are plenty of excellent radios out there. They are also pretty cheap, have better audio quality than most expensive stereo equipment available on the market, are superbly good looking, and will keep their value well. The picture above should give you a clear idea of what I’m saying.

It shows a Grundig 60s console stereo set, including AM and FM radio, an equalizer, a superb antenna, four speakers, and a turntable. All integrated into a handmade wood piece of furniture. We bought a similar one from the late 50s a few months ago for less than 300 euro, and its tuning and sound qualities are excellent. Of course, sound quality is no surprise since radios from this period use tube amplifiers.

Search engines are stupid

9 settembre 2003

Hmmm…maybe people do stupid searches on them. I was looking at the google searches people come on my site from, and noticed a good one: x x x stuff (without the spaces of course). I promptly opened it, and…wow I’m in 7th position, all thanks to a masked email address in my post on the J editor. Due to insistent requests from my gf, I changed the email address to to show z characters instead of x.

My bookmarks, 7 years ago

30 agosto 2003

Tonight I logged in to an old shell account I used in 1995-1996, and which is still used to host a web site belonging to somebody I know, looking for a piece of missing information which might have been there.

I did not find what I was looking for, but I found an old lynx_bookmarks.html file I last accessed in March 1996:

-rw-------   1 xxxxx    other       5915 Mar 10  1996 lynx_bookmarks.html

Hmmm nothing really special, as my real bookmarks were on my super- powerful 486 laptop (and have obviously been lost or deleted as I regularly manage to do). I started surfing the net in 1992 or 1993, and I remember using gopher at the time. It was only later that I managed to install Mosaic (on Linux ofc) on a University computer, then the first release of Netscape, downloaded from Mosaic Communications at http://www.mcom.com/.