The Archivist’ dilemma

A while back the Interwebz mysteriously put on my path this excellent article by Vic Gray “Preservation vs. Use: the Archivist’ dilemma” which I found so intriguing I happily spent the $30 needed to read it in its entirety.

Predictably, I also promptly misplaced it and now cannot find it anymore, but this is not a great problem as I remember well the gist of the article which is whether the main purpose of any archive should be its conservation or its accessibility. This is an issue which is highly pertinent when said archive is, e.g. my film collection: started in the era of VHS, I soon (but not soon enough) realized that this “fabric” (to use one of Gray’s words) is highly perishable and switched to longer-lasting and by then available DVDs and later to Blu-Ray.

The upgrade of the 600-odd movies I had on VHS is obviously a financial challenge, especially as it needs to be performed WHILE the collection is growing with new releases, but you will be pleased to know I am halfway through. I briefly thought of adding a soft copy (i.e. ripping the movie upon arrival so that I would never have to use the DVD again – preservation!) but the job is VERY time consuming and with the advent of online MOD services such as Netflix, of dubious usefulness.

Physically speaking DVDs are much smaller than VHS, so this means my existing storage space should easily suffice for another 5-6 years.

Plus, movies come with a universal barcode that enable quick data entry (I use the very capable MyMovies software for archiving and retrieval). Such good software means that if it takes a second to satisfy the quest for essential factoids such as how many movies directed by Stanley Kubrick I have in my collection (10) or how many feature Woody Allen as an actor (28).

Books, however, are an entirely different ball game, for two main reasons:

  1. they have no universally accepted barcode system (many modern books do, but a lot of the ones I own date back up to forty years). This makes data entry a daunting task.
  2. no universal book database exists: AFAIK the most comprehensive Italian database is ALICE (*ahem* not available online) which carries about 1.1 million titles (not bad considering Italy publishes about 62,000 books per year); about 15% of the books I own are however in other languages.

This rules out the use of book archiving software, leaving only physical archiving, which is prone to numerous mistakes: we chose to archive by Author, but last time we moved, we found three copies of Joyce’s Ulysses(*) !

Even a simple count is difficult: at the time of our last move (again!) we counted 167 boxes averaging 20 books each, so the current estimate hovers around 3,000 units.

Up until recently, I though e-books were the answer and my preferred choice for new books, but yesterday I was let down also by that simple solution.

I went looking for Richard Feynman’s “Six not-so-easy pieces” lectures and could not find them together with my other Feynman books. I am rather sure I read that book, so I concluded I misplaced it; since I still wanted to re-read it, I decided to buy the Kindle version as a) it’s cheaper and b) when the book surfaces I don’t feel entirely a moron.

Unfortunately, Kindle books are really bad for essays, as they do not support anything except the written word: in this case, all the mathematical formulas are but illegible, making the book practically useless.

It seems that the only solution to my issue is manual labor: hire someone who manually inputs the data and builds the database: at 5′ for each book, 3000 titles would require about 250 hours of work.

I guess this goes on the list, after I finish the Great Digitization.

Note (*): don’t feel bad, I still don’t get it!

Briton Rescue

I have set up a new business: it’s called

Briton Rescue

most Britons are in fact very decent folks. They are good-natured and ready to return any love you give them.

It’s just that they have been exposed since childhood to ugly weather and lousy food, developing a generally grumpy attitude. But this grumpiness should not be mistaken for aggressiveness, quite the opposite: give them a little tea and edible food and they will love you forever. Some will even learn how to properly use a bidet.

The service I created works in a way similar to dog rescue organizations: I maintain a list of Britons ready for adoption (adding yourself is very simple, just leave a comment below) while in parallel, my Scrutinizer team will evaluate families making themselves available to adopt a stray Briton: you will be able to specify age, gender, color or profession of your preference: move quickly to make sure your requirements are satisfied, even though with nearly 25 million disowned unhappy people, we do not anticipate problems with your requests.

Fancy a black Oxford University professor or a female London Banker to join your household? We got you covered! Need an Asian LSE graduate to help you with your Tax Return or a Certified Chef… Um, sorry, bar that!

In the meanwhile, to self-assess if you are a potential  adopting family, you can answer these questions:

#adoptaBrit: together, we can!




Things that will look ridiculous in 20 years

Some things are so funny in retrospect: people think

“Did we really dress LIKE THAT?”

“Did people really wear their hair THAT WAY?”

Yet, at the time most of us would not notice this gentleman here, like we do not notice the myriad hipsters who infest our city centres.

I don’t think my own head was ever that funny, even though I must confess that not so long ago I toyed with a japanese-style ponytail and hippie curly hair, a double sin for someone who was then hitting fifty.

So today I started thinking of other things that will sound inconceivable twenty years from now; I am sure the list should be much longer, so contributions are welcome.

  1. Using devices other than our own. BYOD started as an exception, but I think our children will not accept someone telling them which computer or smartphone to use – sure, your employer may negotiate a corporate contract for all its employees, but we’d never allow them to tell us which shoes to wear, or which pen to use, would we?
  2. Non-personal email addresses. We already consider our social media profiles as part of our Digital Self, so why not email? The predicament of having to take your contacts from one mailbox to another when you leave a job is totally unnecessary.
  3. Company email. Is there anything more absurd than having a company manage email when there are so many organisations who do this as their core business?
  4. Owning cars in cities. I saw this trend start in London 5 years ago, now it’s spreading faster than thought possible. The math is simple: the average urban dweller drives 15,000km/year and keeps the car for 6/7 years. This use case is now CHEAPER on short-term rentals than on owned cars, and plunging fast.
  5. Operating a mobile device through anything but voice. Language recognition is here and makes so much sense for small devices.
  6. Metered wireless broadband. Wireless broadband will go truly unlimited, much earlier than 20 years from now.
  7. Human-driven cars on highways. I think for highways it’s really a no-brainer, and would save thousands of lives, as well as make high-traffic arteries much faster. Urban driving will stay human for much longer, albeit perhaps coupled with a vehicle-enforced maximum speed and alertness control.
  8. Augmented vs. Virtual. In twenty years I think we will ridicule those who today think these are synonymous: “augmented” will explode, while “virtual” will be forever a niche.

There is a few other trends however which I resisted putting in the list, because I think it will take longer than twenty years:

  1. Endothermic cars. Although electric is the way to go for urban areas, they will be not for extra-urban travel until the charging infrastructure and battery technology will have made big strides, and I don’t know anyone who solely uses their car for urban travel.
  2. Using a PC. Definitely a generational thing, but I do not see keyboards and big screens being replaced anytime soon.
  3. Paper books. I am a staunch supporter of ebooks, but even I admit they are still so much worse than their paper counterparts; the technology has been around for years, but it has not been embraced by publishers and no new players have come forward to wipe them away.
  4. Humanlike AI. Simply NOT happening, ever.

Poking fun at scammers

Ok, maybe I pushed my luck with this opening salvo, but he’s unfazed

The hint “not to hire a barrister” seems a bit pushy and, in any case, unenforceable, but the ID card, is a nice touch.

Let’s see if he spots the sarcasm. Also I will post this on Facebook (right where he hooked me up) to see if he checks the TL or just focused on the hunt…

Appealing to my kind heart, the same kindness as he’s soaked into. I’ll play the greed card now. I need the dough myself, orphaned children will have to wait…

Following the mumbo-jumbo script like a good soldier, let’s see how he copes with some lateral thinking; Alex, you’re about to be drawn in….

This is good: even someone stupid like me could be suspicious about sending your bank ID to a complete stranger. Instead I will send it to some “Bank”: now I feel safe!

Predictably this cannot happen, so I bet he’ll kindly offer me to help in this department, too…

That was too easy :-D, so this is settled now, so let me press a little by supporting my image of dumb money.

C’mon Usman, do a little work for your money!

Shit! I’m afraid this is game over; I think I pushed my luck by posting this on Facebook.

Aw, shucks !!! Anyway, almost an hour is not bad!

The 10 things I hate most on Social Media

The list was MUCH longer, so I had to prune it to the absolutely despicable ones.

1. Selfie Nuts
It does not matter if they are meeting the Pope, Barack Obama or the building janitor, no opportunity is too small not to deserve a selfie, as if to say “See? I was REALLY there!”

2. The hash abuser
One thinks s/he does not know how to write a noun without the sharp sign (because that’s what it is, a musical notation which increases a note by a half tone). A bit like grandma trying to use kids’ slang: sad, borderline creepy.

3. The foodie
From egg benedict to a six course meal, foodies MUST show you what they’re having for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and midnight snacks. And they must add the lamest of comments: “Yummy”, “Delicious”, “”Most excellent” because they would never eat anything that’s average quality.

4. The Poser
This obnoxious individual not only publishes only selfies, but they are also always in the same pose. When they distributed authenticity,  the Poser was taking a leak, probably.

5. The Influencer
The influencer influences, right? And s/he wants you not to forget how influential s/he is by constantly addressing his audience and prodding them with questions and controversial statements to drum up the engagement stats.

6. The Competitive
Obsessed by rankings, # of followers or friends, Klout score and other similarly worthless measurements, the Competitive spends inordinate amounts of time in the onanistic pursuit of perfect understanding of how the algos work.

7. The Converser
He believes in dialogue. No matter what and no matter with whom. He is the guy with the automatic “Thank You” message on Twitter asking you to also connect on Facebook or Linkedin. Female conversers are most likely prostitutes.

8. The Anatomist
This is a variation of the Selfie Nut, because s/he is obsessed with a specific bodily part: it could be feet, biceps, lips, tattoos they so like themselves they want the world to know.

9. The List Maniac
Any concept can be turned in a list of bullets, right? Simple schemes from a simple mind…

10. The Curmudgeon
Always something to complain about

Gianni’s Charity BBQ

This is to explain the rules governing this event.

  1. Charity BBQs are called at my house with a totally unpredictable frequency, during the good season. Typically one is called in June and another in September (as part of my #birthdaypledge program).
  2. Attendance is open to all: I usually put up a Facebook event to get an idea of how many will participate and make sure there’s enough food, so please be nice and register. This includes also people who are vegetarian or even vegan, as there’s plenty of grilled vegetables if you don’t fancy pork.
  3. (Loud) music is to my unique judgement and includes healthy doses of hard rock, grunge, prog but also brit rock, hip-hop and anything else which catched my fancy since the ’70s. In this post you can find last year’s playlist.
  4. My BBQ maxes at around 70/80 people, but the garden could accommodate many more – this means that if someone volunteered to co-cook (bringing their own BBQ equipment) we could accept more guests. Please shout if you’re interested.
  5. Food and drinks are free, but you are requested to pay an €10 rent for your chair. This money goes to a Charity which I will announce in due course on the Facebook event. Past beneficiaries included PaviaAIL, the local chapter of the national association for the fight against Leukemia and Caritas Diocesana to support their work in favour of Syrian refugees.
  6. Free parking is available, but not in the same place as last year, as we had  a couple of broken car windows, so we’ll use the nearby cemetery parking lot which is much less isolated.

Get ready!


What is provincialism?

Literally, it is an excessive focus on your little walled garden, without knowing (or being sensitive about) anything just outside it.

It can pop up in everyday behaviour and it’s typical of people with little or no abroad experience, and the use (or misuse) of language exposes the victim to fails of epic proportions.

Textbooks are filled with examples: badly translated signs, gross translation mistakes always make for a good laugh.

One hardly expect this in the context of the financial community, where language is used with the utmost care, and when the context does not call for venturing in uncharted language territory.

The article you see below (click the image for live version) appeared on and reports about the Social Capital Markets Conference held in San Francisco being about to introduce a new word, merging  “Accelerator” and “Incubators” and resulting in a neologism that is making every reader who is Italian or of Italian descent roll on the floor laughing out loud.

While you’re not likely to find the word in any proper dictionary of the Italian language (therefore I had to forge the vocabulary entry you see below), every kid above 4 knows exactly what the word means, and it’s hardly conducive of the concepts the authors imagined.

Fresh crap, indeed!

P.S. thanks to Claudio Marchiondelli for the find!!!


Riemann Hypothesis proved?

couple of my friends that know my passion (!= expertise) for maths asked my opinion about the claim that the Riemann Hypothesis has been proven by professor Enoch Openyemi.

The RH is a very important conjecture that, if proven, would offer a model for the distribution of prime numbers (numbers that are naturally divisible only by themselves and the unity) which in turn has vast consequences on many branches of mathematics.

[EDIT: my friend George Chiesa reminds me that EVERYTHING in cryptography is connected to prime numbers. Good point, indeed!]

Well, I certainly do not have the capability to understand prof. Openyemi’s proof: we’ll have to wait until this is done by the handful of mathematical minds that can do this check. And a sure sign whether the proof is genuine will come when the Clay Mathematics Institute, who created the Millennium Prize that pays 1 million dollars for the solution of each of seven old mathematics conjectures will declare the problem solved.

At the moment, it is still listed as open.

These things are very good for science in general, as they turn what is an obscure and daunting branch of knowledge into full-fledged drama we all can take an interest in. Certainly, the ingredients are all here in this case: a 150-years old mystery, a Nigerian professor, academic rivalries and back-stabbing, hoaxes, their debunking and the debunking of their debunking, the staple of our Internet age.

Therefore we can only follow the drama as it unfolds.

However, I also remember what happened when in 1993 Andrew Wiles claimed he had proven the equally old Fermat’s Last Theorem: his proof, when first announced with much fanfare, turned out to be flawed, causing him much angst and depression. However, he went back to work and was able to repair it announcing a couple of years later what is now commonly accepted as the real proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

At the time of his first announcement (as told in the excellent book by Simon Singh which is great reading even for those who have problems checking the bill at the restaurant) it was estimated that no more than five or six mathematicians in the whole world were advanced enough to follow the convolute 150-pages proof, so good luck to prof. Openyemi.

“I think I’ll stop here…”


I have am fascinated by rap battles, where contenders take turn at improvising lines in a song on a common base, while hurling terrible insults at each other and their closest relatives.

I also know there are competitions of writing improvisation, but the things that I find most fascinating in this area is something my friend Brian called Crowdwriting, a text written by many people in a sequential fashion, also called a Stream.

Our first attempt to a Stream (in the early 90’s) was the imaginary history of Georgius Lottus, the XIII Century inventor of the spreadsheet. That was more a game of tag, where each contributor would write a chapter and then nominate the next one, but having discussed the topic at length, we came to the conclusion CW has rules and here they come:

  1. it should never start consciously as we did with the story of Georgius Lottus. Proper Millennial CW starts spontaneously: i.e. someone writes some silly statement, and whoever sees it can build on it, and so on
  2. every addition must make (sort of) sense in its own right, but must be connected to the previous ones. The Stream is a story, and each author must keep the reader in mind.
  3. keep individual contributions under 1,000 characters
  4. the style of the Stream can be humorous, or tragic or academic or scientific or whatever. However, it cannot change too often, lest readers be confused and lose interest
  5. it’s OK to introduce new characters, but don’t overdo it.
  6. it’s funnier if many people take turns
  7. it’s funnier if snappy
  8. the initiator does not own it, the biggest contributor does not own it.
  9. be careful in using “closing” statements (like the death of a character) as it may make difficult for others to follow up
  10. it may be acceptable to add a #CW tag after the stream has started (still under review as it may conflict with #1)