Things to do after a fresh linux install

November 17th, 2012 No comments

I had to re-install Ubuntu from scratch, after a badly-ending attempt to upgrade to 12.04.
Now everything works fine; in this gist I’m trying to take note of the first few, quick things to do: installing zsh, vim, restoring my dotfiles.

Categories: Random Tags: , ,

Couple of books

January 15th, 2012 No comments


The Diamond Age

For sure, “The Diamond Age” does not lack Stephenson’s topoi – an anarchic, fragmented earth, a futuristic scenario halfway between cyber- and steam-punk. Seemingly not too far from his debut in scifi land, “Snow Crash”. Yet it feels fresh.
This time, the action is mostly set in China, where, thanks to a quasi-magical book – “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer“, a girl will play a central role in the events that will shape a world on the verge of nano-tech global warfare.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Brilliant. How to take a 200 years old novel of manners and make it into a romantic comedy with zombies, borrowing the tagline from “Shaun of the Dead”.

Rather suprisingly, brain-chewing monsters (integral part of the british landscape, as everybody knows), gore (often uncalled for, yay!), sexual double-entendres (lift your antennas) fit perfectly into this classic. They actually improve it, so that you wish Jane Austen herself had thought of this – sparing far too many yawns to generations of innocent students.
I would say the new version is not only more fun than the original, but it even makes more sense!

Many of the rather nonsensical (to my eyes) behaviours, induced by weird social rules, are replaced by more logical and pragmatic reactions* – with the same developments and end results, obviously, but not leaving the reader with the feeling of having been tricked by the author and all this social-status rubbish.

*Spoiler ahead. Darcy’s behaviour in the original novel puzzles me, it doesn’t feel quite right. But what if he suspected Jane was stricken by the zombie plague? Indeed, that IS a valid reason to talk your friend out of marriage. Zombies = win.

On Infinite Jest and other perfect things

October 12th, 2010 No comments

More than two years ago David Foster Wallace died. At the time I had just read some of his short stories, among them the great “Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes“; all the same, I felt a big deal of grief for someone whose existence I barely acknowledged.
Now that I’ve read his masterpiece, “Infinite Jest“, I consider more than ever incredibly sad that someone like him can give us nothing more.

“Infinite Jest” is a novel, well, more than a novel, that contains all things human. As DFW put it, “fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being”. “Infinite Jest” revolves around a mysterious underground video (often called samizdat), a short film recorded by an avant-garde director that is so perfect and engrossing that makes crazy everyone who watches it. The watcher is so captured that he’d die rather than stopping the tape.
This made me wonder about how the existence of a media that is so exceptional in its nature to drive its users crazy, either be it so funny, or perfect, or terrible, is a rather common topos.

In literature an example could be Lovecraft‘s Necronomicon, the grimoire said to contain all the darkest secrets of the world; on the top of my hat I would also think of two of my favourite short stories by the Argentian writer Jorge Luis Borges: “El Zahir” and “El Aleph”. In “El Zahir”, a tale is told about a strange coin that, once seen by the writer, cannot be forgotten;hypnotoad the writer discovers that in other times a tiger had been a Zahir, as well as an astrolabe, the bottom of a well, and a vein in a marble column in a mosque. In “El Aleph”, Borges writes about a precise point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe simultaneously.

A movie example that pops into my mind is “Cigarette Burns“, an episode of the Master of Horrors series directed by Carpenter, where a dangerous undeground snuff movie is obsessing collectors. Not for faint hearted; one of the best episodes though.

I’m sure that gazillions of other examples exist. And considering how TV hypnotizes people (an effect surely not achieved due to perfection..), I also can’t help thinking about the hypnotoad from Futurama.

Lost Highway, a.k.a. make a nonsense movie and get away with it

August 23rd, 2010 No comments

I loved this movie. From the first opening sequence with a great song by Bowie, which happens to be the ending scene as well, I knew I was going to watch a masterpiece that would hardly make any sense. That was the case. With Lost Highway David Lynch takes the viewer into a story, then another one, then another until you start to wonder whether anything of it was real. ‘Twas, of course – as only a dream can be.

Yeah it’s a bit more complicated than that. Strange things happen to a sax player (Bill Pullman). He has a beautiful wife (Patricia Arquette), but she’s not happy, neither he is. He suspects she’s cheating on him. Something’s freaking wrong. A surreal oddly-clad man appears to him. He ends up in jail charged with the murder of his wife. All of a sudden, he becomes a handsome young guy (B. Getty), who works in a garage and has a lot of sex, especially with a girl who strangely resembles the dead wife of the old guy. One thing leads to another, and next thing we know they are running from an angry crime boss. The young guy has some more sex with the girl, then he transforms back into the sax player, talks some more with the mystery man, who kills the boss, and drives away on a car. That’s about it.

Perchance to dream. Lynch fills his work with loads of details which don’t quite seem to fit. Every inconsistency is a clue, every character has a meaning. We can only try to understand what is real and what not. Having seen Mulholland Drive I somehow knew what to expect and what to look for, but the interpretation is left to everyone. Most of the movie happens to be a dream. We can only grasp some tiny bits of reality, especially on tape: indirectly, on video, reality always appears as it is. On the other hand, smoke is always a sign of dream. The dream seems as a way to see things as the protagonist would like them to be. At first, he pictures the murder (that really happened) as committed by a psycho, a mystery man who is just an impersonification of his guilt and angst. But things go wrong as soon as he remembers he himself is the murderer. Then again, he wipes his bad feelings: he is now a cool, young guy, with cool parents, loved by women (and by what-was-his-wife), no anxiety, no dullness experienced in real life. Until guilt rises again, and in the dream things start to go hellishly bad: a mob boss wants to kill him, and by mistake he kills a man, the one who in reality – uhuh – was the one he thought his wife was cheating with.

Then it’s all a big symbolic mess, until he goes back to the start of his dream. A dream in which he will be trapped forever, a dream perhaps made in those few moments of painful electric execution (see the flashes and shakes at the end) which stretch and expand endlessly.

Subversion: a quick guide for newbies

July 22nd, 2010 No comments

Working on my thesis full-time, I found myself in need of using a subversioning system on Linux to keep in sync my laptop and the remote machine in the lab. This is a brief tutorial that I’m writing to keep notice of the steps I took to install it (and possibly to help someone else).

First step: create the repository. The repository will be in one of the machines you use. I created it on the remote machine by running the command:

svnadmin create –fs-type fsfs /home/user/svn

Read more…

Categories: University Tags: , , ,


May 20th, 2010 No comments

Lately I’ve been working quite a lot on a project. It is about creating a GUI and a command line application that, from a given layout of a hardware peripheral, build an XML file and automatically generate a couple of .h stub files, in ANSI C, with macros to access the registers of the hardware.

The application had to be multi-platform, so for me the obvious and simplest choice for the GUI were either Java Swing or Qt. I chose Qt, since the command line application and the output files were going to be in C and it just felt more consistent than using Java. And I should also mention that I don’t like the look and feel of Java Swing, so I wanted to give Qt a real try for the first time.

In order to build a GUI with Qt it is possible to use graphical tools such as QtDesigner; personally I tend to dislike them, and I prefer to write all the code myself, boring as it can be. So this was the case, and helped by some Qt examples I gave birth in an application that looks small and simple – actually, not quite.

What I liked about Qt is that they are fairly easy to grab and use, also thanks to the examples  and documentation shipped with the distribution. Moreover the provided development environment (QtCreator) is light and effective (good auto-completion, syntax highlighting, etc). What I am finding rather complicated is the deployment, and that is not good for a library which claims to be very portable. Indeed, decisions in this department can be not too easy; I’ll write again as soon as I sort everything out.

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx: upgrade and some minor tweaks

May 10th, 2010 No comments

Last week I updated my Ubuntu Karmic Koala 9.10 to the brand new Lucid Lynx 10.4. First I have to say that I really like the new looks, darker and more mature. I had no problems whatsoever with the upgrade (my 9.10 installation was very recent though); what is more, finally I’m able to use my old GeForce Go 6200 card to its full potential, thanks to the new proprietary nVidia drivers automatically installed by the system (System -> Administration -> Hardware Drivers). Now everything works just fine, compiz, smooth video and flash reproduction.

Some little tweaks: first of all, if you can’t find the volume icon or the Network Manager, you just have to add to the panel the “Indicator Applet” (which contains the volume icon and other icons depending to what IM applications you are using) and the “Notification Area” (network manager; should be there already).
The only problem I’ve encountered until now is that my USB internet key Huawei E 1780 could not function properly unless I accessed Ubuntu after restarting the system from Windows XP (dual boot). The problem here is that these USB devices have more than one function, i.e. they act as a storage disk, an installation CD (!) and a mobile internet peripheral, and it looks like Ubuntu can’t manage all these possibilities unless the USB device “remembers” its role from windows.

Obviously I do not want to boot Windows every time I want to plug my internet key. The solution is to install the package usb-modeswitch (and the required dependencies) just by typing in the terminal

sudo apt-get install usb-modeswitch

It works like a charm. I’ve heard they are thinking about including it in the next Ubuntu release. Indeed they should.

Next, if you want to connect with your USB dongle, click on the Network Manager icon, then Edit connections and add a new connection in the tab Mobile Broadband inserting your mobile internet provider and your PIN.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

May 7th, 2010 No comments

Neal Stephenson is an American writer. His works are often defined “speculative fiction”. Indeed, we are talking fiction. Science fiction, to be correct. But Stephenson does something more.

NoMore about Anathem surprise, Anathem is a big, fat book (something more than 900 pages); and it is a tough read indeed, especially at first. The story is set on the planet Arbre (to be read à la français), which is somewhat similar to Earth but not quite like it. If it makes any sense, compared to where we stand now, we are in the future. Fraa Erasmas is an avout, i.e. some kind of non-religious monk devoted to mathic studies. He dwells in a isolated concent whose inhabitants are allowed to visit the outside world only once every 10 years. What is a concent? Well, as easily imagined, is something like a convent. What does mathic mean? Math in Arbre is theory, as opposed to praxis, which is practice. But a math is also a compound where avouts live, study, work. Fraa Erasmas and the mathic world are soon shattered by a discovery that they will have to face joining the panjadrums of the Saecular world. Read more…


March 29th, 2010 No comments

Speak14-years-old Melinda is raped at a party by a high-school student; unable to speak the truth, she lives a year on the edge of depression, avoiding any kind of social interactions. Helped by a professor and few remaining friends, she will eventually tackle reality, reveal the deed and start anew.
Kirsten Stewart, cute as usual, in one of his first roles; the plot is rather linear but up to the task, and the progressive reconstruction of the events, by flashbacks, makes it interesting. Some characters are a bit cliché; still, it is a good movie that addresses a sensitive subject and shows the selfish/uncaring – if not plain evil – side of young people in American society.

Categories: Visions Tags: , ,

PRTools: a Matlab package for pattern recognition

March 26th, 2010 No comments

During my time in the Netherlands I’ve been working with a rather interesting library, developed by the Pattern Recognition group of TU Delft.

PRTools is a Matlab toolbox that provides tools that are very useful for all sort of pattern recognition (no, it’s not Public Relations), machine learning and data analysis tasks. The package includes the implementation of several classifiers, ranging from the simplest linear classifiers to neural networks and SVMs; tools for data reduction, feature extraction and selection; a number of linear and non-linear clustering algorithms and more. It also gives the possibility to use high-level combinations of the aforementioned functionalities, plot graphs of pretty much everything you want (clustering dendograms, classification thresholds, error plots, ROC curves), validate and compare the results of the analysis with ad hoc test functions.

Using it is very straight-forward, provided that you know something about the topic and have some previous experience with Matlab. Indeed it is a very good package for students who are willing to test on real data the theory they have learned on books; the possibilities offered by PRTools are endless, and it is open source, so that you can modify what you think might be better.