Month: December 2010

Crowd power on steroids

This is not a news, but I think there is a big shift happening in the society.

I guess the idea of community sharing is becoming bigger. Opensource movement was a precursor in this regard, I think and a loose collaboration is able to get things done.

This will raise with the creation of more peer to peer networks which have a strong focus and an objective. Collaborative consumption will be the next stop.

Another trend which is worth of noticing is increase of collective intelligence. Making data available to people is opening up a lot of possibilities. From opengoverment to opendata to openknowledge.

I still remember the Time cover with You. Next year I bet it will be “we”.

Happy New Year,

I guess it will be full.

Fixing a bug. The power of opensource


If you used gnome 2.30 and used two screen, cloning the smaller in the bigger one,  you were annoyed by this bug. At least I was really annoyed. Nothing too bad, just the image was not drawn correctly. In my case was drawn twice at different resolution, one on top of the other. However this was a regression from gnome 2.28 where this was not present. The bug was up for a long time and was also reported upstream at gnome side.

I did some research on it and I had nailed down where was the problematic code, however I was unable to propose the solution because C is no my cup of tea.

Yesterday Florent proposed a fix which was tested by Thomas, which was kind enough to give the instruction how to recompile the package, making a deb out of it and install it. Therefore I just give it a try. Finally, I have the desktop fixed!!

The patch it’s already on the gnome bugzilla and everyone will get this back as it supposed to be.

The thing that I want to underline is the anarchic collaboration:

  • somebody open the bug,
  • other people reported it and the bug was confirmed
  • somebody else found which part of code was interest
  • somebody proposed the solution
  • other people tested on different system

This is the beauty of opensource. Just give an hand if you can and enjoy it.

Stand your ground

The story, picked up also by the guardian here is rather interesting. In few words, a student @Darwin College at the University of Cambridge has published, on his personal website a MPhil thesis about how to construct a device which shows a flaw on the credit card system, which makes possible to make a transaction with a stolen card using any PIN.

The bankers has asked to take this information down. Now think about it for a moment. Instead to fix it, they asked to take it down.

I can foresee your objection.. They should give them time to act and then disclose the flaw. They actually did, because the problem was reported in 2009 (yes, last year) as said on this letter.

In the letter they also write why they will not take it down:

you seem to think that we might censor a student’s thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values.

This the right way to go. Full disclosure. Fix the problem, don’t hide it. It was also the position expressed @ the Moka Olografix. (An Italian camping about security which I went ages ago).

Hat tip to Ross Anderson and Omar Choudary.

A Trenitalia experience

Saturday I was very brave and I had decided  to take the train and go all the way to Turin  from Ancona and back using the amazing trains run by Trenitalia. The Wind Operations Worldwide was having the annual meeting. Good news were announced for the Kitegen project, especially the drawing to a close for the first industrial prototype.

The meeting was starting at 13:30, in Turin so I’ve decided to catch the train from Falconara Marittima @7:50. This train was supposed to arrive @Bologna at 10:37 and then I had to catch the super fast “Alta Velocità” High speed train at 10:53.

A sad 10 appeared under the delay column in the screen. This delay was really strange because the line was free, others trains from Ancona were arriving on time and the train was supposed to start from a very close station,  just 10 Km away.

At the end the train show up with at least 40min of delay. When I’ve asked on the train what was the cause of the delay the answer was a laconic – “there was a problem with the safety check on the locomotive engine, so it has to be detached and reattached. That took a bit of time.” When I’ve pointed out it that I was risking to loose the coincidence to Turin the ticket collector said he was unable to do anything.

I arrived in Bologna after the other train departed, there were not High Speed train to Turin anymore and the only thing left was to change the ticket for a High Speed train to Milan (which arrived delayed as well) and then to take a low speed train from Milan to Turin, which took 1 hour and 55 min.

I’ve arrived in Turin at 15:27 and I was able to reach the meeting only around 16:00.

For the return I was taking the “Intercity Notte” from 21:05 from Turin, which was scheduled to arrive in Ancona at 2:59. This train is one of the long distance train which connects the country from North to South. Turns out that our carriage, number 6, had a problem with the heating. The indoor temperature was very close to the outdoor, which was 0° C. We were freezing. Badly.

In my compartment there was one child, and there were other children on the same carriage. People were travelling even further than me, all the way south to Lecce, where the train was supposed to arrive around 10 o’clock in the morning.

The ticket controller said he was unable to do anything for us. The train was completely full, also the carriage 11 was experiencing the same problem, and there was no possibility to change the seats. The only thing they were able to do was to give us some blankets at Bologna station, after 4 hours trip. As you can understand, some light blankets didn’t really change the situation. More over there were not enough blankets for all the passengers.

Finally I’ve arrived around 3 o’clock at Ancona station, completely frozen.

Was it bad luck? Was just a set of circumstances, impossible to predict? I don’t think so.  The problems I and the other passengers have encountered were not related to the heavy snow, or the bad weather conditions or any other kind of exceptional situation. Last year it took me 26 hours to get back, everything completely blocked due to the heavy snow. That was something you have to accept and deal with it. This I think was a different case.

My guess is that these problems were completely avoidable with a regular maintenance, which has been shrunk badly. This is not an isolated case. Speaking with regular passengers of the long distance train they said: “you freeze in winter and you sweat in summer. No way out.”

I’ve filled the form to ask the reimbursement . At least I want my money back for a not existing service, the High Speed to Turin, and the money back for the freezing conditions which I had to deal for the return trip.

Too much phosphorus

It seems the big paper about the Arsenic which I’ve talked briefly on the previous post lacks a lot of precision and that the impurities presents in the medium will give room to the possibility that actually the bateria is not using arsenate, but still phosphate.

We were not really convinced at lunch discussion and then it seems we are not the only ones.

More info here. Especially interesting these criticisms . ).3 µM of Phospate is quite a lot in a P-/As+ medium.

I guess there is room to have another look at this bacteria.

The other way

I’m still amazed by the subs of the Phosphorus with Arsenic as found out and report in Science here

So life can have a completely different way for working… It’s also true that the Arsenic sits just under the Phosphorus, so it share a lot of chemical property, but still is the first time we have an example of something living without Phosphorus. Some questions just right off the bat:

  • What’s going on with the Adenosin Three Phosphate (main energy molecule in all cells)?
  • Is that thing using an ATA (Adenosin Three Arsenate) ?
  • Is that stable/does it even exist?
  • Which are the pathways? All the kinase/phosphatase system is just working with ATA? I guess we need to change the phosphatase names if that is the case..
  • Which kind of evolution?
  • Where is on the phylogenetic tree?
  • Is it on the phylogenetic tree?

Time to read the paper.