Alvin Pastore

One Good Shepherd

AGE

30
and counting..

AREA

Sheffield, UK

INFO

PhD researcher @ The University Of Sheffield

Don’t tell me how educated you are,
tell me how much you traveled.

The Prophet Mohammed

Blog

a good shepherd’s thoughts

30

I remember this day, exactly 5 years ago. It was my 25th birthday and I considered it a milestone. A quarter of a century. It is always comparing to the big numbers we can usually put things into perspective. I can remember I was about to finish my undergrad and I wrote a post on my old blog which said something like “still growing up”. 5 years down the line and I am still of that advice. Hitting another milestone, today I turn 30 and I look back to the last 5 years, so much has happened. That day, 5 years ago, I probably had no clue I would have moved into another country to study in one of the best universities in the world. No idea I would meet and would have become friend with so many people over here. Lovely, brilliant, clever, inspiring, friendly, knowledgeable, artistic, truly interesting people! To you I dedicate my 30th.

I feel like I grew up in the last 5 years more than I did in the previous 25. Maybe it’s a human thing, we grow up exponentially fast. Or maybe it’s just what happens when you are cast into a multi-cultural mad rollercoaster, and I am actually enjoying the ride. I really need to thank all my friends if I can appreciate new things and some that I would have never thought I would like. The weird thing about it is that I feel even more eager to learn and experiment. That is why not long ago I decided to follow one of my interests, photography. I always told myself that one day I would take a camera in my hands and learn how to properly use it. After a few months playing with it I am really happy with my work (if you want to check some of it here you can find my flickr albums and instagram page) but I feel like there is so much I can improve and explore.

5 years ago I shared an inspirational commercial from Nike and since then the lives of the testimonials in the commercial have changed significantly. Cristiano Ronaldo has managed to won a European Championship with Portugal, Rooney is not the goal machine he used to be and Pistorius is in jail for killing his wife.

As for me, I am 5 years wiser, I have a full beard and so much more I want to do…

#sheffieldissuper

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[Disclaimer: Read the following if you are one of those folks living a good 80% of their life with earphones buried deep in their ear canals. Keep reading if you, like me, are forcefully imposing your music tastes on your powerless neighbours. But please stop reading if you are an extremist. That is, if you believe your musical genre is the only one worth listening to. This is no post for musical-monotheistic fundamentalists.]

It is healthy and reasonable to listen to both old and new classics. We all indulge in binge listening to our favourite Johnny Cash, Joy Division or Fleetwood Mac for hours.
Having established this, it is only right to keep searching for more. And if the search is genuinely enjoyable then why not search full time?
To keep an open mind is not an overused and demeaned mantra of our generation. It is a law of nature.

When I first set foot on British soil I could have had no idea how much I would fall in love with the music scene of one of its finest cities. Sheffield talents have been blossoming since and I keep letting the waves of energy and creativity of this city wash over me in a blissful joy. Here I found a microcosmos of artists and live performers. I kept discovering the countless venues ready to host newborn local bands as well as established touring foreigners. Graphic artists embellish the streets with the finest graffiti. This is the perfect combination for nurturing hard working talents, an impressive fertile ground indeed. Musicians don’t fear competition, the frequent open mic events are tempting and the atmosphere is always relaxed and collaborative.

I started supporting local bands when I was still a student by purchasing my very first EP, a band from Exeter called Naomi. I have posted one of their song at the beginning of this blog. I literally wore out the CD and decided to switch to their digital version, keeping the physical copy as a token of appreciation. Some sort of relic. Since then I’ve been pleasantly surprised by dozens of other artists. What really strikes me is the never settling variety of genres. This journey of discovery is so entertaining, I can’t help but give in to the constant stream of invitations to join this or that event and show up to yet another venue. Listening to the supporting bands, the headliners, the DJs. Getting to know the people orbiting around them and appreciating their opinions and ideas.

I happened, I don’t deny it, to attend poor performances. But, to be fair, who cares? When the statistics are so skewed in favour of good music and nice people, the risk of spending a couple of boring hours is nothing at all. Considering I will be doing so with the most interesting people anyway completely erases any possible doubt. And this brings me to the second part of this post: friendship. We all know friendship is such an important ingredient in the recipe of life happiness. It is often taken for granted. But I am grateful for the disinterested, even selfless, relationships I managed to establish. And yes, music definitely played a role in this. A gang of likeminded individuals will manage to pull the best out of the dullest night outs.

I decided to take a picture to celebrate my personal collection of musical artefacts. Every day these little friends pour ethereal food into my brain through my side openings, also known as ears.
Sometimes it is sweet funky honey, other times I’ll be having psychaedelic brain food. When I want energy and realism I indulge in my big unhealthy dose of blues rock. If I am all about the feels I’ll let my thoughts drift away to melancholic bittersweet melodies. No doubt this selection will look insignificant to the most avid collectors but it is nonetheless an excellent starting point.

I found unconditional happiness on this little big planet. I surprise myself with a big grin on my face, strolling down the roads and finding no reason to be upset even when the rest of the world is snapping madly at me. I found balance thanks to this chaos. To distil a formula for a thorough musical enjoyment was my intent. This heartfelt blog post is my best attempt. Please let music inspire you and your life companions.

[In the photo, top: Postcards by Fran Wyburn and the Indigos, Glossolalia by The Sky Moguls, Autumn in Eden by Isembard’s Wheel.

Centre: Somos Lobos/Odmieńce by Baba Naga, a signed poster from The Downtown Roots last gig, Wet Nuns homonym album.

Bottom: Naomi’s EP (the one I was referring to in the post), Stay Dry, Stay Warm by Steve and the Sea, Ain’t no Fool by Ross Connor and The Sound of the Baskervilles by.. well, The Baskervilles.]

HackSheffield hackaton experience

Last weekend has been pretty interesting down here in Sheffy! Me and my brother participated in the local hackaton: HackSheffield (fb event).
Not needing to explain what a hackaton is (previous link to wikipedia opens in a new tab), I’ll describe my point of view. The committee for HackSheffield has been truly amazing. The sponsors, Major League Hacking and The University Of Sheffield very supportive! The organisation was spot on, everything was scheduled with great attention. But let’s proceed with order.
The event was a 24+ gathering of enthusiast developers and curious non-techs. In our case I was the dev and my brother joined me as an interested non-techie.
The sponsors gave brief presentations to open the dances. A team from SkyBet was there, as well as lead-management company DataBowl. Chersoft, Ossila, Wandisco and Huel completed the sponsors lineup.
The hack started at 12 midday on Saturday. Most of the teams were formed already but we found Chris Ingram. Our team focused on one of the datasets provided by the organisation and specifically by Sheffield Uni. It consisted in 64k entries representing human behaviour recorded by sensors. Many of these entries were totally wrong, some were recorded as “unknown” which adds little to no information to the data. Our task was to come up with a solution to reduce the noise in the dataset and to visualise the data. As my brother does not have much experience in code development me and Chris took care of that. Chris developed the visualisation side using node.js, react and gulp. I used python, with numpy and matplotlib to operate on the data.
We set up a Github repo (sadly the data is covered by non-disclosure agreements and could not be shared) and a Devpost project.
The Pasta brothers did some research and came up with a combination of rule-based and classification techniques to reduce the noisiness. We used some simple rules, e.g. collapse an unknown entry if it is between coherent entries. After a couple of hours researching and writing test code for several unsupervised learning techniques (including, k-nearest neighbors and Principal Component Analysis) we decided to use a neural network. We used the features of the dataset as inputs and normalised them (more work needed there) into a numerically stable range. There are a few classes we are trying to capture (e.g. WALKING, IN_VEHICLE, etc.) so we decided to use 6 output neurons (more testing needed here). By splitting the dataset in thirds we could use the first 2/3 for the training phase and the remaining third to test the quality of the classification.
We did not have enough time to carry out an exhaustive testing, as this would have taken too long to mark the correctness of the predictions. We could see from the graphs produced that there was a certain degree of learning but many instances were mis-classified. In my opinion, this is due to the large skew in the class distribution of the data. One class was clearly overrepresented (WALKING) with more than double the instances of the second most common class.
This technical approach won us one of the sponsors prizes. We all got a DBPOWER Hawkeye III Drone. I cannot say how chuffed we were when we received the award and the prize! Really happy times 🙂
The other hacks were truly amazing! The team who won all the rest of the awards developed a visualisation tool to show on a map the events near the user location, pulling that directly from Facebook! Another team used governmental data (huge files describing London 1 square meter at a time) to plot a map of potential solar panel areas. Some people hacked combining Oculus Rift and Leap Motion. Some really cool stuff on controllers using Myo (an armband which reads the electrical activity of the forearm muscles) to control a remote robot. The list of hacks goes on, incredible effort by all the teams and hackers. Some of which did not go to bed the night before and were still on the stage presenting their work.
Apart from the prize winning or the hack itself, what this experience really gifted me with was the inclusivity, the feeling of being part of a wider community of people. The participants had different background and knowledge areas but were striving to create and to do this in a stimulating and creative environment.

Cooking Experiment #2: Orzo tricolore

There ya go, back in business! A new food blog post and it’s full on Italian style. When people think of Italian cuisine the buzzword is “pasta” and there is no question about it. Sometimes, though, it is worth experimenting a bit and that is what we did tonight. We who? Me and my brother of course, as someone already renamed us “Los Pastos Hermans”.

DSC_8530-Orzo tricolore is the  not-too-creative name we gave to the dish. Orzo is barley in Italian, a cereal mostly known on this side of the Channel for beers brewing and ales crafting. We truly appreciate barley in these liquid, more or less fermented forms but for tonight we decided we were going to fix our dinner with it and keep it solid.

But let’s move to the details of the recipe:

  • 200g of barley
  • 300g cherry tomatoes
  • A bunch of fresh basil leaves (I love basil so I usually use the entire pack)
  • Ricotta marzotica (which you’ll have a hard time finding in the UK, ours came from Puglia, Italy)
  • Olive oil
  • A pinch of pepper and a few more of salt

First let the barley rest in fresh water for one hour. To test whether it is good to proceed try to chew a grain. It should break (unlike rice) but should still feel firm and consistent. If you think it spent enough time soaking, dump the water and use fresh water to boil it in a pan. Remember to add salt to the water before adding the barley.

While the barley cooks prepare the sauce. We wanted to make sure we would have a decent result, we played it easy and decided to go for a classic dressing which we both love. It is very a simple one but it fully qualifies as a true italian sauce: crudaiola! This incredibly simple, yet amazingly tasty cold sauce features a mash of cherry tomatoes with a blaze of fresh basil leaves, a splash of olive oil. But what really adds to the final product is the cheese. I normally use ParmDSC_8541-igiano but tonight the occasion was calling for some niche typical dairy product. Ricotta marzotica is a Puglia exclusive ricotta cheese. Its texture is firm compared to a normal ricotta but softer than seasoned cheeses like parmigiano or pecorino. Ricotta marzotica has a very distinctive taste, sapid and salty yet delicate and is the perfect cheese for this sauce.

 

 

The taste of crudaiola is matched only by the easiness to prepare it. Use a bowl to mix the DSC_8549-ingredients: chop the tomatoes in tiny pieces and make sure to save all the leaking sauce, add oil and salt. I like to add a sprinkle of pepper which I believe provides an interesting but soft kick to the taste. Rinse and cut the basil leaves. The ricotta marzotica can be either grated or sliced and then crushed into the mixing bowl. The latter is my favourite procedure as it guarantees bigger chunks are left around like delicious gems of cheese.

 

Test the barley every now and then but consider it takes slightly longer than short pasta to cook. The cooking time also depends on how long it has been soaking before. Being Italians we pulled it al dente and drained it with a fine meshed sieve. Mix the barley with the sauce for a minute and let the grains bath in the dressing. Add some more ricotta marzotica on top, either grated or sliced. And by now you should already know my choice…

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Long time no see. No apologies

[All links open in new windows]

I decided there is no point for me to try and maintain a constant relationship with blogging. Blogging happens to me like cravings. Unexplained and in the weirdest moments; no reason to try and rationalise these urges.

In the past months, of course, there have been a series of events for which I have not yet given a pseudo-formal account on my pseudo-diary. I begin now.

I had my first scientific paper accepted to IEEE EAIS 2015 conference in Douai, France.  I attended the conference and gave a presentation. I tested a Reinforcement Learning model, called Q-Learning, on a set of players of an online trading game. I tested different version of the model, varying the number of parameters and their values. If you want to read more here is the link to the full article. It was extremely pleasant to see the fruits of months of work finally out, really inebriating feeling.

I am now busy extending my research, testing a model-based version of the previous model-free approach. This will hopefully lead to my next paper publication in the following months. Fingers crossed. Mmm, maybe not, as I need my extremities to type (more like bang) on my keyboards.

Second noteworthy event, I had Bell’s palsy over Christmas. It has been an interesting experience. I’ve had a sore throat for around three weeks. It got quite nasty at a point and the GP told me that it had viral nature. Therefore, no efficient treatment exist to tackle the cause; just a general approach to soothe the symptoms would have been enough. I was already stuffing myself with lozenges and oral sprays, considering those were the stressful days during which I was travelling to France via Bruxelles. The Belgian capital was somewhat in a lockdown for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the following chase to the surviving perpetrator.

The onset has been extremely fast. My condition rapidly evolved from having a sore throat culpable taste deficit to a almost complete inability to move the right side of my face. After coming back from a football game I have been warmly suggested to go to the nearest A&E, as the symptoms were similar to the ones people suffer when having a stroke. After four hours of wait, during which I researched the full set of symptoms and understood that what I had was Bell’s palsy, I was told that indeed I had Bell’s palsy. This condition affects the ability to move facial muscles that are controlled by the seventh cranial nerve, including forehead, eyelid, eyebrow, cheek. Imagine, smiling I looked like Two-face.

There is no known cause to the condition. It has been associated with viral infections (which I believe was my case), pregnancy (which I am quite sure was not my case), stress, cold temperatures and others. Again, since the cause is probably viral there is no treatment (apart from Aciclovir which has been deemed as ineffective). The only cure that showed some improvement in the recovery rates is corticosteroids based. I had a regime of 6x5mg pills of Prednisolone, twice a day for 8 days.

I don’t know if without this cure I would have recovered fully from the palsy but I strongly believe that so called “alternative medicine” is not medicine really, it has not been studied on large samples of patients nor it has been proven consistently effective in the few case studied. No disrespect to homeopathy believers and meditation followers but I am too much of a rational mind for these.

About the condition I can only say it is scary in the first place; not knowing whether you’ll ever be able to recover is scary on it’s own. Uncertainty as a whole is scary really (and exciting sometimes). But what really made the entire experience humbling was the ability to see how much of what we take for granted every day is not. We consider ourselves perfect, flawless machines but truthfully we are the beautiful result of an unfathomable sequence of favourable events. Some might find this scary but I just saw it as fascinating and graceful.

The most annoying problems have been related to the everyday life: taste is so twisted that even the most luscious dish will taste weirdly ferrous. I can only describe the sensation as having a teaspoon in the back of your tongue 24/7. Another nasty effect of the condition is that I could not fully close my eyelid. Working put me to the test. Staring at the screen and forgetting that my eye was not properly closing lead to abundant lacrimation and in the long term to dry eye, for which I used artificial tears. More, a mid-ear stapedial muscle stopped working, meaning I was quite sensitive to loud sounds. I wore an earplug when out in pubs so that my so loved music would not destroy my ear for the years to come. The most psychologically testing drawback, I believe, was not being able to fully express emotion. It happened a few times that people around me could not tell my emotions because they could only see the one paralysed side and even when looking at both sides at the same time the result is still quite ambiguous.

Twenty-one days later I fully recovered. I kept a photo-diary over the course of the palsy days, which I named “Jingle Bell’s” to be in tune with the time of the year.

 

 

Habemus Raspberry PI

Dear all,

I know… last post was aaaages ago. I’ve been – and I am – really busy but I promise I’ll try to write a bit more now that I have a couple of side projects with my brand new Raspberry Pi.

My main ideas are in the area of home automation: remotely switching on/off on mains, wake-up station reusing an old tv and trying to come up with some way of using an otherwise abandoned kinect. I’ll be working on these side projects only during spare time but hopefully I’ll be able to write about every tiny improvement and share some code as well.

RPi Box I bought a RPi starter kit on Amazon for 50£. It includes the Raspberry Pi model 2 B (Quad Core, 1GB RAM), a snazzy box-case, a 5V 2A power supply, Hdmi and Ethernet cables and a Sandisk Ultra Class 10 MicroSD (8GB pre-imaged with NOOBS).

There are several starter kit, some come already with electronic components and a breadboard, but I will get those separately when I have more time.

Installation is really straightforward and for the hardcore noobs there is plenty of videos and guides to follow for this purpose. I recycled a set of monitor, keyboard and mini-mouse and set it up. WiFI Dongle

As I don’t really like the idea of having the RPi continuously wired to the router I got a wifi dongle from Amazon. It is claimed to be specifically manufactured for Raspberry Pi. I have no idea whether this is true but it works out of the box and pretty well (stability and speed).

 

First thing I want to do is make sure that every time my RPi connects to the router it gets the same local IP so that I can SSH into it.

 

To do so, first find the gateway (router address) with

ip route

and take note of the first line address

default via 192.168.0.1 dev wlan0

Now set up the gateway, netmask, broadcast and the local address you want

nano /etc/network/interfaces

I used 192.168.0.44 as local ip address

auto wlan0
allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan0 inet manual
wpa-roam /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf
iface default inet static
address 192.168.0.44
netmask 255.255.255.0
network 192.168.0.0
broadcast 192.168.0.255
gateway 192.168.0.1

It is worth rebooting to check if the IP gets assigned properly

An alternative way of setting up a static IP would have been to log in my router and assign 192.168.0.44 to my MAC address. To find the MAC address:

ifconfig wlan0 

wlan0     Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:0d:60:05:01:1f  
          inet addr:192.168.0.44  Bcast:192.168.0.255  Mask:255.255.255.0
          UP BROADCAST RUNNING MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
          RX packets:41369 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:6284 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000 
          RX bytes:14256133 (13.5 MiB)  TX bytes:821759 (802.4 KiB)

Next step is to set up port forwarding on my router. Each router has a different way of setting the firewall rules for this but, again, there are many guides online and you might be lucky and find a specific guide for your router or just work out how to do it. You will need your local ip (192.168.0.44 in my case). And that is why it is a good idea to have it static. Can you imagine setting up a different rule each time your device connects with a different IP?

Now from a different device connected to the same network

ssh -p XX pi@192.168.0.44

where

  • XX is the port you opened/forwarded on the router
  • pi is the default username on the RPi
  • 192.168.0.44 is your local (static) IP

After setting this up I disconnected my keyboard/mouse/monitor and started accessing the RPi remotely. I can move this tiny piece of hardware around my house and plug it everywhere.

Next step will be accessing remotely over the internet (first step towards boiled remote switch). To do so I’ll have to determine my public IP, which is dynamic. I’ll prepare a python/bash script and write the next mini-guide soon.

Enough for now!

Alvin

If programming languages were countries, which country would each language represent? – A Brilliant Quora Answer

This question appeared in my Quora digest today:

If programming languages were countries, which country would each language represent?

John Purcell‘s brilliant answer:

Java: USA — optimistic, powerful, likes to gloss over inconveniences.

C++: UK — strong and exacting, but not so good at actually finishing things and tends to get overtaken by Java.

Python: The Netherlands. “Hey no problem, let’sh do it guysh!”

Ruby: France. Powerful, stylish and convinced of its own correctness, but somewhat ignored by everyone else.

Assembly language: India. Massive, deep, vitally important but full of problems.

Cobol: Russia. Once very powerful and written with managers in mind; but has ended up losing out.

SQL and PL/SQL: Germany. A solid, reliable workhorse of a language.

Javascript: Italy. Massively influential and loved by everyone, but breaks down easily.

Scala: Hungary. Technically pure and correct, but suffers from an unworkable obsession with grammar that will limit its future success.

C: Norway. Tough and dynamic, but not very exciting.

PHP: Brazil. Full of beauty and flouts itself a lot, but secretly very conservative.

LISP: Iceland. Incredibly clever and well-organised, but icy and remote.

Perl: China. Able to do apparently almost anything, but rather inscrutable.

Swift: Japan. One minute it’s nowhere, the next it’s everywhere and your mobile phone relies on it.

C#: Switzerland. Beautiful and well thought-out, but expect to pay a lot if you want to get seriously involved.

R: Liechtenstein. Probably really amazing, especially if you’re into big numbers, but no-one knows what it actually does.

Awk: North Korea. Stubbornly resists change, and its users appear to be unnaturally fond of it for reasons we can only speculate on.

Original Post

phpmyadmin login error ( Cannot log in to the MySQL server )

Having to set up a new desktop today, I was following the usual procedure for phpmyadmin:

– Put the phpmyadmin folder in /Library/WebServer/Documents/phpmyadmin

– Added the config folder with permissions: chmod o+w /Library/WebServer/Documents/phpmyadmin/config

– Generated config.inc.php with phpmyadmin setup (localhost/phpmyadmin/setup)

– Moved config.inc.php in the phpmyadmin home folder

Still, when trying to log in the UI with the root username and password I was getting this error: “Cannot log in to the MySQL server”.

After resetting the password for mysql 3 times and re-installing entirely phpmyadmin, I stumbled upon a StackOverflow question where Sepp suggested to change localhost to 127.0.0.1 in the config.inc.php file.

Sometimes solutions are that simple.

My two cents for whoever might have the same issue.

Is Football A Disgrace? (Or a Blessing?)

I have been thinking a lot about writing a post on Football. There are many considerations I would like to point out but the abundance of perspectives on the same sport can have the opposite effect: denaturalise and weaken each and every item in the list. My solution is to deal with each point separately and hopefully at the end of this series of posts my idea on this disgusting and beautiful game.

My personal point of view is, I must admit, biased. Yes, because I started quite late to get interested to it. I have some very good memories as a kid, going to the stadium (Stadio San Nicola in Bari, in the picture) with the family. We used to be 6 to stadiosannicola-gallery410 people, most of the time the children would go with the grandfather in a minivan, enjoying the trip in such an unconventional vehicle. Among the memories I cherish today are my grandfather bringing a bag of tangerines, a full bag of tangerines as snack. I remember having a “panino con la parmigiana”: a layered, aubergine based, Italian dish. As you can see from this picture I have been eating the same typical (or a-typical) dish till my mid-twenties.

 

Apart from family, food and a fortnight trip in a minivan my memories of football are quite dead. Wait, I remember the names of the players and the games. I remember Andersson missing two penalties in the same game against Atalanta.

I remember the goal Antonio Cassano scored against Inter, with which he was thrown into the football that matters. I remember my dad hugging me in that infernal 60-thousand-people crowd.

I have a very vague memory of the night Italy won 2-1 against England in the Third place match of the Italia ’90 World cup finals.

I have been exposed pretty much all my childhood to football, but it never really got to me. I used to to karate. I don’t remember the beginning because I was too young, probably around 5 or 6 years old. I remember liking it a lot. It was a continuous learning experience. The respect for the opponent, the lessons on the ethics and the moral of knowing how to hurt 170908_1705504232289_8249342_osomeone but choosing not to do it unless being forced to. I had a great Sensei who cared very much about teaching discipline and power of will. Getting a full training and improving the proprioceptive abilities, the coordination and the body care.

When I turned 15 I decided to try football. I was quite influenced by my peers. Many of them started some 8-9 years before and were already very good at it. I started training and I realised that even if I always played with friends on the street, on the asphalt, I knew nothing of this sport. I had to learn and I had to do it fast because the rest of the team was already much better than I was.

What they taught me was not only how to touch the ball, how to pass and similar. They taught me a lot more. They taught me how to cheat. How to pull a shirt, stomp on someone’s foot to prevent them from jumping, pretend to be hurt when someone barely pushes you. This was a bit contrary to what I had learnt before but I could deal with it. After all, everyone used to “play” dirty.

Years went by and I kept playing learning more about the tactics than the technique. I had some good coaches and they influenced me with their lessons on those dreadful clay pitches.

I never stopped playing but I shifted towards amateur leagues and with a bunch of friends we got some satisfaction, winning some challenging tournaments and enjoying the holiday set as a prize.

Now, many years have passed and I truly enjoy playing football. I do that a lot, about 3 times a week and on all types of pitches: 5-a-side, 6-a-side, 7-a-side, 8-a-side, 11-a-side. I am no legend of football but I enjoy it and that is enough for me. Who knows me can tell the joy I get from it. Sport is supposed to bring good feelings, stimulate mind and body. To push a person’s limits, learn new things, improve and get to know new people. This is the type of football I built around me. I might get upset during a game and swear but I will always respect my opponent. Some hard hits are still there, after all it’s a tough sport, but the dirty stuff is definitely not for me. I tend to come home quite battered and even if I moan and complain on the surface it actually makes me feel good. Knowing I gave my best.

Today is 21st of January 2015 and I watched Barcelona – Atletico Madrid (Barcelona player throws the ball at the referee: video) and now I hate football. It’s a disgraceful tragi-comic parody of what I do 3 times a week, for fun. The players on the pitch are paid to do what I usually pay to do. The supporters around are, quite sadly, part of the show. Their attitude is terrible, as terrible as the attitude of those puppets on the grass. From the first minute to the last I witnessed a depressing alternation of dives (with facial expressions that could have won the academy award), deliberate kicks to hurt the opponent (without the simulation because when it hurts you don’t cry as if your dog passed away), abusive language or behaviour towards the referee and the linesmen and as you can imagine the list can go on.

I understand how money and interests can radically turn a sport into an abominable potpourri of poor acting, WWE wrestling and authority disrespect. I feel torn inside, my feelings are pulled from one side by an experience of intelligence and strength that I enjoy so much, on the other side by a disappointing hoax. Staged in every detail, detrimental for the learning minds of the younger ones. What you see is what you get. A player gets barely touched and rolls on the ground (shouting and holding the wrong part of the body) and the referee gives foul is a lesson that states: “he who gets barely touched will get a penalty/free kick if and only if he rolls on the ground, expressing great pain and holding some part of his body”. What can we expect ?

I am deeply disappointed. Sometimes, like tonight, I think it is me, it is something to do with me. When everyone around me who claims to love football justifies this behaviour or insults the referee, I feel like I don’t belong to football. It is not my thing.

I’m going to bed a bit sad but tomorrow I’ll play and I will leave this craziness behind and that will indeed be my thing.

USA on the road: The Video Diary

I’ve been and I still am really busy juggling with deadlines and other chores but I found the time to edit this little video diary of my USA trip on the road.
It’s a bit long but quite enjoyable. Hope you like it!

Back online

  • By theshepherd
  • Published November 20, 2014
  • Tagged

Dear all,

I am truly and deeply sorry I’ve been away for so long.

Many things happened during these months and with a bit of luck I will be able to write a post about each and everyone of them, including:

  • United States road trip
  • Goettingen Bernstein Conference
  • Bristol Decision Making Conference
  • Edinburgh weekend road trip
  • Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Interstellar
  • Hometown football team

 

See you soon!!

 

Cooking Experiment #1: Courgette, Onions and Peppers Risotto

There comes a point in every man’s life when eating jarred pesto and canned beans is detrimental to his own self-esteem. My Italian roots claimed I deserved more than Heinz chicken soup and croutons. To be fair it took quite a long time before deciding to steer completely off the road of the junky ready-to-eat food.
A student’s life can be packed with time demanding events, even the best organised pupil will have to sacrifice some of his precious time for revision, fulfilling basic needs or party time.
My lifestyle has now switched to a more relaxed timetable. I can schedule my work and still be able to dedicate some time to proper food.
I started thinking about basic recipes online but then, thinking about it I forgot I had access to the best source of information on the topic ever! My mom.
Thank you skype for making it possible, not only I could chat real-time but I could also share my actions. If what I was cooking looked not good my instructor would warn me and I would correct immediately.
Learning by the master that fed me for years was halfway through a mystical experience and a reminder on how dumb I have been when I was living with her.
A few hours spent side by side in the kitchen could have provided the knowledge required for a young emigrant. Luckily it is never too late to apologise and learn.
We started with easy stuff, the basics of Italian cooking. Pasta has always been my staple food but the seasoning has never been more sophisticated then Sacla’ Green Basil Pesto or Egg and Bacon Carbonara. Do not misunderstand me now, I still like those dishes but I got a bit bored of the taste. My palate, once refined, became atrophied.

There we go, today I want to share my first experimental recipe: COP (Courgette, Onions, Peppers) Risotto

INGREDIENTS for 2:
160-200 grams of Arborio rice depending on how hungry you feel
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1 courgette
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2 onion
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3 peppers
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olive oil
fresh coriander or parsley
dried sage
salt and pepper

Preparation method:

1. Cutting spree. Cut all the vegetables in tiny pieces. Slices or cubes, it does not matter as long as they can be cooked in the pan.
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2. Pre-cook vegetables
Heat up a bit of olive oil and then add all the diced vegetables together. Stir gently every now and then. Cover with the lid so the steam gets trapped and helps soften the vegs.
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3. Heat some water. I used the kettle cause it is fast and contains enough water for the purpose.
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4. When the mix is soft enough add the rice but not yet the water. This process is called to “burn the rice”.
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5. After a couple of minutes stirring the dry rice add the hot water. The water should cover the rice just. Remember to keep stirring!!
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6. Add salt and pepper to your taste. I added dry sage in a proportion that is approximately 3 to 1 with pepper. Also, don’t forget to add the coriander/parsley towards the end of the cooking (don’t add it at the beginning as it would completely disintegrate).
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7. Keep under control the water level. If it dries up and the rice is not yet fully cooked, just add some more. When the rice is cooked and you reached the desired texture (not too dry and not too watery) its time to serve the risotto.
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8. Add a sprinkle of cheese, I personally love Parmesan but I know some people tend to prefer Pecorino.
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Peppers bind well with courgettes and onion gives body and strength to the mix.
This an easy and accessible recipe for an healthy dinner. I found it very appetizing and so did my dinner guest.
Hope you enjoyed it, please let me know if you think some variation might add value.

Eugene Goostman the bot that did nothing special (at all)

After witnessing the spreading like wild fire of the news about a piece of software, an artificial intelligence that supposedly passed Turing Test I have to admit I was a bit excited. After IBM Watson who knows what else AI researchers would have brought us.

I have to be honest on two main things: the first one is that I am clearly biased, I am working in a Machine Learning Lab, my career as a student was focused on these tasks and as a passionate technology enthusiast I could not be more happy if something like this happened for real. The second thing is that I am also very skeptical, I am a researcher and I cannot trust claims until I have the proofs. I still thank my dad for giving me this mindset. When you are a kid at school everyone calls you stubborn, meticulous, even polemical. But when I grew up and I had to confront myself with the massive amount of information we deal with everyday, including the generic news… what was considered to be a negative trait of my character becomes the extra gear!

Now after reading the first articles I have to admit I was a bit let down. I mean, we all had a go with Cleverbot and that thing worked quite well if you wanted to creep out some naive friend.
This “Eugene” does nothing more than that. How come, all of a sudden, people realise AI can trick a human interlocutor into thinking he is actually chatting with another person and not a sophisticated mechanical string composer?

I stumbled upon a nice blog post by Paolo Attivissimo.
I asked for his permission to translate it and he gently granted it to me (I am sorry for potential mistakes but I had to go through this in a bit of a rush, at 2AM)
What you are going to read from now on is his work. Enjoy.
(Here is the original version)
—————
No, no “supercomputer” passed Turing test
The news is all over the place. A computer, or as “Il Sole 24 Ore” titled,
a “supercomputer” has supposedly passed the legendary Turing Test, proving it is intelligent.
It is a hoax passed off by a researcher, Kevin Warwick, already known for his pompous statements, totally lacking in scientific basis.
The test has not been passed at all, notwithstanding Warwick altered the rules in his favor.

First of all, a bit of revision on what is the Turing Test.
There is no unique definition, but the mathematician Alan Turing in 1950 wrote a famous article, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence“.
He proposed “The Imitation Game”: an examiner talks freely using a chat (at the time it would have been a teleprinter) with a computer and with a human being.
If he could not distinguish which one of the two is the computer and which the human, then it can be concluded that the computer “thinks”, or at least that it is capable of simulating perfectly human thoughts and therefore it is intelligent as much as a human being.
This tests features many limits, also age-related ones: at the time artificial intelligence was an unexplored field.

What happened instead at the London Royal Society, according to the press release from University of Reading, is that the computer managed to convince only 33% of the examiners, of being a real person.
One out of three. Quote: “Eugene managed to convince 33% of the human judges that it was human.” The remaining 67% did not get fooled. This, where I come from, cannot be called “to pass” a test.

Moreover, according to the press release, Turing Test provides that “if a computer is mistaken for a human more than 30% of the time during a series of five minute keyboard conversations it passes the test”. Fake: Turing never wrote such a percentage as pass criteria.
He wrote, instead, that the test is passed if the examiner misjudges, with the same frequency, both when he has to distinguish between man and woman and when he has to discern between human and computer (“We now ask the question, ‘What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?’ Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, ‘Can machines think?'”).

The only close enough claim in the press release is a prediction made by Turing, again on “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. That by the year 2000 it would have been possible to program a computer, so that an average examiner would not have more than 70% chance of identifying correctly after 5 minutes of questioning (“I believe that in about fifty years’ time it will be possible, to programme computers […] to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning”).
But it is not a description of the criteria to pass the test: it is simply a prediction that in 50 years computer science would have evolved to this point. That’s all.

In other words, the test that has been announced no the newspaper does not correspond at all with the original criteria stated by Turing, that did not put limits for time, topic or examiner competence. Instead, in this event:
– the interrogator has been limited to sessions of 5 minutes (maybe repeated);
– not all the judges (that were probably thirty or five all in all; there is an astonishing confusion about even the simplest thing like this one) were expert in evaluating AI software: the names that have been disclosed until now are Robert Llewellyn (actor, known as the robot Kryten in the sitcom “Red Dwarf”), Aaron Sloman (Computer Science professor at the University of Birmingham) and Lord Sharkey (that does not seem to have any AI qualification, even if BBC defines him as an “expert” of this field);
– the judges were told they had to decide whether they were communicating with a computer simulating a thirteen years old kid or with a real thirteen y.o.; but the choice of a teen is equivalent to cheating, because it prevents the judges from asking complex cultural or ethical questions and therefore simplifies a lot the task of imitating a human being;
– the judges were also told that “Eugene Goostman” does not speak english very well because he is from Ukraine: a trick that allowed an believable explanation for the bad grammar of the software, unable to formulate idiomatic expressions.

As a matter of fact, Time published a transcription of a dialogue with the software that is claimed to have “passed” Turing Test: it suffices reading it to notice that the program does nothing more than creating prepacked sentences, diverting from the interviewer’s questions. When the software could not find anything useful in the questions, it answers “I prefer not to talk about this”. Everyone can play like this: this is not intelligence, it’s a pure mechanical elaboration. Basically “Eugene Goostman” is a chatbot and nothing more. You can find a version here (if the website is not overloaded).

The Guardian published a picture of an excerpt of conversation with “Eugene”: decide for yourself about the credibility. Note that twice the software does merely take the interlocutor’s sentence and re-uses it in the form of a question and twice answers changing topic.

Examiner: Hello

EUGENE: Hello, how are you?

Exam: I am fine, you?

EUG: I am pleased you are fine.

Exam: and you?

EUG: I do not want to answer that right now.

Exam: Why not?

EUG: Lets talk about something else.

Exam: Ok what?

EUG: What is on your mind?

Exam: I am wondering if you are a robot.

EUG: Would if be a problem if I was a robot?

Exam: Not really.

The contradiction between the press release statements and the reality of facts is particularly clear in this BBC article, where the organisers underline how “crucially, the conversations were unrestricted”, and immediately after they state that simulating a Ukrainian thirteen years old kid, astutely limited the conversation (“It was very clever ruse to pretend to be a 13-year-old Ukranian boy, which would constrain the conversation”). Make up your mind.

It is not over: even the statement “No computer has ever achieved this, until now” is false. Already three years ago Cleverbot chatbot convinced 59% of the examiners that it was a human. Much more than “Eugene’s” 33%.

Professor Warwick is by himself an assurance of hoax. Years ago he announced he was the first cyborg because he had implanted himself a chip in his arm (if so, all dogs and cats with subcutaneous microchip would be cyborgs).
He also claimed sensationally to announce the first human being infected by a computer virus: really he just implanted a chip containing a virus into a colleague’s arm. He has said so many things that The Register has a compilation of the sensationalist stupidities Warwick announced.

A full-scale massive hoax, shameful for Royal Society. Surfing the wave of the sixtieth anniversary of Turing death, causing only confusion in public opinion. There is no AI to come: we will continue to be surrounded by natural stupidity and naivety of gullible journalists that write about things they don’t know and publish everything without verifying it. This “test” shows, if anything, that if it takes so little to imitate a thirteen year old, then thirteen year old kids are not thinking beings. I have a few doubt about it also on many journalists.
————
Translation finished. Hope you enjoyed it.
I have two final things I want to say.
First I want to thank Paolo for his invaluable job. We live in the time of disinformation and your effort makes a difference!
Second, an appeal to everybody out there. Please do not trust everything you read. Especially when it comes to technical stuff. Ignorance IS NOT bliss and this kind of news has only 2 consequences: sell copies and keep people ignorant.
Someone once said “Be hungry, be foolish”, now let’s not forget about the first of the two: be hungry for knowledge!

“A Long Walk To Grimethorpe”, a Short movie by Ismar Badzic

A couple of weeks ago me and my friend Andrea (a relatively famous Italian film critic) were at the S1 Artspace (S1 Artspace Facebook Page) in Sheffield.
We’ve attended an experimental arts event.
As the main description on the booklet summarises very well, “A long walk to grimethorpe is a project that is made up of two complementary parts: a new piece of music for brass band. And a documentary film that explores both the creation of that piece and the cultural context within which it emerges”.

The first part of the performance is a short movie that focuses on Joe Snape’s inspirational walk. The creative music composer embarks on the 20 miles long journey, that will bring him from Sheffield to Grimethorpe. He is equipped with a set of technical devices that will allow him to record the sounds along his trip. The equipment is mounted on a tuba. Yes, a tuba. That cumbersome musical instrument made of brass, to be precise the largest of the brass family.
The documentary deals also with the musical heritage of South Yorkshire. Joe has to reach Grimethorpe in time for the evening rehearsal of the world famous local band, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

The film alternates scenes of the actual walk with interviews to the components of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and archive footage of brass bands from Yorkshire. The director serves a skillfully stirred mixture of english humorous jokes, wet atmospheres, nostalgic retrò hints and changes of perspective. This results in an enjoyable and stimulating metaphorical trip where music is the link that connects past to present, passion to creativity, Sheffield to Grimethorpe.

What is really interesting about this formula is that the film, as shown, was not yet complete. Experimental director Ismar Badzic filmed the performance itself. The audience reactions both as a whole and individually. The viewer takes part in what will be the ultimate result of this creative process.

Part 2 was performed live, by the University of Sheffield Brass Band and by Joe Snape himself. A powerful mixture of recordings from the nature along the path and a series of brass pieces inspired by the walk. The results were overwhelmingly effective. The HD video shown, together with the music performance, projected the audience into the journey. The viewer could savour the stimuli in what really felt like a first person experience.
The atypical way of recording environmental noises, with a microphone fitted into the pipe of a tuba, exalted those subtle vibrations proper of nature sounds.

BIOs

Joe Snape makes things with sounds. These are always for listening to, and often also for looking at.
His work straddles idioms from storytelling with homemade electronics to analogue A/V with incandescent light bulbs. Recently, he has performed his work at De Melkweg, Amsterdam; ACUD Theater, Berlin; Cafè Oto, LondonL Wonder Site, Tokyo; and The Kitchen, New York City. Joe studied music at the University of Cambridge, Oxford, and California, Berkeley. You can find more at http://joesna.pe

Ismar Badzic is a British-Bosnian director inspired by real life. FAscinated by the emotion derived from the interaction between people and the world around them, he seeks to capture true moments with cinematic elegance. Ismar has built up a rich and wide reaching body of work. A number of his short films and documentaries have been nominated and screened at festivals including Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (2013/2014), Mountain Film Festival, USA (2013) and London Short Film Festival (2014). Ismar is a finalist philosophy student at the University of Sheffield. You can find more at http://glovesandglass.com

A bit of this and a bit of that… A few considerations on last weekend political madness

Yesterday was bank holiday in the UK, not in Italy.
I spent 5 hours cleaning my oven and I feel like I could write a bit of a how-to guide now. It would start with a warning: “Do not forget to buy at least a dozen metallic sponges”.
I did forget and the result has been a prolonged scrubbing action based on disposable towels and paper roll.
I also have a suggestion on the product to use for cleaning. Since most chemical products are really expensive and are clearly not very environmentally friendly, I found vinegar to be an extremely good alternative, together with heat (hot water).
Needless to say, by the end of the day my hands were burning and my lower back was aching as if I did 5 hours of weight lifting.
Let it be clear, I am not complaining. Someone had to do the job. It cannot be done during weekdays (when I have to go to my real job).
Before saying anything to me, I would like to invite you to do the same. Spend 5 hours with your head in a place that smells like vinegar and burned oil and is covered in carcinogenic overcooked black crunchy blobs.

But let’s focus on the minor event of the weekend: Political elections!
There have been several political elections all over Europe, including Italy and the UK.

I will focus first on italian outcomes. As I posted on facebook, I find it really hilarious how everyone claimed they had won just few months ago, and all of a sudden (with pretty much the same results as last time) everyone is claiming they lost.
PD – as far as I know – got the majority of votes pretty much everywhere, M5S turned out to be the second political power.
Many people that voted for the latter used the hashtag #vinciamonoi (something like “we will win”) and are now changing it in #vinciamopoi (we will win later). Apart from the funny jokes on the slogans, what really puzzles me is that the amount of activists belonging to the 5 stars movement were all over the place. Their links, pictures, memes filled every social network.
I read today a very simple analysis that captures a snapshot of what happened in Bari (where I come from). It refers to the fact that people expressed more preferences for M5S in european elections compared with their local poll. This proves, to a certain extent, that people are ready to make a revolution but rarely to start it from their own neighbourhood. I speculate that the old and deep-rooted practice to give their vote to the local politician who promises something (money, work, others..) in return is not going to change anytime soon.
I don’t want to get involved in the political discussion because I don’t think there is one anymore (if it ever did exist). I think in this scenario it is more interesting to focus on the trends that moved the preference of the electorate.
M5S main figure, Beppe Grillo, was a comedian by profession. His excessive, exaggerated oratory was catchy during his rise. People disappointed with either Berlusconi or anti-Berlusconi parties were looking for someone to give voice to their discomfort. Grillo was the right man but forgot that this kind of customers are often driven by emotions more than rational thinking. It has been nice for him and M5S to collect approval among the animal right activists asking to completely stop animal-based research studies. It has also been easy to fill public squares and ride the wave of popular discontent with young masses of unemployed. But when it came to the real deal, when for the third time a government not elected from people was emerging, Grillo’s decision has been to spit angry words in the face of possibilities.
I am not criticizing, I am analysing. I appreciate this purist behaviour, but at the same time I think that the video of Grillo’s shouting his monologue at Matteo Renzi’s face was a bit of a turning point. A lot of M5S enthusiasts almost automatically shared the video as a showdown, a test of strength. – See? Our leader is not accepting compromises – which is praiseworthy.
But at the time I could see some cracks, I could see some of the smart people that supported him thinking twice about what the movement’s self-proclaimed leader was standing for. It looked like an enraged child during a tantrum. There was simply no way to talk to him constructively.
Here we are, M5S let down everyone. Their energy, their purity, their abnegation played only a part. The other side of the coin was closed-mindedness, total reliance on the tyrant’s words, acceptance of the dogmas of the movement.
Ultimately, I believe that many italians changed their minds during these months. I believe that these electors became ready to trust again a politician by profession and his circles of prejudiced, rather than giving their vote to someone that was playing the dictator role.

On this side of the Channel, I can’t go deeper than what I learnt in these year and a half from my personal experience.
I am reading/hearing a lot of people complain against the fact that UKIP got 27-point-something % of the votes.
Their propaganda was all over the place. I’ve seen advertising billboards being put up, being defaced, removed and being put up again. Our post-box was overflowing with their brochures. The tv coverage that Farage had was massive. But again, this is democracy as we know it.
I come from a place where Berlusconi has been elected more than a couple of times. Everyone knows media are probably the most powerful weapon. Too many people with poor education are easily mislead by data and statistics presented in one or another fashion.
This is democracy, power to the people. This is also a direct result of previous governments lowering the educational level in a country. Sadly there is not much that can be done after.
Just to make it clear, I don’t consider education a mere scholastic task. Education means also to be curious, to be skeptical, to be passionate. Education means not to trust people that need to send you tons of high quality printed paper to make sure you vote for them.
At first, my gut reaction has been to blame it on democracy, too limited in its limitlessness. But then rationally I thought this is a failure of politics as a whole. Both italians and british people have voted for weird parties, but the reasons why they did so is because they did not see a valid alternative in the rest of the political scene.

As a generic suggestion on who to vote in the next elections, I would say ask to the candidates if they have ever cleaned an oven by themselves. This should make sure the person you are dealing with knows the meaning of hands-on work.

Funny update:
Italian consulate office in Manchester has been a good resource for me in at least a couple of times.
It is one of those services that needs to be improved but does what it should do.
I’ve been there few weeks ago and they informed me they are going to close soon.
I asked if I could do anything, like signing a petition or send a letter to someone.
I did both. Here is the petition link.

I sent a letter to three addresses that the employee gave me.

This is the answer I received from one of the three.

How politician answer petitions

If you don’t understand italian this is the translation:

Me:
Dear all,
this letter to express the interest of italian community in Sheffield (students, researchers, workers and professors) to maintain a very useful service for the entire geographic area of North England.
Do not make people remember you as the ones that discontinued italian presence abroad.

Guglielmo Picchi sarcastic answer:
Next time keep voting PD NCD and SC and PI that closed it. Regards
Send from iPad

Me:
From your answer I can guess that “we” (whe who??) should have voted you.

How do you know who I voted for?
How can you ensure that by voting you the office would have remained open?

Your answer is the proof that you have got it all wrong with your arrogance.

“Not send from iPad”

UPDATE:
the politician answered:
It is not arrogance. It is acknowledgement. The most voted parties in Manchester are PD and SC. These have then closed the consulate office. I assume that the population that voted them agrees with this decision. I opposed and raised parliament motions against its closure, that PD and SC refused to discuss. I did not ask for your vote, but until it has been my responsibility the office has been open.
I don’t know who you vote for and I don’t want to know, too often though the elector votes without realising the consequences of his vote… Manchester’s case is the textbook case.

I am always available for everyone, both for who votes for me and who does not, because I take care of the interest of the community that elected me. I defended Manchester in parliament until PD SC and MAIE voted for the closure. Then I worked to guarantee the presence of itinerant officials.

Send from iPad

Original:
Non è arroganza. Ma una presa d’atto. A Manchester i partiti più votati sono stati PD e SC. Questi poi chiudono lo sportello consolare. Ne deduco che la popolazione che li ha votati sia d’accordo con questa decisione. Io mi sono opposto e ho fatto mozioni parlamentari contro chiusura che PD e SC si sono rifiutati di discutere. Non le ho chiesto il voto, ma finché è stata mia responsabilità di governo lo sportello c’è stato.
Non so lei chi voti è non lo voglio sapere, troppo spesso però l’elettore vota senza rendersi conto di quali sono le conseguenze dello stesso…il caso di Manchester è di scuola.

Io sono sempre disponibile per chiunque, sia che mi voti che non, perchè curo gli interessi della comunità che mi ha eletto. Ho difeso Manchester nelle aule parlamentari fino a che PD SC e MAIE hanno votato la chiusura. Poi mi sono adoperato per garantire la presenza dei funzionari itineranti.

Inviato da iPad

Some good tunes

  • By theshepherd
  • Published May 21, 2014
  • Tagged

Recently I rediscovered a 4-tracks album I purchased last year.
I used to listen to it on repeat, and this does not happen that often.
Naomi is the name of the band, as well as the album.

Naomi

Naomi

Facebook page.
Bandcamp page (where you can buy their album).

Their album on Spotify.

Youtube page.

A review by Bandwagon:

“Found this little gem of an EP on /r/postrock a few weeks ago and we seriously have not stopped listening to it. This little UK band won us over as soon as we heard the delicate synth melodies in the second track ‘Mirrors’. In fact, the incorporation of deep resonating keys into the build is what makes Naomi such a pleasure to listen to. Extremely catchy and well produced, it’s a solid post-rock release filled with dynamic rhythm, rich tones and intelligent songwriting that shines from start to finish. If you love the chilled out math-rock vibes of Toe and 3nd, you’ll be addicted to this EP in no time at all. We expect great things from this band.”

Here is the third track of the album, “Footsteps”:

chill-the-fluff-out

Mr.SuicideSheep never lets you down.

Enjoyable voice, nice lyrics, this is officially one of my favourites tracks while working…  I should set up a playlist for work music.

Well done Jaymes Young (btw this track is not on his Spotify)
SoundCloud
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Twitter

2048 – ULC strategy

It’s been a while since my flatmate told me about this game. At first I was a bit skeptical because I know well this kind of games. They are addictive. So, for the first few weeks I managed to stay away from it. Then it happened. I had to travel and I was looking for a game that could work offline, during bus trips or international flights. I decided it was time to face the danger and download 2048.

For those of you that don’t know 2048, it is a “math” game. It consist of a 4-by-4 matrix board where tiles can be slid in the four main directions (up, down, left, right). You cannot control a single tile directly, every action will slide all the tiles towards the margin in the direction of the swipe. If two tiles have the same number/color/value they will collapse, add up and create a new tile with the sum of the previous two. The game, in fact, consists in adding the initial tiles (mostly twos and some fours) to get the 2048 tile. Every action will randomly pop up a new tile. As the smartest of you will have figured out by now, the only way to get a 2048 is to collapse two 1024. The only way to get a 1024 is to collapse two 512 and so on…

I played few times the game. Trying different strategies blindly (without really thinking about the possible implications of my actions). Then i started focusing on the best ways to add and sort tiles and I came up with different ideas. The ideas gave rise to my final strategy that took the name ULC. Upper Left Corner. I am pretty sure the same strategy could have taken several different names according to the perspective players have.

The strategy is to accumulate the higher tiles in the upper left corner. And to do this by using the first row of the board as a descending (or ascending, again perspective) accumulation queue.

Rarely swipe down, or I’d better say “you should never swipe down”, but sometimes it will be the only option available. If you are lucky enough the game will pop up a basic tile (2 or 4) in the least valuable place of the first row: the 4th column.

The initial stages of the game are relatively easy. Let’s say that when you get your first yellow tile (128) you should start using the strategy consistently.

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As said, it will happen eventually that you will have to slide down or right because no other moves are allowed. At the beginning of the game this is still reasonable, because re-building a higher first-row-first-column tile is doable.

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I was thinking about a way to automatize this game. Not just telling the machine how to play but creating a learning agent and letting him play for a number of times (possibly a high number of times, it might take a very high number of times) and then evaluate different strategies. The agent will come up with a sub-optimal policy of choosing, for every state, the best action.
Now the funny thing is that this is exactly what I am studying, so it is not too distant from reality that I do this (maybe in python?). I just need to find a couple of hours to work on it.

Updates might come…

 

PS. have you noticed? sometimes the ads open without touching them. Just sliding on the board will – almost randomly – trigger the opening of the ads. Smart, sneaky or buggy coincidence?

Science vs quackery

Lately there has been a lot activity connected to the dispute that science is a failure, that it is enslaved by the big companies that seek profit, implying that several thousands of researchers are carrying out their jobs in a “biased” way. Here is my point of view on the matter.

Few years ago Internet (and social media) was still inaccessible to most of the parents for several reasons. Some of them did not have the time to engage, some of them were simply turned off by the amount of technicalities they were asked to face.

I believe that, by lowering the access threshold, a lot of these are now wandering online, submerged by an ocean of information. My generation had time to learn to face the problem and to discern between good, reliable news and crappy ones. Not everyone learnt of course. Parents have been plunged into this noisy world with no time to learn.

This setting gave rise to a few major problems in the approach to social networked news:

  1. Title trusting,
  2. Share racing,
  3. Blind defense,
  4. Hoax generation.

The first is the attitude to believe what the Title of a post says, no matter what the article is actually about. There are still a lot of users who don’t enjoy clicking on the link they share because (I speculate) they are lazy. Now I can see these people reading a title and thinking the entire article is summarised in those 6-7 words. What really leaves me astonished is that the same users that trust a title, on a post, on facebook, on the Internet, are the same that distrust people in real life. I might be induced to think that the click on the link is a barrier, probably too high to overcome, between them and the perception of the article’s author as a real life person.

The laziness that characterises these users vanishes when it comes to sharing. Even if it is likely that a part of their brain is still thinking about the fact that they really don’t know who wrote the article (and its title), the urge to share it takes over. They have to share it on their timelines, it does not matter if in a few seconds the smart guy they are friends with will comment on it showing them how stupid that choice was.

This leads us to the third point, blind defense. After someone commented on their post, arguing how the article is a hoax – probably reposted after few months from its first sharing – they step in to defend their shared article. In their heads they were, perhaps, expecting a stream of likes and retweets. Sadly now they have to face a discussion during which they take the side of the article (mind you, without even having read it). Needless to say, failure is not an option.

Lastly, as you can see, there is a plethora of users willing to blindly believe an article (as long as the title is cool), that are willing to share and spread it at supersonic speed, that will most likely defend it once they shared it. This army of mental numbness includes people that do actually open the link and do actually click on those banners in the page.

If you were not one of these, won’t you start a hoax website with plenty of ads just to fish in the sea of dumbness??

One of the biggest clashes that keeps happening on social networks, as well as in real life debates, is whether it is safe or not to administer vaccines to young children. It is clear that parents want the best for their children, they would never want them to suffer or to experience serious illness and diseases. What is less clear is whether they have a full understanding of the topic.

There is a very nice and well documented article by Jennifer Raff that focuses on this problem, read more about it (link opens in new tab).

 

Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are NOT fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely NOT coincidental. If you think I was talking about you, you are probably right. Peace.

 

1st post

Into the peaks

Here we are, starting a blog *again*.
As you will have noticed, the layout of the entire website changed. The blog is now embedded in a scrolling, colorful template.
This should be a more enjoyable layout for mobile devices users as well as old fashioned desktop/laptop addicted.
I will do my best to make the contents enjoyable as well.
As a prompt start I am suggesting an electronic relaxing track. It fits perfectly a really interesting video about the universe seen as scaled in powers of 10.

 

Music by Gas (Mat Jarvis)
Original Video by Charles and Ray Eames – POWERS OF TEN © 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC

Travel only with thy equals or thy betters;
if there are none, travel alone.

“THE DHAMMAPADA”

BIO

Who is The Shepherd?

My name is Alvin and I am an Italian born learner.

I am interested in a broad variety of topics.

I am currently working on a multi-perspective topic called Neuroeconomics. It involves studying human behaviour in uncertain situations from different points of view. Psychological, Economic and Neuroscientific.

I cannot live without music. It is impossible to give a comprehensive list of genres therefore I will point you to my last.fm tagcloud.

I read a lot, mostly scientific papers, but I don’t dislike a good novel once in a while.

I love movies. I have a discrete collection (~140 titles), but I am always looking for new – or old – pearls to add.

I enjoy football, a lot. The company, the competition, learning tricks, using tricks, the passion, the commitment, the hits taken, the hits given, the victories, the defeats.

I had many teachers in my life. Some were in school, in university. Others were somewhere else, along my path. Some are still there and some are not anymore. Some are yet to be met. To all of them I say thank you.

Social Shepherd

The real thing is not reaching,
the real thing is the journey.

OSHO