Posts in Category: blog

Dan Ariely on TED

IDA and the media

Big big fuzz about IDA, today. See here for a rather sensationalistic article on SkyNews or here for one slightly more critical on BBC. I cannot really judge on the importance of the discovery itself; sure enough I can say that the words “missing link” mean nothing at all and I am glad that at least have been left out of the paper. No doubt, though, that IDA is being sold as “the missing link that is proving Darwin was right” — even the name, Darwiniun Masillae, seems to have been chosen for the very same reason.

Now, what really strikes me is the mediatic event that was created around this discovery. Big fanfare presentation in NYC, with opening words of  the city Major; a book, scheduled to appear on amazon on the same day; BBC documentary; a website dedicated with videos, interviews and everything else. Is this appropriate? Not sure.

This is what the authors say about the mediatic event:

The scientific publication of Ida has been carefully timed so that the film, book and website can be launched at the same time. The scientists see this as a new way of presenting science for the 21st century, where a major scientific find becomes available to everyone, wherever they are in the world at the same time. Ida connects to us all, and we can all share in understanding her.

As Jørn Hurum explains, ‘I really like the idea that it’s now possible for people to look at the website or to see the film or read the book at the same time as the scientists read the scientific paper. You can get many different levels of understanding, but you get out the important messages in different ways at the same time. Humans are not special – we’re related deep in time to more primitive mammals. And the best way to tell this story is Ida, and this, I hope, will be the message that will come out.’

The explanation is plausible after all: times are changing and why not use new means for communicating Science? At least authors are pretty coherent: kudos to them, for instance for having picked PLoS ONE for publishing their paper and for advocating OA. From the PLoS Blog:

We asked Dr Hurum about the factors that influenced his decision to publish the article in PLoS ONE.
“Choosing PLoS ONE as the venue for publication was easy,” he explained. “First of all the journal is Open Access. I am paid by the taxpayers of Norway to do research and outreach from The Natural History Museum in Oslo. Why should a large publishing group then own my research and sell it in pay per view or expensive subscriptions to interested people around the world? I feel this is not moral when they have not supported my research at all but wants to make money on my several years of work without any compensation.”
“Secondly PLoS ONE’s lack of restrictions on the length of manuscripts and the number of figures attracted us; we wanted to publish a full anatomical description with lots of illustrations. In other journals this would have been impossible or the page charges would have been enormous.”
“Thirdly, PLoS ONE is the quickest way to publish a large work in the world!”

I still have to decide on whether this was a bit too much. We all know regular media tend to shoot pretty high every time but seems this time is a bit different.

Edit: when the news hits the google doodle you know it is a big deal.

WolframAlpha (only the screencast for now)

Here, an impressive demo of what it promises to be the next big thing on the Internet. Wolfram Alpha is been created by [[Stephen Wolfram]], creator of [[Mathematica]] and it is supposed to become available starting from May 2010. It seems like it could be an amazing example of data mining technology and could prove very useful for bridging technical knowledge to every day curiosities.
And here, a review of a first public demo run.

EDIT [2009/05/17]. Seems the service is online starting from yesterday. You can calculate things like Normality of 37%HCl or your exact age in seconds.

What I Think About When I Think About Manuscripts – I, Editor – Henry Gee’s blog on Nature Network

Perhaps what I am getting at is that scientific papers tend to be static. The best literature – of any kind – has a beginning, a middle and an end, in which the protagonists undertake some kind of journey, whether geographical or spiritual, and are changed by their experiences. In scientific papers, the results often give us no clue to the back story – the reason why the researchers were studying this system or that, and the tale of chances and mistakes and serendipity that led them to that point. The only readable parts tend to be the introduction, in which literature is summarized (a classic case of telling but not showing) and the discussion (in which the new result is integrated into what is already known).

via What I Think About When I Think About Manuscripts – I, Editor – Henry Gee’s blog on Nature Network.


I decided time had come to get a [[Pretty_Good_Privacy|PGP key]].
Here is my public ID:
This is my fingerprint:
6BA6 61B1 A198 8DDF 50BF 7F2A DE7F 773B DE8D 92BF
And from here you can download my public key.

Additional notes:
Quick notes for GPG syntax (here)
Creating SSH keys (here)

Project GREAT: General Relativity Einstein/Essen Anniversary Test

This is kind of old (goes back to 2005/7) but fascinating. This guy got 6 atomic clock. He left 3 at home and he took the other three to a weekend outing on Mt. Rainier (~1500 meters above) – along with his three kids, of course. All this to test one of most famous Einstein’s postulates. Here’s the link.. Don’t miss the family pictures section.

Free unmissable Windows software that will make your computer life easier.

Whatever your job, there is a good chance you’ll spend lots of time sitting in front of a computer. If you do lots of data analysis, as I do lately, then you’ll find yourself in front of the monitor for most of the day. I’ll use this and the following few posts to introduce some softwares that are going to dramatically improve your productivity – and make your digital life easier. Web is full of list with dozens of best freeware software so I have no intention of making just another one; rather I will suggest one software per category. If you know of something better feel free to leave a comment to this post. I’ll start with this post with some more general softwares, useful to anyone. In the next one I will talk of more scientific-oriented softwares.

Fancy Pull-quotes (v0.85)

Simply download the plugin, unzip it and copy the php file in the plugin directory of your wordpress installation. Then activate it from the admin panel and you are ready to go. The plugin is fully customizable from a page in the admin control panel.Note: if you are upgrading the plugin from an older version I recommend to first click the “restore all options to default” link.

How to use.
Simply surround the text that you want to see as pull-quote by the following tags: <!--pull--> and <!--/pull-->. The plugin will automatically scan your post for the text included with these tags and treat it as pull-quotes. Getting those nice effects is as easy as that! If you don’t like the tags as they are or if you want to change the look of the pulled quote, you can do it from the control page in the admin panel of wordpress. The quote is formatted using a CSS definition: if you are an advanced user (i.e. if you know a bit of CSS) you can hack the CSS style in every part.

Detailed instruction.

Open and Close tags: you can define which tag to be used as markers for the pulled quote. Default are <!–pull–> and <!–/pull–>. These tags are transparent by default meaning that if you check the “Mirror quote” option you can activate or inactivate the plugin at any time without changing the layout of your posts.

Background Color: Choose background color. Use same color as your normal background to make it transparent.

Text Color: Choose text color. You can use hexadecimal values (for instance: #0AFF44)

Max Width: specifies the maximal width allowed

Pullquote position: pullquote position in the page (left or right)

Border color, size, style: define border properties

Mirror quote: leave unchecked if you want to use a quote that won’t show in the text of your post (for instance: if you want to have the pullquote to appear at the very top of your post you can uncheck the “mirror quote” checkbox and insert the pulled quoted as first thing in your wordpress post)

Current version of the plugin is 0.85, released on 4.19.2007. The plugin has been tested and working WP 2.0.x and 2.1.x. If you have other experience on other versions of WP please leave a comment here and I’ll udate this paragraph.

The plug-in is released under GPL license, meaning it’s free. If you like it or if you need help feel free to leave a comment here. (did you note that I installed some ads on this page? maybe you can find a couple of minute to check if there is anything interesting to you…)
Take a look also to my other plugin, Alt-to-Legend.


Wikipedia, Citizendium, Frankenstein and the golem.

[image by fd]Everybody knows Wikipedia so no need for introduction. Let’s just say that of the many very different opinions I have heard about it – placeable everywhere in the range from most celebratory to destructive – there is a quote that I find very attractive:

Wikipedia should not work, but it does!

This quote, which I believe is attributable to one of the fathers of wikpedia, Larry Sanger, says much about the on-line encyclopedia:

    Wikipedia is an experiment. A crazy one. Most people would have thought that the wiki affair would have been a failure but in fact it is now after only few years the biggest encyclopedia available nowadays.
    Nobody really knows how and why wikipedia works.

Alt to Legend (v0.50)

This is a neat Plugin!Installation.
Simply download the plugin, unzip it and copy the php file in the plugin directory of your wordpress installation. Then activate it from the admin panel. You can customize the behavior of Alt-2-Legend from a new panel that will appear under the ‘Option’ page in the admin panel.

How to use.
Once your plugin is installed, it is ready to use. Simply insert an image in your post as you normally do and provide a description in the title textbox of the popup window. The text specified in the alt field or title field (your choice) will appear under the image. You can then decide the relative position of the images in the posts under the option page in the admin panel. Image can float always left, always right or according to the align parameter (meaning different post by post if you wish so).

Current version of the plugin is 0.5, released on 5.10.2009. The plugin has been tested only on WP 2.7.1. If you have other experience on other versions of WP please leave a comment here.

The plug-in is released under GPL license, meaning it’s free. If you like it or if you need help feel free to leave a comment here – and hopefully I will get some monetary feedback from the people who will find interesting ads to click on.

-First release

-Add a preview pane in the admin panel
-Add a easy-update link in the admin panel
-Set the width of the box sourrounding the image as big as the image itself

-Fixed the ‘use no border’ bug
-Use local/relative URI for images hosted on localserver (solves error:
getimagesize(): URL file-access is disabled in the server configuration )
-Image can float constantly left, constantly right or left/right according to the align parameter

-Fixed several bugs
-Add the padding and margin settings to adjust border of the image

-Works with an unlimited number of images -Image box will fit also when image is resized using the width parameter

-Will work only if image tag contains the magic word “alt2legend”.
E.g.:<img src="image.jpg" alt="This is a caption" alt2legend />
Also, included in wordpress plugin repository.
Take a look also to my other plugin, fancy-pullquotes.