Thursday, December 22, 2005

16 years ago

I forgot to mention that today we celebrate/commemorate the Romanian revolution from 1989. Celebrate because we gained our freedom, commemorate because of the (post)communists that confiscated the revolution and of the hundreds of people that died in the masquerade that followed the flight and catch of Ceausescu. Nobody payed for that...

Note: in Romanian "comemora" means to remember a sad or tragic event, as opposed to celebrate which means to remember a joyful event; in English I think this distinction between celebrate and commemorate it's not very clear.

New book

I'm reading "Loving Sabotage" by Amelie Nothomb (the Romanian translation). The book describes a strange, cruel world as seen through the eyes of a little girl. Not entirely plausible, but interesting in how she descovers the meaning of love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Driving in Bucharest

If you ever want to drive in Bucharest you have to answer the question in this test firts! For those who don't speak Romanian the question is: Which vehicle will leave first the crossroad in the picture above?
The answers are:
A. The tram.
B. The truck.
C. The trolley bus.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Firefox 1.5

It's official! Firefox 1.5 was released yesterday. I used the beta versions for a while now, and I think it's faster and more stable then the previous version. So get it while it's hot :)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New book

Now reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, the Romanian translation. It's a funny novel, about a guy that doesn't adapt at all to the society, but it's forced to do so by some circumstances.

Friday, October 21, 2005

David vs. Google

An interesting article in a German newspaper covering the evolution of Ask Jeeves search engine and the man behind it, Apostolos Gerasoulis. They say Ask Jeeves uses a better search algorithm than Google. I tried a search on "failure", a currently well known Google bombing, and Ask Jeeves returned some meaningfull results. It also has a feature called "zooming" where they offer some alternative search terms that could find better answers for you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Universe in a nutshell

I finished reading "The Universe in a Nutshell" by Stephen Hawking. He describes the current search in physics for a universal theory that would describe the universe, and reconcile the relativity theory with quantum mechanics. I knew some of the theories explained there from other books of science popularization, but this one is very well written and entertaining. There is also one chapter not related to physics theories, but to the potential evolution of the human society.
I think this is the weaker part of the book, as I don't think we will be in competition with any artificial intelligence any time soon, if ever. Nice to see the reference he mades to Popper and his epistemology. I think everyone doing science should be aware of Popper's theory and the limits of our knowledge.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Google and Sun

Google and Sun announced a partenership which will see Google toolbar bundled together with Java. That's a strange (at least for me) bundle to download, but many are speculating that what they really want to do is to integrate somehow into the services offered by Google. This will be, suposely, a big competition chanlange to Microsoft, and many (see for example here) want to see the "good guy" (Google) fighting the "bad guy". I guess they will "fight" eventually, but not as good versus evil (although Google tries to picture itself as being on the good side of the force, see their slogan "don't do evil"), but just as two companies looking for revenues and profits.
I have to admit that even myself look sometimes at Google as being "on the good side of the force" :)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Partial solar eclipse

Live partial solar eclipse in Bucharest right now! We're lucky the clouds are gone after the heavy rain of yesterday; one of my co-workers brought the special eclipse watching glasses he has from the eclipse in 1999, so we all watched it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Measuring teacher's quality

The Romanian minister of education proposed recently that teacher's salaries should be linked to their performance in teaching. But how would you measure teaching quality? Clearly not by the grades pupils receive, cause in this case everybody would start giving 10 grades (in Romania grades are from 1 to 10). Instead you should measure the (improvement in the) scores pupils receive at national standardized tests, but this is also not trivial. Here's an article about a study made in US on this topic, measuring teacher's quality. Note that in US a teacher is hired by a school, and after a few years his performance is evaluated and he can get a tenure, i.e. a permanent appointment. In Romania, to obtain a permanent position (i.e. titular) you have to pass a contest, without any proof of your real teaching capabilities.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Summer is gone

It rained all day today in Bucharest, probably fall wanted us to notice her.
Maybe this will mean more time for reading, as I started a couple of books and didn't finish them.
Currently I read "The World Is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. It's funny how a non-techie describes all the technological changes that took place in the last decade and changed the world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Machine translation

Machine translation is one of the holly grails of artificial intelligence. The first approach to this problem was to construct a set of rules by studying the grammars of the two languages (called symbolic approach), but, as with other problems in AI, statistical tehniques (inferring "rules" from many translations of documents from one langauge to the other) seem to be more succesful now.
Each year NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology in US) organizes a contest of machine translation software. The results for this year shows Google as the front runner. I'm proud to see University of Maryland (where I got my master degree) as a top contestant. I know they have a good research group in this area. Go Terps! :)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Photos from Italy

I posted some pictures from my trip to Italy. They're not the best, you have to remove my face from some of them to obtain a better view :)

I visited Rome plus Naples and its surroundings (Pompeii, Sorento, and the Capri island). A lot of beautifull things to view in both places, and the time was short for seeing and "digesting" everything. So I hope to go back to see more of Italy "in the next future", as a friend of mine would say :)

Sunset over Ischia island, while on the route from Capri to Naples Posted by Picasa

Live dog in Pompeii :) Posted by Picasa

Cave Canem mosaic in Pompeii Posted by Picasa

Overview of Naples with a clouded Vesuvius in the left corner Posted by Picasa

Me and the Colosseum in Rome Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 15, 2005

Back to work

My vacation is over (pictures will be added later, if ever, as usually :), and I came back to work today, wondering again (as I entered my male only office) why is this imbalance between men and women working in computer science? :) I kinda found an answer today: in countries where math classes are mandatory for longer in secondary and high school, the imbalance seems to be weaker.
Read the details here.
So I should try to persuade the people in charge with our education system to add more math classes in the high-school, regardless of the speciality (in Romania high schools usually specialize in sciences or humanities) of a particular school :)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Open source beer and a vacation

Applying computer science ideas to real life just got a big boost with the new open source beer developed by the students of a Danish university :) A more detailed story here. Am I lagging behind in applying computer science to real life? Did these guys need a vacation, or maybe I'm the one who needs one? I definitely need one, so I'll be on vacation for the next two weeks. That means staying away from any computer as much as possible, so this blog will be on vacation too.

Cheers! :)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Playing Moldovans at Tennis

I started reading a new book, Playing Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks. It's a funny book in which the author describes his "adventures" in the post-communist Republic of Moldavia, the misery and the wonders he finds there. For people from Western Europe or U.S. sometimes it's hard to imagine or believe what's described there, you really have to see it to believe it :)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

New book

I finished reading Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding (author of Bridget Jones's Diary). It's one of the captivating books that you cannot let down until you finish it. It's not a "deep" book, but now it's summer and living's easy :) Another book of this type I read recently is Da Vinci Code, but Da Vinci Code has a poor style; sometimes it feels the author took large passages from a dictionary and pasted them into the book.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Society of trust

As new incidents happened today in London, we see how important is trust in the human society. We agree somehow to not hurt each other, and to cooperate for achieving goals. For my vacation I went to an office, I gave to the women there a plastic card (my credit card), received back a printed paper (my flight ticket). And I'm pretty sure at the date printed there a plane will be at the point indicated to fly me. This doesn't work if some people decide one day to blow themselfs up in a subway train. So we'll have to isolate these guys, and make sure that nobody comes to the conclusion that blowing himself up to kill others is something to do.
The chemistry of trust looks easy to decode, as described here, but the reality is far more complex.
Too much of what we accomplished relies on our cooperation, and trusting each other, so losing it is not an option.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Smile, you're in the biology lab :) Posted by Picasa

In our classroom (I didn't write those formulas :)) Posted by Picasa

This is how we looked ten years ago Posted by Picasa

It's been 10 years

A week ago we had a reunion to celebrate 10 years since we graduated from high school. It was nice to meet my former classmates, and teachers and chat together about what we did "lately". There should be plenty of photos from that evening (I personally didn't have a camera with me), but only a few are online as yet. I'll post here some.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Supreme Court

In US the Supreme Court is the highest judicial instance. Its rulings are taken as precedences by lower justices. They often rule over controversial cases, like abortion, and in these rulings there is usually a fight between liberal and conservative justices. Today one of the justices announced she will retire, and this will open a battle between democrats and republicans over the next nomination, which is made by the president and approved by congress. Read more here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Finally some photos from Toronto, and a new book

It took me some time, but I finally posted a few pictures from Toronto. I still didn't get the pictures I took with the film camera I had with me.

I was somehow lazy on the book reading also, but a few days ago I started reading a new book which I bought in Toronto: Joseph Stiglitz - Globalization and Its Discontents.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel prize laureate in Economy, and in this book he describes his experiences as economic adviser of president Clinton, and his period as senior vicepresident of World Bank. He critisizes the policies IMF and WB had related to globalization, and the developing countries.

Canadian National Tower Posted by Hello

Downtown Toronto, which remembers me of Melbourne, Australia Posted by Hello

The building I stayed in (the one in the center) while in Toronto, as seen from CN Tower Posted by Hello

Heading towards Niagara Falls Posted by Hello

Friday, May 13, 2005

Google and Microsoft

Maybe you didn't notice, but these guys are fighting with each other. Read the story here.

In related news, IBM encourages now its employees to use Firefox. That's good news for my favourite piece of software. How is this related to Google and Microsoft? Well, Firefox is erroding Internet Explorer's market share. Since IE is the de facto standard in browsers, Microsoft controls what technologies people use when accessing the web. This way Microsoft can trump Google when they try to introduce more and more web applications to the public. So the interest of Google would be (IMHO) is to have more browsers competing and web standards defined by a third party like W3C. And Google already hires two main Firefox developers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Toronto, China, and a new book

I think I forgot to post here some of the books I read recently. I was both lazy and busy, because just got back from Toronto (more on that later).

Currently I'm reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, a funny book about football (i.e. soccer), and life.

As for China, on BBC there are often reports about the new China, economics and social perspectives. This is just one of them.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The world is flat

One of the columnists I read in New York Times is Thomas Friedman. He often writes about globalization, and its effects. And one of them is the global competition in job's market. For example, computer programming can be done almost anywhere, so I (more or less) compete for my job with both Americans and Indians. People often don't realize that, or when they do they want the goverment to rescue their jobs by imposing retrictions on free trade. But that will be harder and harder to do, so they should start to adapt to that, learn more, etc. And the best place to learn these new skills is in school. The signal Friedman triggers is that the American education system is not prepared for this global competition. See his latest column, and his latest book. And it seems most of the them are not even concerned about this, but about teaching or not teaching evolution in schools. See the latest developements here.

Update: the link to Friedman's column is fixed now

Monday, April 18, 2005

Obsessive songs

From time to time I just run into songs that I just can't get enough of listening. Currently there are two of them: one from the movie Closer, "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice; see also the first scene of the movie which is amazing. I first heard the second song in a commercial of Connex (a wireless phone company from Romania). Then a DJ from a radio station also liked it and started to broadcast it, so I was able find this song (it's from the 80's): "Supergirl" by Reamonn.

Wanna go to a conference? (Sure you want!)

You might know about the God of conferences from David Lodge's novel "Small World": you sacrifice some of your time, and neurons and then you get rewarded (by this God) with a conference participation (meaning free travelling, and drinking). Well, naturally, people really want just the free travelling, and drinking, so what they do is finding money so that they can organize lots of conferences. A new conference being organized, you want some other people submitting papers (so that your conference looks real), so you start spreading the word/spamming other people about your brand knew opporunity to travel and drink. It seems not everybody is happy about this, especially those weird students from M.I.T. who really sacrificed many of their neurons to get in there. What happens next? Read in this story.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

One step closer

Yesterday, the European Parliament voted in favour of Romania's accession into E.U. On April 25th the accession treaty will be signed, and, if everything goes well, Romania will be a member starting from 2007. Enjoy! :)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I've seen a couple of movies lately (some of them because they got an Oscar prize): Closer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sideways, Dreamers, and Italiencele (The Italian Girls). My pick goes to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which has another great screenplay writen by Charlie Kaufman.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Blog break

I didn't blog for almost two weeks, but I'm still alive and well. Blame it on my laziness :)

Although I read another two books, and I've seen about 4 movies, I'll talk about them later.
For now I have three online readings/movies I found interesting.

First is a webcast of a presentation by a Google guy about their products and some inner workings of their algorithms.
Next we have an article from The Economist about future oil price, and the effects it will have in the global economy.
And last, but not least, the this week's tuesday column of Paul Krugman from New York Times (registration required) about the growing conflict in American educational system between creationists and evolutionists.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The kids aren't all right

In case you didn't know already (from listening Offspring, of course :), computers make kids dumb. Ready here about a study proving this.

Friday, March 18, 2005

I don't read only books

Over the last three days I read three interesting articles pointed out by some friends:
- one about an autistic boy that wrote some poems describing what he feels;
- the second one is about new research that shows the importance of the X chromosome in humans;

The last article is about how to design a good interface of a search portal; it was written two years ago, but the ideas expressed there are very actual. I think as software become more and more complex designing a usable interface will more important than ever. Another online reference about designing good user interfaces in your software is here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

New book

I finished reading "Out of the Shelter". This novel is different from the other ones by Lodge I read (Therapy, Thinks, Small World, The British Museum is Falling Down), the author is not trying to write a funny book, but a realistic one. I also read some comments by the author and he was saying that in the period he wrote this novel there was a divide between generations who lived during and had memories from the WWII, and a new generation that knew this war only from stories. I feel the same is happening in Romania with regard to communism, and just by coincidence I read in Dilema an article about this (see the one by Robert Turcescu from March, 4-10 issue).

Now reading "If this is a man" by Primo Levi (Romanian version "Mai este oare acesta un om?"); a book about surviving the holocaust.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Google Maps and a new book

Recently Google started to offer a new service, Google Maps. This is gonna be much better than Mapquest, and people started doing interesting stuff using this new service. Take a look at this amazing demo.

I started reading a new book: "Out of the Shelter" by David Lodge (the Romanian version).

Friday, March 04, 2005

New book

I just finished reading Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb. A novel about a girl from Western Europe who takes a job in a Japanese company. Very interesting reading.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Anybody here?

Is anybody reading this blog? I was just wondering, because I didn't tell my friends about it. So they might have discovered it, but it's more probable they haven't. And I didn't see any comments posted yet.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Autistic people

I read an extraordinary article in Guardian (via about one autistic person that also can explain up to some point what happens to him. I got interested in this area after a professor of mine (Yiannis Aloimonos) sugested us to read about autistic people as part of a computer vision class. It seems that we all have similar capabilities (like doing complex arithmetics mentally), but we just can't access this layer in our brains.

Comments on the interview with Bill Gates

This interview reveiled an interesting person. He realizes the importance of education, and I strongly agree with him on this issue. As important as education is the health system. And he seems very active in taking and funding initiatives in these areas.

My question is why do you have to break the law so many times (as Microsoft did) if you are, after all, a good and sensible person? One possible answer is that one may prefere to get rich, and then spend his money on noble causes. If he would have paid more taxes to the goverment for example, those money would probably have been spent less eficient. This goes down to the Machiaveli saying that "the goal excuses the means", and I don't think this is the right way to go.

So I hope Microsoft will be pressured further to play fair in the market (I guess the open standards will play a huge role for this), and eventually we will get there. Of course that would lead to a loss of revenue for Mr. Gates, but I'm not worried about him.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bill Gates and Microsoft

I just read this interview with Bill Gates. It's very interesting, and offers some good insights about Bill's personality beyond his work in the software industry. I actually have some comments, and I hope to get them posted tomorrow.

As I also love to read, I thought of posting here the books I read. The current book is:
Ion Ratiu - Note zilnice (Daily notes) 1991. In fact it's a serie of three books that covers 1989-1992 period. Ion Ratiu was a Romanian who lived 50 years in exile at London in the communist era, became a millionaire there, and then came back to Romania after the communism fell "to serve his country" as he himself says.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I just read about a Google employee who was fired because of blogging about "company internals" (read here). Mmm, what about me telling you how my workplace is? ;)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Is this a blog?

Bill Gates said recently that he is studying the possibility of writing a blog, if he considers will be able to write at least once a month. It seems I don't write that often (the reasons are different from those of Bill I guess :)), so maybe this is not a blog. Then what is it?