Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book of the year

The book of the year award has a different meaning this time and goes to my Kindle device which I started using a few month ago and which promises to greatly reduce the physical size of my library. They made a good job at making the e-book readable in almost any kind of light, at it's very nice to be able to have a library in your pocket at any time. The first books I read on my Kindle were some poetry by Eminescu and two novels by Phillip K. Dick: Minority Report and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A long time ago I read Time Out of Joint by Phillip K. Dick and I found it one of the most fascinating SF books, very different from the usual settings of robots and wars among empires from the SF stories. The same are the two books that I read recently (there were also movies made starting from them Minority Report and Blade Runner). The author imagines hypothetical worlds and then asks fundamental questions about these worlds. In world where one can see the future, should we imprison the ones that will commit crimes before they actually commit them? Or in a world where robots are so advanced that look and behave like humans should we have anti-Turing tests (i.e. tests that try to distinguish a robot from a human) and "retire" the robots that fake their identity and pretend to be real humans? It's easy, you see. And then you just start to write characters and captivating stories which analyses your fundamental questions. I'm just getting started with my Kindle, so there will be many more books to talk about in the year to come. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Remember the times

Today we celebrate 22 years since the fall of communism in Romania. Here is a satirical song from that period about how you could see cheese only at TV, but not in the stores. I know it seems incredible and every time I told this kind of stories to people from western Europe or U.S. they shake their head in disbelief, but those were the times we lived. Let's remember once again, cause you know how that saying: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Invest in a software developer today!

The post about hug a developer today was by far the most visited entry on this blog ever, so I think it's about time to push it to the next level. In these dire financial times, but at a moment when holidays are approaching, what better option do you have than to invest in a software developer? Because according to the well respected business magazine Forbes:

"The one absolutely solid place to store your capital today — if you know how to do it – is in software developers’ wallets. If the world survives looming financial apocalypse dangers at all, this is the one investment that will weather the storms. It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual or a corporation, or what corner of the world you inhabit. You need to find a way to invest in software developers."

You don't really need to read all the details in the article, as the author at some point thinks very low of us software developers, but it's important to understand the basic things: how tough and miserable the life of a software developer can be (please insert a hug here) and, on the other hand, how good is an investment in a software developer (probably the best investment you can do at this moment). So here is a very easy way you can profit from this once in a lifetime opportunity: I officially open my wallet for donations investments from anybody interested in such a good business. Contact me and I will provide detailed instructions on how to quickly transfer your money in my wallet. I can even promise to write a few lines of code for each donation deposit received :)

Don't waste time anymore: invest in a software developer today!

Monday, December 12, 2011

More cover power

It looks like we are in the cover season, bands are producing more of them and in the last year every concert I attended contained at least a cover performance. Omul cu Sobolani even released an LP containing only covers called Retro. So here are two more covers (the first one from this band is here) from this LP. One of Alexandru Adries, Cea mai frumoasa zi (The most beautiful day):

 The other one is a cover of a much older song by Mondial, but one of my favorites songs from childhood (I remember I had a 45 rpm single vinyl disc with this song which I listened to many times, instead of doing homework of course :))

You can listen the original version of the song by Mondial here:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Bad Girl

"The Bad Girl", or "Travesuras de la niña mala" is an unusual novel from Mario Vargas Llosa. The action takes place mostly in Europe, there is only one narrative thread, but above all, it is a love story that follows the entire life of the heroes (including the good boy half). The storytelling style remains the same though, so I submerged like always into the sea of words of Llosa even if I opened the book for five minutes in the subway or I read from it for hours.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The kid that runs towards sea

An outstanding music video featuring one of the greatest Romanian actors, Victor Rebengiuc:

and the story of this video:

Friday, November 18, 2011

AI Books

Last week somebody asked at the online office hours for the AI class I'm taking this fall (a great class by the way) about other AI books that we should read apart from the textbook of the current class (Artificial Intelligence - A Modern Approach). The answer from Peter Norvig was to point to his public list of books from Google Books. So if you ever need some good references of all kind of AI books (planning, logic, machine learning, agents, games, natural language processing, philosophy, robotics, search, vision, programming) you can find it here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Sound Of Winter

I can here it, the winter is coming, I even have to play tennis in a big balloon nowadays. This song was recommended by Roger Federer on his Facebook page, apparently he is friend with one of the members of the band. He actually flew back to Switzerland immediately after winning the Paris masters trophy to catch a part of their concert.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Electric music

Since the quality of Romanian television programs it's so pour and there are no important sport events in this period, I watch mostly international TV stations in the limited time that I turn on the TV. Here the advertisement mix is different, as they don't try to sell you prepaid mobile phones and meat spreads (aka pate) on CNN International, but you can still find some nice music though. Here is an example of a commercial for EDF:

and the full song:

I would like a TV channel were they show commercials and next the music videos of the songs from the commercials, like I do here. Am I asking too much?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When I met you, Cristina

Cover power is show on VH1 that plays the original version of a song and then a cover of it. Sometimes a cover is decent, sometimes is lame and rarely is very good. But what I discovered a few days ago starting from a song I heard on the radio is totally unexpected: two different covers of a song from a different league. Here it is the original style (I couldn't find the actual original which I understand is from Azur band, more than 20 years old):

and two covers:

So what do you think, which of the above do you like best?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Domino... just a thought

Ok, I know that physics, computer science, economics are hard to digest even in blog posts, so I will postpone the post I planned to write today about mathematics in the economics science. I will also skip the analysis of the depressing theater play Who's afraid of Virginia Wolf? that I saw recently (it's a nice performance the one at Comedy Theater though, don't miss it if you are in Bucharest) and I'll go back to music for an easy week-end brunch. My main source of music is the radio, but there were some mutations in the waves recently. One morning I turned on the City FM frequency and I was in shock of the music I heard. It wasn't my sleepiness, there was another radio on this frequency, Click FM. I changed the frequency immediately, so I cannot tell you if they have a girl at five minutes past the hour like in the corresponding tabloid, but the result is that my selection of radio stations is reduced now to two (since the crisis is alive and well): Radio Guerrilla and Rock FM. And since some lame jokes in a morning on Guerrilla, I listened in the last couple of weeks only Rock FM. And that is just fine, but the downside is that they play mostly classic rock, so I don't get to know of any new music. But this morning I switched back to Guerrilla and in only a couple of minutes I heard two nice new songs which happen also to be from Romanian bands. Here they are Toulouse Lautrec with Domino:

and Luna Amara with Doar Gandul (there are some problems with the voice in this recording, but the I think the sound of this song is nice):


Friday, October 21, 2011

Back to school

For the fall semester I enrolled in an online class of artificial intelligence taught in parallel with the live class offered at Stanford University. I have about 170.000 classmates and some 46.000 of them are even doing homework and taking exams. So far it's fine, as they don't just put online video recordings of the live class, but prepare special videos and quizzes in an effort to make it interactive and have you thinking into the subject even at late night hours. I'm doing all this effort mainly for my laptop, I expect that by the end of the class the machine will become much smarter and it will be able to answer the quizzes by itself :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Another type of marketing

In my opinion, consumerism is one of the main factors which took us in the double crisis where we stand today: economical and environmental. Did you ever hear about a company which told you that you should buy their stuff only if you really need it?! And that takes a pledge to design and manufacture their products so that they last for a long time (as opposed to those who design products so that in 2-3 years they feel out of fashion)? That encourages you so sell or donate their used products on eBay if you no longer need them (thus cannibalizing some of their sales)? That, although not forced by some law, takes back their products that cannot be used anymore for recycling? That donate 1% of their sales to environmental projects? How is that for a business plan? Do you think is doable? Well, here, at Common Threads Initiative (I wonder if they got the idea from the "thread pool" concept of efficiently utilizing system threads for computing :) ) they think they can. Let's wish them good luck!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Zero impartit la trei

Mi-a povestit ieri un coleg ca a auzit urmatorul concurs la Radio Zu.
Cat fac zero impartit la trei?
Primul ascultator: zero
B&M: gresit
Al doilea ascultator: zero
B&M: gresit
Al treilea ascultator: aceasta operatie e imposibil de facut!
B&M: corect, ai castigat!

Intr-adevar, zero nu se poate imparti la trei... prosti :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Un alt fel de cover: asa e in tenis

Ca tot am vorbit in postarea anterioare de publicitate si cover-uri, iata un altfel de cover pe care l-am vazut recent la turneul de tenis Bucuresti Open:

Macar asta e ceva mai distractiv fata de "maximienii" cu care ne toaca Vodafone de luni si luni de zile. Aveti aici si originalul pentru comparatie si aducere aminte:

Nu ca m-am intersectat eu prea mult cu maestrul Toma (pot sa spun ca am fost contemporani doar pentru vreo doua luni...), dar am crescut cu o caseta cu scheciurile sale pe care le stiam pe de rost: Fabula, Mefisto, Un telefon discret, Petrecerea continua.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Another type of advertising

Movie trailers are just another type of advertising. Here's a nice one that I saw today, with an incredible cover of Immigrant Song of Led Zeppelin. I thought first that this was a teaser for the next Bond, since Daniel Craig is starring, but in the end it's another movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo:

P.S. Even with a good advertising, I won't necessarily buy the product, let's see the IMDB ratings first :)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The beauty of computers

What can be beautiful in can of silicon and wires and which also usually contains lots of bugs? Knuth entitled his famous books "The Art of Computer Programming" because he considered that computer programming cannot be considered yet a science, but it's rather a craftsmanship. All software licensees have a part where it is stated that the particular software is not "fit for a particular purpose" (see for example Mozilla Public License, section 7 here). The best joke about software engineers is the one where all kind of engineers try to fix a car and the software guy proposes that all step out of the car, get back in and try to start it again. This is how much the programmers trust their work! So in this wonderful (i.e. full of unanswered questions) industry of computers there was a man who maybe thought: we may not be able to do it right, but at least let's make it beautiful. And he did it time and again: from the calligraphic fonts that he introduced on computers, the mouse and the careful researched user interfaces, to the overall design of all Apple products. Then Bill Gates copied some of his ideas and Google guys were probably inspired by him when they designed their user interface. If so many people still use these beasts called computers and don't totally hate us for it, it is in part due to the work of Steve Jobs, who for sure will be remembered for a long time.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Why I'm not a physicist but I still read physiscs books

Although I participated in physics contests in secondary school, I was not really into it until I started high-school where, at physics, Mr. Bararu was the best professor I ever had. He was funny, but also inspiring and his teaching methods (e.g. open books exams, grading by the Gaussian curve) were revolutionary at that time. He tried hard to lure us into physics, as there was already a mathematics gang in the class (as the contests in math start much earlier, in the fourth grade as opposed to those in physics which start in seventh grade) and on the other hand we were a computer science intensive class. I still remember his arguments that we study math in order to apply it in physics and that chemistry it's just about mixing stuff and checking its color and smell. All went very well until one day he tried to solve a problem in front of us and he just failed. He put all the forces in the described situation, did the computation, but the result was different than the one in the book. Then he tried some different settings of forces until he found one that matched the expected result. That was really odd for me, as I was used to the way of solving problems logically, starting from premises and applying different logical techniques to reach the conclusion. That annoyed me so much that I gradually started loosing interest and by the eleventh grade I didn't even go to physics contests anymore. I was back to mathematics just in time for the highly abstract algebra with groups, rings and corps which I liked most. Only much later on when I read the Objective Knowledge of Sir Karl Popper I fully realized how physics works, how we are constantly make educated guesses (i.e. theories) so that they fit our observations of the surroundings as much as possible. On the other hand, the reality around us is so complex to describe that one needs to use highly simplified models to ever compute something about it. So if mathematics is the poetry of science, the physicists are the story tellers that describe what happens around us. And these stories of big bang, black holes, curved space-time, vibrating strings and quanta are always fascinating me. So here I am again, this time with a book that tells the story of quantum mechanics theory, the building blocks which led to it and its huge impact on our civilization: In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality by John Gribbin. The story telling of this author is good, with the drama of various people involved and their struggle to get a grip on this weird phenomena they were unfolding. Quantum mechanics is still a mister as the given interpretations are far away from what we normally expect from the world to behave like, but that's all we have for now: a grand casino where at every point in space and time dice are rolled to determine the next step. You just have to play the game!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Computer science on paper

Blogger changed its interface and templates and when I tried to migrate I lost some of the settings I had on the old one, so I decided to use a new template. The new one it's a tribute to the good old days when we did computer science on paper. You just had to think carefully on the algorithm, write it down on paper, run it in your head again and then eventually get your turn to work on a computer to implement it (punch card or even keyboard version cause we were kind of short on computers). I think that being able to write down the algorithm and run through it really makes one understand it better, so actually in the year when I was a teaching assistant at University of Bucharest I asked many of my students to explain a few steps of their basic algorithms (back-tracking, divide et impera and the like) on paper in order to make sure they understood them and didn't just copy the project from a coleague. Some of them even liked it :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hug a developer today...

...ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines, flexibility to changing priorities, be able to learn new technologies (like every other month), ability to express ideas in technical and non-technical terms, most unpaid overtime than almost any other profession...

Pouvre, pouvre developers :)

The Economist on carbon tax

I wrote a while ago here about a paper with various proposals to put a cost on CO2 emissions and how I like the idea of a carbon added tax. This evening I read the first complete endorsement of a carbon tax in The Economist. The blog post dismantles various arguments against such a tax and explains the incentives it will bring about. It's worth reading it on Free Exchange.
So if most economists agree on this issue, why is it not happening, what is politician's position on this issue? One the one hand the likes of the tea party don't wont any kind of tax whatsoever and another big group would prefer to spend money on their pet green projects, than to have a generic tax that would make the good and cheap technologies winners. Apart from being captive to special interests, their chronic lack of vision in handling various aspects of current economic challenges is disappointing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Caught speeding?

Apparently, not only that God plays dices (in the game called quantum mechanics), but he is also speeding. In an experiment performed at CERN it appears that neutrinos travel at a speed greater that the speed of light which is the theoretical ultimate speed limit postulated by Einstein in his relativity theory. The results are still up for review, the researchers say they want to eliminate every possible chance that they made a measurement or design error and would be glad to see their experiment replicated by another team, but I can't stop thinking what the venerable Einstein would think about this?

If this experiment turns out to be right, we have to re-write all our theories on physics. Again! So should I stop trying to understand the current ones? :)

More details on this story here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris is a magic movie about a magic city. Of all the cities I visited, I remember Paris as having the best atmosphere on its streets. Summer is not terribly hot, winter is not very harsh, so the coffee shops are always there, everywhere, inviting you to sit and relax, and watch the time passing by. That probably attracted all those artists in the early 20th century, cause they were flooding to Paris from allover Europe and America alike. So what could possibly happen at midnight in such a city? It's just another walk, drink or party, or what? I'm not gonna spoil it for you, so go see the movie.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Party in my mind

This story goes back to the years when I studied at UMD. One day one of my housemates passed by the open door of my room and saw me laying in bed and staring at the ceiling. He asked me if I'm ok cause he felt I had a strange look fixing that wall. In fact I was doing my homework for advanced algorithms class, but he found it hard to believe that this was a proper way of doing a homework. Staring at the ceiling became a hallmark of the way I am, it feels for me just like a big screen where I can project my imagination :) So I felt vindicated when Sheldon introduced Flatland to Raj in my favorite sitcom The Big Bang Theory (you can watch the scene here). And now there's even a song about having a party in one's mind:

It's easy to join this party, just stare at the ceiling above you wherever you are (blue sky also accepted) :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Was Marx right in the end?

In a recent interview Nouriel Roubini (also known as the prophet of the crisis) said that capitalism could auto-destroy itself when too much capital accumulation takes place and the agregate demand becomes in turn very weak. The original declaration can be seen here:

First I'd like to note that in general any system involving human beings can self-destroy by simply commiting suicide. If somebody wants to give credit to Marx she should prove somehow that capitalism will always lead to a self-destruction stage. My second observation is the focus on consumption that appears in current macro-economics world. We need to keep increasing our consumption in order to match the ever increasing producing capacity and this is the only way we can advance the global GDP (here domestic is planet Earth :). I think the real trap in today's economics is this focus on consumption that creates the demand. We can live a happy life without this exacerbated consumption and in the end this is a matter of what we value, isn't it?

P.S. By comparing the subjective theory of value and labour theory of value one can understand the fallacy of Marxism, but more on this in another post.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Division by zero

I bought this book (the original title is "Stories of Your Life: And Others") a few weeks ago because I liked its name with mathematical connotations and I read on the back cover that two of the stories were awarded Nebula Award (it's like an Oscar for SciFi literature). The interesting fact is that this is the whole opera of this author so far (two awards out of eight stories is an impressive rate, isn't it?). His stories are rather some kind of parables set in a slightly different universe, but far from the standard SciFi galactic clashes between races and/or robots. There are even some notes at the end of the book explaining how the author got the idea of each particular story, sometimes that would be just a mathematical or physical principle he wanted to illustrate. Yet the reading is entertaining, especially "Stories of Your Life" which reminds me of the feeling from "Chronicle of a Death Foretold".

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse

"I don't ever wanna drink again, I just need a fried", so sad she didn't find one...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Carbon tax proposed in Australia

Australian government proposed a carbon tax that will be paid by all companies emitting CO2. If this will be devised this kind of tax has the potential to drive a "green" behaviour from all sides, since a reduction of VAT is also proposed in order to offset the total amount of collected taxes. For example, let's say a KW of energy costs 10 dollars, the VAT will be reduced by 1 dollar, but the energy produced from coal will be taxed supplementary by 2 dollars, as opposed to wind energy which will not be carbon taxed. So the coal energy will end up costing 11 dollars, but the wind one will cost 9 dollars (this is a pure imaginary example, I don't know the exact amount of VAT and the proposed tax, or the cost of energy). So greener products will become cheaper, thus the incentive to consume those ones. Note that Australia is one of the developed countries that didn't sign the Kyoto treaty (they consume a lot of coal), so the change in policy is significant. In my opinion, taxing all the types of pollution is the best way to obtain a reduction in the ecological pressure we put on the planet.

The original news can be read here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Funky business and funky bac

I'm reading "Funky Business" a book written around 2000 that tries to describe the new business model that will take over all of us as the use of technology continues to rise. I have some mixed feelings about this book: on one hand I totally agree with their vision of empowered individuals that will challenge more and more all sorts of institutions of our society. The description of internet use and the possibilities it opens look already outdated today, after only a few years since they wrote the book. On the other hand, I don't like the extreme consumerism ideas they induce, where sky is the limit and the consumer is king. I guess the severe recession we still experience in Europe and U.S. and the prices of oil and other raw materials just show to all of us that we don't have unlimited resources and unlimited supply of money.

So once one understands the importance of education, it may be a good idea to try to improve the education system. An important part of any kind of improvement process is in my opinion a way to measure the results of your efforts. In the case of education the best way to measure the results of the system are national (or even international) tests, that's why I'm glad that this year the widespread fraud that plagued the high-school graduation exam (aka bacalaureat) was stopped. The results were not good at all, less then 50% of the students took the exam, but unless we face the truth of what the education system in Romania produces at this moment there is no chance to ever improve it.

Update: Gabi pointed out one of the best quotes from the book: "if you think education is expensive, try ignorance"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bubble-sort with Hungarian ("Csángó") folk dance

If you ever got bored while studying sorting algorithms, this is a fun way to do it:

Now in order to evaluate complexity you need to see how tired the dancers are in the worst case scenario :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The story of a tree

I have few memories with my grandfather from my father's side, as he died when I was 8 years old, but one I remember clear is when he took me and my cousin to plant a walnut tree in front of his house. Years after, in the freedom induced madness from Romania people starting cutting down the trees in the streets. I don't know the exact reason, maybe they were making room for parking their cars, or they were annoyed they had to clean the leaves, but I could see it on many streets in my home town and elsewhere. One day my uncle said that he also plans to cut the walnut tree in front of my grandma's house giving me some stupid reason. I told him to don't even think about it as that is me and my cousin's tree and we want that tree to stay there. He eventually gave up and you can still see this beautiful walnut tree if you go in Constanta on Razoare street.

Having this story in mind and countless more about the massive deforestation that takes place in Romania I was very glad when I discovered the Tree-Nation community. They are dedicated to planting trees, as this is the most effective way to have a sound ecosystem on our planet. Forests prevent desertification and soil erosion, enhance bio-diversity, reduce CO2 and thus global warming and also provide important economical resources if managed wise. Tree-Nation organization has three big projects: one in Niger where they plant a huge forest aimed at stopping desertification and two others in Columbia and Nicaragua where they are doing re-forestation of some areas in order to stop the soil erosion and conserve the local flora and fauna.

So next time you have the opportunity to plant a tree don't miss it. Remember that is one of the three things a man has to do in his life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Orange channel and more

This time it was the other way around: I heard a very nice song (see below) on the radio that sounded so familiar that made me think I heard it before somewhere else.

One of the obvious places to look for was in the latest Orange commercials. While searching on YouTube for the commercials from this year I discovered that these guys finally decided to create an YouTube channel (Orange Romania) where to post their commercials and more. For example this astonishing video of a building (Institute of Architecture from University Plaza in Bucharest) that goes alive:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Open the gate to the sun

Music was part of my life from the very beginning. I grew up in Mangalia and our apartment was right next to the first restaurants and hotels from Saturn resort. So all the summer you would here the music from the restaurant across the street. I was so used to it, that I couldn't fall asleep without that music. My mom told me that I woke up one night after the restaurant closed and I was very puzzled that the music was not there, I started saying: let the music play! Later on while in elementary school I always paused from doing my homework (not a huge fan of homework, but at that time I still tried :) ) to listen to the "song on request" program on the radio. In those years appeared the song "Deschideti poarta soarelui" (Open the gate to the sun) describing a serene and peaceful atmosphere of the communist Romania while the capitalists were decaying (now I see why Thriller was such a hit, they were mocking us :) ). The voices were good, as they gathered some of the great Romanian singers to record this song (I realize this was a replica for the much well known We are the world), but the message was rather cryptic to me. Looking back I understand now what the poet wanted to say: probably the action was set after a harsh winter with electricity cuts and freezing temperatures in peoples apartments so they were begging the rulers to open the gate to the sun so we could warm up a little bit. A punk version would describe that feeling much better though, so here it is the much needed cover:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The dream of a final theory

We now for some time what androids may dream of electric sheep from Philip K. Dick, but did you ever know what physicists dream about? Well, at least the ones specializing in particle physics (like Steven Weinberg) apparently dream of a final theory that will explain all that happens in our universe. He tells a history of the theories in physics (and also in natural sciences like chemistry and biology) in his book and how they converge to a still elusive final theory. The book is entertaining not only for the history of ideas in physics, but also for the discussion of the interference that various philosophical ideas had in the progress of science for better or for worse and also for the exposition of the reductionist argument, i.e. that chemistry and biology can be reduced to physical phenomena (that reminds me on how our physics teacher from high-school tried to lure us to his subject: he was telling us that after the discovery of the atom's structure chemistry was reduced to colors and smells of various substances and that we study math to apply it in physics).

Unfortunately our common sense is far behind these theories (although our gadgets rely on these advances in physics), as most people can barely imagine a curved space-time, so these dreams remain quite obscure: imagine that everything around is formed from tiny uni-dimensional strings and their various vibrations result in the matter and energy as we know it. That (string theories, cause there are many of them) is their main dream theme for the last 20 years.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A cartel of a different kind

According to Webster an economic cartel is "a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices". Usually a group of companies conspire to have higher prices on their products (like the recent case of detergent market in E.U., or the infamous notarial price lists from Romania) or to deter other parts to enter their market (what Vodafone and Orange were charged in Romania), but in this case a group of companies tried to fix the price of labour. Well, labour is a special market anyway, with a lot of social implications, but this market usually has an important asymmetry of information over salaries between the employer and the employee, as many private companies require their employees not to disclose their income (the study of asymmetry of information in markets and its implications was developed by Joseph Stiglitz and he was awarded the Nobel prize in economics for it) . Even in these conditions some companies (namely Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar) allegedly engaged in even more anti-competitive practices (like an agreement not to try to hire employees of one another)? I understand that the competition for talented engineers is tough in Silicon Valley, but these companies are among the most profitable on this planet. It's always nice to save some pennies though, isn't it?

See the full story here with a nice diagram showing the suspected bilateral agreements between various companies.

Friday, May 06, 2011


I recently listened a cover of a nice Romanian classic rock song, here it is:

I wonder is the mouse, the cat, the dog, the wolf and the hunter and the man with rats read the same book, or all of them are that scary? I would say the book I read now is rather fascinating than scary, but that's for another story. However, for those who find alternative rock scary there is also the original version from Rosu si Negru (that would be Red and Black):

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Autism - what lies beneath

I first heard about autism in a computer science class, Computer Processing of Pictorial Information, that I took at UMD. It's true that the professor, Yiannis Aloimonos, was quite unconventional and was telling us lots of stories about human and computer vision, and left us to decipher the equations used there by ourselves. One of his main ideas was that in order to make progress in computer vision was to understand as much as possible how the human brain processes the visual stimulus that results in human vision. But apart from recommending us books on human vision research he told us about a book of a different kind: clinical tales of a neurologist (The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat). In this book Oliver Sacks describes various cases of conditions or accidents that lead to an abnormal functioning of the brain and how people cope in these situations. One of the chapters in this book is about autism. This is a born condition that affects some children and which impairs social interaction and communication (a less severe form is the Asperger syndrome). But a good number of these people show some remarkable abilities: superior skills in perception (e.g. the ability to draw very accurate texture details), attention and computing (e.g. the ability to tell in an instant is a fairly big number is prime or not). This lead to a theory that somehow there is a trade-off in our brain: the computing power there is sufficient to be able to do instant computation of prime numbers but most of the time is shut down and the brain is wired for things much more useful to us like the ability to communicate and interact socially with other people.
Now I'm sure you'll have a different view on some piece of news like this one: A twelve year old rewrites Einstein's theory of relativity.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

More than radio: semantic radio

Semantic web is basically the idea of adding some meta-information (usually tags) to the information presented on the web in order to facilitate automatic processing by hinting the computers about what that information is about. For example, the labels that I try to put to my posts that you can see of the left hand side of this blog. The big problem with this approach is the effort needed to tag all the information on the web, that's why there is also a big interest in processing unstructured data, which recently lead to a spectacular Jeopardy show won by a machine build by IBM.
Comming back to radio, this principle of meta data first occured a few years ago when appart from the audio signal the broadcasters added a station id meta data that was used by the radios in the cars to automatically discover the local frequency of an FM radio. This was a nice feature cause once you have your presets in your car then anywhere you would go the radio player will automatically identify the local frequency of that radio based on the radio id metadata.
But a few weeks ago one of my favourite radios (Radio Guerrilla) introduced an even more spectacular feature. They added metadata for the song currently played on the radio, so on the tiny screen in my car I could see the name of the song and singer while playing. I wouldn't care much about this feature on a classic rock radio, cause there I know most of the songs they play, but Gurrilla plays many new songs, especially British and some Romanians ones so before this metadata I was always trying to memorize some lyrics from the songs I liked in order to search for them and identify the song. Now I have right in front of me on the radio display. This will mean I will probably not know the lyrics of the songs anymore :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Java programming nowadays

A colleague hit a problem yesterday while testing in isolation a SCA (Service Component Architecture) component. He was trying to call WSDL method from a Java SCA component using a SCA reference. In this case you actually obtain an implementation of a generic interface com.ibm.websphere.sca.Service, and on this interface you have to use a generic invoke that looks like this:
java.lang.Object invoke(java.lang.String operationName, java.lang.Object input);

In the case the WSDL method you try to invoke has one parameter then you just pass an object (SDO - Service Data Object in fact) of that type to the invoke method, we had such a case and it worked. But what do you in case the WSDL method has 2 or more parameters? Initially we guessed that the input would be an array of objects, but it didn't work (wrong number of arguments exception) and if you think carefully it would be ambiguous to have an array of objects because one cannot distinguish if the invoke should have as many parameters as the number of objects from the array, or just one parameter (array of objects). At this point we were stuck.

So what do you do when you get stuck? You search on Google: for the exception, or a part of the stack trace, add a few keywords that you think are relevant like the application server you are using (WebSphere Process Server 7.0), framework and technology names (SCA, SDO, WSDL, Java, invocation) and the like. Sometimes you get the answer immediately if someone else hit earlier the same problem and posted the solution on a blog or a forum, but this time it was not that easy. I had to search for about 45 minutes, try all kind of keywords, read forums, blogs and help pages until I finally found the solution in a sample in some documentation manual from IBM. You basically have to use the SCA API and create a special wrapper SDO that contains all the input parameters as properties and then pass this object to the invoke method. You can read the full solution here if you are interested :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The tennis connection

I'm watching the men's final at Indian Wells masters series tournament between Nadal and Djokovic. After a disputed point the TV camera turned to a cheering spectator, Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, who happens to be the owner of the tournament since a few years ago. Is this some business intelligence in a relational database or something? :)

P.S. Vamos Rafa!

Some fine Romanian music

First it's the song of a band heard by chance on TV tonight. I looked them up on the net and here they are, TiPtiL (the case is strange even for a Java programmer :), I use camel case usually, so I would write tipTil for a variable) with a jazzy alternative rock that in a song ("Spune-mi!") reminds me even of Alexandru Andries. And two female voices that complement each other very nice in some parts. I found only on Trilulilu their song that I liked most:

TiPtiL - Hai!

Asculta mai multe audio punk

The other band it's Toulouse Lautrec. I heard it before on the radio (they are qualified as Romanian indie rock), but this song I found tonight is infectious:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

AI-MAS Winter Olympics

On last Sunday I went to the second day of AI-MAS Winter Olympics conference that took place at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. The main event on this day was a presentation of the machine learning algorithm that it used for implementing Priority Inbox feature in GMail. They basically use a neural network standard algorithm, but the challenge is keeping a separate model (which might have additional user specific features which are instantiated dynamically from some templates) for each particular user and training it as you also manually sort your email. The other issue is of course scalability and processing in real time of data (for example the algorithm takes into account even the time spent reading a particular message to determine if the user really read it, or just opened it to be marked as read). Apart from the presentations there were on display projects done by students. The one I liked most was the Swim Green project done by a team from Babes-Bolyai University. It was a boat-robot which could navigate based on visual input and also pick-up plastic pieces floating on the water. The goal was to propose an automatic clean-up mechanism that could be used on lakes for example. Overall it was a very nice experience and of course I'm glad these kind of things start happening in Romanian universities.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Constantin Brâncuşi

During my years in the DC suburbs at University of Maryland I went one day with another Romanian fellow to the National Galery of Art. We knew they have some pieces of Brâncuşi there, but after a tour of the galery we didn't see them, so we went to the information desk and asked where to find the sculptures of Brâncuşi. The guy was puzzled, he told us he never heard about this sculptor. Now it was our turn to be puzzled. Wasn't Brâncuşi a famous sculptor in the whole world, or were we brain-washed by yet another Romanian propaganda story? We took the catalog, went to the index of artists, found Brancusi and pointed it to the guy behind the desk. He exclaimed "oh, \bran-ˈkü-sē\", sure we have his sculptures, go to that room. We got our pride back, the guy was confused because we asked about [brɨnˈkuʃʲ], the Romanian pronunciation with "â" and "ş".

Since that time I also went to Philadelphia Museum of Art which has one of the largest collections of Brâncuşi sculptures and also to the reconstruction of the artist's studio in Paris, which is part of the Pompidou Centre.

Today I opened Firefox and I saw a nice logo on Google, celebrating 135 years from the birth of Brâncuşi. I rest my case :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Viata domnului Cartarescu

Ultima carte a lui Mircea Cartarescu, "Frumoasele Straine (sau cum am fost un autor de duzina)" e un colaj de povestiri din viata de scriitor roman a domnului Cartarescu. Nu are formatul unui jurnal, ci mai degraba a rememorarii unor evenimente (calatorii in special) cu largi divagatii pe cele mai traznite teme. Ceva a la Creanga, dar centrat pe aventurile scriitorului care este pus fata in fata cu cititorii si pe relatiile lui cu alti scriitori, cu mult umor, dar si usor oniric. Desi nu e "scris adanc" stilul e fermecator si "face diferenta" (na, ca tot barbarisme am ajuns sa folosesc; si doar am zis sa scriu in romana tocmai ca sa cinstesc un mare scriitor roman) ca sa zic asa :)

Desi e doar a treia carte de Cartarescu pe care o citesc (alaturi de "Enciclopedia zmeilor" si "De ce iubim femeile"), iar celebrele orbitoare sunt inca pe lista de asteptare, e altceva ce m-a legat recent de acest scriitor: un editorial publicat acum cateva luni in Evenimentul Zilei, un text in care am simtit ca ma regasesc, nu ca scriitor :), ci ca fiinta curioasa fata de toate aspectele functionarii acestei lumi. Nu stiu pentru ce imi trag seva (eventual pentru ceva scrieri de duzina in Java), dar si pe mine ma intereseaza si topologia, si teoriile fizicii, si economia, si filosofia, si biologia, si toate celelalte.

Deunazi mi-a povestit mama cum la o sedinta cu parintii din clasa a unspea a intrebat-o profesoara de biologie daca am intentia sa dau la medicina. I se parea ei ca sunt foarte interesat la orele de anatomie, pun intrebari si invat. Nu am avut niciodata nici cel mai mic gand de a ma face medic, ma intreb cum m-as descurca la un laborator de anatomie cand eu ma oripilez si cand trebuie sa tai o bucata de piept de pui crud (de altfel un coleg de facultate m-a intrebat prin anul trei daca nu vreau sa merg cu el la un laborator de anatomie, aranjase el sa intre pe sestache la o grupa de medicina din anul intai, dar l-am trimis urgent la plimbare; apoi mi-a si povestit ce misto a fost sa scoata ficatul dintr-un cadavru, ce consistenta avea si altele asemenea), dar asta nu ma impiedica sa ma intereseze din ce este facut corpul uman si cum circula sangele.

P.S. Retractez: as considera o cariera in medicina doar daca s-ar face practica la anatomie pe goolge body si m-as specializa in imagistica :)