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):