Monday 1 May 2023

Antonio Presti

Here's a story worth telling. Some chap I met in the 90s, Antonio Presti, about our age, is the son of one of the Sicilian "four cavaliers of the apocalypse", i.e. the four powerful families, not exactly Mafia bosses, but the kings of cement and the construction industry which has, for decades, been in the hands of the Mafia, inasmuch as, if you didn't buy your cement, builders and equipment from one of these four, the work just didn't get done or, if you did try, your excavators would get blown up as a warning. The gentle Antonio Presti, a classic puffy-faced gay, as soon as his father died, sold the whole cement works and everything and, with the enormous proceeds, has since dedicated himself to financing works of art, starting out with buying a kilometer of canvas, plus paint, and inviting anyone to make paintings on it. His most extravagant is the Porta della Bellezza, the Door of Beauty, taking the brutal cement sides of a motorway overpass in Librino, the most degraded periphery of Catania, and covering them with pottery sculptures and poetry. And he's just completed another one, in the same style, on the sides of another stretch of the same motorway bypass.,15.0530834,3a,75y,359.19h,91.41t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s_UOZq_CJuSWuXoONi3HkKA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192 Librino is where they dumped all the inhabitants of the zone where I currently live when, in the 1950s, they decided to demolish this central quartiere full of small industry and workshops, and build a superstrada of high-rise banks and insurance offices from the town center (Pzza. Stesicoro) and the central station, apparently so that tanks would be able to reach the city centre without impediment (!). If you go to Librino, there are 14-year-olds with binoculars and two-way radios, working as an alarm system for the weed and coke sellers in the basement of the highrise that here they call "Il Palazzo di Cemento". The contrast between the nature of the zone and this investment in urban art is shocking. I can only assume that he thought of it as the place where something like this would have most impact. An interesting detail: in the ten or twenty years since he opened the first tract of it, despite the neighbourhood, it has *never* been defaced. Not even a squirt of someone's pen-name. I'm still boggling at the vision, and the temerity, of such a person. To be able to realise things like this, do you maybe have to be the rich son of a Mafia boss?

Sunday 22 November 2020

Trisquel On A Sugar TOAST

For the past month I've been working on a Live USB stick/DVD version of the operating system for the One Laptop Per Child project, "Sugar", based on the work of Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert on the "constructivist" model, in which you learn not by remembering stuff but by doing and by building things.

As a "desktop", it's twenty years ahead of the ubiquitous 1970's Xerox PARC Windows-Icons-Menus-Pointer systems that we are all still using, and an outstanding example of "less is more". I'm using it as my main desktop (on and off) and despite its spartan simplicity I find I can do everything that I used to in the old, hairy interfaces.

My work was outpaced by some people who were already working on something similar Trisquel_On_A_Sugar_Toast and I'm flattered that their "release announcement" for it is just a link to my post in the Sugar developers' mailing list in which I evaluate it. Well worth trying out.

Update 2021-02: I've quit sugarlabs because it's corrupt. They have no public acounts, most of the money is attributed to "legal" without receipts, and the thrusting developer, James Cameron, weans people in, to increase the "developer" count, then blocks their work in every way he can to retain his illusion of supremacy.

Take a copy and do what you wish. Don't bother with the org.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

Gandhi describing Mussolini

[In 1931 Gandhi visited Mussolini and later described him:]
He has the eyes of a cat, they moved about in every direction as if in constant rotation. The visitor would totally succumb before the awe of his gaze like a rat running directly into the mouth of a cat out of mere fright. I was not to be dazed like that but I noticed that he had so arranged things about him that a visitor would easily get stricken with terror. The walls of the passage through which one has to pass to reach him are all overstudded with various types of swords and other
weapons. He keeps no arms on his person.
["Was he not a remarkable personality?" asked a visitor of Gandhi's.]
Yes, but a cruel man. A regime based on such cruelty cannot last long.
        From Louis Fischer, "Life of Gandhi"

The Roman headquarters of the Italian Fascist Party

Monday 15 July 2019

It's becoming illegal not to have a cellphone

Woo! Five years ago I stopped using cellphones, not for their monstrous tracking and spying capabilities like listening to you while they appear to be off, even if you remove the main battery!) but because they only reason people called me was because they wanted something.

The other day, for the first time, I was denied services point blank if I didn't supply a valid cellphone number.

The first was Google Mail, which now refuses to create a new account unless you have a cellphone number. Well, that's OK, I'm not forced to use Google's services if that's their policy.

The other one, which sends a shiver down my spine, is HMRC, the UK tax authority. In view of my forthcoming 55th birthday I wanted to sort out my UK tax position... but to register on their web site the only "verification" option that applied to me was outsourced to Experian, the credit rating agency. That they wanted a scan of my driving licence is fine, but to do this they require me to buy a cellphone and - can you believe it? - install an Experian App on it.

Now, not using callphones for five years makes it much easier to view what a spying and tracking device they have become. Security zero. Facebook Apps that re-install themselves if you delete them, back doors in many apps, apart from the fact that I don't run proprietary software any more, partly for this reason.

So, my question is this: Is it legal for a government service which I pay for, to require me to buy 500 quid of product from some private company and install a dodgy app from a dodgy company?

I think not. The reply from their "help" center was a boilerplate "You don't have to use our services" memo. Well, actually, I do.

Dog Language

Here's the translation of a gem I found in a comment on facebook, a real eye-opener onto the world that dogs live.


When a dog rubs up against us, it’s not looking for cuddles. It wants to mix our odours to confirm the unity of the group.
When a dog approaches its nose to another dog’s, it’s not to give it kisses. It’s to analyse the substances emitted by the glands present in that region.
When a dog urinates, it’s not showing contempt. It’s leaving very clear messages that can only be interpreted by those able to identify and analyse the substances emitted in that gesture. If the jet lands on someone, that strongly confirms their alliance with that person.
When a dog wags its tail, it’s not necessarily happy. It wants to spread chemical information about its identity.
When a dog jumps up at someone, it’s not having a party. It’s telling you to stop, and there may be several different reasons why.
When a dog bows down in front of someone, it’s not inviting them to play but to move.
When a dog rolls on the ground, usually it’s not playing, but is marking, leaving important chemical information in that place, released by the glands present on the nape, the back and at the base of the tail.
This doesn’t make these animals any less fascinating creatures; quite the opposite.
This tells us that they are profoundly different from us or, rather, different from what we humans have become but very similar to how we humans were at the time when the alliance was born between the two species.
This tells us that they are not cuddly eternal babies with only play and food on their minds. Instead, they are intelligent adults able to evaluate things, to reason, to decide and to express themselves.
And those who have ended up in our houses will be all the more adult and mature if we put them in the conditions to be so.
Otherwise, theirs will just be a wasted intelligence.
Posted by Veronica Papa in a comment on facebook on 30 March 2018 at 11:01 CET

Friday 22 February 2019

Polyphony in Common Swift calls

Common Swifts express themselves copiously with their voices.
This example is the third trill of fourteen in a ten-second sequence. Amazingly, the swift produces not one note but at least three simultaneously.

Blogger deosn't seem to do audio clips yet, but you can see the spectrogram, listen to the call and read a little analysis of it on the page Spectrograms of the call of the Common Swift.