humour, newsletter

In other news

Oh yes, you will allow me a bit of self-promotion, right? :-)

I’ve been thinking for some time about starting a newsletter of my own about geeky stuff. No, not necessarily IT-related stuff if you are thinking about that. The idea is to collect things that can excite us geeks.

That said…

  • You’re strongly advised to join at http://tinyletter.com/puntofisso.
  • You’re strongly advised to unsubscribe soon after, if you find it boring.
  • You will get a letter every 7-15 days.
  • [As regular as you were before you started taking that probiotic yogurt every morning. (Don’t blame the granola).]
  • I promise you will get the most interesting links I’ve found. And sometimes rechts, too.
  • I promise you will get books recommendations. Or at least excerpts of them. That might include a Bible or two.
  • I promise you will get strange music. Trash music. Fake music. Classical music. I hope you like Rammstein, but they won’t necessarily be in the soundtrack.
  • (No worries for your crystal glasses: I’m not gonna sing.)
  • I promise you will get poetry. Not necessarily written by humans. Possibly not written by me. But you never know.
  • I promise you will get interesting photos. No, not just mine. Yes, I’ll try to get that “just” away, but I want to have options.
  • I promise you will get the best ideas in circulation. You will get maps to navigate through them.
  • I promise you will get the best geeky humour. And (home) cheese (making) recipes. I’ll call them algorithms.
  • I promise you will get the most exciting conversation I saw on twitter. Condensed.
  • I promise you all of this will be short and occupy more or less a page.
  • I promise you will get unicorns, double rainbows, Möbius strips. You will get umlauts and maths. You will get where no man, where no one has gone before. Just not boldly.

I should give credits to @robertbrook. He doesn’t know me, I don’t know him. But his funky newsletter was enough to convince me to write one myself. So you should rather sign up to his.

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social media, Web 2.0

Is Social Media changing our relationship with Death?

“This morning I’ve started the most amazing journey”. These are the opening words of a Facebook status update of a friend of mine, announcing her own death. The status goes on to explain about her terminal illness (many of her friends, like me, were unaware of it), explain why she kept it private, and say good-bye, all in first person. How peculiar yet powerful is it?

Surely my friend was not someone belonging to the “Internet generation”, being in her seventies. Still, she was a moderately active Facebook user. Especially as someone living far away from many of her friends, she used Facebook as a way to keep in touch. And when she understood that her illness was terminal, she decided to arrange for what was going to happen on her profile. Hence my question: is social media changing our relationship with death?

There are many examples of how death is represented on social media and how social media becomes the first point of arrival for mourners (and the curious). Especially with famous people, their Facebook profiles become sources of photographs for the press. Their final status updates are used to show how sudden their departure was. On Twitter there is a flow of messages from mourners using hashtags as #RIP. Steve Jobs’ death became a trending topic on Twitter, as Amy WInehouse’s. But all of this is just the digital transposition of an non-digital process.

Announcing one own’s death is a new kind of behaviour, a novel need emerging as a consequence of the perceived importance of social media in our everyday lives. As we have become less worried of posting photos of our children and to display our location to a level of accuracy that would have scared us ten years ago, so we have started experiencing death in unexpected ways. We can still see the profiles of dead friends as they were still part of our daily lives. As an eternal memorial to their lives, they stay with us, presumably forever – or until Mr Facebook decides to delete them, sometimes upon request of friends and relatives. But differently from Twitter, where a profile of someone who dies just disappears from their followers’ timeline, Facebook profiles stay there and occasionally make a comeback in the most painful way: “today is your dead friend’s birthday – write happy birthday on their wall!”.

In a new model of human relationships, friends end up writing that well wishing message. The birthday of a dead friend becomes the occasion to revive them. Hundreds of messages from common friends will spread on all the common connections’ timelines. New behaviours, shaping a new attitude towards death. It’s collective mourning. Death has become social. Can you think of an equivalent of this in a non-digital context? Have you ever been at a cemetery, making a mass-visit to a dead loved one? I don’t think so, and that’s where social media is changing our relationship with death. It makes people remember once more and at the same time it provides ways to celebrate a person in their social circle.

Given that death becomes so relevant to our daily digital lives, it’s not surprising that people start making arrangements for their digital after-life. Expressing the need to make your death manifest on your Facebook profile is acknowledging that your digital self is an important part of your life. Some people might behave differently; some might decide to close their profiles, or ask relatives to delete them. As in a non-digital context, for some life will go on, for some will not. But there’s no denying that social media is affecting our perception of and reaction to death in the same public, open way that it has changed other previously private aspects of our lives.


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computer science, my projects, Work in IT

Production systems can’t be beta

Warning: this is just one of those ranting, whinging, blog posts you all developers like.

Yesterday I have been struggling almost half an hour with a python script. A very simple one: connect to a system, download an XML. This XML is a paginated list containing the number of the current page, the next one, and the last. The script should have simply got to the next page, read the “next” number, downloaded such page, and terminate when current == last.

Easy, right?

Except I spent half an hour trying to understand why the script was going into an infinite loop. I am an experienced programmer, but not a massively confident one: when things don’t work, I check my code. You can call it coding modesty if you prefer.

It turns out the problem was in the XML: whatever the page, it always contains “this = 1” and “next = 2”. This is supposed to be a production system, at its version 3, for which the institution I work for pays a huge amount of money.

This is quite a big bug on a basic function of what is supposed to be a production system. Which prompts me the obvious question: have they ever tested it?

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