I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Technology that gets under your skin

For the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Bionics is “a science concerned with the application of data about the functioning of biological systems to the solution of engineering problems”(1). Similarly, Wikipedia defines Bionics as “the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology”(2). Bionics has many applications, but what interests me is that it helps develop devices that support, enhance, or even completely replace functions of the human body. And to do their job, such devices must become part of the people who carry them. They represent the first steps of man-machine integration.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From chipped stones to wearable computers

A couple of million years ago we learnt how to walk on our two hind limbs. Natural evolution selected it into our genes because it improved our chances of survival. We could see above the toll grasses of the Eastern African plains and detect approaching predators before it was too late. And once detected the danger, we could escape at a higher speed. But that evolutionary step also had another profound effect on our ancestors: it freed their hands(1).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toilet paper woes

Paper is manufactured by pressing together moist fibres and then drying them. The quality of the paper largely depends on the nature and length of the fibres that are used. In general, better and stronger papers are made with longer fibres. And that is why it is difficult to make good quality recycled papers: the recycling process breaks down the fibres, thereby automatically reducing the tensile strength of the resulting paper. Not surprisingly, given its use, toilet paper is close to the... ahem... bottom of the quality scale. The problem with toilet paper is that it has to be cheap while being strong enough to prevent fingers from “breaking through”. An unpleasant experience that most of us have had to endure at one time or another. Ideally, toilet paper should also be soft rather than scratchy or, worse, slippery. To top it off, toilet paper should also readily dissolve in water in order to minimise the risk of clogging the sewers. And what about the presence of possible allergens? And the colour? And the smell? The list of requirements imposed on such a humble product is almost endless. Modern toilet paper also has the added feature of being perforated, to allow for an easy separation of segments. It doesn’t always work as it should, but it is of great help.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Of Soft Brains and Software Brains

An uninterrupted flood of information constantly bombards our senses: images, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, temperatures. We can only cope with it because our brains only make us aware of a fraction of that information. We blissfully remain unaware of the rest.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Machines that can think

Only a few decades ago computers filled up entire rooms and only accepted inputs via switches on their front panels or punched cards. The continuing increase in processing power and decrease in size has made possible to fit computers into smaller and smaller packages. In two decades we have gone from the size of a small suitcase to something comparable in size with a pack of cigarettes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Homo Novus

We are entering a new phase of human evolution. The next couple of decades will mark the end of humanity as we know it today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A something/nothing about money

This is something I composed with the name of the currencies of thirty-two countries.  I chose the names on the basis of their last letter and the way they sounded together.  Is it a poem?  I don't think so, but I leave it up to you.

Taka tala pula kina

Real rial quetzal metical

Tenge Leone krone gourde

Won yen yuan kroon

Loti lari dalasi bilangeni

Dollar denar dinar bolivar

Euro peso escudo boliviano

Baht kyat manat ringgit

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Religion - The Ten Commandments

A lot could be said about the ten commandments, but my purpose here is to talk about the fact that the ten commandments in English, German, Italian, Spanish, and French are not exactly the same. The reason for choosing these languages is that they are the only languages I understand. The ten commandments appear three times in the Bible: in Exodus 20:2–17, Exodus 34:11–27, and Deuteronomy 5:6–21, and they are not identical. The official catholic version of the commandments is available online in the catechism pages published by the Vatican(1).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Management - My Leadership Principles 2

32    You can only see further if you stick your neck out.
33    Listen to those who stay quiet and talk to those who speak a lot.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Management - My Leadership Principles 1

  1    Any goal is impossible until you find the way to achieve it.

  2    You only fail when you give up trying.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Management - Generosity

Keep the others indebted to you.

What do I mean by that? It is simple, really. As long as your collaborators will feel that they owe you something, they will bend over backward with their work to repay you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eating Animals - Why I am vegetarian

In this post, I shall try to explain how I came to be vegetarian. I expect that you will find it unreasonable and perhaps even a bit weird. In any case, regardless of of how you find this post, I encourage you to read my next post on vegetarianism, where I will give you at least one valid reason for becoming vegetarian yourself or at least significantly reduce the amount of meat you eat. I assure you that it will have nothing to do with what you will read here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Management - Guidelines vs Rules

A lot of people think that guidelines, leaving some leeway and ambiguity, are less restrictive than fixed rules. This is certainly not the case. To convince yourself, try to answer this question: “Who decides whether an action conforms to a guideline or not?”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Religion - Child Molestation

I am sure that this will not be my last post on religion but, prompted by the worldwide scandals about catholic priests, I feel I have to start talking about it.

I was born and grew up in Italy, where the catholic religion is in the fabric of society. Even many parents who never go to church feel there compelled to baptise their children. And the prime-time evening news show the pope or talk about him several times a week. In every classroom of every public school, a crucifix hangs beside a picture of the Italian president on the wall behind the teacher’s desk.

Management - Need to know

How can people decide with competence if they don't have all the information they need to do it? In one respect, human beings are like any other machine: to deliver good results they need to have the necessary inputs and be able to process them well enough.

Management - Where the buck stops

I have always entertained very informal relationships with my collaborators and allowed them to decide in as many situations as possible. This was only possible because, beside being friendly and open, I systematically made clear that I had the overall responsibility and that, therefore, could overturn any decision made by a team member.

Management - Decisions

A leader should decide as little as possible.

Many people find it difficult to decide. They agonise on alternatives and keep postponing the moment when they finally must commit themselves to one of them. When I say that a leader should decide as little as possible I certainly don't mean that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Management - Trust

The word trust is for company life what love is for the movie industry: so much used and so often abused that most people develop for it the same self-protecting indifference that nurses and doctors must have for blood.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Management - Foreword

My main reason for writing about management is that I have a vision of a working society in which people are respected as human beings. I hate to see mature and intelligent adults conditioned and blackmailed into subservient roles by arrogant and ruthless bosses. I have to do something about it, even if it is just writing what few people will ever read.


This post is about the prohibition of drugs, but I will tackle that subject by talking about alcohol prohibition first.

wiki.answers.com (1) says that alcohol causes 100,000 deaths worldwide every year. I believe them. But then, why don’t we do something about it? Should we ban alcohol? NO, WE SHOULDN’T, because history has shown that ethanol prohibition doesn’t work.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Political correctness

Political correctness has gone too far.

I can understand that women resent being excluded by collective terms like mankind and chairman. It makes sense to use humankind and chairperson instead, but to be gender-neutral with the pronouns becomes difficult. All these he or she and his or her are distractive, and the use of they and them when referring to a single individual makes me almost shiver in disgust. I usually use [s]he to replace he/she, but I have no alternative for his/her. The use of hir has not been universally accepted. Some non-fiction authors alternate between the masculine and the feminine pronouns, but it feels awkward. Sometimes I just use the feminine pronouns and leave it at that. After all, we have used the masculine ones for centuries, and it will take a long time before the men feel discriminated against.

But political correctness goes well beyond gender-neutrality.

Blogging is addictive

Blogging is addictive. This is only my second post and I am already hooked. But I am not going to use this blog as a real log. After all, who can possibly care to know what I had for breakfast this morning or how many cups of coffee I have drunk in the past twenty-four hours?

No, no. Nothing of that.

I will use the blog to write about what matters to me. It will be my personal soap box, from which I will harangue the world. I wrote scientific and technical stuff and am now writing Science Fiction, but my most natural way of communicating is preaching, and no publisher would be interested in that. The beauty of having a blog is that, as long as you remain within the limits of the law and don’t libel anyone, you can say what you want.

It would be nice if somebody read my ramblings and commented on them, but if not, then so be it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Star Trek and Terrorism

I chose Locutus as display name and “Resistance is futile” as blog title because I am a trekker. I just love Star Trek in all its incarnations. Some stories are better and some are worse, but what I like of ST is the idea that in a century or two humanity will live in peace.

I know that physically we are almost identical to the savages that 70,000 year ago left Africa to populate the world. But I am always amazed to discover how senselessly violent modern humans still can be. On an evolutionary scale, seventy millennia are a comparatively short period of time. Therefore, it is no surprise that our emotions and impulsions haven’t changed. But shouldn’t we have learned to control them?