Maurizio – Omnologos

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Archive for May 2007

Bruno M.’s First Law of Bag Packing

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If you can close your bag, it means there is space for at least another item.

Maurizio’s Corollary #1: if you cannot close your bag, you are not pushing hard enough.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/28 at 18:38:58

Posted in Travel

Old World Bank

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An interesting if somehow obvious and subdued debate today on the BBC World Service’s “World Business Review” about reforming the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association.

I do not have much faith in any reform at any of those institutions. Just as the UN’s Security Council, they are still stuck in the 1950’s and will keep themselves that way unless some major international crisis changes the lot.

Fact is the whole system has been managed (if not designed) in order to keep the international Order firmly in the hands of Americans and Europeans.

After all it is not far-fetched to say that the whole ideas of “Third World” and “Development” were not with us until the end of World War II, the start of the Cold War and most of all the end of Colonialism.

Why would the Old Boys want to relinquish their control right now? It’s just much simpler to leave things as they stand. “Development” in this respect is a side show, as demonstrated by the absence, after six decades, of any idea on what actually can push a country out of abject poverty (apart from luck, location, and luck of location).

Written by omnologos

2007/May/27 at 20:46:16

Acknowledging a mistake…

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…there is no “if”, there is no “but”. There is no excuse, there is no defense.

If one really wants to acknowledge a mistake, maybe even learn from it, it’s much better to shut up, listen wholeheartedly, avoid being defensive, stop rationalizing.

Say, even if one doesn’t really believe it, pretend that the people pointing out the mistake are right. Get on their side.

Otherwise it’s going to be as useful as running in circles. Worse: it may reveal one as not actually having acknowledged a thing. Bye bye reputation!!

Written by omnologos

2007/May/25 at 21:13:11

Posted in Philosophy, Sociology

Nuclear Warming

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Is this what months and months of Global Warming scares by the UK government were all about: building up a consensus towards the re-establishment of nuclear power stations?

Tony Blair’s very last contribution to the future of Britain may as well be this 343-page Energy White Paper, with all its customary “public consultation” that will inevitably result in confirming what was already written in the white paper. Check in fact what happens when the consulted people don’t provide the “right” answer: the Governments marches on regardless.

I am quite skeptical on the feasibility of large-scale nuclear power generation, and even more so when it is blatantly advertised as a way out of purported CO2-related disasters.

Shortly: it is not clear where the uranium will come from and how long it will be available; nuclear power stations are not built in a day, a month or a year, so we’ll be lucky to see any of them providing power before the middle of next decade; sizable pieces of land will be out of reach and contaminated for centuries to come; costs are way too high (if one takes them all into consideration, and not just the marginal costs as in the usual propaganda); there is no clear plan on where to safely stock radioactive waste for thousands and thousands of years; and finally, it can all very easily become a gif waste of time and money: all it will take will be another nuclear accident, and the mood against uranium power will be on the up again.

Are we sure we want to risk all of that just to protect ourselves from CO2?

Written by omnologos

2007/May/23 at 22:06:59

Anti-evolution at the Vatican

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Catholic circles especially in Rome are unwisely toying with the idea of discounting the Theory of Evolution, as it would confine God “to just lighting the blue touch paper for the Big Bang” (Evolution and Religion – In the beginning“, The Economist, April 19).

Furthermore, if natural selection works with random steps, according to some people we lose the “unique, God-given role in the animal kingdom” for the human species, especially favoured by Pope Benedict XVI.

Actually, the “blue touch paper” issue is ill-posed. Even if the Universe has been created to follow Natural Laws such as Evolution, there is enough built-in uncertainty, such as in Quantum Physics, to allow any Creator to tinker at His pleasure.

And regarding man’s unique role…I would rather promote more humility…it makes little sense to try to defend one’s standing when the counterpart is… God!

Written by omnologos

2007/May/22 at 21:45:08

The High Priests of Contemporary Atheism

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Truly gone are the days of Epicurus.

Gone are the discussions about Free Will and the existence of Evil. Recently, some vocal atheists apper to be thinking it is time for puerile opinions instead.

Sure, many “persons without God” (including agnosticists such as Breaking the Spell”’s author Daniel C. Dennett) have a healthy respect for the experiences and beliefs of fellow human beings, be them atheists or not.

But then what can one say when an otherwise brilliant thinker like Richard Dawkins publishes without a grain of self-awareness the “Ultimate 747” argument, a so-called “definitive proof” that God does not exist?

It is a sort of an updated “who created the Creator” question that anybody with a brain can beautifully, simply and quite obviously take apart (hint: the Creator doesn’t have to be part of the Creation).

In Italy, philosophy Professor Maurizio Ferraris finds it worthwhile to spend his time arguing that Jesus is akin to Santa Claus, whilst mathematician extraordinaire Piergiorgio Odifreddi can’t even think of belief in God as anything else than irrational superstition.

Things look like going even more downhill now, with Christopher Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great”: apparently, a masterpiece with pearls of wisdom such as asking if the Jews did not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments.

Obviously, the problem is not with Hitchens, a professional polemicist that utters outrageous statements for a living (sort of a male Ann Coulter with just a tad less smell of sulphur). The problem is not even with Dawkins’ anti-fundamentalist crusade that truly throw the baby (Faith) with the bathwater (religious establishments).

There is a much larger issue at hand: the blind acceptance of their half-backed arguments by people evidently in need to justify their atheism to themselves.

Take for example Michael Kinsley’s review of Hitchen’s book (With brio and anger, an atheist takes on religion”, International Herald Tribune , May 12, 2007).

Mr Kinsley finds “entertaining” some blatantly silly questions such as “How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all?” (Answer: please do read at least one Gospel, once).

Worse, Mr Kinsley is “satisfied” with (yet another?) “disproving” of the existence of God. Wow…it’s nice to know that age-old questions can finally be set aside: why don’t Messrs. Hitchens and Kinsley explain to us the Meaning of Life too?

Mr Kinsley is also quite happy to repeat Mr Hitchens’ thoughts on religious ecumenism. “if any one of the major faiths is true, then the others must be false in important respects – an obvious point often forgotten in the warm haze of ecumenism”. Boy, have they “obviously” squared the circle or what?

Do people like Kinsley and Hitchens realize how deeply, reactionarily catholic (with small “c”) is such a limited view of Faith (one God, one Truth, one World)?

How much was the Mahatma a “moron, lunatic or liar” then? That’s their definition of a modern believer. After all he did say “Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and also faith in man” and “One’s own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one’s Maker and no one else’s.”

Doesn’t anybody remember Quintus Aurelius Symmachus? One of the last pagans in ancient Rome, Symmachus protested the removal of the Altar of Victory from the floor of the Roman Senate by a Christian Emperor by saying “We contemplate the same stars, the Heavens are common to us all, and the same world surrounds us. What matters the path of wisdom by which each person seeks the truth?”.

(No need to waste your breath on our activist atheists, o civis Symmachus! They wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about).

Anyway, there is just the faintest of hope of some reasoning capability left in the activist atheist’s mind. Mr Hitchens writes that a sustained argument about the (non-)existence of God shouldn’t be either necessary, nor sufficient. I am sure only the most fundamentalist believers and atheists will disagree with that.

What is for atheists then the point of writing books belittling something they do not have?

Perhaps, just perhaps, one day people like Mr Hitchens and Mr Dawkins will realize that they may as well uselessly ponder on mysteries such as why a wonderful person as my wife ever fell in love with a less-than-perfect guy like me. Good luck with that!

Is this really what millennia of debates between believers and atheists have gone down to? Somebody will rightly point out that there are plenty of idiots that believe their Faith should be expressed by insulting, outlawing, threatening and killing others.

Yes, there are!

But two wrongs don’t make one right: weren’t Dawkins et al. supposed to be the Brights, the superiorly intelligent humans capable of shedding silly arguments and superstition from their lives, and from the lives of anybody that would follow them?

Why are they then switching off their brains whenever the conversational topic is Religion?

If theirs is the Light, we live in a very dim world indeed.

Like the Conquistadores in the Americas, these Brights are fighting to destroy what they can’t understand in the belief of improving the human lot. The bringing down of anything spiritual, it has become their spiritual quest. The attitude of the vast majority of their fellow humans, they consider it a primitive relic unworthy of their own perfection. Several thousand years of contributions in logic and philosophy, that doesn’t mean a thing to them.

Having discovered the “definitive arguments” for the double impossibility of proving the non-existence of any Divinity, they put themselves outside of human history. And they even gather around their books of wisdom, to accept with little sense of critique anything that is said to belittle the very idea that human being can believe in God.

It’s a hubris extravaganza.

Contemporary (activist) atheists truly set themselves in competition with God: here’s a hint of why they find so compelling to make however flawed an argument against the scandal represented by anybody not believing in their “religion of atheism”.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/21 at 21:54:19

Taking Ownership of Our Online Identity

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Robert M Lucky’s thoughts on IEEE Spectrum magazine for May 2007 deal with the problem that our online identities are seemingly out of our hands:

No one I know seems to like what the Internet thinks of them. It seems that there is a haphazard collection of vignettes that lack any coherence or soul.”

Well, there IS a first line of defense, and that of course is to “attack”.

As we are almost certain the Internet will talk about each one of us, then why don’t we talk about us, ourselves first?

We are free to write whatever we want in blogs, comments, articles, anything and everything that will put our preferred vignettes in that “haphazard collection“.

For all but the most famous people, internet search sites will quickly turn into showing our self-generated content on top of everything else: alas, and indeed, as each ego is the sentient being most interested into itself.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/14 at 23:07:24

Posted in Blogging, Culture

Millennium Bug A Different Virus

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Seven and more years later, we can definitely close down the story of the Millennium Bug as one of the greatest wastes of money in the history of Humanity.

In hindsight, it has been as useful and as value-generating as one of those chain-mail messages, just a different kind of computer virus.

Nothing of significance happened on Dec 31, 1999. Perhaps nothing at all, zilch, nada, niente (but it’s hard to demonstrate a negative).

Even the stories with the flimsiest relevance and interest should have surfaced by now.

People that were actually employed in fixing the fantasy Bug don’t usually like such a train of thought. Somebody actually tried to tell me the Bug caused no trouble because of the dedication of so many people and resources to fix it.

I do not buy any such excuse.

Surely a lot of people worked on the Bug very professionally and conscientiously.

But then we all know any kind of software does contain errors…the Millennium Bug Fixes by miracle or extraordinary coincidence, not even one. How can that be possible?

And how can it be likely that everybody everywhere on the planet lost their capacity to make mistakes in the process of fixing the Bug? Italy was a well-known laggard on considering the Bug, and in Kenya there was no funding to do anything until March 2000 (three months after the Bug should have stricken).

Written by omnologos

2007/May/11 at 21:01:21

Posted in Business, Computing

Beam Me Cold, Scotty

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Fact: we already know how to teleport single ions of calcium and beryllium.

Fact: such “teleportation” means the transfer of quantum states between ion A and ion B, so that at the end of the transfer B becomes for all intents and purposes identical to what A was at the beginning of the transfer.

Fact: we already know how to make groups of atoms behave as one quantum entity, by cooling them very near absolute zero until they become a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC).

Vision: all we need to make Star-Trek-like teleportation a reality then, it’s finding a way to cool a person into a BEC, transfer its quantum state into just the right BEC far away, and then heat this back as the teleported copy of the original person.

In the meanwhile, let’s wait for a few confirmatory experiments…

Written by omnologos

2007/May/10 at 21:55:23

Kosovo, Another EU Failure

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The European Union is chugging along with its Ahtisaari Plan for the future of Kosovo, the quasi-independent province still nominally and legally part of Serbia albeit occupied by NATO and a UN protectorate since the end of the 1999 war.

In truth, that Plan seems more the result of a vision-free EU that is trying its might to get out of a region that has seen the Union’s reputation hit rock bottom several times for the past 15 years or so.

Of course, ultimately any failure and the blame for any violence lie with the Kosovo residents. It’s their lives that they themselves seem so apt to make more miserable than should be.

But the sudden push for making Kosovo independent does not look like the wisest of choices for the EU.

They are now claiming that they want to prevent development of local dependency on foreign aid, but foreign aid will surely continue flowing to Kosovo for the foreseeable future.

Also, the Ahtisaari Plan is highly-detailed: yet more evidence that there is no comprehensive vision for both communities. Expect further hardships for the Serbs.

What are the alternatives? For example, simple allow Serbian areas of Kosovo to rejoin Serbia, rather than remain a small minority in a brand-new State that Serbian will never be.

And what is this idea of attaching peoples one to the other with superglue even when they blatantly do not want to live together?

The EU itself is made up of nation-states that were established and are still run on the idea that people of the same nation (traditions, culture, but at the end of the day a matter of shared heritage with dubious genetic aspects) must be allowed to govern themselves free from the influence of other nations.

The Kosovo plan makes no sense in this respect. Why force them something we have no intention to do ourselves?

Written by omnologos

2007/May/09 at 22:31:10

Posted in Democracy, EU, History, Kosovo

The Economics of Getting Fat

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During the past week arguments about obesity have popped up quite often on the International Herald Tribune. A comprehensive reading of the various contributions may clear out the issue about fat.

In the letters section on May 6, Dr. John A. Talbott of the University of Maryland at Baltimore finds “frightening and misleading the importance given by author Gina Kolata to genetic factors in determining an individual’s weight.

Kolata’s new book “Rethinking thin” is indeed reviewed on May 4 on the IHT by Emily Bazelon (“Is the obsession with obesity (and thinness) overblown?”). Ms. Bazelon quotes Ms. Kolata as suggesting that “early nutrition, vaccines or antibiotics somehow ‘precipitated changes in the brain’s controls over weight.’

Talbott’s and Kolata’s views can be reconciled, however, as they both briefly refer to the problem of contemporary portions.

Look in fact at David Leonhardt’s contribution on May 1, again on the IHT (“Economic View: Economics of acting against our own interests“).

Mr. Leonhardt reports on the finding by Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and author of “Mindless eating“. Very briefly, Wansink and his team are finding strong clues that the larger the size of our plates, the more we eat (likewise, “squat glasses” make us drink more).

In a sentence, large containers make portions look smaller to us.

Can Behavioral Economics provide what Ms. Bazelon calls “the smoking gun in the mysterious fattening of America“? Perhaps.

But for those of us with a “larger-than-average build”, it does indicate a way forward outside the usual journey from one diet to another.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/08 at 21:32:06

The Elephant In Europe’s Integration Room

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HDS Greenway leaves as an exercise to the reader to complete his reasoning on European attitudes on integration (“Europe’s integration problems“, IHT, May 4).

What would it mean if Europeans accepted “that theirs is a society of immigrants the way America has always been“?

Under those most unlikely of circumstances, Europeans would publicly recognize that no nation comes from a single heritage, and immigrants have been positively adding to the new home nation’s culture for centuries.

It is high time indeed that European societies abandon their superiority complex to allow those to contribute culturally and socially as well as economically.t

Alas, nothing of the sort is currently allowed by the snobbish ways of France’s total assimilation or the UK’s diversity-conservation. And so there is no such a thing as a Moroccan-French or Indian-Briton to compare to Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans.

Even President Sarkozy of France is and cannot be no Hungarian-French…he is, and he has to be, just French. Anything else, and he would be rejected.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/06 at 20:46:52

Outsourcing – A Daft Idea?

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I have never been a big fan of all the Outsourcing fashion that came into vogue around 2000-01 with untold savings promised by getting non-core-parts of a company’s business managed and conducted by outside personnel and structures.

Now I am starting to think there is something potentially quite daft about the whole idea. Let’s say there are three types of Outsourcing:

(a) One-to-many: for example the relationship between a company and courier services;

(b) Many-to-one: for example all the clients of news- and data-gathering enterprises such as Reuters;

(c) One-to-one: the modern way of Outsourcing, when for example part or the whole of the IT functions are managed by a single external company.

Now, in case (a) the client has the upper hand, as it can shift business from one courier company to another in an instant and for whatever reason. Service has to be pretty good to prevent that.

Also in case (b) the clients are reasonably safe: even if costs can go high in a situation of quasi-monopoly, any problem on the Reuters or Bloomberg side would cause a massive uproar. Once again, service has to be as good as needed.

Unfortunately, that does not necessarily happen in case (c): the external company, in fact, does know its contract is large and complex and it covers many aspects without which the outsourcing company’s business will fail. And the latter has to invest much money and time just to start the process, whilst exiting from the contract is almost just as expensive and long an endeavour.

The end result then is that in (c) it’s the service provider that obtains the power to make expensive decisions for its client, for example justifying an incredibly complex hardware or data processing arrangement on the basis of unverified risk scenarios.


Of course nothing is fixed, nothing is preordained. The opposite strategy may in fact be just as bad, when Insourcing means creating a self-sustaining internal apparatus of un-necessary costs and complexity, also called “the IT Department”.

Still it would be great news the day when companies, especially the largest ones including the public sector, will consider the downsides properly and protect themselves (i.e., their shareholders’ interests) against being taken advantage of by their Outsourcing Partner

Perhaps it is time for a new business field: independent outsourcing auditors.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/04 at 21:27:36

Posted in Business, Outsourcing

The Physics of Miracles And Of Free-Will

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A scientific finding published a few months ago on Physical Review Letters and reported on The Economist may soon send religious types of all sorts and shapes to salivate back to their Physics books.

5% of a proton’s magnetism is contributed not by the host quarks but by visiting strange quarks that have popped out of nowhere“.

It is a perfectly reasonable discovery. Current quantum physics in fact

predicts that so-called virtual quarks, together with their anti-matter partners, are continuously emerging from the vacuum of space and then disappearing again as a result of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. So, while a proton has three resident quarks, it also plays host to a lot of short-term visitors

Nevertheless, such a discovery may herald fascinating consequences.

First of all, 5% is not exactly a negligible quantity.

Second, the measurement is obviously an average, so one proton will get a little nudge in one direction, another proton a slightly larger or smaller nudge in another direction, and so on and so forth. There is no macroscopic effect…but only insofar as the virtual particles pop up randomly in the protons.

Third, if this happens for one kind of particle, it is extremely likely it will happen for all kinds of particles, not just protons

Fourth, if this happens for one kind of force, it is highly likely it will happen for all kinds of forces, not just magnetism


The end result is that when we will be able to control where, when and how virtual particles pop-up within real particles, we will be capable to do all sort of currently deemend impossible actions. Imagine being able to “focus” the properties of a magnet so that it will attract a particular metallic object, instead of all the objects within a certain distance range….suddenly, one could move specific objects from a distance. That’s telekinesis for you.

Or look forward to the time gravitational fields will be strengthened, weakened, focused at will. That’s levitation for you. And spaceflight and levitating cars will become a child’s play to build and pilot.


Those are just dreams at the moment, impossibilities, what we could call Miracles if we were to witness them (as per A.C. Clarke’s famous saying: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic).In fact, what is there to prevent God from using those same virtual quarks exactly to perform…Miracles? (God of course could be prevented by being non-existant 😎 ; but let’s assume for now that’s not the case…).

Levitation does indeed allow one to walk on water or fly from Mecca to Jerusalem, or telekinesis the parting of the Red Sea. Some good control of the strong force and quark mechanics simplifies transforming water into wine or anything else.

Etc etc. So virtual particles popping all over the place may be God’s Backroom Control: invisible and intangible but still very much of consequence. Sort of a Miracle Physics (MP) Model.


For the Theist, it all makes sense.The Deity would have created a Universe that can take of itself but still not completely impervious to on-the-fly modificationsAlso the main objection against miracles would lose ground, as in the MP model the Divinity can intervene without foregoing the natural laws inscribed in the Universe

Just as light is a wave AND a particle, and an electron is a wave and a particle, we could say that the Universe is at the same time deterministic AND random. Not to mention that Evolution can then be a random walk AND the guided unveiling of some underlying plan.


So do we (well, IF we exist) have free will or are we in the hands of an omnipotent figure (if He/She exists) that decides things for us? Both.

Written by omnologos

2007/May/02 at 22:03:34

Save the Planet, Freeze Hell Over!

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Dear Friends and Colleagues

With carbon dioxide levels shooting up to unprecedented levels, it is high time we group together for a concerted action against the huge amounts of climate-change-inducing emissions…from fires in Hell.

Known GHG polluter, local manager and evildoer Mr. Lucipher can indeed be stopped…all we have to do is abolish taxes, defeat prostitution or whatever else will make the place of eternal damnation turn into a glacial wasteland!

Written by omnologos

2007/May/01 at 09:32:14