Rue de la Lance

Le soir, quand je rentre après l’aïkidō, la rue qui va de ce cimetière jusqu’à chez moi est étrangement vide. Sous les lampes oranges qui se balancent au gré du vent, il n’y a que des créatures semi-sauvages : renards, chats, qui profitent que les humains sont chez eux pour vaquer à leur affaires. Tous me regardent passer avec une méfiance calme, alors mon vélo file sur la légère descendre de cette rue droite comme une lance. C’est son nom, la rue de la lance.

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Science, it's a girl thing

Of Prometeus, science and women

I have not seen the movie Prometheus, nor do I intend to, but I am grateful to Ridley Scott for creating it, as some of the critiques that it has spawned are very entertaining to read. What is clear is that plot consistency and logic were not deemed important to tell this story with mythological aspirations. In the end this looks like yet another old guy trying to reframe the nice artwork he did in his youth, trying to make a good story in some larger thing, and mostly managing to make a fool of himself.

What struck me with all the critical reviews is how absurd the behaviour of the “scientists” in the movie is. It seems that for hollywood, scientists are not really people, but more plot-devices, a bit like terrorists, I suppose. This is annoying me on a personal level, as I have a scientific background, but in my opinion this is also hurting society, as such stereotypes are not helping attract people into the field

The scientific world is lacking people, in particular women. There are many reasons for this, but having negative stereotypes certainly does not help. Recently the EU tried to address the problem: fixing the underlying problem is way to complicated and probably fraught with political dangers, so they created a movie called “Science: It’s a Girl Thing !”. Maybe they should have written a song, with the movie they basically shot themselves in the foot: it is both sexist and silly, and will certainly not have the expected effect.

Instead of having the EU try to write propaganda films, which they suck at, they should do like the US army: sponsorise movies that go in the direction they would like. The US army gracefully lends its toys to movie makers whose stories align its the propaganda goals. Instead of trying to do painfully pink ads, they should just sponsor movies where the scientists are not complete idiots. But clearly this would be science-fiction.

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Data parsing

💾

One of the best way to learn things in computer science is failing. This is also one of the things you learn to do the less at school. When teacher talk about hard problems, they mention large complex problems, NP-hard problems, or algorithms where there are very smart solutions. They never mention problems with crappy data. One of the first projects where I was confronted with this was still studying at the university. As a side job, I doing maintenance for some medical lab associated with the university, this was mostly about doing the maintenance of lab’s fleet of Macintoshes.

One day I was asked if I could help them clean up there bibliographical database. The database itself was stored within Filemaker, the problem was that there were multiple formats for names as the data had been entered by hand: one was Surname Family Name, but some records where in reverse format: Family Name, Surname (notice the coma). This seemed simple enough: export the data in CSV, run it through a small program, into another CSV file, re-import the result, voilà.

There were two problems: one the file was big, with many thousands of records, so processing took around ten minutes, two there were many exceptions which would be familiar to anybody doing human name processing: compound names, particles, multiple authors separated with comas, the word and, and sometimes the Oxford comma, sometimes even the ampersand. Some of the data was ill-formed, some used exotic characters, some had broken encodings. Each time I fixed one issue, two others popped-up. In the end, I had a program that fixed most of the names, but I had to warn the good doctors that there were still many issues in the data. There were not really pleased.

Interestingly enough, even today this is still a complex problem. I can now see other way of approaching it, but this mostly would involve crowd-sourcing and data-mining the correct names out of the web. Given the data I had at that time, I’m not sure I would do much better…

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Matthias in Front of the plush toy shelf

Google Serve 2012

Matthias in front of the plush toy shelf

Each year, I have the opportunity to donate one work day to some good cause. Last year I went to speak in a high-school, the previous, I did a Hike with asylum seekers. This year, I went to help in a Red Cross second-hand shop in Bern.

The shop gets donations of various stuff, mostly second hand clothes, books, and toys, and sells them. I think this year’s plan was the one I like the most – the work was diverse: sorting donated wares, talking with customers, folding bought clothes, setting up new wares for sale. I was the only person helping the young lady that handles the shop, which was a nice change, usually there is always a bunch of googlers for those projects, this time I was really able to forget about work. Also because I was the only helper, I had much more the impression of making a difference.

In short, a really good experience, which I would gladly repeat next year.

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Saison des pluies

Il pleut. Le mois de juin est bien entamé et il pleut. Je suis toujours impressionné par les gens qui arrivent à commenter le temps en Suisse, à y voir des tendances, des changements, car pour moi cela a toujours été très chaotique. Je me souviens de mois de juin radieux, et de mois de juin pourris. Cela a toujours été une période charnière : la fin des cours, le début des vacances. Le départ de la régate du Bol d’Or s’est faite par différents vents, par différents temps, souvent c’était de la pluie.

Les réseaux sociaux comme Facebook ont l’avantage de me garder quelque peu synchrone avec la vie de mes amis au Japon, ce qui m’a permis de remarquer qu’à peu près au même moment où les pluies ont commencé ici, là-bas, c’est le début du 梅雨( tsuyu), la saison des pluies de l’Asie de l’est. Il ne pleut pas toujours durant la saison des pluies, et il pleut parfois avant ou après. Le 百万石祭り( Hyakumangoku Matsuri), le festival qui a lieu théoriquement juste avant le début des pluies s’est parfois fait sous des trombes d’eau. J’aurais eu tendance à dire que les pluies là-bas sont un peu plus violentes, mais les orages de la semaine dernière m’en ont découragé.

La grosse différence entre ici et là-bas, en somme c’est qu’ils ont un mot pour cette période. Peut-être que tout ce qui manque en Suisse, c’est un mot pour la saison des pluies…

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Une femme translucide avec une épée laser dans la main

金剛かライトセーバー? / Vajra or Lightsaber? / Vajra ou sabre laser

Une femme translucide avec une épée laser dans la main

スイスでこの広告が見られる。女の子の手は金剛かライトセーバー?この二本物は似ていますね?

This advertisement is visible in Switzerland, what is in the hand of the women? A laser sword or a ? Those two things look very similar…

Cette publicité est visible en Suisse, quel objet les femmes tiennent-elles dans la main ? Un sabre laser ou un  ? Ces deux objets me paraissent très similaires.

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HTML 5 Logo

Seamless iframes

HTML5 Logo by World Wide Web Consortium

One of the interesting additions of html5 is the the notion of seamless iframe, that is, an iframe that looks like it is part of the parent web-page, inheriting its styles and such. While this feature is not widely available, in fact the Webkit nightly only had it for a few days, I found some interesting use for it: testing new blog posts.

While WordPress offers some modicum of WYSIWIG editing, I tend to write the html myself, partly because I have heavily customise the CSS of the blog, partly because I tend to use features that are awkward to use in an editor, like tables, or are not supported at all, like using non-breaking thin spaces in front of punctuation in French texts, i.e. following the typographical rules.

More and more, I write the blog entry in a text-editor, which is more confortable and much faster than using a web-interface (I know, I’m old school). This also has the advantage of working offline, which in a country where trains tend to go through tunnels, is a nice advantage. Still it would be nice to be able to preview the general look of the page.

Now I can do this using a seamless iframe. To do this I wrote a minimal web-page that mimics the general structure of a WordPress blog, it basically loads the CSS, sets a few structural divs, and that’s it. This div in turn includes a minimal web page that contains the content of the blog entry, encapsulated in a single div that needs to be emulated.

You can have a look at the test frame, the actual blog-post snippet is here. Of course this will only work with a web-browser that supports seamless iframe.

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Des dauphins et du design

Les dauphins, c’est quand même des bestioles bizarres : une créature dont la structure interne est adaptée à la vie terrestre, qui s’est ré-adapté à la vie marine, si un dieu designer existe réellement, il ne sait pas ce qu’il se veut. Je trouve ce genre d’adaptations intéressantes, car elles montrent qu’il y a une grosse différence entre les raisons initiales d’une caractéristiques, d’une feature et la manière dont elles sont exploitées. Les poumons c’est absolument nécessaire pour vivre en dehors de l’eau, mais vu la rareté relative de l’oxygène dissout dans l’eau, être capable de l’extraire de l’air à la surface n’est pas une mauvaise stratégie.

En informatique, toutes les discussions sur le génie logiciel, le design, cherchent à appliquer les techniques issues des autres branches de l’ingénierie : on prend le cahier des charges, on conçoit quelque chose de logique qui rempli ce cahier, et tout va bien. Sauf que : l’informatique est dans une phase qui ressemble plus à l’explosion cambrienne qu’à la conception d’un pont. Au centre d’un iPhone se trouve un système d’exploitation datant des années 80, basé sur un système datant de la décennie précédente, et destiné à une catégorie d’ordinateurs aujourd’hui disparue (les stations de travail). Toutes les hypothèses sur lesquelles ce système a été conçu ont changé, mais comme les mammifères en milieu marin il ne se débrouille pas trop mal.

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