Monday, November 26, 2007

Musical Rambling II: Round Midnight

All nights are magic. Die Welt ist tief, und tiefer als der Tag gedacht, the world is deep, and deeper than the day thought, as one reads in the unforgettable chapter of the Zarathustra (Das Nachtwandler-Lied, 12).

There is an unfathomable depth that unveils only to the happy ones who vigil when everyone else sleeps. That depth, that mystery, that lush, is conjured up at every turn of Thelonius Monks' magisterial work.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Vermeer's Gentle Light

A few months ago I received an e-mail from my old friend Mimmo, who had spent a few vacation weeks touring art museums in the Nederlands. Upon reading those brief notes, a clump of dusty memories of my own stay in the Low Lands suddenly cropped up. Memories of long bike rides, of strolling along the grachten, of drinking jeneever, of lengthy discussions with my cosmopolitan colleagues on math, logic and life. Memories, most of all, of the uncanny light trapped in the canvas of Jan Vermeer.

I always loved his paintings, and always will. His art will be forever uppermost in my heart, just as the austere philosophy of his contemporary Baruch Spinoza (many have noticed the hidden parallelism between these two great Dutch geniuses. Incidentally, they were both born the same year 1623, and died prematurely at almost the same age).

That light is a gentle light. It is the light of reason, not the brutal and coarse Raison of the illuminists and their epigons, not the Ratio, but the light of the divine Intellectus, the light of the spinozan Amor Dei Intellectualis. Things levitate weightlessly in that gentle light, almost dissolving in it. There is no pain, no cries, no tragedy left, only a pervasive lingering melancholy in the very texture of being. And that melancholy is a blessing.

The world is tenuous in Vermeer's gentle light...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Musical Rambling I: Widerstehe doch der Sünde

Widerstehe doch der Sünde, aka Stand steadfast against sin (you can read it here in the original german, and here in english translation), is a magnificent cantata by J. S. Bach (BWV 54, to be exact). A good start for my musical ramblings is this spectacular interpretation by Glenn Gould from 1962 on YouTube. The singer is countertenor Russell Oberlin.

Bach and Gould, what could be more sublime and more sobering? From time to time it is wise to pause, shut the endless noise of this world out, and listen with full attention for a few minutes to a different Voice....

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Time within time, or how particles act like bees

Time flows, an instant goes away and is replaced by the next one, in a endless, silent, dull procession (at least, that is what our collective imaginary keeps repeating to us usque ad nauseam).

Pretty boring, right?

Unless... unless you can zoom into one of those instants, and find another time, a hidden time. After all, atoms of matter were thought of as indivisible only a little over one hundred years ago, and, as it turns out, they very very roomy; why should instants of time be any different?

Hidden time. A tantalizing hypothesis, and the basis of a fascinating model of Quantum Mechanics concocted by Pavel Kurakin and George Malinetskii, from the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics and the Russian Academy of Sciences (you can read an informal account here). Kurakin and Malinetskii have developed Cramer's transactional interpretation of QM, and gone a bit further. When a subatomic particle has to move, say from an emitting source to a detector, it sends out probing waves, like scout bees. Each goes its own way, hits the possible targets, and comes back. At the end, a global decision takes place, and the particle moves from one point to the next. This entire set of transactions happens in hidden time. In other words, before the particle has made up her mind, there is no time tick, at least as far as our physical clocks are concerned.

Intriguing, isn't it? A tacit assumption one always makes is that all phenomena occur within the same time scale. But there are other options. Perhaps what for me is a time tick, for you is an entire lifetime, or an eternity...

Yet another chapter in my book on Time.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Colonizing the Social Web

Back to this world, and back to business. As I have mentioned in a previous post, in the last year I have spent many (I mean, many) hours clarifying to myself what would be the exact point of application for my R&D start-up. I knew it would be connected with that most fascinating phenomenon we are all witnessing, web social networking. And, of course, it would have a lot of analytics and math modeling involved, as that is both my passion and my specialty. Well, I think I know now where to go. But, it is no time yet to make public statements. Instead, I want to mention a very interesting book I have just read on riding the wave of social communities. It is written by David Silver, founder of the Santa Fe Capital Group, a seasoned investor with broad and visionary perspectives. The title? Smart start-ups. How Entrepreneurs and Corporations can profit by starting on-line communities.

David Silver is very bullish on web and mobile communities, and sees the near future as the second step of a full-fledged large-scale colonization. Whereas the early history of the web took care of the basic plumbing, of building roads, docks, sewers, and what else, it is now prime time for creating communities that offer all services one would expect from a burgeoning colony.
In other words, the virtual equivalent of guilds, banks, schools, that turned a land of pioneers into a comfortable place to live. Silver provides a plethora of interesting scenarios. I shall quote just one, so I am not going to spoil the fun: a virtual money market exchange site, where you can trade real currency for virtual money earned in a multi-player gaming universe. He also gives a list of useful recommendations on how to bootstrap your communiteering business. Chief among his advices is: no ads. I think the fellow is right: who the heck wants to join a community where stupid and really ugly ads pop up uninvited? Plus, it sounds so big corp to work. Better let your community members generate content and revenues, and get a nice cut.

I could go on, but you get my point: if you are (as I am) interested in online communities from a potential business standpoint, take a deep look at this book. Only one minor caveat: to get people aboard may be a touch trickier than this sparkling booklet seems to imply.

PS By the way, David Silver is even more enthused by mobile communities than by web-based ones. The reason? You can make money by striking some deal with the service providers, each time members access your community.

Better learn real fast how to program in the mobile arena! This great new blog, by a true scout in the budding mobile software development world, is an excellent resource for the rest of us. Do not miss it.