When memories knock on the door

It has been a long time since I didn’t write something in my blog, and this evening is one of these evenings in which you look back, long the path you took and try to remember things, people, situations.
It was more than 10 years ago, oh my God… nobody told me that time would have run so fast… I was living one of the most remarkable period of my life, when I was student at the University of Bologna. I don’t have many pictures of this period, but I guess it’s normal, no smartphone, no camera, no selfie… and nevertheless my memories are quite clear, even if I don’t have facebook remembering me that.
My best friend Francesco was late with his studies, therefore for the Italian law (back at the time), he had to leave for military service or to choose civil service for some kind of associations. He was taken in an association assisting disabled people. In this way I got to know AIAS, a wonderful group which works to give a normal life to people affected by many different disabilities. They had a program of volunteering, for the free-time. It was simply based on this: if a person with a disability wants to go to an event, a concert, a sport match, whatever, you will be his/her assistant with a free entrance. You can imagine that, for a young student with no money, the opportunity to go for free to events and to do, at the same time, something good, it’s really attractive.
I had to pass an interview with the responsible for the free time. Alberto, the most improbable manager you could have imagined… earrings, unshaven, easy-going, but with the perfect knowledge and competences to handle this job. Alberto told me: “You know… many people start but they don’t find what they expect, or they simply don’t have the right character to handle certain situations. So, we always ask to the new volunteer two test evenings, in a center called Platani. You just have to help people to have dinner, give them food. It’s absolutely nothing difficult, but some people don’t continue after the experience.” I went in this center, and Alberto was right… it was one of the most touching experience of my life. Quite naively, I never had direct contact with disabilities or sufferance in general. The people there could not eat by themselves… they didn’t have the hands to do so… some of them could move only their head. Of course, my job was not strictly necessary, the center had quite high standard services, but it was a way to share a life moment, like dinner, with people from outside, chat a little bit. The first evening I didn’t speak too much. I admit the 20-years old boy was a bit shocked to feed other people like chicks… but the second evening, and the third were much better!
Alberto called me, asked me about my experience, if I would have liked to continue: “Yes, of course, I can continue, I like to come here, and it’s not a difficult job for me to feed people”. “No” said Alberto, “this was just a test, we need you to do different stuffs. For dinner, there are many old women volunteering. We need dynamic and young people for different activities… We want to give people the opportunity to live as much as possible a normal life, in any activity they want. Therefore, your behaviour doesn’t have to be the one of an old pitiful woman. You just have to be yourself, and be with them like you would be with any other person. They don’t look for pity, neither for the friend of their life, if you have to say f*ck yourself to someone, just do it.”

From that point on, I had a series of wonderful experiences, meeting amazing people. I can’t write everything here, but I want to share some of the most beautiful memories I have (all names will be invented):
– I remember when with a group of 10 people, we went to an attraction park called Mirabilandia, not far from Bologna. I was driving the small bus and in charge of Luca in wheel chair. We did all the attractions that were allowed also for disabled people and more… Luca was light and skinny, so for me was an easy job to just take him on my shoulders, when needed. At the end of the highest attraction Luca vomited… but he was totally happy.
– Bruno was an intellectual disable and didn’t speak too well, but he was the best mate you could ask for going to drink in a pub. He had a great quality. He was able to choose at a first glance the most beautiful girl of the bar and go directly to her to have a chat. I feel a bit guilty, I admit in this way I got many telephone numbers…
– Giulia and Giuseppe were a couple of people with Down Syndrome, they were dating… yes you understood well, they were dating! In the most innocent way you can imagine, and the cutest couple I ever seen. Giulia lived in an institute far from the city, and Giuseppe lived in the city centre with his family. I was the “chauffeaur” of that evening, just driving them until a kind of Village Fair and back home. I was almost invisible and really discreet, just enjoying the Fair as well.
– Filippo was a big fan of the local Basketball team “Fortitudo” and he didn’t want to miss a match. He had down syndrome, and he was really strong… really really strong… I had some difficulties to calm him down when getting too excited for the game, but hey… he was a real supporter! Never giving up, even when Fortitudo lost!
– I remember a couple of volunteers which organized their wedding in one of these centers. Old Granma’s and Grandpa’s volunteered to cook an amazing dinner, and me and other youngers were serving at the tables. It was an hard job, but was so fun!
I could continue for hours, with other funny stories, and people but this post is already getting so long, and many things I prefer to keep for me and enjoying the memory.
I started my PhD and I didn’t have too much time anymore (or at least, this is, what I tell myself), I left Italy, and I went to live abroad, where my language skills were surely a limit (or at least, this is what I tell myself), so I stopped my volunteer activity.
Ten years passed, and it’s perhaps time to don’t let this experience just a memory.

PhD Café

PhDcaféScientific community is well aware of the importance of divulgation in society for human progress, and many scientists, all over the world, are committed to spread science trhough conferences, television, social network and so on. Great public attention, for example, was recently given to the wonderful results of ESA and NASA with Rosetta and New Horizon projects.

Despite all these efforts and encouraging results, however, looks like Science is struggling in communicating the scientific “forma mentis”. A critical approach and common sense. Since the publication of the  “The Sceptical Chymist” of Boyle, we would  expect a society less superstitious, more equal and definetely more engaged. We are a technological society but not yet scientific, this is a fact.

To overcome this problem will not be easy and multiple strategies must be applied. However I see a main way to follow, which is: We need to make Science POP. Simply popular! We speak and do a lot, in the scientific community,on how to promote Science between youngs and women, but we  speak less about how to improve our imagine on the public eyes. Let’s just think at how many villains, in comics series and movies, have an academic title: Dr. Doom, Dr Octopus, Dr. Claw, Dr. Evil and so on… Even in classic literature, our reputation doesn’t go better, just think to Dr. Jeckyll and Dr. Frankenstein.  Excellents minds, basically good… but totally deconnected from Society! Unable to distiguish good from evil, because too busy in their specific and complicated studies.

We know this is not true! We know that generally  Scientists are well open to Society and live in Society, taking care of the others and following many other passions. We know that Science is funny, that we are curious, that we are not emotionless but full of enthusiasm. How to communicate this to people? How to make Science Pop?

One main issue is language… I already wrote about this in a post called “Why Science shouldn’t speak only English and why native english speakers should care about it“. I’ll repeat again: I don’t mean we should stop writing articles in english!! I just mean we should start to divulgate Science in all the possible languages we know! Divulgation in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Ostrogoths…  When all the languages of the planet will lose the scientific vocabulary, it will be difficult to make Science popular!

The other issue is the subject who leads the message! A young inspired scientist, like a PhD student, is the most enthusiast about his research. He/She is much more connected to the world of youngs and easily taken as an example to follow. There are PhD students of all nationalities, all over the world, and we have the most powerful tool of mass-communication of all the time.

A youtube video, where in an guided interview, PhD students explain their research, in any language (with subtitles also).  Through successive simplification, deconstruct their research until the minimal comprehensible terms by everybody. To then rebuild all the meaning and understand the impact on society of their work.

Imagine now a common hashtag for that, like #PhDcafe, becoming viral on the web, with hundreds of interviews structurated in this way. From any part of the world, in any languages! It could even become the beginning of a community. Everybody could use the hashtag, with the only restriction of course, to respect scientific ethic and integrity.

So, here the Episode-0 of this PhD café, where I interview a French PhD-student. The video start with an introduction in Italian to explain the principle and it continues in English with subtitle in Italian. This video is addressed to an italian audience, because italian is my mother tongue. But if you want to do the same in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Ostrogoths… etc. Just DO IT and use the hashtag #PhDcafe

Marie Curie individual fellowship applications can be offered as a Job?

What if “Nature Jobs” or “Euraxess” would publish this Job offer from an academic institution: “Hey, I need help moving to my new apartment! Well, I don’t have the apartment yet… but if you could find the apartment and rent the moving truck… that would be great. And.. by the way, you should be really qualified, interested, and with at least 3 references“.

Apparently this is happening with “Marie Curie Individual Fellowships“, and it’s a higly diffused habit. Just go on Nature Jobs and search marie curie, you will see what I mean.

Marie Curie fellowships (IF) are European actions which aim to promote innovation and research in different research fields. The IF support individual researchers at postdoctoral level and beyond to work on a research project OF THEIR OWN DESIGN.

The individual researcher has to take contact with the hosting institution and together with the supervisor decide the best strategy to write the proposal. In the creative process of a new project, it’s of course difficult to establish the paternity of ideas, as they naturally come from the positive interactions between people.

In this case, research groups looking for funding are saying: “Hey We Already have the Project! We just need to select the right candidate“.

Am I wrong in saying: “This is against the European Commision ideas behind IF-Marie Curie“?

The contact between the individual researcher and the hosting group needs to run on different channels, like: dedicated websites, common research interests, conferences and so on.

Nature Jobs” and “Jobs Euraxess” cannot publish these offers like “Job Offers“, because they are indeed “Collaboration Request

A research institute should be able to attract scientists to apply for this kind of funding and not offer “Jobs“, which are not yet there.

Il Museo delle Intenzioni

Ho trovato un interessantissimo canale su youtube sulla scrittura creativa di Rick Du Fer. Qui il link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrvYLh4iY3s&spfreload=1

E al suo primo esercizio, sulla creazione di personaggi concettuali, da lui proposti ho cercato di svolgere questa tensione narrativa. Vediamo un po’ come viene!

Notte fonda al Museo. Tutto sembrava avvolto da ovattati silenzi, ma due voci farfuglianti, provenienti dal settore storia antica, rompevano la quiete notturna.

“Ma si ti dico! Ai miei tempi era molto piu’ facile educare il popolo. Si prendevano le teste calde e le si portavano da me.  “SHISH”, un colpo secco e tutti erano contenti. Molto piu’ umano! Colpire pochi per educare molti, dico io. E poi… sapessi che teste di alto intelletto ho fatto cadere! Un lavoro d’altri tempi, chi-ru-r-gi-co!”

“Ma troppo lento, troppo lento, amico mio. Quanti anni ci sono voluti per restaurare la pace? L’ordine! In una sola notte, io consenti’ la fine di una guerra sanguinaria attraverso un’esplosione di pace! Certo… un prezzo alto da pagare in vite umane, ma cos’è la vita dei singoli se confrontata al benessere dei popoli?”

“Mio caro Ragazzino”, si aggiunse una terza voce gracchiante, “un conto è terminare una guerra, un conto è conservare la pace! Modestamente io mi ersi a difensore dell’ordine, separando un’intera città di litiganti, a destra e a sinistra, evitando lo…”

“Ehm, Ehm” , esordi schiarendosi la gola, una voce timida. Sembrava provenire da una stanza in fondo a destra, verso i servizi igienici. “Scusate lor signori, sapr..”

“ Chi osa interrompermi? Chi è là?”

“Ehm.. è difficile da spiegare in due parole, diciamo che io sono colui che è…”

“Che è chiuso in bagno dopo una cattiva digestione!!” proruppero in coro i tre, non trattenendo le lacrime dal ridere.

“Beh, si piu’ o meno” rispose imbarazzata la voce. “In realtà mi sono nascosto. Sapete… questo posto l’ho costruito io…”

“Complimenti, un’opera davvero ben riuscita! Rivoluzionaria!” disse la prima voce. “Esplosiva” aggiunse la seconda, “Statuaria” commento’ la terza.

“Grazie, grazie… troppo buoni. Come dicevo, mi nascosi qui per… per non interferire troppo con l’evoluzione della mia opera. Speravo che l’umanità imparasse ad amarsi… dite che posso uscire?…”

Et j’entends siffler le train

TreniTrains are windows where we can see running many different lives. You can decide to exclude yourself. Reading a journal, playing with your phone, hiding your eyes behind sunglasses. Don’t cross the glance of the others. But sometimes you can’t turn the head on the other side. Something inside refuse to think that’s normal.

Regional train between Ventimiglia and Nizza in a hot spring day of May. A train like many, with the characteristic smell of iron and piss. Crossing the border we arrive in Menton, first French city, in a borderless Europe. Police everywhere checking the train. They do their job you think, it will not take too long. They get nervous, they found something. No, they found someone. No they found many. People. Desperates. Emigrants. They were hiding in the interspace between two wagons, six of them. I could just see them from the back, head down, walking slowly.

The train move, next station: Montecarlo. In front of us a group of people, two men and two women. Beautiful, smiling, suntanned, fashion. They did shopping, they had bags of Gucci, Dior, Armani. It looked like an episode of “Sex & the City”, with the blonde woman around forty, crossing the legs and waving hair with studied movements.

You feel the contradiction and it hurts. You think that something is wrong. You feel hunger. Against Society? Governments? Emigrants? Police? Consumerism? And yet… it’s your turn, your station arrived, you go out of the train. The dirty glass of the train window reflected my face, the most hypocrite character of this situation: … the silent observer.

Ama et fac quod vis!

Et Voilà, the big step is done! In a beautiful afternoon of May, “Ibi et Post” get married.

In a society which seems to push us to worry for the future, career, job, money etc… I must admit, that this was the most spontaneous thing I have ever done. Like spontaneous and marvelous was the Yes of my wife when I proposed her.

It was difficult to organize, 4 different languages, different religions, different cultures, and… different chemistry topic! An organic chemist which married an inorganic one… seriously… There is no more common sense in this world.

However, despite any difference, we had a beautiful multilingual, ecumenical and multicultural ceremony! I will add that it was also a multidisciplinary wedding, because we had a Poster Session during cocktail!! I know… it can looks weird… but it wass really funny!

We will continue to live our lives following this path. Aware that despite any problem, difference or obstacle, after all, there is only Love which matters.

Leggere fra le righe

libri volantiEra tempo che non leggevo un libro fantasy. Da giovane ne ho letti talmente tanti, che ora quando leggo di un gruppo eterogeneo di umani, elfi e nani che improvvisamente si ritrovano a dover affrontare una qualche missione, mi viene di gettarlo alle ortiche (questa è più o meno la fine che con me hanno fatto i libri di Terry Brooks). Riuscire a trovare un libro fantasy davvero “originale” è molto difficile.
Questa volta invece, (complice il mio Amazon Kindle), sono andato oltre, ed ho scoperto una saga molto avvincente e davvero ben scritta. Sto parlando di “His Dark Materials” di Philip Pullman. Per capirci, dal primo libro è stato tratto il film “The Golden Compass“. Il film non da giustizia all’intera trilogia, e soprattutto non ne sviscera il significato. Non girarono poi il seguito poichè fu un flop negli Stati Uniti. Ma leggere la trilogia, specialmente in lingua originale è stata davvero una bella esperienza.
Nonostante la bellezza del romanzo in se, sentivo che qualcosa mancava… ed era la stessa sensazione che ebbi nel leggere “Le Cronache di Narnia” di C.S. Lewis.
Sono entrambi libri scritti a scopo “pedagogico”, vogliono entrambi insegnare qualcosa, sebbene di natura opposta…

Mi spiegherò meglio:
C.S. Lewis oltre che scrittore, accademico e sicuramente interessante personaggio (parte della sua vita è descritta nel film Viaggio in Inghilterra) fu anche un predicatore anglicano di spicco, e scrisse molti libri di teologia. Le cronache di Narnia sono intrise di simbologia e ideologia cristiana. La figura di Aslan il leone, corrisponderebbe al Cristo, che interviene in ogni momento critico, poco lasciando, a dir il vero, al libero arbitrio dei personaggi. Il mondo è diviso in buoni e cattivi, alcuni cattivi si pentono, e le storie mancano a volte di vera fantasia… perchè tutto ciò che non aveva molto senso in termini di oggettività nell’universo di quel romanzo, viene spiegato semplicemente con… “è magia!” (Questa critica gli fu più volte rivolta nel club Inklings, di cui fecero parte anche J.R.R. Tolkien e C.Williams). Si ha come l’impressione che a Lewis non interessi la storia in se, ma solo il messaggio!
La stessa impressione ho avuto nel leggere His Dark Materials, sebbene il punto di vista sia diverso, Philip Pullman è un ateo convinto, e i personaggi buoni della sua trilogia puntano non solo a scardinare il potere di tutte le chiese, ma ad uccidere Dio (o la creatura che si è resa tale nel romanzo). Dal punto di vista dell’oggettività del romanzo è ben articolato, si collega a teorie scientifiche della materia oscura, o come viene chiamata nel romanzo Dust. Ma sebbene più raffinato dal punto di vista della storia rispetto a Narnia (non certo dell’inglese… Pullman non può essere paragonato a Lewis, docente di letteratura inglese ad Oxford), l’intento pedagogico è evidente. Il mondo diviso nettamente in buoni e cattivi, solo che qui i cattivi sono gli altri.

L’intenzione per la quale si scrive un romanzo, da l’impronta, la propria anima a tutta la storia. Questi due romanzi sono pedagogici, ma non hanno (secondo me) avuto il merito di cambiare o formare le idee di nessuno, semplicemente quello di rafforzare le proprie opinioni, forse.

Quindi, mi sono ritrovato a pensare la stessa cosa che pensai all’età di 15 anni. C’è un solo capolavoro assoluto… e questo è “Il Signore degli Anelli“, che rimane l’insuperabile punto di arrivo a cui tutti i romanzi fantasy vorrebbero tendere.
Tolkien non scrisse con l’intento di redimere qualcuno, non è un romanzo pedagogico. E’ un romanzo estremamente umano! Ricco di passioni e contraddizioni, non ci sono solo nettamente buoni o cattivi, ma diverse tonalità di grigio. Il Male non è mai visibile, Sauron è un’entità oscura che nessuno ha mai visto ma che agisce nel nostro mondo. I personaggi sono deboli e profondamente umani nelle loro debolezze. Certo, in molti suoi punti si può scorgere la sua visione del mondo, la sua cristianità, (lui se ne accorse solo dopo la prima correzione) ma dopotutto questa è la calligrafia che uno scrittore lascia sul foglio, traspare, è la Realtà in trasparenza!
Ecco, l’intenzione con la quale Tolkien scrisse Il Signore degli Anelli è diversa da quella di Lewis e Pullman, Tolkien scrisse la sua prima storia (Lo Hobbit) per i propri figli… per raccontargli una storia. E dopo l’amore paterno, e arrivato l’amore per il suo lavoro, la filologia, la mitologia. Tutto ciò che scrive è scritto con disinteressato amore.
Questa è la base di un vero capolavoro!

The waste of a conference

borsseIn my personal experience, a conference was never a waste, I was really lucky because I had the chance to travel a bit, to meet really smart and nice people, eat good food (not always), exchange ideas and occasionally even be interested by the topic (just kidding), I am never… (I am kidding now).

Anyway I believe to be this kind of person that in conference could be defined a “collector”…. I was really used to get crazy for collecting all the possible useless gadgets, pens, books, and of course “The Bag of the conference”!! But I am now a “Regretful collector”… I realized how many useless plastic / PVC / acrylic bags I collected…. and they are all broken… They broke just after the first or second week…. Useless plastic things made in china…  And I found particularly incoherent the use of those bags in conferences dedicated to “sustainability” and “green chemistry”, considering that for 200 or 300 participants, you realease in the environment such a potential waste.


I instead particularly appreciated the initiative of 2 Universities, the University of Salerno (Italy) and the University of Freiburg (Germany), that while hosting a conference, provided to their guests, bags completely made of cotton (or some mixed fiber). These bags (miracle of modern technology) not only didn’t break, but they are still of use for shopping. If one day they should break, it will be possible to repair, and if one day I’ll decide to throw them away, I’ll not feel so guilty, after all it’s not such a waste.

Relativismo del Bene e del Male, una Liberazione mancata

liberazione25 Aprile 2015. La primavera intanto, tarda ad arrivare. L’Italia è stata liberata, e gli italiani oggi scelgono liberamente la propria prigione personale. Ho sempre sperato che l’avvento di internet e delle nuove comunicazioni avrebbero favorito l’evoluzione sociale dell’uomo, di una rivoluzione culturale, di un risveglio interiore. E invece non consideravo che i luoghi comuni, la volgarità, i video virali, la pornografia, viaggiano più velocemente delle idee.

Polemiche sul 25 Aprile ci sono sempre state, persone che pongono sullo stesso piano le atroci violenze commesse dai fascisti e dai partigiani. Fu  guerra civile signori… vi aspettate forse che la parola “civile” trasformi la parola “guerra” in una scampagnata? La guerra è infame, è orribile, abbrutisce l’uomo.

Conservando, sempre e comunque il rispetto per ogni persona deceduta, non si puo’ in alcun modo porre sullo stesso piano gli ideali di libertà che hanno mosso il movimento partigiano e l’ideologia di morte del fascismo. Questo Relativismo infame che equipara il Bene e il Male ha cancellato oggi il giusto biasimo della società, verso tutti quei poveri idioti, che pur avendo vissuto nella bambagia dell’era consumistica, si ritengono fascisti.

La libertà ci è stata donata, sta a noi farne buon uso.

Buon 25 Aprile.

W la Resistenza, W l’Italia, W la Repubblica

Challenge accepted: Learning Lithuanian…

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_BabelI have been told once: “Sometimes, it’s best to shoot on sight and ask questions after.” In my Marie-Curie Project I wrote that I’ll spend 3 months in Lithuania, next year, to work on thermodynamics, a field in which I am totally an outsider. Still… I am quite confident that I will sort out something. On the other hand, I have much more doubts on the fact that I’ll ever be able to communicate in Lithuanian… not that I would really need for my job, but if I’ll stay there 3 months, I want fully immerse myself in this culture.

Sometimes ago, I heard about an italian guy opening a startup on a new-based system to learn languanges. If I well understood, it works predicting words you could already know, by similarity with your native language,  by particular interests you have, re-directing you on text, videos, articles, etc. already present in the net, at your specific level.

Bliu Bliu (that’s the name of the website), recently called for an Online challenge to learn Lithuanian in 30 days with their system. Now.. I am not so skilled in languages, and I have so much work to do this period… but they look very sure of their methods, and for me could be an interesting start for my future staying in Vilnius, whatever the result will be… therefore my dears: