Rondoni: “Poetry and science are not that distant”

Some times ago, I received (and very gladly published) a piece of the poet and writer Davide Rondoni, who kindly accepted my request and spoke about the “Carnival of Physics” # 27, hosted some times ago by my italian blog I stumbled upon this article just yesterday, and I realized that it may be worth reading also for not italian people.. so here is it!

Davide Rondoni
Davide Rondoni

Arthur Rimbaud says that science is too slow for us. In our opinion, he means that we look at the world with the typical method of poetry, which is that of analogies, shadows, glimpses of evidence in the appearance. With words that frame a life that we don’t really know but which nevertheless asks for our active participation.

Besides, long before you physicists teached us that everything is movement and energy, Dante spoke of a “love that moves the sun and the other stars” and to him that was not a metaphor, but a real matter of fact. We are dealing with a difference of speed – the truths to which the poetic method leads are those a man needs in his life, whereas science takes sometimes thousands of years in order to succeed in analyzing some phenomena. Difference in speed and method therefore, (poetry knows by synthesis, by analogy, experiencing that state of knowledge through wonder and spiritual enlightenment that in science happens only sometimes), but not in the route nor in the final purpose. In fact, the language that scientists often use to indicate the primary or last realities they are looking for – in addition to the formulas – is composed of poetic metaphors. What is the “fossil light” that the recorders of the early events of the universe are analyzing? Isn’t it a reality which we can explain using a poetic language?

And a great contemporary poet, Les Murray, in one of his poems says that Newton certainly had a huge intuition seeing the apple falling from the branch, but if he had also wondered how the hell that apple had arrived up there he would have discovered a “more used physics.” Poets are interested in the physics of the world, that is to say its movement – or sense, which is the same, since there is no real movement without sense, because it would be frenzy or excitement, or (which is the opposite and the same), it’d be boredom.

Poetry and science are not opposed: they were not opposed at the beginnings of wonder, which perceives the world as a first step, and they are not opposed now – after the long journey of both – when they are carried out as a will of knowing the mystery of reality. That is what Ungaretti called the “secret” of the world.

Davide Rondoni has founded and heads the Center of Contemporary Poetry of the University of Bologna. He has taught and teaches poetry and literature at the University of Bologna, Milan Cattolica, Genoa, Iulm and at several institutes as well as abroad at Yale University and Columbia University (USA). He is the artistic director of “DANTE09”’s festival in Ravenna. He took part in the most important poetry festivals in Italy and abroad.

He has published several volumes of poetry, including “Il bar del tempo” and “Avrebbe amato chiunque” with whom he has won, among others, the most important prizes in Italy (including Montale, Carducci, Gatto, Ovid, Camaiore, Metauro). “Amore Apocalisse”. Mondadori, June 2008. A booklet published in 2001, “Non sei morto, amore” (and republished in 2006) is read by the author together with a pianist of blues, as well as put on stage by Sandro Lombardi and David Riondino. With a company of tango are read the poems of “Danza lentamente con le tue ombre” (Tracce, 2009). He is also in the most important anthologies of Italian poetry of the late twentieth century published by Mondadori and Rizzoli and in many others. Some of his poems have been published in books or magazines in France, USA, Venezuela, Russia, England, Croatia, China and other countries.

He is one of my preferred Italian poets, so that I’m very glad he accepted to write this words for my blog. The publication of this piece in English is also intended as a tribute to his arts. Thanks Davide!

Adapted and translated from Italian, with the precious help of Claudia Castellani

Open source and research: the case of GAIA

How important is the open-source software as part of the scientific research nowadays? Since I am an astronomical researcher, a lover and a user of open-source software, I’m very interested in trying to deepen this topic.
Well, an opportunity to talk about it now comes from the observation of software tools that are utilized in a big project to which I am also taking part, that is the definition of procedures for processing and analyzing the photometric data that will be generated by the ESA (European Space Agency) probe called GAIA (curiously, one of the first articles appeared on my italian blog was just about GAIA, in 2002). The probe will be launched in 2013, but the work for the definition of the appropriate procedures is already running at full capacity.
An artistic image of GAIA
(Credit: ESA/Medialab)
In my opinion, even a simple, brief list of software tools used by the different teams of Gaia – coordinated through a European network of scientific institutes – would probably be enough to understand that the open-source software is doing great or – to put it in a more technical way – that it now can count on its own defined space essential for applications and fields, at least in scientific research.
To proof this, I’ve written down a list (incomplete) of the open source software currently used in the development of the Gaia data reduction procedures, made by simply thinking about the tools that are used, by me or my colleagues, for the daily work within the project itself…
So, this is the catalog:
  • Java: is the language of analysis software and data reduction. Following a decision of ESA, all procedures need to be written in Java. This involves a series of remarkable benefits in terms of independence from the hardware, portability, modularity, etc. … too long to be fully explained here.
  • Eclipse: is the highly recommended development environment  (which is to say, do what you like, but you don’t expect support with other environments…)
  • SVN: all the code is put under revision control, using subversion
  • MediaWiki: there is a wiki with restricted access, very large, in which is shown all the project documentation, the meetings and seminars for the various teams, the documentation. Briefly, a sort of mini thematic Wikipedia, devoted to people working on the project.
  • Hudson: a tool to automatically test the codes, at scheduled intervals, and submit reports on webpage
  • Cobertura: this tool is able to calculate the percentage of the code accessible to the test procedures
  • Mantis: is the chosen tool for controlling and managing bugs in the project
  • Grace: a useful tool to create graphics
  • Topcat: an interactive browser of tables and data editor
  • ant: a useful compilation tool in Java
  • Plastic (Platform for Astronomical Tool Interconnection) is a protocol of communication among different tools utilized mainly in astronomy (now is going replaced by SAMP)
  • And probably there’s something more that I cannot recall right now… 🙂
The interesting thing is that all this software is released under the GPL (General Public License) or similar, which makes it much easier to spread and use the software itself: there is no need to obtain proprietary and restrictive licenses (or to make our own institutes acquire them…): you can download the software and begin to use it immediately. That’s it. It’s not bad, I’d say, both for the “personal scientific productivity” and for the undoubted advantage that this has as part of the real project. Can you imagine how much of the researcher’s time and of the taxpayer’s money should be spent if they had to obtain licenses (renewals, software keys…) for all these things?
(Originally published on the blog SegnaleRumore, kindly translated by Claudia Castellani).

To Cambridge

Walking in Cambridge
Inserito originariamente da Edivaldo de Oliveira

Ok, I’m (more or less) ready. Tomorrow I’ll fly to London, and then to Cambridge, to spent a few days (till Saturday) working with collaborator on the pipeline for the software of the satellite GAIA, to be launched in a couple of years.

Hope that the days I’ll spend in Cambridge will be useful for my work, and even (why not) I hope to have also the possibility to walk around a bit and to explore the landscape… To Cambridge, then!

Our Galaxy, in the infrared

One of my preferred sources for stunning astronomical images is surely APOD (Astronomical Picture of the Day). It certainly does a good job in making you aware of the fact that almost every day there is something interesting from the world of astronomy – something that even (let’s say) ordinary people (without a specific scientific knowledge) can admire…

The image of Galactic center in infrared. Clicking on the image takes to an enlarged version (truly beautiful, but be careful that it may be heavy to load on slow connections)

Credit: Hubble: NASA, ESA, & D. Q. Wang (U. Mass, Amherst); Spitzer: NASA, JPL, & S. Stolovy (SSC/Caltech)

As an example, some days ago I stumbled upon this picture, very beautiful indeed. This image is really intriguing since is in fact made by a collection of several hundreds of different images. What we can see here is the center of our own Galaxy, in the infrared band. Since infrared is not blocked by the heavy concentration of dust and gas of the central zone of our Galaxy, as the ordinary visible light does, it is much more indicated for this kind of researches.

The image that appeared on the APOD website and here reproduced is actually made by a composition of more than two thousand images, taken by the instrument called NICMOS on board of the Hubble Space Telescope. The field of investigation does extend for about 300 and 115 light-years, in the two directions, and it has been taken with a resolution so great that even structures large about twenty times our Solar System turn out to be visible…!