That was more or less what was going to my mind today, shortly after checking the italian newspapers for the outcome of the confidence vote Berlusconi’s government. And, to make it worse, that was during my lunch break !

I really don’t know what to say… The gut reaction is to be totally and utterly disgusted by what happened today. On the other hand, the cynical one, I’m not really. Actually it was kind of expected. So folks, it’s official now (in case you missed it over the past 10 years or so), Italy is a banana republic, de facto. That’s the only thing that you can say when the Prime Minister claims a “political victory” over a confidence vote “won” by three  votes. OMFG !

To save the day, rather unexpectedly, was former public prosecutor, Mr. Antonio Di Pietro. The speech he gave to support the vote against berlusconi’s government was really hitting the nail on the head. He did not spare him anything, he said it all, in his face… and, of course the old fart (pardon my French) could not take it and had to leave. The full speech is on YT, in italian of course, but if you’ve been reading this all the way down here, probably, that’s not a problem.

I am too pissed off crossed to bother to translate the speech but his bottom line was “We are ashamed of you [i.e. mr b.] as the Prime Minister of Italy, you turned this county into a banana republic” (b.t.w., this is  not a proper quote). I am ashamed too. I’ve been living in the U.K. for 6 bloody years now, and every time I mention I am italian I am always AFRAID, somebody might come back with some question or remark about Berlusconi. It’s a relief, when they just come back with the usual good (?!?) old stereotypes: “Oh, Italy, you have really wonderful weather down there… sunny, warm… brilliant!” (hello !?!? I am from Padova, 90% humidity and ~0 deg C in winter and 90% humidity and 30+ deg C in the summer…. yup, really nice indeed) or “Oh I’ve been to ‘WHEREVER’ and the food/wine/whatever was really astounding”… ah such a relief ! At least they are not mentioning mr. b. (lower case intentional).

So, sorry folks, no translation… just learn bloody Italian, will ya ? After all, if I managed with English…

Need to go to bed now, have fun, Peace.


I made it ! I finally managed to complete my first woodworking project : a step stool. I started building it about two years ago and, yes it took me ages. The reason is not that the project was particularly complicated or anything, it’s more to do with learning that two you kids and time consuming hobbies are not a match made in heaven.

I found out about this project on a nice woodworking video podcast from a nice American chap. I convinced myself to go for it because of the extensive documentation and videos explaining every detail of the construction process without assuming anything about your woodworking skills. It was my first project and I did not feel confident enough to find a hard word seller so I decided to buy some window sill oak boards from Ridgeons in Cambridge. That was a bad idea. I got totally ripped off ! Actually, probably it was still not too bad considering that I was buying finished oak window sill board (finished and everything), but I’ve still spent a fortune. I just wish it was easier to find a British equivalent of the American lumber yard.

While building this project a developed a true passion for woodworking so I decided to invest a bit of money on my new hobby. When I started building the project the only tools I had were three rather dull chisels, a brand new tenon saw and a few measuring tools. I soon realised that sawing through a 1″ board of hardwood 8″ wide was a really hard job. The problem was not the amount of elbow grease required but, rather, the extreme difficulty of keeping everything square. Once I started attacking the dovetail joinery for the first step, I soon find out that it was far from trivial… I was spoiled : watching the pros doing it makes it look like a piece of cake. I could not be more wrong. So here comes the first, unsurprising advice: no matter how much you read or watch about woodworking there is no replacement for trying to do it yourself.

Fortunately the more pins and tails I was cutting the better I was getting (I’ve still got plenty of miles to go though…). In the meanwhile I bought a whole new bunch of toys, pardon me, tools. I got three different water stones for sharpening and the fancy Veritas jig to keep my chisels and plane irons at the right angle. That was money well spent except for the fact that it left a bitter taste in my mouth because I realised that I needed even more time for my hobby that I could possibly afford: doing any woodworking with dull chisels is dangerous and frustrating, however if you are not doing it for a living, it does not leave you with much of a sense of accomplishment to spend your only spare couple of hours sharpening and honing and not doing, actually, any woodworking at all !

After having everything dry-assembled in my living room for about an year, this summer I decided that it was about time to finish it off. So once, I finished refurbishing our cupboard, I decided to put everything else on the back-burner and dedicated all my efforts to finished this overdue project. After finishing the remaining joinery (the back stretcher) and assembling everything, I did a fair bit of surface preparation with my scrapers and then with 320, 400 and 600 grit sandpaper. I then applied three of coats of clear varnish, sanded everything again and then put another three coats. The final result is rather pleasing, although there was room for improvement on the finishing as well.

Here it is for you to judge, enjoy ! Full-resolution photograph are available on Flickr.

Steve Munro

Steve Munro

This is a very sad moment.

Yesterday evening I went down to my favourite pub in Cambridge, The Live And Let Live, after about a month since I had been there. I had not been around for most June and I was quite looking forward to meet Steve, my Scottish friend. I was utterly shocked to find out from Haggis, shortly after ordering my pint, that Steve Munro passed away about two weeks ago. He died of natural causes and was found dead in his house a few days after not showing up at work.

I’ve met Steve down at the Live and Let Live  about three years ago. Since then we had become quite good friends and we spent very pleasant evenings sipping nice real ales and chatting about anything from politics to history, religion, books, science, real ales (of course!) and whiskys, and our lifes. We always had a great time and the only comfort now are the good memories. Last summer I met his Chinese girlfriend who came over to the UK to visit him. I do remember her name but there is no way I would be able to spell it correctly so I’ll rather leave it. Anyway, she was really nice and friendly and, most importantly, they seemed to have a very good time together. A few months ago he mentioned they were planning to get married by the end of the year… I really hope his brother (whose name I don’t actually know) will manage to get in touch with her.

At the beginning of this year we started to head down to the Devonshire Arms after the Live and Let Live had close down for a final pint before going to bed. We suddenly fell in love with Nero and Marcus Aurelius, two fantastic pints brewed by the local Milton Brewery. At the end of May we met down there, it must have been a Wednesday or a Thursday, and spent a very nice evening chatting with Dom and the rest of the bar staff. Our passion for real ales was what brought us closer but then it quickly evolved into a rather close friendship.

He was project manager at Cambridge SOFA, a local charity. I think he was doing a terrific job down there and I am sure he will be really missed by his volunteers and trustees. Today I’ve been searching the web madly trying to find out any information about his death but I was rather depressed to find very little, if anything at all. He was proud of his un-traceability, “you can’t find me on Google”, he told me several times… well now I wish I could have. I’ve only managed to find a picture from some politician that supported the charity… and that’s about it.

You will be greatly missed Steve ! I just opened a fine bottle of Brewdog Tokyo Stout, and I am having it while writing this, I am sure you would approve,

Slangevar Steve, it had been a pleasure and an honor to have met you,

Your Friend


This December I am by myself. Francesca and the kids are in Verona (Italy) with the grand parents whereas I am here alone in Cambridge trying to improve the architecture of the Gaia reduction pipeline (can you feel the excitement ?) with Greg and Chris, our new recruits.

So what can I do to kill the Sunday night bore ? Well, in these cases, Google is your friend… so I started looking for some old friends that I’ve more or less lost contact with since I moved in the UK in 2005. One of these is Giorgio Tonazzo who, in the mist of times, initiated me to the art of bass guitar (or, rather, at least he tried to… but I am still “una gran pippa“). Right now I am way too tired to be start rambling about the good ole times, so I’ll rather point you out to a couple of very nice videos he posted on YouTube, enjoy !!

I should be sleeping by now, but what can you do when you stumble upon something like these:

the night is so short… and I love the accent !

It’s been pretty hectic recently. I am in the middle of a major release software release for the Gaia photometric processing pipeline that will include a major overhaul of the DAL. But what has been really a big downer is that I recently learned that our best (and only) engineer is leaving the project at the end of the summer. She joined the project at the beginning of the year and since the very beginning she took care of several key aspects of the project and made significant contributions. But what is really depressing is that she was a very nice person to be working with: easy-going, yet committed and professional but with a good sense of humor. A real plus was that she immediately join in on our traditional Friday pub lunch as well. It did not last very long but it’s been an hell of a ride so far !

The only positive note is that she is leaving for personal reasons and not because she did not like the job (at least I hope so!). So now we are back into the job ads and interviews business and I really hope that by the end of August we will be able to find another suitable candidate to take over from September.

So here I am, still farting around with dodgy code, getting angry at developers who keep committing broken code to the trunk and lingering for a bit of vacation that will never come. How am I coping with all this ?  One of my favorite pieces of stand-up commedy, that’s how ! Enjoy,

I got back from my observing trip on the Big Island on the 24th of May but on the 26th I was on the road, or better the air, again on my way to Faro, Portugal. This time in full holiday-mode, with my son Martino and my wife Francesca.

I’ve finally managed to sort out the few photographs I took during my trip to the Big Island and posted them on my Flickr account. I did not have much time to retouch them but I still think they are decent enough… hey, I am not trying to win a contest !

To my utter disappointment I found out that WordPress (the hosted service, not the software) does not let me embed a Flickr slideshow into a post, nor embed an image. What a shame, Flickr is so ubiquitous that I can’t see why it is not supported ! Anyway, I guess I’ll have to use good ol’ links:


The observing run sucked a bit because I never got a full night of observations but, on the other hand, I was very happy that working at high altitude was not bothering me at all. On the contrary, I managed to put together a major refactoring of the VISTA quality control software modules which was a real winner. It was a good trip also because I am now much more familiar with the observing procedures at UKIRT and therefore have a better understanding of why, every now and them, I might find some odd data sets while doing the data processing for CASU. The last time I observed was ages ago, back in 2005 at La Silla, so I really enjoyed being observing again. It gave me a nice feeling of being back to the basics (even though nowadays observing means more or less to click a couple of button with a little more excitement only if you are doing some spectroscopy). It was a romantic feeling because the age of astronomers sitting at the telescopes taking data all night long is nearly over, superseded by automated surveys, large programs and service-mode observing (it’s cheaper, and s0 the government can save some extra money to drop a few more bombs on some other country they don’t happen to like very much).

After the run I spent a few days driving around the Big Island to pay a visit to the several nice spots I did not have a change to see during my first visit with Francesca in 2002. What made the visit even better was that, after the observing run, I was taking advantage of the kind hospitality of Luca. We shared the office back during our PhD back in Padova. It is quite curious that he ended up being a support astronomer for the UKIRT telescope and I ended up being processing all the WFCAM data produced by UKIRT… it’s really a small world ! We had very nice meals in Hilo (Chinese, Country-style Japanese and Thai) and plenty of time to for light chats about our work and the nice interactions with ‘satisfied customers’, about trying to do home-style italian cooking in a foreign country and the funny situations italians always get involved in when living abroad (e.g. people telling you: ‘oh, you’re italian ! I wonder how is your carbonara chicken !?!’ and then trying to explain them that, well, carbonara chicken is neither an italian dish nor something an italian would normally be tempted by). It was good fun. My only regret is not having done this before when it would have been much easier for Francesca to come along as well ! If STFC doesn’t screw it up, it might still be possible in a few years time…

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