Libri che ho letto nel 2014

Nel 2014 ho letto veramente poco. Un elenco abbastanza stringato:

  • La prosivendola, Daniel Pennac
  • Alta fedeltà, Nick Hornby
  • Il gioco grande del potere, Sandra Bonsanti
  • Per questo ho vissuto, Sami Modiano
  • È il tuo giorno, Billy Lynn, Ben Fountain
  • Baudolino, Umberto Eco
  • L’armata dei sonnambuli, Wu Ming

Archaeology stuff:

  • In small things forgotten, Jim Deetz
  • Punk Archaeology, Bill Caraher, Kostis Kourelis, Andrew Reinhard

Letture post-pedeutiche al viaggio in Patagonia, è stato anche meglio che leggerli prima:

  • In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
  • Patagonia, Chris Moss

Saggi, uno solo ma fondamentale:

  • Capital in the 21st century, Thomas Piketty

Se non vi scoccia ascoltare un consiglio, leggete Capital 21C, o almeno dedicate 20 minuti alla supersintesi video. Oppure al riassunto scritto di Cory Doctorow.

Flickr selling prints of Creative Commons pictures: a challenge, not a problem

A few weeks ago Flickr, the most popular photo-sharing website, started offering prints of Creative Commons-licensed works in their online shop, among other photographs that were uploaded under traditional licensing terms by their authors.

In short, authors get no compensation when one of their photographs is printed and sold, but they do get a small attribution notice. It has been pointed out that this is totally allowed by the license terms, and some big names seem totally fine with the idea of getting zero pennies when their work circulates in print, with Flickr keeping any profit for themselves.

Some people seemed actually pissed off and saw this as an opportunity to jump off the Flickr wagon (perhaps towards free media sharing services like Mediagoblin, or Wikimedia Commons for truly interesting photographs). Some of us, those who have been involved in the Creative Commons movement for years now, had a sense of unease: after all, the “some rights reserved” were meant to foster creativity, reuse and remixes, not as a revenue stream for Yahoo!, a huge corporation with no known mission of promoting free culture. I’m in the latter group.

But it’s OK, and it’s not really a big deal, for at least two reasons. There are just 385 pictures on display in the Creative Commons category on the Flickr Marketplace, but you’ve got one hundred million images that are actually available for commercial use. Many are beautiful, artistic works. Some are just digital images, that happen to have been favorited (or viewed) many times. But there’s one thing in common to all items under the Creative Commons label: they were uploaded to Flickr. Flickr is not going out there on the Web, picking out the best photographs that are under a Creative Commons license, or even in the public domain, I guess they are not legally comfortable with doing that, even if the license totally allows it. In fact, the terms and conditions all Flickr users agreed to state that:


[…] you give to Yahoo the following licence(s):

  • For photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo Services, you give to Yahoo the worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to use, distribute, reproduce, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, publicly perform and publicly display the User Content on the Yahoo Services

That’s not much different from a Creative Commons Attribution license, albeit much shorter and EULA-like.

In my opinion, until the day we see Flickr selling prints of works that were not uploaded to their service, this is not bad news for creators. Some users feel screwed, but I wouldn’t be outraged, not before seeing how many homes and offices get their walls covered in CC art.

The second reason why I’m a bit worried about the reaction to what is happening is that, uhm, anyone could have been doing this for years, taking CC-licensed stuff from Flickr, and arguably at lower prices (17.40 $ for a 8″ x 10″ canvas print?). Again, nobody did, at least not on a large scale. Probably this is because few people feel comfortable commercially appropriating legally available content ‒ those who don’t care do this stuff illegally anyway, Creative Commons or not. In the end, I think we’re looking at a big challenge: can we make the Commons work well for both creators and users, without creators feeling betrayed?

Featured image is Combustion [Explored!] by Emilio Kuffer.

Sono tornati i daini

Sono tornati i daini qui a Torriglia.

Solo pochi giorni fa dicevamo con mio padre che da molti mesi non si vedono più daini, mentre fino alla primavera erano un incontro quotidiano. Lui diceva anche che ultimamente ha sentito bramire i caprioli.

Poi l’altroieri ho visto tre daini nel prato di Parodi a Casabianca. E ieri sera li ho rivisti alla Crocetta, e dopo cena erano sotto casa nostra, come se ci avessero sentito e volessero farci sapere che non è vero niente, loro ci sono.

Chissà perché sono comparsi così all’improvviso. Qui nei giorni scorsi era ancora caldo, ma può darsi che in quota avesse già iniziato a fare più freddo, o che l’erba sia finita o comunque sia la stagione di scendere a valle, qualunque cosa voglia dire la stagione, ormai. Oggi tira vento e potrebbe fare freddo davvero tra qualche giorno. Speriamo.

Non è che prima non mi interessassero i daini.  Ma dopo essere stato in Patagonia gli animali selvatici non sono più gli stessi, nemmeno qui. Lì ho visto come possono vivere, anche in un ambiente comunque antropizzato, con allevamento di animali al pascolo. E ho l’impressione che qui ci sia qualcosa che non va.

Sono contento che siano tornati i daini. Oggi ho perso ore a cercare un paio di foto che ero sicuro di avere scattato qualche anno fa, volevo usarle per illustrare questa pagina di blog ‒ alla fine le ho trovate.

Yet another failure for cultural heritage data in Italy

This short informative piece is written in English because I think it will be useful for anyone working on cultural heritage data, not just in Italy.

A few days ago the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione published an internal document for all offices in the Ministry of Culture (actual name is longer, but you got it), announcing imminent changes and the beginning of a process for publishing all records about cultural heritage items (I have no idea on the exact size but we’re in the millions of records). In short, all records will be publicly available, and there will be at least one image for each record ‒ you’ll get anything from small pieces of prehistoric flint to renaissance masterpieces, and more. That’s a huge step and we can only be happy to see this, the result of decades of cataloguing, years of digital archiving and … some lobbying and campaigning too. Do you remember Beni Culturali Aperti? The response from the ICCD had been lukewarm at best, basically arguing that the new strong requirements for open government data from article 68 of the Codice dell’Amministrazione Digitale did not apply at all to cultural heritage data. So nobody was optimistic about the developments to follow.


And unfortunately pessimism was justified. Here’s an excerpt from the document published last week:

Brano della nota prot. n. 2975  del 17/11/2014 dell'Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione
Nota prot. n. 2975 del 17/11/2014 dell’Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione

relevant sentence:

Le schede di catalogo verranno rese disponibili con la licenza Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA

that would be

Catalog records will be made available under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA license

And that was the (small) failure. CC BY-NC-SA is not an open license. The license makes commercial (= paid!) work with such data impossible or very difficult, at a time when the cultural heritage private sector could just benefit from full access to this massive dataset, with zero losses for the gatekeepers. At the same time when we have certified that open licenses are becoming more and more widespread and non-open licenses like BY-NC-SA are used less and less because they’re incompatible with anything else and inhibit reuse, someone decided that it was the right choice, against all internationa, European and national recommendations and regulations. We can only hope that a better choice will be made in the near future, but the record isn’t very encouraging, to be honest.

Archaeology in the Mediterranean: I don’t wanna drown in cold water

This post is the second half of the one I had prepared for this year’s Day of Archaeology (Archaeology in the Mediterranean: do not drown if you can). For an appropriately timed mistake, I only managed to post the first, more relaxed half of the text. Enjoy this rant.

Written and unwritten rules dictate what is correct, acceptable and ultimately recognised by your peers: it is never entirely clear who sets research agendas for entire disciplines, but ‒ just to be more specific ‒ I feel increasingly stifled by the “trade networks” research framework that has dominated Late Roman pottery studies for the past 40 years now. Invariably, at any dig site, there will be from 1 to 100,000 potsherds from which we should infer that said site was part of the Mediterranean trade network. We are all experts about our “own” material, that is, the finds that we study, and apart from a few genuine gurus most of us have a hard time recognising where one pot was made, what is the exact chronology of one amphora, and so on. But those gurus, as leaders, contribute to setting in stone what should be a temporary convention as to what terminology, chronology and to a larger extent what approach is appropriate. I can hear the drums of impostor syndrome rolling in the back.

I don’t want to drown in this sea of small ceramic sherds and imaginary trade networks, rather I really need to spend time understanding why those broken cooking pots ended up exactly where we found them, in a certain room used by a limited number of people, in that stratigraphical position.

At the same time, I’m depressingly frustrated by how mechanical and repetitive the identification of ceramic finds can be: look at shape, compare with known corpora, look at fabric, compare with more or less known corpora. If any, look at decoration, lather, rinse, repeat. My other self, the one writing open source computer programs, wonders if all of this could not be done by a mildly intelligent algorithm, liberating thousands of human neurons for more creative research. But this is heresy. We collectively do our research and dissemination as we are told, with sometimes ridiculously detailed guidelines for the preparation of digital illustrations that end up printed either on paper or on PDF (which is the same thing). Our collective knowledge is the result of a lot of work that we need to respect, acknowledge, study and pass on to the next generation.

At the end of the obligations telling you how to study your material, how to publish it, and ultimately how to think about it, you could just be happy and let yourself comfortably drown into the next grant application. Don’t do that. Do more. Follow your crazy idea and sail the winds of Mediterranean archaeology.

Targhe delle strade di Genova. Tipografia della lettera A

Da qualche settimana ho iniziato a collezionare lettere A. Le prendo dalle targhe delle strade di Genova e sto cercando di farmi guidare da queste “prime della classe” per prendere confidenza con la storia tipografica delle targhe, soprattutto di quelle più antiche ‒ approssimativamente datate prima del 1945. C’è qualcosa di affascinante nell’idea che queste targhe siano un unico smisurato testo steso per tutta la città, un palinsesto scritto in momenti diversi ma fatto per essere letto oggi.

Da questa serie si notano alcuni elementi interessanti, soprattutto il passaggio dalla A con testa piatta a quella acuta. Le datazioni che ho abbozzato per ora sono poco più che ipotetiche, così come le riproduzioni dei caratteri che ho raccolto (da vero neofita della tipografia). È certamente possibile che ci siano ampie sovrapposizioni di tipi nel tempo, anche se  chiaramente ci sono stati dei momenti di impulso ordinatore e omologatore. Il mio tipo preferito è di gran lunga il secondo nell’immagine sotto, il più diffuso nel centro storico.

La forma della lettera A
La forma della lettera A

Non so se esistano dei lavori dedicati a questo argomento, finora non ne ho trovati. Sto procedendo con metodo stratigrafico (poteva essere altrimenti?) e questo è naturalmente frustrante perché non permette datazioni precise se non avendo a disposizione una discreta quantità di dati, che non ho ancora. Mi sono sembrate molto interessanti quelle strade in cui in punti diversi si trovano targhe con tipi diversi (es. via Corsica e via San Vincenzo, entrambe interessate dalla costruzione di via XX Settembre).

  1. Se un tipo è usato su una targa dedicata a una persona morta
    nell’anno X, il tipo va considerato in uso dopo quella data e non a
    quella data esatta.
  2. Se un tipo è usato su una targa di una strada costruita nell’anno X,
    il tipo va considerato in uso dopo quella data.
  3. Se un tipo non compare su targhe databili dopo l’anno X,
    probabilmente è andato fuori uso intorno all’anno X.
  4. Se un tipo compare su un edificio costruito nell’anno X, non possiamo trarne alcuna informazione, in mancanza di indicazioni più precise.

Tra gli eventi più significativi per l’urbanistica e la toponomastica di Genova sono certamente le due espansioni del 1873 e del 1926 ‒ sulla base di quelle è possibile ad esempio osservare i quartieri di Marassi e Staglieno (annessi nel 1873), Molassana  (annesso nel 1926). Girare per le strade, fotografare, prendere appunti… tutte cose non veloci. Ad un certo punto farò anche due passi a Staglieno, ovviamente.