Evolving notes, images and sounds by Luis Apiolaza

Category: recycling

Influences: Cronopios and Famas

Books have accompanied me for all my life, or at least for as long as I can remember. However, my reading habits have changed many times, from reading simple books, to reading very complex books, to reading anything, to reading if I squeeze a few minutes here and there, to… you get the idea. ‘Habits’ is a funny word, an oxymoron, to refer to constant change.

Today I was thinking of influential books. No ‘good’ books or books that have received many awards or that have guided generations or catalyzed social change. I mean only books that have been important for me at a given point in time. If I had read them before or after that time they may have passed unnoticed. But I read them then, at the right time… for me.

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This time is Calvino

This happens relatively frequently: I am talking with someone else that doesn’t know me well and, at some point of the conversation I have mentioned that I am a forester. Then we move into books and I mention someone like Borges or Calvino and they look at me with this puzzled face as in ‘I didn’t know that foresters could read’. I know, it happens to other professions as well; just for the record not all of us are semi-literate apes, working with a chainsaw.

I was sorting out my bookshelves at work when I found a copy of The literature machine, a collection of essays by Italo Calvino. It had my name and signature, together with 2002, Melbourne, Australia. (Digression: besides my name and signature I always put the city where I bought a book). I had vague memories of walking around in Melbourne’s CBD and finding an underground bookshop. At the time I was not looking for anything in particular, just browsing titles.

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Back to Python

I started using Python way back at the end of 1996 or early 1997. I was working in my PhD, for which the first project involved writing some simulations in FORTRAN. Originally I was using FORTRAN90, but then I needed to move my project to a server that had only FORTRAN77, so I was stuck with something that looked—at least to me—really ugly. While I was looking for alternatives (I used Mathematica, Matlab, SAS, Python and ASReml in my PhD), I stumbled on an article by Konrad Hinsen discussing using Python to glue FORTRAN programs. Intrigued, I downloaded Python and ordered a copy of Mark Lutz’s Programming Python (the October 1996 first edition). After reading the book for a while I was hooked on the language.

I used Python in and out for small projects, and later dropped almost all programming (that was not stats) around 2001. I have missed that quite a bit until yesterday when working with a list of words that Orlando is using. We had typed around 450 words in Spanish (and he uses around the same number in English) and I wanted to check if we had repeated words. I downloaded Python, wrote a few lines and presto! We did have around 20 repeated words and it was so nice to be able to write something in Python.

After that I did check a few web pages and I realised that the language has evolved quite nicely (although I rarely use the object oriented stuff) and there are at least two books that I will be browsing soon:

Both books are available as free downloads in a variety of formats, as well as in real old-fashioned paper. I will certainly buy the nicest one in a paper copy.

I forgot to mention that one of the great things about Python was the existence of an excellent set of libraries for matrix operations (at the time was Numpy) that has grown in to a great set of resources for scientific computing called SciPy.

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