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Monday, 30 July 2018

The tyger is back

In the early days of my career e-mail was something new, and Internet did not exist.

In 1989 I got my first email account, while at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Upon my return to Italy I was recruited in 1990 by the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute, which at that time had no on-line services, as most institutions.  Courtesy of the local supercomputing centre, CINECA, I got my first e-mail account ( was my "menomic" email address), which I shared with Fabio Baruffaldi.  Connection was through a powerful 28k dial-in modem 😂.

Soon after, Fabio and I bought the first Local Area Network to be installed in the institute for our Medical Technology Lab, and sometime later we registered with at that time the only Internet authority for Italy, GARR, the domain for the Istituto Ortopedico Rizzoli; for many years, if you typed "whois" from any Unix machine you would see my name as Technical Contact.

Once we were connected to the Internet and we got our own domain, we managed for some years our own e-mail server, which provided me with the viceconti at e-mail address.  For the old geeks like me, we were running Eudora Internet Mail Server on a Mac SE/30:

Why I am taking you through this memory lane?  Because when I finally got my first personal email address (not sure of the date but probably around 1996 or 1997)  I had to pick my signature.  In those early days of e-mail communication, it was also good netiquette to add the bottom of the signature a motivational quote, which somehow told the world something about you; this has changed now, and in professional settings it is frowned upon.  but those were easier times, so I picked mine:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tyger, William Blake, in Songs of Experience

I am not into poetry, and I never read William Blake cover to cover, but this poem captured my fantasy as it worded so well the fascination that as a young mechanical engineer attracted me to biomechanics and mechanobiology.  There is indeed something fearful but also seductive in the symmetries and regularities that you notice in the manifestations of living matter, a symmetry that inspired the giants whose shoulders we stand on to investigate living organisms with the same approach and the same epistemology used to investigate the inanimate world: that of physical sciences.

The period between 2001 and 2011 was topical for my career; a lot of my work was around community building and engagement, so I wrote A LOT of emails in those years.  And the tyger signature became my trademark, everyone who dealt with me in those years will remember it, because it was an unusual quote.  

In October 2011 I left Bologna, to start the Insigneo adventure in Sheffield.  As I switched email address, I decided to drop that signature, another way to mark a discontinuity with the past, I guess.

Today, as I prepare to move back to Bologna in October, I got activated my new email address, and I had to configure it.  And for some reasons, I felt it was appropriate to put back my older tyger quote.  I am not sure why, I guess it is another way to go back to the roots.

So from October, if you will get an email from me you will be reminded of the fearful symmetry.  But did not I said that today this is frowned upon in professional settings?  Well, I guess this is one of the few perks of getting older, you do not care so much about what the others think. 😁