Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Bona Zirada!

Well, the official 20th anniversary year is drawing to a close, but we still have another year to celebrate this milestone.  I find this card, created by fellow Settemarian (Carlo Dedy) to be not only beautiful, but also appropriately symbolic, personally as well as professionally.  It represents the "new" bridge on the Grand Canal (nicknamed Ponte di Calatrava after its architect), connecting the Railroad terminus with the car/bus terminal of Piazzale Roma.  Yet, it was planned way back in the 15th century, as documented in this map from the Venice state archives (a rare gem I may add).  Thus, this bridge confirms that "Everything new is old again" and conversely also that "Everything old is new again"...  So, in the grander scheme of things, what's another year?  All we really ever have is this moment, so let's accept its inevitability and enjoy it as it happens!
Bridges are often used as metaphors of positive forward change too (remember the Clintonian "bridge to the 21st century"?).  It would be tempting to use this modern bridge, connecting two symbols of progress (trains and cars), on this day of passing from one year to the next, to make it be a good auspice for the future.  I am choosing instead to avoid attaching lofty meanings to it and stick to its simpler symbolism of connection.  
Let this bridge be a constant reminder for us all to stay connected!  With ourselves, with those we love and with all of humanity!
Finally, the Venetian name for this bridge (on the bottom of the postcard) is Ponte de la Zirada, which translates to "bridge of the turn".  
So, may the end of this year be an authentic turning point for all...
Bona Zirada!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Just a quick entry to wish all of our Venice alumni, advisors, sponsors and friends a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY 2009!!!  

One more year of celebrations for our 20th Anniversary!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Last Day

Today, the students are leaving Venice.  Another year has gone by... 
The students have crossed the metaphorical bridge of sighs and are now flying back to the US to complete their education, with a major milestone behind them. 
Next year, 28 more students will come and continue the work we started in this pivotal year.  They will still be 20 years old, as they have always been, but I will be one year older.  I will also be wiser, I think.  This has been a challenging year for me, both on the personal and on the professional level, but these challenges bring about transformation and insight, which I am confident will translate into even more fulfilling experiences for us all.
The Interactive Qualifying Project instills great confidence in our students, who are thrown into a topic about which they know close to nothing, coached by advisors who typically are equally unfamiliar with the disciplines involved (clueless may be the word used at times).  The students are put in a "sink or swim" situation (bordering on torture as the students probably perceive it).  Yet - magically - they always swim away...  It's an amazing process.  And it works time after time; in Venice it has worked for over 500 students since 1988.  It proves that they are lot more resourceful than they even know.
This great invention, the Interactive Qualifying Project, is what distinguishes WPI from all other institutions of higher learning and once again the intuition of the founding fathers of the "WPI Plan" was confirmed by this 20th anniversary year's teams.
We should be seeing the final reports and deliverables in the next few weeks before the start of term C (Jan. 13, 2009).  
I look forward to that and to a new year full of creativity and success, as we continue to celebrate our anniversary until the fall of 2009!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Last Supper (or Lunch really)

We had planned to have our "last supper" at Pampo's at 8pm today since some students have to leave on Friday (despite clear  instructions to the contrary), but another Acqua Alta was forecasted for 11pm (140cm), so we decided to have a "last lunch" instead, around 2pm, right after the last presentation at UNESCO.  As always, it was a bittersweet occasion. 
We were all elated that the presentations were over and the projects had been a great success, but at the same time, it dawned on all of us that this would likely be the last time we'd all be together as a group.  We raised our glasses and toasted each other many times and Paul and I had our last chance to address the group to remind them how far we had all come from our tentative beginnings in August to the confidence and pride we all shared today.  
I pointed out to them that, as tough as the IQP is, it is also that much more rewarding when we cross the finish line.  It truly mirrors "real life" (unlike many traditional academic programs) by creating a context in which personal growth and transformation can occur, above and beyond the subject matter of the project.  For many students, it's a life-changing experience and for me it has been, and continues to be, the most rewarding aspect of my professional life.
All too soon, we were outside for a group picture and then off to the VPC office for more last minute printing, binding and even meetings.  
"It ain't over until the Marangona tolls" as we say in Venice...
(actually I made this one up, because the "fat lady sings" seems not very politically correct as it disparages weight-challenged singers)

Final Presentations - Preserving Venetian Heritage

The last presentations took place today at the Venice office of UNESCO.  Once again, the high tides affected the attendance (we had to move the presentations back 1/2 hour to wait for the acqua alta to subside), but those who did attend were high caliber people, including Dr. Carla Toffolo, the secretary of the Private Committees for the Safeguard of Venice, Dr. Emmanuele Armani, one of the premier restorers of works of art in Venice, representatives of UNESCO and other friends and students.  We combined two presentations back-to-back.  The first was on the development of a roll-out plan for the non-profit organization we call PreserVenice, which will take on the challenge of moving towards active preservation of endangered pieces.  The team put together an outstanding presentation which explained how they designed a fully-interactive web site to showcase our multimedia catalogs of almost 4,500 pieces of art that are visible from the streets and canals of Venice, and how the site could be used to solicit donations to begin the process of actually preserving this incomparable collection that has no equals in the world.  The richness of the data allows our sophisticated algorythms to instantly graph the condition ratings of each piece and thus automatically calculate the estimated cost and priority of each restoration.  If a donor is attracted to a particular piece he or she can "adopt" it by donating to its restoration fund.
In the spirit of the Venice 2.0 initiative, we sincerely hope that this project will mark the final stage of an effort that started in 1990 and will thus herald the beginning of a new era that will result in the active restoration of Venetian Public Art.  All we need now is seed funding to hire a part-time administrator of the fledgling organization so the restorations can start in earnest.  Click here to donate now to the seed fund.
(actually we can't accept donations now, so invest your money in a Madoff  "Ponzi account" and watch it grow while we get our PayPal account activated ...)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Venice -2.0?

With 2 days left to go, it feels as if Venice wants us out of here after 20 years... And it's going to flush us out with Acqua Alta.  Let's hope we don't beat the historical record of 1.92m, or Venice will be at -2.0 meter under... The current forecast (see figure below - which will change every day from now on) is rather ominous, and things don't look too good for the next few days, as we try to wrap-up our 20th anniversary projects here. We had to move up our Preservenice and Municipal Data Objects presentations tomorrow to 11:30 (they were originally at 11, just 2 hours after a 140cm tide). Plus, we had a dinner planned for tomorrow evening at 8pm (with a 130cm tide forecasted at 10:40pm) at Pampo's, which we changed into a lunch at 1:30pm (in between peaks). Luckily, the City provides fairly accurate and timely warnings about the upcoming tide events, using forecasts, sms text messages and even sirens.  Despite the failure of the December 1st forecasts, we are hoping that our friend Paolo Canestrelli, who runs the Centro Maree will get it right this time or at least get it wrong by overstimation...  In any case, tonight, tomorrow and Friday, we'll be hearing the new tide warning sirens in Venice quite a bit...  Click the Play button in the lower left-hand corner in the picture below so you can hear them too, and be with us in spirit while in the comfort of your own home...
For added realism, try wearing rubber boots!

Final Presentations - Venetian Quality of Life

Today was the third day of presentations and it started with a high tide that surrounded our presentation location (the Spazio Mondadori, courteously provided by Giovanni Pellizzato, a founding member of the 40xVenezia).  Three teams presented an integrated presentation that reviewed the opportunities and challenges faced by Venetians from cradle to grave.  Despite the morning schedule - during office hours - the audience included people who were interviewed by the teams who came to see the results of the study on Young, Adult and Elderly Venetians.  The presentaions were very well received by those who attended, all of whom expressed their admiration for the "concise and visually impressive exposition" of the results of these projects. 
The unified presentation was extremely well-done despite the fact that 11 students were involved in a long sequence of almost 100 slides.  The graphics the teams produced were very exciting and innovative.  I'll post those once tehy are fully available on line.  
Even though these were complex and challenging topics, the preliminary results produced by the 3 teams came across very clearly and demonstrated an intriguing and persistent dichotomy in the way the primary quality of life ingedients play against each other.  In the words of the students, Venice seems to truly be a "City of two faces".  For example, although Venice provides a wide array of educational opportunities both in Vocational High Schools as well as at the University level, the employment opportunities are abundant only in the tourism and services industries.  So, although one can get a degree in Computer Science at Ca'Foscari, such a degree would almost guarantee that one would have to leave Venice after graduation.  There will be more explorations in these realms and hope to collaborate closely with the "40 per Venezia" on these exciting topics in the years to come.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Final Presentations - Origins of Venice

The third presentation this year (and the second today) was by the "Origins" team, which tackled three broad aspects that together would contribute tremendously to our understanding of the origins of Venice and its People:
  1. The Archeology of Venice and its lagoons
  2. The information content of Ancient Manuscripts in the Venice Archive
  3. The genealogical provenance of the Ancient Veneti
I blogged on these before, but it was good to see the final product, which is being assembled into a single web site for ease of access (it should be completed by 12/19).  Once again, the students did a great job presenting this multi-faceted project, which will pave the way for many follow-ups in the years to come.   People in attendance included the principal archaeologist in Venice, Marco Bortoletto (featured as an avatar in many of the powerpoint slides),with his colleague Alberto Zandinella, plus Stefano Piasentini, a long-time friend and historian who spends much time prowling the Venice archive and who was one of the primary inspirers of the Manuscript Transcription Assistant concept
As previously explained, we have secured support for the DNA part of the project from the Genographic Project, which will enable us to contribute to confirming which of the main theories about the origins of the Venetians is more plausible.
For the other two major aspects,  the next steps are to get funding for the Archeology data harvesting system that this team designed, as well as funding to continue working on our uScript online emergent transcription crowdsourcer, which a couple of the team members (Shikhar and Viktoras) intend to turn into their own senior-year technical project (MQP).  I look forward to giving readers many more updates on these three ambitious and revolutionary approaches to the understanding of the genesis of Venice and its People in the years to come!

Final Presentations - Moving around Venice

The second day of presentations started off on the wrong foot when the Spazio Mondadori staff, who kindly hosted us thanks to the 40xVenezia organization, was unable to find the cable  that connected our laptop to the projector.  After some scrambling, an IT person showed up and found the cable in a closet and we were able to begin our first presentation on "Moving Around Venice" The display we saw was well worth the wait. The teams dazzled the audience with great results, truly killer graphics and magnificent animations, produced in part with the indefatigable assistance of our friend from Santa Fe, Steve Guerin.

San Filippo e Giacomo agents from Fabio Carrera on Vimeo
The students showcased their work on intermediate secondary turning behaviors to further the development of autonomous agent models for Venetian boat traffic - as support for an interactive traffic simulation system supported by the EU Mobilis Project. They also discussed their methodological contribution to the development of a pedestrain model to help manage the city's plateatici (outdoor public spaces leased to restaurants).  In attendance were representatives of the City's mobility office, who manages boat traffic, as well as a representative of the Commerce Department who is in charge of the plateatici.  Needless to say the presentations were very well received.  Both models have a great chance of being adopted by the city in the not too distant future as tools for day-to-day management of both pedestrians and boats.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Immaculate Misconception

Leave it to Steve Guerin to know the factoid of the day... Contrary to my long-held beliefs due to my Catholic upbringing, which included going to a nun-run elementary school and a priest-run middle school, today I found out the real truth about today's holiday.  The Immaculate Conception does not (I repeat does not) refer to the Virgin Mary's conception of Jesus, after the angel announced the news to her.  What the Immaculate Conception actually refers to the conception of Mary herself!   The Wikipedia entry about this Catholic dogma is very clear about the misconception that many of us have about this holy day.  It clearly states that:
Her immaculate conception in the womb of her mother, by normal sexual intercourse, should not be confused with the doctrine of the virginal conception of her son Jesus.
The immaculate conception refers to the fact that She was born immaculate (without stain or sin) and our Holy Mary is therefore doubly immaculate, both at Her own birth as well as when She gave birth to Jesus while still remaining a Virgin.  
I am conducting an informal survey today to see how many Catholics actually know this fact and, so far, 100% of the sample has confirmed how widespread the misconception of the immaculate conception really is.  Amazing!  Thanks Steve!  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Immaculate completion

We are starting our last week tomorrow (Monday) which is a holiday here in Italy (the Immaculate Conception).  This miraculous event that happened 2009 years ago, allows us to use the day for final rehearsals of our presentations which will be taking place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  The calendar of our presentations is posted on our wiki, together with a nifty embedded google map of the presentation locations.  We're wrapping things up and slowly migrating all of our results into project-specific web sites, such as the one our Origins team has been putting together.  One more week to go! Almost there...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fun in San Marco

Many of you may have seen the video of the wakeboarder in Piazza San Marco.  One such video that caught our attention, since it was shown on Italian TV, contains the added bonus of an interview with Bethany Lagrange, one of our students here.
The video below, from YouTube, unveils the enigma of the mysterious surfer who is cruising really fast down Saint Mark's without a boat pulling him along.  The secret was a hidden (and very powerful) winching system!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Server Back Up!

Finally, today we got the Venice Server up and running again.  Our Venice 2.0 website is up, so are our Venipedia wiki, our picture gallery and even Dspace, our Venice repository and open archive. So, it took a few days, but we have fully recovered from the big flood and we're up and running just in time for the final week!  Also, as an aside, the server is not only back up, but it has been regularly backed up since before Thanksgiving, so we wouldn't have lost any data even if the server went under.  The Venice Anniversary is well protected thanks to the efforts of Saul Farber and Andrea Novello! 
Here's one more video for your viewing pleasure (keep in mind that this was shot when the tide had already receded for about an hour, when I was finally able to get out of the VPC).  You can find all videos here and all photos here.  Enjoy!

Strada Nuova Flood from Fabio Carrera on Vimeo.

Final Presentations - Visiting Venice

Our first final presentation by the "Visit Team"  today was a great success. The audience included Dr. Concato of the Tourism Department of the Venice Provincial Government (former sponsor of WPI teams when he directed the Venice Tourist Board (APT)), plus a representative from the Slovenian Government, interested in a partnership for a European Union project with Venice on the "Divertimi" program developed by the team, as well as two of our long-term collaborators, tour guides Laura Sabbadin and Bruno Nogara.  Unfortunately, our other key accomplices, Prof. Michele Tamma and his Ph.D. student Anna Moretti were busy with classes, otherwise all our primary contacts would have been there.
 The students did a great job in presenting their sophisticated proposal for a personalized web-based tour-planning system, based on individual and group profiles.  If it ever gets EU funding, and the final product is anywhere near as good as proposed, this will be reall "killer app" which I for one would love to use to plan my future trips!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The days after

After spending one day mopping, I spent today reconnecting all of the equipment and reshelving all of our books and project reports. We're still not quite done, since the server is still not reachable, due to a line problem, even though it is up and running normally inside the office.  The video below shows the situation outside the office about an hour after the peak of the tide, when I was finally able to get out and my knee-high boots were high enough to keep the water out.

Rio Dragan from Fabio Carrera on Vimeo.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Acqua Alta 2.0

Well… in this 20th anniversary year, we’ve just made it through the highest Acqua Alta (high tide) in twenty years (1.56 cm).  The fact that I am writing this blog entry is part of the good news…  I got at least one DSL line working.  We had about 6 inches of water in the VPC and for the first time we had water clear across the entire length of the office.  I spent all day mopping, but everything is spic and span now (I guess it needed a cleaning).  Once I got to the office (on foot due to the awesome timing of the concurrent boat strike),  I spent the first 3 hours trying to salvage 20 years worth of projects, plus all of our equipment. Then, I was trapped with no phone or internet, plus cell phones don’t work in the VPC, so there was a communication breakdown for about 4 hrs.  We had no phone nor internet until 6pm but both are back up again…  The server is down until we can get it restarted.  We will wait until tomorrow, since another high tide is forecasted for 11 am tomorrow (115 cm as of now, but they were wrong last night…).  I hope this won’t disrupt our week too much, but we’ll take it one day at a time. Here's one of my videos:
Acqua Alta in the VPC from Fabio Carrera on Vimeo.
I'll upload more videos tomorrow...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Returning to Italian culture

Tomorrow, I am returning to Italy.  Check out these animations that perfectly depict the culture I am going back to.  It is a funny, yet fairly accurate representation of the differences between Italians and the rest of Europe.  Click on PLAY and enjoy!

This is what "culture" is all about!

Thanksgiving 2(00)8

I have been in the U.S. this week to interview 45 WPI students who have applied to go to the Venice Project Center in the fall of 2009, the term that will conclude our 20th anniversary year. Only 28 will have the opportunity to travel to Italy next year, so the ones I selected were a well-diversified group of highly qualified individuals.  I am confident they will all do great! Since I was also interviewing students for the Boston Project Center and for the new Santa Fe program, I had to conduct 60 interviews in 3 days, non-stop from 7am to 8pm.  It was a marathon, but well worth the effort since I also had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  I am really grateful to have this chance to fly back every year and spend time with my loved ones...
Before this break, the current Venice teams jointly cooked us all a fabulous Thanksgiving feast at the Settemari Club (see picture).  It was truly lucullian
As I fly back to Venice tomorrow, they will also be returning from their travels to the four corners of Europe.  During the 5-day break, this year's students have managed to visit Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Greece, Sicily and Barcelona among other destinations.  
Venice is truly the omphalos of the world!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cloudy Words

Our three quality of life teams have been using word clouds as useful tools to identify patterns in the answers they received from their interviews with Venetians of all ages. This example, provided by Tobin McGee, shows the most important words as far as young Venetians are concerned.  Notice how "expensive", "tourism" and "social life" feature prominently.  We're working on variations on this theme, creating separate clouds for positive and negative connotations (e.g. Rythm is positive whereas Housing is negative), as well as along gender-specific dimensions (e.g. ShopVariety which was mentioned by women but not men).  The colors in this cloud were assigned randomly by wordle the online tool we've been using for this task.  More cloudy weather ahead...

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Venice Housing Gap

As announced in a prior blog entry, the "Living in Venice" team (actually Stephanie Miskell to give credit where it's really due) has developed the first fully functioning and meaningful "motion chart" (formerly known as gapminder, before being bought by Google). The chart below is fully interactive, albeit constricted by the small space available in the blog. You can find a full-size version in our wiki.  You should select an X and Y parameter to display (try for ex. Population vs. % of Homes occupied by non-residents).  Then click on the 3 symbols on the chart so that you can see the labels and activate the trails. Then press play on the timeline below to see the actual and predicted data for historical Venice, Mestre (and the mainland) and the Lido (and islands) from 1951 to 2050.  You'll notice some very interesting trends!  More to come as the 3 Quality of Life groups continue to collect useful statistics... 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Municipal Data Objects (MDOs)

We are beginning to see the first tangible results of the effort that four WPI students are conducting in Venice as part of their senior-year thesis in Computer Science (Major Qualifying Project - MQP).  Below is a live demonstration of a client application that uses the hidden MDO framework the students have developed, which is the embodiment of the "Birth Certificate" concept at the nitty-gritty level.  The MDO framework provides web services which can be called by client applications, such as the one below that displays Venetian Public Art.  Click on various parts of Venice to move the circle.  Use the slider on the right to vary size of circle. Click on any Mona Lisa icon to see information about the piece of public art.  The data, including the pictures, are being served out from a temporary WPI server in Worcester, Massachusetts.  It's starting to look really good...  Good job Craig, Tim, Justin and Eric!
You can see the full-fledged applications by clicking here and here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Synth Filippo and Giacomo

Today, Danice Chou created our first Synth using Microsoft Photosynth. It depicts Campo San Filippo e Giacomo, where we are conducting a detailed study of pedestrian behavior leading to the firts autonomous agent model of pedestrain traffic in Venice, inspired by our paper on the plateatici (= private occupation of public space, such as the outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes), which we presented at a conference in Muenster in 2006. 
(Note: the synth only works interactively under Internet Explorer and Firefox.  Apologies to Safari and Chrome users...)

First DNA test for the second doge

Thanks to the 300 DNA kits that were sent to us from Barcelona, today we finally collected the first DNA sample as part of our collaboration with National Geographic on the Genographic project.  As announced in prior posts, our first "subject" was Count Girolamo Marcello, possibly a direct descendant of the second doge Tegalliano Marcello.  
It took us a little longer than we thought to get this done because we first had to translate the Genographics consent form from English to Italian, but we finally did it!  Moreover, our procedure had to first be approved by the WPI Institutional Review Board since we are dealing with human subjects.  Having done that, the origins team printed 350 adhesive labels with the secret personal ID codes provided by the Genographics project and also produced a small business card that we can give to those who volunteer for the samples, with instructions on how to use the secret code to access their confidential test results. Over Thanksgiving break, two members of the team will be traveling to Barcelona to visit the Unitat de Biologia Evolutiva at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra where the 300 samples will be analyzed and matched against the large database accumulated thus far by Genographic.  During this trip, we plan to deliver the first couple of dozen samples to Dr. Comas in Barcelona, hoping that they can be analyzed before the end of this anniversary term, in time to be included in the team's report as preliminary results of the effort.  Immediately after the first DNA sample, the students collected the second one.  Can you guess who the second subject was?  This is only the beginning!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Joy ning our Alumni network

I am penning this blog entry to announce that yet another meaningful piece of our anniversary puzzle has fallen into place this morning. Thanks to the planning and honing efforts of Hamlet Nina and the omnipresent Kyle Miller, we have created a fully functioning social network that we hope will be brightening the days (and evenings) for all our Venice Project Center alumni. We have been running tests and feel confident that it is quite cunning as a beginning point. It may need some fine tuning, but we're turning it over to our 500-strong alumni for a final shakedown. Instead of phoning each other, screening your emails or yearning to discover one of your fellow Venetians on facebook, you can now start tuning into your Venice pals directly from here by joining one of the groups on our VPC Alumni site. A word of warning: while you won't need any training to use the site, there are probably several things that could use some straightening up, so please feel free to roll up your sleeves and help us make it into a stunning gathering place where we can keep in touch throughout this anniversary year.
All that's left for you to do is signing up... See you on our ning!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gondoliers for Obama

Regardless of your presidential favorite, I think you will find this video entertaining (courtesy of Carol, the sister of my colleague and friend Dave DiBiasio). Venetian creativity is obviously not limited to what we've been able to accomplish in the 20 years of operation of the Venice Project Center... Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wallpapers 2.0

Here is an example of one of the silouette wallpapers that Kyle put up for the benefit of anyone who accesses our Gallery. He has gone through the trouble of resizing each of the dozens of pictures (there are 40 pages of them!) for a variety of screen sizes.  In addition to the silouettes, many of the desktop backgrounds are based on Kyle's wonderful photos.  Here is a way for all of our Venice alumni to keep in touch with Venice on a daily basis!  Start dowloading now!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pix of the week

We have finalized the look and structure of the Venice Project Center photo Gallery, which is reachable from the "pix" button on the Anniversary Website menu.  So far, we have created an album for friends and sponsors of the VPC, one for useful Venice pictures which could be used for a variety of purposes, one album to hold pictures of Venice Project Center students (now alumni) divided by term, and one containing Venice wallpapers that people can download to use as  backgrounds for their computer desktops.  We have instructed this year's students to upload their action photos into the B08 album, so look there for periodic updates from the groups who are in Venice in this anniversary term.  Kudos to Kyle Miller once again for his indefatigable work.  One more component of our anniversary is now online!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Things have been very busy at the Venice Project Center for the past 3 weeks and this blog has suffered from persistent inattention...  There are lots of developments in the works, but not enough time in a day to capture the flow in this blog.  Apologies to all.  I'll redouble my efforts to keep this up-to-date.  I promise.  We're almost half way through the anniversary term!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New face for Dspace

Many thanks are due to Ilan Shomorony for getting Dspace up and running, and for fully populating our Venice Open Archive Digital Repository with all of the Venice Project Center reports (IQPs - Interactive Qualifying Projects).  His latest feat has been the redesign of the user interface using Manakin so that the site looks and feels like all our other web pages (thanks to the recurrence of the Venice silouette theme).  The site is fully searchable and project titles, authors and abstracts are already publically available. This week, we will manually attach the actual reports, powerpoints and data files to each project entry, so that the entire collection of projects (currently on a web 1.0 page) will be reachable through Dspace.  In parallel, we are figuring out how to incoroporate Dspace's RSS feeds into Word Press, so we can automatically populate our Venice2point0 web site.  Meanwhile, we are also coordinating with our friend Marko Rodriguez in Santa Fe, so that Knowledge Reef can begin to read in our metadata using the Open Archive Initiative's Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) so users can search our linked data in true 2.0 fashion, using a real semantic web platform.  
Thanks a lot Ilan... You have done a wonderful job!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friends of the VPC (FVPC) part 1 - Michele Botta

As the anniversary term progresses, it's time to begin acknowledging those who have been instrumental to the creation of the Venice Project Center and to its continued success for the past 20 years.  One such individual has been my friend (and best man) Michele Botta.  It was Michele who helped arrange the logistics for very first team of WPI students who worked on the legendary "bootstrap project" in term B of 1988.  Michele booked the apartments, helped with travel arrangements, organized our office (then in my parents' basement) and was a major player in the launching of the VPC 20 years ago.  He's also been a great friend, companion and guide in my trek through life as well as through the Dolomites (with Peggy)...  Thank you very much for everything you've done for us Michi!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Venetian Genographics

We just received word today that our effort to trace the origins of Venetians through DNA is going to be supported by the Genographic Project, a 40-million dollar collaboration betweeen National Geographic and IBM.  
They will provide us with 100+ free DNA kits and will analyze the DNA samples and return the data to us for free!  We will be the first to be able to know where Venetians actually came from...  

Friday, October 24, 2008

The 20th anniversary term

It took a while, but I finally found the time to write an entry to confirm that everyone made it safely to Venice and the seven IQP project teams are off to a good start as is the single MQP team that is also in Venice on this 20th anniversary term.
Last night, we had our first group dinner at Pampo's and everyone seemed happy and relaxed.  Federico (see photo) said: "ori sti fioi", which is a Venetian compliment roughly translatable as "these kids are cool".  Maybe, one of them will win the coveted "oro award" that has only been bestowed once in the 20 years of our center (to Josè Brache in 2004).  Last year we issued two new awards, namely the "guaivo" award that went to Kyle Miller and the "duri i banchi award".  Maybe we'll make up a new one this year...  Maybe the 20th anniversary award?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Crossing the pond alone

WPI's term A has ended and the 31 students are on their way to Venice!  Monday they gave their final proposal presentations and Wednesday they presented their final Italian skits... Prof. Davis, who is co-advising these projects with me, is already on his way, and I am crossing the pond tomorrow as well.  Everyone should be there by Sunday.  The teams will be putting the final touches on their proposals early next week and will turn in everything for grading on Tuesday in Venice.  By Wednesday or Thursday we'll have our first group meal at Pampo's...
It's all happening so fast!  I've been doing this for 20 years and you'd think that I would have this process down to an art.  In some ways I do.  I don't really need to pack much and I pretty much just pick up and go to the airport with a small carry on... 
Nevertheless, leaving my family (Jacqueline and Nicolò) behind for two months has always been hard and it's getting harder rather than easier as time goes by.  I get to see my parents (Cino and Wilma), my sister Barbara and her husband Alberto and my cute nephews Samuele and Barnaba, but on the whole the process has always been somewhat bittersweet all these years.  I wish my loved ones could all travel with me when I go overseas, but school and other obligations conspire to keep us separate, which is one of the real impediments to widespread faculty participation in the global program.  It's great to be able to go back to my hometown every year, but it also has its drawbacks.  Anyway, off I go...
Next post will be from Venice!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wikimecum - fast with me

Today we inaugurated the Wikimecum, which is the wiki version of the classic Venice Project Center Vademecum (vade: go, me: me, cum: with = "go with me"), a handy manual full of practical advice that has gone with hundreds of students ever since I put together the first one in the 1990's.  
In the spirit of the Venice 2.0 initiative we have made yet another piece of our operation available electronically from this day forward.  Wikina lente! 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Miller-Guerin paradox

On this nice October sunday, exactly one week before I get to Venice, I have decided for once not to mention Steve Guerin or Kyle Miller in my blog entry just for one day. 
(This statement is false.)  
As my friend and mentor count Girolamo Marcello famously said in the opening pages of the City of Falling Angels: "Venetians never tell the truth".  

I believe him.  Really.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Doge toques eh?

Leave it to Kyle to come up with a "toque" (as he would call it) in the shape of a corno ducale, which was the official hat worn by Venice's doges (like Giovanni Mocenigo in the picture).  Being a true canuck (from Halifax), he created this line of doge toques for the Venice 2.0 anniversary.

I want one! 
(should we add the ear protectors?)
Now we just have to figure out how to fab them out.  We already have a few designs at zazzle and cafepress, but even their most advanced  customization options don't seem to even remotely contemplate anything as unusual as these designs.  I somehow doubt that even threadless, styleshake or spreadshirt would allow such radical departure from the traditional woolen skullcap.  Maybe - just maybe - ponoko might do it...  it's worth a try.
Let this be our collective challenge!  I will buy a free hat for anyone who can figure out how to get it produced via a web 2.0 fab shop.  I would love to wear one this term B in Venice...  waiting for the big two-four...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Alpha mail

Today I have sent out emails to all B07 alumni and to a selected group of prior alumns and WPI faculty to invite them to look at our web offerings and to comment on them.
Here is the text of this alpha release message:
As soon as our router in Venice is fixed and our Venice 2.0 sites get back up to normal speed (they’re slow now), I will be sending out a mass mailing to all our past Venice alumni, to announce our 20th Anniversary initiatives.  I will point them to: 

Our main Venice 2.0 web site
The anniversary blog
The VPC social network site (ning)
Our Venipedia wiki
Our Photo Gallery
The Project Repository (Dspace)

Since you are part of an “inner circle” of WPI students and faculty connected with the VPC, I am writing to you to see if you could preview what we have up so far and give us some feedback on this alpha release, by sending emails to me and to the “team” who is helping me put this together, at and  If you are more ambitious and want to spare us some time, you can also enter your comments/reports in our BUGS/SUGGESTIONS WIKI at, which is off our Dashboard (reachable by clicking DASH on the Venice 2.0 main menu) at

There are many other interesting links on the main menu off the Venice 2.0 site, such as the Fabs link at: that you may want to explore as well.  Click around on all links in the blog as well, if you have time.  Any feedback you can give us before the BETA is released next week would be greatly appreciated.

 We are leaving for Venice next weekend!

 Thanks a lot


If you are reading this blog entry, I would invite you too to give us some feedback before we go ahead with the BETA release next week.  Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Killer Graphics

For years now, I have been preaching the Tufte gospel and my project preparation and advising has become more and more centered around what I call killer graphics.  
Every year, I discover new and exciting examples of graphical excellence in multivariate, high data-density, chartjunk-free visuals, such as the ones at Design Watch or Pictures of Numbers.  I also keep my eyes open for extraordinary graphics like the recent NYT Olympic Medals dynamic graphic, reminiscent of Gapminder, or the periodic Infoporn on Wired.  I am counting on this year's students to produce some truly outstanding visuals.  I know for a fact that past students have drunk the Kool-Aid and would be comfortable talking about sparklines with the likes of Steve Guerin who has somehow managed to slip them into our energence project... We are already seeing the first Venice gapminders...  
To achieve our goals, we will make use of tools such as those at Juice Analytics or the previously showcased google chart APIs.  In addition to producing "silent presentations" that rely on self-explanatory graphics, somewhat akin to Google's cartoon of the Chrome release (which subliminally mentions Tufte on page 20), our teams are working hard at producing killer slides for their powerpoint presentations and, in less than two weeks, they are going to showcase their best visuals at a graphics charrette at the Settemari rowing club in Venice.  In the spirit of Fra' William of Ockham we shall excise 1,000 thousand words for each killer graphic we produce... (hence the name?)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I just finished Crowdsourcing, the newest in a series of 2.0 books almost but not entirely unlike Wikinomics, The Long Tail, Critical Mass , Black Swan, and many others I have read in the past year or so... The concepts of crowdsourcing and crowdcasting are central to the inner workings of the 2.0 economy where the former consumers become producers, creating the new race of prosumers, who take over the entire product chain from invention, to design, to financing, testing, marketing and sales. As a careful reader of this blog will have surely noticed by now, I have stumbled upon my own form of crowdsourcing, which I have dubbed kylesourcing. During a skype call in which we were discussing our energence project, Steve Guerin quickly charted the relative contributions of Kyle Miller and myself to the overall Venice 2.0 effort as follows:The chart was created using the google charts apis which we will be using a lot in Venice this fall. My only observation is that probably my slice is a bit overestimated. My goal is to eventually make my share dwindle to 0% , so I can just sit back and watch the entire Venice 2.0 evolve into Venice 3.0 without me, as indeed is my goal.
Thank you Kyle!

I wish we had dozens of you around...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Perfectly good enough

Voltaire said that "the perfect is the enemy of the good", which is to say that toiling for perfection often leaves us with nothing at all, whereas we could have just settled for good enough and moved on quite happily.  I often tell my students that their project report is not ever done, it just gets turned in by the deadline.  If we had more time, we could keep picking away at it for ever.  A week after turning in my Ph.D. dissertation, I had already found dozens of mistakes in it...  If I ever publish it as a book, I am sure I'll find some mistakes in the printed tome as well.  
Life is like that in many ways.  We try hard to put meaning into it and challenge ourselves with project after project and, at the end, we just die and leave lots of loose ends.  Fait unaccompli.  As long as we did our best, though, we could claim that our existence has been more than a mere dash between the dates of our birth and our passing.
And so it is that this weekend, instead of waiting for our content management system, ning social network, online photo gallery, dspace project repository, venipedia wiki, and everything else to be "perfect", we will just release everything to our alumni with an email announcing the start of the 20th anniversary celebrations.  It's about time!  We've been making slow but steady progress all summer, but now it's time to get the message out and begin to tap into the creative powers of our 500+ alumni who can contribute to refining the various facets of our web 2.0 offerings and maybe move them toward perfection.  The email will go out on Monday, so Kyle, Hamlet, Ilan and I met today to plan the final touches to create a somewhat uniform look and feel so we can be ready for our VPC alumni's scrutiny.   Good enough!  Off we go!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wiked Venipedia

This week, upon returning from the whirlwind tour, we passed the halfway point in our preparation for the term in Venice.  The work produced by this year's teams is being placed in our wikivenice a.k.a. venipedia.  Using the wiki as our ongoing repository has spared us the trouble of creating independent web pages as we did in the past several years.  The cream of what this year's teams will create will be distilled in clean and neat venipedia entries that will constitute a permanent contribution to Venice knowledge.  Our final aim is to provide an English-language crowdsourcing platform completely dedicated to Venice.   We suspect that our wikivenice may be too hyperlocal to be worthy of full integration into wikipedia itself, but Kyle's checking on this assumption...  We also intend this site to be different from the more commercial venicewiki site, which has a tourist slant to it and is currently only in Italian, even though it contains an invitation to non-Italian speakers to help with their contributions.  Kyle and I will also establish a contact with the wikivenice administrators to avoid overlaps and to clearly divide our efforts along language lines, while providing links to each other, if they are amenable to it.  Meanwhile, we will chip away at the project and invite our Venice Project Center alumni to help us populate the site before we let the public at large edit the entries after the end of the anniversary year in the summer of 2009.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Whirlwind tour

I just picked up Steve Guerin of Redfish at the airport in Providence.  He will be speaking at WPI tomorrow about "Visualizing and Interacting with Complexity through Adaptive Systems and Autonomous Agents". Following the presentation, we're holding an information session for the "bootstrap" of the proposed Santa Fe project center.  During the rest of the day, Steve will also meet with the Moving and Visiting teams as well as with the team of Computer Science students working on the LOUIS APIs.  On Tuesday, after a lunch in with Bryan Glascock and Nigel Jacobs of the City of Boston and another meeting with Jason Schrieber, former transportation planner with the City of Cambridge, we're taking off to go to London.  There, we're meeting with Metropolis Green , as well as with colleagues at CASA (UCL) and LSE on Wednesday, right after landing.  On thursday, we are giving a presentation at the 3rd Annual Renewable Energy Conference, then we're off to Venice in the evening.  The next day (Friday) we have several meetings in Venice with Venis, UNESCO and other officials to discuss ongoing Forma Urbis/Redfish projects as well as the upcoming WPI projects.  On Saturday we return to London for one more night before returning to the US on Sunday.  Monday, before taking off for Santa Fe again, Steve and I will be at MIT to give yet another presentation...  
Whew! Not bad for less than a week's work...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Venice Skyline

Check out this cool skyline that Kyle Miller painstakingly traced from real photos from his gallery. It's a composite of recognizable buildings arranged in a sequence that gives the gist of Venice's urban landscape without being exactly real... Expect this to appear on our web pages in the weeks to come. Thank you once again Kyle!