Thursday, February 28, 2008

Evacuating St. Mark's Square

One of the fun things we're working on with Redfish is an autonomous agent model for the evacuation of Saint Mark's square in case of an emergency. The current version is a a very early stage, but it already looks cool. Unfortunately, Venice has been named as a possible terrorist target, plus we've had a major fire in the main theater (the Fenice Theater) in 1996, so this is not as far-fetched as it seems. The full blown project should be sponsored by the local "protezione civile", which is the Italian version of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the US.

Monday, February 25, 2008

WPI Santa Fe Project Center?

Redfish (Steve Guerin, Owen Desmond) and the Santa Fe Institute (Irene Lee) are all interested in the possibility of collaborating on the creation of a WPI project center in Santa Fe. Upon returning to WPI, I have discussed this possibility with Natalie Mello and Rick Vaz of IGSD and I think we will give it a try next year, probably in term D, to give me a chance to come back from Venice and prepare some pioneering teams in term C. We'll probably start with a "bootstrap IQP" as we did in Venice 20 yeas ago.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dspace and OAI-PMH

The people at Knowledge Reef introduced me to Dspace, which is a data repository system developed at MIT, which abides by the Open Archive Inititiative (OAI) standards. Dspace will organize both documents and datasets and will allow semantic systems, like Knowledge Reef to extract metadata through the Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (PMH). We agreed that we should try to store both the Venice Project Archive documents as well as the Venice Data Repository datasets in Dspace, so that Knowledge Reef could then harvest our data with OAI-PMH and make it available on the semantic web... This would be really really cool. And a very appropriate way to celebrate our 20th anniversary by moving beyond "old school" systems and into the 21st century. The Venice Project Center knowledgebase will be one of the first on the semantic web!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Knowledge Reef

Today I had a meeting with Marko and Josh from Knowledge Reef, which is a Santa Fe company that is pioneering work in the much touted "semantic web". They are working specifically with technical/educational institutions to provide "rich" search services of linked data in semantically-organized online repositories of knowledge. The principles behind the semantic web are the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the "triples" (vs. "tuples") concept, whereby each element of a knowledgebase is represented in subject-verb-predicate form, where the subject is a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), i.e. a URL or a URN. Fascinating stuff. Josh is the creator of Ripple, a scripting language for the semantic web. We all agreed that it would be great if the Venice Project Center could be one of the beta sites for their imminent release.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Santa Fe Complex

Our friends at Redfish are embarking in a new ambitious adventure called The Santa Fe Complex. It's a space next to their offices and will be host to a variety of activities, including but not limited to: interactive and computational art exhibits, educational activities, civic participatory events, complexity research, advanced visualization experiments and much more. I wish temll the best of luck! And I plan to collaborate with them on some of the activities at the Complex.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Santa Fe Institute

During my visit to Santa Fe, I had an opportunity to visit the Santa Fe Institute again. The institute is the world leader in research in the field of complexity. It was founded by George Cowan, a WPI alumnus. I had previously visted the institute in 2007 and met with Luis Bettencourt. This time, I met with Irene Lee, with whom I intend to collaborate on educational projects in the future. Together with Steve Guerin of redfish, we have already submitted an NSF proposal, and we are planning to submit anotherone soon. I think this collaboration has a lot of potential...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Participatory Modelling

While redfish was in Venice last fall, we conceived of a multy-layered "participatory modelling" framework. This is a mixture of participatory planning and dynamic or reactive modeling. The idea is to create consensus about the agent behavior in the underlying traffic model, while adding a second-order, "bottom line" model to represent the truly significant impacts of traffic regulations on each stakeholder group, which includes the Municipality, as well as taxi boat drivers, cargo boat drivers, gondoliers and individual boat owners.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


The primary reason for my trip to Santa Fe is to continue the conversation with Steve Guerin and Owen Densmore of Redfish. I met them in Santa Fe last year, as suggested to me by Nicholas DeMonchaux (currently at Berkeley). I hosted them in Venice last fall to jointly propose an autonomous-agent model for Venetian Boat traffic to City officials. Moreover we explored applications for emergency evacuations and we came up with a web 3.0 idea to associate autonomous agents to my concept of birth certificates to capture urban change.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Alumni Consulting

While we have a specific objective for the Venice 2.0 celebrations (see Gadgets 2.0 post), it would be good, more generally, to engage the entire network of all WPI alumni to develop "real" products to solve some of the issues we encounter at all of our project centers. Many times, the recommendations that our IQP teams propose at the end of their project experiences need some "professional" follow-up, which may or may not occur depending on the resources available at our project sponsors'. Wouldn't it be good to have a mechanism in place whereby such follow-up ideas were "posted" to the WPI alumni community, so that we could follow up on our own projects? We discussed this broader concept with Dexter Bailey, who suggested exploring how we could leverage existing programs such as Engineers without Frontiers or Earthwatch to do just that. I was personally involved with Earthwatch for several years in the 1990's. My IGSD colleague Creighton Peet was an officer at Earthwatch before joining WPI. We'll explore these possibilities and keep you posted...

Santa Ve

I am spending this week in New Mexico where I plan to get the ball rolling on the Santa Ve organization that will connect Santa Fe and Venice, two small cities that share a lot despite their physical distance. Their populations are practically identical (around 62,000 people); they are both seat of regional/state government; they are both heavily dependent on tourism and both have peculiar problems that are unique yet representative of broader uban issues. Look for more posts from Santa Fe this week!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gadgets 2.0

One of plans for the 20th Anniversary is to revamp and complete at least some of the "gadgets" that we explored, primarily through Major QualifyingProjects (MQPs), over the years, including:
  1. A Hi-Flo vacuum sewer system (winner of 1997 President's IQP award)
  2. A "turbulence mapper" (MQPs with Prof. Fred Looft)
  3. An ultrasonic boat monitoring device (MQPs with Prof. Peder Pedersen)

To this end, I contacted Alan "Chip" Hassett '74, the WPI alumnus who sponsored the Hi-Flo project, to begin to explore how to proceed on item #1. For the other two items, we are exploring the possibility of enrolling WPI alumni who own or manage companies that produce electronic devices to bring our advanced designs to fruition. These are longer-term goals of the Venice 2.0 initiative, but we need to get an early start anyway...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reconnecting with Alumni

Today (Valentine's day 2008), Rick Vaz and I had a meeting with Dexter Bailey, head of WPI's Office of Development and Alumni Relations. We discussed how to reconnect with the over 450 alumni who conducted their Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQPs) in Venice since 1988. We would like to engage them through a "social network", connecting to popular services such as Facebook and mySpace. One of the first items on the agenda is to share with all past Venice students our inaugural Newsletter and to get ideas for the 20th Anniversary celebrations. WPI already has an alumni community portal, which we will try to leverage for this purpose. Hamlet Nina, a current student who was in Venice last fall will be helping us on this front.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

IQP 2.0

Last friday was the deadline for WPI students who had been accepted into the Venice Project Center (VPC) for the Fall 2008 term (B08) to pay a deposit to confirm their intention to participate in the program. Of the 28 students I had accepted after the interviews, 27 turned in their deposit. We then offered the last spot to a student who had been waitlisted, so the program is officially back to the intended full complement of 28 students. This means that we'll have 7 projects in Venice in the fall. The other advisor will be Prof. Paul Davis, former head of the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division, prof. of Mathematics and director of the London Project Center. I'm calling this year's Venice projects "IQP 2.0" (IQP stands for Interactive Qualifying Project) because they will be about the 20th anniversary of the VPC and will be part of the Venice 2.0 initiative.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I made a favicon for the Venice 2.0 initiative using an online free tool called It looks like this: So far it seems to only work in firefox and not in IE (yet another Microsoft incompatibility). I'll look into how to make it work there too, when I have time. Meanwhile, open firefox and go to our main page to check it out.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tags and clouds

You may have noticed that most wikis off the main Venice 2.0 dashboard have a symbol in the side panel (I've yet to put one on this blog). This is so you can leverage the power of community tagging instead of simply bookmarking the site. I'm unsure just how useful this feature will be for the restricted domain in which the Venice 2.0 wikis are being used, but the concept of social tagging will play a powerful role later on in the Venice 3.0 future, especially in the creation of folksonomies within LOUIS (Local Online Urban Information System). Blogger employs internal tags that are not "collaborative", but set by the bloggers themselves (less useful). The tag cloud at the side of this blog is a little smarter, since it uses keywords that it extracts from the blog entries instead of relying just on the blogger-defined tags. I used zoomclouds to create it. I think it looks cool and is somewhat useful too. Collaborative tagging and folksonomies will be key technologies for our web 2.0 applications, so keep your eyes open for more on these topics.

RSS feeds

With so many wikis in the Venice 2.0 dashboard (17 at last count), it has become urgent to put in place a monitoring system to keep track of the changes/additions made by the various participants in the initiatives (25 people thus far). In wikidot, you can put pages under "watch" and you can subscribe to three feeds for each site (changes, threads and posts). Subscribers are typically devoted to a particular "reader" (like Google Reader), so instead of putting dozens of "chicklets" on each page (by editing the nav:side page of each wiki), I decided to just put the three main feeds through feedburner, which offers the subscriber a choice of readers. Still, we have 17 x 3 = 51 feeds to burn and many more coming...
Watch for three symbols to appear on the sidebars of all wikis, and click to subscribe if you want to monitor changes.
While we're on the RSS topic, I recommend you subscribe to this blog right now if you are interested in a digest of the main events happening in the Venice 2.0 initiative from day to day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Revamped Venice 2.0 web page

While we wait for the development of a fully-fledged CMS web site for the Venice 2.0 project, I have revamped and updated the current placeholder site, which now connects to all the main pieces of the entire initiative.

$$ Funding Venice 2.0

Today I spent some time putting together a wiki dedicated to the all-important issue of how to fund all of the initiatives we are planning for the Venice 2.0 project. The good news is that we can complete a good number of initiatives with the limited resources we already have. The really good news is that we can complete the majority of the activities with only $100,000 in additional funds. The longer-term funding needs are larger, but we should be able to get some serious funding for the Venice 3.0 programs in due time. We can accomplish a lot with just an additional $500,000. The biggest ticket item is the $6,000,000 needed to establish the Venice 3.0 Foundation and make the Venice Project Center free for all future WPI students, while creating a scholarship for Venetian youth to attend WPI for free. The good news about this project is that it will pay for itself, as long as we can secure a mortage loan for the acquisition of about 6 apartments in Venice (at about $200,000 per bed). The funding wiki is private for now, but you should be able to apply for membership if you are interested.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Slow Real Time

Cities change ever so imperceptibly every day. Most change is filtered through municipal permits, licenses and other administrative acts. We plan to put together a "slow real time" exhibit at the Venice Architecture Biennale this fall to visualize urban change permit-by-permit, in real time, however slow it may be, and then showing the faster real time impacts that such piecemeal change has on other urban activities. So far, I have discussed this concept with Carlo Ratti of MIT senseable lab (participated in last Biennale), Steve Guerin of Redfish and Santa Fe Institute (who is creating an interactive space in Santa Fe) and Nicholas DeMonchaux, currently at Berkeley (participated in Biennale in 2000 and conducted studio programs in Venice). Check out the wiki from time to time.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Venice Data Repository

Andrea Novello (Forma Urbis) and I created a template today for the Venice Data Repository pages. So far, we've put together just a couple of examples for bridges and islands. We included the possibility of viewing the map layers directly from our WFS map server, the possibility of downloading the actual files, as well as copyright licensing. This is the warehouse for all our Venice maps and datasets. Watch it grow!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Had a skype call with Thierry Morel (Oxford/Cambridge University) who is writing a book on the Socio-economic issues affecting Venice. The project is sponsored by Venice in Peril, a British charity dedicated to the preservation of Venice. Thierry could contribute to our efforts toward an artful publication for our PreserVenice initiative, as well as in the creation of ambient (film) installations relating to some socio-economic issues, as part of our postmodern postmortem project.
We're going to see if Venice in Peril (ViP) is interested in funding the creation of an interctive tool to visualize socio-economic trends on the web, as a companion to the book. Thierry meets the "board" of ViP Saturday...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Had a serious meeting at MIT (followed by dinner at Miracle of Science) with Mike Burns (back from Germany) and Saul Farber (MassGIS) discussing the development of the open-source suite of web services leading to PloppIT, starting from PlopMap, to PlopData and then PlopMedia. The concepts are simple: to be able to easily upload map layers, data tables and multimedia files onto an online server, then link them all and display them through a web browser. Easier said than done... Our goal is to release everything by September.
Step one: upload map layers (without styling them). Estimated time investment = 40 hours. Mike and Saul will split up tasks, with Saul focusing on the backend data management and Mike focusing on the Javascript frontend. We'll keep you posted.

Venice Mashup at IUAV

Talked to Luigi di Prinzio (IUAV - Venice Architecture University) via skype today. Turns out he's been developing a web 2.0 project of his own in the context of the PhD in GIS and Planning. He thinks we should be able to do the Mashup in Venice, hosted at the IUAV. The largest room holds 250 seats. Wi-fi service is good and there are plenty of breakup rooms.
Best timeframe: June 2009. To be continued...

Venice 2.0 Web Site

I had a great meeting today with Chris Murray, a long-lost friend of mine, brother of my brother Kevin. Our paths re-crossed serendipitously and we have a lot of interests in common. He's going to help design the Venice 2.0 web pages, based on WordPress as a CMS. We're going to try to combine features of sites such as MIT's senseable lab (with its chronological strip of projects), together with the ever-changing looks of the MIT main page, coupled with some of the features of the newest IUAV (Venice Univ. of Architecture) web site. Final Goal: WidCity. First step: Venice Project Archive.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Postmodern Postmortem

Fred Bianchi and I met with the IQP student (Brandon Turcotte, ECE) who will develop the plan for the 20 ambient installations that we are planning to disseminate in the streets of Venice for the 20th Anniversary. We are keeping the details under wrap for now, so we are using a private wiki. It's an exciting and creative part of the Venice 2.0 initiative, aimed at using artistic installations to highlight some of the main issues confronting Venice and the Venetians.
We'll make some public announcements from time to time, so look for future blog entries...

Monday, February 4, 2008

Venice Project Archive

I created a new wiki for the Venice Project Archive. It will make available all our past project reports and presentations, currently in an old server. Ilan will set it up and Kyle will populate it.
Estimated completion: February 29, 2008.

Venice Mashup Camp

Talked to David Berlind today about setting up a Mashup University/Mashup Camp in Venice in 2009. We're going for it! Possible dates: January 8-11, 2009 or June 25-28, 2009. I created a Venice Mashup Camp wiki on mashupcamp's site to coordinate the effort.
We'll commit by mid March.

The "dashboard"

Today, I created a central dashboard from which one can reach all of the various initiatives.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Louis 2.0

This weekend I developed an outline of what the overall LOUIS project will entail.

Tomorrow I meet Chris Murray to discuss the WidCity aspect.

I also meet David Berlind to discuss the Venice Mashup Camp.

Busy day. I better get to bed.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Big Picture

Updated the "big pcture" diagram today. A clickable version is also on line.