Monday, June 30, 2008

40 for Venice

I joined a new organization called 40 per Venezia, "an open movement of men and women who were born in the '60s and '70s, a think-tank of ideas for the city that aims to provide an overall vision of Venice looking towards the future" (as quoted from their Manifesto). It's great to see many other 40-somethings who love their city and want to do something about it. It's really promising. I have met with some of them and I am confident that the Venice Project Center will play a useful role in the future of this "movement" (and vice versa). The "quaranta per Venezia" has an online social network based on ning, which is quite well-designed and useful. This has rekindled my decision of using ning for our Venice Project Center alumni social network, which has languished a tad since I created the site back on January 25. For the occasion, I used my nifty CMS to quickly add a "ning" link to the menu. It took just about 1 minute... I love this new web site.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Agile Iteration #0

Today, and every friday henceforth, marks the end of an iteration and the beginning of the next in our project aimed at creating the foundations for solid online tools for the management of geospatial urban information. This aproach is part of the so-called "Agile programming" software development model, which entails rapid prototyping and weekly releases. With iteration #0 we have worked out the data models for the APIs and implemented them. We also have designed a RESTful interface and the transactional structure of our web services and actually implemented the API's key system.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

London Calling

Today was the last day of the summer term at the London Project Center. In March and April, I was the instructor for the preparation course for the teams that were in London in May and June this year, because I was originally slated to be the on-site advisor there. Alas, I had to forfeit this opportunity, but I am very happy to report that all teams fared well, and in particular the Merton team was a huge success, capping three consecutive projects that pushed the concept of City Knowledge all the way to final implementation in the London Borough of Merton. As reported widely in the British press (H&V news,,, Green Building, etc.), the WPI team, under the guidance of Adrian Hewitt, successfully demonstrated a real-time geospatial web system that allows government agencies to monitor the application of the so-called "Merton Rule", which is a very important (albeit threatened) tool for the UK's struggle to meet its own Carbon emission targets.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Geocaching is a treasure hunting game whereby people hide and seek "caches" around the globe. Galia and Bob are geocaching enthusiasts, so they immediately went about finding local stashes here in Venice. They found one, for instance, right behind the statue to Guglielmo Oberdan, no more than 2 minutes away from my house in Sant'Elena. I had explored this "movement" a while back, together with related ones like Yellow Arrow, Semacodes, and PMOG (Passively Multiplayer Online Game), but had not acted upon any of them. Now that we have begun to drop off some caches in Venice, we plan to use these as part of our URG (Urban Reality Game -- our own variation of Augmented Reality Games), which will be woven through our postmodern postmortems.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


We are xperimenting with Django, a "high-level Python Web framework that encourages rapid development and clean, pragmatic design". Django was developed by Adrian Holovaty, who went on to found Everyblock, where Django has been employed for Everyblock's Chicago, San Francisco and New York mashups. We've been in touch with Daniel O'Neil of Everyblock since we hope that our work will pave the way for "Everyblock Venice" in a year's time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The origins of Venice - Tito Canal

One of the projects this fall will be on "The origins of Venice". The plan is to explore three aspects:
  1. the archeological records about the early history of the city,
  2. the genesis of the "Forma Urbis", and
  3. the genetic origins of the Venetian people

Today, I met with Tito Canal, who single-handedly discovered almost 300 archeological sites in the lagoon and is also a descendant of a long lineage of Venetians. We plan to help him release his opus magnum this year as his lifetime legacy, which will fit nicely with our 20th anniversary as well, since we made the first GIS map of the lagoon for him in 1990 (under DOS!). The 1990 project was also the first Venice IQP to win the President's IQP award, when John Strauss was WPI's president.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Adrian's birthday

Today is Adrian Hewitt's birthday. He has been the liaison for many WPI projects at the London Project Center, while he worked as Principal Environmental Officer at the London Borough of Merton. As of June 1st, Mr. Merton Rule is now head of Metropolis Green. Over the years, Adrian has become a great friend and is the principal evangelist of City Knowledge in the UK. He will be visiting us in Venice around the 4th of July.

Confirming Adrian's astral alignment, Adrian's newborn son Kiril was also born at a key seasonal transition in the earth's cycle, on March 21, the vernal equinox.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Solstice

One doesn't need to go to Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice... Since it's the longest day of the year, we figured we would get a lot of work done and we did. Here's an update of what we are all working on:
  • Kyle has been uploading his photos to a special gallery on the server
  • Ilan is straightening out the Dspace 1.5 installation
  • Hamlet is tracking down the rest of our alumni
  • Bob is supervising the work of the summer interns
  • Bill is the sys admin for our server over the summer
  • Galya is readying our PostgreSQL databases on the server
  • Radoslav is developing the user interfaces
  • Mike (in Germany) is also working on the front ends
  • Saul (in the US) is providing expert support on all fronts

This is a very talented team, so we should see some great results this summer.
So much to do, so little time...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wilma's birthday

We had planned our trip to be in Venice in time for my mom's birthday, which we celebrated today. She is 71 and has seen all 450+ students come and go since 1988. In a few years, I will be as old as she was when the first WPI students came to Venice. It makes me wonder where I'll be when I'll turn 71 myself...
P.S. As a continuing present to my mom, I have not smoked since mother's day...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

...and so have we

Nick and I arrived safely today. The same evening Italy beat France 2-0 and qualifed for the quarter finals of the Euro cup. Not bad.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Interns have landed!

The initial phase of the deployment of WPI troops in Venice has been completed. The first contingent of interns (Bob, Galia and Bill) has arrived in Venice today. Bulgarian support personnel (Radoslav) will arrive in a week. Materiell and equipment is also on its way via cargo transport. Command and control operatives (Nick and I) will arrive in two days at 1405 hours on Tuesday, June 17. The mission is clear and the deadline is August 15. Regular bulletins will be issued as the operation unfolds.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Uniting the Divisions

As a consequence of the conversations that ensued from the IGSD brainstorming and from the first meeting of the Venice 2.0 committee, today I presented the Venice Anniversary to the staff of the WPI Marketing and Communications Division. Eileen convened the meeting as interim head of the division and Rick participated as head of the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division (IGSD). Our global program is (un?)arguably a major distinguishing feature of our education and an inexhaustible source of great marketing and P.R. opportunities. Anniversaries at all our centers could be great occasions to highlight our global accomplishments at regular intervals, giving us all a chance to step back and take stock in what we have contributed to our local communities around the world. Our two divisions should be working together on a regular basis, using anniversaries as catalysts for continual introspection, reflection, outreach to alumni and sponsors, scholarly dissemination as well as for well-deserved media coverage, publicity and marketing. The Venice 2.0 celebrations will be an experiment in this important context as well.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First Annual Sponsor conference in Venice?

Today, I had lunch with Bryan Glascock, director of the Boston Environment Department and with Nigel Jacobs, special assistant to Mayor Menino on technology issues. Over the years, I have tried to get our sponsors from disparate project centers to know each other in a variety of ways. For example, I arranged a lunch with Bryan and Adrian Hewitt from the environment department of the London borough of Merton, when Adrian was in the US recently. I'd like to do much more of that and Bryan came up with a great concept: have an annual Sponsors' Conference at one of our centers around a specific theme, inviting sponsors from around the world who worked on that theme with our students. We should have the first one in Venice next year (early June?) in connection to our anniversary. We'll have to decide a theme and figure out the logistics and financing... small details. Ideally, we should pay the way for at least ONE sponsor from each center. It a win-win-win-win all the way around for WPI as a whole, for our centers, our Sponsors and our host cities. There are so many benefits to this idea that I really think we should follow up on it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Venice 2.0 Content Management System

After a couple of months of behind the scenes work since the intial post, our Venice 2.0 web site is more or less complete. It is currently hosted on a temporary site we used for development. We will migrate it to the Venice server in the next few weeks. Its final URL will be The web site changes every time it is reloaded (try it by clicking on the "Venice 2.0" title a few times). It is a fully fledged Content Management System (CMS) based on the popular Wordpress blogging platform. A CMS allows content to be added without any programming skills, by simply making a new page or post. Everything is managed through a mySQL database backend, which is what allows us to scramble the page every time it is loaded, to keep it more interesting and to retain interest over time. It is possible that our arcitecture for the site may be adopted by other WPI Project Centers, starting with the one in Cape Town, South Africa.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


OK. Here is the latest tally. Since 1988, a total of 446 WPI students completed 124 Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQP) at the Venice Project Center. Our Alumni Office was able to extract contact information for 344 of these Venice alumns. Only four of these records are missing all contact information. For everyone else, we either have an email address (232) or a postal address (108). Of the 102 students who did not make it into the initial list of 344 (out of 446), there are at least 22 who have yet to graduate (venice-b07). Our colleagues at the alumni office are going to provide us whatever contact information they may have for the 80 or so alumni who are still m.i.a. When we get the second data dump, we'll probably have about 300 email addresses and we'll still have to send out about 150 letters by regular snail mail. We will track down the dozen or so Major Qualifying Project (MQP) students who also spent a term in Venice, so we'll have over 460 alumni to invite to our Venice 2.0 extravaganza ... stay tuned.

Monday, June 2, 2008

And... they're off!

As planned, today we released the summer package of activities that the WPI students going to Venice in the fall are expected to work on to better appreciate Venetian Art, History and Culture, as well as to prepare to speak Italian on a day-to-day basis.