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!