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!