Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meno 1: epigraphs, epitaphs and chronograms

Well, another year has passed and today I turned 48. It was a good day overall, though the past year was tough for me. My dad got me a very tasty birthday cake, which said "Meno 1" (minus one) on it. Despite the flawed arithmetic (vis a vis my 50th birthday), I found the sign appropriate. There is one person missing from my life this year and I felt it. I also took it as a "memento mori", reminding me of how at any moment I could be one breath away from the aldilĂ . I also will use this as a mantra to catch myself thinking too much about the next thing to do, and to consciously take one step back from the future and return to the now.
Living in the now, as I am fond of doing, makes both past and future less significant and possibly less real. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the passing of time when the day of your birth cycles around the sun one more time. It's an infinitesimal tick in the humongous clock of the universe, but somehow it feels important in my world... That's how self-referential and special we make ourselves out to be, knowing full well that we are but brief manifestations of some underlying vital energy that makes us all really quite identical in the face of our epheMeral existenCe, which in the end will be aptly suMmarized by a smalL dash (an "em-dash" perhaps) separating the years or birth and death on our epitaph.
Thankfully, I have two more years available to make a legitimate contribution to the 40Xvenezia, before I mIgrate to the yet-to-be-created spinoff, the "Cinquanta per"... but I also have many decades ahead to contribute to Venice and the world before I catch up with my friend Bruno Nogara, who was born on the 28th of July, just one day before me, in 1920. I take solace in seeing him walking and talking and working still at the age of 89, after having been a scuba-diving paratrooper in WWII and a rugby champion, occupations that are almost as physically punishing as being a tour guide in Venice, as he still is to this day... It was good to have a celebratory spritz with him to remind myself of the possibilities ahead.
Later in the evening, after Kseniya Hewitt gave my mom (Wilma) a present to thank her for giving birth to me (a really touching Russian custom), I ran into an old friend of mine from my Sant'Elena youth, Geto (Giorgio) Rampazzo. Having experienced one of the greatest upheavals in my life this year, I could really empathize with my old buddy when he told me the heart-wrenching story of how his mate died in her sleep right next to him... The unimaginable pain he must have felt, made me realize how fortunate Nick and I are to be able to still talk and joke with Jackie, even though we do not live together any more. It's hard to fathom a harder blow, yet Geto lives on, in sadness, visiting her grave every week. As ephemeral and un-special as we are, it's impossible for us to be detached when momentous events affect us or those we love. It's inevitable (and necessary) to be human some time, and accept all our vulnerabilities and fears.
And so, Bruno, Geto, Cino, Wilma, Jackie, Nick and I continue to live on, moment by moment, in the now, which is still where it has always been, just minus one steps before the future that we are always so hopeful and fearful about...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Redemption in Venice

Nicolò and I will be spending the rest of July in Venice, enjoying some time with my parents (Nick's nonni: Wilma and Cino) and relatives, until August 3rd. Kyle has been here since June 11, producing excellent work and enjoying himself tremendously, as one can read in his Navigamus blog. We've also had a Tuscan intern from Florence, Andrea Tassinari, who has helped reorganize our office and helped clean up the Forma Urbis's web site.
Over the next few weeks, we have an ambitious set of goals:
  1. Complete and submit grants to the National Science Foundation (ISE, ULTRA-Ex, INTEROP, STCI, IIS, SoCS), NASA (GCCE), the National Endowment for the Humanities (HCRR), the Mellon Foundation and the City of Santa Fe. In total, we're planning to submit for over 5 million dollars in grants, for projects ranging from uScript, the the Ambient Interactive Platform, to the SimTable for the management of water resources in Santa Fe, to CitizenPipe... This is our primary goal for the summer.
  2. Plan the WPI projects for term B09, when the 20th Anniversary will officially end. We are exploring the following topics: (1) Informal Economies; (2) Retail Stores; (3) Shipping and Cruising; (4) Tourism economics; (5) Cost of floods; (6) DNA - origins of Venetians; (7) Postmodern Postmortems. We're pretty much all set with the apartments too.
  3. Arrange for a variety of initiatives connected with the final celebrations of the anniversary, including: an alumni event, Venice 2.0 merchandise (t-shirts, bags, mugs, clocks, etc.), reconnecting with our sponsors, reaching out to more of our Venice alumni, exploring the Venice Trust to make the VPC free to future students, and more...
  4. Promote our new collaborations with Ideagroup and others to make more of our projects operational in the management of the City of Venice, including the plateatici project, UNESCO, etc.
  5. Have fun and relax!
Gotta go row my caorlina for the Redentore festival right now... Major fireworks!

It's the celebration of the end of the plague of 1576… Obviously people remember BAD things much longer than the good stuff… but look at how much fun people have had in the 400+ years since that plague, celebrating its end year after year! Good and bad intertwined.
One redeeming the other.
The Ying and Yang of life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

UCGIS Summer Assembly

On June 23, Steve and I were keynote speakers at the Summer Assembly of the University Consortium of Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), which was quite an honor. I quote UCGIS in my dissertation (page 13 of part I):
As the variety of geospatial information and data resources
increases each year, the demand for understanding and building
sustainable information and knowledge structures remains a critical
research challenge for the geo-spatial information community.
Given that the quote comes from the 2003 research priorities, it is interesting that the GIS community still has not converged on sustainable information infrastructures, despite lots of efforts in that direction, including a contribution that Joe Ferreira and I made a couple of years ago and an earlier one I published with Lorlene Hoyt in 2006.
Appropriately, the core of the presentation that Steve and I made revolved around Autonomous Urban Agents, a concept that I have bloogged about before and has been partially implemented in the Municipal Data Objects, which have also been discussed herein in recent months. I happen to think that attaching agents to municipal objects, combined with the issuance of an official birth certificate, as we have begun to do in the UK, promises to be a revolutionarily simple, yet powerful solution to the big spatial infrastructure debate.

I am sure that there will be some major developments on this front in the next 12 months. Most of them from Santa Fe...
Keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer @ the Complex

Before Nick and I jump on the plane to the UK and Italy, here is a brief summary of the latest news from Santa Fe. I was there from June 18 to July 5. I got to stay at the casita again thanks to the buon cuore of Dede and Owen... And I got to use a deskspace provided by Steve in the Santa Fe Complex, thanks to his good heart.
Here is a quick list of things that happend while I was there:
  1. I just missed Frankencircuit but got to see the show in a private viewing before it got dismantled. It looked great!
  2. Steve and I gave a keynote lecture at the UCGIS Summer Assembly, which will be the topic of a separate blog entry. Had a chance to reconnect to Carl Steinitz on the occasion. Long story, but he did change my life, unwittingly...
  3. Ilan and Ben worked together symbiotically to produce major progress on the Venice table interactivity. Pair programming is the way to go!
  4. Fred Bianchi came to visit from WPI and stirred up our Postmortem projects once again
  5. I made major progress on a proposal to the City of Santa Fe to create and Ambient Platform for Urban Planning, Water Conservation and Energy Management
  6. I drafted a proposal to WPI's provost for the official establishment of te Santa Fe Project Center, to be phased in over the next two years.
  7. I purchased a G1 phone and tasked Simon with the skunking of the Android potential for PixelPost applications, related to our NASA grant. I also got an iPhone for similar reasons (and because there was a deal if I renewed my AT&T subscription).
  8. Kyle and I submitted two grants to NSF and one to NASA, all involving Santa Fe: Informal Science Education, Urban Long Term Research Areas-Exploration and Global Climate Change Education, Total requested is 2 million so far. More to come.
  9. Skyler and August made progress on the visualization side of the Venice Table and began to coordinate with Ben and Ilan on the communication between the SimTable Operating System and the Venice Traffic Application.
  10. Meeting with Luciano (Intel) and Roger (John Deere) it became clear that the Complex could play a formal role as the actual vector for the application of SFI theories to real world problems in the SFI Biz-net community...
  11. Got to tailgate in a suit and tie when I went to see the premiere of La Traviata at the opening night of the Santa Fe Opera...
  12. Experienced the phenomenal visual experience of Projected Light at the Complex. Fantastic!
  13. Overlapped with Andrea Vaccari (recently with MIT Senseable Lab) with whom we are exploring Reality Mining with Nathan Eagle through a massive Rwanda dataset of 1.5 million subscribers' cell calls for the past five years... Something good will come of this, I am sure.
Overall, it was a good Summer @ the Complex!

I will be in close touch with the Santa Fe colleagues as we complete the Venice Table in time for delivery when Steve joins Nick and me in Venice on the 25th of July... More to come.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The reason for the recent blogging blackout has been that Kyle and I have gotten busy writing grants, as we had planned when he flew to Venice ahead of me. Now that I am back from Santa Fe and in MA for one more day before taking off across the Atlantic, I figured I would make a quick entry to begin to update everyone as to our progress on our many fronts.
The first grant we applied for is called CitizenPipe and so far we have only submitted a preliminary proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the Informal Science Education program. When we get the thumbs up, we will have until November 19 to complete the full proposal. We have been using Google Docs so extensively that I have almost forgotten how to use Word...
The aim of this project is to produce a coordinated suite of second-generation web-based and mobile tools that will personalize the on-line and in-the-field experiences of citizen scientists, with the ultimate goal of making their contributions simple, fun, rewarding, educational, meaningful and long-lasting. The primary intellectual merit of this proposal lies in reorienting the informal collection of scientific data away from the traditional primacy of the formal citizen science programs (as witnessed by Cornell's Citizen Science Central) and toward a "prosumer" (producer/consumer) focus on the volunteers who are the engines that make the whole world of citizen science possible and constitute the real resource that needs to be fostered, cultivated and rewarded.
The data gathered for free by volunteer citizen scientists constitutes a scarce resource. This project aims at emphasizing the "RE" in "REsource," by ensuring that the data crowdsourced by volunteers is REdistrubuted and REused in a multiplicity of contexts by a variety of organizations, creating a multiplier effect that maximizes the impact of the citizen scientists.

Look for one new grant every week from now on... we're on a roll!