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Calvino’s invible cities and their web of relationships


(Image from Maggie Digital, released under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)

Quote from Calvino’s Invisible Cities

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationdhip of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.
From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.
They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.
Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

Report from the Information Architecture summit (day 2)

After the first day, there was the second day. Yes, yes, I was surprised as well.

I overslept a bit and I miss the first talk, sorry.
The second one was titled “The Web2Architect” and given by Chris Addison, Antonella Pastore, Pier Andrea Pirani. They work for Euforic which is an organization that is actively trying to push adoption of web2.0 tools in international cooperation organizations and so I was very very interested because I’m actually helping a local NGO with this.
Actually the talk was partially ruined by the fact the lamp of the projector was totally going to die and the slides could just be intuited behind a black veil, very unfortunate, especially because it was another fancy, very visual presentation. Anyway they basically shown us how they use all the web2.0 instruments (del.icou.us, blogger, flickr, slideshare, blip.tv, pbwiki, google calendar (and all the other services by Google), facebook, …) in an integrated way for their work. It was not extremely unexpected since I guess most of the people in the audience already knew all the services but it was good to get an overall view (and a lot of pointers I should add! “euforic” is on dozens of different social sites!!!). I think they somehow failed to summarize their message at the end. I guess their point was something like “information architecture for us is just reuse existing services, nothing more” but they didn’t make it clear which is a pity since the conference was about “information architecture”.

Another extremely interesting talk was given by Dario Betti and Stefano Bussolon and was about “La classificazione fatta dai cittadini. Il caso Trentinosociale.it”. They told us how they worked through the (re)creation of Trentinosociale.it, a portal for the welfare wanted by the local government.
I liked the suggestion we should speak about stakeholders and not users, since one of the goal is that stakeholders feel the project as their own project. They used the cardsorting technique, with an online tool called Netsorting developed by Stefano Bussolon as part of his phd thesis in sociology at the University of Trento. I really need to dig a bit more into this instrument. The overall goal of the redesign was to let the lexicon and the structure used in the site come from users, in order to give the stakeholders what they really want.
They collected a very large number of feedback reports from users and based on this they were able to redesign the site. Very interesting!

Another intersting talk was given by Michele Iovino “Hardware Hacks e Context-awareness”. He introduced projects such as arduino, processing, wiring and in general the concepts of open hardware.

The Closing keynote titled “The DIY Future: What Happens When Everyone Is A Designer?” was by Joe Lamantia. Another fancy presentation. I didn’t get his main points but I have to admit I was too tired to follow it.

At the end there was the 5 minutes madness session: the microphone was placed on the table and everyone was free to pick it up and speak, about the conference, about the topic, about anything. Some crazy/funny things arose such as “la corazzata Potemkin e’ una cagata pazzesca” (if you are not Italian, you cannot understand this, it is from a Fantozzi movie) and the Buttered cat paradox. There was an applause after every short intervention … so it was not too much madness but it was a very very interesting modality for ending a summary anyway.

A final short point about the summit. I think there were 2 extremes in presentation: one axis was about presentation style, the other was about reality groundness. About presentation style, some presentations were very intriguing and fancy (lots of cool full screen images and lots of single word slides and black background, presenters moving around, making jokes, changing tone) while the rest was very boring (white background, lots of text, presenters never moving, not changing the tone of voice). Unfortunately I think I’m much more a presenter of the second type so next time I’ll try to create a fancy presentation. Anyway I’m not sure that fancy presentations are really that good for conveying concepts to the public: while a boring presentation does not convey any concept (simply because the target is not following it but doing something else (browsing, sleeping, …)), a fancy one might amuse the public but at the end the viewer might be in the state “funny, 30 good minutes, but what was the message?”.
About reality groundness, I have to admit that academics usually propose things that will never ever see any application in reality simply because they are too … uhm … unrealistic, while entrepreneurs and consultants have to propose something that works, now, and so they focus on reality, but I guess this is not a surprise for anyone. I prefer the reality grounded approach, expecially if the topic is information architecture.

Closing, I should really thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to assist to such a diverse and thriving summit. Thanks to Alberto Mucignat, Emanuele Quintarelli, Andrea Resmini, Luca Rosati.
Also I liked a lot the idea of using a kitchen timer (shaped like a tomato) for setting the time for presentation. It was friendly, funny and ice-breaking, but still very very strict in keeping the speakers on time, I think I’ll borrow the idea if I ever get the will of organizing a (un)conference or similar.

I think I’ve learn a lot from this summit.

Recommender Systems conference in Minneapolis

I’ll be in Minneapolis for the Recommender Systems 2007 from October 18th until October 22nd presenting a paper titled Trust-aware Recommender Systems which is a summary of a part of my PhD thesis. I’ll be hosted by Renee, couchsurfing as usual. If you are around and would like to discuss anything, let me know, k? See you soon, on the other side of the pond!

The end of corruption, brought to you by Lawrence Lessig and powered by millions of us

Lawrence Lessig is a genious. He decided to dedicate the next 10 years on ending corruption (after spending the past 10 years on reframing copyright issues), there is really an hope that a vast movement will self-aggregate around him and got an unstoppable momentum. After watching his tv interview (embedded below), I’m really optimistic a solution to this plague can be found.

AAAI 2005 conference will be Flickred

As I already written it, there is a aaai-05 user on Flickr and the photos submitted by it are shown on aaai-05 blog.
If you are at AAAI and taking pictures, you might want to consider creating an identity on Flickr and sharing your photos, tagging them as “aaai05”.
Questions to Flickr-aholic:
– I’ve my identity on Flickr and I will tag photos with “aaai05” this evening, so, do you know if there is an easy way to show on a aaai05 blog a zeitgeist of photos tagged under a certain tag and not only belonging to a single user?
– Is this a bug of Flickr or I’m missing something? (Probably the second). There are some pictures tagged by user aaai-05 under “aaai05” but they don’t show up when you see all the photos tagged under “aaai05”.

Using wifi at AAAI (with GNU/Linux)

I thought I might share this information with you. If you are at AAAI05, you know there is free wifi connection. If you use GNU/Linux, the instructions (“just open the browser and everything will be fine”) don’t work. Instead you have to do something like that:
1. iwconfig wlan0 essid “STSN” //set the essid of the network
2. dhclient wlan0 //you should have an IP address after this.
3. connect with your browser to 172.18.98.157 //the login screen will be there, login with your 24-hours access code.
UPDATE: I realized later that posting information on the web that are addressed to someone that is not able to connect to the web is kind of strange but maybe your connected neighbour can help you with that and sharing information is, in general, always a good thing.

Software Patents WebStrike: “closeā€¯ your web site to Save Europe from Software Patents!

My homepage is closed. I’m participating to the Web Demo Against Software Patents. Please, do the same!
On 6th July in Strasbourg the European Parliament could Save Europe from Software Patents
The Software Patents Directive, as approved by the European Council of Ministers, would codify US-style Software Patents in the European Union.
If that happens, software developers will no longer own what they write and can be sued for selling or distributing their own software.
If you don’t inform your parliament, mega-corporations are doing the job for you: “The European Parliament is filled with lobbyists of Microsoft, Eicta, CompTIA and so on. There are 30 to 40 lobbyists permanently roaming the halls.” (in Eweek, 21 June (http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1829955,00.asp))

What you can do
1. Participate in the Web Demo until the vote of 6th of July
2. Please send nice faxes or make phone calls to your representatives in the European Parliament (http://www.ffii.org/~gibuskro/meplist/) and ask them to follow the FFII voting recommendations (http://europarl.ffii.org/amendments.en.html). You can also ask them to follow the rapporter Rocard.

Live8 and Africans


Ethan Zuckermann ponders about Live8:
But in the age of citizen journalism, it’s pretty easy to hear what
smart, opinionated Africans think about Live 8 directly from their blogs. I just did a roundup of African bloggers writing about Live 8 over at Global Voices.
You may be unsurprised to discover that, generally speaking, there’s less enthusiasm for Live 8 on the continent than there is in the US or UK.
While it’s admirable that thousands of bloggers have added
to their pages to promote Live 8, to support African debt relief or to try to revive Bob Geldof’s career. But it would be a damn sight more useful and transformative if bloggers would go a step further and start reading some African bloggers… perhaps starting with some of the folks who are justifiably skeptical about the value of yet another rock concert. Allow me to recommend Thinker’s Room’s “Live Aid? Please!”, Sokari Ekine’s “Live 8419” or Gerald Caplan’s brilliant piece in Pambazuka.