Category Archives: daily life

daily life

Data points: visualization that means something [review]

Proving a point about data with the author's wedding photos.

Proving a point about data with the author’s wedding photos.

Nathan Yau is a self-appointed cicerone who shows the rest of us around the big, beautiful data visualization world.

A statistician by trade, the likeable, plain-speaking Yau runs Flowingdata.com. And, like all good tour guides, his job is to get you to think about what he’s presenting, not just drop your jaw at the sights.

In “Data Points: Visualization That Means Something,” [public library] Yau wants you to think about sample size — even if he has to show you with a jar of gumballs. To bring home the point about data representing real life, he takes out his own wedding photos. Later in the book, he manages to transform an eye-crossingly dull table of U.S. education stats into 29 different graphics to show how it’s done.
Continue reading

Pompeian red? It’s actually ochre, researchers say

Pompeii: all about ochre?

Those rich reds adorning paintings in Pompeii were originally ochre –  Italian researchers say they now think that sensuous Pompeian red is the result of an accident.

Researchers at the national science council (CNR) say the original signature color at the ill-fated city of Pompeii was probably yellow -  ochre to be specific.

Before Mount Vesuvius blew its top in 79 A.D. and buried the city, it emitted high-temperature gas which turned the original yellow color that dark red. It’s not an entirely new discovery – ochre was also the main color at Herculaneum, sister city also buried by Vesuvius.

“Thanks to the investigations we have ascertained that the symbolic color of the archaeological sites in Campania is the result of the action of high temperature gas leakage which preceded the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.,” says Sergio Omarini of CNR.
“Experts already knew about the color alteration, but this research makes it finally possible to quantify to the extent of it.”

Researchers went back to texts by Pliny and Vitruvius to see how their contemporaries made red – cinnabar, mercury compound, red lead, lead compound and the rarest and most expensive pigments, mainly used in the paintings.

To check out the composition in the paintings, scientists used a non-invasive X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer that reveals the presence of chemical elements that exclude red lead and cinnabar – leading them to believe ochre was the original color.

Somehow Pompeian ochre just doesn’t lend the same tone.

Got a buck? Help out real-life Da Vinci Code quest for lost Leonardo

This is just about as cheap a thrill as they get: by pledging even just a dollar, you can help fund a project to find a lost Leonardo Da Vinci fresco in Florence, Italy.

Photographer Dave Yoder has been working on for a number of years  on a quest funded by the National Geographic Society to uncover The Battle of Anghiari in Palazzo Vecchio.

Because of the complications of doing just about anything in Italy – this involves going between ancient palazzo walls after all — it requires expensive expertise.

He’s put up a Kickstarter page to fund the sci-fi movie-worthy gamma camera needed to locate the painting which probably lies between the walls. (It seems Vasari couldn’t bring himself to cover Leonardo’s masterpiece when commissioned to paint over it in 1563).

Dave is a friend and it’s a fascinating project – one I also enjoyed reporting on — so I hope you’ll consider kicking in what you might spend on a cappuccino. Higher pledges $35 and up will earn you a digital e-book or prints of the project.

You can check out his pics on the project so far here.

To donate or for more information, see Kickstarter

Check out Soundtracker, like Pandora for Italian music


As someone who has a hard time remembering what it was like to listen to music before you could hit “shuffle” or curate a digital playlist, I’m a big fan of automated music recommendation and Internet radio service Pandora.

But that streaming service offers almost no Italian music, whether you want classic folk, pop power ballads or moody dubs in dialect.

Enter Soundtracker,  launched in 2010 by two Italian entrepreneurs. Best part: it offers a lot more than just Italian music and the interface is in English.

Register for the site (it’s free) and start listening to artists you know before stone-stepping to those you don’t.

Start with Pino Daniele and you’ll soon be listening to Quintorigo, Almamegretta, 99 Posse and Bandabardo’.

Not sure how the algorithm works, but  it seems a little more freewheeling than Pandora — starting with 70s melodic rocker with a social conscience Fabrizio De’ Andre station got me to an aggro hip-hop number from Caparezza in under four tracks.

You can also download it as an app for your iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and, if you’re so inclined, share your location and tracks with your friends.

Buon ascolto!

Social Media? Italians Prefer Chatting in Cafes

If you’ve spent any time in Italy, the results of a new survey won’t surprise you: Italians still prefer socializing in person, usually at the neighborhood cafe, to social media.

Some 1,200 people polled by apéritif maker Sanbitter — via Facebook — found that most Italians still prefer to discuss the matters of the day in person at a cafe first before heading online to update their far-flung friends and relatives about it.

What are Italians hashing out over  caffe’ macchiato or a glass of Prosecco before tweeting about it?

Nearly half (48%) are talking politics, 42% discuss sports (read: soccer), while work, gossip and shopping are about the same (37%, 35%, 33% respectively). Last but not least, movies 25%.

Social media will get a strong foothold in the boot country, probably sooner rather than later. There are already more cell phones than Italians and the national penchant for updating via SMS messages has produced everything from poetry contests to price checks and charity efforts.

And, let’s not forget, the Italian fascination with social media led to the first movie ever about Facebook, a 2009 romantic comedy of errors called “Feisbum.”

Caravaggio’s Bacchus Seduces in Hi-Res Imagery

By Nicole Martinelli Tourists have long crowded in museums to admire Caravaggio’s Bacchus, but a new 3.4 billion-pixel image of the painting allows for an amazingly detailed look at an old master’s work from your computer screen.

It’s the first in a series of super-high-resolution digital versions of masterpieces from Italy’s Uffizi Gallery, including Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci.

This image of Bacchus makes Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s revolutionary realism — as seen in the gritty fingernails of his reclining model in the sensual painting nicknamed “drunk Bacchus” — easy to zoom in on and linger over.

Minute details usually mulled over by art historians, such as the rumored self-portrait of the artist reflected in the wine decanter, are just a few clicks away. The Tuesday launch is a kind of love letter to the Baroque bad boy, believed born on this day in 1571.

It’s the latest project from HAL9000, a company specializing in art photography that captured a high-res version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper three years ago.

Continue reading

Italy’s New Driving Laws: Go Faster, Just Don’t Drink

The Italian government recently passed a series of strict new driving laws that will affect locals and tourists on the roads in the Bel Paese.

A few of the new rules to keep in mind:

  • DUIs. No more jail time for drivers with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 to 0.05 (already stricter than many places, including the US) but fines are a lot heftier, ranging from 500 to 2,000 euros. (In lieu of jail time, there are plans to institute community service and driver’s ed courses.) Those fines double if you cause an accident and your car can also be impounded for up to 180 days. If you cause an accident with a BAC of 1.5, your license will be suspended for two years. If your driver’s license is suspended for drunk driving, forget about driving anything for awhile. You can no longer drive a scooter or mini car (like an Ape), either. Drivers under age 21 or anyone who hasn’t had a license for more than three years cannot drink alcohol and drive — period. Fines for these drivers with a BAC of “zero to 0.5″ start at 155 to 624 euros, double if they cause an accident and increase along with BAC levels exponentially.
  • Drugs. Jail time has been doubled for drivers found under the influence of drugs, from three to six months. Convicted drug users will have their licenses revoked — instead of suspended as previously — if they are found at fault in an accident. Police officers will also have drug-test kits with them instead of taking suspected drug users in for hospital tests.
  • Speed limits. The speed limit remains 130 km/h speed limit (80 mph) on most Italian autostrade, but shoots up to 150 km/h on autostrade with “tutor” speed limit cameras installed.
  • Scooters. Now required to wear goggles or eye protection “where necessary.”  Scooter licenses will also require a practice driving test.
  • Bicycles. Cyclists are now required to wear reflective vests at night.

As far as I know, the complete law hasn’t been published in English yet. The Transport Ministry has a complete list of all the articles in the law, you could do worse than use Google Translate on it meanwhile.

Photo used with a Creative Commons license, thanks to cruelgargle on flickr.

High-Tech Referee Help for Soccer

It won’t be able to change the contested calls in the World Cup, but scientists at Italy’s National Research  Council are working on a host of non-invasive solutions that would help referees judge games.

In Bari, at the Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation (Issia), researchers are perfecting a prototype system that has already been tested on the field for games of the Udine team.

It’s basically about 10 high-speed cameras in what are typically referee blind spots. There are four cameras aimed at catching “phantom” goals and either six or eight to judge those ever-shifting offsides violations.

The high-speed cameras capture about 200 images per second and are fully automatic. They can record, process and transmit video sequences in just a few seconds and send results wirelessly to the linesman.

It’s about time to end these hair-pulling, damning-the-ref moments, right?

But until now there has been a lot of resistance to implementing these systems.
Back in 2004, I wrote about a similar computer-based system that Italian researchers were hoping the national teams and FIFA would adopt for Newsweek.

I had no idea that it would be such a controversial story — with Italian league officials refusing to speak about it and the FIFA flak brushing off the idea of tech referee help by saying, “Football is a game played by humans that should be judged by humans.”

Another concern — that didn’t make it into the article –  was that these systems would be so expensive that some countries wouldn’t be able to afford them, resulting in a de facto major league based on economics. It would ruin the global aspect of the sport if the games were judged more precisely and differently in just a handful of countries where the game is played.

After forcefully resisting technology, now at least FIFA president Sepp Blatter is willing to consider it, telling AP it’s time that “we have to open again this file, definitely.”

Video: Italian Hand Speak

Inspired by Sara Rosso’s video of Italians dancing with their hands, I took my Flip HD out to Milan’s Piazza Duomo to capture a bit of hand jive for practice.

A couple of random observations: most of the pairs, for as much as they vary in age, sex, etc., have one person doing the talking and the gesticulating. Non-Italians often think everyone here flails with their arms as they speak, but as you can see, the movements are more like punctuation: concise, controlled, specific.

My favorite is probably the guy near the metro stairs who “draws” elaborate figures while entertaining his friend. This guy really did quite a dance around with his arms and was hypnotizing to watch.

This was a lot harder to shoot than I would’ve thought: even in Milan where you can easily stumble out for a cappuccino and onto a fashion shoot, movie set or a tourists’ holiday snaps, people are aware you’re filming them. (Sara turned her camera on some relatives for those great close-ups).

I’d like to shoot a companion version in Southern Italy for contrast — next time I’m closer to the Boot heel I will — but I expect that there it’ll be even more challenging to get close enough with such a small camera.

Complex Legal System? Italy’s Justice Minister Finds There’s an App for That

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCU0RcoxKxE

Italy’s Justice Minister used an iPhone to cite a wiretapping law during a prime-time talk show.

Minister Angelino Alfano, best known outside Italy for a controversial immunity law meant to save the bacon of beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, pulled out a iPhone clad in a patriotic tricolor sticker to consult an app called Laws and Codices (Codici and Leggi).

The 19.99 euro app promises to guide users through Italy’s notoriously complicated legal system, which often makes the old quip true that “in Italy, under the law, everything is permitted, especially that which is prohibited.”

Alfano used it on the show to quote verbatim a much-debated law on wiretapping, the talk show was about the “war over wiretaps,” which has again exploded recently.

While there’s no shortage of politicians who use Apple products — of late iPad aficionados Norway’sPrime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Russian premier Dimitri Medvedev –  this may be the first time one relies on an app to get it right in public.

Via iPhoner, hat tip to Andrea Nepori