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.

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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 find yourself in a fashion shoot, a movie set or someone’s 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.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Italians Use Laser to Combat Counterfeits

To combat food fraud, Italians have developed new laser techniques to determine whether that extra virgin olive oil is really as pure as the label says.

Researchers at Florence’s Institute of Applied Physics teamed up with the photonics researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel to devise a series of high-tech tools that can also be applied to beer and milk.

By zapping olive oil with fiber-optic and micro-optic devices and using a technique called scattered colorimetry obtained a “signature” for extra virgin olive oils that can attest to authenticity as well as fatty acids and antioxidant content that make olive oil good for you.

Micro-optic sensors are also employed to detect aging aromas. After running tests, researchers also developed a software that can monitor nutrition content from pressing to bottle.

What does this mean for the average shopper? Researchers are at work on smart bottle caps that can tell before you do that the green gold has had better days or keep olive oils that have been mixed with by-products, such as olive residue, off the shelves.

The research highlights the importance of olive oil a cornerstone of the traditional Italian diet — researchers here believe it is “brain food” for children — and the national preoccupation with “counterfeit” or falsely labeled foods.

Image: CC-licensed, thanks to Shishberg on Flickr.

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

Italian City Hall Uses Emoticons to Gauge Customer Satisfaction

By Nicole Martinelli, Contributor

In Italy, the fashion capital of Milan is looking to improve customer satisfaction with emoticons. At the city hall, touch screens offer Italians a green smiley face if satisfied or a red frowney face if displeased.

Locals are all smiles now that they can zap public employees with angry little faces for slow or surly service with the touch of a finger.

At Milan’s city hall, an emoticon satisfaction system provides touch screens where citizens give instant feedback by pressing a green smiley face when pleased, a yellow face for sufficient service, or a red frowney face.

Those who see red get an additional screen with four choices from which to select: Was it the wait time, the service itself, the need for a return visit, or something else?

Last month, those expressive little faces spread to 1,000 touch screens in 130 public administrations. Plans are to extend the emoticon system to 5,700 small towns, giving some 30 percent of Italians the chance to express themselves electronically.

Full story in the Christian Science Monitor

iPhone Apps Put Shroud of Turin in Focus

Pilgrims trekking Italy to ogle the the Shroud of Turin, on public display for the first time in a decade, now have iPhone apps to help them see more.

Last time thousands of visitors flocked to peek at the yellowed cloth said to depict the face of Jesus, the best mobile option was probably some lame WAP browser.

This time around, iPhone apps can help negotiate the challenges of Italian travel — opening hours, monuments off the grid — with the flick of a finger.

iSindone (“sindone” is Italian for holy shroud) costs $0.99, and offers opening times, directions for getting there and info on the cathedral. There’s also a hi-res image of the shroud, rumored to be a medieval fake, which may give you a better look than the quick drive-by visitors get of the real thing.

Instant Turin, gratis for the next two weeks in honor of the shroud unveiling, promises to steer you clear of restaurants with dreaded tourist menus and get you to the Mole on time.

The official app, also called Sindone, costs $3.99, and promises to help keep your stay organized and running smoothly.

And, if you need to walk off the chocolate and Barolo, try the sprawling gardens of Venaria Reale outside Turin — just remember to get bus times and hours handy or printed out or you will risk getting stranded.

Replicas to Bring Painter Caravaggio Back Home

Last fall, a group of specialists worked late into the night, perched on scaffolding in a Roman church, trying to copy Caravaggio’s “Inspiration of St. Matthew,” rendering the image true right down to the subject’s dirty feet. Every night for two weeks, they set up a scanner to photograph the Contarelli Chapel paintings, part of a project to make a facsimile of the baroque master’s works for a research center in Caravaggio slated to open this September.

Meanwhile, two years ago in Venice, a lifesize facsimile of Paolo Veronese’s monumental work “Wedding at Cana” drew 20,000 visitors in three months, while the real 16th-century masterpiece is often ignored by tourists waiting to see the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre museum in Paris.

Another state-of-the art copy — of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan — attracted nearly 55,000 visitors to an exhibit so popular the dates were extended twice. It was an unexpected hit born out of compromise. Director Peter Greenaway was asked to create a short film to project over the original Renaissance fresco at Santa Maria delle Grazie but officials got cold feet about crowds and conservation. His 20-minute short was projected only once over the original to a handful of dignitaries during the 2008 International Milan Furniture Fair. Shown over a high-resolution copy at nearby Palazzo Reale, the installation stayed open for five months.

Whether to rewrite history or reinterpret masterpieces, replicas made with a palette of high-tech tools are changing the way tourists see art.

All three of these faithful fakes are the work of Madrid-based Factum Arte, a company that employs high-resolution 3-D scanners of its own devising to reproduce artworks.
The scans result in thousands of files whose images are stitched together, then churned out by flatbed pigment printer onto canvas primed with historically accurate paints. To get the clone closer to the real thing, conservators fill in any ridges or creases from manhandling or restoration by hand afterward.
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