Europe Tests a New Tsunami Monitor

Geostar, Europe\'s TsunameterAccurate, timely tsunami alert systems have proved more elusive than the Loch Ness Monster, but a new prototype testing the waters in the Atlantic may change that.

Three-ton Italian-designed Geostar (Geophysical and Oceanographic Station for Abyssal Research), set down about 150 kilometers off the coast of Portugal in the Gulf of Cadiz, has been monitoring movement and water pressure since 2008.

Geostar squats 3,200 meters below the surface on a site known for tectonic twinges — the epicenter of the 1755 Great Lisbon Quake and resulting tsunami — where researchers expect at least three or four small seismic events during testing.

Ocean bottom seismometers and pressure sensors in the station detect both quakes and changes in the height of the water column, this one-two approach may help better determine which quakes result in killer waves. Continue reading

Italian Priest Launches “Karaoke Mass” for Forgetful Parishioners

Tired of looking out on a silent congregation, a priest in Southern Italy has launched Karaoke-style mass.

Back in May, Father Antonio Russo was appointed parish priest in the church of Santa Sofia in Albanella, a town of about 6,000 some 300 kilometers south of Rome. Finding himself surrounded by mute parishioners, Don Russo decided to take action.

Santa Sofia: Where Karaoke Mass is Held

Santa Sofia: Where "Karaoke" Mass is Held

He installed a large screen near the altar that provides all the words to the liturgy plus all the verses to the songs, hoping to get some more participation. A lay person controls the Karaoke board from the pews with a remote control.

“The spirit is to get the faithful to participate,” said Don Russo. “We hope to make the church an important point of reference. ”

The battle may be an uphill one: 90 percent of Italians are baptized but only about a third are churchgoers.

Italian Inmates Work on Al Capone’s Farm

Inmates at Milan’s Opera prison work on a farm named after famed gangster Al Capone.

The name, Fattoria di Al Cappone, is a play on words from the Italian “capone” or capon, though the 15-or so men who work here raise quail and a few crops.

In 300 square meters on prison grounds (about 3,200 square feet), they raise the birds whose eggs are sold at a nearby Coop supermarket and a farmer’s coop, Consorzio Cascina Nibai, in the outskirts of Milan.

Launched a few months ago, the farm is the brainchild of journalist Emilia Patruno, a long-time prison volunteer whose association il due also developed the “stolen kisses” chocolates project.

Funded by a bank, before hitting the hoes inmates followed training courses given by the farmer’s coop. The group is working on a new potato, a purple Andean variety, that it hopes to patent for when the Expo comes to Milan in 2015.

Image courtesy Fattoria Al Capone.

iPhone App for Italian Soccer Games

iskySoccer fans can keep up with Champion’s League games and Italy’s Serie A games on their iPhones thanks to a free web app developed in cooperation with Sky.

Stats, line-ups, photos, and play-by-plays (for the moment, in Italian only) are available at

The web app was developed by CEFRIEL, an ICT research hub for three Milan Universities, with a special eye to Apple-friendly design. One example: a list of team members can be rotated horizontally to a soccer field view which shows the positions they play.

A lot of men here in Italy used to carry transistor radios on Sundays listening to soccer games.

Of late, these have been replaced by videophone services that allow fans ignore wives and friends while having a stroll. The nice thing about this app is that you can keep on top of the score without ruining conversation over Sunday lunch.

24 Karat Tuscany: Gold Found in Them Hills

Golden Tuscany

The rolling hills of Maremma near Grosseto are normally just considered a goldmine for tourists, but after two years of searching, geologists have found “significant” gold deposits in Tuscany.

“This is a land full of gold. Hundreds of indications point to it. Now the scope of our research is to search for a deposit,” geologist Franco Maranzana told Italian newspapers. “Because only if there is, as we suspect and hope, all the work we’ve done in recent years can become a business.”

Two Canadian firms are hunting for gold under the Tuscan sun, Adroit resources and Tuscan Minerals. They have permits to search in areas including: Follonica, Suvereto, Campagnatico, Manciano and Scansano, the hilly country better known for producing Morellino di Scansano DOGC wines.

Recession has just made the gold rush stronger. Analysts expect a gold price hike in 2009, which would make mining a more profitable business. The rub? Permits for research are some of the cheapest in Europe ( €8-9 euros a hectare) but mining permits are more difficult to wrangle. Both firms have research permits that will allow them to see if they can strike gold in 2009.

iPod Defense Rocks Perugia Murder Case

Holds toilet paper and an iPod, but is it an alibi for murder?

Holds toilet paper and an iPod, but is it an alibi for murder?

In 2007, British student Meredith Kercher was murdered in Italy, during a study abroad program in hill town Perugia.

About a year later, Rudy Guede was sentenced to 30 years for his part in the killing, for which Kercher’s roommate, American student Amanda “Foxy Knoxy” Knox and her boyfriend, Italian IT grad, Raffaele Sollecito, are still awaiting trial.

Guede’s appeal now before the Italian court hinges on an iPod.

During what has been hypothesized was some sort of late-night Halloween sex game where the 21-year-old Kercher was an unwilling participant, Guede maintains he was in the bathroom of the young women’s apartment.

While she was being killed with a knife, he was listening to music on iCarta, a toilet paper holder roll that doubles as an iPod dock.

Guede’s lawyers tried to head off what they thought might be viewed as a sort of Twinkie defense for the digital age in a statement to Italian media (below translation mine):

“It is nothing more than a confirmation of how some abnormal behaviors are apparently normal among young people today,” said laywers Valter Biscotti and Nicodemo Gentile. “Just as Facebook is their virtual world, they now listen to music everywhere, even in the bathroom. The marketing of such products implies a certain routine use.”

The statement was published without details on how the defense team might further the bathroom defense in court.

Floods Mean Surf’s Up in Venice, Italy

Dutch wakeboarder Duncan Zuur took to the waters of Venice the other day.

Not Venice Beach California, but Italy’s famed La Serenissima. Zuur made a blink-and-you-missed it four turns around the city’s famed St. Marks square before calling it a day.

How did Zuur pull it off? With the help of a sponsor, naturally.

Once in Venice, Zuur’s team waited for the waters to reach about 4 1/2 feet (1.35 m), then sprang into action. They pulled a 20 horsepower motor winch from a hiding place, setting it up under the square’s arcade.

One team member, appropriately clad in rubber boots, pulled the winch cable across the square, then handed one end to Zuur.

Zuur, who in the meantime had suited up, surfed across the square. Four elegant turns later, Zuur’s feat was applauded with a standing ovation from surprised, waterlogged tourists.

Speed was key: the stunt was up and over so fast that police patrolling the square didn’t take notice.

Floods, known as acqua alta in Italian, have long been a problem in Venice prompting solutions such as the Moses floodgate project and text-message alerts. This year, the flooding reached over five feet, the worst it’s been in 20 years.

Vatican Launches “Saint Catalog”


Italians say that a confused person doesn’t know which saint to pray to. The process of finding a saint to appeal to for protection will be easier come next week when the Vatican launches a catalog of saints.

The International Guide to Saints features over 2,000 patron saints in prayer card form hailing from around Europe, the US and South America.

The catalog idea in Italian and English is a good one for on-the-go requests for intercession, but does seem a little behind the times, now that Italian Catholics can get daily prayers on iPhones and iPods with a free app.

Called “santini” or little saints, these prayer cards are found in Italian wallets from students (Giuseppe da Copertino, patron of those struggling with exams) to frequent fliers (St. Christopher, in these chaotic days of Alitalia strikes is invoked a lot) and singles, who can put their status in the hands of San Faustino.

Saint depictions through the centuries are considered an art form. If you’re looking for some intercession on the run, try an Italian newsstand. Several publishers in Italy sell collect-them-all series of saint images.

Italian Farmer’s Market Delivers

farmer\'s market

Just got the first shipment from Cascina Cornale, a farmer’s coop based in Piedmont that delivers weekly to northern Italian regions, including Val d’Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy and parts of Liguria, Tuscany and the Veneto.

A friend of mine swears by it, otherwise it was the kind of good idea that given Italian execution would’ve stayed a good idea, rather than something actually tried out.

You pay for the month in advance, delivery is included. Clients either choose online what they want every week, it’s slightly more expensive if you choose, or you get a box of whatever’s in season plus a few basics.

Here’s what arrived in the 1-2 person “surprise” box, which costs €38, nearly $47 if you’re dealing in treacherous dollars.

About a pound each of two kinds of pears, apples, kiwis, turnips, spinach, a head of cauliflower, a head of radicchio, a big slice of pumpkin (soup or risotto? not sure yet) a liter of fresh milk, six eggs, a whole brown trout, a generous wedge of toma cheese, two small jars of plain yogurt, a pack of balsamic candies (perfect for the cold season), some red onions and a spot of lard.

Said friend warned me about the perils of the surprise box (anyone know what to do with a whole trout?) after I’d signed up. But on this rainy Milan day, I’m still glad not to have to go do the shopping.