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.

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


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

Priest launches mother-in-law training to curb divorce

Meddling mother-in-laws have been the basis of jokes, pop songs, and heartbreak probably since men dragged their young brides back to the family cave.

One enterprising Italian priest, convinced that in-laws are behind the country’s increasing divorce rate, has devised a class to teach them to help rather than wreak havoc on their children’s relationships.

Called “Families in Dialogue – How to be Effective Parents to Married Children,” the course is taught by three psychologists and is open to both male and female in-laws.

Held over the course of three weekends in the northeastern city of Udine, sessions are dedicated to such hot-button topics as surviving Sunday lunch (a little over half of Italians still meet for this weekly ritual) and negotiating babysitting duties.

The idea for the anti-meddling class grew out of the problems that Don Giuseppe Faccin had while teaching pre-matrimonial classes.

“Statistics show very clearly that at least three out of 10 Italian marriages are in crisis due to the in-laws,” Faccin told local daily Il Messagero Veneto. “Sometimes the problem is both in-laws. More often than not, we have to work on the relationship between the parents.”

Strong ties in Italian families are often at the root of the problem: at age 29, 70% still of Italian men still live at home and even when they leave the nest, one in three talk to la mamma every single day.

“When children get married, parents should regain their own balance as a couple again, but often they’ve spent so much time caring for adult children that they don’t know how,” Faccin explained. “So they throw their energy into their children’s marriage, intervening in ways that aren’t helpful. Even as grandparents for lack of other projects and ways to spend free time they end up interfering more than helping.”

You have to wonder if a truly invasive in-law would sign themselves up for such a course, though.

CC-licensed photo, thanks vanz.

Italian “World’s Most Romantic Language” Survey Says


A micro-survey of 320 linguists found that l’italiano tops their list for the most romantic tongue.

In the inevitable battle with French, Latin lovers from across the Alps came out slightly ahead, with Italian winning 45% to 40%.

Spanish, surprisingly, came out as the ratty pajamas and curlers of languages with its romantic quotient stalled at just 6%, tied with English. Portuguese came in last of the top five with 3%.

Sure, a sample size of 320 people isn’t exactly representative, but the idea that these are specialists — from the 2,600 translators and interpreters at Today Translations in London — makes it more interesting.

It’s one thing to think how romantic “l’amore” sounds is in Italian without speaking it, but the respondents are folks who know at least two languages and can, presumably, imagine trysts in them as well.

The top six romantic words in any language, trite as all get out, were also dominated by Dante’s language. Hit the jump for the list. Continue reading

Venice Launches SMS Flood Alerts

VeniceCell phones will now tell Italians when the tide is high in Venice. The city government just launched a free text message alert system for the floods which frequently put La Serenissima under several feet of water.

Intended to assist waterlogged locals, the only real requirement for signing up is an Italian cell phone. These timely texts could save a lot of headaches for anyone traveling to the city, especially in the fall flood season, normally a great time to visit Venice since it’s less plagued by tourists.

These acqua alta alerts let users know up to 36 hours before floods hit, keeps them posted from three to six hours before storms and lets them know when things are clearing up and water is ebbing back into canals.

Given that there are far more cell phone subscriptions than Italians, it is one of those services whose time has long come.

Looking Through Galileo’s Eyes

The view from Galileo's last home now looks out on Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics, where researchers have made a model of his telescope. (Nicole Martinelli/GlobalPost)

The view from Galileo’s last home now looks out on Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, where researchers have made a model of his telescope. (Nicole Martinelli/GlobalPost)

ARCETRI, Italy — Astronomers have recreated Galileo Galilei’s telescope to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his groundbreaking observations.

Galileo spent his last eight years confined to Villa Gioiello here in the hills south of Florence after he was condemned as a heretic in 1632 for his conclusion that the Earth revolved around the sun. The small white building has a bare facade, except for a bust of the scientist staring fiercely at the Trattoria Omero across the street.

In the late 19th century, the white domes of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) observatory rose within view of the Villa. Now, after two years of study, INAF researchers are observing the night sky with a replica of Galileo’s telescope.

They began trying to see through Galileo’s gaze in January 2009. While Galileo spent just one winter making his observations, researchers strung out the work over the year. Paolo Stefanini, a technician who has solved problems big and small at INAF since 1966, believes Galileo would recognize the simple metal tool he crafted.

“When we first set out to re-create it, aesthetics played a part,” Stefanini said. “But we also needed something sturdy. The original was made from strips of wood joined together and covered with red leather; we needed a telescope that could be used without falling apart.”

Like Galileo’s instrument, the modern replica is about three feet long. It magnifies distant objects by refracting light through lenses housed in a tube, with a light-gathering objective lens at one end and an eyepiece at the other.

Stefanini made his refracting telescope and tripod from spare metal parts found around the observatory. The lenses were crafted by the National Institute of Applied Optics in Florence, which measured the shape and refractive index of the originals and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Florence, where scientists determined glass composition using X-ray fluorescence.

Instead of one man peering at the winter night sky and making hasty sketches, however, the images are recorded by a light-sensitive silicon chip called a charge coupled device or CCD. Attached to a digital camera, it transforms photons into electrical signals, making digital versions of the images as they would form on the retina of a human observer. Starry skies captured by the replica will be published online in early 2010.

Galileo wasn’t the first to point a telescope at the heavens, but the 45-year-old-mathematics professor taught himself the art of lens grinding, making his the most powerful around. His instrument magnified 20 times, allowing him to see moon craters, identify individual stars in the Milky Way and Jupiter’s four largest moons.

Galileo spent late 1609 and early 1610 gathering information and drawing the sky; his observations became the Sidereus Nuncius (“Starry Messenger”) a treatise that led to a clash with the Inquisition.

The idea to re-create Galileo’s telescope originated on the terrace of the Institute and Museum of Science in Florence. Museum director Paolo Galluzzi took one of the two original remaining Galilean telescopes on the museum roof to inspect the night sky.

“I have to admit, I saw very little through Galileo’s telescope,” Galluzzi said. “You realize how much he accomplished by trying to see what he did, the way he did.” Galluzzi, for example, strained to spot Jupiter’s largest moons, noting how impressive it was that Galileo not only saw them but also calculated their phases.

Galileo’s telescope has a very narrow field of view: The moon, for instance, fills it entirely. When Galileo spied the blanket of stars in the Pleiades and the Milky Way, he “got tired” of trying to sketch them all, Palla said, creating a challenge for researchers to reconstruct his accurate but incomplete observations.

Galileo also had poor eyesight and vision problems. To know precisely what Galileo saw, Galluzzi wants to open his tomb in Florence to examine his DNA. If authorities grant permission, it’s up to Peter Watson, bespectacled president of the International Council of Ophthalmology, to determine whether Galileo suffered from a condition called creeping angle closure glaucoma. Galluzzi believes it might explain why Saturn has lateral bulges and not rings in Galileo’s sketches.

To follow in Galileo’s footsteps, the Arcetri Observatory team uses a photocopy of the original manuscript, which includes eloquent watercolors of moon phases made hastily on scrap paper.
Looking at the heavens as Galileo did requires more that just the equipment, however. On a recent night, thick cloud cover made pointing any telescope futile. And to minimize interference from light pollution, Stefanini spent long nights stargazing from his home nestled in the Tuscan countryside.

“Even the best equipment doesn’t guarantee much with astronomy,” said Francesco Palla, director of the observatory. “Patience is about 90 percent of what we do.”

While waiting for the sky to clear, Palla gives an evening visit to a group of Florentine 5th graders. In response to questions from the soft-spoken director, hands dart up to answer that the earth revolves around the sun, what the Milky Way is and how many stars there are in Orion’s belt — the same principles that got Galileo excommunicated.

When the kids file out 90 minutes later, the clouds have parted enough to try to frame the moon in the model of Galileo’s telescope.

Squinting to overcome my own nearsightedness, the rough surface of the moon in its first phase finally comes into view. It’s a whole new world.

This story first appeared in the Global Post, that site is now a part of

Souvenir Sales Spike After Berlusconi Hit With Mini-Cathedral



After Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was struck in the face with a replica of Milan’s cathedral Dec. 13, souvenir sellers here are reporting brisk sales of copycat statues.

“Around here, sales of some tourist items slow down or stop for awhile, ” a vendor identified as Willy told told conservative daily newspaper il Giornale. “The mini-duomo was one of those items. Today, they’ve started moving again. A lot of journalists are buying them, but also people who want to give them as Christmas gifts. ”

Other vendors reported that they sold maybe one of the statues representing the soaring Gothic spires of the fourth-largest church in the world and icon of the city a month, but sold 40-45 a day since the incident.

The dangerous doodad — Berlusconi landed in the hospital with a broken nose, two cracked teeth and also suffered injuries to his lips and cheek — measures 10 x 10 centimeters (about 4 x 4 inches) and is made of resin and chalk. Sold in kiosks in the square around the cathedral, it can cost anywhere from €6-€12 euros ($8.70- $17.50).

Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year-old with a history of mental problems, hurled the mini-cathedral through the crowd on Sunday as Berlusconi greeted supporters in a rally. Tartaglia is now in isolation at Milan’s San Vittore prison. While he has written a letter apologizing for his “cowardly act,” police are now investigating Facebook groups that sprung up defending his act of tchotchke terrorism.