Saturday, March 8, 2014

The VPC 2.5 Web site -- the gateway to 25 years of research for Venice

On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Venice Project Center, we decommissioned our Venice 2.0 web site and created a brand new VPC 2.5 site to replace it.  Everything is now under a new domain,
The new web site is deceivingly simple and purposely minimalist. Kyle Miller and I picked the basic template over the summer, aiming for a googlishly-simple look.  In the fall, Ben Lichtner engineered the inner workings to reflect the progress we had made with the PreserVenice and Bardolino web sites. Kristen Brann, a member of the WPI team in charge of coordinating the 25th Anniversary projects, worked with Kyle to revamp most of the original features in the 20th anniversary site, and, with Benny's assistance, added the new interactive components that make this site at least 10x better than the earlier one.  
Most of the items on the menu bar leverage a hidden JavaScript platform that combines real-time data management (via JSON trees), with real-time retrieval of images and other media from cloud storage (thanks to Amazon's S3 Web Services -- AWS), glued together by our proprietary agent-based approach to the management of City Knowledge.  The beauty is that all of these sophisticated technologies -- based on applied complexity principles developed at the Santa Fe Institute -- are integrated into this innocent-looking web site in such a seamless manner that a visitor to the site would never know the difference.
The Visualizations and Data menus on the 2.5 web site, as well as the Accomplishments and Accolades, all take advantage of the underlying real-time cloud technologies. Venipedia itself, despite its long history as our hyperlocal encyclopedia, is now mostly composed of pages generated in real-time from our backend City Knowledge Console, thanks to our custom-made wikipedia Firebase add-on.  It's impossible for users to tell the difference between an auto-generated, data-driven wiki page and a "normal", manually-made Venipedia page.... Several of the Data (e.g. Bridges, under Infrastructure>Water) and Visualization pages on the VPC 2.5 web site share the exact same data as the Venipedia pages and all are set up to read changes in the underlying database in real-time.  In essence, everything on the new 2.5 web site is designed to work in perpetuity.  As the underlying data are updated, the web site and all related wiki pages and applications will reflect the new information immediately.
There is a lot more to say about the rich content of this anniversary web site, which I summarized in a recent presentation at WPI.  Each of the menu items on this new web site is worthy of a full description and I will make sure I gradually expound on each of them in upcoming blog entries, now that WPI is on Spring break, and I am preparing to fly to Santa Fe to work on 6 new projects with a cadre of 23 WPI students until May.  
Take some time to click around the VPC 2.5 site and stay tuned for more detailed posts about its numerous features!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Venice 2.5 - a year-long celebration

When I started the Venice Project Center (VPC) in 1988, I was barely older than the students.  I was a peer, before I became an uncle, before I became a father figure.
My students are now younger than Nick, my son, who just turned 23.  As we say in Venice: "a lot of water has run under the bridges" since the birth of the VPC.
The age-gap between my students and me has grown quite a bit since then, as a steady stream of over 650, perpetually 20-year-old, WPI students have unwittingly watched me age to the same middle-aged man as my dad seemed to me, back in1988.  A quarter of a century has transpired between the first image and second one in this post.
My dad (Cino) was about as old as I am now when I started the VPC, and on this 25th anniversary year, he turned 79 the day the seven student teams presented their final results.  It was quite a show!
The anniversary only started this year, though, and it will aptly end on Cino's eightieth birthday in 2014, when we hope to round up the silver jubilee by publishing a collection of our answers 25 Questions that people may have about Venice and its Lagoon.
The Jubilee year has started with a bang with the 2013 fall program (WPI's term B13).We had a very talented group of students and they did a marvelous job of summarizing and visualizing 25 years of research.  The results they produced are really impressive -- if I may say so myself -- and are all on display in the revamped Venice 2.5 web site.  I summarized the 25th Anniversary results (thus far) in a presentation I recently gave at WPI.  There is a hidden side to what we did that I exposed in that presentation.  A technology that is my personal holy grail...
I promise I will gradually write a blog post about each of the extraordinary achievements of this year's cohort of WPI students.  They each deserve a custom-tailored kudos.
Given the great start of the Anniversary, it will be a tall task to top this year's quality of outcomes, yet we will try to outdo ourselves next fall (as always), so we can end this year of celebration with an even bigger bang.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Annual Report 2013

Well, another (Chinese) year has passed and lots has happened in-between my sparse posts.  The WPI Annual Faculty report was due January 31, on Nick's 23rd birthday, which happened to also be Chinese New Year (of the Horse).
Despite an innate aversion for form-filling, I find this yearly WPI ritual quite useful.  It forces me to take stock of one year's worth of academic and professional activities.  I resist doing it until it's almost due, but in the end it is rather satisfying...  It's like a compendium of blog entries, only more focused.
So, looking back at the entirety of 2013, here are the highlights:
Amidst all that, I was able to visit two of the trifecta of James Turrell exhibits (in NYC and Houston).  One of the highlights of my year was a 4-day cul(ture)inary outing to Verona, Mantua, Parma and Modena with my good friends Chrys Demetry and Rick Vaz, who very recently tied the knot and became officially married.  Congratulations!

Over all, despite all the adversities that life can bestow upon you, I managed to make the best of my past year.  Things are looking up, after the amazing work that was done at for the Venice Project Center's 25th anniversary, that I just summarized in a presentation at WPI last Thursday.  

My personal life is also slowly improving.  Nick is getting motivated...  Change is in the air.
2013 was a better year than I had made it out to be, however I am confident this coming year will be even better...

Enjoy 2014, the year of the Horse!