Speaking The Lingo

At our latest Italian class, the teacher told the whole class how we had done some great progress in understanding. But then she turned towards me and André and basically said that we needed to practice talking.

She is right, of course. André’s Italian doesn’t seem to have changed much since the first day we started, with him just mixing English and a bit of Italian and calling it a day. As to me, I am too embarrassed by my lack of vocabulary to speak much.

Yesterday, we went to a “birthdays” party – it just so happens that several members of the HCI research group are born in April and May – and, fueled with a bit of wine, I made some rather pathetic attempts at speaking. It must be frustrating to the Italians to listen to me speak, as this is the process I use. First I think of what I want to say in French, since the sentence structure in French and in Italian is almost the same (which cannot be said for English and Italian). Then I painstakingly take each word, figure out what its italian equivalent is and try it out loud (with the Italians helpfully correcting me as I go). Eventually, I hit a word that I don’t know and just say it in English. After a couple of sentences like this, I finally collapse in a corner from sheer exhaustion.

And when the Italians speak to me in their native tongue, I mostly go, “ripitare più lentamento per favore”.

You have no idea how frustrating it can be to try to learn a new language and see how easy it seems to be for everyone else. Sigh.…

Has It Been A Year Already?

One year ago, we were arriving in Rome to eventually make our way to Trento and a new chapter in our lives. So how have things shaped up in that time?

The Job

I love my new job. It is wonderful to work with a team that is big enough to resolve programming issues without me having to try my hand at crappy coding. I love my colleagues and sincerely enjoy their company. The project itself is very interesting, as we build apps that are meant to be useful to the local communities.

Beyond the project itself, I love being in a university setting again. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the intellectual stimulation that comes from frequenting smart young people. Plus, the University of Trento has an excellent reputation and so attracts lots of good students.

My only regret is that this is only a two-year contract and we’re already at the halfway mark. How did that happen?

The City

If you enjoy living in smaller cities, as I do, then you will understand why I love Trento. It is small enough to be easily visited in a day (unless you include all the suburbs) and while it does not offer the same level of tourist-y sites that a city like Verona does, that just means that we have much fewer tourists invading our city. Except at Christmas time, when people come here for the Christmas Market, and then it’s hardly walkable in the historical city center. Sigh. How do the other cities in Italy manage?

In spite of its small size, though, Trento has plenty of interesting activities going on all year long, whether cultural, social, or just plain marketwise. This summer, for example, there were free rock concerts every Tuesday. This autumn, we will be attending four different operas (two of which will be held in Bolzano). I particularly love the little markets that they set up every once in a while. There, you will find stalls for all sorts of local products, such as foods from all over Italy.

In addition, Trento is situated in the pre-Alps, which means that we are surrounded by mountains and our vistas are of even bigger mountains. For someone who grew up in the flat plain of Montreal, the local scenery is exotic and gorgeous. I just cannot get enough of looking at mountains.

Trento is situated in the North-Eastern part of Italy, so day trips up to now have all been around this area. While it is not as well situated for these kinds of trips as Verona – which is a major train station, housing trains going east-west and north-south – it is still fairly easy to get to some interesting towns and cities in the region. Up to now, we have visited the following places:

  • Firenze (Florence)
  • Venezia (Venice)
  • Verona
  • Bolzano (aka Bozen in German, as it is in the German-speaking area of Italy)
  • Rovereto
  • Malé
  • Riva del Garda
  • Malcesine
  • Monte Bondone
  • Monte Terlago

Of course, …

The Many Advantages Of Custom Homes

If you want to have a home built that is designed to meet some of your needs and requirements, it is actually a custom home that is built by custom home builders that you seek.  Custom homes are designed accordingly, based on the needs of the client or the design landscape as to where the home will be constructed.  There are actually many advantages to having a custom home built when compared to buying homes that are already built.

banner_pic1One important benefit of a custom home is that you can request your builder what the structural layout of the home will look like.   Getting the number of bedrooms you like is all part of the benefit of a custom home construction.  Getting to choose the location as to where your home will be constructed can also be considered as another benefit, especially if you are able to have your home constructed on a very desirable space in your town or locality.

It is important to keep in mind that if you’re buying a prebuilt home, you are not sure of the standards of materials used in the construction of the prebuilt structure.  If you were to buy such a home, you will be left wondering on just how long the structure will last before it shows any signs of deterioration or necessitate maintenance and rework.  This is avoided when you have your home built by custom home builders.  While it may be relatively more costly than cookie-cutter homes found in suburbs, the confidence it gives you on the overall structural soundness of the structure may be all worth it.

Through the process of building the structure from the ground up, your custom home builder is able to identify any potential issues that may appear later in the build process.  Since you can never really tell how good the foundation of the structure is unless you see it for yourself while the home is being built, if you were to buy a prebuilt home, you will never know just what is underneath the main floor of the home structure.  It may be sand, gravel, earth, or sediments that had been laid there to accommodate the concreting of the home’s floor.

The dreaded part of not knowing what material is underneath the flooring of your property is the buildup of cavity or hollow areas that can result in the caving in of the concrete floor.  Of course, what’s worse is if the material is not compact enough that it may result in liquefaction once certain conditions are met.  To have a better and worry free home, make it a point to have your home build from the ground up by custom home builders.…

Expanding Our User Base

Yesterday, we distributed 100 smartphones to Antonella di Angeli’s HCI class. And we were still short of approximately 5 phones. As you can imagine, it was a bit of a hectic scene, although we did split the class in two to make distribution easier.

This morning, I arrived to over 200 new messages in my inbox. That’s just our system automatically generating two different messages to all of the new users. Still it was a bit of a shock this morning to see my inbox overflowing like that.

One of the tasks these students will have is to select one friend from outside of the Computer Science department and nominate them for a smartphone so that they can work together on design problems. So that will be another 100 students to add to the trial.…

Smart Campus

The Smart Campus project has been going on for several months now. We have a website, a Facebook presence and are working on getting Twitter presence.

In a nutshell, the project aims at creating an Android-based app that will serve the University of Trento community. It offers ways to organize your university-related information and to know more about the larger community of Trento, and ways to share that information with your friends and the community.

My job is to help with the user interface issues. So now I have a Samsung Galaxy SII and a copy of the app. Time to try out the app.…

Back From The Microsoft Research 2010 Social Computing Symposium

Note: I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow of the various presentations that were given at the symposium. If you want to get an idea of what the presentations were about, you can check my tweets from last week or, better yet, go read Elizabeth Goodman’s notes taken during the symposium.

And so I’m back from outer space… no wait, from New York City, where I attended the Microsoft Research 2010 Social Computing Symposium – and then took a couple of days of vacation. As can be expected from a symposium that brings together so many smart folk, there were a lot of interesting ideas presented and discussed during the two and a half days of the symposium.

I want to particularly mention two presentations that I most enjoyed. First, Anil Dash managed to get me all fired up by talking about his efforts over at Expert Labs at trying to bring the joys of social computing and open source collaboration to the US federal government. Whenever I hear this kind of talk, I always immediately wonder if there is anything similar going on for the Canadian government and, if not, what could we do to make it happen.

In my humble opinion, Kevin Slavin of Area/Code had the best presentation, structure-wise. As you know, I’m always looking at how other people do their presentations in the hopes of improving mine. There were a lot of good presentations at SCS, but Kevin’s approach was most inspiring to me.

Kevin began by telling us about the military high tech of between the two world wars, in particular technology that amplified sound to find out if airplanes were coming (this was before radar), illustrated with lots of amusing images of the old technology. He then segued into modern warfare and how stealth airplanes were created to counter radar technology. He then moved on to an anecdote of how he met a mathematician from Russia who worked on the problem of detecting stealth airplanes and how they came up with a solution (don’t use radar, listen for a moving electrical target). He then segued into the actual subject of his talk, how algorithmic trades are now dominating how trading is done on Wall Street – tying it back both to his original story (this type of trade requires computers to “listen” to the ongoing trades) and to stealth airplanes (traders who are trying to hide large trades break it into several small trades just as stealth airplanes work by breaking up radar to make the plane look like it’s a flock of birds). I just love how he was able to take interesting stories that would seem at first glance to have nothing to do with the main proposal of his presentation – basically, how algorithmic trading is having an impact on the city’s architecture – and tie them all neatly together. Very inspiring.

There were a couple of things that I found annoying as well, although I’m an old cynic, so I …

Many Are The Complications

Yesterday, we spent the morning visiting various offices. Yes, we were once again working hard to get through the requirements to get André his family visa.

As you may know, the next hurdle we needed to jump over was proving to the Italian government that we are renting an apartment which is big enough for the two of us. There is in fact a minimal square meterage that is required depending on the number of people living together. I think we needed to rent a place that was at least 45 square meters. I am unsure what the purpose of this measure is; perhaps they don’t want situations where whole families are crowded together in tiny one-room apartments.

In order to get the proof that our apartment was sufficient for our needs, we first had to go register our rental agreement with the government. We ended up having to go with our landlady, Lorenza, who also needed a registered copy of the rental agreement, so we ended up with a copy each. As we arrived before the office opened, we were out of there in a half hour. Then André and I needed to go to the Comune di Trento’s office to give them this copy so that they could start the approval process.

But first, we had to find the office.

I swear, I think we walked around for a good half an hour, trying to figure out where the offices were. See, the thing is, the building where the Comune’s offices are rise above a shopping centre. But we didn’t know this. We could see the buildings, we looked at the front doors where there were no mentions of the Comune, we walked around the shopping centre looking for a way to get into the office building, heck, we walked out into the back of the shopping centre, turned around, looked at the office building rising above the back-end of the shopping centre, and still couldn’t see how to get into it.

At this point, we were confused and dejected. Were we even at the right building? There are no numbers on the doors of the shopping centre, so we didn’t know if we were where we were supposed to be. So off we went to see if the building next to the shopping centre might have a number. And that’s when I spotted a small sign for the Comune, pointing up the ramp towards the upstairs parking lot.

So up we trudged to the parking lot, where we found a way into the building. Yay! But no information as to where to go. A short discussion with a man who happened to enter the building at the same time as us sent us up to the second floor where we found the correct office. Yay? No yay yet. The first woman we met couldn’t speak English but she found someone to help us. This second woman explained that we needed to fill out a form for the …

Getting A New Home? Have Home Builders Build It

Success is not measured in terms of wealth and property, but that of friends and family who are willing to go the extra mile for you without asking for anything in return.  Nevertheless, it surely would not hurt if you are able to afford to have home builders build you a home; a home where you will build and raise your family and invite friends over for barbeque during the weekends.  The sad truth though is that not many couples or families will be able to afford to have a home of their own.

MallickKitchen1363_homeIf you are one of the fortunate few who has managed to save enough money, have inherited a boatload of cash, or have a good credit rating and finally have your mortgage loan approved, then you are well on your way into having your very own home be brought into completion.  If you prefer to have a home that is constructed from the ground up, well good for you as this is actually a much surer way of having a home that is sure to last.  Although construction work takes time to finish as compared to immediately moving in when you purchase a prebuilt home, you are better assured in the reliability of materials used if you have a home built by home builders from scratch.

The process of constructing a home takes time.  It will take less time to build a home that is regular in both design and materials being used.  As the design of the home becomes more complex and that there are certain customizations being made to accommodate the needs and requirements of the client and future homeowner, construction time of the home becomes much longer.  The prolonged or extended construction time is not something most home builders want as many of the construction work is already done, but due to the intricacy of the finishing, skilled artisans, woodworkers, and masons are hired to complete the finishing touches.

Sometimes, it is not actually the main and licensed home building contractor who creates amazing looks and exceptional decorative finishing to the home but that of the contractor’s skilled workers.  There are times that the skill of the workers is what makes the big difference in the overall superior looks and quality of a home.  These skilled workers are oftentimes the life force as to what makes a certain home builder great.  It is now up to the contractor how to take care of his crew to make sure that they do not shift sides to other home builders.…