By sylvie on May 25, 2013
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.
By sylvie on May 25, 2013
When I first learned that Liz Lawley, who was spending a semester teaching at Dubrovnik, was going to end her stay in Europe with a quick trip through Italy, I got very excited and begged her to come visit us in Trento. It’s not often that you get to see old friends when you’re living far from home. When she said yes, I began plotting like a machiavellian prince.
You see, I know that Liz is a great speaker. And I know that the project that she has been working on for the past few years, Just Press Play, has been a successful attempt at engaging university students. Now it just so happens that, not only is Smart Campus also about engaging university students, but the Smart Campus team has been organizing a weekly set of seminars. While our approach is somewhat different from the playful design approach that Liz and her team have been using, it seemed to me that there were enough similarities that we could learn something of interest. In addition, several computer science students here are interested in games and game mechanics, and this would be a great opportunity for them to see an application of game mechanics to the real world as described by one of the big names in the American scene of games research.
By the way, I love the new term that the Rochester folks are using: playful design. So much nicer than gamification, don’t you think?
Anyway, once I had come to the conclusion that having Liz speak here would be a great idea, I started the wheels rolling on making it happen. Wouldn’t it be great if this well-known American professor would come tell us about her experiences with games and gamification? Liz, would you mind giving a talk about Just Press Play to the folks here?
I felt a bit guilty about asking Liz to do some work while she was on her Italian vacation. Bad enough that I was making her and her son come to Trento, which is on the travel list of pretty much nobody in North America. (Which is a pity, because it’s nice here, although on the other hand, we don’t have much to offer unless you’re interested in ecclesiastical history.) But Liz was nice enough to say yes to both coming here and giving a speech at the University of Trento. And so that is what she did yesterday.
It was, I think, a resounding success. Liz was up to her usual standards with regards to communicating her obvious enthusiasm about her research. I had seen part of her presentation before, but this one went deeper into both what had worked and what hadn’t worked. It was quite fascinating. From a few conversations I had afterwards, people had taken to heart what she had to say and were reconsidering how to integrate game play into their projects. And there might be some longer term ramifications which would be really interesting.
All in all, I think this was one of my more brilliant ideas.
By sylvie on April 28, 2013
Nous avons pu observer quelques oiseaux sur le lac Garda même si nous n’avions ni nos jumelles, ni nos livres d’identification.
- Foulque macroule (Fulica atra) - lifer pour André
- Colvert (Anas platyrhynchos)
- Grèbe huppé (Podiceps cristatus) - lifer européen pour moi et André
- Cygne tuberculé (Cygnus olor) - lifer européen pour moi et André
Nous avons aussi vu un fuligule mais nous étions trop loin pour l’identifier.
By sylvie on April 27, 2013
So you’ve made it all the way to the capital of the Trentino region: benvenutto, willkomen, welcome! Yes, your chances of being understood are better if you speak German than if you speak English, even at the tourist bureau.
But we’re not here to talk about language, we’re here to discuss how to get around in Trento, and if you stay around the historic downtown area, it should be quite easy.
Trento was built along the Adige river, which at this point in its course is roughly oriented north-south, which is also true of the city.
When you exit the train station, you will first come across the taxi stand. You are now facing east. A grom eats you. No, wait. I mean, to your right is the south and the historic downtown area of Trento, to your left is the north and suburbs. If you pass the taxi stand, you’ll come to the major city bus stop; many (but not all) of the buses that leave from here are going south. If you need to go north, you will have to pass through the park in front of you, the one with the giant statue dedicated to Dante, and cross the street. The park is called Piazza Dante; remember this, it will be very useful to you if you need to orient yourself in the buses or are taking the bus back to the train station.
There are several big hotels literally within walking distance of the train station (e.g., Buonconsiglio, American), so if you are staying at one of those, don’t bother getting a taxi, unless you are weighed down with 12 pieces of luggage.
Bus tickets are alas not available on the buses in Trento. You will need to buy your ticket either from a tabaccheria (where they sell magazines, newspapers, and, of course, cigarettes) or at the main bus station. When you exit the train station, if you turn right and walk a bit, you will come to a large building in which you will find the bus station. According to the Trentino Trasporti website, a single ticket (biglietto) will cost you 90 cents, while a packet of 10 (carnet da dieci biglietti) will cost you 8 euros. I am somewhat skeptical of these numbers as I know that they recently increased prices and I could have sworn a single ticket was now a bit over one euro (maybe 1,10?). Anyway, the price will be around 1 euro for a single ticket and around 10 euros for a packet of 10. If you are here for a single day or just two days and are planning on doing a lot of bus travel, you might be interested in purchasing the all-day ticket at 2,30 euros, which is a bit over 2 normal tickets. One thing to take into consideration if you are thinking of buying these all-day tickets: a normal ticket lasts 70 minutes; that is, once you have validated it in the machine on board the bus, you can reuse the same ticket on as many buses as you want within one hour and 10 minutes.
Validating a ticket is very simple. When you get on board, you will find two validation machines, one a bit behind the driver, and one close to the rear end. Look on your ticket, there is an arrow that shows which side to validate first. Then, when you change buses, turn the ticket around and validate that side.
By the way, you get on board a bus either at the front or the back, and you get off a bus using the middle doors. Sometimes, if a bus is jam-packed, you’ll be allowed to get on or off wherever you can, but normally don’t try to get on the bus in the middle, the bus driver won’t open the doors, and don’t try to get off in front or at the back.
The most difficult part of traveling by bus in Trento is figuring out which bus you need to take. Is it the bus on this side of the street or on the other side? Is it the number 8 bus or the number 2? To figure this out, you will need to know which bus stop (fermata in Italian) you want to get to, and whether that bus stop is in the direction of or away from the train station Piazza Dante bus stop. The web site will give you this information (timetables for each Trento bus are available on this page). Look there to see if you are going in the direction of or away from Piazza Dante bus stop. Then, when you get to your departure bus stop, check there to see if the bus is going towards or away from Piazza Dante, which will tell you if you are selecting the right bus or not. Alternatively, look for the last bus stop in the correct direction on the website, and make sure your bus is going towards that stop and not away from it.
It took me several weeks to figure this much out. Like I said, very confusing.
If you are here to go to the university, know that it is spread around the city. Part of it is in the downtown area and part of it is up on the mountain in Povo. If you are going to the engineering building or to the computer science building (IRSS), you will need to take the number 5 towards Povo. If you are going to the IRSS building or the FBK building, you can also take the number 13, but that bus doesn’t go by as often as the number 5.
If you are here as a tourist and are staying close to the historical downtown area, you will find that walking is more efficient than taking the bus anyways. Most of the interesting buildings are within easy walking distance. If you are outside of the downtown area, you will want to take a bus towards Piazza Dante (on the north-south route, your best bet is the 8, but any bus going to Piazza Dante should do).
If you are interested in getting out of the city and going to see the mountains or the lakes surrounding Trento, you’ll have to take an extra-urbano bus. They are more pricy and leave from the central bus station. (Lots of interesting places can be gotten to by train, so check to see which transportation is more suited to where you want to go.)
One nice thing about buses in Trento is that they announce each bus stop as it is coming. Listen for “Prossima fermata…(name of bus stop)”. As well, each upcoming stop is displayed at the front of the bus. Press one of the numerous buttons and go stand beside the middle doors. Make sure the “prossima fermata” sign before these doors is flashing to indicate that the bus will be stopping at the next stop.
Good luck. Bus travel in Trento can be a bit confusing at first, but once you understand how it works, it is a cheap way of visiting Trento.
By sylvie on April 13, 2013
There is a limited number of places that I have always wanted to visit, which include the Grand Canyon, the Amazon rain forest, the pyramids in Egypt, and, of course, Venice.
First view of Venice when leaving the train station
I say of course because apparently everyone wants to go to Venice. It is the second most visited city in Italy (Rome being in first place). And for a big city like Rome, this is a fine thing because there is enough space to welcome both the native Romans and the visitors from around the world. But Venice? Things are different. Because it is built on 118 (! source: Wikipedia) small islands and is separated from the mainland, there really isn’t a lot of space to keep the tourists away from the Venitians. So if you are going to go play tourist in Venice, you’ll most probably be seeing a lot of other people doing the exact same thing. If you’re lucky, you will know someone who lives there and then they will take you to see the more quiet parts of town, but we had no such luck.
Let us pause this post for an important public message: do not use Google Maps in Venice. Thank you.
I had asked André to print out the instructions to get to our hotel, but instead of printing out the short paragraph explanation that they have on their website, he turned to Google Maps to get instructions. Instead of a paragraph, we now had 2 and a half pages of instructions. We got lost within 10 minutes of leaving the train station. No matter which way we turned, what side street we tried, we just could not find the street that Google Maps claimed ought to be there.
André’s phone’s GPS would not work for some reason, so we turned to my iPhone for a live version of Google Maps. After an initial false start, we finally got ourselves oriented and going in the right direction, follow all the twisty turns that are the streets of Venice, before disaster struck.
You see, compounding to our misery of being lost was the miserable weather we were having that Friday: a cold and rainy day had followed us from Trento and had greeted us in Venice. So not only were we trying to make our way through an unknown and maze-like city, but everything we had was getting wet: the pages of instructions, our clothes, and good old Uhura, my trusty iPhone.
Now, I have Uhura wrapped carefully in an Otterbox because I am a clumsy clumsy person who will drop anything and everything she owns, no matter how precious it may be. So it wasn’t as though the phone was getting drenched. But a bit of humidity did get into the protective covering, creating a barrier between the film and the phone, which stopped me from being able to use part of the screen. The bottom right part, where the YES button usually appears. At that point, my phone was out of commission.
Luckily, the lovely people of Venice already know that their city is worse than the Minotaur’s Labyrinth and have provided silly tourists like us with clear signs indicating the direction to go to if you are trying to get to the Piazza San Marco or the Rialto or the train station. Luckily, Uhura had guided us close to one of these signs and so, in desperation, we began following these (since we knew our hotel was close to the Piazza).
There is, I am sure, a trick to meeting people in the narrow back alleys of Venice when you are carrying an umbrella, but I was never able to figure it out. After several encounters where I whacked other people’s umbrellas, or the other way around, I finally gave up, closed mine, put on my hood, and hoped that we would find the hotel before we were both drenched.
We interrupt this blog post for an important public message. If your hotel is close by the Piazza San Marco and you arrive by train: when you exit the train station, turn left and follow the wide avenue that meanders through the city from the station all the way to the piazza. Congratulations, you will get there in a half an hour
And then, after close to an hour and a half, we found the Piazza.
No time to play tourists, though, we still had to find our hotel. This time, André could get his phone to work and we started following its instructions towards our hotel.
Remember earlier when I said that you shouldn’t trust Google Maps in Venice? Yup. It kept pointing towards a building that was obviously not a hotel, wasn’t even close to the street number the hotel was, and yet kept claiming the hotel was right there. André ended up asking a waiter at a restaurant where our hotel might be and he sent us in the right direction. With all this, it took us another half hour to get to the hotel.
Once we finally found the hotel, André crashed but I was too hyped up to want to lie down, even though we were both exhausted from just trying to find where our hotel was, so while he napped, I had a quick walk around the surrounding area.
In the evening, we ate at a restaurant close by, where we were very disappointed by the quality of the pizza, which had an unpleasantly thick crust instead of the thin crusts we have become used to in the rest of the country. I think they do it for the tourists, and I wish they would stop.
Anyway, after dinner, we meandered back to the Piazza San Marco to see what it looked like in the evening. Apart from a few fancy restaurants, though, everything was shut down for the evening, so all we could do was look at the few illuminated front shops and stare at the darkening lagoon (I call it a lagoon, but it isn’t really, it’s just a very wide canal) beside the piazza.
Saturday was our tourist day and Venice was kind enough to bring the sun to us. We headed back to the Piazza San Marco where boardwalks had been set up because high tide brings water onto the piazza. Here André and I took lots and lots of pictures. Then we went to see the Doges’ Palace and, since it was one of the municipal museums and we had bought tickets to see the municipal museums the day before, we went in.
You are not allowed to take pictures within the palace, so I am going to tell you that this is one of those places that make it worthwhile coming to Venice. The rooms have the original (or maybe reproductions in some cases, I don’t really care) of the paintings that were created back in the Renaissance by greats like Veronese, Tintoretto and many others. To see these paintings as they were meant to be seen, instead of in a museum, is truly an experience that is worth the price of admission.
After taking a walk along the grand canal, where it’s mostly tourists and shops selling gewgaws, we went back to the Piazza. This time, we went to the other museum here, Museo Correr. The exhibition was about “Sissi impératrice d’Autriche” - since back in the day, Venice was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This was also an interesting museum visit.
Afterwards, we went back to our hotel, found a place to eat lunch, and then started looking for a gondola to take a trip, since by now we were exhausted of walking.
I don’t usually take selfies, but when I do, I’m in a gondola with my lovie dovie
After the gondola ride, we took it easy until it was time for dinner. While looking for a place to eat, we came across a Chinese restaurant and since it had almond chicken, something that André has been missing since we arrived in Italy, that was where we ended up eating. It was actually quite good.
On Sunday, we didn’t do much. We packed our bags in the morning and left around 11:30 to return the key and find a place to eat. Then, this time consulting a paper map of Venice, we figured out how to get back to the train station and made our way back slowly, stopping to see the Jewish Ghetto.
And that was it. We didn’t do visit as many museums as I was hoping, but we did see some pretty interesting stuff. I have lots of photos on my Flickr account, as usual.
By sylvie on April 11, 2013
My boss asked me to give a seminar on how to write research papers for her graduate students. Yesterday, I talked about what goes into a research paper or a thesis, and gave a few tips on how you should write each section. One of the students asked me how you went about reading a research paper, how to take notes, and I answered that it was highly individual. But she was not satisfied because that was the answer everyone gave her and in the meantime, she still didn’t know how to best tackle the task.
I have been trying to remember when I first started reading papers in graduate school. Oh how painful that was, what with the absence of the web to facilitate the whole process. I also remember that I had no idea which papers I should read and which ones were in no way pertinent to my research, so I would plod through thickets of research articles, hand writing piles of notes to myself. One thing I learned from that: always put the exact page you saw something because if you try to find the original text later, you will have to re-read the whole paper, and who wants to do that.
I have been thinking then on how I read papers and I think that I use three different strategies depending on my goal:
- I want to learn about a new area I am unfamiliar with
- I want to see how other people are doing research in an area or I want to see what the latest research is
- I am just looking for papers to quote in an article
If I am unfamiliar with an area and I am either looking to see if we should be doing research in that area or I am trying to give myself a crash course in that area because I am going to start doing work in it, then I will read scientific papers as though they were newspaper articles. That is, I start from the beginning and I go to the end. I may or may not take some notes along the way. Nowadays, I can download PDF copies of pretty much any article I find, so I store them on my hard drive and hope that I remember later that I have them. My goals are to learn the vocabulary, familiarize myself with the approaches used to do research, and find out who gets quoted most often.
If I am just interested in learning about the research itself, then I will skip straight to the methods and results sections, and then check the discussion section. In this case, I am trying to find information about what questionnaire or survey (or other tool) the researchers used, how it went, and whether there were any problems or ways to improve the results. Then I will go back and skim the introduction section in order to find more research that used the same technique or more promising techniques.
If I am just looking for new papers to quote, then I will concentrate strictly on the introduction section, although I may check out the discussion section to see if it presents any new research.
I have to admit, I am a very bad note taker. I will just type what I am reading, or, well, the sections I think are most important (in addition to taking notes, this approach helps me keep concentrated on the paper I am reading). This ends up in my having copious quotes from the original papers all in one single document. When I was younger and printed everything out, I would then colour code everything with marker pens, using a different colour according to the topic the text was about. Then, when I was writing about a topic, all I had to do was find the notes in the appropriate colour and I could connect everything together. Nowadays, I try to keep my printing to a minimum, so I no longer use this technique. But with experience, I am much better at separating and rejoining the different themes in my notes just by reading.
I am still not sure how I can answer her question, though. I’ve been doing this for so long, I have automated the whole process. I need to sit down and try to see how I do it. It just happens that I want to read about participatory design research, so I will try to take notes on how I go about taking notes. Heh.
By sylvie on March 19, 2013
The annual ICT Days is starting tomorrow and will last until Saturday. This is the time of year when the tech people, the business people, and the scientists all get together to celebrate Trento’s vision of a smart city.
We will be present at various events throughout the four days of the event. On Wednesday, we will be supporting the Student Hackathon with our open platform. On Thursday, we will have a table at the placement event where we will be interviewing students interested in working with us. Yours truly will most probably be there. On Friday afternoon, we will be hosting a panel on the issue of the Smart City. And on Saturday, I hope to see you at the Tridentino Museo downtown where we will be demoing ViviTrento, our app aimed at the inhabitants of Trento.
We have been working hard to get our apps ready for ICT Days. Hope to see you there!
By sylvie on February 24, 2013
It takes about an hour to get to Verona from Trento by train, so we decided to make a day trip to the city of Romeo and Juliet. We left early last Saturday to arrive around 9:30am, then took a city bus as we didn’t know exactly where to go.
The first thing we visited was the Roman Arena, now an open air opera house:
Real Roman Ruins!
Walking in the corridors, I could feel the weight of history and imagined toga-clad citizens hurrying to their seats to see the show.
Good thing the Romans had electricity
After leaving the arena, we slowly made our way to Piazza delle Erbe. If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs, this is the place to go to.
Also ancient buildings and a fountain
Right off the piazza is the balcony of Juliet. Never mind that Romeo and Juliet never existed or that they were conjured up by an Englishman, apparently the tourists come to see where they lived and the Veronese are happy to oblige. Did we go? Of course, but I grumbled about it all the way and back.
Leaving the Piazza, we wandered some more until we finally made our way to the Duomo.
Not as impressive an exterior as Firenze’s Duomo or even Trento’s, although I may be a bit prejudiced about that one
The church was built in the 12th century and doesn’t look like much from the exterior. But the interior! I may have cried at the view of Firenze’s Duomo, but the interior of Verona’s Duomo had me walking around slack-jawed and wide-eyed like a country bumpkin visiting New York City for the first time.
And this is just a small part of the church!
After the Duomo, we made our way across the bridge there and walked along the Adige towards Castelvecchio, now a museum.
Part of the Castelvecchio museum building
If you are interested in religious art over the centuries, this is the place to go to. They also had a very small display of armour and weapons, one room’s worth.
And of course, this guy
Alas, by the time we got here, it was late in the afternoon, and we were both exhausted, so we were not able to do justice to the museum.
André’s comment about this particular display: “First example of Photoshop”
And so, even though there was still plenty to see, not only in Castelvecchio, but in Verona itself, we reluctantly made our way back to the train station and came home, determined to go again soon to see all the sights we missed the first time.
If you are interested in seeing more, I took about 200 pictures during our walk through the city.