Google is Hiring on the Moon.

Google is Hiring on the Moon.

Here is some more Google easter eggs:

Search for miserable failure and look at the first result you get.

Pigeon Google.

Various Google editions: Linux, Microsoft, Mac, BSD

Strange languages supported by Google: Bork, Elmer Fudd, Pig latin, Hacker, Klingon,

Google Gulp (beta)

Searches for answer to life, the universe, and everything return 42.

Searches for more evil than satan himself used to return a link to Microsoft; it doesn't work anymore :)

Phony (non-Google) easter eggs:

Search for French Military Victories and press the "I'm feeling lucky" button.
Search for elgoog (google reversed) and press the "I'm feeling lucky" button.

Algorithm to Catch Lies

If you read some of my previous posts on Technology you probably noticed that I've been playing and experimenting with some aspects of text elaboration (see posts on: generated stylized text, Google translator, Babelfish translator). The following falls into that category and caught my attention.

According to the research carried by Prof. James Pennebaker at the University of Austin in Texas and Prof. David Skillcorn at Queen's University in Ontario, there is a text elaboration algorithm to catch lies and potential fraud in any English text.

Pennbaker developed a deception model that can be applied to speeches, emails or any other text and automatically score the text based on its supposed deception level. The symptoms of a deceptive communication were identified by Pennbaker as (1) a decreased frequency of first-person pronouns (2) a decreased frequency of exception words, such as `however' and `unless' (3) an increased frequency of negative emotion words (4) an increased frequency of action words. This deception model was coded into an algorithm that he called LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count). The scientific base for such algorithm is Pennebaker research on the psychology of word use.

Skillscorn applied some of these ideas to study organized behavior, fraud detection and potential terrorist communication. The results seem to be promising, but the research continues.

Imagine the possibilities and ramifications of the results of this research. Imagine if email clients were able to score the level of potential deception of any email that you receive. Would you be interested in having that kind of tool?
While this technology is interesting and potentially useful, it also suffers from an implicit self-destructive defect that, I believe, will make it hard to succeed in the long term. I call discoveries with this defect "Suicidal Models".
In fact, if this technology was wide-spread and all email clients or word processors integrated a deception scoring system, then anybody could modify a text to make it look truthful to the specific algorithm. Would this be a tool in the arsenal of deceiving minds instead of a lie detector? Something that helps them lie even better? You decide.

Altavista Babelfish Lost in Translation.

Now that I had fun with Google Translator, I decided to try the Altavista Babelfish translator and see if you can obtain any better results.

I slightly modified my Java program (The Translator Buster) to hit the Babelfish site instead of the Google site. I ran the first test with the simple phrase “I am a writer”. I had it converted into Italian and than back into English; this methodology is described in great details in my previous post about Google Translator.

Sit down! Ready? Here is the news! The result is EXACTLY the same obtained with Google!!! Errors and everything! The phrase gets translated first into “Sono un produttore” and then into “They are a producer”, exactly like it happens using Google Translator.

Is that a coincidence? Well, if both translations were correct, then I would conclude that both translators work perfectly. The fact that both translators completely screwed up the translation in the EXACT same way seems very odd. Two translators, completly lost in translation, ending up in the same place. What are the odds?

Let’s compare more complicated results.

The following is a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.

I report here the result of translating this back and forth from English to Italian 10 times with both Babelfish and Google translator. Here we go:

Babelfish results:
The thoughts all that in order to align must examine it have been thoughts of the migliaia already of the periods; but for so that it renders in order to align ours, than that that what those that that what must honestly think them anchorage of the surplus, the finchè must they that the puttinges that it uproots in our personal experience.
Google results:
The thoughts all that in order to align must examine it have been thoughts of the migliaia already of the periods; but for so that it renders in order to align ours, than that that what those that that what must honestly think them anchorage of the surplus, the finchè must they that the puttinges that it uproots in our personal experience.

You got it!! The results are the exact same! Coincidence? I don’t think so!

Running enough tests I observed cases where I got slightly different results. Here is an example. The original quote is from Alvin Toffler:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

And the results obtained with the two translators are:

Babelfish results:
Those the illetterati ones of ventunesimo the century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
Google results:
Illetterato one of ventunesimo the century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, the unlearn and not relearn.


My fist wild guess after running these tests is that both Google and Babelfish run the same translation back-end engine. I coudn't find any mention of this fact anywhere, but it seems pretty obvious to me.

Given that Altavista Babelfish has alot more supported languages, it is possible that Google bought the translator from Altavista.

BTW, I also tried with some other languages (like French and German) with very similar results.

Google Translator Lost in Translation

Have you ever used one of these on-line translators (like Google Translator) to translate anything from one languge to another? If you did, I hope you didn't rely on these tools to translate any critical information. At times they may be useful; they are certainly free for you; but they are also always far from giving you great and accurate results.

Theoretically, if there really was a translator that works from language A to language B and from language B to language A, then it should be possible to submit a text in language A, translate it into B and then translate that translation back into language A. The result should maintain the original meaning.

For example if I translate the phrase "I am a writer" in Italian, the correct translation is "Io sono uno scrittore". If I translate "Io sono uno scrittore" from Italian back to English the correct translation is "I am a writer". The result is exactly the same. It doesn't matter how many times I repeat the process. The text maintains the same meaning.

On the other hand, if every time that you translate a text the meaning changes a little bit, the sense of a text that gets translated back and forth a number of times drifts further and further from the original. If you do enough translations back and forth you end up with something completely different from the original.

This is exactly what happens with current major on-line translators.

To demostrate what I mean I wrote a small Java program that submits a text in English to Google Translator for translation into a different language; the result is caputured and submitted to Google for translation back to English. The new English version is submitted again, and the cycle is repeated a number of times. What you get in the end is sometimes really different from the original.

I'll give you some real examples.

First of all I tried with the simple phrase “I am a writer”, as mentioned above. The translation to Italian given by Google Translator is “Sono un produttore”. This is wrong already. That means “I am a producer”. If I give this back to Google for translation in English I get “They are a producer”. It went from “I” to “they” and from “writer” to “producer”. The sense of the original is completely distorted.

Let’s try something more complex. The following is an extract from the speech that President George W. Bush gave in his first State Of The Union in 2001:

I want to thank so many of you who have accepted my invitation to come to the White House to discuss important issues. We're off to a good start. I will continue to meet with you and ask for your input. You have been kind and candid, and I thank you for making a new President feel welcome.

Using my program I submitted this to Google and translated it back and forth from Engish to Italian and from Italian to English 10 times. In the end of this process the text has been distorted into:

I wish that ringraziar many that they have accepted the mines they have invited in order to come to lodge the woman white woman of the woman of the woman of the woman of the woman of the woman of the woman of the woman of the woman in order to discuss important editions. We are isinseriti to a good beginning. I will continue to come it in order to put itself in contact with and asking yours the immesso. You have been kind and candid and ringrazio in order to make a new welcome of tact of the president.

Huh? Among all the various errors the funniest is that the “white house” for some reason became “white woman” (repeated a number of times), and “invitation” became “mines”.

Let’s see more examples. The next is an extract from a news article published on the INDOLink website about Dick Cheney hunting stunts.

The facts first, that have all the ingredients of a thriller because of the secrecy surrounding them. The hero of the thriller is Dick Cheney, second in command to George W. Bush, the man who wanted to get Osama bin Laden but could not.

After a few passes from English to Italian, this is what I ended up with:

The facts in the first place, that have all the ingredients of a moving history because of the segretezza that encircles them. The hero of the moving history is to the inner part of second the place Dick Cheney, to the inner part of the place that directs George W. Bush, the man who has wished to obtain the bucket of loaded Osama but he could not.

I love how “Bin Laden” ends up reading “bucket of loaded Osama”. Jokes come to mind, but to keep this blog PG-10 I’ll leave them for the reader to imagine.

I’ll give a third example. This is from a speech by English Prime Minister Tony Blair addressing the war with Iraq in March 2003.

Tonight, British servicemen and women are engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission: to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

And after a few passes with the translation back and forth from English to Italian and from Italian to English this is what it becames:

This evening, the British mechanics and the women are support to you from air, earth and the sea. Their mission: for for of removal of Saddam di Hussein that is fed and disarming the relative Iraq of the destruction square you which they collect in a heap.

I have no idea how it went from "disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction" to "and disarming the relative Iraq of the destruction square you which they collect in a heap.".

You can try this by your own by hand using Google Translator.

Stylized Phrase Generator

From time to time I experiement with new technologies and new ideas.

This idea was inspired by Alessandro, a dear and very creative old friend that wrote some very nifty Italian text generators.

Stylized Phrase Generator, or SPG, is an experimental software prototype that I wrote for fun in my rare spare time. It is designed to read a text (or book), learn the style and the vocabulary and generate any number of new sentences using the same “style” and vocabulary learnt from the original. The result is designed to be “readable”, to look and sound like the original, but not necessarily make any real sense. In other words, SPG is a generator of Stylized nonsense.

In its current incarnation SPG is written in Java. It can create any number of pages of output composed by any number of sentences. The output can be formatted based on text templates and encoded based on any filter that can be expressed in Java. Currently the available encodings I wrote are for XML and HTML escaping and formatting.

The current template that I’m using is designed to generate an Atom XML feed that can be burnt into an RSS feed and distributed for the amusement of subscribers.
The first feed generated by SPG that I’m going to publish and update periodically can be found here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/StylizedGeneratedFun

It is published by FeedBurner and you can subscribe to it; please post here your comments on the feed. I am very interested in knowing what you think.
If enough people show interest I will keep adding new styles and adjust the algorithm for the amusement of the readers (keep in mind that this is a spare-time project, I do this for fun and I am a busy guy, so progress may be slow).

How does it work? In brief the algorithm takes the original text and builds a vocabulary of all the words and puntuaction marks found in it. For each word the algorithm builds a list of all words that immadiatly followed it at any point in the text. This list is prioritized based on the relative probability. For example if the word "the" is followed 2 times by "house" and 1 time by "cat" in the text, then the probability of "house" to follow "the" is 66%, and the probability of "cat" to follow "the" is 33%. Once this learning phase is completed, the algorithm can use this knoweldge to generate phrases. Words are randomly picked based on that knoweldge and respecting the probability to occur in the available learnt succession.

If there is any interest in the idea I’ll eventually describe the algorithm in more detail and perhaps publish the Java source code and make it Public Domain. The method described here may change as I refine it. As you know, the devil is in the details!!

Let me give you some example of the first results I obtained. For more examples just subscribe to the feed and keep following it as I add new styles and as I refine SPG.

I fed to the software the text of “As You Like It” (the script of the William Shakespeare play), and here is a snippet of what it generated:

ROSALIND. How say you have mercy, and happiness; for fashion bequeathed me thou liest in some hope. And if thou, and wip'd with my heart Lie Direct; I am not so.
Here is an example generated from the text of the English constitution:

The moderate Liberal rule by a rectified perception of a great majority of the rarest. English are not good at social power. When the repeated influence equivalent to expect what is scanty, in the sudden emergency, this change is undoubtedly positive.
As you can see the text is readable but it speaks nonsense. On the other hand it can be entertaining to read especially when it happens to acquire a meaning that is, or can be interpreted, as real.

One of the interesting things I learnt is that the same program works equally well, without modifications, if applied to text written in other languages. So far I have tested it with some English and Italian texts.

I also discovered that, in general, the more the reader doesn’t understand the subject and the language in the original text, the more the sentences generated by SPG seem to make sense.

This tells you something interesting about human mind. When you do not understand a subject you tend to believe and find meaning of what you hear, even if what you hear is a complete nonsense.

What is Ajax? Past, Present and Future.

The world is changing. This opening line from the Lord of the Rings is powerful; these words resonate in my mind every time I think about what is happening in the World Wide Web today.
Things are boiling hard and the lessons learnt from the failure of .COM era are producing new needs and new ideas. New concepts are being created every day and becoming part of a new landscape that is still unshaped and changing daily.
A new term has been forged to describe in one word a set of technologies and concepts that developers are putting together to create the new and remodeled Web 2.0 scenario. This term is Ajax. It means “Asynchronous JavaScript and XML”.

Is this a new technology? Not really. It is mostly a new way of reusing “old” technology.

To explain this concept I’ll briefly describe the various parts of the definition of Ajax, how they came to existence and why they are now melted together.

JavaScript.

JavaScript, originally called LiveWire and LiveScript, has been around since Netscape 2 which was released in early 1996. The most important additions to this version of the browser were frames and JavaScript.
This new language looked somewhat similar to Java and was very useful to create interactive web pages with embedded logic. The example of Netscape was followed by Microsoft that spewed out variations under the name of Jscript and Active Scripting.

The usual scenario that annoyingly repeats itself in history over and over. Somebody comes up with a good idea. Somebody else likes it and makes its own version, without substantial improvements, confusing the world and generating strands of similar but not completely compatible technologies.

XML

It all started at IBM in 1969, with the Generalized Markup Language (GML). This was invented by Charles Goldfarb, Ed Losher and Ray Lorie during a research project on integrated law office information systems. It was used as a means of allowing text editing, formatting and document sharing.
Goldfarb carried on the work on GML and in 1974 invented the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). In 1986 this was adopted as one of the ISO standards.

In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee invents HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) while working at computer services at CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland). The first web browser to support HTML was a prototype written by Tim on a NeXT computer.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) combined the power of SGML with the simplicity of HTML and came up with XML, which is a small subset of SGML.

HTML grew into various incarnations, and the latest ones include XHTML and CSS, which allow for a more powerful and generalized description of web pages.

Asynchronous

Now, what about the word “Asynchronous” in the definition of Ajax?

This describes the addition of XMLHttpRequest Object to the tools available to the JavaScript developer. This Object allows asynchronous retrieval and manipulation of XML data. It was introduced as an ActiveX object by Microsoft and today is available as a native object within both Mozilla and Apple’s Safari browsers.

In other words, the XMLHttpRequest object ties up JavaScript and XML into something powerful and somewhat innovative.

JavaScript and XML combined with the XMLHttpRequest object provide the foundation for client side computation and presentation of data. Their use is acquiring new forms and is becoming the technology trend of today’s web.

The World is Changing

Unfortunately the phrase “The World is Changing” describes well the situation of the Web today, but it doesn’t describe something crystallized and stable; in fact, it is not. It is changing, rapidly, in a way that resembles Darwinian species evolution. Some strand of changes survives. Others die. Only the best moves forward.

This process takes time and hopefully will lead to good results in the end.

The Hope

It would be great if there was a single technology standard (not maker!) that is guaranteed to work well on all platforms, browsers and servers. It would be great if developers and users didn’t have to know about JavaScript security settings, various browser versions and all sort of incompatibilities across platforms.

It is very hard today for a developer to write a piece of JavaScript that is guaranteed to work well on all browsers, or at least the most important ones.

Take the XMLHttpRequest object for example. It is an ActiveX object in IE, but it is a native object in Safari and Mozilla. This means that you instantiate it in different ways depending on the browser, and the JavaScript code needs to find out which way to use and do the right thing accordingly. This is just one of the examples, but there are many others. Often the differences between browsers and standards are small, but big enough to increase the complexity of development and the frustration of users.

There is the need for something truly standard that solves all these problems, or for a consortium to standardize what’s happening. In reality the game seems to be in the hands of some major players that may or may not decide to adhere to whatever standard is proposed. Perhaps, and hopefully, this will change too and major players will be forced to do what is good for the users and not what is good for themselfs.

The Web needs to be an easier place for creativity to develop great content; it does not need to be a fighting arena for supremacy and should not force engineers to spend all their energies to create sophisticated ways to work around artificial and complex compatibility issues across technology makers.

An Italian in the States: Part 6 - Houses and Buildings

When I moved to America I knew absolutely nothing about construction methods of buildings in the states. Not that I was an expert of Italian house construction, but I certainly knew a lot more about bricks and mortar than studs and sheet-rock.
It has been one of the many learning experience for me and I had to start from the bottom.
When I first heard that houses are kept up with studs, I had to look in the dictionary. Under “stud” the first definition listed was “a man who is virile and sexually active”. Another definition was “adult male horse kept for breeding”. Before I saw the right definition (“scantling: an upright in house framing”) the thought that I was in a sexiest and shallow society that claims that virile man keep up houses passed briefly in my mind.
When I realized that walls are made out of some kind of thin material I asked about it and I was told that it is sheetrock. The word materialized in my mind the image of thin layers of rock machined in super warehouses with huge wet saws slicing some kind of natural stone blocks. This strange scifi images (plus the alienating fact that “sheet” - see "An Italian in the States - part 4 - Language" - is one of these words that I tried to avoid as much as possible for a while) made me feel little like if I was born again and had to relearn even the most common knowledge facts. I finally understood why immigrants are also called “aliens”. I felt like one, in a sense.
If you go inside an Italian house, old or new, and you touch the wall you’ll realize what all this difference that I’m talking about is. You can press as hard as you want or even punch or kick the wall really hard and it won’t move an inch. It’s rock solid. Literally!
In “new” constructions (100 years old or newer) all walls, internal or external, are made out of bricks and concrete. They are then covered with plaster and painted or covered with wallpaper.
Older buildings, especially in small towns in the country, have solid walls made out of natural stone and they can be a few feet thick.
If you were to stay in a house in Italy and you wanted to do even the simplest operation such as hanging a picture on the wall, you would notice how different things are. Forget tacks or large wood nails. For small picture frames you would have to buy tempered steel nails. These tough black nails are tiny (about 1” long), sharp like a knife and hard like… well… hardened and tempered steel!
You hammer them through a layer of plaster and bricks or stone. Since they are so hard they are also brittle and often they bend or break in the operation. When that happens you need to pull out the piece left in the wall and try a new one.
If you want to hang something heavier you need to use a good drill with a masonry bit. Lots of dust and noise later you would have to insert an expansion screw and tight it in. These screws are similar to some of the heavy duty sheet-rock fasteners that you use here in the States for heavy picture frames in cases when you don't have a stud in the right spot.
When you tight these screws they expand in the wall and hold almost anything. If you thigh it too much the brick may collapse and you could find yourself with the dirty chore of patching a brick wall with newspaper and plaster… and lots of patience.
If you ever wanted to put a new electrical wire in a wall you would be up for a challenge that very few homeowners take on themselves in Italy. You would have to cut what we call a “traccia”, or track. This is a 2” - 3” deep groove in the bricks. It is done with a jack-hammer if you own one, or with a hammer and brick chisel otherwise.
Then you would have to put in an electrical plastic pipe and seal it in with plaster. After that you would have to resurface the wall, sand it and repaint. When you are done you would have to insert the 220V wire into the plastic pipe and hope that it doesn’t get stuck somewhere.
Cutting these tracks produces a lot of noise and dust.
Speaking of noise; newly built condos in Italy have long concrete pilasters with metal rods in it going from the foundation all the way to the roof. These are very solid, but they also transmit noise very easily. When you cut tracks in the wall the noise and vibrations travel across these pilasters and invade people’s living spaces. For your neighbors it sounds like you are working in their house.
When I moved to the States I couldn’t believe how weak walls are. You can easily go through a wall if you punch it (and you are lucky enough not to hit a stud). It took me a while to realize the anatomy of a house and when I found out that houses are kept together with nails, I couldn’t believe it. It was like somebody telling you that airplanes are kept together with scotch tape.
Don’t take me wrong, I didn’t think it was a lie or some sort of conspiracy against me. I knew it worked, but I had to see for myself. That is when I built a playhouse for my daughter (see photo) following all the construction techniques and materials used in real houses (except for plumbing, which the only thing missing).
Well, now I’m convinced. It works indeed. The playhouse is solid like a rock.
All of this, I have to say, makes me think about the story of the wolf and the Three Little Pigs. But that, I realize, is probably a European story anyway.

Celebrities Morph

In this photo I morphed two Hollywood celebrities into one face.
Can you guess who they are?

Make Software your product, and service your business!

Today I was driving and my eye fell on a brochure I had in the car. The brochure comes from a metal retailer and the slogan on it claims "Our product is Metal. Our business is Service".
I immediately started thinking about this and I had an "Eureka!" moment. I realized that this short phrase captures exactly a key concept in the Web 2.0 sense applied to Software. I already had this concept in mind (summarized in my post "Software: service or product?"), but finding a summary of my thoughts on that one line was very revealing.
You produce Software but what you need to sell is a Service! The real value for your customers comes from the service that is generated around the product and not necessarily from the product by itself.
That is because products are generally static in nature. Like a piece of metal in a traditional old-fashion market. Each sale is a one-time deal. Software can be extremely dynamic and you can build a lot of value providing services around it.
This concept is especially important when the software that you sell is very adaptable and can make your customers money when they invest their time and creativity in it. These kind of customers depend on your product and on you to maximize their productivity and their revenue. For this reason the quality and nature of the service you provide should be a key point in your message and in your investment in a Software business.

An Italian in the States: Part 5 - Driving

When I moved from Italy to the States I had several adjustments to make to my behavior and habits in order to fit in nicely with the American society machine. Certainly one of the adjustments was driving. I had to stop driving like an Italian and start driving like an American.
Driving in Italy is very challenging and risky business. Italians are in general good drivers but also very aggressive drivers and it is intimidating if you are not used to it.
The street code in the States is very similar to the Italian one, except for a few details; everything looks familiar and you feel confident until you find that one signal or driving behavior that is different and usually surprises you when you really need to know what’s going on.
A classic example is right turns at a red light. When I first saw people turning right at a red light I thought: “even here??”
Eventually I figured out that in the States (or at least in this state) it is legal to do so but it took a while to get used to it. In Italy people commonly blow red lights, but that is one of these classic common illegal things people do.
An easy adjustment was parking. Parking anywhere in Italy is, to say the least, challenging. For example, be ready to walk! There is no way you will ever find a parking spot within 500 feet of whatever location you need to go. You need to park wherever you can and then walk to your final destination. That’s the only way of avoiding going around all day long looking for a space for your car. Depending on the area it is often a lot easier to walk a mile or two than to park next to your destination. That’s why Italians walk so much and are so skinny!
Parallel parking on the side of a busy street is also by far the most common way you will ever park in Italy. Be prepared to have only a couple of inches of space in font and back of your car for your parallel parking challenge.
You eventually get used to it; in fact, when I took my driving test in the States, I scored 99 points out of 100 points. At the time of the test I had being driving for 10 years and I was proud to be a decent driver. That one point taken away burnt my ego. I asked the instructor why I didn’t get a full 100. He told me that he had to take away one point because in the parallel parking test I parked too close to the car in front of me. I told him that in Italy if I ever left more than a few inches of space between cars I would get a ticket for wasting too much precious parking space. We laughed.
This hardship in finding parking spots in Italy leads to all sort of problems. The major one is the plague, or art, of “parcheggi selvaggi”, or “savage parking”. This is the result of trying to stop somewhere even if it is impossible to do so. There are various categories of savage parking, and they are all pretty common: parking next to other parallel parked cars, moving stuff like garbage cans to make a parking spot (see photo or check this out for more), parking on a sidewalk, parking on the crosswalk, parking in front of garages, doors or other passage ways, parking on shoulders, parking in the middle of a road (on the center line), etc…
I mentioned before that Italian drivers are aggressive. Let me explain what I mean with “aggressive” with some examples: people will drive two feet away from your tail even on the freeway going 80 miles an hour. They will honk every time they have a problem with your driving (real or imaginary) or if they don’t like the color of your car. They will pass you on the right. They will blow red lights or stop signs and in certain cities they will even honk if you stop at a red light. They will drive at 60 miles per hour in two ways streets between walls with one foot of clearance on the left and on the right of the car. There is a lot more, but in short: “it’s crazy!”
It is so insane that driving is now probably the biggest “cultural” shock I get when I go back to Italy. I am not used to it anymore. I am now used to the slow and polite average American driver. Kind of boring, but at least you don’t risk your life everyday.
Another interesting thing to mention is the types of cars that Italians drive. Things are changing, but until a few years ago high gasoline prices, relatively short distances and a good railway system contributed to push the average Italian to buy very small cars. 1.6 liters were considered medium-large vehicles. As a student I used to drive a 0.9 liters and you are probably familiar with the ever popular “Fiat 500” (in the photo above), which is a 0.5 liters car. Very few people ever considered buying an SUV, a Van or a Track; impossible to park, too big for the roads and too expensive to maintain. Today, I am told, things are changing and SUVs and Hammers are a reality even on Italian streets.
Also, 99.9% of cars have manual transmission. I never drove a car with automatic transmission while I was living over there and I had no clue what “automatic” really even was. I guess one of the reasons is that we don’t have drive-through fast food restaurants and we are not allowed to talk on the phone or eat while driving a car. You won’t even find cup holders in Italian cars. No need for that free hand while driving! Manual transmission is just fine.
Another interesting aspect of driving in Italy is the way the Italian government deals with pollution. Here in the States when the quality of the air goes bad they issue a warning and they politely ask you to try to carpool or take public transportation.
In major cities in Italy when the quality of the air goes bad, the traffic gets blocked! That is you *cannot* drive for the day. They put road blocks and only a very few with special permits (like Cabs and Buses) can pass the blocks. Everybody else has to stay home, walk or take public transportation (if there isn’t some kind of strike going on…).
Good for the economy? No!
Good for the air quality? Sure!
Frustrating? Very!
Since this traffic blocks, as mentioned, are bad for the economy, the Italian government solves the issue of both pollution and economy with one brilliant move! They force you to change car! Matter of fact from 2006 all cars are categorized based on their pollution ratings. Then they decided that some of the higher polluting categories cannot be on the roads anymore. That is if you have a car that is too old, they kick you out of the roads! You have to trash it and buy a new and less polluting one. The alternative is to make heavy modifications of what you have, that usually cost more than a new car.
Good for the economy? Yep!
Good for your pockets? NO!
Good for the air quality? Sure!
Frustrating? Hell yes!



A few interesting links on the subject of driving in Italy:

Making a blog super popular. The amazing secret!!

What is the secret of a super popular blog?

I'm talking huge!! Super popular!! A blog so popular that its name appears everywhere and in every city!! Everywhere! Buses, billboards, signs, football games, and even in fortune cookies!

I am going to tell you how to see that happen in real life. First take a look at the photos below and see for yourself.

Later, I'll tell you the amazing secret for this kind of results!




















Super success? Fame? Luck?
Well, not really... just some cool free tool on the net:

Tricks of Perception: Weight of Air.

Sometimes perception tricks you in believing something that turns out surprisingly erroneous.

For example, how heavy is air?
Well, it is heavier than you would ever think!

Here is a surprising example I stumbled across:

The Eiffel Tower that dominates the skyline of Paris is all made out of iron and weights around 10,000 tons (or 20,000,000 pounds).

If you took the tower and placed it in an air cylinder, the weight of the air in the cylinder would be heavier than the tower itself!

For the geeks: this can be easily calculated knowing a few facts. The Eiffel tower is ~1063 feet high and sits on a square of ~410 feet side. The weight of air is ~0.0805320691 lb/feet^3. A cylinder enclosing the Eiffer Tower would contain 278,919,465 feet^3 of air with a total weight of 22,461,962 lb.

Another example is the weight of the air inside a basketball. About 1/3 oz.