Because Italy is more than a geographic expression..

Alessi S.P.A. US

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year To All

2010 was a comeback year of sorts (sory for the inactivity in December but I'm starting a business - now in its 10th month. Expected opening for my daycare is in late January) for this blog and the goal is to improve it in 2011.

Until then,

Buon Anno!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Manzano's Big Chair

Nice piece on how a town known for the manufacturing of chairs is facing the China competition.

Naples And Italian Global Competiveness

Naples, to me, is a symbol of Italy not maximizing its potential on the world stage. Flippant, corrupt (the mafia has a solid grip in Italy) and chaotic, the city has come to personify the inefficient attitudes that grips and grabs Italy by the wrists and throat. When I was in Naples in 1990, I saw a beautiful city in violent decay. It left us stunned to see it in such a state. It has no business being that way.

We basically saw a city tearing itself apart despite its culinary and artistic wonders; to say nothing of its tough-minded, passionate people. They reminded me of New Yorkers. If you've ever had an espresso in Naples with Mount Vesuvius ominously staring back at you you know what I mean.

Napoli is a city like no other. A gem in the middle of the Mediterranean built by the ancient Greeks.

How a city of such magnificence and historical importance can wallow in conditions unbecoming of a majestic city is beyond me to comprehend. It's almost as if Italians have no interest to the point of pure sadness in their cultural legacy. They spit in the face of their history. A history that has impacted world civilization on so many levels.

The problems facing Italy are big to be sure but even in areas that should be second-nature to Italy like tourism it laughably trails places like Germany, USA, Canada Spain and France by several measures. Indeed, by several global competitive reports, Italy simply lags and stagnates pretty much behind most of its Euro neighbours. Not that things are necessarily so much better elsewhere. Western culture as a whole is experiencing a serious downtrend. I'm not sure what these "trends" really mean.

Nonetheless, it baffles how Italians can accept this. Are they even attempting to tackles some of the problems they face?

This blog is about exploring Italian business and a face of the country oft overlook namely, in part, because of unfair stereotypes but mostly because Italians don't respect what they've got. They mostly have themselves to blame. So while we take pride in Italian made objects, we're not blind to its problems.

God bestowed upon them a jewel. A gem. And they act like they have nothing but a bunch of rocks and spray paint.

The contradiction of course is the "name" and "brand" Italy still possesses a powerful image that conjures up many thoughts and emotions for people.

I mentioned New York earlier. I've been visiting that city on and off for over 25 years. I saw it pre-Giuliani and post-Giuliani; pre 9/11 and post 9/11. If a city like that can rise again so too can Naples. If you're not convinced of this comparison, how about how Barcelona went from a backward town to a world metropolis?

And who knows? Maybe it can spark something inside the Italian soul and reinvigorate its commitment to preserving its national heritage.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Italian Cuisine Remarkably Diverse

Every once in a while I stumble across discussions about food and cuisine on the internet. It's remarkable to read so many differing opinions about so many culinary societies.
I tend to steer clear of the "which are the best cuisines" debate since they're intensely personal. In any event, they rarely set a strict criteria to determine, if they must, what is the "best." I thoroughly enjoy Chinese and Lebanese food.

All I will say is when it comes to sheer breadth of products and ingredients Italy offers a staggering array.

I learned that by visiting a couple of SIAL's (international food exposition).

I attended my first SIAL in 2004 in Paris when I explored the possibilty of getting into food importing. My cousins own restaurants in France and visit the SIAL to see what's "out there" and got me a pass. Roaming around the corridors, what became immediately apprarent was, A) how many interesting products are out there - I spent quite a bit of time in the Turkish, Chinese and America's sections - and B) how Italy on its own was the single largest entity present. I'm talking massive.

Not even its main Latin rival France's exposition was as big.

That's why it always elicits a chuckle or two whenever I hear someone claim Italy's cuisine "begins and ends with tomato sauces." In particular in trying to distinguish it from French cuisine. Personally, it's a rather puerile position to present. Perhaps here in North America, thanks to the "Americanization" of food, we get that impression but the reality mocks this assertion.

Nothing can be further from the truth and quite frankly it baffles me; especially coming from people who claim to know food. The beauty of Italian food is rooted in its sophisticated simplicity. It's an exact science they've mastered over time and it includes quite a variety of food and recipes.

In fact, it's that similar reasoning that led me to starting this blog. I was a little tired of the perception that somehow Italy didn't possess a world class industrial, manufacturing and scientific base.

The other thing I've observed and was anectodaly confirmed in conversations with natives is that the French don't cook at home like the Italians do. There's still a very traditional and family oriented aspect to Italian culinary life.

It's much easier, to me anyway, to find a trattoria, gelatoria, or bar and be served memorable food in Italy.  Heck, you can drive into a small town, as we did in Lucca in 1990, and be served a charming and exquisite meal that remain with you for the rest of your life.

Finally, the other thing I learned was that Italy is the biggest producer of organic foods.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Interview With VisLab's Professor Alberto Broggi

Since I posted a couple of times about a driverless van making a 13 000km trek to China, I decided to go to the source and interview the man (and his team) behind VisLab and the mystery machine as it were.

I contacted Professor Broggi and he was kind enough to take a few moments to answer some questions if anything to bring a human face to a technological project. Sadly, this story did not seem to get too much attention in Italy itself.

Born in Parma in Northern Italy, Alberto Broggi is professor of Computer engineering at the University of Parma. In 1998, he began to explore Artificial Intelligence at the University of Pavia as an associate professor. Professor Broggi currently resides in Parma with his wife and two daughters. You can view more about his life and accomplishments here.

For our readers, how did VisLab come to be, what has it accomplished and where is it heading?

It's a spinoff company of the University of Parma working on  driver assistance systems. We have been working in this field for over 15 years and have accomplished some results that are considered milestones in the history of our research field.

What are the implications for science and society in general for artificial vision and is Italy a leader in the field?

Artificial vision can solve a number of problems, and now it's even more common since cameras and PCs have a very low cost. Artificial vision is an international science and is common everywhere!

What do you hope to achieve with Vislab?

We'd like to transfer our technology to the vehicular market. We've already set up some cooperations with established car manufacturers, automotive suppliers, and big-vehicle manufacturers like Caterpillar.

Briefly walk us through VIAC'S remarkable 13 000km journey to China. What were the challenges, the emotions felt by your team?

Well, too wide to answer this here so I invite readers to read about your question here.

I couldn't help but think of Marco Polo (I alluded to it in a past post) when I read about VIAC, did you think of this historical angle?

Yes, if you search on google, you'll find someone defined it as a new marco-polo trip. And someone even suggested calling the vehicles Marco-Robot.

Which companies and in what industries have your products and research been requested and used?

Well, we have a number of companies that we work with: for example, Caterpillar as mentioned earlier, Rockwell Collins and Topcorn.

See full list here.

Thank you, Professor Broggi and VisLab!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Electronica Sounds

Let's kick Novembre off with a couple of Italian electronica, lounge, cool contemporary acts.

S.Tone Inc.,Bandarbardo (with an acoustic performance) and Daniele Di Silvestri with a stylish video.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Self-Driving Van Makes It To China

I posted about the four electric vans that split for China a couple of months ago. Well, 8 000 miles later, the ghost-drvien machines reached its destination. It went through several countries and the rough terrain Asia has to offer including the Gobi desert, busy motorways, blizzards and rain.

The van is on display at the Shanghai 2010 Auto Expo.

Excerpt from the article:

Using a system called the Generic Obstacle and Lane Detector, or GOLD, these two vans were able to pretty much guide themselves across the two continents.

The vehicles were equipped with four solar-powered laser scanners and seven video cameras that work together to detect and avoid obstacles, are part of an experiment aimed at improving road safety and advancing automotive technology.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Risorgimento Of Sorts

Italy experienced an "economic miracle" of its own (much like Germany and Japan. And thanks in part to the Marshall Plan) during the post WWII era spurred on by a reinvigorated entrepreneurial class as well as the steel industry and technological advances (hydrocarbons found in the Po Valley) centered around the Genoa-Turin-Milan triangle. Growth rates hovered around 6% for a few years.

It is here names like Olivetti and Lamborghini founds its stride with it Italy became an industrialized powerhouse.

You can a full detail here.

Comments Update

Trying to get to the bottom of why you have to hover to leave a comment.

Euro Bike

A nice collection of Italian bikes from Euro Bike 2009.

Notice the triangle gear on the Wilier.

More here at Flickr.

Image is a shot of cyclist Alessandro Ballan's Wilier bike.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Helicopter In The Sky

Augusta-Westland were in Boeing bid this past summer for presidential helicopter contract.

Double Hand Transplant

The world's first double-hand transplant took place at San Gerardo Hospital in Monza.

I italicize 'double' because it wasn't the first hand transplant. That took place in Lyon, France in 1998. However, the hand was removed after being rejected by the patient's body.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Meningitis Vaccine Discovered And Approved

Given how much press meningitis receives, it's odd that the discovery of a vaccine in Italy wasn't reported here in Canada as far as I know.


An all-Italian team of researchers has produced the first combined vaccine to protect against four of the five most dangerous strains of meningitis, the serogroups A, C, W135 and Y, reports Corriere della Sera.

The Swiss vaccine company Novartis, which also has a branch in Siena and produced a vaccine against meningitis C in 2008, has been given the green light to supply the new vaccine to pharmacies in Italy. It will be available to children over the age of eleven whose parents are in possession of a prescription from a paediatrician. Novartis coordinator Rino Rappuoli has explained that the vaccine contains a protein carrier which increases the body’s defences against the disease.
The vaccine was given a green light from U.S. and European agencies. Not sure about Canada.


I recently added a "Follow" feature on this blog. I appreciate people who take the time to join.

Welcome, Lakeviewer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Italy Has Work To Do On The Economic Freedom Front

While this blog explores one side of the Italian economic universe, one in which essentially captures its greatest creative qualities, it's not oblivious to its problems in a larger context. It's not all 'dolce vita" you know.

For example, Heritage Foundation published its annual Economic Freedom Index. Canada and the U.S. rank 7th and 8th respectively, but Italy (a member of the G8) is way down in 74th spot; tied with Greece. Leaving Russia aside for obvious reasons (I'm not so sure it even belongs in the G7), Italy is the lowest ranked G7 country.

I would think this is something the Italians will make a priority to rectify.

Not sure how realistic this objective is though.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Panerai Watches

I regret not buying that Panerai years ago - around 1990 - in New York City.

Wait a second.

What's stopping me from buying one soon in the future?

Panerai - the supplier of the Italian Navy and Commando - was founded in Florence in 1860 and is currently manufactured in Switzerland.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Maserati Gran Turismo

She's a sweet ride I say:

A little background. Maserati was founded in Bologna in 1914 by five brothers. The Orsi family bought the company in 1937 and moved it to Modena with the original brothers maintaining an engineering role thus assuring the evolution of the Maserati name and brand. Maserati then passed into French hands when in 1968 Citroen became owners of the company and seven years after that, Alessandro de Tomaso assumed control.

It didn't end there. In 1993 FIAT (you knew it was a matter of time) bought Maserati eventually selling 50% of it to Ferrari itself a related partner to FIAT. After a flirtatious stint with Volkswagen (owners of Bugatti and Lamborghini), Maserati was back in the FIAT universe teaming up with the Alfa-Romeo division.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

High End Furniture Innovation

Founded in 1927, Cassina has been home to some of the most important furniture designers in the 20th and 21st centuries. Cassina USA's website offers a brief history and biography of the company and talent.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Big Three

Cinelli still at it
Reading up on Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx - the greatest cyclist of all-time - and naturally it lead me into the remarkably diverse world of Italian bicycles. The list of bike manufacturers are too numerous to name in one post (Gianni Motta is one example), but I'd like to mention three who happen to be widely regarded as the top makes of lightweight racing bikes: Masi, Cinelli and De Rosa.

No nation on the planet do bikes like Italy.

Merckx, who rode for Italian teams Faema and Molteni (now involved with Salmilano), produced a bike line bearing his name usually built on Italian frames (as well as British, Japanese and of course Belgian) built by Masi, Cinelli and Colnago.

The bike used by Merckx to inhumanely shatter the hour record in 1972 (later broken by Italian rider Francesco Moser in 1984)  was a combination of Columbus (frame), Cinelli (handlebars), Clement Seta Pista (tires), and Campagnolo (hubs, crank, seat post, pedals).

Image from Mad Motion.


Incidentally, Belgian and Italian riders have dominated the UCI Road World Champions list. Belgium has won 25 gold medals to Italy's 19. The next best is France at eight. Italy has 55 total medals to Belgium's 47. Again, France is third with 34.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fangio And Alfa Romeo

Argentine F1 driver Juan Manuel Fangio is one of the greatest drivers in history. Fangio won his first Drivers' Championship in 1951 while driving an Alfa Romeo. The Alfetta 158/159 to be specific. The Alfetta was the child of automobile engineer Giacchino Colombo who played a role in Fangio's success. Later on, Fangio reach the pinnacle of world racing in a Ferrari and a Maserati.

Here's a neat look at Fangio in 1957 - the year of his fifth and final title this time in a Maserati 4CL.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ga-Ga For Gaggia

I think I've settled on a cappuccino machine. My Saeco is eight years old and has served me loyally with very little problems but it's time for a change.

At the moment, Gaggia (the maker of the first modern steamless machine) is the one I'm looking to switch to. Keep you posted.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Osella Squadra Corse

Established in the 1960s, Osella was active in Grand Prix racing (as it was called once upon a time - I happened to be a fan. I was subscribed to Grand Prix magazine and my father used to take my brother me every year during the 80s) in the 1980s and 1990s. It actually was pretty successful with a solid lineup of drivers that included Eddie Cheever, Elio de Angelis (I still remember his tragic death), and for you real race fans Teo Fabi. Now there's a name from the past.

Fellow Canadian Allen Berg was also part of the Osella universe.

Not sure where the company ended up. Sounds like every other manufacturer: In the arms of Fiat.

Pic from

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Revolutionary Instrument This Piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori. He who invented an instrument we call the piano. Or as he called it, "piano e forte."

How Many Volts?

Alessandro Volta's corrosive invention was the battery.

What, you think the word 'Volt' came out of a Wagner opera?

Seeing Things Better

Prior to the late 13th century, generally, eye glasses came with no arms settling on the bridge of the nose instead. Salvino D'Artmate is credited with having invented the eye glass. Although it has been asserted Alessandro Spina may have in fact been the first to do so.

From Richard D. Drewery., MD:

In 1289 in a manuscript entitled Traite de con uite de la famille, di Popozo wrote: "I am so debilita-ted-by age that without the glasses known as spectacles, I would no longer be able to read or write. These have recently been invented for the benefit of poor old people whose sight has become weak". Thus it appears that the first spectacles were made between 1268 and 1289. In 1306 a monk of Pisa delivered a sermon in which he stated: "It is not yet twenty years since the art of making spectacles, one of the most useful arts on earth, was discovered. 1, myself, have seen and conversed with the man who made them first". The name of the true inventor of eyeglasses remains lost in obscurity.

After this, as is usually the case, many inventors and innovators from other parts of Europe - notably England - improved eye glass wear.
For their part, Italians have remained at the forefront of eye glass technology over time.
As of yet, I only wear sun glasses - another area Italian designers excel in. Actually, I wear Arnette. I have somewhat of a small frame so most sun glasses tend to overwhelm my face (decorated with delicate but distinct features - ahem)  but my Arnette's fit perfectly. Not sure where Tommy Arnette was born though.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


The Villar-Perosa was arguably the first submachine gun having made its entrance as an immobile weapon created  during WWI in 1915. It was created by Bethel Abiel Revelli.

Another gun manufacturer, Franchi focuses on shotguns.

Franchi is currently a subdivision within the Benelli group.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Grand Prix Moto Stats

Being a little bit of a stats geek, I took a look at how Italian motorcycle teams have done at the MotoGP world championships. They stack up pretty well:

MV Agusta: Most capped Italian bike
In terms of drivers, Italy leads all nations (combining 500cc, 350cc, 2/250cc, 125cc, 80cc/50cc) with 75 total wins. Great Britain is next closest with 44 and Spain at 32. Japan, who do well in constructors, have only eight winners.

In constructors, Japan has won 118 titles between Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki. Italy is second with 91 titles won by MV Augusta, Moto Guzzi, Aprilia, Ducati, Gilera, Mondial, Benelli, Minarelli, Morbidelli, MBA, Bimota, Motul Bultaco.

Constructors is essentially a two-country battle between Japan and Italy. Germany is third with 13 titles (incidentally with no driver winners) and Spain with 11.

Italy is working on a 75/91 ratio.
Japan 8/118.
Great Britain 44/7.
Spain 32/11.
United States 17/2.

Aprilia Still Kicking It

Aprilia Mana X

Aprilia website here.

Modern Furniture Design

Neat post looking at kithen concepts by Lucrezia by Caesar.

Cancer Research Breakthroughs

Dr. Antonio Giordano is leading the way in searching for cures for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Video at Redorbit.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Made In Italy, Not China

I was talking with my cousin who was in town for a week. He's from Calabria and currently resides in France while maintaining a residence in Rome as well.

We were talking about, well, European life and society. Lotsa interesting tidbits too numerous and intricate to name and recount here. One thing that was interesting was France's unbelievable interventionism. He owns a counter-restaurant in a Parisian market where, among other things, he has to pay 500 euros (a year I believe; could be month) to operate a radio.

Sometimes I wonder how far behind North America is.

The other issue we discussed was the Italian consumer. Apparently, in Italy, Italians do not touch 'Made in China' products. To them, that's a line they will not cross. Which, I suppose, in part, explains why SME's and artisans continue to thrive as viable businesses in Italy since they have resisted the temptation to "outsource" their brands and manufacturing to China. Italians have spent centuries mastering their arts and luxury products. They're not about to let that disappear it looks like.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Marchionne: The Mazzini Of Business

FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne is conducting a radical experiment in Italy: Increase productivity.

But he's facing resistance.

''In Italy we are afraid of change,'' he said in a speech at a conference in Rimini. ''We are not in the1960s any more,'' he added, stressing that it was necessary to stop seeing the world as a ''fight" between capital and labour, owners and workers.

''While we still have the old outlooks weighing us down, there'll never be space for new horizons''.

The situation he describes may be more challenging in Italy but I get the feeling the same narrative is gripping the United States these days.

Marchionne is a refreshing, vibrant face of Italian business. He may very well be the "soul of Italian business" just as Giuseppe Mazzini was the "soul of Italy" during the Risorgimento.

Ciocc Bikes

Italy is the land of bicycles.

Ciocc is just one of many bicycle artisans.

As I mention from time to time, one day Italian companies will hopefully be as perfectionist with website language in English as they do their masterful products.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SME's Drive Italy's Economy

I was perusing the net to see if I can find anything discussing the Italian business model. I really need to renew my library card so I can hit primary sources and periodicals. Anyway. This research report by Daniela di Berardino at the University of Pescara (Department of Business Studies) titled Marketing in Small and Medium Enterprises:

Disclosed is only the summary (with tiny grammatical corrections) as the paper is on word doc. But is easily found on Google:

"Small and medium enterprises are the typical business model of the Italian entrepreneurial system and a lot of these SME are family business. In Italy the 80% of working people are into SME, instead in the UK the 55%, in France the 67%, in Germany the 60%, in Spain the 79%.

More than 95% of all European enterprises belong to the SME size. The 55% of these SME in Europe was born between 1951 and 1970 years, the economic boom period, and a lot of them became medium firms.

The Sme’s features are: narrow management (one or more persons); small task environment; resources, equity and human capital assigned by propriety.

The Italian experience shows that the SME:

- can obtain relevant competitive advantage into the bound task environment;

- can make success into the large market by the focus or niche strategy or by the partnership with other firms (big or small);

The competitive advantage that SME can obtain in the large markets requires these conditions:

- No economy of scale;

- High flexibility;

- few big companies;

- fragmented market.

During the last ten years many events threatened the SME: globalisation, outsourcing, enterprises’trust, brief product life cycle, consecutive innovation.

However, the SME are able to change their organizations, manufacturing and process with more flexibility than global players and during the last years many SME opened their market to the foreign customers, especially in the country in growth. The tools used for this purpose are the relationship with foreign partner and internet, thought that the Italian SME doing e-commerce, e-procurement, global promotion and market penetration into the foreign markets. A lot of them have an internet web site where presents their product, their history, their distribution system, the price and other but few of SME, in Italy too, use internet channel for value generation.

The main relationship built with big enterprises are franchising and supply chain relations (to support the growth and the market penetration), licensing and joint venture (to support the innovation, the product development, the leaning organization, to receive financial resources), and other concracts. Greater cooperativeness, sense of community, innovation, strategic flexibility and core competence are necessary to SME’s growth and competitiveness. We can try these features into the network systems, where economic exchange is embedded inside a network of social and trust relations. Trust is necessary to create cooperation and value by the relations. The economic effects, largely, are low cost, learning, market penetration and growth of management competencies.

The main objectives of european SME, usually, are the sales growth and hight return on equity. The Italian core industry is the mechanical, especially in the North East. This industry is composed by tools and machinery for other industry, while textile industry, clothing factory, leather industry, shoe factory, and only the 9% of these SME has the 20% of sales by one client. These SME have many relations with suppliers and retailers to support their growth.

The Italian SME are much focused and produce speciality goods for the consumer market. These SME prefere niche strategies, focus on core competencies, differentiated goods and service, support more quality than price competition."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Roots: Leon Battista Alberti

Before Leonardo da Vinci (during the High Renaissance) there was Leon Battista Alberti. There's a long history of architectural know-how and intense interest in the philosophy of design in Italy. We saw this, obviously, with the engineering might of Rome and we witnessed it during the Renaissance.

When we think liberal arts in education and the concept of the "Renaissance Man," Battista was the original. His influence on the Italian Renaissance can't be under stated.

Under the guidance of the men of the Renaissance, Italy (or at least its city-states) was the America of the 20th century.

Future, Future

Futuro, Futuro is relatively young (est. 1980) compared to some of Italy's famous companies.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rocket Sheep In Space

Claude Ruggieri was a rocket visionary.

From the Rocketry blog (link above):

"Claude Ruggieri sent up a live sheep around 600 feet in the air and succeeded in bringing it back to earth with a soft landing using parachutes. He did this sometime around 1806. He would have sent a young boy up making him the first “astronaut” but the local police put a stop to it. Claude Ruggieri was an Italian living in Paris. He accomplished practical application of rocket propulsion using clusters to lift heavier objects. He referred to them as a rocket necklace."

Friday, August 20, 2010

When In Milan

You may want to check out he Museum of Science & Technology:

"With its twenty-eight sections, from information technology to engines to astronomy, some 40 000 square metres of displays, and a massive 15 000 pieces in its collection, the "Leonardo da Vinci" National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan is one of the most important technical and scientific museums in the world. The museum is made up of three separate buildings: the Monumental Building, which is a former Olivetan monastery whose construction dates back to the early sixteenth century; the Rail Transport Building and the Air&Sea Transport Building."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cool Italian

I think I found a new favorite website: The Cool Hunter. Check out these amazing pics from Castello di Vicarello in Tuscany.

"Arguably the best holiday we’ve ever had anywhere, even in Italy, our favourite country, that manages to deliver every time — from food to the fashion, from people-watching to design, from architecture to hotels, from wines to coffee. How many countries get this many things right?"

I hear ya.

Motorcycles: Terra Modena

Terra Modena also have their own interpretations of what a bike is.

A Fully Integrated Thought Process

Years ago I sat an art-deco table sharing an espresso with a French-Canadian cafe owner, an Italophile as it were, talking about the ways of the Italian mind. I asked him what made them so special? He stood up and walked to the cappuccino/espresso machine. "Les Italiens n'arret pas a le cafe."

They're not content to make an Italian roast. They need to make the machine to perfect that art. It's a full integrated artistic and inventive thought process.

That's why Italy manufactures so many accessories to many things.

Consider bikes. They make the frames, tubing and parts needed to piece together and maintain a great bike. Then, they set their sites on gear such as helmets, gloves, tops, windbreakers, shorts and of course shoes.

Check out Dromarti shoes as an example.

Pic from this site.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Feast Of St. Anthony, North End Boston

As a native of Montreal, our Little Italy doesn't have, in my opinion, the charm and vibrance of Boston's North End. In a time where the concept of "Little Italy" is fighting obsolescence across the continent, the North End defies this pattern.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Engineering Mind Of Gaetano Crocco

Gaetano Arturo Crocco was an Italian engineer born in Naples on Oct. 26, 1877...

1912, he realized the first italian experimental wind tunnel, followed soon by a second one, and finally by a third, specially used for high wind speed (up to 200 km/h) till WWII...

During the long university career (1926-1952), Arturo CROCCO published more than 170 scientific studies, he got 30 patents and invented 50 different aeronautic instruments, many of them are still used today in the field of the aircraft flight stability...
In 1934,he was named Chief Engineer for the building of the new “aeronautic” city of Guidonia, which was the centre of Italian flight studies, researches and experiences and, at that time, one of the most advanced in Europe. He died in Rome on 19thJan 1968.

(Crocco) deeply investigated the hydrodynamic effects of the speed on the hulls and the submerged surfaces of the boats. As a consequence, during the period from 1905 to 1907, he built, with RICALDONI, the experimental boat “Idroplano“ or “Barchino Idroscivolante”, equipped with two “V” dihedral steel foils to lift the boat out of the water and aerial propellers to push it, a true ancestor of the modern hydrofoils.

Crocoo was, in addition, a scientist. He was quite the expansive individual.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"World's First" Wind Tunnel

From aerodynamic masters Pininfarina:

"The Italian design house’s new Ground Effect Simulation System, which cost €4 million ($5.1 million) and took two years to design, takes ground-effects simulation another step closer to the real world.

Pininfarina considers the new test center a major leap from the one it built in 1995, which at the time was the first capable of testing full-scale cars by simulating the aerodynamic effects due to wheel rotation and ground-relative motion.

The new system banks on the experience gained in more than 10 years of testing. It mainly is intended to improve aerodynamic research on full-scale racecars, providing Pininfarina with a major technical advantage over its competitors."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Italian Flavor In Space

Italy has a long history dating back centuries in space exploration. Will try and shed light on it over the next couple of posts.

Let's start with the Vega rocket. Though a collaboration (as usally is the case with space initiatives) with other ESA members France, Spain, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium, the Italians make up 65% of the project. Its mission is to study earth's low and polar orbits.

It is anticipated, though testing is in full flight, to launch in November, 2010.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Four Wheel Car-Bikes

Karbyk of Udinese is a company specializing in four-wheel pedal cars. Which probably explains the name Kar-Bike. Get it? They have a racing model seen here and a road version (for leisure).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Article On The Importance Of Mechanical Manufacturing

Noticed this article by Michele de Capitani:

"In Italy there are obviously a lot of enterprises that deal with mechanical manufacture and precision mechanical manufacture. Machine shops are really numerous on the whole territory, but the most important fact really worth noting is the elevated level reached by these machine shops. These are able to develop various kinds of products, down to the smaller parts that require a very high precision degree."

"It is important not to underrate the importance of these manufactures for the Italian industry, first of all because they operate in various sectors, a precision machine shop can create products really necessary for the medical, dental, but even aerospace etc. sector enterprises."

Then, analyzing the data on patents, from the total 846.955 patent requests published from the EPO (European Patent Office) between 1999 and 2006, just 27.616 are from Italy, they increased on the average about 4,9% every year. The trend seems to be positive. But, although it is in pole position in comparison to some European country, especially on innovative brands, Italy results in the fourth last place in the ranking of G9 countries. Italy is fiercely preceded from Germany and followed just by Russia and China.

Among the G9 group, the Italian excellence is especially based on the mechanical machine sector, on the motors and mechanical accessories sectors, with some points of high technological specialization in the processes, machines and manufacturing instruments; vehicles and accessories."

Beyond Evil There's Good

I discuss this story more at my other blogbut felt it should be posted here as well. It's the story of how Italians risked their lives in saving thousands of Jews during WWII and was written by a social worker at Montreal's Jewish General hospital.

In particular, it mentions the names of a few "heroic" Italians like Giorgio Perlasca who was honored at the hospital. Sometimes we remember the stories but not the names who gave the stories its humanistic value.

From time to time, it's good to veer off a blog's track and honor special human interest stories.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What The World Can Learn From Italy

Superb article in Signon San Diego. I posted large parts here:

"In Turin we toured Comau, an automobile supplier that manufactures machining centers that create robots which can be used to manufacture machines. We toured Agusta-Westland which manufactures many of the helicopters in the civil and defense sectors in the U.S. We also toured a firm that is responsible for nearly every bent tube used in industry: for lawn chairs, stairway railings, plumbing and street lamps.

The company’s CEO joked that we would never see bent tubes the same again; and I marveled as much that it was the CEO who told us as at the fact that he was right.

Our tour continued with Fiat Mirafiori Motor Village, Ferrari and Ducati, which remain dedicated to the art and science of motion. Fiat, the new owner of Chrysler, has adopted the methods of open innovation founded on the principles of the open source software movement and which exemplifies how innovative ideas can be gleaned from a network-connected world.

In Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, we toured Passaponti Metal Cleaning Technology Srl, a firm that makes machines that cleans machines.

One could not imagine a more toxic environment. Yet, nearby are Italian homes and villas; the facility is designed so people can safely walk to work. How much better would our own commutes be – not to mention our economy – if workers could live near clean manufacturing centers?

Near Lake Como, we toured Ratti S. p. A., whose products begin with the cultivation of silkworms and the harvesting of their cocoons and continue with weaving of threads, dyeing and printing on the final fabric. This family-owned firm created a laser printer that can print continuous patterns on silk without pattern breaks.
We were guided by the owner himself; as we followed him through the tour I imagined myself being led by Marco Polo’s pride.

Now let me return to that firm that makes the marble counter tops and what it has in common with precision machining of jet fighters – it is one company: Breton. The family that owns Breton sensed that the economic crisis would imply fewer marble panel sales in homes.

So the owner took the firm in a new direction. The company now machines parts for the F-35 jet fighter for the U.S. military. Such an agile metamorphosis is more likely to happen with small firm that retain their independence.

While some lump Italy in with the economic PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) of Europe, don’t be so quick to count this country out. Unlike the U.S., the Italians still make things. Ninety percent of the firms in Italy are family owned (and agile); they value engineers above lawyers and bankers. They see the economic value of green engineering not just for the environment as a whole, but for the local community. And they infuse their manufacturing with family pride. They don’t make lawyers to guide financial advisers who make money by making money; rather, they make machines that make robots that make machines that spin our silk clothes as we prepare dinner on our marble kitchen counters."

Hope I can do a similar tour - for this blog and personal reasons - one day.

Made In Anywhere: The Meaning of 'Made in Italy'

What does "Made in Italy" entail these days? Find a good explanation here.

"Each nation has its own distinctive brand that characterizes its products and makes them stand out from their own kind: Made in Germany has always been synonymous with robustness and reliability; Made in the U.S.A. is the sign of an innovative and avant garde product; Made in Japan symbolizes high tech and functionality; Made in Italy expresses excellence of creativity and craftsmanship."

"...Recently the Made in Italy label has unfortunately been the victim of much counterfeiting by those who, profiting shamefully from the brand's prestige, use it on various kinds of products that are in no way Italian, products of poor quality and manufacture made for only a few Euros apiece (often by exploiting innocent children, who are forced to work for many hours each day) and which are then sold in local markets at prices that are certainly much lower than a genuine Made in Italy article.

But what exactly does the 'Made in Italy' brand mean?

It means a product that is entirely made in Italy, from the design and working out on paper, up till the product is made, finished and ready for sale.

The Made in Italy name ought to denote the actual and total provenance and production in Italy of the article that bears its name; 'ought' because unfortunately in many cases this is not so.

In fact, many products can carry the Made in Italy name even when they are almost entirely made abroad!"

More on what constitutes being "Italian" or "American" or "Japanese?"

Robots Head To China

Part of VisLab's Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge, Piaggio's robot-automated (so-called intelligent vehicles) electrical van is set for the 13 000 km Italy-China trek - from Parma to Shanghai to be accurate.

I hope they take a lot of pictures.

Marco Polo for the 21st century.

I grabbed this picture off the  Man on the Move blog.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who Is Gaetano Pesce?

I ask again, who is Gaetano Pesce?

From NYT,

"Pesce is known for his experiments with industrial materials like polyurethane foam, resin and plastics, celebrates the unconventional in his evocative, boldly colored furniture and objects. Influenced by both the highly detailed work of his teacher, the influential architect and designer Carlo Scarpa, and by the Arte Povera movement’s use of everyday, often crudely constructed materials, Pesce fuses both high and low in his work."

And Art Design Directory:

"The Italian designer Gaetano Pesce is one of the most independent thinkers in the international design scene. Probably best described as an artist-designer, Gaetano Pesce has always pursued a policy of emphasizing the individuality of the object. He succeeds in individualizing serial designs by using materials such as acrylic resin and silicone, which, in the manufacturing process, still leave something up to chance. As a result, the uniqueness of a product designed by Gaetano Pesce is not defined by such abstract conceptions as beauty but is deliberately left with flaws and can even seem shapeless."

I like guys who think not only outside the box, but circle and drawers too.

Spider-Man? Try Spider-Pill

Scientists in Tuscany invented a "spider-pill" that they feel can replace tradtional invasive options in detecting serious diseases such as colon cancer. It's a device that once swallowed can be controlled as it explores the nether regions of your bowels and other parts of the body. See the video here at the BBC.

Baggio's Back

Nice to see Roberto Baggio back with the Azzurri. This can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Italian Particularism

We often hear of "American exceptionalism." In Italy, one could say "Italian particularism."

The beauty about Italy is it's one of the last industrialized nation to hold out and give into the the global network by maintaining a loyalty to artisanship. It makes for one of the more interesting - and increasingly obsolete given world economic realities apparently - economies in the world in my opinion.

David Segal of the NYT asks, "Is Italy too Italian?"

Does ketchup taste too much like ketchup?

Hey, I'll welcome the piece to the extent the North American media far too often ignores Italy's scientific, manufacturing and industrial exploits choosing instead to cling on to tried and tested stereo-typical cliches while focusing on food and fashion.

It's become predictable and tiresome.


This part in the article linked above caught my eye because I too argued grouping Italy with Greece, Portugal and even Spain is not only misleading but suggests the all-too-willing acceptance of grouping these nations as if they have the same economy. They don't.

"Study the numbers and you will find symptoms of distress that look a lot like those of Greece. Public sector debt amounts to roughly 118 percent of the gross domestic product, nearly identical to Greece. And like Greece, Italy is trying to ease fears in the euro zone and elsewhere with an austerity package, one intended to cut the deficit in half, to 2.7 percent of G.D.P., by 2012.

But dig a little deeper and the similarities end. The Italians, unlike the Greeks, are born savers, and much of the Italian debt is owned by the Italians. That means that unlike Greece, which will be sending a sizable percentage of its G.D.P. to foreign creditors for a generation to come, Italy is basically in hock to its own citizens.

“I know that in the States, all Mediterranean countries get lumped together,” says Carlo Altomonte, an economist with Bocconi University in Milan. “But Italy’s problem isn’t that we have a lot of debt. It’s that we don’t grow.”

The author goes on to argue in Italy the problem isn't debt but economic growth - and that's something many Western nations face.

Italy And Precision Manufacturing

Precision manufacturing. Betcha you weren't aware Italy are strong in this field, right? Presumptuous paranoia on my part. Forgive me. Some of you probably knew this - before me likely.

I shamelessly rip from Lathes CNC Milling (link above):

"In Italy you will discover certainly a lot of enterprises that offer with mechanical create and precision physical create. Appliance stores are actually numerous for the full territory, but the most important fact definitely worth noting is the elevated amount reached by these appliance shops. These are in a position to produce numerous types of products, down towards the smaller parts that require a extremely large accurate degree.

Some incredibly significant manufactures are for instance the dull or cylinder bore, this may be the procedure of enlarging a hole that has currently been drilled (or cast), by indicates of the single-point cutting application.
Or even the broaching, which is a mechanised process for that creation of gears, whilst the thread will be the practice utilized to create the internal thread to the bores or external on the cylindrical and conical pieces.

An constantly important instrument on just about every machine store will be the lathe. There are many type of lathe, this kind of as the woodworking lathe, the metalworking lathe, cue lathes and so forth.

The mechanised lathe is often a basic produce inside the appliance look, simply because it makes it possible for realizing a lot of components while using the greatest accurate and in much less time possible.

It truly is crucial not to underrate the relevance of these manufactures for the Italian market, to start with since they run in various sectors, a accuracy equipment look can build items truly important for your healthcare, dental, but even aerospace and so forth. sector enterprises.

Then, analyzing the information on patents, through the total 846.955 patent requests published in the EPO (European Patent Workplace) among 1999 and 2006, just 27.616 are from Italy, they enhanced around the regular about 4,9% just about every year. The trend would seem for being positive. But, though it truly is in pole position in comparison to some European region, especially on innovative makes, Italy results within the fourth final site within the ranking of G9 nations. Italy is fiercely preceded from Germany and followed just by Russia and China.

Among the G9 group, the Italian excellence is particularly depending on the physical equipment market, about the motors and physical gadgets sectors, with some points of large technological specialization inside the processes, machines and producing instruments; vehicles and gadgets.

The accurate mechanised produce sector appears to become of important relevance for our land. Not just our enterprises can compete about the same place with their European competitors, but it is really a sector that is certainly distinguished from all other folks Italian industrial sectors by its dynamism and innovation skills. They’re essential top quality to easily and efficiently with the true economic crisis."
I thought it would be cool to post a link to a google image result for "Precision Manufacturing Italy." It gives you and idea what it encompasses.

Not bad.

Polysolver Bids To Enter Gulf Spill Clean Up

"Italy could provide the solution to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is currently polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

Polysolver is a product that binds inextricably with hydrocarbons forming a paste that can be used as fuel, or from which the crude oil can be recovered by ‘wringing it out’. The US company responsible for the clean-up operation has requested a sample of the product. The innovation was made by a company called GTA srl, owned by Catania-based Arcobaleno and the National Research Council (CNR) in Rome."

All I know is it's a shame BP had no back up plan.

Lombardy, Emilia Romagna And Naples Discover Food Of Youth Through Tomatoes

It was a matter of time before Super Tomato was going to make us all younger. 

"The tomato has been grown by farmers’ cooperatives in Emilia Romagna and Lombardy and has not been genetically modified. According to the farmers’ union Coldiretti, it contains high concentrations of lypocene, a powerful antioxidant which may help combat the ageing process. It may also help prevent cardiovascular disease and strokes and have anti-cancer properties."

Medical Breakthroughs In Turin, Pisa And Rome

Turin scientists identify metastasis molecule.

"Italian researchers say they have discovered a molecule that governs the spread of cancers, possibly paving the way for new treatments for millions of sufferers worldwide."

Read more here.

"A mother who gave her daughter a kidney in a life-saving operation had more reason that most to feel nervous... because the surgeon was a ROBOT."

More on robot assisted kidney transplant in Pisa here.

From Life In Italy, doctors discover gene causing diabetes  and another study learns method in detecting strokes in diabetics in Rome.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bianchi: World's Oldest Bike Manufacturer

Established in 1885 by Edouardo Bianchi (died 1946) and noted for its celeste (aqua-blue green color) frames, Bianchi is the world's oldest bicycle manufacurer who invented the front calliper brake. In fact, from the onset Bianchi was an innovative company. They pioneered the use of equal-sized wheels with pneumatic rubber tires the year they were founded. See Bianchi timeline here.

Like most Italian companies that rarely stay put in one area, Bianchi dabbled in motorcycles (1897-1967) and luxury cars (from 1900-1939) as well. However, unlike many Italian companies, Bianchi didn't (at the time on the bicycle side. Now they do provide custom services) specialize rather opting for mass industrial production. By 1915, it was producing 40 000 bicycles, 1500 motorcycles and 1000 cars a year. By the 1940s, the company employed over 4000 workers in two factories.

In 1955, the company returned to car building after a 16-year layoff to produce the Autobianchi in conjunction with Pirelli and Fiat. It was later rebranded into Lancia in 1989.

Bianchi is currently part of Cycleurope of Sweden.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Map Of Italian Dialects

Wilier Triestina And Guerciotti Bikes

Triestina rides to UCI titles

Just a couple of bike manufacturers to complement your Sunday readings. The first is Wilier Triestina founded in 1906 and still finding success and the second Guerciotti founded in 1964.

For Bike Enthusiasts

The 68th Motorcyle and Bicycle exhibition presented by EICMA is taking place in Milan from November 2-7, 2010.

Leather Craftsmanship

There's no such thing as "Italian" or "Spanish" leather. If you have to import the product, it's not indigenous to your culture. The type of leather Italian designers desire and use is not made in Italy. So they import it from all sorts of places. Same goes with "Italian" coffee. Coffee beans are not grown in Italy but in places like Yemen, Africa and Central America.

Italy is a net importer of many things that they turn into their own.

When we say "Italian" espresso or leather, we're talking about the art of turning coffee or leather into something "Italian."

This is where Italians have become masters and it's not different with leather.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview With sTrike And Smooth Concept Designer Stefano Marchetto

e-Talian recently had a chance to sit down and interview with industrial designer Stefano Marchetto. Among other things, we talked a little about his to concept designs: sTrike and Smooth car.

Some people interview vampires, I interview industrial designers.

Tell us about yourself. Where you're from and live as well as your education.

I’m from Vicenza, a small city in the North of Italy. I grew up in a big and somewhat futuristic house that stood over a factory. My neighborhood were factories and car showrooms, this is why probably I became so accustomed to industrial aesthetics. I’ve started drawing cars when I was 5 years old, and since my passion never stopped, after high school I decided to join the Industrial Design Faculty at IUAV in Venice.

But my start was disappointing. On the first day the lecturer asked us “what’s your name and why you are here?”I answered “my name is Stefano and I want to design vehicles”, he answered “mmmh, I think you are in the wrong place: there isn’t a transportation design course here!”

At the end of my studies I presented the Smooth car, and with this project I won the “Stile Italiano Giovani 2004”, an international car design competition. Now I live in Milan, I moved to study at Politecnico di Milano.

Who were your main (design) influences - if any?

When I was younger, I was totally concerned about car design: my heroes were Pininfarina, Giugiaro, Bertone. I was strongly attracted by fluid and aerodynamic forms, like the Concorde, sport cars, high speed trains.

What are the main challenges to green car/bike technology in making it accessible, efficient and feasible?

So far, I can see 2 main challenges: technological and cultural. The first one is mainly related to batteries: if you compare the energy density of 1 kg of petrol to 1 kg of the best kind of battery, you will see that there a huge difference. Fuel has a higher specific energy, and it’s cheaper, too. Batteries are heavy, with a relative small capacity, and could be really pollutant when dismissed. A solution to batteries’ problems could be the ultracapacitors: but right now they don’t have enough energy density. There are rumors about high performance ultracapacitors made by a company called Eestor, but so far nothing happened…

The cultural problem is maybe more difficult to solve: we come from one century of cultural domination made by car makers. In the 20th century, cars were a status symbol, values like freedom, power, speed, technology were convoyed over this object, cities and activities were shaped according to their capabilities. This is the cause of the unlivable cities we have now, polluted and with social problems. Developed countries’ citizens have to realize that a car makes sense when you have to travel for 100 km outside from the city, with more than one passenger. Cars are designed for this, using them in an urban area creates only problems. When a critical threshold of responsible consumers will realize this, industry will invest more on alternative solutions, not only green cars and bicycles, but other new kinds of vehicles. This will make green vehicles more affordable.

Why an interest in green technology?

When you are a designer, you have to consider everything you think and make could be produced in millions of copies and sold everywhere. We are now living in a critical historical moment, since big countries like India and China are quickly moving to a capitalistic way of life: they have no more only millions of producers, but also millions of possible consumers. If we don’t evolve the technological and cultural aspects of our industrialized culture, we are taking the lanet ,, and all mankind, to a very dangerous position. Green, or even better sustainable, is the only way to make everything, in my opinion.

How did you come about your design for sTrike. What are the main attributes?

sTrike is the final result of an university course: teachers asked us to redesign an existing trike, the Greenspeed GTR-20. Instead of caring about technical issues, I decided to work on an aerodynamic body, designed to offer weather protection and to be installed over existing trike’s body with minimum modification to the frame. The result is a fluid and light cover that embodies also a small luggage van, and aesthetically transforms the trike from a “really low wheelchair” to a “futuristic vehicle”, something that could be desirable, sustainable and practical too.

What are the main characteristics of the Smooth car?

Smooth is an electric micro car designed to be used in the urban areas: with Smooth 2 passengers, with luggage capacity. It can travel easily inside the city getting direct access to the sidewalk, thanks to the big front door that, when opened, “disappears” inside the car body. In this way, the car can be parked transversally, saving a lot of parking space. Smooth could be considered a redesign of the famous Iso Isetta, a bubblecar designed in Italy by Ermenigildo Preti in 1952.

What has been the reaction to both? Where have they been presented?

Smooth won the “Stile Italiano Giovani 2004" (as mentioned earlier) competition for its styling simplicity and technical innovation. So far, no production is scheduled, simply because actual laws are too restrictive (at least in Italy). sTrike has never be really presented, but received several positive comments from many design blog users.

What are your plans for the future? Will we be seeing more concepts?

My next step is finishing my thesis: I can already say that will be on sustainable and green mobility, so another concept is coming! Then, I’d really like to work in the sustainable mobility area, alone or in a studio. It seems really hard to find this kind of job in Italy, so probably I will move. If you know someone interested to my concepts, let me know!

Are any of Italy's big car/bicycle/motorcycle manufacturers working on their own concept models? Or is this left to the small independents?

Many Italian and international big car/bicycle/motorcycle manufacturers are working on their own concept models. The only problem is they don’t want to produce them now! When you are big, you are interested only in high quantities, and these means you need a mature market. Green mobility is still something new, numbers are small, big ones are not economically interested. But they want to show they have the creative potential to do a different product for a different market. So, if you look for a green vehicle, you will probably find a lot of small independents manufacturers’ products. Things will probably change a lot in the next 5-10 years.

e-Talian thanks Stefano for sharing his thoughts with us!