spring at the media lab

I’ve had the honor to be a collaborator at the MIT Media Lab for the past couple months. In addition to being able to lurk in one of the coolest technology-centric places on the planet this also enabled me to attend the recent Spring 2012 Member Meeting. This had in previous years been referred to as “Sponsor Week” but under the leadership of Joi Ito it has been re-branded and more importantly opened up to interested outsiders via web streaming of all of the presentations and panel sessions. What the outsiders still didn’t get was the hands on demonstrations and discussions in each of the groups on the many and varied projects underway. My time spent there over the last few months has been focused on one specific project, the Ambient Furniture Project with David Rose as part of the Tangible Media Group. While coming and going I would always see lots of busy researchers but never got a chance to delve into what they were doing. This event enabled me to walk around and see some of these most amazing projects in action. While the “camera that can see around corners” is clearly mind-blowing, there are many additional interesting projects underway, some with some very relevant applications. Here are small sampling of my favorites…. The NETRA project in that same Camera Culture Group has developed a portable and inexpensive solution for estimating refractive errors in the human eye. This has exciting implications for getting quality eye care to underprivileged areas of the world. In the Affective Computing Group the Cardiocam project is a low-cost, non-contact measurement system for physiological signals such as heart rate and breathing rate using a basic webcam.  The High-Low Tech Group focuses on integrating high and low technological materials and processes further enabling the DIY culture that is flourishing around the internet these days. This is also the same group that is developing a build-it-yourself cellphone. The Lifelong Kindergarten Group is getting ready to release version 2.0 of their wonderful development tool, Scratch, which makes it easy for users of all ages to create their own interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations and share them online. There are many, many more deeper and wilder projects. The videos from the sessions (Tuesday & Wednesday)show highlights from many of these and are well worth watching. The Media Lab is an amazing space and seems to often be two or three steps ahead of the rest of the world in technology applications.

Side note – Joi Ito has also assembled an amazing advisory council among whose members include Peter Gabriel. I managed to talk with him on two different occasions and was amazed that even though I was struggling to not be a stuttering fanboy he took the time to ask me about the work I was doing and even apologized to me for not having been able to come by and see it in more detail. This fanboy was very happy.

TEDxVille

ImageWhat city in the United States is second only to New York in the number of artists per capita? Unless you live there you probably would not guess that it would be Somerville, Massachusetts. That statistic along with its proximity next door to Cambridge, one of the country’s centers of innovation and technology development, made Somerville a natural choice for a TEDx event. Historically Somerville encompassed many railway and industrial lands and was home to the birth of Marshmallow Fluff, the Bertucci’s restaurant chain and the chain that would become Stop & Shop. Today Somerville is a wonderful mix of students, artists, working class people and demographically it is a mix of long-time Irish-, Italian- and Portuguese- American residents and newer immigrant populations from Brazil, Haiti, El Salvador, India, South Korea and Nepal.

The day-long independent TED event brought more than 25 presenters and at least five different musical acts to the stage at the Arts at the Armory facility, a repurposed armory that now is home to a wide range of visual arts, dance, theater and musical performances. The presenters at TEDxSomerville ranged from the mayor of Somerville, Joseph A. Curtatone, to Joe Grafton, the Director of Somerville Local First, a key player in the advancement of the local movement in Somerville, to Brian Whitman, a co-founder of EchoNest, a music Discovery platform to Monica Poole, one of the organizers of Occupy Boston, to Alex Feldman, performer and comedian who specializes in non-verbal communication methods. The presentation of the concept of “Community Supported Manufacturing” from Chris Templeman was particularly interesting. He talked about a great concept for a community funded cooperative to make every day appliances be much nicer constructions.

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The music included contemplative folk from Jenee Halstead, old-school analog experimental synth from Keith Fullerton Whitman, and energetic sounds from both Grooversity and Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band. The “house band” that played between the sessions was the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, who wrote an entirely new set of songs, each one themed with the material from the presenters. Sheer brilliance!

The truly eclectic nature of the presenters, the art installations and delicious food from local restaurants (the Chocolate from Taza and the Ethiopian food from Fasika was particularly delicious) made this event a perfect TED experience.og

leadership

while sitting here in the Delta Sky Club here in Detroit I’ve been catching up on some blogs that I usually read. As it turns out these two are great musings on Leadership.

Make things
here I particularly love the Freeman Dyson quote “There is a great satisfaction in building good tools for other people to use.”

Wanted: Leadership by Example
if only we could have a scientist/engineer political leader that could say “just as I did”

MythBusters

We’ve been gorging on episodes of MythBusters lately. I simply love this show. It is a great combination of DIY, geek tech, forensics, educational television, performance art, science, and engineering. The hosts of the show have just the right acting skills, look and credentials to keep the episodes entertaining. I really like when a myth is presented that I am sure will be busted and it turns out to be very probable – the Ancient Chinese Attacking Army Sensor and Shredded Plane are recent good examples that we watched. Of course the fact that the blow up lots of stuff greatly adds to the overall appeal! During the Mentos & Diet Coke episode (a great chemical constituent analysis example btw) they tried to come up with other examples of explosive fun with household items. The Home-Made Smoke Bombs brought back some fond memories from my childhood – crazy chemistry experiments fueled by my brother Bill’s copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book.

Technorati Tags: MythBusters

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