Results tagged “MIT” from kwc blog

Humans vs. Robots

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Just so we're clear:

Robot:

gdog01.jpg

Dog:

IMG_2215

The dog is also a Ninja

Left: Human, Right: Robot

Joss Whedon nexi_blocks_image_1_1.jpg

The girl on the shirt on the left is also not a viking.

Post MIT Crash Cornell MIT Post Crash

Cornell's SkyNet vehicle started to exhibit a very bad behavior during the finals: when it came to a turn it would stop, wait a minute, move forward a foot, and then stop again. In one of the worse instances of this, it blocked Stanford's Junior for around 20 minutes before team members had to come out and get it moving.

MIT's Talos found itself behind SkyNet during one of its start/stop fits. Talos saw the stopped car and did what it thought was best: it started to pass SkyNet. Unfortunately, Talos' timing was off and SkyNet started to surge forward again just as MIT was completing the pass. Their front sensors interlocked in an expensive embrace.

By the time I arrived the cars had just been pulled apart, but I managed to snap a shot of the left-bumper damage on SkyNet.

Back from the Urban Challenge

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We drove down to Victorville at 1am and back at 4pm -- needless to say the words are a bit blurry right now and the photos won't get uploaded until tomorrow. Many thanks to my coworker who is a much better no-sleep driver than I.

In eight hours we'll find out who the official Urban Challenge winner is. Right now I'm leaning towards CMU's Boss, though I want it to go to VT for doing so well with far less -- perhaps there should be handicaps based on $value of sensors used.

Stanford's Junior crossed the finish line first, but it barely had time to get off the finish line before Boss crossed. Virginia Tech's Odin was close behind. The fact that those three managed to finish the nearly six hour course within minutes of each other is a sign of how well each ran the course, but reports were that CMU's run was more flawless.

The actual finish time only served as a rough grouping -- Stanford, CMU, and VT were clearly best, UPenn ran a solid conservative approach in the middle, and Cornell and MIT were last (of the finishers). CMU several minutes after Stanford and VT, but I also witnessed Junior stuck behind Cornell's car for 20-or-so minutes and another 10-or-so minutes behind the MIT/Cornell crash. It will be up to the judges to tally up points and minutes and come up with an official score, which is a bit of a flaw in the design of the current challenge -- no one really understands what the scoring system is.

Any of the finishers can lay claim to an impressive feat, so it only with alma mater pride that I take a slight dig at Cornell. Cornell's SkyNet and MIT's Talos were the worst of the best, finishing almost two hours after the top three and forty-five minutes after UPenn's slow-and-steady Little Ben. They seemed doomed to scrap it out after Talos attempted to pass SkyNet and ended up getting rammed -- the teams had to carefully pry the interlocked sensors apart.

It seemed that Cornell had the upper hand over MIT as SkyNet made it to the final traffic circle first. Then it stopped. And sat for minutes. With the finish line in sight. Talos pulled up and turned onto the finishing straight. SkyNet seemed to sense its loss as it promptly unstuck and crossed the finish line last.

City Cars

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citycar.jpg

A friend of mine from college is working on this and I think it's quite cool: a foldable, stackable electric car. It's a little reminiscent of a grabbing a shopping cart -- the idea is that you rent these cars point to point, instead of taking roundtrips like you would with programs like Zip Car or City CarShare. Because the cars pack more densely, you can keep a greater supply of them within a city. Six to eight cars will fit in a conventional parking space -- considering that space for parking is on the order of $thousands/space, that's a lot of extra savings that the program could work with.

cities.media.mit.edu, Tech Review article has more

DARPA Urban Challenge: 11 enter, 1 leaves

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The 11 finalists for the Urban Challenge have been announced: CMU, Stanford, Virginia Tech, MIT, Cornell, UPenn, UCF, AnnieWay, Intelligent Vehicle Systems, CarOLO, and OshKosh. Up to 20 were to be allowed, but DARPA decided that there weren't 20 vehicles that were safe enough to compete in the finals.

The finale will be a 6-hour, 60 mile race. It sounds like this will be the first time that the vehicles will be put on the same course as one another. If it's going to be a demolition derby, Team OshKosh will be able to roll over the competition. DARPA chief Tony Tether has tapped CMU's Boss as the best overall performing thus far and OshKosh as the best on the Course A left-turn-merge course.

MIT's dean of admissions Marilee Jones resigned after someone called into the school to question the three college degrees that she didn't have. I'm not sure someone should be punished for a mistake made 28 years ago and no longer relevant to her qualifications, but the irony of her speaking out against students lying about their credentials was perhaps too much.

Book: Quicksilver

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It took me two years, four months to finish this book. It's huge. So huge that I have to read it on weekends in coffee shops because it's too big to carry in my backpack. I can hardly remember the beginning as there's been many dozens of books I've read since I read the first page of this book and I can barely remember going to Stephenson's Quicksilver talk where I bought it. And it's not like I'm actually finished. I still have two thousand pages to go with Confusion and System of the World. Stephenson actually divides the Baroque Cycle into eight books, which I wish his publisher did because I might have been able to psychologically deal with its heft better.

I would feel more satisified if I felt that Quicksilver were anything more than exposition for the rest of the series. I can't actually call it exposition because I have not read the other two books, so I am not certain yet that Stephenson has a plot in mind. As far as I can tell, Quicksilver takes a thousand pages to explain the first chapter. I think it could have been done in fewer.

Quicksilver was fun, otherwise I would have abandoned mid-course. Jack Shaftoe's entry into the series helped pace things forward. But next time I'm buying the paperback edition and cutting it into three smaller books.

My commencement speaker was Daniel Goldin, the outgoing head of NASA. I guess they wanted to connect with the whole "2001" theme and have a spacey speaker, but Goldin is an administrator, not an innovator, and I was bored to tears. It could have been worse: MIT and Stanford graduating classes have both had Carly Fiorina as a speaker, and someone from the MIT class of '05 just sent me the text of the commencement speak by Irwin Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, which is the epitome of boring CEO commencement addresses. Read on, if you like being bored.

Boston

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With all my posting of media related to my trip to Boston, I never took the opportunity to do a simple post on what I actually did, as opposed to what I saw.

The trip didn't start of auspiciously. United cancelled my flight and put me on one five hours later, and that flight was further delayed both on take off, landing, and during the taxi-ing to our gate, but my luck turned around as a nice person from Genentech gave me a ride from the airport to j and hogue's place. Among other things, we joked about the flight attendant who was more than a bit overzealous in her enforcement of emergency exit row qualifications and procedures.

The alumni party BBQ was fun; during the course of the weekend I found out about two babies on the way, caught up with a lot of friends, and saw the immense damage to one of the houses used to lived in. I also watched a lot of NBA playoff games, had some good serious discussions with friends, saw the tremendous changes to the MIT campus (Stata, Simmons, Z-Center, and toilet paper), and managed a couple of sinks during beer die (though I shamefully had to use proxies for defense).

My only disappointment was that this was one of the lesser turnouts for an alumni event that I had seen in the six-or-so events I had been to; most of my class was absent, pretty much no one from the previous three classes came from out-of-town. The low turnout was understandable: this year's event was much more low-key since our venus was destroyed, and next year's event will certainly offer much more interesting sights with a newly renovated house to gaze at. Also, I did manage to see a lot of this year's seniors (who were freshmen when I graduated) before they take off.

Stata Center

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05-17-04.stata-1.jpg One of the highlights of my visit to Boston was visiting the nearly complete Stata Center at MIT. Ever since seeing photos of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, I have been a fan of Gehry's work, and this was my second opportunity to see one of his buildings in person (the first being the Disney Center). I've already expressed some opinions on the Stata Center prior to visiting it, so you can compare and contrast my pre- and post-impressions if you wish.

I've broken my impressions and photos of the Stata Center into five parts, partly to separate distinct parts of the building, and mostly because I took over 200 photos and need to make the image galleries consumable.

Exterior
Modifying the building
Interior
Roof

Stata Center: Exterior

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05-17-04.stata-exterior-1.jpg The exterior of the Stata Center has invited a lot of criticism and not much defense, so let me be one of the few voices out there to say, "I like it." It's different, it's looks like got damaged in an earthquake, and it's strange, but it's also very interesting, open, and thought-provoking. It has towers with a gentle curve that enhance their height, Gehry's signature use of metal, and the appropriately dedicated Dertouzos amphitheater, which I hope will invite people to hang out in nicer weather. Unlike most MIT buildings, it also has a parking garage (added after the building was designed) and day care center with playground.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the exterior design is the still-incomplete robotics lab (photo). With its shiny metal exterior, separation from the rest of the building structure, and conical chimney, it almost seems like a cottage to the rest of the building. In most of the sight lines for the building, it seems to stand out most prominently, which perhaps was the intent of Gehry when he chose for it to be the shiniest.

In comparing the Stata Center and Disney Center, I would say that the Stata Center has a much slower rhythm. When I visited the Disney Center, I found myself taking a photo, walking two feet, and finding a completely different view that I had to take another photo of. The variations in the Stata Center design are much more spread out, and while it does have a greater diversity of design elements, it doesn't have as many interesting angles from which to view it from.

Stata Exterior (100 photos))

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center: Modifying the Building

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Another interesting design decision for the interior of the building that deserves its own post is that the interior is very hackable. Most of the interior spaces are complete open with reconfigurable separators to adjust how the space is used, and there are large, open spaces, some of which extend sixty feet into the air.

There is also extensive use of glass invites people to write messages or draw pictures on it, or in some cases, paper up the glass entirely for privacy. One of the more morbid window drawings I saw can be viewed here (hard to see).

Gehry I believe has taken to using the euphemism "modifying the building" to describe some of the modifications that people are making to correct some of the building design. We took to joking around with this saying as we wandered around; e.g. when we propped open one of the doors using construction material, we were "modifying the building." One of the more humorous modifications I've heard about is that in one of the conference rooms someone placed a box with a brick in it over one of the buildings floor vents and labelled it "temperature control." It is good to see that Gehry doesn't take offense at these modifications, though I'm sure that some of the denizens wish they were unnecessary. In all fairness, at least they have control over their spaces in the Stata Center; the old NE43 building offered little opportunity.

There are also plenty of fun reasons to hack the building. The "Gates Building" logos are numerous and pristine, the MIT library terminals are running Windows and frequently bluescreen (they were hacked to run Linux during the dedication), and the Dreyfoos building has already spawned the Dreyfoosball table.

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center: Interior

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05-17-04.stata-interior-1.jpg As I wandered the interior of the Stata Center and into the various "tribal" lab areas, I was under the impression that the building was still under construction. This was true: Brooks' robolab and the fourth floor commons were still being built. There was also building materials scattered about, including numerous items made out of plywood, such as benches, tables, and most commonly, cubicle-like dividers (example). It turns out that the plywood was actually the finished product.

When I first found this out, I was in disbelief. I had wandered the building for half an hour thinking that I was just seeing more construction materials, but then hogue pointed out that the plywood was actually a theme for the furniture, a cheap, ugly theme. The Stata Center in many ways represents leading-edge use of materials in construction, and it is simply mind-boggling to me that plywood would play a prominent role in furnishing the building.

That said, the rest of my impressions about the interior of the building were mostly positive. The most compelling design theme was the manner in which Gehry cleverly allowed the exterior of the building to penetrate into the interior; walls that were external fascade often continued into the building, usually with a skylight demarking the separation of spaces. Gehry places windows everywhere, allowing light from the outside to penetrate nearly every part of the building; conference rooms generally had three windows, each allowing sunlight to penetrate.

The combination of the two elements create the an interesting inversion: even interior windows have the appearance of opening to the outside, as what you see out of an interior window is often the same as what you would see out of an exterior window (example).

Other elements of the interior that I liked include the spiral staircases and the 123 lecture hall. I also think that the two-story lab areas will be very interesting work environments, as they offer a more three-dimension workspace.

Other elements of the building design I didn't like were the lack of power outlets near desks in the classrooms (not very laptop friendly), and the extensive use of exposed concrete (not always bad, but in the case of office ceilings, ugly). One of the worst design decisions, in terms of building function, is that the separators between the hallways and the workspaces is incomplete; there are glass dividers separating the two, but it turns out that above head height they didn't put any glass in, so there is actually open air between the two. I have been told that this makes the building very noisy.

Stata Interior (82 photos)

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center: Roof

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05-17-04.stata-roof-1.jpg One of the things we discovered while wandering the halls of the Stata Center is, despite the numerous active doorlocks, you could actually go into nearly any room you wanted if you were adventurous enough. For example, the control room for the big 123 lecture hall has a combination lock on it, but it turns out that if you just twist the handle, it opens. Another example is roof access. I assume that, in the future, MIT will want to block access to the roof, but, for now, you can walk up a stairwell and right out onto the roof.

The roof offered many interesting views of Cambridge, the MIT campus, and Boston. It also makes for a fun mini-maze as you try and navigate through the vent-works to get to the outer roof edge.

If you examine the photos carefully, you might be able to notice some mounting stands that are regularly spaced near the edge of the roof. They have four holes in them as if to bolt on something important, but their main use to me was a good solid base to stand on and look over the high roof edge.

Roof Gallery (29 photos)

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

MIT ch-changes

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In the three years since I've graduated, MIT campus has changed a lot, and my general impression is that it has become a much nicer place to go to school. The biggest factor in this is the new Z-Center, which replaces MIT's 50-year-old scummy pool and basement weight rooms with a modern, three-story complex with two pools, tons of workout machines, and lots of TVs. It also appears that there are more dining choices close to campus, and I also happen to like the addition of the Stata Center. The number of buildings that MIT has built or is building since I left is astonishing -- my current count notes that at least five large buildings have been completed, and there is also a gigantic building being constructed for the cogsci department. Of the buildings, the only one I wish MIT could take back is the Simmons dorm, which is ugly beyond description on the outside -- I hear that it's even worse on the inside.

I can't speak for changes in student life. It was hard to tell in the space of a weekend how the changes to the freshman programs, from changing the timing of rush, to requiring freshman to live on campus, to eliminating two-term pass/no record, have harmed or improved interactions on campus, but I will note that I even noticed that the toilet paper on campus has noticeably improved, and that certainly improves day-to-day life.

Stata Center opens

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The Stata Center at MIT officially opened on May 7th. It's not my favorite of the Gehry buildings, but to me, at least, it's a refreshing break from the other buildings on the MIT campus. The MIT campus can be best described as depressingly ugly, so I think it will be an improvement. I'll know better when I visit next week and take lots of photos.
The Ray and Maria Stata Center - Photos

Stata Center + Brass Rats

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The Stata Center at MIT is nearly complete (more info). I'm a Gehry fan, so I think that it's rather cool to get a Gehry building on campus. However, looking at the current photos, it doesn't seem as striking as I thought it would. Perhaps large amounts of brick-color, or bad angles in the camera shots, but it doesn't stand out like, say, the Disney Center in LA.

On a slightly related note, the new 2006 Brass Rat design has been announced, which I mention because it's the first ring I know of where you join two rings together to spell out the secret message.... MIT. The message is kinda lame, the idea is cool, in a dorky way appropriate to an MIT ring. Strangely, the report also says the ring has "ILTFP" inscribed on it. Did MIT suddenly get a whole lot nicer to its students? Did the school suddenly start caring about student life? Every ring I've seen has IHTFP, and if there were a "secret" message to be spelled out, that would certainly be a good candidate.

So long Vest

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The head of MIT is expected to retire soon. I don't dislike Vest, but I don't like him either. In his tenure, he managed to quadruple the MIT endowment, but yet none of that went to student activities or improved student life, and athletics remained on a flat (non-inflation adjusted) budget the entire time I was there. Oh, a tuition went up ~$1K+ a year that I was there.

These two paragraphs near the end of the article are why I won't miss him.

He also dealt with enduring problems of student life like drinking and mental health. The death of a freshman, Scott Krueger, from an overdose of alcohol in 1997 after a fraternity hazing, highlighted the alienation many students felt at the university, largely because so many had lived in fraternities and independent houses around Boston and Cambridge, Mass., since the institute was chartered in 1861.

The death resulted in a $6 million settlement with Mr. Krueger's parents and the construction of three dormitories, along with a requirement beginning in 2001 that freshmen live on campus

I felt that he didn't protect the students against the giant overreaction in the wake of Krueger's death. Houses lived in a constant state of fear - if someone smuggled alcohol into your party, it was your fault, and you could end up kicked out of your house for a period of time. The social life on campus evaporated after this incident, and it was still recovering four years later when I left. I also think they set a bad precedent by settling with his parents - they were arguing that MIT was in loco parentis, and by settling it set this terrible trend that parents somehow rely on a large institution to be a better parent to their kid than themselves, nevermind the fact that the kid is now actually a legal adult, and if he couldn't proper decisions with his life only two months away from home, who shares the greater responsibility?
M.I.T.

MIT feigns poverty

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Maybe they want me to give them money, or maybe they want the joy of firing people for the holidays. Either way, even with $5.4 billion in the endowment piggy bank, MIT is in fact shutting down over the holidays.
CNN.com - MIT to shut down part of campus over holidays - Nov. 26, 2003
(thanks wu-tang)

Book: Bringing Down the House

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I was motivated to read this book b/c it comes straight out of some of the rumors I had heard at MIT. My friend Jay told me about a grad student who had a Foxwoods Blackjack champion jacket, and after the Wired article was published, others had shared friend-of-a-friend rumors about people on the blackjack team.

In terms of story, the book didn't disappoint. It's full of all the basic elements of a good story, with plenty of intrigue, clever plans, high-profile celebrities, danger, and betrayals. It also revealed the basic elements of their strategy, which surprised me with it's simple algorithm (hi-lo) and clever implementation. There were some more sophisticated tricks they used, such as following high cards through the shuffle and being able to cut exactly 52 cards, but most of the method came down to using a team to bring in the high roller at just the right moment.

In terms of writing, the book did disappoint. I groaned during some of the early chapters when the author introduces some of the characters. Many of his descriptions feel like attempted cleverness, and not once does he actually capture the feel of Boston or MIT. With the written word, there is power to embed great detail, comparison, and nuance, but instead it feels like the author is writing copy for a TV special, with everything reduced to a caricature. There are also several chapters where the author places himself into the story to describe his "research." These clumsy additions read more like attempts at breaking two-hundred pages than meaningful components to the story.

Despite the poor writing, the story is entertaining, and you won't waste too much of your life reading it as you can finish the book in a single night. I bought the book because I needed something to clean out my mind between more difficult prose, and this book didn't disappoint :).

MIT researchers are coming up with new ways of growing tissue, including building 3-D scaffolds to encourage specialization.
ScienceDaily News Release: MIT Engineers Report New Approach To Tissue Engineering

(via Ars Technica: The PC enthusiast's resource)

Coldest temperature ever

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Paper: mediaBLOCKs

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mediaBLOCKs: Physical Containers, Transports, and Controls for Online Media [pdf]
Brygg Ullmer, Hiroshi Ishii, and Dylas Glas
Tangible Media Group
MIT Media Lab
SIGGRAPH 98

This is an interesting complement/predecessor of DataTiles.