MIT's Stata Center

Last weekend's Barcamp was a good excuse for me to finally check out the Stata Center on the campus of MIT. It's a 720,000 square foot academic complex designed by the famous architect, Frank Gehry.

Other luminaries associated with the space include Ray Stata (MIT alum and Analog Devices founder) and  Bill Gates, who both helped fund it, and Noam Chomsky (linguist and philosopher) and Tim Berners-Lee (credited with inventing the Web), who have offices there. Pretty inspiring space.

Like much of Gehry's work, the building got a lot of attention when it was erected in 2004. Take one look and you'll understand why:

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Gehry is known for his Deconstructionist style, and has received both praise and criticism for it. MIT even sued him and the building company behind the development for design flaws leading to leaks, cracks, mold growth and drainage back ups (later resolved & settled). But mostly, it's been looked upon as an architectural wonder and tourist attraction. Here are some other views:

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Look closely at this one - see the little robot in the left-hand side of the window? Only at MIT!P1000642

The bold design continues inside, with lots of primary colors and open spaces:

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There are also many artifacts from MIT's past - a mini museum if you will. One example is the RadLab Time Capsule, created in the 1990s to commemorate the historic Building 20, which originally stood on this spot. It was built during World War II to temporarily house MIT's Radiation Lab, and it was here that most of the microwave radars used by the US during WWII were built. 

P1000630 They've also documented some of the MIT students' more famous pranks, like placement of a police cruiser atop the dome back in 1994...

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...and similar treatment for one of the fiberglass cows posted outside of the Hilltop Steakhouse in 1979:
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But lest you think it's all fun and games here in the Stata Center...a whole lot of serious work gets done in state of the art class rooms like this:

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Check out the full photo set here.


Cisco's Augmented Reality Mirror

Try this on for size:

In a bid to showcase its new, 2nd generation Integrated Services Router, networking giant Ciscso has jumped on the augmented reality bandwagon with a concept mirror that lets shoppers "try on" clothes without taking off their own (the clothing is superimposed onto the shopper as if they’re looking at a fitting room mirror).

Check it out:

[via my friends at Hyperspace]


Second Skin

Secondskin_dvd I watched a great documentary this weekend called Second Skin about the online game industry (massively multiplayer online role-playing games in particular) and the people who play them.

The DVD was actually sent to me by a film school student at Florida State University who is interning at Liberation Entertainment and helping with the film's promotion. 

I'm not really into MMORPGs (think World of Warcraft, EverQuest, SecondLife), but it's an intriguing documentary for gamers and non-gamers alike. Long-time readers of my blog know that I'm interested in technology and its impact on culture, and this film provides some eye-opening stories and statistics on both.

Among the subjects covered:

  • The strong friendships (and in many cases, romances) built among people who have met in-game, and then pursued their relationships offline, in the "real" world
  • The gigantic industry that has grown up around online games, including $20 Billion in virtual goods exchanged and the gold farmers in China who play around the clock in order to acquire and then sell these valuable items to other gamers (seriously: here's one with a US operation)
  • How online games have given new meaning to the lives of many disabled players, who may be wheelchair bound and unable to talk in the physical world, but can run, jump, talk and laugh in the virtual one
  • The increasing threat of gaming addiction, where some players become so consumed by the game that they miss work, ruin relationships, and lose their homes. A very real problem, it has led to the 12-step program Online Gamers Anonymous and last week's opening of the first Internet Addiction Center in the US.

Footage includes commentary from real gamers and their loved ones, game developers, and researchers who closely follow this emerging trend. Among them, members of the Daedalus Project, a long-running survey study of MMORPG players.

If it sounds intriguing, take a peek at the trailer below, and then check out the full-length film.


Social Media Overload

Remember this?

Twittercurve

It's the Twitter Curve created by Kathy Sierra back in 2006 (referenced again here in 2007) and included in a fascinating blog post about the growth of communications channels leading to continuous partial attention, to the detriment of mankind. An excerpt:

Moore's law for the brain doesn't quite work. We're evolving much, much, much too slowly... Brain 2.0 isn't coming anytime soon. And we're all feeling the enormous weight of not being able to keep up. We can't keep up with work. We can't keep up with our social life. We can't keep up with the industry, our hobbies, our families. We can't keep up with current events. We'll never read a fraction of those books on our list. And we are hurting. Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest... being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents.

I hadn't thought about Kathy's visual in months; that is, until I saw this image making the rounds on the 'Net last week:
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For the uninitiated, the letters used in making the above ransom-esque note are pulled from the most popular new media sites & tools (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo!, Gmail, eBay, Blogger, Flickr). The creator, to my knowledge, remains unknown.

But really, it could be any of us. Two years have passed since Kathy so keenly hit on the issue (and dozens of others have as well), and the problem only seems to have gotten worse.

Here's a peek into my world [which will hopefully shed light onto why my responses to some of you are so tardy...and my blog posts of late, fewer & farther apart]:

  • Current browser tabs open: 9 (that's pretty typical for me, I would say)
  • Yahoo! Inbox: 12,697 messages. I just checked and the oldest go back to 2003. This is from a time when I had all industry newsletters, retail promotions, and personal mail going to one account. I've since made this my personal-mail-only account, and generally keep up with those messages, but there are a lot of legacy ones still in there that I [stupidly] think I'll get through some day.
  • Gmail Inbox: 26,722 messages. Silly, I know. But this is where I now get all of my industry newsletters & retail promotions. I really enjoy reading them, I simply just can't keep up. So the volume continues to grow and grow (hooray for all that free storage!)
  • Hootsuite: 2 Twitter accounts (personal + professional) and 486 others that I follow (collectively)
  • LinkedIn: about 100 messages in the inbox; nevermind the live update feeds & discussions.
  • Facebook: 113 messages in the inbox; again, little time or energy for the live feed.
  • Netvibes Homepage: 94 RSS feeds from an assortment of sources - mainstream publishers like WSJ and NYTimes, as well as local sources and friends that blog. These guys have been getting the least attention of late (sorry!)

There's also, of course, the work email account, text messages on the phone (my new T-Mobile/Google Android phone which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, even though it feeds into all this craziness), and assorted activity in other accounts like Flickr, IM clients, and my social media graveyard (MySpace, Friendster). How do I manage? Well, I'm an information junkie and obsessed with emerging media, so it's my nature to consume a lot to begin with. The above outline seems out of control, but really I'm continuously scanning the headlines and subject lines and addressing the things of utmost importance [to me]. I also make time to read books, cook, and travel, among other things (lest you think I'm sitting in a dark room, illuminated by the glow of a monitor 20 hours a day).

But even I am noticing the hardship caused by continuous partial attention. It's tiring. And the value:time ratio isn't maybe as strong as it used to be, when following a lot of publishers meant I was always "in the know." Now it just means that I see a lot of the same news, in muliple places (welcome to ReTweet Nation). It's time to cut back, and/or find a trusted digital curator.

Don't get me wrong; I still love the Web and all things emerging media...I just want my life back.

From Writing Boots, channeling Kurt Vonnegut:

Here's a test: Spend one day surfing the Internet and spend another roaming your neighborhood. See how many good dinner table stories you have after each. There won't be a contest.


In Defense of Twitter

"If Twitter were a person, it would be an emotionally unstable person. It would be that person we avoid at parties and whose calls we don't pick up. It would be the person whose willingness to confide in us at first seems intriguing and flattering but eventually makes us feel kind of gross because the friendship is unearned and the confidence is unjustified. The human incarnation of Twitter, in other words, is the person we all feel sorry for, the person we suspect might be a bit mentally ill, the tragic oversharer."

Thus writes Meghan Daum in her recent LA Times column, Do only twits tweet?

TwitterI'm a Twitter user, but I found her column humorous - criticisms and all. She's spot on in her description of how many people use the medium (e.g., to update the world on mundane moments in their days, like "I'm heading to the kitchen to make a sandwich").

But here's the thing: who cares what people tweet? If you find it boring and mundane, then don't follow it. I think most of the critics are harping on the wrong thing - blaming the content that is transmitted via the channel on the channel itself.

Jb_recon_telephone_1_m Here's what I mean: think back (if you can) to the early days of radio, or the telephone, or the home computer. When these new technologies came onto the scene, very few people had access, nor did they truly recognize the long-term value that the technology could provide. Take the first phone call: Alexander Graham Bell said to his assistant, Thomas Watson, "Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you." Pretty boring, right? Not enticing enough to make you want to follow his feed?

But fast forward 133 years, and no one would debate the value of the telephone.

I'm not saying that Twitter is as revolutionary as the phone call, but I am saying don't confuse the medium with the message. And don't be so quick to judge something that's still in its infancy. There are numerous individuals and companies that find value - and enjoyment - from Twitter. If you're not one of them, then simply go elsewhere.


Samsung Ultra Touch Viral Video

I was contacted by a member of The Viral Factory in London last week, the agency responsible for Samsung's new viral video for the Ultra Touch mobile phone. It's pretty funny; see for yourselves:

Everyone loves to watch/forward cute animal videos, and The Viral Factory added a big dose of humor to make this one a hit. Besides being funny, the video cleverly drives home Samsung's product message: many, many uses. The Ultra Touch is full of multimedia goodness: built-in digital music player and FM radio, high-quality video capture, 8 megapixel camera, GPS navigation with geo-tagging capability. All packed into a razor-thin 12.7mm brushed metal frame with 2.8" touch screen (and slide-out keypad if you prefer).

The viral campaign is seemingly a success: at the time of this posting has already had over 512,000 views and 258 comments (and a fair amount of mentions in the blogosphere). It's too bad that the Flash-heavy microsite offers up no method of registering for more info or where to buy. Seems like sort of a missed opportunity there.


Obamicon.me

The folks at Paste Magazine are riding the Obama wave with this neat little Obamicon.me app which let's you make your own "Obamicon" — your image in the style inspired by Shepard Fairey's iconic poster.

Here's mine (you *knew* I'd use Lulu's pic!) alongside the original.

Change Obama

Head on over the Obamicon.me and create your own - you can edit the copy along the bottom and add your creation to their gallery.

Thanks to Beth Kanter for the tip.


MobiWatch Emergency Alert

Read about this in a recent issue of Mass High Tech:

Waltham-based MobiWatch has created an emergency device that doubles as a key-chain, so it's readily available in times of need.

Like Onstar (available in many vehicles) and LifeAlert (available in the home), the device connects people with an emergency response center within moments - even when you are outside of the car or home.  Carriers simply push a button to activate a Bluetooth connection with their cell phone, which then connects to the emergency call center.  An operator can pinpoint a caller’s location using GPS, and contact the police, ambulance or family members.

The concept is cool, but I share some of the thoughts expressed on the Mobile Marketing Blog - in particular, whether this offers enough perceived value to justify the expected $6-$10 monthly service fee. If your cell phone must be nearby in order for it to work, why not just dial 911 directly? True, the dedicated response center can store custom instructions in the event of an emergency, but the ability to triangulate your location using GPS and cell towers is something 911 can do as well.

The service is expected to launch in early 2009.