February 2010

Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

Will likes to see stuff at MIT whenever he is in town. This time I took him to see robots in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, wearable computing in the Media Lab, and miscellaneous cool stuff in the Precision Engineering Research Group. It wasn’t hard to find people to help out.

We walked around for three hours. Then, he was off to do soundchecks. A few hours after he learned about energy-storing inverse lakes, he and his Black Eyed Peas played to a sold-out crowd at the TD Banknorth Garden.

I always like amazing people, like Will, who is highly creative, does interesting things, and is interested in the future. MIT attracts amazing, highly creative, interesting, interested people like honey attracts bears.

And on top of all that, Will is a fan of my field, Artificial Intelligence.   Check out the Peas homepage, click on Playlist, and run the first of the Imma Be Rocking That videos.

Anyway, when Will and his entourage were about to leave, and all the obligatory pictures were taken, he asked, as he generally does, if I could use a few tickets for the show. “Hey, that would be great,” I said. I like the Peas, and besides, I hadn’t been to a good concert since the Rolling Stones were in town in ’06.

Alas, my daughter seized the tickets. “You’re nowhere near cool enough to go,” she said, “and I have some friends.” Maybe I should find a new place to buy clothes.


Post-operation care at Hospital St. Louis, a public assistance hospital in Paris

Post-operation care at Hospital St. Louis, a public assistance hospital in Paris (© Owen Franken).

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

Firefly creates 3-D digital images in the air.

Firefly creates 3-D digital images in the air.

Swarm robots are lighting up the sky! Firefly, an MIT SENSEable City Laboratory project developed in collaboration with ARES Lab (Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory), is launching a swarm of tiny helicopters embedded with sparkling LED lights. The swarm, on command, can render an uncanny representation of the Mona Lisa, then reform into complex 3-D shapes such as a moving face or the ocean’s surface alive with waves.

These fireflies act as ‘smart pixels’ soaring through the air and working in concert to produce digital displays with animated color and free-form images that are still or in motion and viewable from any angle. Though SENSEable has only a handful now in flight, the group wants to scale up the project quickly.

A fabulous video shows Firefly’s potential.


See for yourself how far-reaching the MIT connection is with PlanetMIT, A Global Community Atlas. Click the pins and you’ll easily find alumni, student, volunteer, and parent populations; MIT clubs; Enterprise Forum chapters; and area representatives with links to their listings in the Online Alumni Directory. Red pins indicate areas where there is an official MIT alumni presence.

PlanetMIT: A Global Community Atlas

Check out PlanetMIT: A Global Community Atlas.

Check out places you live and travel to—you’ll discover an MIT community likely awaits. Want to find entrepreneurs in the Middle East? No problem. Just look for the MIT Enterprise Forum chapters. Curious how many MITers live on Mauritius or how many MIT clubs there are in California? Look no further.


The time has finally come to vote for the geeky pickup line that you like best. Whether you interpret “best” to mean “it would work on me!” or “best effort” or something else entirely is your prerogative.

There are five options in the poll below, culled from some 29 submissions that rolled in over the last week. Thanks to everyone who participated. The pickup lines generated a lot of smiles, Facebook “likes,” and maybe even some dates. (Write and tell us if you used one successfully!)

Happy voting:


Vodpod videos no longer available.

MIT is a powerhouse when it comes to problem solving. Some of the world’s most talented scientists engineers study and work at the Institute, and breakthroughs across different disciplines are often a part of daily life.

However some problems, particularly in the energy sector, transcend the scope of a single discipline and require a systems-wide approach. A new video by AMPS and the Alumni Association focuses on that multidisciplinary strategy, showing how innovation in energy technology has to be combined with innovation in business models and policies in order to create and promote a sustainable energy system.

View the seven minute Energy Innovation video above or watch it on TechTV.

MIT welcomed the year of the tiger last Sunday with several celebrations throughout campus. MIT has always been exceptional at providing the entire student body with opportunities to learn about the many cultures present on campus. This past Sunday’s event, the Chinese Students Club’s annual Chinese New Year Banquet, was no exception. With hundreds of people of all ages and ethnicities coming from different parts of Boston, the Chinese New Year Banquet was not only a didactic experience, but it was also tons of fun. Although the actual Chinese New Year was on February 14, hundreds showed up to celebrate this past Sunday, the 21st, in Walker Memorial with plenty of food and entertainment. The menu consisted of 20+ Chinese dishes, along with bubble tea and Chinese desserts. With performances including traditional fan dances, Chinese yo-yo tricks, Chinese dragon dances, and many more, the event didn’t have one dull moment. Highlighting the night was a performance by Far East Movement, a hip-hop group based out of Los Angeles, who recently signed a deal with Interscope Records. Their performance was definitely a crowd pleaser, and it was amazing to see such a talented group of guys rock the stage in our very own Walker Memorial building. Overall, it was a fantastically well-put-together event and a great way to spend a Sunday night. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Dinner will be served.

Dinner will be served.

One more Star Trek Next Generation commonplace, the replicator, is emerging in the 21st century. For Earthlings, it’s a Fluid Interfaces Group project, housed in the Media Lab, called Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy. Call it a personal food factory or a 3-D printer for food, it works the same way:

Cornucopia’s cooking process starts with an array of food canisters, which refrigerate and store a user’s favorite ingredients. These are piped into a mixer and extruder head that can accurately deposit elaborate combinations of food…. This fabrication process not only allows for the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques, but it also allows the user to have ultimate control over the origin, quality, nutritional value and taste of every meal.

Yummy? We can’t tell yet because it’s still in prototype stage, but it’s buzzing in media like Gizmodo and Trendhunter and blogs like Make.

My name is Christina, and I am a sleepoholic. I will never be able to check “pull an all-nighter” off the list of 101 Things to Do Before You Graduate from MIT and I will always be snickered at by bleary-eyed friends when I complain of “getting only 7 hours.” The truth is, despite being an MIT student, I get an average of 8+ hours of sleep every single night.  I’ve never felt this was my own choice, but rather my brain’s choice, as getting less than 7 hours of sleep results in nodding off in all of my classes and on top of my books. In fact, I have skipped many morning classes in the past after not sleeping enough, knowing that sitting in class would be useless, as I would most certainly fall asleep.

After a lecture on sleep and hypnotics in a Psychopharmacology course I took last year (at that school down the street, aka Harvard), I sheepishly approached the lecturer and asked bluntly if there might be something wrong with a person who needs 8-9 hours of sleep. He chuckled and said it was perfectly normal.

But I still wondered. Was I waking up in the middle of the night and sleepwalking to Newbury Street? Were my sleep cycles abnormal? Did I ever actually enter restorative deep sleep? And if any of these were true, could I be doing something to definitively improve my sleep? I decided these were questions I would probably never get answers to, lest I wanted to spend time in a sleep lab, which I didn’t.

Until a few weeks ago, when I received an email from my friend Mollie ’06 (Course 7 & 9) who told me about the Zeo, a  device that records your sleep cycles as you slumber. I was amazed at the premise and decided to write a post about this device created with the help of a few MIT alums, but decided I had to see it to believe it. So I wrote to the company and asked to try the product. I didn’t actually expect a reply, but sure enough, one week later a package was waiting for me at Baker Desk.

In my next post, I will tell you all about my fascinating sci-fi-like-experience with the Zeo. Stay tuned…and good night!

Franken's daughter, Manui, playing with sheep on a farm in the mountains of Morocco

Franken's daughter, Manui, playing with sheep on a farm in the mountains of Morocco (© Owen Franken).

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

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