alumni life


betacup logoIf you’re like the majority of North Americans (65%), you drink coffee. And if you buy it from a coffee shop, you probably don’t hand the barista a travel mug before ordering—even though you’ve likely been given a few nice ones over the years as gifts or giveaways. Am I right?

Problem is, most of the to-go cups used to carry those tasty lattes, including those from Starbucks, are not recyclable. In fact, 58 billion paper cups are thrown away every year, and 20 million trees are cut down in the process of manufacturing said cups, which also uses some 12 billion gallons of water.

So what can be done? Two MIT alumni are part of a team that hopes you can figure that out—or at least provide some feedback for others with ideas. Marcel Botha SM ’06 and Shaun Abrahamson SM ’98 helped form the open innovation challenge known as the betacup, which offers $20,000 in prize money for a reusable or recyclable coffee cup people will actually use en masse.

Ideas submitted to the contest are viewable by the public for comment and ratings. So even if you don’t have an idea (yet), you can offer constructive comments and engage in discussions with community members and contest jurors. The contest is sponsored in part by Starbucks, which aims to serve all its beverages in sustainable cups by 2015. Learn more in the video below.

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Happy April Fools’ Day! A few weeks ago we announced a Hacks at Home video contest and we’re please to present the winner.

Drum roll

Longtime appreciator and first-time hacker Jim Mottonen PhD ’89, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics & Optical Science at UNC-Charlotte. Mottonen turned the whole endeavor into a spirited family adventure, complete with code names for all of the mission’s participants. Mottonen (“Gristle”), his kids, Nathanael (“Secret Sauce”) and Frieda (“Fierce Monkey”), and friend Ryan Oliver (“Agent Oregano”) showed the UNC–Charlotte campus what this MIT tradition is all about.

“Hacking turned out to be quite an exhilarating family enterprise, like geocaching with an edge,” Mottonen says. “My kids and I were so inspired that we now have a hacking queue set up with future projects.”

Parents take note! You can add hacking to that list of fun together-time activities. There are only so many make-your-own-pottery studios and IMAX movies and putt-putt courses you can hit. Am I right?

But of course, nothing goes off without a hitch. Says Mottonen:

“The actual hack day events turned out fraught with unanticipated problems, like most projects. The steak blew off at first, until I borrowed a step stool from a nearby lab to secure it to the pickaxe. The video from my daughter’s camera could have been clearer, and I forgot to show her contribution of the giant bite-mark revealing a medium-rare cross-section. We put it up around 7:00 a.m. and by 11:00 a.m., the steak itself was gone to parts unknown. Perhaps someone decided to ‘claim’ it?”

Mottonen did alert the campus police of his undertaking beforehand with the following message sent from email username “ribeye”:

“The giant steak and lettering at the 29 entrance to campus is a harmless prank in the tradition of MIT hacking. If it survives the day, it will be removed tomorrow morning. No actual rib eyes were harmed in the making of this hack.”

Computer mouse connected to the word job.

Image: ©istockphoto.com/porcorex.

With the economy the way it is, it pays to stay current with job search strategies, whether you’re currently on the prowl for a new position or not. Savvy job hunters these days create personal brands for themselves with social media—strategies that take time to develop.

Two Webinars sponsored by the MIT Careers Office will offer tips that will help position alumni for future career movement.

Using Social Media for Your Job Search
March 31
3:00–4:00 p.m. EDT

Did you know that 83% of employers use the Internet to find information about potential employees? Are you on Facebook but not on LinkedIn? Discover how to create your own personal brand using social media instead of just aimlessly applying for jobs. In this Webinar, we will focus on the dos and don’ts when using LinkedIn and tips to build valuable connections. In addition, you will leave this workshop with the knowledge of how to diagnose, manage, and monitor your Web presence while developing connections with people who can make your professional goals a reality. Learn how to establish a strong web presence that will impress employers, colleagues, and industry leaders.
Preregistration required
.

Job Search 911
May 25
2:00
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sign up for this Webinar for tips on maximizing the impact of your resume, creating tailored cover letters, and uncovering the hidden job market. While this is geared to graduating students, anyone whose resume is out of date will find it useful.
Preregistration required
.

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MIT Alumni Travel Program travelers to Sedona and the Grand Canyon found a dome to call their own.

MIT Alumni Travel Program travelers to Sedona and the Grand Canyon found a dome to call their own.

The MIT community extends far and wide beyond the Cambridge campus. You’ve probably felt it. The lure of a geektacular encounter or shared inspiration over a problem others in the real world deem insurmountable. Or maybe a technical marvel that began in an MIT lab or research center and now finds an enthusiastic audience with non-MITers. Those instances that feel so MIT despite your distance from campus.

Photograph people, places, or things reminiscent of MIT culture or impacted by MIT and enter it in the MIT Around the World photo contest.

Some other ideas for photos:

  • MIT’s Mens et Manus (mind & hand) motto applied to practical problems
  • the industrious beaver
  • impact of science and technology in the world
  • innovation and entrepreneurship
  • prankster spirit exemplified by the tradition of MIT Hacks
  • structures reminiscent of MIT’s architectural icons or built by MIT architects

The first-place winner can choose one of the following prizes: a $500 discount on any future trip sponsored by the MIT Alumni Travel Program, a Flip Video Mino HD, or a $200 Mpix gift card. The winning photo will also be featured on the Alumni Association homepage and displayed in the MIT Alumni Travel Program’s 2011 Explorer catalogue. The second place winner will receive a $100 Mpix gift card and have their photo displayed in the 2011 Explorer brochure. This contest is open to all MIT alumni and past MIT Alumni Travel Program travelers and ends May 16, 2010.

Read all the details.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even kill the proverbial two birds and submit a short video of a Hack @ Home and photograph it for the photo contest. I’m just sayin’…

Antipods practice in the pit.

Antipods practice in the pit.

Like to build things with kids? Architect Ken Filar ’81 does and he is one of many alumni who coach FIRST robotics teams worldwide. And his team is cooking! The Antipodes, his all-girl FIRST Lego League team from Pacifica CA, will represent Northern California in the European Lego Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, April 22-24.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competitions were founded in 1989 by Segway inventor Dean Kamen with the help of MIT’s mechanical engineering professor emeritus Woodie Flowers SM ’68, ME ’71, PhD ’73. The mission is very MIT: “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” One of Flowers contributions was the concept of Gracious Professionals who “learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process.”

Alumni can get involved as mentors and coaches through the MIT Alumni Association’s new collaboration with FIRST. If you are already involved and your team is heading to the world robotics championships in Atlanta, April 14-17, come to the MIT day-long event there for alumni, parents, students, coaches, and mentors with speakers including Flowers. Email the Association’s K12 team to find out more.

And how about those Antipods? Filar says there is lots of work to be done. “We now have three tasks ahead of us: 1) to improve our robots reliability, primarily through programming, 2) to improve our maglev train model, and 3) to fundraise for the trip.” To check out the team, go the Antipods Web site, see their work, watch their videos, and feel free to donate to tournament and travel costs.

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Photo: Sam Brown, http://www.explodingdog.com

People think all of sorts of crazy things about other people’s jobs. For example, there’s the stereotype that  photo editors are all failed photographers, physicists are all failed mathematicians, and writers are all demigods perched on thrones of gold (that last one is so true). What about the robotics industry? Slice decided to ask alumni in the field what they think about the biggest stereotypes about robotics. Here’s what they said:

The biggest stereotype about robotics is…that they’re some kind of futuristic thing, like we’re not swimming in robots right now, like there’s not enough computing power in a fuzzy logic rice cooker to dwarf some of the room-sized computers of the ENIAC era.  Can a rice cooker be a robot?  Of course it can!  It decides when to stop cooking your rice, it changes in response to things in the environment.  Lots of people can’t recognize robots that they’re using.  I think that’s the biggest stereotype.

Second biggest is that any complicated robot will eventually go crazy and kill all humans.  🙂

Juanita Albro ’92, grad student at UCI Robotics Lab

The biggest stereotype about robotics is that robots will run amok killing humans.  This stereotype originated with the first appearance of the word “Robot” in Karel Capek’s play RUR, published in 1920, and continued over the decades, in myriad robot stories and films, right up to the “Terminator” series and beyond.

As with most stereotypes, there is a nub of truth.  It is reasonable to be wary of autonomous intelligent robots (or the future prospect of autonomous intelligent robots).  Technology does fail, from time to time, or is misused.  But people are also flawed and have, over the millennia, killed hundreds of millions of fellow humans in genocidal and tribal atrocities.

Autonomous intelligent robots, including military robots, can be designed with value-driven logic to provide them with a code of ethics and morality.  Their behavior can be more rational, more exemplary, and more humane than that of humans.

Robert Finkelstein PhD ’88, president of Robotic Technology Inc.

There are two stereotypes that strike me in Robotics…. One is Data from Star Trek TNG, the Holy Grail of Robotics and the other is the PackBot from iRobot, the extension of the human in the loop to deal with high risk packages; high risk packages being objects that put the human in the safe loop in the first place.  Of course Rumba is the first thing one may think about as Robots from iRobot but the technology of the Rumba, while autonomous in behavior, is more closer to the actions of a cockroach.  Data is the ultimate in autonomous robotics and inspires many of a roboticist.  The reality of today is that roboticists are happy to be at the learning curve of the autonomy of a newborn when it comes to robotics.  We are learning more and more of the inner workings of human perception and cerebral decision making but in reality, we have not passed beyond the characteristics of an advanced cockroach or an application with a defined order of rule sets to follow.  In the next 10 years, we will gain tremendous information from the confluence of NeuroSciences, Human Cognition, Autonomous Robotic Behavior, Machine Vision and Information Management.  Perhaps then, the elements that fill in the roadmap to Data will emerge and the evolution of robotics will take a great leap forward.  I’m excited to participate in the next decades of robotic evolution.

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Rolling Stone reports that MIT alumni had a hand in the “insanely complex video” for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky single “This Too Shall Pass,” which has gone viral on the net since its release March 1. Musicians OK Go, who even have a short video about how they love working with nerds, brought in folks from Syyn Labs and the MIT Media Lab including Heather Knight ’06, MNG ’08 to help create a two-story Rube Goldberg-esque structure.

“There were two Media Lab grads involved and me,” says Knight. “I managed the top floor in the final weeks and during shooting (first two minutes) with a dirty paw in almost every module there, Richard Whitney SM ’07 made the wooden ball bearing surface just after the music starts, and Jamie Zigelbaum SM ’08 worked with the lead singer Damian Kulash and his dad to make the first table full of small stuff.”

Kulash’s thoughtful New York Times essay on how free embedded videos boost revenues for bands and record companies may have influenced OK Go’s then-label, EMI, to disregard their own no embedding policy. “This Too Shall Pass” has been distributed freely throughout the Internet, much like the band’s star-making treadmill vid for “Here It Goes Again” in 2006. On OK Go’s Web site, you will find videos of top songs, the making of ‘This Too’, concerts,  and their recent decision to strike out on their own.

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