Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Museums 2.0

Since I had a free day in Manchester before starting the main bit of my vacation, I decided to wander around town a bit. I made it down to the Manchester City Galleries, which is their art museum, and spent a few hours wandering around. The museum itself is a combination of an older building, with mainly older paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries along with a newer building housing modern and interactive works.

One thing that really struck me about the museum was the way that they encourage the visitors to interact with the museum and look at some of the broader themes. Hence this post being another in my "2.0" series. There were interactive exhibits where you could control a timeline and see artistic styles evolving over the decades. There was another interactive exhibit that explored gender and art. Others that allowed you to create your own art from found objects. And unlike most other museums, at these ones, the interactive exhibits were the most popular for both kids and adults.

Another interesting participatory part of the museum was a commenting system for several exhibits which forced viewers to think critically about pieces of work from the past, from propaganda posters to portrayals of minorities and working people. Visitors could pin a note card up next to the art for others to see. The notes get culled periodically by the staff, and the "best" ones are placed under protective glass. I just loved this way to bring the community of museum-goers into the experience of visiting the museum and seeing the art.

Are other museums doing this sort of thing? I hope so!



Paralympic World Cup

As many of you know, I've been out in Manchester, UK for the past week or so running our TuVista sports system at the Paralympic World Cup! It's been a fantastic week and a great trial for the system. Having never been to an Olympics-style event, the whole atmosphere of the event was interesting as well. And it was interesting to see it from the point of view of the organizers instead of just watching from the stands.

For those that don't know, I can sum up TuVista (now that it's officially public with press releases and YouTube videos and such). Basically, it's a way to get multi-angle video clips of sports video (and associated player bios and stats) to your handset in less than 30 seconds from the action in an event.

For the PWC, we covered every event including Wheelchair Basketball, Cycling, Track and Field, and Swimming. Everything went smoothly and we produced about 1200 clips. Throughout the process we got to work with various people from BBC Sport and BT Vision which was the most interesting bit for me. Seeing how they produced their content and covered events like this was exceedingly helpful. And it was the BBC, who are sort of my heroes :)

The games themselves were just so inspirational. In swimming there were athletes doing one-armed backstroke, and one guy that had no legs and one arm doing backstroke. In Track, Oscar Pistorius won two golds in the 100m and 400m. It was just amazing to see him run and stay ahead of others that had less severe disabilities.

Anyway, the week left me full of thoughts for the next iteration of the system, which is always good. I'm now off for a week of well deserved vacation in Germany and London. It will be good to see old friends and just relax for a bit after a few months of crazy working hours preparing for these games.


Sunday, May 17, 2009


It's hard to believe the semester is at an end already! It's been quite the 12 weeks for my students (and for me with all sorts of crazy travel and preparing for this Manchester trip). I was out at MIT this past Tuesday for a jam-packed day of activities.

The morning started with Marie-Jose's Social Television class and their final presentations. It was a small class with three groups and industry people were invited in to watch and ask questions. The class was interesting in that they had media lab students and sloan students working together on the projects. It's still always amazing to me though how the Media Lab is such a demo culture. It's all about showing that x technology can work, but not if it should work or if it's useful. I really wish HCI could be more central at MIT.

In the afternoon, after working for a few hours in the stata lobby, I went to a talk from Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary of the United States. The talk was amazing and overflowed from 10-250 into 26-100 and a few other rooms! I made it into 26-100 with a pretty good seat. Anyway, the talk was all about long and short term research and how they play together to create truly revolutionary ideas. He started with some motivation showing that the climate crisis is worse that the error bars on the last round of estimates and that we must act now. Then, he talked about Bell Labs and how they revolutionized telecommunications. He even went into the specifics of Shannon's encoding theories!! And that's not even his field. This guy is seriously the smartest person I've ever seen speak and made me really proud of the Obama administration for picking him! What a difference! Anyway, he ended with a look at some of the areas that need some research now and how practical research into alternative energy and energy efficiency that's also focused on some theoretical contributions can really make a difference.

One more interesting fact from the talk: Apparently the LEED certification for buildings is on theoretical efficiency based on the design. But buildings almost never get that and aren't tuned properly. So the difference between LEED Silver, Gold, etc isn't actually statistically significant in practice!!

OK. And then the day ended with my class. The presentations were amazing...from an alarm clock on your phone that wakes you up when your sleep cycle finishes, to an app that lets you synchronously listen to music with friends at a distance, to a community app to blog road and sidewalk hazards, to a bunch of other amazing applications. They did such a great job!

The day ended with being kicked out of two bars at closing time while trying to catch the end of the (Red) Sox game. They won! :)

Anyway, I'm off to Manchester this afternoon to run our TuVista sports system at the Paralympic World Cup! Then a bit of vacation. It should be a wonderful trip! I'll try to post pictures and updates while I'm gone.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Subsidized Train Service

Yesterday, I took a fun day trip down to St. Louis to ride the Arch with Alison. When we were at Disney after the Marathon, she said she had never been inside, and I knew we had to do something about that! St. Louis is about 300 miles south of Chicago and as I found out, Amtrak has some really awesome deals on trains there and they run fairly frequently (I think there are 8 a day, even on weekends). It came out to $23 each way, which is quite the deal!

I left super-early to catch a 7am train downtown. There were only a few people around the waiting area, which seemed sort of strange, but the train boarded and left with only about 40 people on it. It really didn't get any more crowded the rest of the way, and after Bloomington and Springfield, there really weren't very many people on it at all. But it got me to St. Louis! And 10 minutes early! Seriously, Amtrak runs on time now? It was really quite a pleasant experience...power outlets at the seat and everything!

St. Louis was fun as always, we got to the arch just in time for our scheduled trip up to the top. The little space capsules that take you up were just as awesome as I had remembered! :) And the view from the top was just as fun as always. Saarinen is awesome! The whole arch is just this amazing view towards the future and definitely fits the time when it was built. It's too bad it was built to commemorate events that led to the killing of so many native americans. I just try to forget that when I'm there!

After the arch, we met up with some of Alison's friend's friends for a late lunch and then it was back to the train for another 5 1/2 hour ride back up to Chicago (Obama, get on this high speed rail to STL thing!!).

The ride back was even more empty than the ride down there. I counted 16 people getting off the train in Chicago. I asked the conductor about this, as clearly 16 people paying $23 does not get a train from St. Louis to Chicago. It turns out that the train is pretty much fully subsidized by the Illinois Department of Transportation. I guess this is a common thing for most of the Amtrak system as the only line that actually makes money is Acela. While it's sort of sad that no one wants to take the train, I think it's great that they are at least provided as a (very cost-effective) option to get around. And it 's nice to be productive while traveling. I read around 400 pages and listened to a bunch of podcasts which definitely made the time fly by.

Anyway, definitely lots of fun in St. Louis!!