Monday, June 22, 2009

Father of one

Yesterday was not only the solstice, but also Father's Day, and the midsummer night's ruminations I posted are connected in my mind to yet another article on the current Wired, which was extracted from Chris Anderson's newest book and was previously previewed in another issue of my favorite magazine.
Anderson writes about the "new hybrid world we're entering where scarcity and abundance exist side by side". He makes his case by pointing to how the massive availability of near-free storage has made many online activities proliferate abnormously (i.e. abnormally enormously). It is becoming clear to all of us that the Google mentality is the way of the future. Massive data flows are replacing grand theories and models. The truth is in the facts... Let's gather them and then figure out what they mean.
Species have been comparatively wasteful for eons, so this profligate approach has not been invented by Google. They have perfected it, but so have bluefin tuna.
I have no doubt that our future will be more about "thinning out" massive information overloads and relinquishing the ballast that we accumulate through unconscious consumerism. As we enter the era of simplexity, it is (abundantly) clear that we need to master abundance thinking.
When it comes to the perpetuation of our selfish genes, we mammals have a built-in bias toward the specialness of our offsprings. The absolute preciousness of my own progeny cannot be compared to the wasteful way in which other species reproduce by statistical chance. I am proud to be Nick's father and I am really glad that we made our cross-country trek this past spring. He's one of a kind and I love him dearly. I hope he feels the same about me...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A heartfelt Solstice

This morning (at 5:45am UTC), which roughly means yesterday at 10:45pm MST here in Santa Fe) was the 2009 Summer Solstice, vernacularly known as the longest day of the year (in our northern-hemispheric-centered way of thinking)...
To celebrate this midsummer day (I know it's weird to think of this as mid-summer, but in the old days they only had 2 seasons: summer and winter), Simon Mehalek, Shawn Barr and I planned to hike up from the Santa Fe ski basin (10,350 ft = 3,155 m) to the top of Tesuque Peak, which stands at 12,047 feet or 3,672 meters above sea level. Sunrise here was at 5:48am, so we got on our way at 2:30am and began walking up around 3:15am so we could get to the top in time to see the sun rise over the horizon.
Simon led the ascent at a clip that quickly became clearly unsustainable for my unacclimated body. Just as soon as I got him to slow down, Simon had an episode of AVNRT, which is a non-life-threatening, congenital form of Supraventricular Tachycardia from which he (and his siblings) suffer. The stress from the highly successful Frankencircuit show at the Santa Fe Complex had caused another episode earlier in the week, therefore we took this as another sign from Simon's body to "take it eezy" and relax. So, as all good mountaineers are apt to do, we decided to abort our solstice mission and return to base camp. Just as we were doing that, Ben Lichtner, his girlfriend Marie and two friends were coming up the slope. My idea about the solstice sunrise hike had inspired them to join us, so it was good to think that at least one of our SFx teams would make it to the summit (though in the end they didn't either)...
As we came down the mountain and back to civilization I found myself pondering about a recent Wired magazine article entitled "Know thyself", about the personal metrics movement and the "quantified self" or more generally about the "macroscope", whereby we'll be able "to link myriad bits of natural data into a larger, readable pattern". If Simon had been monitoring himself, and sharing his health symptoms on curetogether, while tracking his food intake with tweetwhatyoueat, and recording vital statistics automatically using Nike+ or Fitbit, or manually logging his heart rates and blood pressure on a mobile app, perhaps he could have prevented the (re-)occurrence of his palpitations? I wonder...
Earlier in the evening, we had received an invitation to go to a stargazing party, which we decided to bow out of because of our hike. Once we were on the mountain, we got to see the firmament in its full glory even without the aid of a telescope. It was an awesome reminder of just how small a place we humans occupy in the spatio-temporal vastness of the universe.
At the same time, though, the microscopically aberrant cycles of Simon's heart reminded us of the irreplaceable value of each human being here and now. His continuing life on this mostly harmless and utterly insignificant little blue-green-planet was of paramount importance to Shawn and me and getting him to a place of safety was much more urgent than anything else at that moment. We got back safely, saw the sunrise from town and were no worse off for it.
And yes. Simon is fine, in case you wonder.
Happy solstice to all!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Check out the new rotating cloud sphere of tags on the right sidebar of my blog. It's a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of labels (note to self: be selective in your tagging!). But it sure is interesting none the less. Below is a "thinned out" version of the cloud, showing the most frequent tags for your clicking enjoyment!

Blogumus is derived from Roy Tanck by way of Amanda Fazani...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

bIGNITE @ the Complex

We are making plans for a bIG NITE at the Santa Fe Complex where we can all share where we're at and what we are thinking about in 5 minutes and then have a party to celebrate each other!
It will be fun and useful.
It will change until the last minute, with an exponential rate of change the closer we get to the time of the presentation.
It's the procrastination derivative... Very steep slope.
July 5th? Potluck food. BYOG.
I'll Bring My Own Grappa...

Party will follow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Citizen Science 2.0

Citizen Science is the ante litteram crowdsourcing activity. Individuals have collected scientific data for a bigger cause way before crowdsourcing became a widespread buzzword and a long time prior to the existence of Wikipedia and the World Wide Web. The Audubon's Christmas Bird count has been going on since 1900...
In the context of the NASA-funded Digital Earth Watch (DEW) project, we have an opportunity to explore the citizen science universe through the lenses of front line practitioners such as Kitty from the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Kirsten and Sandra from Budburst at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Our "models" and inspirations are evoked in the presentation I gave at the DEW workshop in April.

Our specific contributions to the project are:
  1. To investigate a “crowdsourcing” application to collect, organize, analyze and share PicturePost submissions.
  2. To explore ways in which users could “design” their own window into the DEW project, by composing their own web pages.
  3. To visualize PicturePost data in intriguing and sophisticated ways.
  4. To experiment with a set of social networking services that will foster interaction with the global data repository and with other users across the globe.
  5. To prototype a series of electronic alert and reminder systems to invite users to collect data at crucial times of the year.
  6. To experiment with alternative observation methods that do not require a physical picturepost (the “virtual” picturepost).
  7. To allow others to contribute new online analytical or visualization functions and share them with the community.
After the workshop, Steve and I had a chance to brainstorm all the way back to Santa Fe and we came up with a whole new approach to citizen science, centered on the "prosumer", i.e. the volunteer researcher who is willing to collect and submit scientific observations. We are framing our new approach around the 3 tenets I stumbled upon in my early synchronized crowdsourcing experience (make it simple, fun, and rewarding). During the current DEW project, we will experiment with the latest interactive online technologies, such as: tweets, sms, blogs, social networks, location-aware mobile applications and augmented 3D digital photography. It is clear that a full-fledged, self-organizing, emergent Citizen Science 2.0 framework would require a separate research effort with appropriate funding. Preparing an NSF grant proposal for this line of research is going to be the primary task Kyle Miller will tackle when he arrives in Venice later this week for his summer internship...

Look for a "CitizenPipe" entry later.
The best is yet to come...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The shroud of Turing

During dr. Woohoo's visit, we had a chance to visit MIT's CSAIL (Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Lab) with Dan Paluska.  After getting lost in the labyrinthine halls of the Stata Center, the iconic Frank Gehry masterpiece of seemingly crumbling and collapsing metal and brick, we were treated to a live demonstration of the creation of a Jesus toaster insert with a somewhat dated, but still fascinating waterjet cutter.

The whimsical creation that results from the metal cutter produces a realistic replica of the shroud of Turin very similar to the one that has been inexplicably emerging since 2005 from the holy toaster now worshipped by millions.
As boranj as this is, I think it would still make Alan proud to discover the miraculous ramifications of his theories.  Father Guido would see this as yet another example of how easy it is to be sanctified in this country.
Speaking of Saints, wait till you see our Venice 2.0 response to this holy effigy... so fine!  Just wait!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Beckoning our Alumni

Finally, today I sent out a mass mailing to all of the Venice Project Center alumni for whom we had an email address:

Dear VPC alumn:

As you may recall, the first team of WPI students conducted their “bootstrap” project at the Venice Project Center in term B of 1988. 

To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we have taken a look back at the last two decades and have been releasing all of our information through a variety of web tools:

Our main Venice 2.0 web site – you can get everywhere else from here.  It changes every time you reload it!                      
The anniversary blog – is the best place to find out what is happening now and how your projects are being followed up!
VPC social network site (ning) – please JOIN this!  You will reconnect with your old pals!
Venipedia wiki – our contribution to the world!
Our Photo Gallery – help us populate this with pictures form YOUR time in Venice!
Project Repository (Dspace) – find your project here!

I am writing to invite you to take a look at these impressive sites and to give us some feedback on this alpha release, by sending emails to me and to the “team” who is helping me put this together, at  If you are more ambitious and want to spare us some time, you can also enter your comments/reports in our BUGS/SUGGESTIONS WIKI at, which is off our Dashboard (reachable by clicking DASH on the Venice 2.0 main menu) at

There are many other interesting links on the main menu off the Venice 2.0 site, such as the Fabs link at: that you may want to explore as well. 
Click around on all links in the blog as well, if you have time.  Any feedback you can give us before the BETA is released next month would be greatly appreciated.
Keep visiting these sites.
  They change daily!!!

We are planning some BIG EVENTS for the coming B term, so stay tuned! (Considering traveling to Venice this fall?)

I wish I could see you all in Venice!  Please drop me a note ane let me know where you’re at in your life…
Or, better yet, leave comments on our
VPC Alumni NING social networking site.

Most serenely,


Hamlet Nina helped put together our initial list of former VPC students, obtained from our alumni office.  The initial SQL query on the WPI alumni database yielded 344 names.  A manual integration based on the original Access database of all VPC projects got us to 453 names, which we the integrated with the last 3 years of student projects that are now being stored in our fabulous Dspace repository, which shows 492 authors (but is missing 13 students from 2007 projects), for a grand total of 505 Venice IQP alumni (still to be confirmed).  In addition there were also a dozen or more MQP students in Venice over the years, and we plan to get them included in our anniversary celebration as well.
Careful online sleuthing by Hamlet and Kyle Miller helped us track down contact information for almost all the names we have.  We are still collating all our datasets, but it seems like we have some sort of contact information for all but 25 of our alumni. 
Today, I sent out the email to 377 alumni and only a dozen addresses bounced back.  We will probably need to send out letters and/or call the remaining ones to inform them of our anniversary celebrations, which are set to include a world heritage mashup, interactive art installations, concerts, biennale exhibits, newsletters, VPC merchandise, parties and a lot more!
A few dozen of our alumni have already heeded to our beckoning and joined our social network site... 

We're off to a good start!