Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Furthur

Another term, another blog post.  Nick and I just drove back from Santa Fe via the "southern" route (I-40) all the way from New Mexico to North Carolina, then we took the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Appalachians and up to New England.  We had a good couple of months in Santa Fe.  Nick got accepted to the Santa Fe University of Art and Design (SFUAD) where he will start a degree in Contemporary Music in the fall.  I will be there in term A as well, courtesy of my dear friend (and dean) Rick Vaz.  I will get a chance to work on some academic papers and grants, while advising the preparation for the Venice teams remotely (via skype) with co-advisor Fred Bianchi, who will conduct the meetings at WPI and will no doubt inject his computer music background into our 8 fall projects in Venice.  We should have some really interesting topics this year!
It's going to be nice to be able to focus on research for one full month.  My esteemed WPI colleague, Seth Tuler, will be teaching the Venice preparation course and will join me for a couple of weeks in Venice this summer to get himself prepped for the prep.
The first official full contingent of 24 WPI students worked at the Santa Fe Project Center (SFPC) to complete 6 challenging projects at the newest of all WPI project centers this spring under the guidance of former WPI Provost, John Orr and myself.  Once again, we all benefited from the close collaboration with the Santa Fe Complex, who provided us with state-of-the-art facilities where we could conduct our projects. Executive Director Roy Wroth and Steve Guerin and everyone else at the Complex mentored our students and made them feel very welcome in Santa Fe.  The results of the six projects were very well received by all our sponsors, which included the Santa Fe Watershed Association, the City of Santa Fe (Dept. of Housing and Community Development), the Santa Fe Metropoilitan Planning Organization, the Santa Fe Trails bus system, the Santa Fe Indian School and Riversource.  In preparation for the final presentations, the teams briefly illustrated their projects at a very successful event that the WPI alumni office organized at the Santa Fe Complex with a couple of dozen WPI alumni in attendance, many working at the nearby "labs" at Los Alamos and Sandia.  It was a great convivial occasion to boost our collective esprit de corps.  John and I followed up with a marvelous dinner at the home of Cathy and Paul Kalenian, whose family supports the WPI Kalenian Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
By the time final presentations came around, the teams had honed their skills and were able to dazzle the audience with their brilliance...  David Coss, the mayor of Santa Fe was in attendance for some of the presentations.  The teams made us all proud and certainly set a high bar for future teams to aspire to.  We have already recruited 28 students for next spring, for the second official year of operation of the SFPC.
We had many dinners and get-togethers at the "treehouse" where Nick and I lived, overlooking Sun and Moon mountains, Atalaya and the whole city of Santa Fe.  It became quite a center for brainstorming and whiteboarding, especially after work.
I even had the honor of hosting a dinner there with nobel-laureate Murray Gell-Mann, the discoverer of quarks!  Among other things, Murray is a co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, together with George Cowan (WPI '41).  We had lots of fun and laughter... and good food.  Murray is a living encyclopedia. He is a wonderful, jovial, fun-loving individual who can hold erudite conversations about any subject and in any language.  He even knew everything about the Origins of the Veneti! I look forward to more "Mondays with Murray" at the SMA treehouse when I go back in September... Speaking of Origins, while in Santa Fe I reconnected with David Comas in Barcelona to finish up the Genographic DNA tests to trace the mythical ascendants of the Veneti, based on our contacts in Wales, Britanny, Turkey, Lusatia and the Veneto.  I'll be sending out the follow-ups this week.
With Josh Thorp and Scott Wittenburg, we also made progress on DEW (Digital Earth Watch), our "virtual" Picturepost app for Android smartphones, which allows you to take repeat pictures from the same location to monitor climate change over time (funded by NASA).  We are developing a new version to be out next week, with new user interfaces, navigation, playback and more...
Finally, while we were in Santa Fe, the Innocentive Challenge was officially issued, with a $25,000 reward for the best algorithm to identify "real" potholes  from the data collected by our StreetBump app.  Mayor Menino of Boston and his office of New Urban Mechanics were behind the project, which continues to receive lots of media attention, most recently on Boston Channel 7 and on MIT Technology Review.  So far, well over 350 "solvers" from all around the world have taken on this challenge, which will end, fatefully, exactly on my 50th birthday, on July 29.
I will be celebrating my first half-century in Venice: leaving Boston on June 7th and returning July 31st.  Hopefully I will find more time to blog, now that even Steve has started to...
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