The Muddy cleans up

Last Christmas Eve, the graduate students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology let out a collective cry of despair:

The venerable Muddy Charles pub has been MIT’s centrally-located campus bar since 1968. In a graduate scene where everything can seem a little stratified, the Muddy brings together the chemists and the math-heads, the Media Labbers and the Sloanies. The dark walls and carpet gave off a comfortably drab and unpretentious vibe. In a 2011 article in the MIT Technology Review, Kenrick Vazina put it succinctly: “On a campus dominated by cold concrete and hard science, the Muddy Charles pub exudes warmth.”

So the temporary closing of the Muddy was not only perturbing for temporary reasons (where would we get our $6 pitchers of High Life?)– the idea of a renovation threatened the tired charm of the place. A bright Muddy with a new floor would be, well, not muddy at all.

The new Muddy was unveiled at some point last week, to evidently little fanfare (“Last…Tuesday, I think?” says the bartender). Although the bartenders report high turnout despite the snow, its Facebook and Twitter accounts remain dormant. While a few super-secret email lists were abuzz with excitement at the reopening, few were discussing the renovation. To gauge the reactions of Muddy stalwarts and regulars, I decided to post up at the place for an afternoon with the ultimate peace offering: a pitcher of High Life.

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The entrance to the renovated Muddy Charles pub.

When I arrived, I found a photographer snapping pictures of the bar, and the alliteratively-named Mike the (Muddy) Manager posing. I’d been scooped! Fortunately, I soon learned that it was for promo photos rather than another Tech article. The Muddy was indeed looking to promote, even if its social media implied otherwise. In the meantime, yet another hopeful message popped up on Twitter, from a student who was still unaware that it has been open: “Any update on this?”

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Floor not included.

Two students were chatting over a beer and discussing chemistry (the science kind), but soon left. A few others arrived: some curiously asked whether it was officially open again and then left; others asked and then stayed; still others were friends of the bartender. At no point before 4pm were there more than 6 people present. Given the Muddy’s famous warmth, it was strangely cold.

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Me in front of everyone’s two favorite words.

My “FREE BEER!” sign drew attention from Mike the Manager, who asked me to remove it because free beer is, apparently, illegal under Massachusetts state law. No appeals to “but I’m paying for it!” or “but those two words are beautiful together!” could sway him, and my strategy for enticing conversation was foiled. I’d also earned the ire of the manager, a potential source. Moreover, I had to drink this pitcher myself.

At 4pm the tables began to fill up. Some friends of the bartender came in, and we asked, “What do you think?”

“…I like the walls.”

“That was sincere.”

“No, I do like the walls! I’m just not sure about the floor.”

The reception to the new look was lukewarm. The maroon, yellow, and white walls were offputting to several, though one Muddy denizen appreciated the MIT shade of maroon. Still, another remarked “It’s not quite where I thought they would go. I expected something a little more dark.” A few people missed the dinginess.

“It looks like a Burger King,” muttered one friend who joined me.

Other reactions were more positive. One Muddy regular appreciated the light tones and the welcoming nature of the front foyer. “It’s easier to navigate the space,” she said. She also pointed out the new power outlets circling the space, which will give more afternoon regulars the chance to “study at the Muddy.”

The Muddy was almost not in this position to renovate in the first place. In 2010-11, MIT’s higher-ups considered a renovation of the Walker Memorial building, which houses the Muddy along with an event room, student clubs, and a top-floor gym. The plan was to turn it into a dedicated Music and Theatre Arts building, and it was unclear whether the Muddy would be invited to return. The Muddy could move, but its central location — in between the science and business hubs of MIT — is crucial to its identity and success, as attested to by Muddy fixture Joost Bonsen, who regularly holds “office hours” for his Media Ventures class at the pub, and turns his table into a serendipitous meet-and-greet for scientists and entrepreneurs.

Fortunately for the Muddy, the Walker renovation plans were postponed, and this Muddy renovation seems to signify that it’s here to stay, for the time being. Whatever your feelings on the renovation style, this is undoubtedly a reason to celebrate (with a pitcher of High Life).

Started, completed, and fueled by the Muddy Charles Pub, Tuesday, February 24, 2:15pm-6pm

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Luncheon to Meet Media Lab’s New Member

(CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS)- February introduces another round of new member companies for MIT Media Lab. Lee Kum Kee (LKK) corporations, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate with huge presence in processed food industry, is some kind of an outlier. Today, Eric Ng, the senior vice president for Group IT, Digital Innovations and Strategic Innovation, of Lee Kin Kee (LKK) corporations, arrives at MIT to meet and greet the faculties and students, with some exciting exchanges of ideas.
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As contrary to the popular knowledge of a sauce company, Ng says, LKK is now more positioned as a health product company. This is not how LKK started out, however. Over the hundred years of the company’s history, the technology has evolved to adapt radically different plantation and living environment. “The founders of LKK realized Chinese people are becoming more health-oriented minded,” says Ng, ” but the very existence of Chinese medicine may be extinct before we even use herbal medicine in our daily lives.” Since the inception of the health group
As students dive into the connections between Chinese medicine and research at Media Lab, Ng reveals five different areas of health involvement, spanning physical health, family, work, friends, and self. Other than Infinitus, the group’s main effort behind Chinese herbal supplement products, the company is also invested in a new project called HeHa. HeHa aims to be a platform of promoting health in community. The current product prototypes of HeHa include a smartphone app, biosensing wristband using ECG signals to detect immunity strength, and data mining methods for discovering a person’s happiness state. Hopefully, as Ng explains, HeHa can create a feedback loop within the community following a “learn, do, and share” cycle. Ultimately, people can be mobilized into proactive health promoting habits that shape a better lifestyle.
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A lot of interesting discussions emerge as the students interact after the presentation. One student from Personal Robots Group suggests a connection between personal companion and personal health coach. This brings up a main challenge for the company: most of health related electronic devices do not drive sustainable usage of the individual. In contrast, devices like smartphones attract much more attention, but often bring much more stress with the frequent usage. “How to deliver happiness digitally will be the key factors for HeHa’s success,” concludes Ng.
Behavior changing technology, information interface, and sustainable system design – these are ultimately some fundamental roots that challenge LKK. Ryan Chin, research scientist at Changing Place Group, brings up a potential project at Hong Kong with directions for solving sustainable farming and building behavior changing environment. Pollution of plantation creates serious problems for people accessing Chinese herb. City Farm model may be a good alternative for scalable and distributed Chinese herb plantation. Improving public health through a pollution-free methodology will be crucial for system design, Chin suggests.
Discussion from other groups emerges and scope turns to be quite flexible, with ideas on measuring emotion, collaborative quality search, social commerce, and personal coaching. In other words, Yelp for health conscious community. As precisely described by social technology, how to trigger needs, make consumers follow, and motivate them to sustain behaviors are key to bring social impact.
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With already established research collaborations with Harvard University and MIT Sloan, LKK Health is undertaking a significant stride forward with its new collaboration with Media Lab. For the mission of making people happy, LKK’s ought to make an interesting strategic decision that may become important for years to come.
by Pau Pernghwa Kung
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Past and future of Artificial Intelligence

What does define Artificial Intelligence? Are the researchers still looking for nature or human characteristics to the robots? If not, what are the main goals of AI research nowadays? And where is AI going to?

I had these questions in my mind when I arrived, Monday morning, in a quite empty MIT Museum. A drawing, made with green pencil in a white sheet on the table for children, caught my attention. It is so simple and so enlightening. The idea that robots will help people is behind these researches since the beginning, almost 60 years ago, and still is in the popular imaginary. More than that, we still expect for humanlike robots to be created and be part of our to facilitate our lives.

Read more at Storehouse.

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Pixar Exec Drops Out, Drops In

My on-the-fly audio reporting debut: in which I attempt to rush to cover a talk about … how to stop rushing and meditate.

Reporting time: About four hours, non-contiguous, interrupted by technical hurdles and existential crisis.

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Mexican food review

The Mexican fast food is closely related to the street, the food vendors are part of the landscape in most of the Mexican towns and cities, their smells and flavours constitute a landscape beyond the visual.

On the other hand the food truck presence has been becoming something more usual -not just in USA, also in Mexico- the food trucks are a good option to get something fast for lunch, I’ll say they are the equivalent to the Mexican street vendors.

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IMG_0004The Jose’s food truck (Located in 20 Carleton St. near Kendall Sq.) combines Mexican classics like tacos with Tex-Mex food like hard shell tacos or bowls. For this occasion I decided to take the tacos, this plate so simple but so delicious and wider in options. I asked for a Beef taco, Chorizo Taco and Carnitas.

The tortillas options for the tacos are hard or soft tortilla, I got the soft corn tortilla -classical one-, but without many expectations because it’s so difficult to find a good tortilla outside Mexico (fortunately this was the exception, they were very good!).

The beef taco was the less fortunate, the beef was good but it wasn’t something spectacular , it was just a beef. On the other hand the Chorizo and Carnitas they were great! The chorizo has a really nice consistency and a adobe flavour really good. But the one that was like being eating in Mexico was the Carnitas Taco, the meat was really good, cooked at the right point not over cooked and with the corn tortillas it was the perfect combination.

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The tacos were served with red rice and fried beans, two classical Mexican sides they were good, nothing spectacular, but a good side for the tacos. The total price for the food was $10 something reasonable for three tacos outside Mexico (In Mexico it would be between $2 to $5 for the three tacos).

4 Hours Challenge:

Order tacos: 12:30 PM

Eat: 36 min.

Writing: 100 min.

Publish: 2:46 PM

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Bianca and Vivian (Heart) Science

This weekend, Vivian and I decided to the explore the I (heart) Science event at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (http://hmnh.harvard.edu/event/i-%E2%99%A5-science).  The event gave us a chance to interact with some (adorable) children and their families, as well as some awesome experts, and some creepy critters.

To present our findings, we created an interactive version of the museum map.

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Take a walk through the exhibit (starting at the Earth & Planetary Science room and moving to the left) to meet some of the characters we met.  Click on the red squares to explore.  (Check out our project here: http://um-viz.media.mit.edu/4hoursF/index.html)

(PS: Check out the Evolution room for some truly brilliant insights from the exhibit visitors

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Insights and commentary: Though we chose the event as we thought it would be a fun environment that would provide some interesting opportunities for interactions (and the opportunity to stare at pretty rocks), we ended up gaining a really interesting perspective on how an effective implementation of STEM education outreach actually works! Here are some of the components that we isolated.

Roles: (see character profiles in our map for more details)

  • Hobbyists
  • Experts
  • Non-expert volunteers
  • Visitors
  • Parents
  • Kids
  • Community Members
  • Educators

Features:

  • Interactivity
  • Resources/accessibility
  • Live demos
  • Bite-size pieces of info (with the potential for in-depth exploration)
  • Portrayals of reality
  • Juxtaposition between high and low-tech
  • Wide-age spread

Character profiles included in our map: (Toby Flowers- Rock Ninja, Charlie Flowers- Super STEM Dad, Janani and Shivapriya-  Voracious Visitors/ Rad Researchers, George Buckley- Expert)

Results: Fascinating microcosm of the ecosystem of STEM research. 

 

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Feds launch massive study of pot and kids

The federal government is embarking on a massive study of young people’s use of marijuana, a project that some say could be a game-changer.

With the goal of following roughly 10,000 young Americans over 10 years, the so-called ABCD (Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development) study will try to answer important questions about how pot impacts young people’s brains, which are still developing into their mid-twenties.

“It’s a great initiative and one that’s likely to change what we know and think about substances, specifically marijuana,” says Dr. Staci Gruber, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor and leading marijuana researcher.

The study would start tracking young people at the age of 9 or 10, before they begin ingesting substances such as tobacco, alcohol and pot. Using brain-imaging and other techniques, the $150 million study would attempt to discern differences in those who consumed substances and those who didn’t, or consumed infrequently.

“One of the main questions we’re trying to answer is what these kids look like before they start using substances, and then how much do the substances alter or effect this period of brain development,” said Dr. Susan Weiss, associate director for scientific affairs at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one of the agencies leading the study.

But for all its scope and ambition, can ABCD overcome perceptions of bias and limits on ethical research to provide much in the way of weighty new insights?

Some may believe that decades of research and widespread use have already revealed the risks of marijuana. There’s scientific consensus that most adults can occasionally use pot without serious health risks, and that heavy use by young people is linked with cognitive impairment and psychotic episodes.

But some important findings remain less than conclusive, according to a report by the RAND Corp. for the state of Vermont. The evidence linking pot to stunted brain development, for instance, is “fairly weak and somewhat inconsistent,” the Vermont report says.

Skeptics may point to scientific constraints on ABCD’s findings and value.

Ethics prohibit scientists from giving intoxicating drugs to 9 year-olds. That means ABCD can’t conduct the kind of “gold-standard” double-blind experiments in which subjects are randomly given drugs or placebos. As a study merely observing young people, ABCD can’t show that pot causes anything — good or bad. For all its reach, the study can only establish an association between, let’s say, pot and depression.

That lack of demonstrated causality has left a significant hole in marijuana research. Policy makers are thus relegated to a “fog of uncertainties” about pot’s impact on public health, according to the Vermont report.

Still, some scientists see great potential value in such a large study, which could firm up associations now tenuous because of small sample sizes and other shortcomings in design. ABCD will also take the important step of studying kids before they start consuming substances and studying occasional or infrequent users. “This initiative is absolutely groundbreaking,” Gruber says.

What’s more, the study will use brain-imaging technology such as fMRI, and should offer something decades-old studies haven’t: research on the increased potency of pot and new methods of consuming, such as vaporizing hash oil.

Such a study, Weiss says, has never been more timely. With four states legalizing pot and the movement poised to spread across the country, policymakers need clearer research — particularly on those who appear most vulnerable to pot’s risks — than ever before.

It’s likely that legalizing weed will even be a topic for presidential candidates next year.

That’s precisely what worries some who say marijuana is still caught in a values debate, not a scientific one; a debate that one day will appear inexplicably musty in its archaic views. Federally-funded research has historically focused on the harms of marijuana, especially among very heavy users, instead of its seemingly more moderate risks — even possible benefits — for occasional consumers.

A recent report to Colorado officials noted that pot’s illegality has injected both a “funding bias and publication bias into the body of” research literature on pot use.

Weiss says ABCD won’t be biased. Previous NIDA research may have focused on harm because preventing abuse is the agency’s mission, she says.

Infamous article by the man most responsible for prohibition of pot.

Infamous article by America’s first “drug czar,” the man most responsible for prohibition of pot.

But she points to the agency’s interest in research on the therapeutic uses of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the non-intoxicating chemicals in marijuana. ABCD will aim, she said, to answer questions not steer policy. “If it turns out marijuana doesn’t do anything bad to the brain, then that’s just fine,” she said.

The ABCD study involves federal agencies besides NIDA, which could bring different perspectives less focused on harm.

Prohibition is hardly ideal, Weiss, said with its racially-skewed history of enforcement. (A national ACLU study found that African-Americans were four times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, although they consume at roughly equal rates.) “Nobody wants that to happen,” she says.

But the question of legalizing weed — or how best to legalize — is complicated, she says, by questions about pot’s impact on young people’s developing brains.

So researchers are trying to move quickly, by federal standards. The National Institutes of Health announced earlier this month one of ABCD’s first funding opportunities, $2 million for a study coordinating center. Applications are due in April.

Of course, there’s a possibility much of the policy debate may be resolved by the time the study is completed in 10 years. Or, there’s a chance that waiting for its results could be used as an argument against legalizing. “That’s why we’re trying to get it going as quickly as possible,” Weiss says.

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Savannah Niles Assignment 2: Prudential Center draws early morning crowds, but not for shopping

While rushing through the Prudential Center early one morning on the way back from a meeting, something surprised me: it was 7 am, and although the stores weren’t open and the doors had just been unlocked, there were many people at the mall.

I returned a few days later to investigate what about the Prudential Center draws so many of Boston’s early risers.

There’s one population that’s here by necessity: many of the malls’ employees arrive hours before stores open to set up window displays, trim the decorative plants lining the mall’s walkways, or work at the renovation in the Boylston/Newbury wing.

Others appeared to likewise be scheduled for an early arrival at the mall. The hotels and office buildings at the mall’s perimeter direct currents of foot traffic through the mall’s wings. FlyWheel, a cycling studio increasingly hyped in cities across the US, also draws a high attendance, with noticeable impact on the mall’s early morning energy: at regular 30 minute intervals, an influx of women in spandex rush to the Belvedere wing. With its sister studio FlyBarre opening at the end of the month, Boston’s fit and trendy will likely be drawn to the Prudential Center in even greater numbers.

Much of the mall’s early occupants are commuters: the Prudential Center Green Line stop opens up to the mall, and its central location serves as a route sheltered from the cold to many Back Bay, Boylston, and Copley destinations. Some commuters seems to prolong their connection through the Prudential Center by stopping from coffee or breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Teavana Paradise Bakery, the cafes open at the mall before the rest of its stores open. Others seem so comfortably set up on a bench or at a table that it’s hard to tell whether they’re pausing a commute to somewhere else or if this is their destination: in particular, many of the elderly can be seen reading or people-watching inside the mall for hours.

The Prudential Center seems to serve another purpose as a destination rather than a transition space: many visitors, particularly the elderly and parents with children, come simply to walk. With light-filled spaces, a network of routes, and, most importantly, shelter from the elements, the Prudential Center seems to start the day off more like a park than a shopping center.

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Who Cares About Magazine Beach?

Magazine Beach

Magazine Beach covers 15 acres of open space squeezed between the Charles River and Memorial Drive in Cambridge, near the BU bridge. After a project to restore the historic Powder Magazine building at the site caught the community’s attention a few years ago, efforts have been underway to improve the public park as a whole.

Who cares about the Magazine Beach park process, and who has a say in what will happen as the development plans take shape over the next year? Continue reading

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