Visiting the MIT Media Lab


Just came back from a holiday-related trip that led by Boston. M. and I had a couple of days to poke around the city, and of course we didn’t want to miss the chance to visit the MIT Media Lab.

The lovely Nate Matias and Eric Rosenbaum took the time to show us around the lab and introduce us to a few of the good folks there. (Thanks guys, that was great fun!)

MIT Media Lab
M & I at the MIT Media Lab with Scratch


And boy, what a place. Joi Ito, the new head of the Media Lab, has been working on opening up the lab some more, making it more permeable so to speak, and to lower the (perceived) barrier between what’s happening inside the lab and the outside. I can understand why, too: I imagine it can be a pretty intimidating place. There’s so much cool research going on, most of it very much transdisciplinary and experimental in nature, and always on the cutting edge of things. (“Things” here meaning whatever the researchers in the lab have decided to focus on.) What I personally like a lot is the mix of research, playfulness and the way researchers are encouraged to productize the things they come up with.

To give you an impression, within the hour or so we got to poke around the lab, we encountered projects ranging from (kinda) 3D projection to emotional robots to a huge woodcut Stegosaurus to a magnetically suspensed ball that could record and play back movements – just to name a few of the ones I remember off the top of my head. And of course the Makey Makey of Eric’s own making.

Makey Makey
Unpacking the Makey Makey. Plans to attach it to the cat were vetoed by the recipient.


Anyway, we enjoyed it a great deal. Should you be around and get a chance, make sure to check if there’s an event going on at the Lab. It’s certainly worth your time and a good opportunity to meet some great folks.

The Big Picture: Stories told in photos by Boston Globe


I don’t know how I could have missed The Big Picture, the Boston Globe‘s amazing photo blog. (It has been around since June). The Big Picture tells stories by featuring stunning, awesome, sometimes scary (and always: huge, i.e. 990px wide) photos, put in context by a paragraph of text.

Waxy interviewed Alan Taylor, the programmer and blogger who created The Big Picture in his spare time while working on some community features at boston.com. (Here’s the full interview.) Alan explains how he goes about collecting the images (partly manually, partly automatic) and how he came up with the idea. One core motivation of his was to free pictures and let them speak for themselves, in most newspapers photos are just used as a click farm for ads:

[…] my parents used to always have Life and National Geographic magazines around the house, I fell in love with the visual storytelling way back then. When I was getting my feet wet in the online journalism world as a developer at msnbc.com, I had the good fortune of working alongside Brian Storm and a few others in MSNBC’s photo department, who were just phenomenal as far as selection, editing and presentation. I wondered why other sites didn’t reach that level. Many have by now, but I was still frustrated by the presentation — either far too small, or trapped in click-after-click interfaces that were in Flash or just acted as ad farms.

I won’t even try to put any of the pictures here, it wouldn’t do them any justice. The Big Picture: A must read.