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The last day of my trip (not including a day and a bit of travelling to get back to Perth, which I wasn’t looking forward to very much) was spent wandering around Boston. I had a purposeful morning waiting to get my laptop fixed at the Apple “Genius Bar” (well, I think they’re geniuses, they gave me a new battery in spite of me being just outside my warranty period). Then I headed back into town and lunched at the Union Oyster House – they claim to be the oldest restaurant in America est. 1826 – on Clam Chowder and corn bread, very nice (if a little chewy).
I wandered around the shops, but wasn’t inspired and then the weather began to set in. I made it to the aquarium before it started to rain and spent a happy time watching penguins and looking at pretty fish (the ones not being eaten by penguins). Even here I did have a clear aim to get pictures of some cuttlefish, if they had any. It turns out that cuttlefish are very hard to photograph because they move pretty quickly. Here’s one photo that’s actually in focus!
When I got out of the aquarium it was tipping down, but for some reason I decided to walk back to the hotel. Getting soaked wasn’t a great idea, but it did mean that I got to walk by the original Cheers bar (as opposed to the fake one in the middle of town). It wasn’t that photogenic, which is just as well, because the rain clouds weren’t going to clear for any photographic work on my part.
After a side trip to New Brunswick to visit a friend I made at last years British Society for Literature and Science conference I travelled back into the US to visit Boston. My main aim was to visit MIT. I had an appointment with someone in the Personal Robotics group at MIT Media Lab, and I also wanted to visit the MIT Museum.
I had originally planned to visit Guy Hoffman, designer and builder of AUR the robotic lighting assistant, but unfortunately he ended up being out of the country when I was there (some people will go to any lengths to avoid meeting with me)! However, Mikey Siegel kindly agreed to talk to me about his work, and to show me around the Media Lab.
It was an interesting tour, and the lab is just as cluttered with boxes and wires as any other I’ve visited. The only difference in the Personal Robotics section is the large number of cuddly toys that are strewn about the place. I should have asked if I could take some photos, but for some reason felt a bit awkward about this, as if they were bound to say no. I did, however, take some in the museum, just so that I could prove I had “met” Kismet and Cog.
I also spent some time just walking around MIT:
Then I headed off to the Harvard end of town, and into the best book store that I have ever visited. The Harward Book Store shelves are piled high, the staff are helpful and it was packed with browsers.
It’s been a sunny day one to my visit to Montréal, so I made sure I spent plenty of time outside. Here is a view of the city from Parc du Mont-Royale:
There were lots of squirrels in the park, mostly grey, but I also saw a couple of black ones:
I’m sure the locals think of them as vermin, but I rather liked them and they made me nostalgic for the Northern Hemisphere.
I did sneak inside to visit the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal to see the Communicating Vessels: New Technologies and Contemporary Art exhibition.
There weren’t any moving robots here, although an artist called Jessica Field was showing an interactive installation where two “personalities” sense your movement and position and make comments about you as you stand in front of them. I’m going to visit Jessica at her studio tomorrow to see her latest work, which should be really interesting.
I couldn’t take a photo in the temporary exhibition space, but I did take one of a magnetic sculpture in the permanent collection:
Here’s a closeup of the “floating” weights:
After that, I made the most of the sunshine and explored Vieux-Montréal, although what most captured my camera-eye were some strange buildings across the water from Vieux-Port:
Depending on what I see tomorrow this latest batch of travel writing may be replaced by the more usual robot-talk.
Meanwhile, here is a message for everyone I know in Perth:
For the last four days I have been attending the SLSA (Society for Literature, Science and the Arts), apparently pronounced “salsa”, conference in Portland, Maine.
Above is the view of the harbour from my hotel.
The theme of the conference was “CODE” and I presented a paper called “Machine codes in conversations with embodied emotional robots”, which went surprisingly well considering the level of jet lag I was experiencing at the time! I was on the panel, “Robots & Zombies”, with Nick Knouf and Jentery Sayers, both of whom gave great papers. Nick’s, which was about his robot called Syngvan (n here indicates the version of the project a, b, c, etc), had a particular resonance with my own, as we share an interest in non-humanoid, non-anthropomorphic robots.
In addition to attending the conference, with N. Katherine Hayles and Brian Massumi as plenary speakers, I also had a little time to explore Portland. Here is a picture of the only weatherboard observatory I have ever seen (rather like a windmill which has had its wings pulled off),
and another view of the water from where I ate lunch in the park.
You can see that there is some construction going on in Portland, but it was still a nice place to walk around, and the seafood was great .
Tomorrow I take the early train to Boston, and then fly straight out to Montreal. I’m going to visit Bill Vorn and Jessica Field, both of whom create robotic art installations.