Fighting Against Indifference, David Jiménez Garcia Carries A Heavy Bag

Two hundred people died in an avalanche – not in the French alps, but in the Philippine capital of Manilla.  It was an avalanche of garbage that the city had thrown away. Hours later, David Jiménez Garcia stood at the bottom of the carnage of a monsoon-induced landslide that had weakened the base of a municipal waste dump and had ultimately caused it to collapse upon the homes of 800 families. “I couldn’t believe that there weren’t more journalists who cared,” Jiménez remembers today, speaking with a sonorous, soothing voice, as his hands rose up and crashed down to give life to the garbage avalanche.

While the government of the Philippines blamed the prowess of mother nature in 2000, Jiménez covered the stories of those who fell victim to it. Particularly those who had been stripped of alternatives by the government: The disenfranchised, the impoverished, the abandoned. Children are often the center of Jiménez’ stories, which are full of intimate observations, piercing detail, and illustrative context. The empathy and precision in his reporting are testimony to his long-standing experience in the region: David Jiménez Garcia was the first-ever Asia correspondent of a major Spanish newspaper.

His life began in Barcelona in 1971, when his native Spain was still under Franco’s rule. Born into a dictatorship, Jiménez grew up as his country grew into a new democracy. With the progressives rebuilding the government, his childhood coincided with the introduction of freedom of the press for Spaniards for the very first time. At 12, his family, including three siblings, moved to Madrid. After a high school exchange year in rural Texas, Jiménez enrolled at the local journalism school. Freelancing with Spain’s leading newspaper El Mundo during his last year in college turned into his first job.

At El Mundo, Jiménez covered whatever topic he could get his hands on. “Anything you can do in a newsroom, I did,” he remembers, before recounting how he walked into his editor-in-chief’s office one day with an idea: Latin America, Africa, and Europe were sought-after locations, while no Spanish newspaper had an Asia bureau or correspondent on the continent at the time. Jiménez wanted to go. His boss agreed and in 1998, David Jiménez Garcia became El Mundo’s first Asia correspondent. He stayed for 15 years.

Based first in Hong Kong and then in Bangkok, Jiménez covered wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Timor, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka; he reported on the two big tsunamis and five earthquakes, on revolutions in Burma and uprisings in the Philippines. He contributed to CNN, the BBC, The Guardian, and Esquire magazine. He wrote three books. He won awards.

Most reports penned by Jiménez are heavy human interest stories, playing out in the darkest corners of the world. But many turned into lighter endings. Jiménez chases these endings, following up on his stories and seeking out his former interviewees. “You owe something to the people you wrote about,” he says, “if you care about them, you go back and try to tell the end of the story.” He compiled a selection of juxtapositions, between the tragedy he witnessed during chaos and the uplifting denouement he often found upon returning years later, in his award-winning first book, Children of the Monsoon. Within a few years, Buttons of Kabul and The Happiest Place on Earth followed, equally filled by accounts of resilience, loyalty, and dedication in the face of poverty and violence. Always, Jiménez’ “prose is sharp as a machete” as Brook Larmer lauds, while La Republica calls his work “a journalistic battle against the demons of cynicism.”

Despite the adventurous, nomadic lifestyle of a war correspondent with endless travel and without set hours confined to an office, Jiménez seems to be battling these exact demons. Writing, for him, is a “a chance to fight against the indifference of the people who don’t have the chance to see what you see,” in the hope that his reporting would eventually impact people, move institutions to action, and affect small change.

An aficionado of in-depth investigation on the ground, Jiménez says some parts of the internet accrue to a “Weapon of Mass Disinformation”: Given the new wealth of facts and knowledge on the web, the average reader, viewer, and listener is so bombarded by digital artifacts that sifting through for quality, accuracy and genuine intellectual engagement has become a gargantuan task. And we have become lazy. Nonetheless, Jiménez muses that the visual avenues of the web are promising. Because the more ways to illustrate and distribute high quality stories, the better. Jiménez remains a journalistic zealot at heart.

Yet after 15 years of covering upheaval, hardship, and perseverance of the human spirit, Jiménez stopped. Now, reflecting on the luxury that the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard affords him, he has realized the toll that immersion into the extremes of the human condition has taken on him. “As a journalist you have a bag that you carry on your trips,” Jiménez says, shouldering an imaginary backpack as he talks, “and every time you see something bad and report on the darkest side of humanity one stone goes in the bag.” His fictitious rucksack is getting heavier. “At some point you can’t carry the bag anymore.” Support in such heavy moments comes from his family: After particularly gruesome trips, Jiménez’ wife and three kids pull him back to normality. This contrast is important, he says, to ground him in reality.

Three years ago, after Jiménez reported a story about self-immolating monks on an illegal trip to Tibet, the Chinese government banned him from re-entering the country. Jiménez smiles proudly when he tells this story, adding “it means I did my job well.”

Sophie’s choices

It’s amazing what one can find on the internet: new ideas, fascinating people, and of course cats.  It is so delightful to discover a deep well of knowledge, learn more about something new to you, or finally grasp the appropriate context needed to gain understanding.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that the ease of this insta-knowledge can lead to quick conclusions and easy answers, lulling some to think they “know” something or someone: all of the intimacy with none of the time, and little work.

Internet: Now a substitute for real human interaction. (Yep, it's spelled wrong in the gif image.)

Internet: Now a substitute for real human interaction. (Yep, it’s spelled wrong in the gif image.)

As a journalist, I was aware of how extensive research can lead to smarter questions. But for this assignment, I was curious to see what goes missing when the process is reversed: Would relying on a trail of facts from the internet create a accurate picture, an appropriate analysis? How close could it come to the truth of an experience, or the essence of an individual? What goes missing? What is assumed?

Sophie Chou laughing over a caffeinated beverage. (at least it is not a salad)

Sophie Chou laughing over a caffeinated beverage. (at least it is not a salad)

Sophie Chou describes herself as a cat, reader, writer, and Hacker girl.

She told me she was a first year graduate student at MIT, working at the Media Lab. I “knew” this, and a bit more, from what I learned researching her online.

Sophie’s all over the internet, giving a talk about how to democratize data science to a major conference for computer professionals, cooking up really delicious looking inventive food (YUM), and sharing thoughtful and insightful social media and blog posts about her varied interests.

But becoming a computer scientist, and a creative, was quite the journey.

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A Conversation with Léa Steinacker

As I was doing background research for my conversation with Léa, I learned that our digital social circles overlap. My discovery that we share a mutual friend–thanks, Facebook and LinkedIn–opened up a wide-ranging conversation into our shared interests, as revealed bit by bit by Léa’s digital footprint. Here’s a podcast-style summary of our conversation along those lines.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 (SOUNDCLOUD)

Our conversation, though, ventured beyond our shared hobbies. We talked at length about her longtime work on issues related to gender-based violence and her transition into tackling a similarly vexing challenge: that of radicalization of Islamists in Germany. Her studies have taken her around the world and back again: With NGO positions in countries including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Australia–not to mention study-abroad stints in the US, UK, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Egypt–she has seen and done a great deal, all fastidiously tracked on her LinkedIn page. But I noticed that one little part seemed at first glance to be slightly inaccurate. Her work experience says that she worked with the NGO Search for Common Ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through March 2013. However, I dug up a November 2012 article from Walsroder Zeitung, her hometown German newspaper, saying that she’d been evacuated from the country. Why was there this discrepancy? Was it a discrepancy at all? Had she been evacuated, only to return to finish up in March 2013? Surely LinkedIn was hiding some fascinating details–and it was. Listen below for more:

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 (SOUNDCLOUD)

In all, I’m struck by how examining a conversation partner’s digital footprint beforehand can influence conversation–for good or for ill. Revealing that we had a mutual friend on Facebook, for instance, was like an invitation from the “real world” to talk about that friend, easing us into conversation in a highly effective way. Other revelations, however, were more jarring. Léa was surprised or slightly embarrassed that I’d found some digital breadcrumbs (e.g. an uncomfortably enthusiastic review of her performance in a play), and in one instance, she’d forgotten she’d even created one of the online resources I found. Without warning, I asked her near the end of our conversation if she was a fan of the Trina Paulus book Hope for the Flowers. Shocked, she said yes, utterly confused as to how I knew that. It turns out that her fling with Myspace must have been near-instantaneous. Her old account, named “hopefortheflowers,” is still up and running, but she couldn’t remember making it–a digital fossil from an earlier time, I suppose.

It also hits home to me just how pervasive our digital footprints can be.

A chat with Miguel Paz

I finally seem to have figured out SoundCloud, so here’s a link to my interview. http://austinhess.github.io/miguel/

I decided a mix of the sound clips and some simple text would work a bit better than trying to have me narrate the story radio-style, so that’s what I did. I tried to let Miguel speak for himself, while also keeping it in a narrative format that didn’t go into too much detail.

Austin Hess

 

I knew a tiny bit about Austin Hess beforehand from listening up in class – mainly that he was editor-in-chief of the MIT Tech, and thus I presumed that he was an MIT senior, probably around 21.

1

When I sat down to Internet stalk Austin Hess, I first came across what I thought was his Twitter. The handle was @AustinHess, the photo was of a youngish male, and the location stated Boston, MA. Not bad huh? Everything checked out, so I scrolled down the tweets, excited that I was going to get a glimpse into his inner psyche.

Reading his tweets, this Austin Hess seemed something like a raging Tea Party affiliate with hashtags like #EmperorObama and um, #oldmanass. I began imagining Austin in my head, this 30-year-old, angry, married, but also an MIT student working at the Tech. I was kind of looking forward to interviewing someone who seemed like my direct opposite in every way.

2

A few more Google searches and I realized I was totally off base. The MIT Austin was someone else entirely. He unfortunately was not nearly as public with social media as Tea Party Austin but I was able to dredge up some old articles about his high school career. From what I could find of him in high school, he seemed like he was a really bright, accomplished person and really into science, specifically physics and space (the kind of kid that would get into MIT!)

Then in college, I dig some digging and found a short blog he wrote while interning at CERN when the Higgs Boson discovery was announced. I found all his articles that he wrote for the Tech, including some recent ones regarding the Walter Lewin case at MIT. …And that was it!

3

So it was on to the interview to get to know more about him. I went to the Tech offices on the 4th floor of the MIT student center at around 5PM on a Saturday. While the floor was basically empty, behind the locked doors of the Tech were over 20 people in various rooms talking and working. After finally locating Austin, we found an empty room and began talking.

4

Austin talked about being editor-in-chief of the Tech. He enjoyed controversial stories and hearing people’s back-and-forth on it. One of his bigger, controversial stories was on Walter Lewin, who he even had some back and forth with over email. “It was a really surreal experience. Some of the email conversations were very strange. And at the end he got very mad that he still wasn’t portrayed in a positive light.” Huge swaths of people got really angry at the Tech and wrote comments and emails on a story that he initially thought was quite straightforward.

 

One of the former editor-in-chiefs told Austin before his tenure, “This is going to be a crazy time but you’ll learn more than you will in any MIT class.” Though Austin doubted him at the time, he in the end found it a learning experience: learning how organizations work but also how complicated issues can get between what’s in the news and what actually happens. It also made him a little disappointed in the MIT community from time to time, because he was often on the receiving end of what he considered to be extreme voices.

5

Austin also talked about his time interning at CERN during the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson, which was a unique and very exciting experience. He remembered all the practice announcements, arguments between scientists, and staying up all night in line waiting for the final big announcement.

While it was a definite high point, possibly one of the greatest high points for physics for many years to come, this also made him realize during this time that he wasn’t that interested in pursuing physics research further. He saw that many post-docs and graduate students working on the Higgs Boson, a truly tremendous project, were still leaving the field and leaving research altogether just several months later.

6

 

Finally, he told me about his plans for the future, including most likely (*maybe, maybe not) working at the New York Times as a software engineer, a job that would combine his interests in technical subjects and the news in a city where things are happening all the time! Looks like you have a really bright and exciting future ahead, Austin!

 

Meet Amy X. Zangh: ‘Lurking’ around social media

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One can learn a lot about Amy X. Zangh on the Internet. That if you pay a special attention to the X. part of her name. Another Amy Zhang, writer, author of books for young adults almost fooled me. But then I thought I had never seen that face before. And Amy X. was someone that had impressed me two weeks before I discovered that I would have to profile her for a MIT class assignment. Amy X., I remembered, had helped to create a new tool to track her browsing activity, her movements online.

Forget programs like Rescue Media, the idea of Eyebrowse is allowing “users to be selective about what they track, and then share that information publicly as a way for people to find interesting content from each other and converse with other people while browsing”, she explained in the occasion.

On that moment, I just thought: “so young, so quick-smart MIT material”. And two weeks later I found myself having to discover all about that talented Chinese girl. As a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at MIT CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), Amy made my job relatively easy by sharing online all her professional achievements in the last few years. Knowing about her personal life, however, was much more difficult. A picture in her facebook page again fooled me. Looked like she got married, but she was just all dressed up with her boyfriend in the marriage of some friends, not theirs.

One personal thing is online: her passion for photography. Her Flickr page, with the curious name of “moderngirly”, brings hundreds of beautiful images. But, again, is almost professional. You can see real art, but not exactly Amy.

I figured out later that Amy loves social media, but only to discover what other people are doing. She realized this official “lurking” is what she wants to do as a scientist. But knowing so much about others, of course she couldn’t commit the same “mistake” of reveal herself.

From her blog and personal page at CSAIL, I could track pretty much all her academic life and career so far. She took her Bachelor degree in Computer Science (CS) at Rutgers (The State University of New Jersey), with an athletic scholarship as a tennis player. Then went to Cambridge University (UK) to get a Masters in CS and now is at MIT pursuing a Ph.D. She did a summer internship last year at Microsoft Research, in Seattle, and she is going to the Google headquarters in Mountain View (CA) to do a new internship next summer.

She defines her focus on “human-computer interaction” and following that line she discovered, for instance, how Americans behaved on Twitter and eventually changed their mind about same-sex marriage. She also collected information from activities on location-based social networks in order to characterize urban spaces and recommend certain neighborhoods for tourists.

Amy, 25, was born in Beijing, China, the day before the beginning of the protests that culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre, in 1989. “My parents were planning to go to the protest, they were college students, I think that is what all students colleges were doing. Except my mom was pregnant, so she had me instead”, she told me in the following interview. In this Q.A, is possible to get much more of her than the online registers show up.

Why did your family come from China to US?
My dad came to US when I was 3, because he got a research position at Nebraska University. But we were really poor, so he came by himself. My mom just came a year later and I lived with my grandparents for a year or two and then I followed my parents to US when I was 5. We went to Nebraska, then my dad got a post-doc at UCLA, so we moved to LA, we lived there around 6 years. He used to do Forestry research, but during the first dotcom boom, he switched into computers. Then we moved to Irvine, when he started working for Cisco Systems. We lived there for two years, then moved to Texas, my family is still there now since 2000. I left when I went to college, in New Jersey. I like moving around, never lived in a place for long time.

Did your dad influence you to work with computer science?
(Laughs) Maybe… not really. He pushed me to do computer science when I was younger, but I didn’t liked it, whenever he tried to teach me. I think I might have liked it despite him, instead of because of him… even tough he exposed me to it.

Then, what motivated you to study computer science afterwards?
In high school you can take this AP classes, which is basically college credit for high school students. A lot of high school students take it in order to get better college admissions, i mean. I took a lot of those classes, including CS, and I really liked them. Then I joined the high school programing team, we had competitions and it was a lot of fun, I decided that I liked it. Before went to college, I just decided that Computer Science would be my major.

I guess your dad loved this.
Yes, he is happy.

Your Facebook page photo gives the impression to have been taken in your marriage. A friend congratulated you in the comments. And then I got that you are not married. So, who is the guy?
(Laughs) No, I wasn’t getting married. He is my boyfriend. I live with him, but we were just dating. This photo was in another wedding. I met him in the UK, when I did my masters. He and I were in the same fellowship program, the Gates, we became friends and we were friends for like half year, before we started dating. We started dating in UK, then he came back to Harvard for his PhD, I went to New York for a year, we did long distance, and then I moved here.

You describe yourself as focused in the “human-computer interaction centered on discourse and social sharing”. And that you are “interested in designing and building interfaces and systems to improve discourse, collaboration, and affinity on the web, with applications to news, political discourse, and civic engagement”. What does it mean?
What I do is: I study social media, I study data from social media to find out interesting things about people, I build new social media tools, new algorithms for how social media decides to show certain things, or new technics for collaboration, or new tools for showing content or allowing people to talk.

Does it mean you are planning to create a super popular social media, like Facebook, or you are more interested in understanding how people behave in social media?
I think both. Well, I don’t really plan on making something super popular, but something novel, that people try out, and I hope they like it. I think people reveal a lot when they have conversations, they reveal a lot about themselves, their values, their feelings about certain things, so you can learn a lot from that. I always thought interesting the wide variety of things that people just talk about online and I really enjoy reading other people conversations. One of the reasons that I got into this research is because part is centered in discussions online, how to improve them, how can we study them, how can we build better interfaces to make easy having this discussions online. That came out of me because I really love reading them. Whenever I read something, I love to read comments about it, to just see what people are saying about things. I think that is why I got in this whole thing.

It is funny you said that, because everything that I could find about you on internet was not exactly about your values and your feelings, but your achievements as a professional. So, precisely because your are interested in this behavior you act on Internet exactly not revealing yourself?
Yeah, I guess I use social media more to put may professional stuff, specially in Twitter. But Facebook has some work too. I don’t really engage in posting a ton of personal stuffs, pictures, like many friends do, but I really love reading other people stuff.

You are going to Google in Mountain View this summer. What are you going to do there?
I am not sure yet exactly. Probably along the same lines I am studying here, but with Google products, doing some research, like Youtube comments, or Google Store comments, maybe Google plus.

In one of your last papers was examine almost 2 million public Twitter posts related to same-sex marriage in the U.S. states. What did you discover?
Last summer I interned in the Microsoft Research, in Seattle, and one of the greatest thing is that they have access to the entire Twitter firehose, which is all the public tweets ever, tons and tons and tons of tweets. So we were looking, within the American states, how people were discussing same-sex marriage, all the way back to 2011 until today. Several different laws were passing or failing in different states and we could look what people were talking about related to these legislations. We could see how public opinion changed depending on whether the law passed or failed. Then we tried to understand whether we could predict if something will pass or fail depending on how people are discussing it on Twitter. Overall we got a pretty good accuracy, like 85% on 45 events.

What are your projects on MIT now?
One of them is the Eyebrowse. I built a lot of it, but it was not just me, a lot of people built it too. And I am really excited now. Hopefully we will get more users and then we will run some experiments later this semester. We are hoping for a couple of different goals for the project. The way we see this being useful is 1): you can track your own media consumption and sort of audit what you look at. 2) It is useful way to find out about interesting stuff. So if you have data on a lot of people about what they are reading about, you can sort of see like: “oh, tons of people are reading this” or “this must be an interesting article because people are spending 10 minutes on this”. Once you have this metadata it is possible to you can recommend interesting things to read. And 3), having this data you can know, on real time, where people are on the Internet and so you can do things like chat on certain pages, leave comments on pages, leave notes for your friends, things like that.

Several news outlets can already say what their readers are consuming, like the top stories. The difference is that your project could track the entire Internet, not just one site?
Yes. Every media company has their servers that can track their own consumption, but don’t have a comparison with others, for instance. And we don’t believe it should be sold. We will be releasing this publicly. Right now companies can install things in your computer that you are not realizing and checking what you are visiting in the web without consent. And then this companies sell that data without your consent for tracking you. We specifically ask you which pages you want to be tracked. People could use this data to do research or build new things. The point it that nowadays all this power is concentrated in big companies or governments, and scientists or developers don’t have access to this data.

An Object-Based Conversation with Bianca Datta

Bianca Datta spends a lot of time with objects. We all do, but not like her; she designs them, makes them, thinks about them, and responds to questions from prying interviewers about them.

Bianca is a product designer and first-year graduate student in the MIT Media Lab’s Object-Based Media group. I wanted to learn a bit about her design sense and the ways she relates to objects in particular, so I showed her seven objects that each sparked a conversation about different aspects and stages of her life.

01-maryland

I started off easy. Bianca is from Maryland—Montgomery County, not Baltimore, which most people mistakenly assume (or maybe they just don’t know any other cities in Maryland). She explained her home state as a “microcosm of the US,” which, looking at the state’s map, she attributed in part to its geography. The peninsula, the panhandle, and the two major metropolitan areas each form their own identity.

02-penn

Bianca then set off to Philadelphia to study at Penn’s School of Engineering. She knew that she wanted her work to have energy applications, and started off focusing on chemical engineering, but later found a home in Penn’s materials science lab as a Materials Science and Engineering major. She claims that chemical engineering didn’t work out because she is “not into math or physics,” which befuddled me. It’s all relative.

Bianca has many Penn mugs (all gifts) and paraphernalia, and when I ask which is her favorite, she ponders for a while: “that’s really tough. I have so many.” She settles on a hoodie that she got for being a residential advisor, which she likes not only for the color and comfort, but its associations; it reminds her of home, as well as camaraderie with her fellow RAs.

The mug itself also had significance: “I am really big on tea,” she says (she was late to our meeting because she was getting coffee). She associates tea with her family, and uses it as a way to connect with people; as an RA, she would offer tea to students to encourage them to stay and talk. Nowadays she organizes many of the Media Lab teas.

03-dormitron

At Penn, Bianca took a formative product design class that led her towards her current work. One of the projects in that class was Dormitron, an RFID-operated door, which would replace your dorm’s traditional key with an RFID chip, making your dorm’s door work like the key card in the campus entrance, or a bit like a hotel room.

Bianca first downplayed the project by saying “every year somebody does an RFID thing [for the class],” and mentioned that there are still barriers to wide adoption due to security liabilities. But she also insisted that her team’s product was better designed than others. Although she regrets not being able to participate in the product’s actual fabrication, it was her first opportunity to go from idea to product.

05-3m

Bianca spent one college summer in Minneapolis working for 3M, which introduced her to the corporate working world as a materials engineer. She was simultaneously impressed with the range of 3M and with their level of trust in her expertise and experience.

Her summer at 3M convinced her to go to graduate school, maybe to postpone the red tape (or poster tape?) of major corporations, and because she found that the most interesting work at 3M was being done by people with PhDs. It seemed like a good sign.

Although she was not working on improving 3M’s poster tape, she did have strong opinions: “I hate command hooks. They’re useless and always fall off the wall.” She points to 3M as proving that generic products are not all the same; her 3M sticky-notes stayed on longer and left less residue than the non-branded alternatives. Still, she notes, it’s not always worth the added cost.

06-flip

Along with Partnews RA Alexis Hope, Bianca designed a digital input/output device during the famed Media Lab class “How to Make Almost Anything.” The project was initially an excuse to try out the Processing programming environment, which allows for interesting visual effects. If you press a button, the background changes; this allowed them to switch between a “moon” view and a “sunrise” view for the object.

Bianca’s final and favorite How to Make project was a nap pod called DUSK, which she tells me currently exists and lives in the Media Lab, so I plan to find it and sleep in it tomorrow. For her the project was exciting because she made it from scratch; it was “in my head, and now it’s real, and its big, and I get to use it.”

07-stuffmatters

This book was on Bianca’s otherwise defunct Goodreads page, so she was surprised that I’d found it. On one hand Goodreads was just a “one-off thing” for her, but on the other, “this book is all about what I do.” It is a popular-scientific approach to materials and objects, with successive chapters on cement, paper, grass, and so on. Bianca’s current research examines how human beings relate and connect to materials; for instance, why we view some materials as stable, friendly, and durable, while others are considered foreign or cold. So this book is right up her alley.

Unsurprisingly, Bianca prefers paper reading over screen reading, which gives off the illusion of being “less serious.” But like most people, she makes plenty of concessions for the sake of digital convenience.

Bianca read Stuff Matters at Cambridge’s local Book Club for the Curious. As a first-year student, she felt like this connected her to the city and community. Whether tea mugs, hoodies, or books, Bianca associates her favorite objects with their social functions and associations. As an expert in things, her favorite things are the ones that connect her to her favorite people.

Phil Interviews Charles Kaïoun

Charles KaiounAfter scouring the web for useful information about Charles, all I found was a sparse twitter account, a non-descript bio/resume (he is a 20-handicap golfer), and a handful of links to websites. I was left wondering who is Charles Kaioun, this virtual enigma – someone who I interact with on nearly a daily basis at MIT, but who I also hardly know.

I decided to record the interview in 360 degree sound, testing a cheap pair of binaural audio recording headphones I picked up over winter break, trying to see if it might be possible to capture the sense of a first encounter with Charles.

Our conversation in a half occupied lounge of MIT’s Sloan School of Management floated from a family history of war and genocide to Y2K and virtual reality.

We began the conversation with a discussion of Charles’ heritage, which like mine is one of mixed origins with buried histories. Play Here: Charles 1 (02:00)

At the start Charles’ story evokes my own challenge to capture my family history, which I share with Charles and sparks a further discussion. Play Here: Charles 2 (01:47)

At this point, our conversation begins to drift from a discussion of our grandparents generation and its enigmatic qualities to present day virtuality. Charles 3 (0:58)

Charles begins to discuss how he might blend past and present with a virtual walk trough of his family history. Charles 4 (01:33)

Charles’ interest in virtual reality is inescapable. I have to ask where this passion originated. Surprisingly it leads back to Y2K. Charles is captivated by the magical properties of computing technology. Charles 5 (03:00)

We end back where we started with a look back at our grandparents stories, wondering what we might look like 80 years from now to future generations. Charles Close (0:57)

I am left thinking of the stories of Charles’ grandparents – his sister’s effort to document their lives and Charles’ passion for virtual reality – wondering whether the future of news might in fact have something to do with re-capturing the past.