Hot and Cold in the Media Lab

The new Media Lab building, E14, was opened in 2009. The beautiful building, designed by the famous architect Fumihiko Maki of Japan, celebrates transparency, creativity and collaboration. The new building has also been equipped with various sensors across all internal spaces.

These sensors allow for a unique point of view into the building. In this article I will focus on temperature readings and will look into the stories entailed in the edge cases: the hottest and coldest spaces in E14.

First, some general statistics. 180 spaces are tracked in E14, every open space, meeting room, personal office and even storage units are monitored. The average temperature is 21.8c, which correlates well with the average thermometer setting : 21.9c. The readings I used were measured at 7pm, April 7th. Looking at the historical data reveals that the temperatures are stable throughout the day.

Warm and Empathetic – Opera of the Future


The highest temperature reading in E14, 24.8c, was from E14-433, The living room for the Opera of the Future group on the upper deck of the Swatch lab. a quick visit to the space reveals that it is indeed warmer than other spaces in the building although being an open space with a thermometer set to 22c. It is quite possible that heat from the entire swatch lab accumulates in this specific point.

Regardless of the reasons, the warmth is well suited for the Opera of the future group. It fits right within the creativity and empathy which guide the group in it’s work.
(waiting for a comment from Tod Machover)

Cold and Mysterious – E14-396T


The lowest temperature reading in E14, 13c, was measured in E14-396T. A mysterious locked door and a room number sign is all the innocent spectator has access to. Although it’s conceivable that behind the door is a storage unit or an electrical breaker box I can’t help but wonder: In the mystical playground that is the media lab, maybe an off the grid experiment is hidden behind that door? one that requires a cool 13c temperature.

Update: According to the Media Lab facilities department this space belongs to MIT IS&T and is dedicated to communications. Intriguingly, no one in the media lab has access to this space. 

About the data: 
All the data was collected through the Responsive Environments Chain API: an open source sensor data aggregation framework:
Media Lab sensors summary: (CSV)
You can also see this data live on project doppellab:



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So what exactly is this “Cloud” everyone is talking about?

(The actual post was written on fold with some more media and explanations)

Disclaimer: This article is about Cloud computing. If you’re looking for information regarding visible masses of liquid droplets, you should probably head over to wikipedia.

Last year I was riding in a car with a friend when we saw a large roadside advertisement that said “Microsoft Azure: The cloud for modern business”. The friend, a high school teacher, turned to me and asked: “What exactly is this cloud everyone is talking about and why should I give a damn?”. In this article I will try to answer both parts of that question.

Cloud computing is commonly defined as “the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer.”  Some common examples, from an end user perspective, are google docs which replaces your local word processor and dropbox which replaces your physical hard-disk backup.

However, according to the above definition, it seems that every time you access a webpage which is hosted on a remote computer you’re using the Cloud. To an extent that’s true, but to truly understand the Cloud we need to zoom out of our personal perspective as a user and think like a business.

In order to think like a business, let’s imagine we want to build a startup called PuppyGram – a social network for sharing images of… Puppies! We will go through the evolution of how we would build such a service, starting at the early days of the internet and ending today.

PuppyGram will have two major software components: a database application to store all the puppy images and a web server application that serves these images in webpages and allow users to register, upload images and comment on them. Now all we need to do is get a computer, install those two pieces of software, connect it to the internet and then forget about it in the basement. Voila, PuppyGram is online!

This approach works and for a while running your own hardware was very common. However, as PuppyGram will exponentially grow (because everyone loves puppies) we will quickly need to get more network bandwidth, more storage and more computers. These computers will require maintenance, physical cooling and in case of a power outage all hell will break loose. All we wanted to do was to build a puppy network and now we have a huge electricity bill, running out of physical storage space for our computers and hiring infrastructure people to handle all of that – something doesn’t feel right here.

What can we do? In the spirit of Capitalism, we outsource. The next evolutionary step is to pay a hosting company that will physically host our computers and provide us with the electricity, network and maintenance. basically, rent a space for our hardware and pay a management fee. More than that, we can also rent the actual computers and avoid the initial cost of the hardware. This allows us, the developers of PuppyGram to focus on our actual product instead of infrastructure. That’s not entirely true because if we ever want to replace or upgrade our hardware we need to contact a person in the hosting company to physically go to the machine and do the job.

All of that changed in the summer of 2006. The change came from a bookstore called Amazon. Amazon, much like PuppyGram, were concerned that developers were spending too much of their time maintaining hardware rather than focusing on building the best software they can. Their solution – use virtualization, a technology that allows for the creation of virtual computers that run on physical computers, and build a management layer that automatically creates and destroys virtual computers. This product was called EC2 (EC for Elastic Computing). With EC2 you can go to a webpage, specify exactly what type of computer you need, which processor, how much memory and how much network bandwidth, and create it on the fly – within minutes. You can also upgrade, destroy and clone any existing computer, paying only for the resources you’ve used. Amazon released EC2 to the public so that anyone could use their infrastructure and the response was overwhelming. From Dropbox to Airbnb and Instagram, almost any major tech company in the past decade is or was hosted on Amazon EC2.

EC2 and similar systems, whether it’s Google Cloud Computing or Microsoft Azure, are commonly referred to as Cloud Platforms because they obscure the underlying infrastructure. When you create a virtual machine with one of those services you have no idea where the actual physical machine that runs it is geographically located. More than that, it can actually swap locations if there’s a problem with it’s host. The magical thing is – you just don’t care.

So why should you give a damn? the main reason that modern web applications like PuppyGram can be built in months, weeks, or even days is a direct result of the existence of these Cloud platforms. These services allow for small groups of entrepreneurs in coffee shops and garages across the world to build their products on the same infrastructure as the industry’s giants.
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The money-time of the Israeli election day as seen by Twitter

(warning, the data did not play well with me)

Election days in Israel climax at 10pm. In this precise time the three major broadcasting networks announce their polling results. These results tend to be quite accurate and give a good indication on the final results. The moments right before and after 10pm are extremely emotional for the people of Israel.

With these elections, held on March 17th, I decided to take a closer look at these crucial moments and how they are manifested in Twitter. I used the Twitter search API to pull tweets that were created between 9:55pm – 10:05pm and contained the word “Israel”.  I also used a service called Alchemy API to perform automatic sentiment analysis on these tweets.

In the following graph, each dot represents a tweet. the horizontal axis is time relative to 10pm and the vertical axis is sentiment between 1 to -1 where 1 is positive with high probability and -1 is negative with high probability.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 2.56.33 AM

It’s pretty to hard to see anything from this chart besides the fact that it seems to be slightly more dense on the right side, suggesting that more tweets were tweeted after 10pm than before.

In an attempt to cleanup the results, I batched tweets in 30 seconds intervals and calculated the average for them. In this chart each dot marks a batch of tweets and the vertical axis is the average sentiment of the entire batch.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 3.05.50 AM

Unfortunately, It’s still hard to identify a trend besides the fact that the average sentiment is negative – that’s usually a property of news stories.

As a last resort, I decided to only take a look at the quantities of tweets. These tweets don’t necessarily represent the entire twitter firehose of data but looking at the first chart, they might still provide an insight.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 3.05.59 AM

Still no clear trend. However, the peak at 10:00pm which represent tweets between 10:00pm – 10:30pm does make a lot of sense – It’s right after the results.

That’s data science. Sometimes you get inspiring results and sometime you’re just wasting CPU cycles.


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Marijuana is not harmless

Roughly half of Americans now live in states with some form of legal pot, recreational or medical. As legalization spreads, teens perceive that pot is less and less risky. (Most high school seniors don’t think regular pot smoking is very harmful, with only 36% saying that regular use puts people at great risk compared to 52% five years ago.)

It’s true that most healthy adults — excluding pregnant women — can use pot occasionally or even regularly without serious health risks. But the same does not appear to be the case for young people whose brains are still developing into their 20s.

Pot is addictive. One-in-11 adult consumers exhibits symptoms of addiction; the rate appears higher for young people. (Though pot remains one of the least addictive commonly used drugs.) That means pot can take priority over responsibilities at home, school, work or with friends. Long-term users may want to cut back or quit, but they don’t always follow through, as they report irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite and anxiety.

Chart 1: Addiction rates of Marijuana compared to other substances (legal and illegal) 

Pot, particularly strong pot, appears to contribute to psychotic episodes and schizophrenia. To be clear, there is not conclusive evidence that pot causes schizophrenia. But evidence of a link is mounting in observational studiesA recent British study bolstered the connection between stronger weed and psychosis, finding that people who smoked potent weed daily had five times the normal risk of suffering a serious psychotic episode; weekly users had triple the risk. The risks, though remain relatively small, on the order of 1-in-1,500 for young men who are heavy users.

Chart 2: Risk of first episode psychosis to cannabis users 

Pot impairs memory and learning and may be linked to long-lasting cognitive impairment and IQ loss up to 8 points for heavy users who started in adolescence. (The latter part is perhaps the most concerning in pot science, but it is only correlational and subject to debate.)
And the potency of pot has increased in recent years (see 3rd chart). Frankly, no one knows what increased potency means for sure and savvy users can simply titrate to get their buzz by consuming less. But given the recent British study on strong weed and psychosis, this could be a significant risk factor for some.

Chart 3: Marijuana potency in the United States over time

Marijuana advocates, meanwhile, have stressed the drug’s safety, some going so far as to say pot is not harmful.
Steve DeAngelo, a well-known marijuana advocate recently tweeted: “Nobody with a brain seriously believes cannabis is harmful, Choomie.” (It’s not an entirely uncharacteristic statement from DeAngelo. He also recently tweeted, “Cannabis doesn’t hurt Intelligence but lying ‘scientists’ do.”)
Who is DeAngelo? He’s the CEO of the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, one of the movement’s most visible activists, and 4th Most Influential Cannabis Business Executive, according to one list (the 1st three are not industry executives)
So while he often adopts a rebel’s stance, he is a businessman with a financial interest in promoting marijuana use and anti-science propaganda. The federal Department of Justice initiated in 2012 forfeiture proceedings against DeAngelo’s Harborside dispensary, which does $25 million a year in sales, on the grounds that it had grown too big.

Bob Young, Tomer Weller
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A new Ramen in town


Cambridge is not an exciting culinary city. With an abundance of burger joints and cafes catering for students, a few high end bistros and the occasional hipster eatery (I’m looking at you Live Alive) there is much left to be desired in the mid-range restaurant scene. It’s astonishing how difficult it is to find a warm exciting meal in Cambridge without paying a premium fine.

It’s not a surprise then that a new Ramen restaurant gets so much attention. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, opened only two weeks ago near Harvard Square, was completely packed on a frozen weekday evening. The lack of a reservation system and a waiting list of forty five to sixty minutes does not seem to deter the potential diners away.

The first thing you will notice after surviving the long wait is the fine attention to details. The space is well lit, the music is at exactly the right volume and the pleasant acoustics are idle for conversation. These would all be taken for granted if not for the current trend of flashy and loud restaurants which also try to act as a cafe, a pickup bar or a sports bar.

The menu is currently limited for a soft opening period. It includes only 6 ramen dishes all based on the signature “Tonkutsu” broth. Personally, choice makes me nervous so a limited menu is right up my alley and I hope they won’t extend it too much in the future. I ordered the signature dish “Tonkotsu Shio Ramen” with a topping of corn and butter. My partner ordered the “Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen”, which is the same dish with added soy sauce, and a soft boiled egg topping. Happiness was less than 10 minutes away.

ramen2It’s all about the broth. Oh, the broth. Thickness that can only be obtained through endless hours of braising pork bones. Flavorful yet subtle. Layers of taste, all living in harmony, reveal themselves one after the other without creating interference or over complexity. A Ramen dish is carried on the shoulder of it’s broth. And this one delivers. The juicy pork belly, fresh vegetables, and the cooked to perfection noodles were only there to compliment the holy broth in which they roam.

To put the final seal of approval on the attention to details one must only examine the soft boiled egg: Fully cooked egg white with thick running yolk. So simple yet so hard to find in this level precision.

The Hokkaido Ramen Santouka provides a unique experience in the Cambridge culinary landscape. One can only hope this level of simplicity and precision will persist.

Cheque please:

Tonkotsu Shio Ramen : 11.25$

Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen: 11.25$

Aji Tama (soft boiled egg) : 2$

Corn & Butter: 2.80$

Total: 27.3$

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, 1 Bow St Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Tomer’s Media Diary. or, How to be unproductive.

I’ve been using Rescue Time in the last couple of weeks to log my laptop usage. This is my weekly report for Feb 8 – Feb 14.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 5.46.39 PM

It’s election time in Israel and I’m highly addicted to staying informed. A good amount of the time I spent on social networks (total of 9 hours, mostly Facebook but also a bit of twitter) is news (mostly elections) related but that’s hard to measure. Social media is also my main gateway to other news outlets.

9 Hours of social media equals the cooking time of 3 (sequential) batches of roast beef: 

F_icon.svg =  3 x roast-beef1

This is a breakdown of my news & opinion consumption.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 6.23.42 PM

Out of a total of 6.5 logged hours. Haaretz dominates my news consumption. I follow it on Facebook which leads me to trending articles, which in turn, through a series of internal references, keeps me reading various articles in their website. I mostly visit Israeli news websites. However, due to the weather I started reading the Boston Globe which gets me engaged with other storied related to the USA, Massachusetts and Boston.

6.5 hours of news & opinion equals the cooking time of a fine batch of Israeli hummus!  


And Benjamin fuckin’ Netanyahu is still going to be re-elected. 



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