Thursday, June 07, 2018

Review: The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies by Jason Fagone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think anyone interested in cryptography and romance would like this book. It was a fun read to follow the adventures of Elizebeth Friedman, and how she became a code breaker. The beginning of the book described a research facility, and it made me think of what the Media Lab would have been like in the 1910s. The book is also about the love between two scientists, and how they developed their scientific principles together. I enjoyed decrypting the secret messages they shared. Although I was familiar with a lot of the ciphers discussed, it was great to hear about how they were solved given the resources they had at the time. I learned a lot of details about what went on in South America during WWII and also about how the FBI and CIA were formed.

Although the book makes a big deal about ESF not getting any credit for her part in the war, I think it was understandable given the chauvinsitic standards of her day and the need for secrecy of the methods during that time. I would hope that now that changed social standards and lessened need for secrecy would help us remember this important person.

Other things I learned, indirectly, are that love is all you need. For many years before and after they left their government jobs, she and her husband worked on their craft together. Being together helped them further their research and stand strong against those who aimed to use them. ESF was much more sensitive to that than her husband WFF, and I think that is one reason why WFF was a bit more unstable. ESF saw her role as a supporter and not as the only person who could do the job, making her take very different choices that I think made her happier in the end. They both did a lot of impressive work, but ESF was more able to walk away, to protect herself and her family.

It was good to read about people who were upstanding people doing the right thing, by being honest and modest in their work. They were always helpful to the people who needed them (their country, political rivals), didn't oversell their talents, and simply wanted to work. They were sensitive to others feelings -- they published their scientific treatise debunking the Baconian ciphers in Shakespeare only after the people who would be hurt by their document were long gone. I would totally recommend reading this book to get a sense of how principled academics behave compared to the self-aggrandizing promoters of research work. "Scientific results are reproducible using known methods to solve a problem." Above all, I loved that they enjoyed their work and each other so much. Its always wonderful to read about collaborators who help each other go further.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relentlessly terrifying. I couldn't sleep after starting this book. I enjoyed the story, and I was captivated by the characters dealing with the realities WWII. The plight of people fleeing a city, the indoctrination of young men with no better options--- all so sad and desperate. I felt bad for everyone that had to be a part of WWII, and I understood much better the day-to-day horror that war would bring to every man, woman, and child. I'm not going to go through the plot, but it reminds me of Ken Follett's excellent Century Series. Though long, this book was good, although a bit gory- its another perspective on the great war that affected generations to come.

What is this book about to me? All the light could refer to the descriptions of how the young girl lives, and what she senses were beautiful and also overwhelming. But I think the title refers to the inner strength that exists in those who we think are disadvantaged. Young Marie-Laure, despite her blindness, she sees more about the world than those around her, and rises up to the challenges of the day. In contrast, the sighted around her, none of them can see the right thing to do, or have the courage to actually do it. The same for those who are no "mainstream" and can make the hard choices because they cannot be part of the system. Frederick, who refuses to disobey his parents because he knows they need him in the camp or they will be cast out Jutta, the younger sister of a young radio operator who warns "If everyone is doing it, it does not mean it is right for you to do it too." The light we cannot see is the strength to question what choices we have everyday.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 19, 2017

Chris Van Dusen's books for budding engineers

H and W are the initials for HotWheels. We love cars. A dream job for the eldest one is to be a HotWheels designer. We play cars, we race cars, we build homemade ramps, we have two crate-loads of tracks (official and knock-off glow in the dark stuff). H teaches me about all the different stunts that each car can do. Once in a while,  we get to "unlock" a new car. My favorite so far is just learning different car features--and how they compare against other cars.  Some of those HotWheels cars are pretty imaginative (e.g. rocket boosters and impossibly small engine footprints).  H (age 7)  has all his HotWheels memorized-- knows the name of every one, and our duplicates. W (age 3) has a  family set of cars --the Purrfect Speed models. Although we've gone through many HotWheels story books and catalogs out there-- my favorite book by far is Chris Van Dusen's If I Built A Car.

The lyrics describe one kid's dream car design. Each kid takes turns marveling at the imaginative features they like (such as the conveyor belt kitchen and underwater mode). We also scrutinze the myriad engineering drawings-- isometric, exploded views, and napkin sketches. I like talking with the kids about technical concepts like retractable wings, polymer gels, and autonomous driving. (I  worked as an driving robot engineer once, so I reminisce about the idea in kids media. ) So refreshing to use grown-up vocabulary and prose when we're reading together.

Van Dusen has written quite a few gems that keep us conversant about engineering design, such as Randy Riley's Really Big Hit and the similarly styled If I Built a HouseThere's plenty of turn-taking when it comes to discussing what one's dream design car or house would be. It can also be fun to admire the old-school style of Van Dusen's drawings.  I read that he paints the pictures in huge canvases and then shrinks them into the book. No digital touch ups-- everything is painted by hand. There's a lot to gawk at-- the contextual details are very well composed on each frame.  Also, each subject's features are well proportioned (no awkward looking noses or nightmare faces) and the styling is consistent throughout the book. You could definitely spend a lot of time just pointing out the different levels of detail on each page., from fixtures, to countenances, to shine spots on foreheads. We've gotten to the point where we even read the sketches on the inside cover-- and discuss the tradeoffs of different proposed concepts in If I Built a House. One thing I appreciated when the kids were younger was the word-image correspondence-- making my job of teaching literacy easier.

Of all the Van Dusen books, I think If I Built a Car is my favorite. I just love hearing the kids talk about how mechanical features like spoilers, fenders, and profile can affect performance (drift, drag, and speed). Then, seeing all the creative ways these ideas manifest in their cars and contraptions (garages, ramps, rings of danger) out of Lego, pen and paper, clay, and even recycling.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Science Tellers  mixes storytelling with science experiments. They were hired by our local library, and we were thrilled that brave volunteers could participate. Here they are performing an iodine and starch clock reaction, with different mixes of each.  H was super excited because his reaction turned his favorite color.  The rest of the program was a thrill, and I'm so glad we were able to spend a day thinking about science.

During a visit to MIT Museum, you can try to recreate Doc Edgerton's strobe photography. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Song Prose

Just rediscovered the song prose from the Harold & The Purple Crayon Soundtrack of Harold's Walk on the Wild Side by Van Dyke Parks. These songs are full of popular idioms and relate so well to the visual narrative, and don't sound like anything I've heard before. Van Dyke Parks has really remade the ubiquitous formulaic children's songs (so tired of endless chanting repetition and banal lyrics) into proses of playful rhythmic language that adults can appreciate.  Here's a snippet from the opening scenes:
You stand at attention like ladies and gents
when I mention my name at the door
And I hope that you pardon me
--see by my card, I'm finding a world we can explore.
You're in the dream I have drawn,
You're like the wings for my song,
I get a lift with your gift to know right from the wrong,
Really strong!
Our imagination will find this occasion to go where you know we belong...
I appreciate how he makes the sigh at the end into an onomatopoetic phrase of happiness.  These 10 lines are reminiscent of haiku and poetically haunting.  The meanings embedded are highly intertwined with the story context-- Harold explores new stories by drawing them out, and usually there is an imaginative dilemma where he finds a solution.  The fictional scenes are artistically demonstrated as the story plays out, and again, the double meaning of the words as reflected on the storyline are visually acted out (e.g. Harold drew up a chair to eat.)

Very meta. Very cool.

Friday, January 30, 2015


Just a small clip of the howling blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow earlier this week. School was canceled and we woke up to about 3 feet of snow drifts against the door.
We had a great time afterwards shoveling, stomping and sliding. Here we are all bundled up!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Visit to Seekonk Public Library's Innovation Center

Recently I stepped in to the Seekonk Public Library and I encountered a Makerbot-- soo exciting! You bring your file and print it out.
 You can print in 2 colors, choose from among 10 different colors.
 They have samples of what the machine can do.

You pay by the gram (starting at 50cents), and there is an FAQ on the wall:

They also have a video training (, whole bunch of digital tools (Adobe creative cloud), and VHS to DVD conversion software. This is true innovation, and can do wonders for job creation, educating citizens on technology and promoting interest in STEM for all ages.  As someone who has seen a neighborhood library close due to lack of community engagement, having a makerspace like this could unite a community. Having spaces like this can encourage people to share knowledge about how to seek information, design, build and fix things. This is a direction where all libraries should go to foster community interaction!

If anyone know of other libraries with makerspaces, please let me know. I'd love to learn more about these places and see what types of machines they have. I imagine a lasercutter would be pretty useful, along with a digital photography station.  Library makerspaces are totally awesome and cool! I'm going to have to come back some day to try it out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Team Synesthesia Muse profiled in Fashion Globe

Recently, I've been collaborating on a fashion project called Fashion Descience  in an artistic collaboration with designer Harry Umen. Our team, "Synesthesia Muse" was profiled in the Fashion Globe article decribing the competition.
It has been eye opening working with Harry and I just had a great time meeting many fellow artists at the premier at the MIT Museum. Here's a few pictures of the event, courtesy of Todd Lee and Descience.

Enjoying the event

Logan modeling the prototype
You can see more of the process portfolio here.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Seeing my research group in Chinese media

My mom is visiting me to see her grandkids, and recently picked up a free newspaper in NYC Chinatown. To her surprise, she spotted my old research group, the Personal Robots Group, in the "True Buddha News Weekly." So excited to see people she recognized, such as my colleague Kenton and the sociable robot Nexi.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

An old invention comes to life

many many years ago, my senior product design class project was a water powered scooter.  Recently, on a trip to costco, I was pleasantly surprised to find the very toy.

They had similar details, such as the propeller size and grill size.
Unlike our design, this was way smaller. However, it has been over 16 years (ours was done in 1997), so circuits have come a long way.  Also, its missing the "cool factor" we had in our design, the LED light bars that glow when you zoom ultra fast. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thanksgiving in NYC

Hal and his Uncle B
Here are some pix of the kid at the playground with my awesome big bro Ben taken in NYC. It was so nice to see everyone, including my nephews and brother/sister-in-law. We had a terrific time and celebrated with lots of family.  We had some great NYC pizza ,twice, and good home-cooked food too.  There were cats, lots of running around, and general kid shenanigans. What fun!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Libraries are awesome!

I love going to our small local library with my kid.  We have a terrific time looking through potential books that we might bring home,and critiquing the books as we flip through them.  My little one, H, loves to choose books that have colorful covers, and I like to peek at the endings. JG likes to look at the writing and art style. . Discovering new books and new authors is definitely an adventure. So far we have discovered many great authors like Chris van Dusen and Mo Willems. We've also enjoyed interactives like Peek-A- Pet and Pat-A-X Books. Little H learns about sharing, and taking care of things that are not his. And we all enjoy getting great recommendations from our librarians, Yan and Christy, who are the best librarians ever.
The best feature though are the community events held by our librarians. Almost every day of the week, there is something like a toddler sing, lap sit, story hour or language exchange.  Once a month there's a potluck and the neighborhood has really come together to enjoy meeting each other.  The decorations are always festive and bring up lots of conversation. The O'Connell librarians are superb in their curation of books and cultural events.  There are always Mandarin and Portuguese, and Spanish language books and movies around for the local population, and this branch hosts many cultural events to discuss different cultural holidays. My kid loves to see the familiar faces at the desk, and says hi to the librarians everytime.  He enjoys talking to Christy about her colorful sweaters and seeing what books she's holding for us. He loves talking to Yan and getting new updates on recent library events. I think our little local library is just exceptional in its level of engagement with the community and kids of many different ages.
We try to get new books every week, and many of the books we've checked out we've ended up buying. So its done wonders for helping us develop H's interests in science, art, and storytelling.  Best of all, it's free and reduces house clutter because we bring the books back. Go Public Libraries!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Today Hal touched a Lobster

Hal loves this bead center and sees this as the reason for checking out the Aquarium. Luckily, he was able to take some time away from the table to touch the presentation Lobster. The volunteer brought the lobster in a white tupperware bin, along with a bubbler. It was cool (literally, there was a blue ice pack floating in the same water). He did it twice.  Hal liked to touch the bubbles even more than the lobster. Today we also saw jellies (blue ones are his favorite), and touched the stingrays.  I think Hal touched one stingray, but I couldn't be sure. After he touched it, he said "You don't like this." So we left to go back to the beads. He is so focused...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hal exploring colors and architecture

I was cleaning off old photos from my phone, and realized I had taken a bunch of Hal at different art events. Here's the link to Hal surrounded by RGB lights, balloons, and inside a cardboard tent fort.

Workshop on Technology and Change in Developing Countries

Next week,  I'll be giving a talk at the media lab for the developing countries workshop based on my research. I'm really looking forward to presenting my work alongside my colleagues Rich and Leo, who have also done some pretty cool things in remote places.

The workshop was one of the first to fill up, but here's the abstract:
 "Inside-Out: How Developing Countries are Pioneering New Technologies in Health, Education and Civic Media"

While new technology is often associated with developed countries, the most radically innovative ideas are often deployed first in developing countries, where the need is greatest and out-of-the-box thinking is plentiful.  The most creative technologies, business models, and emerging trends can be seen in developing countries often years before they take root in countries like the USA.  In this workshop, we will briefly review a few of the developing country projects the Media Lab has spearheaded over the past 20 years and point to disruptive emerging tends in Healthcare, Education, and Civic Media that are currently transforming the world.  Many examples will be given, followed by open discussion with participants.  1-hour session, repeated twice.

Dr. Rich Fletcher -- Mobile Tools for Health Care
Dr. Angela Chang -- New tools for Education
Dr. Leo Burd -- New Tools for Civic Media 

Rich Fletcher teaches the MIT class "Technologies for Developing Countries," and is currently Assistant Prof at UMass Med School, Director of Mobile Technologies, Dept of Psychiatry; and is also Research Scientist at Mass General Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, Global Health Division.

Angela Chang is a post-doc specializing in new technologies for literacy and is currently part of the research team creating and testing new scalable approaches to literacy in remote parts of the world.

Leo Burd is Research Scientist in the Center for Civic Media and has devoted the past 15 years to developing new communication and social media tools for use by communities and children around the world. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Hal in Miami, Ft Lauderdale Museum of Discovery

On the T to the airportWaiting for the silver lineWatching for the busHal DrivingDriving in a carGonna get behind the wheel
Going riding in a carGoing for a rideTravel near and farGoin for a rideGonna toot the horn

Finally uploaded some pix from Hal's trip to Ft Lauderdale Museum of Science and Discovery. He had a great time driving a car, flying a plane and running around causing a riot.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

First day of Dangerous Readings

Today was my first "unConference" at the Dangerous Readings Conference. It was so much fun, can't wait to go back tomorrow. Made me think about how expressive the form of digital media is, and there is so much creativity out there. Electronic literature can be as wordy as a novel, as deep as generations of time, or as fleeting as a dramatic reading. I saw some cool stuff to check out, like "We Descend" and "Emberlight". Inspiring.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Linked to Galileo

My colleague Adam S. sent an email saying "I began following our academic ancestry. Here's what I found."
Cynthia Lynn Breazeal
Rodney Allen Brooks
Thomas Oriel Binford
Myron Lindsay Good
Henry Winston Newson
William Draper Harkins
Robert Eccles Swain
Lafayette Benedict Mendel
Russell Henry Chittenden
Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne
Rudolph Wagner
Johann Lukas Schönlein
Ignaz Döllinger
Antonio Scarpa
Giovan Battista Morgagni
Antonio Valsalva
Marcello Malpighi
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli
Benedetto Castelli
Galileo Galilei

I stopped there, because my head nearly exploded from being so excited.

Source: Mathematics Geneology Project:


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Congratulations Mr. Koski!

Just went down to see some very important people. My family (mom & dad) and my cousin, Joyce (and Dan) and her new baby Andrea. It was fantastic. I also got to see my high school teacher, Mr. Sam Koski, receive an award for his inspirational teaching.
What a terrific surprise that the essay I wrote is the essay that got him the award. It was terrific to meet his new students, too. Then I got to give a speech on my work at the Media Lab, and also to help FIRST robotics kickoff in South Florida! Here are links to my slides:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Dot Tour - Explore Fields Corner's Past, Present, and Future

Congrats to Leo Burd, who worked on My Dot Tour. This is a youth-led walking tour of Fields Corner in Dorchester that presents a narrative of their neighborhood. It is great to see communities telling their stories and learning about their history, value and residents.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Propellers and Hong Kong 2004 pix

Recently uploaded some new pix of Hal and the propellers
He's also a pretty fast walker now.

Running out of space on my HD and noticed I never uploaded my China 04 trip pix. First one is my favorite place: Hong Kong
 We visited my gunma and had awesome food,  encountering with towers of bao. We visited Lantau island and got invited to march and pray with the monks. My favorite was visiting the Star Ferry and taking the bus to see the floating restaurants.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

If you meet the right one...

My family friend R just got engaged to the love of his life, J! They are getting married soon, and I am very happy for them. My brother was very lucky to have R as his best friend while we were growing up. R and J- here's to you. R knew me since I was a little kid, and I am going to give them the biggest hug when I do get to go down to Miami. R always made things fun and exciting, and was hilarious to boot.

My heat-and-mass transfer class professor, Prof. G., once took his two undergraduates (it was a graduate level class), to lunch. He said, "Forget all this Heat and Mass Transfer stuff, its not important. Its my job, and I love it, and I am very good at it. In the long run however, what's important is this: If you meet the right one, you'll know."

I followed his advice to stay close to that "right one" and I am very happy. There were so many forces that could have pulled us apart (job offers across the world, different career paths)... Life is miraculous sometimes, you think that you're going to be fine alone, that you prefer it alone and then-- you meet the right one and the future is not complete without that person. You can't even remember life without that person. I feel this way now after 15 years with him, and even more strongly now with my son. I know that I had a life before him, but I can't remember anything really important about it other than the first time I saw him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

For Sarah

The Loving Mother

A whisper in the wind,
though the night was silent.
Her breast is radiating warmth
touching every moment
Of a bittersweet melody
from an unreturned caress.
Although the rains may come,
The dandelions grow,
The winds blow gently,
sighing what they know.
Motherhood is forever
ever through sunrise and sunset.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hal's Walking!

Hal is now walking solidly and getting faster and quicker at it each day! Here he's blessing objects with his star wand as he gets to his lego box.

For mother's day, we had irises picked by Hal, a relaxing spa visit with gal pals,and the most awesome homemade dinner! Thank you for the card and calls from my family! What a treat, and here's to feeling special!

Also, this weekend was the celebration of MIT's 150th Anniversary. We saw the many beautiful projects around campus (like the Biblioptera), and enjoyed the walking around in the sunshine together. At FASTLIGHT, we really enjoyed experiencing the LightBridge and Light Drift. The highlight for us was the Liquid Archive, giant MIT letters floating on the Charles. Our lab also had an open house last week, and it was great to see so many families wandering around MIT.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Dan Paluska at the Stata Center

brooklyn mobile on flatbush
Random sighting of artist Dan Paluska at the Stata center the other day. I finally got a chance to check out his work on The Brooklyn Mobile project. He built a mobile video phone booth to allow people who ordinarily do not use video messaging to send a video message to anyone. I was touched by how many people wanted to communicate, and the wide array of people who participated. People were eager, and also excited by the opportunity to share their message. There are over 1,000 videos of regular folks saying "hello"!
People are natural communicators. Communication is in our nature, and things that facilitate communication can only help the world become a better place.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Last month was a great time for reuniting with old friends at the Media Lab's 25th anniversary. I was pleasantly surprised by how productive everyone had been. I received one book from Kevin Brooks, "Storytelling for User Experience" and will read it soon. I also learned that many of the alumni have been busy with their art projects, consulting, and doing cool stuff like traveling, entrepreneurship, and volunteering. In general, I would say that ML alumni have a positive impact on the world by helping people with technology, whether its solving problems for one person, crafting art to inspire people about science, or designing whole infrastructure systems for power outages.

I also got to fly home to see my family and cousins. It was a wonderful reunion, and I was also struck by how productive my family had been. Old faces seemed new, as it had been so very long since I'd seen everyone. I was even happy to hear the noisy traffic outside, or the cats mewling in the middle of the night at home. There were new homes being nested, new jobs being performed, and little kids who have gotten bigger. It was terrific, and our own Hal was happy to meet everyone. So here's to growth and reunion, as we remember how far we've come!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This blog has moved to blogspot

This blog is now located at
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to or

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Here the Nothing by gloobic

Here the Nothing from gloobic on Vimeo.

a beautiful integration of movement, sound, and visual photography juxtaposed atop a semi-aware city. Gloobic is a collaboration by my friend eric gunther (dancer), and jeff lieberman. Visit Gloobic.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jonah in the Art Asia Pacific

I just heard that Jonah of Coin-Operated took some time off from running Scrapyard challenge workshops all over the world to write a piece for Art Asia Pacific magazine issue #64 and an article in a brazilian magazine about his WiFi Hog(21mb)
I definitely look forward to checking it out on my next foray to Barnes and Nobles.
In his copious spare time, he's been writing iPhone art apps (photo src: