MIT student raises funds for young Boston bomb victim's family

Catherine sez,

On Monday, the Boston Marathon was bombed. On Monday night I was feeling blessed and thankful to not know anyone directly affected by the bombs. But on Tuesday morning I woke up to an email from my colleague Chris Peterson at the MIT Center for Civic Media. Chris's family are friends with the family who lost their son Martin in the attack. He sent us photos of he and his brothers playing with their children and the reality was all too close. It is devastating. This family will have a long road of healing in front of them that most of us cannot even begin to imagine.

My friends at MIT and I have spent the past couple of days helping Chris build a site to raise money for the Richard family. We are coordinating with St Marks Area Main Street, a non-profit community organization based in Dorchester, MA, where the family lives. The site is made with the support of the family and their spokesperson. 100% of funds raised goes to the family. Please give what you can. It's the very least we can do to come together in solidarity with these innocent people and help them to rebuild their lives in the wake of senseless violence. In the photo on the site Martin is holding a sign he made in school that says "Peace". Let us spread that peace.

The Richard Family Fund (Thanks, Catherine)

Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing

Here's Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group (whence the kids' programming language Scratch comes) doing a TedX talk about the role of programming in education, arguing that kids should learn to code so that they can use code to learn:

Most people view computer coding as a narrow technical skill. Not Mitch Resnick. He argues that the ability to code, like the ability to read and write, is becoming essential for full participation in today's society. And he demonstrates how Scratch programming software from the MIT Media Lab makes coding accessible and appealing to everyone -- from elementary-school children to his 83-year-old mom.

As director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Mitch Resnick designs new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and finger paint of kindergarten, engage people of all ages in creative learning experiences.

Reading, Writing, and Programming: Mitch Resnick at TEDxBeaconStreet (Thanks, Mitch!)

MIT's got form

Bunnie Huang: "Back when I was a graduate student there, I extracted security keys from the original Microsoft Xbox video game console. I still remember the crushing disappointment of receiving a letter from MIT legal repudiating any association with my work, effectively leaving me on my own to face Microsoft." Cory

Petition asking MIT to apologize for pursuing Aaron Swartz; hackerspaces contributing to projects Aaron worked on

Noah Swartz (brother of Aaron) writes, "The MIT society for open science has made a petition asking for an apology from MIT: (we understand that there is an investigation, but the thought process is to put more pressure on the institution) A number of hackerspaces are going to work on projects that Aaron worked on or that are in the spirit of his work. Cory

MIT president appoints Hal Abelson to investigate university's role in Aaron Swartz's prosecution

MIT president Rafael Reif sent out a university-wide email yesterday announcing an investigation into the school's involvement in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. He's appointed MIT professor Hal Abelson, a founding director of Creative Commons, who worked with Aaron, "to lead a thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present" and has pledged to "share the report with the MIT community when I receive it."

Yesterday we received the shocking and terrible news that on Friday in New York, Aaron Swartz, a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community, took his own life. With this tragedy, his family and his friends suffered an inexpressible loss, and we offer our most profound condolences. Even for those of us who did not know Aaron, the trail of his brief life shines with his brilliant creativity and idealism.

Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.

MIT president calls for "thorough analysis" of school's involvement with Swartz

Expert witness describes Aaron Swartz's "crimes"

Alex Stamos, a computer security and forensics expert, was one of the expert witnesses in US v Swartz, the vindictive case brought against Aaron Swartz for walking into an unlocked computer closet, and downloading a large number of academic articles from JSTOR, using MIT's network. Stamos has very good perspective on the "crimes" for which Aaron was being hounded by the state:

* At the time of Aaron’s actions, the JSTOR website allowed an unlimited number of downloads by anybody on MIT’s 18.x Class-A network. The JSTOR application lacked even the most basic controls to prevent what they might consider abusive behavior, such as CAPTCHAs triggered on multiple downloads, requiring accounts for bulk downloads, or even the ability to pop a box and warn a repeat downloader.

* Aaron did not “hack” the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of “hack”. Aaron wrote a handful of basic python scripts that first discovered the URLs of journal articles and then used curl to request them. Aaron did not use parameter tampering, break a CAPTCHA, or do anything more complicated than call a basic command line tool that downloads a file in the same manner as right-clicking and choosing “Save As” from your favorite browser.

* Aaron did nothing to cover his tracks or hide his activity, as evidenced by his very verbose .bash_history, his uncleared browser history and lack of any encryption of the laptop he used to download these files. Changing one’s MAC address (which the government inaccurately identified as equivalent to a car’s VIN number) or putting a mailinator email address into a captured portal are not crimes. If they were, you could arrest half of the people who have ever used airport wifi.

* The government provided no evidence that these downloads caused a negative effect on JSTOR or MIT, except due to silly overreactions such as turning off all of MIT’s JSTOR access due to downloads from a pretty easily identified user agent.

* I cannot speak as to the criminal implications of accessing an unlocked closet on an open campus, one which was also used to store personal effects by a homeless man. I would note that trespassing charges were dropped against Aaron and were not part of the Federal case.

Aaron hanged himself two years, to the day, after his arrest. The DoJ asked for the maximum penalty: 30 years.

The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”

Self-taught 15-y-o from Sierra Leone is a king-hell maker

This short documentary about a teenager from Sierra Leone who taught himself electronics and got a residence at MIT is inspiring and humbling -- what a kid!

15-Year-Old Kelvin Doe is an engineering whiz living in Sierra Leone who scours the trash bins for spare parts, which he uses to build batteries, generators and transmitters. Completely self-taught, Kelvin has created his own radio station where he broadcasts news and plays music under the moniker, DJ Focus.

Kelvin became the youngest person in history to be invited to the "Visiting Practitioner's Program" at MIT. THNKR had exclusive access to Kelvin and his life-changing journey - experiencing the US for the first time, exploring incredible opportunities, contending with homesickness, and mapping out his future.

Self-taught African Teen Wows M.I.T.

Tinfoil hats actually amplify mind-control beams


A group of MIT students decided to test the performance of different tinfoil beanies to see how various designs (the "classical," "fez" and "centurion") interacted with commonly used industrial radio applications. They found that all three designs actually amplified these mind control rays radio waves, suggesting that the tinfoil hat meme might be a false-flag operation engineered to trick the wily and suspicious into making it easier to beam messages into their skulls.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

... We evaluated the performance of three different helmet designs, commonly referred to as the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion. These designs are portrayed in Figure 1. The helmets were made of Reynolds aluminium foil. As per best practices, all three designs were constructed with the double layering technique described elsewhere [2].

A radio-frequency test signal sweeping the ranges from 10 Khz to 3 Ghz was generated using an omnidirectional antenna attached to the Agilent 8714ET's signal generator.

On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: (via The Atlantic)

Folding electric car inches toward the market


Some concrete dates and prices for the Hiroko Fold, a folding electric car that can park in teeny places and turn with "zero radius." The following is from PSFK's Yi Chen:

Researchers from MIT’s Changing Places group and DENOKINN have developed a convenient and eco-friendly car to commute around the city. The Hiriko Fold is an ultra-compact vehicle that can fold upright to fit into tight parking spaces. We first wrote about Hiriko Fold earlier this year, and now it’s been confirmed that the electric car is expected go on sale in 2013 for around $16,000.

The car is able to carry two passengers and is capable of traveling up to 75 miles between charges. The vehicle would also be equipped with zero-turn radius wheels that allow it to move sideways, making parallel parking a less frustrating maneuver. Some of the Hiriko Fold models are on trial in European cities for testing, and the group believes that the compact car would be popular in cities like Berlin, San Francisco, and Barcelona.

MIT’s Tiny Foldable Electric Car Will Retail For $16,000 (via Engadget)

MIT issues certificates in piracy

Good news! You can now earn a certification in piracy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the first crop of official pirates, Jacob Hurwitz, showed up for his interview with the Boston Globe "wearing a pirate hat, eye patch, earring, knickers, and a stuffed parrot on his shoulder." So you know it's official. (Via Kevin Zelnio)

17-y-o girl, accepted to MIT, sends her admission letter into space

Chris sez, "My name is Chris Peterson. I run web communications for MIT Admissions and have been a loyal BB reader for years. For the last several years we have been sending our admitted students their acceptance letters in cardboard tubes. First because we sent a poster, but now it's its own thing. 2012 is the anniversary of an old MIT balloon hack, so we put a letter in all of the Early Action admit tubes telling them we wanted them to hack the tubes somehow, and set up http://hackthetubes.mitadmissions.org to collect responses. Lots of them are great, but this one, from Erin King (MIT '16) in Georgia, is the best."

Update: Erin sez, "I goofed on my Erin king 'MIT admit letter in space' submission. She is 17. I plain forgot what year it was - been too buried in applications!!"

16 year old girl from Georgia launches her MIT acceptance letter into near space (Thanks, Chris!)

The story of the Apollo 11 moon landing, as told through data (video)

[video link]

This data visualization of the Apollo 11 moon mission gathers social and technical data from the 1969 lunar landing in video form. The horizontal axis is an interactive timeline.

The horizontal axis is an interactive timeline. The vertical axis is divided into several sections, each corresponding to a data source. At the top, commentators are present in narratives from Digital Apollo and NASA technical debriefings. Just below are the members of ground control. The middle section is a log-scale graph stretching from Earth (~10E9 ft. away) to the Moon. Utterances from the landing CAPCOM, Duke, the command module pilot, Collins, the mission commander, Armstrong, and the lunar module pilot, Aldrin, are plotted on this graph. The graph is partially overlaid on a composite image of the lunar surface.

More about the data presented, and the story told, at the project's Vimeo page. The project comes from the MIT Laboratory for Automation, Robotics, and Society, and was directed by David Mindell. Via Maria Popova. As noted on Flowing Data, my only disappointment is that they didn't get to the "One small step for [a] man" part!

Additional credits: Visualization Design by Yanni Loukissas, and Francisco Alonso served as Research Assistant.

MIT and the future of open-source education

MIT has long offered thousands of undergrad and graduate level course materials for free online. This month, they announced plans to significantly update and expand that effort, creating an open-source education system called MITx that will basically allow anyone to virtually take an MIT class, participate in laboratories, and get individual assessment on whether or not they've learned the material. The school even has plans—not fully worked out yet—to offer some kind of certificate of completion to people who take classes this way and can show that they've mastered the subject. MITx will open in spring of 2012. I'm looking forward to checking out this great resource! (Thanks to Chris Hayden!)

Tesla coil hat: "a really bad idea"

MIT student Tyler Christensen created a musical Tesla coil hat for his Hallowe'en costume (it played the Mortal Kombat theme and the Harry Potter theme while discharging semi-tame lightning). While freely stipulating that this is "a really bad idea," Tyler is still generous enough to document his project for others who might follow in his bad footsteps.

Really, it’s just a DRSSTC. Nothing less, nothing more, nothing fancy. It was a bit tricky to make a bridge appropriately sized, and even harder to make a boost converter for it. In fact, the boost never truly worked. If I play a mid to high note for a few seconds, the boost can’t keep up and it fades away. I think this is due to saturation of my boost core, but I haven’t really taken the time to do much on this since now I’m back in the gate driver world and also have to throw together my 6.131 power electronics final project. I’ll fix hatcoil in February.

Hat Coil (via Engadget)