MIT Seeing Around Corners

Via Popular Science:

Back in late 2010, MIT Media Lab announced that it was working on technology that would allow a camera to see around corners and image objects that were never in its direct line of sight. Now, the lab has released a video explaining exactly how they do this and showing the technology in action.

Briefly, the system works by firing rapid femtosecond laser pulses–pulses so short they are measured in quadrillionths of a second–at a surface opposite the obscured object it is trying to image, like the wall opposite a doorway for instance. The laser light bounces off the wall and scatters. Some of that light hits the target object and likewise scatters. And some of that light ends up bouncing back off the wall and finding its way back to the camera sensor.

More here. Here’s a video of it in action:

The MIT Media Lab is an awesome place. I’m currently taking a class called ‘Imaging Ventures’ taught by Joost Bonsen, an MIT lecturer, and Ramesh Raskar, one of the developers of the above technology.

Stimulus Plan Brings Foodie’s to Southie

lfoodies ogo headerThere’s been a lot of debate about whether or not the stimulus plan worked. At the time it was passed, many argued that it wouldn’t be fast enough, that the projects would take so long to get underway that it wouldn’t be able to accomplish its purpose. And now, according to many economists, it definitely helped create jobs. But here we are, three years later. Our financial system didn’t self destruct, but economy is still growing at a pretty pathetic pace (although there have been some encouraging signs over the past two months). So, knowing we can’t change the past anyways, maybe its not so bad that some of the effects of the stimulus plan have yet to hit the economy.

I’ve lived in South Boston for four and a half years. I live on the west side, the part that is “up and coming.” While there have been a ton of condo developments since I’ve been here, and a bunch of new retail establishments, there’s still a lot of under utilized real estate. A perfect example is the old Chocolate and Nuts factory on West Broadway. It’s been abandoned since the day I moved to the neighborhood. It’s disgusting. And it occupies a huge street corner, right in the center of hundreds of recently built/renovated condos. Not only is the neighborhood not fully utilizing its space, but the aesthetic of having a dilapidated abandoned building must be a deterrent in some way, keeping some people away from the neighborhood.

So yesterday I was both surprised and excited to see a sign on the old Chocolate and Nuts factory indicating that Foodie’s, a high end fresh food grocery store, is renovating the building and will be opening in the spring. I was surprised because right on the building they had one of those “This Project was Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” signs. This seemed a bit odd. Why would a three year old stimulus law fund a grocery store project in my neighborhood?

I went to their website and found out they obtained a low interest small business loan from the stimulus budget, which helped justify their investment in my neighborhood. The loan was approved in 2010, and two years later they’re just starting the renovations. So, at least using this anecdote, the critics were right about the timing issues.

But, at least to me, this seems like a great use of stimulus money. First off, it’s only a loan, not a grant. So the government will in all likelihood get the money back, and will only pay the spread between the rate they offered and a treasury rate of the same duration. And treasury rates are low right now. At historic lows. So it probably won’t cost all that much.

And having been in Southie for such a long time, I know people that have chosen not to move here because it’s tough to buy groceries here. We have lots of convenience stores, but the closest grocery store is a mile away. It’s not that far, but some people like to be able to pick something up on the way home from work. And that’s tough in this neighborhood.

Not only does this loan help a small business expand, but it will also make the west side a more desirable place to live. Having a family-owned gourmet grocery store around the corner will definitely encourage more people to live here, speeding up the rate of condo developments, helping property prices, and thus encouraging more retail establishments to open.

So I’m fairly confident that this will help the Southie economy. I’m also fairly confident that I’m going to start spending a bit more money on fresher groceries. All in all, not so bad.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Sunday was the annual St. Patrick’s day Parade in South Boston. A tradition that’s been running since 1901. It’s the only day of the year when any South Boston bar can get away with charging a $20 cover. And of course, they all take advantage of this rare opportunity. Even my neighborhood bar, a bar with free pool that charges $1.50/beer and didn’t have a sign for thirty years until the police forced them to put one up last year, charged a $20 cover. It’s the type of bar where there’s never a line. Except Sunday.

Even though I’ve been to the parade four times, this year was my first time seeing the entire thing through. This wasn’t intentional. It’s usually a house party sort of a day, starting around 10:00am. Typically a group of people ventures out to the parade in the mid afternoon only to either (1) realize the house party was more fun and turn back, or (2) realize the parade had already passed and turn back. This year I was lucky enough to find myself at a house party with a perfect view of the parade route. So I got to see it.

In prior years, the small bits of the parade I did see usually involved fire trucks, smiling police officers (as part of the parade), and a few kids smiling and waving. It was never clear who the kids were, but they definitely made it feel more like a community event. Now that I’ve seen the whole thing, I can add Strorm Troopers, Darth Vader, Ghost Busters, mini 18 wheeler trucks, three marching bands, and a bag pipe procession to the list. It’s not really the type of parade with floats, although there was one with a leprechaun (or maybe St. Patrick?) on it.

Here are a few highlights.

Thomas Park packed with people:

The police showing off their SWAT vehicle:

A long line of police officers marching up Broadway:

Darth (courtesy of southbostonparade.org)

Bagpipes (courtesy of boston.com)
The Boston Police Gaelic Column played bagpipes while they walked in the parade.

And a short video of the motorcycle police squad:

Good times.