Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Tag: Cambridge (page 1 of 6)

No more Waterstone’s 3-for-2

The end of a marketing era!

No longer will readers be able to chuck a third free book onto their pile of purchases as they head to the till at Waterstone's: the UK's biggest bookseller is bringing its long-running three-for-two offer to an end.

The Bookseller reports that staff were told of the move yesterday, with the current three-for-two promotion across all paperback fiction to come to an end today. The demise of the famous offer, which has been running for more than a decade, follows the sale of the chain by HMV to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, and the appointment of independent bookseller James Daunt as managing director in June.

My son at the Science Museum

Just came across this picture from their trip to England in April.

At the Science Museum
at the science museum, via flickr

Last night in Cambridge

On our last night in Cambridge, my son and I took a long walk through Jesus Green and the colleges.

Last walk through Cambridge
the cam beside jesus green, via flickr

On his last trip to Cambridge my son had bought a wool hat with a cat’s face on it, and wore it pretty much nonstop since February. So naturally he wore it tonight.

Last walk through Cambridge
my son outside st. john’s, via flickr

It was a perfect evening, clear and cool. Early evenings like this, when the sky turns deep blue and the lamps come on, are probably my favorite part of the day in Cambridge: visually the town is at its most vivid and mysterious.

Last walk through Cambridge
all saints’ pass, via flickr

We went down Trinity Lane to Garrett Hostel Lane, which is the path I took every day to the lab.

Last walk through Cambridge
trinity lane, via flickr

Last walk through Cambridge
trinity lane, via flickr

The view of the Cam from the bridge is one of my favorite: no matter how many times I crossed it, it always impressed me. I’ve been very lucky with commutes. When I lived in Chicago, my drive to work took me down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue; in California, it’s been to Stanford, Sand Hill Road, and downtown Palo Alto. None too shabby. But this is the best of all.

Last walk through Cambridge
clare bridge from garret hostel lane bridge, via flickr

Last walk through Cambridge
trinity college backs, via flickr

The challenge now is to get to the airport in the wee morning hours tomorrow. And then, after that, to make something out of the three months– to make this sabbatical the start of something important, rather than an interesting lark. I know there are a couple great articles here, and maybe a book, if I’m really diligent; certainly I believe strongly in the idea of contemplative computing, and think it’s one that deserves a wider audience– and to be improved by being discussed and tried out and stress-tested by people other than myself.

I’ve learned an immense amount here. Not only do I have much better grasp on the HCI literature than I did when I came here (though there’s still a lot I don’t know, despite the best attempts of my colleagues to tutor me), but I’ve discovered works– in particular Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, but also Seneca’s Letters, Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own, and others– that I think will influence me pretty deeply in my normal life, not just my thinking and writing (though the boundaries between those three are pretty thin when all goes well). And there’s probably no better place to practice contemplation of all sorts than here.

Last walk through Cambridge
the cam near our house, via flickr

I have a sinking suspicion that the project is a bit of a disappointment to Microsoft, though; it’s at once not quite philosophical or theoretical enough, nor has it expressed itself in a prototype. So this only more motivation to produce something great: I feel the need to prove that the odd choice of a futurist as a visiting fellow was a good one after all.

Unfortunately I can’t finish the work here: to remain would be too disruptive of our normal lives. After three months here, I feel very much at home– I can conduct a normal life here, rather than just be a tourist– but I know my regular life is waiting for me in California.

Reality
a t-shirt shop on bridge street, via flickr

But I’ll be back.

The end
via flickr

Less than 48 hours in Cambridge

Took the kids to London again yesterday, and went to the Science Museum. Naturally I gravitated to the airplane display, which includes a beautifully-stages collection of engines, and a number of planes, including a Hurricane and Spitfire.

DSC_0067
via flickr

From there we went to Harrods, which I think is something everyone should see, but which is far too rich a place for me to actually think about buying anything. These days, it seems to be an ingenious technology for attracting back from Asia and the Middle East a little of the money that we sent over to buy oil and flat screen TVs: I would have felt distinctly underdressed in my REI and Royal Robbins traveling kit, were I more clothes-conscious (or rather, mindfully contrarian about fashion).

Harrods
via flickr

Part of me thinks that places like Harrods are absurd and unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, and that they symbolize everything that’s going wrong with global capitalism: the incessant attention to luxury goods, the promotion of exclusivity, the encouragement of a particular variety of class consciousness summarized by David Brooks complimenting rich people on their intelligence and good looks.

At the same time, I can’t help but be impressed at how good they are at what they do. And maybe we really should have a place where someone can say, “But is this elevator pharonic enough? Are we sure we can’t dial the Egyptianness up to 12?”

We’ve got two more nights in Cambridge, then we’re leaving at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Fortunately, with the family all here I’ve been playing a combination of B&B owner, butler, dad, son, and tour guide, so I’m not really focused on the fact that I’m returning to California. Which is generally a good thing for me, i think. After three months here, I’m in no danger of going native– I could live here for decades and still think of myself as American or Californian, even if I started saying “Cheers” rather than “Thank you”– but I do feel comfortable here in a way that is expanding, and a little reassuring.

IMG_5065
via flickr

The challenge now will be to build on what I’ve done here, rather than have this be an interesting and restorative three months that represent a break in my regular life.

On the Eye

After the Transport Museum, we went on the Eye. Thanks to a quirk of timing, we had an entire compartment to ourselves.

On the Eye
via flickr

Previous to getting on the actual ride we went to the “4D experience,” which is essentially a 3D movie with dry ice and the occasional water effect to get viewers wet, plus extremely loud music. As we were leaving it, I heard a kid say, half-admiring and half-sarcastic, “That was the STUPIDEST THING EVER!”

On the Eye
via flickr

And indeed it was that instantly recognizable form of dumb that lives by the motto, when in doubt, make it Really Really Loud. Nonetheless, the view was a spectacular as always, even though it was kind of cloudy.

On the Eye
via flickr

Even my daughter enjoying taking pictures and interacting with the security camera.

On the Eye
via flickr

Transport Museum

Today we took Mom and the kids to the London Transport Museum.

Transport Museum
via flickr

It’s at Covent Garden, and is a fun place, but with the exposed metal and the multiple school groups, it tends to be a little loud. Still, it’s worth it, and it’s not like noise is NOT part of the experience of public transportation.

I think my favorite part was the room devoted to transportation advertising and design. The Underground and the rail system has had an amazing history of getting great industrial design, and even if their work isn’t always brilliant, they’re trying hard.

Transport Museum
via flickr

Indeed, the whole museum is beautifully designed, and works very well.

Transport Museum
via flickr

Punting on the Cam

On Sunday morning my kids and mother arrived from California. Monday morning we went punting on the Cam. I’d been once before, but Heather and I felt it was worth it to take Mom and the kids, and let them enjoy the experience.

Scenes from punting
via flickr

It was a little cold, but still it was nice: it turned out we had a boat all to ourselves, and a pretty good guide.

Scenes from punting
via flickr

I don’t think it’s something I would do very often, but it’s quite lovely. The Backs are really great. It was also cool to go under the bridge that I cycled on to go to work these last several months (that’s it below).

Scenes from punting
via flickr

There were a few other boats out, but not enough to make the river really crowded.

Scenes from punting
via flickr

Of course, not everyone was completely captivated by the experience. But your standards are really high when you’re twelve.

Scenes from punting
via flickr

The end

It had to happen some time….

The end
via flickr

Packing up my office

It's my last day at Microsoft Research Cambridge. with the exception of a couple papers, which I'll finish reading and then recycle, I seem to have cleared out my office pretty completely….


my office before the cleanup, via flickr

It's been an extraordinary time, and I've been able to do some work that I think will bear some good results. It'll continue to evolve when I'm back home, but I think I'm onto something, even if the current version of the magnum opus is still evolving rapidly.

Gotta take my boxes of books downstairs (the Cambridge and Ely bookstores have done very well by me) and finish a couple readers' reports. Then rewrite the introduction of the essay.

Silence please

Construction at the Bodleian library is probably interfering with the silence.

Oxford
via flickr

Not to mention making Sir Thomas himself look a bit like he just wrapped himself in a shower curtain….

Oxford
via flickr

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