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APRIL 4, 2008   

Brookline, Lowell, Boston

Yesterday we were sitting in the bright sun on Sharon & Ken's patio in our shirtsleeves drinking Rolling Rock. This morning I looked at the skylight over my bed and saw a layer of snow. April weather.

After breakfast we bundled the kids into the car and I threw my suitcase in the back. The morning plans called for dropping the little guys at their daycare center and then driving into Lowell, MA where Sharon had two classes to teach. My job was to go through her email and print out copies of the research papers her students had sent. This kind of job at that time in the morning required a big cup of coffee, so she pointed me in the direction of the Student Union and gave me her office keys to get back in.

UMass Lowell Student UnionWalking toward the Union I felt like I was on a generic 70s American college campus: the buildings shared that decade's heavy use of brick, concrete cast in forms made with rough wood planks, and lots of angles. It looked like CSU, Tri-C, UIC, and I'm sure hundreds of other colleges. The architecture is called Brutalist, and the name becomes even more appropriate as the buildings age.

Things looked and felt very familiar. Even though Lowell is a small city, the campus has an urban feel, and not in a good way. Like the schools mentioned above, I got the sense that UMass Lowell wouldn't be considered the flagship of the system, that it's struggling to reshape its image in this greener, more student-centered era.

Inside the Union I encountered a rather amazing temporary display, a machine that looked like one of those photo booths you see in the mall where you get a strip of pictures for a couple of bucks. This one had a small card attached that explained that the Human Race Machine would let you morph your face into multiple forms: different races, ages, and anomalies.

Al's face as captured by Human Race MachineYou start with an image of your face captured on the spot (I hope I don't look as grim and haggard in real life as I do in this photo).

Next you move the cursor to a set of points (each side of each eye, of the mouth, and center of the chin) to calibrate the machine. Then you decide what race you'd like to be, and instantly it's a new you. Move the mouse over the picture to see me as African American.

Update (April 12): see all the different "races."

It's an interesting experience to see yourself differently, but I don't know exactly the message this sends. The machine's website talks about it as a "diversity tool" that allows us to "move beyond our appearance." OK, maybe.

Finally, as I type these notes I'm sitting in a fancy Boston hotel room with a view out toward the harbor. Tomorrow morning after the keynote speech is my panel discussion on Teaching Design, Teaching Technology, which I still need to prepare for. So I'd better move on to that before I fall asleep.

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APRIL 2008