Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Computers in Cambridge

The Ray and Maria Stata Center, Cambridge MA
Is that Barcelona on the left? Los Angeles? An art museum? Concert hall? Not quite. If you're a student at MIT in Cambridge, MA, then this Frank Gehry designed building is where you'll find yourself most days of the week taking classes and doing your lab work. It also doubles as a fabulous concrete playground, as Big C&G and Little C&G will tell you. Just look at all those stairs!

Cambridge is home to two top universities, one of which we have explored extensively over the years. Harvard Square has some excellent restaurants, shops, museums, and plenty of things to share in a future post. But we'd never ventured over to the MIT side of things until recently.

Our plan was to visit the MIT Museum, which as you'd expect is full of robotics, technology and science. Little C&G was bordering on too young for this museum, but at age 7 the robotics exhibits kept his interest for a surprisingly long time. Big C&G (10) is just the right age for the MIT Museum and older kids will get a lot more out of a visit. There is no art here, but there were some holographic works hanging on the wall in one of the smaller galleries that were very cool.

The highlight of the collection is Kismet, a product of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He's a robot built to look like a stuffed animal, and he can interact with people (and kids) in a very human way. There is a wonderful video in the exhibit from a Scientific American Frontiers episode with Alan Alda talking to the creator about developing social robots that the boys sat all the way through. Big C&G was fascinated, but I kept trying to get the picture of freaky Gremlins out of my head.

Another interesting exhibit in the museum is the kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson. There aren't a lot of hands on activities for the kids here, so it was nice to see this last room in the museum. A few of the sculptures are interactive so the kids can start off the chain reaction or wheel a cart around the room to watch the gears turn. After that it was a quick trip to the very tiny but well stocked gift shop. They have lots of fun toys with science and technology themes, most of which we've seen in one of our favorite catalogs, Think Geek. Somehow we managed to pull them out of there without making a purchase.

It was a tough choice for lunch in that neighborhood, but only because there were two very cool C&G type places to try a block apart. We went with Area Four, just because the boys wanted pizza. Next time we'll have to overrule them and head to Catalyst. They had a fabulous looking lounge area, with a futuristic fireplace (probably the work of some talented MIT engineers) and a great local and organic menu.

Area Four is a very industrial-chic coffee house/bakery in front and a bar/wood oven pizza place in back. We grabbed seats at the high top community table in the back while the little C&G's went to inspect the baked goods. Somehow a giant sticky bun found it's way back to our table. . .

While the boys worked their way through the frosting we had to order something to drink (C&G rules, after all). The bar menu has some creative cocktails, an extensive list of New England beers, and a large selection of wines available on tap by the glass or carafe. Mr. C&G had an Italian Babysitter (not quite what you're thinking, but a mixture of Old Overholt Rye, Luxardo Amaro, Cocchi Barolo, St. Germain and a dash of Fernet), and I had a glass of bubbly Prosecco.

Area Four is also known for their local, sustainable, and organic fresh ingredients. The pizzas were delicious, very thin crust and hot out of the wood oven. The male C&G's ordered pizzas and I ordered the mac & cheese with a croissant topping, which was just as amazing as it sounds. If I was going to school there I would totally plant myself on a stool in the back and work my way through the brunch, lunch, and dinner menu. Everything looked and smelled amazing. And how hard could the workload be at MIT anyway?

A little research tells me Area Four has outdoor seating in season and that they're starting a food truck, both of which will have to be on our list as soon as the weather warms up. After we've given Catalyst and their chic fireplace a try.

The MIT Museum and the restaurants are a short walk from the Red Line Kendall/MIT station. We had our car and it was Sunday so there was plenty of parking. The museum is free until noon on Sundays, and $8.50/adults or $4.00/students & kids otherwise. The buildings around MIT have plenty of squares and small green spaces for the kids to run around, and don't forget to explore the futuristic Stata Center.

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