Sunday, December 11, 2011
Doha: CMU Qatar
After the social robotics conference in Amsterdam (see here), I spent a week at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Qatar. I last blogged about CMU Qatar back in 2009 when I took a bunch of spherical panorama pictures (see here). This time I also brought my equipment but unfortunately had no time to take more of those special images. In particular, I had hoped to get a 360° shot of the following open seating area inside the building: Unfortunately, this time half the space was set up with regular chairs instead of those awesome cushions. Maybe next time. The building itself is quite opulent and certainly impressive, more reminiscent of an investment bank than a university. It has huge atrium-like open spaces that I find too big to be friendly. Designed to awe, I find it lacks human scale. (I think of grand entrances on Arrakis designed to reduce the human to a mere mote, as described by Frank Herbert in perhaps the book God Emperor of Dune. It has been really many years since that read that series. Who has time these days to read a few thousand pages?) My favorite room was the faculty lounge, not only because of the espresso machines but also because it has a nice friendly yet contemporary feel with proper wood floors instead of the echo of polished hard marble, artfully concealed indirect lighting and absolutely wonderful proportions. I'd love to have a house with a central living area like this. Dream on. (Actually, if you look at houses like this one in California, you could make it work.) Despite the luxury of having uniformed waiter service at my office, I often preferred to make the trek down to the faculty lounge myself. The infrastructure is important, but in the end it's the personal touch that matters. My hosts made me feel supremely welcome. For example, one of my sponsors drove me from the hotel to the university each morning until he got sick. After that, I rode in on the QIA Hummer H2: I even met a ping pong enthusiast from Brazil, Prof. Marcelo Castier, a chemical engineer from Texas A&M University. An extremely busy man, but he managed to find one hour to hit a few balls with me at the brand-new student center the day before I left Doha. They have three KillerSpin tables there: Unfortunately, the polished floor is extremely slippery, the pool tables get in the way, and one is blinded by glare from the wall of windows from one end. But hey, these seem to be the only available ping pong tables.