The Jet-Lagged Joycean

The last 10 days have been an absolute whirlwind. It all started when my boss from the Fox Innovation Lab made the trek to Cambridge to sponsor the annual MIT hackathon. I tagged along as an event sponsor and had the opportunity to check out a number of teams interested in working in VR. It was a great way to kick off a week where VR truly became the only reality my life existed in.

Tuesday morning I traveled to Seattle, WA to meet up with Emaad Ali and JoyceStick Professor Joe Nugent. We were invited to participate at an event at the Amazon headquarters, but knew absolutely nothing of the agenda or our fellow presenters. After a day exploring the wonders of beautiful Seattle (Pike Place Market, the Neptune Theatre, Monorail Espresso, etc.) the big day had come.

Emaad Ali takes in Pike Place Market

The first thing I noticed about the Amazon HQ was its subtleness. I’m sure that everyone from Seattle knows exactly where the campus is, but there are no distinguishing marks on the actual buildings. In fact, the only way I could tell we were, in fact, at the right location was the free-of-charge community banana stand conveniently placed in front of where we needed to be.

The event itself was titled Radical Social Sciences & Humanities: “Off the Grid” Gathering and began with an introduction from Amazon VP Babak Parviz before host Neal Patel took over. We found out that the day was to be filled with presentations by each research professor invited.

Each presentation set a new standard for academia greater than I had ever been exposed to. We were greeted by incredibly fascinating yet academically overwhelming presentations from top research professors from University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and Columbia University. I tried my best to comprehend as much as possible from the talks while preparing for our own.

When our time came, Professor Nugent began our presentation with an introduction to his studies before transitioning over to the JoyceStick project. Emaad and I then joined him and did a live demo of the project. The response could not have been better or more positive as these esteemed scholars were blown away by a project represented by a pair of undergraduate juniors (needless to say of the 30-something degrees in the room, Emaad and I accounted for exactly zero). We ended our successful trip with a handful of one-on-one demos with Amazon’s people and a discussion of our upcoming open-source push featuring our new dependency manager.

Emaad Ali and I pose for a photo-op at Amazon HQ

Unfortunately there was no time for celebration, as I had to rush to SeaTec and board a direct flight to Boston. My Thursday was spent back at school (I am a student after all) analyzing the film Gilda with Carter Long, Director of the MFA Film Program, before a quick stop home to ruffle my flatmate’s hair and convince him I did, in fact, exist.

Thursday night featured a second trip to Logan, with Washington, D.C. as the desired location. I landed at DCA around midnight and quickly shuffled to the hotel—I had a long weekend ahead of me. Morning came too quickly and suddenly it was time to head to the Smithsonian for the ACCelerate Festival.

JoyceStick was provided a wonderful exhibition space on the third floor of the National Museum of American History. Our resident interior decorator (and still unemployed Liam Weir — *ahem* anytime now, c’mon New Yorker) set up a lovely queue area equipped with couches, an observation TV, and a tasteful ficus while we set up two VIVEs running the game.

Professor Joe Nugent poses at the JoyceStick exhibition space within the Smithsonian National American History Museum before the start of the ACCelerate Festival

Thankfully we had both of those VIVEs working smoothly because, wow, the response was fantastic. Tucked away in the back corner of the top floor of the museum, we still managed to have an hour-long line of eager museum-goers waiting for the chance to become Leopold Bloom. Thanks to the assistance of the fantastic Mathius, a particularly brilliant young-adolescent who fell in love with the game, we were able to show off the project to as many people as possible. As the festival was an academic conference open to the general public, our participants ranged in age from tykes who could barely support the weight of the headset to the finest academics in the ACC. Some of our most esteemed guests were provosts from Boston College and Virginia Tech (the hosting university) as well as esteemed Boston College alums and the Spark!Lab at the National American coordinator. We were also fortunate enough to meet a wonderful composer named Richard Evans who was fresh off of organizing a welcoming concert for the new Irish Ambassador.

Speaking of the Irish Ambassador, one of the greatest honors I have ever received in my life occurred on Friday night of the festival: the opportunity to attend a housewarming event at the Irish Ambassador’s residence; he was even kind enough to briefly chat with the team.

The Smithsonian event was an absolute blast, but now we’re all back in Boston and it’s time to get back to work. A quick thank you to the wonderful lads of Belvedere College (the very secondary school that James Joyce attended, whose former classrooms are the ones we used to design our classroom for the Nestor level within JoyceStick) who toured our facilities today.