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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Wiimote Fun in Spain by Laura N. '09

What I'm actually doing with my time over here, when I'm not learning Spanish insults or celebrating Spain's Eurocup victory.

So I shared my blog entries with Alicia, the MISTI-Spain Program Director, and she basically said, “Wow, that’s awesome, but do you think you could mention the MISTI program?”

Uh, duh Laura. Sometimes I wonder about myself, and the people who admitted me to this place.

So, the background info of my wonderful adventures in Spain:

MISTI (MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives) is the umbrella organization for a lot of the study abroad that MIT students do. Basically, back in the 70s (or 80s, memory fails me…) MIT-Japan was started as an organization to provide support to students who wanted to study or work abroad in Japan. Over the years, more programs were created, but they were all decentralized. So, for example, if there was a professor at MIT from a particular country, he/she might say, “Hey, that MIT-Japan thing is pretty cool, I want to start MIT-fill-in-country-here.” Then, sometime in 1994, someone had the bright idea that they should join forces- and MISTI was born. They’ve been growing ever since, with Spain being one of the newer additions (although I think Isreal is the most recent).

Well, I’ve been wanting to go to Spain since, like, forever, so when I heard about MIT-Spain, I got really excited, and decided to apply.

Here’s how it works: I went to http://web.mit.edu/misti/mit-spain/ (which just a few months ago was a much uglier website, nice job on the design, guys) and submitted an application. (There are information sessions early in the year to talk about the details and logistics of the program, which I had already been to.) I met with Alicia a few times to talk about my interests and preferences, and eventually got an email from her saying that Telefonica was interested in hiring me! I set up a Skype interview with someone in Madrid, which went really well, and then was asked to meet with representatives from Telefonica at the European Career Fair, which I blogged about earlier this year. And…then they hired me!

After that, things got more technical. I met with Alicia a few more times to work out the details of the trip. Every case is different, but basically MISTI helps you figure out whatever you need- flight details, accomodations, visas, whatever. Sometimes you’re left on your own, but you can always ask for help- for example, my company doesn’t provide housing, but MISTI gave me a list of websites to search for people looking for roommates to share with. Also, MISTI guarantees that the trip won’t cost you anything. You may not make much money, depending on the internship you get placed in, but either your salary, the place you work for, or MISTI will cover your living and travel expenses to and from the country.

Finally, the various country programs hold a bunch of seminars in the months before your trip, so you can learn a little about the country you’re going to visit. We also went on an overnight retreat with all of the students who were going to Europe to meet other MISTI students and discuss solutions to problems that might arise and prepare ourselves for the awkward cultural clashes we might encounter.

So, that’s how MISTI works.

Okay, so now that I’ve shared with you all the boring logistics, maybe you’re interested to know what I’m actually doing here?

I’m working in the Networked Vehicles division at Telefónica I+D (I+D = Investigación y Desarollo, or Research and Development). My division is working on a whole range of products and services that will basically make cars more intelligent- and therefore safer, more interactive, and generally more useful. My project falls into the “safety” category, and I happen to think it’s pretty awesome.

As the one Course 2 (mechanical engineer) who ended up in a company full of Course Sixers (computer scientists), I think my boss tried to find a job for me that would keep me a little closer to the physical world, where I am much more comfortable. So, my job is to design a system that can be installed in a car that will allow it to know when it has been in an accident, and then automatically place an emergency phone call. I researched different types of crash sensors, short range wireless communication protocols, and got to work writing a paper (in Spanish! I’m so proud!) about the project. A secondary part of the project is choosing other data to send along with the emergency call- like the location of the crash, and information about the passengers. So my boss said, “so for this part, you should, you know, imagine that you’re an EMT- what information would be most useful to know before arriving at the scene of the crash?” Hmm, imagine you’re an EMT. I think I can handle that. =)

But, an important part of my job is to do a demonstration of the concept. Instead of designing the whole system from scratch, we thought it would be best to start working from something that has most of what we need already built in.

Hmmm. Can you think of anything that comes prepackaged with a 3 axis accelerometer, and Bluetooth capability?

That’s right- Telefónica bought me a Wiimote! It sits on my desk next to my notebooks and pens, and every time I change something in my code I have to wave the thing around like an idiot to see if my program still works. My coworkers are all jealous. =)

Not only is it interesting, but this has really turned out to be a great internship for me. After receiving my new, shiny Wiimote, I had to install the software for it. (There are lots of geeks out there in this world who have already put the time and effort into writing software which accesses the various functions of the Wiimote, and then posted said software to the Internet.) But, that involved installing Linux, Java, and a bunch of extra Java packages that deal with Bluetooth. One of my good friends at Telefónica is working on the Bluetooth technology in the Networked Vehicles division, so he helped me out. By which I mean, he ranted at me for 15 minutes (in Spanish!) about the challenges of applying Java (which I know NOTHING about) to the tasks he is working on, because the standard Java package (whatever that is) lacks certain functions, so you have to install these extra things, and then recompile the source code of something else, and then…I don’t even know.

The point I started to make at the beginning of this paragraph, is that I have learned a whole bunch about Linux, Java, Bluetooth, and programming/computer science in general, both through the work I’m actually doing, and conversations (both casual and work-related) that I’ve had with various coworkers- but that all of this learning has happened in Spanish! Which is pretty awesome, but also sort of overwhelming! It’s also totally messing with my English…

Just ask Adelaide ’09. When we went to Vienna together (for real! I took an epic trip through Europe which I will detail later) I was telling her all about my work, and this concept of learning all this stuff in Spanish. So, Spanish pronunciation lession: “j” in Spanish is that throaty “h” sound you probably associate with languages like Arabic, Yiddish, etc. Also, “v” is pronounced like “b.” And finally, the Spanish love to take English words and just pronounce them as if they were in Spanish. So, thanks to the fact that I’ve probably said the word “Java” while speaking Spanish more times in my life than in English, in the middle of my English sentence to Adelaide I said “so now I need to learn Haba.” I don’t think she will ever let me live that down.

11 responses to “Wiimote Fun in Spain”

  1. K says:

    Your time abroad looks very amazing. I work with Linux, Java, and other computer stuff in my free time. Fedora is my distribution of choice. =)

  2. Wow that sounds amazing. Spain and programming.

    I think there have been packages for OS X created for Wiimote too. My friend was playing with them. In case you had a mac or something.

    Anyway, I was wondering how much Spanish you knew before you applied to go on this trip. I would really like to study abroad in or visit Spain at some point (and have been extremely jealous of my four or so friends who have gotten to go), but I’m wondering if my I-have-been-up-through-high-school-Spanish-5 would have me on the right track to be able to get around (and write papers! Wow! It takes me enough time to read a paper about an algorithm in English).

  3. Omar says:

    Woah that’s sooo cool. What’s the algorithm that senses whether a car is in a crash? Is it a sharp jolt experienced by the accelerometer or something?

  4. Yuzhi '12 says:

    Hey! Summer is sort of long for me. Are there any travel aboard programs ( to Europe, or helping out in Africa, anywhere!)during IAP? I heard about D-LAB. What are some other options?
    Thanks!

  5. Anonymous says:

    If you get tired of Wiimote one day, you can try the SUNspot! It is more for programming. It is easy to set up, and very fun to play with.

  6. MJ says:

    WOW:) MISTI, your job, and Spain sound awesome. Well the programming sounded amazing so its something that I will probably look into studying, considering that I already like it and am practicing it more. Is there a MISTI-Isreal?

  7. Daniel '12 says:

    All of that seems really awesome. MIT Spain looks very interesting, but I remember somewhere reading about an MIT Thailand. Is that true? Because Southeast Asia is definitely a place I’d like to be.

  8. Nick says:

    I love the sound of MISTI and your job sounds really interesting. What are your working hours? And also which distribution of Linux did you install? Recently I installed kubuntu and then GNOME over the top so I can switch between the two, and I really like it!

  9. Paul says:

    @Daniel: Were you thinking of ThaiROP, which I mentioned in an entry a few weeks ago? That’s separate from MISTI, but suffice to say there are lots of international opportunities at MIT. MISTI is amazing, but it’s just the beginning!

  10. Enas'12 says:

    @Yuzhi: Yes there are some things in IAP. The ones I know of are extensive language classes in the country of your language. I assume there are like international externships you could apply for, but the upperclassmen would have to confirm. Plus, I know you can do externships in Boston during IAP too.

    Hope that helps!!! =)

  11. Liz says:

    Laura!
    You basically have. The. Coolest. Job. Ever.