Wandering Eye: Edgar Allan Poe in Beantown, an old murder mystery, and boat drones

Boston has erected sculptor Stefanie Rocknak's life-size bronze statue of Edgar Allan Poe in Boston Common, with his cloak swirling around him, his back turned to the Frog Pond, and his briefcase busting open with paperwork, a giant raven, and a human heart. Suffolk University history-department chair Robert Allison, saying it's high time Boston had one, belittles Poe's Mobtown ties by noting, "All he did in Baltimore was die, and yet the football team is named for his most famous poem, 'The Raven.'" Here's to Boston's Poe statue enjoying better fortunes than objects created to memorialize him here in Monument City, where two medallions at his grave—including the original, carved by the famous Hugh Sisson—were stolen and models for the Poe statue, now displayed at University of Baltimore (it was vandalized at its original Wyman Park location), were destroyed by fire and an earthquake. (Van Smith)


Public Radio's "This American Life" unveiled the first season of its new podcast Serial, with a broadcast of the first installment of former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig's riveting investigation into the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted of the crime based solely on the account of one of his friends—his defense the final case of a subsequently disgraced lawyer. Did he do it? As Koenig talks to former students at the school and digs into the documents of the case, she realizes that the entire case hinges on where Syed was during a period of around 20 minutes after school—and Syed himself has no idea. Koenig's investigation is as epistemological as it is forensic—how do we remember what happened on an otherwise ordinary day several weeks, much less 15 years, ago? But, by the end of the episode, there is a classmate who remembers exactly where he was, and told his lawyer. So what did happen? As the answer plays out over the next several episodes—which also use the website to present letters and other supplemental material—we not only are drawn in to a riveting local mystery, but may just be seeing the future of radio. (Baynard Woods)


The U.S. Office of Naval Research announced that it now has technology that enables unmanned boats to autonomously swarm enemy or adversary ships that approach any high-value ship, according to an Oct. 5 piece in IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog. There's an impressive video showing a test of the system on the James River in Virginia. "Smart robots and drones that don't require close supervision could also act as a 'force multiplier' consisting of relatively cheap and disposable forces—engaging more enemy targets and presenting more targets for enemies to worry about," the Navy says. The new machinery can turn any boat into an autonomous drone, allowing the commander of a single ship to control an armada to surround and repel pirates, terrorists, or—and this must be said—ordinary pleasure boaters or guys trying to run to Bermuda inside a plastic bubble. The technology is not quite ready for deployment yet: "For now, ONR researchers hope to improve the autonomous system in terms of its ability to 'see' its surroundings using different sensing technologies. They also want to improve how the boats navigate autonomously around obstacles, even in the most unexpected situations that human programmers haven't envisioned. But the decision to have such robot boats open fire upon enemy targets will still rest with human sailors." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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