March 2009

Kent Kresa ’59, SM ’61, EEA ’66, has taken one of the least comfortable seats of industrial power in the U.S., reported earlier today. He has been appointed as General Motors’ interim chairman by President Obama’s auto task force. Already a GM director, he will focus on replacing a majority of the board as required by the task force in time for a vote at GM’s August annual meeting.

Ken Kresa, courtesy BusinessWeek

Kent Kresa, photo BusinessWeek

Kresa’s quiet but stellar reputation for corporate salvage and successful mergers made him a prime candidate. He masterminded the successful turn around of Northrop Grumman in the 1990s despite severe contraction in the industry. The company became a $28 billion enterprise under his guidance. His three MIT degrees are in aero/astro.

According to a 2002 BusinessWeek article on the top 25 managers of the year, Kresa grew up in a show-biz family. His father was songwriter Irving Berlin’s chief assistant, and Kresa was a child actor. He certainly will be on stage again in this job!

In January 2009 a group of MIT alums launched a nationwide SAT vocab video contest on where they asked people to create short videos that would help students learn SAT words. In a few short months they received over 700 submissions!

Take a look at some of the entries and vote for the one you like best.  BrainyFlix is  offering $600 in prize money to the video that receives the most number of votes. $200 of the payout will go to the maker(s) of the video and $400 to the class or school club of his/her choice. Voting closes April 12.

Need to double check the meaning of clandestine? Watch the video.

Read the BrainyFlix blog.

Ever feel like screaming but darn that societal convention that prevents you from publically shouting your frustrations? The ScreamBody, developed by Kelly Dobson SM ’00, SM ’02, PhD ’07, might be just the thing for you. Scream as loudly as you want into the portable device and your scream is both silenced and recorded for later playback. Watch the video to see it in action and find out exactly how it’s constructed.

ScreamBody was part of Dobson’s Wearable Organs research at the Media Lab. Unlike self-help gadgets that are usually hidden, such as hearing aids, Dobson’s very visible inventions are meant to be social-critical activists—they perform a function while also announcing their own need for existence.

Boston and surrounding areas celebrated Restaurant Week in mid March and although the reduced price of $35 for a multi-course course meal might be a break for most, it’s still quite expensive for a college student! That’s where our awesome class council stepped in, subsidizing part of the meal down to a more affordable $15 (for dinner).

I was randomly placed at Sel De Le Terre (I have no idea what that means in English, but I suspect someone will tell me!), a classy french restaurant in Back Bay Boston. This year, we were only allowed to sign up to dine with one friend; the rest of our tablemates were chosen at random to increase mingling with other 2010s we might not know or know well. It was really fun, but also a strange reminder that there are so many (cool) people in our class that I’ve never even seen around before. With over a thousand students in my class, this seems like an obvious statement, but I’m a little uneasy with the concept of graduating having never met so many of my classmates.

Alums, what sort of role did your class council take during your time at MIT? Events like this? Something different? Did you even have an active class council with a (fairly large) budget? I would love to know!


Optimally loaded dishwasher

Below are a few responses on our Facebook discussion board.

  • You are annoyed at having to renew Kerberos tickets every 10 hours.
  • After you send an im, you follow it with a dot on a line by itself.
  • you optimize the dishwasher loading at a friend’s house when you are invited for a dinner party.
  • When you arrive five minutes after the hour for every appointment. 🙂 Btw Mr. Larky [above], glad to meet a fellow dishwasher optimizer!
  • When people ask you your major, you reply with a number.

Sound familiar? Join the discussion.

Vannevar BushYes, it’s true. Vannevar Bush, former MIT professor, VP, School of Engineering dean, and Bush Room namesake makes the list of MIT’s appearances in anime as compiled by the student MIT Anime Club. Don’t believe it? Check out the list and discover the Bush connection to anime. The club, which aims to increase awareness of Japanese animation in the MIT community and the general public, is one of the largest and most active anime clubs in New England. It holds free public showings (most with English subtitles), usually on Friday nights. Learn more about the club and viewings.

As the Anime Club’s page notes, MIT is usually used as a “generic non-Japanese source of advanced technology” or “hangout for smart people who didn’t manage to get into Tokyo University.” But given that references to any other American institutions of higher learning are rare, it’s an honor just to be mentioned. One such nod to MIT is shown below. In Hanaukyo Maid Tai, episode 13, the character Shinshei goes to a leading unnamed (yet recognizable) university.

In Hanaukyo Maid Tai, episode 13, the character Shinshei goes to a leading, unnamed (yet recognizable) university.

Some 17 years ago, Kamal Meattle SM ’67 was dying. He had become allergic to New Dehi’s air and his lung capacity was down to 70 percent. His doctors offered little hope.

Areca palm, one of three air-enhancing plants.

Areca palm, one of three air-enhancing plants.

Rather than desert his home town, he turned his environmental interests into life-saving work. He established the Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park, which provides offices and services for growing businesses—and some of the cleanest air in the megacity.

In a recent TED video, Meattle describes how his green business was built through air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture. He shares research that documents reduced health problems and energy consumption while increasing productivity through the use of just three types of common plants, which you can grow in your own home or office. He’s now looking at larger experiments designed to reshape India’s commercial building ecology.

With their toes hooked on floor handles to anchor them still, and with the cosmos tearing past them at 17,000 miles per hour, the crews from the International Space Station and Space Shuttle STS-119 gathered Tuesday, March 24th to receive a phone call from President Obama. Among the astronauts were MIT alums Mike Fincke ’89, Expedition 18 commander, and Tony Antonelli ’89, who piloted the STS-119 mission through its ISS arrival one week prior.

Watch a 10-minute segment of the call below, or visit NASA’s Web site for the full length video and transcript.

The day after the president’s call, Fincke placed his own long distance phone call to Class of 1989 Secretary Henry Houh. Video below:

Submit your own interstellar or terrestrial updates to Class Notes.

Purple unicornThe other day I was passing through Stata when I noticed the letters QDB.MIT scrawled everywhere. QDB?? Quaking dungeon babies? Quail’s distended beak? I hurried back to my desk and visited the site. Here’s what popped up:

//Discourse on extra term in Maxwell’s equations were magnetic monopoles to exist

Prof McGreevy: …here, I’ll write it on the board in purple, because purple is the color of unicorns.

* class giggles after disbelieving pause *

Prof McGreevy: No, really. Magnetic monopoles are like unicorns – they’re perfectly reasonable things, but no one has been able to find them. is a database of quotes overheard in the halls, classrooms, and cyberspace around MIT. Quotes entered into the database are voted on, and the best ones rise to the top.

You might imagine shuffling down the Infinite Corridor and overhearing snippets of conversations, many of them funny and quirky and elusive—except the corridor is a Web site. That’s sort of what is like.


I spotted visitors in the Stata Center today.

They are always conspicuous because they frequently stop and look up toward the hugely high and complicated upper reaches. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I asked them what they thought of the building and showed them around a little. I like to do that, especially if there is a high-school-age kid in tow or indications that the visitors are architects. Sometimes, of course, they run off, thinking, I suppose, that I’ll expect a tip.

My friend Bill Porter, former Dean of the School of Architecture + Planning, told me I was supposed to hate the Stata Center for the first three months I lived in it, so out of respect, I did my duty and hated the raw plywood and undressed concrete pillars so cherished by Frank Gehry.

But then, after three months passed, the ground-floor center of the building seemed to come alive, like busy street. Students work and talk with each other in all the nooks and crannies at all hours, especially late hours. People pull money out of the cash machine. The clueless ask questions at the Information Desk.   Past great hacks—a police car, a fire hose attached to a drinking fountain, and a life-size plastic cow—decorate the walls here and there. We have the cafe, the exercise room, the pool, the day-care center, and huge blackboards where you can practice a lecture or work something out with a student or a colleague if you feel like it. And, not to be forgotten, the Stata Center contains the Institute’s best classrooms and lecture halls.

It’s really full of life, like a little city. If you sit down for an hour you might end up greeting a dozen students you know, another dozen faculty walking by, and President Hockfield and Provost Reif picking up something at the coffee bar.

Some say it is the first great signature building on campus since Alvar Aalto and Eero Saaranen did their magic with Baker House, Kresge, and the Chapel more than half a century before. It cost a bundle, it leaks, and the laboratory space on the upper floors deserves a lot of criticism, but as Bill Porter predicted, I don’t notice the plywood anymore and I’m not so irritated by the ugly, awkwardly placed concrete that holds the building up. I actually like the place.

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