May 2009

crewBy Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

Most mornings, at about 6:45 or so, I head into MIT on Memorial Drive. The men and women rowers are already out. They are out in freezing rain. They are out with lights in the dark of winter. They get some relief, I suppose, when the Charles River freezes over, but they are back as soon as a little patch of water appears. You can’t help but be amazed by their incredible dedication.

This year, the MIT men’s heavyweight crew and the MIT women’s lightweight crew earned invitations to the IRA National Championships in Sacramento, so the seniors will miss graduation next week. Instead, they had a sort of in-lieu-of-graduation ceremony at the MIT boathouse yesterday.

Luke Urban, co-captain of the heavyweights and a student in two of my classes, asked me to come hear his speech. When Luke finishes his MEng at MIT next year, he thinks he will head for Oxford or Cambridge, where he can continue to row competitively. I thought if I went to his speech, I might learn something about why those rowers are so intense.

I did. Luke said it’s all about working hard knowing that the guy next to you is counting on you. It’s about never giving up. Suffering together on the worst of the grim, cold, early mornings completes the bond.

Come to think of it, crew is a particularly intense version of MIT undergraduate life. Suffering together through those despised problem sets, quizzes, project reports, finals, and sleepless nights for four years creates a bond that lasts forever.

A large family's drying underwear in Asturias, Spain. (© Owen Franken)

A large family's drying underwear in Asturias, Spain. (© Owen Franken)

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

By Louis Alexander, Director of Alumni Education

London alumni gather at the View from the Top event.

London alumni gather at the January event.

A really cool thing has been happening this year as the Alumni Association has been turning the spotlight onto leading alumni professionals in a program called View from the Top (VFT). At events in Boston, London, and New York, panels of accomplished alumni shared personal viewpoints as a way of stimulating discussion. In London, for example, speakers shared insights from the top levels of finance, climate change, and security operations. Given that the audience is made up mostly of MIT alumni, the discussions are rich and vibrant—what you’d expect in a room full of some of the world’s most adept problem solvers. And the buzz kept going and going in the receptions afterward.

Alumni came in droves. These were standing-room only events. But if you missed them, you can still see alumni in action in a video summary of the London program. You can also see  several of the New York presentations and view photos of the Boston, London, and New York events (click Media Gallery).

Here’s the question now—how can we keep some of this high-value conversation going? How can alumni build on these events to create a high-energy alumni network? Are alumni interested in organizing themselves into small networking or discussion groups built around topics like finance? How can we use online social networking platforms to connect between these larger events?

Neri Oxman creates 21st century materials based on natural structures.

Neri Oxman creates 21st century materials based on natural structures.

The cellular structure of a bone or microscopic images of a butterfly wing are the types of natural structures that Neri Oxman studies then translates into 21st century construction materials and processes. This architect, artist, and Media Lab PhD student regularly crosses the boundaries of the biological world, material structures, and geometry.

And there’s lots of buzz about her work. Just named to Fast Company‘s ‘100 Most Creative People in Business’. Art works displayed at MoMA, the International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Seville, and the 2008 Beijing Biennial. Won multiple awards including the Earth Award for Future Crucial Design where a video, FAB.REcology, describes her goals. One project is a new version of the rapid prototyping 3-D printers used to replicate objects whose texture and resilience vary across the object.

Learn more on her blog at materialecology, her interdisciplinary research initiative focusing on design at the intersection of architecture, engineering, computation, and ecology.

John Szatkowski, left, being interviewed in Iraqi.

John Szatkowski, left, being interviewed in Iraqi.

MIT alumni work in far flung places, but a deployment in Iraq to work on power infrastructure deserves note–especially since the alum is usually managing submarine overhaul. Yet U.S. Navy Commander John Szatkowski MNG ’00, SM ’00 headed to the desert seven months ago to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division as the project manager for the $176M Qudas Power Plant expansion, about 25 miles north of the capital.

On May 21, Szatkowski participated in an audio bloggers roundtable with one of his Iraqi engineers, describing the project basics from equipment to energy and water sources. Part of the experience, he said, was introducing Iraqi engineers and contractors to the U.S. style of project management, i.e. “get the job done.” You can also read his Pentagon Postcard for a update on the recently completed project.

“The good news is, I’m going to be going home with the Iraqi people having an additional 200 megawatts of generation capability  on their grid,” Szatkowski noted. He will return briefly to his Portsmouth Naval Yard base before a move to Washington D.C. where he’ll work with the Naval Sea Systems Command.

Roundtable Factoid: Iraqi homes now receive about eight hours of electricity a day.

the artistry of prehistoric painters in the cave of Lascaux

the artistry of prehistoric painters in the cave of Lascaux

A group of 17 MIT travelers are heading to France – specifically to the Dordogne, a region located in South West France between the Loire Valley and the High Pyrénées.  One of the highlights of our trip will be a tour at Lascaux II, a replica of Lascaux, a setting of complex caves famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings which are estimated to be 16,000 years old. We travel from May 29 to June 5. Stay tuned…

The Lemelson-MIT Program's game Brain Drain allows two players to face off or a single player to match wits with the computer.

The Lemelson-MIT Program's game Brain Drain allows two players to face off or a single player to match wits with the computer.

What’s the shortest path from Babbage’s Difference Engine to the cell phone? How about from vulcanized rubber to the World Wide Web? Play the Invention Connection game on the Lemelson-MIT Program’s Web site and choose a succession of related inventions to get from one to the other in as few moves as possible.

Or, try your hand at Which Came First and ponder such choices as neon or fluorescent? The stapler or the paper clip? Dry cleaning or blue jeans? Both of these games are inspired by the program’s book Inventing Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse.

Feel like some hardcore trivia? Go head to head with another person or the computer in Brain Drain and answer questions such as What product, invented by Luther Burbank, helped Ireland overcome the potato famine of 1840-1860? or Which inventor revolutionized the aluminum can through the use of the pop-top?

You’ll have to play the games to find the answers.

Madness at Mokuba 1Amid flashing strobe lights and fluorescent baths of color, members of the MIT Dance Theater Ensemble performed the work of professors Ian Condry and Thomas DeFrantz on Friday May 22, at a three-day anime convention in Boston.

The piece, called Live Action Anime 2009: Madness at Mokuba, focused on a mysterious, reality-altering illness called VIRTIGO that was felling students at the Mokuba Institute of Technology, where teams were preparing for a giant robot battle competition. As the sickness spread some students grew suspicious of a correlation between the disease and a spate of of undocumented Japanese gamer arrests. Hummer-sized robots, a Japanese schoolgirl, and a vengeful deathgod graced the stage throughout different parts of the story.

In this short video clip below, VIRTIGO sickens several people:

After the performance, the 15-member crew packed their bags and readied themselves for a pre-dawn flight to Japan the next morning. There they will perform at the Tokyo University of the Arts and continue to explore different facets of Japanese anime culture and the side of globalization that, as Condry notes, is not driven by large corporations and governments, but fan activities and grassroots digital media.

 If you happen to be in Japan this week, check out the performances that will be held at the Kitasenju campus at 7pm on May 29 and 30th.

Natalie Schull studies the neuroscience of gambling.

Natalie Schull teaches in the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society.

The gambling industry wants patrons to “play to extinction,” says an MIT researcher whose decade-long research describes how the industry is using technology to create machines and environments that entrance players to follow loss with more loss.

Assistant professor Natasha Schull underscores how addictive today’s sophisticated gambling machines have become. Her conclusions describe how closely guarded, proprietary mathematical algorithms and immersive, interactive technology are used to keep people gambling.

“I see Las Vegas as a kind of laboratory where experiments are going on between people and machines,” says Schull, a cultural anthropologist whose book on gambling, Machine Zone: Technology Design and Gambling Addiction in Las Vegas, is due out in 2010.

Schull contends that gamblers enter a trance where they lose a sense of time, space, and physical embodiment and are consumed by the spinning numbers, symbols, or electronic card hands before their eyes. Using magnetic-stripe player cards instead of coins, touch screens, ergonomically designed seats all increase “time on device,” as game manufacturers call it, she says.

Baker House alumni reminisce over old photos.

Baker House alumni reminisce over old photos.

Whether it’s your reunion year or not, if you’re going to be in town June 4-7, you can still enjoy the camaraderie and excitement of Tech Reunions. Here are three ways:

  • Reunion Row
    Spend a Sunday morning on the banks of the Charles River.

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