August 2009

MIT Flea Market or Swapfest.

MIT Flea Market or Swapfest.

Where can you get an amazing deal on a used PC or electronic doodads  on the third Sunday of the warmish months? At MIT’s legendary flea market or swapfest. At, you can get the scoop on buying or selling electronics, amateur radio components, and computers a few years old with plenty of juice left for most users.

And deals are to be had. The Boston Globe reports August deals of a $250 Dell Latitude laptop with an Intel Pentium 4 chip, a gig of RAM, and a 40-gigabyte hard drive or, for $300, a Hewlett-Packard laptop with a 14-inch screen, an Intel dual-core Centrino processor, a gig of RAM, and an 80-gig hard drive.

Who sponsors this? The MIT Radio Society, in conjunction with the MIT UHF Repeater Association, the MIT Electronics Research Society, and the Harvard Wireless Club, hosts the swapfest on the third Sunday of each month, April through October, at the Albany Street garage on the corner of Albany and Portland streets. Next date: Sept. 20.

coolstandingsYour team is six games back in August…What are their realistic chances of winning the division, winning the wildcard, or just making the playoffs? A couple of MIT alumni can help you there.

Theta Chi buddies Greg Agami ’93 and Sean Walsh’93  started in 2005 when these Red Sox fans thought it would be fun to know exactly what chances the Sox had of making the postseason. Within a few months, was online, simulating the remainder of the MLB season one million times each day to determine the playoff probabilities for every team.

“The model uses a modified version of the Bill James Pythagorean Theorem to determine the chance each team has of beating other teams on its schedule,” Agami says. “Home/away statistics and recent team performance are used as variables for the Monte Carlo simulation, and we even implemented the various tie-breaking rules as needed to determine divisional and wild card winners. We’ve used historical data going back to 1903 to evaluate and optimize the model.”

These days, you can follow football and basketball as well as baseball in the real season and a fantasy pre-season. And this is not even their day jobs—Agami is an engineer at Motorola, while Walsh is CTO at

Chef Gavin Kaysen sauces a dish of Magret de Canard at Cafe Boulud in New York. (© Owen Franken).

Chef Gavin Kaysen sauces a dish of Magret de Canard at Cafe Boulud in New York. (© 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.

MIT has been called the center of a lot of things. In the 1970s, the New York Times recalled its history as a center of military research. The Chicago Tribune speculated about it being the next center of economic thought in the 80s, and in the 90s, another Times article referenced it as the center of computer science. Nobody ever mentioned that MIT was also once the center of winking, until recently.

2009_04_13 tiddlywinksAn interview in the San Diego Reader with alumnus Rick Tucker ’80 reveals that MIT was considered the center of winking, or tiddlywinking, about 35 years ago.

As Tucker tells it, “There have been a number of starts and stops, but in terms of MIT, there were two people who started tiddlywinks. One went to Cornell and one went to MIT. The Cornell player, Severin Drix, found a tiddlywinks set in a box of Trix cereal. The enduring team at MIT started in 1966 with Ferd Wulkan, who was Severin Drix’s friend. They decided to form teams and compete against each other.”

Maybe it sounds trite, but there is a fair amount of strategy involved in Tiddlywinks—as well as a colorful  lexicon. Remember what winks, squopping, and boondocking means? (If you don’t, you can look it up here.)

And if all this talk about Tiddlywinks has you itching to play some yourself, check out game prices on Amazon or eBay.

The carbon counter, seen here on the Deutsche Bank building in New York City, estimates and displays the amount of green house gases in our atmosphere. Photo:

The carbon counter, shown above on the Deutsche Bank building in New York City, estimates and displays the real-time amount of green house gases being released into the atmosphere. Photo:

From NASA’s recent green rocket to apparel brand PACT’s sustainable underwear, “green” inventions are cropping up all over the United States. Curious what the rest of the world is up to? Take a look at’s list, “10 Eco-Inventions From Around the World.”

Keep your eyes peeled for MIT’s contribution—a real-time carbon counter, developed by the Institute’s Global Climate Change Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other highlights on the list include a foot pump phone charger from the UK, and solar powered air purifiers from Singapore.

Cricket is roaring back at MIT. The MIT Cricket Club was founded in 1996 by enthusiastic students who brought the love of the game from their homelands, primarily India and Pakistan. After a few years, this group graduated and the club slumbered. But last year a new generation of cricket-crazed students hosted the first ever cricket tournament at MIT last summer. And they have stayed hot.

Grad students Srinivasan Jagannathan, left, and Ankur Sinha check the taped tennis balls in preparation for a cricket match at MIT. Tech Photo: Noah Spies.

Grad students Srinivasan Jagannathan, left, and Ankur Sinha check the taped tennis balls in preparation for a cricket match at MIT. Tech Photo: Noah Spies.

This summer, ten teams participated in the MIT Cricket Club’s summer tournament, including the MIT Electrons and the MIT Protons; university teams from BU, UMass, Yale, and elsewhere; and community teams such as the Cambridge Cricket Club.

Of course, there has to be an MIT twist. These games were dubbed “MIT tennis ball cricket” because they were played with taped tennis balls. Using taped tennis balls on an Astroturf surface “added to the novelty,” according to a Tech article, which reported the “tense and riveting encounters punctuated by awe-inspiring sixes, intimidating yorkers and bouncers, and match-turning catches.”

Taped tennis balls, adopted in 2008 after thorough investigation, also have a safety feature. Graduate student Ankur Sinha told The Tech that the standard cricket ball, made of leather, could not be used on Astroturf “because it bounced too high and could injure players. The organizers experimented with many different kinds of balls and finally settled on hard tennis balls with tape. This type of ball bounces less than the hard leather ball, but more than a softer tennis ball. The tape reduces friction and makes the ball slide over the surface so that it comes onto the bat well. As with everything else, MIT students brought innovation into cricket as well.”

Check the MIT Cricket Club for stats from past matches plus the details on the upcoming fall MIT Cricket Weekend Series.

Sometimes seemingly simple inventions can make the most impact. A team of MIT undergrads proved this with their 6dot Braille Labeler, a label maker for the blind that replaces current error-prone, clunky systems with an intuitive and reliable design. The instrument is a lifesaver for individuals who rely on Braille to differentiate among pill bottles, for example, or CDs or paperwork. The device won the nation’s People’s Choice Award from a public vote in the James Dyson Award competition.

The contest encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers from 21 countries with a simple challenge: design something that solves a problem. Watch the labeler in action below and learn more about the product.

The team, supported by Course 6 Senior Lecturer Christopher Terman SM ’78, EE ’78, PhD ’83, advanced to the first round of shortlisted inventions, but did not make it to the next round of 20 finalists. However, they do have two prototypes, developed a business plan, filed a provisional patent, and have met with potential manufacturers. The overall winner of £10,000 each for the designer and his or her school will be announced next month.

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