That’s right. The Alumni Association is getting springy with a highly official Peeps contest. Yes, there will be prizes.

All you have to do is find some Peeps and an old shoebox. Construct a diorama with the Peeps. Make sure it has something to do with MIT. We don’t care if it’s an MIT banner in the background or brass rats on the Peeps’ fluffy heads. Just make sure we see a little MIT somewhere in the diorama.

To enter:

1. Take two photos of your  diorama.

2. Post them in the MIT Peeps 2010 Flickr pool or email the photos to lgold@mit.edu.

3. Deadline is May 5th!

Don’t be all “I’m too old for this Peeps nonsense!” Have you seen what the Washington Post’s readers have done? Seriously, check this out:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/gallery/2009/04/10/GA2009041001969.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/gallery/2008/03/21/GA2008032101983.html?sid=ST2009070901266
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/gallery/070402/GAL-07Apr02-69859/index.html

FAQ:

Q: You said it was highly official. What’s so official about this?

A: We have official swag.

The First Place Prize will be a sparkling, hand-blown glass PEEPS® Chick with Swarovski crystal eyes.  These are handmade at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, PA.  The glass PEEPS® Chick will be packed in a Just Born Gift Box with PEEPS® and other Just Born candy brands.

The Second Place Prize Package will be a PEEPS® Tote Bag and baseball cap also packed in the Just Born Gift Box with PEEPS® and other Just Born candy brands.

Q: Can I cover my Peeps in LEDs and turn the shoebox into a quadruped robot?

A: Sure, as long as we see the letters M I T somewhere in there.

Q: How do I add to your Flickr pool?

A: Join Flickr. Then join the MIT Peeps 2010 group. Once you’re a member of the group, you’ll see a link that says “Add something.” For more questions about adding photos to groups, please visit Flickr’s FAQ page.

Important note: Please be aware that Peeps manufacturer Just Born has permission to post winning dioramas images on its PEEPS® site.

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

When I showed up in 1961, there had been a tuition riot the year before. Tuition had gone from $1,200 to $1,400, a hearty 16% rise. My house bill at ΦΔΘ was $110/month. So the total, rounding up, was, $2,500. It was a lot of money, especially for my family, which was too well off for me to qualify for financial aid, but not well enough off to handle the $2,500 without considerable sacrifice.

Now tuition, room, board, and fees have just topped $50,000, but of course you have to adjust for inflation, perhaps by using the handy inflation calculator provided by the US Department of Labor. With that adjustment, tuition, room, and board ought to be about $18,000.

So relative to the rest of the economy, MIT’s educational productivity has lagged behind by a factor of about 2.75 over the past 50 years.

I’m not really surprised. The last great technical contribution to education was the development of fast, cheap copying machines and before that the invention of the printing press in 1440. I don’t count computers, because I think that, for the most part, they just make us stupid. Education remains labor intensive out of proportion to just about everything else.

Also, there is the matter of growing administration. A while ago, the sometimes acerbic Philip Greenspun ’82, SM 93, PhD 99 poked around and found that in 1969, MIT employed 962 faculty and 622 administrators. During the past twenty years, the faculty has been stable at about 1,000, an insignificant 4% more than the 1969 number, while administration has grown from about 1,000 to about 1,800, almost three times the 1969 number and a presumably larger multiple of the 1961 number. Interestingly, in 1961, administrators had no productivity-multiplying computers; the only computer was the IBM 7090, in building 26, with impressive tape drives, shown off behind large glass windows along the hallway.

Like most MIT people, I like to look at the numbers. To graduate in four years, you have to take eight subjects a year. My fall subject has two lectures, two recitations, and one tutorial in each of fourteen weeks. Subtracting out holidays, quizzes, and short weeks, that leaves about 60 units of instruction. $50,000 / 8 / 60 ≅ $100, which is about the price of an excellent ticket for a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. If I flatter myself and suppose that my lectures are twice as valuable as the other forms of contact, and note that they last 50 minutes, not 60, then a little algebra says they cost each student about $175 per hour.  The best tickets at the Metropolitan Opera and good tickets at Rolling Stones Concerts cost about that per hour.

That’s why I think I’m obligated to practice my lectures more than ever. Opera singers and the Stones practice a lot for their expensive performances, so I figure I should, too.

A fountain in Rome

A fountain in Rome (© 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.

Chris Colombo, Dean for Student Life

There’s a saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. If that’s true, there’s a poem going on at MIT right now.

W1 First Floor Plan

W1 First Floor Plan

The first line happened nearly a century ago when MIT planned its shift across the river from Boston to Cambridge. In 1912, George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, made the move possible with a $2.5 million donation to fund the construction of the main academic complex.

It was a marvelous, historic gift—but Eastman declined to take public credit for it. Instead, because Eastman insisted on anonymity, MIT President Richard Maclaurin identified the donor only as “Smith” or “Mr. Smith.”

Not even the members of the Corporation knew the source of the millions. For years, no one was in on the secret except President Maclaurin, his wife, and his secretary.

Indeed, Mr. Smith was the subject of national speculation. According to a 1932 article in The Tech, two other New York millionaires, each of whom suspected the other, had a dinner in which they cagily danced around the issue, “but separated without having discovered any secrets and with enlarged respect for the bluffing power of each other.”

And the need for secrecy created awkward moments for President Maclaurin. In 1916, an ambassador from MIT boarded a train to upstate New York to ask Eastman for money to support the Department of Chemistry. An embarrassed Maclaurin sent a hasty note. “I have just heard by accident that Mr. A. D. Little, a member of the Corporation of the Institute, is going to Rochester today … I could not dissuade him from his project without revealing your identity as a benefactor,” he wrote to Eastman.

Eastman did meet with Little and agreed to donate $300,000 although, perhaps to obscure his role as Mr. Smith, he made the gift public. Ultimately, Eastman gave substantial sums of his fortune to higher education, with the University of Rochester as the largest benefactor. MIT received nearly $20 million—most of it anonymously as Mr. Smith.

So why is history rhyming at MIT? Because similarly modest donors continue to shape our campus today.

The grande dame of the dormitory system, Old Ashdown House, presides over the gateway to MIT at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Memorial Drive. We have a new Ashdown House now: NW35, which houses graduate students in the northwest corner of campus.

W1, as we now call the majestic residence, has been gutted and is in the midst of a complete renovation. When the financial crisis threatened to bring work to a halt two years ago, anonymous gifts ensured that the project moved forward. To date, unnamed benefactors have given $20 million—crucial funding at a critical moment.

Eastman’s generosity laid the foundation for MIT’s academic buildings at the start of the last century. We may not know the identities of the current set of “Smiths,” but we can be certain that they are helping to set the cornerstone for residential life for the next century.

Whoever they are, every Mr. or Ms. Smith has our thanks.

Happy April Fools’ Day! A few weeks ago we announced a Hacks at Home video contest and we’re please to present the winner.

Drum roll

Longtime appreciator and first-time hacker Jim Mottonen PhD ’89, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics & Optical Science at UNC-Charlotte. Mottonen turned the whole endeavor into a spirited family adventure, complete with code names for all of the mission’s participants. Mottonen (“Gristle”), his kids, Nathanael (“Secret Sauce”) and Frieda (“Fierce Monkey”), and friend Ryan Oliver (“Agent Oregano”) showed the UNC–Charlotte campus what this MIT tradition is all about.

“Hacking turned out to be quite an exhilarating family enterprise, like geocaching with an edge,” Mottonen says. “My kids and I were so inspired that we now have a hacking queue set up with future projects.”

Parents take note! You can add hacking to that list of fun together-time activities. There are only so many make-your-own-pottery studios and IMAX movies and putt-putt courses you can hit. Am I right?

But of course, nothing goes off without a hitch. Says Mottonen:

“The actual hack day events turned out fraught with unanticipated problems, like most projects. The steak blew off at first, until I borrowed a step stool from a nearby lab to secure it to the pickaxe. The video from my daughter’s camera could have been clearer, and I forgot to show her contribution of the giant bite-mark revealing a medium-rare cross-section. We put it up around 7:00 a.m. and by 11:00 a.m., the steak itself was gone to parts unknown. Perhaps someone decided to ‘claim’ it?”

Mottonen did alert the campus police of his undertaking beforehand with the following message sent from email username “ribeye”:

“The giant steak and lettering at the 29 entrance to campus is a harmless prank in the tradition of MIT hacking. If it survives the day, it will be removed tomorrow morning. No actual rib eyes were harmed in the making of this hack.”

Photograph of Mike Jones, a vendor, showing up at the lot with his big white dog named Leah.

This photo, of vendor Mike Jones arriving at an antiques show/flea market with his dog, was taken by an MIT student in the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism class. Click photo to view more.

By now, you’ve likely heard of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) phenomenon. But an OCW newsletter I received last week put it into perspective nicely. It reports that according to the OCW Consortium,

  • In one year (2008-2009), 4,727 courses were made available online—an increase of 58%.
  • More than 250 institutions have published some 13,000 free courses online.
  • Courses are available in more than eight languages.

MIT’s OCW is always updating and adding courses. Among the new offerings:

And, OCW has improved the supplemental resources section, which includes online textbooks, multimedia content, image galleries, and exams and assignments (with and without solutions), among other things—all categorized by discipline. So if you’re looking for a textbook for calculus, fluid dynamics, or electromagnetic field theory; video demonstrations in lasers and fiber optics; or examples of student work from intro writing subjects, you’re in luck.

Be sure to check out student photos from the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism class. You’ll see a day in the life of a Boston Latin history teacher, how scuba divers celebrate Easter, and the real story and characters behind an antiques show and flea market.

MIT has a photogenic campus, what with Stata, the Dome, and the Charles. Today, however, Slice wants to feature an image from campus that is unique, not just in subject matter but also in technique. Several years ago photographer Greg Peverill-Conti captured this shot of an administrative building at MIT that was being torn down. He recently went back and reprocessed it, using a tilt-shift effect.

Peverill-Conti says he’s hoping to produce a series of tilt-shifted MIT photos. You can try out the technique yourself, using either Photoshop, an iPhone app, or a good old (expensive) tilt-shift lens.

If you want to try the Photoshop route, check out this tutorial on tilt-shift photography.