Talking books used in Ghana's schools.

Talking books used in Ghana's schools.

Good intentions rarely change the world, but today with a click of the mouse you can take action. The creator of Gmail and Adsense at Google is pledging to give money to deserving nonprofits based on online voting by supporters. At top contender is Literacy Bridge, an all-volunteer nonprofit started by MIT alumni, which is using hand-held audio computers to boost literacy and improve life in rural Ghana.

Executive Director Cliff Schmidt ’92 started Literary Bridge’s Talking Books project after spending six weeks in rural Ghana in 2007. Supported by individual donations and thousands of volunteer hours, the group completed R&D, produced 100 Talking Book devices, and began feasibility studies in January 2009. Just six months later, you can now check the Literacy Bridge blog to see and hear how the devices have been used to improve farming methods and health care—and school kids love it.

Talking Books.

Talking Books.

A recent article in describes the device as “a low-cost (<$10 US) audio compute designed to help spread information within impoverished rural communities, while helping illiterate people learn to read.”

You can vote on the Literacy Bridge site, learn about Schmidt and other alumni volunteers,  and investigate this interactive philanthropic event.

Newly discovered in Georgia. Photo: Courtesy University of Georgia.

Newly discovered in Georgia. Photo: Courtesy University of Georgia.

Jennifer Frazer SM ’04, a science writer living in Boulder, CO, set out to be a scientist, “but like many science writers, realized in horror that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a windowless lab staring at racks of Eppendorf tubes filled with clear liquids.” You can benefit from her lab exit by reading the newest entry on the Slice of MIT blogroll–the Artful Amoeba, her commentary on the wonders of biological diversity.

A recent post, “How Many Salamanders Can Dance on the Head of a Pin,” describes the 2007 discovery of the tiny patch-nosed salamander (pictured). “What’s a Sea Pig” gives a short description, “a cross between a star-nosed mole, a naked mole rat, and a hallucinogen-induced, Cthulu-themed nightmare” then links the reader on to the real definition.

Read Frazer’s profile in Technology Review for her scientific journey, but, in brief, she earned degrees from Cornell in biology and plant pathology, then a master’s in science writing from MIT. She worked on a small newspaper in Wyoming, winning a 2007 AAAS Science Journalism Award for uncovering a poisonous lichen as the cause of mysterious elk deaths. You can hear her four-minute acceptance speech. These days she’s living in Boulder, where she works as a science writer for a large science nonprofit—and roams the countryside discovering amazing bits of life on Earth.

Want to add your commentary on personal or professional matters to the Slice of MIT blogroll? Just email your name, blog name, URL, and short description to

Wednesday's Practice at the Reading Rowing Club boathouse. From left to right ( from bow to stern, then coxswain): Chuck Roth ‘66, Robert Lentz ‘98, John Malarkey ‘71, W. David Lee ‘69, Dusty Ordway ‘73, Bruce N. Anderson ‘69, Bruce Parker ‘69, Don Saer ‘70, and Willie Vicens ‘70.

July 8 practice at the Reading Rowing Club boathouse. From left to right ( from bow to stern, then coxswain): Chuck Roth ‘66, Robert Lentz ‘98, John Malarkey ‘71, W. David Lee ‘69, Dusty Ordway ‘73, Bruce N. Anderson ‘69, Bruce Parker ‘69, Don Saer ‘70, and Willie Vicens ‘70.

A shell and oars are the competitive tools that a nine-member alumni crew will  use in the UK’s Henley Veteran Regatta–some for the fourth time. Nearly the same crew  represented MIT at Henley 40 years ago. They compete today, July 10, and if they win, they compete tomorrow as well. Check the results of their E8 event online.

“In 1969, we won our first three races and lost in the semifinals,” says Bruce N. Anderson ’69. “In 1989, four of us returned to Henley and raced again. We got creamed (by crews 20 years younger than us!) In 1999, all nine of us returned to Cambridge to row in the Head of the Charles (our 30th anniversary); we’ve been racing every year since at the Head, with one to three ‘spares’ replacing oarsmen of the original crew that couldn’t make it that year. In 2003, most of the original crew returned to Henley to race again. We lost in the finals.”

The Henley Veteran Regatta, hosted at Upper Thames, is an internationally recognized event for veterans or masters crews, held on the weekend following the Henley Royal Regatta.

The crew after losing to Durham Boat Club (England).

The crew after losing to Durham Boat Club (England) July 10.

“One of the highlights of our university experience was racing in the Thames Cup at Henley in 1969,” John Malarkey ’71. “This year, we are all over 60 but for one young lad in his 30s. (He will have to pull extra hard, since he brings our average age down such that we are in category E rather than F!)  We will be coming from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington DC, Ohio, and Surrey.  Reading Rowing Club has very graciously hosted us and provided us with equipment, and we hope to do their colours proud, as well as our own.”

MIT’s connection to the regatta began even earlier. Read an archived Technology Review article that describes the 1954 and 1955 results when two MIT lightweight crews  won back-to-back international championships.

Update July 13 Alas, our guys lost. “We raced a fine and fast race but they were finer and faster,” says Anderson.

MIT Sloan Alumni Magazine

MIT Sloan Alumni Magazine

Why do humans retain highly detailed information when they experience catastrophes? In the MIT Sloan Alumni Magazine, business and organizational leaders reflect on the crises of the past and how the lessons learned may help in today’s troubled times.

Meet a U.S. Navy flight surgeon who worked with Blue Angels flight crews then came to MIT Sloan to become an entrepreneur in the medical devices industry.

Thanks to an Annual Fund-supported Diversity Fellowship, Malaika Thorne MBA ’09 translated her experience in the developing world into energy and sustainability studies at MIT Sloan.

Find out how Sloan influenced Ronald A. Kurtz ’54, who built and diversified a tungsten alloy company, retired and started another company aligned with his passion for photography, and has been an important part of MIT for 59 years.

Sujitpan Bao Lamsam SM ’87, born in Thailand then educated in western finance practices, was an the ideal candidate to help lead a Thai bank out of the Asian financial crisis.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

Physicist Richard Feynman ’39 was a Nobel laureate and a witty lecturer, which is saying a lot for a guy whose topics ranged from the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium to particle physics. Undeniably brilliant, he was credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. Though he died in 1988, his words have a new life.

Some of his lively lectures and chunks of his biography are available online in Scribd, which describes itself as the “largest social publishing company in the world—the website where more than 60 million people each month discover and share original writings and documents.” After a free sign in, you can join them.

The Meaning of It All,” three lectures given in 1963, comment on the impact of science outside of science. He teases apart issues that arise from science defined in three ways: as a method for finding things out, the resulting body of knowledge, and what is done with that knowledge.

In “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” Feynman’s 1959 talk to the American Physical Society, he introduces the concept of nanotechnology.

What do you care what other people will think?” is an as told-to-chronicle of Feynman’s work on the presidential commission investigation into the 1986 Challenger disaster. This engaging personal narrative digs into the technical and management problems that triggered the tragedy.

In a highly informal survey during Tech Reunions last weekend, Association Director of Communications Maggy Bruzelius asked alumni what three words they associate with MIT today. You’ll find them below.

Excellence, prestige, diversity: Wilfred Graves ’94

Opens many doors: Aarti Shukla ’94

The future, work, brains: Jim Monk ’64, SM ’71

Amazing, proud, world significant: Malcolm Green ’50, SM ’51

A great place: John Matthews ’44, SM ’47

Engineering, management, entrepreneurship: Michael Krasner ’74, SM ’75, EE ’75, PhD ’79

Energy, biology, engineering: Jean Hammond SM ’86

Making a difference, stepping stone: Bonny Kellermann ’72

Innovative, challenging, inspirational: Paula Elster ’74

Bigger, better, not cheaper; no longer battleship grey: Jon Tepper ’74, SM ’75

Impressive, encouraging, wow: Jean Mozolic ’74, SM ’76

More women, sterile, eek! (cost): Tom Howard ’74

Cleaner, brighter, cooler: Seth Powsner ’74

What three words would you use to describe MIT today?

Please click the comment button to share your words.

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?