MIT shuts down its $50 million pool due to bacterial contamination

In a comment response to an earlier blog posting, I mentioned that MIT didn’t provide soap in the showers for its almost-new $50 million Olympic-size swimming pool.  I thought this was kind of disgusting because it means that people don’t take soap showers before swimming (in theory someone could make an extra trip back and forth to a locker, but I haven’t seen it done).  I also figured that if the small town swimming pools on the Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory could arrange to get soap delivered for their liquid soap dispensers, MIT could too.  I went so far as to email the head of the athletics department at MIT, offering to pay for the soap for the entire gym out of my own pocket and arrange for its delivery (I figured if Motel 6 can afford those little soap bars, I could too).  She declined my offer and said that they aren’t interested in providing soap even if an alumnus pays for it, but asked me to give her department money anyway that they would use for other stuff.  This was just a couple of weeks ago.

What did I see when I went to the Z-Center gym today?  A big sign that the pool is closed for awhile because they have to fix the water chemistry.  I asked one of the staff members and she explained that it was not a scheduled closure:  “The bacteria got out of control.”

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Ken Thompson abandoned computer nerdism for flight instructing… who else?

Ken Thompson, one of the three main guys behind Unix and C, is now a full-time flight instructor, according to 

Can we come up with more examples of great computer nerds who are now primarily flight instructors?

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Who wants to go for a helicopter ride? (Boston area Dutch auction)

I seem to have inspired myself with that last posting.  This blog posting and its comments section will serve as a Dutch auction for a helicopter ride.  The terms of the ride are as specified in

with the exception that I need another 45 hours or so before I can take students to satisfy an insurance requirement in this particular Robinson R22.  I.e., I can do a photo flight, I can and have instructed in other helicopters, I can take friends around, but I can’t leave the left side controls in and let you fly.  (I do have a commercial helicopter license, a helicopter instructor license, and about 255 hours of total helicopter time).

Let’s do this as a Dutch auction, with 100% of the donations to  People bid in the comments section (include email address please in the cleartext of the comment; this wonderful Manila software does not provide any way for me to recover your email address from your registration info).  I will give people rides in descending order of bid amount.  Students, bless their impoverished hearts, will get a 2X factor applied to their bid (so a student who bids $100 will go before a working person who bids $199).  When I hit the magic 300-hour mark, I’ll stop giving rides (will be busy instructing customers of East Coast Aero Club then), unless there are unsatisfied bids of at least $250 ($125 for students).

I will pay for all of the gas, maintenance, and other expenses of the helicopter.  The dogs at SARA will get all of the money that you donate (give it directly to them via their Web site please; I don’t want to handle any checks).

So… for the comments section… please provide your name, phone number, email address, amount of bid, good times to fly (if you are a 9-5 slave, say so).  If you want to bid anonymously, send me email with the same info with the subject line “helicopter dutch auction bid”.

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Anyone running a charity auction? Need an airplane or helicopter ride?

I’ve been donating rides in my airplane and helicopter to charities with good results (between $400 and $1200 raised for each ride).  I’m wondering if anyone among the readers has a local Boston charity and would like to auction some rides in my aircraft.  If so, please contact me via email.  I have prepared some pages that explain the rides to donors:


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New article: Why are there comparatively few women in science?

Here in Cambridge, the discussion about Larry Summers just won’t die, so I’ve completed a draft of a new article…

Please comment/correct.  Thanks in advance.

[Update:  The Chronicle of Higher Education is hosting a discussion on the departure of Summers.  Visit tomorrow (Thursday) at 2 pm.]

[Update 2:  An MIT professor reminds me that these thoughts are not entirely original…. ]

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Why I love teaching flying more than software engineering

Recently, I’ve done three kinds of teaching:

  • how to fly airplanes on instruments and helicopters VFR
  • third grade mathematics (to 11th graders at the local high school)
  • software engineering for Internet applications

I’ve got an S.B. in math from MIT and I’ve built dozens of RDBMS-based Internet applications, so my comparative advantage is largest in teaching math and teaching software engineering.  Yet I enjoy flight instruction the most, even though I can give any of my students a list of 10 better flight instructors.


I figured it out today.  The students at the local high school aren’t interested in math.  They don’t care that an equation corresponds to a set of points in the x-y plane; they just want to graduate and/or pass some sort of test.  Most computer programmers, including a fair number of my students, aren’t that interested in a code review from an expert.  They are satisfied with mediocrity, a warm cubicle, and a steady salary.

Pilots, on the other hand, want to be better.  They understand that being better means staying alive, they recognize that they could do better, and they are eager for feedback and suggestions.  So even if I’m not a great flight instructor, the students’ desire to learn makes it a great experience.

I can understand why high school students don’t care.  Having looked at the curriculum, it is hard to imagine why they would care given that the unionized civil servants (teachers) don’t bother to motivate the material in any way.

Why doesn’t the average CS major or software engineer care, though?  Confronted with an expert such as Jin S. Choi, author of (a one-month part-time project), you’d think they’d say “I will work day and night until I am as good as that guy.”  But they seem to think that they can get by on 1/10th of Jin’s capability, which has historically been true though with offshoring might not be anymore, and they are more resentful than grateful if you try to push them in Jin’s direction.

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