Why are women lumped in with the nonbinary?

Happy Women’s Equality Day.

Universities have substantial full-time credentialed bureaucracies to deal with gender issues and certainly MIT’s is second to none. Here’s an article from back in April 2023 about an MIT facility that was formerly exclusive to those who identified as “women”… “A home away from home”:

The Margaret Cheney Room remains indispensable after nearly 140 years.

The Cheney Room has been an oasis for MIT women ever since the original one opened on the Boston campus in 1884, when women at the Institute were scarce. Today’s enrollment numbers are much more balanced than in early days, with women making up 48% of the undergraduate and 39% of the graduate student body. But there’s still a need for dedicated spaces on campus where women and nonbinary students can gather, says Lauryn McNair, assistant dean of LBGTQ+ and Women and Gender Services at MIT.

“Women’s centers and spaces are still important, even in a changing landscape of gender,” says McNair, explaining that the space today is a haven for both women and nonbinary people. “At its foundation, a women’s space is built upon the core concepts of community through safety and support, access, affirmation and recognition, and intersectionality. I hope for students to feel at home in the Cheney Room and that this is a space for them that celebrates and affirms who they are so they can thrive at MIT.”

Updates include reconfiguring old rooms to create new, more useful spaces and adding new furniture, fresh paint, and contemporary art that was created by female and nonbinary artists. After getting input from students, McNair chose the artworks to reflect how they see themselves in the world today.

Why do the experts force “women” to share with 72 additional gender IDs recognized by Science? Instead of one room that excludes “men” but admits people identifying with every other gender, why not 73 rooms that exclude men, each of the 73 rooms devoted to a single gender ID? How are women “equal” on Women’s Equality Day if they are lumped together with 72 other gender IDs while “men” are considered a special class (admittedly for the purpose of exclusion)

Here’s Lauren McNair’s bio page:


  • Real World Divorce (sometimes “equality” before the law means winning 97-98 percent of family court lawsuits; see the Massachusetts and New Hampshire chapters, for example, and associated Census Bureau data on the gender IDs of those who’ve won custody of cash-yielding children)
  • Title IX, which “prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government” (but, apparently, federally-funded MIT can have facilities exclusively for some gender IDs without having any separate-but-equal facility for those who identify as “men”)
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Remembering Ed Fredkin

The New York Times published a thoughtful obituary for Ed Fredkin, an early MIT computer scientist.

I met Ed when I was an undergraduate at MIT (during the last Ice Age). He is quoted in the NYT as optimistic about artificial intelligence:

“It requires a combination of engineering and science, and we already have the engineering,” he Fredkin said in a 1977 interview with The New York Times. “In order to produce a machine that thinks better than man, we don’t have to understand everything about man. We still don’t understand feathers, but we can fly.”

When I talked to him, circa 1980, the VAX 11/780 with 8 MB of RAM was the realistic dream computer (about $500,000). I took the position that AI research was pointless because computers would need to be 1,000 times more powerful before they could do anything resembling human intelligence. Ed thought that a VAX might have sufficient power to serve as a full-blown AI if someone discovered the secret to AI. “Computers and AI research should be licensed,” he said, “because a kid in Brazil might discover a way to build an artificial intelligence and would be able to predict the stock market and quickly become the richest and most powerful person on the planet.”

[The VAX could process approximately 1 million instructions per second and, as noted above, held 8 MB of RAM. I asked ChatGPT to compare a modern NVIDIA GPU:

For example, a GPU from the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30 series, like the RTX 3080 released in 2020, is capable of up to 30 teraflops of computing power in single-precision operations. That is 30 trillion floating-point operations per second.

So if you were to compare a VAX 11/780’s 1 MIPS (million instructions per second) to an RTX 3080’s 30 teraflops (trillion floating-point operations per second), the modern GPU is many orders of magnitude more powerful. It’s important to remember that the types of operations and workloads are quite different, and it’s not quite as simple as comparing these numbers directly. But it gives you an idea of the vast increase in computational power over the past few decades.

Also note that GPUs and CPUs have very different architectures and are optimized for different types of tasks. A GPU is designed for high-throughput parallel processing, which is used heavily in graphics rendering and scientific computing, among other things. A CPU (like the VAX 11/780) is optimized for a wide range of tasks and typically excels in tasks requiring complex logic and low latency.

Those final qualifiers remind me a little bit of ChatGPT’s efforts to avoid direct comparisons between soccer players identifying as “men” and soccer players identifying as “women”. If we accept that an NVIDIA card is the minimum for intelligence, it looks as though Fredkin and I were both wrong. The NVIDIA card has roughly 1000X the RAM, but perhaps 1 million times the computing performance. What about NVIDIA’s DGX H100, a purpose-built AI machine selling for about the same nominal price today as the VAX 11/780? That is spec’d at 32 petaFLOPs or about 32 billion times as many operations as the old VAX.]

I had dropped out of high school and he out of college, so Ed used to remind me that he was one degree ahead.

“White heterosexual man flying airplane” is apparently a dog-bites-man story, so the NYT fails to mention Fredkin’s aviation activities after the Air Force. He was a champion glider pilot and, at various times, he owned at least the following aircraft: Beechcraft Baron (twin piston), Piper Malibu, Cessna Citation Jet. “The faster the plane that you own, the more hours you’ll fly every year,” he pointed out. Readers may recall that the single-engine pressurized-to-FL250 Malibu plus a letter from God promising engine reliability is my dream family airplane. Fredkin purchased one of the first Lycoming-powered Malibus, a purported solution to the engine problems experienced by owners of the earlier Continental-powered models. Fredkin’s airplane caught fire on the ferry trip from the Piper factory to Boston.

One of the things that Ed did with his planes was fly back and forth to Pittsburgh where he was an executive at a company making an early personal computer, the Three Rivers PERQ (1979).

The obit fails to mention one of Fredkin’s greatest business coups: acquiring a $100 million (in pre-pre-Biden 1982 money) TV station in Boston for less than $10 million. The FCC was stripping RKO of some licenses because it failed “to disclose that its parent, the General Tire and Rubber Company, was under investigation for foreign bribery and for illegal domestic political contributions.” (NYT 1982) Via some deft maneuvering, including bringing in a Black partner who persuaded the FCC officials appointed by Jimmy Carter that the new station would offer specialized programming for inner-city Black viewers, Fredkin managed to get the license for Channel 7. RKO demanded a substantial payment for its physical infrastructure, however, including studios and transmitters. Ed cut a deal with WGBH, the local public TV station, in which WNEV-TV, a CBS affiliate, would share facilities in exchange for a fat annual rent. Ed used this deal as leverage to negotiate a ridiculously low price with RKO. To avoid embarrassment, however, RKO asked if they could leave about $15 million in the station’s checking account and then have the purchase price be announced as $22 million (71 million Bidies adjusted via CPI) for the physical assets. The deal went through and Channel 7 never had to crowd in with WGBH.

[The Carter-appointed FCC bureaucrats felt so good about the Black-oriented programming that they’d discussed with the WNEV-TV partner that they neglected to secure any contractual commitments for this programming to be developed. Channel 7 ended up delivering conventional CBS content.]

A 1970s portrait:

A 1981 report from Fredkin and Tommaso Toffoli:


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Who understands homomorphic encryption?

One of my favorite talks at an MIT computer science event last month was by Raluca Ada Popa, a proponent of keeping everything encrypted on servers even during computation. Then it doesn’t matter if the bad people (formerly “bad guys”) break in. How is that possible? Homomorphic encryption, developed about 15 years ago by Craig Gentry, plus hardware support from Intel.

According to Ada Popa, the performance hit from doing everything encrypted is only about 20 percent.

It is tough to know if this can truly protect garden-variety web services, in which the server holds most of the keys, e.g., the database password. I asked Professor ChatGPT:

Homomorphic encryption is a type of encryption that allows computations to be performed on encrypted data without decrypting it. This means that an HTTP server can process encrypted data without ever needing to know what the data actually is. However, there’s a bit of confusion in your question as you suggest the HTTP server has the decryption key.

The real power of homomorphic encryption lies in the fact that the server (like an HTTP server in your question) doesn’t need to have the decryption key at all. It’s the client who holds the key, encrypts the data, sends the encrypted data to the server, and the server performs the computations on the encrypted data. After performing operations, the server sends the encrypted result back to the client, who can then decrypt it using the decryption key.

This offers an unprecedented level of data security because even if the server was compromised, the data would remain safe since the attacker wouldn’t have access to the decryption key. It’s particularly useful in cloud computing, where sensitive data needs to be processed by third-party servers.

The decryption key should be kept safe and private, usually on the client side. If the HTTP server does hold the decryption key, it weakens the system’s security as it creates a single point of failure where both encrypted data and the decryption key can be potentially accessed by an attacker.

Could this prevent all of the credit card and mailing address breaches that we hear about? The credit card number is stored for one-click ordering, but can be decrypted only when the user is logged into an ecommerce site and is ready to enter his/her/zir/their password, which will serve as the key? Ditto for shipping address, but then that has to be transmitted to UPS or some other company, no?

Could it work for Google Drive? The big selling feature is that you can collaborate with 5 other authors if desired. How can that work if the document is encrypted with just one user’s key?

Who has thought about this and figured out whether homomorphic encryption is the silver bullet for defending practical applications?

Also from the event, the Followers of (Computer) Science stay safe in a crowded room for hours at a time by wearing masks:

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Breakthrough technology according to MIT: “Abortion pills via telemedicine”

The smartest people in the world have put together their list of the 10 most important “breakthrough technologies” of 2023. This appears in the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of Technology Review, published by MIT:

There’s been no change to how life-saving abortion care is delivered into a pregnant person’s body, but being able to get abortion care pills after a text message conversation is a “breakthrough technology.”

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Want to come to MIT for Private Pilot ground school January 11-13?

After nearly three years of complete coronapanic, the MIT campus reopened to the public on December 1, 2022. Consequently, if Maskachusetts officials don’t impose a Science-based lockdown in the next two weeks we’re doing our three-day FAA ground school in person on campus, January 11-13 from 9-5 in Room 1-390. Full details and a registration link on the class home page. For non-MIT students the course is available at a significant discount to the $500,000 list price of an MIT degree…. $free.

If anyone is concerned about contracting a SARS-CoV-2 infection in a 70-person lecture hall, I will be happy to purchase a P100 respirator for you so long as you promise to wear it for the full 7-8 hours of daily class. See below for Mx. Cherry and Mx. Nerode modeling this type of mask in a recent NYT article.

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MIT EECS explains how to write a diversity statement

The MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (where I was a grad student) demands that faculty job applicants include a “diversity statement” and they helpfully explain how to write a successful one:

In general, a well-structured diversity statement mimics the structure of a teaching statement, showing your knowledge of the topics you choose to discuss, demonstrating a track record of advancing DEI through past experiences, and presenting your future plans around DEI, as shown in the structure diagram below. However, diversity statements may also contain the same content organized topically rather than chronologically. Typically, diversity statements are no longer than 1-2 pages.

1-2 pages to grapple with one of the greatest issues of our age?!?!

It’s not about the quota:

A faculty application diversity statement is NOT a document explaining how you as a candidate are diverse.

Self-criticism is welcome:

It may be appropriate to acknowledge aspects of your own marginalized identity and/or your own privilege

Learn from books, not by talking to the people you’re supposedly attempting to serve:

If you have not spent much time engaging with issues and ideas related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s never too late to start educating yourself. Look for resources that will introduce you to relevant literature and help you learn about people with experiences different than your own. However, remember that it is not the job of members of an underrepresented or marginalized group to educate you on topics related to their experience.

It’s not about the quota, but “I will strive for gender parity among my graduate students.” (doesn’t this hatefully imply that that there are only two genders?):

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MIT weighs in on the future of cryptocurrency

The May/June 2022 issue of MIT’s alumni magazine, Technology Review, asks “Is cash over?” and answers the question with an implicit “yes” via the issue title: The Dawn of New Money.

When the enormous brainpower of all of MIT is harnessed, what do we learn?

A new generation of cryptocurrencies is emerging that promises to fix many of Bitcoin’s flaws. Stablecoins, cryptocurrencies whose stable value comes from being backed by reserves of US dollars or other reputable fiat currencies, are proliferating. Stablecoins are billed as reliable, easily accessible digital payment systems that will make both domestic and international payments cheaper and quicker. However, unlike Bitcoin, which is fully decentralized, they require transactions to be validated by the issuing institution—which could be a bank, a corporation, or just an online entity. This means users must trust that institution to validate only legitimate transactions and hold adequate reserves, and regulators currently do not require independent verification of either of those actions. Thus, despite their laudable goal of meeting the demand for better payment systems, stablecoins have raised a raft of concerns.

What happened with crypto while the issue was going through editing, printing, and mailing?

“Stablecoin implosion shows it has ‘no role’ as a form of money, says Bank of International Settlements’ Asia chief” (SCMP):

The recent collapse in the value of stablecoins shows they are ill-suited as a form of money and that their attempt to piggyback on money issued by central banks does not give them the stability their name suggests, according to the Asia-Pacific head of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).

The implosion of several stablecoins, including TerraUSD which saw its value reduced to almost nothing in May from being the third-largest with a US$18.7 billion market capitalisation at its peak, has revealed the pitfalls of cryptocurrencies, said Siddharth Tiwari, chief representative of the BIS Asian office.

What about the #1 cryptocurrency? Bitcoin was at $38,000 on May 1. It finished out June (this is the May/June issue) at around $19,000 (i.e., half the value was lost during the on-the-newsstand time for the issue celebrating crypto).

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MIT weighs in regarding the war in Ukraine

Portion of yesterday’s email from Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note the implication that Russians are suffering just as much as Ukrainians (in bold):

To the members of the MIT community,

Though 4,500 miles separate Kyiv and Cambridge, several factors make the shock of the Russian invasion and its terrible consequences feel very close to home.

I write to let you know how MIT is responding to this catastrophe and to offer some personal reflections.

Caring for members of our community [bold in original]

First in our minds are our students, staff and faculty who are from the region or have family there; we have reached out directly to everyone we are aware of from Ukraine. We have in addition been in touch with our students from Russia, who are also a long way from home in a difficult time. (As always, support is available to all students at doingwell.mit.edu).

A fellow MIT alum pointed out “Catastrophe makes it sound like an earthquake or a tornado.”

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MIT spirit in Washington, D.C.

“‘I am deeply sorry for my conduct’: Biden’s top science adviser apologizes to staff” (Politico):

[MIT prof] Eric Lander, the president’s top science adviser and a member of his Cabinet, sent a Friday night email to his roughly 150-person staff apologizing for speaking to colleagues in a “disrespectful and demeaning way.”

“It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility,” Lander wrote in an email provided to POLITICO. “This is not only wrong, but also inconsistent with our Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy. It is never acceptable for me to speak that way. I am deeply sorry for my conduct. I especially want to apologize to those of you who I treated poorly or were present at the time.”

Lander heads the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and is leading President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot,” an initiative aimed at reducing cancer deaths that had its splashy launch event earlier this week.

The email appears to reference an investigation POLITICO has been conducting into Lander’s treatment of staff, which Lander acknowledges in his email. “I understand that some of you have been asked about this, and I thought it was important to write directly to you,” he wrote. “I also realize that my conduct reflects poorly on this Administration, and interferes with our work. I deeply regret that.”

Biden himself declared a zero-tolerance policy for improper conduct on the first day of his administration. He pledged that “if you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.”

Lander pledges in his email that “[w]e will take concrete steps to promote a better workplace. We will schedule regular forums to check in with staff on how we are doing in creating and upholding a safe and respectful workplace. We will also ensure that every employee knows how to report conduct that concerns them.”

Lander is probably one of the nicer people at MIT (like being a dwarf among midgets, admittedly), so perhaps this shows that Science is something to follow every day while scientists are best restricted to their labs.


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Adult life at MIT

Excerpts from today’s email from MIT Hillel (Jewish organization on campus):

One trend we have seen is students are still craving IRL (in-real-life) interactions and events, even if MIT rules say no food at events, at least for the first two weeks of the semester. As this new term begins, coffee meet-and-greets have involved in-person conversations and to-go gift cards. Students in some of our on-going weekly classes have voted to still meet at lunchtime, despite the fact they won’t be fed or eat together. We are exploring “wellness break rooms” for puppy petting, or even coloring books and doodling, that students can pop into.

Within the same email, but from a student….

… as COVID seized the globe in early 2020, it became increasingly apparent that I would spend (at least) my first semester of college at the same desk I used for my kindergarten English homework.

Let’s hope that the above-mentioned puppies don’t grab and run with the cloth masks that the #FollowersOfScience typically wear! Here’s Mindy the Crippler (September 2020; see What to do when a family member is an anti-masker?) sharing her opinion of the effectiveness of non-N95 masks….


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