The Class of 2021 was given just 12 weeks in the dorms, stretching from the end of August to mid-November. … I spent all spring and all summer 3,000 miles from MIT, attending virtual classes from my parents’ basement in Seattle. … I would finally close Zoom and immediately open FaceTime to talk to a pixelated version of my girlfriend… This fall, after spending one week in quarantine at the start of the semester, MIT allowed me to see a small group of five friends, called my “pod,” without physical distancing. As long as our dorm isn’t on a “pod pause for public health,” we can hang out in each other’s rooms without masks, and we can ride in each other’s cars. … Beyond my pod, I can p-set with my friends outdoors on a terrace, and it’s a major upgrade over our usual p-set Zooms. I can see my girlfriend, who recently graduated from MIT and lives in Somerville, for picnics in a local park; we have to sit on separate picnic blankets, but six feet is nothing compared to 3,000 miles.
I hope that Ms. Meredith is never sentenced to prison here in the Land of Freedom (TM), but if she does become part of the world’s largest imprisoned population, it sounds as though she has the right attitude for life in the Big House.
What’s happening with the alums? George Kossuth of the Class of 1965 (age 77?) is a hero of optimism. He reports getting married and having heart valve replacement surgery. Frank Helle, Class of 1971, is a straight up hero. He reported losing 20 lbs. during the pandemic.
Roughly half the news regarding these earlier classes relates to the deaths of alumni. People were killed by cancer (e.g., “four-year, well-fought battle with pancreatic cancer”), heart disease, “a long illness”, Parkinson’s disease, “peacefully at home”, etc. Alumni write about losing wives to cancer (nobody describes being in an LGBTQIA+ relationship or having lost a same-sex spouse). What’s missing? Out of 140,000 alumni, I learned of two killed by or with COVID-19. One was 62-year-old Peregrine White Jr., SM ’84, who “was 62” and “died from complications of cancer that had impacted his brain, slowly causing a significant cognitive deficit over the last year. He also had covid-19.” The other was of Myron Kayton, PhD ’60 (87 years old?) who was an inertial guidance expert and “deputy director for guidance and control for the lunar module that landed man on the moon.”
One of my MIT undergraduate moles shared with me a September email from the Administration:
We are writing to you regarding the important topics of sexual assault prevention and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Two Required Trainings: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Sexual Assault Prevention Ongoing: Healthy Relationships (see instructions below)
The trainings will be available starting October 1, 2020 and must be completed by November 2, 2020. Instructions to access the courses are below. You will have a registration hold placed on your account and will be unable to register for IAP and/or Spring 2021 classes if you do not complete both trainings by the November 2 deadline.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion starts with a survey that contains unanswerable questions:
How is Student X supposed to know what Students Y and Z are trying to do in forming friendships? (especially given that everyone is dispersed and interacting only via Zoom) The student is also supposed to know what 1,000+ classmates value:
The survey is at least 40 gender IDs short of a complete list:
(If Cian is a student at an engineering university, why do his friends expect him to be sexually active?)
Any time is a good time for a gender transition? No!
Whoever designed this survey does not seem very familiar with the American public housing, Medicaid, SNAP, and Obamaphone programs!
After the baseline quiz, it is time for the welcome video, which features seven students, none of them apparently identifying as “white male,” and with no apparent age diversity.
The next video introduces José, a double-victim: Afro-Latino. He says that both of his parents are doctors and that’s why he’s pre-med: “it’s in my DNA”. Is the learner supposed to consider the possibility that academic ability, conscientiousness, and other aspects of intelligence and personality are also in students’ DNA?
“Living our Intersectionality” features the following folks:
“I identify foremost as a very, like, spiritual queer person of color.” (a microaggressive person would say that this person appears to be an Asian female)
“I identify as ABC: African Black Caribbean. Female. I also have ties with the indigenous.” (She’s big enough that a chandler would likely recommend that any “ties” be at least 1/2″ in diameter, double braid, and secured with a cleat hitch.)
(nobody identifies at the intersection of “white” and “male”!)
“Many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice.” … We can’t just look at a person’s race or gender (or any of their individual identities) as separate categories. It’s the intersections that truly shape a person’s experience and influence both their opportunities and their challenges. This concept is especially helpful when thinking about issues of fairness and how people are treated in the world.
Let’s hope that President Harris deports anyone who answers “I agree”!
Heading out to exercise can be just as dangerous as sitting next to the fridge in governor-ordered shutdown for 8 months:
For example, student athletes who identify as women may face conflicts between their identities as women, athletes, and students. They may face pressures to be more aggressive and practice-focused, based on their athletic identity, more feminine and nurturing, related to gender expectations, and more studious and intellectual, based on their student identity.
Student POV: A student who identifies as black says that being black is “incredibly challenging” and “I am constantly in fear for my life”.
We find José again being victimized by his white roommates and their friends. The LGBTQIA+ guy with a stereotypical lisp is fine, but the white girl pressures Jose to go to the BLM rally. The white guy says he expected Jose to look different (i.e., more Latinx and less Black) and that “No offense, but it seems that All Lives Matter would be a better way to bring people together. You’re saying that your [Latinx] dad’s family matters less than your [Nigerian] mom’s?”
What to do about the near-Deplorable?
You can’t proceed until you select the last one.
White people, even those who appear to identify as “women”, make a lot of stupid assumptions:
Will this section be about charging $53,000+ for a few months of streaming video?
“Sometimes equality isn’t actually fair.”
Perceptions can be misleading…
Even the lowliest worm may have power:
Even if you think you personally don’t have power, you may still be participating in structural systems of power where you receive advantages or are considered the norm, while others are disadvantaged or considered outside the norm.
White males reappear in order to define privilege:
(Looks as though he is loving the phone that was developed for him by white and Asian engineers, but white male privilege won’t entitle him to a mobile data signal if he’s in the Boston suburbs!)
Did 9 out of 100 students go into the “wrong” bathroom by mistake or because it was actually the “right” bathroom?
But maybe the ASPCA should be called when a dog is forced to walk on three paws (the fourth being held by the human companion):
Not everyone is unhappy about our new all-virtual world:
There will be a lot of worries when students come out of Shutdown Joe’s multi-year shutdown, having raided the fridge every 15 minutes and never having exercised!
If God exists and is powerful and benevolent, why is it ever unsafe to pray?
Everyone can breathe easier starting January 20, 2021:
Who is oppressed? Someone who has made the mistake of not identifying as a white male…
If you’re morbidly obese and have sex with a different partner every night, you’re at risk of becoming a victim of “internalized oppression”:
One example from the Isms, Phobias, and Microaggressions section:
Some definitions on the topic that has consistently enriched this blog:
Transphobia is prejudice against transsexual or transgender people. Transantagonism includes hostility, aggression and violence towards trans people. Bathroom harassment is a form of discrimination that is experienced by many trans people, gender nonconforming people, and cisgender people who don’t fit stereotypical ideas related to their gender presentation.
There is no “I” in “Team” and there is no “I” (or “T”) in “LGBTQIA+”:
Know that LGBQA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and asexual (plus many other associated identities).
Understand that asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexual people generally do not feel a sexual attraction to others, though they may feel romantic attractions.
Be sensitive when talking with people about coming out stories. Remember that for some people these are traumatic experiences.
Language can create exclusion. Using identity-related words like “gay” to indicate that something is negative reinforces stereotypes.
If you have religious, political, or cultural objections to certain sexual orientations, remember that our community values include treating everyone with dignity and respect.
If a virtuous immigrant student follows a religion that condemns particular sexual acts, how can the community be said to be respecting this religion and the virtuous immigrant by covering hallways with posters celebrating those particular sexual acts?
The longest video is “How do you think about anti-blackness?” Maybe the problem wouldn’t exist if white people kept to themselves?
There is great diversity of experience among people of color. The term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) is used to highlight some of these differences in history and experience. Respect spaces that are reserved for BIPOC people to discuss issues privately and safely.
Usually marked by a sense of disrespect or superficiality, classic examples of appropriation include wearing the traditional clothing of a racially marginalized group as a Halloween costume, or using a group’s symbols of religious or spiritual significance as decorative accessories. Inclusive spaces reject cultural appropriation.
José returns to be victimized for 1:04 by a white professor who says, on the first day of class, “we don’t get many people like you in pre-med” (certainly a true statement at MIT, since there is no pre-med major!).
Now it is time for Communications and the Stupid White Man reappears to offer an opinion regarding Navajo jewelry:
The software won’t allow the learner to proceed until this answer is corrected. (American universities own vast amounts of land, all of it stolen from Native Americans. If they care about Native Americans, why not pay rent on the stolen land?)
The software reminds students at private universities that they don’t have a right to free speech:
Speech has a special role in higher education and in the United States. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects a person’s freedom of speech and expression from government interference (so it typically applies only to state institutions, though some states create additional legal protections that apply to private institutions).
Most colleges and universities consider freedom of speech and expression to be a critical part of the pursuit of higher education, and are also committed to creating a learning community where students from all backgrounds feel welcome and can concentrate on their studies without facing hostility and discrimination.
This is followed with a bunch of links explaining the difference between “free speech” and “hate speech”.
The next screen has some great drawings:
White men do bad things even before the party starts:
The learner cannot proceed without calling off the “Salsa and Sombreros” party (were Goya-brand products going to be served?). Correct answer:
By thanking Luca for calling out his behavior and dedicating himself to learning more about cultural appropriation, Tanner is respecting Luca’s perspective and behaving as an ally. Everybody makes mistakes — part of being an ally means being open to acknowledging when you’re wrong, and taking the necessary steps to continually check your privilege and your behavior in the future, even when it’s uncomfortable.
There is a video tutorial on how to apologize after using the wrong pronouns. This is followed up with some text:
Be sensitive to the situation and any histories of inequality. A great apology focuses on the harm that was done and not on the person who is apologizing.
The key to apologizing well? Remember, it’s about acknowledging your actions, not focusing on the other person’s interpretation.
Here’s the 2-minute Self-Care video:
José returns to be abused during a pickup basketball game by a white man who claims to have been fouled: “maybe that’s okay where you come from.” Bad White Man calls José a “thug.”
José considers leaving school, but he is rescued by brave student services staff and other administrators. He decides to stay and says “I’m going to make a difference.” (Like the med students that I teach! None say that they want to go into lucrative specialties and treat patients who have money and/or private insurance. It is a mystery to me where plastic surgeons and dermatologists come from.)
There is a final exam, with pretty much the same questions as the pre-exam:
A more-interesting-than-usual collection of folks celebrate the life and work of Mike Hawley, currently suffering from cancer. Mike was an early application developer at NeXT, then an early faculty member at the MIT Media Lab, before branching out into a wider world.
Annotations on the video, with my favorites in bold:
2 minutes in: Nicholas Negroponte talks about the early days of the Media Lab, followed by some other MIT insiders (probably not interesting for non-MITers)
about 20 minutes in: fountain of Trump-related discourse from law school professor Larry Tribe (maybe not the best choice to teach Harvard’s “A Few Good Points About the Donald Trump Presidency” course)
25 minutes in: the great architect Moshe Safdie shows how to celebrate someone’s life
38 minutes: Bran Ferren talks about the intersection between technology and art
41 minutes: Leonard Kleinrock respects the tradition by talking about Mike instead of himself! (Kleinrock helped build the foundations of the software that enables the Internet, which enabled this virtual festschrift)
46:45: Bob Metcalfe, rounding out the tech foundations (he is the co-developer of the Ethernet local-area standard; also spectacularly wrong about Internet capacity! Coronapanic has proved that 100 percent of Americans can stream high-def simultaneously!), and tells a good dog story
59:45: Tod Machover, no longer an enfant terrible of the music world, but still interesting and he has a good clip of Mike playing.
1:07:07: Gloria Minsky, widow of Marvin Minsky, gives a clear-eyed tribute informed by her background as a physician.
1:11:20: Jill Sobule, singer-songwriter plays and sings, marred by terrible sound quality
1:16:00: Rob Poor, Mike’s first Ph.D. student, talks a bit about the famous/infamous Media Lab Mt. Everest Base Camp assault
1:19:20: Reed Jobs, son of Steve Jobs. Touching; seems like a sweet kid.
1:23:00: George Hawley, Mike’s father. (at 1:27:00 an interesting discussion about how to decide whether to pursue professional music as a career) Sad to think about being told about a child’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis.
Mike himself comes on at the end. He was always at his best graciously thanking people with a public speech and does not disappoint.
If I had been asked to speak, I would have highlighted that, despite being late to appreciate the impact that World Wide Web protocols and standards would have, Mike was early to appreciate how digital cameras and Internet would democratize photography. Then he acted on this idea by working with Bhutanese children, putting advanced digital cameras into their hands to see what would happen (a lot of great pictures and a big heavy paper book!). Mike’s most impactful work while at MIT was in the area of photography: he supervised the Master’s thesis of Robert Silvers, whose photomosaics have been hugely popular.
(I also would have had to bite my tongue to avoid noting that Mike spent a tremendous amount of energy over the last four years being upset regarding the candidacy for and then the American Deplorables’ election of Donald J. Trump. Searching through his Facebook posts now… Before the election, Mike was paying attention to women who said that they got paid to have sex with Trump and to investigations by Eric Schneiderman (later in the news because the young women he was paying to have sex with him complained about the specifics of the sex). Even before Trump took office, Mike was #resisting by investigating ways in which the Electoral College could undo the illegitimate vote. In July 2017, Mike was trying to get Twitter to de-platform @realdonaldtrump (“posts constitute frequent abuse and harassment and promulgate outrageous lies”). In the fall of 2018, Mike was poring through the details of the people who claimed to have knowledge of an interaction between Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. Despite his cancer diagnosis, Mike was following the Impeachment of Trump closely.
Certainly Trump’s election has been regrettable from a coastal elite point of view (“they forgot to take away their right to vote,” is my Dutch friend’s summary), but cancer proved to be Mike’s enemy, not Trump. Other than the corporate tax law change that made Mike’s stock market investments more valuable, there was never a single Trump policy that had any effect on Mike’s life. A good reminder to all of us not to get upset about what happens in Washington, D.C. We can’t do anything about it, so why rage at the political weather?)
Mike turned the concept of being a professor on its head. Ask a tuition-paying parent what a “college professor” is. Answer: a professor is someone who puts a huge effort into preparing lectures, handouts, and problem sets. Make sure that the students learn Signals and Systems in a logical progression, for example. Mike realized that modern research universities did not reward this Herculean effort in any way, shape, or form. The whole idea of teaching specific knowledge areas or skills was for chumps. Let the Media Lab students go learn whatever traditional material they needed from the dull-witted professors in other MIT departments who hadn’t figured out that they were wasting their time. To discharge his “teaching” responsibility, Mike set up a class that was one day per week, three hours per week, thus giving himself four free days per week. MIT is in session for 13 weeks so he had to prepare 13 three-hour lectures? Hah! Each week Mike would give a thoughtful introduction and provide some context for one of his famous friends, who would then proceed to hold the students spellbound with a guest lecture. He used a slush fund to order pizza in the middle of the class. Students wrote papers and then graded each other’s papers.
Mike contributed a lot to the early exploratory phase of the MIT Media Lab, that’s for sure. As the lab converged toward a more conventional academic engineering grand-seeking enterprise, which would have required him to pick a project and stick with it for 10-20 years, he wandered off to keep learning about new subject areas with some of the world’s most accomplished people in each area. When your interests are that wide you can never become a true expert in any one area. Thus, Mike’s biggest post-Media Lab achievements will not be reflected in conventional academic journals, but in the connections that he facilitated among some of the world’s most creative and original people.
Assuming that coronaplague does not get me first, I will miss him when he is gone. He has been a fun person to know and he added a lot of color to a university that has a reputation for being colorless.
MIT Technology Review, the alumni magazine for what is regarded by people worldwide as the finest engineering and science school… in East Cambridge, titled its March/April 2020 edition “The Predictions Issue.”
There are ten breakthrough technologies presented for 2020 and a multi-futurist section regarding “How to predict what’s coming in 2030 and beyond.”
The breakthroughs circa 2020 include “hyper-personalized medicine” in which a single individual with a unique genetic defect can be patched up with heroic multi-disciplinary effort. We have purportedly made breakthroughs in anti-aging pills and AI-discovered molecules. We have more AI in general. The most important breakthrough is “Climate Change Attribution” in which we can figure out which unpleasant weather events are due to climate change: “If we choose to listen, they can help us understand how to rebuild our cities and infrastructure for a climage-changed world.”
Seven pages are devoted to the saddest emotional event of the 21st century, i.e., the failure of pollsters to warn us that the United States was packed with stupid, sexist, and racist Deplorables who would consider voting for a candidate who “appeals to the worst in us.” (Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon for this year. If election prophets don’t predict a certain Biden victory then enough of the righteous will be motivated to go to the polls and defeat Hate.)
The most interesting section, in light of recent events, is the collection of predictions regarding our world through 2030. The folks whom the magazine tapped (which happens to include one person of color and an LGBTQIA+ novelist, as well as a gender ID balance in favor of people with typically female-associated names) worked from the following assumptions: (1) the Earth will be warmer; (2) computers and Artificial Intelligence will be more powerful.
What did the best futurists that magazine could find miss entirely? That a human population of 8 billion on Spaceship Earth is an incredibly tempting target for a novel virus and that the virus would arrive in a lot of readers’ lungs on the same day as the magazine itself.
From a Valentine’s Day talk by Jeffrey Hoffman, an astronaut-turned-professor who is now part of an effort to mine oxygen out of the Martian atmosphere…. If the MOXIE system works and Blue Origin gets humans to Mars, they can come back without having had to pack 80 percent of their rocket fuel for the trip home.
Professor Hoffman explained that, though there is plenty of water in the Martian crust it takes too much energy to extract it. Thus, the plan is to “mine” the atmosphere, which is 96 percent CO2 (should be toasty warm from the greenhouse effect, except that atmospheric pressure is comparable at the Martian surface to what we have at 100,000′ above sea level).
Hoffman and collaborators’ experiment will launch in July 2020 and land in February 2021. The Mars journey will also be 7 months for humans, kind of like being on a cruise ship in Asia right now. The shocking news for movie fans is that The Martian is not scientifically accurate. The dramatic wind that forces an evacuation and is blowing stuff around would have to move at 1,000 mph to have enough force, given the thin atmosphere. In fact, the highest recorded winds on Mars are roughly 60 mph.
As with other astronauts I’ve talked to recently, Hoffman is not a fan of centralized government-run rocketry. Regarding the SLS, which promises to cost taxpayers $20 billion at least: “Maybe they will launch it a few times. It is Saturn V technology.” In his view, SpaceX and Blue Origin are where the innovation happens. The government “monopoly” had cost us decades of potential progress.
One thing I learned: this next Mars mission will include a helicopter! Also, landing on Mars is a combination of the worst features of the Earth and Moon. There is the friction from entering the atmosphere, as on Earth, but not enough atmosphere to slow down with wings or a regular parachute.
Sidenote: Hoffman first came to MIT because of Walter Lewin, whose physics lectures are now securely in a memory hole due to #MeToo issues.
Hoffman flew on five Shuttle missions, logged 1,211 hours in space, and did multiple spacewalks, including one to fix the Hubble telescope. An example of “bravery”? Perhaps not. There’s a talk on real bravery today at 4 pm:
What else do we find in the corridors at MIT? “The Trump administration is the noxious product of the capitalist system” (but didn’t most of the Wall Street capitalists support Hillary?)
A poster on “ethnomathematics”:
(If these “traditional and indigenous societies” are doing interesting stuff, why isn’t it just “mathematics”? Why do they need a special numbers nerdism ghetto?)
We crashed a Valentine’s Day party for a group of PhD students in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Hollywood-style background:
The future engineering PhDs pour themselves coffee:
Circling back to Professor Hoffman… As with other retired astronauts I have met, this guy is incredibly fit and sharp at age 75. Makes one wonder why humans age at all. If we can live to 75 with hardly any deficits accumulating, why can’t we live to 750? If nearly all of us drop dead by 100, why don’t we drop dead at 10? Most of our cells have to go through at least one replacement cycle by age 10, right?
If you’re interested in instrument flying, I’m giving a talk on Wednesday (March 4) at 7 pm, MIT Room 35-225. The topic is IFR and also planning for trips over the mountains, over water, etc. Same general idea as the videos linked from our ground school. It should be comprehensible to non-pilots, but it is designed for people who have studied at least some of the VFR topics and done at least a lesson or two.
Pizza will be served by the hosts (MIT Flying Club).
“It is crucial to recruit and attract more women at all levels in the department, but also that more of our women math majors consider going into graduate school in mathematics,” says Michel Goemans, department head and professor of mathematics. “Last year only 13 percent of our graduate applicants were women, and this is clearly not enough. The department is happy to support the activities of the MIT Women in Mathematics, and this group helps create a vibrant, supportive community in which more and more female students might pursue or continue a career in mathematics.”
[Let’s ignore the issue of whether this say-gooder is guilty of promoting gender binarism. Let’s also ignore the issue of why the say-gooder does not use MIT’s massive endowment to become a “do-gooder” and hire the women that he/she/ze/they says he/she/ze/they wants to hire.]
I wonder if the focus on female victimhood is a sign of antipathy toward mathematicians of color. Why not focus on the underrepresentation of black and Hispanic mathematicians, for example? Could the motivation be that the white/Asian mathematicians would rather share an office with a white woman from a wealthy family than share with an African-American from the ghetto?
Advocating for “women” is less likely to expose the advocate to ridicule for not having any friends or relatives who are in the featured victim class. Since even the most hidebound human who identifies as a “man” is likely to have a mother and/or sister, there won’t be the awkward search for a friend of color with whom to attend Black Panther and get a selfie.
The article is also fun for revealing the existence of gender traitors:
Staffilani recalls that when she invited female mathematicians to speak with MIT women, sometimes the offer was declined. Invited academics preferred to be seen as “mathematicians” rather than be singled out as “female mathematicians,” separate from men. It’s a dilemma Staffilani says she understands; gaining extra notice as a woman — or any underrepresented group in a particular field — doesn’t feel like “equality,” she says. … she was surprised when a female physicist asked the room, “Why do we want diversity?”
Speaker of diversity, let’s have a look at the folks MIT has selected to teach subjects featured on the “Women’s Studies” poster board in the Infinite Corridor (if you visit the teachers’ biographical pages, you’ll find them referred to using “her” and “she” as pronouns):
Another initiative of the Women and Gender Studies Department:
Within the same poster board, some tips on organizing your bookshelf:
Nearby, a poster remembering MIT’s most famous donor:
There is room in the Infinite Corridor to provide the biography of one MIT graduate:
“Sibling surprise” (Technology Review, the MIT alumni magazine) is fun for people who believe in the religion of genetics. Siblings reared apart were brought together as adults by DNA testing. It turned out that they had both gone to MIT:
[the brother] I had always believed that all of my potential came from my genetic blueprint. The newfound knowledge of Freedom’s and my biological roots has reinforced this. Many of my traits and interests seemed to come out of the blue, unrelated to the farm where I grew up. All of these attributes map to Freedom or my biological family. Every question I’ve ever had about my origin story has been answered.
Also in the MIT-specific portion of the same issue….
A celebration of Margaret Hamilton for (a) inventing “software engineering,” and (b) inventing the term “software engineer.” (The earliest references that I could find in the IEEE literature to “software engineering” were from the late 1960s, but the term is used as though it had already been in widespread use and would be well-understood. In the ACM literature, an early reference is from Alan Perlis in 1969, but again he uses the term without introduction, explanation, or credit. A “NATO and Software Engineering” article from 1969 talks about a 1967 study group recommending “a working conference on Software Engineering,” but no individual is credited with coining the term.)