Monday, May 4, 2009

MIT in the news

...for bombs and cutting athletics programs due to the financial crisis.

There was a 600 pound concrete sphere painted like a bomb implanted on the lawn of Kresage (right where I have practice for orchestra) last week. On it were the initials "DYTD" a reference to a party to be held in Burton-Connor that night.

First - I'm not an undergraduate here, and while I will be living with them next year (super excited to, at that!) --- I don't necessarily understand hacking culture. And I don't mean to be the "old person ruining someone's fun." But come on! There is something in the hacking code about, oh, I don't know "common sense."

Here is the code: (and for more pictures, see here)

- Be subtle. Don't leave evidence that you were there.
-Always leave things as you found them, or better.
-Leave no permanent damage, both during hacks and while hacking.
-Don't steal anything. If you must borrow something, always return it-- perhaps even leave a note saying when it will be returned.
-Brute force is the last resort of the incompetent.
-Sign-ins should not be seen by the general public. Sign-ins exhibit one's pride in having found a location. Most hackers aren't proud of discovering Lobby 7.
-Don't drink and hack. Enough said.
-Don't drop things (without a ground crew).
-Don't hack alone.
-Above all, exercise common sense

There's also a well-accepted addition about hacks being "enjoyable."

As in, covering the new president's door with bulletin boards is hilarious. And safe.

Dressing up the big dome as R2D2 is quite creative.

Bombs....NOT FUNNY.

I mean, really! You are in college! And I'm all about the letting people make mistakes to learn (I screw up everyday and remind myself that that is how learning is). So--they shouldn't be expelled. But they should have to learn that they were, yes, WRONG. And to all the alum that wrote the following letter in the Tech, I have a few words for you:

"I gradutated M.I.T. in 2000, just in time to see a thriving campus life undercut time after time by overzealous security measures enacted by spineless administrators in the face of mobs of Cambridge citizens and failed parents looking to the university system as a surrogate. I’ve seen the fraternity system whittled down and student freedoms trampled, their voices silenced on issue after issue, as former school bureaucrats move on to positions of power (or is that infamy) in certain (here unnamed) governments.

Now I read that the school is forcing the Burton Third Bombers to pay for a spurious bomb scare all bit the most obtuse Homer Simpson caricature would have dismissed instantly.

Any chance that I would ever donate to M.I.T. again is now gone. I would, however, like to help the Bombers (who were so very good to me) in their financial plight. I call on my fellow alumni to do the same: divert your contributions directly to student associations you support. Don’t let them use your money to destroy what makes our school unique.

If you let this stand, don’t blame me when the next car atop Lobby 10 results in terrorism prosecutions.

Scott M. Miller ’00"

Scott, here's the deal. MIT is one of the US's largest research institutions, and we've produced 73 Nobel Laureates, 47 National Medal of Science recipients, and 31 MacArthur Fellows. The aggregated revenues of companies founded by MIT affiliates would make it the seventeenth largest economy in the world. Sorry to break it to you, but this makes us a very tangible target for a terrorist bombing. And as Boston and Cambridge are very densely populated cities, a bomb here would be a huge blow to America. Quite literally. MIT absolutely did the right thing. And the students who thought it would be funny---well--take your funny-ness all the way to the bank. Or volunteer your time in compensation for your mistake. And don't get me wrong...I acutally have friends that live in Burton-Connor...but they made a wrong choice. Just like I was stupid and didn't call my mom to let her know that I was staying late at a friend's birthday sleepover to watch Chocolat and summarily had to paint an entire garage as punishment...there needs to be an understanding of MIT hackers that this sort of nonsense will not be tolerated. I'm on your side concerning the insensitivy to such an important aspect of MIT that the administration pulled and I cheered your act of silent protest by covering up the hacks on display in Stata. But look at those ethics of hacking...and think of them whenever you come up with "good ideas" in the future.

Second, we were mentioned in the New York Times:

"Even the wealthiest universities are pinched. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced it was cutting eight teams — Alpine skiing, competitive pistol, golf, wrestling and men’s and women’s ice hockey and gymnastics — as a way to trim $1.5 million from its athletic budget."

(see here for the Tech article)

Um. Where to start? First of all, if you want wealthy, look a mile down Mass Ave. Sure, we have substantial grant money for research, but I would not consider us a "wealthy" school by any means. Construction has been halted all over campus, and we've all gotten the emails about "these economic times." We have broken elevators, more potholes than you can shake a stick at, and IT department that needs a lot more help than you would expect, derelict properties all over Cambridge...anyone here will tell you that they were thought things would be "better" because "This is MIT!" Now, I'm not trying to pan the school I attend. But let's be realistic: MIT pays for top-notch research equipment, and lets other stuff slide in the process. Our campus does not match, and nor does it aspire to. And I'm totally cool with that.

Anyway, back to athletics. As a disclosure, I am not an athlete. In fact, I am almost the anti-athlete, as pretty much every object smaller than a refrigerator that is thrown, tossed, kicked, bounced, or otherwise used in a sport has made contact with some part of my body and caused bruising at some time or another. Even Omnikin Ball was dangerous (holla Ms. Boll! haha...only RAHS people will get that joke. Ah well). I plan to play IM hockey on the BE team next year, a non-checking sport. I hear Eric groaning--"what's the fun in that?!" The fun, dear sir, is not being so beat up that I can walk And don't role your eyes at me, brother-who-hit-me-in-the-mouth-with-a-puck-when-I-had-braces.

Right now, as someone NOT playing on a team, I'm most likely in the minority, as MIT actually has one of the most active athletics programs. Anywhere. We have officially have 41 varsity level sports (well---make that 33 now), 30 club sports and 23 intramural sports. And whaddya know--our best teams are pistol and fencing. In fact, the pistol team has won two national championships over the last five years, competing on a high level against the country’s military academies.

An editor at the Tech writes:

"They canceled pistol. Really? I know desperate times call for desperate measures, but times must be really desperate if the Institute’s last resort was to anger a bunch of expert marksman. These guys can shoot the clubs out of a playing card from 20 yards, and you want to make them upset? Check the endowment. We must be more broke than Harvard. At least Harvard only had to evict some of the most preeminent biologists in the world to save money.


But whatever the administration’s motives, the truth is, we need pistol. The value of the pistol team extends far beyond their ability to hit quarter sized objects 300 yards out while reciting the digits of pi. They were a source of pride for MIT. They were our one really good sports team. Thanks to pistols, we were able to proudly proclaim that we were better than Army at something considered a sport."

I respect the skill that these students have and their outrage at the way they were railroaded.
There's a lot of hullabullo here that the administration did not give "due" warning to the teams and those involved: they were not allowed to present fundraising proposals, nor given more than a year's notice of disbanding. A common practice in the athletics world is to let programs they have one year to show that the sport means something to both the community and the idea which seems, uh, kind of obvious to me.

Yet, I understand what balancing the budget means, and I've been personally affected by budget cuts in my schools since kindergarten. So, MIT---what to do? I say rescind your statement, give all teams a year to raise funds and organize, and look for other places besides directly cutting sports. How about fixing the AC levels in all of the buildings to lower energy costs? I'd like that one. I'd also be okay with having to buy a $50/semester pass to the Z Center---it is a facility that is well-worth the cost.

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