Here and There


FAMOUS NAMES

The new University Park Hotel at MIT immerses visitors in Institute life present and past -- it's located within walking distance of campus, and several meeting rooms and suites are named for notable figures in MIT history.

The Norbert Wiener Greatroom honors the eccentric father of cybernetics whose photos and mathematical notes fill an exhibit in MIT's Infinite Corridor. The Jerome C. Hunsaker Ballroom honors the aeronautics professor who designed the NC-4, the first plane to cross the Atlantic, and the Lawrence B. Anderson Roof Garden celebrates the memory of a force for modernism in MIT's Department of Architecture.

Other MIT notables whose memories are honored within the new hotel include Florence Luscomb, a 1909 architecture graduate; Lan Jen Chu, an MIT faculty member from 1947-73, and Robert R. Taylor, believed to be the first black graduate of MIT and a founder of Tuskegee University. The Presidential Suite on the hotel's eighth floor is named for MIT's founder, William Barton Rogers, and his wife, Emma Savage Rogers.

STRIKE UP THE BAND

Professor Emeritus Samuel J. Keyser sings in English and French on the new CD The New Liberty Jazz Band Plays Whatever.

Well, not exactly sings.

"I'm talking because I can't sing," Professor Keyser explained to Eric Jackson on WGBH radio's "Eric in the Evening" during an hour-long chat interspersed with selections from the disc on January 28.

The septet plays 16 songs written from 1900 through the 1950s in the Dixieland/ragtime style in which they were originally performed. The songs were extremely popular in their day but have been long since forgotten.

Professor Keyser provides his rendition of The Breeze, written by a trio of composers named MacDonald, Goodwin and Hanley in 1919 and included in the repertoire of many barber shop quartets of the day. He also recites the 16th-century French poem A une Damoyselle malade by Clement Marot to the tune of I Remember When, popularized by the legendary New Orleans soprano saxophone pioneer Sidney Bechet in the 1950s.

Other songs on the CD include Riverboat Shuffle, written by Hoagy Carmichael for his cornetist friend Bix Beiderbecke; Irish Blackbottom, a Louis Armstrong showpiece written by Perry Venable; and Eccentric by J. Russell Robinson, best known as the composer of Margie.

Professor Keyser, who also plays trombone in the band, told Mr. Jackson that the CD derives its title from its sole original song, written by cornetist Bobby MacInnis. One band member suggested that he name it Igor's Lunch, Professor Keyser said, while another nominated Rasputin's Stomp. The composer said, "Whatever."

The song was no longer untitled. Nor was the CD.

Anyone interested in purchasing the CD may call Professor Keyser at x3-1917. He delivers.

TO HOMER AND BEYOND

The Cambridge Tab (December 22, 1998) interviewed Janet Murray, senior research scientist at the Center for Advanced Educational Services and author of Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (MIT Press), to honor her book's publication in paperback.

Hamlet on the Holodeck, voted one of Library Journal's two "Best Computer Books of 1997," was described in the Tab as "an accessible read that doesn't dumb down its subject."

"We have got a storytelling technology that is able to capture more of the world than Homer's lyre," said Professor Murray, referring to new interactive and multimedia narrative software to which many have reacted with apprehension. "My reaction is, 'Hooray!'" she said.

GOODBYE, GEEKS

In an essay in the January 13 issue of the New York Times, Paul Krugman, the Ford International Professor of Economics, ascribed the success of a new book, Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy by Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian, to the co-authors' "hardheaded, even Machiavellian" views.

"To make money from information, they suggest, you have to find clever, in some cases dastardly ways to outmaneuver your competition and exploit your customers," wrote Professor Krugman.

"The Information Age has lost its innocence... say goodbye to the geeks in their garages, and say hello to the new railroad barons -- and by the way, see you in court."

HELLO, HAL

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil (Viking) and When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld (Holt) were reviewed at length in the New York Times Book Review (January 3) by Colin McGinn.

The books "provide a vivid window on the state of the art in artificial intelligence research and offer provocative speculations on where we might be heading as the information age advances.

"The Age of Spiritual Machines... is detailed, thoughtful, clearly explained and attractively written. [It] ranges widely over such juicy topics as entropy, chaos, the big bang, quantum theory, DNA computers, neural nets, genetic algorithms -- the whole world of information technology past, present and future. This is a book for computer enthusiasts, science fiction writers in search of cutting-edge themes and anyone who wonders where human technology is going next.

"Gershenfeld's breezily chatty book [has] much discussion of his many achievements in harnessing computer technology to more physical concerns: electronic books, smart shoes, wearable computers, technologically enhanced cellos."

Dr. Gershenfeld is associate professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Lab. Ray Kurzweil (SB 1970) is founder, chairman and CEO of Kurzweil Music Systems Inc. in Waltham.

SUCH A DEAL

Microrockets smaller than matchbooks could follow the worthy example of ants, launching payloads many times their own weight, according to Jack L. Kerrebrock, professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

In an explanatory interview published by the Sunday Times of London on December 27, 1998, Professor Kerrebrock said, "We are simply working on the same principle that lets ants carry heavy objects, which basically allows small things to produce a lot of power."

Fueled by a mix of liquid oxygen and ethanol, each tiny rocket will produce about three pounds of thrust. This gives the rocket a thrust-to-weight ratio of more than 10,000. The space shuttle's main engine has a ratio of 70, the Times article noted.

The NASA-funded microrocket project will also lead to rockets that are "extremely cheap to produce," said Professor Kerrebrock. "Once we enter mass production, the price could drop to $10."

MIT ANCESTOR

In "Fading into White," an article in the February/March issue of American Heritage magazine, Jillian Sim, who was brought up to consider herself white, tells the poignant and sometimes suspenseful story of her quest to locate and honor her African American ancestors -- some who "passed" as white, others who didn't. Among those who did not was her great-grand-uncle, Frederick John Hemmings, one of the first African Americans to graduate from MIT. Mr. Hemmings, who received his degree in 1897, lived in Roxbury and worked as a chemist at the Boston Navy Yard. His MIT senior class photograph accompanied the article.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 3, 1999.


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