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Here and there

Tech Talk doesn't print letters, but Edmund D. Carlevale, administrative assistant in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, sent us one anyway.

Normally, we'd react with a sigh.

But we didn't dare. Because that's just the point that Ed wanted to make. A major problem at MIT, as he sees it, is "sighing."

"For all I know, it's been going on at MIT since Day One. I've only begun to notice it. But now that I have, it seems to me I can't speak to three people without two of them sighing before greeting me, and the third sighing in lieu of greeting me."

"I won't have it," he writes.

And so, he seeks to ban all sighing, just like smoking.

"Of course, I'm aware there are as many types of sighs as there are personalities and problems to produce them," he says. "Failed exams, too much reading, reduced funding-we all have our stresses, and sound them in different ways. But the ban I propose must be merciless, all-inclusive. If we are to block the full-blown gust, we can be no less vigilant against the muffled squeak."

Ed has aims even beyond his campaign against sighing. "If we succeed," he writes, "who knows? We might even raise our sights to a more loathsome offense. the army of footdraggers who scrape their way from one end of the campus to another."

Ed has much more to say about sighs-but sigh!-we don't have that much room and, as we say, we really don't print letters.

To give him his due, however, Ed has a suggestion-a "Sighing Wall."

"Yes, some out of the way edifice where those so inclined may go and sigh until, joy of joys, they haven't a breath left."

Rich Nation, Strong Army: National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan, a book by Professor Richard J. Samuels, has been warmly received by Kirkus Reviews, which calls it "a scholar's original and illuminating interpretation of what makes Japan a power to be reckoned with in the global village's marketplace."

Professor Samuels, head of the Department of Political Science and director of the MIT Japan Program, chose as his title a rallying cry that dates to the 19th century Meiji Restoration, Kirkus's reviewer notes. "While freed from the shackles of a feudal past, the author shows, Japan remained insecure about its post-1868 future in a world presumed to be hostile. Militarist regimes engineered a catch-up mobilization of resources that led to Japan's calamitous defeat in World War II. After that, Samuels observes, the nation's leaders simply shifted course," the review says.

Professor Samuels' assessment of the "three-part policy that made technology an indigenous part of the national culture" presents "a genuinely fresh framework in which to evaluate the challenges a Pacific Rim colossus poses for the West," Kirkus says. The publisher is Cornell University Press.

Science Magazine has given recognition to a project in which two MIT scientists, with the help of a grant from the Class of 1951, are adapting a teaching tool that was developed in the former Soviet Union to cultivate its scientific talent.

These learning aids are similar to the math and physics problems used on entrance exams at Moscow's elite universities-braintwisters so compelling that students often work on them far into the night.

Dr. Robert M . Rose, professor of materials science and engineering, and Yuri B. Chernyak, a Russian emigre physicist who is a National Institutes of Health senior research fellow with the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, began using the problems in a course they called, "From Russia With Love."

The course was developed for the Concourse Program for freshmen, which Professor Rose directs and, he believes, is quite special. Concourse offers the standard curriculum for freshman year but is limited to about 60 students to give them the ambiance of a small school in their first year of studies.

"It is one of the invisible parts of MIT that makes it a great place-even just before final exams-to be a student," he said recently, on the eve of finals.

The problems derived from the Russian example range from easy ones accessible to high school seniors to others that "could be solved by only one in 5,000 students," Dr. Chernyak told Science magazine.

An example of an "easy" problem:

"In 1946, Soviets armed their first jet fighters with rockets to be shot backward from the tail. But when the first rocket was launched it made a U-turn and hit the plane. Why? Because as the rocket starts moving backward it is still in reality moving forward with the jet. When it emerges, therefore, it finds itself in a strong tailwind. Its fins, designed to keep it moving forward, make it flip over and head into the jet's airflow, eventually colliding with the plane."

Professor Rose and Dr. Chernyak are seeking funding from the National Science Foundation to test the problems on students in visits to other schools, and eventually to produce a textbook.


"He was always a believer in technological superiority. I think he'll try to maintain military research and development generally, but because of pressure on the budget he'll put more into basic research." - Dr. Kosta Tsipis, director of MIT's Program in Science and Technology for International Security, commenting on new Defense Secretary William J. Perry in Scientific American.

"Our galaxy is a rubbish heap of the remnants of all sorts of previous encounters." - Dr. Alar Toomre, professor of applied mathematics, commenting in Science on a report that a newly-discovered galaxy is in the process of colliding with the Milky Way.

"Here you've got the hottest industry in the world at the moment, but it's an industry that has historically been regulated and the role of the government has been to slap it down." - Dr. Lester C. Thurow, professor of management and economics, in a New York Times article on the administration's contradictory policies toward advanced information technology.

A version of this article appeared in the May 4, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 31).

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