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Here and there

Someone told Here and There that Professor Borivoje B. Mikic was a chess grand master. Well, not quite, but he's no slouch at the board either.

"I'm afraid that's vastly overstated," he said, "both as to my ability and achievements."

Dr. Mikic, professor of mechanical engineering and associate head of the department, was a candidate for master as a high school student in Yugoslavia, which is the equivalent of master in the US. But then he gave chess a lower priority, he said, when his fiance, Liba, now his wife, told him it was "chess or her."

After coming to this country, Dr, Mikic achieved the ranking before master, but it remained strictly a hobby, giving way to demands of his career.

"Chess is a time sink," he explained.

Still, he plays occasionally, and even entered a tournament with Dr. Alvin W. Drake, professor of systems science and engineering. Professor Drake said it would be wrong to compare his modest talents with those of Professor Mikic. "He's an aggressive, extraordinarily skilled player," he said.

Actually, Professor Mikic is better known for his connection with a sport that is the antithesis of the sedentary chess player. He is an expert on tennis racquet technology and also an enthusiastic player.

As for chess-and he is the first to note that there are many fine chess players on the MIT faculty-he mostly has some fun with students at the Next House, where he and his wife are housemaster and house-mistress.

"I can play two boards simultaneously, blindfolded, and still win. I do that to build my ego and to establish authority over the students," he added, laughing.


When is a photograph not really a photograph? Dean William J. Mitchell of the School of Architecture and Planning provides some answers to that question in the cover article of the February issue of Scientific American. Dean Mitchell, professor of architecture and media arts, focuses his research on computational techniques and digital media in design and the visual arts. Thus, he is an expert on digital technology that can be used for manipulating photographic images. The article, titled "When is Seeing Believing?" contains several examples of the manipulation process and on the magazine's cover, as an illustration of the technique, shows Marilyn Monroe linked arm-in-arm with President Abraham Lincoln. Dean Mitchell is author of a book on the subject, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (MIT Press, 1992).

In his review of the book, The Linguistics Wars, in Nature, Neil Smith of the Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, University College, London, had this to say about Institute Professor Noam Chomsky:

"Noam Chomsky's position in the history of ideas is comparable to that of Darwin or Descartes. In this century, his peers in influence are the unlikely trio of Einstein, Picasso and Freud, with each of whom he has something in common. Like Darwin and Descartes, Chomsky has redefined our understanding of ourselves as humans; like Freud... he has revolutionized our view of the mind; like Einstein, he blends intense scientific creativity with radical political activism; like Picasso, he has overturned and replaced his own established systems with startling frequency. That a book on the history of linguistics should be reviewed in Nature is ultimately due to the fact that Chomsky's work has brought the study of language from the impressionism of the humanities into the scientific fold..."

Speaking of linguistics, Dr. Steven Pinker's new book on language, The Language Instinct, (Tech Talk, Feb. 9) is attracting considerable attention. Dr. Pinker is a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and director of the McDonnell-Pew Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. In The Boston Sunday Globe, Reviewer John McNamara, professor of psychology at McGill University, describes Professor Pinker as "the world's leading researcher in the area of children's learning of syntax and morphology" and finds his book "full of wit and wisdom and sound judgment."

An interview/review in The Boston Phoenix, concludes with an amusing comment by Pinker in response to writer Gary Sussman's observation that Pinker has no children of his own who can prove his theories about the innate grammatical genius of the young. "I'll probably get the child I deserve," [Pinker] says, "in that he'll refute every theory that I've developed."


"The waves will tell us how Jupiter's atmosphere is set up. The only thing we need the comet to do is be big enough to make the waves big enough."-Dr. Timothy E. Dowling, assistant professor of planetary sciences, in a story in Science News on how the impending crash of a fragmented comet into Jupiter's atmosphere may create ripples that will enable researchers to measure and calculate some of the key elements missing from a complete picture of how the planet's winds operate.

"This is particularly key in biotechnology where just yesterday's `blue sky science' becomes today's genetic therapy." -Lita Nelsen, director of the Technology Licensing Office, in testimony before a US House subcommittee urging government support for basic research that industry lacks the money to fund, in the Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette.


A version of this article appeared in the March 9, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 25).

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