A Walk Around Harvard Yard

A couple of days ago at Harvard College was the first day that students had a chance to get settled away to their dorms; freshmen arrived with their parents, and clutches of parents and their young adult kids were clustered around the statue of John Harvard to have photos taken of them touching the shoe of the statue of Pastor John Harvard (1607-1638) for good luck, in particlular the left foot. Both feet however, show evidence of wear when seen up close and personal (the left much more than the right), proving that even some Harvard students can’t tell their left from their right.

The superstition of touching this guy’s shoe is a tad amusing, having heard John Harvard didn’t found the university, he was a benefactor whose contribution of books even got destroyed in a fire some 250 years ago, save for one volume. In fact this isn’t even the likeness of John Harvard. Truth be known, nobody knows what he looked like, and since the sculptor Daniel French had nothing to go on 240 years after Harvard was founded, he used a student as his model. Also, the base of the statue says that Harvard “founded” the university in 1638. But it was founded in 1636, and named after the Oxford University alumnus, but not founded by him.

The founding of Harvard was by a vote of the legislature in the former colony of Massachusetts Bay, changing its name from the former “New College”.

Cambridge Diary II

2:11 PM Tuesday 16 August

  • I am sitting in the Catherine Stratton Lounge inside the Stratton Student Centre at MIT. At one end, a soap opera plays in a room where about 20 armchairs and couches are arranged on one end, theatre-style, around a 50-inch flat-screen TV. Only two students are lying there viewing the latest episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful”. To the side is an empty black glass case reaching to the ceiling. Two large, wobbly single-pedestal circular wooden tables surrounded by chairs behind the armchairs and couches.
  • At the end opposite the TV a young man lies across a couch, his empty sneakers placed in front of it, and his tattooed arms folded across his chest and the visor of his baseball cap is shading his eyes.
  • I lost the paper stating where in the Stratton Student Centre my meeting with Alex is supposed to take place. I decide to take out my laptop and hunt around for the Student Information Processing Board (SIPB) office.
  • I have the choice of four different wireless networks to log on to in the Stratton Centre, and I choose the Wireless N-Unsecured (since I’m not a student), and soon I’m on the air. To no surprise, the UNIX logins are lightning-fast, and MIT’s copy of XEmacs takes a fraction of a second to load up. But that’s a distraction right now. On my web browser, I find that SIPB is on the 5th floor. I write down the room number on a sheet of paper. I couldn’t see from the outside that this building actually had 5 floors.
  • I meet Alex, and we enter the SIPB office. It’s a bit of a messy office; but it is the kind of mess that you sense that at least everyone knows where everything is. Senator-bedfellow is still posting to the USENET’s *.answers groups; bloom-picayune has been decommissioned and is now the name of a new machine that has new functions; and our good buddy rtfm, also known as penguin-lust, is now home to the canonical FAQ archive.
  • That, and a host of other niggly technical stuff, is what came out of our 90-minute conversation today.

MATH MISTAKES I’VE SEEN AT MIT:

  • I gave a cashier 28.00 for a $27.92 purchase, and she rung up $280.00 for which she would have needed to provide $252.02 in change. But she worked it out in her head anyway. Bully for her.
  • We were among the nerdy T-shirts at the MIT Co-op bookstore, and someone saw PV/nR printed on a T-shirt. This was part of the code for: E/c2 -1 PV/nR, which ends up being “MIT”. The person looking at the phrase guessed it, but called PV/nR a Tensor expression. But it is part of the Universal Gas Law: PV = nRT, solving for T. T is thus temperature. The “m” is mass from the Einstein equation E = mc2, solving for mass, while i is the imaginary number: √ -1 .

Cambridge Diary I

11:45 AM, Aug 15

  • I came out of the Boston subway system after taking the long way around to get to the Kendall/MIT stop. It’s raining, and I enter a building where I can get my first full meal, which is connected to a bookstore called the MIT co-op. There is a food court in the same building, and enter from out of the rain and I order a slice of pizza from an S’Barro.
  • I’m wondering what buses would connect me with the hotel I’m staying at, but all I have in my travelogues are the subway routes. However, one of them does have a map where I can at least try to walk to the hotel. Except it’s raining.
  • After finishing my meal, I am about to clear everything into the garbage receptacle, when I notice a rather large umbrella with the MIT insignia emblazoned on it, in the trash. I pull it out of the trash, and I notice that it has duct tape covered over a tear near the top. I take it anyway. It’s better than nothing, I say to myself, and I head for the bookstore.
  • The Co-op bookstore is a place for some good books, but does not appear to be the place to go for course books. I noticed a range of titles by Richard Feynman, the MIT’s infamous “Algorithms” text, and numerous calculus texts that were either outside my area or of the “for dummies” variety. Someone forgot to tell them that “Android” is an operating system, not a computer language. But there were many actual languages there, as well as UNIX sysadmin guides, and guides on other operating systems. I left with an MIT T-shirt and a Deitel book on JavaScript.
  • Prices were a bit strange to me. The Deitel book was cheaper than in Canada, but it is a common title. When you get into the less common, or more specialized titles, prices start to waver unpredictably.
  • After getting my bearings, I head toward Memorial Drive with my baggage and my umbrella deployed, and when I reach Memorial, a taxicab stops in front of me, parking at the nearest intersection, and the guy asks me if I need a lift. I didn’t flag this guy down or anything. Was I that conspicuous? I figured it was going to be a short ride to the hotel, so I said “Yes”, and loaded my stuff in his trunk and rode with him. It cost six bucks.

3:40 PM, Aug 15

  • It was time for a meal, so I thought I would try the Zephyr once. It was a delightful place, reasonable prices, located inside the Hyatt Regency. It is still raining.
  • The waitress guides me to a leather armchair in front of a table. Soft jazz is playing in the background. This is my first square meal in the States. I notice that out of their copious varieties of different coffees, they don’t seem to have Americano. I point this out to the waitress, and she laughed at the irony. I order a “single” cappuccino, which turns out to be 70% foam, 30% coffee.
  • The table I am sitting at was directly in front of a window viewing east along the Charles River. Downtown Boston can be seen faintly behind the downpour.
  • I looked at the menu, and I asked myself, “what would an MIT student order for a main course at a place like the Hyatt Regency?” So, I ordered nachos. Hold the olives.