Classroom

Patrick Antaki '84

Patrick Antaki ’84

In February 2002, 38-year-old Patrick Antaki ’84 was—by his own account—fat and bored. And then he watched the skeleton events at the Winter Olympics.

Four years later, Antaki represented Lebanon at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and is the most recent MIT alumnus to compete in an Olympic Games. The oldest competitor in Skeleton, he finished in 27th place.

Now an entrepreneur and engineer living in Texas, Antaki answered 10 questions about his motivation, his training, and his surprising coach.

What’s more difficult—graduating from MIT or qualifying for the Olympics?

“That’s a tough one—both were four-year projects and required complete commitment. But Olympic training was a full-time activity for four straight years.”

You took your first skeleton run in 2002 and competed in the Olympics in 2006. When you began training, did you believe you would take it that far?

“I was looking for a challenge outside of the scope of anything I had done before—something I wasn’t confident I could achieve. I did some research after watching the ’02 Games. I fell in love with it—complete adrenaline rush! I realized there was potential to go further and I set a goal to qualify for the Olympics.”

In MIT Technology Review in 2006, you wrote, “The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation …politely snubbed me, which made me all the more determined.” How did that give you more resolve to keep going?

“It was a good thing—it gave me more motivation and I wasn’t subject to U.S. regulations. Since I covered my own expenses and have dual citizenship with the U.S. and Lebanon, it was easy to receive approval from Lebanon.”

You have an MIT degree in electrical engineering and built and installed accelerometers, gyroscopes, and cameras in your sled. How did that help?

“I quickly realized that there was no science developed for the sport. Most people had no idea what they were doing. The technology helped me review my practice runs. I also ran wind tunnel tests that helped determine that my body was crooked (during runs). After the Olympics, I was able to sell the sensors and software I had built to the Canadian National Team.”

Qualifying for the skeleton in the Olympics is a two-year process. Was there any point during training you felt like you might not qualify?

“Qualifying is based on points earned during the previous two race seasons and there is a limited number of slots. It was a 100 percent year-round commitment—lots of time away from home. Not even the top athletes know if they will qualify until the last race. I kept a clear vision of the end-goal. I was lucky to achieve it but it could’ve easily turned out differently.”

Antaki represented Lebanon in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Antaki represented Lebanon in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Did you have any coaching?

“I got a lot of help and advice, especially from the United Kingdom. Technically, my son was my coach! He was 16 at the time and accompanied me to the Olympics. Although he didn’t do much coaching (laughs).”

Can you describe the experience of living in the Olympic Village?

“It’s like freshman year at MIT—the big deal is actually getting there. Once you get in, you’re really excited. There were thousands of people from all over the world in one community for a couple of weeks—it was great.”

The average Olympic skeleton race is about one minute, lying face-down and going about 80 miles per hour with no brakes. What do you concentrate on during a race?

“The speed you don’t notice—what you feel are the turns. You don’t see anything except what’s barreling in front of you. The velocity of the run is strictly due to how fast you sprint at the beginning. Once you’re on the skeleton, you focus on control.”

Is there anything different between a regular run and an Olympic run?

“The biggest difference is that, during practices, there is no one around. During the Olympics everyone is watching. My first Olympic run was terrible. I was not mentally ready for the crowds and cameras. I reflected between my first and second run. I made it a point to be more mentally ready and my performance showed it. My second run was better (nearly two seconds faster).”

Your Olympic story is atypical. Aside from a mastery of the skeleton, what’s the most important thing you gleaned from your Olympic journey?

“Ignore conventional wisdom that says you shouldn’t be there because it doesn’t matter. People were laughing at me when I started. I was 50 pounds overweight—they called me the Lebanese Tony Soprano! In the end, I competed in the Olympics when a lot of other people didn’t.”

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Imagine a tiny device stuck to a car’s front bumper that could scan for cars ahead of you on foggy roads and warn of their approach.

First-year student Saumil Bandyopadhyay. Photo: Alessandra Petlin/Smithsonian.

First-year student Saumil Bandyopadhyay. Photo: Alessandra Petlin/Smithsonian.

You could use that same detector, the size of a postage stamp, to scan for radioactivity in shipping containers, to detect cancer in bones, or to gauge melting on polar ice caps.

MIT first-year student Saumil Bandyopadhyay is thinking through these solutions, given the success of a new nanoscale infrared detector that he co-invented with his father, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The 18-year old has already impressed Nobel laureates and government and military researchers with his invention. Last month, the Smithsonian honored Bandyopadhyay with its American Ingenuity Award, given for groundbreaking work in the sciences, technology, and humanities.

Named this year’s youth honoree, Bandyopadhyay received his award at the National Portrait Gallery on November 19 alongside Stanford professor Caroline Winterer, acclaimed author Dave Eggers, singer-songwriter St. Vincent, and five others.

Bandyopadhyay’s infrared device capitalizes on nanotechnology to minimize the enormous heat given off by traditional infrared detectors. Requiring no liquid nitrogen to cool it down, the device may prove widely useful, perhaps even aiding the search for new planets or helping to detect land mines.

In his father’s lab at VCU, Bandyopadhyay was able to improve his invention while gaining great experience with chemistry and physics. Bringing the new device to science fairs, he attracted the attention of Nobel laureate astrophysicist John Mather, who alerted Smithsonian to what a great idea it was. “He’s a brilliant kid,” said Mather.

Arriving at MIT this fall, Bandyopadhyay felt right at home and has been enjoying his first experiences studying EECS. The environment on campus, of course, is rife with nanotechnology, with professors and labs discovering uses of it for cancer research, military defense, and chemical spills.

Despite being new to him, the MIT campus provided Bandyopadhyay with some familiarity. The fact that there’s no entryway into MIT dorms labeled “I” gave him a pleasant sort of welcome, as he explained to Smithsonian Magazine this month.

“In math, the convention is that the square root of negative one is I,” he said. “So I is imaginary.”

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What makes up a city? In the recent MIT course, In this Building: Multimedia and Place-based Storytelling, architecture and urban planning students became urban storytellers, learning how to uncover the personal side of everyday Boston storefronts and homes.

Their resulting multimedia projects revealed the cooperative culture of MIT’s PIKA dorm, the upward path of a homeless addict turned Dorchester home owner and family man, and a South End sandwich shop with a clientele for the history books.

Rindge Towers

Rindge Towers Photo: Ashwin Balakrishnan

Graduate students Ashwin Balakrishnan and Rachel Finkelstein reported on the controversies surrounding Rindge Towers, the largest affordable housing development in Cambridge. Opened in 1971, critics still dismiss the three 22-story buildings as “urine towers”—an unwelcome eyesore to the surrounding Cambridge neighborhood. But for residents, the towers’ 504 apartments are home to a rich melting pot of diverse cultures, ages, and experiences.

“The people here are my family,” remarked Tenant Association President Pat Casola in an interview with the students. Under her organizing force, tenants prevented the mid-1990s market-rate conversion of all apartments, which would have forced many to find new homes.

899-907 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

899-907 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Graduate students Lawrence Barriner, Kirsten Greco, and Ruth Sappelt uncovered the colorful past of 899-907 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, Cambridge. Home to Toscanini’s Ice Cream, Cinderella’s Pizza, and at one time a brothel, this post-Civil War, mixed-use building sits on real estate that “for many years has been worth more down that up,” according to owner Patrick W. Barrett III.

The building’s uncertain future demonstrates a common challenge for independent mom and pop shops struggling to compete with more powerful big box chains. “You see this all the time in changing neighborhoods where things that seem like irreplaceable institutions go away,” said Toscanini’s owner Gus Rancatore.

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe Photo: Carmela Zakon

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe
Photo: Carmela Zakon

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is another irreplaceable institution that graduate student Carmela Zakon and Nse Umoh Esema MCP ’12 explored.

Located at 429 Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End, the 86-year old restaurant was one of the first to serve black customers and became a popular late night hang out for Boston jazz musicians and the Black Porters Union. Legend has it that a young Sammy Davis Jr. tap danced in the restaurant’s entry way for extra change.

“You have completely changed my perspective on what a city is,” said Dewald LaGrange, project manager at Epi Use, who attended the final project presentations. “In order to do proper city planning, you have to understand people.”

In this Building was taught by MIT Associate Professor J. Phillip Thomson, Boston Globe Assistant Metro Editor Steve Wilmsen, and Alexa Mills MCP ’08.

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Ms Nelly A Rosario '94 sent this photo of a treasured undergrad memory: the 1994 Ebony Affair event.

Nelly Rosario ’94 sent in a photo of a treasured undergrad memory: the Ebony Affair event.

Sophomores at MIT face a whole new set of pressures, but unlike first-year students, they cannot blame their stress on inexperience. As Tien Nguyen PhD ’91 put it, sophomore year is “the real thing … no more Pass/Fail.” In order to provide sophomores with inspiring stories from alumni who conquered their second-year second-guessing, we emailed the members of the Institute Career Assistance Network (ICAN). Here are some of the responses we received:

“Choose your major by what excites you most, but explore other areas that intrigue you. You can change your mind later.” – George Pavel ’72

“You still might have no precise idea of what you want to do, but you sure feel the pressure to succeed. Guillaume d’Orange, a European medieval Prince, is supposed to have copied Charles le Téméraire’s saying: Point n’est besoin d’esperer pour entreprendre, ni de reussir pour perseverer [One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere]. It’s a great saying about finding the resources into who you are, and not what the peer pressure pushes you to be.” — Jean-Louis L. Roux-Buisson SM ’78

“Forget what you told parents or high school teachers, and future salary.  Figure out what really interests you, grabs your imagination, fires you up.  Then choose.” – Mark Radka ’81

“In 1986, I was a materials science undergrad at MIT, taking literature courses for fun. I am now the chair of a film and photography department. Do what you love, not what other people told you would make money.” – Dr. Walter C. Metz ’89

“The best thing about MIT is that you can switch fields easily because MIT concentrates on basics. I switched 5 times at MIT (all in EE), and became a theoretical Plasma Physicist! After 25 years, I did computer security and air traffic analysis.” – James A. Rome ’64, EE ’67, ENG ’67, SM ’67, SCD ’71

“No matter how much pressure you feel, put things in perspective. Dedicate time to yourself and your loved ones, they are your most important support. Try and exercise, it’ll help take the pressure away … three or four of us used to run early in the freezing mornings along Memorial Drive, crossing the Charles on Mass Ave, coming back on Storrow Drive, crossing the Salt and Pepper bridge, to end at 60 Wadsworth. We would get inside a small car in the parking lot to see the windows fog with condensation. A stupid thing to do, but a lot of fun back then. Steam would come off our bodies like if we were in fire. I wanna think that steam was a form of stress getting out of our bodies.” – Jose L Antoniano PhD ’83

We also asked our Twitter followers to provide advice via the hashtag #MIT2016. You can read our round-up of tweeted advice here, and continue to participate via that hashtag or here in the comments. What do you remember about your sophomore year? What do you know now that you wish you had heard during undergrad?

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As summer days dwindle and students ready themselves for autumn back in Cambridge, Slice of MIT asked faculty about their own summer reading adventures. We presume that those who didn’t write back by deadline are too buried in beach reading, but a few wrote in answer to this query: with only a week or two of summer left, what one book would you have us read?

Professor Robert Langer of MIT’s Langer Lab recommends The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Riverhead, 2013; $27.95). It’s a warm, All-American novel, wrote the New York Times Book Review, “but it’s also stealthily, unassumingly and undeniably a novel of ideas.”Chipcase_plainsight

Daron Acemoglu, professor of economics, enjoyed Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson (2013, Liveright; $29,95). The book is, in the words of the American Prospect review, a “relentless investigation” into the themes behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency.

Miklos Porkolab, director of the MIT Science and Fusion Center, suggests Search for the Ultimate Energy Source: A History of the U.S. Fusion Energy Program by Stephen O. Dean (Springer, 2013; $24.99). The Energy Collective calls Dean’s book a detailed exploration into the roller-coaster history of fusion funding and experimentation in this country.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media, recommends Jan Chipchase’s Hidden in Plain Sight (HarperBusiness, 2013; $19.88). “Chipchase is a designer, ethnographer and blogger who draws inspiration from the ways technology is adopted and adapted by its users around the world,” says Zuckerman. “His first book summarizes many of the insights from his years of watching how people repurpose technologies, especially mobile phones, to meet their needs and offers a terrific introduction to thinking about product design that starts not from a blank sheet of paper but from the ways people use technologies in the real world.”

If none of these titles strike a vein, there is plenty of summer reading from alumni and professors (the above professors notwithstanding) to be had. Let us also give the Slice bump to Brain and Cognitive Sciences professor Suzanne Corkin, whose Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H. M. was published this spring by Basic Books and was reviewed in the July/August issue of Technology Review. A humane and inspiring portrait of one man’s sacrifice for science, it will leave you weighting each day with a little more worth, whether in summer or any season.

Got a must-read addition to the list? Add a comment and let us know.

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Guest Blogger: Monica Kelley, Alumni Association intern

Webinars are old news at MIT, but the Sloan School of Management is taking online instruction to a new dimension. Last spring, Sloan launched a new Executive Education program called Big Data 4Dx, an online version of its popular program Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler. Unlike online courses where participants watch lectures, Big Data 4Dx uses AvayaLive EngageTM, a web-based, immersive collaboration environment that allows participants to interact with each other in a virtual classroom.The next two-day session—both in person and online—is set for October.

Online students participate as avatars in the Big Data 4Dx course.

Online students and faculty participate as avatars in the Big Data 4Dx course.

The online course is offered concurrently with the classroom course, which allows online participants to observe the lecture in real time. In the virtual classroom, the live lecture and presentation materials can be viewed on three screens. Each online participant has a personal avatar that can move around the room to view the screens and engage with other online participants. Professors Erik Brynjolfsson PhD ’91 and Sandy Pentland PhD ’82 also assume avatars and join the online participants in the virtual auditorium. The virtual auditorium is projected on screen in the campus classroom so participants using both platforms can interact.

What is 4D? AvayaLive EngageTM uses technology that allows participants to become “directionally attuned” to the location and proximity of sounds in the virtual environment. Thus, a conversation between avatars standing nearby will sound louder than one on the opposite side of the virtual space. Despite a few early kinks, the program received positive reviews from online participants.

Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst believes this innovation complements rather than competes with classroom instruction. “This is a cutting-edge way to deliver interactive, dynamic programs to more participants around the world, and opens the door to even more formats for our programming. The traditional model will remain, but this type of virtual component is the direction of the future.”

The next course is scheduled for October 15-16.

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mick
Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

We went to see the Stones the other night, as we always do when they are in town. We just can’t miss seeing what Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Charlie Watts are up to.

Then, before my ears stopped ringing the next day, I saw on one of the MIT what’s-happening displays something to the effect that live lectures are dead. Maybe if it is said often enough, it will make it true.

I recalled the concert. Of course I could have listened to all those songs as I drove to work at any volume I liked. I could have popped a video into all the fancy electronic toys I keep in the media room. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent a lot of money for the welcome privilege of filling my eyes with real photons bouncing off real people, surrounded by about 18,000 other similarly minded fans.

So is the live lecture dead? Not yet, I think. We like the social act of seeing it live with others. We like having singular people in the same room, even if it is a big room.

So in our rush to MOOC everything, maybe we are asking the wrong question. We ask how can we get out stuff out to 10s of thousands or 100s of thousands of people. Instead, maybe we should ask what 100 skills, concepts, and experiences should every MIT student acquire by age 30.

Then, we can ask how we can best use established and emerging technology to deliver those skills, concepts, and experiences.*

The list would include elements every educated MIT graduate should understand at one level or another just because he or she is entitled to wear a Brass Rat. My candidates would include probability and statistics, electromagnetic wave propagation, limits to what can be computed, chemistry of one sort or another, the nature and origins of life, and what makes our species unique, all of which are readily available, but none of which are now required of every MIT student.

But alas, who is to make such a list? Perhaps I should volunteer, but then I think, in rational moments, that I should just consign the idea to the Arco Santi directory.**

* See the What’s Next with MITx for more on the subject of web-enabled educational transformation.

** The place where I put romantic ideas that I write up just for fun,

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Cecilia d'Olivier

Cecilia d’Oliveira ’77, SM ’79, the Executive Director of MIT OpenCourseWare

MITx’s first offer of an online MIT course back in December 2011 received a huge turn-out of almost 155,000 registrants–including a 15-year-old student in Mongolia studying under Tony Kim ’09, MEng ’11. This fall, that student will attend MIT–but he will have to take the course he just aced, all over again.

That first course—Circuits and Electronics, or 6.002x—became an important talking point for speakers at the sixth annual MIT LINC conference. Educators from schools and universities all over the world came to Cambridge on June 16-19 to discuss how to supplement traditional education programs with online course materials.

Panel topics ranged from the advantages and disadvantages of relying on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), virtual universities, and educational television programming, plus discussion of  the general state of technology accessibility and implementation both at MIT and elsewhere.

Throughout the conference, speakers seemed torn between the allure of worldwide accessibility as provided by online courses, versus the value of traditional face-to-face teaching methods.

The Hype Cycle

The Hype Cycle

In the first set of speakers at LINC, former Open University (UK) president Sir John Daniel showed us the Gartner Hype Cycle graph, which describes common reactions to new technologies. Daniel explained that MIT was still in the “peak of inflated expectations” regarding MOOCs. The following day, Dr. Okhwa Lee from Chungbuk National University in South Korea also showed this same graph, explaining that South Korea had already progressed to the “trough of disillusionment.” Both speakers had the same question: how do we get to the “plateau of productivity” when it comes to teaching courses online?

The final day of talks at LINC featured faculty and alumni discussing technology-enabled learning initiatives at MIT, such as BLOSSOMS (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies), a library of video lessons for high school students, as well as MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) materials. Cecilia d’Oliveira ’77, SM ’79, the Executive Director of MIT OCW, emphasized her belief that online courses and face-to-face classes should have a “synergistic” relationship at MIT.

Ethan Solomon '12

Ethan Solomon ’12

Ethan Solomon ’12 used his talk to describe a teaching innovation that he believes is entirely new: “addictive green check marks,” used in MOOCs to indicate good work. In the final panel of LINC, Solomon described his love of instant online feedback, closing his talk by declaring the lecture hall that he stood in to be “useless … except for conferences like this.”

Are you a true believer in online courseware? Watch the LINC 2013 panels online to learn more, or try a class yourself at MITx.mit.edu.

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Ravi and Tiffany at the Stata Center.

Tiffany Chen and Ravi Netravali at the Stata Center.

What did MIT students do last weekend? Some of them hosted a game jam.

Research students in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) Networks and Mobile Systems group extended an open invitation to local mobile game developers to come to the Stata Center and participate in a weekend-long challenge: create a game that encourages its players to go forth and explore new places.

The event resulted in a new mobile game made by a small group of developers; the team hopes to officially release it in the next two weeks. Game design teams who missed last weekend’s game jam can find the NetMap Game Client on Github.com should they wish to aid these researchers in their quest.

The hosts of the game jam have already been collecting data on their own about wireless and cellular networks via a tool called NetMap, as a class project for 6.829 Computer Networks. Three PhD students in the class–Tiffany Chen, Ravi Netravali, and Victor Costan ’07 MNG ’08—believed that their research project could extend beyond just a class assignment. They wanted to collect more data to analyze from mobile users all over the world.

How could the team get users everywhere to find out about NetMap, install it, and provide more data for the researchers to analyze? Make a game, of course.

The Teaching Assistant of the students’ Computer Networks class, PhD student Jonathan Perry SM ’12, took this idea one step further. He suggested the team host a game jam, a hackathon-like event for game developers to meet up and make a game in a single weekend.

“We needed an easy way to collect a large volume of measurements,” Perry explains. “If you’re going to go big-scale, why have one game when you can have many?”

Although the game jam event produced only one game so far, the team hopes for further development with NetMap in the future.

“Our wildest dream would be to have these collections everywhere where there are wireless device users,” says Netravali. “The problems of a poor connection can plague you anywhere.”

“You could find out if AT&T works better in this area or T-Mobile works better in this area,” Tiffany Chen explains. “You could know which service you should choose. Everybody can use that information.”

Perry hopes the data collected via NetMap and the team’s subsequent research and analysis will help network researchers. “When you make new network equipment or when you design new standards—later versions of 4G, for example or the next version of Wi-Fi—you can take into account data.”

The game jam focused on development for Android devices so that the games and the entire NetMap project can remain open source and freely available for future researchers and developers.

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Did you see Jeffrey Lin’s video tutorial on how to navigate the MIT Alumni Directory?

MIT’s Class of 2013 should find it useful next month as they earn their official listing in it, and the thousands of alumni who haven’t yet logged in to the Infinite Connection should check it out as well. You know who you are.Jeffrey Lin shot

Lin didn’t just make the video for the $300 gift card prize offering in the MIT Alumni Association contest. An avid designer, Lin enjoys fooling with film technologies and says he made this video on the night before deadline.

“I saw the listing and figured I had a shot,” he said. “And I thought, ‘what better way to do this quickly than with animation?’ I grabbed a Wacom tablet, which you can hook to your laptop and use for drawing by hand. I used QuickTime screen capturing.”

A big fan of RSA Animate, Lin designed the directory tutorial with its instructional, straightforward style in mind, telling the story of a login through clever animated slides.

“I hadn’t really done something like it before and wanted to see how it would work out,” he recalled.

Whether experimenting with live-action or animation, Lin enjoys storytelling. His short documentary on the MIT lightweight crew team and his moving profile of Emma Nelson ’14 demonstrate his attention to a film’s narrative arc.

Though Lin is a course 4 (architecture) major, he has enjoyed Professor Vivek Bald’s documentary filmmaking course and Angel Nevarez’s intro to video class. In the latter, Lin directed A Proper Meal, which won the undergraduate CMS Media Spectacle Award last year.

Lin has also been active in the Asian American Association and the DynaMIT engineering camp, where he mentors middle school-aged students in math and science.

Whether Lin pursues film or architecture or design or none of the above, he clearly knows how to use the alumni directory for reaching out to fellow beavers. During IAP in 2011, he interned at the Brand Union in New York, working under its North American CEO Robert Scalea ’77, an experience he chronicled on Slice.

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