IAP

The study of heavy metal has long been a discipline at MIT. The music that is.

Now in its eighth year, the four-part seminar series “Bang Your Head! Heavy Metal 101” is taught by departmental systems administrator Jeffrey Pearlin for MIT’s Independent Activities Period. “Rule number one: Always end with an explosion,” said Pearlin of the music’s tendency to shock critics and awe enthusiasts.

Photo: Mark Kurkjy

Heavy metal fans at 2005 Megadeth concert in Portland, Maine. Photo: Mark Kurkjy

In his first session, Pearlin charted heavy metal’s 50-year history for a crowded room of students and alumni rhythmically bopping their heads (the metal term is head banging) to Pantera’s “Walk,” Judas Priest’s “Metal Gods,” and other musical examples. Many were coming to the lecture series for the third year in a row.

“I think it’s always good to learn more about the music you love,” said Joe Díaz ’10, a metal enthusiast since grade school who majored in music and theater arts at MIT. “For me, that means breaking it down into the components of what makes metal metal.”

Unlike other forms of rock n’ roll that are directly influenced by American Blues music, heavy metal has its roots in earlier rock. Songs often have fast, aggressive drumming, vocals that span from operatic to more intense screaming, and a distorted synthetic tone created by maximizing the wattage going through electric guitar amplifiers. The lyrics run the gamut from themes of liberty and freedom to the satanic and even fantasy.

The British band Black Sabbath is largely credited as first playing heavy metal’s unique synthetic sound out of Birmingham rock houses in the 1960s. Today, Pearlin notes that 70 percent of the world’s countries are home to a recording heavy metal band, and the Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives has records of more than 90,000 past or present metal bands.

MIT even has its own connection to heavy metal. Derrick Green, lead singer of Brazilian band Sepultura, is also the brother of Professor Renée Green, director of the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology.

While long hair, tattoos, and black leather are common among fans and musicians, “image is not important,” said Pearlin. “It’s how authentic you are in your metalness.” One true sign of metalness? Making the hand gesture of devil horns to express enthusiasm during concerts.

For those wary of the music’s sound, Pearlin argues that classical music and heavy metal both require years of discipline and practice to understand and appreciate the genre. “If the MIT mind can relate to classical music, there’s no reason why the MIT mind could not relate to the musicality behind heavy metal,” he said.

Many more MIT minds are starting to relate to heavy metal. In addition to Heavy Metal 101, Pearlin has been tapped by MIT professors to conduct guest lectures on heavy metal as a globalized music and offer analysis of metal band Mastodon’s musical interpretation of Moby Dick.

The remaining seminars will be held January 23 and 30 from 5-6 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

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Blackjack is the “minor leagues,” said John Chang ’85, one of three alums from the notorious MIT blackjack team who returned to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas May 28 for a panel discussion at the 15th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking.

Photo: Christopher DeVargas.

Henry Houh ’89 and Andrew Bloch ’91. Photo: Christopher DeVargas.

The Las Vegas Sun reported on the panel, at which Chang joined Houh ’89, SM ’91, PhD ’98 and Andrew Bloch ’91 for a frank discussion of the years-long streak that MIT students enjoyed, putting their math skills to practice.

Chang had to join the panel remotely, answering questions in a prerecorded session, since his ban from Caesar’s (among other casinos) is still in effect.

Bloch addressed those bans, which came after the students and graduates won millions of dollars in high-stakes bets at blackjack tables from Atlantic City to the Gulf Coast to Vegas. Casinos caught on, and the resulting tension made for great storytelling. The team first appeared first in Ben Mezrich’sWired story “Hacking Las Vegas” and in his subsequent book Bringing Down the House. That book was the basis for the 2008 film 21.

All panelists were asked about their ties to MIT. Chang mused that having associations to the school often worked against them. MIT was “feared because of its name,” he said, ”You know? ‘Oh, those MIT geniuses are gonna come in and levitate the chips out of the rack…”

“It was great fun,” Houh added. “There were all sorts of crazy stories…that’s why it took me 13 years to get out of MIT.”

Did belonging to a blackjack team hinder one’s schoolwork and chances at graduating? The players discussed this question via email after the panel. Chang said he could only recall one player from his years who didn’t graduate.

“I think the blackjack team may have actually helped people graduate more than it hurt,” said Bloch, “by providing a source of income and a continuing connection to MIT to students who had otherwise been losing interest in school.”

Chang, who captained the team for nearly a decade, waxed most wise when reflecting on the nature of the game. “I think blackjack really is more like a training to be successful in something else,” he said.

For some members of the team, that something else was returning to engineering or academic careers. Houh became an expert witness in IP litigation. Another player, Jeffrey Ma ’95, launched two start-ups and is currently CEO at tenXer in San Francisco.

As for Bloch, he’s still crunching numbers with cards in his hand, though it’s poker now that he favors. He won his first World Series of Poker bracelet last year.

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Happy Earth Day! As you read this, teams are vying to be named champions in the annual MIT Earth Day Challenge this week. Many community members will contribute to the (rescheduled) 14th annual Charles River Cleanup this weekend.
earth day_transparent1

Being a school on a shoreline, MIT’s celebration of Earth any day is also, quite often, a celebration of the water, and in particular, the Charles River.

Like so many civilizations before us, MIT’s has been built upon a river.

How does this river sustain our work? Ocean engineering majors can tell you; they surveyed the muddy Charles’s depths in 2007. Civil engineers plumb its depths annually: check out this 2012 project to destratify it with turbulent jets.  Art, Culture,and Technology Associate Professor Gediminas Urbonas designed last winter’s IAP “Learning from the River” around it. CSAIL’s lecture series bears its name.

There was Proteus the penguin boat and the pre-Columbian raft. We’ve done sonar tests, problem sets with fictional “Charles River” companies, studied ice patterns, and silt formation.

And the Charles is our playground, too, as any runner, rower or sailor will attest. Maybe you played the MUVE game “Charles River City” a few years back, or watched the 4th of July fireworks from any available rooftop.

Always moving and yet always still, the Charles is a muse for photographers, romantics, barflys, philanthropists, and soul-searchers. Remember how Ernie Knight ’28, for his 70th reunion, took a single scull out for one more row?

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Photo: Lydia Krasilnikova.

Seems logical to trek out there once a year—at least, to work on keeping the Charles clean.

In a unique sense of the word, the Charles River is also an MIT invention. Karl Haglund’s 2002 book, Inventing the Charles River, is a great exploration into how engineers (MIT alums included) shaped Boston and Cambridge’s shorelines over the years into a “Back Bay” with stabilized riverfronts. How would one’s MIT experience be different, do you think, if we looked out at mud flats and salt marshes every day?

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No Thank You

by Patrick on February 3, 2013

in IAP, Prof. Winston's Ideas

 

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

I’ve been doing my “How to Speak” IAP talk in 6-120 for three decades. With 154 seats, it has been a little too small, but I was reluctant to take on one of the bigger halls, because I teach that talks given in sparsely populated venues have an unimportant feel.

This year, the Physics Department did me a favor and mysteriously booted me out of 6-120.  I landed in 10-250, the Center of the Universe, MIT’s second largest hall, with 425 seats.  I was relieved when 11 am rolled around and it was much closer to full than half full.

Anyway, I always try to add something new, so this year I buttressed my argument against concluding a talk with thank you using some video from the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

Governor Christie knows something about speaking, so it was worth noting that he had no thank you at the end of his keynote speech:

Together we will stand up once again for American greatness for our children and grandchildren.  God bless you and God bless America.

No thank you. Instead, Governor Christie used the classic call to arms ending, followed by a benediction.

What about President Clinton, who also knows something about speaking. How did he end his keynote speech?

My fellow Americans, if that is what you want, if that is what you believe, you must vote and you must re-elect President Barack Obama.God bless you and God bless America.

Again, the classic call to arms ending, followed by the same benediction.

 

The common thank you ending isn’t a disaster, but it is a weak move. It signals to some, perhaps many, perhaps subliminally, that the speaker lacks self confidence and feels that the audience has stuck around just to be polite.

If a talk has been good, the speaker has done the audience a favor, not the other way around.

So how do you conclude a technical talk, especially a technical talk that is part of a job application? The call to arms and benediction endings generally won’t work, but you can simply say, “With this summary of my contributions, I have concluded my talk.” Everyone will know you are finished because you will walk over and shake hands with your host, just as the conductor shakes hands with the concert master to signal that the time has come to clap.

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This is the final post in a series from two MIT students—Shawn Wen ’13 and Taylor Yates MBA ’14—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers reported on what they learned and how the experience informed their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor. Read the other posts in this series.

Guest Blogger: Shawn Wen ’13
Extern sponsor: Jon Glaudemans ’80
Company: Ascension Health, Washington, DC
Externship: health policy analysis

Shawn (far left) and her older brother (right) enjoying dinner with Becky Donnellan ’72 (back left) and her family.

Clockwise, from front left: Shawn Wen ’13, Meaghan Karch (daughter of Shawn’s host, Becky Donnellan), Becky Donnellan ’72, Nate Karch (Becky’s husband), and Jason Wen (Shawn’s brother).

As I wrap up my final week at Ascension Health (AH), I am amazed at what I have had the opportunity to do this month. In this past week alone, I have attended congressional hearings; participated in an Alliance for Health Reform briefing on strategies for bending the health-cost curve; researched and prepared data charts on Medicaid Expansion for the CEO of AH; and learned about new, effective practices for reducing shoulder dystocia, a high-trauma birth event, from AH’s director of clinical excellence. I also have been invited to the David Winston Health Policy Gala to cap off my final night in Washington, DC!

What I have come to appreciate is the strength of the MIT connection. It’s something that has been well articulated by others before, but it hadn’t resonated with me so strongly until this externship experience. Becky Donnellan ’72 generously opened up her home and family to me, and my sponsor, Jon, despite traveling extensively, spent the few days he was in our DC office giving me insights on how to lead effectively, make others believe in your vision, and connect with others in professional and personal domains.

Amazingly, everyone I have met has taken a personal interest in helping me, an undergrad, despite their high-profile careers and busy lives. When prompted about my passions, I shared my ongoing work on a low-cost typhoid diagnostic system targeting resources-limited healthcare settings in developing countries, and immediately Jon and Becky both started lining up connections for me. The support was certainly unexpected, and it amazes me how they are personally and genuinely invested in me simply because we share a common alma mater. I doubt this exists at any other institution. Their desire to see me succeed and my desire to make them proud are powerfully motivating. I know I will stay in touch with them in the future.

In short, the Alumni Association’s Student/Alumni Externship Program is one of the most valuable and rewarding opportunities I’ve had at MIT—everyone should take advantage of it. Working at AH helped me build a critical understanding of barriers to the delivery and consumption of healthcare, which I know I will draw upon as a future physician. More importantly, interacting with Becky and Jon opened me up to a whole network of amazing people and helped me appreciate and recognize the type of mentor and person I aspire to become. I couldn’t have planned a more rewarding fourth and final IAP and am so wonderfully grateful to have had this opportunity.

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This is part of a series of posts from two MIT students—Taylor Yates MBA ’14 and Shawn Wen ’13—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers will report on what they learn and how the experience informs their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor. Read the other posts in this series.

Guest Blogger: Taylor Yates MBA ’14
Extern sponsor: Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06
Company: FeedZai, Redwood City, CA
Externship: business development and marketing associate

Taylor Yates MBA ’14

Taylor Yates MBA ’14.

Small confession: I didn’t know that “deck” meant “PowerPoint presentation” before business school…. How far I’ve come. Today I presented my very own deck to, among others, FeedZai’s founders.

I shed more than a little bit of sweat—and maybe a few tears—putting together my presentation, the culmination of my IAP externship. I knew the audience would be knowledgeable and engaged; founders invest too much of their own time and money to leave room for nonsense and BS. This was high in my mind as I tried to deliver tangible value through my research.

That’s a tall order when you’re asked to master the entire payments processing industry in a matter of weeks. As my first job in Silicon Valley, how this might impact my, MIT’s, and the MBA’s reputation was not lost on me. The last thing I wanted was for my audience to walk away saying “Well, that was disappointing.”

Then again, tall orders are MIT’s specialty.

Through the help of my IAP sponsor, Cathy Chang, and the frameworks I learned at MIT Sloan, I put together a presentation that was fairly well received. Hearing myself speak was somewhat surreal, I could not believe how confidently I detailed a subject that only a few weeks ago had been as unfamiliar as California itself. Nor could I believe how confidently I was able to suggest a course of action to a group that, for all intents and purposes, had no reason to listen to me.

I suppose that is the power of these externships. Not only have I learned a great deal about FeedZai’s business, I’ve learned an enormous amount about what it means to be an MIT student. People simply assume you’re smart and can do the tough jobs. The responsibility of carrying those expectations gracefully is very humbling. Learning that was at least as valuable as learning about tech start-ups.

Ultimately the audience was very happy with my analysis and identified interesting areas for further research. I really could not have asked for a better outcome and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that FeedZai, the Student/Alumni Externship program, and Cathy gave me. Thanks for reading!

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This is part of a series of posts from two MIT students—Taylor Yates MBA ’14 and Shawn Wen ’13—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers will report on what they learn and how the experience informs their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor. Read the other posts in this series.

Guest Blogger: Taylor Yates MBA ’14
Extern sponsor: Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06
Company: FeedZai, Redwood City, CA
Externship: business development and marketing associate

From left: Extern Taylor Yates MBA ’14 with his externship sponsor, Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06.

From left: Extern Taylor Yates MBA ’14 with his externship sponsor, Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06.

It’s amazing how much you can learn in a week at a start-up.

Last Monday, I had no idea what America’s payments industry looked like, despite having a degree in economics and finance. Now, through my externship at FeedZai and with help from my externship sponsor, I’m starting to speak a whole new language.

I’ve been spending sunny California days listening to my favorite 80’s playlists as I read reports about payment processing and fraud, searching for where exactly FeedZai fits in. I had grand aspirations when I started that somehow I could answer all of the company’s key strategic questions. I’ve been humbled by the complexity and sheer scale of the task.

FeedZai’s CEO, Nuno Sebastiao, told me once that venture capitalists don’t back start-ups that might be the next $50 million success story; they back companies that might be the next billion dollar success story. That’s a whole lot of money to be made, and it’s my job to find out where it might be.

I’ve made time to learn as much as I can from the team around me. Cathy and Nuno have shared spectacular insights that I could only get from working at a start-up in an IAP externship. For example, it is incredibly difficult to recruit talent in a start-up in the US because our career-oriented culture makes Americans exceptionally skilled interviewees. While this is good for the job applicants, it presents a challenge for a CEO trying to build the team that will drive them to success.

With only two weeks left in my externship, I am looking forward to seeing my work come to fruition and make an impact on a company I have come to deeply respect.

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This is part of a series of posts from two MIT students—Shawn Wen ’13 and Taylor Yates MBA ’14—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers will report on what they learn and how the experience informs their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor. Read the other posts in this series.

Guest Blogger: Shawn Wen ’13
Extern sponsor: Jon Glaudemans ’80
Company: Ascension Health, Washington, DC
Externship: health policy analysis

Shawn at a Congressional hearing.

Shawn at a Congressional hearing.

This past Sunday, a day before President Obama’s Inauguration, I visited Mount Vernon Gardens and Estate. The property itself was beautiful, but perhaps the most poignant part about being at the former home of George and Martha Washington was being reminded of one of our first President’s greatest marks of leadership: his firm belief in the peaceful transfer of power and its shaping influence on how the US political system operates today.

As I watched the Inauguration on Monday among a mass of about 800,000 people packed onto the National Mall, I couldn’t help but feel lucky and moved to be a part of history. In 2009, President Obama made history by becoming the first African American President of the United States. This Monday marked a different kind of history. The nation faces extremely challenging issues, but like President Washington, we must find sound judgment despite being in uniquely challenging circumstances without any guiding precedence.

Scenes from the Inauguration crowd.

The view from the crowd at the Inauguration earlier this week.

A day after the Inauguration, the 113th Congress wasted no time in beginning hearings. I attended hearings at the Energy and Commerce and the Ways and Means Committees. Successes at the Energy and Commerce Committee, which included markup of pending legislation (including the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act and National Pediatric Research Network Act of 2013), were mixed with heated discussions about the debt ceiling at the Ways and Means Committee. Sloan Professor Simon Johnson PhD ’89, who gave testimony at the Ways and Means hearing, warned that failure to increase the debt ceiling would seriously and permanently undermine our standing in credit markets, increase interest rates, and worsen the budget deficit, which would have detrimental effects in the global economy.

What I am coming to appreciate about policy and governance is the interconnectedness of issues and the resulting challenges of finding comprehensive solutions. In the three hours of the hearing, no clear action steps were laid out. If anything, a world of challenges and exceptions were raised. But perhaps that’s how policy works. Dialogue is laboriously slow but critically necessary to allow all stakeholders to be heard, every viewpoint to be considered, and the most well-informed policy decisions to be made.

Scenes from the Inauguration crowd.

Scenes from the Inauguration crowd.

At the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

At the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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With a few exceptions, most IAP activities occur on or around campus. But members of the MIT Women’s Initiative have spent most of the past month traveling across the country, encouraging middle and high school girls to pursue degrees and careers in science and engineering.

The goal of the Women’s Initiative is to create personalized interactions between school-age women and MIT female students. This year, the MIT students’ travels include Arizona and Louisiana, and previous visits include Alaska, Indiana, Virginia, and Arkansas.

From “MIT Program Encourages Girls in Science and Engineering:”

Iris Sheu ’14 asked (the girls) what an engineer is supposed to look like.

The girls said they were men, smart men who wear glasses and jumpsuits and are good at math like in the TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”

“Nerdy, right?” Sheu asked.

The stereotype is that engineers and scientists are men, she said, and it’s true that 80 percent of the students in a college engineering class are men. Only 20 percent are women.

“Paula (Angarita) and I are here today because we think that’s a really big problem and we want to change it,” Sheu said. “We want to show you that girls can be scientists and engineers, too.”

The Women’s Initiative in action.

Each visit consists of a presentation where the MIT students discuss different engineering jobs and tips on how to get into an engineering school. The presentations also include experiments like extracting DNA from a strawberry and designing a bridge while staying within budget. (Check out a previous year’s presentation.)

From “MIT brings ongoing engineering effort to St. Mary girls:”

“I like being a motivator to others and to help them see that they’re not at a disadvantage,” Stephanie Ihezie ’15 said. “I hope they start thinking: ‘I can be bigger and ultimately, that they become engineers or scientists.’”

The Women’s Initiative program is supported entirely by sponsors and run by MIT students. No costs are incurred by either the presenters or the high schools. Its 14-women board of directors includes alumnae Sarah Ferguson ’12, Reguli Granger ’12, Janice Mathew ’10, and Zahraa Saiyed ’12.

In 2010, Sandra Chen ’12 traveled to South Bend, Indiana, for a Women’s Initiative presentation. She documented her journey for Slice.

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This is part of a series of posts from two MIT students—Shawn Wen ’13 and Taylor Yates MBA ’14—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers will report on what they learn and how the experience informs their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor.

Guest Blogger: Shawn Wen ’13
Extern sponsor: Jon Glaudemans ’80
Company: Ascension Health, Washington, DC
Externship title: health policy analysis

Preparations for Inauguration Day at the Capitol Building.

Preparations for Inauguration Day at the Capitol Building.

Ascension Health (AH) is one of the largest health systems in the US, operating a network of over 400 hospitals and medical centers across the country, and I am lucky to call AH’s policy and advocacy office in Washington, DC, my home base this IAP. In just my first week, I have been warmly welcomed by a tight-knit office community and have been fully immersed in the excitingly fast-paced world of health policy. Some days, I am in the office in downtown DC, researching and preparing reports on various topics, such as mental health services to be included in the Affordable Care Act’s Essential Health Benefits package and implications of the recent changes in Medicare coverage for skilled nursing and therapy services for chronically ill beneficiaries.

Other days, I am tagging along with AH’s senior VP of policy, and I find myself in boardrooms in the company of some of the most influential thought leaders in health care as they engage in earnest discussions about the key driving forces in the health industry; threats of the upcoming budget talks on Medicaid reimbursement rates; and the necessity of moving away from a fee-for-service reimbursement system, which rewards high quantity of services, to shared savings, which rewards high-quality and coordinated care. Every day, I aim to develop more clarity on the world of complex challenges that bar cost-effective delivery of health care in the United States.

Next time, I’ll cover my thus-far fantastic experience living with an MIT alum and Inauguration Day.

About Shawn Wen ’13
I am a premed senior studying brain and cognitive sciences. The most interesting experience I’ve had at MIT has been working on implementing an electricity-free typhoid diagnostic system in resources-limited health-care settings in rural Nepal as an MIT International Development Initiative Technology Dissemination Fellow. Before beginning medical school, I plan on spending a gap year in Nepal channeling MIT’s fundamental principles of innovation and entrepreneurship into my personal engagement with global health and public service. I’m excited to explore yet another side of health-care delivery this IAP.

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