Tuesday, September 13, 2005

sailboats and problem sets

Hey everyone,

An update on life at MIT: term has started, ushering with it a new
set of lingo.... "tooling" is doing school work "problem sets" are
the only kind of homework we get here-they consist of some amount of
challenging problems and take a few hours to complete. Even my
sailing class called our assignment to learn to tie a few knots a
"problem set". "Punting" is when you blow off your work to do
something fun... like my newfound diversion of watching episodes of
Firefly on DVD :) There isn't much in the way of free time around
here, and I've got an interview tomorrow for a research position that
I hope will be my paying job for this semester.

I continue to really like my door, my room, my roommate, etc. I also
like the way things just seem to *work* around here. It's the little
things, like having a swimsuit dryer in the locker room at the pool
so you don't have to carry around a wet suit all day, that make all
the difference. MIT seems to have thought of (and paid for)
everything and more. I just started my sailing class (it is my gym
class for this term) and I'm so excited to learn to sail on the
Charles River. It is so beautiful. Boston is great, but the tall
buildings and complete concrete coverage makes me miss the open
greenspace back home - cows, cornfeilds, rolling farmland - it's all
so beautiful and freeing.

The hardest thing for me to get used to is the overwhelming political
apathy around campus. I'm used to life in Madison, and especially
with my circles of friends, where people talk about politics, social
problems, world events, questions, and solutions all the time. I
never realized how much until I got here and the silence is stifling.
There is a sense that "We're at MIT. The real world doesn't apply
here. It doesn't affect me." A lot of people wished they were more
involved, but are convinced they are too busy. This saddens me most
of all because these are the people who have an incredible capacity
to make the future of the world, and yet there seems to be little
concern about what the best way to go about it is. There are some
very wonderful, inspiring exceptions to all this (Noam Chomsky is a
professor here, for example) and some awesome student groups that do
great work. I'm working on finding my place amongst them all and
surrounding myself with people who will continue to reinforce and
challenge my beliefs about the world and the future.

Yikes that was a bit of a tirade. Sorry about that :) Life is good,
the weather's gorgeous, and there is a very pleasant chocolate smell
wafting in my window...

To all you ysp-ers on this list---I've got my wallpaper on my
computer set to cycle through the Henry IV pictures, so I think of
you all the time :) . I hear Othello has 60+ kids in it! That is
amazing. Othello is one of my favorite plays, I'm so excited for
everyone who is in it.

Love to you all,

P.S. I'd love to hear from you all about what you are up to or a
simple tale from good old life in Madison.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

greetings from MIT

Some of you are friends and family that I talk to regularly and others of you I haven't seen in a long time. Just wanted to send out a quick hello from the fair city of Cambridge Massachusetts and the MIT campus.

MIT is truly like no other place on earth. The first 48 hours or so were rather overwhelming and intimidating, but I'm past that now, making friends, and finding my way to fit into this world of endless opportunity and possibility. I was assigned to a dorm called "East Campus" temporarily for the first few days of registration, which was a great place - classic dorm style halls except that they allowed mural painting on the walls, and literally everywhere was painted - halls, rooms, and bathrooms. The bathroom nearest my room was painted black with lots of fluorescent colored paint and lit entirely by black lights. The dorm was known for it's crazy constructions... some guys on one of the floors last year built a computer controlled disco floor with over 500 squares with LED lights for nearly infinite possibility for color combinations which they then programmed to do all kinds of gorgeous moving color patterns. And they did it in about a week.

East Campus was a great place, but almost on a whim I decided to ask for a different dorm called "Random Hall" in the readjustment lottery, so here I am, in a gorgeous double coming straight off a spacious kitchen in the only dorm (at MIT and likely in the world) where you can check whether or not the bathrooms, washers, and dryers are in use or not via the internet in your room. A wonderful result of MIT's policy of enabling you to live exactly where you want to live is that there really is a unique culture and personality to each of the dorms--mine is a little towards the geeky side of the MIT spectrum (who else would decide to wire bathroom doors to the internet in their free time??), but extremely friendly, close, and does a lot of cooking. http://web.mit.edu/random-hall/www/

I am amassing quite a collection of "only at MIT" sights/experiences: eating ice-cream that upperclassmen had just frozen using jets of liquid nitrogen, wandering through the 'activities fair' and seeing someone's random electrical project featuring a mess circuits and forks allowing a row of dill pickles to sizzle and sparkle on and off (it was counting to 256 in binary numbers), hearing a girl in my seminar tell about the business she started in Nigeria, and the ubiquitous number jargon that peppers daily converstion: it's not "I'm not a biology major, " but "I'm course 7", not "I'm taking multivariable calculus," but, "i'm taking 18.02," not "Meet you at the main lecture hall in Green Building," but "Meet you at 54-100."

In the past few days I have been increasingly impressed by not just the brains and quirkiness of MIT students, but how engaged and interested they are about more serious issues. I've had some great discussions about religion, race, prejudice, politics, globalization and all sorts of other topics. There are a great many international students here with fascinating perspectives on their own culture and life in America.

The plan for the fall right now is to take chemistry, genetics, physics, and a class on race/gender, plus my advising seminar "AIDS in the 21st" century. Classes start this coming wednesday, and I am very excited. I'm intending to major in biology.