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Wiener’s Disciple, Yuk Wing Lee

To the excellent article “The Original Absent-Minded Professor” by Larry Hardesty in July/August 2011 I would like to add an appreciation of Professor Yuk Wing Lee, known to us as “Wiener’s disciple,” for his huge contributions in teaching and making understandable the ideas of Norbert Wiener.

It is well known that the original notes of Professor Wiener’s classes were compiled from photographs of his blackboard writings taken by students before they were erased. A considerable number of master’s and doctoral theses originated from Wiener’s typical statements “One should be able to prove that … ” He really appeared to think and operate in a higher dimension of insight. It is only thanks to Professor Lee’s great patience and teaching skills that we electrical engineers could gain access to and benefit from Wiener’s theories.

Thank you for reviving memories of 50 years ago!
Wolf Weidemann, SM ‘61, EE ‘62
Lynnwood Ridge, South Africa

Two More Wiener Stories

I got to know Norbert Wiener because were in the MIT infirmary at the same time. I had strep throat, and he had broken either a leg or a hip. Remember his heuristic of walking the halls and feeling a wall with one hand? That works fine until you come to a stairwell.

I also noticed that he wore bifocal glasses—but he had the lenses inverted from their usual positioning. He did so much reading that he had the reading lenses occupying the top part of the glasses (the lion’s share of the real estate) and the distance lenses at the bottom. So, walking the halls, he carried his nose high in the air.

Broke the mold when we lost him.
Francis D. (Doug) Tuggle ‘64
Yorba Linda, California

Forrester and Wiener

Two items in the September/October MIT News provoke me to comment.

First, in regard to Professor Forrester’s letter about SAGE, there is an interesting book that provides a back story. It is Project Whirlwind: The History of a Pioneer Computer, written by Kent ­Redmond and Thomas Smith and published by Digital Press as part of their History of Computing Series. Although it is out of print, used copies are available online; I plan to donate my copy to a library.

Second, here is an apocryphal Wiener story. Professor Wiener was teaching a course, perhaps Harmonic Analysis, to a small class and presented a theorem on the blackboard. (Everyone remembers blackboards, don’t they?) He stared at the board, then announced, “Yes, that’s right!” A student commented, “I don’t understand. Will you prove it?” Wiener stared at the board some more, and then, without writing anything, announced, “There.”

So the student stood up, went to the board and said, “But,” stared at the board, and then said, “What about this?”

“You’re right,” Wiener replied. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

I do hope that someone is collecting these stories.
Dick Swenson ‘59
Walla Walla, Washington

Editor’s note: Send your stories about ­Wiener and other legendary MIT professors to ­mitnews@technologyreview.com. We’ll pass them along to the MIT Archives.

Timeline Bias?

Do I detect in the MIT150 timeline research by Silvia Mejia and Sara Smith (“The Free Thinker,” September/October 2011) a bias toward items involving women or minorities? I don’t think there is a need to polish MIT’s history in this regard. Please, an unbiased account of the major accomplishments is important, regardless of race or gender.
Robert L. Parker ‘51
Washington, DC

Editor’s note: Women and underrepresented minorities have always made important contributions toward advancing the mission and ideas of MIT and continue to do so today. The Institute is pleased to include relevant firsts involving women and underrepresented minorities within the MIT family in the MIT150 timeline. Given that both groups made great strides toward equality between 1961 and 1985, the volume of such entries in that era is not surprising.

Housing Women at MIT

I was pleased to read the article in the March/April 2011 issue about Katharine Dexter McCormick (“A Mind of Her Own”), whose many activities on behalf of women had such an impact on my life. However, I must take issue with the last paragraph, where it is stated that McCormick Hall provided four times the number of rooms for women that MIT had been “able” to provide before. It would be more accurate to say that ­McCormick Hall quadrupled the housing MIT had chosen to provide for women before. Mrs. McCormick essentially forced MIT to start admitting more women by giving the money for a dorm that would be women-only, but there had been nothing at all previously to prevent the administration from designating some of the existing housing, such as a section of Senior House or East Campus, for female students well before Mrs. McCormick donated McCormick Hall.
Susan Udin ‘69, PhD ‘75
Buffalo, New York

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