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Alumni Letters

Letters from our readers.
August 18, 2009

Solar Ready

After reading “Greening MIT” (July/August 2009), my question is: can the Institute meet its goals without building integrated active solar technologies which would collect and store renewable energy on-site? Natural gas, domestic and imported, is in finite supply, and burning it emits carbon pollution. And even if natural gas remains affordable for the next 10 to 20 years, buildings and infrastructures remain in place for 50 to 100 years or even longer. If active solar technologies are not designed in, they are designed out, and future generations would not be able to add them economically. Now that MIT has publicly declared the need to curb greenhouse-gas pollution, efficiency measures that provide a short-term return will have to be recognized as inadequate. The integrated active-solar approach to building design and campus planning is transformational and requires accelerated research.

Joel H. Goodman, MArch ‘68
Dodgeville, WI

Cultivating Ethical Leadership

I was glad to see your coverage of the opening of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values (“Cultivating Compassion,” July/August 2009). The work of truly exceptional leaders is frequently grounded in a firm personal understanding of ethics and a willingness to transform both themselves and the world. But few universities devote much attention to the ethical and transformational basis for leadership. MIT has made a commitment to addressing this gap through the establishment of the interdisciplinary Dalai Lama Center (

The center aims to promote exploration of what makes life meaningful and to investigate how individual action translates into societal impact. It will be a place for conversations as opposed to prescriptive solutions. We hope to emphasize that a leader cannot merely be a person who is a good problem solver or troubleshooter–an extraordinary leader must also be visionary, caring, and compassionate.

As a faculty member commented at the end of the Dalai Lama’s April visit to launch the center, “In my 25 years of teaching at MIT, I have never seen the students, staff, and faculty be so motivated about ethics, values, and making a positive impact. This is just what MIT and the world needs.”

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi
Director, Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values

Recounting in the Math Department

Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians has indeed rekindled our appreciation of the faculty and families who contributed so much to make the mathematics department the first-rate research program it is today (“A Sum of Its Parts,” July/August 2009). We want to capture more of this history by inviting math alumni and former faculty to forward additional anecdotes, photos, and other memorabilia to for an expanded collection that will eventually appear on our website.

The release of Recountings coincides with a critical period of faculty renewal in our department. As described by several of the interviewees in the book, a big wave of faculty hiring followed Sputnik. Those individuals are now retiring, and we are actively recruiting the next generation of top mathematicians to rebuild our ranks. The tradition of great mathematical research, both pure and applied, will continue to play a major role at MIT at a time when the entire world faces many new and daunting problems. As always, you will find more about these and other happenings online ( and in our annual fall newsletter, Integral.

Michael Sipser
Department head, MIT Department of Mathematics

The Reincarnation of Building 20

Browsing through the MIT News section of the May/June issue, I was amused by the “Numberspeak” story, which noted that the Stata Center was called Building 32 because 20 could not be reused and 32 was the standard computer word size at the time. But while word size is a passing fad, number bases remain … and we computer types count in hexadecimal. From that perspective, 32 is still 20.

Phil Janson, SM ‘74, EE ‘75, PhD ‘76
Zurich, Switzerland

Concrete vs. Cement

In the second-to-last paragraph of “Numberspeak” (May/June 2009), the term cement is used instead of the proper term concrete. If 8,500 cubic yards of cement was used in Building 7, then about 55,000 cubic yards of concrete was made and placed–a very large amount. Civil engineering (Course I) is not rocket science to most engineers, so Technology Review should be able to find and correct this type of error, which the mainstream press makes frequently.

James Schaefer ‘72
Park Ridge, NJ

Editor’s note: You’re right, we goofed. And had 55,000 cubic yards of concrete been made, it would’ve filled 118,000,000 beer cans (give or take a few).

WTBS, Reinterpreted

Thanks to Peter Griffith for the story of how the WTBS call letters were transferred from MIT to Ted Turner–I had wondered about that (Alumni Letters, July/August 2009).

When I was a student, we used to say that WTBS stood for We Transmit B*** S***.

Merlin Dorfman ‘61, SM ‘62
San Jose, CA

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