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Alumni Letters

December 21, 2009

The HAL Connection

After reading Larry Hardesty’s informative article “Apollo’s Rocket Scientists” (November/December 2009), I find it a nice bit of irony that the onboard computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey was called HAL (a name derived from “Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer”). I like to think that Hal Laning ‘40, PhD ‘47, given his role in making early space exploration possible, found that amusing.

Also, as a Jungian therapist, I was heartened to see the review of Deciphering the Cosmic Number by Arthur I. Miller, PhD ‘65 (“The Shadow Realm,” November/December 2009). The Pauli-Jung collaboration is too little known in the physics community.

Should anyone be interested, Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932-1958 has been published.

Art Funkhouser ‘62
Bern, Switzerland

Editor’s note: The name of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL may be merely coincidental, but the HAL/S language used on the space shuttle computers was, in fact, named for Hal Laning.

Marbles, Cans, and Duct Tape

I was glad to see your story about MIT’s annual Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction (“Falling, Unwinding, Cascading,” November/December 2009).

Since our first viewing of a chain-reaction video at the MIT Museum in 2006, our family has been fascinated by the event. We immediately acquired mousetraps and looked into the viscosity properties of honey. We have participated every year since then. Although we spend all year “planning” our sculpture, implementation typically happens on Friday morning and usually involves toys, marbles, cans empty and full, string, and lots of duct tape. This event gives us the chance to demonstrate both the precision-design and the noteworthy kludge aspects of engineering to our children. It also allows them to see the wide community of nerds, tinkerers, and artists who enjoy this challenge.

Betsy Blagdon ‘85|
Waban, MA

Promoting Safe Water

I was pleased to see the article on Rebeca Hwang ‘02, MEng ‘03 (“Only Connect,” November/December 2009). As her master’s-thesis advisor, I knew Rebeca as she transitioned from the girl whose mother dropped chlorine solution into the family water supply to the young woman who transferred from chemical to environmental engineering to directly engage in international-development projects though the master of engineering (MEng) program in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Bringing clean water to the poor, particularly as an applied part of one’s academic education, is not an easy task. “Safe Water for 1 Billion People” (H20-1B) is the work I initiated 12 years ago to include field projects in water and sanitation engineering in the CEE MEng program. This initiative attracted Rebeca’s attention and gave her the opportunity to provide poor people in Nicaragua and Argentina with safe drinking water. H2O-1B’s goals are to educate MIT students as leading engineers, scientists, and global citizens and to contribute to the work of safe water for all.

Rebeca was ahead of the curve. Since her graduation in 2003, this work has become the passion of hundreds of college-age students. Some, like Rebeca, are international students who already have some intimate understanding that at least one-sixth of the people on Earth lack safe drinking water, but Americans and other “water rich” students from the world of tap and luxury bottled water are also joining the Rebecas of the world to bring greater attention to the unacceptable condition of more than a billion people without this basic necessity. This is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Find Rebeca’s thesis work and learn more at

Susan Murcott ‘90, SM ‘92
Senior Lecturer, MIT CEE MEng Program
Cambridge, MA

MITSFS Goes Digital

Between the writing of “An Astounding Collection” (November/December 2009) and now, the MIT Science Fiction Society (MITSFS) found a company that can digitize our collection of microfilm and microfiche for under $4,000, not the $24,000 we originally feared. We would like to thank the New England Science Fiction Association, led by president Tony Lewis ‘61, PhD ‘67, and spearheaded by Tim Szczesuil and Rick Katze, for the generous grant of $3,200, which will allow the MITSFS scanning project to go forward into the 21st century.

Besides the scanning project, the MITSFS has been busy running the library and processing new books and magazines as well as many large donations of older books and magazines. We have also been playing creative games trying to fit an ever-growing collection into a space that has not changed in 25 years. It is a difficult problem.

Katherine Ray ‘10
MITSFS president
Cambridge, MA

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