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December 21, 2010

Clover’s Grand Experiment

I was excited to read last issue’s profile of Ayr Muir ‘00, SM ‘01, and his Clover Food Lab (“Everything Will Be Different Tomorrow,” November/December 2010). I started eating at Clover’s MIT truck in June 2009. At my first meal, I met Ayr and started learning about his vision for the business. As someone who studies and teaches product design at MIT, I was intrigued to see the design process in action with the prototype of the food truck and the constant pursuit of improvement by way of testing and listening to customers. In conversations with students, I point to Clover as an example of continuous testing, feedback, and iteration.
Over many months, I was able to observe the various nuances of running a food truck and see many new ideas being tested (for instance, moving to the point-of-sale system on the iPod Touch and the new method for brewing iced coffee). I’m especially happy for Ayr and his team now that they have just finished a month of business at their new Harvard Square restaurant. It’s amazing to see the restaurant finally open and to be able to go there and witness the outcome of two years of development.
Clover’s food is delicious (my favorite menu item is a seasonal sandwich involving sweet potatoes). And every Clover meal offers the experience of engaging with the workers and the location, whether it’s at the truck or the restaurant. It’s a place where everyone (eventually) knows your name.
Justin Lai ‘07, SM ‘09, PhD candidate
Cambridge, Massachusetts

I’ve been a fan of Clover since the week they opened their first truck. Ayr Muir embodies the true spirit of MIT, from his willingness to question conventions all the way down to his skills at working a belt sander.
It is astonishing the level to which every detail is considered at Clover, and this really shows through in the new Harvard Square restaurant. After having so many tasty (and healthy) meals over the past two years at the MIT truck, I wish them great success as they try to take over the rest of the world.
Jon Ferguson
Senior Programmer, MIT Media Lab
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Information Theory Explained

The article “Code Quest” in the September/October issue brought to mind the classic coin-weighing problem, which I think captures the essence of information theory.
You are given 13 coins; they may all be of equal weight, or one of the coins may be heavier or lighter—27 possibilities in all. You also are given an analytical balance and asked to find the minimum number of times you must weigh subsets of the 13 coins in order to identify the odd coin or to decide that there is none. When loaded with an equal number of coins on both sides, the balance can do one of three things: tilt to one side, tilt to the other, or remain even. Thus, there are three possible outcomes to each weighing. In three weighings the number of possible outcome combinations is 33, or 27, which could just distinguish among the 27 possibilities of the 13 coins. Unfortunately, the constraint that there be an equal number of coins on each side prevents the optimum first weighing, so it turns out all 27 pieces of information cannot be obtained in just three weighings. The problem is therefore usually stated without the possibility that all 13 coins are equal, and the reader is left with some understanding of the difficulties in finding a practical code to equal the theoretical limit.
This problem would be trivial to any regular follower of the column that Allan ­Gottlieb (no relation) writes in your magazine, but its beauty is that it can be understood by reasonably intelligent persons lacking in mathematical sophistication but willing to devote a few minutes’ effort to it. One can also see that the solution to this problem involves a ternary code (−1, 0, +1) for the three possible outcomes of each weighing. Shannon’s theorem is usually stated in the binary number system, using logarithms to the base 2. It can equally well be stated in any number system. As this coin problem shows, there are circumstances in which some base other than 2 may be more efficient.
Peter Gottlieb, PhD ‘59
Los Angeles, California

An Inspiring Story

I read with great interest the recent profile of George Heller ‘59 (“Choosing to Climb,” July/August 2010).
Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Heller was able to gather the strength to persevere, pursue his dreams, and affect the lives of so many others in such a positive way.
I am inspired by his story. Thank you for highlighting his incredible experience.
Alex Padilla ‘94
California State Senator, 20th District

Greening Through IT

I read with interest your review of the book Greening Through IT (“Virtual Environmentalism,” November/December 2010). IT has a fundamental role to play in moving us toward a greener society, starting with leveraging computers’ batteries to smooth the power demands of the electrical grid. Our electric system yields less than 30 percent efficiency and is at 48 percent utilization. This needs to be fixed.
Edison Almeida
Member, MIT Enterprise Forum
energy special interest group
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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