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Farber gives first final exam on Athena network

By Prabhat Mehta

Despite an end-of-the-term network problem which dragged on into Independent Activities Period, Professor of Economics Henry S. Farber successfully administered the first final exam utilizing Project Athena computers. The system "worked flawlessly," according to Farber, who used the services of Athena for his Econometrics (14.31) class last term.

The class, which focuses upon statistical analysis of economic data, used Athena computers all term in problem sets. Farber carried out rigorous statistical analysis for both problem sets and the final examination on Athena. The administration of the final examination was unaffected by a component failure in the Institute network on the last week of classes. Athena, the principal user of the network, was non-functional for one day, according to Network Manager Jeffrey I. Schiller '79. The component failure, however, reduced the efficiency of the system for about one month, he noted.

"The component failure was very hard to find," Schiller said. But since the failed component "implements the lowest level of the network," Athena did not suffer from immediate consequences.

Schiller explained that in cases of component failure, repair, after the failed item has been found, is often further delayed because replacement parts are difficult to acquire. The difficulty arises from the fact that Athena is often forced to use components that are manufactured by a single company. "We are at the mercy of that company," Schiller said.

More classes using Athena

Although no courses have yet been scheduled to utilize Athena during finals week this spring, the number of Institute courses using Athena for general purposes is on the rise, according to Ademola Aderibigbe, the project's faculty liason. Some professors this term are also using Athena for "different" applications, Aderibigbe added.

An Athena classroom with color machines in Building 7 will be used by two mechanical engineering classes this term to aid in course work, Aderibigbe explained. The two classes, Heat and Mass Transfer (2.51) and Heat Transfer (2.54), continue the Department of Mechanical Engineering's tradition of finding innovative educational applications for Athena, Aderibigbe noted.

Farber noted that he has used Athena in his 14.31 class for several years now. "It is tailor-made for the class," Farber said. More and more students come to him each term wanting to use the computer for their theses, Farber added.

"Athena's key mission is to improve the quality of undergraduate education," and the project will keep that goal as it "branches out" into new fields, Aderibigbe explained.