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Sights you see in lectures

Bill still has some minor things to fix, but the body copy is set -- Matt

Contrary to the attitudes of most MIT undergrads, I enjoy going to lecture. I appreciate the chance to catch up on my reading, sleep and generally organize my life. Not to mention scribbling columns for The Tech on the back of my notes.

Detailed market research by experts from MIT's Stallone School of Management and Rambo Movies shows that just over 73 percent of MIT undergraduates read The Tech during lecture. Initially, Tech staffers were excited that students found the paper more interesting than they found their professors. However, this excitement was dampened when we found out these same undergrads were desperate enough for entertainment that they also read Campus Calendar, College Monthly, U Magazine, Bay Windows, Fax, The Thistle, Dianetics and a pamphlet handed out by the Jews for Jesus with Bart Simpson discussing theology. (Yes, such a pamphlet actually exists.)

You may, in fact, be in lecture as you read this column. If so, that's wonderful, because I'd like to take you for a tour of the sights you'll probably be able to see from your seat. Those of you actually reading this on your own time, well. . . I'm sorry you don't have anything better to do. Try to remember back to your last lecture.

Let's start at the front of the lecture hall. Many of the blackboards here at MIT are electric, and move up and down under the control of buttons or other controls located beneath them. They are simple to use and always do what they're told unless you are a professor trying to explain a complex, impossible concept to 250 staring undergraduates. In that case the boards will do exactly the opposite of what they're supposed to and create a long, uncomfortable pause, breaking the collective train of thought and confusing everyone in the room for the remainder of the lecture. However, these boards are worthwhile because after they cause this confusion and the students get lost in the lecture, they have plenty of time to copy down the incomprehensible notes that remain on the board, twenty feet above floor level.

Lecture halls vary widely. On one end is 6-120, the Ritz-Carlton of lecture halls, which sleeps 154 comfortably in big, cushioned chairs. On the other end is 54-100, a dark hall located too damn far above ground which, among other features, has hard wood chairs designed to leave you so numb that you wouldn't notice it if Clarence Thomas pinched your butt.

In the front row of the lecture sit the Front Row Regulars. They sit in the front row during every lecture. Every time the professor makes a major point, they nod, as if they know the professor won't go on unless the students in the front row provide confirmation of the material. Every once in a while, one of the Front Row Regulars doesn't nod assertion and stares at the professor with a furrowed brow instead. The Regulars then confer in hushed tones until the confused student gives a long nod of acceptance and slaps his forehead like in an old "V-8" commercial, all the while rolling his eyes at his own stupidity.

A few rows back sit the Recording Secretaries. These are the people who take perfect notes, in Technicolor and 3-D. When the lecturer draws a picture on the board, they break out the watercolors and set up an easel. They are so anal about writing everything down that they take parenthetical stage directions about the lecture, so when they review their notes they read lines like, "Then you take the (professor sneezed here) Poisson distribution and graph it." It is not desirable to be a Recording Secretary, because they tend to wind up laughing to themselves in a small room somewhere, muttering to themselves, "I couldn't hear what he said. I missed that last part. What did he say?" On the other hand, it is extremely desirable to be friendly with a Recording Secretary, because their notes can save you from having to bother with lecture at all.

Next are the Munchers, who see lecture as a prime opportunity to enjoy a five-course meal. They arrive at five after the hour, balancing food items in their hands, and settle into a chair. Luckily for the amusement of the rest of us, the architects of most MIT lecture halls designed the little desks to sit at just the right angle so that a ten-ounce cup of coffee slides toward the coffee drinker at the rate of 1.5 inches per second.

The Muncher sits down, puts down her books, pulls out her desk, and places her Dunkin' Donuts cup on the angled surface. She then reaches down to get a notebook and the cup begins to crawl toward her. She pulls out the notebook and books up just in time to catch the coffee and set it back at the top of her desk. She then reaches down to get a pencil and the cup again makes its move. Again she looks up to catch it just in time. This time she puts it down on the desk hard and holds it there a moment, as if she's "training" it to be good. It does indeed stay where she puts it, at least, until she turns around, at which time it makes another kamikaze run for her lap. This ultimately results in either (1) a stain which makes her look like the "before" picture in a Depend undergarments commercial, or (2) one damn obedient cup of coffee.

Of course, there are many I'm forgetting, such as the common species Correctus D. Professorus and those people who take the back row (BYOP -- Bring Your Own Pillow). I could go on and on. . .

Oops, lecture just ended. I've got to stop writing now.


Tech Opinion Editor Bill Jackson '93 hopes that all of his anal friends who take good notes won't take this personally and will still give him their notes.