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Cathedral Hack Planned Since June

By Deena S. Disraelly
Staff Reporter

Early on the morning of Oct. 30, Lobby 7 was transformed into Cathedral 7 by an "Archbishop," a few "ministers," and approximately 60 other workers. The hack, which had been planned months in advance, was completed in time for Halloween and for the first-ever wedding in Lobby 7.

The complex transformation included everything from intricate stained "glass" window panels to gilded electronic equipment placed on pedestals in each corner of the room to a simulated pipe organ on the second floor overlooking the cathedral.

Several of the people responsible for the hack agreed to speak to The Tech, but their names have been changed to protect their identities for future hacks and to abide by the "hacking code of ethics," which prohibits hacking for personal gain.

"Scott," a hacker, said workers spent about 20 minutes putting most of the props and decorations in place, and another 15 minutes working on the finishing touches. "It was really amazing that a group of people got together and made it work and made it work so quickly," he said.

Planning for the hack began in June, and construction of the various components of the hack lasted for about one month. Most hackers involved with the transformation contributed between eight and 10 hours a day on the weekends and a couple of extra hours during the week to the project.

In early October, the hackers learned of plans by Eri Izawa '92 and Mike J. Bauer '92 to get married in Lobby 7 on Halloween. The couple's pagan wedding ceremony took place Sunday, Nov. 1, at 12:01 a.m.

Simulated stained glass

Perhaps the most striking feature of the cathedral was the simulated stained glass in the dome and on the windows. The window panels, which measured 10 feet by 25 feet, were made of cellophane, duct tape, and plastic backing and were assembled in large rooms around the Institute. "They are theoretically waterproof, but we were very glad it didn't rain too bad or anything like that," according to "Sister Gosh," who was in charge of the windows.

The window panels, which depicted the MIT beaver, a professor teaching a class of sleeping students, and the entrance to Lobby 7, were hung from trellises above the lobby's entrance. The hackers took safety precautions and used climbing equipment to hang the panels, she said.

After the panels were removed they were hidden for safe-keeping, Gosh said. "We are hoping to have them displayed in the MIT Museum," she added. But Warren A. Seamans, director of the MIT Museum, said yesterday no one has called the museum about taking care of the hack.

Gosh was also responsible for the panels placed in the Building 7 dome, which were visible from inside Lobby 7 and displayed a variety of physical and mathematical formulas. To place the panels, hackers climbed into the area between the ceiling of the dome and the outside roof. They placed plastic transparencies imprinted with the formulas on the glass, then put colored wedges of cellophane over the transparencies.

"S.S." worked on building the organ, writing the commandments, and making the signs. He enjoyed working on the seventeen hexadecimally numbered commandments.

"Four or five of us just sat down and brainstormed. We tried to stay as close to the originals as possible," he said. The first commandment, numbered 0, was "I am Athena thy goddess and thou shalt not have false gods before me."

The group tried to coordinate the commandments with the corresponding academic department number. For example, the eighth commandment was about physics: `Thou shalt not exceed the speed of light."

S.S. became involved with the Halloween hack because "I thought it was a cool thing to do. It seemed very anti-Halloweenish, and so it was good for Halloween. . . . Cathedral 7 just has a ring to it."

Materials found in trash

The group recycled a variety of materials they found in trash containers, including three keyboards, a computer monitor, and cardboard for posters. The pipes of a mock pipe organ were made from discarded tubes, and a Physics I (8.01) problem set served extra duty as sheet music.

Because the organ was not functional, speakers were rigged in Lobby 7 to continuously play traditional cathedral music from a pre-recorded cassette.

A computer monitor the hackers found was used as a donations box. Over $80 in donations were collected throughout Halloween weekend. The money will be used to offset the costs of the hack.

`Eliza' used as confessional

"Abbott Bucket" and the electronics team worked together to build the confessional booth. They employed Eliza, an early artificial intelligence program designed to simulate dialogue with a psychiatrist, to "listen" to confessions.

"I looked through my archives of old Apple programs and found an old version of Eliza and converted it to Applesoft basic and added some MIT-type-things," said Bucket. "It either gave you penances or went into the psychiatrist program. For specific sins, like too many classes, too much homework, not enough homework, or others, it gave you a particular penance. If you put in you had too much homework, then it would declare you are a heretic and then it asked you to sing along with it four verses of the MIT drinking song, and said you had to turn in 6.111 [Introductory Digital Systems Laboratory] labs three and four by next Monday."

Computer equipment was donated

"Monsieur Root" and Bucket co-chaired the grounds crew, which, as Root put it, "was responsible for all the earthly and mundane things on the ground," in contrast to the dome, which was to represent the heavens. Bucket was responsible for the pews and the altar, as well as various pieces of "crusty computer equipment," he said.

Gilded computer equipment was placed on each of the four stone pedestals at the corners of Lobby 7. The MIT Electronics Research Society donated "virtually all the computer equipment that was sprayed gold," said Root. "None of the equipment worked to my knowledge," he added.

The group rented a truck to move the equipment after it was painted. "Most of the equipment was made before transistors, and tubes weigh a lot. It was pretty heavy," Root said.

"There wasn't much in the way of really skilled work that our group did. It was a lot of brute force, getting the equipment, making the equipment look good, and figuring out where to put it. . . . The Lobby 7 pedestals have always wanted to have stuff put on them," he continued.

The pews were made of seats from the Kresge Little Theater and the stone benches that are usually at the sides of Lobby 7. Bucket made the altar from a wire spool which he covered with a new top.

The grounds crew was also responsible for some of the less prominent hacks, including the "Holy Water" sign under the coffee machine at the donut stand, the television screen, which read "Welcome to the Church of Our Lady of the All-Night Tool," and the sign attached to the plaque of MIT's founder, William Barton Rogers, which read "Saint Rogers."

Hackers maintain anonymity

Root chose to remain nameless because "one of the things that's kind of important about hacking in my mind is that hacks just sort of happen. . . . There shouldn't be any real ego involved in hacking."

"Hacking is not a thing for personal gain," Bucket agreed. "Another thing is it's kind of fun to hack anonymously. The third thing is that the [Campus Police] and Physical Plant don't always look too favorably on these kind of things and if they don't catch you while you're doing it and they don't know who you are, then you can't get into trouble," he added.

"It was kind of expected that [the Campus Police] would walk in on us this time because there were so many people, and the people hanging the stained glass were kind of visible. We figured if they drove by, one of them would walk in and ask us what we were doing," Bucket said.

Eventually, they did. "The men in blue appeared. They showed up and were very nice. They watched us and meandered around while we set everything up," said Scott.