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Dorm Lottery Starts Strong

By Jeremy Hylton
Chairman

Freshmen were supposed to begin submitting their electronic housing lottery forms at 4 p.m. yesterday, but S. Anders Oakland, the program's creator, turned the program on half-an-hour early. By the time of the official start, 80 freshman had already logged in and entered their preferences.

New students' enthusiasm for this year's housing lottery conducted with a new program developed for the Athena Computing Environment was overwhelming. Many students said the system was convenient and easy to use.

"Things are going well," said Oakland, a programmer for Information Systems. "Freshmen are very enthusiastic."

By 6 p.m. more than 280 of the approximately 1,110 freshmen had entered their choices.

The program, developed over the last three months, uses a graphical interface to let freshmen enter their dormitory preferences and submit them electronically. The program will be available for freshmen until 3 p.m. today, and students can change their choices at any time until then, Oakland said.

Students run the program by typing "add forms; froshpref &" from their personal Athena accounts.

A few students had trouble using the system, but the problems were not caused by the program, Oakland said. He said a pair of freshmen had trouble with the roommate feature, which allows groups of students to request rooms together.

"They knew they wanted to be roommates, and they had the same first choice, but after that their selections were different," Oakland said. Eventually, the two organized their lists so they had the same choices.

Consultants for Athena and rush

Most new students have only been on campus for four days, but their lack of exposure to the Athena system has not been a problem. "Everything is moving very smoothly. There haven't been any problems," explained Eric F. Gilmour '97, an Athena consultant on duty yesterday in the Student Center cluster.

There were three consultants answering students' questions yesterday in the Student Center cluster, but many of the questions didn't have anything to do with the lottery program. "People are just asking random rush questions," Gilmour said.

Questions ranged from advice on lottery strategy to basic information. For example, question: "What's Huntington?" Answer: A dormitory in Boston rented from the Massachusetts College of Art. Or, "Is it better to rank a dorm last if you don't want to live there, or not to rank it all?" Answer: Gilmour said it was best to rank them all.

On a normal day, Gilmour said that Athena consultants answer about 25 questions an hour. He estimated that yesterday he was answering about twice that number.

"We try to be as helpful as possible," Gilmour said. "We try to answer every question - even the time and date of Star Trek showings."

"What people say they're really interested in is sending electronic mail," Gilmour said.

Students like program

Most students felt that using Athena to enter their preferences was convenient. Some said that it was better than waiting in line for a computer at the R/O Center, as previous year's freshmen had. Others liked the fact that they could log in later and change their selections.

For Ramone Rodriguez '98, one of the advantages of the program was that he could take more time to fill out the form. "Another thing is that you have more chances to ask questions," he said.

Eric Ramsay '98 thought getting used to using Athena was easy. "I think it works really well because it introduces people to Athena before classes begin," he said.

Because the only way to enter dormitory preferences is through Athena, more than 1,000 freshmen had registered for accounts by Saturday morning, Oakland said. He said that the number, which represents more than 90 percent of the class, is substantially higher than in previous years.

Cecilia Lozada '98 has been using her account for two days now, and thought that the lottery system was an efficient one. In the two days she has had her account, she has begun sending electronic mail to friends, but prefers to use the talk program. "I've been talking to a lot of people I met on IRC," she said, referring to the Internet Relay Chat program that lets groups of people carry on conversations over a computer network.

Lozada said getting used to Athena was not to hard. "There are lots of people helping me," she said. The help she got was not from the Athena consultants, though; her temporary roommate, Erika Perez '98, and other new students were lending a hand.

Perez learned how to use Athena when she was at MIT last summer for the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science program. She said it took a little time to remember how, but it was not hard.

Gilmour said that it should take about five minutes to fill out the electronic form and save it. He encouraged students to decide on their selection before coming to Athena to enter them.

But many students spent far more than five minutes on Athena. Tseh-Hwan Yong '98, from Singapore, said the form was "simple and easy," but she spent more time because she likes to communicate via zephyr.

Yong, who has been on campus for a week, said she has been writing to six or seven upperclassmen from Singapore. She said she spent about five hours using Athena on Saturday.

Plans began in spring

Oakland worked with three other IS staffers to develop the program: Regina L. Gogol, Jennifer Lu, and Karen Fortoul '82.

The project began when Oakland met with Andrew M. Eisenmann '75, assistant dean for residence and campus activities, in February to discuss how Athena could be used to help with housing. The program actually began development in June, Oakland said.

The software on Athena enters all the student information into a database, which Eisenmann uses to run the housing lottery. The actual lottery is run using Macintosh software developed by Adriana Christopher, another IS programmer, Oakland said.

The results of the lottery will be sent to students via e-mail on Tuesday afternoon. Students should check their e-mail after 6 p.m. for information about the lottery results and their new dormitories, according to Eisenmann.

The lottery program was developed by the same IS group that devised the lottery for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Distribution classes, and much of the code was reused, Oakland said. But the system is "much more complex than the HASS-D lottery," he said.

For example, the part of the program that lets students form roommate groups was particularly tricky, Oakland said. The programmers had to be sure that one student in a group could not affect another student's selections without the second student's permission.

Programming the roommate selection was the hardest part of the development, but ironically, Oakland expects "only about 15 people to use the roommate feature."

Another problem that students face is waiting too long to register for an Athena account. After registering for an account, students must wait until the next day to use the account.

Oakland said special arrangements could be made for students who register for accounts today, but still want to participate in the lottery. "A consultant can help them register, even though the account is not fully active," he said.