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Students 'Screw' AFS for a Change of Pace

By Eva Moy
Staff Reporter

Few students can forget the frustration of having an Athena workstation - and the Andrew File System it runs - crash or crawl to a halt, interrupting an important paper, zephyr conversation, or one last game of xcolumns.

In retaliation, the MIT community voted to give this year's Big Screw Award to Matthew H. Braun '93, a systems programmer for the distributed computing and network services division of Information Systems.

"I am very honored to receive the Big Screw, however I most definitely see it as an award for AFS rather than for me personally," said Braun, who works as the AFS administrator at MIT.

Big Screw is named after the trophy presented to the winner - a 3-foot-long, left-handed aluminum screw. The contest, sponsored by the MIT chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega national service fraternity, lets voters choose the recipient at the cost of one penny per vote.

Braun received $335.05 out of the total donations of $941.12. The money will be donated to the Boston Food Bank, his chosen charity. "Basically, I was looking for a reasonably small local charity for whom the Big Screw proceeds would make a difference," Braun said.

Second place went to Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Eduardo A. Kausel, the instructor for Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving (1.00), with $191.78. Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Jacob K. White, who teaches Signals and Systems (6.003), received third place with $73.20. Last year the two classes received first and second place, respectively.

Two months ago, APO started looking for candidates, both staff and faculty from all over MIT, according to Susan E. Born '98, treasurer for the Big Screw contest. "The contest had a fairly slow start this year," with only two official candidates on Monday, she said. By Friday, there were 10 candidates and several write-ins. "Voting picked up strongly on Friday with all candidates' totals rising, some by astonishing degrees," Born said.

Braun entered the race Thursday mid-afternoon, with only a day-and-a-half left. But "Thursday night when I found out I was winning by a significant margin, I stepped up my campaign, especially within Information Systems," Braun said.

AFS especially gained more votes "after someone put a little sign next to the AFS jar explaining it as the thing that keeps your files on Athena," Born said. "It has remarkably low name recognition."

"Publicizing on the [Student Information Processing Board] white board outside the W20 cluster and having a collection jar there and in E40 turned out to be very advantageous," Braun said.

Students voted at a booth in Lobby 10 that was staffed by APO members every day last week.

The contest began in 1967, when APO replaced its Spring Carnival Queen Contest with one awarding a 4-foot-long, left-handed wood screw to the most deserving faculty member. In 1975, the wooden screw was replaced by the aluminum one that is used today.