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News Briefs

‘Image and Meaning’ Kicks Off at Kresge

Surveys have found that many Americans don’t know that it takes a year for the Earth to revolve around the sun, and that many Americans get their science information from TV. These two points are particularly relevant to someone like Evan Hadingham, who makes his living as Senior Science Editor for PBS’s NOVA.

Hadingham spoke last night in Kresge Auditorium on the first day of the Image and Meaning Conference, which kicks off the new Image and Meaning Initiative at MIT. By citing the surveys, he got at the heart of the gathering: images can be worth a thousand words or more if used properly, but even television, the medium of images, often fails in communicating science. The purpose, then, of bringing scientists, science writers, and imaging technologists together is to fix that failure.

Yesterday’s program dealt mostly with imaging -- photography, microscopy, and computer rendering and modeling. Dean of Architecture and Planning William J. Mitchell described part of the process by which architect Stephen Holl came up with his design of MIT’s new undergraduate dorm: by evolving sponge and watercolor blobs into the interior spaces of the mostly rectilinear structure.

“The right abstraction at the right time is important,” Mitchell said.

John R. Anderson ’76, computer graphics scientist at Industrial Light and Magic, talked about how physics simulations are “cheated” for the big screen, being played backwards and in reverse, yielding the effect of decreasing entropy.

“It may be rocket science,” Anderson said, “but rocket science isn’t all that hard.”

Today’s program addresses problems with style and substance. At 8 p.m. is a conversation with Roger Penrose, Susan Sontag, and E.O. Wilson, free and open to the public. Tomorrow, the final day, deals with science images in the mass media.

-- Joel Rosenberg

Cable Upgrades to Digital

MIT Cable TV will upgrade to all-digital service on September 1, when a new contract with service provider Falls Earth Station (FES) takes effect.

The switch to digital service comes in response to student requests for more channels, according to MIT Cable TV Coordinator Randy Winchester. There will be over one hundred channels available on the new service, an increase from the 48 currently available through AT&T Broadband.

In addition, subscribers can expect better quality service. “When it works, it’s a perfect digital picture,” Winchester said.

While MIT Cable will continue to provide campus programming and local TV stations for free over an analog signal, two levels of basic service will be available to paying subscribers. The “Digital Max-Pak” package will cost $23.99 per month and include about 60 cable channels, while the “Digital Extreme Package” will cost $32.99 per month and include about 80 cable channels, plus 30 stereo audio channels. The current basic service costs less than $15 per month.

Premium service for movie channels such as HBO and Showtime will be available at an additional cost. Subscribers will also be able to order pay-per-view movies for $5.99 each.

Students subscribing to the service must obtain a digital set-top receiver. However, there will be no extra fee for the receiver; instead, damaged or lost receivers will be charged to the student’s account through the Housing Office. Future digital televisions may have the QAM tuner required for reception built in.

The three-year contract was approved by the legal office this week after months of delay. FES was chosen over competing offers from AT&T Broadband and Campus Televideo mainly because it “would cost MIT nothing up front,” Winchester said. FES will cover the cost of all necessary equipment upgrades.

On the other hand, AT&T Broadband’s proposal would have eliminated individual subscriptions and instead sent one bill to MIT. Subscribers to the new service will be billed directly by FES.

-- Eric J. Cholankeril

Campus Will Be Wireless Within Two Years

The entire campus will be wireless within two years as a result of an initiative by the MIT Council on Educational Technology, a committee which reports to the Provost’s office.

Wireless technology based on the 11-megabit 802.11b standard has already been deployed in the Stratton Student Center, the Sloan School and the MIT Libraries. Students with mobile computers may purchase an 802.11b-compliant wireless network card and register for DHCP service in order to use the service in those areas.

According to Jeffrey Schiller, Network Manager for Information Systems, the next priority is to deploy the technology in lecture halls such as 26-100 and 54-100. IS plans to have this stage completed within the next few months.

Information Systems is moving in stages to install the equipment, so that it will be easier to move to the faster, 50-megabit 802.11a standard at a later date. 802.11b is not likely to work well in dormitories, because some other communications devices use the same 2.4 GHz band. Use of some telephones would result in wireless service interruption.

While a partnership with Lucent Technologies has allowed MIT to recoup some of the cost, $300,000 has been spent so far on installation of the new equipment.

-- Eric J. Cholankeril