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Embrace the Entropy

Philip Burrowes

If asked to imagine what life must be like at a technical institute, one might envision an austere campus populated by a pragmatic student body and oppressively didactic faculty. That so much of the Institute is baroque, irrational, or laissez-faire is no doubt a surprise to any new denizen but nonetheless bewildering to veteran inhabitants. There is often a method to MIT’s madness, however, when one pays close enough attention. It’s all intuitively obvious.

MIT’s most well-known eccentricity is probably its penchant for numerical naming systems. Buildings, classes, and (to a lesser extent) people all have numbers that supersede their merely alphabetical assignments. Such an obtuse setup may seem like a natural design for a bunch of technicians and scientists. Outsiders -- i.e. the unworthy -- can’t get past the steep learning curve, misanthropic empiricists get to cut down on their verbal discourse, and it just makes everything more orderly.

None of those provisions are actually fulfilled by the prevalence of numbers on campus, however. Students are still self-abnegating, verbose, and disorderly. More importantly, most of them don’t know nearly as much as they think they do. The Killian Court/Mass Ave./railroad/Ames St.-based building numbering system is often eschewed for rote memorization and, clearly, for good reason. Comprehension of course catalogs is often contained only within the majors themselves, especially in the smaller departments. ID numbers are rarely used in conversation, as interesting as that might seem.

To underscore how unheralded purely numerical order is, one need look no further than the fractured MIT library system. Not only are they often in an arbitrary location, but they don’t operate under the greatest numerical system of all, the Dewey Decimal System. Freshman (and immature grad students) looking forward to a vast selection of 741.15 in the Humanities Library -- both ironically and incongruously above the Science Library -- will be sorely disappointed. Melvil Dewey, however, simply doesn’t exactly hold sway outside your local library, and while it may be a shock to the uninitiated, experience here will help you in the cavernous hallways of Widener, or the slightly smaller Library of Congress.

Order once maintained by Aramark has been dismantled. Like AT&T before it, Aramark has been allowed to retain one jewel for its crown -- Refresher Course -- while the Baby Bells such as Walker crawl into the clutches of regional monopolists that ultimately branch out in a twisted attempt to emulate their corporate predecessors. Or something. In any case there are a half dozen eateries past Mass Ave. that have been localized, perhaps for good reason. Given the campus’ geographic dispersion, first-years and No-Really-It’s-My-Last-Years alike could find themselves outside the range of Burger King at any time. Do not fear the relatively modest decor of the Dome or Eastside’s eclectic panoply of patrons; the food’s different and you may even find a place to sit.

Why more people don’t already do this considering the Student Center isn’t actually a center of much is almost inexplicable (and worthy of longer discussion). Aside from the Athena cluster, the adjunct (in more ways than one) SIPB office, LaVerde’s, the PSC, the CAC, a bank, a post office, salons, La Sala, 20 Chimney’s, The Thistle, Virtual Tennis, and some student organizations that we’re “all” a part of, there’s not much worth noting. Even the reading room, as sacred as it has been viewed in years past, is underused. No, wait, the lobby has two empty spaces just waiting for stores that will fail; that explains it.

Finally, the most absurd sign of the Institute’s idiosyncratic order lies within OS tastes the geeks of EECS. Although it is true that many a ’Sixer spends more time keeping up with the latest GTK APIs than AI, there are also those more interested in Paul Allen than Allen Iverson (and not because of the Blazers). Yes, somehow CS majors often use Windoze, and not because they’ve made an educated choice, but because they’re too dumb to figure anything else out. Don’t come crying to The Rest of Us when you’re writing a paper on your PC and it’s like beep^x, and then, like, half of your paper is gone. In the end, however, unintelligent decisions such as that will benefit the intelligent. Their money indirectly funds LCS’s new home: the William H. Gates Building (opening Nevuary 32nd).

So campus isn’t brimming with trees, the pupils can be more boring than the professors, and orange juice costs more depending on where you go. More importantly, this is a fine establishment of higher education in a myriad of fields. Just as long as you don’t intend to go into library sciences, that is. That was Course XIX until, well, you (ID# 234314458) can read more about in Z675.T3.R4. (available from 14S-200).