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Hacking Spirit Alive and Well

At Freshmen Photo

By Brian Loux

Features Editor

Yufei Wang ’04 and Jimmy Cheung ’04 aren’t bad students. They study, they get good grades, and they were never held back from the class of 2004 because they didn’t have enough credits. As such, there’s no real reason for them to be in the Class of 2007 freshmen photo. But they are anyway.

In fact, Wang has made it a point to appear in every freshmen class photo since his own.

“My sophomore year I was dragged there,” he said. “After that it was mostly the idea of a streak I’ve been trying to keep.” Wang even dressed the part by obtaining a white Class of ’07 t-shirt. Cheung paired with his pal Wang this year after not making his freshman photo back in 2000. “I overslept that day,” he said. “I almost missed this time, too. Yufei had to wake me up.” Cheung said he was glad to do it at least once.

“Why do it? Why not?” Wang said when asked for his motivation for the act. “It’s fun to do and an interesting way to get to know the freshmen ... It’s a cute hack and there’s no harm done. Every year I get to tell freshmen I’m a freshman. And they believe me.”

Wang and Cheung are hardly alone in their act or their mentality. The MIT student population has for years embraced “hacks,” or random non-violent acts of lampooning and mischievousness executed mainly because they are possible to do, in one form or another. While there are those who plan elaborate and widely-seen hacks that can attract a small amount of national media attention, many students often try to incorporate the philosophy of hacking into daily activities.

Wang and Cheung, for example, said that they used to go to the top of Simmons Hall while it was under construction for the challenge and the view.

Rocket hack displays MIT brain

Other acts of playful hacking were plentiful at this year’s freshmen photo.

At around 2:10 p.m., while the cameraman was still hoping to get everyone situated for the picture, a carbon dioxide-powered bottle rocket was launched from somewhere atop building 10 towards the Charles River.

Instead of releasing a parachute when it began its descent, a large number of small orange flyers spewed forth from the rocket, caught the breeze blowing towards the great dome, and fluttered down around the vicinity of the photographers ladder.

Many students broke rank to pick up some flyers, delaying the picture a few more minutes.

The flyer had the familiar phrenologist head diagram with the parts of the brain relabeled to things such as 6.001, punt, and Strong Bad. Underneath, the caption read “All your brain are belong to us,” while the back enigmatically read, “Who did this.”

Freshmen appear in photo twice

In another tradition, many of the freshmen (or upperclassmen) attempted to run from the left side of the group to the right side before the panoramic photo lens reached the opposite side.

A group of around 20 freshmen ran this year, some making it, some not, and some knocking over Coke cans and cigarette receptacles in the process.

Naveen M. Krishnan ’07 and Faizan Ahmed ’07 decided on attempting to run a few minutes before the picture was taken. Ahmed took it one step further and dressed in a Spiderman outfit complete with a mask.

“I always dressed up as things in high school,” said Ahmed, a Spiderman fan. “I wore this to the movie premiere. I got a standing ovation out of it.”

Like Wang and Cheung, the two freshmen didn’t have a real reason for participating. “I remember my father regale me with tales of never having the opportunity to appear in his freshmen photo twice,” Ahmed said, with Krishnan nodding in sympathetic understanding. “He often wakes up at night with a cold sweat on his forehead wishing that he appeared in the picture more than once ... I had to do it for him.”

“We’re kidding, obviously,” Krishnan said. “We’re just the Indian rebels of MIT.”

Ahmed and Krishnan were not in the front of the running pack, however, so their double appearance in the picture is not certain. Krishnan estimates that he was too slow on the run to appear in the picture. Ahmed said that while he botched the first two pictures, he had a fighting chance in the third.

“I don’t know, I might be a big blur,” he said.

Failure didn’t faze the two, however. Krishnan even said that he hoped to do more stunts like this in the future, though possibly on a larger scale. “I definitely want to do [the picture] again next year,” he said.