Here and There


Sojourner, a Boston-based feminist journal, had a bash March 30 to celebrate its 20th anniversary--in an appropriate place, Kresge Auditorium.

The journal was founded at MIT as a newspaper for MIT women. And while most feminist newspapers failed to catch on, Sojourner has reached the heights of national distribution with a monthly circulation of more than 40,000.

As an article by Stephen Brophy in the Cambridge Chronicle noted, Sojourner was founded when the Institute was still pretty much a male bastion.

"Then as now, women made up a majority of the support staff, but constituted a much smaller percentage of the student body, faculty and administration," Kathryn A. Willmore told the Chronicle. Ms. Willmore was one of the founders and guiding lights of the journal. At MIT, she is now executive assistant to the President, director of Public Relations Services and secretary of the Corporation.

Also helping get Sojourner started was Mary P. Rowe, special assistant to the president, ombudsperson and adjunct professor of management, who came to MIT as the result of the establishment of the Women's Forum in 1972. Ms. Rowe formed the Women's Advisory Group, which gave its support to the idea and founding of a journal where women could address their concerns.

The journal, named in honor of Sojourner Truth, a freed slave, abolitionist and women's rights advocate, received some seed money from Dr. Paul E. Gray, then chancellor, later president and now chairman of the Corporation, with the understanding it would have to support itself.

For a time, Sojourner was put together in the Somerville apartment of its first editor, Alison Platt, an MIT staff member/editor who Ms. Rowe recalls had "exceptionally strong designing skills." But by the end of the first year it became obvious, Ms. Willmore said, that Sojourner would have to reorganize to survive.

"We realized that to save the paper we needed a larger ad base," she said. So the journal began reaching beyond MIT to the greater-Boston women's community and was reincorporated as a regular business.

After a brief break in publication, the journal returned to the newsstands and began its climb toward national distribution.

The journal, now housed in Jamaica Plain, still relies heavily on volunteers and interns, but it also has two editorial people, a half-time copy editor, a business manager, accountant and circulation and advertising staff.

"Sojourner has always been blessed by attracting enormously talented and dedicated women," Ms. Willmore said.

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The Boston Herald (April 1) featured Dr. Cardinal Warde, professor of electrical engineering, in his role as an entrepreneur (president of Optron Systems Inc. of Bedford) who hopes to have his company serve as an example.

His long-term goal, the article states, is to increase the number of minority-owned businesses.

He founded Optron, he told the Herald, because "I've always been interested in entrepreneurship, and wanted to use my science and engineering skills to build something, although teaching is my first love."

According to the article, Optron's products are varied, including high-definition screen displays, infrared projects and high-speed shutters for laser printers and the like.

"First, I want to make Optron succeed," he said. "Then it will be in a much stronger position to attract minorities to the company with the understanding that they can be entrepreneurs, take the technology they learn [here] and set up a manufacturing company."

"I'd like to see some of the manufacturing go back to the inner cities--high-paying jobs, so that hopefully some individuals can become wealthy in the process. Incentives are important to get people to perform."

[Professor Warde founded Optron in 1982. His principal fields of interest are materials, devices and systems for optical information processing, storage and display.]

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In 1960, Dr. Gustav Solomon and Irving S. Reed, working at Lincoln Laboratory, invented what are known as the Reed-Solomon codes.

These have come into widespread use as a way of correcting errors that occur in the transmission or storage of information in digital systems--systems that record information by using widely varied sequences of zeros and ones.

Word has now been received of the death of Dr. Solomon, a mathematician, who received his doctorate from MIT in 1956 and was on Lincoln's staff from 1957 to 1961. He died at his home in Beverly Hills, CA, at the age of 65.

His co-inventor, Dr. Irving S. Reed, is on the faculty at the University of Southern California.

Their codes have had a number of consumer uses, in compact discs, in digital audiotapes and in the advanced high-definition television systems. They also have been used on board the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft.

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After News Office receptionist Mary Anne Hansen sent out information on robotics to Donna Sibley of Medway for her young son, Trevor, Mrs. Sibley replied:

"We have read all the enclosed articles enthusiastically. Whenever we see anyone from MIT demonstrating their creations we are always struck with the impression that `these people are having a good time and love what they do.' "

She added that Ms. Hansen's accompanying letter was a much-appreciated "personal touch" from someone "in such a large and formidable institution."

Clips:

The Boston Globe (March 19) reports that senior engineering students at MIT and Boston University are building "one-of-a-kind, custom-made devices" to help the retarded and disabled people who perform simple jobs at non-profit Work Inc. in Brighton.

According to the newspaper, the "assistive technology" devices help the workers overcome their limitations. An example would be a machine to dispense a given number of items to be bagged by a worker who can't count.

The Globe said the students "buy parts cheaply or scrounge for them to keep costs low." It added, "Often, the students' ingenuity plus $100 or so in equipment can give the disabled person a way to overcome a long-standing hurdle. And the students benefit from meeting a challenge in the real world."

Dr. Steven B. Leeb, Carl Richard Soderberg Assistant Professor in Power Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said MIT initiated the project, which later expanded to include the BU students.

Engineers could simply design gizmos to automate much of the work performed by the disabled, he told the Globe, but that's not the goal. "The point," he said, "is to make machines that get around a person's disability without eliminating the person."

Quotes:

"We are in the very early days of this. And we're seeing as alarming some things that with time we may see as yet another form for people to express their creativity, to work out their problems." -- Dr. Sherry R. Turkle, professor of sociology of science, striking a positive note in an NBC News story asking whether internet use can become an addiction like gambling and drinking.

"No one has been able to measure the value of a chief executive. There are so many factors that go into a big corporation's performance, other than what the CEO does. But if you tie his pay to the stock and stock prices go up, then he gets the credit." -- Dr. Nancy L. Rose, professor of management and economics, in a Houston (TX) Chronicle story on compensation of chief executives and the effect of linking their pay to performance.

"The passing of Robley Evans seemed to many to mark the end of an era, a time when a scientist could contribute to all areas of science whether theoretical or experimental, a time when faculty and students could design and carry out an experiment, build the apparatus and interpret the results and a time when scientists could easily bridge the gap betwen different areas of science and technology. And it also was a time when nuclear physicists were held in esteem that now might be reserved for rocket scientists or basketball stars. Robley Evans was a star to his students, colleagues and friends."--From an obituary on Professor Emeritus Robley D. Evans, one of the founders of nuclear medicine, in the journal Medical Physics, written by a former student, Gordon Brownell of the Physics Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

--"I've noticed over the years, more and more students complain that this is very unnatural for them. We know we're at a transition." --Leslie C. Perelman, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, commenting on the difficulty many students have taking hand-written tests, in a Boston Globe article on the loss of handwriting skills to the computer.

--"People out there are trying to crack codes. There is a need, I think, to maintain different access control numbers, passwords, PIN numbers and the like because if you lose one you don't lose everything."--Gerald I. Isaacson, MIT information security officer, warning against using only one all-purpose code number, even though it may seem the easiest thing to do, in The Detroit News.

--"[The protein aggregates] are not some irrelevant state of polypeptide [protein] chains, not an accident of a graduate student's technique, but the beginning of understanding and treatment of these diseases."--Dr. Jonathan A. King, professor of biology, in a Science article on research suggesting that both test tube protein aggregation and amyloid diseases, including conceivably Alzheimer's, result when normal protein "folding" goes awry.


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