Jul 29, 2009
What do Alums do?
Posted in: MIT Facts
*snively will be mad I beat him at posting this* *not anymore, curse you Stanford!!!!*
So by now you might think you have a fair idea of what to expect when you get to MIT. Floatillas, Liquid Nitrogen, and peak internet use at 3a.m. every night. But what about after you graduate and Mattress Dominoes turn into "Oh Noes!"?
Luckily the trend appears to be that MIT alumni are dedicated to having as much nerdy geeky fun as they did while they were in school, and so they tend to continue doing really cool things. I present to you as a case study the company LiveScribe.
So this past weekend, Snively and I were invited to be a part of a start-up company called LiveScribe. They flew us into California for the weekend to attend training seminars and get some hands on time with their product.
For those too lazy to google it, LiveScribe is a pen that does something that makes college students like myself (and you guys!) very happy. It records audio while you write notes. It's a simple thing, but that's the beauty of it. You take notes just like you do with a normal pen and paper and it records the audio from lectures. I personally detest note-taking because I tend to do one of two things. Either I obsessively write down everything a professor says, or I listen and understand while he's talking and thus leave my notes.....lacking. With the LiveScribe pen you just tap record and it records audio while you're writing, which means you can slow down your professors who talk at .66667c, and condense an hour's worth of lectures down to just an outline, leaving you with a really clean visual organization of the entire audios lecture. Snively wrote about it a while back, so you can check his blog out for some videos showing the pen's usefulness in action.
But what's REALLY cool about the company is that it was founded by a guy named Jim Margraff who is, you guessed it, an MIT alumnus. LiveScribe isn't the first time you've seen or heard of one of his products though. He also invented the technology for the Atlasphere (an interactive globe that may be a little before you're time....which makes me feel old), and much more recently the LeapFrog system that teaches little kids how to read.
So have no fear kids, the fun never stops when you're an MIT student!
How was the conference? It was AWESOME! Snively and I stuck out like....well like MIT students in a class full of sports management majors (and 16 other majors MIT doesn't have). But in a good way! Seriously, people thought we were (are you ready for this?): cool. That's right, we were "the MIT guys"! People were interested in hearing about the crazy things we do at school and lots of the execs came and sat with us at meals to chat. The first night at dinner the Senior Science Advisor Andy Von Schaak came and sat down with me and we started about the little bit I can talk about my job at Los Alamos, which segued into what my plans and visions for the future are etc. Snively came and joined us and Andy gave us an interesting (but probably secret) problem to work out. It was a lot of fun! By the end of it, Andy and I exchanged "deets" (his word not mine) via Bump for the iPhone. (super cool app, we followed up with a discussion about how it probably works, but you should go check it out from the app store if you have an iphone).
Snively wrote a much better blog about the details of the experience, but there's one particularly illustrative event I'd like to share with you. While we were at Berkley, one of the events we did involved people spinning a wheel with the opportunity to win a pen, with chances to win normal pens, or raffle tickets as well. What made it interesting were the two "spin again" spots. When we had gone back to the room we were talking about the inordinantly high number of pens we gave away, and that of course led to the odds.
Tip #1, don't discuss odds with MIT kids.
I estimated them to be about 1 in 10 and said so. Then an argument broke out about what effect the "spin again" spots had on the odds. But being the big nerd I am I knew that there was one way to solve this, and that was to solve this.
I was able to get it into a series like this:
The odds of winning immediately are 1 in 12.
The odds of spinning again are 2 in 12, or 1 in 6.
The odds of winning after getting a spin again therefore are 1/6(1/12), but there's also a chance you'll spin again after spinning again, after which you could win or spin again, repeating the whole thing over and over again like episodes of Seinfeld after 1998. This led to the equation for odds being:
all the way to infinity. Hmm to infinity eh? that sounds like an infinite series to me! Sure enough if you distribute the 1/6 you get
which means the odds are just:
lim(k->inf) Sum(n,0,inf,1/12*6^n). The ridiculous math geniuses among you took a look at that and said "yup one in ten", but since I couldn't remember all my convergence tests at the time, Snively and I were standing outside with a laptop running mathematica crunching numbers. Surprisingly enough, people asked what we were doing and were genuinely interested!
I have a theory for why people think MIT kids are still kind of cool even though we're used to being the nerds everywhere, but Snively's wrote it up in his blog, so I won't bother repeating it. In short, being at MIT makes you legit, it means even though you do something nerdy, you do it at an impressive level, regardless of what it is. By the end of the night, we had people coming over to hang out in our room as we stumbled around YouTube and ran bash scripts in Terminal to replicate XKCD jokes.
So there are a few lessons in there, one, don't argue about the odds. Two, MIT will open up a lot of cool opportunities for you to meet amazing people. Three, do what you love without caring what other people think of it, and you may be surprised to find that some people find your passion for it cool, even if they know nothing about the actual subject. Four, MIT alums are awesome.