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MIT student blogger Lulu L. '09

The fight’s begun but not yet won by Lulu L. '09

me vs. vista

You’d think that if anywhere offered great computing help, it would be MIT. It’s so obvious but up until today I’ve ignored this awesome resource right at my fingertips. You see, MIT offers free MATLAB to its students. And if you knew how expensive this software was you’d be relieved. The catch is you have to be connected to the MIT network, that’s where they keep the licences. Installing MATLAB on your personal computer, though, is no big deal. Lots of people have done it. Last summer, oddly enough, I had a big problem on my Dell where the installer crashed every time, always amidst great fanfare and in every creative, apocalyptic way. I had the grant, I had the licenses, but I just couldn’t get the software to stick. I brought it down to the NASA computing center about 3 days in a row and had a bunch of guys poke and prod at it. The verdict, when it finally came, was solemn. The outlook grim. Something was apparently wrong in my computer in a very big way. The guy recommended wiping everything and reformatting. Isn’t there another way? Afraid not.

I went back up to my cubicle very sad that day but, of course, I never did do what I was told. You see, because, data, can be backed up, but 3 years worth of rare and pirated software? Not easy to part with. A chainsaw couldn’t sever these ties that bind.

So in the end, life went on. I lived in constant fear. It was as if my computer had been diagnosed with some rare and serious heart ailment. And this meant, low cholesterol diet, regular, moderate exercise, and most importantly, no MATLAB.

A year goes by without incidence. For the summer I learned to use Octave. Then I finish a whole year of junior lab data analysis on Athena computers. Including 3 separate instances in which I was booted for violation of some security or sanity feature that prohibited more than 9 1/2 hours of straight access. And then it came time that I part ways with Tiny Dell. In his place is now a brand new 14 inch widescreen Thinkpad T Series. Built like a tank with the computing power of 100 Tiny Dells, maybe even 1000, all black and all business. A beautiful, invincible modern marvel of sorts.

Of course I guess what they say about all good things and idolatry and so on and so forth, well, this morning I decided that, yes, it was time, and yes, I would give this MATLAB thing another shot. After all, new beginnings, right?

“Oh will you look at that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen THIS error before.”
Please please please, I was thinking, fix this. Fix this and I’ll do anything.

What was supposed to be a 20 minute grab-and-go kind of job before work turned into a 4 hour swirling abyss of uncertainty and despair when the the little blue bar marking the progress of the MATLAB self-extraction process snapped to completion and what popped up was not the MATLAB installer but a gentle little stylishly transparent dialog box with a not-so-friendly message. So that’s how I met Jacob. I had run the setup a dozen times under at least as many different conditions, all with the same result. I was sick with worry making breakfast at 4pm, working myself into a bit of a situation not only with this Vista business but also with the pancakes having accidentally followed the direction for making 14 pancakes instead of 4.

But it was a beautiful day and things work out for good people on beautiful days, maybe. So it did with me on this day, because someone recommended I give IS&T a call before they closed up for the day. Together we played with different installers and services settings and in a stroke of mad genius Jacob suggested searching for the unzipped MATLAB installer in my Temp folders. Well, I found 15 of them, one for each time I’d tried installing the software, and lo and behold they worked with a simple click. And the problem? Who knows what it was, probably some kind of linking issue or other.

What now? And what’s next? Well, I’m back to where I started the day, sitting on my bed next to the window with the sun coming in, idolizing my new computer.

I guess at the end of the day what to take away from this is just the usual lesson about using your resources, that and the sweet skills of my man Jacob working his magic on my laptop problem here and really just putting the smack down on Error 0: Running Command MATLAB~1.EXE and making the world a better place for our children.

17 responses to “The fight’s begun but not yet won”

  1. Snively says:

    The real irony will come when you never have to use MatLab next year. Enjoy your new computer, install all sorts of neat goodies!

  2. Noelle says:

    The heart ailment analogy was perfect. I felt that way in the months leading up to ultimately sending my laptop off to emergency surgery (HP Repair Center) for 2 weeks due to a power issue. Enjoy your ThinkPad!

  3. lulu says:

    Well I had hardly any programs (from MIT) other than Latex on my old computer. But on this guy I’ll probably add Mathematica and MATLAB. All the rest is frills raspberry

    Oh, but you’d probably want to get SecureFX, too. MIT also gives you some slightly crippled versions of music software, I think. There’s a bunch. I should find a good consolidated list.

    Oh here’s a couple, but it’s definitely not the full list…

  4. Piper says:

    Yeah, SecureFX is useful (or its Mac counterpart – Fetch). People generally figure out the programs they need as they go along – even with simple, “Hm, I’m kind of sick of webmail” – “Go get Mozilla Thunderbird!” Etc…

    Yeah, my computer literacy has gone up 39058% since arriving on campus last August =D.

  5. Noel '12 says:

    I ask about Mac-specific because it would be difficult / quasilegal for me to emulate / run OSX on my Windows machine while running XP/Vista on a Mac machine is simple. I haven’t decided yet about whether to make “the switch” yet, and I have absolutely no reason to pay exorbitant amounts for a Mac as of now. One reason to do so would be because of crucial Mac-specific software.

  6. Noel '12 says:

    Are there any Mac-specific (or Linux..non Windows Vista, I guess) programs that MIT requires? I know certain majors require certain programs, I’m thinking maybe Course 9 or 20.

  7. lulu says:

    All these programs come available for all major platforms. Why Mac-specific, specifically?

    I know course 16 probably requires some familiarity with MATLAB and maybe Solidworks or CAD or something, course 8 requires MATLAB, and Latex, and later on Mathematica if you’re real serious, but anything you need for class will either A) be supplied on Athena or B) be free and available for download. like that garbage bio program… Biostar or Biomaster or something…

    (anyways, yeah, like paul said)

  8. lulu says:


    Tiny Dell is now in the huge confused hands of my dad. He’s complained about the keyboard being too small, and not knowing what all the crazy buttons were for, but he’s thusfar held on to all the software that were once dear to me. As for ThinkTank, I’ll slowly but surely build up the repertoire again. It’s sad, but it’s the circle of life, sort of.


    Well, for me the most compelling reason is that it’s the latest and best and since I undergo a massive technology upgrade only maybe once every 4 years or so, I like to keep up to date as I can, and I like the comfort in knowing that XP will be obsolete before Vista. Also, I know Vista gets a lot of crap, but I’m using it and it’s really actually got some pretty great new features, I think what people complain about is all the baggage that comes with it but you can uninstall a bunch of that and customize it to your needs. I don’t know, I don’t see a reason not to go with Vista. I like new things. smile

  9. lulu says:


    Just what are you telling me here? You mean, not every school gives out $3000 dollar licensed software to just anyone who asks? What do you have to do to get what you want around there? Hunger strike? Tree sit?

    Noel ’12-

    Unless you’re crazy into film or video editing or multimedia which you probably aren’t, otherwise you’d already have a Mac, there’s no reason really to get a Mac now, esp for MIT. Vast majority of students have PCs, with Windows or Linux OS.

  10. Jeremy says:

    So what happened to all the stuff you didn’t want to get rid of in the first place on your tiny Dell? Did you end up just getting rid of it anyways? Or did you transfer it somehow?

  11. Lainers says:

    Is there any compelling reason to get Vista rather than XP on a new laptop? I feel like I’d rather work with XP, and any new software that I need in two or three years when nothing will install on XP anymore will be available on Athena (which should work, even with the 9.5 hour time limit). Comments either way?

  12. Sam says:

    You hit the nail on the head, Lulu.

    “A man doesn’t know what he has until he loses it.” I think that’s from Damn Yankees. But seriously, I needed MATLAB for one of my psets at Berkeley, and I was like, “What? Where is it? Who is going to give it to me for free? I need it right now!”

    Ah, to be a millenial.

  13. What type of programs do MIT students usually install on their computers?

  14. Paul says:

    Oh hey, I know that song. wink Good luck, and please don’t become one more casualty.

    @Computer Illiterate: That’d vary vastly on your major and your interests. For example, I’m trying to teach myself Python and TeX over the summer, so I currently have MacPython and various LaTeX applications. Someone who’s Course 6 (Electrical Engineering/Computer Science) would have a lot more programming applications, whereas someone in Course 18 (Mathematics) might have Maple or something.

    You can pretty much get all the programs you need for your schoolwork through MIT, though – either by downloading them directly from MIT, or just using one of the many Athena computer stations dotted around campus.

  15. lulu says:

    ^^ that’s a new one.

  16. lulu says:

    You think i’ve been around for 3 years and not seen as much as Snively??


    maybe Macs are what all the young’uns are using nowadays. I think I know 1 person who uses a Mac.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm…the “vast majority of students have PCs, with Windows or Linux OS”?

    According to Snively… “A little less than half the computers I see on campus are Macs.”