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MIT student blogger Chris M. '12

What do Alums do? by Chris M. '12

Are you exceptionally forward minded? Already thinking about what you'll be doing as an alumni? Here are some thoughts.

*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.

27 responses to “What do Alums do?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    nerd love for seriously. :D

  2. Olive says:

    I love it…I should probably get one of these pens, b/c I take notes the same way you do wink

  3. Josh says:

    Since apparently you bloggers hate FIRST POST! type people, I’ll save you from having to delete comments.

    This looks like a super cool conference, glad you had fun!

  4. Tyler says:

    It’s an infinite geometric series, so the sum is 1/12 over 1 – 1/6, which is 6/60 or 1/10.

  5. Anonymous says:

    There’s no need for series. Let p be the probability that you win. If you win immediately, you win with probability 1. If you lose immediately, you win with probability 0. If you hit spin again, it’s like you’re starting over – you win with probability p. So




  6. Chris M. says:

    Yup there’s a lot of different ways to do the same things in math…..

  7. anon says:

    yep, what tyler says smile
    geometric series converge for |r|yep, what tyler says smile
    geometric series converge for |r|<1
    a/1-r, where a = 1/12 and r = 1/6

  8. anon says:

    oh no, it doesn’t like less than signs :—–
    DATE: 07/29/2009 09:29:05 AM
    “Berkley” is actually “Berkeley”

  9. ^^Which is one of the reason I love math so much.

    Also, I need one of these pens. I watched both of Snively’s videos and pretty much fell in love with it.

  10. Labib (?14) says:

    How good is the handwriting recognition software? I’m pretty sure a lot of people want to have soft copies that they can edit, so being able to convert is a big thing.

  11. Snively says:

    The rule of thumb is that if you can read it, it can read it. If you can’t read your own handwriting, it can’t either. At some point I’ll post some examples on my personal blog (if I get around to it). Generally, though, its accuracy is impressive.

  12. Snively says:

    Sorry Chris, feel free to combine my comments

    If it’s your money, who are your parents to tell you what to do with it? If you earned it, you get to decide what to spend it on. If it’s their money, however, you could be in a tighter spot.

  13. Aj says:

    Live Scribe Cool Pen But My Folks Not Gonna Let Me Buy a $200 PEN.
    They Would Hand Me a PEN Taped With a Recorder And Say Here IS YOur Live Scribe..
    Press Record To Record And Write To Write And For Listening It Together U JUst Need The Timimng

  14. Anonymous says:

    Chris, what’s your talent that Snively was talking about??

  15. jdk says:

    Only an MIT student would use a convergent series to solve a basic statistical probability. There are twelve events on the wheel, but two of them are Spin Again. The Spin Again slots are neither a win nor a lose, so they do not factor into the probability (because each time you land on Spin Again the probability of winning or not winning a pen remains the same). Therefore, the probability of winning a pen is not 1/12 but 1/10 (since you discount the two Spin Again slots). Sorry, it’s that simple.

  16. Chris M says:

    Who wants the odds that the next comment about how to calculate the odds will piss me off?

  17. Snively says:

    For those of us who understand time zones, we’ll realize that Chris actually made that comment at 11:04 PM.

    For those of us who understand what it’s like to read a bazillion+1 blog comments from prefrosh with enormous egos, I’d say that the next comment Chris gets about how to do math, from a prefrosh, will pretty much lock anybody out from ever getting a reply to any e-mail they ever send to him.

  18. jdk says:

    That was my attempt at humor. On another note, this post (and the other one by Snively) convinced me to buy one of these LiveScribe pens.

  19. jdk says:

    For these odds,

    On a scale of 1 to 10:

    1) How pissed off were you prior.
    2) How pissed off were you when you made the comment @ 2:04 AM.

  20. John'13 says:

    when do MIT students start solving schrodinger’s equation?

  21. Anon says:

    Prefrosh are expected to already know how to solve it. If you don’t, you’re screwed.

  22. Abdul says:

    Is that true? i mean what Anus is saying?

  23. Abdul says:

    oops.. sorry i didn’t mean to write anus, i meant Anon.

    I just literally translated in my mother toungue.

  24. Chris M. says:

    There is no one named Anus.


  25. Chris M. says:

    Ahh, I see.

    No, you’re not /expected/ to be able to solve infinite series. In fact, a lot of people have trouble with them, they can be hard. You will have an easier time if you’ve had some calculus, but it doesn’t necessarily need to have gone all the way to infinite series.

  26. Anon says:

    I was kidding. People come in with various backgrounds in math, and nobody is *expected* to know anything. There are some prefrosh who don’t even know basic calculus. Don’t worry about it.

  27. jdk says:


    I am not a prefrosh.

    How am I suppose to know that Chris posted this from California? He just said “this past weekend.”