MIT College Adventures
Explorer Scouts, Summer 1964
My first visit to MIT occurred while the Stratton Student Center was still under construction in 1964. The occasion was a field trip with the Explorer Science Post, a bus trip up from New York. The group stayed overnight in scout cabins at Camp Sayre, in the Blue Hills Reservation south of Boston. We had a brief visit to the M.I.T. West Campus on one summer evening. I remember the construction fencing around the Stratton Center, but not much in the way of other details.
Admissions Interview, 1965
My second visit was for an admissions / application interview, likely during spring vacation in 1965. My parents went back home after the official events, but I stayed an extra day or so with a home-town friend (John Lisle, Class of 1968) in Bexley Hall. The highlight of the visit was a clandestine trip up access stairs next to the 77 Massachusetts Avenue main entrance, led by a well-known 'hack' perpetrator ("Sarge" Flemini, later expelled for thievery). Our group of four or five walked on the roofs of the Mass. Avenue buildings, then went back down and through below-ground tunnels to Building 54 (Earth Sciences).
At that time, Building 54 was the tallest building in Cambridge, 21 stories plus equipment on the roof. The top two floors were restricted for classified activities, including a rooftop "stalk" for a radome that was installed later. Sarge had a master key of some kind, so we were able to climb up into the radome stalk for a priceless view across the Charles River Basin to Boston. When we were discovered by Security, the group dodged down to an unrestricted floor, opened a small classroom and quickly staged an after-hours discussion scene to avoid getting in trouble.
Freshman Week, 1966
MIT at the time did not have enough on-campus residences for the entire freshman class. Incoming students came a week or so early for an orientation session at Kresge Auditorium and for fraternity "Rush Week" parties, getting acclimated and setting up places for everyone to be. The first tower of the new women's dorm, McCormack Hall, was complete. Thanks to my home-town friend, I had a bed in a first-floor suite in Bexley Hall that had been the dorm resident apartment the previous year.
During that first week in Boston, I ran into Alan Jeffreys from Pelham, literally, walking down Beacon Street! He was a good friend of my brother Jeremy and developed into a good friend of mine.
First Semester, 1966
I was accused of cheating on the Physics mid-term; my instructor was also the Assistant Dean of Student Men, and he refused to believe a perfect score from someone who didn't show up regularly for his 9:00am class (too early for my night-owl hours). The professor told me to derive on the blackboard all of the formulas required for the problems; just knowing them was not enough. My test score was dropped to 70%. [Back in high school I got a 100 on one of the PSSC Physics standardized tests – for a chapter that we had skipped over.]
That fall I taught myself how to operate the MIT mainframe computers by helping the second and third shift operators at the MIT Computation Center. John Lisle, my home-town dorm mate, had a part-time job as a student operator of the new IBM System/360 Model 65, so I could use the internal job accounting numbers and run some personal jobs on the systems. I learned assembly programming for the IBM System/360 by reading the Principals of Operation manual. I also did some PL/1 and Fortran IV programming for list processing library functions.
Second Semester, February 1967
I was called into the Comp Center office one morning and invited into a part-time position as a user support consultant. When I initially declined, they increased the pay rate and embarrassed me into accepting. My career in computing is still going, most of 50 years since.
The Selective Service College Qualification Test (SSCQT) was held in Walker Memorial. Fingerprint ID required, "intelligence test" to determine how many years of secondary education would be allowed by a student deferment. This happened to be the last year that the test was administered.
Early Spring, 1967
My dorm mate John Lisle got married in Boston. My brother John came up from Providence to be the best man; I was one of the ushers. John & Carolyn (Miethe) moved into an apartment in the Westgate tower. Taking his place was Fred Abramson, an Electrical Engineering major a year or so ahead of me, and another denizen of the Computation Center.
Summer in Cambridge, 1967
Fred Abramson and I both worked through the summer at the MIT Computation Center. Together we sublet an apartment on Bristol Street from Mike Meyers, the older brother of a high-school acquaintance (Paul Myers, a Mamaroneck, NY competitor in the Westchester Interscholastic Mathematics League). Fred & I worked full time and overtime each week as system programmers, updating and installing new operating system software on the IBM System/360-65 and modifying the IBM ASP/360 package for the System/360-40 to handle MIT job accounting codes and procedures.
Played Ed Hendricks' SpaceWar video game adaptation on the IBM 2250 vector-graphics display, using the System/360-65 as a million-dollar-plus game console. Discussed programming and analysis options with Harry Stevens, a junior Massachusetts legislator who was working on a computer program for determining voting district boundaries based on geography plus census data.
Fall of 1967
One Saturday night party at Bexley Hall featured heavy-bourbon punch. With Pelham friend Jeff Kurtz (with leg braces and crutches) and two others, we went over to the Music Hall theater in Boston for a scheduled 2:00am free showing of "From Russia with Love" – a James Bond movie. The show started early because the waiting crowd got too big; trouble in the streets was started by people who came later and missed the show. Boston Police were not happy when Jeff and I got out of the theater late and asked for directions, not knowing that there was a "situation" in progress. We walked back to M.I.T. in the wee hours of the morning.
Trying to keep up with Course 6 classes while working in the Computation Center, I spent a lot of late-night time in the 24-hour library on the 5th floor of the Stratton Student Center. Chance encounters led to some very unusual opportunites –
Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
This early April event led to a dramatic memorial on MIT West Campus quadrangle, across from the Massachusetts Avenue main entrance and next door to Bexley Hall.
BossTown Concert on Boston Common
A free concert on Boston Common introduced the 'BossTown Sound' performing groups – Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Reunion
Spring Term, 1968
Following up some of my high-school experience, I got involved in theater backstage work for Tech Show 68. I ended up with credits for costume design, costume production, lighting, stage crew, and my primary role as Stage Manager. Several weeks after the show closed, my upper-classman friend and costume master (John Rylaarsdam) was drafted, relinquished his U.S. citizenship and moved to Toronto as a 'landed immigrant'.
Bought a used motorcycle, provoked by my brother's hometown friend Alan Jeffreys. Tried to learn to ride it on the small streets of Cambridgeport. Crashed into a couple of parked cars, resulting in several traffic violations and a serious right-hand injury that delayed taking final exams until the end of the summer.
Moved off campus into Alan Jeffreys' rented house (244 Putnam Ave, Cambridge), next door to the Bluegrass ladies, with a couple of older house-mates. Repaired the bike and sold it; too big and too powerful for me.
Fall Semester, 1968
Still on academic probation, I applied for and talked my way into a part-time job at the IBM Cambridge Scientific Center in Technology Square. Shared a manager and an office with Ed Hendricks, one of the people I had worked with at MIT in the summer of 1967.
Oct. 28 - Nov. 8, 1968
Vietnam War sanctuary / protest in MIT Student Center, Army PFC Jack M. O'Conner. Helped enlist and mobilize Cambridge motorcycle riders to provide crowd control and security, thanks to a Harvard Square waitress friend. Sat with and listened to MIT professors (Noam Chomsky, Seymour Papert) supporting the action.
Living Theater performs "Paradise Now" at Kresge Auditorium. Nudity onstage with substantial audience participation.
Dec. 4 - Dec. 18, 1968
Vietnam War sanctuary / protest at Brandeis University, Specialist/4 John Rollins, AWOL from Ft. Clayton, Panama. Part of the crowd in the Brandeis Student Center for two or three days.
Dropped out of MIT, talked IBM into creating a full-time position for me. Lost my draft deferment, reclassified 1A and started the protracted Selective Service appeal procedures.
Took some vacation time and visited my ex-patriot friend in Toronto. Provided photos and minor help during his production support of Passion Plays at University of Toronto.
November 15, 1969
March on Washington to protest continued involvement in the Vietnam War. Rode down with my IBM office mate and several others, stayed overnight the day before in an apartment near Philadelphia.
April 16, 1970
An organized protest demonstration on Boston Common marched across the river, up Massachusetts Avenue to Harvard Square, then developed into a significant riot. I walked out of a restaurant after supper and found myself in the middle of it.
Student shootings at Kent State University and bombing missions into Cambodia led to even more protest activity. Walking back toward Tech Square after lunch at the Stratton Center, I ended up providing a data processing framework for the New England Strike Information Center, organized at MIT, later headquartered at Brandeis.
Helped organize peaceful slowdown and obstruction during Selective Service draft physicals, from Cambridge City Hall to Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown. That month, all of the college students "failed" the physical exams.
Working late one day in the IBM computer room at 545 Technology Square, I got an unexpected call. My 1Y draft status was converted to 1F safety when the U.S. backed out of the Southeast Asia conflicts.