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September 2009 Archives

September 1, 2009

Serious inquiries only

When applying to college in 2006, I wrote one of my short-answer essays on how “serious” a school Chicago is. At the time, I didn’t really know what that meant, and I didn’t really know if it was true. Last week’s International Symposium on Mathematical Programming (ISMP) provided further evidence that the University of Chicago takes that “serious” descriptor very seriously.

Lars Peter HansenThe event, a conglomerate of the world’s foremost mathematical minds, focuses on programming for optimal decision-making. On the practical level, that means how much fuel a car’s internal computer decides to use at a given time or how an airline prices each seat. Last week was the symposium’s 20th incarnation—it takes place once every three years—and, in addition to Chicago Booth’s sponsorship, it has deep Hyde Park roots.

Advertised as the “60th Anniversary of the Zero-th Mathematical Programming Symposium,” the event celebrated the 1949 Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation meeting organized by University of Chicago researchers. Before that conference, few outside the military had heard of George Dantzig’s simplex method, an algorithm for solving linear-programming problems that allows for resource optimization.

Tjalling Koopmans, then a member of the University’s Cowles Commission for Research in Economics, planned that first meeting around Dantzig’s simplex method, bringing a group of 49 mathematicians, economists, and government workers to Hyde Park to discuss the algorithm’s implications. Most of the attendees had UChicago ties, and all five future Nobel laureates at the conference were associated with the University. Paul Samuelson, AB’35, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1970, presented on economic sustainability, while Herbert Simon, AB’36, PhD’43, the 1978 Nobel recipient, discussed technological change in a linear model.

Since then the ideas behind the symposium have remained mostly the same, focusing on optimization methodology, advances in the field, and applications across math, economics, and government. This year, Stephen P. Boyd of Stanford University was the week’s first plenary speaker, talking about Real-time Embedded Convex Optimization, while Berlin University’s Martin Skutella discussed network flows in Flows Over Time: Classical and More Recent Results.

I attended a talk by Lars Peter Hansen (shown above), the Homer J. Livingston distinguished service professor in economics, on Valuation in Dynamic Stochastic Economies, which examined long-range economic models. Again, I was reminded of my college entrance essay: as a humanities person, I’m not quite sure what “dynamic value decomposition” is, but I know it’s serious.

Jake Grubman, ’11

September 3, 2009

Audio/Visuals: UChicago’s most eligible bachelor?

Raúl Coronado, assistant professor of English, reps Hyde Park on Chicago Magazine’s list of the city of Chicago's top 20 singles. He’s on leave for the academic year, so the fawning will have to wait.

Jake Grubman, ’11

September 4, 2009

Through the Net

covering a women's soccer match online

It’s November 15, 2008, and Sean Ahmed, AB’06, and Emerald Gao, AB’08, are delirious.

The Maroon women’s soccer squad has just won a shootout against Calvin College in the second round of the NCAA D-III tournament. The broadcast team spent the whole game trying to be objective, but for a few moments unbiased analysis gives way to old-fashioned homerism.

“Emerald and I just began yelling and jumping up and down,” Ahmed said. “As objectively as we try to take things, when it came down to it and there was this incredible game we had just watched, and our team ultimately went through to the Sweet Sixteen, you couldn’t help but just be thrilled and really let out the fan in you.” He and Gao provide the voices of Chicago soccer as part of Go Maroons, a student-run group of announcers for the University’s soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball teams. Starting with last Tuesday’s men’s soccer game, Go Maroons is back for another year in the booth.

As the Maroon’s sports editor, Ahmed and two writers began Go Maroons in fall 2005, when production consisted of passing a lapel microphone back and forth in the athletics department break room, which overlooks Stagg Field. Mark Liskevych, AB’07, and Omar al-Ubaydli, AM’03, PhD’07, who covered international soccer for the newspaper, suggested broadcasting over the Internet to reach as many parents and other listeners as possible. With al-Ubaydli calling the play-by-play in his English accent and Liskevych—who now works for U.S. Soccer—on color commentary, Go Maroons quickly picked up, with parents listening from across the country.

Listen to a broadcast sample: "Chicago wins it in overtime against NYU" (38 seconds)

That year both soccer teams qualified for the postseason, and Chicago hosted the first four rounds of the women’s tournament. It was a perfect chance for the broadcasters, who had gotten comfortable with radio-style soccer commentary and open-source audio streaming by the end of the season.

Since then Go Maroons’ improved technology streams the games to more listeners. Using a cell phone connected to Skype, they can broadcast even without an Internet connection on site. Beginning last year, Jordan Holliday, ’11, and I have also blogged live during games when Internet is available, with readers posting questions and comments on the Maroon’s sports blog, MaroonCity.com.

There will always be rough patches with production, Ahmed says, like the time in 2006 when a deejay in Poland hacked the server and broadcast music on top of the broadcast. Unexpected dance tunes aside, Ahmed, now working for the Chicago Cubs, also calls Maroons games on the side. “We love doing it. There’s no other time we get to do it, we love the program as alums, and we’ve been treated to great, great soccer seasons in our time here.” Thanks to their work, anyone who can’t make the game can still share in the delirium.

Jake Grubman, ’11

September 8, 2009

To conserve and protect

Ann Lindsey

Trained in the art and science of preservation, Ann Lindsey became the University Library's head of conservation this past January. In prior positions at the Huntington (San Marino, California) and University of California, Berkeley, libraries, she gained experience in preservation issues related to library renovation and construction. That background suits her job at Chicago, where she will coordinate conservation efforts at the Regenstein until moving to new quarters in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library in 2011.

Lindsey spends about half her time with sleeves rolled up, repairing fragile books from the Special Collections Research Center. I stopped by her workspace last week, and before our interview she quietly sewed together the pages of a tattered 18th-century English play. Outside we could hear the beep-beep of construction vehicles working on her future home, which will include a 6,000-square-foot preservation department.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you first become interested in book preservation?

QandA_ADrop.jpgI grew up in Austin, Texas, and there is a program there (at UT-Austin) for preservation and conservation. When I was an undergraduate I knew people in the program. Years later I ended up back in Austin and thought, ‘I really liked that stuff; I’m going to look into it.’ I plucked up my courage, went and visited, and totally fell in love. I said, ‘Whatever it takes for me to get into this program, I will do it.’

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was so intriguing?

QandA_ADrop.jpgWorking with your hands, the variety of materials. I love the history of technology and book preservation is a microcosm of that—of paper-making, ink and printing, pigments, cloth, and dyes. It appeals to me because it is an art and a craft, and at the same time there’s a lot of science that goes into it, a lot of chemistry.

QandA_QDrop.jpgAre you also interested in the content of the books?

Mansueto Library, under construction

QandA_ADrop.jpgIt’s a conservation joke that you know you’ve become a conservator when you get shocked the day somebody points out that there are words in the books. But every aspect has some interest for me—including the words (laughter).

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat will be exciting about the new conservation lab in the Mansueto Library?

QandA_ADrop.jpgFor one thing, we’ll have more space. We are crammed in here now. We will have new equipment—a paper conservation sink, a drying rack, a suction table, a commercial freezer, and a fume hood—as well as increased security and a place to photo-document.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhen the new library is finished, you’ll be responsible for conserving the country's largest on-campus university library collection. Does this keep you awake at night?

QandA_ADrop.jpgNo—I made my peace a long time ago with the fact that there’s more work than I can ever do, no matter where I am. The people who designed this building put a lot into planning it, and I think it’s going to be a really good environment for books, meaning the temperature, the humidity, and the things in place to deal with floods or water or fire.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you respond to people who say that the future of libraries is digital, and that it’s foolish to invest in the physical preservation of books?

QandA_ADrop.jpgWe are moving toward digital. If we were solely relying on conservation of the object here at Chicago, I would say, yes, we are definitely swimming against the stream; but we do have such a robust digitization project. What I would say about what we do is that there are times when you need to see the object, regardless of whether or not it’s online and how detailed you can get. Scholars want to see the object. So I think we will always be an arm of the library system, in addition to reformatting, digitization, binding, and Special Collections.

Elizabeth Station

Portrait of Ann Lindsey by Michael Kenny; construction site photo by Cheryl Rusnak.



September 10, 2009

Oprah's block party

OprahStage.jpgAs a reporter, much of my job yesterday consisted of coming up with Oprah-related puns to begin this story. “Oprah-palooza.” Maybe something about “Chicag-O.” After seeing the final product Tuesday, anyone who was in downtown Chicago knows that this is truly the Winfrey City.

Get it? Anybody?

Oprah and fans packed onto Michigan Avenue rock-and-rolled all night (OK, part of the night) and partied all day for the premiere of the Chicago icon’s 24th season, probably the biggest block party this side of Obama’s election-night speech. Thousands turned out for the taping, held directly in front of the Magazine’s office at 401 N. Michigan. I swam out into the O-zone as far as I could yesterday afternoon, though by noon it was clear that I was about nine hours late to watch from the front row.

Mother Nature must TiVo The Oprah Winfrey Show, as the skies were sunny and the weather warm. I joined the crowd just in time for a sing-along with James Taylor, who played “How Sweet It Is” while the lyrics flashed across large video screens in the crowd.

OprahScreen.jpgToward Ohio Street, I saw several small groups of people practicing some kind of dance. I could tell these weren’t professional dancers, as their pants weren’t quite baggy enough, and their shoes weren’t quite fresh enough. No, these were just Oprah fans who knew people who knew people in the professional dance group that performed at the front of the crowd.

One woman said that there had been a small rehearsal on Monday but that she—and presumably hundreds of others—had just been recruited to dance to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” the night before. Those who had attended the rehearsal taught all of the newcomers the dance, and eventually it became the massive production that will air today.

Once Oprah actually made her way onstage a little after 5 p.m. and introduced the Black Eyed Peas for their performance, the dance worked perfectly. Watching from the corner office of the tenth floor, a number of my coworkers and I laughed at the lone dancer going crazy at the front of the crowd while everybody else stood still. Then the dance moved out to a few dozen people, then a few hundred more, and finally the entire group was moving in unison. I read this morning that the dance was supposed to be a surprise for Oprah, but who are we kidding? She probably choreographed it herself.

Afterward, Oprah called it “the coolest thing ever,” though I only had it in my top five for the coolest things ever. The entire event was one of the coolest Chicago has seen, if only for its magnitude: thousands of people crowded onto the city’s most famous street for a day of partying with Oprah and the Black Eyed Peas. Not bad for a daytime talk show.

Jake Grubman, '11

Photos by Dan Dry.

Market Madness: Yo-yos and Indifferences move on

Market Madness

Who fouled up the economy? Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson seeded the teams for our bracket. Was it the Chicago School? Investment banks? Consumers? As part of the University of Chicago Magazine's special issue on the economy, you can vote on each matchup to help determine who, or what, ultimately caused the deepest downturn since the Depression. The chosen culprit will be announced October 5.

The results from the first two rounds are in and voters picked the Yo-yos (68 percent) over the Distavores and the Indifferences (83 percent) trounced the PROGS. Sign-in and vote on today's matchup between the Moral Hazards and Feeding Frenzies. Participation enters you to win a free lunch on us. Check back at the Market Madness site weekdays at noon to see results and vote on the next matchup.

Sanderson, who—like a majority of our voters—picked the Yo-yos and Indifferences to move on, explains his choices:

sanderson-headshot.jpg Region I: Washington, DC

Yo-yos v. Distavores

The Yo-yos of the Federal Reserve trounce the Distovores. While there are certainly international aspects to the crisis (or crises), this one is pretty much “Made in the U.S.A.” and when things go south, pointing a finger at the Fed is usually a safe bet.

Indifferences v. PROGS

Although the Obama administration can certainly be blamed—and will be—for using a crisis to further its political agendas, which may well lead to an inflationary period and slower long-term economic growth, the recession began on W’s watch, and the Indifferences get the win here.

September 15, 2009

Dueling on the quad

Dueling on the quad

If you wandered through campus anytime in the past few months, you’ve probably noticed a flurry of activity that roused the quads out of their usual summer stillness—the beeping and rumbling of construction trucks, the chatter of students strolling to summer classes, an admissions tour guide barking out information to a group of nervous applicants. But wait—was that sword fighting that I just heard in Bartlett Quad?

About a dozen members of the University’s coed fencing club took to the concrete footpaths this summer between the Reg and Bartlett Dining Hall to stay in shape, fine-tune their form, and…beat the heat?

If choosing to head outdoors into the Chicago summer, dressed in the thick white fencing jackets and masks, seems a bit counterintuitive, just ask co-captain Jeremy Kane, ’11. “It’s just too hot in Henry Crown during the summer,” Kane said, referring to the poorly ventilated old fieldhouse that the team uses for its practice space during the school year.

And why not? The team was looking to work on new tricks to take into their fall training. There are about 30 members of the fencing club, while 24 members split evenly among the men and women make it onto the competition squad. The walkways that crisscross the quad substitute perfectly for the long, narrow mats the team usually practices on and allows them to enjoy the grassy campus and blue skies.

Not that the team’s decision to move outside was without its awkward moments. “We definitely got some weird looks,” said team member Krista Nicoletto. Kane shrugged and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, we got heckled by some football players too,” he remembered. The team has mostly concluded its sessions outdoors as the remaining weeks of the summer dwindle by.

In general, the dueling and lunging was not too much of an inconvenience for people passing through, though I was reminded of a past sports-related scare on the same quad. In previous spring quarters, I have had to frantically duck to miss a cricket ball that whizzed over my head while walking by the Reg. A group of cricket players had decided that Bartlett Quad was the ideal place to set up their sprawling game, despite the dangerously close range passersby would be to their bats and balls.

I mentioned this to Kane, and his face instantly became animated. So quick to defend his team that he almost lunged at me like I was an opponent in a duel. “No way! We’re not as bad as those cricket players!” he said, looking down at his fancy blue fencing shoes and twirling his foil sword, “I mean, we’re just way cooler than they are, right?”

Luke Fiedler, '10

Matthias Jamison-Koenig, AB'09, and Isadora Blachman-Biatch, '11, square off during a recent summer training session on Bartlett Quad.

September 16, 2009

Market Madness: Moral Hazards and Excesses move on

Market Madness

Who fouled up the economy? Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson seeded the teams for our bracket. Was it the Chicago School? Investment banks? Consumers? As part of the University of Chicago Magazine's special issue on the economy, you can vote on each matchup to help determine who, or what, ultimately caused the deepest downturn since the Depression. The chosen culprit will be announced October 5.

The latest results are in and voters picked the Moral Hazards (77 percent) over the Feeding Frenzies and the Excesses (56 percent) beat the Bailouts. Sign in and vote on today's matchup between the Foreclosures and Malthusians. Participation enters you to win a free lunch on us. Check back at the Market Madness site weekdays at noon to see results and vote on the next matchup.

To date, all of Sanderson's picks (made in advance of the bracket's launch) match the public's vote. Picking the Moral Hazards and Excesses to move on, Sanderson explains his choices:

sanderson-headshot.jpg Region 2: Wall Street

Moral Hazards v. Feeding Frenzies

It’s easy, and not always misplaced, to blame the Media. But this one is a real miss-match and the Moral Hazards are simply stronger at every—pun intended—offensive position. The Feeding Frenzies can only watch and marvel at the sheer talent displayed by their opponents.

Excesses v. Bailouts

This is one of the more evenly-matched first-round contests. But in the end the Excesses eke out a victory on the basis a deeper bench; rather than depending on a declining, one-dimensional “auto”matic game plan featured by the Bailouts, the Wall Street team can beat you in so many ways.

Audio/Visuals: Mr. Fix-it


Matthew Crawford, AM’92, PhD’00, sits down with the BBC to discuss his transition from academia to motorcycle-ology, explaining the satisfaction of not being able “weasel your way out” of fixing a Ducati engine.

Jake Grubman, '11

September 17, 2009

Market Madness: Big MACs and Foreclosures move on

Market Madness

Who fouled up the economy? Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson seeded the teams for our bracket. Was it the Chicago School? Investment banks? Consumers? As part of the University of Chicago Magazine's special issue on the economy, you can vote on each matchup to help determine who, or what, ultimately caused the deepest downturn since the Depression. The chosen culprit will be announced October 5.

The latest results are in and voters picked the Big MACs (78 percent) over the Stuff Happens, and the Foreclosures (70 percent) beat the Malthusians. Sign in and vote on today's matchup between the Invisible Hands and Watchdogs. Participation enters you to win a free lunch on us. Check back at the Market Madness site weekdays at noon to see results and vote on the next matchup.

To date, all of Sanderson's picks (made in advance of the bracket's launch) match the public's vote. Picking the Big MACs and Foreclosures to move on, Sanderson explains his choices:

sanderson-headshot.jpg Region 3: Main Street

Big MACs v. Stuff Happens

Business cycles are indeed recurring events, but this one, in terms of duration and depth, is significantly different from recent experiences, and the Big MACs are more responsible this time around than the run-of-the-mill Stuff Happens squad.

Foreclosures v. Malthusians

Another mismatch. Although the demographic consequences are strong, the Malthusians are a few years and a few decisions away from advancing as the Cinderella team. The Foreclosures were on top of their game from day one, are relentless, and continue to wreak havoc at every turn.

Lights, camera, manuscript

Photoshoot set-up

Beneath tall, blazing lights that might illuminate a big-city fashion shoot, Manuscript 129 waits patiently for its close-up. Surrounded by velvety black curtains, in a dark corner of the Regenstein Library’s preservation department, photographer Michael Kenny sets up the shot. The compact, fragile volume—commonly known as the Nicolaus Gospels—still looks gorgeous, though its original provenance is 12th-century Greece.

Page by delicate page, Kenny photographs the manuscript with a digital camera, sending each image to a nearby PC. After a minute or so, he watches the scanned reproduction appear on his monitor. The quality of the 600-dpi image is sharp; zooming in, he can make the type even larger and clearer than the original. But photographing medieval texts is slow work, says Kenny: “Twenty-five or 30 pages is a good day.”

His efforts are part of an ongoing project to digitize the Edgar J. Goodspeed Manuscript Collection, a set of 68 New Testament manuscripts and 114 papyrus fragments that range from the fifth to the 19th centuries. “It’s a spectacular resource,” says Ann Lindsey, the library’s head of conservation who, with reformatting librarian Kathleen Arthur, advises Kenny on how to photograph the pieces without hurting them. Each page is exposed for just a few minutes under the lights, which have low-heat, low-UV bulbs.

When the work is complete, the Goodspeed Collection will include 21,600 high-quality, zoomable page images. Scholars around the world (or anyone, for that matter) can already consult the digitized half of the collection, using an interface that allows them to browse within individual manuscripts and across the collection.

The technology would have astounded and delighted Goodspeed, PhD 1898, a professor of Greek who, beginning in 1923, chaired the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature. Arguing that humanities scholars needed unpublished source material just as natural scientists needed laboratories, Goodspeed spent years combing Europe for original manuscripts. His goal was to “make the manuscripts now in the University’s possession more useful to the departments to which they relate ... [and] make the most of what we have.”

In their quiet corner of the Reg, Kenny and his colleagues are doing just that.

Elizabeth Station

Back cover of the Rockefeller-McCormick New Testament
Goodspeed Manuscript Collection, Ms. 965, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library


September 18, 2009

Chicago’s DC debut

20090911_chicago_contributes2.jpg Good timing may be an understatement. When the University planned a September 10 event in Washington focusing on health care and education, administrators had no idea it would be the same week President Obama would give two hot-button speeches, one to kids about staying in school, the other to Congress about passing health-care reform.

Coming the day after Obama’s televised health-care address, Chicago’s program, called Chicago Contributes, opened with President Robert J. Zimmer introducing keynote speaker Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services. Sebelius asked the hundreds of University alumni, faculty, and other friends gathered in the soaring, columned Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium to participate “not only in the legislative debate” but also to use their “intellects” and experience as health-care professionals, educators, policy makers, or otherwise to share smart ideas.

After Sebelius spoke, Michele Norris, host of NPR’s All Things Considered, continued the conversation, moderating a panel of five health-care experts including Eric Whitaker, MD’93, an executive vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The University’s Urban Health Initiative, which Whitaker leads, takes a “public-health focus,” he said, partnering with nearby health-care facilities to get South Side residents the care they need as well as sponsoring local farmers markets to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in urban “food deserts,” where few stores offer healthy options.

20090911_chicago_contributes5.jpgPanelist Gerard Clancy, president of the University of Oklahoma, Tulsa, and dean of its School of Community Medicine, noted that more insured citizens will require more physicians and nurses to care for them. Kavita Patel, director of policy for the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, added that to attract more students to medicine, the country has to forgive more loans and also “reform our perverse payment system,” currently based on medical tests administered, to “a community-based system, so doctors take care of people, not administrative details.”

“The incentives now are all wrong,” agreed Patrick Soon-Shiong, head of Abraxis Health and executive director of the UCLA Wireless Health Institute. “The incentive is to do more care, not better care.” Whitaker noted that Chicago’s Urban Health Initiative works not only with the Medical Center and Pritzker School of Medicine but also with the schools of public policy, social service administration, and business to approach public health. “We’re the fourth-leading provider of academic medicine,” he said. If Chicago teaches its students to “understand the importance of community medicine,” then those future teachers “will go into other academic centers and spread that knowledge.”

Later in the afternoon Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U-High’82—like Whitaker, a basketball buddy of Obama’s—gave the day’s second keynote. “Behind higher standards you have to have great data systems that tell you the truth,” Duncan said. He’s tapped John Q. Easton, PhD’81, former executive director of the University-based Consortium on Chicago School Research, to direct the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Easton told the crowd his goal is not only to publish reports and disseminate data but also to help teachers and administrators “understand how to use it.”

20090911_chicago_contributes7.jpgRay Suarez, AM’92, senior correspondent for PBS’s NewsHour, led a panel discussion on higher education’s role in improving urban schools. Charles Payne, the SSA's Frank P. Hixon professor, noted that many universities “that have tried to play a role have quickly found they didn’t know [as much as] they thought they did.” Timothy Knowles, who heads Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, referred to Lab Schools founder John Dewey, who “taught the world that children learn by doing.” Similarly, “if universities are to stay vital in education and K–12 improvement, we have to learn by doing.” For the UEI, that means training teachers and running four charter schools on Chicago’s South Side.

After the panels Washington lawyer Elliot Feldman, AB’69, noted that the University’s new ties to the federal government give the institution a distinct chance to participate in these national debates. “The University will never have another opportunity like this,” he said. “Its ties to the president, and his whole family, are so important. It’s a unique opportunity for the University to make itself felt in the world.”

That evening alumni and other guests returned to the auditorium for a jazz reception, where Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, AB’76, answered questions about policy and politics from the crowd, and told how he almost didn’t graduate with his class—because he hadn’t taken the dreaded swim test. A few hours before the deadline, he completed the five laps. Once again, good timing.

Amy Braverman Puma

The Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC was decked out in maroon and gold for Thursday’s ”Chicago Contributes” event; Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, presents the keynote speech; trustees David Booth (right) and Mary Lou Gorno (to his right) listen to Thursday's health care panel.
Photography by Dan Dry.

September 21, 2009

Phoenix Pix: September 21-25, 2009

In the locker room at the Maroons' homecoming game

The Maroons took a moment before they played Wabash University's Little Giants in this season's first home football game last Saturday.

Photo by Dan Dry.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

September 22, 2009

The unchosen ones


The challenge: Come up with a name for the new online community (now known, rather colorlessly, as the University of Chicago Online Community): aka alumniandfriends.uchicago.edu. The grand prize: A University of Chicago alumni study trip to Iceland, India, or Spain. The contestants: UChicago alumni, family, and friends. The entries: More than 3,200.

The rules stated clearly that employees were not eligible, but several entered anyway. Perhaps these rule-breakers thought if they won, they would quit and start a new life in Iceland, India, or Spain. But none of their renegade suggestions made the top ten.

And now—drum roll, please—the shortlist, as chosen by the (also colorlessly named) Naming Committee:

  • Alumni & Friends
    Submitted by Alumni Board of Governors
  • Chicago Connect
    Submitted by Narong Silpathamtada, AB’96
  • Chicago Continuum
    Submitted by Susan Shin, AB’96
  • Connect Chicago
    Submitted by Marlo Del Percio, JD'08
  • World Chicago
    Submitted by Angel Ochoa, AB’08
  • Chicago Compass
    Submitted by Jeffrey Leeb, MBA’00
  • Chicago Connections
    Submitted by Rudolf Perina, AB’67 MBA’08
  • Chicago Exchange
    Submitted by Shariska Petersen, AB’08
  • UChicago Connect
    Submitted by Gregory Van Hyfte, AM’02
  • YouChicago
    Submitted by David Candland, AB’96

A distinguished list, to be sure. But let’s take a moment to contemplate the road not taken, and perhaps indulge in a bit of amateur psychology: What, for example, does it mean that someone thought the best possible name for the online community was Wrong Side of the Bed?

As expected from this crowd, there were plenty of learned/obscure suggestions, often supplied with background for the not-so-learned, such as Bensozia, "16th-century Italian dialect word that means ‘the good society’”; Confero, "which is Latin for 'to bring together, put together, collect' and likewise 'to discuss, debate, confer’”; and Clio, "muse of history, since alumni are connected through their collective experience of the University."

Equally expected, there were names that revealed (reveled in?) a certain bookish self-deprecation: Awkward Online, Nerds Haven, e-Dorks, iAwkward, Magna Geekia, MegaDorks, NerdSpace, Nerdvana, Talk Nerdy To Me, Ugly Duckling, and the activist-sounding WeAreNotWeird.org. There was also unresolved anger (I Blame You) and abiding loneliness (Marooned—a suggestion submitted by 22 different people).

Some names were cute, such as Lyceum Squirrelly, and so clever that they needed to be explained, like Ciao! "alternate characters in Chicago or UChicago."

Some explanations were so long that they trailed off mysteriously: "NetQuads would be a good name since ‘Net’ denotes being ‘online’ or ‘having to do with the internet,’ while the ‘Quads’ are known to be...” Known to be what? Square? Or “Chicago Rocks—where rocks can be used in many ways—as various acronyms such as Reconnect on Online Community with Knuckleheads and S...” Squares again? I guess we’ll never know.

There were addresses, but on a campus as sprawling as Chicago’s, which one to pick? Suggestions included 53rd & University, 57ellis, 57th & University, 57th & Woodlawn, 58th & Ellis, 58th & Greenwood, 59th & Ellis, and the metaphorical 57th & Counting and 57th & Net.

There were in-jokes like Dead Fun Society, DARKwithEVERYTHINGandFRIES, Off-Offline, and Shake Day Everyday, as well as in-jokes that were so in they were inexplicable: Binky and Dogs Eating Bicycles.

There were 1970s schlock-culture double-entendres—DeepQuote, AfterMaroon Delight—as well as a few more contemporary salacious suggestions: UC Hookup, CThrough, and where the only thing that goes down are the servers.

Interestingly—back to amateur psychology again—many suggestions seemed to conflate the business school with the entire University of Chicago. There were several Chicago Booth-based suggestions (Booth buddies, Boothanza, Boothorama, NetBooth) and names that might offend graduates of certain other departments and professional schools (Milton’s Hangout, The Free Market, Invisible Hands, Free Lunch, and the longer/shorter version of that, TANSTAAFL).

What does it mean that only Chicago Booth graduates seem susceptible to this kind of egocentricity? Hmmmmm.

There were the names of the famous: Barack, Bellow, Belushi, Dewey, Fermi, Goodspeed, Mikva, Stagg, and Harper, who also inspired Harper Valley, Harper’s Army, Harper’s Folly, Harpies, and Harpoons. (A quiz for alumni: which one of the above did NOT teach at the University of Chicago? If your answer was anything other than Belushi, please return your degree to 5801 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago 60637.)

There was the cynical (Donation House) and the blunt (I Want That Trip!).

There was one from someone who still seems confused about what his or her alma mater is called: u I c.

And then there was my personal favorite, Bookface. It didn’t even make the shortlist. It’s scholarly sounding yet also kind of smart-alecky, like the term What’s-his-face for someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

A younger, hipper colleague pointed out that while she liked the suggestions that played off existing names (Chitter, CobbWeb), how long would those names still be relevant? Hardly anyone uses the term World Wide Web anymore, and who remembers sites like Friendster? In which case UChicago’s online community is stuck forevermore with the equivalent of Maxbeta.

Not to bias the vote or anything.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

September 24, 2009

One fine Sunday


Walking down Ellis Avenue to cover move-in day for incoming students, I saw the quintessential rite of passage in full swing. The street was lined with bumper-to-bumper cars transporting students, their families, and piles of luggage. A crowd had congregated outside the new South Campus Residence Hall. Student volunteers in lime-green T-shirts pushed bright orange carts up and down ramps.

Sporting jeans, a striped polo, and a ponytail—my best guess at what a 2009 college student would wear on such an occasion—I sat on a curb near the new dorm's entrance and tried to blend with the bustle. I listened to two students discuss European soccer and watched parents snap photos. Then a resident head announced that students would start heading to their rooms in groups of ten: “Only the students—no belongings, no parents—follow me.” After her son walked through the glass doors, one matter-of-fact mother said, “That’s it. I’m never going to see him again.”

The students filtered into SCRH, finding their rooms and reuniting with their parents. Up in Oakenwald House, animated banter had replaced the quiet conversation from outside. One student pulled clothes out of his suitcase while answering his mother’s questions:

“Can I make your bed?”
With a wry smile: “You can stay outside.”
From the doorway: “Are you sure I can’t help?”
“OK, fine.”

While listening to the exchanges I saw not a single tear, which surprised me at first, but then again, what was there to cry about? Perhaps one father put it best: “This is nice—a beautiful new dorm with a dining hall right next to it.”

Katherine Muhlenkamp

Photography by Dan Dry.



September 25, 2009

Rising to the top


They’ve done it again—maybe. Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, the writers who won Tony Awards for Urinetown, a musical comedy about pay-per-use toilets, have delivered a new offering about another unlikely subject: the existential dilemmas of single-celled yeasts, one of earth’s first life forms.

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) made its Midwest premiere September 23 at Chicago’s American Theatre Company. The story takes us back three billion years, when salt-eating yeasts (all named Jan) floated happily in the primordial soup. But trouble looms: as the yeasts consume too much, they multiply too quickly. That leads to scarcity, fear, power struggles, and a lot of singing and dancing.

Writer and lyricist Kotis, AB’88, says he chose the untimely theme because he wondered “how far back you can go and still tell a story.” Composer and lyricist Hollman, AB’85, added “mock opera pretensions” to the tale, which had a 1997 run in Juneau, Alaska. At a recent preview performance in Chicago, they huddled in the theater’s last row with director PJ Paparelli, scribbling notes when lines or gags didn’t work and guffawing appreciatively when they did.

Mostly, the show succeeds. Whether they are belting out ballads, stumbling across the stage, or delivering complex dialogue, the cast is superb, from the lead actors to the satirical Greek chorus. Simple costumes and staging bring the briny underworld to life—all it takes is neon-green rain ponchos, electric-pink Lycra, strobe lights, and lots of black nail polish. Some of the best songs have the most absurd lyrics, including a duet (“You’re Not the Yeast You Used to Be”) and the stirring act-one finale (featuring the lines “Stasis is our membrane/Stasis is our balm”).

Both in Urinetown and Yeast Nation, Kotis and Hollman artfully blend the cerebral and the mundane. Who else but University of Chicago graduates would rhyme “dreary” with “query,” “kill ya” with “cilia” and “that really blows” with “status quos?”


Just days before the preview, the authors were rewriting songs, and there are still a few kinks to work out. The two-hour performance feels a tad long; perhaps the authors could pare down a production number or shorten a soliloquy. And while Kotis's script eschews overt pop-culture references, toward the play’s end, the characters’ preoccupation with romance—really, who cares about a yeast love triangle?—seems misplaced.

A focus on bigger questions (life, death, survival) is more warranted as we grapple with issues of scarcity and sustainability today. In the meantime, as one of the characters in Yeast Nation reminds us, “If science can’t save us, perhaps a piece of musical theater can.”

Yeast Nation runs through October 18 at the American Theatre Company, 1909 West Byron Street, Chicago.

Elizabeth Station

Photography by Michael Brosilow.


Audio/Visuals: Visualizing the heartland


Opening October 1, the Smart Museum's exhibit Heartland offers an idiosyncratic look at the innovative forms of artistic creation taking place in the American heartland. Hear artists Artur Silva, Greely Myatt, and Deb Sokolow talk about their installations and performances.

Click on the image above to go to the Smart's Web site where the video is hosted.



September 28, 2009

Be curious—and comma conscious


Fall quarter begins tomorrow. Inspired by the College Programming Office's collection advice for the Class of 2013 from returning students, we asked alumni on Twitter and Facebook to share their wisdom. Here are some of their suggestions for first-years:

"Be endlessly, insatiably, gloriously curious forever."
Thomas Lee, AM'90 (@MindingGaps)

"Don't get behind on the reading."
Andrea Buford, AB'80

"Take classes outside your concentration. Often."
Kate Rockwood, AB'04 (@KateRockin)

"Make great friends, take the best and most advanced classes you can, get to know some professors and grad students, and don't be afraid to leave Hyde Park and check out other neighborhoods and events around the city."
Ryan McCarl, AB'08, AM'08

"Remember to sleep. You will actually get more done in your waking hours if you are rested."
Jay (@jayenbee)

"Take advantage of everything the University and Chicago have to offer: concerts, plays, clubs, museums, all of it. And don't forget the serial comma!"
Lesli Sagan, AB'85

Have a tip? Leave a comment and let us know.

First-year Luciana Steinart waits for the new south campus residence hall all to open on move-in day. See more pictures from move-in day on Flickr.
Photography by Dan Dry.

Audio/Visuals: Sound of science


Carl Sagan, AB'54, SB'55, SM'56, PhD'60, sings about the universe with the help of Auto-Tune (and creative sound-blending by musician John Boswell).

September 29, 2009

High hurdles

Taking the podium at the Gleacher Center last week, Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson apologized for his lingering fatigue from a recent trip to Japan. Once he began his lecture, “Chicago 2016: Bidding 'til Bankrupt?” Sanderson sounded most tired of inflated projections about the city’s potential financial benefit from the Olympics.

A February report, commissioned by the Chicago 2016 committee, predicted $22.5 billion in new economic activity if the city wins Friday’s International Olympic Committee vote. Otherwise impressed with Chicago’s bid committee, Sanderson leveled his strongest criticism at its willingness to present that estimate with a straight face. “It’s embarrassing,” he said. “They should be ashamed to shill in that way.”

For one thing, said Sanderson—a Journal of Sports Economics editorial board member—Olympic-related projects that exceed their projected costs actually would boost the “economic impact” in the committee’s formulation. An independent report issued last week put the potential net gain at $4.4 billion, citing much lower expectations for tourist spending, among other differences with the committee’s estimate. The report, by the Anderson Economic Group, sounded much more accurate to Sanderson, who said the bid committee's $22 billion projection is reasonable only "if they put a decimal point between the two 2s."

chicago2016.jpgSanderson is not against the Olympics in principle. “I’m not really pro or con," he said. "It’s sort of in the details,” which is where things tend to get sticky. The city's project cost overruns—he mentioned Millennium Park and the Dan Ryan reconstruction—have become a civic sport of their own. Combine that local “tradition” with the global impulse toward lavish spending on the Games, and the financial foundation seems less firm. After budgeting $4-5 billion for the 2004 Olympics, Athens ended up spending $14-18 billion, Sanderson said. London’s 2012 plans started at about the same level and have already surpassed $20 billion.

It satisfies the economist in Sanderson that Chicago’s plan would leave no “white elephants” standing as empty monuments to the Games. Washington Park’s Olympic Stadium and natatorium, for example, would be scaled down for local use. The Olympic Village, which houses athletes, would be developed along the lakefront on the near South Side and converted for retail and residential use. Private developers would have to invest in the area, though, to prevent it from becoming the taxpayers’ albatross. As an attraction itself, Sanderson said, the Olympic Village lacks appeal because “tourists will hardly come flocking to Chicago in 2017 to walk through a housing development where the athletes used to sleep.”

Even to Sanderson, economics alone do not define the Olympics. He sees potential intangible value, like many choices people make without hope of financial gain. Unlike London, Paris, or New York, he puts Chicago in the category of cities that truly could benefit from the Games, properly administered. As Friday’s vote approaches, Sanderson would wager on Chicago over its perceived chief rival, Rio de Janeiro—although he expected Paris to win the 2012 Games that went to London. (The voting process is an Olympic event of its own.) If Chicago wins the Olympics, and the city breaks even, “I’d say, ‘Great.’ It’s not an investment; it’s a block party.”

Jason Kelly



  • Video: Olympics expert John MacAloon, AM'74, PhD'80, supports bringing the games to Chicago.

September 30, 2009

Marooned in NYC

New York City's Phoenixphest party, held last Thursday at the nightclub Strata, lent a hint of geek-chic to Manhattan’s upscale Flatiron District. That is to say, there was some chic within each geek in attendance.

Phoenixphest 2009, New York City

In perhaps coincidental Chicago Maroon meta, dark red light bathed Strata’s entryway and front bar. The sound system blared the standard club fare of top-40 sprinkled with the occasional indie-esque Hot Chip or MGMT track. But cinching Phoenixphest NYC’s claim to party veracity was its ragtag remix of former Snell-Hitchcockers, Burton-Judson buds, and Shorelandians all grown up—and, why not, maybe some former Pierce and Woodward residents as well.

The beat of Phoenixphest NYC was decidedly down-tempo, as partygoers preferred mingling over mini-burgers, spring rolls, and open-bar bounty over showing off their Phoenix-phresh dance moves. But the alumni crowd ran the sartorial gambit—and perhaps the personality gambit as well—more diverse than the average boîte crew.

For starters, it should suffice to say that most Flatiron fetes don’t feature attendees sporting U of Chicago sweatshirts hobnobbing with others clad in Western business attire—or in vintage clothes with pink tights, for that matter. In any event, a conversation that opens with, “What was your College house?” generally is not a surefire icebreaker at most NYC clubs. At Phoenixphest, it was the ticket into witty conversation about Hyde Park memories, with a social doughnut soon forming around the cocktail table.

In fact, his College house itself was part of said bygone era for Sherrick Lewis, AB’09, who reminisced about his days in the now-closed Shoreland’s Hale House. Soon Betsy Block, AB’09, and Elizabeth Bellis, AB'03, a former B-J resident and RA in Shoreland’s Fallers House, joined in the banter.

The conversation came to a brief halt during a keynote address from NYC-area young-alumni chair Jen Glickel, AB’08. Although the acoustics were less than forgiving, her reminder to donate and volunteer should at least strike some sort of chord with young alumni.

After all, regardless of house affiliation or College major, the conversation eventually drifted toward topics uniting scientists, writers, and financiers alike: apartment searching, career networking, and the triumphs and tribulations of daily minutiae like subway lines, laundry drop-off, and grocery delivery.

Ah, New York living. Join the club, fellow Chicago alumni.

Anne Szustek, AB’03, AM’04

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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