Like most universities in the U.S., Yale awards more computer science degrees to men than women. Indicative of the so-called “leaky pipeline,” which describes the phenomenon in which women drop out of educational programs in STEM fields, this gender imbalance has long been a source of concern for Yale.
But the undergraduate organization FloatYale aims to be part of the solution to this problem.
According to its website, Float’s mission is to empower, inspire and celebrate women in computer science. Founded in January 2014 by Christine Hong ’15 and Victoria Nielsen ’16, Float promotes gender minorities in computer science through a mentorship program, workshops, speakers and an annual hackathon.
Hong said that her motivation for starting the organization was to create a support network for women in computer science — something that previously hadn’t been available to students at Yale. Additionally, she hoped the organization would be proactive in teaching practical skills, such as web development.
Current president Payal Modi ’17 said that while the organization is aimed at promoting women and gender diversity in computer science, the organization’s events are open to all genders.
“Including men in the conversation is important,” Modi said. “While it is important to have spaces that are gender- and minority-specific, it is important to include them in the picture and help them understand the things they can do to help and increase awareness.”
Others also expressed the necessity of having support networks for women. Six female computer science majors interviewed said that issues relating to gender diversity become obvious during office hours, as well as while forming project groups in higher-level classes. Several added, however, that professors in the department have become cognizant of diversity issues and are making a concerted effort to address them.
Although gender diversity has always been a priority within Yale’s Computer Science Department, discussion around this issue has occurred only relatively recently, according to computer science professor Holly Rushmeier.
“We don’t have a coherent plan [for diversity] yet because prior to 2008, this wasn’t even a thing,” Rushmeier said. “Our major was tiny with a graduating class of 15 people. Then, the problem with the pipeline was that we were trying to get anybody in the pipeline.”
Rushmeier attributed the sudden surge in interest in computer science during the last decade to a variety of factors, including the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Facebook, and “The Social Network” film. She added that computer science departments around the world are overwhelmed all of a sudden by the number of majors.
Last semester, Float hosted its first town hall meeting. According to Modi, last semester’s meeting largely consisted of discussion and the group plans on hosting one town hall meeting every semester.
“Float did a great contribution by having the town hall last spring,” Rushmeier said. “It raised issues [the Computer Science Department] wasn’t aware of — the sorts of things that were making people uncomfortable. There were individual anecdotes that people were not aware of. It hadn’t occurred to us that this was affecting some populations differently and discouraging some people.”
Most recently, Float hosted a dinner for their mentorship program, in which upperclassmen computer science majors were paired with underclassmen mentees.
Sonia Gadre ’20, a Float mentee from Lexington, Kentucky, said she joined the program to find a community of people, adding that sometimes computer science can be intimidating in the beginning.
Jessica Pancer ’17, Gadre’s mentor, said that she originally joined Float for moral support in computer science. Pancer is also the founder of Women of 323, a group she created for female classmates in CPSC 323, a high-level computer science course.
Rushmeier said that last year’s events surrounding race and inclusion on campus raised everyone’s awareness about diversity. She added that there have been many conversations regarding the progress of the department with respect to these goals, as well as what else can be done.
The Computer Science Department is committed to diversity in both students and faculty, Rushmeier said. Currently, they are putting energy into hiring a diverse faculty and addressing a shortage in graduate students.
“There’s the perennial problem of the graduate student population and faculty recruiting. It’s not choosing the diverse people from the applicant pool, it’s getting applicants in the first place,” Rushmeier said. “We have to work hard to make it known to the people we want to apply, ‘Hey, Yale is here, and we want you to come to graduate school here, and we want to hire you.’”
Float will host its second town hall meeting on Nov. 4 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Last Thursday, Connecticut Innovations — the state’s leading source of financial support for early-stage companies and small businesses — held its inaugural VentureClash Live Pitch Competition.
Eleven finalists competed at Yale’s School of Management for a grand prize of $1.5 million in capital and an additional grant of up to $100,000. Dream Payments, a cloud-based payment platform, took home first place.
Participants were chosen from a pool of over 200 startup financial and health technology companies over the past six months, and keynote speakers at the event included Chief Technology Officer of Priceline.com — the “Name Your Own Price” internet service — Scott Case, who addressed the budding entrepreneurs as the “heroes” of the afternoon.
“The entrepreneurs are at the center of everything,” Case said in his address. “There are investors here and big companies here, but none of this happens without the founders who take the risks and put themselves out there every day and build their companies.”
When it was time to take to the stage, each finalist had five minutes to make their pitch, followed by a five-minute question and answer section. From California to France to Israel, early-stage companies from around the globe took the opportunity to present to a live audience of over 150 attendees. Among the audience was a panel of six judges, comprised of leading financial and health experts representing athenahealth, Inc., Kepha Partners, Oak HC/Ft, Point72 Ventures, Magellan Health and Canaan Partners.
The competition started off with Hong-Kong-based company AMP Credit Technologies, which offers a technological platform that allows banks and small loaning businesses the opportunity to make automated, paperless loan origination a reality. CEO Thomas Deluca emphasized that the system would be easily integrated into already-existing banking information, making credit assessment, loan repayment and risk portfolio management easier and more efficient.
Other competitors included Belgium-based LindaCare, which endorsed OnePulse, a remote-monitoring system that gives health practitioners a unified view of a particular patient’s history of tele-monitored health alerts and follow-up background to help improve chronic disease care. Along those same lines, CSIS Director Aengus Moran presented his company’s case for a patient-centered clinical decision support software.
The Irish company uses a combination of integrated information systems and clinician support that results in a platform which effectively reviews patient medications, integrates into existing health care information systems and is accessible to clinicians and administrators without much training.
Deviating from the banking and health tech companies, U.K.-based Hubbub advocated for SponsorCraft, a system focused on acquiring and retaining donors for nonprofit fundraising.
“We’re … a little bit less Fintech, and a little bit more Funtech,” said Jonathan May, co-founder of the company. “I spent my life as a child fundraising money for charities, schools, universities and startups … Fundraising is a funnel. You need to look at engagement, acquisition, growth and retentions strategies.”
Capitalizing on social media, he highlighted how his company has evolved and helped change the landscape and concept of giving in a revolutionary way. The company, May said, uses social data mining to subdivide databases that recognize viable prospects with white-label crowdfunding and digital-giving tools to increase donor conversion and retention.
With costumers like Oxford University, the University of London and the University of Southampton, Hubbub is looking to expand to the U.S., first by entering the market via universities, and later expanding to nonprofit agencies.
“When you give, you give online and what happens when you do that is you share that with other people like you,” he said. “There is a huge transition right now from direct mail and phones, to the digital space.”
As the event came to a close, May’s end-goal came $1 million closer to being achieved as his company won first-runner-up for the contest.
The whopping $1.5 million, however, went to Brent Ho-Young’s early-stage company Dream Payments. The system itself is a “payments cloud” that banks, small businesses and a variety of other financial institutions can use to deliver mobile payment acceptance solutions to their customers.
“This is as powerful as a register in a retail store, but it’s mobile, it’s low-cost and it can support any type of mobile wallet, Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) chip technology,” Ho-Young said. “The key thing for us is that we see a universe of billions of devices out there that, as long as they can connect to the Internet, we can secure them and process payments from that. That could be a wearable, that could be a connected fridge in your break room, it doesn’t matter. We can power them.”
Dream Payments is headquartered in Canada, but counts multiple American banks among its clientele, such as TD and Chase banks.
At the end of the competition, however, win or lose, it became startlingly clear that the very presence of these companies in Connecticut sent a vital message to the rest of the nation.
“This particular program has generated a lot of interest within our state,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at the competition. “It’s allowed us to reach out to a lot of individuals and organizations … and it is just one more tool that we’ve used to ensure that people understand that Connecticut is not only open for business, not only inviting that business, but we’re partners in so many of those businesses.”
Four runners-up received $500,000 and a grant of up to $50,000.
It’s late Thursday night and I‘m probing Jackson Beck ’17, a classmate, about his Facebook habits over questionably cheap steak sandwiches.
“So how much time do you really spend on Facebook every day?” I ask.
“About an hour,” he answers, without pausing to consider.
“And when you log off Facebook, what percent of the time do you leave feeling satisfied?”
“About five percent of the time,” Jackson pauses, biting into his sandwich and looking up at the ceiling as he chews. “Yeah, I’d probably say I leave Facebook feeling unsatisfied 95 percent of the time.”
“So you’re telling me you spend an hour a day doing something that 95 percent of the time leaves you unsatisfied?” I ask.
“Well … Yeah.”
I’m writing this article because I’m curious. I’m curious as to why, when I walk around a lecture hall or a dining hall or a party or a seminar table, at least a few people are always scrolling through their newsfeeds. I want to investigate why I, like many of my friends and classmates at Yale, feel ultimately unsatisfied by the hours, days, weeks and collective years that we’ve spent staring at that familiar blue screen. Why do we spend so much time on Facebook?
Yale was one of the first three universities to receive theFacebook.com in March 2004, along with Columbia and Stanford. Mark Zuckerberg birthed his brainchild just a month before in his Harvard dorm room at the beginning of February. It was a basic blue and white affair, with a male’s pixelated blue face staring down at users from the top left corner of every page.
Just a few months later, the News was already lauding and lamenting the far reach of theFacebook.com’s popularity: “Ahh, the joys of being able to mass-proclaim your popularity via the Internet. Although theFacebook.com is not the originator of social standing sites, it is undeniable that for the college student eager to find new and enlightening ways to procrastinate (those which don’t involve another being or a spare hand) theFacebook.com can easily become a means to fruitful Friday online frolics,” wrote Dana Schuster ’07.
Schuster’s guide to Facebook etiquette included (now scarily dated) warnings to the class of 2008 to resist the temptation to message new suitemates in lieu of calling them. TheFacebook.com’s capabilities, she half-joked, half-pleaded, were by no means a proxy for meeting real people.
As Yale students a decade later, we belong to the first generation of “digital natives” — a term which Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, used in her aptly titled book “Alone Together.” When I entered Yale, my expectations for the place were almost entirely dictated by the Class of 2017 Facebook page.
By Bulldog Days there were already campus celebrities, certain names on everybody’s lips. Before I had even stepped foot on campus, I had seen pictures of my suitemates when they were toddlers, learned what kind of activities they had been involved with in high school and felt myself a partial witness to their awkward middle school phases. Calling them on the phone probably would have been the most prominent display of social ineptitude I could ever conceive of.
It’s a blustery Saturday afternoon when I sit down for coffee with Helder Toste ’16. If you don’t know who he is, you probably don’t have a Facebook.
I’ve always assumed that Facebook celebrities are introverts glued to their screens, but Helder is both more gregarious and socially adept than I expected. He keeps his phone in his pocket throughout the duration of the interview, removing it only once to glance at a few messages that accumulated during our chat.
“I like to consider myself a very fun and sarcastic person,” he tells me. “I think coming into Yale, a lot of people from the Class of 2016 were like, ‘this guy is so intense!’”
Toste says that he uses Facebook for around an hour a day, but intermittently, like when he’s waiting for class to start or walking home from the library. He gets around 10 to 20 Facebook messages a day, and when he logs on, there are usually around five to 10 notifications waiting for him. He likes to post on the Class of 2018, 2017 and 2016 pages — mainly because he wants to help answer people’s questions — and on “Overheard at Yale” because it’s amusing.
Although students frequently disagree about how to pronounce his surname (It’s Tost-ee), the name is ubiquitous around campus.
“A lot of the time I meet people and it’s like, ‘you’re Helder, the guy on Facebook,’ and I’m like ‘that’s not totally who I am!’” He explains. While Helder stresses that his Facebook profile in no way represents who he is, he has made a fair number of friends through such interactions.
Bianca Li ’17 also feels like her two-dimensional Facebook profile doesn’t fully capture the complexities of her three-dimensional self.
“I feel like in person I’m very much more of a listener than a talker. There’s a lot I won’t tell people unless they ask me,” she says.
Li spends five hours on Facebook every day. She is a frequent poster on the Class of 2017 and 2018 pages. Unlike Helder, she isn’t so positive about the recognition she gets for her Facebook activity but concedes that it’s part of the trade. She understands her online presence can be polarizing, because of the amount of comments that she posts.
Li says she’s amazed that people often recognize her from her Facebook profile. “Freshman year, people would visit my dorm room. Some people who didn’t even have swipe access to my entryway. It was kind of creepy, but at the same time, I kind of understand the fascination with people who are so visible online,” she says.
She describes her Facebook personality as “jokey” but also sometimes serious, when she advocates for things she thinks are important, like feminism and healthful living.
“It’s very much a representation of what I would like to be seen as,” she says.
Ben Chen*, a junior who deactivated his profile for the entirety of last year, agrees that Facebook does give us a platform to present what we’d like to be seen as by other people, but often in a way that he finds “pathetic.” Ben chose to deactivate his Facebook because of what he calls an “old person’s obsession with privacy,” and for the same reason requested to use a pseudonym to retain Google anonymity.
“I think at Yale, the perfect profile picture is one where you look really good, but where it doesn’t look like you’re trying to look good,” he says. “At my high school the perfect profile picture was just a picture that looked really good.”
Ben says that perhaps this active nonchalance on Facebook is unique to the elite and highly educated — that we, as Yale students, think we need to be aware of the medium as a medium. We need to simultaneously wink at the idea of Facebook and try to look good on Facebook. Ben’s idea of a good profile is one that’s either over the top, campy and ironic, or one that’s tasteful, effortless and fun.
“How tasteful are their photographs? If they’re trying too hard to come off a certain way, then that seems kind of desperate and pathetic.”
And thus we enter a zone where we’re judging and being judged on every detail of what we’ve chosen to present. We’re carefully packaging mass amounts of information about ourselves because being seen as pathetic sounds really scary.
Before Facebook, if I met an interesting guy at a party, I’d have to ask my friends if anyone knew his telephone number, and then muster up the guts to call his landline, all the while fearing he wouldn’t pick up — or even worse: that the conversation would be awkward. Now I can go on Facebook and see what his “deal” is and also pictures of his cats and his parents and what he looked like when he was a baby and what type of people he hung out with in high school and what bands and movies and books he likes and doesn’t like and he likes country music? Hah, no way. Like he ever stood a chance.
“I think the biggest problem with Facebook is making assumptions about someone before they actually meet them,” laments Maggie Morse ’17. “It’s hard — for example if your friend says they’re dating someone new, it’s hard not to make an assumption in your head. You get some sort of impression of them. I’ve definitely done that. But I wish I didn’t.”
“That sounds awful, oh gosh,” she adds.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve all done that. It’s inevitable. Human nature,” I quickly reply.
Who am I making justifications for?
I call Nicholas Christakis ’84 on a Friday evening just before he drives out of cell phone range into rural Vermont. Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab, does not discount the day-to-day utility of Facebook, but he does maintain that Facebook has the ability to perpetuate feelings of negative self-worth. Christakis attended a Yale where every room had landlines (with no answering machines!) and people scribbled messages to friends on the chalkboards outside each suite.
“On any given day, a few of your friends might be having a truly exceptional experience,” he explains. With Facebook, he goes on, you can see everyone’s exceptional experiences and suddenly start to feel that you’re the only one stuck behind a screen. This can lead to feeling very envious very quickly, even though Christakis points out, “most days are just a normal day.”
Hall Rockefeller ’16, who deleted her Facebook after her freshman year, has a similar take. “I found that Facebook represented an alternate reality that I didn’t really want to partake in,” she says. “I think that the self that exists on Facebook is definitely not the one that exists in, well, I’d like to say reality, but Facebook becomes some sort of weird, twisted reality.”
Rockefeller found that Facebook created a standard against which she didn’t want to measure herself. “I just wasn’t interested in seeing people live in the ways that people wanted to present them, because it made me assess my life in a way that I didn’t want to or need to assess.”
In fact, in an oft-cited study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, researchers ran an analysis of Facebook usage among college students and found a correlation between low self-esteem and high levels of Facebook activity. And while scientific studies only describe reality up to a point — especially when we’re talking about something as subjective as self-esteem — when I told the students I interviewed about the study, they all seemed to nod their heads in agreement. To them, the correlation made sense.
To Chris Paolini ’17, you can look at someone’s Facebook profile and understand how exactly they want to be seen by their peers — especially when being critiqued by other Yale students.
“Yale’s not particularly [academically] competitive, but what a lot of people are worried about is the way they seem to other people,”he says. “Especially when it comes down to intelligence and impressiveness.”
The image that Yalies strive for, Paolini thinks, is not necessarily one of perfection, but an image that we think is the best encapsulation of ourselves. That’s the image we want on Facebook. “You have a certain degree of control over your virtual identity. And in that sense, it’s not a true perception that people are having of you,” he says.
Facebook gives us time to perfect a virtual version of ourselves. On the internet, you have both time and Google on your side when you’re engaged in a comment war. In the “real world,” however, you only have a few seconds to prove your intellectual prowess.
“Facebook is the one place where people don’t really make mistakes easily. It’s a lot more conscientious, how an identity is created,” Paolini observes.
Creating that external self takes time. I no longer have a Facebook account, but when I did, I probably spent as much time stalking myself as I did other people. Deleting pictures in which I looked uncool, hiding things on my timeline that my grandma had posted (the horror!) and strategically refraining from “liking” things people had posted on my profile so it looked like I didn’t spend that much time on Facebook. I did.
But the desire for cool internet-impassivity doesn’t seem to be anything new among Yale students. In Schuster’s article — now more than 10 years old — she advised her peers:
“I recommend updating your Facebook photo every three to four months … Or you may opt to leave your original Facebook photo up indefinitely — instantly emanating an ‘I haven’t been on theFacebook.com in ages’ aura despite the fact that you surreptitiously lavished in your summer internship’s ability to provide you with countless hours of anonymous Facebook-browsing.”
As Yale students, we often face a familiar dilemma: work/sleep/friends. Pick two. Yet with The Facebook, that has changed. We can suddenly multitask: socialize and work, or socialize and sleep simultaneously. Because even when we’re in bed at night, people can browse through our photos or “poke” us. And how many lecture rooms are filled with screens opened to a page of notes, with a Facebook tab right behind it? Or sometimes, just the Facebook tab?
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night from 10 to 12, a group of students congregate in the Branford Trumbull room over home-baked cookies and tea. They talk about life, dreams, hopes, other Important Matters that have always plagued college students. At the front door of the tea room is a basket filled with iPhones and Androids. “Technology free zone —Please place your phone in the basket,” the sign reads. It’s held in Branford, but anyone is welcome to join — as long as they drop their phone in the basket before entering.
Branford College Master Elizabeth Bradley helped create the space last spring when a group of students came to her with the idea.
“They were talking … about how hard it is to have an authentic conversation,” she remembers. “In the dining hall, people will pass by each other and say, ‘hey, how are your midterms? What’s going on? What are your plans for the summer?’ Just these sort of facts, rather than — ‘how do you feel about these courses you’re taking? Who do you feel like you’re becoming as a person?’”
“They just felt like there was no space to do that. It was almost socially weird to do it.”
I’ve been thinking about Master Bradley’s words a lot lately. When I deactivated my Facebook a month ago, the first terror that popped into my head was that no one would remember my birthday. After a five-minute process of finally finding the “deactivate your Facebook” portion of the website, I was confronted with the profile pictures of my closest friends with pleas to stay written under them. (How did they know who my closest friends were?) “Theo will miss you.”“Fiona will miss you.” As if I were moving to Beijing. I clicked the necessary bubbles and boxes, closed my eyes, and in a moment of inexplicable panic re-entered my password and pressed the deactivate button. “To reactivate your account, log in using your old login email address and password. You will then be able to use the site as before. We hope you come back soon.” The reply was smooth.
My birthday came and went and I had a party that I invited people to by text and word of mouth. My grandma emailed me, and my parents and my two closest friends from high school called. Life carried on.
I’m not trying to sound alarmist, nor am I caught in some luddite vision of a past Yale in which we only spoke face-to-face and All Was Good, but I feel the fact that we needed to create a special room to put down our phones just to have a conversation says something. It says a lot.
Branford Residential Fellow Steve Blum ’74 seems to agree with my assessment. Steve is at the tea room almost every night chatting with students. His was a Yale where friends would meet nightly for pizza and games of bridge, and where the closest thing to campus celebrities were the football players you read about in the News.
“The very fact that we (a) had to invent the tea room, (b) had to have rules attached to it and (c) that people actually end up talking about it in a meaningful way, is in fact testament to something we’ve lost,” says Blum.
Of course it’s easy to feel nostalgic about a time you’ve never lived in. You can imagine the good parts without the bad parts. Yet, as Master Bradley described the times spent out on the quad and Christakis talked about the little notes slipped under doors and Blum waxed lyrical about the daily games of frisbee in the courtyard, I can’t help feeling that, in gaining Facebook, we’re losing something else.
On Monday night, I walked through Bass library looking at how many computers were open to Facebook. (I suppose you could call it stalking in the real world sense.) Fingers clicked at lightning speeds as photos whizzed by screens in nanosecond intervals. In my surreptitious (and maybe a bit invasive) study, I counted six out of 40 laptops on the top floor of Bass open to Facebook, besides the guy watching Spiderman. Around 13 percent. Numbers are only helpful to a point, but I rode home on my bike through the rain that night wondering why Yale students spend so much collective time on a blue-and-white webpage that more often than not, seems to leave us unsatisfied.
Out of all the Yale students I spoke to, the average time spent on Facebook was about 45 minutes (I suspect it’s higher, but maybe people just want to present the best versions of themselves. Especially to reporters.) Human error aside, it’s still a lot of time. 45 minutes a day. That’s five and a quarter hours a week. 21 hours a month. 252 hours a year. And if the average Yale student is a sophomore (like me) who has had a Facebook profile since ninth grade, that’s 52 and a half full days spent on Facebook. Fifty-two and a half days we could have spent reading books or learning how to play an instrument or getting up the courage to speak to our crush in person. Maybe I’m just optimistic about how we would have been spending our time. I don’t know.
But I fear that as we spend our hours in the library half-studying and half-looking through the prom photos of that girl who sits across from us in section, as we decide not to contact the boy whose profile indicates a taste for country music, as we lie in bed mindlessly scrolling in the minutes before drifting off to sleep, that we’re losing something more than time in the process.
To understand “Perception Unfolds,” a video installation currently on view in the 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery, you shouldn’t try too hard to understand it. For once, you can do enough by simply perceiving.
That’s not to say “Perception Unfolds” is a simple exhibition. In fact, sometimes it can be more challenging to pause and perceive without slipping into analysis. The exhibition, which runs from Oct. 7 through Dec. 5, is the brainchild of Deborah Hay, dance pioneer and, in the 1960s, a founding member of the highly experimental Judson Dance Theater collective. As Emily Coates, director of Yale’s dance studies program, explains, the collective “embraced a democratic philosophy” regarding performance and challenged existing hierarchies of dance. The artists in the collective then shot off into different directions, with Hay moving to Austin, Texas, where she began to grapple with the relationship between perception and choreography. With “Perception Unfolds,” which debuted at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin earlier this year, she makes her foray into the visual art world, moving away from her usual live performances. And the Yale School of Art, too, makes its own foray into the world of movement and dance, representative of an expanding engagement with disciplines outside of visual art.
In the exhibition space, four large and semitranslucent screens hang diagonally with respect to one another along the central axis of the room. These screens serve as canvases onto which a looped thirteen-minute video performance, entitled “A Continuity of Discontinuity,” is projected; it features the dancers Jeanine Durning, Juliette Mapp and Ros Warby each performing her own version of Hay’s score, “No Time to Fly.” In an adjacent resource room, supplementary videos, text, and written scores provide context and insight into the exhibition’s creation.
Contrary to expectations, the kind of perception that Hay demands of us is far from passive; rather, what’s remarkable about this exhibition — and what sets it apart from typical video installations — is that it’s not only the work itself that refuses to be static. Instead, in an appropriately democratic fashion consistent with Hay’s radical approach to dance, the exhibition invites viewers into its dynamism; they can weave their way among the four screens, step back, step forward, lean in, lean out, and in doing so, access wholly different ways of experiencing the same event. This sort of engagement, too, distinguishes the dance-technology-visual art chimera from live performance, while preserving the variability that makes each iteration of a live performance different from the next.
Indeed, for all the exhibition’s outward minimalism and angular composition, it is fundamentally free-form and free-wheeling — the vitality of “Perception Unfolds” comes from the unpredictability, even messiness, of experimentation. Part of this stems from Hay’s unique take on choreography: She’s focused less on structuring the dance itself, a specific sequence of steps and movements, than on facilitating the dancer’s own organic response to the music — almost a sort of planned spontaneity. Rather than telling her dancers to go left or right, Hay formulates her choreographic direction through admittedly baffling “what if?” questions, such as: “What if every cell in your body at once has the potential to perceive time passing, HERE and gone, HERE and gone, HERE and gone?” These convoluted verbal prompts — sometimes poetic, sometimes absurd, sometimes both — do not call for verbal answers; instead, the dancers work out responses in their own improvised movement, directed not by intellect per se, but by bodily intuition. The overall result, a multi-disciplinary composition of movement, sound, film, software and multimedia, is anything but verbal, and entirely visceral.
As such, the dances captured on film are not fully polished works. Yet, the dancers don’t seem to hesitate or over-think their movements — and there’s something refreshing about that, and about Hay’s desire to “undermine,” as she says, “the response mechanism that leads all of us, including myself, to want to get it right.” From this, a freedom emerges, a freedom of individuality nourished by the spontaneous and context-sensitive nature of perception. According to Hay, this freedom exists in our very cells. “Perception Unfolds” not only makes the process of perception itself explicitly visible, but also validates the dizzying range of perceptive possibilities.
Go for the experience, if nothing else. Plan your visit if you want, but once you’re there, lose yourself in experimentation, in wandering, peeking, and casting inadvertent shadows; as dancer Jeanine Durning describes it: “You really have to be empty and not have a notion of how it’s going to go.” Perhaps, though, in that emptiness we can begin to discover perception itself, and a fullness of being.
Between its clean-cut geometry and aura of cutting-edge technology, a certain subset of modern architecture screams an aesthetic that can be best classified as “super villain” — gloriously inefficient, substituting functionality and cost-effectiveness for maniacal laugh-inducing technological coolness. To that effect, throughout Rudolph Hall’s new “Archaeology of the Digital” exhibit, Chuck Hoberman’s motorized wire spheres expand to improbably large proportions and plexiglass domes magically self-assemble — if Lex Luthor were building a beach house, he would probably peruse this exhibit for inspiration.
Organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, “Archaeology of the Digital” explores how digital technology has expanded and influenced modern architecture. It focuses on four notable examples: Frank Gehry’s Lewis Residence, Peter Eisenman’s unconstructed Biozentrum, Chuck Hoberman’s Expanding Sphere and Shoei Yoh’s roof structures for Odawara and Galaxy Toyama Gymnasiums. Each architect used digital ideas to craft their buildings, from the abstract DNA structure that inspired Eisenman’s Biozentrum to the difficult geometric calculations needed to construct Hoberman’s famous expanding spheres. Blueprints and models of each building form the center of the exhibit, along with interviews with the architects. Several 3-D computer models are also on display for the public to rotate and manipulate.
Though logical, the exhibit’s presentation was fairly difficult to navigate. “Archaeology” is meant to lead the visitor through each major work, but this isn’t immediately apparent to viewers who wish to quickly peruse the models — several visitors appeared to be proceeding through the exhibit backward, occasionally skipping a sequence. Additionally, much of what’s featured is somewhat technical — many blueprints of the same building, for example, appear in succession and differ only slightly. Neither of these effects would trouble a visitor with sufficient time to digest the display, but a quick 20-minute visit won’t give much insight.
That said, the arrangement of models and blueprints excellently demonstrates the relationship between architect and technology. As computers adopted a system of modeling consisting of points connected by lines, architectural modeling followed suit, with metal wire becoming a common form of demonstrating concepts. In addition to influencing traditional architecture, computer modeling also allowed new breakthroughs, and the variation among the styles displayed reinforces this notion. Whereas each Gothic building more or less resembles every other Gothic building, each project aided by technology is completely novel — one may take the form of a biological macromolecule, another a fish and yet another an indescribably curvy prism.
The exhibit manages to drive home the idea that technology is rapidly infiltrating every aspect of our culture — even art. Technology does not necessarily reduce formerly artisanal activities into cold, rapid and linear pursuits, but rather expands the artist’s creative reach. I stopped to meditate on Frank Gehry’s Lewis Residence for more time than I grant most pieces of art in similar non-architectural exhibits. The building, made up of an assortment of geometric objects, seems to defy physics even as it holds together. “The brain that transforms [thought] into art is needed to get beyond the recognizable language of the computer program,” Gehry explained in a quote displayed next to his work.
The space also makes a compelling case for bridging the “intellectual curiosity gap between history/theory and design” — as “Archaeology” argues at the beginning of the exhibit. As scholars look back on the development of architecture in our time and in the recent past, they will need to have access to the digital record of an architect’s progress — the custom programs, digital models and more. Despite this, almost no institutions maintain databases of these digital tools, failing to account for data’s being as important as the physical models and drawings previous designers left behind. Through its interactive computer models and documentation of each architect’s creative process, “Archaeology of the Digital” demonstrates the importance of archiving the entirety of a building’s construction, digital or not.
Victor Hugo wrote in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” that architecture is a product of each generation’s evolving culture — “the residue of successive evaporations of human society.” “Archaeology of the Digital” is a unique examination of the overlap of art and technology. Certainly this mixture, with its unprecedented creative freedom, will characterize the residue modern architecture leaves behind.
“Cars,” once said New York City-based photographer Jill Freedman, “are sort of like our country.” From Henry Ford to American Graffiti, the car has long embodied America’s dual spirit of industry and freedom. And just as America has undergone drastic transformation, so has the automobile —Detroit struggles; the growl of the American muscle car has been supplanted by the whir of tinny engines run by computerized fuel injection systems. The changing spirit of the American car echoed the changing spirit of America itself as the Industrial Age drew to a close.
New Haven is no stranger to these changes, which seem to have infected it with the particular malaise of being an industrial city in a post-industrial world. New Haven was built from steel and oil. At its heart was its harbor, which supported a thriving shipping industry. During the Civil War, the United States contracted its weapons from New Haven Arms (later renamed Winchester Arms), and the arms manufacturing industry became an economic cornerstone of the city. Today, the harbor rarely seems busy; its massive cranes tower unused as a single ship unloads. The enormous, sprawling Winchester Arms factory (pictured left) sits abandoned, hollowed out, as plans to repurpose it as premium loft apartments are discussed. It’s a story repeated again and again, and one especially visible from the Yale campus as the university attempts to plant the seeds of gentrification in formerly industrial neighborhoods like Science Park.
I hope to convey this narrative through the microcosm of New Haven’s transportation: the growl and rumble of dirty diesel engines still heard and felt in city buses; the tires that sink into the sand on an underused harbor; the clicks of a bicycle freewheel driven by a system of spinning gears, cranks, and roller chain; the dozens of tons of steel sheets that plate railway cars. And — as discarded automobile frames return to the earth as dirt and rust — I hope these photographs will capture something of an age in passing.
Professor Dana Angluin’s office on the fourth floor of Arthur K. Watson Hall, the home of the Computer Science Department, is covered in graphs. One, which is pinned to the outside of the doorway, lists the enrollment numbers for the major’s introductory-level lectures. The color-coded bars rocket upward as the graph approaches the present.
This surge in interest might explain why the average Yale undergraduate has received several campuswide emails mentioning “hackathons” and “HackYale.” According to the Yale College Council, today is the first day of Tech Month, an initiative meant to bring the campus’s programming scene to the fore.
It has been a long time coming, but now, the signs are clear that more and more Yalies are learning to scan lines of code in addition to lines of verse. In the spring of 2010, 28 students were enrolled in “Introduction to Programming”; three years later, 187 students squeeze into the lecture hall. This semester the number of applicants for HackYale, a student-run course that teaches practical programming basics, was around 250 for about 50 coveted spots in the capped lecture.
In response to such record interest in computer science, members and supporters of Yale’s tech community have suggested turning HackYale into an official college course. In the process, students have cited the example of similar practical lectures courses taught at Harvard, Stanford and Penn.
But there are growing pains. The computer science major has had roughly the same number of faculty members for the past three decades. Now, with increasing enrollment, professors have struggled to keep up. Classes lack sufficient numbers of teaching assistants for their size, and without the extra help, professors cannot meet the needs of every student.
Despite University interest in expanding tech-related initiatives on campus, students, faculty and administrators have pointed out that the practical instruction required for this boom seems incompatible with Yale’s liberal arts mission. In computer science courses, Yale’s faculty is known to emphasize concepts. There are no lessons on how to build the app that will make you rich. The College is, after all, more well-known for DS than it is for CS.
But most people involved in Yale’s tech community say that graduates can find success in this ever-evolving field on their own terms. The University may never churn out programmers or engineers like MIT or Stanford. But as pointed out by members of HackYale and Yale BootUp, an organization that sponsors events for campus programmers, the liberal arts pedigree isn’t always a drawback. Computers can be made to crunch the numbers behind the big questions: the political science major who builds a program to analyze AIDS rates in Africa, the art major who programs panels of LEDs, one node at a time.
Tech at Yale is here; it has been for several years. The challenge is finding a space for it to stay, and figuring out whether there’s enough room in the University’s old stone walls for both theory and practice.
The Source Code
It’s easy to fantasize that coding in college means scribbling on your dorm room window at 3 a.m. while your suitemates get drunk and Trent Reznor’s electronic score blares in the background.
As put by Stanley Eisenstat, the director of undergraduate studies for the Computer Science Department, many fledgling programmers are inspired by stories like those shown in the movie “The Social Network,” about Mark Zuckerberg and others who became billionaires by starting a company in college.
Others cite stories closer to campus. Last year, Yale bought the license to Yale BlueBook from Jared Shenson ’12 and Charlie Croom ’12, the two students who designed the now-ubiquitous course database. Croom currently works for Twitter.
“[Computer science now] is cool, which hasn’t always been the case,” said Angluin, who taught “Introduction to Computer Science” in the fall.
You know what else is cool? A billion dollars.
Throughout his time at Yale, Max Uhlenhuth ’12 developed software to help forestry companies more efficiently manage their inventories. These efforts laid the foundation for the company he co-founded, SilviaTerra. In 2012, Forbes magazine named Uhlenhuth an “All-Star Student Entrepreneur” and reports that Uhlenhuth estimates that his company will pull in more than $3 million this upcoming year.
Uhlenhuth, however, saw tech-savviness as necessary for more than just big payouts.
“One of the skills that a Renaissance person needs to have in 2013 is how to interact with this digital world,” he said.
This perspective is understandable, as coded products, from JSTOR to Snapchat, have become inseparable from college life, and Angluin echoed this sentiment.
“In a terrible economy, tech hiring is a bright spot,” she said, commenting on recent employment statistics. But, financial concerns aside, “[students] expect to know how to use the things they use in life.”
Despite the intense competition, HackYale does not pander to the experienced programmer. The vast majority of its students have never coded before. Only 20 to 30 percent of the students in each of the two 25-person sections tend to be computer science majors. In addition, the proliferation of online programming guides has made the coding world more accessible, said Yale BootUp President Aayush Upadhyay ’14.
“You can just Google ‘How do I build a web app?’ and the first 10 links are all incredibly informative,” he said. “They assume you know nothing and they just take you step-by-step, and you build an entire thing that works and it looks nice.”
Upadhyay also mentioned that Yale’s recent effort to increase STEM enrollment could promote a culture of innovation that will come to feed itself, even if it’s not destined to dominate campus life.
Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said that the economy has driven a large part of the rise in technical and entrepreneurial interest at Yale in recent years. After a visit to Silicon Valley earlier this week, Girvin confirmed that the tech industry shows very few scars from the recent recession.
A cultural shift may also underlie this change. Girvin pointed out that Yale’s quantitatively minded have begun to resist the siren song of the financial sector after graduation.
“I’m not sure [these finance positions] led to very fulfilling lives or to making a difference in the world,” he said. “And I think there has been a national swing back towards science, engineering and computer science for those people.”
As the demand rises for a more technical kind of education, Yale’s resources might not be ready to properly face the changing times.
“Yale’s [Computer Science] Department is undersized compared to other institutions,” Angluin said. Yale’s computer science faculty, according to Angluin, has been the same size for the last 25 years. “Now that the Admissions Office has presented us with more students, that will have to change.”
The problem? According to professor Eisenstat, who has been on the faculty for all 25 of those years and more, “we don’t control the purse strings.”
As noted by both Eisenstat and Angluin, Yale’s peer institutions — especially Harvard, Stanford and Penn — have pumped money into their computer science departments in recent years. Famously, Harvard reinvented its introductory programming lecture, CS50, in order to cater to a wider swath of the student body. In 2011, over 600 students had enrolled in the course, which employed two multimedia producers to record every lecture.
“It has a very odd design,” said Angluin of CS50, commenting that it needs “rafts and rafts” of committed and paid undergraduate teaching assistants to make it work. Yale’s computer science faculty, which is currently experiencing difficulty having professors work one-on-one with students for senior projects, just doesn’t have the manpower for that kind of course offering.
Reneau-Wedeen said that enrollment in many computer science courses has tripled in recent years. The department has also struggled to find enough qualified teaching fellows; approximately 70 students and only one teaching assistant formed part of an artificial intelligence course taught last fall.
“We have to sort of swallow a tiny bit of a bitter pill, ” Reneau-Wedeen said. “There is a little bit less attention per computer science student right now. But you have to imagine that the administration notices the increase in demand and will adjust accordingly.”
Staffing concerns, however, have proven to be a problem for members of Yale’s tech community, many of whom see Yale’s lack of a practical programming lecture as a sign of lagging administrative support.
“I don’t feel that [the administration has] detracted from anything, but I also don’t think they have contributed too much either,” said Upadhyay. “I think it’s been very student-led, whatever tech initiatives we have seen here.”
Is Hacking a Liberal Art?
Does the stereotypical Yale student code? Would he spend hours, even days, glued to a screen, out of sight of the University’s Gothic buildings? Would alumni scoff at the idea of a course that teaches students how to build a website, and not simply how to think about one?
“Yale sees itself as very much a liberal arts place,” Uhlenhuth said. “[It] doesn’t want to become a trade school.”
To that end, Yale’s Computer Science Department is designed to give students a strong background in theory. Up until a few years ago, “Introduction to Programming” taught students Scheme, a programming language that Uhlenhuth said is infamous among programmers — while it is good for teaching theory, it’s a “huge pain in the ass” to build anything with.
Because of the department’s history, the proposal outlining a for-credit version of HackYale potentially faces more fundamental trouble than a lack of funding and a dearth of TAs and student input. Girvin said that while he could imagine engineering departments embracing a course like one modeled after Harvard’s CS50, he expressed doubt that the computer science program would be as receptive.
“My impression is that [our department] views that kind of course as separate from their academic mission,” he said.
Indeed, Angluin also believes that computer science at Yale is designed to be something more “fundamental.” According to professor Eisenstat, this focus on adaptability will serve majors well in the constantly changing technological world.
This measure of well-roundedness, however, does not necessarily translate as well into the business world.
“They don’t even recruit at Yale for Twitter,” Croom said. Yale graduates like Croom do work in Silicon Valley, but the road to get there is not as well-worn as those in peer schools.
Because of this, it’s easy to see Yale’s lack of a tech pipeline as a problem, especially for high school students who see college as a stepping stone to career goals.
Rafi Khan ’15 does not think Yale is particularly known as being a tech school. Khan placed third in the App Challenge last year for Screw Me Yale, which helps students pair off their roommates for residential college dances.
But, as Khan said, that perception can change, and not in a way that threatens the University’s core appeal. Indeed, the scene of students spending time in a hackathon, tinkering with code for hours with little more training than HackYale, is perhaps quintessentially Yale. For better or for worse, the College’s focus on broad-based education has defined the tech lives of its students.
“You are just not going to compete with the hard-core MIT guys in raw computer science,” said Uhlenhuth. “But you can eat their lunch in computer science plus x.”
The fusion of technical skills with a liberal arts background, School of Engineering Deputy Dean Vincent Wilczynski said, gives Yale students a competitive advantage, especially when compared to graduates of a more technical school.
The new Center for Engineering Innovation and Design aims to provide a meeting and working space for students of all majors. It now houses the HackYale classes, fulfilling the center’s mission to host that unique blend of technical knowledge with liberal arts breadth. As of the start of this term, fewer than half of the center’s members planned on majoring in one of the STEM fields. The CEID counts among its 485 official members 59 students at the School of Management, 26 economics students and 16 architecture students.
“People in your generation are not going to have one job at General Motors for the rest of their career, they are going to do 12 different things,” Girvin said. “The purpose of your Yale education is in part just to learn how to learn and to keep moving as the world changes around us.”
Building a Framework
“We don’t want to keep starting from scratch,” explained YCC President John Gonzalez ’14, commenting on a proposal to allow HackYale to be taught for course credit.
Yalies have tried to make HackYale a for-credit course almost since its founding in the fall of 2011. Last year, the YCC helped propose a course based on the HackYale model. The proposal fell through, however, because it lacked sufficient input from students and faculty in the Computer Science Department. The faculty felt that any plan would need to propose a legitimate computer science course and not merely a vocational one, Upadhyay said.
This year, Upadhyay hopes to finalize a plan by the end of February after consulting with computer science majors and professors.
Given the demand for more computer science professors in general, Upadhyay added, Yale should bring in faculty to teach the class. Upadhyay said that President-elect Peter Salovey is “really interested” in bringing this type of course to Yale.
Salovey wrote in a Tuesday email that he is pleased that a greater number of students are enrolling in introductory computer science courses. But the ultimate decision, he said, of whether to offer a course similar to HackYale for credit, rests with the faculty.
“I hope we can provide even more opportunities of this kind,” he added.
Students hope to capitalize on Salovey’s sentiment. Gonzalez mentioned that, on the YCC’s upcoming “Salovation Report” (a list of recommendations for the President-elect), many of the proposals would involve supporting student innovation.
“I campaigned on applicable tech,” Gonzalez said.
Tech Month is the result of that campaign. The event kicks off with a 12-hour mini-hackathon this Saturday. While providing some time for programmers to come together, share expertise and delight in snacks, the hackathon also marks the official start of the YCC’s App Challenge. Past winners, including events app Roammeo, Yale BlueBook, and One Button Wenzel, have all walked away with the hefty $1,000 prize.
“The app challenge is the biggest win I’ve seen at Yale,” said Croom, the Yale BlueBook co-creator and Twitter employee. Croom is one of many returning to Yale for “tech talks” later this month and will be speaking in association with TEDxYale and Yale BootUp.
The last weekend of February will feature a full, 24-hour hackathon sponsored by numerous tech giants, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
Will the Bubble Pop?
From 2000 to 2001, the price of Amazon stock fell from $107 to $7 per share. Shares of Cisco fell a similarly frightening 86 percent. The effects of the dot-com bust were mirrored in Yale’s course enrollment numbers: in spring 2000, 143 students were enrolled in Yale’s intro programming class; in spring 2002, the number fell to 67.
2013 is, of course, a different time, but even with recent success stories, the tech industry has yet to prove its staying power, at Yale or otherwise.
Even HackYale Director Reneau-Wedeen said there is no way of knowing whether the booming tech culture that we live in today will fade as it did 10 years ago. But he has strong hope that the burgeoning interest in technology and entrepreneurship at Yale is here for the long haul.
“It’s not just about getting jobs,” he explained. “It’s extremely intellectually interesting, stimulating, collaborative, and it relates to all fields on study.”
Most importantly, Reneau-Wedeen said, every group involved, from HackYale to Yale BootUp to the YCC is working toward a common goal — having a positive influence on the Yale experience. And from this endeavor, each organization contributes unique strengths.
Yale BootUp brings in speakers, organizes hackathons and other social coding events. HackYale recruits student-teachers to instruct other Yalies how to code. The Student Technology Collaborative taught a course last fall on the programming language Ruby on Rails. The Computer Science Department continues to provide theoretical foundations. The YCC promotes their own technology initiatives as well as spreading the word about others.
“It’s very mutually symbiotic from everyone,” Reneau-Wedeen concluded. “I think that’s going to be necessary in order to make this something that lasts.”
This level of energy comes at a very important time for Yale. With the selection of a new president and provost, the University has been given a chance to consider on its own identity.
“Our vision of Yale is in flux,” said Gonzalez, pointing out not only that the President-elect’s administration will “decide how much money the Computer Science Department gets,” but also how much support will be given to the tech community in general.
What will this momentum lead to? According to Khan, “it’s foolish to speculate. What will happen is what the students decide.” Yale may still be more famous for producing people who campaign for office than people who code, but the coders are here, and they’re not about leave.
Professor Angluin agreed. When asked if she thinks the numbers of Yale students interested in technology will continue to grow, she merely pointed at her door.
“Well,” she smiled. “You saw the graph.”
Correction: Feb. 6
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Rafi Khan ’15 and his app Screw Me Yale won the 2012 YCC App Challenge. In fact, Travelogue, an app by Jared Shenson ’12, Charlie Croom ’12 and Bay Gross ’13, took first place in the challenge. Khan’s entry ranked third.
It’s now easier than ever to stalk screw dates and that guy in your English 127 section, thanks to updates to Yale Facebook launched this week.
Information and Technology Services launched an updated version of the Yale Facebook on Thursday, which features a cleaner layout, easier search settings and better viewing capabilities on iPads and other tablet devices, said Paul Lawrence, director of learning environments for ITS.
Lawrence said ITS started remodeling Yale Facebook after the Yale College Council and focus groups from Yale College suggested last fall that the University’s undergraduate directory could use some upgrades.
“I heard from both the YCC leadership and Yale College that [Yale Facebook] continues to be an important tool … that seemed to be falling out of date,” he said. “We’re hoping that the re-launch will improve accessibility and drive further usage.”
YCC secretary Matt Williams ’13 said in a Thursday email that the site’s new version is “more eye-appealing” and easier to navigate, adding that the YCC’s efforts on this project were part of this year’s executive board’s aim to improve the technological resources available to students.
Before the update, Yale Facebook required users to specify a single category to search — for example, last name, hometown or major. Now, users can search all fields at once, Lawrence said.
Lawrence said ITS hopes to make further improvements to Yale Facebook based on feedback from the Yale community, adding that ITS is looking into creating a mobile version of the site.
Mac users across campus, beware — due to issues found in the Apple version of Java, Macs are now vulnerable to viruses, and Yale’s Information Technology Services is taking steps to warn students.
A lot of websites that college students frequent — think Facebook and Skype — contain links and ads that could infect computers with the Flashback Trojan Virus. The virus is designed to take passwords and personal information through a web browser. To improve Mac security, ITS says students should check for security updates often and upgrade antivirus software.
Over 600,000 Macs are part of an expanding botnet, mostly in the U.S. and Canada. As of last week, Yale computers have been unaffected by Flashback, according to ITS. But Flashback could be one of the biggest attacks to the safety of Macs ever. Constant vigilance, Yale!
A spinoff of YaleLunch, which is itself a spinoff of HarvardLunch, is headed to Princeton, according to the Daily Princetonian.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to break up the routine and get out of your comfort zone and potentially develop really great friendships from that,” said Princeton freshman Austin Jackson. He said he contacted the founder or Harvard Lunch and asked him to set up a Princeton version of the site.
Just in case you forgot how this all works, users of Yale Lunch (or Princeton Lunch, or Harvard Lunch) enter their name and email address. The website then sends them the contact deets of a rando on campus who’s also interested in getting lunch.
“The Yale Daily News caught wind of it, published an article that was very critical of it, citing it as a reason why Harvard sucks,” Seth Riddley, the Harvard senior who started the website, said in the Princetonian. “Today, Yalelunch.com is even more popular on Yale’s campus.”
As for Princeton Lunch, Princeton’s student government is evidently packaging the new site in its new program “with the goal of promoting unity and fun” among Princetonians. We wish them the very best.
Yalies now have one more way to spend their time avoiding homework, or to seek help from those who understand the intricacies of supply and demand curves.
Circa:Yale is a new website launched on Tuesday by Daniel Petkevich ’12 that allows students working away in libraries or lecture halls to chat with nearby peers. A student slogging through his or her intro to microeconomics course can commiserate with another student slogging through his or her microeconomics course, or maybe even find a third student who’s whizzing through his or her microeconomics course to give the first two help.
Petkevich said in an email that he created Circa:Yale with the knowledge gained from the student-run lecture and workshop series on web development known as HackYale. Startup culture keeps on chugging.