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Game Theories

Summer 2005 Cover
I read with great interest the excellent article “In the Game” (Summer 2005), but stumbled across a “bit” which may require some clarification and/or correction.

The article says, “The first [computerized games], introduced in the early 1950s, were played on television sets.” While it is possible that some static games like Tic-Tac-Toe may have been programmed for one of the early Univac mainframes, the statement is deceptive. The first video game, a simple version of “Pong” driven by an analog computer, was produced in 1958 at Brookhaven National Labs (Long Island). See story at www.osti.gov/accomplishments/videogame.html.

If you’re looking for an RPI connection, however, my dad was the technician who built it, making him and the engineer who designed it the first two, ever, to play a video game. And long before the public ever saw it, I played it at his bench, putting me in probably the first dozen.

Bob Dvorak ’72
Saugerties, N.Y.

What a waste of time! Maybe I’m getting old but tell me when a computer game has advanced our society or nation? How does a game change the world? Do I play them? Yes. Do I buy them? Yes. Is it a valid industry? Yes.

I just didn’t expect RPI to buy into the trend of offering degrees in designing computer games. The gaming industry, like the larger entertainment industry, is a big market that, at the end of the day, does nothing to advance this nation. Rather, it serves to waste our time when we could be tackling other issues. Solve the energy crisis. Get us back to the moon and beyond. Clean the environment. I am not proposing we do away with games and entertainment. We do not live in 1620. The intellectual talent that passes through RPI would be wasted on producing games.

Antonio Villanueva ’96
Hartford, Conn.

Eager applicants for Rensselaer’s planned games and simulation major may need to await completion of the thorough academic and governmental examination of our truly second-generation undergraduate interdisciplinary program, but alumni don’t. I would like to know about your involvement in the field and about your observations on our innovative, research-focused program on entertainment and educational media. Our School of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty, working with engineering, computer science, and management, is creating research and curricular portfolios side by side, and this teamwork will find applications for simulated media that the marketplace won’t find by itself. Our program vividly illustrates that innovation, an agile and proactive response to new ideas and technologies, exists both in our labs and in our classrooms. In its first year, the Game Studies minor had 27 graduates, and so the future enterprise will be large enough to reshape our alumni. I encourage you to get in touch with me and become a partner in that exciting prospect.

John P. Harrington, Dean
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Troy, N.Y

Speaking of Speakers…

Would that wishing would make it so.” The Rensselaer community needs to be always vigilant that as a world leader in technology we share a responsibility to use our education to make the world a safer and healthier place for all of us to live in. As highlighted in this month’s magazine, many of our fellow alumni have accomplished just that. We also need to acknowledge that other alumni have been involved in such less lofty endeavors as the Ivan Boesky stock market scandal and the polluting of the Hudson River with toxic industrial PCBs.

So Richard Picard ’64 [“MAIL,” Summer 2005 Rensselaer], why does RPI entertain such anti-defense and anti-business people as Senator Hillary Clinton? It’s because we have not shown yet that we can or will police ourselves to the extent necessary. We unfortunately need such people to keep us honest and on the right track. A sociologist may be able to influence people to do certain things but they probably won’t be able to kill off everyone. A biologist, chemist, or at the very least a nuclear physicist can certainly kill the world. That’s why we need such “liberal” people. Keep your minds and attitudes open. Keep bringing such people to campus!

Peter Androski ’72
Providence, R.I.

The alumni who worry that “RPI’s Gone Liberal” by inviting Senator Clinton to Commencement may have forgotten their Special Relativity.

When Congress and a clearly anti-science administration have moved far to the right… RPI moves to the left, merely by standing still.

William Charles Roth ’77
Ann Arbor, Mich.

A couple of comments on last issue’s letters: Re: The alumnus who objected to the Commencement speaker. I was pleased to hear that the senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, was the Commencement speaker. Whether one is a “rabid, red-neck right-wing conservative” or a “bleeding-heart liberal,” isn’t it useful (as well as democratic) to have all points of view expressed publicly?

Re: The photograph from a previous issue showing the line at the cafeteria. How could it be that students of the Class of ’50 are among those of the classes of ’55 and ’58? The one identified as Tony Davidson ’58 looks to me like the Tony D. who was my dorm-mate freshman year 1952-53. (It may be possible that he graduated with the Class of 1958.) And the two to his right could be two of his roommates who joined our class in the second semester of ’52-’53 (Larry Something and Ronny Freemerman?). If this photo was taken in the dining hall in the Quadrangle, and if it had encompassed the entire scene, it would probably show butter-tipped straw wrappers hanging like stalactites from the ceiling and food flying from the balcony and landing in someone’s mashed potatoes and gravy on the main floor.

Ned Gulbran ’56
Seattle, Wash.

Big Box Chapel

I very much enjoyed the article about Julia Christensen ’05 where she explores the problem of dealing with large empty “big boxes.” Julia might be interested in a large facility in Rolling Meadows, Ill., that was converted to the Harvest Bible Chapel a few years back. The nondenominational church serves a congregation numbering in the thousands.

Judson Brooks ’46
Arlington Heights, Ill.

Thanks to Henry Hollinger

I was saddened to read of the passing of Dr. Henry Hollinger. He was a great, soft-spoken professor who sat down with me and taught me the first five chapters of Chemistry I in an afternoon. I don’t think I would have survived Physical Chemistry without his humor and lightness on teaching the subject.

Stephanie Litman Lapine, P.E. ’91
San Francisco, Calif.

I learned from Professor Hollinger for exactly 90 minutes in December 1977 — which in most cases would not qualify me to speak of the man, yet that one lecture stands out as one of my most vivid memories of Rensselaer. As a freshman in Chem I, I no longer recall who taught the class, but Professor Hollinger came in to do a single review lecture just before the final. He more or less faced the overhead projector and wrote and spoke without a break the entire time, and I recall the incredible feeling of suddenly understanding everything that I hadn’t understood before. My roommate was sitting nearby and I recall we shook our heads at each other in disbelief as if to say “why did no one explain this to us before?” At the end of his lecture, there was spontaneous applause. He was, without a doubt, one of the most gifted educators I have ever come across.

Andy Daniel ’81
San Jose, Calif.


Tyler Hinman's puzzle results (see letter at left). If you missed the puzzle and would like to try your hand at completing it, go to "One Last Thing", Summer 2005, Rensselaer.

Because I have a terrible memory, I forgot that I have a terrible memory. RPI won 5-4 in 1954, not 6-5 (“He Shoots, He Scores!” (PDF file) crossword puzzle, Summer 2005). Needless to say, I feel pretty stupid. I offer this correction in the hopes that the RPI community and the hockey gods will forgive me.

Oh, and I thought I’d share some more exciting news with you: I’ve been selected to represent the U.S. on an unofficial B team at the 14th annual World Puzzle Championship in early October in Eger, Hungary (www.worldpuzzle.org). This summer, I participated in the Google U.S. Puzzle Championship, an online competion. I placed seventh out of over 400 American contestants. It’s a tremendous opportunity; at most about 10 people from each participating country go!

Tyler Hinman ’06
Troy, N.Y.

We’d love to hear from you! To provide space for as many letters as possible, we often must edit them for length. Please address correspondence to: Rensselaer Magazine, Office of Communications, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180, e-mail to alum.mag@rpi.edu, or call (518) 276-6531.

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