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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania • Page 15
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania • Page 15

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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I If Science and You No More ufo Studies Needed "I rjT 1 Engineering Students' I ask: i 1 xr. ona 10 Jbive in 1. Ai 4 v' ft JifZZJ 4 ifjrtftt juesign a You can't just want to be an engineer at Worcester Poly. You have to want to know people and to solve human problems. By DANIEL Q. HANEY Associated Prra Staff Writer WORCESTER, Mass. The engineer is the sort who sets out to build a better mousetrap. But engineering students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are trained to consider the mouse. In short, WPI has a new concept on how to train engineers for a creative lite in a new America. Graduates are called "technological humanists." A typical WPI student might design a scale for weighing bed-ridden patients, or find a way to reduce the lighting bill on a government building or design a series of miniparks for a town. The theory behind all this is simple: design a world to fit people. "We felt there must be a better way of teaching engineering and science than simply teaching courses," says Dean William R. Grogan. Courses are a fine way of learning, but we felt that didn't go far enough because it doesn't bring people into a situation where they put together a total experience." in the old days, he said, the school told students what courses to take. "Then, upon graduation, they were expected to assume full responsibility for planning a lifetime of learning. We thought that should start earlier, so we put the responsibility for planning their educational programs in the hands of the students." THE RESULTS is a new breed of engineers. They come expecting to master electronics and physics, chemistry and computers, the tools the engineer needs. But at this Victorian hilltop campus that is the point of departure. They encounter a blend of science and liberal arts and independent adventure. There are no required courses and no grades, on a conviction that young men and women learn best when they're free to chart their own educations. They call it "The Plan." And people here are convinced it works. The program, begun in 1970, was WPI's answer to student protests in the 1960s over traditional education. The school began phasing out step-by-step methods of teaching in favor of molding graduates who can learn on their own, tackle engineering problems like professionals and understand how their work will affect people. This year, all 2,300 undergraduate students are on The Plan. "This is a modern version of the liberal education," said President George W. Hazzard, who came to Worcester nine years ago when educators began talking about a radical new way of teaching engineering. "We have a technological society, and you can't be liberalized unless you understand it." There are three basic requirements at ft? 'at ii mn-i SEW BREED OF Gerard A. Del I'riore wrA. on sohr-energy project at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Muss. By HENRY W. PIERCE MANY SCIENTISTS are dismayed over the recent resurgence of interest in UFO sightings. "UFOs Just Won't Go Away," moaned a recent headline in Science magazine. Some scientists wtfo 1 oreaa me inougni ot naving If I to go through the hassle of Others dread the cost of such a probe. Still others detest the spectacle of gullible, naive, wide-eyed believers embracing an idea that has become almost a cult in some circles. My own feeling is that Pierce another investigation of UFOs probably would be a waste of time and money. No one's mind will be changed by any fresh look at the evidence. Scientists who began the investigation as skeptics would end up skeptics. Those who started as believers would end up believers. The conclusions would be tailored to suit the expectations of whoever happened to be calling the shots, and anyone who disagreed would be ignored or fired. This is not the way science should proceed. But scientific method is sometimes ignored in cases where the findings would embarrass key people, including key scientists, who have already taken a public position on the issue under investigation. TAKE LAETRILE. It happens that I don't think much of Laetrile. I wouldn't take it myself if I had cancer. But I sometimes wonder whether, if Rockefeller University scientists came up with repeated findings that suggested Laetrile might have value, the university would have the courage to issue a formal recommendation that Laetrile be given a second look by the medical profession. (A controversy is brewing now at Rockefeller over positive findings by one Laetrile researcher which don'tiibe with those of others.) The same goes for UFOs. Can you imagine a conservative group of skeptical scientists issuing a public statement that, after due regard for the facts under investigation, they nave decided that UFOs are or may be piloted by intelligent beings after all? By the same token, can you imagine a group of believers issuing a statement that, after due study of the phenomena, they no longer feel the subject is worth investigating, further? One of the few scientists who did change his mind is Northwestern University's Allen Hynek, who became convinced the subject is worth pursuing after studying hundreds of sightings for the federal government. But would another study make Hynek change his mind back? For the most part, people who change their minds on the issue are people who actually have firsthand experiences they can't explain. But when they try to tell other people what happened, they often face ridicule, scorn, perhaps even loss of professional standing. Skeptics often point out that there hasn't been a single piece of hardware from a UFO that has been kept and examined "nothing tangible" is the way it's often put. But suppose there were such things as UFOs and some stray piece of hardware fell off one or was discarded by the little green men. Would skeptics accept the hardware as valid evidence? Of course not. An alternative explanation for it' would be found. Another study would change no one's mind and add nothing to what we now know. By WILLIAM and MARY MORRIS A good story dies hard especially when it is completely untrue. A few Sundays ago the New York Times Book Review devoted some five columns to our new Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper and Row). It was not a review, but rather an extended sampling of the contents of our book. Among the items the Times chose to reprint was "pumpernickel" and we have been deluged by mail about it. Just about everyone, it appears, had a beloved school teacher who told a story about a French cavalry officer (some made it Napoleon himself) who detested dark rye bread and said it was good only to feed his horse, named Nicole. As this apocryphal soldier put it, the bread was only "bon pour Nicole," which eventually became "pumpernickel." The only trouble with that story is that there isn't a shred of truth in it. On the very face of it, the idea that Westphalian Germans who invented the bread would pay any attention to the opinion of a French cavalry officer is ridiculous. Nor is there any reason to seek the origin of "pumpernickel" in French words, since its elements are c'early of, Germanic origin. Centuries earlier than Napoleon's time, the German word "Pumpernickel" signified a dolt or foolish fellow. It was made up of "Pumper," the sound of a person breaking wind, and "Nickel," a dwarf or devil. Thus the original "Pumpernickel" was an object of derision and the butt of heavy-handed humor. The characteristically round shape of the pumpernickel loaves reminded Westphalians of the expressionless moon face of the village halfwit and that's how the bread got its name. Dear Morrises: Please help me with a nagging problem. I have somehow been led to, believe that the word "enervate" has connotations of refreshment and renewal. However, when I use the term in this way, I am roundly criticized for using it improperly and told that, in fact, it means to weaken. Recently a magazine note from the editors announced: "We're back! Refreshed and re-enervated from our summer vacation!" Somehow this magazine's editors and I have received celestial information about this very different use of the word. -K. Barnes, Pittsburgh. You and those editors had better return that celestial information. Matter of fact, the magazine's publishers might well return the editors, too, Wore they do any more damage. We're willing to admit that the craft of editing has seen better days but we're still not ready to credit as an editor anyone who doesn't know the difference between "enervate" and "renovate." Dear Morrises: How about this lead sentence from a recent Associated Press dispatch: "A pretty 19-year-old banker's daughte was kidnapped from her college campus last week. As Old George Gobel was wont to say: "You can't hardly get a pretty 19-year-old banker any more' Mrs. W.S. Slater, New Castle. Right on! You and George really summed it up. SATURDAY, DI CKMBKH 31, l)77 Out of the Past, Yesterday's Superstitions, By WILLIAM M. RIMMEL NEW YEAR'S EVE was a big night years ago in old Dutchtown. The singing societies and Turnvereins on Troy Hill, Spring Garden and Spring Hill districts were always picked to the doors with men and women celebrants. Rhine wine and beer flowed like water. And the welcome mat was out in every household for everybody, especially those with dark hair, to enter, eat, drink and make merry, for the German residents were superstitious. And they believed that dark-haired folks brought good fortune to your home on New Year's eve and New Year's dav. Rimmel Of course, the residents had other ways of warding off bad luck during the coming year. Every housewife had scrublied her front steps and every door sill to drive away bad luck, i And before dusk, silver coins were placed on every window ledge and above every door to bring prosperity to the home. A new broom rested in the kitchen to replace the old broom that had been discarded after it had swept awav the old year's bad luck. The boys who made their living by their wits took advantage of the superstitious nature of the householders and appeared before the end of the year with all sorts of gadgets guaranteed to ward oft evil and bring health, wealth and happiness to the home. AL WILLIS peddled little bags of herbs to be hung in the chimney to drive out witches. And Charlie Bowser, an old-time medicine man, peddled hundreds of candles until stopped by the police. Charlie claimed that his candles, which sold for 50 cents and were made of special wax "imported from Germany," would ward off evil if burned at certain hours of the day. Records found in Charlie's room showed he bought the candles in Ohio. The welcome to strangers was also a signal for the free-loaders, for the boys all knew that the housewives tables would be loaded with food and drink of every description for the visitors on New Year's eve and New Year's day. Today, only a handful of the old-timers still live in Dutchtown. The others have long since passed away. And the younger generation has moved to the suburbs. The majority of these win tell vou they don't believe in the superstitions of tlieir parents and grandparentp. But if you look on their window sills, you'll see rows of silver coins to ward away evil. And if you have dark hair, -they'll welcome you to enjoy their hospitality tonight and tomorrow just as their ancestors did in years gone by. Sydney Harris New Year's Resolutions NOT ONLY do I make resolutions every new year, to strengthen the moral fiber, but I am proud to say that I keep every one of This should serve as an example to people everywhere, proving that if you really have the guts and gumption, you can honor any sacred commitment to yourself. And not only do I make resolutions every new year, Ml aiso inane new resolutions w- .,1 every new year, because I nave aucaujr auu ft that I can keep the old ones. J- fwV Each year they get tougher, 1 but no matter; with continual practice, I am able to meet mmt AAt 4 the sternest test. Harris For the coming year, here is just a repre-' sentative sampling of the conduct I am going to follow and the temptations I am going to avoid: 1. I resolve never to hijack an airplane belonging to any nation, or even a non-scheduled aircraft, no matter how minimal the security at the airport. 2. I resolve not to take part in any marathon race exceeding the length of a standard ping-pong table, because of the grievious injury it could do to aging bones, muscles, joints, lis- sues, blood-vessels and the entire cardiorespiratory system. 3. I resolve to abstain from gang-wars in each and every neighborhood, and solemnly swear to eschew the use of clubs, razors, knives, brass knuckles, and any lethal weapon, especially firearms. 4. I resolve never to climb a mountain because it is there, or even because it is here; to shoot a rapids; to engage in hang-gliding, drag-racing, Kung Fu, bull-fighting, alligator-wrestling or leaning the Snake Canyon in anything less than a Boeing 747. 5. I resolve to dismiss from my diet all such savory morsels as fried grasshoppers, grilled ants, raw fish, seaweed, buffalo brains, hyena liver, duck-billed platypus eggs and braised armadillo paws. 6. I resolve to give up entirely the practice of torture, whether by the Iron Maiden or the Rack, the hot needles inserted beneath the toe-. nails or the Chinese Water Treatment, particularly where a weak and innocent child is in- volved. 7. 1 resolve to provide my family with the necessities of life by refusing to indulge my spendthrift penchant for purchasing castles in Ireland, Silver Cloud Rolls-Royces in different shades for each day of the week, Rembrandt sketches, the Monte Carlo Casino, or the Kimberly mines. 8. I resolve to refuse the nomination for th presidency, by any party, and will not run if drafted, nor serve if elected. of, course, is quite another matter.) 9. I resolve but possibly you get my drift by now, and it has put some iron in your own soul. I sincerely hope so. God knows what the world most needs in the coming year are some good example. WPI: an interactive qualifying project, a sufficiency project and a project directly relating to a student's chosen field. In the interactive qualifying project, students must do work that uses their engineering skills to solve social problems. Peter Kent, a material science major from Sarasota, produced an' eight-minute slide show explaining to hikers in the White Mountains National Forest how overuse can harm the wilderness. Two students wrote a booklet for the federal government on how packaging contributes to the price of food. The sufficiency project amounts to a minor in the humanities. Students take courses in one field, such as history or literature, then write a paper. Claire L. Chance, an electrical engineering major from Gardner, is studying the writings of James Joyce. Paul Wrable, a mechanical engineering student from Windsor Locks, is writing about the culture of the Russian Cossacks. Projects relating to a students' major field often involve solving problems for companies in the Worcester area. "We ask for back-burner problems," says Dean Grogan. "These are real problems, but ones that won't drive the company out of business if they aren't solved." Wiebe Postema, a civil engineering major from Wayland, worked out equations for the Association of American Railroads that are used for designing tracks. DENNIS KELLY, a mechanical engineering student from Brockton, designed a new loom shuttle for Crompton and Knowles, a textile firm. Other students have built an electronic piano tuner, designed a computer security sys Vv," I f'i tem, found how an alloy strengthens eyeglass frames and worked on converting carbon dioxide to sugar for astronauts to use. Finally, to make sure all three programs have worked, there is a week of written and oral exams to test their knowledge of engineering. Even though traditional courses are not required, students take them. "As a practical matter, a student must get a background in math, physics and chemistry, because you have to build fundamental knowledge," Grogan says. "But the emphasis is different. The student takes the course not because it's required but because it will lead him to qualification in his field." Students seem enthusiastic about The Plan. Some say their work on major projects impresses recruiters when they job-hunt. Others say the freedom to plan their education makes them work harder. "Under a system wliere courses are required, I would have passed them but I wouldn't have learned much," says Richard D. Bour-eault, an electrical engineering major from Worcester. "Now I'm learning what I need to know, and I'm liking it." "When yOu graduate you're going to be an engineer, not just a student graduating from an engineering school," says Anne Wynne, an electrical engineering major from Northboro, Mass. "We have to work on our own and survive. By the time we graduate, we can call ourselves engineers. There's no culture shock." One criticism of The Plan is that students may ignore important areas of engineering. Says Hazzard: Sure there may be gaps, but they have the tools to fill those gaps on their own. People forget facts very quickly. We believe that people can learn the facts as they need them to solve problems." Forgetting Best Seller List From New York Times FICTION Weeks On List The Silmarillion, By J.R.R. Tolkien 15 The Thorn Birds By Colleen MeCullough 33 The Honourable Schoolboy, By John Le Carre 13 Beggarman, Thief By Irwin Shaw 11 Illusions, By Richard Bach 29 Dreams Die First, By Harold Robbins 10 Daniel Martin By John Fowles 15 The Book Of Merlyn, By Terence H. 13 The Immigrants By Howard Fast 12 The Second Deadly Sin By Lawrence 16 GENERAL All Things Wise And Wonderful By James Herriot 18 The Book Of Lists By David Walle-chinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace 29 The Complete Book Of Running, By James F. Fixx 6 The Amityville Horror, Bv Jay Anson 9 Gnomes Text by Wil Huygen, Illustrated bj Rien 6 I -f T- itt nin -ii iii mlitniWiiii at 'The Widow' Is Worth HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIHIII Book Choices Of The Week By James E. Alexander THE WIDOW By Pierre Rey Putnam's $9.95 llllllllllllllililllllllllllllllliliiiiiiiiiiiliiiiilliiiiiiiiiiilliiiliiililiill have to be excused, please. We're all violently ill. NEWS OF BOOKS Mrs. Ruth Welch, widow of Douglass Welch, has published another collection of his columns which ran in the Post-Gazette and other newspapers under the heading of "The Squirrel Cage." This second collection of columns is "Neighbors and Other People" (Madrona Publishers, 113 Madrona Place East, Seattle, 98112, Alan Van Dine, a Pittsburgh advertising executive, is author of "Unconventional Builders" (Doubleday, $19.95) 17 stories about unusual edifices of the world, handsomely illustrated with hundreds of drawings and pictures, many in full color. "Franco Harris" (Coward, McCann Geoghegan, $7.95) is the story of the Steelers' spectacular running back, written by Don Kowet, a New Yorker who has written several books on sports. Frank C. Copley, who lived in Pittsburgh from 1910 to 1921, now Brofessor emeritus of Latin at the niversity of Michigan, has newly translated "The Nature of Things" by Lucretius (Norton, Thomas C. Pears III has published the "Bakewell, Pears Glass Ca-talgue" (704 Second Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15219, $15) a reproduction of the original copy published by his great grandfather's firm about 1875. Eunice McCloskey, of Ridgway, author of 12 other books, has written Thessaly, Beloved" (Dorrance, $6) a novel of Thessaly and her twin brother, Theo. 1 "Autos of Interest" (Mile Cain, 192 Terra Manor Drive, Wintersville, 43952, a. compendium of models from 1893 to 1978, with drawings and hand-printed text by the author, a student in college here, is self-published. The University of Pittsburgh has published "Toward the Liberation of the Left Hand" ($6.95, paperback $3.50) a book of poems by Jack Anderson, who lives in New York City. J. C. Weithaus, locally connected with Calgon Corp. for 30 years, now living in Florida, is author of "Dear Mister President" (Exposition, an open letter deploring high taxes, waste in government and deficit spending. Lily Lee Nixon, a Pittsburgh public school teacher for many years and member of local historical societies and other such organizations, is author of "Long Ago: The Story of a Public School Teacher" (Dorrance, $5). THIS HAS BEEN a year some pretty good books. There is a resurgence of writin9, some of it outstanding. Many have been discussed in this column each week. Many others have fallen by the wayside through either lack of time, being overlooked or in many cases, read and discarded. But all the stinkers have not hit fallow ground. Here's one to help weigh the scales on the negative side. The author earlier wrote "The Greek" which left little to the imagination on what model inspired him. Now let the publisher, who should be blushing, recount, in brief, what this novel purports to be: "Peggy Baltimore Satrapoulos is the most eligible widow in the world. She's known the glamor of Presidential royalty (the rich, prolific and rich family of the Baltimores) and the horrors of assassination; she's shown her resilience by marrying the shipping millionaire named Socrates. "The Widow', traces the intrigues and excesses of America's gossip-page queen. Peggy is about to marry the deceased Socrates' arch-rival as she is short of funds necessary to maintain her lifestyle and watch over her precociously wicked daughter Charlene. "She has reckoned without consulting her in-laws. Jeremy Baltimore, younger brother of Peggy's first husband, is planning to follow his brother's footsteps to the Presidency, and must squash any new scandal." Oh, well. We all understand. We understand all too we'Jp Ann

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