does it take to
Change a Lightbulb?
Students at MIT can build working universal computers from
Tinker Toys(tm) and Crazy Glue(tm). They can
build a robot from things found in trash cans that is capable of
feeding mashed carrots and Tang(tm) to a 6 month-old
without making a mess. They can calculate a good estimated of the
2010 GNP for Bhutan from the second law of thermodynamics and one
page of the Wall Street Journal.
But they can't change lightbulbs.
It just isn't done that way.
First you need:
Nothing at MIT can involve that many people without the sponsorship
or patronage of a faculty member:
- 1 clerical person to fill out a requisition.
- 1 staff member to authorize it.
- 1 Physical Plant electrician.
- 1 Physical Plant electrician's helper.
- 1 MIT Campus Police officer to ensure security in a dark place.
The professor will establish a Center for Lightbulb Operation and
Technology (CLOT). She or he will then need:
- 1 Professor or Associate Professor
Okayyyy. Now we're ready for some students:
- 2 Staff with MIT experience to raise funds from the Institute.
- 3 Staff with industrial experience to raise corporate funds.
Great! Things are looking good:
- 3 Grad students to think up some research to justify all this.
- 2 Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program students to do
anything too boring for the Grad students.
This is the takeoff point:
- 2 more clerical staff to manage budget and documentation.
- 3 Wizard programmers to write CLOT software.
- 2 more Wizard programmers to port CLOT software to Windows 00-beta2
- 3 Visiting scientists whose corporate employers will pay their
salaries and living expenses while working on CLOT development.
- 2 Graduate Interns from Columbia Teacher's College to explore
educational dimensions of CLOT
- 3 computer system/network managers
- 1 computer hardware technician.
At this point, since the original lightbulb hasn't yet been
identified and changed, we'll need:
- 3 Staff to organize the Center for Lightbulb Operation and
Technology - Technology Transfer Consortium (CLOT-TTC)
- 5 visiting Scientists employed by CLOT-TTC members, whose
employers will pay $250,000 per year for the privilege of
sending them to MIT for 6 weeks and receiving beta CLOT
- 5 Grad students to develop tensor theory of lightbulb operation,
theory of recursive coriolis forces in lightbulb changing and
Lie group theory for dynamic virtual lightbulb topology, laying
the groundwork for serious theoretical development by the Professor
heading the Center.
These people will assign one of the UROP undergrads to report on the
lightbulb. He will report that there are no longer any incandescent,
screw-base lightbulbs on the MIT campus. The task will be passed to:
- 1 Physical Plant Supervisor
- 1 Union shop steward.
who will determine that illuminating devices at at MIT consist of:
- 1 Grad student from the Humanities program (history)
- 373,641 fluorescent tubes
- 126 neon signage tubes
- 71 experimental illuminating devices
- 11 light emitting devices based on technology sufficiently
complex that they are indistinguishable from magic
- 9 pieces of apparatus that glow in the dark for unspecified reasons
- 1 region of plasma-like space of unknown ownership or origin
- 1 perpetual student weenie roast bonfire
- 1 oil drum fire maintained by homeless people
Now, everybody at MIT knows (though you may not) that Building 20 is
a frame-and-asbestos-slate building built during WW II for military
research. It has been scheduled for demolition once each year since
1953. It is currently scheduled for demolition. Many important
scientific developments have taken place in Bldg. 20 during the last
50 years and many important scientists and engineers have fond
memories of its creaky floors and unpretentious spaces. So we will
- 3 incandescent, screw-base lightbulbs (GE) in
At this point, we are ready to change the lightbulb. In fact, we're
ready to analyze, document and conserve three lightbulbs together
with their social context, physical infrastructure and theoretical
framework. We're ready to publish 3 graduate theses and a monograph on
- 1 Assistant Professor, History
- 1 Curator, Obsolete Technology
- 1 Assistant Curator, Obsolete Technology
- 1 Conservation Technician on loan from the MIT Museum
- 1 Liaison, Military History, from the US War College
- 2 Carpenters, Physical Plant
- 2 Carpenter's assistants, Physical Plant
- 2 Hazardous material technicians, asbestos, Physical Plant
- 1 Documentation/archival technician
- 1 MIT Senior Financial Officer for negotiating support from
General Electric and the DOD.
- 1 person from the Media Lab, purpose unknown.
- 1 Consulting Engineer from the Dept. of Electrical Engineering
But we're out of money.
The solution recommended (imposed if necessary) by the
Chancellor is to merge CLOT (and the CLOT-TTC program)
with the Program for Studies in Learning for Illuminative
Industrial Media and Education (PSLIIME) which has
significant surplus funds , resulting in PSLIIME-CLOT under the
with the supervisory and financial oversight of:
Did I mention that the three incandescent lightbulbs were in
a men's room un-renovated since 1944 and were left-hand thread? The
PSLIIME-CLOT folks are developing a project under the working title
Rethinking Parity: Lightbulb Chirality and its
Quantum-mechanical, Educational and Marketing Implications in the Context
in collaboration with the Sloan School.