4.0935 Anecdotal Evidence on College Computing: Cornell (1/74)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 23 Jan 91 17:51:42 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0935. Wednesday, 23 Jan 1991.

Date: Tue, Jan 22, 1991 9:09:55 AM
From: Adam Engst <ace%tidbits.UUCP@theory.TN.CORNELL.EDU>
Subject: Computing at Cornell

Computing at Cornell

Having posed the question about computing on campuses, I suppose I
should at least offer what little knowledge I have. As a student I was
a supervisor for the 7 or 8 public facilities - each housing between 20
and 50 microcomputers. The majority of the computers were Macintosh
Pluses, though there is one room now filled with IIci's. I can't give
any specific numbers for the current time, and I can only give an
anecdote from when I worked there. The busiest facility, Upson, had a
fairly unimpressive door and a small sign denoting its purpose. Once a
higher up (whom I will identify only as the Minister of Silly Policies)
came down to see how the peons lived. She was talking to some other
higher ups in the hallway in front of the room, and curious why so many
students were going in and out, asked what was inside :-). At the time
we estimated that between 150 and 200 students used that room every hour.

Cornell has no policy of requiring a microcomputer purchase, but they do
provide excellent educational discounts on Macs and IBM PS/2s and a few
other PC clones. Many students own a Mac (because otherwise they'd have
to use the public facilities, which are always crowded and have a 1 hour
time limit for any one person if someone else is waiting - I've seen
waiting lists as long as 25 people). In addition, many people use
CUINFO on the mainframe (an IBM) for schedules and job listings and the
like (also Uncle Ezra, the Cornell online equivalent to Ann Landers).
However, very few students ever progress past CUINFO (which is pretty
easy and has public terminals so you don't have to have an account) even
to email. For a student to join a LISTSERV group is almost unheard of
(I did when I was a student and never heard of another :-)). Slightly
more popular is the University's Vax, which runs Usenet; I suspect this
is so since Usenet requires less initiative to read.

I don't think the University particularly encourages network use now,
and I know they didn't five years ago when I discovered the LISTSERVs by
poking around in an account a friend and I found that hadn't been logged
off. I once asked a network administrator sort why it was so hard to
find and get on to the networks and he said that the networks couldn't
handle the load that would result from 17,000 people at Cornell alone,
much less all of the other networked organizations in the world. Thus
it remained a secret cult with initiation rites and all.

The fiber optic is in place to network all of the dorms and other
buildings on campus, but so far only the academic and administrative
buildings have been connected. I heard several years ago that
networking the dorms was too complicated politically to happen for some
time - ie. it gets confusing if the dorm is located off-campus and the
phone line in question may actually belong to NY Telephone rather than
to Cornell, or what if there were problems when a repair person entered
a room when a student wasn't present (or was present, for that matter).

My overall impression is that most students use computers, but only as
fancy typewriters. (One library still has a room of typewriters that
they don't want to convert to computers because they make money on
renting out the typewriter balls.) Very few students care about
anything but typing their paper or writing their program (and the CS 100
students are some of the worst about knowing how to use a Mac - I won't
get into my CS100 student stories).

I know less about the faculty (and don't want to say anything truly
nasty since the electronically-enlightened ones do read this list :-)).
My impression is that like the students, most faculty use microcomputers
to do their word processing, and a fair number use email as well, but
with the same attitude as they approach word processing - namely that it
is the accepted way to do things in certain fields, but they aren't
terribly happy about it. Note that this applies mostly to faculty in
the College of Arts & Science - I suspect that it is much different in
the 6 other schools at Cornell, most notably Engineering.

cheers .... Adam

Now if anyone else would like to share impressions of their institution
(not that I'm at all related to Cornell these days, short of a uucp link
for mail), it would be interesting to compare.