Tech House Projects

The Ratty Cam

Tech House plans to put Ratty lines on the web

The "RattyCam" initiative would install cameras in the Sharpe Refectory with live feed to the Internet, allowing students to check the length of lunch and dinner lines.

By Jessica Resnick-Ault
Brown Daily Herald Contributing Writer
September 24, 1998

Picture the situation: you walk into the Sharpe Refectory, hoping to grab a quick dinner before section, and suddenly find lines everywhere. At your best guess, a Ratty meal is at least 30 minutes away. So you decide to skip dinner, waste your dinner credit, and go to section hungry.

Had you known that the lines at the Ratty were going to be that long, you might have gone to the V-Dub, the Ivy Room, or even just grabbed something on Thayer Street. But soon, if Technology House members have their way, the unpredictable crowds will be broadcast on the Internet, allowing would-be Rattygoers to avoid the long lines.

The "RattyCam" initiative, led by current Tech House President Soren Spies '00, plans to place cameras in Sharpe Refectory to photograph two of the lines. If this plan is implemented, every ten seconds a digital Quick Cam will record an image and relay it to an adjacent webserver computer. Students can then view the Ratty lines on their computers before leaving their dorms.

Yet, although Spies claims that there is widespread student support for the project, University Food Services (UFS) has yet to approve it.

To get permission for the project, Spies consulted UFS Assistant Director for Finance and Systems Brian Curry, who maintains the UFS web site. Curry asked that Spies meet certain conditions; for example, Curry wanted to monitor the project web site himself, rather than having Tech House maintain the site. Spies understood that Curry was concerned with the potential for Tech House to mock or criticize UFS, and thus agreed to allow UFS to host the site.

Curry reached a settlement with Spies and agreed to support the project. Curry then brought the proposal to his boss, Gretchen Willis, Director of Food Services, Spies said.

Spies said that Curry later told him that Willis had disliked the plan because she thought that it advertised inefficiency. Spies contended that UFS would improve efficiency by encouraging students to eat at off-peak hours and to utilize the dining halls other than the Ratty.

When asked about this disagreement, and her rejection of the plan, Willis stated that "[She had] never spoken to them [Tech House representatives] directly" but that they had "spoken to [her] assistant director."

She went on to suggest that Tech House "write a proposal," and asserted that she is not opposed to the idea of placing cameras in the Ratty.

Although implementing this technology might sound costly, Spies assessed the total cost at approximately $350. He said that several members of Tech House had offered to donate old computers, one of which could be used in this project.

The funding for this project would come from the Technology House budget, which sets aside $2,000 for creative technological endeavors.

Even though this project would cost much less than many other technological plans, some students objected to the project because they saw it as a misuse of money and technology.

"Some technology we don't need," Brandon Finegold '02 said. "Some people think that all technology is good technology, but this is just useless. This is a waste of cameras, money, and time."

Benjamin Bredesen '02, meanwhile, feels that "[this project] is the next step towards a technologically based utopian society."

Other students, who now support the project, were initially concerned about the technology putting their faces on the web. One senior stated that she did not want her picture to be available for the masses to download.

To overcome this obstacle, Spies agreed to place the camera in the corner of the Ratty, so that students' faces would not be visible in the photographs. This location would still provide for ample viewing of the lines' length, while protecting students' privacy.

Even if Spies and the rest of Tech House are not allowed to place cameras in Sharpe Refectory, they may still succeed in their self-stated goal of "making an impression on campus" with their other pending projects, which include placing a Magnetic Poetry Board on the Main Green and becoming involved with the Ox-Fam Marble Project on Parents' Weekend.

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