The Cornell Safety Car

28 01 2014

Except when traveling in and out of Ithaca, Cornell generally plays no role in my travels. Recently, I paid a trip to the vacation destination that is Detroit, Michigan. While on this trip, my hosts suggested a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where we came across this.

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This homely piece of 1950s Americana is the Cornell Safety Car. It was produced by the Automotive Crash Injury Research Center, run by John O. Moore at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo (previously briefed here), and built in 1956 with funding from Liberty Mutual Insurance. We take for granted the safety features of today’s vehicles, but in the 1950s, those glimmering bullets of metal and chrome were essentially high-speed death traps, with the number of fatalities increasing every year. Hence, a need was seen to try and improve safety for America’s road warriors.

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The lab was one of the first to do crash testing; first with airplanes in WWII, then with cars. Early on, before the use of realistic test dummies, Moore and his cohorts got in touch with their inner Frankensteins and used corpses, along with an array of high speed cameras and instruments to measure and analyze impact forces.

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Among some of the features that would later become vehicular staples – front seat headrests, wrap-around bumpers, bucket seats, and seat belts a-plenty. Among those that didn’t, or have faded out – rear-facing back seats, steering handles (because steering wheels collapsed and steering columns would break your heart in case of accident), panoramic windshields (a big selling point in the later ’50s and ’60s), accordion doors, a center position for the driver’s seat, and nylon webbing for rear seat head restraints. All of this encased in a perfect 1950s shade of teal, rocket fins included.

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My, how concept vehicles have improved with time to become more attracti-…nope, scratch that.

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Cornell Drops a Spot and the World is Ending

10 09 2013

USN&WR drops Cornell from 15th to 16th and the entire Cornell-centric world becomes unglued.

“If we don’t get back to top 12 soon, I’m rescinding my diploma.”

“it was 12 like my sophomore year with Columbia at 10.
now it’s 16 and Columbia is at 4. Yay for Skorton!”

Not even in top 15.. Cornell is dilutinge ivy league brand.. Should apologize to rest of ivys…

Quick Trudy, grab the smelling salts, I fear a mass fainting spell is a-comin’.

Ignoring the fact that rankings are becoming a dime a dozen, and that USN&WR tweaked its ranking system, I’m going to focus on the historical standpoint of rankings. First off, a brief check of previous rankings of Cornell by USN&WR. As noted by the Chronicle, Cornell’s US News ranking generally fluctuated between 10th and 14th from 1989-2009. More specifically:

2014: 16th

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013: 15th

2009: 14th

2008: 13th

2007: 12th

2006: 13th

2002, 2003, 2004, 2005: 14th

2001: 10th

2000: 11th

1999: 6th

1998, 1997: 14th

1996: 13th

1995: 15th

1994: 10th

1993: 11th

1992: 12th

1991: 9th

1990: 11th

1989: 14th

1988: 11th

1983: 8th

Let me offer a visualization:


Cornell has only briefly flirted with rankings of 12th or higher in the past two decades. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in general, it’s less what Cornell is doing and the changes have more to do with the way the rankings are calculated. Noting the above commenters, and that Columbia was last ranked 10th in 2003, it’s essentially a group of knee-jerk reactions from not-so-young alumni.  With regards to the previous entry, we’ve seen that US News’s ranking has little bearing on the acceptance rates, application numbers, and applicant yields. I understand the prestige factor and concerns if this worsens, but unless your job is extraordinarily dependent on your alma mater’s current ranking by a single agency, I suggest toning down the hysterics.

It’s the same damn thing every time. Ranking drops, people from that school are up in arms, the school is decaying, students are worse these days, its the admin’s fault, don’t associate with me with that lowly school. Ranking goes up, people call it “the new/public/Southern/Western Ivy/Harvard/insert prestige item here” and croon about how smart they are, even if they went there twenty years ago when its rankings were lower.

It’s good to assess the school’s direction periodically, but with every annual reranking, some alums need a reality check more than anything else.




The Cornell Stories

18 01 2013


Back in the day, before the internet, TV and even radio, the best way to indulge one’s interest was by the printed word. Novels,  serials and newspaper articles were much more valued. It was also around a hundred or so years ago, when the idea of college went from the dank halls of seminaries and obscure studies of little practical worth, to a sort of idyllic playground of stories and mischief, casting collegiate life into a much more positive light.

During this time, several publications focusing on the wonders of college life were produced. Perhaps the best known are the Frank Merriwell serials, and his exploits at Yale. There were several other works of various quality produced around the same time.

Here, I offer The Cornell Stories (1898), written by James Gardner Sanderson, Class of 1896. The stories are light-hearted and fictional, but the setting and the descriptions conjure up images of a simpler, slower time, the Ithaca of a century ago.

Here’s my recommendation – make a cup of hot chocolate, settle into your favorite chair or couch with a blanket, and enjoy a good read.

Bob Saget Loves Seal and Serpent, Part II

9 12 2010

I live in my grad student bubble.  So I was pleasantly surprised when Matthew Nagowski over at Metaezra happened to write an entry about the A&E Channel’s airing of the episode of “Strange Days with Bob Saget” that has everyone’s favorite dad from Full House “pledging” and joining the fraternity, complete with formals, toga parties and pledge activities. Conveniently, the episode is free to watch on A&E’s website.

I remember writing up a brief entry last spring after this blog was swamped with questions in the search bar asking why Bob Saget was on campus, and then quickly forgot about the whole thing. It was a minor newsmaker, sure, but it was just one event in a stream of activities taking place around and about campus. The only time it ever came up again was when Seal or someone in their house would come up in conversation, and if this conversation was with someone else in the Greek system, the line “I can’t believe that Bob Saget went to Seal to film his show” often followed suit. Not many people in the system were pleased about Seal hosting such a high-profile event, since Cornell’s Greek Life would be publicized (and stereotyped) as a tudor-style house on Thurston Avenue. It seemed to be the general sentiment that there were low expectations for the episode, because it was thought its portrayal (either on the show’s part or the brothers’ part) would be unflattering and give a bad impression of the system.

I’ll admit that as a member of another house, I was a bit weary of Seal’s involvement. I actually had been to the house on a number of occasions because one of my best friends at Cornell was engaged to a senior in the house (they are now happily married). The first floor, with its wood finishes and giant Seal and Serpent lineage flow chart, did not fail to impress. I was less enamored by the party area in the attic (which is a bit abnormal, since most houses have party spaces in the basement) and some of the eccentricities of members (between friends, we affectionately referred to one brother as the “Beer Pong Nazi” while a second brother was infamous for a comment regarding the difference between “rapeability” and “rape-ability”, which is better left unwritten), but overall, they struck me as a fairly harmless bunch of guys, not without their quirks but with a very well-heeled and active alumni base.

So I watched the whole episode through. I thought it was entertaining. It was certainly enjoyable to see some of the guys I knew in Seal dressed up and being polite and respectable in front of the cameras (especially since I knew better). I thought that the impression they gave of Cornell’s system was adequate and not particularly offensive. I was also watching the episode while keeping in mind some of the details of what went on behind-the-scenes.

It was explained to me over the weekend as they were filming that there were some alterations from reality (even more so than pledging that only lasts a weekend). For the party scene, they couldn’t serve to anyone under 21 due to legal obligations. Well okay, that makes it less realistic, but that’s to be expected. However, they could only play generic rock music at the party so they could avoid issues and fees with copyrighted material. That seemed even more unrealistic to me than the lack of underage drinking. At least the show did pick up the tab for the brothers’ party costumes and food/drink, which were more impressive than your typical toga party fare. If I recall correctly, Bob Saget was also at an “IFC Meeting”, but it appears any footage that might’ve been taken from that event was cut from the final production.

Watching the show and treating it as just a show with creative license made the episode much more enjoyable. The episode cast Cornell in a positive light, and lewd jokes aside, it wasn’t offensive to anyone. I wouldn’t call it accurate, but it’s entertaining, and that’s what matters, I suppose.