Q From RC: A Distinguished Alumnus

by Roland Minton on November 11, 2014


What do our graduates do with a physics or mathematics major? For years, one of our answers has been “assistant director of the FBI” but until recently I did not know the details of our distinguished alumnus, William A. (Al) Bayse. Some surreptitious sleuthing unearthed excerpts from books about the FBI, including recently declassified information about Assistant Director Bayse.

Al Bayse received a B.S. in physics from Roanoke College in 1958. He went on to graduate school in mathematics, engineering and technology management. If that sounds like a professional student without professional ambitions, get ready for a plot twist. Al went to NASA as an aeronautical research engineer, then to the Department of the Army as the deputy chief of staff for logistics in the Data Processing Center. His work there earned him a Decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service, and impressed the FBI enough that he became the first non-agent to serve as assistant director when he was hired in 1978.

Bayse was put in charge of automating the FBI, with a focus on providing agents with immediate information in the field. He helped to develop knowledge-based expert systems and artificial intelligence applications for the bureau. All of those technical college courses were put to good use.

What was he like? According to Ronald Kessler in his book The FBI, he was “charming and smart.” And a bit of a geek. “If he can use a technical term to describe a new computer development, he will.” And an outstanding worker. “Bayse is in his element showing off some of the artificial intelligence systems his 1026-employee division has developed.” As head of technology, he was known to other assistant directors as “Q.” (This was the name of James Bond’s technology mastermind.)

The transcript of the keynote talk he gave in 1991 at the First Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy reveals an accomplished leader with a good sense of humor. Before polling the audience about one issue, he announced that it was to be “a ‘Bayseian’ survey – because I really don’t have any choice in that matter.” (An important but controversial branch of statistics is known as Bayesian statistics.)

After quoting Charles Kettering (“We should all be concerned about the future, because we’ll have to spend the rest of our lives there.”), he told the assembled high-ranking representatives from various agencies, “We are going to be spending time together in the future – I sort of insist on it.” He then dove straight into the issues facing the industry, very modern issues of privacy versus agents’ need for information.

He took large numbers of questions and challenges from the audience, answering them with the charm and wit that won over Kessler. Sandeep Gupta describes the scene. “There has never been anything like this. Without any prodding, without any preparation, people in the audience simply begin to ask questions. Longhairs, freaky people, mathematicians. Bayse is answering, politely, frankly, fully, like a man walking on air. The ballroom’s atmosphere crackles with surreality.”

Clearly, Al Bayse had a way with people and difficult issues. His combination of technical expertise, social awareness, and leadership skills is the goal of a liberal arts education at Roanoke College.

What can you do with a physics or mathematics degree? If you’re Al Bayse, you can be one of the most important intelligence officers in the world!

Sources: http://books.google.com/books?id=I9SN952mxpAC&pg=PA363&lpg=PA363&dq=roanoke+college+fbi&source=bl&ots=7c1M5c0s4p&sig=6TqA4SlR8rBQj9992rSPGY2Yvug&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RmRJVNSlFtD2yQSOjYH4Bw&ved=0CDMQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=roanoke%20college%20fbi&f=false

(excerpt from The FBI by Ronald Kessler)


(excerpt from The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide edited by Athan Theoharis)


(transcript of conference, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility website)


(excerpt from Hacking in the Computer World by Sandeep Gupta)

By the way, my Dad, a one-time FBI agent, would have defined surreptitious as “belief that liquid maple poured on pancakes brings good luck.”

If you have further information about Al Bayse, please leave a comment!


Computer Science Succeeds at CCSC

by Scotty Smith on November 9, 2014

From left to right: Derek LaFever, Thomas Lux, Natalie Wilkinson, and Randall Pittman

From left to right: Derek LaFever, Thomas Lux, Natalie Wilkinson, and Randall Pittman

Each year the Computer Science department takes a trip to the Consortium of Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) south eastern regional conference.  This year the conference was held in North Charleston South Carolina, at the College of Charleston’s north campus.  While the focus of the conference is Computer Science education, one of the more fun and rewarding activities at the conference are the student competitions.

Derek LaFever and Thomas Lux present their research.

Derek LaFever and Thomas Lux present their research.

The first competition is the student research competition, where students submitted extended abstracts of their research projects.  Eight of these students were chosen to present posters at the conference, and five of the eight students were chosen to give full research presentations for the final leg of the contest.  Of these five chosen students, the top three presentations were given awards at the closing banquet at the conference.  Three of our students, Derek LaFever, Thomas Lux, and Randall Pittman were invited to present posters at the competition.  In the final results, Randall placed third overall with his project while Thomas Lux took first place.  More information about all three projects can be found on the Computer Science Research page.

Thomas and Randall discussing one of the programming problems.

Thomas and Randall discussing one of the programming problems.

The other competition held every year at the conference is the programming competition.  Teams of up to four students are given three hours to solve as many of the eight problems they were provided.  The directors of the competition nicknamed this the “Year of the Calendar,” with three of the eight problems dealing with calendars and dates. This year’s team did very well, answering four of the eight problems given to them, and were very close to solving two additional
problems.  They were ultimately only two solutions behind the winners of the competition.  This performance was good enough to secure fourth place out of 31 teams, a respectable showing by our students.

The trip to this years competition was a bit long, a twelve hour round trip to North Charleston, SC.  Thankfully we will not have to worry about travel and lodging next year.  Roanoke College will host the 2015 CCSC south eastern regional conference.


The Meta-Meaning of the Mega-Menger

by Roland Minton on November 6, 2014


Fractals are infinitely complex – infinite and complex are two carefully chosen descriptors. The Menger sponge is one of the classic construction fractals. Start with a cube. On each face draw a Tic-Tac-Toe grid of nine squares, then drill a rectangular tunnel straight through the middle square. Here’s a challenge: you can think of the result as a stack of n cubes whose side length is one-third the length of the original cube. What is n? (Spoiler alert: the answer starts with “tw” and rhymes with “n-t.”)

Like with many fractals, you then apply the same process to each of the smaller cubes, drilling tunnels through the sides of them and producing even smaller cubes. Then drill tunnels through the even smaller cubes, and so on. The final result is something like that shown in the top picture.

The Mega-Menger project is a “distributed fractal” project designed to result in the largest fractal ever built. It will use several million business cards assembled in twenty locations all over the world. The main sponsor in the United States is the Museum of Mathematics in New York City. More information can be found at Michigan, USA build.


The first step in the Mega-Menger construction is to fold six business cards into a cube. Twenty such cubes then get arranged into a larger cube with Menger-like holes. Then twenty of these cubes get arranged into a larger Menger-like sponge, called a “level one” sponge. (See a Roanoke College level one above.) Put twenty level one sponges together to make a level two sponge. (The eight level ones shown below make one side of a level two.) For those keeping score, we’re up to 8000 small cubes and 48000 business cards. Twenty level two sponges make a level three sponge, and the goal is to have twenty level three sponges to make the (level four) Mega-Menger sponge.

That’s a big sponge! And a lot of business cards. And what is the result of this? Ideally, positive interest has been generated about mathematics and its connections to the arts. Perhaps it goes too far to think about thousands of people from around the world doing the same operations before joining talents to form a whole that is more impressive than the sum of its parts. But it’s a nice image, and it’s good that Roanoke College is a part of the picture.



The World and Her Oysters

October 23, 2014

Amanda Wright is a Physics major at Roanoke College. A desire to do research brought her to Roanoke College, and she has always had an interest in marine life. The chance to combine the two in a summer project was too good to pass up, even if it was not always clear how the finances […]

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Roanoke Students attend Grace Hopper Conference

October 21, 2014

Computer Science is stereotypically a male dominated field. However, this was not always the case. Many of the pioneers in the field have been female. One of the biggest names from the field is Grace Hopper, a Navy Rear Admiral who developed the very first compiler for a programming language. She is even the individual […]

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MCSP Grad Elizabeth Ciskowski teaching at The O’Neal School

October 9, 2014

Recent Roanoke MCSP graduate Elizabeth Ciskowski is one of nine new teachers this fall at The O’Neal School, a private college preparatory school in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Lizzie graduated in Spring 2014 from Roanoke College with a double major in Mathematics and Physics. From her frequent Facebook posts about the start of her term there, we’re […]

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A Hit in the Big Time

September 10, 2014

Taylor Ferebee and Stephen Wolfram Taylor Ferebee is a sophomore, double majoring in Physics and Mathematics. Her summer research at Wolfram Science Summer School (WSSS) is one of the best research experiences ever. Taylor designed a movie app in close consultation with Stephen Wolfram, the world famous inventor of Mathematica and author of the visionary […]

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Physics students Cam Cassady and Chris Valentine do summer research at Oak Ridge National Lab

August 23, 2014

For senior physics students Cam Cassady (middle right) and Chris Valentine (far right), the summer was spent engaged in research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, Tennessee.  Their research projects were a result of the Visiting Faculty Program funded by the US Department of Energy.  Under the direction of ORNL research scientist Matthew Blackston […]

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Mathematicians in Portlandia

August 19, 2014

Congratulations to Roanoke College mathematics majors Jon Marino and Sam Parsons for winning prizes for their research presentations in Portland, Oregon, on August 8! Their papers on “Integer Compositions Applied to the Probability Analysis of Blackjack” and “Protecting Confidentiality and Scientific Integrity Through Synthetic Data and Mediator Servers,” respectively, were named winners in the Pi […]

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August 15, 2014

Please watch this short video about a local valedictorian’s hero. http://m.wdbj7.com/levi-helm-craig-county-high-school/26399194 Mr. Boyer is Geoff Boyer, a Roanoke College mathematics major, class of 1998. Geoff has a great sense of humor, served as volleyball coach for several years, and has done PA and radio announcing for the Craig County football team. He is a wonderful […]

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