THE STEAM-POWERED TURING MACHINE
In 1987, a group of CSE graduate students seeking diversion on the eve of the Ph.D. qualifying examination painted the Steam-Powered Turing Machine mural in a stairwell in Sieg Hall (CSE's home from 1975-2003).
The SPTM was conjured up years earlier by Professor Alan Borning. Alan was coordinating a revision of CSE's graduate program brochure. When Professor Larry Ruzzo missed the deadline for providing a description of his research, Alan created a fictitious description of Larry's research, which appeared in the brochure as follows:
Currently, his principal research project involves the construction and programming of a vaguely parallel computer consisting of 32 steam-powered Turing machines installed in the basement of Sieg Hall. Of particular interest is the use of triple-expansion bypass valves, coupled to individual governors on each engine, to achieve write-synchronization of the machines. Graduate students have played an important role in the construction and operation of the engine, particularly in stoking the boilers, and advanced undergraduates are occasionally allowed to polish the brass gauges.
On the night before the qualifying examination in the spring of 1987, graduate students Simon Kahan, Terry Farrah, and Tony Barrett led a band of roughly a dozen guerrilla graffiti artists who painted the SPTM mural -- a lasting symbol of UW CSE student and department spirit. The identity of the artists remained a mystery for some time. At the annual CSE retreat following the appearance of the mural, chair Paul Young read the following message from a student:
Last night I was kidnapped by those same criminals who are responsible for the hideous graffiti which recently appeared on the wall of Sieg's east stairwell. They released me upon discovery of my voracious appetite, but only upon the condition that I act as courier of the following message to you:The décor of Sieg Hall is deplorable. As you can see, we have no choice but to take matters into our own hands. As a gesture of your willingness to support our cause, we demand that you reimburse us $120 to cover our expenses. If you choose not to comply we will find something to do with the leftover gallon of white paint - and it won't be pretty!Whatever you do, I hope you don t give in to these despicable rebels!
The faculty took up a collection, then and there, to pay the ransom. Furthermore, Paul called on the University's maintenance staff to add a protective coating to the wall, so that this symbol of CSE spirit might endure.
A photographic reproduction of the Sieg Hall mural now greets visitors to the CSE reception suites in both the Paul G. Allen Center and the Bill & Melinda Gates Center.
Art in the Allen Center