Monday, October 15, 2007


So, obviously, the highlight of last week was leaving Friday morning to go home for the weekend. I’ll start, though, with some other events of note…

…like Monday’s physics lab. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only purpose of freshman physics labs is to reinforce the fear normal people feel for physics and to make physics majors hate themselves. It seems to consist entirely of pointless tasks like taking videos of a little metal disc moving around on an air-hockey table to determine the velocity and such. Oh, actually not entirely, because we also have to explain, in detail, how to “propagate the error” of every calculation we make. It gets even better, though, when the instructor requires that we make videos of “good” parabolas with our discs on air-tables. This is what we did on Monday; we made videos of “good” parabolas. This took me and my lab partner for the week three tries and over an hour of our three hour lab time. The entire time I was thinking things like “What the *&^% kind of physicist are you?!?! What the *&^% is a *good* parabola?!?! Is one somehow less (*&%^ *parabolic* than the other?!?!” I was clearly *really* enjoying wasting time worrying about this idea. The purpose of this lab was to use the motion of the disc on a tilted table to determine the value of acceleration due to gravity. Fair enough. So we needed the disc to accelerate down the slope. It should be that simple, but no, we needed “*good*” parabolas. I still don’t get why we wasted an hour on that.

Tuesday evening I spent an hour in a lab carefully analyzing a spring scale to write a page about it for my latest assignment in my Research Methods class. This is supposed to contribute to me experimental second inquiry in that class. This time, instead of just doing “something interesting”, we have to “do something interesting” that is *experimental* and *scientific*. Neither of these terms were clearly defined, a problem I harassed our lab section’s TA about at great length the week before this. We also discussed what constituted a “good” inquiry, the implication being that one inquiry is inherently better than another in an undefined way that, nevertheless, we should all be able to recognize. Man, I just love making unfounded, qualitative judgments in scientific settings! The poor TA never could quantify any of this. At first, she seemed to think I was joking, as she completely failed to even understand why I would object to this discussion. This Research Methods class is starting to take on an interesting (and annoying) dichotomy in that, in principle, it advocates and rewards creativity and “intellectual freedom”, the favorite term of one of our lead professors, while it still creates illogical or poorly defined rules and processes within which we must do our assignments and get our grades, just like any other mediocre class. If this professor had not repeatedly promised us “A”s for just playing along, I would be objecting rather loudly to more people than just the TA.

Wednesday, I went to “Mentor Training”, in which a post-college girl who seemed very easily flustered and unconfident read a “Mentor Handbook” to us for an hour. How this made us more capable and prepared for mentoring, I have no idea. Enough said.

Wow. I just realized what an unsatisfied rant I’ve been on for the last page. Good thing I have home to talk about; this post already needs more positivity.

I spent the rest of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday doing homework or preparing to go home. I left Friday at around 10:30, skipping a lecture by our angry medieval literature specialist in Research Methods and a lesson on “while” loops in Java. It turned out to be a good decision; I got home at around 4:30 and immediately got pulled in about three directions at once. First, I went to see the end of BEST Robotics practice. Sara (my little sister) and company have pulled it out and made an interesting little machine. It even sort of works. They’ll have to practice like fanatics to really compete at Game Day this weekend, but there’s definitely a good chance they’ll do reasonably well. I went with Mom and Sara to eat pizza at the local gas station/convenience store/restaurant (yeah, I wasn’t kidding: I come from one of those towns) and discuss recent news and politics and life and such. It was nice. We had to take Sara back to the school to get ready for the football game with the band. About the second thing the director told me was “So, you’ll play with us in the stands, right?” Then I visited the Ramsey family, the ones I worked for as the volunteer tutor last year. They are a middle-aged couple that has taken up providing a foster home for teenage girls. Naturally, they think I’m awesome, so that was nice. They want to have Mom, Sara, and me over for Thanksgiving when I come back again in a month. The girls I worked with last year are even still passing (!!), which is just incredible. They’ve got four new ones, though, and already worry that one will run away. That’s just how the foster-care business goes.

As corny and small-town as this will sound, the game really was fun. I was greeted by much cheering and joyousness on the part of the band as I pulled up in front of the band hall (being the hero of a small town high school is so cool). I then did, indeed, play with them in the stands. Of course, this was the homecoming game (it was an honestly coincidental circumstance that I ended up coming home the weekend of that particular game, but it was nice), so we had to wait for over half an hour as all the great and glorious accomplishments of the homecoming court were recited for us. This gave me some time to catch up with some friends and receive a few random text messages from one of them about a meeting in Sherman that apparently had nothing to do with me. I spent the second quarter, halftime, and the third quarter dong more catching up and hanging out and such. Good times, seriously. I hadn’t talked to some of those people in a year or more. It was kind of mellowing to hear about all the stay-at-home, community college greatness being achieved by the Tom Bean classes of ’06 and ’07, but most of them really are doing the best they can. I realized for the first time that weekend that I ended up being the farthest from home of my class: 5 hours. Kind of puts things in perspective. What perspective, I’ll leave to you.

Saturday morning, I went with Mom to watch Sara march at a competition in Plano. The band, even smaller than that of last year, was surprisingly impressive. The lead players were doing a good job of never making mistakes or breathing, as I know from the last time I heard them over the summer that it’s really easy to tell. Seriously, those lead guys, and especially their solos, were awesome.

After that, we went back to the BEST “Mall Day” in Sherman. Mall Day itself was excellent. Odd as it may be, I really enjoy watching all those high schoolers and their clumsy, handmade machines. I imagine that knowing how proud I was of my clumsy, handmade machines helps. Tom Bean really does have a chance to do fairly well. They need to make new wheels, preferably that don’t have slots cut in their rims, and they need to trim up a few bits and practice obsessively, but they have a chance. Yeah, they cut holes in their wheels so that they could reduce their weight, and in order to do that, they cut through the driving surface of the wheels. That makes the wheels extremely weak, as as much as half of the weight of the machine may rest on one thin spoke of the wheel. Luckily, these wimpy wheels broke at Mall Day instead of Game Day, so I imagine they’ve made new ones by now.

That evening I learned how good my Halo friends are at planning gatherings without me. “Halo friends”, to clarify, are friends with whom I went to or hosted LAN parties, usually centered around playing Halo 2 on networked Xboxes. Either I or one of the others, who is now in the Army, always did all the work and organizing to plan these gatherings. There was, very clearly, a reason for this. Despite telling at least three of them the exact day and time I would be home and available to play, three had to work, one was leaving to go to an aunt’s house (which, to be clear, I would have no problem with if he had mentioned this even as late as the night before when I saw him at the game, but he didn’t), and several were unavailable for various other reasons or unreachable. I still ended up playing Halo 3 for about an hour and a half with two of them and the random guy that lives with one of them. Good times. And I suppose it’s good to feel needed.

And that was it. Sunday I came back to school and went right back to the homework and emails and all the usual business. Life goes on, both in Tom Bean and Austin. So here I am.

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