Thursday, November 8, 2007

Averageness, homework, and the Universe

It’s been long enough since Capitol BEST that I’m starting to get over the feeling that I have to catch up on the homework I was putting off to do stuff over the weekends. Three full weekends in a row is too many.

Last week was fairly average. I spent most of it doing homework. Tuesday was kind of interesting because Dad was in Austin interviewing engineering students for co-op positions. We had dinner that night and lunch on Wednesday before he left. The way he described the interviews was kind of funny; for example, some of the applicants apparently didn’t read the job description. They didn’t even know how long the job was supposed to last.

I did get two exams back last week. 100% in calculus and 91% in chemistry. I’ll take it.

Last weekend I tried and failed to finish my second inquiry for my Research Methods class. I’ve decided to measure the voltage of my laptop battery as it runs and figure out why the software battery meter and “time left” indicator seem to always be wrong. The problem is that I can’t reach the terminals. They’re about 2 mm wide and are down inside little plastic slots only about 4 mm wide. And my voltmeter’s probes are about 5 mm wide. This is ok, though, because our professor has officially declared that we can basically have as long an extension on this project as we need as long as we turn in a decent inquiry write-up. My new plan is to receive the second battery I ordered over the weekend and open it up to use the terminals on the cells inside. That should be more interesting, anyway.

While I’m on the subject, I had a very interesting meeting with the Research Methods professor Sunday evening. His name is David Laude; he’s a chemistry professor and the “Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences”. He’s also extremely cynical, sarcastic, and just generally funny. I hate to disappoint, but he doesn’t think I could ever get elected president. The interesting part about that is why he thinks so; I don’t think I could ever be elected to anything, either. Society is just not ready for a moderate, independent, non-religious physicist/engineer to be a politician. But his reasoning was that I don’t seem average enough and do seem too confident. That one threw me off, since politicians clearly have to be extremely confident. After all, they spend every election season going around explaining why they are better people than their opponents. One of his other entertaining thoughts was his opinion that “procrastination is an admirable trait”. Yeah, it was an extremely amusing 20 minutes. Let’s see, he also called me a “know-it-all” and said that I encourage ridicule and combativeness because I seem so confident and self-assured. I hadn’t heard anything like that in years. Of course, I guess my friends from Tom Bean just got tired of saying it at some point, didn’t you? So there you have it, the “Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences”. Feel free at this point to draw any conclusions you like.

We had yet another physics discussion on Monday. More people were there than usual because they were all worried about the exam coming up on Wednesday (which was earlier tonight, actually). There was a guy there that was, rather interestingly, completely unable to visualize the motion of a yo-yo. We had a problem about the velocity of a really large yo-yo on last week’s homework that we were trying to figure out. He kept trying to argue that the center of rotation was at the edge of the wider part of the yo-yo instead of the in the middle. Seriously, how does someone not remember how a yo-yo works?

Last night was really entertaining. I went to my first “skill module” for the Research Methods class. This involved gathering with a group of about 15 other people in the class to listen to one of the TAs talk about astronomy. It was actually really amusing; she was really energetic about her galaxies and red shifts and dark matter and such. It’s really a shame I can’t recreate any of her gestures. She also used a bunch of really hilarious metaphors for things and, between her choices of topics and some helpful questions from me, we came to such amusing conclusions as: “Everything we know about everything may be wrong” “Everything is going to get eaten and die” and “We are just a peanut in the cosmic circus”. Just awesome.

Earlier today I had a Java programming exam in class (which was just easy), and tonight I had the dreaded physics exam. I really don’t know why everyone was so worried; we already know that the professor makes the exams a lot easier than the homework and actually even reuses some homework questions. I was finished in about an hour; we were given two.

One of my recurring thoughts in recent weeks has been over the value of “what if” questions and the rather clumsy opinion I explained to some of my old BEST team a year or two ago. I said, at the time, that all “what if” questions were useless, which even the official freshman slacker of the team could tell was wrong. This thought seems to tie in somewhat to my thoughts on theoretical science and such, so it’s worth clarifying. My refined opinion: “What could have been” ponderings are still definitely useless. We cannot travel back in time to ever really know “what could/might have been”, so worrying about it at all is a waste of time. Considering what might happen in the future, however, is entirely worthwhile. This is one of the better ways to be prepared for that future. Observing past events and patterns to make plans and preparations for the future is entirely worthwhile, too. Thinking about the past only for the sake of wishing it had been different, though, is not. Thinking about “what if”s regarding the present that could never be real is also a waste. If a situation is not the way you want it, you should find ways to change it. Once you establish that a given option is not possible, however, let it go and move on to other ideas.

I’m planning to go home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks. I may also go to College Station to see some friends the weekend before, homework permitting. It’s been nice to actually stay in touch with my high school friends; I was worried that we might lose contact just like I have with so many other old groups. It hasn’t happened, though. Gentry, LB, and I keep each other’s Facebook walls filled with comments about our activities, thoughts, or whatever randomly happens to come to mind. Overall this semester, I think I’ve either seen or talked to more than 20 old friends from high school. Not bad.