Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Drop one thing

It's amazing how having things to do can make you so productive on everything else you don't have to do. I'm writing emails and doing work that isn't my matsci lab report with as high an efficiency as I'll ever have.

An update on the Franklin front: I'm not doing so great with the Temperance. I'm managing myself fine when I actually make it to the table and not glutting up on a whole day's worth of food at one go. On the other hand, this might be worse than what I was doing before, since I'm still not making it to the table more than once a day. I'm hoping that the knowledge that I'll only eat as much as will make me full (instead of how many calories I know I need) at each sitting will encourage me, with a few days' time, to actually come in for more sittings.

Silence is coming along much better. I'm supposedly a Myers-Briggs INFP, meaning I ought to be thinking before I speak. I do. The trouble is that I think too much, then feel obliged to blurt out every coherent (or not so coherent) sentence that makes it into my brain. I've attempted to become much more conscious of this, and it does make a difference. It reminds me of being a painfully quiet 13-year-old, except this time I know I'm quiet by choice and not by timidity; I can still speak up if I really, really have to. So I'm learning, slowly, when I absolutely have to talk - and that such times are much rarer than I'd thought previously. I'm happy.

It's 2:41 in the morning, and I'm once again in the Fishtank (what we call the study room here in East Hall since two of its walls are huge windows). As noted in the first paragraph, I should be writing a Matsci lab report. Our lab was so terrible, it's almost funny - you see, while other teams did things like coffee pots and water bottles, we decided to be ambitious and pulled out CD drive instead. Yep. With the integrated chips and the heatsinks and shock absorbers, silicon diodes, neobium magnets and more - and we tried to test them. All of them.

This wouldn't have been so bad had the lab equipment actually worked for us. The X-ray diffraction refused to give us sane answers for our magnet (of course it's made of gold!) The heatsinks absorbed heat so well that it took the better part of an hour and a giant solder gun to get them off the circuit board. The actual diode was coated in some mysteriously resilient substance that refused to dissolve in Hf. We sputtercoated it and cranked up the accelerating voltage on the scanning electron microscope (SEM) hoping to peek through the cover - no go. Duc ended up spending a good part of one lab day with a grinder and the diode, wearing down the top millimeter laboriously until we could see the silicon peek out through the corner. The most amusing was probably when we tried to do composition testing in the SEM for the magnet. It wasn't until I looked at the screen and saw a gigantic black hole that I remembered that magnetic fields deflect electricity, and that a scanning electron microscope works by... yeah.

Couple this to half the computers in the lab failing right before we'd decided to use the particular piece of equipment they were hooked up to, and you have a pretty good idea of why our presentation today consisted, roughly, of Jon saying, slightly sheepishly, "Er, our data... is mostly scattered... and [expletive deleted]." (Yes, Becky, Duc, and I explained exactly why in more detail.) Even Rebecca, our professor, asked if we were cursed. "Yeah," we replied.

I'm TAing for a freshman class called Engineering of Compartment Systems (ECS). It doesn't correspond to any other class I've ever seen, but the general idea we're trying to teach is that every system has an analogue in every other system - for instance, mechanical systems have electrical counterparts, and both of these can be modeled mathematically, in code, with Simulink...

Exciting developments on the ECS front: the freshmen have oral exams coming up, so we spent the day talking about the big picture instead of going into lab implementation (which I promised we'd cover next week). That's not the exciting development. The exciting part is that Gill liked our hydraulic model for the op-amp. I'm tremendously proud of the way the freshmen are picking up on things. They came up with a water analogy for the op-amp with positive feedback, and they've been using it to explain their lab to people not in our tutorial session and it's worked great, so we shared it with Gill, and he likes it!

So, tutorial sessions. Backtracking a bit. Once a week, I run two tutorial sessions with groups of 6 freshmen (it's a little strange - since I'm 19, some of my students are the same age as me... but last year when I TA'd the freshmen math/physics class, nearly all my students were older than me, so I'm used to it). They have a large 77-person lecture and smaller 25-person labs, but I'm effectively their tutor for the semester and get to do assignments, lessons, grading, and all that other stuff short of giving large lectures and setting the syllabus.

It's the first time I've had a classroom to myself like this, and I love it. I think they're having a good time as well. We have whiteboard markers flying across the classroom, give nicknames to the parts of our circuits (Van Morrison the Voltage Divider), and generally have a great deal of fun. Two weeks ago I got up and did a revival-style mini-lecture on op-amps (usually I don't give lectures, but they asked for one for this) - it went something like this.

Me (in best sermon-giving voice): This is an op-amp!
Freshmen: This is an op-amp!
Me: It has a gain!
Freshmen: It has a gain!
Me: And I say unto you, the op-amp gain is dependent upon the frequency -
Freshmen: The frequency!
Me: ...of the input signal!
Freshmen (throwing their hands in the air): Amen!

Times like this make me feel not quite incompetent. In fact, they make me feel pretty darn good. I love teaching. I know I've got a lot to learn about it and that I can always get better (especially with my time management and staying on top of things), but when I teach, and teach well - that's when I feel on top of the world.

Some other notes, and then I'll get back to Matsci. EHOC - that's a cocurricular, Engineers for Humanity at Olin College, is picking projects to work on for the semester. I'm cowriting a proposal for AHS + EHOC with Will and listening in on the Brian-Jul-Ben conversation about POE + EHOC + Ocean Enginerering + Sensors - there's a museum in California that asked if we could build an exhibit for them. I'd actually like to retake POE, or at least audit it; I'm not satisfied with what I did when I actually took the class and would like to be not-slackerly and actually get a good project made.

I need to learn how to be in the here and now.

"Master Yoda said to be mindful of the future!"
"But not at the expense of the present."

The other happy thing is that there's a new reading group on campus; it's a social justice reading one, a small mix of students, faculty, and staff. It seems like it'll be a wonderful group that tackles tough issues in depth. I promise now that in this group, I will learn how to listen well to other viewpoints.

To top the happy off, I've borrowed a book on Multicultural Education; I'm going to try to read at least one nontechnical book a week (and I'm sure I'll put notes up here).

All right. End procrastination, write paper, wake Mark (he took a nap and hasn't come back yet). Go, Mel, go!

1 comment:

Mel said...

Huh. I forgot to explain the title of this post, which refers to my tendency to take on just one too many things at any given time. In every semester, there's one job, one class, one project - one something - that gets the brunt of my "AIEE, OVERLOAD!" rush, while everything else is going stellarly. It's my version of a safety buffer, and I need to fix it (because it's a bad, bad version of a safety buffer). Tendency noted and attempting to fix.