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MIT student blogger Snively '11

Karma by Snively '11

What goes around comes around.

I’ve never been one for actually truly believing in karma (what goes around comes around) but this last Monday pushed me a step or so towards accepting it. Here’s how things played out:

I woke up on Sunday morning with the plague. Well, maybe not the plague, as plague implies that many many many people are sick, but I definitely had some type of illness that made my life (fun)^-1. The only thing worse than being sick and wanting to die is when you add that to the normal stresses of MIT life. Not a lot compares to wanting to just curl up and die while also knowing you need to spend hours working on 8.02, 2.001, and 18.03. But, as any MIT student will tell you, being sick isn’t an excuse to not do homework, so the homework gets done, not exactly fun, and you accept that you are still alive (somebody out there better pick up on this reference).

Consequences to doing homework while ill are varied, one of the big ones being the degree of bitterness that leaks from your temporary low feeling of worth onto your homework. This is what happened to me on Sunday. I was working on this wonderful gem of an invention called Mastering Physics (expect a healthy entry about that shortly) and was faced with this prompt:

Reading Assignments: On each daily webpage there is a summary of the day’s material. These summaries are short and reading them will help prepare you for class. This week’s reading assignment is: Course Notes (Liao et al.): Sections 4.3-4.4; Section 5.5; Sections 6.1-6.4; Expt. 2: Faraday Ice Pail. Questions: What was the most confusing thing that you found in the reading assignment? What other questions do you have about any topics that appeared in the reading assignments? We will make a summary of your responses to the questions below and circulate them among the instructors. We will also try to post responses via the Q/A link on the daily webpages.

Ok, no big deal, I’ll do the reading. Sections 4.3-4.4 went fine, as did 6.1-6.4. Then I read 5.5. I won’t go into detail as to what 5.5 was about, suffice it to say that I was not in a pleasant mood after reading it. I’ll accept that this was probably mostly due to illness, but a lot of it still holds for the healthy. Ready to give Mastering Physics a piece of my mind, I typed the following as a response:

Alright, 5.5 was terrible. People should NOT have to read that. Between the ridiculous notation, the fact that it was located in the middle of a chapter and referenced stuff we hadn’t read, and the length, it was all I could do to prevent myself from hurling my course notes into the Charles River. Hopefully you do a better job explaining capacitance in class than these terrible notes.


So I get to class on Tuesday and see this:

“Interesting, that should be a cool demo!” I mused

Halfway through the class our professor announces that we’re going to do a demo. “Snively, you’re going to do this, come on up.”


*saunters up to front*

This is when I think the karma started. Now, I could be totally wrong here, but this is what it seems like to me. My professor was sitting at home, in his smoking jacket, on a leather couch next to the fireplace, reading Mastering Physics responses while stroking his cat. He came to mine, read it, and thought “Hm, Mr. Snively doesn’t seem to think that the notes were adequate for learning about capacitance. Well, we’ll have to rectify that in class tomorrow, now won’t we Mr. Snuggles?” *cat purrs, agreeing*

So here I am, holding a lever attached to what appears to be a very large capacitor. My professor backs up. “Don’t pull that until I’m far enough away,” he warned me. Wonderful. Suddenly our demo-lab tech ran into the room and yelled “Wait!” He came over to the demo lab, messed with some knobs, and said “Ok, now it’s good to go.” I’m convinced that I may have died if he hadn’t done whatever he did. He backed up about 50 ft and stood next to our professor. I stood next to the setup-o-death with my hand on a lever.

“Ok, pull the lever.” my prof said.

*Pulls lever*


“Holy ****” “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!” “****!”

Biggest explosion you will ever see in a classroom, ever. A wire stretching between the leads of this massive capacitor (that was charged to 3,000 V) vaporized into a shower of sparks and my ears were ringing for a good 5 minutes after pulling the lever. The entire class recoiled, screamed, or shouted obscenities. Nobody was expecting anything of that magnitude, especially me. I walked quietly over to my seat while everybody else looked around wide-eyed, trying to comprehend what just happened. For the next 3 minutes there were little pieces of vaporized wire floating down from the air and landing on our table, a reminder of what had just happened.

Alright karma, help me out here, what’s going to happen to my professor to make up for this?

Ever heard of a Dissectable Leyden Jar? It looks like this:

It consists of a metal ring on the outside, a metal ring on the inside that’s attached to a metal rod thing sticking up, and a beaker between the two. The gist of it is that if you charge the inner ring you have essentially charged a capacitor. You can discharge it by connecting the inner ring to the outer ring. Our professor charged it, but then took it apart into its three components. He then proceeded to rub the metal rings all over himself, tap them together, and ground them pretty effectively. Then he reassembled the makeshift capacitor and discharged it. *CRACK* It had maintained its charge! The class assumed it was magic. I mean, how can you ground something and still maintain the charge? He waited a while before coming back to the demo again, hoping that we had figured out how it worked.

He repeated the procedure, charging the capacitor, disassembling it, and then grounding the metal rings a bunch. We decided that the charge couldn’t possibly be charged in the metal. The only thing left was the beaker, but he picked that up too and proceeded to rub it around and ground it.

We sat there totally confused as he said stuff like “Look! I can do anything I want to this beaker! I can rub it on my head, touch it all around here, touch it against my face, put it — *CRACK!* — Oh ****!”

[cue uproar of laughter from class]

Apparently the charge difference had been stored between the outside and inside of the beaker, and guess where he had accidentally stuck his finger. That’s right, into the beaker. The class, at this point, was dying from the hilarity of it all. Honestly, we had people on the floor, everybody else was at least tearing up. We ended up being dismissed 10 minutes early because I think he realized that no more learning was going to be possible after something like that. We all left, still laughing and talking about the capacitor incident.

So folks, that’s how karma works. It’s like simple harmonic motion, oscillating events of varying unpleasantry between two individuals for as long as it cares to. Just another electrifying day here at the ‘tute.

41 responses to “Karma”

  1. Snively says:


    Wouldn’t we all. . .

  2. Shruthi says:

    OMG.. ROFL…. Thats all.. No offence Snively, but wow, you got to do all these fun things, because of that note??????? :D smile) This whole thing with the headstone pic! Lol! :D

    But get well soon smile

  3. Anonymous says:

    glad you’re not dead though

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yay, Portal song! :-D

  5. Shauna says:

    Awesome birthday present for me- A post from Snively about explosions.

    Also *takes stalker notes on Snively’s Birthdate*

  6. Snively says:


    I have internet laugh inflation. Essentially, I’m not one of those people that will wait until they actually laugh in order to ‘lol’. When I DO laugh, it’s never enough to just type ‘lol’ so I tend to do a ‘ROFL’ or an ‘OMG LOL’. If you take any instance of web 2.0 laughing that I type and dial it back one notch, that’s generally what actually happened.

    And I’m pretty sure he let us out at 10 ’til instead of 5 ’til because I didn’t have to jog to my next class like I normally do and I still got there early.

  7. OmarA says:

    I wish I could have seen that as well.

  8. Kevin Xu says:

    WOW, Snively, best post so far!

    From the references (yay Portal!) to the explosion to the photoshopping and your storytelling, that was simply an awesome read and I got to feel like I was part of a MIT experience. Thank you very much!

  9. Paul says:

    Fun entry. After all, there’s no sense crying over every mistake. You just keep on trying till you run out of cake. And the p-sets get done.


  10. Karen says:

    I believe that there’re experiments to run, and THEN the p-sets get done, for the students that are still alive, at least, Paul. smile

  11. Anonymous says:

    My personal theory is that the lab-tech made it worse instead of better. I don’t think that your professor would really try to kill you. You’d know better than me though…

  12. Ana says:

    why do you make me break my low of not being superstitious? Anyway, I hope I will not forget your birthday.

  13. Oasis says:

    Oh, I was going to blog about this! Good that you covered it, though. smile It was definitely the most engaging class ever in 8.01 and 8.02 (so far).

    By the way, I’m pretty sure it was 3,000 Volts, rather than 30,000. 30,000 is kind of extreme. =p

  14. milena '11 says:

    I think you’re exaggerating a bit with the “everybody was rolling on the floor laughing” bit. I mean, I laughed my ass off as much as everybody else, but I don’t think anybody actually rofl’d. unless you did, of course.

  15. milena '11 says:

    Oh and we were actually dismissed on time.

  16. Snively says:

    Thanks Chris, got a little carried away on my zeros there. . .

  17. Aditi says:

    Awesome post!

    I’m still laughing, out loud, and not likely to stop anytime soon.


  18. Libin Daniel says:

    So what can be the wildest thing that MIT students have done?
    I got this primetime.htm
    SO what if they gambled..they used science.
    Good one?

  19. Anonymous says:

    ok so we just flew in from California to attend a Robotics competition…in Oregon! We were on the highway, and there were signs for Salem, and I totally thought about Snively. And it kinda got me excited…haha.

  20. Hyun Jin says:

    The gravestone had me cracking up.
    Great post!

  21. Hawkins says:

    hahahahaha, WOW. That’s awesome. Wonderful things happen when snarky comments are made, it’s just a fact of life. =)

  22. Nan says:

    Hey Snively!
    I hope you are feeling better! Not going to lie, your professor and class sounds extremely interesting! Who do you have for a professor?
    Also, it is pretty cool that you are learning capacitors at the same time, the AP Physics class in our school is!

  23. MattD says:

    Great! Talk about hands on education. Loved your Toy Show exploits.

  24. That has got to be one of the funniest lab stories ive ever heard. Although my chem teacher did light a kids afro on fire by some combination of flammable liquids and a tesla coil once. This was hilarious though, especially the tombstone.

  25. Lauren says:

    Lol!!! That’s an awesome story. Was the explosion, would you say, probably bigger than one we had in my summer HSSP orgo class at MIT, where the teachers put dry ice into a Gatorade bottle and closed the bottle? That was a pretty big explosion…

    Man, explosions are so much fun. I hope I get to play with some (a lot) when I’m at MIT!! :-D

  26. Lauren says:

    Also, sorry for the double post! But have you ever seen the explosions at the museum of science in Boston? Actually, have you ever been to the Museum of Science in Boston?? I hope so, it’s pretty close to MIT! There’s an awesome lightning show there! Those are some pretty big explosions.

  27. jamie says:

    oh, what I would give for a YouTube video of this …

  28. debbie says:

    haha wait, was the prof hudson? brilliant telling, btw.

  29. Ryan M says:

    Snively, that was hysterical (particularly because my discovery of the wonders of a Leyden jar happened a mere day before my visit to MIT!). If you guys want to see waht this demo was like, download the iTunes podcast from MIT Electricty and Magnetism that is called “Capacitance”. It’s an awesome demo and very cool stuff!

  30. Davorama says:

    We made little capacitors in physics last year with film canisters, aluminum foil, and a paper clip – they looked kinda like the Leyden Jar. We had to charge them w/the Van de Graaff generator in class. If we wanted to zap people at home, we had to use a TV. I have lotsa fun terrorizing people with that.

  31. Ty says:

    Haha–nice! Reminds me of Physics smile And how AWESOME it is!!

    Physics ROCK THIS WORLD–and makes life *electrifying* to be sure :D

  32. Katie '11 says:

    yeah, that experiment was quite surprising to everyone, I haven’t really recovered from it yet…

  33. Matt says:

    Reminds me of AP physics last year where my friends and I would always play with my teacher’s van de graaf generator. Good fun, especially when combined with giant slinkies, grumpy old math teachers, and metal doorknobs.

    And nice Portal reference.

    “There’s no sense crying over every mistake,
    you just keep on trying ’till you run out of cake.”

  34. Anonymous says:

    yeah, about the same as matt. playing with the van de graaf generator in ap physics last year was fun. and dry ice. and liquid nitrogen, and all the other fun demos (watermelon dropping from the ceiling?) but who is this teacher? sounds cruel, amusing, but cruel. well, if it hurt. otherwise just amusing.

  35. Logan says:

    hey Snively
    You remind me of Richard Feynman!!
    Do you know about him !!!

  36. Khaled Saad says:

    OMG LOL AHAHHAHAHAHAHAH!! glad to hear that your okay snively!

  37. You didn’t expect the professor to pull that switch,did you? that’s what students are for. wink
    Congratulations, Snively. Believe it or not, your professor likes you! Now all you’ve got to do is pass the exams!

  38. Collin says:

    I see Karma as a real life version of Newton’s Third Law.

  39. E. Rosser says:

    Gives a whole new meaning to “personal instructor attention,” doesn’t it?
    I loved your “high voltage” equation, and your tombstone. Hopefully not to be made on account of any MIT experiments or vengeful profs…

  40. Truman says:

    I didn’t understand most of the technical stuff, such as what exactly a capacitor is, but the idea of an MIT professor not only electrocuting himself but also proving himself completely wrong is just hilarious to me.