Nerdy adventures on the West Coast by Laura N. '09
Q: What changes when you transplant a few MIT students 3,000 miles? A: Not much.
One of the things that I find most interesting about MIT, but hardest to document on my blog, is the sheer nerdiness of most everyday conversations. I can’t tell you how often I find myself having in-depth and scientifically rigorous discussions about random topics and thinking “oh man, I should totally blog this.” Unfortunately, the topics are usually so ordinary that I often forget all about them before I get the chance to immortalize them on the internet.
So, what’s it like when 4 MIT students visit 2 MIT alums (including a former blogger) for a week on the west coast? Pretty much the same kind of nerdy conversations, only this time I have photographic documentation to jog my memory. So without further ado, I bring you the nerdy adventures of Laura, Rick, Adelaide and Mason….West Coast edition.
Thankfully, a lot of the more famous things about San Francisco lend themselves really nicely to outbursts of nerdiness. Exhibit A: the cable cars.
Do you know how cable cars work? One of the very first things we did on our trip was find out all about them at the Cable Car Museum. (Free admission! If you’re ever looking for something to do in San Fran, look no further!)
(Wow, am I pasty white or what???)
Another one of the very first things we did in San Fran was visit In-N-Out Burger.
The In-N-Out place is on Fisherman’s Wharf, which is basically the super-touristy area. There are some neat things though, like this cool museum of old-timey mechanical scenes. You know, the sort of thing where you put in a quarter (well, or a nickel at the time) and there are some figures that move around or something. By far the best thing about this museum was the following sign tacked to the back door of the place.
Of course, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Adelaide ’09, Mason ’10, Sam ’07, and me posing in front of the bridge.
And no walk across the bridge would be complete without discussions of the design, the general concept of suspension bridges (you really can feel it move with the traffic), the importance of considering environmental factors (see: Tacoma Narrows), and the shape of the steel cables. (Did you know that uniform loading of a hyperbolic cosine stretches the curve into a simple parabola? This is one of those things I know, but do not understand, and could never explain.)
I’m not Yan, but I can take pretty pictures sometimes…
We also visited UCBerkeley and checked out their mechanical engineering building which, by the way, was awesome. It just had all the personality of a building designed by architects and taken over by mechanical engineers who rearranged it in their own personal way. It’s just an awesome building with…engineering spilling out all over the place. It was fantastic. Adelaide and I wandered around snapping pictures of the UCBerkeley equivalents of MIT classes.
“Hey look, there’s a whiteboard filled with 2.003.”
“Oh, that’s the 2.002 room.”
“Oh, check it out, 2.671!”
I even found their very own Formula SAE team.
Walking to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stop, we saw something amazing across the street, and had to check it out.
Later in the week we visited AT&T park, which is also not nerdy but ohmygodIlovebaseball so I have to share some pictures.
On our last day in town, Sam ’07 took us to the concrete slides, a hidden secret of the Castro district. It’s sort of crazy, but there’s this tiny park with nothing in it but these huge slides made of concrete, built into the naturally steep landscape. They’re actually incredibly intimidating. (Not going to lie: I was legitimately scared the first time.) I don’t know who designed these things for children, but they were crazy. You have to go down them on pieces of scrap cardboard that people leave around the park to keep yourself from ruining your jeans.
The thing we immediately noticed about the slides was that the left slide appeared to go much faster than the right. We pondered this for awhile until we realized that even two people of relatively equal weight going down at the same time was not a useful experiment- because they were using slightly different pieces of cardboard. We quickly designed a series of tests to determine the true culprit behind the difference, taking into consideration the slides, the riders, and their cardboard. We tentatively concluded that the left slide was in fact slightly faster, but that varying the cardboard used had a greater effect on speed than switching slides. Of course, these were very rough experiments completed without real tools. We discussed how we could improve upon our experimental design, and concluded that we would need to blindfold the riders so they wouldn’t alter their behavior based on which slide they were on and use simple light sensors to determine when a single “ride” started on stopped, to ensure that all trails included the same physical length by eliminating human error, reflex time, and bias. The conversation concluded with me saying the sentence, “And that’s how you design a double-blind research study.” Then we brushed our hands together and went for some drinks at a nearby bar. (Actually. Those last 2 sentences were 100% true.)
In other nerdy exploits, my friend Sarah ’09 (who is majoring in CMS and looking to get a job in the gaming industry next year) has introduced me to the wonders of XBox Live. I’ve always said I had a gamer somewhere inside, and I was just glad she hadn’t come out yet because I knew once I started playing games I’d never stop. I was totally right. Thankfully I still don’t own any consoles more recent than N64 (which is at home, anyway) so I have to rely on Sarah for my gaming fix. But I’ve still played way more hours of Halo in the past 3 weeks than could possibly be healthy. I’m not all that great yet (it takes practice, ok?) but I’m no longer an utter embarrassment. But I’ll totally admit, my favorite part of playing online (where you can match up with gamers from all over the place to play larger games) is the reactions Sarah and I get when people realize that we’re female. As soon as any of us says something, we get, “Hey wait, are you a girl?” (followed by half a dozen friend requests). My usual response to this is something along the lines of, “What? Girls don’t play Halo. I mean, is that even be allowed?”
This gaming has led to an even further increase in nerdiness. Sometimes I can’t resist doing something stupid, then saying “I did it for the lulz,” and whenever and someone informs the team, “There’s a guy in our base,” I really can’t stop myself from saying “Is he killing all our dudes?”
On that note, this video is a year old, but I have to share. For an utterly epic YouTube experience, check out the utterly awesome Sauza ’11 singing at the annual Conner 2 talent show. (Video courtesy of Snively. If you don’t get all the jokes, don’t worry, there are a handful of C2 inside jokes scattered around.) Enjoy.