Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Small Consolation in the Research World

I've been hitting the books hard recently (it hurts me more than it hurts them, but at least it vents my anger) for research purposes. I decided to read the introduction to a massive textbook dedicated to the Appalachians for kicks, and I came across this great anecdote.

"Every geologist who has conducted field work for any length of time in this region has had at least one unique experience to be remembered for a lifetime. Perhaps the late Hugh Miser said it best, "I'll tell you; it humbles a man." That conclusion followed a succession of events, beginning when he made many friends among the farm families while doing field work in the DeQueen and Caddo Gap quadrangles in Arkansas. After the report was published, he gave a copy to one of the families who had shown more than passing interest in his work. On a subsequent visit, Miser discovered in the outhouse that his report had been partly used up. As he explained, 'they had finished the section on stratigraphy and had started on the structural geology.' With equal humility, we hope the present volume will prove at least as useful to future generations of geologists."

It's good to know mine is not the only research paper destined for such a fate.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mentioning the Unmentionable

"Players gonna play, haters gonna hate, complainers gonna complain," as Benjamin Franklin was famously quoted as saying. I've been complaining and hating a lot, recently.

Complaining: Mostly, I've been complaining about my thesis. As it turns out, my thesis is similar to a Hydra; every time I chop off one head, two more grow in its place. I don't know how to complete the metaphor, because I don't think I've even come close to chopping off one of my thesis' heads, but you get the idea; it's a never-ending string of work*. And, despite a streak of optimism in my spirit that urges me to accept candy hidden in the trunks of stranger's cars, I've been feeling pretty down about my thesis recently. As you can expect, I've also been complaining about it. That's where the complaining has been coming from.
*Also, like a hydra, the only way to kill it is to burn down the entire department.

Hating: What I hate is that when I complain about my thesis, I always get the wrong response. It's never, "Oh, man. That sucks. I can help, though. Here's a forty page, previously unpublished bunch of research I've compiled." It's always "Yeah? What's your thesis about?"
Really? Didn't I just mention the fact that I hate my thesis? Since when did me mentioning the fact that I hate something become a good segway into talking about that thing in any detail? Imagine telling someone that your ex is a total bitch who would sell herself but she can't because some STI made all her teeth fall out so no one wants to look at her, and hearing the response, "Yeah? What's she like? Did you two have the same taste in music?" That's how I feel when people ask me what my thesis is about. So yeah, I've been hating on those conversations a lot.

Anyway. Hope everything is peachy with all three of the people who read these posts!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Settling for Superpowers

I won't lie; I've wished for superpowers for a really long time. That's not unusual, I don't think. Everyone wants superpowers. Up to now, none of my prayers have been answered though. I am not faster than a speeding train, I cannot shoot X-ray beams out of my eyes (Cancr-man!), and I can't fly. Lord knows I've wished hard enough.
This all changes now. I've realized that it's my fault I don't have superpowers. It's because, for the past 18 or so years of my life, Ive been asking too much. The person in charge of distributing super powers looks at my requests and laughs. "Ha! Like I'll give this loser the power fly! I'm just gonna make him extra resistant to paper cuts..." he decides. From now on, I'm going to start asking for less extraordinary super powers. Superpowers that the person in charge of distributing super powers will be more likely to bestow upon me. Such as...

Power: Levitation (up to 3 inches off solid ground).
Superhero Name: The Human Hovercraft.
Pros: I wouldn't need to walk around puddles, and it would be a pretty cool trick to whip out at a party.
Cons: It's mostly useless for everything else, and I'd be the go-to person to clean up broken glass at parties.
Arch Rival: Gravity.

Power: The ability to cure hiccups by touching someone.
Superhero Name: Dr. Quack-cup
Pros: People will love me for 30 seconds approximately once a month.
Cons: Doubters will claim my power is mere coincidence, and dismiss me as a folk remedy.
Arch Rival: Spicy food (it gives me the hiccups. Really.).

Power: The ability to juice fruit with my bare hands.
Superhero Name: The Juicester.
Pros: I would have fresh juice all the time, and I would probably give the best handshakes ever.
Cons: Any idiot with an electric juicer rivals my powers.
Arch Rival: Carrot-top.

So if you have any reasonable super-power requests, I'd love to hear them. Then, I'm going to ask for them. Anyway, my life is devolving into a blur of business, so I apologize if the writing has been choppy recently. Chances are good that won't change anytime soon. But, as always, I hope all is well with you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Awards? Sign Me Up!

So, for some reason, I was nominated for an award. I'm not normally the sort of person who's eligible for awards. Normally, people who report information that leads to my arrest are eligible for rewards. It's a bit different. But yes, as a graduating senior, I was asked to submit a personal statement as to why I should be given cash (!) and recognized as awesome. Writing something along those lines was harder for me to write than you might imagine (mostly because I wrote it while watching the super bowl and had Dorito dust on all of my fingers but my pinkys, so I was only typing with those). Still, I thought I'd share it with you, because it's just serious enough not to be thrown out, but just shitty enough not to be taken seriously (I'm not even going to mention the joke of a resume I submitted.) So here you go: my analysis of my four years at Columbia and what they've meant to me.

I didn’t want to go to Columbia. I grew up in this city. Why should I stay here for college? Then, I started to consider the other colleges I was admitted to. This one is too small. This college exists in a bubble. What would I do there for four years? One by one, I eliminated every other school from the list of colleges I wanted to attend until only Columbia was left. Then, I signed above the line, dropped an envelope into a mailbox, and I was committed to going to Columbia. At the time, the decision seemed anti-climactic. With the hindsight granted by four years, I see how fitting it is that I began my adventure at Columbia in that manner.
“Adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose,” G.K. Chesterton wrote; my experience at Columbia only shows how right he was. I arrived on campus with a jaded attitude, a spoiled child given a gift he does not appreciate, though only because he doesn’t know how to appreciate it (sort of like how I cried when my grandmother gave me blocks when I was little). The four years I have spent at Columbia were a gradual process through which I learned how to appreciate the adventures of friends and learning that Columbia offers (I also ended up really loving the blocks).
I initially searched for people with the same values as mine at Columbia, and at the end of my freshman year, I had a circle of friends not much different than my high school friends. This changed sophomore year, when I became an resident adviser. I naively thought that I would be giving back to Columbia by being an RA; in reality, I took much more from the job than I ever could have given. Through residential programs, I met some of my closest friends, many of whom I had little in common with other than being an RA. I was arrested with one of those friends. If that doesn’t mean I met one of my best friends through Residential Programs, I don’t know what does.
Unlike most of the people I spoke with when I was a first year, I had no idea what I wanted to study. It seemed that everyone else had their goals set, and I was the only student wandering around lost. I took classes, I learned, and I got decent grades, but I didn’t take pleasure from my coursework. After having considered a majoring in German, French, physical education and math, I abruptly declared my intention to major in Earth Sciences. Then began the adventure. Unfortunately, I can’t explain how drastically my attitude about learning changed once I started studying something I was passionate about, especially within the confines of one page. I will only say that, as a sophomore, I felt ready to graduate; as a senior, I wish I had three more years.
Ultimately, I came to Columbia to learn (this is where I tie this all back to the core curriculum; get ready). As a senior, I’ve learned how little I know compared to how much knowledge is out there. Had I paid more attention reading Plato’s Apology (an addition to our lit-hum syllabus) or to the Zhuangzi taught in Professor de Bary’s colloquium on major Asian texts, I would have learned my lesson much earlier. Socrates was proclaimed the wisest of men because he knew he knew nothing; Zhuangzi wrote “Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what is infinite, you are in danger.” Columbia has given me the humility to understand how hard I need to work if I wish to accomplish anything great (like graduate, for example). Well, good. I have the friends I made here. I have what knowledge comes from four years of applied studies. To the world that awaits me after I graduate, I say, “Bring it.”

On an unrelated note, someone arrived at my blog by googling "Brendan is uncool." Thanks a lot. Dick. But hey. I hope all is well with you guys.*
*except whoever searched "Brendan is uncool."