ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷 (pjammer) wrote,
ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷

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The Imponderable Mysteries of College Life

Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?
Err - I think so, Brain. But where are we gonna find rubber pants in our size?
Quiet, Pinky. Or I shall have to hurt you.

- Pinky & the Brain, "The Animaniacs"

While physicists around the world labor diligently toward the Holy Grail of Physics - the Grand Unified Theory (affectionately dubbed GUT), which ambitiously seeks to unify the four fundamental forces of the universe into a single equation, the average college student is beset by inexplicable forces far more bewildering than anything a physicist can hope to fathom.

The Post-Finals Genius Effect is the unsettling way every concept, every theorem, every formula forgotten during the final comes rushing up the moment the test is finished, a few seconds after you walk out the door.
And even though physicists are allotted obscene amounts of government money to research worthless subjects like String Theory, little remains in the public coffers to fund answers to questions that plague the average college student ... questions like: "How does my roommate get away with sleeping all day and still earn 4.0 every quarter?" "What happens if I use a condom past its expiration date?" "If a married person earns a bachelor's degree, is that grounds for divorce?"

In any event, while one cannot ever hope to adequately fund all the vexing mysteries we encounter, surely a case could be made for research grants to answers to some of the most common and mysterious forces of college life:

The Starving Student Syndrome

Organizers of campus clubs and organizations are intimately aware of the formidable task of recruiting and retaining new members in an campus of otherwise lethargic students. As any of these officers can tell you, the surest way to guarantee new faces at a meeting is to post signs around campus advertising "Free Food." But for all the evil one may say about on-campus dorm food, it remains unclear why if free food is served at, say, 5:00 - the food will inexplicably disappear by 5:05, and the new faces, by 5:15 ... like a swarm of locusts sweeping away edibles en masse. Any public event that caters free food to attract college students suffers from this yet-explained phenomenon. Either dormitory fare has become dramatically worse since I've moved off-campus, or there are heretofore unmeasured quantum-mechanical effects that create localized matter-annihilating wormholes around groups of hungry college students.

The Mathematics Textbook Understatement Paradox

By all appearances, textbook writers, particularly writers of natural science and engineering textbooks, subscribe to strict Science-Textbook-Writer bylaws, which state that everything must be headed with elaborate, scary-sounding titles. Chemistry is particularly good in this regard, with intimidating titles like "Nonlinear Decay of Beta Particles in Radioactive Lanthanide Series Elements" and other text names that make one feel mighty smart to be seen carrying such books about. (Of course, taking a midterm or two in such a course can quickly eradicate such euphoria, but that is the topic of another discussion). One of the primary objectives of intimidating titles of science books is to screen out the unfit by frightening off the lightweights and poseurs.

Yet, while engineering and natural science writers adhere faithfully to the rule of creating intimidating textbook titles, math authors appear to be paradoxically obsessed with understatement. The average engineering student, used to tackling topics like "Nonlinear Beta Decays" and "Closed-Systems Thermodynamics," is wholly unprepared to decipher deceptively understated books like "Elementary Analysis." Elementary Analysis? Hey, they said it was 'elementary' ... how hard could it be? (Answer: "Kick-your-ass with a C+ hard"). Worse: "Partial Differential Equations." Well gee, who hasn't taken a partial derivative before?

My doctor says I should avoid discussions on "Real Analysis," to reduce the frequency of my episodic post-traumatic flashbacks of college so let's just say 'it sucks' and move along, ok?

(continued from main journal)

When even topics bearing the innocuous title "Linear Algebra" are exercises in mind-bending discomprehension, one thing remains clear: if you ever see a required book for a class that even understatement-loving mathematicians would admit is "Complex Analysis," there is only one sensible thing to do - drop the book right there and RUN LIKE HELL.

The Post-Finals Genius Effect

I don't know about anyone else, but 30 seconds after any final exam, my IQ soars to about six trillion, without fail. The Post-Finals Genius Effect is the unsettling way every concept, every theorem, every formula forgotten during the final comes rushing up the moment the test is finished, a few seconds after you walk out the door. Countless imponderables in study sessions, forgotten formulae, fruitless attempts to recall specific theories while staring at your final during the exam are suddenly elucidated within that gut-turning 30 seconds after you turn in your answer sheets. You become a source of SEARING INSIGHTS into the class's material and, for just a brief moment, understand the subject matter with the sort of painful clarity only those of us who've experienced the Post-Finals Genius Effect can truely appreciate.

This all suggests that if there were such a thing as a graded Post-Finals Final, those of us afflicted with the Post-Finals Genius Effect can capitalize on our temporarily boosted IQ and earn a 4.0 GPA on 50-plus units each quarter.

The Textbook Pricing Anomaly - Explained

If you're like me (and may God help you if you are), your high school extracurricular-reading procurement experience was largely restricted to shoplifting Playboys and you've never spent more than $30 in a bookstore before coming to college. Consequently, buying college textbooks the first time (and subsequent times, come to think about it…) is an exercise in jaw-dropping sticker-shock.

Eventually, one also wonders how textbooks are priced-whether there exists a coherent formula to the seemingly inexplicably random numbers that appear on text prices. After exhaustive empirical research (i.e. sitting in my room and making numbers up, just like I do for ECE labs), it is my conclusion that texts are priced as follows:

Price = constant K, times the upper division number of class, divided by the number of pages. Thus, the price of texts are directly related to the upper division number of the class, to reflect your increasing commitment to your major.

Explaination: The closer you are to graduation (reflected in the higher upper division numbered classes you take) the more inflexible your book needs are, giving the administration greater leverage to hose hapless students. This is what economists call a 'price inelastic market.' They would also refer to latter-sequence books as 'complimentary goods' to earlier, introductory text, and then mumble something about illiquid markets that allow book publishers to 'extract rents' from students. The rest of us will simply recognize this as an extension of the screwing we've been getting since the day we signed our first tuition check.

Also: As students progress in college, we become increasingly cognizant of the fact that most PhDs in your field are clueless, thumb-sucking jagoffs who couldn't hold a productive job in the real world, and assigning beastly tomes to freshmen is effective in impressing college neophyte. But as students become wise to gimmicks designed to trick them into thinking professors have anything of substance to say, the intimidation value of thick texts drop dramatically. Thus, with rapidly diminishing incentive to pad upper-division books, text pricing is inversely related to the physical number of pages your book possesses.

Look at your book-buying experience to verify for yourself - the closer you are to graduation, the more expensive your books become … while simultaneously becoming emptier and emptier of content. Astute readers will note that extropolating this theorem to its logical limit suggests that at some point in graduate school, hapless students will forced to fork over an infinite amount of money for a of fortune cookie's worth of text - perhaps something like:

[You will fail your orals and end up a bitter, underpaid contract instructor at a local community college]

In any event, it is clear that massive university grants are needed to continue my research into the remaining unexplained collegiate phenomenon. For if one of the greatest mysteries of college life - the Textbook Pricing Anomaly, can be explained by an online hack with too much spare time, imagine all the good that a federal grant can accomplish with smarter and more capable researchers.

Then again, mayhap you shouldn't.
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