What I've been up to since my last blog post
A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the mountains are beautiful, and mysterious sounds echo between our walls while we don’t even pretend to sleep.
Welcome to Caltech!
Foreword: I wrote this post in December 2022 with the intention of posting it shortly afterward… and now it’s the end of February 2023. Whoops ( ✌︎’ω’)✌︎
Hi, friends! It has been several months since my last blog post – what can I say? I had a moderately busy fall term. What little downtime I did have, I chose to spend on other things like “sleep” and “friends”. Those can become foreign concepts if you’re not careful!
Things have been good, though. I had a really great summer which I’d love to tell you about. And then for my first term back at Caltech for s’more year, I took a relatively light course load, which gave me some extra time to dig into my Astronomy and Physics classes which I really enjoyed, as well as some extra projects of my own™. Plus, this is the first year I’ve been living in the South Houses – I’m a member of Dabney Hovse – and it’s been a blast hanging out in that community.
More on all of that soon – we’re going to do this radio announcer style! But first, a word from today’s sponsor™™.
Brought to you by Dabney bEans Initiative (DEI)
Thanks, DEI. It truly is a tragedy that they got rid of the Beans Vending Machine. Sure, it might have started as a home-brewed social economics experiment, but the free cans of joy that it dispensed became the foundation of an entire culture of Caltech students! Anyway, back to business.
This past summer, I traveled to Massachusetts to intern at MIT Haystack Observatory. Actually, that’s where I had to fly to at the end of my previous blog post. It was a wild few days getting moved into my summer housing (provided by the internship program), adjusting to the new work environment, AND finishing my final exams for Caltech (the internship start date was during finals week 😭), but it was a ton of fun.
I’ve talked more about what I did for my internship in this post, but I also did a lot of other fun things while I was in Massachusetts. Particularly, my co-interns and I went on a lot of day trips – to Boston for museums and the MIT SwapFest (plus, my internship mentor gave all of us a tour of MIT campus), to Lowell to check out a mall built inside an old mill building, to Lexington for the historical sights (and the ice cream), to Rockport for the beach (the water was unbelievably cold but we braved the depths to play frisbee), to New Hampshire to take a hang-gliding lesson (it was a really cool experience, but spending the day in the sun with freshly mowed grass in the air sent me home with a brewing sinus infection), to New York City for a concert, and last but not least, to a nearby urgent care clinic to get tested for COVID (I was positive ✨).
I also went on a solo trip to England for a week, because, fortunately, past-Michael decided that I deserved SOME semblance of an off-work vacation during the summer and booked myself tickets to the BlueDot Festival at the historic Jodrell Bank Observatory. It was insanely cool, especially because I’d never traveled overseas before. I got to meet my childhood math-youtuber idol Matt Parker and spend some much-needed time interacting with fresh air, sunlight, and grass (I camped on the festival grounds in a one-person backpacking tent!). I got to hang out in London for a couple days (shoutout to the party of Purdue students I crashed on the O2 Arena roof tour!), as well as Reykjavik for an overnight layover (I arrived late, conveniently during the 2 hours of the day during the summer when it’s actually dark outside there, and found the check-in desk at the hostel I’d booked was closed, so I walked all the way back to the bus station where I’d arrived from the airport to charge my dead phone battery and drink water and watch Star Trek in a little kitchen enclave inside, at least until the place opened up for the morning and a security employee who thankfully spoke English informed me I had to leave, at which point I finally was able to go back to the hostel, check in, and sleep for a couple hours before I had to walk back to the bus stop AGAIN to get back to the airport). All told, while not without its surprises and minor calamities, the trip was an incredible experience unlike anything I’ve done before!
And now, this week’s horoscopes, presented according to fields of study.
Applied Physics: Your whole deal is very threatening, and I’m into it.
Chemistry: Someone you love will betray you. Or they won’t. One of those two things, it’s unclear which.
Electrical Engineering: Today is your lucky day. So that’s one out of 364.
Business, Economics, and Management: An investment is about to pay off in a huge way. Oh, not for you. Sorry, this was unrelated. Harold Richards, CEO of the Good Food Company, is about to get a huge stock payout. On the other hand, you are going to accidentally throw away a 5 dollar bill. Sorry.
Geology: Do you really like mid-modern design, or are you merely nostalgic for a time when consumer goods weren’t made to be discarded after two years?
Astronomy: Remember the rule of social media: no one is actually screaming as much as they are on Instagram, wailing as much as they are on Facebook, nor scratching at the dirt as much as they are on Twitter. The versions of ourselves we present online aren’t necessarily our true selves.
Mathematics: A penny saved is a penny earned. Now you just need like 10,000 more of those bad boys to afford a few days’ worth of groceries.
Planetary Science: You’re a big sweetie boy. Just a big old sweetie boy. This has nothing to do with your gender presentation or identification, this transcends physical and mental reality. You are, at your heart of hearts, a big old sweetie boy and we love you.
Biochemistry: You’re gonna make pasta tonight. Listen, not every prediction is an important one.
Physics: You will be hit by a meteorite tonight. Some predictions are super important.
Computer Science: You know that one lady who is running a years-long scam on you, carefully harvesting you for personal information that she will someday turn against you for her own profit? Oh you don’t? Well… heads up I guess.
Mechanical Engineering: Not all ideas are bad. The one you just had though? Oof. Rethink, buddy.
Anyway, that’s about it for my summer exploits. Although, I did have one last week-long excursion to Washington DC to attend the GNURadio Conference and give a presentation about my summer internship project. I had to miss the first week of classes at Caltech, but it was all-expenses-paid courtesy of MIT, so it was worth it! It only took me a couple weeks and a couple extensions to get caught up! For real though, it was a little bit gnarly, especially the problem sets for my Physics Wave Mechanics class, which was essentially completely new material for me. I was having to re-learn Newton’s Laws, circuits, differential equations, AND linear algebra at the same time as some of it was being taught for the first time in my math class! I was constantly asking questions in class and bugging my friends for help, given that I had missed the first week of lectures, but thanks to all the awesome people in my class and the understanding of the Teaching Assistants and the professor, I was able to get back on my feet with no sweat about late penalties! (Ok, a little bit of sweat. I might have spent an entire day working on HW #2. But it’s fiiiinnneeee lol.)
I probably made that sound like a lot, but I wasn’t lying before about this term being relatively light for me. I only had weekly assignments to turn in for 3 classes, where the average is probably 4 or 5. That left a good amount of extra time to do fun things. I cooked fresh food for my friends, which I really enjoyed, I went rock climbing at a nearby bouldering gym occasionally, and I went on a lot of walks around the Pasadena area. Plus some other fun stuff which I’ll save for future blogs, so stay tuned!
Let’s go to the weather.
Dear listeners, as our broadcast comes to a close, I want to leave you with a reflection about uncertainty. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately. So many options, so many possible ways things could play out, and yet, so much work and responsibility on your shoulders to create the right opportunities for yourself. For me, that future is rather immediate, as I’m getting ready to start my winter term classes at Caltech – and they’re going to be tough. I’m going to have more and harder coursework than I’ve ever had before (joys of sophomore year!), and I frankly have no idea how I’ll be able to handle it without sacrificing other important parts of my life that keep me sane. Such is the struggle, generally, of being a student with academic aspirations. Same deal with college applications. You might feel overwhelmed with the uncertainty of the future – I know I did back in high school – in fact it would be weird if you didn’t! So the best thing you can do is trust yourself. Trust that your best WILL be good enough. Trust that you always have options, and that no matter how much you think you’ve screwed up, it’s never the end of the world. Trust yourself to choose what you want and what makes you happy, instead of what you think the world expects of you.
Good night, Caltech. Good night.