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So you think you can handle Tech?

Hi everyone! Sorry that this week’s entry is a little late; work was rough this week. I had a problem set (we just call them sets for short) due for a class called EE114 on Monday. EE114 is an analog circuit design class (you can find the course description here ). It’s taught by that wonderful man on the right side of the page, Dr. Ali Hajimiri. Professor Hajimiri is easily one of the best professors I have had at Caltech, and as you would expect his class is very well taught. Unfortunately, his class is also very difficult. Last weekend, our class’s problem set was worse than usual. Due to my other responsibilities and time spent avoiding them, I didn’t really get to start on the set until Sunday at about noon. I finished the set on Monday at 4:30pm (30 minutes before the due time). In that 28 hour period, I got less than an hour of sleep and was able to eat about two meals. That sounds really bad, but there is a positive side. For one, I wasn’t alone–we had something like ten to fifteen students working on this set together in Sherman Fairchild Library, and there’s some sort of bonding experience that accompanies a grueling set like this one. I still remember our collective groans as the sun began to peek through the library windows, with the end of our sets nowhere in sight. Another positive was that the set was reasonably interesting and challenging; it wasn’t mindless grunge work. Even knowing this, you might still wonder why I do it.

Well, EE114 isn’t required. It does fulfill a requirement for an EE elective, but there are numerous easier courses that also do this. I could drop it. But when I came to Caltech, I made a conscious decision that I was going to college to learn. Yes, I want to go to grad school after this; yes, I’d like to make a good amount of money; but I’m more interested in being the best scientist/engineer I can be than anything else. I don’t worry about grades, I just do my best. I don’t take classes as some sort of strategic way of getting a degree quickly and easily, and I certainly don’t view my time here as solely some sort of prerequisite to "real life".
Even though I really hate this class sometimes, for the most part I love it. I’ve learned a lot, and I know the pain I suffer once a week will be well worth it in the long run. This brings me to the important fact that what is right for me may not be right for you, so I’ll be devoting this post in part to offering some advice that may help you decide if Caltech is right for you. (If you’re wondering more in general about what makes Caltech unique and if it’s right for you, you might want to check out this letter. )
As you might have picked up from the above anecdote, the workload at Caltech can be pretty intense. In fact, it’s usually pretty intense. Of course, it does depend on things like your major (Electrical Engineering is considered to be one of the more difficult majors at Caltech by many) and your individual intelligence, but pretty much everyone has to work really hard all the time. Now, don’t let that dissuade you from coming here; the question you should ask yourself is not, "Can I handle the workload," but instead ask yourself, "Do I want to do this much work?" For people that have an insatiable desire to learn, to stretch themselves constantly, to push the frontiers of science and engineering; there is absolutely no better place in the world to be at than Caltech. A bold claim, but I’ll stand by it.
Anyway, that’s all of the serious stuff I had planned for this post, but if you have any more questions along the same lines I’ll be happy to answer them–just add them as comments below 🙂

Getting completely dominated by 114 wasn’t the only thing I did lately, thank goodness. Last Friday was Lloyd House’s formal dinner. Formal dinner is an event held in every house once a term. We all dress nicely, eat very good food, and invite professors to dine with us. You can see to the left a picture of me with the rest of the dinner in the background. I was fortunate enough to have three faculty guests at the dinner, Mike Brown, Warren Brown, and Glen George. Mike Brown also brought his daughter Lilah, who is about three years old and was very cute. I really like formal dinners–not only do I have an excuse to put on a suit, but I also get to talk to really awesome faculty. I have the benefit of knowing Mike and Warren through a committee we sit on together, and I know Prof. George from the three hundred million hours or so I’ve spent on his classes (he teaches three required courses for EEs that are all quite time intensive). It may be worth noting that Mike Brown is the man who "killed Pluto".

Apparently he was also rated one of Wired’s 10 Sexiest Geeks of 2006.

Impressive. In any case faculty at Caltech are typically very nice and sociable and fun to talk to. It’s amazing that such incredible people are so accessible.

Last weekend also held two more awesome social events. The first was Europarty, an annual party thrown by exchange students at Caltech. This year’s Europarty was excellent, I liked the layout and music a lot.
The second was my house’s trip to see the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace. A large portion of Lloyd loaded up to head to the ArcLight Hollywood, where we saw the movie in their world-famous Cinerama dome. It was pretty awesome; even though the movie didn’t live up to the standards set by Casino Royale, the theater’s incredible audiovisual properties turned action sequences into poignant works of art.

You can see me over at the right diligently studying vocabulary while I’m working in lab. Like 114, the class is difficult, but I learn a lot. In honor of Professor Wang, and because I am really proud of how much I’ve learned, I’m going to finish my post in Chinese.

你好,我姓Gwinn,我叫Tom Gwinn。 我的中文名字叫“控头目”。我是Caltech的学生。我喜欢Caltech。我学习工程专业。 我也学习汉语。 我们家有四口人。 我有妈妈,爸爸,和一个妹妹。我很爱他们。再见!

*Name changed

Tom Gwinn