I got through Lab 4 (of 5) in Photonics. Curmudgeonous recluse that I am, I would much rather work alone. I could do alone in thirty minutes what takes two of us two hours and fifteen minutes to complete. Of course, I have a few years experience working with lab equipment. Digital voltmeters and oscilloscopes no longer frighten me.
In Lab 2 they set us loose in a room with forty pieces of lab gear with numbers post-it-noted to them and a xeroxed list with the names of the pieces. We were to match the numbers on the post-it notes with the names on the list. I didn't think it was very hard. The electronics stuff, for me, was a breeze, and the optical stuff could be IDed through elimination. For instance, one name on the list was "first-surface mirror." Among the things in the lab there was only one mirror. My compatriots asked how I knew it was a first-surface mirror. It turns out there's a way to tell, but you didn't have to tell. One mirror on the list, one mirror in the lab. What else are you going to put?
At the end I had matched everything but three pieces. They were called something like "105mm stand post clamp," "90mm stand post clamp," and "40mm stand post clamp." They all looked the same except the cast base of each was a different width. I picked up the meter stick (another item on the list) and measured the differing dimension on each of them. Sure enough, 105mm, 90mm, and 40mm. Measuring them wasn't even necessary. Three items left, all the same except for size, and three distinct sizes to choose from on the list. Goldilocks could have pulled this one off in a second or two, but my classmates were still very unsure if these were the right items. If they're not, what is? There's nothing left. Sesame Street theory tells us that large is bigger than medium and that small is littler than medium. Second grade number theory tells us that 105 is greater than 90 and that 40 is less than 90. Hmmmm . . . Where do we go from here? I know. I'll ask Kevin, the lab assistant.
This is the sort of thing that soaks up lab time like a sponge. We get so hung up on the small stuff.
One of my PowerBall projects* is to research the Death of Common Sense. When did it die? What killed it? How come nobody did anything to stop it? Is there anything we can do about it now? I have a feeling that the Death of Common Sense coincided with the Burgeoning of Bureaucracy, but I'd have to research it to prove a connection.
That would make a pretty good thesis for an MBA, though it probably wouldn't generate a lot of brownie points with your advisers. I tend to subscribe to the Goldratt Conjecture which hypothesizes that, generally speaking, MBAs are far more likely to be the source of problems than the source of solutions. It's not a popular theory in MBA circles.
I did have couple of lab partners in the old days who worked pretty well. One guy "knew not his hole from an ass on de ground,"** as they say, but he would at least listen to me. If I said, "No, no, no. You hook Q-Not of U14 up to the carry input of U12," he would simply do it and we would get the lab done before the period was over.
The other guy was a self-taught electronics tech at one of the local TV stations who was going to school to further his career, much the same as I was. He worked an abbreviated schedule and his wife worked, so he had a slightly easier time of it than I did. I was working full time and couldn't rely on anyone but me to pay the bills, so I missed quite a bit of school.***
This guy, however, was a saint. I'd come back after missing a day of lab and he would say, "While you were out, we hooked up a crude AM transmitter and measured the power output and the modulation index and the . . ." whatever else, and then, handing me a piece of paper, would say, "and this is the data you wrote down." He was completely reliable; I could be sure he had done the lab as well as or better than I would have done it myself. He actually propped me up and kept me going through some of the times I thought I wasn't going to make it.
We dazzled the programming class one time by writing a craps program that actual drew the dice on the screen. I wrote the code, but the algorithm was his. Most people's programs just put numbers up on the screen. Everybody wanted to come over and play our craps game.
*I'm keeping a mental list of things to buy and things to do if I ever win the PowerBall. An HP 5500 series (or equivalent) printer--full color, large paper (11 x 17), double sided printing, fast. Innumerable movies that it would be fun to own, the purchase of which I cannot begin to justify on my current budget. A thirty-day trip to check out the rest of Hawaii. That sort of thing.
**Nino, De Great Mind Boggler (Firesign Theatre)
***The limit, as I remember. I actually got the "If you miss four more hours, you're a goner" notice in the mail during at least one term.
To get out of Basic Programming I had to cop a deal with the instructor. I hadn't done any outside projects because, except for class time, the computer lab was only available when I was at work. So I got him to promise me an A if I wrote a program that would knock his socks off and demonstrate all of the concepts we had covered in class. I took a week off work (the only week of vacation I had) and wrote a very ambitious engineering analysis program. It produced graphs that were dynamically scaled to fill the page and labeled accordingly. When I demoed it for him he said, "Very impressive, but I don't really understand what you've done here. Let me have Dr. Tibbets look at it." Tibbets confirmed that it performed a useful function and did all of the math right. I passed the class and got my A, but by the skin of my teeth.