Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Aggravation of Physics

I'm sitting here pondering the homework that's due for my Physics class in 2 hours time. I love this class. Its interesting, and the prof is very animate. Its probably one of my most enjoyable classes. I think I've learned quite a bit, more than I ever really learned in high school, where current electricity and frog dissection were the word of the day. The thing is, the class has homework.

Homework is not bad, in and of itself. Sure, I have a tendency to procrastinate until the last few minutes, but its not bad. The problem with this course is that the expectations for the homework aren't really clearly laid out. Questions are the proverbial "Summon Death" ritual from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. You can either do it with a huge ritual involving rare materials, or you can perform it with three toothpicks and 9ccs of mouse blood. Or, in this case, the questions either take two sentences, or two pages. I'm never really sure. The problem is that the questions are really brain exercises. They're not asking you to research something specific, but rather to apply the knowledge you have gained in class to a theoretical problem.

When they ask "How do we know that the strength of the magnetic field associated with the strip on the back of a credit card is very weak? (Do not bring a strong permanent magnetic close to a credit card!)" they're not asking you to write a treatise on how credit cards function. I think they honestly just want you to say that we can observe that the card's magnetic field doesn't appear to have any perceptible effect on the magnetic fields produced by other charged objects. I think.

See, therein lies the problem. I think that's what they want to know. But I could be wrong. Maybe I SHOULD be doing research into how magnetic strips work. It was never covered or mentioned in class, and I'm pretty sure that the homework is directly applicable stuff FROM class. At least, I know the first homework stuff was. So therein lies my problem. So I'm going to sit here and belt out everything I know about wave patterns, and all the stuff I can remember from Science World about how to make the fucking orb float in between two powerfully charged magnets. And all the while I feel like I'm trying to describe the workings of New Genesis technology in a discourse between Scott Free and Bruce Wayne. It seems TOO complicated. I'm applying theory that I'm not even sure is real.

Ah well. We shall see. And remember, in the words of a family friend, "Physics is our friend."


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