austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Nobody does it half as good as you

I'd like to send congratulations to bunny_hugger for defending her thesis, but the time zones don't work that way for me; I have to wish her good luck instead.

My thesis defense a year and change ago went wonderfully. The rough structure of a thesis defense, at least in the mathematics department, is a presentation of research; then questions from anyone, committee or public; then the public's shut out and only the committee asks questions; then the candidate's tossed out and the committee debates; then the committee chair invites the candidate back in, congratulates the former candidate, and outlines whatever (typically minor) changes need to be done; then the doctor drifts off in a woozy, giddy haze.

I went with obsessive-compulsive over-preparation in putting together slides so that I had all the obvious contingencies covered with some picture; and my natural style of figuring out the order of the points to touch and improvising the details worked great. I was able to work narrative hooks in so whenever my committee members asked ``what about --'' it lead to a slide I had and I knew what point I wanted to draw from it. (One of my committee joked he wondered if I'd planted him in the audience to ask softball questions.) And I was able to finish on a high point, a surprising result with a beautiful sequence of graphs. No real questions from the public (mostly my dad), nothing really research-relevant in the private questioning.

While waiting for the ``decision'', of course, something absurd turned up. A squirrel was loose on the floor. This wasn't Alby, the famous RPI albino squirrel; just a civilian squirrel who wanted to spend part of the winter indoors. Some of the grad students and my dad were trying to catch and set it free. I didn't notice this for about five minutes; I walked back to my office and sat nervously and finally went pacing to do something instead. That's when I found they'd cornered it in the department kitchen/lounge, and my dad and others were gathered with a huge cardboard box, trying to time the unlocking of the door just right.

So as I was starting to ask why they didn't just let the squirrel be and trust it would leave through the same open window it entered, my committee finished ``debate'' and ... went looking for me. Most candidates wait by the door or in their office. Kibitzing squirrel hunters is atypical behavior. Congratulations, hooray, I needed only minor spelling and grammar fixes, hooray. I don't know what happened to the squirrel.

My dad and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at Holmes and Watson (ask anyone from RPI about it). I forget what we did the rest of the afternoon; it's all just a woozy, giddy haze. Later the evening I posted my news to all the Usenet groups I'm a regular on, and wiz-shouted on Spindizzy and shouted on Furry and FurToonia ... later still some friends came over and brought wine (I'm not a natural wine drinker) and cheese, and we made an impromptu picnic in the midst of my horribly messy apartment while we snickered at Game Show Network's Friend or Foe, which fused painfully easy questions to the Prisoner's Dilemma to make a completely useless game show and talked about ... I'm not sure; it's a woozy, giddy haze.

And then I fired up the closing theme from The $20,000 Pyramid, long edition, which Skyler was kind enough to send me, put it on repeating loop and just listened I don't know how many times. Boy, it was a wonderful day.

Trivia: George M. Low appears to have originated the idea of sending Apollo 8, which was otherwise delayed waiting for a Lunar Module test article, to lunar orbit. Source: Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft, Courtney G Brooks, James M. Grimwood, Loyd S. Swenson. SP-4205. (Also, I think this article marks 100 Livejournal entries for me. I didn't know I had it in me.)

Currently Reading: Under the Black Flag: Expoits of the Most Notorious Pirates, Don C. Seitz.


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