School

The Apartment

As I suspected, we were approved without issue and will be moving in on Monday! As in two days! Both rooms are about the same size. Room A is slight smaller, has less closet space, but has two windows. Room B is slightly bigger, has more closet space, but only one window. Jeff and I flipped for rooms, and I got room A, leaving Room B to Jeff.

As I was leaving, I took a quick glance at the mailboxes to find where our would be. I recognized one of the names: “Jalbert/Skilling.” As it turns out, one of my friends from high school, Celeste, lives in the apartment right above us. How amazing? Unfortunately, they’ll be moving out at the end of the month, so our co-tenancy will be short lived.

Anyway, I’ll probably start moving in Monday after work. Jeff will start moving in Tuesday morning. I’m sure we’ll have some sort of housewarming party in the near future.

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RIP Derk Slottow

I got a call today from my friend Dave back in the States, “Hey Ferg, it’s Dave…um…give me a call when you get this…um, it’s pretty important. Talk to you later.”

A rather cryptic message. I called Dave back. I asked what’s up. And that’s when he told me that Derk had died in a kayaking accident.

Fuck.

And for some reason, I’m more ratteled than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because I’m off in a far-away land, and feeling somewhat vulnerable myself…especially now. Maybe because I had a relationship with him. We weren’t best of friends or anything, I had a few classes with him and would see him around campus. If I saw him at the Student Center eating lunch, I’d sometimes go over and eat with him.

I mostly knew him through Dave, since he and Dave kayaked (and I didn’t).

For some reason, I saw him more this laster semester. We talked a lot about my Senior Design project. Derk had even offered to let our team use the CSM Kayaking Clubs’ pool time to test our project out. Unfortunately we never go to that phase. I think Derk wanted to see it actually work (me too, for that matter).

We had our fun, and he was a good friend…no matter the amount of crap I gave him – which, for the record, was quite a bit.

So yea, sad day…Derk, I’m glad to have known you. You will be missed by me and lots of other people. Alot.

On Facebook from the album: "The Year Begins Fall 2007" by Rachael Madland. 21 September 2007. © Rachael Madland.


On Facebook from the album: "The Year Begins Fall 2007" by Rachael Madland. 21 September 2007. © Rachael Madland.

See also: Denver Post: Colorado School of Mines student dies in kayaking accident

As an aside:

One of the interesting things about traveling and technology is how it allows one to remain connected, even when separated by vast distances.

Right now, it would take me at least 24 hours to get back to my house in Seattle. However, I can see my parents face within a mater of milliseconds using Skype.

And while it has been nice to escape most of technology, I still find myself keeping a pulse on the world as I travel. I do this through a variety of methods that ensure my signal to noise ratio is very low1 email, Facebook, Twitter, my blog, and even voicemail (using Google Voice).

This incident, despite the overwhelming sadness, just goes to show how pervasive technology is in our life and how it connects people around the world, literally in this case. Technology is amazing and I am grateful that I live in a world where this is possible and in a society where I’ve had the opportunity.

Photo of Derk with pink hat From the Facebook album:
“Rocky Mountian High Continued…” by Lucy Simpson. 10 November 2007. © Lucy Simpson.

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  1. of all the information I look at, most of it I care about 

Dear Friends

Dear Friends (and Family) in Colorado,

I’m leaving Colorado tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. Leaving Colorado has been one of the most bitter sweet things I think I’ve ever had to do, even more so than at the end high school when I left Seattle for Colorado. The hardest thing for me has been trying to express how I feel. The deep love I have for all of you. The extreme sadness in the fact that I have to go. The giddy delight that I’m returning to Seattle.

I’m sitting in my grandma’s back yard right now, on one of those rocking benches. It’s pitch black out, save the glow from my screen. The wind rustles though the leaves. The wind chime softly sings. It’s one of those perfect moments of reflection, when everything finally comes into focus.

This past year has been amazing. Being a fifth year senior presented a unique set of challenges, and an equally amazing set of opportunities. Most of my friends graduated a year ago, leaving me and just a handful of others left. At the same time, a spark in my faith set me on a journey. I regularly attended church for the first time since leaving Seattle; not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I found an amazing new set of friends through church (both Merge and The Annex). What’s more, this renewed sense of faith found me challenging my beliefs, which is always a good thing, I think. And when I stumbled, you guys were there.

The biweekly Feed1 was often my cornerstone during the week, grounding me when school, and life, was just to much.

At the beginning of this school year, I very desperately wished for school to just be over. However, I’m glad I wasn’t allowed to sleep through these past nine months, as they have easily been my favorite nine months of the last five years. Part of me wishes I could do the first four years over again.

So thank you. To you. To all of you. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for all of you.

With Much Love,

Andrew

P.S. My hope is that this is not the end. Colorado always has been2 and will continue to be a second home for me. I will be back. And of course, you always have a bed (at least for a few nights) at my place in Seattle.

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  1. a bunch of us would get together at Lance’s house (usually) for dinner, s’mores, and company 

  2. both my parents are born and raised in Colorado, and all my extended relatives live in Colorado 

To The Graduating Class of 2009

Prologue: The following is the graduation speech I wrote and auditioned. I didn’t end up being the graduation speaker, as you’ll know if you attend my graduation tomorrow. As Staples noted, “Their loss, dude. Their loss.” I couldn’t agree more. However, I put a lot of time and effort into this and still think it’s worth sharing. What’s presented below is the speech as I auditioned it, but with a couple dozen comments about my writing process, thoughts, and insides jokes. Special thanks to Corinne Johnson, Audrey Nelson, and especially Jeff Staples for reviewing this and giving me feedback.

The idea for giving the graduation speech started almost a year ago, as I was listening to the 2008 graduation speaker. I distinctly remember two things: the guy gave a pretty crappy speech and I could do significantly better, at least in my estimation.

I started working on ideas over the summer. Writing down themes, quotes, and phrases that came to mind. Eventually, I had a working copy. And finally I had this.

This was probably one of my best kept secrets during senior year: Codename Shakespeare. Initially, only one other person knew about it. However, as the date for tryouts grew closer, I had no choice to but let a few more people in on my little secret, although I still managed to keep the circle small. Before now, no more than a dozen people knew about the speech and even fewer had seen or heard it.

I think what’s most striking about this speech is how it contrasts with my high school graduation speech, especially in terms of target audience, content, and style.

Anyway, thanks for hanging out with me here on Andrew Ferguson dot NET the last five years. It’s been really fun. I look forward to the next 5 years and hope you’ll stick around.


President Scoggins, distinguished trustees, faculty, and alumni, proud parents, grandparents, friends, and, of course, members of the Class of 20091: after years of toiling, we’re finally finished. We’ve persevered — and some might even suggest suffered — through the four, five, or even six or more years of university. Along the way, we have been tempered2- by our professors, by our course work, by our friends, and by our school.

It is this process of tempering that I wish to speak to you about.

The act of tempering is generally defined as performing some action “A”, to some object “B”, to bring it to some new state “C”.

This could be, as Oxford defines it, as simple as “mingling one ingredient together with another, in proper proportions.” Such as might happen when students, and professors, from around Colorado, the United States, and the four corners of the World come together at an institution such as Mines.

This mingling process started even before school did, when we moved into the dorms3 our freshman year. Floor events organized by our RA’s forced us to engage with others, rather than staying inside to play video games by ourselves. This process was furthered by the small class sizes, smaller study groups, and even smaller lab groups. These intimate learning opportunities would lay the foundation for everything to come. At Mines, I wasn’t simply being taught, I was being educated4. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Another definition of tempering reads: “to bring into a suitable or desirable frame of mind.” One of the first classes everyone at Mines is required to take is Physics One. When I took physics, four years ago, the class was taught by a pony-tailed hipster named Professor Kelso — who, at the beginning of class, would often ask obscure science fiction questions in exchange for a candy bar5. Between the early morning lectures, late afternoon labs, and all night LON-CAPA homework sessions with fellow students, something interesting started to happen.

My world view — my frame of mind — began to change. I would look around and instead of seeing actors in a play6, I starting seeing forces and relationships: A father applying a 147 Newton force at a 428 degree angle as he pushes his son — who masses roughly 319 kilograms — on a swing that’s suspended two meters below a bar.

Perhaps a more applicable example: the ice that forms on those cold winter mornings in Colorado: What’s the coefficient of static friction on that ice? How fast can I run to my 8am class before I overcome that static friction and starting sliding? Once I do start sliding, how far will I go before I fall on my face? The answers is, predictably, not that fast and not that far; somewhere between two and three meters per a second for a distance of 8610 centimeters .

Of course, being a school with a mining background, it would not be fair to overlook the metallurgical implications of tempering.

The most common definition of tempering occurs when one brings “steel to a suitable degree of hardness and elasticity or resiliency by heating it to the required temperature and immersing it, while hot, in some liquid, usually cold water;”

This past semester, a friend of mine, Islin Moy, wrote a short note entitled, “Engineering Should Come With a Warning Label.”11 It reads, in part12, “In your senior year, second semester, you will experience stress levels not felt since failing your first test, over a prolonged period of time, at the same intensity. This is due to senior design and the random decision of professors to double your workload13. Senioritis and the general decline of your attitude towards school doesn’t help either. The question is, do you really want to graduate? If the answer is YES, then forge ahead, sipping your energy drinks during the day14 and taking your sleeping pills to fall asleep at night, only to wake up 4 hours later. There is no such answer as NO. You got this far.”

The last four years have been about tempering; about becoming hardened and resilient. This was accomplished by subjecting us to homework assignments that took all night long, near impossible projects , and test, after test, after test. We will inevitably grumble about these things, just as the hot steel screeches when submersed in the cold water15. However, one cannot deny that, at the end of the day, we are better for it; having been brought up that “suitable degree of hardness and resiliency.”

It is to this hardness and resiliency that Islin referred to when she wrote, “There is no such answer as NO. You got this far.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean it was easy getting here. As Jenny Holzer, an American conceptual artists, once quipped, “Some days you wake up and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong. It’s just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble.”

There was definitely trouble. I can’t tell you the number of times I broke down in tears. I think only one of those times I cried over a girl16 — and she was from Boulder17 — but the other times I broke down for any number of reasons ranging from homework that was too hard or not well explained, to a chemistry lab that wasn’t going the way it was supposed to18, or just the general stress from being away from my home in Seattle.

As a freshman, I often bounced between elation, such as when I finally understood that one equation, to depression, over scoring low marks on any number of exams, to agony, after realizing I still had four more years left.

Four years later, and I’m still excited when I finally get some concept in class, and I still feel a bit queasy after getting some exams back. However, my overall emotions remain in-check and tempered, “reduce[d] to [a] suitable or desirable middle degree or condition free from excess in either direction.”

I expect that it is this desirable emotional middle ground that we will call upon many times during our careers. When the pressures of deadlines at work see everyone around us crumbling, we will stand strong. When the ethics of a project come into question, we will be brave. When the task at hand is so monumental, it will make going to the moon19 look like driving around the block, we will be triumphant. Through it all, and more, we will persevere20: because we are tempered.

So, where does that leave us? The end result of this tempering processes is a better and stronger product than the original. As such, we leave Mines as learned engineers, knowing more than we did coming in, confident that we have many21 of the tools we need to succeed in our endeavors. As Dr. Spock, the pediatrician, not the Vulcan22, once said, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

To the Graduating Class of 2009: We did it.

Now, go forth and make wonderful things, do good for the human race, live long and prosper23.

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  1. This is basically the same introduction that David McCullough used in his 2008 address to Boston College, “The Love of Learning“. I’d also suggest you listen to “Why Telling Stories is Important to Engineers” by Robert Krulwich of Radio Lab. 

  2. I came up with four different topics: tempering, communication, luck versus design, and adventure. This was the theme I ended up going with 

  3. Apparently, “dorms” isn’t politically correct. The correct term is “Residence Halls.” Whatever. 

  4. This bit is a combination of Mark Twain’s quote, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education,” and Winston Churhill’s quote, “Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” 

  5. If memory serves correctly, I did win once…it was a Star Trek question. 

  6. A nod to Shakespeare’s As You Like It: All the world’s a stage, // And all the men and women merely players; // They have their exits and their entrances; // And one man in his time plays many parts… 

  7. My soccer number 

  8. The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything 

  9. The day of the month I was born 

  10. The year I was born 

  11. Observant blog readers will remember that I covered this note a couple months ago 

  12. With Islin’s permission, I tweaked her note to fit the speech better 

  13. A section was eliminated here 

  14. This part about energy drinks was added 

  15. This is one of my favorite passages 

  16. This is true, believe it or not 

  17. She was actually from out of state and went to school in Denver, but Boulder sounded better…and was funnier 

  18. Spring of Sophomore year 

  19. A nod to to Kennedy’s Moon speech: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” 

  20. I really wanted to make this “hupomeno.” However, it would have required too much explanation. 

  21. Deliberate choice to include this word, since I strongly believe that we don’t have all the tools…nor should we. 

  22. A Star Trek reference, the first of speech…but not the last 

  23. …the other Star Trek reference 

E-Mail Address Update

Public Service Announcement:
As of May 8th, 2009, I will no longer be using my school email address, aferguso@mines.edu. If you use this email address, please begin using my personal email address, available on the upper right hand corner of my blog, to send all future correspondence.

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Clearing Out Some Links

Various things that I thought were interesting, but never got around to sharing:

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  1. not really, but do check out this server system from HP that really is bulletproof 

Days of Class Left

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I was walking to my 8am class this morning. The sun was out and the air was cool. It felt good knowing this was my last day. In an ironic sort of poetic justice way, it felt very much like my first day of class.

The M is currently showing a big 8…the countdown is on to graduation. This is it people.

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Days of Class Left

1

For what ever reason, I feel like quoting some Three Dog Night:
From www.threedognight.com:

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It’s the loneliest number since the number one

No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know
`Cause one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
One is the loneliest number, worse than two

We had graduation rehearsal today. I’ll be sitting in seat W-9, right behind Adam, who sits right behind Lance. I also learned that the tassel starts on the left side and moves to the right side.

These last few days are going to be about priorities. There’s really no motivation to do much work. I’m graduating and that’s a fact. My GPA can’t shift that much. I have a job.

So, how hard do I really want to work these next few days? How much fun do I want to have? How much are other people counting on me?

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Days of Class Left

2

I’m now, more or less, done with my formal learning mode. The next two days are comprised of final presentations and reviews. Today marked my last Analog and Digital Communication Systems lab and tomorrow starts the final round of classes1. Things are finally starting to fall into place, for better or worse.

There’s also rumors that the M starts counting down tonight.

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  1. it takes two days to get through a round of class, half are on Mon/Wed, the other half are on Tues/Thurs 

Days of Class Left

3

I had an epiphany the other night while falling asleep: I’m graduating. You might think that with only a few days of class left, this fact would be a little bit more pervasive in my thoughts; but it’s not.

I also confirmed my Return to Work (RTW) day with Boeing. I’ll be joining the Real World™ on August 14th at 7am. One of the things I’ve always like about Boeing is that the “work week” (i.e. the start of the pay week) is a Friday.

I feel this week will smack of reality.

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