html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Let's go back to dorkiness.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Let's go back to dorkiness.

I’m very excited. My boss is sending me to this class in the fall. Since my first year here has been a revelation in how much I don’t know about natural waterways, I’m pretty sure this class will put a lot of our work into context. Besides, when Margie talks about this class, her eyes get soft and she sighs a little and she looks all dreamy. I’m hoping it is as good as she says.

The best classes I’ve taken, out of an astonishingly long list of classes:

ERG 102 – Berkeley – Professor Holdren: At the time, I thought the class was about the subject matter, Quantitative Aspects of Global Environmental Problems. That wasn’t what it taught me, though. What it really taught me was how to estimate answers to complex questions. An amazingly useful skill.

BRAE 533 – CalPoly – Professor Burt: I freaking loved this class. The title was Irrigation Projects, but I always just called it Canals. I would never have thought Canals could be so interesting, but the goal is perfectly clear (reliable, on-demand delivery at the farm gates, no spill) and there are really neat ways to control canals to achieve that. When we were lucky, Dr. Burt would end lecture a little early and tell us stories about his work on international water projects. He said that water projects in India broke every engineer he saw work on them and that we should keep away.

ARE 204 – Davis – Professor Sexton: This class was pretty much my introduction to economics and Dr. Sexton was hard core. Man, there was so much math. I mostly remember that his board work was dense and impeccable. Everything was there, in order, and when you went back over it, it led you straight to understanding. I liked it a lot. I also liked Resource Economics from Wilen and still have a crush on him.

LAW 239 – Davis – Professor Farrow: This is the class that made me want to be a mediator. Professor Farrow was incredible, proving to me that mediation was a useful discipline and an effective way to solve hard problems. I gave her a hard time on both of those, but watching her convinced me. I want to be able to do that.

Along the way, I also liked History of Agribusiness (Levine) and Statics (Ludin) and Research Methods (Sabatier) and Legislative Process (I forget his name, but he was a super gorgeous black man with a great voice. I never missed his class.) and Public Land Law (Dunning). I passionately hated all chemistry and Philosophy of Law. The class that I missed that I think would be the next big piece to make me understand the world is a soil science class. I really should know more about soils.


Anonymous ScottM said...

Along those lines, I suggest a good Waste Water Management or Hazardous Waste Management class-- the first for getting a good overview of the full cycle that supports the city, and the latter for understanding the corporate dweebs who weasel out of their superfund obligations.

11:25 AM  
Blogger srchngformystry said...

wow...are these classes all from undergrad or from grad?

i find that my undergrad was a blur, and that the biggest i learned was how to think and how to think fast.

my grad classes are much better and far superior. maybe its because ive matured? some may argue that, but hey.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

They're from undergrad and grad programs at different schools.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Macneil said...

So, how do you estimate answers to complex questions?

1:58 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

List your assumptions clearly, have a sense of scale, make your calculations transparent, check your answers to see if see if they are sensitive to the assumptions you are most uncertain about. At the end, have a gut feeling about how wrong you likely are ('you know, this probably isn't that far off' vs 'man, I just don't know enough to get anywhere close to an answer for that.'). You don't have to get a right answer, just a useful one.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of times you can just look at bounds. With the limited information you have, or with simplistic assumptions, you can determine that you're well beyond an upper or lower bound. I've found, that often times that's all that matters.

I mean, a simple example, I know I have 1MB of memory, and while I don't know exactly what the hex to decimal conversion of
0x1abcd123, I do know it's well beyond the 1MB range I've got.

Of course, most things are more complex than that, but, that's the general idea.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

Yes, yes, I can relate heavily to this post. I, too, need to know more about soils.

No wait, I'm thinking "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," not soil. Never mind.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Just curious:
What is it about Indian water projects that tends to break the engineers who work on them?

6:16 PM  
Blogger Macneil said...

bob_v: My guess is it must be a cultural/governmental issue that breaks the engineers, and not a technical problem.

The book The Undercover Economist has some examples of irrigation projects making the area worse rather than better, due to the social issues. (Though, the example was from Africa and not India.)

7:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I think it was the combination of poorly maintained, over-designed water projects (relying on complicated engineering solutions to do intricate self-corrections) combined with the widespread belief that if people with tail-ender problems were meant to get reliable water, they would have been born as landholders at the top of the canal, where there is plenty of water for the righteous.

7:29 PM  
Blogger matt said...

I definately wish I could take that class. It looks like fun. I can't decide whether I need a life, or to be excited that I like learning that much. Maybe both.

You'll keep us posted on how it goes, I'm sure. Right?

8:43 PM  

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