What did I learn

A bit short of a year has passed since I first set up shop at RIT.

I expected to learn physics, math and science. I did, a little bit, but mostly, I learned how to play nice in an organization. Not from my classes –most are as boring as ever. Rather, I learned what I did the way I always have; through the projects I take on for the challenge.

This year’s king is probably this guy right here; a >10kVA dual-resonant solid-state tesla coil. Or as I like to call it, capacitive hell in epoxy packaging.

I should probably explain.

For the past six years, a festival has been held at RIT to demonstrate to the public, all of the ‘Innovation‘ happening on campus. Students are welcome to demonstrate exhibits and projects, where in return they get a fancy t-shirt and a barbecue sandwich. Overall, it’s a nice little event.

And so I thought; “If the goal is to impress the public, what better way could that be done then, with a giant musical tesla coil?” And so, I gathered a team of 3 and 1/2 people to work on such a demonstration, and lo, there began the fun.

Fast forward some weeks, some pain and even some blood. Some burns, some exothermic epoxy, some wasted epoxy and wire. Some fried silicon –much fried silicon, and piles and piles of money which shouldn’t have been spent.

Fast forward through all of that, and we have a tesla coil. Almost.

As it turned out, this project was too big to be completed in one month; despite our efforts, we didn’t finish the tesla coil by imagine. Not only that, we lost parts, ordered the wrong parts, expected too much from incorrect tools and worst of all, became physically ill from working too late, too hard, too often. [or, at least I did]. To top it off, I fell behind in calculus and mastering physics homework, and earned in those classes a B and C, respectively.

Well damn.

So what did I learn from this?

I learned that time management is important. There’s a reason why engineering firms don’t run 24 hour shifts, and a reason why I hear nothing but bad things about Space-X’s schedules at RIT. Without scheduling time for other things, priorities shift, relationships are strained and fun somehow goes away.

Sleep is important. Without it, you become ill, both physically and mentally. High sugar foods and caffeine are no substitute for a nice biphasic sleep cycle, and your body lets you know it in a hurry.

Organization is important, and as a customer, you can never rely on suppliers to deliver what they promise. Always have a plan C.

As a team leader, you need to make clear to other people what exactly they should be doing at any given time. As smart or as competent as someone may be, without direction, things are unlikely to get done and people lose interest.

Communication in an organization however, is probably the most important thing to take home from this. As connected as a world we live in today, it still became an awkward mess to make clear what we were doing to the director of Imagine RIT. What was once a ‘no’ turned into a ‘maybe’, then back to a ‘no’ and then a ‘yes’, before returning to a ‘no’ one day before imagine. Lovely.

Specifically, the lesson learned was an extension of the clarity thing aforementioned. In an organization, people tend to have a hard time understanding what the hell is going on beneath them. When they ask questions, a very technical response is likely to worry and concern them, where they then may call in the opinion of other seemingly qualified, yet situationally ignorant people to confuse everyone further. In essence, it’s important to be prompt and concise with every question asked.

Too bad the price I paid for these lessons, was my place on the dean’s list.


So what’s the plan from here?

Well, as a place of new things and innovation, RIT still sucks. Big time. Complaining about it never gets anything accomplished however, so I intend to fix the problem.


By setting up a free to use hackerspace on campus, with machine tools, 3D printers, components and materials, and calling it RITERS. A proposal, requesting $75,000 and space for the lab is currently in the works, and it should be finished Wednesday when all three team leaders are back at RIT.

Whether or not anyone but us will use it is yet to be determined, but I’m donating part of my summer to this cause and want to see it happen by the start of fall semester. Sure it’s a large request, but if the university really cares about its students, it’ll listen to them.

On another note, my motors from china have finally shipped and seem to be exactly what I expected. Wednesday, I plan to return to RIT with these parts, where I will then finish designing the Segway kit prototype and ideally, have it up on kickstarter before the fall.

I’m switching my major to EE. I’m not particularly happy with RIT’s physics program, so perhaps it’s best to study what I know I’m good at.

Relevant, I’ve decided to build a cyclotron. Why? Because, although I don’t plan to learn very many new things from RIT’s EE course, building an RF excited particle accelerator is sure to make up the difference. The only thing holding this back right now, is the procuration of a pair of giant magnets.

This summer and fall semester, I’ll continue my education in learning how to be a leader. As the past has proven I’m bound to fuck up quite a bit along the way, but hey, mistakes are nature’s best way of telling you, don’t do it that way again.

Oh and yeah, MIT said no.


2 thoughts on “What did I learn

  1. If I were you–despite the fact that RIT is trying to work with you–I would try to transfer to a school that has a chance of challenging you. If not MIT, perhaps Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, Carnegie-Mellon? Maybe you could try transferring to MIT? My feeling is that you’re much too smart to be at RIT.

    And have you ever heard of Richard Feynman? He was a genius physicist who worked on the Manhattan project in his early 20s, taught at Cal-tech, and won the Nobel prize in physics. Check out his “Feynman Lectures on Physics,” maybe they will stimulate you.

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