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Minerva Week 17: Post-Clash Survey

February 2, 2015

After the end of every one of our classes, we have to fill out a survey. Initially it was called, quite understandably, the “post-class survey.” A few of our instructors have been trying to make “post-fun survey” our preferred term, but with limited success. Regardless, the point of this interlude is that I find puns irresistible, and after a week of ‘clashes’ (big, noisy, fantastic happenings), it seems only appropriate that I look back on them fondly.

Part 1: The Symphony

One of the many perks of being a Minerva student is being given access to some of the richest cultural experiences the city has to offer. Ben Nelson, Minerva’s founder and CEO, often invites students to come to concerts with him at Davies Symphony Hall (that’s the picture above, credit: Wikipedia). On Monday night, I was the lucky one, attending a performance of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The whole program was exceptional, but my favourite piece was “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Mendelssohn. The composer wrote the piece when he was only seventeen. It was masterful, and you could definitely hear the glee and passion of youth. I recognized one excerpt (the one the video below) from the Looney Tunes cartoons I watched as a child. Do you recognize it too?

Part 2: The Supper Club

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Wednesday night was the first meeting of Supperclub, a bi-monthly gathering of about nine of us students who cook dinner together and then tell stories. It was fabulous. Garlic-slathered bread, creamy tomato sauce on ravioli, and acres of salad. The conversation was wonderful too, but what happens in Supperclub stays in Supperclub, so I’ll have to leave it at that.

Part 3: The Sumo Robots

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Friday was the day I had been waiting for. I would get to build a fighting sumo robot (its sole goal was to push another robot out of the battle ring). This co-curricular took us to Tech Shop, a makerspace (aka a big tool library and workshop), where we were divided into teams and tasked with assembling and customizing pint-sized robots. Our team (thanks to my ‘ignore the details/big picture’ leadership), misread a few key instructions and ended up frying our robot’s brain. We had to start over with a new robot kit, but luckily we had something ready for competition when the last bell sounded. Unfortunately, our robot was pushed out of the ring and onto the foam board graveyard of disappointment on most of its bouts.

Two things struck me about this robot challenge. First, we were so quick to anthropomorphize the robots. It was hard not to interpret their behaviour in the ring as intelligent and life-like, hard not to think that the robot had chosen to commit suicide if it accidentally drove itself out of the ring. Adding decorations (one team even added a cute pair of eyes) heightened the effect. I knew that the robot wasn’t alive, and yet I felt that it was. Interesting. Second, the team that won was the team that pushed the rules to the very limit. They did not just do what was easiest (follow the instructions), but thought about what would make their robot win (being the heaviest it could be, so that it could powerfully push other robots). They did not customize their robot at the end. They changed its structure by adding another set of wheels. I learned that doing what is the most obvious without clear thought about the end goal is usually a recipe for disaster.

Also, watching the robots face off was just plain FUN. We were screaming at them, and it felt great.

Part 4: The Souffles

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Right after we finished with the robots, we whisked ourselves off to City Lights bookstore for the fortnightly (every other week) Write Night. The theme this week was Transformational Texts (what did you read that changed you?). Silent reflection in the iconic bookstore turned into sincere sharing of our texts and our written responses over souffles at the appropriately named Souffle Cafe. I thought about souffles and then I thought about myself. There is a rise and fall to life. It’s best to eat it before it falls.

Part 5: The Sauce

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Applesauce, that is! I shared duties for our Sunday feast with my friend Thy. She made an exceptionally tasty shrimp, corn and pork dish, and I made applesauce and apple crisp. Health crusader that I am, I wanted to show that we don’t have to deep fry every one of our communal meals for them to be tasty…!

Of course, I had courses all throughout last week. We are starting to experiment with models and simulations, we did a fascinating deep-dive into autism in order to discuss the validity of different diagnostic tests, and tomorrow I will be part of a mock negotiation for two panda bears.

My survey, in summary: “Never a dull moment.”

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