Shout Outs – Part 1

July 27th, 2009

One of the nice things about writing a book is that you can stick a list of acknowledgements at the start thanking the people who helped or influenced you.  The problem, of course, is that you don’t get to write acknowledgements unless you write a book, and I have no plans for authorship in the near future.

So I’m going to take this blog entry as an occassion to give a shout out to people, things, or events I’m thankful for (skipping the obvious stuff like “mom and dad, god, my wife, and the editor”).

This particular shoutout goes to Daniel “Dan” Kutsko, my high school physics teacher.  Kutsko is a bit of a maverick: he was an excellent excellent physics teacher.  He’s still teaching, but I put this in the past tense because, while I assume he’s *still* kicking ass, I don’t know for sure, and untested assumptions aren’t really science.

Us students assumed that he had thus been an excellent physics student, but I gather, from talking to him, that as a student he was primarily interested in poker, with academics being secondary to that.  You wouldn’t guess that from his classes, though.

He started the class with panache.  The first line of his first lecture on the first day of class was “Newton was an asshole.”  He got me interested in physics, which is still my favorite science.  True, the work I do has nothing to do with physics, but that doesn’t make his contribution to my life any lesser.  In university we had to take one year of science.  There were three introductory physics courses.  I don’t remember their names, but they were essentially “physics for physics majors” (hard, lotsa calculus), “physics for bio majors” (hard class, but less math), and “physics for people satisfying their science requirement” (really easy).  I think I was the only person in the “physics for bio majors” class despite not being a bio major.  My math skills weren’t good enough for the “physics for physics majors” class, but I wanted to take as rigorous a course as possible.  And I was pretty good.

Another quote of Kutsko, which I always loved, was “Homework is like aspirin, you take it when you need it”.  He always assigned homework, but it was always optional: if you totally understood the day’s coursework, you didn’t need to review via homework.  If the day’s coursework was hard for you, that’s when you needed to review, so you could do the homework, which was voluntary.

I ended up taking a new and interesting course in University, which was “the philosophy of physics”.  It wasn’t about the philosophy of science (“how do we know”, or “why use Occam’s Razor”), but instead a course about black holes and poincarean heated disks and the handedness of atomic breakup and the like.  It was awesome, and it was also fun to see the philosophy majors (and this was senior year, so these weren’t people dabbling in philosophy, but almost graduating with degrees) completely flustered.  There was not a single equation in sight, and yet they were completely befuddled by the philosophy and concepts.

So big props to Dan Kutsko, and I apologize for breaking the paper airplane on the wall.

One Response to “Shout Outs – Part 1”

  1. Brett Says:

    He still is! I love Dan!

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