Arbitrary Hour

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Arbitrary Hour is a Spring 2009 seminar series is a Student Designed Course at Olin College in Boston, MA. The course is essentially an educational collective in which each student in the course (there are no "teachers" or "professors") gives a one to two hour long seminar on a topic that interests them. The seminar can be about anything, from a hands on baking experience to a discourse on international politics.

Course Background, Description, and Expectations[edit | edit source]

Arbitrary Hour is a one-credit student organized seminar series for Spring 2009. The course is essentially an educational collective in which each student in the course (there are no "teachers" or "professors") gives a seminar on a topic that interests them. The seminar can be about anything, from a hands on baking experience to a discourse on international politics.

All students enrolled in the course will be required to plan and deliver at least one seminar during the course. All students are required to give written feedback about each seminar to the seminar leader. This will enable us as a group to figure out what makes an effective experience. Students are encouraged to casually post about the seminar experiences (with photos and video!) to the Arbitrary Hour blog.

As a one-credit course, each week includes three hours of expected work time. This translates roughly into two one-hour seminar presentation meetings, with the difference made up by seminar preparation time. During the week in which a participant is delivering a seminar, they are expected to spend additional time planning their seminar, and reviewing feedback and reflecting on their presentation. Additional time can be allotted to publicizing documentation, such as posting about an experience to the blog, keeping the Wikiversity page up to date, and uploading videos.

Seminars[edit | edit source]

Two hours a week will be allotted for seminars, discussion regarding the seminar, and hands-on practice of whatever topics the seminar covers (if applicable).

A twenty to thirty minute lecturing time limit might be important. It is difficult to give an engaging one hour lecture, and a discussion or hands-on experience is likely more effective for learning.

Free Discussion[edit | edit source]

Some of the time each week will be allotted for group investigation of our overarching theme of what makes a good seminar. Sessions can cover anything from free form discussion, short readings, videos, and any other interesting material suggested by members of the course.

Feedback and Reflection[edit | edit source]

Each week every student in the course should write a reflection on the seminar presented. The seminar leader should write about his or her experience running the seminar.

At the end of the course, each student should prepare a written reflection of their experience in the course, and how their experiences in the course have changed the way they think about presentations.

Recording and Archiving[edit | edit source]

Talks will (hopefully!) be recorded and uploaded to YouTube for posterity.

Competencies[edit | edit source]

Olin College employs a competency system. The following competencies will be addressed by the Arbitrary Hour course:

  • Life Long Learning
  • Communication

What is a Good Seminar?[edit | edit source]

In addition to the various documentation produced by the class, students should also present a final reflection addressing the question "What makes a good seminar?" - this should reflect the experiences of both leading and attending a seminar.

Question for consideration: should this be individual or team? (answer on the discussion page)

How to Join[edit | edit source]

Sign up for the Arbitrary Hour mailing list at!

Olin College (and other BBOW schools) students wishing to take this "course" should contact Nikki Lee, preferably before the first week of January, so that Independent Study paperwork and scheduling can be handled appropriately. You must also create a Wikiversity account and add yourself to our participant list below.

External learners who would like to participate in the course are welcome. While geography may be a problem, we will attempt to be accommodating, and would love drop-in lecturers or participants! To let us know your interest, please add yourself to our participant list below!

Participants[edit | edit source]

Schedule[edit | edit source]

Arbitrary Hour meets Tuesday and Thursdays from 17:00 to 18:00 in AC109.

Sign yourself up for presentation slots on this table.

Presentation Schedule
Date Presentation Slot 1 Presentation Slot 2
1/22 Nikki Sallen
1/27 Matt Ritter Kiefer Hicks
1/29 - -
2/3 Elana Altman Charlie
2/5 - -
2/10 - Boris Taratutin Photoshop-
2/12 - Meryl -
2/17 - -
2/19 Kathleen -
2/24 Nikki Nikki
2/26 Boris -
3/3 - -
3/5 - -
3/10 Boris T Matt Ritter
3/12 Mel Chua Kiefer Hicks
3/17 Spring Break
3/19 Spring Break
3/24 - -
3/26 - -
3/31 Kathleen -
4/2 Elsa Sarah M. Zimmermann
4/7 - -
4/9 Kiefer Kiefer
4/14 Nikki Nikki
4/16 - -
4/21 Mel Mel
4/23 - Kathleen
4/28 - -
4/30 - -

Presentation Descriptions[edit | edit source]

When you add yourself to the presentation calendar, add a section here with a one paragraph summary of your planned talk.

1/19 - Everyone - Planning the Course[edit | edit source]

The class meets and decides how to run Arbitrary Hour. In this seminar, we will discuss scheduling issues, as well as the overarching goals and assessment plans for those taking the course. We have Jon Stolk on board as an academic adviser, so we are very near executing Arbitrary Hour.

1/22 - Nikki - How to make a STU course[edit | edit source]

What are things to think about when creating a STU course? How can we effectively rally support? What is the history (at Olin) of student run courses? In this seminar, we will discuss what it takes to get a STU course running, what the challenges and rewards of a STU course are, and will explore both the history and future of STU courses.

Due to low prep time, this will be a short session.

1/22 - Sallen - Fun Self-Defense[edit | edit source]

What are some basic blocks? How can I improve my chances for not getting hurt? What's a wrist lock? Why don't people break their feet when they kick hard objects (like other people)? Come and find out a little bit of how I've been trained. The style is mostly Shorinji Kempo with some flares from other martial arts as well. Should be fun and interactive. Questions are most certainly welcomed.

1/27 - Matt Ritter - Getting Involved in a startup company[edit | edit source]

This presentation will mostly be a story of my involvement with RawSolar during my LOA last year, with attempts to generalize through comparison with the other startups that I've been a part of. I'll cover everything from living cheaply to dealing with investors to talking to the media. Questions are extremely welcome, since I will be delivering a similar talk to the Being a Sustainable Engineer STU course once we get it up and running.

1/27 - Kiefer -O- Hicks - Programming in the Strange[edit | edit source]

There are many programming languages and techniques that are useful, easy to use, and widely respected in the industry. I will not be talking about any of those. I will cover the hilarious and fascinating dark corners of computer science, and software engineering. Possibly including, but not limited to: BrainF**k, Befunge, Chef, INTERCAL, and Whitespace. I will also cover the basic techniques of code obfuscation, and underhanded programming. The session will be interactive, so bring your laptop. Questions are encouraged.

2/3 - Elana - Newspaper Column Writing[edit | edit source]

What makes a newspaper column good? Funny? Interesting? Insightful? In this presentation, I will teach the principles of writing a publishable newspaper column. The focus will be on opinion and humor columns, since those are what I'm most experienced writing. Questions welcome!

2/3 - Charlie - Like Vegas but Smarter -- Stock Futures and Options[edit | edit source]

Why play cards when you can play on the derivatives market? Seriously. On the wild markets of derivative trading every dollar made is a dollar lost. It is mind versus mind, and winners can become incalculably wealthy. Learn how you can make fantastic sums of money, all while limiting your risk to a known quantity.

We will also look at a case study, already known as one of the "most brilliantly conceived transfers of wealth ever." Porsche (yes, the car company), through intelligent trading on the derivatives market, briefly made Volkswagen the most valuable corporation in the world. In the process, they took those evil hedge funds to the cleaners (to the tune of over 30 billion Euros). Come learn the mechanics behind how those evil hedge funds got hosed!!

2/12 - Meryl - Nap On Safely [edit | edit source]

Nap On Safely is the quick(ish), humorous, and easy certification in safe sleeping. This course will cover the basic principles of safe sleeping that everyone should know before hitting the sack. Topics include classifying your individual sleeping ability, the proper procedure to follow before sleeping, and of course, the buddy system. Students who successfully complete the course will even receive a nifty certification card!

The Nap On Safely course originated as a spoof on Boy Scout waterfront training and has been modified to stress points especially relevant to Olin Students.

2/10 - Boris T- Photography & Photoshop (1hr) [edit | edit source]

(Subject depth to be determined based on audience experience and interest) The photography part of the course will focus on photographic principles (like repetition, rule of thirds, leading lines, color, exposure, contrast, focal length, composition & cropping), camera functions (ISO, aperture, shutter speed), how to tell if your photos are any good (go on flickr, look at other people's photos), how to take more artistic shots (practice, think of your goal, look at other's photos, hang out with photographers), and nail home the fact that you don't need an expensive camera to take good photos. Examples will be shown.

For the photoshop section, I will cover a basic editing process through a case study in photoshop, showing tools like curves, levels, gradient map, b&w conversion, saturation. Adjustment layers will be explained and emphasized, and masks and their applications will be described as well. Then, slightly more advanced topics like sharpening, dodging and burning, will be covered. Also, I will share personal tips and tricks that I have learned over the years, and all of these topics will be shown through examples.

2/17 - Boris T- Tea! (1/2hr) [edit | edit source]

Tea is the world's most widely consumed beverage of choice (excluding water, and really, tea is just water) - so isn't it worth learning a little bit more about this magical drink? Learn a bit about the history of tea, the different varieties and their characteristics (pu-erh, black, oolong, green, white, herbal), and even participate in a tea ceremony while learning how to brew this ubiquitous and magical elixir.

2/19 - Kathleen T - "The Game's Afoot!" Sherlock Holmes and the Detective Fiction Genre (1/2hr) [edit | edit source]

I'll begin with a brief overview of the genre's history and context, moving on to where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation, Sherlock Holmes, fall into that continuum. From here, we'll investigate how those literary elements critical to detective fiction--suspense and character--build that page-turning tension that keeps us reading.

There shouldn't be any need for advance reading; though if you're interested I plan to make particular references to "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and "The Final Problem". Doyle's complete Sherlock Holmes may be found here:

2/24 - Nikki - Jang Mu Won Hapkido - Symbolism, Theory, and Application[edit | edit source]

We'll start by briefly covering the history of Hapkido, then delve into some of the symbolism and studio culture of the Jang Mu Won school. The better part of the seminar will cover the 3 principles of Hapkido and techniques that utilize these principles. This will be hands-on but not exhausting; wear clothes you can move in but you don't need to dress to work out.

3/10 - tandem with Matt - Boris T- Organizing Your Life & Work Ethics (1/2hr) [edit | edit source]

Too many events? Meetings? Phone calls? Papers? Homework assignments? Your brain overflowing faster than Chuck Noris' roundhouse kick? Yep. We've all been there. This course will discuss methods that i've picked up over the years on how to get work done, stay organized, and prevent your brain from exploding. Will cover topics like sleep (how to get less and stay functional), lists, organizational software?, and work ethics.

3/10 - tandem with Boris T - Matt Ritter- Organizing Your Life & Work Ethics (1/2hr) [edit | edit source]

During my Leave of Absence, I had both the opportunity to take a step back from the ceaseless workflow, and the strong need to create a personal system to handle the disparate tasks that I encountered in a startup. I largely failed. However, over the course of the school year, I got better and better at following the structure outlined in the book Zen To Done, which lays out simple steps for capturing, sorting, and completing the wide variety of tasks that come my way. I still mess up, get behind, and completely forget to do things, but with far less frequency than before. If nothing else, you'll learn why I'm always writing on tiny little business cards, sending text messages to myself at awkward moments, and jumping when my computer makes that funny beep.

TBD - Boris T- Things I've learned in my life (1/2hr)[edit | edit source]

General life lessons that might be helpful to others.

3/12 - Mel Chua - Lipreading (1hr) [edit | edit source]

Learn how to lipread! We'll look at lipreading both as a primary forms of information input (zero sound) as well as a supplement to lousy audio (crowded noisy rooms), and check out supplementary techniques like body language, markov-based context prediction, environmental manipulation, and conversation-steering that make you look like a way better lipreader than you actually are. We'll also discuss what makes somebody easy or hard to lipread, and how you can train people and shape environments for maximum lipreading facilities, and go over situations where lipreading doesn't work, and alternative strategies you can use in those cases. If you have a small handheld/portable mirror, bring it, or help me find a room with a ginormous mirror we can all look in together.

4/2 - Sarah M Zimmermann - Table Settings[edit | edit source]

What fork do you use when? Where does the napkin go? What are all those cups for? Learn the art of setting a formal dinner table and using the correct eating instruments. Focus will be on the English manner though Continental(European) standards will also be discussed.

4/2 - Elsa Culler - Something about music[edit | edit source]

(To be determined)

4/9 - Kiefer Hicks - Using Python Instead of Matlab[edit | edit source]

The Python Programming Language has a number of modules that can replace much the functionality of matlab. I will discuss exactly how to go about doing that, namely what works well, and what does not, when it is beneficial to use python, and when it really is just better to bite the bullet, and use matlab. Topics discussed will include "MatPlotLib, and NumPy," "A Comparison of Speed," and "A Difference of Data Types."

4/9 - Kiefer Hicks - How to Give Up Caffeine, and Keep Your Sanity[edit | edit source]

Caffeine is almost certainly the most widely used drugs of the modern age. I will talk about how most of it's users are either addicted to it, or dependant on it, and how to go about giving it up safely and effectively.

4/14 - Nikki - How to be on an IT[edit | edit source]

Ever wondered what it's like to be on an Honor Board Investigative Team? Want to know exactly what goes down? Generally curious about the process? I'll be covering not only the logistical/procedural aspects of being on an IT, but also the "softer" skills and considerations involved.

4/21 - Mel - All Together Now For Great Justice Dot Org[edit | edit source]

This took Harvard Law students 2 hours and pre-reading time. We're going to do it all in one.

4/23 - Kathleen T - On Being One of Those Crazy Writing Types[edit | edit source]

Everything I plan on saying is probably contained in the following three quotes:

There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more.

Write what you know.

Write. Finish things. Keep writing.

Of course, to know who said what and why I think these are integral ideas to the pursuit of writing, you'll have to attend my seminar. Generally, I plan on speaking about how to allocate time and energy to writing amidst Olin's busy rush, how things move from thoughtless scribbles to more finished pieces, and what I, personally, am inspired by/write about/use as ideas.

What Do You Want to Learn About?[edit | edit source]

Fill this space with topics you would like to learn about. Maybe someone knows a lot about it.

It's kind of like that wall from the movie Accepted.

  • car maintenance
  • cooking
  • making Dim Sum (I will be learning this summer and can theoretically teach it after --Nikki)
  • international politics
  • philosophy
  • rhetoric
  • color theory for web design
  • making balloon animals
  • breadmaking
  • fast ways of ironing/folding clothes
  • book cataloging systems (dewey, library of congress, etc.)
  • howto make a database-backed webapp in an hour
  • using the pcb miller and doing surface-mount soldering properly, for those sans hand-eye coordination like myself
  • how to stretch / become more flexible
  • grantwriting
  • what makes an engineering textbook good? (this is a lecture I can give, I did my AHS capstone on it --User:Mchua)
  • designing a sound system for your domicile
  • auto repair
  • skateboarding
  • biomechanics of breakdancing