University Reminiscences

a few excerpts from my university days, including:

by Eve Andersson

Searching for Religion in San Francisco
Sunday, November 12, 1995
San Francisco is a city of incredible beauty and incredible filth. The old buildings with magnificent architecture, the streetcars, the wide brick sidewalks littered with trash, the street performers, the homeless people, the one-way streets, the outdoor cafés, the steep hills, the crazy drivers and equally crazy pedestrians, the hordes of tourists, the glamorous department stores and hotels, the run-down buildings, the strikingly beautiful bridges, the unshowered people sharing the busses with me, and the bay and islands make San Francisco a city which I deeply love and occasionally despise at the same time.

It is early Sunday evening. As I write this (with a pencil, not a laptop computer), I am sitting in the Plaza Room of the San Francisco Hilton Hotel, attending an incredibly soporific American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) conference. As to be expected, I have spent very little time at the conference itself.

On Friday night, three other Caltech students and I took a short plane ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco. To save money, we had rented rooms in a hotel which had bathrooms down the hall rather than in our rooms. I feared it would be a cheap motel in a bad neighborhood. I imagined cockroaches, tattered sheets and bed spreads, linoleum floors, doors that I wouldn't dare leave unlocked for a moment. Instead, it was an absolutely charming building, built in 1907. The rooms were small but beautiful, and I was so glad that we were staying there rather than in the expensive yet sterile Hilton where the conference is being held.

I got up early on Saturday morning to take a walk with a fellow Caltech student. The sun was shining mildly and the streets were yet to be filled with traffic. I was immediately entranced by San Francisco's beauty. Even though I have been to this city three times before, I become awestruck each time because its beauty is so great that my memory is insufficient to recall every aspect of it.

We came across a gigantic bookstore and ended up in the Western Philosophy section where I began reading a book by Mircea Eliade called The Sacred and The Profane; The Nature of Religion. This book deals with how religion affects each member of society, regardless of whether they consider themselves religious. The first few pages were so interesting and thought-provoking that I purchased the book.

The rest of the day (until about 10:00 PM) was spent doing pleasant but unspectacular "touristy stuff" with the other Caltech students. That night, the other students wanted to check out the city's bars and nightclubs. Being 19 days too young to legally go to such places, I told them to go ahead without me. Besides, I was looking forward to reading my book.

Within an hour, I was feeling restless and lonely. I went outside to take a walk, knowing that it could be dangerous to walk alone on the dark sidewalks of an unfamiliar city, but also knowing (after years of being timid) that so many of life's rewarding experiences are missed out on if I am afraid to take risks.

On the streets were three kinds of people. There were homeless people, most of whom were asleep in their sleeping bags, surrounded by garbage bags or shopping carts full of their belongings. There were people wearing fancy dresses or tuxedos, emerging from buildings and disappearing into their cars, happily chattering amongst themselves, seemingly oblivious to all things around them. And there was me, wearing a sweater, jeans, and tennis shoes, being careful not to lose my sense of direction on the streets which had clearly been built before the concept of city planning had become popular.

I had a goal as I walked: to find a church. Disillusioned as a teenager by many people's hypocrisy, I had given up going to church and subsequently relegated thoughts of religion to the very back of my mind. But the book I was reading had renewed my interest or, at the very least, my curiosity. I set out to find a church in order to see what time the services would be held the following morning.

For two hours I walked. At first I felt upbeat, walking briskly and enjoying the cool air and calm streets, but I became increasingly morose as I searched unfruitfully. I even asked a bum if he had seen any church nearby but he said he hadn't as he walked across the street to get some pizza from a small neon-lit restaurant. I refused to give up. Finally, at 1:00 AM, I spotted a cross in the sky. It was attached to the steeple of an old, beautiful Catholic church. I felt so happy.

The church was actually quite close to the hotel (it was just in the opposite direction from the one I had set out in). I joyously jogged back to the hotel and fell asleep within minutes.

The next morning (this morning), I got up at 7:00 and donned a dress. Of the churches I had attended in my youth, none had been Catholic. Not knowing Catholic traditions, I began to feel nervous. What if I were to inadvertently do something to offend the congregation? What if they were bothered by my (heathen) presence alone? But as I stood across the street watching people (some of whom were wearing jeans) ascend the stone church steps, I was reminded that the church-goers were (of course!) just normal people.

The church service was much more structured than any I had ever been to. There were times when the members of the congregation knew they were supposed to kneel, sit, stand, recite prayers aloud, and pray silently. I tried to follow along, but I didn't know what to do with the small bread wafer that I was given, so I put it in my purse.

After the service was over, I sat in the dark in my hotel room for half an hour, just thinking. Although I don't think I will ever become a "believer", I can see how the beauty and the absoluteness of religion can be seductive.

My church-induced peaceful mood has since been displaced by an "annoyed by the dullness of the ASME speakers" mood. I am looking forward to going to a café tonight where I can sit alone and read or stare out the window.

Lashless in Los Angeles
Thursday, December 14, 1995
I have recently admitted to myself that I do care about physical beauty. Something occurred last spring which spawned the thought process that culminated in my recent admission.

A fellow Caltech student (whose name will remain anonymous) used to occasionally sit next to me at the computer lab so that we could chat. At one point, he became fixated on my eyelashes (for reasons I don't know). For two days, he repeatedly either stared at me or commented on how long my eyelashes were. "Eyelashes are just stupid little hairs growing out of my eyelids," I told him. "I can't figure out why you even care about them." But his fixation remained. So, on the second night, I went home, cut off all my eyelashes, and gave them to him in a petri dish.

I know that sounds crazy, but it wasn't for two reasons:

  1. I truly believed that I didn't care about things as trivial as eyelashes.
  2. Eyelashes grow back!

I felt great at first. "Ha, I proved my point!" I thought. But within a day I was absolutely miserable. I felt so ugly that I didn't want to leave my apartment. When people looked at me, I looked away so that they would not have to see the horrid eyelashless monster that I was.

This was in May. As I was to learn, eyelashes grow back very slowly. I think my eyelashes had finally reached their natural length by the end of summer.

Although this anecdote quite clearly reveals to any impartial observer that I did care about my appearance, I refused to acknowledge that I could be that superficial.

I didn't consciously think about physical beauty again for the next few months until November when I visited San Francisco. I love San Francisco for many reasons, one of which is its architectural and natural beauty. Why would I be so willing to admit that I admired a city for its beauty but not that I could admire a person for their beauty?

Beauty just happens to be a quality that people are born with, and there is no intrinsic reason for me to take less notice of it than any other quality that people happen to be born with. People can, of course, set their own priorities. For instance, I will probably always place a greater importance on intelligence than, say, natural yodeling ability. But no longer will I deny the fact that physical beauty does have an impact on me.

Today I am a Man
Sunday, December 3, 1995
I was surprised to learn last Friday while reading The California Tech (Caltech's student newspaper) that my gender has been determined by my participation in the annual ME72 competition! In last Thursday's competition, the devices that students in ME72 had designed and built during the 10-week quarter contended against each other to see which could deliver the most ping-pong balls to a square hole within 35 seconds. A picture of the entire class (29 men and 3 women) appeared on the front page of The California Tech and the caption under the picture read "Today I am a Man."

Well, right now I don't feel like analyzing the viewpoint that mills, lathes, and drill presses cannot be used by testosterone-impaired people, so I'll just tell you a little about the contest and my (non-winning but nifty nonetheless) design instead.

First I should explain to you the constraints under which we had to work. Each student was given an identical "bag of junk" containing a few small motors, some sheets of metal and plexiglas and masonite, various tubes and rods made out of metal and wood and plastic, some zip-lock bags, a few o-rings, a sheet of nylon cloth, some nylon string, many small things like screws and springs and rubber bands, enough silicone casting compound to make a few tires, orange-go (can be used as a belt on pulleys), and other similar random parts. Our devices could be made out of only those parts and adhesives. Other constraints included size (no larger than 20 x 20 x 40 cm), weight (no more than 5 kg), and the stipulation that our device causes no ping-pong balls to leave the contest arena (a table approximately the size of a large bed).

The objective of the contest was to deliver as many balls as possible (hopefully more than the opponent) to a "drain" (a square hole in the table). The device had to start in a given starting location with balls already inside the device and somehow get the balls into the drain across the table within 35 seconds. To make the contest more challenging, there was a trough between the starting location and the drain.

Some people built vehicles to drive over to the drain and dump the balls in, others built bridges that allowed the balls to roll above the trough, some people built arms to lift and carry balls to the drain, and there was one machine that projected balls across the table.

The device I made was a vehicle. The design was actually quite simple. The only difficulties came from the fact that it had to be constructed out of the materials found in the "bag of junk."

First I made a frame by cutting aluminum into strips:

I then made wheels out of plexiglas (2 of them were covered with silicone for traction) and attached them to the frame:

We had two 24-volt motors in our bags of junk. These could be controlled separately by a joystick. I attached these to the frame, one resting on top of the other:

Motors, of course, spin much faster than we want the wheels to spin, so there has to be some kind of transmission connecting the motors to the wheels. The transmission can consist, for instance, of gears, or, as in my machine, of pulleys and belts. I made pulleys out of plexiglas and made belts out of orange-go (a plastic, mildly elastic cord).

That is all that is needed to make a car that is able to drive around and do nothing else. Steering is accomplished by supplying more power to one motor than to the other.

Of course, my car had to be able to carry and dump ping-pong balls as well. The dumping would be controlled by a 12-volt motor and a pulley which I connected together and then attached to the car:

The bottom of the car was made out of nylon cloth. It was cut down the middle and then threaded together with nylon string. The string was attached to the pulley on the 12-volt motor. Turning on the motor pulls the string out of the cloth, thus allowing the two halves to separate and the ping-pong balls to fall through the bottom. When the motor is off, the string is held in place by friction.

Then all that needed to be built were side walls to hold the balls in. There were, of course, many subtleties involved in building the device. Wheels and pulleys needed to have bearings to keep them from being worn out. Hubs had to be made to keep the shafts, wheels, and pulleys in place. Because there were few screws in the bag of junk, other methods had to be used to connect the components. The edges of the nylon cloth had to be melted to keep it from fraying. And so on!

Although I didn't win the competition, I am proud that I was able to make a working device. I learned a heck of a lot this term, so despite the minor cuts, bruises, and burns, I'm very glad I took this course!

The Truck Driver
Monday, June 24, 1996
Friday night, 2:00 AM, sitting in the lounge of Marks House [Caltech student housing] waiting for a phone call, I meet Andreas from Cyprus, currently a student at a university in London, doing research here over the summer. I tell him I'm driving to San Francisco this weekend. "Take me with you," he says. After doing a thorough background check on him, including credit history and personal references, I say "Ok, I'll take this chance and let you ride with me." No, that's not true; I just smiled and said "Sure," because who can say no to a Mediterranean man?

I should rephrase that. Who can say no when a fellow student with a pleasant personality offers to keep you company on the sometimes tedious drive from Pasadena (near Los Angeles) to Berkeley (near San Francisco) where you are going to look for an apartment to live in this fall when you'll be a student there?

10:00 AM, Andreas and I hit the road. Windows and sunroof open, so wonderfully warm outside, the wind tossing my hair which is finally getting long again. We listened to Greek music which sounded perfect to me as I felt the sun and looked at the dry, barren landscape, dreaming I was on Santorini and that on the other side of the hills was the pure ocean. Straight up Interstate 5 we went, west through Gilroy (ah, garlic), a stop in San Jose, and then off to The City, gorgeous San Francisco, the city that draws me to it.

We walked through the financial district, walked along The Embarcadero, and stopped at Pier 39 to look at the seals happily sunning themselves on wooden rafts in the bay. The seals would dive into the water and climb back up onto the raft, waddle across the backs of the other seals, and snuggle in somewhere to take a nap. Andreas and I took the cable car back to my car where we awkwardly changed into evening clothes and then had a late dinner at The Stinking Rose (oh yes, more garlic).

We drove randomly, ended up somewhere in Marin County (I think), slept in the car, and in the morning we headed across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley. After freshening up in a McDonald's restroom, Andreas explored Telegraph Avenue while I looked at apartments. There was one I loved the moment I saw it. I will be sharing an old house (early 20th century, I would guess) with four other people and my bedroom will be a small room with so many windows overlooking the back yard. Yes, this place is so much better than the newer, larger, closer to campus apartments I looked at because it has something they lack: charm.

Andreas and I headed back toward Pasadena, taking a detour to Sacramento so that he could see the state capitol building ("imitation Greek architecture," he commented). On Interstate 5, two hundred miles north of Pasadena, the car began to shake so violently that the cap on the gear shift flew off. So I slowed down. Still, we shook, and then I saw in the rear view mirror billows of smoke coming from the back of the car. After pulling to the side of the road, we refilled the oil and coolant even though the temperature gauge showed nothing unusual. It did no good.

I had to try something I had never done before but had always wanted to: hitchhike. I got out of the car and stuck my thumb up in the air, and within a minute a truck driver stopped for us. Eloy Hernandez. Eloy drove us a couple miles down the road to a car mechanic at a Texaco station. My car was towed to the station where they put it up on a rack and saw that the transmission was pretty much destroyed beyond repair. Either I could leave it there for a few days and let them replace it or I could tow it to Pasadena and have it done there. I chose the former option. During this entire time (2.5 hrs), Eloy waited with us, talking to the mechanics, looking out for our best interests. Then Eloy, whose destination was Los Angeles, drove Andreas and me to Pasadena.

Eloy's kindness was incredible, and it actually brought tears to my eyes. It helped restore in me a belief in the goodness of humanity. Eloy said that God put in him the desire to help other people. We weren't the first people he has helped, he said, and we won't be the last. Andreas asked him if he likes his job, and Eloy said yes, that he loves it; he gets paid for just sitting there and watching the world!

Eloy dropped us off at 1:30 AM and hugged us goodbye. I told him that he had changed my life.

I hate to admit these things, but I will: I feel ashamed by the times I have thought bad things about people who are uneducated. I feel ashamed by the times I have wished there were stricter immigration laws so that Los Angeles wouldn't be filled with poor, unskilled Mexicans. I even feel ashamed by the times I have been annoyed by the slow-driving truckers on the freeways.

I have thought about it before and I know that what really matters about a person is that they are kind, that they try to do what is right and what doesn't harm other people. But I forget it sometimes and I start to judge people by more superficial things. I mustn't forget it.

Eve Andersson (


It was interesting to read about you. I only happened upon your name and read about yourself. I have been to the west coast but it has been many years. In fact it was in 1954. I attended high school as a senior in Upland, California. I know much has changed in California but my memories are pleasant about the area such as the orange groves, the ability to walk safely to my job in Ontario and the beauty of Upland. I spent time in the snow on the mountains and the warm sandy beaches also. I now live in the great state of Michigan and am retired from Ford Motor Co. after giving them 40 years of service. I enjoyed my many years with Ford Motor. I am interested in your comments about religion. I have been a follower of Jesus Christ many years, and having given my heart to Him have found a joy that is not experienced outside of serving Him. Perfect I am not but do no that I am forgiven of my sins and expect to see Him one day. If you ever find your way to the great state of Michigan, look me up. My name is Ramon Bundy, my address is Ortonville, Michigan 48462. I am happily married to Verna and have four children (all married). Thanks for your time and God bless you. Ramon (or Ray)

-- Ramon Bundy

Great Writing

I found your site searching for Multiple Language Web Site implementation. Then I started reading some of your writing. You sound like a very grounded young lady. Some one I would like for my daughter to know. Sara is 12 and is very bright. She wnats to be an engineer. She likes inventing and building things. I am an computer scientist and presently her role model. I would like for her read your writings and get some of the values that you seem to have. I would like for her to travel and experience life. May be she can contact you at some time in the future and you can give her pointers. I hope this does not make you uncomfortable.

God bless you Kasu

-- Kasu Sista

how big is our world

I was fortunate to be born and brought up in a country not unlike US in size and diversity. I also had opportunity to visit places around the world and learn new languages. Every new place that I go to has two rather opposite effects on me:

On one side, I can relate every new place that I go to with some place that I have been to earlier and the world seems such a small place overall and getting smaller all the time, that perhaps there wouldn?t be anything that is totally unfamiliar anymore.

On the other hand, not only every place but every person and oftener than not one?s own self seem to be something of a deep sea, with a humbling thought that the world is too big a place to quite fully understand.

Humans, as indeed any living thing on god?s earth, seek security. Security, among other things, comes with familiarity, but familiarity in turn comes through exploration of what had hitherto been unfamiliar. The joy of exploration lies in making unfamiliar things familiar, perhaps patterning them and putting them alongside something that exists in one of our mind?s infinite cubbyholes, while perhaps unknowing creating a new cubbyhole for this new entity. Conflicts arise when beings choose to look at the unfamiliar aspects of a familiar thing, feel unsecured and try to distance themselves from that thing, or worse still, seek to distance it from themselves.

We can choose to live in a very small space, one that we are much more familiar with, thereby creating an eggshell within which to perceive security, while continuously contemplating a crack developing in the shell leading to exposure to unknowns which by their being unknown must necessarily be hostile; or we can choose to live in an open world where most is unknown, leaving just enough know for an explorer to feel familiar and secure.

World around us is not unlike the geometric ratio pi, we know we would never know it accurately, but the better we know it the better we get to feel it and more ?acceptable? our little solutions to life?s puzzles become.

-- a bhagwat


You are a remarkable and beautiful young woman. Were you surprised by your revelation that you are attracted to physical beauty? You are human, aren't you (I don't mean to sound so cavalier)? Also, when you refered to your past judgemental status towards the truck driver, how did you know he was uneducated? By all means, I've played that little trick on many snobs (Not that I'm calling you a snob since I don't know you)!

-- Jason Ballard

"enso-circle" or pi poetry in motion

i only briefly fluttered through your writing eve, but i found it sincere and charming.

re: your website info, it made me smile to learn you share similar fondness for dogs, dancing, avro part, pablo neruda and vegetarianism as i do. lovely. yes pi is poetic.

thanks, alia

-- c. alia abaya

Wow! What a find!

So back in the mid 90's I was learning about Pi in school, and I think I altavistaed (googled is so much more eloquant isnt it?) Pi, and I found your site, back when there were some animated eve-aliens.

I downloaded Sexy Suzy, and some how that MP3 has accompanied me on several journeys, and a dozen computers.

I don't know what came over me, but I googled Sexy Suzy up and found this site again! (I was actually googling "while : do" and one of the returns reminded me for some reason of your Pi site.)

Well anyway, I am glad you are doing well. Your site in the mid-90's really helped me to appreciate Mathematics, and Sexy Suzy has stuck with me through all these years (I even wrote a Sexy Suzy inspired poem about a young hacker trying to find their way in the world back then.)

Take care!


-- Jeremiah Daniels

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