Partners meet halfway: a simple correlation study of an undergrad lab class

Last semester I taught two classes of an Introductory Physics (Electrodynamics) for Engineers lab course at the University of Texas at Austin. The first day that my students came in, most of them did not know each other. They just came in and sat at tables of two, and this pretty much became their permanent seats in the room for the rest of the course (that’s human habit). They were supposed to work with their partner on the experiments in the first part of the class, but individually on their worksheets in the second part. So choosing their seats also fixed the partners. Thus, it is a good assumption to say that the pairing had been pretty random, at least as far as academic ability of the students was concerned.

I noticed though that both partners in a group tended to move towards a common average in their performance over the course. If one partner was diligent, it would motivate (and sometimes force) the other to work harder, while the sloppiness and uncaring attitude of a partner would also negatively affect the performance of the other. I was happy to notice though that the ‘uplifting’ effect was usually more dominant than the ‘down-dragging’. In any case, this caused the performance of partners to pull closer, irrespective of their starting academic ability.

At the end of the semester, after I had the final scores that I handed out to them, I decided to do a simple correlation test. The following are two scatter plots of pairs of student scores for each of my classes, each pair ordered as (better score, worse score) (which is why all points are below the bottom-left to top-right diagonal of the plot). The linear fits through them have also been shown. Although I had suspected that there would be a significant correlation between partners’ scores, I was surprised at how high the correlation coefficients turned out to be. (Note that if you pair an even number of numbers randomly, on the average you should expect a linear correlation coefficient of zero.)





I had felt this trend even by the middle of the semester, and I had this crazy idea of using this to try and pull up the performance of the students who were not doing too good. I thought of sorting the students by their score so far into the course, and re-assigning partners so as to pair the best student with the worst, the second-best to the second-worst and so on. However, I know that habit is a deadly force, and if I suggest my students in the middle of the course that they have to say goodbye to their partner with whom they already have some steady chemistry going and have new partners again, ones that I have chosen for them, all hell would break loose. So I had to rest it in my head as a theoretical result with possible practical applications, to be taken up by a braver soul than me. But hey, here’s the data, so you can quote it if you want to try it and someone doesn’t take the idea too well.

End of the Road

Time and darkness, the greatest equalizers. One takes everything to the same form, while the other makes form irrelevant.

Lost are we the children of electricity. We go to sleep in our impure darknesses clothed in flickering electronic lights, our silent digital sentinels watching through the fake night. For this is not the pure night our fathers came home to over geological ages, this is not the pure ancient darkness of the universe they learned to hold close as they slept.

And learn the lessons from this we shall. For this only means that the final equalization into formless darkness and endless time shall be abrupt, unfamiliar, uncaring, for the universe slows down for nobody. And no mercy or patience shall be shown to excuse our brick, iron and electronic hideaways where we fled life all our lives.

That is what is waiting at the end of the road. All our roads end at that one point. Formless darkness. Endless time.

And all your lights and firework and expensive digital sentinels are but a successful commercial distraction while you wait. Congratulations, you’re alive.


I’ve never had hallucinations before when I was sick.

Some invisible form was holding my knees, my feet, pulling them, dragging me slowly by my legs downwards. It was so real. And I knew that the more I let myself float into these imaginings the more real and physical they would become, the more inescapable. Just like a drug trip.

I would struggle to try and wake myself. It’s important, terribly important, I would tell myself in my head in my half-awake blurred darkness. If you don’t try and wake and remember the real life where you are now, you are going to drown in this, and he will have you. He will pull you down. This is going to get scarier and he will get more real, and there will be real damage. This is all in your head, but your entire life has all been in your head, right? So don’t underestimate how real something in your head can be. Don’t give in, wake up.

And I would jolt awake every time, dizzy from the pain of immediate transfer into reality, having to take it all in again. My room, the time of the day, sounds of repairmen in the bathroom fixing the heater. All over again. Why did I have to take in the same reality so many times to know it was real? It was all so tiring that sometimes I wondered if it was worth it to not just go with the hallucinations.

Who is he? I blearily scanned my room. Daylight lay only faint fingers through the closed blinds on the soft, hazy darkness. There was no one. I was so scared in my head. I couldn’t decide if I wouldn’t be less scared if I actually saw someone to explain the touching and the pulling.

Then I would lie and breathe deeply, half-panting, and start to drowse again back into his gently but steadily pulling arms.


Later I would sit the electronic keyboard in a state medically known as wide awake, feeling weak but fine otherwise, and forget the notes I play every day. I could only tell that it didn’t sound the way it sounds every day. I would look at my fingers on the keys, pressing down where I had trusted muscle memory to so naturally lead them, and hear the plain wrongness of the notes, and draw a complete blank on what I was doing wrong. And then, as I sat poring over my fingers as though my unaccepting, disbelieving stare will heal them of their malady, I would be so scared again inside my head as I felt the inklings of something happening within me that I have never known before.

Let them be.

Let them be as they wish, and they will create you something beautiful. Beauty that you in your dark-glass dreams had never cared to imagine. They shall show you rage, to break down the formidable walls of smoke that you build to keep yourselves in from being better. They shall show you who we are, they shall fill your cities with colour and your industry with motion and your world with a rich vibrant beauty.

Don’t let them, and they shall recoil. Recoil from the world they could have created, recoil into a dark little hole where they are out of touch with what they can do, too afraid, too disbelieving of themselves. And they shall struggle to reconcile their self-appraisal with the one that you have decreed for them, and they shall die. They shall die and get sticky and stinky and clog to the arteries of your city until it becomes for everyone else hard to breathe.

And then you’ll be in trouble. So don’t do it.