I used to know this stuff

As I continued the “slash and burn” of my old papers and files from our crawlspace (well, technically, I’ll be recycling it, not burning it), I found all of my old class files. I’d literally kept about sixty manila folders with my homework, tests, and papers from all of my college classes. In true OCD fashion, each folder was neatly labeled with the course name and number.

Of course it was a time-honored tradition to share “files” like this with other students who came after you. If, for example, my friend was taking Calculus III, she might ask me if I’d had the same professor a semester or two before and, if so, whether she could borrow my files for the semester. It would help her with double-checking homework, preparing for tests, and so forth. The fraternities were famous for this, and I remember seeing dozens of full-size filing cabinets filled with hundreds of thousands of pages of old homework assignments for this purpose. Of course the professors knew it happened, and would tweaks exams now and then to make sure their students weren’t just memorizing the files.

Anyway, it was fun to go through them and stare in awe at the cryptic scribbles, thinking “Wow, I used to know this stuff!” Today, of course, they’re just cryptic scribbles. But there was a time, some 25ish years ago, when I completely understood things like…

Linear algebra:

Particle motion equations:

(This was from the introductory physics course.)

Three-dimensional calculus:

(Actually, I loved this stuff! Yay, triple integrals!)

Circuit analysis:

Electromagnetic theory:

Solid-state physics and crystalline structure:


(I don’t even remember what “statics” means, but I do remember it being the “weed-out” class for the mechanical engineering majors.)

Oh yeah, and quantum mechanics:

(This stuff kicked my 21-year-old butt and I remember it was the only “C” grade I received in college. Quantum mechanics is awesome, but wavefunctions make my head hurt.)

And who could forget the FORTRAN class I took as a freshman, where we’d write programs on a VAX mainframe, print them out on continuous-feed green paper, and hand them in to the professor.

(The crazy irony is that despite how useless I perceived FORTRAN to be, I spent my first year out of college programming in it.)

I also found things like study cards for tests, where I’d cram everything I knew onto a 3×5″ index card:

(I think this is for stellar astrophysics.)

Of course not everything was math, physics, or computers. I actually took literature and history and foreign-language and government classes. One of the professors on campus was a world-renowned expert on Shakespeare, and he was an awesome guy, so I took his Shakespeare course. During the semester we studied all of the Bard’s “major” works, but honestly I only read Hamlet. We were supposed to write three papers– they made up our entire grade– and somehow I managed to talk him into allowing me to write a single three-part paper on that one play. Behold:

And all of this is just a smattering of the stuff I had. Thousands upon thousands of pages of it. It boggles the mind that not only did I once have all this knowledge crammed into my skull, but that would I keep it tucked away in my crawlspace 25 years later.