Justin Li


Spiral Staircases

2009-09-10

The new Computer Science and Engineering building has a nice spiral staircase that rises prominently from the main hall. It connects all four floors of the building, and is the most convenient way to get directly up; there is at least one other staircase (probably more; I haven't found any emergency staircases), but that has significant horizontal translation.

I thought a spiral staircase was pretty cool when I first saw it, but as I'm using it more often, I realized how stupid an idea it really is.

The problem with a spiral staircase is that the steps are non-uniform. Since people's gait depends on their height, and their height is a random variable, people have preferences as to how wide a step should be. With a circular staircase, the steps are obviously longer towards the outside and shorter towards the inside. This means people can pick where they walk, right? Except, of course, when there's two way traffic, so people are forced to one side of the staircase. With normal stairs, moving to one side doesn't change your gait, and so you can continue walking. With spiral staircases though, you have to constantly adjust how far you're stretching your legs just to keep going.

Besides that, Michigan is going well. By virtue of it being a public university, the classes are quite a bit bigger than those at Northwestern, even for relatively obscure classes like machine learning. I think that's the only reason why professors seem a little more distant here than at NU. On the other hand, I have two discussion sections to lead next week, as well as however many office hours, and this is also with the largest number of students I've dealt with yet. It'll be fun.

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