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Ask A TA

Dear TAs,

I just don’t get it. We started this really cool advice column, but no one wants to write in! Are we trying too hard to be cool? Would we be cooler if we weren’t trying so hard? Is being cool some sort of paradox? Help!

Askata@tech.mit.edu

Dear Ask A TA,

You’re confused here and rightfully so. See, when people talk about being so cool it seems effortless, they’re referring to an illusion. It’s not about trying to be cool — it’s about trying to seem like you’re not trying. Did that make sense? No? Here, let me formulate coolness.

Coolness is essentially a function of two parameters: amount of trying (effort) and badass-ness (innate coolness). A person’s coolness, defined here in units of Rads, can be defined as a function of trying and badass-ness. For every person, badass-ness is a constant, usually defined from 1-10 (you know, www.hotornot.com scale). It’s something you can’t change, so accept it. As a point of reference, Steve McQueen (translation for undergrads: Zac Efron) is a 10, Dean Martin (Hillary Duff) is an 8, and Tom Selleck with a moustache (Hannah Montana) is a solid 9.

Trying, on the other hand, is more akin to a distorted wave function with several maxima and minima. The amount of effort you put into being cool directly affects your coolness, but unfortunately in ways you might not expect. Though the art of being cool is a bit of a black box, I’ve managed to crudely plot the coolness function. Let us now examine the coolness space in all its glory.

Several features immediately come to our attention. The local minima at (A) shows that sometimes it’s better not to try at all if you’re not willing to get with the program. (B) demonstrates the appropriate level of trying for most people. At this level one should mind one’s appearance, know a funny anecdote, and be able to mix a martini. (C) illustrates the perils of trying too hard. A person’s descent to (C) usually correlates with excessive use of hair product and collar flipping. For people of limited innate coolness, sometimes trying unbelievably hard results in an unexpected boost in coolness at (D). Michael Cera of Arrested Development and Juno fame best exemplifies this phenomenon.

For most people, the best cool results are achieved by aiming for the (B) maxima. There is an exception though: Should one’s innate coolness reach the critical “Tom Selleck with a moustache” inflection point (E), then optimal coolness is achieved by not trying at all. This is the pinnacle of effortless cool, and few people outside of the Rat Pack have ever reached its summits. For those curious about the range of coolness, note that one man and one man alone occupies the epitome of coolness: Steve McQueen. At the brutal depths of uncool, there are so many people — including this TA, for even bothering to formulate a function for cool.

Happy Trying,

—TA Charles Lin G

Seriously people. Write in with your questions to AskaTA@tech.mit.edu. You don’t want grad students giving themselves advice for another week.