Hi everyone! This is Paul from Colorado. He's a masters student in Course 16 (Aero-Astro), and he's in the Air Force. He's currently taking this really awesome sounding class called System Architecture (ESD.34), and his project is to analyze this really neat-sounding military helicopter. The idea of the class, and of the project, is that you take a sort of half-reversed approach to analyzing complex engineered systems. What is this part for? How does it relate to the other parts around it, and how does it fit into the system as a whole? How did this system evolve? What was the designer thinking at this step? How can I take this big monolithic-looking complicated thing and break it up into meaningful parts? The helicopter he's looking at is an 80s model which was based on an architecture originally built in the 60s for search and rescue, then adapted for some of the surprisingly similar circumstances of special ops (flying at night in horrible weather, for example), but with the greatly expanded capabilities necessary to deal with things like hostile airspace.
Most other people in his class are also analyzing large mechanical devices (one girl is doing the ISS), but one or two are doing more abstract things. Someone is studying air traffic control, and oh there was another neat project topic that I unfortunately forgot.
We thought it would be amusing to analyze the Saferide shuttle system from this perspective. If it hadn't inexplicably held up for ten minutes at the student center, we would never have started talking.
Why don't I do this more often? Just strike up a conversation with random people? You do have to exercise care in choosing the right opening question ("What are you doing this glorious IAP?") and refrain from talking too much about yourself... but it really, really isn't hard. There's not even any risk. The worst that happens is that the conversation fizzles and you go back to your book or iPod or whatever. But despite what people tend to think when locked up inside their own heads, everyone else is a thinking human being with interests and passions and opinions and experiences, and these can differ from your own in fascinating ways.
I'm not saying that everyone should be engaged in conversation all the time. I enjoy reading on the bus too, and I certainly enjoy solitary time, being somewhat introverted. But there's no reason to fear or avoid the nontrivial stranger conversation.
Tomorrow I think I'll strike up a conversation with the bus driver.
[The only problem I have with the "Just Shy" shirt is that it automatically puts the onus on the other party to initiate conversation. I think that, in wearing it, one must also resolve to initiate more conversations oneself. If that is done, there can be no harm in advertising that your ears are open for business.]