I wrote my thesis on an airplane, for heaven’s sake

As I wrote today's story, I recalled that I wrote the bulk of my thesis on an airplane. In longhand.

Microsoft flew me out for an interview, so I had to endure two cross-country plane trips. I scheduled the interview on a Monday so that I would miss only one day of class, and among the things I brought with me was a notepad, which started the trip blank. I wasn't sure why I brought it, but I was sure it'd come in handy.

And then I realized that I had a lot of time to kill, what with spare moments on the ground, in the air, back on the ground, waiting for my next interview, whatever. And during that time, I wrote.

By the time I returned to school, I had written the bulk of the first draft of my thesis.

Now, of course, it's not like I did all the work on the airplane. This was just the writing-it-down part.

When you're working on a project like a thesis, you have committed nearly every detail to memory, since you spend so much time thinking about it, researching it, experimenting with it, and thinking about it some more. The act of writing it down is in a sense just a dump of the thesis you've been writing in your head all year. But it's still good to get it down, so you can move on to the editing step.

So I may not have written FAT on an airplane, but I wrote a thesis.

What's an interesting thing you accomplished while on an airplane? (And no, I don't mean that.)

Comments (32)
  1. Katie says:

    I read this post before the one that gives it its context. After reading the title and the first line I was a bit confused about why the subject of your thesis was an airplane.

  2. Programmerman says:

    Between the planes and the layovers on one round-trip to Tacoma, I knit about 80% of a scarf. It took the rest of the winter to do the other 20% due to "finding time."

  3. DWalker says:

    Hmm…  What was your thesis, Raymond?

  4. Anonymous says:

    In the fall of 2003, I was taking a class on international relations with a focus on global terrorism.  A classmate of mine, who was coming home from vacation, was writing up an essay for one of the assignments on the plane.  Needless to say, in the wake of 9/11, this made the person sitting next to him rather uneasy to the point of calling the stewardess over.  But fortunately, they resolved things peacefully and nothing else eventful happened.

    (I'd also like to say hi to Bob from the NSA, who I know is reading this)

  5. James Curran says:

    I don't recall ever doing anything interesting on a plane (I usually sleep), but one year, while participating in NYC's Annual No-Pants Subway ride, I brought I laptop, and actually got some work done.


    (search for "Laptop")

  6. Mark says:

    DWalker: probably something Simpsons-related

  7. Anonymous says:

    I wrote this comment on an airplane.

  8. Bob from the NSA says:

    @Anonymous: Right back at you.

  9. Tim Dawson says:

    Learning how to fly an aeroplane.

  10. 12BitSlab says:

    For my senior project in CS, I could write anything kind of software that I wanted to.  I chose to write a compiler using S/360 Assembler.  I spent many, many weeks thinking about it.  On a plane trip to visit a relative, I wrote the builk of the code out on paper.  I had to since the project was due one week after I was due to fly out.  I got back to my home base 4 days later and fininshed the code.  90% of what I wrote on the trip survived the finished product.  The good news is that I got an "A" on the project and kept my 4.0 average in tack.

  11. @12BitSlab: *intact

  12. rg0s says:

    I wrote part of a paper about attacks through computer peripherals under (a little) turbulence. The guy on my left was kinda scared of a me (weird guy typing on a laptop while the airplane was shaking – think about it).

  13. 12BitSlab says:

    @ Maurits — My degree is in CS — not English.   :)

    Thanks for the correction.

  14. Marc K says:

    You should have brought a wordpad instead of a notepad…

  15. Alice says:


    The cynic in me can't help but wonder if what your classmate look like also factored into the passenger's unease.

  16. TT says:

    Watching Snakes on a Plane on a plane.

  17. I eradicated Artemis Corporation's war machine while on a plane… Only the plane was in a video game.

    In real life, I have never been on a plane, though on bus, I have written several blogs posts and finished Final Fantasy VIII.

  18. Brandon Wilson says:

    In longhand…

    I cringed thinking of the ardor and pain.

    [Back in my day, everything was longhand. Kids these days. -Raymond]
  19. cheong00 says:

    I've had only a few plane ride with my family when I was a child.

    I remember one time maybe the insulation if the plain window is not good enough, it has some "window condensation" on it and we enjoyed drawing simple picture with our finger on that one-hour flight.

  20. Silly says:

    I've taken off in various types of aircraft 4000+ times so far. Landed in them maybe 200 times. Done all sorts of stuff, but one thing I've never been able to do is come anywhere close to David Boon's record (Australian cricketer who drank 52 beers on a flight between London and Sydney). http://www.slideshare.net/…/boon-52-not-out

  21. Josh Reuben says:

    in 2003/2004 I wrote a 400 page Masters Thesis in Bioinformatics on a pocketPC on the bus to & from the lab every day

  22. sh code says:

    I made a love song for a girl sitting two rows in front of me when I was 17. Needless to say the song is crap, but was pretty good relative to my abilities back then.

  23. Ooh says:

    Well, I prepared for my interview on the plane…

  24. brb says:

    Somehow reminds me of The Oatmeal. theoatmeal.com/…/inflight_internet "ISN'T THAT CRAZY AND/OR EXCITING?!"

  25. DWalker says:

    @Silly:  You must still be flying, if you took off 4000 times and landed 200 times.  There are 3800 copies of you flying right now.

  26. GregM says:

    DWalker, there are other ways to get back to the ground other than by landing in the plane.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I wrote a clone of the old "worm" game, where you have to eat little pixels that make you grow and avoid hitting yourself, with ncurses.  I was bored on the plane and asked my wife what I should do, and she challenged me to do that.  The more remarkable aspects were (1) I didn't have the ncurses docs available; I just guessed what stuff meant from the header file, and (2) I only had about 30 minutes of battery left.

  28. chentiangemalc says:

    When I was 12 years old I had a 30 hour trip…Sydney Australia – Los Angeles – Toronto – Halifax Nova Scotia. In a notepad I wrote a minute-by-minute account every step of the way…

  29. cheong00 says:

    @DWalker: If Silly is a pilot he/she may be in charge of took off 4000 time, and have the other pilot landed the other 3800 times. :P

  30. Dr. ATP says:

    I learned katakana, a Japanese phonetic alphabet, on a flight LAX-BOS in the middle seat of a DC-10.  Same method: empty notepad at the start, full at the end.  This ws 20+ years ago but I still know katakana.

    FWIW, I'm a pilot with nearly 6000 hourse, so the middle seat of a DC-10 would otherwise have been torture.

  31. morlamweb says:

    @cheong00: I sure hope Silly's not a pilot or co-pilot if they're trying to drink 52 beers during a flight…

    Many years ago I read through a large chunk of the Lord of the Rings during a transatlantic flight.  This was a nice hardback copy, all three books in one volume, with gold(-ish) leaf around the edges, not the movies.  If you count both the away and return flights (or, "there and back again") then I read all of the Fellowship of the Ring in one trip.  Not terribly exciting I admit, but if you look at the sheer volume of pages read then I think it counts as an accomplishment.  It's still not in the same league as learning a language or writing a thesis.

  32. Dave Oldcorn says:

    Atari Jaguar emulator, console from the days when they were just starting to explode with coprocessors and custom chips. I cheated slightly by downloading a 68000 CPU core and all the docs the night before, but by the time I got off the plane at SFO I had parts of the blitter working and a first stab at the other two CPUs. By the time of the flight back it was playing Tempest 2000 rather well.

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