Black Holes and the Unknown: Mr. Cali


Whether through Intro to Data Science, Gaming Club, Honors Physics or AP Physics (or for a single year of Computer Science Principles that only a few had the privilege of being in) many of you have met science teacher Alex Cali. Mr. Cali is that guy that’s cheerfully striding down the hallways. The guy that’s sometimes jumping on desks. The guy that Dr. Wehbeh commonly (yet teasingly) complains about being too loud during her chem classes. The man, the myth, the legend. All wish to know him, but few truly do. This article aims to change that. For your viewing pleasure, we’ve amassed a group of essential questions and answers that you need to know about Mr. Cali.

Where did you go to college?

I went to College at Montclair State University for both my B.S. in physics and my M.S. in mathematics.

How long have you been a teacher?

This is the beginning of my eighth year of teaching.

Did you always want to become a physics teacher?

Nope! There was a lot of back-and-forth where I almost went to school for music.  I decided not to go to school for music because I never wanted my guitar to become something I had to play.  Guitar is something I play for fun and it will always be that way.

On a scale of 1-10, how much do you enjoy jumping on desks?

  1. Next question!

On a scale of 1-10, how spicy are Sri Lankan dishes?

This is really difficult to answer for me.  I eat hotter/spicier food than my wife and her parents.  I have yet to go to Sri Lanka so I don’t know how much hotter a dish made in Sri Lanka would be.  As of right now, since I only have Sri Lankan dishes made in the United States as a reference, I would have to say 7 or 8.  They make me sweat, but I have never felt uncomfortable during or after eating a Sri Lankan dish because of it being too hot/spicy for me.

Do you have any kids?

I have two children.  My son Zach is 6 and my daughter Aria is 2.

How many push-ups do you do on average?

Right now or when I am actually in shape? Right now I could probably hit 30 consecutive push-ups but it would probably be difficult to hit that number…  When I am in shape and actively working out I would perform 100 push-ups per day but that would be spread out throughout the day.  I think the most push-ups I have consecutively performed is in the mid 50’s.  Around 54-55.  Now I am embarrassed and need to start doing push-ups!  I’ll do them during quizzes so you can verify that they are being completed!

What are your favorite hobbies?

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years. I have not been progressing at guitar for 20 years, however!  Playing guitar with 2 young children is very difficult because they both want to play the guitar when they see me playing it.  Lately I have been working more on recording my guitar and mixing/mastering music because music is such an integral part of my life.  It’s always playing in my head. I am always tapping my foot, my hand, my fingers… So if that’s how I get to be around music, then that is what I’ll do! Other than guitar I like being active.  I don’t really care how I am being active, I just need to be moving (hence jumping on desks).  I’ll walk, run, play sports, whatever anyone around me is up for doing!

What lies beyond a black hole?

I’m not really sure how to answer this question… I either basically don’t answer it or go way too far in depth!  I’ll leave it at this: at the center of a black hole is a singularity.  This is a point where literally anything and everything that has entered the black hole has been crushed down into essentially nothingness – into a single point, or dot.  A grain of sand is a mountain compared to the size of the singularity.  That is why we call them black holes, after all.  Whatever enters, even light, never comes back out!

Favorite TV Show/Movie?

Oh, yay! Another question I will have difficulty answering!  I don’t really watch TV shows or movies… I don’t really like sitting still long enough to watch TV or movies!  I watch a lot of YouTube videos but they are usually instructional or educational based on whatever it is that I am interested in at the moment. I did however watch the Loki mini series and I enjoyed that quite a bit.

What is the meaning of life?

Whatever you want it to be!  That sounds sarcastic but it’s not.  I really mean it.  Life is so grand and vast that in order to get the most out of life, it’s important that you decide for yourself what the meaning/purpose of your life is.  When you have figured that out, everything you do becomes more clear and directed.

Would you become a professional musician if the opportunity arose?

I really don’t think I would.  I decided against it once before so I don’t really see a future in which I go that route. Does that mean it will never ever happen? No, it doesn’t, I just highly doubt it will.  Life is a funny thing though. When I was a high school student math was my worst and most disliked subject.  Now it is my highest degree!  So, never say never because you just don’t know!

What is your most memorable moment at VHS?

What’s with all the difficult questions!  I can’t think of just one to choose as the winner!  Or two, even! I’m going to have to just say that collectively my best memories come from random events in classes. It’s the little things that end up making me smile the most. Whether it is watching a student who struggled for five months finally have something click and seeing the look of accomplishment on their face or that accidentally hilarious comment made during a lab when a student thought I was on the other side of the room.

In a purely hypothetical battle between you and Mr. Maher, who do you think would come out on top?

Oh boy.  That depends!  It depends on the circumstances of our hypothetical battle!  I mean, I don’t think there is a universe where I can top Mr. Maher in a feat of strength… But technology is Mr. Maher’s kryptonite so if technology were involved at all then I have the upper hand!

What is the formula for centripetal force?

The one we use in high school or the unabridged version?  The equation for centripetal acceleration assuming uniform circular motion is ac=v2r where v is the tangential speed of the object and r is the radius of the circle in which it is traveling.

Is the acceleration of gravity 9.8 or 10?

This is a bit like asking “is pi really 3.14 or can we just call it 3?” Of course 9.8 is the correct choice of those two but if we only wanted to do a quick calculation we could round the acceleration of gravity up to 10 to get a ballpark answer.

Would you trade classes with Dr. Wehbeh for a day?

Sure!  I’d just selfishly ask that I be allowed to switch when some form of atomic chemistry is being covered. Atomic trends, orbitals, hybridization, that type of thing. There is crossover between physics and chemistry due to quantum mechanics so I’d be fairly comfortable stepping into those types of lessons.

Do you ever wish that you still had your luscious locks?

I mean, I used to have curly hair like Elijah Wood/Frodo from Lord of the Rings so… maybe a little?  Not enough to actually feel bad that I have lost them, though. I really like not having to worry about hair.  It’s very freeing!

What’s your favorite quote from a famous scientist/physicist/philosopher?

I have two quotes that I really like.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein.

I like this quote because memorizing the facts that have been given to you doesn’t help you invent something new.  It is your imagination, thinking outside of the box, that takes you beyond the knowledge of today to the questions of tomorrow.

“The best that most of us can hope to achieve in physics is simply to misunderstand at a deeper level.”   – Wolfgang Pauli.

I like this quote because it highlights the never-ending quest for a deeper understanding in science, not just physics.  For every question we answer, two more questions are formed from the possible consequences of the newly discovered fact. No matter how much we think we know, we can go deeper and understand more. When we look at all of the unanswered questions before us we realize just how little we currently understand about the universe around us.