The Pay-Off

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

fall2012grades

Here we have this semester’s grades, fresh from the grill.  Note that it was, in fact, worth the death-defying, adversity-strewn ride to campus for the Thermo final after all.

Also, please note that the unit count reflected below the semester’s grades is a little misleading.  Specifically, the part where it says I’ve taken 14 credits “not for GPA” and only managed to pass one of them.  What it really means is that I passed the one-credit pass/fail ECE freshman seminar, the grade for which was predicated entirely on showing up, and formally withdrawn from 13 credits’ worth of classes over my career – three for that online Classics class that got munched by the Medical Adventure over the summer (as the Dean’s office did in fact approve my retroactive medical withdrawal from same), and 10 when I left school before the end of the spring 1994 semester to take a job at Leading Edge.  A W grade is recorded on one’s transcript when that happens, but it’s a no-op: no credit, but no harm to GPA either.  Basically all it means is that you dropped the class too late to get a refund, but before you would’ve been committing to an F.  Withdrawing from those 1994 classes properly instead of just allowing myself to F the semester was just about the only thing I did right that year.

(And I still don’t remember how I passed ENG 101, College Comp, that semester, when the Ws in everything else mean I must have withdrawn and left town before the semester was two-thirds over.  I must’ve gone to the instructor and said, “OK, look, I’m out, but this class is cake and it seems like a shame to waste the money.  Here is the term paper that’s due at the end of the semester.  I think you will find it is Superior,” or something to that effect.  Can’t remember a thing about it now.  I’m glad I did whatever I did, though.  Imagine me taking ENG 101 year before last, when I first returned to the University.  Thirty-seven years old, a former professional writer, taking an English class aimed at kids who didn’t pay much attention in high school.  The mind boggles.)

Also, transfer credits aren’t figured into GPA, which is a shame since I rocked the house in the physics courses I took off-site last year (the second of which is reflected in the Term Totals here because the transcript didn’t come across until this fall).  OTOH, if they counted the handful WPI classes I transferred in for credit, that would hurt, since I don’t think I ever got better than a C during my whole time at WPI, except in one history class UMaine didn’t give me transfer credit for.

(Hmm, I had the original transfer calculation run when I was an ECE major.  I wonder if some of the ones they didn’t count would figure in now that I’m working on an HTY degree.)

Anyway!  Disaster averted, and the financial aid gods should be satisfied with that; I don’t think there’s anything in my aid package that counts on anything higher than a 3.5 (and most of it’s 3.0).

It’s only a nine-credit semester, 3/4 time, but given what I’ve been up against this fall, I believe I’ll call it an acceptable result.  Now I have three weeks to have the flu before the craziness of my 18-credit spring semester starts…

Well, THAT was a day.

December 20, 2012 4 comments

As previously noted, I was a 3/4-time student this semester, because of the ongoing recovery from my summer medical adventure.  I took three classes; one was online and did not have a final exam.

So, naturally, the finals in the other two – completely unrelated classes in different colleges, one for my MET degree and one for my history degree – ended up scheduled back-to-back on the Wednesday of finals week.  Which was today.

I should note that it started snowing here in north-central Maine on Monday afternoon… and, apart from occasional periods of sleet and/or freezing rain, which is not a helpful change, it hasn’t stopped yet.  For the past two days, the University of Maine has basically been the only school in Penobscot County not closed on account of the weather.

I got up this morning and went outside to find that my front walk and car were covered with around a foot of wet, heavy, hard-to-shovel snow.  It wasn’t until I’d finished shoveling that lot up, and in the process kicking off an asthma flareup that still hasn’t subsided, that I noticed I had a bigger problem: the man who plows our driveway hadn’t been by yet, and the municipal public works plows had left a three-foot-high wall of packed ice across the end of the driveway that there was no way any of our tools around the house were going to shift.  By the time Mom’s husband Vince managed to track down the plow guy and get him to come over and scrape that away, I’d have been running late for my first exam on a normal day, much less on Day 2 of a heavy snowfall.

I emailed my professors and let them know what I was up against, but that I was going to give it the old college try, then set off.  I live 12 miles via State Route 157, a typical two-lane country road, from Interstate 95.  This normally takes between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on (believe it or not) the traffic.*

Forty minutes later, I had just about reached the Interstate when my history professor, whose exam was scheduled to begin fairly soon, phoned me to say that I shouldn’t drive down on account of his class if I didn’t think it was safe, and that he’d get with the TA who’s been in charge of the class subsection I’m in and work out another way of handling my final.  With an extra couple of hours suddenly added to my schedule and the prospect of possibly not having to make the trip at all, I bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate at the gas station by the Interstate exit and made my way slowly back home, thinking I’d at least have time to get some lunch.

I had just about arrived at home when my other professor (Thermal Science), whose exam was set for later in the afternoon, emailed me and cheerfully related that he’d checked his records, and I’d be all set if I chose not to turn up for the final in his class.  With my excellent homework record and decent-to-quite-good range of scores on preliminary exams, I’d end up with a C-, easily clearing the minimum requirement to progress on to his Thermal Applications course next semester.

Please note that he was not being sarcastic or snide with that.  He’s genuinely not bothered about how much you pass his class by, as long as you pass it.  With a perfectly aligned engineer’s mindset, he’d crunched the numbers and determined that the outcome would be Acceptable, and he was pleased to let me know that my troubles were over.

I like Professor Crosby a lot, but coming from a background where I’d be grounded for a month if I brought home a B in math, I find his mindset on grading a little difficult to get behind; and anyway, I don’t think the financial aid gods would have been quite so sanguine about what that’d do to my GPA, so I scratched lunch from my plans and got ready to go out and do battle with the snow again.

It was at this point that Vincent called and insisted that, if I was planning to go back out into the snow, I should take his 4WD pickup truck instead of my poor old Pontiac.  Which meant slogging across the yard to Mom’s house for the keys.  Note that Mom and Vincent were both at home sick with some kind of Arcturan misery virus today, so naturally this would be the day when, while I stood in their front hall trying to breathe as shallowly as possible (already feeling wheezy in the chest) and thinking dark thoughts about swarming pathogens, they couldn’t find the keys.  Protesting that A) I was already going to be late because of this and B) I don’t want bird flu, I tried to leave four or five times, to increasingly plaintive cries of no wait wait I know they’re here somewhere from my mother, before I finally escaped.

Then, in the driveway, I thought hmm, I wonder, tried the door of the pickup, and found that it was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition.  I believe it was last driven sometime last week.

So I shlepped my things across and hit the trail again, feeling marginally more confident.  I was about halfway to the Interstate again when I looked down and found that the truck was nearly out of gas.

OK, don’t panic, I thought, there’s that full-service gas station in East Millinocket, I’ll fill up there and won’t even have to get out of the truck.

You’re not going to believe this next part, but I swear it is the truth.  As I arrived in East Millinocket – literally just as my eye sought out and focused on the lit-up sign showing today’s price at the full-service Shell station on Main Street:

The power went out.

Gas station and neighboring credit union signs suddenly dark, town’s one traffic light goes into blinky yellow “the grid has failed me” mode.  Zap.

I believe I said aloud something along the lines of, “Are you f—king kidding me?!”

I wondered if the power would still be out when I got to Medway, the next and last town before the Interstate.  It was.  The Citgo station and the Dysart’s one, both dark.  Now I have a serious problem developing.  I don’t have enough gas to make it to Orono, and the next town down the line from Medway, Lincoln, is miles off the highway via an access road.  If the Irving station out by the Interstate (where I had, you may recall, earlier bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate) is out as well, I’m beached.  I’ll have to turn around and pick my way back across 157 to Millinocket again, at which point I’ll be so late I might as well not show up at all.

Here, at last, the Force was with me a little, because just as I arrived at the Irving station, the power came back on (giving me the interesting sight of the electronic price sign saying that the per-gallon cost of regular unleaded was ERROR).  Breathing a sigh of relief, I pulled up, went through the usual procedure, pressed the button to select the grade of gasoline I wanted, and received the message, NETWORK ERROR PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

“Oh, the power’s just been out,” said a voice behind me, making me jump slightly.  I turned to see the woman I’d bought the meat snack and hot chocolate from earlier, holding a roll of tape and a handful of signs reading CREDIT CARD READERS OUT OF ORDER PLEASE PAY INSIDE.  This apparently happens often enough that they already had these signs ready to go.

“I don’t have any cash,” I said.

“The one inside works, it has a backup system,” she told me.  “It’s just the ones in the pumps.  Reset it and hit PAY INSIDE and you’ll be fine.”

(Modulo the backup system actually involving a dial-as-required screechy modem somewhere under the counter and about a five-minute wait for authentication, anyway.)

Thermo exam scheduled start time: 2:45 PM.

Speed limit on Interstate 95 today: 45 MPH.

My arrival time in the room where the Thermo exam was happening: 3:15 PM.

Prof. Crosby was startled to see me arrive; having told me not to sweat it and that I’d pass the class if I didn’t show, he figured that’d be the end of it.  Fortunately, since no one else needed the room after us, he let everyone overrun the scheduled exam end time (5:00) a bit, stretching it out until 5:30.  Which was good, because I needed that extra half-hour.  I still didn’t quite finish the exam, but with a little help from Our Lady of Partial Credit, I may yet pull a decent score on it – and since I already knew I had a C- without it, anything I manage to score on it will be gravy in a way.

As we packed up to leave, Prof. Crosby said, “You’re not going back tonight, are you?  Feel free to bunk on one of the couches in the MTL student lounge and head back in the morning if you think it’d be safer.  Nobody will bother you in there.”  This was mildly tempting, but indeed I was heading back forthwith, because – an email from my history professor which had arrived while I was phone-off for the Thermo exam informed me – my history final was waiting in my inbox at home, for me to complete tonight, on my honor, without reference to the textbook.

Which I did when I finally got home around 10.

Phew.  Man.  Some days you get the elevator and some days you just get the shaft.  Props to Professor Riordan and Lee-the-TA for cutting me a break on the history exam, though.  And that’s one more semester in the can.  And I don’t have to go anywhere for the next several days… which is good, because I think it’s supposed to snow again on Friday…

Edited to add: It’s Friday and I have, in fact, got the flu.

* By “traffic” I don’t mean gridlock, but rather that it’s a two-lane country road in an area where the mean age is something like, no kidding, 55 – which means one stands a fairly good chance of ending up behind some aged citizen who lacks any sort of sense of urgency, and if you’re thwarted by oncoming traffic at the one or two good places to pass, one can easily end up having to dawdle along at 35 MPH or worse the whole way, even on a perfectly clear, dry summer day.  This is unspeakably infuriating when it happens, which, naturally, it tends to do when one is running late.  In this case it didn’t happen, but frankly it wouldn’t have mattered if it had, since I don’t think I got about 30 at any time anyway.

Primary Sources Can Be Fun

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the courses I’m taking this semester is a history course concerning the Revolutionary War as it was fought in and affected the province of Maine (which was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and after the Revolution was part of the state of Massachusetts until 1820).  One of the documents we’re using in the course is called the Baxter Manuscripts, and is a compiled transcription of various letters, notes, legal documents etc., mainly pertaining to the provincial assembly of Maine and its communications with the Massachusetts legislature in Watertown.

Now, as anyone who has read anything about the American Revolution probably knows, the state of the art in English written communication in the 18th century was, er, interesting as compared to today.  There was a great deal less standardization as regards orthography, in particular, and the rules of capitalization and punctuation were observed somewhat less conscientiously even by well-educated people like the Founders.  And there was that whole thing with the two versions of lowercase s, so that you ended up with sentences that looked like they were saying “at which point the foldiers were told to take themfelves outfide or face the confequences.”

Even by these liberal standards, though, there are some utter gems in the Baxter Manuscripts.  Take, for instance, this letter to the Massachusetts revolutionary council regarding militia units in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine:

To the Honorabel the Counsel of the Massachetts Bay

Gentlemen – you may Remembr that you gave ordors for Raising Two Companys To Be Stashond on Nashone the Captns have Borth Ben With me Sence & Returnd and Say they Cannot Inlist any men By Reson of the Wages Being So Loo  I have Ben Indavoring to forawd the mater But find that To Be the younavarcel Compaint – if your Honers Are pleasd To Give any farther ordors About the Mater I Shall Indaver To Conduct Agreabel thair to
I am yours To Sarve

Joseph Dimuck

Dated att Falmouth Desembr ye 23 1776

Now that, my friends, is a missive.  I particularly enjoy (as does our instructor) the word “younavarcel”.  The younavarcel Compaint would make an excellent band title for an American Revolution-themed punk rock band (there must certainly be at least one making the rounds of the historical re-enactment community).

Registration Day

October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

I just registered for my spring classes.  I think the schedule I’ve constructed might be a little too ambitious – I’ll be jumping from 9 credits this semester to 18 in the next – but it does have its advantages.

spring2013sched

Here’s the schedule grid for the week after we get back from Spring Break.  Notice the big block off to the right?  That’s an odd, odd course; it meets all day Saturday, but only three times over the course of the semester.  You may have noticed that the designation shown on the schedule is somewhat less than illuminating.  That’s because it’s one of those catchall course designations that can mean different things at different times.  I’m taking a course called HTY 398 this semester, too – an online class entitled “Maine in the American Revolution” – but next semester it’s a non-online class that meets on three Saturdays and involves attending a full-weekend conference in Camden in February with the ominous title The Middle East: What Next?

Now, I’ll admit right up front that I am not terribly interested in the Middle East barring T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but one of the requirements for a history degree at the University of Maine is that you must have taken at least two courses involving the history of some part of the world other than Europe and North America.  With the schedule above I’m hitting both of those next semester (“History of the British Empire” counts as one too; Britain is in Europe, or at least next to it, but the Empire was not), as well as clearing off the last of the 100-level courses required (106, the followup to HTY 105, which I took in fall 1993).

I also have to admit that I’m awfully tempted to drop HTY 450, despite the fact that it gets the other half of the foreign history requirement out of the way (and that the instructor is my HTY advisor, Professor Miller), because it’s been verrry nice having Tuesday and Thursday off this semester, not only from an oh-God-not-more-driving perspective but also from an oh-God-not-buying-more-gasoline perspective.

On the MET side, what I’ve got there is the sequel to this semester’s thermodynamics class; officially they’re “Thermal Science” and “Thermal Applications”, but basically they’re Thermodynamics I and II.  MET 126 is also a sequel to a class I’ve had already, but has a new instructor.  Not sure what to make of his scheduling choices.  Has he got a day job or something?  I think the way that and Thermo II are scheduled will keep me out of my work study gig altogether on those days, but on the other hand I’ll be open for both the afternoon and night labs on Tuesday and Thursday, which is a point in favor of not dropping HTY 450.

Have to wrap this up right now, as I need to go post a sign at the MTL noting that there is no night lab tonight, then head home and wait for the power to go out.

A Snapshot In Time

October 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Yes, it’s well past time for an informative post about what’s going on this semester.  This, however, is not that post.  I just wanted to note something that happened today.

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is a very basic introductory U.S. History class, because it’s a degree requirement on the HTY side of my schizoid program.  Being a basic class taken by a lot of freshmen, this is held in one of the giant auditorium-style lecture halls in Little Hall.  I’ve had several classes in these rooms, but never one quite like this.  It’s sort of your classic college Giant Introductory Lecture, where the instructor’s not that bothered about whether people turn up or what they’re doing as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses.

I sit up at the back, behind all the stadium seats, at a desk thoughtfully provided by the DSS office; from my perch I can see what all the people in about a third of the auditorium are up to.  As you might expect, a lot of them are up to using their laptops for stuff other than paying attention to the lecture.  Facebook, sports websites, lolcats, that kind of thing.  I usually pay it little mind.  It’s no skin off my back if the kids aren’t with the program.

Today, though?

Today someone was playing Galaga.

Thought we wouldn’t notice… but we did.

Did I Miss Anything?

July 18, 2012 2 comments

OK, well, been a while, sorry about that.  I got a little sidetracked.  Actually, I am a little sidetracked, but I have a few minutes, so here’s a quick update on three things that have gone on since January.

1) Program Changes

This past spring, during the first week of the semester, I found myself dissatisfied with my choice of program again.  This was not quite the same as my disenchantment with electrical engineering at the end of Fall ‘10 – it had more to do with the fact that one of the courses I was enrolled in seemed not to know quite what it wanted to be, in a way that made me wonder whether the MET program was really the thing.  (That, and I’ve been told by professors in other fields that graduates of the School of Engineering Technology aren’t eligible for licensure as professional engineers in states other than Maine, which is cause for concern if, like me, you’ve been tired of living here since about 1989.)

I considered switching to straight mechanical engineering, but eventually decided against it because there’s very little portability between the two programs.  I’d essentially have been starting over, and there’s always the enhanced math requirements of the MEE program to consider.  Then I got to thinking about something Professor Miller had said to me in an email back in the fall semester – to the effect that he thought I had a real flair for history and had I considered majoring in it?  In fact, I was a history major the first time I was at UMaine, in 1993-94… but the engineering and engineering tech programs have by far the best (and by “best” I really mean “least dismal” in this day and age) post-graduation employment potential.

I had just about convinced myself that that wasn’t important – that what I really needed to do was Follow My Heart regardless of future considerations and “go home” to the history department – by the time I arrived at that department’s office and asked the lady there for the form I would need to get it done…

… and then she asked me, “Do you intend to drop your engineering major?”

And I thought, Well, obviously – I’ve no intention of carrying two majors…

And what I said out loud was, “Oh no, certainly not.”

I mulled that snap decision over for the rest of that week, and what I eventually concluded was that I’d had an idea that hadn’t made its way to my conscious mind yet.  Either that or I’m really good at rationalizing.  Either way, what I’m thinking now is this: I’ll do both majors – in fact, I need to file another paper to split my program into two completely separate degrees – and then use the technical background my MET degree provides to develop a place for myself as a technology historian.  I’ve been told repeatedly (by people within as well as outside the program) that SET grads can basically forget about graduate school in engineering, so, fine – I’ll do it in history.

Mind you, there is not exactly a booming job market for historians with a specific focus on science, technology, and engineering, but there must be some way in.  I mean, I once saw a television documentary which featured a man whose job title was “forensic paleoclimatologist”.  If there’s a corner of the academic world for someone with a specialization like that, surely there’s one for what I’m thinking of doing.  And if not, well, I’ll still be able to work as a mechanical engineer.  In Maine.

It’s not the tastiest fallback position, but at least it is one.

2) The Spring Semester

With a plan thus in place, I went ahead and firmed up my course selections for the semester.  This was largely a continuation of Fall ‘11, with Introductory German 2 at UMaine and Physics 2 at EMCC following on their predecessors from the fall; same instructors, too, and in the case of Physics, the same days and times of day.  I also had the first of the MET program’s mechanics courses, Statics, which met at 8 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – not my favorite, but the class itself turned out to be great.

I stumbled a little early on with Statics, mainly because of the time of day, and partly because (as a corollary) I hadn’t quite divined Professor Dvorak’s attitude toward examinations when the time came for the first one.  He announced it in class a week before it was to be held and pointed out, sort of by the way, that since the UMaine academic day starts at 8, there was no class scheduled in the room before ours.  “I’m going to be here at seven,” he said, “but you don’t have to come in until the regular time.”

So I did go in at the regular time, and had about 70% of the exam finished when the class period ended and we all had to GTFO to make room for the guys who needed the room for 9 o’clock.  I turned out that I had that 70% done right, so if I’d had time to finish I’d have aced the test.  Well, lesson learned; I showed up no later than 7:15 for the others (apart from the one I missed for medical reasons and had to make up on an afternoon in the last week of the semester), finished them all in plenty of time, and walked away with an A in the class.

Physics similarly went well, because by then I did have a clear read on Mr. Marquis and his preferences for the way the class ran.  It was basically just like the course I’d taken in the fall hadn’t finished yet – more of the same, just with different faces in the lab section.  Physics 2 is largely focused on electromagnetism, acoustics, and optics, all of which is good times to me.  No worries there, apart from the week when I inexplicably lost my lab report somewhere between home and class.  It turned out not to hurt me in the end, because my other labs were good enough that the lowest-grade-dropped being a zero didn’t leave me with a bleeding wound elsewhere on the score sheet.  A there as well.

I struggled a little in German, or at least felt like I did.  It was a strange experience.  For no really evident reason I found myself walking out of every test (and there’s one every couple of weeks in Intro German, rather than the more usual university-level three or four a semester) thinking Well, that was a disaster, only to discover when they came back on Monday that I’d done fine, or fallen down on one section and saved myself with the extra credit at the end, or some similar oddity.  The resulting A- is one of those “game was not as close as the score implies” things.  Annoyingly, I can’t take Intermediate German this fall because it’s only offered at the same time as an MET course I critically need.

Of course, now all of that is up in the air because

3) Impending Medical Adventures

I’ve gone into greater detail about this elsewhere, but most of the details aren’t really germane to Extra Sheets, so here’s the really short version: I have to have major surgery in a couple of weeks.  This was originally supposed to happen much earlier in the month, when it would just have been possible that I’d have been recovered by the start of the fall semester.  That’s entirely out of the question now.

I’m exploring my options with the help of the student disability services office, the SET program office, and others at the University.  I may be able to cut my course load back to a part-time schedule and just take the two MET courses I have to have to stay on track with the program.  It’s a small program, a lot of the courses are specific prereqs for others, and many are only offered in one semester or the other, so if I miss this fall’s pieces that basically sets me back a full year.  Would really like to avoid that if I can help it, although at this point I’m not sure I can.  We’ll see.

There are two interesting things about this.

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s something from the online student service thingy.

holdrefund

There are two interesting things about this.  One is what it says under Start Term – quite ambitious for a campus information system, I should think.

The other is that they didn’t do it.

For those of you who remember the excitement at the beginning of last semester, I was informed somewhat after the fact that, since I was taking Physics I at Eastern Maine Community College and thus considered an Away Student, the Bursar’s Office was holding my refund and wouldn’t release it until they’d received proof of enrollment from EMCC – proof that would not be forthcoming, EMCC’s people told me, until the second week of the semester, after their Add/Drop period expired.  This led to a bit of a desperate scramble for the first couple weeks of the semester.

Well, this semester, I’m taking Physics II at EMCC, and was warned ahead of time (for once) to expect the same dance again.  There was some fairly grim hatch-battening going on this last week as a result, I assure you.

So imagine my surprise when the aforementioned spring semester refund arrived in the mail this morning.

Actually, this was doubly surprising, because A) they insisted last month that it wasn’t ever going to happen and I should prepare to eat ramen and steal other people’s gasoline for the first week or two and B) my driveway is icy, which usually causes the postman to wave off and not bother delivering my mail.

I’d call them Monday and ask what the deal is, if I wasn’t 80% sure that would cause a Bureaucratic Correction involving the money somehow being rescinded until later in the month, and, well, no.  Not gonna do it; wouldn’t be prudent.

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