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Astronomy Is Hard

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

At least it is when you live someplace where it’s cloudy a lot.  Tonight was my first scheduled observatory night – something I was rather looking forward to, even though I expect my first session will be a symphony of bumbling – but, alas, it was canceled on account of the cast-iron overcast.  I’m told this is a relatively common event, and it is not completely unknown for whole semesters to go by without particular weeknights being available for observation (at which point the grades of the students who signed up for that weeknight are computed entirely from their lesson performance, as they will have been unable to complete the observation project).

I don’t recall if I mentioned this earlier, but I bungled my signup for this class originally – pushed the wrong button on the automated signup page and enrolled in the wrong evening’s section – and I was unable to get permission from the physics department office for my college’s dean’s office to correct the problem before the deadline to drop classes (today) passed.  As a contingency plan, I did get my dean’s office to switch me out of Tuesday night (when I would not have been able to attend) and into the online class.  My plan was to switch again if I could get permission to join the Monday section, but that didn’t happen, so it looks like (apart from observatory sessions) I’ll be doing this one remotely as well.

I’m a bit bummed about that, because it means I’ll miss out on the two sessions the on-campus sections do in the planetarium.  The planetarium is cool.  Does your university have a planetarium?  ‘Cause mine does, and it rocks.

Sorry.  Got a bit sidetracked there.  I think I’ll send the Wednesday section’s instructor an email and ask if I can sneak into their planetarium sessions.  Be a shame to miss out on that.

Also, I may run into a bit of a problem with having done the accompanying lecture class in 1993.  The lecture and lab aren’t close-coupled like, say, Chemistry, and you don’t have to take them in the same semester, but they do rather expect that if you’re taking the lab, you’ll still have the book (and, more importantly, the software) from the lecture – and while I do in fact still have my book from AST 109, it’s, uh, not the same one they’re using now.  So I’ll need to sort that out.

All this technology is getting on my nerves a little.  Today’s ECE 100 seminar involved members of the ECE faculty talking about the classes they teach and the research projects they’re working on, and everything one of them talked about was some kind of AI project or other computer programming thing.  It seems like the “computer engineering” part of the department name has largely consumed what used to be considered computer science back in my day.  According to Prof. Eason, the CS department is mainly concerned with Java programming and web/Internet stuff (what, in turn, used to be called IT back when) these days, leaving the serious computer stuff – AI, operating systems, all the heavy lifting in C – to the CEs.  The vibe I’m getting about the department culture so far almost feels like the electrical engineers are starting to be considered quaint.  This doesn’t make me happy.

It’ll be nice to get into the observatory, therefore, where the centerpiece is a telescope made by hand from brass in 1901.

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  1. September 14, 2010 at 03:08

    My brother is currently going for his Master’s (and then, he says, his Doctorate) in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis on robotics. (His undergrad degree was in Physics.) He works (or at least did work, not sure if he still does what with the school thing) for Indiana Life Sciences on laboratory automation, where he’s fond of saying he “makes robots that shoot acid.”

  2. Dave Van Domelen
    September 14, 2010 at 07:57

    We used to have a planetarium, many years ago. But it was up on the fourth floor, a sort of partial floor with only one stairway out…something that made the fire marshal unhappy (and still does), and we’re no longer allowed to have more than 10 people on that floor at once. Which kinda put the kibosh on having a planetarium, so it got converted to offices and storage.

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