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Sometimes You Get the Elevator

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Math continues to go well.  ECE 101, on the other hand, continues to be… up and down.

Last week, for instance, I enjoyed doing the homework quite a bit, and felt like I had what we were talking about in lecture pretty well surrounded.  Not to the point of smugness, but there was a certain sense of satisfaction involved.  The doom cloud from a few weeks ago had more or less dispersed.

That lasted until today, when I sat down to get busy on this week’s and discovered that it makes no sense at all.

Now, intellectually, I know why this is happening, and it isn’t because I’ve suddenly forgotten how to evaluate an RC circuit after doing a dozen of them last week.  It’s because I stupidly didn’t do my interferon shot on Friday evening; I put it off until midday Saturday.  That means I spent last night riding the side effects train, and today my brain is just too tired to concentrate.  Normally I get that out of the way on Saturday and then can get useful work done on Sunday, at least in the afternoon.  This weekend, not so much.  I’m not physically weary, but I can’t focus well enough to work on anything as demanding as my ECE homework.

So, lesson learned.  Do shot on Friday or don’t do it at all.  In the meantime, if I put in some diligence tomorrow or Tuesday and go to recitation on Wednesday, all should be well.  I hope.  One of the other side effects of shot day +1 is that I find it hard to be entirely convinced that all will be well – but at least I know that is a side effect, and that it should clear up if I wait it out and get enough sleep tonight.

In other news, the "wish list" functionality of the online course registration tool became available for spring 2011 yesterday.  I won’t actually be able to register for classes until Nov. 10, but I can start browsing and noting things down now – so I did, yesterday morning.  What I learned doesn’t really fill me with joy either, and that’s not the interferon talking.  I’ll be just as displeased with the results tomorrow, because, among other things, I learned that there is no way to take the classes I’m supposed to be taking in that semester and arrange things so that I have even one weekday off.  Which means commuting all five days, every week, in the semester that starts in the dead of winter.  And one of the classes I need is only offered starting at 5 PM, which is well after dark in January – I mean, what?

I considered switching to the less theoretical Electrical Engineering Technology program, which has different math and physics requirements (since the offending courses here are Calculus I and Physics I), only to discover that the introductory courses in that program are only offered in the fall semester – which means essentially just writing this year off and starting over in fall 2011.  It seems to me like that’s not really optimal either.  Mechanical Engineering is similarly fall-biased – and just to add insult to injury, the only fall-2011 EE class that isn’t a problem scheduling-wise is ECE 177, Introduction to Programming for Engineers.  The one I don’t really want any part of in the first place, but which is required for everyone in the program.

I would seriously consider jumping ship back to a non-technical major if there looked like being any future in any of them after college, but right now there simply doesn’t.  While I’ve determined to my satisfaction that I can absorb advanced math and technical subjects, I’m also rapidly approaching certitude that I don’t particularly enjoy them, and that’s making the whole prospect of the next three and a half years – and what comes after them – look really rather dreary.

Then again, on shot day +1, everything looks really rather dreary, so perhaps this is just another aspect of the thing that I need to wait out.

Over in CMJ 103, annoyingly, I drew the shortest possible straw for delivery of persuasive speech #3: I have to go first of everybody, 11 o’clock this very Wednesday, which means the person going last of all has more than a week longer to prepare.  That doesn’t strike me as overwhelmingly fair, but at least the draw was random, so if I’m being picked on, it’s just by fate.

And to end on a positive note, I got my exam in that class back on Friday, the one where I punted on the short answer question.  My instructor’s note next to that question pretty much sums it all up: "I laughed! But you did great so it’s okay you blanked."

If the season ended right now (as the fatuous sports reporting schtick puts it), I’d be in a pretty good position academically – but the season isn’t ending right now, and I have to try to stay focused.  I don’t remember high school being so psychologically uneven, but then I suppose I don’t really remember high school at all, academically speaking.

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Premature Jocularity

October 17, 2010 5 comments

You may recognize the above term from old episodes of SportsCenter; it’s a term they used when covering athletes who celebrated some achievement before it was, technically, complete, and in doing so either endangered it or actually kept it from happening.  Canonical examples include that soccer goaltender who was too busy doing the “I am the man” dance to notice that the ball he’d just deflected was, in fact, rolling into the goal anyway, and that one snowboarder in the 2006 Winter Olympics who was leading a race by such a huge margin that she decided to do a showboaty stunt on the last jump – and promptly stuffed it and had lost quite resoundingly by the time she extracted herself from the snowbank.

I don’t like to risk premature jocularity, because a) it’s obnoxious and b) it leads to a particularly agonizing sort of embarrassment when it all goes wrong as a direct result of showing off.  Besides, it constitutes a very specific type of tempting fate.  I’m as superstitious as the next guy, and the last thing I need is to jinx myself by some round declaration that I’ve got something surrounded.

But all the same, I have to say… last night I sat down and, having accumulated a bit of a backlog of online-math-class homework sets owing to illness, fall break, and a bit of losing track of time, undertook to catch up.  I approached this task with a measure of dread, because in addition to having fallen a bit behind on the homework, I also haven’t managed to make it to lecture for a couple of weeks.  That’s not actually a problem, administratively, because I’m technically in the online class and am not expected to show up for the live lectures at all, but as previously discussed, I think I do a lot better when I make it to them.  But between one thing and another, I haven’t been able to attend since the exam, which covered through Chapter 4.

This meant that I had the homework sets for all the sections of Chapter 5 we’ve covered to do – six of them, plus a quiz on 5.1 through 5.4 – and no live instructor face time for any of it.  Just the “see an example” button and the little videos and animations the online course tools provide.

And… it wasn’t that hard.

Mind you, it took a long time – something like four and a half hours to get it all done – and I felt pretty crispy at the end, because I didn’t actually intend to do all six sets and the quiz in a single day.  I figured I’d do two of them yesterday, two and the quiz today, and the remaining two tomorrow afternoon, between ECE seminar and (touch wood) the observatory opening.  Instead it was like the math homework equivalent of one of those occasions where you sit down to have a cookie and discover yourself, an indeterminate time later, covered in crumbs and clutching an empty cookie bag.  (Or does that only happen to me?)

It took a long time and it left me slightly reeling, but… and again I have to stop and glance furtively around – it really didn’t seem that hard.  It was all to do with logarithms and exponential equations, and the relationships between them, and I’m sure I could still do with some reviewing on the purely rote parts of the process (which bits of an exponential go where in a log, for instance – can be worked out from context in a lot of cases, but it’s presumably easier to just learn by rote which number goes where), but overall it wasn’t nearly as agonizing as, say, rational functions.

In a perverse way, I almost hate it when I start to feel like I’m getting something.  It always places me in danger of pausing too long to admire what I’ve just learned and then finding myself running behind the school bus as it plows remorselessly on to the next stop on whatever route the class is taking.  I think my tattered old brain would like college better if it ran on about a ten-year timescale.  Still, I get what I’m expected to get this week, and that feels pretty good.

Mind you, I’m still not sure where e comes into it over in ECE 101 – I know it’s involved in the calculation of a capacitor’s voltage over time, but why that particular bizarrely irrational number should come into it I’m not all that clear on… but one epiphany at a time.  At least I know what to do with it in that context.

If You Must Punt, Punt With Style

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Today we had the first of two exams in CMJ 103, Fundamentals of Public Communication.  The exams are worth 15% of our final grade apiece, so they’re important but not, individually, absolutely critical.  Which is good, because they’re kind of annoyingly at odds with the way the rest of the class works.  We don’t really use the textbook for much, other than to read through chapters having to do with what we’re trying to accomplish in the speaking part of the class, but the test questions are drawn directly from the textbook, and so a lot of them are very specifically terminological.

Since public speaking these days is basically a really lite-beer subset of psychology, that terminology is mostly rather soft and vague, and specific to this particular book, so we’re not really being tested on what things are called generally as on what this particular author likes to call them.  I find this irritating and frankly kind of a waste of my precious, aged brain cells.

Still, most of the test was multiple choice, and multiple-choice tests are the optimal form for things based on specific terminology, as far as I’m concerned.  Oftentimes the prospective answers will include two things that are obviously terms from the book, one of which is right and the other of which is either its opposite or irrelevant, two things that are completely made up but were intended to seem convincingly like terms from the book if you weren’t really paying attention, and one that is just completely ridiculous and is presumably just there to weed out the students who can’t actually read at all.

So 45 multiple choice questions went past… pretty quickly.  This concerned me slightly, since the instructor had said as we were beginning that she’d seen students in one of the other CMJ 103 divisions still at work on their exam at the end of the previous class period.  We had 50 minutes to get the whole test done and I washed up on the beach at the end of the multiple-choice section in about 17.  Christ, I thought, the essay question must be hellacious.

You see, the two parts that weren’t multiple-choice were a single five-part short answer question and one essay question at the end.  In the latter, we were meant to read a sample speech introduction and then critique it as to whether it contained all the bits the book tells us a speech introduction is supposed to have in it.  This proved to be easy and, apart from the necessity to write it down on unlined paper in a way that the instructor would be able to read (yes, I’m 37 and I still have trouble writing on unlined paper without my lines getting all slanty-wanty, which I used to get into trouble for in the second grade), wasn’t time-consuming either.  Slightly puzzled at having finished everything but the short answer question in less than half the class period, I backtracked to the short answer question, which I had skipped for fear that I would need all the time for the essay.

This, next to an indicator that it was worth five points of our total grade, was, “Name the five stages of the situational audience analysis process.”

I considered this for upward of a minute (it felt longer) and had to concede that I had no idea.  The audience analysis chapter was the squidgiest, psychologyish-est chapter in the half of the book we’ve so far read, even more tiresome and pompous than the one about Speaking Ethics, and though I get the basic idea, I had absorbed almost none of the specific terminology, in part because we’re not going to have time to be doing audience research before our actual speaking assignments anyway.  So I had no idea what the five stages of the situational (as opposed to demographical – I could have at least made some basic guesses if it’d been that one) audience analysis process are.

Thus, I instead answered this way (paraphrasing slightly from memory, but without deliberate abridgement):

[5 PTS] Name the five stages of the situational audience analysis process.

1. I have to confess that I’m drawing a complete blank on this particular subject.

2. I will therefore sacrifice these five points to the dark gods of exam questions.

3. Iä! Iä!, etc. (Lovecraft, 1930)

4. ?

5. Profit!

I doubt my instructor will get the Lovecraft reference (she doesn’t strike me as that sort of girl, though I admit that may be me erroneously pre-judging the audience), but at least I didn’t just leave it blank.  And I did do a bit of audience analysis – you can see it by the South Park reference. (I can’t stand that show, but I know the instructor likes it.)  And I did include a citation!  Though I may have gotten the year wrong.

Victoly!

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

(So far.)

We got last Friday’s ECE 101 exam back today.  I scored 86 points out of a possible 90, which I believe you will find is (to three significant digits) 95.6%.

I consider that outcome acceptable.

This week’s lab was an open session with no set goals, since it’s a short week and the Monday and Tuesday kids didn’t get their regular lab sessions.  I was there for nearly the whole time anyway, because I was out sick last week and had quite a bit of catching up to do.  This consisted mostly of wire-wrapping, which I’m (let’s be honest) rubbish at.  My magnifying visor helps, but I still end up driving home with an eyestrain headache.

Still, I had a better time than my lab partner.  Let’s-Call-Him-Matt got his exam back in lab today too, and he… didn’t have much to be pleased about.  I wouldn’t know about this, since I’m not one to pry, except that he handed it to me after Andy returned it and said, "Am I reading that right?  Does that say 58?"  I confirmed that that was indeed the number before I consciously registered what the document was, which meant that my tone of voice was probably inappropriately chipper for bad news.  Between that, the news itself, and the annoying, fiddly rigors of wire-wrapping, Matt was in a pretty poor mood for the whole session, and I don’t blame him.  I wish I could’ve been more help, but I fear that in the event, my usual tendency to retreat into mumbling awkwardness in the face of another’s adversity prevented me from being of any use.

It didn’t help that several of our nearest classmates were in an irritatingly cheery mood and wouldn’t shut up about some Facebook game they’re all addicted to, before they switched to baiting our conservative Air Force ROTC TA about some upcoming political rally or another.  That kind of thing grates when you’re trying to concentrate on the wire-wrapping you’re hideously behind on, regardless of what news you’ve just received about your exam score.

The upshot of all that is that we’re still a little behind, though not as far as if we’d just skived off on open lab (which we were technically entitled to do) and tried to get it all done next week.  If I didn’t have an appointment tomorrow afternoon, I’d go in again after math and see about getting the rest of the wire-wrapping done, but alas I do.

Speaking of math, yesterday I started digging through the homework sections for the lectures I missed last week, and I think I’ll be able to catch up there as well, but it’ll take some doing.  Things are getting hot and heavy in precalc-land, and between that and the fact that I seem to be doing well on the practical end in ECE 101, I’m starting to think harder than ever about the possibility of switching to EET, or possibly even MET – though part of me is still whispering that I should get out of the technical fields altogether, simply because while I apparently can absorb advanced math, I don’t enjoy it.  I’m supposed to meet with my advisor sometime in the next couple-three weeks to start planning for next semester (I won’t be able to register for spring classes until November).  Until then, the indecision continues.

In the meantime, the last of the midterm exams is coming up Friday, in CMJ 103.  I’m slightly concerned about that one, not because the class is hard – it isn’t – but because the exam is based on the textbook, which we’re not really using all that much, and the book is extremely preoccupied with terminology, most of which is arbitrary.  Fortunately, the exam is mostly multiple choice; there’s one essay question, but one imagines that can’t be too extensive, since we only have a regular 50-minute class period to take the test.

Week 6: Better

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Since Monday, I’ve discovered that we didn’t, in fact, manage to fix the leak in my car’s roof.  Oh, and acquired bronchitis (not from the leak), which caused me to miss EE lab on Wednesday and math on Thursday.  And yet, I’m willing to label this week a win, for three basic reasons:

1) I found out that I didn’t do anywhere near so poorly on last week’s math test as I thought I had when I left the exam room.  In fact, the online gradebook for MAT 122 shows that I pulled an 83%, which is a solid B.  Mind you, that’s only the first third of the course, and a look at chapter 5, which we started this week, shows that things are in the process of getting a lot more complicated in precalc-land.  Still, since I thought I’d blown the thing entirely, that’s a pretty good result.

2) I took the first exam in ECE 101 this morning.  Based on how that felt, there are two possibilities there: Either everything went well, or I was so lost I didn’t even feel lost.  Of the two, A is more likely than B, though I won’t be able to rule B out entirely until I get my score back next week.

3) No school until next Wednesday thanks to Columbus Day and what is a bit laughably called “Fall Break”, which, if you don’t count the weekend and Columbus Day, is one day long.

The exam this morning was a little odd.  When I handed it in at the end of the class period, having taken my time and rechecked everything, Andy asked if I’d had enough time to do all the questions.  When I said I had, he looked pleased and said, “I tried to calibrate it so you’d have enough time to finish.”  I’m… not entirely sure how I feel about being the class’s benchmark for, shall we be kind and call it deliberate pacing. I can never quite tell with Andy whether he’s just messing with me.

But hey, he appears to be that rare member of the faculty who actually takes seriously those stickers on all the entrance doors on campus that say STOP! IF YOU FEEL SICK, TELL YOUR SUPERVISOR AND GO HOME. When I appeared at lab on Wednesday, having missed recitation that morning because I was at the hospital seeking nebulization, he looked at the paperwork and said, “Bronchitis?  Seriously?  Check with your lab partner, but if it’s OK with him I want you to go home.” So I did.  And spent most of the drive home (between coughs) paranoiacally wondering if it was really some sort of test of my selfless devotion to classwork, which of course I had just failed.  But that doesn’t seem too likely, really.  There are much better things for any instructor to do than play psych-out games with me.

Anyway, if the exam did, in fact, go well, and my grade on Speech 2 was good (we’re not getting them back until Wednesday, but I’m not getting an impending doom vibe from the instructor), then I’m doing pretty decent as we approach mid-semester.  Which is a plus. Also, my ECE 101 lab partner informed me before the exam today that, while I was at home coughing up a lung on Wednesday, he got our robot’s LED working!  Huzzah!  I have some catching up to do in open lab next week, but that’s OK.  I kind of like open lab, there’s no time pressure.

Really getting quite tired of the drive, though.

The Golden Age of Ballooning

October 5, 2010 2 comments

As I mentioned last night, I have figured out how to capture the video streams we’re issued by the instructor in our public speaking classes and convert them into an unstreamed format.  They’re a tad bit big and my upload pipe isn’t so wide, but what the hell.

The management makes no warranty as to whether you’ll enjoy the show or learn anything, but if you’re feeling brave, here is my informative speech, "Project Excelsior".

And while I’m here, I suppose I might as well link the first one, which isn’t informative but has the virtue of being shorter.

Public Speaking: The Odyssey Continues

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

For the past three class days, and for at least one more, we’re doing our informative speeches in CMJ 103.  Some of my classmates’ speeches so far have been interesting; some have been tedious; two have been downright tiresome, because the people delivering them have had clearly visible axes to grind and it’s not appropriate to grind them in what was supposed to be an informative speech.  That’s what persuasive speeches, which we start working on next week, are for.

I delivered mine last Friday.  It went pretty well, I think.  My delivery could’ve been smoother, but hey.  This is a general public speaking class that everyone hoping to receive a degree from the University at some point is required to take.  The bar is not really all that high.  And that’s not to say I’m not trying – I’m making a concerted effort to take the whole thing as seriously as possible and do the best I can; just that I needn’t get that down on myself about any stylistic fumbles I may have committed along the way.

Our instructor records all our speeches with a Flip video camera, then uploads them to Flip’s private video sharing site and sends us the links (only to our own) after the class, so that we can watch ourselves and file a self-evaluation for next time.  (This is folded into our grade in some mysterious way.)  FlipShare’s private sharing site is a YouTube-ish streaming Flash video thing, and I just figured out over the weekend how to capture the streams and convert them into something more generally useful for archival purposes.  I’ve got last week’s, and indeed the introductory speech I posted a transcript of a while back, on my laptop’s hard drive now.  The link from Moonbase Dad is too slow for me to upload them anywhere tonight, but maybe if you’re good boys and girls I’ll post them later.

On Friday, once the informatives are out of the way, we get to start thinking about the first of our two persuasive speeches.  The first is intended to be delivered to a neutral-to-friendly audience, the second to a hostile one.  I’m not sure how that’ll be accomplished, since in both cases we’ll be addressing the rest of the class.  Perhaps it will involve some roleplaying.  I have a few ideas for persuasive speeches I might develop, but I haven’t made any decision yet, and I won’t have to until next week.  Our topics for Persuasive 1 were going to be due Friday, but since some of us won’t actually have done our informatives until Wednesday, the instructor decided to give those people a bit more time by pushing the topic deadline until the next Wednesday (since there’s no school on Monday).

In other news, we attempted to have our second rounds of observations for AST 110 tonight, but were largely thwarted by cloud cover.  We got one telescopic object in (sort of), I managed to point out two constellations (and I would’ve gotten a third one, except that the clouds ate Cygnus before I could get hold of a TA), but we threw in the towel an hour early because we were getting socked in and our weapons were useless.  When you’re in a spot with as much light pollution as the Maynard F. Jordan Observatory, you don’t need the added handicap of near-total overcast.