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Is It That Time Again Already?

The second MAT 122 exam is coming up on Wednesday evening (why they schedule these things from 6 to 8 PM I really couldn’t tell you).  Oddly, I have so far found the material we’ve covered since the first exam to be easier than what we did in the first section.  OK, yes, I did fall down rather badly on this week’s quiz, but that’s because I got complacent and tried to intuit transformations to the graphs of trigonometric functions on the fly rather than actually working them out.  That works fine with sine and cosine graphs, but not so well for secant/cosecant and really not so much with tangent/cotangent. Result: that’ll be the quiz that gets thrown out at the end of the semester, and a lesson is learned.

Apart from that little difficulty, I’m feeling more sanguine about this exam than the first one.  On the other hand, I managed to pull an 83% on that one despite a feeling of utter impending doom upon leaving the exam room, so what do I know about taking tests?  At any rate, there’s a review session in the morning, and then I must rush home and vote.  This will probably be more futile than the math review session, since – as usual – no one is running who I particularly think should be holding public office in the first place – but it must be done.

Over in ECE 101, things are… odd.  We just finished what Andy insists was the hardest part of the course, which I suppose is the good news (although this week’s homework, which Andy says is easier than last week’s, might as well be in Amharic as far as I’m concerned, so don’t go by me).  The bad news is, that means we’re on the doorstep of the part of the course that’s all C programming.  The last time I tried to program in C, the year started with a 1 and the first President Bush (remember him?) was running for re-election.  And it sucked.  It sucked so much I abandoned computer science rather than ever have to do it again, only to discover, to my considerable dismay, that it’s followed me to electrical engineering (all the CS kiddies program in Java now).  I really don’t want to do that again.

But really, I should feel fortunate, I suppose.  I mean, I only have to come up with enough C to get our maze robot to work, and perhaps my lab partner – who started out as a computer engineering major and has already changed his major to computer science – will do some of that.  It’s next semester that I’ll have to take an entire course in the damn thing, ’cause that’s when ECE 177, Introduction to Programming for Engineers, arrives.  And, as I may have previously mentioned, it doesn’t matter if you’re not a CE major, or want nothing to do with computer programming ever again; in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, we all float down here.


In the short term, though, maybe the programming section will re-engage Let’s Call Him Matt a little.  Since he informed me a couple of lab sessions ago that a) physics sucks b) wire-wrapping sucks and c) Wednesdays suck (and for the record I can’t really argue with any of those), and that as a result he’s changed his major, his participation has been a bit… desultory.  He doesn’t technically need ECE 101 any more; it’s not going to do him a lick of good as regards his eventual degree in computer science.  He’s still trying to finish it, because this late in the semester it’ll still affect his GPA, but other than that it’s not that important.  He’s not explicitly punting, for which I am grateful, but he’s certainly neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed.

I sympathize.  His Wednesday schedule is such that by the time he arrives for our three-hour lab at 2 PM, he’s been going since 9 AM, and he still has one more class to go to before he’s done for the day at 8 PM.   Judging by the state of him when he gets to lab, he doesn’t seem to have time for lunch, either, as he’s always starving.  I had a Wednesday that looked like that myself, at the start of the semester, but I dropped the class that would’ve had me in at 9 and out at 8 because, well, I had the leisure to do it.  I’m carrying the bare minimum of credit hours required to maintain full-time student classification, because unlike most of these kids, I’m not really fussed about finishing in four years.  It’s rather liberating.  I can see where it wouldn’t be an option if you’ve got your parents to answer to, though.

Anyway, I wish Let’s Call Him Matt well in his new field, and I hope it’s what he’s looking for and that the reduced science requirement means he no longer has to take any sucky physics courses.  (I’m scheduled for the one that’s kicking his ass this semester, next semester.)  I just hope he doesn’t check out entirely before the semester’s over, ’cause I’m a fairly slow worker and, left to do it all myself, would probably have our robot working in time for graduation.

Speaking of scheduling for next semester, I mentioned last time that I’ve done it on the school’s "wish list" course reg tool (since I can’t actually register until the 10th).  Well, it’s not shot day +1 now, and I can tell you that I still don’t much like what I see there.  Picking up only the three courses required on Semester 2 of the current EE curriculum (for a minimum 12-credit load again), I’m still on campus a lot more than I have to be in this 12-credit semester, for some odd reason.  Worse, I couldn’t arrange for any blank days during the week at all, something I very much wanted in the winter semester, what with every day I’m on campus representing a 120-mile round trip, 4-6 gallons of gas, and all.  But no, it appears there’s no way to take MAT 126 that doesn’t require appearing on campus every single day.  Feh.

(And why does PHY 121, Physics for Engineers I, start at 5 PM?  Has the prof got a day job or something?)

I remain very tempted to change programs myself, though not until semester’s end, but I’m not sure where to go.  EET is a possibility, as is ME, though in both cases there are introductory classes that are only offered in the fall semester, so I’d spend the spring taking electives (which wouldn’t be so bad, actually) and then basically start over again next fall.  And there’s still part of me that would very much like to just get the hell away from anything that requires advanced math, but that part has so far been stayed by the grim realities of the graduate employment picture in the humanities these days.

I know I keep coming back to this subject here, and I apologize for that, but it’s because I keep circling back to it in my mind as I consider my future.  Because it’s a real Scylla/Charybdis sort of situation for me, knowing that I have the ability to pursue a technical career, but doubting whether I have the passion for it.  You know all the hearts-and-flowers talk high school guidance counselors give you about following your heart and money isn’t everything?  If my 19 years stumbling around in the private sector without any real qualifications taught me anything, it’s that, uh, yeah, actually, it kind of is.  And so I eye the exit wistfully but know that, practically speaking, I’m better off doing something that doesn’t really turn me on.

  1. November 2, 2010 at 01:48

    If you need math or C help, I’d be happy to talk you through most anything. (We’ve never met but I’ve been enjoying your fiction for about 10 years now, so it seems only fair.)

  2. mechamanx
    November 2, 2010 at 06:53

    On the bright side, if Visual C# Express’ IDE is any indicator, at least the program’s development environment is out to make the fiddly parts of typos and whatnot easier to deal with.

  3. FrozenCapybara
    November 2, 2010 at 12:00

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but while the employment prospects for humanities majors are indeed grim these days, are the prospects for engineering/science majors without an advanced degree any better? And even if they are, can you find a job that won’t expect you to go get a graduate degree in a few years? Because having done that particular dance myself, let me tell you that if your heart isn’t in it, a graduate program is a really, fantastically horrible idea.

    I may be completely wrong here, but I’m guessing that if you’re not really into the science-y bits, a humanities degree might be less painful in the short term and serve you just as well in the long term.

    • Ben
      November 2, 2010 at 16:21

      I’m not sure about science, but the job market for engineering BSes is hot. Most of the outgoing seniors this year have several job offers already – some of them actually have jobs waiting for them next summer, at average starting salaries that compare very favorably to network goonery back in the tech bubble Help Us Waste This Venture Capital days. As you might imagine, the College of Engineering leans pretty heavily on these stats when faced with the prospect that someone’s thinking about jumping ship.

      Mind you, there’s always the possibility that most or all of those job offers are from companies based in some godforsaken backwater like… well, like East Millinocket. The department’s stats are strangely silent on that point. :)

      (Also, I don’t have direct experience with those employers’ expectations as regards graduate degrees, but in general the engineering industry seems like one that would prefer its people to, once hired, spend their time working on stuff. Advanced degrees in engineering appear to be primarily for the people who have their eye on faculty positions.)

      Engineering in general is oddly subject to cycles of popularity as a subject of study. There was one in the ’40s and early ’50s, in the wake of WWII; there was another in the early ’70s, when my father’s generation turned to the field in a big way. The ’90s were due for another one, but the rise of the Internet made computer science more fashionable and left my dad’s generation to keep at it without a really big wave of young talent coming into the industry at that point. Those guys (and they were mostly guys) are all – like my father – coming up on retirement age now, and the industry is in a bit of a scramble to fill those chairs. This will probably cool off again in another 10 years or so, but for what anyone starting the program can reasonably view as the foreseeable, it’s expected to stay pretty warm.

      All of which is constantly on my mind as I weigh it against the fact, slowly growing less escapable, that it really doesn’t seem to be lighting up my dashboard very much.

      (Mind you, I know what my parents would say. Dad would say it’s the first semester of the program and I haven’t given it a fair chance to get interesting yet. In his day, engineering students didn’t even SEE their actual fields until late in their sophomore years, spending the first three semesters just getting the fundamental prereqs in. And Mom would tell me to man up and get on with it because it won’t be that much longer before I have to pay her nursing home fees. And she’d only be about half joking. :)

  4. Dave Van Domelen
    November 4, 2010 at 11:23

    I suppose Physics for Engineers could simply be one of those low-on-the-totem-pole courses at your school, unable to score a room at one of the more desirable times. Is PHY 121 also offered in the Fall? Check to see if it has a nicer timeslot in the Fall, because that might mean the Spring offering is “off sequence” and lower priority.

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