Home > General Musings > If I Know Vaguely What’s Going On, It Must Be Week 4

If I Know Vaguely What’s Going On, It Must Be Week 4

I mentioned last time that this semester was getting off to a weird start.  As the first couple of weeks went on, it only got weirder.  There have been three snow days already this semester, which I’m told is well above the average.  (Annoyingly, one of them was on a Friday, when I don’t have any classes anyway.  I felt vaguely cheated by fate.)  Weirder still is the way my class schedule ended up working out.  Last semester I had two Proper Classroom Classes in a row on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, some stuff on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and an optional lecture on Tuesday and Thursday mornings that was tied to my online math class.  If I went to the optionals, I never had a day that started later than 11 AM, but on the other hand, except for lab day on Wednesday, the rare Monday nights when the observatory was open, and ECE 100 seminar on Monday afternoon, I was done by 1 PM.

This semester is almost exactly the opposite.  I only have one class on any given day, and none at all on Fridays, but 1 PM is the earliest I start – on Monday – and on the other three days nothing happens before 3 PM, but by the same token, I’m never done before 5 (on Wednesdays I’m actually done at 7:30).  It’s all kind of disorienting.

Not, admittedly, as disorienting as crashing my car on my way home last Tuesday was, but I can’t really blame my afternoon class for that.  (I’m OK, and Dad’s more or less nailed the car back together.  Black ice on the Interstate.  I ended up doing a 280 into the snowbank off to the right-hand side of the road and having to be fished out by a tow truck.  More embarrassing than anything else, though while I was waiting to be rescued, I did have a nice view of the overpass I’d have hit if the ice patch had been 200 yards further south.)

Anyway, week 4 is underway, and things seem to be settling into a rhythm.  I’m not behind on anything but a bit of reading at the moment, which is nice.  A quick rundown of my classes as they presently stand:

MET 107: We’ve been in the lab three times now (we missed a week because there were no classes on the second Monday of the semester).  I’ve done the lathe orientation (twice, because of an odd scheduling issue last week) and the beginning of the one for the vertical milling machines, and today I used one of the bench grinders to make the toolbit I’ll eventually be using to turn stuff on the lathe.  My neurologists faffed around a bit on whether I should even be taking the class, and finally copped out with, "Well, that’s your decision.  Wear goggles!"  So I’m committed now – I can’t add anything to replace it with if I drop it, and it’s too late to drop for a full refund anyway – and I’ll have to put up with being X-rayed before MRIs from now on.

This class really, really trips my hate-being-bad-at-stuff breakers, but at the same time, I find there’s something kind of oddly fascinating about machine tools.  Every time I look at one of the lathes, particularly, I’m struck by how beautifully made the parts of the machine itself are.  And there are all those levers and knobs and dials (most of which I know the uses of now, though I have yet to actually turn anything).  There’s something oddly alluring about them.  Bench grinders, not so much, and in the course of getting my checkoff on "table alignment" for the milling machines today, I’ve learned that I am too short to operate parts of a Bridgeport vertical mill comfortably, but I’m developing a weird fondness for lathes.  Let’s hope that survives my first actual use of one.

MET 121: We’re still in the manual-drafting-overview phase of this class, and will be for this week and, I think, next.  Again, hammering my bad-at-things button pretty hard.  The last time I did any drafting was in eighth-grade Industrial Arts class, and I distinctly remember being informed that I wasn’t very good at it.  Again, though, I have an odd fondness for the tools.  Part of that is because that’s what Dad used to do.  My earliest memories of him at work involved the big drafting room at the old Great Northern Paper Engineering & Research Building (now, like the rest of GNP in Millinocket, a derelict hulk).  Guys with ’70s sideburns and wide ties stuffed into their white short-sleeve dress shirts between the second and third buttons, drawing big machine parts with those lighted pantograph drafting arms.  Not a lot of that going on in industry any more (particularly the sideburns).

In a couple of weeks we’ll have a test on what we’ve covered so far and then move into learning the Solid Edge CAD package (which I already have the academic version of on my laptop here).  I’m looking forward to that.  I’m enjoying the old-fashioned phase too (for all that I’m not very good at it, particularly lettering), but the room we’re doing it in is a CAD lab, so the facilities are not what you would call optimized for manual drafting.

COS 120: In my original two-strikes college career, I failed no fewer than three computer programming classes – one in Pascal, one in Scheme (a dialect of LISP), and one in C.  My penance for being such a hopeless numpty is having to take COS 120, a class in the computer programming equivalent of pig latin: Microsoft Visual Basic.  I want you to understand, I don’t object to this because it’s a Microsoft product.  I don’t object to it because the programs it makes only work on Windows.  And I don’t have a problem with the fact that it’s allegedly a descendant of the Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.  BASIC, back in the Timex-Sinclair 1000/Apple II days, was good to me.  I passed the BASIC class I took (in high school).  I even used to read those cheesy books that were like Choose Your Own Adventure novels, except instead of branching page number routes, they had little BASIC programs you had to key into your Apple and debug before you could move on.

No, if anything, I think my problem with Visual Basic is that it’s not BASIC.  So far, it’s about as much like BASIC as my mom’s Cadillac is like an 1885 Benz Patent-Motorwagen which doesn’t sound so bad, but I only ever learned how to drive a Motorwagen, if you follow me.  Anyway, so far the programming hasn’t been terribly taxing.  Programming itself never particularly is for me.  It’s algorithm design that eventually leaves me by the side of the road.  Maybe things will be different this time.  My biggest challenge with this class so far has just been that it happens from 5 to 7:30 PM, and my body would rather be getting dinner about halfway through that time period.

CLA 102 (online): This one is… interesting.  It involves reading selections from, as the course’s title suggests, Latin literature in English translation, digesting it a bit, and then posting an essay on the selection just read to a sort of clumsily implemented blog that’s part of the course’s Blackboard page.  Then one must read other students’ blog entries on the same selection and make a minimum number of intelligent comments.  There have been no flamewars yet, though one of the other students was, I think, possibly looking to start one regarding my thoughts on Lucretius and his (I thought pompous and superior) musings about death and the fear of death – but I wasn’t particularly bothered if he thought I had totally the wrong idea, so that didn’t get any traction.

I’m enjoying the class, but I’m not quite certain I can take it entirely seriously.  I mean, two of our assignments involve reviewing multiple-episode blocks of Rome, the HBO drama series about the fall of the Roman Republic, which, I mean, what?  I’ll grant you it’s fairly serious television, as these things go – it’s not Caligula – but reviewing a TV program in a course on classical literature?  Still, it beats taking a feminist theoretical perspective.  I don’t even know what that means.  And I very much enjoyed the poetry of Catullus, even if my assertion that he was basically the first century BC’s equivalent of a teenage LiveJournal Dramaturge is likely to wind up that same guy who thought I was totally wrong about Lucretius.  Or maybe especially because of that.

Tomorrow: MET 121, handing in the homework on section diagrams and… I think we’re doing dimensioning?  And then there’s another major snowstorm heading in Wednesday, although right now it looks like it will probably arrive just in time for me to already have reached campus when evening classes are canceled.  Sigh.  Being a commuting student is a much bigger pain in the ass in the so-called "spring" semester.

  1. Dave Van Domelen
    February 1, 2011 at 01:26

    Yeah, I’m just barely tall enough to effectively operate the 1953 vintage vertical mill in our student shop without a stepstool. I used to run the safety course for the department (because the shop supervisor at the time couldn’t be bothered…the new one can be, and after one time through decided I shouldn’t be doing it anyway), and once we had a guy who knew all the tools (so was running through as a formality) but was a foot shorter than me and couldn’t operate the mill. Oops.

    • Ben
      February 1, 2011 at 02:41

      I can work the table and the various drill-press-like controls and whatnot on the toolhead, but the fitting on the top of the spindle – the thing you have to get a wrench on in order to install anything IN the spindle – is up high enough that I can only just work it with a great deal of hassle. Fortunately, I think I only have one part to make primarily on the mill once I have my checkoffs done. The other things I’m on the hook for are mostly lathe jobs, and I am not too short to operate a center lathe. (Whether I’m too inept to do so remains to be seen. :)

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