Every semester there seems to be one grade that gets posted long after the others, just before the Student Records deadline. Interestingly, it usually seems to be for the online course. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but perhaps the phenomenon needs more study.
Anyway, they’re all in now. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I did not match my 4.0 performance in the spring semester; taking a technical subject was my downfall there. (Once again I reflect that this always seems to happen, and yet I persist in a technical discipline, which makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with me.) Still, with a little last-minute (completely legitimate) exam retaking, I did get my lecture grade in Physics I up to a B, and my lab grade turned out to be a surprising A- (I say “surprising” because I think I scored 60% on the first lab report).
I don’t have my GPA all calculated neatly for me this time, because I took Physics at Eastern Maine Community College and those grades won’t appear on my UMaine transcript until they’ve managed to grind their way through the machinery at both schools. However, I can work out what it would’ve been if I’d had all my classes at the same school easily enough. EMCC calculates GPA using something rather revoltingly called “quality points”, but that’s just a label for the same trick UMaine uses to break down grades vs. how many credits for each class. In the spirit of my physics lab reports, here is a breakdown of my calculations so that you can backcheck my math.
HTY 279 European Military History: A (4.0) x 3 credits = 12.00
GER 101 Introductory German I: A (4.0) x 4 credits = 16.00
INT 400 Impact of Technology on Society: A (4.0) x 3 credits = 12.00
PHY 121 Physics I lecture: B (3.0) x 3 credits = 9.00 “quality points”
PHY 121 Physics I (lab): A- (3.67) x 1 credit = 3.67 “quality points”
Total credits: 14 Total grade/”quality” points: 52.67
52.67 / 14 ≈ 3.76 (semester GPA)
So not quite last semester, but far from disastrous. I think they’ll let me keep my financial aid with numbers like that.
Annoyingly, speaking of financial aid, next month I get to repeat this fall’s irritating bureaucratic dance, because I’m taking Physics II at EMCC as well (same instructor, same time slots, it’ll be like winter break never happened). That means UMaine’s bursar’s office considers me an “away student” again, even though I’m taking 10 0f the semester’s 14 (or possibly 15 – more about this in a moment) credits in Orono, and won’t come across with my financial aid disbursement refund until after EMCC’s add/drop period ends. That means no money until the second or third week of the semester, and that in turn means that those are going to be pretty long damn weeks. Fortunately, I already have my book for German II (it being the same as the one for German I), and thanks to EMCC’s curious approach to these matters I don’t need one at all for Physics II, so I’ll only have to go into parental hock for about $300 worth of books. And about that much again in gasoline. This commuting business is a mug’s game, I tell you.
Anyway, the big surprise up there for me is my grade in INT 400. That class was the inevitable one where I have no idea how I’m doing for much of the semester, not because I wasn’t getting any feedback from the instructors, but because the final grading rubric made no sense to me. That meant I had no real idea how that feedback would boil down to a grade at the semester’s end. Added to which, the course was generally fraught with confusion for me; I may post about it in greater detail at some point.
Next semester is a continuation of this one in a couple of respects. German II and Physics II will have the same instructors as the first installments and there shouldn’t be any big surprises there. One of my other classes is MET 126, Machine Drawing, which is the sequel to the CAD class I took last spring (MET 121, Technical Drawing), though sadly not with the same instructor, and they’ve redone the MET CAD lab such that it actually isn’t one any more – the computers are all gone. Someone in the department finally realized that, since every student in the program is required to own a laptop computer capable of running Solid Edge, trying to maintain the ever-decaying CAD lab was a pointless waste of the department’s money – which, fair enough, but I wonder how we’re supposed to print in there now. I suppose I’ll find out.
The real glaring flaw in next semester’s schedule is MET 150, Statics, the first of the physics-derived engineering-science courses in the program (and step 1 beyond the huge bottleneck in the program flow chart that was Physics I). I’m not looking forward to Statics for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a physics class, and as we have seen above, they’re a bit of a weak spot for me. Second, and most importantly, it’s at 8 AM.
Now, my mother has always assumed that my deep inner aversion to things that start before about 10 in the morning is a simple matter of laziness. I, on the other hand, contend that it runs much deeper than that. I am lazy, yes, but that merely accounts for my general reluctance to go out of my way to do anything at any time. The morning thing is not part of that. It has, rather, to do with the fact that I am essentially useless at that hour. “Well, go to bed earlier,” is her usual counter to that. I’ve never been able to make her understand that it doesn’t matter when I go to bed. I could have had 10 hours of sleep. I’m still going to be only questionably sapient before 9:30 or 10 in the morning. Now add to that the fact that my brain seems to work best between the hours of, say, 10 PM and 3 AM, and you have a scenario where I have to sacrifice my most potentially productive time every day in favor of being awake when there’s next to no point in it.
If you’ve got all that on board, you may just be able to understand why I might resent that a little. Throw in the two-hour lead time required for me to get from bed to anywhere on the UMaine campus and you have a recipe for 16 weeks of, well, misery. And misery of questionable usefulness, at that. I’m genuinely not sanguine about my chances of succeeding in any class, much less a math-heavy technical one, that meets at that hour of the day. And that doesn’t even take into account my work study gig, which tends to involve shifts from 6 to 9 PM, and what the hell. And that’s the only time that class is ever offered – 8 AM M/W/F in the spring semester. What Professor Dvorak is doing the rest of the time, I’m not sure. Having a sleep disorder, would be my guess.
I have to admit I am sorely tempted to take my history prof’s advice at this point and jump ship from engineering altogether. (I got an email from him partway through the semester saying basically, “You’ve got a real flair for this, have you considered becoming a history or history/IA major?” And, well, of course I have, I was a history major in ‘93-‘94, but where are the jobs in that field? I emailed him back and said I was very tempted by the thought, but that my mother would murder me in my sleep.)
Still. Statics at 8 is a bridge I can burn in a couple of weeks if need be. For right now I’m on break, I’m off to visit my grandparents for a few days tomorrow, my grades are in, and even if the governor manages to get me thrown out of the state’s health insurance scheme (which he very much wants the Legislature to do this spring), it probably won’t threaten my enrollment status until summer. So I guess I won’t worry about that stuff right now. Time for a week or two of laurel-resting.
Here are a few notes from my European Military History notebook, which I’m going through in the process of studying for finals.
I love that they have to put nutritional information on bottled water. It’s water. It hasn’t got any.
In those times [Ed. note the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden, 1611-1632], generals fought (insufficient comms tech for REMF approach).
England’s military spending went mostly on the navy during this time. Not much call for land forces except during the Civil War. They didn’t conscript army troops until 1916! Incompatible with the English character. Besides, if you raised a conscript army, you’d be arming commoners, for heaven’s sake.
Maintaining discipline: tricky. Particularly with such crap officers.
("The Stuarts have chin problems." – Prof. M)
I like that warfare in this era [Ed. note ca. 1700] was traditionally so abstruse that a frontal assault was considered innovative and dramatic.
"The French cannot form… " … the head? Blazing sword? What? [Ed. note Bad time for Prof. M to have slide advance problems.]
French/Batavians break and run. English win! But 20% of them are casualties. Still, you should see the other guys.
("There’s always a war in Canada." – Prof. M)
("Belgium itself is not that valuable." – QOTD out of context)
France’s worst enemy in the opening stages of the war [Ed. note the War of the First Coalition, 1793-1797]: France.
"… who had served in future wars"? Wait, was Carnot a time traveler?
Sphinx thing: a myth.
1802: Peace of Amiens. British recognize N’s France, return seized French colonies, recognize the Republics, annexation of Belgium, etc.
1803: Britain realizes that wasn’t a good idea, resumes hostilities.
By 1812, N controls most of Europe. Annexed or run by puppet states. 3 factors about to turn this around:
1) British blockade, strangling French trade.
2) The Russian thing. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
3) Nationalism. Works for France when experienced by Frenchmen, not so much when experienced by Dutchmen, Germans, Italians, Swiss etc.
I think we’re into the counter-counter-revolution at this point.
Projector problems [Ed. note during film on Battle of Waterloo] result in the odd appearance of the British "beigecoat".
"This was widely believed to be the end of Nixon’s career."
[Ed. note Antoine-Henri Jomini] Becomes a colonel under Marshal Ney w/ no experience to speak of b/c it’s wartime and he wrote a book. Those were the days. Witnesses Austerlitz, the Prussian campaign, & the Iberian insurrection. Is part of Grand Armee, marches on Russia… and stays there. By joining the Russian army. "A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience."
Guy here in a Hartford Whalers hat. Vintage or ironic?
[Ed. note Carl von Clausewitz] Believed war’s essence was "total war", but that it never happens. (Platonic ideal? Regular wars are as Shadow, if you want to be all Zelaznian on it.)
CHINA: economically vast, militarily (esp. navally) insignificant. BRITAIN: navally mighty, commercially rapacious. I think you can see where this is heading.
Projector misaligned. How does that even happen? It’s on the ceiling.
[Ed. note on the Crimean War] Nobody had any real clue what the hell they were trying to do. Result: Fiasco, confusion, slaughter, and comedy.
Russians able to fortify Sebastopol while French & British argued about taking it. War significantly prolonged.
Meanwhile, the British were gallantly screwing themselves by trapping themselves in Balaklava w/ no fresh water or easy access to interior.
Russians besieged, were repulsed, had about given up & were leaving when Raglan decided to counterattack for no particularly good reason.
(Raglan/Lucan/Cardigan – the classic clusterfuck lyricized by Tennyson in "The Charge of the Light Brigade")
Interestingly, the only battle I can think of in which two generals were named after kinds of sweater.
Cavalry charges: not so useful vs. barbed wire.
SA war [Ed. note the Second Boer War, 1899-1902] opened poorly for Britain. This would become something of a pattern for them in subsequent wars.
Scotsmen unsuitable to battle in sun-baked hellholes.
Enter Col. Kitchener! Owner of one of the era’s great moustaches.
When last we left WWI, Europe was tangled up in a ridiculous network of alliances and nobody really liked Russia.
Admiral Tirpitz, unsurprisingly, author of the Tirpitz Plan.
June 28, 1914: Austro-Hungarian Archduke assassinated in Bosnian capital by Serbian nationalist. This eventually leads to UK-German war, because Europe in 1914 was just that stupid.
Russians and Germans try to find a way out, but b/c of the inefficiency of the Russian train system, the mobilization can’t be stopped. Aug. 3, Germany declares war on Russia & France.
And Belgium, ’cause it was neutral and in the way. And it’s THAT which brings the UK into the war.
No wonder US policy & public opinion were that this was an incredibly stupid war & we should stay the hell out of it.
4 Aug 1914 – Germans, as they are wont to do, invaded Belgium.
Meanwhile, astonishingly, the Russians mobilized much faster than anticipated. Moltke sacked, Paris not taken, Germans’ momentum broken. Stage set for 4 years of pointless stalemate.
And there we are, fighting pointless battles of attrition like Ypres, in which 150,000+ casualties accomplish precisely dick.
Meanwhile in the East, the Russians were doing what they do best: producing infantry tokens. [Ed. note Axis & Allies joke!] By the time they’re done they’ll have 12 million men in uniform . Admittedly that’s 12 million soldiers with Russian training & equipment, but still.
Meanwhile, Austria fails to accomplish anything vs. Serbia – the whole point of this ridiculous war in the first place.
And thanks to our old friend Fritz Haber, there was plenty of poison gas for everybody.
U-boat warfare vs. Britain economic. Aim to force UK out of war by cutting off overseas trade. That didn’t work, but since they kept blowing up US ships, they did eventually get us into the war. So, well done, U-boats.
Germans thought taking Verdun would break the "exhausted" French. French thought holding Verdun would break the "exhausted" Germans. And there you are.
In the East, Russians fail to convert.
Polish-Soviet War, 1918-1921 – sort of a feature of the Russian Civil War, but not really. It’s confusing. Poles on offensive, Red Army crap but enormous. And so it goes.
And so to Italy, perpetually trying to put on its big boy pants and mostly failing. This paves way for Mussolini, who will… not really accomplish anything either, but looks like he might for a while there. Comes to power in 1922, pseudo-legally. Seeks to restore Italy’s pre-eminence in Europe. You know, that it lost in 490.
British & French foreign policy in the 1930s responded about as effectively [Ed. note to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia] as you might expect – condemning Italy but not doing anything effective to oppose them. This way they can anger Mussolini and Haile Selassie while helping no one. It’s 1935, after all.
Meanwhile, the Spanish Civil War. Short version: Reds fight among selves, Fascists monolithic, Fascists win.
At the time no one had any real idea why this [Ed. note the Condor Legion bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, 1937] happened, since Guernica was not really involved in the conflict. Only later did it emerge that the whole thing was basically a huge explody German science experiment. Basically the Luftwaffe just wanted to see if they could really blow up a whole town.
Meanwhile, Italy blunders. Going for easy glory, ends up walking into the screen door of history. [Ed. note The Italians come in for a pretty regular kicking in my notes on the ’30s and ’40s.]
British, American volunteers took part on Republican side (& the Americans were tagged as Commies for their trouble, though to be fair a lot of them were).
Causes of WWII. Somewhat simpler than those of WWI. Ready?
That was easy.
The thing about early-WWII movies is that you know things are never going to end well.
The Poles: mystifyingly sanguine. "Run headlong into certain death because you think you can win: 5." [Ed. note HOL reference!]
Man. Look at that map. The Italians didn’t even make it to Monte Carlo. How sad is that?
Why does Hitler invade the USSR? As Mallory probably didn’t really say, because it’s there.
Russians as ever unprepared. Soviet leaders actually managed to be surprised by this.
Then, with the sort of timing Hitler could always count on from his allies, Japan attacked the US and brought us formally into the war.
Oh, what a surprise, the firebombing of Japanese civilians was Curtis LeMay’s idea.
Truman figured the A-bomb would win the war, save a ton of Allied casualties, and impress the Russians so much we would never have any trouble out of them ever again.
So THAT worked.
2nd bomb proved we had more than one, although ironically we DIDN’T have more than two.
Korean War: you know the lyrics.
I’m sitting in the tool crib on a much quieter afternoon shift, looking out through the tool window onto what I can see of the shop floor, and there’s a sudden moment in which I’m seeing the loveliest thing I’ve seen in days.
Off in the far corner of my field of view is one of the MTL’s tall, mullioned windows. Visible through that window is just the very corner of a neighboring building, Crosby Hall, and beyond that is the opposite corner of another building, Little Hall. Little is a story taller than Crosby and flat on top, where Crosby has a mansard roof, so the view is of this interesting little angle they make, a sort of triangular open space between the slant of Crosby’s roof and the flat side of Little, then an open rectangular space above.
And while I’m looking at that, pondering the interesting play of perspective and foreshortening that’s involved in creating that triangular illusion, a scrap of cloud drifts through that bit of sky. Since it’s just coming on for sunset, the sky is still daylight blue, but the bit of cloud is the most amazing shade of pink-orange as it drifts between the white of Crosby’s snow-covered roof and the black of Little’s brick side silhouetted against the sky beyond.
Unfortunately, this trick of light and color is completely baffling to digital photography, and so I could not capture it for posterity. The best I could do is this poor bit of superfluous prose, a vain effort to prevent the moment from being lost forever.
It’s the last week of the semester, projects are due in both the freshman and junior machine shop courses by the end of the week, and things are extra bonus crazy in the MTL as a result. I’ve had people I’ve never seen before coming in for night lab the last couple of weeks. This week night lab has been extended from 6-9 to 5-10, which made for a long night Monday and a longer one today, when I already was scheduled to work 2-5.
We were going to close from 5 to 6 so I could go get some dinner, but one of the guys asked what it would take to convince me to stay and keep the shop open through the dinner hour. I said I’d do it if someone brought me a pizza.
So he had one delivered.
Who am I to argue with that kind of dedication?
Unfortunately, the only thing to drink in this joint is the kinda-iffy-tasting city water from the fountain out in the shop, and half a pizza and some garlicky breadsticks later, I’m gasping for something better. I won’t be getting anything for another three-and-a-quarter hours, though, alas. The MTL needs a soda machine. One of those old-timey ones that do paper cups with ice in them. Does anyone even make that kind of vending machine any more? They were absolutely the best.
In its original coursework form, this was entitled "Futurism Isn’t What It Used to Be".
In looking over the materials for this segment and reflecting on what has gone before, I’m struck – as I have been many times over the course of this semester – by what a pessimistic view of the future many of today’s thinkers have. I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I find this annoying, and more than slightly disturbing.
When my grandfather was a boy, the general view in Western society was that progress was good, it had made the present better than it would otherwise have been, and it was going to make the future better still – and this was in an age of widespread economic depression, impending world war, polio and Jim Crow. The 1930s were a decade that arguably didn’t have a lot to be optimistic about, and yet you had massively forward-looking things being done, like the Hoover Dam and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Contrast that with today, when a person can take a college class that is built around a dynamic conference of ideas and innovations like Pop!Tech and find himself bombarded for fifteen weeks by view of the present and future like The Story of Stuff and Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. Message, as I perceive it: Progress is cruel and exploitative, the present isn’t that great and should feel guilty about most of what it has, and the future ranges from bleak to apocalyptic.
This is not acceptable.
Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us is a particularly good example of this delicate balance of daft ideas and general pessimism that seems to embody modern futuristic thought. It starts out with an anecdote about Ray Kurzweil, whom we’d just seen in a video from a few years ago being boldly and far-reachingly wrong about what the distant year 2010 was going to be like. From that shaky basis, the author then asserts that one of Kurzweil’s wackier (though, I admit, refreshingly optimistic) ideas – that we’re very soon to achieve a sort of cyberpunk apotheosis by becoming one with our Internets – is wrong not because the whole premise is absurd, but because it isn’t pessimistic enough. Sure, Joy says, we will reach an age when our computers are as smart as we are, but then they’ll either enslave us or wipe us out. "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil," he writes. Do us a favor?
I’m sorry that I always seem to be setting myself at odds with our sources here, but it can’t be helped. A great deal of what we’ve been exposed to in the course of this odyssey has been richly, bountifully disappointing. Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us isn’t about technology, it’s primitive eschatology dressed up in a lab coat. One finds oneself surprised that the phrase "if God had meant Man to X, He’d have given him Y" isn’t in there somewhere. At the very least, it’s shockingly timid. Joy advocates abandoning research into several of the most promising areas of high technology because he doesn’t think they’re worth the risk. That’s not the attitude that mastered flint knapping in Olorgesailie, Bill.
Bostrom’s musings on the transhuman/posthuman phenomenon are slightly better reading, if only because they’re a little more balanced – but the whole debate he describes between what he calls bioconservative vs. transhumanist elements on, e.g., the improvement of the human species through inheritable genetic engineering seems more than a little silly when viewed from the perspective of a living room in rural Maine on a chilly December evening. I have a couple of friends who consider themselves "posthumanists", and they are without doubt the most tiresome people on the face of the Earth when they get to talking about how technology will transcend the meaning of humanity within the next arbitrarily chosen number of years. What they really mean is "look how clever I am, and have you seen my brand-new Android tablet?" Having experienced that sort of frivolity first-hand, I find myself extremely suspicious of the whole movement’s intellectual credentials.
What’s really interesting about this to me, though, is that there was almost none of this sort of nonsense in the actual Pop!Tech conference itself. With very few exceptions, the Pop!Tech speakers didn’t preach, didn’t talk down to their audience, and didn’t espouse concepts so lofty and abstract that they served only as illuminated signs saying YOU UNDERSTAND, OF COURSE, THAT I AM VERY SMART. They were people with concrete ideas for improving things, rather than tutting, fretting prescriptionists who only wanted to make it plain that We’re All Doing It Wrong and We’re All Going to Die. The contrast between the tone of the conference itself and the bulk of the supporting material we’ve seen during the weeks when the conference wasn’t happening is startling now that I look back at it.
In high school I was a performing arts nerd. I was in the concert band and the jazz band, and though I wasn’t a member of the chorus or show choir, I did appear in the fall musical a couple of times, because it was the only student theater option available in that half of the academic year. My junior year, though, I forget what the musical was, but it was something I wasn’t interested in appearing in, so I spent that fall doing lighting instead.
This is by way of background information so you’ll understand – if you have any background in theater tech geekery yourself – why what I am about to relate has stuck in my memory all these years. You see, in the spring of my junior year, I was picked to attend one of those state music workshop things, wherein people from the various concert bands at schools around the state gather in a neutral location, rehearse for a couple of days, and then perform as a sort of high school concert band supergroup. Power Station for brass and woodwinds, basically.
That year the workshop was held at what was then called the Maine Center for the Arts, a big concert hall-cum-museum on the University of Maine campus in Orono. (It’s now called the Collins Center for the Arts, presumably in honor of some generous alumnus or other.) At the time the MCA was brand shiny new and something of a showpiece, Maine’s state-of-the-art performing arts venue, and so it was quite a big deal for a bunch of high school bandsters to be given the run of the place for a couple of days.
One day I was moseying around backstage during one of the breaks, snooping around and comparing the facility to the auditorium at my high school (which, he said immodestly, was one of the best in the state), when I noticed the door to the tech director’s office. It had what appeared to be a brightly colored sign taped to it, but when I investigated more closely I found that it was not, in fact, a sign at all, but a lighting gel. I have reproduced here a basic artist’s impression of what it looked like.
As a recent veteran of lighting the previous November’s fall musical, this killed me dead.
As Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story to tell you this one. ‘Cause it’s getting on toward the end of the semester now, and the tools here in the machine tool lab are starting to show the wear. We’ve got a lot of end mills with broken teeth, snapped drill bits, and the usual debris that piles up as students do what students do… but last night I came across a Failure-Enriched Tool that teaches a whole different, much more specialized lesson, and I thought it deserved immortalization.
This used to be a 1/4” high-speed-steel end mill. It’s now a reasonably ineffectual paperweight, but not because someone used too much feed and snapped it, or had it set at the wrong angle and snapped it, or tried to plunge with it too vigorously and broke off all the teeth. Those are what you might call the ordinary failure states for an end mill around here.
No, if this end mill were a sign taped to the tool crib door, it would say, WHY DO WE WATCH OUR FREAKING RPMS WHEN MILLING ALUMINUM?
That is much more ambitious failing, since it actually involved molten metal. I particularly like how whoever did it had the sangfroid to just put it back in its container and return it to the crib as if nothing untoward had happened. And now I’m in here with a sharpened markup scribe trying to pry that crap out of there. Thanks, unknown inept student!