As previously noted, I was a 3/4-time student this semester, because of the ongoing recovery from my summer medical adventure. I took three classes; one was online and did not have a final exam.
So, naturally, the finals in the other two – completely unrelated classes in different colleges, one for my MET degree and one for my history degree – ended up scheduled back-to-back on the Wednesday of finals week. Which was today.
I should note that it started snowing here in north-central Maine on Monday afternoon… and, apart from occasional periods of sleet and/or freezing rain, which is not a helpful change, it hasn’t stopped yet. For the past two days, the University of Maine has basically been the only school in Penobscot County not closed on account of the weather.
I got up this morning and went outside to find that my front walk and car were covered with around a foot of wet, heavy, hard-to-shovel snow. It wasn’t until I’d finished shoveling that lot up, and in the process kicking off an asthma flareup that still hasn’t subsided, that I noticed I had a bigger problem: the man who plows our driveway hadn’t been by yet, and the municipal public works plows had left a three-foot-high wall of packed ice across the end of the driveway that there was no way any of our tools around the house were going to shift. By the time Mom’s husband Vince managed to track down the plow guy and get him to come over and scrape that away, I’d have been running late for my first exam on a normal day, much less on Day 2 of a heavy snowfall.
I emailed my professors and let them know what I was up against, but that I was going to give it the old college try, then set off. I live 12 miles via State Route 157, a typical two-lane country road, from Interstate 95. This normally takes between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on (believe it or not) the traffic.*
Forty minutes later, I had just about reached the Interstate when my history professor, whose exam was scheduled to begin fairly soon, phoned me to say that I shouldn’t drive down on account of his class if I didn’t think it was safe, and that he’d get with the TA who’s been in charge of the class subsection I’m in and work out another way of handling my final. With an extra couple of hours suddenly added to my schedule and the prospect of possibly not having to make the trip at all, I bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate at the gas station by the Interstate exit and made my way slowly back home, thinking I’d at least have time to get some lunch.
I had just about arrived at home when my other professor (Thermal Science), whose exam was set for later in the afternoon, emailed me and cheerfully related that he’d checked his records, and I’d be all set if I chose not to turn up for the final in his class. With my excellent homework record and decent-to-quite-good range of scores on preliminary exams, I’d end up with a C-, easily clearing the minimum requirement to progress on to his Thermal Applications course next semester.
Please note that he was not being sarcastic or snide with that. He’s genuinely not bothered about how much you pass his class by, as long as you pass it. With a perfectly aligned engineer’s mindset, he’d crunched the numbers and determined that the outcome would be Acceptable, and he was pleased to let me know that my troubles were over.
I like Professor Crosby a lot, but coming from a background where I’d be grounded for a month if I brought home a B in math, I find his mindset on grading a little difficult to get behind; and anyway, I don’t think the financial aid gods would have been quite so sanguine about what that’d do to my GPA, so I scratched lunch from my plans and got ready to go out and do battle with the snow again.
It was at this point that Vincent called and insisted that, if I was planning to go back out into the snow, I should take his 4WD pickup truck instead of my poor old Pontiac. Which meant slogging across the yard to Mom’s house for the keys. Note that Mom and Vincent were both at home sick with some kind of Arcturan misery virus today, so naturally this would be the day when, while I stood in their front hall trying to breathe as shallowly as possible (already feeling wheezy in the chest) and thinking dark thoughts about swarming pathogens, they couldn’t find the keys. Protesting that A) I was already going to be late because of this and B) I don’t want bird flu, I tried to leave four or five times, to increasingly plaintive cries of no wait wait I know they’re here somewhere from my mother, before I finally escaped.
Then, in the driveway, I thought hmm, I wonder, tried the door of the pickup, and found that it was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition. I believe it was last driven sometime last week.
So I shlepped my things across and hit the trail again, feeling marginally more confident. I was about halfway to the Interstate again when I looked down and found that the truck was nearly out of gas.
OK, don’t panic, I thought, there’s that full-service gas station in East Millinocket, I’ll fill up there and won’t even have to get out of the truck.
You’re not going to believe this next part, but I swear it is the truth. As I arrived in East Millinocket – literally just as my eye sought out and focused on the lit-up sign showing today’s price at the full-service Shell station on Main Street:
The power went out.
Gas station and neighboring credit union signs suddenly dark, town’s one traffic light goes into blinky yellow “the grid has failed me” mode. Zap.
I believe I said aloud something along the lines of, “Are you f—king kidding me?!”
I wondered if the power would still be out when I got to Medway, the next and last town before the Interstate. It was. The Citgo station and the Dysart’s one, both dark. Now I have a serious problem developing. I don’t have enough gas to make it to Orono, and the next town down the line from Medway, Lincoln, is miles off the highway via an access road. If the Irving station out by the Interstate (where I had, you may recall, earlier bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate) is out as well, I’m beached. I’ll have to turn around and pick my way back across 157 to Millinocket again, at which point I’ll be so late I might as well not show up at all.
Here, at last, the Force was with me a little, because just as I arrived at the Irving station, the power came back on (giving me the interesting sight of the electronic price sign saying that the per-gallon cost of regular unleaded was ERROR). Breathing a sigh of relief, I pulled up, went through the usual procedure, pressed the button to select the grade of gasoline I wanted, and received the message, NETWORK ERROR PLEASE TRY AGAIN.
“Oh, the power’s just been out,” said a voice behind me, making me jump slightly. I turned to see the woman I’d bought the meat snack and hot chocolate from earlier, holding a roll of tape and a handful of signs reading CREDIT CARD READERS OUT OF ORDER PLEASE PAY INSIDE. This apparently happens often enough that they already had these signs ready to go.
“I don’t have any cash,” I said.
“The one inside works, it has a backup system,” she told me. “It’s just the ones in the pumps. Reset it and hit PAY INSIDE and you’ll be fine.”
(Modulo the backup system actually involving a dial-as-required screechy modem somewhere under the counter and about a five-minute wait for authentication, anyway.)
Thermo exam scheduled start time: 2:45 PM.
Speed limit on Interstate 95 today: 45 MPH.
My arrival time in the room where the Thermo exam was happening: 3:15 PM.
Prof. Crosby was startled to see me arrive; having told me not to sweat it and that I’d pass the class if I didn’t show, he figured that’d be the end of it. Fortunately, since no one else needed the room after us, he let everyone overrun the scheduled exam end time (5:00) a bit, stretching it out until 5:30. Which was good, because I needed that extra half-hour. I still didn’t quite finish the exam, but with a little help from Our Lady of Partial Credit, I may yet pull a decent score on it – and since I already knew I had a C- without it, anything I manage to score on it will be gravy in a way.
As we packed up to leave, Prof. Crosby said, “You’re not going back tonight, are you? Feel free to bunk on one of the couches in the MTL student lounge and head back in the morning if you think it’d be safer. Nobody will bother you in there.” This was mildly tempting, but indeed I was heading back forthwith, because – an email from my history professor which had arrived while I was phone-off for the Thermo exam informed me – my history final was waiting in my inbox at home, for me to complete tonight, on my honor, without reference to the textbook.
Which I did when I finally got home around 10.
Phew. Man. Some days you get the elevator and some days you just get the shaft. Props to Professor Riordan and Lee-the-TA for cutting me a break on the history exam, though. And that’s one more semester in the can. And I don’t have to go anywhere for the next several days… which is good, because I think it’s supposed to snow again on Friday…
Edited to add: It’s Friday and I have, in fact, got the flu.
* By “traffic” I don’t mean gridlock, but rather that it’s a two-lane country road in an area where the mean age is something like, no kidding, 55 – which means one stands a fairly good chance of ending up behind some aged citizen who lacks any sort of sense of urgency, and if you’re thwarted by oncoming traffic at the one or two good places to pass, one can easily end up having to dawdle along at 35 MPH or worse the whole way, even on a perfectly clear, dry summer day. This is unspeakably infuriating when it happens, which, naturally, it tends to do when one is running late. In this case it didn’t happen, but frankly it wouldn’t have mattered if it had, since I don’t think I got about 30 at any time anyway.
Sickness has played a fairly major role in this semester. My own bout of bronchitis caused me to lose the thread of my online tech/soc/ethics/whateverthehellthisis class (more about this in future, I suspect), and just as it ended my history prof went down with a suspiciously similar illness and missed nearly two weeks of lectures. Fortunately, what we need to know for the final in that class will be pretty well-documented, and I should be able to catch up.
Then my physics instructor experienced a sinus/ear infection that at one point caused him to cough so violently that, though recovered from the actual illness now, he has lost his voice. This is particularly a problem for him, as his usual approach is to teach the lecture as if it’s a late-night TV commercial for that exciting new retail product, introductory college physics. Seriously, it’s like spending three hours in a room with Science Billy Mays. He even kind of looks like the late Mr. Mays.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that losing his voice is a particularly troublesome kind of disaster for this particular teacher. When we arrived two Thursdays ago for lab, which was a demonstration of gas pressure phenomena (the balloon in the bell jar, siphon principles, etc.), he had to show us a video of a previous year’s version that someone had shot with a Flip camera. Which is fine, except that the student he had doing the recording didn’t know that Flip cameras will not record indefinitely, so we didn’t actually have the part of the lab involving siphons.
This was smooth sailing compared to the following Tuesday (the day before Thanksgiving break began), when I arrived in the classroom (after, I just want to point out, a 75-mile drive from my house to where it is) to be handed a pair of DVDs by an unspeaking instructor and waved back out the door. On the plus side, that makes reviewing bits of the lectures on temperature, thermal expansion, and the general gas law easier. On the minus side, that was a lot of gas burned to pick up a couple of DVDs. If I had known, I could have done it Monday, when I was already down there anyway.
Yesterday I got in and discovered that his voice still hasn’t returned, but he doesn’t have movies of the ideal gas law and calorimetry lectures, so… well, let’s just say it was painful to listen to.
On the other hand, it was the last of the lectures for my division of the class; our last test is next week, and then we have the option of coming back the following week (finals week) at the usual time to retake any or all of the four tests we have time for.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off and write an essay about my preferred world future. This should be interesting, particularly as it largely involves a wish that humanity will finally outgrow superstition.
I’m just having one of those days where everyone I see around me is Doing It Wrong and I want to make them pay. Everything gets on my nerves, even – especially – stuff that would normally just go by me.
UMaine has a campus-wide no-smoking policy. Does that prevent the kids from ambling around campus with cigarettes stuck in their mouths or congregating in the little parking lot between Boardman Hall and the MTL to smoke up a storm between classes? The hell it does. I’ve even seen faculty members hanging around out there having a butt. Way to set an example, prof.
(As an aside, just the fact that there still are normal-age college students who smoke in the year 2011 is enough to rile me up on a day like this. My grandfather’s generation didn’t know any better, but, uh, yeah, kids, we’ve known that smoking is bad for you for quite a while now, and you’re supposed to be the smart ones, you got into college. What the hell is wrong with you?)
Whenever I’m walking to class on a day like today and I meet someone coming the other way who is smoking, I have a very brief but entirely real desire to shoot him (and I hate to seem sexist here, but statistically speaking it is pretty much always a guy) in the head. It only lasts something like a nanosecond – not nearly long enough to be acted on, but long enough for me to recognize that I felt it – but it’s an entirely genuine desire for the instant it lasts. So it’s a good thing I don’t have some instantaneously lethal superpower, like Destructo-Vision or something.
The Boardman lot is tiny and in the center of campus, so it’s (apart from the nebulous and inevitable SERVICE VEHICLE ONLY space) entirely composed of handicapped parking spaces. (Seems funny when written out that way. Like they’re parking spaces that can’t do everything regular parking spaces do because of some illness or injury.) Not that this stops anybody from parking in it. In fact, what it does is make them park more annoyingly than if they’d just manned up and parked in one of the wheelchair-marked spaces illegally. To avoid doing that, they park out in the aisle, or athwart the rear entrance to Boardman, or – my favorite – in the stripey areas between the HC spaces, figuring that if they’re not parked on a wheelchair icon, it must be OK. I want to set these people’s cars on fire.
My favorite, though, was the guy on the motorcycle who pulled up and parked in the stripey area next to my car as I was getting ready to leave. I tried to point out in the most diplomatic way possible (i.e., I did not lead with “hey, jackwad, I know you already know this and are just ignoring it because it would inconvenience you, but”) that that’s not what the stripey area is for, and he offered to do pugilism with me. Seriously. He didn’t sound particularly psychotic or anything, he just seemed to think it was the next logical phase for the discussion to take: “You wanna fight about it?” It was like being back in the third grade, with its matter-of-fact attitude toward casual violence.
If I were a bona fide wheelchair-bound Disabled Person, and I had one of those vans with the powered platform thing that comes out of the side, I would deploy it if someone did that to me. Bad move, brutha! I need that space and I have hydraulics. That’ll buff right out.
Man. I am just in a grumpy mood today. Lingering aftereffect of that physics test, I think. The more I think about the way the instructor grades those, the more annoyed I get. Also, I had one of my Paralytically Shy Mumbling Guy days this afternoon in German class, which is not a class in which one can excel by being a shy mumbler, set off by the fact that I tried to speak up in history class in the morning and there were suddenly no words. I was trying to explain why being bang in the middle of the Med conveyed strategic significance on Malta in the Napoleonic era – which of course has to do with its location as regards sail traffic, as a way station between Gibraltar and Alexandria and/or Sicily and Tripoli, a watering stop, the presence of neutral medical facilities etc., but all that would come out was, “Uhhhhhhhh… well… look. It’s in the middle.”
So basically I’m having the kind of day where I very strongly suspect my teachers all think I’m an imbecile and I’m not entirely certain they’d be wrong about that, and it’s causing me to go into these towering but silent rages about stupid stuff like people parking on the stripes and smoking where they’re not supposed to. And you get to read all about it because this is my blog and this is what I’m blogging today. Sigh.
Also also: It is a bit past 7 PM (I just heard the bell out in Cloke Plaza) and, as far as I can tell from the crib, it is fully dark outside. Speaking as a seasonal affective: Labor Day is a dumb place on the calendar to put the start of the school year. (Yes, I know, relic of our agrarian past, kids needed on the farm during the summer, etc. etc. And our workday is still set up to accommodate the optimal lighting conditions in 18th-century textile mills, too.)
And by “spring” I actually mean winter, but the University will persist in calling it the spring semester.
Once again I have been unable to secure even one day off, because that math class is only offered MWF and MET 121 is only offered TTh. And look at that Wednesday! A, why is that class at 5 in the afternoon, and B, what am I supposed to do with myself for five and a half hours? (And C, yes, you’re reading that right, IT IS A BLOODY DAMNED PROGRAMMING CLASS, it turns out there’s at least one in the curriculum of EVERY MAJOR I CONSIDERED during last week’s Vocational Emergency.)
Well, OK, I know exactly what I’ll probably doing for most of that time. Getting lunch and then being planetarium computer monkey. But man, it’s going to be a struggle getting motivated to show up for math on Fridays. I’ll be spending more than twice as long in the car as I am in class!
On the plus side, they all look interesting. On the minus side, there’s a train wreck coming next school year, because switching majors mid-year means I’m out of phase with the introductory Technical Physics courses, which are prereqs for a number of things I should be taking in year 2. That means I’ll be taking them instead, and the things they’re prereqs for in year 3, and so on. But, like I told the lady in the School of Engineering Tech office, I’ve effectively been delaying graduation for the last 18 years, so another one’s probably not going to kill me as long as my financial aid doesn’t get cut off.
Which it might do, actually, now that the Heartless Party (as opposed to the Feckless Party) is back in command of Congress and a man who has said that the University of Maine System will have to “justify its existence” is going to be governor. But one crisis at a time.
Tonight’s crisis: I have an exam in CMJ 103 tomorrow that I can’t seem to settle my head down and study for, because of… well, I don’t even want to explain what because of, it’ll just get me riled up again. It has to do with my mother, her husband, and cars. Let’s leave it at that. For now, I’m thinking about going to bed and trying again in the morning, before driving down and not picking up the MINI from the shop for the… what… 16th day since repairs were completed.
So. As you’re probably aware from earlier traffic – ha! See what I did there? – I’m commuting in my school adventures. I live about 70 miles from the University, once you take into account all the fiddling around on access roads and whatnot that it takes to get from my front door to the parking lot at school. Once the time spent on those access roads and so on is taken into account as well, it’s about an hour and a half each way.
You might be thinking at this point that I ought to be getting quite tired of that by now. And I am! But not entirely because of the driving itself. No, part of the reason for my fatigue has to do with the equipment I have to work with.
For most of this semester, I’ve had regular access to three cars, which sounds more than adequate given that I have only one ass, be it ever so sizeable, to haul back and forth. They are:
1) My own 1997 Saab 900S convertible. This is a fine car which has served me well for the nearly ten years I’ve owned it, and to which I’m quite attached, but it’s getting old and arthritic now and has developed a couple of problems. One is that the roof leaks, but in a particularly strange and esoteric way that has stumped the service departments of three Saab dealerships. Another is that the clutch has begun packing up, probably because they were cable-operated in 1997 and the cable is wearing out. This means it doesn’t reliably disengage with the pedal all the way to the floor, which makes shifting into certain gears e.g. reverse somewhat… noisy.
2) My mother’s 2003 MINI Cooper. Again, a fine car, and very entertaining to drive. On the other hand, the ride is a bit rock-hard, it doesn’t have cruise control, and it has recently suffered the single strangest design-flaw-inflicted injury I’ve ever personally known a car to have. A few weeks ago, as I was driving home in the pouring rain after dark, the electrical system went into complete meltdown, causing the absolute strangest behavior I’ve ever seen an automobile exhibit – for instance, a complete disregard for the position or even presence of the ignition key, and, a bit more immediately worrisome on the Interstate at night in the rain, a disinclination to have the headlights and the windshield wipers engaged at the same time. This turned out to have been caused by – I’m not making this up – a moon roof drain which was so routed that, if the internal tubing became disconnected, all the water it should’ve been conveying to a port on the underside of the car was instead directed as if by design to the car’s central fuse box. Repairs have just been completed, in time for the car to be removed from the equation completely in a little while. More on this in a bit.
3) My father’s 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix. This car is the most mechanically reliable of the three, but makes up for it by being the least economical and least comfortable. The ride is better than the MINI’s, but the cabin geometry is woeful. In an effort to make it sporty and rakish, Pontiac’s designers gave it an extremely low roofline, which makes it difficult to get into and out of and means that, in a side impact, the driver’s head will be smashed against the beam running along the top of his door window, which is padded, but in the same way as the arms of an office chair. Also, until last Saturday, the rear struts were worn out and leaking, which means that the rear tires are now roughly octagonal. Now that the struts have been replaced, the noise and vibration they create must be experienced to be believed. Dad, ever an economy-minded soul when it comes to automobile parts*, assures me that shortly we will take all four of them off and replace them – with two brand new snow tires on the front and two that – and I’m quoting – "probably have one more season in them" on the rear.
So we have one car that appears reliable but is costly to run and uncomfortable (and which Dad would really like back because it still gets better mileage than the other vehicle he’s driving while I have the Pontiac), one that’s entering that end-of-life stage when things start to go wrong in ways that aren’t easily diagnosed, let alone remedied, and one that’s probably fine now that it’s been to rehab for its drinking problem, but is being sold. Why, you might wonder, would my mother sell what is probably, on its face, the best of my three options for school transport? Well, she isn’t really. See, it’s actually in her husband’s name owing to some abstruse technicality of the insurance or something, and just yesterday I learned that he has decided, unilaterally and without consultation, to sell it and buy a pickup truck for himself. In his plan, Mom can drive the hideous Cadillac station wagon he bought last year and then decided he didn’t want, and which has now depreciated so staggeringly it’d actually be more financially rewarding to burn it for the insurance money, get caught, and do the jail time than try to sell it or trade it in. And I can, I don’t know, walk, I guess.
I’ve been confronting this conundrum for weeks, considering what would be the best way to handle it, and finally I decided that what I needed to do was track down something well-made, old enough that it wouldn’t be too expensive but still a few years away from senescence, not too thirsty, and – most importantly – equipped with all-wheel-drive to get me through the long, long years of commuting to school that I have ahead of me before I can, allegedly, get a proper job and buy that new Jag I’ve been promising myself. The only problem there was that I had no income, and it’s difficult to pay for a car – even a cheap old one – without one. So I shelved that plan a couple of weeks ago and resigned myself to the merry-go-round.
But then, out of the blue early last week, I got an email from the Student Aid office saying, in effect, "Hey, remember how we told you you weren’t eligible for workstudy? We lied, here, have some. Good luck getting a job on campus with four weeks to go in the semester, one of which is mostly Thanksgiving break."
Hmm, I thought, and poked around the Student Employment office’s website to see if there were any workstudy reqs still open at this time of the year. And lo, there were a few, one of which was at the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium. Now, I like a planetarium. I like a planetarium quite a lot. The idea of being a planetarium operator appeals to me the way little kids used to want to be locomotive drivers. So I fired off an application to that one like a shot. A quick mental calculation of the pay scale advertised told me that I could easily afford a modest (and I’m talking very modest) car payment on that sort of income, if I got the job.
And I did. Well, sort of. I got a job at the planetarium. Unfortunately – and this is where the compound irony comes into it – the regular shows at the Jordan are on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. When I’m nowhere near campus. So I didn’t get the job of presenter. Instead, I started today as the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium’s student computer tech III.
Yes. That’s right. After all these years and all these attempts to get away from anything to do with the field, I’m the PC support monkey. I spent this afternoon reinstalling device drivers in an effort – successful, I might point out – to help one of the planetarium office’s PCs recover from an ill-advised printer install and regain its ability to write CDs and recognize USB flash drives.
Still, I thought, OK, that’s a disappointment in your life, but on the other hand, you’ll at least be able to get out of this car hole now. Except that’s not the case either, because it turns out that, even in the eyes of the university’s own credit union, workstudy is not employment enough to constitute eligibility for even a small car loan. Six grand, say, over 48 months at 12 percent – right around $160 a month? Easily done according to the pay scale figures (or even, and I’ve worked this out as well, with the overrun on a couple of semesters’ worth of financial aid), but sorry, it’s just not on.
So there we are. I have a job I don’t particularly want, which I was offered because I don’t qualify for the job I did want because I’m a commuter, but which I took anyway thinking it would at least help me to make the commute more tolerable, only to discover that it won’t. And that’s why this long-winded whinge is called "Compound Irony".
* and anything else
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.
Remember when I said I was going to crash at Dad’s Wednesday night, get up and go home first thing Thursday morning, and have a nice leisurely day to finish up the ECE 101 homework I’d gotten a nice early start on the previous weekend? I sounded so cheerful and optimistic there, despite having just tripped over a math test and bumped my head.
So, naturally, when I climbed into Mom’s MINI (which I’d borrowed because it had gas in it) Thursday morning, it wouldn’t start. For no reason anyone has been able to determine, the battery had gone stone dead overnight. So dead that the guy AAA sent couldn’t get it started with one of those portable jumpstart battery pack things, but had to go back to his garage for proper jumper cables and start it off his truck. So instead of heading home bright and early to finish up my work, I spent the morning taking the car to the Foreign Car Center in Hampden so that they could try and figure out what the hell was the matter with it.
This was a tall order, and one they couldn’t fill right away; electrical problems are always hard to track down, and the MINI’s is apparently particularly subject to the Automotive Defect Uncertainty Principle. Its electrical system blinked innocently and asked, “Who, me?” when queried by the tech tool. I waited around for Mom to pick me up, and was then trapped running a million and one errands around Bangor with her all afternoon, because, she declared, gas is too expensive to waste it on a round trip just to pick me up. I got home at nightfall, worn out and pissed off.
The homework… didn’t get finished. I got the big ol’ current/voltage analysis done, which I consider an accomplishment given my frame of mind, and I already had the first and last questions finished, but I ended up making several blundering attempts at the others with the distinct sense of unmeshed gears spinning fruitlessly inside my head. Eventually I ran out of time and cope at about the same time, and ended up scribbling a rather pathetic note to that effect on the page where the answers for questions 4 and 5 should’ve been. If I were my instructor, I’d probably dock me a couple more points just for being a whiner. (And at least one for having had part of one of the missing questions personally explained to me in a one-on-one meeting Tuesday afternoon, and managing somehow to uncomprehend it within 48 hours.)
The only plus side is that I did manage to perform one act of prioritization. By the time I got home, I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have enough time and energy to get everything done that I needed to do. So instead of starting with the remainder of the ECE 101 work, which would’ve taken me all of the time and energy I had and still wouldn’t have been finished at the end, I started by completing my outline and notes for CMJ 103. Cutting my losses, you might say. So at least I was ready (more or less) to deliver the speech.
And then today, once I got all that done, I had to spend the afternoon stranded in Bangor with more of Mom’s strangely multiplying errands, because they’re keeping the MINI over the weekend to keep scrutinizing the mysteriously nonchalant electrical system. And I had to go and wrangle with the homecare people about the problems with New Nose Machine, which it occurs to me that I haven’t actually written about here because it’s not directly relevant to the college thing. Or at least it wasn’t until having to take care of that this afternoon, on top of everything yesterday, made me blow my first newspaper deadline… um… ever by being unable to put together a piece I owe the Campus this week. Not that I have the mental bandwidth to have gotten involved with a newspaper anyway now that the technical half of my semester’s course load has started fraying in the slipstream.
I know this post reads like it’s basically just a litany of excuses for lousy performance this week. But it’s not really about excuses. They say that one should be able to overcome all the difficulties and inconveniences life unexpectedly throws at us all and get one’s work done anyway; it’s one of the central premises of the College Experience because, they say, it’s what the Real World will expect of us when we get there. Failing to meet one’s responsibilities because of unexpected life screwups is like being the car behind in a collision – it’s your fault regardless of the circumstances, because you should’ve been paying more attention. And in that respect, I’ve simply not been on the ball enough.
The thing is, I don’t think it is just a question of Trying Harder. I was trying as hard as my shrunken old brain could at those last couple of ECE 101 questions, and they just weren’t happening. I consulted my own notes, notes I took with my very own hand in class, and they might as well have been in Martian. And I’ll be honest with you, that scares me more than a little. Some say certain neurological conditions which normally have overtly physical effects can occasionally cause subtler harm, slowing thought patterns and making it harder to concentrate or recall. I’m starting to wonder if that’s what’s going on here… or if that’s just some part of me looking for another excuse.
So, uh, yeah. This hasn’t been my most impressive week. Like I mentioned a while back, test pilots talk about being “behind the airplane”, a situation that usually ends in a fiery crash. They say you can feel it happening. This week, I really know what they mean.