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The Pay-Off

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

fall2012grades

Here we have this semester’s grades, fresh from the grill.  Note that it was, in fact, worth the death-defying, adversity-strewn ride to campus for the Thermo final after all.

Also, please note that the unit count reflected below the semester’s grades is a little misleading.  Specifically, the part where it says I’ve taken 14 credits “not for GPA” and only managed to pass one of them.  What it really means is that I passed the one-credit pass/fail ECE freshman seminar, the grade for which was predicated entirely on showing up, and formally withdrawn from 13 credits’ worth of classes over my career – three for that online Classics class that got munched by the Medical Adventure over the summer (as the Dean’s office did in fact approve my retroactive medical withdrawal from same), and 10 when I left school before the end of the spring 1994 semester to take a job at Leading Edge.  A W grade is recorded on one’s transcript when that happens, but it’s a no-op: no credit, but no harm to GPA either.  Basically all it means is that you dropped the class too late to get a refund, but before you would’ve been committing to an F.  Withdrawing from those 1994 classes properly instead of just allowing myself to F the semester was just about the only thing I did right that year.

(And I still don’t remember how I passed ENG 101, College Comp, that semester, when the Ws in everything else mean I must have withdrawn and left town before the semester was two-thirds over.  I must’ve gone to the instructor and said, “OK, look, I’m out, but this class is cake and it seems like a shame to waste the money.  Here is the term paper that’s due at the end of the semester.  I think you will find it is Superior,” or something to that effect.  Can’t remember a thing about it now.  I’m glad I did whatever I did, though.  Imagine me taking ENG 101 year before last, when I first returned to the University.  Thirty-seven years old, a former professional writer, taking an English class aimed at kids who didn’t pay much attention in high school.  The mind boggles.)

Also, transfer credits aren’t figured into GPA, which is a shame since I rocked the house in the physics courses I took off-site last year (the second of which is reflected in the Term Totals here because the transcript didn’t come across until this fall).  OTOH, if they counted the handful WPI classes I transferred in for credit, that would hurt, since I don’t think I ever got better than a C during my whole time at WPI, except in one history class UMaine didn’t give me transfer credit for.

(Hmm, I had the original transfer calculation run when I was an ECE major.  I wonder if some of the ones they didn’t count would figure in now that I’m working on an HTY degree.)

Anyway!  Disaster averted, and the financial aid gods should be satisfied with that; I don’t think there’s anything in my aid package that counts on anything higher than a 3.5 (and most of it’s 3.0).

It’s only a nine-credit semester, 3/4 time, but given what I’ve been up against this fall, I believe I’ll call it an acceptable result.  Now I have three weeks to have the flu before the craziness of my 18-credit spring semester starts…

Well, THAT was a day.

December 20, 2012 4 comments

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.

Registration Day

October 29, 2012 1 comment

I just registered for my spring classes.  I think the schedule I’ve constructed might be a little too ambitious – I’ll be jumping from 9 credits this semester to 18 in the next – but it does have its advantages.

spring2013sched

Here’s the schedule grid for the week after we get back from Spring Break.  Notice the big block off to the right?  That’s an odd, odd course; it meets all day Saturday, but only three times over the course of the semester.  You may have noticed that the designation shown on the schedule is somewhat less than illuminating.  That’s because it’s one of those catchall course designations that can mean different things at different times.  I’m taking a course called HTY 398 this semester, too – an online class entitled “Maine in the American Revolution” – but next semester it’s a non-online class that meets on three Saturdays and involves attending a full-weekend conference in Camden in February with the ominous title The Middle East: What Next?

Now, I’ll admit right up front that I am not terribly interested in the Middle East barring T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but one of the requirements for a history degree at the University of Maine is that you must have taken at least two courses involving the history of some part of the world other than Europe and North America.  With the schedule above I’m hitting both of those next semester (“History of the British Empire” counts as one too; Britain is in Europe, or at least next to it, but the Empire was not), as well as clearing off the last of the 100-level courses required (106, the followup to HTY 105, which I took in fall 1993).

I also have to admit that I’m awfully tempted to drop HTY 450, despite the fact that it gets the other half of the foreign history requirement out of the way (and that the instructor is my HTY advisor, Professor Miller), because it’s been verrry nice having Tuesday and Thursday off this semester, not only from an oh-God-not-more-driving perspective but also from an oh-God-not-buying-more-gasoline perspective.

On the MET side, what I’ve got there is the sequel to this semester’s thermodynamics class; officially they’re “Thermal Science” and “Thermal Applications”, but basically they’re Thermodynamics I and II.  MET 126 is also a sequel to a class I’ve had already, but has a new instructor.  Not sure what to make of his scheduling choices.  Has he got a day job or something?  I think the way that and Thermo II are scheduled will keep me out of my work study gig altogether on those days, but on the other hand I’ll be open for both the afternoon and night labs on Tuesday and Thursday, which is a point in favor of not dropping HTY 450.

Have to wrap this up right now, as I need to go post a sign at the MTL noting that there is no night lab tonight, then head home and wait for the power to go out.

Did I Miss Anything?

July 18, 2012 2 comments

OK, well, been a while, sorry about that.  I got a little sidetracked.  Actually, I am a little sidetracked, but I have a few minutes, so here’s a quick update on three things that have gone on since January.

1) Program Changes

This past spring, during the first week of the semester, I found myself dissatisfied with my choice of program again.  This was not quite the same as my disenchantment with electrical engineering at the end of Fall ‘10 – it had more to do with the fact that one of the courses I was enrolled in seemed not to know quite what it wanted to be, in a way that made me wonder whether the MET program was really the thing.  (That, and I’ve been told by professors in other fields that graduates of the School of Engineering Technology aren’t eligible for licensure as professional engineers in states other than Maine, which is cause for concern if, like me, you’ve been tired of living here since about 1989.)

I considered switching to straight mechanical engineering, but eventually decided against it because there’s very little portability between the two programs.  I’d essentially have been starting over, and there’s always the enhanced math requirements of the MEE program to consider.  Then I got to thinking about something Professor Miller had said to me in an email back in the fall semester – to the effect that he thought I had a real flair for history and had I considered majoring in it?  In fact, I was a history major the first time I was at UMaine, in 1993-94… but the engineering and engineering tech programs have by far the best (and by “best” I really mean “least dismal” in this day and age) post-graduation employment potential.

I had just about convinced myself that that wasn’t important – that what I really needed to do was Follow My Heart regardless of future considerations and “go home” to the history department – by the time I arrived at that department’s office and asked the lady there for the form I would need to get it done…

… and then she asked me, “Do you intend to drop your engineering major?”

And I thought, Well, obviously – I’ve no intention of carrying two majors…

And what I said out loud was, “Oh no, certainly not.”

I mulled that snap decision over for the rest of that week, and what I eventually concluded was that I’d had an idea that hadn’t made its way to my conscious mind yet.  Either that or I’m really good at rationalizing.  Either way, what I’m thinking now is this: I’ll do both majors – in fact, I need to file another paper to split my program into two completely separate degrees – and then use the technical background my MET degree provides to develop a place for myself as a technology historian.  I’ve been told repeatedly (by people within as well as outside the program) that SET grads can basically forget about graduate school in engineering, so, fine – I’ll do it in history.

Mind you, there is not exactly a booming job market for historians with a specific focus on science, technology, and engineering, but there must be some way in.  I mean, I once saw a television documentary which featured a man whose job title was “forensic paleoclimatologist”.  If there’s a corner of the academic world for someone with a specialization like that, surely there’s one for what I’m thinking of doing.  And if not, well, I’ll still be able to work as a mechanical engineer.  In Maine.

It’s not the tastiest fallback position, but at least it is one.

2) The Spring Semester

With a plan thus in place, I went ahead and firmed up my course selections for the semester.  This was largely a continuation of Fall ‘11, with Introductory German 2 at UMaine and Physics 2 at EMCC following on their predecessors from the fall; same instructors, too, and in the case of Physics, the same days and times of day.  I also had the first of the MET program’s mechanics courses, Statics, which met at 8 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – not my favorite, but the class itself turned out to be great.

I stumbled a little early on with Statics, mainly because of the time of day, and partly because (as a corollary) I hadn’t quite divined Professor Dvorak’s attitude toward examinations when the time came for the first one.  He announced it in class a week before it was to be held and pointed out, sort of by the way, that since the UMaine academic day starts at 8, there was no class scheduled in the room before ours.  “I’m going to be here at seven,” he said, “but you don’t have to come in until the regular time.”

So I did go in at the regular time, and had about 70% of the exam finished when the class period ended and we all had to GTFO to make room for the guys who needed the room for 9 o’clock.  I turned out that I had that 70% done right, so if I’d had time to finish I’d have aced the test.  Well, lesson learned; I showed up no later than 7:15 for the others (apart from the one I missed for medical reasons and had to make up on an afternoon in the last week of the semester), finished them all in plenty of time, and walked away with an A in the class.

Physics similarly went well, because by then I did have a clear read on Mr. Marquis and his preferences for the way the class ran.  It was basically just like the course I’d taken in the fall hadn’t finished yet – more of the same, just with different faces in the lab section.  Physics 2 is largely focused on electromagnetism, acoustics, and optics, all of which is good times to me.  No worries there, apart from the week when I inexplicably lost my lab report somewhere between home and class.  It turned out not to hurt me in the end, because my other labs were good enough that the lowest-grade-dropped being a zero didn’t leave me with a bleeding wound elsewhere on the score sheet.  A there as well.

I struggled a little in German, or at least felt like I did.  It was a strange experience.  For no really evident reason I found myself walking out of every test (and there’s one every couple of weeks in Intro German, rather than the more usual university-level three or four a semester) thinking Well, that was a disaster, only to discover when they came back on Monday that I’d done fine, or fallen down on one section and saved myself with the extra credit at the end, or some similar oddity.  The resulting A- is one of those “game was not as close as the score implies” things.  Annoyingly, I can’t take Intermediate German this fall because it’s only offered at the same time as an MET course I critically need.

Of course, now all of that is up in the air because

3) Impending Medical Adventures

I’ve gone into greater detail about this elsewhere, but most of the details aren’t really germane to Extra Sheets, so here’s the really short version: I have to have major surgery in a couple of weeks.  This was originally supposed to happen much earlier in the month, when it would just have been possible that I’d have been recovered by the start of the fall semester.  That’s entirely out of the question now.

I’m exploring my options with the help of the student disability services office, the SET program office, and others at the University.  I may be able to cut my course load back to a part-time schedule and just take the two MET courses I have to have to stay on track with the program.  It’s a small program, a lot of the courses are specific prereqs for others, and many are only offered in one semester or the other, so if I miss this fall’s pieces that basically sets me back a full year.  Would really like to avoid that if I can help it, although at this point I’m not sure I can.  We’ll see.

So That Was Fall ‘11

December 24, 2011 2 comments

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.

Notes from Military History Class

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

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?

1. Hitler

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.

Ill-Timed Illness

November 30, 2011 1 comment

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.