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A Snapshot In Time

October 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Yes, it’s well past time for an informative post about what’s going on this semester.  This, however, is not that post.  I just wanted to note something that happened today.

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is a very basic introductory U.S. History class, because it’s a degree requirement on the HTY side of my schizoid program.  Being a basic class taken by a lot of freshmen, this is held in one of the giant auditorium-style lecture halls in Little Hall.  I’ve had several classes in these rooms, but never one quite like this.  It’s sort of your classic college Giant Introductory Lecture, where the instructor’s not that bothered about whether people turn up or what they’re doing as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses.

I sit up at the back, behind all the stadium seats, at a desk thoughtfully provided by the DSS office; from my perch I can see what all the people in about a third of the auditorium are up to.  As you might expect, a lot of them are up to using their laptops for stuff other than paying attention to the lecture.  Facebook, sports websites, lolcats, that kind of thing.  I usually pay it little mind.  It’s no skin off my back if the kids aren’t with the program.

Today, though?

Today someone was playing Galaga.

Thought we wouldn’t notice… but we did.

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.

Failing the Pics-or-It-Didn’t-Happen Test

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Well, That’s Not at All Ominous

November 28, 2011 3 comments

A message posted to my history class’s electronic notice board by the professor during Thanksgiving break:

For reasons which I will not go into, [REDACTED] will no longer be a t.a. for this class.  He may continue to offer his assistance, but please know he has no formal affiliation with this class and it is my advice that you do not seek his help or accept his offers to help if he makes them.

This message, particularly the warning at the end, was reiterated in class today, with the added notes that Sacked TA might actually be dangerous to seek further assistance from, and, “You all know my other TA, he is not crazy and will continue to help you out.”  Pressed for further details, he would say only, “I’m a doctor, but not a medical doctor.”

All I can think of now is the scene in Real Genius where the guy just loses his shit in the common room.

We tell ourselves, “The right people will get this.”

November 3, 2011 2 comments

I was in German lab the other day.  German isn’t really a subject one would think of as a lab science, but that’s what it’s called.  It’s a supplement to the regular classroom sessions in which we spend an hour each week doing a sort of “immersion therapy” in the language lab.  Only German may be spoken in the lab unless some special circumstance intervenes, which is interesting in that, on the student end of things, we barely know anything yet.

One of the exercises we did this week was to split up into teams of two and work out a dialogue between a young man with an incredibly full social calendar and his mother, who seemed, if we were reading the handout correctly, to be meant to interrogate him comprehensively on what he was doing at every point in his very busy day.  My partner and I were not sure we had apprehended this correctly, so we beckoned Herr Tozier over and, with much fumbling, asked him if we were reading it right.

When he assured us that we were, I asked him, “Stefans Mutter – arbeitet sie für das Stasi, oder… ?”

(Roughly, “Stefan’s mother – does she work for the secret police or what?")

And then I had one of those “oh God what am I doing here” moments, because while Herr T got the joke, nobody else in the room did…

because no one else was old enough to know what the Stasi was.

If I had said “Gestapo” probably everything would have been fine – Nazis, as my old pal MegaZone reminds me, are timeless – but East Germany, not so much.

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Tool Crib Stool: Phase 2

September 29, 2011 2 comments

I got in to work the other day and found that Joel had, true to his word, upholstered the new tool crib stool over the weekend.

IMG_20110922_140726

Behold the paddedness.  It really helps, too.  My six-hour day (Wednesday) is still a pretty darn long one, but the days when I’m only in here three hours, it’s a big help.  And it does mean that the Long Day is only partially long, if you’ll forgive the turn of phrase.

Our next step is to add some sort of foot rest that’s a bit better than the stretchers in the steel structure.  They’re too close to the vertical axis for long-term comfort; I can hook my heels on them, but the position makes my hips sore after a while.

I’m thinking a metal ring, maybe three or four inches more in diameter than the diagonal of the base at about the level of the upper stretchers, is the way to go.  We’ve got the equipment in here for bending round stock to a particular radius, and once the circle is made it’s just a question of whipping up some brackets and welding the lot together.  I can’t weld – the curriculum recommends a class they do for it over at EMCC, but it’s only offered in the spring and I haven’t taken it yet – but Joel can.  We just need to finalize a design.

The temptation is very strong to go this weekend and do it up proper-like in Solid Edge, make some process sheets, and generally go all Real Engineer on it.  I’m not taking a Machine Tool class this semester, but it might be worth a few impress-the-boss points anyway, and it’d be a nice refresher of stuff I did last semester.  Keep me sharp for the next CAD class, which is coming this spring.