Archive for the ‘Laboratory Adventures’ Category

Crunch Time in the Machine Tool Lab

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the last week of the semester, projects are due in both the freshman and junior machine shop courses by the end of the week, and things are extra bonus crazy in the MTL as a result.  I’ve had people I’ve never seen before coming in for night lab the last couple of weeks.  This week night lab has been extended from 6-9 to 5-10, which made for a long night Monday and a longer one today, when I already was scheduled to work 2-5.

We were going to close from 5 to 6 so I could go get some dinner, but one of the guys asked what it would take to convince me to stay and keep the shop open through the dinner hour.  I said I’d do it if someone brought me a pizza.

So he had one delivered.

Who am I to argue with that kind of dedication?

Unfortunately, the only thing to drink in this joint is the kinda-iffy-tasting city water from the fountain out in the shop, and half a pizza and some garlicky breadsticks later, I’m gasping for something better.  I won’t be getting anything for another three-and-a-quarter hours, though, alas.  The MTL needs a soda machine.  One of those old-timey ones that do paper cups with ice in them.  Does anyone even make that kind of vending machine any more?  They were absolutely the best.


The Strange Joy of Making Chips

February 21, 2011 3 comments

MET 107 lecture today was a bit stressful, but  that was more my own psychological baggage than anything to do with the actual class.  Heck, I pulled a 92 on last week’s exam (#1 of 3), and I know what I did wrong on the questions I missed, so things are, touch wood, going well.

But it’s a crowded lecture, 48 students in a room that could comfortably hold about 40, and some days there’s a lot of noise and chatter.  There was today, so much so that Professor Anderson had to yell – literally, not figuratively – at everybody to quiet the hell down:

"OK, fellas, let’s get started.  Got a lot of stuff to get through today.  Settle down.  …  … HEY! THIS ISN’T A PAJAMA PARTY, IT’S COLLEGE, FOR CHRISSAKE!"

(shocked silence)

"In 15 years I’ve had to yell at a class three times, and now two of them have been you guys.  Work a little harder on impressing me.  You’re not paying thousands of dollars to listen to each other talk."

Now, I like Professor Anderson, and for the record I think he was entirely justified in taking this course of action.  (Indeed, in his position I’d probably have used much stronger language in a couple of places, and possibly opened with a gunshot into the ceiling, which is why I am not and should never be allowed to be a teacher.)  And his wrath had nothing to do with me – I wasn’t talking, because I’m 37 and frankly I got that shit out of my system in the ninth grade.  And yet, when that happened, I spent the next minute or so grappling internally with a powerful instinctive flight reaction.  I very, very much wanted, on some entirely anti-intellectual level, to just go home and lie down.

I guess that’s a scar from all those rancorous school board and town council meetings I had to cover.  I just cringe at the thought of being in the presence of authority conflict, even when I’m not in any way involved.  It was deeply – and surprisingly – uncomfortable, because so entirely irrational.  I was just sitting there waiting for class to start, and suddenly my lizard brain was going Flee, flee from this place, the gods are angry! Very disconcerting.

Anyway, once we got into the lab, things got better.  For one thing, there are only a dozen of us in the Monday afternoon lab session, and the room is much larger; for another, there was plenty to do, and Professor Anderson had regained his good humor, despite the absence of his tool crib guy and his regular TA (who had to go off to a doctor’s appointment, and did look like he felt truly dreadful).

So we went out and got to work, and after working on it for three weeks, I finished the last of my tool checkoffs, which means I’ve advanced to "novice machinist" and am no longer just some dude who wandered into the machine shop.

To be clear, they aren’t actually trying to make professional-grade machinists out of us in a single semester.  As mechanical engineering tech majors, we’re expected to end up designing things that the real machinists then have to make, so the idea is to give us some exposure to the machine shop environment and the capabilities of machine tools, so we’ll hopefully have that in the backs of our minds as we design things that may or may not be a royal pain in the ass for some other person to make.  So "novice machinist" is probably too generous; realistically, it’s more like "semicompetent dabbler".  But it does mean I’m not as likely to burn the place down or cut my own fingers off as a random civilian would be.  In theory.

In slightly more technical terms, I had to demonstrate a set of what marketing people would call "core competencies" on the four basic machine tools in what the University rather haughtily calls the laboratory: the pedestal grinder, the vertical mill, the engine lathe, and the band saw.  Once, and only once, those tasks were accomplished was I cleared to work on the actual parts required for my semester project – which I believe I now have seven weeks to make and get working with the rest of my team’s parts.  So no pressure there.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with machine tools, as indeed I was until recently, here is a quick rundown of what those four things are.  If you’re not interested in that kind of thing, that’s cool – come back in a day or two, I’ll be talking about CAD.

Now then.

The pedestal grinder – This is the machine tool people who’ve never been in a proper machine shop are most likely to have seen someplace, I suspect (with a couple of caveats I’ll get to below).  It’s just what it sounds like – an abrasive wheel attached to a big ol’ electric motor on a stand.  Actually, most pedestal grinders have two wheels, one on each side of the motor.  Waste not, want not, after all.  This apparatus can be useful for a number of things, but mainly what it’s used for is shaping smaller bits of metal into shapes suitably complex as to be hard to achieve on the other machines, and/or that don’t require a ton of really exacting precision.  For example, it’s possible to sharpen up drill bits and correct worn-out flathead screwdriver blades with it.  Or you can do what we did and actually make another tool, in our case a toolbit that is then used on the lathe.

All the animals in the machine shop are equal, but the pedestal grinder is a little more equal than the others in terms of how dangerous it is.  It does have a great heavy abrasive wheel spinning at some ridiculous number of revolutions per minute, after all, and if that should happen to, say, come off, you could be in for an exciting time.  In normal operation, though, it’s nothing to worry about as long as you don’t trip and fall face-first on it.  Unless you do what my dad did when he was around 25 and use one without eye protection, in which case you will never be allowed to accompany your son into a room with an MRI machine in it later in life.

The vertical mill – Also known as a "Bridgeport" after the most commonly known manufacturer.  Someone not familiar with machine tools, but knowing someone with a reasonably well-equipped garage, would see a Bridgeport and think, Damn, yo, that’s one big drill press.  And, in fact, that’s pretty much what a vertical mill is – a drill press with a college degree.  It can do a hell of a lot more than just drill holes, but the basic principle is the same.  What makes a vertical mill different is its adaptability.  It can be set up to run at a wide range of different speeds and equipped with a variety of different tools, and the table can be moved around in all three axes, often with power feed in at least two of them.  With that capability and the right tool mounted, you can trim a piece of metal to a precise size, put a nice finish on a part, put a chamfer on something – you can even drill a hole if you’re feeling really audacious.  Or cut threads into one you’ve already drilled.

The surprising thing about operating a vertical mill, from the standpoint of someone who had worked with drill presses before but never seen their bigger cousins, is how much stuff there is to keep track of.  For instance, what speed you run the machine at matters – a lot.  A home garage drill press is usually either on or off, but the RPM setting on a vertical mill is something that requires some foreknowledge and thought.  You need to know what the material you’re cutting is, what your cutting tool is made of, and the maximum cutting diameter you’re dealing with, at the very least.  Once you have all those things, if you have the appropriate tables handy or have memorized them, you can calculate the best speed, and then you look at the plate on the front of the machine to see how close you can get – and then you have to open it up and fool with the belts to set it up.  It’s all very old-school, and somehow strangely satisfying.

The engine lathe – This is another tool that looks something like something people with reasonably-well-equipped wood shops will be familiar with.  With a wood lathe you can make fancy table legs and whatnot.  A metalworking engine lathe works on the same principle, and looks similar, but – as with the metalworking equivalents of many woodworking tools – is a lot beefier and more complicated.  The basic principle is similar to the vertical mill’s, except sort of reversed and standing on its head – the workpiece rotates but is otherwise stationary, instead of the toolbit as in the mill, and the toolbit can move around relative to it on a complicated carriage mechanism.  You can face stock to a desired length, turn bits of it to different radii, drill a hole in the end of it – you could even make a fancy table leg if you wanted, though it would be pretty heavy.

The lathe is my favorite machine tool.  It’s also the one with the most complicated set of dials, levers, and buttons.  These two facts may not be entirely unconnected.  Once you’ve worked out the RPM setting (which is the same sort of thing as you have to do with a vertical mill), there’s also the feed setting to consider.  Again, there’s a reasonably complex little formula that involves looking stuff up on a table, particularly if you’re cutting outside threads, and then there’s another chart on the machine itself which tells you how to set the levers and dials for the feed gearbox to achieve the desired result.  This is a little like cracking a safe and invariably makes me feel like I’m starring in my own very short little caper movie.  Very satisfying.

The band saw – This is, well, a band saw.  Not really that exciting, except for the size of it: The horizontal band saw in our shop is about five feet long.  Cutting stock with it is a fairly straightforward procedure.  It doesn’t have speed settings or any futzing around with feeds; you just put the piece you’re trying to cut in it, make sure it’s properly supported if it’s too long to fit on the table, make sure you’ve put something in the other end of the vise to balance it if it’s too short to go all the way across, start it up and let gravity do the work.  Cleaning it up afterward is the hardest part, because it makes tiny little chips and they get all covered in cutting fluid.  Nasty.

So yeah, I’m enjoying MET 107, for the most part.  As previously noted it trips my hate-being-bad-at-stuff response quite often, but the instructor and his TA are patient and my checkoffs went well.  I got my first piece of for-real stock cut today, too, but ran out of time before I could do anything more to it than file off the burrs.

Now that I have my credentials on the tools, so to speak, I (slightly annoyingly) get to not use them for three weeks, because that was our last meeting before spring break.  I could go in for one of the evening sessions this week (probably Thursday) and try to get some stuff done; we’ll see.

One Day Summarizes Everything

December 11, 2010 3 comments

Yesterday was the last regular day of the fall semester, and the events of the day have an eerie sort of encapsulating symmetry about them, if you look at them from a certain angle.

The first order of business was the robot competition in ECE 101.  This was held in the big lecture hall in the new wing of Barrows (the same room where ECE 100 seminars were held), and consisted of a showdown in the 4×4 maze for the four teams whose robots had performed best in the preliminary rounds of testing, which were held in the week’s regular lab sessions.

The rules of the ECE 101 robot contest are fairly simple: The robot has to navigate a maze based on 12-inch squares without any outside intervention.  The robot that is consistently the fastest over three complete runs wins.  Grounds for disqualification include manual intervention by the robots’ builders, any attempt by the robot itself to circumvent the structure of the maze (extremely unlikely given the nature of the robots’ construction), and contact with the maze walls.  Keep that last rule, particularly, in mind for the next thing I say:

It may give you some indication of how well the robot Let’s Call Him Matt and I built performed in the preliminary round when I tell you that it ended up being dubbed Harvey.

So, uh, we weren’t participating in the finals.  We did get it to move (the reason it wouldn’t turned out to be a programming problem in one of the header files that was so abstruse even Andy was impressed with its subtlety), but could never find the sweet spot for the sensor gain settings that would lead to any useful navigational abilities.  We ended up just running out of time – the Wednesday lab ended without Harvey having logged a single successful run in the 4×4 maze, and neither of us was able to attend the optional evening session or the Thursday afternoon lab, so Friday morning came with us never having gotten on the board at all.

Regardless, it was fun to watch the finals, and the performance of the robot that won overall was impressive.  The winning team received "production" robots, based on the same design we used for the ones we built in class, but based on a grown-up printed circuit board instead of a forest of Wire-Wrapped pins in plain perf board – not really much more practical than a trophy, since the ECE 101 Maze Robot’s practical usefulness potential is rather limited, but certainly something with more engineering cred when displayed on a shelf.

In the afternoon, I finally managed to deliver my fourth and final speech in CMJ 103 for credit, having done one dry run with it in Zay’s* office on Wednesday evening.  The second run was necessary because the visual aids were unavailable the first time, and it took us quite a lot of fiddling around to line up a room with a working projector.  We did finally get it done, though, and I had the curious experience of delivering an impassioned persuasive speech to an audience of one in what may be the oddest classroom on campus: 44 Dunn Hall, also known as "the airplane".  This gets its name from the fact that it is a curiously long and narrow room that’s been set up as a sort of miniature lecture hall.  It’s got four columns of seats arranged two-by-two with an aisle in the middle and a projector screen at one end, and the entrance is in the middle of one of the long sides, making entering it feel uncannily like boarding a commuter flight.

Even stranger, an hour later after delivering that speech to no one but Zay in a basement room resembling a small airliner cabin, I was on the other side of campus in a big lecture hall, one of the proper auditorium-style ones, delivering it again to a couple of hundred people.  This was because, as I previously mentioned, I’d been selected as Section 003’s delegate to the Oak Awards, a competition among the many (this semester, eight) sections of CMJ 103.

This was… a profoundly weird experience.  I mean to say, performing a set of prepared remarks in a semi-darkened theatre-like room, with my parents sitting at opposite sides pretending not to have noticed each other – it was like being a high school drama nerd again, except there was actually money on the line.  First prize at the Oak Awards is a $500 scholarship.  (And bragging rights for your instructor, who can thus force all the other CMJ 103 instructors for the semester to acknowledge that her kung fu is best.)

I was up second, which I thought was slightly odd since I was representing Section 003, but fine, no problem there.  My slides (or, well, it was actually a PowerPoint presentation, but it contained no clever inter-slide effects, not one single bullet point, and only one font, so my conscience is clear) had been provided to the MC ahead of time, and apart from not being able to control the room lights – which screwed up my planned attention-getting device a little, since it involved simulating an electric blackout – there were no technical problems.  I retired to my seat secure in the knowledge that I had done the best I could do and resolved to let the chips fall where they may.

The other seven speakers were a very mixed bag.  There were two civil engineering students, a nutrition and food science major, a pre-vet biologist, and a couple of others I don’t remember offhand – and one guy who actually was a communications major, who I figured might be trouble?  Except he had that rising intonation thing going on?  That the kids do these days?  Where everything sounds like a question?  Even when it isn’t?  And I may be revealing myself as an ancient fuddy-duddy here, but I just couldn’t take him seriously as a potential rival after that point.

Personally, I think the most interesting one of the seven was the guy who presented some well-reasoned and cogent points in defense of the thesis that recycling paper is a counterproductive waste of time, effort, and energy resources.  Well, I say interesting.  Two of the others were plenty interesting, but not in a "hmm, you know, he’s got a point" way; those would be the two who denounced, respectively, evolution and the Apollo 11 mission photos as scientific fraud.  (The latter actually caused me to facepalm involuntarily, which got me kicked chidingly in the ankle by one of my colleagues in the competitors’ corner.  I suppose it was a bit rude of me, but coming as it did directly on the heels of the evolution speech, I just couldn’t help it.)

So anyway, I won.

(That wasn’t a very dramatic buildup, yeah?  However, it’s roughly equivalent to the way the MC announced it after the judges deliberated.  I’d never seen an award announcement where they started with first place before.  It rather dampens the drama, I have to admit.  Also, while I’m proud of the achievement and the $500 will certainly help next semester, I’m a little disappointed that there’s no certificate or anything.)

So there you are.  In the same day, I – ostensibly an engineering major – failed to even make the finals of a technical competition held as part of an engineering core course, but swept the field and retired covered in glory in a liberal arts competition held in conjunction with a core humanities course.

That, I think, summarizes my whole Weltanschauung nowadays.

On the other hand, I’m not quite done with Harvey yet.  Any further work on the project won’t be useful for credit, since the class will be over on Monday, but I’m hoping to keep fooling with it over break anyway.  It just annoys me to leave the thing unfinished.

This weekend: prep for finals.  I have two, one in ECE 101, the other in MAT 122.  Confidence is moderate for both of them at this time – except I’m not sure when/where the MAT 122 one actually is.  I think the time/place I have in my appointment book is actually the final for MAT 122-0001, the Regular Course with the same prof as the online one I’m really enrolled in; the Office of Student Records claims the one for MAT 122-0990 is on a completely different day, but doesn’t say where it is.  Must email Prof. Zoroya and get that cleared up.



* Her name is Lindzay, making her the first academic instructor I’ve had who prefers to be known not just by her first name, but by a diminutive form of her first name, by her students.  But hey, whatever makes her happy.

Snow Day

December 6, 2010 2 comments

We’re in the process of getting a foot or two of snow here in northern Maine, and the University has responded with the – I am assured – quite rare step of canceling classes for the day.  This would not normally hurt my feelings at all, what with my general distaste for crashing into ditches and freezing to death, except that this is the very last Monday of the semester.

There’s nothing very much doing in ECE101 today, since regular classes ended last week and we’re just doing recitations now, and missing the last of the ECE100 seminars isn’t really a big deal since all we were doing was filling out the course evaluation and receiving some parting remarks.  I am annoyed, though, about two things:

1) I was scheduled to deliver my last speech in CMJ 103 today.  Speeches are scheduled tightly enough that there won’t be time before the end of the semester to reschedule the five of us who should’ve spoken today into other class time, because there are only two days left (Wednesday and Friday) and they’re both full already.  I checked with the instructor and she’s not sure what that means for us, though I suspect it means we’ll have to come in during the time next week when the class’s final exam would be happening if it had one.  What kind of audience we can expect for that I’m not sure.  Possibly the whole class will have to go in, which is a bit extreme.

2) I had hoped to get into the ECE lab this afternoon and see if I could figure out why our robot isn’t working.  The robot competition’s preliminary round is Wednesday and the final is Friday, and right now ours doesn’t do anything.  The software we had in it last Wednesday was not complete and it wouldn’t have worked properly as regards navigating the maze, but it should have done something, and it just sat there inert.  The probability is some kind of hardware problem.  I was hoping to put the image of our code on the production test robot and see if it works.  I won’t have time to do this tomorrow because of workstudy, and Wednesday is go day, so… well.  Not sure what happens to my grade and Let’s Call Him Matt’s if our robot doesn’t work…

I find myself curiously engaged by the problem of programming the robot.  I don’t enjoy programming, and I particularly don’t enjoy programming in C, but trying to get the robot to work is less painful and more interesting than most of the purely abstract tasks put to me in the actual programming courses I’ve attempted in the past.  Mind you, I haven’t got it working, and Let’s Call Him Matt doesn’t seem too jazzed by it (which is odd, since he’s changed his major to computer science and you’d think he’d be more up for it than me), but it’s a refreshing change from the simple tedium this kind of thing normally evokes for me.

The End Approaches

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Today opens the final two weeks of classes for this semester.  Once they’re over, there’s only final exams – of which I only have two this semester, so I’ll be done altogether by early on the afternoon of the 14th.

I got the results back today for the two tests I took just before Thanksgiving break; my scores were 88% on the CMJ 103 one (gods damn ambiguous multiple-choice terminology questions!) and ~86% on the ECE 101 one (I may get a point or two back from some omitted work that wasn’t actually omitted, but eluded the instructor’s notice because I did it on the back of the page and forgot to include a TURN OVER FOR WORK-> note on the front – we’re going to talk it over in lab on Wednesday).  Either way, I am reasonably pleased.  There’s no final exam in CMJ 103, so unless I utterly tank on speech #4, I should have no problems pulling an excellent final grade in that class, and ECE 101… well, that all depends on how I do on the final.

In other news, I got last week’s double homework and attendant quiz in MAT 122 finished with more than a full day to spare – even got some of it done from Chapman, which is a good showing, given the lack of really comprehensive facilities there.  There’s one more week’s worth of homework and one quiz to go in that course, then a week of review sessions and the final exam.  Again, unless I completely blow the final (which is conceivable), I should be well-positioned to make a respectable showing there.

I should note that two things of major significance remain in ECE 101: the final exam and the robot testing. (There are also three homework assignments left to do, though they’re fairly short compared to some of the monsters we’ve had earlier in the semester.)  We have two lab periods left; in one we have to complete and program the robot we’ve been building all semester, and in the other there will be a competition in which the robot must navigate a maze and then travel a set distance (not revealed to us until almost go time) in a straight line.  The second actually has potential to be the greater challenge, given that few of the robots, built as they are from recycled parts by fairly cack-handed students, are liable to track all that straight (which makes getting them to travel a set distance and only a set distance not as simple as just saying “proceed forward for $NUMBER motor steps”).

I’m a little nervous about the robot competition.  For one thing, I don’t particularly like competitions in general; for another, Let’s Call Him Matt and I still aren’t finished building ours.  We haven’t slacked off, particularly, but we’re not very speedy builders, and we know for a fact that two of our robot’s four photosensors aren’t working.  We’ve known that for months, actually, but when we first discovered it the TAs said, “Don’t worry about it, you’ll have a chance to fix those later.”  Well, it’s later, and they’re not fixed.  Plus, there’s a certain amount of creative programming required (and I strongly suspect the sample code we’ve been given has some deliberate mistakes in it to force us to debug as we go), and – as we have previously established here – I am crap at that.

So I dunno.  I don’t think you actually fail the course if your robot doesn’t perform very well, but I think it does at least have to work

Oh, and the weather has been so lousy this fall that we’re still not finished with all the observations we’re on the hook for in AST 110, which means tonight – which is forecast to be clear and bloody freezing – we’re up.  Which is why I’m in the library on campus blogging, waiting for it to be 8 PM so I can get my frostbite on.  On the other hand, this late in the year, Orion will actually be above the horizon before the session is over, so I can get my favorite asterism on the board after all.  (And then I get to drive to Moonbase Dad in a car whose heater controls packed up earlier today!  Hooray the Mini’s ongoing electronic senility!)

I’ve got more to say about AST 110-0990, but I’ll save that for an after-semester postmortem.

(Where the hell is all that noise coming from?  It sounds like a high school cafeteria in here.  This is a library, for Christ’s sake.  Kids these days.)


October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

(So far.)

We got last Friday’s ECE 101 exam back today.  I scored 86 points out of a possible 90, which I believe you will find is (to three significant digits) 95.6%.

I consider that outcome acceptable.

This week’s lab was an open session with no set goals, since it’s a short week and the Monday and Tuesday kids didn’t get their regular lab sessions.  I was there for nearly the whole time anyway, because I was out sick last week and had quite a bit of catching up to do.  This consisted mostly of wire-wrapping, which I’m (let’s be honest) rubbish at.  My magnifying visor helps, but I still end up driving home with an eyestrain headache.

Still, I had a better time than my lab partner.  Let’s-Call-Him-Matt got his exam back in lab today too, and he… didn’t have much to be pleased about.  I wouldn’t know about this, since I’m not one to pry, except that he handed it to me after Andy returned it and said, "Am I reading that right?  Does that say 58?"  I confirmed that that was indeed the number before I consciously registered what the document was, which meant that my tone of voice was probably inappropriately chipper for bad news.  Between that, the news itself, and the annoying, fiddly rigors of wire-wrapping, Matt was in a pretty poor mood for the whole session, and I don’t blame him.  I wish I could’ve been more help, but I fear that in the event, my usual tendency to retreat into mumbling awkwardness in the face of another’s adversity prevented me from being of any use.

It didn’t help that several of our nearest classmates were in an irritatingly cheery mood and wouldn’t shut up about some Facebook game they’re all addicted to, before they switched to baiting our conservative Air Force ROTC TA about some upcoming political rally or another.  That kind of thing grates when you’re trying to concentrate on the wire-wrapping you’re hideously behind on, regardless of what news you’ve just received about your exam score.

The upshot of all that is that we’re still a little behind, though not as far as if we’d just skived off on open lab (which we were technically entitled to do) and tried to get it all done next week.  If I didn’t have an appointment tomorrow afternoon, I’d go in again after math and see about getting the rest of the wire-wrapping done, but alas I do.

Speaking of math, yesterday I started digging through the homework sections for the lectures I missed last week, and I think I’ll be able to catch up there as well, but it’ll take some doing.  Things are getting hot and heavy in precalc-land, and between that and the fact that I seem to be doing well on the practical end in ECE 101, I’m starting to think harder than ever about the possibility of switching to EET, or possibly even MET – though part of me is still whispering that I should get out of the technical fields altogether, simply because while I apparently can absorb advanced math, I don’t enjoy it.  I’m supposed to meet with my advisor sometime in the next couple-three weeks to start planning for next semester (I won’t be able to register for spring classes until November).  Until then, the indecision continues.

In the meantime, the last of the midterm exams is coming up Friday, in CMJ 103.  I’m slightly concerned about that one, not because the class is hard – it isn’t – but because the exam is based on the textbook, which we’re not really using all that much, and the book is extremely preoccupied with terminology, most of which is arbitrary.  Fortunately, the exam is mostly multiple choice; there’s one essay question, but one imagines that can’t be too extensive, since we only have a regular 50-minute class period to take the test.

Boy Howdy, I Dunno About That

September 29, 2010 6 comments

Sat the first of three exams in MAT 122 tonight at 6.  Immediately preceding this, I had endured a three-hour ECE 101 lab session that involved Wire-Wrap® technology.  As electronics construction methods go, Wire-Wrap® is some way beyond quaint.  It’s what they used to build the Apollo Guidance Computer.  My partner and I were at it for the full three hours and still couldn’t get our robot’s master LED to come on, which means we’ll have to go back during open lab next week and try to finish.  This was not a relaxing way to prepare for a major test, and I suspect my performance will reflect that.

Ironically, we had to present a photo ID at the end of the session, in order to prove we really were students and not, say, paid ringers.  All I can say is that if the real Ben Hutchins hired me to take that test for him, he got what he deserved, the cheating bastard.  I won’t know for sure until the grade gets posted, of course, but I strongly suspect that I made a complete crock out of the test.  In that sort of math there are a lot of this-or-that interpretation rules – not hard, just fiddly – and at many times in the course of the test I found myself looking at something I could have sworn last night I knew cold, and thinking, Fuck, does that mean it’s inverted relative to the X axis or the Y axis?  You don’t do as much guessing as I did and do well on a test.

On the other hand, I seem to be over my problem with factoring quadratic equations.  Or, rather, I’ve remembered the quadratic formula, which means I no longer have to.

I was right about the online homework/quizzing model not translating very comfortably to an old-school proctored paper exam, too.  Not because of graphing; we did have to do a bit of that, but it wasn’t a problem.  The problem was simply the lack of context for everything.  In an old-fashioned exam you don’t have the luxury of looking up the fiddly rules you’ve suddenly realized you no longer remember.

Personally, I don’t think this method of assessment is valid any longer in terms of preparing students for the Real World.  Maybe it never was.  I mean, I don’t know about you, but I spent a good bit of time in the private sector, and while they did (as Ray Stantz once observed) expect results, they didn’t expect me to know everything about the field I was working in off the top of my head.  That’s what references are for.  As such, closed-notes testing just doesn’t make sense to me any more.  It’s just not realistic unless you’re, I don’t know, an explosive ordnance disposal technician.

On the plus side, I did manage to hit an impossible deadline for a Campus article today.  When I discovered that the professor I needed to speak with for vital background could only see me today at noon, with EE lab from 2:10 to 5, a critical math test at 6, and deadline at 8, I figured well, so much for that gig – but I filed that sumbitch at 5:15, having written most of it at my lab station in Barrows 221 between 1 and the start of lab.  A deserted circuits lab is actually quite a restful place to do a spot of writing; I shall have to remember it for personal use in future, if Andy’s around to unlock the place for me.  (Also, I enjoy being trusted to hang around in there unsupervised; they keep the room locked so the kids don’t wander off with the equipment or put an eye out with the soldering irons.)

Also, because of the evening exam, there’s no class in MAT 122 tomorrow morning.  I’m at Dad’s tonight because I didn’t feel like driving all the way home in the dark, but in the morning I get to get up and go home instead of back to campus, which should give me plenty of time to finish this week’s ECE 101 homework and finish up my cue cards and visual aids for Speech #2 in CMJ 103, which I’m due to perform on Friday morning.  That should be… interesting.  (More about the speech’s content later.  In fact, if it goes well, I might just post the video.  And if it doesn’t, I’ll edit this graf and deny I ever said anything about it.)