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.
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.
Here’s something from the online student service thingy.
There are two interesting things about this. One is what it says under Start Term – quite ambitious for a campus information system, I should think.
The other is that they didn’t do it.
For those of you who remember the excitement at the beginning of last semester, I was informed somewhat after the fact that, since I was taking Physics I at Eastern Maine Community College and thus considered an Away Student, the Bursar’s Office was holding my refund and wouldn’t release it until they’d received proof of enrollment from EMCC – proof that would not be forthcoming, EMCC’s people told me, until the second week of the semester, after their Add/Drop period expired. This led to a bit of a desperate scramble for the first couple weeks of the semester.
Well, this semester, I’m taking Physics II at EMCC, and was warned ahead of time (for once) to expect the same dance again. There was some fairly grim hatch-battening going on this last week as a result, I assure you.
So imagine my surprise when the aforementioned spring semester refund arrived in the mail this morning.
Actually, this was doubly surprising, because A) they insisted last month that it wasn’t ever going to happen and I should prepare to eat ramen and steal other people’s gasoline for the first week or two and B) my driveway is icy, which usually causes the postman to wave off and not bother delivering my mail.
I’d call them Monday and ask what the deal is, if I wasn’t 80% sure that would cause a Bureaucratic Correction involving the money somehow being rescinded until later in the month, and, well, no. Not gonna do it; wouldn’t be prudent.
I was on duty in the tool crib tonight, and nothing was happening. I didn’t have any customers in the shop, and after some activity elsewhere in the building earlier in the evening, all was quiet.
Until about 7:30, when someone sloped into the shop and walked right past the tool checkout window without comment. This is not actually all that unusual; you have to go past the window and actually come into the crib to collect one of the student toolboxes, and people often do that first, then claim a machine and get set up before they come to the window for the more specialized tools that are not in the toolboxes. (The toolboxes contain the most commonly used tools, like digital calipers, Allen wrenches, a Crescent wrench, a deadblow hammer, and suchlike.)
Except the new arrival didn’t come in for a toolbox either. For a second I thought it must have been the campus police officer who, on making his rounds, often cuts through the MTL and leaves via the outside door at the far end – but the next sound I heard wasn’t the door. It was the whir of one of the pedestal grinders over on that wall starting up.
There’s another machine shop in the MTL, down in the other wing, where the seniors work on their capstone projects. I thought maybe my unannounced visitor had come from there, needing one of our grinders to sharpen up the tool he was using or something (it failed to occur to me at the time that surely there’s a grinder in the capstone shop), so I didn’t pay it much mind as the sound of repeated passes on the grinding wheel filled the shop. This went on for four or five minutes, and then I heard the grinder switch off and start spinning slowly down (they have a lot of inertia, grinder wheels, and keep spinning for quite a while after the power’s off).
A moment later, the person who had been using it walked back past the tool window. It was a young guy, unremarkable-looking; I didn’t recognize him, but that’s not that unusual, I don’t know everybody in the program by any stretch. That wasn’t the strange and arresting thing about him.
No, that would have been the fact that he was carrying a fireman’s axe, gleaming and evidently just sharpened.
He noticed me sitting behind the tool counter (having failed to do so on his way in, apparently), looked slightly surprised, then smiled and said, “Have a nice night, man,” and went casually out into the hall and away.
I sat there for a minute trying to absorb what I had just seen, then called the campus police department’s non-emergency dispatch number and told the dispatcher, “Hey, listen, I don’t know if this is anything, but some guy just breezed into the machine tool lab and sharpened an axe on one of our grinders.”
“… What?” came the puzzled reply.
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Uh… do you know who it was?”
“Did he appear intoxicated?”
“Nope. Seemed perfectly normal. Except that he was carrying around a fire axe for no evident reason.”
“Uh, OK, I’ll send someone to check it out.”
A few minutes later there was a banging at the lab’s outside door, and I went out to let in the most skeptical police officer by whom it’s ever been my privilege to be considered daft. He asked me to repeat what I’d told the dispatcher, then spent a couple of minutes trying to get a handle on why I had reported this evidently trivial incident to the campus police.
“So is the problem here that he was using university property for personal use?” he asked.
“No, I’m not concerned about that, not on one of the grinders. It’s just… mysterious guy roaming around campus with an axe? I thought you guys should know. That’s all. Civic duty and all that.”
“So you think he’s out there choppin’ heads off right now?”
“Well, it seems a bit stupid when you put that fine a point on it.”
“What kind of axe was it?”
“Like the kind firemen use.”
“So not a hatchet, then.”
“Would you know him if you saw him again?”
“Dunno. He was only in my field of view for a couple seconds.”
“Well, OK,” said the officer in that I’m-humoring-you-son tone of voice. “Let’s go look for him.”
We went down to the other end of the building, where there were a few people hanging out in the CAD lab. I didn’t see the axe guy there. They looked slightly startled at having the fuzz suddenly show up and eye them for no good reason; one of them asked if they could help us with anything and the officer replied, “Nah, we’re just lookin’ for a guy.”
So we went back to the machine tool lab and the officer said, “OK, well, just one of those things, I guess.” Then he tapped his radio and added with a laugh, “I mean, if he’d of axed somebody I’d have heard about it by now!”
“Well, if you do hear about any unauthorized axe usage, you can probably find bits of it right here on the floor,” I said. “He didn’t sweep up, they never do.”
“Right,” said the clearly unconvinced officer. “Well, night now.”
So, OK, yeah, kind of an anticlimactic story. The cop certainly thought so. I suspect he thought there was no mysterious axe guy at all, and I was just bored or stupid. Either that or it was just somebody stealing a little time on one of the University’s tools to sharpen his own personal axe for, I dunno, wood splitting or something. Which I suppose is conceivable, it’s the right time of year, but a fireman’s axe? At 7:30 on a Monday night? On a college campus? It was just… weird.
So now I’m in some Potential Cranks file over at Public Safety, probably…
I just received official notification that I’m on the Dean’s List for Spring 2011 from my department head.
This is not a complaint. I’m actually amused that a body which is not connected with the University in any way (the Maine Senate) beat him to it by nearly four months. On the other hand, Dr. Dunning is busy running the School of Engineering Technology, while the Senate is just there to hamper the House and that probably leaves them with a lot of free time in the summer, so…
Ah, well, I doubt either of them will have the opportunity to congratulate me for perfect performance this semester. Last night was the first exam in Physics I and I was hard-pressed to score an 80. Mind you, I’ll have a chance to take it again. In fact, technically speaking I’ll have at least four, possibly as many as eight, chances to take it again. But still, not a spectacular start. The instructor uses a computerized testing tool that reminds me unpleasantly of the way that astronomy lab I did so poorly in was run. It wants a number, and it doesn’t care how you got it or where your calculations may have gone wrong.
Remember when we were kids and we felt a deep-rooted dread of the phrase "show your work" on math tests? Turns out there’s actually a really good reason for doing that…
Ah, well. Early days yet.
We spent the first week of HTY 279, European Military History, defining our terms. We had to start with what military history is, then what “modern” is, we even spent a little while on what “European” means. In the second week we started with some battles and personages who constitute the sort of cusp of what Prof. Miller, at least, holds to constitute modern European military history – figures like Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632) and the Battle of Lützen, in which he was killed. None of that is likely to be all that interesting to readers who are not themselves studying military history, though, so we’ll skip over that.
Instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about the reading for this course. The reading list for HTY 279 is pretty extensive; the class doesn’t have a textbook, as such, but there are a number of things we’re responsible for getting through in the course of the semester. Some of them, like Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, are war memoirs I’ve already read (though I think I’ve read the wrong translation of Jünger for this course). Others, like Clausewitz’s On War, are standards works in the field that I haven’t actually read, but have seen mentioned often in things I have read.
And then there’s What Is Military History?, the cover designers of which I don’t think were taking the task entirely seriously.
This is a slim volume that attempts to answer the question posed in its title, but does so in such a detached and scholarly manner that it’s almost impossible to engage with in any meaningful way. It reminds me a little of John Clute’s introduction to the Old Earth Books reprints of E.E. Smith’s Lensman books, back in the late ‘90s. Clute is a professional literary critic whose area of specialty is science fiction, and his introductions to the Lensman novels are essentially Learned Critiques of same, as if they’ve just been published and Clute is assessing their literary merit for the edification of other scholars, which means that what isn’t pretension is impenetrable jargon. I distinctly remember the phrase “penis swamp” appearing at one point in his introduction to Galactic Patrol.
What Is Military History? isn’t quite that weird, because its subject matter isn’t quite so esoteric in its own right, but it does constitute a pretty dry bowl of kibble as intellectual sustenance goes. Here’s an example:
In military history, many different crops are still springing from the soil of historical evidence fertilized by new theoretical and methodological approaches, and this rough guide to current controveries can be neither complete nor remain current. Students exploring new work in these fields or work in other areas of military history can usually figure out where a book they are reading falls with respect to previous work by paying attention to the book’s preface or introduction. Historians usually provide their own historiographical context in one of these places in order to point out how what they are doing is new, innovative, or otherwise noteworthy. Careful reading of these historiographical introductions, informed by knowledge of the basic philosophical, methodological, and historiographical contours of military history that this book tries to provide, should allow students to explore new fields of military history more effectively.
All of that to say, “If you want to know what new angle the author of a book you’re reading thinks he’s coming from, read the introduction.” It’s like this for 116 pages. A long day at the office.
But I don’t mind. The thing that bothers me is: Someone keeps moving my chair.
No, seriously. This class is held in one of the big lecture halls in Little Hall, a building which was designed, as Pratchett and Gaiman speculated of Milton Keynes, to foster unconscious dread and hopelessness in the human mind. Little is blessed with the most bizarre floorplan I’ve had the privilege of encountering, far outstripping the previous holder of this personal record (Fuller Labs at WPI). It has half-floors. Instructors have to provide directions to their offices on the syllabus, because if you just had the room number you would never find them. The giant lecture halls have entrances at the back, on the ground floor, but the front of the room is in the basement. Aha, you think, if you’re a student who’s just hurt his ankle, that must be where you enter the room if you need to use the elevator, but in the case of Little 140 you’d be wrong! Those doors exit into a dark and gloomy hallway (turn off lights to save electricity!) which leads ultimately to… a stairwell. There is a very similar gloomy hallway on the other end of the building that does involve the elevator, but if the two are connected in any way, I have yet to find it. I suspect a student requiring level floor access would have to take the elevator to that other hallway, then cross through the back of the room in lecture halls 110, 120, and 130, before arriving at the first hallway and into 140.
And every time I arrive at 140 for class, my chair is out in that hallway. This is annoying to me; on days when I’m running a tad bit late it’s also annoying to Prof. Miller, to the point where yesterday, when for various reasons I realized that I’d be arriving at 11:05, I decided to just punt rather than disrupt the class moving furniture around. Fortunately, the big in-class discussion of What Is Military History? is tomorrow.
I wouldn’t want to miss that.
As I’ve previously noted, this past spring I managed to post a 4.0 semester GPA. This was as much a function of the classes I was taking as of any academic exceptionalism I may possess, but I was still reasonably pleased with myself. I looked forward to seeing my name on the mysterious and elusive Dean’s List.
Except… as the summer went on, it began to appear that the University does not publish a Dean’s List any more. Or if it does, it keeps the whole thing very quiet, which would seem to be to miss the point slightly. High schools far and wide were trumpeting their honor students in the area newspaper, but not a word appeared about anything to do with the University of Maine. I confess I was a bit disappointed by this.
Then, one day in early July, a letter appeared, all unheralded, in my mailbox at home.
As you might imagine, I found this slightly puzzling. I mean to say, it’s nice hearing from one’s state senator (I had to look him up and determine that he is my state senator – they’ve rejiggered the senate districts so that the senator representing Millinocket no longer has to be from anywhere near here, and indeed Senator Thomas is from somewhere over in Somerset County), but this was the very first I’d heard of the matter. It strikes me as slightly strange that the University evidently makes its Dean’s List available to the state legislature but not the students who are on it.
Whichever, I tucked Senator Thomas’s nice letter away for posterity (my mother wants to start a scrapbook, egad) and went on with my summer, until, almost exactly a month later, a second letter appeared.
I had heard of the Presidential Scholar Award, but I didn’t think I qualified for it because of my uneven performance the previous semester (that inexplicable D in astro lab, which rankles me yet). There it is, though. I understand why this was a little later in arriving, since Paul Ferguson had just started his tenure as university president at that time (he took over from Robert Kennedy in July), and one can hardly expect a new president’s very first order of business to be sitting down and sending notes to students.
So that was a nice surprise. It didn’t come with a check, but one can always dream. There’d be something slightly unseemly about that anyway. Shades of payola. It did come with a little pin I could wear in my lapel, if I wore suits.
(The photo makes it seem bigger than it is because of the lack of scale references. It’s about the size of a dime – a little ostentatious, but it wouldn’t be too showy on a blue suit.)
What I wonder now is, if you win this thing, and then you utterly tank in some subsequent semester, can someone from the university come and take it away again? Does your name get sent to the Legislature on a list of Manifest Disappointments to be chided by their state senators for slacking off and letting the side down? Is there, as it were, a stick to go with the carrot?
Probably not – that would clash with the everybody-gets-prizes mentality of modern education – but I’m vaguely amused to picture it happening.
Also, it occurs to me that through all of this, I never have heard from my college’s actual dean. I’m not even sure if it’s his theoretical list or that of the university’s overall Dean of Students. Either way, not a word. I guess they figured the president trumps whatever notification they might have been thinking about.
A few weeks ago I went out to get the mail, and there was an official-looking envelope from the University. As I was just in the process of trying to sort out what classes to take this fall, I figured it probably had something to do with that, so I opened it up… and found, instead, a letter from the math department that read in part,
Congratulations! Based on your interest and success in mathematics here at the University of Maine, you have been nominated for membership in Pi Mu Epsilon. You are cordially invited to join the mathematics honor society and become a lifetime member.
I found this… surprising, since my "interest and success in mathematics here at the University of Maine," to date, has consisted of an A in Precalculus. I do have credit for (and pretty good grades in) Calculus I and II, but they’re from WPI in the early ’90s. I mean, I’m not innumerate, but I wouldn’t have thought of myself as national-mathematics-honor-society material. In fact, I was so puzzled I assumed it had to be some sort of mistake and took the letter to the math department office to say so. I figured it was probably meant for some other Benjamin Hutchins (weirdly, there appear to be three in the University’s computer right now), and he’d be sad if he didn’t get it. Then, satisfied with my good deed for the day, I went on my way.
The next week, the math department office staff called me up to say, "Nope, we checked, it’s really for you. Are you in?"
So, hey, not for me to argue. I went and picked up my certificate today before the engine tests, and it does indeed have my name on it:
Here’s hoping I don’t crash and burn spectacularly in diffy q’s next semester! I wonder if it’s like a gang initiation and they beat you out if that happens.