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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the one-credit pass/fail ECE freshman seminar, the grade for which was predicated entirely on showing up, and formally withdrawn from 13 credits’ worth of classes over my career – three for that online Classics class that got munched by the Medical Adventure over the summer (as the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still don’t remember how I passed ENG 101, College Comp, that semester, when the Ws in everything else mean I must have withdrawn and left town before the semester was two-thirds over.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…

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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.

Elder Days Story Time

December 1, 2011 1 comment

In high school I was a performing arts nerd.  I was in the concert band and the jazz band, and though I wasn’t a member of the chorus or show choir, I did appear in the fall musical a couple of times, because it was the only student theater option available in that half of the academic year.  My junior year, though, I forget what the musical was, but it was something I wasn’t interested in appearing in, so I spent that fall doing lighting instead.

This is by way of background information so you’ll understand – if you have any background in theater tech geekery yourself – why what I am about to relate has stuck in my memory all these years.  You see, in the spring of my junior year, I was picked to attend one of those state music workshop things, wherein people from the various concert bands at schools around the state gather in a neutral location, rehearse for a couple of days, and then perform as a sort of high school concert band supergroup.  Power Station for brass and woodwinds, basically.

That year the workshop was held at what was then called the Maine Center for the Arts, a big concert hall-cum-museum on the University of Maine campus in Orono.  (It’s now called the Collins Center for the Arts, presumably in honor of some generous alumnus or other.)  At the time the MCA was brand shiny new and something of a showpiece, Maine’s state-of-the-art performing arts venue, and so it was quite a big deal for a bunch of high school bandsters to be given the run of the place for a couple of days.

One day I was moseying around backstage during one of the breaks, snooping around and comparing the facility to the auditorium at my high school (which, he said immodestly, was one of the best in the state), when I noticed the door to the tech director’s office.  It had what appeared to be a brightly colored sign taped to it, but when I investigated more closely I found that it was not, in fact, a sign at all, but a lighting gel.  I have reproduced here a basic artist’s impression of what it looked like.

nevermark

As a recent veteran of lighting the previous November’s fall musical, this killed me dead.

As Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story to tell you this one.  ‘Cause it’s getting on toward the end of the semester now, and the tools here in the machine tool lab are starting to show the wear.  We’ve got a lot of end mills with broken teeth, snapped drill bits, and the usual debris that piles up as students do what students do… but last night I came across a Failure-Enriched Tool that teaches a whole different, much more specialized lesson, and I thought it deserved immortalization.

IMG_20111201_151151

This used to be a 1/4” high-speed-steel end mill.  It’s now a reasonably ineffectual paperweight, but not because someone used too much feed and snapped it, or had it set at the wrong angle and snapped it, or tried to plunge with it too vigorously and broke off all the teeth.  Those are what you might call the ordinary failure states for an end mill around here.

No, if this end mill were a sign taped to the tool crib door, it would say, WHY DO WE WATCH OUR FREAKING RPMS WHEN MILLING ALUMINUM?

That is much more ambitious failing, since it actually involved molten metal.  I particularly like how whoever did it had the sangfroid to just put it back in its container and return it to the crib as if nothing untoward had happened.  And now I’m in here with a sharpened markup scribe trying to pry that crap out of there.  Thanks, unknown inept student!

Allow Us to Conduct You to the World that You Desire

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

They wanted to know my preferred future.  So I told them.  Let the chips fall where they may.

 

 

My preferred future, eh? This is a slightly daunting assignment, since, as we’ve already seen in this course, futurists have an extensive track record of being hilariously wrong. Even extremely clever ones, like Vannevar Bush and his building-sized, waterfall-cooled computers, or Count Zeppelin and his fleets of slow-moving, comically vulnerable airships plying the skies of a curiously German world. As I am neither extremely clever nor a proper futurist at all, this should be… interesting.

Here are a few developments in the next 50-100 years that I consider possible and desirable (although, contrary to the suggested framework, I don’t always consider the things I prefer to be terribly probable, human nature being what it is).

Maturation of Human Attitudes

This is the whole fulcrum of my vision of the future. Hutchins’s 22nd century is predicated on the probably-overly-optimistic idea that it’s about time the human species grew up and threw off its lifelong addiction to superstition. Crystal gazing, orgone energy, pyramid power, astrology, ghosts, alien abductors, astrology, dire predictions of the world-ending wrath of some unobservable god or gods, psychics, astrology, and I may have already mentioned astrology – none of it’s real, none of it helps us advance, and it all has to go into the dustbin of history, alongside werewolves, trial by ordeal, and eight-track tape cassettes. We in the Western world, particularly, have no call to shake our heads at the benighted savagery and quaint folkways of primitive desert tribesmen when we’re still printing horoscopes in our daily newspapers and stifling important biomedical research because we’d rather wring our hands about scientists Playing God.

I recognize that this may be a difficult thing to ask of humanity, but on the other hand, it’s probably an easier ask than global brotherhood; in fact, I suspect it’s a prerequisite of global brotherhood. Until we abandon our superstitions and approach the world from one universal, rational perspective, we’re never going to make useful progress toward the goal of worldwide common understanding.

Which brings us neatly to

Governance

The future of governance lies in the decline and fall of militant nationalism. Particularly fashionable since Napoleonic times, this popular human prejudice is responsible for war, obstruction of global progress, economic instability, enormous expenditure of resources on vast and useless "defense" systems, and the general persistence of needless divisions among the peoples of the world. It’s a dangerous waste of time and effort and it has to go. This is the century when humanity must finally pull itself together and recognize that – not so much in the eco-warrior or flower-generation sense but as a concrete, practical reality – there is one planet Earth and one human species living upon it, and there are too many of us going in too many different directions for this "competitive nation-states" business to be workable any longer. It was fine in ancient Mesopotamia, but one only has to look at the mess that is modern Mesopotamia to see how counterproductive the concept of the sovereign nation is in the 21st century.

Mind you, even with modern instantaneous telecommunications and the like, it’s an inconveniently big planet with a staggeringly impractical number of people upon it, so a single world government is a pipe dream on the same scale as universal love and brotherhood. In the short or even medium term, it’s likely that the best we can hope for is a slow erosion of the ideological differences that divide the existing nations so completely. This needs to start locally, with, e.g., the rendering unfashionable of such unhelpful, obstructionist philosophies as Not In My Back Yard and There Goes the Neighborhood. These things can happen within one generation. For precedent, we have only to look to earlier social advances, like the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century.

Education

If the maturation of human attitude is the fulcrum of this future, then education is the hinge pin. Without a comprehensive system of education, we’re never going to find our way out of the swamp humanity has managed to arrive in in these opening years of the 21st century. Rather than attempt massive reform to the aforemention systems from the start – systems which, in all their broken glory, many people today have a vested interest in maintaining – it’s my belief that a future generation, properly educated, will come to the conclusion that these changes are necessary without having to be led to it.

This is not the Communist dream of the New Soviet Man I’m talking about here, programmed from childhood in the Correct Thinking. I’m talking about a generation of young people equipped with the tools for critical thinking and rational understanding of the world that everyone should have – what Carl Sagan called the "baloney detection kit". Our schools should already be outfitting everyone who passes through them with these vital tools, but instead we find ourselves in a situation where an alarming percentage of high-school graduates have trouble with words longer than "rotfl". This will not do.

Fortunately, it’s also the simplest thing on the list to fix. Great schools require, when you pare everything back to first principles, one thing: a lot more funding than they’re getting now. Funding pays for facilities, it pays for equipment, and, most importantly, it pays for teachers. Right now a person has to be almost pathologically dedicated to the enrichment of the young, or completely out of options, to choose public school instruction as a career. Group A are great, and will continue to be great if we pay them a wage that isn’t an embarrassment to our entire civilization. Group B are not, and we wouldn’t need to retain them if we paid teachers enough to attract Group C, the really bright but slightly less crazy people who presently opt for jobs that pay better than fast-food management.

If schools had funding enough to attract and retain the right people, the rest of the problem would take care of itself. Get enough bright, dynamic, motivated people together and the endless wrangling about the finest points of the curriculum, the hidebound traditionalism, the lowest-required-effort assessment methods, and all the rest of the rigmarole that’s strangling education today will just go away, because people like that don’t have time for it. Does Simon Hauger look like he has time for student self-actualization index metrics? No, because he’s too busy getting great education done.

That’s it. That’s really, truly the key to the future right there. Pay teachers enough. If you build it they will come, and if they come, the next wave of graduates will be outfitted with everything they need to clean up what we can’t get to of the almighty mess our parents’ generation is leaving us. If you don’t build it, on the other hand, we’ll go down in 24th-century history as the people whose fault the new Dark Ages (ca. 2025-2350) were.

Better Late, etc.

September 21, 2011 2 comments

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.

An Unprecedented Accomplishment

May 15, 2011 5 comments

Some of you may know, from prior posts or just having already known a few things about my personal history, that I have never actually completed a full year of college before.  In 1992, I did stay at WPI until chucking-out time because the room was paid for, but I pretty much stopped going to classes midway through D-term, owing to a general feeling of hopelessness, and I received no grades whatever for that term (because that’s how WPI rolls).  In 1994, I got a job offer from Leading Edge and withdrew from the University of Maine in mid-April, before the withdrawal-equals-failure deadline, which is why all my spring-1994 grades are Ws (which don’t affect cumulative GPA) and not Fs (which do).

(As an aside, I did somehow manage to not just finish ENG 101 Introduction to College Composition that semester, but in fact pull an A in it.  I don’t remember now how I did that, since the other grades being Ws confirm that I did withdraw long before the end of the semester.)

So finishing {four terms|two semesters} in a row is something I have never before managed to do at the college level.  Still less have I ever in my life been a straight-A student; gym class, laziness, and (after fifth grade) a general lack of engagement in mathematical topics saw to that all through public school and, as we have already covered, college takes 1 and 2 were frankly pretty much disastrous.

As such, and despite my childhood-ingrained aversion to being too much of a showoff, I am pleased to report:

20110514-spr11grades

Now.  In all fairness I have to note that this is far from the most burdensome course load ever carried by an undergraduate at the University of Maine.  As you can see, those are all 100-level courses (one of which is an introduction to the easiest programming language on Earth), there’s no math class on the list at all, and it’s the absolute minimum credit count for full-time student status, 12 credits (the sample curriculum for the MET program recommends 15-17 per semester).  So this is not, in absolute terms, an achievement with which to set the academic world alight.

However.

It’s still a semester 4.0, it’s still a Dean’s List performance by the Office of Student Records’ standards (I think; it’ll be published in June), it’s still the first time I’ve ever actually finished a full year of college, and it’s still the first time I’ve ever passed a computer programming course of any kind.

So I’m pretty pleased with it.

(Also, while I’m bragging, I kicked ass in CLA 102.  My final numeric score was 615 points out of a possible 600, or 102.5 percent.)

I can’t afford summer classes this year, so now it’s back onto the shelf until August, when I tackle Physics for Engineers I (a prerequisite for a whole raft of stuff in the MET curriculum and thus a major bottleneck), possibly differential equations (which should be interesting, since I can’t remember my 1991 exposure to calculus at all), and… some other stuff, I forget exactly what.  It’ll probably all get rearranged in the first week of the semester anyway.  According to the curriculum calendar I should have Chemistry I as well, but I’m really dubious about taking two lab sciences in the same semester.

As you see, I’m reminding myself not to be too impressed with my modest accomplishments here, but at the same time, what the hell, it’s just this once: go me. :)

Wait, What?

April 30, 2011 2 comments

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.