Ill-Timed Illness

November 30, 2011 1 comment

Sickness has played a fairly major role in this semester.  My own bout of bronchitis caused me to lose the thread of my online tech/soc/ethics/whateverthehellthisis class (more about this in future, I suspect), and just as it ended my history prof went down with a suspiciously similar illness and missed nearly two weeks of lectures.  Fortunately, what we need to know for the final in that class will be pretty well-documented, and I should be able to catch up.

Then my physics instructor experienced a sinus/ear infection that at one point caused him to cough so violently that, though recovered from the actual illness now, he has lost his voice.  This is particularly a problem for him, as his usual approach is to teach the lecture as if it’s a late-night TV commercial for that exciting new retail product, introductory college physics.  Seriously, it’s like spending three hours in a room with Science Billy Mays.  He even kind of looks like the late Mr. Mays.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that losing his voice is a particularly troublesome kind of disaster for this particular teacher.  When we arrived two Thursdays ago for lab, which was a demonstration of gas pressure phenomena (the balloon in the bell jar, siphon principles, etc.), he had to show us a video of a previous year’s version that someone had shot with a Flip camera.  Which is fine, except that the student he had doing the recording didn’t know that Flip cameras will not record indefinitely, so we didn’t actually have the part of the lab involving siphons.

This was smooth sailing compared to the following Tuesday (the day before Thanksgiving break began), when I arrived in the classroom (after, I just want to point out, a 75-mile drive from my house to where it is) to be handed a pair of DVDs by an unspeaking instructor and waved back out the door.  On the plus side, that makes reviewing bits of the lectures on temperature, thermal expansion, and the general gas law easier.   On the minus side, that was a lot of gas burned to pick up a couple of DVDs.  If I had known, I could have done it Monday, when I was already down there anyway.

Yesterday I got in and discovered that his voice still hasn’t returned, but he doesn’t have movies of the ideal gas law and calorimetry lectures, so… well, let’s just say it was painful to listen to.

On the other hand, it was the last of the lectures for my division of the class; our last test is next week, and then we have the option of coming back the following week (finals week) at the usual time to retake any or all of the four tests we have time for.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off and write an essay about my preferred world future.  This should be interesting, particularly as it largely involves a wish that humanity will finally outgrow superstition.


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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Strange Things Are Afoot

October 25, 2011 3 comments

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…

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.


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.

People Who Are Unclear on the Concept

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m just having one of those days where everyone I see around me is Doing It Wrong and I want to make them pay.  Everything gets on my nerves, even – especially – stuff that would normally just go by me.

UMaine has a campus-wide no-smoking policy.  Does that prevent the kids from ambling around campus with cigarettes stuck in their mouths or congregating in the little parking lot between Boardman Hall and the MTL to smoke up a storm between classes?  The hell it does.  I’ve even seen faculty members hanging around out there having a butt.  Way to set an example, prof.

(As an aside, just the fact that there still are normal-age college students who smoke in the year 2011 is enough to rile me up on a day like this.  My grandfather’s generation didn’t know any better, but, uh, yeah, kids, we’ve known that smoking is bad for you for quite a while now, and you’re supposed to be the smart ones, you got into college.  What the hell is wrong with you?)

Whenever I’m walking to class on a day like today and I meet someone coming the other way who is smoking, I have a very brief but entirely real desire to shoot him (and I hate to seem sexist here, but statistically speaking it is pretty much always a guy) in the head.  It only lasts something like a nanosecond – not nearly long enough to be acted on, but long enough for me to recognize that I felt it – but it’s an entirely genuine desire for the instant it lasts.  So it’s a good thing I don’t have some instantaneously lethal superpower, like Destructo-Vision or something.


The Boardman lot is tiny and in the center of campus, so it’s (apart from the nebulous and inevitable SERVICE VEHICLE ONLY space) entirely composed of handicapped parking spaces.  (Seems funny when written out that way.  Like they’re parking spaces that can’t do everything regular parking spaces do because of some illness or injury.)  Not that this stops anybody from parking in it.  In fact, what it does is make them park more annoyingly than if they’d just manned up and parked in one of the wheelchair-marked spaces illegally.  To avoid doing that, they park out in the aisle, or athwart the rear entrance to Boardman, or – my favorite – in the stripey areas between the HC spaces, figuring that if they’re not parked on a wheelchair icon, it must be OK.  I want to set these people’s cars on fire.

My favorite, though, was the guy on the motorcycle who pulled up and parked in the stripey area next to my car as I was getting ready to leave.  I tried to point out in the most diplomatic way possible (i.e., I did not lead with “hey, jackwad, I know you already know this and are just ignoring it because it would inconvenience you, but”) that that’s not what the stripey area is for, and he offered to do pugilism with me.  Seriously.  He didn’t sound particularly psychotic or anything, he just seemed to think it was the next logical phase for the discussion to take: “You wanna fight about it?”  It was like being back in the third grade, with its matter-of-fact attitude toward casual violence.

If I were a bona fide wheelchair-bound Disabled Person, and I had one of those vans with the powered platform thing that comes out of the side, I would deploy it if someone did that to me.  Bad move, brutha!  I need that space and I have hydraulics.  That’ll buff right out.

Man.  I am just in a grumpy mood today.  Lingering aftereffect of that physics test, I think.  The more I think about the way the instructor grades those, the more annoyed I get.  Also, I had one of my Paralytically Shy Mumbling Guy days this afternoon in German class, which is not a class in which one can excel by being a shy mumbler, set off by the fact that I tried to speak up in history class in the morning and there were suddenly no words.  I was trying to explain why being bang in the middle of the Med conveyed strategic significance on Malta in the Napoleonic era – which of course has to do with its location as regards sail traffic, as a way station between Gibraltar and Alexandria and/or Sicily and Tripoli, a watering stop, the presence of neutral medical facilities etc., but all that would come out was, “Uhhhhhhhh… well… look.  It’s in the middle.”

So basically I’m having the kind of day where I very strongly suspect my teachers all think I’m an imbecile and I’m not entirely certain they’d be wrong about that, and it’s causing me to go into these towering but silent rages about stupid stuff like people parking on the stripes and smoking where they’re not supposed to.  And you get to read all about it because this is my blog and this is what I’m blogging today.  Sigh.

Also also: It is a bit past 7 PM (I just heard the bell out in Cloke Plaza) and, as far as I can tell from the crib, it is fully dark outside.  Speaking as a seasonal affective: Labor Day is a dumb place on the calendar to put the start of the school year.  (Yes, I know, relic of our agrarian past, kids needed on the farm during the summer, etc. etc.  And our workday is still set up to accommodate the optimal lighting conditions in 18th-century textile mills, too.)

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.